I tossed the bag of ice we had brought back from Clare Valley into the restaurant freezer and Simon helped himself to a ginger ale.
“Let’s take it with us,” I said. “We’ll drink it in the big boat while we wait for Dada.”
He started melting down over how thirsty he was so I poured him and Remy each a tall glass of cold orange juice, satiating them for the time being. I threw some cracker packets with the sodas into my bag and we headed back to the dinghy. We motored to the wooden pirogue bobbing in the bay and I tied up to the mooring. I pulled the boat toward us and the children clambered in. They loved riding in the big boat.
I was nervous.
Brian and I had made the plan the night before.
“The people from the yacht in the bay want to do the rainforest hike tomorrow,” Brian said as he walked in the door of the Treehouse after closing up the restaurant.
“Alright,” I said slowly, thinking over how this would affect my morning. Then I remembered Elijah would be off work. “How many people?” I asked.
Brian popped a cap off a Hairoun beer. “Six.”
“Elijah’s not working tomorrow,” I said.
“They won’t all fit in the dinghy, right?”
“No way,” Brian said. He thought for a moment. “We’re going to have to take the big boat and you’ll have to captain it.”
“I haven’t operated it yet,” I said, telling him what he already knew.
He thought some more. “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll take the big boat to pick up the staff in the morning. I’ll show you how to start the engine and you can drive it over. You’ll get out at Clare Valley with the kids, get the truck and bring it over to Buccament Bay. I’ll take the staff back and pick up the yachties at their boat, meet you in Buccament and trade you the boat for the truck. Then all you have to do is take the big boat back to the mooring at Petit Byahaut.”
“But I’ll have to pick you up afterwards,” I said. “I think if the engine starts without any problems, I’ll be fine driving the boat. But picking you up means I’ll have to come to the dock, and not crash into it.”
“Wait until I’m on the dock and I’ll help you.”
“Are you sure it wouldn’t be better just to drive the guests from Clare Valley rather than Buccament?” I asked.
“Take the guests to Clare Valley? No way. We can’t take guests there. Do you really want them to see all the guys smoking pot or passed out from too much strong rum? Or the goat entrails floating out to sea? Or the trash all over the beach? No way. Besides, it’s calmer in Buccament Bay and there are fewer ropes to navigate around. It’ll be easier for you to dock the boat.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, resigning that there was no simple answer.
“You’re driving the big boat, Mama?” Remy asked.
“Yeah. Remember? I drove it this morning to Clare Valley, with Dada.”
I can fly an airplane, I reminded myself getting into the boat, I can drive this boat.
It was becoming my mantra lately.
I can fly an airplane, I can drive the dinghy to Clare Valley to pick up the staff.
I can fly an airplane, I can drive to town on these insane roads.
I used my new skills to start the engine and swung the tiller out to turn the boat around and head out of the bay. Once we were moving, it felt good to be operating a more powerful boat I had only seen men driving.
“Go fast, Mama, go fast!” Remy shouted.
Simon bounced up and down on the seat next to me, a smile spreading across his face. “Fast!” he said.
I sped up only a bit, not wanting the ride to be over too soon. Breathing in the sea air with the breeze cooling my skin, I soaked up my surroundings. I slowed down as we neared the bat cave and looked into the exit, checking to see if there was a surge inside. I’d been working up my nerve to snorkel through the dark cave, but it would have to be on a calm day, and one free of jellyfish. There was a slight surge but where we floated, the sea was calm and the boulders and sponges and massive brain coral below were clearly visible. We turned into Buccament Bay. The truck wasn’t there yet. I was early for a change.
I spotted a mooring buoy near the dock and motored to it. Where did this come from? Has it been here all along? I picked up the algae covered buoy and after checking to see if the attached rope was also attached to something that would hold us in place, I tied up to it.
“Where’s Dada?” Remy asked.
“He’ll be here soon. We’ll just have our sodas and crackers while we wait.”
While the children ate, I sized up the dock. Driving the boat from mooring to mooring was relatively easy, but sidling up to the dock without crashing into it was another thing. Brian might be able to help from the dock but he’d have the guests with him. An audience. I needed a plan. I reverted back to my plane flying days. One of my instructors had stressed pre-flight visualization as the key to success. I looked at my landing place and mentally planned how I would get the boat from where we were to alongside the dock.
“Looks like long, beautiful hair,” Simon said, interrupting my concentration. I turned around to look in the direction he was pointing.
“Like Rapunzel’s hair!” Remy agreed.
Long, wavy, yellowish dry vines hung down the black cliffside next to us. The vines did look like Rapunzel’s hair. This comment I would have expected from Remy. She wouldn’t wear anything other than her favorite torn up and stained princess dress. But two year old Simon, imagining the vines as long, blond hair? And beautiful? I was impressed.
I looked up at the looming wall before me, really seeing the life it harbored for the first time–the vines, the spiny century plants, acacia trees, blooming frangipani and cactus.
Simon pulled out the hand operated bilge pump and starting pumping water from the sea back into the sea. After Remy took her turn, the white truck appeared, chugging down the red soil track toward us.
I started the engine, suddenly nervous again. I untied from the mooring and watched for Brian to get out of the truck. When he started walking down the long wooden dock with the truckload of guests, I started my approach. As we neared, he got down on one knee, leaning out to grab the boat when it came within reach. Wood smashed against wood and Brian jumped inside and grasped for the dock as the boat continued moving forward. Our audience became concerned, some of them tried to help slow us down, I left the motor and reached for the dock too, and before we ran out of dock, we got the boat stopped.
The guests were quiet, looking down at our family in the boat. I avoided eye contact. I could imagine their thoughts, “These people run the resort?”
Remy wanted to stay with Dada (who could blame her?) so I took Simon with me to drive the truck back to Clare Valley. Brian would drop the guests off at their yacht at Petit Byahaut and then head to Clare Valley for Simon and me.
The big boat motored out of the bay with the guests and Simon and I strolled down the dock toward the truck. Safely ashore now, I quietly reveled to myself–I had now docked the big boat.
I opened the driver’s side door and Simon crawled across the front seat and found a leftover soda on the floor. “Open it, open it!” he demanded.
I was thirsty and hot too after being out in the sun. I found the bottle opener in the glove box and out of the corner of my eye, caught a glimpse of two young guys passing Simon’s open window. They took swigs of the sodas they had just bought and noticed ours and offered a quick chin raise greeting, holding up their bottles in salute.
“Good afternoon,” I said with a smile.
I handed Simon the soda and in that instant, an aging cigarette boat raced into the bay so fast I was certain it would crash through the steel cargo container left on the beach by the wardrobe crew of the blockbuster movie, Pirates of the Caribbean. When the two guys saw the boat, they dropped their sodas and ran for the cargo container.
Panic shot through me and I started the engine. The sleek boat hit the beach and came to a sudden halt. The wake rocked the boat ridiculously and rushed over the stern and inside, nearly flooding it. That’s when I saw the semi automatic rifle in the hand of the guy riding shotgun. I jammed the stick shift into reverse and the two soda drinkers reappeared, running to the boat with clumsy suitcase-sized bundles wrapped in black plastic. I knew marijuana was prevalently grown on the island, but the last thing I wanted was to be witness to a drug deal. They threw the bundles into the boat and ran back for more. A guy jumped out of the speed boat and tried pushing it back into the water. My foot hit the gas, whipping up a dust cloud, reminding me, Play it cool, play it cool. My eyes were glued to the rear view mirror as I drove the long track in second gear with both hands on the wheel while one thought filled my head, Do these guys care there’s a witness to their deal? Then the car of the soda drinkers did appear in the mirror, the distance between us decreasing as quickly as my heart rate increased.
Do they want to pass? Should I pull over? Should I speed up? Are they going to blow my head off?
My foot instinctively pressed down on the gas. Don’t do anything attention-getting, I scolded myself. It was getting harder to play it cool.
We reached the main road. The soda drinkers swerved around me and sped off.
I still had my head.