Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

Meghan Cleary is so organized

Like rafting, crew or basketball, sailing is a team sport. Though there are all sorts of stories of sailors single-handing crafts around the world, I’ve never understand the fun in that. Half the enjoyment of sailing is the social interaction. It’s kind of like playing house, where each member takes on a specific role for the duration of the cruise. It allows you to play a part different than that which you might be in normal life. For instance, before this trip I never had an interest in engines and now I’m the ship’s mechanic. Meghan, in addition to her other admirable contributions, is the organizer.

I have never been called ‘structured’. In middle-school, my one rebuke from my teachers was my lack of organization. My desk was a mess. My pencils were marked up and down by my tooth. My Elmer’s glue bottle was encrusted with solidified paste. My penmanship refused to be detained within the constraints of tiny blue lines. I was a chaotic, spontaneous child, the type teachers watch expectantly for either artistic or else maniacal tendencies. There was never a question of my keeping the boat well-organized, which left the task of organizing the boat to Meghan.

She took to the task immediately. One day last summer I came home from work to see our house filled with every type of container ever invented. It was like a Tupperware convention from the future, with products that don’t yet exist. Aside from the plastic babushka containers that fit neatly inside one another, there was a family of plastic bags, half a dozen buckets, vacuum-sealed tubes, and strange fluorescent cases. My eyes went wide but, recognizing this as one of Meg’s ‘projects’, I didn’t say anything.

After she’d put every one of our possessions into a container, labeled the container, and then stuffed them into the walls and floor of the boat, I had to admit the space looked less cluttered. She somehow managed to make a house-worth of clothes, food, and repair kits invisible in a 35 foot space. I was impressed.

Until I wanted to find anything. Having not been present when the boat was “organized”, and having no direct insight into the logic behind its stowage, I am at a disadvantage whenever I’m doing anything other than walking through the boat’s cabin. I’m rendered completely helpless in all my onboard activities. Anytime I have to do maintenance work on the engine, I must first write out a checklist and present it to Meghan. She then sends me on a scavenger hunt to the various extremities of the boat to find the tools I need.

It’s not so bad, except that the organizational system seems to change on a weekly basis. Where my screwdriver was once kept in a drawer beneath the trash, it’s now kept in a shelf above the table. And my engine manual, which I use several times a week, changes its accommodations just as often. Sometimes it’s stowed next to the spare kits, other times it’s in the “navigation” library or else in my “personal library”.

The logic of the system is the most beguiling. If I want to make a sandwhich, I’ll ask Meghan where the jelly is.

“In the fridge, obviously,” was her response.

OK, so where’s the peanut butter?

“You know that little panel behind the couch? Behind that there’s a little vacuum-sealed bag that says ‘misc’. Open that. The peanut butter is in a black, plastic container marked ‘Pnut.”

Or when I ask her where my flashlight is and she gets exasperated.

“It’s where it always issss,” she singsongs impatiently.

“Uh… remind me?”

“There’s a little baggie hidden inside the mattress.” Again delivered as a melody. “Sew it back up when you’re done.”

The truth, of course, is that if I ever owned a vessel of my own I’d be paddling a half-submerged bathtub back to shore the day after I set out. The messy kid isn’t allowed to take to the high seas. He has his designated pig-pen on land. For his own good and for the good of the true sailors, he is kept in the dark about the joy of sailing. Were it not for Meghan organizing my disheveled ass into action, I’d never know the fun I’d missed the first 26 years of my life. Her fastidious is what keeps us afloat, and I happily put my trust in it. Even if it means I have to ask for the peanut butter.



  Brook Maurer wrote @

I love it!!! Can’t wait to have Marc read how you PRAISE Meghan’s organizational expertise. Go team!

  Lin wrote @

you should probably also thank her father…. she comes by it honestly.

  Lin wrote @

ps. his number is probably filed under ‘P’ for papa…

  Papa wrote @

it’s true, Meg does come by it honestly, but I hasten to add that her organizational skills were very well hidden for the first 20 years of her life…

  Josh wrote @

haha! Thanks for the laugh, I needed it!

I run into the same situation with Sara all the time. I am amazed at here ability to memorize where every single thing in the house is. There is actually some interesting anthropological work that suggests that women’s object memory is a product of our hunter gather past. The arguement goes that women’s primary role as gatherers led to a refined ability to remember lots of different concrete places.

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