Friday, December 07, 2007

Bridgewater, Maine

Temperature: 18°F

“If love can be and still be lonely, where does that leave me and you?”

I’m sitting at the dining room table at the house in Bridgewater, looking out the three large front windows at the newly plowed white driveway, the dusting of snow on the pine trees, the empty birches, and the broken-down goat shed out back. Under his pine tree, the wolf-dog, Shadow, paces around on his chain. That dog’s keeping me sane--we go on two-mile walks in the snow every day. We had seventeen inches of snow on Tuesday, and since then I’ve been plowing through in my boots and crampons, beating a path in the shin-deep snow.

The physicality of it reminds my muscles of the work they did on the Appalachian Trail. Walking even that small amount makes me miss walking, makes me remember when walking used to keep me sane, when walking used to be what I did for a living. The best part of being here would be the walking, hands down. I push myself a little farther every day, into the untracked snow, the wolf pulling me forward, sniffing the new smells on either side of the woods, tracking voles and moose and deer and partridge. I like seeing the world through a wolf’s eyes, imagining the two of us as a lean pack, hunting together through the northern waste.

The crazy thing about Shadow is that he really is eighty percent wolf. Karl got him when he was just a puppy from the previous owner of the land, who bred wolves and huskies. I don’t know how you end up with eighty percent, but he did all sorts of crazy cross-breeding, the way animal breeders do, and ended up with dogs that are mainly wolf, toned down a little with the husky blood. Shadow is the smartest dog I’ve ever encountered. I swear he understands English, to the point where Karl thinks I’ve gone a little off--I explain things to him the way I would talk to a three-year-old. The first day I walked with him I showed him my crampons and told him I was trying out a new system, that he had to be careful. Since then he slows down when he feels me slipping on ice.

He’s like my sled dog, and he knows how to take care of me. One of Karl’s neighbors up here, Slim, says that people actually ski like that, with a single dog. He thinks I could train Shadow to do it. I think so too, although training a dog is never been on my list of personal ambitions. Shadow, though, is like fallow soil. I feel like I could teach him to spin a beach ball on his nose in about a week.

It’s a perfect example of how I feel about this beautiful place. All the things we could do here! Can and press apples, grow tomatoes and flowers and basil, raise goats and chickens, harvest wood and build things, have a farmstand, train dogs, learn to cross-country ski, take some graduate-school classes at the neighboring universiy. But the million-dollar quesion is: do we want to do these things? That’s why I feel so ambivalent about Karl selling the land. It’s such a great back-up plan for if we sink the boat. But if we’re never going to come back here and really invest in the earth and the community, is it fair to let it sit here and rot? Every time we leave, Shadow watches us with baleful eyes. Karl talks to him every time we leave, and I hope he understands to a degree, but he’s still just a dog. All he knows is that when we leave he’s kept on a chain again. You can explain things to a person, but not to an animal. It breaks my heart.

The realtor came by yesterday morning and Karl listed the property. The compromise is that he listed it at a high price in a bad market, so it probably won’t sell. If it does, it might be such a financial windfall that it would be worth it to part with the place. It just throws all of our plans into question. Maybe we should back up here and cruise Maine and Nova Scotia, one of the plans that Karl’s always talked about. Maybe somehow we can have both dreams. I always want everything, though, and it’s just not possible. We can either have the tropics or we can have the snow--we can’t have both. Every choice we make precludes another one. Soon I’ll be thirty, and the story of my twenties will have been written. I will have done the things I’ve done, and no others.

The necessity of making choices has always been my least favorite thing about life. Not so much making the choices, but but that each choice means another one can’t be chosen. Each choice blacks out the option of its alternative. It’s so final. As final as death.

(The quote at the beginning is Townes Van Zandt, the best country singer of all time.)

“If I had a flying schooner, I’d sail into the light of day,
If I had your love forever, I’d sail into the light of day...”

Monday, December 03, 2007

Presque Isle, Maine

Presque Isle, Maine
14°F, with a windchill of 5°F, snow showers

We’re here in the neighboring “big” city to Bridgewater, at another one of thesee small-town libraries that so graciously provide internet access. I must say that Northern Maine is as close as you can get to the Bahamas in the States as far as access to services goes, although it’s worlds away weather-wise. Still, though--northern Maine has pharmacies, hardware stores, and libraries with wifi, even if they’re thirty miles away over icy roads from Karl’s homestead. I’m having a great time up here, fighting my Seasonal Affective Disorder by taking long icy walks with the wolf-dog, Shadow. At least I have been once I figured out how to wear crampons on my beat-up old green Doc Martens.

Twenty-four inches of snow are forecast for tonight, so it might be a while before I can post another update. In fact, I’m worried about getting back down to Boston in time to catch my flight to Atlanta. I hope the roads will clear enough for the buses to run sometime in the next week. It’s nice to feel, though, that our trip is winding down. Slowly, we’re ticking off all people on our to-visit list, and when I get back down south I’ll be that much closer to Crooked Island and Secret. That’s our last stop... I’m still hoping we’ll be back for a tropical Christmas.

The best part of being here? How much writing I’m getting done. There’s nothing else to do up here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

En route from Marion, Massachusetts, to Bridgewater, Maine

434 statute miles
50°, dropping to 30° in the course of our journey

We took the bus today up north, up, up, heading up into the big county Karl is named for. On the trail his trail name was “Big County,” not just because of his physical stature, but also for Arookstook County, the biggest county east of the Mississippi. He has a farm up here, 120 acres and a three-bedroom house. When I first met him, I was utterly confused by a 26-year-old with his own land avec horse. How many 26-year-olds do you meet like that? Since then, the place has become a little bit of an albatross around our collective neck, but it’s still an amazing place to come back to. A reminder of what we could have if we decided to settle down.

That’s the worst part of being here, feeling torn between two places. On the one hand, I can feel how much our families want us here, how much they’ve missed us, and how much we’ve missed them. And on the other hand, I see my picture of forlorn Secret on the hard every time I boot up the computer. The picture mysteriously appeared as my computer background when we were first back in the States, and I’ve left it ever since as a reminder of what we’re going home to.

We showed up finally at Snow Road at about ten, left off by the side of the road by the bus like some kind of drifters, picked up by Karl’s dad at Bridgewater center, the post office. Snow Road doesn’t have that much snow on it yet, just a couple of inches. The beaver pond’s full of water, and the land stretched out to the horizon in all directions, featureless and empty and beautiful. The sky is huge up here above the potato fields, framed by pines. If I could only survive the cold.

We immediately booted up the computer and began showing off our pictures to Karl’s father. I feel like such a dork sometimes, like a hippie couple from the seventies: watch our slide show! I don’t know how else to get across the magnitude of what we’ve experienced, though, and even then I’m not sure it does it justice. We’ve come so far and changed so much since we’ve been here last, and here the place is, still the same.

Thanksgiving was great, too. My brother came down from Somerville for the night before Thanksgiving and the morning of, and I enjoyed being able to spend at least some time with some of my family in addition to Karl’s. After Thanksgiving, Karl’s mom began to put up Christmas decorations and play Christmas music... It’s a reminder of just how much time has passed. I’ve also been working on the article I posted here way back when. I’m finding it difficult to come to any closure, though I am proud of myself for plugging away at it at all.

I still feel so betwixt and between. I know that visiting our families is a necessity, but it’s expensive, and it’s taking time away from all these other pressing concerns. I know that’s ludicrous. Maintaining relationships with the people we love is more important than anything else we can do. I just feel a little lost in all of these other people’s houses in all this travel. I just have to keep pushing through to the light at the end of the tunnel, our little house that we pray is patiently waiting for us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Somerville, Massachusetts

Weather: 36°F, light snow, with a windchill of 30°F

Yup, it’s winter, folks. I know it’s still allegedly fall, but if the windchill is below freezing, it’s winter in my book. I woke up this morning on Peter’s futon, and looked out onto a gray street, closed in by fog. After my rather melodramatic, sleep-deprived post of yesterday, we had an even slower and more exhausting trek on the train into Boston. The most depressing part was pulling into South Station an hour late, but still five minutes before the last commuter rail left for Middleborough, and then being stopped on the tracks just long enough to wait for the MBTA train, our train, to pass us outbound. Argh.

So after an exhausting 26-hour sojourn around the great lakes, we had to hop a red-line T to my Harvard Square, yet again, and trek the mile to my brother’s apartment, where I pray we aren’t wearing out his and his roommates’ welcome. I made French toast this morning as a palliative, and it is always great to see Peter. Even with all our exhaustion, we managed to get in two discs of The Office before we drifted off into a Steve Carell-spiced slumber. Today we head back to Marion (via two more trains and a truck) for Thanksgiving. And that gives you just a taste of our travel-weary ways over the last month.

The sad part is that we’re not even half done. We still have treks to make to Chattanooga and Maine.

South Station, Boston, Massachusetts

At the apartment this morning, Karl finally dragged himself out of bed, asked about trains, and we had a frenzied forty-minute dash including a one-mile walk through damp, messy, slippery snow and a twenty-minute T ride that was supposed to be fifteen, only to miss our train at South Station. I am consoling myself with a clementine and with free public wifi. Still, argh. It seems to sum up our travel travails in general. Travel just involved travail, I know, but it’s becoming far too exhausting.

Now we have a two-hour wait in the frigid climes of the vast public train station, surrounded by tempting, expensive coffee, magazines, and food. All of this is beginning to wear on me, and I want to go home. Home to my own French press coffee pot, my own slowly rusting RV stove, my own skillet, my own icebox, my own slow breakfast over New Yorkers and a blue-green view in hot sunshine. I love my family, I love my friends, and I hate, I absolutely hate, the cold. I hate snow, I hate slush, I hate the way wind drives through my clothes, I hate how my nose and chin turn red and my ears numb, and I hate how all of my body’s mucus gathers flows out of every bodily orifice every time I go outside. I’ll survive, I know, I always do. Probably by holing up with books, my usual method.

Monday, November 19, 2007

En route from Chicago, Illinois, to Albany, New York, currently between Rochester and Syracuse

982 statute miles
Weather: 50°F, some light snow in the trees as we pass

I’m continuing to read “The Spell of the Sensuous” as we cross upstate New York by train. Today’s chapter focused on oral cultures and their intrinsic, synaesthetic connection to the earth. He talks a lot about aboriginal Australians, members of the world’s oldest living culture, and their birth--instead of being merely conceived physically, they arise from the spirit animal tracks that criss-cross the land, from the literal footsteps of the Spirits who walked across Australia laying spirit seed that rests dormant in the earth until someone’s mother feels an awakening in her womb at the exact site where the spirit animal stepped.

When an aboriginal woman becomes pregnant, the clan elders get together and decide which footstep the baby is most closely tied to. The track is remembered by elaborate song, each set of spirit footsteps paired with a couplet of a poem. That person, when born, becomes that couplet, and that piece of land is their birthright. When they die, they return to that piece of land so that their spirit can once again meld back into the soil and become one.

I can’t imagine a connection to the land that intense. I don’t suppose any of us can. I watch the narrow trees rush past the train’s windows, and the contours of the landscape are meaningless to me. I’ve never seen them before, chances are I’ll never see them again. I’m moving too fast to understand the ground, the birds, the brush. It’s all beautiful, but it’s silent.

In front of me, behind me, next to me, people are watching computer-generated DVDs on their laptops, playing video games on their cell phones, listening to iPods. They don’t even see the silent earth we’re whizzing past. It’s invisible to them.

I suppose my connection to the earth is more tenuous than most. I don’t even have a home country, a home state, a home city. Wandering through the streets of Chicago this last week reminded me of the trails I’ve walked through the city these last ten years, each step a memory. But I don’t belong there the way an aboriginal belongs to a particular piece of earth. I don’t belong anywhere. I’ve uprooted Karl successfully, too, dragging him along in my endless wake as we wander far from his true home turf. He truly belongs in New England. Its seasons echo in his body, its landscape speaks to him in a way it doesn’t speak to me.

Maybe it’s why I’m so drawn to the sea--featureless, changing, vast, empty. A blank canvas, terrain where no human belongs. I like teh story of Ulysses, our last true story, the last story from when our culture, too, was oral, tied to the earth. Back when we meant something other than desolation. Ulysses spent ten years trying to find home. I’m trying to do that, too. The only part that doesn’t ring true is the happy ending.

I kept apologizing to my hip Chicago friends for our “homeless chic”--Karl’s raggedy hair and beard, my patched jeans and old ratty sweaters, clothes from thrift-store bins and ancient basement-mildewed cardboard boxes, holey socks and shoes, stained tee-shirts. Perhaps being somewhere that was home to me, however briefly, reinforced how thoroughly homeless I am again, my only shelter a little fiberglass house bobbing forlornly thousands of miles away. I don’t like living out of an ultralight backpack and a giant Turkish purse, never able to costume myself correctly or feel the comfortable familiarity of a local. I used to be able to do these things.

Still, though, I thrive on the existential edge that not belonging brings to my existence. Everything is uncertain, everything new, everything exciting. I can’t be an aboriginal. But maybe I’ll wander forever like Ulysses, searching for my lost couplet, my lost song. And when I finally do, I can lay my bones to rest on my lost piece of earth.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Warrenville, Illinois

I've finally posted our Crooked Island pictures, so head over to my pictures site to check them out. Make special note of my pictures of Little Maddie, our friend Maddie's doppelganger whom she sent with us on the boat. We were supposed to take her around the world: unfortunately, we only got to the Bahamas. We're staying at the Levis tonight, watching old episodes of Lost until all hours.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Oak Park, Illinois

I feel like doing my sister's gimmick tonight. Here's my subject line (taken from a Bob Dylan song, which one to be discovered by vous): "She's everything I need in life, but I can't be swayed by that..."

Hello, everyone. Long time no see. I'm feeling a little guilty about a long absence, but we've also been on the road A LOT. I spent a week with my brother in Somerville, Massachusetts, while Karl slaved in the icy cold cranberry bogs of Carver for a week and a half. Then we spent another weeks (including Halloween!) with Karl's nephews, and hopped a 24-hour Amtrak to Chicago to spend some time with my niece and sister.

We just spent a fantastic evening playing "Settlers of Cataan" with my sister and her husband. Settlers of Cataan is the best board game of all time. And I know I'm a dork for saying that, but I love board games. I've also played a lot of cribbage with Karl's mom, and taught my brother and his roommates how to play Bahamian dominoes. It may sound like nothing, but it's amazing how much we need this focused time with the people we love. I feel like I'm a plant getting rain.

The travel doesn't end here, either--we take a train back to Boston, another train to Middleboro, and a truck back to Marion for Thanksgiving, and we still have a trip to Maine to arrange. It's difficult to catch my breath. Or, more aptly, it's difficult to keep my breath caught and at the same time pay the focused attention to my family that I want to. The stress of not being with Secret is wearing on us, too. Tropical Storm Noel gave me a lot of nightmares.

Emotionally, it's weird to be wandering my old stamping grounds. I visited Oak Park for the first time probably ten years ago. It's the first place I had my own apartment, it's the first place I really felt like my own person. I've criss-crossed these roads over the last decade, with different people, in different years. It's the closest thing I've had to a home.

I feel bad for not chronicling my gut reactions to our return to this country. I guess I did to some degree. But all sorts of things have been floating around my head lately. I'm reading this amazing book entitled The Spell of the Sensuous, written by a sleight-of-hand magician who won a Fulbright to study traditional magic in Bali and Tibet. He was a philosopher, and he tries to figure out, philosophically, what's caused the modern disconnect with the physical world. It's really brought my time here into perspective. Why are we so separated animals and the birds and the plants and the earth in this country? Why am I so much more connected to all that on the boat? What caused that?

Somebody's gotta to tell the tale. I guess it must be up to me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Marion, Massachusetts

Hey, everyone. I'm sitting right now at Karl's brother's house, with his nephew named Seth. Write hi, Seth.


What do you want to talk about, Seth?

Seth wants to talk about the jellyfish yesterday at school. Here are the facts he learned:

1. They don't have ANY bones.
2. They eat shrimp.
3. I went to a lab where the jellyfish live in a big tank.
4. The lab was at Tabor.

(Seth wants me to be done now.)




Those are Seth's words. That's all for today, folks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Marion, Massachusetts

Weather: below freezing????

We’re beginning to feel the persistent crush of time. It’ll be a full week that we’ve been here come tomorrow. I can’t quite believe it. We’ve got a lot accomplished, but I feel like only a little tiny dent has been made in the pile. If I want to see my family and friends, I’m going to have to start lining up everything weeks ahead of time, and, as everyone knows, planning is not my strong suit.

One frustrating thing is that the kind neighbor here with wireless internet access has wisened up and password-protected it. Good for him, bad for us. That means the nearest email access is the local coffee shop or library, both more than a mile away. Not really 24 hours a day online as I had envisioned. If we’re going to order things on eBay and have them shipped, we need to do it now. Not to mention the return tickets we haven’t bought yet.

Yikes. Did I mention that already? We don’t have return tickets, and we’re heading into the busy season in the Bahamas. We had some idle dream of hitching a ride as crew on a sailboat, some brave captain going offshore to Bermuda and ending up at Georgetown or some such place. But if we’re going to do that, we need to get on it right away too. (Seriously: If any Ranger 33 or other sailboat owner knows of someone heading offshore to Florida or the Bahamas in November or December, we’d love to crew. Please email me or post a comment.) I’m sure we can find a cheap ticket somehow--flying standby or taking a bus to Florida--but it’s just freaky to have not planned our departure yet.

It makes this visit feel too permanent. We can’t stick around too long, as much as we’d love to. We’re having a lot of fun here, and I begin to feel the clutch of family and community again. We took the kids to a fireman’s parade last Sunday, and we’re taking them to a dirt-bike race this Sunday. I love being able to cook in a full kitchen again, and curling up on the couch with Karl while we watch a movie isn’t so bad either. The Red Sox are trying not to bomb yet another post-season, and everyone’s talking about it. There is something to be said for fall colors and roaring fireplaces and roasted fowl. I feel the tug of roots, those little tendrils that drift down from my shoes and struggle to find a place to dig into the dirt. Try as they might, I keep ripping them up and carrying away with me to the next place. They stay short and stunted.

My roots are in the boat, now. She’s waiting for me to come home.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Marion, Massachusetts

At some random person’s house yesterday, I felt a weird but familiar feeling. It was the feeling I used to get when I was a kid and we were on furlough--that feeling of strangeness and pride, that I’m putting on a show, that I belong elsewhere and this is a break from real life. When I was a kid we came home from the mission field every two years for a summer--sometimes two months, sometimes four. Other missionary families only went home every four years, and then stayed in the States for a full year. I was always glad we didn’t have to do that. At least we could go to the same school every year.

It was such a familiar feeling, though. I used to feel it every summer we were here, all summer. The strangeness of the food. The peculiar enchantment and ubiquity of television. The vertigo of being around unknown people who haven’t the vaguest conception of the places I’ve lived or the things I’ve seen. I feel like we’re on a traditional furlough and it’s disorienting to me to find that I’ve created a life for myself that so closely mirrors that of my childhood.

We joke, half serious, about being missionaries all the time. We’re teaching people to live like lilies, we’re sharing the good news that Christ has proclaimed freedom to the captive and sight to the blind. These are the things I believe. These things are why I’m doing what I’m doing, why I’m following this narrow and windy path, precarious cliffs beat with giant seas down below. I said to my brother on our first day here that I worried our families didn’t understand the boat is “a realistic long-term life choice.”

He said, “It is?”

We’ve had some immense challenges this first year, but, coming up on our first anniversary, some amazing successes. Without having sailed before, we made it past the harbor considered the southern terminus of Bahamas cruising, in the wrong season. We persevered through having thousands of dollars of equipment lost, a huge chunk of our budget. We successfully stayed within our means for a full year. Where we’re heading is easier--places we have contacts and work, with a boat that’s better equipped, and with a crew that is more experienced. We’ve only just begun.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Marion, Massachusetts

I’m curled up in front of the gas fireplace in the big room at Karl’s mom’s house, the only room in the house with heat and the only place I’m comfortable without a stack of blankets. I joked before we left the Bahamas that the heat was going to bother me, but I hadn’t really believed it. “I’ll adjust,” I thought. “It won’t be that bad.” But it is. It was 35 degrees this morning before the sun came up, and almost no one has their heat on. I’m dying. I feel like I’m being a very rude guest, but I don’t know how to control it. We stopped by one of Karl’s friends houses today who had the window open while he smoked a cigarette, and I felt atrocious as I piled on every bit of clothing I had: down vest, wool sweater, massive knit scarf, lined cap, gloves. I look like I’m dressed for February in the Arctic.

They say, although I don’t know whether to believe them, that people who grow up in cold climates adjust successfully to warm climates, but people who grow up in warm climates can never fully adjust to cold ones. Something to do with the thickness of blood. That seems rather far-fetched, but I’m experiencing it now. After eight years in Chicago I had figured out winter pretty well--lots of fatty food and television and crouching by radiators. Well, maybe not fairly well. I just can’t believe that I’ve lost all of my acclimatization in one lousy winter. I feel just as bad as I did the first winter at college, when I would feel my body temperature drop and turn up the radiator in my room full-blast for weeks on end. I can feel it happening again now--I’ll be perfectly fine in my down and my wool until all of a sudden my internal temperature plunges and I can’t get warm no matter what I do.

If this is how hard Karl had it when we first got to the Bahamas, I completely understand. That adjustment was hard for me, too. It was hotter than I expected and I didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to deal with, without a bimini or a fan or any shade. We managed to rig a tarp pretty quick, but throughout the whole month of August we survived without any cover for the boat. I really hate the shade. On lunch breaks back when I was in the working world, I would always sit in full sun and come back into work sweaty. It was worth it for the contact high. In the Bahamas we walk around half naked, here we can’t move without being swaddled up to our necks. We experienced the heat in a whole different way down there, a different character of heat, a different consistency. Here, the cold is just as insidious, a constant presence, nipping at the ends of my fingers and toes.

I forgot how much of a constant battle it is for me here, how much emotional energy being cold takes up. I’m afraid to go outside because of the cold, afraid to move once I find someplace that I’m warm. I’m bewildered by all the layers I’m supposed to be wearing--what’s too much and what’s not enough? I feel like I’ve gained twenty pounds just because I’m wearing puffy coats instead of bathing suits and sarongs.

I read a fantasy novel when I was a teenager, once, a love story between a girl who was claustrophobic and couldn’t go under the shade of trees, and a faun who was agoraphobic and couldn’t come out into open spaces. They could only be together at the border between field and forest, where they would walk, one in sunlight and one in shadow, hand in hand. Sometimes I worry that Karl and I could end up like that--me with the heat and he with the cold. I hope we can find some middle ground, a border between sunlight and darkness.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Marion, Massachusetts

Today we settled into life here. It’s so fun playing with the kids and getting caught up on their lives. Seth, the younger brother, especially seems to have grown. He’s on the verge of reading now, able to write his name and two other words (“cat” and “dot”) and can pick out letters in any books. He pulled out our card from last year (we gave him our beat-up old truck as a going-away present) and spelled out the letters for me. I can’t believe how much taller and older he seems.

Jacob, the older brother, has matured, too. He’s the one who loves Yu-Gi-Oh and we spent a couple of hours tonight poring over the online interactive demo of how to play the game. He’s been collecting cards for years but we’ve never figured out how to actually play, and I feel like he might finally be ready for it. Of course, my ulterior motive is that I love games. I don’t just play dominoes for grins and giggles, after all.

I had a blast tonight taking over the kitchen at Karl’s brother’s and making a huge pot of crock-pot chili and a giant salad with homemade dressing. I went to the grocery store for the first time and spent thirty dollars almost exclusively on fresh produce: red grapes, a giant head of romaine lettuce, beautiful tomatoes and peppers and alfalfa sprouts. They may be farmed with pesticides and shipped zillions of miles, but modern American produce is one of the world’s wonders. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed just being able to jaunt into the grocery store and picked up what I need for dinner. It was fabulous.

I loved having the boys help me too. I told Jacob that he was making the chili and I was just going to chop up the veggies for him--he added the beef and the beans and tomatoes and a magic spice blend he put together from the spice cabinet and fresh-picked jalapeno and serrano peppers from the garden. Then Seth helped us make a fresh dressing for the salad with rosemary from the garden and balsamic vinegar and pepper juice. The boys loved it. Maybe I’m having a little twinge of maternal instinct, here and there...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Marion, Massachusetts

Our first full day home, so to speak. Time to catch our breath? Not quite. We’re spending as much focused time with the children as possible, which makes it hard to fit in anything else. They seem to be parched for their uncle’s attention, and I regret that we’ve (read I’ve) deprived them of his presence for a full year. I feel like I’m repeating the patterns of my own childhood with them, the amazing female figures in Thailand who zoomed in and out of my life, creating in me a fear of, and a longing for, flux.

I regret becoming one of those figures myself, a kind of exotic aunt who waltzes in bearing gifts and stories, and then disappears again into the ether, without having to suffer through the vagaries of consistency or discipline. I feel I have no choice. I guess we could buy a house in Wareham and settle down to ordinary lives, but I’ve always believed that my parents did what was best for me by following their own dreams and being their own whole people. Could I be happy in a house in Wareham? Probably. But I feel the life we’re living is the life to which I’ve been called. God did ask Abraham to put Isaac on the altar, after all. We have to trust that what we’re asked to sacrifice is for the good of everyone concerned. And I always hope that by breezing in and out we’re at least having some kind of impact on their lives. We’re teaching them that anything’s possible, that they can do anything and everything they want, that they can follow their dreams no matter where they take them. All those clichés that are constantly spouted and are never quite lived. At least it’s better than having no impact at all.

Of course, I’m always hoping that someone will take seriously my suggestion to let us take one or both of the kids for a summer or an extended break--heck, I’d even home school. Somehow no one’s willing to part with their children and entrust them to our capable hands. Who would have guessed it? In fact, I think everyone’s nervous enough that I’ve spirited away their Karl to parts dangerous and unknown.

We still visited everyone we could think of while the kids were at school and after they were in bed: our good friends who work at the Marion West Marine and kindly let us use their fax machine, Karl’s friend with the cranberries, who was welding together the frame of a hot rod in his garage, friends who had been reading the blog who were shocked to see us show up at their doorstep (saying, “Wait!! You’re supposed to be in the Bahamas!”), others who dropped everything to meet us when we made unexpected phone calls. It’s great to be here. I feel like we’ve confirmed the purpose of our visit: reconnecting with our old friends and our family. We need that kind of emotional food.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Boston to Marion, Massachusetts

58.9 statute miles

As of today, we are safely ensconced in the familiarity of Karl’s mom’s home, finally completely the last stage of our multi-day journey. We arrived in Boston after midnight last night, gleefully meeting my brother and feeding him leftover free chicken wings from our voucher, and gingerly picking up our bags stinking of conch guts. We sat on the porch with him and his roommates until three o’clock in the morning, talking about the Bahamas and his trip to Thailand, discussing Bahamian linguistic quirks and showing off our conch shells, telling story after story. It was a blast. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed him, how much I immediately synch up with my family when I see them again. It’s like we’re telepathically connected. When I’m around them I don’t have to say half of what I’m thinking--they just know. They make connections that I haven’t yet made, and understand the connections that I try to make.

This morning, after nearly freezing to death in his front room (the cold is going to be hard), I went crazy and reorganized his kitchen, pulling a total Mom. I didn’t realize how gleeful I was going to be at having access to a full kitchen and stocked pantry, so I made delicious French toast out of the stale loaves Peter’s roommate brings home from the gourmet grocer where he works, and then began to rearrange the pantry and the spice rack. We went all out, eventually, Peter composting things right and left and Karl restructuring their electronic appliances. Who knew cleaning could be so fun?

We went out for delicious Indian food at the place around the corner and it felt surreal to be so thoroughly in the heart of urbania, coed hipsters in striped stockings on every corner, storefront coffee and ice cream shops lining the sidewalks, exotic smells wafting from immigrant bistros. City traffic was a heart-stopping surprise, too--we drove down to South Station rather than take the T with our giant backpacks stuffed with conch shell--and it took all of two hours. It nauseated me to sit behind an elephantine Suburban, with a solo driver and bedecked with skiing stickers, for a full hour, then to drive by gas stations charging all of $2.69 a gallon. When people on Crooked are paying $5! How dare people sit in traffic in their SUVs and get paid for it by the government? Ridiculous. I’ll try not to let politics influence my musings on America too much, but it’ll be hard.

I could feel myself being influenced by it already, especially on the commuter rail to Marion, which, thanks to the traffic, we managed to hit right at rush hour. How is that commuting brings out the absolute worst in people, including myself? I was horrified by man’s inhumanity to man--here we are with three giant bags apiece, for all anyone knows abandoned Swedish exchange students or tourists, and no one would even move to share their three-person bench with another solo traveler to make room for us. Instead we had to perch in the passageway between cars, freezing as the wicked wind whipped by, and jostled by the executives pushing their way toward every point of egress, all of which we blocked. Eventually I stopped even moving out of their way, in repayment to their graciousness towards us, wishing curses on every soul that passed. I repeat: commuting is the worst thing for the soul of man, ever.

We were more than relieved to arrive safely at the station in Middleboro and to be welcomed by Karl’s brother and nephews, whom we have missed so much. They were thrilled to see us and gave us all the news they could in the first twenty minutes. They drove us by the gigantic new Wareham plaza, the competitive answer to the Walmart monolith across town. Nothing like paving over acres of wetlands to bring about economic rejuvenation. Nothing like bringing in five new chain restaurants and dozens of paved parking lots to improve the health of a community. Sheesh.

We had pizza with the boys for dinner while they showed off their toys and Yu-Gi-Oh cards and we showed off the shells we had brought them. Despite all the effort, the mass conch exodus was worth it--the boys were thrilled to be able to heft a conch shell’s weight and explore its smooth pink interior. “Did you eat it” they asked, disgusted.

“Not this one,” we said. We didn’t get back to the house until after Karl’s mom had gone to bed, and were shocked at all the changes no one had thought to mention. Karl’s brother had redone his kitchen and built new shelves in the kid’s bedroom, Karl’s mom installed new carpet and a new refrigerator. I suppose these things aren’t important enough to be mentioned in our rare phone calls, but it’s strange to be here and find everything the same, but different. Things haven’t stood still while we’ve been gone. Everyone has changed, evolved. We have too, I hope.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas, to Boston, Massachusetts

1149.8 nm

I’m sitting in the Charlotte airport at one of those high-stooled tables with, miracle of all miracles, internet access! I should probably just be posting this, but I’m not quite brave enough to bare my soul without editing the last week of entries. I’m dazed with the newness of everything: the dazzling newsstands, the hordes of pale strangers, the countless fast-food stands with their glistening advertisements. All the things I expected to be startled by are startling. We also have a three-hour delay, which is a huge bummer, but they’ve given us vouchers for dinner, which is nice. (Go US Air.)

We had some headaches coming through immigration in the Nassau airport--I spent all day yesterday scrubbing and bleaching some conch shells that Reggie had rotting in his front yard. Suffice it to say that I had not known how disgusting decaying conch guts could be. Still, I thought they’d be great gifts so I dutifully scrubbed, despite the protestations of Bula, Nappy’s painter from Nassau. Bula had worked at the airport in Freeport for sixteen years and claimed I’d never be able to get them through US Customs. I insisted, though, that people buy conch shells in Nassau all the time. How would they know I hadn’t bought mine? They can’t discriminate against people who are given conch shells.

So I soaked them overnight in a bleach solution, drying them and wrapping them in newspaper at dawn this morning. Our bags were even subjected to the extra searches, but the kind customs people neglected to pursue the scent of decaying conch and waved us through. Other than having backpacks full of clothes that smell like rotten fish, we’re all set. I also smuggled through a pack of tuna sandwiches Karl and I made first thing this morning so we wouldn’t have to fork over hard-earned cash for overpriced airport food. These I was a little more worried about, after realizing I wasn’t allowed to bring food across international borders. I had packed the sandwiches in a bread bag, though, and they mistook them for a loaf of bread. We guiltily wolfed them down at the gate, grateful we didn’t have to pay $10 for cellophane-wrapped white bread.

The flight from Crooked Island to Nassau was beautiful. We enjoyed tracing the outlines of all the islands we had visited, seeing them stretched out below us in reverse order. In some places we could even spot the exact place where we had laid anchor--the cove at the north end of Long Island, the anchorage south of Rum Cay, even Rose Island off of Nassau, where we could see a couple of sailboats anchored, already beginning the winter pilgrimage south. I had more culture shock landing in Nassau than I did landing in the States. In a whole airport full of people, I didn’t know anyone! I kept thinking I spotted friends from Crooked, but they were strangers. We were back to the true anonymity of the big city.

The Americans we’ve met so far have been very kind. It was a couple of them that pointed us to the service desk where we could get our free food vouchers. I still feel a little lost in this giant airport. It gives me a feeling of vertigo to be surrounded by more people than the entire population of Crooked. I keep looking around me and thinking, “these are more people than I’ve seen in months, and all strangers.” The food is bewildering, too. In sight right now I have more restaurants than on the entire island. Walking through the airport was a cornucopia of sights and smells: burgers, french fries, fried chicken, pizza, soups, salads, paninis and foccacia, Chinese, barbecue, subs. We had some soup and some sub-standard pizza, our first in eons, and I kept thinking to myself, “and Americans wonder why they’re fat.”

I felt less shock at the newsstand than I expected, but more disgust, although I gratefully picked up a new New Yorker. I thumbed idly through People while Karl looked at designer watches in upscale men’s magazines, my eye caught by the headlines on the tabloids. “Britney suicide watch,” on the cover of OK, “Angie gains ten pounds” on the cover of US Weekly. It’s really nauseating, and what nauseates me most is how I’m entranced by it. We’ll have to fight it here, the pull of civilization. But already I find myself longing for island life.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Today we returned to the stress of land-based life. There’s always so much to be done and no respite from it--no clear blue vistas to take one’s mind off the stress. Karl was able to help Nappy with a couple of loose ends on the house, which was good, but I have some guilt for leaving. I feel like we’re abandoning Nappy right at the moment of truth, when all the pieces for the house are coming together. I continue to worry, too, that our involvement will cause him headaches. I hope what we’ve brought to the project has been worth it.

We had to make our grand visit to the commissioner’s office today, too. She was extremely helpful and kind, a wonderfully hospitable example of the great officials the Bahamas uses to enhance the cause of tourism. I love how the Bahamas values its tourists and the people who visit these islands, and I love how proud Bahamians are of their hospitality. I’ve really fallen for this country in a way I didn’t expect. It may have something to do with my first visit here when I was fourteen. I still vividly remember that trip: shopping at the straw market in Nassau, eating conch and lobster for the first time, driving by crystal clear blue water and pink-sand beaches on Eleuthera, playing at the pool at our guesthouse filled with salt water from the ocean, doing bizarre puppet shows at the primary school in the blazing sun, visiting Spanish Wells, the white Christian village at the tip of Eleuthera sustained by the wealth of lobster fishing, singing with the choir at an abandoned gazebo in the central park, being stung by a man-o-war and experiencing the worst pain of my life...

It was a strange trip. We were half tourists, half evangelists. Our beautiful guesthouse was close to a resort, and yet we were there to do missions. Still, it affected me. It was my first time anywhere near to the Caribbean (although the Bahamas is situated firmly north of the Caribbean Sea, in the Southwest North Atlantic Ocean, it’s still culturally part of the Caribbean. Even many Bahamians sing gleefully along with that line in Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier:” “in the heart of the Caribbean...”). Although Caribbean islands are somewhat of a cliche, I find they live up to the hype. I can completely understand why so many people spend years just cruising around the islands. It’s not Thailand, so it’s not quite home, but island-based cultures all have similarities. Crooked Island even reminds me in some ways of Cutty Hunk, the most New England of the Elizabethan Islands off of Cape Cod. Sometimes I think my heart yearns for islands because my ancestors were island people--my grandfather was born on the Greek Island of Cyprus, and his last name is Zodhiates, meaning “of the island of Zodhia.” I’ve contemplated reclaiming Cypriot citizenship (especially as I watch the dollar plunge) and I’m contemplated retaking that name (as a protest against patriarchism). At heart, though, I feel my genes long for the peace, and complexity, of island life. Perhaps a cruising sailboat is what I’ve been heading for all these years.

Our visit here had an odd coda: the two of us and Nappy went out to dinner at the house of a recent arrival on the island and a reader of this site, who had found us via Google. Evidently I am now in the top ten searches for “Crooked Island.” Strange. We had a wonderful time, even with that odd feeling I get when our digital universe intersects with the physical one, and I’m beginning to realize that my anonymity has been lost. I begin to wonder if I should use pseudonyms, as my sister does in her blog, to protect the innocent... I could get in trouble one of these days.

Oh well. I’m doing the best I can. And if people find the island through me, then all’s the better. Si (for that his name) did make on comment that stung: “how come your blog’s called Casting Off when you never cast off?” Ouch. Maybe we have been here too long, as much as I love the place.

Monday, October 08, 2007

French Wells to Church Grove, Crooked Island, Bahamas

6.1 nm
Wind: SE 10 knots, late afternoon thunderstorms

Our slightly longer return row went off without a hitch. We bade farewell to Secret in the morning, waving goodbye as we rowed back north towards civilization. I spoke a few words in an undertone, a prayer of sorts, for her and to her. I couldn’t quite watch as she shrank in our wake, naked without her sails or barbecue or dinghy.

The mangrove swamp stretched before us, though, the water blue and glistening, the trees dense and green. The row to the Turtle Sound outlet itself was at least a mile, most of it in water a foot deep, dotted with little mangrove shrublets, sticking their thin branches out of the sand, bedecked with a forlorn leaf or two. We rowed directly over some of them, and they popped right back up in our wake. I know many people have written about the wonder of mangroves, but I was struck anew by it. They actually grow in salt water, right in the ocean. For some reason, this random plant has evolved in such a way that it doesn’t need salt water. And it creates land! You could see where over decades little groupings of mangrove saplings had become little islands, and how those islands had gradually connected to the mainland. You can see why manking always destroys them, too. They’re utterly inhospitable to human habitation, and completely hospitable to everything else: the water, the fish, the birds.

The sound, when we reached it, was silent and calm, the tide pulling us slowly backwards (with our ridiculous inability to go with current) but a gentle wind from the southeast pushing us forwards. When Karl would stop rowing we would drift sideways at an angle, at about half a knot, allowing us to rest and eat. We never got around to my shift at the oars, yet again, but Karl fell into a rhythm, stopping only every now and again to take a couple of bites out of the big pot of Spanish rice we had brought with us, left over from last night’s farewell dinner. We made tortillas last night too, and those made great beef, cheese, and salsa wraps. Karl began to contemplate doing a serious rowing tour, insisting that he could have rowed the entire distance that we’ve sailed. I’m sure he could have, but I don’t know what my role would have been. I don’t really like the word “dead weight” in my job description. I argued for the tandem kayak, but Karl made the valid point that we couldn’t have an eight-quart pot filled with food sitting around in a kayak, even a touring one.

He rowed for about four miles, the only challenge our worsening sunburn. Sunscreen was one of the things that got left behind. Eventually Karl took off his shirt and used it to cover his legs, right before Pokyman zipped by again. So we got towed in for the second time, validating our existence as rowers and self-sufficient sailors, but still connecting with a local to make things easier. Blackjack and Diamond came in right behind us, and both boats were full to the gills with fish and conch. We amused ourselves for a while talking with the assembled gang and watching them clean their fish. Especially fun for me was watching Diamond down “conch spaghetti,” the protein strip from the conch belly, renowned for its abilities as an aphrodisiac. Karl had eaten some of them when he was out with Robbie, but I didn’t think I’d have the stomach for it. “What’d they taste like?” I asked.

“Like spaghetti,” he shrugged. “Fishy spaghetti.”

We drove back to the house in the beat-up GMC truck and hooked up with Nappy again. He didn’t seem put out by our disappearance, and we made another circuit of the island before dark. A good end to a full day. I’m proud of us. We’ve done everything we can, and we’ve done it right. We leave the day after tomorrow. In 48 hours--back to America.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

French Wells, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: NE 15-20 knots, thunderstorms rolling through all afternoon

Karl began to take all of the measurements we need for our boat parts early this morning. I’d deleted all of the pictures on our 1GB photo card yesterday so we could fill it up with boat pictures. I hope they’ll be a big enough resource for us to get what we need in the States. It’s hard for me to explain exactly our goals for our visit, or how important it is to be able to have access to all of the means of a capitalistic society. As much as I denigrate the good old US of A, I know that many of the things I deplore are a necessary evil. I just wish we could find a good balance between an idyllic rural existence and a healthy society based on the division of labor and manufacturing. (Yes, I have been reading Adam Smith.)

We’ve decided that we need a new roller furler, a new head, and new sails. Even though these things can be shipped to the Bahamas, the impossibility of communication down here is making the shipping process unbelievably difficult. Just to communicate with vendors and suppliers is next to impossible without internet access or any working pay phones. We can borrow other people’s phones, but we know (from hard, cold experience) how expensive calls are to the US. I completely understand why Nappy lives and dies by his Blackberry. It’s the only way for a businessman to succeed down here, let alone prosper.

In addition to the things we need shipped, there are countless light, small items that we can buy in the States, fill our bags up with, and cart back to the boat with us. The examples are endless: plastic cups and plates for the boat that go here for 99 cents and cost $6 a piece in the Bahamas, leather to protect our oars--completely unavailable around here, sailing reference books, compact and easy to carry but brutally expensive to have shipped, vitamins and dried fruit and music (which we can fill our computer up with and has no weight), electronics... The list is endless. If we run out of space, we can always ship a box to ourselves. I think we underestimate just how valuable the endless stream of information is in the States, too. Sure, it’s overwhelming, but impossible to live without. I intend to spend days entirely on the internet, downloading every conceivable file that I can think of to keep in our burgeoning electronic file cabinet.

So today was a hard day of work: measuring things, taking pictures, trying to remember absolutely everything we need, trying to decide what to take and what to leave and what to leave at Nappy’s, stripping everything off the boat’s exterior and finding its best possible place to be kept inside, battening down the hatches, and saying goodbye to Secret. I’ll miss her. I quote this song now, sent to us by a good friend, because it expresses so thoroughly how I feel about leaving her behind. I’m so afraid, but at the same time I trust her, and I know it’s the right decision. If you love someone, let them go, right? Here it is:

Beyond the reef,
Where the sea is dark and cold
My love has gone,
And my dreams grow old.

There'll be no tears,
There'll be no regretting
Will she remember me,
Will she forget.

I'll send a thousand flowers
Where the tradewinds blow.
I'll send my lonely heart
For I love her so.

Someday, I know
She'll come back again to me.
'Till then my heart will be
Beyond the reef.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

French Wells, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: NE 20-25 knots
Seas: flat calm in protected harbor

We’re dallying on the boat today, reading, not talking much, and enjoying being home. Most of the housekeeping is done after our hard work of yesterday afternoon, and today is recuperation time. Just like some of our days back in Massachusetts, when we sat around and tried to figure out how to live on the boat, today is about quality time. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of exactly who we are and why we’re living in this way: today is one of those days. I’m a little worried about our forthcoming vacation from the boat, and I feel the need to store up for myself treasure in my heart--the sound of the wind whistling in the rigging, the slow wobble of the boat as she drifts up with the tide, the warm glow of the sun beating through the companionway, the comfort and peace of sitting across from Karl, both of us reading, and not saying a word for hours.

It’s windier than expected today, probably the unexpected effect of a cold front moving in north of us, and I’m glad we have a second empty day to spend out here. We have a lot of work to do on deck, but it seems to be gusting over 25 knots today, and we can’t exactly do it in that wind. My wish list for the States just keeps getting longer--every time I do anything around here I think of about three things I need to buy that’ll help make our life easier. I had lost track of time a little bit and thought we had to row back tomorrow, but we’ll spend an extra day out here. I’ve been dutifully laying out in the sun and swimming, trying to store up as many good feelings I can to ward off the effects of the cold and wintery north.

I’ve been praying a lot, too. I have a hard time, sometimes, writing about my faith, because I fear people’s wildly divergent attitudes towards it. I believe, though, that our sojourn on Crooked Island has been an answer to prayer, and I believe too that our decision to leave Secret alone is another answer to prayer. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t believe that that was the direction in which God was guiding our steps. We have to learn how to leave Secret alone if we’re to live the type of life we desire, and we have to have faith that God will take care of her while we’re gone. We simply can’t allot the budget that other people would be able to for professional care. So leaving her is a necessary choice.

I’m worried, too, about what a visit to the States will do to us. Will it make us change our minds? We’ve been living so healthily down here: we eat two or three cans of corned beef a week, and that’s our meat allotment, other than fresh seafood. We live off vegetables, rice, eggs, bread, and cheese. How are we going to deal with the American diet of fast and processed food? What about television? Are we going to be able to withstand its evil pull? I pray that we’ll be able to use our visit the way we need to, for focused time with our families, necessary boat tasks, and work, and for nothing else. It’s dangerous, this country to which we belong, fraught with peril. How do all of you survive?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Church Grove, Crooked Island, to French Wells, Bahamas

5.8 nm (2 nm rowing)
Wind: SE 10 knots
Maximum speed (rowing): 3.1 knots (against the tide!)
Maximum speed: 22.1 knots (dragged by Pokyman’s boat)

So we did the grand row today. I had been putting it off, all along, feeling like the entire prospect was ridiculous and unrealistic, and we should really just make the effort to find an outboard engine. One of our goals in the grand tour yesterday was surveying the outboard scene, and though we saw dozens of outboards scattered around people’s lawns, we saw none smaller than a 30HP, and none that could be brought to working condition with less than a day’s worth of Karl’s labor. It’s still nice to see that there are prospects for when we come back, but today we were doomed to the row.

I don’t know why I was so pessimistic about it when Karl had continued to propose it--after all, he’s the rower in the family, and my job is mere support. I, of course, offered to do my half of the rowing, but Karl tends to distrust my rowing skill, so chances are I wouldn’t even need to do any of it. I spent the morning programming the route into our handheld GPS so we’d have navigation, and we puttered around waiting for Nappy to show up so we could use the truck. He showed up and disappeared again, so we ended up leaving without even being able to say goodbye--sort of a weird feeling to disappear without saying anything. But time was pressing. We have to be back by Monday in order to see the commissioner, and we have a ton to do on the boat. We had to leave today, whether or not we had a ride. Someone had even offered us a ride down on a boat yesterday for $50, but even that was a little steep for us. As Karl said, why shouldn’t I pay myself $50 by rowing for four hours? That’s not even a bad hourly wage.

So we showed up at the local jetty and launched our little dinghy. Tinkerbell, as we call her, has seen better days. Her spiffy paint job that we spent a day working on in Marion has been stained by runoff from numerous epoxy and bottom-paint jobs, and she looks like something used for importing Haitians. We had packed up a picnic lunch, gallons of water, and camping equipment (just in case) in the bow, so we looked like Haitians ourselves, or at least like someone on the run. I was in a bad mood. I couldn’t figure out why we hadn’t managed to find a better way to do this.

As Karl rowed along, though, my mood began to improve. Why not row, after all? One of the Pardeys’ books is called The Self-Sufficient Sailor, and we have to find a way to be self-sufficient. If we have a rowing dinghy, then we have to row. It’s that simple. Just because everyone else says it’s ridiculous and has engines doesn’t mean that it’s not doable. We did walk 2000 miles, after all. Everyone thought that was ridiculous, too.

The mangroves were beautiful, dotting the murky flowing water with yellow leaves, lonesome birds calling from the banks, big schools of fish cutting through the water with arcing white dorsal fins, swimming lazily against the tide. We were rowing against the tide, too. We somehow can’t figure out how to go with currents rather than against them. It wasn’t too strong, though, and Karl was rowing at a good 2.5 knots, even against the tide. It was fun having the GPS with us, watching the miles drift by, and watching Karl’s rowing speed increase as the current slackened.

We didn’t even have to row that far. Pokyman, who had told Nappy he wasn’t going out today, blazed by in his boat after we had rowed almost two mile and offered to tow us. We should have realized that from the beginning that we were going to have more luck finding a ride if we were already rowing, and if were already rowing, someone would be a lot less likely to charge us--after all, they were heading down anyway. I don’t think anyone really believed we would do it. Crooked Islanders thought we were crazy before--now they must know it. I can only imagine what they say to each other when we’re not around: “Do you know what I saw those crazy Americans doing? Rowing! To French Wells!! They’re crazy.” They probably have some word for it they don’t tell us.

Oh well. We had a great time, and now we’re safely home. To Secret, our poor baby we’ve been abandoning. I was happy to have a chance to rid myself of our disgusting theft-deterrant system (the dirty dishes), and that was my job for the afternoon, putting me into a bad mood yet again. Still, we have one perfect weekend to spend in the belly of our beloved, which I hope will tide us over until we come back. I’m worried about her, more than I care to admit. I keep trying to convince myself that she’s not the kind of pissy, resentful boat who will sink herself just out of spite. I know that she’s waited two years for us before, in the boatyard in Marion, while we tried to figure out that we needed her, so she should be able to wait a couple of weeks while we get her what she needs.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: SE 10 knots

While we were chatting with Nappy last night, he asked us to do him a favor by riding around with him today while he gets Crooked Islanders to sign a petition for development on Long Cay. They’ve been planning to do a big Pittstown Point-style resort down there for generations, evidently, but now the pieces are finally coming together, and the prime minister wanted the developer to have proof that the project was desired by the residents of the island. So we put off rowing down to the boat one more day in order to spend some more time roaming around the island with Nappy, always an exhilarating experience (partly due to numerous potholes and Nappy’s breakneck driving pace...). It’s especially fun to have the privilege of being invited into these strangers houses, many of them in their late eighties or nineties. I thought I could say it before, but now I can say it with authority: we know absolutely everyone on the island. We’ve even been inside most of the houses.

Most people, even the elderly, were in favor of the proposal. Many had some questions about it, but the overwhelming concern for the Bahamians was the creation of jobs for young people. As with almost every rural community in today’s world, the Bahamas has a massive problem with out-migration--people moving from the outer islands and a sustainable lifestyle based on agriculture and fishing to the big city, the only place they can find employment. Still, some had questions and concerns, and it was interesting to see the political process debated.

We felt a little out of place sometimes, but most people were thrilled to meet us, some of them community legends. We met Mama Blanche, 97 years old and the grandmother of our good friend Robbie. She recited to us the lesson, word for word, that she remembered from her first day of school. There’s got to be something in the air or the water around here that gives people long life. Mama Blanche isn’t even the oldest person on the island. Her daughter is the pastor at Nappy’s church and we had seen her at the service the other day. She remembered who we were, reinforcing to us again the value of that kind of local participation. She invited us to the church cookout they’re having a week from Friday, and we were dismayed to miss it. It’s going to be weird as we begin to extricate ourselves from the community.

Marina Gibson was another local legend, the proud purveyor of food from Gibson’s Lunchroom, the only restaurant listed on our navigational chart for this area. She’s older now and doesn’t cook, but has two children who run restaurants on the island now. The bewildering thing was that she had heard of us through this website! One of her adopted daughters, who now lives in Florida, has been communicating with me, getting the Crooked Island news, and had called her mother to tell her about us the other day. My fame precedes me, I guess, something I had never expected.

The rest of the day passed in a blur--driving, stopping, meeting people for the first time or talking to people we knew well or had met at church, being shown into pleasant Bahamian parlors decorated with graduation and wedding photos, curio cabinets full of conch shells and stuffed animals, beautiful paintings of sailboats or beaches on the walls. Nappy was glad to have us along as we gave him an excuse to keep moving, and we were glad to be along, as an excuse to be invited into people’s homes. We ended the day at Blackjack’s as usual, where we chowed down on even more delicious chicken than usual. Maybe our last chicken snack before we leave. It’s a weird feeling, as we begin to bid our adieus.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: SE 10 knots
0 nm

It’s a beautiful day today. The sun is out, the briny blue clear and wide, foamy horses trotting ashore.

(Can I just say that I don’t know how I’m going to do it? If this alleged circumnavigation of ours takes twenty years, that’s twenty years of describing the sea. Where in tarnation can I find enough adjectives? I’m just going to have to start stealing other people’s. I need to dig up a copy of Moby Dick.)

Nappy also came back this morning, bringing his extremely accomplished painter with him. The guy’s already been all the way through the house, marking every touch-up spot with masking tape. It’s encouraging seeing him work.

Of course, upon Nappy’s arrival, everything kicks into high gear. Within twenty minutes of his showing up, three people had arrived to confer with him. He’s a popular guy. Combine that with his endlessly-ringing Blackberry, and it’s hard to get his attention. Not that we really mind, especially when we found out the commissioner isn’t going to be back until Monday. If she decides to deport us, we can tell them we did them the favor of buying our own tickets out.

So we did a lot of sitting around and waiting. We’re trying to decide if we want to take the highly ambitious step of rowing down to check on Secret. We do need to visit her, if only to get some more measurements and pictures for the new sails we might have made. Karl keeps claiming that the eight-mile row is doable, but I’m a little more skeptical. It would be a great story, one for the books, but I keep hoping that an outboard will show its grungy head. People have asked $300 to give Nappy a ride to Long Cay, the next island down, so you can see why we would prefer to row rather than hire someone to take us down.

We had intended to leave today on our vast rowing adventure, but we’ve put it off until tomorrow, with the promise of another outboard prospect. The outboard is crucial in other ways--if we can manage to get our hands on one, it’ll make our work on Secret at French Wells a lot simpler when we return. Otherwise, we really should bring one back from the States.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: SW 20 knots
0 nm

I managed to get the last two weeks posted today, after much delay. I have reams of pictures to post, too, but haven’t got around to that yet. Soon, I promise. I also downloaded a bunch of other people’s blogs for casual computer reading, which I am now devouring voraciously. I’m so pleased with my computer’s ability (heretofore unknown) to download things for offload reading. I know it’s the most basic of digital magic, but I’m still impressed by it every time. So I was able to catch up on my sister’s blog, my favorite of all the website’s I read. (There’s a link to the right, people. Read it.)

Reading other websites also assuages my guilt for reading myself. If I read, that means I can justify other people reading me. Good Lord, must I feel guilt for everything? I went all out in a guilt bidding war with a Catholic at one time, who claimed that he couldn’t leave a store without buying something because he felt too guilty. I said that I felt guilty for buying anything because of (take your pick): the Chinese children working in sweatshops that made the thing, the materials with which it was made, probably of fossil-fuel-derived plastics or clear-cut old-growth timber, the global warming involved in transporting it to its current location, and, heck, spending money on anything that isn’t absolutely essential to continuing life (water, for instance. I should be able to live off body fat. Then again, water comes freely from the sky. So anything).

My sister’s blog is wonderful, though. I don’t know how she makes the adventures of her little daughter such apt parables for contemporary life, but she does. She always inspires me to write more like her, but I’m not sure I can. She also writes only once in a while, making each entry precious and to be savored. I keep thinking maybe I should do that, but I fear I lack the discipline to keep writing unless I do it every day. I’m a little obsessive-compulsive by nature (back in my running days, I one time ran every day for almost 160-odd days straight. As soon as I skipped a day, I stopped altogether for several months). It brings me to an interesting dilemma as I face an extended boring sojourn in the States. Can I find enough items of interest to blog about daily while we’re there? I do look forward a great deal to writing about our culture shock. I’m sure that we’ll be surprised by unexpected aspects of our reintroduction to our native land after six months away. Other things I’m expecting. We’re probably going to be scared by all the white people. And I know that watching television again is going to be addictive and revolting, and it’s going to fill me with vast amounts of insecurity. But do you really want to read for weeks on end about Melissa’s insecurities? I think not.

Maybe I’ll just do shorter more multi-media focused blog entries, photographs, video clips, excerpts from what I’m reading. I intend to read as much as I possibly can while we’re away. The Southern Massachusetts library system as inter-library loan with all of the libraries of the greater Boston Metropolitan area, including all the universities and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. I made use of that resource before we left, but not nearly as much as I should have, in retrospect. I intend to have out thirty books at a time while we’re there. Not just sailing books, but history, non-fiction, as much modern fiction as I can check out. I’m going to gorge myself on books, if the television doesn’t suck me in, chew me up, and spit me out.

I also want to start doing yoga again, which I hope will inspire me to begin a yoga regimen on the boat, something I have always intended but never followed through with. I love the yoga instructors at the local Y, but I hope they don’t charge me a fortune to visit them if I’m only there for a month. I’ve tried to do a lot of thinking about my goals while I’m in the States so that I can feel like I’m really using my time well while I’m there, but I know most of it’s going to be spent doing research and buying stuff online. Ick. Then there’s the time to budget for fun: visiting all of our friends and family, going out to all of our old favorite spots, eating all the food we’ve been craving (let me just make a list: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Japanese, Italian....), going on at least one overnight backpacking trip, hanging out with my brother in Boston and doing all the city things I’ve been craving--galleries, museums, plays, concerts, foreign films...

All of this sounds very expensive. Still, it’s our vacation from our vacation. So if you get bored, check back in a couple of months. I should be back to all our old adventures by then: exploding on-board plumbing, secluded anchorages, fat fish, and us trying not to kill each other.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: W 20 knots, breaking surf on the beach, heavy rain and thunderstorms all day

Karl’s been asking me, “What in the world do you have to write about?” It’s a good question. Nothing, really. We’ve been getting through book after book, and I’ve been writing epic unsent emails to old high-school friends. Karl’s beginning to read at a pace almost as fast as I do. He made it through one of my recent favorites, The Beach, a book that makes me cringe with jealousy because its author, Alex Garland, was only 26 when he wrote it. I try not to clench my teeth too hard when I think about that.

Today he’s whipping his way through No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe, the famous Nigerian author. I don’t know if he bargained for a college course in literature when he met me--he’s run the gamut recently: modern Scandinavian fiction, nineteenth-century American classics, contemporary British novels, now classic African literature. Next on his list is The Tin Drum, a book written by the Nobel-Prize-winning German author that I found more than a little difficult, but it’s the last of the stack I brought with us. I’m rather more grasping at crumbs. I thought we would have left by now, so I didn’t bring anything for me.

I found a James Patterson thriller behind the seat of the truck yesterday that I ate my way through in less than 24 hours. Good God, what dreck. I’m always stunned by the inanity of popular fiction, even though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by now. Is it just me, or do they seem to be getting worse? There were violent murder scenes in this book that seemed borderline pornographic. At the very best, they were titillating in a morally uncomfortable way. I suppose it’s not just American movies and television that export misogyny and sexual violence, but fiction, too. Books have to keep pace, after all. Look at their competition.

We’re reading Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country together right now, but even that’s not going to last long at the rate we’re getting through it. We start at eight and get through about three chapters a night. It’s great, as all Bryson is, although one hesitates to believe the veracity of his every assertion, especially after reading A Walk in the Woods. It certainly makes me want to get to Australia, or at least do some desert exploration in the near future. Something that’s always been on my list of things to do (like bicycling from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego), is bicycling around Australia, inspired by a fantastic set of articles I read in National Geographic when I was in college. Reading this book, though, is making me realize what a vast and desolate endeavor that really would be.

Other than that, I don’t have much to report. Life is good, clouds are white, sky is blue, sea is green. Come to the Bahamas. You won’t regret it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

I’m sitting this afternoon, watching the surf roll in, listening to the sound of birds and crickets, watching the waving branches of casuarina. The water is a murky blue-green from all the wind we’ve been having, the sand stirred up from the bottom, stretching out to a deeper azure where it deepens, and a dark purple where it drops into the thousand-fathom range. All day long we’ve been watching a succession of freighters drift silently along the horizon, huge ships that loom tall even many miles away. The sound of the surf is relentless and comforting, as is the wind, whistling around the eaves. I miss Secret, but I’m happy that she’s somewhere safe and sound, not having all this stress put on her anchor lines and cleats and rigging.

The big news is that we bought our tickets home. They were much more expensive than I had hoped--I had neglected to account for the ubiquitous taxes and fees that airlines are so fond of tacking on these days. It’s been a while since I’ve flown internationally, and I had forgotten about all the foreign departure taxes, too. So I may have been a little optimistic when I listed the cost to get down here for a visit. It cost us $170 one-way for a flight from Nassau to Boston, plus the $120 from Crooked to Nassau. That’s a pretty penny. Good thing we still have eggs.

We still have a week and a half before we fly out and nothing to do in that time. Nappy’s supposed to fly back in tomorrow, and if he does we’ll have reliable tranz and adventures again, but I’m not convinced at all he’ll actually be on the flight. I probably wouldn’t be either, if I had a wife and son in Nassau who missed me. Karl’s contemplating an eight-mile row down to check on Secret, which would be a fun adventure for him but a little worrisome for me. He thinks he could do it in a day, spend a night there, and come back. I’m sure he could, but rowing eight miles in open ocean just doesn’t sound safe. I’ve debated going with him, but we’re not sure it’s worth the extra weight in the dinghy to have an extra pair of rowing arms.

We visited Lin and Jim earlier this afternoon, too, who were gracious and kind as always. I returned Fritz’s books, and we talked about boats and circumnavigations and the weather. There’s not much else to do out here, other than read and talk and visit, and I finally do feel like we’ve slowed down to Crooked Island time, that we’re finally getting our vacation and have let our worry drift away. I’m trying to get my fill of the sea, of its dark line tautly stretched across the horizon, of its heave and pounding noise, but I don’t know that I ever will.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: SE 10 knots, gray and overcast

Tonight we succumbed to the budgetary temptation of Pokyman’s, unfortunately. Or fortunately, as things may go. It’s worth it for our sanity to get out somewhat, rather than be cooped up alone in an empty building with each other and nothing else. Gary was there, and we haven’t seen him in ages. I had also make Pokyman a CD of country music, as he had requested, having little else to do but play around with iTunes on my computer.

Blackjack was there, too, waiting on the mailboat, and we felt a little guilty for not visiting him in so long. Then again, all we have for transportation (or “tranz” as they call it on the island), is the decrepit muffler-less GMC, meaning that if we go out the whole neighborhood knows it. Gas is more than $5 a gallon here (be grateful for your US government subsidies, oh ye Americans), and just to get to Pokyman’s we spent $10 on two gallons of gas. Yikes. Blackjack’s is a lot farther along, and we’re always fearful that the truck, or either of its two formerly flat and now repaired tires, could go.

So each excursion is an adventure. Still, Pokyman was thrilled with my CD, and popped it in his player right away, where my Hank Williams and Johnny Cash fit in nicely among his calypso, rake-and-scrape, and obscure Jamaican reggae. Everyone down here claims to love country music and hate hip-hop, a rather strange inversion of our racial stereotypes. I keep wanting to defend hip-hop, of which I am a fan, and make a CD of classic old-school Biggie and some of the better Eminem, but I just don’t think they dig the gangsta rap or thug life down here. The younger generation does a little, and I’m sure they do in Nassau, but out here is the country. People are much more comfortable with songs about rural roads and lost love than they are with bling and AK-47s. We commonly hear songs by Bryan Adams and Faith Hill at the local hotspots, and everyone, even the hardest-core rasta, is a huge Mariah Carey fan.

One of the oddest things about being here is seeing the ways in which American popular culture intersects with Bahamian life. Almost every time we go out, there’s a bootleg American movie in the DVD player, generally one with big explosions and scantily clad blonde women and fast cars. The other week while we were out we saw “Rules of Engagement,” one of those jingoistic war movies that presents the culture clash between the western and Arab worlds. They never have the sound on, so I try to interpret the plot while listening to eardrum-shattering junkanoo music. Catching flashes of American flag and the Pepsi product placement while eating conch and watching people dance rake-and-scrape is surreal. Tonight was a new Bruce Willis movie I had never heard of, co-starring (to my enjoyment) the Apple dude from those commercials, and involving lots of computer hacking, explosions, and SUV chases. Gary first claimed it was another Die Hard sequel, which I didn’t find that hard to believe, but later he said it was called “Hard to Kill.” Well, hey. Bruce Willis knows when he has a good thing going.

The most amusing part was listening to Gary talk celebrity gossip. Gary, our good friend who also works on the big house, is a dead ringer for Captain Jack Sparrow, complete with an elegant head of mid-back-length dreadlocks, a King Calaisse medallion worn constantly around his neck, and somewhat fey hand gestures. He starts drinking gin at seven in the morning, and he’s known to have a way with other men’s wives. If you squint, you could swear he’s Johnny Depp, or at least the real-life descendant of a Tortuga buccaneer. I wouldn’t be surprised if ole Johnny ran into Gary at a bar somewhere and used him for inspiration.

So when Gary began to talk, in detail, about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s relationship, and enumerate by name each of their four children, it was more than a little bizarre. He went on to explain to us that Angelina Jolie was in fact Jon Voight’s daughter. I don’t even know that I’ve ever seen a Jon Voight movie, but I do know he’s famous for the sixties classic Midnight Cowboy, which I sincerely doubt Gary has ever seen. He was telling all this to Pokyman, who was listening intently, elbow crooked, but clearly had no idea who Jon Voight was. So Gary says, “You know. He was in Anaconda.”

“Ah,” says Pokyman. “Anaconda.”

The thought that people from a completely alien culture could be exploring the intricacies of celebrity parentage, using as reference points the purest dreck from the bottom of the Hollywood barrel, was hilarious and sobering at the same time. Later, Gary went on to claim that Jon Voight was in fact Jennifer Lopez’s father, not Angelina Jolie’s. I think he had had another couple of half-pints of gin at that point. We left, eventually, shaking our heads. I’m well aware of American cultural imperialism, but I always hope it’s the best of our culture that trickles down, not the worst. I suppose I should know better.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: SE 10 knots, rain and thunder all day

Nappy set us up with one of his friend’s places on the water, so we have a place to stay now that we’ve left Secret to her own devices. We would have stayed at the boat longer if we had known that Frenchie would be leaving today. It’s absurd to think that we could have been in the States tonight, probably high-tailing to Chattanooga in an expensive rental car, but I suppose it’s for the best that we’ve ended up here instead. We didn’t have anyone to meet us in Fort Pierce, and we weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do when we got there. This way we can take a nice commercial flight from Nassau to Boston and end up exactly where we need to go for less money.

We’re trying to be extremely low-impact where we’re staying though--we, after all, are Leave No Trace campers, or “LNT” as it’s known in hiking circles. If we had a tent with mosquito netting, we’d probably be happier actually camping, and we offered to lay out our sleeping bags in Nappy’s half-built duplex, but he tends to think that we’re a little less hardy than we actually are. But we’re not paying anything to stay here, and we want it to look exactly like it did when we arrived. The hard part, really, is food. The propane isn’t hooked up, and to preserve the budget we’re trying to live entirely off the stuff (not much) that we brought from the boat.

The ghetto egg sandwich has become our dietary staple. We eat about two a day. For the uninitiated, the ghetto egg sandwich is when one takes a single egg and cracks it into a microwave-safe bowl, then gently whips it with a fork. (In our case, plastic.) The egg is then placed in the microwave for between thirty seconds and two minutes, depending on the strength of the microwave. A layer of cheese is added, and the dish is returned to the microwave just long enough to melt the cheese. (To be truly a ghetto egg sandwich, the cheese must be a processed American slice, but we are taking advantage of the delicious and cheap New Zealand cheddar that is readily available.) The concoction is scooped from the bowl and placed on a bed of bread, decorated with your choice of condiments (typically mayonnaise), and consumed. If you wish to further lift the ghetto egg sandwich from its ghetto roots, you can add things like sliced tomato, mustard, or hot sauce. Unfortunately, we no longer possess any of those things, so it’s just egg, cheese, and bread for us.

The things are getting a little tough to choke down. They were a staple while we were working on the house, too, and with a generous slice of tomato, they are moist and delicious and meet one’s nutritional needs to a large degree. These days, eating about two a day, I’m beginning to feel my arteries clog. But what else can one cook in the microwave? Liptons, we’ve discovered, but we’ve long run out of those--Karl insists that macaroni and cheese works, but we haven’t given that a go, and of course, the old staple for feral children, ramen noodles. Tonight, dinner was a delectable tuna fish soup, with diced acorn squash and potatoes and a hot-and-sour soup packet. It was actually far better than it sounds. What are we going to do for tomorrow? I’m not sure. Probably egg sandwiches, and noodles with whatever else we have left.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, to French Wells, Bahamas

10.5 nm
Wind: SW 5 knots, shifting to the SE and back to the SW, lightning storms all night
Seas: Two-foot S swell, on the nose
Latitude: 22°40.85’N
Longitude: 074°16.06’W
Maximum speed: 4.6 knots (motor-sailing)
Maximum speed under sail: 1.5 knots (under full main alone when the diesel died)
Average speed: 3.1 knots

Wow. It feels really good to finally have a number sitting up there in that nautical mile field, where that long string of zeros has been resting for going on two months. That’s the longest we’ve sat anywhere since Daytona, and my sea-legs have been getting mighty itchy. Even better, I feel like Secret’s finally someplace where she’s really going to be safe, that we’re finally looking out for her needs as well as our own.

The sailing day was not without event, though, and we still weren’t expecting to leave today. Karl raced over to Frenchie’s to call the commissioner’s office in the morning and straighten out our immigration hassles, and it wasn’t until almost eleven that Don and Robbie showed up. They were worried about the hurricane too, they said, and they wanted to pull Robbie’s boat out of the water that evening, so if we didn’t mind, could we go today? With our immigration woes figured out, we decided that today was as good a day as any. We raced back to the boat and began to get her ready for sea--she’s been sitting still, gathering moss, for a long time now, and we knew it would take a long time.

It didn’t take as long to get Secret ready as we thought, mainly tucking the dirty dishes into their spot on the stove, but Karl’s Herculean effort at pulling up all three completely covered anchors took a little longer, about an hour. The line was completely covered in stinky green hair that filled the boat with its scent as soon as it came on deck. Luckily, we knew they’d all be going back down again in only eight miles.

The motor-sail itself was blissful, a reminder of exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing, even with the dull throb of the diesel down below. A dull throb that occasionally slowed and coughed when more of the gunk in its tank got stirred up and clogged the filters--I guess we will be availing ourselves of that pressure washer when we come back. It’s a sign that things are pretty bad when I’m grateful for four engine failures in four hours, with only two requiring the diesel bled. I would have gladly sailed, except that there was barely any wind and we had Robbie impatiently waiting for us at the other end. I suppose it’s a good idea to use up some more of our dirty fuel, also.

Still, we let the Master steer and laid ourselves out for blistering in the beautiful sunshine, and watched the lazy Crooked Island coast drift by. The place has begun to feel like home, a lot more than our last stop of two months, Daytona Beach. We’ve heard so much about this end of the island and it was great to finally see it, a deserted little curve with ruins and mangroves and beach, and a tiny channel leading into a shallow bay protected from all sides, with empty cays stretching south. It being a full-moon tide, of course we ran aground about five times, with Robbie on hand to pull us off with his 400 horsepower every time and lead us into deeper water.

There’s one other boat in the anchorage, a fishing trawler owned by someone we know, and it’s allegedly been there forever, so that gives us some confidence that it’s a safe place. Besides, wehre we anchored it was only six feet, and we used all 800 feet of our combined anchor and chain rode and three anchors. It was only once we got there and anchored that the day became stressful--Robbie was hanging out nearby, and we had to get everything we needed off the boat and the boat completely hurricane ready in about an hour. Talk about hustle. Karl stripped the sails off the boat and I worked on the interior, digging out old and mildewed sweaters and fleeces from under the vee-berth to get us through October in New England, finding all of our camping equipment and sleeping bags so we’ll have a place to stay no matter where we go, deciding, with much hesitation, which books to keep and which to leave.

Eventually we were done, the only major task neglected the dishes. But of course. It’s really appetizing to think of coming back to a bucket worth of month-old dishes isn’t it? Karl and I always look on the bright side, though. We call it our theft-deterrent system.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 15-20 knots

We had put off going to have our passports stamped since Monday, half hoping Nappy would show up and partly knowing that immigration isn’t allowed to renew our cruising permit until the day of. Immigration is always a hairy endeavor, even when I know we’re doing nothing wrong--we have a full six months on our cruising permit, leaving one more full month, and we’re planning to leave the country before our six months are up. Still, I’ve done enough traveling in my life to know how much power the people of immigration hold, and how widely they vary in kindness. Since I was eleven, I’ve been running the gauntlet. When I would travel from the Philippines to Thailand we were carefully instructed by our handlers to never write “student” in the Occupation category of our immigration papers. We were always supposed to write “dependent,” because Americans weren’t technically allowed to study in the Philippines without student visas, even at an American school.

Later, while traveling with my father after college, we realized we didn’t have transit visas for our return trip through Bangladesh. My father doctored up some papers to allow us to leave the airport and visit the guesthouse where we had left some rugs we had bought, but not without surrendering our passports to the airport officials. Aside from nightmares about spending the rest of our lives in Bengali immigration jail, everything went fine and we were allowed safely out of the country. So the knot in my stomach returned this morning when I realized we were going to have to head to the commissioner’s office without Nappy, our Crooked Island guardian angel, and in the giant flat-tired muffler-less GMC truck Nappy had left for us to use.

Even that we put off, rowing across in leisure after spending the morning rocked to and fro while eating conch fried rice for breakfast. We lounged around the house until well past one, still hoping Nappy would show up after the morning flight to whisk us away to renewed-passport heaven. Instead, I heard a call up to the house just as we were steeling ourselves to leave. It was Lin. “Hey,” she said. “Did you hear there’s a hurricane headed this way?”

I hadn’t. I had slept through the weather this morning, something I very rarely do, and we had rowed across before the noon forecast. I had heard inklings of a tropical wave poking around the Eastern Caribbean, but when I had last got the report, it hadn’t been headed our way. She told us that one of the models was forecasting 45 knots by Friday morning, and that the satellites showed the system tracking directly over Crooked.

Bad, bad news. We still needed to get to the commissioner’s office, but now we had to move the boat, too, and fast. Forty-five knots isn’t exactly hurricane strength--it’s not even tropical storm force--but it’s enough to make things miserable and downright dangerous for Secret off a lee shore, even with three well-set anchors out. Besides, we had been planning to take Secret down there for days. Can chronic procrastinators never learn?

Lin hauled us over to to call the commissioner’s office from her phone, to see if we could postpone our renewal for a day to move the boat, and there we got the worse news. The commissioner was on vacation for a week, and she was the only person on the island who could stamp our passports. Karl called the office in Acklins, and the beauracrat there told him that if we didn’t come in today, we “risked deportation.” There was no way to get to Acklins today: the only ferry leaves at seven in the morning, and even if we tried to pay someone with another boat, we’d be hard-pressed to get there before the office closed.

So we did what we always do. We zapped Nappy an email (Lin drove us over to another house with a working internet connection) and pleaded for help. It’s a small island, Nappy’s a bigwig, and Karl had just fixed the commissioner’s secretary’s refrigerator the day before. Her husband was also Nappy’s brother. Nappy called Frenchie’s house, where we were drowning our sorrow with Cajun leftovers and American television, and told us to call the commissioner’s office the next day. We would be taken care of--the commissioner knew us and our situation, knew we had to move the boat, and we wouldn’t have to risk the alien gaze of the Acklins officials. Whew. Now, the only wrinkle is the tropical depression easing north. But as Scarlett O’Hara says, I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm

At Frenchie’s last night, he let us know that he’s going to be hanging around the Bahamas a little longer. It’s kind of bad news, kind of good--in one way I was relieved to not have the pressure of an imminent departure looming over us when he said he was leaving so soon and we knew we wouldn’t have the boat ready in time. In another way, I can imagine nothing cooler than zooming back to Florida on a private plane, gazing below at the scattered jewels of the “crown of 700 islands,” as Radio Bahamas put it, gracing an aquamarine brow. I guess it’s good. More options are always good.

It’s also good to feel like we’re really making friends down here at this end of the island. All along we’ve been worried about close-knit this community is, about how our role is being perceived down here. I should have learned by now that the best option is always complete honesty, and now that we’ve been a lot more up-front with them about who we are and what we’re doing here, how we’re helping Nappy with the house, it feels like the air has cleared. Jim flew out this morning to a conference in the States, so I toddled over to visit Lin at her house, Island Time. I hadn’t been there before, and it was great to see yet another house on the sand.

All of these houses have so much care and love poured into them. They all have beautiful stories behind their building and their names, stories about the plans and organization, stories about the people who helped to build them. Lin, while building her house, took the innovative step of asking everyone at the end of the island what they would have do differently if they could build their house again. Inside, the house is all gorgeous unfinished pine, with slatted windows, giving the inside a feel of cool duskiness. A 20-year-old long-haired white cat named Sashe keeps them company, and she wandered around arthritically while we talked, making me miss my cat Rumor ineffably.

Lin also loaned me copies of two books written by the island’s famous circumnavigator, Fritz Damler. (His book, available on the internet, I imagine, is called Ten Years Behind the Mast.) We haven’t met him yet, as he spends summers in Wisconsin, but I can’t wait. He set sail in a 35-foot wooden cutter named Theodora R and circumnavigated in ten years, losing two wives in the process, the most fascinating part of his journey. TR, as he calls her, is a gorgeous boat, which I compared favorably, and somewhat guiltily, to Secret. She was full-keeled and beamy, with a long bowsprit for a big genoa, and enough room to house seven people, occasionally his full complement of crew It’s hard to imagine having half that many on Secret.

Karl eventually stopped by with three conch, which he tried to give away. He spent the morning hard at work, as usual, helping a local guy, Robbie, fix his boat’s engine. In exchange, Robbie’s offered us a ride back from French Wells, the safe anchorage where we plan to moor Secret. It seems the pieces are falling into place for us to take a jaunt stateside--a ride from French Wells and maybe a second ride to Florida by Cessna... I have mixed feelings. Dare we leave Secret alone? Are we tempting fate?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm

More hard boat work today. I finally did my duty and got the majority of the bottom scrubbed, while Karl finally went up the mast to get the measurements we need for our furler replacement. The miniature crabs had started a colony down there--no wonder we’ve been getting so many of them crawling around our cabin sole. I swear I found pods of eggs. No stings, though--I’ve been exposing the icky growths that had formed on the stainless-steel swim ladder to harsh ultraviolet radiation, so they weren’t down there to attack me. The stuff on the actual bottom was rather benign. Our West Marine bottom paint is holding up fairly well, all things considered, and the current that makes this anchorage so rollly does a good job of preventing the little suckers from holding on tight.

The places where the new bottom paint has chipped off, though, are disastrous. I can’t get the stuff off with a putty knife or a Scotch-brite pad, the two tools in my arsenal. The rest of it came off easily, surrounding me with clouds of green gunk, so much so that I had to back off and let it clear before I could see for another dozen strokes. It made the colony of blue runners under the boat happy, though, giving them a feast. They won’t be so happy when they figure out I’m destroying their meal ticket for the next couple of weeks.

I felt bad depriving the cute little crabs of their home, too. A couple of them seemed like they had invested in real estate. They ran away from my blade, as far up the topsides as they could get. The Thai girl keeps coming out in me when I think about eating them. I’m sure they’re edible, and they’re almost exactly the size of the dried shrimp that Thais use in their pad Thai and som tam. We’ve had a stash on board since we’ve been on the boat, and a handful of those in some fried rice or noodles go a long way towards meeting our protein needs when we’re getting low on provisions. Wouldn’t baby dried crabs be just as good? Like crab veal. So far I haven’t been brave enough, though Karl keeps encouraging me to spice my rice with one of them when we spy one crawling across the floor in the middle of a meal.

Fortunately, the day ended with a far more tasty repast. Frenchie had us over for dinner, yet again, along with Lin and Jim and Dave, the other sand residents at this time of year. He cooked delicious steaks on his new grill, which he welded together himself out of a section of giant stainless-steel pipe. The steaks were delicious, perfectly cooked, as were the accompaniments: chicken gumbo, Cajun red beans and rice, cayenne cornbread made with fresh sweet corn, and salad. If you ever want to get well-fed, make yourself some friends from Louisiana. Those people know how to cook. I don’t know how we always manage to find people who want to feed us, either. Before Nappy left again for Nassau, he was taking us out for dinner three nights a week, and now Frenchie has us over about that often. I like to believe that we are such entertaining dining companions that it’s worth the price of provisions for our hosts, but that may be a little far-fetched. We do try to sing for our supper when we’re not held in the hypnotic gaze of the television.

Today, because Frenchie gave us some notice, I was actually able to contribute dessert to the meal, with a pie of my own creation. I’ve recently discovered a recipe in my Joy of Cooking for a pat-in-the-pan pie crust, solving my perennial dilemma of how to make good pastry without the benefit of refrigeration. Karl wasn’t so impressed with my culinary prowess (his exact words, after the key lime pie of last week, were “it’s like canned pudding on a cracker”), but I flatter myself by believing that any baked goods prepared at sea are impressive in and of themselves. Tonight I brought what was really more of a cherry streusel, since I can’t roll out crust and don’t have a pie pan. I topped it with an almond and oatmeal topping, and everyone, other than Karl was duly impressed. (His exact words tonight were, “it’s like the treat in a TV dinner!” Admittedly, this comment was intended as a kind of compliment.)