Several years ago (before cell phones and Facebook) I was running a small sailing camp in the Solomons Island area. We worked out of an old house at the edge of a peninsula with a line of docks just down a small hill crowded with every imaginable type of boat. The house had history and tradition; it also had a perpetually flooded basement. At that time, the sailing program was held together with glue and shoestrings. There was a small fleet of sailboats perfectly suited for junior sailing, a safety boat that sometimes worked and few spare parts to go around.
The location was great, and there was a pool for the kids to enjoy when the sun was hot and when the wind failed (as both are so common during a Chesapeake summer).
Halfway through the last junior sailing program, a mother stood at the heavy door of the old house with her teenage daughter. They had just moved to the area, and the mom was looking to enroll her daughter in a summer camp. “This isn’t really a camp for her age group,” I explained. The mom looked at a gaggle of young kids sprawled across the shaded picnic tables eating lunch and cheering one of my young assistants as he snorted electric green wasabi through a nostril.
I thought it through for a second. “I could use a volunteer assistant. She doesn’t have to know how to sail. Just help with the kids a little.” I saw her mom giving the place a once-over. “In Maryland, there is a community service graduation requirement. I’m sure she’d meet that requirement here.”
After the official paperwork was completed, Hannah joined us as the “shore mom” and became an indispensable member of the crew. The program ran its usual course, concluding at the end of the month with the presentation of awards and the camp picture.
We presented the Danforth Anchor Award (usually a giant ancient anchor complete with 30 feet of chain) to the kid with the most annoying parent. The kid ALWAYS loved the anchor, and we ALWAYS loved watching the parental unit lugging the hunk of steel back to the family minivan or sedan.
After the awards ceremony, we gathered the kids out front for the camp picture. It is here that I should explain that the night before the award ceremony, we hauled several large trash cans up the porch roof, filled them with water and tied them off.
“Say cheese!” was the signal. The assistants pushed the trash cans over, and hundreds of gallons of water cascaded off of the roof, dousing the kids. After the shock wore off, kids and parents erupted into laughter.
Sailing camp was fun.
Some years later, a 29 foot Bristol sailboat arrived at the Republic of G Dock piloted by Navy Dave. Our marina has had a collection of Daves over the years: Dead Dave, New Dave, Navy Dave and Next Dave (Next Dave hasn’t arrived – yet). But with his Midwest manners and good looks, Navy Dave became an instant hit.
The Republic of G Dock is a special place where people find a little slice of solace and lasting friendships. We build our own story, have the occasional adventure and are constantly reminded of the power of nature. The first winter as a liveaboard is always harsh especially as one learns the hard lessons that an unforgiving season of ice, frozen dock lines, limited water, and the occasional power outage has to teach. It is in this environment where we find each other with the headlamp beam tending lines at 0300 as the gale screams through the rigging and the hull begins to chew the pier apart.
In the headlamp beam is part of where friendships begin on G Dock, along with the gift of spare equipment, an extra dock line, a tool or figuring out the self-destruct switch. As the winter gales arrive, the G dock residents find themselves sitting in the warm, dark, snug confines of the veteran sailor’s boats, recounting misadventures to each other over steaming chow. Dave shared some of these good stories, participated in a couple of misadventures (AKA insurance claims), and was always a friendly smile on the dock; but it was clear that his life didn’t revolve around his sailboat or even his job.
So, on a bright, sunny afternoon a young woman that I vaguely recognized stood at the stern of Dave’s old Bristol with a bag of suspect Chinese food.
“Hannah?” I called as I walked down the dock.
She turned and smiled. “Hey!”
Dave emerged from the cockpit, and I promptly invited them over for dinner, suggesting that the Chinese food be discarded.
We climbed aboard our boat and slid into the warm interior.
“Hi!” My wife smiled at Hannah.
“This is Hannah. We shared an office.”
A few years ago, Alison took a break from teaching and moved into the private sector where she had the privilege of a quiet office, hot coffee, and a bathroom down the hall. Fast forward, and suddenly Alison’s former office mate, my old sailing camp helper, and New Dave’s girlfriend is standing in our boat.
Strangely enough, Hannah also had a Bristol 29.
A few months later, we learned that Navy Dave had orders to the other side of the world. We said our goodbyes, shook hands and left it with a “See you next time.” And we meant it. Navy Dave was a great part of our G Dock framily and we’ve missed him since he left.
Recently we on the Republic of G dock found out we had cause for celebration. Navy Dave and Hannah were recently married.
Congratulations you two. Hopefully, you find your way back to the Republic where there is always a slip open.