Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday

I have slipped from my overtime schedule into my regular work week schedule which means the New Year weekend is a blur of sleeping, walking Rusty and taking calls at work for emergencies real and sometimes imagined, thanks to the power of alcohol. Riding to work this week has been a crap shoot but so far I have avoided collisions with  distracted drivers though several memorable  near misses marked my ride to work Friday. Yesterday I pulled over on Highway One to create some separation from the other cars streaming to Key West for New Year's Eve. I just wanted to be alone.
 Clouds  were piling over the horizon driven by cool North winds and I was grateful for the cover of the windshield on the Vespa even though too many dead insects had smeared themselves on it, unwitting suicides. I don't set much stock in the change of the year. Orthodox Jews consider this to be the year 5775, Hindus think this is February 3102 and Muslims argue its  1438  and a few months...so calling tomorrow 2018 amounts to just one more human conceit. Still we need some sort of counting method I suppose to prevent collective insanity... In order to celebrate the end of the year, or just because I felt like it I stopped at Sandy's on White Street.
The place has changed a bit with English speakers in evidence. Recently I posted a picture of the new shop downtown on Fleming Street and there is a Sandy's food truck on the road as well. Change is good they keep telling us. So I had my usual, a con leche and cheese bread to fortify myself for 12 hours dispatching overnight. The hot milky coffee tasted good in the chill breeze blowing down White Street. Their new store on Fleming:
I got a chuckle out of the paper last week. It seems  a local construction company has plans to put 208 "affordable" housing units on Rockland Key near Mile Marker 9, close to the proposed Walmart. There are concerns about traffic and all the usual stuff but no one has dared say no to the Toppino family. They are the descendants of the cement company that won Flagler's contract to build his rail bridges more than a  hundred years ago.  Meanwhile the former owner of Sunset Key and the Westin Hotel, a relative newcomer, has been getting all kinds of grief for a similar, dare one say identical proposal for Summerland Key. He has been whittled down from 200 to 125 units at last count and maybe less before they finish messing with him. A stark reminder of the power structure in the Keys.
I posted a picture on Instagram last week of a Conch Cottage for sale, 2 bedrooms one bath 723 square feet with no garden to speak of, some off street parking and dingy little rooms- all for $1.2 million. When I took the picture I guessed half a million as an example of excessive pricing, maybe three quarters of a million if it were nice or had a pool or something. One point two million, which apparently no one has paid in a year of asking, seemed like a lot even to jaded old me.
The pity of it is that people who make interesting neighbors are driven from this town by these prices. I am not attracted to the types of people who see Key West as a drinking town where they can let loose the inhibitions they have to rein in at their home bases Up North. I don't see myself as a Bohemian in anyway at all but if I have to be around people I prefer to be around self absorbed and perhaps self destructive artists than nouveau riche prospectors mining Key West's  frost-free real estate. And in 2018 I see the prospects continuing to shift in that unhappy direction. 
For 2018 I hope the wilderness in Little Hamaca will survive a little more benign neglect, I hope hurricane season is mild and November elections offer positive results for a gentler future. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Government Road

The Key West city commission has turned its laser focus on Little Hamaca  park and in a few years this wilderness will be transformed into playing fields for young people. Very laudable I'm sure but I will miss the wilderness.  Just as I miss the ope spaces at Truman Waterfront now tamed with cement and asphalt. 
The final form has yet to be determined but the over riding consideration at the moment is planning the cost. A smaller field for three million or bells and whistles for five? Might as well go for broke as far as I'm concerned if the place is to be torn up.
One can hardly complain about giving the rug rats sports facilities, to oppose it would be like opposing apple pie and the flag but I do enjoy coming here and feeling like I am in the middle of nowhere, disorganized and abandoned. Actually its a useful storage area of the city for bits and pieces that have no home but really its just an abandoned missile site left over from the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
These  containers have been vandalized with pictures of genitals in the tired pointless unimaginative way half wits with spray cans manage and the city comes after them with heavy black paint and order is restored.  None of this seems like it amounts to much and that is the pleasure of coming here, stepping out of the  tourist flow as it were.
The airport is next door and I am always surprised how many planes take off from this small town, one after the other. It's hard to feel any envy for people lodged into these flying machines getting hauled back to the winter cold Up North at hundreds of miles an hour. I tend to look at people traveling and feel a twinge of envy but not around here.
Nature's airliner:
I love these clunky old seaplanes returning from trips to the National Park at the Dry Tortugas. They make a coupe of trips a day and I've seen them landing on the lagoon in front of Fort Jefferson. They then nose up to the beach to drop off their passengers for a few hours sightseeing. 
A rain gauge! Mosquito control puts them out all over the place. Best not to interfere with them.
Back to my seaplanes. The little wheels they have actually make them amphibians as they can then land on the runway at the airport. Very cool. Key West Seaplane Adventures. Pretty website too.
Then there's this sad old pile rotting in the back lot of the airport. It was hijacked to Key West on an internal flight in Cuba and instead of returning the plane as is normally done a judge ruled it was to be handed over to a Miami family who were done wrong by Fidel Castro as I recall. Naturally they could do nothing with the plane which was never returned, never flown never used again. Here it sits nominal reparations in violation of international law. Our relations with Cuba are so weird. 
It was hot enough Rusty took his ease for a while in the shade of the car.
I stood there and pondered the weirdness of this strange relic of past hostilities. And maybe future ones too though it seems to be getting harder to interest wealthy south Florida Cubans in prolonging their family dispute across the water. Fidel Castro is dead and Raul seems likely to follow soon. Their brother in law Diaz Balart in Miami seems to have peaked so possibly a new generation can cement better relations. 
And one more plane popping in for Christmas. I read in the paper five people died when a private plane crashed on take off in Bartow bound for Key West. Just like that they were gone no Christmas no lovely flight across the water...startling.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Death By A Thousand Cuts

There was a moment standing suffocated by vines, prodded by sharp branches, clothes grabbed by thorns, arms bleeding and the fear of skin rashes from poison wood that I had a thought.  Which thought forced its way into my  mind  causing me to ponder the notion that possibly this dog walk may not have been worth my effort. Rusty was of a different mind. He came and went from view, sliding through around and under obstacles like a hairy snake totally at home in its environment.I wasn't sure if he was checking up on me or mocking my abysmal progress but because I like him I preferred to think of him as my companion in this madness, not my agent provocateur (which he was).
 The day started well enough even though yesterday's sunrise in an almost cloudless sky was not spectacular. The strip of clouds hanging low on the horizon smothered the sun rather than giving it a colorful filter but temperatures were in the low 70s so it was fresh enough to encourage walking. Rusty started the morning exercise by being perverse, he turned back from my planned amble along a well surfaced fire road and he doubled back to sniff hurricane debris piled along the paved part of the road. His time his walk his choice so I followed amiably along. By the top of the road before we reached the highway I took Rusty down a side road I hadn't explored since Cheyenne's hiking days about three years ago. Something new excited the little tyke so we ventured out along the path through the mangroves.
 It was classic back country scenery, low bushes, saltwater and a few houses in the distance. Off to the west I could see a cluster of RVs parked in rows in a trailer park but Rusty and I were alone. He ran off the end of the trail and I thought to myself, and this is where I went completely wrong, there could be a short cut there back to the car which was about dead due east of us through a  few bushes. Rusty set off ahead of me and I clumped after him. Well, I figured after I get through this low lying inundated wet clay things will ease up underfoot and they did. My feet were wet and slippery inside my greasy Crocs and I was ready for dry land which eventually I found. Only thing was lots of stuff grows out of the dry ground. I was still in time to be sensible and turn back. If I had done that this wouldn't be worth writing.
Well I figured all I have to do is walk east for a bit and I'll hit the road. Did I take out my compass app on my phone and check? Of course not! If I had...etc etc...I plunged into the undergrowth as did Rusty not far away. His pleasure in these antics spurred me on. It was rough going let me tell you. After about half an hour of crashing and plunging I paused and finally checked my GPS.Naturally I discovered that yes I had made progress but I had moved south, parallel to the road, not towards it. Bugger. I turned left and kept plunging.  This wasn't walking in any meaningful sense, it was an assault course. Saplings leaned over and blocked my path. Thorns grew up around them making them scratchy to move. Cobwebs draped everywhere.  At first I tried to avoid the black splotchy trunks of poison wood trees but pretty soon I lost track of them. Gumbo limbos, dogwoods, buttonwoods, thorns poisonwoods they all jumbled into one. It was hot slow work. And I poked myself in the forehead. How clever of me.
 I kept feeling my phone in my pocket as I was afraid of dropping it as I leaned over, crawled jumped and struggled. My arms started bleeding, my legs were crisscrossed with cuts. In the screenshot below our starting point was the fancifully named Adams Road to the left. The idea was to walk smartly dead due east from the end of the road and come out just north of the house alongside the old state road and step into the car. The blue dot shows how far south we wandered, around the brown spot which was a pond, a place that encouraged the growth of razor sharp reeds that hurt like...well never mind they hurt a lot when they cut you.
Finally I got the sun in my eyes and could see nothing. That was the course I had to walk to get out of this nightmare and I pushed and struggled my way into the sunlight. I had long since turned off my radio app to save battery power lest I really need it so my struggle was more or less in silence punctuated only by my heaving gasping breath and a long string of senseless oaths in turn truncated by squeals of pain as one more thorn penetrated my skin.  I knew there was nothing for it but to keep going, rather in the manner of some major explorer caught in a wilderness somewhere meaningful. This was idiotic but I was stuck with it and there was no great revelation at the end, no Machu Picchu to be discovered, no Angkor Wat to be explored, no studious reports to be transmitted home to the Geographical Society. Just me and my stupidity blundering about in a giant thorn forest.
Somehow I came face to face with a blue ribbon on a tree. Civilization! Mosquito Control or someone monitoring wildlife or something in the happy days before Irma must have come by this place. Whatever trail there used to be was not discernible but like Hansel and the breadcrumbs I staggered from ribbon to ribbon as best as I could and I did notice I got less torn up this way. There must have been a trail here of some sort before the hurricane. Probably to trap mosquitoes or film raccoons or something. Whatever it was I got such a boost I finally felt capable of finishing the worst walk ever. 
Then I knew I was where I needed to be as trash appeared on the ground. The ubiquitous beer can. Finally through the thinning tree line I saw the brown smear of the fire road Rusty had rejected over two hours ago as a suitable walk. I staggered into the open, caught my breath and turned toward the car a quarter mile away. 
He had a blast so all was well, it is after all he who matters. Half way through the Struggle I was congratulating myself on being physically strong enough to handle adverse conditions, and I was muttering to myself thank god for broga and all that sweating and posturing that built up my muscles. Then I had another think and I started to blame my exercise regimen for giving me the confidence to get myself into this pickle in the first place.
Well, that was an adventure. A proper adventure as the outcome was in doubt there for a bit. One thing I did learn was that no matter how tight the undergrowth looks you can actually find a way through even without a machete. But I also learned its not actually walking, it's blundering.
Rusty and I spent the next eight hours, all day in fact snoring before he got up for dinner and I went to work. That was an exercise regimen all right.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Midnight Encounters

I was standing leaning against my car enjoying the night view of the stars overhead, while a cool winter Florida breeze blew through the mangroves, over the salt ponds and over  my bare skin. I wasn't quite sure if I was cold yet but I knew it was too soon to rein Rusty in as he snuffled through hurricane debris and sniffed the mangroves and chased his tail. Three o'clock in the morning on an apparently empty back road in the Lower Keys means you don't expect anyone to be around to run into your dog. Except that as I stood there looking at the stars and listening to the leaves rattle I heard a weird puffing sound accompanied by a  flat series of thumps.  What could that be? I asked myself as it got louder and closer in the pitch dark...
Blimp Road, Cudjoe Key
The reason I found myself on the road at that dark lonely hour was that I have been forced to do lots of overtime shifts this holiday season. I come home in the early hours to the usual rapturous welcome from my small brown dog, wide awake after several quiet hours of refreshing sleep alone at home and now ready to go for a walk. My old Labrador pictured above liked her twelve hours and Cheyenne was not much given to middle of the night walks but young Rusty is always ready. My current stretch of overtime shifts ending at 2 am is a tonic for him. So when I pull up under the house on the Vespa a small shadow detaches itself and we pile into the car and off we go. I enjoy star gazing at night and Rusty runs up and down some deserted piece of road which I have chosen with an eye to finding as little light pollution as possible, thus far from human habitation.
The back country of the Keys is pretty unvarying, a mixture of shrubs and salt water ponds bisected by a few roads, miles of darkness at night and distant lights scattered here and there, the only sound the wind and sometimes a delivery truck grinding down the Overseas Highway which is never more than a few miles away. In these flat lands sound carries on the southeast wind. So the other night  I drove out into the wilderness followed to my surprise by another car. Even more surprising was when a spot light came on and illuminated my car, and the inquiry as to whether I was OK? Actually I was not drunk, I wasn't speeding and I was simply walking my dog in the middle of the night. Odd but not illegal. Take care he said as he sped off to fight crime elsewhere in the county. 
Unlike about everyone I know I have no opinion on the second amendment, neither for nor against. As far as I am concerned feel free to own as may guns as you like though I choose not to so do. I prefer to go about my business not in fear of my neighbors and the idea of shooting someone is beyond my ability to imagine. I prefer to live by my wits. Equally  Rusty is a gentle dog though he does carry war wounds from his time on the streets of Homestead. He is missing a  tooth and he has a permanent scratch in his fur on his head. When I rescued him he had a terrible fear of large dogs and he always slept with one eye open. He'd have carried a  gun if he could, I have no doubt as he was a nervous wreck. He was irresistible in the ad for his adoption:
These days young Bobo has turned into Rusty a confident and outgoing dog who loves long walks and is much more self assured than you might expect from his miserable early life before thisisthedog plucked him off the streets of Homestead. Early on he developed a bond with me that he showed off one day when I was working outwith my trainer Sean. I had tied him outside the gym on his leash while I got on with sweating. Sean brought out some straps and was illustrating an exercise that involved me pulling against him  using heavy rubber straps. Rusty was having none of  it and he chewed through his leash and in an instant was at my side to protect me. Sean was impressed by his willingness to defend me and I was quite surprised, but he's done the same sort of thing when my wife is home alone with utility people and the like. He always puts himself between them and keeps an eye on her.
So there I was in the dark unarmed and without my bodyguard listening to the sound of some approaching thing, a bear perhaps or a zombie or some other being that threatened to harm me approaching with rasping breath and heavy footfalls. The stars were extraordinary especially as the moon has been in its new phase this past week and the sky has been a canopy of twinkling lights. I'm not an astronomer but I can see the Great Bear and thus find the North Star and off to the west I am pretty sure the line of Orion's Belt is lurking. One night recently I thought I saw the International Space Station flying across the sky, a fast moving unblinking spot of light, distinct from twinkling aircraft and stationary stars. All that stuff going on overhead and  hardly any light at ground level.
Finally in the cone of my flashlight I saw a man speed walking up the road. I apologized for blinding him and he apologized for not carrying a  light and he was gone past me back into the darkness the other side of me. He was an African American in a light colored shirt speed walking as though on an exercise program. He was gone before I had time to wish him a pleasant evening or morning. Weird, I thought, what an odd time of night to be getting exercise. Mind you I was out walking my dog...after a  fashion. Actually Rusty was off walking himself checking smelly hurricane damage. 
 
After about forty minutes the no-see-ums had woken up and were giving my ankles hell. I am told gin is an excellent way to discourage the little bastards from attacking but I had no gin and I was ready for bed. Rusty apparently was not. I whistled and he ignored me.  Except I suddenly heard the huffing and puffing again, as though summoned by my call. The exerciser was back! Sure enough in the cone of my flashlight there appeared the fast walker and I had time to see he was a young-ish black man, sweating, but this time he was followed by two yellow eyes.
"Hullo" I said. "I see you found my dog..."
"Your dog? he replied puzzled, "I don't like dogs." Good I thought, so much the better I'll have no fear of you kidnapping him then. I assured him Rusty was there right behind him and indeed my little protector was silently stalking the perceived threat. I opened the rear  car door and Rusty came up close still watching the walker before he jumped obediently into the car. It was oddly reassuring in the middle of the dark empty road to have my bodyguard there alongside me. 
The negative stereotypes of young African Americans are legion, and frankly I find them embarrassing. I suppose I should have been afraid of the young man but he was panting heavily from his forced march and I felt bad for him when he explained he wasn't actually exercising but he was out looking.
"Can you give me a ride home?" he asked panting. I laughed "Of course I can, but you have ride with my dog..." I put Rusty on the back seat and the panting man and I shook hands and exchanged names as you do. I asked what on earth he was doing out here in the wilderness without even a flashlight. He said he was looking for his girlfriend.
"I thought she might be up the road" he said. "At the boat ramp. But she wasn't." We sat in silence as I watched the road and Rusty sat up watching my passenger. My passenger looked out the side window which he'd opened no doubt to dissipate the smell of dog.
It was awkward of course but with all my time in a 911 center I know where people go when they walk off in a  huff and in a town like Key West filled with lonely people and hotel rooms revenge sex is a big part of the domestic calls we get. Out here in the middle of more or less nowhere I wondered what on earth my passenger thought was going on. He was sweating heavily and tired, partly I suspect from emotion. Wherever she was he had no clue but we both knew to suspect the worst. I was glad when I arrived at his front door and dropped him off. Good luck I said sharing his pain for one short moment.
When I told the story to my colleagues at work they looked at me as though I was crazy. I talked to a guy in the middle of the night and gave him a ride!  Never in life - they looked appalled. Actually the guy was perfectly pleasant and very worried and I was glad to help him out. But on the back seat I had my furry brown bodyguard so I think I was neither brave nor crazy to pick up a hitch hiker. Of more interest to me is what innocent explanation the missing girlfriend might have come up with to explain her disappearance. I bet it was an excellent version of events and I shall never know what it was. Maybe if Rusty and I go back some night she will walk by and tell us the other half of the story. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sailing Dilemmas

Originally I posted this story in 2008. A bit of time has passed since then.

Tale Of Two Heads

Emma and I, Punta Jutia, Cuba, February 2000


Modern day sailors have a saying that sums up what can be a lonely hobby and an alienating way of life:
You can't get a woman to lie down in a boat she can't stand up in.
Which pretty much sums up the dilemma of about 95 percent of men who dream of taking off on a boat. I have sailed a fair bit in my life and I have always pretty much lived on the boats in which I sailed. I was helped in this by virtue of the fact I lived in California, although Santa Cruz is far from tropical and winters were cold damp months with little prospect of raising sails on Monterey Bay until spring. I decided early on I needed a small boat that I could handle alone as I had discovered that a larger boat with a bigger cabin was an absolute bear to deal with on the large swells and strong winds of the Pacific Ocean. I dreamed of tropical breezes and warm waters and had I known of him I might have become a Buffett Parrothead in those early years. I yearned for a change in latitude. I bought a boat like this, a twenty foot long Flicka by Pacific Seacraft, a boat so cultish it has a website of its own whence I took this picture lacking one of my own boat close to hand:

It was small, salty sailboat, a tried and tested cruiser on long ocean passages. From the same friends of Flicka website I found this picture that summarizes superbly the tight but very agreeable living conditions found on this micro cruiser:

This picture looks, if I remember right, to be an original advertisement from the factory in Santa Ana California,also found on the Friends of Flicka website (Google Flicka 20 for a fabulous resource for these amazing boats). The settee up front that turns into a bed, a compact kitchen to the left, a table that folded out to eat off and a couch to the right with a reading lamp. All that and a single cylinder diesel engine was my home for a dozen years. The door to the right closed off the head, the marine toilet that is the other important feature in any boat that hopes to be a home to a woman. Even if the cabin is less than ten feet (3 meters) long. With full headroom.
Turtle Bay, Baja California, Mexico, October 1998. Baja Ha Ha Rally.
Eventually I could stand it no longer and I got a friend to trailer my boat, in effect my entire life, to Texas and I took off around the Gulf Coast bound for the tropical islands. I got as far as Tampa where I stopped to take up a very flattering job offer. I met a woman and she could stand up in my cabin, so we took off together and sailed for the Bahamas. Wonderful stuff no doubt, very romantic, but I was ill equipped mentally to travel alone, never mind in company in that tiny cabin, and our personalities didn't mesh very well. They didn't mesh at all after a few weeks, and by the time we had reached the cruising hub of Georgetown I was ready to put her on a plane home.East Hollandaise Cays, San Blas Islands, Panama, November 1999.

The Flicka was a very modern boat in some respects and the toilet was one of those features. In nautical lore a toilet is known as the "head" in American sailing, or the "heads" in Britain. This is because in the good old days of Nelson's Navy, sailors held onto the cattheads and swung their bottoms out over the void to take a crap. Modern sailors prefer the comfort of an indoor apparatus, and in order to encourage women (again!) pleasure boats carry around a throne one third the size of a land bound commode. The toilet is fed by a complexity of plumbing that boggles the mind. That's because we can't dump our waste just anywhere anymore and we have to flush with saltwater usually and carry the contents around in a tank until it can be emptied out at sea or into a marina's dump station. Yes, imagine that. All those pretty boats you see at anchor are hauling around gallons of fermenting sewage in their bowels. Nice huh?
A neighbor heading north. Cabo Gracias a Dios, Western Caribbean, January 2000.


It happened one night at anchor I wanted to pump out the bilges at the bottom of the boat. Which is the place where water, seeping in through the propeller shaft, accumulates harmlessly until it gets too full and has to be removed. I opened the locker and started pumping. "I don't see anything," my pretty young girlfriend announced as she stood at the stern (the back of the boat) watching the sun set over the Exuma Islands. I pumped harder. "It must be coming out," I grunted. "I can feel the pump pushing the water out." She continued to deny it and I continued to lambast her in my mind as a dolt. I pumped some more. It did occur to me suddenly that the water level in the bilge wasn't going down but was in fact rising. Impossible! But then with a whiff of my nose I realised what had happened.Pretending to be a mechanic. Inside Belize's Barrier Reef. January 2000.


I always carried numerous spare parts to fix the toilet, which though convoluted, was fairly simple to keep operating provided the right spares were to hand. And spares for frou frou marine heads are not to be found in Third World economies where buckets do just as well. I had replaced the diaphragm in the pump earlier in the day as it had developed a leak and it no longer had the suction to clear the bilge. What I had forgotten to do was switch the pump back into it's overboard mode and with a few firm strokes I had emptied most of our holding tank into the unconfined space in the bottom of our little floating home. The stench was appalling. My soon-to-be-ex girlfriend was not happy. Though I dread needles I am quite at my ease dealing with sewage and it took a while but eventually the bilge was clear and the antiseptic whiff of chlorine assailed our nostrils as we lay in bed wondering why I was such a dork. Our relationship never recovered and at every future gaffe I made, and there were plenty, the night I poured our shit into the bottom of the boat was a night to remember. It happened 20 years ago and I have yet to forget. It was a learning experience but I am afraid I cannot say no one  was hurt on that learning curve. That it was my fault doesn't make it any the better.
Playa Culebra, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica, January 1999.
After that I returned to Florida, hung out in Key West, lost the woman to another man and eventually put the boat up on the hard and went back to California. I also lost the urge to travel by boat at least temporarily, and a little voice in the back of my head was insistently telling me to go back to Santa Cruz where happiness lay. I was miserable in Fort Myers with she of the recent cruise, so I loaded up my Yamaha 650, said good bye to the Flicka, now an albatross of unhappy memories and went west. I was 34 years old.Figuring out the laundry with Emma looking on. Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua. December 1998.


I met a woman and we got married and I settled down in suburban married bliss. For about five minutes. After we were comfortable in our homes and in our jobs with a convertible in the garage and a Honda Goldwing alongside (not my kind of bike I discovered) and with two stray dogs happy to have found stability, I got the urge to sail away. This time my wife dived in with me and we bought a bigger boat, a thirty four foot (11 meter) catamaran with all mod cons- standing head room, queen sized bed, diesel engine, refrigerator, and a toilet, this time with indoor shower.Miki G, our Gemini 105 catamaran on the beach for maintenance. Costa Rica, January 1999.


"I called the boss and told him I needed a six month sabbatical," my wife said in one of the only momentous decisions we've ever taken without one consulting the other. "I guess we're taking off for Panama this fall." And so we did, with every kind of trepidation and bad memory loaded in my mind we sailed to San Diego in August 1998 and launched ourselves with a hundred other sailors south to Mexico. With two large dogs on board.Eugene Debs enduring another passage on Miki G. He loved arriving. I still miss him daily.

We loaded the boat with food and spare parts and I made sure to carry at least three sets of spare valves, springs and seals for the sole toilet as my wife, despite her many qualities, doesn't like to pee in the bushes. Ever. We sailed,we walked the dogs in the most unlikely places.We ate odd food and introduced a whole continent of unsuspecting peasants to the notion that dogs can be members of families too, just like children. Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman had the time of their lives. They heated sailing especially as we had no dog toilets on board and despite our best encouragement they would never go on deck. But they loved arriving in new places and chasing new and unusual forms of wildlife. It was an idyll afloat for nearly two years.
Joseph Conrad Country. Bahia Honda in the roadless west coast of Panama. December 1999.

We had mad adventures, sailing and motoring from Mexico, which was relatively affluent to the poorer and smaller countries to the south.The further we went the fewer boats we saw. Many turned off to cross the Pacific, an option we could not follow with Debs and Emma on board, but we were keen to see more of Latin America. And we did, in and out of deserted beaches, islands and solitary peninsulas. We carried food and water and books and took time to stop and smell the seaweed. The dogs got more attention than they could ever have expected in their former distressed lives and we learned to seek out and find dog food everywhere we went.Welcome to El Salvador. Far nicer than US officials. La Union, Gulf of Fonseca. 1999.

And then the head broke. And I couldn't fix it! There we were in paradise with a toilet that wouldn't flush. All the chirping cicadas and croaking bullfrogs in the Eden surrounding us couldn't disguise the fact that we were royally screwed. I disassembled the pump and put it back together. I read the instructions again and again. I reset the torque, I fiddled with the spring, and I cleaned the ball a second and a third time. I greased everything with waterproof silicone grease. It pumped smoothly and powerfully but no water flushed into the bowl.A beautiful day turned within hours into a ghastly storm. And Punta Gorda, Belize, has no harbor. We sailed for our lives back to Guatemala. January 2000.

I felt three inches tall. Here I was the great provider unable to assure a free flow of fresh water into the bowl. Civilization was lost and the airport at Liberia had flights to the US. I struggled some more and the pump pumped but no water came in. I sent my wife into the water with a screwdriver and she started poking the hole from the outside to dislodge any marine growth that might be blocking the pipe. "All clear" she mumbled through the fiberglass hull as I sweated and pumped in the hell hole inside.Ferries serving small villages between Colombia and Panama. January 2000.

I sat back completely defeated. My wife got back in the boat, quietly waiting while I wondered what the hell to do. So I did the only thing I could do. I pulled the effing pump apart one more time.I expected nothing but sometimes stupidity repeats itself and I had to get the thrice damned thing working. Instead I found something.Gas station, pull up in your dinghy. Rio Diablo, San Blas Islands, Panama. December 1999.


"Dammit!" I said, or something stronger. "Why the hell did you put a tampon in the toilet?" I couldn't believe my eyes there was a little gray wad wedged in the corner of the pump inlet pipe, blocking the water flow. We never ever put anything into the toilet that we hadn't eaten first, for years, an inflexible rule on our boat to avoid just these scenes. "I didn't!" she protested and I started to think terrible thoughts about women and their protestations of innocence. Someone had to be blamed for this nightmare that had reduced me to quivering incoherence.Technical sailing in the Panama Canal. September 1999. Three months before the handover.

I pulled the little tampon out of the pump and discovered that indeed it was a fish, a very dead fish. "See!" my wife laughed at me cheerfully as I ruefully reassembled the pump for the sixteenth time and found myself immensely cheered to see fresh clean salt water swirling once again around the porcelain bowl. My momentary loss of faith in myself, in my wife, in modern marine plumbing was banished. We had civilization back.Thanksgiving 1999. On a deserted San Blas island, and food flown in from Panama City!
The only thing I can figure is the fish must have taken to hiding in the inlet pipe and got sucked up when I pumped the pump blocking the flow of water. So when I sent my wife to poke the inlet with the screwdriver she covered his emergency exit and on my final effort to suck in water I sucked him into the pump to his death. Frankly he deserved it as his antics had made me damn near crazy.

From the road. Contadora Islands, Panama. Thank you Anna and Ian of Joss (now Gecko). 

And thus it was we sailed on to new adventures, exploring deserted island etc.. etc... with a fully functioning toilet. The beauty of it was that though I got short tempered and irritated beyond belief, and I spread the irritable metaphoric shit around by myself, my sailing companion on this occasion, thought the whole exercise was a tremendous joke and a great opportunity to go for a swim. So I guess I have got some things right in my old age. Like the company I keep when I am around marine toilets. I managed on the second occasion to find a woman that still loved me when I was an idiot.End of one adventure, beginning of another. Miki G at Key West, February 2000.
Imagine that, this woman sailed with me for two years and has since endured countless road trips and adventures in dozens of uncomfortable places and she still likes living with me. It takes a marine toilet I guess to test a woman's mettle, as much as the head room on a boat.