SAILING ON THE EDGE: Chapter 3
In 2006, the Baja Ha-Ha cruiser’s rally to Mexico was our launch to my dream of sailing around the world… Our sloop, SEVENTH HEAVEN, departed San Diego in the middle of the fleet as a hundred and eighty billowing spinnakers scattered a flock of dreams and nightmares on the sea. A year later, the whole world changed course and we were heading toward a maelstrom of chaos…
The World Upside-Down...
Life is what happens to you while you’re making plans for the future – it’s a cliché, I know, but shit happens! My problem is that I have always seen the potential in a bad situation – blind optimism… we were screwed!
The two consulting jobs I had bid on went to other firms. The job market was coming apart almost as quickly as real estate in 2007. I met with two friends who were in similar situations and we decided to start a dock maintenance company. Newport Beach and other nearby harbors had a plethora of potential customers. Dave was a contractor, Jay was our rainmaker, and I would manage the firm. We each made a small capital investment, and in September we had all of our permits and licenses in place. We named the company Pacific Dockmasters, and by October we had our first jobs scheduled to begin in November.
The hurricane season was over then, and we had a few weeks before starting work so Ledean and I drove to La Paz again. The thousand mile drive was becoming routine. Even the military check-points along the way, with the Mexican army in full battle array searching every vehicle for drugs and guns, were not much of a detraction. The desert was in full bloom after being watered by recent storms, and there seemed to always be something new to discover.
We put the boat back together, reinstalling the sails, solar panels, the dodger, and other exterior gear. SEVENTH HEAVEN had survived several summer storms, including a category-one hurricane with no damage. I relished the smell of her teak and gleam of her hull. Escrow had a ball, running around the docks and happily exclaiming her return to everyone. Ledean seemed happy to be there as well, but we were suffering from the strains of our declining situation. We spent a week sailing, enjoying the perfect fall weather, the warm water, and quiet sunsets in various coves along the peninsula and Espiritu Santo Island. It was a good vacation, and we felt optimistic about the future as we headed back to Newport Beach to focus on Pacific Dockmasters.
I had invested most of our remaining cash in the new company, and I needed to make things happen fast or we would be living on retirement savings and credit. We stayed busy through the winter and actually made some money. In February 2008, we rented a small work yard and office space after I arranged for Pacific Dockmasters to take over the HydroHoist Boat Lift regional dealership. Our business gained traction after that and we hired additional staff to keep up with the work. That all required capital however, and Jay decided he couldn’t continue. Dave and I bought him out, and I liquidated one of my IRA accounts to put more money into the business. We teetered on the brink of profitability, struggling more with meeting the demand than anything else. The early summer months were frantic, but it was exciting to see the business taking off.
Ledean took over some of the office management, and I started working more in the field with Dave and the crew. Our HydroHoist business was growing rapidly, and again we needed more capital to increase inventory and boost us over the edge of profitability. Ledean and I needed to reduce our living expenses, which were still exceeding our income. Tax complications with a charity foundation that she had been running for years and an audit of her real estate business expenses had also just cost us thousands of dollars. We put our house back on the market then, hoping to recover some cash from our equity, as values continued to drop.
In June, I made another quick drive to the boat to wrap her up for hurricane season. We had decided during the winter to rename her LOCATION. It was a nod to real estate, which Ledean still felt held promise. I took the new name lettering with me and made the change official. I also contacted a local broker and listed the boat for sale then, content or at least resolved that my dream would wait for better times. It was a quick trip and I was back in a week.
By the end of summer the economy was showing signs of real weakness. Leman Brothers went bankrupt in September 2008. The credit and financial markets crashed with them, and the economic debacle slammed into us like a hurricane at night. The phone stopped ringing. And then it started ringing with cancellations. By October, with our last job completed and no prospects in sight, Dave and I made the gut-wrenching decision to close the company; we couldn’t afford to operate in the red.
Ledean and I sold our house finally in November, losing all of our equity in the crashing market. We moved into a small apartment the next month. All of our assets were gone except for our cars and the boat, and we still had a loan to pay on that. We were living on credit cards and unemployment benefits.
The circumstances and stress tore us apart. Every time I thought maybe something good would happen, something bad occurred. Everything went bad so quickly, disappeared so inexplicably; the whole world seemed to be caught in a dwindling spiral of death. I considered suicide daily in between bouts of denial, contemplated it hourly, and struggled by the minute to conjure up another solution, any relief. It wore me out. Ledean hung on, buoyed by God and antidepressants; none of which I wanted any of. God hated me, and antidepressants made me sick… or was it the other way around.
We couldn’t talk. We did our best to stay out of each other’s way, afraid of the stupid, spiteful fits of rage and blame that erupted when we let go, consumed by fear, frustration, anger, and anxiety. Ledean withdrew to the bedroom “to watch something else” on TV. I sat in the living room, staring at the silly sitcoms and fake reality shows, or tried to read. Escrow just looked at us, wondering. We buried everything, hoping that denial would make it all disappear – keep a positive attitude and some miracle will occur… but that only happens in children’s stories and Christmas movies.
I went back to the boat in November, driving alone down the bleak and rusty world of Baja Highway 1, stopping one night in San Ignacio, a quiet little oasis town, famous for its dates and chocolate, and the hotel-cantina, Rice and Beans. We had always enjoyed staying there on previous trips. It was a fitful rest. I spent Thanksgiving by myself, on LOCATION, anchored in Mezteno Cove with a ham sandwich for dinner. Along with everything else, the alternator on the boat engine was malfunctioning then. I came very close to putting my gun in my mouth and pulling the trigger. But none of the suicide notes I wrote made any sense. And then, sitting in the cabin with my gun in my lap, I had an epiphany of sorts – a plan to save my life – or at least a discussion with myself that seemed somewhat rational.
What’s left when you have nothing left? Just you, and your dreams, as impossible and unrealistic as they may be, the dreams are still there. And when you have nothing left, you have nothing left to stop you. The choices are simply… jump onboard or jump overboard. That beautiful world you built for yourself that you thought would fulfill all your needs and desires, is sinking. JUMP! Take one more leap of faith! Save your life!
Funny… the fear and despair fell away. If everything else failed, no matter what, I would not go over the edge… I would go sailing, write a book. It became my alternative to suicide. I sailed back to La Paz the following day, removed the alternator to bring it back for repair, and started driving the next morning. I stopped only once again on my way home, rejuvenated by the possibility I had rediscovered.
Christmas that year was not an easy time, even with all of the Holiday festivities in Newport Beach. We did our best to enjoy the annual boat parade, the lights on the houses lining the bay, and the parties, and friends. I had a couple job prospects arise as well, so the season was not spent in total despair. We still belonged to our yacht club, and celebrated a happy New Year there. Two of my prospects turned into interviews, and then into second interviews. It appeared that one would result in a job that might stop our decline, but it didn’t. The economy continued to fail, and the negative responses to my job applications became more depressing every day.
Ledean found a part-time job finally. And I started thinking and talking more about sailing and writing, which seemed to be a better plan than just sitting around on my hands with the two of us glaring at each other. Job hunting was all done on the internet, and I could continue that as well from Mexico as anywhere.
We drove to La Paz together in February, with the rebuilt alternator and a few other things that I needed on the boat. We had a week before Ledean started her new job. It was not a happy time, but we tried to put a good face on it. We didn’t go sailing because even though the alternator was fine the regulator failed. We gathered some of her personal things from the boat and then started our drive back, leaving sooner than planned, and not enjoying the drive. Ledean wasn’t going with me if I returned, and she finally admitted that she had never wanted to go sailing.
I sold my SUV in March, which provided enough money for me to live on the sea for a year and help Ledean with some expenses. Everything else was beyond our reach. My credit cards were feeding upon themselves, and the feast would soon be over. We barely spoke to each other, always on the brink of a fight; trying to keep a positive attitude, but knowing we were still tumbling through a nightmare, falling toward the bottom, wondering if we would survive the impact.
What do you do when you’ve lost everything you worked your entire life for, when bankruptcy, homelessness, and a dwindling death are the only lights in your future? Some people dig in, hold on, hope and pray and wait for salvation. A few get lucky and somehow pull out of it. Others slit their wrists, or drive their car the wrong way down a freeway, hoping for an accident to end it all. Some move in with family or friends and drag them down with despair, while others just drift into the gutter and are forgotten. The previous Christmas, a man dressed up as Santa Claus and then murdered his entire family on Christmas Eve. I had nightmares about all those possibilities, the hopelessness of changing anything, the numbing angst that everything I did was wrong, and when everything is wrong there is no difference between right and wrong, and then nothing matters and everything is right, and nothing is wrong, and everything you do is an act of self-defense.
I am not disclosing these twisted nightmares to garner sympathy, but only to reveal my reasoning, my insanity. These thoughts and feelings are no different than those held close by others trapped in such a situation. And if you do not understand them, or find them to be uncomfortable, then consider yourself lucky. If you were in this dwindling spiral yourself I have no doubt that you would have far too-clear an understanding, and I would not wish that on anyone.
The Wall Street bankers and brokers pillaged millions of people with their financial debacle, and paid little or no dues for their crimes. Bad luck, bad timing, and a myriad of bad decisions turned everything upside down. An old friend of mine swallowed a bottle of anti-depressants one night, which ended his pain. The whole world was suffocating with indifference, and finally pushed me to the edge – one last leap at life, a desperate act of self-defense – sailing the Sea of Cortez.