Frustrated, I then spied the logbook from my years aboard Varuna on the same shelf, its slender, black binding nearly hidden by the hefty tomes surrounding it. Aha! What was I thinking? Fourteen years ago, alone with my cat in the middle of nowhere, I spent Christmas in the doldrums of the Indian Ocean. This mote of a book turned out to have more seasonally relevant information than any whale of a reference book, a personalized connection between Christmas and the sea, and my very own history to rewrite.
The cover of the logbook is creased and well worn, the pages filled with the words and drawings that articulate and illustrate every emotion an 18 to 21 year-old girl is capable of experiencing. The holidays may be an emotionally volatile part of life under normal circumstances, but when Christmas and being alone on the ocean are thrown together—well, let's just say it was a good thing I was alone on the ocean.
Our last landfall, coincidentally, had been Christmas Island, a speck in the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia, which some explorer with a creative propensity for naming new lands must have discovered on Christmas Day. We were headed for Sri Lanka, which was once named Serendib, hence the word "serendipity." There aren't many Christmas-like or serendipitous feelings in between the lines. Who could be in the holiday spirit if they were looking forward to a pressure-cooked meal of sauerkraut and canned meat of uncertain origin?
For a girl from the north, Christmas couldn't have been the same in the sweltering tropics, and I remember feeling pretty sorry for myself in my environment, imagining my family gathered around a real prickly, decorated Christmas tree, probably talking about me. If there wasn't snow outside, they would still be dressed in turtlenecks and the other wintry outfits I was missing, just because wearing them meant it wasn't as unbearably hot as it was here at the equator.
I could see my siblings having a mechanical moment of silence for me, just before gulping down the eggnog. Would they fast, or have some canned ravioli in solidarity with me? No. Perhaps they would talk briefly about what I was eating as they cut into a turkey, or rosemary encrusted roast pork. They might feel a fleeting pang of regret for not having sent me anything as they tore wrapping paper away from a pile of gifts. They might think that out here on the balmy, shining sea, I wouldn't be needing the new sweaters, gloves, and socks they had just received. Oh, lucky me. What did they know?
On the upper left-hand corner of this page in the logbook there is a list of dates and locations: 1986 Indian Ocean, 1985 Tahiti and New York, 1984 New York, 1983 Guadeloupe. I had revisited three Christmases prior to this one, remembering and comparing the differences. In 1985, I had flown home from Tahiti to New York to see my mother for the last time before she died. In 1984, I was in New York, receiving charts, short-wave radios, and all sorts of other stuff in anticipation of my upcoming voyage. In 1983, my father, his friend, my sister and I had made it to Guadeloupe after an Atlantic crossing just in time to go out for a Christmas dinner. Several days before making our landfall, we had crossed wakes with a sailboat from Ireland with a decorated Christmas tree hanging from its backstay. On the Indian Ocean, far from any major shipping lanes, the chances of running into another boat were pretty slim. No matter how this pudding was cut, I was caroling alone. On the upper right-hand corner of the page, I kept a list of books read, and two books down the list after The Clan of the Cave Bear" I saw One Hundred Years of Solitude.
And so my entry for the day tapers off. As I write now, and notice every detail of this page from my life, I am able to relive the agony I felt out there, separated from everyone I loved. The watermarks smearing the black ink are obviously from teardrops and I'm sure my loneliness was heartfelt, but no matter how hard I try, I can't rekindle that self-pity. No way. I have everything now that I wished for then—love, children, friends, a house, a garden, and roots. What I didn't know then, as a 20-year-old aboard her own boat, was that I would catch up with the future, and that this day would be a gift to treasure as one Christmas I would remember for the rest of my life.
Never again would my concerns be so basic and essential, worrying about flat calms, slow progress, broken engines, torn sails, leaking chainplates and climbing the mast to replace a dead bulb. Instead, I'd be making lists, worrying about time passing too quickly, budgets, rising prices, and feeling manipulated by the commercialism that accompanies a merry Christmas. Staring at flapping sails and wishing for a steady wind, I didn't see far enough beyond the bow pulpit to know that the wind always comes back. One year flows into the next, and the simplicity of this day stands apart in my memory now, sharply and in a context that no reference book, or all the other Christmases, before and since 1986, could hold a flaming Yule log to.
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