A Sailor's Life for Me

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

Last Friday we finally ventured out for some Palau nightlife. It’s a shame really that we have been here for nearly 3 weeks and haven’t really gone out, but in all fairness every day we have been waking up early to either go diving, or go to work. The bar of choice was this joint named Kramer’s, which apparently is the place where all the tourists/ex-pats go (people that used to live somewhere else and moved to Palau). Our waitress was one of my patients and she introduced us to a couple of people. This one Pilipino girl named Teng pretty much held the social light and decided where to shine it. She was very good friends with this guy we met named Gary who for the last four years had been living on his 45 foot sailboat that he parks in the harbor.

Gary is in his mid 50’s, and probably one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever known, one of those people that always has a smile on their face and is laughing at something, or someone. Teng tends to organize small day excursions on Gary’s boat, and I was pretty thrilled when Vanessa and I were invited to tag along for a day of sailing/snorkeling/and boozing on Sunday. We were scheduled to go diving on Sunday, which I quickly decided to cancel for a chance at some real sailing.

After talking to Gary more that night I learned that he has been sailing the pacific for the majority of his adult life. Most of the time he will port somewhere for an extended period of time, sometimes years, find a job either building boats, or whatever carpentry work he can land, when he has enough money he tends to move on to the next island. The only reason I could get out of him that he has been in Palau so long is because it only costs him 300/year to put his boat in the harbor. Gary likes to mention that when he was younger all of his friends and family were pretty disappointed in him for not getting a job/going to college/getting married like he was supposed to. Now that they are all close to retirement Gary has become the envy of just all his friends and family. He has successfully lived a life of leisure sailing wherever and whenever he feels like, and just generally enjoying life.

On Sunday we showed up at the dock at noon. There were about 8 people coming out on the boat, most of whom had already been at the bar for quite some time. The boat could comfortably sit everyone and had a cabin where about 2 people could sleep comfortably; there was even a little kitchen. As we started lifting the sails and getting underway the mood was light and the beers were cracking open. Soon enough everyone was laughing and having a great time. Most of the people on the boat worked around Palau in various bars, or dive shops. Everyone was pretty much a regular when it came to weekend sailing with Gary, we were the only true out of towners. Gary sat back and directed as a couple people drove the boat. I was given a brief lesson in the physics of sailing from Jay, who was in town from Guam for the weekend. He also explained to me how Gary was the master of sailing, and told such stories how he has once sailed for 9 straight days off the Japanese coast in fog so thick he couldn’t see the front of the boat. It was true that when the winds changed he put his beer down, switched hats and started barking orders at people, but quickly went back to laughing and drinking when we were repositioned.

Eventually we pulled up to Palau Pacific Resort, the same resort Vanessa and I bought a membership at, only now it was a bit of a different angle. We anchored in about 30 feet of water and just hung out for a couple of hours, drinking whatever we could get our hands on and eating some pizza. I brought a bottle of Bacardi as a peace offering that quickly disappeared. After an afternoon of snorkeling and swimming and thankfully nobody drowning we turned the boat back to the dock just as the sun was setting. As fate would have it that was the only sunset I’ve seen in Palau that was perfect. Every time we had been at the beach it was too cloudy or raining. What better way to watch a nice round sun melt into the ocean then off the starboard side of an antique 45 foot sailboat as we cruise down the coast.

Back at the dock which was a dive shop, which of course had, you guessed it, a bar. We had a few more drinks. I met Gerald, a German probably about the same age as Gary. Gerald although not as social as Gary, seemed to maybe have more of a fire and need for exploring. He had made the decision when he was very young to be a sailor. In his younger days he had a similar boat to the one he has now which I think he mentioned was about 35 feet. He used to work shipping jobs across the Atlantic and travel wherever he could. He has been doing this his whole life, although he sails now more for leisure then work. He made the case that in Germany perhaps back in the day it was more socially accepted for someone to take a path in life like the one he had lead, unlike the stigma someone would experience in the states for following such a cavaliering mentality. He equated choosing a life of sailing and exploring instead of having a house and a steady job to something as simple as picking a college degree. To him it was pretty simple. I asked him if he would ever stop, or if he had a goal. He smiled and said he would only stop if he died, or met some woman. Meeting people like this that are so free spirited, that have taken the steps and successfully broken free of any social pressures ever put on them fills me with hope and fear. Hope that I might someday live a life like that, and the fear that I actually will.

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