‘Malicious?’ That’s just the way it seems. The sea is indifferent to this presumptuous tub en route its new owners, who are paying maybe three times her value in fuel costs alone. Can’t quite figure that one out. If there are diamonds aboard, I haven’t found them.
“’twas from Poole I did leave and ‘tis to Poole I shall return.” They rowed up the channel and landed at Poole, where his wife died in childbirth. Later, he married the beautiful, alcoholic Florence Lawrence – her second marriage. Somehow, his fury, her alcoholism and the sea have blended into a potent family cocktail. Perhaps that's why I love the sea (not to mention cocktails... )
Last night, wrestling with the dead feel of hydraulic steering, and with no exterior reference point other than the capricious, flickering numbers of the digital compass, it seemed to me that the more digital the more soulless. There’s something artistic about analog. An accurate and carefully damped traditional – analog - compass is a beautiful mechanism of rhythm and calm. Even in the most violent seas, there is no hysteria – whereas a digital compass is the personification of A.D.D., screaming pay attention to me – now – pay attention … responding to every twitch of sea or boat without any easy-striding confidence in the long term, the overall course, the certainty that the destination is over there and one should simply ignore all the melodrama en route.
Finally, an element to trust unconditionally, a series of fixed points by which to find a serene way forward. I understood more clearly Saint-Exupery’s affaire with the stars: you commit to the chosen one and keep her in your eye. Her presence and constancy fill your heart but then there comes a time when you have to leave her, to find another star truer to your changing course. That leaving is hard. Will the new one be as true? As clear? You make your mistakes as you give your course to each successive star – but this is the miracle: that each star remains faithful, regardless of your desertion. Each one will take you back, welcome you, and guide you until, blanketed by a filthy cloud, you have to return to the petulant digital – and the soul goes out of steering. It’s just a bloody chore. You can’t wait for your relief.
“Why?” he asked, “are you bandits?”
We had been convinced that we’d need yellow fever shots and a reasonable explanation as to how this elderly cruiser had completed 800 miles without bunkering – and why, by the way, did the Trinidad exit papers state that Guyana was the first port of call?
I’ve been deported for less.
So on to the commercial port captain’s office to find out who owns the buoy that saved us from a detour into the mangroves. No one knows, apparently, but we handed over 28 euros and received a stamped permit to remain in place until we can repair the transmission.
No one seems to be in charge. No one knows who the Chef de la Marina is. No one knows who one pays, how much or when. No one knows who owns the buoy we’re moored to (though we can wave the port captain’s paper that says it belongs to Happy Daze for at least two weeks). No one knows whether one can buy diesel. Or where. And so on. The nearest restaurant is a two mile walk, the nearest shops a fifty dollar cab fare and it’s all quite strange. Who built this place and why? Above all, why here?
We get to know the Bounty owner as Monsieur Coffee. He may have a dark side. He’s leaving soon. I ask him where he’s going. He shrugs. Not France? No. He’s not allowed back and the paperwork’s too complicated. Complicated - but you’re French? Oui! Then, what paperwork? Another shrug. A pause and he makes a sign which graphically illustrates a burkha. Muslims, you ask? Oui! Too many muslims. Quoi?! Islam is apparently keeping this perfect French cartoon figure from returning home.
The consensus is that M. Coffee left La Patrie under a cloud. It will rain quite severely on him if he returns. I wonder what he can have done. Surely nothing violent or physical? An unsuccessful embezzler, perhaps? That would explain the horrible state of his boat.
As we get to know each other better and polyglot communications improve, his xenophobia increases. Its underlying basis is the muslim community’s refusal to integrate in any way. And, by the way, Arabs do not work, he says. Ever.
The Vini Goute, this ‘internet café,’ is a 30 minute walk from the mooring. It does amazing business: serves huge meals of fried chicken and rice or fries, baguette sandwiches of charcuterie or saucissons, or many varieties of unidentifiable ‘stuff,’ and sodas by the gallon. There’s beer and even a hard liquor bar. There’s also something called ‘kangarou,’ which, since it is an alternative to chicken or lapin, must be meat. You wonder if the Australians have formed an alliance with the French to ride themselves of pestilential joeys beneath the radar of the known animal-loving world. With a great deal of ridiculous mimicry – Guyane charades – you figure out that this particular kangarou is some kind of small and once wild animal, not the lovable marsupial.
Vini Goute is the only eatery in this industrial area. Everyone knows everyone and shouted conversations between patrons at opposite ends of the place fill the air.
The moment the boats arrive and are safely anchored, they out with their dinghies and head for the scruffy marina. There is, of course, nothing there and so, moments later, the dinghies head back to their mother ships, the crew go below and start cooking. The culinary scents waft across the anchorage and kill my appetite for the skipper’s canned ravioli. I swear, if I ever do this again I’ll insist of advance pictures of the galley and make provisioning part of the deal.
Maybe the new arrivals will drag their anchors in the night, bear down on Happy Daze and, in the ensuing chaos, I’ll be able to raid their stores.
In the event, several of them do drag as the tide and current coincide. But no luck with the stores. Just a lot of gallic yelling.
Navarro has a big smile and a big belly but his biggest feature is his heart. He spent nearly two hours fighting the current, the tide and the two anchor lines we had so cleverly wrapped around the mooring buoy. No success, but not for want of his trying – without a mask (which would anyway be useless because the river is an opaque brown), without any other kind of equipment and, as far as I could tell, without being able to swim much. I was in the lukewarm muddy water with him and had to grab him several times to prevent him being swept first upstream and then downstream.
Navarro speaks no known language. Well … Portuguese … but not like any Portuguese I can understand. Nonetheless, when I realized that “Push! Push!” meant “Pull! Pull!” we worked pretty well together.
All this results in way too much time to contemplate the nature of Frenchness. Last night, drinks on M. Coffee’s raddled Bounty, courtesy of an unreconstructed Pieds Noir who brought the rum in a box, the demerrera in a plastic bag, and pockets full of lemons. Squeeze the lemons into the sugar, make a paste, then add rum. Essence d’Exocet.
You sit in the cockpit, crammed beneath the rattiest plastic tarpaulin this side of Darfur, eat M. Coffee’s delightful home made bread (baked, from the look of it, in an old hub cap), burn your throat on the essence and breathe as shallowly as possible; everyone else smokes. The skipper, DuMauriers; others, Gauloises; M. Coffee, old socks rolled in newspaper.
M. Rum and M. Coffee are direct from Tin Tin. M. Rum, who must be in his seventies, was brought up in Egypt, lived most of his life in North Africa, Switzerland and Spain and loathes France with the kind of passion most Frenchmen save for England. Once more, it’s burkhas and muslims that are at the root of all evil and M. Rum is absolutely convinced that France will be an islamic nation within 20 years. Thank God, he says, that he’ll be dead by then. You ask him if he ever goes back to France. He looks as if he’ll have an apoplectic fit. Among the various indignations – the fact that muslims can have five wives and claim family allowances for them all; the fact that they stone people for smoking during Ramadhin (in France?); refuse to speak French or eat saucissons – is a comment about cleanliness. At that moment, you’re trying not to look though M. Coffee’s hatch and into perhaps the most squalid boat interior you’ve ever seen in your life.
You accept another essence d’exocet and hold your tongue while M. Rum rambles on about his experiences fighting the Algerians …
But now it looks as though Happy Daze's run has come to an end. Tonight’s plan is to take the boat to the fishing boat haul out, pull Happy Daze out of the water, pay for a few days storage, and turn the whole problem over to the owners who don’t understand the connexions between batteries, generators, bilge pumps and sinking, and, worse, appear unable to grasp that the price of diesel is set somewhere between those dreaded muslims and the commodities market, is affected by supply and demand and the world economy, and is certainly not in the control of Happy Daze.
None of them speak French. So … bon chance.
Meanwhile, I’m sending pictures of M. Coffee and M. Rum to Disney. They’re perfect cartoon characters.
Later, I heard she sank and was raised by a wannabee buyer. The Uruguayan refused his offer. The boat sank again.
Every boat has a soul. Happy Daze did not deserve this ignominious end.