Fear. We spend so much time on this blog talking about fear! Does it get annoying sometimes? It annoys me. Andrew and I are always teaming up to convince Leslie there is nothing to fear. But I know, we are lying a little bit. There are plenty of things to fear out there -- like marinas with air conditioning units in all the sailboat hatches! *Shudder* I try not to think about it too much. It’s not my job! Andrew and Leslie plan, predict, and work around issues for all of us. Why freak myself out? And yet, as I sit here today in the port of Dili, Timor Leste, my nerves are still a bit rattled.
My last post left off with us being escorted out of Kei Islands by our motorcade of Indonesian friends. The weather indicated we would have light wind, so we were all accepting the possible fate that we would have to motor for five days straight to our next destination. As we reached open ocean, we found the waves calm and a perfect breeze. We launched my favorite sail (the Asymmetrical Spinnaker) and hoisted the main because the wind was coming from a perfect broad reach. Without any waves to knock me around, I slice through the water stealthy and silent. The water doesn't even gurgle around my hull.
For three days and four nights, we enjoyed the trip immensely. The stars were out, we were able to sail almost all of the time, only needing the engine intermittently for a few hours here and there when the wind would die out. No one even needed seasickness meds. We receive a visit from a pod of dolphins, and we pass islands made of volcanoes erupted long ago from the sea floor.
Then, it happened.
We were on Leslie’s morning watch, but Andrew was awake puttering about down below. The wind was still light, the sun was out, the waves calm. What could possibly go wrong on a perfect day like this!? Suddenly, I feel something like sandpaper dragging across my belly. The pressure is light at first, but then becomes a solid mass beneath me. My stern lifts up and into the air.
“Whoa, whoa! What is that!” I look around in front, below, behind, but I can’t see. The ocean is all foam and darkness, despite the sunny day.
“What the…? WHOA!!!” Leslie cries out. I can feel her jump to her feet on deck, first looking over my port side rail, then shifting position to look over my stern.
All of us lift momentarily into the sky, then I tip on my starboard side and slide off the big, slippery lump beneath my hull. “What the hell?” Leslie says, as two big “ploofs” of something brown and gooey bubbles to the surface just behind my stern.
Andrew comes running up the companion way stairs, “What was that? What was that? You hit a FAD!” (FAD = a Fish Attracting Device, is a floating pile of garbage fishermen use to attract large fish to a predictable place in the ocean.)
“NO! NOT A FAD! IT’S A WHALE!!!” Leslie and I cry out in unison as the whale surfaces behind us and puffs a great big spray spout. He is so big, all we can see is the spray spout and his hump. “A HUMPBACK WHALE!” The rest of his body is beyond the periphery of our vision. He dives down, swims a distance away from us, then rises back to the surface to breath.
My sails are still up, so we just keep sailing on.
“Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod!” I think in a bit of a panic. If I had hands, I would pat myself all over to see if anything hurts.
“Is she taking on water?!" Leslie asks Andrew, a bit shrill with worry. Andrew scurries back down my steps to peer into the bilge.
There are three things I fear most at sea. (1) uncharted rough and jagged landy-bits like reef or new volcanoes; (2) Partially submerged shipping containers; and (3) whales. You see, I’m built for storms. I am very, very strong. While Leslie and Andrew might hate being in a storm, I’m pretty capable of handling storms. So, they don’t bother me much. Instead, I fear anything that might put a hole in my hull or tear off my keel/rudder - whales being one of them.
“All dry!” I hear Andrew call out from inside. I take deep breaths, trying to calm my pounding heart. He climbs back up the stairs. “Wow.” He says.
I sail on, Andrew and Leslie look behind us and watch the whale puffing great big puffs of water, with each breath. “Do you see any blood in the water?” I ask. They confirm, no. I feel bad for hitting him anyway.
“Should we turn around and go see if he’s okay?” Andrew asks.
Leslie looks at Andrew like he’s lost his marbles. “I want to be as far away as possible from an angry animal that is at least the size of a bus.” I nod along with her.
We decide to keep sailing. We can still see whale spouts for the rest of the hour, at least until he falls behind the horizon line. We are too quiet. Usually, I make a whole lot of noise going through the water, but on a nice calm day like today I don’t think he heard me coming. I certainly didn’t see or hear him.
“Gee, Sonrisa,” Andrew says, “Maybe we should install some bells for you to drag in the water. You can be the jingle-boat.” I wrinkle my nose. I don’t really want to be the jingle-boat, but I suppose if it helps avoid whales.
We keep sailing like nothing happened, one more night and into the next morning. Every time I blink, I see disaster befalling me. Whale, keel, inflated life rafts, submerged me. I think I have PTSD. Soon, we see Dili approaching on the horizon and the the giant Christo Rai statue opens his arms at us in greeting. I feel an unfamiliar rush of relief being close to port.
Once we are anchored, Andrew and Leslie go about the process of immigration and check in. Andrew promises to dive my hull and check to make sure there is no damage as soon as they return. I think I’m fine, but a good check will put my mind at ease.
They return with a $20.00 crocodile named Leonard, Lenny for short.
“What’s with the crocodile?” I ask. Andrew explains. Apparently, salt water crocodiles are as revered here as Christo Rai on the hillside. In fact, they feed them in town whenever they come to visit. Leslie and I research the legend of the crocodile.
I look up from the Google-box to see Andrew donning his swim trunks, fins and goggles. Oh, no. I don't want Andrew to go in the water. "No really, it's okay!" "I feel just fine. Really, I feel fine."
"We have to check, Sonrisa." Andrew says.
"Maybe Leslie could check?" I respond.
Leslie scowls. "Thanks, Sonrisa." But, she already knows Andrew is my favorite.
Leslie climbs halfway up my mast to be lookout. She scans all around the horizon, the beach, around me. What would a crocodile look like in the water anyway?
“Looks good, I don’t see anything!” She says.
"Wait! Wait, wait!" I say in a bit of a panic.
"Don't worry, Sonrisa! I'll just say the thing." Andrew says.
"The thing?" Then I realize what he's talking about "... wait! I don't think you are the crocodile's..."
Before I can finish my thought, Andrew stands on my side deck and calls out. “Brother, crocodile! Don’t eat me, I am your relative!” and jumps in.