A Golfer and a Cowboy Sail the Severn

Beer and grilled hot dogs and hamburgers happen to be the rations de jour on the day the ship in question cast off.

Eric Diez, the Captain, was born and grew up in Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico. There are golf courses in New Mexico, even in Truth-or-Consequences. But the rivers are mostly meandering mud. There is Elephant Butte Reservoir, made by a dam across the mud of the Rio Grande River. But Dee Fribrit had lived in New Mexico just long enough to come to the belief that putting a boat into any of enhanced mudholes called big water in New Mexico means finding a boat parking space on the water with all the other Sunday Sailors. So Diez was a good golfer—college scholarship and all that, but he could sail worth shit.

At least this was Dee’s impression. Dee was the second mate, third mate, crew, and Chief Safety Officer of the ship. Dee could swim, and so Eric had appointed him the official Chief Safety Officer. “Good,” Eric had said, “You’re Chief Safety Officer, then.” All other of Dee’s ranks, responsibilities, and titles were honorary.

Dee was born and grew up in Bennings, Montana. There were rodeos in Montana, especially in Bennings, and Dee had managed a Rodeo scholarship (Saddle Bronc, Calf Roping, and Bulls) to defray college expenses. The rivers in Montana are the Missouri and a plethora of class four and five rapids or knee-deep fly-rod whipped fisheries. Dee never saw the Missouri (except where it was born near Three Forks, Montana) until he was twenty-three years old. Where the Missouri is born it is pretty much an enhanced version of all other Montana fly-rod-whipped waters. Dee did know Teller’s Lake, a natural piece of water, that interrupts the Last Lost River on its cascade to the Snake River near Fibber, Idaho. During Dee’s high school days one of the “ditch day” activities was to dump a rubber raft into the Last Lost about twelve or eighteen miles upstream from where it emptied into Teller’s Lake and drink beer and float until the beer was gone.

For this reason alone, Dee should, perhaps, have been promoted to Captain. But in real life Eric was Dee’s boss, so he had the helm. Also, in real life Eric was, in fact, a Captain, though not in either the Army or the Navy. He was a Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Which meant he outranked an Army or Air Force Captain when it came Space A. (“Space A” means “space available” on military mission flights for non-military purposes by uniformed personnel. It is basically a way for a person in uniform to get the family from Albuquerque to the Miami or Santa Clara or Honolulu for a beach holiday.) How Eric ranked relative to a Navy Captain would be up for barroom debate and could lead to fisticuffs. It is however, a debate in which a Navy Captain could sneer, “Can you sail a sailboat on Lake Placid?” In Eric’s case the response, which he would admit cheerfully—he was not a fisticuffs sort of Captain, was

“Nope!” He would then buy the Navy Captain a beer.

As I say, beer was present on the ship.

The ship was called the Edith. She was a ten-foot plastic, unsinkable dingy with a seven-foot aluminum mast and an orange plastic sail with a see-through window. It belonged to “The Admiral” who was the provender of the rations because he happened to be hosting a party at his house on the Severn River north of Annapolis. His name was Billy Donner, and his party was, in fact, a celebration of his promotion to Admiral in the U.S Public Health Service. He was Eric’s boss. Although he was born and grew up in Anadarko, Oklahoma, he had a small fleet of boats leaning on the shore of the Severn River and tied to the dock, including a thirty-two-foot sail boat. But he was certainly not fool enough to let a New Mexico golfer and a Montana cowboy cast that off. Too much possibility of becoming a cast-off.

The Edith’s “Cast off” consisted of Eric, who was already seated at the tiller, proclaiming “Cast off” and Dee stepping into the ship with the line and giving a little shove with his shore-ward foot. The Edith wobbled and sloshed away from shore.

“Hoist the sail,” Eric commanded with all the confidence of a Captain land-lubber.

It took a while for Dee to figure out the pulleys and lines for hoisting the sail. The Edith wobbled and sloshed a bit further away from the shore.

The breeze took the sail and swept the boom cumbrously across deck. The Captain ducked. The Chief Safety Officer caught the boom with his ribs, but managed not to let it take him overboard. The Edith wobbled and sloshed. Dee ducked under the boom and hoped it would begin to pull the boat to get them under way. It didn’t. This may have had something to do with how the Captain tillered the tiller. Or it may have had something to do with something else altogether. Let it be said that for about ten minutes the ship did not capsize or sink. The Edith’s Styrofoam hull was unsinkable. She wallowed, wobbled, and sloshed around in the shallows of the Severn River, but that she did not sink had as much to do with the beer on board as it did the crew who was too befuddled to imbibe it.

The Edith’s Captain came to realized why he was not in the Navy. He commanded the Chief Safety Officer to save the ship by disembarking with the bow line and wading to shore. Thus ended the adventures of sailing on the Severn.

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