Jah is my Co-Pilot
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.
I remember watching the small screen on the back of the seat in front of mine as the little airplane graphic traversed the map of the North Atlantic. It was only a few days before that the little sailboat icon arrived at our intended destination in Villefranche after a month at sea.
The passengers around me all distracted themselves with intentions for slumber. They were all so blissfully unaware of our location, but it seemed to me that if something should go wrong with this flying pig, we'd all be in deep shit. After all, it was hard enough being out there on a boat with three other sailors. I couldn't imagine spending an hour in the wilderness below on a broken airplane with these people.
It would take them eight hours, two glasses of wine, and a valium to sleep away the passage that had taken me thirty days. There was something wildly unsettling about that. So many humans on this big blue planet and most of them have never been out to sea. However easy it was to get to the other side of this great ocean, the distance did nothing for their souls. They would never know what it is to take a reef in pure darkness while being battered by wind and rain. They would never know the joy of the sunrise that follows the gale. They would not heed the muffled screams in the back of their own minds, calling them to abandon this illusion and journey far and away. They were doomed to be passengers, sleeping through life while someone else steered the ship.
In the time of two night-watches, the landing gear opened and the wheels touched down on the tarmac of the same island where everything had gone awry. The thick tropical air of Saint Maarten flooded my senses as I shuffled down the steps to the runway below. Intoxicated by the stench of sunscreen and rum, my reflections on the voyage behind were overtaken by consideration for the passage ahead. In less than forty-eight hours, I would set off to cross the Atlantic again. I hadn't even been on land long enough to reassimilate with society. I was a ghost in what seemed a very haunting place.
I made my way through the airport to board a short-hop flight for Tortola where Jiorgos and Kerstin were waiting. They'd flown in a friend by the name of Constantina from Greece to round out the crew. The three of them had most of the preparation and provisioning already done. All that was left was to buy plenty of peanut butter and drink some beer. Or so I thought...
I arrived at Nanny Cay to find the boat high and dry in the boatyard and all hands on standby. Apparently, the owner decided to have the vessel surveyed prior to our departure. This was not in concern for our well-being as the instructions were to depart as soon as the survey was complete. The results of which would not be available until we were well underway.
Jiorgos seemed unconcerned and embraced the thought of having a free night to go and visit the music festival that was happening on the north shore of the island. Toots and the Maytals were playing and he thought it would be a nice send-off before many days at sea.
Unfortunately, the surveyor arrived late in the afternoon and he needed to wait until after dark to take pictures with an infrared camera. We all sat around watching the clock advance as he bumbled around in the dark with his strange contraption. Jiorgos was chain-smoking and pacing in front of the two taxis he had on standby. One was to return the surveyor to his hotel, and the other to carry the four of us over the mountain.
We arrived on the scene to a full gridlock on the narrow road and abandoned the cab, making our way through the chaos on foot. As we passed the rum tent at the entrance to the center stage, Jiorgos did the only sensible thing possible in that late hour of the evening. He stopped and ordered eight cups of rum punch, passing them out two-by-two. We made our way through the crowd and stood near the stage to find the band tearing it up and the audience grooving as the beat suddenly dropped out. Toots, throwing his hand to the sky, called out through the microphone,
"Bless you all! Goodnight!"
Thousands of people seemed to disappear almost instantly, leaving the four of us bewildered in the middle of an empty field. After a good laugh, we wandered over to some nearby benches and sat down to enjoy our cocktails and let the crowd and cars disperse. We sat for half an hour laughing about our predicament and musing about the impending ocean crossing. Then, with the bar closed and cleanup crews beginning their work, we eased our sheets and bore off toward the road to find a ride home.
The exodus had continued swiftly and efficiently during our short rest, leaving our options sparse. We began what would be a very long walk, but a few minutes into the trek, Jiorgos managed to flag down a busted pickup screaming around a blind corner at seventy miles an hour.
"Get in," said the local dread in the driver's seat.
Without questioning the speed at which he had been traveling, we all climbed into the back of the pickup. I noticed a bumper sticker in the rear window and read it aloud to the rest of the crew as the driver worked through the gears to bring the truck back to Mach speed.
"JAH IS MY CO-PILOT"
The optimism of the moment was quickly laid astern by the realization that we were all in very grave danger. My thoughts turned to all we had been through at sea and the great many miles we'd traveled to arrive at this moment, passengers in the bed of a pickup truck and our fate in the manic hand of the stranger at the wheel.
We all looked silently and gravely into each other's eyes, recognizing that we all shared the same thoughts. After a long moment absorbing this understanding, we did the only thing in our power. We burst into hysterical and uncontrollable laughter.
So felt Mersault on the eve of his execution, and so we felt in the bed of the swerving truck. If this was to be our final moment, at least we would spend it laughing.
To be continued...