Monday, June 30, 2008

Crooked Island to Nassau, Bahamas

The view out my window this morning

Today I left Crooked Island. I watched the island recede into green haze beneath me, looking for a last little glimpse of mast. No such luck. Tonight I sleep my last night in the Bahamas, and tomorrow I head back to the land of burgers and baseball.

Dad and I are unpacking and repacking all of our suitcases right now. I have the absolute maximum amount of luggage. In fact, we should have been charged an extra $100 on our Pineapple Air flight this morning. We discovered that my big suitcase weighs more than sixty pounds, so I’m trying to redistribute the weight. My dad’s an elite frequent flier, so he’s allowed three bags of seventy pounds each.

Most of the weight is books. My darn books. Karl complained about them the whole way down, and now I have to tote them the whole way back. My carry-on is stuffed full of them. I’ll probably be carrying 150 pounds in carry-ons through the airport tomorrow.

At least I’ll have less to worry about if a hurricane hits or Secret sells. I’ll have my precious Joy of Cooking and McSweeney’s and Norton’s Modern Poems. My curse, as a nomad, is my need to carry a complete library everywhere I go. And if I move back to Secret? I guess I’ll just have to tote them all back with me. It’s better than buying new ones.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

French Wells to Pittstown Point, Bahamas

Secret being left behind

Today I left Secret in my wake. She looked so forlorn and lonely as we zoomed off. I wanted to turn around and stay. I don’t know what I want, to be honest. I never do.

We woke up with the weather forecast on the shortwave this morning so we could pack, and I stuffed as much as I could into our backpacks. Dad’s convinced he’s going to have to mortgage his house to pay for my overweight baggage. You don’t understand, I wanted to stay. This is my house. I left all of the dishes, most of the books, half of the clothes, all of the tools. I was doing pretty well, until Dad started freaking out about the engine.

He had taken the fuel injectors out yesterday, and hadn’t put them back in. We had both half-counted on Jorge, the Cuban diesel mechanic, showing up today. I had told him to put off putting the engine back together for a little while, hoping Jorge’d be able to do something with it. Jorge did show up, but not until three, at which point, Dad had been panicking over the engine for hours. With one deft twist of his fingers, Jorge loosened the bolt that both Dad and I had been striving with for days. He really is magic.

He put the fuel injectors back in but left the fuel lines and the air filter off--he promsied to come back and get the things going, which he’s confident he can do. He once rescued a diesel that had been to the bottom of the ocean and back. He just can’t fix the engine today, is the problem. I’m convinced that if we could stay jsut another week, maybe two, he’d have everything straightened out. We just don’t have time. What sailboats need, more than anything, more than even love, is time.

Jorge had to catch the mailboat at five, so we had to leave Secret by four, giving Dad and I about fifteen minutes, once the engine was back together, to put the dinghy on deck, get everything strapped down, off the deck, and shipshape. We didn’t do that badly, but I felt like one of those World War II families, forced to abandon their homes forever in half an hour’s time. If I sell Secret, I may never see her again after today. Can I live with that?

I was in tears as we left. I’m grieving the loss of all of it: the water, the sky, the stars, the heat, my home. The first stage of grief is denial, they say, and I’m firmly there. I refuse to believe it ends this way, not with a bang but a whimper. I’ll be back, I promise. Dad says August. Teh thing is, until she sells, I have an escape valve. Anytime I discover the bravery within myself, I can buy that infamous ticket I’ve been threatening to buy for six months, and hop on that plane. Will I have enough courage? Probably not. But there’s nothing I love more than the thought of escape.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tropical charms

Another interior shot of beautiful sunlit Secret

Tonight’s my last night on the boat. Maybe ever. I certainly hope not, but I’ve decided I’m putting Secret back on the market, as she is, as soon as I have internet access. So if anyone’s looking for a fully equipped cruising boat that only needs a little bit of installation, I have the boat for you. I’ll gladly assist as crew (or captain, if you’ll have me) on a delivery anywhere in the world.

It feels like the end of an era. It is. Another stage of my life as a professional adventurer is over. When I get back to the land of internet access, I’ll have to change my headline photo and “about me” section. I’m officially no longer a sailor. It feels so final, so sad.

Then again, maybe not... Maybe Karl will change his mind. Maybe she won’t sell. Maybe my dad will be able to come with me in August and we’ll sail off to Georgia...

Or this may be the last time I lay scribbling in my berth, my headlamp on, the trades howling in the rigging, the dinghy slapping the water, the creaks of teak and fiberglass my lullaby. I’ll miss it. I’ll miss every moment of it, even the stinky head and heeling over on our ear while at sea and the lazy jacks keeping me awake, slapping the mast for all they’re worth.

I love you, dear old boat. I hope, I pray, you can find someone who’ll love you as much as I do, who’ll take better care of you than I can. Finding that person I have to leave in the hands of God (and Craig’s List). Tomorrow it’s on to new and even scarier things: a house, maybe. Land. Plants. Winter. It’s all adventure, right?

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm stuck here waiting for a passing feeling

A late afternoon shot of Secret

I’m more and more optimistic today. We managed (for “we,” read “my dad”) to get all of the fuel injectors out, even though the nuts were completely frozen. Dad had to go about it in a roundabout way, taking the fuel lines all the way off to get out the injectors, but still--we can get lubricant in the pistons now! I’m a little worried that if we get any gunk into the fuel injectors we’ll foul up the engine forever, but I’m not thinking about that.

Better news is that Andy stopped by for lunch to bring us bread and ice and our newly freed-up starter! Jorge, the Cuban magic man, took it apart and put it back together and it’s now working perfectly. I’m completely convinced that if he came out to Secret, he’d ahve the diesel purring again in half an hour. I have promised all the world baked goods if I have such a fortuitous ending.

Somehow, I feel confident that the motor will run before we leave. I’d be so much happier leaving my boat again in at least semi-working condition. I’m going to leave keys with Andy this time, so he can start the Yanmar up every month or so. Everyone we talked to in town, and we talked to fully three diesel mechanics, said that there’s no reason the engine should be frozen, and these are people who have been working with equipment in a salt-water environment their whole lives.

Dad’s talking now, too, about coming back with me in August if Karl is still unable or unwilling. He’s become sold on this project emotionally, and I know the thought of sailing back to Florida or Georgia is one he loves. It’s been a dream for him, too, for an entire lifetime, and it makes me happy that I’ve brought him closer to it, even if his dream resembles more grubby engine work than open-ocean sailing. Before he came, the next time he mentioned being free was December. He even knows a couple of pilots, so we might be able to catch a ride down here, which would be far more economical.

My thought about Secret are beginning to open up. Maybe I’ll find a buyer for her as she lies, or maybe Dad will help me sail her back in a series of successive journeys, or maybe we’ll just be able to take vacations here, hanging out and doing repair projects until she’s ready to move again. Being here, at least, has made me more than ever confident in my friends and confident in the safety of the harbor here. She’s in the best possible place. Maybe everything doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Like a camel when you frown

The beloved Yanmar

My dad woke me this morning, far too early, thrashing around before seven, and I realized it’s going to be a long week. As much as I love him, we’re two big, clumsy people in a very small space crowded with broken parts, scattered tools, and repair mechanisms. I went up on the bow to grumble to myself and sit in the wind and contemplate the prospect of no coffee. No coffee, and my dad and I alone.

After a while, I thought maybe I’d try to propane tank again. The tanks had been remarkably problem-free before, and we had sprayed WD-40 into the valve, so I had a meager hope of success. Dad was already hard at work on the diesel, beginning to remove the fuel injectors, the next step in our ongoing rebuilding project. (I fear this steop may come back to haunt us. But I remain silent.)

And the propane sizzled into pressurized life, the burner lit, and we have coffee after all! Hallelujah! It would have been a very dismal week indeed with no caffeine and no hot food. I spent the rest of the day holding the other end of a wrench for my dad, and reading in the breaks.

I feel some small amount of guilt for reading, but I have all of these books, and I’m going to have to leave most of them behind. My precious, beautiful books--it breaks my heart. So I’ll just read as many of them as I can before I leave. There’s not much room for more than one person at the motor repair station, anyway. It’s precisely the reason I wanted to spend some time here alone--when am I ever going to get the chance again to spearhead a rebuilding project?--but then again, maybe it’s why I didn’t want to be here alone, either. So I didn’t have to.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tonight I’m down on my knees

The view from French Wells

I bought my ticket home this morning. Even though I had set my expectations low, it feels like failure. I’m going home with my dad, not even taking the brave step of staying an extra two weeks. As it turned out, based on the events of the day, maybe it was a wise decision.

Dad and I big a fond farewell to my mom at the airport. It was bittersweet saying goodbye--the end of the really fun part of the trip, and the beginning of the intense and stressful part. I always said Mom should come along because of her optimism, and it will be sorely missed. Dad and I are a little less than optimistic on occasion.

We had heard last week of the existence of a free ferry from Church Grove to Long Cay, which zips right past our boat at French Wells, three times a week, and I was excited at the prospect of a new method of transportation, even loaded with fifteen gallons of water and two big bags of still-dirty laundry. Now, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that my father is a missionary and a pastor, and that my faith, while conflicted, is a giant part of my life. (See above quote.) You’ll also know that Karl and I have been know to imbibe a glass or two or three of beer or wine on occasion, even though the majority of my family are teetotalers in the extreme. (Which is why alcohol remains, most often, in the subtext.) Still, Karl and I are big fans of fellowship with any locals we happen to encounter, in any situation, we happen to find ourselves, which does, I admit, get us into trouble.

So I set the scene: my dad and I are deposited at Pokey’s Den, with our piles of luggage, to wait for the departure of the ferry. We’d already gotten a hint from David that some drinking might be going on-- “not the ferry driver?” asked my dad-- “I’d be more afraid if he didn’t drink,” answered David. We arrived and I immediately realized that this scene is going to be bad. A culture clash in the extreme. The Crooked boyz are already hard at work on their livers and their lungs, at ten o’clock in the morning, and my dad and I are to sit for two hours watching them.

We’re not ones to sit silent, though, and eventually my dad breaks into Scripture, at which point one of the guys whips out his Bible, which he carries everywhere he goes (in the pocket next to his half-pint, one imagines), and the boys start matching my dad, chapter for chapter, verse for verse. They’re throwing down. “It’s not what goes into a man’s body that corrupts him,” they say, “it’s what comes out.” Touche.

The atmosphere became heated and uncomfortable. Not to mention some of the pointed innuendo directed my way, “Oh, he’s just your father,” people say, meaning: not your husband. These comments came even from Karl’s very best friends from before, who are, admittedly, sloppy drunk.

We did make it back to Secret safely, only to discover that our propane is out and our backup tank is rusted closed and our VHF is malfunctioning. The prospect of a week out here without communication and coffee is dire indeed. I’m happy with the decision I made this morning to come home. My dad said, “I certainly wouldn’t have wanted you on that ferry without a male companion.”

I do hate that limitation. I really, truly don’t believe anyone on Crooked, no matter how drunk, would bring harm to be more my boat. I do, however, believe that every Bahamian with a boat in the greater Acklins/Crooked/Long Cay area who found out a girl was living alone at French Wells would stop by to take their chances, and things could get very, very uncomfortable for me. I say this not out of egotism, but just in acknowledgment that there are so few women out here, and the macho culture of the Caribbean is such that many believe a woman alone is always actively looking for companionship. Of a certain nature.

Maybe I convince myself of this fact to justify my decision a little bit. I do wish I could stay. I wish I were brave enough. There are women who single-hand through the Bahamas, but maybe they’re better able to remove themselves from the local scene, something I can’t quite figure out how to do. Or maybe they simply know karate.

I have far less privacy in the States anywhere I end up, although I don’t generally have to worry about guys hitting on my with tattooed Karl around. The thought of two uninterrupted months on the boat sounds heavenly, if only I were able to stay actually uninterrupted. I guess I’ll have to wait until I’m reincarnated at Kira Salak or someone braver than I am, someone less in need of human presence. Or at least until I take that knife fighting course Karl’s been after me about.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can’t you help me when I call?

My mom, galley slave extraordinaire

We headed into Landrail Point today on Andy’s brother’s boat. My mom’s flying out tomorrow morning, quelle tristesse, and she wanted the luxury of clean hair for her all-day journey. I don’t begrudge her that at all--she’s been a trooper. It’s not every 56-year-old who’d put up with peeing in a bucket, no running water, and no refrigeration for two weeks.

I even think--hope--she’s had a good vacation out of the deal. She got to eat fresh Bahamian conch, lobster, grouper, and snapper--she found a beautiful little reef crawling with rock lobster and big frilly fish, she lounged on the beach and got a lot of sun and saw dolphins and swam with a barracuda. It’s only the plumbing issues, sail manhandling, and scraping bottom growth that make it less than the Bahamian cruise her coworkers imagine.

So we got a room tonight, a splurge, at Pittstown Point Landing, the one genuine resort on the island. It’s fancy, but still cheaper than the ridiculously overpriced Wyndham we were convinced to stay at in Nassau, and, let me tell you, I appreciate it far more now than I did two weeks ago. I am dismayed that they didn’t let us do laundry, even though the scenery is exquisite. I guess it’s not exactly a backpacker-style hostel. We even got to catch up with some old friends: David, the manager, and the Finleys, our neighbors from the Landrail Point anchorage we used last fall, who are just a short walk down the beach.

Then to the real business of the night. My call to Karl. I must admit, I had lobbied a little bit for Pittstown because I knew they’d have internet access. But my call didn’t go through! It’s been blowing 25 knots here all day, and he couldn’t hear me over the wind. I was so depressed after hearing his sad little voice echo “hello, hello,” for a full two minutes that I curled up in bed and didn’t even really enjoy the beautiful room.

I miss my captain. Secret just isn’t the same without him. Nothing’s the same.

Tomorrow morning I have to make my decision about whether or not I’m heading back, and I think I know what my decision is going to be.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Keep it like a Secret

The view from the anchorage at French Wells

Today we had the worst possible news, my nightmare come true of the last five days. The day started with good news--we were able to remove the starter and discovered that it was, in fact, not working. This news was good to me, even though the nearest available starter is two weeks away. A bad starter is a coherent, manageable problem, easily fixed by a spare part.

Mom and I went for a celebratory swim and conch-diving expedition to the bleached sand bar, at which point Dad decided to try his impromptu manual crank, just to see if the gears are still turning. He had pulled two matching bolts out of the diesel and drilled them through a chunk of 2”x4” we had stashed on Secret, giving himself a four-foot lever with which to turn the crank case. He tried to push down and crack--the wood split, right down the middle. An engine frozen enough to crack a 2”x4” is an engine seized. Fate worse than death.

Now I know that the motor was a $10,000 installation in 2000, and it just seems physically impossible to me. I know boats that sit in Marion harbor all season, longer than my boat has sat here! There’s no water anywhere, and it seems impossible that any could have got in. Still. The facts remain. The dang thing won’t spin.

So tonight I had my first breakdown--tears, bitterness, sobbing. All of the beauty that made me so happy yesterday just makes me angry tonight. How dare it be so beautiful here, and so unreachable? It all seems so impossibly unlucky. Here my fantastic teak-drenched house sits, lined with books, decorated with art and varnish and photographs, equipped with everything I need to live, including months worth of canned food. And it’s all so untouchable. It’s all here, right under my fingers, cradling my body as I go to sleep, and yet I can’t have it; I can’t have the dream. I’ve lost it all: captain, sails, engine.

I ask myself the question I’ve been repeating for the last six months: what am I supposed to do?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Well alright

Andy, our ferryman, holding two lobster

Still no luck on the diesel, still hard at work. We began attempting to remove the starter, which I’m convinced is the problem. Dad disagrees, and continues to focus on his manual crank idea, even though my close exegetical reading of the service manual indicates it should be the starter. We’ve agreed to disagree, however, and I’ve been focusing on the electrical elements of the engine--wiring, connections, fuses--while he works on his crank.

I was pleased to discover that I could easily undo the nuts holding the electrical connections together. I’m sure many readers already know the distinct pleasure of finding the correct wrench for a bolt and then feeling it break free, but it’s a relatively new experience for me, and I love it.

Dad and Mom are trying to convince me to pursue as a career as a diesel mechanic (I can hear it in their voices--anything but freelance writer!), but I think a female diesel mechanic would have as many obstacles in her path as a female single-handed sailor (not to mention my lack of aptitude for either). If there’s anything I’ve learned from these six months of agony and one week of work is that barriers against women breaking free of their stereotypical roles are still firmly in place. I make this comment, dear male readers, not as whining, but as a simple statement of fact. I dare not mention the case of a recent female presidential candidate, although I can risk saying that I am firmly in the center of her thirty-something female demographic who has experienced discrimination in the work force.

More to the point. Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing women is fear. I’m afraid of staying here alone, afraid of mockery for picking up the wrong wrench or touching the wrong wire or undoing the wrong bolt. What I’m learning, though, is that with the right resources--the right books, the right tools, the right vocabulary--I know almost as much as my dad does, and he’s been working on engines since he was a kid? How many women ever learn that about themselves?

Andy stopped by again this morning with much longed-for-ice and an offer: a tow all the way to Clarencetown, Long Island, 40 nautical miles away. It’s a possible way out of my dilemma. Clarencetown, potentially, has a diesel mechanic and a rigger. There’s a marina in town. It’s a safe, enclosed harbor with the town built on the water, and I could have rowing access to communication capabilities. It’s a big offer, and a big decision.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I’ll be on that

My dad enjoying the sun at French Wells

We had a grand adventure today, attempting to row to French Wells, the southern tip of Crooked Island. We decided to abandon our engine project for the day, or at least take a break. Our ostensible purpose was to row past the two abandoned fishing boats in the anchorage and see if they had two bolts Dad could use in the manual crank he’s trying to rig. The current blew us right by them, though, about which I was happy. I’m sure we can find another method for the manual crank, and I have qualms about scoping out other people’s boats, even half-sunk ones, when my own’s been left so pristine.

I was more excited about the journey to French Wells, as was my mom. They say there’s an actual well here, with good, sweet water, although we couldn’t find it. I thought there’d be a trail or an abandoned building or something to help us, but I found nothing but mangroves and sand. It was a great vacation from our vacation nonetheless. I brought my sketchbook and drew conch and landscapes, with Secret bobbing on the horizon. Dad and Mom went for a long walk on the beach, and Dad made a shade home for himself in the middle of a mangrove tree.

He also cracked open the two coconuts which we’d been carrying around with us in the dinghy, and they were perfect--sweet, juicy, full of lukewarm milk, with tender baby flesh. It’s easy to see how I could live out here on coconuts and conch, with a fifty-pound bag of rice picked up every now and again. You could call me Alexandra Supertramp. Maybe if he had come to the Bahamas instead of Alaska he could’ve starred in his own movie.

Instead of rowing the dinghy back against the three-knot current, we dragged it back along the sand bar in the water at low tide, and then rowed it the short distance back across to the boat. Dad doesn’t trust my rowing ability and I don’t trust his, and our oars have definitely seen better days. Dinner was a delicious corned beef spaghetti, cooked by Mom, my resident chef, with fresh steamed crab on our salad, picked by Dad, who hadn’t realized how much work they were when he snagged one. Tomorrow I turn once again to diesel mechanics, but tonight I’ll settle for a low yellow moon rising over the rippling water.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Honey, you are a rock

A fish trap full of snapper

My spirits have perked up a bit. After perusing our service manual, I’ve narrowed down the problem to two possible scenarios: either the solenoid or the starter is shot. The third, worst-case scenario, is that the engine is frozen. I’m not even contemplating that possibility.

So my dad and I spent the day exploring the options. It’s fun working with him, although we both have our own quirks and ideas about how things should be done. We’re trying to do the testing necessary to determine which problem is ours, which involves scrounging up voltage meters and battery-operated drills and tools galore. I’ve never really done a project like this before--following along in a manual and trying to use tools and my own wits to solve a problem. My dad says I have an engineering mindset. Maybe I do.

Even better is that Andy gave us three lobsters and three fish for dinner tonight. So we’re feasting on fresh Bahamian snapper and steamed lobster tails. He left his fishing boat rafted up against ours for the last couple of days, but took it down to Fish Cay today for the running of the snapper. Evidently they spawn during the spring full moon.

He left out fish traps last night with his son, and pulled them this morning, stuffed with snapper. They’re leaving out more traps tonight. Dad’s gotten a little bit psyched about fishing now, and is using the squid jig he bought in Boston with elan. I tried to tell him that I’ve never seen a squid in the Bahamas, but to no avail.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Green eyes

Dad fiddling with an engine component

The news just gets worse. After yesterday’s debacle, my mom and I swam to the island. My mom had expected me to be crying, but I had resolved that using our old mainsail and staysail to get to Clarencetown wouldn’t be so bad after all, as long as we had the diesel figured out. Karl and I had known before we left that we had a problem with some bad fuel, but I was prepared to deal with it. I had bought biocide and my dad had bought a fuel pump, and our plan was to pump out the diesel tank, add stabilizer, replace the bad fuel with good, and get to Long Island with a minimum of engine bleeding.

I say, “was.” Dad woke up this morning all set to pump, but I insisted that we start the engine first. “What good is clean diesel if the motor won’t turn over?” I asked.

Prophetic words. We cranked the generator, hooked up the electrical cables, turned the key to start the Yanmar’s annoying beep, and hit the start button. Click. Nothing.

Now I’m faced with the very real possibility that not only do I have unusable sails, but an unusable diesel. I have bought, for $40, a service manual for the Yanmar, foreseeing my need for it, but never foreseeing the dang thing just wouldn’t start. It was always so reliable, so dependable, starting without fail. How could I be so stupid? So foolish? So naive? It simply never occurred to me that there would be anything wrong with the engine, that we wouldn’t just turn the key and have it hum to life, like it always does.

The horror, the horror.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tonight it shows

Our mast track...

and the new slides.

Today we got our first overwhelming disappointment. My dad and I had been debating for some time our highest priority--he went with the diesel, I, the new roller furler. He’s begun to chicken out of my attempt to scale the mast, even though that was my entire stated purpose for bringing him with me. That, and fear for my life.

So we concurred that bending on the beautiful new mainsail was priority number one. Without it, we can neither sail nor motor. It’s an incredibly gorgeous sail. Stiff, virgin white, crinkly Dacron, our 10158 racing numbers proudly displayed, and at the top the Ranger R, much longed for, in all its radiant glory. I can’t say I didn’t have a lump in my throat at the sight of it.

But. But. I was down in the vee berth, sorting through socket wrenches to find one to remove the pin at the base of the mast when my dad called down. “Come up here, hon,” he said. “I have something to show you.”

I came up out of the hatch, unsuspecting. He had unscrewed a little portion of mast track to see if the slides would go on that way rather than past the bolt, and had discovered that the slides came right off the mast track. I measured the slides. They’re a fraction bigger than an inch. Our mast track is 5/8”. I checked my email--what had we ordered? 5/8”.

Day two, and we have a completely useless, albeit exquisite, mainsail.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

French Wells, Bahamas


My mom had predicted it would take us one day to clean and organize the boat. I thought that prediction far too ambitious and optimistic, but I claimed all along that we brought her along for her optimism, so I kept my mouth shut. Surprise of all surprises, she was right! We spent most of the day wrestling with our old sails, which Karl and I had stored in the main cabin, a necessary precursor to bending on our new sails and getting Secret ocean ready again.

Andy left his fishing boat rafted up to ours, which gives us a great platform for organization and trash disposal, as well as shade from the sun. My parents have agreed that we’re far less isolated than they had expected, mainly because of the overwhelming generosity of Andy. Fishing boats buzz by every so often, which I had counted on but they had not. They agree that I have not oversold the beauty of the surroundings. Deserted islands ring us on all sides, and a beautiful white sand bar breaks free of the tide every day at slack low. Mom and I are going to swim to it tomorrow.

I spent most of the day putting away old and new gear, going through my dishes and books and tools, my heart singing every time I saw an old candle holder or tank top or fishing lure. All these precious things I had counted as lost feel like gifts given back to me. Even my orange-and-white hibiscus sarong is intact, hanging from its old spot of the fire extinguisher, faded a bit by the sun. For the most part my books are undamaged by water, and the most important thing, my writing folder, is intact with only a little mildew lurking in the corners.

I’m even writing with my favorite green pen right now, of which I had stored a full box down here. I knew I couldn’t buy them in the Bahamas when we set sail from the States, so I knew enough to stock my boat with them--I didn’t know I’d be too cheap to buy a new box of them in the States when I left them in the Bahamas. Too cheap and too stubborn.

Tonight Secret feels more than ever like home. Everything’s put away, the wind has died down, I’m burning a candle rather than starting the generator, and the fond old smell of the mosquito coil rises from the vee berth. When I lit it tonight, my mom, remembering Thailand and harassed by mosquitoes, said, “It smells like heaven!” It does: the heaven of my childhood, and of our sail through the Bahamas.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nassau to French Wells, Bahamas

We arrived at Secret today. At long last, El Dorado. Or so say I. With a fair amount of misadventure, nonetheless.

The first was our luggage, which was sent to the wrong island--Acklins, the next island over. My parents were shocked and disgusted, and I , who have a lot more experience on the island, a little less so. Expect the unexpected on Crooked. That’s all I can say.

It ended up being a better deal than I expected, though. It gave us the leisure to be given a mini-tour of the island by Nappy, to pick up the gigantic quantity of shipped-in boxes that Nappy had been storing for us, to eat a nice lunch of fried grouper at Willie Gibson’s restaurant, and to buy some fresh groceries for our two weeks on the boat. It’s fantastic being back again, seeing all our old friends, especially Nappy. Little had changed--the island is still beautiful, sunny, and remote.

Andy was at the dock with his boat for our trip down to French Wells when our luggage finally arrived, via chartered ferry, from Acklins. The motor down was uneventful, passing the sandy abandoned beaches of southern Crooked, and then I finally saw a mast beckon like a finger. She’s still here. That, the major fear, for eight months, allayed.

Better yet, her floorboards undrenched by ocean water, her teak unstained, even my tools and kitchen implements untouched by too much rust. To be honest, everything is in far better condition than I ever could have expected or hoped. Nothing’s even missing that I can find, aside from a bucket, that probably got knocked overboard. I had faith in the people of Crooked (as they say here-- “da island Crooked, but da people straight”), but I also had doubt in human nature.

Andy’s been doing a fantastic job keeping watch over her, untangling the anchor lines and even moving her to deeper water when she was touching bottom at low tide. Honestly, the anchoring situation’s better than when we left her.

Andy rafted up next to us and made us a dinner of fresh conch salad. I even brought one up on my first swim down here again. The water feels like heaven. This, this is what I’ve been longing for over the last brutal winter. I’m so happy I can still dive. Though the mosquitoes are circling and the generator’s throbbing and stinky, I feel like I’m home. Not a surprise.

For how long, though? How long will I be able to be lulled to sleep by gentle seas? That’s the real question I’ll begin to answer tomorrow. Tomorrow the real work begins.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nassau, Bahamas

We arrived in Nassau today. I don’t know why home for me is always a foreign country--as soon as I’m on foreign soil I feel like I belong. I’m only belong when I don’t belong. Even the air smells different in a tropical country, heavy, in every way other. The awareness of a whole different wide world outside of this our United States of America immediately hits me.

There are whole civilizations that live, and breathe, and make lives for themselves: mining gravel and growing vegetables and driving taxis, far, far away from the imprecations of our imperial government. Being aware of them again makes me feel like I’m coming alive again, after a long time in the grave. It makes it worse to see all the Americans trekking through in their new brightly colored sweatshop-crafted fashions, their short shorts, their purpose-bought vacation clothes, bought for seven dollars from the discount rack at Old Navy. The contrast between the people living real lives, far away from the unrealities of our existence, is what makes the most striking immediate impression. We float over the surface of rest of the world, like so many Marie Antoinettes with our cake.

Can I really be happy in the US? The pressing question. Maybe the real question is: can anyone?

Abject terror still creeps up on me now that I’m here. Now it’s fear of what I’m going to do when I’m left alone again. Tonight I’m exhausted with the exhaustion of three hours of sleep three days in a row, and the exhaustion of anticipation for everything that lies ahead. I’ll sleep soundly tonight, even with the Boston Celtics on the television.

I leave everything in the hands of God, fate, kismet, synchronicity, whatever your faith deems I call it. For me, more and more by the day, it is the capable hands of Christ in whose hands I leave things. My faith returns to me, the crystal clear faith of my childhood.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Milford, Connecticut

My niece Iris, whom I get to see this weekend!

On the boat, right now, I wonder what’s happening. Are birds circling above? Are fish circling below? Sharks? Rays? The algae on the bottom is growing, cell by cell, unaware that soon I’ll be swooping down on it and scraping with fury. The mildew inside is likewise unaware that soon its reign of terror will be completed. And Secret herself, I hope, knows somewhere deep inside that she soon will be rescued.

Or that’s what I believe, when I’m optimistic. My fear still creeps up on me, generally taking the form of nightmares or irrational panic attacks over things I can’t control. Tomorrow at this point, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be flying high through the atmosphere, above the clouds, heading towards blue water and green islands and the small chunk of fiberglass I call home. Today I’m in Connecticut with my entire family, immediate and extended, celebrating the marriage of my cousin Laura. It’s an appropriate sendoff for us, and though I quail as I tell my aunts and uncles what I’m doing with my life, the general response, instead of pity and terror, is envy. Even though I’m broke, I’m taking a journey that require a semblance of bravery.

What they don’t know is that I envy them--their stability and security. They’ve dug roots for themselves and stretched branches into the sky in a way I can never manage to do, with my compulsive tendency towards constant upheaval. I do crave adventure and movement, but I still want stability. That's why I was so excited about the boat. I thought it was the ideal combination of transience and permanence. I did make it into my home, a home that moved. I love that home, more than I probably should, and I hope I don’t get myself into trouble with it.

I’m trying to build spiritual practice into my life right now, partly as a way to give myself equanimity in case of disaster. I know that that's when I've been happiest, when I've managed to be disciplined enough to build in time every day for calm amid the storm. I've been trying to build habits of meditation and yoga, partly because I know those are practices I can maintain on the boat, but while I know that those things and writing and running are always the things that keep me sane, they're the things I have the hardest time doing. Why is that? I have no idea. I've always been that way.

Now I should probably go and post pictures while I still have internet access, and decide which thing on my life of things I have yet to buy is the highest priority. I know as soon as I land on Crooked I’ll think of a zillion things I should have bought that I didn’t. I hope I’ll be able to do without them. Maybe instead I need time with my family, time to relax, time to enjoy things like clean hotel sheets and plumbing and breakfast buffets and lobster salad and grilled duck breast.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

All that we could always see

Northern Maine woods in June.

I’ve been contemplating, for some time, the idea of a long monastic retreat to decide on my future goals. I thought Karl and I had a five-year plan, but, as it turns out, it was not meant to be. I have fond daydreams of some boat life still working out--we could sail around Maine!--but I suspect that Karl’s heart is no longer in it. So my only question is: is my heart in it enough to do it alone? That’s the question I’ve been mulling over for the last five months. Hence the need for a monastic retreat. Those monks, they help you think, right?

It seems like now I’ve been given some time to think. As you can tell, if you are reading this entry, my plans to fly to the Bahamas, yet again, have gone awry. My plan was to fly to Nassau on June 1 and be joined two weeks later by my parents. Then I discovered the rates for being carted back and forth to the boat at French Wells, eight miles into the mangrove swamps from the nearest road, so I investigated bringing an outboard on an airplane, without much hope. Believe it or not, you can check in an engine on international flights. So my parents and I conferred and decided to postpone my portion of the trip to spend that two weeks investigating repairing my Evinrude. We’ll all fly together on the fifteenth, hopefully with an outboard in tow.

Let me count, though. That’s the *eighth* plan since February:

1. I planned to head down to meet our Canadian friends who were sailing through in early March.
2. I planned to fly down with my brother during his spring break at the end of March.
3. I planned to fly down with two local college kids who are experienced sailors in April, and bring the boat offshore back to Marion.
4. I planned to hire a professional delivery captain to help me bring the boat back in May (his words--”the boat is not oceanworthy.”)
5. I planned to go alone. Screw anyone going with me (although Karl did insist I enroll in a knife-fighting course before pursuing this option).
6. I planned to go by myself at the beginning of June and be joined by my parents two weeks later.

So what is that? Plan G? And that’s amid all the other complications, the weddings, the doctor’s appointments, and Karl’s recovery. To top it all off, our Subaru has broken down. So now I’m not even sure how I’m going to get to the airport in Boston, let alone to any place where I can post this entry, and it leaves my parents (and Karl’s dad, who is now working on the outboard) burdened with more of the tasks for our big journey. It’s frustrating. It also gives me an excuse to procrastinate boat-related tasks, and gives me time to wander around the northern Maine woods, which is good for my mental state, if nothing else.

Wandering around in the woods, I suppose, is a kind of monastic retreat. The contrast between life here and life on the boat will at least help me choose between the two lives. I’m not ready to make that decision yet, but I do feel myself letting go of Secret. Maybe that’s what I had to do to save her. This plan will help me salvage what I can of the dream--give me one last gigantic adventure before I have to let go of the dream. This plan’s the one. I can feel it.