A few days ago, Splendid finally set sail again and left Puerto Lindo. For me, it was the first time I’d be traveling on a sailboat, but most of all, it was the first time my home would move, an incredible feeling. It was the first time I would travel without having to pack my bags. Pretty cool.
Now, as I sat on the cabin house, my back resting on the main mast, looking at the waves and feeling the wind on my face, lots of thoughts piled up in my head and I thought about this blog and what I would write. It was really funny cause the first thing that came to mind was that I felt like a contestant from “The Bachelor” or something. So many times, either on the page, emails or comments round the anchorage people tell Alex things like “She’s a keeper” or “Don’t you dare f**k this one up!” which makes me very happy of course to be accepted and liked but also feels like our relationship is part of a bigger thing, a bit like “The Truman Show”, and I’m the contestant that is still in the competition. It’s strange to feel a big part of my life has become public. I know other people make videos of themselves explaining how to bake perfect chocolate chip cookies or do the moonwalk and post them on YouTube but this was never my case.
The seas were about 5 feet, some hitting us on the beam, so Splendid was moving a bit, I looked at the waves forming and predicted how our boat would respond. I liked sitting out there, felt it might become my “sweet spot” when the weather was nice, it was like when you sit on your surfboard and the water brings you up and down and you have time and silence to meditate about your life and the world around you.
The second thought that hit me was how my life is actually in the hands of another person so often. I don’t think I’ll be a sailor. It might happen, but I don’t think so, I have always been a passenger and I like it that way. I know how to drive and really enjoy it but I’ve never had a car. I always preferred someone else driving so that I could read, listen to music, look at the scenery. And I as I said before I don’t like owning and taking care of things. I’m very volatile that way, I like living the moment and I adapt to whatever circumstances come up. I don’t mind losing comfort, I mind losing freedom and being forced to spend money on things. So I’m never in control, whether I am on a plane, a train, a bus, a taxi or someone else’s car.
So here it was just Alex and I. I had chosen not only a partner but a captain, and I felt really lucky to have found one as competent as him! Just before we left Puerto Lindo, Alex realized that there were a couple of holes in one of the water tanks. He immediately brought out his fiberglass kit and fixed it right away. Then, when we were all set to go, he tried to pick up the anchor and the windlass was not working. He asked me to stay up there next to the chain, went downstairs to the v-birth and played around with the cables. I was in charge of stepping on the rubber button once in a while (felt really helpful hahaaa), he “jumped” don’t know what and fixed it too. There was a leak in the engine room as well, something with the raw water pump, but he said that could wait a little longer, he would change the seal later. He has been working on this boat for so long that he can do all kinds of work without any help, and has the tools and parts onboard. It’s such an important message when he tells people to buy a cheap boat, a good one that needs some work, strip it to make it simple and make it your own. You have to know your boat and have practice fixing things, otherwise sailing could be really stressful and even very dangerous.
Then I thought about “The Perfect Storm”. I found the book at Hans’ restaurant in Puerto Lindo a few weeks ago (our friend Manny had left it) and loved it! If you haven’t read it you should. It is filled with information and the story is very interesting as well. Later Alex and I watched the film and also thought it was great, but of course the story is different, the screenwriters took some liberties (they mix the crew’s previous experiences into this particular trip, things like that). Both are really good. But there is a very interesting fact that most people might have missed. As I was reading, Alex (who only watched the movie) kept asking me what the author had written about Ray Leonard, the captain of the Satori, a well known sailor who is portrayed as a bit of an idiot in the story. The storm finds him taking two girls on his 32-foot Westsail -the same as Namaste, only a little larger-. The girls panic (naturally) and, disregarding what he says, ask to be rescued.
I kept thinking about him on our way to Kuna Yala. He is kind of a key character but falls under the radar in both the book and the movie because he refused to talk to the press or the author until after the book was published. The girls appear to be the heroes saving the lives of all three while the captain lies in bed getting drunk unable to react or do something about it. Alex was pretty upset about the whole thing, he told me that the captain was right, that they should have stayed in the boat. He said the two women (he used a different term) had made Leonard lose his home, put themselves and the rescue team in jeopardy and made him look like an idiot in front of the whole world. He explained to me how the Westsail has an amazing construction, a very thick hull, and that it is nearly impossible to sink. “You close all the hatches and windows and float like a cork. Even if the wind and the waves roll you around 360 degrees, you always come back to the original position”. I saw what he was saying. “You should always listen to your captain”, he told me. And I thought “sure, but you gotta trust your captain first”. It is so important to do some research before you decide to do long passages on some else’s boat. You wouldn’t believe how many inexperienced, half-witted, rude people call themselves captains in these seas! You see them trying to anchor for half an hour, putting everybody else’s boat in danger and you feel so sorry for the charters they bring around in their time-bombs. As we were rolling on our way to paradise, I kept thinking about how safe I felt with Alex as a captain and Splendid as a vessel, they both knew what they were doing.
I read the second edition of the novel and Sebastian Junger adds a footnote in one of the pages: “Ray Leonard was unavailable for interviews with the media after the storm, and he was unavailable to this author two years later. However, since the publication of the hardcover edition, he has denied the accuracy of this account of the Satori’s voyage. Primarily, he maintains that he and his crew were never in danger during the storm, and that they should not have been forced off the boat by the Coast Guard. In support of this, he cites his own long experience as a sailor, the extremely heavy construction of the boat, the fact that the boat survived the storm intact and was eventually salvaged off the New Jersey coast. He says that “lying ahull” –that is, battening down the hatches and staying safely in the bunks- wasn’t evidence of passivity on his part, but was rather an accepted heavy-weather strategy. In contradiction to crew member Karen Stimpson’s recollection, Leonard insists that he took an active role in the handling of the boat, and that he did not take a drink of alcohol until after the Coast Guard arrived. He was ordered off the boat, he maintains, because his two crew members were inexperienced and terrified”. I thought about myself and whether I would have reacted like them and it is hard to tell of course. But I trust Alex immensely and usually keep it together in times of danger, when there’s an emergency in the street I always take the active role to help and even when I was attacked a couple of times I surprised myself with how well I handled the situation and turned it into my advantage. I keep a very cold head and think of survival in a very logical kind of way.
Something else I thought of is what people usually tell me when we talk about being at sea: will I not be terrified to be surrounded by water with no land in sight? I keep telling them I’m a water person and that I find it hard to be in a shopping mall or downtown surrounded by herds of people and vehicles. I have not lived in a city for a long time and I really feel I am getting inner ear damage when someone hunks the horn. I have also become very aware of how dangerous roads are. I love the water, I always have. I move very naturally in it, love swimming and feel very confident. It was funny because as we sailed, we followed the coast from 5 miles away, so we had open sea to our left, front and back and mountains and hills in the distance to our right. I kept staring at the open ocean and when I looked at the land it felt like it was in the way, I did not want it there, I wanted to be able to see the Pacific Ocean too, lying on the other side. I always see the planet like that. My last home was in Bariloche (Patagonia), and I was always aware that to the west, behind the huge Andes, was the Chilean beautiful coast and often wondered if the surf was big or not. I am a coast person, land is usually bothering me in the way. My instincts told me that if the engine failed at some point during the trip, the only danger was to have winds or currents bringing us toward the land. We had food and water for a few months, Alex is a good fisherman, our only fear was to crash against some rocks or something. I see what the captain of Satori was saying. Even in the middle of a hurricane or a storm, I too would prefer to be floating in the middle of the sea and not on the land with tin roofs flying in the wind, buildings collapsing, telephone poles falling on cars… I’d much rather be floating or turning in the water, far away from everything else.
I realized as well how much of a traveler I am. I am on this planet to enjoy the ride and don’t really care where I am going or when it is over. I’m really not afraid of dying, like most people who live like us. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. But I won’t waste one day. I want to have an exciting, happy, healthy life whatever that means at any given time. It is impossible to plan ahead and that’s the beauty of it. We are where we want to be right now and that’s what matters. Alex told me about his “If I die” video and I told him I’ve been telling my sister for ages that I want her to have a letter for my family if I ever die unexpectedly during my travels. There’s no better way to go than having the time of your life everyday. You can always fall in your bathtub you may as well go out see the world, face a storm in a sailboat or ride across China in a motorcycle.
So my first trip was beautiful. And pretty comfortable I have to say. I think you don’t get sick when you are outside. You predict the movement the ship is going to make and so it feels natural. When I had to go inside it was difficult to keep my balance and I started feeling funny. Didn’t like it. We took turns to take naps, listened to music and I never lost my appetite (I thought it was a great sign), I was eating crackers the whole way, first with honey, later with tuna with olive oil and lemon, and finally with avocado and tomatoes. It was amazing to see Alex so happy to be finally at sea, confident about Splendid, excited to see Kuna Yala again. All his hard work had paid off and we were finally on our way to paradise, together.