I have been doing this sailing gig for almost 36 years now, and if there is one thing I know, it is that I am not in control of our schedule. We must go with the wind when things are right. Note! I did not say when things are perfect, I said when things are right. It’s a delicate balance, because it is pretty easy to weasel out and find any little reason to stay in port. Striking this balance drives Captain Andrew crazy because he is so afraid he might possibly fall into the “weasel” category that it takes a lot to convince him to stay when things aren’t right. Upon our return to Port Vila, he planned to stay four days for Independence Day celebrations and provisioning. As it turned out, we were there closer to ten.
After our upwind run from Ambrym, Andrew and Leslie tied me up to a mooring ball and left me to stew in the mirror flat pond of Port Vila’s protected bay. Deep breaths soothe all my rattles in a matter of minutes, and then I bask in the delicious feeling of limber, well used muscles. Andrew and Leslie unfold Grin and disembark. They are on a mission to reach the Au Bon Marche and address our painfully depleted stock of cheese and chorizo. An hour or so later, from my post at my mooring ball, I could see them slump into bar stools at the Waterfront Grill. Their old kava-pal McAlee “Mac” greets them and brings them two Tuskers. They chat and laugh and watch the sun go down.
While they chat, Grin slinks his way from the close end of the dock, to the port side. He systematically stretches his tether to its limit until a wave bounces him along. With slack in his rope caused by the wave and current, he shimmies his tether along the bar to which it is tied. As sailors come and go, the dock rocks erratically with the weight of their steps. This only aids Grin on his mission. "What is he doing?" I wonder, but then turn my attention back to the dock.
This dock is my favorite dock in the whole South Pacific. First, it is close enough to my mooring ball to give me a good view; second, it is the only access point to shore so it enjoys frequent traffic, and third, it is highly, highly unstable. It is a floating wooden dock, attached on its back side to a long and narrow aluminum ramp. The floats beneath the wooden part are installed directly down the center, so when people walk on the dock, it teeters right and left. One sailor is fine; the real show happens when a group of sailors gather at once. As the group walks, they are always chatting about their next destination or exchanging helpful tips. They arrive two at a time and the dock begins to sway on its axis, building momentum with the weight of their footsteps. Before long, the sailors feel their trouble and attempt to order themselves in a manner to counterbalance the momentum. Unfortunately, one usually has a different idea than another, resulting in an erratic waltz that only encourages the dock in its sway. Every now and then, I watch a sailor flail his or her arms, poke out a leg as a counter weight, then howl as they topple into the sea. Leslie tells me there is an orange life jacket permanently installed at the end of this dock as a precaution to help the unfortunate.
I keep hoping Leslie will fall in. It would be funny!
Eventually, it’s time for everyone to come home. Bags of groceries in hand, Andrew and Leslie tip toe from one side of the dock to the other to balance the teeter-totter. Leslie stands on one side to counterbalance Andrew’s weight. As Andrew squats down and reaches one leg into Grin, the dock takes Leslie skyward. To my disappointment, she goes along for the ride with no indication of trouble. As Andrew jumps from dock to Grin, the edge aloft drops back to the sea and Leslie scuttles closer to the middle just as the water washes over the edge she was previously standing on. Leslie unties Grin, places one leg into his bow and pushes off of the dock with her trailing leg to cast Grin adrift. Will she fall in as the dock and Grin separate? I wait with baited breath, but she stretches her following leg in a dock-pushoff-arebesque, curls it beneath her and takes her seat. Rats!
As they round up next to my stern, Grin gets distracted and stabs his pointy bow right into my hip. “Ouch!” I say. “Grin!”
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.” He says, as he bounces backward away from my hull. He continues to look in the direction of the dock.
“GRIN! What are you doing?”
“Nothing, nothing.” He snaps to and sidles closer to me to allow Leslie to tie him up.
I shake my head at him. As they unload, I sniff around the grocery bags. Cheese, apples, lettuce, basil, mint, parsley, green onions…
“Where’s the chorizo?” I ask.
“No chorizo.” Leslie reports, “but that’s okay, we learned about a French pastry shop (with a very snazzy chandelier) that we would have missed if we didn’t come back here!”
“Oh good!” I think to myself. For a while there, chorizo was the only thing keeping Leslie moving forward to Port Vila.
For the next few days, Andrew and Leslie worked hard to get ready for our sail onward. Checking and tightening rigging, fixing a tear in my mainsail, checking the engine fluids, filling my water tanks. This is our first big sail of this season: 10-15 days (depending on wind) to Papua New Guinea. I think Papua New Guinea will be a new stop for me! I can’t remember ever going there. I’m a total jitterbug about it. The moon was waxing, readying itself to be full the same day we were scheduled to depart. This trip is going to be so great; I can just feel it!
When my friend JAMS arrived in town we were almost ready to go. JAMS crew, Carol and Maury, invite Andrew and Leslie out to have dinner before everyone goes their separate ways. As everyone motors off in their respective dinghies, JAMS calls over to me. “Are you leaving tomorrow morning?”
“No, I don’t think so. Andrew and Leslie haven’t finished provisioning, yet. We still need duty free rum and a case of beer. Watch this, though!” I tell JAMS, pointing toward our respective crew heading to the dock. To my disappointment no one falls in, though.
“You are horrible,” JAMS tells me. I know, I am.
The next day, Andrew and Leslie head out to find some beer, but an hour or two later, Leslie escorts Andrew back to my hull and shuffles him on deck with instructions to go below and lay down. Apparently, he turned pale and started sweating profusely in the well air-conditioned Au Bon Marche. He crawled into bed, covered up with a fleece blanket, and proceeded to drench a bed sheet. “I’m fine!” He exclaims. “We’re fine. We’re still leaving tomorrow!” I remained hopeful.
The next day, Andrew seemed fine, but the wind was not right. So, we had to stay another day. JAMS invited my crew over for another Catch You Later Dinner.
That night, Andrew started sweating again. “Harumph, I want to go,” I say to Grin, but he just ignores me. His attention is drawn somewhere across the bay. I am disappointed, but I know we can’t leave with the Captain down and out. My sour mood is brightened the next morning, though, when I see another old friend puttering into the mooring field. TaB!
We met TaB last year in Maupiti, but we didn’t become great friends until Rarotonga. We celebrated TaB’s Captain’s 70th birthday in Tonga! She is one of my favorite friends, mostly because whenever her Captain farts, she laughs and laughs. That, and even though she is a catamaran, she willingly carries a lifetime supply of Pussers Rum and Clos boxed wine. “Close to wine!” We can’t leave without spending quality time with TaB, Russell and Jane. So, Andrew and Leslie schedule happy hour. When Leslie invite the JAMS crew along, too, they laugh. “Two goodbye dinners and a goodbye happy hour? Leave already!”
But, we still couldn’t leave. I knew we were really in trouble when an hour or two later, Andrew returned with Grin but Leslie was nowhere to be found.
“Where’s Leslie?” I ask. Andrew explains she is accompanying the Ta-B’s crew and JAMS’ crew to the Thai restaurant. “But why didn’t you go? You love Thai!” And in response, Andrew slinks down the companion way stairs and under the covers again. There he stays for the next three days.
Grin, meanwhile, continued to act strange. All night, he would stare off into the distance, and every morning, he was knocking on my hull asking if he can go yet. “Can we go to town yet? Let’s go? Come on guys! Don’t you want pastries?” Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Psst! Leslie!” I hiss, trying to get her attention without letting Grin hear. She is reading in my cockpit, with a cup of coffee.
“Hmm, yes, Sonrisa?”
“Don’t you think Grin is acting weird?”
“Yeah, he is. I think he has a crush on a lady-boat.” Leslie says, still reading her book.
“What? A crush? How do you know?” I ask, but Leslie just points at him. Instead of sitting by my side snoozing like usual, he has pulled himself around in an awkward manner, facing as far the other way as he can stretch his rope to allow. I follow his line of sight across the bay. There, I see the tinny with the braided cord around her bow. I see!
“Every time we go ashore, we find him snuggled up next to her by the time we get back.” Leslie says and laughs.
I snicker. And since I am feeling so mature this week, I start singing a little bit: “Grinny has a girlfriend, Grinny has a girlfriend.” This snaps Grin out of his reverie.
“Her name is Saltie, and you leave her alone, you old biddy.” He says to me. Old biddy! Ha!
“Grin and Saltie, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I….”
“SHUT UP!” Grin says. Oh, I love getting a rise out of him.
“Thanks, Sonrisa. That’s just great.” Leslie says, annoyed I ratted her out for telling on Grin.
The next morning, Leslie has an appointment to go grocery shopping with TaB’s Jane. By now, TaB, JAMS and I have started a betting pool with regard to dock activities. At first, we were betting that someone would fall in; but the falls became so frequent that it was too easy. Now, we are making an over-under bet regarding timing. “Here we go, guys!” I call out as Leslie and Jane zoom across the mooring field in TaB’s Sports-Car-Like-Dinghy. We watch as they reach the dock and bump several dinghies out of the way. Leslie exits the dinghy, and moves successfully off the dock. I frown. Then, Jane disembarks. She bends to tie the dinghy tether just as an old Australian sailor of large stature walks past Leslie and unwittingly onto the center of the dock. His heavy steps start the dock swaying and……
“WHOA!” Jane cries out, and begins to tip forward toward the sea.
TaB, JAMS and I all suck in a breath. TaB bet that Jane would never fall in, because Jane is an old salt. I, of course, bet Leslie would fall in because I really want her to. JAMS is the only disinterested party in this circumstance, so she bet that someone would fall in on the way there, not on the way back despite the fact that on the way back, they will have groceries.
“WOOOAAAAHHHHHHH!” TaB cries out and then closes her eyes.
But no, Jane is an old salt and she recovers her balance and remains dry. Jane finishes tying up the dinghy, stands up and brushes her hands on her shorts. We watch as she and Leslie walk toward the grocery store, laughing about the near miss. That was close.
“Knock, knock, knock, knock”
“Grin! Stop knocking against my hull!”
“Saltie’s ashore. I want to go to shore. Why did Leslie just leave me here?”
“Because, Andrew might need to use you.”
“Okay,” Grin says, then “knock, knock, knock, knock, knock…”
“GRIN! What are you doing!?”
“I want Andrew to take me ashore.”
“Andrew is sick. He can’t take you to shore. Leslie just left you here in case Andrew needed to go to shore.”
Just then, Andrew hauls himself into the cockpit, unties Grin’s leash and leads him around to the back where he can trail off my stern and he has no where to knock. Once that task is complete, Andrew returns down below to continue binge watching Game of Thrones. Grin groans in misery. I groan in misery. Andrew groans in misery.
Not to worry, though. Andrew recovered from his illness and regained strength with walks to the pastry shop. Kava-Mac made it over for a lunch visit, Grin got some quality Saltie-Time, and we stock up on duty free rum. I never gave up betting Leslie will fall in, and as a result, JAMS won the rock-a-dock bet tally. It’s all good.