Small World - June 2007

When was the last time you or someone you know said 'it's a small world...'? No sooner had I recently uttered these four words when I was taken back to an event that occurred a few years ago and that has served as a constant reminder of just how small the world can seem at times.

Beedahbun in CagliariBeedahbun was secure and side-to along a free pier in the industrial port at Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. Cruisers on vessels fore and aft were planning to remain close by all day and had agreed to ‘look out’ for our little boat while we took an extended bicycle ride to the ancient citadel nestled high in the hills that overlook Cagliari and the sea beyond. One of the many things I like about people who live on boats is their willingness to ‘key an eye on things’ when fellow adventurers want to do a little on-land exploring. Those ideal conditions were marred only by our late-morning departure and the 3-hour uphill pedal in the heat of the day.

In Italy, as in many European countries, it is de rigueur for almost everything to close for a 2-3 hour period between 12:30 and 4 pm. By my calculation we would arrive at the citadel moments before 1 pm which would leave us less than 30 minutes to visit any museums or shops. Sure enough, we arrived at our destination wet with sweat and discovered we had 31 minutes within which to decide which of 4 separate exhibitions we'd like to see. Since the likelihood of a return trip was slim, I pushed for the anatomical wax museum more because it sounded like the most unusual of exhibits in the most incongruous of settings. Cued up for tickets and sweltering on a steep, narrow, stair case, and with only 17 minutes to spare, I continued to express my displeasure about how we had once again set off at the worse possible time of day - something I expressed to Jim along the lines of 'This f----ing heat is killing me!’ and ‘What did I tell you?? Everything is f---ing closed!’

Deb & Jim in CagliariSuddenly, an English-speaking voice behind me cheerfully asked, 'Are you by any chance on the sailing vessel Beedahbun?' to which I hesitantly replied, 'Yes...why?’ She didn’t miss a beat and replied 'Oh I’d recognize your voice anywhere…”

My immediate thought was ‘which part of my expletive-laden voice had twigged her memory’. By my count I had used the ‘F’ word a dozen times or more since propping my bike against the exterior wall of the museum, and I had used my ‘not-a-very-nice person’ voice the entire time I’d been standing in line. If that was not shameful enough, I then had to confess that I had no recollection whatsoever of having met this woman and her husband (Lori and Jack) not once as it turned out but twice, and within a six-month span, about three years prior in the United States. As I struggled with face recognition, Lori related our first 'meeting' which in fact had occurred via VHF radio. Again, my thoughts turned to how much of the heat-induced conversation I’d been having with Jim had been overheard.

Lori explained how she recognized my voice from a VHF transmission I had made while we were transiting the ICW (Inter Coastal Waterway) in Florida in the spring of 2001. Her recollection was that I had expressed my displeasure at a power vessel that passed us at a high speed and then moments later thanked another mariner for giving us a 'slow pass'. As I listened to Lori's recollection of that particular radio transmission, I was reminded of how just how forgiving the human spirit can be because what she heard and what I said were quite different.

The event that precipitated that particular radio transmission involved a large power cruiser that sped by us without warning and at full speed. The wake from that vessel was so powerful that it dislodged our microwave oven and propelled it from one side of the galley to the other. I happened to be below deck making coffee and wasn't able to grab hold of the stovetop espresso maker, the milk frother and the microwave with only two hands. There was steaming coffee and scalding milk dripping from the walls and counters and a microwave hanging by a cord because I wasn't able to regain my balance fast enough as our little boat rolled about 45 degrees from side to side. Jim had his hands full keeping Beedahbun on course - something that's critical on the ICW where the least bit of diversion could find a vessel hard aground. We'd had no warning from the overtaking vessel on an otherwise calm, tranquil midwinter day.

Once I regained my composure I went above deck, snatched the binoculars and had just enough time to discern the name and flag of the menacing vessel before its stern disappeared from sight. Without a moment's hesitation I issued a warning on channel 16 of the VHF radio to alert mariners further upstream of us to be alert to "the idiot" that had sped by us under full throttle and would likely cause similar mayhem if the vessel held its course and speed. My transmission in a very even, calm voice went something like this: "Securite, Securite, Securite, attention all vessels proceeding north and south on the ICW at ____ position. There is an idiot at the controls of a large power vessel and he has no regard for anything or anybody...stay clear of this vessel...I repeat there is an idiot at the helm of a large power vessel. The name on the stern is _____".

Approximately 10 minutes later, another large power vessel approached from behind us and asked for a slow pass. In boating language this means: 'I'd like to slowly overtake you'. The give-way vessel normally responds 'Roger, I'll give you a slow pass' and then slows to a crawl while the overtaking vessel slowly passes. This procedure prevents either vessel from creating a wake (wave) that could be dangerous to the other.

I responded in the affirmative and we slowed to a near stop to let the overtaking vessel glide by. Many mariners acknowledge a slow pass after it's occurred with a wave and sometimes a thank you on the VHF radio. As the vessel purred by us I noticed that it flew a Canadian flag. Still reeling with emotion from the disruptive pass moments earlier, I transmitted the following message: 'Motor vessel _____, motor vessel ____, we are the sailing vessel Beedahbun that you just passed...thank you for that slow pass...I should have known that you were a Canadian…'.

Another 10 minutes passed and yet another large motor vessel came up on our stern and kindly radioed for a slow pass which we again welcomed and acknowledged with a wave. This vessel had no sooner passed than our radio came to life and the Captain of the overtaking vessel said 'Some of us Americans can be as considerate as you Canadians...’

I was momentarily taken aback; I hadn't for a moment intended my comments to be discriminatory nor was that my thinking. But, inadvertently I had implied that Canadians were more courteous and in doing so I may have insulted every American listening to my transmission. I promptly issued an apology to those who may have within listening range.

Coleseum in CagliariFast forward 3 and 1/2 years to the top of a hill on the other side of the world where a woman was telling me she recognized me by voice... Lori then reminded me that several months after the radio incident we met again, this time 'in-person' when I gave her and her husband, Jack, a ride to the supermarket in Fort Pierce, Florida. According to Lori, I explained that we were on route to Fort Lauderdale where we were rendezvousing with the ship transporter who would ship Beedahbun to France. I knew instantly I'd have to have met this woman for her to know these and other details.

I wish I could tell you that it 'all came back to me' later that evening when Lori and Jack joined us aboard Beedahbun for a splash of wine but I'm still without any recollection of driving them around.

And the anatomical wax exhibit? It was extraordinary. The detail to cross sections of various life-sized body parts looked so real I wondered at times if it wasn't the real thing. Of course we toured the exhibit in about 12 minutes - and this proved to be about all we could stomach, artisanship aside.

Since that sweltering day in Sardinia I’ve had occasion to run into a few other people in the least likely of places. Thankfully, no one else has recognized me by my voice.