This first installment of Off the Charts marks the beginning of a new role for Wendy Mitman Clarke, formerly our executive editor and now our senior contributing writer. In addition to this monthly chronicle, which continues in the witty and heartwarming vein of her popular Weather Eye column, Wendy will continue to contribute regular feature articles.

Face the Anti-Freeze

It happens every year, and it goes something like this:

Me: “I am so bummed. Can you believe all these leaves coming down? I can’t bear the idea of no more Luna weekends until spring. I really want to sail as late as we possibly can this year.”

Him: “Absolutely. No reason we can’t, now that the boat has that great heater. Just bundle up and go.”

Me: “Maybe we could go all winter. Maybe winter won’t even come. Hey, there could be a bright side to global warming after all!”

Him: “I know what we can do; we’ll put a little bilge heater on the boat and that way I won’t even have to winterize it. We’ll just leave the sails on, so we can take off when the opportunity arises. And we can always launch Quill whenever we want to buzz up the river.”

Me: “Perfect!”

This annual mutual delusion usually begins about the time the ospreys pack their bags—and I sincerely doubt that they have any conversations like this. No, for them it’s probably pretty simple: “See ya next year, baby, same time, same nest. Rio, here I come!” Ospreys are birds of fearless action and ruthless instinct. They don’t do denial. Dogs, on the other hand, are entirely capable of boating angst. When I was growing up, Dad would always take the Avon home in winter and inflate it in the basement to give it the once-over. My springer spaniel would climb in and sit down, looking forlornly for a beach that wasn’t there. I knew exactly how she felt.

Our seasonal agnosticism was so bad one year that I simply forgot to clean out the galley shelves, just in case we might be able to do some overnighting in, say, January. Between blizzards maybe. The ravioli made it through the freeze-thaw cycle just fine, as did the Oodles of Noodles, but the honey was pretty much shot, transmogrified into some kind of weird amber. And the Fruit Loops—whoa. Whole new genus and species there.

This usually goes on well into autumn, right through Thanksgiving and even into December, when—suddenly and inevitably—there will come a morning we wake up and notice something quite alarming and emotionally crushing: reality.

Often it comes in the form of ice. Then the dialogue goes something like this:

Him: “I saw ice on the cove this morning.”

Me: “No way.”

Him: “Way.”

Me: “Are you sure? Maybe it was just some strange new natural phenomenon that just resembles ice?” I go to the window and look out to the water, which is steaming in the morning sun. “See, it’s gone already. You must have been dreaming. Something you ate.”

Him: (Heavy sigh, the kind you make when someone you love is dancing on the tabletops with a lampshade on her head, or refusing to acknowledge the ugly truth.) “It was ice. We can’t go on like this.”

Last year, we were looking good well into December, and I had high hopes for a Christmas Eve or New Year’s cruise, but sometime between Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, Johnny caved in; he came home looking utterly beaten.

Me: “Where’ve you been? . . . My God, you didn’t attempt the mall did you?”

Him: “Are you kidding? Of course not. No, I winterized the boats today.”

Me: “Boats?”

Him: “Boats. Plural. Luna and Quill.”

There followed a long, sad, respectful silence for the boating season now passed. I went to the window and looked out toward the cove framed by the bare bones of the trees. It was all so monochrome. Still, I didn’t see any ice. And amid the lackluster landscape, something bright and blue caught my eye, a hopeful little beam of color. And I smiled. Last time I checked, nobody ever needed to winterize a kayak.