three Year Saga, part 3, the Captain

What are the effects of three years at sea, away from home and in strange new lands on me? In a word, incredible! On my last visit home I had a physical, the last one preceding just before I left on this voyage. My doctor was astounded at the physical improvements. All vital statistics improved, weight down, and a list of stress related issues vanished. I was diagnosed with a crippling foot ailment, Plantar Fasciitis, rendering me doomed to special shoes and never to walk barefoot again according to a leading specialist. I laugh at this as I rarely wear shoes and then only flip flops. It is shoes that cripple us. So physically I am younger, better fit and more flexible than I was 3 years ago for sure.

I just read a report stating that when the muscles in your head form a smile you blood pressure drops, da!. I smile most of the time, everyone I am around smiles most of the time and it is the best way to be. In the land I have visited a non-smiling person is deemed crazy and to be avoided. The smile is the universal greeting and no one does it like the SE Asians.

The cruising life does present a different kind of stress. I am a strong adamant for preparing for all contingencies and avoiding problems by planning, but it is too easy to fall into the “what if” trap. I find the old Serenity Prayer to guide me the best,

“Lord, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

So when things pop up as they do a quick assessment of my role can illuminate a bunch of anguish.

Mechanical problems used to vex me terribly. I would fuss about “why me” and who to blame so by the time I went to work I was tied in knots. I found the one tool to prepare me for all jobs in the old hippy handbook, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” the part where he sets the protocol for fixing a bike in a scientific manner really works. To figure out what broke and fix it; Start calm, form a hypothesis and test it, if it is not the problem move to another. I start upstream on any system, fuel, water, electricity and work my way down slowly till I find the culprit. Then decide if I have the ways and means to fix it and how to live with it if I do not. Removing the personal element takes the anger out—ok I still cuss up a blue streak— but not for long.

I have never been mechanically inclined and I have been spoiled by always having top mechanics around me, especially in the boat business. I did watch and learn so I did leave with some knowledge but not much experience. I can now take on most small problems. Yesterday one of the worst nightmares of any cruising boat happened, the windlass quit with 175 feet of chain and a big anchor on the bottom. This could be a real disaster. I set about the analysis; it stopped flat, no warning not weakening so probably electrical and not a motor failure. I got out the volt meter and found the switches all functioning. I removed the windlass and as I moved it the black neutral wire fell out the bottom showing bare wires. A quick replacement and we were back in business. I had formed a hypothesis, tested it, and moved downstream.

Personal relationships are different in the cruising world; they come and go fast and furious. Immediate attachments arise with other cruisers and locals. If you let the fear of losing them get in the way you lose for sure. I have written extensively about this but the best knowledge came from the back of a T shirt in KK,” Do not cry because it is over, Smile because it happened”. Not that I have not shed a tear or two on my many departures, but the smile lasts forever at the memory.

The lessons I have learned from the people along the way are, for no other description, life changing. I first found the glow of the islanders in Tahiti, then each island country added a bit as I absorbed the cultures. With each lesson learned an old belief fell away like a shedding of worn out skin. The blind, unconditional love I received from people in primitive lands broke through the apprehensions and fears I kept so close.

I have absorbed the different religions experienced on this pilgrimage. The South Islanders practice a devotion to Christianity that puzzled me given the historical horrid treatment from early Christians. Yet they are true Christians, much more so than the selfish, pushy, material obsessed American Christians. The South Islanders walk the walk, Christ would feel at home there.

Next we moved to lands of Islam. I have been force fed garbage about Muslims in the US. Certainly there are evil Muslims about the globe, but not in SE Asia. A kinder, more generous and honest people do not exist. The Indonesian Muslim acts so much more Christian than some Christians I know. The Indonesian people are completely open, not just sort of but completely. It is disarming at first; we recoil at their kindness and hospitality and wonder what they “really want”. What they really want is to be your friend and a good person that is the driver of their existence. I have not been disappointed in giving Indonesians complete trust. This was a revelation for me; to be amongst such people was a profound lesson. The poorest, least educated people on earth gave me the most important lesson in life.

I have talked about my “advanced degrees” in humanities. The South Islanders woke me up to a whole new way of looking at life; I call that experience my “Bachelor’s Degree” in humanity. Then I moved to the Indonesians and again awoke at a whole new level. This was a harder lesson and I had to shed many more firmly held beliefs, hence the “Master’s Degree”.

I went to Thailand not expecting yet another life changing experience. I had met kindness, generosity and a totally pure form of humanity what more could there be? What I found was a level of devotion and calmness unknown to me. All Thai people are bond by one common and unshakable belief, the unconditional love of the King. I saw a level of love never associated with a national leader; God knows not an American one. Every Thai I met from the rich to poor, Buddhist and Muslim, established socialites to the seamy side of life, all love the King. I soon grew to share this love and found a whole new peace with it. There is a certainty in knowing, against all else, that there is one person to love, each Thai wakes up with that certainty every day, it defines them. The King and Buddha are tied together, love one love the other. My experiences with the Buddhists gave me a look at a way of being I had not known. I had one of those, “ahh now I get it” moments. In the Shadow of the Buddha I received my “Doctorate Degree”.

So I eagerly await my return to Thailand. I yearn for the food, the people and the extraordinary natural beauty and yes those big brown eyes.

I look back at who I was before I set out on this voyage. I am clearly healthier physically, enough of a reason to venture out. It is the emotional and spiritual changes that I did not expect and find so all encompassing. There is nothing in my former life to prepare for this metamorphosis. There is certainly nothing that would have brought it about, no shrinks, no books, no religion could ever done this for me. Only 20,000 miles of ocean and a wonderful world full of small brown people with massive hearts living in grass huts could have made this happen.