As the months pass and we continue to wake up each morning in a van, our sense of adventure rises and falls like phases of the moon. One day we wake up in a Colombian junkyard and it can only get better from there. Then one day over our morning coffee we regard with amazement the way that the jagged tip of Tierra del Fuego slices into the sea, the very end of the Americas, the end of the road. But for every momentous morning coffee view there’s a nondescript parking lot or a filthy Indian petrol station. Still, no matter where we wake up and how our desire to carry on is tested, I still come back with the same suggestion to my sweet and forgiving wife.
“Just hear me out, Sheena,” I say time after time. “You know how we’re sitting in our van right now? And how there are thirty creepy Indian men staring at us through our windshield? And how your hair is matted and the air in here is fetid and stagnant?” She nods. “Well just think how much better it’d be if we had a sailboat. The open water, the great unknown, the deep sea fishing, the silky, sun-streaked hair. We could sail around the world!”
And to this she always has the same response:
“Bradley, if you want to sail around the world, you’re going to have to find a new wife.”
“But think about the adventure! The fresh seafood! And anyway, I would never trade you in for a new wife. Well, unless Shakira wanted to marry me.”
“Do you see this matted hair? This is your fault. Do you know why? Because you made me move into a van! And Shakira? Do you really think that Shakira wants to live on a tiny boat!?”
And so I saw it as both a minor victory and a chance to sell Sheena on the idea of a “next adventure” when our new Turkish friend Engin invited us to go sailing around some Turkish Mediterranean islands on his sailboat.
“There’s no pressure, Sheena,” I said. “But while we’re out there just remember this: there are no Indian highways out at sea, and no public defecation. Every day is paradise!” To this she shot me a look that said you’ll be living in this van long after I divorce you!
It was the very end of the offseason and so Engin’s sail had been removed from the boat, leaving a naked mast and no choice but to motor sail. But no big deal, he had told us, we would simply sail to a different island where another boat was parked, this one having a sail, so we could go swap boats for the day. We loaded two days of food and drink into the boat, and precariously crossed the narrow wooden gangplank with armloads of supplies. Before long we set off under ominous skies, the bow slicing through the calm waters around the harbor at Göcek.
The first and only time I was on a sailboat was near the beginning of our trip, in Puerto Vallarta, as you may recall…
“Ambling down the dock toward their boat, Bumfuzzle, we recounted to Pat how we had arrived in Puerto Vallarta hoping to camp at an RV park in the old town. It had closed, so we ended up staying at a cheap hotel where we fell asleep to the soothing sounds of a wailing hooker on the other side of our paper thin wall. Oh, if our mattress could talk. I awoke in the morning to find that the fitted sheet had come off, and I was lying directly on the bare mattress. As we walked to the boat, I habitually scratched at my sides, convinced that our bed had given me the clap.”
While it is true that we had been aboard, it should be said that we never left the dock. This time would mark the first time in my life that I’d been on a sailing sailboat. I was going to have to gather my sea legs, or else do a knockout job of faking it. I scrolled through my memory for help and came up with several recollections of the film Titanic. Not a sailboat, but close enough. I got up and walked to the front of the bow, stood in the very front so as to give myself the feeling of being a low-flying coastal bird, and tried my best to look like Leonardo DiCaprio. I stopped short of holding my arms out like a bird, as that maneuver is decidedly only cool when you’re simultaneously spooning Kate Winslet. After displaying to the crew (Sheena and Engin) that I was seaworthy, I took my seat in the back where Engin, clearly surprised by my sailoryness, gave me the steering stick and told me to drive.
Some time later we rounded a bend and found our way into a hidden channel leading to a calm bay in the middle of an island. The island’s hills surrounding the bay were covered in old knotted olive trees, flowers, and the ruins of a very small and old island community consisting of a farmhouse, a few outbuildings, and the remains of a church. It was disgustingly cute and quaint. We docked the boat in the tiny harbor and quickly discovered that the boat we were to swap for had also been stripped of its sail. Seeing no other elegant solutions we sat back and had a picnic onboard, drank a beer, and then Sheena and I set off on foot to explore the island while Engin took a siesta.
The island, as it turned out, was still inhabited by a Turkish family who’d taken to living in the old farmhouse, and whose goats and cows wandered around the stables behind the ruins. We found our way through the stables and past the church, the crystal clear bay to our left, and the rocky olive-covered hills to our right. Over a small rise we came to an outward-facing cove and sat down to soak in the isolation of this too-good-to-be-true, quintessentially Mediterranean island. We sat. Time passed. Waves lapped. Breeze flipped hair. Storm moved in.
The weather had been touchy since we arrived in Engin’s village near Fethiye on Turkey’s South coast three days earlier. Nacho had braved deep mud to get to his house high up on the side of a mountain and the sky threatened rain each day. Engin, a friend of Eren in Ankara, had set us up in a guesthouse on his property having a commanding view of a mountain village below, and we had kept the heater in the bedroom cranked to fend off the chill in the air. By day we worked on Nacho projects; redesigning the broken rear bumper mounts (a victim of India’s National Highway 7), reducing the size of the bumper’s jerry can holder to reduce weight, redesigning the shoddy awning mounts, and repairing a broken exhaust mount. Those projects were carried out in between spats of cold rain and occasional gusts of chilly wind, while each night we gathered around Engin’s wood burning stove to enjoy dinner, a beer, and each other’s company.
To add variety to our days filled with Nacho projects we would all load up in Engin’s Land Rover and explore the dirt roads criss-crossing the mountains between his home and the sea. On Turkey’s southwest coast there exists a combination of mountains and sea that we never knew existed; rugged snowy peaks cascade down from the sky in pine-covered ridges and rock faces where they prematurely meet the sea. This means that one can drive forest roads that look like those found above 6,000 feet in the American West, but the road will abruptly end at the sea, the pine trees fanning out onto the beach. Our arrival in late Spring, and the corresponding rains and overcast skies made us feel as though we were in some Mediterranean version of Oregon. It was absolutely fantastic. And with all of this cool weather sloshing about, it should have come as no surprise that we would have ended up in a minor island emergency situation.
At first sign of the impending storm we stood up and headed back over the rise, but soon our attention was diverted from securing our safety to exploring the olive trees on the hill. We turned left and walked up the hill, and before long the wind picked up and the rain started. We sought refuge under an old olive tree. Storm or no storm, we were keenly aware that being stuck on a deserted Turkish island with a sailboat was still better than most imaginable days. When a lull in the rain arrived, we fled from the shelter of the olive grove and made way for the boat. When we arrived we found Engin seeking refuge in the lower deck.
Just after finding refuge in the cabin of the sailboat the rain really started to fall, and we had to make some decisions.
“I spoke to the people at the marina before we left,” Engin said, “and they said that if the storm did arrive today, it would probably last for three days.” He looked stoic, like many Turks do, and we couldn’t quite read between the lines. Was this a bad idea? “We can stay the night if you want. But if the storm does come, we might be stuck here for a few days. And we only have enough food left for one more meal.” This kind of thing clearly didn’t bother Turks, who, admittedly, are far more tough and resilient than we Americans. Engin’s warning of meager times ahead weighed heavily on us, and after some contemplation and indecisiveness we all agreed that it would be best to head back to the mainland where food and houses abounded.
But not before I hooked a long-beaked, rather scary-looking sea serpent with a line and hook that I found, further proving that I was born to be a fish taco-making sailor. But then we were off.
This time Sheena was enlisted to steer the boat with the steering stick, which left me ample time to walk back and forth along the sides of the sailboat holding onto rigging to keep my balance just like the experienced sailors do in the movies. I lost my balance as Sheena tried to make a minor correction with the rudder, jerking the boat at a tight right angle, putting us on course to Greece, before correcting her course in a series of sloppy zig-zags while Engin massaged his temples and lightly shook his head. I stood in front of the boat like Leonardo DiCaprio again and imagined that I lived on a boat, and that this was just another day in a carefree sailing life. I imagined the tasty seafood frolicking below me as the bow of the boat sliced through the deep blue waves which marched across the surface of the sea. I imagined Sheena and me sitting on our boat couch, which would be modern in style and probably white, and would be positioned in the tidy living room of our fancy catamaran. We would be sipping wine, laughing about a joke that we’d heard in port, and I would go out for a moment to check the line to see if any mahi mahi were waiting to be made into fish tacos.
I turned and looked at Sheena, who was nervously steering the boat, and then made my way to her by deftly clinging to the rigging.
I spoke with the idealism and toothy grin of a boy scout. “Hey Sheena, can’t you just imagine how great it would be to sail around the world? Can you imagine?” It didn’t need any more explanation. She would be feeling the same sense of freedom, feeling the wind in her hair, almost able to taste the mahi mahi tacos.
“Listen…to…me,” she said in an uncharacteristically assertive voice, staring directly into my eyes with all of the wild intensity of a spouse who really needs to convey an important message. “WE – ARE – NOT – GETTING – A – SAILBOAT!”
I sunk down onto the wooden seat and I watched the waves go by, the rain trickle down, and my dream of sailing the high seas wash overboard and sink into the deep blue water of the Fethiye bay.