So, there's no place to start but the start, and that's where I'll begin. This is a first draft, and also a personal account, so just expect it to be a little rough and occasionally vague. Sometimes on a boat when the going gets rough and shit starts breaking, a wise crew member just hunkers down and doesn't ask a lot of questions. Like, only one: What can I do? So in some of my accounts, I'll describe situations through a very narrow lens: this is what I think went wrong, and this is what I was doing. I hope that anyone else who was there will feel free to correct me, or add the view from their lens. We were twelve people on a boat, and on any boat, there's human drama. Okay, maybe not on unmanned (emasculated?) submarines, but otherwise, my point holds. I'm not going to focus too much on the soap opera aspect here--who hated whom, who flirted with disaster or dismissal or each other. Wanna know? Too bad. Wait for the expose novel. Or maybe a reality show: Real World--Tall Ship Edition. In the fishing community, we jokingly call the soap opera of boat life "As the Gurdy Turns." Mostly, I just don't want to use this venue to have the last word. We worked our asses off, we got the mission done, and along the way we occasionally pissed each other off--but most importantly, we got it done.
So, here's the start. Kim Carver heard about the first mission to Haiti on the Liberty, and posted
a mention on Facebook. And I was in Ketchikan. Need I say more? Wait, I'm sensing some blank looks from the audience. I was in Ketchikan, Alaska, okay? In January. Visiting a friend whose heat had been turned off, in Ketchikan where the wind screams down Tongass Avenue and throws icy grit in your face. And I would have wanted to venture off a-sailing in any case, but I was cold & sunlight-deprived & had grit in my eyes. And it just sounded suspiciously like something I would do, so I helped fate along by emailing the ship's captain. Unfortunately, that first trip aboard Liberty was filled already with aid workers and photographers and similar dangerous types (joking, jeez). But when round two came around, different story. I had actually met and worked with Kim on the Lady Washington, and she was willing to recommend me to Captain Jared; we struck up a series of phone and email conversations, and he offered me a place on the boat. The Liberty, that is. Dun-da-dun-daaaaa.
Almost two weeks later, following a long string of airports and three nights without sleep, I landed in Fort Lauderdale. Jared picked me up at the airport, driving a van full of boat parts, power tools, and rollicking canines. Well, only two, but quite accomplished in the rollicking department. And Jared in a similar state--a little frantic, a lot hyper, bouncing off the walls but leashed to the phone--even on the ride back to Miami, his cellphone never stopped ringing. He just balanced the phone with a cup off coffee, talking to me and fielding sequential phone-calls while piloting the van through heavy traffic. Occasional rebukes to the dogs, who were hassling over the space on my lap. Shifting gears, shifting personas, a hobo jumping between trains of thought--and I thought: This bodes well, for a captain. the hub of our expedition, a consummate multi-tasker. This bodes well for the trip.
I was the first to arrive outside of the core crew, and I wandered through those first introductions in a fuzzy, sleep-deprived haze. First Justin, the chief mate and Jared's brother, who was stepping off the boat as we stepped aboard: looks like a movie star gone punk-rock; tattooed and pierced, loves horror movies and heavy metal, soft-spoken and sharp-witted and beloved by animals and small children. And the rest, in no particular order: Tino, hard-partying sailor's sailor, would provide our link to the Halie and Matthew. Lovely Mallory, senior deckhand and Justin's girlfriend, resembling nothing so much as some fantasy-game avatar with her long whips of dreadlocked hair, bright blue eyes and twin hoops in her lower lip, like tiny silver fangs. And the First Family of the Liberty, the owners and their two children, who remind me of some sea-faring version of the Cleavers (but with a trendy edge): mild-mannered Phillip, who morphs into Mr. Incredible when the chips are down (wait, you'll see); Sharon, graceful and stable as a tight-rope walker; and like a tight-rope walker, so smilingly sure-footed that you can hardly believe she's balancing, like, a sofa and a bicycle and five clowns juggling chainsaws. Amazing. Their two children, I have no doubt, will either save the world or take it over by force...Fortunately, their powers seem to be oriented toward the good. Bright and personable; too clever by half. I like to attribute it to being homeschooled, since they seem like good company to keep. All in all a hardy crew, and cheerful at that: everything was so uncertain then--the funding, the schedule, the plan at large--but one thing seemed quite certain in everyone's mind: that the mission to Haiti would happen, and that it would be a great success.
I learned the ship first in bits and pieces: that initial view of her, laying alongside the main pier by a sign advertising sunset sails; then a half-tour, galley and head (the vital stuff!) and a walk along the deck...all seventy-eight feet, freshly painted and ready for the sea. After months of repairs and re-rigging, sanding and scrubbing and tuning, the schooner Liberty was poised for action. I napped for a couple of hours below deck, slowly swimming up from the foggy depths of sleep deprivation. Overhead footsteps hurried and hatches slammed. A tight ship, a tidy ship, just touches to finish.
A few days earlier, Jared warned me on the phone that I should have travelled sooner--I was going to miss all the boat work. I think I squeaked, "Jinx!" and ran to knock wood on behalf of the mission. At least, I hope I did. I should have.