I hadn’t been able to juggle around a tutoring appointment so I crammed in 2 1/5 hour session and grabbed a quick chicken salad wrap with a large chai tea latte to go in order to get to the book store by 6 p.m. My car was invisible as I touched 80 mph, I wove around slow pokes, then thought better of it and slowed to a crisp 73 and got to the store with ten minutes to spare. No one from the group presented themselves so I browsed, first in the children section (looking for Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg) , then amongst the new arrivals and finally I found two bread books and a whole foods vegan cookbooks to look through as I waited for someone to show up – I made a mental plan to wait 40 minutes then purchase my books and go home. If the writer’s group meeting hadn’t been changed from Wednesday to Thursday I wouldn’t have met the sixth member of the group (there are more on the bimonthly meeting invitation email – I just had never met them all).
I heard an older man inquire of a woman with a flat portfolio type box if she were part of the writer’s group – no, she replied, and went back to her magazine. It’s pretty bad when members of a group don’t know other members. I stood up and told the man that I was part of the writer’s group, we shook hands and made our introductions as we settled at the round cafe table to begin sharing our latest efforts. Chuck identified himself as a published author mainly through magazines – I published through my blog and online anthologies, my artwork had gone farther by published as posters, calendar covers and in town news-magazines. We couldn’t be further apart in skill, success and careers that allowed us time to write.
Chuck is an old salt, a sailor out of Mattapoisett and Fairhaven. He sails a 16-footer sailboat “just big enough for him and Martha,” he says. Martha is a tricolor cat that loves to swim, she swims around their sailboat, tail down (rudder-like I think to myself), cat paddling around her boat to her cat’s heart content. Chuck says that his cabin is just the right size to cook and write and sleep in. But, he explained, you can’t do more than one thing at the same time – like if you cook a meal then want to write you have to put all the cooking utensils and food away in order to write. Then, of course, to sleep you have to move the cat in order to box up the double-spaced 12pt neatly typed story about perfection. Because if anything is perfection its being rocked to sleep in your very own 16-footer sailboat – which I’m going to make a point of asking Chuck the name of when I see him again.
Now, if you are like me, you can’t get enough of Martha-the-swimming-cat. I can picture her in my mind – Chuck says that she is a tricolor so that makes her a possible calico with a black-white-red coat, most cats are two colored or pure single colored coat (white cats have a tendency toward deafness, but I digress). “Martha loves salt water,” Chuck claims. Get out! I have 4 house cats that I don’t think ever got wet. Maybe Calvin got a little damp because he got tricked into getting in the shower by my son – but that will never happen again – on the whole my cats are dry land cats. Someone, I can’t remember who, told me that cats can’t be submerged because their butts aren’t watertight (again, Get out!) and that too much water absorbed through their butts would kill them. By writing this urban legend down in my blog does it make it true? I hope not – I haven’t even researched swimming leaky butts cats so don’t take my word on the subject.
Chuck and I discussed sailboats instead of our writing – we swapped stories before we left along with email addresses – we had sailboats in common. Chuck sailed since he was a child and I had drafted sailboats, well not full actual sailboats but additions to, changes and reconstruction to update wooden craft. I worked on Herrshoff sloops, Crosby Cape Cod gaff-rigged centerboard catboats, Beetle Cats Buzzards Bay daysailers, and John Alden’s schooners. Funny thing was I didn’t know these boats existed until Dan Blachley, a marine engineer/naval architect (or visa-versa), insisted that I draw for him and stole me away from drafting kitchen and bath designs. I learned to draw on a flat board with splines and weights, I learned to sight along hull lines and adjust the splines just so to get a natural curve. Dan worked on boats and ships at Kelly Marine boatyard; the Navy at Newport, RI; Fall River fisheries; the government of France – he was a world traveler. I drafted a tugboat, extended a cargo ship into a crab factory, redesigned a yacht, and the laundry and ventilation systems aboard a Navy submarine docking facility. My drawings were huge, drawn on plastic Mylar to avoid shrinking and being chewed by errant goats who if unchecked would roam through Dan’s office and out to the front yard and down the country road. In addition to drafting duties I was also asked to round-up the escaped goats and get them back into their corral – this happened 2-3 times a week!
I didn’t make a great sailor aboard the borrowed family sailboat, neither were any of my in-laws – the sole purpose of sailing was to get to a calm inlet where we could anchor, sunbathe and party. I hated sailing across the mouth of the canal when the tides shifted; I feared that our sailboat, even though it was big, would heel over and we would be forever lost. I hated the boat’s tilt when the water was almost at the rail, my prayers were never more reverent. We tempted fate. One excellent talent I did have though was reading the compass, charts, and calling out tacks – I could get us to our destination and home no matter how far we roamed.
Chuck has been on all sizes of sailboats and knows the sea intimately. He sailed for purpose and respected both the constraints of his crafts and the elements – he would no more think of sailing without be prepared for all types of emergencies – while my experiences equated to sailing on a lack. Chuck took sailing classes provided at Center School – I knew how to read a compass and charts based on drafting principles. Chuck sailed with his family up and down the Atlantic coast and into the Caribbean – ahoy landlubbers! But oh, sleeping aboard a rocking sailboat, wind in the guy wires humming, nothing could be better!
The next time I meet up with Chuck at our writer’s group meeting I have a bushel load of questions about his cat and wanderings afloat his sailboats. I’ll have to seek out some of his published articles. Maybe there is a story in Martha-the-swimming-cat …