Some things contribute to the experience of living aboard and sailing Mahdee more so than others. At the San Diego military marina Fiddler’s Cove, there’s a Liars Table made up of military retirees: veterans who have served their country during war and peace. Many of them have not only decades of service but also service-related injuries or are recipients of a disability retirement. These vets sit at an outdoor picnic table under the overhang of one of the marina buildings. The digs aren’t comfortable but functional in that familiar way of minimalist military MWR facilities. The spot garners a view of the entire mooring field, marina, pump out and courtesy dock. With the view, thoughts quickly turn to the unattended boats moored here waiting for their deployed active duty owners to return from long sea tours in the western Pacific and Indian oceans or land tours in Afghanistan. The spot catches the smell of the Pacific ocean across the Silver Strand roadway to the west with the occasional sound of surf or sounds of the Navy Seals training on the beaches there. To the east the hazy view across the south San Diego Bay shows battleships, cargo ships, and the distant National City skyline.
Rain or shine, the veterans gather around the Liars Table in plastic lawn chairs or on wooden benches under the awning and they talk for a few hours every morning. About their boats, the fishing, weather, the visitors from a high school ROTC sailing program, the boat that broke free of its mooring just the other day, the Navy Seal training that occasionally wakens the marina inhabitants at dawn with the sound of machine guns and grenades, or about the Osprey living atop the mizzen mast of a boat moored at the marina. Stories include which boat is for sale, which boat just sold, or which boat should be given up on. Stories of fish–big ones, little ones, and all the ones that used to be here to catch. Tsunamis and tides are afforded many hours of discussion. Climate change and sea level rise, islands and dreams, everything is fair to discuss at the table. In among the current affairs comes a story about a famous World War II vet who visited his boat here just last week, or one of the vets now jokes about an old war injury flaring up–for the last 40 years–and the next surgery to deal with it this year. All ages may gather at the table but the younger ones seem to have places to go and people to see whereas there is a tendency towards Vietnam or earlier era veterans to linger and watch the morning unfold and the marina come to life with children’s classes in the summer or just the downpour of rain and the dockmaster checking lines for those deployed military absentee boat owners in the winter.
When we re-launched Mahdee, we kept her at the courtesy dock for a couple months. These were months of working on the rigging and deck fittings. Putting it all back together again. I spliced lines and wires. I have no idea what those at the table talked about as I did my work but pretty much every day one or two or three would individually come down to the boat and chat a bit before or after making their way to the table. One, a veteran who’d graduated from the Naval Academy in 1953 at the end of the Korean War–retired Navy Commander Gerry Laughlin–brought me flowers and lemons from his garden in nearby Coronado and shared sea stories about his coastal exploits aboard his Grand Banks, Marjak. Others at the table shared bits of advice and many words of encouragement as David and I went about the tasks of getting Mahdee to a seaworthy state again. One of the fellows, Steve, gave an antique water pump to us that had been originally installed aboard Mahdee but given to Steve by Mahdee’s previous owner. He brought it back to be used aboard Mahdee once again. The same fellow lent us guide books for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska when he learned about our planned trip there.
When returning to Fiddler’s Cove Marina after a few days anchored in the San Diego Bay or after a lengthy coastal passage, we tend to come in and approach the mooring or the courtesy dock in the morning hours before the winds come up. The timing is perfect for the Liars Table to be full of spectators watching the approach. Early on–silently they watched. I wondered if they were waiting for the crash of Mahdee into the dock as I, the woman aboard, was typically at the helm because the stronger and more nimble David was playing line duty. On later approaches, as no spectacular crashes seem to have materialized, they would watch us with smiles and waves and cheerfully called out compliments as I brought Mahdee in between the other boats at the dock or as we’d row in from the mooring field and walk up to the marina. The Liars Table definitely contributes to our enjoyment of the experience of Sailing Mahdee: life aboard a 1931 schooner.