There are days that living on a boat will absolutely test your ability to stay sane.
I certainly had one of those yesterday. It started the same as every other day. We got up and began our commute in the station wagon (ie, tender) stuffed to the gills with computers, trash, toiletries for four, fourteen different text books, etc, etc, etc. Note, Kris and I aren't even aboard yet! This is what it looks like on a typical day (not even a 'full' day):
Fine. Always challenging, but fine. Visions of soccer moms making their neighborhood stops before dropping off the kids at school came to mind, so do we really have it worse than anyone else? Nah. It's all perspectives. We headed to the 'barn' (what I call the common area at the municipal marina) and began our day.
About an hour later, I headed back to the boat by myself to put our turkey into water (yes, we bought a turkey for the night... Thanksgiving early!). A brief mention about turkeys for boats: any interest you have in buying the 747 sized Butterball is a exercise in futility. It simply won't fit in the oven. Instead, pretend you are Tiny Tim's father and shop for a turkey about the size of a chicken.... I mean a poor, half starved, scrawny looking foul. With the help of your foot, that's what will fit in your oven. But I digress...
I hopped off the tender, filled the sink with water and dropped in the sparrow. Great. Exciting. Is going to be a great dinner that night (with a bit of imagination). I went back out to the tender and stared down at it with my mouth hanging open: once again, I lost my bow light. They are a glue on light that makes us legal and cost about $35. Well guess what, this is the fourth light this year. FOURTH!!... and the year ain't over yet. They make the lights float, but I long ago realized that was just to add salt to the wound. Under the premise that you will find it, you spend an hour or two travelling the waterways and laying out strategic search patterns that even the United States Coast Guard would be proud of. The end result is always the same though: $20 of used gasoline and still no light... all the while your face gets redder and your language gets fouler. I told myself after the last light and a tank of gas, I wouldn't look for a light again. I lied. I always do.
Two hours later, and highly perturbed, I get back to the barn (with no light). I no more sit down than Kris reminds me I need to turn the turkey. Fine. Turn the turkey. I get back in the tender and halfway there, run out of gas. No wonder, I spent it all looking for the stupid light. By chance, my spare was full. Not thinking, I jam the connector on and spray myself with gasoline. Ugh!! I will clean up at the boat. I am heading there anyways.
Get to the boat, turn over the turkey, then began to wash up when the water pump runs high. I am out of water. Classic (and with soapy hands and arms). I wipe the soap off on my clothes and head out to fill the aft tanks. Oops. No water left in the jugs. Really? Throw the jugs into the tender and head back across the harbor. I fill said jugs and go back to the boat, hauling up 4- 5 gallon jugs (that is 160 pounds at forty a piece) and fill up the tank. By now, it is time to put the turkey in the oven. Wash up and place the poor thing into the oven. Lights up fine. All is well.
I return to the barn, and still smelling like gasoline, go take a shower up at the facilities. By the time I return, it is 'suggested' by my wife (also known as 'instructed' to those who are still married) to take the wet towels and toiletries back to the boat so it will be an easier commute that evening. I mumbled something slightly audible under my breath which thankfully was ignored, and begin yet another track back to the boat. Hang up the towels, put up the toiletries, and wait... why don't I smell the bird? Even that miserable little thing should have some kind of smell. Open the oven and sure enough... out of gas. Of course, I could have used the gas from the grill, but it ran out of gas the night before too (yes, readers, the night before in the middle of my ribs). Now I begin pulling everything out of my propane locker and busting up my knuckles, finally get the tank out and back into the dink. What the heck, I might as well take the tank for the grill too.
Back across the harbor, load it on the bicycle (we don't own a car), and one tank at a time begin the trek to the gas station to fill the tank. The typical propane guy is not working. It is 'Maria' (not her real name) who, as she will tell you, "I notta speak-a good English ." She is a Cuban gal, who though quite sweet, moves at a snails pace and ain't the sharpest tool in the shed.
"Well, I need propane," I tell her.
"You wanna propane?"
"Yes. Where's the other fellow?"
"Yes, yes, I getta propane."
Well that was new. Last time she didn't know how. I pulled out the tank for the grill and she immediately filled it. Amazing. "Hey, uh, I have to brig up my other tank too. Can you fill a horizontal?"
"You wanna propane?"
"Yeah, but in a different tank. A horizontal aluminum tank. Do you know how to fill it?"
"Yes, yes, I getta propane."
Who was I to doubt her now? $25 dollars later, I am heading back across Marathon to the tender, replace the old tank, and grab my horizontal tank (which my boat uses). Sweating profusely, but seeing the day drawing to a close with a feast, I get back to the store and after waiting nearly twenty minutes (Maria is the only one working), she comes out to fill my tank... or so I thought. Hands on hips, she stares down at the tank and mumbles something that sounded a lot like, "Blah blah blah blah blah (in a great cuban accent though)."
"I don't speak Spanish. What?"
"I notta fill that before."
"I just asked you, before hauling this thing across Marathon, if you knew how to fill it."
"I notta fill that before."
A smart man would have just left. But I wasn't smart. I was desperate. I had a half-cooked turkey in the oven. I had already bought eggs, potatoes for mashed potatoes, and green beans for green bean casserole plus all the other food for the night. I wanted my turkey dinner. I bloody deserved my turkey dinner!! As such, I watched Maria as she found an adapter for the tank and unscrewed the bleed-off nearly all the way, all the while mumbling under her breath. She then turns on the gas and we both watch as propane spews out into the atmosphere.
Every time it was the same process: fill the tank until it spews out, turn around and fumble for the switch that turns off the propane, slowly turn around and stare at the propane still spewing out, all of a sudden remember that you have to flip the lever to turn off the propane too, stare again at the tank still spewing propane (albeit slower now), try and remember where you just put the screw driver, fumble with said screw driver on bleed-off valve while staring at the sky (righty-tighty or lefty-tighty??), then stop and look at the tank with a not so bright expression... trying to figure out why it was almost empty again.
Once the meter read 5 gallons used (and my tank holds two if dead empty) I told her that was good enough. By this point, there was a hole in the ozone above us and I quite frankly couldn't remember what the limit was on my credit card. Not to mention, I had visions of someone in Key West lighting a cigarette and half of Marathon blows up. I know many of you would have argued the charges, and it crossed my mind too, but I only speak Redneck and Pig Latin. I don't speak Spanish and she doesn't speak Redneck, so it would have been a pointless argument.
I grab the tank (which still has a sheet of ice surrounding it and is hard to hold because it is so cold), throw it in the bike, return it to the dink, haul it back across the freaking harbor, bust my knuckles again putting it in, get the turkey cooking yet again, and look at the time... now I gotta go pick up Kris and the kids. It is at this point I am in a very bad mood. I begin to question my sanity. I think about all the people with their houses and cars and ice cream that isn't melted before they get it home. I think about all the electricity I could want, endless propane or natural gas, a turkey that doesn't look like road-kill, and lights that don't pop off four times a year. I pick up the kids and wife, bring them back to the boat (not saying a word to anyone as it would be foul anyways), and turn to see this out of my cockpit:
I watch as my wife and kids turn to enjoy it too:
And that night, we cooked that turkey. That night we had green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and giblet gravy... and for some reason, it tasted better than I could remember. The harder things in life probably make you all the more appreciative. I guess it has me too. I woke this morning ready to battle another day aboard - greeted by a sunrise most will never see from their houses. Maybe that is why we do this... I don't know. But I will take the battles and the band-aids for these few moments in time that can be taken but never bought.