A Year of Masks

nancy bartlett domino mask

My First Year of Masks

Once upon a time, before moving aboard a boat, I had an office in a house. On the wall of that office hung a collection of masks.

A handmade clay mask of Pan, given to me by a friend. A tiny, wooden demon mask, hand-carved and highly polished that Tom brought back from Japan. And a half mask that my son made in art class from newsprint paper-mache.

I don’t remember how this penchant for masks developed. It may have been an artifact of fiction writing. Perhaps I felt like I was putting on a mask when developing a character. Wherever it came from, it spread into my travel life when I bought a black and white Venetian domino mask as a gift for my father. He hung it on his office wall.

I let the masks go when we moved aboard Sunshine and hardly thought of them until 2020 came along.

Another Year of Masks

In February we started to hear of a new virus. I’d just read Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, a book that features a disease called white mask, due to the traces it leaves on its victims. The similarities spooked me.

Then in early March I got the news that my father, suffering from kidney failure, was going into hospice. Facing possible contagion, Tom and I grabbed our hand sanitizer and flew to Seattle, the epicenter of COVID-19, to be with Dad in his last days.

In April we heard that using a mask might be protective against the virus. But instantly, surgical masks were gone from stores, so my first COVID mask was fashioned from a blue and white checked kitchen towel. I wore it around my neck when I went out for my daily walk. We went almost nowhere else, as we didn’t want to bring the virus back to Dad.

woman wearing blue checked mask

After Dad passed in late April, we packed up and headed back home. We’d located some N-95 masks, and wore those for the duration of the trip. And in my suitcase was the domino mask, now a different kind of memento.

Collecting Masks Again

So masks have become a thing this year, and like everyone else, I’ve collected my share. The N-95, the disposable surgical, double layer cotton versions made by friends, and several commercial, though not quite fashionable, styles.

woman wearing n-95 mask
woman wearing bandana mask
turquoise swirl fabric mask

Various masks dangle from hooks and rear-view mirrors and sprout from pockets. I’ve worn them in stores, houses, aboard boats, and frighteningly, on airplanes.

The mask debate also invaded the lives of fiction writers. Should stories set to come out in the next few years include masks or not? They can’t just be ignored, that would seem unreal. But we don’t mention that our characters put on shoes every time they leave the house, why should we mention that they put on masks? I figure it’s a case by case basis. If a story is set in 2020 I’ll mention them, if not, any mention turns the plot into speculative fiction, which I don’t plan to write.

Though never an accessory I actually sought to wear, or think so much about, masks have become a way of life. We wear them to protect ourselves and to protect others. Until something better comes along.

Something Better Comes Along

In September, we took a long dreamed of plunge and bought a newer, bigger boat. As responsibly as we could, a stock of masks and sanitizer in tow, we traveled north to get her.

freedom 38 sailboat at anchor

Sunshine’s big sister, a Freedom 38, was called Being There, after the Peter Sellers movie. It wasn’t a bad name, but it quickly became a burden.

Every time I hailed a bridge I had to spell it out. When we tried to talk to another boat via VHF radio they couldn’t understand what we said. “Did you say Bean Bag?” One guy came within 6 feet of our companionway and told me, “I like to watch.” It was a joke, but it kind of creeped me out.

As we sailed the new boat south, repeating the trip we took in Sunshine along the ICW from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to South Carolina, we stayed mostly remote from other people. We wore masks when we went to shore, and we thought constantly about a new name.

Collecting Names

Our list of potential names grew quite long. But most of them ended up with a line through them. Sometimes we spit-balled, laughing about whatever crazy idea came to mind. Sometimes we adhered to a set of rules:

  • The name had to evoke a positive feeling in anyone who heard it
  • The name had to be easy to say and to hear
  • The name could not be embarrassing to say over the radio
  • The name could not be a pun
  • The name could not include the words ocean or sea
  • The name could not say what we do for a living
  • The name could not be a family member’s name or an acronym of several
  • The name could not be an inside joke
  • The name could not be existential or otherwise meaningful

The names we came up with depended on the circumstances of the moment. When we were batting along under a blue sky with sweet wind and a fair current we thought Tickety-boo would do nicely. When the water pump belt shredded off the coast of New Jersey They’re Trying To Kill Us seemed more appropriate.

When we arrived back at the marina, I boarded Sunshine and saw the domino mask that I’d given to my father all those years ago, hanging from my bedside light. Something clicked. I added Domino to the list.

This name game went on far too long, to the point where our travel plans were hampered and our tempers frayed. We had to name and document the boat before we could leave the country. I had all the documentation paperwork filled out, I just needed a name to put in the name field.

Voting Time

Finally, I set a time deadline. We would choose a name over the weekend and the paperwork would go to the Coast Guard on Monday and we would live with our choice. I made a list of the 10 potential names Tom and I could both stand and sent them to our family. We had a ranked-choice competition.

The options were:

  • Wonderbaby
  • Trinket
  • Domino
  • Sunshine
  • Zuzu
  • Lily
  • Wings
  • Trogdor
  • Emoji
  • Scenario

In the family ranked voting, Trinket came in first with Wonderbaby close behind.

The Electoral College Rules

Boaty McBoatface notwithstanding, boat naming is seldom accomplished by popular vote. I reserved the right to overrule the winner. I loved Wonderbaby. It really was my first choice. But in the end, I decided I didn’t want a name that I had to explain constantly. I didn’t want the name to run my life. Trinket was another favorite. It came from Bootle Bum Trinket, the name of the dinghy in My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I aspire to be as good a writer as Gerry Durrell, and the name made my children laugh, remembering when I read that book to them. Have you watched The Durrel’s in Corfu? I highly recommend it.

Tom and I both paint Scenarios in our heads constantly, but that wasn’t enough. Lily and Zuzu I rejected as too cute. The boat is beautiful, not cute. Trogdor and Emoji were inside jokes and therefore broke one of our naming rules. Wings got a few votes, notably, not from me. Sunshine is already taken. And Sunshine II? Just no.

Which left me with Domino and Trinket. I decided to live with them for the day.

Tom came home for dinner with a story of asking a friend – who knew nothing about our naming angst – which word he preferred. He said he liked both, but a Trinket could be valueless, “something that a lady picks up in a gift shop.” Domino he said, suggested stories. “It gives a sense that a lot of things happened to get here.”

Stories. The next morning I filled in the name field with Domino and mailed the paperwork. And then suffered buyer’s remorse all day.

Once we finish all the work and move aboard Domino, I’m gonna hang the domino mask above my chart table desk. And then I’ll go back to making up stories of shady characters who are sometimes good and sometimes bad. I may put that mask on now and then.

Predicting The Future

I certainly never thought 2020 would turn out the way it did, so I’m not anxious to make statements about what will happen in 2021, but here’s a sketch of what’s on our minds.

We plan to finish the electric work on Domino and take a trip, perhaps to the Bahamas this spring.

If things were different we’d have family and friends come sail with us. We harbor romantic notions of buddy boating Domino and Sunshine through the Keys or the Caribbean. Sign up now for your chance to join us!

Or Sunshine could become a floating Air B&B. Can anyone offer guidance on how to manage a rental remotely?

But in reality, we don’t need two boats. So Sunshine will eventually be for sale. If the right buyer came along now, we’d find a way to make a deal work. But we probably won’t list her for several months.

The one thing I know for sure is the masks will be with us for a while.

Wear your mask, stay safe, and have a very Happy and Healthy New Year!

I hope it looks something like this.

beautiful seas 2021



No two ways about it, writing has been slow this year. The next big thing is releasing a box set of the Iris Adventures. I also have versions coming out from Ingram that will be available in libraries.

I’ve also been playing around with reading the stories aloud in preparation for releasing audio versions. Maybe in 2021.

The first book of the next series has been on hold while I considered how to handle masks. That’s resolved, so now the edits can proceed.


As mentioned above, Sunshine will be for sale sometime this year. Unless family says they’ll come sail with us. There is no better pandemic quarantine platform than a fully stocked sailboat anchored off a deserted island. Location, location, location.

Domino is getting solar panels and an electronics upgrade.


In my own reading, I’ve escaped into fiction for the most part.

Right now I’m in the middle of a happily gruesome tale of a severed foot in an athletic shoe discovered on the shore of Whidbey Island. Final Remains is by my friend Dan Pedersen, part of his Final mystery series.

Other books I’ve enjoyed reading, or listening to this year:

Milkman– Anna Burns – Listen to this one, for the spoken Irish.

Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

The Punishment She Deserves – Elizabeth George

The Searcher – Tana French

Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith (who is really JK Rowling.)

A Solitude of Wolverines– Alice Henderson

To Say Nothing of The Dog – Connie Willis. Because I really enjoyed Willis’ Bellwether and wanted more from her.

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  1. Best Wishes and Best Fishes to you two for the coming year and passing off a year not to be forgotten.
    My first thought for a name for your new boat was the name of Peter Sellers character in Being There.
    …. Happy Sails y’all

    1. Thanks for the good vibes, Greg! Same to you as we put the second month behind us. We went through all the Peter Sellers associations, and we also had Chance on the list, as in take a chance. But I never made the connection to the movie! Good catch!

  2. Tempted by Sunshine. My own boat has been laid up in my driveway for years, and I don’t think she’ll see the water again. But I’ll never be able to convince Shelley …

    1. Sunshine is tempting, and getting more so all the time as I finish the interior varnish. Keep working on Shelley, I’m sure they would love each other.

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