Kodachrome

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The tropics are filled with saturated hues of color; the homes, painted mustard yellow, vermillion, bubblegum pink. The sea, with its shades of turquoise, azure, indigo, and, infrequently, charcoal. Palms clatter, showing verdant spears of light, and there are the phallic cacti, a dusty, desert green. Every color is intense, like the sun, and against this background I see the people: silhouetted in the glare, haloed by a ray of light as it penetrates the belly of a passing squall.
I am one to focus on landscape, on weather. You know this about me. But there are people here, passing through my journey, splashed across my photographs, snatches of their conversation peppered through my thoughts. My interior world is deep and I’m often lost in it. But, like the turtles, I do come up, occasionally, to the surface, and am always fascinated by what has appeared around me.
In this world people shift like a kaleidoscope. I walk down the street: in the parking lot of the Yacht Club there are the locals with their ropes of dreads piled into leather or knitted caps. They call to each other in the lilting sway of their Caribbean English. Three men are always sitting under a palm, by the fruit stand that is sometimes there. They drink lager all day and stare into the distance; their skin is glossy dark and their eyes are bloodshot red.
Up two blocks the yachties are parading up and down; decorative women smoking, with disheveled lovely children, and men with paunches. Scattered through them are the young crew that keep the superyachts shiny, ready for the one week a year they might be used. White shirts, brown skin. They are beautiful, young, capable of withstanding enormous amounts of tedium and alcohol. One is towheaded, mannered, with a posh accent (British) and I can see in him the watchful, tiny lad he was, and the tired old man he will become. His face is fascinating. He looks exhausted; his eyes are the palest, searching blue.
When we pass the basketball court, shining black, freshly asphalted and painted, there is a loose crew of island boys playing futbol. Assorted sizes, one tiny with a curly little man-bun. They are loose-limbed and barefoot. Careless of themselves, they dive for the ball, and are skillful in a casual way. The game is not that serious; they are delightful to watch, like dancers. I like the little one, with his shorts too big, as he is learning from the older boys. Where are the girls—they are braiding each other’s hair, or dancing in doorways, walking along the walls pulling at their school uniform skirts.
One man on the beach has a little champagne colored dog who I talk to, and he gives us some local fruit from his pocket; another man, wispy knots of nappy hair texturing his head, rides a donkey sidesaddle, bumming cigarettes, looking at the dark night through huge women’s sunglasses.
Later it’s drinks; we see another nice boat—this one has a washing machine. Women discuss laundry, cooking, keeping things clean. The men: solar panels, battery charge, engines. One-on-one it’s snatches of life: this one is a base jumper—“sometimes the guy jumping ahead of you dies, you just have to push it aside”—and plans his cruising schedule in the US around Dead & Co. shows; that one was married twice too, recounts the painful divorce and how we’re all on our second, third, down here. The boat life is relationship proving ground. Someone describes the death of her sister-in-law, how she cried every day for a year.
The essence of people, it comes unexpectedly and you see it if you happen to be looking, like the tarpon that arrow up and fly, fly, fly in a silver arc through the air. You just get a moment to see, and they are back down, under the surface. I like to look at people, the lines around their eyes, what shines out, or not. Catch them jumping.
Can I know them? Be known? How did I happen into this slipstream, this current? There’s nothing to hang onto, like the gleaming fish in the surge below, we drift, rise, disappear. We pass; the horizon remains bright, the houses gleaming, the palms chattering in the ever-present wind.

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ps: I know, I don’t have any pictures of people . . .

Things That Are Scary About Sailing

orion-form-afarThe time has come.

The time is now.

Chris Parker has spoken: this afternoon we will leave for St. Maarten, a roughly 16 hour trip that will require us to sail overnight.

Because apparently I haven’t yet earned my hearty overnight sailor badge yet.

Because now there’s just the two of us, and if we’re going to go down island, I will have to take night watches by myself, upon occasion.

As we’re fiddling around, getting things ready to go on a longer sail, I cannot help but be reminded of our journey down here. You know, that roughly 1200 mile off shore passage that we did early November. With the 15 foot seas, and the squalls and the broken autopilot. You know—that one.

I hope—as I notice the butterflies that are present in my stomach,even though our departure is hours away—that I can enjoy this trip a little more. That I can not be terrified, overwhelmed, and sleep deprived. I mean, it’s only 16 hours—our trip down here was 11 days. I’ve been working on this thing called fear. I’ve been working on my perceived experience of Things That Are Scary About Sailing.

Going on the Big Ocean: The Slog Before

In preparation to make the Big Trip, we took Orion up to Maine and back down to Virginia. Of course, the trip up was with Malcolm’s two sons, Ethan and Max, for fun and family bonding etc. Largely successful with gentle wind (Deleware Bay excepted—ah, we’ll always have New Jersey …) and a fair amount of motoring. It was coastal cruising, always within a radio call of Tow Boat US or the USCG. The shore was always reassuringly there. We had the two strong boys to help with everything (even cooking!). It was a stretch for me physically, coming soonish after my last surgery. But I did it! We had a good time. Who knew teenage boys were so hilarious? (And stinky! Whew!) I still didn’t feel like a sailor, though.

The trip back down from Maine was a necessary slog, to get to VA where the Salty Dawg rally to the British Virgin Islands would commence. We had much scarier weather: big bouncy seas (buh-bye centerboard, somewhere in Massachusets you lie in your watery grave), bigger wind, and there was just the two of us to make it all happen. It felt exhausting, and I couldn’t shed the mounting unease about going on the Big Ocean, in November.

We were joined in Atlantic City by John Wandling,john our potential crew member for the Big Trip. Here was a person, live and in the flesh, who wanted to go offshore, just to go. Who was going to join us for fun. I could not imagine what he knew that I didn’t (well, I could, actually, since he’s been sailing for most of his 70-odd years, boats big and small). Welcome, John! Since we were in New Jersey (his home state, actually), nature dictated that we would have exciting adventures with drunken, crazy captains of the asshole variety (I will cut your docklines!), engine failure, and no wind. But John was mellow throughout, and seemed to take things as they came. Turned out, he had a friend who could accompany us too. Another person who was excited (imagine!) to go offshore—and a woman, to boot. Tracy McIntyre. She was an experienced sailor and a good cook too, John said. I was very happy about this. They both lived in Hampton, our jumping off place, which would prove so helpful and convenient as we prepared to go offshore.

Going on the Big Ocean: The Real Deal

We left at midnight, giddy, excited and—for me, filled with foreboding. First there would be the Gulf Stream, then some “easting” before the big right turn that would take us all the way to the BVI. The weather router—Chris Parker—had opined that the trip looked pretty good. I had no idea what that actually meant.

Gulf Stream in darkness. As John said, after, “I’m glad I couldn’t see the waves.” It was a side to side jelly roll for a few hours, where we got to test our seasickness mettle: all passed with flying colors. Though I think we did all pop a dramamine ahead of time. Well done us. Daylight brought the sea, already a different, richer sort of blue, and some non scary conditions—though, look ma—no shore! Many boats had left on our schedule, but we saw no one those first couple days.

The sea was kind at first; the dolphins came on day three for the official welcome, and I couldn’t help but feel that I might live to see the end of the journey. No kidding—I wondered often if I might die. This did not occur to many others I felt (I found other women later, on their first trips, experienced similar feelings), as people were bringing dogs, children, going with broken arms and even single handing. They all had to know that this going offshore was a Reasonable Thing To Do.

Exit dolphins, enter the next leg of the journey. The Big Seas and Broken Things.

Our one working head stopped working. Without getting into the finer details of how ours was incorrectly plumbed and the failure of impellers etc., suffice to say that John jumped in for a day of head-fixing, while we bounced and heeled in increasing wind and sea state. We were never without the smell of the thing, but at least he fixed it so we could poop somewhere besides the tupperware.

Once the sea state was really booming—visualize an endless wall of water behind the boat, shining with moonlit, horrifying splendor, while the wind wailed in the shrouds and the wind generator screamed constantly—the autopilot ceased to work. It was handsteering for all, which is much, much harder than it sounds, despite the fact that back in the day, that’s what people did. And some sailing purists don’t use them. I, needless to say, am neither interested in sailing purity or historical experience.

The wheel of a boat is big. “Ten and two” is like 2/3 of my total arm-span. The waves push and pull you one way. The sails are full of wind, pushing another way. You are pitching, bucking and rolling along, trying to keep the wheel steering on one approximate heading. Too much one way, you jibe—bad!—too much the other, the sails luff and flap horribly. Imagine exhaustion (because you never sleep properly), darkness, waves you can feel, but not see. No light. I was totally overwhelmed; one night on our watch I just sat and let the tears run down my face. I hate this. Malcolm let me go below and sleep. He kinda thought it was fun (the sailing, not me crying).

tracyTracy was game too, and never seemed scared or even mildly apprehensive. She volunteered to keep us fed, and she made endless cups of instant coffee. She could sleep anywhere at any time. She liked hand steering.  She was a lovely alien from the distant planet Offshore Is Fun. I was so incredibly glad she was there. Her courage and sang froid helped keep me ok inside. Go Tracy!

The autopilot got jerry-rigged: Malcolm and John’s handy persistence to the rescue. We eventually woke to a sea like glass. Tracy got me to actually leave the cockpit and walk around the boat. I was that wound up, even a toe in the water as we floated, gently, seemed almost too much. We had a beautiful cruise the last three days, with only huge freighters and cruise ships at night (“cruise ship Caribbean Star, this is Orion, do you see us, on your port bow?”) to keep the adrenaline flowing. We arrived at about 8 in the morning at the Bitter End (ah, the irony) Yacht Club, Virgin Gorda, BVI. Thank God. It was Over.

I had earned my Offshore Badge.

So What’s the Big Deal?

… About going 16 hours to St. Maarten? One overnight? Yeah, I know. I don’t have to be afraid. I have a relationship with Orion now.orion As Tracy said—“she’s a wonderful boat, like a big-bosomed lady, just taking you in her arms.” Orion likes wind at 25-30 knots. She enjoys a sporty sail. Ocean cruising was what she was made for. And she is a good, old girl. I know she will do her job, and keep us afloat. It’s really myself I worry about, my proficiency on deck alone, at night, to keep her pointed straight, even with autopilot, and keep the sails trimmed right.

And yet, isn’t that what I came here (this incarnation, this planet, this trip) for, to have adventures, and dissolve the edges of my fear, and live more and more fully with each year that goes by? My “yes” to taking this trip was reluctant, but I still said yes. I want to be the woman who knows and trusts herself on her boat. I may not want to ever make another offshore passage, but I want to do this thing. I want to be like Maxo (my bonus teen #1), who always says, “I got this.”

img_1267So. It’s time to stop writing. Make a last snorkel here in the BVI. And then we’ll be underway. I’m going to practice changing my perception about sailing at night, about taking a watch by myself. I’m going to pick away at the edges of my trepidation. What if it’s fun? What if I know more than I think I do, now, with several hundred miles under my keel? There’s not much of a moon right now, maybe I’ll see the Southern Cross.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Trump in Paradise

“I voted for Trump. Because of health care, and immigration. These are real problems.”

What??

Remember records, and the sound that the needle made scraping across them?

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The quintessential tiny deserted isle, with signature palm, BVI

Let’s back up a bit. Set the scene. Just another day in Paradise, snorkel on one of St. John’s pristine beaches, looking at a coral eco-system that has some chance of surviving as no one is throwing an anchor down on it every five minutes (thank you National Park Service, for these mooring balls, and the “Rockefeller interests,” for giving the land to the gub’ment in the first place), the air is a perfect 80 degrees as the sun prepares to go down. Fish are jumpin’, cumulus clouds are stacked over the horizon, ready for their sunset cue.

Neighbors calling–“come over, have a drink!” This is how you socialize in the cruising community, whether you drink or not. This is tribal ritual. I want to belong.

Nice chit chat; we’ve met this couple before, they came down in the rally, have led interesting lives, really sweet people, you know? Us ladies swapping divorce stories, tales of the journey down, where to get the best veg–the usual. Dudes talking about sails and engines.

And then it happens. The bubble–mine, that is–pops.

I have to admit, it’s been a good ride. Trip down, we and crew were all on the same page politically, and when we got the news in the middle of the freakin’ ocean, we were all blown away, depressed, outraged. After that, communiques with friends echo my own sentiments. People at home are mobilizing. I’m trying to be a part of it all long distance, while still enjoying my travels. Keeping well out of it up close and in person down here. I mean, we’re all sort of focused on these floating homes, and figuring out life on the boat–who has time for politics?

But it had to come up.

My little amniotic sac, broken all over the nice people’s very nice boat.

What did I expect? I mean, 90% of people down here doing this thing are rich white guys enjoying the fruits of their labors with their mostly reluctant wives/girlfriends. And why shouldn’t they? Work hard, live to enjoy it. American way. My beef against these very nice people who will give you a fuse or a part or hours of good advice is a reflection of my own schnizzle with money and I know it. I’m not even supposed to be here; I’m not part of the club, not the sort of person I am.

Would you listen to me? Judge Judy. Fergodssake.

I was speechless in the face of this nice lady’s political choices. The conversation rattled round the cabinet picks, the nice man’s hope that Trump will be a great president (he voted for Hilary, but he’s holding a positive thought.) Eventually we parted, nice neighbors, see you next time.

Malcolm said–“If she hadn’t said anything, you’d be thinking she was a great person.”

It’s true. Yes it is, god help me.

This situation triggered allll my shit; not just how sad I am that the country of mine origin elected a psycho for president, but my own struggle to be myself, to tell people I’m a animal loving, tarot-reading psychic, give-a-shitter who has never made over 40K a year, who wants there to be actual meaning in the paradise lifestyle, who just wants love to rule the world even as she struggles to love herself.

I am a stranger in a strange land. I feel. Malcolm says, hold on, you don’t know that. He’s right, of course. But my brain is fritzing, and my heart is sad. I can’t help it; it matters, that even if I’m not a target (yet) of this crazy regime-to-be, other people are. And I’m sad that this very nice lady just doesn’t get this.

I sit here, drinking in this lovely piece of the planet where I am, and think … can Trump somehow destroy the National Parks? Of course he can–the very planet we ALL inhabit is now, I believe, in even greater jeopardy. And the nice lady just doesn’t get this. 

And yet, does this woman deserve the judgment I’m throwing her way. The Dalai Lama would love her anyway. Is not my whole where-do-I-belong shnitzit about being judged?

Stone throwing is a precarious sport. But no one wants to not be picked for a side, the last one left standing.

As yet, you see, I’m an imperfect human. But damn if I’m not growing, and you guys know me, that’s all I want to do. That’s why I travel, do things I find uncomfortable. So I’m here, on the threshold of yet another growth experience.

If love is my language, can I extend it to people that don’t think like me? If I can’t, am I any better than Mr. bad-hair-narcissist? People, I just don’t know.

I was going to write a pretty post about turtles and dolphins, the sea, the awesome crew who got us down here (I will guys, I promise). But I’ve just been circling round this thing, and if I can’t be authentic on my own blog, then god help me.

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Saltpond Bay, St. John, USVI

As I write, the air smells of flowers, turtles bub around the boat, there’s a pristine white beach about a quarter mile away. I’m lucky, I’m privileged. I want everyone to smell flowers when they wake up, and to hear the sea. Whatever their version of paradise, I want everyone to have a shot at it.

It may be naive. Silly. Embarrassing. New age pastel unicorn speak.

Still. It’s my truth.

Is there a tribe for freaks like me? I hope so, I surely do.

 

Paradise Is In The Details

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North Sound, Virgin Gorda

“Oh, man, you’re living the dream!”

“You’re in Paradise, how does it feel?”

“God–six months in Paradise–you are so lucky!”

I am lucky, more because I’m alive to experience anything; and experiencing life as utterly unlike what I was living last year as could be possible. Well–almost as unlike, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m intrigued by this notion of Paradise, because it seems universal that (at least Western, developed) people imagine a palm tree, warm seas, blue sky when they hear this word. Throw in a sailboat, a cute boy, and a fruity drink … god, it just doesn’t get any better, does it?

It is a good life; not the 9 circles of hell of a meaningless job, the drudgery of illness, or any other number of scenarios … we all have our own versions. But, you know, it’s not a

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Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda

Utopia. And for me, the paradise–that is, the moments of the sublime–are small, unexpected, and have nothing to do with the magazine picture life that many imagine I am living.

Paradise, for me, is snorkeling naked. (Ok, yes–that is the life you imagine.) It’s finding a bag of spinach in the market, exchanging books with other cruisers, my first banjo/guitar jam session with Malcolm, the breeze that finally comes (because it is bloody hot here), chasing away flies, mosquitoes, and the smell of our broken loo.

Paradise is getting in the ocean every day, yes, because it’s a way to be so personal and vulnerable (esp. when naked) with Mother Nature. It’s watching the pelicans, the myriad of fish (even though their coral homes are much denuded), and looking out for my two favorites–big yellow spotted, small blue with black spots–though I don’t know their names.

A hint of sweet Pikake flower, some other fragrant vine. Cobbling together the random ingredients I’m able to procure and making something that tastes good.

There’s much that goes on in “Paradise” that is as far from the magazine notion as you can imagine.

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Our “composting” loo. Excreta is separated into two tupperwares, then over the side it goes.

I.e.: there is ONE pump-out station in the BVI, and literally thousands of boats. A pump-out station is when you get your holding tanks full of sewage pumped out into a sewer treatment system. In Paradise, the ocean is your sewer treatment system. It’s what everybody does. I just saw some tourists on a charter boat dipping their cutting board into the water to wash it. They don’t realize … but I’m sure their poop is going right through too.

I.e.: you can’t recycle anything. All goes in the landfill. That autumnal smell of burning that I detect this morning? The incinerator, burning trash.

I.e.: racism, poverty, oppression, addiction (90% of the tourism activities are oriented around booze), apathy . . .

I’m not complaining–well, I do, about the bugs and the heat–I’m trying to wrap my head around what it is that makes life a Paradise, and why we always think that being somewhere else is where all the good stuff is happening, the swag being handed out.

Mostly, this boat traveler life is about surrendering (tie in to last year’s experience, though a million billion times better, this is) and being in the moment. Weather dictates a lot; weather changes, so must the ones dependent upon it. Sails go up, sails go down.

I surrendered my food worries (yes! me! I know!) because I can’t get five different types of lettuce, let alone kale or chard. There are no free-range eggs, beef, chicken (well, the local chickens are free range, but the store chicken is from South America). There are 100 kinds of rum you can buy and one kind of bread. Surrender.

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We watched each other for a long time. He gave himself a lovely bath.

When I surrender, accept, get into the slipstream of the moment, then I glimpse Paradise.

When I stop, stay awhile, the turtle stops with me. The woman behind the counter shares a joke. The musician tells a raft of tales you’d never believe … but they just might be true.

More and more it seems that Paradise is not what you get away from, but where you are able, within yourself, to go.