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Where the Boys Are

By Shangri-La - Published January 15, 2008 - Viewed 887 times

About two hours after launching, we were beating east, up the coast of Curacao, slicing through the sparkling water against the brisk tradewinds and current. Shangri-La was

The boys have arrived on Shangri-La.
back in her element, and seemed to be joyfully riding the waves. I’d hooked up the Monitor self-steering vane as soon as we cleared the harbor, and the mainsail was up. Right away, the windvane began to swing back and forth, and the tiller responded to the tugging and pulling lines, holding our course beautifully. Sitting on the stern pulpit seat, my eye traveled up the mast, surveying the rigging, the cut of the new mainsail we’d just bent on that morning, the furling genoa. It was so nice to be sailing, to see the inviting blue expanse and horizon into which we’d soon be headed, to be out of Willemstad. Everything looked good. Everything felt good.

Grandpa kept asking questions. It had been years since my father last sailed, 22 since we’d last been on a boat together. I’d never been his captain. Though he’d been voicing frequent words of approval for the boat I’d chosen, “nice boat very, very nice boat,” he was still puzzling out the rigging, why she heeled over more on the port tack, how the tiller handled as opposed to a wheel, all the while marveling at the Monitor. He’d never seen a self-steering look so sharp, work so well.

I’d invited him to join the boys and me for our first passage from Curacao to Colombia. After all, a year from now, his seventieth, he might be delivering Shangri La for me across the Indian Ocean, from Australia to South Africa. I thought it might be a good idea if the first time he saw her wasn’t on the other side of the world, alone in whichever Down Under anchorage or marina Olivier would

My father, Ernst, arrives – the first time we’d sailed together in over 20 years.
leave her before flying home with the boys at the end of their trip. Plus, before we could leave Curacao, I had to fly back to the US for five days and needed him to stay with the kids. They could all get to know Shangri La together, without me taking care of them, and immediately answering questions they could answer for themselves with a little effort, thereby learning more about the boat in the process.

Bounding over the swells, it was as if Shangri La, too, were eager to see Spaanse Water, the island’s most popular anchorage. I know the rest of us were. Nicholas reclined in the cockpit, ready between catnaps to haul in the jib sheet and crank whenever it was time to tack. Sam was down below on the settee, sound asleep. Their first two nights aboard had been anything but restful. For 10 days prior to their arrival, I’d tried my best to be industrious and efficient in the oppressive heat. I’d wanted Shangri La to be completely ready for them and in the water, if not even already up the coast and in Spaanse Water. But promised tomorrows from people I had to rely upon for this and that, and finally a broken fridge and attempted repairs with lots of copper tubing and an acetylene torch in cramped locker space, ended up making it possible for the three boys to

Sam playing cards with Ernst.
experience a couple of nights on the hard for themselves. “Good,” I said at first. “You’ll get to see how restful sleep has been at the end of my long days, what with the fans barely being able to blow away the clouds of mosquitoes.”

It was a transition that could have gone a little more smoothly. Sam tried sleeping in his cabin the first night, but the lack of air and mosquitoes drove him whimpering to the salon, where he slept on the settee behind the table and across from me. So close, I could hear his nocturnal tossing and turning and grumbling about how much this place sucked. A couple of times the next day, he’d look at me with his lower jaw trembling and say, “On a scale of 1-10, Curacao rates a zero.”

He informed me that he was counting the days—300, 299, 298—until he’d be home again. I was stressed out and fatigued myself, and though it would have been nice if he were more enthusiastic, I understood. My big, little boy was tired, hot, and homesick. I just had to keep hugging him and promising that it would pass, that in a way, it was a good thing to start the trip in a boat yard because from here, his situation could only improve.

They’d arrived on Saturday afternoon, we launched on Monday morning. It had been a hectic few hours under the rising sun, beginning with disconnecting all the umbilical cords, tightening zincs one last time, and untying the ladder before removing the jacks so the trailer

Tania tidying up the boat. Having four people living aboard is far more work than one!
could back in to pick up Shangri La and finally bring her to the water. After all, the delay had been for naught. Both the fridge’s cooling pump, and now the compressor, were declared officially dead. While I was in the US, I’d have to locate and pick up a new unit to bring back; there were none on the island.

In the slipway, we pulled up the new mainsail, the furling genny, and made sure the engine water was circulating properly, that the dripless stern gland wasn’t spinning dry, that everything looked okay. So far, so good. I paid the yard bill, bid farewell to all the characters who’d befriended and helped me, exchanged email addresses and promises to write, picked up a last bag of ice, and motored out of that stuffy little inlet and into the main harbor of major shipping and refineries. The engine puttered around a bend beneath a fortressed bluff and back into another narrow channel that cut through the hustle and bustle of Willemstad, and out to sea.

Willemstad, Curacao’s main town, is like a tropical version of Amsterdam, or what I imagine it to be like because I’ve never actually been there, with colorfully pretty buildings and cafes lining the waterway leading in and out of the main port of entry. From this channel neatly dividing the town in two so that it has to be connected by a floating bridge—fortunately already open for us and the huge inbound tanker with which we crossed paths—smaller waterways lead away, further

Dinner out in Curacao before casting off.
bisecting the town connected by bridges. It’s almost as if the Dutch were culturally unable to transplant themselves anywhere that didn’t have water and canals to engineer and bridge over.

As soon as we’d pulled out of the slipway, Sam had gone below and crashed. Fine, I thought, looking down through the companionway on him. He needs it. We all needed him to be in better spirits. Nicholas helped with raising the sails, wedging himself between the shrouds on the heaving deck and following instructions on how to take in two reefs, then cranking on the winch. Ever since arriving, he’d been upbeat and engaged. The first afternoon, after carrying all their bags up the ladder without me even asking, he noticed a latch on one of the salon cabinets wasn’t locking properly. It was a repair I’d been putting off for later. But, Nicholas said it needed to be fixed, and instead of it being the usual comment that implied I had to be the fixer, the boy formerly called The Slug solicited Grandpa’s advice, located the necessary chisel and screwdriver and fixed it himself. It was a proud moment for both of us.

Now, Nicholas was sitting in the cockpit under the dodger, watching our wake disappear astern, and listening to Grandpa’s running commentary and memories of past sailing experiences. I kept asking if

The yard bill was paid, everyone was aboard, and finally we left Willemstad – our voyaging had begun!
he felt okay, he kept saying yes, that he was starving, and I kept wondering if he was just putting on a brave face. The boys and I had talked about seasickness, how both their parents fare pretty well with this potentially crippling malady. I’ve been sick before, but only when I wasn’t in charge, and then, only briefly, after days of beating into heavy swells and staying down below too long. Olivier almost never gets sick, and my hope was that, in this department, the apples hadn’t rolled too far from the tree.

We already knew Sam had inherited an iron tummy. On the way down from St. Maarten to Curacao, he read his books and played chess, above or below, with only a few short respites until a wave of dizziness passed. He even ate bowls full of sashimi from the tuna we caught, with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger, and he’d had no ill side effects. I was so glad. Enjoying the thousands of miles of ocean that lay before us depended heavily on whether or not the boys were prone to seasickness.

Nicholas, however, wasn’t with me and Sam on our first passage with Shangri La. He’d had other travel plans with

It was so good to be at sea again, with the horizon beckoning, and the boat humming along, all systems go.
Grandpa and a cousin, so we could only speculate on the toughness of his belly, optimistically pointing out how he could read for hours on end in the car without a single butterfly. That was a favorable sign. But, I was still watching him closely on that first day out of the boatyard on our way up to the pleasant bay and dock that the Curacao Yacht Club was holding for us. With more jobs to do aboard, including a new fridge installation, and some of my father’s friends promising daily visits to film him on another exploit, this time with his daughter, we weren’t ready to hang on a hook. No matter what, a breezy dock sounded infinitely better than the infernal boat yard we’d just left behind.

It was only a couple of hours before I spied a boat emerging from Spaanse Water that indicated the entrance to the hard-to-spot channel. Our first sail together was over. The next would begin about 10 days later on our passage to Colombia. I looked back at the sea we’d be getting to know much better very soon as we headed into the narrowing inlet, then called down to Sam. He’d have another night of poor sleep, but this time it would be because he’d napped all afternoon. He came up drowsily, helped throw the fenders over the lifelines, and stood on deck with Nicholas and Grandpa. I looked at them and they looked at me as I inched Shangri La up alongside the dock and two men ashore caught our lines. There we were, two generations of boys separated by one girl, three generations of us in all, living out the first chapter of the new story I’d started. It still looked good. It still felt good.

 

The boys were swept up in the energy we all felt in leaving Curacao, and heading for our first cruising anchorage




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