To Be So Loved ~ #3o

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Serial #30

It didn’t take me long to become proficient at plotting our location and heading via the sextant, compass, and map. I’d even gotten somewhat good at reading the radar. I learned to trust the position of the stars; and when they were behind the clouds, the compass. As a last resort, I referred to the radar screen. The helm, I thought, was the easiest duty the ship could afford.

Manning the helm, especially the night watch, became my joy. I loved the feel of the ship’s wheel in my hands. Nothing on Earth can compare to the feel of the water pressing against the hull, wrapping itself around the rudder.. There was nothing like the sound of the sea as it split along the keel. With the sails full of wind, the power was beyond compare.

The ship had backup diesel engines and mechanical control of the rudder, but we rarely used it. Switching to the engines meant dropping the sails. We hated to drop the sails, even in the midst of storms, maybe especially in the midst of storms that seemed to roll in every evening. It was hurricane season, after all. We had to ‘rock and roll’ as the crew called the experience. To say I learned to sail by being thrown into the storm would be an understatement. I learned much more than just that. I learned to sail through the storms of life with an ease that would carry me through the toughest experiences.

After that first night at sea. Thirty foot seas. Horizontal rain. Tornado-like winds. I learned that when the Captain called out “Squall” all games were over. That first night, I later learned, we had come within a mere five degrees of completely capsizing. We had lost all the sails but one little tiny jib. Our main mast had cracked and fallen into the sea. Sometime in the night as I heaved over the mid-deck railing, I lost my habit to that sea.

I gave up on wearing the habit. The ship’s helm was just too windy. I would save my spare habit for when we went ashore. We were sure a sorry sort when sun dawn that next morning, but we were alive to tell the tale.

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To Be So Loved ~ #29

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There’s nothing like a night at sea to tell you just how insignificant you are in the universe. As I stood at the helm and looked out over the glass-like surface of the ocean, I felt so very small. Smaller than an atom, even.

In those hours alone at the helm, I had a lot of time to think about life, my place in the universe, and God’s place in my life.

‘It’s a good place for talking to your Maker.’ Captain Marlin said as he joined me at the wheel. ‘You can’t be out here long without realizing just how large the universe is, and how puny and small we are. And yet, our Maker cares for each of us. If His eye is on the sparrow, how much more is it on us.’

‘I suppose.’ I shrugged. I wasn’t in a place where I appreciated much preaching, especially not after what the Bishop and Priest had to me before I left the church.

Captain Marlin put his hands over mine at the wheel. ‘It’s easy to get off-course her on the open ocean. Sometimes we need the Captain to come along and set us back on course.’

‘How did you know I was off-course?’

He pointed to the stars. ‘That – up there- is your roadmap. This-…’ He tapped the compass, ‘…Is your beacon of hope. Between them, you can always keep your ship on course. It just takes a little faith and trust in the tools you have.’

And that was how Captain Marlin shared his deeply rooted faith in God and his providence for us. He did it by being a living example and by sharing his plentiful analogies. He didn’t preach like an evangelist on the street corner waving a bible in the air and shouting ‘Repent, lest ye die’. No, Captain Marlin did his ‘preaching’ through simple words and deeds, like the simple reading of God’s word every morning before breakfast for anyone who cared to listen. It wasn’t a requirement, but nearly all the crew (Save those on post) joined those early morning readings just after dawn on top deck.

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To Be So Loved ~ #28

For as seasick as I was last night, you’d think I’d been born of the sea tonight. I spent all day with the Sailmaker, even long after the other Sailors had gone to catch a few scant hours of sleep. The main sail was the most important sail to the ship. I felt truly honored to be sewing on it. Yes, in a pinch the ship could still sail with the smaller sails, but they would leave the ship slow and cumbersome to navigate.

Sewing sails is hard work, too. A strong, solid steel needle, heavy duty waxed thread, and a whale bone hand protector were our only tools. Even so, each stitch had to be pushed through between 6 and 9 layers of heavy canvas. The whole process of stitching, folding, stitching, folding, and stitching yet again was long and tiring. Each and every stitch had to be set perfectly. These sails were what would save our lives, over and over. There would be no second best.

By the time we’d finished the first of four sails, my hands were numb, cramped, and blistered. I didn’t stop. We had three more sails to go, and they would be spliced from the remains of other sails. At our next port. All new sails would have to be ordered and flown in. Until then, we would have to make do with what we had. In truth, I’d been so busy listening and learning through the old Sailmaker’s stories that I didn’t even realize that my hands had blisters at all.

While I forced the needle through the canvas, he slipped out to the kitchen and brought us cups of coffee. He added what he called a ‘splash o’ courage’ and slid one of the cups my way. I sipped and gasped for air while he laughed. My eyes watered. My nose ran. And, it was several moments before I could speak.

‘It’s me own hooch.’ He winked. ‘Made it m’self down in the guts below.’

Engine room hooch, I concluded.

‘Sip it slow next time.’ He lifted and sipped at his own mug.

I sipped it slow and found it tolerable as it burned a line down my throat to my belly. It’s taste was familiar to me, reminding me of my early childhood and stealing sips from Daddy’s Mason jar. The familiar belly burn from Memaw’s moonshine was there, too. But the flavor was a bit different. I asked what he used.

‘Nutmeg and a bit o’ coconut. Long bought Christmas, I add in a little cinnamon.’ He grinned with pride. ‘This be me special blend. Best not to be tellin’ the Captain about this, now. This is a secret he ain’t supposed to know.’ Then he winked and sipped some more coffee.

And so, I acquired, or rather re-acquired the taste for hard liquer. And, as I soon found out, ‘Salty’ seemed to have an endless supply. I quickly learned how to use it as a crutch against reality.

 

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To Be So Loved ~ #27

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Morning dawned in beautiful golds over a sea of glass. It was so beautiful that for a few moments I entertained the thought that I had died the night before and was now floating on a heavenly sea. It was that beautiful!

I stood on top deck leaning on the railing and grinning like a fool. I’d been to hell the night before, and was now in heaven.

‘Good morning, Sister. I’d like you to go down to the front lounge and report to the Sailmaker for duty. Captain Marlin joined me at the rail. ‘Before you do, I want to see you eat this. Cookie said you skipped breakfast.’

I looked at the huge, gooey sticky-bun in his hand, and my stomach churned painfully.

‘I’m not sure I can, Sir.’ I mumbled, holding a hand over my mouth.

‘Eat. I guarantee you’ll feel better afterwards.’ He put the sugary decadence in my hand.

Cautiously, I bit, ate, then bit again. ‘This is heavenly.’

He grinned. ‘Yes, it is. Now, get below. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.’

‘Yes, Sir.’ A short climb down the ladder and across mid-decks found me in the lounge. The lounge looked like a disaster area. There was sail canvas everywhere, along with tired looking sailors. Everyone was sewing franticly.

‘Ah, Sister, there you are.’ The old, grizzled Sailmaker spoke. ‘I thought you had washed overboard in the storm.’

I ducked my head self-consciously. ‘No, Sir, I’m still here, Sir.’

‘Good, good. Have a seat. There’s a lot of work to do. You do know how to sew, don’t you?’

‘Yes, Sir.’ I nodded as I slid into the other side of the booth across from him, noting his toothy grin.

‘Today, I teach ya’ how ta’ make a mainsail.’

And thus a friendship that would span nearly a decade began. A friendship filled with wisdom and unconditional love that brought things like hope and faith back into my life, one stitch at a time.

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To Be So Loved ~ #26

 

 

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‘Put one hand here, and the other here. Now, whatever you do, DO NOT LET GO. That’s my order.’ Captain Marlin patiently spoke as he positioned my hands on either end of a belaying pen middecks. ‘I’ll be back.’

Then, he was gone.

I was alone.

It was just me, the sea, and God.

Each time the sea rose, I prayed for a quick death. Then, as the waves crashed down and nearly knocked me off my feet and against my death-grip on the pen, I prayed for salvation. Not eternal salvation, that is. I was already certain that my soul would have its eternal reward. No, I prayed for the physical salvation. I prayed that the life within me would live. I didn’t care about myself. I had nothing left worth living for. After the baby was born, I would be free to die in peace. But, until then, I needed divine intervention just to survive this storm.

The ship heaved and pitched all night, although it felt more like an eternity. Often, I found Stephen, or Joe, or the CMO Diana at my side. Each promised I would live to see the morning. I didn’t believe any of them. Stephen even tried to convince me that I was never more than a mile from land.

I wasn’t that gullible. I knew that their ‘mile’ was straight down. Many tried to get me to let go of the belaying pen and go below decks, but I held tight. After all, the Captain had ordered me not to let go, and I didn’t until he personally told me to do so. That leave did not come until the seas had calmed.

Even with the now calm seas, I was still so seasick that I could barely stand. I felt as if I was at death’s door with one toe already over the line.

‘I know it’s hard to believe, but you’re going to survive this.’ Captain Marlin smiled as he put a blanket over my shivering shoulders. I was too soaked and tired to fight his gesture. ‘You’re seasick. It’s as close to death as you will ever feel and yet live. Trust me on that.’

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To Be So Loved ~ #25

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The Crow’s nest… If I could stay at the top of the main mast forever, it wouldn’t be long enough. Weird thing about the nest, though. It’s not physically possible, but when the ship rolls one way, the nest feels as if you are rolling the opposite. It’s all very disconcerting until you get used to it. Until then, the sensation put morning sickness to shame.

Seasickness aside, the nest afforded the most extensive view of the world I’d ever seen. In fact, you can almost make out the slight curvature of the Earth itself on the distant horizon. I’m not sure how many miles you can see, but it must be in the hundreds and perhaps the thousands. And, in all directions, there was nothing but the open ocean and the sky. I hugged the bucket I was given and made good use of it.

Joe smiled. Then, the sun began to set.

For a brief moment I was so awed by the beauty that I almost fell out of the nest as the ship swayed. Oh, but mere words cannot begin to describe the unfiltered golds.

‘Red at night is a Sailor’s delight.’ I muttered.

‘Yes, but that is gold.’ Joe laughed.

Below us, the tourists were already belly-up to the bar and half-lit. Even from the nest, I could smell the rum.

‘See, out there on the horizon…’ Joe pointed. ‘See the difference between the sea and the sky.’

‘It’s night, that’s all.’

‘No, that is a storm, and its going to be a big one. I saw it on the radar down below. We best be gettin’ down now.’ His Jamaican heritage slipped through in his accented English.

Before we’d reached the deck, the ship was already beginning to rock to the rhythm of the coming storm. Within the hour, I would be praying for the mercy of a quick death.

 

 

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To Be So Loved ~ #24

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It was time to sail.

I was set next to a pile of rope and a more seasoned sailor – Joe. Excitement shook through my entire being. I was living out one of my most secret dreams.

And then, the Captain ordered the sails to mast. Before I had a chance to grab the rope I was tangled. If not for Joe’s quick thinking I would have been halfway up the main mast, or limbless. Above my head, the wind caught in the canvas with a snap, and we began to sail. It was so exhilarating!

What the experience taught me was that though I thought I was strong, I just didn’t have the right kind of strength, or the callus’s for the task. I was disappointed, but not crushed by the reality. Joe eased my disappointment with a promise to show me how to climb up to the crow’s nest later that day.

My ineptitude at sail raising didn’t go unnoticed by the Captain, who kindly suggested that I consider another ship duty. I agreed. Captain Marlin was a good leader, knowing his crew’s strengths and weaknesses better than they themselves knew them. He gave me some options including navigation, communications, and general maintenance.

I mentioned that I’d be interested in learning how to sail a ship into harbor using a lighthouse. It seemed to me to be a pretty far-fetched idea. I mean, what kind of Captain would let a little four-foot-six, skin over bone girl take command of His ship? I didn’t expect his reaction to the idea. I must have said something right because he grinned from ear to ear.

Before I knew it, I was below decks in the ‘ready’ room pouring over a map while the Chief Navigator explained all the markings and how he used them to map out their course. Every single detail fascinated me. I started asking questions, positing possible routes. I was intensely attentive to his teachings, especially when he took out an antique sextant and explained how he used it to find their location. Then, he showed me how to plot a course, giving me a chance to try it myself between two of the smaller islands.

The Captain squeezed my shoulder, said ‘good job’, and left me with the Navigator. For the moment, I had found my niche.

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