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!
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 Kingdomabout 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:
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 …
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!
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 Saponahere.
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 Sailorbook?
“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.
I’m trying to think back on each and every one of them. How can they have slipped by so quickly? Sure, I spent some sleeping (not many, though), but the rest were spent gloriously lounging in the cockpit watching the water go by, devouring books (devouring food!), and counting a billion stars. While you’re out there, and it’s sometimes a little rough and uncomfortable, you can catch yourself wishing the time away. But, once the voyage is behind you—that incredible experience is tucked away merely as a memory in your mind—you want every hour back. All 96 of them. Photos and video from our Gulf-crossing for you all below!
Phillip and I have crossed the Gulf now, on a five-day, four-night non-stop run, three times on our boat. It is always a passage we plan well in advance for, watching weather windows religiously as well as re-checking and double-checking all of the systems on the boat before we leave, because the Gulf is no freaking joke. Having crossed the Atlantic twice now, Phillip and I always readily agree the Gulf is still one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have ever crossed. Although the Bay of Biscay is now right up there with it! But, the Gulf never fails to throw a challenge at us. It certainly did this time, right out of the gate.
Now that I’ve shared the turmoil we were dealing with in the days before we left when Auto would turn notto, you know it was a stressful time for us for sure, wondering whether we were going to be able to leave or not and—if we did—whether the systems would perform consistently. But, that’s a risk that is always present in offshore sailing. Once everything is working as best as it can, the chance of something going wrong is no reason not to leave. Once our auto-pilot, Lord Nelson, was cleaned and calibrated and performing perfectly and our GPS was restored after a B&G update, our boat was once again back in high-caliber condition, ready to romp. While it was stressful dealing with these hiccups in the days before we left, Phillip and I were still grateful all the pieces came together right before a decent weather window opened up.
And, I say ‘decent’ because the Gulf rarely offers five full straight days of perfect weather. You’re usually going to get into some kind of stuff (think 4-6 foot seas and winds of 20+) somewhere along the journey for some stretch of time. It’s often just deciding whether you want it on the front end or the back end. And, there’s often an equally good chance of wind shifting on to your nose, or dying altogether. The Gulf is like a variety show. You never know what it’s truly going to feel like until you get waaaay the heck out there and, by then, you’re already there. No turning back. Just sit down, buckle in, and endure the show.
In the last weeks of April when we were planning to shove off, Phillip and I were looking at a stretch of nice winds in the Gulf. In the high teens and mid-twenties, mind you, but on the stern. Downwind sailing is my favorite kind of sailing. We were planning to let a front pass through Pensacola, bringing some rain and storms, then ride the back end of that out into the Gulf with some great north wind pushing us out. While we knew the seas would be a bit kicked up from the storm, on PassageWeather.com it looked like once we got about five or six hours off the coast, they would start to lay down. Looked like …
I’m not going to lie, our first day on passage was pretty intense. I’m confident we were bucking our way through steady 7-footers with the occasional 9 or 10-foot wave that would send us careening. I recall many times Phillip and I would be talking and we both would stop mid-sentence when we saw a monster building on the stern that blocked out the sun. Not a word would be spoken until we watched the mighty wave pick up our seemingly light-as-a-feather boat and shove her stern hard over, the bow lunging the opposite direction in response. Phillip and I would hold our breath as our horizon spun 90 degrees and Lord Nelson squealed out trying to get the boat back on course. I am grateful to say, even with some of the biggest following waves he’s steered in yet, Lord Nelson held every time. No matter how hard we were shoved and tossed, he would emit his mighty whiiieeerrrrr and bring us back on course. When Phillip and I would regain our breath after these moments and continue where we’d left off, it always included a sentiment to Lord Nelson. He worked so hard below-decks during that passage, steering us all 96 hours across the Gulf.
Thankfully those rough seas only lasted the first 24-or-so hours. Well into our second day, the Gulf laid down to 3-5 footers with following winds in the upper teens and Phillip and I were glad we left when we did (even with the bumpy start) because the winds pushed us comfortably the next two days and the boat practically sailed herself most of the way down to the Keys. We had to motor for 20-or-so hours the last stretch when the winds laid down but with all of the attention we had given Westie (our 30 hp Westerbeke diesel engine) this past summer, we knew he was eager for the spotlight and ready to run as long as we needed him. And, he certainly did, without a hiccup.
Honestly, the best part about our last voyage across the Gulf was the immense feeling of pride it gave Phillip and me in our capable, comfortable boat. The phrase “dialed in” I don’t even believe can do it justice. Plaintiff’s Rest was not just dialed in, she was performing the best we had ever seen her, while setting her own personal record (a speed of 10.2 kts surfing down a wave), while crossing one of the toughest bodies of water in some of the biggest seas we’ve sailed her in. Through all of that, it was like she was telling us it was … easy. All of the work we had put into her—replacing the rigging, reinforcing the mast, the rudder, the keel, all of that engine work, digging out rot anywhere we saw it, and repairing everything we knew was an issue as soon as we could—had made her so incredibly capable and strong. And yet so simple and comfortable.
While there were, of course, dolphins—which make us (me) squeal uncontrollably, still, every time—and there was phosphorescence at night, brilliant turquoise horizons, shooting stars, the joy of peeling off foul foulies, and all of the things that make offshore sailing so mind-altering for us (no fish though, those wily bastards!), I think the best part about this voyage, for me and Phillip, was the ease and comfort of it. Not because the sea state and winds made it easy or comfortable—they did not—but because the boat did.
“What was one of the scariest moments of your Bahamas trip?” a fellow cruiser asked us the other night during our first post-Bahamas reunion. Ironically, he had asked Phillip first while I was in the restroom, so he got to ask me separately and it was quite interesting for Phillip and I to see how differently we both answered that question. Apparently—and this was unbeknownst to me then—THIS incident was the scariest part of the trip for Phillip. Granted, it happened before the trip, but Phillip deemed this his biggest scare. That, and the knowledge we gained during the process, I felt made it worthy to share.
Our boat, you see, has quite the sense of humor. It’s like she senses a coming departure date, and she knows she’s about to have to work really hard to carry us across the Gulf. So, to balance things out, she likes to throw a little wrench in our final prep plans and enjoys watching us work really hard for a few days figuring out her last-minute equipment failure before we leave. This time it was one of the most important systems on our boat: Lord Nelson.
Many of you may already know who that is. Lord Nelson is our auto-pilot—an HLD 350 hydraulic drive with a Simrad AP26 control head and an AC20 computer—named after the gallant Lord Nelson boat he came off of when we acquired him in 2016. Previously, we had an Auto Helm 3000, a belt-driven wheel helm that was, well, pretty much useless. It was weak and unable to hold in any winds over 10 kts. For this reason—when we were hauled out during our extensive mast stringer repair and re-rig for three months in 2016, we built a new fiberglass shelf for Lord Nelson and had Brandon with Perdido Sailor help us with the install. Lord Nelson is a very strong, below-decks hydraulic auto-pilot that Phillip and I have been very impressed with. That guy’s got a grip, I will tell you! But, as with any “new” system on the boat, you have to work out the kinks, and it became clear to us, not long after his install, that Lord Nelson’s got a little sense of humor of his own.
During our voyage to Cuba, our first long offshore voyage using Lord Nelson, he initially unthreaded his own arm. Phillip and I were beating into some pretty heavy stuff during that passage, so it gave us a great deal of alarm when the auto-pilot’s Simrad device began cackling out and Lord Nelson gave up the wheel. Thankfully, Phillip was close enough to the helm to get control of the boat before we got backwinded (or “all f&*ked up” as Annie would say). Don’t ask me how this weird un-threading happened, because it’s still a mystery to us. We were simply thrilled it was a super easy solution. I hopped down in the port lazarette (we spend a good bit of time in the lazarettes on our boat),
threaded it back on, Loc-tited it for good measure (we love Loc-Tite), and we were back in business. Finding the problem is usually 80% of the battle. All too often on the boat it is a very, very simple fix (i.e., tightening a loose bolt) that causes a very, very big problem (i.e., the auto-pilot’s not holding).
That was Lord Nelson’s first snafu (that’s the word of the day today). Another time, also during our infamous voyage to Cuba—you can tell we learned a TON about our boat during that bash-across. Yes that one …
Lord Nelson started beeping and braying and telling us he was having “rudder response failure.” After an embarrassing amount of tinkering and troubleshooting that did not involve the basics—i.e., making sure all the nuts and bolts and connections are tight—Phillip found the nuts holding Nelson’s base plate steady had wiggled loose during our rambunctious voyage. Imagine trying to push something to exact measurements while your feet are on shifting sand. Thankfully, again, this was a stupid-easy fix (tighten the nuts). Lord Nelson was then able to steer us all the way—through some serious wind and seas across the Gulf Stream—to the entrance to Marina Hemingway. We knew then we had made the right decision in upgrading from our wheel helm to hydraulic Lord Nelson.
When we hauled out in 2018 (to, among other things, reinforce our rudder post, replace our coupling and cutlass bearing, and switch to a composting head) Phillip noticed Lord Nelson appeared to be leaking out of his rear bushing on the rod. As with most any other problem or issue we discover while we’re hauled out, we try to tackle it then and there, when we’re knee-deep in “boat project mode” and have the help, expertise, and tools of Brandon and his crew at Perdido Sailor at our side. Brandon recommended we take Lord Nelson to a local hydraulic shop to have them open him up and replace all the bushings. “While you’re in there,” he reasoned. Sage advice. While that seemed like a simple task, it was anything but. I’ll spare you the entire saga by simply sharing this post and saying once again how unbelievably patient and persistent this guy at Industrial Hydraulic Services in Pensacola was. I am so grateful we fell into his hands.
So, with allll that work we put into Lord Nelson in the prior years, we had very high hopes he would perform beautifully on this voyage to the Bahamas and for many more passages and years to come. I mean, it’s an old (which we prefer), strong system that—when fully-functional—is powerful enough to hold our boat in virtually any and all offshore conditions. Lord Nelson was definitely not a system we had any worries about when we were preparing the boat this past February and March to leave for the Bahamas in April. Apparently Lord Nelson felt differently about it.
During one of our last day sails before we were going to untie the lines and sail south for the season, Lord Nelson shocked Phillip and I both when he beeped out this strange ACXX warning (meaning he required too much voltage to turn the wheel, so he shut off) when he was holding while we were raising the main. After we got the main up, and put Lord Nelson back on, he was fine. No other issues; he held for several more hours in light and some sporty winds under engine and sail. Then again, as we were coming back in, Lord Nelson gave up the ghost (oddly again when we had him holding while we were dropping the main) with the same ACXX warning. It was just … strange. There’s no other word for it, and there seemed to be no discernible reason or cause for it.
This time, being a bit more Lord Nelson-savvy, Phillip and I checked all of his bolts and nuts and wire connections. We un-connected his wires, cleaned them and re-connected. But, he had cut out in such freak moments—that we couldn’t seem to replicate—Phillip and I were unsure whether we’d solved anything or not, which was very unnerving with our planned departure date coming up. I can tell you one of the very first things we will not leave the dock, headed off on an extended offshore voyage, without is a reliable auto-pilot. He’s like a third crew member; easily the most skilled and capable one at holding the wheel. The thought of traveling with a potentially faulty auto-pilot is what Phillip readily admitted gave him the biggest scare of our trip. Having planned and prepared for months, with a good weather window ahead of us in the Gulf, Lord Nelson’s condition was almost a deal-breaker.
Thinking there was a possibility we were going to have to replace the drive unit before we could leave, Phillip and I were frantically searching the web and making calls trying to find a replacement drive, which proved to be a challenge as our unit is so old and unique and no longer manufactured. The only used ones available were overseas and would take weeks to arrive (although we thought about shipping them to Key West and hand-steering there—not a great idea, but one of our last-ditch ones). Newer, different drives all proved to be too big to fit and operate on the shelf we had built for Lord Nelson. When we did find a different newer drive (the Simrad T0) which would fit in our space, they were all unavailable or out of stock. Multiple calls to a guy at our local West Marine resulted in just one (only one unit in the entire U.S., I’m not kidding). It was in New York but, once located, it was deemed already sold. Unless our unit was repairable (in the next two days) our Bahamas trip looked like it was going to be postponed indefinitely.
With our focus now on fixing Lord Nelson, assuming it was possible and that we could do it quickly (two very big assumptions), Phillip did some research and discovered these mysterious motor brushes. A mystery to me, that is, as I still don’t have my head wrapped quite around what it is they do, exactly, or brush per se, if anything. I know they somehow make an electrical connection in the motor, but there’s still some magic going on there for me. I mean, here’s what they look like. Weird little buggers:
However, we were struggling to find what types of brushes had been installed in our unit so we could even buy new ones and hope that fixed it. Remember our unit was made years ago and is no longer manufactured, meaning the employees at Simrad weren’t quite sure what brushes had gone in there to begin with. Frustrated and irritated with our prospects, we got a little desperate.
Two days before our departure date, I stopped into a small motor maintenance shop in Pensacola hoping beyond hope, initially, just for answers: what brushes were in our motor and could the shop order and replace them? Like a punch to the gut, when I told the guy the specs of our unit, he immediately told me he was sure he would not have any brushes in stock that would fit our old Simrad unit. It was his belief, they would not be manufactured anymore and he would have to machine new ones using the old ones as a template. This could take 5-7 days, he told me, if it all went without issue. (When do boat projects ever go off “without issue,” am I right?). I had every intention of walking out of his shop and simply going home to tell Phillip our plight, when desperation and crazy hope overcame me. I drove straight to the boat, sweated my ass off in the lazarette, but I disconnected and disassembled Lord Nelson and removed him. It’s not a super fun job.
Thankfully, having been very involved in his install and our many times trouble-shooting and working on him, I was very familiar with his assembly, so I could do this on my own. Ladies, this is a testament to getting to know your boat just as much as your counterpart so you can be just as capable as he or she when it comes to troubleshooting and repairs (because it will often, time and time and time again, come time for troubleshooting and repairs. It’s a boat … )
A greasy, sweaty mess, I stunned the motor shop guy coming back in with my beast in hand. “This is Lord Nelson,” I told him, as I asked if he could please get inside him as soon as possible so we could get moving on our brush project (and get the heck on our way to the Bahamas!). Motor Man took Lord Nelson, wrote down my info, gave me a ticket, and said he would get on it as soon as he could (hopefully tomorrow).
It was all I could do. But, I would have never guessed my rash decision ended up saving our whole departure.
While I was merely hopeful this magic Motor Man would be able to get inside Lord Nelson, find the brushes, make new ones and have us up and running and heading off to the Bahamas—albeit perhaps a week or two after our originally planned departure date—I had no idea he would call the next day and tell me: “It’s fixed.”
Remember what I said about ridiculously-easy fixes usually being the source of the most ridiculously deal-breaker breakdowns? You want to know what was wrong with Lord Nelson that was preventing him from being able to steer our boat?
He was dirty.
That’s all. Just dirty. Motor Man—who is a great mechanic with an uncanny devotion to customer service and whose real name is Glen at Escambia Electric Motor Service here in Pensacola (and whom Phillip and I will be forever grateful to)—found, when he opened Lord Nelson’s motor up that it was all gunked up and gummy (likely from the hydraulic fluid that had been leaking). He was so greasy and dirty that his brushes (which were in great shape – yay!) simply weren’t able to make good contact. Glen said it was arching and sparking in there, struggling so hard to make a connection to run the motor that it was pulling 15 amps at times. That was the reason for the ACXX message and failure. Once Glen cleaned him all up, Lord Nelson was running beautifully, drawing only 2 amps. That’s it. What a pleasant surprise. He was just dirty.
And, it was our last day before we had planned to leave. All we had to do was pick up our buddy Nelson, re-install him on the boat, then we could pop out for a quick motor-about to make sure he was calibrated and working properly and *voila*! Our we-almost-didn’t-go, auto-turn-notto problem would be solved. That’s it. Boom. Done. You can go now.
It’s rather funny now looking back on it. And, as is so often the case with our boat—I swear she just knows how to break down with grace at the perfect time—this snafu happened at just the right time. Imagine if this ACXX message and an auto-pilot failure had started occurring two days into the Gulf, 100 nm from shore? Phillip and I would have had a very different, much more dangerous offshore experience. But, no, our boat had the wherewithal to show us this problem days before we were leaving in our own protected home waters. I mean, when you realize that, you just want to give her a massive fist bump. Right on, boat. *thunk*
And, please use this story as a reminder: when your boat seems to be giving you trouble and having issues, she may very well be simply trying to talk to you and tell you exactly what is going on with her. You just have to listen and look. Phillip and I are still not near as good as we should be, not quite 100% attune, but we’ve been through enough now to know, if she’s giving us “problems” it’s likely she’s trying to get our attention so we can fix something well before it blows up into something major. She’s usually doing us a serious solid.
So, there you have it: Phillip’s biggest scare of our trip. And, I’ve spared from this story the issues we had with our GPS during these last days as well. Turns out total lack of a GPS signal can be the result of needing to do a simple upgrade of the micro-chip in the B&G. I’ll tell you the thought of leaving without a reliable auto-pilot or GPS was another pretty big scare. But, again, this happened in just a way that we were able to address and fix it in the safety of home waters where we have unlimited wifi access. Thanks again, boat. *bump*
Now, you may be wondering what my biggest scare of the trip was? You’ll have to follow along! It wasn’t until we got near Andros. But, Phillip and I hope repair and equipment failure posts like this one help educate you all and give you some encouragement if you, too (as all boat owners do) often run into problems out there. Think of it as just your boat trying to show you something before it becomes a colossal, no-go-for-you issue and thank her!
Next up on the blog: our five-day sail across the Gulf of Mexico. Stay tuned!
Reason No. 1: My GoPro Broke Our First Day in the Bahamas.
Why is that a good thing? Because it was the universe telling me to just live in the moment—to see, taste, and feel it, rather than film it. Ahoy crew! Now that Phillip and I have completed our Bahamas cruise and tucked in safe for hurricane season, I’m excited to share all of the fun stories and photos from our incredible Bahamas voyage with you all here on the blog. I decided—as a fitting birthday tribute (this little sailor turned a proud 37 on May 28th : )—to first share the 37 highs and lows that Phillip and I have agreed made this last voyage to the Bahamas our best trip yet. The reasons might surprise you. Remember: it’s usually not the cocktails and sunsets you remember the most.
No. 2: We Had a Great Send-Off
Our friends in Pensacola are keepers, I will tell you that. Brandon made (try to wrap your head around this) bacon-wrapped, beer-battered onion rings along with a massive rack of ribs, well mainly just as a Saturday BBQ—that man loves to grill—but Phillip and I commandeered it as our “send-off feast” and it was incredible! Our buddy (and original boat broker, who helped us find our Niagara 35), Kevin, also brought us a nice bottle of champagne (complete with its own boat bubble packing!), and we had one rip-roaring last hoorah at our favorite Ft. McRee anchorage before leaving. Yes, those glasses do say “Party Rock!”
No. 3: We Had Two Captains Aboard
Double the knowledge, experience, and credentials; double the ease of cruising. Nuff said. With both of us now equally capable of steering, navigating, AND docking, Phillip and I both felt an increased sense of confidence when we left the dock in April.
No. 4: We Had Plenty of Wine
No. 5: We Had Plenty of Storage Space for Said Wine
No. 6: We Scored on Salsa!
Yes, salsa is serious on our boat. I always prefer it at room temp (and, yes, I have eaten a whole jar in one sitting to enjoy the full-warm goodness before it went into the flavor-sucking hole that is the fridge. We also always try to reduce foods we bring on the boat that have to be refrigerated, so when we found these perfect single-serving sized cans at Wal-Mart that taste like they were just chopped on a beach-side salsa stand, we were stoked! These guys made for a wonderfully-tasty treat often on Plaintiff’s Rest and we were able to reduce trash by throwing the cans overboard when we were underway offshore! Win-win. What do you say? “Arriba!!”
No. 7: We Got Lucky (on a Weather-Window)
While Phillip and I both often readily agree it is rare to find a perfect “good” downwind five-day weather window across the Gulf, we did find a rather peachy four-day one that suited us just fine. While our first day out of the gate was a bit sporty, I’m excited to tell you in a future post how well our baby girl performed in 20 knots of wind (albeit on the stern—my favorite kind) and 6-8 (sometimes 10) foot seas. It was a romp. Whew!
No. 8: Despite a Last-Minute Breakdown, Lord Nelson Held the Entire Time
This is my next story coming up on the blog: Auto Turn Notto: The Problem That Almost Prevented Our Departure. It’s quite an interesting saga. It never ceases to amaze me how often massive problems (the auto-pilot is not working) are caused by the tiniest of conditions (a bolt is not tightened or a connection is loose, for example). But, Phillip and I certainly learned a ton about our hydraulic auto-pilot in the process, and we hope you will too. After solving this problem—we *hope*—we now have Lord Nelson running in a condition that will last us ten more years of cruising. That was our hope when he had Brandon with Perdido Sailor help us install him during our extended stay in the shipyard back in 2016.
No. 9: We Left Under the Most Beautiful Sunrise I Have Ever Photographed
No. 10: We Had Another Successful, Safe Gulf-Crossing
Crossing the Gulf of Mexico is no friggin’ joke. Phillip and I have told many, many cruisers that, despite our multiple Atlantic-Ocean crossings, the Gulf still ranks as one of the most gnarly bodies of water we have crossed, often packing the worst punch. We have spent too many a day and night bashing and crashing across the Gulf. So, anytime we have a successful, no damage, no injuries crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, we will happily and unapologetically celebrate it. Ahhhh ...
No. 11: We Were Only in Foulies for One Day
Previous Gulf-Crossings, particularly those undertaken in November or December have seen us in stinky, sweaty fouls for days. Yuck! Phillip and I were thrilled this time, leaving later in the year (April), to start pulling off those foul (in many ways) layers, just north of Tampa!
No. 12: We Got in a Massive Fight in Bimini
Doesn’t sound like a good thing, does it? Well it’s not when you’re in the thick of it. But, if you come out stronger and closer on the other side, it’s worth it. Couples have to fight occasionally to let the steam out and regroup. I had made a stupid error in my lat-lon navigation trying to help Phillip (who was holding the helm at the time) into the entrance to Bimini (bad on me) but Phillip responded with a comment that cut me to the core (bad on him). And, it doesn’t need to be repeated. It wasn’t an expletive, just hurtful. But, the upside was my response. While I usually swallow that hurt down, trying not to “rock the boat” so to speak, I knew Phillip and I had many tight-quarter days ahead on the boat, so I spoke up and let it out so we could vent and heal and it was the right decision. I’m getting better at this adult stuff, I’m telling you!
No. 13: We Got Stuck in Bimini
Again, doesn’t sound like a good thing, right? For Phillip and I—who really like to stay on the move when we’re cruising, staying usually only 2-3 days in one place before moving onto the next—a forced five-day stay in one place can be a bit of a bugger. Buuuuttt, that is only true when there’s no wind there or no good place to kite. If it’s blowing like stink for days and we have the ability to kite, Phillip and I are happy to park it and get on that wind. We spent three glorious days in a row kiting the snot out of 20-25+ winds in Bimini. It was awesome!
No. 14: We Failed (Initially) at Fishing …
Shouldn’t sound like a good thing, either? No “fish on” to shout about. For the first week of our cruising, when we were doing most of our offshore voyaging and expecting to catch most of our fish, Phillip and I didn’t catch a damn thing. Those crafty fish stole lure after lure, laughing at us the entire time. But, it was this extended fish failure that made our first catch that much sweeter.
No. 15: Then We Caught Our Biggest Mahi Ever!
It was glorious. That beautiful bounty of the sea fed us six times over, three filets a piece. I’m not kidding. Neptune rewarded our initial failed attempts in droves.
No. 16: The Weather Forced Us to a New Place
Morgan’s Bluff! Have any of you been there? While Phillip and I were not sure whether we were going to stop in Andros this year, as the Exumas were certainly calling (and while I would not call it a “schedule” per se, as commuter cruisers, we do have limited time and have to make destination decisions accordingly), the weather made the decision for us. Coming into the Northwest Providence Channel, the wind turned more southeast than we anticipated and began building to 18 and upwards—not a comfortable wind speed on the nose on our boat. So, it was either beat into that all the way to the Exumas or tuck in at Morgan’s Bluff, a place we knew nothing about but that brought us one of our most memorable moments of the entire trip:
No. 17: We Ate Our First Dilly (It’s Kind of a Big Dilly-yo)
This was such an unexpected and eye-opening experience. While Morgan’s Bluff does not have much to offer if you just dinghy to shore—a pretty beach and one little bar—Phillip and I were lucky enough to find a local to hire to drive us around the entire island and give us a three-hour tour (that, thankfully, did not leave us shipwrecked!). Kanendra, the dock master there at Morgan’s Bluff, along with her daughter, Diamond, took us around and showed us the cave where Captain Morgan allegedly hid his treasures, the blue hole (where the limestone core has fallen through and you can dive straight through to the ocean), the cute little resort bungalows you can rent, along with the extensive devastation that still exists from Hurricane Matthew. It was enlightening and incredibly interesting. And, Diamond, herself, a child of only eight, was adamant about sharing a particular experience with us—eating our first dilly fruit. Diamond picked this one herself and Phillip and I ate it right on the stop, getting all sticky in the process. It was the sweetest fruit I believe I’ve ever eaten and an awesome moment!
No. 18: We Did Sooooo Much Sailing
This surprised even us: Phillip and I sailed so much, we started to run low on battery power because we hadn’t cranked the engine in a while sailing almost the entire way from anchorage to anchorage. We were very lucky, both across the Gulf and the Stream, and with almost every island hop, to have steady winds on our stern that just pushed us along. It was incredible. Phillip and I did some of our favorite sailing, ever on our boat, on this last trip.
No. 19: We Reefed Right!
This was a little trick we learned from Andy Schell and Mia at 59-North. You wrap the reef line once around the boom and then tie it to allow the reef line to cinch the sail alll the way down to the boom to get a flatter, more effective reef. The days we did have to sail to windward in winds that require us to reef (generally 15 kts and up), this trick helped us put a tighter reef in and sail more comfortably to weather.
No. 20: Two Weeks In, We Still Had Enough Wine!
No. 21: We Studied the Charts and GRIBS Together
I realize only now—with six years of cruising and a Captain’s License under my belt—how little help I was during mine and Phillip’s first cruising years. Sure, I was a hard worker. I crawled down into holes to try and fix things. I cooked. I cleaned. I got greasy and helped where I could. But, I never pushed myself to get knowledgeable enough about the more difficult things, like navigation, weather-watching, and making wise passage decisions. Now that I have, Phillip and I enjoy checking the weather together (that is an every morning and every afternoon event and conversation we have when we’re cruising), studying the charts, and deciding “Where to next?” together and we then share the roles navigating in. At least this way if we run-aground, we can share the blame! Let’s hope that never happens … although I’m sure it will again someday.
No. 22: We Were Exceedingly Impressed With Our Boat
She never ceased to amaze and impress us. Granted, Phillip and I put a lot of time and money into her and try our best to be very diligent, pro-active boat owners, but that does not mean you’re going to have a boat that performs 100% of the time. I’ll say our baby girl did everything we asked of her (which was often to run hard for 24 hours-plus under sail, engine, or both, with Lord Nelson doing all the steering) about 95% of the time. She was just a beast out there—moving comfortably in all types of weather, practically sailing herself all over the Bahamas. Pretty much every system worked, every bit of the time. While this is a HUGE reason we always strive for less, more simplistic systems on our boat, it was clear to Phillip and I, those choices (and the work they required) were totally worth it. I am immensely proud to say our boat is “dialed in.”
No. 23: We Made It to the Exumas!
That, in and of itself, was an accomplishment, as we were not sure our time allotment would allow it. We were not able to make it to the Exumas last year when we did the Abacos—although our diversion to the Berries brought us a fantastic encounter with new friends and an amazing experience that was the subject of my latest article in SAIL Magazine—Phillip and I both still had a desire to see and experience for ourselves the breathtaking beauty so many have told us is unique only to the Exumas. And, boy were they right. Photos just can’t capture it, but they can try!
No. 24: I Was Published Underway!
This was such a treat! To have an article of mine, “People With Gusto: the people you meet when cruising”—ironically about the Berry Islands in the Bahamas—come out in the latest SAIL Magazine while Phillip and I were sailing to the Bahamas. It was fun to be a bit of celebrity in certain marinas along the way where people had seen the article. Thanks again to Peter Nielson and the SAIL Magazine crew for running my piece!
No. 25: We Met The Amazing Jessie (from Jessie & Kate)
Speaking of meeting amazing people while cruising, we were lucky enough to cross paths with this inspiring young sailor/photographer: Jessie from Cruising Outpost’s “Jessie & Kate on a Boat” series. Leave a comment below if you enjoyed their articles in Cruising Outpost. Jessie was such a warm, candid person and so fun and interesting to talk to. You can imagine she and I immediately meshed and scurried to the corner to chatter like schoolgirls. I’ll admit to a little girl-crush on her; I’m not scared. Jessie is phenomenal. She and her husband, Luke, came into Bimini on the way back from their Atlantic-Circle honeymoon. I mean … damn. Reminds of the amazing Pam Wall. I am so inspired by these hearty sailing ladies! Keep it up salty gals!! You can follow Jessie’s continued adventures on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jessiebrave/.
No. 26: We Were Able to Scrub Our Own Bottom
Many thanks to Mantus on this one! When Phillip and I learned they had designed a smaller, more portable scuba set-up, we snagged one so we could use it during our cruising to dive a really cool reef that might be perhaps a little too deep for repeated snorkel dives and also to scrub our own bottom. This saves us about $100/month if we can do our bottom ourselves, so it has proven well-worth the investment for us. Plus, it’s convenient to have a little scuba set-up just for fun on the boat.
No. 26: We Got to Dive This!
No. 27: We Got to Cheers Everyday to Views Like This!
No. 28: We Got to Wake Every Morning to Views Like This!
No. 29: We Got To Swim Everyday In Waters Like This
No. 30: We Got to Swim With Friendly Guys Like This
No. 31: We Got to Eat Food Like This
No. 32: We Got to Walk Beaches as Amazing as This
No. 33: We Got to Harvest Our Own Conch
No. 34: We Got to Snorkel Pretty Much Every Day
No. 35: We Got to Spend an Entire Vacation With Our Best Friend
No. 36: We Had a Life-Changing Swim With a Turtle
I’m proud to say because I was IN the moment, not filming it, I don’t have an image, but I don’t need one. My words and memory will do it justice, just you wait. I named him Rasta because he was so chiiiilllll.
I still have to pinch myself because I’m not quite sure this is 100% real yet, but I just saw it go up on the Annapolis Boat Show Cruiser’s University website, so it must be! Friends, followers, I have been working hard to put this together so I could finally make this exciting announcement: I am so proud to be speaking with Pam Wall at Cruiser’s University during the week of the Annapolis Boat Show in October! (I’m imagining cheers, applause, sharp whistles, maybe some confetti raining down on the stage … I love confetti!). This is such an honor for me, and I am very grateful to my very good friend and long-time cruising inspiration–Pam Wall–for agreeing to join me in a presentation and the Cruiser’s University team for taking a chance on this relative newbie cruiser and ocean-crosser.
Pam and I will be speaking on Tuesday, October 8th from 12:30 to 3:45 p.m. on how to rig an old(er) boat for comfortable coastal and ocean cruising. Our presentation is called “Old Salts, New Systems: Making an Older Boat Comfortable for Cruising.” Here is the Cruiser’s University Schedule so you can check it out!
I originally met Pam when Phillip and I attended our very first boat show, the Miami International Boat Show in February, 2015, and she was a huge inspiration to me from the very moment I saw her hands clapping and her eyes ablaze talking about her beloved Abacos in the Bahamas. Having now experienced those amazing islands myself, I can see exactly where her fire and Bahamian passion come from. In addition, Pam has also helped Phillip and I over the years analyze and update many systems on our boat; she’s helped us navigate some tricky waters and discover wondrous new anchorages to explore; she’s also connected us with many of her own personal friends and acquaintances along the way who–as many fellow-cruisers often do–opened their arms and quickly shared their vast cruising knowledge and stories with us. I am forever thankful I met Pam and am privileged to be taking the stage with her this coming October.
Our presentation (although it continues to grow and evolve) will cover many different systems new boat-owners and cruisers may want to learn about, inspect, look for, or perhaps install on a boat they are considering purchasing to make it more comfortable and capable for cruising. This will range from discussions about rigging, hull, keel, and rudder structure, weight and displacement, power management, navigation and electronics, even the basic quality-of-life items such as the galley, head, stowage, and communication. Pam and I are both excited to offer our unique forty-year spectrum of knowledge covering older tried-and-true systems as well as the newer generations of electronics and gadgets that are coming out. We expect the presentation will be enlightening and very entertaining with as much Q&A as you can dream up. Lay it on us!
For the next 7-10 days Cruiser’s University will be open to registration by Cruisers University Alum, after which it will be open to the general public for sign-up and registration. I will keep you all informed here on the blog and my social media pages as updates become available about registration or other CU and Annapolis Boat Show highlights. Phillip and I are both incredibly excited to be attending. We’ve never been to Annapolis before! How many of you are planning to go to the Annapolis Boat Show this year? If so, we hope you can join Pam and me on Tuesday during Cruiser’s University!
If someone were to ask us what cruising is about, I’m sure Phillip and I would say the adventure, the travel, the freedom, the challenges, but I’m confident our answer would also include “the people.” The people Phillip and I have met while cruising are exceptional. Even with decades of knowledge, experience, often impressive business, military, or other worldly accomplishments, they are the most humble, helpful, resourceful people you will meet. Always at the ready to catch a dock line, share some duct tape, let you borrow their dinghy, help you fix … anything, and eager to pour you a drink and swap sea tales. These are the people Phillip and I aspire to be and that we meet everywhere we stop while cruising.
Steve and Pat, who we met last year in the Berry Islands, were no exception. I wrote People With Gusto to honor this hilarious, hospitable couple who, before they even knew us, welcomed me and Phillip into their hand-built island home, taught us how to spear fish and shared not only their bounty but their stories and their rich history with us each evening over dinner and dominos in their home. I believe Phillip and I, before we even discussed it, both felt while the Abacos were breathtaking, exciting, and memorable, our time with Steve and Pat was hands-down the highlight of our entire Bahamas trip.
This made it even more of a treat to find SAIL Magazine ran my People with Gusto article the same time Phillip and I were making our way back to the Berry Islands. He and I are out cruising right now, meeting more and more people with gusto! Many thanks to Peter Nielsen and the rest of the team at SAIL for publishing another one of my pieces. It’s such an honor! Go grab a copy of the May 2019 issue to read the article and let us know what you thought of it. Enjoy!
And, bonus points for any follower who can tell where in the Bahamas the photo above was taken! : )
Or maybe I should say: “My Jerries are strapped. I’m ready to go. Standing here outside your … dorade-oh.” I’m great with lyrics. Ahoy crew! Phillip and I are getting excited to shove off soon for the Bahamas again. We love that area! And, while we fell in love with the Abacos last time, we want to head back to do some more exploring in the Exumas this time, and the weather is looking good for a shove-off tomorrow morning at daybreak! We don’t know exactly where we’re going or how long we’ll stay, and we love it that way. I can tell you this: Phillip and I did not pack a schedule on the boat this time! But, we did pack a lot of other stuff and made some changes this year on how we stock and prep the boat for offshore voyaging and island life that I thought would be helpful to share with you all.
If you can believe it, this was our short list:
And, THIS is what your boat looks like in prep mode. Fun stuff. Everything is torn apart, lockers emptied, tools everywhere finishing up last minute projects. It’s a hot mess, but totally worth it.
The good news: One thing Phillip and I have noticed over the years as we cruise half of the year and spend the rest in Pensacola—often on the hard for a few weeks or more during that time with Brandon at Perdido Sailor making repairs or upgrades to the boat—we’re getting very good at both stripping the boat down for the yard, then stocking her back up for cruising and offshore sailing. The more you do it, it starts to become a well-oiled routine and you get better at deciding where and how to stow things, and how to best disassemble and remove things. I’m not ashamed to say: It feels pretty f*cking fabulous to have your boat dialed in. There’s six years’ worth of sweat and work in that accomplishment that we’re immensely proud of. So, how do we prep our boat for offshore sailing and island cruising? Let’s dive right in!
First up, the new stuff:
Purchasing and Packing Coco Bricks for Our New Composting Head
As many of you know, Phillip and I swapped from our manual pump head to an AirHead composting head when we were in the shipyard in 2018.
I wrote a detailed blog post about it, as well as a video showing the install and shared extensively in both of those pieces how thrilled we are with the decision. It is a much simpler, more eco-friendly system. It takes up far less space and smells a thousand times better. It also looks better and makes our lives simpler in so many ways. This voyage to the Bahamas will give us a true experience of cruising with a composting head both offshore and as full-time live-aboards, so we are looking forward to that.
But, this was a “new” item for us to pack for this year, as we needed bricks and paper filters. We were able to purchase the bricks for a very reasonable price off of Amazon. Here is a link. They’re about $3.50 a piece and each bricks lasts 3-4 weeks. So, we ordered 12 from Amazon, and I am pleased to say they ALL packed nicely around our trash can in the lower section of the cabinet under the head sink. This area:
They even prop the trash can up better so it does not topple around and makes throwing those little goodies away even easier. We ordered the coffee filters (although I love that Airhead calls them “paper carriers” – that’s classy) from Airhead as well. I think three packs of 50 was like $12, no sweat. We also swapped to a plastic trash can down there as our previous metal one was rusting and making a mess. You know how I feel about messes … No, Sir! Not on Plaintiff’s Rest!
With our those stored, we are good to go with the head for, gosh, 8-9 months of cruising, if not more, depending on how much time we spend on the boat consistently using the composting head. But, man, isn’t that a great feeling? Never having to go to the fuel dock again just to pump out, and never having to pump out again, ever. I’ll take it!
Packing Out the Turd Tank Locker
Now, Phillip and I had the very awesome problem of what to store in the locker that once housed our stinky, sloshing turd tank, which is now super clean, smelling of BilgeKote and baby’s breath. I believe it’s baby’s breath. Something sweet and inviting. See? I hopped right in!
I was surprised to see—once the holding tank was out—how BIG that space really is. There was a shelf built in to help hold the weight of our former 25-gallon holding tank. I’m kneeling on it in the photo above. But, the area underneath that shelf is about half the size of the area you see me scrunched up in here. So, a half-Annie can fit! : )
Phillip and I haven’t even filled that lower area with anything yet. We haven’t had the need. Each year, we find or create more storage space on the boat (and we also learn to pack smarter and lighter) and so our storage needs seem to always be met, well, exceeded is more like it. Now, that may change when we’re getting ready to cross an ocean, but I’m fully confident when that time comes, all of these half-full, empty, and/or yet discovered areas in our boat will easily accommodate our ocean-crossing needs.
This area, here, however, where I’m curled up and where the holding tank used to be, is pleasantly massive! So big, we were a bit stumped at first as to what exactly to put in it. Hence, its inclusion on our packing list. What goes there? we pondered. As Phillip and I are always trying to counter-balance more weight in the lower and aft parts of the boat—to offset our 200 pounds of chain in the bow—we planned to stock lighter goods here, and I was shocked to see the following fit in this locker, with room to spare:
Our storm sail (aptly named Stormy McDaniels : )
3 (yes three!) 12-packs of toilet paper (yes, 36 rolls is extreme overkill, but we have the space for it and … that’s not something we really want to risk running out of)
6 rolls of paper towels
2 blue rolls of shop towels
And, a beach-sized bag of some of our more bulky epoxy project pieces (bins to mix epoxy, paint stirrers, random containers, rubber gloves, etc.)
All right there. And, in the lockers further forward of this one under the vberth we were able to stow all of our extra lines (about 12-14 I’d say … many of them I have no clue what they could or should be used to do, but hey, we got ‘em!), the ShopVac, spare sheets, work towels, an extra set of dock lines (in case we have to tie off for a big storm), as well as ALL of our kite-surfing gear: (3 kites, harnesses, bars and a pump). All of that is right here under my rump!
You see what I mean? It’s like our boat can’t get enough! Whatever we dump in she seems to swallow it whole and shut the lid. Got it? Anything else? she asks. Love that gal. And, because we installed a watertight floor in the anchor chain locker during our extensive stint on the hard in 2016 (check out our Shipyard Video “No More Water in the Bilge!”) and ran a hose carrying the anchor chain water to our sump box in the center bilge, every locker forward of the center bilge is a DRY locker.
Bone dry. I’ll never regret that tedious, but well-worth-it project.
What else was new?
New Storage Cubbies in the Bilge
So, this was fun. During our voyage to Cuba in 2016 and to the Bahamas in 2017, Phillip and I began utilizing these spaces under the main floorboard in our saloon.
You can see our batteries are mounted here (which provides great access for their periodic water-filling) and the frame for the batteries provided two nice bilge cubbies on starboard where we stow bigger, less frequently used tools and other supplies. Utilizing those bins effectively on our Bahamas Voyage in 2017 inspired me to create two more further forward. I used the Brandon cardboard-cutout method (patent pending) to create templates (because boats are never square or perfect) and we then cut the necessary pieces out of starboard (conveniently from a piece that was leftover from our “potty platform” Brandon called it—the big square piece we used to make the platform under our composting head. So, it turned out to be a great re-use of readily available resources.
Isn’t it funny how you carry little leftovers and things along like that because someday you just might need them. You may be wrong, and they may seem “in the way” many, many times, but you know (you just know!) the minute you throw it out, you’ll need it. Thankfully, we held onto the remainder of our “potty platform” it seemed for this very reason. These two new cubbies served us perfectly by housing large and small bottles of water (we bring a good bit of drinking water when we cruise) as well as three bags of wine and 3 mini 12-packs of sodas.
Stowing the Goods!
Phillip and I have found so many new places to pack food and drinks these past few years on our boat. And, once we discovered them, I—of course!—the next time we hauled out, dumped them and slathered them with Bilgekote (I love Bilgekote : ) so they are clean and smell amazing. Surprisingly, we store a huge amount of food around our water tank on the port side. There is also a cubby aft of the water tank that usually houses ALL of our canned goods, if not other things like sodas, coffee, rice, and any kind of pantry item.
This also helps balance out all the weight of the diesel tank on starboard. All of our soft goods like toilet paper, paper towels, towels, clothes, etc., we try to stow forward and higher to help the boat maintain its balance.
Our cubbies in the after berth also swallow a lot of wine (7 bags this time) along with waters and other goods. As you can see, we like to get as much of the heavy weight low and aft to offset the Bohemian weight of our 200 foot chain in the bow. For anyone curious, we probably packed 10 boxes of wine and 15 bottles, I believe, on top of the general booze. I mean, that’s stuff’s important.
ENGINE, SPARES, AND SAFETY GEAR CHECK
We also do the following any time we are preparing to head offshore. It’s been comforting to refine this list over the years and get better and better at performing these chores. Between you and me, I think our boat really appreciates it, and sees the love that goes into getting her ready to take us to magical places:
Change the oil in the engine (if it’s time – 50 hours)
Check/change the primary fuel filter if needed
Review and re-stock the following boat supplies as needed: