Murray McLauchlan excerpt

 I guess the king of all the booze-can operators of all time was Gary LeDrew.

Gary was the patron saint of all the hard-drinking painters in Toronto. They'd drink themselves out of money, or show up broke and then pay their bar bills in art, Needless to say, Gary soon acquired a substantial collection by noted painters.

I raw a lot of Peter Gzowski in Gary's around the time he was anesthetizing himself after the horrific experience of having done Ninety Minutes Live. Ian Tyson was sometimes there as well, during his post-Sylvia period of adjustment.

Pretty well everybody of any note in town would pass through Gary's of an evening. Hell, even the cops who'd busted him the week before would show up and drink for free when they were off duty. They were people you had to give a wide berth. When they got jolly, they tended to get a little aggressive.

Oddly enough, although I had by now developed a second career as a rounder, it wasn’t drinking, gambling and chasing women all night that were the biggest influences in my association with Gary. His most profound effect on me was introducing me to the world of sailing.

Gary was a Nova Scotia boy. His mother was from Louisburg, and his daddy was from the Rock. For a while, when Gary and his sister Gail were kids, his parents were the keepers of the Louisbourg Lighthouse.

Maritimers have a different way of looking at the world. Gary took a natural pleasure in providing a social service that was equally important to the mighty and the meek, and he didn't play any favourites based on wealth or fame. In fact,

If he sensed any signs of anybody thinking they were hot shit, he’d work diligently to deflate that particular balloon.

He'd done most of a year in jail for simple possession of marijuana. It's hard to imagine that now, but the Dark Ages weren't that long ago.

(Don't hold your breath; they're always just around the corner.) Anyway, his Mom and dad had accepted his bust as just a part of life and never judged him harshly for it.

Gary had been in the Navy and knew pretty well everything there was to know about nautical lore, particularly as it pertained to sailing ships. He knew all the knots and could tell you the difference between a hermaphrodite brig and a topsail schooner.

Now it was a fact of the times that some people who were utopian at heart had gone a different route from going back to the land. Instead, they had decided to build great big trimarans (yachts with three hulls) and run away to live a romantic life sailing the warm tropic seas, surviving on fish and sea beans.

Gary knew a whole tribe of these people; one of them was a guy he'd become friends with after his parents moved to Uxbridge, Ontario. This man, Gary Hodgkins, had been one of the first people ever to have his leg surgically reattached after an accident. He'd been driving an old Harley down in California and got T-boned by a car. His girlfriend, who was on the back, was killed outright, and Hodgkins had his leg amputated by the impact, except for a flap of connecting tissue. But he was fortunate enough to be close to a surgical centre that was developing reconnective techniques and to be attended by a police officer who had the sense to put the leg on ice and send the ambulance to the right place. They did remarkable work, and in addition to the connective surgery reduced the length of his remaining leg. He'd be a little shorter, but had been able to walk eventually, after a long stint of physiotherapy, Hodgkins returned to Canada, and with the money from the insurance settlement, built a

Forty-six-foot Cross trimaran in a barn out at Whitby. Eventually, the boat was launched, and Hodgkins and his wife, Diane, went down to the Bahamas. Sooner or later, you have to buy things for boats. You have to buy food. You have to buy rum. There are expenses. No one who started out with the idealistic dream of living a free existence on the ocean ever wound up realizing it. They all wound up in the chartering business instead. And Gary LeDrew acted as an informal travel agent to feed prospective charter customers to his friends.

Gary worked on me for a while and finally convinced me that the absolute best thing in the world to do in the winter was to get on a sailing boat in the Bahamas and anchor in some remote cove under the stars every night. We finally made a date, and just for good measure, Gary decided to come too. We flew down to Miami, caught the chalk Airways Grumman flying boat into Nassau harbour by way of Bimini, and then connected with a charter aircraft down to Georgetown on Great Exuma to meet the boat at the Hotel peace and plenty. What a beautiful spot! I'd never been to this part of the world before, and the hotel was one of the most gracious small hotels in the islands. Its dining room and bar surrounded a courtyard overlooking the turquoise waters of Georgetown harbour. There, bobbing gently at anchor just a few yards offshore was Isla. That was the name of the boat Hodgkins had built, and she was a beauty!

She was ketch-rigged, meaning she had two masts: a large main and a smaller mizzen at the back. With her bright white superstructure and varnished wood masts over her light grey hull, she sparkled in the tropical sunlight. First impressions are everything, and this one was so positive that I was immediately in love with the boat.

We settled in, Patty and I, in a small private cabin, Gary in a wing berth, and Hodgkins and Diane in their usual digs. Once we settled down and found out where everything was, we went back ashore to the hotel as the sun was going down to relax and have a drink manufactured for us by Lermon, the bartender a man who was nearly legendary for his skill in these parts. There was a dance on the patio that night, so we stuck around for the music. Hodgkins liked his rum and was always up for a good time. I was like a caged animal let loose in a sea of pina Coladas and proceeded to get fairly stiff with

Patty. We practiced trying to set the floor on fire while she taught me the finer points of the meringue. We danced and laughed and leaped and screamed and drank until two or three in the morning and had a fantastic blowout'

The next morning only a few hours later, actually-I was feeling the effects of the previous night as we all chowed down on a big breakfast of bacon and eggs fried in New Zealand tinned butter. I ate like a hog and felt much better after that I guess I'd forgotten the drinker's first rule. If you feel okay after a night like that, you haven't sobered up yet!

After everything had been stowed, we weighed anchor, and the boat began to make its way up the harbour towards the northern cut. We were going to anchor out this first night and then continue north up to Staniel Cay, then up to New Providence Island and Nassau Harbour. It was a perfectly beautiful day with steady trades and bright sunshine, and I was straddling the mizzen-mast boom

Like a cowboy, singing sea shanties badly at the top of my lungs. We got to the north end of the harbour and proceeded through the cut and out onto the rolling waters of the Exuma Sound. The boat began to pitch and roll .on the long swells with that peculiar pause and lurch common to trimarans, and

suddenly, I no longer felt like singing heroic sea shanties. Holding on carefully, I abandoned my position astride the mizzen boom and made my way on my hands

and knees up to the webbing, which was strung between the bows of the multiple hulls. I lay down on my stomach with my face poking through the gaps in the web-weave and retched heartily. I retched and retched and retched until there was nothing left and then I retched some more. Someone brought up a sheet and wrapped it tightly around me so I wouldn't add third-degree sunburn to my woes. They picked my head up by the hair and poured some watered-down juice through my lips, but I chucked that up too. I stayed in that position all day until the boat pulled through a cut and

anchored in a quiet backwater cove on the protected side of a small key. I got up and gingerly sipped down a glass of plain water mixed with a little rum and began to feel a little better.

Hodgkins and LeDrew announced that they were going to get the hand spears, masks and flippers and swim over to a small mushroom-shaped coral head to see if they could find a couple of spiny lobsters for dinner. I decided to go along, so I donned some gear and jumped in with them. The water was incredibly clear and so much like my dreams of what it would be like that I was amazed. I felt like I was flying as I paddled leisurely along, lagging behind the two others as they poked around in the crevasses and caves that riddled the coral head. I was preoccupied with the riot of colour offered by the little wrasses as they dashed about and by the rhythmic crunching of the parrotfish as they fed on the coral. I was

so enraptured that I forgot all about how ill I'd ben, and when my two companions finally shot a pair of good-sized lobsters, I was almost reluctant to go back to the boat. once back on board, I was completely recovered and was never seasick again in all the years I sailed. Gary looked at me and offered this piece of advice: "Only a fool goes to sea sober"

over the next little while, I began to gradually learn the ropes. The next time the boat anchored, I was eager to get back in the water. It was a little deeper this time with a sandy bottom about thirty feet down and the edges of my world disappearing into the blue haze. LeDrew was already in the water heading off down to a coral head, swimming away in the general direction of the outstretched anchor

chain. I hadn't really given much thought to the other creatures that inhabited the ocean, and I was absently turning in gentle circles, admiring the hull of the boat from underneath, when, all of a sudden, I was no longer by myself. As if from nowhere, there was a black-tipped reef shark swimming by my eyes went wide as saucers as I watched it swimming calmly towards Gary's position. I went to the surface and forgetting that I had a snorkel between my teeth, I made the sound "Znnoooooo!" with great force. Noticing the blank stares that greeted this warning,-I spat out the snorkel and yelled, "Shark!"

"How big?" shouted Hodgkins.

"I don't know. Six feet maybe! It's heading for Gary!" I replied.

At that moment, LeDrew stuck his head out of the water and yelled, "There's a little dinky shark up here, maybe a foot and a half or two feet. Should I shoot it for dinner?"

LeDrew dined out on this story for a long time after that.

There was a rule on the boat that you had to eat what you shoot. This was to discourage the gung-ho individual who, in the full blood of the chase, wanted Togo down there and shoot everything that moved. It's exciting to use your body's energy to swim down hard and with only a hand spear or a Hawaiian sling (a kind of underwater bow and arrow) stalk a grouper or a lobster through a

Labyrinth of coral. It's easy to get carried away. By the time Isla had made it up to Nassau, I'd already developed some rudimentary skills at spearfishing. We were anchoring out at Rose Island when I got

the lobster of the century (my first). It was about a five pounder, and I was so proud of myself I was fit to bust. Nothing ever tasted better!

One day while we were there, Hodgkins and LeDrew were poking around a reef while I hovered on the surface with a hand spear, observing what they were doing. Hodgkins was making quite a commotion down there clinking on the hard coral and moving around to different holes. He was actually on the track of a large Nassau grouper that kept evading him. The trouble was, every time Hodgkins would get a bead on the fish, a whopping great green moray eel would stick its big toothy head in the way and smile at him. Finally, becoming frustrated, Hodgkins shot the moray. It was out of character for him to do a thing like that, but I guess he was having a bad day.

There was a great boiling up of sediment, and Hodge realized he had a real problem on his hands. He had shot the eel rather far back from the head and not fatally, so he was now attached to a very large, very pissed-off moray that was trying to get up the spear to him. LeDrew came over, and sizing up the situation, put

another spear into the eel, but they still couldn't control it. LeDrew headed up to

the surface towards me. When we stuck our heads out of the water, he breath-

lessly said, "Come on down and put another spear in this thing so we can get it

to the surface!” I still didn't know what was going on. I thought Hodge had a large fish on the

spear and couldn't get it out of the hole it was in. I barrelled down after Gary with the hand spear, and when I got to the scene of the turmoil, all I could see through the boiling murk was a large green head with a great number of sharp pointy teeth. I went back to the surface immediately

Gary LeDrew came up again and yelled, "Come on, we need you to put

'another spear in it!""Fuck you! You put a fucking spear in it!" I yelled back.

LeDrew.* also dined out on this story for a long time.

He took the hand spear from me and went down and shot the eel again, this, time near the tail. Now, with a spear in the front and one in the back, they could maneuver the unfortunate creature to the surface and wrestle it on board Isla. So there it sat on the deck-a a very large, very tough, very dead, not very appetizing, and rarely eaten nondelicacy covered in green algae, which Hodgkins was

now obliged to incorporate into his diet.

He got out his filleting knife and attempted to dissect a steak from the corpse. It was so tough; he had trouble even cutting it. After going to get a more robust Gutting implement, Hodge was making his way back to the scene of the crime, when he sort of kind of stumbled on his short leg and sort of accidentally

I knocked the eel, which slipped off the side of the deck and sank without a trace into the depths.

I "Too bad!" "Yeah, too bad!" "Shame about that"' "Yep."

We didn't have eel for dinner, and no further mention was made of Hodgkins'

Crime against nature.

Patty took to life like a duck to water. She even went to the trouble of having prescription lenses mounted in her face mask so she could see underwater. Normally a physically reticent person who stayed out of the sun, she changed a lot during our two weeks aboard Isla. In fact, we had such a good time that when we had to leave the boat because a new charter party was due, we couldn't bear

the thought of going back home to face the winter, so we signed on for two more weeks on another trimaran, a beautiful yellow-hulled boat called La Paz, and went back out again I started to understand the old sailors like Sir Francis Chichester who, after winning the round-the-world race for solo sailors decided that he was having so much fun, he went 'round again! On and off, I sailed the waters of the Bahamas for the next ten years in the winters, and relationships were born and died on the boats. Eventually, bounce diving for a conch at forty-five feet became as natural to me as walking down the


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