Boating by Many
Other Names

I just have one piece of advice for you," cautioned my new-found friend Leslie as we lunched in Bethesda-"You've got to be able to converse in boats."

"You must mean converse on boats," I said. "No. You must be conversant in boats. You just need to know enough about boats to get you by the small talk at cocktail parties and dinners." Should be a piece of cake, I thought. But when I made my way east on Route 50, I began to feel a queasy knot in my stomach kicking in, the same one I had felt heading over to St. Barts in a speed boat just when everyone started popping Dramamine and sucking ice cubes. It was the only time in my life that I actually considered sacrificing myself to Poseidon, God of the Sea, with or without my duty-free Hermes scarf, just to get off that boat.

Don't get me wrong, I love a challenge, especially a linguistic one. Working as a broadcast journalist in Israel for 15 years, I had pretty much mastered the languages of that region. I could interview Israeli prime ministers in fluent Hebrew, speak enough street Arabic to order a decent falafel, and fake a few Russian greetings with a passable accent. What could be easier than learning the language of Annapolitans? I mean, we're speaking English, aren't we?

It took me just two days in Annapolis to realize I was in over my head. Somehow, my familiarity with Gilbert and Sullivan's H. M. S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance, and the 10 times I had seen Captain Hook and his men "heave ho" and Peter Pan walk the plank didn't seem to cut it.

Drowning myself in a Cosmospolitan at a sailor's hangout in Eastport, I stuck out like a deaf and dumb pirate's parrot. I was just figuring out that Mount Gay and tonic beat up the competition at the bar as the perennial sailor favorite, when a new crowd hugging the bar, started talking up a storm about "Dark and Stormy." It was going to be a long evening.

It didn't get any better on Day 2 when our real estate agent asked us if we wanted a place with a slip. A slip? Growing up in Boston in the '70s, I knew three types of slips. There was the half-slip-the ones we rolled up to our ribs as soon as we left for school so we could hike up our mini-skirts even higher; the full slip-the ones with the thin cotton straps that always fell off your shoulders just as you tried to raise your hand in science class; and the Freudian slip, which I learned about years later, after I had switched from slips to landlubber bellbottom jeans. I'm sure there's some irony there. "Oh, so you don't have a boat? she said a little too sympathetically. "No. No boat."

It's been one month since my unseaworthy self has come ashore in Annapolis, and I've made some progress. When a sail is "luffing" it is easier for me to distinguish than when a politician is bluffing. And although I still prefer my port ruby red and fruity, I never find myself on the wrong side of the boom anymore. Still no boat, but I did buy flip-flops. And I've learned the only lingo I really need to stay afloat in this maritime Mecca-OPB, Other People's Boats. They're the best deal in town.


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