Rek Bell

2020— A difficult year

Rek awakens, having forgotten to write a year-end review for the past 6 years. They feel guilty about it, but aren't surprised—this is very typical. They start things and either lose interest, or forget about it entirely.

Damn shame. But it is what it is.

Much has changed in the last 6 years, I live on a boat, am non-binary and use they/iel—this isn't new, I've never been entirely comfortable with non-binary pronouns, but this year I was able to reject my imposter syndrome and started adopting the term—I write more, I sailed to Japan and around the Pacific Ocean, I get fewer anxiety attacks, I've become a birds nerd, learned a lot about living with less and on living closer to nature. I am forever ruined basically, I cannot work for others again... or at least, I can’t work at a desk in an office.

The year started in Montréal. In August of 2019, Devine & I left our boat pino in Japan and flew home to Québec for 6 months. January marked the 5th month of our sailing hiatus. It was our first time away from the boat, something that has caused me a lot of anxiety, manifesting as nightmares every night. I'd have visions of Pino filled with water and cockroaches. Horrifying. I did say that I got fewer anxiety attacks this year, and then start by saying I had an anxiety attack—I swear, I got better.

Winter in Montréal was cold, my body forgot that, and struggled when the temperature dipped in below zero. Still, Devine & I took walks out to the park often. Our walks would take 2-3 hours, and we'd go, rain, snow or ice. There was a path in the park that wasn't as well-tended as the rest, it would flood in periods of rain, and the newly-formed ponds would freeze. Walking in days when the water wasn't solid, was like playing 'the floor is lava'. We’d skip from rock to fallen tree trunk to rock again. It was parkour for dummies, but we liked it. Coming back from these long walks, we'd make tea, and go snuggle with Cooper, the family dog.

Once in a while we'd go upstairs (we stayed in my parent's basement) to watch shows with my dad. We went through the entirety of Chernobyl in one night. We also watched series like The Good Place, and Halt and Catch Fire. On Pino, we don't have Netflix, or good internet, and so we splurged a little, juuuust a little.

Living in the basement wasn't always easy, there were few windows and I had a hard time waking up in the morning. I did enjoy being close to my parents. We'd been apart from each other for 5 years and had a lot of catching up to do! I would cook food for them often, delivering cookies and other baked goods for my dad in the day, reserving a few for my mom for when she came back from work. My dad is long retired and excels at it. He leads a full, relaxed life.

February came by quick, we had purchased our return tickets to Japan a while ago. Already, we were seeing cases of coronavirus spreading in the country. My parents were worried, they had every reason to, they questioned whether or not I should go. I couldn't imagine not returning to Pino. My worse fear, was not being able to return to our boat.

On February 26th, we said goodbye to my parents, and boarded the first flight to Vancouver. The second flight to Japan was much, much longer, and also, much, much emptier. We wore our masks aboard, but most seats were unoccupied. Most of the plane was like this. Devine took a row, and I did too. We landed first at Haneda, to transfer flight, yet again, to go to Osaka.

We arrived in Osaka late at night, tired, and cranky, dragging our heavy suitcases through the empty streets, and over to our hotel. We'd hoped to go home straight to Pino, but our plane landed at 2100, getting to Mimamiise at this hour was impossible. The trip there was 5 hours, and bus service to the town ended at 1900. Our hotel in Osaka was... different. We arrived in the lobby, to find the room illuminated in blue light, with two velociraptor automatons standing behind a desk. We walked over, and they said hello, and asked us to enter our reservation information in the computer on the desk. We did this, and it spat out a card. The velociraptors then understood we were foreigners, having glimpsed our passports, and switched to English. "Welcome!" We waved goodbye to our hosts, and dragged our tired fleshy bodies over to our room.

Jet-lagged and hungry, we woke up at 0300, and went outside to search for a a 24-hour kombini. We bought soba, and ate it back in our rooms, content, and ready to face the long day of travel ahead. The ride back to Minamiise included 3 trains, 1 bus ride, and a long 30-minute walk back to the marina. We'd done this ride before, it wasn't hard, just...long. Luckily, we had the velociraptors ship our suitcases to the marina, we wouldn't have to drag them around in the city or train. It was a good idea that we did this, because as we walked, it started to rain. Hard. We found out then that Devine's backpack wasn't waterproof. We arrived back to Pino drenched, to find that it had not turned into a cockroach motel. Good. We found no real damage either.

When we arrived, I was relieved, but I quickly found other things to worry about! Our imminent departure from Japan. Well, in my mind it felt imminent. Too soon and worrisome. We had so much to do before leaving. Sigh. I worry too much, and too early. Next day, I made a list of all the things I was concerned with, as a way to lighten the load on my brain. The issue with my brain, is that it likes to picture all possibilities for future failures, and makes elaborate plans to prevent them ALL from happening and it is...exhausting. Preventative maintenance does have value, and I know I can't plan for everything, really, but I do my best, and this has kept us safe thus far. I must be doing something right.

A lot of my energy went into planning for our trip to the Inland sea, and up the west side of Japan. Our plan at that time, was to leave the country from Hokkaido. I picked out all the ports, and backup ports in case of emergencies. The only issue now, was getting the boat hauled out of the water so we could inspect, and repaint the bottom. We had a date set for mid-March. When that time came, the lift broke with Pino on it. I was standing on the shore, watching it as it happened... seeing the cable snap, and watching the trailer slip back into the water. Mr Oka told me and Devine that I would take time to repair, as they realized the problem was with the underwater tracks. They were misaligned, after 40 years of hard use. All my planning was for naught, because Japan declared a state of emergency then... we couldn't go travel anywhere. I remember thinking then, well, I guess it's fine that the boat can't be hauled out cause we can't leave anyway!

I was relieved, a little. Going from port, to port, to port everyday is tiring, and I preferred to focus on the bigger trip ahead. A lot of the routes and ports that I plan for, we end up not needing. It does mean that I've wasted time, but I also prefer to have all options planned out... because things don't always play out like we want them to.

I developed a real taste for cycling in deserted mountain roads, while in Minamiise. Few cars meant that the rides were especially pleasant, the world is so much nicer without cars. That is my utopia, a quiet world, without exhaust fumes, where humans have learned to extract less from the earth, and have found joy in leg-powered vehicles. During many of our mountain excursions, we'd find orange-bearing trees, with no one in sight. We figured they must have belonged to someone, as they looked well-cared for, but it wasn't immediately evident. We put our noses to them, taking in their wonderful fragrance.

In-between our daily exploration sessions, I'd draw for my comic circa, or write for wiktopher. I started Circa late last year. I've always been a fan of comedic-horror films, I grew up with The Lost Boys, Fright Night and Ginger Snaps. As a teenager, I watched Scream, a horror tv channel. Scream was never short on good content, it's how I discovered Dead Alive, Night of the Living Dead and The Return Of The Living Dead—see a theme here?. Anyway, Circa isn't about zombies, but it is a comedy horror comic. I'm not sure where it's going, I update it semi-frequently, but I am happy with it. It has a bit of a clumsy start, but I'm okay with that. I go back on pages and correct them a lot. That might make it a weird experience for readers, since the story and panels change, but it's okay because I like to pretend no one is reading it, to spare myself some anxiety. Wiktopher has this same issue, in that I am constantly changing things. It seems I do this for everything. My projects are always a process, that span over long chunks of time. They grow with me.

I contribute to Devine's project as best I can, writing documentation, and making visual assets when needed. I've been doing a lot of writing for HundredRabbits. This year, I wrote two articles for Noonsite. They're non-paid, but were a fun experiment. I've written others that I've sent out to magazines, but I've yet to see get an answer. That is fine. In the meantime, I try and better my writing, creating as many opportunities as I can. Paid work would be nice, but I have a strange relationship with paid creative work, borne out of my disdain for money.

To continue with my seemingly-unending 2020 saga. The lift at the marina was fixed, and Devine & I decided, as always, to do all the boatyard work ourselves. It would be easy to hand off this messy, difficult work to the marina workers, but it would be expensive, and whatever we don't do, we don't learn about. The workers would do a faster, and better job, but craftspeople should be paid well for their work and we just can't afford it. The boatyard can only ever have one boat up on stilts at a time, and all came in to work everyday, and watched us work. Sometimes, they'd wander over to make a suggestion, or to lend us tools. It made me laugh, thinking it must be painful for them to watch us work, but they were friendly about it and helped as best, and as little as they could.

Covid did not hit Minamiise too hard. There were very few cases in the Prefecture of Mie in all. The more time we spent in town, the more we noticed little changes. Eventually, the cashiers where shielded with plexiglass, with arrows on the floors, and signs on the windows to wear a mask, and to wash your hands. This happened in late April. Covid was bad everywhere in the world now, but Japan was spared the worse of it.

I watched as the days went by, working on Pino everyday. The boat was looking better, and better, but now I was concerned whether or not we could leave at all. I wondered if we'd be allowed back in Canada. The information was changing every day, we weren't sure what would happen on arrival after 2 months at sea. A lot could change. Japan was in a state of emergency, I stayed in Devine, on the boat, taking occasional bike rides out to combat restlessness.

Eventually, the restrictions were lifted, and I began to look for a window to go Shimoda, a port I had researched and I thought would be a good launch point for Canada. I put creative projects aside, and focused on Pino entirely then. Together, with Devine, we made a grocery list, and began to ferry food from grocery to the boat, to fill it as much as possible.

What happened next, I've documented in many writings on the HundredRabbits website. We went to Shimoda, hung out there for a while before leaving for Canada. I will not go into detail on the crossing itself, as I have already done this in the North Pacific Logbook, but I will say that this trip has made me appreciate nature even more. I respect the hell out of it now, and will never underestimate it, ever again. When in the South Pacific, we sailed with confidence, even complacency, now it is difficult to think of being that way again. When you read about rogue waves, or storms, or bad events in general, it is sometimes difficult to imagine these things happening to you or those you love or know. My friends Morgan and Douglas often mentioned being afraid of getting hit by a wave at the stern. Sometimes, waves build up in the water, and one of these can turn into a breaking wave, and the odds are that if you spend 5 years, and many consecutive days on the water, that you will run into one... and on June 17th 2020, we did.

The wave swept me off my feet, tossed me overboard, and I've been having nightmares about it since. The scene keeps playing out in my head at night, uninvited. I don't think I'll ever rid myself of this memory, and of the thoughts I had while it was happening. I always wondered what I'd be thinking about when about to die. Depending on the manner of my death, perhaps nothing at all, maybe I wouldn't have time to have a thought? I did have time, and I remember my thought well. It was spoken in a 'Douglas Adam's kind of tone':

Ah, how disappointing! Dying this way, Rek thought, was widely regarded as a bad move.

Anyway, I did not die, and the event was not as severe as it could have been. I can only image the nightmares that some sailors have, following more serious accidents. This to say, I am no longer complacent when at sea.

Arriving in Victoria was as exciting as I thought it would be. The two-week quarantine we were forced into helped ease us back into society, after 2 months of being alone on Pino. I would sit on deck, and watch people from afar. When allowed back on land, walking amongst people felt strangely alien. I smirked as I walked, like I had a secret. In a way, I did—no one knew I'd just spent 65 days at sea, that I'd skipped across the North Pacific in a small plastic boat.

I imagined our arrival differently, I hoped to find people we knew on shore, to share a cold drink with friends and family, but coronavirus made this impossible. Many in the world were robbed of important moments this year. I am not bitter, but I am sad.

We found a spot at the Causeway Floats in Victoria, with plans to spend the winter there. I have been busy writing an extended version of the North Pacific Logbook, which will be titled Busy doing nothing—a reference to our favourite Ergo Proxy episode with the same name.

I had a big drawing block in November, caused by worsening events in the world, and clutter in my own head. I did not fight this block, but I shifted my attention elsewhere, taking long walks along the water, and making rope mats. Making knots was therapeutic, I found. I wished I'd spent the holidays with my family, I miss them.

This year was hard on everyone. I don't have plans for the future, it is difficult to make plans in this uncertain climate.

I am grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones, am also grateful for those who continued to produce art and music this year, and for those who fought for truth and justice with unrelenting passion. That is all, here's to 2021, may Rek not forget to make a short novel again next year.

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