Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Holy Spirit hovers over the water

So I’m sitting on the boat with Karl. His friends Josh and Wade are hanging out with us tonight. I’ve had a long day at work—eleven hours to be exact—and it’s great to be out here now, the ocean breeze blowing across the boat, cold pizza in the stomach. My sister just called, my brother’s back in the country, heading to Boston soon. I’m exhausted, but happy.

The only thing I really have to write about is the phosphorescence. I’ve heard about phosphorescence before, but I’ve never really believed it before, that the water actually glows. It glows. There are things living in the water that glow. I don’t know how to adequately explain the wonder of this. Yesterday Karl rowed Wade and me around, and we watched the phosphorescence swirl around the oars. Occasionally I’d see glowing blue fish shoot away from the paddles, or little floating jellyfish that collected and glowed around the edge of the boat.

It’s like there’s energy in the water, and you can’t see it unless you’re out here, in the weather, in the wind, running your fingers through the water. God’s under there, showing Himself to us, underneath us all the time, if we only had the time to pay attention. He’s out here everywhere, trying to speak to us. We’re living outside again, where we belong, where you have to breathe deep of real air, real breath, where you can feel the Spirit of God moving over the water.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The first sail

We went sailing yesterday. Actually sailing, in our sailboat, alone, with the sails up and the wind in them and the sailboat moving. Karl kept telling me that we didn’t have to worry about the sailing part, that once we got the sails up and the wind in them that we would move, and he was right. There are many things we have to learn, of course—how to sail efficiently is another matter altogether, but it was still absolutely exhilarating, the end result of seven months of hard labor.

We sailed out across Buzzard’s Bay, back and forth a couple of time, cutting a big Star of David across the Cape Cod Channel. We started out under main alone, as Karl’s friend John, a captain with his 100-ton license, recommended. We tacked back and forth a couple of times across the wind, and then finally got brave enough to unfurl the jib. Everything worked beautifully, once we got the sails up, even the cobbled-together roller-furling system, everything. We decided to try to go someplace after sailing for a couple of hours, and cut up into the Channel. The wind was directly behind us then, and running with the wind seems like the hardest thing we tried to do. Another thing we have to learn how to do, but it’s only a matter of practice. So we fired up the engine, maneuvered through the buoys to Onset Harbor, where our favorite pizza place, Marc Anthony’s, is a stone’s throw from the water.

By the time we anchored and rowed to the dinghy dock, the double-crusted gourmet pizza we ordered seemed a perfect reward for a perfect day. The sail back yesterday was a little more tricky—we had to beat across the wind all the way back to Marion, under jib alone, but it was still great practice. All we have to do is get out there as much as is humanly possible in the next month, and maybe we really will be ready to leave come September. It is thrilling, really.

The only wrinkle is that both of us are absolutely purple with sunburn. After the first couple of hours on Wednesday, Karl looked at me and said, “Maybe we should think about finding some sunscreen.” All we had was SPF 4 that I had inherited from my Greek mother, and it definitely did not do the trick. One of the reasons we’re taking the day off today is that neither of us could face another UV ray. We’re also thinking more seriously about investing in a bimini cover, especially because Karl’s fire truck sold! Yet more wonderful news we found out yesterday.

The infamous antique fire truck. Jacob and Seth, Karl's nephews, are climbing on top.

He was asking $2000 for it, and it’s going for $5000, to a fire truck museum in New York, where it will be the oldest fire truck on display. They have a whole team of restorers working on fire trucks, with all different ones arriving from around the country every day. (For the uninformed: this fire truck is a well-preserved 1924 Maxim that’s a family heirloom. It was rotting in Karl’s brother’s backyard before Karl decided to sell it for boat money.) I couldn’t imagine a better home for it, and it more than doubles our cruising kitty. As soon as Karl got the phone call, I saw his eyes sweep around the boat and spend the money all at once—new standing rigging, a spray dodger, a fancy new GPS chartplotter, a handheld depth-sounder, and all the other high-tech gadgets he’s been hankering after. We’ll see.

The best news of all is that we found Fred’s dinghy. It’s rather old news now, but the morning after my last entry, Karl spotted what he thought was a dark blue dinghy blown into some reeds. We rowed there, praying hard the whole way, and salvaged the thing. Now we’ve replaced the rope and secured the dinghy fast so it won’t escape again. But that one awful night, both of us, independently, were wondering if we hadn’t taken a wrong turn. Everything seemed to be going against us. Pieces weren’t falling into place, and at every turn we were met by a new and unexpected obstacle. Now it seems the opposite is true. Doors are opening right and left, our hopes are rising, and the horizon looks clear. I know we’re bound to encounter other hardships, but right now it does seem like I’m moving in the right direction. We’ve found our path, perhaps, at least for the next little while.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Further complications

I’m sitting in the darkened boat, Secret, having just turned out my headlamp. We’ve just discovered that our friend’s dinghy has disappeared. The thing is, he’s not really a friend—he’s more of an acquaintance, a regular at the restaurant where I work. He found out about our boat, about our need to moor it someplace, and he had a mooring he hadn’t used in a while so he’s been letting us stay there. He talked to the harbormaster for us and everything. The only condition? That we take care of his beat-up navy-blue dinghy, attached to his mooring.

And now it’s gone. Do you know how much dinghies cost? About $2000. A third of what we paid for our entire sailboat. $2000 we don’t have. Karl’s out there right now, rowing around the harbor in the dark looking for it. It’s more or less hopeless, though—it was really windy last night, the whole reason the dinghy’s gone. And the reason we weren’t here when it disappeared. I was exhausted last night after working eleven hours at the restaurant, and Karl had had a rough day (he got our jib up, finally, with Ralph, which should have been a cause for celebration), and it was windy, so we decided to just crash as his mom’s place.

We shouldn’t have, of course. We were being lazy. And we should have reinforced Fred’s dinghy lines, just in case. But we didn’t. I feel so angry, and frustrated, and maligned by fate, exactly the way I did when my purse was stolen in Michigan. Except my purse wasn’t stolen. I left it in a Taco Bell in Berrien Springs, and the kind owner mailed it back to me, minus the $100 cash that had been in it, lost somewhere along the way.

I want to ask, why me? I know I shouldn’t, I know these things happen to everyone, and that ninety percent of them are my fault anyway, but still: why me? Why can’t I catch a break? Every time I start feeling like we make forward progress on the boat, we get socked in the gut again. How am I going to tell Fred? What are we going to do? How can we afford to replace a dinghy?

I can’t do anything now but pray. My grandmother’s prayers worked on my purse, but I feel like I’m asking God too much now. I don’t deserve more mercy. Karl thinks we shouldn’t pray about these things anyway, that they’re below God’s level of concern. I too agree in some ways. I feel guilty asking God to return my poor little lost dinghy when people are dying of starvation. How dare I? But God has to care, right? If he cares about every sparrow that falls?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

And So It Begins

There’s something wrong with me, and I can’t figure out what it is. In thirteen minutes I have to be at work, and I’ve decided that this is the best time for me to start my new web journal. If not now, when? I’m sitting in a bedroom at my boyfriend’s mother’s house, sweat dripping off my face, mainly from the extremely hot shower I just got out of, and I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong.

Everything should be great right now. Perfect. My boat’s in the water. I’m living on it, more or less. Karl’s out working on the varnish right now, allegedly, and after that’s done we can put back in the wood fittings and cushions, and then maybe it will start to feel like a home.

What it boils down to was that I didn’t have my conditioner in the shower just now. It’s in my gym bag, which I cart to and from the boat every day, along with my hairbrush, deodorant, and a growing wardrobe of accessories. I’m sick of not having a home—I haven’t had a place that was my own in two-and-a-half years now, and the boat, in the water, was supposed to solve this quandary. But I’m just as homeless now as ever. I have to shower in places that are not mine, and that will continue to be so, unless we get a sun shower rigged up. Unlikely in the extreme.

My peripatetic urge is beginning to take on the character of a compulsion. Am I really cut out for this life? Should I really just settle down somewhere, buy a house, have a couple of kids, start growing vegetables? At least I’d have conditioner in the shower. I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t be happy then, either, but is that really true? I can’t answer that, because I haven’t done it.

I keep postponing my contentment to a later date: once the boat is in the water, once the varnish is finished, once the sails are up, once the galley is set up. But this dynamic in myself will never be resolved—my simultaneous longing for the comforts of stability, the conditioner, and the everyday adventures of mobility. Is all of this just born of fear? Fear of what I’ll discover about myself if I settle down?

In any case, I’m not changing course. I have laid this one down, and I’ll follow it until the weather turns. I hope this hiccup of discontent is just a passing gust.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

An Introduction

So I've been journalling a while, about our summer adventures rebuilding a boat and learning to sail, but critics have deemed my early entries to be a little too pessimistic. Perhaps rightly so--this is a big mountain that we've given ourselves to climb. Still, though, I've decided that an introduction might be the best way to begin.

If you've read my profile, you know that Karl (or Big County, as he's known in hiking circles), and I met on the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Upon meeting, it took us eight months to get to Maine, hike Katahdin, and finish the trail, for reasons that have been better explained last year. We spent the winter of 2004 in Maine, at Karl's farm there, contemplating building an organic commune there. Eventually we decided that we hadn't done enough hiking yet, and set out for the Pacific Crest Trail in April 2005.

For many reasons, again best explained elsewhere, we decided to move on from hiking after doing 800 miles of the PCT. Karl bought a beat-up touring bike in Bishop, California, I had mine shipped to me, and we set off to bike to Canada. We had a great time, but we didn't get too far.

Upon returning to New England (after participating in the birth of my sister's beautiful baby girl), we discovered we were fresh out of adventures. What to do? We had had enough of hiking, at least for the time being, the bicycling hadn't gone so smoothly, we weren't sure we were settled enough for the organic farm, but a host of other possibilities awaited. The most appealing of those to our imagination was a little scuffed-up boat up on jacks at the boatyard a mile from Karl's mom's house.

It was a 1971 Ranger 33, to be exact, and in all of our angst and indecision, we found ourselves gravitating towards it. It was the barren cold of a coastal Massachusetts winter, but kept sneaking down to the boatyard, looking it up online, poking around the cabin after we discovered the helpful owner had left an old wood ladder lying at its base. He had also left a little globe on the nav desk, and as we poked holes in the half-rotted wood, and scraped at the peeling paint, that little globe captured my imagination the most.

Oh the places we could go! The Pacific islands we could visit! The tropical sunsets over the clear green Caribbean sea, which we could watch nestled snug in Secret's cockpit... That was the little boat's name, and as October changed to November and into December, we got more and more serious. We did research. We read books. We surfed the web, and eventually decided to get enough cash together to put together a tiny little offer for the boat.

It was far less than the previous owner deserved for his beautiful but slightly battered boat, but it was all we penniless adventurers could afford. We left it in the hands of God, or fate--if he didn't take our offer, we'd get to our next adventure another way. But he did, and as of 2006 we were left the proud but completely ignorant owners of a brand new boat.

To give you some context, Karl had never been on a moving sailboat before in his life. I had sailed, yes, with my father, before the age of ten, a handful of times, mainly on those catamarans with the vinyl trampoline thing between the two hulls. Neither of us had a clue. But on the very first night that we met, the night we mark as our anniversary, Karl had asked me to move onto a boat with him, and I had said yes. Now the dream was ours, and we didn't quite know what to do with it.

The next seven months were dreary and miserable. We bled. We cried. We fought, more than we've ever fought before. We fought about money, about time, about housing. But that tired old boat slowly came back to life. Karl recored the entire deck, an exhausting process. I worked as a waitress, funding the gallons and gallons of epoxy we had to buy. We bought a sheet of teak-and-holly plywood and added accents to the cabin. Karl and his father repaired the roller-furling system and painted the bottom of the boat. Ralph, Karl's stepdad, painted the entire interior for us. We read the entire Cruising in Serrafyn series, about newlyweds who circumnavigated in a 24' engineless wooded sailboat they built themselves. We corresponded with strangers about fiberglass. I didn't even know what fiberglass was in December.

Eventually, as of July 7, the boat was in the water, a month and seven days past our deadline. In retrospect, this seems astonishingly fast. People spend three years buying, financing, and rebuilding their boats, if not more. We had our strokes of luck--someone gave us a brand-new dinghy, another friend supplied us with a free mooring, a random stranger at West Marine gave us $300 worth of used charts that he was replacing, my best friend gave me her old computer (which I'm writing on now). And now our departure date is set for September 30, believe it or not. I don't know if we're brave or just plain crazy. I guess we'll find out.