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.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nearing the End

It is April 25, 2011. We are nearing the end of our fourth year living on the boat. Looking back, I reflect on this extraordinary sailing season. Dave, Dinghy and I journeyed well over 2,000 nautical miles—sailing from northern Florida to within throwing distance of Venezuela—without major mishap. Perhaps, I gloat on this glorious day, skill and experience give one control. Maybe we can shape our destiny after all.

This morning, we leave our anchorage in the Tobago Cays and make our way to Union Island to clear customs. We anchor, dinghy ashore, and walk several blocks to the airport. There, Dave and I meet our first customs agent turned philosopher. In the historical reality in which I live, I can’t make the man stop talking.

Sweat pours down my face in the tropical furnace that is the airport and Mr. A. T. waxes poetically about a conglomeration of topics: God, fidelity, doctors that want to kill him, and his plans to change careers. He will not proceed with the check out until Dave guesses how old he is (answer: 52). A. takes delight in discovering via a review of our passports that he and Dave have the "same birthday"--Dave's is September 9th while A’s is September 15th. Then we consider together all of the qualities of people born in September and how no one really likes September people. “Have we noticed?” Finally, with the definitive thud of a rubber stamp, the monologue ends.

The town of Clifton on Union Island at 11:00 this Easter Monday morning is a drunken street party. Dancing in the islands is often risqué, but couples here stop traffic by lying in the street and rhythmically, graphically humping each other to the beat of blaring music. Nothing is left to the imagination. Dave and I casually head the opposite direction to buy tomatoes.

The vegetable market is teeming with more loud music, bare-chested men and
lusty, cussing young women. S of S's Produce is exhausted by it all. When I question her delicately about the origin of the street festival, she corrects, "This is no festival. This is our most holy holiday and how people celebrate. They have partied like this since Good Friday.” With emphasis she adds, “I go TO CHURCH.” Beautiful S is made weary by her lack of influence. She is disappointed in her culture. More than she will ever know, we are sisters in her pain. We purchase our tomatoes and wish her well.

To keep sailing skills developing equally, Dave and I alternate captain and crew responsibilities each day. I am especially cheerful now because it is my turn to be captain and the conditions are extraordinary. Sixteen knots of wind blows at a right angle across the port rails, filling sails into voluptuous pillow shapes. The seas are calm so I will not grow seasick. Boat and sun are unobstructed. Tomorrow, as Dave captains us to the island of Grenada, the wind will scream with squalls at 30 knots. He and I will enjoy having our hands full. But for now, I take pleasure in giving my boat full rein, allowing her to lead me, show me what she can do. Her grace and willingness steal my breath.

Christopher Columbus sailed these same waters. His journal entries for this stretch of sea capture his puzzlement over frustrating, invisible currents. Without warning, my compass and electronics conspire and confuse me. My destination is Ronde Island. But the inflowing current and falling tide push the boat sideways at 3 knots—that means we go 3 miles west for every 5 miles south we travel. To drive “straight” I need to crab the boat 60 degrees east on the compass from where I want to head. It is a weird sensation. Our progress is ridiculously slow. I feel unsure. The constantly flowing river of my emotions turns grumpy. I miss the way things were. As captain I can assign duties, so—rather than continuing with something that is making me irritable—I ask Dave to take us in. He is more than happy for the job.

Uninhabited Ronde Island is remote. This rolling 2,000 acre paradise was listed for sale in 2007 for $100,000,000, making the real estate the most expensive island property in the world. It is, however, four nautical miles from an active underwater volcano named Kick-em-Jenny (thought to be named after the odd currents in the area). In 1939, Kick-em-Jenny blew her top sending steam and debris 900 feet into the air and spawning several small tsunamis. Since then, Jenny has raged at least 12 more times making our plans to anchor within the evacuation zone disquieting.

“Don’t worry,” Dave reassures. “The heat won’t kill us, the gas will.”

Anchoring along the protected windward shore, the Delta doesn’t want to catch. I comment on Dave’s fishing gear trailing behind the boat and he says, “O.K. Yeah, I’ll get it.” We both promptly forget about it.

With the boat seemingly attached to the earth, Dave swims to the anchor and dives to check its hold. He reports the light colored bottom is mostly solid rock. But, there is a layer of sand covered with floating vegetation. He dives again to help burry the plow by hand.

“Oh my God—I almost died just now” he claims while swimming back to the boat. He is shaken. “An underwater Sea Snake shot out when I jammed my hand through the vegetation. We missed each other by six inches. I would have been dead before you could get me to help.”

On board, I scan my husband from top to bottom. He is safe and whole. Catching his eye, I raise my eyebrows in question. A smile cracks his lips as he shrugs. There is nothing to do but return to the job at hand.

Together, we back and circle the boat in three lengthy attempts to get the anchor to catch. Dave losses his snorkel mask overboard in the activity. The fishing line wraps the prop during our maneuvers, causing us to lose the lure. After a bit I notice we left the fenders hanging off the toe rail all day. They bounced for 20 miles atop waves. One line is nearly chafed through rendering it useless until replaced.

Dave dives under the boat to cut the fishing line from the prop. I watch his bubbles. He doesn’t come up. Time passes. Panicked that he is stuck, I grab my mask and jump in to save him. He is gone, no where to be seen. I crawl back aboard and scan surrounding waters. At a distance, I spy him checking the anchor’s hold one last time. I make plans to throttle him for scaring me. But before I can fuss, Dinghy-the-Sailor Cat balances like an elephant on a drum atop the stainless bow rail. She jumps down to the deck and acts oh-so-casual when I holler her name.

What is happening? We don't drop things overboard. We don't stick our hands in dangerous places, leave fishing line trailing behind the boat, or dangle our fenders underway. Kitty doesn't climb the bow pulpit. And we certainly don’t lose each other on a 45 foot boat. Have we learned nothing in our time at sea? But then I remember, Yes. I’ve learned I do not rule my dominion. I welcome chaos, relax, and enjoy the show.

It is now late. I know we have a good hold on the bottom; we’re prepared for the high winds to come. I spread my feet, grip the starboard wire shroud, and arch back in the darkness to explore the galaxy with eyes and soul. There are more stars tonight than I think possible. I scour the bright stars half believing they are pinpricks in the shroud of my delusion revealing light from the ultimate dimension lying just beyond comprehension. Perhaps Kick-em-Jenny will sleep tonight, perhaps not. Relishing the mystery of it all, I resign myself to wait and see.

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