One of the Bahamas’ Best Kept Secrets: Andros

Phillip and I had no plans to stop in Andros on our last voyage through the Bahamas.  Although we do have a good friend who told us (when we were planning our first trip to the Bahamas in 2017) that it is a great spot for kitesurfing, we got caught up like most do in our excitement to see the Exuuumas!  When most people write and post about the remote, untouched beauty of the Bahamas, they’re usually referring to the Exumas and surrounding islands. Places like Cat Island:

Staniel Cay with its famous James Bond Thunderball Grotto:

Or Little Exuma with its Tropic of Cancer Beach:  

Many Bahamas cruisers told us while the Abacos are fun and stunning in their own right, there is just something pristinely breathtaking about the Exumas.  So, when we left Bimini headed toward New Providence Channel all headings were pointing east, to the Exumas.  But, as you know from our last blog and my scariest moment of the trip, the weather forced us on a slight detour.  And, as is usually the case, Phillip and I were thrilled we took the detour because it revealed to us yet another new, exciting destination in the Bahamas: Andros. 

Although our mere single-night stay this last time proved to us Andros is a rare gem, with experiences and stories all its own, after researching further we have since learned Andros is one of the most cost-effective and well-stocked islands in the Bahamas.  Because it is so large, produce and water are often in much greater supply than the smaller islands.  As many of you may know, water can cost as much as $1.00/gallon in certain areas of the Bahamas.  With as much water as Phillip and I need to drink while sweating and dehydrating daily in the Bahamas and use for showering and rinsing the boat, the price for water in the Bahamas can start to creep into the budget.  

We also learned Andros is home to one of the best and largest barrier reefs in the Bahamas, the Andros Barrier Reef, which Phillip and I plan to dive and snorkel in the future. 

Ahhhh … it’s so comforting to see healthy reefs!

The spearfishing would also be good on the east shore of Andros as it drops right into the Tongue of the Ocean. Catching fresh fish to cook on the boat every night is not only delicious, it’s also not bad on the wallet either. All told, Phillip and I are planning to check out Fresh Water Creek and spend more time in Andros the next time we sail by. We know it’s worth another stop for more discovery because we got a personal, local peek into the island this last time when Phillip scored three-hour driving tour guided by a long-time Andros local and the Harbor Master, a wonderful woman named Kenedra (whose name I can only hope I’m spelling correctly) and her bubbly daughter, Diamond!  

We dropped the hook in Morgan’s Bluff rather early in the morning, hours before dinner time (and you remember what was for dinner that night! : ).

With the whole afternoon on our hands, Phillip and I decided to venture ashore to take a poke around and see what life is like at Morgan’s Bluff.  

I’ll admit it is just a beautiful little beach with a tiny little rum bar, but that sounds like heaven to me!  And, it was.  The beach there on the north end of Andros was nothing short of stunning. 

And, an ice cold Kalik and rum drink after the beat-down and fish battle we’d just been through was quite the reward. 

After talking with a local at the bar, we inquired about a potential tour of the island and he personally set us up with the Harbour Master, Kenedra, who offered to take us around the island herself personally that afternoon by car.  This was such a surprise and wonderful treat.  

Kenedra first took us to the huge rocky bluff on the northern tip of Andros.  It really is a steep ways up with a harsh rocky shore below. 

Legend has it, the cruel and infamous buccaneer Henry Morgan (you guessed it … THE Captain Morgan) had a hideout in a cave at this most northwestern tip of Andros.  He and his crew allegedly hid their booty, both gold and rum (that’s worth hiding!), in the cave because the bluff the cave is located under was a notoriously dangerous spot for ships.  Since most other sailors and pirates avoided this area because of its treacherous shore, Captain Morgan thought it was the best place in the world for his treasure. 

Kenendra snapped mine and Phillip’s photo in front of the sign commemorating the Captain Morgan legend on Andros.  

She told us, though, by the end of his career, legend says Captain Morgan was known not for his keen pirating abilities, but for his excessive drinking and weight gain.  Blame it on the rum … 

Kenedra drove us all over the island, stopping frequently to catch up with fellow Andros residents.  (This is very common in the Bahamas.)  Locals usually do not pass each other on the roads without honking and waving, at the very least, and often not without stopping and talking for a bit.  It never ceases to amaze me how connected they are, compared to people in the States who can go for days, weeks (months even!), without talking to any people in their neighborhood.  The sense of community there is truly heart-warming.  After the Bluff and Captain Morgan’s famous cave (and specifically in response to her daughter, Diamond’s, insistent urging) Kenedra also took us to a quirky little hotel, the Pineville Motel, where the owner has a petting zoo with an eclectic mix of animals, ranging from goats, to peacocks, to rabbits. 

 I wanted to pet (keep) them all! Thankfully, Phillip put the kibosh on it (or that would make for quite an interesting sail on Plaintiff’s Rest the next day! Phillip and I also posed for another cameo photo on the Pineville Motel’s Disco Stage.

[Strike your own John Travolta disco move now! That’s a HaveWind order!]

Yeah baby!

Kenedra also took us to an exquisite little bungalow resort on the island, the Andros Island Beach Resort, and introduced us to the owner who runs the rental units (adorable little cottages right on the beach) and the restaurant.  

Phillip and I were really surprised to see such amazing accomodations here, that would cost upwards of $500/night on the east coast of Florida going for a mere $200/night in the Bahamas.  Another reason it pays to travel.  

Diamond was cracking me up at this point. Over the course of the three hours she went from shy and unengaged to bubbly and inquisitive. Diamond and I became good little buddies by the end of it. She wanted to braid my hair. I should have let her!

Our last stop on the tour was the “Blue Hole.”  While we have since learned there are many of these in the Bahamas, the one in Andros carries all the way out to the ocean.  

The hole formed when a portion of the limestone island caved in, leaving a stunning blue water hole in the middle of the island fauna that is filled with cold, rainwater.  But, if you dive the hole, you will start to lower down into water with more salinity and you can eventually cave dive your way out of the hole into the Tongue of the Ocean on the east coast of Andros.  

How cool is that?  It was cool enough for Phillip to jump in!

I only hesitated (as you all know I love to jump from cliffs) knowing if I got soaked I’d have to drench Kenedra’s car with my wet soppy clothes and wild pile of hair.  Stinking hair … there are so many times I wish I was bald and more “quick-dry” like Phillip.  

The highlight of the Andros tour, however, was not a destination, but it was a big deal.  It was a dilly!  While we were chatting and driving around in the car, Diamond, happily jumping into our conversation the further we drove, suddenly blurted out “Have you guys tried a dilly yet?”  I wasn’t sure how to answer that.  I didn’t even know what a dilly was.  Is it a food?  Is it a dance?  A local handshake?  I could confidently say to Diamond, “No, I have not tried a dilly yet.”  With a gleam in her eye, her mom Kenedra (without saying a word) drove several roads leaning forward and looking up and out the windshield to the left and right, finally pulled off near a particular tree. No sooner than she put it in park, Diamond busted out of the car and started sprinting toward a very tall, bushy tree and began whacking at the upper branches with a long stick.  Phillip and I exchanged a fun “What’s the dilly-yo?”glance as Kenedra followed her daughter and started whacking too.  

Unfortunately, just as soon as it became clear to us they were trying to knock some type of fruit off of the tree for us to try, Kenedra said: “I tink dey all been picked ooh-vuh.”  But Diamond would not give up.  She kept scrambling, kept whacking, until we finally heard a muffled voice from within the cavern of the fauna.  “I got one!” Diamond cried as she came running out, her spoils in hand: a perfectly ripe dilly fruit.  Kenedra and Diamond eyed us as we eyed the fruit.  Diamond cracked it in half with her hands (a dilly is roughly the consistently of a firm kiwi on the outside, an almost ripe peach on the inside). The two halves were a bright, blazing orange.  

Definitely a fruit I had never seen before.  The word guava came to mind, but then I remembered those are green on the outside, pink on the inside.  This dilly was totally different.  But, the taste was very similar.  

Mmmm guava … I thought as the super sweet interior slipped down my throat.  Phillip and I ate both of our halves right there on the side of the road in Andros, getting all sticky-fingered without even caring, and we still note it as one our favorite “bites” of the entire trip.  

I think it was the combination of the surprise and newness Andros offered, the generosity of our hosts, and Diamond’s enthusiasm to share something of her local community with new friends.  All of it came together to culminate in the perfect sweet treat.  As we said goodbye to Kenedra and Diamond and dinghied back to our boat, Phillip and I agreed that’s what Andros felt like to us: the perfect sweet treat.  New, unexpected, and rewarding.  

Andros, we will definitely be back.  Next up, we’ll weigh anchor from (Captain) Morgan’s Bluff and make our way to our first island in the Exumas!  Man, so much work and effort has gone into bringing the boat to this point.  I still get thrills now just remembering and writing about it.  Stay tuned!

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Fish Off the Hook – MY Scariest Moment of the Trip

Do you see it in the photo? That fish is off the hook! Literally!  Looking back, I still can’t believe Phillip and I actually got that one into the cockpit, but the pics are proof: WE DID!

Ahoy followers!  After that stretchy sidebar, it’s now time to get back to our Bahamas saga.  When we last left our hapless crew, Phillip and I (well, actually I) had just accomplished my best de-docking ever leaving Bimini (and, don’t worry, there will be plenty more not-so-great dockings after).  We were heading out early in the morning after a five-day hunker-down (that’s a military term I think) in Bimini when we had some steady east winds upwards of 18 kts on us for several days.  While it did make for some great kiting in Bimini, after five days, most of the boats on our pier were ready to toss the lines and get going.  

The winds were predicted to be a light ESE, that Philip and I were hoping would turn more south than east. (And, I hope you’ll notice my clever “hope” foreshadowing here.  As is often the case when we try to predict the wind, we are wrong.  I would call it bad foreblowing as opposed to foreshadowing but I wouldn’t want to entice toooo many foul jokes : ).  The winds were nice enough to start.  We were hauling away from Bimini toward our entrance into the Great Bahamas Bank with plans to make an overnight passage to either the west harbor on Nassau or—if things were going well on the passage—all the way to the Exumas, which was our ultimate goal this first leg of the trip.  Always good to have planned “outs” and “plan Bs” at the ready.    

It was a brisk romp in about 18kts of breeze (not what we expected, so much for the foreblowing) but it was comfortable making our way toward the Great Bahamas Bank.  

Phillip and I are still very pleased with our decision to trade out our whopping 135% genoa for our 90% offshore working jib when we’re cruising island to island (or country to country) and know we’ll be doing a good bit of offshore cruising.  Unlike “Genny,” our little “Wendy” (aptly named by one of my HaveWind followers) is super sporty and rarely gets overpowered.  It was really a fun day sailing all the way into the Great Bahamas Bank and beyond.  

While I didn’t expect it, after spending only five days and four nights on the dock in Bimini, I had already missed offshore voyaging.  That may sound a little silly having just crossed the Gulf Stream to get to Bimini, I’m serious!  When you actually get going and find yourself weighing anchor (or tossing the lines) and getting the boat moving—to an entirely new location—every 3-4 days, 5 days starts to seem just one to many.  The moment you’re back offshore, moving again, you realize how much you missed it.  

And, it didn’t hurt that the stars over the Bahamas Bank that night were just decadent. A white smattering of them, like salt on the sky.  And, I remember seeing several shooting stars that evening (and making several wishes). That I cannot share!  (It’s a Star Pact.)

The next morning, I had the sunrise shift, which is totally fine with me.  I love the shift where the sky transitions from night to day.  It’s amazing to watch it change seemingly slowly at first and then so quickly.  It still stuns me sometimes—when Phillip and I are in work mode, doing all of our busy marketing and lawyer work on land, where we don’t see near as many sunrises and sunsets as when we’re on the boat cruising—that this still happens out there. Out there, every morning (when it is clear), the sky turns from this velvety purple, to mind-boggling magenta, to a warm welcoming pinkish-yellow.  Every day. Whether you see it or not.  It’s not like wondering whether a tree that falls in the forest makes a sound.  No. I’m confident every single sunrise is beautiful, exquisite, whether seen or not. 

But, that serene “Ahhh … life is wonderful” Annie-moment didn’t last long as we were coming towards the entry into the Northwest Providence Channel and the Tongue of the Ocean. In reality, it is a rather wide entrance.  But, when a barge is coming through at the very same time, it is a rather narrow entrance. Phillip had only been asleep about 40 minutes when I was debating waking him again.  Not that we try to be prideful, in not needingto wake the other crew member (known on our boat as the “other captain” : ) up—well, Phillip might be … a tad … he still is a Marine, or helpful, in letting the other person sleep more when we know they are tired.  

No.  On Plaintiff’s Restwe try to always follow the standing “When to Wake the Captain Rule” which I have written on before.  That rule is: It’s time to wake the Captain when you’ve thought: Maybe I should wake the Captain.  Standing rule.  Applies all the time.  

And, with a 600-foot barge coming toward the NW Providence Channel inlet the exact same time I was with a CPA (closest point of approach on our AIS) narrowing from 0.8 of a mile to 0.6 down to 0.3 in about 20 minutes, I knew it was time to wake my “other captain.”  While Phillip was not thrilled with his 40-minute-only nap, he is always very diligent in getting up and getting alert quickly when there is a potential issue. Although this one was a little embarrassing in that by the time we passed the barge just before the entrance, it was clear 0.4 nm apart is a perfectly safe distance in the daytime with everyone motoring along in calm seas.  The entrance to the channel suddenly felt monstrously wide leaving me plenty of room, which mighthave left me a little embarrassed for having woke Phillip.  But, I was not.  This is the very reason for the rule.  It alleviates the need to feel embarrassed or ashamed.  (And I like it that way.) 

But that little “adventure” was just the start of our harrowing day which turned out to be MY scariest moment of the entire trip.  I have written about Phillip’s before.  It was our “Auto Turn-Notto” dilemma before we left for the Bahamas (which, granted, was before we left for our trip) but that was Phillip’s answer when he was asked: “What was your scariest moment of the trip?”  That was his. This was mine.

As we started to make our way into the Tongue of the Ocean, things got a little bumpy.  The predicted “light” ESE winds were 18+ kts right on the nose.  While Phillip and I had been hoping they would turn south sooner as predicted, they had not.  And, ironically, although they had been blowing like stink dead out of the east for days, we would have welcomed an east wind now as it would have been more on our beam, rather than the nose.  But, nope.  We had those two kinds of winds that often occur together: winds of the wrong speed and in the wrong direction.  “My favorite!” said no sailor ever.

While we were … somewhat comfortable … it was a bit of a bash-around bumpy ride, and the thought of continuing in that fashion for another 6-7 hours to Nassau or (worse) another 18-24 to the Exumas was … not very appealing.  After some discussion, thought, and chart-checking, Phillip and I decided to pull into Andros.  We had never been there before, but a good friend of ours from back in Pensacola (Captain Jack if you’re listening – here’s your “shout-out!”) had highly recommended it as a more untouched part of the Bahamas and a great spot for kitesurfing.  Two things we love to find the most while traveling: tranquility and kite access. So, we decided to head for a new anchorage to us, a place we had not originally intended to go during this trip to the Bahamas, but NOT “going with the weather” was a lesson we had learned in the past.  

The wind and seas were telling us to get out of this mess, so that is exactly what we chose to do.  Morgan’s Bluff looked like a safe little harbor that would offer us awesome protection from the ESE and S winds for the evening while this stuff blew over.  

It seemed, from the info in the charts, there was not much to do ashore, but we didn’t care. Phillip and I can make a lot of fun out of “not much” if we need to, and that’s only if we need.  We are perfectly content to sip sundowners in the cockpit, cook aboard, and watch the sun go down.  So, it was Morgan’s Bluff or bust!

But, that also meant coming into a new, narrow entrance in some kicked-up seas with winds on the nose knocking the boat all around.  Good times. While the B&G chartplotter showed a nice little curve of an inlet with plenty of depth and very clear markers for it, that map was for FantasyLand!  In reality, there were no markers in sight.  Although this is common in many places in the Bahamas (they simply don’t have the government funding, or the need, to maintain navigation markers as rigorously as we do in the states), it’s often not a big deal because the Explorer Charts are soooo accurate.  If I haven’t stressed that point strongly enough, I’ll happily do it again: If you’re planning to go to the Bahamas, get and study the Explorer Charts before you go and use them while you navigate!  www.explorercharts.com.  

Phillip was at the helm while I was religiously trying to match the lats and lons on the Explorer Charts to what was showing on the B&G as we made our way into Morgan’s Bluff in Andros.  Maybe for some of you this is easy (following lats and lons on a diagonal).  Annie proved to be not so good at it.  To my credit, I asked Phillip to let me helm this time on the way in while he navigated (since I did such a piss-poor job of it when we made our way into Bimini) but he said he was “in the zone.”  I would have loved to have been in his zone, because I was totally screwing up my zone. I don’t know how else to explain it other than a brain fart.

For some reason I was watching and monitoring the lats just fine, counting each degree as one, but stupidly my brain decided to attribute ten degrees to every one on the lons so I had us coming in almost dead from the north straight toward Morgan’s Bluff as opposed to making a wide curve to the east and coming in inside the inlet.  

This is the actual, natural channel you should take into Morgan’s Bluff.
This is the haphazard path I had us on which was littered with little “x’s” on the chart to mark rocks. : O

Once I realized my mistake I could see we were weaving through some rocks along our path toward the harbor with no seemingly safe space to turn around, so there was just nothing we could do but hope the rocks were deep enough not to cause any problems.  That was one of the worst gut-wrenching moments I’ve had on our boat, feeling the boat rise and fall with the waves and thinking I might be the cause of our keel striking a rock.  It literally made me feel sick, and I hope I never have that feeling again (although I’m sure I will).  The only other time I’ve felt physically ill because of something that might happen to the boat was when Hurricane Nate was seemingly making its way to Pensacola in 2017.  Yuck.

I will also go ahead and admit here I didn’t disclose the full gravity of our situation to Phillip at that time for two reasons: 1) I knew we couldn’t change or improve it at that point so why worry him further, I thought; and 2) I became too distracted anyway when right as we were bashing through the hairiest part, we got a

FISH ON!!!

Isn’t that when it always happens?  Phillip and I had been trolling the entire time since we left Pensacola, all the way around the Florida Keys, across the Gulf Stream, and once again when we got into the Tongue of the Ocean, and that entire time fish after fish had bitten off our lure.  Phillip and I joked often—when people, in person or on Facebook asked whether we’d caught any fish on the trip: “Of we’ve done plenty of fishing,” we’d say.  “We just haven’t done any catching.”  And, it’s true.  We lost lure after lure to those feisty fish in the Gulf.  I had to laugh thinking all those hours we spent when we were sailing over tothe Bahamas, in calm seas just watching the fishing line hoping for a bite, reeling it in time and again “just to check” we’d say, and throwing it back out. Any of those times would have been the perfect time to snag a big fish.  But, no, Neptune has to throw one our way when we’re beating and bashing along, off of the safe path (thanks Annie), making our way into a new, unknown harbor.  That’s the perfect time to be hauling in a fish!  

So, haul we did!  I took the helm and Phillip started pulling slowly and steadily winding our hand reel in.  I will say I was grateful for the excitement of the fish in that moment to dissipate some of my boat nerves.  In that sense the fish was a blessing.  But, boy was he a monster?!  Here’s one quick little video of him popping out of the water.

The first time I saw him zip to the outside of the boat, breach the surface and sink back down, I knew he was big.  Phillip could tell by how hard he was having to pull—using his entire body to arch back to get some length in the line so he could then fold the hand reel over to get another 10 inches on the guy.  

It was a slow and steady fight but Phillip finally brought him close enough where I could try to gaff him, which can be very hard to do with a fighting monster three feet below you, on a bobbing, swaying boat.  But I finally got him right under the gills and by some wicked twist of fate it was at that very moment the hook came out of his mouth, which meant my gaff was the onlything standing between us and the biggest fish we’ve ever seen behind Plaintiff’s Rest.  I was terrified he was going to kick and flail and fight his way off—and, believe me, he tried—but I kept turning the hook in hopes it would hold—and, thankfully, it DID!  When I hauled that bloody beast over the lifesling (leaving a nasty bloody trail on it but I didn’t give a you-know-what) and flopped him into the cockpit floor, Phillip let out a “Holy crap, that guy is huge!”  And he was.  That was the biggest fish we have caught to date on Plaintiff’s Rest.  He was as long as my leg!  And, that’s not a tall fish tale.  We have proof!  

That photo, however, was the second picture I made Phillip take because I wanted to capture the full length of that guy before I hacked him up and, in trying to do so the first time, the fish flipped off my gaff right when Phillip clicked the camera. So, we captured a fish in mid-air!

It was such a wild, heart-pumping moment pulling that guy in while bashing our way into Andros, scary but fun, frightening but exhilarating.  Cruising often feels like that.  All the times between the leisure, lavish cocktails-and-bikini days.  How did my friend Pat define cruising?  Oh yeah: Serene, tropical days interspersed with moments of sheer terror.  Yeah, that about sums it up.  Oh, that and the fish!  I made a bloodbath of our cockpit cleaning that big boy up.  

But look at that filet. It’s bigger than my thigh!  (And I’ve got some meaty thighs!)

As Phillip and I often do when we catch a fish that big, we cut up equally-sized (to the best of our ability) filets and bag some for the fridge, but more for the freezer so we can enjoy fresh fish at any time during our travels.  The Mahi we cooked up that night, was probably some of the best fish we had during our entire trip to the Bahamas.  (I’m sure the sheer terror of the moment combined with the monstrous fight getting him into the boat, followed by the hour-long cleaning of the fish, then the boat had some impact on the flavor, but it was a well-earned reward).  

And, I kid you not, that fish fed Phillip and I, two filets each (at least, sometimes 2-3), six dinners over during our Bahamas trip.  It had to be 8-9 pounds of edible fish.  That guy was such a blessing!  A long-awaited one, and certainly a wildly ill-timed one, but a blessing all the same! 

Thank you Neptune!!

Next up, we’ll share one of our favorite new places in the Bahamas.  A spot Phillip and I never thought we would stop at this trip but one we cannot wait to go back to explore further: the beautiful, untouched, but well-resourced, Andros.  Stay tuned!

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Stretching the Love with Spandex Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.spandextherapy.com

www.facebook.com/spandextherapy/

www.instagram.com/spandextherapy/

And follow the journey.  Our whole goal is to:

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My Best De-Docking Yet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whew! we all breathed collectively.  

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

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

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

Well, today was my day. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More photos from our time in Bimini – enjoy!

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Our Best Day and Worst Day, Both in Bimini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because that day we swam with sharks!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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96 Hours Across the Gulf

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.  

The moon peeking through the clouds during our departure
Moon on the bow
With a brilliant sunrise emerging on the stern
It felt like a sign of good luck for our voyage
Headed out the Pensacola Pass
Captain Phillip at the helm
Captain Annie joins him – what’s better than one Captain on a boat?
Starting to get tossed just a bit in the Gulf (this was one of the few times
we were topside during the first 24 hours)
This was one of the others. While video never does it justice, you can see we’re moving pretty good here, up and down and heeling side to side, while Phillip was re-securing the anchor.
Dolphins on starboard!
Never gets old
Day two – still donning our foulies (which were quite foul by then, trust me)
Great winds for night sailing, and we love watching ships on the AIS – it’s usually a very good night shift distraction and entertainment
“Mornin’” says Offshore Annie
Then: “Look what I found!” : )
Nothing better
Phillip fishing … not catching (those wily bastards bit off several of our lures!)
“It’s gonna be a sweet sound, coming down, on the night shift!”
Phillip just finishing his as the sun rises over the stern.
Say “Hello!” to … SKIN. Day three we were thrilled to doff the foulies!
I see that smile! That’s Phillip’s offshore smile. : )
Our new Excel anchor taking in his first offshore voyage
I love living in a bikini!
Nuff said
It’s my cruising uniform (sure makes life easy not having to
think about what to wear … an to not have to brush my hair!)
Our one glass of wine at sunset ration – makes it so worth it!
We figured we were getting closer to land once we started to see the shrimp boats
Last day on passage, we were feeling right and lazy! Thanks again for the coozie, Geckos!
Ahhh … 96 hours of offshore sailing behind us, we had definitely earned a
relaxing afternoon poolside in Marathon.
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Auto Turn Notto: What Almost Prevented Our Bahamas Departure

“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.

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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 …

voyage2

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.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 2.48.26 PM

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:

Motor_Brush_Set_22691K

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.

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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!

 

 

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Birthday Tribute: 37 Reasons Why This Past Voyage Was Our Best Yet

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