Thursday, April 24, 2014

Seven Days at Sea

In households around the western world, eggs were painted in pastels and hidden, cheap chocolate animals in foil were unwrapped and stuffed into the mouths of babes, and the great bunny’s name was evoked. In churches globally, the sermons were doled out, same as last year and the year before…  the institution of Easter was being observed.
Yet we missed it. We were on this planet in an entirely different realm for the past week. Land and society and all it’s rules and celebrations, comforts and conveniences were a distant memory. Left on a shore as we pulled out of the bay for our longest ocean passage to date.
Day 1: Between the squalls that pile up in the sky in so many shades of black and grey and cobalt, there are the other colours. We are between sky and ocean, and the colours are everything. Periwinkle, robin’s egg blue, muted royal blue, true turquoise, ice mint, and indigo sea below. Sunset splashes the sky with peach and fuschia and finally a rich purple before dipping us all into complete darkness.
Day 2: I’ve watched the sunrise on an indigo abyss. Our crew is getting into the groove of a moving home, sleeping, sitting watch, sleeping, sitting watch… our huge rainbow spinnaker is all puffed up, proudly pulling us along. It’s midday and we’re all awake and taking it in. The ocean lies around us, undulating and powerful, and then it happened. Three sets of eyes behold the beauty of a whale, breaching. Her massive body completely airborne. A mammoth ballet. It was a secret viewing, one of nature’s gifts. My heart sang. Sailing is amazing and this is why. 
Day 4: I’m bracing myself aboard, the thrashing seas lifting and dropping Shiloh, though her chain and anchor somehow manage to keep us in one place, against the 30 knot gale that has blown incessantly since we arrived at the first sight of land, this tiny desolate mound of rock and sand, two days ago. I pick at the crusty weeping salt scars that cover the boat and squint over at the little island, so close yet so far away. My legs long to walk, to stretch, to feel that warm sand but we cannot get into the dinghy in the waves, and ashore the surf is building and crashing violently. No chance. Haven’t been able to cook in days, each step aboard is an exercise in balance and strategic grabbing of walls and surfaces… yet still, I am bruised. It’s been rough. It’s still rough. We settle down to watch a movie as the ferocious elements bash us from all angles…
Day 5: Trudging through deep soft sand, my legs ache and burn and it’s a sweet pain. Awoke in the morning to a glass surface. Mother nature’s anger is gone and in it’s place a breathtaking beauty and an invitation to the beach.

Our flotilla, like insects in a jar in the grubby hands of a curious child, we’d been plucked up and tossed around for days, falling about each other in a tiny container, and then we were dumped out on land. We scattered. Running, kicking, exploring our new surroundings and spreading out. Bliss.
We walked most of the island that day. Dodging little cacti, picking up shells, kicking up the sad signs of civilization – plastic bottles and single shoes, washed ashore, leaving their stories with far off people. We climbed the hill and listened to the fish eagle’s sermon atop his broken lighthouse perch. 
Day 7: We are in a 65 mile wide shallow swimming pool. It is flat and as clear as the air, with a turquoise hue. We sailed the deep channel across to tiny Fish Cay at the edge of the main Caicos bank of the Turks & Caicos. After one night we decided to set off into the middle of the shallows and drop anchor. The closest land is at least 20 miles away but the water below us, no deeper than the deep end of a suburban pool. It glistens and shines under the sun. And we are awoken by dolphins. This is as close as our world can get to perfection. Beauty. The smile becomes internal. You glow. You haven’t seen other people or a building or a wifi signal for a week. And it doesn’t matter. It is nothing. 
And we begin the last leg of this passage – we head toward relative civilization, toward immigration formalities and stores and restaurants and bars and other people. To the Internet. But not before we soak in these last few hours on the bow of the boat. Legs swinging over the edge, sun on our shoulders, Shiloh’s hulls cutting through the serenity. Orange starfish dotting the vast sandy bottom, sting ray, nurse shark, all greeting us on this surreal trip.
With extreme caution we use the age old method of eyeball navigation through the coral bommies and patches of reef, and make our way into Southside Marina anchorage. Our depth metre reads zero and we are practically aground it’s so shallow. But now we must turn to earthly concerns. This part of the journey is over.
On shore, the immigration and customs officers are called and the flotilla crews are buried in ipads and laptops. We complete check-in around a picnic table in the gazebo and bid farewell to the officers, who’ve recommended tomorrow’s fish fry and a visit to Boogaloo’s while we’re here. In the evening there is a cruiser potluck and so it begins - the overly friendly interaction characteristic of sailors who know the other side, the world out there with no one else. No passports or paperwork, no crowded malls or Google references. A world of wind and waves, a world without Easter.

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