Salty Dog

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


I often come here to sit and watch the boats. I do not know much about boats or seafaring but I find the ebb and flow of the tides and the toing and froing of the vessels to be a kind of
meditation. I understand a little about the tides and how they are affected by the moon and the wind direction and I carry around a mental timetable of when to expect them. But boats are more of a
mystery. There are big boats and little boats, long boats and short boats, boats with sails and boats without sails but this being a harbour suggests that they must all go out to sea. What
regulations are there about how they come and go, I wonder and where do they get their fuel? How do you learn how to sail them and what do you do when they go wrong? Is there a Boat 101 where you
can find out these things? Or, is nautical knowledge something that is passed on in masonic secrecy through the generations?



The stranger who sits himself on the next bench has the look of the ancient mariner about him. Admittedly he has no albatross around his neck but he does have the requisite Naval full set,
weather-beaten features and lugubrious countenance. He too has come to watch the boats but I suspect from a different perspective. He will know the ropes. He will know how to send a shot across the
bows. He will be able to fathom it out. He will have stories about keel hauling and splicing the mainbrace. Here is an old sea-dog for sure. I can’t help but be reminded of Coleridge’s perennial
narrative verse.


Salty Dog by Chris Green

 

I often come here to sit and watch the boats. I do not know much about boats or seafaring but I find the ebb and flow of the tides and the toing and froing of the vessels to be a kind of meditation. I understand a little about the tides and how they are affected by the moon and the wind direction and I carry around a mental timetable of when to expect them. But boats are more of a mystery. There are big boats and little boats, long boats and short boats, boats with sails and boats without sails but this being a harbour suggests that they must all go out to sea. What regulations are there about how they come and go, I wonder and where do they get their fuel? How do you learn how to sail them and what do you do when they go wrong? Is there a Boat 101 where you can find out these things? Or, is nautical knowledge something that is passed on in masonic secrecy through the generations?

The stranger who sits himself on the next bench has the look of the ancient mariner about him. Admittedly he has no albatross around his neck but he does have the requisite Naval full set, weather-beaten features and lugubrious countenance. He too has come to watch the boats but I suspect from a different perspective. He will know the ropes. He will know how to send a shot across the bows. He will be able to fathom it out. He will have stories about keel hauling and splicing the mainbrace. Here is an old sea-dog for sure. I can’t help but be reminded of Coleridge’s perennial narrative verse.

Coleridge doesn’t appear to have been in the navy and he wouldn’t have had the internet at the time of his writing. Yet there is a wealth of nautical detail in the poem. I wonder how he did his research for The Ancient Mariner. There are many seafaring expressions you would not expect a layman to know. Perhaps as a young man, he sat on this very seat or one like it while a salty dog with craggy features like the one sitting beside me now regaled him with apocryphal tales of the seven seas. The main difference perhaps might be that the stories Coleridge heard would be of pirates plundering sailing ships while the tales I might expect from my man may not feature barquentines and square riggers very much.

It looks as though I am about to find out. The old sea-dog has moved in closer. Surprisingly though, he wants to talk about cats. Although I am a little disappointed that he is not going to tell me about his adventures on the high seas, I do know a lot about cats. Marissa and I have six of them. I understand perfectly where he is coming from when he tells me that he likes to talk to his cat. I find myself talking to ours too, especially Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer. But, it would freak me out if they were to speak to me as his cat apparently does. He tells me his cat is called Polly. Polly would be way down the list of popular cat names. I begin to wonder if perhaps Polly is a parrot and he is confusing cats and parrots. I try to explain the difference.

Parrots are usually brightly coloured and they sit on a perch and eat nuts,’ I say. ‘Cats are furry and like to sit in front of the fire.’

He seems grateful that I have pointed this out and this steers the conversation neatly on to trains. He tells me he likes travelling by train and I agree that it is a good way to get about. I tell him if I’m going on a long journey, I often take the train rather than drive. Motorways are hell during the summer months. He begins to tell me about a train he took recently to New York. I don’t like to interrupt his flow but I can’t help thinking a transatlantic train is a little unusual. More likely it was a plane he went on or perhaps an ocean liner. Looking him up and down again, I would say that a cruise across the Atlantic is probably favourite. After all, he does have the look of the ancient mariner about him. Might I, at last, I find out something about life on the ocean waves?

How long did the journey take?’ I ask in the hope that he will want to share his experiences from ten days or so at sea.

Around seven hours,’ he says.

Ah!’ I say. ‘That is quite quick. For a train, I mean.’

I never drink during the day. Not since …… well, not for a long time now. Rum is not my favourite tipple anyway so I forgo the proffered pick-me-up, a half-bottle of Lambs Navy. The conversation moves on to West Ham United’s problems in defence. We agree the blame rests mostly with the new manager. I mention that Millwall F.C. are doing better lately. I point out that Millwall is in the heart of what was once London’s docklands in the hope it might jolt his maritime memory. The prompt sails past him.

While the boats in the harbour come and go, we talk instead about saxophones, doppelgängers and past lives. The bottle is now empty. The mystery man bids me farewell and lurches off in the direction of The Smugglers Arms. Is that a sea shanty he is singing?

I return to my meditation. I still have a lot to learn about boats and seafaring.


© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved


Submitted: September 23, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Chris Green. All rights reserved.

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Comments

hullabaloo22

It's a strange phenomena, Chris, how conversation with a stranger can take such wild turns. Nice work with the character; I could really picture this all taking place.

Sun, September 23rd, 2018 7:20pm

Author
Reply

Thanks Hullabaloo. Pleased you liked the character and felt it was believable. A change of pace for me here.

Regards
Chris

Sun, September 23rd, 2018 12:37pm

Vance Currie

I don't think I would have the courage to write a story like this, but I really enjoyed it. Just a conversation between strangers on a bench by the harbour. Who but Chris Green could have made an entertaining story out of that? It gave me more that a few smiles, and ended with a lingering air of mystery.

Sun, September 23rd, 2018 10:03pm

Author
Reply

Thankyou Joe for your kind words. I had to learn a little about boats and seafaring to be able to say I still have a lot to learn about boats and seafaring.
Regards
Chris

Sun, September 23rd, 2018 10:53pm

Megan Fox

Hi Chris
He made no headway on the old guy but I'm going to have to report you for animal cruelty with the name of your cats.
Megan

Mon, September 24th, 2018 2:57am

Author
Reply

Thankyou for reading Megan. TS Eliot used those cat names so I took them to be approved names and the other guy's cat was probably a parrot anyway.
Regards
Chris

Sun, September 23rd, 2018 10:57pm

B Douglas Slack

A wonderful tale, Chris. On e thing you failed to mention is that boats are what ships carry on their decks. Small boats are called dingies, which i am after so long as an old saly sailor. I even know the whole seven verses of barnacle Bill the Sailor, although I can't sing it in mixed company, or so I'm told--repeatedly.

Bill

Sat, September 29th, 2018 9:44pm

Author
Reply

Thankyou Bill. I have always been confused with maritime technology which in a sense is what led to this story. Living by the sea as I do, I feel I ought to know more.
Regards
Chris

Sun, September 30th, 2018 2:27am

B Douglas Slack

I'd like to add that I'm sorry this took so long, but the notificaiton email ended up in my spam folder which I check once a week.

Sat, September 29th, 2018 9:46pm

Author
Reply

There's always that danger, Bill. I've been with gmail for a long time and they've just changed their presentation and I don't get on with it at all. It goes back to the old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Regards
Chris

Sun, September 30th, 2018 2:30am

dewey green

Aye mate, a sailor is a quizzical bloke, I once knew a first mate who manicured gardens, it was his choice of convo while icing albacore.
Onya.

Fri, July 30th, 2021 2:28pm

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