A meeting of the New York Ship Lore and Model Club, tucked away around an alley in Chinatown.
Appetites whetted by exotic bounty, we made our way through the unusually quiet streets.
The occasion, a lecture on “Sailing the Northwest Passage” by Richard Hudson, captain of Issuma, a 50’ steel staysail schooner.
The president of the club piped us in. “It’s a fabulous organization for geezing,” she said. “We gather once a month to geeze!” The filled-to-capacity room was lined with a clutter of nautical stuff, including a handsome model of a steam ship.
And a piece of the screw of some large vessel, now a weighty souvenir.
The audience included a cable-knit sweater or two and one magenda-locked lady, but, mainly, a number of earnest plaid-shirted hobbyists. Geezers. A woman stood to make an announcement about rehabbing old oil tankers. A man recommended an article in Outside magazine about the sinking of the replica of the HMS Bounty during Hurricane Sandy.
Hudson’s talk about his trip — from the Davis Strait in the East to the Bering Strait in the West, or Arctic Circle to Arctic Circle — had me mainly shaking my head at how little expertise I have on the subject of sailing the world’s seas. Masts broke, wires snapped, the freezing heavens conspired to keep Hudson in port after port. Roald Admundsen was the first to sail the Northwest Passage, in a wooden converted fishing boat, taking off from Norway in the middle of the night to evade his creditors. The charts were primitive, but he managed it.
But I could listen for hours to Hudson’s tales of Labrador, its whales, polar bears, the death of seal hunting and cod fisheries, its abandoned settlements along the shore. Pictures showed icebergs like giant animals carved out of limestone. A place called “Black Tickle,” it seems, takes its name from what Labradorans call a long, narrow body of water: a tickle.
The icy majesty of Mt. Edgecumbe, the volcano near Sitka.
An Alaskan town called Tenakee, population 60, is built around a hot spring, where the male and female residents take dips on alternate days. Captain Hudson made Brazilian Caipirinhas with cachaça and ice from the local bergs. Delicious.
I’d like to work the words “following wind” into my vocabulary, and my life, on a daily basis. And these northern climes have not only rainbows, but white rainbows – those slightly obscured by fog. If I heard correctly, there is a village someplace in Canada called “WillACockTalk”.
And as I’m turning these cold, splendid, gale-blown pieces of lore over in my mind. The Q and A begins.
“Was the hull flame-sprayed with zinc?”
The boat techies zero in.
“What watch schedule are you comfortable with when you’re single handling?”
This was a fifth-story loft on a narrow street in Chinatown, geezers adrift on a sea of zinc and watch schedules. What, I wondered, was going on in all the other rooms, in all the other buildings, on all the other New York streets? What secret handshakes were making themselves felt.