Sunday, April 21, 2013

Natal, Brazil to Port of Spain, Trinidad




     Had I stayed at home with my normal job, I'd have left today for work.  Piloting 1,000 foot vessels on rivers in the Great Lakes isn't really normal, but that's what I'd be starting for the fourth year in a row if I were still there.  I'd be packed for a three month gig doing laps around the Lakes.  I'd have walked my dog, kissed my girl, laid on the bed with the kitty, made one last decent meal before being subjected to boat food, and I'd have driven off for the Soo Locks or Duluth or some mid-Western city on a lake that looks about the same as every other mid-Western city on a lake.  
     Instead I'm on day eight in the Atlantic ocean, one thousand six hundred and thirty two miles from where we left Brazil, three hundred sixty-five miles to Trinidad.  I'm on a boat with a great friend, and two new friends- a pair of Brazilian girls the first friend rounded up for this leg of the trip.  One girl an eight time South American sailing champion for boats like lasers and those crazy little boats you hang over the edge by a trapeze to counterbalance the wind.  The other one also a top level competitor, who owns and runs a yacht building company in Southern Brazil.  
Taking pictures of people
taking pictures of dolphins.
     They scream constantly.  Each of them so excited to be here they laugh and "whooo" at everything, middle of the night when a shooting star goes by, in the galley when a roll tips the gimbaled oven to it's max, when I'm trying to sleep and they're on deck stomping around taking pictures of flying fish.  If they weren't always so damn happy I'd be annoyed, but it's contagious and I'm going to miss their energy when they leave us in Trinidad.  
     I don't show excitement well.  Whooping isn't a natural thing for me, but over a week of hearing them speaking Portuguese and laughing and pointing and frantic for fun has brought me to a few jubilant outbursts.  My yells sound a bit more like I'm calling the pigs in for dinner than happy exultations, but it's what I got.  
     Sometimes they call me "Zaca."  In Spanish you can add an 'o' to the end of a word, in Portuguese you add an 'a.'  That's what I've learned after two months in Brazil.  That, and don't drink more than two caparinhas in one night if you want to do anything the next day.  They also call me "Zacapedia."  Out here there's no google to just look something up, so it feels like when I come up there's normally a question that came up on their watch and they want an answer or explanation from me.  But most questions out here are about boats or weather, so I can usually make something up that sounds believable.  
Where we fueled in Natal, surrounded by fishing boats and
gawking fishermen, probably laughing because they knew
what crap fuel we were putting on the boat.
     I make less than half the amount of money my old job paid, and I get one fifth the amount of vacation I used to, but I wake up everyday excited to start work.  I love what I'm doing and where I'm going.  If I ever have to question my choices I can just remember the dread I used to have every single day aboard boats like the the Kaye E barker or Hon. James L Oberstar, with mostly miserable people unhappily doing their best to make sure you hate life as much as they do.  As one of the girls here says, "I love Mondays."  She's excited Sunday night for work the next day.  I haven't really gotten a schedule where I work five days a week yet, in fact, I don't think I could guess what day of the week it is right now, but I'm glad to be here, Monday or not.
     Wind's been off the starboard beam for a week, waves are rolling and jostling us so we are all sore from just sitting.  I've spent nights holding onto my mattress to keep form being thrown out of bed, and sleeping pretty well like that.  It's been four hours on, four hours off, and that's getting to be a little rough.  In ten days I'll have gotten up for watch thirty times. And in this time I'll have never gotten more than three and a half hours of sleep.  But as we get closer to land, to the end of the sail, I'm sad to see it end.  If all I ever did for the rest of my life was cross oceans, I'd be a happy man.  Today, I am a happy man.  
Sunset in Trinidad after a hard morning, followed by a great Sunday
brunch and then an amazing, much needed afternoon nap that stretched
into the evening.  
   Even though the fuel we got in Natal is filthy, probably because we pumped it out of a rusted old fishing boat, and it's clogging the filters and making the generator fail and causing all sorts of problems I have to fix in a rolling sea, up-side-down and wedged between a generator and a the main engine, dripping sweat and fuel from my nose and breathing in the fumes, guts lurching in the opposite way my stomach is dropping as the boat swings and yaws and pitches and rolls and rolls and rolls.  But in an hour the filters are changed, the system bled, the generator running and engine ready to go, and I'm on my back on the aft deck after a shower in Simple Green, Burt's Bee's shampoo, Nivea body wash, random things that look like soap but are written in Portuguese or dutch but seem to smell nice (seem, because I can still only mostly smell diesel), so I scrub and lather and rinse and repeat, and I didn't throw up once or even hate life a little, because I knew soon I'd staring at an unbroken horizon on a warm sea.   And the girls feel bad for me and are getting me Assai, which is a Brazilian frozen berry iced cream kind of thing, and that with some salty burned popcorn and life is fantastic.  
     Things breaking and needing immediate attention is great for me.  The boat is starting to feel like home, like I'm a part of it and we need each other to function properly.  And it's building my confidence to know when the generator starts hunting and the output is dropping that there's a fuel problem, and where to go for proper filters, and what tools I need to change them, because there's nothing worse than cramming yourself into the yoga position necessary to reach the part you're working on, and finding out you don't have the right sized wrench, so you have to unfold yourself from "tree root growing over raw-water pump" and do a "down-dog back crawl" over a sea-chest to get the right wrench and then re-assume the job, this time trying a "warrior pose with foot in bilge and head against  sea-strainer."  
     And so far, I love it.  Maybe not every moment, but the good is by far
out-weighing the bad. 


Sunrise in Trinidad before heading in to tie up and touch
land for the first time in ten days.