WE WANTED TO HAVE A relaxing family vacation, so we got together with two other families and rented a sailboat in the Virgin Islands. There is nothing as relaxing as being out on the open sea, listening to the waves and the wind and the sails and voices downstairs yelling, "HOW DO YOU FLUSH THESE TOILETS?"
It takes a minimum of six people, working in close harmony, to successfully flush a nautical toilet. That's why those old ships carried such large crews. The captain would shout the traditional command -- "All hands belay the starboard commode!" -- and dozens of men would scurry around pulling ropes, turning giant winches, etc., working desperately to avoid the dreaded Backup at Sea, which is exactly the problem that the captain of the Titanic was downstairs working on, which is why he didn't notice the iceberg.
We had a competent captain in our cruise group, but just to be on the safe side we hired a local captain for the first afternoon to demonstrate the finer points of seamanship. He was on our boat for a total of three hours, during which he demonstrated that he could drink six of our beers and two large direct-from-the-bottle swigs of our rum and still not fall headfirst into the Caribbean. He was definitely the most relaxed person on the boat. His major piece of nautical advice was: "No problem." We'd say: "Which Virgin Island is that over there?" And he'd squint at it knowledgeably and say, "No problem." Then he'd go get another beer.
So this was pretty much how we handled it, and the cruise was problem-free, unless you count my Brush With Death. For this I blame the children. We started the cruise with only five children, but after several days on the boat there appeared to be several hundred of them, all of whom always wanted to sit in exactly the same place, and no two of whom ever wanted to eat the same thing for lunch.
So one afternoon a group of them were playing an incredibly complex card game they had invented, wherein everyone had a different number of cards and anyone could change the rules at any time and punching was allowed and there was no possible way to end the game but everybody appeared to be winning, and suddenly a card blew overboard.
Until this kind of emergency arises, you never know how you're going to react. I happened to be nearby with a group of grown-ups who had smeared their bodies with powerful sun-blocking agents and then, inexplicably, gone out to lie in the sun, and when I heard the chilling cry ("Card overboard!"), I leaped to my feet, and, without thinking, in fact without any brain wave activity whatsoever, jumped into the water, dove beneath the surface and saw: a barracuda the size of a nuclear submarine. The other people claimed it was only about three feet long, but I was right there, and this barracuda had actual torpedo tubes. It was examining the card closely, as if thinking, "Huh! A two of hearts, here in the Caribbean!" I used this opportunity to exit from the water by clawing violently at air molecules and ascending vertically, Warner-Bros.-cartoon-style, back into the boat.
Fortunately that was my only Brush With Death on the relaxation cruise, except for the other one, which occurred when I attempted to pull up the anchor. You have to pull up the anchor from time to time on a sailboat so that you can put up the sails, which causes the boat to lean over, which allows water to splash in and get all the clothes wet. It's a basic rule of seamanship that everybody's clothes have to be wet all the time. If there's no wind, you are required by maritime law to throw your clothes overboard a couple of times a day.
So I was standing on the deck, hauling up the anchor. You have to be careful on the deck because of the "hatches," which are holes placed around a sailboat at random to increase the insurance rates. From the moment we got on the boat, I had been warning the children about the danger of falling into the hatches. "Don't fall into those hatches!" I'd say, in the stern voice that we wise old parents use to tell our children the ludicrously obvi- ous. And so, as you have already guessed, when I was pulling on the anchor rope, walking backward, poof, I suddenly became the Incredible Disappearing Man. It was a moment of high relaxation, a moment that would definitely win the grand prize on the popular TV show "Boneheaded Americans Injure Themselves on Home Video," and I'm sure I'll have a good laugh about it once I'm out of surgery.
No, seriously, all I got was a bruise that is actually larger than my skin surface area, so that parts of it extend into the atmosphere around me. But other than that it was a swell cruise, and I strongly recommend that you take one. Make sure you go to the bathroom first.