Sunday, September 30, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: SE 10 knots, gray and overcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah,” says Pokyman. “Anaconda.”

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

Friday, September 28, 2007

Crooked Island, Bahamas

Wind: SE 10 knots, rain and thunder all day

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, to French Wells, Bahamas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 15-20 knots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm

Well, one thing’s good at least. Secret’s finally getting some much needed attention. Today Karl and I finally pumped the fuel out of her fuel tank. I thought this was a task that Karl could manage on his own while I gave the interior some much needed TLC (namely, doing the dishes), but it ended up being a two-person job.

Frenchie loaned us a manual fuel pump of some kind (I didn’t ask the men many questions), which Karl had to rotate to churn the diesel out of its thick cast-iron mouth, similar, in many ways, to those old-fashioned water pumps our grandparents used to use. Unfortunately, the suction pipe didn’t fit down into our tank, so Karl, ever inventive, tore the thing apart and duct-taped a cut-off section of our water hose to it to suck the fuel up. I was sad to lose the useful metal nozzle on the end of our water hose, but I guess sacrifices need to be made. Far be it from anything on the boat to function successfully without some kind of jury-rig. Nappy had loaned us a plastic 55-gallon fuel drum to collect the stuff in, so I had to hold the giant (and heavy) drum at a slant to collect the spouting, murky diesel that erupted from the bowels of our tank.

It was not an easy job. As might be expected, we got fuel all over the cockpit and each other. I’m not sure who had the worse of it--Karl, turning the handle, or me, wrestling the drum sideways. Eventually, the angle became too acute for the fuel to spew successfully into the drum, so we sacrificed our one good bucket to the maw of the diesel and began to fill that up. It was only then that we began to realize just how much gunk was in the tank. Diesel, for those of you who didn’t know, is exactly the same stuff as kerosene. They dye kerosene pink so they’ll know if truckers are filling up with it and thus avoiding highway tax. So our tank was full of this murky pink liquid, and as we churned it up and pulled more out of the bottom of the tank, its color became duskier and darker. We were using a West Marine filter, which allegedly filtered out water and everything else, but as we gazed into the filtered bucket, we realized not much of the stuff was coming out. The color was still dark, and there were black floaties all over the place. And the filter was getting clogged.

We triple-filtered every bit of that fuel we could suck out, but I’m still not sure we got it all out. If we hadn’t been intending to leave the boat for a little while, we would have pulled out the tank and pressure-washed it over at Frenchie’s, what it really needs. As is, we hope we can pressure-wash it when we get back from the States. All the little growths can have their party now, because we’re going to slaughter them wholesale upon our return. I just hope we cleaned it enough to get us from here to French Wells, eight miles.

The day ended with a pleasant dusk swim to cleanse ourselves of our coating of diesel. Getting gallons of fossil fuels funneled into your pores isn’t bad for you or anything, is it?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

I lost a very important email today. It may not seem like much, but it was a crushing blow on a rather crushing day. Nappy told us this morning he’s going back to Nassau for an unknown length of time, we’re basically done with the house, just like that. And Frenchie, our new friend from Louisiana, has offered us a ride back to Fort Pierce, Florida, on his plane on Tuesday. Now, all of a sudden, all of these essential decisions we’ve been putting off are looming, as well as all the things we’ve been putting off doing.

The list of things to be done just keeps growing, too. Karl has now acquired a reputation in town as the go-to guy for electronics, and he was called away this afternoon to inspect someone’s refrigerator, leaving a VHF in need of repair on the counter. If he can become a VHF repairman, he’ll have work in the Bahamas for life. I’m afraid his verve for labor is dwindling, though--poor little Secret has rested peacefully out here, biding her time, waiting for us to be done with all of our busy land-based activities. She needs us. We need her. We have to figure out how to all be happy together again.

So we went to our little internet pirate hotspot, about which we try to be discreet, to try to figure out if we could get home from Florida, if we could moor the boat safely in two days, if we could get in touch with friends who can drive us around or at least drop us off somewhere where we can hike home. And I lost all my draft emails. My new offline email system, about which I was so proud, completely bit the dust. One of them was one I had worked on all day yesterday. Just like that, a whole day’s labor gone. My sister loses blog entries all the time, a fate which strikes terror in my heart, so I back up everything compulsively. I had saved all my emails multiple times, too, but they just disappeared. The internet’s ways are not our ways.

So we slunk, dejected, back to the boat. I blame myself, of course. I always do. Sometimes its the little things that get to me the most--the clutter that accumulates in the corner of my life no matter how hard I try to keep it at bay, being unable to talk to my sister at the one moment when I absolutely need to, feeling like something that’s been lost can never be found again. We’ve weathered greater disasters, of course. But now, as our list of decisions to be made pile up on top of us and our time draws short, every little minute counts.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10 knots, showers and thunderstorms around noon

We went over to Frenchie’s again for dinner tonight, with the neighbors from next door, for a delicious meal of authentic Cajun andouille sausage gumbo, accompanied by potato salad, cracked conch, fried fish, and a delicious red wine. We haven’t spent much time socializing with the Finleys, the neighbors from next door, and it was good to have a chance to talk to them. Of anyone out here, they’re living the kind of life I would want to live here--they spend half the year here, have a flourishing garden with basil and chives, and keep pretty much to themselves. They, like Frenchie, are from Louisiana and had a wooden powerboat from the 1950s destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, as well as the roof of their house. Also like Frenchie, they’re pilots with their own plane, which they use to fly back and forth to the States.

It’s a whole different way of looking at the world when you have your own plane. Frenchie zipped over to Long Island this morning to go shopping. I heard the plane fly overhead, but didn’t think anything of it, until he told me tonight. He just hops into the plane the way we’d hop into the car to run by the supermarket. The Finleys were planning to go visit Mayaguana tomorrow and asked us if we wanted to go--it’d be fun to take off and visit another island that would take us three days of hard sailing to get to.

As always when we visit Frenchie’s, I’m both concussed and entranced by the television set. Tonight we watched 20/20, one of those news shows I can barely sit through when we’re in the States, but tonight I watched it as if hypnotized. Either TV’s improved significantly since we left the US, or we’re no longer immune to its incantory spell. The strangest thing we saw was the story in the local news right before we left--a University of Florida student who was arrested and tazed for asking a question to Senator John Kerry at a public forum. I hear things like that and I wonder, first, what our country is coming to, and second, if this is major news all over the States or just a side note in Florida news. The funniest part was the protest afterwards, where a student carried a giant homemade cardboard sign that said “Don’t Taze Me, Bro.”

It could be the motto for our generation--the 60s had “Make Love Not War,” and we have “Don’t Taze Me, Bro.” What I love is the casual “bro” at the end. This generation is all about being casual and all about not getting hurt themselves. Forget giant civil rights rallies or psychedelic pro-peace demonstrations, no, we just don’t want to get tazed. Maybe I’m feeling a little distant from this next generation, the Y generation, the kids of MySpace and YouTube and PlayStation. (Does it mean something that they can’t punctuate? Or is that all the net has done for us? Take the spaces from our thought?) I feel like my generation, the one just before, believed in something, or pretended to. Remember grunge and Nirvana and the crazy early nineties environmentalists who camped on platforms in old-growth trees and wore flannel? All the kids who felt purposeless and went home to live with their parents? I guess we’re still poster children for that generation. We’re the next step up as we round the corner into our thirties: bouncing around the world, refusing to give up our ideals, living a life outside of the status quo, refusing to pursue standard careers. Not a bad thing in my book, but I suppose it could be in somebody’s.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 10-15 knots, afternoon thunderstorms (as usual)

After all my indoor boat tasks were done this morning, I decided to attack that one aspect of boat maintenance that has so far passed below my purview: the bottom. Cue the Jaws music. I was doing well--my spirits were high, my motivation constant--I had even managed to bake a pie crust for the key lime pie that was to me my gift for Karl this evening. The only thing left was the worst job of all.

I put on my Kathy Ireland-designed bathing suit that looks more like a workout outfit circa Jane Fonda’s 1980s (it was obtained used), and dove right in. That may be a slight exaggeration. First, I engaged in a sustained bout of sunbathing, that arcane art also of 1980s vintage involving turning oneself as if a hot dog on a spit. In middle school I had it down to a science--fifteen minutes on each side, with an obscure mathematical formula computed internally to compensate for oversleeping minutes on either side, ensuring an even brown.

Sunbathing may be denigrated these days, but don’t underrate it. It’s a form of therapy, really--a combination of meditation and endurance sport. I still remember those heady and overjoyed days from Thailand when I would rise up from my towel in a daze of heat and coated with sweat, light-headed, and plunge into the ninety-degree water that now felt icy cold. Like a Swedish sauna. I still insist the sun has to be good for you. Maybe not taken to the extreme (I wouldn’t recommend sunbathing for twelve hours straight, nor do I approve of tanning beds in the slightest, just as I wouldn’t recommend overstaying one’s fifteen minutes of alloted time in the hot tub), but in moderation. I haven’t been sunbathing at all since I’ve been in the Bahamas, not in the focused Las Vegas-showgirl sort of way, despite the surfeit of gorgeous sunlight. It seemed profligate when we were meant to be adventuring and working and sailing and boating instead of being on vacation.

Today, though, I felt I had earned it. If we’re really going back to the States for the heart of winter (are we crazy? Certifiable? I believe I have answered that before with a resounding yes), then I need to mainline my Prozac in as vast of quantities as I can manage. I need to have every inch of flesh toasted to an even nut brown and my hair as close to platinum as I can manage, skin cancer be damned. It’s the only way I’m going to survive Maine, Chicago, and Massachusetts in November and December.

Eventually I had to give in to the sweat and dive in, which had been the plan all along. Delude myself into thinking that cooling myself off by diving into the scum-soaked water is a good idea! All went well at first, even considering that I discovered a filigree of tentacle-like algae clinging to the swim ladder. This I attacked with a vengeance, moving on to the scum above the waterline on the port side. I decided on this approach so I would have a tangible feeling of progress, in addition avoiding using our now-leaky mask to survey the real damage. (For the boat-savvy: the water-line scum was a full three inches above our bootstripe. Does that give you an idea of how rolly the anchorage is?) In addition to all the other obstacles, Secret had not stopped bouncing around to get her bath. The swell takes on a whole different perspective when every time the boat rolls she slaps water into your face.

Still, things were going quite well when I finished the port side and moved on to the starboard. In passing behind the transom, I decided to take one more swipe at the nasty tentacle-y things clinging to the swim ladder, then began to spray and scrub to starboard, as I had done to port. Then, I swear: the boat stung me. I kid you not. I became aware of a burning sensation on my left shoulder, under my arm, and stretching up the side of my neck. At first I thought it was just general underwater angst, my skin adjusting to the salt or something, but as the burning progressed to itching, stinging, then all-out pain, I made a break for the border.

My general theory is that it was the stuff growing on the swim ladder. I cackled gleefully as I pulled the ladder up out of the water. Take some ultraviolet radiation, sucker!! Of course, it could have also been jellyfish polyps floating around the boat, or even disembodied jellyfish tentacles, like the man-o-war tentacle I was stung by in Eleuthera when I was fourteen. But I persist in believing it was something growing down there.

Karl rolled his eyes when I told him my tale over dinner--he thinks I blame the bottom growth for everything. He’s not the one that has to face it, in all its ugliness. I was trying, though, and I have not yet given up the fight. Now its made me angry, and I won’t rest until the whole thing has been wiped clean. As Karl has said, now we have a whole ecosystem living under there--little fish living off the algae, whole schools of blue runners living off the little fish, and a two-foot-long barracuda that has taken up residency and is living off the schools of blue runners. It’s almost a shame to disturb it. It’s also disheartening: what’s the point, really? For an extra half-knot of speed when we take the boat down to French Wells? It’s all just going to come back worse by the time we come back to the States, and we still have no good prospects for a haul. Somehow el cheapo bottom paint from West Marine (we paid fifty bucks a gallon) doesn’t work so well in summer in the tropics. Who’da thunk it?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15 knots, higher in strong afternoon thunderstorms

I’m sitting at the table, in front of my little white computer, listening to the rain fall on the cabin top above my head. Out the ports, to starboard, the sky is baby blue with towering white clouds, some edged the slightest with grey. To port, behind the spices I have tucked into the handrail, the sky is a cottony bank of white. I can just see the blue edging behind the gray as this storm moves above me. I’m listening to Belle and Sebastian on the computer as I write.

Do you want the rundown of boat objects? On the settee is a crumpled up green towel and our handheld VHF set on scan. My Turkish bag, purchased for me by my mother in Turkey, gapes open revealing a Doors CD. Piles of clothes still sit on the folded lapper. The clothes I hung on the rail to dry this morning are getting wet. I’m not so worried, though--sometimes I just leave things out there in the rain because it’s good for them to get a fresh water rinse.

I’m beginning to worry my journal may be getting boring. As am I. As of today, it’s my fifth straight day of keeping the boat clean, of daily and repetitive maintenance. Hence the clothes hanging on the lifelines, the clean floor, the clean bathroom. It feels great, but it also greatly impedes the drama of my daily existence, as it has done for women throughout the centuries, I imagine. This is ordinary life: I scrub the stove and the toilet, Karl kisses me goodbye as he rows to shore.

I miss sailing. Of course, I always long for endless travel of any kind, but I particularly miss sailing. I want to learn how to set the spinnaker. I want to feel the tug of the tiller under my fingers. I want to watch the GPS as we hit six and seven knots, and feel Secret leaning over on her side and straining into the wind. I want to spend hours surrounded by nothing but sea until I see the loom of mountains on the horizon. I want another of those awe-inspiring nights, doing yoga as the Master steers and keeping company with the moon. Keeping the boat clean is all well and good, but didn’t we come out here for adventure?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots, rain in afternoon

Last night we sat in the cockpit and watched the most marvelous lightning storm I’ve ever seen. The weather report said that the crackling remnants of Ingrid were spreading over our longitudal coordinates, and as the blue-white streaks blinded us, I could almost feel her presence around us, see her orange eyes, her intoxicating electric heart. We’ve seen some beautiful storms already since we’ve been sitting here--one last week where the lightning came so close that we could see each jagged arm where it echoed in the heart of the cloud--but this one took my breath away. You didn’t even have to be looking to feel the lightning. Each time a bolt shot down, we could feel the change in pressure, feel the electricity coursing through our skulls, like a sound high-pitched beyond the realm of hearing.

Each day out here the sky is like a changing canvas, painted and repainted by the minute. I can sit and watch as the cumulus clouds build into thunderheads, their tops shearing off as they reach the lower pressure in the atmosphere, taking on the distinctive anvil shape. They seem to lower over the water and brood, dark, grey, so close to the ocean on the horizon that the junction is an undistinguished black line. As they get closer, the sheets of rain begin to appear, and as they sweep overhead, I run forward to close the front hatch. It’s only at night, though, when the thunderheads gleam white in the black sky, that you can see that the lightning lives inside of them, trapped, jumping and bouncing off the towering walls of cloud.

At sunset last night, the sky was filled with cirrus clouds, the high ones made of ice crystals, that seem to capture the orange light of the setting sun better than any others. Later, as the sky darkened, the lightning began to appear, a little to the north, off Bird Point. Some strikes were crazed nerve networks, whole filigrees of light, trapped by the giant clouds. In others, the electricity gathered into one tensed spinal column, a thick tree-trunk of light, spiraling down the center of the cloud. Those were the ones you could feel before you could see, the ones that raised the hair on my arms and left the air crackling with power. Sometimes two arms of light would branch off of the edge of the cloud and join together before stretching down to diffuse in the water, creating a titanic tee in the air. It’s not hard to see why the ancient Greeks believed in Zeus, and the Norse in Thor. I can explain all of this wonder with science, but how in the world can you make sense of such beauty without recourse to the supernatural?

The sky is almost always our only source of entertainment, accompanied, perhaps, by the crooning of a CD from inside the cabin. The power of the atmosphere in these latitudes is breathtaking, almost beyond telling. Its scary, too, I suppose--Nappy told us the other day that he had a friend killed by lightning on a boat here when they were both teenagers. It’s worth it, though. How many people get to see this display, day after day? Are able to watch these systems sweep over, again and again? To feel the energy of the earth, so close I can almost touch it?

Say what you will. I feed off of it. I’ve never been anywhere where rainbows are a daily event, where a double rainbow, stretched from horizon to horizon, is so commonplace that its not even worth mentioning aloud. The light here has texture and substance. It changes by the hour. At moments, it’s so ludicrous and orange that I feel like I’m living on a movie set.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 10 knots, rain and thunderstorms in the morning, remnants of Tropical Depression Ingrid drifting by directly overhead

Our visit to the church yesterday has continued to prompt rumination for me, especially now that the novelty has worn off. Yesterday, all I could think about was our acceptance in the community, but today I’m thinking about the theme of the event, which really had to do with the current crisis in the Bahamas. Everyone spoke about the future of the nation’s children, and everyone spoke about the climate of violence in Nassau. Ninety percent of the population of the Bahamas is focused in Nassau, and these rural communities are really just a reflection of what goes on there. Everyone we know goes to Nassau often, sometimes as often as once a week. We know workmen who are here working from Nassau, and we know other people who go to Nassau for work. Nappy lives on Crooked Island, and his wife live in Nassau. They have, to all appearances, a perfectly functional long-distance relationship, commuting to spend time with each other.

So Nassau has a big influence on this island, and even though the children and young people here seem fairly innocent, these are the little kids from the country. Kids get sent here from the big city, when they’re born to single mothers or fathers, or when they can’t be controlled in Nassau. We haven’t been to Nassau, so I can’t really talk about how crime-ridden or violent it is or is not, but I know there have been three weeks of school in Nassau and there have already been three stabbings. That’s all anyone could talk about, what’s going wrong and what could be done about it.

I keep mulling it over in my head. How did this peaceful little island chain--everyone talks about the “good old days” when farmers would grow tomatoes and cabbages instead of bringing in vegetables from Nassau, when communities would get together with washboards and buckets for rake-and-scrape, when breakfast was always boiled fish and grits--turn into a hard-edged country of stabbings and the highest rape rate per capita worldwide? The only possible reason, in my mind, is America. All the violence, the prosmicuous sex, the endless text-messaging: that’s all because of the consumer-driven message of the States. I hate to blame hip-hop culture, because I love hip-hop music and respect its lyrical and musical innovation, but I do think that certain elements of that ethos have translated into very bad things. The emphasis on bling, on drugs, on relentless misogyny, has permeated all levels of society here.

Maybe our presence at church yesterday was more subversive than I thought--we are a representation of that corporate-controlled message, with my bare legs and Karl’s tattoos and our long hair and our comfortability with uncertainty. We are Americans, of the land from whose wells all these waters spring. Nappy gave us an old Bahamian saying yesterday: “When America sneezes, the Bahamas catches cold.” We don’t think people like Anna-Nicole Smith matter, but in the Bahamas, they blame her for the ruling party losing the April election.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots, Tropical Depression Ingrid to our east

Karl and I went to church today, for the first time in the Bahamas. It’s now eleven at night, and we’ve been fully immersed in Bahamian culture all day. I’m exhausted, but exhilarated. All our dreams for integration are coming true, and it’s a little bit of a mixed blessing. I’m beginning to realize that our stress the last couple of weeks might not be coming from the boat or the house, but from the effort it takes to maintain one’s equilibrium in the midst of a foreign culture.

The thing is, we’re trying really hard, in a way that people haven’t seen here. They’ve seen white people, and they’ve seen tourists, and they’ve seen boaters, but they haven’t seen Americans spending time among them every day, for this long. This became apparent today, when we finally realized that people thought we were with the DEA. (The Drug Enforcement Agency, for the beauracracy illiterate.) Occasionally, and for a long time we’ve noticed that people have been wary and suspicious of us, without us understanding why. Drugs are a big deal here, and even members of the morally-upstanding Seventh-Day Adventist community made a lot of money in the eighties from Colombia. We’ve heard stories about respected members of the community found with packages in their cars--the money was just so easy to come by, why not? We even know someone who’s twin brother was shot dead by a cartel.

Of course they would beware of us. The only explanation for our extended, drawn-out, hippie-like visit with them would be to sniff out current supply chains, still very much in existence. The bright-orange Coast Guard helicopter does fly by, every single day. I think of it like an annoying wasp, checking up on the good Americans to make sure they don’t set sail for Cuba one day. It’s annoying. The whole situation with us here reminds me of my dad’s solo forays to the north of Thailand, the heart of the Golden Triangle, to work with Cambodian refugees. Everyone was convinced, no matter how strenuously he protested, that he was with the CIA. That was the only explanation for his presence. One of my high-school classmates, an obnoxious boy who liked to snap my bra strap when I was at my locker, had his father killed by guerrillas, who of course thought he was CIA. That was how things stood.

Sitting in church today was like stirring up the big ant’s nest of our visit. All the island people who haven’t met us yet, mostly the older women who aren’t out and about too often, were slightly hostile. The others, whom we’ve met before, seemed to put us in a new category: people who genuinely care about their community. It was an afternoon service at the Church of God of Prophecy, Nappy’s church. I really thought it was just an ordinary church service, but it ended up being the Third Annual Back-to-School Motivational and Recognition Serice, collecting all of the churches from the community to celebrate the upcoming school year and the island’s children.

We wore our nicest clothes, but they still weren’t nice enough. Karl wore cargo pants, a Hawaiian shirt, and holey hiking shoes. I wore my nicest skirt and top, but forget my nice sandals, and was sporting my flip-flops. We had both carefully bathed and groomed ourselves. I even shaved my legs, something I hadn’t done since Bimini. Jesus doesn’t love girls with hairy legs.

When we showed up, most of the men were in full-on black suits and ties. The women wore color-coordinated long-sleeved polyester ensembles, in Easter-egg hues, with matching flowered hats, pale pantyhose, and bright gold-and-silver high-heeled shoes. I felt sorely inadequate. I’d like to think people forgave us for our unorthodox attire, and shaggy hair, and Karl’s tattoos. Most people did, I think, as bewildered as they were at our presence. Nappy kept asserting that no one cared, that we were special guests, but I wasn’t sure I believed it, especially when an elderly woman in a snow-white lace dress bounced up out of her seat beside me the moment one on the other side of the congregation opened up. It was a standing-room-only audience, and Nappy ended up pushed outside for most of the service, but no one once asked us to vacate our seats, even though we offered more than once.

It was an amazing experience, to fellowship with the people of God, to participate as the islanders talked about the island’s accomplishments and awarded their honor students. Everyone was there: the pastors from each of the island’s churches, the principal of each of the three schools, every student and most of the parents, the Bishop for the Church of God, the island’s administrator. The Member of Parliament for the island was scheduled to speak also, but he didn’t show. The Bishop spoke on Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

That’s all there is to it. If we are doing right, doing justice, and acting in a humble and forgiving way towards other people, it’s on anyone else if they choose to judge us. We may not have the fanciest shoes or clothes, but we were there to hear from God. I want to go again, to become a regular, to be fed in that way weekly. We’re pushing ourselves here, putting ourselves into uncomfortable situations, but the outcome is so rewarding. The only way to love is to know.

Afterwards, we succumbed to the lure of Blackjack’s, where Nappy treated us to ribs and okra. I felt a little guilty for going from the house of God to the local pool-hall and dominoes joint, but the owner had been at the service too. In fact, Blackjack is the bishop’s cousin. I especially felt caught in the act when the Bishop showed up himself to see if Blackjack had any food. Then again, the Bishop was there too, although he didn’t sit down. Again, it’s between us and God. As Christ said, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by her children.”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: S 15 knots, building to 20 in afternoon thunderstorms

I did it. Today, I did it. The think-positive program works!! Today, among my accomplishments: sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing the cabin sole. Cleaning the nav station and the table. Filling the water tank by myself (first time ever). Securing the staysail on the foredeck. Coiling the anchor rode. Bleaching and scrubbing the entire head, toilet included. Pumping out the holding tank, and filling it with vast quantities of head treatment, bleach, and water. Doing two weeks worth of dishes. Scrubbing the exterior cockpit. Running the engine for two hours to thoroughly charge the batteries. Sorting through the storage in the quarter-berth. Running the bilge pump.

What an overwhelming feeling of relief. I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier. This is whence my depression stems--my own feelings of failure and inadequacy--and all I needed to do, all along, was confront them head on. The crazy thing? Why I didn’t do this two weeks ago. I could have forestalled all the boat-house agony, and been comfortable all this time, held in the rocking plam of Jesus. And it only took three hours! Three hours of focused labor! Maybe Lin Pardey was right all along.

In the meantime, Karl and I have been having all sorts of serious discussions about our future. We’ve decided we need to replace the head, once and for all, and we want to get that and other boat gear shipped here. Shipping costs are near prohibitive, but even they may be worth it if we can have Nappy here as a resource and we can do any installation we need to at the calm and remote anchorage of French Wells. We’re also trying to make a firm decision about what to do with the boat. We’ve managed to get the number of the person responsible for the moorings in Georgetown, but after thinking about it and talking to Nappy, it seems just as safe to leave the boat on three anchors at French Wells. We can pay someone with a boat to check it out every once in a while, and we might even be able to drag a mooring over there. Why should we risk sailing, only to end up at our least favorite city in the Bahamas? Why not stay here where we have friends looking out for us?

It is the risky choice, in some ways. The safe choice would be to find dry storage somewhere. But the expense of that is breathtaking. Maybe not to some people, but to us $350 a month would break the bank. Especially if we end up staying with our families in the States through Christmas. Is it safe to leave the boat on her own for three months? I don’t know, but maybe it’s a safer choice for our emotional and financial health. If she ends up aground, we’ll rescue her when we get back. If she’s not rescuable, we’ll take it as a sign that we should go hiking again or something. If we can’t figure out a way to leave the boat for extended periods of time, then she really is too heavy for us, too much of a weight to lug around. We have to be able to visit our families, we have to be able to adventure ashore. How do other cruisers do that? The only possible way is to leave the boat moored and have someone take care of her.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

We went back to Pokyman’s last night for barracuda numero dos, but Poky, the suave businessman, held the barracuda in reserve and fed us conch instead. It was equally good, but Nappy was disappointed. He’s allergic to shellfish, a rather horrid condition for a Bahamian. He got a couple of little fish, but I think he was hoping for a couple more hunks of barry flesh. It probably was a bad idea for us to stay out until all hours again last night. Our work ethic is suffering.

Still, the conch was delicious. I don’t know how the Bahamians do it. We ate conch on the boat for the first time in a long time on Monday, given to us by some neighbors, the Dykes, and despite all of Karl’s pounding with the ball-peen hammer, we can’t get it nearly as tender as the Bahamians do. They cooked it over the fire in little aluminum foil packets, with cubed potatoes, onion, and habanero peppers, and the conch melted in my mouth. When we cook it, it’s tough and gristly. The secret is one Bahamians don’t part with willingly. We’ve heard various tips on that, too, but last night, I got the most concrete answer yet. They say you need to take it out of the shell, clean it, and pound it immediately. They also said they use onions as a tenderizer, but I don’t know how that works. Do you take sliced onions out on the boat with you? Or do you just cook it with onion?

I’m feeling the boat-house tension again today, though. We’re like a ping-pong ball--boat, house, boat, house, boat, house--and it’s exhausting. I’m never completely at ease at the house, but I’m still drawn inexorably towards its luxury, diametrically opposed to the boat. There’s no reason for me to go over with Karl when he leaves, first thing every morning. I just get in the way over there. But the temptation of ice cubes and plumbing is nearly irresistable. We get back to the boat long after dark, with just enough time to drop into our berths, the rolling of the boat knocking things around in the main cabin and keeping us awake. Each morning I way wake up to confront the near-insurmountable obstacle of my procrastinated boat tasks and I’d rather just run away.

I received an email recently from a good friend that said, “you're going to have to move Secret to sheltered water which is accessible to a road. There must be shoreline with that combination.” It’s obviously the ideal solution, the only solution to our current dilemma. The problem? It doesn’t exist. I’ve pored over the charts multiple times. There are only three anchorages charted for Crooked. One is where we are, the second is off this same beach, closer to Landrail Point. The third is off French Wells, seven miles from the nearest road.

Do you want to do the experiment? Be my guest. If you’re a nautical sort, get out your charts, and take a gander at Crooked Island. If you’re a landlubber, whip out your trusty Google Earth, which I’m sure everyone has been using to plot our coordinates. (You can, you know, or so I’ve heard. Just type them in: 22°49.46’N 074°20.82’W. You might even see us, if the satellite’s gone over recently.)

The north coast is uncharted, completely closed off by reef that extends out up to a mile and a half. That’s where everyone gets their lobster and conch. We’ve had offers of using moorings up there, and heard assertions that it has five feet of depth, but I am beyond skeptical. It wouldn’t be worth holing our boat up there on the nebulous advice of people who’ve never used anything except a Boston Whaler. Besides, there’s no protection from the east, the direction of the prevailing wind. The west coast is where we’re anchored, at the mercy of the current, with no protection from reef. I’ve even thought, recently, about moving south to the anchorage closer to Landrail, where there is some reef, in the hope that we’d get more protection. But as far as we can tell using our binoculars, they get as much swell as we do down there, and we’d have to up our very firmly set three-anchor arrangement, negotiate our way among coral heads, and probably end up with worse holding ground. All to end up farther away from the house for uncertain benefits. The last choice is the southern end of the island, French Wells. There the island disappears among salt flats, swamp, and mangroves, for the safest anchorage around. And there? No roads. There’s not even real land to build roads on. It’s barely land, for seven miles, a stretch called Turtle Sound.

The ideal solution doesn’t exist. The way the island is built, exactly the reason for the houses being built where they are and for us having work here, precludes the possibility. So what do we do? Abandon the Napster? Go back to Georgetown? Move to French Wells and pay someone to ferry us? I’ve begun poking around for a 10HP outboard, about what we’d need to feel confident negotiating seven miles of coast daily. In some ways, I believe that’s the only solution, but I don’t think we can find a good outboard here. If we could, it’d be three times the asking price elsewhere.

No. We just have to put up with the rocking and rolling for the duration. My new think-positive program, an attempt to self-medicatewith cognitive behavioral therapy, tells myself that we are being rocked to sleep in Jesus’ hand. Maybe that will work.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15 knots

Karl showed up yesterday afternoon, soon after I finished bawling electronically. I had been dawdling all morning, putting off the vast quantity of necessary boat tasks (including dishes from more than a week ago) until the afternoon, when I could have the sunlight beating in through the companionway. (The stern of the boat faces west, so the afternoon’s always hotter than the morning.) Instead, he dragged me off to see Nappy, fresh off the airplane. Nappy’s trying to finalize a BTC contract, and I’ve taken on the role of business consultant. I helped him compose a formal report for BTC upper-level management, which filled the local managers with admiration. It’s fun when my former “real world” skills come in handy.

I was dying to go out afterwards--part of the reaons for my ongoing angst, I think, hasn’t just been the claustrophobia of the boat, but the claustrophobia of the house and the tiny insular community out at Pittstown. I don’t like feeling like my every move is being watched, that even tiny missteps are noted. I was sick of cooking, sick of being alone, and I wanted to go out on the town. The obvious answer was Blackjack’s, our favorite local hangout, for chicken snacks and dominoes.

Both Karl and I were dropping broad hints (we still have to talk our chauffeur into transportation, and the much-patched tires are still a major factor) when Nappy told us that Diamond (Blackjack’s brother) has raised prices yet again! When we first arrived, less than a month and a half ago, a chicken snack, with six chicken wings and fries, was $6. A couple of weeks ago, we realized upon settling up that the price has gone up to $8, still a fair price in the outer islands. In Nassau, a chicken snack, the standard Bahamian meal-on-the-go, is $4.50. Today, Nappy told us it’s up to $10! That’s what we pay for the fantastic full-on steak dinner at Barbara’s, with pigeon peas and rice, coleslaw, and veggie! Ridiculous. Yet another example of lousy island business practice. Now we’re not going to go to Blackjack’s, we’re not going to hang out for hours playing dominoes. I just can’t bring myself to pay that. We can’t afford it, for one thing.

Instead, we drifted by Pokyman’s, to discover that he and his gang had gone out and snagged a big barracuda. We’ve only eaten barracuda once, at Blackjack’s, as it’s a dangerous proposition out here. A lot of them are poisoned with ciguatera. In fact, Blackjack just came back on the plane yesterday after staying at the hospital in Nassau to treat his case of ciguatera. If you’ve never gotten sick from it, barracuda is about the best fish you’ve ever tasted. Once you’ve been poisoned, you can’t even say the word barracuda.

We’ve been trying to figure out what ciguatera is since we arrived in the Bahamas. We’ve caught several barracuda and let them all go. There all sorts of stories about it--we do know that it comes from barracuda eating smaller fish, who feed on something poisonous. I thought, initially, that it was from feeding off fire coral, a coral that’s poisonous to humans, and it might still be that. Lately, though, we’ve heard more stories about it being a kind of heavy-metal poisoning, that the reefs that the little fish feed off are grown on sunk wrecks and the detritus of industrial waste. Who knows what the truth is. Bahamians have all kinds of arcane ways of figuring out whether a fish is poison or not: the stories we’ve heard are that if the flies gather, you know it’s good, if you catch it on the banks, you know it’s good, and various other methods. On Crooked, people say that fish feeding off the north side of the island are bad, and fish from the south side are fine. I’m not so sure I believe it, but whatever. Eating barracuda is a little like eating that blowfish sushi from Japan that can kill you. It’s a risky proposition, but the danger somehow increases the pleasure.

Last night was one of our best Bahamian cultural experiences so far. We hung out with Pokyman, watching awful American movies and listening to brutally loud Bahamian rake-and-scrape, drifting in and out to watch the giant fire stoked in one of those horizontal barrel barbecues. The guys (Coochie and Carl), had made a wood fire of ferocious heat, using the wood they use to infuse Campari, the Italian liqueur. People go out to Samana to collect the bark, for which Campari pays $7 a pound. The Bahamas is one of the only places it grows. They had a battered pan full of oil, and they were deep-frying the fish over the fire. I’ve never seen that done, and I’ve never tasted fish so delicious. That’s all we had, was fish--no potatoes, no veggies, nothing. I risked a couple of small pieces of barracuda, and Nappy ate about three-quarters of the barry single-handedly. I’ve never seen anyone eat fish like that. I was praying it wasn’t poison, or he wouldn’t have been able to come to work for a week. Karl, playing it safe, just had a bite, but there was plenty of other fish to sample--hogfish and trigger fish, almost as delicious.

It was great to be out again, having good conversations about Bahamian politics and religion and Crooked Island business with Nappy, to hear music without worrying about electricity, to eat food that didn’t come out of a can, and that I didn’t have to clean up after. I could feel myself breathing a big sigh of relief.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 15 knots

Everyone should read the book Julie & Julia, if you haven't yet--you'll read it in two days, and it will make you happy and make you think that I’m going to get a book contract. I wish. I keep thinking that an advance is what would solve all our problems. What I need is to be able to work to a deadline. I’ve always been awful at self-imposed deadlines. Today I’m alone on the boat again, just me and my computer, struggling to create. How do artists do it? The blank page is a devouring animal, seeking to destroy, and the electronic blank page is even more nightmarish.

My depression (or whatever the hell you want to call it) has not abated. Whenever I go into this phase, I think I should just snap out of it, just pull myself up by my proverbial bootstraps and start accomplishing things. You know, turn that frown upside down, all that crap. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow. It’s a lot easier said than done.

I’ve never felt myself adequate to accomplish the daily tasks of an every day life--things like emptying the trash, doing the dishes, cleaning the toilet, sweeping the floor. All those things that “normal” people, whoever they are, seem to accomplish so effortlessly. My dishes accrue a film of grease no matter how hard I try to motivate myself to do them after every meal. Have you read The Great Gatsby? In it, Fitzgerald describes Daisy Buchanan as “one of those people who leaves things strewn about expecting other people to pick up after them” (or something like that. That classic is one of the few missing from my onboard library). It’s his cruelest moral indictment of her and the set she’s part of. They are completely useless as human beings, unable to perform the basic requirements of responsible personhood.

When I look around the boat, I feel like that might be true of me, and that’s the last thing I want. What went wrong? What didn’t I learn? Why can’t I pick up after myself? Lately I’ve taken to defining happiness as having someone else to clean your toilet for you.

So that’s what’s going on with me. What about you? I’m going to go drown my sorrows in prose.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15-20 knots

We’re still camped out on the boat today. Nappy comes back tomorrow, and I’m more excited than I’m letting on. It always feels a little bit like a carnival when he flies back in--we get to go to the airport and see everyone, he brings back presents and tools for the house, and we almost always end up at Blackjack’s for a celebratory chicken snack. It’ll be especially great tomorrow, because we’ve been cooped up at the Pittstown end of the island, afraid to go anywhere because of our ghastly ordeal with the flat tires.

Three flat tires on one day is a little much, even for us. It makes sense, given the condition of the roads out here. It’s always the ultimate irony for me that in places where people have absolutely no needs for four-wheel drive, say, taking an hour to commute five miles in Miami, people drive Hummers, and on foreign rutted dirt roads, people drive tiny little four-cylinder compact Nissan Sunnys. The same thing always occurred to me in Thailand, when we would try to manhandle little Japanese trucks straight up the side of mountains, on eroded dirt that was more creekbed than road.

So I’m looking forward to tomorrow and trying not to give in to the depression that seems to be lurking around my corner. I’m not sure what is--maybe just a hormonal cycle, maybe feeling directionless right now, or maybe feeling so far away and out of touch with our families. I don’t know. I spent most of the morning composing a bitter and lonely email to my sister, with whom I haven’t spoken in about three months. Her daughter turns two in a week. My cousin gets married this weekend. All these events are just flowing by without me, carried away by the tide.

It's driving me crazy that I haven't been able to talk to my family in forever. Literally, crazy. I love Karl to death, but we're going insane with only each other in the universe, and a ten square foot universe at that, with no entertainment of any sort other than our ancient formerly-out-of-a-car CD player that only plays a quarter of our CDs (all from the early nineties) and the computer, which we rarely have enough electricity for. I'm destroying my consciousness with books, like I've always done, ever since I was a little girl.

I read my family’s various blogs every time I get a chance--in fact I think I've read every post since January--but now that I've figured out how to download things to my computer so I can read them offline, I can't post gushing blog comments. They never even know that I’m reading or how much I love what they write. Even when I do post a blog comment, I always end up writing what should really be an email. It’s bizarre that in this alienated world we keep in touch via exhibitionism, what blogging really is. Our correspondence is public, self-conscious art.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15 knots

On the boat today, I dissolved myself completely into one of my new books, one of those college prerequisites I was supposed to read and never did--The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, a classic in Can(adian) and feminist lit. Karl hates it when I do that. I disappear, for all intensive purposes, into another world. When he speaks to me, I barely hear him. Finally, I look up, and find the boat appearing again around me, as if out of a fog. My college roommates used to tease me by yelling “FIRE!” when I was in my altered book state. Or they would start telling ghastly stories about me, in my presence. It generally took me about five minutes to respond, with an exaggerated, unfaked, “What??”

I’ve had this morbid condition since girlhood. During the summers, as a child, I used to read five books a day. One summer I was loaned, and read, the entire Nancy Drew series, at a rate of two books a day. It’s a pace I can still more or less keep up, when given the opportunity and motivation, although life does get in the way somewhat. As does Karl’s sarcastically arched brow, when he begins banging pots around in the galley for the third meal of the day that I was not involved in preparing.

What can I say? Sometimes I think books are more addictive than cocaine (and better for you!), not that I’ve had any experience with the latter. There’s something other-worldly about being able to completely vanish, for hours, maybe days, at a time, and magically transport yourself to another place, say, eighteenth-century England. When I read Middlemarch on the El in Chicago, I was continually missing my stop. It was always bewildering to wake up and find myself on a train in a 21st-century metropolis instead of in rural England, on the eve of the industrial revolution. The better the book, the better the high.

So The Handmaid’s Tale was very, very good, despite its political reputation. It’s set in a dystopia, a utopian vision for the future that ends up becoming hell for its denizens. In the future, the United States is taken over by a band of Christian extremists, who prevent women from holding property or working. Eventually, as the fertility rate plunges, the men of the ruling oligarchy are allowed to marry (their wives dress all in pale blue), have female servants (called “Marthas,” dressed all in scrub green), and “Handmaids,” women who are capable of bearing children. They dress head to toe in bright red, and wear white shields around their faces to prevent the “Guardians,” the lower-class men, from seeing their faces.

It was a lot better than it sounds, especially read in the context the current political climate. I kept wandering back in my mind to the “Princess” series, a trilogy written by a Saudi Arabian woman of the royal family, that I read last year in Massachusetts. The insane thing is that there are women who actually have to live like that, whose children don’t belong to them, who can’t go outside without being veiled, who can’t hold property or work or even drive. God forbid fundamentalists, of any stripe, from taking over.

So while I read and Karl cooked, another tropical wave drifted over head, bringing thunderstorms and violent yellow lightning. I watched, occasionally, as the clouds turned dark grey through our ports, and ran forward to close the hatch when it started to rain. Sometimes it’s nice to have the choice to be elsewhere.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

I’m sitting at the boat, at my usual post. We’ve repaired to the boat for some extended recuperation time, mainly involving vast quantities of DVDs, after discovering that Nappy won’t be back until Wednesday. A full Nappy-less week! Karl’s run out of work to do, so we should be doing work on the boat, which is always easier said than done.

I feel like I should lend some color to my surroundings, since Secret’s position hasn’t changed in eons. To my right, perched on the settee’s brown circa-seventies upholstery, is a green silk throw pillow, with an elephant embroidered in sequins. One of my luxury items, which I brought as boat interior decoration. Its presence continually uplifts my emotional state, and it is an additional perquisite that its forest-green hue fits in with the Secret’s color scheme. Next to it, one upright and one askew, are two cans, a 29-ounce can of boned chicken we bought at Ocean State Job Lot in Massachusetts and a can of Campbell’s Chicken and Herb soup. We have five of the six cans of chicken we bought left (one we ate for Thanksgiving), and canned chicken is such a deluxe item that neither of us can bring ourselves to cook with it. We’re saving it for a rainy day. We almost decided to cook with it tonight. Next to that, perched on our computer case, is a cryptic crossword, taken from the August 1 Miami Herald, Bahamas edition. Try as I might, I am stumped when it comes to the mystifying Commonwealth tradition of cryptic crosswords, even though I’ve been covertly downloading guides.

Here’s a clue: “So the bonehead went to bed and cried (6)”. That means it has six letters, but aside from that, I can figure nothing out. Cryptics can use homonyms, abbreviations, foreign words, anagrams, roman numerals, and anything else you can think of in their solutions. “So” could be “sew,” which could mean, in theory, although I haven’t actually seen this written anywhere, that some definition of “the bonehead” (say, oaf), could be intertwined somehow (because of the “went”?) into a definition of “to bed,” which all together, would mean “cried.” Confused yet? Me too. Since I was introduced to them on a college trip to Britain, I can’t let them go, like a bulldog and a throat. Nor have I ever been able to solve a single clue. Thank goodness the New Yorker stopped publishing them, or I would have long since gone insane. I did manage to solve one clue today: “Dash from Ireland.” Inside of Ireland is hidden the word “elan,” which also means “dash.” Brilliant, eh? Does it make sense? I welcome and helpful hints from Commonwealth-type readers. Americans are far too dense for this sort of stuff.

The computer case is resting atop the ubiquitous Gentleman’s Guide, in front of a vertical hatch cover to one of our can lockers, which Karl persists in not replacing, perhaps for ease of future can retrieval. All of this is next to the monolith that rests on the forward end of the settee, the folded-up 110-percent lapper, with forest-green sunbrella sun protection, which can’t seem to find a home above deck until we deal with our furler problem. Why it has to sit on the settee (which is supposed to be used for sitting) is a continual bone of contention between us. I believe that our sails should be bagged on deck. (Our staysail is blocking the path to the vee-berth, as is a six-gallon jug filled with brackish water from the well on San Salvador.) On top of the lapper is our folded comforter, which has no other home, and piles of Karl’s half-dirty clothes. Like all humans of the male gender, he can’t be bothered to put them anywhere else. On top of his clothes is a plastic bag filled with used paperbacks, inherited last night from Joel, about which I am gleefully rubbing my hands in anticipation. These would be among Karl’s bones of contention, although he was gracious and said nothing when I took seven of them. I have been making my way with great rapidity through our boat stock, and we just gave away three books.

On the bulkhead hangs a cross, sliding back and forth across the varnished teak with every roll of the boat, and on the bulkhead-mounted fire extinguisher hangs my blue bathing suit, a purple PCT bandana, and Karl’s straw hat, retrieved from the harbor in Stuart.

I could go on. It’s fun describing all the things that take up the space in our lives, these objects that beset and harass us, that are more present to us than our families or friends. I won’t, though--you’re probably bored already. As am I, if you can tell. Last night we went over to Frenchie’s house, who has another house on the sand, for a fantastic steak dinner, conch salad, and a delicious bottle of wine. We stayed into the early hours, chatting with Joel and Frenchie, and watching a Nascar race, of all things. The commercialson television entrance me these days--they seem to have moved to a deeper level of consumer mind-control, while we’ve been moving backward into the realm of non-existent audio-visual content. When they come on, I stare at the screen dumbfounded, completely forgetting whatever it was I’m talking about. A line of drool starts easing its way out of my mouth. I hope I didn’t embarass myself too much.

Nothing much to do for the next couple of days, except avoid getting anything done on the boat. One of the things I am best at.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: W 10-15 knots, tropical storm Gabrielle 900 nm north

Yesterday night, we watched half of the second season of Entourage, lent to us by Joel, another of the guys with a house down here. It was great. Just what we needed to take our minds off our distress. Or my distress--Karl seems to be dealing with all of it just fine, as usual. Joel lent us another fantastic TV show earlier this week, which you should all go run out and rent forthwith. It’s called The Trailer Park Boys, and it’s a fantastic Canadian show about three guys who live in a trailer park and do nothing but sell drugs and go to prison. Hysterical. Although it may not sound it. I don’t know how Canadian television can be so consistently better than American television. Well, better than everything except HBO.

So, we’re slipping back into civilization, slowly. Maybe that’s the root cause of our current problem. Having internet access and ice and DVDs is great, but with all those luxuries come the other curses of modern life. We went and downloaded email last night and I read my sister’s blog, who had just taken a camping vacation to the primitive islands off of Wisconsin in Lake Michigan. She talked about how wonderful it was and how much I would relate to it, and then proceeded to discuss how disgusting the toilet facilities are. Maybe that’s what it boils down to: the more primitive and close to nature one’s life is, the more you have to deal with filth. I know it’s true. We idealize our ancestors’ idyllic lives on farmsteads, but they had to deal with outhouses, water from a pump, cow feces, and baths in a washtub once a week. Doesn’t sound romantic anymore, does it?

With luxury comes responsibility. Every system we install on the boat requires an equivalent degree of maintenance, and every convenience we sacrifice comes with a corresponding quantity of freedom. You don’t get nothin’ for free. As my economics professor always said, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Nappy’s decided not to come back until Monday, too. Good in some ways, because we’ve now untied the knot of the flat tires, and half of the neighbors are leaving today, but bad in others because we’re out of hardware and tools for the work that needs to get done. I feel a lot more legitimate using the email these days--we have to use it to communicate with Nappy. I guess we’re doing him a big favor just by letting him know the things he needs to buy in Nassau so he doesn’t need to order them or bring them on a subsequent trip. The October D-day is coming fast.

I keep shaking my head over just how difficult everything is down here. If you run out of bread, you can’t just go buy it. You have to wait for a woman in town to bake it or for the mailboat to come in, or you have to make it yourself. Karl discovered this morning that the screws we have are too big for the latches he has, but he can’t just run out to Home Depot for more. He can’t even tell Nappy what size screws to buy, because there’s no way to test them. The only way to be sure would be to have Nappy fly back, pick up a latch, fly it back to Nassau, and test screws at a hardware store there. Or the tire ordeal: we ended up finding a brand new tire, but that was sheer luck. When we were rolling around on our bare rim, I suddenly realized the genius of American society: if your tire goes flat, you can just pull into a specialized tire store and buy one. Chances are they’ll have eight choices for your size. Chances are, they’ll do all the labor for you, it’ll take less than half an hour to install them, they’ll be cheap, and you’ll get a warranty.

So be grateful, everyone. Be grateful for your Home Depots and your Midas Muffler Shops and your Jiffy Lubes. Be grateful, in short, for all of those disgusting mini-malls with their limitless supplies of propane and gasoline and cheap imported groceries and hardware. Paradise doesn’t have them. That’s what makes it paradise.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 10-15 knots

Our stress level seems to be increasing, and I can’t figure out why. There’s one thing that I’m beginning to understand--that old adage about men in glass houses. I feel like we’re living in one now. We are, for all intensive purposes, a giant glass house, with neighbors on either side peering in. Not to mention the scrutiny of the Bahamian community. We’re trying to do everything right, and from the outside it looks like we’re doing everything wrong. I try to go with my cognition rather than my emotional response, but it’s so difficult. I’m far too concerned with the vagaries of public opinion.

Today, a couple of times, I found myself close to tears, for no reason I can pinpoint. Maybe it’s just having been stationary for the longest period since Daytona Beach, a time when I was also profoundly depressed. I can’t believe my wanderlust has gotten that bad, where if I stay still for longer than a month, severe depression sets in. That’s ridiculous. It’s like an addiction, and if it keeps going like this, by the time I hit forty I won’t be able to stay in one place for longer than a day. By the time I hit sixty, I’ll have to keep moving every hour. Like a hummingbird. What is it they say about sharks? If they stop moving, they die?

It’s just the stress of not being able to be perfectly honest with everyone, I think. I hate it. The more of the Bible we read together, the more I desire to live a Christ-like life, which means complete honesty at all times. But if that honesty hurts other people, namely the people we care about the most, who have helped us the most? Like Nappy? That’s the tension we’re living with right now. No wonder there’s so much stress.

So I dealt with it by getting angry with poor Karl, who’s just working hard, ignoring the tension, and not talking about any of it. I do think I’m not spending enough time on the boat. I went back today for several hours to find the flies all dead and maggots in my cumin. Still, I was able to get a lot done, including cooking food we can eat at the house and writing a bunch of emails and scraping the bottom, which took a lot of effort. I think our mask and snorket set are shot, though, from sitting out in the sun too often. Another triumph, but another frustration. Life in a nutshell.

It was still great to be out there, even with the west swell hitting the bow and the maggots and the week-old dirty dishes I wasn’t brave enough to do, which is saying something. No matter how much we let it go, the boat is our home now, and if I stay away too long I get miserable. I need to make an effort to be out there more consistently. My job right now is supposed to be writing. I just thought I would end up with a better studio--one that doesn’t move. And it’s hard to not be jealous of Karl when I’m out there, even though I know he’s working too. He gets ice water and iced coffee and a microwave and refrigerated food and running water and a toilet that flushes. All those things add up to a lot of creature comforts during the workaday world. For me to sit out there and be creative at the same time that all of my boat work is gnawing at me is not easy.

All these are just excuses, I know. Excuses, excuses. The bull needs to be taken by the horns. The only solution is to be strong enough to just do it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: W 5-10 knots

Karl abandoned our car woes today and focused instead on the house. He finished cutting the concrete and finished putting in the plywood that had been torn out in the plumbing repair. That is why we’re here, after all, and the sooner we get the house job done, the sooner we can leave. I’m worried about the situation with the roller furler, though--we have all these measurements to take and all this prep work to do, and I don’t know if that or the house should be the priority. Actually, the furler should be the priority, but I can’t go up the mast by myself, so it’s Karl’s job to make the decision and he’s falling on the side of the house. He feels like he’s made a commitment to Nappy that he needs to follow through on, but I feel like getting the furler in the works is the most important thing. Even Nappy said we should do that while he was gone. We can always do house work while the furler’s being shipped.

The wind keeps blowing from the west, even though it’s forecast for the east. It’s freaking me out, and I don’t have my hurricane books to study. We went by Frenchie’s yesterday evening, where we were entranced by his flat-screen satellite television, where the weather guys mentioned the low-pressure system to the north that NOAA’s been saying could turn into a tropical cyclone. It’s supposed to be trending northwest, so I’m not too worried about a hurricane. I just didn’t think it would suck all our wind to the west for this long. It makes it comfortable at the house, where the breeze blows unceasingly off the water, but increasingly miserable at the boat. The longer it blows from the west, the bigger the swell gets, pushing Secret’s bow up and down relentlessly. I’m so sick of this anchorage. I can’t even begin to express it. We couldn’t have picked a worse place to anchor for a month solid. I never thought this is where we’d end up for the heart of hurricane season.

Ashore, the power’s out and the sand flies are merciless. My legs look like I have the measles. It’s hot inside, with no fans, and worse outside, where there’s breeze but bugs. We don’t have a way to get groceries, so we’re living off bread and peanut butter. Life in a tropical paradise, huh?

I don’t mean to complain. I still love it here, despite all my angst. Crooked Island is a great place, and now we’re getting to know the ex-pats, too, who are pretty friendly to us, despite our divergence from them in the socioeconomic spectrum. They’ve been super helpful to us, and tonight even gave us some fresh lobster, conch, and grouper. It makes me jealous, though. We should be out there diving and fishing and beach-combing. They’re here on vacation, though, not for work. We’re living on the edges of their fun, just watching from the outside, repairing and using their houses. Things’ll get better. If I could only steel myself to spend more time at the boat and get work done there, it’d get a lot better.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 15 knots

Our adventures in Crooked continue. We drove Nappy to the airport this morning, where he took the plane back to Nassau on an unforeseen expedition. I went along, wanting to get out and see people and forget about some of my stress. We saw Blackjack and Reuben and Reggie--all our friends--and saw Nappy off. Then we took off back towards Pittstown, as Nappy had been supposed to help Frenchie and Joel, two other guys with houses down by the sand, to get some work done and wanted us to tell them he had left.

Nappy had also warned us that the tire was low on air, but he was late for the airport so he didn’t have time to fill it. We knew there was a compressor back at the house, though, so no worries. Then--clunk. Karl hit a pothole and the next thing we know there’s that awful sound--clack clack clack clack clack--letting us know that the tire was completely flat. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually had a flat tire in a car before, now that I think about it, even though I learned how to change a tire in driver’s ed.

Still no worries. Karl whipped out the jack and the spare and I wandered along the road looking at the bush and the flowers. I even spotted a hummingbird. But, wouldn’t you know, the spare was flat too. We thought we could risk driving on it as it seemed like it still had some air, but no such luck. Within five minutes, the thing was completely flat and we were driving on the rim. We drove, with our completely flat tire clacking all the way, back to Pittstown.

It was like a bad dream, the whole day. Karl got the original tire patched with the help of Frenchie, and then we drove around town, carefully, looking for a spare. Just when Curt, one of Zyndall’s brothers, showed up with a brand new tire, we realized the front tire was flat too. So now we still have no spare and a back tire with holes in it and Karl still has to figure out a way to put the new tire on the wheel. We’re supposed to take Joel and his dad to the airport on Saturday and pick Nappy up, but I don’t know if we should risk it with only a bare rim as a spare and have them miss their plane.

Karl’s regretting taking the car at all. We did it both as a favor to Nappy and as a way to be able to jaunt around town while he was gone, buying groceries, running errands. Instead, we’ve already wasted one of our precious days on the car, and I know we’ll have to spend at least another one before we’re done. I keep trying to look on the bright side--we’re still helping Nappy out, doing work he would have had to do when he got back from Nassau. It’s just so frustrating, on top of all my other angst about everything. The stressors of modern society, I guess. Cars, engines, other people. We haven’t sailed for a full month now, and I miss the simplicity of it: fish, sun, wind, waves. That’s what we’re trying to get back to.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pittstown Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 10 knots

We’re back to work today, after my triumph of blogging and picture-posting yesterday. (The pictures are all up, including pictures of the rigging and the house! Click on the Pictures link or go to my Flickr page.) Karl’s latest task is cutting lines in the concrete in front of the house, so he’s been working on that all afternoon. I even helped him snap some, using a chalk line.

He and Nappy went running around town again this morning, while I stayed at the boat--Nappy had Karl look at a plumbing leak at the Bahamas Electricity Corporation office, which they were able to fix. I guess Nappy’s not too worried about how it looks for Karl to be doing work around here. In fact, Karl’s basically turning into Nappy’s foreman. We already know of about five more projects that could be done--someone else needs lines cut in their concrete, another person needs tile work, someone else has a leak in their roof, there’s foundations to be laid and Nappy’s duplex to be finished and the Rev’s addition to be built... In short, there’s enough work here to keep us busy for a couple of years. It’s making it really hard to spend time doing the work we need to be doing for ourselves, namely, work on the boat. While we’re running around town fixing other people’s houses, the bottom growth on the boat is growing as long as a beard, our sails sit wrapped on the settee, the algae in our diesel tank throws parties. It becomes increasingly depressing just to spend time on the boat because of our (read my) lack of maintenance. It’s a catch-22. I spend time on land, doing things that are necessary, but in doing them I neglect the boat, making me less and less likely to want to spend time there. So then I spend more time ashore, making me farther behind on my boat tasks, which makes me less likely to spend time on the boat. Argh.

The wind doesn’t help. It’s been blowing from the west all day today, even though the forecast winds are from the east. We have absolutely no protection from west wind and swell, so it’s miserable to be out there. The boat’s bucking like a bronco right now--I can see it through the window. It makes it nearly impossible for me to be out there. That’s really our primary obstacle here. In San Salvador, Karl spent a ton of time ashore and I didn’t care. We had our tarp up, I was able to lounge in the cockpit or do dishes or bake bread in comfort. When Karl came home, I had a cozy welcoming boat for him. Here, after two hours on the boat I want to shoot myself in the head with the compound bow.

I know we shouldn’t leave. This is our first place where we’ve had any possibility of real work, not to mention shipping connections and friends and resources at our disposal. But the stress of not being able to be at home is really getting to me. Not only that, but I worry about the neighbors. All the time. They’re all extremely nice, but I worry about how it looks for us to be spending time here. This community is tiny, and everyone knows everyone else, and everyone follows what everyone else is doing. What if the rumor gets back to the owner? “Nappy had two dirty hippie sailors living in your house while you were gone.” Even though it’s NOT TRUE. It doesn’t matter. If the rumor’s started, Nappy could get in trouble.

I hate it. I hate the appearance of evil. The last thing I want is for anyone to think that Nappy doesn’t do a good job taking care of their houses. And the fact is, we’re taking great care of this house. Even though Nappy said we could--even though the other workmen do and Nappy does--I don’t take a shower here more than once a week because I feel too guilty. I don’t want my hair to clog up the sewer system, I don’t want to dirty anything. We’re so careful, but I know how it looks from the outside. And I also know that half the stuff we’re doing wouldn’t have been done if we weren’t here. Still, though. The tension is killing me. I don’t even care for ourselves, but I do care for Nappy. Is it all worth it? I don’t know. Yes, it is. I have to keep telling myself that it. It is, and we have to do it, and we’re helping Nappy. I think he might panic now if Karl abandoned him. There’s a lot of work left to be done.

I keep dreaming about sailing off to French Wells, the southern anchorage amid mangroves, where it’s dead calm and there’s beautiful beaches and we can dive and fish and do all the boat work we’ve been putting off. Where we can be ourselves, by ourselves, without everyone watching us every minute of the day. There’s no roads down there, though. We’d have a seven-mile dinghy ride to the nearest town. We couldn’t help Nappy, we couldn’t do email, we couldn’t call our families, we couldn’t get stuff shipped to us. It’s so frustrating. I guess work is stressful, always. We already knew that.