This Side Up

Far better than a text message


"Be careful what you write in the paper.”

This bit of advice came from someone I featured in this column years ago. I recognized him. After all, I see him a couple of times a year, usually when it has to do with boats. But his name was evading me.

He watched me sail into Warwick Cove shortly after noon Sunday. It was gusty; with the wind coming straight down the channel. I made several short tacks, gliding alongside the slips at Harborlight before the jib started to luff and a hitch to the opposite shore.

My trip from my mooring off Conimicut Point had been fast. The northwesterly had the 19-foot Rhodes anxiously pushing through the water like a horse rushing back to the barn. She seemed to know this was the last sail of the season. Soon the straps of the Pleasure Marina travel lift would tighten around her girth and hoist her to a trailer to rest for the winter.

South of Rocky Point, I came into a fleet of quahoggers. Some paused to wave while picking over their catch. Others, their backs arched and tugging on their rakes, echoed a “Good morning,” as I slid by.

Greenwich Bay wasn’t as congenial. The water was confused by a parade of power boaters intent on going fast, which had set off clashing wakes. Some returned my greeting but, for the most part, they barreled by in their rush to catch a beautiful day on the water.

It was calmer after the “no wake” buoy at the cove’s entrance, although there was the unmistakable feel of the season coming to an end. Harbormaster Jeff Baris was on patrol. He said hello as we passed.

The wind cooperated and my boat nosed into a slip, coming to a halt as I stepped off, secured a line and dropped the main sail. Apart from three men at the far end of the dock, the place seemed empty. I was on my own.

I had just rolled the sail and gathered lines, the kind of things one does out of habit and without much thought, when he appeared.

“They were saying, ‘He doesn’t have a motor on that boat.’” he said, about people down at the Oakland Beach boat ramp. I recognized my visitor as a boatyard regular. He owns a sailboat too, and occasionally raises “the rags” and lets the wind take him out and back without touching the motor.

He had been sailing Saturday, he told me, but didn’t have plans to go out today. He was on his bike, making the rounds, and pedaled over to say hello.

We chatted and I learned of his career in the trucking business and how the industry has suffered because of high fuel costs. Also, he reminded me of how he and his wife, Karen, once gave me a lift home. Having brought a boat around for a similar end-of-the-season sail about eight to 10 years ago, I was faced with the prospect of a walk home. They were leaving the yard, and I asked if they would be going to West Shore Road. That at least would get me part of the way. They opened a door and then had the kindness to take me all the way home.

It made for a memory about the nice people I’ve met hitchhiking, something I often did in my early 20s, but not lately. “Frank Esty,” he reminded me, and confessed I looked like a vagabond that day, with a bag over my shoulder and bumming a ride. Maybe they had been more wary of me than I thought at the time and yet they gave me a ride.

“We saved that story for years,” Frank said of the column I wrote about them. I imagined the column, torn from the paper, yellowed and held by a magnet to the refrigerator.

I mentioned I didn’t need a ride this year. I dropped the car off earlier Sunday morning and Carol picked me up. There was a plan this time.

We talked more about how things have changed and, then again, how other things have gone unchanged after all these years.

As he headed up the dock toward his bike, Frank said it had been good talking.

I agreed, and added, “You have given me something to write about.”

It was then he offered that I should be careful what I write in the paper. It is sage advice, although we hadn’t exactly been trading national secrets. But there was more to his advice, wisdom so applicable at a time when the written word, the spoken word, photographs and even an amateur video can have profound repercussions in a world of instant communication.

Yet he made the effort to seek me out. I had a welcoming party on the dock.

We should do more of that – face-to-face communication – maybe then we would be more tolerant and understanding of each other.


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