The Good, the Bad, and the Cranky
|The cruise director found solace in solitary kayaking expeditions around the atolls.|
The Truth-Nothing But
Can you say "mood-swing critical mass"?
By Elaine Lembo
We were a multitude of personalities fit to fill a cruise ship: a pair of anglers, a former big-city most-eligible bachelor, a Cape Horner, a closet smoker, a crooner, a deep-sea diver, a jock, a man with jock itch, a swab, an old girl, a princess, a poet, a prima donna. And of course, no cruise is complete without a tour director.
Alas, we didn't book the right boat. In fact, the four individuals into whom these sundry shades of behavior were stuffed found themselves shoehorned as crewmates aboard a 40-foot catamaran. I was one of them. This is my story, and I'm stickin' to it.
Our cruising grounds were the southern cays and atolls of Belize, an often-overlooked Central American country whose border fronts on the western shores of the Caribbean Sea. Our mission, as it turns out, was to drive each other crazy while enjoying the carefree sailing, fishing, diving, kayaking, collegial meal making, and other wonderful aspects of bareboating that make such trips truly memorable for sailors just about everywhere.
We initially operated under the veneer of the personas that we usually present to each other. As the days of the week progressed and we sailed through the cays and offshore atolls, the real personalities emerged.
The jock and diver, it turns out, was also a stargazer, a frustrated cinematographer, and a road warrior in that he loved any kind of music that helps him put miles in the rearview mirror. Herb McCormick went nowhere without his trusty case of CDs. Also the Cape Horner, he likes to sail and was aces on the helm. As for his creative eye behind the lens, wherever we went, he was framing shots and talking into a video camera. The anglers soon named him Scorsese.
As for the pair of anglers, one of them-in fact, the one who'd frequently announce that nothing bothers him any more-was really a homesick father who doted on his wife and kids. No matter how stunning the sunset or clear the water, Angus Phillips's guilt over not being with his son to help him move into his first home intensified as the days wore on. Yes, you guessed right, he was also the closet smoker, the crooner, and the poet. Early each morning, he entertained us with torch-song melodies from his cabin, including this one: "'Emotions in my heart'"-pause-"'are making me long for you. . . .'"
As morning blossomed into afternoon, the oratory shifted to poetry, a rhymed recitation of our actions at every juncture. The memory of all those ramblings lingers in a pleasing way.
The other angler, God bless Andrew Hughes' soul, was all sunshine and optimism. The former big-city most-eligible bachelor's heyday was past, and he was now another doting father, but one without separation anxiety-and his kid was still a toddler. This guy loved to fish and drink beer, and that was pretty much that. On countless occasions, he buoyed the mood. I repeat: God bless his soul.
Then there was me. This won't be an accurate self-assessment, no matter what. I was swab, old girl, princess, prima donna. I was also the tour director, having come up with the idea for the trip and then planned it from soup to nuts. Hey, call me crazy. I am, now.
It all started out innocently enough: The provisions arrived at The Moorings base in the seaside village of Placenciaand right away the guys wanted to know why I'd ordered so much club soda and Diet Coke and so little beerand the CDs went into the player. Bingo. Instant party.
Partying aside, we did our bit, as directed, as responsible vacation sailors. We'd listened to and then carefully followed the instructions doled out by Cricket, a Moorings staffer who came aboard and guided us through the systems of Lisa Michelle, the Moorings 4000 that was our platform for this adventure. And we dutifully attended the skippers briefing, a two-hour marathon detailing possible itineraries as well as the dos and don'ts of the cruising grounds surrounding the base.
Base manager Renee Brown started out with a concept simple enough for any would-be old salt to comprehend: "The last marine survey done in Belize was in 1989," she said. "There've been significant changes in the coast due to weather, mainly hurricanes. The most important navigational tool in Belize is your eyes on deck."
Sail only, she continued, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for best visibility among the shallows and reef patches. Stay on the alert for long fetches that would make an anchorage uncomfortable; choose mooring over anchoring, but always dive to examine the tackle; realize that the closer you sail to the barrier reef, the stronger the wind and the greater the groundswell. Watch out for the yellow stingrays, spiny sea urchins, crocodiles, Portuguese men-of-war, scorpions, boa constrictors, no-see-ums, and sand flies. "A tour inland gives you a chance to experience the other side of Belize," she advised in conclusion.
After that laundry list of scary critters, an inland tour shot to the top of my wish list, and I cajoled the cinematographer to start off this sailing adventure in an air-conditioned van. We traveled by water and winding road about 85 miles inland to Lubaantun, an ancient Mayan city that archeologists first excavated in 1915. Our anglers were fine with this plan; one was awaiting lost luggage.
We arrived at the Lubaantun Archaeological Reserve, after a refreshing dip in the freshwater of Blue Creek, just in time to catch the tail end of the Toledo district's 2008 Cacao Fest (www.toledochocolate.com), a community celebration whose aim is to raise awareness of the Belizean Mayan culture and promote local agriculture, specifically the harvesting of organic cacao to be used in the production of chocolate. Scorsese first squirmed at the girlishness of this inland tour, but once I gave him the video camera and he was able to turn the world into his own silver screen, he calmed down.
For my part, I enjoyed every second of it, including the colors of the costumes of the participants in the Deer Dance, the trinkets sold from the booths, and the local people themselves, many of whom live in thatch homes in tiny villages. I left wishing that I had more time to spend there. When we got back to the base, the former most-eligible bachelor had his luggage. All was well-so far.
The Moorings people set the right tone for this and all their charter excursions. Inside the base office, above the entry way to the chart-briefing room, is a clock. It tells time not in seconds, minutes, or hours but in days of the week. The underlying message, you might assume, is that in a little while, you will lose track, and you might not care that you lose track. It might actually evolve into a goal. It gave me pause about my tour-directing ways.
We managed to stay on point long enough to construct a loose itinerary that would allow us to cruise the southern area of the country, including the southernmost offshore atoll, Glover Reef, and then return by the end of the week refreshed and tanned.
At Glover, the anglers would stalk the shallows for bonefish, and Scorsese would join a rendezvous dive. I'd kayak, snorkel, and, if I really hit pay dirt, have a massage, but later I'd discover that there was no masseuse in residence where we'd sailed, and it mattered not, as swimming in this pristine and sparkling water went a long way to soothing my aches and pains.
Somewhere, somehow, along the way I should've seen the mood shifts coming. Before heading for the country's offshore atolls, we were required to have a local skipper join our crew to guide us safely through the reef patches and the virtually unseen openings that occur along miles of mangrove. That in and of itself wasn't the problem. The local skipper, Jimmy Westby, was one kool kat, and we had good enough reason to trust him with our lives. Hailing from Placencia, he was a lifelong fisherman and sailor, and so were members of his extended family. The Westbys knew these waters well and have long thrived from their bounty.
But when Jimmy guided the anglers away from waters teeming with bonefish for some undefined spot that lacked fish, cracks in the portrait of our happy family formed. Conspiracy theories mushroomed. "Never leave fish to go look for fish!" complained the crooner. Meanwhile, Scorsese not only found a good dive company but also a female dive master who caught his eye. If there was another dinner guest that night, he forewarned, he wanted no complaints. The crooner fell silent. As for me, I'd taken a liking to the kayak, intent on paddling alone until cocktail hour. A low profile, I thought, would be prudent.
I nearly achieved one, but any blissful notions I'd fostered that my solo exploits would remain private were shattered when I rounded a corner of the cay and ran smack-dab into the area where the anglers were ever so quietly continuing to scope out the elusive fish. Mortified that I'd ruined their chances, I offered apologies aplenty.
They caught no more fish that day or for the rest of the trip. The dive master was happily married, so Scorsese never scored. Jimmy cooked us a fine dinner from the gifts of land and sea, coconut rice and grilled conch. We had a lovely evening-until we realized that the kayak, a two-person model, had snapped its painter and drifted away.
By the time we bade Jimmy farewell near the southern tip of the mighty reef, some 48 hours after we picked him up, the crooner announced, "This trip's over." Then he asked to borrow my cellphone to call his family. Then he snapped at Scorsese for playing too much road music. Then, lest you think the dysfunction could not get headier, he talked about his garden and his tomato plants.
After nightfall, Scorsese and the former most-eligible bachelor partied their brains out, whooping it up on the foredeck trampoline. I couldn't sleep. It made me even crankier about the piles of dirty dishes in the galley and the empty beer bottles in the cockpit. I gave them my darkest martyr-like scowl.
As it turned out, the one who had the final say about whether or not this trip was, in fact, over was Mother Nature herself. She's the one who drenched the camera Scorsese left on deck one night, and she's the one who entered stage left from the Pacific in the form of Pacific Tropical Storm Alma and, with enhanced convection, became Atlantic Tropical Storm Arthur. She's the one who caused the catamaran to drag its anchor when Arthur first kicked up its heels, and she's the one who ultimately made the base move all the boats, including ours, into the safety of a very buggy lagoon that was also a very good hurricane hole.
I'd say it's her fault, too, that the crooner didn't like the restaurant we'd picked for our last dinner together, forcing us to relocate to a bar with a big-screen TV so he and Scorsese could watch the Celtics in a playoff game. I pouted all night and shot them dagger-like stares. Our personality collisions had nearly reached critical mass, and they'd only converge completely and irretrievably when, upon being set ashore once and for all, Arthur poured rain on us and our cab was down the muddy road a ways. The crooner, my guess is, still hasn't recovered from that one.
Dear reader, fear not. One mental image, clear as a bell, trumps all others and keeps my faith about such adventures intact. It is of me swinging in a multicolored hammock on the afternoon after we bid farewell to Jimmy. We'd caught a mooring, then gone ashore on Ranguana Cay. I was sipping a rum punch, and I was trying to retrace the itinerary and landfalls of the previous days. Were we at Tobacco Cay on Monday? Southwater Cay on Tuesday? Where had we sailed after that, and where had I caught my first yellowtail? Did we go directly to Glover Reef? Wait a minute. Where'd we just come from-this morning? I knew not, and for that, and every other memory lapse, I will always thank The Moorings and think of that briefing-room clock.
And as I lay in that hammock, swilling the local nectar, I realized that we'd had a "bad" and a "cranky" aboard, and we needed a "good." Well I'm here to tell you, as a cruise director, that I was good. I was really good.
When not acting as cruise director, Elaine Lembo is CW's deputy editor.
|Elaine Lembo, Jimmy Westby, Andrew Hughes, Angus Phillips, and pix-snapper Herb McCormick still managed to break bread happily enough.|