MOONRISE OVER THE SEA
I bought a small, 16-foot runabout with a Yamaha 50 horsepower outboard old enough to have three prehistoric carburetors next to impossible to tune. Anyone familiar with boats and outboard motors knows that only an idiot who knows zilch about outboard motors would buy such an awful thing.
The boat’s hull was well built and could fit five people comfortably. However, the engine was a nightmare. During the four years that I owned Pure Beauty – a cheesy name given by its former owner – I’ve learned a lot more about outboard engine repair than motoring at sea. Countless times the motor stalled and left me adrift, frantically looking for a signal on my iPhone to call for a rescue. My Yamaha 50HP failed so often it was the laughingstock at the marina bar. No one with an ounce of common sense would dare to go boating with me. So, over the years every chance I had to go to sea, I went alone. As a lone sailor, I played my favorite music loud, fishing and drinking beer.
Being a bit unusual has its advantages. My little boat looked like a minute oddity moored between the huge monster boats of the rich. And thanks to this, Pure Beauty received special treatment from sailors and dock men who had a soft spot for her. She was always given a good space in the marina without me having to pay more to anchor.
The Pure Beauty was moored in the Marina Bracuhy that was built in the 1980’s, next to a shipyard, on the coast of Angra dos Reis, a three-hour drive south of Rio de Janeiro, or six hours to São Paulo in the opposite direction. Located on the bank of a broad, deep navigable canal, it is part of a large complex of houses and condominiums. It is one of the most beautiful places on the Brazilian coast, complete with what is left of an old sugar cane mill, the Engenho do Bracuhy, which was built in 1885 and is today a part of the country's historical heritage. Portuguese colonizers had been sailing through the waters of Angra Bay since 1502, where they discovered all its 365 islands – one for each day of the year. They made this spot a bustling hub for the seaborne trade of sugar, molasses, cachaça, and slaves. Miraculously, despite the real estate boom and growing tourism that has taken over the region, the forests, beaches, islands and nature reserves have remained virtually untouched.
Off season, life around the Marina Bracuhy is simple. On hot summer days there is almost always a sea breeze that cools the area and keeps the mosquitoes and the heat at bay. Around the complex there are two narrow rivers that flow down from the mountains to the sea. On the seaside, there are a multitude of islands, islets and huge rock monoliths that rise from ocean. The waters are placid, especially on windless mornings, emerald green, transparent, and amazingly beautiful. From any point in the wide bay you can see the foothills of the Serra do Mar mountain range.
On a warm Sunday in the summer of 2013 I was walking along the docks at dusk catching up with two friends visiting for the first time. As we passed a group of loud and raucous sailors we overheard one of them say that there would be a full moon that night. Well, as I have already told you, I am a master at doing stupid things. Overcome with the desire to witness this spectacle, which was only possible at this time of the year, I shouted, “Let's go out and watch the moon rise over the sea!” We had to leave immediately on Pure Beauty and head in the opposite direction of the dwindling twilight. One of my friends however, protested, "Going out to sea at night is like going up to the gallows when you're hungry and thirsty." So, we stopped at the bar, grabbed half a dozen ham and cheese sandwiches and a cooler with a case of cold beer, and shoved off.
To my surprise, the little motor sprung to life on the first turn of the key. I threw off the riggings and pulled the boat out just as the sky was turning a crimson red behind the towering Morro do Frade, the highest peak in the Serra do Mar. Our destination was Gipóia’s island, where I knew was the best observation point. I put my faith in the motor and throttled up. The Pure Beauty glided over the waters of the bay, which on that evening resembled a lake. We enjoyed the calm just long enough to get out into the open sea, five nautical miles from any hope of rescue. And then, our problems began. It was heart-breaking to hear the motor sputtering…
The sky was darkening quickly, the first stars were coming out, the sandwiches were gone, and there was no cell phone signal. After a hard turn at 12 knots, my old Yamaha coughed and spewed like a terminally ill patient. And died. My friend said in a mix of fear and sarcasm, “The climbing to the gallows begins."
I took the screwdriver I had on board, positioned myself as best I could near the stern, removed the engine's casing, and tweaked the carburetors as I had done countless times before. I closed the lid, moved back to the wheelhouse, and turned the ignition key. The “dead” patient remained dead. No sign of life. But I did not give up. After revival attempts she turned over, but if I throttled up, she died again. Making matters worse, my friends were growing more anxious by the minute. I had to fix the situation quickly. Fortunately I discovered that if I accelerated very slowly, holding it under 3 knots, Pure Beauty could move without the motor cutting out. Navigating a temperamental boat like mine requires great patience and emotional courage, and I know I am far from a guy with those qualities. But the more you go boating, the more you learn to respect the sea and to read the signs that Providence sends you.
Oh, what a joy! I had fixed the throttle at that point, turned the rudder to starboard, made a sharp turn, and headed with the Pure Beauty’s bow pointed towards the mainland. The pace was slow but steady. We were going home! The mood on the boat lightened, and we rejoiced and talked nonsense about the fright we had felt minutes before. Our glasses filled and emptied quickly as Pure Beauty went its course slowly.
At the entrance to the Marina Bracuhy’s canal there’s a small fifty-yard-long strip of beach, dotted with stones that some turtles call home. You can reach it with a small boat by trimming the engine. I took the Pure Beauty to where the water almost touches the sand and let my buddies off. My plan was to tie the Pure Beauty up at the shipyard overnight until I could find an experienced sober mechanic to make the necessary repairs.
Once my friends were off, I turned the engine over, but this time the Yamaha defiantly refused to cooperate at all and remained silent. I was exhausted and upset, and would have left the boat right there, but I knew that the night current would slam Pure Beauty against the rocks over the turtle’s home. As much as I hated that tiny little boat and its arrogant motor, I had no intention of letting her crash against the sea rocks and sink.
Trying to come up with a solution I noticed at some distance a pair of yellow buoys with mooring handles. I could tie the Pure Beauty to one of them. But how do I get to the buoy without an engine? There was only one choice: to use my own strength and drag the boat by the bow line. And that’s what I did. I waded into waist-high water and began to pull. Thankfully, the boat was not heavy and began to slide without too much effort. I only hoped that no one would see me in this ridiculous situation, dragging a motorboat, that would have become the newest source of laughs around the clubhouse.
And so I pulled and swore at this useless piece of junk as I inched towards the buoy. And as I did, the water started getting deeper and deeper. It forced me to stop when it reached my neck, but I was still 32 feet short from the mooring. There was just one thing I could do: I had to put the bow rope between my teeth and swim towards the buoy with the boat behind me. I can’t say I'm a man who loves nature. I've always been a city guy, but I have to admit that a life at sea is full of surprises. To this day I remember the happiness I felt when I saw the spectacle of beauty that unfolded around me when I was in that embarrassing position. Fate, that silly joker, had conspired with the motor to give me a dazzling landscape, and an opportunity to reflect on myself.
The very moment I started swimming, the huge full moon – the very reason for the ill-fated excursion – slowly rose above the horizon and spilled over the bay, spreading its silver and sparkling light over the darkness. Behind me, the clouds that covered the Serra do Mar were painted with brushstrokes of red from the setting sun. The eastern edge of the sky outlined the contours of the house roofs and trees that lined the canal. Closer in, small fish, with their thin glistening bodies, were jumping across the surface. In the water, I felt myself as part of this immense landscape.
I can’t recall how long this spectacle lasted. Perhaps it was just until I reached the buoy. But it was long enough to let me think about my own life. I thought about how hectic and overloaded life in São Paulo where I lived. At that point I stopped swearing at the useless outboard. My heart stopped racing and I felt ready for something new I was reluctant to accept before. This special place had called me. It was telling me it was time to choose another way of life, and there was no reason to wait. Where else could I be a part of nature and pull my own boat by my teeth?
A month later, I sold the Pure Beauty to a boat mechanic for half the price. I practically gave her away. Despite the loss, I was as happy as a newborn. I also bought an apartment in Bracuhy, my favorite place in the world, where I can watch the moon rise over the sea.
R. M. in his paradise
Roberto Machado Junior é Doutorando em História das Ciência, pela Universidade de Coimbra, e Mestre em Ciências da Comunicação, pela Universidade de São Paulo. Fez filmes, escreveu roteiros, livros infantis e dirigiu programas de TV. Atualmente prepara seu primeiro livro de contos. Mora na cidade de São Paulo, no Brasil, com sua cachorra Laya.
Roberto Machado Junior is a movie maker and PhD student in History of Sciences at the University of Coimbra and Master in Communication Sciences at the University of São Paulo. He made films, wrote screenplays, children's books and directed TV shows. He is currently preparing his first book of short stories. He lives in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, with his dog Laya.