Panama (Floating Doctors) Volunteer


Dave was in the middle of philosophizing about the beauty of remaining open to the universe and manifesting his own good fortune when he scraped a huge heap of barnacles from the underside of the dinghy onto his bald scalp. Without missing a beat, he brushed them aside with a sort of lanky man’s flourish and acted as if he had planned the whole thing just to punctuate his point- always pay attention. And ever since I was placed in Dave’s hands by the head of Floating Doctors a few weeks ago, I have been.  He’s a water gypsy, carpenter, “keen salsa dancer,”   and one of the more awake people I have come across.

To work with Dave is to sit at the  feet of a master procrastinator. His sweet Australian “hey mate” is exactly how days should start, followed by an hour of planning/smoking/bullshitting with passersby. IMG_20150210_123030023 (1) My favorite are the hours we spend looking for tools that have “buggered off.” When we finally locate the rascals, there is an understanding that it’s time for a beer and a rest. And there on the stern of the Southern Wind, school starts. Some days it’s practical- teaching me how to fuel up and start a generator or introducing me to the “piss pot.” Other days it’s financial- “the less you spend, the more you got to go round on.”  He introduces me to Django Reinhardt, who I somehow had never known until now,  as if I’ve been living under a musical rock.  We toss around thoughts about solo travel, genuine altruism, presence, dancing,  the time he wore a condom  as a hat, the concept of marriage and the truly painful subjects of loss and grief. He has lost more than I know what to do with yet is the first to remind me that it could be worse.

lunch break
lunch break

Doing actual work with Dave is an exercise in patience. Mostly because neither of us likes to go too crazy in that area. He has taught me the beauty of an extended coffee break for sure. But when we must work, our main jobs are to keep the clinic boats healthy and keep the rest afloat.   One day he had me clean out the Southern Wind, which is essentially becoming a 78 foot junk drawer.

southern wind

“Do we need to save this moldy illegible nautical chart that’s been under a pile of rusty beer cans for the last 90 years?” The answer is always yes. Another day found me cranking the dinghy on deck nine separate times because he couldn’t remember how to hook it on right. While he puttered away, I spaced out on deck,  frying in the scorching sun. I fantasized about skinny dipping and speculated about our new Portuguese yacht neighbor. The next time I looked up, he had drifted out to sea 30 feet without ever remembering to tie himself off. For a moment, because I am at my meanest when overheated, I wanted to make him row back. Then he caught me with one of those lost little boy sailor looks that even salty old men are capable of and I melted and went to rescue him.

shelf life, floating doctors pharmacy

But our best work was when Dave taught me carpentry from scratch. He learned from a woodworking guru in India, so I was in good hands. After one lesson, I went to work measuring and using power saws. And now, proudly displayed in the Floating Doctors pharmacy, is the shelf I built with my own two hands. Dave actually complimented me when he saw my work. “Bloody well done, mate!” This  made me puff up with pride, promptly deflating when we realized I’d cut through the plastic table we’ d been using as a sawhorse. He never stops busting my chops for that one, never mind that he did it himself moments later.

ceiling of marina bar
ceiling of marina bar

As I type this, Dave is sailing to Cuba and leaving me here to live on the boat and look after things while he is away. I can safely say I will always appreciate the  man who taught me the art of easy living and never taking yourself too seriously.

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