Downtime

Crew's Tentative Grip on Sanity

14 July 2021By Gavin Rothenburger
illustration of man driving golf cart off road into water
Illustration by John Devolle

There’s an ancient Confucian truism that goes something like: “Stick in yachting long enough and eventually you’re going to drive a golf cart into the port.”

Personally, I’ve never done this. That said, I have been a passenger on that glorious, battery-charged vault into the deep and find riding shotgun to be the preferred experience. That way you don’t have to pay for the cart. Nonetheless, the saying is largely true that if given enough time in the business, there are certain experiences you’re probably going to have that you may or may not want but that, cumulatively, mean you’ve made it.

At some point you’re going to work with somebody who, though not breaking down, is as insane as water is wet.

The first to spring to mind is waking up somewhere on deck, hopefully clothed, after having forgotten how to use the door and deciding that a cleat, barstool, or fender hook was just the sort of pillow you needed to ensure a good night’s rest. This experience is usually preceded by a lovely time over cocktails followed by a large blank spot in your memory that, unfortunately, isn’t allowing you to recall where you might have lost your shoes or why somebody named Dave Sharpied his phone number on your forehead. This act of self-initiation into yachting is usually accomplished early (and sometimes often) in one’s career and can be reminisced about for years (long after you’ve matured enough to know that passing out in the marina garden is a lot more comfortable).

Another regrettable truth of our business is that, should you be here long enough, at some point, no matter your position, you’re going to wind up with a face full of blackwater. Engineers seem to revel in covering themselves in the stuff and when the lunch you ate yesterday finds its way onto their chin, coveralls, and combed through their hair, they seem to wear it like a badge of righteousness. But it’s not just engineers. Stick around. Eventually, it will be your honor to be victimized by an exploding toilet, the detritus of a laxative overdose, the spray of a malfunctioning treatment plant, the shotgun blast of a vent unclogging itself, or a pipe that, once so innocent, ruptures in the night and blankets you in a future recurring nightmare.

Insanity…eventually you’ll see it.

Whether it be a mental collapse caused by a farting roommate, a cerebral meltdown after the chef serves you squirrel, or a psychotic break stemming from a polite request that you actually do your job, sooner or later you’re going to watch somebody, who just an hour before was chatting pleasantly, simultaneously implode, melt, and shatter into a jabbering glob of sensitivity, becoming the emotional equivalent of something normally found on the bottom of your shoe. Similarly, at some point you’re going to work with somebody who, though not breaking down, is as insane as water is wet. The sky in their world is a different color, their touchstones are made of cheese, and their understanding of rational behavior is very similar to your understanding of quantum theory.

Now, if you’re reading this and saying to yourself that you’ve been in yachting 20 years and never met anybody like that, I hate to have to tell you, you ARE that person.

If given enough time in the business, there are certain experiences you’re probably going to have that you may or may not want but that, cumulatively, mean you’ve made it.

And then, eventually, we all do that one thing. That thing that will be our legacy. That colossal blunder that marks you, in spite of a sparkling, flawless career, as “that person.” Give it time. One day, you’ll be the guy who knocked his boat off the travelift. You’ll be the girl who dumped flambé into the boss’s lap and caused him to never again have a mistress, or you might become a sort of Karmactic apogee as the only person to ever drive a golf cart into the marina basin and get eaten by a shark. Nobody will know your name. Most people won’t know you, but they’ll have heard about you. You’ll forever see people nudging their neighbors, catch furtive glances, and eternally hear faint whispers saying something like: “Hey, that’s ‘THE’ guy who left Italy for France, read the chart backwards, and wound up in Libya.” Yes. Eventually we’ll all become like Libyan Larry and spend the rest of our careers pretending it was someone else who forgot to untie the stern line and towed the dock (along with a bevy of terrified bystanders) across the harbor.

I guess a lot of these eventualities might sound a bit negative but there are good things too! Ultimately, we’ll all graduate with honors from rehab. If around long enough, we’ll eventually find satisfaction from seeing the world, being part of a hundred different cultures, and, for most, we’ll learn how to turn our tentative grip on our sanity into a happy experience because, in the absence of reason and logic, an earthly touchstone made of nice Havarti makes for a pleasing reality.

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

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