SOLO... not exactly
by: Ralph E. Ahseln 10/2013
Pulling the cork, there was a subdued "Pop", and a small amount of fizzing bubbles spilled out. He quickly poured the rest of the mini bottle into a plastic champagne glass. The container had a long crack down one side, but he'd glued it and wrapped it in an old tee shirt to keep it safe. He'd been very careful with that glass all these past months. After all, it had to last a long time.
Some of the wine ran down his fingers. He licked at the sweet stuff. It tasted of salt, diesel and god knows what else. He told himself that he should wash his hands...One day... soon. He'd been at sea a very long time.
Leaving Portland those months ago, he laid in a stash of Mini Champagne bottles. 24 in a case, plus a few more. One for each month he'd be at sea. He'd read, and sailors he'd talked to, all assured him that he could Circumnavigate the globe in around 24 months, give or take.
Each month, to the day, since leaving his home port, he would open one of the mini champagne bottle and toast his progress. 14 of them had been opened and now he was sailing down the West coast of Africa. Every month at this time, he'd drink the celebration and then on a scrap of paper, he'd scribble the numbers that showed his position. Shoving the paper into the empty mini bottle, he'd seal it and drop it over the side. A kind of "mileposts" of floating bottles that stretched from Portland, Mexico, South America, around the Cape, up the coasts of Argentina and Brazil , crossing to the Canaries and, now, Southing the West coast of Africa.
His original plan was to sail the Atlantic and enter the Mediterranean, making passage through the Suez. Wars and terrorists in that area had caused him to change plans and now he was heading for Capetown. A stop there to rest and resupply before moving into the seas of the Eastern Hemisphere.
Starting out, the idea of circumnavigation in a sailboat was a challenge. A kind of "Manly" thing to do. Then as more and more people, and the media, sought him out and the questions started, he began to see it as a "Lark".
Something to do to get attention.
"How long will you be gone?", his answer would be a shrug of the shoulders. "What will you do for food and water?", he'd smile and explain that he planned to stop for supplies along the way. There were many interesting ports and lands to see. He wasn't going to do a Non-stop trip.
"But won't you get lonely?".
How could he answer that question? It usually came from someone who'd never sailed.
How could he explain what a sailor feels when at the helm?
What could he say that would explain the calm he felt when wind and water dissolved the rush of his, so called, life?
That his boat "l'altri" was home to him and he felt comfortable and secure in it.
That... was 14 months ago.
Hot winds of mid coastal Africa, and the Benguela currents were against him now. Progress had been slow and it was beginning to tell on him. His food store was almost gone. He'd managed to catch a few fish to supplement his diet, but that took a lot of energy. He was tired and felt angry all the time. The days had just dragged and dragged on. To make things worse, the cabin had developed several leaks. Each time a rain squall passed over him, everything down below got soaked. His clothes, any paper, even the sole and bulkheads were damp and smelled of mildew.
The last few months hadn't been much Fun. Only when he felt he had to, did he even look out at the endless stretch of the Southern Atlantic.
Those first days, in the beginning, he'd spent hours watching the horizons. It was exciting seeing whales and dolphins along the North American West coast. When he'd got to the lower latitudes, there were turtles cruising past the boat. Each animal seemed to have a personality all their own. He would laugh out-loud at the comic action of those lumbering "Tanks" of the sea. Birds diving into shoals of tiny fish, the occasional dorsal fin of some underwater monster, even those awesome sunrises and sunsets, had kept him feeling alive and joyous. But, that was long months ago. Now it was the daily drudgery and the heat that occupied his thoughts. No longer did he dash to get the camera to take that "once in a lifetime" photo. Worst of all... He was lonely !
Alone, solitary, isolated, by yourself,.... Lonesome ! Words that he'd scoffed at when the lady TV reporter had asked "But won't you get lonely?". Standing in front of the cameras and while the crowd of curious docksiders looked on, he'd chuckled and made fun of the question. "Pleasing the crowd", he'd thought to himself. He'd answered those question with some smart assed remarks like, "We're all alone in the world" and "The sea will have many distractions". All designed to make a big impression on the crowd. He'd even impressed himself with his Lighthearted answers. In Portland, with hundreds of people watching, he'd laughed at those silly questions, but now after so many days out here, he wasn't laughing anymore. He was tired and bored... and all alone!
Late in the day, he walked out to the foredeck. It was going to be the last check of the horizon before dark. Four times a day, he'd make a formal 360 degree scan of the sea. There was always a chance that one of those huge cargo ships would be bearing down on him. His original plan was to avoid the main shipping routes so the dangers would be less, but there was always the odd and unusual vessel that might come too close. Besides, that always offered a chance to chat on the VHF radio. He welcomed hearing a human voice. From the water's edge to the sky, the African waters were empty. He made a second search, just in case. Seeing emptiness, he slowly turned and headed back to the cockpit. The disappointment of that nothingness had hit him very hard indeed. Tears welled up and he began to sob.
Then.....he saw it....
A pair of shoes. Upside down. Was there a body underneath? It couldn't be. Not out there, but still, there they were. He could just make out the bottoms of what looked like a pair of tennis shoes, side by side, floating not more than 50 feet away. This was too strange not to investigate.
Since the boat was moving slowly, it took him a few minutes to tack , come around and move in close enough to get a better look. He sailed the boat until they bumped midships at the waterline. Luffing, he stopped the boat. There they were, just bobbing alongside. Now he could see there wasn't a body or anything attached to them. A rush of relief came over him. He hadn't thought of what he might do.. IF.. there had been something human inside those shoes. Grabbing the boathook, he dipped down to retrieve the oddity. It caught one of the shoe strings and both of them came along. Apparently the strings had been tied together and he lifted them both aboard and onto the cockpit deck.
There dripping, covered in seaweed, with the tiny animals that cling to flotsam, stinking of rot, were a pair of comically outrageous ... Orange KEDS.
end of episode 1
October 26, 2013