What 2020 Taught Us

Change.  Uncertainty.  Creativity.  Perseverance.  2020 taught us many things.  For Phillip and I, it was truly a wake-up call, in that we have always been committed to traveling as far and as broad as our work, lifestyles, and incomes allow, but we never dreamed the end-goal that we are committed to (international travel) could simply disappear, be shut down, like the flip of a switch.  *click*. “Sorry we’re closed,” said The World.  The pandemic showed Phillip and me many of the things we thought would always be there—open ports of call, the ability to travel anywhere as long you have a passport, the freedom of it all—just might not be there tomorrow.  What a revelation.  As I’m sure it was for many of you with all of the things you had planned to do: start a business perhaps, start cruising, finally take that trip to Jordan, or South Africa, or Peru, take your kids overseas, finally attend that once in a lifetime concert, go to a Super Bowl game, finally make that trip you’ve been promising for years to visit a friend or family member who lives abroad.  We all thought we would have plenty of time to do those things.  But, with the change and uncertainty that 2020 brought to those plans, it also pushed us all towards creativity and perseverance. 

Out of COVID, I was delighted to see people dig deep creatively and start creating art they had been holding back for a lifetime.  People got creative in businesses and services they offered.  Entrepreneur opportunities they felt they never had time for before—when their world was full to the brim with all of their regular, everyday “stuff to do”—now people suddenly had time and a mad desire to finally tackle those things way down on their list.  It was inspiring to watch many people shift and change direction under the pressure.  Like diamonds forming, I saw brave, new artists and musicians emerge.  People who had never really written before were now finally trying to write their first book (and coming to me for self-publishing advice) or finally starting that blog they felt they always had in them.  People built new structures, created new products, took up new hobbies, and designed new systems and solutions to problems they had previously always faced but never—in the mad swirl of life as normal—had time to try to address. 

It all reminded me of an observation the dockmaster, Steven, in Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, Bahamas pointed out to Phillip and me when we were keeping our boat there for hurricane season 2019.  If any of you have traversed the Berry Islands in the last few decades as well as more recently, you have surely noticed the sad atrocity that has become of Little Stirrup Cay, now known as Carnival Cruiseline’s “Coco Cay.”  It is an absolute circus.  A monstrosity of money, forced distraction, and shallow entertainment.  It is USA’s version of the typical American “vacation” on steroids.  Where there was once untouched, pristine Bahamian beauty to explore, enjoy and use creatively, entertainment is now shoved in your face on a platter. You don’t have to put any thought into how you spend your time. Just slide down the stories-tall, super-powered water slide, go for a hot air balloon ride, thump to ear-busting electric music, down five sugary Coco Crash drinks, alongside a pile of processed, fried some-kinda fish (we think), and then lie down and bake on a crowded, loud beach … with 2,000 of your closest friends.  Then head back to your enclosed, air-conditioned cabin on your oil-guzzling cruise ship so big it blocks the sun.  Sign me up.  NOT!

Seeing the very visual transition from untouched island to multi-colored madhouse makes me think Coco Cay is a metaphor for the world—a wild, distracting circus that has consumed its own resources.

Little Stirrup Cay pre-Coco
Coco Cay
Little Stirrup Cay’s pristine, isolated beach pre-Coco
A beach day, Coco-style, with 2,000 of your close friends : (

While I will readily admit the “circus” is good for the tourist economy of the Berry Islands, and it certainly employs hundreds of Bahamians who live around Coco Cay and who ferry over every day to “clock in” and man the monkeys, when I asked Steven how he felt about Coco Cay, he was very candid.  “It sucked da creativity outta da locals,” he said.  Steven explained those who had been bringing in lobsters or other fish to sell, weaving palm frond baskets to bring to the market, playing live music for tips, braiding hair in their own home-built pop-up salon, cooking and selling their homemade heirloom recipes to cruisers or marina transients simply stopped when they all found work at Coco Cay.  “Now dey jus get up, go to Coco, work ‘n come back.  No time for anyting creative.  Too busy on the clock,” as he tapped his watch with a frown and a shrug.  That really stuck with me when Steven said it (back in 2019, mind you, well before any of us had ever heard the word “Coronavirus” or “social distancing”).  Then, when I saw what COVID did globally—shutting down the Coco Cay employment factories of the world if you will—I was reminded of Steven’s words as I watched people find their creativity again and find new methods to express themselves and earn an income.  That part of COVID was actually very cool.  The creativity and the perseverance that resulted. Where previously, the world, functioning normally, simply handed us all a platter of things to do everyday without any room for choice as to how we were actually spending our time. Once COVID hit, many of us found all of this time now available to make a more conscious, intentional decision as to how we spent it. And, in that space, many of us got creative and far more careful about how we spent our time.

All of that said, 2020 definitely made Phillip and I scrutinize our own future plans through a much different lens, basing our decisions now on the possibility that everything could change in a moment.  Because we now know it can.  In 2021 or the years to come ports could shut down, borders could close, travel as we knew it, pre-COVID, may not always be as open as we had always simply expected it to be.  With that mindset, Phillip and I started asking ourselves some really intense questions about how we wanted to spend our time over the next 5-10 years (probably our best, healthiest remaining cruising years) and what we would need to do to make that happen, particularly in the face of a still-lingering, and perhaps re-igniting, pandemic.  Our simple answer:



To do this, we needed to prepare the boat to make the long voyages we have always dreamed of, and enable her to stay off the grid as long as possible (because the grid may be shut down from time to time), while allowing us to work comfortably aboard as that is now easier than ever to do post-pandemic.  In essence, it was time to finally make our boat all that we had dreamed her to be when we first bought her and start making concrete plans and goals to get us to the point where Phillip and I could cross the Atlantic, just the two of us, and begin cruising all over Europe, to Spain, Portugal, back to the Azores, France, the UK, the Med, Italy, Greece, all of it.  As far as the boat could go, capably and comfortably, became our immediate goal.

With all of the change and uncertainty it brought to the world, COVID taught us: It is time to make our own future and go. 

Hurricane Sally, having survived her, told us—pandemic or peril—we would persevere, if we got creative.

On our “Coronavirus Cruise” we called it, sailing our limping boat back home from the Berry Islands in March, 2020.

And, so we now begin the telling of the tale that will turn the page in our scripts, as 2020 did for many of us.  The year of the pandemic and the hurricane that brought us to the brink set Phillip and I spinning on a new trajectory.  Next, we’ll start sharing with you the creation of our Atlantic-crossing, live-aboard list, the needs, the wants, the desires, the headaches, the worries, the fears.  We were contemplating a re-power, a water maker, a new auto, more solar, more tankage, satellite wifi, heat, AC?  There were only a thousand things to consider and start tallying up.  It is an exciting new chapter, followers, that we are chomping at the bit to share with you.  And, it all ignited as a result of the change, uncertainty, creativity, and perseverance that sprouted out of that weird, wild year.  Stay tuned and, tell us, what did 2020 teach you?

Engine Crank FAIL! (An Ordeal or an Adventure?)

Got a question for you.  How many times have you started a story with: “Remember that time I did everything right?”  Not many, I would assume.  The best stories, mine at least, typically start with: “Oh man, remember that time I screwed everything up?”  … I’m pretty good at that.  But, as my buddy Bob Bitchin wisely reminds me, a screw-up can be one of two things: an adventure or an ordeal.  The only thing that moves that toggle switch one way or the other is your attitude.  So, in line with the ultimate purpose of this blog—to share the reality (which includes the mistakes) of cruising—let me share this fun little Annie “adventure” with you.  My first post-Sally engine crank … FAIL!

February 21, 2021:

Our boat has been on the hard for almost five months.  Five months.  That’s way too many months!  But, we were grateful to have her safe and in good hands and undergoing repairs.  Considering what she had been through in Sally, we were lucky to have her intact.  So, a slow repair process at the mercy of the insurance company, albeit frustrating, was not entirely intolerable as long as she was coming back together.  And, Plaintiff’s Rest certainly was!  Her damaged rudder had been dropped and shipped off to Foss Foam, with a new one being shipped back to her shortly.  Her extreme dock rash and other bumps and gouges had been repaired, and polished, and her chewed-up jib cars replaced.  Plaintiff’s Rest would soon be ready to splash!  Ready to sail!

In honor of this upcoming momentous moment, the boys at the shipyard were getting everything put back together to prepare her for her first sail since Sally.  I was at the yard that day overseeing operations and had asked the boys if they would hook up a hose so I could turn the engine over to make sure everything was running smoothly for the day of the splash.  Westie (our 27A Westerbeke) had not been cranked since September 23, 2020, almost five months to the day.  He’d been up on the jacks, sitting idly, just waiting.  Personally, I hate to have an engine sit.  I imagine all of the little rubber gaskets and things inside getting super dry and crumbly.  That thing is meant to run, get warm, stay lubed up, GO!  I was eager to turn him over for the first time.  I imagined hot, viscous oil pouring happily into all of his nooks and crannies and hearing him purr in gratitude.  (Yes, Westie, when happy, purrs.)

Having been five months since I last did it, however, I found I was embarrassingly rusty.  There were several Perdido Sailor crew members in the cockpit waiting for me to get my act together to turn the engine over.  I checked the fluids, as Phillip and I always do before we crank, although I found I had forgot (momentarily) where we kept the blue paper towels to do that job.  I forgot I needed a flashlight to look up in the corner where the coolant overflow bin is located.  I forgot to jiggle the oil dipstick one more time so it didn’t drip a bead of oil into the bilge. I was just … off my game, you know?  Have any of you ever felt that way about a procedure on the boat that you haven’t done in a long time?  Plus, all of the guys were watching and waiting on me.  All evidence to the contrary, I distinctly do not like to be watched or, much worse, waited on.  So, I was kind of … fumbly.  (Yep, that’s a word today.)

I did remember to grab the key as I hopped up into the cockpit, ready to crank.  Last minute, I remembered to check that the kill switch was down, that we weren’t in gear, and I gave her a little throttle.  But, right before I was about to crank I remembered.  Darnit!  The battery.  “Just a sec,” I told the guys as I hopped down below and turned on the start battery.  Pop back up and I’m ready for action.  Are any of you thinking I’m missing something right now …  

I press the glow plugs for my usual fifteen seconds (which felt like an eternity with all of the guys there standing in silence – although I know the thought of their stares was only in my own head).  Then I pressed the start button and voila!  Westie turned right over!  It felt therapeutically good to hear him running.  Brandon and I had a quick debate about how much throttle to give him to start (he thought it should be less, I thought more, as I hate to hear Westie rattle and sputter).  About fifteen seconds had gone by, when I finally (because fifteen seconds is typically a looonnngg time for this) remembered to look back over the stern to make sure water was coming out.  I typically do that right after I crank, every time, even though I can hear the water pumping.  It’s just habit.  But, what was I distinctly “out of” that day?  Habit! 

“There’s no water!  Crap!  Brandon!  I didn’t … There’s no water!  I gotta kill it.” 

I killed the engine and sat there stewing.  Had I really, after all these months, all of these extensive repairs on her, all of this babying of her, and everything she had done to hold on at that ragged dock then thunder her way to the shipyard, and I had just cranked my boat DRY?  (Something I have never done by the way.) That was the “thanks” I paid to Plaintiff’s Rest after all of that?!

Turns out, yes.  I had.  I was furious with myself.  For whatever reasons—being nervous, out of habit, out of the water—it just hadn’t dawned on me to … say it with me …


Dag nabbit!  I mean, we weren’t floating.  It just didn’t feel natural. 

To his credit, Brandon was doing a very good job of playing my therapist that day as I cursed and beat myself up over it.  He said it had only been a short time, that it was probably fine, that if I turned the engine back over and water came out, I shouldn’t wouldn’t worry about it.  That he wouldn’t worry about it (and Brandon is our ultimate gage of whether we should worry about it).  Although I couldn’t help but worry about it, there was nothing I could do about it.  I stomped down the companionway stairs, opened the sea cock (while calling myself a colossal dummy) then we cranked the engine again and I was overwhelmingly thrilled to see water coming immediately out of the exhaust. 

While I may have thrown a flange off of the impeller, I took comfort in the fact that I knew replacing the impeller in our raw water pump was already on our “short list” so I could chase that guy down and remedy that problem, assuming I caused it, then.  I did find supreme comfort in knowing, even though I had just royally screwed up, that I knew exactly how to fix it. 

As a result, I was immediately comforted and reminded of an anecdote that brought me supreme peace—a delightful … attitude, if you will—in that moment.  It is the reason I shared this story.  Some good friends of ours (Stephen and Beth, if you’re reading : ) told us a while back, when they were nervous to begin some remodeling and repairs on their house, thinking they might “screw everything up,” Beth’s father, an accomplished carpenter, had told them: “There ain’t anything you can screw up so badly that I can’t fix it,” as he handed Stephen a hammer.  In that moment, I felt that way.  I had reached a point on my own boat that there wasn’t any system I wasn’t willing to dismantle and troubleshoot, because I was confident I could either fix it, or learn how to.  In essence, there wasn’t anything on that boat that, if I screwed it up, I couldn’t fix.   What a supremely perfect attitude, no?

So, let me hear it folks.  Have any of you ever accidentally cranked with the sea cock closed?  And, if so, did it turn out to be an ordeal or an adventure?

Annie and Westie, getting to know one another in 2013. Know that he has since forgiven me for this “adventure.” : )

Tech Talk: Installing 380W of New Solar!

Isn’t solar power just awesome?  Using pure sunshine, something that is entirely free, that we all have access to, and that doesn’t cost us a dime to charge our little boat batteries and keep us happily floating and going?  I care none if this makes me appear the quintessential sun nerd.  It just warms my heart (get it ; ) to be able to operate the electronics on our boat from a source that is not only eco-friendly for our poor ailing earth, but that is also super affordable and … (drumroll) easy enough that Annie can install it!  Win.  Win.  Let’s dig in. 

So, as many of you know, our brave little boat survived a hurricane!  Whaaaattt?  Say it isn’t so.  So.  These things happen.  And, while thankfully she pulled through not too scathed, the solar panels on her bimini did not.  (And I know many of you are thinking: What the heck were you doing leaving your bimini up for a hurricane?  Because we didn’t know until hours before that it was going to be a hurricane and we thought the solars might be necessary to power the bilge pumps if she did, God forbid, start taking on water.  Were we right in this thinking?  Likely not, but I can only say that with the beauty of hindsight.  Sally just caught us all off guard.)  Including our solar panels.  Here is a quick run-down of our pre-Sally set-up. 

We had three panels (one 100W and two 50Ws) Velcroed and stitched (for good Annie measure) to our bimini providing us with 200 watts total of solar power.  We combined the wiring for the panels into one heat-shrunk tube, affixed it to our bimini frame and then ran it into the deck on the starboard side via a gland that Brandon with Perdido Sailor helped us install. 

(Phillip and I were too scared back in 2014 to cut holes in our deck without supervision.  Thankfully, that’s long since gone to the wayside since I have become quite the proficient 610-hole-filler as needed.  Annie get your gun.  Pow!).

Once inside the boat, the solar wires then ran hidden in various lockers and cubbies down to this area beneath our aft-berth where we installed two MPPT controllers.

If you are curious what MPPT controllers are, in Annie-speak, they decide how much solar power the batteries need.  Our wet-cell bank has three stages of charging: bulk, absorption, and float.  I like to think of it as slowing down when coming up to a stop sign. You don’t go from 20 mph to stopped, instantly do you? I hope not. Typically, you first slow pretty rapidly (consider this bulk), then more slowly as you get closer to your stopping point (consider that a full battery) so the car doesn’t jerk at the end (that slower charge toward the end would be absorption), and then you’re sitting idle at the stop sign with the car ready to go once traffic is clear (that’s float).  I hope that helps some.  As a woman cruiser who tries (very hard) to be an equal to her male counterpart, I find I have to learn things at my own pace, in my own way, and find metaphors and analogies that make things *click* for me as sometimes (unfortunately many times) the way Phillip explains it just sounds like Hebrew.  I’ve often thought about writing a fun Your Boat, She-Splained book for women that helps explain systems that often seem overwhelming, though once you understand them, you find they are quite the opposite and totally manageable.  Ladies, let me know what you think of that idea (as I unapologetically digress).

Back to the solar.  Along with the MPPT controllers under the aft-berth, we also installed switches that allow us to turn the solar panels on and off.  For whatever reason, our battery charger did not seem like it when the solars were putting in at the same time as the charger was receiving shore power.  The charge would get funky.  So, we always turn our solars off before we plug into shore power and, just to avoid any other interference, when putting in juice from the alternator on the engine and simply turn them back on after we’ve killed the engine for the day.  It seemed the easiest fix. 

So, with the panels, switches, and MPPT controllers, it was a pretty simple set-up.  On a good sunny day, Phillip and I could generally put in 6-8 amps/hour at peak sunny hours, which translated to roughly 30-40 amps in a day.  With Phillip and I using approximately 40-50 amps on a typical anchor day, the solar panels would allow us, usually, to lose less power each day. Although we did still lose, not gain, we did so at a slower rate than before we installed the solar.  With the solar, we were able to stay on anchor for 3-5 days, depending on the sun, without having to crank the engine to charge the batteries.  It was honestly quite perfect as, after about four-or-so days, we either need to get back to the dock to work and/or re-provision, or, when we’re on an extended cruise, Phillip and I are ready by then to crank the engine, weigh anchor, and go scout out a new anchorage for the next few days.  While Phillip and I were perfectly content with this set-up (and quite honestly we liked that the panels were generally out-of-sight, out-of-mind) after Hurricane Sally we knew we would need far more solar! 

Why?  Shore power was in no way guaranteed, anywhere!  There wasn’t a dock, it seemed, in Pensacola that hadn’t been completely mangled by Sally, and those that had survived had been scooped up immediately by any limping boat that had weathered her and was desperate for a home.  Phillip and I had no idea what new dock Plaintiff’s Rest might call home once she splashed back after her repairs or, quite possibly, whether we would have to just leave her on the hook in a bayou and dinghy back and forth to her.  Knowing that latter option was a very likely scenario for us, we wanted her to be as powered-up as possible in case anything happened (a small water leak or other issue) while we were away and she was off shore power.  That was our initial reason to go from 200W, previously, to 380W.  But after Phillip and I saw how much power we could have been indulging in with the simple (and easy) addition of a 170W panel on the dodger, Phillip and I are now kicking ourselves for not having installed one there sooner.  But, c’est la vie. 

So, how did we come up with the plan for the new install?  This is my right and proper cue to introduce to you my Solar Savior, my Sun Sensai, the one, the only: LYALL with Sunpowered Yachts.  He came highly recommended by my good friend and exceptional sailor, Pam Wall, whose recommendations rarely disappoint.  Lyall certainly did not.  He was there for me every step of the way, answering my many tedious questions, sending me diagrams and photos and wiring instructions, even immediately shipping new parts when I had ordered the wrong ones (the blonde is real).  If you are going the solar route, save yourself infinite time and headache by letting Lyall be your first call.  He’s also got a lovely British accent that I can just never get enough of.  (This girl’s a sucker for an accent, can I get an “Amen!” from the ladies? : )

With Lyall’s help, we decided on two 50Ws on either side of the iso-lookout as we’d had before on the bimini, a 110W forward of the lookout on the bimini, and a new 170W on the dodger for a total of an impressive 380 watts.  While Phillip and I did debate the aesthetic of the huge, somewhat sci-fi-looking panel on the dodger—as we often stand and look out over the dodger while sailing so it would now become a major part of our “view”—we decided the extra power and security and safety it offered was worth the minimal diminution of our “pretty view” to the bow and the overall look of the boat. 

Lyall recommended this corrugated plastic material to install underneath them for extra support. You can get it at any Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Lyall walked me through the amperage parameters on the two EPSolar MPPT controllers we already had and determined they would work to regulate the new panels, although we discussed upgrading to new Victron contollers if that would be necessary.  Thankfully, it was not.  So, as long as the wiring running to our bimini was still good (meaning only the panels were damaged in Hurricane Sally, not the wiring), the install was really only going to require affixing the new panels to the canvas on the bimini, wiring them to the old wiring running up the bimini frame, installing one deck gland for the wiring of the new 170W panel on the dodger, and running that wiring down to the MPPT controllers.  It honestly was quite simple and Phillip and I were thrilled to find—when we brought the panels to the boat and hooked up the bimini wiring for the first time—that the wiring was working perfectly.  We were ready to install!

My only hang-ups were (and I do this often but can rarely remember the lesson) I ordered a length of wire from the dodger down to the MPPT controllers below that was too short.  Yes, I measured (but that’s never an offensive question) but I always forget that when you start running wires behind things they may not always be able to go the direct straight route you measured as they have to take funky turns and can only come through in certain places.  You know, it’s a boat.  Nothing’s easy.  But, the minute I told Lyall this in an email, he immediately shipped out the longer length of cord, without even charging me, saying he’d figure out when I shipped the other back.  I mean … can you even find customer service like that anymore? 

The second little glitch was the wiring of the two 50Ws on the bimini in parallel.  Lyall recommended this over wiring them in series as this would increase the amperage of the panels without increasing the voltage.  This was beneficial as we would be wiring the 110W and the two 50Ws to the same MPPT controller.  Lyall explained it would be better to combine the two 50Ws and 110W on one MPPT controller with the 170W by itself on the other MPPT controller because of the big disparity in the 50Ws and the 170W, claiming combining those two on the same controller would really bring the 170W down.  Lyall explained it as “you’re only as strong as your weakest player” which made total sense to me.  The wiring in parallel, however, did require two additional Y-branch connectors, which Lyall was happy to send me.  See diagram below and the need for the connectors. 

Phillip and I did have to make some extensions here and there as the length of wiring that comes on the panels (roughly 17”) was not long enough in a couple of locations to reach to the bundle of wires on our bimini frame (that could not be extended).  But, here is where mistakes sometimes make the happiest of accidents.  The “too-short” wire I had ordered ended up working beautifully for this purpose as we could easily cut it and re-attach the fittings to create the necessary extensions.  So it was kind of a blessing in disguise that I’d goofed.  (Reminder to all to not be so hard on yourself when you do that, sometimes you’re just setting up for a happy accident … ride it out before beating yourself up over it).  Installing the gland on the companionway roof wasn’t terribly hard either, just one drilled hole (for the wire to run through), pilot holes for the screws to mount it, and some butyl and we were in business.  Installing and mounting the switch below the aft berth and inserting the wires into the MPPT controllers took less than half an hour.  Once those tasks were knocked out, Phillip and I were ready to plug the new panels in, turn their switches on, and watch the juice pour in! 

And boy did it … not.  Unfortunately it was a very cloudy day the day Phillip and I first turned them on.  So initially we blamed it on that.  But, then the sun came out yet the input was still very disappointing until we realized … duh, the batteries were already full.  We’d only just turned off shore power less than a half-hour before and had hardly ran anything.  Dummies.  Once we figured that out, though, we came back on a super sunny day with the batteries needing juice, and we were tickled pink to see our new 380W bank putting in almost 14 amps an hour

My mind immediately began calculating.  We spend about 50-60 amps a day.  14 times 6 peak hours equals … 84 amps?!  Meaning, on a good sunny day, we would be putting in MORE than we used.  Meaning, adding “cushion” for cloudy days.  With this much solar, Plaintiff’s Rest could, in theory, stay on hook as long as she wanted.  What an incredible thought!  Needless to say Phillip and I were thrilled.  Feeling a little dumb that we hadn’t installed a big-ass panel on the dodger years ago, but hey, we’d never felt super power-starved before.  And, now, we were power rich baby!  All thanks to the sun.  And Lyall, my Sun Sensai!  If you go with Lyall at Sunpowered Yachts, mention Pam Wall’s boat Kandarik for a 10% discount.  You’re welcome! 

Overall, this entire solar panel project I think cost us around $1,000 including the panels, wiring, gland, and other little tidbits.  A very affordable price in our opinion to add such a critical and valuable component (more power supply) on the boat.  I hope many of you start planning your own solar panel install projects soon!  Next up, I’ll share more of our Hurricane Sally repairs.  You’ll be surprised to see the transformation of our rudder.  Stay tuned!

Leaving Palafox Marina … Maybe Forever

I can’t tell you how many times Phillip and I have left Palafox Marina, whether it was headed out to our favorite anchorage, Ft. McRee, or just for a day sail, or sometimes to shoot all the way out into the Gulf and head south to the Keys, Cuba, the Bahamas, or beyond.  There was always a sense of thrill, however slight, when we would turn the corner around the jetty, point into the wind and hoist the main just as we were leaving the marina, a scent of adventure always in the air.  It has been a bit bittersweet to say goodbye to Palafox Marina, at least for the time being, and perhaps indefinitely. We just don’t know. But, whatever may come, Palafox Marina will always be an important chapter in our boat’s story as it was her primary home since we got Plaintiff’s Rest in 2013.  That’s seven years of memories at that marina! 

Our first time docking in our first slip at Palafox Marina, after buying and delivering our girl up from Punta Gorda, FL in May, 2013.

We’ve done dozens of boat projects at Palafox Marina. 

It’s where I first learned to dock the boat (and that bumping the dock is not the complete and entire end of the world).  It’s also where we put on our solar in 2014. 

It’s where we first installed our working jib in 2017. 

It’s where Phillip (we believe) will someday grow a third eye because he had to dive in the marina (yuck!) to retrieve part of our dinghy assembly that he dropped into the water.  Down you go, Phillip!

It’s where I got my heart-shaped “boat bite” from a heat gun.

Palafox Marina just houses so many memories for us.  But, now it was time to leave Palafox Marina, perhaps indefinitely, because it just couldn’t offer us shelter anymore.  What once looked like this. 

At the time looked like this. 

It was just … time to go. 

Plaintiff’s Rest was docked safely on the sea wall to the west, directly across from her former slip where she had bucked and heeled and held on for dear life. 

Now, our day had come to move her to the shipyard to be hauled out so we could finally assess the full damage to her rudder from Hurricane Sally.  I had mentioned, during my previous burst-of-a-post ; ) that Phillip and I were worried to turn or move her rudder in the unknown condition it was in after the storm because we were afraid something that might have been magically lodged might become un-lodged and that she might start taking on water.  For this reason our initial move of Plaintiff’s Rest, from her ravaged slip to her temporary spot on the sea-wall, had been done under sheer man- and tow-boat power as we did not want to move the rudder until the day we were hauling ass to the shipyard in case she started taking on water. 

Well, today was that day.  And, it was Captain Annie again answering the call of duty. 

September 23, 2020, 2:00 p.m.:

“I need you to pull me off at the hip as best you can!” I shouted to our buddy, Cap’n Jack, who had graciously offered to come that day to help in case Plaintiff’s Rest had issues with steering or some other problem once we started operating her and we needed a tow.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed at the response I got from many friends we had asked for help:

“I’m not in town, but I’ll tell you where the keys to our fishing boat are.  Anyone can drive her.” 

“I can come with the dinghy.” 

“You’re welcome to my boat.”

“I’ll be there.  Should I wear a cape?”

These were just some of the responses we received.  It really was heart-warming to feel the effect of such an outpouring of help, even from those who had lost their boat in the storm.  It seemed all sailors, no matter what has happened to them or their boat personally, want to see any other boat possible survive.  It’s like shaking a heavy fist at nature.  You didn’t get us all.  Not this time

We ended up having a friend (shout-out to Bill Wein – I sure wish I could have seen you in the cape!) who was going to come in his 10-foot rib on Thursday (Sep. 24th), when the shipyard had us slated to haul at 3:00 p.m.  As you can imagine, dozens upon dozens of boaters, damaged and scattered throughout Pensacola, were itching to haul, so we were advised, if we were given a pretty early slip to not miss it, as it might be weeks, maybe even months before the opportunity would come again.  This is why Phillip and I were feverishly asking for quick help.  But, the shipyard called on Tuesday and said Wednesday would be better, could we do that?  Off went the round of texts and calls again, trying to line up help for the new, day-earlier time slot.  We finally ended up with Bill’s rib, to be driven by another friend, Cap’n Jack, who was available Wednesday.  It was a hodge-podge rescue team, but I was thrilled to have help.  Phillip was on-board, but just in case of emergencies, as he was still fielding his own onslaught of work emergencies that had not let up since the storm struck.  We had another good friend, Keith, on-board to help as well, but I was once again in charge. 

Cap’n Jack had me tied a few different ways to his rib hoping he could pull me off of the wall (as, of freaking course!) there was a steady E/SE wind pushing me onto it, with not much room to maneuver off.  And, I had absolutely no clue how much maneuvering, if any, I was going to be able to do.  This was the first time we had cranked the engine (thankfully, Westie turned right over) and tried to steer the boat using the rudder since the storm.  Here we go, I told myself as I signaled Keith to let loose our last dock line to shore.  As I started to move the boat I could feel her responding to the rudder, which was overwhelmingly comforting.  But, as we started to pull away from the dock, unfortunately, Jack’s bridal and the force of the wind had grabbed my bow and turned me completely perpendicular to the dock.  Worried I would lose control of her if she started to spin in a circle, I made the tough call. 

“RELEASE!” I shouted to Jack, which we had discussed before would be my “safe word” if I felt things going sideways and I wanted complete control of the boat.  I’ll admit I was just a little terrified, but thankfully after several years honing my piloting and docking skills, I did feel comfortable I would be better able to navigate her than a tow-boat.  All lines fell off the boat and she was free.  By that time, she had turned completely to the north with her stern facing the direction we needed to go, toward the marina exit to the south.  But, thankfully, I had seen Phillip pull off this bass-ackwards maneuver (I can literally call it that) before.  I threw her in reverse and throttled her up hoping I could get enough momentum to steer her nicely, albeit in reverse, toward the exit. 

Phillip watched me attentively, but he did not step in.  He was on call.  I was Captain.  That had been our deal.  Mercifully it worked.  Whatever shape our rudder was in down there, she was fully capable of steering our boat.  I was able to back up to the exit and manuever her, finally after that tragic ordeal she had suffered there, out of Palafox Marina.  Cap’n Jack snapped this pic of Plaintiff’s Rest underway, all of our wayward, flat bumpers still tied on, with Captain Annie at the helm, but damn if we weren’t making way. 

Plaintiff’s Rest was going to make it!  Phillip and I locked eyes and gulped a big knot down our throats realizing the momentous accomplish our boat had just achieved. 

And while our plan had been to travel as gently as possible in the Bay so as not to put any additional pressure on the rudder, of course it was blowing 22+ out there.  We were heeled over without a lick of canvas up, but she seemed to be tolerating the conditions just fine as we made our way into the channel to Bayou Chico.  Cap’n Jack was running recon in advance of us making sure there weren’t any sunk ships or other large debris in our path, as many boats had been smashed and wrecked and met their fate, too, up in the Bayou. 

Phillip had me laughing as we were both looking ahead and he was pointing out the slip where I would pull in and tie to the dock so the shipyard crew could then man-handle us into the straps to be lifted out. 

“Well, this should be the easiest docking you’ve ever had to do.  You don’t have to worry about scratching her at all.” 

I have to admit I really needed that gigantic dose of humor in that moment.  He was totally right.  There was nothing I could do to her now, as far as a hull-bump, that would make any hill of beans.  Plaintiff’s Rest was already scratched and marred to high heaven.  But, she was floating and going!  Those were two big blessings right there.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get lucky with a third.  While this would have dawned on me had I had a little more fore-thought, but I’ll just have to admit, I was in my own little “Save Plaintiff’s Rest” bubble that I hadn’t thought to consider the state of the docks at the Travelift slip.  In my mind they had appeared pristine.  A safe haven for our baby girl once she made her harrowing journey across the Bay. 

What was I thinking?

Almost every dock in Pensacola was wrecked by Sally.  Of course the Travelift docks were wrecked too.  We could see it immediately as we passed by them.  I knew I had an E/SE wind pushing me and, when that is the case—i.e., both momentum and wind charging me toward a slip—I am always inclined, if space allows, to pass the slip and come at her with the wind working against my momentum to give me better control.  So, I had already planned to pass the slip initially, but when I did I saw what terrible state it was in.  Both sides of the dock were thrown cock-eyed from the storm.  Phillip was trying to communicate with Brandon ashore to determine which side was the least damaged so we could tie to it. 

“Starboard,” he hollered back to me from the bow as I was making my turn into the slip, but I could tell the wind already had too strong of a grip on me, and I wasn’t going to be able to make the slip, particularly not with a starboard tie.  It would more likely be a port slam at that point.  So, I backed out and circled again.  My hands and legs were shaking.  I was sweating, although the wind had me chilly.  But, as I started to come toward the slip another time, Phillip was hollering with Brandon and I didn’t know what the status was.  “Neither side!”  Phillip shouted back to me, which just struck me dumb.  Neither side?  Phillip jogged from the bow back to the cockpit and doled out my terrible fate that day: Both sides of the dock were unusable.  I had to motor straight into the straps, no mess-ups. 

I backed out again and was trying to make another circle but the boat didn’t seem to want to respond.  I throttled up, but she couldn’t seem to get her bow around.  “Throttle more,” Phillip said watching me struggle, which I did to no effect.  I was honestly afraid I had lost the rudder and was about to send Phillip down below to look when he asked: “Are you in gear?” 


What can I say?  I was nervous.  I was anxious.  But, I was definitely not in gear.  Get yourself in gear, Annie, literally! Thankfully I had the wherewithal not to throw her immediately into gear, at full throttle.  I’ll give myself that.  And, I didn’t pee.  There’s that, too.  But, once I throttled back, shifted her into gear, I was then easily able to turn and maneuver and by some miracle of grace I then motored her directly into the straps.  You want to talk about not much room for error.  I was so relieved when it was done that I clapped for myself.  I seriously did.  In the cockpit. All on my own. I didn’t care who thought it was weird or silly.  But, the guys at the yard were super nice about it and congratulated me on a great entry.  They said they’d had many boats come charging in and get all goobered up coming into the Travelift, so thankfully I had saved them some extra work. 

And, then it was time.  Time to finally haul our hurricane-ravaged beauty and see what carnage we would find beneath.  Phillip and I gave each other a little hand-squeeze as she started to emerge. Surprisingly, her bottom job looked pretty good.  Gouged in a few spots but nothing too terrible.  That boat that had sunk behind her, although it had damaged her stern rail, hull, and rudder, had likely saved her from other boats that had tried to come at her like a spear.  The rudder, however, was definitely chipped and cracked on the bottom, which meant she was also likely water-logged, too. 

Although we did not yet know the full state of repairs that awaited us, Phillip and I felt simultaneously exhausted and exuberant to have that day behind us.  Our baby girl had been plucked from the wreckage and finally sat in safe hands now on her jack stands at the Pensacola Shipyard.  She was safe.

It was a strange feeling, though, not knowing where she would go next, where her new home would be, and what might become of Palafox Marina.  As I write this (February 1, 2021), Palafox Marina, while it has been cleaned and a few docks rebuilt, remains largely empty with no activity occurring.  We have no idea when the rebuild might begin, how long it might take, or whether Plaintiff’s Rest will ever call Palafox Marina home again.  It’s been sad to see such a beautiful marina go, and while we don’t know what exactly lies in the future for Plaintiff’s Rest, we know she had a great time of it at Palafox Marina.  To our many memorable years there.  Cheers!

Article in SAIL Magazine: Surviving Hurricane Sally

“This is U.S. Coast Guard, sector Mobile, Alabama. We just received notification that your EPIRB went off. Is everything okay?”

“I … I don’t know.”

“Sir, where is your boat?”

“Palafox Marina.”

This was such a cathartic and therapeutic exercise writing this article for my friend Adam Cort at SAIL Magazine. It even includes a personal account from some close friends of ours who unfortunately lost their boat on that terrible morning. But, my goal was to emphasize not just the storm and how much it surprised us, but also the community’s response, and how much that surprised me as well, in the best way possible. I have been honored and humbled yet again to be included in the magazine, and I was grateful for the opportunity to tell Pensacola’s story. I hope you all had a chance to get a copy of the magazine and read the article. Phillip chuckled when he saw it, saying he was finally famous because he “made the front page.” Many thanks to the SAIL Magazine team for putting together such a great piece. Enjoy the read!

Captain Annie Moves Our Damaged Boat – Urine for a Treat!

It’s a weird feeling to fear water recession.  With the huge influx of water that surges in during a hurricane, often the boats simply float, to the extent they are unencumbered.  However, when the water starts to recede, often the boats have moved and they are now liable to sink down on any number of precarious surfaces: pilings, land, docks, other boats, etc. that could damage, if not impale, them.  After Sally startled and shell-shocked Pensacola and the storm surge receded, Plaintiff’s Rest was left, mercifully, clinging to a broken-up dock with a 34-foot power boat sunk beneath her that had likely damaged her rudder.  All we knew at the time was: we were not currently taking on water (thank god!), we believed the rudder was still in place and intact, albeit damaged, and we needed to get Plaintiff’s Rest out of that boat-strewn battleground and hauled as soon as possible.  Captain Annie, and her full bladder, to the rescue!

Monday, September 21, 2020:

It was my job to be Captain that day.  While I do have the official license and title (I received my USCG Captain’s license in 2017), that slip of paper doesn’t always make me feel 100% capable of handling the boat on my own every time, at least not without issue.  Although, deep down I know I can.  It may be scary and we may bump a thing or two, but I know I can, and I know she can handle it.  There is a great benefit to having a two-member crew where each person is fully capable of handling the boat independently.  Particularly on this day, when we got word from the marina they were planning to move Plaintiff’s Rest from her battered and barely-hanging on “slip.”  With the other finger pier to the south of her tattered and devoured, I’m not sure you can call the sliver of wood she was holding onto a “slip,” but it was the best reference at the time. 

Phillip was covered up that day with a number of other hurricane-related emergencies that would not allow him to work idly at the boat while awaiting our move time—which was in no way defined—so it was on me.  I didn’t know where they would be moving our boat to or whether they would want us to move out of the ravaged marina entirely.  They don’t really give you a manual for this kind of situation, and so many factors are at play: safety, preservation of boats or docks where possible, insurance, liability matters, weather conditions, alternative slip availability, etc.  After the storm, Phillip and I had simply been walking down to check on the boat every day to make sure she was not taking on any water and trying, when possible, to gather intel from the dockmaster and other laborers who were occasionally motoring about in their workboat—removing broken docks and boats in no particular order—when they might be moving ours.  It was pure luck we heard from a friend that morning who was at the marina who heard the dock crew say they were planning to move our boat that day.  We did not know when, but I darn sure wanted to be there when they did move her to make sure, to the extent I could, that she stayed safe and afloat. This was her situation at the time:

“I don’t want to turn the rudder,” I told Phillip over the phone after I texted him the news they would be moving our boat that day.  I couldn’t really explain the impulse, but I just felt, deep down, that if whatever was going on with her rudder and within the rudder post was holding now, meaning no water intake, I certainly didn’t want to be the one to un-do that currently-working situation.  Not without back-up.  If you find a friend impaled in the abdomen by a rather large stick, but he’s not currently bleeding, do you want to be the one who pulls the stick out without anyone else around?  What if he starts gushing?  For whatever reason, and whether it’s accurate or insane, that’s how I viewed our rudder at the time.  If anything was going to change with our precarious but currently water-tight situation, I didn’t want it to happen when I was aboard alone. 

“Then don’t,” Phillip said.  “Don’t let them make you do anything you don’t want to do,” he added firmly.  And, I say “firmly” because Phillip knew that’s how he had to give it, otherwise I would cave.  While there are many things I am good at—creating, working, fixing, learning, following orders—there are also many other things I am terrible at, like standing up to people, talking over others, negotiating, taking charge, and telling others what to do.  I’m just not good at being forceful, short, or dominant with people.  My people-pleasing desire sometimes makes me a pushover.  Phillip knows that.  That’s why he is always solidly our leader, and I make one hell of a loyal and obedient soldier.  But, not today.  Today I (a young female, sorry, but you just can’t, as a young female in an older male-dominated environment, unsense that) was going to be telling these old salts, long-time sailors and deck-hands, as well as the marina owner, what I would not be told to do. 

Sigh …

But, I squared my shoulders and prepared for it.  It was on me.  And, of course, it was the first biting-cold, spitting-rain day of the winter season.  Immediately after the day of the hurricane the weather had turned infuriatingly beautiful.  Sunny, warm, a light breeze.  Brilliant gold sunshine blanketed our debris-strewn streets like Sally had never even happened.  But, on this day, move-the-boat day, it was nasty and cold out.  Of course!  I donned my full foul weather jacket over a pair of sail pants for the day with many layers under including hat, gloves, and my rubber rain boots.  It was annoyingly frigid out and blowing enough to matter, 10-15 knots.  Just enough to make moving the boat while not under engine or sail more difficult.  But, the sight of my boat warmed my heart when I got to the marina.  There she was.  Still floating.  Still holding on for us.  The gravity of what Plaintiff’s Rest had done—held on in the horrific nightmare that had played out around her—steeled my nerves.  If she could do that surely I could be brave, tell the dock guys how I wanted things handled, and get ‘er done.   

Here we go, I told myself as the workboat came around to Plaintiff’s Rest to begin the process.  When I saw him approaching I felt my hopes immediately buoy.  A familiar face!

“Peewee!” I shouted.  Yes, that is in fact his name.  Or at least the name I’ve always known him to go by in sailing circles.  Peewee is one of those salty jack-of-all-trade types that you’ll find working on sails one year, doing rigging and making boat deliveries the next, helping clean up after a hurricane the following.  He’s been doing boat stuff in Pensacola for years and was someone I felt I could call a friendly acquaintance.  He was also a person I knew would care about my boat while moving her.  I was also hopeful he would honor my request not to crank the engine or turn the rudder.  When I spoke with Peewee, he confirmed mine and Phillip’s suspicion that the owner of the marina was trying to get all operational boats out and moved to a different location, which was understandable.  I just didn’t consider my boat in its current condition safely “operational.” 

Mustering all of my available “tell them no” bravery I explained to Peewee that the first time I wanted to move our rudder would be on the way to the shipyard to haul in case we started taking on water, perhaps a lot of water.  With a little pushing and a very clear indication that I was not going to turn my wheel, Peewee agreed, and I was so relieved!  The plan then was to push and maneuver Plaintiff’s Rest to the extent we could, manually (using our hands and boat poles), to a point where she could then be pushed or pulled out into the open marina by the workboat, then maneuvered over to the seawall on the other side to sit until it was time for her to haul-out.  Phillip and I had no clue when that would be.  All we knew was we had been put on the list the day of the storm. 

The workboat arrives

This is roughly what we were dealing with as far as surrounding boats, docks, and debris:

Peewee and his crew first tried to pull the piling that was once at the end of what remained of the finger pier to the south of us, but they only managed to tilt it a good thirty degrees.  It would not budge after that.  But, they did get it heeled over enough to allow Peewee to saw off the damaged finger pier.  It was a mangled mess. 

Peewee (in the blue jacket) wrestling his way on the damaged pier

Almost impossible to walk on.  Thankfully, Peewee was surprisingly good at this awkward crawl maneuver that allowed him to free the finger pier and the crew then dragged it out with the workboat. 

Dragging out the finger pier that formed the southern wall of our “slip”

That left this space, roughly, to try and work Plaintiff’s Rest safely out. 

The view from PR’s cockpit to starboard.

It was cold and spitting rain; we were all pretty much soaked on the outer layers.  But, the crew was diligent, calmly voicing orders over the weather.  I was staged initially on the dock by Plaintiff’s Rest’s bow, my hands and knees shaking knowing she was now finally untied.  I was afraid I might be the leader the day we did something that sunk her, after all she had been through and survived.  But, my hope was that Plaintiff’s Rest was taking her first step to safety, albeit with a path of carnage to navigate before she could get there with no propulsion.  This was it. 

Peewee first thought he would be able to push and pull her to execute a full 180-degree turn in the “slip” so her bow would then be pointed out toward the exit.  As we began this process, I had to fight the urge to repeatedly tell Peewee, who was at the stern, “watch the rudder on that sunk boat, watch the rudder, look out for the rudder” over and over again.  As if he didn’t know.  But, it’s like handing something expensive and delicate to a friend.  You can’t help fight the urge to say “don’t drop it.”  But, I could see he was watching our rudder closely as we all nudged and scooched Plaintiff’s Rest’s bow over to the southeast corner of the “slip.”  However, when we started to spin her, it soon became clear we would not be able to get her turned all the way around.  A large sport fisher was just sticking out too far to allow her bow to clear it. 

“Change of plans,” Peewee shouted just as the cold north wind started to fight us and push her stern over toward the sport fisher.  “We’re backing her out!”  Another worker started crawling up on the sportfisher to fend Plaintiff’s Rest off at her bow.  The marina owner shouted “Annie, board!”  Everyone was scrambling to change course.

That’s when I lost it. 

Not my temper.  The contents of my bladder.

Unfortunately, the only point at which to board my boat at that time was the bow.  Have you ever boarded your boat from the bow?  In a hurry?  It’s not easy.  Or pretty. 

In a three-second maneuver, I hiked one leg up and stuck it through the pulpit onto the deck, then sandwiched my torso to that leg while dragging my hind leg through the pulpit and flopping onto the foredeck like a slippery fish.  And, what can I say?  I was nervous, worried, shaking.  The pressure that the situation and the maneuver put on my bladder just gushed it out.  I heard Peewee laugh and thought in a flash of panic that maybe the guys could see a huge spot on my pants.  I looked down in fear but felt a wave of gratitude flood over me as I remembered both my long johns underneath and my pants were black.  The perfect color to hide pee.  We were all wet rats out there, anyhow, and with the wind keeping things fresh and breezy, it seemed no one was the wiser.  Peewee said “Well, I’ve never seen it done that way before.”  I smiled and laughed.  “He said board,” I replied with a shrug. 

Thankfully that had everyone smiling and in a good mood for the move.  We then carefully picked Plaintiff’s Rest’s way between the sportfisher, the sunk boat (Peewee actually boarded Plaintiff’s Rest midship from that boat), and the wayward piling to get her out in the center of the marina. 

Although the wind had a good bit of force on her once we were out in the open, with the workboat we were able to nudge and move her fairly easily using the workboat’s engine power and fenders.  Peewee and I worked her gingerly up to the sea wall on the other side and secured her to pilings. 

The view from her new location back over to the demolished “slip” she had fought her battle in, and from that “slip” over to her new spot on the sea wall told quite the tale.

This was a huge, satisfying Step One toward our recovery.  For the moment, Plaintiff’s Rest was safely secured, not taking on water, and on a list to haul at the shipyard to be repaired. 

And, I had done it!  Saved the day!  Captain Annie … Wet Panty! 

Twas the Night Before Christmas, and All Through the Boat

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the boat

Not a spot in the bilge was oily, all freshly painted with bilge-kote;

The sails were bagged cleanly in the lazarette with care

In hopes they’d soon be hoisted and filled with fresh air;

The halyards were nestled all snug in their bags

With visions of zizzing fast ‘round a winch without any lags;

For the boat and crew, 2020 had proven quite a challenging year

Bringing months of fear, growth, change, but also cheer;

Plaintiff’s Rest had been bruised and battered in Sally’s unrelenting wrath

But she held fast and was mercifully reunited with her beloved owners in the aftermath;

Now, as she sat patiently on jacks, awaiting her rudder and other repairs to begin

She dreamed of the day she would finally be back out in the water and wind;

After a list of amazing places she would one day sail in her mind had been tapped,

Plaintiff’s Rest was all settled in, silent and humble, ready for a soothing night nap;

But just as her eyes closed, up on her deck, she heard an unfamiliar clatter

She swore she could hear someone clambering up her swim ladder;

But whatever was tiptoeing above her was nimble and fast

For everywhere she looked prints and traces of its movement didn’t last;

Out her portlights, Plaintiff’s Rest thought she saw a person jump and scamper

Then a noise trickled in through the dorade and she thought she heard banter;

Shh … ” a muffled voice said, “we’re not supposed to be here at night.” 

Then through the lee boards, shoes and pant legs caught her sight.

Worried Plaintiff’s Rest was, the clatterers had come aboard to steal like a vixen

She was about to ring her old ship’s bell in the vberth in hopes it would blitz them;

But, there on her marvelous teak, where it had once hung so proud

Now sat a bare wall so Plaintiff’s Rest could not make a sound loud;

How it had been removed without her knowing did make her wonder

But she had been quite occupied with all of the tinkering and repairs she’d been under;

Before she could process it, she heard once again the clink-clink of her ladder

So she flew to the lee boards to look in the cockpit and see what was the matter;

And, there, sitting cheerily near her binnacle in a basket of ribbons red and green

Sat a shiny new ship bell, so bright she knew she had never seen anything quite so keen;

It was a gift so lovely and so perfect for her Christmas this year that she let out a whistle

And there beside it, sat a note with bold letters nestled next to a sprig of toe, mistle;

Plaintiff’s Rest read the scrawly letters she knew to be her owner Phillip’s, alright

It said “Merry Christmas to you girl, you put up one helluva fight!”

Ch. 4: Slaughter and Solidarity in Upcoming Sally Article in SAIL Magazine

“It’s some of your best writing, that’s for sure.  Magnificently written,” then Phillip paused.  “But … there’s no way you can send this to SAIL, Annie.  It’s too … too dark.” 

That was Phillip’s response to my first version.  I was trying to work up a carnage-and-community theme juxtaposing the savagery of the storm with the solidarity among our fellow sailors who all pulled together to help each other in the aftermath.  But, apparently I—according to Phillip—had created an entire piece of carnage cinched up at the puckered end with a mere paragraph of community.  So, I did a complete re-write.  And, I cannot wait for you all to read it when it is scheduled to come out in SAIL Magazine in January, 2021! I’m so proud and humbled to share our tale of survival and the incredible story of two of our very close friends that forms the beating heart of my piece.  And, while many parts of this tale are sad, know that they are connected by a thumping vein of love and kindness that can only truly reveal itself in a situation like a devastating storm.  My goal is not in any way to make our wonderful friends re-live or mourn again, but, rather, to share with you all the unique hearts that beat in sailors which makes our particular community so strong.    

September 16, 2020

11:45 a.m.

I’m listening to the slush and squish of my boots, dreading what’s coming.  Although Plaintiff’s Rest is floating, miraculously, in her slip while most of the other boats in Palafox Marina have been heaped in massive piles of fiberglass and twisted stainless steel, there is still a gaggle of boats that lunge at her with every wave and gust.  There is no way to even tell what’s holding those other boats in place exactly. A barely hanging-on sliver of dock that might go any second?  A line tied to a cleat that’s about to snap in half?  A power plug that’s about to pop?

Plaintiff’s Rest, holding on bravely in a mob of wind and boats.

We simply do not know. Phillip and I can only hope everything holds on just long enough as the winds continue to howl in the upper 20s and 30s throughout the entire day.  But, more potential damage to Plaintiff’s Rest is not what I’m dreading in this moment, staring at my wet, walking feet.  Phillip and I are walking to our friends, Stephen and Beth’s, house to give them news they likely already know is coming, but this will be the first time it will come from a source they know they can absolutely trust: me and Phillip.

And, what we have to tell them is that everything they dreaded all night long, everything they’ve feared every time a storm came into the Gulf, everything they’ve worried about since they bought their rare, unique, suited-them-perfectly Manta 42 catamaran has happened.  One of the worst things that can happen to people who love their boat has happened. 

Phillip and I have to tell Stephen and Beth that it is true.  Cattywampus has sunk.  He and I have now been the first people who know Cattywampus to have seen her with our own eyes, half-submerged at the other end of the marina. She was torn from her slip, just one over from where Plaintiff’s Rest is currently riding, slung to the north and somehow impaled and sunk.  

Even worse, it looked like she was one of the first to go down in the marina, which I know is going to feel to Stephen and Beth so incredibly and unacceptably unfair.  I feel it for them as I’m walking.  I know it would be equally hard for me to process if I saw Plaintiff’s Rest wrecked, submerged, done for, not 50 feet from other boats that are simply marred, or even seemingly untouched.  The injustice of it angers me. 

But, as I write this, remembering that moment and their feelings, which were also my feelings, they are overpowered by the tightness I feel in my throat right now at Stephen and Beth’s strength.  Their love, for each other, for friends, for boats.  Their humor and ability to laugh through tears.  And, more importantly, their awareness and thoughtfulness. 

After we told them the news and Stephen and Beth, a few hours later, found the courage to bring themselves to the graveside to bear it, Phillip I were at our boat doing what we could to best protect her.  Moving wayward fenders that had floated away from their vessels or from foregone vessels and tying them around Plaintiff’s Rest in a pitiful deflated crown. It felt funereal.  I saw several boats I knew personally, boats I had been aboard to tell tales and share drinks, boats I had helped to fend off when they were coming to the dock, now sat wrecked likely beyond repair.  There was just so much loss in one place. 

I saw Stephen and Beth, first, up on the concrete walk that leads down to the dock.  At that time the only way to get down to our boat was to crawl, quite precariously, down a huge swatch of dock that had smashed up and into the concrete.  I told Phillip that Stephen and Beth were there but we both decided to give them some space.  Even as close friends there’s a time when you just need a moment alone with ‘your person.’  I watched as they crawled their way down and walked to the end of the last floating finger pier on the east side of the marina, that Cattywampus had previously been tied to, so they could actually see their Manta with their own eyes.  Phillip and I were at our bow trying to move our boat deeper into the slip in hopes of avoiding more contact with her rudder and the boat that sunk underneath her—which had likely fended off so many wrecking balls aimed at her stern—when the water receded.  Stephen and Beth finally turned to face us.  With a mighty effort to chuckle, Stephen said “She looks a little Cattywampus doesn’t she?” before his head crashed into my shoulder in a big bear hug.  COVID could stick it at that point. With rain and winds of 30 mph it likely couldn’t survive anyway, and that man needed an Annie hug.  I felt a gush of tears spring from my eyes when I let him go only to hug Beth just as hard and felt her sobbing in my arms. 

Then Stephen and Beth did something that will forever burn them into my mind as people I will always admire.  Friends who will always lift me up and inspire.  There was no cries of injustice in that moment.  No wails of “why me!”  Stephen and Beth saw immediately what Phillip and I were trying to do to save our boat.  They both wiped their faces and said:

“How can we help?”

I will never forget that.  And I can only hope I react with equal generosity, awareness, and kindness when I find myself in some moment where I, too, have suffered a great loss.  Because we all know that’s coming.  It’s called life.  And, the joy of it can’t exist without pain caused by loss.  I will think of Stephen and Beth in my “moment” and try to emulate the courage and selflessness it must have taken them to turn their backs on their sunken heart and offer their hands to us.  They continued to showcase their strength in the weeks that followed Hurricane Sally as they helped other boaters move or salvage their boats.  They helped friends clean their homes and yards after they were smothered in falling debris.  Then they wrapped those tough weeks of recovery by combing their own filthy lost love after she was raised up, with humor and hope of finding gems to save.  And, Stephen and Beth did recover one amazing treasure: the cockpit table they had only recently made with a resin-coated map of the Caribbean to inspire their travels.  Although that voyage was supposed to take place on Cattywampus, Beth and Stephen have already began opening their hearts and minds to the thought of a new used boat. And, they have vowed never to give up on sailing, cruising, or caring for friends in need. 

Stephen, Beth, this one goes out to you. 

Sally may have taken many things from us, but she also opened us up and showed our solidarity.   

Taking Stephen and Beth ziplining weeks after the storm as a pick-me-up!

With Stephen and Beth’s help, Phillip and I were able to move Plaintiff’s Rest forward, just a bit.  It was terribly hard in those winds and still cresting waves.  The marina on the Palafox-street side was an absolute slaughter.

It was amazing to see what our baby girl had survived in, but wildly strange to see a massive power boat sunk beneath her.

Phillip and I were sure our rudder had likely made contact with the boat beneath us at some point as I had seen, when I went below to make sure we weren’t taking on water, the rudder stop had been hit so hard it cracked and broke free from the engine room ceiling. 

Mercifully, however, we were not taking on any water.  You could feel when you stepped onto the boat, though, that she wasn’t floating freely.  Her rudder or keel was grounded on something.  No one could surmise the carnage that might, at that time, be lying beneath our boat.

Phillip and I honestly wondered whether we even still had a rudder down there.  We knew it had been struck and the proximity of the sunk boat was like an illusion, telling your mind there could be no rudder in the space between the two.  We could not tell visually due to the thick cloud of debris and awful-smelling diesel that coated the top of the water.  All Phillip and I could do was scooch Plaintiff’s Rest a bit forward and hope, when the water receded, she didn’t sit down on that boat in some unfortunate position that caused her rudder to break further or snap clean off and allow water to come in. 

We had left our bimini on for the storm as it houses the solar in hopes that it could give her juice for her bilge pumps in case something very much like this happened.  As I’ve mentioned many times, up until hours before nightfall the day before, all anyone expected from Sally was tropical storm conditions.  But, our 110-watt panel had blown off entirely in the storm, and the our remaining two 50-watts were so marred and cracked, likely from flying projectiles, we were sure they weren’t working either.  Meaning, Plaintiff’s Rest would only have whatever power was in her battery bank to fight incoming water if she began taking any on over the course of the night. 

Phillip and I went to bed that evening with weary, worried hearts, hoping we would return the next day and find Plaintiff’s Rest still sitting floating and not slowly sinking.  I gripped her bow before we left the marina that day and tried to make sure she knew just how much we loved her before I left.  Looking back it pains me to think it may have come across to her as a plea to remain afloat when I truly meant it as a message telling her no matter what happened, we would always be proud to have owned and sailed her and that none of this was her fault.  I hope she interpreted it as the latter.  I’ve now experienced that moment three times—the first when we hauled with Hurricane Nate pointed straight for us, the second when we left Plaintiff’s Rest for the season in Great Harbour Cay in the Bahamas, and now this time, as she continued to hold on for whatever Hurricane Sally and her aftermath might continue to dish out—and I know no feeling can quite replicate the helplessness of having to walk away from your boat not knowing if you’ll find her in the same place and condition when you return. 

Because you just can’t wrap your arms around her and keep her safe.  It is only she who can do that for you in a storm.  And, that is the very reason all sailors toil and sweat and bleed and curse, yet continue to sail our boats, as they truly are vessels to so much more than just the next shore.    

Ch. 3: The Trek to Sally’s Boat-Laden Battleground

September 16, 2020, 9:30 a.m.

Phillip’s eyes read back to me the exact thing I’m thinking: Should we be doing this?  We’re gripped to a telephone pole, bracing against a gust, likely over 40 mph, but we have no idea.  Whatever speed it is, it’s so strong we cannot stand up or lean into it.  We have to hold onto something or we’ll be blown down.  I think to myself that I’ve never felt before the weight of my body leaning forward, supported solely by the wind.  

The gust that forced us to the pole is the worst Phillip and I have experienced since we received the devastating news from our dock neighbors, Stephen and Beth, that Palafox Marina is believed to be destroyed and that their EPIRB aboard went off which means their once-amazing catamaran, Cattywampus, is likely sunk.  As soon as Phillip hung up the phone I knew.  We had to go.  We both had to know. 

Hurricane Sally simply took every boat owner in Pensacola by surprise, taking an unexpected last minute turn the day before, building, slowing, and choosing Pensacola as the target for her most unforgiving northeast quadrant.  So many owners had been pacing those early morning hours, hearing the wind howl at their house-fronts, praying their boat—out there in the elements—was somehow miraculously holding on.  It had been a terrifying night for many.

“I think we’re okay,” Phillip answers the question my eyes had asked him.  “Do you feel okay?”  

I find it strangely hard to answer.  More often, when you do something you might look back on and think Maybe that wasn’t the safest or wisest decision, you’re usually not thinking that in the moment.  Often because whatever you’re doing is too fun or tempting to consider the consequences then.  In this moment, however, I can feel the consequences all over my body.  The wind exfoliating my skin.  Beads of rain driving into my eyes.  My hand gripped tight to the splintery wood of the pole to counter the tremendous push I feel on my body.  While being in intense, tropical storm elements I can easily say is exhilarating, it’s heart-pumping, I’m not sure I could call it fun.  And it was likely not the wisest or safest decision we have ever made.  But, our desperate need to see the boat is beyond tempting.

“I feel okay,” I tell Phillip.  I know we are currently in about the most wide-open, building-less portion of our hike—an open parking lot—and I know a litany of buildings lie ahead, which I am hopeful will provide us more shelter along the way.  I believe, if we can just get to some better cover to safely endure the gusts along the way, we will be able to navigate the remaining three-quarters of a mile to get to the marina.  The gust lays down, and Phillip and I march on.  Wind-driven rain forces us to squint, which makes it harder to see anything that might be flying at us.  While we haven’t yet seen anything airborne the first ten minutes of our trek, we can see evidence of it everywhere: big slats of metal bent around stop signs, pieces of house siding and roof shingles litter the streets.  Thankfully, though, it seems Sally has already shaken everything loose that she could in the hours before, and she’s since laid her mass of projectiles down.

When we get to Main Street, two blocks from the marina, Phillip and I find it buried under water.  We hike our way to the top level of a parking garage so we can get a better vantage point to see if we will even be able to get to the marina.  

I’ve marked an X here on the parking garage where we were standing.  The blue line indicates the water level, and you can see Palafox Marina just a couple of blocks south of us.

Here are some before and after photos showing the water level on Main Street where we crossed.  

“Oh god, there’s the Nina!” I hear Phillip shout into the wind.  La Nina is a rebuild of the ship Columbus actually sailed on when he crossed the Atlantic that had, sadly, come to Pensacola just one week before the storm to offer public tours.  It was docked here on the Palafox Marina sea wall near the entrance to the marina.

Phillip points to a building just southwest of us and my mind simply could not process it.  I could see the distinct masts of the ship for sure, but my brain told me if I was seeing La Nina there, it had to be in a parking lot.  It was bewildering and also immediately humbling and terrifying.  If Sally could pick up that heavy beast of a boat and put it anywhere she wanted, a parking lot, even, I think, how in the world could our boat have survived her? I decide in that moment—whether I have to crawl, climb, wade, even swim—I am going to cross that water and get to the marina.  Whatever has happened to her, I have to see our boat.  

We decide to let Phillip lead the charge, trudging his feet and stepping very slowly so we don’t fall or cut ourselves on whatever might lie beneath as we begin to cross Main Street.  The water remains knee high most of the way with no obstacles.  We get a bit worried at one point when I have my phone held up over my head and the water came to our chest.  This was just north of the marina where Baylen street ends in a circle and is, so far, our deepest point of the journey.  It is incredibly strange to see waves surging at us there.  Waves?  At a place I’ve walked a thousand times to and from the boat.  It feels like an altered universe.

Until we make it to the marina.  Then it all feels overwhelmingly too real.  Shredded sails pop at alarming decibels.  Fiberglass groans.  Boats have been shoved in a seemingly impossible pile at the north end of the marina, stacked on top of one another, some have even been pushed up violently onto the concrete and sidewalks.  

Every vessel is gouged, split, cracked, some are still tied to broken-up pieces of dock.  It is carnage.  The wind continues to rip through mercilessly, shoving and heeling boats that are just barely floating.  I recognize a beautiful Tayana, Distant Drummer, owned by a friend.  Its once beautiful velvet blue hull is now scored and scraped all over.  It seems she’s been pushed aground and her anchor has lodged on the outer deck railing of building on Palafox Street. 

I recall Distant Drummer was once on a dock several rows to the south of where our boat was and the realization guts me.  If all of those boats have come this far …  We then see Stephen and Beth’s gallant catamaran, Cattywampus, is just as they suspected: submerged.  She’s gone.  Already!  Sunk in her own home?  How … why …  my brain tries to make sense.  A huge sport fisher that had been tied up just across the way from us in our slip I now notice is the furthest boat shoved into the pile, its scratching its once glistening hull into the concrete steps that used to lead to the beautiful walk along our marina.  Then I make out the fuel dock.  The fuel dock? my wayward brain asks.  The fuel dock was on the first row right by the sea wall!  Now it’s here?  

Here are some overhead views of our marina showing where Plaintiff’s Rest’s slip was before the storm and the condition of the marina after the storm.  

Paralyzed by the impossible wreckage, stunned by seeing things that shouldn’t be, my brain simply didn’t have time, when we first arrived, to look anywhere other than at the devastating oddities right in front of me, but now she realizes what she might see with just the shift of an eye.  A white monohull?  Green canvas? Plaintiff’s Rest?  I immediately begin scanning every boat in the pile as Phillip and I start to make our way south on the Baylen side of Palafox Marina, hoping not to see our baby girl in the pile of bodies.  And, each time, it’s not her.  I see a sliver of white hull, but that’s not her stern.  Some green canvas, but it’s a Beneteau. She’s not there!  

I start to jog down the sea wall as the gusts keep pummeling us, then I see it!  I’m either insane or I see it!  “Her mast!” I shout to Phillip as I take off in a full sprint.  It seems unfathomable, but it looks like she is sitting afloat in her slip.  My feet pound the pavement as hard as my heart on my chest wall as I tell her, or myself, I’m not sure, over and over: Be okay, be okay, please baby girl, be okay.  I will admit I was not aware before you could cry over a boat.  I thought I would if we ever lost her, or the day that we sold her, but it was just a thought.  I had never done it myself.  I had never been attached to a boat before we bonded with our Niagara 35.  But, now I know.  You can absolutely bawl over a boat.  

Tears wet my lashes as I scream when I see her.  Plaintiff’s Rest is afloat!  She’s heeling and groaning, and fighting for her life with every gust but she is, from what we can tell, seemingly okay.  “HOLD ON BABY GIRL!” rips painfully out of my throat, although the wind is so strong I don’t know if she hears me.  I crush my wet face into Phillip’s shoulder as he makes it to me and we grip one another.  We both stand stunned looking at her.  Plaintiff’s Rest is one of only two boats on the Palafox side that remains tied to her original dock in its original location.  How … why … I’m still confused.  Happy.  Overwhelmed.  Sad.  And confused.  But, it was terrifying to watch her strain with every wave and slap of wind while a pile of boats and docks jumbled to the south of her roll and lunge at her.  They could break free any second I know and demolish her.  And, Phillip and I might be standing here to watch, powerless to help her from across the way.  I can’t imagine then what would be worse: coming to find your boat sunk or watching, powerlessly, her demise.  

But, I can’t think those things as I see her heel and buck in her slip.  All I can do is pray those other boats hold until the damn wind finally dies and we can get to the other side to try to help her.  Until then, Plaintiff’s Rest fights for her life, holding onto a dock that may fail.  I know, even at the time, this is one of those moments I’m going to relive on my death bed.  I just cannot believe it.  How … why …  But I clear those thoughts and channel to her again.  Hold on baby girl.  You’ve got this.  Hold on just a little bit longer.  

We later learned the heroic tale of La Nina and why it appeared to me to be in a parking lot, as it just about was.  Unfortunately, winds over 110 mph and 10-15 foot swells broke up the docks she was tied to on the sea wall in Palafox Marina.  The Nina was sucked out of the marina with the crew aboard, still attached a great length of broken dock.  The crew deployed her anchor in the basin.  Although it broke, it did slingshot the vessel past the treacherous rocks surrounding the condominiums (while several owners looked on from above, watching her brave journey) and sent her into the soft mud just behind the parking lot of the building we were facing when we noticed her from the parking garage.  Captain Stephen aboard the vessel published this write-up about the events of Hurricane Sally and La Nina’s courageous journey and crew.  

Photo a condo unit owner took during the hurricane, watching La Nina after she got sucked out of the marina. Captain Stephen posted this with a caption: “This photo says a thousand words.”

Ch. 2: Sally Wreaks Her Savagery, in the Dark

When the Tuesday 4 pm forecast hits, the heart of every boat owner in Pensacola thumps to a lurch.  What had previously forecast as a minor hurricane poised to make landfall on the Louisiana-Mississippi border, 150 miles to the west of us, is no more.  For whatever reason, the forecast is, unfortunately and unprecedentedly wrong.  It is now clear we are going to experience Cat 1 conditions in Pensacola and that we are unfortunately positioned in the worst, most unforgiving, northeast quadrant of Sally’s path.  Many boaters are calling each other, texting, asking if they should tie more lines, do more prep, try to move the boat, scream to the hurricane gods?  

Four days prior, when Sally was predicted to be only a storm and to shoot on a straight path across the Gulf to the LA-MS border, Phillip and I had been forced to decide on that day, Friday September 11th, whether we wanted to haul for the storm.  Our decision not to, as with many when it comes to predicting storms and preparing the boat, now sits on our chests like a lead vest.  Over the weekend we had seen boats coming to our marina from Louisiana trying to get out of the storm’s expected path.  Most owners had tied a few extra lines and removed some canvas anticipating we would see moderate winds, heavy rains, and a possible 2-3 foot storm surge that was not exceptionally worrisome with our floating docks.  In slip E14 on the west side of the marina, our dock neighbor to the south, a sportfish, is, luckily, in Destin having maintenance done.  Our dock neighbor to the north, a tall Sea Ray is buttoned up and removed his iso-glass.  The next slip over sits Cattywampus, an impressive, rare Manta 42 catamaran, doted on by her new cruising owners and very good friends of ours, Stephen and Beth.  They had taken down their dodger and headsail and tied what Stephen defined as “umpteen hunnerd lines.”   Is that the right amount? they had asked us via text the day before, when the banter was light.

Now, Tuesday, 4:00 p.m., the mood is much more somber.  We only have a few hours of daylight left before Sally is set to strike.  Most sailboats can only travel around 5-7 mph, tops, in the best of conditions, and Sally is 250 miles wide, on a shifting path.  Which way do you even go?  East or west?  In order to get far enough east to get out of Sally’s path, bridge heights force most sailboats out into the Gulf, were Sally is howling, chewing up the surf, and beating her mighty chest.  She would eat any boat that tested her.  The truth guts us.  Sally is coming.  And we are all tied to docks directly in her path.  

The last photo of our girl before Sally struck, taken Tuesday afternoon, September 15th.

Although it has been wrong up to this point, we cling desperately to whatever forecast that might get us through this sleepless night.  

Data from the reconnaissance aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 85 mph (140 km/h) with higher gusts.  Although little change in strength is forecast until landfall occurs, Sally is still expected to be a dangerous hurricane when it moves onshore along the north-central Gulf coast.  

NOAA Advisory 7:00 p.m 9.15.20

85 mph was the worst we expected.  That’s not what we got.

Wednesday, September 16th, 4:00 a.m.:

As Sally swirls around, winds now out of the south lash the wall of our house with such force I am afraid to stand in front of a window.  I don’t know what 85 mph winds should feel like on the blunt face of a house, but these feel stronger.  Tree limbs the size of small vehicles crash raucously to the ground.  Transformers explode like bombs.  The power goes on and off.  Our worry for the boat is overtaken when wind-driven rain starts to push its way in.  Phillip and I are, mercifully, distracted while pushing towels against leaking door and window seams, placing pots to catch drops.  There wasn’t really time to think about the boat, which was over a mile to the south of us.  Until we made the call.  

After Stephen sends us a text update he received from a marina dock-hand—“Not good man.  I believe the marina is gone.”—we call him.  My throat tightens as I hear the tears in his voice.  “We just got a call from the Coast Guard … our EPIRB on the boat went off.”  Every sailor knows what that can only mean.  The truth of knowing a device that was once was sitting high and dry on a top shelf in your salon is now underwater can only be described as crushing.  Stephen told us they spent the night watching the updates and watching footage of massive waves crashing over the Wahoo’s Stadium sea wall, which is just a couple hundred yards from our marina.   He then sends us a grainy photo he received of the marina.  It’s Ivan all over again.  A mighty hand has come down and swept and piled docks and boats like toys in a bathtub.  Already sickened, an impossible fact then settles on us.  Hurricane Ivan struck on the exact same day: September 16, 2004.  So much carnage created in what felt like a second.  The paralyzing thought strikes Phillip and I simultaneously: What about our boat?

I can honestly say I did not “fear the worst” in that moment.  I couldn’t comprehend “the worst.”  The reality of that having just happened, without us even there to try to stop it, to help her, to save her!, was a truth my mind simply would not entertain.  Our baby girl?  The boat we spent three filthy, itchy months on the hard repairing, the vessel that galloped us to Cuba, the Keys, the Bahamas!  Our girl?!  We have to know.  

Phillip and I do not think.  We just run.