Another Man’s Dream, a short essay by me (postcard 1984, essay 2001)
My normal activities and thought patterns were joyously disrupted today by a letter that appeared in my mailbox. I knew instantly from the randomness of the coffee stains, the distinctiveness of the handwriting, the three different pens that attempted to function but were pronounced dead from abuse, and the Australian post mark, it was from my friend Bear. He had reached another port of call in his unique sailing adventure around this planet.
My wife and I spent our first 11 years together living aboard a small wooden schooner. We were attempting to create a life for ourselves, avoiding some of society’s pressures while maintaining a level of adventure both of us longed for. During this time I had the good fortune to meet Bear, a person so unique, I immediately came to the conclusion I was meeting a one of a kind individual. At first glance, without seeing the depth of the man inside, any person could be easily rushed to judgment by Bear’s outward appearance. Looking past his unkempt exterior, however, one quickly sees many great qualities. He is not judgmental of people, giving each person the benefit of the doubt no matter what predicament he might find them in. He is able to laugh at himself and this world in situations where others would be brought to tears. He possesses a buoyancy that floats him above life’s negative moments when other people would be sinking fast.
Late one summer evening while walking through our marina parking lot, adrift in the unconsciousness of my own daily routine, my first meeting with Bear would come as a shock, followed by curiosity, and eventually friendship. With towel and soap in hand and nearly to the shower, I was suddenly startled by loud grunts emanating from a dilapidated station wagon off to my side. Spinning to my left I saw the car rocking from side to side as a huge, hairy man emerged from his sleeping quarters in the back of the wagon. The passage of time has clouded my memory of our exact opening words, but many other details remain vivid and clear. Bear and his dog Poopsy were residing in the car until they could sleep onboard the boat he had recently purchased. Even though the boat’s interior was torn apart and lacked floorboards and a berth in which to sleep, Bear had still tried sleeping in the cold dampness of the bilge. This arrangement proved to be too uncomfortable, so the parking lot had become their chosen home. Looking past him and into his car, I noticed that it was filled to the point of overflowing with what looked like junk to my biased eyes. Bear had just emerged from his den, a hole dug into his belongings, tailor made for an exacting fit. His mattress consisted of two gigantic bags of dog food that were surrounded by the remains of three dismantled chain saws. Precious belongings to be sure, but not what most people would consider normal bed partners. Familiar smells of the logging industry drifted from his direction, Bear’s cologne for the month. He said he had just gotten through planting trees amidst the destruction of Mt. Saint Helens. He had the look of being in the blast zone himself. Knowing immediately I had never met a man like Bear before, I felt like fleeing, but the friendliness of his eyes, and the laugh that is his trademark, filled the emptiness of the parking lot and kept me engaged. During this first meeting I wondered if he was dealt a full deck. Now almost 20 years later I am wondering if it is not me who is lacking a few good cards.
Bear quickly became a welcomed member of our close community of friends living aboard their boats. These boats varied from our own small classic schooner to large expensive yachts. The people ranged from construction workers to doctors, spanning international boundaries. It was a very diverse group with Bear occupying a niche all to himself on the far end of a spectrum.
He solidified his position on this spectrum the day he took an ax to his boat, removing its cabin and deck upon finding that rot had invaded its structure. It would have been a very sad moment for anyone who had just found decay in their dreams. He lamented very little over losing his shelter and having to spend his meager savings rebuilding. Because I had become a good friend, I was invited to witness and photograph the removal of the boat’s topsides. This scene is etched in my brain forever: Bear straddling the top of his beloved vessel, his back-lit silhouette against the blue sky and bay, ax swinging, delivering repeated fatal blows to his home. At the same time that wood chips and sweat were flying in all directions, Bear was verbally questioning his own sanity and wondering whether he was doing the right thing. In two hours what had not floated away with the tidal current was lying in small chunks in the bottom of the hull. Passing boaters must have thought they were witnessing a madman in action. None of our group could believe what Bear had done this time even though we had all grown accustomed to Bear’s unique sense of style. For Bear this boat bashing had been a bold statement, rebelling against his own weakness of procrastination. Even though his future remained uncertain, Bear had made sure there was no easy path back to where he had just been.
Rebuilding a boat is a huge project for a trained shipwright. For Bear, possessing no woodworking skills and limited money, it was a monumental endeavor. We all wondered if he would ever complete the task. I tried placing myself in his shoes and found the situation overwhelming and deeply depressing. We all worried what sort of toll this would take on our friend. None of us truly understood how strong willed and determined he was. The drama lay in the fact that Bear was still in the very real process of finding out for himself. Many of us thought there was a good chance that the Saint Jude (named for the patron saint of lost causes) would never see open water again. Few saw any good reason for rebuilding the boat in the first place. Why not let it die like all wooden boats eventually do? It would soon become just another memory like the numerous thirty-five dollar automobiles Bear had abandoned in friends back yards up and down the coast.
For over a year Bear toiled with his dream. He expressed the notion that he not only wanted to make the boat livable, but also strong enough for possible ocean travel. How he maintained a positive attitude we will never know as we watched him each day covered with glue, sweat, and fiberglass dust. Even when Bear was cleaned up, he was covered with gook. Rebuilding proved to be grueling work. He lost his marginally paying job as the marina night security guard, through no fault of his own. Marina politics. Through adversity Bear would soon have a new motto to live by. My wife created a card which included a picture and quote from Bear’s mentor, Tristan Jones, a world renowned single-handed sailor who consistently chose adventure over creature comfort. The card was posted overlooking what Bear would call "the destruction zone". It read, "When in danger, when in doubt, hoist the sail and bugger on out". For Bear, words to live by, and words he took to heart. Don’t let the pressures of society pull you down. In a life-threatening storm, trust your inner wisdom and your boat. Safety lies in the open ocean, not near the shallows where most people reside and find comfort. Steer your own course, mate!
Part way through the rebuilding of Saint Jude, our liveaboard community lost an inspirational young member to a cancerous brain tumor. Clance had put up an amazing fight for his life. He inspired everyone close to him by accomplishing more in his last year than most of us will in our lifetime. He spent little time asking "why me," instead focusing on making dreams come true. In the midst of his battle with cancer, Clance went off to Nashville and recorded his first music album. Recovering from a second major brain tumor operation, he set off for Australia to see the outback and its people. He bought a small oceangoing sailboat and began making plans to sail around the world when he recovered. Watching Clance, the way he danced around the outside edges of his life, I knew without a doubt he had all the necessary talents to sail across any ocean. All he needed was a fair length of life. Clance never got his chance. Even with his incredibly positive attitude fighting cancer, he lost the battle, never getting the opportunity to fulfill his dream of sailing across an ocean.
Bear and Clance had become close friends through all of this, their unique personalities meeting on a level the depth of which few of us could really appreciate or comprehend. After Clance’s death, Bear commented to me that he was going to complete Clance’s dream in memory of an individual who had given all of us a gift of fresh perspective and joyous outlook on our precious lives. I knew that Bear was very serious in his comment and not to be taken lightly. Bear’s problem was that his seafaring skills were non existent and he possessed a boat which most people would not trust their lives to. From outward appearances, not a very likely candidate for a global adventure — better left for men and women with huge egos and money to burn on the latest ocean going vessels. Any detractors Bear might have had at this time, he was about to prove wrong and out of touch with the reality he was living in.
Upon the completion of the new Saint Jude, the first test was sailing her down the Washington-Oregon Coast to her new home in Berkeley, California. In October, this is a very serious adventure for even seasoned sailors in well-tuned boats. Few would do it single handed, and I know of only one who would do it in the Saint Jude, that person being Bear. He completed his trip down the coast, an adventure that could fill an entire book. Problems arose on the trip that would have caused most people to flounder, but not Bear. Adversity had become Bear’s friend and constant companion, allowing him to function one problem at a time, as if chaos were just a normal fact of daily life. Jokingly, he said his main problem arose while making his life-sustaining coffee during the constant gales. His Coleman stove kept flopping about, threatening to catch his boat on fire while boiling coffee sloshed onto his arms.
I will never forget the day Bear and I were working at the marina refinishing a boat together not long after his coastal trip. Since Bear had worked at the Marina as a security guard, most of the patrons knew him. Few knew him very well, though, and I would not hesitate to say many of them looked down on him. They were not able to see beyond the dirty clothes, dented rusty car, and a boat that looked like many that the marina personnel were constantly in the process of trying to refloat after sinking to the bottom from neglect. They were unable to see past his rough exterior to a person whose parents were both college professors and had raised a college educated son with an imaginative mind. Most only saw a man going nowhere, incapable of generating the necessary money needed for living the good life. On this particular day all the "sailors" were returning in their boats from a big race out on the bay. A couple of them had noticed that Bear had been gone for a good while and asked where he had been. Upon hearing that he had sailed his boat down the coast with no motor, and in October, I could literally see their mouths drop open in disbelief. I saw egos taking huge hits as it quickly dawned on them that this individual, whom they thought they had towered above, had beaten them to the punch. Bear had completed a feat they had been unable to accomplish, even with their expensive, more than capable boats. It takes a unique person who can confront the inner demons that become apparent during any ocean passage; few possess the talent or desire to confront these demons alone. Of those who do, Bear is somewhat unique in that he is very much a people-oriented person.
Bear spent the next few winters living in his home town of Berkeley, California. During the rest of the year he gained knowledge as a sailor working on numerous fish tenders in Alaska. Alaska and the characters it draws were right up Bear’s kaleidoscopic alley. He is quickly bored with "normal" people and is drawn to the extreme. He could fill a book with stories just from all the crazy people with whom he has conferred at laundromats and libraries. I believe Bear has logged more time talking to schizophrenics than most psychiatrists and probably has a better understanding of them, too. I know he shares more in common; his dreams attest to that. Dreams which tenaciously survived through long bouts with reality now began to flicker back to life, fueled by self-confidence gained through experience at sea, and a distant voice which would not die away. Just as interplanetary gases coalesce to form stars and planets, Bear’s dreams were consolidating into a real concrete form.
A couple of years ago Bear decided that before he himself went over the edge, it was "now or never," concerning his dream to sail the South Pacific. With Clance as Bear’s guiding light, Bear set sail on a journey that has taken him through the Marquesas Islands, Fuji, and now to his latest destination, Australia. He has visited many remote islands, entertaining the Native people, I’m sure, as much as they have entertained him. In many ways Bear is a throw-back to earlier times before modern sailing vessels and sophisticated sailors became the norm. Bear is the sort of person kids still flock behind when walking the streets in these remote islands. He is the sort of person these people admire because he has done so much with so little. He is also the kind of person capable of developing friendships so deep that he would devote a major portion of his own life to honoring another man’s dream. In some inexplicable way, Bear has taken all his close friends on his journey. I for one would like to thank him for that.
Related video clip www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KP7Nykewxw
Posted by tellytomtelly on 2016-10-25 14:54:34
Tagged: , Clance , Bear , Tacoma , Tyee Marina , essay , Tristan Jones , sailing , bugger , sail , postcard , Another Man’s Dream , 1984 , hoist the sail , Orting , Clance Carrigan , Stephen Gieber