Issue: April 2007
OFF THE CHARTS: Boat Is Where the Home Is

By Wendy Mitman Clarke

So,the winter sky in an Arctic snit dropped about an inch of icy sludge all over the Annapolis part of the Chesapeake Bay last night and this morning, enough to turn my house into a boat. Which, I have to tell you, was great.

My actual boat, the new one, was still in the water with two inches of ice all over her spar, an ice-skating rink for a deck and a skirt of ice around the hull. She looked happy as a lark (if there were such a bird around here in winter; maybe I should say happy as a canvasback, or a bufflehead), warm and toasty inside, snugged with heaters down below and winterized in all the right places. Frankly, she looked like she belonged in those conditions, which made me feel a little nervous. I do not belong in those conditions. I have a long history of not belonging in those conditions. I mean, I've tried to belong--ten years of northern New England winters should count for something--but to be honest I tend toward frostbite, and a wintry mix that puts two inches of ice on the spar just makes me irritable.

Nevertheless, the boat was snug as a bug, while at the home front the ice had coated everything with the most glorious glass, the whole place a crystalline fairyland. That is, until the wind picked up and peeled branches off of trees and turned the yard into a hard-hat area. Naturally, the blessed power went out at about 9 a.m. (I'd had the good sense to get a shower beforehand) and didn't make a return engagement.

I'll be the first to admit that it helps that my husband owns a boatyard; said establishment has those little Honda generators like Starbucks has espresso machines. By about noon or so Johnny had brought one home and plugged it in, mostly to power the pumps for the fish tank, the heat lamp for my son's leopard gecko house, and the heat pad for my daughter's hermit crabitat (does it sound like every one of those critters does not belong in a winterized environment? Like me? Can you say, "B.V.I.?")

Meantime, as the afternoon waned, Johnny and I took stock of things at the house, just as we would have on the boat--what we had, what we needed, what we could get. We had stacks of wood and a wood-burning stove, which actually worked without igniting anything outside the stove itself [see Off the Charts, February 2007]. We had several gallons of water, which I had stashed earlier. We had two lovely rockfish fillets that Johnny had caught last fall and frozen, and which I had thawed. We had a propane grill we used on Luna. We had oil lamps. We had a bottle of wine. We were, in other words, making a boat out of our situation. When in doubt, fall back on what you know best.

Dinner was delicious and romantic, given the paucity of electricity and the wealth of candles and oil lamps (just like on the boat). The kids, sans a movie or TV, fell easily into boat mode with a book, a thick blanket and a long story between the two of them. Knowing there would likely be no heat all night other than the woodstove, we piled our blankets and pillows in front of it, and it wasn't two hours after sunset before half the family had crashed. (One of the things I love most about boat time is its truthfulness to natural time. The sun goes down; you go down. Sun wakes up; you wake up. With the exception of the full moon, of course, which throws anyone with a passionate bone in their body beautifully out of whack.)

Maybe the best thing was the quiet. True, there was a generator carrying on, but that was way out in the driveway. Inside our small cocoon, a whole house we had pared down to the efficient, comforting space of a 40-foot monohull, all was peaceful, warm and lit by a literal glow.

Felt like home.