Gadabout was square at both ends; so that the uninitiated were not always sure which way she was going to go. Indeed, for a while, her closest associates were conservative in forecasting on that point. But that was for another reason. The boat was of extremely light draft. While such a feature enables the houseboater to navigate very shallow waters (where often he finds his most charming retreats), yet it also enables the houseboat, under certain conditions of wind and tide, to go sidewise with all the blundering facility of a crab.
[Illustration: In the forward cabin.]
[Illustration: Looking aft from the forward cabin.]
At first, in making landings we were forced to leave it pretty much to Gadabout as to which side of the pier she was to come up on, and which end first, and with how much of a bump. But all such troubles soon disappeared; and, as there seemed no change in the craft herself, we were forced to believe that our own inexperience had had something to do with our difficulties.
To Gadabout and her crew, add anchors, chains and ropes, small boats, poles and sweeps, parallel rulers, dividers and charts, anchor-lights, lanterns and side-lights, compasses, barometers and megaphones, fenders, grapnels and boathooks—until the landlubberly owners are almost frightened back to solid land; and then all is ready for a houseboat cruise.
OUR FIRST RUN AND A COZY HARBOUR
Daylight came while Gadabout was lumbering down the Elizabeth, and in the glory of the early morning she followed its waters out into Hampton Roads, the yawning estuarial mouth of the James emptying into Chesapeake Bay.
She would probably have started in upon her cruise up the historic river without more ado if we had not bethought ourselves that she was carrying us into the undertaking breakfastless. The wheel was put over hard to port (we got that out of the books) and the craft was run in behind Craney Island and anchored.
While our breakfast was preparing, we all gathered in the forward cockpit to enjoy the scene and the life about us. The houseboat was lying in a quiet lagoon bordered on the mainland side by a bit of Virginia’s great truck garden. Here and there glimpses of chimneys and roof lines told of truckers’ homes, while cultivated fields stretched far inland.
The height of the trucking season was past, yet crates and barrels of vegetables were being hauled to the water’s edge for shipment. The negroes sang as they drove, but often punctuated the melody with strong language designed to encourage the mules. One wailing voice came to our ears with the set refrain, “O feed me, white folks! White folks, feed me!” The crates and barrels were loaded on lighters and floated out to little sailing boats that went tacking past our bows on their way to Norfolk.