TIGER LILLY - I MADE IT!!
24 September 2014 | BORA BORA, French Polynesia
Lilly & Tom
Has it really been over five years since that fateful evening when I wheeled my big Ford F-150 crew cab into Starbucks after church and my life was turned inside-out and upside-down? Today I am on the other side of the world (literally feet-to-feet with my friends back in Suburbia USA), and occasionally I wear a tee shirt inside-out to get an extra day's wear out of it (my automatic washing machine has been replaced by two Home Depot orange buckets and an old-fashioned hand-cranked roller-wringer). As the owner of a small business, I used to wake to the harsh reality of my ever present cell phone (I even slept with the damn thing), challenging me with the day's first problem (often one of my hung-over carpet cleaners having lost his gas money at the dog track); but now my new dawn reality is a rooster crowing in the village ashore, I hear a soft rhythmic splash as a fit Polynesian man paddles his canoe past Spaceship TIGER LILLY (with shoulders nearly as wide as his paddle is long - Ooh La La), I smell the delicious scent of baguettes in the village baker's oven, I roll over and enjoy the delightfully cool early morning breeze, and perhaps the greatest luxury of all - drifting back off to sleep. As a single-mom with a 19 year-old son I worried about my boy's future and his preparation for life, and today Ryan is an independent 24 year-old college graduate, the New Mexico state criterion cycling champion, and head-over-heels in love with beautiful Mia. From half a world away, my son seems to be happy, healthy, and fulfilled - certainly an answer to a grateful mother's prayers.
A MAN WILL SAY ANYTHING!
Early-on in our relationship, Tom told me that if I went with him aboard a cruising sailboat to the far side of the world it would ruin me - that I would not be good for anything else other than cruising - and so it has come to pass! Ladies, as we all know, we can really get our toes stepped on in Dance of Life, and I tried to hide my vulnerability by immersing myself in work and charging through life at 30 miles per hour on a bicycle. As the Lone Ranger's sidekick Tonto observed, "White Man speak with forked tongue" and that pretty much goes for sailor-suitors also. From my experience in the War of the Sexes, it is my observation that A MAN WILL SAY ANYTHING, when he wants to get lucky. Was this guy for real? But then, love, life, and the promise of a new beginning, can be particularly beguiling during the wooing process. This brash Navy guy (whom, admittedly, I talked to first - even a flippin fish would not get caught if she could only keep her mouth shut) actually used reverse psychology on me. After regaling me with adventures of life aboard a sailing boat, colorful stories of faraway places, and the exotic people he has met (not counting pole dancers), he then had the gall to inform me that women were actually standing three-deep on the sea walls of America, waiting for a chance like the opportunity before me. He was here to inform me that I had won the suitor lottery. Hmmmm, it sounded a bit far-fetched, but he did have a certain air of confidence about him - and I do like that in a man. All my life I have operated on the principle that life's opportunities were like a passing train - we have to choose to jump aboard, and then make our move. But we have to know what train to take, and when it is the right time to hop on. If we take the wrong train we may not like the destination. If we jump on the right train too soon we get run over by the locomotive, and if we hesitate when the time is right we may spend our lives standing in the station, bag in hand, looking at the back of a disappearing caboose. This wooing stuff is not for the faint of heart! Mister Hot Shot actually told me that if I played my cards right, HE was going to take ME to Tahiti; but then, I wasn't exactly sure where, or what, Tahiti was. I might have been born at night - but it wasn't LAST night - and it took this rascal Tom-Tom two more years (and a geography refresher) to bring me to the altar.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS TIGER LILLY?
When I explained to Tom-Tom that I knew virtually nothing about sailing, or navigation, or living outside of the Good Old USA, he told me not to worry - HE was an EXPERT at training crew. Training? Crew? I don't THINK so! I thought we were getting married, not signing Shipping Articles! After a bit of domestic adjustment (I just had to touch him up a bit around the edges - no lasting scars, and no apparent damage to his spirit), we sat down and laid out a Three Step Plan that would allow us to grow TOGETHER in our lives aboard TIGER LILLY. Our Three Step Plan (he has to have a detailed plan for EVERYTHING) was to crawl (cruise the Intracoastal Waterway on the East Coast of the USA up to the Chesapeake Bay), before we walked (sail to the balmy Caribbean and cruise the Lesser Antilles), before we were ready to run (transit the Panama Canal and sail west into the vast Pacific). I am happy to report that our Three Step Plan has in-fact worked; as we approach the third anniversary of our marriage we have sailed TIGER LILLY some 14,000 miles together. I still have a lot to learn about sailing a boat across oceans and living in foreign countries - but I am happy to report that I am now comfortable in this very complex environment. I still get seasick during the early days of a passage, but not nearly as bad, and I am usually better after about two days. I am writing this blog (with Tom-Tom's assistance) here in absolutely gorgeous Bora Bora, anchored in the shadow of high emerald-colored volcanic peaks, surrounded by a deep blue lagoon, all of which is encircled by the white surf breaking on the fringing reef - the photographs just do not do it justice.
ADVENTURES IN PARADISE
The Polynesian people have shown us a hospitality not to be equaled. This past Saturday we spent the day on a small motu (island on the fringing reef) with an extended local family; we ate poisson creu (fresh uncooked yellow fin tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk - which was then mixed into raw local fruit and vegetables), we drank strong coffee cut with rich just-squeezed coconut milk, played boles (European bowling game played with orange-sized steel balls), and swam in their "jacuzzi" - a natural tunnel under the fringing reef brings a thrust of cool water from the surrounding sea into the warm lagoon. The next day we were honored to have our hosts aboard TIGER LILLY for coffee and fresh coconut muffins. They do not speak English, and we know very little French or Tahitian, but we had a wonderful time together.
There are things I do miss about my former life; My son Ryan, cycling, Christ Church in Jacksonville, and sometimes I miss the give-and-take of my life as a businesswoman - but that one soon passes. One of the things I miss most in our cruising lifestyle is the limited opportunities we have to attend AA meetings. I love to go to the open meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous with Tom-Tom and hear how God is working in our lives, and the lives of people all around us - every day. Perhaps, one of the most important life-lessons I have learned sitting next to Tom-Tom at AA is the role that expectations play in our happiness (usually a negative role), and the concept of being "reasonably happy." In the pursuit of "happiness" perfection is certainly the enemy of the good. Don't let all our pretty pictures fool you, out here in the cruising life there are plenty of barnacles, bird poop, and sand in places that I will leave to your imagination. The boat - our life support system in a hostile marine environment - always gets paid first; and everything associated with the word "marine" is very expensive. Sometimes I miss my boy Ryan so much that it makes me cry - it has been almost three years since I last put my arms around him. Saying that living with Dudley Do-Right the retired Naval Officer (aka Tom-Tom the Sailor-man) is a challenge is truly an understatement - you can take the man out of the Navy, but you cannot take the Navy out of the man. (NORMAL PEOPLE do not use the repeat-back communication system, or classify the friggin forks and spoons as "high-value ship's equipage"!) What I have learned is that I must try to be satisfied with the life and the man I have chosen, live one day at a time, and do my best to not let the usual foibles of circumstances or personalities (or my own unreasonable expectations) ruin my inner contentment and right to be reasonably happy. That said, I can confidently state that I am reasonably happy with my station in life married to Tom-Tom and cruising the oceans of the world aboard Spaceship TIGER LILLY.
WHAT DO THEY DO ALL DAY?
It seems that we have to answer this question every time we meet someone new - especially Earth People out traveling on their annual vacation. The boat is a demanding taskmaster, and we tend her and work the To-Do List almost every day; but we have learned that we must take time for ourselves. I love my new-found personal time; which was almost non-existent when I was running a business back in Suburbia with a cell phone glued to my ear. I love having free time to read; right now I am reading the Earnest J. Gaines biography of "Miss Jane Pittman" I am studying the mysteries of the super hetero-dyne radio receiver and dipole antenna radiation patterns as I wade through the HAM Radio instruction guide (tough reading, but I want my own HAM Radio license), and I just got an Algebra One textbook (which I must admit I never mastered in high school) from a yacht with boat kids aboard. I used to get my news from the AOL Hollywood Page (much to Tom-Tom's chagrin), and today I download and read the BBC Homepage on our iPad every chance we have to pirate Wi-Fi. I am enjoying learning about the world, and Tom-Tom is a great teacher.
THE WORLD IS MY HOME
In the last three years I have seen sights I never could have imagined before my life with Tom-Tom aboard Spaceship TIGER LILLY: I have rowed our dinghy Grace up quiet tree-lined Chesapeake creeks splashed with the bright colors of autumn as big Canadian geese honked overhead on their way south; In the French West Indies I stood high atop Le Chameu and viewed the curvature of the horizon and hundreds of square miles of the sparkling blue Caribbean, dotted with the miniature white sails of tiny boats, and realized that we really could sail west and return from the east; I laid on my back in Grace as we slowly drifted with the current down a cano in the backwaters of the Amazon Delta, watching colorful tropical birds flit about in the high canopy of the surrounding rainforest; The grander and the huge scale of the Panama Canal absolutely fascinated me - the guys who built this Man-Made Wonder of the World were amazing; As a pod of over twenty huge Fin whales surrounded us in the far reaches of the South Pacific's deep ocean, I felt humbled and wondered just how God created His creatures - great and small; As I sit and sip my morning coffee in TIGER LILLY'S cockpit, the view of the brilliant orange sun rising over the breaking surf of Bora Bora's south reef is so powerful - it moves my soul; OH MY GOSH, I am so very blessed!
FREEDOM ISN'T FREE
Our US Coast Guard Certificate of Documentation states that Thomas B. and Lillian M. Service own the sailing vessel TIGER LILLY - but in fact, she owns us. We take care of TIGER LILLY, and she in turn takes care of us. The price of admission to this lifestyle is pretty high, both in personal commitment and economic resources; but then, freedom is never free. One of my favorite sayings is "No risk, no reward" and that worked out just fine in my former lives as a businesswoman and as a professional athlete; but of course Tom-Tom is always trying to manage our exposure to risk out here. We can never let our guard down, either at anchor in-port, or on passage at-sea. A philosophy that Tom-Tom brings to our life together aboard TIGER LILLY from his Navy experience is "Eternal vigilance is the price of safety." another idea which never occurred to me back in Suburbia USA. Our different slants on life tend to bring the dynamic of a push-pull relationship to our marriage, and there is seldom a dull (or HE says, quiet) moment aboard TIGER LILLY. A bluewater cruising sailboat is a very complex environment, made up of a lot of expensive and complicated gear which I admittedly don't fully understand. We truly do live off the Grid - in fact, we seldom even SEE the Grid. Sometimes, what I don't know about boat systems can be downright overwhelming; but I just keep my head up and do my part in good weather and bad - we work together and have developed into an effective team. When he finds fault with my cooking I remind him that he doesn't appear to be starving to death; HE counters that the concept of "risk and reward" does NOT apply to cooking! Like most cooks I like to experiment a bit, and anyone knows that a slight departure from standard recipes can add interest to food - and in my case occasional problems. (How can those little packets of yeast be so powerful? Is there really such a big difference between baking soda, baking powder, and corn starch? They all come in bottles that look very much alike!) Unfortunately, the Lilly shoot-from-the-hip method of converting Imperial to Metric measurements doesn't always precisely work out. The whole millimeter / milligram / millibar thing keeps me totally confused. (Who the hell was Millie anyway, and why did SHE get to write all these confusing recipes?) We still have a bit of room for improvement in that repeat-back communications thingy HE thinks is so important, but I just turn on Aretha Franklin and blast out R-E-S-P-E-C-T! My husband and favorite captain is an amazing fellow; he may be full of himself, but to see him handle TIGER LILLY in rough weather is truly amazing. I love to watch the eyes of other cruisers light up as this highly experienced and knowledgeable mariner helps them learn how to get the most out of their sails and boat systems. I never would have picked this character out of a line-up before we met; and now we are one with each other, and one with our own little ship. Early on Tom-Tom told me that the crew of a vessel (any vessel, from a proud Man-O-War to a jaunty cruising sailboat) takes on the persona of the ship. That too was a strange concept for me. (What the heck's a "persona" anyway?) I must tell you that today I am known as Tiger Lilly - and I kind of like it! My transition from Earth Person to Cruising Sailorette is well along now. I have finally finished crawling, I have done most of my walking, and now - just like Forest Gump - I am, RUNNING!
Yesterday we walked into the Village of Vaitape to the Bora Bora Gendarmerie Post (French National Police) and checked-out from French Polynesia. During the next twelve days or so we will be at sea, sailing 1300 miles across the central basin of the South Pacific Ocean; and then I will get to experience the place they call the Kingdom of Tonga. It sounds like another exciting adventure, see you there!
We have posted some PICS of French Polynesia in our PHOTO GALLERY. To view them go to the upper right corner of this page and click on: PHOTO GALLERY - BY SEA - OCEANA - FRENCH POLYNESIA - SOCIETY ISLANDS. Enjoy!