As I write this, I am in a new ocean - an ocean filled with excitement, adventure, and squid boats. But, don’t let me get ahead of myself. For our last week in PNG, I wasn’t so sure we would reach this next stage. Could Andrew really be serious? Could he want to ship me back to the states from Thailand? Ugh. I’ve come this far (for the third time!) I don’t want to turn around. Yes! I heard him say that. I am probably responsible for starting that whole conversation.
Going through the emails that bulked up during our passage from Vanuatu, I ran across an announcement that my sister, Solstice, just finished her circumnavigation. “Guys! Guys! Check this out. Solstice just finished her circumnavigation!” Leslie tips her head toward the computer and reads:
“You know,” Leslie says, “Sonrisa really only has to get to somewhere in the Caribbean to finish her circumnavigation. She’ll be finished before us.” I smile and nod. That’s right. I started my first long range trek in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and sailed South through the Lesser Antilles then to Venezuela. So, I will cross my circumnavigation line once we reach the Caribbean! I’m mentally rummaging through my treasure chest of memories when I hear Andrew respond.
“Yeah.” he says, without much pizazz. He sighs, and you know the rest of the story. Leslie gets upset, so Andrew gets upset, which makes Leslie more upset, which makes me upset…pretty soon Osmond just takes a perch and tells us to let him know where he should start.
Andrew and I point at Leslie. Leslie points at Andrew with an accusatory finger.
I would be mad at her for causing all this with her piss-poor attitude, but then again, she and I were just imagining the day that we all round up into the Caribbean and finish my circumnavigation. Eventually, they talk it out and get the whole thing solved at least for now. Everything goes back to normal, but I know I better be on my best behavior.
For the rest of our week, we sent Leslie to the marina every day to upload photos to the cloud, complete some administrative work, and catch up with friends available for calls.
Andrew and I focused on two infrastructure installations - a new satellite phone antennae and two new engine mounts. The day the parts arrived, Andrew ventured off in a taxi all on his own. He headed over to our friend shop, where the engine mounts were to be acquired. I expected him to be gone about an hour, but three hours later he was still amiss.
When Leslie returned for lunch, she climbed down the companion way hatch and started making a sandwich. “Where’s Andrew?” She asks me.
I look around nervously. What do I tell her? I tip-toe on some eggshells, then “Oh, he went off to pick up the engine mounts. I’m sure he’ll be back any time now.” She scowls and looks at her watch. She eats her sandwich. Andrew is still not back. She leaves a note with me, telling him to text her when he returns. Then, she locks up and heads back to the marina.
I could take or leave the sat phone antennae, but I am very excited about my engine mounts. Engine mounts are brackets that connect the engine to my hull; each one has a rubber piece settled between two pieces of metal. When engine mounts get old and rusty, the rubber compresses and then all the vibration of the engine just goes right through me, my cheeks flapping in rhythm to the engine. I hate it. New mounts will be like getting new sneakers.
Our PNG Pal stops by my marina berth, pokes around, then turns to leave when he discovers no one is home. Where is Andrew? Finally, I see him sauntering down the marina hallway. “Where have you been?” I ask him as he clicks my combination lock into position. He reads Leslie’s note and taps out a text confirming his return. So many women keeping track of his whereabouts!
“The shopkeeper wanted to show me pictures, so I was hanging out with him.”
Andrew breaks out Nigel Calder’s Boat Owners Mechanical and Electrical Manual and studies the section on installing engine mounts. “Great,” He says with little enthusiasm.
Okay, I admit it. I require a lot of…um…love. Generally, I try to behave, but the fact of the matter is that salt water is hard on my systems and I need new jewelry (stainless steel parts), dresses (sails), and even workout gear (internal system works) on a regular basis. I like to consider myself a low maintenance gal, but I am realistic. I am low maintenance - for a boat. Usually, when Andrew makes a repair for me, I make it easy on him for three of the four bolts holding the system together. Three of four. Then, I can’t help myself. I have to test his patience and make sure he really does love me. I hang on to the fourth bolt as tight as I can. He tugs, I tug, he tugs, I tug harder, in the opposite direction. He tugs. I tug. He sprays the bolt with corrosion inhibitor and starts tapping on the bolt, he gets a different tool, then another tool. He tugs, I tug, he tugs, I tug. He scratches his head. I smile smugly. He sits and thinks. He tries a new strategy. Sometimes, I take pity on the man and let go; other times, I don't. Andrew never, ever gets mad at me. This is why I love him; Andrew passes all my tests.
I decide that today is not the day to test Andrew. Even though Andrew is expecting all sorts of toil and trouble, he removes the engine mounts, replaces the new ones, and proceeds with engine alignment. Within two hours, he is done. He turns the propeller by hand and it spins freely. He sits back and scratches his head. He fires up the engine, and it sputters to life smoother than it has been in a year. He scowls. “What’s the matter now?” I ask. I swear, I have been so good this time.
“Did I do it right?” He asks.
I shift my hips back and forth to see how it has settled in. “Yeah! It feels good!” I say. He scratches his head again.
“That was too easy.” He said, suspicious. Now, I scowl. The ingrate.
He sends Leslie a text telling her the good news and she is amazed. “You are a wizard!” She says.
The next day, my next door neighbor Goyave (French for Guava) is readying to go. That makes Andrew antsy. Andrew declares it is time to go. Goyave checks out with the officials, so we check out with the officials, too. With the officials already in my cockpit and the forms half filled out, Andrew peeks his head down the companion way and asks Leslie: “We are ready to check out, aren’t we?” I feel a little bad for her. What is she supposed to say to this, the official is already halfway through his paper work on a Friday evening at 5:30 p.m.
PNG Pal comes over for beers, everyone is sad to say goodbye. As Andrew and Leslie chat with him in the cockpit, the sun drops low in the sky and the wind starts howling through the rigging in the marina. I tip sideways in my berth, hit by strong gusts. I feel Leslie’s nerves fire.
Leslie is trying to finish up her work, but she is not quite done. Andrew tells her not to worry, she can do it in the morning. She knows she doesn’t have enough time in the morning. They decide they want pizza for dinner, so after PNG Pal leaves, they head over to the marina for one more sunset and to say more goodbyes. They end up having dinner and drinks with the Shopkeeper and his friends. It’s 10 p.m. before they return.
By now, the cacophony of wind blowing sailboat rigging all around us sounds like Quasimodo playing his bell tower on speed. Leslie grinds her teeth, then she spies my steering wheel. Andrew removed the steering wheel a few days ago, for added space in the cockpit. Now, the wheel teeters on the bow bed, lofted high on a mountain of sails, a guitar that no one plays, a grocery bag of crackers and cookies, and a backpack filled with camera gear.
“We can’t leave in the morning, Andrew. Nothing is ready.” Leslie states matter of factly.
“What’s not ready?” He growls. Oh, here we go.
“Nothing! Nothing is ready!” Leslie gestures with her hand to the salon bench. “Our bed is not ready, the cockpit is a mess, (Andrew’s beer cans are still rattling around in the wind gusts), the gas cans aren’t lashed down, the galley is a mess, and…” She pauses for dramatic effect and gestures in the direction of the steering wheel. “The steering wheel isn’t even attached! How can I back us out of the slip if our steering wheel isn’t even attached?”
Andrew waves her off and insists this can all be accomplished in moments. This response only raises Leslie’s hackles.
I break in. “Guys… Guys… GUYS!!!!” They both stop talking and look at me. “Maybe you need a pre-departure ritual. You know, like when you would close up and leave me at the end of a weekend in San Diego? You need a list of minimum practical tasks that must be done before you can check out with officials. What do you think?”
Leslie tips her head, considers this for a moment then grabs a notebook and pen. I had this particular stroke of genius earlier in the day while I watched Daniel and Goyave get ready to go. Daniel went from Goyave’s bow to stern, fussing and fidgeting with things in a meditative state. It made me think back to the night before we left San Diego, when one of Andrew and Leslie’s cruising mentors and his little family came for a visit to see me and say good bye. He marveled at the tom foolery of the castoff party and said “Whenever Norhi and I would prepare to go to sea, we would get really quiet.” Andrew and Leslie assured him that their first passage was just twelve hours to Ensenada, Mexico. They would regroup and get quiet there...
They didn’t. Andrew and Leslie spent four days carousing in the streets of Ensenada with their friends, Coffee and Brian who drove Southward to meet them at their first destination. They had a lot of fun. Then, Andrew looked at the weather and realized if we didn’t leave the next day, the weather would trap us for another week. This would not do. So, we upped anchor in a rush and set out to sea for a two day passage to Bahia Tortugas, Mexico. All of our castoffs are this way: a rush against an arbitrary clock that trips and suddenly says “We’ve overstayed our time here! We have to get moving.” We always get the key tasks ready and accomplished, but only in chaos to meet the declared deadline. Much stress and frustration is created if anything creeps in to disturb the declared date - like when Andrew got sick in Vanuatu or when Leslie isn't ready. I am usually game to get going, but Leslie needs a bit more preparation.
Leslie and I brainstorm the list of items that must be completed before departure on a trip that lasts longer than twenty-four hours. As we list, Leslie becomes more and more calm. “Yes, Sonrisa. This is it. I need a pre-game day ritual that will set my mind at ease and prepare me to shift to passage-mode.” We complete our first draft and read it to Andrew. Leslie scratches “install the steering wheel” just before “check out of the country.” Andrew continues to feel this is unnecessary, but agrees he will do it if it helps Leslie's mental state. He marches to the bow, picks up the steering wheel and installs it. Leslie and I nod with approval. We all start working our way through the checklist. At midnight, we decide we are pretty tired, and we can finish in the morning. We will likely need an extra day, but the customs agent told us we could stay the weekend if we didn’t feel like the wind was favorable.
All night, the wind continues to howl and push me around. I can hear Leslie asking for it to continue, to give her one more day to get everything she needs to get done, done. The next morning, Andrew relents and admits we can stay one more day. Andrew and Leslie install a rubber mat under each gas can to cushion its movement. Leslie changes up her lashing procedure, then yanks on each can back and forth as hard as she can to make sure it will not come loose in the waves. “If you want to stay aboard,” she tells the can “you better behave yourself.” Leslie goes through each of my cupboards stuffing any gaps in space with sheets, towels, sponges or other soft items to stop any potential rattling. She washes all the stoneware plates, puts them away, and pulls out plastic for the passage dishes. PNG Pal comes to visit one last time, but Leslie continues working her way through the list while he keeps her company. I see her focus coming to center, and I like how it looks.
At 1 p.m., there is a lull in the wind and Goyave decides to leave. Andrew and Leslie, two marina workers and the marina boat help shove him out. A few hours later, though, he is back. The wind is too strong to exit the reef. This calms Andrew down as well, as he feels justified that the weather isn’t cooperating for departure.
At this point, Leslie hands PNG Pal over to Andrew saying “you fellas have fun, I have some work I have to finish.” She shuts herself in the stern bunk and concentrates until her work is done. I feel her heart rate slow, and I know this is going to work. She isn’t going to be as anxious on this trip, at all.
By 5:00 p.m. that evening, everything is ready. The sea berth is made up with pillows and sheets. The galley is clean, everything is stowed securely. The cockpit is in operation mode. The gas cans are lashed down and tested. The bow is empty of everything except sails, ready to launch through the hatch if we need them. The navigation desk is clean, the charts are plotted. Leslie’s work is done, some meals are pre-cooked, and we are ready. Andrew and Leslie head up to the marina for one more "last" meal, one more "last" sunset and more goodbyes. We mean it this time.
As they walk toward me that night I hear Leslie say: “I would like the record to reflect that I have a very cheerful attitude right now.” Andrew admits she does.
The next morning, they wake, have a little breakfast, more goodbyes at the marina, and say goodbye to The Imperialist and his Right Hand Man on their way out. The Right Hand Man offers to hold my bowline as we shove off. We fire up my engine and Leslie pats my hull. “Okay, Sonrisa, no funny business. This is just like San Diego.” Leslie and I are both grateful for all the practice we gained in San Diego. We know exactly how to exit this slip, even though it is cross-wind, cross-current, requires me to turn against my prop-walk, and quite a narrow corridor. Advanced slip maneuvering, to be sure.
Once the engine is warm, Leslie increases its RPMs in reverse and my engine hums smooth as butter. Andrew stands on the dock, tugging my stern in the direction we want to go. As I am halfway out of the slip, Andrew steps onto my deck. Right Hand Man holds the bow line taught enough that the bow doesn’t fall into the boat next door. Once we are almost clear, Leslie turns the engine to neutral and we coast. Leslie can see everything is going as planned. She steps around my helm, straightens out the wheel, places the engine in forward, then gives it a rev to stop the reverse movement. She turns the wheel left, and we wave. “Bye! Thank you!” He waves, and we are off without a hitch.
“Well done, Sonrisa!” Leslie cheers. Yep, I'm on my best behavior. Then, we settle in for our sail 8-11 days ahead of us.