My Captain always said it was going to end in tears and it did, just not the type of tears I was expecting. Before I get to the grief part, I need to tell you about the weather.
In Europe the wind and weather have been Atrocious!! Winds over 100 kms have battered the coast. As is the normal weather cycle for this time of year, North Africa and down town Tabarka are experiencing wild weather.
We were looking at weather forecasts, predicting 50 knot winds for several days, when the Captain of the bleeding obvious said “now that’s stormy weather”. Although we knew we were relatively safe in harbour, there are always risks when living so close to mother nature.
Winter Is Coming
Taking the advice of locals, weeks prior we purchased solid chain and 8 half decent tyres to attach to the wharf area where our boat is tied up. On our starboard side there are 11 fenders protecting Miss Catana against the predicted strong wind. These menacing winds wanted to push our boat straight onto the concrete wall. One of the big risks of Tabarka port, is the water level rises and falls dramatically in strong winds and heavy rain. Unless you are vigilant and present to adjust the fenders your boat can rise with the water above fender protection, in extreme situations onto the wharf itself.
With the bad weather approaching I was pleased we had prepared for the worst, even though it is unlikely we would spend winter here. Still autumn weather can be harsh and was seemingly upon us.
When It Arrived It Was Projectile And Violent
Bad weather reminds me of a vomit from the outside, another name for a storm could be a weather puke.
Humour me for a moment….
Think back to the the last time you vomited….
You know it’s coming and there is nothing you can do except go with it. The big heave is on its way, you are compelled to purge, you are not in control, your body has taken over. You involuntarily shudder post release and when the deed is done. Just for a moment you feel better until your muscles contract to embrace the next wave you know is coming your way. Gastro, like stormy weather is with you for its natural duration regardless of what you think. It’s usually pretty unpleasant and noisy, you know you won’t sleep much until it’s over and the condition demands your full attention.
Both hijack your life and if you happen to live on a boat, you hope like hell you are safely tucked up in harbour, which we were.
Besides Making Me Think Of Vomit What Was It Like
First and foremost it was RELENTLESS. It did not stop, it was constant and ever present for three days.
Second it is BLOODY NOISY!
YES I AM SHOUTING, OTHERWISE IF YOU AND I WERE OUTSIDE YOU MAY NOT HEAR ME!!
Now imagine sleeping in this…
Night one I didn’t, well not until it was close to sun rise and exhaustion finally overwhelmed me. It is hard to sleep with so much noise and movement, unless you’re my Captain off course, then you could sleep through a hurricane.
By the time I slept I was wind and weather weary… Is there such a condition as sleep envy?
Movement Gets An Honorary Mention
When the bed shakes it’s similar to a plane hitting turbulence.
My bed felt as if in training for the circus dodgem cars. It was an erratic movement, coupled with a loud intrusive noise. The wind is like a freight train zooming past, the boat hulls haunted by some strange beast straight from Hell. These beasts randomly slapped the hulls to torment souls such as I.
The Ginormous Waves
When we looked out to sea the waves were Big Bad Monsters, Breaking White Water at least a km away from shore, after that I couldn’t see any further out. It was the waves that scared me the most, I kept looking at them thinking WTF and imagined being in those for 2 or 3 days. Horrendous.
The Songs Of The Wind
Then in stormy weather the wind sings to you. I want you to imagine a loud whistling as if the boat is surrounded by huge pipes, by which the high winds can move through to produce a symphony of music that is extraordinary. I have no words except loud, eerie, constant, I wished above all, this noise would shut the hell up!
The wind stayed consistently high the first 48 hours. Rarely dropping below 30 knots, mostly staying in the low to mid 40’s and gusting up to 50 knots. The wind like the water comes in waves and for the first 24 hours, I kept watching the electronic display with strange fascination, watching and feeling in tandem the level of the wind.
My iPad is directly connected to the electronics of the boat, so I take it to bed, have information 24/7.
(No wonder I can’t sleep.)
One Boat Was Not So Prepared
On the morning the storm hit, only two fishing boats went out. I know because I watched them go, I thought at the time they were freaking crazy. Hadn’t they read the forecast? Is life that tough you have to fish in conditions such as these? Did it not strike them as strange that of all the boats in the harbour only two of them were leaving. How did the Captain’s of each boat convince their crew this was a good idea?
When they returned at dusk around 5.30 pm I wanted to rush over and ask, was it worth it or do was that like a life challenge?
I didn’t ask, but no sooner had they arrived, the fisherman had disappeared.
I bet a rock solid dollar those guys were happy to be home!
This crazy fishing boat was directly opposite or upwind of Miss Catana so I considered it a neighbour. During the night it turned into a potentially lethal neighbour or “fire” boat. Maybe in their haste to leave the dock someone was a little tardy, maybe it was the strength of the whirlpools swirling around the boat, or the ropes holding the boat were not strong enough, whatever the cause, while checking our boat outside we realised that this boat was no longer attached to the land. What was holding it, and only just, was a tiny boat moored beside the bigger boat. It so happens that this tiny boat had one small rope linked around the corner of the larger boat and onto shore. As the wind blew and the water swirled the boat would swing wildly from one side of the dock to the other. One rope no thicker than my pinky was holding one of the biggest fishing vessels of the fleet plus the small vessel.
Needless to say we were motivated to run, run and run some more. It’s a decent haul to get to the other side, with a spare rope to secure this boat. Once the self interested heroics were over the drama involving tears began.
We decided to call her Cat in Arabic – Mish. This soft purring name was perfect for any feline and it was also another link to being part of this community.
From day one of landing in Tabarka this fragile little feline caught my eye. Mostly white with designer tabby ears and tail, a signature patch in the middle of her back this cat was a sweetie. On arrival, I had reasoned that I could do with a cat to look after, when I saw this skinny hungry looking girl I thought she could do with a benefactor.
New Title: The Miss – Cat Benefactor
The adoption process was complete in my head, I just needed to convince this flea ridden half starved feral feline that she needed a new family.
Everyday was a small joy as I set out to win her heart. Small steps started with being there each morning and night with a regular food supply. Then little pats, soft words and using her new name with the serving of dinner. Next Mish surprised me by jumping on the boat to follow me, and check out this weird foreign chick who was feeding her.
From that point on she slept aboard every evening. Still wary, she would leave the boat early in the morning and wasn’t keen to be touched. Life is tough for a cat in Tabarka Port, I think most humans are viewed with suspision. My approach was to sit beside her, speak gently and give her little rubs which were enjoyed. It was the wanting more love and scratches that soon had her lying in the sun bearing her belly looking for a tummy rub. Victory was complete once she started sitting on my lap and talking to me in response to my daily greetings, as I went about the business of living on our boat.
Mish was here almost 24/7 except when we went sailing. Then she would wait patiently on the dock, waiting for her home to return.
It was Mish I was feeding a sneaky can of sardines from the cupboard, when I had my encounter with the Algerian. I needed a new feeding system, canned sardines and scraps would not do.
Feeding My Cat Has Become A Local Enterprise
The fisherman smile warmly or laugh as they walk home and I am out feeding the local cats. I feed them little sardines that cost about 2 dina or $1 for a kilo. Cat food is a foreign idea in this country but fish are plentiful. Strangers have pitched into the cat food stacks, they have given me the odd tiny fish caught, too small for the market . The feeding of Mish has touched more lives than just my own.
It didn’t take long for other neighbourhood cats to realise I was a soft touch, they also lined up for community meals. I engaged two street kids a day to catch me a bag of fish. Often I fed these slightly wild boys left overs, I fed them much better than the cats of course. Every day the boys asked me for cigarettes, every day I would tell them it would stunt their growth, they’d tell me that being tall doesn’t matter.
If the lads didn’t show with fish, the Captain and I would walk to the local market and buy a small bag, more fresh fish usually arrived next day. The first time the lads eagerly brought me fish, I had to chastise them, as several of the fish were still alive.
Rule Number One Of The Fishing Club – The cargo must be dead or payment will be delayed!!
From Wild To Purring Pet
The Captain at first was annoyed that I could allow a flea ridden creature onto our boat, Mish soon worked her magic on him as well. The Captain would say to me, “you can’t take her you know that, this is only going to end in tears you know that too”.
I knew he spoke the truth for both of us, we were enjoying our new pet, so at this moment in time it did not matter.
I had a contingency plan for our departure. I had organised for a local family to take Mish. They would get a beautifully trained girl, desexed before the official handover. I would get peace knowing that she would have a better and longer life than expected at the port. In the meantime I would get joy with this new arrangement.
Men Make Plans And Shit Happens
A day before the start of bad weather Mish wasn’t so interested in her fish dinner. I offered alternatives such as turkey or small pieces of beef but nothing enticed. Being a street cat the refusal was ridiculous and worrying. The first morning of bad weather she woke up as sweet as ever but quieter than normal. Not chatting as was her way, she gingerly got off the boat and walked slowly away. Her walk was one of pain and discomfort, I told the Captain she was poorly, we thought we would have a closer look at her when she returned.
We were not to see our little Mish until returning from rescuing the boat near us, on this night of dreadful weather. She was not far from the boat, near the restaurant across the road.
Still warm but dead.
Life in this place is tough and more so if you are a wild cat. Intentional drownings and laying of poisonous bait to kill the local cat population is common place. Her death may be from cruel intent or natural causes I can’t be sure. It didn’t matter…
I was devastated.
As I sat with this lifeless little body and cried in the rain, I yelled at the wind, the locals must have thought me mad. It was an injustice I didn’t see coming. I was prepared for wind and crazy weather, boats swinging about freely and no sleep. I just wasn’t prepared to say another goodbye.
It grieved me most that in this place there was little option for a decent burial. All I could do was say my final goodbye to my little friend, place her into a black bag, then place her gently into one of the large skip bins in the port. The irony was not lost on me as I did this, the same bin is forever occupied by cats scavenging for food to stay alive.
You may think I am foolish and a crazy cat woman to even adopt a street cat, maybe I am, BUT I thought for one little cat I could make a difference being here. I take comfort that for 5 weeks I got to share a special time with a sweet little girl called Mish.
Mish – Arabic for cat.
Once again my Captain was right, it did end in tears.
The Windy Wild Weather Has Passed
It is now time for us to move on from this place. The covers we organised for our boat are now complete. We feel like we have lingered here too long and it’s now time to leave. Tomorrow we head to the Capital, Tunis, to visit a big city and further along the coast to see what else there is to see here. I look forward to sharing more next time.
PS Maybe the next place we visit I will feed only the fish.