Bright Stars and Yankeeâ€™s Baseball
Claiborne S. Young
There are those moments in all our lives that we will never forget. These times may contain great beauty, heart rending tragedy, or a revelation of thought. But whatever brings them so forcibly to our attention, these moments will always be with us.
We who go cruising seem to have more of these sorts of memorable moments than most. That is to our good fortune. Many of us have marveled at the likes of a red and gold sunset over the wide waters of North Carolinaâ€™s Pamlico Sound, or the peaceful serenity of a small, almost secret anchorage on the Okeechobee Waterway. But, even among us cruisers, there are just a few moments that stand out above all the rest. I had just such a happening in my life way back in October of 1982, while researching the very first edition, of my first book, Cruising Guide to Coastal North Carolina.
My father-in-law, Bud Williams, and I were cruising the wide, often choppy waters of North Carolinaâ€™s Neuse River. It had been heretofore what I call an “eventful” research trip. Two days earlier we had gaily cruised through the old Trent River railway bridge at New Bern, to begin what was supposed to be a half dayâ€™s research of this beautiful stream. While passing through, we noticed a repair crew working on the span, but thought nothing of it. Imagine our surprise when we eased back up to the bridge that afternoon, and were told that, due to repair work, the span would not open until late the following afternoon.
That sort of unexpected delay puts a wrinkle in anyoneâ€™s cruising plan, but imagine what it did to my finely crafted research schedule. You know, everyone thinks my job is so much fun. After all, so the thinking goes, all Claiborne does is ride down the Waterway soaking up the sunshine and eating at all the good restaurants. Now, to be sure, this IS a fun job, but let me tell you it can also be a nerve wracking experience when the weather goes bad, something on the boat breaks (and we all know how often that can happen) or, in this case, when a bridge doesnâ€™t deign to open for 24 hours.
So, I was one uptight captain when we finally got through the railway span the following afternoon. I had already expended my entire stock of four and five letter words at the bridge crew, and the old span itself. Anyway, we sped down the Neuse at Warp 9, to reach the Bay River. We were scheduled to pick up our far better halves the next day, so it was absolutely necessary to finish researching the many anchorages on this body of water before the sun set on our efforts.
Well, it wasnâ€™t long after rounding Maw Point, the intersection of Neuse River, Bay River and the Intracoastal Waterway, that things began to change. To this day, there is only a smattering of development along the banks of Bay River moving upstream to the tiny coastal village of Bayboro, but in those earlier times, there was hardly a house or a dock to be seen. The shoreline was a riot of color, flanked by a rich combination of scrubby green growth, not yet dimmed by autumnâ€™s approach, and the reds, golds and silvers of leaves about to fall from summerâ€™s branches. By the time we reached the tiny Bayboro waterfront, the sun was setting behind the local shrimping fleet. I used a black and white photo of this panorama in the first few editions of the NC guide. Oh, to have had a camera filled with color transparency film. But, in those days, black and white was all that we could use in our guide books, so itâ€™s all I had.
Darkness was fast approaching, and a cool, but not unpleasantly cold, October breeze was lightly wafting across the water. It was high time to find a place to anchor, fill up on some good grub, and rest from our long day of on-the-water research.
We had checked out many spectacular anchorages earlier in the afternoon, but one really stood out in my mind. It was certainly not the deepest of the lot, but its beauty and seeming stillness that derived from a deep feeling of isolation, were all that a cruiserâ€™s heart could desire. So, we laid on the throttles and headed back downriver to marker #9, and soon had the hook down just off the mouth of Chapel Creek.
As far as the eye could see, or the ear could hear, there was not another sight or sound of human habitation. These protected waters were smooth, and reflected the bankâ€™s pines and hardwoods perfectly. It was, as that oft overused word so aptly describes, idyllic!
Well, beautiful it was, but the scenery could not long contend successfully with our bellies. Those acquainted with me know that Iâ€™m something of an amateur cook, and it wasnâ€™t long before I had whipped up a cholesterol busting meal of T-bone steaks, baked potato, fresh corn on the cob, and salad with chocolate souffle squares for dessert. Iâ€™m surprised the boat didnâ€™t sink following that repast.
After dinner and a quick washing up, we decided it was high time to rest from our labors. Bud, who at the time was a HUGE Yankeeâ€™s baseball fan, cranked up his scratchy, AM radio, and soon had a New York â€“ Cleveland Indians game tuned in, with Yankee’s commentator, Phil Rizutto (“Scooter”) calling the play by play. In spite of the game, Bud was soon asleep, sawing wood as they say. I was not a baseball fan in those days (all thatâ€™s changed now â€“ Iâ€™m a big time Atlanta Braves fan), so I retired to the cockpit, and soon found my way up the ladder to the fly-bridge.
It was one of those perfect nights. The sky was incredibly clear, and the vast array of stars overhead, reflected perfectly in the still waters, simply took my breath away. It was a bit chilly, so I pulled my cotton canvas jacket a bit closer, laid back on the flybridge bench and contemplated the heavens. In the background, Scooter’s staticy play by play came through clearly, but not another sound was to be heard.
Lying on the flybridge, looking up into the firmament with a sense of wonder, it felt as if I was profoundly alone with all that I could see. Even though I could hear the Yankees, and knew that Bud was down below, and even though I knew I would re-unite with my first-rate, first-mate the next day, for that moment my whole existence resolved to just myself and what lay before me. And yet, conversely, seldom had I felt more connected to everything around me.
And isnâ€™t that the way it often is for many of us. We are ultimately and finally alone with ourselves, but still connected with all we know and love. I guess itâ€™s just the paradox of human existence, and it came home to me ever so forcefully all those years ago on that October night, lying at anchor near Chapel Creek. As long as I live, I will never forget that night sky, with Yankess baseball in the background. May you too be so fortunate with your next anchorage.
Good luck and good cruising to all!
Claborne S. Young
June 7, 2006
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Comments from Fellow Cruisers Concerning “Bright Stars and Yankees Baseball”:
I would hope every sailor would have a moment like this.
We had completed a short cruise of the Abacos and were lying in the anchorage at Great Sale Cay awaiting a weather window to jump across the Stream back to the mainland. The sun was setting and I had just settled myself in the cockpit to relax after securing us comfortably in the anchorage. I watched the setting sun with a wisp of clouds bisecting it above the horizon. As it raced towards its dip it put on a light show of colors to make even Disneyâ€™s artists despair of matching. As the upper limb touched the border between day and night I saw the green flash.
That is the one and only time in hundreds of sunsets, Iâ€™ve viewed, to see the spectacle. It was awe inspiring, despite an understanding of the optics involved, and I spent the next hour in the cockpit as one with my shipmates who were fortunate enough to share the experience.
How lucky for us and, even more, some 12 years later we are all still here and sharing other wondrous events in our lives.
How wonderful it is, Claiborne, that you share your â€œmomentsâ€ with your fellow boaters. Your â€œBright Stars and Yankee Baseballâ€ brings a memory of mine to the forefront.
My wife and I had crossed over from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini in our 32â€² Erickson and had a very rough time of it. From mirror flat calm to 10 to 12 foot seas in a matter of an hour or so, we experienced a very rough and long day. Just barely made it in before dark â€“ would have had to stay out all night if we had been, say 30 minutes later, getting there.
Our hook went down and set the first time and we kicked back and relaxed, had a â€œtoonieâ€ or two and dinner and crashed for the rest of the night.
Up fairly early, coffee made and poured in the â€œCaptainâ€™sâ€ mug and I stuck my head out into the morning air to the sound of a pilot for Chalk Airlines starting engines for the flight to Miami.
As it turned out, we had dropped the hook at the very edge of his take-off run, so after his run up he taxied into the water, raised the gear, put on full power and headed almost directly at us. As the airiplane went by I could see the pilot waving at us while wearing a strapped T-shirt, headset on over his crushed captainâ€™s hat and a cigar in his mouth.
After 35 years of flying with the USAF, the Mass. ANG, Pan American World Airways and Delta Air Lines, I still look back at the Chalk pilot as he went by and think to myself, â€œBoy does he have it made!â€