Hard Living in Zululand
Living “on the hard” as opposed to living on the water, in yachting terms means that one resides aboard ones yacht whilst it is out of the water, albeit balanced precariously several metres off the ground on flimsy wooden stilts. Imagine climbing a ladder onto the roof of your house and climbing down a ladder into your bedroom through a small aperture in the roof and you may appreciate some of the challenges it presents. Since the boats are propped up next to each other with scarcely sufficient space to walk between them, privacy is difficult to maintain. Whilst activities such cooking, eating or sleeping remain more or less the same whether a boat is in or out of the water, some things, like ablutions, become more difficult or are impossible and the walking distance to the communal bathrooms becomes a matter of significant importance, made even more so during inclement weather. Things become even more “interesting” when the need for a solitary late night trip to the loo involves a climb down a rickety ladder in total darkness. Since access to the ablutions is managed by a single key shared between each boats crew, one soon learns to make “the long walk to wee-some” a communal activity. This is why we have a porta-potti kept discreetly on the deck to be consulted in the wee hours when no one is stirring. Nevertheless when the need for a quick leak outweighs discretion, the situation can become embarrassing.
Late one hot and humid Zululand evening I climbed, stark naked, up the companionway ladder inside the boat out onto my deck and sat quietly down upon the porta-potti. The stars wheeled over my head and the only sounds were the soft hoot of an owl hunting nearby and the liquid splash of skittish mullet fleeing a hungry predator in the ocean below. I revelled in feeling so uninhibited sitting there enjoying the sublime feeling that releasing a long pent up urge brings, witnessed only by the glittering heavens above. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I realised that I was not alone when I smelt smoke emanating from a glowing cigarette few feet to my left. I looked around slowly and gazed directly into the eyes of my neighbour who was sitting naked on his own deck, indulging an urge of his own with a solitary late night cigarette.
“Morning” he intoned quietly. I nodded as casually as if we were greeting each other as we passed in the thoroughfare, not trusting myself to speak and grateful that he could not see me blushing in the gloom.
A spitting chain of profanities so loud and so virulent that they drowned out our disk sanders shrieking as we ground and sanded some fibreglass, was my introduction to pony tailed and grey-bearded Gus. Resembling a cross between biblical Moses and a scrawny ZZ Top musician, Gus had returned from the showers clad only in a turquoise Kenyan sarong tied about his scrawny waist and wearing slip-slops on his huge feet and an American confederate army cap squashed over his once-red grey hair as he climbed the ladder onto his deck, where he scratched and tore at his exposed skin.
“I hate f***ing fibreglass it makes me itch like a f***ng bastard” spat Gus. Guiltily I ducked below the green shade netting and renewed my dusty task.
Seeing the bespectacled Gus returning from the showers meant that we would have to wait a little longer whilst the geyser reheated, so we resented him since we were planning to reward ourselves with a rejuvenating shower after a humid day spent grinding toxic epoxy dust and sharp fibreglass shards.
“I detest the c**ts that use fibreglass instead of a decent material -like steel” Gus ranted, stomping around his deck. My son Bill shot me a warning glance as he whispered
“Ignore him dad -remember what we agreed about maintaining good relations with everyone in the boatyard” I nodded and resumed my work, determined to ignore Gus.
“Can’t these pricks sweep up their fibreglass dust? I have a good mind to set the Safety Inspectors on them” came the cursing again. Bill wagged his own sanding disk at me frowning a warning. I ground my teeth and nodded, resuming my dusty work once more.
“Just wait until I get my hands on the c**t that is making all this fibreglass dust! Anger burned in my throat, fuelling explosive energy that popped my head out of a jagged tear in the awning like an Alien chest-burster.
“Here is the c**t you are looking for! So what are you going to do with me?” I shouted across the space between our boats. Bill yanked me back down beneath the green awning.
“Come on dad- you promised you would try to control your temper!” His disappointment quenched my anger quicker than a bucket of icy water. How was I going to save face with my son? But it was too late, I was committed, so I stuck my head through the rent in the green awning once more to half-heartedly continue the fight. Gus swung around– his mouth working behind his long red-grey beard
“I am not talking to you. You are downwind of me. I am talking about the blasted Americans on the boat upwind of me!” He clambered down his ladder and walked over to introduce himself. Within a short time we had discovered that he had left a luxury home in the community where I was born and that for him the last straw had come after enduring numerous burglaries and two car hijacking incidents, when he and his family had been held hostage and tortured in their own home for several days. We discovered we were contemporaries, had served our military conscription in apartheid’s army, and shared a taste in music, reading and a determination to live for the moment by squeezing every drop of joy out of whatever time was left to us. He shared his steel ketch with nubile Salome, who was at least fifteen years younger than him. He introduced her as his partner – reflecting a common arrangement amongst the strong willed and intractable cruising sailors who attract younger female companions like bees to spilt Coke. Gus was a retired engineer, who spent inordinate time, money and energy sanding, priming, spray painting and fussing over his beloved masts to the point where ribald comments were constantly being passed comparing them to a part of his anatomy. Gus would attack anyone who ventured too close to his pride and joy languishing on a set of especially constructed trestles below his boat. The cavorting monkeys were another target of his vocal vitriol whenever they used his masts as a highway, dining room and toilet during their frequent scavenging raids through the boatyard.
A few days later, I was awakened before dawn by Gus clattering noisily up the ladder onto the deck of his boat after extending the Wednesday night happy-hour into Thursday morning. Unable to get back to sleep I slipped quietly up the cabin ladder onto the deck to adjust the ropes maintaining the flapping green shade net awning overhead. A gushing tintinnabulation punctuated by a resonating liquid metallic ring distinguished itself from the plethora of twilight marina sounds. As I sought to identify it, I became aware of movement to my right. There outlined in the moonlight stood Gus, his russet and grey-bearded mouth open with pleasure as he relieved the pressure pent up by too many late night beers, directly onto his beloved masts. A feeling of déjà vu made me smile as Gus became aware of my presence and we exchanged morning greetings without him missing a beat.
“A little awkward eh?” he intoned as he shook his member dry before slipping it back inside his sarong. I stifled a guffaw as I realised that he was blissfully unaware that he had been urinating onto his beloved masts. His impromptu late night treatment had been noticed by others in the boatyard who delighted in posing sly questions regarding the benefits of an acid wash and the merits of chemical baths which were met with a puzzled look by him next morning.
A week or so later, as I was once more adjusting lines during the pre-dawn hours, the streaming musical sound was repeated. This time it was generated by Salome’s son, AWOL from the Navy, who was spending time aboard and who was surreptitiously and inadvertently relieving himself on Gus’s mast. He started as he became aware of my presence. Then, pretending that he had not seen me and without interrupting his cascading stream, he nonchalantly shuffled over to the opposite side of the deck, splashing and tinkling onto the deck and his own bare feet as he went. A rippling metallic cadence told me when he reached the opposite side that he had unwittingly redirected his urgent stream onto their aluminium boarding ladder. I was not around next morning when Gus climbed down his sodden steps, but I do know that the lad was gone before lunchtime the next day.
Note. Some Names have been altered for personal reasons.