That was then, This is now

Published on April 25th, 2019

The millennial generation has had the benefit of massive advances in technology, so how would their conversation go with someone older like, say, Christopher Columbus? Sheena Jeffers shares this satirical piece in which Columbus gets an education on how boats have changed in the past 500 years.

Tired, I rub my eyes and yawn. With my watch complete, I’m looking forward to lying down and permitting the waves the rock me to sleep.

I find a comfortable place nestled between two pillows and doze off while the Caribbean Sea carries me north. I must have fallen deep into a deep, deep sleep because it wasn’t long before Christopher Columbus was sitting next to me on the bow of our boat.

“My, dear!” He exclaimed (for my benefit, my dream translated Columbus’ words into English). “What have we here?”

“Columbus? Wow, welcome aboard! I’m Sheena. I’ve heard a lot about you!” He was staring at my usual offshore attire: my bikini top and lululemon shorts.

“What is happening? Where is our heading? And what, for heaven’s sake, year is it?” He asked, motioning toward what he believed was an obvious lack of attire. I adjusted my top a bit, spreading out the triangles covering my breasts. He adjusted his undercoat.

“Well, first of all, Columbus: this is called athleisure,” I said, motioning toward my water-wicking running shorts that I’ve never once run in. “The year is 2019. My boyfriend and I are sailing…” he scoffs. “…to Florida from Panama.”

Suddenly, Columbus, startled, leapt to his feet.

“What kind of tree is this?” He asked, knocking on the hull of our boat.

“Fiberglass. It’s a common fiber-reinforced plas…”

“A Fiberglass tree…” he said, running his hand over our deck. As he walked his foot accidentally hit the down button on our windlass loosening a bit of chain holding our anchor.

“Dear, God! Does this…” he eyes followed the chain and he ran across our trampoline and threw his head over the bow to inspect the loosened chain attached to our anchor.

“It’s ok! It’s ok!” I pressed the up button on our windlass and tightened the chain attached to the anchor. The anchor locked into place.

“Dear… God… have you written the King and Queen about this, this…”

“Windlass. And, no…”

“… His majesties will want to know about this. In detail.” Bending his knees, he jumped and the cargo netting of our trampoline held together by Dyneema line creaked beneath his weight.

“Look at this!” He said jumping and laughing and waving his arms as the Caribbean Sea passes below him.

“Columbus, I know that is called a trampoline but it’s not really a tramp…”

“Notes! I must be taking notes,” he exclaimed, still jumping on our trampoline/not trampoline. “My letters to the King and Queen will excite them. Please fetch my journal and a pen, or a scribe. That will work.”

I passed him my iPhone. He eyed it cautiously, and I remembered that he was always an old school kind of guy preferring dead reckoning to navigational technology (and I think to myself, wait until he sees Navionics).

“Oh. Sorry, here,” I said, stepping beside him to allow the iPhone’s facial recognition technology to unlock my phone. I opened up a new note for him.

“No, thank you…” he said, passing it back to me wearily. “I’ll keep it all up here,” he said, tapping his pointer finger to his brain space a few times.

Just then, he heard another noise.

“What is that unrelenting hum?”

“Oh, it’s our engine. No wind out here today, so we’re motor sailing a bit – just using one engine – to get out of the doldrums.”

He stared at me. Pissed? He seemed mad.

“Engine? To carry you when there is no wind?” He was pacing now. He was definitely pissed. “And, to be clear, to ensure my complete understanding, you have… more than one? And this… thing… it moves the boat forward when there is no wind?”

I felt it coming. I felt the mom “back-in-my-day” speech coming. I know Columbus, you walked to school 3 miles each way in the snow carrying all of your books.

“They’re for propulsion when there is no wind, yes.” He stared at me. “Do you want to see them?” I say, hoping to distract him from the speech I definitely see coming.

“Who… who are you again? I don’t know how to address you.”

“My apologies. I’m Sheena. I’m First Mate here on this sailing vessel we call Seas Life.”

He is laughing.

“A woman! First Mate!” Laughing.

“Seas Life!” Laughing. “For whom is your vessel named after to honor, to serve, to protect?”

“Oh, no one. It means to make the most of your life while you’re here living it. We toyed with the spelling because we’re out here on the seas… seize… get it? Here, YouTube will tell you everything about…”

“Stop!” He commanded, hand raised. “I serve only my God. I don’t know who this life-informing YouTube idolator is; I shall hear nothing YouTube wants to tell me. I serve only my God and my highnesses.”

“… and your personal desire for fame, riches and ownership of land you don’t own…” I mumbled under my breath.

“What did you say?”

“So, engines?” I asked, smiling. We make our way back toward the stern with Columbus touching every boat cushion, standing rigging, and sun cover while running his hand over every dagger board, fishing pole and squeezing every Luci light.

I opened the door to the engine room and he slowly lowered down staring at the engine roaring, churning, chugging along.

He cautiously peeked his head into the small space of the engine room and listened to the roar. Eyes wide with amazement? Fear? Horror? Resentment? Disappointment?

“Columbus?” I asked. “Are you all right?”

“If this, this… thing, here,… is making that noise then it’s…”

“Moving the boat forward.”

He suddenly jumped to his feet and ran to the helm.

“Who is manning this vessel?!” He yelled back. Auto-pilot started beeping from his grabbing the wheel which made him immediately retreat; hands high in the air as if prepared to say, “it wasn’t me!”

“Auto-Pilot is driving.”

“Where is he?” Columbus asked, looking around.

“He – or she – is a machine. It holds the vessel at a designated compass baring.”

“The vessel navigates on its own? But how does it see the stars for calculations? Feel the wind? Look for birds or floating reeds for signs of land nearby?”

“It can read the wind,” I said, pointing to our anemometer. “It’s only 6 knots right now, hence the motor sailing.”

Columbus busted out in a forced belly laugh then immediately stopped and gave me the side eye.

Just then, the sound of the electric macerator pump and the smell of my boyfriend’s morning poo wafted in the air.

“Lord, have mercy on our sinning souls. What is that dreadful sound? The smell, well, I’m familiar.”

“That’s our electric head downstairs. My boyfriend must be awake.” Columbus ran inside of the boat and down the stairs.

“Good, uh, morning. Columbus?” My naked boyfriend asked.

“A native,” Columbus remarked. “Not a single part of the body clothed. I didn’t realize you had taken a native on board. This is good. We can use this.”

“Oh, no. This is my boyfriend. His real name is Christopher, too! Like you!”

“Your Christian name? A solid Christian name, native. One to be proud of,” Columbus said, eyeing the porcelain toilet and fiddling with the button that brought the grinding of the macerator pump to life.

“It’s my, uh, ‘legal’ name but everyone calls me Ryan.” Just then the macerator pump came to life sucking the water down the toilet.

“So, this button causes that noise? And the water? Where are your barrels for storing?”

“The button turns on the macerator pump which chops up the poo and moves it to a holding tank,” Ryan explained.

“My God, native! Throw it overboard!” Columbus said.

By now, Columbus had made his way back upstairs and I opened our refrigerator to pour him a glass of cold water.

“Halt!” He said, staring at me now frozen in front of our open refrigerator. “What is that chill? That breeze of cool air?”

“Refrigeration. It keeps our food fresh for longer.”

He touched the inside of the refrigerator with his finger and pulled it away as if it burned him.

“This maintains the integrity of your provisions? Your canned butter, your vegetables, your food left uneaten?”

“Exactly. Glass of cold water?” He took the glass and drank, swallowed as if parched.

“You don’t have to…”

“It is required that I drink every drop. In my experience, we could be out here for days with no wind and no rain, and the water won’t stay potable. Bottoms up!”

“Oh, we have water tanks! And filters. And there are some boats that have water makers. They create potable water from the very salt water we’re on right now,” Ryan said.

“Unfathomable. The salt water will lead to a slow death by dehydration.”

“Yes, but the water makers use a membrane to filter out salt and…”

“My, God…” Columbus said, interrupting the science behind water filtration.

“Chart plotter. It shows we are in relation to land and our GPS coordinates. These triangles here reveal other vessels near by,” Ryan explained.

“How can you trust such things?” Columbus said, backing away. “The only way to know of your positioning is by knowing from whence you came, recording the passing of time and deep knowledge of how the ocean, stars and winds work. And there are no other vessels, unless they work for me, where I venture.”

“Right.” To be fair, he was right. If lightening took out our equipment, we’d be pulling out paper charts and plotting.

Ryan turned on the propane to boil water for coffee.

“A small, controlled fire inside of the vessel: interesting.” Columbus walked onward, talking aloud as if dictating his letter to Ferndinand and Isabella.

“I see no signs of barrels for harnessing the powers of flame or water. I see a female parading in what she calls ‘athleisure’ on friendly, rather intimate terms with a native while a mysterious and as of yet unknown ‘machine’ named Auto-pilot mans the vessel. In fact, technology seems to be running most aspects of sea travel including but not limited navigation, waste removal, anchoring, the creation of flame, propulsion, and the preservation of provisions. Further investigation is needed to understand the intricacies – religious and political implications – of said technology.”

My boyfriend poured the coffee.

“The native seems to have been granted full access to the vessel, sleeping quarters and provisions,” Columbus added. “Odd.”

Just then our Garmin inReach jingled alerting us of a new message and Columbus jumped around, startled.

“What is this?”

“A message from my mom. She likes to follow our map and make sure I’m still alive out there,” I explained, firing off a quick note in less than 160 characters: “Alive. Teaching Columbus how to sail.”

“This message… how many weeks will it take before it reaches the mainland?”

“Oh, a few seconds actually. She will see it right away.”

“But, no. Letters take weeks, sometimes months, depending on if there is a vessel to carry it.”

“This message travels through a satellite that is up in space and…” Columbus walked outside with the Garmin but then decided he preferred me to type while he spoke.

“Send this message,” he said. “My highnesses, Ferndinand and Isabella. I find myself in an odd time with strange people. They appear to be friendly, nice enough, and moderately educated though depend heavily on the latest technology which I must admit has advanced considerably. The female reports the year to be 2019. We are somewhere in the Caribbean Sea and…”

“Oh, don’t worry! They’ll get a link to follow our live map when we send the message!” I said, way too excited to be sending a Garmin message to deceased royalty.

He ignored me and continued.

“We appear to be heading toward Hispaniola. I realize my skill set is no longer… needed on this island so we will most likely continue North following the Gulf Stream.”

“We will probably have to drop you off somewhere unless you have a U.S. passport?! Or, maybe you have one?! We did learn about you in school, so I guess the Coast Guard is aware of you?” Ryan said, poking his head out from the cabin.

“Keep writing. The weather is favorable, the seas are cooperating and my faith in Spain and our God remains unwavering. Sincerely, Christopher Columbus.”

I typed away.

“Ok! Sent!” (Since I didn’t have a telephone number or email for King Ferndinand and Queen Isabella, I actually sent the message to my mom who I’m sure is full blown worried I’ve fallen prey to hallucinations in the middle of the ocean. Hopefully she doesn’t contact the Coast Guard).

“I anticipate a response,” he said, sitting down at the helm seat complete with a cushion for the tush and the lumbar.

“Me too…” I said. (Please don’t call the Coast Guard, mom. Please don’t call the Coast Guard).

“Who is financing your voyage? It took me decades to find a country willing to fund my exploring.”

“We are funding it.” Columbus lifted an eyebrow.

“Who paid for the caravel?”

“Catamaran. Ryan sold his home and with that money, plus savings, plus working online it helps us purchase food, boat supplies and pay for our… explorations.”

“Have you claimed any countries?”

“Well, most of them are pretty claimed nowadays. You had a lot to do with that!”

“You speak truths.”

“But, for fun, we found a tiny island in San Blas, Panama and pretended it was ours while we ate some pasta salad.”

“Why didn’t you claim it?”

“Well, because, it’s not ours. It doesn’t belong to us. It’s not ours to claim.”

“I don’t understand. If you are doing God’s work, it’s yours to claim.”

“That… is viewed a little differently now.”

“Let’s go claim it now!”

“No, no! We are out of pasta salad anyway. It’s all right.”

“So, what are you doing out here then, if you’re not working for a country to find new fortunes?”

“To experience the sea, the world and the beautiful people in it! You know… to…”

“Seas Life?” Columbus said.

“Exactly! You get it! Plus, is there anything more beautiful, more challenging, more life-enriching than exploring the open sea and the lands you run into along the way?”

“There is no other thing. You are right, strange but astute woman. I lived the majority of my life doing just that: sailing the open waters, fighting the swell, guessing the weather and bumping into lands. And even though the thrill of it all – finding and claiming unknown worlds – it all peaked my interest, tickled my fancy, but what I really loved and what I really wanted was to be on the sea. Land is or becomes far too complicated, but the sea, well, there is nothing better.”

With that, Columbus finished his glass of water.

“Delicious,” He said. Then he placed the glass in the sink and said, “I think it’s time for me to leave you to your exploring. I hope you hear back from the King and Queen on your,” he waved his hands over our Garmin. “That thing. May you enjoy Seas-ing Life.”

He walked to the bow, looked around soaking it all in and slowly disappeared as if a fog set in and carried him away.

Just then, the Garmin went off; it was my mom: “I’m calling the Coast Guard.”

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