Tales of deliveries gone bad

Red Flags in Blue Water: Misadventures of a Freelance Sea Captain
By Rich R. A. Bard. Smooth Passage Books 2016. 189 pp., $12.

Reviewed by Sandy Marsters
For Points East

A short book that can be consumed quickly or in small, occasional doses (read: bed head), “Red Flags in Blue Water” is a humorous account by a delivery skipper of deliveries that went south, so to speak.

From rotten, broken equipment to rotten, broken seagoing souls, Bard fesses up to some very bad decisions. Always ready to cut some slack, he’s clearly a nice guy with lots of patience, which both gets him in trouble and gets him through it. He’s also not a quick study when it comes to crew or customer, or even sometimes craft.

Day one of a delivery from Honolulu to the U.S. West Coast: “a notched round plate from the radar reflector came loose in the rigging, zinged down like a ninja star and cracked the cockpit seat six inches from my knee.” Day two: Rest of reflector flies apart. Day 3: Wind indicator quits. Day 4: VHF antenna flies away, autopilot dies, water maker burns out. “The creation story in reverse,” Bard writes.

Repairs made, the trip begins anew. This time it’s the crew that breaks down. In a sudden spirit of altruism, the crew in question passes some soup up to the captain. The captain gets sick and suspects poisoning. The galley slop bucket mysteriously appears beside his head every time the captain goes off watch.

Drunks, drug addicts, jerks and psychopaths – Bard has seen it all. So why did he stick with it? For the good times, when the crew melded, the boat worked, and the sailing was good.

“Over the next couple of days, as we settled into the regularity of our watches, we became suffused by that feeling of well-being that seduces all long-distance sailors. Compared to the chaotic scene we accept as normal when we’re immersed in society . . . shipboard life offers an orderly pattern of clear-cut responsibility and action.”

Sometimes, but not always.

Co-founder of Points East, along with Bernie Wideman, Sandy Marsters is also the magazine’s former editor.

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