Issue: February 2003
To Make a Cup of Coffee

Though the winds go wild and the waters rage, just call me Miss Hospitality.


It should have been an easy enough thing to do. All they’d asked for was a cup of coffee, they being our neighbors Don and Merideth Buxton. It was their first time on the boat - our new one, the trawler. And it wasn’t like I couldn’t accommodate a simple thing like that. Our new galley certainly had all the modern conveniences: a microwave, a refrigerator and freezer, an oven and, yes, a coffee maker. It was the first thing they had spotted on the counter top. And yes, they’d love a cup of coffee. Those clouds up ahead looked mighty dark, and they were feeling, well, just a tad nervous. They weren’t really boat people, you know.

    So I undid the foot pump and began methodically pumping fresh water into the coffee pot. I was feeling pretty smug about our water supply. Clint had rigged the foot pump to a container of sweet spring water so we wouldn’t have to drink the nasty tasting stuff from the boat’s tanks. (Water that sits too long in a tank begins to taste like the tank, and we haven’t yet found a tank that tastes like fresh spring water. So we load our own spring water supply before each outing, and that’s what we use to make orange juice or iced tea or coffee.) It only took just shy of forever to pump a coffee pot full with that nifty little foot pump, and while I was at it, I did notice that the boat was starting to roll a bit. Of course, that was no problem for me in that great big galley. Besides, I like to oblige my guests, and coffee is such a mainstay of American hospitality that it seemed a given that I should make some right off. If I were Martha Stewart, I’d have ground the beans instead of using a can of Folger’s, but hey . . . well, I’m not Martha Stewart.

    Our guests gazed in wonder out the windows in the main saloon. Aren’t the whitecaps pretty, they said as the wind kicked up. Look at that thunderhead - shaped like an anvil, just like in the pictures!

    Oh boy, said Captain Clint, now we’ll find out how this baby rocks and rolls. Won’t this be fun, Sweetums? he said to me. Our first storm in our new boat, and yes, I’d like some coffee, too.

    I gave the foot pump a few more pushes for good luck, slid the coffee pot onto the burner and flipped the switch. No juice, honey! I called to Captain Clint. You’ll need to switch on the generator.

    The boat took a real roll just as Clint came down the companionway from the pilothouse. It smashed him first against the control panel and then into me in the galley. I held on to the coffee pot and stood my ground; experience has taught me that no matter what happens, my husband won’t shatter all over the galley floor. He even picks himself up, remarkably enough, which is more than I can say for glass coffee pots that go flying.

    With the generator finally on and the coffee pot beginning to rumble and drip, I had a moment to tend to my guests once again. How’s that coffee coming? they asked, looking a little shaky. Just then the boat took another wallop and the coffee pot started to slide. With the grace of a ballerina, I swept one arm in an arc to stop it, while I clamped the other arm, less gracefully perhaps, around my friend Don. Just a few more minutes, I smiled, attempting to radiate comfort and confidence and security. Just then a mega-ton blast of thunder ripped the skies open overhead.

    Now this is boating! Captain Clint bellowed cheerfully from the bridge as a kajillion watts of electricity buzzed through the air and we got another fistful of thunder across our chops. The boat is handling like a charm! he yelled. Look Ma, no foul weather gear! He’s such a card.

    Did I mention that by now it was raining torrents? Nothing much to look at through the windows anymore. As a matter of fact, we’d shut those suckers up tighter than a drum, and boy was it tight. As in close. As in hot and muggy. And there I was holding on to the dang coffee pot with one hand and counting the hours till the bloody thing dripped itself dry. I was trying to think of what Martha Stewart would do. As for me, I don’t do well in close, cramped, airless compartments that are thrashing and bucking like one of Poseidon’s broncos. I don’t care how well equipped they are. I figured that even Martha Stewart would probably be getting ready to lose her canap's right about now, so I cleared the galley sink in case I had to do the old heave-ho.

     There was thunder booming, the waves were crashing and I was all by myself, hanging on to that coffee pot with every fiber of my being, my recently eaten lunch doing a slow afterburn on the back of my tongue. Any minute now, I thought. Everyone else was up in the pilothouse having a great time with Captain Clint. I could hear them talking about how we’ll always have lots to talk about from now on, and, oh my, just look at that lightning bolt, and how high do you think those waves are now? My stomach did a pre-rumble roll and I was thinking ohmygod here it comes, when it stopped. The coffee pot, I mean. The drips. At least it stopped enough for me to clamp my stomach muscles tight and pour out three mugs of steaming black coffee before the fourth one finally scalded me a good one across the wrist.

    I grabbed the coffee mugs up in one hand, waitress-style, and began the dizzying ascent to the pilothouse. I had to manage three steps, all without oxygen. I thought of how mountain climbers must feel as they’re clinging to the side of a mountain while a freak blizzard bashes them against the rock wall, and wondered if they could handle four mugs of hot coffee at the same time. The boat reared and plunged, reared and plunged as if the channel were full of potholes and we were cruising along in a low-budget SUV instead of a seagoing trawler.

    Finally I was there. I had made it. Flushed with victory, I passed out the coffee as a crash of thunder crowned the moment and the boat shouldered its way through yet another wall of frothing water.

    Coffee? they said, as if reluctant to unlock their frozen knuckles from whatever handhold they’d grown a part of. You shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble! Trouble? It was no trouble, I said, sliding into the seat beside Captain Clint, ready to ride out the rest of the storm in the comfort and fellowship of the pilothouse. It’s only a cup of coffee.

    Any cream? someone asked.