I looked down at my hands today and in them I saw a tattered surface that is now cut, bruised, rope burned and covered in calluses. I can't help but to feel like we have truly earned every inch of these past 5,000 nautical miles. As we all say good bye to the Caribbean in our own quiet way it becomes clear to me that the sea is much more than my mistress but my reason for being and my life force that ignites my spirt everyday I am near her. This once unfamiliar element is now something I yearn for when we are tied safely in a harbors refuge. It's out here on this endless rolling horizon that I feel rooted to the most natural form of my being. On every journey there are infinite possibilities and paths that beckon you. We have been drawn into the hunt for mystic places like the Amazon, Patagonia, Cape horn, Antarctica etc. We look for those extraordinary places on this planet to stand in and to connect with. The time is now and we must go see for ourselves in hopes of coming back with a few tales for the nephews…So our bow points down a path that holds an unwilling future full of many obstacles but a chance to be apart of the lifestyles and landscapes of South America. Let’s tango.
We push onward towards the Amazon and the warm waters of the Caribe loosen their grip from our vessel, making way to the arms of the Atlantic that welcome us to South America. But first we have one last Caribbean duel to be challenged. The running of the gauntlet between Trinidad and Tobago. These waters are known for their pirate vessels patrolling and preying on the slow, vulnerable sailors. In the past years there have been boardings, and robberies of sailors making this passage an uneasy one. CC’s anchor came up and we left St. George's harbor the night of July 26th in hopes of making our way through the worst of the passage under the cover of darkness and sail 7 days south to the muddy waters of the Suriname River (a country and place that remains a mystery to all of us onboard). We were warned by a few old salts to keep a keen eye out for supposed fishing vessels approaching and the small skiffs toting 6 or so armed men around the oil platforms that lie right in our path some 60 miles offshore Trinidad. The waters went from that azure clear Caribbean blue to a dark brown and green. We all knew that this was a place that had a dirty agenda. The strong currents and easterly winds blew us straight into their path looming with oil rigs dotted every few miles. At one point Scottsman looked out into the murky waters and saw a big oil slick passing just meters from the boat. This stretch of ocean has been ravished by these oil rigs and their ways. It hurts seeing all of this in the waters that support so much human and marine life. All in the name of progression. It looked like a post apocalyptic setting where the Smokers headquarters reside. The platforms had an eerie essence to them with their giant steel pilons reaching down to the sea bed. The rusty cranes hanging over the edge to bring supplies onto their greasy steel cities. Small vessels went back and forth between all the rigs and as we got closer to the oilers' community, the radio erupted with it's citizens chatter. Ordering food, parts and discussing the days affairs. We were passing through the living water world.
Night set in and we were once again blanketed with the Milky Way above our rig. Night sailing has a magic about it. They say darkness is just another kind of light, We all love our night shifts but on this passage there was something that was uninvited. There were all kinds of strange occurrences that happen at night. Just after sunset on the second day an unmarked fishing vessel was on a course dead over top of us. We changed course and he changed course too. With hundreds of miles of open ocean around us why in the hell is this vessel passing us by only 100 yards? It seemed threatening and put us on full alert. We were the only non-commercial vessel as far as we could see at the time and it seemed like they all wanted a closer look at us. We passed massive oil tankers head on, we passed small fishing boats to their stern and cargo ships left and right. The big commercial ships were not our worry, it was the unmarked, dimly lit local and Venezuelan fishing boats turned pirates by night. It's a great cover. CC danced around out there on those waters all night long but never was detected by the evil forces. Until day break when we were put back into high alert by a small skiff with a go-fast motor coming full power at us with two guys onboard and maneuvering erratically…but with a course dead on our beam. I flew down below and told Bru it's time, "We have company!" Grabbed the biggest machetes we had onboard, our beloved Louisville Slugger (baseball bat) and a couple of our big bang firework charges. The three of us bearded Vikings stood tall and strong on the stern of the boat looking meaner than the bad guys in that amber morning light. We roared and growled with blades in hand ready for combat. I think the two renegades in the skiff knew by the readiness on our faces that this might not be the wounded lamb that they were looking to overtake. They turned away only about 40 yards from CC giving us the evil eye all the way. It got real, real quick there for a moment and I was proud to see everyone ready for action. So we live to sail another day! The next few days of sailing down the coast of South America was stunning and eventful to say the least.
At night, before the moon rose, our sky was littered with stars and the Milky Way was making a pristine appearance. There were meteor showers every night and the sky seemed to be putting a show on just for us. I was on the night shift around 3 am when we had the realization that in spite of all the struggle to get to this point in life, we were so clearly on the right path and our heading couldn't be pointing in a more meaningful direction. The stars were falling above and we were over come with a feeling of joy and gratitude. It damn near brought me to tears for a second. It seemed we all had begun to tap into a cosmic secret that night coming to terms that there are few moments in life that make you see so clearly and feel the presence of something bigger nudging you onward. The last 8 months of this voyage have been a transforming experaince and has made our crew grow leaps and bounds. A gift that we will be forever in debt to this planet for.
The weather took a turn for the worse in the days to come. We sailed through the land mines of powerful squalls and dead clams. We were told of the local weather happening in this region but damn. Last night was by far the hardest night of the this passage. Bru was bed ridden with a strange migraine headache. Scottsman and I were so sleep deprived that all we wanted in the world was to collapse where we stood. The two of us had to dodge the blasting rain squalls on this moonless night. Constantly reefing and shaking reefs to keep the old girl out of harms way and clipping along. To do this all night long takes you into a higher state of will power. The lucky one who gets to rest in the cockpit catches intermittent Z’s while the other is on shift constantly being awoken to the violent flog of a sail and the crack of a winch due to drastically shifting winds. You shake off the delirium and your will brings your body into action. There it is, another ominous thunderhead above the ship and that overwhelming blast of lightening in your eyes. You dive across the cockpit to heave a slapping sheet into a peaceful state as the other mate is a prisoner to the helm, soaked and shivering from the sideways rainfall licking at his brow. His grip is firm, his knuckles have turned white with the heel and moan of this ‘ol vessel. He is silent, no words are spoken at this point, with what little energy he has left he gives you a nod and a soft squint of his eyes telling you what needs doing. The abrupt wall of wind and water lays CC over, pushing her off course quickly. You grit your teeth and stand strong with the helm to windward fighting Poseidon's strong arm. Strangely enough, throughout these battles we fight day in and day out we find a sense of balance and harmony in our lives. By 4am, after hours of gripping the helm, Scottsman collapsed for the last time and let out a moan of defeat to me symbolizing his reluctant readiness for slumber. I clawed my way to the helm as the boat rolls and pitches. In perfect timing my hand grasp the helm and his hand loosens. I now feel the energy of CC’s labors through the resistance of the rudder. Scottsmen falls into his wet berth in the cockpit as a now broken man. With out words he slips into a deep dream state. Peanut senses Scottsman's time of weakness and lays between his legs to comfort his wounded spirt. The true hero in all of the torment is Peanut, he stays by our side through it all. He fearlessly endures it all without even a whimper of stress. Thank you Peanut for being our guarding, mans best friend and the glue of the crew.
The squalls part and the sun begins to rise to our port beam. The seas calm and the wind completely dies. I’m sitting here behind the helm of our floating nation with the crew peacefully resting their minds as the buoys at the mouth of the Suriname River begin to appear on the horizon. We’ve made it and we're all feeling a part of something much bigger than ones self, something cosmic, something spiritual, something natural that maybe we had just lost contact through our years of conditioning back in our old lives. Nature has worked its magic again in her subtle way but with great impact. What would Suriname hold for us? Will it be safe for the ship and her crew? Will we find the seeds of a culture full of love or hate towards these ragged outsiders?…..So lets take a little 7 day stop to rest our heads, refuel and see what we find up this muddy river.