Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Passage Log: Rio Dulce to Isla Mujers


12/20/14 - Woke up to a beautiful sunny day. The wind was still and so was the jungle around me. While I was pulling of sail covers and readying the boat to move I heard a large, "whoosh" sound just behind me. I looked just in time to see the huge rounded tail of a manatee diving. I'd heard the locals had hunted them to extinction. At least one still swims in this long valley.

Just after 7 a.m. Jargo started the long motor downstream. I forgot just how gorgeous this canyon can be. The steep cliff walls are draped in green. The dense jungle is cut by the vertical trunk of the trees but they are all covered in vines. As the trunks reach for the sky the vines ooze down towards the river. The blanket of green is awe inspiring. For 25 miles Jargo motors with the river current. As we pull out of the jungle canyon the lively town of Livingston comes into view. The river meets the sea here and anchoring is an interesting chore. The wind is blowing from the sea but the current is too strong for the wind to oppose. Jargo rides bow pointing upstream where she has just come from with a breeze over her stern. Launching the dingy means dropping the boat into the river as she hangs from the stern davits. I fear she will swamp, but the heavy air filled tubes keep her afloat until I can free her to drift bow too.

Clearing is a breeze and I am free of the city in minutes. I stop for cigarettes which I quit smoking over a year ago. That and toilet paper. Not something you want to do without. I can feel a weeks tension drop from my shoulders and I pull out and across the shallow sand bar at the river entrance. Jargo's keel just barley scrapes the sand, but we never bog down. She and I both float higher back in the salt sea. Unburdened now with leaving the marina and river town I relax. I want to sleep, but not yet.

The first night is calm. Gentle winds and I motor out of Honduras Bay. I'd rather be sailing, but am also relieved. No winds means no midnight sail changes. I can reacclimatize slowly to this floating home I've forsaken for nine months. Sleep hits hard when it does and I am slow to rise to the first watch alarm 90 minutes after I lay down my head. It is the same rinse and repeat until the alarm sounds at 6:30 a.m. This time I am up. All is well, but maybe I can catch a little breeze. No chance. Back to bed for a nap after a few hours watch, a thick black mug of coffee, and breakfast tacos. I forgot just how good corned beef can be. Especially when fried well with eggs and rolled in the last minute purchase of street fired tortillas before leaving Livingston.

The engine grumbles on all day. A few brief stops to test the sails on their own, but I am too slow without the iron jib. A storm is headed toward Mexico. I must beat it in or pay the price. I'd rather burn the diesel than confirm I still know how to handle a gale at sea. Belize and its offshore atolls pass by during the day and night. I suffer some nostalgia from my last trip. Maybe I can squeeze a few days on my return this way to stop again. Honestly, I don't know if I care to come this way again.

12/21/14 - Slowly, with exquisite pleasure, the sun transforms my pale, translucent skin to opaque. Small white puffball cumulus clouds scud across the sky combining shadow and light on Jargo's deck. The tropical sun beats down on my exposed skin with a heat I've missed. A gentle 10 knot breeze blows across the boat from the east cooling my being in direct contrast to the radiance of the sun. I've hungered for this transition unknowingly. I'd been removed too long from the simply joy of a calm sea, warm sun, and gentle breeze.

Waking this morning for the final time I came on deck at 07:30. I stepped into the embracing sunlight and instantly wanted to swim. At that hour the breeze that pushes me along now had not yet made itself known. I should have taken the chance when I could. Overwhelming was a sense of well being. A gentle one to two foot sea lapped at Jargo's side while a 5 knot breeze combined with Jargo's motor pushed us along through the calm blue sea. Slowly the breeze built, almost imperceptibly, until I could shut down the motor and ghost along. At sea, miles from land or hazards, out of reach of interruption, I am finding peace again. The blue salty sea, the golden sun, the gentle rush of Jargo through the swell are healing. It is pleasant beyond description.

12/30/14 Mega yachts and tourists launches make it difficult to balance. My sea legs are slow to return. The sun just dropped below the horizon, but I must swim. Must shake off the salt accumulated from the days sweat. It is ritual. Head tilted back, arms reach as high as possible behind me, the shoulders pop and stretch. I feel every inch of my body in the fading light. Stretching up, making myself as long as possible my legs coil and spring of their own accord. It is a short flight punctuated with a salt water landing. It is bliss to be in the sea. Stretching, swimming, diving. Letting the salt water wash the salt sweat from my body.

This visit to Isla Mujeres has been a continual reunion. Old friends from my first visit mix with sailors from ports of old. Christmas day mixes the sailors with the locals for a pot luck dinner. So nice to have a turkey and ham. My biscuits were not such a huge hit, but I was limited with year old ingredients. My provisioning didn't really happen until the last two days. The work has been intense, but I am as ready as I can be on a 40 year old boat. Isla invites you in, keeps you as long as you need, then turns you loose when it is time. My visits are getting shorter and shorter. I seek the back waters. The hidden beaches and islands not yet grinding in the rumor mill. The places where the secret is not yet out.

Tomorrow morning I'll push the boat through some deep water. The miles are not so long, but destination is a world apart. Jargo is full to the brim of food, fuel, and water because I don't know when I'll have the opportunity to do so again. Store shelves hang empty. Internet is all but nonexistent. Updates will not be forthcoming. It's been many years since I've found myself travelling in a country that posed a real struggle. I am excited for the adventure.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trying Again Anew

Words seem like so many of the tools I've left behind on Jargo. Once they fit in the crook of my hand and could be manipulated with the dexterity of a surgeon. Digging them out of the tool bag now they are rusty and no longer move deftly with my will. The smell of mildew is strong. Rot. I can't shake the feeling that Jargo is showing the outward appearance of my soul like that cursed painting of Dorian Grey.

So many things have passed since the last time I was alone on this floating dream maker. So many years and miles have come and gone. Lives that where there before have extinguished. Relationships that didn't exist, then did, and no longer do. I had a passion once to be where I am now. Tied up in this river amongst a web of lines and boats I can't seem to rekindle that desire. There are countries and people I haven't yet visited, yet I can't seem to do the work necessary to get there. Rum takes too much time in the place of experience.

Flying into Guatemala everything felt wrong. Not a sense of foreboding, but simply that it had all occurred too quickly. My body had moved, but not my mind and spirit. A jet moved me physically, but I couldn't seem to catch up to the moment. A few hours sleep in Guate City and the rooftop was a comfort. Pastel colors and a McDonald's sign advertising an auto-mac were my view. I was in it again, but not like I was before. Somehow the luster of adventure was no longer present. I've done this all before. An early morning and a seven hour bus ride consoled me. It gave me a chance to settle into my new environs. My head began to catch up to my body. I was back in Central America. This time, alone, again.

Knocking off rust and mildew Jargo's engine runs. the boats tied next to me are too close to launch the dingy. It takes time, but I must get free of this mangrove jungle. Eventually the inflatable floats and the outboard engine runs on year old gasoline. Barefoot with water below me and wind in my hair I just drive up the river. No destination just reveling in an old and nearly forgotten joy. Jargito steers to town for groceries and a recommended watering hole. Surrounded by Caribbean cruisers I realize I am an ass. I can't help but tire of the war stories of those who go in small circles. I miss the days of little known islands in far off seas where the sailors had and could do it all. Too much one-upmanship here for my taste.

A Frenchman my age comes in looking for a lift to his boat. A short talk and I am happy to oblige just before sunset. He is planning a solo circumnavigation. I've a tinge of envy, but not of his voyage. I envy the confidence that comes with knowing exactly what you want and that you will make it happen. Certainty in the face of great odds. Daring when nothing says you should have any. Having completed my circle I fear the uncertainty of no longer having that objective. I didn't know then that the challenge was so important. I offer assistance, but he doesn't need it. Like all who chose this particular challenge they do it without help of those who went before. To do so takes away from the adventure and uncertainty of the odyssey. We may accomplish the same goal, but the experience is unique to us all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mornings On The Farm


I am out of the habit of writing.  I’ve let too much time pass and the small triggers that used to send me scurrying to my keyboard pass unnoticed.  Perhaps it isn’t that they pass unnoticed, but that they are more subtle in this life.  A deer passing through the woods doesn’t call attention to itself like a bull humpback charging vertically out of the sea.

Still, the wild creatures of this land reveal themselves to us almost every day.  I’ve taken to waking early and drinking my coffee at my desk.  Absorbing the deep black fuel I stare out of my window over my garden and the 20 acres of hay field in front of my little house.  This morning surprised me with five turkeys crossing from one tree line to another.  We have seen these birds before, but they are always a welcome sight.

The garden gives respite from the days work and we walk in it daily.  The corn has grown tall and the tomato plants are heavily laden with green fruit.  Okra is the new star with the most beautiful flower we have seen yet in the garden.  Cauliflower and broccoli have just been planted for a fall harvest.  Watermelon grows fat and the pumpkins are still small yellow blobs much the size of a golf ball.  Even this late in the season we still find something new every time we inspect the plants.  It is rare for us to buy any produce.  Our diet is fresh and colorful and I like it.

This morning I am off with the New Holland tractor to grade a small gravel bed for our irrigation pump.  The recent flooding nearly cost us our pump and engine.  Water rose in our little river over 12 feet and flooded our bottom 10 acres.  Now that the rains have stopped we need to get fertilizer to our hay and that takes water.  If it doesn’t rain soon the pump will again be throwing water onto our field dissolving the nitrogen and carrying the nutrients down to the roots our grass.

The season is getting late and I fear our grass isn’t yet established enough to survive a long hard freeze this winter.  Only time will tell.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

And Now I Start Again.


I don’t fully understand how the two realities can coexist.  Moments in the present constantly trigger memories from distant times and places.  I am constantly left wondering if anything I remember really happened, or if they are simply sequences from a wonderful dream I once had.

The last time words fell off my fingers and through a keyboard I was sitting on a 39 foot sailboat named Jargo.  She was bobbing to a gentle wind ripple on the blue waters that surround Isla Mujeres, Mexico.  I’d just finished sailing West around the world, a dream that was nine years in the making.  Far from finding a sense accomplishment, I felt empty.  My self made objective had been reached.  I’d spent all I had physically, financially, and emotionally to achieve that objective.  Ending the odyssey right back where I began left me feeling like a dog who’d been chasing his tail.  I was exhausted and had nothing tangible to show for the effort.

As words arrange themselves on the screen today I stare out my newly painted home office at a patch of brown and green earth.  From that earth grows my sustenance and my future.  My hands and feet grow calloused with toil to break, turn, level, and plant the earth.  Extreme physical exhaustion at the end of a days planting leads to a sleep deeper than death.  The toil is difficult, but there is real and satisfying results when plants and seeds we have put into the ground break through and begin their own colorful life cycles.  It is a toil that leads to nourishment for both body and soul.  The heavy clay earth feels good on my hands and I relish my time on solid ground. 

I could not have returned to an urban environment.  The disconnect between myself and mainstream America has become too great.  Here on a 100+ acre farm I have found meaningful work and cherish the deer, geese, raccoons, hawks, vultures, turkeys, rabbits, frogs, and turtles with which we share our land.  The land, work, and wildlife create a buffer allowing me to adjust to living once again on land in the first world at a pace I can set for myself.

I can see a full lifetime of work set out before me.  There is the hay field to tend.  We must thin an overgrown tree line that runs the West and South edge of our property following the bank of the James River.  A hillside glade seems to beg for grapevines or fruit trees.  A path is waiting to be constructed to the only deep swimming hole where the big small mouth bass glide through the tree shaded water.  We are learning to can so that we may preserve the heavy yield of our garden.  Amanda will learn to shoot so that we can both put wild game into our freezer.  Our garage will be converted to a wood shop so that we can build instead of buy our homes furniture. 

We live this way not because we must.  We have all the options in the world open to us.  We have chosen this lifestyle because it feels good and right.  This farm, this house, this lifestyle is where I will begin again.