Injured at Queen’s Bath

Warning: there are some graphic footage and photos in this blog.  If you get queasy easily, feel free to read a text-only version of this occurrence here.  

Part Two: As I mentioned in my last blog, what occurred that day in Eleuthera was one of the main reasons Phillip and I ended our cruising season in 2019 early.  While that decision proved wildly advantageous  in the following months—particularly when the unpredictable COVID pandemic began to spread—we did not know it at the time.  All we knew then was: Captain Annie was not in great shape to set off on an offshore passage anytime soon.  I was in need of x-rays, wound care, antibiotics, and months of icing and elevating.  What we know now is: I’m incredibly lucky to still be here, albeit with a new wicked scar that, along with the others, form the chorus that is my story.  Here’s what happened.

December 1, 2019

Phillip and I had just returned from our failed attempt to sail from Spanish Wells, Bahamas on (what was supposed to be) our longest offshore passage yet on the I65 route down to the BVIs.  After we were towed back in, we met another couple, Mike and Melody, who had just sailed into Spanish Wells after a pretty rough Gulf Stream crossing, and had set up a fun joint date to ferry over to Eleuthera on a calm day and explore several attractions Phillip had found in the guide books: 1) the Glass Window; 2) the Queen’s Bath; 3) the Preacher’s Cave; and 4) the Sapphire Blue Hole

The Glass Window did not in any way disappoint.  It’s amazing to think one tiny little cleft in the rocks traversed by a small bridge is all that stands between the mighty deep blue Atlantic and the shallow, emerald-green Caribbean Sea.  

Mike, Melody, Phillip, and I had become practically giddy when a big wave came toppling over the rocks soaking us up to our hips on the road.  In our euphoric state, we made our way to our next stop, the Queen’s Bath.  The Bath had been promoted as a tranquil spot high up on the cliff where you can wade in the pools of water that form in the quarry and are warmed by the sun.  Hence the name: the Queen’s Bath.  Unfortunately, the pools were not as warm as we had expected (a little chilly to be honest), but the view out into the Atlantic was stunning.  Mike and Melody picked their way down a little closer to the water while Phillip and I were taking pictures further up.  

Mike hollered at us from a pool with a fantastic view so Phillip and I ventured over.  We sat there for a bit watching the water in the ocean ebb and flow, hoping to see a good splash.  We were probably a good 20 feet up and away from the water below.  Mind you, this was a PERFECTLY CALM DAY.  Very little wind and waves.  

As we watched the Atlantic breathe a swell, a wave crashed against the rocks and sprayed up soaking us all.  Immediately after it subsided we all looked quickly to one another.  At first I didn’t see Phillip which scared me, but he soon popped up, saying he had jumped down to hold on tight as the wave came through.  Looking back, I cannot tell you precisely why none of us, not a one, had a worry or fear at that moment.  No hairs were rising on the back of our necks.  No red flags were waving.  Nothing told us, at that point: Beware.  And, this rings true for Phillip who is a very cognizant and cautious person, considering his military background, as well as Mike, who has considerable military experience as well, including that as a field medic.  It just did not seem dangerous.  That’s all I can say.  And, it was only a brief 5-10 seconds after that first considerably minor wave came through that the ocean took a deep breath and sent a massive rogue wave through that changed everything.  While I was the closest to the water, I wasn’t but about 2-3 feet from Mike and Melody who were sitting and standing on the other side of the same pool.  I was holding on, incredibly tightly, when the water rose up and began to rush past us.  At first it was thrilling.  Such an intoxicating, exciting feeling.  

Then it took me.  

It was just far too powerful.  

I felt an immediate plunge of guilt as I felt my hands rip off the rocks and my body struck in several places.  I can’t tell you where I felt an impact (other than all over) until, after a few tumbles, my head finally struck.  That one I remember.  I heard a little crack at the moment and thought it was my neck popping.  I would find out later it was something else.  But, when my face struck, for whatever reason, instinct told me to grab that rock and never let go.  I reached out and got a firm grip just as the massive amount of water that had moments ago submerged us now began to rush out. Imagine holding onto the edge of an Olympic size swimming pool at the top of a hotel and the bottom of the pool drops out. Hundreds of gallons rushed past me with astonishing suction.

I held on.  

When the water receded and we all scrambled to make eye contact, I will never forget Mike’s expression.  He was the first to see my injuries.  His eyes immediately bulged.  The whites around his pupils are burned into my memory.  His jaw went slack and he stumbled at first trying to lunge toward me, his hand outstretched, to examine my wounds.  It must have looked bad, but thankfully when he stroked a wet hand over my forehead, it revealed only surface wounds there and he breathed a sigh of relief, as did I because I was able to move everything just fine.  Phillip looked mortified.  And angry.  I was definitely angry.  Mad at myself for letting the water take me, for letting myself get injured, for (as stupid as this sounds) potentially ruining what was supposed to be a great day for everyone.  

I immediately downplayed any need for treatment.  “It’s just scratches,” I told them.  “I’m fine,” I chuckled with a smile.  And, in that moment, I did feel fine.  I’m sure it was the enormous amounts of adrenaline pumping through me, the coursing of which had mercifully guided my hands to the rock I gripped with all I had that both pummeled and saved me.  I’m sure it was the adrenaline and shock, as well, that had made it not hurt that bad.  Especially considering what I found out later had occurred in those tumultuous ten seconds.

I suffered hairline fractures to my forehead and nose, deep, scar-rending scratches all over my body and face, and an impact to my right thigh that caused a hematoma I believe I will live with in some form for the rest of my life.  I cannot believe I didn’t break my femur with that hit.  

Even though the pictures you will soon see on this blog and the next are alarming, know that I am lucky. Extremely lucky.  With the wisdom and insight of hindsight, I know now it could have been far, far worse.  There could have easily been NO wounds to see, no body to find at all.  While the four of us had no idea at the time, we have since learned the Glass Window and Queen’s Bath in Eleuthera are actually notorious for sweeping people across the rocks, breaking bones, gnashing skin, even snatching people entirely in their grasp, never to be seen again.  Here are some videos (don’t watch if you’re squeamish). 

Glass Window:

Go to 1:18: https://youtu.be/eE-j-An2M1E

Go to 10:10: https://youtu.be/v9IauO2V8E8

Article about a 19-year old who was swept off the bridge and never found … sad.  

Here is a video by another travel vlogger (go to 5:48) showing them in a calm pool at the Queen’s Bath when a VERY small wave comes over their shoulders, but there is a good shot right after the wave of the flesh-eating rocks that I was raked across.  Yeesh.

The Wynns even did a video featuring the Glass Window and Queen’s Bath and they mention (while standing on the ledge) wishing it were “a raging sea, a storm,” so they could really capture the intensity of it (go to 9:02).  I’m telling you, you just can’t fathom how fast and powerful the water can become once a swelling wave slams into the rocky cliff.  It can shoot up 100 feet in an instant, as if gravity does not exist.  

I’m sharing all of these so those of you out there who are planning some day to visit these very visit-worthy, stunning places, please PLEASE give the incredible power of the ocean its due. Stay back from the ledge. Do not go if the seas are rough. Go see them. Absolutely. Just, go with caution.  

Okay, enough of that.  Suffice it to say, we went on a CALM day, and we never expected the wave we got, its immense power, or our unfortunate exposure to such danger.  So, rewind back to post-Annie rock-roll.  Like I said, I did not believe I was hurt that bad.  No broken bones (that I knew of at the time), no persistent, dangerous bleeds.  Just scratches … or so I thought.  I convinced everyone I was fine and that we should just carry on with our day.  “Take a pic,” I said.  And they did.  And, I’m smiling.  

While you can definitely see the abrasions on my forehead, some on my chins and thighs as well, “Everything is fine,” I told them.  Nothing to see (or treat) here.  (I do hope you are realizing what a dumb move that was, but I’ve been known to make a few of those in my past.)  

We carried on, ambling around a nearby beach to pick up shells.  I tied a sarong around my waist to cover my injuries as we headed to a little eatery for lunch.  I even took a selfie in the car making a funny face at the camera, seriously thinking it was just going to be some minor wounds to deal with.  

I cleaned up my face and other scrapes a bit in the bathroom at the restaurant and pulled my hat down low to hide my marred forehead (something I would do every day for the coming weeks).  But, as we sat at the table and ate, weird things started happening to my body.  I could feel under the table as my right thigh (which had hit the hardest) started to swell and firm up considerably.  I didn’t mention anything at lunch (because I’m brilliant remember, and stubborn … a quality Phillip has had to battle before).  But, as we made our way to the next stop, the Preacher’s Cave, my heart began to race as we walked up the path.  I got hot all over and sweaty.  I honestly thought I was about to pass out.  I sat down and finally showed Phillip my leg.  It was the size of a watermelon.  

That’s when we all changed course.  Nothing was fine.  There was definitely something to see here.  And treat.  I had a leg the size of a blimp and pain that was finally starting to seep in where all of my joints had hit.  My head began to throb.  It was time to take action and seek treatment, which was an experience in and of itself.  Stay tuned next time for the final chapter of this saga.  The evolution of my leg wound will bewilder you.  

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A Frightening End to Our 2019 Cruising Season

Followers, I have quite the graphic tale to tell you.  It’s something I debated even sharing here because … well … you’ll see.  I won’t give it away.  But, over and above our failed attempt to sail to the BVIs back in November and our out-of-commission engine, this was one of the primary reasons we actually ended our cruise last winter and flew home early.  And, after some long talks with Phillip and friends about it, I’ve decided the story could serve as a valuable warning to others and perhaps just a little proof that miracles might happen more often than we realize.  This is a spellbinding trilogy.  Strap in.

Thanksgiving Day, 2019:

The very same day that Phillip and I were towed back to our slip at the Yacht Haven Marina in Spanish Wells (and thankfully, despite an almost pre-mature toss, they did eventually tow us all the way, safely into our slip), Phillip and I both spotted a strange sight on the dock.  A boat freshly-docked began to cough up what appeared to be every soft good on the boat.  The finger pier and dock around the boat were covered with pillows, cushions, blankets, rugs, even their vberth mattress.  I believe the time Phillip and I spent out in the Atlantic frustratingly becalmed had sort of erased from our memories the thought of being tossed around in too much wind and waves.  Where do you find that? our bewildered minds asked.  Not out in the Atlantic right now, that’s for sure.  That thing is glass!  Thankfully, Phillip doesn’t have as much blonde as I do ; ) so he “came to” sooner and correctly guessed that the nice new couple on the dock, with the soaking soft goods splayed out, had likely bashed across the Gulf Stream in some gnarly conditions and took on water below.  Phillip is annoyingly good at guessing things like that …

I ended up meeting the Captain of that ship later on my way back from the shower (ahhhh … that glorious first post-offshore shower!).  Meet Mike!

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And Melody.

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They cruise on this stunning Tartan, s/v Moorglade:

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Turns out Phillip had been right!  While he and I had ironically been bobbing around in zero wind on the Atlantic side, trying to dodge massive monsters with minuscule puffs of wind, Mike and Melody had been getting their teeth kicked in with an unexpected wind shift and build in the Gulf Stream that had caused one of their shrouds to pull through the deck, allowing buckets of water to slosh in.  Mike and Melody suffered a constant leak, huge waves, failing instruments, an almost-broken finger, and all-told, quite a tale of their own to share from that voyage!  (Perhaps I’ll ask Mike for a guest blog following this saga … let me know in a comment below if you’d like that!)  But, the very funny (ironic, really) thing about meeting Mike right there, at that moment, on that tiny little island in the Bahamas, was that he knew we had met before.  I didn’t, but you’ll soon understand why.  Quick side story … (trust me, this is hilariously worth it!).

Turns out, just a short six weeks prior, Phillip, Mike, Melody, and I had all once again been in the very same tiny spot in the world: the Annapolis Boat Show!  As a HaveWind follower, Mike knew me and had spotted me one day at the show.  Mike and I chatted for a minute, even shared a hug, and I didn’t remember the guy at all.  I know, sounds terrible right?!  But, I have a complete, bullet-proof, untouchable affirmative defense.  Mike was the guy who recognized me RIGHT in front of Brian Trautman from s/v Delos.  That was my #1 moment from my Annapolis Top Tens list (I’m not kidding – go check it for proof, scroll down and read No. 1), and Mike was the guy who’d got all star-struck about me in front of Brriiiiaaannn which absolutely made my day (year, life!)  I gave Brian this “Uuhhh, recognized again? Happens all the time right?” look as I hugged Mike.  I mean … who could remember Mike in that moment?  (I know Mike well enough – and we’ve had enough laughs over this – to know that he’ll take no offense and get a monstrous laugh out of reliving this yet again).  I simply called him “fan dude” in my Annapolis re-cap.  Well, here was fan dude, standing right in front of me in Spanish Wells.  Who would have thought … Once Mike and I made that revelation and also discovered that the four of us had now ironically and inadvertently ended up in the same spot again—among all the millions of spots to land in the world—we knew we had to get together for drinks and share some tall sea tales.  Those two love to share drinks and tales.

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We confirmed our double date.  Happy hour at Wreckers (the awesome bar and restaurant there at Yacht Haven Marina in Spanish Wells) for drinks followed by dinner.

It was an awesome night.  The four of us clicked incredibly well (although, admittedly, it’s rare for cruisers to not click), but Mike and Melody had the same confident and calculated (Phillip and Mike) meets comical and courageous (Melody and I) combo that can really pull a couple through even the most trying times.  I’m telling you, while wisdom and experience are great on a rough passage, a sense of humor and spirited spunk go a very long way, too.  The four of us had a fantastic time regaling our vastly-different experiences offshore—Mike and Melody’s being a howling, churning, beat-down, and mine and Phillip’s being an infuriating, mind-numbing, melt-down—and learning, as we always do when meeting other cruisers, how each of us got into sailing.  Phillip and I had such a great time with Mike and Melody at dinner that night, we decided to rendezvous again the following day for a full-day adventure over to Eleuthera!

Phillip, my forever-awesome travel buddy, had previously planned a full day ferrying over from Spanish Wells to Eleuthera, and had lined up four attractions for he and I to visit: 1) the Glass Window; 2) the Queen’s Bath; 3) the Preacher’s Cave; and 4) the Sapphire Blue Hole.  As the weather was calm and sunny that day (not enough wind to kite-surf and, remember, our boat was, at the time, kaput), Phillip and I had planned to rent a car and spend the day checking out these awesome sights, so it made sense to split the car cost with this awesome new couple and enjoy spending the day getting to know them better and enjoying all that Eleuthera had to offer.  Besides, Mike and Melody’s boat needed a full day—at least!—to dry out, so Mike and Melody were thrilled to accept our offer.

The next day, the four of us rendezvoused in the morning near the ferry point and shoved off around 8:00 a.m. from Spanish Wells over to Eleuthera.  Our rental car turned out to be quite the attractive little green lime, which was quite fitting because we certainly had to squeeze in!

Our first stop was the Glass Window.  Have any of you ever heard of or been to this attraction?  It’s astounding.  Between the vast, deep Atlantic on one side and the jewel-toned shallow basin of the Caribbean on the other.

In between these two vast bodies of water stands one tiny hole, a cleft in the rocky shores connected by a single bridge.  This “hole” is known as the Glass Window, and it is quite breathtaking. 

Phillip parked our little green clown car a good ways back from the bridge so we could hike up the Atlantic side and explore. 

It was a really cool feeling to see the grand Atlantic on one side, then turn around and see a far stretch of shallow turquoise water on the other.  What a dichotomy!  We peered over the edge, snapped some fun photos, watched a few pretty white waves crash on the rocks, then headed back to the car to make our way to the next attraction.

As we were standing on the bridge, however, looking out on the Caribbean Sea.  A pretty big wave crashed up and spilled over the rocky cliff on the Atlantic side, rising up over the cliff we had just scaled and crashing down onto the road.  The water came instantly up to our hips as it gushed by Mike and I standing on the bridge.  Melody and Phillip were closer to the car and didn’t get quite the gush Mike and I did, but the water was still spewing up around our little green car’s tires.  I whipped out my phone to capture a quick, post-wave video and you can still see plenty of water pouring over the rocks a good 8-10 seconds after the wave. 

You can see from our reaction in the video how thrilling it was. Such a simple thing. A gush of water. But, it was … intoxicating. We all laughed and joked about what would have happened had we parked the car closer!  It might have taken our little lime straight out into the Caribbean sea! While we were still giddy and giggling about the wave, we all snapped our heads at the sound of a loud SPPEEWWWHHH that bellowed over our shoulders!  It was a blowhole!  Just a hundred feet up ahead. The four of us walked over and each got a chance to feel that tingling rush from the power of the water.

We were having such a cool day!  With several sights still left in store.  The crew packed into our green caddy and got back on the road to our next destination.

We were headed to the Queen’s Bath.

What could go wrong?

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HaveWind in Pensacola Print!

So, this was fun.  I was recently featured in a local magazine here in Pensacola, Bella Magazine, in their July, 2020 “Water Issue.”  The goal of this issue was to share how time on the water helps many of us unwind, reflect, find solace, and get re-charged.  That is definitely true for me.  Water is my therapy.  (Well, that and wine!)  It was really fun, though, and humbling to be featured in this issue.  I have to say I was quite elegant, talking about our hack-the-dinghy-off passage: “It was one of those really rough passages, where you get your teeth kicked in.  I loved it!”  Still true.  Many thanks again to Bella for promoting women on the water and featuring HaveWind.  It was an honor!  I also honestly think the prettiest thing in that picture is the shiny stainless!  Way to sparkle Plaintiff’s Rest!

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Why Do You THINK We Need a Tow?

I have to say, calamities—like the one our attempted voyage to the BVIs turned out to be—can sure give you a sense of humor.  I am 100% convinced that one of the best qualities you can hope for in an offshore crew member is a sense of humor.  No one should set off on an offshore voyage without one.  (The sense of humor, that is.  Single-handed voyagers have proven you can cross oceans without additional crew; but without a sense of humor, I think not!)  I say that because what happened to me and Phillip—after being becalmed in the Atlantic for three days, then getting towed back into Spanish Wells in the Bahamas—can really only be called one thing.  Funny.

November, 2019:

When we first learned our fresh water pump on our Westerbeke had gone out, we had one cruising friend who really stepped up to help us in getting back safely.  BaBaLu, if you’re out there reading, this one goes to you!  Captain BaBaLu on the exquisite s/v Partager has been featured via a boat tour and given a shout-out before here at HaveWind as he’s a fellow sailor who, when he says “if you need a hand, let me know,” he means it.  BaBaLu always likes to follow us on the Delorme when we travel offshore and send us weather data (as well as find out what fish we caught, what we’re cooking for dinner that night, and how many stars were out, so he can enjoy vicariously).  And, when we told him what had happened with our pump, BaBaLu immediately began to shop online to help us find a replacement pump.  He even contacted Yacht Haven Marina in Spanish Wells and lined up a tow ready to bring us back in safely to the dock when we returned to Spanish Wells.  We couldn’t have been in more capable fellow-cruiser hands.

While our bobbing and flogging back to the Bahamas was frustrating (we fought over sleep, suffered a mutiny, and tangoed with a 820-foot carrier ship, catch up here if you missed those bewildering, becalmed moments), I can’t say the scenery wasn’t enjoyable.  That passage, albeit an annoying one, was still beautiful.

 

But, pretty views and sunsets aside, there was nothing Phillip and I wanted more than to be docked safely and have that wreck-of-a-passage over.  We were so grateful when we were finally able to hale the Yacht Haven Marina over the VHF to coordinate the tow BaBaLu had scheduled for us.  Ironically, it was Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 2019, and I can tell you there was nothing Phillip and I were more thankful for than the sight of shore.  But, that was part of the problem.  There it was. Shore.  Imminently close, with us engine-less and unable to stop our slow, steady drift toward it if the winds didn’t pick up.  The most wind we had seen since we’d turned around in the Atlantic was that heavenly little six-knot puff that allowed me to inch across the bow of the monster ship the night before.  It was blowing 4-5 knots that morning as we made our way around the north side of Eleuthera.  And, for those of you not familiar with that area, I can show you exactly what awaits you on the north shore of Eleuthera.

THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE

Devil's Backbone

A reef-ridden channel is not something you want to SAIL into, particularly in light winds.  We definitely wanted a tow!  The gal at the Marina advised over the radio that the tow boat would come out and tow us in through Ridley Head Channel.  Ridley Head Channel? Phillip and I both wondered.  It was not an inlet we were familiar with.  I grabbed the Explorer Charts to find it and gulped audibly when I saw it.

Ridley Head

It was not an entry we have ever made by sailboat, nor have we seen it advised in the Explorer Charts.  When we left Spanish Wells headed toward the BVIs, we had navigated a portion of the Devil’s Backbone, where we then exited safely where the reef parts briefly at Bridge Point.

Bridge Point

That was my day to play Captain, I recall, and it was a bit scary motoring through the reef, following as close as I could to a track we had dropped when we had a pilot boat take us through the backbone the last time.  Seeing these next to your boat is never a comforting sight.

devil-s-backbone

While the thought of entering this time through an inlet in the reef we had never navigated—which looked a bit tight, particularly right at Ridley Head—was a bit scary, having spent a good bit of time in Spanish Wells on multiple occasions up to this point, and having hired local captains on two occasions to navigate us through the Backbone over to Harbour Island, Phillip and I were confident in the knowledge and capabilities of the local captains.  Many of them have been navigating the waters of Spanish Wells for decades, generations even, and it seems most of them could make their way through the Backbone blindfolded.  So, we felt comfortable allowing an experienced, local captain bring us through the narrow Ridley Head opening.  But, when we arrived where we thought was a safe spot to catch the two we, at first, couldn’t find our boat.

The Marina had told us the boat would be coming out to get us around 8:30 a.m., but we saw no sight of a tow boat at that time.  Phillip and I sailed back and forth, back and forth, inching closer to shore, biting our nails, drumming our fingers, but no boat came.  9:00 a.m. passed.  No boat.  We started creeping up on 10:00 a.m. and decided to hale the Marina again as we still did not see any boat coming for us.

“Dey be on their way now, Mon.  Dey say you need come closer.”

Closer?!  That was nerve-wracking.  It was an odd feeling having just spent the last three days sailing (or, trying to sail, rather) a bobbing, flogging boat away from a rocky shore to now be advised we needed to come closer to the reef, under sail alone …   [Insert Annie huff here.]  The Marina gal told us our tow boat had gone out at 8:30 a.m., and they saw us waaaaayyy out there so they decided to go pick up another call while we made our way in closer.  Phillip and I had no clue we were out too far.  Any time you see reef heads poking up out of the water—when you don’t have an engine, only light winds pushing you towards them—is close enough for me, thank you.  But, my huffing aside, we inched closer, and closer, and closer, until finally we saw a little white spec coming out for us.  Whew.  I hate to sound like a total non-purist, but I have to admit it was such a huge relief to see a roaring boat, shooting off a massive wake, powering its way out to save us.  Power.  Who knew I could crave it so immensely in certain moments.

After a few wayward throws, we finally got secured up behind the tow-boat and they began pulling us in.

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“Happy Thanksgiving!” I said.

“Tow Boat Bahamas!”  Phillip replied.

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But, this was when the “funny” thing happened.  So, the boat brought us in safely through the Ridley Head Channel, which as I mentioned was a tight, crooked little path through some treacherous reefs so we were thrilled to have that portion of the tow safely behind us.  We were now gliding along nicely behind the two boat in the big, deep channel that leads into Spanish Wells.  There is a ferry lane there where a ferry brings folks back and forth from Eleuthera to Spanish Wells, so it’s a nice, wide (comforting) path.

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Phillip and I felt like we were now on the home stretch.  Whew.  Our tow boat guys haled us on the radio asking what Marina we were heading to.  “Yacht Haven Marina,” we replied.

We were right about here in the channel, when the tow captain came back over and said, “Okay, we’ll let you go here and you make your way on into Yacht Haven, den.”

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Phillip and I shared a startled glance, thinking the same thing.  “Here?!”

And, of course, Phillip was steering which meant I was on radio duty.  I’ve mentioned before I get kind of stupid over the radio.  Chalk it up to nerves, or feeling out of my element talking to other captains whom I feel are far more experienced than me.  I worry I’ll say something dumb (because I often do).  Radio Annie unsurprisingly fumbled.

“Wait, wuh …. What?” I asked him.  “What?  Here?” I continued on, stupidly.

“Ahh, yeah, Mon.  Yacht Haven, be right up ahead.  Just ‘round da bend,” he replied.

This is the bend:

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There is a thick shoal right at the mouth that you have to navigate around to get to Yacht Haven.

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I think the word “bend” snapped me into lucidity.  Without an engine and no wind, we really couldn’t bend.  Terrified I saw his first mate stepping to the back of the tow boat to untie our lines and I shrieked over the radio.

“No, NO!  Don’t untie us here.  Please, please, Sir, we don’t have an engine!” I watched helplessly as Guy No. 2 continued to untie one of our dock lines.  He was just about to let it go, when the Captain hollered something at him.  I saw him turn around, our line still mercifully in his hand, and he then nodded and started tying it back.  Phillip and I simultaneously breathed out heaping sighs of relief.

“Ahhh, okay,” the tow captain said over the radio.  “We didn’t know your engine was out.”

Although my mind shrieked it out, thankfully, I did not vocalize the very thought that paralyzed me over the radio:

WHY DO YOU THINK WE NEED A TOW?

Before I could say anything else … because honestly, other than that, I didn’t know what to say, he came back on.

“We taut you just wanted a cat’n’s guide trew Ridley Head.  But, ‘ey, no problem, Mon.  We’ll bring you right in your slip.  Small ting.”

Whouuuhhhh … went the sound of my breath spilling out.  That was close.  And scary.  And just a bit wild.  But, looking back now, upon the whole spectrum of that voyage—from shove-off, to failure, to fights, fright, and mutiny—out of the entire experience, that moment was just … funny.

The Takeaways

The beauty (and wisdom) of hindsight never ceases to amaze me.  While Phillip and I were glad to be back at the dock, tied up safely, we did feel—at the time—a bit like failures because the voyage had gone so badly, and we didn’t even make it to our intended destination.  But, looking back now on our failed voyage, with the value of hindsight, I can see two amazing blessings that were bestowed on us precisely because the engine went out when she did.

One: She (As She Often Does) Broke Down at the Right Time.

Looking back, it’s super humbling to realize our Westerbeke didn’t fail us in the middle of the reef when we were motoring out here to Bridge Point:

Bridge Point

No, she didn’t do that to us.  She chugged us safely through all of those gnarly reef heads and took us all the way out into the deep, no-obstacles-around Atlantic before she failed.  Imagine if the fresh water pump had gone out when we were motoring Devil’s Backbone and we didn’t have sufficient wind to sail.  *gulp*

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Like I said … a blessing.

Two: Our Breakdown May Have Saved the Boat From a Hurricane

It was precisely because we had to turn out of the Atlantic and sail back to the Bahamas and leave our boat there for a bit (as opposed to leaving her in the BVIs) while we came back to Florida to work for a couple of months that we were able to sail her back from the Bahamas in 2020 so we could have her here with us at home to look after her during hurricane season.  In hindsight, Phillip and I now know—with the pandemic that no one could have predicted that paralyzed international travel and cruising—that it would have been a nightmare trying to get our boat back in March/April had it been in the BVIs, as opposed to the much-closer Bahamas.  With all of the travel restrictions, closed ports, time limitations, and other obstacles in our way during that time, it’s very likely we would not have been able to get her back safely in our fold like we did.  That might have left our baby girl sitting right now, docked at an unsecured island with potential hurricanes headed toward her and us unable to travel there to do anything further to protect her.  That thought makes my stomach drop and is such a valuable reminder that:

Sometimes when you think everything is going wrong, it may turn out it’s all going absolutely right.  You just don’t know it yet.  

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Three Battered Memories From Our Time BECALMED

This will probably come as no surprise to you all: Phillip and I turned back.  After our fresh water pump failed, forcing upon us an irreversibly waning battery bank, we decided to turn back to Spanish Wells in the Bahamas rather than continue on our I65 route to the BVIs. While we thought the expected two-day passage would be merely a disappointment, it turned out to be the most enduring passage we’ve ever been on, even counting our ocean crossings.  Why?  Never before had Phillip and I been so mind-numbingly, infuriatingly …

B E C A L M E D

There were things that happened that have never happened on our boat before: shouting, fighting, mutiny!  Yet, it was an experience so eye-opening, so psychologically poignant, I turned it into a featured article that will be in SAIL Magazine this fall.  : )  Be on the lookout!  For now, here are three moments from that horrid passage that I didn’t share in quite as vivid detail: 1) the fight; 2) the fear; and 3) the mutiny.

November, 2019:

“You will see no more than three to eight knots of wind the next three days,” Weather Routing, Inc. texted us via our Delorme after we told them of our decision to turn around.  Never had I wanted so badly for a weather prediction to be wrong. But, never have I seen one more dead-on.  For three days, we saw no more than six.  We went no faster than three.  It was fine at first, simply moving along slowly, our spirits not yet pricked, our minds still amicable and calm. 

This is our Garmin track showing a much more wayward sail back from whence we came:

Track 1

It wasn’t a few hours, though, before the up and downs began.  The sails went up, the sails went down.  So did tempers, moods, voices.  I can still hear the flogging of the sails when I close my eyes, that metallic flong, flong, flong of the standing rigging being beaten to an early death.  I haaaaate flogging sails.  I feel like it’s a little metal pick just chipping away at the integrity of our rigging (probably because it is).  It was chipping away at my brain, too.  While going slow and rotting our minds out there was one thing, damaging the boat in the process was another.  We rigged the pole, we tied preventers, we tied inventers (ones I made up to try to stop the flogging).  But with such little boat speed in funky winds and even funkier swell, there was no way to stop it.  After a day of flonging, that’s when it happened.

The Fight

I will preface this with one impermeable fact: Phillip and I rarely fight.  I’m not boasting, or bragging, we’re just not the type to raise our voices or foster hostility.  We’ve had disagreements and uncomfortable arguments on the boat, sure.  This was one.  But, I can count those on one hand, and none of them involved no holds-barred shouting.  Until now.

Over the course of the first 30’ish hours after we turned back, we bobbed and flonged and battled one another over the sails flogging.  I consistently wanted to drop the sails and bob; Phillip wanted to keep us heading generally in the right direction (albeit at a speed of 2.1 SOG).  Into our second night of this horrendous routine, I finally pushed hard enough to get my way and on the start of my night shift I dropped the sails.  Was it any better?  No.  The pitching and yawing of the boat was equally loud and equally annoying.  I could hear Phillip rolling around in his lee cloth below trying to get some sleep.  Soon our boat speed was 0.2 headed back out into the Atlantic, and I knew then I had been wrong.  If there was one thing I wanted out there more than to stop the flogging, it was to stop the passage.  To get the heck back to shore.  So, I raised the sails back up (waking Phillip in the process of course) and we continued to flong on at a snail’s pace.

Just as Phillip was—I’m sure—finally drifting off to sweet sleep, a cacophony of beeps rang out.  It was our auto-pilot.  Turns out he doesn’t like to hold when we’re only going 0.4.  Can’t say that I blame him.  I don’t either.  So, I set him back on.  Another cacophony of beeps.  Then I hear what sounded like the beginning of a lion’s roar below, this guttural rumble that started to form into voice, as Phillip screamed, louder than I’ve ever heard him scream before:

I   J U S T   W A N T   T O   * * * * I N G   S L E E P !

M E   * * * * I N G   T O O  !

I thundered back at him.  Then it was silence, as if everything around us—the boat, the swell, the stupid flogging sails, all took a collective breath in response to our terse words.  I guess you could say it wasn’t really a fight, per se, but it was the most intense exchange Phillip and I have ever had on passage.  It was on me, though.  That was my shift, and auto had tapped out.  I took the sheet to the head sail in one hand and the helm in the other and sailed the snot out of those three knots of wind, trying simply to stay on a general west heading back to the Bahamas while keeping the flogging and sounds of the boat, as best I could, to a minimum.  Phillip fell asleep so hard I could hear him snoring from the cockpit.  I let him sleep an extra hour, before I dropped dead myself after that exhausting three-hour shift.  “I want to sleep, too,” I told him as we traded out.  “You have to hand-steer her.”  He must have because I sank into the starboard settee and my mind melted into a slew of crazy, turbulent dreams.  For the rest of the passage, neither of us spoke of that moment when I think we both snapped.

The Mutiny

Our second day on passage, we got a new crew member!  As we were obviously sailing (bobbing) slowly enough for any living creature to board, this cute little green and yellow bird found his way onto our boat.

We welcomed him at first, letting him flit around the cockpit and get comfortable with us.  It was amazing to wonder how far he had flown to get there, with us being over 100 miles out to sea.  I even made him a little bird bath out of the cut-off base of a milk jug.  He started to perch on our hands, even on Phillip’s head.

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He was our buddy.  We named him Sprite and called him our first mate (as Phillip and I are both the Captains : ).

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He was cute.

He was friendly.

At first …

After a morning spent being hospitable to the little guy it wasn’t long before he started darting and zipping around in the cockpit seemingly trying to strike at our heads.  He became aggressive.  I don’t know if his intentions were to truly throw us overboard so he could commandeer the boat and sail himself back to Spanish Wells or if he was just getting territorial.  Either way, he was becoming dangerous, darting at our eyes, sneaking up from behind.  It was like Sprite had already declared this boat his, and no other bird or human was allowed aboard.  I’m telling you it was weird.  That or we were losing it.  Maybe there was no bird at all.  Either way, Phillip and I decided we had to take up armor.  Fly swatters can be very intimidating when used properly.  It was us against him out there!  Sprite had crossed a line. This was mutiny!  And, who was Captain of the ship?

That’s right.  Phillip and I had to send that bird packing.  After a few wallops with a fly swatter, Sprite finally learned who was in charge and decided to fly away.  I will never know if he made it those 100 miles back to shore, but I’m not sorry for what I did.  This was nature.  That bird picked his war.  What is it the Sergeant said in G.I. Jane?

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You’re darn right Viggo.  

The Fear

The thing was over 820 feet long.  Eight.  Hundred.  And twenty.  And I couldn’t see it.  This was my last night shift as Phillip and I were finally making our way back toward the Bahamas and coming into the major shipping channel where many carrier ships exit out of Eleuthera to make their way into the Atlantic.  And, this is what I found on the AIS.

A monster.  While I could see what I thought were its nav lights up ahead off of my port bow, it was really hard to make out.  And, it looked like we were headed right for one another.  On the AIS, our closest point of approach (“CPA”) was bouncing between 1.07 and 23 feet, then 0.3 and 84 feet.  Too close for comfort was the bottom line.  I’d haled the guy many times on the radio, of course.  “Hey.  Hey you.  Big ass boat that’s about to hit us.  Do you see little old sailboat me?”  But I, of course, got no response.  What I hate about CPA is it does not tell you whether the “P”—that all important point—is going to be his stern crossing your bow, or your stern crossing his. Thankfully—and I don’t know if it was Neptune or my USCG training that kicked in—but something told me I had—I simply HAD—to get downwind of him.  That might seem like a simple thought to many experienced sailors out there, but in moments like that where it’s all on me and I’m terrified, I can be a terrible decision-maker, so I still give Captain Annie a little pat on the back for that instinct.

With little puffs of four knots I turned our tiny spec-of-a-boat as hard as I could in a 90-degree angle to cross before his bow so I could get out of his path and on the safe, downwind side of that beast.  I’ll admit, it was terrifying.  My heart was thumping in my chest.  I was ready to wake Phillip at any moment, but I knew there was nothing different he could do.  It’s not like we had oars we could bust out to paddle away.  Our fifteen-thousand pound, engine-less boat was at the complete mercy of the wind.  And the monster.  This moment was horrible, and I was hoping to spare him of it.

This time I’m sure it was Neptune, hearing the thunderous beat of my heart, when he sent a little six-knot puff of wind my way.  It was the most we had seen the entire passage back, and it came as a God-send.  Our boat picked up three knots of speed and bobbed her way just out of that carrier’s path.  When I got on the other side of him, that ship blocked out my entire horizon.  He was massive, and dark, and deadly.  I saw the CPA blank out as his bow passed my stern and a dreadful gratitude came over when I realized what would have happened had I stayed upwind of him … all eight.  Hundred.  And twenty feet of him.  Aside from injuries and near-falls overboard, that encounter is still one of the most terrifying moments I have ever had on our boat.  It was an eerie altered paradigm from my usual fear of merciless winds and seas capable of chucking and breaking our beautiful boat to a chilling fear of a lack of wind that could cause her to just bob idly into a monster boat or devastating shore.  A slow creep to destruction?  What an awful way to go.

The Takeaway

When Phillip and I arrived back in Spanish Wells, we soon met another couple who sailed in with a wildly-different experience from us.  While we had been becalmed out in the Atlantic on the east side of the Bahamas, this couple had been battered with gusty winds in the Gulf Stream coming into the Bahamas on the west side.  Oddly, however, I almost envied them their experience.  At least in heavy winds and rough seas, you are left with no choice but to respond.  You’re just reacting to the gnarly conditions being thrown at you.  Being becalmed, however, fosters a far greater agony where your mind wages war with yourself.  You start picking at your weaknesses, reliving regrets, analyzing bad decisions you’ve made.  Strangely, I found I can be nastier to myself than any storm can.  It was definitely a psychological struggle.  I can tell you, now that Phillip and I have had this experience, if we ever have the choice to be becalmed at sea engine-less for days on end, versus undertaking a bit of a rough passage … it will be a much tougher call.

How about you all followers?  How do you feel about being becalmed?

 

 

 

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Would You Continue an Ocean Voyage Without an Engine?

It’s funny, seeing it now—in black and white in hindsight—I’ll admit the answer seems so clear and easy, but it sure wasn’t then.  I guess when it’s you out there, only two days into what was supposed to be an incredibly exciting adventure, an awesome offshore accomplishment, and you have sails and promising winds, it’s quite tempting to want to continue.  Conquistadors and explorers have been crossing the ocean for centuries without engines, right?  They also did it without satellite navigation, AIS, sat phones and texting devices, a whole host of equipment Phillip and I use extensively when we sail offshore.  Bottom line is, after we lost the ability to use our engine when the fresh water pump blew, it was a tough call for Phillip and I deciding whether to continue our trek east, then south down to the BVIs, or tuck our tails, turn around, and sail back to Spanish Wells, Bahamas.  Many factors played into our decision, and it was a great exercise in balancing risk versus reward.  Read on to see what you would have considered had you been in our shoes and let us know: WWYD?

November, 2019:

“So, that’s it?  No engine?” I asked Phillip, although I already knew the answer.

“That’s it,” he said matter-of-factly.

Then we bobbed for a few quiet minutes.  The wind was blowing maybe 4, the sails were flogging gently, somewhere a halyard banged.  The quiet was deafening.  I didn’t realize before how much sound-space the engine had filled now that he was dead. R.I.P. Westie.  Phillip and I were only two days out on an expected 7-9 day passage from the Bahamas down to the BVIs when Westie (our 27A Westerbeke’s) fresh water pump bit the dust.

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While we were still floating safely, not taking on water, with sails and rigging still in perfect condition to carry us, Phillip and I had a tough decision to make:

CARRY ON UNDER STRICTLY SAIL 6-7 MORE DAYS TO THE BVIS

or

TURN AND SAIL 1-2 DAYS BACK TO THE BAHAMAS?

While we do prefer (always) to sail in the right conditions, rather than motor, Phillip and I are not 100% purists.  We don’t sail into and out of the marina or our slip just for the heck of it (like we often saw many heartier sailors (kids even!) do in France and the Azores).  We don’t sail narrow cuts or channels if we’re afraid the wind may shut down or push us onto a shoal.  Simply put, we prefer to sail when sailing is safe.  And, I’m not in any way ashamed to say we rely on our engine for many things: propulsion when sailing isn’t productive or safe, a charge to our batteries, maneuvering in marinas and in and out of slips, even as an extra bilge pump if we were taking on immense amounts of water (a trick I have, thankfully, only read about, never experienced myself, but that I will always keep in my back pocket).  At the end of the day, the truth is we put a lot of work, time, and money into our engine because we value it.

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Phillip and I are also very risk-averse.  When your first offshore passage (ever!) is one where you have to lean over the stern rail in rough seas and 30-knots of wind to cut your own flailing dinghy off with a hacksaw, you tend to give the open ocean its well-deserved respect and due.

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But, that said, Phillip and I really wanted to make it to the BVIs.  We have yet to sail their on our boat.  It is the first step of another BIG goal we have: to do a Caribbean Circle.  We had a work and weather window in November that had lined up beautifully (when does that ever happen)?  And, we were expecting good, solid east winds over the next 4-5 days that could have possibly enabled us to finish the voyage under sail alone quite safely.  And, there’s no reason to shy away from it.  We simply didn’t want to give up.  We didn’t want to quit.  We probably debated this decision a laughable hour longer than was necessary just because we were so frustrated by it.  But, after extensive discussion about the pros and cons of either choice, Phillip and I eventually decided to turn back and sail back to Spanish Wells in the Bahamas.  Here are the top reasons for our decision:

1.  Loss of Power

Battery power—or, more accurately, the inevitable loss of it—was easily our number one concern.  While we have 200 watts of solar on our boat, they are not able, by themselves, to keep our bank completely charged 5-7 days underway, particularly with the auto-pilot working twenty-four hours a day, as well as the navigation instruments, AIS, and nav lights at night.

While we can (and have) foregone refrigeration while underway to save on power, cold drinks and food were the least of our power worries.  Phillip and I knew we would want auto steering the boat as much as possible.  We would want AIS, particularly at night, to avoid ships.  We wanted our nav lights shining like bright beacons at night to ward off other boats.  We wanted our bilge pumps to be strong and vigorous if in the very unfortunate occurrence we started taking on water.  All of those things require power.  The thought of gradually losing power over the course of 6-7 days, losing the ability to see other ships, and be seen by them at night, as well as a potential inability to access our digital charts for navigating, all while the wind (particularly light ones) pushed us whatever direction it felt like was just, hands down, a scary thought.  An unacceptable thought.

2.  The Navidad and Mouchoir Banks

My good friend, Pam Wall, had warned us about these reefs on the north side of the Dominican Republic when we first told her of our plans to take the I65 Route from the Bahamas to the BVIs, and she urged (quite strongly, in pure, energetic-Pam fashion) that we sail a hard-and-fast route dead east (“Not south!” she shrieked) for the first 3-5 days of our voyage before turning south to avoid these reefs.  “They eat yachts,” Pam said, quite bluntly, which put the fear of Mouchoir in us.

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Being out there with no means of propulsion other than sail, and potential winds that could push us up onto those yacht-eating rocks was easily our second reason for turning back, but there were others as well.

3.  Navigating a New Inlet and Port Under Sail Alone

While Phillip and I knew we were going to be coming in—whether we decided to sail to the BVIs or back to the Bahamas—under sail alone, having navigated the entrance to and from Spanish Wells several times now (during this trip in 2019 and previously when we sailed the Abacos, Eleuthera, and a sliver of the Exumas in 2018) we felt we had become somewhat familiar with its channels, depths, and shoaling.  Navigating a brand-new inlet always stands the hairs on our necks and gets our hearts pumping.  The thought of doing that under sail alone with no contacts there in the BVIs was a mark against continuing the voyage without an engine.

4.  We Thought the Sail Back Would Be Short and Easy

Aside from not carrying a spare fresh water pump, this was our one whopping mistake in this whole ordeal.  Having just poked out into the Atlantic a day and a half, we thought the sail back would be a quick 1-2 days zip back.  Super easy.  No problem.  We figured it would be a bit of a bummer, with beat-down morales, retreating back from whence we came.  But, all we thought we would be was a little bummed.  We had no idea we would be psychologically battered.  As wild as it sounds—even with the two ocean crossings Phillip and I have done and some of our more horrendous bashes in the Gulf—that three and a half day sail back to Spanish Wells in little to zip wind was BY FAR the absolute worst passage Phillip and I have ever been on.  The.  Worst.  Have any of you ever been mind-numblingly, infuriatingly becalmed?  Just wait … We have stories to share my friends.  And a casualty.  There was mutiny out there.  Stay tuned!

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Should You Carry This Spare Engine Part?

I know, it’s a loaded question.  And, I’m asking over 100 boaters, so I’m likely to get 200+ opinions, right?  While we all carry plenty of fuel filters, zincs, gaskets, and the like, do you carry any spare parts that bolt onto the engine block?  A spare alternator, perhaps?  Or a starter?  Well, this part was one we really could have used and did not have.  Considering how small it is, and what a game-changer it can be, Phillip and I will definitely carry one in the future.

November, 2019:

After we had made the decision to take the “I-65” route from the Bahamas down to the BVIs and found our weather window, Phillip and I fully stocked the boat, stowed the dinghy, ran the jacklines, and prepared to shove off.  Knowing, from our fantastic WRI weather routing, we would likely have to motor for a couple of days after our expected south-clocking-west winds turned light and on the nose, Phillip and I decided to do something a bit different for this offshore passage.

WRI

We bought three extra jerry cans of fuel and strapped them on our whisker pole on starboard (giving us 6 5-gallon jugs of diesel total) to ensure we would have plenty of fuel to motor as much as we needed during our expected 8-9 day passage.

Because, you know packing extra diesel is like paying homage to the Wind Gods, daring them to make you not need it.  Well, it turned out we did not need it, but not for the reason we’d hoped.  The first day and a half of our passage was phenomenal!  Beautiful south winds on the beam, then quartering on our starboard stern, then clocking around behind from the west.  We were flying, making consistent 5-6 knots heading due east, which is the exact direction we needed to go.  It was too good to be true!

Phillip and I had high hopes that we would continue making great time and make our first passage over five days an enjoyable and successful one.  Everything was trending in that direction.  When the winds laid down a bit and turned more north, north-east (too light to sail easterly in them), we cranked up the engine and began to motor, just as we had expected to per our weather routing.  Westie (our 27A Westerbeke engine) purred along perfectly throughout the afternoon.  Late into the evening, when I was at the helm, the engine ripped out this squealing sound.  I immediately throttled back more out of instinct than anything (like stepping on the brakes) and that stopped the sound.  Phillip came up to investigate.  We throttled back up gingerly and everything seemed fine.  No sound.  Westie then ran all night long, no problem.

The following day (our third of the voyage), November 25th, we were motoring along around noon when that same piercing wail rang out from the engine.  Wrrrreeeeeeee!  Phillip throttled back and the sound stopped.  The temp and oil pressure all looked good.  It was a mystery.  Now a twice-occurring one so we decided this time to investigate.  Phillip stayed up in the cockpit while I went below and started to empty our aft berth of its contents so I could access the engine.  Just about the time I had got the berth emptied, I heard Phillip scramble around topside and suddenly the engine died.  I popped my head up in the companionway to see it had not died, Phillip had cut it.

“It was overheating,” he said worried.  Thankfully, he had been carefully watching it because no high-temp alarm rang out.  Add that to our list of things to inspect.

When I opened the little door that allows us to access the engine from our starboard aft berth, a nice waft of smoke poofed out and smelled of burnt oil.  I looked at the back of the engine and could visibly see antifreeze pouring out from under the fresh water pump on the back of our engine.

Busted fresh water pump 2

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Not a good sign.  We then pulled the floorboards up to see how much had drained into the bilge.  It was disheartening.  The entire bilge was Ghostbuster green.  But, for the moment, Phillip and I were not deterred.  We had all of the tools necessary to remove the pump, and we were hopeful it was just a seal inside that we could replace.  We have plenty of spare seals.  We also had plenty of antifreeze to refill it.  I spent a hot, greasy hour crammed up behind the engine (only Annie fits here).

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With some serious cheater bar action and hammering on the end of our biggest deep socket wrench, I was finally able to remove the pump.

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While Phillip and I are certainly no diesel engine experts, we could tell even from our untrained fresh water pump eyes, that the thing was shot.  I could see there were several ball bearings missing and the shaft had a wonky movement to it.  But, we have bearings aboard.  Phillip and I still thought we could turn things around.

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We texted out to a few friends who are knowledgeable about boats and engines (Brandon with Perdido Sailor, always being one), letting them know what had happened and welcoming their thoughts/advice.  Then, Phillip and I both spent another hotter, greasier hour, tapping and banging on the pump trying to get it to come apart so we could see if it was fixable aboard.  We were still banging and cursing when our Delorme chirped out.  It was Brandon.

“You can’t rebuild those,” he said.  “It will have to be replaced.”

I can still remember that moment.  Phillip and I just kind of sat there, our greased-up hands on the table, staring at our forlorn pump.  The whole scene makes me think of Eeyore.

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As we were not carrying a fresh water pump spare, Phillip and I had to face the sad reality that, for this passage at least, our engine was completely useless.  So much for all that extra diesel we brought

But, our next moves were some of the hardest.  Phillip and I had a very BIG decision to make.  And, although we did not know it at the time, we had our hardest sail to date ahead of us.  This includes both of our Atlantic Ocean crossings, and still wins out.  Plaintiff’s Rest’s crew was a day and a half out into the Atlantic Ocean on our first 8-9 passage, trying for our first time to sail to the BVIs.  I will have to admit the sheer excitement of that goal and the desire to achieve it weighed heavily on us.  We still had sails!  We were expecting wind in the next day or so.  People have been sailing the world for centuries without an engine.  They’ve been shipwrecking too

Next up, I will share the difficult, but well-reasoned decision we had to make on whether to slump our shoulders and turn around to sail back to Spanish Wells or carry on toward our destination without a working engine and what an awful adventure it embarked us on.  Stay tuned!

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Composting Head Article in SAIL Magazine

“K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, Sailor,” Author Annie says in this article in the June/July 2020 issue of SAIL Magazine. Because that’s exactly what our swap to a composting head has done for Phillip and me—made life aboard our boat so much simpler, safer, sweeter-smelling even! We will never regret the decision. While I’m excited to continue sharing our BVIs voyage next time, I can never help sharing when I see my name (and face!) in print. Look at Author Annie, go! Many thanks to the hardworking team at SAIL for putting this fantastic piece together. Be sure to grab a copy and check out the article! If you’ve ever pondered swapping your standard marine head to a composting head, you’ll find this piece helpful. I have also written at length about our reasoning, research, and decision to swap to a composting head as well as put together a video showing the install. This is some seriously interesting shit! Sorry, had too. ; )

Enjoy the article SAIL readers!

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Planning Our I65 Route (Over the Thorny Path) With Help from WRI

“Never again.”

“It was brutal.” 

“Worst day-sails I’ve ever been on.” 

“It took us three months just to get from the Bahamas to St. Maarten.”

These are just a few of the not-so-encouraging things we heard from cruises who had chosen to take what is known as the “Thorny Path” from the Bahamas down to the BVIs.  

November, 2019 – Spanish Wells, Bahamas:

Phillip and I had been poking at this debate for years: taking the offshore “I65” route from the Bahamas down to the BVIs versus the “Thorny Path.”  While many of you are likely familiar with these two routes, to put it very curtly, the I65 route is essentially an 8-9 day offshore run (on our boat) heading directly east the first few days out into the Atlantic, and then turning around the I65 longitude to ride the trade winds down to the BVIs, whereas the Thorny Path is a series of day hops along the coasts of Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the USVIs on the way to the BVIs.  

While Bruce Van Sant (and his infamous G&Ts!) might claim a gentleman can sail a thornless path to windward along the Thorny Path, the many reports we received from cruisers who had actually done it did not agree, calling it “brutal,” “awful,” “a bad idea” even.  There were several reasons, in addition to what we had heard from fellow trusted cruisers, the Thorny Path did not appeal to Phillip and me:

  • We like to sail offshore.  It’s not foreign or frightening to us.  With the right weather window and good working systems, offshore passages have by far been some of our more memorable and rewarding voyages.  However, we can completely understand for couples or cruisers who have not done much offshore or overnight sailing, the thought of their first 8-9 day passage completely offshore could be frightening.  We could see how the Thorny Path could have more appeal for cruisers who fit that bracket; that’s just not us.
  • We do NOT like to sail to windward.  Period. Even if it is just a day hop. Beating to weather is just not fun. It’s not good for the boat or crew, and it always increases the risk of gear failure or breakage.  I’ve written before about sails I have just wanted to end, even though it was just a short day-hop to weather.  Phillip and I would take a downwind—or simply any wind more favorable than a head-wind—offshore any day over beating to windward.
  • Entering new ports and trying to make dicey daytime arrivals stresses us out.  I’ll take days on end in comfortable conditions in the Atlantic any day over continually navigating new inlets, anchorages, or marinas, potentially in a headwind.  For us, passage-making is like flying—the hardest part is usually the takeoff and the landing. Once you’re up in the air (or out in the ocean), you just cruise.

For this reason, Phillip and I set our sights on the trusted “I65 route” offshore.  In preparation for the passage, we contacted Nanny Cay Marina to reserve a slip when we expected to arrive in the BVIs in early December.  

We chose this marina in Tortola because we had heard great things about it from fellow cruisers, particularly Brittany with Windtraveler, an inspiring mother, sailor, and writer whose blog Phillip and I have been following for years.  If you’re on Instagram, check out Brittany’s frequent posts from Nanny Cay, which are just stunning! 

With our destination and reservation secured, our next task was to prep the boat and start looking for a weather window.  

As this was the longest offshore passage Phillip and I were about to undertake—just the two of us on our boat—one thing we decided to do differently was to increase our diesel provisions by adding three more five-gallon jerry cans on starboard, in addition to our standard three on port. We moved the whisker pole (which usually rides on the stanchions on starboard near the bow) back near the cockpit (to move the weight of the diesel aft to offset our chain on the bow) and strapped the diesels to it.  

Also, our ability to purchase and add these last-minute jerry cans was attributable to one of the many great aspects of Spanish Wells, which I touched on last time during the virtual tour: numerous marine vendors on the island who offer a wealth of supplies, tools, even repair services.  

It is a common rule on our boat, that if you pack the spare, that just ensures you won’t need it.  Our hope was, if we packed extra diesel that would just ensure we’d be doing more sailing than motoring.  

As lawyers, we should have read the fine print of that bargain.  The promise wasn’t sailing over motoring; it was diesel you wouldn’t end up needing.  That is, in fact, what we got.  Just wait … 

The extra diesel was also just one item on our list of offshore prep.  For those of you curious, this is a rough bullet-point of what Phillip and I usually do to convert our boat from comfy floating-home to offshore-thoroughbred:

  1. Break-down the dinghy and stow it below
  2. Install the jack lines and pull out the harnesses and tethers
  3. Change the oil on “Westie” (our 27A Westerbeke) if necessary, and top all fluids
  4. Fill the diesel and water tanks, water bags, gallon jugs, solar shower, and all Jerries
  5. Tie and secure the Jerry cans on deck
  6. Swap the genoa for the working jib (if applicable)
  7. Install the inner forestay for the storm sail (if it’s not already installed)
  8. Set up the lee cloths
  9. Unpack the foulies
  10. Wash the boat

Washing the boat is almost always followed by a beer!

Oh, and then we throw a little below-decks party (complete with disco ball)! It’s good for the offshore mojo.

Once all of that is accomplished, we are ready to go!  All we have to do is watch the weather and pick a window.  For the I65 route, Phillip and I were hoping for good winds on the beam or following to let us sail several days directly east, with an anticipated few days of motoring in the middle as we made our way toward longitude 65, with the hope the traditional trade winds would then kick in and allow us a nice beam reach south all the way down to Tortola.  Here is what we were seeing on the GRIBS at the time.

In addition to our own weather routing, Phillip and I also decided to experiment with another new tactic for this voyage.  We had heard good things about Weather Routing, Inc.  We also  had the opportunity to speak with them at the Annapolis Boat Show back in 2019 and were impressed with what they could offer.  (They also offered a discount at the show, so … lots of benefits to purchasing marine items at a boat show, I’ll tell you!)  

When we learned about the scope and quality of their services at the show, we decided we wanted to give them a try when we began routing our I65 trip in November, 2019. Guys, the data they sent us is still the most impressive weather routing I have ever seen.  I am a very visual person, so I found the Meteogram they put together for us—showing the exact amount of wind and how it would quarter or beam on the boat for each day of the anticipated passage—was a stellar product in my opinion.  I mean, check this out!

While Phillip and I have stared at many GRIBs, this visual just instantly “clicked” for me.  It’s like I could then see the passage playing out in my mind.  (And it looked like a mighty fine passage!) We were definitely pleased with the WRI service.  Not to mention they were pretty near spot-on with the wind speed and direction.  WRI even advised we push our departure date back one day for a better window, advice we followed and which served us well. But, that was a bit of a tough decision, just because we were SOOOooooo excited to go!

I always start singing a certain John Denver tune right about now.  “Our Jerries are packed, we’re ready to go.  Standing here, by the galley stove … “  Phillip loves traveling with me!  : )  Next up, we’ll take you along with us on our I65 voyage followers, out into the big blue! Please leave a comment below if you’ve ever had to make the decision between the I65 route or the Thorny Passage, which one you chose and why, and how the voyage turned out for you.  In the meantime, we’ll be … 

“Leeeea-vin’ on a small boat. Don’t know quite where we’ll up and float. Leeeea-vin’ … ”

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Take a Virtual Trip With Us! To Our Favorite Island in the Bahamas: Spanish Wells!

Since we are all pinned down at home unable to travel, I thought you might enjoy a virtual tour of what has now become mine and Phillip’s favorite island in the Bahamas: Spanish Wells!  While this island definitely impressed us the first time we came to Eleuthera in 2017, earning our “favorite beach in the Bahamas” award, Phillip and I now know we didn’t stay quite long enough to truly let the spirit of Spanish Wells sink in.  This time, however, in November of last year, soon after my scariest moment underwater in the Berries, we were able to spend a solid week in Spanish Wells while preparing to make our run offshore to the BVIs, which allowed us to uncover more of its hidden gems.  Spanish Wells has both the non-touristy, untouched “local feel” of the Bahamas—where you can (and usually do) walk the entire island every day and interact with the locals—while still offering several diverse and delicious little bars and restaurants (even an ice cream stand!) where you can indulge on their island-inspired treats as well as plentiful groceries and marine supplies.  This balance of authenticity, bounty, and beauty has made Spanish Wells our favorite stop in the Bahamas so far.  Here, let me show you.  Take a virtual trip with us and tell me:

Where else in the Bahamas can you … 

Make a beautiful overnight run from the Berries (probably our second favorite stop in the Bahamas) to be greeted by “Buddha” himself at Buddha’s Snack Shack along with infinite words of wisdom on the walls?  If I wore pants instead of a bikini, I’d tuck a leg, too. 

Watch two stunning African grey parrots give each other “big love?”

Stumble upon a craft gallery right on Main Street filled with incredible pieces all made by the local children?

Hold a setting Spanish sun?  I mean …

See such a dizzying array of island colors while walking to Mimi’s Beach Hangout to lounge in a Lazyboy on the beach?

Venture out at night for a cold sweet treat from Papa’s Scoops, a walk-up ice cream shop (and take photos you won’t remember the next day)?

Make Phillip reconsider his law firm hours? : D

Challenge one another to a cannonball contest by jumping off the famous Russell Island bridge (a rite of passage for all local kids in Spanish Wells)? Tell me … who cannonballed best? : )

Then, post-jump, get surprised by and treated to fresh, hand-made ceviche at this local’s little pop-up stand on the Russell side?

Enjoy Christmas decorations (at our favorite restaurant, Wreckers) for months, instead of only weeks, as the locals in Spanish Wells put them up the day after Halloween? Gotta love their Christmas spirit!

Have flaming cheese brought to your table? I mean …

Cook up fresh-caught strawberry grouper and massive lobster tails bought from a local fisherman at the docks who loves to share all kinds of stories from his forty years of fishing around Spanish Wells?

Get to walk past this awesome store-front painting every day?  (I actually started to miss it after we left, and it gives me a great feeling of nostalgia every time I see it again).

Stroll a shore this beautiful?

KITE a shore this beautiful? Annnnddd almost get “kilt” (Annie term) by Phillip – watch till the end! : )

I’ll tell you, it was really tough for Phillip and I to leave Spanish Wells, but we were excited to venture out on what we expected to be our longest passage yet on Plaintiff’s Rest on an 8-10 day run offshore on the “I65” route from Eleuthera down to the BVIs. Boy, do we have some doozies to share from that trip.  There was more than one casualty. And many lessons learned.  Next time! We hope you enjoyed this virtual island trip! Stay safe followers.

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