Previous Post - The Cancerous Darkness of Babylon
I suppose in the hierarchy of life, all of us are searching for something. Society has come to adopt so many prerequisites to our individual quests that we are intrinsically distracted from the fulfillment of our purpose. In our collective and unbending course for the Promised Land, we all find unexpected detours. Even if our waking intention for a given day is the pure and honest pursuit of that greater goal, the story can easily be retitled,
"In Search of a Parking Spot..."
My general state of being had come on gradually and over many miles.
Grey, cold, wet, sad...
What in the hell was I doing out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean? The holes in my sweater surely held some of the answers, but they distracted from any clarity in their own way. Each time the alarm clock sounded, the sweater gave a silent dissertation on the fragility of existence and the temporary nature of all human things.
I pulled the ragged memory over my head once again as I sat up to take stock of what had come apart in the cabin while I was asleep. A couple of dangling headliners and a pile of oddities on the leeward side of the sole declared that the wind had stiffened and we were making miles.
“Thank god for that,” I thought.
I’d been at sea for nearly three weeks and the waves of homesickness were steadily eroding the promontory of my strength. The cabin itself had become both haven and prison in the process of the crossing. My brother and sister were thousands of miles behind, dealing with demons of their own. I was lost at sea with a lunatic captain who referred to me as “The American Tourist.”
I thought back to the days on the dock in St. Maarten and that scumbag agent who decided all of this.
With those simple words, my world disintegrated and my faith in humanity drowned among the wreckage. Uncertainty came out to play and I engaged with it in a battle to the death. St. Maarten, after all, is not a good place for a lost sailor. I was hell-bent on perpetual movement. I felt that my soul itself was beyond the next horizon, waiting to be fetched, and I was on a mission to retrieve it.
Peter Pan’s shadow is not the playful bedtime story that it seems to be. The demons of his past boil to the surface as a never-ending froth to be skimmed from the purity of existence. Every glimpse at the broth below reflects the distance and the growth remaining to be bridged. To confront one’s self is the greatest challenge in life.
And so it came to pass, in the blink of a Saint Maarten sunrise, that I was off again; bound for Europe in late April with three complete strangers.
Jiorgos had arranged the passage for me. Another Greek captain with whom he had sailed was bringing a boat to the south of France. Nikos had it in mind to hire a french girl with little experience, but Jiorgos persuaded him to take me instead.
Rounding out the crew were Andrea, a well-traveled Italian skipper who was to take over command of the vessel on arrival in Villefranche, and his partner Maja, the lighthearted chef from Argentina. At regular intervals she would burst into song, expecting the rest of us to join in for the chorus even if we were unfamiliar with the tune.
The two of them looked out for me as best they could, but there was little they could do to intervene. With two-man watches, five hours at night and seven hours in the day, they were completely unaware of my plight for the majority of the passage. The only time all of us were awake together was in the afternoon for half an hour when we would share a meal. Sometimes I'd stay with them for a while after Nikos went to sleep just to share some better company.
Most of my "off-watch" time was spent in my cabin, alone. I was in the forepeak of the seventy-five-foot go-fast cruiser. This meant a lot of movement and noise. Every wave that was blown open and scattered into a million droplets of spray over the deck, was the work of our sharp bow where my bunk was located. After a while, I barely noticed the wild heaving motion and slept reasonably well there.
Then one night, while bashing through a gale, I found the berth altogether untenable and retreated to a mooring on one of the saloon settees amidships. I was barely asleep when my eyes sprung open to find Nikos frothing at the mouth and barking at me.
"What the fuck are you doing here? You think you are on holidays? If you want to sleep, get back in your cabin you fucking tourist!"
Despite my unpeaceful transition from much-needed slumber to reality, I apologized and collected my blanket and pillow as I returned to the forepeak. Glancing through the companionway as I turned, I could see the faces of Andrea and Maja, astounded by what they had witnessed.
"I should have taken the little French girl," he muttered as he walked away.
There was no point in arguing with an irrational being. It would only exacerbate the situation and detract from any further chance I had of getting some rest. The only way out of this situation was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I closed the cabin door behind me and moved my mattress to the floor, surrounding it with pillows and sails to make a sort of nest. I recall floating above it by nearly six inches as the bow repeatedly fell from crest to trough of the powerful ocean gale when I finally fell asleep.
The following day, unable to carry all of this weight to the other side of the Ocean, I constructed a letter.
To whom it may concern:
My name is Denis Dowling. I am twenty-three years old, from
Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and currently sailing across the Atlantic Ocean en route to Europe.
Life is difficult here at the moment, and more than anything, I'd like to pull over and have a beer somewhere. Unfortunately, that is not a possibility. Please findenclosed, a Ten U.S. Dollar note. If this message finds you well and in good fortune, please have a beer for yourself and one for me. If not, please use it forsomething you need.
I took the note and rolled it tightly, wrapping the ten-dollar-bill around its midsection. Then I slid the whole thing down the neck of an empty wine bottle, jammed the cork in, and threw it into the very middle of the North Atlantic.
Perhaps it was the feeling of letting go and expressing my thoughts to the universe. Maybe it was only a distraction or some other reality to occupy my mind. Whatever the reason, I felt that a small part of me had climbed aboard the S.S. Pinot Grigio, riding into the Azores high, to wait among the great eddy and consider The Long Way. In my heart, I knew that no landfall would satisfy my quest, for I belonged to the sea.
Alas, the wide ocean is not always wide enough, and I was jolted from my morning daydream by shouts from the cockpit. The Strait of Gibraltar was upon us and the natives were getting restless. I arrived on deck to find the infamous monolith shrouded in mist, towering above the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. That benevolent outcrop of nature had been quietly tallying the passages of sailors since the time of Odysseus and it was now watching as I slipped between the pillars of Hercules and into the heart of the ancient world.
What wonders lay beyond these shores? What sea nymphs and dragons would I encounter here? What was next in the cosmic schedule of my odyssey?
A ring on the satellite phone gave a bizarre punctuation to these thoughts and Nikos called up the companionway,
"Hey, American Tourist, it's for you!"
In a minor state of bewilderment, I descended to the chart table and took the phone from him.
"Hello?" I said shyly.
"Ella man! We are ready to cross the ocean. Get off in the next harbor and fly back to the Caribbean. We are waiting for you."
Jiorgos voice came through loud and clear as though he was calling down from the deck on some foul night for an extra hand. My heart spoke before my mind had the opportunity to interject.
To be continued...