Rescue at Sea: Dolphins & Rainbows Part I
‘Dolphins & Rainbows’ -- Log of trip to Tortola:
Leave for Newport, Virginia from Atlantic City via Greyhound bus on the new moon evening of November 2, '04.
Goal is to sail out from Newport on Monday, November 7th and arrive in Tortola, British Virgin Islands by the cusp of next full moon the week of November 13th. Sounds right.
Bus ride from A.C. is an all night affair. Greyhound is like a poor man's cruise ship -- something going on all night long. Brother from New Orleans traveling like a self-styled Mack Daddy -- talking junk, copping phone numbers...We get to D.C. and he tells me to hold his coffee cup while he carts some young woman's luggage onto a bus. I take the cup and place it on the floor next to his bags behind me in line.
He comes back, it's around 2 or 3 a.m. and I'm really not into playing games.
'Thought I told you to hold my cup, man?'
Gives me his best jail-bird intimidation glare.
I look right back at the bird’s eyes. 'Do I look like a cup holder?'
He looks away and then down at the cup. 'That ain't right, man.'
'It's just right, Brother.'
It's not a big deal, but I would have felt badly and diminished if I'd given into his little intimidation ploy. Additionally, the Greyhound ride is the beginning of my commitment to journeying over the open ocean in a sailboat. I feel alert, strong and ready. Giving in to an ill wind this early would be a bad precedent.
I get into Newport around 9:30 a.m. It's familiar. I left from here ten days earlier after sailing south from Annapolis, Maryland. Purpose of that trip was to sail the boat to a warmer environ and to the place where we'd be departing for Tortola. It also gave me a chance to become familiar with the boat, a fifty-foot dual-hulled catamaran called the Winergie, and its Captain, Morgan Jones. I met Morgan during the summer through the person who taught me how to sail, Kate Throppe. In the spring, Kate responded to a posting by Morgan on Match.com 'looking for a sailing soul mate'. The two of them have since been engaged in seeing if they are that for one another. Together, they sailed from Kay West to Annapolis in order to get the boat out of the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season. Good move. It was the most turbulent season in recorded history.
Before meeting Morgan, Kate had booked and committed to a five-week tour of India with a female traveling companion. She called and asked me if I’d like to sail south with Morgan in her stead. Morgan is a southerner and the weather in October was becoming cold and fall-like in Virginia. He was anxious to go south and was looking for a sailing partner. I said ‘sure’. When I talked with Morgan he told me about a ‘rally’ with fifty other sailboats to Tortola. I told him that I could only commit to one thing at a time, and at two-week stints. I’d sail with him to where the ‘rally’ was going to meet, Newport, and then reevaluate there.
I’d spent the summer rewriting one of my novels, DEVILS & ANGELS, for a publisher in San Francisco, MacAdam/Cage. In the end, it didn’t work out with them, but I was high on the rewrite and wanted to get it out to other publishers before committing to doing anything else. Additionally, in the last decade I’d taken on the role of caretaker for my ageing parents. I cared for my dad up until his death at home, and now my mother, 86 years old, was showing signs of developing senile dementia or perhaps Alzheimer’s. The signs of senility had developed recently, and quickly, so I was therefore not sure how long I felt I could take off. Morgan was understanding and, in fact, was going through something similar with his ageing father.
I arrived in Annapolis in mid-October. It was a cold, wet, miserable evening. We were supposed to meet at the wharf, where Morgan would pick me up on a dingy and take me back to the Winergie anchored in the harbor. But there was a major boat show going on in the Annapolis Harbor and the wharf was blocked off by boats, sales tents and the like. I went into the nearest hotel to call Morgan on his cell phone and let him know where I was. . The concierge asked me if it was a local call. Before I could answer her Morgan picked up on the other end of the line and informed me that he was standing out in front of the hotel, about ten feet away. I then asked the concierge if it could be more local than that?
For me, it was a good sign. I like adventures that start out with something unexpected and humorous.
Morgan was dressed in a bright yellow rain parka, a cigar in one hand, and a drink in the other. He welcomed me warmly and asked me if I’d like a drink. The bar was crowded, it was dark out, and I had baggage to carry. I told him I’d prefer to get to the boat and unload my stuff first. I knew from a previous visit here to pick up Kate that the Winergie is as well stocked, or better, than most hotel bars.
On the boat we drink Kentucky bourbon, a drink I came to like while living in the south. Morgan is from West Texas -- a dyed in the wool, nearly religious southerner -- so it's a good start. We like the same drink. I find Morgan very easy to talk with, and a good listener. He's just a half a decade older than me, in his mid-fifties, though he’s led a much different and conventional life that makes him seem much older, or me feel much younger than him. His family has been in America since the 18th century, coming from Wales. They smuggled gunpowder to the nascent American Revolutionary Army, then got into railroads, which eventually took them to Texas and wildcat oil rigging. He married his high school sweat heart, had a child, and then went on to law school and a successful law career in Dallas. He divorced, married again, divorced again, retired from lawyering, and then made some keen investments that are now allowing him to live on the Winergie and travel with the sun, wind, and whomever will join him.
Traveling on the bus through industrial Baltimore reminded me of growing up around Newark, New Jersey, so that’s how I introduced my life story to Morgan. That I was a second generation American with grandparents born in Eastern Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. They settled into various ethnic neighborhoods in New York City before my grandfather, a homebuilder and construction contractor, moved his family to the suburbs of Newark. Successful at what he did, he started up one of the first Savings & Loan banks for other working immigrant families to save and borrow from. But he died in a work-related accident when my father was only sixteen. My father, being too young to run a business, joined the Marines, served in World War II, and then afterward used the G.I. Bill to purchase a house and his building skills to become a union laborer. Because my father was in a union, we lived better than most of the other working class families around us. Most of our neighbors were Black or Jewish. In fact, I informed Morgan that I had no idea that America was a majority white Christian country until I went to a college in the south.
The world I grew up in was completely unfamiliar to Morgan, as it is to most Americans, which is why I've felt compelled to write about my experiences in novels. Like I'd said, I’d spent the summer rewriting a novel and about the only contact I had with anyone about what I was doing was through brief phone conversations and emails to editors. It was a welcomed and refreshing change to be sitting face-to-face across from another human being who was actually interested in what I was talking about.
My friendships with people seem to go through intense cycles and then burn out. In general, I get along better with women than men, though I truly value good male friendship. My last male friendship was with someone I was working on building a settlement with in Belize. That ended in a dispute over money, and proved irreconcilable. I was in a cycle of looking for new friends, especially male ones.
We hit our respective bunks early as Captain Morgan decided that tomorrow morning we’ll begin heading south, no matter the weather, whether we can sail, or not. He’s had enough of Annapolis, cold rainy weather, and boat shows. It was fine with me. The summer in the northeast had been mild to warm with an extended pleasant Indian summer. I was looking to stay out of the numbing reach of winter for as long as possible.
We left Annapolis in a light morning fog. The air was dense, heavy, and laden with moisture, so we motored slowly down the Chesapeake Bay. As we did so, Morgan explained to me that even though the Winergie was more than twice the size of Kate's boat -- the only other boat I've sailed -- the Winergie is actually simpler to sail. The sails adjust to course and tack automatically, rather than manually. Therefore, all that’s required to sail is to become familiar with the boat's riggings, and its automated computerized navigation system.
Briefly, a sailboat's riggings are the lines, sheets and apparatus that allow one to keep the boat's sails in optimum trim for best performance and least wear and tear.. The automated computerized navigating system consists of a global positioning service (GPS) that feeds an image of the boat's longitude and latitude onto the screen of a computer set up in the boat's cabin. The GPS projects the image of the boat onto a scaled map r chart of the area you are sailing, in this case the Chesapeake Bay. One plots the most direct route to a destination into the computer and then set the automatic pilot at the boat's helm to follow that course. It there were no winds, currents and obstacles, one could simply plot the course and let the automatic pilot take you there. If, however, your course is directed in the opposite direction of the wind, in order to move forward you will have to veer off course temporarily and then later find a favorable wind to take you back to course. Additionally, places like the Chesapeake Bay are busy with commercial fishing and barely visible fishing pots. One has to manually steer clear of these obstacles no matter the course direction and then bring the vessel back to course. In the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf Stream flows at a northward four-knot channel. If your course is southward, you have to sail east or west of the channel in order not to be pushed back by it. The skill involved in this type of sailing is to sail as close to course as possible while taking best advantage of the direction of the wind and channels while avoiding obstacles.
By mid-morning the sky clears, the sun comes out, and the winds blow favorably. We put out the sails. A catamaran sailing vessel like the Winergie -- an 'Outremer' designed and built in France -- is lightweight for its size, aerodynamically streamlined, and its sails are huge, majestic.
Its a beautiful sight, and exhilarating feeling, to be sailing down the Chesapeake in midday with the sun burning bright off the water and the boat cruising along southward at about 10 knots.
Morgan is a good teacher -- he shares his knowledge and experience of sailing with me rather than using it as a way of exerting authority or superiority. I'm very much enjoying being in his company, on his boat. Morgan's a large man, over six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds, though he has a gentle, sensitive nature and manner. It's a nice combination and I'm glad that Kate met up with him. I knew her last two boyfriends and, in my humble opinion, Morgan seems more worthy of her good company. At this time in my life, I consider Kate, who I've known for about three years, to be about the best friend who I am in regular contact with. I have several lifelong friends but they live quite a distance away from where I do and we don't communicate regularly.
We sail, and motor when the winds are not favorable, on average of about 10 to 12 hours a day. I read Dom Delillo's latest novel, Cosmopolis, a tour de force on the blurring pace of postmodern urban life. A harrowing day in the life of a 28-year-old billionaire whiz kid fund manger. Entire story takes place within twenty-four hours in a stretch limo traversing through Manhattan. It's a sharp contrast to the logy small towns and villages we anchor off of at night. The feeling I get offshore looking in at the towns is that of a nineteenth century vagabond hobo or twentieth century peripatetic dharma bum. We can move from place to place without being molested by the daily affairs of the people we observe, nor pay taxes or fees of any kinds. There's a sense of freedom to traveling this way that seems to me to no longer be readily available to Americans in the twenty first century. I am fortunate.
Traveling this way has therapeutic effects. My thoughts attenuate and extend past my own everyday concerns into longer looks at my life. I can feel gestalts passing and breaking off me like portions of a glacier that had previously been frozen in time.
Although Morgan may have lived a somewhat conventional life until recently, his diet was anything but. He did not eat meals during the day, but snacked throughout the day, mostly on Oreos and sesame sticks. At night, he produced what Kate affectionately called 'one pot wonders'. Kate's in the throes of romantic love, so her observations have to be tempered with that in mind. The 'wonder' consisted of some variation of prepackaged rice and beans along with several varieties of canned vegetables and some pieces of chicken or beef thrown in. It's a hearty concoction, but the first time I went go to the pot for seconds, it has cooled and one can taste whatever it is that goes into preserve vegetables in a can. It tastes rancid, nasty.
So the next time we anchor, in a small inlet off the Chesapeake that once housed a thriving l fishing village, I go ashore and purchased some fresh vegetables and a steamer. On shore, there is a maritime museum Morgan suggests I check out. The maritime museums exist in these towns as a nostalgic homage to days gone by. Fishing villages simply no longer exist, and have been replaced by these museums along with rustic looking restaurants and tourist shops. An individual can no longer make a viable living from fishing or crabbing, so most of the commercial fishing is now done by large international industrial vessels. The museum depicts a life that, like farming, looks too arduous to choose if anything else was available. It made me think of all the hippy groups that 'went back to nature' in the 1970s. Their enterprises generally lasted only long enough for the people in them to realize how unsuitable this kind of lifestyle is for anyone who wasn't born into it. I've traveled enough in third world environs to know that there is nothing charming or enviable about ardor, and that human beings are intrinsically drawn to anything that will make daily life easier.
The weather stays favorable and we arrive in Newport in only five days, a full two weeks before the seminars, workshops and inspections are scheduled to begin for the rally to Tortola. I stay in Newport for a couple of days, meet and have dinner with Morgan's last ex-wife and also meet the person organizing the Rally to Tortola, Steve Black. He's a personable guy who looks more like a middle-class real estate salesman than a salty dog sailor. He provides a booklet about the rally and an itinerary of the seminars and workshops. The booklet also contains pictures from previous Rallies and most of the other people, like Steve, do no look like full time sailors. I'm assured by this, as I didn't feel competent enough, or emotionally inclined, to get into a competitive race with sailors much more experienced than me. Three years of day sailing did not make me an expert by any means, and I felt that I could be comfortable with this group. Steve informed us that we could choose either to race -- for prizes -- or just cruise and not worry about when we got to Tortola in relation to the other vessels. Morton chose cruising and I was further relieved.
I was now very much looking forward to sailing to Tortola, and decided to return home during the two week hiatus in order to feel more ready to take off for two or three weeks afterward. For one thing, I wanted to see how my mother was doing, and also use the time to get more of my work out to literary agents and publishers. Even though Morgan's computer on the boat provided me with internet access and I had placed copies of my novels and other work onto it, I could not make the kind of concerted effort to get my work out as I could from home. Before leaving, I contact one of my lifelong friends who is a CEO of a large international company and ask him if he has any frequent flyer miles to spare. He tells me that he has more than Condi Rice and he'd been glad to lend me some for a flight to Tortola and back if I need them. I tell Morgan that if I don't feel that I can take off for a few weeks after I return home that I'll fly out to Tortola and meet him there. He understands and asks me to just let him know as soon as I can what my plans are so he can fill my place on the crew with someone else. I assure him I will, though I feel confident that I will be able to make the trip as crew.
The first leg of this journey -- from Annapolis to Newport -- was for me just a much-needed getaway and change of scene. But I returned feeling much more enthusiastic about the next leg of the journey. Sailing to Tortola would not only allow me to dramatically increase my sailing skills and open up other crewing opportunities for the future, it would also put me in touch with the crews of fifty other boats -- around two hundred people. I'd been living an excruciatingly isolated existence the last year, and that alone, I knew, would do me a world of good. I was tired of writing about life and wanted to start living it again.
My mother sensed my eagerness and this time became supportive of my taking off for a while. I winterized the house, and the car, and with the exquisite freedom of knowing that I could get my work out and not have to wait in one place for a response, I contacted agents and publishers and got off more work to agents and publishers than I would have felt comfortable, emotionally and psychologically, doing otherwise. I also went a health club daily, swimming and doing yoga in preparation for what I knew would be a physically challenging voyage.
I felt much more ready and prepared for the off shore trip the Virgin Islands now than before.
So when I arrived back in Newport via Greyhound on the morning of November 3rd it's a clear, crisp day and I decide to try to walk back to the marina where the Winergie was docked when I left. I get to the center of town and stop into a coffee shop to make sure I am headed in the right direction. It just so happens that this coffee shop will be catering coffee and breakfast fare to the Caribbean 1500 -- as the rally is publicized to the public. They inform me that the boats are lined up for that at a different marina and it's about a three-mile walk. The shop also offers health-food type fare and I note that in case we are subjected to 'wonders' this week. I have too much gear to walk three miles with so I go to the nearest hotel and ask the concierge to call a taxi.
When I arrive at he place where the Rally is meeting, there's a large circus type tent set up with many healthy looking middle age people milling about in it. Someone notes my gear and they come right over and ask me who I'm looking for. They direct me to Morgan and the Winergie, who have a birth only about 20 yards away from where the tent it.
Morgan informed me before I returned that he had contacted two other people to crew with us, a retired married couple from Canada. Sailing to Tortola was going to be around the clock trip and we needed four people to cover the day- and night- long watches. When I get to the boat Morgan is talking with one of the other new crewmembers, Don. Morgan greets me warmly and welcomes me aboard and hoists up my baggage. Don doesn’t make any effort to greet or even take notice of me. I’ve lived in Canada and know that Canadians in general are a bit bland and non-demonstrative.
I try not to take his reaction personally and instead try to engage him in conversation about Canada. His interest in conversation wanes pretty quickly and he goes back to reading a magazine about sailing.
Fine. I’m tired and need to find a place to be quiet, warm, and rest. I took the overnighter bus thinking that I’d be able to sleep and arrive fresh, but it didn’t turn out that way. The bus made too many stops and there was too much going on to allow me to let my guard down and sleep.
There was a seminar beginning in about a half hour, for captains. Morgan invited me to join him, but I knew from the itinerary that it was going to be about what the boats needed in order to qualify for the Rally’s safety regulation standards for off-shore sailing.
Don was eager to go with him so I took it as an opportunity to try to steal some time alone and sleep, or at least rest, in their absence. Don’s wife was in town running errands. I found a perch on the back deck of the boat where I could stretch out in the warm sun and laid back there. I thought about Greyhound Nation and thought whimsically about a president some day giving a State of the Union address that included it in it. It was definitely one of many American subcultures that didn’t get recognition by politicians or regular media. That part of America for which there was no day and night, or on or off. A 24/7 hassled to survive. Images of the homeless men in D.C. with soiled pants quoting from the bible, and young women in skimpy glitzy outfits traipsing through the bus terminal in Atlantic City looking like blasphemous Christmas ornaments pass through my mind before I drift off to sleep.
I rested well enough and was up and ready for the next seminar. Don’s wife returned, Lynn. She was a bit more personable and warm than Don, though circumspect as well. I got the feeling that they hadn’t yet committed to the trip and were still feeling out the situation. Morgan, being a larger than life Texan, might not have been to the expectation or liking.
I had no idea what they were thinking or feeling and decided to not press either of them to talk about anything and just let time run its course. The next seminar I was eager to attend. It was being led by a medical doctor who was in the Rally sailing with his wife and children. The topic was ailments common to sailing, and how to avoid them.
My biggest fear was getting into the grips of a Mal de Mer, or seasickness. It had happened to me once while I was on an all-day fishing boat with my dad. I’d gotten sick in the first hour and then spent what seemed like the worst eight hours of my life waiting to get back on shore. We were going to be at sea for seven to ten days, depending on the weather, and it was horrifying to think of being immobilized and retching for any period of it.
The good doctor reinforced my fears with vivid descriptions of crews wrecked by a contagion of seasickness. Great. But he also gives a ringing endorsement for a drug called mysecline, the active ingredient in over the counter anti-emetics like Dramamine, Bromine and others. I’d researched the subject before leaving home and found out that ginger was the leading natural, organic anti-emetic and so I brought a whole root of it along with yogurt and multi-grain crackers, thinking that concoction would help keep my stomach settled.
After the seminar I met another doctor, a retired dental surgeon, who had suffered through monumental bouts of seasickness on previous voyages. He possessed a small office on his person of over the counter and prescription remedies that he was willing to trade for some of my ginger. He was from Long Island and had a kinetic, humorously sarcastic outlook on life that I found familiar and refreshing. Southerners and Canadians tend to have a literal, black-and-white perspective on life & and a blunt hee-haw sense of humor.
Feeling more confident now that I had a more formidable arsenal for warding off seasickness - Robert even included some torpedo shaped suppositories that he assured would cure even the worse possible case of sea sickness, when one couldn’t even swallow a pill -- I was suddenly feeling much better about this trip. Plus, now I had someone I could buddy with. Robert seemed like the kind of person who, once we got to Tortola, could be counted on to go anywhere and do anything. Plus, he was a veteran of Woodstock and anti-war activist.
The evening following the seminars were set aside for ‘sipping and socializing’. A fully stocked open bar was set up in the tent along with pizza band snack foods. I still hadn’t slept since arriving, so on the first night after just a couple of drinks I was feeling lightheaded and more open and social than I would usually be in such crowded gatherings of strangers. I met a couple from Canada in their forties who had started up a line of organic vitamins and food supplements, recently sold it to a large American pharmaceutical company that wanted to get in on that growing market, and now they were sailing the world carefree. Was spiriting to see good people getting a fortunate break in life. Met another man in his sixties who had founded a computer software company they he too recently sold and was now doing the same, sailing with his wife and grown kids. His kids got called away on business; I reminded him of one of them, so I sort of surrogated. He was an avid reader and intrigued by the novels I told him I’d written.
It was inspiring to be around people who’d taken chances in their lives and succeeded. I was trying to do the same with my work and it felt good to be around people who viewed life as a welcoming challenge, not something to be afraid of and settled for.
This was the first night of seminars and socializing and it was supposed to include a catered welcoming buffet dinner, which somehow got misdirected to another venue. Morgan volunteered to take us, his crew, and his last ex-wife, to dinner at the local yacht club. Morgan is a very generous person, and I get the impression that he is in the enviable position of not being able to spend however much money he has or is worth no matter how hard he tries. It cost a grand to enter the rally and then another couple of grand to qualify the Winergie for the Rally’s safety regulations. None of this seemed to put a dent in his personal sails that he liked to fly full out all the time.
Morgan had agreed to pay for my transportation back from Tortola, but while I was home I asked my friend with the frequent flyer miles to book the fly for me in advance and he did. I did this to show my appreciation to Morgan for inviting me on the journey and to also to lighten his financial burden. I wrote Morgan an email telling him this when I did it, but he didn't acknowledge it then or since I came back. There's a degree or level of personal communication that is absent in him and my two other crewmembers. It's almost as though there is a cabalistic prohibition on letting anyone talk about anything that isn't in the script -- sailing to Tortola.
I find that a bit odd, but I sleep well, even though my new bunk, which is now on the same side of the boat as Morgan, though forward, is smaller than the one I used on the other side of the boat during our travel down the Chesapeake. That bunk was given to Don and Lynn so they could have their privacy. My new bunk, which Morgan had previously used as a storage room, was about two inches in length shorter than my six foot four frame and my toes kept leaking out. Oh well, I told myself, I was a working guest on a boat ready to set sail to paradisiacal islands. I could live with it for a couple of weeks.
The next day, and for the remainder of the week and weekend, the seminars and workshops become increasingly technical, focusing on radio transmission between boats, navigation and weather. Though there's one workshop on fishing that spike's Don interest and I try to get into it with him. I tend to think in stories, rather than facts, and we put some fishing rigs together I start telling Don about how when I was a young boy I'd go fishing with my older brother and his friends. This is what I mean about the past falling off like icebergs. I hadn't thought about these experiences in years and now they were coming back vividly. As a boy we couldn't wait for the first day of trout fishing in the spring. We'd go out on the first full moon night and look for nightcrawlers (worms), fill up coffee cans with them. My father would inspect our bicycles to make sure that our tires and brakes were in good shape and that we had the proper lights and reflectors. My mother would make us sandwiches. But my parents, whether they were asleep, or not, let me and my brother get up on our own, around 4 a.m., and take of on our bicycles in the predawn dark for the ten mile or so trek to the river where we'd fish.
I was telling this to Don because it was on my mind -- this trip was sort of an adult counterpart of that boyhood experience - though instead of ten miles we were now going over 1,000 miles, across an ocean not a river. I was hoping that it would open him up and that he'd in turn tell me something about his boyhood in Canada, or about some of his past sailing experiences. Anything. But he didn't take the bait, so to speak, and maintained his stoic focus n the task at hand. I did not have it in mind to keep a journal during this trip and didn’t start writing it until later when I felt suffocated by the lack of conversation and personal exchange.
There have been many times in my adult life when I have questioned why I write, especially when I have bills that I can't pay, or things I want and can't afford, or when I’m feeling exacerbated by exchanges with agents and editors. Then I recall an interview with Julius Hemphill, a jazz musician who was asked why he played what he played -- music with a limited audience that he could barely make a living from. 'Because my life depends on it.' I can relate to that...
I spent the afternoon visiting the sailing vessels of the couple of people I’d met the previous night at the sip and socialize. Both boats were the more traditional single hulled kind more familiar to most people. These boats were about thirty-five feet in length and a dozen feet wide. In contrast, the Winergie was fifty feet long and twenty-four feet across. Stylistically, the Winergie looked more like a stingray on the water. These boats harkened back to the original explorers of America, though the insides were suitable for family. Each of the boats I visited was manned by married couple and the insides were furnished for living, not just sailing. The each had kitchens with stoves and refrigerators and freezers, a living room like arrangement with sofas and entertainment centers including flat screen TVs for playing DVD movies and laptop computers. They were comfortable, though none were built for someone my size. I was getting a creak in my neck from having to duck when entering each new section of the boat’s interior. I imagined that with all the money being paid to professional athletes these days that there’d be some second-hand boats on the market that had been customized for tall people - if I ever wanted to go that route. I was getting the impression from watching all the preparation work going on on the boats that sailing was not so much a leisure activity as a full-time occupation. One had to be able and willing to devout as much time and energy into as it did to write a novel. I couldn’t see how it would be possible to do both. Both of the couples on these boats, like Don and Lynn and Morgan, had retired from successful professions.
When the time for the next round of sip and socialize was set to begin I went late and didn’t feel so much like sipping or socializing. My reserve of social chatter is not large, and I used most of it up the first night. And in general I feel about chitchat like I do snack foods - once in a while it’s fun to indulge, but a steady diet of it leaves one feeling unsatisfied and still hungry.
There was a truck set up outside the tent dispensing free draught beer. There were also picnic tables set up nearby. So I got a container of beer and sat down by myself. Most people were in the tent - about one hundred and fifty or so - and it was busy and noisy. It was a clear night, though cool, so I sat down by myself at one of the picnic tables and just enjoyed the beer and quiet. I looked up and stars were becoming visible. One of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip was getting away from all the lights and haze on land stargazing from the ocean’s surface.
I recall the last time I had a denuded view of the sky, and was when I was living in the jungle in Belize. It was a district called Lamanai, the name of an extinct Mayan city-state. Lamanai literally meant the people who worshipped crocodiles. Our settlement of about a dozen people was located on the banks of the New River, which flowed out through the heart of Belize into the Caribbean. Crocodiles inhabited the river. The Lamanai Mayans were renowned for their astrological prowess and had mapped the sky and devised an accurate yearly calendar from it. Mayans are short people, most barely five feet tall, and it is difficult to observe the entire night sky through the thick canopy of jungle. I learned that the ancients had built stilts on which they walked out into the New River at night in order to make their observations and calculations. There are very little written records about how they did that, and also managed to successfully cohabitate with the crocs…
My dreamy reveries about starry nights in Belize were suddenly cut off by two twinkling blue eyes staring right at me from the other side of the table.
‘How come you’re sitting here by yourself?’
I hadn’t thought about it, so I just shrugged my shoulders. I’d noticed her before as I was sitting there. She passed by me a couple of times going back and forth to the beer truck. She was carrying heat, it was sexual, and with those translucent blue eyes she was making me think of Elizabeth Taylor on Tennessee Williams’s Hot Tin Roof…
She mistook my quietness for non-interest.
‘Do you want me to leave?’
She leaned forward closer to me. ‘You have an intriguing air about you.’
I wanted to ask her what color it was, but remembered that southerners don’t do well with that type of humor. Plus, I admired her for saying so and taking the initiative to talk with me. When I’m attracted to a woman I find intriguing, I’ll find a way to make contact. I know that it’s always risky and takes courage, or a few beers. Why ever, I was glad she was sitting across from me. She was a live wire, stimulating, and very easy to look at.
‘What’s your name?” I asked extending one of my hands to her.
She felt up my hand and studied it.
‘You have very soft hands for a sailor.’
I grinned and confessed that I was not really a sailor and in fact spent most of my time writing stories.
She continued probing my hand like a palm reader, and then she looked over at me. ‘But you look so salty.’
Now it was me who was being literal. ‘I swim a lot in the ocean.’
She laughed. ‘No, I mean you look very intimidating from a distance, but up close you are relaxed and soft.’
I’ve never had the opportunity of seeing myself from a distance -- like people who say they’ve died temporarily and looked aback at themselves before returning -- so I don’t know. I felt like a dummy shrugging my shoulders again, but I had no idea what to say to that. Plus, it wasn’t really a question.
She let go of my hand. ‘What do you write about?’
DEVILS & ANGELS was freshest on my mind, so I told her about that, briefly.
The central character is an Army Ranger who becomes disaffected with his service in Central America and winds up leading a group of Pan-American exiles and ex-patriots in a crusade against the U.S. economic and military setup.
She tells me that she’d been married to a guy who was in Special Forces.
I could see that, she had the intensity for it.
She used the past tense, was married. ‘Why did you split up?’
‘He was a loner by nature, not a good marriage partner. We’re still friends.’
Then she asked if I had family, and I told her about how I’d left home early, when I was around sixteen, then returned later like the prodigal son to take care of my parents.
She said she envied that. Her parents had died in an accident when she was just a little girl and her and her brother and sister grew up with various relatives. She wishes she had parents.
There was absolutely nothing chit-chatty about our conversation and I was finding it enormously refreshing and interesting. In five minutes I knew more about her than the boat crew I’d been with day and night for two days.
I settled back and sighed with relief. I was dearly hoping to make a real personal connection with someone on this trip.
She looked over at me and asked if she was boring me.
I sat back and moved my chair closer to her. I wanted to let her know, not just tell her, that that was a serious misreading of my thoughts.
‘You have beautiful eyes’
I leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. Her lips were supple, warm and delicious. I wanted more, but stopped and pulled back to see how she’d react to that.
She opened her eyes and they were sparkling more brightly. I noticed that her breasts, which were ample and healthful, were heaving under her shirt.
‘Do you want to see my boat?’
Some questions, I feel, are diminished by a verbal response.
I stood up and extended my hand to her.
Morgan and the crew were nearby. Earlier we had made plans to go to dinner together. So I walked over to where they were standing and introduced them to Angela. Then I asked Morgan where they were going to dinner, and told him that I may or may not join them there, to not wait for me.
Her boat was called The Archangel, a thirty-five foot single-hull sailboat. It appeared new or just cleaned very well on the outside. The wood trim was varnished to a high glean and the white vinyl covering the walkup was spotless.
Inside, it was dimly lit by galley lights. It was by far the most finely appointed vessel I’d been in. The main galley room included a sofa with plush white leather cushions, entertainment center with a flat screen TV and built in bar and wine rack. She gave me a quick tour. Her kitchen had custom-made cabinets, a French spice rack and an electric stove. (Most boat stoves are fueled by propane tanks.) There were no bunks on the boat, but rather two full size bedrooms in the bow and aft of the boat.
We went back to the main galley and I sat down on the sofa feeling very relaxed, comfortable and turned on. Angela began digging into her CD and DVD collections, offering to give me some of each for the trip to Tortola. I told her I didn’t need anything, and asked her what she was doing.
She stopped doing, and looked over at me. ‘I can’t give you what you want, but I want to give you something.’
That was a sudden change in flow, and a stunned look must have appeared on my face because she immediately answered my look.
Ten or fifteen years ago that would have gone in one ear and out the other. But I’ve learned from experience others - and -mine that getting involved with someone who is married is a recipe for heartache.
She went on to explain, without me asking; that she felt her husband loved his pretty boat more than his pretty wife. She also walked in on him recently doing yoga naked with her yoga instructor.
That was way too much information. A Pavlovian stun had seized my amorous desires on the word married.
She invited me to stay for dinner with her and her husband, who’d be back from town soon. I was already onto the next thing and told her that I thought it would be better for me to join my captain and crew for dinner. I’d be working and traveling with them for the next two weeks and still hardly knew them.
She smiled warmly. Part of me still wanted her, wanted to make love to her and take her away from someone who wasn’t fully appreciating her. But I’d been there and done that, and no matter how good and special they say it is with you they always go back. I silently repeated a situation mantra: ‘If they are not solidly unmarried, don’t fuck with them.’ It’s basic, but works.
She insisted I take something with me from her and she offered me her favorite sweater, made of alpaca wool. I did not bring clothes suitable for the chilly nights here so I accepted it. It was soft, warm and fine, like her. A good momento.
Morgan and the crew were having dinner at the restaurant located in the marina so I walked there. They were still on drinks and hadn’t started eating yet. Morgan looked surprised to see me and asked what happened. I simply said, ‘she’s married’. For the first time, Don looked at me in a friendly way, almost gleeful. ‘At least you got to pick up the hottest babe in the marina.’
That was so off the mark of what had actually happened that I excused myself to go the restroom in order to splash some cold water on my face and start over. That Don’s first personal remark directed to me was a cliché was not a good sign, but I tried not to make too much out of it. At least he was talking to me.
I ordered a Caesar salad and some club soda and listened in on their conversation. The crew managed to talk only about what they were eating, and Morgan made some lighthearted observations about some of the others in the rally that the crew perfunctorily laughed at. It was going to be a long two weeks; there’d be no getting around that. But I was looking forward to the sail and finding some new and ports on the islands.
The remainder of the seminars and workshops had mostly to do with boat safety and what to do in a serious emergency. We learned how to mange lifeboats, and use sub-pumps delivered by the Coast Guard in the case of a boat taking on water in the middle of the ocean. It was useful information but probably could have been contained in one day. Time was dragging on and I, like most of the others in the Rally, were ready to set sail and deal with whatever came up as it came up.
On the night before we left we went to the home of Morgan’s ex-wife for a home-cooked dinner. I can tell that she still wants him and sees me somewhat adversarial for the being the friend of his new love interest. But that’s natural and at least she is upfront about it. I like her. She’s vivacious, tenacious and a very cook.
Morgan drinks too much and ends up staying the night with her. Kate has two major issues with Morgan: drinking too much and sleeping with other women. So there you have it. I don’t know how it will play out when Kate returns from India to meet us in Tortola. But it’s for them to work out, not me.
I see Angela one more time before we leave, at a tail end of one of the last sip and socialize events. She stares across the yard at me dreamily, standing between a group of men, one of whom I assume is her husband. I can feel myself being drawn into her gaze again but turn away. She needed to uncluttered her port, or not. Who was I to say how she should live? But I needed to find a less cluttered port for myself, that I was sure of.
Adieu Newport and Bon Voyage a Tortola: Monday, November 7th, '05
We are scheduled to leave Newport, along with all the other boats in the Rally, at 11 o'clock a.m. My task before we leave is to wait at the Marina office for an important package from Fed Ex: our custom decals, which will allow us to enter and go back and forth between British and American Islands in the Virgins without bureaucratic hassles.
I’m glad for the assignment, it will give me a chance to take a walk and stretch my legs. The last week had been mainly sitting and listening to others talk, and working on the boat. Fifty feet is large for a boat, but not a lot of landscape for someone used to swimming and doing yoga classes daily. It get to the office around 9: 00 and am told that Fed Ex usually delivers between 9:30 and 10:00. I recall that the ‘fleet surgeon’, who warned us against eh dangers of seasickness, also informed us that the second greatest discomfort for sailors was constipation. It results from a combination of long down periods on the boats when the winds were not favorable, plus meals taken on the go, and toilets that turn into rocking horses on the high seas. So I take advantage of my last opportunity for a while to use stationary facilities as I wait for Fed Ex. Next to where I am seated, so to speak, there is a dated section from a local newspaper. I open it and there is a feature article on a writer from Buffalo, New York who was assigned by National Geographic magazine to help write an article on a local Virginia tribe of Native Americans. The article he produced emphasized the spirituality of the Indians too much for the tastes of National Geographic so the writer developed his notes into a best selling book. I can’t recall the name of the book or the author, though I do remember a couple passages from the article quoting the leader of the tribe. To paraphrase: the Chief remarked that the nature of life is happiness, no matter what the temporary circumstances might be. That rang a bell in my head as it correlated with Indian Hinduism, which states that the fabric of the universe is composed of Sat, Chit and Ananda - Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. We are simply here, aware of it, and happy about being here no matter the dramas we create now and then to make it seem otherwise.
The next quote was in regards to the difference between European and American Indian spirituality: the good chief proposed that Indians did not need churches or temples, or bibles because the wind and the sun gave them their direction, guidance and solace. On the sail from Annapolis I began reading the bible for the first time in my life. Morgan had a copy of his family’s one lodged in a bookshelf next to the head. I’d daily, in the mornings, flip it open to some portion of the Old Testament. When the fleet surgeon was talking about remedies for constipation - lots of water, walking in place, etc. - I thought of volunteering that I’d recently discovered the ultimate one - reading the Old Testament. It's stories could, I felt, literally scare the poop out of anyone.
The first passage I had come to talked about how God viewed men and women who he deemed to be ‘wicked’. I’d always considered wicked to be something favorable and necessary - a wicked wit, or a person who was an iconoclast, like a pithy and humorous social critic such as Lenny Bruce or Howard Stern or Mae West. Wicked, as implied in the bible, like almost everything else that is not deemed righteous, has to do with people who are unsettled sexually and lusty. It analogizes those poor souls to be like gusty winds and agitated seas. Well, to my way of thinking, and the Chief’s as well, I assume, gusty winds are what create the climates that make life sustainable, and the 'agitated' seas are what created the friction necessary to churn up the primal stew of minerals, gases, and elements that give us life as we know it. Therefore, the lust all human beings feel is related directly to our primal ancestry, and is not an anomaly, or unnatural, or a ‘wicked’ phenomenon. It’s what makes human life possible, enjoyable, and defends us from the self-appointed, self-righteous moral overseers.
I concluded that if one were to take the bible as literally the word of God, than that God created the world eons ago, and that things were going along swimmingly until about two-thousand or so years ago when that very same God decided he'd given human beings way too much juice - made them way too smart and oversexed. At that point he said enough was enough and sent down Abraham, Moses and a host of others to straighten humans being out and take them down a notch. I pride myself on a vivid imagination and an ability to consider almost anything possible, but that seems too farfetched for any reasonable person to take seriously.
Fortunately, I am relieved of my duties on the Philosopher’s Throne by the sound of the Fed Ex. Truck arriving.
I get back to the Winergie with the custom decals in hand just as my crewmates are bringing in the dock lines and getting ready to embark on the journey. Good timing.
The last weather reports we receive before leaving are almost unbelievably favorable. Tortola is southeast of The States and the winds are blowing northwesterly (from the north and west heading south and east) at about 10-15 knots. (A knot is one nautical mile per hour.) A vessel like the Winergie, if trimmed right, should travel at least half the speed of the wind.
Obviously, these are light winds. If we travel only 5 nautical miles an hour and our destination is more than 1000 miles away, we could arrive there considerably aged. But I consider it beginner's luck and am grateful for the opportunity to discover my sea legs again and get used to the motion of the ocean while the going is relatively calm.
We leave the Chesapeake for good and head into the Atlantic Ocean via the harbor and port of Norfolk, which also happens to be one of the largest naval installations in the United States. Heading into the ocean knowing that the next time you are going to see land will be in a foreign country and different time and temperate zone is like waiting in line to get onto a roller-coaster ride everyone for weeks has been telling you is going to provide you with thrill of a lifetime. That's the feeling and sensation I get as we motor out of the channels going out of the port and into the open ocean. Because there are only light winds and everyone is set to go as fast as possible as soon as possible, most boats who have them set out a third sail in addition to the traditional main and jib sails. These third sails are called spinnakers and are often brightly colored. If you've ever perused a sailing magazine it's typically the spinnaker blowing brightly against the wind that makes the centerfold. It's by far the most photogenic and sexy of the sails. On the Winergie the third sail is called a Rhode Island. It’s white and as long as the length of the boat, 50 feet, and even higher than the main sail, over 200 feet.
At the same time we are leaving Norfolk, there is a major naval deployment taking place. So Morgan takes the helm (steering wheel) to manually direct the boat. The news of the deployment comes with the stark warning that any vessel coming within 600 feet of any U.S. ship will suffer dire consequences without preemptive warning. So from the helm, Morgan instructs Don and me on how to put out the Rhode Island. Don removes it from its storage place in the bow of the boat and we clamp it into place in order to take best advantage of the direction of the wind. Being the least experienced sailor on board, I take the task of unfurling the huge sail. This is done by manually pulling the sail’s sheets or lines around a winch. This is similar to cranking a tire jack, though circular and more strenuous. After a week spent mostly sitting around, I welcome the exertion.
The Rhode Island comes up on the port or right side of the boat and takes in enough air to get us cruising at a couple more knots of speed. Just beyond the sail there is another vessel coming into view from the port. It’s otherworldly looking. An aircraft carrier that’s larger than many small towns. And behind us, a submarine is approaching flanked by several smaller heavily armed boats. I wonder if the armada means the sub is nuclear, and where they might be heading.
I’m also trying to imagine what it would be like to be living in some Third World country plying an ancient trade like net fishing or clamming and seeing one of these things coming up on your horizon. Then Lynn comes onto the afterdeck and begins snapping pictures of the warships. I hear her say to Morgan, as she gazes at he vessels, ‘I’m glad we’re on your side.’
On our side of what, I wonder. Spending time near Norfolk one can’t help but interact with many military personal. I find them to be an exceptional group of individuals, fit, smart and well mannered. It saddens me deeply to think that their precious young lives are in play now due to the creepy fantasies of a small group of old men (Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld) who have never been in war.
I’m no longer finding the sycophantic Canadian munchkins annoying; I’m starting to dislike them. And it’s only day one of this travel. Oh boy.
At this point, heading into open seas, Morgan, along with the captains and crews of the other boats will have to choose which initial course to take to Tortola. There are two options: head south first, or east. But betting right -- and I use the analogy purposely -- will be the difference between getting into Tortola along with the leaders of the pack, or behind them. This predicament brings up issues of vanity, morale and respect. Morgan is fond of reminding us that these kinds of decisions are his alone and not part of a democratic process.
Even though technically we are not racing, but cruising, Morgan makes it clear that he does not want any single hulled vessels getting there before us. Additionally, the buzz on the dock was that it would either be Alacrity, another catamaran, or us, who would get there first. The Alacrity has an experienced professional sailing crew aboard; therefore, it’s up to Morgan to make up for that differential by plotting an ingenious course for us. If he succeeds, morale aboard will be high; but if he misses and we end up in troughs (explained shortly) the feelings could turn mutinous. Respect will be earned by the captain for either guessing right, or adroitly adapting to a new course. (Before the British began rewarding mutineers with capital punishment, the sea was littered with wrong-minded, obstinate captains.)
I used the word betting to describe this process because it is much like a poker game. Every boat in the rally is playing with the same deck - the same winds, currents and amount of sea to cover -- though some will end up with much better hands than others. Like a poker game, one can study what the other players are doing, or one can get scientific and count cards or study charts -- but in the end it comes down to playing hunches and getting lucky.
The main ingredients that go into plotting a course are currents and weather. Currents generally run with the wind, especially strong winds. Though the Gulf Stream, the strongest current on earth, runs north at about four knots regardless of the wind. It doesn’t have a set place, though if you are traveling east from the east coast of America you will generally run into it sometime within twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Because the winds, though light, are pushing south, most captains choose to go with the wind and go south first.
Morgan decides to go east first, for two reasons: One, is simply that it’s cold and entering and getting through to other side of the Gulf Stream ensures an increase in air temperature of at least ten degrees, probably more this time of year, pre-winter. Secondly, he is gambling that the cold front that is pushing cold northern air south will soon begin tracking east.
One needs to know a little about the nature of weather to understand this premise.
The whole purpose of weather is to redistribute heat from the tropics to the arctic regions in order to create temperate livable climates on most of the earth. If it weren’t for weather, and currents, the tropics would be like a huge sweaty armpit with temperatures ranging steadily between 150 and 200 degrees, and the arctic would be like a static brittle frozen fingertip. Heat is redistributed on earth principally via winds that move south off the northern landmasses in cold fronts and then interact with winds moving north from the tropics in warm fronts. When these two systems collide they create what we call weather: rain, wind, storms, tornadoes and hurricanes.
I feel compelled here to say something about the much maligned hurricane. Naturally, when I returned home and before returning to Newport I was watching the news for weather reports. Our departure date of November 7 was arbitrary; certainly no one in his or her right mind was going to sail out into the ocean in the middle of an active hurricane. The good news was that the record-breaking season of hurricanes had seemed to play itself out by late October, though the bad news was that it had left a tempest in a teapot in its wake. While channel surfacing I had the misfortune of coming across a clone of the Great White Cracker, Billy Graham, talking with Larry King. It must have been The Cracker’s son because he eerily looked and talked just like him. Evidently, there were some pinheaded fundamentalist Christians claiming that the hurricanes that devastated New Orleans had been sent by God, or Jesus, I guess, in order to lay waste to the present haunt of Sodom and Gomorrah, Bourbon Street. The Clone, quite seriously, pompously, in fact, claimed that he refuted this notion because ‘There were many devout, god-fearing Christians who were also felled in Katrina's wake.’ With a complete lack of irony, King asked if perhaps those devout Christian were not as righteous as they seemed and they deserved this comeuppance as well.
‘Dudes!’ I felt like screaming into the screen. ‘Weather is weather and sex is sex, and both make the world go round.’ Hurricanes are simply an ecological necessity. They are the primary catalyst for transferring warm air up from the tropics, and in the process provide inland waters with fresh deposits of minerals and clear away dead overgrowth in bayous and swamps. Why people like The Clone and The King of Talk are on TV and not in insane asylums is beyond me. If there was a charitable organization asking for donations in order to treat these two hornballs to a free weekend in an open-air tropical bordello, I would have sent all the money I was saving up for partying in Tortola.
Back to winds, of the more natural kind. Because winds move in circular patterns, clockwise (in the northern hemisphere) and counter clockwise (in the southern hemisphere) , whatever direction you find yourself sailing in will be only temporary. Therefore, Morgan takes a calculated guess that the winds now blowing south will soon turn eastward.
As we head east, Morgan works out a schedule of ‘watches’. Because the Winergie will be traveling continuously it will be necessary to have at least one person on deck at all times. To watch for what, you might ask. Principally, other boats -- oil tankers, commercial fishing boats, naval vessels -- along with any debris that might be in the water as a result of the recent hurricane actions. (I will admit that I was hoping to see The King and The Clone float by. Sorry.) The other thing one has to watch for is sleeping whales. Because they are mammals, whales sleep on the surface. They are dark and do not have deck lights. Before their numbers were decimated in the last two centuries, this was a big problem for sailors. It is still a big problem if you happen to run into one. The last sound you will hear in your life will likely be that of a whale grunting to your pinch in its side along with its continued snoring. A pod of whales had been spotted by one of the boats that headed south; so we are on the lookout.
Morgan assigns Don and me to take the first overnight shift together, from eight until two in the morning. Of the fifty boats that took off together, there are now only two visible to us. The Alacrity is way out in front and to the south, and another unidentifiable boat is behind us by three miles or so. Other than that, it’s peaceful. I try to engage Don in conversation by telling a story with two elements that I think will interest him: fishing and Canada. I tell him that while I was living in Canada our small household of three people, including a southerner who got there after breaking out of jail in Michigan, sustained ourselves largely by fishing in rivers and lakes for trout, perch and bass. That worked fine in the spring, summer and fall, but when winter came along and the waters froze none of us knew how to fish. The story is true so far. The further truth is that the jailbird got picked up by the police on my non-registered motorcycle and we all subsequently fled Canada for Florida before the police and winter hit. But I’m trying to make story, not recite my biography. I go on to tell Don that one day we ventured out onto a lake where there were some Canadians ice fishing. We tell them of our plight and ask them what the secret is to successful ice fishing. They show us the circular hole they made in the ice and then instruct us to open a can of Green Giant peas and spread them around the circumference of the hole. Then they hand each of us a baseball bat and tell us that when the fish come up to take a pee we should smack them on their heads.
I’ll admit it’s a stupid joke, but I was only trying to jostle a smile or some kind of favorable reaction from him. He yawned and stared ahead at the empty dark sea and didn’t come alive again until Morgan and Lynn came up to replace us. Lynn offers to make some coffee and sandwiches, but I decline. I get the impression that Don is a married loner, and Lynn’s role is to be his only and sole confidant and supporter. A role she seems to welcome wholeheartedly. As Neils Bohr and other modern physicists are want to remind us, if you observe things too closely in this universe they tend to become weird. Marriage is certainly one of those things. So I decide to stop observing and go to sleep.
I sleep well, which is to say not long and I wake up feeling clear headed and strong. This is one of the favorable effects I recognize of being ‘off the grid’ of landed reality and civilization - cars, TV, air conditioning, heating, pollution. It’s the reason I spent so much time in Belize. Effortlessly, just by being cut off from so many things in modern life that deplete one’s energy, one wakes up one day feeling more alive, vital and fully human than all the high powered diets and exercise regimes could possibly provide.
My mood is even further heightened when I visit the head. The bunks and heads are located below the deck within the twin hulls on either side of the boat. Therefore, they set below the surface of the ocean by about four feet. There’s a glass emergency hatch in the head that looks right out into the ocean. The color of the water has changed hue overnight, from a misty pea green to a bright, almost unreal aquamarine. We are now in the Gulf Stream.
The Gulf Stream is the primary conduit for bringing warm air to the northern hemisphere of earth. It extends from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Sea. Without it, the climates of North America and Europe would be frigid rather than temperate in winter. The Gulf Stream works like a conveyer belt, and actually originates in the Arctic where dense, heavy freezing water coming off the glaciers sinks down to the bottom of the ocean and then flows southward. This fast moving frigid current pushes warmer water up to the surface where it forms a current conveying warm water and air northward. One of the few verifiable effects of ‘global warming’ is that in the last twelve years the Gulf Stream has been delivering a third less warm water into the North Sea. Why? Because as the temperature of the planet increases from global warming the waters coming from the Arctic are also warmer and therefore do not sink as deeply into the ocean nor travel as fast southward. It’s the same phenomenon -- the warming of Arctic waters -- that has caused a sharp increase in the drowning deaths of Polar Bears during the last several years. Many of the icebergs they use to jaunt around on have melted.
Later, on my way back from Tortola to The States, I share a short plane ride to Puerto Rico with one of the leading marine meteorologists. I know he’s a meteorologist not only because he was a guest speaker at one of the seminars on weather I attended, but because he had weather charts spread out across his lap. Tracking weather is a 24/7 occupation. I ask him what he thinks about all the brouhaha over global warming and if he thought it was responsible for the hurricanes, tidal waves and typhoons that have been happening lately. He just shook his head and said he had no idea what was specifically related to global warming, though he was certain that the weather would change. ‘That’s its job. Weather will change in order to compensate for the changes in air temperature, but no one can predict surely what those changes will be. It would be better to leave things as they are and slow down global warming, but it might be too late already.’
When I leave the head and walk up on deck there are frowns in the galley, despite the sunny sky and blue waters. Every morning and evening at 7 o’clock there is a ‘chat session’ between the boats in the Rally. Each boat gives their latitude and longitude and offers any brief comments they’d like to make. Don is sitting at a table charting the locations of the other boats. At each announcement Morgan grunts. The boats that tracked south first are in the lead; they covered more sea than those that tracked east. Except for Alacrity, which somehow adroitly managed to go east faster than us and caught the favorable wind Morgan hoped we’d catch.
I go out on the bridge. To me, it’s much ado about nothing. Using the metaphor of a poker game again, we are only two cards down in a game of five-card stud. There is plenty of game (ocean and weather) left. A few large-bodied dorsal finned porpoises are checking us out from the starboard side of the boat. With nothing else to do, I try porpoise mind reading. ‘Eons ago our ancestors decided not to evolve frumpy little arms and legs and crawl up onto land. And as far as I can tell,’ I imagine one telepathically communicating to another, as they look over our Texas Long Horn trying to get to the next piece of land as quickly as possible, “I think they made the right decision.’
Then their sleek black bodies submerge into the blueness of the Gulf Stream. I wonder how deep the water is now and when I check the depth meter on the helm it reads 25, which can’t be right. It’s blinking, which means it can’t find bottom, it’s out of range. I peak into the cabin and check the depth chart on the GPS and it reads over 5000 feet. We are literally riding atop an Everest of water with whole other worlds of teeming life below us. It’s an exhilarating feeling.
Because we are traveling against the current of the Gulf Stream, which is flowing north at about four knots, and there is no wind, we are motoring at about 8 knots due east in order to get through it as quickly as possible.
As I mentioned earlier, wind travels in circular motion. In the middle of these circular vistas of air there is what’s called a trough. The air in the trough is sucked out in order to feed the circular jets of wind. There are no signs on the ocean, or land, directing one to where the winds and troughs might be. You have to make an educated guess and we, or Morgan, guessed wrong. The worse possible scenario for a sailing vessel is to be caught in the middle of a trough in a high or low that has stalled or lulled. And that’s exactly what happens to us for the next two days.
Fortunately, the Winergie has twin diesel engines that can move us along on course at around 10 knots. That’s about as fast as most of the single hull boats can go at full sail in good winds. So we are not losing ground, but we’re also not sailing.
There’s not much to do on a sailboat when you are not sailing. You can rest, fish, cook or read. Morgan has a well-stocked library of books on sailing in the galley and a small trove of popular novels. We are waiting on a cold front to move south and pick up winds behind us, so I peruse a book on weather and try to look for signs in the sky for an approaching cold front with its characteristic striate cloud formations. The sky, however, is clear as a bell, though now I know what to look for if, or when, it shows up.
Morgan’s favorite novelist is Clive Cussler. It’s easy to understand. The books are about daring do on the high seas by very intelligent handsome men and their female counterparts. Clive’s a good storyteller and the plots are well paced and intriguing, but his characters are similarly unreal by half. Though not in a bad way. They’re super competent and heroic. Admirable qualities, for sure. But I prefer novels where I feel the writer is working to get below the surface of people and things, and Clive makes no effort to go there. I try another. Lifeguard, by James Paterson. It’s literally about a lifeguard who falls in love or lust with a young female trophy whore whose living in luxury by putting out for some despicable older man with a lot of money. I could care less about any of these characters and skip to the back cover, which informs me that Mr. Paterson’s previous books have all been best sellers. That’s depressing. I feel like throwing The Lifeguard into the ocean to see if it can swim, but fear insulting the intelligence of a jellyfish.
My crewmates are hoisting sails in and out and trying as best they can to beg for wind and something to do. To get back in the race, even though we’re not racing. It’s at this point that I start writing this journal.
Three days later, the old adage of to be careful of what you wish for comes into play. The cold front finally arrives and brings along with it 10 to 15 foot waves and 25-30 knot winds. In and of itself, that's not so bad and could be manageable except that the winds are swirling and unsteady. Weather is weather, but people inevitably try their best to explain it: ‘We’re at the place where the cold front is meeting a warm front’, ‘we’re at the tail end of a high pressure zone’, ‘we’re in Oz…’ (We'll learn later that a tropical storm developed near Haiti and as it did so it sucked up all their air in its proximity, distorting the expected or predicted tracks of highs and lows.)
The net effect of all this turbulence is that it’s nearly impossible, for me, anyway, to maintain a center of gravity. One hour we’ll be sailing with easterly winds, the next they are northerly, and on and on. Each time your body adjusts, its just as quickly thrown out of synch again as it tries to readjust. Fortunately, I do not get seasick, though I do get a ringing earache from the howling winds and when I go down to my bunk I feel feverish and break out into a cold sweat.
I manage somehow to sleep, even though the hull of the boat is like being in the belly of something being exorcised. When I wake up I'm soaking wet from brow to toes. Not just from my own sweat, but there’s a leak in the galley hatch above my bunk. Changing clothes in the small bunk is a chore on a good day, and with the boat being smacked around like a rubber duck it’s frustrating and aggravating. But I know that I have to get out of my wet clothes, so I manage to do so.
The main ingredients of the weather pattern we are in, whatever it is, remain the same for the next forty hours: high winds, high seas, and abrupt shifts in the direction of the wind and tide. Don is proving himself to be a very adroit tactical and technical sailor. He is constantly trimming the sails to adjust to the changes in wind. One thing I learn by sailing into or against the flow of the wind is that one can do this by trimming the sails in order to create a convex flow of air between the sails that form a vacuum behind the boat and a low pressure area between the sails that allows the vessel to be propelled forward from behind. It’s the same concept and practice used in aerodynamics that allows a plane to fly into the wind. If you’ve ever noticed the flaps under a plane’s wings being adjusted up and down during a flight, the pilot is applying the same principles of aerodynamics with his wings that we are doing with our sails.
The dynamics of sailing in these conditions are beyond my skill and experience, so I look for more basic ways to contribute to the sailing while intently watching and listening to Morgan and Don discuss what they are doing. Because the wind is changing abruptly, and gusting at times, it’s necessary to pull the sails in and out on short notice in order to prevent tearing or other damage. The main sail is heavy and stalwart and stays up almost no matter what wind we are dealing with, but the jib is lighter and must come down during gusting or it will tear. So I decide that my best way to contribute will be to winch in the sails, and take longer watches in order to provide breaks for Morgan, Don and Lynn.
But after a few days of sailing in these types of ever-fluctuating conditions we are all pretty wiped out. It’s the seventh evening of the sail and we are on course to arrive in Tortola sometime within the next twenty-four hours. So just one more overnight to endure and soon we’ll be in paradise. Great. All of us are seated in the interior cabin of the boat - waves are popping up over the bow of the boat and dowsing the exterior in water, including the afterdeck. We’re listening to the evening chat of boats and recording their longitudes and latitudes. A few more boats have gotten to Tortola already; one veered off to the Bahamas (shorter distance) and another got pushed to Puerto Rico by gusting westerly winds.
Then a report comes over the radio by a third-party boat advising that another boat in the Rally, the Savannah Gale, has become de-masted (lost its sails) is taking on water, has shorted its radio transmitter, and does not have enough fuel to motor to Tortola. The vessel that reports this volunteers to go to their assistance in order to take on their crew if the Savannah Gale has to be abandoned. The third-part boat reports further that they do not have fuel reserves to give to the Savannah Gale.
Our boat, the Winergie, is in next closest proximity to the Savannah Gale. They are located about twelve hours due west of us. Tortola is due east. Going to their assistance will add another day to our trip. Without hesitation, Morgan tells Hank, the leader of the chat, that we will immediately change course direction and provide the Savannah Gale with enough fuel to make it into Tortola. Don mumbles something about waiting first to see if there aren’t any other boats that could do the same. Morgan ignores him.
I’m enormously impressed with Morgan’s reaction. Even though he looks, and is, the most frazzled of all of us - this is after all his boat, his home, that’s taking a beating out here in the high seas and truculent winds - he is nevertheless the first to volunteer his services. During the last presidential election between Bush and Kerry there was much talk about leadership. Lots of talk, and lots of posturing. But I thought to myself watching Morgan that this was it in practice.
When I first heard the report of what was happening to the Savannah Gale, to tell you the truth, it was not even within my consideration to go and help them. First of all I wouldn’t know how to do it, and secondly, I was more concerned about getting my wet tired body off this liquid trampoline and back on dry land. But the moment Morgan unequivocally volunteered us for this mission I felt myself become immediately re-energized and inspired to do the right thing and go help them. That, for me, from now on, will be my definition of leadership: the ability to inspire by responsible action.
I get up from the table, pat Morgan on the shoulder and tell him that I am going to go down to my bunk in order to rest and be ready for whatever he wants to do. He just nods his head, expecting this, and tells me that we should get to where the Savannah Gale is by about four of five in the morning, but won’t be doing anything until after the first light of dawn, around six.
Dramamine comes in two varieties, non-drowsy and regular. I take a couple of the regular, which act like mild sleep inducers as well and anti-emetics. Lying in a bunk in the fore of a boat taking hits from 25-30 foot waves feels a little like being in a plane taking extreme turbulence. One gets a profound sense of puniness and mortality as well as a realization of the extraordinary arrogance of human beings who put themselves in such positions. My tight-fitting bunk has dimensions that are not dissimilar to those of a coffin and I imagine my bunk getting spliced off from the boat by one of these thunderous waves and drifting off to sea with me in it. I recall Robert telling me that he kept a supply of opiate knockout drugs on him for just such occasions. I don’t have any, though I think that if anything extreme happened I’d be able to surrender and not fight it. I’m not suicidal, but have to admit that the few times I’ve casually considered walking away from life it's always involved the sea. Perhaps because being buried in dirt seems so final to me, and being lost into the sea seems more like a recycling.
After about forty minutes of careening around the bunk haphazardly, bracing myself against the force of waves that hit the side of the boat like canon shots and literally lift me off the bunk, I find a rhythm between the blasts and my strange thoughts and manage to fall asleep and stay asleep for a solid eight hours for the first time in weeks. Better than I can describe the sailing conditions from my own limited experience, is the fact that we are going out to rescue a boat that has traveled in waters around the world and it's sails and masts have been completely destroyed by the force of these same waves. Additionally, I’ll learn later from Morgan, this is the first time in the five years he’s owned the Winergie that waves have hit its bow with such force that they then crested and poured into the afterdeck.
In the morning I hit the head and decide to take one more pass at the Bible. I’m not reading it in any particular order, just opening it randomly. This time I come across a passage where David entices his sister Anon into bed and then fornicates with her. Afterward, she vows to hate him forever. That’s it for me. The Good Book is the most strangely perverse and anti-humanistic tripe I’ve come across since perusing Mao’s Little Red Book - and that’s saying something.
When I go back up to the cabin. Morgan is sitting in the same place I left him. I’d guess that he didn’t sleep at all, or if he did, not much. His eyes are red and baggy as he stares at the GPS feed on the computer screen. Another word about GPS, if you will. It would be nearly impossible for us to perform this task of getting to the Savannah Gale as quickly as we are if we were using pre-twentieth century navigation tools. GPS exists as a direct result of Einstein’s discovery of relativity. How? Because without GPS, we could only know the position of the Winergie and the Savannah Gale by their respective longitudes and latitudes. We could then plot a straight-line course from us to them and then wait to see what happens. Chances are, especially in these seas, it would take two or three or more passes to get at them. Why? Because unlike GPS, non-modern methods of navigation did not take into account the effects of gravity, magnetism, motion, time, plus winds and currents. In the past, sailors knew that there were invisible forces affecting their place and motion and they made calculated guesses in order to compensate for them. But they did not have the advantage of Einstein’s precise mathematical formulations for factoring in the effects of those forces on one’s location and movement in space and time.
If Columbus had GPS, he likely would have gotten to where he thought he was going, India, and changed the course of history. I probably would not be here, and I certainly would not have been reading ‘Indian’ philosophy in a modern ‘American’ marina toilet.
I walk out onto the afterdeck and Don is manning the helm. He’s looking out stoically and I’m tired of initiating unrequited greetings, so I just look past him. The sea is not quite so restless as when I went down to my bunk, though it’s still ornery. Waves are splashing against the bow, not coming over it. And the soupy gray cloud cover has lifted. A nearly full moon is setting in the east in a pale casting of gauzy clouds, while the sun rises in the west golden and vibrant. I get the expansive feeling that I’m privy to witnessing the same brew of elements - air, heat, motion and water - that gave birth to life on earth billions of years ago and which will continue to do so in some form forever. The irony is not lost on me that the same forces that are giving me a peek at immortality, earlier reminded me of my very mortal vulnerability.
Ah, to be alive is such a puzzle, such a blessing.
A school of flying fish passes over one of the hulls of the boat. One lands in the deck. It takes me several minutes to grab it and toss it back. For one thing, like the deck, it’s wet, slippery and jumpy; and the other is that once again my center of gravity stumbles to adjust to being vertical and in motion. I manage finally to get it over the side and back into the ocean and wonder if it takes along with it tales of alien abduction and gropings…
The Savannah Gale and the boat that’s assisting it, Blueprint Match, are in sight. They are behind us by about fifty yards. Though it’s still not clear to me exactly how we are going to get fuel to them. In these seas and winds it would be way too risky to let them draw up close enough for us to toss it to them.
I hear the sound of Morgan’s voice talking into the radio with the captain of Blueprint Match. The last words that I can make out are Morgan telling him. “Just let me put on a jacket and light a cigar and we’ll do this.”
He comes out onto the deck, looks at me and asks if I’m ready and if I heard him tell the other captain what we are going to do. I am ready, though I could not hear the plan through the howling of the wind. So I shout at Morgan to simply tell me exactly where to go and what do, and no more or less than that. He nods and walks out onto the port side hull of the boat. I follow, attaching a tether on my life preserver to safety lines running the length of the boat. If I go overboard, I’ll dangle in the water like a hooked fish. Not a pleasant picture.
The fuel reserves - four six-gallon red plastic containers -- are located in storage bins in the hull at the bow of the boat. We are about two-hundred miles from Tortola and one gets about ten miles to a gallon, so the twenty-four gallons of fuel, plus what they have in their tank, should provide the Savannah Gale with more than enough fuel to reach port. The question, for me, is still how we get it to them.
With waves crashing over him, Morgan lifts the large jugs out of the storage bin one by one and directs me to take them back to the centerline of the boat. I do so, taking a wave right in my face and chest. Pitching and shaking with the unsteady up and down sway of the boat; I manage to get the jugs to center without going overboard. I see now what it is we are going to attempt to do. We are going to attach the jugs to thick dock lines and then send them overboard.
The winds are blowing at us, back toward where the Savannah Gale and Blueprint Match are hovering, waiting. Don has done a good job of positioning us in order to allow the winds and tides to take our cargo of fuel back to them. Blueprint Match is smaller and more maneuverable than the Savannah Gale, so it gets into position to assist once the jugs are floated into the water, if needed. What no one wants to see is four containers of diesel fuel floating off into the sunrise on the back of these strong tides leaving the Savannah Gale in the same predicament as when we found them. I get the four jugs lined up with the dock line and watch as Morgan ties them together. In between each jug, he attaches a life preserver in order to float the jugs in the water long enough to get to the Savannah Gale and her crew. Morgan’s trying to tie them together with a bowline knot, the most commonly used knot in a sailor’s repertoire. And one that most seasoned sailors, like Morgan, can tie in their sleep. Watching him try over and over to tie the knot makes me realize just how tired, if not close to exhausted, he is. The knot has to be a bowline because it is not only the strongest knot; it is also the easiest for those on the receiving end to undo quickly. I decide not to break Morgan’s rhythm by trying to assist him. I note that he is not getting frustrated, or settling for tying a lesser knot. He knows he's tired and he's simply acting accordingly, taking his time until he gets it right. I admire that.
When it’s time for the heave ho, together we send the boat-saving cargo overboard. The weight and momentum nearly takes me in with it; I cringe as I feel my back bow from the weight and then slowly straighten up again and hold my balance. My face and arms are covered in stinging salty sea foam; I’m soaked from head to toe, and sore.
This is where the story, I know, is going to sound unreal and throw the credulity of everything I’ve written so far into question. But it’s nevertheless the way it happened, so here goes. When I look at the cargo floating downwind behind us, on the eastern horizon there is the brightest rainbow I have ever seen lighting up the sky one-hundred- and- eighty-degrees from north to south, and below it, on the surface of the ocean, there are three young dolphins curiously jostling the rope, jugs and life-preservers with their long bottle neck snouts.
When I look back at Morgan to point out what I see he’s resting back against the outside of the cabin of the boat, chest heaving and cigar fuming. He looks where I point, and simply nods and smiles as though to chide me for my disparaging comments about the events and characters in Clive Cussler novels being unreal by half. Here it is, he’s telling me with his eyes, and here we are, and it can't any more magical and real than this.
Morgan being Morgan, after the Savannah Gale successfully retrieves the fuel drums, he also sends them cable wire in order to allow them repair their defunct radio transmitter. Then he provides the captain of the assisting boat with precise instructions on how to tell the captain of the Savannah Gale to get their radio transmitter up and running again. We wait to hear from the Savannah Gale on their radio before taking off. After watching Morgan orchestrate this rescue today, and during the last few weeks troubleshoot diesel engines, hand repair sails and solve computer problems, I am left wondering if there is anything in the world he cannot do. And I mean this in a good way, not an envious way. Morgan is unassuming of his knowledge and skills and doesn't display them like many talented people I know do. What he does assume is that everyone, like him, is equally competent and honorable. It's a grand assumption I welcome as an invitation and challenge.
We change course direction back to Tortola. When we started out on the rescue, we were 140 miles or about fourteen hours from port; now, twelve hours later, we are about 200 miles and twenty hours from port. We head southeast and, as if to reward us for our good deed, the wind and tide picks up almost directly behind us. I grab a winch and start unfurling sails as fast as I can. In no time we are cruising steadily at around 12 knots.
The combination of a good night's sleep, along with the adrenaline rush produced by the rescue, and the cumulative effect of sailing 24/7 in the open air is making me feel extraordinarily alive, strong and vital. It also brings on an excited anticipation of getting to land and seeing people again, especially female ones. I stretch out on cushions in the open back of the deck and stare out at the sea waiting for the first signs of land and life. After only eight days at sea, I can readily imagine how a man out here for eighty- or eight-hundred-days could begin mistaking porpoises for Daryl Hannah.
Because the winds are now steady and favorable, we can set the automatic pilot to our course direction and just let it cruise. Morgan goes down to his bunk to get some much needed rest and sleep, Lynn tries to get the kitchen galley back to some semblance of order, and Don continues to man the helm, even though the boat is on autopilot.
I give Lynn a hand in the galley, and help her make some sandwiches. Then I retire back to my comfy perch on the afterdeck and just enjoy watching the ocean go by. With the wind at our back rather than in our face, I can feel tropical warmth. Feels good. I nap for a while and we all come together for the evening’s radio chat.
There’s effusive praise from the Fleet Captain for our willingness to go out and rescue the Savannah Gale as well as for our adroit execution. Kudos to Morgan, I think to myself. Neither Lynn nor I could have executed the rescue, and Don was at first ambivalent or put off by the idea of it. It simply would not have happened without Morgan’s selfless attitude and skill. I’m glad that I recorded the details of the rescue in my mind in order to record it later on paper. Stories like this tend to get changed over time. I’m also determined, when we get back to port, to make sure that people know it is Morgan who deserves the lion’s share of the limelight.
No one on the boat sleeps during the final overnight. It’s around midnight and the GPS is telling us that our ETE (Estimated Time of Entry) into the port of Tortola is less than four hours. We made good time on the last run.
Waiting to spot land is a lot like watching and waiting for water to boil. It’s best to distract oneself with something else in order to let the time pass more easily. There’s a nearly full moon that’s like a spotlight reflecting off the ocean’s surface. Seeing as there is nothing on the boat that I haven’t read that I want to read, I turn back to Dom Delillo’s novel, Cosmopolis. There’s a beautifully rendered scene near the end of the novel I want to reread. After the protagonist of this tale spends an entire day in a limo in Manhattan buying billions of dollars worth of a currency that is fast becoming seemingly worthless - it’s value is no longer pegged to other currencies, but to the rat, which happens to be a dietary staple in much of the world -- and after having sex with his secretary while getting a prostrate exam from his physician, and then shooting one of his body guards, our anti-hero tries to find some semblance of normalcy and continuity in post-modern life by going for a haircut in the neighborhood he grew up in -- what used to be called Hell’s Kitchen but is now part of tony midtown west. Sorry, but you have to read the scene to appreciate it as it’s Delillo’s writing that makes it so special. But if you read it, you won’t be sorry.
It’s about 3 a.m. now and the sky is turning misty with humidity as we near the warming landmasses of the islands. Morgan orders the sails down, as from here on in we’ll motor. The port, even at this hour, is likely to be busy with other sailboats, commercial vessels and cruise liners. Morgan takes the helm in order to steer us in through the traffic and I grab the winches to take the sails in one last time. By now, I can start to feel my upper back and arm muscles strain sorely as I bring in the sails. I’m glad we’re here.
Shortly, a dark land mass appears and rises surprisingly high into the air, dotted with house and traffic lights. With the nearly full moon burning light through the mist over the islands, it’s a strikingly romantic scene. I observe Don and Lynn standing together on a lookout perch peering out at the welcoming sight. So far they haven’t shown any signs of affection to one another and I wonder if this scene will induce them to finally do so. I’m feeling as though if one of those bug eyed flying fish popped on board right now I might be tempted to give it a hug or smooch. Nothing happens. Don remains a safe untouchable distance behind her.
There is a huge cruise boat entering the port -- it literally looks like a birthday or wedding cake floating atop the sea. Morgan reduces our speed to about four knots and it seems to take us forever from sighting the islands to getting into their port.
We do, of course, finally get there, but at four knots it takes about another hour and a half. . It’s light out now. There are a couple of other sailors from the Rally there to greet us and help with tying the Winergie up to our birth on the dock. I’m ready to jump off the boat and do like the Pope and get down on my knees and kiss the ground. But Morgan informs us that there are strict prohibitions against the crew getting off a boat before the captain goes to the customs office with our passports and declares and clears us. We are, after all, now in a colony of Great Britain, not the United states..
Oh well. It’s Wednesday, and I’m flying back to the States the next Monday. I’d like to make the most of my time here so I go down into the hull of the vessel and start gathering up my wet and sweaty clothes and bed sheets to take to a laundry as soon as Morgan gets back.
When I get back up on the deck with my load, Don and Lynn are entertaining other sailors from the Rally - including the Fleet Captain and Fleet Surgeon -- who have come over to welcome and congratulate us on a successful passage. They, too, were very impressed, and grateful, for our rescue of another boat in the Rally. I wish that Morgan were here to receive their praise, so I try to divert the conversation to mundane topics like where the laundry and showers are located until he gets back. But they leave before Morgan returns and I’m left with the sour memory of Don smugly telling them that it was simply the right thing for us to do - this from the same person who was looking for excuses not to go to the rescue, and only steered the boat from the relative safety of the helm (something Lynn could have done once he positioned us). I feel as though if I had to spend another day on the boat with him that I might become compelled to find out if he can swim as well as he sails.
But we are in Tortola now and once I can get off this boat there will be no reason for me to have to see or interact with him again. That’s almost as pleasurable a thought as some of the fantasies I’ve cooked for my stay in Tortola.
When Morgan finally returns a couple of hours later, huffing and puffing about ‘bureaucratic assholes’, Lynn and Don immediately flee. (Were they reading my mind?) I tell Morgan I found out where the showers and laundry are located and he follows me there. The showers and laundry are in the back of a Marina right across from one another. The laundry you can do yourself, or have someone do it for you for the same price plus a tip. I leave it with a woman who has a beatific smile, even if it's denturally challenged. The showers are strictly solo affairs (two people could not fit in one if they tried) and take two-dollar tokens and last only five minutes. The windowless wooden shower booths with rusty fixtures are so unappealing that I don’t even last the entire five minutes. Though it does feel good, very good, to be soap and shampoo clean again.
On the way out Morgan and I pass through the main part of the Marina. This section of the Marina was evidently built after or added on to the part that contained the laundry and showers. It's a modern facility with a hotel, bar and open-air restaurant overlooking the harbor, along with a small built-in pool and patio. Morgan orders a ‘Pain Killer’ from the bar. It’s the signature drink on Tortola - a mix of orange and pineapple juice, something called lope bocca, nutmeg, and a large dose of Virgin Island rum. On the boat, we had only instant decaffeinated coffee and I’d been dreaming of a cup of fresh brewed real coffee for days. The coffee is self-serve and free though even with that I can’t drink it. It must have been brewed much earlier in the morning: it’s thick, bitter and undrinkable. Okay, not a big deal, I tell myself, there are plenty of other places on the island where I’ll be able to find what I’m looking for. I check out the menu for the restaurant. American food: burgers, chicken, salads. Pricey for what it is. Beers are four dollar… I look around and see that there aren’t any Tortolians eating or drinking here.
When we get back to the Winergie I can see that Morgan’s plan for the rest of the day will be to just chill out and wind down on the boat or at the Marina bar. That’s fine and understandable; he’s here for however long he wants to be here.
I tell Morgan that I’d like to find a beach and go for a swim. Morgan has been to these islands before, several times, and he tells me that there are beautiful beaches but that they are all located on the other side of the island, over a rise of hills behind us that goes up nearly a thousand feet. Like Morgan, I’m looking for something easy and relaxing to do today, and climbing hills doesn’t fit that bill. For one thing, I hadn’t slept at all during the last twenty-four hours, though at the same I’m also feeling too ‘up’ from the sail to just hang around doing nothing or going to sleep. I decide that I’ll focus on getting everyday things done today so that I'll have four full free days ahead of me to enjoy the island.
Road Town, where the Marina is located, is the largest town on Tortola, and Tortola is the largest Virgin Island. So this is, in effect, ‘Cosmopolis’. The main drag is a four-lane roadway with stores and shops on either side of the street. I spot a large warehouse that advertises ‘everything you need under one roof.’ Everything one needs, however, does not include food. It’s a department store that's already well stocked with Christmas paraphernalia. Reminds me of Belize where Christmas also started well before Thanksgiving Day. Though the natives here in general seem to be better off than the natives I’ve encountered in other Caribbean countries. I guess because Tortola is smaller than those places and there are less people for the tourist dollars to be circulated among. Strikingly, most women wear dresses. The ones who are shopping wear casual light flowery ones and the ones who are working wear more business like darker solid colored outfits. Almost all appear fit, healthy, relaxed and affable.
There’s a lilting singsong quality to their speech, very similar to Jamaican dialect. And the stereo system plays canned music that combines a reggae beat with Christian messages. I can pick out the words ‘righteous’, and ‘all god’s love’. The Christmas ornaments feature traditional iconic Jesuses and Santa Clauses. They’ve not been ethnicized - each is as white as snow. I can’t imagine that tourists would come here to buy the very same ornaments they could at home and that; therefore, these must be for native consumption. The population of Tortola is almost entirely Black. This is not a part of Africa, but Britain, so I have to assume that this population got here via the slave trade. Why, then, I ask myself, would they have white icons as objects of veneration? I’m not saying that it’s either good or bad that they do, it just strikes me as odd. Plus, I can’t think of any white country - like Sweden or Denmark or Ireland - having non-white religious icons. Have the Tortolians transcended race; or are they just going along with what’s been giving them; or have they somehow come into possession of an almost mystical sense of irony?
People smile easily. I’ve learned from traveling that the easiest and fastest way to find what you are looking for is to ask. So I ask someone where I can buy groceries and they point me north about two hundred feet. It’s another warehouse type of store called ‘Bobby’s.
Bobby’s is similar in size and layout to the department store. It’s as well stocked as any large food chain in the States, which is, again, in sharp contrast to what I’ve found in other nearby places. The canned foods and pre-packaged goods are recognizable as American or international corporation brands. The fruits and vegetables are imported and expensive. I see only tourists shopping for them and imagine that Tortolians know where they can get domestic produce cheaper. I won’t have time to find out where, so I pick up a few bananas and apples. They also have a deli-type of section in the store with homemade meals and sandwiches. I order a hot vegetable wrap for four dollars and also pick up a few bottles of the local beer, Carib. It’s golden colored and looks refreshing. A dollar fifty each.
On my way back to the boat I stop a taxi and ask the driver how much it would cost to go to the nearest beach. He confirms what Morgan told me, that the beaches are all located on the other side of the island. 'Twenty dollars each way.' I frown at that and he advises me to find three or more other people to go with and split the fair, then six dollars and change each way. That sounds reasonable. When I get back to the Marina there’s another taxi driver standing there so I ask him the same question to see if there is any discrepancy in their pricing. It’s the same deal with him, though he informs me that there are busses in the morning that take tourists from the cruise boats out to the beaches and that those bus rides cost only four dollars.
I head back to the Winergie to eat and tell Morgan what I found out. But he’s fast asleep down in his bunk. I know this because I can hear him snoring through the hatch above his bunk. The vegetable wrap is delicious. Fresh steamed vegetables - broccoli, chickpeas, carrots and ochra - seasoned with curry and chili and wrapped in a corn tortilla. And it’s hearty; one meal a day like this will do me. Beer is light and tasty.
When Morgan comes back up on deck I’m smiling gleefully. He finds it hard to believe that anyone could actually enjoy a meal of only vegetables. That’s not the diet one grows up on in West Texas. I know that already. Morgan is also not a beach person, or swimmer, so he’s not interested in joining me the next day, though he thinks I’ve done a fine job so far of finding out how to get around on the island. He also tells me that the Rally organizers, along with a local rum distributor, will be hosting a get-together this evening on the patio at the Marina. Similar to the ones before we left, there will be complimentary drinks and food. Excellent. I’ll eat again, drink for free, get a good night’s sleep on fresh linens and be ready to get out and see Tortola tomorrow.
I look for Robert at the get-together, but he's not there and I can’t remember the name of the boat he was on. A few boats have not made it into to Tortola Yet, and a couple have detoured to ports in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. I don't know if he'll be getting here soon, or not. And most of the other people in the Rally are older and coupled. I don't imagine that any of them would want to buddy with me over to the beaches, or if they did, that they'd be any fun. I nevertheless ask Steve, one of the Rally organizers, to announce that I’m looking for people to share a ride with tomorrow but he gets too toasty from the free rum to remember.
When I go to pick up my laundry I find out that I’m not the only person who decided to do their laundry today. It doesn’t get done until well after sunset and by that time I don’t feel like making up my bunk, or even looking at it again. Plus, I find out from Morgan that Don and Lynn found a small cottage on the island to rent and will be removing their things from the Winergie the next day. I can then move back into the larger bunk. I just grab a clean blanket and pillow and set up a place to sleep on the deck. The temperature is around seventy-five degrees and there’s no wind. The moon is shining full but muted through hazy clouds.
I’m feeling pretty cozy and nearly asleep when Morgan comes back to the boat to get something from the cabin. He’s pretty rum dumb and informs me that he’s going to someplace called the Bamba Shack for a full moon party with Don and Lynn. I pass, figuring that if Morgan reports that the place is happening I can find my way out there on the weekend.
I sleep as well as one can without enough room to turn over or stretch out fully. I awaken to the sight of my first island sunrise. It's simply magnificent. East is toward the hills, so the sun seems to rise oh so slowly. It makes you feel as though you are watching a lush painting being executed by an invisible artist.
It’s around 7:30 and I was told that the busses leave from the cruise boats periodically between 8:45 and 10:45.
I walk over to the Marina, about two hundred feet from where we are berthed, and get a couple of cups of coffee. When I get back to the Winergie, Morgan is out on deck, smoking a cigar. He appreciates that I brought him a cup of coffee. But like most people with a hangover, he’s grumpy & restive.
I get dressed and pack what I think I'll need for the day. I’m still feeling a bit tired and achy, and very hungry. Last night's finger foods were just that -- food for fingers. If I had my druthers I'd just go to the Marina for a hearty breakfast, relax behind that, and let things unfold from there. But then I might miss the busses and I feel a need -- real or not -- to get away from the Winergie for a while. Not just because Morgan’s hung over. I’d like to afford him time to himself on his boat that’s also his home. He deserves it and it's not his nature to ask for such things.
I believe & experience that there are alternative realities available to us on any given day or moment. And I think one is more prone to these potentialities when one is knocked off of their normal routine or perspective. I further believe that the types of realities and experiences we invite at these times depend on our physical, emotional and mental states of being. I know from my own experience that when I am feeling secure, happy and well rested the most favorable potentialities appear effortlessly. When I am not, I feel as though I am ‘just missing them’.
This is that kind of day for me. I don’t have a clear idea of where I’m going or what I’ll be doing - other than getting away from the boat, eating well and interacting with some Tortolians. I’m not feeling great, and I’m not feeling terrible, so we’ll see what happens.
In order to get to where the cruise boats are docked I have to walk through the Marina restaurant. Meals, including breakfast, are cooked on an open-air grill. The aroma of bacon frying reminds me of the breakfasts I use to have with my older brother when we were little men getting up early on our own to go fishing. There’s a two-foot wide sidewalk that passes through the middle of the restaurant bordered on the right by elevated dining tables and a bar, and ground-level waterside tables on the left. As I walk, I spot a beautiful Tortolian woman eating by herself at one of the waterside tables. She returns my gaze, and looks me over curiously and invitingly. This is what I mean by alternate potential realities. I could have achieved my aims of getting something to eat and meeting Tortolians simply by asking her if I could join her. But I’ve got something on my mind - getting away for the day. And I only have a limited amount of time to find out how the tour busses operate and catch one. So I trek forward, not at all sure I’m choosing the right potentiality. That I’m even thinking about these things and not just going with my feelings is a bad sign.
There are times in life when one feels as though they are marching in harmony with the cosmic metronome. This is not one of those times for me. I feel restless, impatient and unsure. I know the cosmos does not react favorably to those qualities. I have to find a way to relax and mellow out before doing anything else. Swimming has always done that for me.
With that purpose in mind, I walk more briskly in the direction of the cruise boats and tour busses. Just outside of where the boats are docked, there’s a lot set up for an open-air flea market. Beautiful pastel sun dresses wave in the breeze, along with colorful hats, sunglasses and souvenir trinkets. Beach towels sport the dread-locked head and face of Saint Bob, Bob Marley. Some are huge and drape like post-9/11 American flags. I recall being in the middle of jungles in Belize and Guatemala and finding posters of Saint Bob on the walls of peoples' redoubts and lean-tos. Reminded me of poor families in America with pictures of John Kennedy and Martin Luther Kind on their walls. It makes me wonder why those who promote humanistic ideals are so engaging and charismatic, and why all the attention given to them almost always turns deadly. (Saint Bob was shot in the arm the day before he was to perform a benefit concert attended by the white Prime Minster and his black Jamaican rival. The shot Marley took in the arm was intended for his heart. Saint Mon performed anyway, initiating an historic public handshake that helped avert a civil war.)
As I approach a fence that separates the cruise boats from the street leading into them, a dapper looking Rasta engages me. ‘Whatchu lookin’ for, Mon?’
‘A way to get out to the beaches.’
‘I take you there. Twenty dollar.’
‘I know. Was thinkin of trying to get on one of the tour busses leaving from the cruise ships.’
‘Is a good idea, but won’t work unless you come on boats. They check I.D.’
I look at the entrance to the gate and see a few men casually stationed there as security. I’m thinking that I might be able to get my nametag from the Rally and use it. Things are pretty laid back here. Then a bus comes out from the enclosed yard, a converted school bus, packed full of pale tourists looking out at us like zoo animals or theme park exhibits.
Rasta reads my mind: ‘Ya don’t wanna ride around like that all day, do ya?’
I shake my head no; it’s a frightening prospect.
‘Check it out,’ he says nodding his head toward the back of us.
I look back and there’s a small one-story house with several motorbikes parked in front.
‘Rent you one of those, Mon. Go to beach, wherever you want.’
I walk over toward the small house; there’s a porch on the front and a few young guys and a young woman seated there. I address her. ‘How much to rent a bike for the day?’
‘Thirty-five dollar an hour, but today we have special - whole day fer fifty-five dollar.’
That’s not bad. But I don’t know if I’m up for riding a bike today. I haven’t really rested that well since we got into port yesterday, and I’m hungry. Wish now that I’d eaten in the Marina first. Especially since the cruise busses are a wash out. I walk away, telling her that I may go and get some breakfast first. I'm in a state of confusion; not sure what I want to do. Life's like that some days, I tell myself, and you still have to walk through it as best you can.
I know from experience that Rastas are intuitive to the point of being telepathic. I’d been ensconced in the culture for long periods of time while living in Belize. It goes with the turf of smoking marijuana all day long. The geometric parameters of your mind round out and something else forms.
‘Yo, Mon. Der’s a nude beach on the utter side of the island called Smuggler’s Cove.’
That piece of info restokes my desire to get to a beach today, and it looks like the best way of doing it will be to rent a motorbike. I've been to nude beaches before in Europe, the States and Central America, and find them to be uniquely liberating and relaxing. And an excellent way for mellowing out. As the French say, though in French, ‘with your clothes on, sex becomes a big obsession; but with them off, it returns to being just a fact of life. ‘ In addition, I just spent nine days in virtually the same clothes and had only a few minutes of unpleasant showering in all that time. The idea of bathing naked in clean fresh blue waters is too enticing to pass up.
The young woman must have overheard my conversation with Dapper Ra and noted my reaction.
‘Come ova here, Sweety, and I show you how you get to nude beach on bike.’
I follow her into the one story house/office and she gives me a small map of the island and circles where Smuggler’s Cove is, and also a few places she recommends for breakfast.
There are a group of computers lined up on a table that run the length of one wall. I ask her if I can check my email while I wait for her to bring me forms to fill out.
Morgan has a computer on the boat and an internet connection, but it’s wireless and doesn’t connect while we are in the harbor surrounded by hills. There’s nothing new in my email, though if feels good to check it again after nine days. I have work out with agents and publishers and hearing periodic favorable news from them elevates my mood like nothing else. It was worth a shot.
She makes a facsimile of my debit card to use as security on the bike. When I get the bike back, she’ll charge me the fifty-five dollars and then rip up the copy. Fine. I know I left two hundred dollars in my bank account.
It’s still early, not yet 9:30. Most of the cruisers have not made their way out of the ship yet, so I have my pick of motorbikes. There are a few guys standing around the bikes. It’s hard to tell if any of them are working here or just hanging out. Then an enigmatic white Rasta comes over to me. He speaks in a froggy voice with a thick streety accent. ‘Wish one oo wan’, Babe?’ He could be transported to a Jamaican neighborhood in the Bronx or Queens and fit right in. He kicks tires, rubs brake pads and then shows me how to start a bike, and where to store my gear. He reminds me several times: ‘Is not da States, Bro -- stay on lef’ side a road or oo die…’
I haven’t driven a motorcycle in about ten years. For several years motorcycles were my only means of transportation, including when I lived in Canada. As a result, I got burned out on riding them. It’s no longer fun when you have to use them in rain or shine, and especially in icy freezing weather. The motorbike is small, much lighter and less powerful than any I’ve ever driven. Its engine size is 50CCs. The smallest bike I’d driven previous was 450CCs, and my last bike was a 1500 CC BMW. It’s like sitting on a motor-driven lawnmower. My knees rise up high from the floorboards where my feet rest.
I decide to head back to the Winergie and pick up a bottle of anti-inflammation medication I take for preventing soreness developing in one of my knees. I had an operation on one of my knees when I was a teenager, and now I find that if I exert myself and don’t take the medication my knee swells up at night painfully. The bike has a storage compartment under the seat so I also pick up some bottled water.
Morgan is busy making his boat feel like home again, and checking to see what toll our ocean journey has taken on the sails and riggings. I ask him if there’s anything I can get for him while I’ve got transportation for the day. He says nothing he can think of at the moment, so I take off again.
As I drive back through Road Town a young man yells out at me, asking where I got the motorbike. I point in the direction of the cruise ships and slip onto the wrong side of the road, nearly colliding with a small truck. The roads in town are narrow, crowded, and people drive like maniacs. Once out of town, though, there’s only one wide two-lane highway that extends along the eastern coast of the island. It’s flat and not heavily trafficked. It widens and narrows in relation to the coast and hills. Where the highway widens I tend to scoot over to the more familiar right side of the road and then adjust quickly when cars and trucks come right at me. I splice the white Rasta’s mantra into my head. ‘Stay on left or end up dead.’ There are no speed limits. People go as fast as they can. Most vehicles are old so that’s not too fast. My bike can cruise at about 45 MPH. That’ s fine with me; I’m in no hurry to get anywhere and the scenery is worth taking in: crystal blue water running up against white sand and limestone embankments. I pass a little inlet that has dolphins penned in it. It’s some kind of mix of educational center and tourist venue. It advertises “Supervised Interaction With Dolphins’. I prefer seeing them, and me, unsupervised and in the wild, thank you.
The woman who rented the bike to me and provided a map also told me that eventually I was going to have to cross over hills in order to get to the beaches. And that the paved roads would at times be replaced by unpaved ones. She assured me that the bike was powerful enough to climb them. What she didn’t tell me was to look for a smaller paved highway going up into the hills before I got to the end of the island. .
I arrive at the eastern tip of the island and there is nothing there but an open lot being used for boat repair. I recall passing a dirt road going up into the hills about 200 feet back. I turn around and drive to it. It’s just loose gravel and dirt, and steep, rising up around 250 feet at about a 60-degree angle. I go back onto the paved road in order to come back at the cut off with as much speed as I can. I hit the road at about 50 MPH but only get about 50 or 60 feet up before the bike stalls out. I brake, turn it off, and try to figure out what to do next. I hadn’t seen any other roads going into the hills as I was driving, but, like I said, I wasn’t looking for them. And the scenery on the opposite side of the road was enticing.
I assume I am on the right road and that I’m just too heavy for the bike to take me up the hill. I start the engine again and decide to walk it up the hill. The motor helps - it’s not just dead weight - but it’s still a 200 pound piece of metal with gravity pulling at it and me. I get to the top of the first rise in the hill and see that I still have more than another third of the hill to get up and over. I can’t imagine pushing it all that way. Here, though, the road cuts into the hill and takes a more gradual climb. I get back on the bike and drive slowly and carefully. These inland roads are covered by canopies of trees and fronds that make the ground cool and moist, and even muddy in places. I remember the captain of the Alacrity, who greeted us at port, telling me that it had been raining the last few days before we got in. I can see that now. Where the road takes a dip in places, puddles come up nearly to the bottoms of my feet.
I’m biking on roads that I would not have even tried with my 1500 BMW, and that traveled like a two-wheel Jeep. . But I don’t consider that I have any other option. Going back down the hill I came up on would be just as treacherous as coming up was. And I can’t walk with the bike the whole way. I get glimpses of the other side of the island and its beaches through trees and they are at least several miles away. A couple of times I have to shut the bike down and walk it around mud holes and through severe curves in the road. To slip on the gravel or mud on one of these curves could land the bike, and me, over a cliff and into the Caribbean. I can’t imagine people who have never been on a motorcycle making this trek. I’m sure I did something wrong, but I have no idea what.
Eventually, I do get to the peak of the hill and slowly make my way down to the other side of the island. The western side, getting longer sunlight during the day, is more lush. The road narrows and is so overhung in places that I can barely get through the palm fronds. I finally get to a beach, but it’s not marked. I have no idea if this is ‘Smuggler’s Cove’. There’s a flat clearing before the beach with a few cars parked on it. All the vehicles are heavy, four-wheel drive types. There’s a Rasta to the left setting up a grill from the back of his car. I ask him if he makes breakfast and he says, ‘No, Mon. I just grill up burgers and dogs and serve rum. And I won’t be ready with that for another hour.’ He points northward. ‘There are breakfast joints up the coast.’
I gaze through the trees that line the beach and can see that the coastline meanders - flat and invitingly -- for miles and miles north. I walk out to the beach and survey it. There are about two hundred yards of beach and a handful of people on it, all in bathing suits. A young attractive European looking woman is walking the beach and I nod to her in passing, but she just looks down at the sand and keeps walking.
So I walk over to where there is a middle-age man standing on the beach watching his friends, a couple his age, frolicking in the surf. I ask him if this is Smuggler’s Cove.
‘It certainly is that.’ He’s got an Aussie accent and a Foster’s Beer belly.
‘Is this the nude beach?’
He looks back at me suspiciously. As though I’d traveled all this way to explore gayness with a balding man with a beer belly.
‘No, mate.” he adds quickly. ‘But there’s lots of other beaches up the road. Just go out there,’ he points emphatically, ‘make a left and follow the road.”
I sense he wants me gone, and not because he thinks I’m gay. The young woman on the beach has another friend in the surf. I guess he wants to make a play for them without any competition. That’s fine with me. The girls don’t seem friendly, and after pushing a motorbike over the hills I’ve worked up a voracious appetite -- for food. He pointed in the same direction the Grill Rasta did. I sneak a peek at a large watch the Aussie has on his wrist and see that’s it only 10:30. I’ll have plenty of time to eat and come back here if I don’t find a more inviting beach.
I get back on the bike feeling more comfortable and relaxed. At least I did get to when I wanted to go without incident. It should be all downhill from here, I think to myself, until, of course, I have to go back over the hills to get back to Road Town.
But I tell myself that I’ll worry about that later, and in the meantime ask around to see if there isn’t an easier way back. I assume there has to be one.
The coastline that looked flat from a distance, isn’t. The road along it meanders up and down the jagged coast, but at least it’s paved. Several times I pass clearings that provide spectacular views of the invitingly clear crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. I pass enclaves of new modern condominiums with white residents, and then plush hotels catering to the same. Tortolians live a little better than Third World, but not by much. Their homes are small, makeshift and run down. If they weren’t surrounded by such beautiful scenery, they’d probably seem depressing. . I also pass other beaches but they are much small than Smuggler’s Cove, and none have any people on them.
I was somewhat expecting, and hoping, to find beaches like in Cancun or Isle des Majeras, with lots of people on them and something of a holiday, festive atmosphere. The beaches here - at least right now - seem more like places for people traveling around the island to stop for a swim. I don’t pass any beaches more than ten yards long. Smuggler’s Cover - nude or not - seems like the most attractive beach.
I pass the Bamba Surfside Shack, where Morgan and Lynn and Don wet to a full moon party last night. It certainly lives up to its name: one can see right through its ramshackle walls and the surf slaps right through it. Morgan didn’t say anything about last night, though Dapper Rasta told me I missed a good one: free magic mushroom tea and people dancing naked. I mark where it is in order to come back another night, but learn later that it opens only one night a month -- on the full moon. Oh well…
As the road rises high in order to go around an inlet in the coast, I come across a restaurant called Bananakeet Café. It’s located on a sharp bend in the road and the first time I try to turn in I am cut off by a tour bus rambling down the other side of the road. I pass the narrow entrance a couple more times before I find my way in. I hope after all that, that they are still serving breakfast. I see only a hotel from the parking lot. But when I get off my bike and walk toward the hotel to ask about the ‘café’ I see it jetting off the to the east, right on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean. The café provides such an extraordinary view that there are a half dozen artists sitting at tables facing the view and painting.
I walk past them. Some are painting on canvas, and others are making original commercial postcards. It's unexpected, and refreshing in the same way it is to walk into a library and feel welcomed into a sanctuary for focused minds. The painters paint under a roofed portion of the main deck of the restaurant. This is after all the tropics. I walk to the portion that's open-air and take a seat there. When you are in a place as beautiful as the Virgin Islands it becomes difficult after a while to remember or describe the difference between one beautiful scene or view and the next. Though this particular one I will remember distinctly for two reasons: it's height, there's nothing man-made above us, and angle to the sun. Directly southeast of us is the steepest hill on the island, the one I came over. Therefore the sun appears to rise more gradually from here as it makes its routine, billions of years old daily journey northwest. Its apparently slower rise allows the eye to see several impressions of the landscape in the course of a few hours, or less, on any given day. I can see how painters would be drawn to it, like movie buffs to a day of serial trailers.
A young woman I noticed for her bright and genuinely cheery smile when I came in suddenly appears at the side of my table. 'Well-Come!' she sings out in what I feel -- at the moment, and not just because of her -- is the most pleasant accent I have ever encountered in my life. It’s similar to Jamaican, though delivered more deliberately and with a more lilting melody.
She hands me a menu and stands at my side. She’s healthfully plump, with a firm round belly and broad shoulders. She’s wearing a white tee-shit with the Bananakeet logo on it and a denim skirt that comes up to mid-thigh. She has strong oil-black legs.
I feel as though I lost weight during the ten days of sailing. It feels good, so I decide to continue eating light and order a salad and potato leek soup.
When she leaves a young couple sit at a table next to mine, further toward the end of the deck. I greet them. They came together on one of the cruise boats. They’re from Tennessee. I don’t recognize them, though the male tells me it was him who called out to me in Road Town asking where to rent a motorbike. He tells me that they found a different place that was cheaper where motorbikes were only $45.00 for the whole day, and Jeeps, which they rented, were $75.00. I told them about some of my exploits getting the motorbike over the hills and they said they were glad that they rented the Jeep. The rental place they went to was located in town; I went to the place closest to the cruise ships so it was naturally more expensive. If I can find someone to split the cost of renting a Jeep, I’ll do that on the weekend.
Without any change in wind or air temperature, it suddenly starts raining. I look down the coast and it’s not raining there. It’s just a localized cloudburst. Good.
But it’s too heavy to sit through and I move to another table in the front of the café, right across from the bar near the entrance.
Judith, the young Tortolian woman waiting on my table, giggles at me coming in from the rain. It’s contagious; you can’t look at her and not smile back. If I had stayed in Belize she is the type of woman I know I would have settled down with.
The kind of woman who loves to smile and laugh, cook and eat, play and make love. The type of woman who could make a house a home happy just by being in it, and the type of woman who could inspire a man to do whatever it would take to maintain and enhance that home.
Before I leave, I invite her to come to Road Town on the weekend and let me give her a tour of the Winergie and treat her to dinner at the Marina. I draw a map of how to get to the boat, and give her Morgan’s cell phone number. She seems interested and eager until I tell her that I’ll be there only for the weekend. I told her that so she wouldn’t come later and waste a day looking for the boat when it wouldn’t be there. But I know from experience that local girls from good families don’t hang out around the Marinas with tourists, and especially ones who will be here just for a weekend.
But I leave feeling good. The quality of the food was excellent and it was a pleasant exchange I enjoyed with Judith. And who knows, maybe she will come with a friend or friends and visit. My intention is only to create an opportunity to see Tortola through the eyes of one of its native inhabitants. And that’s not likely to happen in the Marina.
Getting back to Smuggler’s Cove only requires me to glide down the hill from the café and then meander around the coastline. When I get back there the two women who were on the beach when I first got here are leaving. I ask one for the time and she tells me in practiced English that it is quarter to twelve. I don’t recognize her accent as European, it sounds either Greek or Israeli. Up close -- they are parked right next to where I have my bike -- they are even more attractive than I noticed before. Their bathing suits are nothing more than small swatches. I get the feeling that Smuggler’s Cove is a nude beach as soon as someone has the courage to make it so. I think back, and imagine that if I had gone out to the end of the beach, stripped, and went in they probably would have followed suit. Another possibility lost to time.
There are more people on the beach now, though it’s not crowded. Grill Rasta is up and running, serving beer and rum and laughter to white tourists. I find an empty spot on the beach shadowed by a palm tree. The sun is practically directly overhead and strong. The water is clear, light blue in the shallow water near the beach and deep blue where the shoreline collapses. I jump in and it feels delightful. The water is salient. I can float on the surface without having to tread. So that’s what I do. It’s so relaxing that I lose track of time and nearly fall asleep on my back. When I straighten up again and look back at the shore I see that I’ve drifted out about a mile from shore. I’m in the deep blue water and don’t feel earth under my feet.
I worked as a lifeguard when I was in my twenties and living in Florida. And I swim almost daily at a health club at home. So swimming is second nature to me. But when I turn over on my stomach in order to start toward sure, I find that I don’t have enough strength or force coming from my arms and shoulders to propel me forward. Those were the muscles I used for winching sails and I had no idea before right now that they were completely worn out, and feel like rubber. I turn over on my back and start paddling my feet. That works. I have to imagine that there are critters below me this far out in these deep waters. And I can feel cuts on my feet stinging from the salt. I’ve swam before in waters with sharks and know that humans are a last resort on their menus, especially in waters like this that are chock full of tuna, bonita and other delicacies. I make my movements as slow, sure and deliberate as I can in order not to look like something injured. I close my eyes, paddle backwards, and feel relieved when I can hear people behind me chattering in the surf.
I stand and smile at a guy with a ‘pain killer’ in his hand.
‘It’s so relaxing I nearly feel asleep in the water.’
He just grins. I get the impression he doesn’t speak or understand English. He is built beefy in the way many Germans are.
When I get back to my beach towel I sit in the shade and take an inventory of my situation. Check the sun again. In another hour the sun will probably move west to the point where the hills I have to traverse will be in shade. I’d rather ride in full light than through shadows, so I’ll have to leave within the hour. When I was in the Bananakeet, I had pulled out my map and asked Judith which route she took when she went to Road Town. She pointed to the same one I came in on.
I wish now that I had not discovered just how worn out my arm muscles are. It makes me more circumspect about going back over the hills again. The bike almost went down a couple of times on my way here, but I was able to hold onto it. Did I use up the last of my muscle reserves doing that? I’ve never before in my life not been able to swim.
A couple had planted themselves near me while I was in the water. They are from the cruise ships and engage others coming to the beach from the same boat. They talk cruise talk - about food mostly. It bores and irritates me. You’d think they hadn’t eaten for ten years before their cruise.
- 9:37 AM
Jan 28, 2006
Rescue at Sea: Dolphins & Rainbows, Part II
If you travel as I do, by Greyhound and such, you learn to always keep noise reduction earplugs handy. I dig into my bag and find a pair. Bright orange. Oh well, I really don’t care what people might think about me turning them off; I need to get a half-hour’s quiet rest before taking off again. I place a towel over my eyes and try to do just that.
After about a half-hour, almost like a wake-up call, clouds cover the sun, the air cools and I sit up. The clouds look like innocuous cotton balls, not threatening rain filled ones. Time to go.
I get back on the bike gingerly. It looks like a toy to me now, which it is, and I feel a little ridiculous and under-reckoned getting back on it and heading into the hills. I don’t want to keep thinking that way, it will lead to nothing good, so I change course and try to come up with a positive formulation for getting back over the hills. I know from looking at the map that if I return the way I came I will pass on the eastern coastline a place called Pussers Rum House. I’d overheard someone who had been there say that Pussers served the best and heartiest meals on the island and that they also produced the island’s best rum: Pussers Rum. When I get back over the hills, I tell myself, I’ll go there and get a full course dinner - something with lots of protein to revitalize my muscle tissue -- and pick up a bottle of the island’s best rum to take home with me.
I work my way up the same road I came up on from my sojourn along the western coastline. There’s a crossroads and I head east. Some places I pass look familiar, but then I hit a detour sign I did not encounter on the way in. It directs me away from the meandering roads and toward a steep incline. In the middle of this steep incline there is another crossroads with a sign on it indicating which road goes where. I don’t want to miss my cut off back to Road Town so I approach the sign slowly in order to be able to read it. (It’s a piece of wood with writing on it.) I don’t recognize either place it indicates, but one road goes back down the hill and the other further up it. I figure I’m going to have to get up and over the hill eventually, so may as well do it now. But I’m half way up the hill already and starting again from a dead stop. I head up and am doing all right until I come to a curve near the top. There are tire tracks embedded in the packed, unpaved earth and loose gravel kicks up when I try to go through one of the tire tracks. I’m only twenty feet or less from the peak, so I’m leaning forward trying to coax the bike onward. Therefore, when it stalls out again I’m in no position to stop it and the bike and me go tumbling back down the hill.
I’m wearing a helmet, but I’m knocked out, or just stunned, briefly. I come to and can still hear the bike wheezing somewhere behind me. I look back and the bike is about fifty-feet behind me lodged into an embankment with its motor still running. The only thing stopping it from going over the cliff is a cluster of low brush. I run down the hill and hit the ‘kill switch’ on the handlebar, shutting down the engine. I look up and see that now I’m further down the hill than when I stopped to check out the crossroads.
A truck comes rambling up from the road I didn’t choose to go, down the hill. He stops and checks out the bike and me. ‘You okay, Mon?”
‘Not fuckin really, Bro.’ I note that the bed of his truck is empty and I get the idea to throw the bike back there and get up the hill that way. ‘You going up the hill?’
He shakes his head no. ‘Where ya tryin ta go, Mon?’
He grimaces and waves his hand at me. ‘Go back that way,’ he says pointing me in the direction I had just come from, west. ‘Find you a road from there to get back to Road Town. No one should be messin with the roads up a here this time a year.’
He takes off and it’s only then that I notice how beat up the bike and I am. The bike’s handlebars are no longer straight; its mirrors are cockeyed and turning signals and brake lights knocked out. Plus, I can’t restart it. I put it up on its kickstand and figure I’ll just let it rest for a few minutes. Then I notice a bloody gash on my right calf and smaller cuts and scrapes along both my arms and elbows. Seeing my own blood makes me feel queasy for a moment. Plus, I have no idea what I’ll do if I can’t restart the bike and get back to Road Town. It’s a bit overwhelming. I find a place in the shade and sit down and drink some water.
Within another ten minutes I hear a car or truck grinding gears as it makes its way up from the bottom portion of the hill. I stand, determined to stop whoever it is and not let them get away this time until I come up with a solution to this dilemma. Fortunately, it’s an SUV full of Aussies who are eager to help. One gets out of the car before it even stops. ‘You okay, Mate?’
I can only mumble, ‘I dunno,” and point to the bike. ‘ I tried to get up that hill and couldn’t make it. Someone just told me I can find a rod to Road Town by going back that way, but now I can’t start the bike.’
Another Aussie jumps out of the other side of the car. He’s shirtless and barrel chested. They are obviously on holiday. There are a few women in the vehicle, another guy driving, and a large cooler of beer on the back seat. ‘Care for a cold one?’
‘No thanks. I gotta find a way to get this bike started.’
I try starting it again, but it just whines and doesn’t turn over. I look down the hill and figure that if I can get their help to push me down the hill I might be able to get up enough speed to bypass the starter and just pop the bike into gear. I tell them my plan and they nod. When I hear it myself I know it probably won’t work. In order to pop a bike or car into gear you have to have a clutch. The bike has only one gear; therefore, no clutch.
But the first guy out is mechanical and he’s under the bike trying to figure out why the starter won’t start it. I take a look and notice that there’s a kick-starter lodged under the bike’s chassis. I’m amazed, and grateful. ‘Can you believe it? This little toy bike has a kick start?’
‘You’re in luck, Mate.’
I push the kick-start down, get on the bike, and stroke it hard with my foot. The bike starts right up.
I then thank them effusively and take off before the bike’s engine cuts out again. I know that if I diminished the bike’s battery, driving will help restore it.
I go back along the same roads I traveled on earlier when I first left Smuggler’s Cove. I go through the condos, and then when I reach the drive where there are plush hotels I see two men standing by the side of the road. One is tall, over six feet, and fine featured with rich chocolate skin. The other is shorter, lighter skinned, and with average features. They are each in possession of the cool easiness and casual friendliness that characterizes most of the people here. I ask them to please tell me where I can pick up a paved road to take me back to Road Town.
They look at me curiously. I imagine that with my bloody appendages and mangled bike I look like one of the characters in a Mad Max film coming out of some post-apocalyptic battle scene.
They ignore my question at first. ‘You look like you took a bad fall,’ the taller one observes, speaking in a deep African voice. The shorter one asks in lilting Island dialect. . ‘Would you like to come into the hotel and we can get you something?’
‘Yes. Thank you.’ I’m feeling a bit light-headed and shaky, and a little respite before tackling the hills again would be welcome.
I walk with them up a landscaped drive, leaving the motor of the bike on, even when I park it outside the entrance to the hotel. I follow them into a spacious lobby that is plush, warmly tropical, and modern. The reception desk is manned by a couple of exceptionally handsome women working reservation computers. The shorter man directs me to a restroom and tells me to clean my wounds with soap and water and while I do that he’ll go and get some alcohol and bandages. I pass by a gift shop and an absolutely gorgeous tan oriental woman smiles at me. For a moment, I think I hit my head harder than I thought and I’m dreaming this.
But the sting of soap on my cuts and scrapes brings me back quickly to the earthy reality of the situation. The gash on my leg, where I must have taken the brunt of the fall, might need a few stitches to close it in order to heal. But I know my body and that it heals pretty well on its own if I take care of it.
When I return to the lobby the shorter man is waiting there for me with a tall glass of water and a mini dispensary of bandages, tape and alcohol. I sit and he proceeds to dress my wounds, starting with the gash on my leg and then covering the cuts and scrapes on my arms.
I engage him in conversation and learn that his name is Anthony King. He grew up in Tortola, not far from here. When they started opening up these kinds of hotels on the island he was just a young boy and worked whatever job he could get - cleaning person, valet, cook. Now he is the manager of this place.
I’m impressed, and grateful that the hotel manager would treat me himself. This isn’t the way I had hoped to get to know some Tortolians, but how often does life go as you expect it to?
I’m feeling a hundred times better than when I stopped outside and tell him so. He smiles, genuinely happy that I feel that way. I mark the name of the hotel so later I can write him a thank you note. He gives me specific directions for my turn off onto the road that will take me to back to the other side of the island. I get back on my little bike with its cockeyed steering wheel feeling now like a character in a Monty Python film.
The turn off is only a few miles from the hotel. It’s a steep and curvy road, but it’s paved and I ride over it without further incident. It’s takes me about an hour to get back to Road Town. By now, it’s around 4 o’clock. My $55.00 rental fee entitles me to keep the bike until nightfall. But all I want to do is turn in this trouble on wheels and go to the Marina and drink some ‘Pain Killers’.
It’s busy. For some reason, all the people on the cruise boats have to return by 5:00. There’s a crowds at the fence, including my shadows or guardian angels, the young couple I ran into at Bananakeet Café.
The wave and stare at me as I pass, my limbs covered in gauze and my bike streaming mud.
‘You made it.’
‘Barely,’ I grin back.
Everyone at the bike shop who was there this morning is there now, except Dapper. Plus, a few others are hanging around who weren’t there this morning. They converge on me. ‘What happened to you.’
‘Bike stalled out on a hill and I lost it.’
‘Sorry to hear about that,’ White Rasta consoles. He inspects the bike. Sees that it won’t start.
‘Gotta kick it,’ I tell him.
The person who runs the shop is a dark guy who weighs over 300 pounds. His body flows down and out from his chin like a lava flow. He’s got a pad in his hand and together with White Rasta he starts checking off the damages.
I go into the air-conditioned office and sit and wait for them to finish. The young woman who helped me fill out the forms earlier, follows me in. ‘Where’d you run into the mud?’
‘Getting to Smuggler’s Cove. The roads there are unpaved and are catchalls for rain and runoff.’
Shortly, Lava Flow comes in and tells me I’ve got $190.00 worth of damages to the bike.
I ask to see the contract I singed when I rented it. He hands it to me. It reads that I agree to be responsible for any damages caused to the bike by an accident. I tell him that I wasn’t in an accident. And explain that the bike wasn’t powerful enough to take me up the hills on this island and that they shouldn’t be renting such ill-equipped bikes.
He gets furious and storms out of the office.
The young woman shows me the map again. ‘You should have turned off here,’ she says showing me a paved road that goes up into the hills and meanders to Smuggler’s Cove.
‘But you didn’t show me that earlier.’
‘Yes I did.’
I can see that she’s just covering her ass.
‘He wants one-ninety for the damages, plus the fifty-five rental fee?”
She nods her head yes.
That’s more than I have in my bank account.
I go back outside and the entire posse is on the porch, a six-pack.
‘You gonna pay up or what?’ Lava Man asks in a gangsta accent.
‘The way I read it, I’m responsible for an accident, not a bike malfunction.’
The posse erupts in unison with name-calling and threats.
It’s a tag-team match and someone standing near the fence calls out that I better settle up now or I won’t be able to get back on my cruise boat.
I explain to him and them that I didn’t come on a cruise boat, I sailed here. That quiets them briefly and gives some credence to my argument. If I sailed here it means I have some skills and fortitude. And if I say the bike wasn’t powerful enough to take me up the hill, I mean it.
I repeat that argument again to the posse.
White Rasta tells me back. ‘You’re a big man. You shouldn’t have let the bike get away from you.’
I admit to myself that he’s right on that. I should have rested at least another day after the sail, and it was me who made the decision not to do that and take the bike today. That bad decision is my responsibility, not theirs.
Lava storms off the porch toward the back of the house and I take it as an opportunity to talk to him alone.
‘Listen, man, I’m not saying I’m right here, but I sailed with a guy who’s a retired lawyer. I’d like him to take a look at the contract and see what he thinks. Besides that, I don’t have two hundred and fifty dollars in my bank account.’
Lava glares at me. ‘We can do this the fucken easy way and you just pay up or we can do it the fucken hard way.’
I honestly don’t recognize that I’m being threatened so I ask what the hard way is.
‘See that leg a you's that’s all bandaged up?’ he says looking down at my leg. ‘Wanna see me crush it?’
That’s ridiculous. I wonder if every Brother these days looks in the mirror and see Mike Tyson glaring back. I tell him so.
‘Look, Man, we both know that’s not gonna happen, so what else do you have for a plan B?’
‘I call the Po-Leese!”
‘Okay, call the police. I want some third-party to hear my argument.’
With that, we go back to the front of the house and he tells the young woman to call the police.
I follow here into the office. I'm parched and get a cold soda from a vending machine. There’s an attractive young woman dressed in short-shorts and a halter-top using one of their telephones to make a long distant call back to the States. The little business not only rents bikes, but also sells time on phone lines and computers. She has to talk loud into the phone so it’s impossible for me not to overhear her conversation. She’s trying to call her mother, but gets her little brother. He tells her that their mother is not home from work yet and that it’s freezing cold.
She hangs up the phone and looks over at me and smiles. I ask her where she’s from that it’s freezing cold already.
I nod. She’s the all-American girl. Blond hair, blue eyes, comely face, and a body to die for. She asks me where I’m from.
I tell her I live on the Jersey shore.
‘Well, it’s time to get back to the boat. Are you coming?’
For the first time in my life I wish I was going on a cruise boat. “No, I’m not on the boat and I gotta take care of some business here.’
‘Nice meeting you. Bye!’
When she leaves the other woman looks at me and grins.
‘What?’ I answer her gaze. ‘I was just being friendly. Gotta do something with my time while I wait for the Po-Leece to come and arrest my ass.’
I hear a car pull up outside and go back on the porch. The cop is a round, short, black woman dressed in a police officer’s uniform that includes a checkered hat. She asks what’s going on and the posse goes off on her like they had on me. When they finish I ask if I can tell her my side of the story alone in the office. She says no. So I have to repeat it to her again, while the posse jeers me and cheers their own wisecracks. It’s repetitive and boring as hell.
She concludes that an accident includes what I did. ‘What else you wanna call it…?
We’re getting nowhere. I explain to her that I’d like a lawyer I traveled with to take a look at the contract before I agree to pay for damages.
She asks me where he is and I tell her. It’s only five minutes away. She agrees to take me there and let Morgan take a look at the contract.
She’s driving a police van and when I get in the passenger seat I’m startled when I hear a small child in the back. I look back and there’s a handsome young man with a kid standing on his lap.
‘That’s Inspector Clouseau,’ the lady cop tells me. That explains, sort of, who the child is, but what about the other guy. Son? Boy friend? Whatever, I tell myself, it’s the islands.
We park in back of the Marina and have to walk through it and the restaurant in order to get to where the boats are docked. We must be a sight together, me with my gauzed up arms and legs and this little woman cop with the checkered hat that comes up to my waist. The heads at the bar turn toward us, and as we pass through the restaurant I see Robert at one of the tables. He waves and laughs at me. I like that. This is an unarguably humorous scene in a bizarre sort of way. I look forward to having some drinks and laughs with him later.
When we get to the Winergie, Morgan is seated on the afterdeck talking and drinking beer with Don and Lynn. He looks at me and the cop and drawls: ‘What the hell?’
Don and Lynn don’t even turn to greet or acknowledge me. I ignore them as well and call Morgan over to the side of the boat. I’ve got the contract and hand it up to him. ‘Read this, please, and tell me if I’m liable for damages.’ I tell him the way I read it, and that I think I’m responsible only for an accident with another vehicle, not a toy-bike malfunction.
He reads if over a couple of times and looks down at me over his glasses. ‘I’m afraid your on the wrong side of this argument, lad. You’re gonna have to pay.’
I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t done the math yet; wasn’t expecting this outcome. But even if I did need money I wouldn’t ask him for it in front of Don and Lynn. ‘I’ll talk to you later, man. Thanks.’
When we get back to the shop, before I can even say anything, Lava Flow hits me with: ‘You’re a flat out bold faced liar.’
Now I do want to jam one of my feet into one of his craters. But I’m already down two hundred and an assault - right in front of a cop -- would put me way over the top turning a bad day into a nightmare.
I manage to say and do nothing in reaction so he takes it as an invitation to go on. ‘You said you didn’t have enough money in the bank to cover it. I ran your card through and it covered it.’
That really pisses me off.
‘You shouldn’t have done that, man,’ I try to explain calmly. ‘My bank will cover an overcharge and then charge me thirty bucks for doing so. That’s thirty bucks for nothing. Why couldn’t you wait until I got back?’
I sit down next to him, so my arms and hands won't have room to move at him on their own.. ‘You fucked up, man.’
‘I hear so much bullshit everyday from people…--‘
‘I don’t doubt that. But I’ve been nothing but honest with you. I wanted my man to look over the contract and he did. Says I owe you. I came back willing to pay up and you pull this shit - costing me another thirty dollars for nothing. I’m not a boat owner, Bro, I’m crew.’
I hate more the idea of giving a bank thirty dollars for nothing than paying these jokers two hundred for messing up a toy bike. I get out my note pad and do some quick math. ‘I need to deposit another fifty in my bank in order not to get charged.’
Lava Man offers: ‘You give me fifty dollars cash and I’ll take fifty back out of the charge.’
‘I’ll write a refund. If I can take money out of your account, I can put money back in.’
I can't believe I'm in this situation,but I am. I have a couple fifties in my wallet and just want to get this over with.. If I have to, I know I can borrow more money from Morgan. ‘All right, but I wanna watch you do it.’
‘Fine.’ He gets up, pretty limberly for his size.
I follow him into the office. ‘The guy who was here before is my banker. I have to call him,’ he explains. ‘I’ve never done a refund before, but I know I can.’
‘So call him.’
He calls and I watch him use my card to execute the refund. He gives me the receipt for it and tears up his copy of my card. I hand him fifty dollars.
I walk out without further ado. Tomorrow, I’ll use the internet computer in the Marina to find out if the refund went through, or not. Until then, I’ll trust him and consider our business over.
As I walk back through the Marina, I run into one of the organizers of the Rally who tells me that because all the boats that are going to be here are here now, they are going to hold an awards celebration tonight. In addition to the awards for getting here the first, secondandthird, there’s also going to be an annual sportsman’s award. I can't imagine thayt anyone other than Morgan and the crew of the Winergie are goingto be getting it. I’m glad he told me as I’m not sure I would have gone back to the Marina tongiht otherwise.
As I get near the Winergie, I meet jup with Morgan Don and Lynn who are going to have dinner in the Marina. Morgan invites me to join them, but I pass. All I want to do at the moment is get back to the boar, relax, take some inventory of this strange day, and do some writing in my journal.
After about an hour I’m feeling much better, though I left my journal at the bike shop. It’s what I used to do my math computations on. I don’t feel like going back to that hornet’s nest tonight so I decide that I’ll wait after I check on my bank statemen tomorrow.. I’m not in any physical pain from the ‘accident’, but I can feel most of my vitality being sucked up to heal. That, plus a drink, has me feeling pretty mellow. Then I remember that when I went home for a couple of weeks before returning to Newport, that I went to a tobacconist and picked Morgan up a cojupleof primo cigars that I was waiting for the right occassion to present him with. It seemed to me that now -- before the formal awards celebrations began - would be the best time to present Morgan with the cigars.
I dig the cigars out of one of my traveling bags and then take those bags and my fresh linens to the bigger bunk that Don and Lynn have vacated. I set myself up for a comfortable night’s sleep. Then I dress in a long sleeve shirt and long pants. I don’t want to invite inquiries about my injuries and spend the night telling the same story over and over.
Morgan and Don and Lynn are just finishing dinner when I get to the Marina. I sit at their table and present Morgan with the cigars: “For outstanding fucking leadership, and Clive Cussler aplomb!’ It turns out that the cigars are excellent. Morgan visibly enjoys smoking them. I’m glad. He buys a round of drinks and I sit there quietly with captain and crew, commiserating with myself as I watch the sun set in back of seemingly benign, blood red hills…
The awards celebration is a mess. The rum is flowing, the microphones go out, and one can barely hear what the Rally organizers are saying through the din of party noise. I’m sitting back on a lounge chair just watching until I see Morgan raise a silver plate over his head. Then I go over and pose for a picture along with Morgan and Lynn and Don.
That’s all I was hanging around for so I head back to the Winergie. Though I run into Robert on the way and he tells me that their boat got into port late last night and he stopped by the Winergie this morning looking for me. Morgan told him I had just left. Another reminder of how just out of step I’ve been all day. Together, we could have rented a jeep and seen the island safely.
Oh well, I tell myself. It’s definitely time for a good night’s sleep and a start over tomorrow. I still have three full days left on the island.
I get up the next morning feeling surprisingly good. My arms and back are stiff and achy, but I['m not feeling any severe pain or fever. I was worried about my open wounds inviting an infection. I notice a guy sleeping out on the foredeck. I vaguely recall Morgan telling me last night that one of the crew from one of the other boats needed a place to crash for a couple of nights. He hears me and gets up and comes to the back deck. I recognize him but don’t know his name He introduces himself and I do likewise. Cameron’s in his late twenties or early thirties. He’s robust and out here trying to find boats to crew in order to prolong his journey away from the mainland as long as possible.
He’s hungry, and so am I, but like me he doesn’t like paying restaurant prices for his meals. I suggest we take a walk together over to Bobby’s and pick up some fresh fruit and yogurt and make our own breakfasts. He agrees. I also want to pick up some hydrogen peroxide and other things for keeping my wounds from getting infected as they heal.
As we are checking out a young grinning Tortolian woman is bagging our supplies. She looks at me and my gauzed up arms and legs, and the bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and laughs. I look back at her plaintively and admit: ‘Yes, I am one of those idiots who rents a bike and runs it off the road.’
She tells me ‘You need more force.’ Then she flexes her strong upper body to show me.
It’s good-natured banter so I go along with it. ‘Give me a break, girl. The little bikes they rent here ain’t made either for a man my size, or these hills.’
She laughs and tells me, ‘White people weak. That’s what Tortolians says.’
Now it’s my turn to laugh and fend. ‘If white people are so weak,’ I ask playfully and rhetorically, ‘then how come they own most of the money in the world, almost all of the nuclear weapons, and they come here on cruise boats that have more food on board for one meal than you do on this entire island?’
‘Doesn’t matter,’ she answers me with an even bigger stoned grin. ‘We got god power!’
That rocks me back for a moment. Feel as though I’ve just been offered a Polaroid of the beginning of the twenty-first century. All the money and weapons in the world up against all the people in the world with nothing but god.
I hear Cameron laughing behind me as we leave. “I can’t believe you said that to that woman.’
‘And I can’t believe what she told me. So there you have it. That’s why I was trying to get a place for myself in Belize.’ I confide to him, ‘So I’d be able to sit out this macabre dance. I can only see it getting worse before better. And I don’t want to get caught up on either side.’
‘Hear ya, Bro.’
Now that I don’t have any way of getting away from the dock and the Marina and Road Town I have no idea what to do with myself here. But seeing as yesterday I thought I had a good plan - and in light of how that worked out -- I decide today to just keep it light and go with whatever or whomever comes my way. I’ll start by going to the computer room in the Marina and find out if the banking transactions I executed yesterday went through as Lava Flow said they would. Then go back to the Bike Shop and retrieve my writing journal.
I am enormously relieved to find out that the refund did go through. It means I won't have to pay a fee to my bank for drawing on insufficient funds. And it also means that Lava Man wasn't trying to play me. In the same way that yesterday Lava alled me ‘A flat out bold faced liar', because he assumed that someone who was white would have two hundred dollars in their bank account, I also assume that with his gangsta act and feeble attempts at intimidation yesterday that he feels he’s entitled to get over on any white person in retribution for whatever generalized social injustices he assigns to each of us. Race is a minefield, everywhere, and the mines are active and loaded.
I was inspired to write my first novel, nearly thirty years ago, after growing up at the time of the race riots in the late 1960s. AREA --'That Summer of Fire & Fightin...’ got the attention of a couple of editors at major publishing houses, but none would pull the trigger on it. Consensus opinion was that Americans were no more interested in looking at the racial malignancy eating up their culture, than a cancer patient would want to view a slide show of their deformed cells. It reminds me of what the meteorologist said about global warming: that everyone knows it’s really a problem but no one is putting forth any practical solutions. Racial injustice and animosity, like global warming and severe weather, will simply run their course now, like they just did in New Orleans. So be it. I tried with what I do best -- novelizing contemporary events -- and it fell on deaf ears. Now, like I told Cameron, I'd like to try to find some place neutral -- like the purported Switzerland of the Americas, Costa Rica -- and wait out the storms from there.
When I get back to the bike shop it’s nearly noon and the doors are closed and locked. Most of the bikes out front are gone, so I assume they had a good morning renting to the cruisers and are now just waiting for them to return. I hear people talking in the backyard of the house and walk back there. Lava's sitting in the shade having lunch with a few of his cronies.
‘Hey Boss,’ I call out, ‘I think I left a note pad here yesterday. But the office is locked up.’
‘Just knock on the door. Sheila in there,’ he answers evenly.
I go back to the front and knock on the door. Sheila answers. Her blouse is open and her face is flush. Seems at first like I’d interrupted something, but she invites me in and she’s alone. I assume then that she was just enjoying her own company. She tells me that she found my notebook yesterday and put it in a safe place for me. Yesterday she was calling me a liar and worse for saying that she didn’t tell me about the paved road over the hills. Now she’s invitingly holding my notepad between her breasts. It's a nice gesture, but too crazy for my tastes at the moment.
‘Thank you,’ I say slipping my notebook out from between her breasts and hands.
Feels good to be back outside again. It's another picture perfect da in paradise. Clear sky, warm, light breeze. Seeing as I’m going to be bound to Road Town for the next couple of days, I take a long circuitous route back to the Marina to see what the town has to offer. It’s really not much of a resort. Town. Consists mostly of small businesses lined up in unattractive small strip malls along the main road. I find a health food store that’s surprisingly reasonable. I order a veggie burger with a sumptuous helping of sprouts and a delicious slice of fresh organic tomato. Along the way back, I also find a grocer that sells beer for the half the price of Bobby’s, a Dutch tobacconist, bakery, and several homey looking mom & pop type restaurants that I’ll try for breakfast one morning before I leave.
When I get back to the Marina I find Robert holding court with a few captains of other boats. I get a cup of coffee and join them. Most of the boats, including the one Robert sailed on, scale down after they reach Tortola and release their crew. Captains then either go it alone or fly in their spouses or girlfriends. One doesn’t need a full crew for leisurely island hopping.
Robert’s trying to get onto another boat and prolong his trip past the holidays. He’s not having any luck with this group and after they disperse he asks me how I’m doing. He wants to grab a cab and check out the other side of the island. I tell him that I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would today, though I’m still sore and achy and that I’d rather just hang out for the day around the Marina. He digs into what he calls his office - a pouch of pills - and offers me a couple of muscle relaxants. I accept them gratefully. Sore muscles in my back are making it difficult for me to lie prone and rest. Plus, I figure that if I can reduce the soreness I can then at least walk around in the pool and help promote my body’s healing with some light exercise.
So that’s what I do. It’s not very exciting or how I planned and fantasized about spending my first Friday and night in Tortola, but right now I’m more concerned about feeling better before I have to travel back to the States in less than three days. A day of hauling baggage and catching planes feeling like I do right now would be miserable. Of course, I wish that I’d had the sense, or whatever, to have spent yesterday like this, resting after the sail. If I did, now I’d feel more vital and have more money. But I don’t want to beat myself up about that. I got here with only four days left on my travel, tried to rush tings, made a mistake in judgment and got hurt. End of story. I do feel better, though, when one of the other captains comes by while I’m lying on a lounge in the shade. He says he heard about what happened to me. He’d been out to the same roads around Smuggler’s Cove in a four-wheel drive and wouldn’t take on some of the hills. Not much, but it helps lift my mood a little. My ego is not the least thing bruised.
Saturday will be my last full day and night in Road Town so I rest, go to sleep early and look forward to that. On Sunday morning we’ll be sailing from Road Town to the north end of the island so Morgan can catch a water-taxi to St. John’s and pick up Kate at an airport there. Early Monday, I’ll be heading to an airport myself.
I wake early up on Saturday morning with excruciatingly sharp pains in my lower back. It freaks me out because I don’t remember falling on my back and I have no scrapes or bruises there. I can’t imagine that walking around in the pool yesterday caused this. I can only guess that the pain was there yesterday and the muscle relaxants hid it. But its a mystery to me why my back is hurting so. Pain like this makes one irrational and I start to wonder if I inured something internally, like a kidney or spleen, or if I ruptured a disk along my spine.
I’m laid out flat on the afterdeck in the morning when Morgan comes back from taking a shower in the Marina. He informs me that there’s a woman doing yoga by the pool. He knows that I’ve practiced yoga for more than twenty years and am writing a book about my experiences. At the moment, the very idea of yoga, hurts. But I could use some distraction, and a warm shower, so I get my towel and a shower token and head over to the Marina. There is someone doing yoga by the pool. I recognize her as part of Rally. She’s very meticulous, performing each movement of the ‘sun salutation’ exactingly. I hope she’s still out there when I get back from the shower; would be nice to talk with someone about a mutual interest and experience. But first I have to run some hot water over my back - for a full five minutes.
I’m moving in slow motion though and don’t know how long it takes me to undress shower, use the toilet and get back out to the pool area. I’m disappointed when I no longer see here there. I look around the Marina and there again is the ubiquitous Robert, and sitting across from him is the woman who was doing yoga along with the guy who is staying on our boat, Cameron. Perfect. I grab a coffee and join them.
The woman is affable. Melanie. She sailed here with her husband and a couple of other crew. They plan on staying in the Virgins until the week before Christmas and then sail back to Florida. I tell her that I’m writing a book about yoga based on my experiences and also about my work with Yogi Amrit Desai, the founder of a school of yoga called Kripalu, and one of the most successful pioneers and entrepreneurs in bringing yoga to the West. So much so that he founded a multi-million dollar business, The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires. My story is about how the staff, his former disciples, took the yoga and business away from him (via lawsuits) and made it their own. AN AMERICAN YOGA: THE KRIPALU STORY.
Turns out that she not only practices yoga but also publishes books on it and related subjects. She very much like to read my book. It just so happens that I copied it and several of my novels onto the computer on the Winergie before leaving Newport.
Robert tells me he’s leaving tomorrow on a boat that’s going to moor off-land for a couple of days. He wants to find a bakery so he can have some munchies with him on board. I tell him I know where there’s an excellent bakery, but first I want to make a copy of my book for Melanie and give it to her.
So I leave them there an excitedly head back the Winergie. I’ve had a couple of big time agents contract me to represent this work to publishers but none of them were able to make a go of it. I don’t know why. But I know it will sell if published. This might be the right opportunity for this work. Morgan is rambling about on the boat, checking sails and such. They are pretty badly torn up in places and he asks me to come by in the afternoon and give him and Don a hand with repairing them. I agree and then ask him to burn my book and one of my novels onto a DVD for Melanie. He’s happy to oblige and glad I found someone interested in my work. But it takes us an awfully long time to get the task done. Or it seems that way to me anyway, about an hour.
When I get back to the Marina, Melanie is still there having breakfast with a couple of her crew. Robert’s gone. She’s genuinely glad and excited to have copies of my work. Boy, does that feel good.
Then Robert comes back into the Marina, kevetching about how the island doesn’t have any bakeries and complaining that he waited an hour for me. I’m feeling too good to address his complaints - even my back no longer hurts - and instead lead him out of the Marina and into town.
He tells me he looked everywhere, but he only looked along the main street. He didn’t go into the back streets where there are older, smaller shops. I lead him down a road and he remarks, ‘back in the Third World. Are you sure you know where you’re going?’
‘Relax Long Island,’ I tell him and grin. Robert would not last a day with me in Belize. Yesterday, I had also told him where he could get boxes to ship back his excess belongings, and the cheapest places to ship them from.
I point to a small bakery hidden behind a couple of juke joints. ‘You should work here as a tour guide.’ What can I say, I like to know where I am.
It’s a real bakery bakery, complete with wedding cakes and the like. The aroma could give a teenager pimples. Robert loves it and orders croissants and glazed cinnamon rolls, cookies… It’s not my kind of food so I pass on it.
When we leave I see an intriguingly funky little restaurant and invite Robert for breakfast. It's on the bottom floor of what looks like a small old Colonial era home. ‘Ya think they’re open?’
‘Yeah, they’re open. The front door’s ajar.’
I can hear his mind clunking the idea before he says, ‘Nah. I’m gonna take my stuff back to the boat.’
‘Okay. Later, man.’
It's a place not unlike what one might find in antediluvian Louisiana, or present day rural Alabama or Mississippi. Not a lot of people inside for a Saturday morning, half a dozen or so. There's almost that many women, four, working behind the counter. I sit at the counter and ask what's for breakfast. 'Anything you want, dear. Eggs and toast or homefries or grits or johnnycakes. Or all a the above,' she sings out, 'or none of it.'
Can't remember the last time I had johnny cakes so I order those along with a couple of over easy eggs. Another woman asks me, 'Drink?'
'Glass of water with lemon and a black coffee, please'. She either didn't understand what I wanted or couldn't decipher it through my American accent. She looks to the other woman who's cooking eggs. 'He wann some water ‘n lemon 'n coffee wif nothin' in it.'
She turns away to get it and I look around. The restaurant is located in a Tortolian neighborhood and caters to its residents, not tourists. Kids come in and out like a second home, saying hello to their moms or aunts working here, getting some candy, and pouring themselves sodas. These are poor people. I can tell from the kinds of clothes they wear, lack of dental hygiene, and a certain self-consciousness that goes along with being poorer than those in the world immediately around you.
Above the counter there's a handwritten sign that reads:
US ALWAYS BE FRIENDS
PLEASE PAY CASH TODAY
TRY TOMORROW FOR
REMEMBER MA CREDIT GOT
FROM NO PAY
It's a weak breakfast -- small milky eggs and the johnnycakes are flat and tasteless even for johnnycakes. Though I'm glad I stopped in for a small slice of Tortolian life. I recall that yesterday when I was wandering around town that most of the shops were owned by whites. I imagine that the same own the building this restaurant is located in. Despite the beauty of the place, I'm glad I'm not a Tortolian. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be living with such natural abundance under such an unnatural glass ceiling. Would frustrate the hell out of me in no time.
In the Marina office where one signs up for computer time and buys shower tokens, each morning they dispense a six to eight page condensing of the day’s New York Times. I wish I could get it at home; it’s just enough news. Before leaving, I read about an unprecedented strike among service employees in Aruba. God bless them, I think to myself. I mean really bless them.
The Marina is not crowded when I return to it around noon. Many of the boats and crews in the Rally have moved on. Some are just island hopping around the Virgins, and a few have more ambitious plans, including a couple who plan on circumnavigating the earth, and others who are headed to Venezuela and points south.
I lay out on one of the lunges near the pool. I note that although my back is no longer in acute pain, it is still sore and it takes some adjustment to find a position to rest that’s comfortable. I’m confounded by the persistent soreness and wonder if perhaps I hit it when I first went down on the bike and was knocked out temporarily. Things like that happen so fast. Robert’s a dentist but he thinks and talks like a medical doctor. When I had told him earlier that I was worried that I might have damaged something internally, he looked me over and assured me that I wasn’t showing any signs of such - like a yellowing of my complexion or washed out eyes.
One thing I can diagnose about my condition is that after eating Dramamine for two weeks, plus anti-inflation medicine and Robert’s muscle relaxants, my belly feels like it’s floating around in my stomach rather than settled there. Before going back to the Winergie to help with the sail repair, I decide to break down and finally buy a meal from the Marina restaurant. I order what they call a Jimmy Buffet burger, hoping it will settle my stomach and also provide some protein for my aching muscles. I order it from a waitress in the bar and ask her to bring it out to me at the pool. She does. A guy seated nearer the pool flags her over to refill his glass of water and bring it back to him. The bar is only about twenty feet away from the pool. I can tell by her body language that she really does not like waiting on Americans.
The burger, fries and lettuce and tomato are nothing special. But it’s solid and does what I hoped for. It stymies my belly grumbling, and I feel more like giving Morgan a hand. When I get to the boat Don and him are already in the process of lowering the sails. There’s a light breeze, so it helps to have three people try to contain each sail as one of us repairs it. Don does the cutting and pasting of canvas fabric over the places on the sails that are torn, while I hold the sail steady and Morgan lowers it from the winch. It’s difficult for me to stand in one place and hold the sail steady, but I manage.
After we have the sail completely down and repaired Morgan comes over to inspect it and I go over to the winch to haul the sail back up when he signals me to. As I bend forward and begin winching, the mystery of my backache clears. . Winching the sail strains my back right in the place where I’ve been experiencing excruciating pain. That makes me feel more certain that I have torn and pulled muscles, nothing more. I’m relieved.
We’re not at sea, so there’s no urgency for me to winch the sail in quickly. I practice a little ‘yoga’ and breathe into my back as I winch slowly and deliberately. It actually feels good, relieving some of the stiffness that was probably caused in large part by my fear of being seriously injured there. I note Don taking a posture of impatience, crossing his legs and checking his watch - convincing me, beyond a doubt, that he’s not just half-assed, but a complete asshole.
In fairness to sailors, Don is an anomaly. Most are unusually supportive and sensitive team players. But I’ll never take the chance again of signing on to crew a boat with people I don’t know better beforehand.
There are a lot of other little things to repair on the boat as well - loose cleats, frayed lines. It’s endless, really, and one would have to love sailing the way I love writing to do it. Otherwise, it’s simply an overwhelming amount of work. Parked behind us on the dock is another catamaran, though it’s designed for comfort and leisure, with a huge afterdeck, wooden swing doors and brass fixtures. It’s a charter boat, which means that people book it in advance, fly to Tortola and then sail it around the islands for a week or so and hand it back to its owner to care for. That appeals to me more than owning and caring for a boat full time. Plus, if I chartered a boat, I could select a crew that I knew I’d enjoy spending time with.
Speaking of which, Lynn comes back to the boat. She asks me how I’m feeling and I tell her. She’s empathic and tells me that it wasn’t until this morning when she woke up that she felt all the aches and pains that resulted from sailing over such rough waters. And she didn’t go down a hill backwards on a motorbike. Feels good to talk and laugh about the incident with someone.
Don and her have rented a car and they and Morgan are going to dinner on another part of the island with an old mutual friend who lives here. I don’t think I would have gone if they’d invited me, so I’m only mildly disappointed when they don’t. I’ve got good food in the frig, and don’t really enjoy dining out regularly. If one doesn’t enjoy swimming or other kinds of recreation, or find pleasure traveling the back roads of foreign places, than all that’s left is working on boats and going out to eat and drink.
I’m also just feeling too relaxed and mellow to go out to a restaurant that’s bound to be noisy and crowded on a Saturday night. I met someone earlier who is interested in reading some of my work, and also discovered that the pain in my back is only a temporary discomfort. I’m content to hang out on the boat by myself, play some Miles Davis, and just chill. I’d also invited Judith to come visit on the weekend and this is the last day I’ll be here. I’d rather hang out with the possibility of getting to know someone new and different than indulge in the familiar once again.
It’s simply a mellow evening in Paradise and that’s not bad. When I get tired of hanging out by myself, and wait until I think it’s too late for Judith to show, I head over to the Marina to see what’s happening there. Cameron’s at the bar watching a performance by the David Mathews Band on a large flat-screen TV. I have to travel to a Third World country to see my first concert on a flat-screen TV. So be it. It’s impressive, how the picture draws you right into the performance. Cameron’s good company, even though I’ve hardly seen him while he’s been ‘crashing’ on the boat. Like most guys his age he only sleeps when he has to, and then briefly. He tells me that there was another little party tonight sponsored by the Rally and that there’s some cold beer left in a cooler near the pool.
Free cold beer. That’s nice. Plus it’s Carib, my latest favorite. I decide to hang out by the pool rather than go back in the bar. I don’t have anything against watching TV, it just makes me uncomfortable after a short while. Gives me the feeling that I’m under the spell of some drug that’s eating my spirit.
The sky is precious. Clear, and the moon is no longer burning so bright that it’s glaring out a view of the stars. After about an hour I’m almost falling asleep under the stars, which is a luxury in and of itself, considering that it’s mid-November and in two days I’ll be back where it’s cold and night falls around 5 PM. Ouch.
A mild commotion breaks my mellow reverie. The boat and crew that got pushed to Puerto Rico by gusting winds has finally made its way into port in Tortola. Captain and crew are coming to the Marina for a celebratory dinner. The boat’s called the Leprechaun and I recognize the captain. He looks like an American Leprechaun, tall, with curly black hair and sparkling blue eyes. Him, and his crew, look exhausted and ecstatic at the same time, which is the way I guess we each looked when we finally got here. And especially so in their case.
I didn’t get to know the captain of the Leprechaun while we were in Newport, though I’d noticed him. He possessed an enthusiasm and sense of humor that stood out. He waves to me and calls me over to their table. I walk over and congratulate them on getting into port. He offers to buy me a drink, but I pass. Then he asks me how I’ve been and I tell him about my biking accident and that I’m just working out the soreness. His shimmering eyes glow even brighter when he tells me that he’s got something that will help me out. I tell him if that’s so then I would appreciate getting it right now, as I’ll be sailing out early in the morning and then leaving on Monday.
Even though he just got here he gets up and we walk back to where the Leprechaun is docked. The boat looks wild - not damaged, but like’s it’s been sailing hard. We go into the cockpit and he uncovers some beautiful brownish green marijuana buds. I’ve never been so happy to see some in my life. Pharmaceutical muscle relaxants are one thing, but nothing compared to the healing powers of the bud.
On the way back to the Marina, I tell him I was disappointed that after my accident I wasn’t able to get around the island and meet more locals. He tells me that he used to live here and would be happy to introduce me to his friends who still live here. If only I had more time. But we exchange email addresses and he tells me that he’ll be doing the rally again next year and if I’m looking to crew…
Even though Bob Marley is the patron saint of the Caribbean, one can’t smoke in public. So I head back to the Winergie feeling as though it’s been a great day in it’s own way. There, I smoke some bud. It’s tasty, not too strong, but strong enough. I’m hanging out about as mellow as can be now when Morgan gets back, very toasty. He clambers aboard. He’s funny, bear-like, when he’s drunk and I can’t help but laugh at him, good-naturedly. He booms in his Texas drawl that I’ve got an important task to perform tomorrow. He asks if I’d mind doing a walk-through of it right now.
That’s fine with me. I generally find Morgan more alert and understandable when he’s drunk than when he’s hung-over, which he will undoubtedly be tomorrow morning. We walk out onto the portside hull and Morgan shows me the deck lines I’m going to have to hold onto and release when he tells me to tomorrow. What makes this so important is that we cannot move forward out of our birth as we are the last boat on the dock, and right behind us, only about ten feet away, is the other catamaran. Morgan can only back us out, and I have to hold enough tension on the dock lines to allow us to go out sideways and not hit the other catamaran. And then throw all the lines out quickly so we can go back straight out without careening into any of the other boats. Damage to any of these boats, I remark to myself, would probably cost more than all the money I’ve made so far in my life.
This offshore sail has been so over my head that I feel compelled to approach everything now as though it is the first time I have ever done anything Even though what I have to do is simple, my mind is so cluttered with all the new things I’ve had to learn in the last two weeks, and memories of the times when I’ve been a step or two behind what was going on, that I ask Morgan to go through what we are about to do a few times, step by step, hands-on.
He indulges me, though I either exhaust, confuse, or discourage him, because afterward he goes right down to his bunk to sleep. I sit on the deck smoking another bud before doing the same.
I wake up early Sunday morning, around 5 a.m. No aches or pains and my vitality returned, surging, in fact. Feel as though I could service a harem, if I had one, which I don’t.
So what to do?
I go up on deck, smoke some herb, mellow out watching the sun rise and then head over to the Marina to take a shower. I grab a couple of coffees and when I get back to the Winergie, Morgan is sitting on the afterdeck smoking a cigar. The twin diesel engines are churning and emitting blue smoke. The other catamaran seems to have drifted even closer to us. Whatever. I’m ready to help launch us successfully.
He’s hung over and appreciates the coffee. Kate, my sailing partner and his lover, is flying into St. John this afternoon, along with her mother. The plan is for us to sail out to the most eastern tip of Tortola, moor the boat; and from there Morgan will take a water taxi to St, John, pick up Kate, help her mother get settled into a hotel there, and bring Kate back to the boat. The last water taxi back to Tortola is at 5 p.m. so we’re cutting it close. Morgan will be taking the dingy to the water taxi so it’s essential he gets back tonight so I have a ride in the morning to a land taxi that will take me to the airport I’m going to on Tortola.
We go over this plan for the umpteenth time until Morgan finishes his cigar and we take our places at opposite ends of the boat and get ready to cast off. I grab the most forward dock line and pull the front of the boat to the dock. Morgan puts the boat into reverse and I use the line to guide us out at a right angle. We clear the other catamaran by a good few feet and I release the dock line by reverse lassoing it and then bring it back into the boat. Smooth as silk.
We’re going to motor, not sail, to our destination so all that’s left for me to do is sit and wait until it’s time to moor the boat. The route we take parallels the one along the coast I took on the motorbike. On the bike, I could not see how steep the hills were rising up from the road I was on. From offshore, however, I can. I wonder if we had come into Tortola in the light of day if I’d have been so willing to rent the bike. It’s hard to say. Second guessing one’s self is a neurotic pastime at best and I guess that I’m just feeling bad that I spent most of my time on Tortola healing rather than… what? I only had four days here and even in the best of circumstances that’s not a lot. Plus, it’s not like other places I’d visited, like Belize or Mexico or France or Canada where I knew people who could introduce me into the life and culture.
It was what it was and I’m feeling no worse from the wear so I try to just accept things as they are. What else can one do? Life is decidedly non-renegotiable and it’s another beautiful day.
We are cruising at about 10 knots, which is less than a third of the speed I was riding on my bike. It takes us a couple of hours to reach Soppers Point, where we’ll moor the boat. Soppers Point just happens to be where Pussers Rum House is located, so if Morgan and Kate get back early perhaps I’ll get to see it and have dinner there after all. Life may be non-negotiable, but it's infinitely fungible.
I’ve never moored a boat. What I have to do is walk forward on the hull and then use a device like a gaffing hook in order to gaff one of the ‘peas’ that rest atop moorings anchored into the bottom of the harbor. Then attach the ‘pea’ to a cleat on the boat and secure us in place. It’s harder than it sounds and made more difficult by the fact that the harbor is crowded and there aren’t that many moorings left. And the ones that are, are near other boats. I miss the first couple of swipes at one and as I’m snagging on the third try I see Morgan impatiently making his way out the fore of the boat to do it himself. He doesn’t see it but we are heading right at the side of another boat. I scream at him to get back and he does so just in time to throw the boat’s engines into reverse and allow us to miss the other boat by no more than a few inches. And I’ve got the ‘pea’ in hand.
This is why I dislike doing things with Morgan when he’s hung over. He’s normally a patient and competent person, but on morning’s after he can become the opposite. That move could have cost us big time and there was no need for it.
Morgan sets the ‘pea’ in cleat in order to keep us from drifting into other boats and then takes off in the dingy. I can tell he’s anxious, like anyone would be, about reuniting with a new lover and companion after not seeing her for a while. But he leaves me on the boat without it being properly moored and before long I find myself using the gaffing pole to fend us off from hitting other boats. We are drifting off the mooring in a 60-degree arc when we should be about 15 at the most.
I have no idea what to do and don’t feel as though I can keep fending off successfully like this for the next five hours or longer. I bring the mooring line in until we are at about a 45-degree arc, but that’s still too much swing. I see a couple of young guys and a girl on a boat a dozen yards away and call out to them for help. One of them, Sean, is kind enough to dingy over and come on board. He inspects the situation, takes the ‘pea’ and matter of fact brings it back to the main sail cleat and winches it as tight as he can. Now we’ve got about a 10-degree arc. Perfect. What he does is obvious once he does it, but I don’t think I would have figured it out.
There have been so many things just like this that have taken place within the last few weeks that I feel suddenly overwhelmed and tired. With the boat secure, I go down into my bunk, lay flat on my back, and stare up through the hatch opening at the late afternoon sky until I drift off into a light snooze.
I'm de-snoozed by the sound of the dingy running up alongside theWinergie. Night has fallen since I lay down so I go up into the cabin and turn on some deck lights. I see Kate's blonde head first. A sight for sore eyes. She's the best 'new' friend I've had lately. We started sailing together about five years ago and in the process became solid bulwarks for one another. She knows my life, my family, my works, supports it; and I in turn do the same for here. We've never had the boy-girl intimacy thing going on so there's no latent minefield type of charge between us waiting to be set off. We are 'best friends' of the opposite gender -- something I've cultivated and valued all my adult life and something new for Kate, though I know she's come to appreciate it as much as I do.
She looks the way someone who thinks they may have found the love of their life earlier this summer and then suspended that temporarily with a fifteen-week trek through the holy places of India would: Radiant.
But as Mother India herself will tell you, the spiritual is an intricately earthy affair, as pure, polluted, reverential and profane as the Ganges itself. Kate has to pee, and Morgan has a table reserved for us at Pussers in less than a half hour. Kate hits the head, we store her luggage, and then off we three go on a rubber dingy to Pussers.
Soppers Hole is more upscale and modern than Road Town. The layout is standard Caribbean tourist, with the addition of some new waterfront condos. Otherwise, it’s an atypical layout with breezy open restaurants and fashionable designer boutiques. Pussers, like most places I’ve visited on this trip, is surprisingly un-crowded even though this is the beginning of the peak tourist season for the islands. I imagine that the ‘devilishly’ long hurricane cycle discouraged casual travelers. Pussers is spacious and there’s only about nine other patrons having dinner and drinks.
These kinds of places do nothing for me; make me feel like I’m in a Holiday Inn looking at tranquilizing displays of make-believe scenery. So I engage Kate in conversation and hear stories of camel jockeying, exotic encounters with peripatetic swamis, and an overall head-spinning journey of complexity and contrast. Such as I imagine India would be, I once again get a hankering to go there.
But Kate is a sailor, truly loves it. So she’s more interested in hearing about our sail from the States to here. I let Morgan have the floor with this. He captained the journey, and it’s his amorous reunion dinner with Kate, not mine. It’s the first time I’ve heard him talk about it, and I enjoy listening to him. Like Kate, he too is enamored of sailing and finds rewards in things that most people - or non-sailors - would find unbearable. Like soaking wet clothes, getting rocked all over the boat, and barely keeping one’s wits in order to navigate into port.. I get it. It’s the
flush of overcoming adversity, taking on challenges, and making it to the end. I experience the same thing in the course of writing a novel. But to follow that with off-coast sailing seems like a bit much.
But I remind myself that it’s too early to tell how this experience will settle in me. I enjoy sailing, but it’s not something I’d dedicate my life to. That’ all I know, and it’s enough for now. The food, as I was told beforehand, is much better than the average fare on the island. I order a combination pasta and seafood plate that is nicely spiced and fragrantly herbed. Good. I’ll be traveling all day tomorrow and I’ll at least have some good food leftover in my belly. I know from experience how difficult, nearly impossible, it is to eat well in airports or on planes these days.
We don’t linger or talk excessively. I like that, hanging out quietly with a couple of people I admire and enjoy as friends. Kate had made her plans to travel to Tortola well in advance of mine, so the fact that the three of us are able to enjoy a night together before I leave is fortuitous. Completes the circle of friendship we started this summer.
We don’t linger on the deck of the Winergie either. I know that Kate has to be feeling jet-lagged, and Morgan and I have to get up early in order to bring me to the dock to catch a cab to the airport. I’m completely packed and good to go. All I need is a good night’s sleep, so that’s what I do.
When we get to the taxi stand in the morning, Morgan pays my fare and gives me a hundred dollars for traveling money. It’s a nice gesture; I could surely use it and wouldn’t have asked him. Look forward to returning him the favor in some way sometime soon. We embrace and I’m off.
I sit up front with the driver. He was born not far from here, and points it out to me as we go down the highway. He was a professional sailor when he was younger, and lets me know that one had to really be a sailor in those days - no motor engines or GPS.
Children are waiting for school busses along the sides of the road. They wear uniforms and I ask him about that - if they are in Catholic schools, or what. ‘No,' he informs me, 'all the children wear uniforms to school and each school has a different one.'
We get there is less than an hour and I have two hours until my flight. It’s a nice day so I decide to wait outside. There are half dozen men with shovels clearing a parcel of land. Only one digs at a time while the others watch. Three men in shirts and ties watch. Everyone chats good-naturedly. A woman with a vending truck sets up a few tables and chairs. She serves coffee, soda, sandwiches and snacks out of the back of the truck. I take a seat and listen to the banter. She welcomes one and all with a melodic, ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ The others who come over match and up her. ‘God doan make no bad days, only peoples do.’ And on and on. I can’t help it, but I find it hard to believe that these people are really as happy as they seem, these car parkers, vendors and laborers, probably making les than the equivalent of an American minimum wage while they watch wealthy people from all over the world come and go and use their island as a playground. I’m reminded again of my encounter with the check out girl. ‘We got god power.’
We fly into Puerto Rico in order to get a flight to the States, where I get my first chance to experience post 9/11 security. I wait in line with all my luggage, like a sheep, in order to go through a metal detector because a billion-dollar-a-day U.S. intelligence and law enforcement establishment couldn’t do their job and keep a handful of former camel jockeys from commandeering airplanes and running them into buildings. Pisses me off. As far as I know, to this day, no one was ever blamed for that, held responsible, fired, laid off, nothing. Instead, they do stupid annoying shit like this. The person ‘inspecting’ my bag has earphones on and is bopping to some hip-hop. Lord have mercy. I sure feel safer now.
First stop in the States in Charlottesville. The people here seem to me to be happy enough, plus they are well dressed. I’m also glad to note that there is no music being piped in - yet (or that I can detect) - reminding me to be happy and obey god.
I’m proud of myself for having the foresight to eat well last night. Fast food chains have commandeered the airports. If I had terrorist tendencies, I think I’d blow up a few of these places.
Finally, by 10 pm, I’m back in Newark, New Jersey - home of race riots, Budweiser brewery, and the longest running completely corrupt city government in the country. No dolphins or rainbows here.
When I get on the jitney bus that will take me from the airport back to the shore, an elderly couple gets on the bus after me. When they turn to take their seats I see that the man is wearing a teamsters’ jacket. Fraternity, Pride, Dignity.