Saturday, July 21, 2007

Samana Cay, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

In the morning today, eating plump salted almonds for breakfast out of a full gallon-size name-brand Ziploc given to us by Sea Hunter last night, we came to some difficult conclusions. After Karl’s outburst yesterday, we had to. He has always been an introverted person, but it is incredible to me that I really had no idea how he really felt about all this, or that I didn’t know how strongly he felt. It’s been weighing on his mind for some time, and I wasn’t listening well enough.

He told me yesterday that he was done: done cruising, done sailing, done, somehow, with the stress this lifestyle entails. I didn’t know then what he meant, but I do now--he’s not done with cruising necessarily, but done with the pushing we’ve been doing, done with having to move from place to place endlessly, done with feeling pressure to be somewhere at some specific point.

So we’ve given at all up. No, we’re not going to abandon the boat off Samana Cay, hitch a ride on an eighteen-foot Boston whaler the thirty miles across to the one-runway airport at Acklins Island, and fly home. But we’ve given up the Gentleman’s Guide, given up making it to the Dominican Republic by hurricane season (or by August, when the hurricanes get bad), given up making it past the Bahamas, even given up my cardinal rule, which was never turn around. We may just turn around. Our new plan is mainly to not have a plan, to cruise around the Bahamas all summer if we feel like it, to sail back to the States if we feel like it, to leave the boat here or in Florida if we want to. Mainly we’ve given up on the idea of going farther (or circumnavigating, which was always, and maybe too much, on our minds) in this boat.

What it boils down to is that I love Karl more than I love Secret. I told him yesterday that it will break my heart to sell this boat, and it will. It will break my heart more than it’s ever been broken in the past, more than it was broken by all those careless boys. Karl can’t live long-term on this boat. He can’t stand up straight on her. He can’t stretch out in any of the bunks or on the settee. He’s 6’3”, maybe taller, which is maybe a quarter of an inch too tall for a Ranger 33’s standing head room.

Secret’s a racer. She sails like a witch, but she heels over too much for us non-sailors. Her head is falling to pieces. On our passage, we had human waste sloshing around on the cabin sole, escaped from the leaky, nonfunctional salt-water pump as we heeled over at forty degrees. The sails are too big for us, the mast is too big. We don’t have triple-reef points, and our mainsail double-reefed is bigger than most cruisers’ full main. All our foresails, retrofitted in another decade for roller-furling, don’t reef successfully at all--when we have to reduce headsail, we know they’ll flog endlessly and barely carry us to windward. We don’t have any storm gear: not a trysail, not a sea anchor, not a life raft, nothing. We need latches on all of our lockers so we can heel without them falling open and spilling cans all over the boat and killing us with tomato sauce to the skull, we need hatches that lock down, we need bigger cockpit drains, more reliable batteries and electricity for our bilge pump and navigation, we need backup paper charts and backup wind generators for our electrical systems. Our standing rigging is old and saggy, our sails at least ten years old. Our autopilot works only half the time, especially in any kind of rough weather. Secret’s fin-keeled, with a spade rudder. Her side decks aren’t wide enough for us to walk up and down. Karl thinks we need to recore the foredeck, the parts he missed when he recored the deck in Massachusetts. He’s not even sure the recoring he did was good enough (I am, but I’m not in charge.)

As Karl said (and I agree), we can’t live in a sewer. It’ll cost us about $1000 to put in a head that we won’t need to replace again in a year, about $3000 to replace our standing rigging, far more than that for new sails. Then there’s all the money we would need to put in to make the boat more livable for us, salt-water pumps in the galley and the head sink, more water tankage, more usable space under the vee-berth.

Secret’s a great boat for going back and forth to the Vineyard. She’s a great boat for coastal cruising in New England. But she was designed for the light winds off the Pacific coast, not the heavy trade winds of the Caribbean, as much as I hate to admit it. I love her so, so much. I love her more than I thought it was possible for a human being to love a boat. I’ve fallen completely for her, and I know she wants to go. She wants to race around the world, she wants us to take her places, on adventures. I can feel it. She’s so happy now, with us living in her and taking care of her, resting at anchor in these beautiful places that she’s never seen. I even thought for a while that if Karl decided he didn’t want to cruise that the two of us, Secret and me, could carry on without him. I’d love to try single-handing. It’d give me a chance to make all the mistakes and do all the learning that Karl’s been doing this whole time without me. It’d give me a chance to captain my own boat. I might die trying to make it to the Turks and Caicos, but I’d die happy.

I love her so much that I think she’s worth all the time and money that we’d need to put into her to make her a circumnavigator. I stress that: it’s not that she’s not a well-designed boat. She’s a fantastic boat, a brilliant sailor, a beautiful, elegant, classic boat with gorgeous lines that would make your heart break. She could circumnavigate with her eyes closed. But she needs brilliant sailors to crew her, too, people who can handle a racer’s squirrelly ways, who can manage her sails and her whims, who can hold on tight to her tiller when she shows her bottom-sides to the sky. She needs someone to pour money into her to equip her the way she needs to be equipped. She needs someone other than us. One of the things we read recently about heavy weather said “a well-designed, well-equipped boat can take you anywhere.” Secret’s well-designed, but she’s far, far from well-equipped. We spent barely six months outfitting her, and we didn’t know half the things we needed.

I now realize that I can’t choose the boat over Karl, and I can’t continue to make him miserable. He said, yesterday: “Your job is to do the dishes, bake bread, and clean the floor. My job is to keep us alive.” It’s the truest thing he’s said about the whole situation, and the stress of that weighing on him, with an elderly boat that’s falling apart, is what’s really caused this whole change of plans.

This doesn’t mean, oh ye few faithful blog readers, that I’m giving up on the website. In fact, it probably means months and months of blissful Bahamian entries. As soon as we took the pressure of this grand Caribbean voyage off this morning, Karl visibly relaxed. We pored over all the charts of the places we’ve never thought we could take the time to visit: Acklins and Crooked Islands, the Ragged Cays and the Jumentoes, the east coast of Long Island, Cat Island and Eleuthera, even the Abacos, if we get back that far up. We talked about farming in Maine, about building wooden kayaks, about building a steel boat that will have everything that we need on it. All of these plans would mean more stability, more community, a settling down of sorts. Selling Secret (oh, how it hurts to type those words!) and buying a different boat would take us at least three years, and that means hard, hard work. Building a boat would take five years at the minimum, and much harder work.

I’ll probably agonize about this decision a lot over the next several weeks. But tonight I’m content. I can keep Secret for a little while longer. I can even take her back to Maine with me and turn her into a coastal cruiser again. We can spend a year, or two, in the Bahamas if we feel like. We can even keep going farther south if we decide that we, and the boat, can handle it. I can breathe a sigh of relief, though. We’re not going any further unless we choose to. We’re not racing to the Dominican Republic. Most of all, Karl’s finally happy.

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