Leaving Hopetown, Land of the Lotus

After only two and a half weeks in town, we had met many people we could imagine as life-long friends and could envision ourselves in the community. Without even noting the alluring, picturesque scenery, the pastel-painted houses, gorgeous beaches, and its candy striped lighthouse, Hopetown—especially before the season begins—is a charming, welcoming, comfortable place to spend a winter, maybe even a lifetime.

Scratch the Cat on the Beach in Hopetown

A week and one day ago, we tore ourselves away from the comforts and conviviality of Hopetown.   Listening to the Abaco cruiser’s net, as we do every morning, did not make this any easier.  

What is the Cruiser’s Net, you ask? The Cruiser’s Net (CN) begins at 8:15 and broadcasts weather forecasts, announcements about local events, and “invitations,” which are really ads for restaurants around town. A couple of noble volunteers take turns anchoring the program, which lasts anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how many people are in town.  That morning’s anchor, Will, whose voice and wit seem to have destined him for radio, told that the weather would be rainy for the next four to five days. He also informed us when, where, and how we could dispose of our trash, always a nuisance when you live aboard. A truck comes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 8 and 10 to a specific dock. They pick up trash and recycle Bahamian beer bottles. (Don’t leave your bags there unless you see the truck, please.) Another volunteer anchor, called in to tell us about all the cool things we’d be missing if we left town: a number of country and folk bands would be performing for free at various restaurants for an entire week; the bi-weekly farmer’s market would convene the next day; and yoga classes would continue every Tuesdays and Thursdays at a beautiful art gallery on the beach.   

Kids in Hopetown

We were tempted to stay; we love live music and relished the idea of spending more time with the people we had met in town.  Our mouths watered when we thought about the delicious greens and pasta salad we bought at the last Farmer’s market, not to mention the best blueberry muffins I have ever eaten in my life.  There also were other lures, not mentioned on the radio, such as the weekly writing group I had just started to attend, and a mahjongg group had recently invited me to learn the game and play with them.  In addition, it was Friday night, so we’d be missing the gathering of locals at Wine Down, Sip-Sip, for happy hour. After only two and a half weeks in town, we had met many people we could imagine as life-long friends and could envision ourselves in the community.  Without even noting the alluring, picturesque scenery, the pastel-painted houses, gorgeous beaches, and its candy striped lighthouse, Hopetown—especially before the season begins—is a charming, welcoming, comfortable place to spend a winter, maybe even a lifetime.  But to cruisers like us, who had come south to explore places unreachable by car or commercial airplane, it also seemed a bit like the land of the Lotus-eaters, where Odysseus and his crew risked forgetting where they have come from and where they were going. 

For the past week, we had discussed many good reasons to leave, but kept delaying our departure.  We had to take our SSB radio, the third brand-new one to blow up on our boat, to the FedEx office in Marsh Harbor, to mail it back to the guy who installed it.  We were going to be coming back to Hopetown on the 20th or so, to meet our friends on Seahorse.  We needed new snorkels and the dive shop on Elbow Cay did not have the “dry” kind we wanted, but the one on Guana did.  We had been exactly nowhere else in the Abacos since we arrived at Marsh Harbor on November 15, and it was high time we got out and about.

Exerting considerable willpower, we packed up the boat.  We gathered up all the shells and coral pieces we had collected and put them inside our five-gallon bucket, which we had left out for washing clothes.  That bucket went into the stern lazarette.  I took in all the laundry, folded and stowed the dry clothes, then hung up still wet items from the finger rail down below.  Then I picked the last clothespins off the lifelines and shoved them in a plastic bag in the compartment under the winches.  I hauled the heavy string bag carrying potatoes, squash, and coconuts down below and tied it up where it wouldn’t swing into anything fragile.  Ryan put the gin, rum, and vodka, that we leave out under the stairs heading into the hatch, into a storage locker behind the seat cushions ,and stored the smaller bottles of Braggs’ aminos, vinegar, vanilla, coconut- and tea-tree oil behind the sliding panels where we keep our dishes.  I took the coffee pot and rinsed the grounds out in sea-water while Ryan washed, dried, and stowed the cups and plates from breakfast. I gathered up all the books scattered throughout the cabin and shoved them into the too-tight shelves, smoothed and stored sea-charts, the computer, our two ipads, two kindles, and iphone, under the desk at the navigation station, after coiling up all the cords and packing them into a plastic lock-n-lock bin.  I stowed the bug screens in a mesh bag that gets crammed under the table next to the laundry and ditch-bag and stacked all the pillows.  Finally, I put all our loose toiletries back into plastic boxes or bags and shoved them into the cabinet in the head.  Then we allowed ourselves a last luxury—we dinghied over to the Hopetown Inn & Marina, whom we have paid a weekly rate for mooring, took a brief swim and then showered.  Or I did.

Storm clouds over Hopetown

Just as we were getting into the pool, the sky darkened threateningly.  Ryan remembered that we hadn’t closed up the boat, so he jumped into the dinghy and raced the rain. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the shower.  Ah!  to stand in warm water instead of crouching in the cockpit with a bucket!  I washed my hair twice, conditioned it, and put my wet bathing suit back on without drying off.  At my insistence, we had brought only one towel, so that we wouldn’t have two wet masses getting in our way during the journey.  I hung it on a rocking chair on the covered walkway near the bathrooms and stretched while watching the downpour and waiting for Ryan.  He came back drenched.  He had reached the boat just in time to batten both hatches and screw down all six port lights before the torrent—and it was a torrent—soaked everything inside. 

The rain seemed to be in league with the lotus, luring us to stay longer in Hopetown.  It roared down well after Ryan showered and emerged in clean, dry clothes.  Since it made no sense to drown ourselves in the dinghy, and there was a perfectly lovely restaurant in the marina,  we plopped ourselves down at the bar, ordered up a couple of chardonnays and some conch chowder for lunch.  Ah! the life of the lotus-eaters!  Still we remained firm, determined despite reason to go.  When the rain petered out, we motored back to the boat, shook off the mooring, and headed out into the Sea of Abaco.  As though trying to force us back, the rain started up again and beat hard against the dodger’s plastic window, making it hard to see ahead.  Our jackets, and the bimini, the canvas roof over the wheel in the stern, kept the worst of the rain off us, but we both got thoroughly soaked within minutes.  What determination! 

Was it worth it?  Read our next blog, Adventures on Guana Cay, to find out!

Seahorse: Mary, Travis, and Donny

One of the many good things about cruising is the opportunity to meet and make new friends.  As our readers know already, we made the passage to the Abacos with Seahorse, a 43-foot Bruce Roberts.  The boat is beautiful, like its people.  Mary and Travis brought their good friend,  Donny, who also happens to be the broker who helped them find and buy their vessel.  Seahorse’s layout is complete different from ours, much more spacious but also more compartmentalized.  Sophia was built for occasional short journeys, weekend cruises, while Seahorse was designed as a liveaboard cruiser, sturdy enough to travel anywhere on the planet.

Seahorse in the Gulf Stream
Travis and Mary
Seahorse at Sunset in the Sargasso Sea

I’m not complaining about our boat, not at all.  Sophia is just the right size, and the absolute perfect craft for our needs.  She reminds me of the Erikson 39 I grew up on in Santa Barbara.  We’re very happy.

But we’re especially pleased to have made these new friends, who are so knowledgeable about all manner of things, and friendly and good-natured.  All three of them are outdoorsy people (as you might expect among those who are up for a 500 mile journey on the Atlantic Ocean, 250 or more miles out to sea), and quite athletic.

Today Ryan and I even got up on the Lyra, an arial hoop that hangs from the spinnaker pole.  You get up into it and do acrobatic things, and you feel like you’re ten years old again, playing on the monkey bars.  And if you fall, no problem!  You drop into the water!!!

We’re still here…

IMG_4636…in Oriental, but, we swear, tomorrow, early, we’re leaving.  Our buddy boat, Seahorse, should arrive tonight.  And we installed SSB radio  number 3 (1 and 2 blew up after a day’s use) and are praying that this one will actually last.  We’re not sticking around to find out.  So, Hurricane Kate or not, we’re going.  And we’re not worried.

No, indeed, folks.  This evening there is a tropical storm brewing into a full-on hurricane near the Bahamas, our destination, as you will recall, and it’s called Hurricane Kate, and we’re not worried.  We talked in person by phone to THE weather guru for this part of the world, Chris Parker, and he blessed our departure date.  He also told us not to dally, as the seas might be too rough for us to land exactly where we’d like to.  Not a problem; we can always sail on for six more hours or so to some other place.  We’ll be fine.  We’re not worried.

It seemed auspicious that today I should meet up with a small group of Women Who Sail, a closed group on Facebook with 7,213 members and growing.  We talked anchorages and sailing skills and life changes and laundry.  Each one of them had significant experience at sea.  Three were part of a married couple and one was a single-hander.  Each was older than 50.  They had strong and supple bodies and energetic, open faces. One was a pilot. Another a psychotherapist.  One wrote books. These were not mousy women.  I learned a lot from them.  I liked them.  I took them as a good omen.  There is nothing to worry about.

Seriously, we’re not worried.  We’re thrilled.  Well, Ryan is.  I’m still anxious, worrywarted mother that I am, and trying to get over it.  Ryan keeps high-fiving me and shining gleefully at me.  That is, he does this thing that there is no word for in English.  In German, the word is strahlen, which I translate as shine with glee.  He’s suddenly much happier, more relaxed.  “We’re actually going!!!!” he practically giggles.  He has worked his butt off to get here and he’s stoked.

I think I am, too.  Ryan says it usually takes people about a month to relax.  I think it’s going to take me longer.  I kind of hope I don’t chill out too much and stop writing or drawing.  Maybe I will and it will be good.  And this is what I hope will happen: I hope I unlearn the requirement continuously to “produce” something in order to justify my existence, a work ethic that tears the joy out of all doing, and begin writing or painting or drawing or cooking or whatever because it gives me pleasure to do so. I hope I stop worrying so much about what other people will think of my creations that I can’t create, and that I stop associating creating with producing.

On this subject of production, I recommend the “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids.” That would be Melville. It’s a short story, a tale, a yarn, a historical allegory. Ah, Melville, who wrote the king of sea-stories in our era.  He’s right up there with Homer and Virgil, some people think.

Honestly, I’m really looking forward to reading, to endless seas of time in which to find my way into new territories of the imagination as I travel towards a new set of stories, stories to hear and take part in.  That is what I’m looking forward to.  High-five!!!

But I’m not worried.  No, really, I’m fine.  Not worried.  Piece of cake!  Heading 250 miles offshore for three days!  No Big Deal.  My brother did 18 days coming back from Hawaii when he was only 15!  Not worried.

This non-worry of mine is what I’m going to call leaving-the-dock anxiety.  It’s a sickness that afflicts many would-be ocean crossers.  Indeed, one of our fleet has already fallen low with it, and has unjoined our party.  No shame in it, not at all.  It takes a lot to untie the lines to mainland safety, to internet and phone service and the certainty of dairy products and showers and washing machines.  Psychologically, we are hard-wired to stick to what we know, to what feels secure.  Actually going forth is not unlike rocketing out into space.

And at night, sailing, you float in space.  You can’t see where the sea ends and the sky begins. On a clear night and quiet seas, the stars reflect in the water.  Better yet, the phosphorescent trail the boat leaves in your wake streaks back miles and miles into the night.  Sometimes your hull swims between floating orbs of greenish light.

Just before departure

My current view of the world. Rain, rain, and rain again. From down below

Well, friends, we are ready to go!  After three months in marina, the last of the tasks has been completed.  The refrigerator is stuffed with food and the bulkheads are crammed with cans and dry goods.  The water maker, solar panels, dingy davitts, AIS and SSB radio have been installed and all systems are go.  The rigging and sails have passed inspection and endured what repairs they required.  The new toilet and plumbing smell delightfully un-head-like. The new teak cockpit table is varnished and sturdy.  We have roared around in our new dinghy and with a brand-new outboard motor and installed both on deck.  The ditch bag is filled with everything we can think of that we hope never to use, including a small stash of dark chocolate and honey, which cleans and disinfects wounds and never goes bad.  Whew!   

Ryan has completed a myriad of other tasks to get the boat ready to go.  My contribution has been largely interior and decorative, furnishing useful galley supplies (such as a Breville immersion blender that also functions as a mini-food processor; a hold-load of lock n’ lock boxes and globe glass solar lanterns for the cockpit).

Our weather window has opened and we are going to step into it tomorrow morning at 9 am.  We expect to sail most of the way for three days, crossing the Gulf Stream at 32 N, off the coast of Charleston, where it’s narrow and runs west-to-east.  We need to arrive in Whale Cay, in the Abacoes, by Sunday morning to avoid the high winds expected to stir things up dangerously Sunday evening and Monday.  If we can’t get there on time, we’ll either round the Abacoes and head for the Berry Islands or veer off course to Memory Rock on the North west Abacoes.

For the passage, I have made the following dishes:  Beef, barley and lentil stew; Arroz con Pollo (both using stock from scratch); Bacon, onion, and gruyere quiche; cornbread with unbolted flour (crunchy!); and roasted potatoes.  I brought three cookbooks: Deb Morgan’s Kripalu Seasonal Menus; The Boat Galley Cookbook by Carolyn Sherlock and Jan Irons; and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.  The latter is my Bible, the book I could not do without.  It’s big and bulky but well worth its weight and volume.

O, and of course I’ve loaded up the Kindles with largely free or very cheap classics, Melville and Burney and Hardy and Woolf and Edgeworth and Dickens and even Goethe, in addition to some great Sci-fi, Doris Lessing’s Shikasta (which I’ll be reading for the 10th time) and Nancy Farmer and Ursula K. LeGuin and Octavia Butler, the great classics of Sci-Fi in my opinion.  Also old childhood favorites: Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights and the Collected Stories of Poe.   Also Marlon James and Tiphanie Yanique and Anne Carson. 

It’s currently raining in Oriental, as it has been for the majority of our time here.  It patters down with irritatingly regular gentleness.  It has soaked my hat, which I set out on a flat part of the deck to reshape. I hear tell that I will enjoy sunny, lovely weather in the Bahamas.  But as I’ve never been there, I don’t really know what to expect.

And then there is the worry I carry, a heavy burden, my concern for my son, who has not finished college or found a job (although he says he has looked), or found a direction for himself in this life. He is a wonderful, charming, beautiful person, a joy to talk to, a Mensch, intelligent and engaged in thinking outside the norms that most people don’t even recognize.  I love him very much.  But I also worry.  What will become of him?  How will he pay his bills?  He lives with his girlfriend, who has little money, barely enough to feed the two of them.  I pay their rent, but only until April, and that is far longer than I had expected to do so.  The plan was that he would get a job or go back to school and start his life.  My intention was to help him launch, to move him out of the house, like a mother bird, shoving her fledglings into the air.   All of these details amount to so little about him.  I despair of understanding him.  I try not to feel guilty.  It is the nature of motherhood to feel guilty. 

Thank you, my wonderful friends, for your thousand kindnesses to me.  I miss you all!  I will write next when I have an internet connection.  I can’t say when that will be, but I expect it will be soon.

Why We Named the Boat Sophia

We expected to give our new boat a new name, but this one seemed just right. Sophia (σοφία) means wisdom in Greek and Sophia is the name of the goddess and creator who appears in the Bible as the co-founder of the universe.

Personification of wisdom (in Greek, “Σοφία” or “Sophia”) at the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey.

In Proverbs 8, Wisdom speaks:

I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.

24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.

25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:

26 While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.

27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:

28 When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:

29 When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:

30 Then I was by him, as one brought up with him:

The Greek noun sophia is the translation of “wisdom” in the Greek Septuagint for Hebrew חכמות, Ḥokmot or chokma.      Plato taught that philosophy is the friend (philo) of wisdom (sophy).  To create, to do or know anything, one requires wisdom, which Plato regarded as something beyond mere human inventions and constructions.  Hildegard von Bingen, the great medieval mystic and composer, regarded Sophia, or Sapientia, in Latin, as the divine, undying source of existence. In Hinduism, the goddess Durga,mother of all things, is also believed to be outside of time.  These ancient concepts of wisdom are not unlike Buddhist notions of the dharma, or the way, as a knowing that cannot be expressed in words, an awareness of what is that comes through meditation.

Below, Karen Clark sings Hildegard’s beautiful hymn to Sapientia:

O virtus Sapientie

Antiphon for Divine Wisdom (R 466rb) by Hildegard of BingenBack to Table of Contents

O virtus Sapientie,
que circuiens circuisti,
comprehendendo omnia
in una via que habet vitam,
tres alas habens,
quarum una in altum volat
et altera de terra sudat
et tercia undique volat.
Laus tibi sit, sicut te decet, O Sapientia.
O Wisdom’s energy!
Whirling, you encircle
and everything embrace
in the single way of life.
Three wings you have:
one soars above into the heights,
one from the earth exudes,
and all about now flies the third.
Praise be to you, as is your due, O Wisdom.

Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.