I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. Last year I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would start sharing some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. This is a two part storie, I hope you enjoy! H
Steve is sporting a fresh haircut and a clean shave to impress the immigration officials. I can hardly keep my eyes off him in the back of the taxi on the way to the airport in David. It’s the first time in two years he hasn’t had a beard, he looks just like the day we met.
“I am starting to feel like an animal in the zoo, Honey.”
“Sorry. I won’t be seeing you for a while, just trying to etch your new face into my memory.” I can’t help reaching up to touch his smooth cheek.
“It’s only for a few weeks. You’ll be fine, you know the boat,” he squeezes my hand in his lap. “I topped up the cooling water and oil in the engine but you’ll have to check them once a week, the battery water too. Top up anything that looks low.”
“Right, check…engine…fluids…” I jot in my note book.
“When you run the engine to charge the batteries you only have to give it a little throttle, no need to floor it, check the display, charging at 40amps is what you want to see.”
“Like always.” I assure him, but add a note to my ever growing list anyway.
“Like always,” he smiles at me. “The water here is too dirty to run the water maker so when you go to town on a water run you have to go at a slack or incoming tide, you won’t make it otherwise. And stay to the right, there is less current on the edges of the river and you won’t get caught in eddies.”
“I know, just like we practiced, on the right.”
“Just like we practiced. And, if you need anything, if you’re in trouble, call Jim on channel 16, he knows to keep an eye out for you.” He pauses and turns to me, “But, you’ll be fine Honey. I trust you.”
I swallow my worry and stare out the window.
This wasn’t part of the plan, me looking after Kate on anchor, all alone. In the beginning I spent two months on my own in San Diego, but that was tied to a dock at a marina. At anchor there are so many variables, so many potential problems, and so many more dangers. It’s not like parking a car, there is no hand brake. There is no guarantee you’re safe. You have to consider holding, anchor chain scope, wind and tide variations, underwater hazards, reefs, other boats, the weather, escape routes. We weighed the option of sailing to Panama City or back to Costa Rica where we could pick up a mooring. We weren’t desperate for money but when Steve got an unexpected job offer it was hard to pass up. A month of work paid for three months of sailing.
The bay we are anchored in is really just a bulge in the inland water way that snakes all the way up to the city of David. When we navigated the river’s entrance to the anchorage we had to wait for slack water, the current created by the outgoing tide too strong for our debilitated engine to push against. The holding is very good in a sticky mud bottom with only one reef in the shallows to worry about and a sunken boat that is marked with a stick to avoid.
The anchorage is surrounded by high hills, providing shelter from all wind directions, a great comfort during this time of year when the northerlies gust up without warning. Our neighbours in the anchorage, Jim and Suzi, have been moored here for seven years and offer to help if I need anything. We agreed that Boca Chica was as safe a spot as we could hope to find. What we couldn’t agree on is whether I was ready to be on my own.
Steve was already packing his bag in his head, I could tell. Like always he had confidence in me, knew that I was more than capable of taking care of the boat. But he also knew I had to be comfortable with being alone. He left me with the final decision and the space to wrestle with myself. I flopped back and forth between knowing that I was a grown woman and that I could take of myself and frightened at the possibilities of something going wrong on board and being on my own.
When we bought Kate I made it a point to learn everything I could about all aspects of the boat. Going on an extended voyage isn’t just about knowing how to sail. I was very realistic that if something happened, if Steve was injured, I needed to have knowledge of every system on board, at least a little bit. Our lives could depend on it.
I started off small, talking to the contractors who did the fiberglass work in San Diego, listening to the guys ramble on about propeller pitch verse blade diameter, reading books about anchoring techniques and storm tactics.
Then I took on a couple projects by myself, I plumbed a new hand pump into the galley, I wired in a new light, I spent the weekend using power tools and made a table for the cockpit. By the time we got to Mexico I could hold my own in the endless dockside conversations about boat maintenance with other sailors, mostly men. I could be relied on to go to the chandlery and come back with the right part. When we had to do major engine repairs on anchor in Costa Rica I was right beside Steve. Covered in grease and sweating in my bikini I was a second set of knowledgeable hands. The grime under my fingernails wouldn’t wash clean for a week, I wore it as a badge of honour.
The prospect of being alone on board, my safety net several countries away, felt like a dress rehearsal for my ultimate worst-case scenarios. They are the ones that I push to the back of my mind and ignore most days, the ones that I never say a loud for fear of bringing them to life. What if Steve was knocked unconscious, could he rely on me to keep him safe? What if he was washed overboard, could I make it on my own?
Then I saw a news article about Jessica Watson, an Australian girl who was attempting a solo circumnavigation. If successful she’d be the youngest sailor on record to complete the journey non-stop and it would take over six months to return home. She was 16 years old.
God Dammit! I thought to myself, She’s a child. Maybe I don’t have as much sailing experience but I’ve got twice as much life experience.
I would not be shown up by a teenager. I agreed to let him go.
“Yeah,” I turn and smile at Steve in the back of the cab, “I’ll be fine.” I have to be.
At the airport we have a quick breakfast then it’s time. He wraps me in a big hug, gives me a tender kiss then picks up his one small bag and heads towards the gate. I watch him hand his passport to the guard for inspection but before he disappears around the corner I turn and walk towards the door.
Before we bought the boat we’d spent our whole relationship parting in airports, not always sure when we’d met again, when time and circumstance would finally push us back towards one another. After the first few separations we made an agreement; no tears, no goodbyes and no looking back. It is like ripping off an emotional band aid, the only way we can cope with letting go so often.
I push through the doors and out in the already warm morning air. The next time I see him will be in a month. Until then, it’s just me and Kate
To be continued…