Two Women Cross the Planet, in a Fight for their Love and Freedom


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28 - The Twilight Zone

He stood, staring at our stranded boat, rocking on his heels. Probably a gawker but he wasn't snickering, gesturing derisively or making lewd comments. It was freakishly out of character for a man in a marina. Maybe he was lost.

Elena picked up on it, froze and went silent. If she had hackles, they would have risen.

"What? Ignore him. Probably a salesman." I waved the sailboat diagram we had been studying in front of her face. I pointed at an upside-down vertical stabilizer. "This thing, do we have one, and what does it do?"

Man cleans a yacht propeller
With the yacht high and dry, one takes the opportunity to get at those hard to reach spots.

No answer. Elena was on high alert. Hugging herself defensively, she ghosted away from me and the travel lift.

I walked up to the gawker. "Yes please! How are you today? Finest yachts in all of christendom!" Who wouldn't react that way? It was like having a wanker watch you take a pee in the woods. "And, fine sir, where are you from?"

He put down a couple bags of groceries, straightened up, pushed back his hat and said, "Oregon."

Whew! He wasn't Russian, or homicidally pissed at me for trashing his travel lift booking. "Okay, Oregon." I kind of leaned back on my heels like him, stared at the bottom of the boat and said, "British Columbia."

"I know. We've met."

"Huh!?" Who was this guy? Did I owe him money?

"... Briefly. You were looking for a boat. Seemed preoccupied. It's Jon, by the way."

I was still pulling a blank. "Aaaaah."

"I live on a boat. We met in town. You had just been to see the gulet broker. I sent you to Gino's."

Ding! Ding! Ding! "Oh, yeah. I got it now. That was you?" Krikey, when he told me he lived on a boat I thought it meant under a rowboat or bridge along the canal. Elena pegged Jon as another Alexi. She's like that. It's a Russian thing: everyone's out to get you and guilty of something.

"I see you have a yacht now and I hear you are going offshore? Congratulations!"

Congratulations? I was used to you're-gonna-freaking-die-out-there not congratulations. Unless the congratulater wanted to sell me something, of course.

Jon and I chatted a while then he picked up his groceries and wandered into the marina. I didn't know what to make of the guy. It didn't feel like he was scamming me, conniving a date, or making fun of me. He wasn't even demeaning or belligerent. Weird.

Elena Ivanova supervises the launch of her yacht
Elena supervises the yacht's launch from the travel lift.

* * *

"Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffeeee chameleon. You come and gooooo, you ooh oooh..." Pouring my first cup of mercy, I was rudely interrupted by what sounded like someone strangling an old macaw.

"Cooo-weeee! Ellie an Megs, ya 'wyke dine b'lie?" Harvey was on board and down the companionway before I had time to think. "Here it is going on six-thirty and you're still in your nightie!?"

"It's a t-shirt!" I growled.

"And nothing else, I s'pose, hmmm."

"I wasn't expecting company." Our boat was in the water and it was our first morning back in our own digs. I leveled the glare of death at Harvey, tugged my shirt down and backed slowly out of the galley.

"Aww, don't go on my account. I was just bringing your survey over..."

"Fine, leave it on the table. I'll check it out later." I had my tushy into a cabin and could just about close the door.

"... And my bill." He grinned, more like leered. "You don't happen to have twelve-hundred euros on you?"

Yacht launced from a travel lift
The yacht, lowered into the water, still in the travel lift's harness, is checked for leaks before letting it loose.

* * *

The report was magnificent. Outside a boardroom, I had never seen such a marvel of layout and design. It had chapters and headings and subheadings and paragraphs and photos and charts and comparisons and recommendations. Bottom line, according to Harvey we had ourselves a decent, bare-bones charter yacht.

I got the Euro-cash from an ATM and watched Harvey count it out aboard his own boat. With the last of the colorful bills counted and stacked, I asked if he could recommend a device or two we might need for long distance sailing. Well, I'd certainly come to the right place. Harvey's Yacht Inspection Service instantly morphed into Harvey's Yacht Outfitting Consultancy. With a gleam in his eye, he talked of designing and outfitting yachts for far more demanding tasks than ocean crossing. "Nie whyries mite. You ladies leave it to me. Go and enjoy your day. You'll have my proposal by morning."

True to his word, Harvey hand-delivered his proposal before the crack of dawn. He had to shove it through a tiny hatch between the cockpit and our cabin. No more barging below deck with us in our skivvies. We'd wised up and started locking the companionway before going to bed. Here's the gist of his proposal: A preamble, consisting of a map showing three possible routes to Canada. He had traced three lines from Marmaris to the Great White Northwestern Mecca. The lines all snaked their way through the Mediterranean and down the west coast of Africa. Two of them hung a right near the equator and made a beeline west to the Caribbean. The one that didn't, crossed the equator and most of the southern hemisphere to round Cape Horn -- the southernmost point of South America -- and then, cross the South and North Pacific to Vancouver Island. Of the two lines that parted ways in the Caribbean, one of those turned north for Nova Scotia. The other one crossed Panama via the canal and slalomed way out into the Pacific to rejoin the other line from Cape Horn. It also came to an end on Vancouver Island.

Brief footnotes rated the routes according to distance, advantages and pitfalls. The Panamanian route was Harvey's clear winner. It avoided rounding the Horn the wrong way, and instead of Halifax, it got the yacht home; not frozen into the ice in Eastern Canada. Oh, bloody hell -- Winter! Another stupid complication I hadn't thought about. Once we decided on our route, Harvey research and order the thousands of dollars worth of charts we would need; for a fee -- but, of course.

The equipment list was broken into two parts: need to have and nice to have. The nice to have stuff was more than the price of the yacht itself. Are you freaking kidding me?! The necessary stuff rang in at merely astronomical but within my borrowing limit. What choice did I have? We needed a way home, and I was too far into blood to turn back anyway. I gave Harvey the green light to go ahead. His take from the project would be a ten percent commission on the parts, shipping, fees, taxes, and labor -- including his. For the next two months Harvey was not only going to be a project manager, but our new best friend.

Elena and Meg yacht Boadicea in Netsel marina, Marmaris, Turkey
Elena and Meg's yacht afloat at the dock.

* * *

We were heeled hard over, spray flying from the bow. Elena was screaming blue murder. It was sailing lesson number one. Sinem was getting a feel for the vessel that Elena had started to call, Boadicea: a strong warrior princess to carry us across the seas; to battle with us in the fight for our lives. The name wasn't official. I was still rooting for: Das Boot; Hoover, given what it did to money; or the Russian word for, Lightbulb! lampotchka!

From the maniacal gleam in her eye, I'm pretty sure Sinem was completely buzzed at having yacht she could sail the living crap out of without the charter guests puking. I was in awe, this tiny powerhouse of a woman was bloody fearless.

Sails came down, the motor started up, and Elena took the wheel. She was a natural. Forward, reverse, throttle control, rules of the road -- yup, she was a born powerboater. Sinem had a weighted, floating stick to throw into the water and practice man overboard procedures. Given what it was made of and what it was for, we called it Natalie wood.

Under the guise of, "Let's see how I can do," I took the wheel and totally bollixed rescuing Natalie wood. I think I actually ran it over. I was used to steering with a tiller, not a wheel. All the directions were reversed!

Elena Ivanova at the helm of Boadicea
First sailing lesson -- maneuvering under motor. Elena turned out to be a natural at the wheel. A born power-boater!

* * *

Our training progressed fast. We were having a blast with Sinem. Eating a lot of pizza. Doing a lot of touristy stuff. But, bloody-hell, that was it! Sweet diddly-squat was happening with Harvey and our boat. Okay, that's not entirely true. To be fair, he was surfing the net a lot. Printing out equipment adverts, sticking them in clear plastic covers, bounding on board and getting me to phone in my Visa number to pay for the stuff.

The deal was: he took delivery; dealt with customs; and supposedly installed whatever I had bought and paid for. Then, he got an additional ten percent, in cash, of the grand total -- which included the bribes, his web surfing time, cogitation on our behalf and any of his labor. He called it a commission. Demanding an additional commission on his own fees felt a little bit weird, but what could I do? The thing is, all that happened was a lot of Visa phoning in for stuff that had yet to appear. That Harvey reminded me of Grandpa didn't make it any easier.

Jon wandered into the marina as we headed out. Probably for pizza and an insanely wild club crawl with Sinem and her ripped, Amazonian girlfriends. I wasn't sure Jon could actually see us over his grocery bags. I said, "Hello, Jon from Oregon."

"Meg, Elena! How good it is to see you. Have you decided to stay in Turkey?"

"No, why?" I reminded Jon of our deadline.

"I'm sorry. I assumed you no longer had a deadline. I haven't seen anything happening on your yacht to make it ready for the high seas."

"You and me both, Jon!" Talk about a buzz-kill. My guts tightened and I spilled them.

Poor Jon. Buckling under armloads of groceries he had to listen to me bellyaching. When he finally got a word in edgewise, he said, "It is going to be a crunch, but I think you can have your yacht ready to go in time." Then he pointed at a little marine electronics shop on the marina property. "If you need solar charging, I know he has two big, high-wattage panels. A deal fell through, and you will never get panels like that, not in the time you have left. It might help."

The next morning, Elena and I were standing on the electrical shop's welcome mat before the owner showed up. The solar panels were perfect. The seller covered that month's rent and we had finally started to equip the boat for the voyage home.

"Probably pieces of crap. What did you pay?" Harvey barked at me. "I spent hours researching proper solar panels for your project, and you go behind my back and buy pieces of shit from some Turk!" He grabbed his equipment proposal, waved it in my face to show me that his panels were far more expensive. What a thrifty shopper I was! Then he told me, "You owe me the commission on what my panels cost. Including the shipping and bribes for customs. Bet ya didn't think of that, smart lady!" So that was the first niggling hint I wasn't dealing with my kindhearted grandpa. The next was, "Where are those shitty solar panels? Give them to me!"

Elena Ivanova in a rubber dinghy
Discovering that their boat came with a rubber dinghy and outboard motor was like winning the bonus prize. No lessons needed. Elena prepares to take it out for a spin around the marina.

"Harvey, it's okay. The guy I got em from will keep them in his shop until we need them." I was pretty weirded out by then.

"Dingbat sheilas! My welders need to make new brackets to mount your panels on the whole arch I already designed for you!"

"You've started on the holo arch?"

"It is a good thing I didn't. I need to redesign the whole arch now. These delays are your fault. Push me, lady, and you will see how slow I can go."

I started for the gangplank.

"Hold up there, deary." Harvey's voice got all smarmy. "Seeing as you brought it up, I need two-thousand dollars, in cash. It's for stainless steel. You know, for your arch."

"That's a lot of steel!"

"It has to hold a lot of stuff. Solar panels, antennas, like radar. Why it's called a 'radar arch.' Satellite TV dish, wind turbine, barbeque. You might want to hang your tender and outboard on it. It's gotta be strong for that."

"Tender what!?" I took at least one good step away from him.

"Tender! Your little boat for getting to shore. Yours is an inflatable."

Was he crazy? "Our boat isn't little and it sure as hell isn't inflatable."

"Dingbat! It is an inflatable, rubber dinghy. You have one and it has an outboard motor. It comes with the boat. I saw the thing, doing your survey."

"Hah, too cool! We have a tender, rubber dinghy -- with an outboard?" It felt like hitting the jackpot. "Where is it? How come I never saw it?"

"Big locker at the bow, that's the pointy end. You're beyond the black stump, lady!" He paused. Looked like he really wanted to lay into me. "Nah, I'm not here to teach you anything. I'm just the tosser who's got to get your boat ready." He stood. "Come back with my cash, then I can get started."

A swindler makes off with cash
The irascible Harvey, getting "his" cash.

* * *

Sailing lessons intensified. Elena went from I-don't-wanna-die to completely no-fear! Sinem showed us sailing tricks that would scare the snot from your average yacht clubber. We rescued Natalie wood under full sail in a stiff breeze. Sometimes, not even screaming and swearing too much. It took an awful lot of strength and cool thinking to completely change the sail configuration, maintain control of the yacht, not lose sight of the rapidly receding, wooden pole, and then, retrieve it entirely on one's own.

We practiced climbing back aboard, even underway, without a ladder or assistance from our taunting crew mates. We put out way too much sail in strong wind just to see what happens. It was ugly, but taught us to heed the warning signs before the dishes started flying. We climbed into the rigging while bouncing over waves. We listened to the boat and learned to find the sweet-spot, an indefinable set of the sails and helm that brought the yacht to life. Elena, only weeks before, having never tasted seawater or been near a sailboat, commanded the vessel, exhilarated, empowered and beaming. It brought tears to my eyes. We and the boat were becoming one.

"Ready to tack!" Elena, at the helm, screamed at me: "Grind, grind, grind! Damn you, robotoyou work, Meg!" I cranked an insanely taut rope through a really big winch. The sooner the rope was near the breaking point and the sail it was attached to was tight as a drum, the faster we would turn and the more speed we picked up. She had me begging for mercy. "That's it. I take the helm. You grind now, or how about we drop the anchor in the next nook and go for a swim?"

The Mediterranean is salty -- really salty! Especially the eastern end of it. If you don't want to shrivel your eyeballs up like raisins, you need a diving mask. Sinem didn't have one. She told us to swim without her, then got all morose about going back to Marmaris. Fine. She moped in the cockpit while Elena and I played crazy-sea-otters-gone-berserk.

We chased each other underwater, as deep and as long as our breath let us. Circling rock formations, chasing startled fish, it was all fun and games until a human skull leered at me inches from my mask. Holy shit! I thrashed to the surface. Elena had to check it out. She couldn't just take my word for it. No way. She surfaced a few seconds later, screaming out the details of our grizzly find. It had to have been down there a while. The rest of the skeleton had been scattered about by various sea creatures looking for dinner. Still, no mistaking what it was, or had been.

Sinem screamed back at us to, "Shut the fuck up, get the fuck on board, and get the fuck out of here!"

"Memorize that spot. We need to tell the police." I pointed, hoping Elena would mark it on a map.

"The police! Are you crazy?" Sinem said. "This is Turkey, not America. You tell the police you found a body, and they are going to keep you here. Like it or not, you will be here until they find out how it got there and charge someone. That takes a long time. Maybe the guys who put that body down there will not be happy about you finding it. You will end up down there keeping those bones company. You need to forget about what you saw. Nothing you can do." She slam-sat on a bench, elbows on knees, chin on fists. "You saw a dead goat or two, that's it! Got it!?"

We hauled anchor and headed for Netsel marina. No sails, no grinding, no ribbing, no laughing, no talking. Sinem was in one heck of a foul mood. She sat at the transom, chain smoking while Elena manned the helm. The marina entrance was in sight. I was about to call them on the radio when Sinem yanked the throttle back to idle. "I don't want to go back to Marmaris tonight. How would you feel about spending the night at a friend's beautiful resort?"

Elena Ivanova at the helm learning to sail
Sailing lessons progress while yacht preparations grind to a crawl. Elena "listens" to the yacht, learning to find the sweet-spot: an indefinable set of the sails and helm that bring the boat to life.

* * *

The resort was deserted, and I mean scary deserted. Expansive, concrete dock; flags of all nations at full staff; tiki-tiki torches burning; pillows and blankets around a beach bonfire. And the three of us seemed to be the only living souls there. I expected a monochrome Rod Serling to step out from behind a palm tree. Smoking nervously, he would enounce, "Three women, on a beach you won't find on any map. Because these three: a Canadian, a Turk, and a Russian, have sailed into... The Twilight Zone."

Sinem broke the silence. "It's cuz of my boyfriend." She stared into the fire. "It is fair that I tell you why I don't want to be in Marmaris tonight."

"Boyfriend!?" My heart sank.

"He is there. In Marmaris?" Elena asked.

"No, not him... his mother."

"Oh..." Elena let that sink in. "Then, where is he?"

"London." More fire staring.

"Ach, boyfriend left to London! You are missing him?"

"He is English. Lives in London. His mother is in Marmaris to see me."

Nobody said anything after that.

The fire burned down to mere embers. Sinem stood. "Want to play some night volleyball?"

"No. Want knowing why mother of boyfriend has come to Marmaris." Elena said.

"Oh, Lenna... It is complicated. A very long story. You probably do not want to know it."

"I do." Elena whispered. Her eyes locked on Sinem's.

We dragged huge beach cushions together and plopped down in a conspiratorial coven. Sinem started. "I met this guy. He was a lot younger than me, but we got along great. He was into poetry and I was too. We would read each other's writing. He would come over and we would recite poems and improvise and talk all night. So I fell in love with this young guy, and he fell in love with me." She stopped, took a deep breath and gazed up at the stars.

"Now, he is back in England, and his mother is here?" I said.

"Yeah, I'm getting to that. He wanted to study at university in England. He wanted to be a poet and he was good. He won a scholarship to study at Cambridge."

"Wow, Cambridge!" I was impressed.

Elena Ivanova with her sailing instructor
Sailing lessons: Sinem shows Elena the art of getting the most from the wind.

Elena shushed me.

"He told me that he would kill himself if I didn't go with him. But I could not go to England with him. I'm Turkish. Like a Russian, I can't go anywhere."

"That sounds like emotional blackmail." I had an annoying tendency to spew pop-psychology bullshit. It's a great way to belittle someone's feelings and really take the pressure out of dealing with them.

Krikey!, By the way Sinem glared, you'd think I farted a pant-ripper during a minute of silence. "Not really. I know how he felt. I felt the same. I really, really loved him. God, I still love him."

"Why didn't you get married?" Elena asked.

"We couldn't," Sinem hesitated. "Never mind, it's not important. He wouldn't go home without me. He would give up the scholarship and stay in Turkey. He has so much talent that I couldn't let him throw it all away. So, I told him I would go with him. I gave him money to go and get set up. I promised to come to him when the charter season ended."

"And you never went?" I said.

"No, I never went. He told his parents about me. He told them he was going to leave everything to be here in Turkey with me. His family and parents said they would disown him. His mother found my number and called me. He doesn't know this. She told me that their family would have nothing to do with him, would cast him out and would ruin me and the sailing school and even the charter company we use their yachts from; if he was with me."

Elena's cheeks were wet. All I could say was, "Harsh."

"Not so much. His mother was right. She is right. We can never be in a relationship, not in Turkey and I can't stay in the UK. Here, we could only love in secret. I don't want that for him, or for me."

"Why in secret?" I saw couples in the local nightclubs, and by krikey, they hid nothing!

"He comes from an important, rich and influential family. They would be ruined if the papers found out about us." Sinem shifted on her cushion. Stuck out a foot and kicked at the embers -- in sandals! It was like she was numb. "So, I had no choice. I ripped out my own heart. Broke it off with him. Told him we were finished, that there was someone else. I never heard from him again."

There was silence.

Sinem stood, kicked at the ashes. "Girls! Our fire has gone out. We need to play drinking backgammon, or swim, or..."

"Gare-ells?" That's my best facsimile of Elena saying it. "Still, I do not know why should his mother be here to see you."

"Oh right: guys! So, guys, last one to that mooring buoy and back buys the raki."

Nobody moved. Not even Sinem. She sighed, dropped back onto her cushion. "I don't know why she is here. She wrote me a long letter to thank me for sending him away. She said he isn't taking it well, but with time and treatment they hope he will be okay. She wants to see to it that I keep my word by leaving their family alone. So they can rebuild their lives."

"Wow... horrible. This woman sounds like a monster. The family sounds creepy. You ripped your heart out and crushed the love of your life for them!? All because someone else knows what is best for you and him?" I looked at Elena. She shook her head at me to lighten up.

"She isn't the worst. His father wanted to kill me. I am thinking that she is here to thank me, to threaten me, maybe to sue me. Or just to make sure that I am gone from their lives and will leave them alone."

"She is waiting for you in town, now?" Elena asked.

"She is. At a hotel, leaving it up to me. She will wait to see if I will meet with her. She wrote that she will wait there until noon. It is up to me. Oh gir-guys. I can't face her. I can't go to Marmaris."

"To play some twisted game? No way." I said, choking myself off before cracking some stupid joke to supposedly cheer her up. "I am so sorry, Sinem. But touched that you would share this with us."

"Well, now you know. It is so good to be here with my friends." She half crouched and encircled us in an awkward hug. "Time to go to the yacht, get in pajamas, and I will teach you how to play backgammon like true Turks!"

Backgammon aboard Boadicea
Elena and Sinem, locked in a fierce battle of Turkish-rules backgammon.

* * *

I awoke to bright daylight. The glorious aroma of coffee danced on micro air currents into my nostrils. Elena was still asleep, our legs hopelessly entangled, and we don't have a coffee maker. What-the... oh yeah, Sinem! Reality resolved: beach, cushions, bonfire, broken hearts.

"Rise and shine sailors! We're going back." She handed me a cuppa Joe.

"You made coffee?"

"I made breakfast! I'm a charter skipper on these yachts. I have made more coffee and breakfast in their galleys than you ever will."

I disentangled from Elena. "You said 'Back.' Back where?"

"Marmaris. I am going to meet with this woman. I need to do this."

Elena and I putzed around like it was a sailing lesson. Sinem was our instructor after all. "Oil: check! Brakes: set! Flaps: up! Masters and magnetos: on!"

"For crying out loud! I'll drive. Untie us. Let's go already."

Every mile we chugged toward town got Sinem more wound up. She paced back and forth behind the wheel, bumping the throttle forward on each pass.

"Sinem, you must not let this woman to hurt you." Elena said.

Sinem was silent, chin forward. She responded by shoving the throttle to the wall.

I felt for our little, coffee-grinder engine. "Elena's right. Why tear at old wounds?"

Sinem alternately glared at me and then Elena. "I am going to tell you girls -- you guys -- something nobody knows." She leaned on the throttle lever for support -- or emphasis. "My boyfriend I have been telling you about, well, she is a girl."

Like it was a big surprise but Elena and I were silent. I mean, really, how does one respond?

"Oh Meg, Elena! Don't you get it? I never wanted to fall in love. I did not know that I could. That it could ever happen for me. She came to me. I didn't know I had these feelings. It was like I was alive and I couldn't live without her. It hurt so much, and I was so frightened, but I wanted to feel that way." Sinem abandoned the wheel, spun around, stared into our frothing wake.

Elena quietly took the helm and eased back on the throttle. "But you sent her away! You say that you did what was best for her. How do you know what was best for her?"

"She tried to kill herself! Okay, do you now see why it is best for her!?"

The engine droned. Nobody said a thing.

Sinem finally spoke. "... And now, I am going to promise her mother that I will never speak to her daughter ever again."

Meg and Elena learning to sail. Marmaris Bay, Turkey
Meg and Elena at the helm, learning to sail in Marmaris Bay, Turkey.

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