This blog is a journey of discovery. For years, I've been told "You need to write, Martha. You've got a book in you!" And I've often responded, "Really? What's it about?" I wasn't being a wiseacre - it was a genuine question. I've long felt that I could, perhaps should write, but I had no idea which of the gillion things going on inside me to write about ...
THIS IS A BELATED POSTING OF A JANUARY 2012 ENTRY.
We were wrapping up five months of hurricane season in and around the beautiful island of Grenada, and making plans for the next part of our journey: sail to Trinidad to haul the boat out for maintenance while we return to the US for a 2-week visit. But it seems there was an entirely different kind of journey in store for us.
On November 10 we along with a group of other sailing friends went for a day of inland adventure to the Seven Sisters waterfalls up in the mountains. We took on an optional adventure of hiking to the top, then jumping down each of a series of falls into their pools. The final waterfall was 35 feet high.
Peter negotiated the jump just fine, but I landed in the water in a very poor position (to say the least). Upon hitting the water, I immediately lost feeling and movement in both of my legs, and knew I had broken my back. After a backcountry evacuation, xrays and MRI showed that I had burst my T12 vertebra, and shards from the rupture were damaging damaging my spinal cord. After 2.5 days in Grenada’s 1950′s era hospital, I was air-ambulanced to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, which has one of the finest spinal treatment centers in the country. I had 2 surgeries to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and repair and reinforce my spine with titanium rods and screws from T9 down to L2, as well as a titanium cage around T12. I’m now doing outpatient rehab and followup doctor visits, with incredible support from Peter.
We are temporarily “at home” at the Residence Inn in Center City, Philadelphia for another month or so. We are surrounded by a network of loving support from their local spiritual family who have made themselves incredibly available and helpful; as well as by visits and support from family and friends from elsewhere, as well as by overwhelming support via email, Facebook, the Caring Bridge site, etc.
The challenges, and especially the great unknown of what the future will look like, are quite intense for both of us; yet there is also immense gratitude for the lessons, the gifts, the loving that are so present. We are intensely grateful for your support and caring, and for the loving hand of God which is so present in all things.
Approximately 1:30 am on Sunday September 11, my husband Peter Branning and I were asleep aboard sv Lightheart, anchored in beautiful and remote Englishman’s Bay, Tobago, along with sv Kookaburra, sv Nouveau Jour and sv Dreams at Sea. We were anchored about 150 yards from the beach, the closest of the four vessels. It was a bright moonlit night, but it was also quite windy and rolly, so the boat was very noisy. The boat was very dark inside, and the moonlight in the cockpit backlit the companionway . Peter had gotten up to go to the toilet, and he almost bumped into a man standing near the companionway, about 12 feet from the forward cabin where we sleep. The man wheeled around raising a lobbed-off machete over his head, poised to strike. Peter instinctively lunged at the man and hit him, and a very brief struggle ensued. Peter was screaming loudly at him while reaching down for his pole spear, at which time the man fled up the companionway and dove overboard. Peter chased him on deck screaming while I grabbed a light to shine on him and also raised our neighboring yachts on the vhf channel we were using for group communications. We sounded airhorns and fired a flare to attract attention, while following the intruder with the spotlight all the way as he swam to shore and disappeared into the woods. Our friends on the other vessels joined in with spotlights and noisemaking, and together we created what was probably a rather chaotic environment for the intruder as he made his escape – but he was a strong swimmer. During all of this, I was trying to raise help on vhf 16, but received no response until a bit later when I was called back by a local gentleman the next back down who happened to be scanning his radio at that hour. He contacted the nearest police station for us, and they came to the bay to investigate.
The intruder had apparently swum or floated to the boat, but either way, he left large puddles of water in the cabin. We don’t know how he boarded, as we had our dinghy strapped to the stern and thereby blocking access, and our boat has very steep and high sides. It’s possible he climbed up the anchor chain. While Peter was on deck, he looked down and fished out of the water alongside the boat a very heavy water-soaked costume that we assume the intruder had planned to wear to frighten us … but it was probably too heavy to wear when he tried to board the boat. It was a very oversized black sweatshirt with glow-in-the-dark skeleton markings on front and back, with a hood that would cover the entire head and face, with mesh eyeholes for visibility.
During our attempt to contact police, we discovered that our iPhones, which had been on the chart table between the companionway and our bedroom, were missing, as was an airhorn that had been in a plastic bag on the bulkhead of the cockpit.
One of our fellow cruisers dinghied Peter to shore (it’s a very steep beach landing) to meet the police. After taking their report, they asked us to come to the police station in the morning to give another report. Through the grace of a tour operator who happened to have brought some tourists to that beach, we were able to get a ride into the town of Moriah, about 30 minutes away, to the police station. After giving more reports, we returned to the Bay and to Lightheart. On the way back, we discussed the possibility that the intruder might have dropped any items he was carrying on his swim back to shore. We, along with our fellow cruisers, jumped into the water, and in short order came up with the knife, which was very close to the boat, and the phones which were about midway to shore, along the intruder’s swim route. The phones were wrapped (quite ineffectively) in the same plastic bag (from a Miami grocery store) that had held the airhorn in the cockpit. The police returned to take these items of evidence. All four vessels left together for Grenada as soon as we could clear customs and immigration.
Peter suffered only minor cuts on the knuckles of his right hand and a bruise on his left arm that appears to be the shape of the butt of the machete. We are very lucky something much worse didn’t happen. Our guess is that the perpetrator’s plan had been to awaken us, frighten us and take our money – he didn’t seem equipped to take anything else with him, and finding our phones on the way to our forward cabin must have just been gravy to him. That said, they also provided a distraction to him (including retrieving the plastic bag and wrapping them) which may well have saved our lives. It’s a small loss in comparison.
We found Tobago to be very beautiful, and Englishman’s Bay in particular is idyllically gorgeous. We were in Tobago only about a week, visiting Buccoo Bay, Store Bay, and Englishman’s Bay, all of which were uncomfortably rolly at best, and at times untenable. We’d planned to stay for several weeks and visit several other anchorages, but all of them are exposed to sea swells which seem to continue marching through. Between the state of the anchorages and the incident at Englishman’s, we were more than ready to return to Grenada early. We met some very kind and caring people with whom we would like to have had more contact (including the gentleman who not only contacted the police but who also has called us at least daily to see how we are doing); but like most places, we also ran into a few very rude people along the way, not the least of whom, of course, was the intruder. Most of the people we talked to after the incident seemed genuinely saddened by the information, and were concerned for us as well as for the commercial impact on them.
Peter and I recognize that we have been pretty happy-go-lucky cruisers, and are now aware that we have been foolishly loose about security. We are already beginning the process of installing security systems, including locking metal grates for our companionway and hatches as well as lights and alarms. We are extremely grateful to the careful reporting of Kate and Allen of Mendocino Queen about their incident in the Cays, which kept us very conscious of the need to raise a ruckus as soon as we could. We are exceedingly grateful to our fellow travelers in Tobago whose tremendous help and TLC were so easily and thoroughly given. We are grateful for the bonding that has occurred among all of us, and particularly between Peter and me. We also are grateful for whatever divine intervention may have assisted in keeping our losses so small. We intend to continue cruising undeterred, albeit with heightened awareness and diligence.
We’d been in Grenada for about five weeks, and we (I in particular) were getting a little restless. After five months of sailing to a new location every few days, being anchored in one spot was feeling a little strange. I’d heard that the “little sister” island to the north, Carriacou (which is part of the nation of Grenada) was having a well-known regatta weekend, with uniquely local festivities in addition to the sailing. We decided to go, just to have a change in scenery and to sample the local culture. As the weekend drew closer, we heard there were to be races for cruising boats as well as local boats, so we decided we’d check into it once we arrived and then make the decision to race or not.
We had a very pleasant trip up to Carriacou, although between adverse winds and currents, we had to motor all but the last few miles. We caught a fish along the way, which always makes the ride more fun. We arrived in Tyrell Bay in the late afternoon, and shortly after dropping our hook, the most amazing sunset began to unfold. It continued shapeshifting and morphing for quite a long time, and was a wonderful counterpoint to our Grenada anchorage which is surrounded by mountains except to the south – meaning we hadn’t seen a sunset in over a month!
The next day, despite a remarkable lack of information and organization, we were able to track down a “skippers meeting” for the cruisers’ regatta, and learned that there would be three races, the first being a double-handed round-the-island race, the others fully crewed round-the-bouys races. We registered for only the first one, and got excited as we planned for how to turn our house into a racing machine. We’d only raced Lightheart a couple of times before, only once double-handed, never in unfamiliar waters, and NEVER with a full load of fuel, water, equipment and household goods to support our liveaboard lifestyle. We offloaded what we could and secured everything else. We’d debated about whether to use the working jib (very easy when you’re shorthanded and just about the right size in moderate-to-strong breezes) or the big jib (excellent for light air, but a big handful that can easily overpower the boat in strong breezes). Changing sails on Lightheart is no small task, so once we made the decision to take down the working jib and hoist the big one, there was no turning back. Our friends Jamie and Keith from s/v Kookaburra came over to help us make the change. During the night we were awakened by what is ridiculously referred to as “a freshening breeze.” That means the wind started howling. We got ourselves back to sleep only by convincing ourselves that the wind would die down as soon as the sun started warming the air in the morning.
We were up with the sun and with the wind still howling, but the looming 8:30 start, plus the near impossibility of having enough time to change back to the smaller sail, allowed us to maintain our illusion that the wind really would lay down soon. Maybe. We hoped. We stripped down the cockpit, tied our dinghy to a friend’s boat, and headed off to the starting line. We made a few practice maneuvers and tracked the countdowns. Boats were starting in three different classes at three different times, and the result was qutie a bit of chaos around the line. We got off with an unimpressive 3rd in our class, but in no time at all Peter was able to outmaneuver the two boats in front of us.
We rounded the first mark, The Sisters rocks, well ahead of all others and started gaining on the boats in the class that started before us. But as we sailed along the northwest side of the island, the currents and winds became increasingly fierce. We’d reefed the main, but we were still seriously overpowered by our big jib. Peter was able to keep control of the boat, but just barely. With each tack, I was bounding up to the foredeck to skirt the jib (bring the bottom inside the lifelines), and it took all the strength I had just to keep my footing. The other boats were spreading out all over the water, and we could no longer determine which boats were in our class and which weren’t. Some were trying to sail in close to the island to avoid the current, which required repeated tacking to maintain a very tight upwind position. Others headed out further to gain more speed – some going so far that we wondered if they’d decided to ditch the race to go spend the day sipping rum at Union Island. We’d elected to head offshore initially, but the current was piling up the seas, and Peter sensed there’d be a helpful wind shift if we moved closer to land. Lightheart can point pretty high, so even though it would mean multiple tacks and therefore a lot more work and uncertainty, we headed in. It was a great call. Peter was at the helm and working the jib. I was on the main and foredeck, and Peter and I both worked the jib on the multiple tacks. Between tacks I was analyzing the charts trying to discern just how close we could get to those rocks … to that reef … to that wreck.
Finally we rounded the northernmost corner of the island and saw only two boats ahead of us. We had no idea which class they were in, but they both seemed to be taking a track we liked through the obstacle course that is that shoreline. We followed; but with Peter’s skill at working the windshifts, we soon were right upon s/v Spirited Lady, a sleek, new 56 ft sloop that looked every bit an all-out racer . As we turned down the west coast, we ran parallel to the reefs just off the island. There are several sets of reefs, and finally Spirited Lady took a more conservative course than we – and we shot ahead. Meanwhile the other boat, s/v Saga which turned out to be not in our class, took an even less conservative route through the reefs than we. She cut some corners that we were unwilling to cut, and came in first across the line, only a few minutes ahead of us. The cliffs just before the finish line sent us a chaotic combination of gusting, dying, twisting winds; but we came across the line as fast as we could, and significantly ahead of all the other boats. We’d had a wonderful race, full of challenge and excitement, and we’d worked together extremely well as partners and teammates. We re-anchored the boat, re-attached our awnings, and celebrated our experience with lunch and a nap. As it turned out, with corrected time, we ended up in first place anyway…but we didn’t know that until many hours later when we elbowed our way through a well-lubricated crowd of sailors at a local bar to find the smudged handwritten results posted near the race sponsor’s rum concession.
While I enjoyed the race immensely, I wanted to have more experience of Carriacou itself than just racing with other cruisers. But the racing bug had bitten Peter, so he signed up for the rest of the races and rounded up some pals who’d expressed interest in crewing: Keith of s/v Kookaburra, Brandon of s/v SolMate, and Kevin of s/v Sabbaticus. They’re all big strong guys, totally willing to do whatever was asked of them, and they made up a dandy crew for the second race. This race started on the northwest side of the island near Hillsborough, rounded several bouys and rocks and ended back in Tyrell Bay. I can’t report on the details since I wasn’t aboard, but our guys won it handily, not only in class but also overall. Meanwhile, I and the other crews’ wives had headed off to town. We stopped at a nearby beach from which we could see Lightheart and a few other boats off in the distance as they made their rounds. When we got into town we watched some of the local festivities unfolding, had ice cream and lunch (in that order), did some shopping, and made our way back to Tyrell Bay just as Lightheart came back to her anchor. The girls had had a great time, and the guys did too – and did a wonderful job of turning Lightheart back into our home after the race! We had barbequed chicken ashore, then fell asleep early by tuning out, as best we could, the loud soca music coming from a local bar. These island folks have an amazing tolerance, not to mention love, for intensely repetitive music that Peter refers to as machine gun music. It’s a good description for the battering my head feels when it’s loud.
We found the official results posted the next morning on a post in front of a local rum shop (is there a theme here?) The day was a “layday” for cruising racers before the third and final day of racing, with the festivities focused on the local boats’ races and other events. We took a bus back into Hillsborough to check it all out. There were donkey races scheduled for later in the day, a greasy pole contest, and some other rather lurid sounding events. We happened to catch of bit of the thread-the-needle competition, where a team of lads run a distance, then stop and thread a needle while panting heartily. More dramatically, we watched the local boats race, and they were really something.
There were loads of them, in loads of different classes; and they started from the beach, with big guys pushing the boats out into the water, then jumping on as the boats take off. It was exciting and fun to watch. After the first round of races, Peter happened to see a bamboo pole lying on the beach. Most of the local boats have bamboo spars, and we’d been inspired a few weeks before by the notion of making a bamboo whisker pole (that’s a pole that can hold the foresail out rather perpendicular to the boat – very helpful when sailing downwind). Peter inquired around until he found the owner of the pole who willingly gave it to Peter as soon as he learned Peter planned to use it to race. He found a guy with a pickup truck who was willing to drive us back to our anchorage, toting the 20-foot pole out the window.
We stowed it the woods behind the rum shop nearest to our boat and went back to town to enjoy more of the festivities. Shortly after arriving, however, the heavens opened up with rain and wind, and the day’s remaining events were cancelled. So back we headed to our anchorage, this time with Keith and Jamie. They have a hardshell dinghy and were able to easily transport our new whisker-pole-to-be across the water to Lightheart. As the sun fell, we four worked together to cut the pole to the right length, assemble suitable hardware from the two boats’ spare parts supplies, and rig it up ready to work.
The next dawned heavy and rainy with not much wind; but we had a full and excited crew ready to sail: the four guys from Saturday, plus Jamie and me, plus Kevin’s 15-year-old son Conner. Peter assigned us each our stations and duties, and off we headed to the startline off Hillsborough. As the race began, Peter saw a windshift opportunity that the other boats seemed to be missing; and in no time at all we’d passed the entire fleet, including the vessels in the class that started 10 minutes ahead of us. We were dizzy with the fun and excitement. Shortly afterward, though, we made a tactical error, and other boats started catching up. As we began to squeeze between a reef and an island, another boat moved up just a few yards away, and it was clearly time for our new secret weapon, the bamboo pole.
Our hearty crew attached it to the sail and to the mast, then Peter posted Connor to sit on the pole as a foreguy to keep it low, and Keith to stand against the boom as a preventer, to keep it out to the other side. Zip zip, we were off and running and squeezed our way around the island, leaving more and more distance between us and the other boats. We were gleefully headed into Tyrell Bay, where a turn was to be made before heading back out around the rocks again. As we entered, a huge gust of wind hit us, requiring us to ease the main rapidly. I didn’t do it fast enough, and the boat rounded up and almost stalled. We did a 360 which was the fastest way to get our boat out of the stall – our nearest competitors must have thought we’d gone nuts! They seized the opportunity to come up fast upon us. We were determined, though, and we managed to pull out and just eke by them to cross the mark first. To our surprise, a horn sounded, indicating the end of the race – the race committee had decided to shorten the race due to deteriorating weather conditions. There were high five’s and hugs all around as we brought Lightheart back to anchor. On corrected time, it turns out we came in second in that race; but I’m sure no boat had more fun than we did.
That evening there was a closing awards ceremony and dinner, with prizes donated by regional chandleries and other vendors. Lightheart won our class overall, as well as 2 of the 3 races; plus had the fastest time of all the boats in every class. Peter was on his feet every 5 minutes collecting another prize. We got so much loot that we spread it out on the table so that our crew could each take some booty home too. I must say, winning is fun!
I’d never liked racing much in the past. It’s always seemed to bring out the absolute worst in people, and I preferred just to avoid it. But Peter was SO good-natured and such a good coach, in addition to being an extraordinarily good racer. His years of experience plus his innate sense of the sea and weather, of the effects of the most minute tweakings of the sail or the helm, and of all manner of strategy and tactics are just awesome. And with all of that, he made the enjoyment and wellbeing of the crew of paramount importance. I know I speak for the whole crew in saying what an honor it was to race with him, and what a pleasure it was as well. I think we just might want to do it again!
The most recent issue of the Caribbean Compass has a story about the regatta, and you can see it here:
“For the foreseeable future.” That’s our reply when people ask us how long we’ll be in Grenada, or even how long we’ll continue cruising. We’ve been in Grenada almost two weeks, and cruising almost five months. We’re here and cruising for the foreseeable future, because that’s all we can foresee. I looked up “foreseeable future” online this morning: “As far into the future as can be determined, based on what is known now,” says the Macmillan Dictionary. “For as long as you can imagine or plan for,” say the Cambridge and Longman dictionaries. If you’d asked me how long a time a year ago, I would have said months, years, even decades. But “the foreseeable future” has a very different meaning for me these days.
Out here on the watery prairie, my ability to imagine and plan for the future has changed.
I discover daily, hourly, moment-by-moment how very much I don’t know about what I don’t know. I discover that time changes, knowledge changes, and conditions change. I find that weather and other natural conditions cause me to miss a planned stop at an island I wanted to go to, or to stay longer than planned at another. I discover that my plans for today are changed because a boat repair has to be done, or there’s an offer to go snorkeling or hiking. I discover that I sleep longer (hallelujah!) and different hours (earlier on both ends) than I did on land. I discover that tonight’s dinner menu may change depending on what fish we catch – or don’t catch – today. Or on who radios with an invitation to come by for sundowners and a snack. I discover that an intended anchorage is different from we expected and may not be something we want after all, or that another place has different services and conditions that we might want instead. Or that Grenada may not be the best hurricane hidey-hole after all, and we should consider Trinidad instead.
I thought I’d be ready for a visit back to the US right about now, but it turns out I’m not at all. I can’t imagine, let alone plan for, what it would be like to want to return for a visit and certainly not full-time, so I’m here and cruising for the foreseeable future. If you asked me to define “the foreseeable future” today, I’d probably say about two weeks, tops, because that’s about as far in the future as I can imagine these days.
But really I think the foreseeable future is “jus’ now.” Caribbean islanders are known for saying “jus’ now” when you ask how long something will take, or when something will happen. In practice, “jus’ now” simply means “whenever it happens.”
For someone with the background and training I have, there’s a lot of letting go that’s required to live “jus’ now.” Here on the islands and in the water, however, it’s rather natural – and also rather necessary. It’s made easier by the fact that I’d already done a great deal of preparation for all kinds of now’s that I could imagine; but there are so many more kinds of “now” that I could never have imagined. What really allows me to live “jus’ now” is the willingness to let go of whatever I happen to be holding onto in this moment. Then the only moment is now.
Then the only foreseeable future is the one I am in “jus’ now.”
This much-delayed entry is a simple travelogue of the highlights of the first three months in the Caribbean. It’s long … but there was a lot of territory to cover! Hope you enjoy it!
BVIs: We arrived in Tortola the first week in March, and took a few days to do boat repairs and then to scout the islands for our upcoming Captains Courageous adventure.We’d never sailed the BVIs before, so there was a lot to discover about routes, available activities, locations, and so on. When our crew arrived, we started in Soper’s Hole, on Tortola and then visited Jost van Dyke, Norman Island, Virgin Gorda, Cooper Island and Beef Island. After crossing the wide open seas from Miami to the BVI’s, sailing around the closely-clustered islands seemed almost like lake sailing. We were very happy to be in warm tropical waters and to be surrounded with the verticality of the islands. More photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/CaptainsCourageousBVI032011?feat=directlink
After Captains Courageous, Peter and I spent a few more days in the BVIs waiting for a weather window to make our way south. The next logical stop is St. Martin, but under most conditions it is a hard-on-the-nose overnight crossing through the Anegada Passage (often referred to as the “ohmygodda passage”). So we headed off south, having decided that we would take the easiest point of sail that was available to us through the night – and then decide the next day whether to land at St. Martin or elsewhere. We had a beautiful sail, and morning found us midway between St. Eustatius and Saba. Saba has an almost mystical appeal to it, rising as it does as a singular rock almost straight up out of the ocean; so we made a left turn, delightfully accompanied by a pod of whales, and sailed over to Saba.
SABA:Saba was as magical as we hoped. Very vertical, super clean, with friendly folk and amazing views. It so reminded me of some mountain villages I’ve visited in Europe, that I found the tropical overlay almost incongruous. The people, mostly of Dutch descent, are very self-reliant and industrious and have famously built themselves a road over the island that the Dutch government told them couldn’t be done (so an islander took a correspondence course in engineering, and designed the road which then his fellow islanders jumped in and built over a course of 15 or 20 years). A similar process happened with construction of their tiny airport, which is said to be more like landing on an aircraft carrier than on land. We were enchanted with Saba, but the only way to “be there” on a boat is to be on a mooring in very deep water, on a very long mooring pennant, and with intense catabatic blasts coming down the mountainside. After a couple of days of 20-30-knot gusts from every direction, Peter discovered that the mooring lines had wrapped around our keel and started sawing through it, so we took that as a sign that it was time to leave. More pictures here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/Saba?feat=directlink
ST. MARTIN: We headed north on a bounding reach to St. Martin (how lovely to be having such easy sails!), and rounded the southwestern end to make our way into Marigot Bay. St. Martin is half French, half Dutch, and is a wonderful example of cooperation and sharing resources. When crossing the island by land, the only way you know you’ve crossed an international border is seeing a small decorative sign that either bids you “bienvenue” or “wilkommen.” Marigot is on the French side, and Francophile that I am, I was immediately swept into bliss as we entered the harbor and I could see the typically French architecture on the waterfront. I almost cried tears of joy when I first stepped into a French supermarket. Almost every day found me contentedly munching croissants and good French coffee as I practiced my French and used the café’s wifi. It was a wonderful place to be. More St. Martin photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/WeddingWeekStMartinVol1?feat=directlink
St. Martin was also wonderful because it was our wedding location. We rented a villa up in the hills overlooking Baie Rouge, and 14 wonderful friends and family members joined us for the festivities. It was an amazing week of loving, sharing, playing, exploring and celebrating. Our “guests” turned out to be our angels, who took charge of the event by “giving” us our wedding as their gifts to us. We had insisted that their coming to St. Martin was gift enough, but everyone seemed to want to do more – so they bought groceries, they cooked meals, they found wedding cakes, they made bouquets, they took photos and videos, they counseled and held our hands, they prepared an amazing wedding feast, they officiated the wedding ceremony and “facilitated” the whole celebration. That wedding gift process had started even before the wedding with a friend in Miami making me a fabulous beach-y wedding dress as a gift; and just as we arrived at the villa, a gorgeous arrangement of white tropical flowers arrived as a gift from other friends back in the states. One of the greatest gifts during the wedding week was how our friends and family bonded together to create such a sense of community and friendship – folks easily joined together to play cards,lie around the pool, go to the beaches, explore the islands, go sailing, explore the local market, and so on. The connectedness was gorgeous. Peter and I just basked in their generosity, their goodness and their friendship. AND we had the most wonderful wedding anyone could dream of. Thank you, thank you, a million thank-you’s to you who made it all happen.
STATIA, ST. KITTS & NEVIS: Our friends Judy and Ken Pendleton from Alaska were among the wedding party in St. Martin and celebrated their 45th anniversary the day before our wedding! They are back on land after having cruised the Sea of Cortez for 4 years. We spent a glorious week aboard their s/v Nellie Juan there a few years ago and were delighted to have the join us for a week of Caribbean cruising right after the wedding. The weather wasn’t cooperating very well, so we didn’t get a lot of sailing done. But we did make it to St. Eustatius for one night – the whole leeward side of the island seems to be nothing but a gigantic fuel terminal, so we headed for more amenable cruising grounds early the next morning. We found ourselves in St. Kitts and Nevis for the rest of their visit – two islands making up a single nation, and we truly enjoyed our time there. On St. Kitts we took an island tour that took us on a hike through the rain forest, on a visit to the formidable restored fort on Mt. Brimstone, and a drive around the beautiful windward side of the island. We had a great time with these two quite extraordinary people!
On Nevis we ran into wonderful acquaintances from the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Dudley and Becky aboard s/v Altair. They were making their way north back to Miami after several years of sailing the Caribbean, and it was wonderful to reconnect and hang out with them. Dudley was a big help to Peter in repositioning the mast in the step and tuning the rig. We’re learning that cruisers are like that – they just jump in and help wherever help is needed. It’s a wonderful thing! More photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/StKittsNevis?feat=directlink
Peter’s son Tom arrived, and we headed off southeast with plans to stop at Montserrat, the island with the very alive volcano that destroyed the capital and most of the southern half of the islands just a few years ago. Anchoring in Montserrat, however, is a challenge when there’s a northerly swell, and the closer we got, the bigger the swell. So we skirted the southern end of the island and were awestruck by the very visible lava flow that engulfed buildings up to their rooflines. The volcano was emitting sulphurous gasses that day, as I gather it does most days, and we felt happy with our decision to continue on to Guadeloupe. We galloped through a cloud of volcano smoke and then a line of squalls, and got into Deshaies, on the northwest coast, just before sundown.
GUADELOUPE: Guadeloupe is French (bonjour encore!), and it includes the western island of BasseTerre which is separated from its eastern neighbor Grande Terre by a saltwater river. On the map, the two islands look like wings of a butterfly. Despite their names, Basse Terre is very mountainous, and Grande Terre is more low-lying. Guadeloupe also includes a few other islands which I’ll mention later. Deshaies is a lovely little village on Basse Terre in a small, protected harbor. It’s very quaint and picturesque. We made an early morning trip ashore to do our customs/immigration process and of course to find croissants and café au lait. We decided to rent a car to drive up into the rain forest. We weren’t equipped with good maps or information, so we just took off exploring. We stopped first at a rain forest zoo and had a wonderful walk among the tropical animals and plants, some in rather natural settings, and had a great time walking on swinging bridges through the forest canopy.
Afterwards, we decided to drive into The Big City, Pointe-a- Pitre, to find a chandlery. Poor Peter, with not much experience of driving in mountains, and even less of driving among French drivers, found himself constantly frustrated by trying to negotiate the twisty mountain roads, in the rain, while local drivers ran right up his tail impatiently urging him to pull over. He did an amazing job of it. As we neared the city, we found ourselves on a freeway with intense amounts of traffic, and I can’t tell you what a shock it was after our very slow-paced 2 months at sea and on very small islands. We could hardly wait to get out of town! When we did, we drove the road along the northern edge of Basse Terre, and stopped at the Rum Museum for a tour. What a hard life those early sugar plantation workers – slaves – must have had. More Basse Terre photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/GuadeloupeMiscellaneousSpots?feat=directlink
Marie-Galante: I left Peter and Tom on Basse Terre for some one-on-one man-time, and I ferried over to Marie-Galante, another island of Guadeloupe, and one of my favorite places from a prior visit. Unfortunately, the rain was continuing, so I had a very wet tour of the islands in my little rented car. Marie-Galante is unique – it’s fairly low and very agricultural, and in many ways it seems like time has stopped a long time ago. Lots of produce is grown there, but sugar cane is still its main crop and main industry. It’s said to be the island of 100 windmills, and surely that’s true. Most of them are in ruins, and only a couple are still operational, but it’s quite an experience to see so many of them in whatever condition. But Marie-Galante is full of contrast – on one hillside I found a huge array of another type of windmills – spanking new state-of-the-art electricity-producing windmills. On yet another hillside I found a sprawling array of solar panels. It’s surprising to me that more islands haven’t done the same thing.
Meanwhile, Peter and Tom remained a couple of days in Deshaies and spent time snorkeling, free-diving and beachcombing. On the third day they brought Lightheart around to Pointe-a-Pitre so that Tom could have easy access to the airport for an early morning flight home. I ferried back and met Peter there, and we quickly moved the boat away from the congestion and dirty water to a sweet little anchorage off Islet du Gosier. There we saw the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen. The photo doesn’t do it justice.
Peter was eager to visit Marie-Galante, and I was more than ready for a return trip in sunshine; so off we went, dodging fish traps every step of the way. We stopped in the sweet little bay of Anse Canot. We anchored and jumped off Lightheart for a long leisurely snorkeling tour of the bay. We’d had really disappointing snorkeling on our trip so far; and although the reef and fish were nothing compared to what we regularly saw last year in the Bahamas, there was still enough to make it interesting and fun. Plus, after two weeks of rain, rain, rain, it was wonderful to be in warm clear water with the sun providing good visibility. As the afternoon drew to a close, we motored south and anchored at Saint Louis, the oldest settlement on Marie-Galante.
St. Louis was home to a big regatta in recent years, and a fabulous dinghy dock was built to accommodate the racers. We took advantage of it as the perfect place (on the perfect island) to bring our bikes ashore; and after of course being duly reinforced by croissants and café au lait at the local patisserie, set off for a bike ride around the leeward coast of the island. It was a magical day, riding along country roads of beautiful pastoral scenery. We stopped to explore the ruins of a couple of old sugar plantations (and to bless the lives of those who’d lived and worked there). We had an amazing fruit and fish salad on the beach at Cappesterre. We said hello to cows and pigs and goats grazing along the roadsides.We rode up and down and up and down, on main roads and country sideroads. A highlight of the day came in the late afternoon. We’d just seen a field worker chopping sugar cane by hand in the old-fashioned way. as we rode on, we were startled by a thunderous clomping sound and looked over to see a team of 2 enormously powerful oxen coming to a sudden halt as they pulled an old-fashioned wooden sugar cane cart, wooden wheels and all, heading back from delivering a load of cane to the processing mill. It was an amazing step back in time, that left us shaking our heads in amazement. We arrived back in St. Louis just about at sundown. Tired and happy, we reloaded our bikes back onto Lightheart and readied ourselves for the next morning’s sail to Iles des Saintes. More Marie-Galante photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/GuadeloupeMarieGalante?feat=directlink
Iles des Saintes: The Saints are a terrific collection of little islands that, unlike the rest of Guadeloupe, never had plantations and therefore never slavery. And unlike many Caribbean islands, it’s been French almost entirely since it was colonized (rather than being violently traded back and forth between the French and English fighting each other for Caribbean dominance). The locals are largely descendants of early fishers and sailors from Brittany, and the heritage is quite present. The main town is on the larger of the two inhabited islands, Terre d’en Haut, and is named, appropriately enough, Bourg des Saintes. It is such a quaint place with clear gorgeous waters, excellent hikes ( and views from high up in the hills), easy access and services for cruisers, and a town center that makes it easy to feel very much like you’re in a French fishing village plopped down into the Caribbean – which in fact you are. The only downside I found was the harsh rolling wakes from fast ferry boats bringing tourists over from the big Guadeloupe islands in the mornings and returning them in the afternoons. We learned to keep everything on Lightheart fastened down (like we do when at sea) so nothing would go airborne when the ferry wakes hit. But to me, it was a small price to pay. We anchored just a few yards from a wreck and we dove on it every day. The water was clean and clear enough that jumping in for a snorkel or swim required no forethought or preparation. It gave Peter the opportunity to work on his freediving skills (he’s amazing at it!) and for me to begin developing some skills (I got down to 30 feet). We hiked up to the top of the island where a fort has been restored (these islands are full of forts, thanks to the aforementioned French/English rivalry that seemed to be all the rage back in the day). The views were astonishing, and I just couldn’t stop snapping shots of the anchorage down below. We had some great food there too, as well as connecting with some old and new cruiser friends. We stayed there almost a week, and then decided it was time to head to the wildest, poorest, arguably most beautiful, and most ecologically protected island: Dominica. More Isles des Saintes photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/LesSaintesGuadeloupe?feat=directlink
DOMINICA: Dominica (pronounced Do-min-EEK-ah, and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) has very little going for it economically except agriculture and its astonishingly gorgeous environment. Fortunately, it has a government that’s serious about protecting and promoting both. Dominica provides much of the produce for the nearby islands. In fact, the fruit, vegies and flowers that we bought at the market in St. Martin were all brought over by industrious Dominicans who fly their products over every Friday night and set up stalls in the market there on Saturday. I’d visited Dominica with Captains Courageous back in 1990 and had considered it my favorite island, so I was thrilled to be returning on Lightheart.
We sailed through pounding rain to get there, and when we arrived in Portsmouth Harbour, the water was as muddy as any inland lake you can imagine. It seems the rains that morning had pushed the rivers out of their banks, and all of the 5 or so that open into the bay had dumped massive amounts of mud and debris into the bay. You could imagine yourself walking on a floating platform of coconuts! It was still pouring rain as we found a mooring ball and then retreated into the cabin to get dried off. Later the skies cleared and I was able to go ashore with Alexander, a/k/a “Macaroni” to clear customs. He picked a pocketful of fresh guavas for me on the way back, something I’d never had before. Yumm! The next morning, Macaroni took us in his boat up the Indian River. It was still quite murky, but it was an amazing piece of nature. The birdsongs were a constant musical accompaniment to the outrageous colors of flowers and the dances performed by landcrabs and a few freshwater crabs. The trees formed overhead arches, giving a cathedral feel for added drama. We stopped at a rustic little encampment upstream where we could hike around, feed birds and drink passionfruit juice (double yum). We finished the day with a walk through the village during which we stopped to watch a local soccer match. What a beautiful way to start our Dominican adventure!
The next day we hiked up a hilltop and visited yet another fort. I’m not big on forts, but those guys sure knew how to pick real estate with the best views. Later on in the bay, we connected with more cruisers, some we knew, most we didn’t. We found two other couples with whom to do an island tour, so the next day we (along with Ed and Vicki on s/v Boto and Markus and Marta and baby Fox, a young Swedish family aboard s/v Mazarin) piled into a minivan and headed off across the northern part of the island through amazing mountain terrain, with Macaroni giving commentary and repeatedly jumping out of the van to harvest some local something for us to sample. The scenery was so gorgeous that we almost became numb to it. We stopped for walks and hikes and lunch, we hiked through a rainforest to a waterfall, we hiked to another waterfall through some wonderfully rich land that provided us with loads of pineapple, mango, grapefruit, limes, nutmegs, cashew fruit, lemongrass, cinnamon bark and bay leaves. Wow – what a feast for the senses. Our last stop was a national park in a rain forest that was overwhelming in the size and architecture of the trees and other flora. We arrived just at sundown and had the place to ourselves. It was an excellent time to visit, as the treefrogs, crickets and nightbirds were all warming up for their evening concert. What a symphony!
After a bit more time in Portsmouth, we decided to explore the southern part of the island. We sailed down to Roseau, but the anchorage there is quite exposed and the ocean swell was more than we were willing to endure for more than one night. So we decided that for sure we’ll return another time to Dominica to visit the parts we missed, and we sailed south. Dominica is the southernmost of the Leeward Islands, and we headed (back to France!) to Martinique, the northernmost of the Windwards, where our next update will begin. More photos here: https://picasaweb.google.com/highergroundcaptainscourageous/Dominica?feat=directlink
NATURE: On every island, we have met Nature in so many forms. There’s the water, of course, and the life that inhabits the water. But on land, there is verticality, there’s aridity on the leeward sides and lushness on the windward sides. There are flowering trees, fruits and vegies that we never heard of as well as those that are familiar. There are animals everywhere: goats roam all the mountainsides, roosters and hens are on every road, mongooses (mongeese?) are on some islands, monkeys on others. There are wondrous birds, large and small, that are local to specific islands, and brown boobies seem to be everywhere as are frigate birds. Everyday there’s the bleating of goats, the crowing of roosters and the total absence of the sound of leaf-blowing machines (thank the Lord!). Every night, the melodic sound of tree frogs mingles with the chirping the crickets local to each particular island, and they lull us to sleep. What a wonder it all is.
All we’re missing is fish on the ends of our fishing lines! But we’re sure we’ll have some of those sometime soon, and meanwhile we’ll be putting together a slide show of flora and fauna. We’ll let you know when it’s up.
We are so blessed to be on this journey. Despite how wonderful it is, I will assure you that this is NOT an easy life we’ve chosen. Everything is new, everything requires new skills, new adaptations, new understanding. Peter calculated recently that we spend about 4 hours a day, 4 days a week just working on the boat…at a minimum. But we wouldn’t trade it for anything, and we’re so grateful that we seem to be more and more creating and having just the kind of experiences we were hoping for (as well as those we couldn’t possibly have imagined). We are beyond grateful.
Do let us hear from you! We love having your comments and knowing that you’re sharing our trip with us.
BLAMMMMM! SHPPPTTTTTTRRRRRRRDDDDDDD.WHOOOOSHHHHH.THUDDDDDDD. Ohgeez it’s still blowing hard, the waves are still huge and coming from multiple directions, and whoever is on the helm is driving her hard. From my bunk in the forepeak it sounds like the boat is coming apart piece by piece. SCREEEEEEEEEEECCCCHHHHHHPOPOPOPOPOP. Dang, I hope Lightheart can survive this kind of sailing. For that matter, I hope I can.
BBBBBANNNGGGWHOOOSHSPLATTTT! Ouch! Okay, gotta get the rest of my gear on. Lurch upstairs for my watch. Phew, it’s chilly up here. CLINKKKKCLUNK. Clipped in now. Okay I can do this. Course is 085? Okay, so what else is new, we’ve been here for an eternity. Okay, got the wheel now. Ughhh, waves are as sloppy as they were on my last watch. OhNoOhNoOhNoOhNo —-SSSSPPPPPLLLLLLLSSSSSHHHHH! Okay, made it down that wave on the other side without pounding. Good. Time for a deep breath. Okay, settling down. Always takes me a few minutes to get in the groove, in the rhythm with the waves moving me offcourse. Is everybody this sloppy when they first take the wheel? Yeah I think so, everyone but Peter. He takes the helm and Lightheart just purrs “ahh there you are my beloved Master, what do you want me to do for you?” The rest of us just thrash our ways through it and eventually settle down to more or less on course.
WHAMMMMM! Damn, I couldn’t see that wave that just picked us up and slammed us down. I try to steer around them, with them, as much as I can, but it’s so bloody dark I can’t see anything. It’s like running full speed on a road you don’t know wearing a blindfold. PHLOOOOOSH! Ohgoody I felt that one coming and slid down it rather than it slamming us. Course? Oh forgot the course, oh there it is, 085. Of course. Bloody 085 up here on the 27th bloody parallel. When oh when can we ever turn south and catch the tradewinds? Maybe we should just decide right here and now that Cape Verde is our destination instead. BLAMMMM! Ugh, missed BLAMMMMM! both of those. Okay, course, back on course, got it. There it is, hard to hold in this slop. Need a star to steer by. Stars? Gajillions of them overhead, but every single one in front of us is obscured by a cloud. Cloud? Oh yeah, better look at those clouds for weather. Are they coming this way? Are they packing a punch, packing rain, packing a royal pain in the you-know-what? Phoo, I can’t read the stupid clouds. Master & Commander Peter can tell you pretty much what each one of them has up its sleeve, but I can’t. My specialty is West Texas tornado-producing clouds. Still haven’t learned these marine clouds, try as I might.
BLAMMMMM! PPPPHHHHHTTTTT! SHDDDDRRRRRRRR! Ohhhhh, that one was hard. Okay now, concentrateYoucandothisOkayOkayOkay. Upupupuupupup,angle off. Sliiiiiiide down, nice. Phew. Hey, a star! There’s a star for me to watch and steer by. Okay, now getting easier. Relaxxxxxxxx. Damn! What happened to my star? Okay, back to the compass. My wavy track is being recorded on the chartplotter…proof that I can’t steer the damn boat. Ijustcan’tdothis. Thisisjusttoohard. WhoeverthoughtIcoulddothisanyway. I feel like I’m all alone out here in the middle of the Atlantic f-ing Ocean. Amazing how much distance there can be within a 40-foot structure. GRRRRGGGGGLLLLLLLLL, SPLATTTT! Okay, that one’s not too bad. I can do this. What time is it? How much longer? Who’s up next? I don’t remember the order, don’t know who to wake up to take over. Hey, there’s a star again. Nice, line it up between the shrouds. Yeah, that works. Oh yeah, clouds. What about the clouds? Ah, no big deal, they’re dissipating. Wait a minute what’s that light on the horizon? Wow, it’s projecting a huge glow, must be a cruise ship. No, too big…and I can’t tell which way it’s moving. Ooooh, it’s getting closer for sure, cuz it’s getting bigger and brighter. Wait a minute, is it a town? On an island? They’re aren’t any islands out here. Are we that far off? No, can’t be, I checked our position before coming on watch. Wow, so bright, so orange.
BLAAAAMMMMMGURRRRRGGGGLLLLESSSSPLAAAAAAAATTT! Ugh, that one was hard enough to wake the dead. Oh yeah, speaking of waking, who’s up next? Wonder if they woke up? Look at that light now! Ohmygosh – it’s the moon! It’s Huge! And Orange! And gorgeous! I’ve never seen it like this until this trip. It’s been amazing every single night. I’m so glad I got to see it come up tonight. Tonight…oh yeah, what time is it? Who’s up next? Who do I call? Oh! Hi! You’re up?? Great. Course is 085. G’night.
It’s a bright sunny day. The sky is blue, trees are soft green, and the air is fresh and warm. I am walking across the campus with a friend towards the law school. We’re talking about a professor in the tax department who’s a bit of a hermit. He has the ability to be the top guy in a big firm, but prefers to stay in his office or just outside it in the hallway working out complex and theoretical tax problems. We’re enjoying chatting about the old guy as we drift up stairs in the old wooden building towards his office….
“Peter…..hey Pete,” a strange voice booms from what seems a great distance. “Pete, you’re up!” An iris in my mind’s eye squeezes shut and my sunny day dissolves into utter darkness – solid black – everywhere. Bouncing, pitching, rolling. I’m suddenly shivering. I struggle to make sense of it. Water thunders past my shoulder. I’m on my back and being tossed about. It’s 3AM and Lightheart, my 40-foot sailboat, is bludgeoning her way upwind on the 27th parallel against steep waves and a roaring wind.
I sit up, trying to steady myself against the sudden plunging, rolling and slamming of the hull. Everything I touch is cold and damp. Feeling my way towards the middle of the main cabin, one hand on the back of the bench and another on the table, I grope in the dark for the cabin sole with my bare feet. Soon I’m standing, holding a small railing with my left hand and pushing against the opposite bulkhead with my right. The boat is slamming violently into each tenth or so wave while pitching and rolling on the others in between. The hull is at a 45-degree angle to the horizon. I feel drunk, hungover and dizzy all at the same time. I can’t see anything.
I have to pee. Staggering back to the head, I brace myself against the blows from bulkheads on either side and try not to lose my footing on the steep angle of the floor. Inside the tiny room I flop onto the toilet, grateful for the walls inches from either shoulder. I turn on the light, rest and gather my thoughts. My body aches. We’ve been at it for over a week now – 24/7. The head won’t flush. We’re on port tack heeled way over, and the intakes for the head, normally below water when the boat is at rest or on starboard tack, are now above water. I can pump it out but there is no water coming in to flush it. It’s been this way for a while. It stinks in here.
Back out in the cabin, I’m lost again in the dark. I try to remember where I left my gear – I stare blankly for a moment trying to recall. Oh yeah, I crammed it under the aft edge of the salon table. I feel for it. Good. I remember carefully stuffing it in the order I took it off hours before. First layers on top. I find my second fleece sweatshirt and pull it on over the one I slept in. The salopets will be next – foul weather gear bib pants with suspenders and wide legs allowing me to get in with my jeans on. I feel the left pocket. Flashlight and multitool still there. Good. I swore after once losing a rudder offshore at night, to always have them. These trinkets make me feel safer, more confident that I can react quickly. I feel for the front of my salopets and squirm to get a leg in.
Lightheart thrashes, challenging my every move. The old saw holds: three (foot/hand combination) for myself and one for the boat…and just barely does it. I wish I had more arms. With the work of about twenty pushups, I get the salopets up and over my torso while bouncing and rolling around the bench. Shrugging the suspenders into place, I reach back for the pile under the table, and get knocked flat on my face. I grope under the table and find my boots – God bless ’em. Soft, deck grabbing soles and warm neoprene around the ankles. Big plastic zippers on the sides. When I finally get a hand down to my ankles, they slide on easily and zip snugly onto my feet and ankles. I love these things.
It’s all pandemonium down here. Lightheart hits a big wave and the hull shudders back through her frames and joints. The creaking and pounding of the hull, the wind outside and the confused rush of water everywhere is deafening. There is no way to keep my balance. I have to hold on, brace and wedge.
We’re 800 miles from land in steep 10-15 ft. waves on a moonless night. It’s blowing 20 knots and gusting more. I’m trapped. I feel angry then calm, frustrated then patient, yet excited for all the adventure. My emotions don’t make any more sense than the crashing of the boat or the random forces shoving me around in the dark. And I’m exhausted. Who can I be mad at? Who can make all this go away? The violence seems so random-so unpredictable and annoying.
I’m getting there-almost to the bottom of the pile. Now for my lousy foul weather jacket. I wish I hadn’t been so cheap as not to replace it before we left. I try to wedge myself against a bulkhead and wrestle my way into this wet, slimy, thick, synthetic rag. I must look like a wild man in here. It feels like I’m in a drunken bar fight. I’m trying to get in a lick but I can’t even keep my balance. Finally, the jacket is more or less on my back. I hope the Velcro will hold since the zipper is shot. All the zippers are shot. Aluminum and salt water – not a good mix. And, whoever thought this crap would breathe air and not water anyway? It’s soaked on both sides, but at least it keeps the big blasts of spray off me and it’s warm.
Now the harness. The self-inflating-upon-water-immersion gadget that fits over my head, around each shoulder and fastens in front with a big plastic snap then two stainless rings held with a stainless snapshackle. Getting it on over the foul weather jacket is a bloody brawl. Sometimes I get it backwards, or one arm goes through the wrong way. It feels like an oxen yoke. I don’t know if I have the strength or patience to get it on. Martha will be upset if I don’t. Falling overboard without a tether in this weather at night is a pretty certain finish.
My arms punch overhead through all my sleeves in the dark. My shoulders wriggle against the two fleece jackets and foul weather jacket, writhing and straining to get the harness on. Finally I pull the sides together, snap it shut, squeezing the tight harness against my chest. The tether with its heavy carabiner swings against my legs. I’m almost ready now. Where the hell is my hat? God, this is exhausting! I grope under the table again trying to keep my face from being thrown into the edge as the boat lunges. Finding the fleece watch cap with my gloves tucked inside, I push away from the table and between jolts, throw myself across the cabin into the nav chair
The screen on the chartplotter dutifully comes alive. We are so far offshore now, that apart from the more or less ESE recorded track of Lightheart, the chart is mostly white. There are only numbers, reflecting the water’s depth -12,000 feet, 14,000 feet, and everything in between. It only takes about 7 feet of water to kill you, but we’ve managed to find ourselves in almost three miles of the stuff.
I see we’ve made a little progress since the last time I was on deck. We’re still barely below the 28th parallel and still hammering our way east hoping to intercept the tradewinds. We haven’t seen another boat for three days. Nothing out here – and nobody.
Well, can’t put it off any longer – not fair to the guys on deck. Gloves on…
Climbing the few steps up the companionway, I see the stars careening across the sky outside as the boat gyrates. A couple of bounces off the sides of the exit passage and I’m out. I grope for the jackline and snap on the carabiner at the end of my tether. Now at least I won’t go overboard in a roundup, rogue wave or broach. I slam down on the upwind cockpit seat – Pat is sleeping on the leeward one. The guy is tough, or just so damn afraid of getting seasick below that he’s willing to put up with it out here. It took him three days to find his feet and I suppose he’s not taking any chances now. Clark and Fletch are both off watch below.
A minute or so on deck and all the confusion below begins to make sense. I feel the rhythm of the waves and the motion of the boat. “How’s it going?” I ask, meaning tell me what is going on with the steering, the sail set and trim and the handling in the waves. Martha briefs me on what she’s had for the last hour or so. Pat chimes in. I shine a light on the sails, maybe a little trim on the jibsheet and the barberhauler. Ease the traveler down a little and loosen the vang to take some punch out of the mainsail. I slide back towards the wheel and look forward past the mast towards the horizon. Do we have stars to steer by or are they hidden by clouds? Finally, I get to my usual post on the windward side, an arms length from the side of the wheel. I watch Martha steer for a bit and check the numbers on the compass. I feel for the pace of the waves and movement of the hull. Finally I reach up and grip the wheel. “I’ve got it,” I tell her. She eases down to leeward, moves forward toward the companionway and around Pat. I hear her carabiner unclip from the jackline. She quietly disappears below. Pat is already asleep.
After two minutes in the presence of other sentient beings, I’m alone again. Here, unlike below, all the movements of the boat make sense. I can see the dark waves rise against the stars as they plow up our windward side and lift us five or ten feet rolling our mast first to leeward and then back to the angle where it’s held by the wind. The bow dips into a wave, and the water comes roaring down the deck towards the cockpit where the coaming keeps it away as it rushes by and drains off the stern. Spray occasionally hits me in the face, but only occasionally. I think about the flying fish that smacked me so hard a few nights before. Not likely to happen again. The water spewing up under the stern and behind the transom occasionally lets out a roar. The stars are bright, the wind is strong. Spray flies up from the bow, and the reflection from the running lights looks for all the world like skyrockets exploding in red and green. It’s a beautiful night.
Sounds now are only of are of the wind and the water abruptly moving as Lightheart carves a path through them toward the east. It defies description. The water moves with relentless force and will. It stampedes everything in its path. It marches by, brushing us out of the way. It throws waves onto our bow and spray over the boat as with a flick of its wrist. It thunders off to leeward like angry elephants, their round backs rising against the low-lit sky and disappearing with the herd.
The wind whistles. In the shrouds, the sails, the rigging around the cockpit, it sings and shouts everywhere that it meets resistance. It pushes and pushes. It holds us down with a force we can’t bargain with. We try to alter it, deflect it, avoid it, but still it comes, and still there is more of it. There is no end to it. It laughs at us. We are nothing compared to its strength and volume. It is limitless. It comes from eternity and goes to eternity, and we are of no concern to it. It sings or whispers or howls as it pleases. It needs no audience, wants no recognition. It just comes because it comes, and goes because it goes. And if we are in its way, fine, and if not, fine. It cares not.
I don’t think about all this. I feel it, I’m in it. It is happening faster than I can make mental notes. Punching through this slop rewards simple intention on the compass heading more than forcefully precise steering. Zero eight zero, zero nine zero, one zero zero – anything near East will do fine. Mostly I sail by feel and the set of the sails. As I sit on the port side of the wheel I use the starboard ninety degree lubber line and check occasionally to be sure it’s near 180 degrees. If the clouds block the stars I’m using, I look to leeward and see if there is something I can line up with the mainsheet or a stanchion on the bimini top. Anything to keep me from having to stare at the compass to keep on course.
I just want to get to the tradewinds. God, how far can it be? When will the winds begin to clock and subside? I want to quit sailing away from the States and begin sailing to the Caribbean. We’ve been slugging away at it for a week now and we are still North of where we began. The 800 miles that have slid under our keel should somehow be worth more.
My watch is uneventful. Clouds occasionally make me switch steering points as the stars peek and hide in the eastern sky. Some spray flies now and then. Sometimes the rush of water down the deck by my side gets surprises me. But mostly the hull, the rig, the crew have all settled into their own routines, as have I. The struggles of getting this voyage underway fade into the distant past. Time rolls on. All the forces have balanced themselves out. Things are as they should be. The night is cool and windy and dark. And Lightheart is dancing, dancing, dancing…..
Well, it’s been a while. The last few months have been a flurry of activity peppered with lots of frustration – if we look at it that way. Or maybe it’s just that the universe just wants us to be ready …really ready… for this voyage.
The biggest surprise has not been the amount of work required to get the boat prepared for 2 years sailing, but the amount of effort and attention required to unplug ourselves from American culture. Changing mailing addresses, setting up sophisticated mail forwarding services, dealing with auto registration, licenses, insurance and storage, moving out of our apartment, getting stuff for the Sarasota house and Miami apartment into storage, dealing with renters in the Sarasota house, organizing health insurance for going offshore, life insurance, property insurance, dealing with property managers, handling bookkeeping and tax issues, redoing email services, phone services, notifying family of contact options and avenues …the list goes on and on and on. I had no idea it would be so endless.
And then there’s the boat: Hauling Lightheart out of the water over a hundred miles from our marina for the installation of the watermaker and the Single Side band radio with a hundred yards of tubes and wires and pumps and receivers, tuners, transmitters, antennas all hidden under floorboards, behind bulkheads and
running fore and aft and athwartships and up the mast; getting the solar panels installed and beefing up the bimini tops and adding regulators, voltmeters and ammeters; getting a third reef in the mainsail (which requires two people to carry) including two trips to the loft in Ft. Lauderdale; recutting the working jib (two trips to the Miami loft); redoing the teak decks; prepping the engines (outboard and inboard) adjusting valves, getting spare starter, relay, impellers, zincs; waxing the hull, the deck, the mast and boom; beefing up our diving gear and underwater artillery inventory.
This is only a fraction of the list….believe me, a fraction.
And now this: water in the transmission oil and a slipping clutch! Just several days before departure we learned that our engine is temporarily kaput and requires major work! We had to arrange for a tow up the Miami River to a Yanmar dealer. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a coach boat from the Canadian Olympic Sailing Team which served admirably as our tug, and three friends joined us for the effort. And, of all things, Biscayne Bay was totally socked in with fog that day – a rare occurrence to say the least. We inched our way along without a compass or GPS on the towboat, using only the Navionics program on my iPhone. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see the markers of Dinner Key Channel or even Rickenbacker causeway until we were just yards away. That after pushing into the unknown in gray mist for 40 minutes with only yards of visibility. Finally, the bridge loomed overhead like a huge, multi-legged animal peering down at us out of the gray, smoky silence.
At that point we brought Lightheart to a stop and shifted to a hip tow, moving the towboat alongside and slightly behind Lightheart so the outboard motor would be well aft of her stern to provide steerage. Then with Martha on the helm of Lightheart and me running the towboat we snaked our way up the Miami River through seven bridges among other traffic. Each bridge required a radio call to the tender and careful timing to try to keep moving with steerage, but not enter until the spans were as high as they could go. The top of our mast is 66 feet off the water so we had to be sure to pass parallel to the spans even if the bridge itself was at an angle to the river. Fortunately, our steerage teamwork was good and we made it all the way without incident.
Our first stop was at Anchor Marine – Yanmar specialists with a shop right on the river. We tied alongside their dock for the night. It was a little spooky with ships and boats passing back and forth a few feet away in this gray, industrial and crime-ridden environment. Next day, the mechanics went aboard and disconnected the transmission from the engine. With their tools and equipment only a few feet from the boat, this phase of the job went quickly. From there, we used one of the shop’s workboats to push Lightheart the rest of the way up the river to the boatyard.
Once at the yard, we slowly and carefully eased Lightheart into the slings of the travel lift and winced as the straps pulled tight and strained against her 19,000 pounds. Soon she was out of the water, blocked with railroad ties under her keel and steel support stands for her hull, ready for serious surgery.
The mechanics clambered aboard and after several hours of work, we learned that the saildrive (the outboard type apparatus that projects underwater below the engine) won’t come out of the bottom of the boat. So the engine had to be unbolted from the bottom of the boat, disconnected from two dozen tubes, wires and gadgets, and muscled forward onto the floor of the salon. Then the transmission and saildrive had to be broken into three pieces, the prop taken off and the saildrive pulled up through the bottom. Finally it was suggested that we take the whole assembly across the state to the southeastern Yanmar distributor for expert work and consultation as to why it failed with so few hours on the engine.
So Martha and I loaded the three parts of the transmission into the back of our Toyota Prius (not exactly a pickup truck) and headed for the west coast of Florida. We’re in Sarasota now on our way back with a Starbucks/Internet break; and I, for one, feel relief. After letting myself get pretty worked up about this whole debacle with its attendant delay, squishing our calendar up against 1200 miles of winter sailing before our March Captains Courageous Seminar in the Virgin Islands, I am finally letting go. We are grateful that this all happened now and not while entering harbor in a developing Caribbean country, in a rough weather, and at night. And finally, I am consoled with the fact that I have done everything I can do about this engine for the present, so I’m turning it over to a higher power. I should have done this a long time ago.
“We’re leaving NOW!” Those are the words I long to say, to hear, to believe … and mostly, to act on. But alas, the more we tick off the to/do list, the more we add to it. The more we get done, the more there is to do. We so wanted to get away before winter’s cold fronts started marching through. We wanted to get south enough to avoid being delayed in various ports by the fronts’ shifting winds and resulting swells. The longer we’re stuck here in Miami, the more we want to get away from the loudness, rudeness and frenetic pace. We read the news and tell each other we can’t wait to get away from our country’s intensifying political/idealogical atmosphere fueled by fear and greed.
And so I whine and complain, complain and whine. And finally I recall a lesson from the Insight I seminar: complaining is a sure sign that either you’re not acting upon a choice that’s available to you, or you’re pretending there’s another choice available although it’s not.
Which is it for me? Both. Partly, I’m pretending that we shouldn’t have so many tasks, that things shouldn’t malfunction, that bureaucracies shouldn’t be so demanding and intrusive, that marine equipment shouldn’t be so expensive, that electronics should operate consistently and easily, that the winds should blow the way we want them to, and on and on the list goes. The antidote? My friend and teacher J-R says “acceptance is the first law of Spirit.” Phew – tall order! An even taller order is another piece of wisdom from J-R: “Love it all.” Love the list, love the malfunctions, love the complications, love the cold fronts, love the culture, love the politics. Love it all. That’s a lot to love, but the mere thought of loving it actually lightens my load. If, as I often say, all is perfect in God’s timing, then all this is perfect too. In fact, it occurs to me that I may be actually slowing things down through my resistance. So I can accept it, embrace it, love it, relax into it. Perhaps my new mantra could be “resist not lest ye be resisted!”
What about the other possibility indicated by my whining and complaining? Is there an available choice I’m not willing to make? Sure there is, the choice to leave NOW, without everything being done. At this point, I’m not willing to accept the consequences of that choice, and so I choose to stay put for now. When I remind myself that I’m choosing this delay (rather than it being done TO me), then I feel lighter, more cooperative, more grateful. With that lighter attitude, I find renewed energy to get the to-do’s done.
When I come into loving, acceptance and recognition of my choices, I start to realize that the time will likely come, sooner than later, when the “must-do’s” are done even though the “should-do’s” are still piling up. Peter and I will check our weather sources and find we’ve got a good weather window to begin our trip. We’ll look at each other and smile, pull in the dock lines, and say “we’re leaving NOW!”
Wishing you many blessings of consciously choosing and loving.