On the sail to San Cristobal, a red-footed boobie landed on Sairam.

Sairam Meditations

Print Friendly

 

The following are a collection of thoughts thunk out during the 3 weeks between the Playita de Amador anchorage in Panama City and the Galapagos Island of San Cristobal.

 

On Panama City

 

1

To friends and new arrivals at Playita anchorage for whom it took not long to realize how unhelpful and rather cold the Panamanians on the causeway were, I called the country a Little America.

My stating this is not to create the assumption that all Panamanians and all Americans are cold; in fact, this coldness that was clear and powerfully felt by all cruisers and even Collin and I must be considered as disassociated from general assumptions altogether.

The coldness is a result of Panama City’s bureaucratic tendencies, and the country’s history of consumerism–it has all the trappings of a capitalist giant. I experience the same in my own country–initial coldness, business-like treatment at the hands of everyone, because you, to them–initially, as I’ve said–are nothing but a walking wallet, or nothing at all. Here I am talking about new, public encounters. Introductions via already established friendships are another question, as are formal encounters. I’m talking about the extent to which one strays beyond their established norms that in their head delineate what their role requires of them. Minimal exertion on their part, to, for example, help in something, be it directions, supplies, etc.

This is a generalization, and on our trips into the city we encountered friendly people; the bagger at the grocery store, the fruit vendor in the street, the traffic cop. However, coldness seems to be an established rule once on the Causeway, that narrow strip of land jutting out to three once-islands where for a month I queried and drank in search of a boat.

The owner of the Shoppette, for example, and even the snotty ladies working there, were heartless and ordinary. When I asked that the internet router be reset, the woman shouted that it wasn’t her job, that how could I demand of her such a thing, to stand on a chair and unplug something. She sat and applied her makeup while I calmly offered that I might unplug it myself. “It’s prohibited that you come behind the counter,” she spewed. I was beside the counter, so I said alright, I will just grab a chair, see, here, look, and now I’m standing on it, and reaching over… here I am, you see, I unplug–click–and plug bag in. I explained that the only reason people suffer the less than ideal treatment her and the other women offer is because they want use of internet, otherwise Shoppette would have no business, and her, no job. The duty, I said, was hers, and that yelling at me I would not permit again. Then I slammed the door as I left, stolen Snickers in my pocket.

Only one restaurant, La Eskinita pizzeria where the cruisers had their Thursday night dollar beers, was staffed by a friendly and helpful people–and I wonder if it was not coincidence that they were all Venezuelan.

 

2

Perhaps employees offer minute reflections of their employers. The Playita marina people were also boldly rude and unhelpful, and to everyone that I knew that had the experience of dealing with them. Perhaps the rich owners of these expensive causeway establishments are, simply put, assholes.

 

3

Though most cities have their positive attractions, I am not inspired to discuss them, given now that the negative energy was infinitely more measurable. I had been abandoned on land once more by the Canadians, after confiding in them how greatly I wished to leave its stale air, an act which only heightened the urgency and disgust I felt. Granted, it is far better that they left me, for with them I would not have been as glad as I am now, aboard Sairam. With Sairam, finally, Panama City was left to stew in the corroding waters of its bay.

 

 

On Sairam

 

1

The boat’s popularity is undeniable. Sairam is a Polynesian-style catamaran–that is, a catamaran whose two hulls are connected by stalwart wooden beams. When I first saw the boat pull into Playita anchorage, I had been on Dirk’s boat, and we made a few sly comments. Now I recant. Dirk has also come around to appreciate the uniqueness of Sairam. Guido says that on arrival in French Polynesia, and from then on through the Polynesian islands, he expects the inhabitants to be ecstatic to see such a large version of their traditional rowing vessels. Even now, sailors and cruisers are seemingly mystified by the construction of Sairam, and refer to it as the Water World boat. The only true difference is that Guido, unlike Kevin Costner, does not swing like a marine Tarzan from one hull to the other.

Sairam was constructed by James Wharram, today an 80-some odd year old British man who saw in his life thousands of his boats constructed. What sets Sairam apart is that it is one of only two aluminum Wharrams, as they’re called, to have been built. One day in Playita, we managed to hear another cruiser arriving on his catamaran over the water screaming to his wife “Look! It’s a metal Wharram! A metal Wharram, look there! Wow!” Indeed, the original design was rendered in epoxied marine plywood or fiberglass. What takes Sairam’s originality one step further is its cabin, which Guido had raised by placing 30 centimeter high wooden beams atop the pre-existing beams.

 

2

Sairam is 50 feet long, which is a substantial length for a boat in the sailing world, and especially among the 200-300 boats that make the Puddle Jump annually. From anywhere else, Sairam looks small, and too close to the water, as though the builders had forgotten the yeast. Once aboard, the true expanse of the deck becomes apparent. The two white polyurethane-painted hull decks are separated by the raised cabin in the middle, and a wide space aft of the cabin that was once a trampoline but which is now a patio deck of teak wood slats. Teak wood contains naturally occurring oils that make it ideal for marine applications. Guido had reconstructed the dingy dock crane further aft than this. He tells the story that when they had to transit the canal, authorities took the measurement and because of 8 centimeters had given the boat a classification that would cost Guido a further 500 dollars for the crossing. He pleaded, and after removing the dingy crane and the solar panels that are mounted atop of it, the 8 centimeters were rescinded, and 500 dollars saved. This story was told with a characteristic shrug.

 

Drawing of a sailboat cabin.

Sarim was a Wharram of aluminum build. Lido had customized everything, and I made this drawing of the cabin.

 

To return to the layout of the boat. In the port hull are 5 hatches. From stern to bow they are: the dingy motor storage compartment, the makeshift toilet (an adventure on high seas), Geli’s cabin where the provisions are stored, my cabin, and the jerry can storage cabin at the bow. The starboard hull also has five hatches that are from the stern forward: miscellaneous storage, the electric engines’ battery bank (insulated by dozens of cigarette packages) and tool storage cabin, Guido’s cabin, another storage cabin and eventual sleeping space for a possible second crew that may join us in Tahiti, and storage for fenders, the spinnaker and extra mooring ropes. The forward trampoline that normally connects the bows had been removed, and we would not reattach it until even well into the Galapagos. Above the trampoline and just forward of the cabin’s large windows, which are usually protected by black sun shades, is the “swimming pool”, itself covered by rotting wooden planks which will be repaired in due time (my priority).

Just inside the main cabin house to the left is a table where the iPads, VHF, binoculars, iridium phone, macbooks and logbook are kept. Below the table are many drawers; first aid, utensils, batteries and headlamps, iphones, tools, manuals, shackles and pulleys, etcetera. To the right is the kitchen space; sink, stove and oven, and bottom storage for pots, pans and plates. Underway, the rest of the cabin house space remains a cushioned space where the family sleeps, and where we lounge to read and play with Luk. A pair of crimson cushions in the middle can be removed, and a wooden table raised to accommodate our more civilized sensibilities when not underway. Further still than the cushions are two compartments; provisions on the left, the refrigerated cooler on the right.

 

3

There is real decision to be made between cats and monos. I thought and in my mind weighed the benefits and contras of sailing in a monohull versus sailing in a catamaran. A catamaran’s movement is much like the uniform movement of a spinning plate before its wielder has spun it completely into levelness. A monohull does not move as such. A monohull rocks forward and backward, and side to side. It does not connect these movements at the diagonals. On Worth’s boat I discovered the comparative difficulty of moving whilst sailing monohull compared to sailing a catamaran.

 

4

What’s in a name? The name Sairam has an ambiguous origin which I have heard explained twice and still do not fully understand. It is Sanskrit, it is a greeting (even though spoken Sanskrit has long been a dead language), and the latter syllable is derived from ‘rama’, which means God. I learned that Geli and Guido had conspired and renamed the boat to Sairam. While Guido had toiled in the frothy Mediterranean and the Atlantic, his boat name was simply “Happiness”. This simple fact goes a long way in showing the character of the man captaining the boat, with whom I am utterly compatible. Oh how easy it is for me to feel something here, but what something? It is not privileged (for that is implying value), nor is it grateful (for that is implying a deity), and it is not fortunate either (because that is implying luck)–no, none of these things; what I feel is amazement. I never doubted that eventually I would join a boat as crew, but the outlook was Anglosaxon schedules and strictness. That once more I am matched with the perfect situation, a water vagabond family who share my standards of living, simply brings to my eyes amazement. Religious folk may call it providence, but people in general might better accept the more suitable term: destiny. What I mean to say is that, within this concept, I am active.

Relevant quote:

“‘If you toss a stone into water, it takes the swiftest way to the bottom. And Siddhartha is like that when he has a goal, makes a resolve. Siddhartha does nothing, he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he passes through the things of the world like the stone through the water, never acting, never stirring. He is drawn, he lets himself drop. His goal draws him, for he lets nothing into his soul that could go against his goal. That is what Siddhartha learned among the samanas. It is what fools call magic and what they think is worked by demons. Nothing is worked by demons, there are no demons. Anyone can work magic, anyone can reach his goals if he can think, if he can wait, if he can fast.'”

-Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

 

5

For at least to Tahiti, but quite possibly beyond and all the way to the great Down Under, I lay my head where it never rests. The nature of a boat is thus: it is always moving. To say something to the tune of “but the earth, the air is always moving, and so is our brain itself, so really, on land, too, you’re always moving,” is what Isham would call intellectual masturbation. The space where my head will rest is quite the literal understanding of movement. It will never be in the same space. For my cabin is beneath the forward hatch, in the bow of the port-side hull–that is, the left hull. What does it mean to sleep forward of amidships? It means that of the entire boat moved by the waves, my part moves the most, up, high, and down.

Access to each cabin is had through a somewhat watertight hatch from above. Once lowered into my cabin, in which one cannot stand without head and shoulders above the hatch rim, one must crouch down to enter the bedding area. There is ample room for the small 40 liter Quechua backpack, and space enough for me to roll my body once full over from carpeted wall to carpeted wall.

I recall the Canadian’s Lagoon, and the full cabin room I had, complete with several hatches, a private bathroom, and a window to the inside hull. They had used it as a pitch to me, to aid the justification of my ten dollars a day–though they sought much more–and verily, I was perturbed by their indiscretion with the idea of money and their over-delineated calculating. Aboard Sairam, with Guido, Geli and Luk, I am much more content, for Guido has left money out of the relationship, and my crowded cabin is infinitely more fitting of my character. I sleep enclosed by the titles of the books I’ve lined the walls with; Nietzsche, Following the Equator by Twain, The Travels of Marco Polo, cheap detective novels I’d picked up from the Playita book exchange, Siddhartha, Wendal Berry. They are my decorum, my inspiration and my companions.

 

 

On friendship

 

1

It is surely appropriate to compare the first visit I made to the Perlas aboard the Canadians’ vessel with the second trip aboard Sairam. On the latter, I was with a pair of people who were calculating, down to the hours that I spent with them. I felt it. I felt no outward expression on their part, nothing proactive that would have stretched their boundary lines into the realm of acquaintanceship, much less of friendship. I was a new tool, something to be tested out as they held fast to the receipt, ready to return me to the store were I not to fit their screws. Some crew might be resolved to this preliminary treatment, and surely they would indeed be a better fit–but me, I would rust.

I had been to a thin channel between two islands of the Perlas group, where the sandy beach island was called Chapera. During that first visit, and also during the second visit, by pure chance, in addition to whichever catamaran I was aboard, there was Isham’s boat Yapa, and another French boat by the name of Geronimo. While I was with the Canadian’s, Isham had come to the boat to offer a beach barbeque with all our speared catch of the day. The Canadians had strangely and awkwardly declined, after it had been their idea in the first place. I had kept quiet, unsure and uncomfortable in my own skin. I remember seeing Isham with a slightly madder than neutral look on his face as he motored off. I remember thinking that I wanted to be his friend, not the Canadians’.

By the time we had returned across the 6 hour passage from Panama City to Isla Chapera, Sairam trailing closely behind Yapa through the horrible waters of Panama City Bay, then through the blue sea where a pod of hundreds of dolphins played before our hull, I had become friends not only with Guido and family, but with Isham. Geronimo was anchored at Chapera as well, and thus it was the best of deja vus.

 

Grilling in Las Perlas, Panama

A travel sketch of our grilling fish caught spear fishing in Las Perlas, Panama.

 

2

It is intriguing to consider the parallel scenarios at Chapera. In both there was spear fishing. I had watched the Canadian spear a fish that I ended up cooking, surreal as it was, though, under water, where our skin was reflective as jewels in the sun. The same the second time, only I had been filming with Guido’s diving camera, and had caught Isham from beneath the dingy as he brought his speared fish squirming aboard. I had not felt pensive the second time, but free. Why? Because I was among friends.

 

3

We barbequed on the beach, men at work digging the sandy hole, lining it with rocks to place embers of a large fire, and cooking ourselves a feast of fish succulent and divine. I built a sand castle in the meantime, and populated it with dozens of tiny hermit crabs, something that amused Luk greatly–but even more amusing was our eventual bombardment of the castle with stones once the crabs had all escaped.

I had found my destiny as a pirate, as I had hoped for–I work, I am part of the boat, I do not ask nor am I asked for payment; instead, I reap a fair share of the treasure. In this case the treasure was the enjoyment of sailing, of the islands and of the company I would keep. That the Perlas Islands were in centuries past the veritable staging areas for Henry Morgan and other buccaneers seemed to me all the more harmonious with our time there.

 

4

My Belgian friend Dirk, of the treble laugh and characteristic mannerisms, with whom I shared good conversation and meals, was coming to Islas Perlas. We had returned with Yapa to the island of Contadora, an island of oversized price tags, and where the show Survivor was currently being shot (‘survivor’, like the words ‘real world’, having once been bright red, has since lost its color, and now, the lackluster faded hue offers only a hint of the original red).

We arrived precisely when Lola, with Dirk and his wife Inge aboard, was also coming into the anchorage. Dirk of the broad shoulders waved, and we waved. I also waved to Humberto aboard another ship–he the Italian crewman I had met just before leaving Playita who had found his boat across to the Marquesas in one day (it took for me of course one month–but, as Vonnegut puts it, so it goes).

My new friends Isham and Guido, and Geli, would soon mingle with my friend Dirk and his wife Inge. They had met briefly in Panama City. My mind was of course entering a state of anxiety. It is the anticipation of the meeting of two groups of friends with whom, individually, you garner the utmost respect and compatibility, but perhaps they together will not. Like salt I go with them both, because they are, apart, each my kind of spice; together, I could only hope that they make something that is not altogether revolting. Make them, then, paprika and pepper.

 

5

It was ceviche when we arrived days later to Isla Espiritu Santo, an island even further south in the Perlas archipelago. “This is the first fish I’ve caught in the Pacific,” announced Guido, happy with his small tuna. Lime, salt and pepper, and a bit of habanero sauce–this assured the ceviche’s tasty accompaniment.

Work. Men at work. Working alongside others, and the work I am referring to here is manual labor, creates a fraternal bond of sorts that augments in time with the work being done and in proportion to the beer that is consumed at the end of a long day. It started in Chapera with the scraping of Sairam’s hull to clear it of its barnacles and hair (which are afforded by the gross waters of Panama City Bay), floating in crystal 10 feet above the grey bulk of a circling manta ray. Shrimp-like creatures came off in plumes and stuck to our shirts and trunks. The work continued in Contadora. I remember swimming in that island’s darker water, apprehensive of the depth and what lurking creatures were observing me as I dove to scrape the hull.

 

6

Days later the three boats were gathered at another island called Espiritu Santo. Isham arrived on Yapa, and Dirk and Inge on Lola. In a demonstration of sailor solidarity and newfound friendship, Isham and Dirk both worked alongside us as we dealt with Sairam’s hull. When at night Isham and Guido, those inseparable friends whose connection is for a third party like myself somehow enchanting and reassuring to be around, gathered on Sairam’s deck and we drank Balboa beer, and when I heard their honest affirmations of Dirk’s coolness, my anxiety was suddenly receding as quick as the tide.

 

7

It is true that Isham and Guido are very close friends, and small gestures like patting one another on the neck shows this. Each of them has a child of two or three, and each of them is spiritual in their own ways. The former fact that they are both new fathers, and aged around 40, is essential, perhaps, to their connection being so assuring-ly knotted, like a bowline.

 

 

On Sailing

 

1

Work that had to be accomplished in Espiritu Santo, and the reason for our going to this small island, involved beaching the boat. In the night, for we anticipated the high tide, I went alone in the dingy, motored to the shore and found a rope we’d in the day attached to a large tree. With a headlamp and mobile VHF I guided Sairam haphazardly until she rammed gently into the sand. I attached the tree-anchored rope to Sairam’s bridal, and before calling the night by its name, Guido and I scurried in the water, braving the harsh bites of unknown marine maggots that we upset as we disturbed their sandy burrows, to finish scraping to rid the hull of seafunk. The next day we secured the rear anchor, which would eventually cause us trouble, but Dirk arrived and lent us a second anchor, which, set diagonally from the stern, secured Sairam in place. This is sailing.

 

Beaching Sairam, the Wharram catamaran in Las Perlas, Panama.

Beaching Sairam, the Wharram catamaran in Las Perlas, Panama.

 

2

The tide went out twice a day, so twice a day we’d have periods of 6 hours to labor. Isham and Dirk and Guido and I worked ceaselessly on the hulls–ceaselessly except for beer and coffee and cigarette breaks, which were conveniently spliced separate from each other into the non planning of the day. A man needs his breaks, and his vices to fill them. This is also sailing.

 

3

I am drawn to pondering on the subject of physical versus mental labor. Perhaps these cannot be compared to each other by those who seek to affirm one over the other as more arduous. For indeed, the thoughtful mind will see that they are like written and spoken language–that is, similar only in that they share one word; here, labor. But they are entirely different creatures. Mental work is a taxing of the mind. When the head is drained after the labor has collected its due, it seeks the antithesis of the day’s work–that is, something stupid that doesn’t require its exertion. For different minds, different levels of stupidity. In general, though, TV is good–watch someone else’s imagination so that yours is not called upon–pure reception. Physical work drains the body. When the muscles are taxed, they want a relief from the day’s collection, and they typically find it in the form of a hot shower and a good meal prepared, ideally, by someone else.

If one wishes to compare these two forms of labor, the factor to be compared, or that is most interesting to me, is which muscle is more rewarding to relieve–the brain or muscles themselves? Perhaps it comes down to personal opinion, and if now I were to put mine forward, I would advocate the latter as the most rewarding. In rewarding, I refer to the immediate feeling of euphoria when finally the muscles are lax and hunger, which is most often stirring by work’s end, is sufficiently satisfied. When the brain is tired, euphoria is more difficult to feel. The reward in the brain’s labor comes days or weeks or months later when the product of said labor presents itself as some tangible accomplishment.

 

Aluminum Wharram Sketch

This is Sarim on the beach in Las Perlas islands, which are a six hour sail from Panama City. We would do work on this boat and then set sail for the Galapagos.

 

4

To return to the question of sailing. In conversations during coffee, beer or cigarettes, and later, when the work was finished and as a convoy of three ships we left together bearing toward the Galapagos, I learned that the top ways that sailors die are: pissing, losing control of dinghies, and adding gas to lit fires. Guido drilled me on the latter when I was tasked with the beach burning of garbage at Espiritu Santo. At anchor we piss overboard, but underway, the family and I take to the bucket… indeed, we might be called the real bucketeers. This is sailing.

 

5

Lightning is dangerous for boats. A single lightning strike on the mast, which is an attractive target for electrons, will destroy all the electronics aboard. If the sailor is properly equipped, this usually means the loss of upwards of 10,000 dollars. As a safety against this happening, aboard Sairam, the ipads (which hold the GPS and navigational equipment), and the reserve autopilot are placed into the oven.

 

6

After several days of scraping, sanding, grinding, scraping again and sanding again, and finally rolling on several layers of antifouling in a pressurized race against the tides, my hands had been rendered fragile, rubbed until the thin skin pulsated rosy red with the nearby blood vessels. Tenderness made touching anything a pain.

It was also painful to sit, because over the course of several days, a bumpy rash had appeared on my buttocks. I didn’t have to ask about it, for Isham started to tell me of the essentials in sailing, of which talcum powder was included. “Why?” I had asked, and he began talking about the very rash that was limiting my capacity for rest. “It’s the humidity. You can’t keep things dry on a boat, everything is wet. Always. Talcum powder dries out the butt.”

 

7

I was having lucid, swirling and crazy dreams. Dirk, Isham and Guido, the sailors, were not surprised. They told me that dreams on the water are always crazy. Such a thing should make one thoughtful.

 

8

When we were several days underway after finishing work on the boat in Espiritu Santo, Guido discovered that the battery bank had been flooded to well above the height of the batteries themselves. Those hatches, after all, were only somewhat watertight–though, only this hatch was seriously compromised.

The mingling of battery acid with salt water results in chloride gas, what, when first we opened the hatch, we thought we could scent. We wondered if it was flammable–we knew nothing of this. “Stay away from it,” said Guido, “it’s deadly.” And so we had been presented with our first true predicament–how to get the poisonous gas under control without inhaling it. Guido decided that the solution was, simply, to take deep breaths.

Meanwhile, I gooped marine caulk over the battery cable seals on the outside of the hull, a probable source of the leak.

This is sailing.

 

9

It cannot be coincidence that of my sailing friends, the ones I consider dearest seem to be sailing antagonists if anything. Dirk says, “the best part about sailing, is arriving,” and “I’m not a sailor; I’m a guy surviving on a boat.” Guido insists, “I am not a sailor, but I have a good friend–he’s a sailor.” And finally, Swedish Toby had said, tout simplement, “I hate sailing.” All these friends, who have already and are now continuing to sail halfway around the world, admonish sailing.

When the hull had been sanded, when it had been ground down, splashed with fresh water, and painted over several times, and when we no longer had to care about the heavy logs we’d placed underneath the hull because the whole work on the boat was finally finished, and we sat with our beers on Sairam’s deck discussing the work accomplished, Isham looked squarely at me and said rhetorically, and quite cheerfully, “So, how do you like sailing?”

 

 

On Legos

 

1

Luk is three years old and already he has begun the complex process of formulating a new method of communication, which Guido and Geli call Lukish. I am glad to now be able to at least distinguish between Lukish and German, but it is interesting to note that the usefulness of one supersedes the usefulness of the other according to the circumstances in play.

 

2

On the boat, and at three years old, clothes are not necessary for Luk. Indeed, he is at that age of limbo between babyhood (membership of which he vehemently denies when, acting out, his parents suggest it), and self-consciousness. I call him the “little guy on the boat”, and that he exists as the little guy au naturel makes the title amusing to my mind–especially considering the fact that most of the time he is in charge, so that we have a little bossman running around naked demanding obedience.

 

Travel Sketch of Child Swinging

A travel sketch of Luk, the child of the boat, swinging in the Perlas Islands.

 

3

As a child of three, he is the center of the world. He knows not of patience–and nor could anyone hold it against him; in fact, it is most of the time an adorable sounding, like the ceaseless tolling of a bell, when I hear in a loud faint voice “Chael, Chahhheeeell, CHAAEEEELL!”, and slowly he approaches and does not stop until his nose is almost touching my eye.

In the same vein is the consideration of his other sounds. In addition to Lukish and his tolling, he makes that sound that, I think, only children of his age can truly make in such a way that brings blood pumping harder to your chest (that is, the feeling of joy). It is a sound of pure authenticity. I’m talking, of course, about his joy. Its sound is often guttural, but always it comes and skips slightly over itself because it is so impatiently happy. This is a sound for which the prompting I have discovered the key; building something out of legos the likes of which he hadn’t seen previous. You can anticipate his joyous utterance if his eyes lock onto the construction for longer than a split second; then, he reaches out while the sound happily lights on the air, and grabs the lego thing (most of the time, to add to it).

An adult making such a sound, or even older children, are immediately passed the value judgment of “simpleton” or “mentally ill.” I know that, regardless, I have let this sound escape my own throat on several, unique, and lonely occasions in nature.

 

4

I do not know much of children, but of what I do know I can say it thusly: a child is the most honest person on the planet. I must here refer to a child of two or three, and perhaps four but I can’t be sure. Even when he lies he cannot lie in full, because his actions will always betray him.

It is easy for the three year old to be honest, because there are not many emotions he can yet express. He is either happy (joyous sounds coming from him), neutral (he’s probably tired), or sad (he’s crying). Usually, if he is acting up, it is because he is fulfilling his age group’s natural, subconscious desire for affirmation.

 

5

Anchored and underway, Luk is usually busy with one of two things. He is either playing with big and small legos (yelling, “guck mal! plane!”), or he is tying ropes together and narrating the complex histories of his imaginings. Otherwise he reenacts scenes he learned from the three movies that he watches on the Macbooks, or from the books that his parents read to him when his energy level is down. If taken out of context, Luk yelling, “I’m insane like Perterson!” makes him seem more bizarre than is his due.

 

6

Levels of Luk’s energy can be measured by the helicopter telltale, as I call it. When he is more hyperactive and going down the ladder of possible attention-givers, usually beginning with papa, then going to mama, and finally to chaaaeeell, he will be creating or will have already created elaborate lego constructions of helicopters (or airplanes, trains or cranes). The more fatigued he becomes, the less elaborate the constructions become until, exhausted, even two blocks stuck together form a helicopter in his eyes worthy of our attention.

 

7

A guest in a family with such a small kid must know his limits. I do not exert authority. I slightly shun requests with a “uh-huh,” but it is not my place to help nurture his character. For me it is a conundrum vis-a-vis children. I say I do not want them. So, that being said, it’s not that I don’t have patience for kids–on the contrary, I have a lot; it’s that I don’t want to have patience for kids.

 

 

On nourishment

 

1

Sailing is eating well. But only when the lines are properly set and the correct lure happens to be on the line when by chance, providence or destiny you pass the perfect edible fish of manageable size somewhere in the great blue. There is more on fishing in a following section.

 

2

During our time at Isla Chapera, and at Isla Espiritu Santo, Isham was happy to suggest that while we work, he spears the fish for our nourishment. Spear fishing is an interesting ballet of patience. The fisher must, leaden with weights, sink to the rocks and be still, there to await a passing fish of manageable size. I had tried to spearfish in murky water the first time in Chapera, and only shot salt. The second time, the gun offered me by Isham was too tightly calibrated, so I opted for the camera. Spearing a fish depends on the curiosity of the fish to be speared. You wait, he comes, you fire at a maximum distance of 2 meters, you struggle, you win, you barbeque.

In Espiritu Santo, Isham shot two large, thick-skinned beauties, and Inge cooked them up into a delectable stew, which, after a day of physical labor and the completion of the work, set our muscles at ease.

 

3

Aboard Sairam, it is Geli who is in charge of our nourishment. I can’t help but feel somewhat ashamed that men and women sink into their roles like dough into a mold, but it is worth considering these supposed “roles” as, in part, the natural evolution of man and woman. Indeed, though, Geli has herself commented to me in a thoughtful manner on the tendency, in sailing, of men and women to fall into these designated roles, and as such she admits that the sailing life cannot be hers for all time; it drains her personality to suddenly be like a mother of the 1960s—the man incapable of comprehension and verily glad in his role.

To return to the food. It is the baked goods I love most. Every morning Geli bakes a new loaf of bread to accompany the day’s meals. I thought that it was strange and wonderful, and it is, but I learned that many cruisers bake their own bread–and why shouldn’t they? it’s the perfect thing for a boat in terms of sustenance and storability.

Among the baked goods are, every few days as we crossed from the Perlas to the Galapagos, a Ghirardelli chocolate cake. A sweet tooth is a sweet tooth on land or sea.

With the baked bread, Geli has introduced me to a new favorite here defined: bread, cream cheese, sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, fresh garlic, rosemary and pepper.

 

4

Coca-Cola deals with Luk’s seasickness when the seas have become too rough. One could find that coke is a solution for anything if one travels enough.

Cappuccinos in the mornings. I avoid any and all addictions, but the milky froth that Geli prepares and pours over the Italian coffeemaker coffee is irresistible.

 

5

Cooking, and taking turns cooking, is always an experiment in cultural understanding, or at least, in cultural tolerance. Isham–or was it Guido? (these are meditative men)–said it best one night as I prepared a curry: “everyone cuts onions differently.”

 

 

On speed

 

1

Sailboats have an outboard or inboard, gasoline or diesel engine. Inboard motors are usually diesel, which is cheaper and more efficient. Sairam has an outboard gasoline engine, and two electric engines to the inside of each hull. In sailing, the idea is to avoid motoring.

Motors are a product of the creativity and inventiveness of the human intellect. Unfortunately, they are yet another metaphor to paint this idea I’ve meditated on: that human ingenuity goes to waste when its products are used to increase quantitative output instead of increasing qualitative input. Inventions to make a “better” life? Is more of things, faster, better?

 

Sailing to the Galapagos Islands

Sailing to the Galapagos Islands aboard the Wharram aluminum catamaran. We set out from Panama City to Las Perlas, and onward to Ecuador’s islands.

 

2

We hit 14 knots when leaving las Perlas. Yapa and Lola’s sails were in front of us, but when we breached 13 knots we must have been alongside them. Sairam sails safe around 10 knots, so we had to take in sail. I don’t know, and no one can explain it to me so that I can rectify my assumptions, about why sailboats, despite their ability to go faster, need go slower. Is it akin to car’s speedometer maxing at 120mph but able only to go 80? I see no patrol boats.

 

3

“Gentlemen don’t sail against the wind,” said Guido in his oft British accent. Indeed, to sail against the wind means to sail against the waves. With the wind, even the effect of substantially sized waves on the boat’s movement is rendered negligible. Against the wind means the smallest wave reverberates throughout the ship. It also means the constant whooshing of air, in comparison to the relative silence you have when going with the wind.

 

Rough seas sailing to the Galapagos from Panama City.

Rough seas sailing to the Galapagos from Panama City.

 

4

We ran over a tree one night, which put us all on our heels. Of the entire ocean that we have to sail in, we manage to find and to go over a tree. It makes one wonder where a full tree came from, how it ended up so far out in the sea, and whether it feels indignant about being run over.

 

5

On the 12 day passage to the Galapagos Islands, the speed and wind claimed my hat. I watched it sink, left behind in our rapid wake. How long will it take the sea to unravel its thread, or will the salt slowly cause it to disintegrate? Is there some scenario where it is preserved? I would be glad were some future civilization to find my hat and have archeological conventions where its origin and meaning is debated. In the night, where Sairam disturbed the water, algae came to light, and it was not unlike having a separate solar system bubbling in our wake–that civilization I spoke of, in the making.

 

6

The faster the boat moves in a direction against the wind, and when the waves are large, the lazier the crew. It is difficult to be active in any sense when every time you stand, your body must exert itself to remain aboard and afoot.

 

7

Conversely, when the boat is slow, there is too much time to think. If one allows one’s mind to drift over the distance left to go and the actual speed of half a knot in which the boat currently plods onward, then it’s easy to sink, so to speak, into an abyss of the mind. Sometimes, though, it is amusing:

We saw only two boats in 12 days. As we came to within three days of the Galapagos, a white sail appeared on our horizon. Watching, I began to think of all the images this sail reminded me of. It was a familiar image, the sail on the horizon, but something was not correct to my mind. Compared to such things as Pirates of the Caribbean or Master and Commander, it was moving too slowly. Therein lays the predicament of Hollywood: they must sacrifice the truth in order to make something as truly slow as a sailboat chase watchable. Willing suspension of disbelief, it is called. It is easy to accept absentmindedly Hollywood’s portrayal of sailing ship chases, because it is something completely foreign to us land dwellers.

So now, left alone in slow adriftness, I watched for an age as this faster boat slowly, painfully slowly, moved to overtake us. I imagined then what it must have been like for a sailor, or merchant marine, in the days of ships of the line and cannon battles. I imagined the sail on the horizon was an enemy, coming to fight us. I imagined what it would be like to see this sail, and, more specifically, to know that it was a far superior ship in both speed and armament, and that its intention was surely to sink us. What a curious torture to be able to calculate your doom to within an one or two, or however long it takes for that ship to finally get in cannon range, light the fuses and batter our brittle defense to smithereens.

I shared my daydream with Guido who added the input, softly as he does: “you would have to use the time it takes them to catch up to develop a new weapon.”

 

8

The captain’s primary concern, and something that surely he has lost sleep over in the past, concerns the fear of MOB, “man overboard.” When already underway, we began thinking about measures to deal with just such a scenario of someone going overboard. Unlike the Canadians, who in their Anglosaxon obsession with security always wear life jackets and harnesses at night, Guido’s boat is less dramatic. Sometimes, overthinking security is just the thing to call disaster to you.

Guido constructed a floating light pole, which must be immediately thrown into the water if someone goes over. He says that he would begin throwing anything buoyant into the water, but only after hitting the “MOB” button on the GPS, and turning the wheel hard with the wind. Whoever first sees the person overboard has the duty to keep an eye fixed on them, never blinking, never distracting this most important of gazes. It is impressive, and not immediately comprehensible, how quickly one loses track of something in the water. I would throw spent orange peels into the water, and even at slow speeds, in light waves and during the day, it would be gone from my sight in seconds.

There was enough time, of course, to consider what it must be like to fall overboard, especially at night, and in high seas. Perhaps I’m floating and I can clearly see the boat, but they cannot locate me. Perhaps the searchers finally give up. Perhaps they pass so close, but no; they’ve given up, and thusly do I witness my own entrance into oblivion.

 

 

On the Doldrums

 

1

South of Panama and north of around the 3rd degree latitude lays that long east-west band of stillness known as the Doldrums, where the air is silent. I do not know where this name comes from, but pronounced aloud, the sound it creates fits the boredom of windlessness found in this region. I seem to recall that, perhaps not in the Doldrums, but where the jet stream mingles with other pressure zones, they refer to them as the Horse Latitudes. Why? Perhaps it’s because the drifting without course for days and days eventually requires the butchering and cooking of horse meat. Or, perhaps there is some wind, but the boat was too heavy, so they threw the horses overboard.

Isham and Guido, one night, had together been adamant about the foolhardiness of my wish to experience a storm. “But a storm is not the worse–you put a storm sail and go with the wind until it’s over. The worst is nothing. You don’t know what nothing is until you’re in the middle of the sea, not moving, just there.” Isham had said these words, shaking his head.

 

Map of getting to the Galapagos Islands

This is the first map I drew of getting to the Galapagos Islands aboard the sailboat.

 

2

When wind there is not, then the spinnaker comes into play. A spinnaker is a lightweight sail made of the same or similar fabric as a parachute. Small sailing vessels use them in light wind, to at least get a base knottage of the breeze.

Guido’s spinnaker is a 4 thousand dollar “super high tech” spinnaker. It has a window through which sudden gusts can pass. Gusts are the spinnaker’s natural enemy, and without the window, 15 knots of wind could rip the seams if the crew is not attending it to bring down the sock in such a case.

Once Sairam’s spinnaker was attached to the two bows, we flew it (only when there was hint of wind). It billowed and filled with air immediately, big jolly and yellow, like a kite towing us along behind it. I began to think that this peculiar sail has a mind of its own, and that it’s of a playful nature. It floats in absolute peacefulness, but its ulterior motive is to shock us with its ugly laugh when we make a mistake, go too far to the left, or to the right, when we misjudge the wind and suddenly it writhes and cringes and wrinkles rapidly together, like suddenly twisting a foil bag of chips in a closed, quiet room of studying students. At night, when the spinnaker is flying, it’s like a wraith stalking forward and blacking out stars.

It is, however, the pleasantest way to sail.

 

3

For two days we were stuck in the Doldrums, without so much wind to speak of. Sometimes, when finally a breeze picked up, it was coming from some less than optimal direction. But it did not matter. If we could plot a course that went at all to the south or to the west, we took it.

Isham had been right, though. Especially under the hot equatorial sun, whose blasted rays hit a flat glossy ocean surface and smoldered, nothing was verging on unbearable. Sometimes the ocean did move–swell from some far off storm system. I wondered then what the future of ocean travel will entail. It seems to me that, besides new high tech sails, fabrics, and navigational equipment, sailing is much the same as it has always been. For some sailors, this is itself the attraction, the romance that they love; perhaps this is what makes sailing matchless. But there is a future. The wind will always be useful, but who knows if one day a technology is founded wherein boats can feed off the energy of waves themselves to create momentum. I came to this thought, hunched over some part of the boat, probably in the front where I would watch the yellow kite carry us, staring at the waves roll away with speed.

 

4

Whose tan and golden arms are these? Whose knees dipped in copper, and what singed white hair is this? A Scot is not supposed to have such a complexion, but rather rouge and rare.

 

5

My hands, handling the lines, became like pads, calloused and unfeeling.

 

6

Even the birds are tired in the Doldrums. Two small puff balls of feather light on the cabin house. We name one “Bird” and to myself the other I name “Ralph”. They are unlike land birds. They have tiny webbed feet, and they perch anywhere, and allow us to touch them.

 

 

On motherhood

 

1

“Here, I am both his mother, and his best friend.” These were the first words Geli shared with me on the subject of her son on the high seas. Anyone who has a static idea of childhood may construe the case of Luk on the high seas as provocative. I say, what is the concern? If a parent is already responsible for their child, then in a precarious situation where danger abounds, that responsibility is tenfold greater. Geli, as mother on the boat with her son, is hyper-aware, and always. On land, parents are tamer; they leave their children with third parties. On the sea, safety is unquestionably strict.

Is it that one’s idea of childhood suggests that the child should be among children also his age? How important is it that he be daily among so many children? What makes one conception of what childhood should be better, or more acceptable, than another? To what extent does the lack of what one perceives as a “normal” year for a three year old mean; is it detrimental to said child’s character? I would sooner posit that the child grown up, whether cognizant of these memories or not, will have become stronger for them. And truth be told, that Geli is ultimately aware of her child’s need for partnerships with others; alas, we chase the sailboat Super Molly aboard which two likewise needy children meander!

 

2

While Guido toils with sails, and while I observe, help, or off by myself read, Geli has the indefinite task of motherhood–task, duty, obligation; perhaps condemnation (do mothers feel it sometimes at the peak chorus of frustrations?). Rarely have I seen her break her unfaltering patience, an almost unfathomable patience. I become tired after just a short while of legos and “guck mal,” but Geli must suffer her offspring days and nights. Sometimes, when I decide to play with Luk, though I do it because I enjoy Luk and his legos, part of my shame is there to loosen the tension on poor Geli and the demands of motherhood, that she may find a minute alone, to read, or take photos, to decompress.

 

 

On fishing

 

1

At either hull stern is set a line. One is attached to a fishing rod with a medium-sized lure. The other is a hand line, the cord itself wrapped about a wooden handle–Guido far prefers the hand line to the rod.

From the beginning of the passage to the Galapagos, an omen came in the form of a dead ocean snake, spotted black and yellow, hooked on the hand line. We would feel this omen in the weeks to come.

 

2

Sometimes ideas are built up high as skyscrapers with such vulnerable materials as would eventually cause collapse from their own weight before you had the chance to see inside. That is the case with fishing from the Perlas to the Galapagos. Everyone. Every cruiser, every boater who I met, said that the fishing on this route was incredible. We would be fat by the time we made landfall, which we might have to do crawling from gluttony. Perhaps it was the new antifouling that frightened away the fish. Perhaps it was indeed the serpentine omen. Oh! How I wanted to tell stories of mahi mahi and the long struggle to reel in the catch! But we were fishless, and our pride, morale, and patience were consequently vexed.

 

3

There were plenty of birds in addition to Ralph and Bird. On the crossing to the Perlas we had to bring in a line when a seabird continuously dove for the lure, and shook until it freed itself from the hook. Birds were always accompanying us, their natural GPS alarm probably sounding when they realized that we were tacking back and forth for long uninterrupted periods.

The most interesting bird to land on Sairam was a red-footed boobie, a Galapagos bird, if I am not mistaken. Its face and beak were one, and colored sky blue. The feathers on its head were tiny and soft, like the fur of a cub. It clung to its perch on the starboard bow with a set of wide, webbed and shockingly red feet.

The boobie remained with us for a day. I sat and watched it watch me watch it. I recalled a quote of Joyce’s wherein he uses birds to show that they, unlike us, are in the pattern of their nature, that they know their seasons, and that only humans have been corrupted by reason. With every growth spurt of our intellect, we gather more material possessions. First we had only to deal with tools of stone and wood. Now we have houses, cars, clothes and pocketbooks. We have intellectual property to concern ourselves with, and we accumulate even outside of our temporal circumstance–save toys for future children, or invest and buy for the future, or keep something because it reminds one of the past. As I sat watching this bird, which has only to concern himself with his instinct to survive, the fear that aids him, and his probable muscular satisfaction when nourished, I felt that perhaps we have taken reason too far, for what does material possession truly bring us besides reason to worry? Perhaps, though, that I think such a thing, and that many others surely do as well, then reason will also be to blame or to thank for our eventual return–or at least redirectioning–back to our nature, and back to our instincts.

 

On the sail to San Cristobal, a red-footed boobie landed on Sairam.

On the sail to San Cristobal, a red-footed boobie landed on Sairam.

 

4

We had discussed how to cook tuna, because tuna was what we expected to find at the end of a reeling. It must be fileted, cut into large chunks, and only briefly seared in the pan, left raw in the middle, and salt and pepper added before consuming.

 

5

It must have been a little over halfway to the Galapagos, somewhere near the end or just after the Doldrums, that the rod suddenly bent dramatically toward the water. We had tied the rod to the boat, and a good thing it was, since this feature saved the rod when we pulled it out and discovered the true power of whatever was on the line.

We had to reel in a great deal of line. I tried to use the crotch holster, pull back, and reel as I would then move quickly forward. This did not work, for it was too strong. We hoped it would not be too large.

Guido then donned the holster and padded his area with a towel. In an instant he became a skinny gay sumo wrestler German fisherman. But the line was too taut, even when we attempted to reel it in by walking the length of the port hull, and quickly rushing forward whilst reeling.

The solution came in the form of a pair of gloves. I donned them, and forced a zigzag in the line to pull it backward while Guido reeled in the slack this created. Our ecstasy, adrenaline, and anticipation under the hot sun had by then boiled over, or exploded like the clumsy removal of a pressure cooker lid.

40 minutes to accomplish the reeling, and all the while taking breaks, looking through the binoculars. “I see it!” “It’s huge!” It’s silver!” “Is it diving, perhaps it’s debris?” “It’s diving it must be!”

The waves were large, which made identifying the catch difficult. We had readied the hook to bring the beast aboard. Only when our catch was 10 feet from the boat could we tell exactly what our stomachs would delight in.

Bamboo. After all that. All our troubles and exertions were rewarded with a 3-foot long piece of bamboo.

 

6

Although we caught no fish, my mind took me to that imaginary situation wherein I am a fish, and what I thought was a tasty meal turned out to be some cruising boat’s lure. I think death by hooking, dragging and struggling for 30 minutes, getting stabbed and lifted by the neck into a world the likes of which one cannot comprehend, getting cut and bled out, and then getting stabbed again in the head and having one’s brains scraped out–I think this is an unfortunate way to die.

 

 

On the cat-o-nine

 

1

In the old days, sailors were punished in various ways. If it was not scrubbing the deck or getting dragged beneath the keel, or ultimately walking the plank, then it was punishment by the cat-o-nine.

The cat-o-nine was kept onboard in a leather bag. The English phrase “take the cat out of the bag” originates from the cat-o-nine. Once “out of the bag”, a sailor was whipped with it, usually by a mate or friendly acquaintance.

 

2

Someone of an obsessively organizational disposition might not feel at all comfortable aboard Sairam. Indeed, the captain’s favorite phrase, from the A Team, is “I love it when a plan comes together,” suggesting that planning is damning. It is more natural, in sailing, to not have plans–one is a subject of the kingly winds.

 

3

Someone who is impatient or always in a hurry, as though anxious to remove some great weight that they’ve tipped over onto themselves, will likewise feel uneasy aboard Sairam. The captain’s most recognizable and characteristic utterance is: “slowly slowly.”

 

4

One cannot know the quirks of anyone from even many weeks of knowing them. True, the more observant ones might spot hints, but to understand another person–that is, to know and accept even their quirks–these quirks must be experienced. And the only way to experience a quirk is to be with that person, constantly, and in a confined space, for a significant amount of time. It is popular to say that, if one plans to marry, it is best to travel with one’s partner in order to experience them in a different light. The realistic exaggeration of this suggestion is that, if one plans to marry, one should live on a boat in the middle of the ocean with their partner, and for several months.

The captain of Sairam becomes overbearing at times. These times are those when, like with Worth of Satori, the task of sailing (dealing with sails, winches, etc, and anything having to do with epoxy) is at hand. During moments of unfurling sails, my captain becomes quite irritable. It is my duty to accept it, and to say nothing provocative–though, happily, the capt’s disposition is one which allows and absorbs my own frustrations passively and soon forgets them.

A second scenario where suddenly he becomes stressful is when the disorder of the boat reaches some kind of invisible threshold in his mind, and regardless of whether he’d preached pride of the very disorder he now stresses about, it must be cleaned up–and do not ask questions of where things go, just put them there!

 

5

The mood of the boat is subject to the mood and temperament of the captain.

 

6

There is a damning nature of sailing wherein it is likely, at intervals, that sailors will harbor some small level of loathing against each other. Sailors will get at each other’s necks, because in closed spaces for long periods of time the human mind becomes a contemptuous hunter-seeker. Some are affected to greater degrees than others.

 

7

I once considered that sailing makes one to some extent vain. I do not know if it is true, but it recurs in my mind more often than I would permit a valueless thought.

 

8

When altercations erupt between Geli and Guido, the German language, with its sharp ‘s’ and glottal consonant clusters, and with my ill comprehension of it, makes said eruption steam more than its probable amount.

 

9

Sailing is a test of the endurance of spirit and cheerfulness. No one is immune, or not as far as I can tell. When captains discuss sailing, even laid-back and friend captains like Dirk and Guido, there seems to be a resolution that the captain must at certain times be ungraciously strict. I am not complaining. Regardless of my accepting it as the norm, I of course can’t help but wonder how such a responsibility circumstantially changes the fiber of a person in things outside of the sailing world.

 

10

It is not coincidence that Guido is essentially helping me to arrive to Asia, and that to me he represents and truly is someone who has experienced the Indian sub-continent and has allowed it to influence his character and life. His norm is calm. His pace is steady; slow when it can be, quick when sailing calls on it. He has a calm aura, and smiles with his blue eyes as much as with his mouth. He is aware of his frustration and calms it with a cigarette. Above all other observations I have made of this man who has become my friend, is a small observation: he does not say that he will think about something or consider it (unless he is joking about the German accent and fittingly aboard the boat, saying he’s sinking about it). He says: “I will mediate on it.”

 

 

On the sky

 

1

On the night we departed Isla Espiritu Santo in our fleet of three, the moon was full. Dirk went south, Isham went west, and we went southwest. As it would turn out, Dirk was the first to arrive, having quickly found the trade winds. We would meander longer than expected in the Doldrums, and Isham, after all, would miss the Galapagos completely and continue onward to the Marquesas.

Dirk said of the full moon: “ah, it’s a full moon. I must have sex then.” I don’t know where this superstitious joking belief comes from; but it is clearly a desirable superstition.

 

2

In my travels, I once found myself camping high on a desert hill under a night sky said to be the clearest on earth, well away from city lights. Beyond the lines of coasts, and out into the great dynamic flatness of the sea, the night sky has no enemy. On those nights when clouds were negligible, the sky shone brightly.

Orion took its place just above the horizon. Higher yet, splotches of galaxy drew their breadth round the bowl universe to the opposite horizon. I could not find the Southern Cross, that constellation which for the southern hemisphere serves as the equivalent to the north’s Northern Star–indeed, even on the Australian flag you find the Southern Cross; there were plenty of Southern Crosses in the marinas and anchorages I had thus far visited.

Stars that are visible to the naked eye, on the desert hill or moonless nights on the sea–even the faintest lights–are all within our Milky Way Galaxy. What oblivion; what limitless thought, what endlessness is the cosmos!

 

3

City lights are no substitute for the cosmos. I look to higher lights. I aspire. I dream. Sairam’s butterknife sail slices through the wind, back dropped by the immoveable sky, and I feel my dreams alight.

 

4

Anywhere on earth, it can be said that every day brings a changed sky, but rarely do we give it our attention. On the ocean, however, when our star is sinking or climbing, it is the most present spectacle, unobstructed by land or developments. One has little to do at these hours, and thus does one become fully immersed, and might even be said to absorb heartily these dominant dusks and dawns.

 

5

To the west the sunset. Pink and blue, and dark gray where the cloud is thick pasty shadow. The pink is much like syrup, poured and stirred into the blue cloud froth. It gets darker, and finally the mixture is stirred enough that the pink melts to mauve, to blue, and to black.

Meanwhile to the east, calm seas are trickled in the moonbeam light, which arrives clear to the port stern. Dressed in honey, the moon appears buoyant, so it rises, slowly slowly.

 

The aforementioned sunset over the Pacific ocean swell.

The aforementioned sunset over the Pacific ocean swell.

 

 

On watches

 

1

Sailing into the wind requires boats to do what sailors call “tacking”. The Galapagos were to the southwest, but most of the time from that direction came our wind, when there was wind to speak of. Thus we tacked. Tacking involves sailing as close to the wind direction as possible. Sairam, to Guido’s surprise, was able to hold a course of 45 degrees from the wind direction.

 

2

The main reason sailboats want crew is for watches. Watches are usually set to begin at dark, and the intervals can range from 2 to 5 hours depending on how many capable hands are aboard and what is the nature of the captain.

Sairam was never looking for crew in the first place. The rule aboard Sairam concerning watches runs the same trail as its captain: there is no set time, just sleep when you’re incapable of remaining awake.

 

3

The autopilot is misconfigured; in tall waves it hunts ceaselessly for its bearing. Sairam’s wheel must be turned three full rotations in one direction to max the rudder’s angle, a concept the autopilot is unfamiliar with, as most boats’ rotations are fewer. Out of the Perlas we had a 12-foot, short-period swell that made the autopilot into a lunatic.

Instead, the autopilot is abandoned and we choose the optimal bearing and position of the wheel ourselves. Sairam’s steering is engaged in such a way that the rudders can be left turning slightly into the wind on a course close to it, and when the speed picks up and the force increases on the rudders, Sairam rights itself; this is a balancing act of forces: the wind versus the waves. When conditions are too tedious, and over waves we careen faster than 5 knots, and Luk wakes and throws up, the speed must be cut.

 

4

One knows the boat is moving too fast by the noise of wind and waves. One knows the angle has gone too far into the wind because the Genoa begins to flap.

When finally I felt confident to adjust the Ginny by myself, alone at 2am watch, and after I had winched it tight, I had a muffled feeling of elation, of accomplishment.

 

5

Guido allows that whoever is on watch sleeps for 15 minute intervals at the wheel. I set my watch alarm, a gift from a Brazilian friend somewhere in the Amazon.

 

6

On the crossing, there were several nights of such harsh and unpredictable wind and wave action, that not even our settled steering would hold to. So, for hours on end I found myself doing something that, before I knew better, I might have called sailing. I held the wheel, and bent my neck to watch the weathervane atop the mast, which was always wagging back and forth like a dog’s tail happy in the moment, but it did betray the general direction of the wind. I steered into the wind when Sairam was moving too quickly, and pulled away from the wind before the Ginny could begin her flapping dance.

 

7

On Worth’s boat Satori, I had been laying in the cockpit dozing off when suddenly I thought I saw a man there with me. On watches aboard Sairam, I hum my own theme music for hours and hours. I do not hum to distract myself, but all the same, otherwise, the noises begin to sound like voices whispering things to me. Sometimes I hear boring elevator music within the rasping wind. It is interesting to ponder in these moments what people who have gone mad must daily hear.

 

 

On the ocean

 

1

Between two squall systems we sailed one tired afternoon, the waves marching reluctantly to the end of the world.

 

2

“The shrimp are over there! That’s where we’ll find ’em, my boy! That’s where we’ll find ’em.” Thus spoke Lieutenant Dan.

 

3

It is a giant endless confusing mirror of molten glass.

 

4

“We’re going to need a bigger boat.” I think to the night in Playita when we loaded Michael’s rowing dingy with me, Collin, Jeff and all our backpacks. We would need a bigger boat. But, as Michael would have said, our comraderie was apparent: we sang shouting-ly “Show me the way to go home! I’m tired and I wanna go to bed! Had a little drink about an hour ago, and it went straight to my head! Wherever I may roam, on land or sea or foam, you will always hear me singing this song; Show me the Way to Go Home!”

 

5

A windless climate flattens the sea, and only the Pacific swell is visible. These are great traveling mountainous humps that lift us to a height from where we can see the horizon, but then we fall patiently and longly down, slowly tickling the back of each indifferent swell until from the trough, the horizon is concealed once more.

 

6

The ocean and all of its faces inspire thought. Staring at the violence of the sea, I think of that quote: “happiness is a woman.”

 

7

Is the sea alive? The current is surely a bully, and for him there is no more proper metaphor.

Smaller waves are hoisted onto the shoulders of their brothers, and it seems to me at times that they are calling to me from afar, and approaching charging, then arriving, lifting, and setting, asking why I am in their realm, the Pacific organism, asexual, in a hurry and never.

 

8

Swell is silent. Nothing in the world moves so much and yet remains so silent. It is mute, but has an infinite number of things to say. And so it is modest.

A boat cannot have light feet in a calm ocean–it is the only thing that makes noise, even if that noise is the soft lapping of the bow wave. In the line of running water–where it meets air and thus trickles metallically along the hull, I sometimes hear voices.

There is more life and more death in the ocean than on the continents, and without the same ruckus.

 

9

Continents shift on their tectonic plates, and meanwhile the ocean remains how it always had. Millions of years have passed, but it looked like it does now, presumably. Yet, never is the ocean truly the same as it has been in the past. It moves constantly; no wave is remotely alike in space and form to any other, not in all the history of the sea.

 

10

To what can one compare the sea? Always will these metaphors be proportionally awkward, for the sea metaphor is the ultimate antecedent of the earliest metaphors. It is metaphor, it is the birth of metaphor; it and the condition of the immutable sky. Sometimes they mirror each other. The primordial twins.

And yet! The ocean is the great breathing belly of the earth. The ocean–the perfect motif. It is the most faithful carrier of things–things as heavy as tankers and as light as words.

 

A bit of ocean water on the sail to the Galapagos.

A bit of ocean water on the sail to the Galapagos.

 

 

On conversation

 

1

Preoccupying myself with the Canadian predicament, when that boat had been considering me as crew, I found that the most trying of considerations was that which would see me bored. With them, conversation consisted of nil, or revolved around the TV series Dexter. I knew, I knew I knew from the very beginning that it was an incompatible, doomed match when, having showed them my books, the woman had said of Penguin Classics, “oh! I hate those!” Thus she discredited a chunk of important works from English literature without which the brilliance of her own culture would be far dimmer.

 

2

I need good conversation. It is my prerequisite for life, for friendship. I cannot be bored with trivial discussion, I need meaning. People of open mindedness, in the pure sense, cannot be overestimated, and on a bright day of these minds I will not draw the blinds of my patience.

 

3

Sairam is a boat of ample room. There is more outdoor space than on catamarans of similar–or larger–size, and verily do I use the space to sit and think and talk.

 

4

American sailors are generally older, retired, and circling back through the Caribbean. European sailors can be younger, and often have sold their companies in order to travel. “I was a cool boss,” says Guido from behind polarized Ray Bans.

 

5

Experiencing adolescence in a certain decade makes that decade yours. I tell Guido that his decade brings to mind beige plastic.

 

6

“It is better to do drugs at a later age, when you have a fully developed brain and can better take responsibility for yourself.” Aboard Sairam, the preferred drugs are Coca-Cola and cappuccinos.

 

7

Americans are considered lazy in the world, and indeed we have the most obese population; though, I venture to say that the obese ones have not been told this. We enjoy a full stomach in front of a television. I am trying to overcome the eating part.

Germans are correct. Germans are perfectionists. “Are you sure it’s correctly measured?” I have asked. “It’s German it must be correct,” replies the captain.

 

8

Between moments of gratefulness and bouts of tension are the times when, like suddenly being reminded of the infinite sky, Guido turns a cool eye to philosophical discussion.

I have read Twilight of the Idols, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and The Antichrist. But the only thought I mine from this quarry is how entertaining would be a hard-core porn with Nietzsche quotes as dialogue “No one pays attention to the plot anyway,” said Guido. “But I might buy this porn.”

 

9

On fatherhood. Constantly present in my mind while among the family is the idea of fatherhood, and its help and harm to bring that next level of maturity to the man; how does fatherhood create us further?

Guido says: “anyone who tells you that you have nothing if you don’t have kids–that’s like anything, and it’s him, not you, who can’t imagine life without them. It is his inability to accept that meaningfulness is possible some other way.”

But what else is there besides procreation? Happiness is a woman.

 

10

We spoke of consciousness versus the intellect, Guido advising, “go to India.” “Yes,” I say, “and you’re helping me get there.” “At this point my purpose is intellectual contemplation, but the truth is that the idea of a higher consciousness is intellectually intriguing,” I say. And he: “Consciousness has nothing to do with the intellect–just the opposite–it is the absence of thought.” “Perhaps reaching that strange demeanor of an enlightened state would set one too far from the norm, and I do not seek that,” I said, and further: “I want to learn, to adapt, and then to transmit knowledge.” “You cannot seek enlightenment. If it happens, it will happen by accident,” said Guido, “you cannot control it.”

 

 

On reading, writing and citation

 

1

A writer cannot perfect in his craft if he exists in a vacuum where only dirt swirls. One must read, and read as often as possible those works that have been tried by the ultimate judges–time and generation. A book that does not present life or some facet of the world in a way that makes the reader feel its worth is either pure entertainment or bad. I prefer insightful pieces of literature. A simple detective story presents life amusingly; but I want a book that is revealing of life’s secrets.

 

2

A quick note. Reading is far superior to the movie screen, where one sees someone else’s imagination acted out, where their own interpretation is limited by the sound and image which has already been decided. Those who do not read are lazy or unimaginative–they prefer being entertained by something that demands nothing of them, not even the active receptive capacity to acquire some new piece of knowledge.

 

3

Days or weeks at sea provide the time to read, to think, and to write. Salt water is no friend of electronics, and nor is the humidity in my cabin–I therefore abandon the idea to watch films; the laptop must be preserved for writing alone.

 

4

It is a natural act–though, to varying degrees–for a human to mimic the mannerisms of those with whom he spends a significant amount of time. This is no less true of the reading writer; and in my case, I consciously adopt the styles of those I read. I do this to experiment, that I may advance my own technique by enriching my writer’s repertoire, and allowing the confluence of many styles to create what they will through my hand. Point in practice–Nietzsche.

 

5

To return to reading. As one reads, the passages most relevant to his circumstances in that moment of life seem embossed, as though one could feel the page and read the words like brail (I wonder if indeed touching words at the moment of comprehension, and especially at the moment of finding a meaningful passage, is for the decoder perhaps more intimate than for the reader, in the sense that that they more thoroughly understand or can better absorb and transmit the essence of that passage). In a different moment, one’s pen might level its trail beneath other words, unless that reader is of a consistent character, as I believe myself to be. Mine is a journey of life, that I might discover, contextualize and share the meaning, in some way or another, of relevant citations. Of all the books lining my cabin on the voyage to the Galapagos, it was Siddhartha and Nietzsche that I took to reading.

 

6

Life is not financial security. Nor is it success.

“At times he heard, deep in his breast, a soft and dying voice that admonished softly, lamented softly, barely audible. Then for an hour he was aware that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing all sorts of things that were merely a game, that he was cheerful, granted, and sometimes felt joy, but that real life was flowing past him and not touching him.”

-Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

 

“But thus our kind wants it; and I love those who do not want to preserve themselves. Those who are going under I love with my whole love: for they cross over.”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

 

“To make society secure against thieves and fireproof and infinitely comfortable for every trade and activity, and to transform the state into Providence in the good and bad sense–these are low, mediocre, and not at all indispensable goals, for which one should not strive with the highest means and instruments anywhere in existence, the means one ought to reserve for the highest and rarest ends. Our time, however much it talks of economy, is a squanderer: it squanders what is most precious, the spirit.”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

 

“‘If you come from the samanas, how could you not be experiencing hard times? Are not the samanas completely without property?’

‘I own no property,’ said Siddhartha, ‘if that is what you mean. True, I possess nothing. But that is voluntary, so I am not experiencing hard times.’

‘But what do you wish to live on if you have no property?’

‘I have never thought about it, sir. I have had no property for over three years and have never thought about what I am to live on.’

‘Then you have lived from other people’s property.’

‘Presumably. But after all, the merchant also lives off the goods of others.’

‘Well put. But the merchant does not take from others for free; he gives them wares in exchange.’

‘That seems to be the way of the world. Everyone takes, everyone gives, that is life.'”

-Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

 

7

Life is acknowledgment of the spirit, and the search for knowledge itself beyond the singular desire for happiness.

“Woe entreats: Go! Away, woe! But all that suffers wants to live, that it may become ripe and joyous and longing–longing for what is farther, higher, brighter. ‘I want heirs’–thus speaks all that suffers; ‘I want children, I do not want myself.’

Joy, however, does not want heirs, or children–joy wants itself, wants eternity, wants recurrence, wants everything eternally the same.

Woe says, ‘Break, bleed, heart! Wander, leg! Wing, fly! Get on! Up! Pain!’ Well then, old heart: Woe implores, ‘Go!'”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

“Spirit is the life that itself cuts into life: with its own agony it increases its own knowledge.”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

“Have you ever seen a sail go over the sea, rounded and taut and trembling with the violence of the wind? Like the sail, trembling with the violence of the spirit, my wisdom goes over the sea–my wild wisdom.”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

8

I want to live meaningfully, to transmit what knowledge I encounter be it great or small–to suffer not having a woman–to bring effect to the world from experience in living in it diversely. However, sometimes I feel I will have no choice, that I am destined for happiness–oh, the horror, the horror!

There are no educators. As a thinker, one should speak only of self-education. The education of youth by others is either an experiment, conducted on one as yet unknown and unknowable, or a leveling on principle, to make the new character, whatever it may be, conform to the habits and customs that prevail: in both cases, therefore, something unworthy of the thinker–the work of parents and teachers, whom an audaciously honest person has called nos ennemis naturels.

One day, when in the opinion of the world one has long been educated, one discovers oneself: that is where the task of the thinker begins; now the time has come to invoke his aid–not as an educator but as one who has educated himself and thus has experience.”

-Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow

“Happiness is a woman.”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

9

The search for life and the search for knowledge go hand in hand on their long uncertain way.

“For this is the truth: I have moved from the house of the scholars and I even banged the door behind me. My soul sat hungry at their table too long; I am not, like them, trained to pursue knowledge as if it were nut-cracking. I love freedom and the air over the fresh earth; rather would I sleep on ox hides than on their decorums and respectabilities.”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

“What was silent in the father speaks in the son; and often I found the son the unveiled secret of the father.”

-Nietzsche, Zarathustra

On arriving

 

1

One morning in the tepid humidity of haze I watched and pleaded to the fishing rod to bend, and what a thing to behold was the sudden snap and yank and bowing forward of the rod that at first I thought it another maddening dream. But no! It was a catch! I woke Guido with calm urgency, and Geli quickly found her camera. Guido began to reel and I readied the hook. When the fish was near we could see its reflective skin through the water. And further still Guido reeled until I managed to hook the fish, though I missed its gills and instead hit an artery somewhere in its neck. It bled like a can of Coke shaken and cracked as we guided it to the wooden slats where it lurched violently in those last throes of death. Guido took a knife and punctured through the eye to the brain, feeling the moment when the tuna’s heart stopped beating.

 

Travel drawing of catching a tuna in the Pacific

This is a sailing drawing of my captain, Lido. We had caught a tuna on the trailing line, and now took to cutting it up.

 

Washed, our tuna, a 20 pound Bonito, was a sight for the sore eyes of old men and the sea. The strikingly holographic violet streaks along its silvery skin made it radiate shining, or so lied our eyes, which created of it a trophy at long last.

Guido turned the fish quickly into several bowls of ceviche. One: wasabi and habanero; Two: soy sauce and onion; Three: lemon, salt and pepper; Four: raw sushi. Fresh tuna in restaurants is usually frozen, to deal with worms. Nowhere had I ever eaten such fresh meat.

 

2

Like some sick game, the ocean gave us yet another catch. Why now, of all times, when in a day we would be in the Galapagos Islands? This was an even larger Bonito that I reeled in, that Guido hooked, and which I killed, gutted, and began to filet. I found squirming white worms there within, and since at that time we did not know the worms were common and relatively harmless, we returned this second catch wholly to the waves and sharks.

 

3

On arriving in the Galapagos, to the island of San Cristobal, through the early morning oranges and blues, past painted Lion Rock, through the town’s windswept bay to a position just aft of Dirk’s Lola, there was a euphoric sense of relief, comfort and appreciation that welled up in the morale of the boat. Dirk was standing on his transom, blowing a fog horn in salute to ours and his success of arriving. He came immediately aboard, and the day was made brighter by our grinning ivory looks of joy.

Thus spoke the Sairam meditations!

 

A beautiful sunrise over the Galapagos island of San Cristobal.

A beautiful sunrise over the Galapagos island of San Cristobal.

Print Friendly