A couple of years ago, we assigned one of Cape Air’s young pilots, Adam Schewitz, to what I thought was a plum assignment, flying seaplanes in the Virgin Islands for the winter. His accommodation over two seasons was the company’s catamaran, Seabird, which we used for both crew housing and training. Adam is an extreme water baby who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, and free diving to great depths, – so he was clearly in his element. During his stay, Adam, who already had a Captain’s License for power boats, learned to sail. His girlfriend, Alyssa, came to visit and the two of them took off on Seabird for a week’s vacation. More than one love affair was confirmed on this trip.
Next thing we knew Adam returned for the summer with a dream of sailing off into the sunset with his soon-to-be wife, Alyssa. He returned to the Virgin Islands for another winter season while the sailboat he purchased was having work done in Puerto Rico. At season’s end, Adam brought his boat, Heritage, up to The Bahamas and then on to Panama where they left it and returned to the northeast. In the fall, they were married in The Bahamas after which they set sail on their floating honeymoon. I can’t think of a better trial for a new marriage than being confined to a small, constantly moving space.
Heading off to Panama, they spent some time in the San Blas Islands, an archipelago of 365 islands and cays of which only 48 are populated. According to Adam, the population has adapted to a matriarchal society. The women of San Blas are known for creating intricate and colorful art pieces from layers of fabric known as Molas.
From the San Blas Islands, the newlyweds spent some time going up the Rio Chagras, a freshwater river that took them into the jungles of Panama where they discovered the creatures who make such wild sounds – howler monkeys and toucans. They also took on a new crewmate, a dog they named Mowgli. Adam enjoyed paddle boarding on the river with his new friend.
From there they headed for the Panama Canal on their way to the Pacific. Taking on some additional crew to help with lines going through the locks, their boat was rafted together with two other boats which required some synchronization skills on the part of all three crews.
Once through the canal, they spent some time in the Las Perlas islands (Pearl Islands). Adam compared the island’s environment to that of Jurassic Park. He went spearfishing, dove with sharks and also visited a Spanish shipwreck from 1631. After about 4-5 months spent exploring Panama, they did their provisioning for their next stop – the Galapagos.
With 5 crew members aboard, they headed for the islands making good time until they hit some doldrums and decided to relent and use the engine. After a while, the wind picked up and carried them to the Galapagos. A couple of days out of Panama they crossed the equator and paid tribute to King Neptune to ensure he would be kind to them in the southern hemisphere. After 8 days, they arrived at Wreck Bay, where Adam tells me they came closest to wrecking themselves, so – clearly – the bay is aptly named. The Galapagos have strict regulations about where you can go, so after some diving with more sharks and a few close encounters with the local seal population, they headed off to the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia.
Now with four crew on board, they took shifts at the helm for the long journey. Experiencing a number of squalls with winds up to 25 knots and waves of 15 -20 feet (I would get off at 3-foot seas!), they kept full sails up even in rainstorms to take full advantage of the wind. When the wind died, Adam said they could swim and make better time than the boat. There was not enough gas to power up. He was able to dive for some large fish, so the crew had food, but after a while, even the fish and birds disappeared. The Watermaker on board struggled to keep working, but Adam managed to jury rig it. They saw a single lone freighter during this part of the journey. After 29 days they arrived in the Gambier Islands, the southeastern part of the French Polynesian archipelago.
They arrived in a bay where up to 30 boats were gathered just in time for an anniversary party that included a pig roast. Moving on from there, they stopped at different islands. Arriving at one where they planned to stay, they found that there was no safe place to anchor and the next closest island was 100 miles away. They explored one island which was clearly inhabited, but couldn’t find anyone. After a while, they discovered a family of four shyly hiding behind a tree. They were coconut farmers taking their turn harvesting on the island. Their home island was 10 miles away.
Adam and Alyssa learned that the French Polynesian culture was very giving. They live in tune with the land and the sea. Coconut trees aren’t just used as a food source; every part of the tree serves a purpose. The inhabitants have a modern economy, are educated, and yet hold on to their traditions. On one island, Amanu Atoll, Adam met a man known as the “shell god” as he made wonderful creations from shells. The man gave them gifts and wouldn’t take money. He told Adam that giving him these gifts, “makes my heart feel good.” Adam returned to give him a Dremel tool to help him make holes in the shells.
Throughout the islands, they took children sailing; swam with whales, sharks, and stingrays; and caught a 130-pound tuna which had to be lifted onto the boat using the halyard. Toward the end of this journey, Adam and Alyssa headed to Tahiti where they met up with family members for two weeks. Enroute, their transmission failed. They limped into a nearby anchorage. It was clear they’d have to head home to get needed parts and replenish the bank account. We have the good fortune to have him back until the wanderlust strikes again.
A journey like this stays with you for a lifetime. Adam and Alyssa will never forget the people they met or the places they’ve been. The exposure to different cultures changes the way you look at the world. As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Another quote, often misattributed to Twain, is also apt here, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Few people get to enjoy this kind of journey. It helps define the things that are really important in life. Adam and Alyssa had the great fortune to experience this journey together.
And so…Adam is, once again, a seaplane pilot flying for Cape Air. I hope we can keep him. But if wanderlust strikes again, we’ll understand.
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