It's coming up on two years since I caught a Boeing from Trinidad back to KC, that flight being the final leg of a journey begun two months earlier. A lot has happened since then, but as we watch a man some would characterize as crazier than a bedbug readying himself to be sworn into office as chief executive in our home of the not so free, I keep flashing back to an afternoon only three days into that voyage...
But first things first. Not long after Halloween in 2014 I received an email that read "I'm sailing a Hylas Stevens 47 from Savannah to the Venezuelan coast, but the insurers say I need a crewman listed on the manifest. What do you think about Christmas in Trindad?" It had been a year since Cris's passing and I was still struggling with that and other catastrophes, a fact which ii, a.k.a. Inverted Interrobang, a.k.a. Will Gentieu, had picked up on all the way from his temporary berth on the coast of Georgia. I will post more about ii, and soon (though much belatedly), but before moving on here I need to say that his offering such an opportunity without even meeting me in person beforehand - and what a leap of faith that was! - remains one of the most thoughtful, kindest gifts I've ever been proffered. I love the man like a brother and always will, and not just because he's the only practicing poet-sailor I'm likely to meet.
A month later, following a mad scramble to get my passport and an affordable flight east and whatever shots the travel doc said I needed, I found myself in Savannah aboard a 30-something yacht named Lillie Mae just a couple days before her scheduled departure for points south.
After some last minute provisioning while waiting out a little heavy weather in Savannah, we cast off and Will set Lillie on a course south along the Intracoastal Waterway. One day's sailing took us to an anchorage on Redbird Creek, which remains in my memory as beautiful a place as anything I saw later in the Caribbean and South America.
The second night's anchorage was on Teakettle Creek.
The view from Lillie Mae's cockpit, that above-deck portion of the vessel known to sailors since at least as far back as the Punic Wars as "the area where you probably won't fall overboard and die."
About noon of our third day out from Savannah, I noticed some odd, apparently gigantic structures on the horizon.
After glancing at the digital display from Lillie Mae's autopilot, Will said the still miles-distant buildings were on King's Bay Naval Submarine Base, located just our side of the Georgia/Florida line, and soon enough we were sailing along the edge of (but hopefully not into) restricted waters that are home turf for the US Navy's Atlantic Fleet ballistic missile nuclear submarines, or SSBNs as they're known in Pentagonese.
As we looked around at our surroundings, we had a suspicion that some of the speed boats which had been making unusually close passes for the previous hour or so might have been manned by undercover USN or USCG security personnel trying to ascertain whether we worked for ISIS or the Taliban or some other inappropriately turban-sporting organization.
We assumed by then that Lillie Mae was being closely surveilled and probably had been for quite some time, but we weren't prepared for what happened next. A fast attack boat complete with manned M60 machine gun and a squad of grinning, Ray Ban-wearing, assault rifle-toting stormtroopers suddenly roared up out of nowhere and, at the last possible moment short of ramming us, curvetted gracefully into a blocking position just off our starboard bow (or "pointy bit" in sailor lingo). As the attack boat's skipper hailed us over his PA system - which happened in near perfect sync with no-nonsense instructions over Lillie's radio to stand to and identify ourselvelves - I smoothly slipped my camera under my hoody while frantically pretending I hadn't just seconds before been merrily snapping dozens of pics of anything that looked top secret...
~ end of part one ~