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The Call

“Most befittingly, my

salt-sprayed journey

of awakening began

in a groggy, lazy,

half-conscious state.”

Her words and her laughter lingered long after. They eclipsed all other thoughts as I sat there, struggling with how to tell the real story behind our recent sailing adventure together aboard Kalea, where mischievous gods must have delighted in gumming up the gears of hotshot Hollywood producer SlimC’s ambitious plans for a new reality-TV show.

Life of Pi meets The Bachelor was the general concept I had in mind for how I would tell my salty tale of the unusual experience afloat. I had already scribbled down some loose lyrics for a song about those rolling, yawing, enlightening days at sea:

A cast from the Mainland, sailing the sea
A second-chance story, to watch on TV
From island to island, with captain and crew
Exploring new places, on waters deep blue

Out on the ocean, with no land in sight
Questioning old ways, from darkness to light
Some spoke of power, and profit, and greed
Others of balance, and limits to heed

Oh Beauty and Wonder, left in our wake
Must be recovered, so much is at stake
Finding the balance, weighing the worth
All of us Islanders, on this Good Earth

But telling this story was turning out to be no effortless passage of fair winds and following seas. I knew it would be so much simpler to write about Captain Bob’s remarkable seamanship skills and his exquisite attunement to winds, waves, and weather during our week-long ocean voyage together.

 

Or I could certainly keep readers entertained by merely chronicling the clumsy antics of our passengers — a cast of comically ill-matched landlubberly reality-show ‘actors’ — who gifted us with many memorable moments of humor, befuddlement, and drama.

 

But it was those many short, scattered, random conversations with culinary crewmate and ukulele songstress Chef Lua that had the profoundest and most enduring quality in the wake of our time together riding the tireless trade winds of the South Pacific.

 

Surely, the story had to be about her.

~~~

 

We had gotten to know each other quite well in the few days we spent island hopping from Moorea to Rarotonga aboard Kalea, a beautiful handcrafted Polynesian sailing catamaran lovingly built by my old friend Captain Bob over a period of four years in Tahiti.

 

Our minimalist crew of three had hosted six, or perhaps really five, … (it’s complicated) reality-show cast members from the U.S. mainland looking for a second-chance romance aboard Bob’s gorgeous hand-built 65-foot cruising catamaran.

 

As a singer-songwriter, former fellow beach-cat sailor, amateur boatbuilder, and nautical jack-of-all-trades; I was recruited by Captain Bob to serve as first mate and provide some light entertainment for cast and crew along the way.

 

During those memorable days at sea, our humble and unassuming chef from the islands had imparted much good advice and wisdom on essential attitudes and behaviors for crafting healthy, creative, productive lives and maintaining balance and perspective when confronted with life’s inevitable obstacles and challenges.

 

And from her unique perspective as an islander, Lua also warned of gathering storms on the horizon — of what would surely be culturally jarring and disorienting flips and reversals in mainland norms, customs, and priorities in response to imminent collisions between our endless growth economic ambitions and hard ecological and financial limits.

 

Those many enlightening dialogues with Yoda-like Lua kept emerging as oases of calm and clarity in my mind as other random thoughts, scenes, and memories flailed about — like torn fragments of a storm-shredded mainsail — while I struggled to capture in words the enthralling experience crewing aboard Kalea.

 

The more time I spent anchored in my favorite chair by the large front window at WorldBeat Café attempting to recall the events of the trip, the more my thoughts gravitated toward those rich conversations — and to how destiny brought us together from opposite sides of the world.

~~~

Most befittingly, my salt-sprayed journey of awakening began in a groggy, lazy, half-conscious state. I had just dozed off on my sofa, looking forward to a quick recharge from a short power nap before working on some new song ideas, when I got the call.

 

I hadn’t even been back in my apartment five minutes, drained from leading my popular Saturday morning family friendly ‘Community Music Circle’ at the Delray Beach green market. At this interactive musical experience, audience members, particularly young children, are encouraged to pick up any of a variety of percussion instruments provided by group players and join in on the groove.

 

The catchy islandy jams — blending African, Arabic, Caribbean, and Latin rhythm patterns — and the humorous, interactive, singalong style in which familiar tunes and original songs are performed make this unique public event a fun, lively, and engaging experience for kids and adults alike.

 

But on this particular day, as it turns out, something very curious had happened.

~~~

It had been a sinfully beautiful, breezy, cool January morning — ‘deep winter’ in South Florida. A lovely young woman with an exquisite smile and wearing a simple colorful sarong, islandy straw hat, and no footwear of any kind joined our small musical group for a brief time. She appeared suddenly out of the dense crowd of sun-soaked shoppers to join us right in the middle of a song.

 

She sat on one of the extra chairs directly across from me and confidently strummed along on the small light blue ukulele she had pulled out of a colorful canvas shopping bag bursting with teal and magenta swirls. The adorable little baby guitar prominently featured a dark brown sculpted wooden bridge in the shape of a short, pudgy smiling dolphin. Too cute it was.

 

She was obviously no novice player — she perfectly blended in as we played a Latin jazz version of Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell. She was even inspired to harmonize with me at one point and did so most strikingly, and while looking right into my eyes, on the lyrics, ‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.’

 

And then, just moments before the song ended, she winked at me in a very subtle manner, graced the rest of the group with a wide, warm smile, and got up quietly and disappeared back into the slowly moving mass of shoppers with their designer baby strollers and adorable furry companions tethered on colorful rainbow leashes.

 

Too bad. I would have liked to have gotten her name and found out if she was a local.

 

I’m sure I had never seen her at the market before. And I really needed to make some sense of that odd tingling sensation I felt all over my body just moments before she appeared that day  — I had never felt anything like that before.

 

She would surely stop by again next Saturday, I convinced myself. I cleared my mind and snapped back into the moment.

 

We wrapped up our jam around noon. After the usual post-performance banter with players, groupies, neophyte young drummers, and grateful parents, I headed home to enjoy a quick power nap before preparing for my afternoon gig.

~~~

That fateful call. I sat up on the sofa, shook my head a few times to snap my brain back into a semi-conscious state, and glared down at the offending phone.

 

The small screen displayed ‘Unknown.’ Could it be the young woman with the cute little blue ukulele from the market?

 

Had she gotten my number from someone and wanted to find out more about our lively musical gatherings on Saturdays? She obviously enjoyed playing along and seemed to fit right in with the other cheerful players who come out religiously every weekend to eagerly join our loose group of street musicians.

 

I would normally delegate the answering of such mystery calls to my trusty voicemail. But what if it was her? I should probably take the call.

 

I grunted,

 

“Hello.”

 

Whoa! … that voice. It most certainly was not the one I expected to hear. I hadn’t heard this voice in quite some time.

 

Memories flooded in. We had been weekend sailing buddies a couple of decades back (it’s been that long?), when we would compete to see who could ‘fly a hull’ for the longest time without dipping those glossy smooth fiberglass keels back in the water, or wiping out in spectacular fashion and ‘turning turtle’ the fast, nimble beach catamarans in most embarrassing, undignified ways.

 

Hobie Beach in Miami was the place to be on weekends back in the day. Beautiful boats and beautiful babes.

 

It didn't matter if you were a multi-millionaire or a beach bum (I was contentedly on the simple-living side of that spectrum), we were all equals in our shared passion for showing off wind-driven, rooster-tail wakes while flying gleaming ninja-blade hulls just inches above the choppy turquoise waters of breezy Biscayne Bay. Good times, good times…

 

They were different times back then, mind you. The world didn’t feel so busy, crowded, ... and strained. And multiple threats to the oceans and beaches I loved so dearly or growing doubts about the health and vitality of the U.S. mainland economy — offering so much promise and opportunity to so many — did not weigh heavily on me back then.

 

But that all started to change rather dramatically at the turn of the century — a growing uneasiness I could feel in my bones.

 

And I was just starting to figure out why.

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​© 2019 Rich 'Rico' Leon