Despite our high spirits, our soggy songsheet caroling expedition didn’t really take flight. A few curious stragglers in Jackson Square stopped for a minute to watch us, but once they discovered what we really were – a band of wet cats howling in the rain – they soon passed us by. The Quarter was wet and lonely on Christmas Eve.
But, once we finally shut our cocktail caroling traps, we heard over the rain a chorus of voices pouring out of the massive double doors of the Jackson Square Cathedral as people were trickling in. We quickly chunked our soggy songsheets and followed the crowd, and what a crowd it was. The cathedral was packed, wall to wall, with all walks of festive life, just wrapping up the last verse of Deck the Halls!
A cheery, snowman-sweater clad lady with antlers handed us some dry song sheets and nudged us in to the main room. Our eyes lit with the glow of candlelight and we began to peel off a few wet layers in the warmth of the church. It was a warm, satisfying scene. A nice, N’awlins style snub at the rain. I think my little Grinch heart grew a smidge. We found a little corner to occupy and jumped right in on Silent Night.
But, we found we had some serious competition next door. Some rogue pack of choir boys had decided to take the cathedral caroling by storm. There were five of them huddled together, all clad in delightfully tacky Christmas sweaters, one with his back turned to the pulpit, facing the others, and swinging his arms like a conductor. As he would point to each of them, they would individually strike up in bass, baritone and even one who I would qualify as a deep alto. Still smarting from our band’s fallout on the corner and still full of liquid courage, I made it my mission to sing over them. I mean, Christmas isn’t fun without a little competition, am I right? After a few curious looks and some light nods of recognition, one of the men finally sauntered over to me and told me they did this every year. Got together in their most hideous Christmas garb, started at the Jackson Square caroling, where they warmed up and drank heavily, and then they took their slurred caroling act on a long, slow pub crawl through downtown New Orleans, always ending at LaFitte’s.
He asked me if I wanted to join them. Uhhh … yeah! This was my kind of scene. But, here’s the real kicker, as he was talking to me, I looked over at the rest of the tacky sweater choir members and was shocked to see a fellow sailor Phillip and I had met at one of our local anchorages. I was sure it was him. I nudged Phillip and pointed and, after some prodding and persuasion, he agreed. It was the Sinky Dinghy couple! Yeah, this is going to take some explaining. Bear with me – it’s worth it.
So, a few months back. Phillip and I were out on the boat one weekend at Red Fish Point. Another boat pulled in near us and, as most cruisers do, we watched them ease up and drop anchor. I mean, you’re sitting in your cockpit with a cocktail at sunset – what else are you going to do but watch the neighbors? But, they had a beautiful boat. Gorgeous lines, lots of wood (in perfect condition) and just a pristine, classic look. We couldn’t place it at first, but we found out when we met them the next day that it was a Hallberg Rassy.
Just to give you an example. Don’t mind the Swedish flag.
We were mesmerized, though, when the captain pulled up to anchor under sail. No engine grumbling, no motor running, nothing but the wind and his sails and rudder to guide him to the very spot he wanted to drop anchor. And, when he got close, he would drop his sails in a flash, skip up to the bow and let the anchor drop. A true sailor. Phillip and I both started to develop a slight crush on him at that point. And, the woman was this willowy, Elle McPherson character dressed in flowy, flowery bottoms and a teeny tiny bikini top.
You could tell she was beautiful from three hundred feet away. Just such an interesting couple to watch. And, watch them we did. As later in the evening, just before sunset, the captain pulled anchor and started to sail off, again completely under sail. The entire two days we spent next to to these two, we never heard the engine crank once. They sailed by us and gave a light wave, then sailed back by again. We found it really strange that they had pulled their anchor just to sail back and forth around Red Fish Point, but as they passed by, each of them with a line in hand, making ever so slight adjustments to the sails, you could tell they just loved it. Sailing. Even if it meant pulling anchor and dropping it again in order to get another hour or two of sailing at sunset in. You could see the pleasure they took in it. They had to be sailing a 38′ foot yacht, at least, but it looked like they were sailing a small dinghy.
The boat moved with such finesse. I hate to admit that we poked fun at them at first. “Ha. Look at these two. Sailing back and forth. Can’t decide where to drop anchor.” When we soon learned the truth was they knew damn well exactly where to drop anchor, and how to do it under sail. They were simply sailing for the pleasure of it. Like I said, true sailors.
Now, you might be wondering why we call them the Sinky Dinghy couple. Or perhaps you forgot all about that in my mesmerizing sail tale. Stay with me. So, the next day, Phillip’s folks came by and we buzzed around wakeboarding for a bit. Just as we were about to call it a day and head back to our boat, we saw the Hallberg couple out in their dinghy. The wind was blowing, probably 13-14 kts, and you could tell they were struggling to row against the wind. They started waving their arms when they saw us and flagged us down. It was strange because the wind was blowing them toward their boat, but they were rowing mightily (with one oar) away from their boat. Then, as we started to approach them, we could see why. They were frantically pointing at something in the water that they wanted us to pick up. It was a volleyball. Their very own:
I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever shed a tear over athletic equipment before, but Tom Hanks got me close.
They had lost an oar and had been struggling against the wind to try and get to it. So, we fished their ‘Wilson’ out of the water for them, tied their dinghy to the our motor boat and pulled them back to their Hallberg. I believed they haled from somewhere in Louisiana, Metarie, if I recall, and they had been sailing along the Gulf Coast for several months. They told us they couldn’t believe their dinghy was actually still afloat and trying to go upwind as it has a small leak and usually started to sink within an hour, which is why they lovingly called it Sinky Dinghy. I hate to say I can’t remember their names, if we even got them, which is why we simply call them the “sinky dinghy couple,” but they were so mellow, and smooth. Very “I’m okay, you’re okay.” The woman left us with some ethereal salutation like “We extend gratefulness to you,” as they stepped aboard their vessel.
Seriously beautiful people. Phillip and I watched them again that night as they pulled anchor once more to simply sail around the Point at sunset, coasting right back to their same anchorage point and dropping the hook again, all completely under sail.
So, now that you have the background, you can see why Phillip and I were so excited to see them. Right there, in New Orleans. With us at Christmas! We were star-struck. I got bold and went over to the band of sweater-clad brothers and approached Mr. Hallberg and asked him if he remembered us, the couple that rescued him and his lovely lady-friend and their volleyball out at Red Fish Point. And, folks, I’m embarrassed to continue telling you this, but I’ve already started down this road, so … The man looked at me like I was a wayward street performer who had asked him if he had seen my spotted dog. He started to shake his head back and forth, but I was sure! “Don’t you sail? A Hallberg Rassy? C’mon! I know it’s you.” I think I saw him sober up right in front of me, as he craned his neck back and said, “No. I think you’ve got me confused.” But, rather than admit defeat, I reached over to the willowy woman next to him and gave the same schpeel. “Remember, we picked you two up in your dinghy and fetched your volleyball.” She shook her head at me sadly, and said, “You have confusion in you.” Which told me she HAD to be the same lady. Nobody else talks like that. In my clear state, I started to try and convince them of who they were most certainly not – our sinky dinghy couple. Finally, the choir boy who had initially approached me wedged his way in and gently nudged me aside. I apologized, tried to recover, and asked where the drunken caroling bar crawl was going to begin. He stuttered and mumbled and said one place, then quickly changed it to another, exchanging quick glances and secret nods with the non-sinky dinghy couple. It was clear they were rescinding the invitation. I had run them off in a crazed frenzy.
But, that’s fine, I’ve played the crazy role before. I just couldn’t believe I was wrong. They looked SO much like the couple we had seen on the Hallberg. The funny thing was, they did end up at Lafitte’s, as did we. We finished off the evening there with a wild witchy piano woman who could play any tune you could dream up, without any sheet music, or ever looking at her hands. She had long scraggly hair and a smoker’s face – definitely not much of a looker.
Okay, although a spittin’ image, that’s not really her. But, let’s give it up for the “Sea Hag” of the Keys! Story here. Perhaps we’ll pay her a visit in the slammer when we make it to Marathon this spring.
But this woman was a pianic wonder! A man shouted Streets of Philidelphia, and she dove right in. I shouted Witchy Woman (finding it appropriate) and she struck it right up. Another woman called for Walking in Memphis, and it instantly rang out. Then Phillip hollered Watching the Wheels (Lennon) and she stopped playing with a discordant bang on the keys. The Hag looked at him for a moment, and said, “No. That song’s too slow. A snoozer. No.” Phillip stood there slack-jawed. She had yet to reject any random request, and she shot him down cold without an ounce of remorse (much like the infamous Sea Hag!). We of course helped Phillip recover by saying “Eehhh … she probably doesn’t know that song. That’s what it is. It’s too hard. There, there.” He nodded slightly and recovered. A little.
In all, we were having a grand time circled around the piano (which doubled as the bar), until the sweater choir boys showed up, full of merriment and cheer and singing brightly, albeit visibly, three sheets to the wind.
At first they didn’t see me, as they made their way around the bar, but when they approached the piano, mid-Hark the Herald Angels, the sinky dinghy look-a-like dude coughed out loud, hid behind one of his band-mates and eased away as fast as he could. The rest of them grew wide-eyed at the sight of me and they all started shuffling and singing faster and making their way to the exit, which gave us all a mighty chuckle. They were literally afraid of me, and it was glorious! I’d scared them namby pambies right out of Lafitte’s. Serves ’em right. They can’t handle Lafitte’s!
We struck right back up with the Hag and a rousing rendition of Piano Man, polished off our drinks and called it a night. Christmas morning was spent walking the quarter with some piping cups of Joe from Stanley and taking in a fine turduckin lunch at Cafe Adelaide. While we had been to the Swizzle Stick bar many times (and loved it!), this was our first time at the Adelaide, and it is certainly one we will add to our N’awlins Must List. Fine food and the best service we have ever experienced in the city. In all, it was a great Christmas spent in a great city. But, we were eager to get back to that boat and finish our self-proclaimed “Winter Coat Drive.” Only five coats to go! So, put on some Christmas music, curl up with a hot peppermint schnocolate and enjoy this montage. Hope you all had a Merry Christmas. Cheers!