Editors' note: we've been away from WiFi for several days, so the next 3-4 posts are retrospectives rather than contemporary. This is a letter I wrote to my dad after we'd been on the boat exactly one week.
Good morning. 5:30am Oyster Pond, St. Martin. I hope you guys are fairing well through this next snow storm. We’re doing okay here. We had rough day yesterday.
Remember the phone call I made to you from the DMV after buying that old brown VW rabbit? This is that call. If you don’t recall it very well, it went something like this: I bought the Rabbit with all the money I had in savings. It was a 1974 stick shift with one head light, no windshield wipers, no padding in the front two seats, and worst of all, no radio. I didn’t know how to drive stick shift. I had to drive it from Chad Harding’s house to the DMV (past the money) during rush hour a few days before Christmas. I stalled in a few intersections and sweat many, many bullets. By the time I got to the DMV I was pretty rattled. I called you and told you I thought buying the car was a bad idea and that I should take it back. I don’t remember exactly what you told me, but it was something to the effect of, just go ahead and register the car. You’ll learn how to drive it. You’ll be fine. I love you. Something like that.
The learning curve is so steep here, and everything is so expensive at every turn, I’m feeling a bit hemmed in. We seem to be going through 80 gallons (300 liters) of what everyday, and I just can’t figure out why. Is there a leak in the tanks? Some drainage valve left open? Are we mega-water hogs? I don’t know. The 220V inverter that runs our fridge has started to just switch off on its own, but then comes on again. Is that us? Or the power supply here on the dock? The wind indicator (located on the top of the mast) was supposed to be fixed. That’s not working. The fuel gages don’t work. Just like our van. We’ll be using the hour indicator to know our level. The brackets to mount our solar panels are likely going to be massively expensive (thousands of dollars). I’m still awaiting quotes, but that’s the word from the friendly electrician working on the boat next door. Trying to muster my courage to take a do-it-yourself approach. I could go on and on and on about all the stuff swirling through my head. Why else would I be up at 5:30am?!
Speaking of swirling, we finally took the boat out for a short sail yesterday. We’d waited several days while they rigged the new main sail (what a blessing to have a new sail!). Then we could take her out. We went to an island called Tintamarra about four miles north of where we’re staying. A nice easy jaunt to try things out. We all promptly got sea sick. No one puked…yet. We were sailing perpendicular to the wind, so were rolling right-to-left with every passing wave. Awful. Emily and the kids were real troopers.
We were not expecting things to be nearly that ‘rolly’ so stuff was flying everywhere inside the boat. We got to the island and it took us three tries to get the anchor properly set. (Everyone is still learning their posts.) And then we all just had to lay there for a few minutes before doing anything else. There were a bunch of other boats already anchored off this amazing beach, so we were pretty far out. But the kids still really wanted to head in. We only had a couple hours of daylight left, and the idea was to get the boat back to Oyster Pond, and not stay overnight at Tintamarre.
As soon as we landed our dingy on the beach, the kids were in the water. We taught them how to use snorkel masks, and then they added fins. They kept coming to show us every shell, rock and piece of coral they found. They were in heaven. Then I had to break up the party and tell them we needed to head back. Alison even asked, “Can we come here first thing tomorrow so we can spend all day?” It was a beautiful spot. But back in the dingy, back to the boat, pull up the anchor, and head out. The sun was low in the sky.
The entrance to our harbor is sketchy in daylight, treacherous in the dark. We motored the whole way, just to make sure we didn’t get caught out in the ocean in the dark. Sea sickness returned almost immediately. Everyone was passed out like sloths slumped over whatever spot provided the most comfort. (Except Alison who laid down on the bow of the boat and enjoyed the waves, unaware of the misery going on behind her.) I stayed at the helm, but was green and gaunt. I always get sea sick the first few days of sailing. This was no exception. I did pretty well until SJ came above deck and did her best to reach the back of the boat before puking. She got most of the way. I immediately set the boat on auto pilot and jumped down from the helm, got out the deck shower hose and started to rinse the puke off the back of the boat. The last thing we needed was the smell of puke wafting around. Once that was clear, I went back to the helm, but the whole thing had already gotten me. I began tossing anything and everything in stomach. I lost count: five, six, seven times?
I was able to get myself back together in time to make the entrance to the harbor. The sun was now way behind the island mountains. But I found the markers in the undulating water, stayed as close to them as I could, and steered us in. Once inside the waves immediately subsided. We’d never been so grateful for a safe harbor. What a real thing it is, to be protected on all sides, to not be tossed every which way, to have a place where you can rest and recover. We all need that, in so many ways in our lives.
Alison was great and helped me pull the boat up dockside and tie it down. We only put one small scuff on the port bow. Alison apologized and I said, “It’s just a boat.” In retrospect, I think that’s the smartest thing I said all day. Except for telling Emily and each of the kids that I loved them. Safe harbors.
I drank most of a ginger ale, took off all my wet clothes and promptly fell asleep for several hours. I woke up just as the kids were going to bed. Happy Valentine’s Day.
So that’s it. That’s the wonderful and awful account of our Friday. We all agreed that we would much rather have been on our couch in NYC, sitting through a blizzard, watching movie after movie on Netflix. But we chose this instead. So basically, I feel like I did that day when I was sixteen and stalled out my new-to-me-but-still-a-junker-of-a-car in the middle of the intersection by the mall two days before Christmas. I wanted to run away. I wanted to give it back. I wanted you to just come and pick up so we could return the car. But you encouraged me to stick with it. In the end, I came to love that car. I fixed it up and it ran beautifully. (And you gave me a radio and some speakers for Christmas: ) I made so many happy memories with that car. Of course it’s not about the car, or the boat, but where they take you, and who you’re with when you go.
The most happy moment of the day was on that beach watching our kids discover the world through a snorkel mask. I told Emily, “No one can ever take this back. We’re here and it can’t be undone.” What I meant was, however this all plays out, this memory has been made. My kids have had this experience. We’ve had it. That can’t be undone. So while it’s hard today. And I believe there will be hard (and probably expensive days ahead), I’m confident we’ll pull through. I finished my can of ginger ale, I took a shower, I slept in a safe harbor. We’ll sail out again tomorrow. I love you, Dad.