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GOING ALOFT: Chapter 24, Broken Down

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On the Lucayan road, the stars above us twinkle. There are no cars. The highway winds through tall stands of island pine, eerily reminiscent of the landscape of southeastern North Carolina. When we get to Taino Beach the bar is closed and the beach is empty. Tony Macaroni is not here. We will not meet him tonight.



The next morning Artist and I wake up sprawled on a couch on Josh’s yacht, feeling like we had drowned. We collect our clothes and our dignity and stagger over to the schooner, where the Captain and the Saint are waiting for us. We eat breakfast, pick up our tools, and go to work.

*     *     *     *     *

It was a few weeks later, some blessed sunny Sunday morning, when we were finally ready to depart the dry and dusty boatyard that had smothered us for the last month and a half. The schooner had been returned to the water by the roaring blue travel-lift. We had investigated our new through-hull to make sure there were no leaks. All looked shipshape and ready to sail.

We had a brief window of perfect wind and weather for the sail back to Nassau, so we were all anxious to cast off. The Captain was anxious to get back and find a new business partner: the Symonettes had pulled out for some unknown reason, the thought of which he couldn’t quite grasp. “All those other boats in the harbor are way funkier than this one,” he muttered, to no one in particular. “This boat did the longest sea voyage in history! She sailed for a thousand days, and I’ve got a survey that says she’s in great shape! So why don’t they want to do business with me?”

The Saint, Artist and I were anxious to get back because we had a rendezvous with the Kaiser, the mad German who had taught us to make pasta and helped us rewire the schooner. He was sailing to Hampstead, NC, by way of the Abacos, and we were going with him. The business had failed, and honestly we were tired from the hard labor in the boatyard, and ready to just be sailors again, rather than shipwrights. An endless progression of rice, beans and pasta stretched before us, and we were hungry for variety again. Spring was approaching; summer would soon arrive back at home, which meant I had to go back to work on the charter boat. We would miss the Captain, who had taken care of us and taught us to be real ocean voyaging sailors. But we felt we had given him everything we could give, and it was time for us to return home. We knew this would only be a temporary goodbye—our friendship would continue, as it does today, into the future.

So you could imagine our combined frustrations when we started the engine in the haulout slip and discovered that our newly rebuilt transmission didn’t work. The Captain ran up the hill to the Thurman’s office building and threw his hands up in frustration. We could see their animated conversation from the water. Thurman eventually came down to the boat and confirmed that the transmission, which his men rebuilt, was dysfunctional, but shrugged and said “The technician who does that work won’t be in until Monday. We’ll have to have a look at it then.”

“But we wanted to leave today!” said the Captain. “We have a weather window! I need to get back to Nassau as soon as possible!”

“It’ll have to be tomorrow,” Thurman said, and walked back to his office.

The Captain went after him, trying every tactic he could to make it happen, but for the first time the situation was completely out of his control. This came as a shock to the man who had, through individual willpower, challenged and overcome forces of nature on their terms, and commanded his ship and her compliment of crew around oceans of the world, from New Zealand to Antarctica, the Caribbean to France. This was the one thing he couldn’t overcome: bureaucracy, or the immovable indifference of people to his dream, his cherished dream which he had sacrificed so much for. Try as he might, he couldn’t make the people who ran the boatyard care about the longest sea voyage in history, and they treated him like every other average rich yachtsman that came to their yard. But he wasn’t rich, and he certainly wasn’t average.

The Captain returned to us, his loyal crew, with head hung and shoulders slouched. I had never seen him like this. He always stood proud and tall from years of yogic training. He radiated power. But now I saw him as a man, humbled by forces beyond his control, broken, helpless, adrift.

“Come on,” he said to us. “They’ve given me the keys to the company car. Let’s get out of this boatyard for a little while. Leave everything, it’s not going anywhere.” Amazed, still following him like ducklings, we piled into the silver sedan. With dust rooster-tailing from our tires we drove past the guard shack and pulled out onto the road to anywhere on this island, away from our troubles, free to roam this finite land as long as we wished. Our boat was broken, but at least we had our freedom.

We drove and drove, in any direction, it didn’t matter. There’s only so lost you can get on an island.

*     *     *     *     *

A wide, rocky beach, royal blue and turquoise water lapping against it, stretching to the horizon, a modern-day container ship in the distance. Behind the beach, a stand of tall scrubby pines.

We’re on a beach in Grand Bahama that we reached by walking down a long path through the forest, leaving our silver car on the side of the road. We had the place to ourselves for a while, then a Bahamian family (mom, dad, older brother, younger brother, and three sisters) walked out with a basket of fresh caught fish and began to scale and clean them on the beach while the younger kids played and looked for shells. Our captain walked up to the father and talked; we listened. He was a professional fisherman and had been his whole life—he was a free diver who hunted ocean game with a spear gun and said he could hold his breath for five minutes and dive to 70 feet. He had a potbelly and strong shoulders, was barefoot, and had long grey dreadlocks. His son was sleek and fit like a fish. The Captain said we were sailors, and the fisherman asked if we were on a fancy yacht, to which the Captain laughed and told him about his schooner and his voyages on her.

“Ah,” said the fisherman, “so you’re working people like me.”

“Look at my hands,” said the Captain, and they clasped each other’s hands and compared calluses, each man with massive thick hardworking hands which showed scars and sun spots; enormous mitts with power to change the world around them. I looked at my hands, slim and soft in comparison, but I was still proud of the calluses I had developed in the past four months.

“These are workingman’s hands,” said the Captain, and he and the fisherman laughed with each other; a sweet laugh of shared experience, a laugh of knowing each other’s struggles and hardships. The Saint began to chuckle, and the Artist and I began to giggle, and we all laughed together on the beach with the Bahamian fisherman while his son cleaned fish and the younger children played under the watchful eye of their mother.

John Wolfe is a licensed captain who still gets seasick in rough weather, but goes sailing anyway. He holds a BFA in creative writing from UNCW. When he’s not writing, he can be found on the water, playing music or drinking beer. “Going Aloft” is Wolfe’s nonfiction serialized piece, to be published in encore every other week in 2016.

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