Dear Sweet Saltie, My Pickle Brine:
You are like the orchid that blooms each night in my dreams. I imagine my bow nestled against the soft rope braids that fringe your own. We make bets about which sailor will fall into the sea next. I miss your laugh. My memory of the sound water makes against your tinny-hull sings lullabies to close my eyes.
So, how am I doing? I’m cool, it’s all good. Sonrisa still makes fun of me for my girlfriend, but I don’t care. Sonrisa is just jealous, the lonely old biddy. Andrew and Leslie spent the last few weeks trying to crush my soul. They seem a bit stressed, so maybe that's why were so inconsiderate. Things are looking up now.
It all started when we arrived in Tual. Andrew scratched out his signature on the “crew list,” but the Indonesian Officials just looked at him, unsatisfied.
“Where is your boat stamp? Do you have a boat stamp?” They ask.
“Ah, boat stamp…yeah, we were hoping to buy one here.” Andrew explains. The officials grumble and shake their heads. "Okay, but you need to go immediately and get it taken care of." Free of their immigration duties, Andrew and Leslie want to scurry into town and buy a boat stamp. “Grin! To town!” They say, pointing in the way of Tual. Brave and fearless, Kitty and I charge into town. A boat stamp! I have waited my whole life for a boat stamp!
They leave me tied to a giant “Coast Guard” boat (my new friend CG). CG has a pet rat that scampers along the deck and down through the exhaust pipe every time someone climbs on or off. Leslie screams a little every time she sees him. He’s cool, though, his name is Emile. To reach land, my crew clamor through CG's cockpit, around the side rail, and across a giant bumper. The bumper rolls beneath their feet one way and the other depending on whether they are right of center or left of center. You know I'm hoping Leslie will fall in! I try to squeeze my bow around the corner of the boat so I have full view of the acrobatics. I try to convince the CG to make bets with me, but CG says she isn't the betting kind.
When they return hours later from their Boat Stamp Odessey, I spy two boat stamps in a bag. YES! My boat stamp! I am so excited I can hardly stand it. If I’m going to take people on Dive Adventures, don’t I need a stamp to confirm their experience in their log book? Yes. Yes, I do. All dive boats need a stamp. Now, I’m a real dive boat.
But then, Leslie pulls the stamps out of the bag to inspect. “Sonrisa” and one for “Oddgodfrey”. Oddgodfrey!?!?!? Oddgodfrey is an imaginary unicorn that lives inside Andrew’s soul. What does he need a stamp for? I am beside myself, I can’t even talk about it for a week. They crushed my soul. I don’t know what they have against me, but they are cruel and heartless people.
Long distance relationships suck. Have you convinced your team to sail Westward yet? Imagine, if only we could meet in Bali. Waves! Scuba Diving Adventures! Sunset cocktail hours! Meditation retreats! You can visit Sonrisa then I can visit your boat. We can adventure together, it will be great. What do you say?
… Yeah, maybe I’m a little too “high energy” for a meditation retreat.
Anyway, so after the stamp fiasco, we sail over to Pasir Panjan (the long white sand beach). Andrew and Leslie say they want to go scuba diving, so this cheers me a little bit. We have a bit of a hard time finding a place to land, so Andrew and I go as scouts. I zip right and left, it takes us a couple hours to find a good spot to put Sonrisa. The charts aren’t well marked here, so Leslie squints at the Google Earth picture trying to figure out relative depths of the deep blue versus the light turquoise. One of these spots must work, otherwise we have to turn around and go back to Tual. When we finally find a spot, I lead Sonrisa in through the reef carefully.
Andrew and Leslie disappear for a minute, then they return with big orange bags filled with my diving gear! For just a few moments, my heart is in my throat. I’m so excited! We get to go diving. Andrew and Leslie hop in and untie me, but then I notice they are just wearing regular clothes. What are we doing? We drive fifteen minutes over to Pasir Panjan where they tie me up and remove the dive gear. Where do they think they are going? Over to a dive shop! They are going diving without me. Can you believe this? With all the injustices in the world, now this.
For days, I shuttle them back and forth from Sonrisa over to the beach. Each day, they tie me at one end to a stick and place my anchor in the sand. Leslie pats my hull and says “Be good today, Grin.” Enraging. Insulting. Of course I’ll be good. I’m only ever good. This is why they should take me diving. I’m SO GOOD. I’m the best.
When they return from diving, they sit on the deck at the dive shop for hours petting the shop's pets and drinking tea. Or, we leave, but then return later in the evening so Andrew and Leslie can play wizard. I just have to sit and wait.
Sitting there waiting was so boring! There are other boats around, sure, but they only speak Bahasa Indonesian and I only speak English, so it’s not the easiest thing in the world. Plus, I’m sullen. I’m terrible company when I’m sullen. I make friends with a red, bumpy starfish right beneath my hull, and I nose around in the sea grass trying to kick up a sea horse. I never find one, those buggers are so camouflaged!
I also make a new friend named Ido. He works at the dive shop, and he keeps an eye on me while Andrew and Leslie are away. When the tide goes down, he makes sure Kitty (the motor) is comfortable and properly tipped up. When the tide comes up again, he makes sure my anchor is still secure. Ido’s a good guy.
Soon, Jan Oliver (The dive guide, Yan-OV for short) learns my name is Grin. Every morning, he passes me by and leads Andrew and Leslie to the other dive boat. He always makes some comment or greeting. I just look up at him through my scowl. I am committed to remaining sullen. In fact, I’m going on a hunger strike. I’m not eating anything until the take me diving.
One day, I hear Jan say “If the exploratory dive is good, we’ll let Grin name it! Maybe that will cheer him up.” Name a new dive? Oh, that would be awesome. Yeah….yeah! I want to name a new dive! *ahem* I mean, no. No. I will not be cheerful until you take me diving. Forget it. No cheer, here.
I brainstorm names while they are gone. Saltie’s Kiss. Sweet Saltie. Saltie’s Sea Lagoon.
They return and trudge up the sand. I bounce a little in the wavelets that come to shore. “Can I name it? Can I name it?” They just walk past me! No comment at all, Leslie just rests her hand on my bow and tosses her flip flops back in. How do you like that?
Back at Sonrisa, Leslie shows me the pictures. The dive looked AMAZING! Huge swaths of single type coral.
A whole valley of rare maze coral;
The sea floor patterned with little colorful dots of shoe coral.
Rolling hillsides of soft white coral opening and closing millions of flower-like mouths, eating.
This crazy Starfish!!!
A lion fish with purplish spots on his fins.
At the end, they explored a section of reef that housed thousands of tiny, interesting animals. A tiny crab living in an anemone.
Cleaner shrimp in an anemone
And one of the most beautiful textile sea worms anyone in our group has ever seen!
“Why can’t I name it? I want to name it!” I’ll admit it - I whined. Leslie explained that Jan was unimpressed with the dive, and therefore, does not feel the need to name it. “URG!” I growl with frustration. I would name it “Saltie’s Maze” if I could.
In the meantime, I saved Sonrisa’s life.
First, I acted like an enormous body bumper to keep the fishing hut away from Sonrisa’s hull.
Then, Andrew and I took to sea to push the fishing barge away while Leslie drove Sonrisa to a different spot to pull the anchor up.
Sonrisa thanked me profusely.
The next day, we head back to Pasir Panjan. This dive trip turns into an all day extravaganza. Jan, Eva (Dive Guide #2), Leslie and Andrew take a “Beemo” or van to Tual where they pick up lunch and desserts to go.
They find a different dive boat that ferries them over to Pulou Bair - a local favorite. They dive, then they eat a picnic lunch at Pulou Bair. Andrew and Leslie enjoy a dip in the beautiful swimming hole along with a group of cheerful locals who spend hours getting the perfect photo: Phone selfie, Canon photo, drone photos. Leslie always feels right at home nosing up on people with her camera here.
The second dive was another exploration dive. Apparently, this time there was success. As Leslie flipped through the pictures for me, she described a healthy and diverse coral garden, the light but pleasant current that brushed them along the rolling scenery, the glistening of a flock of jellyfish. Toward the end, Andrew and Leslie held hands, flying through the current. It sounded very romantic.
“So, what are you going to name it, Grin? Jan says you can name this one.”
Suddenly, my mind goes blank. So much pressure! What can I do? I have to name it well, otherwise it will go down in history with a dumb diving name. Should it be funny? Should it be bad-ass? I’m a little bit bad ass. I had all these names brainstormed in my pocket! Why didn’t I write them down!? “Oohaugghghh!”
Leslie just laughs at me. “No worries, Grin. Sleep on it.”
So, I do. And I dream of you, and me, floating together in the current, holding hands and looking down at the coral. Yellow rays of sunlight glinting and bouncing off the purple, green, yellow, pink and red coral. I see the giant sponges. Schools of little fish chase us, then take cover beneath our hulls. Like always, you sing your little hull-song in the wave splashes. My dream is so nice, I wish it would never end. Or, I wish it would end, but only to find you actually here with me.
When I wake, I know what I want to name my dive. Saltie’s Garden Walk.
Eventually, we finish diving and we need to head back to Tual. On our last day in town, Leslie and Andrew leave me tied up to the Coast Guard boat for a few hours, then return shaking a little baggie at me. “Here you go, Grin! Are you happy now?”
I peek into the bag……”YAHHOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
I love you from Port to Starboard, Stem to Stern!
Yours truly, Grin