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Jack Smith

His leg went into the water up to the knee, soaking his : new shoe and the memory of the agility of his youth

September 01, 1985|JACK SMITH

Our younger son sailed the Calafia to Catalina Island last week, with his family, and I was to go over to Two Harbors on the big boat on Saturday and sail back with them on Sunday.

On Friday my daughter-in-law telephoned from the Isthmus.

"Mr. Smith," she said, "are you coming?"

"Yes," I said, "I'll be there at 3:30."

"Wonderful," she said. "Will you bring me something?"

My heart sank. Her lists could be long.

She said, "Just bring two bottles of white wine, two six-packs of Coke, and a head of lettuce."

I realized that I'd feel like a European immigrant arriving at Ellis Island with all his worldly goods. Instead of bringing the lettuce, I promised, I'd take them all to dinner Saturday night at the Isthmus restaurant. She said that would be wonderful. She was tired of cooking.

I packed two bottles of wine and one six-pack of Coke into an airline bag and caught the big boat at Long Beach. It was a good crossing. The air was refreshing, after the 100-degree temperature of Los Angeles. The sea was laced with whitecaps. About 100 young teen-age girls were aboard, flying up and down stairs, giggling, gossiping--typical Southern California girls: tan, long-legged, athletic.

I sat amidships, where there is less movement, reading my Times and feeling elderly.

When we docked my family was not there to meet me.

I walked ashore with my bag and sat on a bench under a palm. Ten minutes went by; then 15; the boat was preparing to depart on its last run back to the mainland. I was about to buy a ticket and go back. There are no accommodations at the Isthmus--nothing but a restaurant, and some restrooms and showers. If they didn't show up, I'd be stranded. The cost of a taxi ride to Avalon would probably exceed my resources. Two minutes left.

My granddaughter came up at a trot. "Hi, grandpa," she said.

She had run ahead. The boat was in Cat Harbor, across the Isthmus. The others would be along.

My son had anchored the boat almost at the opening of Cat Harbor, half a mile from the little dock. He had put the others ashore and they had walked around, and he had rowed the dingy to the dock. This was done to save me the walk.

We walked across to Cat Harbor and the others walked on around to the anchorage while my son and I got into the dingy. It isn't easy to get into an inflated dingy from a dock. I remembered the agility of my youth, when I had gone down rope ladders into landing craft that were rising and falling 10 feet with every swell.

Now I was wearing a new pair of boat shoes I had got by mail order, breaking them in for our cruise up the Danube next month, and I was afraid of getting them wet.

A stiff wind was blowing in; it was hard work rowing out against it. I asked him why he wasn't using the outboard; he said it wasn't working. That is the trouble with machines on a boat; because of the corrosion, they rarely work. We also had a depth detector that didn't work and our ship-to-shore radio wasn't working.

Cat Harbor is a lovely place: a long finger of water between tan hills, protected from the sea by two great heads of granite. It has been used in many pirate movies. Perhaps 30 yachts were moored or anchored.

My family had been on the boat all week, and looked it; a young friend of my grandsons' was with them, making us six, altogether.

In the twilight, listening to the talk of boat people coming across the water, we drank a glass of wine, and then set out for Isthmus Harbor again, for dinner. Again, my son rowed me the length of the harbor, so I wouldn't have to walk. He docked and jumped up on the pier. I tried to climb up, but made the mistake of pushing off with my left leg. My leg went into the water to the knee, soaking my new shoe, not to mention my pant leg and my sock. I was beginning to wish I had gone back on the boat.

In the Two Harbors restaurant a man with a water-soaked leg is not noticed. We had an excellent dinner and went back as we had come, except that this time my grandson rowed.

If you have ever tried to sleep six on a 32-foot sailboat you will know it's an exercise in space management. I slept in the cabin with the three young people, thrusting my lower half into a recess like a cave. Above my head the cabin hatch was open to the starry skies. I was still trying to go to sleep when my grandson fell out of bed.

In the morning we took turns using the head, which was designed for midgets. Getting in and shutting the door is like stuffing a balloon in a suitcase. But at least the toilet worked.

My daughter-in-law started getting pans out to cook breakfast. It was my moment of truth. If she cooked fish I wouldn't be able to eat. I like fish, but not the kind she catches.

"Don't worry, Mr. Smith," she said, "I am cooking egg foo yong."

She has to be the only woman I know who would cook egg foo yong for breakfast on a boat.

With a can of beer, it wasn't bad.

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