burning to the waterline
the one where he buys a sailboat, goes nowhere for six months, then sets it on fire
chaguaramas, trinidad and tobago
“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity…”
Driving is a damn sight more difficult with all this sweat in my eyes. I squint over the steering wheel, weaving through the narrow streets, between potholes that range from minor inconvenience to aspiring sinkhole to China, stopping only to avoid collision with the yellow-striped Maxi Taxis—transportation vans that halt traffic to pick up passengers at every blind corner and only resume driving the moment you try to swerve around them.
It has been several years but the thirty minute drive from Port-of-Spain to the dockyard has not changed. A two-lane oceanside road carved into the base of a mountain. When the road works its way inland, it runs through a village where the gas station, fishmonger, and streetside bars jut up next to each other. The prudent driver hovers over his brake pedal for fear that the drunks take a spill in front of their car.
The road squeezes you between ocean and tropical forest until you’re spat out at Chaguaramas—port center of Trinidad and Tobago
Chaguaramas—Chag—is where boating happens. It’s where commerce happens. And it’s about to become the center of action for my Big Reckless Decision.
Tomorrow morning, while my neighbors are still blinking sleep from their bleary eyes, I will be wide awake, having wired my nest egg to a stranger in exchange for a 40-year old sailboat.
Come tomorrow I will be jobless, directionless, and my home will be a sailboat—a pit in the ocean that swallows money.
As decisions go, this one is totally irresponsible—and yet I can barely contain my excitement.
I feel like I am finally on the edge of some grand adventure.
And if I can find it in me to take this first step—who knows what else I might be capable of?
“Unplug everything! Get the dog off of the boat! Hurry!”
Smoke is now pouring out of the companionway hatch. Dark, acrid, nasty stuff.
Somewhere below deck I've made a big mistake. Shorted something. Started a fire. The cabin is filling with toxic fumes and I am freaking out.
“How do I stop this?”
In a fit of madness I reach for the burning wire. Yank on it. It snaps with a great crack. What was a single (unburnt) cable is now a flaming cat o’ nine tails grafted to my bare hand.
The scene is as absurd as it is chaotic.
Witness me, lord of amateur electricians.
I yelp—toss the bundle onto the mattress where it smoulders.
And just like that it is over. Smoke still issues forth but it is thinning. It may not have been pretty but the danger is gone.
I crumple next to Claire, hands throbbing,
“What the fuck have we done?”
6 months have passed since we bought L'Apéro, our 33' sloop. But, for love nor money, I could not tell you where they went. Life has been one project after the next.
Rewire electrical. Replace rigging. Fix the propeller. Install plumbing. Stitch the sails. Deck train the dog. Make a home. The list goes on and on.
Claire and I agreed to commit two years of our lives to being liveaboard sailors. Now we are six months deep, haven't sailed anywhere, have yet to even move onto the boat, and I've just, oh, y'know, set it on fire.
“Nothing important was damaged. And you are safe—that’s what’s important.”
Claire is an angel—totally unwavering in her support—but I can tell that she is getting tired. She signed up for the cruiser lifestyle but we've had more circuit diagrams and crescent wrenches than adventure on the high seas.
“Are your hands okay?”
“They’re fine—I… I’m just shook up. That could have been so much worse.”
It was a basic error. A month ago I never would have made it. But we have been burning the candle at both ends trying to launch our boat. I am tired and it is beginning to show.
We are so close to being ready. But the things we need to do, we have never done before. As quickly as we learn something, it goes into practice. And even then we've still squandered a quarter of our time.
We need to do more. But the harder we push, the more room for error.
And then I light the boat on fire.
I shudder. What the hell am I doing? No experience, no guidance, and I think I’m going to refit a boat to take into the open ocean? What am I thinking?
A moment passes. Or maybe several moments. Claire’s hand covers mine.
With another sigh I rise, push those thoughts aside, and climb back into the saloon. The smoke is clearing. I reach for the tools. Thirty minutes later I’m holding the charred carcass of my old alternator—crispy wires crumbling upon contact.
Well it ain’t going to fix itself. And we’ve got somewhere to be.