I don’t have much of a relationship with boating. I have never been on a cruise. I’ve never slept at sea except for when I went to visit my friend Eric in Key West and slept in his docked 17 ft. sailboat. That vacation was pretty weird. I was about 21 and Eric had moved to Key West to become the first mate on the biggest schooner on the island the year before. He and his buddy, who I believe was named Chris, were both heavily bearded sailor types who lived on tiny boats in the harbor and worked on gigantic boats that were moored right next door. Essentially, their lives consisted of taking tourists out to sea for 2 approximately 3 hour excursions each day and spending the rest of the day keeping their various crafts (the ones they worked on and the ones they lived on) er…shipshape.
The entire thing reeked of an awesomely reckless abandon that I can’t even comprehend now. This was clearly way before the ubiquity of the cel phone, and down on these boats, there was literally nothing. You probably remember living in (or are currently living in) a crappy apartment that didn’t have, say, hot water, or a working stove. These guys lived in boats. They didn’t have stoves or beds or toilets or sinks or anything. These boats were, as I said before, approximately 17 feet long. That’s roughly three adult males head to toe. They were each maybe 6 feet wide at the absolute max. The cabin, where I slept was exactly big enough for two people side by side to squeeze into. In short, it was the bare minimum amount of space a single human being could exist in and still be considered “living conditions.” It got extremely hot in the cabin starting at about 530 am and by 7 it was completely unbearable. As such, the days were long and involved a lot of dicking around and drinking beer and stuff of that nature.
One of the main things that Eric and Chris would occupy themselves with was painting fiberglass onto the hulls of their various boats. This was significant to my trip to Key West for a few reasons. Firstly, the day before I got there, Chris and Eric had decided to play a joke on one of the younger dudes in the crew of Eric’s boat named Nick. Nick was the second mate if memory serves. Anyway, Nick was off dicking around and Eric and Chris took his bike, held it up to the wall of the marina and fiberglassed it to the wall. It was a diabolical prank in that a bike is a crucial device on a small island like Key West, especially if you’re a seafaring dude that lives in a marina and sleeps on a small sailboat. Fiberglassing a bike to a wall is not only hilarious, it’s also the kind of thing that can’t be easily undone and it’s ALSO the kind of thing that completely destroys the bike in question.
When I showed up in Key West, it was late at night and everyone was completely hammered. I got to the marina around 1 am. I was to stay for 2 weeks. Eric was, after all, one of my closest and oldest friends and we hadn’t seen each other for a while. Eric and Chris were in blind stagger mode laughing about fiberglassing Nick’s bike to the wall. I sat down and grabbed the rum that they were drinking straight from the bottle (I know. It’s always funny when someone lives up to the most stereotypical possibility that exists, and for these two modern pirates, being blind drunk on rum from the bottle and cackling about mischief could only have been topped if one of em had an hook hand or a parrot) and that’s when I noticed that Eric’s finger was looking totally weird.
He showed it to me and there was no doubt that something was wrong. His index finger had swollen up to the size of a hot dog. It was extremely fat and long. He said he couldn’t really touch it because it was so painful. He suspected that in the course of spackling Nick’s bike to the wall, he’d gotten a piece of fiberglass in his finger and he was suffering from an infection that he was gonna cure with rum and sleep. I suggested that he may want to go to the doctor. He agreed and after a sweaty and highly erotic night of boat sleep, he took off for the doctor first thing in the morning so he could be back in time for work.
By about noon I was pretty bored. I couldn’t sit on the boat because the water was rough and it turns out I’m a pussy landlubber. I couldn’t really just lounge anywhere because I was on a dock and there was no place to lounge. I didn’t really have enough money to go to a bar or a restaurant and Eric was still not back from the doctor. A girl walked up to me and said, ‘hey, Brendan? I’m Jaime, I’m Eric’s girlfriend. He’s in emergency surgery right now. Apparently he had severe blood poisoning and the doctors said that he’d have been dead by the end of the day if he hadn’t come in. He wanted me to give you this (key to the boat’s cabin) and tell you that you’re free to stay. He’s gonna be in the hospital for the next 2 to 3 weeks though.”
This was the day after I showed up. I was there for 2 weeks, living on a boat with no toilet, an unwavering 7am wakeup call, barely any money and no real way to change my flight and no place to hang out and nothing to do. It was fucking weird. So, what’s a boy to do in situations like that? There was only one move. I took the tiny pile of money I had and went looking for a beer. The section of Key West that Eric’s boat was located in (and I think the whole island, honestly) was the gay zone. I went to the nearest bar, which was a gay bar where I met lots of people who, to my delight, wanted nothing more than to buy me beers. I was upfront about my position and my lack of desire to blow anyone, but my not being gay didn’t slow any of those boys down. They were nice and inclusive to the last. They just wanted to party, and as a result I ended up hanging out with a lot of awesomely weird people and seeing a pretty kooky side of Key West.
I remember, for example, being with a group of German guys who were all wearing extremely short shorts. They brought me to a ‘party’ at this hotel bar, which I discovered once I got there was going to eventually unravel into some kind of all-dude orgy on the beach. It was apparently a somewhat regular thing at that hotel. SO, I’m standing there with these Germans, and they’re saying things like “You sure you don’t want stay for orgies? It’s going to be GREAT” and I’m politely declining, getting ready to finish my beer and make myself scarce before the whole scene changes, when all of a sudden this naked man comes staggering out of the sea making zombie noises. He’s super hairy and eventually I recognize him as Eric’s buddy Chris. He was just being a goofball and I guess trying to wig out the gay hotel beach orgy by staggering out of the sea naked (which doesn’t seem like it would be particularly effective, but it was hilarious at the time).
Anyway, he and I took off and after that I hung out with him the whole time I was there. He told me about how he and Eric had taken his little boat down to central or south America, just the two of them, sailing all night and day for months, stopping at ports to get fruit and stuff. He told me that there is no sensation so freeing as leaning off the side of a small sailboat at full sail in the middle of the night and shitting into the sea. I think about that a lot. It sounds like it’s probably pretty awesome but it also sounds like something I’m not ever gonna do any time soon. He also told me that after about a month they had a frank talk and just started whacking off in front of each other because well, what the fuck are you gonna do? That part didn’t sound as cool to me. Still, I think back about that, especially now that I’m a pretty domestic person and I reel at the amount of freedom that those guys were navigating. Crazy.
Eric ended up being fine and I even saw him for about 2 hours on the last night I was there. I have since seen him maybe 4 times. It’s a bummer because he’s one of my favorite people in the world. But that’s what happens. The world gets bigger and people spread out and huge gaps develop and next thing you know, a guy you’d sleep on a 17 ft boat with for 2 weeks is someone you haven’t talked to in almost a decade. And that’s shitty.
SO, moral for today: hug your friends and don’t fuck with fiberglass.