“Is this bar moving?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“What the hell, aren’t we on land?”
As we took our seat at the drift wood framed bar, the small group of eclectic sailors and locals in t-shirts and swim trunks erupted into laughter. A large Australian man stepped forward, donning sandals, a long blonde ponytail and a straw hat patted me on the back and said, “Welcome to land mate — got your sea legs but lost your land legs, eh?”
I don’t understand. What do you mean?
I looked around and everyone in the rickety dockside bar was smiling at us. The first leg of my 300 miles sailing trip had ended, and our boat, the Lady Slipper floated in the clear Caribbean blue water only a few hundred feet away, anchored for the first time by my hands. I turned over my shoulder to look at her.
By God, we made it.
I turned to my crew mate, one of my best friends from childhood that had chosen to accompany me on this crazy adventure and said, “Paul, I’m afraid that I’ve lost all sense of control of my body’s functional capacity to do anything competently.”
“Trevor, I feel the same way,” he chuckled.
“Let’s do a shot to celebrate, then eh?” the Aussie yelled.
“Yesssss!” My cousin Andy repeated. “Why don’t we do a shot, on me!”
Paul looked at me inquisitively, then smirked and nodded his head, his boisterous hair bouncing up and down in large brown puffs. It reminded me of Jim Carrey’s hair in Ace Ventura. A surge of adrenaline fired through my veins.
I agreed. We should celebrate. 100 percent, we should do this shot, get drunk, and stumble back to our boat. We should be drinking and celebrating this landmark victory of survival against all odds, of brotherhood, teamwork, and shared struggle.
Rust-colored liquid in glass shots slid in front of us. I clapped my hands together. The world moved beneath me in waves. My older cousin Andy, our sailing mentor, watched and smiled with pride. It was the first time his energy turned positive. It was the first time he approved of our attempts to take over his boat. After the months of preparation and work, we finally pushed off from Rio Dulce, Guatemala and headed north to our destination of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Somewhere near the Blue Hole (I thought), we stopped to wait out a light storm approaching from the East.
“Aye, mates… “ the Aussie started. “Here’s to tall ships, Here’s to small ships, Here’s to all the ships at sea. But the best ships are friendships, here’s to you and me.”
I gave Paul a half-hug, then tilted the glass of brownish liquid into my mouth. Rum. It burned my throat, but it felt good. It tasted smooth. I shut my eyes and dropped the last ounce of alcohol into my mouth. Little did I know this night would change my life and this sailing trip would change my view of the world forever.
It would change how I’d play my game of life for as long as I could breathe oxygen and be alive on this huge rock floating in space.
In Placencia Belize, wooden-planked houses and tin roofs teetered on stilts and 10 commandant signs were plastered on walls every few hundred feet. Iguanas laid sunbathing a few feet from us. Locals moved past us with sun-browned feet, walking with swollen, over-sized toes. Rasta vibes were everywhere. Mile-long sidewalks ran parallel to the ocean and the sand was gritty, the type that exfoliated your skin without you asking.
Poverty was here, but so was good energy and the yellow-toothed grins of dreadlocked men and women that lived the slow pace of sloth life. There was this motto in the air here, in Placencia Bay that was surrounded by cruisers, catamarans, sloops, ketches, and fin keels that laid anchored with their mast lights on, eerily floating like specters in the darkness.
There motto was simple:
Do less. Move slow. Live present.
Now, almost a month into my trip sailing through the Western Caribbean, I continue to see the parallels between fear, love, in leaping for dreams that inspire me and give me some sort of meaning.
I had lost all hope at 36. I had felt alone. I had tried drugs. I had tried isolation. I had tried it all.
Then my cousin told me he was getting rid of his sailboat in Central America and I jumped at the chance to adventure out of my life’s haze. I wrote this in my journal while on the boat that night:
No one understands how I feel right now. The pride I feel in surviving this challenge of living in the jungle, fixing a 40-foot boat and sailing it North with no experience. No one understands the repletion I hold; how I feel God out here on the open seas, inside the deepest of blue waters reflecting the lightest of blue skies. I feel the Creator, in the 10-foot swells that measure up to our boat and allow us to pass through her. I sense infinity in the mountains of clouds rolling over us day after day, mile after mile as we sail into the unknown. I shudder in her Honor under the darkness, lit by stars and salt water of white moons where we are specks of nothing embedded in a beauty we forgot to understand.
To explore our boundaries and my mental fortitude and my life is a blessing I am so grateful for, and yet, for what do I owe this privilege?
These reflections have happened at different times on my trip; during sailing alone at night for hours on end, where sunrises and sunsets bleed into pastel canvases of oranges, violets, and pinks; during a 50-hour sail with little sleep and no food, but yet, I feel recharged and determined to try and not let go of this feeling of gratitude that sinks into my heart.
I am adapting to change again.
I am learning new skills and setting my sights on new goals and horizons. It hasn’t been easy leaving Michigan (or professional basketball), but life sometimes happens and you just have to roll with it, much like the gargantuan 10-foot rolling swells. These moments in nature, inside different cultures, and people show you how small we really are and how short of a time we really have to change for something we truly care about.
I am one month into this adventure. There are days when I miss home, miss the comforts of friends, loved ones, my dog Bear, my brothers, my parents and beautiful nieces, but I find redemption through assimilating new cultures and challenges, in letting go of the small worries that try to take my positive energy away from me.
This traveling adventure has changed me.
But it also leaves me wondering what will happen when I return to American society? Am I just running from something bigger, telling myself the same bullshit story to stay in fantasy land? What legacy can I leave here, in the great wide blue, as my heart sinks under the life I no longer live?
Or am I leaving my responsibilities behind to begin building a bridge back to them through new travel experiences?
Regardless, I am here.
I am a sailor now and I will be this good sailor until I am not.