Men are from Mars . . . the marine version

As I was rigging some new jib sheets on board Elsa last week, a fleet of little 420 sailboats, each crewed by two young teens, sailed by me in Marblehead Harbor, headed in after a race. These kids were happy, smiling, and very polite to this old sea dog as they sailed past.

How nice! But what really struck me was that every other boat had a girl as the skipper and the boy as crew. Well, I thought, that makes sense; wonder why it took so long? One could make a good argument that endurance, agility, willpower, sensory perception, and ingenuity are stronger, or just as strong, in females. And girls mature quicker.

Next, I wondered why cruising boats took so long to become more commodious. Maybe because of women. Maybe because men want women to come along with them. Maybe not. I thought of Elsa and the vastly different onboard culture when only men are aboard, when the range of topics is relatively limited. When wives are aboard, it seems that everything is connected to, and wound around, something else, while men operate in these narrow little squares. Narrow little squares, you ask?

Perhaps this scene from a book I’m writing helps. The narrator, Orca (aka Big Red), a veteran river pilot, is looking back at his life:

One morning, when the first batch of some mighty fine raised waffles was done, and I was carefully drizzling some real maple syrup that I got for Christmas into each little square box, Momma got real philosophic-like.

“Men are waffles, Orca. You should know that. That’s where most men live and think – in those little square boxes in the waffles. But they only live in one box at a time.”

Momma told me this was called “compartmentalization.” Well, this was all too much for me at 10 (I’m still trying to hook onto this thought at 64). I began to think Momma was headed round the bend, going all mental on me, and I got real worried. “You’re talking funny, Momma,” I said, but then she continued:

“This is a good time to talk about the difference between men and women, Orca,” she said, giving the batter another stir. “It’s about seeing the big picture.”

I said to Momma, “If men are waffles, living in waffle squares, then what are women?”

She stood there for a while, looking down at the pan in the sink soaking there with the pasta remains from last night’s supper. Then she said, “Women are spaghetti.” This had me real confused, but Momma continued.

“Well, Orca, waffles are like men, at least to a woman, I think. We need them because we’re hungry. They start out as a great idea for the beginning of the day. Oh, the batter is often lumpy at first, even with the right ingredients, but with the right amount of effort, things can be smoothed out, and then, in the cooking, they even get steamy and more appealing. But when you’re cooking them, they need to be watched very closely. If they’re undercooked, they’re kind of yucky and fall apart when you lift the cover and look inside. And if you leave them alone too long, they get crusty and sometimes go to pieces. Waffles are tough to make. A burnt waffle will leave a bad taste in your mouth.”

“What about the boxes?”

“Men operate in one little square at a time, like the syrup you carefully drizzled into each little box. That’s how men think. They don’t understand that the other boxes are all connected, all part of the whole. Women do; that’s why they’re like spaghetti.”

Momma could see I was pretty confused.

So she said, “Let me give you an example, Orca. We’ll use Daddy’s love of trucks as an example. Let’s say we’re out on errands, driving down Cahill Road in Inver Grove, and we pass by that big Cub Foods supermarket. In the parking, lot Daddy points out his dream truck, that Diamond Blue 1956 Ford F-100 he’s always talking about.

“When I see that truck in front of Cub Foods, I start to think about the groceries I need to pick up for the family, which makes me think about the Sunday dinner with Daddy’s family that’s coming up, which makes me think about church school activities that morning, which makes me think about regular school, and your 5th-grade teacher. And this goes on and on, one thought wrapped over and under another one. Just like spaghetti.

“Now we’re a mile down Cahill Road past the grocery store, and my head is spinning with all these thoughts. But your Daddy? Still thinking about one thing: that Diamond Blue 1956 Ford truck. That, Orca, is why men are waffles and women are spaghetti.”

I’ll close with some genuine dialog excerpts from the all-male “waffle” species aboard Elsa over the past few summers:

Eighteen miles out from Marblehead: “You hungry yet, Pete?”


“What you want?”

“Doesn’t matter; toss me up anything.”

“Need a plate?”


“Don’t know; when my wife’s aboard, we use plates.”

“No, just hand me something; I’ll eat whatever it is before I’ll need to put it down anyway.”

Ten miles out from Cape Elizabeth: “How’s your head work, Dave? I need to go.” “Go over the side, Spencer.”

“Really? Head doesn’t work?”

“When my wife’s aboard, it does.”

Around midnight, Quahog Bay, after conversations about old girlfriends, inflatable life vests, old girlfriends, merits of double headsails, diesel engines, old girlfriends: “Dave, I think I’m gonna hit the sack. Thanks for a great day.”

“My pleasure, Bryan; you’re in the bunk in the bow.”

“Any bedding, Dave?”


“You know: sheets, pillow, blanket – that kind of stuff?”

“It’s only aboard when my wife’s along. But there should be an old blanket up there somewhere. And you have a jacket, right? Fold it up; that’ll work for a pillow.”

“Sounds good, man.”

“Yeah, sleep well.”


Too bad you can’t make waffles at sea.