Friday, August 31, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 5 knots, large swell from SW in anchorage

Another month’s gone by, and now were in the legendary month of September, famous for its hurricanes. I’m not worried, exactly, as much as concerned. As the months of hurricane season wear on, the hurricanes become less and less predictable. People who get into trouble with hurricanes at sea almost always do so in October and November, when hurricane trajectories begin doing weird things, taking weird swoops and going the wrong way. But September is the big daddy of hurricane months, and according to projections we have eleven more named storms coming our way.

We have French Wells to move to, if necessary, and I hope our engine will work enough to get us there if needs be, and that our prop isn’t too fouled by gunk. I’ve been neglecting my bottom-scrubbing duties after the last time I made an attempt and became overwhelmed by creepy-crawlies under my bathing suit. We’ve started having crabs make an appearance on the boat, and a two-foot-long barracuda consistently hangs out beneath our shadow, drawn by the little fish that are drawn to the ecosystem growing on our hull. You know it’s bad when things are reproducing on our bottom paint.

It’s the same as with the head, though. The longer I put it off, the worse it gets, and the worse it gets, the longer I want to put it off. Karl took a stab at it today, cleaning the parts at the water line that can be cleaned without diving, but diving is my job, so the lower regions belong to me. I could do it easier if I could have an exposed abdomen while I did it, as he does, and loose lower garments. Maybe I need a bottom-scrubbing two-piece. Yet another unforeseen use for the string bikini.

What drives me crazy are the little red insects that live in all the growth. The cloud of algae I can deal with, even the stringy brown gunk that grows around our macerator pump fitting, but as soon as I find one of those little red ones crawling down my cleavage I throw in the proverbial towel. One needs nerves of steels to feel those little feet and keep on scraping. It’s even kept me out of the water for the last two weeks, and you know how much I adore the water. I know that if I get in the water, I’ll feel a moral obligation to tackle the bottom with the scraper, and instead I’d rather sit on a screened balcony and sip my ice water. As much as we’ve been talking about a haul lately, I was even hopeful that I could wait until then and let a power washer do it. But no such luck. I’m going to have to steel myself and do it one of these days.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10 knots, gusty and heavy rain during afternoon squalls

Our peaceful sojourn at the house continues, uninterrupted except by the occasional Bahamian stopping by to fill up their water jugs with reverse-osmosis water. I don’t know how Nappy can really put up with that, and maybe that’s why they do it when he’s away. I think they’re all surprised to still see us here, as we don’t really fit into the Crooked Island equation. We’re a completely foreign element, neither sandperson nor tourist. I’d like to pretend we were white Bahamians from Eleuthera, educated in the States, but I’m not sure we could pull it off.

I’ve been studying the bird books the owner has in the house, hoping she doesn’t mind. I figure if she’s a bird-lover she won’t mind a fellow bird-lover making use of her resources. I wish we had her collection of books--she has fish guides, bird guides, weather guides. All we have is one measly guide to Caribbean seashores, which does have good explanations of coral, shellfish, and shore plants, but completely neglects all fish and birds. I’ve always harbored a secret desire to be a botanist. When I was a kid, my aunt gave me a subscription to National Geographic World, the kids’ National Geographic magazine, and I used to pore over it every month. Magazines in English, like books, were few and far between in Thailand, and I read every word of that thing. My favorite article, which I still remember in detail, was about entomologists in the Amazon, who pitched giant tarps high up between the trees and lived in them. They couldn’t pitch tents on the ground, because in the rainforest there really isn’t ground. The earth is covered by decaying vegetative matter many feet deep. It’s not designed to be lived on. Instead, all the animals live in the trees.

They would collect insects in traps at the bottom of their tarps, and every morning they’d be full of oversized Amazonian bugs, and every day they were able to identify a completely unknown species. After I read that, I wanted to be an entomologist for years. That was after I abandoned my ambition to be First Lady. Yes, I was a weird child.

So far, my major triumph as amateur ornithologist was spotting the Bahamas woodstar, one of two hummingbirds found in the Bahamas! I saw it this morning, buzzing around the fruit tree off the balcony, eating from the red flower that every bird in the yard seems to enjoy. I was thrilled--I’ve been looking for it since I first read about it three weeks ago. My next goal is to spot a ground dove, one of the more common birds specific to the Bahamas. I’m compiling a bird list on the computer while Karl toils away. That’s another thing I’ve always wanted to do, become one of those hardcore birders with their crazy life lists.

So that’s about all the news. I’m afraid the website is going to turn boring, with us neglecting to brave the high seas for months at a time. It’s turning into a construction-worker-in-the-Bahamas blog, which I suppose has it’s own cachet. I do hope we can be off again soon. Have no fear. My wanderlust will not permit us to remain stationary for too long. Although the wanderlust is going to have to do ferocious battle with my unsatiable desire for iced beverages.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

Karl’s working away with power tools down in the basement, and I’m praying he doesn’t whack a finger or two off. I don’t think Crooked Island’s little clinic has exactly the resources necessary to reattach disattached fingers. I’m abandoning the boat yet again today. Nappy’s back in Nassau, so we have the house blessedly to ourselves and the sand flies.

I’ve been reading The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass, another one of the requisite classics I’ve been dragging around with me. I bought it at one of those used-book library sales back in Oak Park, I think the year that Grass won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s a bizarre book. I was expecting a giant war tome about the perils of fascism, and instead it’s a comic tale of a three-year-old who decides not to grow up and spends the entire war banging on a toy drum while his parents engage in sexual escapades based on Rasputin. Karl, as usual, is casting me dirty looks as I engage in my literary pursuits while he does brute physical labor. Maybe next time I clean the toilet he’ll notice.

I’ve been trying to decide if Nappy still really needs us or if we’re just stealing Bahamian jobs by being here. We do still have to figure out all of our boat dilemmas, and while Nappy has dug up an extra fuel tank we can use to siphon our diesel, we still haven’t figured out what to siphon the diesel with. We’ve heard rumors of a fuel pump that the guy at the corner store has, but we might wait until Nappy gets back to engage in the subtle process of negotiation that using other people’s stuff entails. Then there’s still the sail problem. I’ve been researching in our encyclopedia of boat texts the fundamentals of sailmaking, and I’m quite sure I don’t have the resources necessary to sew any kind of sail, despite all my confidence to the contrary. I don’t even have scissors. That’s like a carpenter trying to build something without a saw. Not to mention that the sail I was going to try to make our storm sail out of is a 170, meaning that it’s completely the wrong kind of sailcloth. We may just have to limp to a boatyard with our engine and our staysail.

Still, I hope we’re helping Nappy more than we’re bringing him headaches. It’s been an amazing blessing for us to be able to be here, just to have access to laundry and showers and water and the freezer, and it’s going to be hard to wean ourselves a way from all those land-based luxuries. We are going to need to make a decision here soon, at least as to which way we’re heading. Back to the States, backwards, is still going to be a very hard decision for me to make. I want, with all my heart, more than I can admit to Karl, to keep heading south. If we have to lay up the boat here somewhere and wait, I don’t mind, but turning around? It would be hard blow for me emotionally. We’ll see. All we can do is wait and see.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

We’ve accepted another set of jobs at the house, so Karl’s there now, working on window trim, and I’m at my eternal post at the computer, reading email today. I’m thrilled to have discovered how to download my emails using the Macintosh Mail program, which allows me to read them offline and respond at my leisure. I know that jetsetting executives have been doing that for decades, but I’m still impressed by my own technical prowess. The best part of it, other than not feeling rushed when reading emails from friends and family, is being able to catch up on the news. I subscribe to the NY Times daily newsletter, which gives a fantastic digest of world news, but I never have time to read it. So I’ve spent today catching up on what’s been going on in the world in the last month or so. Karl doesn’t like to hear it, and I must admit it’s all same old, same old. Still people dying in Iraq. Still scandal in the government. It was good to hear that the Red Sox are up on the Yankees, though. Even Karl was glad to hear that.

We’ve been making ourselves delicious salads lately, in keeping with our current sedentary lifestyle and also the immense dual luxuries of having fresh vegetables available from the grocer’s cooler and a refrigerator available for our use. Our acorn squashes are all languishing in their hammock back at the boat. I can’t bring myself to use the oven in this awful August heat. Another luxury is being able to buy bread instead of having to bake it.

Last night for dinner we had pasta, another luxury for us, because we have to buy fresh noodles or the weevils will eat them all. (Here’s where Karl’s ghetto recipe window would pop up--but this one we stole from the Pardeys.) You know what makes fantastic pasta sauce? Canned corned beef. You’d never have guessed it, would you? But fried up with some fresh green peppers and onions, you’d never guess it wasn’t real ground beef. Especially good were the real Italian spaghetti noodles we bought at the corner store, fifty percent cheaper than the American Mueller’s brand. I need to go stock up on those before someone else buys up the rest of them. There were only three packages left. I don’t want to do it too soon, though, to forestall the weevil invasion.

I must be getting hungry. I’m back ashore, though, where we don’t really have cooking facilities other than the microwave, which does make a fantastic ghetto egg sandwich without heating up the kitchen. I’m escaping the overwhelming flies on the boat again today, and escaping from my endless list of chores. Yesterday, I did the dishes, which takes about two hours after I put it off for a week, made another futile attempt to keep the toilet in something resembling a sane and clean condition, and tidied the entire boat. Karl came home and said, “I worked all day--what’d you do?” Argh. I love the man, but he can be remarkably obtuse.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

Last night we ended up at Cop’s again, as Blackjack’s was closed, and the Bahamian men were more persistent than ever in their attentions to me, the alien female. Karl’s getting jealous, and I’m not sure what to do about it. I try not to encourage them at all--I’ve completely abandoned any dancing prospects, after the debacle at Little Farmer’s--but I’m not sure how I can convince them I’m utterly devoted to Karl other than by following him around like a lapdog and clutching his arm helplessly at all times. I do stop short at the lie Karl would like me to tell, that he’s my husband. They all assume he is, and I don’t correct them when they make the assumption, but if they ask, I don’t lie. If Karl wants me to say he’s my husband, then he can marry me.

I guess that’s why women don’t come out in the Bahamas. Not at all. In most cultures dominated by machismo, women are pretty much doomed to a life indoors, unless they want to be interpreted as hookers. It’s eminently frustrating to me, the educated enlightened woman, who believes I should be able to do anything a man can do, including frequenting the most dangerous quarters of the world’s deadliest cities. I used to always threaten to go on solo tours of Iran, and I still would like to do a backpacking trip through Afghanistan. Maybe I will eventually. After all, I used to live alone in downtown Chicago, taking El rides through the heart of Chicago’s west side at three o’clock in the morning. I used to go for midnight runs a block from the city’s neighborhood with the highest murder rate. And I did hike the Appalachian Trail alone, much to the dismay of my family.

I believe I can take care of myself, despite any evidence to the contrary. It was disheartening, however, to hear on the radio today that the Bahamas has one of the top ten rape rates per capita in the world. Yikes. Maybe I should interpret everyone’s affections as a little less than benign. I always fear that my polite parries could be interpreted as that worst of all women’s sins, “leading someone on,” and that’s what could lead to terrible misunderstanding.

My only choice, then, other than using violent profanity to ward off my suitors, is to not go out anymore. Or at least to go out less. As women have throughout history, it’s my duty to stay peacefully at home, doing the mending and the dishes, while the men roam around town sowing their wild oats. So much for my soon-to-be-world-champion domino-playing ability.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

On the boat yesterday afternoon, Karl showed up to drag me away from my peaceful solitary activities and drag me to the commissioner’s office to renew our cruising permit. I had mainly forgotten that our four-month extension expired on Sunday, so it was a good thing he remembered and asked Nappy to drive us down there. It went smoothly, no worries, but the commissioner on Crooked Island only gave us an extra month instead of two. I’m not worried about that either, but I am confused about what happens after our six month cruising permit is up. Can we just buy another one? Or do we have to leave the country? Either way, we’ll figure it out. It’d probably be good for us to be forced to leave the country--it’d force us to make a decision one way or the other.

After the successful renewal, Nappy drove us all around the island as usual, which was amusing as usual. The hard part about it is still listening to everyone beg for jobs all the time. One guy enumerated all of the tools he had bought, as if this somehow qualified him to be a builder. After we drove away, I asked Nappy why he didn’t give any of them a chance. “Trust me,” Nappy said, and then told us about his prior history of drug addiction. In my mind, people deserve a second chance, but I understand why Nappy doesn’t want to risk such a major and expensive project.

The other bizarre thing is the way people consistently ask him for money. Nappy is utterly fed up with it, apparently, but it’s interesting to me because of reading my brother’s blog, in which he quotes a doctoral dissertation written about “demand giving.” Evidently, in hunter-gatherer cultures, financial security is based not on competition, as in capitalism, but on the sharing of resources. It makes sense that in a world of limited resources, a community would need to band together to stave off hunger and death, but it does seem alien to our American way of thinking. So, in these sharing cultures, if those with much don’t voluntarily share of their wealth by throwing big parties or giving away their surplus, those with little can “demand” it, in what would seem to us like begging.

My brother encountered this “demand giving” often in his summer among the tribal Moken fisherpeople, and eventually decided that as a rich member of the community, it was his responsibility to give as much as he could. So he did, and was surprised when people’s small requests for a dollar or two didn’t avalanche into hordes of people asking for hundreds of dollars. As missionary kids, we were both steeled against the demands of beggars, who, we were taught, were part of massive mafia-run cartels and more often than not were pretending. Thais, on the other hand, give compulsorily, as a way of earning Buddhist karma. It always struck me as weird, though, not to give, no matter what happened to our donation. Christ clearly states in the gospels, without caveat, “give to those who ask.” It’s God’s business what happens next.

It’s interesting to me to watch the way in which old-fashioned Bahamian tribalism is intersecting with civilized-world capitalism. Nappy’s trying to run a business. He can’t just give jobs to everyone, or give money to everyone, or even pay the exorbitantly higher rates than everyone charges him for services. He had a local restauranteur charge him $145 for dinnner for three. We’ve seen it ourselves--people will charge him $10 for a meal that should cost $6, or $60 for a ferry ride that they’d ask $20 for from anyone else.

He complains about it all the time. “Don’t people understand,” he says, “that you can’t run a business that way?” We agree, having seen how successful business are run in the States, in the magic land of free enterprise. When local workmen charge Nappy five times the going rate for goods or services, he just goes elsewhere for them, to Nassau or the States. He’d rather fly in a tileman or an electrician from Nassau, at $300 just for the plane fare, than have to deal with the unrealistic prices and substandard performance given to him by the kids he grew up with. It makes sense from their end too, though. Why shouldn’t they ask for more when he has so much?

Reading my brother’s analysis also made a lot of past experiences we’ve had make sense, for instance being fed for free all the time in San Salvador. In San Salvador, everyone was swimming in Club Med money, so it made sense that they threw a giant birthday party barbecue every third day and invited the whole island to eat. It was a way of evening out the island’s resources, a way for those with work to share with those without. What’s funny, and flattering in some ways, is that no one ever asks us for anything, whether out of a sense of hospitality, or an awareness that we have far less than even those here do. Even those asking Nappy for jobs can go out and dive lobster for $10 a pop if they feel like it. Everyone has a boat, most of them with engines five times more powerful than ours. We’re exactly what we look like. We’re living like the lilies.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

I’m sitting on the boat again, as usual, harassed by endlessly buzzing flies and taking my requisite day to clean and do dishes and write, even though I’m not doing a very good job at any of those things. Karl’s ashore, discussing our future at the house with Nappy. There’s a lot more work to be done, but I’m not sure it’s his job to do it. I’m having moral qualms again about our unnamed role here.

I’m also hoping that this weather situation works out. I feel guilty for not making time to post a comment previously, and not beg for lobbying help earlier, even on Monday when I was using the internet. I loathe bureaucracy, though, especially the awful NOAA website. I’ve gotten lost in it before, and it was only with Karl’s help yesterday that I was able to wade my way through to the comment form. Who knows if any of you will be able to find the spot, and who knows if it would really matter anyway. The politicians’ ways are not our ways, and I’m sure they’ll do whatever they like no matter what we say or do. I just really, really hope I don’t lose my weather. I really don’t know what we’d do.

The best part about being here has been getting to know Nappy and, through him, other Crooked Islanders, to begin to feel like we really know this place much more thoroughly than we’ve gotten to know any other Bahamian island. Not that anyone get really get to know a place in a month, but I feel like we’re more fully immersed than the people who’ve had houses on the beach out here for decades. I’m probably just being egotistical. Another cool part has been discussing Christianity with Nappy, and fully inhabiting our role as bearers of faith, a role that I’ve envisioned for us since we left Marion. Karl, before he met me, had been inside of a church twice in his life, and I think he’s been as influenced by talking theology with people like Nappy and the Reverend Morse as they’ve been by us.

I still can’t get over Nappy calling us missionaries. In some ways, as evidenced by my lousy article, that’s my dream come true. I want to be a missionary, but a different kind of missionary than I was as a fourteen-year-old on my Baptist mission trip to Eleuthera, and a different kind of a missionary than I saw growing up, too.

Nappy, who claims to be a big fan of President Bush’s personal charisma, has the President’s habit of giving nicknames or catchphrases to everyone he meets. Every time he sees Karl he calls out, “Toma-sack!” When he sees me, he says, “live like the lilies!!” In one of our early conversations, after I had escaped from my self-imposed exile on the boat, and no doubt influenced by my tortuous days trying to shape my life thesis into cohesive form, I quoted that passage to him. He grew up in the church and is still an avid churchgoer (we mean to go with him every Sunday), but struggles with his faith in much the same way I do.

I’d like to think my job as missionary is done on this island, just for that. It’s crazy how much Nappy reminds me of so many of our American friends, continually driven on the treadmill of more money, more stuff, more money, more stuff. I’m sure he’s well past being a millionaire himself--he and his wife have real estate holdings all over the Bahamas, and he’s building apartment complexes and duplexes on Crooked and New Providence--but he doesn’t seem happy. He’s shown us around his family estate numerous times, the little broken-down sheds built by his grandparents and great-grandparents to house animals or store produce, the giant fruit trees, the outbuildings used for kitchens and bathrooms. His father used to supply the whole island with tomatoes, he says, and now no one on the island farms at all. In many ways, rural idyllic life in the Bahamas was destroyed by the drug trade of the 80s and 90s, when billions of dollars flowed through the country like water. Now that the War on Drugs has cracked down, and the Royal Bahamian Defense Force is collaborating with the US Coast Guard, Nappy says that Bahamians aren’t willing to work the way they used to, back before cocaine and satellite television.

We’ve heard the same story from several Bahamians, and it’s sad. Nappy’s made a good life for himself and his family by working hard, and now he’s separated from his community because of it. He thinks his old classmates dislike him because of it, and it’s clear he is separate from them. Everyone he meets asks him for a job, even when he tells us later his history with those people, that after he hired them they stopped showing up for work, or overcharged him, or did a crappy job. We try to convince him to hire people, but he refuses. “Trust me,” he says, another of his catchphrases.

So live like the lilies, we tell him. Do with less, make less, spend less. The ultralight life, as I used to call it. We made him what I called “lily food” at the house the other night--a vegetarian salad with hot sauce, fresh lime, and cracked pepper for dressing, then microwaved baked potatoes with New Zealand cheddar. He loved it. We’re mystifying to him in some ways, having both independently given up good, high-paying jobs to escape the stress of American life and to live like paupers in the wilderness. We’re happy, we’re in love. When we need money, we find it. Meanwhile we’re following our path, the way, the Tao, as CS Lewis called it, praying for God to guide our steps.

Live like the lilies indeed. You cannot serve both God and mammon. If we can help just one person escape just a little from the mammon so inextricably intertwined into our 21st-century lives, then we’ll have been successful.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

In a blog, buried somewhere back in the Samana files, I expressed my panic at the prospect of losing high-frequency weather forecasts, which NOAA has been threatening to cut since July 1. I gave the link that they were broadcasting, which, of course, doesn’t work. Now I’ve procrastinated making a comment until the day before the comments are due, but if anyone reads this before midnight tomorrow, you could really help us out by going on the NOAA website and giving a desperate cry for help.

Here’s the link:

It’s of course extremely complicated bureaucratese, but basically you have to fill out the form. The Docket ID is: USCG–2007–27656
The Operating Administration is: USCG (the US Coast Guard)
The Docket Type is: Regulatory
The Docket Existence: Does Exist
The Document Title: choose what you wish, but I used “High frequency weather absolutely necessary”
Submission Method: Enter Comment

Here’s what I wrote in the comment field, but feel free to add whatever you’d like. Maybe lots of desperate pleading will work, or threats of class-action lawsuits if your favorite blogger dies on the high seas, or dropping the names of any high-profile senators you happen to play golf with. Whatever. (The second paragraphs will easily lift out in a copy-and-paste if you’re feeling lazy.)

To Whom It May Concern:

I am currently the navigator on a crew of two of a 33-foot sailboat cruising through the Bahamas and the Caribbean. NOAA's broadcast of weather via high-frequency radio waves is our only method of obtaining marine weather forecasts. It is absolutely essential to our well-being. In fact, we purchased a shortwave radio receiver at great expense a month before the federal register notice was published, solely for receiving high-frequency weather broadcasts.

Especially during hurricane season, the loss of the ability to receive weather forecasts via high-frequency radio waves would cause mass dislocation in the cruising community and almost certainly a loss of life. Both voice and weatherfax transmissions are essential. Almost all cruising guidebooks refer to the NOAA HF broadcasts as the essential source for marine weather while offshore passage-making, and all of the amateur SSB weather-nets use the NOAA data as their original source. Mariners would probably be forced to use substandard weather forecasts on AM radio, or attempt to access weather from the British Admiralty.

Please reconsider canceling this essential marine service that has been provided to mariners for generations. Even in sailing narratives from the fifties and sixties, captains depended on shortwave broadcasts of weather for their safety. If the service is canceled, all our lives will be in danger.

Melissa Jenks
s/v Secret

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10 knots, occasional showers

Today I spent ashore at the house, with Karl and Nappy. The rigging is finally and blessedly done, and we went out to Blackjack’s to celebrate. It’s so good to have a friend here, a real Bahamian friend, maybe the first one we’ve truly made since we’ve been in the Bahamas. I keep forming vast plans to invite him over for pizza (and, if I’m lucky and can talk Karl into it, a rousing game of Settlers of Cataan, my favorite yet never-played board game), but I’m still ashamed of the filthy state of the boat, primarily the head, and I’m not brave enough to knead dough in the persistent unbearable heat. I’ll do it eventually. I’d also love to take Nappy for a real sail, maybe down to French Wells, or maybe all the way around Crooked and Acklins on a multi-day trip. He’s never been on a sailboat before.

Blackjack’s was closed--Blackjack and his brother Diamond were out fishing--so we wandered around the island as we always do with Nappy, looking for food. Whenever Nappy takes one or the other of us out, we have no idea how long we’ll be gone. A quick trip to the corner store turns into a forty-mile cross-island jaunt, honking our horn at every car we pass, and more often than not stopping driver’s-side to driver’s-side in the middle of the road for an unhurried conversation. It’s great. We’ll pull into some unknown individual’s driveway for some unknown reason known only to Nappy, and Gary will jump out on an errand, and more often than not we’ll get invited to take fruit from someone’s sappodilly or sugar apple tree, or introduced to some ancient matriarch of the island. Today it was a grand old dame named Queen Cunningham. She seemed bewildered at our presence, as most of the people we meet do until they get used to us. Everyone tolerates the sandpeople, and lives off their economic influx to the island as often as not, in one way or another, but they’re not used to having them cavort around their side of the island. And we’re obviously not sandpeople, either, or tourists, so we’re mainly inexplicable. I keep hoping that we’ll just be accepted, and to some degree we are once we befriend people, but we’re still mysterious.

Still, though, we were on the lookout for food. We stopped under the giant tree by Pokyman’s house, Poky’s den (I keep meaning to get a picture of the incredibly beautiful tree, but I don’t want to look like a tourist), and some people were chowing down out of the ubiquitous styrofoam. They were eating souse, bought down at Cop’s from Cop’s wife. Here is where I failed.

Souse, as I thought I knew, is intestines. Nappy turned to us. “You eat souse?” he asked.

“No,” I shuddered. Karl looked at me in dismay.

“No?” he said. “You just said no? You don’t just say no!” Our alleged rule is to say yes to anything, especially to unfamiliar cross-cultural cuisine that someone less immersed in the community would never be asked to dine on. Karl’s never more excited than when he eats an animal he’s never tasted before. In Maine, while allegedly hunting but out of ammunition, he bashed a porcupine to death so as to have the privilege of tasting it. I even tried a bite. But only one.

“It’s intestines!” I protested. I do my best, and in Thailand I ate an occasional insect, but I balk at internal organs. Nor do I share my brother’s aptitude, who in Mokenland happily watched as horseshoe crabs were grilled alive, shriveling themselves to death on an open fire, and then happily picked flakes of flesh out from under their ancient pre-historic exoskeletons. I know. I saw the film. He might have put it on YouTube.

Nappy watched this whole exchange with some confusion. Then we did what we should have done from the beginning--we asked Nappy what souse is. “It’s just soup,” he said. With intestines, I thought, still convinced. Nevertheless we drove over to Cop’s, and ordered two sheep’s-tongue souses for Karl and Nappy, and one chicken souse, for me. I figured I could eat around the intestines, or at worst, give it all to Karl.

I was wrong, though. Souse is just extremely delicious soup, in my case, chicken vegetable soup, with whole wing sections boiled until falling-apart tender. It was maybe the best chicken soup I’ve ever eaten. I had a bite of Karl’s braver sheep’s-tongue choice, which was a little strong for me, though being a good Greek girl I love lamb. So that’s what I get for my prejudice, for not giving my great all-affirming yes to things. Now I can say I eat souse, something few sandpeople, if any, do.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 15-20 knots

Our conversation from Saturday, with the Reverend Morse, keeps haunting me, even now that I’m back at the boat. I’m thrilled to have been able to update the website and to have access now to the internet, although using it does involve Nappy’s complicity and some elaborate subterfuge. I used the web for a long time yesterday, not quite being able to update the whole site, but able to read all of my brother and sister’s blog entries and all my important emails.

(Isn’t that cool? I just figured out how to add html links offline. I think. Let me know if they work--upon posting this, I realized they don't work after all. I'm going to have to add them manually. Darn.)

But the Rev. For one thing, it opened up that whole can of worms from my childhood about women and the Bible. I’ve been taught from when I was a toddler that the whole Bible is inerrant, utterly true, a doctrine I still believe to this day, although perhaps in an unorthodox way that my orthodox forbears may not accept. Still, though, how can a woman, believing in the full equality of the female sex, accept the Genesis story? Even St. Paul interprets it by saying, in 2 Timothy 2:11-15:

“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in fath and love and holiness, with modesty.”

And this is the same man who says, in Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” How in the world can I accept both of those two statements? I will be saved through childbearing? Are you kidding?

Maybe I keep wrestling with this thorny theological dilemma because my latest topic in my lovely Dolphin Reader is “Masculinity and Femininity.” I’ve been reading fantastic essays on the topic by Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Sayers, and Tom Wolfe, in between doing such women’s work as washing the dishes and cleaning the toilet. (Yes, I finally cleaned it, thank God. How much do I hate that thing? Let me count the ways.) What it boils down to, as the Christian Dorothy Sayers so succinctly puts it, is “are women human?” Paul’s, and Genesis’s, and the Rev’s, interpretation of Biblical myth is that they aren’t, really. They don’t have the same rights or the same strength or the same responsibility as men do. They’re supposed to quietly accept their curse from God, in Genesis 3:16, that “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

That’s the interpretation I do not accept. What I accept is the word of Christ, who accepts female disciples along with men and reveals himself resurrected to women first, to the dismay of the apostles. I believe Jesus when he says that he has come to fulfill the law. I believe Paul when he says there is neither male nor female.

Remember Setarcos, from way back in Annapolis, last December? Although I disagreed with him profoundly, as I disagreed with the Rev, still he made me think about what we were doing, what our purpose was out here. Maybe there’s a Setarcos for each country we’ll visit, and the Reverend Morse is my Setarcos for the Bahamas. Maybe I needed to think and write about what it means to be a Christian and a woman.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

So I’m an internet pirate yet again, borrowing lovely fast internet access at an unnamed location and with tacit permission. I guess there are worse kinds of pirates. Especially because I’ve been so remiss at keeping everyone posted the last two months. I gaped in horror when I realized I hadn’t posted since June 21! I’m sorry, folks. I really had envisioned updating this blasted thing at least once a week, but I cannot stress enough how much more difficult internet access has been than I had envisioned. Especially when we were en marche, generally I have to dedicate a full day to finding a place with an internet connection, which is generally down, and at which I generally have a severe time limit.

I’m realizing that the SSB transceiver/sailmail option would probably have been a good investment, and may be one we choose to make in the future. It’s definitely going on the boat wish list. I’m sure that we could find used components at less than the $3000 pricetag I’m always quoted. And (in other news, which I can’t fully disclose), we may even be able to afford some things on our wish list now!

The other good news is that this internet connection is basically unlimited, which means I can post all my long-awaited blog posts for ye few patient souls, as well as reams of pictures, and I can do all the research that we’ve been postponing. I’m almost up-to-date on the blog, but I may have to interrupt my session until tomorrow soon, so I wanted to post a brief explanatory note. I’ve been dutifully blogging every day since Georgetown, which means I’ve wandered through the vistas of my own mind a lot, and in some cases I don’t even remember what I’ve written. I hope I didn’t say anything embarassing. Still, it’s yours now, so I’m posting it, for the most part without rereading. Feel free to read all, or none, of the gory details. It’s in reverse chronological order as always, in bizarre Blogger fashion, so you can read it in order or not, whatever you want. It is a choose-your-own-adventure world, after all. I apologize for the vast quantities of text.

The short summary is this: we’ve decided, at least for the time being, to not head to the Turks and Caicos. We’re staying in the Bahamas, probably on Crooked Island, probably for the majority of hurricane season. We’re looking for work here. Whatever happens, we’re going to try to resolve our fuel tank/engine problems and our foresail problems, maybe by converting our roller furler to a forestay with hanked-on jibs. We may decide to head back to the States for a little while, we may decide to head south again once we have our boat headaches worked out.

If you read a little way back, you’ll find a spot where Karl and I had resolved to sell Secret: to all you staunch R33 fans--have no fear. I, always the defender of the fearless Secret, have postponed that decision, possibly indefinitely. I still believe she’s the right boat for us, and I think we can find solutions to the problems we’ve been having. The hard part is whether the solutions will actually be cheaper than buying a new boat that already has those problems solved. Still, I love, love, love Secret, and I absolutely don’t want to get rid of her, ever, so I’m hoping Karl will be converted back to my way of thinking. It is harder for him because he can’t stand up in her.

In the meantime, we’re having a wonderful time on a beautiful island, which is called “the best kept secret in the Bahamas.” A little synchronicity there, methinks? I’ve just realized I can see Secret from the window, the sun shining on her in the blue sea, her mast framed by casuarina and palm trees. I keep forgetting: we’re in paradise.

Oh, and in regards to Hurricane Dean: I can’t believe I haven’t seen anything on the internet news about it? We were really worried for a while--category four is nothing to scoff at--but we got some thirty-knot breezes last night and that’s about it. Is Jamaica demolished? I have no idea. I was shocked to discover that the only Bahamian news on the hurricane was the happy report that all the straw vendors in Nassau are going to make lots of money from the rerouted cruise ships. There’s a lot of anti-Jamaica sentiment in the Bahamas, but I hadn’t realized there was that much.

There’s a good hurricane hole around the corner in French Wells, where we can tuck into the mangroves. But if there was a Dean-style hurricane, I think we might just run away to the States and leave Secret to Neptune’s fury. I can’t imagine what sustained winds of 140 and gusts of 170 knots would do to this little island. I don’t want to think about what they might have done to Jamaica. Or did Jamaica even get hit?

In happier news, I’d like to report that one-way tickets from Nassau to the Crooked Island airport on Bahamas or Pineapple Air are a mere $129!! There are cheap round-trip tickets to Nassau all the time from everywhere in the States. I know. I used to be on all those cheap flight emails. So: if anyone would like to come visit, now’s your chance. Seriously: ANYONE. Even if we only met you once, or never, or whatever, come down, see the island, stay in a bungalow, lounge on the pink-sand beach and eat fresh-caught lobster and get a conch snack down at Blackjack’s. You can even meet Secret. I extend a formal invitation for homemade pizza aboard. Just beware the head.

We might, of course, be leaving at any moment. You never know. But if you let us know you’re coming, we’ll stick around. And this island is very rarely hit by hurricanes. It benefits from its proximity to Cuba, whose mountains and vast weather systems tend to push them off to the north. So don’t worry about us either.

Much more to come...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 20-30 knots, edge of Category 5 Hurricane Dean passing 600 nm due south

Karl stayed at the house while I drove with Nappy to the airport today, I’m sure arousing a whole bunch of gossip among the local townpeople. I’m not sure whether everyone thinks I’m Nappy’s new American girlfriend, or whether I’m the rich builder of the million-dollar house, slumming it in my hippie clothes. I’d be happier if they think the latter, because it would explain why Karl and I are hanging around so much. Although the former wouldn’t be bad either, because it would stave off the unwelcome affections of all the Bahamians on the island.

As we’ve found in other islands, the Bahamian men on Crooked Island are remarkably predatory, even when they carry wives, girlfriends, and children in tow. It’s been on of the most shocking things that we’ve encountered culturally, and I’m not sure if it’s related to a Caribbean sense of male machismo, or just a longing for anything other than what they’ve grown up with on the island. All the women must leave and go to Nassau or the States, looking for more promising futures than what they can find on the islands, because the ratio of men to women on every single island we’ve been to has been at least three to one. Today, as I was sitting in the car peaceably reading and waiting for Nappy to finish his business at the airport, a kid named Simon, at least half my age and my height, came up to the window to beg me to bring at least five girlfriends in bikinis to Crooked. Any size, any age, he said. Any takers?

I was happy to see Reggie, a guy who had flirted with me unrelentingly while Karl and I played dominoes with him at Blackjack’s, because I was able to give him a wave and a hello that allowed me to escape from Simon. As it turns out, Simon is Reggie’s nephew, which figures. Everyone’s related to everyone around here. We’ve even heard horror stories from Salina Point, over on Acklins Island (Nappy calls Salina Sin City), of a half-brother and sister who married each other inadvertently, producing deformed offspring, not knowing that they shared the same father. Believe it or not there’s a song on Radio Bahamas called “Your Mama Don’t Know,” in which a boy falls in love with a girl, tells his father about it, only to have his father tell him that the girl is his sister but, so goes the catchy refrain: “your mama don’t know.” The crux of the fable? The boy goes to his mother and tells her the truth, but she says not to worry about it. “Your papa’s not your papa,” she says, “but your papa don’t know.”

So I guess the women can be as bad as the men, although we’ve had more evidence on the male side. Andy, the proprietor of the Seaside Restaurant, even told us matter-of-factly that every Bahamian man has a wife, sweetheart, and girlfriend to take care of, with others on the side. We’ve seen pictures, without meaning to, of Cuban and Colombian “friends” in thong underwear, from tourist visits to those islands. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around all this philandering--I am just a naive missionary kid, after all--and I never believe that people have ignominous designs on me until proven otherwise. Karl is much more wary, as befits his role as defender of my virtue.

The bizarre thing is how Bahamians surpass their love for women only by their love for church. On Saturday the Radio Bahamas plays “Your Mama Don’t Know,” and on Sunday they play nothing but gospel songs, hymns, and entire church services of all denominations. Yesterday, on our adventure around the island, Nappy stopped by an old friend’s house, that of the 93-year-old Reverend Morse, and we all had a great talk about the Bible and God. Nappy introduced us as missionaries, filling me with joy. The encounter was marred for me only by the Rev’s theology on women, taken straight from Genesis and stirring to life my consistent childhood problem of reconciling my ardent feminism with the Baptist faith, as much as I enjoyed the conversation. The Rev introduced us also to his third wife (he was twice widowed), an elegant elderly lady in a sundress and a straw hat decorated with flowers. “She’s my third,” he said, “and when she dies I’ll get another one!”

It all made sense when Nappy, our cultural interpreter, explicated it for us. His current wife was his “sweetheart” during a previous marriage, with whom he had fathered a child. Maybe he has some more sweethearts floating around. I applaud his ambition, though, at 93 years of age. He said the worst storm he had ever seen was the Hurricane of ‘22. I can’t imagine the changes he’s seen during his lifetime.

The reason Nappy had stopped by was to investigate the Rev’s ongoing building project, an addition to his house. The kid the Rev had hired to do the building had stopped showing up, and the Rev was trying to convince Nappy to take the job. He told a rather pointed parable about the rich man and Lazarus, trying to convince Nappy to not neglect his old friends now that he was a rich man, to my way of thinking. I’m not sure Nappy caught the point, but it made me think. I’d love to go over and help him with his building project. With Karl and Nappy and me, with my newfound building skills, I’m sure we could put up the Rev’s room in three days flat, and we could do it as volunteers, putting all Baptist mission trips to shame. We are now missionaries, after all.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: NE-E 20-25 knots, thunderstorms and rain all afternoon

We’re really beginning to feel like part of the community around here. I know that’s kind of ludicrous, considering we haven’t even been here a month yet, but we’ve already seen things that none of the sandpeople ever see. I asked Nappy last night if any of the people who live down by Pittstown ever come out to Barbara and Don’s for Friday night dinner, and he looked bewildered for a minute and then just shook his head no. We’ve been to Blackjack’s and Cop’s and the Hideout, and we’re falling into the traditional workmen’s Friday-night styrofoam-takeout meal, and I already feel surprised if I see someone when I’m driving around town or at the store that I haven’t met before. Although the answer we get when we ask people how many people live on Crooked Island varies, it generally hovers around 250. It doesn’t take very long to get to know by sight 250 people. Especially because a lot of people are visiting the States right now, in the off-season.

Today Nappy drove us all around the island as Dean approached from the east. I’ve been studying the clouds as the hurricane bands pass us by to the south, just to get an idea of what the approach of a hurricane looks like, and I’ve been rereading all of the hurricane sections in my navigation books, trying to find the most precise description of weather phenomena in areas surrounding a major hurricane. One of my books, the Pardeys’ Storm Tactics Handbook has Bowditch’s description of tropical cyclones, which is the best I’ve encountered. (Bowditch was a brilliant nineteenth-century navigator--his encyclopedic text is still the standard by which all others are judged. Unfortunately, we don’t have a copy on board as each Bowditch weighs about two tons.) He also clarified for me the difference between a cyclone, a hurricane, and a typhoon, something that’s been troubling me since my high-school years in the Philippines. All major storms are called cyclones, although they’re classified as tropical or extra-tropical depending on their location, and clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on whethere they’re in the northern or southern hemisphere. (That darn coriolus effect! I keep wanting to call it the Coriolanus effect. That’s what happens when a Shakespeare scholar turns mariner.) Hurricanes are specific to the North Atlantic summer, although how they get over to Hawaii I still have no idea. Typhoons are specific to the North Pacific, and everything else is just a regular cyclone. At least that’s what I’ve figured out so far. I’m sure you were all dying to hear that explanation.

So, the clouds. According to Bowditch, the clouds at the approach of a hurricane are long, thin stratus clouds made of ice crystals in the upper hemisphere, what are commonly called mares’ tails. They’re generally a sign of overall good weather, but the ones surrounding a hurricane are supposed to be particularly well defined, like carefully drawn feathers, and especially visible at dawn and dusk. If you watch them carefully for several days, they should point in the direction the hurricane is moving, and you can figure out whether or not you need to get out of its way without the benefit of a weather radio. I’ve been surveying them off of the deck, and although I have seen a lot of mares’ tails, as well as some other crazy clouds that I’ve never noticed before, I haven’t exactly been able to figure out where they’re radiating from. I’m hoping that that’s because the hurricane’s not headed our direction, as the forecast indicates.

Still, the bands of thunderstorms and squalls that have been making their way past us the last couple of days have been beautiful and ferocious. Nappy drove us today down to the Cove, the narrow strip of water that separates Acklins from Crooked Island, and as we stood there surveying the heaps of abandoned conch shells and lobster bodies, I watched a black line of rain sweep towards us across the water. First a few fat drops of water burst on our pants and shoes, and then, within seconds, we had to make a run for the truck. The storm swept over us while we drove down the rutted coast roads, past coves of beach and abandoned fishing huts set among mangroves. Nappy drove us down to Hamilton, a ghost town with a little church, where a community had been living up until several years ago. “Why’d they leave?” we asked Nappy. He said he didn’t know, they just left. The church still had its sign for services up, and down among the abandoned houses was one lit streetlight, set among the overgrown paths and empty wells.

On the way home, I was sitting, cramped, in the back of the truck while Karl and Nappy ran into a little corner store for juices, and I was watching the palm tree fronds wave back and forth in the wind before another squall. They’re aerodynamic, palm fronds, which is why they can grow so tall and survive the tropical wind, and each leaf wove back and forth in an intricate pattern, weaving the wind past. I was overcome, slowly, by a feeling of peace that I haven’t felt since I was a child, watching those palms in the wind. I knew the palms, I knew them, from a time before I had memory, from a time before I had language. “I’m home now,” I thought. “This is where I belong. I belong where palms shrug off wind. This is where I’m from.”

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15-20 knots, building to 25 in the afternoon

In the afternoon today, I rowed the dinghy back to the boat by myself. It may not seem like much, but dinghy rowing is one of those activities that I’ve basically surrendered to Karl, and it really does inhibit my independence a lot more than I realized. He was working away, and I decided that we really needed to get an accurate weather forecast to find out what this crazy hurricane is doing. I always have the most luck with the 11:30 forecast, so I rowed back, even though there’s strong currents and the trades were blowing rather fiercely.

I love rowing, especially by myself. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. Those muscles, my back and abdomen and shoulders, are ones I use so little and I’ve never really developed, so to feel them all working in coordination, moving the boat with such speed over the water, is a great feeling. It’s hard to be motivated to do it with Karl in the dinghy because it’s a lot harder with two people in the boat and because he does it so much better than I do. Still, if I can get into the habit of rowing back, then I can maybe spend some more time on the boat, get some things clean, and work a little more on my writing. It’s still very hot and rolly out here, but as long as I know I can row back to land at any time, it won’t be as bad.

The news about the hurricane isn’t so good, though. The winds are a sustained 140 knots, with gusts of 170 and seas of 60 feet. Craziness. I’m just glad it’s steering far away from us, though Nappy’s wife is Jamaican and Nappy’s worried about her family getting blasted and the Jamaican elections coming up. I feel for anyone having to deal with a Category Five hurricane.

The fun part of the day was going out with Nappy again, as part of the Bahamian Friday night dinner tradition, for steaks at Barbara and Don’s. We’re beginning to belong around here, showing up with Nappy and Gary as Don barbecued chicken and steaks off the back porch of their little restaurant. We met Teresa, Barbara and Don’s daughter, and ate delicious, juicy steaks with pigeon peas and rice. It was fantastic. Just when I feel like I need a big slab of red meat, one comes right along. I’m trying to convince Barbara to teach me how to make Bahamian bread one of these days, but she and Don are heading for the Florida in the next couple of weeks, so I don’t know if she’ll have time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

I’m sitting in my usual spot on the balcony, in my cozy teak recliner that probably cost $1000. I’ve been entertaining the cats this morning when I’m not helping Karl. According to Nappy, the owner of the house has sixty cats at home in Baton Rouge, so I figure if there’s one thing I can do that’ll make her happy, and more forgiving of us using her brand new fancy teak recliners and toilet paper and endless water, it’s feeding the two kittens that are hanging around. She even has some carefully bagged IAMS kitten cat food in the bottom of her refrigerator, and fancy new matched cereal bowls sitting downstairs collecting ants and sawdust. I cleaned out the bowls and filled them up with cat food (I’m hoping it’s not the Chinese rat poison kind) and fresh water, and I’ve been slowly making friends with them.

They’re beautiful tabby kittens, one bigger than the other, and I make them come mew at me in my screen room before I go feed them. I’ve also been training them to get more familiar with me, by standing closer and closer to their bowl and then waiting for them to come eat. The bigger one’s become really brave, and she’ll eat while I’m standing right behind the pillar, but the little one flinches and moves away whenever I move a muscle. They make me miss Rumor, hanging out and forgetting about me in Massachusetts, and Shafe, getting slowly older in Maine. Sometimes I think we’d be better off just heading back to the farm, growing organic habaneros and goats, and getting involved in local politics. Doesn’t sound like a bad life, does it? I know Karl’s mighty tempted by it, often. Not a bad life, if you can forget about the 40-below winters, which I can’t seem to do.

It’s beautiful here, too, and I’m enjoying getting reacquainted with land fauna--the porch is a stellar bird-watching spot, and the owner of the house has a ton of bird books, so I’ve been amusing myself by trying to figure out the birds and the plants. I also read a whole chaper on the awful sand flies that continue to haunt us and are not stopped by screens. Birds are a lot more fun to study, and I’ve learned that this is one of the few islands where the Bahamas woodstar, a hummingbird, can be seen. I hope I can find one one of these days. According to Nappy, there also used to be flamingos in the salt pond across the way, but when the sandpeople bulldozed a channel to the sea to get rid of the sulfur smell, the flamingos left. Now we have to go down to French Wells to see the flamingos. I didn’t even know the Bahamas had flamingos, but evidently there’s a migratory flock of thousands down in the Great Iguana salt pond, where the Morton Salt Company has its plant.

I do see why the owner built her house here, though, all Bahamian conventional wisdom to the contrary. It’s an exquisite spot, and I know I could put up with the spiders and sand flies and crumbling earth. I could be perfectly content to sit here on this porch with my laptop for the rest of my life, I think, the rippled blue sea to my back, the yellow-breasted birds returning to the red flowers on the trees, the wilderness encroaching on every side. This would be a place to have a room of one’s own. Unfortunately, it’s not mine. Maybe she’ll trade for a dirty boat.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

This afternoon, Nappy arrived from the airport. While it’s good to see him, our little solo idyll is over. Nappy’s definitely the best friend we’ve made in the Bahamas, but it’s still nice to have some peaceful time alone. I was enjoying sewing up my undergarments in public, and I had no qualms about slouching on the bed and reading my new Iris Murdoch book for hours on end. (The Sea, The Sea. It’s fantastic. I can’t stop reading it. I’m dying of suspense.)

In fact, I think I’m making Karl a little bit jealous, which makes sense, considering that he has to work for hours on end while I blissfully read fiction. So today I started trying to help Karl with some of the turnbuckle work. It’s taking a lot more time than he thought (he thought it was a two-day job, tops), and I’ve asked repeatedly if I can do anything to help, which seems to just make him more frustrated. Before today, my only job has been opening up the little packages the turnbuckles come in and unscrewing them. I know that helps Karl move faster, but it doesn’t seem like much. I asked if I could try to help him put the turnbuckle heads onto the wire, but Karl said that was the hardest part. I didn’t really feel adequate to help with drilling or screwing, and hacksaw skills are not exactly on my resume. So when some sections of rigging were hanging out beside my little teak recliner, I decided to try my hand at attaching some turnbuckles. What do you know? I’m an expert! Not really--sometimes I screw them up unutterably, but I do think I’m helping it go a lot faster. It also gives me a feeling of satisfaction, like I’m contributing something to the family economy. It assuages my guilt for not sitting in the roller-coaster boat sauna and trying to write the great American novel.

We heard about Hurricane Dean for the first time today. We were at the little corner store with Nappy picking up some groceries and they had the Florida news on the satellite television. I don’t really know what to believe when I see the weather on TV--as Karl says, hurricanes sell advertising--but it does look pretty nasty. One of the drawbacks of us spending so much time over here is that I’ve gotten really lazy about the weather, and now it’s the heart of hurricane season. Based on the study I’ve done, I don’t think the Bahamas has to worry very much about hurricanes until September, and everyone keeps assuring us that Crooked Island doesn’t really get hit by hurricanes, which seems a sure way to tempt fate.

I am feeling a lot of angst for spending so little time at the boat. Every time we go back out there, poor little Secret is languishing in the sun, the flies are ever more rampant, the bathroom becomes more and more disgusting and difficult to use. And it makes everything harder to have such a beautiful and easy-to-spend-time-in living situation ashore. Some mornings I won’t even go into the head, waiting instead until we make our way to shore and then running to the bathroom. That’s not good. I can’t believe we’ve let our sanitation problems get to this level. It makes my skin crawl.

I’ve never been an adequate housekeeper, though. I remember my endless battles with fruit flies in my Oak Park apartment, the first time I found maggots in my trash can, the dreams I used to have about my cat’s litterbox because it haunted me so thoroughly. How do people do it? Or, more accurately, how do women do it? Most men I know seem perfectly content to let their surroundings dissolve into chaos without it affecting their sense of self-satisfaction one iota. I seem to be burdened with a man’s sanitation skills but a women’s self-consciousness. A brutal combination. Karl still seems completely oblivious to the state of the head and the icebox and the stove and the oven. He still spends an hour on the john every morning, Cruising World in hand. I can’t spend five minutes in there without feeling like I’m going crazy. Every day I resolve to clean it, and every day I put it off another day by dumping straight bleach down the dang thing. If someone would offer to come in today and completely replace our plumbing with brand new stuff without us ever having to look at it, I would pay them a lot of money. Probably as much as we paid for the boat.

I’m sorry to burden you with my disgusting travails. I feel so helpless in the face of such chaos. The bugs and the filth are winning the war. How do people do it? I’m 29 years old and I still can’t figure it out. I’m going to end up one of those HGTV shows where people get rescued from their decades of refuse.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE-S 10 knots, big thunderstorm in the evening

We’re settling into a routine ashore now. It’s pretty fantastic to have this huge house basically all to ourselves, although I do feel some guilt about it. I know that Karl’s doing an amazing job (the rigging looks better every day), and that Nappy told us it was okay to spend this much time here, but it’s still weird to feel like we’re trying not to leave footprints in someone else’s living space. The crazy thing about these houses is how little time people spend in them. Nappy has to have this house finished by October, but the owner’s only coming then for a week. What does she need this giant house for if she’s only going to be here for a week a year?

In fact, we begin to be aware of an overall racial conflict in the community. Not directed towards us at all, but towards the people who live in these giant beach cottages along Pittstown Point. They call them the “sandpeople,” and like sandpeople they seem. Even this beautiful house, which wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of Architectural Digest, is already besieged by insects in every corner--spiders, moths, flies, hornets, and other even more mysterious insects, that always seem to be collecting in the corners. They seem to be mystified by the house, as if they’re saying to themselves, “what’s this doing here? This used to be my house!”

I’m sure no Bahamian in his right mind would ever build a house out here, in between the sulfur-smelling salt pond and the water. These lots are tiny, and one can almost feel the sand slipping away. All the Bahamian houses I’ve been to are set on high ground, high up above the sand flies and mosquitoes. Nappy took us by his family house the other day--it was modest to the extreme in comparison with the house he builds, but it was of solidly constructed concrete block, shaded by giant, ancient tropical fruit trees. He made me happy by pulling down a tamarind pod. One of my earliest memories is the tamarind tree behind my kindergarten in Thailand. It’s so weird for me to be able to identify all the trees around here. I always thought I was a lousy botanist, but it just turns out I knew the wrong botany.

People keep poking around the house at all hours, out of curiousity mainly, I’m sure. This is definitely the biggest house built along this strip, and the locals want to check it out. The other afternoon the Anglican priest, with his son and family from the States, came by for a grand tour. Other people stop by at all hours, looking for Nappy, looking for work, to fill up their water jugs from the reverse-osmosis system (I’m still not sure who pays the electric bill, but I assume it’s Nappy--he’s said he’s unscrewing all the faucets when he’s done with the house so everyone won’t keep coming by for water), or just to see what kind of progress Nappy’s making. Nappy’s told us that he feels really resented by the community, because he’s had such phenomenal success in building so fast. Now everyone on the island is trying to start a construction company, but we can already see how difficult a time Nappy’s had getting halfway decent workers on the house. Most of the good work has been done by people from Nassau. The painting that Don’s doing is just touching up all the mistakes that the first painter made, so Nappy’s had to pay painters twice. Gary, too, is just cleaning up all the paint drips made on the deck by the original painting crew, a two-week job at least. Good for Gary, but bad for Nappy, who has to duplicate his labor on almost every front.

Late last night while we were here, we heard voices and scurrying in the bushes. The other night we saw a car stop on the road right outside the driveway and not turn in. We’re a little self-conscious about being here, so we keep thinking that all of the attention is because of us, but I’m sure it’s not. Nappy said he had strangers showing up at all hours even before we arrived. No wonder he’s happy to have us around. Not that we’re police or anything, but we can at least keep stuff from wandering away.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

On the boat right now, I’d be hot, miserable, rolling around, harassed by flies. Instead, once again, I’m lounging at my million-dollar bungalow while Karl pounds away in the hot sun. Hmm. Is it any wonder I’ve abandoned my writing plans for the time being? Instead, I’ve figured that I can do some also essential sewing while ashore, and I can help with prep work for the rigging. I’m very good at opening the little plastic bags the turnbuckles come in. I can even bring water to the troops when they need it.

It’s cool, too, to feel like we’re participating in the community. I’ve been getting to know the other workmen, Don and Gary, both of whom are interesting characters. Gary’s a long-dreadlocked Rasta type who wears a medallion of King Salaisse around his neck. I felt bad for not understanding anything he said until I realized that very few Bahamians could either. Don’s older, and has traveled a lot and worked on boats. He has great stories to tell about the Dominican Republic and Haiti, both places I’d still like to get to.

We were actually supposed to go to Nappy’s church with him yesterday, but decided against it at the last minute. I’m still a little shy about the prospect of going to church here, though. I don’t want to go as a tourist, as I’ve seen so many people do in foreign countries. It’s a hard thing to do right. I should go. It’s probably help me figure out my article. I welcome any criticism on that, by the way, if I actually find the nerve to post it. I know it’s completely disjointed.

Nappy left for Nassau today. He’s going to visit his son and his wife, so he’s left us basically in charge of the house for the time being. He told Karl that we could live in it when they first made their arrangement, but we haven’t been brave enough for that yet. Still, for all intensive purposes, we are living here, in a million-dollar bungalow on the beach. It’s just too tempting. The ice is too tempting, the fans are too tempting. After dark, the screens are too tempting. I’m here with Karl as early as possible in the morning, and we leave long after dark. Meanwhile, poor little Secret languishes, rocking and rolling in the harbor. I still haven’t cleaned the toilet. Flush toilets are pretty darn tempting, too.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

I’m at the house today, lounging on a brand-new Country Casual teak recliner on a screened porch under a high-powered fan, watching the sun glare down blindingly on the white of the boat, watching the mast swing back and forth at what looks like a ninety-degree angle even though the wind is dead calm. Life’s a lot better over here on shore. For one thing, I have a delicious glass of iced reverse-osmosis water sitting at my feet. For another, there’s crisp iced romaine lettuce for salads in the refrigerator. For a third, there’s a microwave for egg sandwiches. And most blessedly, there fans, and shade, and my seat isn’t trying to throw me. I could get used to this. Far, far too used to this.

So I got fed up with everything, abandoned my article and the blog, and swam ashore. I think Karl (and the rest of the workmen) was a little shocked to see me waltz up the garden path in my bathing suit, but I had had enough. I just don’t know if I can handle the writer thing, at least not for eight hours a day, at least not in this rolly of an anchorage. We need to find someplace where the boat will at least sit still, whether or not I can deal with the sun. Maybe August in the Bahamas wasn’t the best timeframe for me to pick.

It turned out to be a good thing, though. Just as I showed up (and Karl gave me his tee-shirt), Nappy was offering to drive over to Barbara’s to pick us up a chicken snack for dinner. We’ve noticed before how every single Friday night, the entire Bahamas has chicken for dinner, in those ubiquitous partitioned styrofoam containers. The entire Bahamas save us. In Farmer’s Cay, everyone around us was carting around a full styrofoam container at least two pounds in weight, and I was bewildered. Where did they get this chicken? How did they find it? How much did it cost?

On Friday the mystery was revealed. Kind of. Evidently someone just makes chicken every Friday night. Barbara is the wife of Don, the painter working on the house, and we’ve gotten to know him quite well. She runs a restaurant in the season, but in the summer she just makes barbecued chicken on Friday nights, and “everyone knows.” I officially felt like one of the community, digging into my pigeon peas and rice, potato salad, and corn with my little plastic fork. Suffice it to say, it was delicious.

Saturday we finally got the blessed internet, even though I wasn’t able to update the blog. I was also able to call my family using Skype for the first time, which was pretty amazing. The craziest thing about it was using the video-conferencing feature, and being able to see my parents and introduce them to Nappy and Kenny, whose computer we were using. Kenny’s said that we can use his computer again when we need to, and I’m hopeful that I can take my Apple down there and plug it into his ethernet. I just hoped to have freer access--we still have a billion things we need to figure out, including how to repair our roller furler or how to convert to hanked-on sails, and we really need the internet for all of that.

Saturday night Nappy bought us more chicken, this time from Blackjack’s, another local dining establishment. We had some of the best wings I’ve ever had, and met Blackjack, a great guy who is a former pastor in the community. He told us about his descent into cocaine addiction, and Nappy told us how he recovered enough to run the place for his brother. I also played dominoes for the first time since Acklins, and was thrilled to discover that people had even heard of me, from where my name is inscribed on the wall in Chester’s! I didn’t disappoint as far as domino-playing ability, but I think Karl got a little bit tired of the relentless flirtation from the male element present. They seem to be a little short of women around here. All the women in the Bahamas must move to Nassau, that’s all I can figure out.

So today I’m happily ensconced, listening to Karl hammer away while I contemplate doing some mending. I had intended to take the weekend off from my writing anyway. Maybe I’ll have a different perspective on my article when I get back to it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wow. Long time no see. Sorry for the long delay, everyone--I feel more than a little guilty that it's been almost two months since I've posted. In my defense, this is the first time that I've had internet access in those two months at all. I've been dutifully blogging every day, and I have months of posts to post, but I'm using a friend of a friend's computer right now and can only drop a brief note to let everyone know that we're alive: not accosted by pirates, not dismasted, no coral reef holes in our hull.

We have had a run of bad luck, though. Pounding to windward, this far, in our elderly boat, has led us to have both engine problems and roller-furler problems. When we just had the engine problems (mainly to do with growth in our diesel), we weren't too worried, but when the foresail went, we started being a little more concerned. We've turned around and our headed more or less towards Georgetown or somewhere else where we can get repairs, unless we can jury-rig them ourselves.

In the meantime, we're just enjoying ourselves in the exquisite Out Islands. It's gorgeous out here, and the people are wonderful. It hasn't all been doom and gloom, to be sure. We're stationed in Crooked Island, off Landrail Point, for the time being, and I'm very hopeful that I can get everything posted--all our adventures of the last two months--the death-defying sails, the giant lobsters, the oceanside steak dinners in San Salvador... It's been fantastic.

Hope everyone's well--and still reading!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 15-20 knots

We went to the Seaside Restaurant last night for dinner, and it was really weird. I had brought along my Joy of Cooking to make photocopies for Marcia, Andy’s wife, and I had my little notebook where I had made notes of the kind of toppings they might want to buy, ideas, that sort of thing. I was a little worried about the timeframe, because it takes at least three hours to make dough and it was already six o’clock when Andy came by and picked us up. When we got there and met Marcia, she already had the dough finished! She made pizzas and put them in the oven, and I sat outside at a table and twiddled my thumbs uselessly.

It’s just another one of those frustrating cross-cultural interactions. I was really looking forward to helping someone with something useful, to being in a real kitchen, to hanging out with another girl, and it turns out that they don’t need us at all. The pizza was good, too, and Andy treated us, but I do wish I had known how it would all turn out. For one thing, we just had the best pizza we’ve ever had on the boat two days ago! I wasn’t at all hungry for pizza again. I would’ve much rather splurged on one of the Bahamian specialties on the menu, stuffed grouper or stewed fish or even one of the lobsters Andy’s sons zoom by with every afternoon. We did think of going out as a kind of celebration.

And the internet was down, of course, so I’m still completely divorced from the outside world, aside from the message I left on my family’s answering machine a week ago. I’m still unbelievably frustrated with my article. I just can’t figure out what it is that I’m trying to say. Maybe I’ll just post it for your collective criticism and swim to shore. I’m fed up with the boat and I want to drink some ice water. It’s too tempting having it just a short hundred yards swim away.

So here goes. Blast away.

Modern Pilgrims

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” --Luke 9:58

When I was a child, growing up as a missionary kid in Thailand, I was always accused of taking the Bible’s commands too literally. “Yes,” my parents agreed, “the Bible is inerrant, but that doesn’t mean we actually need to sell all we have and give the money to the poor.” I didn’t understand. What did Jesus mean, then?

Then, at Wheaton College, majoring in English literature, I had the same problem. In Walden, I read Thoreau’s remonstration:

“[Students] should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? ...Which would have advanced the most at the end of the month,--the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this--or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rogers penknife from his father?”

I looked around at my upper-middle class classmates in their puffy primary-colored North Face fleeces and WWJD? bracelets, only half-joking when they spoke about their “Mrs.” degrees and senior panic. I experienced far more culture shock than I had expected--after all, I had attended the world’s largest high school for missionary children. I thought I was savvy to American culture. Is this what American Christianity looks like? I asked myself. If it is, I want none of it.

What would Jesus do? Certainly not live in the suburbs and work as a consultant. Maybe I took those bracelets too much to heart, too. Now, when people ask whether or not I’m using my degree: ”Yep,” I say. “I took Thoreau at his word.” Truer, though, is that I took Christ at His word. The pastor at the Vineyard church where my sister attends recently asked me, when I came for a visit, “Where do you live now?”

“I’m a fox without a hole,” I joked, figuring he, of all people, would get it. His brow furrowed in confusion.

Since 2004, when I quit my job as business manager for the Christian Century, I’ve been a bird without a nest. In 2004, I hiked the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine; in 2005, I hiked 900 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in California, then began an abortive attempt to bicycle the rest of the Pacific coast; in 2006 I bought and rebuilt, with my boyfriend, a 33-foot sailboat, and sailed it down the Atlantic Coast to the Bahama Islands, to arrive in 2007.

My sister is currently enrolled in a graduate program for Public Health, and in a recent phone call, we were discussing a paper she was writing on homelessness in Chicago. She told me that only ten percent of homeless people are the “visible” homeless, the street corner bums asking for money. The majority of the homeless are families, generally single mothers with children, who have no place to live, and end up staying with families and friends, or in their cars, and these are the homeless that most programs do nothing to help. While we were talking, I paused for a moment. “What about me?” I asked my sister. “Wouldn’t that make me homeless?”

She paused too, and I could hear her thinking on the other end of the line. “I guess it would,” she finally said.

I’ve been living with other people, my parents, my boyfriend’s parents, in a floorless three-person ultralight teepee tarp, even for a while in an RV (without running water) in my boyfriend’s brother’s backyard. Sure, you might say, live like Christ. But isn’t that taking the WWJD thing a little too far?

I know many of my generation feel the same way, disillusioned with all of the institutions they grew up with. We look around in disgust at the hypocrisy we perceive in our churches, which claim to believe in social justice but do nothing in the face of global poverty and suffering. We look at our government, with its lip service to democracy and freedom, and its active pursuit of imperialism, systematic inequality, and economic superiority.

What can we do, though? How do we obey Christ’s injunctions in such a world? How can we? Even if we spend our lives working for the good, we’ll still buy clothes made by children in sweatshops, eat fruit picked by illegal immigrants, drive cars that use too much gasoline, own stock in a mutual fund that holds shares of Exxon-Mobil. I know. I did all those things, all the while questioning my faith, asking what it meant to be a Christian, having been face-to-face with global inequality in the vast, dirty necropolises of Bangkok and Manila.

In a November 2006 essay for the New Yorker, writer George Packer describes conditions in present-day Lagos, Nigeria--the desperate poverty, the slums built on heaps of garbage, the polluted water, the poor who survive by scavenging plastic. He ends the article with the interview of a local government chairman in eastern Lagos Island who calls the city a powder keg and says that if the problems of the city aren’t addressed, the urban poor would erupt into desperate violence. He says, “If all this fails, the world will feel the weight of Lagos not working out.” Packer concludes, though, “There is an even darker possibility: that the world won’t feel the weight of it much at all. The really disturbing thing about Lagos’s pickers and venders is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours.”

For a while, when I considered myself agnostic, I decided that if I ever regained my faith, I would literally sell everything I had, except the clothes on my back, buy a plane ticket to Haiti (this is when Haiti was the poorest country in the world), take the cash and literally hand it out to the poor. Dave Eggers follows this idea to its logical conclusion when, in his novel You Shall Know Our Velocity, his protagonist and a friend fly to Senegal to distribute a $15,000 windfall he had received undeservedly. They end up taping wadded-up dollar bills to goats and throwing sheaves of cash out of car windows, the sheer magnitude of the poverty they encounter proving to them the utter meaninglessness of their attempted gesture.

Growing up, my favorite books were biographies of famous missionaries--Mary _____, David Livingstone, William Carey. The lived by faith in the way Jesus did: when Carey runs out of bread for his orphanage, a bread van breaks down in front of his front door. When he doesn’t have enough money for rent, the exact amount, down to the dollar, is found in an unmarked envelope at his front door. The most affecting story for me was the one where someone opens his office door during his daily prayer time, and finds him draped over his oversized globe, weeping for the world.

That’s the faith I want. I want to weep for the world, the way Christ wept for Jerusalem. I want to give God the chance to provide grace for me in the way he provided for that orphanage.

My choice is just one of many, and not necessarily the right one. My brother’s working towards his Ph.D. at Harvard, my sister’s goal is work internationally for a relief organization, and my parents continue to work as missionaries. I live on a boat, unmarried, childless, with my boyfriend in the Bahamas. How can I justify a life like that in the face of the world’s suffering? I’m following my path, living like Christ, and all I can hope is that my life will bear the fruit that he promised.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 15-20 knots, four-foot swell in anchorage from S

Last night, a guy from town named Andy came by to visit us, and invited us out to his restaurant, the Seaside Restaurant, for dinner. When he saw we were eating pizza, he said we could show his wife how to make pizza--they’ve been trying to figure it out. He said they have pizza pans, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese already. We told him he didn’t even need mozzarella, that we don’t use it, nor do a lot of pizzerias in the States. It’s kind of a fun idea and both Karl and I have been looking forward to it. We can get to know some other people in the community, and I can meet a woman. I always have a hard time meeting community women. They’re often a lot less in evidence, or a lot less social to cruisers, than the Bahamian men are.

We had a great talk while Andy was over--I told him about this site, and he asked if I had advertising! It’s the first time I’ve been asked that! It’s not a bad idea, actually, I guess. He wanted me to guarantee a visitor every week, though, and I’m sure my poor li’l old website couldn’t do that. But I’d love to post links to the websites of everyone we meet, even if for completely free. It’ll take internet access, though, which remains elusive. I thought for sure we’d be able to get it at Pittstown, but they’re closed for the season now, and though their wireless network is up, no one knows the password. Very frustrating.

I showed Andy copies of Cruising World and Latitudes and Attitudes classifieds, too. If he really wanted to advertise, that would be the place to do it. I told him he should become a Lats & Atts harbor hangout, so maybe I can set that up for him and his wife. They allegedly have internet access down at their restaurant, so I’m hoping that I can update the website tonight. BaTelCo is notorious for being down, though, and Andy said that their internet had been down for a week or so. So who knows.

I’m finding everything frustrating, actually. My article isn’t getting anywhere. It seems like it just gets hotter and hotter and rollier and rollier and I get angrier and angrier. I’m even to the point where I’m beginning to resent Karl going to land every day. So much for my room of my own.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15 knots, gusting to 20

Writing is hard. In case anyone didn’t know that already. I did make some significant progress yesterday, but still. Editing and rewriting and trying to figure out what I really want to say is an agonizing and intense process, made harder by the sweat dripping off my chin every fifth minute and my desk chair trying to buck me every third minute. Maybe I should have picked a less personal topic, but I’ve been thinking for a long time about the first article that I wanted to write, and I’ve wanted for a while to do a study of my Christianity. Besides which, I have the most contacts in the Christian world, and I grew up with my faith so it’s the thing I feel most passionately about. Why not write about it? So, basically, I’ve decided to justify my existence in an essay. Not an easy thing to do. Maybe I should have gone with fiction.

I’m having a rather profound amount of writer’s block. Quelle surprise, right? I’ll avoid for a while by blogging. So. My pizza was a hit last night. I’m rapidly perfecting my crust. The secret is using olive oil in the dough, and then using a generous amount of olive oil on top of the crust to block the sauce from being absorbed into the dough while it’s baking. A-ha! You pizza makers at home may be saying. I also use shortening to grease the pan, because I have it, and because it makes the dishes significantly easier to do.

Karl’s always complaining about the difference between my crust and the crust of the pizzerias where he used to work. (Well, not complaining, really, as much as commenting.) He used to be a pizza maker, too, so really he should be the expert. It’s always been a mystery to me how hard it is to get homemade pizza to be as good as restaurant pizza. I suspect it may merely have to do with the vast quantities of grease they use in everything, grease we would tremble at in the home kitchen. The other key is really, really hot ovens. I was trying to cook my pizza at around 400°, but I’ve upped the temperature to 475°, which cooks the pizza in almost 20 minutes. Karl claims the ovens at Minerva’s, where he used to work, were set at 700°, but I have a really hard time believing that. It’s brutal trying to bake anything in the Bahamas, but even though 475° is really hot, it’s better than having to leave the oven on for an hour. I understand why there’s so few pizzerias around here.

Karl also thinks I should build some pop-up banners into my website with “Ghetto Recipes!” and pictures of us stirring bowls of slop with salt-dreaded hair and straw hats on. It would be amusing, . It’s funny to me how our meals do end up being mixtures of the ghetto with supreme foodiness. like our New England-Thai fusion chowders, which are really just ways of making sardines palatable. Or our pizza with year-old unrefrigerated summer sausage and home-canned tomatoes. It was all delicious, though. Maybe I’ll go have a piece right now.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Pittstown Point, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots, gusting higher in afternoon squall

Our life is settling into a routine. We wake up in the morning, drink coffee, then Karl goes to shore and I sit at home and do housewife-y things and try to be a writer. My housewife task of the day is making pizza, which Karl specifically requested. It’s hard really to do anything out here because it’s so hot and rolly. It’s hard for me to even focus on the words on the screen because I have to focus so hard on not rolling over with the boat. I suppose it’s good for my abdominal muscles. But really frustrating.

Karl asked me last night why I didn’t spend all day yesterday writing. I was rather proud of myself for all of the other things I had done, so the question stung a little. He’s right, though. We had decided when we were at Samana that we were going to try to find someplace where Karl could work ashore and I could sit still and write for eight hours a day. I’ve always said that was what I needed. Virginia Woolf called it a room of one’s own. I always meant that I needed an office where I could go and shut the door and not be disturbed by anything for a full work day. Unless I can have that kind of independence of thought I’m not sure I can ever work up anything worth getting paid for.

Blogging is different. I can sit down and write whatever first comes into my head, no matter how stupid it is. I rarely edit these entries, which is probably to my detriment. In some ways, writing journal entries while I’m out here trying not to stare blankly at the blank computer screen is just another form of procrastination. That way I don’t have to deal with the reality of my ambition, the fear that I might not really have anything to say.

What makes things worse is the sun beating down on my shoulders, the flies buzzing relentlessly (where in the world do they come from?), and neglected duties staring accusingly at me from the sidelines. I still have dough to knead and the endless dishes to clean. I don’t know how writers ever do it. How can they? How can they find that much silence in their own heads?

Anyway, to work. Maybe I’ll be able to squeeze something out of my subconsciousness.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: NE 10 knots

Karl’s at the house right now, on his first day of, what shall we call it, “work.” It’s an odd feeling, being alone on the boat. It’s one I like, though. It’s amazing how much work I can done at home when there’s only one of us six-foot-tall individuals wandering around in our little 15’-by-4’ amount of living space. Especially when Karl has things piled all around. I admit I do too--my fatal flaw is always books, books, and more books--but it seems to me that his piled-up sails and toolboxes take up more room.

It is hot out here, though. And rolly. We reset the stern anchor again this morning, and we can’t seem to get it right, or the current in here is such that we can’t ever quite sit still. I guess it makes sense--we’re anchored on a tiny ledge between land and shore, right off a open passage of Atlantic Ocean that’s 3000 meters deep. There’s a full knot or more of current in the Crooked Island passage, and it leads straight to Cuba. That’s probably why we’re getting buzzed by bright orange and black Coast Guard helicopters every morning, sometimes twice a morning. They come by, peer down our companionway, investigate our hailing port to make sure it’s still in the good ol’ US of A, and then survey us for any suspicious indications of our intent to leave for Cuba. Or maybe that’s just in my imagination.

It is tempting, I must admit (although I hope my website doesn’t get trolled by Bush administration crawlers looking for signs of terrorist activity). Cuba’s supposed to be really cheap, and it’ll change completely as soon as Fidel dies. This may be our last chance to see the old Cuba. Don’t worry, though--I’m not willing to risk the precious Secret being detained by the US military, so we won’t aim our bow in that direction. I’ve thought off and on about trying to get one of the journalist licenses, but I’m not really sure they issue them anymore, or what I would have to do to get one. Does anyone have a yacht club newspaper that needs a feature on Cuba?

We’ve heard all sorts of crazy stories, though. That the Windward Passage is completely wired, so that the base at Guantanamo can hear if a spoon drops in your galley. We’ve seen pictures in Latitudes and Attitudes of a giant Coast Guard ship approaching a little sailboat off of Cuba. We’re to the point where we’re afraid to say the word while sitting in the cockpit. It is weird watching the helicopters land and take off. Should they be even allowed in Bahamian airspace? Isn’t it Bahamian? According to the Bahamians, the aircraft can only operate in the Bahamas if they have a single member of the Bahamian Royal Defense Force aboard. If they do, though, they can do whatever they want. I wonder what they pay that one guy.

The Bahamas just gained their independence from the United Kingdom thirty years ago. It’s been fascinating studying their electoral process on the radio and in newspapers since we arrived here, and slowly understanding the differences between the parties and the complexities that Bahamian politics have had to deal with. It often seems to me, though, that the US has just taken over as colonial empire. The only difference is that the British empire had to show evidence that their presence was for the good of the people. They had the infamous “white man’s burden.” All the US has to do is claim that their military presence is part of the “war on terrorism,” and supply the people of the Bahamas with an adequate supply of Coca-cola and satellite programming.

It’s not just Coca-cola either. It’s amazing to me how much more expensive all the American goods are. Fresh Irish butter and New Zealand cheddar are available for cheap, as are Bahamian eggs and bread, Caribbean sugar, beans, and canned milk, and most produce is reasonable. What’s expensive are things like rice (packaged), canned goods, Kraft processed cheese, and ramen noodles. It makes me wonder about things like international trade and tariffs. Why else would American goods be so expensive, except that they charge giant export taxes?

Oh well. Enough of politics for the day. I have zillions of things to do--clean the cockpit sole, clean the head (ugh), tidy up, make some bread, and do the dishes. The list of tasks that never gets any shorter. I never claimed to be a good housekeeper, but it’s yet another one of the things that I’m being forced to become as the navigator of a sailboat. Well, good housekeeper may be beyond my reach. I’m aiming at adequate.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pittstown Landing to Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

Pittstown Landing to Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas
.5 nm
Wind: NE 15 knots, annoying swell during night, boat held by current
Latitude: 22°49.46’N
Longitude: 074°20.82’W

I got to see the house today. Whoa. It’s exquisitely and a little extravagantly designed, with crazy angles, elaborate screened porches, and giant tile angled across the entire house. It’s like someone’s dream of heaven, or like the Platonic ideal of a beach house, with wide views of the perfectly blue-green sea on one side, and the other side with views of palm trees and the salt pond (with flamingoes! or so I’m told). The whole house is basically made of glass--giant windows, French doors, and two full-length screen rooms on the two off-square angled sides of the house. Inside is nothing but view, the sea surrounding you on what feels like all sides.

I’m tempted to look up the work of the architect, based in Baton Rouge. He’s only 35, which makes one stumble a bit. If I had chosen a different life path, I could have been designing houses
like this six years from now. I guess six years is still a long time. I could accomplish a lot in the next six years. Still, it’s crazy to have this as one of the standards to judge my life by. Nappy, too, is only 36, and he’s built tons of these beach houses on the road that heads down to Pittstown. Both of them must feel proud of what they’ve managed to get done.

Is that the beginning of middle age? To begin to feel that one must compare the accomplishments of one’s life to others of the same age? I guess we’ve all felt those feelings since infancy. And there’s no way I could have ever designed houses, anyway. I have talents, but that’s not one of them. It was very interesting to look at the plans, though. Karl had to investigate them to understand the rigging, too, and I’d never seen architectural drawings before. Too cool. I’m helping Karl do the counting and the calculations (one of the things that is one of my talents) and figuring out whether Nappy has enough materials to do the job.

We also moved the boat today, down closer to the house, where we hope we can get some protection from northeast winds from Pittstown Point. It doesn’t make the swell of the current from the southeast any better, though, and it’s pretty miserable on the boat, rocking and rolling back and forth. It’s continually amazing to me how little the boat rolls when she’s held well at anchor, with her nose pointing pertly into the wind and seas. I insist on believing that her lean lines and pointy bow help her streamline the wind somehow. Fin-keeled racing cruisers are accused of “searching” at anchor, sailing back and forth, but Secret only does that in really heavy winds, when any boat would unless it had no mast and no rigging. Maybe it’s the windage from our barbecue holding us still, or maybe just how much weight we have in the stern.

I guess the skinniness and how light she is makes her roll a lot more when the swell hits her on her stern, too. It’s frustrating to think that the only way we can amend that is by putting more weight below her waterline. Karl keeps trying to think of ways to do that--building in some kind of water tankage to the cabin sole or adding to our cabinet space but floor space is exactly what we need in the boat! In one of the things that has me breathing a huge sigh of relief, Karl seems to be more into the idea of fixing up Secret again than selling her. Honestly, even if we were to lift the entire cabin two inches so Karl would have standing head room, and make the cabin smaller so we had walkable decks, as much work as those two things would be they’d probably be less work than finding a new boat, fixing everything that was wrong with her, and finding someone to buy Secret at a price with which we would part from her. Everyone says the hardest part is cutting the dock lines, and they’re right. A new boat means a whole new pile o’ dock lines.

So that’s what I’m thinking about, Secret, and this brand new house sitting across from her, gleaming slightly in the dark. The house that’s supposed to look like a sailboat. It even has “teak” decks--plastic planking in all the balconies made of that environmentally-sensitive recycled plastic stuff that lasts an eternity. It looks really good and it feels good on the feet. Maybe we can put some on our boat’s deck. The rigging’ll look amazing when it’s done. It’s no wonder that Nappy couldn’t find a Bahamian who knew how to do it. This stuff’s complex. I’m impressed that Karl knows enough about rigging to understand it. While I’ve been writing all these months, he’s been getting a doctorate in rigging.