I got home from work at 2:30am last night. Working as a nurse in downtown Minneapolis is anything but monotonous; it can be a little chaotic and a lot of crazy; it is challenging and fast moving. I love it, but by the time my shift is over, this is where I want to be. At this time of night, the docks are quiet, the water surrounding them is still, and my neighbors are tucked away in their floating homes. As I enter the wooded marina, I breathe easier and move slower. While the sound of call lights continues to ring in my head, my lone footsteps on the dock finally quiet them.
At 2:30am, I am surprised to see another soul awake. It is John. He works late on his trimaran preparing it for June 8 at 5am when he and four others plan to race this not-yet-ready boat in the R2AK. It is a 750 mile race from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK. You must sail with no motor and no support boats. With the race nearly one week away and the boat currently afloat 1,760 miles from the starting line, I’m a little nervous for them. I spend a few moments with John, and as he shows me his project successes from the night with a smile that not many people can hold up so well at 2:30am, I believe in him.
Today, May 31st, we have a perfect afternoon. It’s sunny and still. It’s a project day in the marina. With the holiday weekend and spotty storms behind us for a couple of days, every captain in this place has big eyes and working hands.
Bob across the dock is refurnishing his wood trim. Rick, one dock over, is trying to fix leaks around his windows; he says this is a problem every Chris Craft of that era has; we yell across the water as we talk about this. On our boat, we added plywood to our top deck floor to stabilize and level it. It was two day project finished today with fiberglass, paint, and parquet flooring that Michael bought on Craigslist.
As the evening moves on, I visit the trimaran and find Juan. No, I’m not just calling John “John” in Spanish… that’d be confusing. Juan is John’s friend and a fellow sailor ready to take on the R2AK. Tonight, while John is at an open house for the Lake Calhoun Sailing Club (he’s an Associate Director there), it is Juan’s turn to get this trimaran race-ready.
John and Juan are roommates. They met in college when they both went to the University of Minnesota. They met on the water of course. Like all boat people, they got to talking about how to fix one or the other’s boat problem, and before they can do anything about it, they’re buddies forever. They are both Wisconsin boys; John from Milwaukee and Juan from Wisconsin Rapids. I lived in Wisconsin once and still had to ask where this was; Juan tells me its right in the middle of the state. Juan was born in Mexico; his family moved here when he was one year old. As Juan tells me more about who he is, I feel akin to him. His outlook is familiar.
Juan sailed for the first time when he was 10 years old. Then, like me and so many others, the teenage years brought distraction. He was in to sports, hunting, and girls. In college, Juan got a degree in chemistry. When I ask what he originally went to school for, Juan says “for knowledge mostly”. I don’t know why but the choice to get a degree in chemistry surprised me a bit… maybe because we just spent the last ten minutes talking about travelling and for some reason, being in a lab and being out in the world seem like two different animals. Juan told me about taking a few semesters off to backpack in national parks, play music, and spend time WWOOFing on a vegan permaculture farm in California. I related to him on these experiences, except on the music thing; in this, I lamented to him about my ongoing failed harmonica attempts. Juan plays harmonica, drums, guitar, and some ukulele. I’m jealous.
Juan told me that at one point he wanted to be a farmer. This, I understood. Michael and I talk of this often- having our own small farm. I watch my dad and my grandparents find ultimate peace and joy in this work. I ask Juan why he got a degree in chemistry. He tells me that his initial idea was to get educated in environmental water chemistry. Aahhhh… this makes sense to me now. Juan is smart and ambitious. I’m sure you’ve gathered this by now. He spends time with our waters and doesn’t want to just use the resource, he wants to preserve it too. I understand this. In this small revelation, I am proud. During a time when much of the world would rather look away from the environmental problems at hand, I find others my age that care. Juan is one of them. I see this same inspiration in my marina neighbors who gather garbage from the waters when they go out kayaking. I see it in my parents who love their land, my dad out “cleaning the woods” to make it the best habitat for what lives and grows there. I see it in my husband who adores the small details of what we have in our waters and woods; who lights up when he sees a new plant, tree, or animal.
Juan tells me that studying environmental water chemistry was “actually kind of depressing”. I don’t even ask why; I know the answer. I think back to yesterday when I walked in to work behind a lady who threw a half cigarette to the ground right before she entered the building. I wasn’t sure why this set me off. I see cigarettes on the ground all the time and of course, there are bigger problems than one cigarette on the ground, but observing her total disregard for her surroundings must have done it for me. There was a garbage can right next to where she threw it; she didn’t even look at it. I picked up the cigarette, put it out, and threw it away. I continued to feel pissed off for the next hour. As I sat in work reviewing my patients’ charts, I wondered “why is this still bugging me… let it go Chels”. Now, in talking to Juan, I am reminded that it matters. To have an environmentally conscious chemist out there, I am thankful. To be an environmentally conscious nurse, this matters. To maybe someday be environmentally conscious farmers, this is huge.
At this point, I ask Juan how old he is. He’s my age- 28 years old. I only met Juan today; brought together by the water. It is how I’ve met so many people that inspire me; people that care about our world, how we treat it, and how we treat each other. My neighbors on this water are creative, smart, bold, and unafraid. They live in the environment because they care about it.
I once had a friend throw a piece of garbage out of her car. I said something and picked it up. She responded “oh yeah, I suppose you live in the environment”. This was over a year ago now and it has stuck with me. We all live in the environment. What is going on that not everyone feels this way? How do people not see the impact our habits have? How do we fix actions that are so commonplace, so dismissed; like throwing your cigarette to the ground with a bunch of people watching? I still don’t know the answers to all of these questions but I think about them every day. I hope this is the first step to something.
I help Juan hold the electrical panel as he cuts around it to fit the wall. We drink beer as we talk. Todd throws us two more Hamms from the dock. Juan works at Rahr Malting where he is a QC Project Manager, Micro-Maltster, and Assistant Brewer. He’s a bit of an expert in beer so I’m surprised in his gratitude for the Hamms. I invite Juan over for dinner. Michael made steak and asparagus. Juan says he ate already today and when I ask him if he’s on a one meal per day diet, Juan says that lately he is. With the time crunch of getting this boat ready while still working full time, Juan has been getting five hours of sleep and one meal per day. I am thankful that Juan finally agrees to eat after we put the food in his hands.
It’s Wednesday; the trimaran gets hauled out on Friday; I know he has a lot to do so I appreciate how present Juan is when we talk. His looming projects include getting the electrical situation squared away, mounting the solar panels, setting up the rigging, and attaching steering platforms. Juan tells me that at this point, the boat is not seaworthy and the five of them have yet to sail together as a team. Whether or not they are ready and able to do the race eight days from now, they will still sail to Alaska, get to know the terrain, and be more than ready for the race next year. I ask Juan about his future. Water will always be a part of his life; he loves sailing. He’ll probably stay around here for a while. He’s ready to set some roots. I realize I feel akin to him because of where he’s at in his life. He has stretched his legs out, carried a backpack around the country, and ponders on what he can do to be good for the world. In all of his exploration, he has found that making a difference where he stands makes the most difference.
As the sun sets, the dock gathers together to unwind from the project day. We finish dinner, drink beer, and talk about what was accomplished. Somehow, conversation turns to plumb bobs and we discuss these for what feels like an hour. It’s surprising how many jokes sprout from this conversation on plumb bobs. I am educated on the variety of plumb bobs that exist. It’s soon 10:30pm, and I retreat to the boat with plumb bobs on the mind. Alright, I’ll let you go before I babble on. It’s time for me to go to bed and time for you to google what a plumb bob is. Also, Michael wants you to google “plumb barbara”; do so at your own risk. Goodnight now.