New Crew, New View

When I’m ready to take to the sea again, my new friend Simon accompanies me back to the house I shared with Poana to pick up a few items I left in the garage. The house is empty and the garden full of weeds. Poana is no longer living there. As Simon and I step out of the car, a skinny adolescent orange-and-gray striped cat comes out of the bushes crying like a young child who skinned her knees. She rubs against my legs and tells me how lonely and hungry she has been, and how much love she needs. I scoop her up and cuddle her. I remember seeing her as a tiny kitten before I moved out.

After gathering my belongings, Simon and I walk the property. We met before my time with Rainui but only recently became friends while he was working in the bay near Monique and Aymeric’s house. The little cat follows us up through the banana forest and into the open field below the waterfall. She bounds like a gazelle through the high grasses and dashes after us as we head back toward the house. I’m taken by her commanding air and carefree bravado. As it nears time to go, I hesitate to leave her.

I can’t count the forlorn cats and dogs I’ve longed to adopt over the years, but it never seemed fair to drag them into my nomadic lifestyle. I’m not sure that I can properly care for a pet. But something about this cat’s spirit touches me.

New Crew, New View Photo Gallery

“She’s all alone here and it seems like she needs love. I can at least try to find her a good home,” I tell Simon.

“Or you can keep her. She’s a cool cat.”

“I doubt it. The boat is too small. She’ll get bored. And I have to travel from time to time,” I reason. “But she seems lonely, don’t you think?”

“Definitely. Don’t you think love is just as important as freedom?” he asks me.

I ponder for a minute. I’ve had extreme freedom with no love. And extreme “love” with no freedom.

“I think she needs a balance of both,” I tell him.

Adjusting to boat life isn’t easy for her. Life on a slippery, forty-by-eleven-foot hunk of fiberglass surrounded by water is a radical contrast to the lonesome jungle mansion. She scours every nook and locker of Swell for anything that moves, then resorts to ambushing flies. She nuzzles her food dish, watches sunsets from atop the dodger, and spends twilight dawns on the dinghy eyeing fish below. Her high-flying, over-the-water acrobatic routines soon lead to a few “kitty overboard” incidents. She quickly learns to dread the sea, but despite her distaste for swimming, she is amazingly good at it, and masters the art of clawing her way onto the rubber dinghy when necessary. Amelia seems like a good name for her, since her courageous, unbounded spirit reminds me of the esteemed pioneering pilot Miss Amelia Earhart.

I ask everyone I can think of who might give Amelia a good home, but find no takers. In the meantime, she’s quickly growing on me. I do my best to make life as fun as possible for her aboard, devising toys and dragging strings for her to chase. I worry she might fall overboard when I am away, so I make a ladder from a long strip of old towel and hang it over the side. It dangles aft into the sea so she can grab it easily. I come back from surfing one morning to find her wet and madly preening; she obviously made good use of it.

Simon becomes a dear friend. He’s as optimistic and sincere as a kindergarten teacher. The idea of starting a new relationship completely freaks me out, but he is happy to just be close and philosophize about life, love, and the mystic. We read Rumi aloud, perform underwater ballet, take long, slow walks, and feel a closeness that supersedes attachment. His kindness helps rebuild my faith in males after my great romantic fail.

“Hypothetically,” I ask one afternoon. “What if we were in love, and then one day I fell in love with someone else?”

“I would be happy for you,” he says. “Sad for me, but so happy for you. True love is wanting for the other person what they truly want for themselves.”

I never thought of it this way before, but it makes perfect sense. Is it love if you love someone only if they are going to love you back? Wanting someone to be happy, regardless if it means that you are in the equation that sounds like true love to me. It sounds full of room for growth, changes, imperfections, and opportunities.

Simon watches Amelia and Swell when Patagonia invites me to join the surf crew on the North Shore of Hawai’i. I leap at the chance, knowing I’ll also get to see my dear friend, Anna, who lives there in a house full of surfer girls. Upon my return, Simon graciously accompanies me on the first long passage since my “great escape.” We head two hundred miles northeast to the atolls, and then he flies back home.

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