Sunday, September 9, 2007
A Parrothead review: Flirting with Mermaids
Vigil, this one is for you
Part of being a Parrothead is exercising the fantasy, for me on a regular basis, of chucking all the crap associated with daily life in America these days and hopping on a sailboat and leaving this wonderful civilization behind. Destinations usual involve a deserted tropical island surrounded by turquoise waters thousands of miles away from Wal-Mart, the hamburger clown, the current government approved boogeyman, McMansions, screaming Big Nannies out to save everyone whether you agree with them or not, and the general anxiety a great deal of people in this country seem to revel in as they toss back huge amounts of mood altering drugs just to make it through the day. For most sailing away to some distant sane shore will remain a pure fantasy since obligations and real concerns keep them in the trenches for many reasons. An equally important reason that keeps many from living the free life on the seas is the complete absence of any knowledge of how to sail. Which I’m not ashamed to say covers me since I know next to nothing about sailing.
I recently came across a very basic but very entertaining and real introduction to the hard knocks that come with at least trying to live a real life in which you do nothing but sail to far away exotic ports meeting people that would fit in well in a Jimmy Buffett song. In Flirting with Mermaids the author, John Kretchemer, tells the stories of a “sailboat delivery skipper” taking various types of sailboats from point A, where it had sometime been bought sight unseen by someone across the world, and sails it to point B to turn it over to the new owner. The meat of his tales involve him dealing with bad weather, breakdowns across the entire spectrum of issues were a oceangoing sailboat is concerned, and at times pesky crewmembers, wars, and ill-mannered government types across the planet. Mr. Kretchemer writes in a clear easy manner allowing a total land-lubber, in a sailing sense, like me to understand what is going on most of the time as he and crew makes their way from say the Azores to the Caribbean during hurricane season.
In the first story we read about a Western Caribbean research voyage with a crew of eccentric Swedes that soon has him meeting his future wife, the knock out lady on the cover, in Belize. Quite frankly this story by itself had me hooked entangling my expatriation fantasies of tropical places untouched by American culture from what I read are even now spoiling the surroundings in Central America. The intrepid skipper and wandering American girl fall quickly for each other and after a bad time trying to take possession of a sailboat in the Dominican Republic in which his new love accompanies him Kretchemer begins recounting his sailing exploits from the time he sailed around the world and after just to give her some idea of what she was getting into as they grow more serious about each other. Many of his trips recounted in this book could have been adventure novels by themselves but the short story form does not take away from them. All through the book the idea that Kretchemer had lucked out and found what he was meant to do in life is evident, even though it cost him an earlier relationship, and later has him worrying about how he would turn his love of sailing into something that could feed his growing family. At the end of this book I came away impressed with this guy, instead of doing the safe thing just about all of us do with a steady job, mortgage, and if we are lucky a week vacation at some theme park were the comparison to a cattle processing plant is not unjust its nice to know that the independent free spirit of American legends can still be found.
Many times in life once the nuts and bolts of some fantasy are known the luster is quickly lost and the dream dies. Instead for me I came away from this book enlighten and even more interested in sailing. While some could grow bored as the author’s story telling falls by the wayside as he describes technical aspects of an Atlantic crossing the book is engrossing and thrilling for me because of it. I highly recommend this book for those who love adventure and those who love sailing.