One of my favorite parts of this job is watching ports disappear astern. Cartagena is one of the best of these. We leave a few hours after sunset, and so the city is brightly lit all the way around us. A pair of peninsulas encircle the port, sprinkled with glittering lights. The black silhouettes of mountains loom in the background, and I can see the mission's white walls perched inland high above the city. Closer to the ship, I can see the constant flow of vehicles and freight through the port like the pulsing of the city's giant, glowing arteries.
The half an hour or so before departure is filled with noise and vibrations as the ship is made ready to cast off. Massive electric winches whine in the humidity as the dripping nylon cables are hauled aboard. A blast of the horn, a brief rumbling from the stern and bow thrusters, and then sudden silence as the shore takes its first almost-imperceptible shudder. The first moment of freedom feels like an airplane first leaving the runway.
I can see all the cars, trucks, and people scurrying around with their evenings . . . this other world is close enough to touch, but now that we've left the pier it might as well be on another planet. In another hour I will be over the horizon, this world continuing uninterrupted like a coarsely made but unstoppable engine of human energy. We pass the lighthouse park within two hundred yards, so close that I feel like I could touch it. It certainly is within swimming range, if I was of the mind to leap from the ship forty feet into the water. The breeze carries the sounds of Cartagena's nightlife to the ship, the drone of insects and the thump of amplified bass.
Soon, though, we're far offshore. There's a brief pause as the pilot disembarks into a small powerboat, our ship's wake bubbling underneath the stern, and then with a rumble that starts somewhere far below my feet the Lady G digs in and heads for the open ocean. The first ocean roller is impossible to miss – a brief hesitation, and then a deep plunge that you can feel in your stomach before the Lady G finds her stride. I take a final look back at the line of golden lights along the horizon, and then it's back to business as usual. It is a good evening.