Archives for posts with tag: pirates

IMG_1864My back hurts, I can feel each muscle in my legs and arms. I have paint imbedded into vast portions of my hands, and at least five new bruises. Each night I crawl down three feet into a bunk where all my earthly (with me) possessions surround me, scuttling from clothes to books to towel on my knees, hunched over. For the past three days it’s been an endless stream of cleaning, sanding, painting, moving stuff from one place to another, carrying and hauling, with the occasional break for bullshitting. I’m exhausted, too tired to sleep more than five hours a night, really.

I couldn’t be happier.

Wolf 2

The Topsail Schooner Wolf,  sailing to Cuba as part of the Conch Republic Cup

Later today, somewhere between 5 and 6 this evening, I will sail away from Key West, along with 11 other people, aboard the Topsail Schooner Wolf, a two-masted, 74-foot schooner, as part of the inaugural Conch Republic Cup. At last count, some 59 boats and around 400 people are making the run from Key West to Varadero, Cuba. Three days later, we’ll race from Varadero to Havana, Cuba. Three days after that we will race back to Key West.

 

This isn’t the first time for the Key West to Cuba race – but it’s the first LEGAL one, made possible by Obama working to “normalize” relations with Cuba since he announced the changes in December, 2014. The result: a field of boats, large to small, all trekking to Key West to participate in this historic event, which could also easily be one of the largest contingents of US citizens to converge along Cuba’s coast since prohibition.

(Fun fact: During the US’ alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933, the Key West to Cuba trip via boat was a popular method to get to a legal rum source. Havana is only 90 miles off the US’ southernmost island’s point.)

conchrepubliccuplogo1000This race is a goodwill mission- an ambassadorship of sorts, and at the rate the US keeps announcing new allowances in trade and financial regulations, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to see one of the last visions of a Cuba un-touched by the American way.

Making this race even MORE special for me (as if sailing a trip aboard my favorite ship and visiting Cuba wasn’t enough), is that my husband Jay is along for this trip, our Greenhorn crew. I’ve spent nearly four of the past 13 months down here in Key West crewing on Wolf again, and Jay has only been with me for five days of those. I now get to show him the ship I so love. He’s already been pulled into working on hatches, cleaning all sorts of things – the stuff of the lowly deckhand.

In many respects this is our last hurrah. Jay and I are approved foster parents, and we will start taking “placements” (aka, foster kids) into our home when we return. I won’t be able to just head south for a few weeks to go sailing, and there’s no international travel looming on the horizon since you can’t take foster kids abroad. Change is afoot. Good change, a new adventure. I can’t think of any better way of saying goodbye to our kid-less couple hood than jumping aboard a pirate-inspired schooner for a sail and a visit to a place most Americans have never gone.

You can track our progress here.

Meanwhile, wish us fair winds and following seas. Cuba has no real internet access, so we will see you on the flip side, full of sea tales, Cuban travel tips and just a few more high jinx up our sleeves.

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I was sick for three months.

Ok, so maybe it was more like 2.75. But whatever. I’m a writer. Sometimes writers fudge and expand the details to enhance the story.

At any rate, at the exact time that I had FINALLY been given some time to do that THING that has most called to me for almost my entire life is the time when sickness fell and wiped me out. For, like, that last three months.

For years I’d been a busy, professional and rather successful career woman. I had the titles, the salary, the friends (but not the car… a part of me has always eschewed totally following the cliché). But last year, something snapped. A bit of frustration, plus a workaholic schedule, plus the growing realization that my life was perfectly poised to go DO this thing – for once – naturally made me want to shake it all up.
Full confession: I am approaching the official mid-life mark, and now that it’s nearly here and I’ve made the jump, I can no longer deny that perhaps the big 4-0 had more to do with this new life than I’d previously wanted to admit.

I am, admittedly in this telling, glossing over all the gory details: suffice it to say, on Dec. 1, I quit the job and headed out to follow my dream = to write that book I’ve wanted to do for years.

I’d developed an agreement with myself that I could have six gloriously free months to research and write the book. I’d do a two-week trip to Key West in December for all the research to be done. By January, I’d have it outlined. By February I’d be done with Chapter 2. By May my first draft would be done.

Given that planning it out in my professional career before had usually, mostly, WORKED, I had no reason to think this would go any differently.

Dude, Dudette. DogGod... whatever works for your "higher power"

Dude, Dudette. DogGod… whatever works for your “higher power”

But the dude (or dudette or DogGod or Pluto- whatever you need you believe. Just make sure you read What Questions a Dog would Ask God) upstairs has one heck of a sense of humor. As so often happens when things are set up PERFECTLY, the plan hit the bottom of the ravine all too quickly. My dream of spending day after day writing, editing, researching – thoroughly embedded in the work of my story — slowly slipped away as, week after week, I either caught an infection or had some new symptom develop that essentially wiped out my ability to do much of anything useful.

It started in the middle of Paradise on my maiden voyage, just two weeks into this grand new life. I was struck: a bacterial infection that sent my insides scrambling and left me with a prescription for two heavy-duty antibiotics. I avoided the hospital this time, but not without suffering through a few weeks of side effects. Then, at the tail end of that debacle came the flu. Happy New Year. Followed by a cold. Then another. Then a virus that refused to go away. Then another cold. Ad nauseam, for two months. As if that wasn’t enough, in January my hands pretty much stopped working, and I couldn’t actually perform the function of writing for any longer than 10 minutes.

I was a pirate in paradise when it all went down...

I was a pirate in paradise when it all went down…

For a newly-minted, newly-proclaimed writer, this loss of use of hands was the cruelest. It sent me howling into my journal (a new daily practice I mostly do, seeming only apropos that if I’m to be a writer I should write something each day, even if it’s only dribbling thoughts). I read back through those entries the other day and admit, here, fully – It was entirely whining. Like with a capital W. In retrospect, some WINE might have helped that situation- but I don’t do that anymore (another story).

It didn’t help that each time I’d have a day or two of feeling better, of being nearly normal, and then I’d feel some signal of the start of yet another virus. My Whining reached fevered pitch, along with my visits to various doctors and specialists. I may have even shook  my fists in the air at God- which at the least did make me, and the hubster, laugh.

 While I am back to pre-December production, energy level and doing-ness, it turns out there are in fact reasons this has all been happening – an immune dysfunction that doctors usually treat only when the patient is symptomatic and/or under duress. And I am fast hurtling towards a Fibromyalgia diagnosis, which is where they put you when you have all these THINGS, but no known underlying already-defined disease. Never mind that I don’t have either one of the main hallmark of the disorder (all-over pain). Truth is, this isn’t the first time: Like many in my situation, I started having bouts of this after a 3-month virus in 2008, and in the past few years it has gotten worse. Last year I spent most of my time going to work and when I wasn’t doing that, sleeping. The on-and-off elevated pulse, the fingers and toes losing circulation, the extreme fatigue, and tingling hands were, my doctor told me, all due to stress. Blood tests backed this up. OK, so great, simple solution: quit said stressful job. So when it got WORSE at the beginning of this year, rather than better…. well hopefully you can empathize with why I was so flummoxed. Beside myself. OK: Angry. I was very angry and pitiful.

But like all things, it eventually wound down, the sickness and the Whining.

Because in the midst this storm that was sleeping, eating, feeling awful, battling medicinal side effects, not being able to comprehend the words I was reading let alone make NEW thoughts out of them, I remembered one very important thing: I was a pirate once.

topsail schooner wolf

Schooner Wolf

Albeit, I was a nice pirate, the kind that you run into on sailboats in very nice touristy places—but still, even there the pirate spirit exists. You take the girl off the ship, but you can’t take the pirate out of the girl. You can’t take away the rebellion, you can’t remove the desire to freedom, and you can’t get away from the pirate’s indomitable spirit to PROSPER against even the mightiest of uncontrollable forces. In fact, it is those very howling forces of fate that call a pirate to most BE. It is this spirit, after all, that attracts so many people to the idea of pirates – this the reason the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has done so well, that pirate festivals around the US have flourished (and been established even inland, like Kansas).

Yes, somewhere around about late January I got angry, full of fight. Somewhere around mid-February, I gave up. Perhaps not UP as much as IN: to the irrefutable truth that life so often seems to want to teach us: that despite the best-laid plans, you cannot control the actual outcome of the situation. My pirate self started, essentially, to howl into the wind. And now that the storm has abated (today marks one week entirely symptom free, two weeks since I could function normally again), I am beginning to do what so many REAL pirates before me have done when faced with a journey thwarted, a ship sunk: to begin again.

This marks the launch of a serial blog, one that will pull on bits and pieces from the book I am working on, will explore what makes a pirate, why we love pirates, and what it all has to do with business – and life. I know three people who will read it. And I’m happy with that. It’s practice, and it will remind me that I am a pirate at heart, as so many of us really, truly are. It all comes from my time aboard the Schooner Wolf, Key West’s official pirate flagship –often stories that don’t fit in the official book. The one time that knife-wielding customer boarded the evening sunset sail, for instance. Stories abound on a pirate ship. And I am just beginning to capture them.

On Oct. 15,  2011, my husband left me.

I don’t mean left me as in, we talked about separation, we divided up our things and he departed the  house one day at an arranged time — you know, with agreement. With finality. With closure. With conversation. I mean, he left me as in I returned home one evening to find he had packed up all he could fit into the car, cleared out the bank accounts, and left the keys behind, with nary a word or a note –and never to communicate again via phone, text or email (at least, not until seven months later when he wanted to get the rest of his things).

To be fair, we HAD talked separation. After nearly a year of marriage counseling, and another few previous years of strife and struggle, I had finally come to the realization that the marriage was never going to be truly that  — a marriage, a joint union, each spouse standing for the other, making decisions for the marriage in lieu of the self. It had been my decision to separate to move towards divorce. And the morning he left, we had talked a bit more about the logistics of a separation, what the process might be.

But his actions that day had me feeling just one thing: ABANDONED.

Abandonment was my worst fear, realized.

It was the stuff of all my nightmares as a child, a teen, and even an adult. It’s what I had fought to avoid — in all my relationships, in my jobs, in my every day.  By 4 am the next morning I was exhausted, anxious, unable to sleep and devoid of any feeling except a deep pit in my stomach that was unquenchable with the very blackness of its depth. So much so that I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even think.

I was an empty vessel lying in bed that night and morning: As though until I had to quit fighting, hard, every second of every day and even in my sleep for the shell of a marriage I had found myself in, I didn’t even know how hard I’d been fighting. I didn’t know then how much of my soul had gone into keeping the very thing I feared the most — abandonment — at bay.

When I called my Mom the morning after that sleepless night, all the feelings I’d been holding back, the ones locked behind the empty vessel I had become over the past three years, came flooding out in one single clarified moment. For the first time in many, many years, I sobbed, and I did it from the depths of my fear. All the loneliness, pointless wishing and hiding from myself I’d been doing came crashing in at once and came out of me in a  low empty, nearly voiceless cry turning into a deep racking sob that lasted for wordless, endless moments.

It’s amazing what can happen when there’s nothing left to lose. For the first time in my life, I asked her to come and rescue me: to come and stay with me the next week as I navigated not just sudden aloneness, but with the sudden grappling of the knowledge I’d been trying to avoid for so long, maybe since just after I’d gotten married. Not only was I abandoned NOW, I’d been abandoned, really, from the very beginning. Maybe before I’d even fathomed the idea of marriage at all.

She came to rescue me, to stay with me, just to BE with me. And my restart started, again.

*******************

Abandoned, or at rest, a boat unsailed will start to rot.

Abandoned, or at rest, a boat unsailed will start to rot.

Each year, hundreds of ships are abandoned at docks and on sea. Depending on how you define abandonment, the actual number could be MUCH higher. After all, while we often talk about ships as though they embody a human — usually a she, as in, “She sails straight,” or “She is a great, beautiful boat,” or “She has her quirks but she never lets me down in weather,” — sailors and shipmen alike tend to refer to how much “soul” a boat has. Some storied ships carry their own spirit, regardless of owner, but these are few and far between. And, I would argue that most ships only have as much soul as its captain and crew are willing to put into it.

Amazingly, despite the ships that sit abandoned at docks, no one comes to claim them as their own. There is an unwritten rule that, even if a ship’s owner has not taken care of a ship in years, has not visited her or paid for her dockage or done anything to upkeep the ship, She belongs to someone else. And plenty of laws exist on the books in each local, state and international jurisdiction that make it clear that even if it’s abandoned, it still belongs to someone. Marinas have to go through piles of paperwork to get an abandoned boat declared as such before they can legally be allowed to remove it. The US Coast Guard and state natural resource departments can’t even begin to clean up the waste of an unclaimed boat until they get a legal declaration — a process that again takes much time and paperwork. And even if they do, there remains the ultimate question of who will pay for the removal of not just the boat but the fuel and oil it leeches into the water  as it decays. Because ultimately, these abandoned ships eventually succumb to the water in which they languish. A boat without water flowing by its hulls will eventually begin to rot, from the outside in. Wooden boats’ planks begin to shrink, change shape and leak water until the boards open to let more water in while the batteries die and the pumps stop emptying the ship of the inevitable water that makes its way through (because, as any seasoned sailor will tell you, all wooden boats leak, all the time). Metal hulls start to rust and welded seams eventually fail. Fiberglass hulls, too, develop weaknesses when left to the wiles of winds, waves and rain. To prosper and survive, ships need sailed. As though there is a deep-seated recognition that an abandoned ship is soulless and without much merit, the REAL pirates of today — the ones that patrol Africa’s eastern coast’s and the China seas — will not touch an abandoned boat. They target vessels already under steam, with a crew, a commodity underway. These pirates know a boat abandoned is merely an empty vessel, and they want a vessel full of possibility they can steal.

A boat that sits too long, too often, that’s faced a checkered past, a bad reputation, often meets if not an abandoned, untimely end, then a sad fading into semi-obscurity. Look no further than the tale of the Schooner America, a replica of the boat for which the landmark sailboat match the world tunes into today was named (This year’s match was out of San Francisco August 21 to 26 and October 2 to 7). Built by a wealthy Virginian restaurateur to be both a money-making venture and a goodwill ambassador for the US,  Mr. Ray Giovanni’s dream never quite materialized. The boat has alternated in its 20-year history between being celebrated, reviled, abandoned, recovered and re-celebrated before fading once again into the background at some dock in a port town (the full story of the Schooner America is coming soon, in a post entitled “Checkered Pasts and High Seas: The Life of the Schooner America”). Just three years after the Schooner America was built to great fanfare, celebration and media coverage, she languished at a Ft. Lauderdale marina, unwanted at the original asking price. In those short 36 months, the ship had developed enough of a reputation that few were willing to tackle a young boat with a checkered past. Its various owners in its life — three to date — have proclaimed in various ways that THIS time she was to prosper fully. Greg Muzzy,  owner of Liberty Fleet which bought the Schooner America in 1999 — only to have her run aground just a year later as she sailed on her maiden voyage out of Boston — told me in 2000: “The boat’s had a checkered life and created some bad reputations here and there. Our job is to try and fix some of those reputation problems and turn it into the best it can be.” And yet, just a few years later, Liberty Fleet put the Schooner America up on the auction block again.

A vessel facing criticism, abandonment, trials and innuendos, can hardly seem to escape that fate. The Schooner America is not the only ship to sail this tale.

And here lies the very real distinction between a vessel abandoned, and a person abandoned.

***********************

In the months after my spouse abandoned me, an amazing and unexpected thing happened: I found faith. In the vastness of love foundered on dreams unrealized, I developed a deep, abiding belief in love. I found a lasting sense of peace. And I discovered I had never been abandoned at all.  In this abandonment, I found freedom to take the abandoned vessel I thought I had become, shore it up with some new boards, a bit of pitch tar and faith in a right wind and TRUST it fully again. I learned to trust myself again, and I learned to trust the sense that came from deep within that there was something else driving this ship, something that I could trust.

Photo, Pam Steude. Sometimes dark times, are really openings to more

Photo, Pam Steude. Sometimes dark times, are really openings to more

We all have this opportunity, all the time, in the small and big losses of life.

Losing a job, an important relationship, a child, a dream: In our human attempts to overcome the inevitability of life, the ebb and flow of dreams developed, followed and derailed, we try to keep those events that cause those feelings at bay because, ultimately, we like to think that we can control what happens to us. Or, at the least, affect the outcome when they do happen- the fear, loneliness and hopelessness that can follow in the wake of our most shocking life changes.

We gather inspirational sayings to arm ourselves against that nagging voice that tells us in the quiet moments on dark nights that we are not good enough, not important enough or not doing enough. These work, for a time, until that next quiet moment returns. These losses force us to look directly at the one thing we fight against as humans:  that We Can Not, try as we might, BE God.

We do not consider, maybe we cannot consider, that in that wake, the clearing that loss creates, we are not DEVOID as much as we are an empty vessel ready to be filled. Perhaps then, the ultimate question is what will we fill our vessels with, what soul cry will we answer when we are finally empty enough to choose freely.

And so maybe boats – and people- ultimately become a product of their story and founding principles no matter where they sit or sail. The America might have been so embattled precisely because Mr. Ray founded her on two dual and competing purposes. You cannot produce a revenue to feed the company that runs you AND be a “goodwill” ambassador – which implies that it operates solely for the good of the people.

Left with nothing to lose, our vessels ask us what soul cry we will pick up. Our fate is not sealed: we are not an empty ship abandoned and now devoid of soul without its captain and crew to give it story and heart. Our vessel was never empty to begin with. And instead of fearing the space that these great losses can bring, we can instead remember that our soul infuses within us a continuing story.  Abandonment is a chance for us to ask, instead of what the world will bring to us, what WE will bring to the world.

I choose faith, love, hope and peace.

Hope