Saturday, February 6, 2016

When sailing is like being born

Sun is pouring through the windows, enticing my eyes with glitter and gleam. That turquoise reflecting upwards, smiling at the sun above. See it! Breathe it, feel it. The palms are the greenest of green, the epitome of nature’s bounty, breeze blowing the tops, heavy with coconuts below, shining, glowing. We’re in the Bahamas. 

It’s not important that we’re anchored near the construction zone of Resort World, tractors, cranes and mountains of man made dunes all around. The point is that the sun is shining, I am not cold, I may even be a tad warm! We’re expecting a huge cold front with it’s signature downpours and high winds tomorrow. But for now, for this moment I am basking in the sunshine promises of the Bahamas that have brought us back for yet another season. Exhale…

But some passages are difficult. Take birth for example. Many would argue that the end result is worth the drama, pain, anguish. But halfway through, both mother and baby are convinced that they’ve never experienced anything worse. That no human should have to endure the sheer hell that is this hours long journey.
Yesterday we were that baby in the birth canal. A 12 hour long voyage where nature not only refused to cooperate, but fought us the whole way. We arrived near screaming, feeling like we’d been hung upside down by our feet and slapped on the ass. And that first night in our new world was not easy. We were shoved and rolled by the swell of the ocean, the raw lack of protection out here, far from the safe womb of Miami’s inshore waters.
Maybe we should have read the signs. 
When we tried to lift anchor and found ourselves utterly stuck, the symbolism knocked me over. And while our windlass groaned and the chain squealed like a pig with it’s leg in a snare, I actually smirked. Some force, perhaps our own complacency had become an active antagonist – we weren’t ready to go. Half an hour later, after much strain on the boat and captain, we pulled up an abandoned anchor and chain. It was someone else’s perilous sea story, but for us it was only the first sign of many. We dropped it with a watery thud and headed out the channel; America spat us unceremoniously out.
Out into the growing waves and building winds. Directly against us. And within an hour the gulf stream was shoving us with the power only mother nature has, north, sideways, and way, way off course. To compensate, we were forced to head further south, into the oncoming everything, and while glasses toppled in the cupboards and cherished family photos fell flat on their faces inside, we came to a near halt, now making headway at under 2 knots. Smash, crash. Groan, slam. The sounds of the day’s toll on Shiloh accosted us. While on the VHF radio, the captains consoled and coerced each other.
“This is insane!”
“Yeah but it’s getting a bit better… maybe”
There were a few times we seriously considered giving up and heading back to the relative calm and safety of the states, but as we all know, once a labour begins, there really is no turning back. We were on this one way trip and at the other side was the other world we needed to reach.

So we held on, salt spray everywhere, waves splashing and slamming the boat, the front windows crying, the crew near crying. We exclaimed with incredulity from time to time how many miles we’d come and yet how many we still had to go. The 40 mile expectation became a 60 mile journey, leaving us no chance to get in the tricky dog-leg river entrance of Bimini during daylight, and realizing that we’d have to anchor offshore for the night, whenever it was we arrived.
When land was in sight, with it’s promise of a calming of both the wild waves and the wind, we were happy. As much as someone in extreme pain can be happy that it might soon end. But it was premature. Our labour was stalled. And so, hours after the darkness had enveloped the ocean and it’s foolish adventurers, we edged forward toward the land and prepared to drop the anchor. But no matter how close we got to land – we could even see the lights of a few cars – the huge swell didn’t dissipate. We were stuck side on to the swell, facing the wind. The result – every few seconds the boat would lunge sideways, and shudder. One hull up then down, and then the other. Over and over. Dishes still slid and slipped, the crew tossed from side to side, to our peril, should we attempt to stand and move without holding on firmly to something…
So we were stuck in the birth canal, thrown around for the night, waiting sleepless for the break of dawn to make our final entrance into this world.
Only, as dawn arrived, it brought with it a monster. A wall of black cloud, billowing forward, approaching like an army of sky ninjas, arm in arm, approaching swiftly from behind us. We took one look, threw t-shirts over sleepless unkempt hair and crusty eyes and started the engines. With wild eyes we pushed Shiloh, so rudely awoken, as fast as she could go, and we rounded the corner, amongst the breaking waves, into the tight channel just as the wind whipped up and the stinging rain hit. 
We made it up the 3 mile channel under the full force of the storm. I could barely see and held my jacket hood against the side of my face, a barricade to the pelting rain and wind.
But we did arrive, into the small anchorage, a dredged out square at the edge of the new resort, protected on three sides by the construction materials, a barge and some new unused chalets. And though the wind still blew, we sat inside and sighed.
It was our birth story. A bit anti-climactic, but ours all the same.
The sun was yet to come. After some homemade soup, some restorative sleep and the chance to awake truly to this new world. The Bahamas! We’ve arrived.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Worlds away: from Starbucks to sandbars

The place is abuzz with sipping, slurping, green straws, computer keypads, tall chai caramel latte decaf macchiato flat white black Americano….
It’s our last day in America.
It only seems appropriate to spend an inappropriate amount of it in a Starbucks.
Tomorrow we set sail for Bimini, sailor’s gateway to the Bahamas. Only 45 miles into a different world completely.
We change worlds from time to time. The day or two before that magic sail between worlds is strange. I see things in a yellowish hue. Reality vibrates and bends.
I can’t help but look around me at the people, living their lives, driving along, calling their friends, sipping their coffees. They become part of a static thing. They are America. They will be left here, carrying on with all this when we are gone. When for us there are no more traffic lights and Best Buys and Walmarts and Starbucks. When for us there are only desolate beaches and understocked shacks/stores and shallow waters and showers off the back step. When the sky and the sea take up our days with their omnipotence, back here they will be the backdrop to civilization. They will remain outside the honking cars, the bright lights of the shops and the clanking glasses on the restaurant patios.

I stand in the line and try to memorize my order – must remember the words – not small, tall. Not medium, Grande! Meanwhile there’s a double blended skinny caramel Frappucino up. Names are written on cups, green aprons flitter about behind the counter. I feel inadequate. A novice, an outsider. How do they keep this stuff in their heads? There are no skinny whip cream vanilla bean crèmes in the other world. You’re lucky if you find coffee. At all.
But you will find yourself. More raw, less busy, more mindful. No yoga classes, just your feet on grainy sand, plodding along, feeling the pull in your thighs of the muscles as you sink ever so slightly with each step. You will sink down, sweating under the sun drenched sky. You will sit for long periods at the edge of the water, feeling it’s undulating warm surface with the palms of your hand. It’s magical in the way that no shopping mall can recreate. It’s all in slow motion in that other world. 
The thing is that the worlds remain, whether we come back again or not. Next year I may find myself on the reverse journey. Arriving into this world, anticipating the availability of everything with giddy anxiety in the core of my being.
Or we might sail on to a different world again entirely. New immigration offices, new smells, new walks, new adventures.
It’s a life of uncertainty. I’ve learned something curious about that. Life changing. Straightforward in it’s simplicity. You can only open yourself to new worlds when you expand your tolerance for the uncertainty of everything. What will the sail across be like? Will we have good weather? Will we meet storms? Will we find a place to anchor? Will they be friendly at the Immigration office?
A day or two after arrival in a new world, there are more uncertainties. Where will we sail next? What will that island be like? Will we find a protected anchorage? Will there be storms? Will the boat drag toward the rocks at 2am in a massive wind? Where will we do our laundry? Will our boat freezer die, leaving us with rotten, smelling sopping food and no chance to replace it all?
But none of these unknowns can put us off the adventure quest. 
It’s the life of the maritime squatter. And it’s time to move on.
As the air-conditioning and ice coffee shooters closes behind me with the door, and we head out into the warmth of a Miami afternoon, I’ve moved on to the journey. Legally and mentally we’ve left this world and there are only a few things left to do. Fill the diesel and water tanks and anchor way out, on the edge of America, ready for tomorrow morning’s nautical flight to new lands.