Doris Does George Town
April 06, 2006
Last fall when we were visiting in Canada, we helped Eileen's mother, Doris, move Eileen's father into a nursing home. It was an emotionally trying time for everyone involved, but after a month both Doris and Jack, Eileen's father, seemed to have adjusted reasonably well. We announced that we were heading back to Florida where we had left our boat in dry storage.
Doris said, "Maybe I'll come and visit you this winter."
Eileen said, "I don't think you'd enjoy yourself, Mom. The facilities on board are pretty basic. You won't be able to take a hot bath."
Doris said, "Oh, that's okay. I know how to rough it."
"You won't be able to go shopping," Eileen continued. "We won't be near any shopping malls."
"Well, I can probably manage," Doris responded. "It will be nice just to be somewhere warm."
"You might not like all of our cruising friends," Eileen persisted, a slight note of desperation creeping into her voice. "They're different from the friends you have here. They don't get dressed up much and they spend a lot of time talking about the weather."
"I'm sure if they're friends of yours, dear, we'll get along just fine," Doris said firmly.
Eileen let the subject drop. Later, David told her, "Don't worry. Your mother's not herself with all of the changes that have occurred lately. She'll get over it soon enough and that's the last we'll hear about her visiting us on the boat."
David was wrong. In January, after we had sailed to the northern Bahamas, we received an e-mail from Doris. "Where am I meeting you?" she asked.
"Omigod, she's serious!" Eileen exclaimed.
"Tell her we'll meet her in George Town next month," David said. "Explain that there are plenty of things happening there that should keep her occupied and happy for a week."
Doris promptly replied saying she had booked a flight and, since George Town sounded like such a fun place, had decided to stay for not one, but TWO weeks.
"Okay, bright guy, you've just become the activities director," Eileen told David.
We sailed into George Town a couple of days before Doris arrived. We cleared all of our stuff out of the forward cabin and crammed it into the quarter berth. Eileen spent a lot of time sweeping and scrubbing. On the big day, we took the dinghy to the dock to pick up Doris. She was waiting for us in a nice blouse and pants ensemble with matching hat and shoes. Beside her was one very large suitcase on little wheels and another not-so-large suitcase on little wheels. She explained that the smaller suitcase contained our backlogged mail and "a few things for you" -- which turned out to be mostly duty-free liquor, maple syrup, chocolate, and other edibles. We did not complain.
Doris managed to get into the dinghy and then up onto the boat without mishap. We took her and her suitcases to the forward cabin. "It's all yours, you can arrange things anyway you'd like," Eileen told her. Within minutes every square inch of the berth was covered with Doris' things.
Eileen gave her mother plumbing instructions: how to use the manual foot pumps in the galley and head, and how to flush the toilet. "Twenty-five pumps, Mom, it's a long discharge hose."
"You can alternate between your left and right arms," David added helpfully. "Think of it as a substitute for the exercise machines at your health club."
Our friends Linda and Ron on Water Music had invited us over for sundowners. "Be sure to bring your mother," Linda had said the day before.
Two other couples joined us after we arrived at Water Music. The cockpit table was filled with goodies we had all contributed. Doris sat at the centre and answered queries about where she lived and what she did. Soon she was regaling everyone with stories about the trials and tribulations of raising six children. We all laughed, except Eileen, who sunk a little lower in the corner with each account of her childhood misadventures.
It was long past sunset when we got back to Little Gidding. Doris said, "They're really nice people, although they do dress a little funny."
The next day we took a long walk on the ocean side beach. Doris wore a new blouse and pants set and a complementary sweater. Eileen cautioned that she might get her good clothes wet, which is what happened with the first breaking wave. Doris laughed. "No problem, I've got lots of other things to wear."
That evening we went over for dinner with our friends Dee and Don on Southern Cross. They had also told us that they wanted to meet Doris. Doris didn't disappoint them and kept the conversation going until the lights were out on most of the neighbouring boats. "Your friends are very interesting ... and good cooks, too," Doris declared as she climbed into her berth.
The following morning Bill on Rocinante announced on the VHF radio that we should all join a dinghy drift an hour before sunset. "What's a dinghy drift?" Doris asked.
"You'll find out," we promised.
At the appointed time we took the dinghy out into the middle of the harbour and tied up to a growing raft of other dinghies. Everyone introduced themselves to Doris. Appetizers made their precarious way from boat to boat. David brought out some aged Bahamian rum and ginger beer and introduced Doris to a dark and stormy. "Hey, this is pretty good," she said. "I could get to like this, but don't you people do anything other than eat and drink?"
"We haven't taken you to Volleyball beach yet," we said.
Volleyball beach is the social focus of the George Town cruising community. Every afternoon there are both informal and organized activities happening there -- not just volleyball, but everything from bridge to water colour painting. On Doris' first visit to the beach, Bea from Joy Bells eyed her outfit and announced, "What you need is some suitable footwear." Bea immediately sat Doris down and made her a pair of beach sandals: beaded strings that loop around the ankle and toes, sans soles.
On ensuing days, Doris learned how to play dominoes with a group of ladies at the tables on the beach. On Sunday, she and Eileen attended beach church, an ecumenical worship service. Doris was particularly impressed by the baked goods at the fellowship hour after the service. "Grab one of those peanutbutter cookies with the chocolate kiss on top," she whispered to Eileen.
Our French Canadian friend Yves taught her to play bocce ball, a favourite sport among the Quebec boaters. Their team came first. "Your mother's a natural," Yves told Eileen.
Hans on Whisper V helped her make a conch shell horn. Afterwards, everyday at dusk, she joined the dozens of other hornblowers who find it necessary to announce the setting of the sun. "We've unleashed a monster," David muttered.
Oliver on Dejarlo, anchored next to us, brought over a lobster he had just speared. "You can't visit the Bahamas without eating fresh lobster," he said. Doris gingerly picked up the spiny crustacean and thanked him.
Ron and Karen on Sea Dancer organized a rock 'n roll dance night at Chat 'N Chill, the rustic bar on Volleyball beach. Before David got back from the counter with our drinks, Doris was up dancing with her dominoes buddies. "Hey!" she yelled at us, "Aren't you going to dance?"
Eileen gave a concert a couple of days later on Volleyball beach. Doris sat on a bench near the front next to our dear friend Gerald from Katie. Doris looked around at the audience, about 200 cruisers singing and clapping and laughing as Eileen sang. She nudged Gerald with her elbow. "That's my daughter, you know."
A couple of days before she was due to leave, a cold front was forecast to pass through the area. With the predicted clocking of the wind, we'd be exposed if we remained anchored off Volleyball beach. David asked, "Doris, how would you like to go sailing?"
We weighed anchor and set sail down the harbour towards Red Shanks, a protected anchorage about three miles away. With the sails up, David suggested Doris take over at the helm.
"How do you steer this thing?" Doris asked.
"It's simple, just like driving a car," David said.
Eileen covered her eyes. "You haven't seen my mother drive a car," she said.
We weaved our way erratically down the centre of the harbour, squeaking between the buoys that marked a reef, and dodging two oncoming boats. David took over as we turned into the Red Shanks anchorage. "You can look up now," he told Eileen.
We enjoyed a quiet day of shelling and then it was time for Doris to go. Eileen called a taxi on the radio and arranged for a pickup at a nearby dock. Doris clambered out of the dinghy and David helped lug her suitcases up to the road. Doris' clothes were a bit salt stained and didn't quite match. "I had a great time," she said.
"We did, too," Eileen said. "Didn't I say we would?"
As the taxi pulled away David yelled, "Don't frighten your neighbours in Ottawa with your conch horn!"
The next day we were enjoying our morning coffee alone in the cockpit. Gerald dropped by on his way to town in his dinghy. "Doris is pretty amazing," he said.
Eileen said, "Yes, she is; she's my mother, you know."