Saturday, November 23, 2013

A six-month abbreviated update.

Dad and I on our way to Galapagos.
     I think I was a poor student because I was far too interested in too many things.  Or maybe because education isn't about important things, like how to slip down an arroyo without creating an avalanche of loose rock, or how to feed a campfire so the heat is localized onto a spot about the size of a frying pan, or how to set up a tent so the morning sun doesn't bake it into a sweat lodge.  But I took my education in these matters seriously, and fortunately my father did too, and in these subjects he proved a master teacher.  
     That's why when the opportunity to sail through the Panama Canal with him came up, I flew him to Panama as soon as possible so I could spend some time showing him a few of the things I'd learned on my own that have proven just as important; how to plot a radar target, read a wind forecast, wedge your shoulders between a running diesel engine and an electrical convertor while you change a fuel filter on a generator while in a rolling sea. 
     And I got to go through the Canal with my Dad.  Handling bowlines together and laughing and keeping the boat centered in the locks and crossing from Atlantic waters through crocodile rich lakes into the Pacific.  
     It was a couple really good days going through the Canal.  Anchoring in Gatun Lake for the night, relaxing on the back of the boat and talking through what we'd done that day, making plans for tomorrow, and in the morning waking up and heading out on deck to look at the jungle wilderness surrounding the largest ever manmade lake.  
     Working the lines in the bow with Dad, we had the locks down to ourselves.  No other boats.  Dad and I each talked about how working lines the previous day before had polished the calluses off our hands, leaving them smooth and soft, the opposite of what either of us had expected. 
     And going down in elevation eighty-five feet to the Pacific ocean handling lines was much easier.  Letting out as the boat drops with the water level is much easier than picking up slack as we rise.  And by the end we weren't as tired as the day before, but we were still tired.
    As we tried to tie up for the night a mooring line got caught on our bow thruster and a gale whipped up and we spent two hours with the captain in the water in dive gear untangling the line in a three knot current while we ran around on deck trying to do anything to help in the driving rain.  But he got us freed, and we were able to tie up to the line that had tangled us and spend the night secure off a marina bar, drinking celebratory beers and finding out beer on this side of Panama is extremely cheap, and having another round. 
     And then we sailed seven hundred miles to Galapagos together.  Standing watches and taking this yacht into the Pacific seas, motoring almost the entire way because the wind wasn't good and we had deadlines to make.  But I got to sail to Galapagos with my Dad, and for that I'm extremely thankful.  Then he flew home to Michigan and Mom and the family.
     A few weeks in Galapagos, working mostly, but having some fun, too.  Making new friends and seeing a place before it's devastated by humanity.  It's well on it's way to being ruined by raw sewage and the footsteps of tourists.  My answer is the same I give for almost all over-population and overly visited areas- a no motor policy.  All parks, all sacred and wild places in the world, should ban and make punishable by hard labor or lynchings, the use of motorized vehicles.  No outboards, four wheelers, cars, trucks, skidoos, or helicopters.  If you want to see something, paddle, hike, climb, claw, and drag your own ass there.  
     Appreciate what you see, respect it's remoteness, earn the fresh air you breathe, learn the weight of a bottle of water after an afternoon of carrying it, sweat and swelter in the sun and only then will you truly feel a cool breeze, or learn that rushing to a destination in order to take a picture to post online is an empty endeavor and the subsequent 'likes' are a shallow gratification.  Go slow.  See what's in front of you.  You can take a picture and share it, but don't let that become the whole of the experience.  
Mom, Dad, and my nephew on a Rover Ride.
     Even Galapagos has a Disney ride feel now; hire this guide to get to see this rare and endangered animal, take the shuttle to this place and dive on this rock to see the last of this species, then it's time for lunch.  The difference is, the place can still be saved.  It still has a raw and powerful feel to it.  The currents that come in are from deep cold waters, the wind is unchecked for thousands of miles, the wildness has not been harnessed and the wonders of the area can still bite back.  
     Then the six hundred mile sail to mainland Ecuador with just the stew, me and Tim.  It was a good sail, and it was nice to stand watches alone again.  I love being alone in a pilothouse in the night.  I do tai chi and listen to old time country music too offensive and awful to subject anyone else to, and I stick my head out and look up at stars and trim the sails and feel the freedom of being driven by wind and having an open ocean before me.  
     Ecuador gave me the chance to go home.  A break in guest trips and though there's no end to the work-  It's more than a full time job to keep the boat running and clean, and everyday is different.  There is no consistency, no comfort zone.  There are easily twenty separate complex systems aboard, from marine electronics to hydraulics, to waste treatment plants and air conditioning.  It's impossible to be an expert in all of them.  After almost a year aboard I'm decent at some, well versed in others, and fairly clueless on a few, but everything was running well enough for me to leave it for a week, so I went to see my family.  
Not giving up on skateboarding after one fall, but it
helps to have someone like this to help you up.
    Six months away is a long time, and seeing Mom and my sister and her family.  And drinking.  After months of not really excessing in alcohol I took full advantage of being in a familiar place and with people I trust to not harvest my organs, and I got good and drunk.  I also fell off a skateboard somewhere in the swirling of the afternoon and landed on my left elbow in a way which, sober, should have sent me to the hospital, but drunk and with people insisting I be more careful, only made me obstinate and certain I would never seek help for so minor an injury.  
    Then my girlfriend flew in the next day, and I couldn't hug her properly because I couldn't use my left arm.  Mom wouldn't let me drive to the airport by myself because she thought I was still drunk, so I had to gently hug the woman I love and then sit in the backseat and hold her hand while my mother drove us home.  But we had four days together and I got to see almost all my favorite people in the world, sipping my water, or if I was feeling brave, pop, while they all had beer.  And we spent a night around the campfire playing guitars and singing songs and telling stories and eating tremendous amounts of food.  
     Walking in the woods and talking about trees to cut down with Dad and playing with my nephew and eating massive amounts of food, all with my left arm in my pocket because I couldn't really move it, ended up being a great long weekend.  And then the flight back to the boat in Ecuador.  A rush in the airport meant a poor goodbye as my Brazilian girl ran to her plane, but that was probably for the best, as I don't want to get good at saying goodbye.  I've made that mistake too many times before.
Halfway party.  Things got a little weird,
that's the captain on the right.
Almost halfway.  
     Ecuador, again.  A boat full of problems after a week away.  Two new crew members to get used to and an extra crew flew in for a 3,600 mile sail to central Chile, which would take us 1,200 miles offshore.  
The socket wrench holding our rig together.
     It was a great sail.  A couple days in, a pin that holds the boom vang to the boom fell out.  So, the thing that holds a couple hundred pound hydraulic stainless steel cylinder to the boom, fell overboard, and the cylinder fell onto the pilothouse roof at about eleven at night.  'At sea' boat surgery ensued, which resulted in taking the biggest socket wrench we have aboard, and jamming it into the hole the pin used to call home.  Being sailors, we then lashed it in place with a bit of line, and wrapped it in duct tape.  This got us the next 2,500 miles in style.  Though, the strange fix sticking through the rig made me think that some tribe of engineering natives shot us in the boom with a socket wrench.
     Nineteen days at sea and then Chile.  Snow covered volcanoes standing guard over a narrow entrance to a small town we're making our home base for the next couple months.  The whole crew out to dinner for steaks and fresh salads and anything that's not a casserole or hasn't been frozen for three weeks.  
We tried to get a picture of each of us doing headstands, but
I couldn't get the timing right.  
     The normal work that comes with landfall, fixing and ordering parts and getting things organized.  Then a flight to Santiago, where I met my Brazilian girl.  Glaciers, mountains, rivers and canyons.  
     In the campground we went from loud neighbors playing nineties pop songs and singing with their wine, to not having any neighbors at all, and being the only residents along a river deep in a canyon.  We cooked over fires and took naps by the river and climbed to the snow lines along the mountains.  We drank from streams and did headstands in the snow.  We hugged and held onto each other.  She spoke Portuguese to people who speak Spanish and figured out where we were and where we needed to go next.  I carried the heavy packs and stuck to saying, 'Gracias,' when I had to say anything at all.  We did yoga on rocks by the river, and we drank a bottle of wine with every dinner, constantly reminding each other how amazing it was where we were and what we were doing.  One of many adventures to come.  

     And then back to the boat.  Trying to get the heater working and polishing the hull and getting pumps rebuilt and uninstalling and then re-installing random parts.  Working with my hands and head, problem solving and methodically turning the wrenches to get it all done.  I do love my job, most days.