The last hints of daylight tuck below the western horizon as Swell motors out of the wide gulf, headed out on an overnight passage. My newest crewmate, Heather, takes the first watch. Upon her arrival two weeks ago, we bused overland to explore the Caribbean side of Panama before readying Swell to head south along Panama’s Pacific coast. Heather scans for other boats while I scurry around transforming Swell into passage mode as the coast fades into a strip of sparsely scattered lights.
Heather and I met behind the bar in Santa Barbara. During our first shift together, the petite brunette with Bambi-like brown eyes proved patient, hardworking, quick-witted, and caring. Over the following two years, we became like sisters and survived being hit on by stubbly, unshowered fishermen and pining regulars by cracking jokes and rolling our eyes at each other when someone got out of line.
4,505 Nautical Miles Traveled Buena Manifestadon Positive Vibration Photo Gallery
About an hour into her watch, I’m putting away the dishes when Heather comes down the companionway, pale and wide-eyed.
“Ray’s here,” she says, “He’s right outside.”
“What do you mean?”
I can’t understand. It’s completely dark out and we’re already well offshore. I hurry past her up the steps and see Ray, the wily fifty-something Volkswagen salesman-turned-cruiser standing in his dinghy and hanging onto the lifelines as we drag him along at five knots. We had crossed paths in several anchorages, where he’d clearly developed a crush on my new crewmate, but I can’t believe he followed us all this way!
“What the hell are you doing way out here? You scared Heather!” I say sternly.
“Just thought I’d remind you girls, Panama is to the left!” he says, tossing his head back and exploding with hyena-like laughter.
“Get outta here, you creepy ol’ pirate! We don’t need your help!” I shoo him off in a fluster; he disappears into the dark behind us. I had hoped for a smoother start to Heather’s first night watch, but thankfully, lecherous older men are something she’s quite skilled at navigating. She has an incredible capacity for grace in the face of insisting drunks, picky snobs, and now, brash sailors. It doesn’t matter that she’s never sailed before. Whether it’s dish-washing or onion-chopping, algae-scrubbing or fish-filleting, hitchhiking or ten-hour bus rides, Heather is game. She has a knack for self-control and a persistent positivity that I hope will rub off on me.
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