Join me in welcoming Pamela Sisman Bitterman to Highlighted Author.
You may recognize Pamela from earlier spotlights here on Highlighted Author. She caught my attention with her first feature, Muzungu, and then my heart with her second, When This Is Over, I Will Go To School and I Will Learn To Read. If you missed the previous highlights, please click the titles to check out these true stories. This woman is amazing.
This week Pamela shares her story Sailing To The Far Horizon. I could never dream of becoming a seaman—I get sea sick just standing on the beach and staring out at the water-covered horizon—but she did it, and being the adventurer she is, loved it.
Publicity for Sailing To The Far Horizon includes articles in the newspapers The Log, The Beacon, Beach and Bay Press, The San Diego Union Tribune, The Monroe Evening News, Campus News, and The San Diego Union Tribune, as well as the magazines Expressions, Santana, Cruising World, Ranch & Coast, Forbes.com Book Club, and Soundings.
She was a guest speaker at Sierra Club, Palomar College, Southern California’s Writers conference, American Association of University Women, was guest of honor at Asteres Annual Event, Aboard The Star Of India Tall Ship, Arts That Splash, 39th Annual Local Authors Exhibit, and held Book Tour events and signings nationwide and abroad.
But it doesn’t stop there. The list continues with her radio interviews and television appearances on The Michael Dresser Show, Radio New Zealand National Radio, Nine to Noon Program, KPBS Public Radio, These Days Program, Discovery Channel, Investigation Discovery Program, series Escaped, Share the Candy Radio Webcast, Cruise With Bruce Radio, Travel Wise, Let’s Talk About Books with The1essence, and January Jones BTR.
I’ll let her tell you more in her own words. She’s much more exciting to read. *wink* Pamela, it’s all yours…
Today I am a mom, a wife, a writer, and an explorer who has tried to travel her world with her eyes, arms, heart and mind wide open. I am a youthful 6o years old; strong, wise, weathered and seasoned. I hope to be able to proudly proclaim myself to still be all the aforementioned and more, in the years ahead. I have worn many hats along the road thus far; teacher, student, counselor, naturalist, sailor, mediator and more. I have been on quite a journey, with tremendous love and laughter, sadness and loss, beauty and wonder, struggle and survival. Great joy, and great heartache. Life. I would want very few do-overs. I am grateful for everything. I have been fortunate! My life continues to be an ever evolving work in progress, as do I. My first book, Sailing To the Far Horizon, is graphically biographical. It encapsulates me as product of the first thirty years of my rather unconventional life.
Muzungu, the story of my unlikely escapade throughout Kenya, picks up on that journey a couple decades later. I also wrote a children’s book about this experience titled “When This Is Over, I Will Go To School, And I Will Learn To Read; A Story of Hope and Friendship For One Young Kenyan Orphan“. It was illustrated by the orphans I worked with in Africa. Both are the personal accounts of my work and travel through Kenya as the epitome of Muzungu, the Swahili word for white man. Literally translated, Muzungu means “confused person wandering about.” Fit me to a tee! In between the adventures that were the subjects of my first and my later books were my marriage and children, my persona as wife and mother – the heart of me; me as my best self. As I explain in Muzungu, during those intervening years, the “yee-hah!” exhilaration of climbing out onto life’s edge had never entirely died out in me. It had merely been lying dormant beneath a meticulously constructed, implied housewife persona, a twenty-five year stint of nurturing-mother prioritizing for which I had absolutely no regrets. Everything had turned with the seasons, as they should. And a bygone time had finally come back around, although to what purpose under heaven remained to be seen. My future also remains to be seen, and to be told. Can’t hardly wait!
Listen in on her interview with Ms. January Jones on BlogTalk radio. She comes on for the second half of the show.
You can also listen in on these shows:
Sailing to the Far Horizon
Of the legions of wayfarers who shared in the tall ship Sofia’s diverse and colorful history, only seventeen were on board when she went down. Of those who survived to tell the tale, none has . . . until now.
More than twenty-five years ago, Pamela Bitterman began her journey on board a 123-foot, sixty-year-old sailing ship being readied for its second global circumnavigation.
Bitterman’s initial voyage, during which Hurricane Kendra chased the schooner miles off course to Bermuda, did not impel her to retreat home. Instead, she immersed herself in this created space between the life of a tall ship sailor, world traveler, and adventurer. Her narrative describes rare gatherings with Cuna Indians in the Gulf of San Blas, the discovery of original ancient tikis hidden away in the Marquesas, and a treasured offering of traditional tapa cloth from island natives. Bitterman’s experiences also give readers insight into a time of civil unrest in Latin America, including a frightening road trip through Mexicoand Central America, and the chaos during the final stages of the treaty that returned control of the Canal Zoneback to Panama. The drama ensues with the arrest of the entire Sofiacrew in two different countries, a bout with dengue fever, and a near-mutiny in New Zealandbefore the final voyage.
The details of events from this journey endure as vividly today as when Bitterman was a naive “shellback” swabbie, later ship’s bos’un, and finally acting first mate. In the end, she was merely one on a life raft of grateful survivors.
Sailing to the Far Horizon draws on original journal entries, photographs, and excerpts from official Coast Guard documents that chronicle the fascinating enigma that was theSofia and its dramatic end.
One woman’s true story of life, loss, and survival at sea.
“I keep reminding myself that I have seen the pictures, heard the stories, read countless books. There is an exotic world out there comprised of brilliant wonders and fascinating cultures, promising endless horizons and illuminating adventures, inducing me with wholly unique challenges, and daring me to accomplish awesome leaps of faith. The Sofia is my ticket.”
What they’re saying:
“…the reader can’t help but mourn the loss of the ship and the crew’s improvised lifestyle, as well as feel the joy, danger, and discovery that the author experienced and never forgot.”—Danise HooverCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“When Pam Bitterman talks of her experiences on the adventurous but ill-fated Sofia in her late twenties, you can hear that this is a story she feels she can’t keep to herself. Lucky for us, she hasn’t because the result is a book in a class by itself…Bitterman came away with not only a plethora of fascinating tales of world exploration and personal dynamics, but also the wisdom of on who has truly grown through adversity.”—The Log
“Although Pam wrote Sailing to the Far Horizon 25 years after the sinking the story is alive and fresh as much is based on her journals kept during her roughly four-year voyage. Her writing is very descriptive, taking the reader through the adventures and near-disasters as she lived them. . . . A well-told tale and wonderful reading.”—Santana Sailing Magazine
“The human stories embedded in this book, poignant and painful, reveal the way that a ship boils people down to their essentials. You really get at the heart of who someone is on a voyage, even before you add the defining element of tragedy.”—Jim Delgado, host of National Geographic Television’s The Sea Hunters and executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum
Sailing to the Far Horizon
Sinking; The Life Rafts
On this fifth day [hopelessly adrift in life rafts following the sudden and violent sinking of our tall ship, the Schooner Sofia] we realize that we are no longer seeing distant ships off on the horizon or the occasional plane soaring overhead. And we hear far fewer heralding cries or have welcome visits from curious shorebirds venturing out to examine our unnatural presence. Already well outside the shipping lanes, we have been carried steadily out to sea, on our way to nowhere. When incurably wide-eyed and ever-hopeful Chris asks Evan [our skipper] if we still have a good chance of being saved, Evan fixes on his imploring stare and answers with accuracy and uncharacteristic gentleness. “No Chris, not much,” he replies. Evan then lays his head on my shoulder and sleeps. In nearly four years of countless highs and lows across half the planet, this simple gesture is the most sincere and spontaneous intimacy that my captain and I have ever exchanged.
We need to patch the raft yet again, a prospect now both futile and horrific. We are being barraged by a family of sharks. They rub their sandpapery bodies along the thin, grainy raft floor, bumping us about like we are on a carnival ride. By the second day in the rafts, I was forced to announce to my captive audience that, whether we liked it or not, I was menstruating. Amid a chorus of alarmed male sighs, the other women raise their hands in a reluctant but resigned “me too” acknowledgement of undeniable feminine unity. As is so often the case when women live together, our cycles had synchronized. Nature delivered us yet one more cruel jab: There would be blood in the water. The sharks are now our nearly constant companions, a patient and persistent entourage. Patching the leaks is no longer an option. Besides, our raft is almost beyond repair. Our having to go into the ocean for good is imminent, and we all know it.
During my watch that evening the clouds part, inviting one final splash of magic sunset to streak the heavens. But it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I have certainly experienced my share of magnificent, unbearably brilliant sunsets, the kind that might make a holier person drop to her knees in reverent awe. This one sunset, however, truly might be divine. The sky is emblazoned with a flushed splatter of such intense iridescence that it does take my breath away. Suddenly, I discover that I’m feeling fiercely bold and crystal clear, so I whisper, “God. Is that you? Are you here to help me? If the answer is yes, then do. Please do! But if this isn’t you, or if you aren’t gong to help, well, it doesn’t really matter. Because I’m going to get out of this. Understand me. I will not die here! Help me if you want, but either way I will survive. If this is really you, though, and you choose not to help, then you had better know that I will never, ever, forgive you for doing this now to my family.” One of my hands is clenching the port flap tightly around my chest. The other hand is stretched out into the night, reaching toward the incomparable sky - the once in a lifetime sky – and this hand is raised in a fist. Right or wrong, I am not begging to be saved. I am giving notice.
Later, as I try to get comfortable resting against Joey, he whispers that he doesn’t think Evan is going to last much longer. Then he takes a chance, asking me. “Would you let the skipper marry us at sea?” And I understand. “Oh… yes,” I murmur, adding “now let’s try to get some sleep.” But we of course have no privacy, and the raft erupts into spams of applause and volleys of congratulations.
On that fifth night adrift I overhear Joe suggest to Evan the long-shot, last-ditch most drastic, possibly fatal tactic of implementing saltwater enemas - a more efficient and benign way of absorbing seawater than ingesting it. We glance warily at the only tool available for infusion, our pathetic little foot pump. Its offending gray plastic nozzle, grotesque, creased, and exposed, attaches to the end of the end of the clear flexible hose that protrudes from the ribbed plastic paddle and greasy bellows. The instrument lies inert and discarded – for the moment – on the putridly soiled floor of the rubber raft. Evan winces visibly. It is on this night that we each succumb to personal reflection, perhaps for the first time since we’ve gone into the sea. Tonight the atmosphere in the rafts is melancholy, filled with the whispers and murmurs of individuals reconciled to making their peace.
When exactly does living make this turn, come around the bend, and begin its inevitable descent into dying? Is it different for each of us, dictated by something specific and personal? If we are called upon to express our druthers when facing the end, do we choose to submit, go gently, and accept defeat, or do we insist that we will triumph simply because we intend to fight to the death? On this night my thoughts run along these lines, curious, philosophical, raw. I notice, however, that I am not frightened. And within this bizarre realization I find my greatest comfort.
It is late, probably around1 A.M., when young Chris, on watch in our raft, chirps up cheerily that he has spotted a ship. Yeah, yeah, we all groan, another ship, one of the dozens we’ve sighted so far. OK. A few minutes later Chris alerts us that the vessel appears to be – yes, definitely is – coming closer. No one is inclined to rally. It is late, maybe too late. We are spent and fearful that our fragile optimism might not survive another throttling. Reality has insidiously begun to grab our blind faith by the throat. Better not to look just yet. Besides, if we’ve managed to settle into a painfully tolerable position, we are reticent to relinquish it for one more false alarm.
“guys, I really do think this ship is coming nearer,” Chris continues animatedly. He can be reassuringly or irritatingly indefatigable, depending on the circumstances. On what now marks our sixth day adrift, we sigh and condescend to encourage him to keep us appraised. His spirit is still astoundingly resilient, a priceless life force that no one wants to risk injuring.
Finally, after his fourth or fifth insistent pronouncement, Chris manages to raise our skipper. Evan is not doing well. His metabolism has always been jet fast, leaving him with little or no physical reserves to feed off. I reckon he’s already lost half his muscle mass. Also, he’d gone into the water wearing only a t-shirt and trunks. The t-shirt is one of his favorites, one I’d recently see him tie-dye himself down in theSofia’s galley. Apparently, the dyes are not colorfast, nor are they nontoxic. They are acting as a catalyst for the corrosive effect that the saltwater and abrading latex are having on Evan’s bony torso. He is rubbed raw and bleeding at every knobby point of his skeletal structure. It is a dreadful sight. I’ve observed him getting weaker and fading physically, frighteningly fast, but he never acknowledges this. He remains steadfast, in command, in control and invincible, or so he leads us to believe.
With Chris’s most ardent plea, “Hey Evan, you really might wanna have a look at this,” the captain crawls to the lookout port of his raft and sticks his head out. He remains there, silent for several seconds, as Chris prattles on incessantly. “So what do you think? Am I right? Closer, right? What should we do? Should we holler? Should we fire off a flare? Hey Evan!”
When Evan finally does speak, everyone is listening. “Lower the canopies,” he orders slowly and calmly. “commence shouting for help. When the ship is in range, I’ll ignite a flare. It’s our last flare, gang. If the vessel doesn’t spot it, and no one aboard her hears us, then you must all prepare to immediately abandon the rafts. This ship is powering full steam ahead on a direct, unfaltering course, and unless we can raise her crew, she’s aiming to run right clean over the top of us.”
In an instant everyone in the rafts is up, on full alert, and screaming for our lives. We yank the canopies down, as a jubilant chorus of shrieking voices – weak, hoarse, joyous, and frantic – rises up into the night. “Help!” “Save us!” “Please!” “Over here!” “We’re here!” “We’re right here!”
The mammoth ship’s engines are thundering. Great gray clouds of diesel exhaust billow across the ocean’s surface. The propellers are kicking up so much turbulence that the sea is boiling. The vessel is monstrous. It is steaming down on us. It is all that we can see, hear, or smell. And it isn’t slowing down. It isn’t altering course. I think again, be careful what you wish for.
Evan raises the flare high in his right hand, supports his shaky forearm with his left hand, and over his shoulder he speaks his final directive. “If this doesn’t work, mates, dive into the water and swim for all you’re worth!”
Then he squeezes the trigger. The crimson fireball sails over the bow, trailing a fuzzy streak of rouge across the ship’s foredeck before becoming eclipsed from our view by the vessel’s towering pilothouse. It is a spot-on perfect shot. We wait, cocked, every fiber of our beings poised to go, praying to stay.
You can find Pamela at her website: www.pamelasismanbitterman.com