Menage a Trois

I think it is fair to say that my husband is the most calm and unflustered of men. Throughout our marriage, I can count on the fingers of one hand how often he has lost his temper, and still have a few spare digits to waggle at offending motorists.

When I locked us out of the car, one New Year’s Eve in Quebec, as the thermometer plunged past minus 34 degrees Celsius, he merely gritted his teeth and laid into the door lock with a bent coat hanger. And, when I decided to clear the ground between 75 newly planted cedars in our backyard, by spraying weed killer, not a peep escaped his pursed lips. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and spent the afternoon dowsing the unfortunate trees with clean water. He managed to save 25 of them, too, a remarkable feat, even if they have never since quite lived up to their potential.

With all due modesty, I can say that, despite these and some other bone-headed mistakes I have made, I am still the very apple of my husband’s fond eye, not to mention the cherry on his sundae and the cream in his coffee . . . for at least six months of the year, that is.

Alas, my reign as undisputed queen of his heart spans only the months between October and March. Come April, I am relegated to the cheap seats, and his true soul mate, all 11.39 tons of her soaking wet, sails into our lives.

April is the month when the boatyard comes to life, and my sailor husband’s fancy turns to matters nautical. There are decks to be scrubbed, riggings to be repaired, and a bottom to be tenderly protected from the loutish zebra mussel. All in preparation for the merry month of May, when the true love of my husband’s life emerges, like a chrysalis from its cocoon, the slumbering hulk of the boatyard bursting forth from her tarps in all her girlish glory, ready to be launched.

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”, my life’s partner warbles in the shower, when launch day arrives. We spend the morning at the launch dock, and he hovers like a Spanish duenna as the yardmen size up her ample flanks and prepare his darling for launch. She hangs suspended from a sling, looking to my jaundiced eye like a hippo in a canvas tutu, until she is slowly lowered into the water, where she floats smugly.

“I’d be smug, too,” I mutter under my breath, “if he’d paid as much attention to my bottom in the last month.”

And so begins each summer of my discontent. Granted, I am not completely left out of all the fun and games between my husband and his summer playmate. They are quite happy to tolerate my presence aboard, so long as I observe the formalities. I must accept that, whatever my status on land, when afloat I am the lowest of deckhands, allowed only to take on certain menial tasks, like jumping off to tie her up, as we come into dock. But, heaven forfend that, in the process, I ever cause her delicate sides to so much as kiss the dock.

Which brings me to the one time that my calm, even-tempered husband completely lost it. It was a grey Monday in October, Canadian Thanksgiving for the uninitiated, but a sad day in our household. The boat was to be lifted out of the water the next day and laid up ‘on the hard’ for winter. We had taken her to the gas dock for the annual ritual of pumping out the holding tank and stripping her of all her finery, from cockpit to anchor locker.

It was a sorry shadow of her summer self that we motored back to our slip, across a choppy bay. Coming in to land, my husband yelled at me, as I teetered on the gunwale, one arm looped around a stay, to haul hard on the mooring line after jumping off, because the freshening wind would push the boat away from the dock. Clinging for dear life to my hat and the mooring line, I leaped into space.

My husband wailed aloud, as the boat crashed into the dock, shuddered to a halt and crabbed sideways across the mooring. Meanwhile, I and my hat were being fished from the murky depths of Hamilton Harbour, by the crew of a powerboat moored at a neighbouring dock.

As ordered by my captain, I had landed on the dock, heaved with all my might on the mooring line . . . and executed a triple somersault into the harbour, good enough to make Greg Louganis grind his teeth with envy. My dear husband, undone by grief at the imminent parting of ways with his lady love, had forgotten to secure the line at the business end.

Almost gibbering with rage, as he tried to fend off with a boathook, he remained unaware of the drama unrolling astern. As soon as I hove into his line of sight, he threw me another line, yelling, “This time, try to get it right, you silly moo!” Then, he leaped off to inspect the damage to his precious darling, oblivious to the shivering heap of dripping wool and denim standing in front of him.

“Tie her up yourself.” I snarled. “I hope she chokes you!” I added incoherently, and squelched off to the clubhouse, in search of a hot toddy and the tattered shreds of my dignity.

The October to March interregnum that year was one of the best, as my husband strove mightily to make up for causing me to sample the delights of Hamilton Harbour. And, as always every year, his tender attentions evaporated, like early morning mist before the rising sun, on the day the tarps were pulled aside once more, and his dark love revealed in all her glory. But, by then, I had come to terms with my rival. Now, I have learned to make the most of her short reign as queen of his heart, using our cruises around Lake Ontario to catch up on my reading and writing. And our ménage à trois sails on into the sunset, happily ever after.

Published in Good Old Boat newsletter, in 2006.

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