Friday, May 11, 2007
We misplaced Thorny, and lost a lunch.
PREVIOUS ENTRY | NEXT ENTRY
Missing: One large American, last seen entering taxi headed toward Panama City. If found, please return to Sailing Vessel Triton.
So, there is an old joke about a man whose wife complains bitterly that she wants to go away for a vacation. His elderly mother and her cat (which she loves dearly and never lets out of her sight) live with them, and because of this they have never been able to get away for any length of time. Eventually he decides to let his ne're-do-well brother stay at the house while they go off for their first week alone since their honeymoon. The man is quite anxious and after three days he calls home to check up on things. He asks his brother how things are going, his brother says "The cat died". The man is very upset by this and explains that he shouldn't have told him that, since there was nothing he could do about it anyway, and now it has ruined the rest of his vacation, knowing how upset his mother will be. He then explains to his brother that it would have been better to have broken the news to him slowly, first by saying that the cat had gotten up on the roof, then waiting until the end of their vacation to explain that the cat had fallen off and died. He asks his brother how mom is taking things, and his brother says "Well, mom got up on the roof..."
On a boat, communication is everything. There are so many ways to misunderstand each other ("Oh, you didn't want me to wake you up?" is my favorite) and any number of ways to easily get confused (statements like "NO, MOTA, THE OTHER PORT SIDE!" are quite common) so much so that it becomes critical to make sure you really know what each other means.That is one reason why boats have a very specific vocabulary; "Go aft and tension the port jib sheet" means one (and most importantly) only one thing, whereas "yeah, I'm gonna go into town and check things out, I'll be back later" could mean anything. Thorny said just that. To me (based on a number of prior conversations) it meant "I'm going into town for a few hours, then coming back to join you all for dinner, then tomorrow I'm going to spend the entire day looking at ancient ruins". To Jeff, it meant, "I'm going into town for the evening, I'll be back first thing tomorrow morning".
Now, we tolerate a certain amount of newbie crew members using terms like "kitchen" or "bathroom" or "thingie" because it's impossible to learn the correct and precise term for every thing immediately. And it wouldn't be a cruise if the crew didn't come up with new and unique names for things, like "The Aloha Deck" for the aft cockpit area, or "Mike & MaryAnn's cabin" even though they haven't been here for three weeks, or to come up with cute phrases like "stinks like the captain" or "like water off Jeff's fiberglass ass; but making sure you know exactly what the other person meant really is the ultimate test and we only tolerate just so much English because not using explicit nautical terms leads to problems.
When Thorny didn't show up later that evening, we had just such a problem. Jeff and I argued about what he might have actually meant. We decided Jeff must have been right, I misunderstood and he'd be back in the morning. When he didn't arrive the next morning, we decided that perhaps we were both wrong, and he'd be back by lunch. By late afternoon we were discussing how we'd go about finding him. It was then we realized we didn't know his next of kin, or who to contact in the event of an emergency - which on one hand wasn't so bad because I really didn't want to have to explain to his folks that we allowed him to wander off into what is the Panamanian equivalent of Harlem without an armed escort.
On top of that, Thorny had mentioned he wasn't the "wander into a strange country" type and that he was surprised himself that he was straying beyond his comfort zone. While either Jeff or I would have been fine being left to our own devices in a strange town, Thorny had said that he was "pushing his boundaries" by going off with only a guide book, translation dictionary, money, credit cards, and phone. Jeff, a man who once hitchhiked into Afghanistan during the war, gets by on amazing language skills, a subtle sense of human interactions and an incredible memory for direction, location and landmarks. I can survive almost any situation because foreigners invariably take pity on retarded goof-balls with a friendly smile. In fact, my complete lack of social skills tend to bemuse and entertain what would normally be either a mugger or the arresting officer.
As evening approached our fears magnified. We sat on the Aloha deck and talked about it. Maybe he went to one of the many dangerous neighborhoods? Maybe some cab driver convinced him to go to one of the trillion bar/whore houses that are everywhere. Maybe he got attacked. We could only imagine the worst, picturing Thorny waking up in some deserted alley, covered in mud, wearing only his underwear. It was clear we were going to have to rescue him, but we weren't sure what our next move should be. As we sat wondering where to start, the question of notifying others back home naturally arose. Now I'm not intimidated by many things, but the thought of explaining to AnnMarie that I, "Mr. Safety Zero'th Because It Comes Before First" managed to misplace one of her favorite friends sent chills down my spine. We thought about starting out with "Well, Thorny got up on the roof", but like most of this trip, it was a location joke that only we thought hilarious. I felt bad for laughing so hard when we thought of it.
"Well. Okay. Look. We'll go to the police and notify them" I said. "Great" said Jeff, "but they're gonna want to know all his information, like a copy of his passport, drivers license, that sort of thing. Where do you keep that?" There was a long pause while I tried to come up with a suitable explanation for the fact that 1) Thorny had taken his passport with him, so I didn't know it and 2) I didn't even have a copy of his drivers license and 3) I hadn't the faintest idea who to contact and 4) I didn't even know his real name. "Whaddya mean you don't know his name? How long have you known him?" "Ummm, about four years." "Four years and you don't know the man's name?" "Yup."
"Yup". That's the best I could come up with. A crew member, friend of many years, all round good guy, and I lost him without even a single trace of documentation.Worse, I couldn't even figure out how to find him, or even explain to anyone else who he really was. THEN he strolled back. "Where the hell were you?" we asked. "Oh, I went to see traditional Panamanian folk dances, then I got a hotel room, slept a long time, and then I walked around a bit in the old city. It was nice." We looked at each other and said "That's great, glad you're back, and not dead."
Next, it was my turn to try to kill Jeff. Not that I wanted to, in fact, I'd have been quite content to let him live, but he really wanted to fix the anchor light. If you don't know what an anchor light is then that may not seem like such a big deal. If you do, you realize that it means climbing up to the top of the mast. Remember the mast? It's the tallest one in the harbor. Remember the harbor we are in, the one just outside of the Panama Canal? We watch two hundred million ton freighters go by every twenty minutes. Remember how big the wakes from these boats are? Okay, now you have the recipe. Jeff was going to climb the tallest mast in the harbor, while five foot high waves periodically rolled by.
Now, of course, we took all sorts of safety precautions, like waking up at the crack of dawn so it was still pretty calm and not too hot (of course, after being up very late the night before, having just broken out a new bottle of rum), and having a nice big breakfast of cheesy eggs that Thorny whipped up, and tying string to all the tools Jeff might need to take up there with him so they couldn't slip and fall - killing someone on deck, as well as tying several different safety lines to him.I also made Holly and Thorny move away from the mast base, forcing Holly up to the foredeck and Thorny back onto the Aloha deck - in case all three lines should break simultaneously. In fact, we took every precaution except actually thinking it through. Had we given it any thought, we'd have realized that the waves rolling in were rocking even our very wide catamaran back and forth. That may not feel like much in the cabin down at sea level, but up at the top of the mast it was thrashing back and forth about eight feet from side to side. Jeff was about three fourths of the way up when the first set of waves rolled in. Suddenly he was clinging to the mast for dear life, and being tossed back and forth like the world's largest paddle ball on a very long stick. "Hey, you sure you want to do this?" we asked. "Yeah, I'm okay. No problem." this from the man who went through Afghan armed check points wearing a turban, posing as local Taliban. "Okay, your call" I said, now feeling bad that I'd kidded him about not fixing the light properly the last time he'd been up it.
He managed to pull himself up to the very top of the mast and began trying to fix the light. It started rocking some more. Jeff grabbed the mast and again held on for dear life. This continued for quite some time. Each roll would throw him back about forth about eight feet. "I feel seasick" he said. "Oh" I said. "I think I'm gonna be sick." he said. "Great" I said. "Bluagahhh, ugg, bluagaaaaaaaga, blug" he said. Then bits of cheesy eggs started wafting down. They made an interesting popping noise when they hit the deck. Thorny, whom I'd made move to the Aloha deck, was standing directly in (or more accurately, under) the line of fire. He dove into the salon just in time.
Through much of this trip I've seen wonders and sights I never imagined I'd encounter. Dolphins within touching distance, manta rays floating majestically along side me, sea turtles the size of a bathtub, but none of it will remain so etched in my mind as Jeff's regurgitated breakfast heading down for Thorny. Later on he took Jeff aside and explained that if he didn't like the food all he had to do was say so.
Well, we were never able to get the anchor light working, even after all that, and now the wind indicator has stopped working as well. But to really prove that "No good deed, however humble, goes unpunished", the portion of the deck you might consider "ground zero" also contained Jeff's open hatch, and a direct opening onto his newly washed sheets and laundry. There is no way to handle this situation but to laugh. Jeff and I have been making jokes about it all day. Mostly from the Aloha deck, which we now call the vomitorium.
So, as many of you might know, there is a special plane that NASA uses to prepare their astronauts for the zero G of space. It flies pretty much straight up as far as it can go, then turns around and falls straight down, causing weightlessness for the occupants for minutes at a time. Unfortunately, even the best prepared fighter pilots find that weightlessness is a disturbing sensation (much like being waved rapidly back and forth at the end of a long stick), causes nausea and vomiting. Consequently, this plane has been called "The Vomit Comet". We thought about this for a while and decided that we would, in both true nautical fashion and aeronautical tradition, devise a special name our mast as well. We now call it "The Eggerator".
Wishing you all a cheesy farewell from the Aloha deck! (mind the yellow bits). We hope you are all keeping each other good company in our absence and remain in good health.
P.S. Contributions of scopolamine, malox and deck cleaner would be most appreciated. Any one who knows the name of a good mast cleaning service please forward it on to AnnMarie.
P.P.S. In case anyone cares, I (AnnMarie) had all of Thorny's pertinent info, however, it remains to be seen if our good heroes would have thought of that in their time of need.
PREVIOUS ENTRY | NEXT ENTRY