Thursday, February 16, 2017

Miss Mabel

Kintala is settled into a West End slip for a few days. Normally, we would be shy about paying to stay in West End for a few days. We like it here, but they are normally priced to the higher end of our cruiser budget, which makes hanging out in these parts a bit of an indulgence. Right now it is half of an indulgence. They took a pretty good hit from a hurricane a few months ago, and it shows. The beach is torn up, all of the hobie-cats and play boats were lost, buildings were damaged and the electric infrastructure was devastated. Power to most of the buildings has been restored but there is no laundry, limited hot water, and no power on the docks. They are offering slips at $1/ foot to make up for the inconvenience which, for a cruiser boat equipped for laying to an anchor and making its own power anyway, isn't an inconvenience at all.

Yesterday we borrowed a couple of bicycles and headed toward town. The bikes are always free here, but one needs to check the brakes before getting too far. I found a good one but it needed a bolt to hold the seat at the right height. No problem as we have lots of extra bolts on board. With my knees no longer bumping my chin, we peddled off. We got looks from passing drivers until we remembered they drive on the other side of the road here. It is a good thing we didn't rent a car, not that there is one available.

The Star Hotel cir 2017 after hurricane Matthew
As we got closer to the town, it was clear it had taken a real beating in the storm. Roofs were gone, walls caved in, and entire houses had been blown off their foundations. An old hotel/bar/rooming house, once famous in these parts when known at the Star Hotel, leaned precariously on crumbling pilings, its back broken. It looked like all it would take to knock it completely over was a heavy pelican misjudging a landing and giving it a solid thump. There were piles of trees ripped from the earth, bare branches covered with shredded insulation and plastic. It was disheartening to see. And yet...
Watercolor painting of the Star Hotel by Phil Brinkman 1962

Nearly everyone we passed waved an called out a greeting, including two gentlemen sitting along the sea wall, so we stopped to chat. Both had lost their homes in the storm, along with pretty much everything else they owned. Both talked of their love for this place, their respect for the sea, and neither offered a single complaint about the turn their lives had taken. Across the street a team of younger men were working on rebuilding a foundation, up the shore a backhoe worked, but the overall effort seemed small for the amount of damage done.

We rode on for a couple more miles, then turned back toward the marina. A man sitting in what was left of his shattered house waved and encouraged us to enjoy “this beautiful day of sunshine”. Another, sitting on the front stoop of a house with part of its roof missing and no windows, wanted to make sure we appreciated just how fabulous was the view out over the water. And then we happened across Miss Mabel.

There is no telling how old Miss Mabel might be. She talked of children and grand children, of how many of them lived in the states as US citizens, since her husband was an American. (That was all the mention he got.) She could have been near our age, but an aura of ancient wisdom graced her smile and sparkled in her dancing eyes. The proprietor of a small restaurant and video game room, I got the impression she took more damage than she would admit. Across the street from her place, along the shore, she had a table set up so people could sit and admire the sea. Though much of her family lived in the US (she had been with them when the storm hit) and she is, herself, a citizen, it was clear that her home is here. She talked, encouraged us to enjoy ourselves, and made sure we knew how welcome we were to sit at her table and enjoy the view.

Miss Mabel, and all of the people we ran across on our little bike ride, were a gift to me. Ever since landing in Snead Island I have been struggling a bit. I didn't take to this life to spend months punching a time clock, nearly a thousand miles away from many of the people I love most in the world. I didn't come this way knowing I would never learn to trust this boat. Months and months of working on the thing over the summer, including getting the alternator overhauled, and the engine doesn't start anchored to a lee shore with 20 knots worth of wind blowing.

Since leaving Snead Island, I have made a series of mistakes, running aground, getting caught in the preventer line, carrying too much sail into the channel and loosing control of the jib, and my constant struggle with just handling the boat in any tight place. The once-capable and self-assured pilot / mechanic surrounded by people he knew and trusted had become a tentative, half-assed sailor. And the people around? Like handling old dynamite.

I didn't come this way to tangle with people who think fascism, racism, greed, and hate are the hallmarks of a great people living in a great country. Make a simple statement of an obvious fact and some “true believer” is likely to go off. Living this life means constantly meeting new people, but “new” now means “unknown”. A Canadian cruising couple, just minutes into introductions, allowed that they were big supporters of the new “Muslim ban”. Fortunately Daughter Eldest called at just that moment, giving me an excuse to bail out of that conversation without having to explain. I used to enjoy the clash of ideas, it is how we winnow out the bad from the good. But figuring out what works and what doesn't isn't the goal anymore. Now it is just an issue of power, making everyone toe the line.

Miss Mabel and the others here have reminded me that this is not the “new normal” for most of the world. Boats break, hurricanes come, and no human being can control either one. Things rarely go as planned. Working months to refill a cruising kitty is a far easier task than working months (or years) to rebuild a shattered community or home. There is no cause to abandon joy in doing either one. Life happens to everyone. Miss Mabel also reminded me that only the wise can make claim to actually living well. Any claims otherwise are fantasy, illusion, or delusion, depending on just how twisted the mind has become.

So, hopefully, the next few weeks here will be a bit of a “re-set”.  News isn't something to bother with much, unless it is weather news. It is an effort to get to an internet connection, as our post log shows, so there are no hourly updates on the latest of powerful idiots doing stupid things. What they do will not affect the state of the seas or the winds today.

Sailing the Abaco Islands is a good way to brush up on basic sailing skills. No offense intended, but there is a reason for big charter companies being located in places like this. Even a klutz of a sailor has to work pretty hard to get in too much trouble out here. And we will spend a lot of time around people who are not “American Normal." Here in the Islands, I am around a whole bunch of people who are, quite simply, better people than me. Some are cruisers from various countries, some are natives, and all are helping me to get my sea legs back again.


SV Pelagia said...

"A Canadian cruising couple, just minutes into introductions, allowed that they were big supporters of the new “Muslim ban”."

Thankfully, not a majority opinion back here in Canada, and not one our (Cdn) government is holding. Just the opposite, in fact.

You made the right choice to quickly move along.

Keith Wolfe said...

This was probably the best, and least angry, post you've made in quite some time. The world is full of fools and even they can be nice people. So it stands that the world is mostly filled with nice people... too bad we only see and hear about the bad people every day. So cruise on and let yourself reset to being happier and more content. Your confidence will grow. The boat will eventually earn your trust again. And you will realize just how great life.

TJ said...

Thanks Keith, it is good to be back to cruising in the Islands. I'm sitting in Green Turtle at the moment, and we are doing pretty well. We have already bumped into a bunch of good people, and it is really good to be around people who live in a way I understand better.