One evening this past week, I found myself in the men’s bathroom of a strange, pulsing club in the British Virgin Islands. As I was trying not to let any of my things touch the inside of the bathroom sink as I rinsed, my small bag of white powder hit the floor. In my mind I flashed through the irony of how many people go into the bathrooms of clubs to take their white powders in secrecy – and here I was using this precious source of fresh water to wash my underwear; the white powder I was hiding out in the bathroom with was unscented laundry soap. Meanwhile in the women’s bathroom, that I originally tried to enter, a voluptuous woman was squeezing herself into tight lingerie with a bustier, and doing her hair and makeup. The night was young and no one was dancing in the tiny club with blaring Latin beats vibrating the walls; a handful of people were drinking in the shadowy corners.
My crew from the sailing vessel I’m currently living on had come to the shore of our new island home for the night on a brief excursion to find some fresh water, a beer, and maybe even some Wi-Fi. After walking by a depressing joint playing honkey-tonk, with only one customer sitting alone at a table, I had asked a man on the street where a local place was that might have a beer for our captain. We had been at sea for 21 hours on our sail to get to Virgin Gorda and we were all quite exhausted at this early hour of the evening. When our local guide opened the unmarked door that led into the tiny club we cringed, but went inside anyway, knowing it would be brief and would likely have fresh water and most certainly a beer.
I took the opportunity to wash a few things because using fresh water on the boat for doing laundry means the hassle of finding a water dock, pulling in, and filling the fresh water tanks sooner than desired. My friend Lizzie hid out in the bathroom for a few minutes and then went outside where she could regroup and hear herself think. This was not the usual casual beach bar scene we have grown used to finding as we island hop with our current captain. Neither Lizzie or I really drink, but bars have Wi-Fi and water and sometimes surprisingly, even a nice selection of tea. Wherever I chose to disembark from my little floating home there are always surprises. The strange and unexpected lurk around every corner on this leg of my life’s voyage – from the missing boards in the dinghy docks, to winding up in the kitchen of a French restaurant to view the day’s cooking, to Caribbean musicians playing Elton John on electric guitar, or a wondrous encounter with cuttlefish. I am along for the ride for now, enlisting the practice of finding contentment and joy in being present and the small things, so I’m having many great days.
This is just one element of the humbling nature of my life at sea and on islands throughout the Caribbean. Fresh water is precious on a sailboat and laundry and showering is saved for the times we find public outdoor showers on beaches, an unlocked bathroom at a marina, or bathrooms of restaurants/bars for washing a few articles of clothing (or if necessary, my armpits).
Each land excursion has it’s own special magic in the unknown adventures and surprising places we end up in. Sometimes we are just looking for Wi-Fi, other times the opportunity to stretch our legs and readjust to walking on solid ground for an hour or two, while experiencing some local culture. Often I wander in stores or seek out fresh markets to see what provisions I can collect to keep us from eating out of cans.
I find locals to chat with and try to soak in as much about their experiences in these islands as I can in a short time. Two years ago, Hurricane Irma unleashed her wrath on many of the islands I have been in for the last month, and many people have their stories of surviving and recovering from the aftermath.
Each island and country has it’s own energy and character, and the different towns where we come ashore vary drastically. Sometimes I end up in a cute, little marina village and other days I’m meandering the dirty streets of a big port town complete with cargo ships or massive cruise ships.
I have been on islands that are territories of the French, Dutch, and English and have seen a wide variety of order and chaos in the way the government offices organize checking in and out. Sometimes the port authority folks are very serious, and other times funny and invite me to sit at the empty desk and pretend to be working. Once, one of the officials who collected our passports mistakenly handed them off to a different captain and couldn’t find them again for some long minutes in time.
This leg of my sailing exploration has been quite different. We are currently in the British Virgin Islands, which I have heard some people reference as the charter boat sailing capital. It doesn’t have the live aboard, cruiser comradery that I came to know last year in Panama and I miss it.
Some nights we find peaceful, quiet anchorages, but there are also the bays like the one I have found myself in this morning, which contain a floating bar that was blasting old American pop until the wee hours of the morning across the pristine waters while people leapt off the top deck shouting “woooo-hoooo!” With all of the charter boat guests, this anchorage has a semblance of spring break in some beach town in
Florida. This is not why I come to the sea, but here I am, humbled in my own simple life out here, and confounded by the crazy ways my fellow humans choose to interact with nature in some of the most beautiful places.
I’m glad to be an outsider in this scene; I don’t want to fit in here. I enjoy the depth of the experience of the life I live. I am fed by the relationship I have with the wind and the water and the sea creatures. Having a small “island family” (as a drunk woman on a beach bar dubbed my current sailing crew) is fulfilling my need for community at the moment. The highlight of my days and ironically, often my biggest source of depression comes from my long swims in each anchorage.
This is a different sort of depression than the chemical imbalance type or the variety that comes from the deep grief of loss or trauma. It is a depression that comes from having a good long look into the world of how poorly we have behaved and disrupted the delicate and perfect balance in nature. It is a depression that comes from living in a time where the damage we are doing is evident, yet there are too many humans fucking up in the name of greed and pleasure to see the current trajectory reversing any time soon.
I see a world that most people do not; I know the neighborhoods created by the corals and the fish and the other creatures that reside there.
I take very long swims everywhere I go, and get to know the dominant species and common behavior of different creatures.
I have witnessed the coral bleaching; I swim over the coral graveyards and lament in my mind. Yet, I also see the new coral that grows over the dead and relate in a very personal way. The opportunity to recreate new life exists, to experience the juxtaposition of beauty in the wake of devastation. If things don’t get too far out of balance, the Earth shows us that returning to equilibrium is possible.
So I continue to hold onto this lifeline of hope, in my own little microcosm of this expression of life, for all of those who have survived terrible traumas or wake up flattened by depression, for the coral reefs and the seas, for the forests, and for our planet as a whole.
May we find our way home to greater equilibrium, harmony, and contentment.