Christmas Time on Ithaka

Cartagena, Colombia, 10o 24.946’ North 75o 32.693’ West

December 16, 2002

A year ago this week we were looking forward to a pot luck Christmas with other cruisers in Roatan, Honduras. That dinner became a feast and festival, and sometime between the hors d’oeuvres and the rock ‘n’ roll band, we met Cade and Lisa Johnson on Sand Dollar, with whom we’d share all kinds of adventures over the next year.

| | Cade and Lisa* * *| We’ve just come back from visiting the Johnsons in Maracaibo, Venezuela, where they’re teaching in the K-12 American school, _Escuela Bella Vista._ After sailing 23 brutal upwind days from the San Blas, _Sand Dollar_ is now safely docked at the Los Andes Yacht Club, where she’s a celebrity boat—the only cruising yacht in a major oil town that’s off the usual cruising circuit. Cade and Lisa are working with Teresa and Al Jacobs. Teresa is the principal, and Al teaches computer science. They’re friends we met through this internet log, when they e-mailed us two years ago and invited us to spend time with them in La Ceiba, Honduras, where they were teaching then. Thank goodness we took them up on that invitation. Our friendships flourished, and now the Johnsons and Jacobs are all working together. Small world.

| | Teresa* * *| Last weekend in Maracaibo, Bernadette and Lisa spent hours at the Jacobs’ dining room table, chatting, and restringing a beaded necklace given to Bernadette by Punabebe, a Kuna woman we became friendly with at the Lemon Cays in the San Blas. When they weren’t beading, they were comparing mola pillow designs, and mola placemat projects they’re working on, shopping for fabrics, or just hanging out. For old time’s sake, Bernadette gave Lisa a haircut. Meanwhile, Cade and I shot the breeze or played Frisbee golf on the 18-hole course he concocted for the kids at school. Teresa and Al, generous Georgians, cooked up a southern storm: smoked barbequed turkey and pork, sweet potatoes with pecans and cornbread. We got a grand tour of her school, met some of the teachers and kids, and delighted in seeing where they’re living and working.


| | Punabebe* * *| Al worked pretty hard at trying to talk us into sailing the _Sand Dollar_ course upwind to Maracaibo, for a longer visit, but we declined. He took us out to explore _Laguna de Sinamaica_, a lake community where for centuries the houses have been built on stilts. This is the region explored by Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci in 1499. When they saw the stilt homes and water channels winding among islands, it reminded them of Venice, and they named the entire region Venezuela, or “little Venice.” Vespucci had already donated his first name elsewhere.

Writing the Log of Ithaka for the internet, which has rewarded us with good friends such as the Jacobs, continues to be a major pleasure in our cruising life. Sometimes these logs leap from our fingers onto the screen, but more often each one is a two- or three- day, pleasant rumination. Regardless of the gestation period, the logs help us organize and make sense of our experience, both by dunking us in the detail and simultaneously offering us a longer view.

| | Bernadette and Al* * *| What’s been astonishing about the experience of writing the logs is the e-mail we’ve received from readers. Writing for the internet is different than writing books, or academic articles, or even for _Cruising World_ magazine itself, all of which we enjoy. The immediacy, frequency, and informality of this medium forge an unusual intimacy between writer and reader. It’s like we’re writing to friends, and in the two and a half years we’ve been posting our logs, thousands of friends have written back. That’s been gratifying, and we’ve tried to answer every letter, albeit sometimes more briefly than we would’ve liked.


Readers have told us we’re nuts, amusing, incompetent, and encouraging. Some folks send us technical questions about every piece of equipment imaginable. Sometimes we’re able to steer them toward good gear and away from unreliable companies; other times we’ve had nothing to offer and said so. For instance, neither of us knows the “relative advantages and disadvantages of mono- vs. multihulls” or “the correct and best anchor to use in weak mud when the wind is blowing between 20-35 knots.” We only know what we’d do. Definitive answers to these questions are best sought from people more knowledgeable than we are—of which there are many, as some readers have pointed out with considerable fervor. No argument there.

| | The mural of “El Mercado,” painted by Mario Morales, in the Maracaibo airport.* * *| By and large, the e-mails have not been complaints or technical questions. Former cruisers have chuckled over our blunders, and generously recalled beauts of their own. Wannabe cruisers have written to say we’re fueling their dreams and making the cast-off-countdown more manageable. One mother wrote that she’s read some paragraphs of our logs to “my forever sullen teenage daughter, just to show her there is life for people beyond 40. It’s been a great success. Now, in addition to me and her father, she hates you, too.” An attorney in NYC wrote, “Your logs inspire me. You two are the middle-aged poster children who extol determination over experience and tenacity above sense. My wife and I figure that if the Bernons can pull this off, hell, anybody can.”

Most of the e-mails, though, are the essence of generosity: offering suggestions, dinners, cars to borrow, extra charts, and docks to tie to in the US, England, France, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Greece, Brazil, Holland, Taiwan, the Philippines, Colombia, Panama, South Africa, Israel, and Honduras. While that’s surprised and pleased us, the most moving e-mails have been from the many people who use our logs as springboards to consider their own dreams and fears. From them we’ve heard about report cards, births, marriages, divorces, prostate exams, sibling competition, and Cruising World baseball caps worn proudly to cover baldness brought on by chemo. A couple of men with pacemakers (Bernadette has written about hers) wrote us about their renewed courage with a fortified ticker. We’ve also received e-mails from couples who’ve gotten underway, are following our route down the western Caribbean, and wanted to let us know that cruising for them is as confusing, exciting, and weird as we suggested, and they’re thrilled to be out here.


| | This Colombian reindeer, and many of his brethren, pull carts through Cartagena.* * *| Praise be our readers! There’s a minister in Kentucky who’s had his flock praying for us for over a year, which may account for the fact that we’re still afloat. (We’ve asked that they continue.) An elderly widower writes us less frequently now of his grief and the trip he and his wife never got to take. Feeling stronger these days, he just sold their boat and bought a smaller one he can singlehand. “You know,” he wrote recently. “I didn’t die, too. It’s good to hold a tiller again.”

Several people have written us, comparing the Log of Ithaka and our journey to a TV drama. One said, “My husband and I think of Ithaka as a floating soap opera. You move that slowly, and we check in you every other week like clockwork, to find out what calamity is next.”

Everyone who’s written has invited us, for some moments at least, into their lives, fashioning us into whomever it is they want or need us to be, a task accomplished first in reverie, and then directly through e-mail. These ongoing correspondences are an honor for us, and constantly expand our voyage in ways we’d never expected. We’re fortunate to be out here, lucky to enjoy good health, and grateful to Cruising World for its support of the Log of Ithaka and its readers.


| | Poinsettias from Al and Teresa’ house* * *| Holidays are a time when no matter who’s around you, if you’re far from home there are pangs of sadness, recollections of dinner tables groaning with food and crowded with familiars. For us, on our third Christmas out, we feel far less isolated than we did in Year One or Two, more connected to a larger cruising community. In addition, this year _Ithaka_ is filled with the memories we’ve taken back with us from our visit with Al, Teresa, Lisa and Cade. _Ithaka_ is also filled with the warmth of our readers, with the good cheer of these friends yet unmet and still to visit. Thank you all for logging on and joining us on our journey. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, from us both.

| | Happy Holidays, from Ithaka* * *|

e-mail the Bernons: [email protected]


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