Sunday, July 19, 2009


Well, that little nautical love affair lasted for about an hour and a half. On Monday, as I may have mentioned, the diesel heater failed to light. The night was freezing cold, but that was OK. We were boat people. We were snuggling together in our berth like hot cheese, while the enchiladas and milk cooled in the bilge, or some such horse shit. And… hey! The toilet and stove worked great!

On Tuesday, the head broke. Again. Back to peeing in a bucket. While squatting and peeing on the freezing cabin sole, I began to have second thoughts about the bohemian glamour of yachting life.

By Wednesday, Silas’ cough was worse, and he was starting to sound like one of those wheezing babies in a made-for-TV movie about the dreaded plague. I took him to the doctor, and she noted that his ears were inflamed from congestion. She prescribed amoxicillin. Amoxicillin has to be refrigerated, but since we are carefree bohemians, we just sealed it in a plastic Ziploc bag, and stowed it in the filthy hole we call our bilge. We were essentially living in a refrigerator anyway, so surely that would work just fine.

Thursday and Friday, we didn’t work on the boat. Thursday was taken up with cleaning and repairing the borrowed house we’ve been living in. This entailed such projects as re-gravelling the driveway that we’d managed to tear up, replacing the electric tea kettle that we’d managed to melt, and replacing the $200 bottle of Courvoisier VSOP cognac that Silas had spilled all over the floor while batting it around like a wounded mouse. Yes, I did say TWO HUNDRED dollars. French imports are rather pricy in New Zealand. (And Silas’ new name, by the way, is “VSOP.”)

Friday was intended to be a day off, a “date” day, in which we enjoyed our boat and each other while our baby was occupied in nursery school. However, the romance was blighted somewhat by the fact that I still had to pee in a bucket. Also, by that point I’d caught Silas’ cough, and every time I was overtaken by a violent fit of hacking, I wet myself. Thank you, natural childbirth.

People are always saying that “being a parent is the most wonderful thing in the world!” Then they look at me expectantly and wait for me to chime in. Either they’re lying, or I’m a bad person, because I don’t really see it that way. Parenthood, as far as I’m concerned, is a lot like having a multiple personality disorder.

Friday night is when things really started to break down. Silas launched into one of his gurgling cough episodes, sounding like the consumptive heroine of some Puccini opera, and Peter lost it. He started frantically mopping at the walls with a rag. “This is dumb, this is bad, what were we thinking?” he started muttering to himself.

I peered at him from the galley. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s cold, it’s wet, our boy is sick—LOOK AT THIS CONDENSATION— this isn’t healthy, what were we thinking? Why are we doing this?” The right side of Peter’s face started to twitch alarmingly. He kept wiping the walls with his rag, trying to soak up all the moisture before it made his baby any sicker. But Sereia’s just an old plastic boat. The battle against condensation is futile.

Peter was already high on Dad chemicals. And then I felt the shift.

Just like that, Antonia receded into my unconscious, forgotten like an old childhood memory. And in her place, came... MAMA BEAR. Here is the thing about MAMA BEAR: you write her name in all caps, or she will rip your fucking head off. When you think of MAMA BEAR, you do not think of Teddy. You think Kodiak. You think eight hundred pounds and ten-inch claws.

“Don’t you even start with me,” I growled. “I am on a razor edge here, and I am THIS CLOSE to moving off this boat.”

Peter and Silas just stared at me. I didn’t even sound like myself.

“What you don’t seem to understand,” I snarled at my beloved husband, “is that I WILL GNAW OFF YOUR FUCKING ARM to keep this baby warm and dry.”

Peter blanched. “One week,” he urged me. “We’ll give it one week. Just give it a week, and we’ll see how it goes. Then if you want to move out, we’ll move out.”

I took a breath. MAMA BEAR retreated, and Antonia agreed. But Saturday morning, the skies opened up, rain poured down on Sereia, and winds gusted to thirty knots. We had this stupid idea that Silas and I would leave the boat during the day, so that Peter could work, but we didn’t really make provision for stormy weather.

So there I was, cuddling my sick baby in the main berth, while Peter poured diesel into our tanks. The floor lockers were opened up, so we couldn’t walk on the cabin sole. All the portholes were closed to keep out the rain. My head started pounding from the fumes. But there was nowhere to go. We were trapped. Silas started coughing.

And MAMA BEAR charged out of her den.

People who undergo a psychic break describe a feeling of unreality, as though they are moving in a dream. There’s a guy in New Zealand who’s just been convicted of stabbing his girlfriend 216 times with a pair of scissors, and that’s how he described it in court, as though he were looking down on himself, observing his own actions from afar.

Floating on the cabin ceiling, I watched as MAMA BEAR collected her baby, and held him out of the rain as she stormed into the marina office. I watched her make phone calls in a cheerful human voice, looking for a furnished flat to rent, short term. I watched her drive out to the rental, a cute little cottage with heat, refrigeration, and hot water. And I watched her rent it on the spot.

Peter was furious, at least at first. “I thought we were going to give it a week!” he protested. It isn’t cheap, after all, to rent a marina slip and also a furnished apartment. Puts a hell of a dent in the cruising kitty.

“It’s a done deal now,” I replied. Antonia had returned, and she was throwing Silas’ clothing into a bag. “Why didn’t you tell me how you felt before I agreed to rent the place?”

“It’s no use,” said Peter woefully. “You can’t argue with a mother when she feels her baby isn’t safe.”

Truer words have never been spoken. What is it they teach you when you go camping in the woods? Never, EVER get between a MAMA BEAR and her cub. Because before you know it, she’ll tear off your arm.

It’s much safer to let her rent her an apartment.


  1. Hang in there my dear. The public library and museum memberships often cost less than rent (these are the places we run to when it's 40F on board, the hatches are leaking, and the ice flows are banging on the hull). Not to mention taking full advantage of land lubber friends. I invite myself over ALL day, I bring my laundry, and then I smile and offer to make a meal in return. Or I bring booze.

  2. Oh, I feel for you.
    Had moments when ours was a baby in the winter too - I did what Boatbaby did. And offered to housesit. Heck - I'm now struggling with life on an unfinished boat mid-summer...
    Our head is flushing, but just barely.

  3. Oh wow. This is such a familiar head space. It's the condensation that just overwhelms all patience and semblance of rationality. We enrolled the girls in a school program just to have some place to escape during the day from the cold and wet.

    Now in Santa Rosalia it's the heat and humidity that are killing us. The only escape is an air-conditioned cruiser's lounge and a semi-tepid swimming pool. When it starts to get crowded with cerveza swilling adults in the air conditioned room and they start talking about kicking out the girls, my head pops off.

  4. Dear Antonia, Peter and Silas,

    I remember Santa wrapping a barometer in that material on your throw pillows in Costa Rica. I unpacked the rest of it the other day from my pathetic two bags and half a box of worldly possessions and wondered if you'd ever done anything with it. Well done, by the way, it does indeed match your colour scheme. It's a small victory.

    You're welcome to overstay your welcome here in Europe any time. (as soon as I get a house. In the meantime I have a tent with your name written all over it (in small letters. It's kind of small...)