Potential Effects of Prolonged Exposure to Yachting

28 May 2021 By Gavin Rothenburger
Illustration by John Devolle

Gavin Rothenburger has been the author of Dockwalk’s humor column Last Laugh since 2008. For questions, concerns, or for general badmouthing, you can write to me at

The other day, I got drunk with a man who looked like a badger.

That’s got nothing to do with this article, but I’ve always wanted to say it and, surprisingly, have never managed to find the context where it could easily be slipped in. So, I’m just throwing it out there.

But thinking about my rodent-like acquaintance made me remember an old captain of mine who also bore a striking resemblance to a small furry animal who lives in a hole, though he looked more like a twice-punched beaver. Anyway, I began to wonder what had happened to that captain, if he was still in the business, or if he’d fulfilled his dream to finally move back home, presumably to gnaw on a tree.

This got me thinking about other crew on that boat who lived cheerfully in my memory as joyful souls forever having their second drink at a café and never devolving into nervous, crying puddles of breakdown while ensconced in the morass of interminable charter which is, in actuality, how we spent most of our time. This then led me to wonder about other yachts, the rodents who skippered them, and the crew I’d lost touch with.

The people I thought most about were those I worked with when I was a fresh-faced newbie sporting fancy things like ideals, morals, and a liver that, had it known what it was in for, would have packed up and run away screaming, probably dragging my kidneys along with it. Many of those crew were quite a bit older than I was and I became curious to know what had become of them so many years later and to, perhaps, use their experience as a window into my own future.

So, I began dusting off old emails and firing them into the ether. While many of the responses were along the lines of “after that last incident I think it’s better we don’t communicate,” I was also able to reacquaint myself with many, discover their stories, and learn exactly what morbid afflictions are caused by prolonged exposure to yachting.

First, I spoke to a captain from the second boat I worked on who remembered me fondly as “Oh yeah, you’re the guy that managed to park a tender in a hedge fifteen feet inland.” While I’ve always been particularly proud of that triumph, it wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. What I needed was to find out if he’d come out the other end of this journey feeling any modicum of enlightenment, success, or satisfaction. The answer, to my pleasure, was a resounding yes. He was now happily married to his fifth wife, had managed to avoid becoming a broker, and had enough money saved away that, he proudly told me, he could also afford a girlfriend. This was encouraging.

I was also able to reacquaint myself with many, discover their stories, and learn exactly what morbid afflictions are caused by prolonged exposure to yachting.

Next, I reached out to a stew I worked with who had, I was pleased to discover, become a successful interior designer. She was doing very well financially and was reveling in the realization of a goal she’d long held, which was to make the lives of captains, some of whom she’d worked for, a living hell by forcing them to choose balusters and pillows, making them wade through a swamp of knick-knacks, ornamentation, and soft goods before changing her mind, charging double, and beginning the process all over again. She was uplifting and exuded optimism in a charmingly vengeful sort of way.

I then spoke to an old mate and heard unhappy stories. He’d become tired of always pretending to know more than whoever was standing next to him and had left the industry. He floated between jobs for a while and had ultimately been forced into the indignity of becoming a lawyer. After he’d talked me into suing somebody for something he’d just masterfully invented, I hung up with unease.

The last reconnection was the grumpy old engineer off my first boat who, as it turns out, had moved on to become an even older, even grumpier engineer who was (and always had been) completely content to murmur about the idiocy of anybody who didn’t happen to be him and their inability to complete even a simple task like re-calibrating the flux capacitor on an injection pump. He was, I realized, still doing what he loved.

And this brought me the hope I needed to carry on. While I sometimes feel old and grumpy, I realized that it was yet possible to grow. I could become even older and even grumpier, I could find new ways to torment captains, to avoid ever becoming a lawyer or a broker, to park bigger tenders in bigger trees, I might look forward to a plethora of new marriages and, best of all, might have more occasions to get drunk with people who look like badgers. The future, more than ever, looks bright.

This article originally ran in the May 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


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