Postcards From Sea: Annapolis Sailboat Show

I fall in love with the Halberg-Rassy 372 and Henry the German glue guy, plus I get fish and chips at Pusser’s along with a round of #3 painkillers.

Hear also about how a Mantus anchor helped to save Ave del Mar from Hurricane Matthew and about the chalky paint I applied to the Edson pedestal of friends Chris and Elizabeth’s 1979 Cherubini 37C.

Always a good time.

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Pardon Me, But Where Is Forward?

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There are moments when small things go wrong on the boat.

There are moments, too, when you look at the weather and the seas and you say, to no one in particular, No, not today, and your boat stays where she is. I have met boats that forge onward through any weather at all, boats that hide from every shift of the wind, boats going west with the trades and boats heading east right into their teeth. Everyone dances to their own beat.

It was that into the teeth part, specifically around Cabo Beata, Dominican Republic, that helped me end up in rainy Jamaica. I was sick of fighting my way into the trades. I was sick of motoring and motor-sailing and pinching and wind in my face. The day that I was supposed to sail east from Haiti towards the Dominican Republic I called my friend and buddy-boater Aldo on the VHF.

“I can put my dinghy in the water and come to you, or you can put yours in and come to me, but we need to talk,” I said over the handheld.

“You stay there,” he replied. “I will be right over.”

This was part of buddy boating that Aldo and I did really well together. We knew how we communicated well and how we communicated less well, and face to face was the only way real decisions got made.

Aldo was soon on my boat, sitting in Ave del Mar’s salon. I told him that I didn’t like the forecast, I didn’t like the winds, I didn’t like the seas, and I would not be sailing east, at least not that day. As always I reminded him that he was free to go without me. That got tossed right out the window. “If you do not want to go, we will not go,” was Aldo’s simple reply. We had always respected an unspoken veto policy for all sailing plans. Sailing can be hard enough when you like the conditions. There’s really no need to head out when you fear them.

So we stopped and we regrouped and eventually we decided to sail to Jamaica, downwind at last, into the heart of the Caribbean Sea and with a world of options open ahead of us. From Jamaica we could head south towards Colombia and Panama or west towards Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. Jamaica was brilliant.

It was on this sail from Haiti to Jamaica that there was a shift in the qi of my journey. Several new rips started to appear in the genoa, the predictable result of time, UV degradation, and good, hard use. The electronic tiller pilot died in a glorious blaze of flashing lights. Another winch took flight from the side of the mast. The fuel tanks started to decompose at a remarkable pace. The trip transpired without unnecessary risk but not without undue suffering. All of those little things were starting to add up.

In Jamaica I sat aboard the boat secretly mired in a low-grade panic about how to acquire a new tiller pilot and how to safely proceed with what felt like a decaying boat. I had an obligation to be back in Washington DC in October of 2017 for my niece’s wedding, and I had been worried about finding a hurricane hole somewhere in Central America where I could safely and affordably haul out for a month or two of travel. Adding now the challenge of new electronics, possibly new fuel tanks, and a need for new sails just over the horizon, and that trip south or west started to look like an escape tunnel that led to a fire pit. It just didn’t feel right.

“Ollie’s girlfriend put seven tubes of caulk around the chimney on the roof, so we’ll see if that works,” came the words from my friend Eric, who was watching over my leaky old house in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. A small rental income from this beautiful old victorian home funded my sailing life aboard Ave del Mar. One of my tenants had just been evicted, so I had been without income for a couple of months, and now work had to happen to fix the roof before the vacant unit could be rented again. The house was just like the boat: lovable, capable, a bit tired, and in real need of attention.

There was a time a couple of years ago not three days into my journey from Annapolis when NOAA weather radio was calling for a small craft advisory on the Chesapeake Bay with sustained south winds over 25 knots and some sizable seas. I elected that day to feel my way into the Piankatank River through a dense fog, where with the help of my radar and AIS I fumbled my way up to an anchorage near Glebe Neck for three days of respite. Despite the fact that I sail solo, despite the fact that I like being alone out on the ocean, I do not embrace unnecessary risk. That’s just how I sail. Risk assessment was all that could go through my head as I sat in the marina in Jamaica staring at nautical charts and trying to make a plan.

Distilled down, my risk assessment looked bleak. At the very least my fuel tanks needed clean-out portholes added and the condition of their interiors assessed. It is possible they needed replacing altogether, which involves removing the cockpit sole and the engine, hardly a weekend project for a shade tree mechanic. The sails were taped where they were decaying, but that was a temporary fix. The autopilot was simply dead and needed replacing. Meanwhile, the rental house appeared to be collapsing under its own weight. South and west were calling, but so was my obligation to return for the wedding. In the end I knew what I had to do. I had no desire to be one of those derelict boats that ends up in some third world backwater, rotting away and blaming bad luck.

Forward is a strange word that means so many different things to so many different people. To me it meant taking steps, good steps, regardless of their geographic direction. Cutting miles up the Piankatank River to hide from stormy weather when I was fully green and inexperienced was forward progress because it was the safe thing to do. Delaying my crossing to the Bahamas from South Florida was forward progress because it was the wise sailing decision. Not beating into those trade winds to try to make the Dominican Republic under a cloak of false pride was forward progress, a pragmatic deferment to weather and sailing conditions.

So Ave del Mar and I are going to point the bow towards Reedville, Virginia, and head back to the marina where our journey began four years ago. I’ll be able to get the house in order, see some friends and family, officiate a pretty special wedding, and, in the quiet comfort of Jennings Boat Yard, I’ll be able to deal with those fuel tanks, winches, sails, and whatever else requires my attention, this time with the invaluable benefit of experience.

In 2013 I left Jennings Boatyard a starry-eyed dreamer. With a little luck, four years later I hope to return a sailor.

Space Chimp and the Jamaica Crossing

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I stared at the chimpanzee, spellbound. A parade of majestic Mayan figures marched across his face carrying signs that made up a system of messages I found fascinating but impossible to understand. A lone, lithe figure dressed in iridescent greens and yellows danced gracefully above the Mayans. Simply amazing, I thought. The chimpanzee was wearing a helmet, a space helmet, and was projecting this ancient dance to me aboard my boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Slowly one of the Mayan signs came into focus. EEO, it read. E, E, O, I thought. What in the world is that? I concentrated hard. I knew the answer was out there, and I was hoping it would come to life for me. I wanted so desperately to know.

Indeed the answer came swiftly and severely—like a bomb. The chimpanzee was in fact my cockpit bulkhead compass. The Mayan symbols were not parading across his face, they were the compass wheel revealing my bearing as Ave del Mar spun to the north. “EEO” was “330,” which meant I was 60º off course. The dancing man was simply the yellow-green of the central marker on the glass of the compass, his head the shield from the compass’ internal light. I was sailing, and I was hallucinating, somewhere in the middle of my second night without sleep and somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.

Sleep deprived heroes in books and movies wear this battle much more romantically than I did this starry night aboard my little boat Ave del Mar. I was sailing from Ile a Vache, Haiti, to Port Antonio, Jamaica, a quite doable distance of about 155 nautical miles. Somewhere in that first day of sailing the autopilot had failed in a kaleidoscopic display of lights and a cacophony of beeps and buzzes, and my attempts to repair it had failed despite the aplomb I thought I had displayed. No autopilot meant no help steering the boat, and no help steering meant no sleep.

There was a notable absence of drama in this event as Ave and I were hardly in peril. The seas were a bit lively but far from being dangerous. We weren’t falling down waves the size of city buildings, we weren’t fighting leaks that could sink the boat, and we weren’t without food or water. What we were was mired in an exercise of epic inconvenience.

Ave and I made good progress despite running under soft winds. I had the genoa poled out to starboard and pulled taut. So many of the mysteries that used to challenge me while sailing were comfortable old friends now, the drama of their newness gone from our relationship. Sailing without land to hit or shallows to avoid meant that the chart plotter stayed off for most of the trip, silently recording our track in the background while I sailed from the magnetic compass. As that first night fell, I opened the tablet to double check my progress. Ave was right where she was supposed to be but the navigation tablet’s battery was clinging to a charge of less than 10%, another dangerous inconvenience.

A little troubleshooting led me to realize that the USB outlet that powers the device had failed, so I rearranged some electronic assets and I plugged the tablet into one of the backup power sources. Happy to see it charging again, I knew that in the course of the night it would slowly come back to life. The battery charge on my backup navigation tablet was satisfactory to get me into port if needed. Catastrophe avoided.

That first night passed without incident. There were good moments of sailing, of stargazing, and of free thought flow. That is what nights at sea do when they are calm. Morning broke and I was feeling good about the trip and my ability to push through.

As the sun crept higher in the sky I started to realize that the absence of sleep was impacting my thought process, and so I started to think about what ways were available to me to catch a little shut eye. It was becoming clear that not sleeping was not a viable option, despite the good story fodder that it made.

I decided to heave to—a process of effectively stalling the boat just off the wind. This is an old and simple sailing trick that calms the boat’s motion and allows a respite from the attention that the helm requires. In short this involves arranging the sails in a conflicting configuration, each trying to turn the boat in an opposite direction. I have never had to heave to as a storm management strategy, but I have practiced numerous times for whatever the occasion may be, and this was the occasion.

After dousing the genoa I went forward to raise the mainsail, my safety harness responsibly clipped to the bright red jackline. Raising the main was also more complicated than one might expect, because I had no auto helm to hold the boat’s direction. To raise the mainsail you ideally want to point the boat right into the wind which renders the sail inert and makes it easier to hoist. Without a crew member or autopilot the boat wants to fall off as the wind blows the bow away, so you end up side to the swell which amplifies the boat’s rolling action rather dramatically and makes simply standing on the deck a risky undertaking. But I’ve been through this enough times, have feared for my life enough times, have braced myself while clipped to the jackline enough times that it really wasn’t the biggest deal.

The mainsail somehow went up, as I used the boat’s rolling action to offset the pressure of the wind. With the sail in need of tensioning I grabbed the winch handle, looped the halyard thrice around the winch, and started to crank. As the second crank began I was treated to an encore of my “Bahamian Flying Winch Drum” drama as the Australian-made Barient winch fell apart in front of my eyes and the drum flew off of the base. Unlike the Bahamian episode, this one did not smack me in the face and did not fall overboard, both welcome edits to the storyline. But with the second of only three mast winches now out of order heaving to was off of the table as an option. Sleep would have to wait.

A most-undramatic drama, this one, absent all of the squalls, winds, lightning, and heroic undertakings that lend color to the stories that sailors inevitably tell. “The Story of That Night I Didn’t Sleep” seemed a poor title for a tale. I wasn’t holding my breath for Hollywood to come knocking.

Throughout Tuesday I crept onward and the wind speed crept downward. By afternoon the winds were marginal at best, so I started the engine to power through the second leg of the journey. The genoa offered a bit of steadiness to the boat’s rolling action, and the 35 horsepower Universal diesel pushed Ave along at a slow if not steady pace of 3.5 knots or so. I could survive this, I reminded myself. No one ever died at sea from moving slow and steady in settled weather.

It was late in the afternoon when I noticed the unmistakeable sound of the engine RPMs plummeting as the diesel workhorse was being starved for fuel. The particulate was back—or, rather, the particulate was still there—and it was clogging the fuel line out of the tank and into the filters. For the first of six or seven times during this trip I shut the engine down, took apart the cockpit grates, and climbed down into the engine compartment to clear the congestion. With the motor off and the winds light the boat fell predictably beam-to and tossed violently side to side as I tried to hold onto tools and perform my diesel bypass procedure. At one point we rolled enough that my canvass bag of food which lives in the cockpit poured its contents onto my head and down into the engine bilge as I was draining the fuel lines. My prepared sandwiches fell into the murky bilge along with crackers, hard boiled eggs, and whatever else had been at the ready. I paused my fuel operation long enough to pull soggy food from the bilge water and fling it back out into the cockpit with a violent and angry cry. Things were starting to build up.

Onward I motored, onward I steered, and onward I checked the Racor fuel filter vacuum gauge for restrictions. Half of my brain said this isn’t so bad, and the other half brainstormed ways to sink the boat in the first Jamaican harbor I could find and buy an airplane ticket home. It’s a familiar tune on an old boat with the problems that come with boats and age. I remember fondly sitting with a young man in George Town, Bahamas, who was telling tales of making way through a cut that he had no business attempting to clear (yep, I’ve done that too). He confessed so effortlessly, as sailors do, that he almost hoped at one point that the boat would just hit a reef and sink because then the torture of trying to make it through the cut would be over. “No one who hasn’t done it will ever understand just how much you really mean it when you wish those things,” he said, deadpan.

It was in the early stages of the second night that the hallucinations began. They started mildly, not full on space-chimpanzee-and-Mayan-parade level but a simple detachment of consciousness. I would be motoring and staring at the compass when I would suddenly realize that despite looking right at it, I was allowing the boat to turn off course. The numbers just stopped conveying meaning to my brain and my brain stopped sending signals to my hands and everything got weird.

The detachment eventually gave way to a parade of confusing episodes where I couldn’t figure out what the compass numbers meant. Eventually I started to think that some of the numbers were actually words, and I would stare at the wheel trying to determine what it meant and how I should steer. I am navigating currently somewhere between ‘270º’ and ‘EFO.’ Hmmm. What to do, what to do. Reality was slipping steadily away.

Then Dancing Man appeared. He entertained me endlessly, sinewy figure moving elegantly side to side on the front of the compass, tall and thin in an elaborate carnival costume. He seemed so happy and carefree that he brought a sense of carefree to my night. Rarely during that time did I realize that Dancing Man didn’t really exist. There was no ebb and flow into and out of awareness, no moments of Oh! I was hallucinating again. Just me and Dancing Man motoring slowly westward, he with his big hat on and me smelling of diesel.

Every few hours I had to dig deep enough to find the ability to climb down into the engine compartment again to drain the diesel lines of their sediment. This, too, became less of an ordeal. I was Job, and my duty was to persevere. I didn’t want to drain the diesel. I didn’t want to sit in the cockpit confused. I just wanted to see my anchorage in Jamaica magically appear before my eyes, to have a shot of rum and go to bed. I wanted this desperately.

I had long lost contact with my sailing companions as they were both out of VHF radio range. As Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday day I could occasionally hear enough to know that they were out there talking with each other, but the words were merely indistinguishable background noise. Ave del Mar and I trudged on, progress slowed by our erratic route as we twisted and turned off of our desired course. By the time I made landfall in Port Antonio we had added about 12% to the length of the journey by virtue of our wanderings. So goes life.

When I was a young boy my family regularly vacationed in Colorado, camping in summer and skiing in winter. We would drive west on I-70, the five of us in our 1965 Microbus, my father commenting that we were the only vehicle that the tractor-trailers ever actually passed going uphill in the Rockies. Somewhere in Colorado the Rocky Mountains would cut the horizon and I would get so excited. The mountains! I would think. We’re almost there! Throughout that day of slow westward driving the mountains proved elusive. On and on we drove. The mountains were some sort of evil depth perception trick. Jamaica rekindled that struggle in me during the daylight hours of Wednesday as I could see the mountainous skyline of the Jamaican shore, but it never seemed to actually grow closer.

As we know, though, it did draw nearer and late in the afternoon of Wednesday I entered the channel towards Errol Flynn Marina to clear customs and immigration. I was too tired to be relieved. Again I dug deep, concentrating hard as the numerous officials climbed onto my boat and I completed form after form to clear in. I asked questions. I confessed readily and rapidly that I was in a compromised state from lack of sleep. The officials were all professional, friendly, courteous, and helpful. Eventually the parade of red tape ended and I paid for two nights in the marina. Untying to go anchor was more than I could begin to imagine doing. I walked down the dock to my friend Aldo’s boat where he was engaged in a lively conversation with a young French man who had hitchhiked into town on a Dutch catamaran.

“Aldo,” I said, “I am going to walk to THAT bar”—I pointed to the poolside bar—“where I am going to eat something and drink Red Stripe until I am drunk. I am leaving in three minutes, with or without you.” I drifted back to Ave where I put on a decent shirt and grabbed some money, and I was back at Aldo’s boat in short order where nothing had changed. Shirtless Aldo still sat on his coach roof chatting with the nice French lad.  “I will save you a seat and I will buy you a beer,” I said, “because I am going right now.”

Walking alone towards shore along the dock I was soon joined by Aldo who scrambled, commenting to his new French friend on the insanity of the American man he had chosen to sail with. I paused, and we walked together. Grabbing a seat at the bar my first Red Stripe fell quickly away. I snapped a quick photo which went up on social media to announce to the world that I had arrived, arguably alive, in Jamaica. The beer tasted good.

Aldo told me in his broken English that I drive him crazy. I listened to him, as another Red Stripe and a plate of food came and went.

Soon enough Aldo refused another beer but I forged forward without him, solo sailing again, happily and deeply and at the perfect pace.

Paradise Smells of Failure

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Hungry Hungry Fish

“Be careful,” a wise friend once said, “when you make that decision to jump into the lifeboat. Remember that all your baggage comes with you.”

He was speaking metaphorically to marriage, not sailing, but it holds true through all walks of life. As it was phrased in the arguably-brilliant movie Magnolia, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

To that end I will apologize to anyone who by error of ignorance or simple inattention has concluded that I am on a trek of paradisical scope. Oh, there are moments, don’t get me wrong. The weather is spectacular. Million dollar sunrises and sunsets color my world on a daily basis. No commutes, no bosses, no car payments—it’s tough to garner sympathy in my world. But the challenges that confront the human animal exist here as they do in any walk of life, and I am here to tell you that while you thought I was choosing between which tropical cocktail to order and which powdery-white beach to visit, I was in fact slaying the dragons of my life.

I had two main objectives in Nassau: (1) to clear customs and immigration, and (2) to get a Bahamas SIM card for my iPhone so that I could be in touch with friends and family without needing to seek out wifi—and while a .500 average would earn me billions in the major leagues it tasted bitterly of defeat here in the Bahamas. I stood hour after hour in the local BaTelCo office, using their crackly landline to run the gauntlet of AT&T customer service. It seems my unlocked iPhone wasn’t in fact unlocked but AT&T couldn’t seem to figure out what to do about that. I was promised an email with an unlock code and instructions, for which I waited three days, rowing back to shore in my dinghy, scaling the scaffolding-like dinghy dock to buy a ginger beer I didn’t really want so I could sit in the gas station and use the wifi to check my email. Finally it arrived. Your phone is not locked, it informed me. Simply install the new SIM card and repower the phone, following the activation instructions.

So I returned to the BaTelCo office, where we switched SIM cards and repowered my phone only to get the same error message as before. Borrow their landline again. Call AT&T again.  Everyone thinks I’m sipping ice cold beer on a sandy beach when in reality I am trying to stay calm on the phone with a man whose fault my problems are not. I actually uttered the following sentence to this man: I should be sailing, but instead I am locked in some perverse AT&T prison from which no one seems to want to free me. I’m still not sure if that was a high point or a low point, but I got quite the look of approval from the BaTelCo rep for my choice of words.

Finally help poked its head over the horizon like a sunrise. “I have identified the problem,” Marcos the AT&T CSA finally told me, . “Tech support processed this wrong, your phone is locked. I will re-issue the unlock order and flag it to be rushed. You can expect an email within 24-48 hours.”

Odd, their definition of rush.

The next day the email arrived. Your phone is not locked, it informed me. Simply install the new SIM card and repower the phone, following the activation instructions.

At wit’s end, I left Nassau to head to the  Exumas, away from high-rise buildings and cellphone stores and water taxis, leaving friends and family with a phone number they think will work but won’t, a tinge of guilt in my soul but not enough to make me stay. My $50 was clearly down the drain. Cést la vie.

Ave and I motorsailed from Nassau to Highborne Cay, my planned first stop in the Exumas, less a destination than a rest stop along the path to little uninhabited islands where perhaps I can spend a day doing what it is you think I do all day. As I rounded out of my bearing and in towards my anchorage I happened to glance down at the tiller, where I noticed two small but very dangerous fissures in the stainless cuff that attaches the tiller to the rudder shaft. This was a time bomb of the highest caliber, something that won’t break under light load but will wait until I am fighting big seas where it will split like kindling and I’ll become a sailing statistic. No thank you.

There are no welders in Highborne Cay, just big mega yachts with tenders that cost many times what my actual boat cost me, flitting about like bees alighting on a flower and buzzing off again. George Town would have welders but, although it was on my course it was days away and seemed a bad decision; this was something that demanded immediate care, and that meant turning back to Nassau to find a welder. I resolved to depart the next morning, immediately after changing my engine oil. All this motorsailing had pushed my engine hours up, and we do not tempt fate with critical systems; engine oil is changed every 100 engine hours, slightly less if feasible, and is never put off. Luckily it is a routine undertaking, one I had performed many times, and I carry plenty of oil and filters with me.

After a rather uncomfortable night where the flitting speedboats, mega-yacht tenders, and sportfish boats repeated buzzed past me, tossing me to and fro in their wakes, I awoke, had coffee and breakfast, and got to work on the oil change. Run the engine. Drain the oil. Add a quarter sump. Crank the engine a few times to distribute it. Drain again. Change the filter. Add 5.4 quarts of new Rotela T 15w-40. Run the engine. Check everything. Bam. But today, with my spirits already somewhat on the ropes, the new oil filter didn’t seat properly and my 5.4 quarts of Rotela T poured out of the block and into the bilge. Note to self: those red oil filters seem not to be compatible with your Universal M35b after all. Toss the rest of them out.

Stuck in an anchorage I hated, dodging the very essence of excess that I am eager to get away from, failing miserably at work that I don’t want to do anyway so that I can return to another anchorage I don’t really want to be in so I can spend money I don’t really have didn’t really add up to that Mai-Tai-in-paradise feeling. To boot I had a bilge full of motor oil, daylight was wasting away, and the tide was ebbing. I settled in, focused but decidedly not chipper. I suctioned what I could out of the bilge, soaked the rest up with my year’s supply of oil absorbent pads (add those to the “to buy” list (again)), all the while knowing that the process was cumbersome and wasteful and that the time spent on it would render both a return sail and a re-anchoring in the falling tide untenable. So the prize that awaited me at the end of my work was another miserable night getting knocked around like Sancho Panza getting blanket tossed outside the inn. At this precise moment in time the line between “cruising” and “hazing” seemed blurred at best.

The next morning, unrested and edgy, I weighed anchor to again motorsail into the winds and return to Nassau. The violent bucking of the boat over the past day or two had sheered the clevis pin out of the block that holds my snub line off of the chain bobstay, an easy fix but another issue to deal with. I pulled the now-dangling snub line aboard only to watch the bronze hook that holds the block in place tumble into the waters of my anchorage. I was ready to leave. The engine, fat and happy from its two oil changes, was warming up, the cockpit staged and ready. I stared over the bow, wondering how much I cared about this bronze hook. Winds were supposed to pick up in the afternoon—was the “responsible” thing to do diving to retrieve it? Or kissing it goodbye, declaring it a tax paid to the “‘No!’ Day” gods so I could get on my way and sail with a cracked tiller cuff into building winds? Every option sucked. Chances are that at that moment I would have sold you the boat and everything in it for a simple coach ticket out of paradise, had you offered.

These are the moments when you remember that your baggage is there with you. You remember that struggle and challenge are a part of the human narrative. You’ve bought a ticket to a ride with higher highs but deeper lows, afloat but adrift in Walden Pond, you know and appreciate that it is real but you maybe-not-so-secretly wish that you still had someone’s shoulder to cry on or that maybe right now you were drinking a Mai Tai even though you don’t really like them. And you trudge. You push forward, knowing that meeting real challenges pays real dividends that are elusive to those who simply tread the treadmill through life. This is the “real” that you sought.

So I killed the engine, shut systems down, fetched my mask, snorkel, and fins, and dove to look for the bronze hook. It seemed the right thing to do. There were some huge fish—are those barracudas??— down there that I was convinced would want me for breakfast when I dove to their depths, but if that was to be my end so be it; I would die fighting for the last bronze hook that I owned, fighting for a toe-hold of control in my life that seemed desperately short of control at the moment. Fighting to win just one little battle. The hook revealed itself in about 16 feet of crystal clear water not far off of Ave’s bow. I stared off the man-eating fish, filled my lungs with air, and dove like a merman, fins fluttering above me as I sank like a stone to the depths. I grabbed the hook without ado, never did have to punch the fish in the face in a glorious moment of self defense, turned upwards again where the surface appeared to be about 100 yards above me, composed myself and fluttered again, upwards this time, breaking the surface with the hook in my hand and a sizable grin on my face.

Maybe, just maybe, my trudging was paying off. I was nearing the mythical, emotional, metaphorical “other shore,” surviving the sharpest stones that cut at my feet and the roaring rapids that had threatened to wash me away as I steadily placed foot in front of foot, unsteady, unsure. That bronze hook was my ticket, my proof that I could ride the ride. I tucked it into my trinkets box, toweled off, and restarted Ave’s engine for the trip back to Nassau. The engine ran, the oil stayed where it should, and Nassau slowly crept into view through the course of the otherwise uneventful day.

I suppose that paradise could be a lot worse than this.