Monday, September 19, 2011

Sailing Home

The sun was starting to get close to the horizon at our backs, the horizon in front of us, to the east began to get that dark blue tint at sea level that tells a sailor that dusk will be upon the boat soon enough. Which sometimes is a good thing but not if the slow boat from Mexico is trying to make the anchorage before dark.

At sea the dark is a pleasure in the tropics, relief from the heat, fantastic light shows overhead with moon or stars but not both simultaneously as one cancels out the others, but my wife and I were tired of nights at sea after two years on the road. Most nights we had spent at anchor but most days sailing involved a night or two or three underway, taking turns on watch, sleeping with one dog or the other but not each other. My wife got dinner going and I took the first watch in the darkness then we'd eat together in the cabin of our catamaran keeping a nervous eye on the windows looking for signs of life and then she took the watch on deck while i washed up and went to sleep. She would wake me at some God awful hour and go to bed and I would sit up as long as I could hopefully till dawn when she would make breakfast, I would wash up and she would take the watch while I slept. I found the disjointed hours of life underway to be irritating and we had been sailing from Isla Mujeres for almost two weeks.

We were tired in general as we passed the Sand Key Light, shown here in a picture from Wikipedia, with the tiny nub of sand that the dogs looked at longingly. I did too thinking perhaps we should take a mooring and stop here for the night, seven miles from our destination. My wife said we should press on with daylight on our side.

It was the first dry land we had seen since we had left the north coast of Cuba thirty six hours previously. We were ready to stop but we had issues. Our three day crossing from Isla Mujeres to Key West had become a two week odyssey, interrupted a hundred miles from Key West by a storm that threatened to blow us more than 200 miles back to Mexico.

We took refuge inside the Cuban Reef and because we had planned to be back in the land of abundance within three days we took no perishable food with us from Isla Mujeres. American Customs are rather fussy about the importation of salad and apples and bananas. By the time we had drifted past the Sand Key outpost of uninhabited barren sand we were tired. We were tired of sailing adn keeping watch, of not having fresh food, of having to think all the damned time as every experience was new, we were tired of everything being complicated by language barriers and cultural weirdness,of not having anything be simple even for two Spanish speakers and travelers like ourselves. In some ways it may seem rather petulant to be fretting about voluntary isolation in a world made crowded by too many people but we had been traveling for a while we four and we were all tired. We wanted modern facilities and convenient modern life ashore, embarrassingly enough. Washing a salty Eugene Debs with a garden sprayer of fresh water after every beach excusrion at least twice a day got old for both of us.

It was a race with darkness, watching the sun set behind us, listening to the light breeze rustle the mainsail as the diesel burbled us forward at a speed a little faster than a brisk walk. The odd thing about making landfall is that you can be scouring the horizon for hours and after a long stretch on the water one tends to get antsy about confirming one's position so one keeps looking for the elusive first sight of land, in the manner of a member of Columbus's crew looking for a glimpse of the mythical Indies.

I spent altogether too much time standing on the deck under the weak and fading February sun looking for my first glimpse of Key West, our goal, more or less since we left San Francisco in the summer of 1998. I had friends and acquaintances in Key West and we hoped to stop and work for a while before setting off south again for a stint in the proper tropics of the West Indies where we had honeymooned six years previously. Our trip through the Panama Canal in the final months of US Administration had beset us with heat and humidity and we had enjoyed it. Cold was not on our list of to-dos.Key West held out the prospect of being a crossroads where travelers' tales could keep the dream alive we thought and keep us focused on further journeys. We had not been prepared for how tired we felt.

I was tired of fixing the boat in strange places. Even though the Gemini 105 is a light boat by most standards we had traveled well, and the boat, new in 1996 had kept us secure and dry through some terrible trials, tropical rain, horrendous waves and endless winds ancillary parts had a tendency to give up. I was an expert at disassembling and rebuilding the toilet, shit and all. The water maker was my essential companion. The lines and sails fell to my hands through force of habit, and the oil filter and fuel filters of the diesel a good deal less so. The boat was a home and an collection of pumps and engines and pipes and seals and crap that I needed to keep us going.

My wife had been cooking in a tiny space in the right hand hull. She made do with two burners, lamenting her six burner commercial stove in our home in Santa Cruz. The fridge, operated by propane gas was the size of two vegetable bins in our human sized fridge at home, and supplies came and went in ways that seemed more deliberately obtuse than random in our travels. We got used to buying what we saw when we saw it. We never assumed we would see it again tomorrow.She looks like Cheyenne but she was Emma, saved from the Santa Cruz SPCA and forced into a traveler's life that would have suited Cheyenne ironically enough but that Emma took up unwillingly to simply be with us.

We four, we happy band of travelers, exhausted, arrived in key West. It was Valentine's Day 2000.


Chuck and the Pheebs said...

Very nice post from the heart.

I've heard that about sailing - it's quite attractive from shore; not so much after two years afloat. Every anecdote reflects this - one casts lines with vym and vigor, only to seek the comforts of humanity and familiarity about two years later.

Even mistantropes seek the company of others after a while.

Conchscooter said...

Especially on Speak Like a Pirate day!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sir:

What adventures you must have had!

Fopndest regards,
Twisted Roads