Ragged Gal Out To Sea

I woke up because a sound was missing. Our 30-foot sailboat, The Ragged Gal, tossed powerless on waves half as tall as she was wide. The sound of the engine was gone. Our Belizean guides, First-mate Kevin and Captain Jake leaned over the motor like kids surrounding a turtle. The Captain pulled the engine’s cord, but the sound was wrong and without the smallest hint of sputtering alive. Finally, he let Kevin give it a go. With a mechanics frown frozen on his face, he began violently urging the lifeless engine.

I was sleeping below, underneath a bench, a tarp for a blanket and my waterproof pack for a pillow. My brother shifted uncomfortably above me, less accustomed and less accepting of sleeping in cramped quarters. Kayla, a high school friend, whimpered awake at the sound of my brother asking if everything was okay. Both had joined me for weeklong sailing trip to Belize. The last three days the ship had been crammed with a dozen other passengers. Nights were spent in tents on tiny islands surrounding a fire that cooked our catches of the day. Now it was just us five, stranded somewhere between Palencia and Belize City.

Tents on Island

A few hours earlier, the sound of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Songs” joined the stars and lolled us to sleep. The song was still on repeat. Now the moon had risen and cleared the murkiness of the Milky Way, turning the water the color of merlot and everything else a dreamy blue.

Without élan, Kevin prepared to give the string one final tug. “Dat engine won’t start.” Captain Jake told my brother, glancing at Kevin, who let the cord slither away without a final yank.

“What exactly does that mean?” my brother asked. He and Kayla had a plane to catch in eight hours. I had a bus to catch in four.

Aaron on Ship

“It means we’re sailing!” reported Kevin, who only spoke in matter of fact shouts. He jumped from the engine to the mast, pulled a line that undid a knot, and the patched sail floated down from the moonlit sky. The wind was only a breeze and the sail sagged, our boat barely budging over the waves.

A cold mist from the Caribbean salted my face. I asked the Captain a silly question, “Are we going to get back in time for my bus?”

“We’ll get back when the wind blows us back,” he said, lighting a smoke and reclining his head into the pillow of his hands. I licked my salt flavored lips and pulled the tarp back over me. The moon seemed solemn and certain. Kayla and Aaron also re-settled themselves in their sleeping corners, feeling a chill from the light breeze taking us to shore.

How long will they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look? Some say it’s just a part of it: We’ve got to fulfill the book. Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom. Cause all I ever had . . .redemption songs.

Quietly, so no one else could hear, I sang along in a whisper. Planes and buses departed when a clock said it was time. We would arrive when the ocean said it was time, and I felt peace in having no alternative than to hope her clock would coincide with the other, manmade clock.

Belize Sunrise

When I woke again the moon was replaced with a blushing horizon. We were pointed straight at Belize City. Without a steering wheel, using only the sail, Captain Jake somehow parallel docked the ship into an opening on a pier that didn’t have more than a foot of leeway. Kevin climbed the mast and let out a victorious shout, as impressed as we were at the captain’s ability. “He does it with no Engine! No engine! That’s why he’s the captain! You see that?”

A humble smile washed up on our captain’s face. He wished us all safe journey as I shook his hand and gave rushed hugs to Aaron and Kayla before running to catch a bus that I’d board minutes before it pulled out of the station.

For information about tours visit Raggamuffin Tours’s Website.

Cruising World
Originally Published in Cruising World, July 2013