Harvey Jimson is a mild-mannered
investment counselor whose demeanor verged on timidity in New York, but like many New
Yorkers, as soon as he came to the Vineyard he donned a cap with a gold braid, bought a
sailboat, and became Captain Bly.
"Shes a yawl," he told me proudly, "if you
want to come sailing, be on the dock at nine oclock sharp, and dont be
At five minutes to nine the next morning I stood at the end of
the vineyard Haven town pier with a small bag containing a towel, a tube of sunscreen
number 10, a canvas hat, a bathing suit, a bottle of water and a tin of aspirin in case I
got a headache from the sun, which wasnt out, I noticed suddenly. In fact, it looked
a little like rain.
I waited upwards of an hour.
"Ahoy there!" Jimson shouted at last, tossing a rope
from the deck of his boat as he approached. "Belay the line on the cleat."
| "Do what?" I said.
A small boy who was busy fishing on the pier grabbed the rope
from me and tied it to a metal thing. "Thats a cleat," he explained.
"Belay just means tie."
"Climb aboard, mate," Jimson told me. "Look sharp
shes pitching a little."
"Shes doing what?" I asked, stepping onto the
boat and falling on my face on the deck.
"That line is fagged," Jimson barked, stepping over me.
"Watch the rigging screw. Stow your gear in the hold while I get away from the piles
and well slip around the groin."
"You wouldnt believe what I just thought you
said," I said, scrambling up. "Where should I stand?"
"Aft, by the gun'l."
"Whats a gun'l?"
"Careful of the boom."
"I didnt hear anything."
"Duck, you half-wit," Jimson shouted
as the sail flapped toward me,
|sustained by a horizontal, lethal-looking piece of wood, thick enough to
bash a persons head in. "And stand clear of the tiller!"
An hour later wed left the harbor and were, in every sense
of the term, out to sea. A squall had come up and sharp little waves rocked the boat,
causing a surge of nausea in me, eased now and then by sheets of stinging cold water that
whipped me in the face.
"Fun, isnt it?" Jimson shouted. At least, I think
thats what he shouted. For the last ten minutes the storm had twisted and garbled
his words, though Im not sure I would have understood him in any case.
"Tweep the dicky! Stay the ferls! Suck the duck," he
commanded. "Pickle the jib! Grab the mainsl! Goose the moose
I would like to pause at this point to reflect upon the meaning
of certain technical terms used by the new sailors to demonstrate their knowledge of the
sea. Ive made a study of them, and a glossary will be found at the end of this
After the squall had passed, we found ourselves under a blue sky
on a calm ocean with heavy gentle swells that made any nausea Id been feeling up
till then seem a joke. Jimson was fiddling with his fishing line at one side of the boat
while I lay prone on the other side with my head over the edge.
"I like the look of that stretch of sea up ahead a few
knots," he said, tightening his fishing line. "Might be a feeding ground for
"Okay." I washed myself with a rag dipped in seawater
while Jimson pulled at one of the sails.
"Ready about!" he shouted suddenly.
"Maybe youd better explain some of those terms to
me," I said, trying to stand up, "so Ill have a better idea what
youre talking about."
"I had just finished speaking when the boom swung across and
knocked me overboard.
"You have to pay attention.," Jimson said, swinging the
boat around and putting his hand out. "Grab hold, mate. Ill pull you in. Hurt
"Only my knee," I said, rubbing it, "nothing
serious. Ill be able to walk in a day or two."
There was a zinging sound and Jimson ran over and grabbed his
fishing line. "Got one," he announced proudly, reeling it in. "Looks like a
quarter pounder. Toss it in there, mate," he added, handing me the fish a very
small one and pointing to a coffin-shaped box at the back of the boat.
I carried the little fish over, lay it down inside the box,
poured a bucket of seawater in after it, and stroked its nose. It bit me.
"What are you yelping about, mate?" Jimson said. He
came over and examined my bloody fingertip. "Blues have very sharp teeth, didnt
I mention that?"
Jimson studied me. "Better put your shirt back on
mate," he said. "You look kind of red."
A little while later hed tied the boat to a pier and I
stepped gingerly off. By that time my back was on fire and I could tell I was in for a
"Glad to have you on board, mate," Jimson called as I
limped away, nursing my knee. "Be here tomorrow at nine sharp and Ill take you
out to look at some whales."
I pretended not to hear. If a little tiny bluefish can take off
the tip of your finger, I wouldnt like to think of what a whale could do.
Glossary of Nautical Terms
Note: the following definitions are not gleamed from a dictionary, but from personal
experience combined with careful observation and, if I may say so, guts.
Port This side.
Starboard That side.
Aft Abbreviation for the time immediately after midday.
Fore (Im not sure.)
Aye, Aye! The gentile equivalent of "Oy, oy!"
Laying On the Oars Something you shouldnt even try.
Dinghy A small dingh.
Dead Astern A useless thing that is behind you.
Dead Ahead A useless thing that is in front of you.
Gaff Something you shouldnt have said.
Head Euphemism for Powder Room.
Tonnage Amount by which youre overweight.
Shipshape Something that looks like a ship.
Winch (Same as Fore.)
Rigging Screw The act of making love on the ropes.
Splice Hispanic bedbugs.
Bilge Diminutive of "Bill."
Jibe Modern slang.
Focastle A brief weather report.
Buoy Opposite of guirl.
Sea Cock - (This term is self-explanatory and requires no
Sextant The owner of a sea cock.
Soundings Little noises.
Swab Baby talk for "slob."
Ground Swells Rich tourists.
Capstan The word "Captain" spoken by someone who
should not have another martini.