Saturday, September 10, 2011

20 Years Afloat



" The sea pronounces something, 
over and over,
 in a hoarse whisper;
I cannot quite make it out."

- Annie Dillard

"The cure for anything is salt water - 
sweat, tears, or the sea." 
Isak Dinesen

"For whatever we lose
 (like a you or a me),
It's always our self 
we find in the sea."

 e.e. cummings

In places like Honolulu where population is high,
 land scarce,
or real estate is otherwise dear,
some folks live on the water,
like the boat families of Hong Kong harbour 
or the artists of Sausalito.

Honolulu homes and apartments are rather expensive,
 so people who want to live here 
must accept accommodations
 that they might turn their noses up at elsewhere.
 Home ownership can seem unreachable 
to the average person 
without a “family head-start.” 

When an old friend of ours asked:
 “Why don’t you buy so-and-so's boat?” 
My reasonable husband reasonably asked: 
“And do what with it?” 

Then our friend made a bold suggestion
 that has changed our lives:

“You could LIVE on it.”

We HAD sailed around the Caribbean out of sight of land, and fantasized about living on the homey new motor-sailors at the boat show, but that boat?! Perhaps with a bit (read TONS) of hard, dirty work?

The politics of harbor life was another education all together! Our Island state has fewer recreational boat slips than many land-locked states back on the continent boast of. State operated harbors have been permitted to become shamefully threadbare over recent decades, and the wait-list to get a boat slip (let alone a live-aboard slip!) is something out of Kafka. 

Today I’m (still mostly) happy 
to live with my husband, our cat,
 and all my memories and demons,
 on board our 55 year old, locally built,
pinky-stern line island trader. 
She’s steel, like a solid old car 
(or a dumpster!). 

This is not the boat that comes to mind
 when you hear the word “yacht”
 but it’s functional, funky, and “home.” 

Actually, it’s the boat a child draws:
 mast, Popeye wheelhouse, high bowsprit,
 and three round portholes on both sides,
 port and starboard.

 Electricity, phone (and Internet),
 water, and even cable TV 
come aboard via hoses, cables & cords.

Storms make for exciting times
 as the falling rain drives into the roiling sea
 all around us.

 Breezes stir us at the end of our ropes, 
winds rock us to sleep, 
and high winds handle our home like a petulant kid.

 But there’s no one upstairs, or through the wall
 (no humans anyway).

And there is a sovereignty about boats.

 “Permission to come aboard?” “DENIED!” 

At night it’s beautiful to be at the town’s edge,
 between civilization and the immortal sea. 

Jumping on board is entering a special world. 

Of course, there are unsavory “issues” 
that no one wants to talk about:
 our “waste” is not merely “flushed”
 but must be contained and conveyed appropriately – enough said, 
except that it is NOT elegant 
to be carrying one’s night-soil or chamber-pot
 to the receptacle! 
Especially not EVERY DAY. 

The giant tractor trailer-sized diesel engine
 in my “dressing room”
 is not what you would see
 in the closet of a fashionista.

 But I do have time to read, to write,
 and a great story
 to “top” any posturing stuffed shirt 
that I may meet:

 I live on my boat in Waikiki.

 Shuts up airport boors immediately

 Sometimes I dream of a real closet, 
a real kitchen
 (instead of the tiny “camping” refrigerator,
 toaster oven, and microwave
 I make use of now).

My closest neighbors are reef fish
 like Moorish Idols, 
Trigger Fish, 
and the occasional sea turtle
 like neighborhood favorite “Patty” 
with her missing fore flipper. 

 And Boxy, my pet box fish.
 He looks eerily like a big, soulful face,
 with brown expressive eyes grafted onto the front 
of a square fish body like a psychedelic nightmare.
 If he weren’t so sweet-natured 
he’d probably really creep me out, 
you know?

My human neighbors are a special breed, too:
 boat people. 

The always immediate 
and changing
 eternal sea 
makes light of today’s “important” concerns. 
Things always look different
 out here on the water, off shore, un-tied.

 Even boats that rarely leave the confines of the harbor 
remain attached to solid land only by a slender line of rope,
 a rope that may be thrown at any time. 

Floating out here at the edge we have furled sails, 
the sleeping engine, full water tanks,
 even boxes of canned beans. 
We are ever ready to slip away on the tide 
that always seems to be flowing somewhere. 
else. Yet…yet we stay in Waikiki…

Yes, our home is constantly moving, bobbing, swaying,
 and heeling with the wind.

 Such a home nurtures different certainties
 about home and foundations.

 Our main attachments are to nature,
 and to each other: other boat people. 
We have learned that boat people will always 
catch your thrown rope and make it fast.

 And they expect that you will do the same 
for them,
 that’s just the way of the waves. 

One day, the neighbor in the next slip will be gone,
 leaving only an empty space of water. 

Then a new neighbor in a new house 
will arrive
 to share our narrow dock to solid land. 

Boat people know that nothing is forever,
 except maintenance.

 Shipmates will sail on different tides at last,
 and nothing really lasts
 except the dear harbor,
 the frigate birds, sailing clouds,
 monthly jellyfish, 
and the sea itself,
 constantly morphing,
 with it’s ever changing light,
 the spinning seasons,
 and our passing wakes
 stretching out behind us. 

Nothing else remains-
 except Diamond Head
 (that sphinx!)
and the way we choose to feel
 about it all.

 Here at the edge of Waikiki.

Thoughtful Diamond Head shields us 
from the earlier dawn,
 letting us sleep in a bit,
 and Splash the harbor cat
 stirs in the pink basket 
of a little girl’s bicycle
 chained to the rack at the head of G – Dock. 

 No one exactly “owns” Splash,
 but she has lots of friends, 
and lots of names,
 and is clearly too friendly and self possessed 
to be a feral wild child. 

She is simply part of the Ala Wai Harbor,
 part of our community.

Older (or younger!) couples 
whose very appearance screams: 
“Maine!” “Ohio!” “Stuttgart!” or “Beloit!” 
thoughtfully muse upon the tethered boats, 
and our alluring harbor bulletin boards 
where boats for sale,
 and crewing positions to Tahiti, 
are offered. 

Till the wife (usually it’s the wife)
 gets hungry for breakfast at the Harbor Pub and,
 clutching her discount coupon,
 drags her husband away from what “might have been” 
and ultimately back to their normal life elsewhere. 

Having fallen under the harbor’s magical spell
 a lucky, 
blessed few of us
 never leave. 

Like Splash the harbor cat 
we awaken to another gentle Waikiki morning. 

What will there be to eat today? 

Who will I smile upon or talk with
 on my slow progress up the beach this afternoon?

  Each day here is unique in beauty. . . 
Just like all the others,
 because it opens its petals
 here in magical Waikiki. 

So the white doves of Fort DeRussy,
 Splash the harbor cat, 
and me,
 we’ll hold a place for you
 under the palms, 
right in front of the Hula Mound.

It's been
20 Years
this week!

A L O H A! Cloudia

See us underway: