Adventures of s/v WILD HAIR


Our land life took on form, solidity, routine. We had mastery of a limited set of skills. We had habitual expectations of others and ourselves. Going sailing, we let go of our attachments to our roles, views, and rituals. We persist because we are growing in this shapeless and dynamic world.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Unlikely Angel

While cautionary signs urged thoughtful wildlife etiquette in harbors up and down the US coast, Dave and I had actually glimpsed the threatened and endangered Manatee just once in sixteen months. The fleeting visitation was granted by a lonely cow inside the Cape Canaveral locks that link the Intercoastal Waterway with the Atlantic Ocean. As the Manatee and Wild Hair journeyed together out to sea, Dave and I thrilled to the puffing nostrils and munching lips of the otherwise hidden creature. Our imaginations were made to guess the mysterious life form hidden below.

Many months later, on a glorious Florida morning in December, while swabbing the deck (a chore not to be underestimated in its tediousness or aerobic demand), a group of voices called out, “Wild Hair, Wild Hair!” I looked up to see the noisy crew of a catamaran recently arrived from South Africa vigorously pointing to the side of our boat. There, a Manatee cow had “bellied up to the bar” to sip the fresh water flowing off Wild Hair’s deck. In awe, I dedicated my garden hose to quench her every desire.

For more than 45 minutes, she and I enjoyed each other’s company. Rolling with incongruous grace in slow circles next to the boat, spinning on her belly, back, and belly again, encouraging me with urgent flaps of her flippers in a “come on, come on” gesture, the Manatee consumed gallons of water. Dave seized the National Geographic moment and snapped photographs from every angle. I trained her to do a trick: when she floated a little too far from the boat, I moved the hose just ahead of her nose and brought her back toward me. In this way, I took my Manatee for a walk along the length of the vessel. I couldn’t tell which she adored more—drinking the fresh water or having me spray it on the old propeller scars and rough barnacles attached to her back and sides.

As we were communing, four more Manatees approached to join in the fun. Not feeling generous, my Manatee made it clear to them that they were not welcome. Without event, the gang moved on. Ours—she agreed—was a private moment.

Eventually, as was destined to be, my dear Manatee friend also moved on. But her presence still resonates in my heart. I believe on that glorious Florida morning that I was visited by an angel. She came to lighten my chores and remind me of the magic of the world. The angel was a Manatee and she was thirsty.

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