At The End Of The World – Snippet 02

There was a professional angle to this situation, too. She had exactly what his company lacked, and really wanted, in their London office: an American woman with native Spanish fluency to help in their international marketing division. So this was a huge step up for Mom.

The only hitch was that she had to go over in late May. That meant that she wasn’t going to be around for my graduation, and that I’d be on my own in La-La Land for better than a month afterward.

So we put our heads together and found a way for me to get out of town after only two or three days on my own and get her even more time to prove her value on the job in London. It was one of a set of packaged trips chartered through some company called Sail to Discovery. They sent kids on supposedly educational sea journeys to places like the Galapagos Islands, the reefs off Cancun and Cozumel, and other sexy and cool places where there’s lots of sun and a reasonable chance of underage drinking, at least by American standards.

Unfortunately, a latecomer like myself, who needed as much financial support as possible, couldn’t exactly pick and choose destinations. Particularly not when the really cool ones had been booked solid for almost half a year. So my ultimate destination — after shooting down the western side of South America and going around the Cape of Good Hope — was the oceanic ass-end of nowhere: South Georgia Island.

Never heard of it? Neither had I. There’s good reason for that. It’s a fucking shit hole. Correction: it’s a fucking cold shit hole. But, because it was under-booked, and the charter company was able to save tax dollars by offering some berths on the cruise as scholarships for inner-city students, I was able to go for a fraction of the usual cost: it averaged out to only twelve dollars a day.  Hell, there was no way I could have lived for that low a rate in L.A., so it was a done deal.

Which meant that, two days after Mom made a big batch of empanadas, kissed me, and then took off for England, I walked out the door to catch the bus that would take me to San Diego and Sail to Discovery. And to begin my journey to a part of the world where, in the old days, the maps only had a blank space and a legend such as, “Here be dragons,” or “Ultima Thule.”

And that’s why I wasn’t around to see everything go to hell in a handbasket.

Thanks to my mom and her knack for making friends.

*     *     *

This package to South Georgia advertised that over the twelve weeks, the journey would “make every Discoverer an experienced sailor.” So of course, the first part of the trip didn’t have a damned thing to do with sailing. We got shipped down to the Galapagos on what the company called a “liner.” I think a more accurate term would be “partially refurbished freighter.” The cabins, if you could call them that, were not much more than sections of the hold which had been partitioned into closet-sized bunks. The “amenities” and food were like the cabins: total crap.

It’s not like the Galapagos has a huge marine terminal or anything like that, but it was the first stop on every “Sail to Discovery” itinerary. It’s where you went to hook up with your particular charter’s boat. Within two hours of arriving, I was being ferried out to the hull that was actually going to take me a third of the way around the world. The ship, the Crosscurrent Voyager, was a long-hulled pilot house ketch. She was seventy feet at the waterline and made for long-distance ocean sailing.

Accommodations were still cramped, but well-designed, not refitted for the purpose. It wasn’t the best painted or shiniest ship, but it looked sturdy and the deck felt solid underfoot.

And that’s where I met Chloe.

Now, I have to be honest: when I first saw Chloe from behind, I wasn’t sure if she was a guy or a girl: she was, as the saying has it, sturdily built. Don’t misunderstand: that is not at all a euphemism for being overweight. Let’s put it this way: if I had to make draft choices for a woman’s rugby team, she would be my very first pick. Probably be in my top three picks for a men’s team, in fact.

First time I saw her, she had her back towards me and was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. She was lifting one of the yardarms with two of the other people who were part of our Sailing to Discovery group. Then she turned around, and I realized my mistake in identifying her as male.

No, I’m not talking about female body features. Well, I’m not just talking about those. What I mean is that she looked like one of the women you’d see in a Spanish painting of angels or their earthly assistants. At least that’s what I thought of when I saw the heart-shaped face, the almost feline eyes with long lashes that looked like they had been genetically altered to always have mascara on them, and lips that my mom’s co-workers in LA got from plastic surgeons. The first words out of Chloe’s mouth were utterly characteristic of who I learned her to be:

“What the hell are you staring at?”

Yep, that was a typical Chloe greeting. Although, once I got to know her, I realized that this was a pretty mild introduction. She used language so inventively obscene that, had I used it, I’m pretty sure my mom would have thrown me off the top of our apartment building. It was the sort of stuff you just didn’t say where other people could hear. But Chloe did. All the time. That’s just who she is.

I blame her appearance and first words for what I did next, which made it quite clear to everyone else how totally at home I felt on the deck of the Crosscurrent Voyager. Because, you know, I’d read about ships. I’d watched YouTube videos about rigging and how you’re supposed to work the lines and catch the wind and all that crap. Which meant, of course, that I didn’t know shit about sailing.

It was about thirty feet from the accommodation ladder at the stern to the knot of people standing amidships. In the process of covering that span of deck, I managed to whack my head into the davits for the dinghy, almost get hit by the now-swinging yard, and step into an unspooling line that tangled around my foot. Yeah, I cut a real cool nautical figure.

Chloe laughed harder and louder than the rest, shook her head, and called me pequeño. Which just did wonders for my ego.

In fact, I was so busy nursing my wounded pride that I didn’t notice that the line around my foot was tightening and preparing to saw through my ankle. But before that could happen, the Great Ghoul of the Ocean-Sea rose up out of nowhere to put me out of my misery.

Okay, so the captain wasn’t actually a ghoul, but he sure as hell looked like one. Even stooped, he still stood an inch or two over six foot, and everything about him was long. His face, his beard, his eyebrows, his legs, and his stares. The last of which he fixed upon me with undead intensity as I tried to untangle myself from the rope. I couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or just waiting for it to amputate my foot. So that I couldn’t run away before he devoured me. Prior to full exsanguination, naturally. 

Instead, without even looking, he reached to the side, grabbed a gaff, somehow got it into the tiny, shrinking gap between my foot and the spinning rope. Then, with only a directional nod of his head, he coached me into the one move that allowed me to escape a ring of rope burn that might have cut down to the bone.