Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Best Bathroom Ever

Leaving Oriental at dawn.   (Check HERE for  photos of the Oriental Dragons)
"You are not likely to have cell or internet coverage on the Pungo and Alligator Rivers," the guidebook says, and By George, the guidebook is right!  The flip side:  Our route yesterday took us up a lovely wild stretch of water with little development and (at this time of year) few other boats. We anchored for the night in Frying Pan Creek, off Catfish Point. "Perfect place to do some poaching," the crew told the Cap.  (But he resisted the temptation.)

From Oriental we had travelled Monday to Belhaven, where we stayed at a family-owned marina with lots of charming touches: A gazebo on the point, furnished with wicker chairs and brass ship's lamps, perfect for sunset gazing.  Whitewashed rocking chairs for a comfortable wait outside the laundry room.  And quite possibly the world's best marina bathroom.

Not that our on-boat facilities are shabby (check 'em out, if you missed it).  But a shower that does more than drip warm water on you is pleasant, and after 300 days of traveling, the crew is a certified  expert in marina bathroom evaluation.

Awarded Zero Stars: The marina where the shower stall sported a large, jagged, aggressively crumbling hole in the ceiling. Or maybe the marina-cum-trailer park where the door to the great outdoors was firmly propped open and only a flimsy, blowing plastic curtain separated you (in the shower, in the altogether) from dogs and boozy guys wandering into the wrong facility.

Five Stars: The many lovely marinas that, instead of a men's room and women's room (that's Buoys and Gulls, in boater-speak), offered a couple (or more) private bathrooms.  Rooms with a dead-bolt-able door, behind which you have a clean sink, toilet, and shower stall all to yourself.  Perhaps even a hook on which to hang your towel! A few--exceeding few--marina bathrooms offer that most holy of holy grails, the full-length mirror.

In case of emergency pull lever
The bathrooms at the Belhaven Waterway Marina offered all these amenities, and more. Shower dispensers containing shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion.  Neat stacks of clean towels, help yourself.  (First-time-ever I've seen THIS graceful amenity at a marina.)

And the decor.  High Beach Cabana: rug with scallop-shell pattern, school of colorful, arty wooden fish swimming along the walls, mirror with seashells hot-glued to the borders.

I left smiling. Back at the boat, Cap was smiling too.  "Have you seen the men's room?"  Um, no. Why would I?

He took me for the tour.  Now first of all, this Buoy's Room was also High Nautical. Complementing the whitewashed rough board walls and beadboard ceiling were antique bits of brass-and-wood fittings scavenged from some well-equipped tug or ferry. A pair of red and green brushed-brass navigation lights over the sink.  An antique wooden throttle lever, repurposed as a towel holder.  Decorative wooden pulleys threaded with manila rope.

But even more astonishing, the bathroom was a kind of mini-museum. A memorial to a WWII sailor name of Bernie Roth.  Black and white photos showed a tanned guy in denim shirt, sleeves rolled up, flashing a big white smile.

A period sailor's jersey hung on one wall. Also framed and displayed were mementos from his wartime travels: Ticket stubs, theatre programs; the funny certificate sailors get when they cross the 180th meridian; group shots with his messmates.  There was a portrait of the warship Roth served on.  His honorable discharge papers. In short, a neat, concise, honest portrait of one guy's experience in the Last Great War.

When sailors Cross the Line (the international date line),
they receive this nifty certificate
There were also pictures of dames: gorgeous dames, three different women, each posing carefully: one in a bathing suit, one in short shorts, one in a cocktail dress. All with lipstick and marcelled hair gleaming.  With the photos, framed letters. Pink stationery. Curvy handwriting.

One of the letters was laminated. We took a closer look, and the content made us gasp.  It was a "Dear John" letter . . . well, in this case, Dear Bernie.  "I know now I made a mistake, promising you . . . please blame me . . . Mother said I was immature, and she is right . . ."

We asked at the marina office.  Bernie was a friend of an uncle.  He was a brave guy: after being honorably discharged in November 1941, he signed up for another tour of duty right after Pearl Harbor.  Served as a radar operator.  Worked on some experimental systems.

After the war, Bernie Roth did marry, one of the beauties.  But in the end he was alone.   It seems likely that exposure to radiation, during the war, caused the cancer that led to his death.

The folks at Belhaven were the closest to relatives he had. Taking care of his affairs, they found these souvenirs.  Decided to make this unconventional memorial.

Everyone gives some thought to how they would like to be remembered.  Marble headstone or granite? Your name on a building? A brass plaque, in a park?  Your very own star, named just for you?

I'd venture to say that memorial bathrooms are rare. But how very wonderful.  There's no admission charge.  No board of directors.  Yet thousands of people visit this memorial . . . people from across America . . .  from all over the world.   Folks who might otherwise never have heard of Bernie Roth learn about one man's life, a small but important part of a greater endeavor.  They learn the story of an authentic American hero.   And . . . they get a clean towel!  Pretty darn good for a marina bathroom!


  1. I do hope you aren't planning ahead.

  2. Ha! Wouldn't THAT last-will-and-testament give the hypothetical future grandchildren a giggle?