Stretching the Love with Spandex Therapy

It’s like stretchy therapy for your heart and soul. Because life happens.  We all struggle.  Laughter helps.  But, spandex heals.  Hello HaveWinders!  I wanted to take a quick detour from our Bahamas tales to share some exciting news and one helluva inspiring story.  If Spandex Therapy is anything, it’s about sharing people’s stories.  But it is also my latest business venture!  This lovely (and very funny) gal here, Rachel, and I recently launched our Spandex Therapy website and swag at a Pensacola paddle board event!

When my friend, Rachel, first came to me with the idea, my face probably looked a lot like yours did when you read the title of this blog.  “What is Spandex Therapy?” you’re probably wandering. The funny thing is, YOU are probably a huge fan of what we call “spandex therapy” already, you just didn’t know it. Spandex Therapy is about inspiring and connecting people who get their bodies moving to keep their minds balanced and buoyant.  We share their stories because they empower us in the face of our own struggles, because everyone has a story.  Whatever you’re struggling with—whether it’s huge (the loss of a loved one or some other deep heartbreak or sorrow) or just the minor stresses of life that make us feel small, angry, stressed, disappointed, like a failure—it helps to step outside, move your feet, connect with nature and other people, and let the stress you’re dealing with start to pour out of you (like sweat!).  Spandex Therapy offers content and gear that inspires people to laugh a little, love a lot, and go work IT out.  It’s not exercise. It’s therapy … at your own pace.

You see? That’s some pretty empowering stuff. That’s why when Rachel asked me to be her business partner in launching this awesome platform, I said yes!

She sealed the deal with a unicorn ring. I’m a sucker for unicorns.

And, look at me.  Donning spandex right there!  I mean, I practically live in spandex!  

You all have seen me in so many different photos at HaveWind getting my sweat on in spandex (often not from working out, just from working on the boat) but that counts as therapy, too.  Whatever you do outside to stay active and improve yourself and your life, it counts. One of the reasons I immediately fell in love with Rachel’s Spandex Therapy concept was because it screamed of my own experience.  

I wrote a good deal in my book  Keys to the Kingdom about the years I spent in a bad marriage, practicing law to the point of busting an artery.  I was heavy. I was drinking too much.  I was hardly active.  And, I knew I needed a change.  While I did not know cruising the world on a sailboat would BE the change, I knew sitting in an office 8-10 hours every day working in front of a computer doing a job that made my blood pressure soar was not healthy for me.  A huge impetus for my own life transition was a desire to GET OUTSIDE and GET ACTIVE.  I wanted to travel, to try new things (which included sailing and kitesurfing and eventually aerial silks!).   All of those activities are therapeutic for me. They keep me balanced, happy, and whole. 

That is the reason I joined Rachel in her admirable cause, and because she is an exceptionally inspiring person.  You see, like me, Rachel also has a life-transition story.  While every other person I have met who understands Spandex Therapy has an equally empowering story, Rachel’s does stand out.  Four years ago, Rachel was not the person you see today: running 5Ks, doing open bike rides, marathons, triathlons, etc.  

She weighed over 200 pounds and was a smoker.  She had just gone through a wicked divorce from a man who was suffering extensively at the hands of his own demons, and trying to raise their young son alone as a single, working mother.  Her life was then thrown into a tailspin when her father’s son was rendered a paraplegic in a motorcycle accident.  He hit rock bottom, as did she.  

But, instead of crumpling, Rachel put on her sneakers instead.  She found strength (as so many do) in the supportive Spandex community.  She also got to witness first-hand the healing power spandex had on her ex-husband as he began racing in his wheelchair.  He is now much healthier, physically and mentally, and an avid wheelchair athlete.  He is an entirely different person, as is she.  Rachel went from doing 5Ks to 10Ks to a half-marathon, to a full, to finally a very dark year she spent training for Ironman, where she ran the last 16 miles in the pouring rain, but she freaking did it!  

Rachel finished!  She did a 70-point-freaking-3!

She didn’t find out until several weeks later, however, that Ironman did not agree.  When the official times were posted, Rachel saw a big “DNF” next to her name, which meant she “Did Not Finish.”  She missed the 17-hour limit by one minute.  One measly minute … 

But, you know why that didn’t have any impact on her? Because Rachel’s got one helluva sense of humor, which I think is necessary to get us all through this crazy ride that is life.  “DNF is better than DNS” she says with a smile. “Didn’t Never Start!”  That gal…  Despite the Ironman disappointment, Rachel is still an avid racer, runner, biker, etc.  “I just have to TriHarder,” she says.  Ha!  Because “triathlons make me wet.”  You’ll see a lot of fun taglines like these on our Spandex Swag, which I’ll be sporting often because:

Folks like Rachel and so many of her Spandex Therapy tribe members, as well my many other idols whom I’ve written about before—Pam Wall, my featured People With Gusto (Pat and Steve), my inspiring silky friend Nikki Beck—whose stories of happiness despite heartbreak, courage in the face of what would seem to be catastrophe, always inspire and humble me.  They remind me that whatever little stress or struggle I’m going through likely pales in comparison to someone else’s.  By sharing our stories we all empower each other to grow, laugh, and heal.  That’s what Spandex Therapy is about and I’m proud to be a part of the team.  Feel free to check out our platforms:

www.spandextherapy.com

www.facebook.com/spandextherapy/

www.instagram.com/spandextherapy/

And follow the journey.  Our whole goal is to:

My Best De-Docking Yet!

Man am I proud to tell this story.  You all know what a stupidly frightening part of cruising docking has been for me. I’ve shared many times on this platform my worst fears in cruising.  Number one has to be hurricanes—the sickening feeling that everything we’ve worked so hard for could be wiped out with one callous sweep of Mother Nature’s hand (although I could never blame her with the unforgivable way humans have absolutely ravaged this earth).  Number two, however, used to be docking.  And, I do hope you noticed the phrase “used to be” there.  While I still think Phillip and I have a perfectly admirable healthy fear of docking, after this last voyage to the Bahamas, I think I finally knocked docking down a rung or two where it now resides under heavy weather sailing and running aground.  Number five is running out of booze.  Always has. Always will be.  

Ahoy crew!  When I last left you here on the blog, Phillip and I had just experienced our best and worst days on the trip in Bimini, Bahamas. Well, I have to admit this docking day would probably rank up there as well, at least in one of the top five best days of our trip for sure.  It was when we de-docked after staying five days in Bimini.  (And, I’ll admit I’m not even sure de-dock is a true word, but it’s an acclaimed one here at HaveWind, respected, revered, and used often!)  

Phillip and I knew, when we arrived in Bimini, that it was going to be a while before we could leave.  The GRIBS were telling us it was going to blow a hard east, southeast, upwards of 18, 20, even 25+ mph for days.  As leaving Bimini to travel anywhere else in the Bahamas would be a no-fun bash to windward, all five boats on our finger pier decided to stay in Bimini for a week to let the winds die down. And, this was no setback by any means. Bimini is a fun, funky place with several little restaurants and bars, good grocery stores (I mean, good for the Bahamas). If an island gets a boat in every week with fresh produce, you feel like you’re in heaven. There was also a stunning bluewater shore on the north side of Alice Town.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention Joe’s Conch Shack in Bimini. The fun “friendly” place, the sign says with a huge conch pasted on some even huger boobs. Yes, very friendly. But, honestly, they were. We had the honor of meeting Joe, himself, who told us his tale of how he got into the conch salad business, the many years he spent making conch salad roadside as well as table-side at fancy events, and all of the “running around” he did. “I’ve got twelve wives and fifteen kids,” Joe said. “I did my running around.” Ha haaaaa. Love that guy. And, watching him dice an onion into pieces smaller than my pinkie nails without even looking at it will blow your mind. I’ll be he’s cut somewhere north of a million onions in his life.

While it was howling, Phillip and I were grateful for the time it afforded us to really explore Bimini and immerse ourselves in the island culture. And, thankfully, when it blows, we know we also have another fantastic activity option: kitesurfing.  I will say, that is one of the best things about being a kite-surfing-cruiser.  Usually sailors like to sail in winds of 10-15, often downwind in the direction they want to travel, but we all know it’s not very often those two things happen: wind in the right speed and the right direction.  So, for many cruisers, days of winds of 20+ that would be on the nose, force them to stay hunkered down in their boats with little to do on the water. 

This is one circumstance where being able to kite-surf truly gives Phillip and I an exceptional alternative. When the wind is too rough to sail, it often lends us the perfect conditions to tear it the *bleep* up on the kite!  And, we do get a lot of looks from folks in the marina, biding time in their cockpits, wishing the wind would die down, watching us walk back and forth with all of our kite gear and, if they can see us on the water, watching us zip and slide while riding the kite—often with a face of envy.  I will not lie in saying Phillip and I kind of like that face.  It reminds us how much the work and investment we put into learning how to kite and acquiring the gear to be able to take it with us on the boat so we can kite while cruising was 100% worth it.  

In Bimini, we were lucky to have an awesome dock neighbor, Justin, docked right next to us at BlueWater Marina who turned out to be a professional photographer with some high-end equipment. He and his sweet girlfriend, Rosie, spent a couple of very fun afternoons capturing photos of me and Phillip kitesurfing, offering us some of the best pictures Phillip and I have ever seen of ourselves kitesurfing, and we were super grateful.  And, it seemed a fun way for them to pass the time on the dock while the wind was hammering us in Bimini.  Many thanks to Justin and Rosie for these amazing kitesurfing photos!

But, when many cruisers are waiting for the winds to settle down so they can make the jump to the next location, they often all seize the same weather window to leave.  When the forecast finally showed a lighter south wind day, all five boats on our finger pier decided to leave the following morning—some headed east toward Nassau and beyond, others headed west across the Gulf Stream back to the states.  The next day we were all gathered and walking the dock early, ready to help toss lines and make sure each boat got off safely.  I love that comradery and generosity among cruisers.  

The first boat off the dock was a Catalina 42 on the farthest dock out near the channel.  The winds were blowing a light ESE not expected to have much effect on the boats so we were all anticipating fairly easy shove-offs.  That was the idea anyway … 

NOTE: No boats were substantially harmed in this de-docking or the remake.

The Catalina came off the dock no problem.  With five hands on the dock helping to ease the boat out, everything was going very smoothly.  The captain then began to back the boat up a bit further and turn his stern to his left (the north) so he could then shift to forward and navigate his way out between the two finger piers.  

As he was backing up, however, the wind and current was clearly impacting him more than he anticipated.  The captain and his mate were waving and saying goodbyes not quite aware of how quickly his port side was nearing the dock.  Then we heard him shout, “The wind’s got me!” when he realized how far his boat had drifted toward the finger piers and pilings he had just escaped.  

Everyone on the dock immediately began running either to the stern of their own boat to fend off or to the end of a finger pier and we all began pushing on the Catalina anywhere we could—the toe rail, stanchion posts, the stern.  It was like a human assembly line working the boat off the dock at each contact point.  

And, despite a few light bumps, our team of five was soon able to get the boat moving safely back in the middle of the aisle between the finger piers.  

Whew! we all breathed collectively.  

Next up to leave was the Benneteau to the right (south) of Plaintiff’s Rest.  This was the boat owned by Justin and his lovely girlfriend, Rosie, who had taken our kitesurfing photos.  Phillip and I and the rest of our de-docking team were up on the dock and ready to help them with their lines.  Thankfully, again, everything went smoothly as Justin exited the slip.  He started backing up and turning his stern to the north to navigate his way out.  I remember someone saying, “Alright, this one’s got it.”  To which I responded: “It’s not over yet!”  

I didn’t mean to jinx them but, unfortunately, just as the Catalina captain had done, as Justin and Rosie were farewelling and saying goodbyes, Justin’s Benneteau was drifting perilously close to the dock.  When Justin realized how close he was, we all could see the whites of his eyes as the folks on the dock ran through the same drill we had just been through, fending the Benneteau off at every stern, finger pier, and piling we could reach and—again—it took a five-man team to keep the bumps light and get the boat moving safely again.    

Having watched both of those boats de-dock, I knew I was in for it.  Phillip and I had decided at the beginning of this trip that we were going to split helm duties 50-50.  It didn’t matter the conditions or if the various entrances, anchorages, or docks seemed trickier than others, if it was “your day to helm” it was simply your day to helm.  Sailor up and grab the wheel.  

Well, today was my day. 

After we saw the first two boats bump their way out of the marina, Phillip asked me if I wanted to let him take the boat off the dock that day and I said no.  I had to man up.  This was our deal.  And, I did feel much more confident in my de-docking skills at that point.  I mean, I haven’t side-skidded into a tiny slip with cross winds and current … yet, but I had done my fair share of some backing up and maneuvering—even in tiny spaces where the docking was not super easy.  Marathon, FL was one example where I had to make several circles before I could get turned the way I wanted to and docked on the fuel dock, and I felt in control and calm the entire time.  Primarily, I was now much better at using thrust, forward, reverse, and the rudder to move the boat the way I intended.  There was no getting out of it.  It was my day.  But, I did have one condition: “I want that beefy guy on the dock helping when we leave,” I told Phillip.  

That beefy guy is Scott. He and Heather from www.cheapasstravelers.com on s/v Amun-Ra, a beautiful 37-foot Endeavour, cruise with their incredibly well-mannered dog, Jetson.  

They were a lot of fun to hang out with on the dock while we were in Bimini and they’re both cockpit-fitness gurus, which Phillip and I can appreciate.  Cruising is a lot easier and way more fun if you’re fit, and they both definitely are.  But, with the number of boats left on the dock dwindling and Scott having shouldered the brunt of the boat-shoving that morning, I definitely wanted to leave while he was still there.  So Phillip and I checked the fluids, cranked, and readied the boat to leave while we still had some strong hands on deck for help.  I didn’t want to need the help, but I darn sure wanted it there if I did happen to need it.  

Thankfully, the docking debacles of the previous two boats that had just left had taught me a lot.  They are both able captains and were just surprised by the swift force of the current in the marina.  I definitely had the benefit of hindsight and experience. The lesson was: back way the heck up before shifting to forward and throttling my ass off to get out of there. That was my plan anyway.  And, it was one that would have served me far better had I done that during my most memorable (and emotional) de-docking: my first one, where I almost ripped one of our shrouds off and suffered a teary come-apart afterward.  If you haven’t seen that awesomely-raw footage, please feel free to view it, the first video in the article, here.  You’re welcome.  

I was not going to make that mistake again.  Nuh-uh.  No way.  Not Captain Annie.

I kicked it in reverse and the 2-3 folks left on the dock helped our boat off and tossed Phillip the last of the lines.  I kept backing up, backing up, and backing up, until I could see the whites of Phillip’s eyes worried I had gone too far.  I could tell he was trying not to say anything, but he finally caved. “Don’t go back too far,” he said.  But, I have to tell you I relished in this moment.  

There have been many times where Phillip was at the helm, and I was at the bow, feeling unsure of the boat’s movement, what hold the conditions may have on it, or whether Phillip had the control I desperately hoped he did.  And the reason I did not know any of that is because I was not at the helm.  Holding the helm tells you everything you need to know about how the boat is responding.  In that moment I knew.  I knew I needed to go a bit further back and I could feel the minute I put it in forward, the boat was going to start lunging back toward the piers on my port side.  It’s hard to explain, but I could just … feel it.  “Just a bit more,” I told Phillip.  “I see it,” referring to the boats and piers I was coming perilously close to behind me.  

When I felt I had got as close as I safely could to the finger piers behind me on starboard, I then threw her in forward and gunned the shit out of that thing.  

Brandon would have called me a “throttle jockey” and boy was I one that day! I’ve never throttled that thing so hard!  I revved her up, threw the wheel over hard to starboard, and rocketed out of that marina without hitting a thing.  

Scott, Heather, if you’re reading this: while I’m so glad I didn’t need you on the dock that day, I’m so grateful you were there.  This one goes out to all the cruisers who have run to help a struggling boat while docking or de-docking, because you know that is going to be you someday and you will want every hand on deck possible to wrestle your boat to safety.  

It was a pretty cool feeling that day to be the first boat that didn’t bump on the way out (thanks mostly to experience and hindsight, that always helps) and to be the only female among the boats that had left from our pier so far that day to do it.  Rosie the Riveter would be proud.  Phillip sure was too, grinning from ear to ear as we pulled out into the channel in Bimini, unscathed. Whew! Another de-docking behind us.  And, Heather from CheapAssTravelers was conveniently walking around at the north tip of the island, where we kited, as we motored by, and she snapped a few pics of us heading out that day.  Thank you Heather!  

Despite my small accomplishment in successfully de-docking, however, I cannot claim the Most Badass Female Award that day.  Ironically, while I thought it was quite a big deal I had got off the dock without a scratch—with five hands helping and a two-member crew—we later learned another female that morning had de-docked entirely alone, while traveling single-handed, AND sailed her boat solo across the Gulf Stream back to the states.  I mean … damn.  

It was such an honor to meet Jessie from Kate and Jessie On a Boat which was a very popular series in Bob Bitchin’s Cruising Outpost magazine in 2017.  Jessie is now married to a right and witty English chap named Luke, and the two of them had just completed their first Atlantic circle as their honeymoon which they concluded in Bimini.  Yes, you read that right: first two-crew offshore ocean-crossing + honeymoon. I mean … Yes, I had to keep saying that when I was around her.  Jessie is just so stinkin’ impressive!  While Luke had to ferry back to the states to check in, Jessie sailed herself ALONE across the Gulf Stream and into Miami.  She cracked me up with her reasoning: “I’ve sailed across the Atlantic Ocean twice, and Luke was asleep half the time, so I’ve practically crossed the Atlantic alone. I’m sure I can do this.”  That girl.  This one goes out to you Jessie, and your incredible feat!  You can follow Jessie and Luke’s continued adventures at www.instagram.com/jessiebrave and www.onaboat.net

We’ve got more fun Bahamas stories and lessons to share here with you next time at HaveWind.  Next up, we make our way across the Grand Bank and have one of our biggest scares and wildest moments (of course they happen at the same time) outside of Andros.  Stay tuned!

More photos from our time in Bimini – enjoy!

Our Best Day and Worst Day, Both in Bimini

It’s a small boat, right?  I mean, I know it depends on whether you’re getting tossed around in some gnarly sea conditions. Then 35-feet is quite a small boat, way too small.  You’d much rather be on a 900-foot cargo ship then.  On the other hand, when you’re docking in wind or current and you’re barreling toward a slip that looks like the mere eye of a needle that you’re expected to actually fit your boat into, she’s quite a big boat then, 35-feet is way too big to fit in that tiny slot without hitting every piling and other boat on the way in.  But, there’s also another time the boat seems a bit too small: when you’re in an argument with your one other crew member.  

I mentioned this moment in my Birthday Tribute: 37 reasons (to match my proud 37 years!) why this past voyage to the Bahamas was one of our best yet.  It was the fight Phillip and I got into when we were navigating our way into Bimini. This was after a very (I hate to say it, but sometimes it just is – luck runs both ways) easy Gulf Stream crossing from Marathon, Phillip and I were making our way into the BIMINI entrance (as shown on the Explorer Charts – do not do the Bahamas without them) when things went sideways.  

As I said before, nothing needs to be re-hashed, but it was one of the most heated moments Phillip and I have had on the boat.  And, for us, those are exceedingly rare.  Honestly, in the six years we’ve been sailing together, I can count the number of arguments Phillip and I have had, where we actually raised our voices on the boat, on one hand.  And, that’s not meant to be boastful.  I know many couples vary greatly from us and many have their own dynamic, their own way of communicating and showing their love and passion for one another, and for conveying their anger or disappointment.  Many couples fight often (and often it’s lightheartedly although their words are still sharp).  Spats are just a part of their discourse and that works for them.  That does not work for Phillip and me.  

All evidence to the contrary, I am exceedingly anti-confrontational.  I get nervous and shaky at the thought of having to argue with someone I love, which often results in me doing a piss-poor job of standing up for myself and persuasively stating my position.  I know what you’re probably thinking.  But she was a lawyer.  I said “with someone I love.”  When it’s opposing counsel on the other side, just another lawyer just doing his job, too, then look the heck out.  I’m a tiger.  But, that’s worlds away from having an argument with Phillip.  With Phillip, I turn into a sniffly puddle of goo when I have to confront him.  But I’m proud to say I did not this time.

Bottom line was, I screwed up plotting the coordinates in real-time as we were coming in via the BIMINI waypoint on the Explorer Charts.  By the time I realized my mistake, I had us closer to the breakers to the south of the entrance than either of us would have liked. 

And, let’s see what you guys can make of this.  In my state of confused worry and fear, trying to convey to Phillip that I might have had him holding too much a southern line as he was sailing toward the entrance I said:

“You’ve gone too far east.  You need to go north.”  

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  What, really? That’s crazy talk??

Phillip’s face probably looked something like yours does now.  “We’re going east,” he said deadpan.  “East is the goal until we get into the channel.”  Then I blundered and muttered and tried to show him coordinates on the chart while he’s trying to hand-steer under sail into the entrance, a very wise time to put charts in front of his face, don’t you think?  Yeah, he didn’t think so either.  

Needless to say some harsh words came my way which I deserved but did not take well. But, Phillip and I know when to put a disagreement aside for a later date so we can (pardon my French) get shit done in the moment.  Despite my goof, we made it into the channel just fine and were navigating perfectly north through the channel into Bimini.  Now it was time to find our marina (we had decided to stay at Blue Water Marina, a nice middle-ground choice between Brown and Big Game we thought), hale the dockmaster, locate our slip, and get docked.  There would always be time to discuss our little tiff later.  So, that’s what we did.  

Phillip did a great job docking the boat, with great help from a very friendly chap on the dock.  The dockhands in the Bahamas are all so helpful and friendly!  Then, later, after some steam had worn off, I mustered up some goo-prevention strength and found the courage to tell Phillip, without sniffles, that I was just trying to keep the boat off the breakers to the south and that he had hurt my feelings.  And, he, rightfully explained how consumed he was in the moment and how my north-west mumbo-jumbo was, quite frankly, a disappointment.  But, we talked it out, then we made up, joined hands and sang Kumbaya. 

I’m kidding.  Although there is, and will always be, random song outbursts on Plaintiff’s Rest.  Ironically, we learned later that the BIMINI entrance on the Explorer Charts suffers from continual shoaling on the south side of the North Bimini Entrance Point. So, my blunder probably kept us off of that unknown shoaling to the north.  Oh the irony!  But, that is just another great example of the lack of any need to get flustered or high-and-mighty while cruising.  Mistakes are just par for the course and sometimes they prove—with the benefit of hindsight—to not even be mistakes at all.  Some turn out to be happy accidents that save your hide. Or hull, as the case may be.

But, what was most ironic about having a fight make that day—our very first day in the Bahamas (which probably had Phillip and I both silently worried about how the rest of this voyage was going to go) one of our worst on the boat was that the next day turned out to be our best day of the voyage.  Cruising is funny that way in how quickly things can turn good or bad.  I think that’s a huge part of what makes you feel so alive out there.  

Everything is so volatile.  Whether or not things are going to go as planned (when you can even plan them), whether you’ll get into some unexpected weather, whether you’ll be able to safely find where you’re going, and whether that place will be a total dud or absolutely obliterate every expectation you had for it is always up in the air. Every outcome is waiting to be lived to see how it turns out.  None of them can in any way be predicted.  I’m hoping that makes sense to those of you reading who have not yet gone cruising and are just in the planning and plotting phases of it. Because, to me, the unexpectedness of it all, the IN-ability to plan your days and adventures is what makes it even better.  

Case in point: our best day in the Bahamas was the very next day in Bimini. Phillip—my Paddington Bear, the best travel buddy you can possibly have (sorry, he’s taken)—surprised me with a booked charter dive our very first full day in Bimini.  “We’re going to dive the Sapona!” he said.  I had no clue what a sapona was, but I didn’t care.  I was going diving!  “Awesome! My first sapona!” I squealed, which made Phillip chuckle.  He loves me ‘cause I’m blonde. (Sorry, I’m taken, too.)  Turns out, there’s only one Sapona, so this was my first and last, but I learned all about the Saponaon the boat ride out to our dive spot and was fascinated by its rich history. 

The SS Sapona, a cargo steamer, was part of a fleet of concrete ships built at the directive of Woodrow Wilson for use during World War I.  After the War, it was sold to a Miami developer who used it initially as a casino, then later for oil storage.  It was then sold to another developer in 1924 who used it to store alcohol during the Prohibition, but with plans to turn it into a floating nightclub thereafter. Unfortunately, the Sapona ran aground near Bimini during a hurricane in 1926 and broke apart.  Now, sitting in only 15 feet of water and having amassed an impressive fish and marine life population, it is a popular dive spot for professional charter dive boats and cruisers in the Bahamas.  You can learn more about the fascinating SS Sapona here.

It was an incredible dive with lots of nooks and crannies for fish to hide. We saw a stingray bigger than a circle I can make with both arms, a nurse shark, my very first puffer fish (and his little puffer kid!).  It was a baby puffer fish that I wanted to adopt but the dive guys vetoed it.  The huge prop and anchor of the Saponathat are partially submerged were both mesmerizing and a little haunting at the same time.  Anytime I see a man-made structure sunk underwater, I get a bit of a creepy feeling thinking the ghosts that went down with it are still there.  Do underwater planes or boats ever give any of you that feeling?  I have to brave up a little before I can swim my whole body into a sunken structure for that reason, thinking the ghost in there might grab me and never let me back up! 

What I didn’t know, however, until we completed the dive and I saw people scaling the side of the Sapona and climbing on top was that people jumped off this thing!  It’s like rite of Bimini passage.  I mean …  What did I say on the back of my Salt of a Sailor book?  

“I leapt off cliffs.”  Or old, grounded cargo steamers, as the case may be.  Phillip knew there was no way he was going to keep me from jumping off that boat.  And, boy was it a rickety climb up to the top, a plaintiff’s lawyer’s dream!  But, while we both made it, Phillip declined to scale his way to the tippity top like I did.  I didn’t call him the p-word, but you know I was thinking it.  Ha!  Sorry. You can take the Tomboy out of the backwoods, but you can’t take the Tomboy out of the girl. I scrambled my way up to the upper most point and lunged high and wide out into the 40-foot drop.  It was awesome!  I hadn’t jumped from a height that high since college and it was invigorating.  

But, this “high” still was not the highest high of that day.  I mean, Phillip and I had some pretty freaking amazing days in the Bahamas.  It was very hard to select this one, but looking back after the trip, we both did.  Do you want to know why?  

Because that day we swam with sharks!  

Not just one shark, or even just a handful of sharks, we swam with dozens of them! Right by us!  All around us!  And, this was nothing like the tank dive Phillip (again, another surprise, love that Paddington!) took me on in Tampa at the Florida Aquarium.  Awesome video of that dive for you here.  You’re welcome!

These sharks weren’t in a tank.  They didn’t swim with humans in their quarters every day.  They were out there in the open water, allowed to do whatever the heck they wanted, which would include gnawing on humans.  Granted, these sharks were somewhat “trained” in that this dive boat stopped often to take swimmers down with them and always fed them afterward.  No comment on that practice.  I’m just grateful it allowed Phillip and I a truly unforgettable encounter with one of the most majestic and important animals in our oceans.  My biggest take-away from that aquarium dive with the sharks was not simply the accomplishment of braving up and swimming with them but the education and enlightenment as to the true nature of sharks, their docile temperament, the need for them in our oceans, and the unfortunate, very human-like tragedy of the greedy plunder with which we trap, maim and needlessly kill them.  It is just sad and inexcusable.  We are not the victim, nor the prey.  Sharks are.

So, when our dive boat made an unexpected stop after rounding all of us divers and snorkelers (and jumpers!) up from the Saponaat “Shark Alley” on the way back to Bimini—the waters around our boat teeming with big black, swirling creatures—and the captain asked any of us, jokingly, if we wanted to go for a swim, Phillip and I said “Absolutely!” and started donning our masks.  

Yes, we arethose crazy people who swim with sharks.  All told there were about 15-20 reef sharks, ranging from five to maybe eight-feet long.  Big, beautiful creatures that maneuvered around us with surprising ease.  While they seemed a little curious, they didn’t seem at all hostile.  They were just swimming, waiting on their reward of a fish feast afterward.  Phillip and I were the only divers to dive down with the dive guide and stand on the bottom, still as a piling, while they circled around us.  It was an incredible, unforgettable dive. 

And, it was really fun to watch the boat crew feed the sharks afterward to see what they are capable of, but thankfully did not do while we were down there.  The swirling mass of them, circling and sliding around and over one another to gracefully inhale each piece of fish thrown in.  It was mesmerizing!  Video Annie joked: “What?  You don’t want to go for a swim?”  

And, speaking of Video Annie, I don’t have any footage to show you of the sharks because another great thing happened on that, the best day of our voyage: my GoPro broke.  Yep. It went kaput.  No pulse.  No battery. It simply would not turn on after the Saponajump.  And, for a moment I was frantically trying to pull the battery out and put it back in to reboot it while the dive guide was getting us ready to go down with the sharks, and I was frustrated and irritated and cursing it.  Then, something just clicked inside and I said, “f*ck it.”  I have mentioned many timeson this platform my dread of losing the power and feeling of a moment because I was more worried about filming it than living it.  GoPro’s death that day relieved me of that worry on that fantastic day.  With the ability to film no longer even an option, there was nothing to stop me from just jumping in, camera-free, and recording it all up here.  (Yep, I’m sure you can imagine me tapping my temple.  Right here, in the thinktank, my memory bank.)  So, I could then, in my own time, put it into spellbinding words later for myself and for you all here.  I believe in words.  And that was such a freeing feeling.  I then knew I would never have to wrestle with that decision at any other point during our Bahamas voyage.  GoPro simply wiped that worry away and silently told me: “Go.  Just live it.  Keep this just for you two.”  So, that’s what we did. And, for that, we thank him.  R.I.P. GoPro.

Next up, we’ll share our fantastic experience kite-surfing in Bimini (complete with incredible footage and photos taken by a dock neighbor there at Blue Water Marina – thank you Justin!) and our exciting sail over to Andros where we caught our first monster fish of the trip!  Stay tuned.