This wasn’t the first time I’ve been alone on the deck of a small boat at sea. It wasn’t even the first time I’ve been alone on a deck after puking. I have on a number of occasions provided high quality protein to the fish of various oceans, though this was the first time the South Atlantic had benefited from my largess.
But being alone on a jangada felt different somehow. The deck was so small and so very near the water. Being so close I could almost feel that water pulsing inside of me, its rich chemistry working in every cell of my body, a primordial soup steeped well within me: the living sea. We are of the sea, and how she ends up, so shall we. Better take care. . .
Staring idly at the water’s surface, trying to come to grips with what I was feeling, I saw a plastic grocery bag floating by. Oh, God! We really are going to fuck it up!
Deep breath . . . Take another deep breath . . . Just keep breathing . . .
I sat sulking on the hard banco until my ass hurt more than my pride, then got up for a drink of water. At least I had learned how to do that without drowning myself. Sucking on the short length of hose, the water was warm in my mouth and tasted faintly of rubber. But the liquid felt so wonderfully smooth running down my raw throat.
Thank heaven for small pleasures.
Kneeling beside the icebox frame I could feel cold melt-water under my shins, leaking out from the Isopor. It was funny to think that the two factors limiting the length of our trip were actually one and the same, just in different forms (water again). Our fresh water would run out after four days if it didn’t rain. But even if it did and we were able to collect more water to drink, that would only buy us an extra day at sea. After five days the ice in the box would melt and the fish would start to rot. And nobody likes rotten fish except maybe some Swedes.
I screwed on the barril’s cap and leaned back against the icebox frame. The wind had almost completely died out and the waves were calming down. This seemed to have a calming effect on me. Feeling less like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes, I grabbed the top of the frame and pulled myself up. And there, perched so innocently on the lid — my nemesis — the farinha pan.
Remembering I still had some unfinished business to attend to, I picked up the pan and crouched at the rail to scoop up some seawater. Being close to the scene of the crime, I simply reached over and dumped the water onto the dry vomit, hoping to wash it away in one fell swoop. No such luck. Several pans later, using my foot as a scrubber, the stain was finally removed from the planking, along with some of the blue deck paint. My chore completed, I set the pan back on the icebox and walked forward to inspect Mamede’s handiwork.
The canopy was made from the jangada’s small jib, stretched over the mast and the tabernacle beam. He had first shifted the mast to the port side of the beam and had secured it there with some line. He then tied the sail’s tack to the foot of the mast and pulled its head aft along the spar to tension the luff. The sail’s clew was then brought across the beam and lashed to the star-board side of the frame, drawing tight both leech and foot. The result was a taut triangular awning that shaded the deck between the hatch and the tabernacle frame. Mamede had even laid out the second anchor line for me to use as a ropy pillow. Dammit, I thought, moved by his kindness again.
It was early afternoon and the sun was high overhead. Without a cloud in the sky nor a cool wind blowing, the deck got hotter than a Glock at a NRA certified shooting range. Gratefully I scooted my butt under the awning and bunched up the line to use as a backrest. I made a nice little chaise for myself in the shade. (The world could go to hell in a plastic hand-bag for all I cared — I would be comfortable!) All I needed was a good book to feel right at home. Barring that I sat gazing aft, my eyes barely open — zoning — caught in the twilight between sleep and consciousness. Rocked by the hull like a baby in a cradle, in no time at all I was out like a light.
Stop it . . . No . . . Stop pushing . . . I tried to resist but it wouldn’t go away. The more I pushed, the more it pushed back. It took several seconds for me to fully wake up and realize that someone was trying to open the hatch and my legs were wedged against it. Quickly I rolled sideways and the cover shot forward. João’s head popped up, looking about as angry as a person can get.
“Shit!” he growled, jumping out of the hatch and sprinting aft. He didn’t even bother to close the cover behind him — just left the thing pressing up against my back. I felt a little miffed, but then the reason for his haste soon became apparent.
Though I couldn’t see what was going on behind the icebox, I could sure hear it — every last groan of it. João was having his own digestive issues, though his were being expressed at the opposite end of his GI tract. The explosions coming from his backside were truly impressive. (It is amazing what the human body can do when called upon.) Apparently the piglets in his belly had found a way out, and having done so, they were making a run for it (so to speak).
Thankfully for João the eruptions subsided quickly. (And lucky for me I was sitting upwind.) He stayed at the transom, panting heavily while uttering some repentant Medonha’s, Dios Mio’s, and other less ecumenical exclamations through postpartum breaths. When his breathing finally settled down, he started to clean up. This took quite a while and was done with such a flurry of splashing water, I thought the multi-functional farinha pan might come in handy.
Best not to rub it in.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Besides – my number was probably the next one up.
The splashing eventually stopped and then started again at a slower pace. I caught a glimpse of João’s hand rising above the box, holding a large piece of cloth, then rapidly swinging down, followed by a wet SLAP on the deck. This was repeated several times until his hands reached forward to wring out the cloth. The “cloth” was actually his shorts. They needed to be rinsed.
When the aerobic activity finally ended, João appeared from behind the box and made his way forward. The damp shorts hung limply from his hips and water matted the dark hair of his skinny legs. Seeing his obvious misery, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. (God knows, we’ve all been there.) But he quickly cut off any sympathy with a glowering stare, making it clear I should just keep my mouth shut. Without a word he stepped into the hold, frowning at me as he lowered himself down. And I couldn’t break free from that frown — I was utterly hypnotized.
The hatch slammed shut and the spell was broken. I was finally able to stretch out again. Looking at my watch, I saw it was just after four in the afternoon. I had slept for almost three hours. The sun was lower but still very hot, and I positioned myself to get back into the shade. I tried for more sleep but I couldn’t settle down. My stomach was the problem again. Despite all that had happened, it was now craving for something to fill it.
Next chapter: Ice Cream