How hot? Searing, stifling, smothering, suffocating. An alliterative hiss like eggs in a skillet smoking with hot sausage grease.When the breeze has neither hint nor trace of cool hidden among the warm, heavy humid waves. When even shade offers little respite.
The cormorant is a homely bird that best symbolizes the heat. While gulls may pant with beaks trembling wide open, the dull gray cormorant squats atop pilings with its wings extended and raised to expose more surface to the wind. It is an awkward, almost desperate posture, but it is all they have to cool them. Sadly, it does not work for me.
Scout understands as well as any of us the debilitating heat of the dog days of summer, but he resents the implication. He pants morning to night, his tongue dangling to the deck with an endless stream of wet saliva. He rises periodically to drink water and search the boat for better shade. He returns to the stern and settles for the awning there.
All of us are quickly immobilized by the heat that escalates earlier each day as summer deepens. We are torn between hoping for cloud cover and the briefly cooling wind and rain of thunderstorms because, once they pass, the sun reemerges and steams us hotter than before. We are torn between the possibility of relief and the need to close up the boat's hatches, keeping rain out but trapping stale human moisture inside. In the end, I always opt for the storms. Sometimes they are close enough to cool us with the fresh air sucked into the rising heat column but sufficiently distant that the torrential rain and fierce lightning spare us the need to close up tightly, allowing us to leave open for ventilation some of the portholes and the companionway. Besides, the storms are beautiful, awesome in size and color. Deep blues and grays topped by the shockingly brilliant white of the thunderhead edged along the base and margins with shimmering gold and orange. Majestic.
It has not been as hot as June of last year when we were in Charleston. The heat index has been nearly as high at 105-112, but we have had wind. With lows in the upper 70s, I have been sleeping in the cockpit. I do not bother with a sheet much less a light blanket against the dawn chill. There is none. I just rest my head on a pillow and savor the moving air for a moment before tripping into restful sleep. I wake early to appreciate the air that is as cool as it will be for another twenty-four hours.
Like others living on their boats, the heat limits what we can accomplish each day and tempts us into hiding in cool air at Bama's ( local eatery) or The Bean (coffee shop) where we are more comfortable but feel guilty about what we are not getting done.
Friends have opened their homes (and one air-conditioned sailboat) to us. Two couples have access to swimming pools where we can pleasantly relax while floating with a cold beer. Nevertheless, each day I drench my clothes in sweat two or three or more times. I shower in cool water and return to the boat, still sweating, but it is a clean sweat. In the late afternoon breeze in the shade of our bimini, I can sip a glass of chilled pinot grigio until sunset when we eat.
It is hot. I drink four-five liters of ice water each day, thankful that we have an icemaker, our main technological indulgence. I do what work I can until I drip sweat from my head into my eyes, from my arms down my fingers and down my legs to puddle at my feet. I sometimes tie a bandanna around my head and one on each wrist to delay the puddles at my feet. It is good the boat deck is non-skid or I would fly over the lifelines as soon as I climbed out of the cockpit. I am careful not to touch anything electrical. Sweat corrodes and shocks, salt water being a good conductive fluid.
I do not dwell on the heat (notwithstanding the topic of this blog entry), but most everyone asks how we cope with no air-conditioning. We pray for wind, find quiet work we can do while sitting in the cockpit under the bimini and, when we can, we escape to cool indoor spaces.We appreciate those who invtie us.
It is summer on the Carolina coast. It is supposed to be hot. But autumn is closer than it was two months ago. Autumn is the best season on the coast with warm days and cooling nights and water still warm enough for swimming. Fish of all catchable varieties become active and plentiful. I can handle the wait. It is worth it.
[Full disclosure: I wrote all of this in air-conditioning while in Greensboro. And did you notice that I did not complain about biting or stinging insects?]
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