Virtual voyage? Anchors aweigh

A pre-COVID-19 gathering of The Driftwood Boys. Since confined spaces have been off-limits recently, they’ve found an alternative way to “go cruising.” Photo by David Roper

Midwinter 2021

By David Roper

There are good ships,
and there are wood ships,
The ships that sail the sea.
But the best ships, are friendships,
And may they always be.
-Irish Proverb

You could easily say that the pre-COVID-19 photo on the following page says it all. It’s a last lunch aboard my boat Elsa before a coming northeast storm. Good friends all, smiles all around (and notice there’s not a drop of alcohol on the table!). Real smiles. Genuine smiles. Not “photo smiles.” And despite at least 200 years of combined sailing experience tucked into Elsa’s cozy cabin, no one has any thought of venturing back out to sea to ride out this storm! Smart. Too many years of experience to even think about that. And besides, does it get any better than this?

I wrote some months ago that there has always been something special about conversations in the cabin. Especially after having made safe harbor, perhaps after a long day at sea, the anchor dug in nicely and the stinging spray and wind now gone from our faces. Somehow, fears and trepidations are extinguished in the calm of the womb-like den as we’re now removed, sequestered from the outside world. Somehow, the utter privacy of the cabin, the sense that we’re not tethered to any other world right now, grants us permission to really talk. Perhaps even to let down our guard, free up a few secrets, or finally have the time just to tell some stories to a captive audience.

And so it goes. Well, until it went. This group pictured here, known as The Driftwood Boys, used to meet every Tuesday at the Driftwood Restaurant, a local nook tucked in by the harbor in Marblehead, Mass. But with COVID-19, we (most of us being of senior status) dared not venture into the tiny, crowded spot any longer. So we met outside in one of our backyards. Then it got colder. So I bought one of those outdoor restaurant heaters for my back patio and we soldiered (sailored?) on. Then it got even colder. We were driven inside, but couldn’t go inside together. It was time for Zoom, which was okay, but not very dynamic. Actually, we found ourselves often just staring at one another, wondering whose turn it was to speak, or wondering if we should speak at all (we’re mostly introverts). No, we needed to be inspired.

“We’ll go cruising!” I said, finally. “We’ll just leave our boats behind.” The crowd cocked their virtual heads. But that’s what we did. We went virtual cruising. An inspired success.

I suggest you try it with your own boating buddies. Go on Zoom and set up a virtual cruise. In our case, we left on our virtual boats from Marblehead and headed east. Our IT guru Bryan set up charts and Google Earth on the screen, positioning our little heads around them. Sometimes he even put up a fake ocean background the way those news folks do when they’re pretending to be “on location.”

So what’s there to talk about, you may ask? Too much! In our case, our 200 combined years of experience unleashed a flood of information, opinions and, of course, stories. Here’s just a sprinkling of the categories: comparing departure checklists; expressing opinions of the next route, harbor and anchor possibilities; food and ice lists and techniques (e.g.: one of my favorites: taking a couple of frozen gallon water jugs to serve as blocks of ice and then, as they melt, ice- cold drinking water); weather prediction software; engine issues; removing lobster trap lines from propellers; near disasters; shoreside experiences of upcoming islands, harbors, people and places; stories and issues from diverse personalities of past crew members and spouses (delicate stuff, here); profound thoughts while at sea (mostly limited in the minds of male sailors . . . but once and a while there’s one); singing while at sea (risky to crew morale unless alone); and finally, opinions of frequent cell phone users at sea (don’t get me started!). Etc., etc. You get the idea.

Our first virtual cruise from Marblehead to Portsmouth area was jam-packed. No one got seasick. The weather was great. Crewmembers were joyful companions. The harbors, people and shoreside activities were alluring. The boats held up well. Yet, we learned a lot. And no one drowned.

Next Tuesday we’ll be headed off again. Hope the weather’s good.

Look for David Roper’s forthcoming book, “Beyond Mermaids . . . Life’s Tangles, Knots & Bends.” It’s a sequel to “Watching for Mermaids,” a three-times bestseller available on