From the Series
"The Other Side of the Coin"
L. J. White
The ultimate dream of a lifetime to some is " Sailing into the Sunset " aboard a majestic sloop in search of that elusive Utopian place many fantasize and long for. A great deal of books and movies intensify this deep inner desire for the challenging adventures of the sea and mysteries of "Far Out Islands".
Since childhood boats, especially Sailboats, have fascinated me. Throughout my life, I always managed one way or another to have and enjoy them. However, I never owned a sailboat, just " Stink Pots" as sailors call them, never venturing far from land. In the early nineties, I was very involved in the business of " Making Money ", like so many, giving little thought to daring adventures, let alone the thought of owning a sailboat, I was happy with my seventeen-foot open fisherman.
When I met Frances, my wife for a very brief period, she vividly described her two-week adventure aboard a sailboat on a voyage to Dry Tortugas. This awoke long dormant feelings reviving personal desires, which I had suppressed due to my business life and so called responsibilities. As time went on the desire for adventure grew, finally when Frances and I were divorced; I was fed up with my life and the " Rat Race ". Business became a horrendous proposition, getting up in the morning was now a real effort.
About this time I called a long time acquaintance, a British widow, I met years before as one of my clients. During our many conversations together, I discovered that she and her husband had enjoyed the art of sailing for many years. Although never in a large sailboat or at sea, doing her sailing on lakes and competing in what is known as a " Shark ", close relative of the Hobby Cat, just bigger. I could perceive her knowledge and love for the art of sailing and sensed the almost unnatural adventurous spirit she possessed.
Business became harder and dissatisfying, financial difficulties set in as my lack of desire and drive was becoming apparent to me and just about everyone I knew. There was nothing I could do the guilt was overwhelming. I knew it was well within my power to change matters, however, I did not want to.
Neats and I, although not being able to afford it, began actively to look in the market for sailboats. Our travels took us all over the state, in the process we considered many sailboats but none quite what we wanted. Meanwhile, the abandonment of my work continued, by normal standards irresponsible. After almost a month of relentless search we came across a broker in Daytona Beach, she strongly suggested we look at a sailboat that was listed; we hesitated, it was late, but finally conceded. Upon glancing at this unfamiliar contraption an inexplicable feeling overcame me, we decided to come on board and take a closer look.
After a few minutes, without a detailed inspection, I found myself making an offer I could not afford to begin with. Neats and I headed back home a little perplexed at such a bold move; along the way, she continuously referred to the boat as, "A Lady with Character". The next day to my surprise and amazement the offer was accepted, no problem, " I'll mortgage the house", I said to my self. So I did, it was not enough so we will finance the rest, how is that for living on the edge.
Neats did not blink an eye; unknowingly we had just embarked on an adventure without the slightest idea of how profoundly it was going to affect our lives. " Attitude Adjustment " the vessel, was ours and no, we cannot take credit for her name, it was....……..meant to be.
In the thirty days, or so, that followed we were busy fixing numerous things and adding a few pieces of equipment to our new acquisition. In the meantime business and finances were, well, on the way of going to hell. We docked " Attitude Adjustment “ at a local marina sailing her a few times on weekend never out of sight of land.
Finally, I was forced to close my business, personally facing very difficult circumstances. I was loosing everything I ever worked for, including a substantial estate. Guilt and learned behavior were sinking in, I was very close to a nervous breakdown, not that I did not earn or deserve one. One morning Neats and I were enjoying breakfast in an out of the way small cafeteria, a few miles from my remote eleven-acre ranch. Out of the blue I said, " Why don't we leave and sail to the Caribbean and let's do it within two weeks max, she replied, " ...OK".
We packed our belongings stored them and hastily supplied the boat. Neats enjoyed a good job in the medical profession; she requested a leave of absence. By now I felt very irresponsible not caring about any consequences we might face. Regardless of circumstances and with little knowledge of such an endeavor plans and preparations went on. The proposed deadline for departure arrived, not giving a thought to weather, equipment or navigational skills we departed; Keep in mind I knew very little about the art of sailing.
Down state, while in the Intracoastal Waterway we purchased a dinghy and a GPS, becoming aquatinted with this much-needed instrument that I had never seen before. We crossed the Florida Straits in late June, Hurricane season, on a course for the Bahamas.
Upon arrival at Port Lucaya, Grand Bahamas Island, the first thing I missed was my "Wheels". Accustomed to driving everywhere walking a mile, out of need, was a new and in a way a horrifying experience. While at anchor we met a couple aboard another sailboat, they told us of their experiences, I could not relate, my mind was still back in the "Rat Race ".
They also looked kind of "Scruffy". Fortunately, we had a good supply of groceries on board, thanks to Neats; everything is expensive and hard to find in the Bahamas. As days progressed, we hopped from Island to Island anchoring in places few have had the privilege or opportunity to visit, some cays accessible only by boat and completely deserted. I had projected an E.T.A. for our destination, Puerto Rico, of approximately one-month: Wrong, not in a sailboat. I began to realize just how little I knew not only about the sea, navigation and sailboats but the much-needed " Frame of Mind" that's required which I certainly did not have.
As we began to meet many other live aboard "Cruisers", through their stories and experiences the learning process began. I was still extremely confused and distraught, constantly thinking of the many problems that I simply left unattended back home. By now, I was developing a deep sense of guilt, "I shouldn't be enjoying this, I'm irresponsible and despicable", constantly saying this to myself aloud. To make matters worse, being perfectly honest, I was enjoying the experience and feeling physically better as the days marched on.
In the weeks that followed, we faced many challenges including unforeseen repairs, heavy seas, night passages, many perils and other experiences that would easily fill the pages of a thick book. Three months after leaving home, having negotiated the very difficult passage called the Muchoir; we arrived in the Dominican Republic. Anchoring in Luperon Bay, a small and extremely poor village, totally exhausted.
Now my re-education process had just begun but I did not know it. When first stepping onto the dock, after a long rest, I was overtaken by extreme cultural shock. My pre-programmed mental computer became overloaded, the senses were taken to the limit, never had I seen or experienced anything remotely resembling the conditions before me. For a minute I could have sworn I was in a remote African village, cows, donkeys, chickens, pigs, dirt roads, you name it. After checking with the local authorities, " The Comandante ", I quickly returned to the safety of the boat to recuperate, calling her home for the first time.
It took a few weeks to begin to understand the people of Luperon, their way of life and how they behaved also to feel comfortable in surroundings few people in America could tolerate. Imperceptibly, learned values conflicted with what I was experiencing among the people of this small and primitive village.
Suddenly, looking "Scruffy" was no longer looked down upon; giving without the expectation of receiving was the norm. Poverty ceased to be an undesirable disease and sharing the little they had came naturally as breathing. Sincerity and the lack of defensiveness were a welcomed and shocking realization, try that in the States, especially in business. In that short period of time and without being consciously aware of what was occurring to me, an irreversible behavior modification process began or..............an "Attitude Adjustment".
While at anchor there I began questioning certain values ingrained in the States that I continued to adhere to, whether they made sense or not. As we met and spent time with the locals, observing their ways and philosophy, the more questions I had and the deeper my confusion set in. Time and the use of it took a different meaning, what used to be important was no longer as important. However, the unsolved problems back home were still present, haunting me causing anxiety and worry. Deep inside knowing I could go back and resolve them, however I chose not to.
While in Luperon we also met and became close to a hand full of boaters who were adventurous enough to beat the wind and waves arriving in this tranquil bay resembling a Swiss Lake and surrounded by mountains. Short of money, with the constant preoccupation of unresolved matters at home, still mentally used to our lifestyle back in the States we prepared ourselves for the dreaded " Mona Passage" into Puerto Rico.
Now, close to six months at sea we left Luperon, on our way south, taking with us an almost indescribable experience and leaving behind people who touched our lives in such a way as never before, not ever to be forgotten. Little did I know that short period would shake the foundations of my values. After a long and extremely dangerous crossing we saw in the distance the coast of Puerto Rico, our destination, we were exhausted. Immediately following the formalities of customs in Mayaguez we proceeded to Boquerón, a beautiful palm tree lined beach and village on the West Coast of the Island. Back to civilization and the establishments we used to patronize back home.
Six weeks later we departed for Fajardo, on the East Coast, hoping we could find employment, while at the marina, and perhaps arrest the rapidly deteriorating situation at home. As we rounded Cabo Rojo, just outside of Boquerón, we lost our Jib sail and our engine blew a head gasket, we crawled into Salinas, securing a slip at the only marina there, falling short of Fajardo by forty or so miles.
In the months that followed Neats and I flew to the States on several occasions in an attempt to unravel the mess without much success. I began to mass-produce resumes finally obtaining an executive position in San Juan, fifty miles away. I became absorbed with my work project giving little though to what I had learned................or "dislearned".
When the time came to make a permanent decision, eight months later, requiring relocation to San Juan, I could not. No longer man made realities made any sense, nor the society imposed parameters for behavior was I going to accept. I felt terrible giving up a prestigious position and the financial stability it provided. Instead I returned the boat to sailing standards and proceeded a to sail back to Boquerón.
While in Boquerón, with the small amount of money we received from our primary residencies Neats and I, with little hesitation, decided to acquire needed equipment to make our home "Attitude Adjustment" more comfortable and self-sufficient. We could have conceivably moved back to land and re-joined a life style we both were used to, we chose not too regardless of our financial position.
On April of 1996, we sailed on a return voyage to Luperon and stayed until the middle of June before returning to Puerto Rico. As I sat in my cockpit, soon after arriving, gazing at the serene bay late in the afternoon, I was overtaken by a strong overwhelming peaceful and secure feeling. I felt content, secure, and safe and not threatened an unexplainable feeling of belonging.
With the little money we had left we purchased a large number of hand carved parrots from a most wonderful local artisan, making his home near Luperon, in order to sell them in Puerto Rico or abroad. When the time came to return to Puerto Rico I honestly was very upset, I did not want to leave, but I had no choice.
Now as I write this short essay I continue to struggle with my personal feelings. It is immensely difficult to forget what you have learned in a lifetime, good, bad or indifferent. The process of "dislearning" is even more difficult, but now in my opinion very necessary. Our lives have changed forever and the used to be needs values and mores have been replaced with new concepts and values.
As I look back and recall the then way of life, I realize how fictitious it was in many ways. What started out to be a daring adventure into the unknown has irreversibly modified our values, most importantly our "Point of View". By our audacity, seemingly irresponsible, a fateful sailboat named "Attitude Adjustment “ and the somewhat forcefully exposure by wind and wave to a new way of life, we are indeed
" The Other Side of The Coin"
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