It was the 60’s and Guaro was in charge of the boat house. Guaro was a short man with curly hair and deep, dark, round eyes. His skin was dark from being in the sun too much. He was lean and strong, and his muscular arms showed big veins. His hands were big and rough with fingers shaped by multiple cuts and bruises from the years of working with boats and rowing.
The boat house was a barn with dozens of boats and gear stored inside. The combination of boats, gear and the salty moisture of the ocean produced an aroma that I will never forget. The sweet smell of wood, dust, paint and sometimes an odd acrid smell of rotten shellfish or algae completed the perfume.
The walk from my house was at least 20 minutes. First by the highway and then along a long and narrow road that crossed over a brook. The tiny ripples over the water always fascinated me and made me want to play with a toy sailboat. I liked to run my hands over the smooth, discolored wood of the railing on the bridge over the brook. During the walk I wondered about the shape of the ripples in the water, the sail boats, the asphalt and the loose dirt on the brook’s bank. On sunny days the asphalt smelled like oil and got soft.
I’m afraid of dogs and I always looked around in the street so that I could avoid them. I have been bitten few times so I don’t like them barking at me. I was 10 years old.
I was fascinated by the shape and smell of the boats, so I came to the boathouse every day to look around. Guaro was a difficult person to deal with. He got upset often and swore at me, but deep inside I thought he was a good guy. Two or three of his children came to help him with his daily duties of caulking and painting boats. He had years of experience fixing boats and it was clear to me that he had little formal education although he was the most knowledgeable person around with regards to boats.
During my visits I looked around for hours, learning the function of the boats’ multiple gears. I was interested in learning how things worked and enjoyed the smell of the wood, the varnish and the bitter smell of the rotting iron. My hands stroked the smooth surfaces of the boats that allowed them to cut through the water with ease. I dug into every corner of the building eagerly.
At times I offered my help to Guaro, to which he had a quick answer.
“No, don’t bother me!”
“Can I borrow the boat to go rowing around?” I asked him when nobody was around.
“Only for 5 minutes, and don’t fuck it up. Stay close by!” he said when he was in a good mood. It was heaven for me. I would jump in the small boat and row around, fascinated by the sound that the oars made in the water. I listened intently to the sound of the water dripping from the oars when they were out of the water and the sound of the boat making its way through the water. My heart pumped hard inside my chest and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much!
I knew that he was a good man and that he wouldn’t let anything happen to me. The rumor around town was that Guaro didn’t know how to swim. I never saw him swim. I learned how to balance in a boat by watching him, he was the best. He could jump into a boat as if jumping onto solid ground.
My family had a boat named after me – “Teddy”. My sisters were too busy with their children to come out sailing with me and my mother was terrified of the water. Dad was not around all the time but on the water he was something else!
I asked Guaro many questions all day long – about sailing, wood, paint – just about everything. Some days he sent me to hell fast. On those days I would go to the dock to observe the boats dancing in the water, go for a walk by the beach or dive for shellfish. I didn’t have friends that shared my passion.
One day Guaro said…
“Tomorrow you can take a Dolphin sailing.”
I couldn’t believe it, I was super excited. That day I looked for the dagger board, the rudder, the sails and the ropes. I couldn’t believe that he was going to lend me a Dolphin sailboat. I had to keep this excitement to myself. If I told Mom or my sisters, I would be flooded with warnings and recommendations that I preferred to avoid.
The summers at La Herradura were sunny with the odd cloudy day. That day was sunny as usual. I had breakfast and headed out the boat house with my swimsuit to go sailing. When I got there Guaro was just coming in. I couldn’t wait but I knew that I couldn’t piss him off by being too pushy. After a while he called me to take the boat out with a cart. I helped him pretending to be invisible and praying that he was not going to have a tantrum. He dropped the boat in the water, I brought the mast with the sails and the rest of the gear.
I nudged the boat into deeper water. The wind started pushing the boat so I knew it was time to get the dagger board and rudder – fast to start sailing. This was my first time sailing on my own and I was doing it by instinct. I jumped on top, pushed the rudder, exposed the sail to the wind and pulled the sail sheet to inflate the canvas. The boat reacted immediately, tilted a bit and started moving forward. I was sailing! I felt that I was the master of the universe and that there was nothing bigger than me!
At first I sailed around the anchored boats and then ventured to get out further and further. Quickly I learned how to turn with ease and how much to pull the sheets to have the sail in the best position. The wind picked up a bit and the boat went faster. At times water came on top of the deck and refreshed my behind.
The green color of the water, the blue sky and the color of the sails became unforgettable. I sailed and sailed, loosing track of time. When I returned, the sky was a darker blue than in the morning, and the sun was making the water shine like silver scales, it was later in the afternoon. I took the boat out of the water, took the mast down and wrapped it up as it was when I got it. I looked at the boat house, it was closed!
“Oh my god! Guaro is gone for the day!” I said to myself.
A flush ran through my body as I thought about how mad he was going to be the next day. My next concern was where I could put away all the gear. I got the cart, put the boat on top and hauled it to the boat house through the loose sand. I sweated all the way and my feet hurt pulling though the sand. I tucked everything away as best possible and went home.
“Where have you been all day Teddy!” my Mom said in an agitated voice while moving her hands like she was going to hit me.
“You can’t just disappear for the whole day!” Not good, I thought.
“I was sailing Mom. I went sailing on my own, Guaro lent me a Dolphin.” I was proud, tired and hungry.
The next day I went to the boat house and Guaro was upset at me.
“I’m not lending you the boat anymore!” he yelled and swore at me.
That day I started fixing my boat, I knew how to sail.