by Guest Crew, Pierre Littée & Lianna Giancola
In no time we arrived at Isla de las Corales, between Chacala and Punta Mita, where we paddled to visit the only inhabitant on shore, a ranchero. We were told not to venture too far because of the snakes. “Are they venomous?” we asked. “There are snakes!” retorted the ranchero, emphatically. We stayed close to the beach.
Returning to the boat, Lianna stepped from her Stand Up Paddleboard which was attached port-side to Aldebarán. Despite being her first time on a SUP, she confidently boarded with adventure alive in her arteries. My entrance onboard would be less graceful, and put an exclamatory cap to the first day at sea.
As I attempted to board, my legally impaired eyes were slightly distracted by the beauty and truth of the moment, and I lost my grip and footing. I sputtered and fell back overboard into the ocean, directly onto a stinging jellyfish– or so I thought.
“You might as well use the ladder!” said Sabrina.
“Holy Mackerel! Jellies!!!” I called back in pain.
A little annoyed at learning about the ladder after-the-fact, I climbed onboard the ship, greeted by the shocked stare of the other crew members. I followed everyone’s gaze downward and saw that the sting of pain wasn’t just a jellyfish: I was bleeding heavily from a very deep stab on my left shin. The sight of one’s own blood can make some people woozy, shocked, or curious; I was dumbfounded. The gash was down to the bone and would need stitches. What a fluke– I must have snagged my flesh on the edge of the lifeline hardware.
Would we have to go to the hospital, cancel the trip, or would I get sewn up with fishing line in this moment of desperation? Was I the sacrifice for the Great Bull in the Sky?
Leave it to my sister, Nurse Sabrina. The moment she saw the severe nature of the injury, she descended into the galley, ripped off her rash guard, revealed her “Go with the Flo” nursing shirt, tied her RN cape tightly around her shoulders, and flew to my rescue with a suture kit attached to her utility belt.
With great professionalism, Sabrina said: “Pierre, the bad news is that you’ll be at very high risk of infection and won’t be able to get into the ocean for at least a week, to reduce threat to loss of limb and life.”
“Well, what in Popeye’s name is the good news?!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll stitch you up myself!” replied Sabrina. I looked at her suspiciously and thought about all the terrible sibling pranks I had done to her during our upbringing: the time she got blamed for the alcohol I was stealing from our parents liquor cabinet… or how one time, they sent her to a therapist for allegedly lying because of contraband that I had placed in her sweatshirt pocket. Uh-oh, now it was all going to bite me in the butt.
“Don’t worry, my dear brother. I’ve done this hundreds of times,” Sabrina said with a twinkle in her eye. As the sun set and the first constellations began to appear in the darkness above, the crew of the Green Coconut Run prepared the cockpit as an impromptu operating room. Surgical equipment was sterilized by the lighter, Lianna held the flashlight, Youtube videos were reviewed on the art of self-suture.
After applying local anesthesia, Sabrina did 4 stitches. Ryan offered to do 1 stitch. I said what the hell, and did 1 stitch as well. An hour of squeezing my flesh shut later, Sabrina laughed and said, “Ok you’re all stitched up! Oh, and I forgot to mention, you’re the first human I’ve ever done this on, bro!”
Realizing that I was officially dry docked, Kristian suggested we head to Punta Mita, where he had a friend with a beach house. This idea pleased all, who hadn’t seen fresh sheets, mattresses or a shower head with pressure in more than 50 days.
That night we each learned how to pilot the boat. With the stars and the compass, our existence was tied to the whole history of the globe, as this little boat crossed the ocean’s expanse like so many before. The night sky enveloped me and my sorrows in a cushion of compassion.
The morning began with the “zing-zing!” of the fishing line: to catch and prepare our own fresh fish. How exciting to reel in a silvery tuna! How amazing it feels to gut and fillet our fish, like age-old hunter-gatherers, finding in Nature our sustenance to carry us through the day! The darkness of our injuries and memories faded in the exhilaration of that primal moment.
The delightful rollercoaster of life continued: before the end of that day, we were lodged in a most luxurious beach villa. Casa Selvatica was on the sand in front of the “Burros” surfbreak. A friend of Kristian’s was exceptionally generous and offered us wonderful headquarters for a few days. We spent a few delicious days recuperating and re-energizing ourselves on terra firma. Like a dreamscape, we felt the ebb of reality escape… Casa Selvatica isn’t something that happens in “real life”.
I watched with envy the great waves being surfed straight out front. Damn my clumsy mistake! I thought. The dismay I felt was like an ugly zit. However, the threat of depression was wrestled down by the intense gratitude for our fortune — the wonder we felt for Life in this exotic place was overwhelming my personal dramas.
That evening, the haze of adult libations masked the throb of my leg. We determined to depart the next day. In our relaxed state, Ryan and Michael revealed their deepest wishes; to surf a spot in a secret island, which was illegal to visit. We nodded enthusiastically at the prospect of adventure — I wasn’t about to let me injury keep us from the glory of illicit discoveries!
In the soft glow of the bungalow coconut lights, a fantasy-filled gleam was taking form in the eyes of the crew. Maybe that island, clouded in its aura of mystique, would help me snap out of my funk. Or would we get in trouble, as the captain warned was possible?
Days later we arrived at the secret island. We saw it in the horizon, and the federales were nowhere to be seen. As soon as we found the infamous wave, Michael jumped in and paddled into the surf zone. He turned and charged as the first wave came towards him. He took off, zipped across the face, and after the wave barreled he came out the end hollering with pure stoke, pumping his fists in the air.
“We have a double fist pump, ladies and gentlemen!!” exclaimed Kristian in a tone I had not heard before, and in a flash he was overboard, paddling towards the lineup. Ryan was right behind him.
“Are you going snorkeling?” I asked Lianna. At first she shook here head. She felt scared to go into such a powerful ocean. Sabrina said she would accompany her with the boogie board as a flotation device… I offered encouragement: “We are here to experience new things, right?” Lianna consented after some deliberation.
As the ladies suited up, I went down below to the galley. With the smell of banana bread baking in the oven, hearing the crashing waves, the shouts of joy from the surfing crew, the girls digging in the dive locker for their gear, I suddenly felt… terribly alone.
The feeling of loneliness is the most common reason for depression. Through whatever means we have — business, gambling, religion, alcohol, sex, or sports — we try to forget that we are truly alone, truly fragile and mortal. For me, surfing is the most healthy escape from that feeling. Ironically, the fear of infection was paralyzing me from overcoming my fear of loneliness. Fear begets fear, and morale crumbles.
I sat on the edge of my cot, and looked down at the cut on my leg, which was oozing and trying to heal through the collaborative stitching. How could I keep it from being wet, and risk an infection that could compromise our trip? The hot humidity slapped me in the face, as I knew the best escape was the cool ocean outside, which I was unpermitted to enter. I felt ashamed and distant. Tears fell from my eyes… I cried while the men surfed. I had given up and couldn’t bear the humiliation.
Did I have to hit rock bottom, so I might claw back up with wild, crazy determination? Was this the secret to finding the Light?
The two women who I cared so much about appeared in the galley, and tried to comfort me as best they could. But I was clawing out of a deep hole, irrational, insensible. I didn’t care anymore. I was willing to risk it. I needed to go into the ocean, and put aside my Rationality. I needed to break the vicious cycle that kept me in the dumps.
I grabbed duct tape to seal my leg. My sister stopped me immediately— I was out of mind, she said. I looked at Sabrina, and seeing her standing there, surrounded by this incredible voyage that she had created, made me more proud of her than ever before. Turning to Lianna, remembering the moment during our first date when she got the call informing she had just lost her only brother, made me bite my lip in the pain of love. I told them both that I loved them, and that I needed to do this. I was going in the water.
Here was the beginning of the happily ever after– the turn from cry of failure, to resurrection of rejoice. It is testimony to the healing power of the ocean, to the healing power of a loving community of friends, to the magic of opening ourselves to adventure, and to the mystery of the unknown, that we left Mexico as entirely different people than when we arrived.
I’ll let the photos below tell the story of what transpired. It was one of the most remarkable series of events that I have ever experienced in my life… not all easy, but all mind-blowing. I forced myself to stay open, exhale stale air from my mind, and bring fresh air to my heart. The ocean worked its magic by purifying my deepest wounds, and inspiring a courage to be whole again. In the kaleidoscopic combination of those experiences, the whole strength of the Pacific Ocean returned in the palm of my hand, all the way back to “real life” in the Bay Area, California, from where I write these recollections.
The wounds healed well, thanks to the waterproof bandages onboard Aldebaran. The scar remains, but over time, as all things, it too shall pass.