The fog had surrounded Gayhead. It covered the majestic cliffs, the crashing waves, and the supposedly breath-taking sunset. We had gone anyway, despite the same fog that had sopped in Edgartown harbor on the other side of the island that afternoon. Reports said that the sunset down at the southwestern tip of Martha’s Vineyard was an experience not to be missed. The bus to these sunsets was also not to be missed, but on our first try we did just that. In some sense, the fog was our punishment.
Gayhead was quiet and besides Future Wife and I; only one other dude got off the bus. He quickly vanished into the fog, later telling us that he had stubbornly ventured down to the beach, only to be crashed upon by a wave that had too quickly emerged from the pea soup fog. The area looked like London in the 1800’s and instead of a serial killer lurking, there was just a skunk poking around.
We stayed for an hour, masking our disappointment with laughter at the situation and heaping chugs of wine. What else could we do? We were about an hour from our hotel and left at the mercy of the next bus. Fog is a social bully in that way. It does not care about your plans.
I had my fill of fog working at Bay Lines when we suffered through long days of bow-watches and staring endlessly into the miles and miles of nothingness a good fog bank provided. My first real taste of the fog-filled good life was the 4th of July during my second summer, the good ol’ summer of 2003. It was my first mate shift, getting the forced nod to cover the Peaks PM shift with a crew of summer deckhands (summer help, summer not) and serving under the one and only Captain Johnny- a short little tugboat of a dynamo, a former Navy man who named his fists Thunder and Lightning. His quirks came with the job and you were best served to roll with them and not at them. It was a how high should I jump situation- not a why should I jump situation. He had a great laugh and smile that successfully covered the lower half of his face. I never once saw him without a Red Sox hat on and once talked him into calling Columbo to complain about the amount of fruit in their yogurt.
“The goddamn fruit, sometimes they give you one that is full of f’n strawberries and shit and sometimes you get maybe one or two little pieces in there,” he had said.
“Call them up and complain,” I replied. So he did. Johnny didn’t mess around.
Johnny didn’t mess around when it came to fog too and he went old school, despite his magnificent ability to fine tune radar. Most of the other captains were cool with their deckhands staying in the pilot house while navigating through the fog, provided they stay attentive with their eyes glued to the ocean in front of them- looking for buoys and incoming boats, “targets.” I need some eyes, they would say and as deckhands, we would oblige without question or complaint. I spent many long days with my forehead pressed against the cold pilothouse windows, staring out into the unforgiving fog, an act that allows negative thoughts and regret to creep in. These were the days that never seemed to end; the days were your whole life passed in front of you as if it were a bell buoy creeping into view. These were days I don’t miss.
With Johnny at the helm, things were different. Deckhands were not allowed the privilege of a warm and dry pilothouse and instead were posted up on the bow- one on the starboard corner and one on the port. If we had four deckhands, one would be placed in between the two, relaying messages from the other deckhand who was on the phone with lucky me up in the pilothouse. Johnny would see something on the radar, pass that along to me and I would then tell the deckhand on the phone what we were looking for and where it would be coming from. I was dry, but it didn’t make the night go any faster and working Peaks PM on the Fourth meant navigating through a crowded harbor of dim-witted pleasure boaters dinking around, waiting to catch the fireworks. But on this lovely evening, a heavy fog bank rolled in around 7pm- just late enough to catch all these sensational pleasure boaters already in position and just early enough for the city to cancel the fireworks. We then found ourselves threading various needles as the day trippers struggled to find their way home. They were everywhere, emerging from the fog like Christmas decorations falling on you as you reach into the back of your closet. Even in the fog we could see their confusion and their concern.
It was a very long night, one that didn’t end until past midnight. When it was finally over, I admitted to Johnny that I had been a little nervous.
“Why’s that?” He asked.
“Cap, this was first night being mate,” I said.
“You’re shitting me.”
“Well Cap, I’ll sail with you anytime.”
And I did sail with Johnny several times before he retired a year later- my favorite moments were on quiet summer nights, in the middle of a gorgeous sunset when he would turn to me with his wide smile and laugh.
“Can you believe they pay us for shit, Cap?” He’d ask rhetorically. Then he’d laugh some more, knowing the job- at that moment, was just too good to be true. It was refreshing to be with someone who could so honestly assess the situation he was in and in turn, so easily appreciate it. I took that to heart and to this day, I still think about it. I thought about those words while Future Wife and I sat on a picnic table down at foggy Gayhead. It was true, we would not see the sunset that night and as a result, not on this trip. But we were together, the lobster roll was the best I’ve ever had and some memories can be skewed towards comic with the right attitude.
Life throws you shit sometimes- no one can deny that. But denying the good times, that’s when you have real problems. See them, love them, embrace them. They won’t last forever, nothing does. But they’ll stick with you forever if you make it so, fog or no fog.
Here’s to you, Cap. I hope your yogurt is full of fruit and your Sox hat on tight.