Hurricane season evokes memories that seem as close as yesterday. I was reminded this morning by an acquaintance who sent me an email about her sister's experience sailing solo in the Bahamas in 1988. That was the year I was "Lady Ace" as I tumbled off my bunk each morning to desperately search Radio Beijing, Radio Moscow, AFRTS and any other channel I could scare up over the sideband to send the morning's news and weatherfax report across Georgetown Harbor, Exuma to an international yachting community awaiting my morning message that named as many yachts as possible still in harbor..
In those days, GPS was a horrendously expensive navigation system; and smaller boats did not have sideband communications. Cell phones? Satellite phones? Those were associated with ships, not the collection of 25 foot to 70 foot (and 70 foot was pretty nearly the max in the Bahamas Banks shallows) of internationals who gathered in the hurricane holes of the Bahamas to wait out hurricane season. In general, we were a motley bunch, living a dream that included many hardships, deprivations and terrors that we accepted as our daily life with no complaint. They were balanced by joy.
Fiercely independent, the sailing community (that occasionally accepted a wayward stinkpot) would gather together to celebrate an occasion by bringing whatever they had stowed and prepare a hodgepodge feast of fun and camaraderie on the shore or the biggest yacht in harbor, often Lady Ace. Invention saved the day. Something was always broken on a boat, and someone knew how to fix it. Bartering was not formal, it just happened with "pass it forward" the order of the day. Gossip filled the air as ships sailed in and out, but I never met a sailor I couldn't find a reason to respect regardless of differences that were often in extremes.
The beauty of the sailing community was the present. We lived in the present. Conversation wasn't about past accomplishments or future goals for wealth and position; no, conversation was about sailing skill, navigation, the beauties of the last port or the dangers of the next crossing. Differences in ship size, financial means, country of origin, or past sins were not on the table. We had a special democracy that included flotillas when heading in the same direction or a tearful good bye when a yacht set out on its own path. A sailor in need was everyone's responsibility; we shared joys and sorrows, often unable to provide much but the best we had at that time.
I spent that hurricane season solo on Lady Ace, often in terror as the winds threatened to tear her apart if the lightning didn't split her in half first or the sea throw her on the rocks. The experience changed me from the inside out. I tried to capture some of that emotion in the character of Melani as she faced her own sailing experience aboard Obsession in Arirang: The Bamboo Connection.
I confirmed that few sailors in danger can deny a Creator of last resort when only prayers stand between the present and the hereafter.
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