illustration by Tamzin B. Smith
we could see was pink flamingos. Pink flamingo cup holders, pink
flamingo straws, pink flamingo cocktail flags. . . . We detected a
theme here. Boats were circling the anchorage, waiting to be called
into the raft that was in the making. And people (wearing pink flamingo
duds) were ably manning those boats. Someone in a pink flamingo hat was
shouting orders so that each vessel miraculously maneuvered into
position to create a perfect sunflower--the elusive circular formation
that every boat club tries but not every boat club manages to pull off.
This one seemed to be forming up without a hitch. We were impressed. I
was impressed, anyway. Paul didn't know enough about what was going on
to have an opinion one way or another. He just took it in stride like a
two-year-old takes a bow wave. "A circle?" he said. "What a smart idea!
Which one's the bar boat?" He's a quick study, I'll give him that.
had been invited to a gathering of the Chesapeake Bristol Club, a
society of eighty or so Bay boaters who, club name notwithstanding, may
or may not own a Bristol yacht. The club was founded in 1974 by people
who owned and raced those venerable vessels (built in Bristol, R.I. in
the 1960s, '70s and '80s) but it has long since evolved into a cruising
club open to all. The majority of club boats now are not Bristols, and
one isn't even a sailboat; it's a trawler.
Our friends Joel
Gross and Tom Finnin had invited us along for the day's revelry--a big
blowout of a party in Mill Creek, not far from where Joel keeps his
Bristol 32,Chantey. (This is
the Mill Creek just south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, near
Annapolis.) The theme was flamingos (duh) and everything was pink--pink
food, pink napkins, pink punch. Someone gave me a flashing pink
flamingo brooch to wear. Paul was holding a pink flamingo cup. "Bottoms
up," he said cheerily. He wasn't toasting; he was saluting some blonde
babe who was bending over the life line to rearrange a fender. "Swell
party!" he said.
I decided that a cup filled with some pink
frothy stuff might be just the thing to slake my thirst, and, well, you
know how easily those pink frothy sips slide down a parched throat--I
got pretty happy. So did Paul. So did the guy in the flamingo hat. (I
think he's the one who went swimming at some point. He made a big
splash--some of the spray landed in my drink.) As evening approached
the designated drivers maneuvered out of the circle, one by one, and
found their own anchorages. And we, with a decidedly sober Joel at the
helm, eventually slid back toChantey's dock and called it a day.
"So . . . you're saying we could do thatevery weekend?" Paul asked me incredulously. He was quite impressed by this whole boat club business. "And they'd actually let us join?"
"We'd have to prove ourselves," I said.
"Hey, I can jump in the water without spilling my drink, same as the next guy," Paul said.
"I think it's a tad more involved," I said.
But the truth is, we could join that club. Wecouldjoin any number of clubs hereabouts. And we probably should. "Proving"
ourselves would be about as onerous as ponying up the dues, providing a
tasty casserole on occasion and being serious about boating. We
wouldn't have to be experts; we'd just have towantto be experts someday. We'd have to be willing to learn, willing to
share, willing to help. . . . In the end, we'd be better off for the
experience. Better sailors, better boaters, better boating partners.
clubs are as prevalent as boat designs. Ostensibly founded to promote
seamanship--you'll see that in just about every club's manifesto--they
are first and foremost (I don't care what their literature says) social
entities, where like-minded individuals open their hearts, their
cockpits and their liquor lockers to each other on a regular basis. And
that can happen on the docks of some fancy clubhouse, huddled around
someone's kitchen table in January or rafted up in a quiet anchorage.
But of course the benefits go far beyond the social realm. That is,
boat clubs really do make better and more knowledgeable boaters. It's
inevitable, with all the impromptu cockpit seminars, all the weekend
academies, all the website chat rooms full of pithy tips. Add to that
the camaraderie--casseroles and rum recipes are just a bonus.
Can anybody spell flamingo?