Between Hell and Heaven
I guess if you’re trying to cross the Pacific in a raft, it’s best not to be distracted by a girl in a bikini on a million dollar yacht. All of us in life must make decisions that define our path. Destiny after all, is a fancy conjunctive of action and circumstances. None of us can truly know the struggle of another, but we all share in the great human enigma. The fragmented feelings and moments of many are all one great story in the end...
Fog... not the kind brought on by temperature differentials of air and sea, this was something more subjective. The blue light of morning and sounds of the jungle slowly crept into my senses. What the hell happened? When exactly did I get separated from my clothes and how did they come to be hung so neatly on the lifelines? The last thing I recall was Jiorgos taking over the bar and the staff dancing wildly on the tables trying to instill into us the importance of keeping ones elbows high while performing a maneuver called the Nicaraguan chicken.
It came back slowly, like the recollection of some bizarre dream not meant to be remembered. We wound our way into the river, through primitive but effective markers. A little marina, new and well appointed sat behind a hard bend. There were likely a hundred berths, but we rounded out a half dozen occupants. Aside from the marina, there was absolutely nothing. A few abandoned or upcoming huts stood on one sandy bank. We might well have been lost in the Amazon.
Our afternoon clean up was interspersed with cold beer, leaving the fridge empty and the marina bar a logical sunset destination for the three of us. It wasn’t more than a few tables, and some planks of wood across two barrels under a tiki structure. The dock hand transformed to a bartender after donning an apron, and the receptionist, a waitress. Unschooled in the ways of the caipirinha which had become the cocktail of choice among the crew, the young man was happy to let Jiorgos take over and watched intently, providing physical and emotional support as Jiorgos created chaos where it should not rightly have existed. After a few rounds, the apprentice earned his stripes and Jiorgos held his post at the head of the table.
As the sunset burst open and the colors of the day slowly faded, we were joined by an American couple who were cruising south in their forty foot Catalina. As our young garçon brought the last memorable round to the table, Jiorgos casually recommended that he bring the bottle and sit down with us. Shortly thereafter, he and his female counterpart reciprocated the bartending lessons in the form of a dancing class. The rum runs a little too smooth in that part of the world, and it may have been the only good judgement I exhibited in the whole of Nicaragua to invoke the right of the Irish farewell. As far as I know, I left my counterparts to discover that they were cordially invited to the little Catalina as guests of honor to a swinger’s party.
Halfway down the dock, I became distracted by some bioluminescent algae in the water. As I leant over to inspect the phenomenon, my sunglasses slipped from their mooring atop my head. Following in their wake, I too fell into the drink. All of this, I was forced to reconcile in the growing dawn given my precarious sleeping arrangement, the missing inventory of one pair of sunglasses, and a single lonely flip flop on the dock. My indiscreet movements on deck and a similar fog aroused Kerstin and Jiorgos, who seemed equally confused as to their return to the vessel. They did however know that they had respectfully forgone their bizarre invitation and that it was time to leave this strange outpost.
There were two things impeding that possibility. One was a Zarpe, a clearance document used in Latin American countries to monitor the movements of a vessel. Essentially, if you arrive anywhere in Latin America without a Zarpe, you can consider yourself indefinitely detained. The second, our inglorious patron was due to return. He was intending to visit San Juan Del Sur to inspect some real estate opportunities there. Once both were on board, we bade a sheepish farewell to the marina staff and the broken hearted crew of the S.Y. Swinger, carefully making our way back out to sea.
The Pacific Ocean, until now had been quite friendly to us. In fact, all of our reading of the horrendous accounts of those that had gone this way before left us feeling as though they were mere landsmen, who exaggerated the difficulties of these waters. I suppose we had been lulled into a sense of false confidence. I recall Jiorgos upon reaching deep water again saying,
Apparently, those are the exact words to an incantation used for conjuring a gale from a breathless calm. There wasn’t a thundery cloud or ominous apparition in the atmosphere. There was no indication whatsoever when the change happened. It came on so fast that by the time we finished reefing the sails, the whole ocean was a flurry of white froth and salt spray. The few miles of respectful offing we had gained from the land allowed considerable seas to build and became our enemy. As Kerstin secured all of the random things that were flying around in the cabin, I coiled lines and Jiorgos took to the helm.
I remember the change in motion perfectly. The autopilot was so indifferent to the conditions and mindful of it’s course that it’s trueness left us soaked and halted with every breaking wave. When Jiorgos took over, it was another scene entirely and something I had not yet witnessed in my life or within him. His whole organism became one with the vessel, and together they danced with the raging sea. It was not a waltz of formal choreography to be found in a ballroom. This was a pirate in a rum induced trance swerving harmoniously between the waves. He never faltered. He just stood there, steadfast, facing the gale, moving rhythmically between hell and heaven.
I’ve always been fond of the phrase, “Be careful what you get good at.” Had I thought of it at the time, I may have been more cautious. Youth and innocence are a fog of their own and I was overcome by them. I wanted, more than anything, to know the feeling of being one with the sea. I wanted to see her nuances in the distance, to anticipate her moods and movements, to feel connected to every horizon. I wanted to be a goddamn pirate captain of the twenty-first century.
To Be Continued...