The Boat: Part 5. and Conclusion

Santa Barbara is a beautiful town and the scene on the beach and pier is one that draws many tourists who are rarely disappointed.  On Sundays, arts and crafts people line the sidewalk, with folk dancing on the lawn between them and the beach.  Henri and Connie lived on the boat.  Our boat was part of the scene that we and the tourists mutually enjoyed.

When Henri was ready to take the boat out, I joined them for day trips.  Gradually we learned to sail, but it never did tack well.  The keel wasn’t shaped well and the boat drifted, and there had to be a pretty stiff wind for us to turn into the wind and change tacks.  Henri developed the technique of turning the opposite direction, making a 270 degree loop in order to change directions, losing most of the distance gained on the last tack – but we weren’t ever going anywhere anyway, just spending time out on the water.

I started the opera without Bob.  The one comment we had found that Abelard had made about his nemesis, St. Bernard, was the complaint that he always used the same hymn at every service, Ave Rerum Conditor. 

I still don’t know what the text is about, but I found the tune in the Utrecht Presario, or some such medieval manuscript collection.  I decided I would only use a string quartet for an orchestra, so began writing an overture using the old hymn tune as my theme.

Eventually we decided to try to sail to the islands, an overnight trip: Henri, Connie and I. Barbara recently told me that she always worried when I was on the boat.  I think I told her this time that I would be gone overnight, but I may not have.  There could have been tension between Barbara and Henri – both competed for my time, but Henri really respected Barbara and always told me to make sure I didn’t blow it with my gypsy violinist.  And Barbara has always had this incredible trust in me, and willingness to let me be who I needed to be, so there wasn’t any visible tension.  But there may have been worry.

There wasn’t much wind the day we set sail.  It was blowing Southeast, so we went with the wind to get us out of the way of other boats.  We tried tacking out toward the islands, but made little headway – we kept drifting down the coast toward Ventura.  One of the serious limits of the boat (one of the many) was that we had no lights.  The islands are called the Channel Islands because all of the freighters traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco go between the islands and the shore.  If we couldn’t make our way across the channel in the daytime, we were in serious trouble.  We gave up some time in the early afternoon.  We were about a mile off shore, but had gone at least fifteen miles down the coast.  We decided to head back, but it was very slow going.  I took the helm around 10:00 p.m.  Connie and Henri went into the cabin.  It was a lovely night and now I really was the captain.  I started trying different angles and tensions on the sails.  I stayed close enough to shore that there was no danger of freighters.  Around 2:00 a.m. the wind shifted and made it easier to glide Northwest toward the Santa Barbara pier.  We were off the coast of Montecito when Henri came on deck around 6:00 a.m.  He sang my praises for finding the wind to take us home.  We set anchor around 8 a.m., took the dinghy to the ladder and had our hot chocolate at the Moby Dick.  Barbara was relieved to see me.


That was the last attempt to take the boat anywhere in particular. During the night on the ocean, that big cement keel had began pulling on the old wooden keel enough that the boat started taking on water. It had to be bailed every day. It became obvious to all that this boat would not be the escape to Mexico, or anywhere. But it had provided us with a very pleasant entry into the summer Santa Barbara shoreline scene.

The next fall there was a large storm that hit the coast of Southern California. Bob had made a nice looking anchor, but it had design flaws. During the storm, our boat started to drift. Someone on another boat, concerned that our boat would smash against theirs, rightfully cut the anchor rope and our boat quickly got washed up onto the shore.

The next day, our boat was the front-page photo in the Santa Barbara News Press. Henri and I quickly went to the beach. A crowd of people had gathered around this hulk on its side with its cement keel being a source of much of the conversation. Henri took out a piece of paper and wrote on it “I, Henri Sato, give my boat to Newell Hendricks.” He dated it, signed it, and gave it to me. I still have that “title” in my documents folder.

My father’s parents died when he was a teenager. The farm was mortgaged to its full value and my dad’s uncle told him to walk away from it. “It killed your parents and it will kill you.” He did, and I followed suit and walked away from the boat. But for about one hour, I was the owner of a thirty-foot sailboat.

There is a children’s zoo in Santa Barbara, not far from the pier. In the zoo is a lagoon with an island where some kind of monkeys live and play. About two months after the storm there was an addition to the zoo. A walkway was built for the children to go out to a pirates boat docked in the lagoon. They could explore around the deck, and could even go into the cabin and imagine they were sitting with the pirates that had sat at this table and slept in these four bunks. A perfect ending.


About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
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