Ten. Thousand. I almost can’t believe it myself, but that’s my number. 10,025 to be exact. I’ve been keeping track and when Phillip and I sailed our gallant Niagara 35 back into the Pensacola Pass on our recent return from the Bahamas, it was not only a fantastic feat successfully completing another offshore voyage, it was also a pretty cool milestone for this little sailor, who began sailing only five short years ago.
Headed off on my very first offshore voyage: April, 2013
Captain Annie at the helm, returning from the Bahamas: April, 2018
Ten thousand … This calls for a ditty, no?
Five years, 5oo HaveWind posts, and one captain’s license later, and I dare say I just might call this little gal a bluewater sailor.
When Phillip first planted the seed, “I’m going to buy a boat and cruise around the world,” I immediately, without hesitation, heartily agreed! “Not without me!” was my creed.
Our very first photo at the cockpit together during our first voyage.
So, we started boat-shopping and, little did I know, the many, many new, exotic places I would go! In the bilge, in the fridge, “Get down in the engine room,” he said.
So down I went, bumping my knees, my knuckles, my head. On that boat, I’ve cursed, and sweated, and bled. There are so many, many things, you see, that have to be fixed, cleaned, fixed again, and re-bed.
But the good news is, as long as her hull, keel, and rigging are sound, you can work on her while you sail her anywhere, as long as you don’t run aground! Because the worst, absolute worst, thing you can do to a boat, is to leave her sitting stagnant, unkept and going nowhere, just sitting afloat.
Not our boat, oh no! Our beautiful Niagara, with her magnificent thirty-five feet. She’s often cast-off, sailing away, on a gentleman’s (or perhaps not-so-gentle) beat.
That wise, seasoned boat has taught Phillip and I so much about both her and the sea. Because out there, and you may not believe me, but she feels really rather small to me. The time that she grows, seems unwieldy and impossible to stop, is only when we are approaching a treacherous dock.
But out there, in bluewater, while romping and running, she seems so agile and nimble. Like a horse at the derby, impossibly stunning.
That’s where she and her crew love most to be — moving, gliding, slipping under sunsets at sea.
My heart and courage exposed, this amazing man and boat have challenged me, to push myself, try harder, learn more, travel further, set myself free!
So I did. I changed my career, my address, my focus, all so I could head out to sea. And the rewards have been limitless: Cuba, the Bahamas, Mexico, France, the Florida Keys!
All connected by big, brimming, bodies of blue, just waiting to challenge and test you, too. Each passage, each mile, will teach you something new.
Forty-six hundred of them took Phillip and I all the way across the Atlantic, with a hearty, hilarious French Captain named Yannick.
But the Gulf of Mexico, never to be out-done, over and above the Atlantic, has, thus far, won. The Gulf has handed us our most trying times, tossing and bashing us to windward, threatening to snap lines.
Thankfully the storms and rough seas generally do not last. You just have to ride it out, get the boat comfortable, and usually in twenty-four hours or less, it will pass.
And soon you’ll find yourself motoring without a lick of wind, albeit across the most beautiful glass you’ve ever seen.
And you’ll make the mistake of asking Mother Nature to blow. Just a little. Like ten to fifteen.
Or seven and a quarter, perhaps, just enough so we can be #spinning!
While a perfect passage (in our world, a nice downwind run), from shore to shore is admittedly rare, the toying, tempting promise of it is what makes us accept the dare.
Because when you get there, no matter how near or far your “dream there” might be, it’s an incredibly cool feeling to have the honor to say: “We sailed here, you see.”
And for Phillip and I, I believe one of our most memorable offshore voyages will forever be: Cuba. Because it was a trying, eye-opening, exceedingly-thrilling passage where we bypassed the Keys. And Phillip and I both felt great pride in telling people: “We sailed six hundred nautical miles, here to be.”
Hope you all have enjoyed this little sailor’s first 10,000 nautical miles here at HaveWind. Here’s to the next ten! Cheers!
I mean, with the name “Pensacola,” we had to at least stop and see. And then we decided December 25th it shall be! Merry Christmas in blog time followers! I hope you all are enjoying our Bahamas Voyage vicariously. Fun video and blog post for you below from our “holiday on the hook” at Pensacola Cay!
It is always so fun to go back through our photos and footage and share these stories with you. Pensacola Cay. We were destined for it, right? And boy what a beautiful little stop it was. Each island in the Abacos offered something unique and memorable. Pensacola afforded us the first stretch of clear beach and enough wind for kiting. So, it was the first time we kited on the Atlantic ocean. That is not something I’m likely to forget for a long, long time. This was our first kite spot!
For us, kiting is not just a hobby, it is a sort of freedom. As with the sailboat, you are moving, propelling forward actually, by the sheer virtue of the wind. You steer by skillfully working the kite and board together just as the boat does with the wind, keel, and rudder. It’s a powerful, sometimes frightening, but more often freeing, exciting feeling to know you are harnessing the wind. There’s no rumbling motor. No stinking fumes going into the air. Nothing but nature is moving you along.
Time for a jump-off! Annie …
Man, did you see that mega-hop?! I cleared like a foot and a half! Okay, now Phillip …
I think we have a clear winner! Man, Phillip can really fly. I’m still working on jumping. It’s just not something that is coming naturally to me. So far I can either launch and land a mega-hop (yeehaw!) or launch a huge leap and yard sale it at the end. I hate to say that kiting, just tacking back and forth and maneuvering the board without jumping, is so fun to me that I often don’t practice jumping as much as I should because it might mean I’ll lose my board, crash my kite, potentially end my session. “Over a silly jump?” my mind screams. “Nuh-uh, not this kiter!” But, I love that I can push myself to that goal anytime I want to and it’s always there: a fun, challenging reward if I attain it. This—the challenge, thrill, peacefulness, and simplicity, i.e., harnessing the wind to maneuver—along with, of course, the high-flying jumps and flips, is what draws us to kiting. And to look out the opening of that beautiful little cove at Pensacola Cay to see the Atlantic ocean! An enormous body of water that we crossed in a boat not much bigger than ours only one year ago, was a really cool feeling. Like everything is connected together—time, places, and people—by water. This was us on that same body of water, not so long ago!
The water in the Bahamas, however, while warmer than Pensacola’s mid- to low-sixties winter waters, was still a little chilly. Likely seventy degrees if I had to guess, along with air temps in the high sixties and low seventies. Definitely nice and cool for a day on the boat, but a little chilly to get wet and windy in just a bikini alone. Oh, you’re right, Phillip doesn’t always wear the bikini – ha! But we had brought all of our wet gear for this reason, so we donned what I call our “platypus suits” and didn’t let it stop us!
It was so “cold” there, Frosty came to join us!
I was kind of surprised by the landscape as well. Many of the cays in the Abacos are formed solely on limestone, so in some areas the only walkable shore is a jutty, jagged patch of very unforgiving limestone. Didn’t stop us from traversing it, but you definitely wanted to tread carefully!
We also often stumbled upon what we began to call “conch graveyards.” I, a very naive and silly Bahamian cruiser to begin with, thought all those conchs must have decided it was “their time,” so they huddled together and crawled to shore, a heaving pile of shell and slimy innards drying under the sun. I mean, how else would they all end up piled together in a collective, crumbling heap?
Yes, I know now (after the patient and kindly Phillip told me) they’re there because that is likely where a local fisherman harvested and cracked them. Ahhh … that makes more sense. A concher left them there. Yes, “conchers” are real in Annie Land. So is the blonde hair! Phillip is rather nice to put up with me. But, my very silly questions about all the intriguing things I always seem to find when we’re exploring definitely keep him entertained. As do these beautiful views. Just walking around the islands, making footprints in the sand, and picking up shells is one of our favorite pastimes.
I had thought about keeping this guy, but after holding him five minutes (which left a hand that stunk for five hours!), I decided he was never coming near our boat. Do you see that little brown dribble coming out of the bottom?
Yeah, he seemed empty when I picked him up. I mean there definitely was not a live squirmy conch in there when I peeked inside. But every time I sloshed water in and swished it out, more of this brown goo would come out and I’m sure it was his poor decaying body, but my God that stuff was potent. Sorry little man, but you’re staying with the other stinkies! We do not bring stench aboard Plaintiff’s Rest!
With “dollars” everywhere, we felt mighty rich! : )
It was also great to see our boat anchored out in the Sea of Abaco. After all the planning and prepping and work it took to get her there, it was like you could feel how happy she was to finally be floating in these beautiful green waters!
And, just our luck, a few billowing, beautiful clouds rolled in and brought us a refreshing rain storm. That’s right, for Christmas, we gave Plaintiff’s Rest a much-needed, well-deserved, indulgent freshwater rinse. I listened closely and could hear her singing during the storm. Do you know what she sang?
“Siiiiinging in the rain. I’m just siiiiinging in the rain! What a gloooorious feeling, I’m haaaaaapy again!” (That’s what she always sings when it rains ; ).
It was a well-timed, rather-welcomed rinse for the boat and all of our kite gear stacked up on the deck. And, the storm left behind a crystal clear sky for the sunset. It’s happy hour on our boat. Cheers!
And you know you’re living right when you watch the sun both set and rise every day:
I know, I know. Sunrises. Sunsets. Cocktails and bikinis. Yes, it really is just like that many days. When we’re not changing the oil on the boat, or cleaning the dinghy, or on a gas and provision run. It is paradise. Dozens of times over with each little cay you stop at in the Abacos. But, as I mentioned, each cay seemed to offer something unique that made it stand out in our memories and distinguish each cay from the other. Do you know what our favorite thing about Pensacola Cay was?
That’s right! The SIGNING TREE!! It was something Phillip had read about before we even got to the Abacos, some big tree on the back side of Pensacola Cay where boaters leave old buoys, or life rings, or pieces of driftwood (all kinds of creative nautical trinkets) often with their vessel name, the crew and the date written or painted on it.
It reminded me a lot of the sea wall at Azores which is covered with colorful paintings left behind by cruisers who have been there.
Some of the items hanging from the Signing Tree were very creative. One had a message in a bottle. Another, a carved silhouette of their boat. One, a toilet seat! I’m not kidding. And, from s/v Plaintiff’s Rest? Your very own signed copy of Salt of a Sailor, another one of my “traveling books.”
Phillip and I like to occasionally leave a book behind in a port or place where we hope one cruiser will read it then pass it along to another and another and another, so that the book gets to meet a lot of different people and see many different parts of the world. ”Go little book, go!” we often cry as we leave her behind.
“All you have to do is be a little brave and really resourceful. Happy cruising!” I wrote inside.
Then we triple-bagged her and hung her from the Signing Tree. I hope someone, somewhere, someday tells me they found the traveling Salt of a Sailor that we left at Pensacola Cay. What if the little books is still there when we go back? That would be fine too, but I’ll have to open it to see if folks are taking it to read, then putting it back! I put a little log in the front where people can leave a note with their vessel name and crew. So, it’s kind of like a “signing book” too.
We’re making some fantastic memories along the way. Hope you all enjoyed Pensacola Cay!
Next time, we’ll take you underwater on our very first colorful snorkel in the Bahamas! Stay tuned! glug, glug, glug … : )
“What’s in the Goombay Smash?” I asked the our dark-skinned Bahamian bartender.
“Well, first you start wit da coconut rum … ” she started in. When she finished, Phillip piped up:
“What’s in your Bahama Mama?” he asked.
“Well, first you start with da coconut rum … ” she rattled on again. Every drink it seems, in the Bahamas, “starts with the coconut rum.” And you have to say that with an “Island accent, Mon.” You can also probably guess Phillip and I said it plenty during the entire trip. Every happy hour began with us concurring: “First you start wit da coconut rum.”
Heck yeah! Cheers!
Ahoy followers. In HaveWind time, we have just entered the Bahamas. How cool is that? Last time we took you along on a beautiful, glassy passage across the Gulf Stream. Thankfully, we had a wonderful window open up for us which allowed a smooth two-day passage all the way from Key West to West End with winds of only 5 kts or less (albeit north) in the Stream.
Our decision to explore the northern Abacos first was both weather- and wind-dependent. We knew, right off the cusp of hurricane season, in December and January, that frequent north fronts pop up which are usually brief but intense, but the “Christmas Winds” (often 15-25 kts) definitely blow. Fellow cruisers (shout-out to BaBaLu if you see this Bob! : ) had told us the barrier islands in the northern Abacos offer many good anchorages and marinas, that could provide reliable protection during those frequent fronts. For this reason, rather than choosing to shoot straight across the Great Bahamas Bank first and head first for the more remote, spacious islands of the Berries and Exumas, we decided to ride the Stream as far north as we could (to West End) so we would enter the Bahamas near the Little Bahamas Bank and begin our exploration up north in the protected Abacos.
Here are some of the various routes cruisers often choose to traverse the Bahamas:
We also knew the first thing we would want once the winds started to blow, would be a nice stretch of beach on the Atlantic shore to allow us to tear up some ocean surf on our kites. The fact that we like when the wind blows 20-25 kts was one very big advantage for Phillip and I, because we did experience many, many, (many!) windy days in the Bahamas in December and January. If this was typical of a winter season there (which the locals seemed to say it was, albeit a bit colder and windier), then plan to have your wetsuits for winter water activities because the water was a bit cold (around 68 degrees once we got further north and into the Atlantic). And, as far as the wind goes, either make sure you have enough books and games to occupy you for those days spent on the boat or … just a suggestion … but you can always pick up kitesurfing!!! It’s never too late! Phillip and I had some wicked sessions in the Bahamas, that we cannot wait to share with you!
But, first, we must check in! There are only about two dozen places you can check in (i.e., clear customs) in the Bahamas. We chose West End because it was the furthest north point of entry. We were pleased to find the channel to West End was well-marked and easy to navigate. As you guys already probably know, Phillip and I always try to plan to enter a new port during the daytime, and we came in around 8:00 a.m., well after the sun had risen, so the channel was easy to spot using our Explorer Charts and Steve Dodge’s Guide to the Abacos. Highly recommend those. If you are planning a trip to the Bahamas, they’re the first thing you should buy and start studying.
The deck hands at West End were really nice, too, helping us get docked safe and sound and telling us everything we needed to know about the check-in process. It was really exciting to see our baby girl docked in the exotic (okay, exotic to meee) Bahamas for the first time! Just look at her!
The cruising permit for the Bahamas is $150 and allows the boat to stay in the islands for one year and you (the cruiser) are permitted to come and go for 90 days, then you have to renew if you are planning to stay longer. More info about the customs process and cruising permits if you are interested here. We found the check-in process to be super easy. They opened at 9:00 a.m. and it was just a quick 15-minute run-through, then we were stamped and official!
Our next chore (as it always is when we dock up after an offshore passage), was to wash the boat down. Even at $0.35/gal for the water at the marina, it was well worth it. Our baby was salty. But once clean, she was ready to proudly don her new colors! The brilliant yellow, blue and black of her Bahamian courtesy flag! See you later “Q!”
We really knew nothing about West End and found it to be a fantastic little quaint resort with a tiki bar and restaurants, beach games, poolside cabanas and music, surfboards and paddle boards all lined on the beach for you to play with and use on the stunning Atlantic coast.
What was the most important “toy” on the beach, though? These huge hammocks for napping!
Because boy did we. One goombay smash and a belly full of conch salad and this team was out!
“First you start wit da coconut rum … ”
“Add some tasty conch salad, yum … ”
“Then you’re out for the count, Mon!” ; )
That siesta will probably fall up there in one of my Top Ten favorite naps. Man, I may need to recount those some day, as a few are whirring through my mind right now. That would be a fun blog! Do you think you could recount your Top Ten siestas?
Our next big treat in West End was something we had both been looking forward to, you could literally say, for years. I’ll never forget Pam Wall’s energetic little booming voice when we first saw and heard her speak at the Miami Boat Show in February, 2015. “Go to the Bahamas!” she squealed. Visions of green waters, sea turtles and palm trees instantly filled my head. And Pam chimed back in with “Fill yourself with their fresh Bahamian bread!” Mmmmm … Phillip and I had been talking about that Bahamian bread ever since. Pam probably mentioned it 8-10 times in her speech. They should make it a drinking game. Go to one of her Bahamas seminars and each time she mentions “Bahamian bread,” you each take a shot of rum. I can promise you’d be a happy sailor after that speech. *hiccup*
But, I didn’t know where we were going to get the bread initially. Did they only serve it at restaurants, or perhaps in bakeries? Or only the locals baked it for themselves and you had to know someone who knew someone who could buy a loaf for you? I had no clue, but that’s what makes it an adventure. I had just wrapped my first “spa experience” of the trip (this is what Phillip and I now call a nice hot marina shower, thanks to some friendly cruisers in Pensacola Cay who coined the term for us).
Ahhh … a whole new person! Post-shower selfie to send to the (other) Captain!
And, I was setting up our cockpit table on the boat with a perfectly-chilled bottle of wine that we had been saving for this specific event: the day we made it across the Gulf Stream and had finally docked in the Bahamas. I was waiting for Phillip to finish his “spa treatment” to join me. I don’t know if you know this, but Phillip is a bit of a shower diva. If he is craving a luxurious long, hot shower, he’s going to get it. Trust me! I’m usually back from the showers before him, but I was perfectly content to wait.
Just then I saw a cheerful-looking elderly black woman with what appeared to be her granddaughter happily walking the docks, her granddaughter heaving and pulling a dock cart that was about twice her size behind her. I didn’t know what she was doing, but I watched for a bit as she and the adorable little girl walked the cart down our finger pier and the woman began to look eagerly at each boat, I sensed looking for people aboard. I also sensed she may be trying to sell us something that I figured I wasn’t going to want. I’m not much of a souvenirey-type person and I didn’t know if the locals would try to panhandle a bit or sell you their wares. I had no clue and I was prepared to politely decline and send her along so Phillip and I could enjoy our celebration alone. But, then she said those magic words. Words I could in no way turn down. Words that would have prompted me to invite her right down into our cockpit and pop the bubbly with her myself.
“Would you like to buy some fresh-baked Bahamian bread?” she asked.
A little stunned, I struggled to answer at first. Thinking to myself, ”Oh, so this is how you get it? They just come dockside and sell it? How freaking convenient!”
“Yes!” I practically shouted. “I want two!” And two I got. A fresh white loaf (I figured you have to try the original) and, upon the woman’s expert recommendation, a cinnamon raisin loaf as well. Only $5.00 a piece for those heavenly loaves. Phillip and I then enjoyed a true Bahamian feast. Crisp popped champagne to celebrate all the months and prep work that went into our voyage to the Bahamas with fresh Bahamian bread to boot! Still warm from the oven. Pam, you would have eaten the whole thing! (We almost did!)
Definitely a memorable moment worth celebrating. Cheers! The celebration continued with our first night out on Bahamian soil at a glorious, decadent little restaurant right next to the marina where we indulged on even more Bahamian bread and lobster tail. Mmm-mmm-hmmm!
While West End was a very cute little place, Phillip and I had already made our mind up that we wouldn’t stay long. It was just for us to check-in, clean the boat, fill the tanks and get ready to toss the lines the following morning to make our way into Little Bahamas Bank. Our study of the Explorer Charts in the many months before our departure date told us there were essentially two routes you could take from West End into Little Bahamas Bank. One is known as the “Indian Cut” and–we were told–this route could be, in some places and depending on the tide, a “very skinny six feet.” Leery of this option, particularly as it would be our first trek into the Bahamas, we opted for the longer route up north to Memory Rock, where there is a well-known inlet right next to Memory Rock that, albeit narrow but if followed closely, allows a good 10-12 feet of clearance into Little Bahamas Bank, even at low tide.
“Yeah, that one,” I remember telling Phillip many months ago. “The ten foot one.”
We do not like skinny water. Some more info on those two different routes, Indian Cut and Memory Rock, for you here. While our time in the Bahamas has definitely made us (because you just have to get used to it) more tolerant in shallow depths, we still do not opt to risk depths that are too shallow for our boat if we can avoid it. With many Bahamian cays and harbors now behind us, I can now say we have traveled in depths of 5.8’ and we didn’t touch bottom. While our manufacturing specs on the Niagara claim we have a draft of 5.2′, that’s a testament to the boat when it is dry. Not when it’s loaded down with the many, many bags of wine, booze, canned goods, water, oil, engine parts, sails, etc. All that stuff that is necessary for cruising, but that brings the boat down lower in the water. Well, we can now safely saw we are least not 5.8’. But how close we were to hitting bottom at that point in time, I do not want to know. Thankfully we knew it was soft, so we were clenched and braced for a sandy bump or two. But we’re thrilled it did not happen!
Phillip and I had also decided to leave West End as early as light would allow so we could navigate Memory Rock in the bright, safe light of day as well as make it to our first intended stop, Mangrove Cay, also before the sun went too far down so we would have sufficient light to safely anchor. Our next intended stop thereafter would be Great Sale Cay before we made our way north into the Sea of Abaco. Here is a map of our destinations:
I’ll admit, Phillip and I were both a little nervous about navigating Memory Rock. Much of our work, education and training this past year (particularly my Sea School and Captain’s License courses) were meant to prepare us for encounters just like this–hairy, rocky inlets that would require keen and precise navigation to ensure our prized possession and our ticket to world travel didn’t collide into a reef or rock and cause significant damage. Following the explicit Explorer Charts headings and Pam Wall’s incredibly helpful and adamant advice to “not turn east into Little Bahamas Bank until you are with 1/4 mile of Memory Rock. 1/4 mile!” she screeched to us via the Delorme (which by the way proved very helpful in making navigation and weather routing decisions such as these).
So we didn’t. We watched the depths as they dropped from 20 to 15 to 12 ft and did not turn right into the Bank until our GPS coordinates were within .25 of the coordinates for Memory Rock. Then we turned, watched the depths, which remained between 11 and 13 and carefully traversed our way along the path detailed by the Explorer Charts. Soon we found ourselves back in a safe 17 feet of water breathing big sighs of relief, so happy we had our first “hairy” entrance behind us.
While planning and dreaming about the Bahamas for many months in 2017, navigating the sometimes tricky and dangerous reefs and rocky inlets was not something Phillip and I were looking forward to. But it’s something you have to accept and prepare for if you want to travel to places like this. It’s the “eustress” (I call it) of cruising, the good kind of stress. And, it was well worth enduring this time, because Phillip and I were rewarded with crystal-clear, lush water soon after we made our way into Little Bahamas Bank. Both of us could not stop staring. There were so many shades of jewel-toned greens, crystal blues, pearly whites, all swirling and flowing underneath our boat. The water was breathtaking!
It was the first time we were watching our boat traverse over the crystal waters of the Bahamas, and I swear it’s like you could feel her perking up, raising her bow, looking around and taking it all in. Plaintiff’s Rest was just as excited to be there as we were. We knew when we saw those colorful, can’t-really-describe them waters that we had made it–into the Bahamas! We motored over to Mangrove Cay just in time to drop the hook, with an hour or two of daylight so we could do our first Bahamian anchor check, which can practically be done from the boat, because you can see down, even to 13 feet and almost make out the anchor exactly. You’ll see in the video! But we were ready to get wet!
A quick dip and it was soon time for happy hour, a stunning sunset, and a special Chef Phillippe dinner on the boat. (I believe it was Cuban-style mojo pork tenderloin with black beans and yellow rice that night, but don’t quote me on that. We eat so good on the boat, every night is finer than a five-star gourmet feast!)
Our plan was to get up with the sun again the next day so we could make it well within daylight to our next stop, Great Sale Cay, and spend more time playing and exploring there before nightfall. And while I would have never believed it, the water that day was even more beautiful, easily the most breathtaking of our entire trek through the Abacos. Just. You. Wait. There’s a little preview of it at the end of the video, and some footage we are very excited to share, coming at you next time. Can you say a Silks Session at Sunset??
Yeeeessss. That’s all coming to you next time. For now go with us! Check in at West End, down your first Goombay Smash (followed by a hammock crash) and join us as we make our way into Little Bahamas Bank! Enjoy!
“Do what you would do if the kids and I were with you.”
This was probably the best advice I could imagine anyone giving Yannick in the moment. He was really wrestling with the decision of whether to pull out of the Atlantic and into the Azores to see if we could get the auto-pilot on Andanza repaired or to keep making way hand-steering toward France. As it stood, we were about a day and a half away from the Azores and about eight or nine days away from France with four capable, albeit a little tired, crew.
This crew member, in particular, is a little crazy. Dancing at the helm is the absolute best way to hold a hand-steering shift.
We weren’t even sure, yet, whether the auto-pilot could be repaired in the Azores and Yannick was rightfully leery of docking his 46-foot catamaran. That was one of the primary reasons he wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop. And, now he was debating doing it in a port that may be of no help to him with a crew that had only docked the boat once before.
“There are less variables out here,” I remember him saying.
On the other hand, the crew was growing more tired with each two-hour shift and we were still many, many miles from France. When Yannick reached out to his wife, who was “singled-handing” her own rather daunting journey—impressively juggling a move halfway across the world into a new home with two very small children in tow—Clothilde gave him the best guidance I believe any wife could in that situation and I will forever admire her for it. Although she wanted Yannick home, she needed him home, Clothilde told him to act as if she were there with him so he would make the safest decision. Hearty are the French.
While I would love to say this softened and persuaded our Captain, apparently the French are also stubborn as Yannick was hell-bent on getting his boat across the ocean as safely yet efficiently as possible. While he did want to make the best decision for everyone, he also did not want to stop. I believe even Yannick will tell you, what finally swayed him was a rather stern discussion with Phillip, ever the Marine, who felt it was time to step up and say something.
“You have no reason to risk the boat. That’s what I told him,” Phillip relayed to me later as I was holding my shift at the helm when he and Yannick had their discussion. “We have plenty of time to stop for repairs, the weather doesn’t look any less favorable a week from now and, by stopping, we’ll make the last leg of the voyage with a rested crew and, likely, a fully-functioning auto-pilot. There’s simply no reason that justifies the risk.”
“But you guys said you could do it,” Yannick said. And he was right. We did. Because we probably could.
“But that doesn’t mean we should,” Phillip told him. And he was right too.
Phillip and I have experienced this phenomenon on occasion during a passage. It’s usually not one thing that goes wrong that puts the crew and boat in immediate jeopardy. It’s usually a series of events. Mostly minor in the beginning. Just a small failure or some system that gets finicky, requires your attention and must be monitored, adjusted or repaired more often. Nothing major just something that strains you a little, and then another that strains you a little more. Then the weather turns gnarly. It’s hard to see or navigate. Then another system starts giving you trouble. And before long, you’re much more tired than you realized. You haven’t been sleeping or eating as well as you had before and THAT is when something bad happens, perhaps because of a poor decision you made because your judgment has been weakened or perhaps just because it is the next bad thing that was set to happen and now things are more than you can handle, particularly in your tired state. For Phillip and I, it seems this is how you find yourself in trouble out there. Not usually from one catastrophic occurrence, but a series of them, one after another until you can no longer control the situation. I remember discussing this recently with Andy Schell and he agreed. As he has far more many miles under his hull than we do, I believe it to be true.
Were we fine at the moment? Hand-steering in two-hour shifts with a capable four-person crew? Yes. But it was the first in a sequence of events that could have occurred. It was the start of a series. And Phillip—wanting both himself to have a safe and enjoyable journey across the Atlantic, but wanting more to see his friend Yannick sail his boat safely across the ocean—took decisive action to try and stop the series before it began. “There’s just no reason to risk it,” he told Yannick. While we were essentially strangers when we signed up as crew for this passage, over the course of each blue mile, a friendship grew and I know Yannick appreciated Phillip’s honesty and perspective. By that point, Yannick trusted and respected Phillip and I think, looking back, he will say it was the right decision, although that did not make it an easy one. After the men emerged from what I was told was a pretty tense conversation in the cabin, the Captain decided Andanza would be stopping in the Azores.
It seemed fate agreed with us as it wasn’t long after Yannick made the decision that I was able to get the folks at Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services on the satellite phone and, without much hesitation at all, they said with confidence they could either repair or replace Yannick’s electric RayMarine auto-pilot. They kind of chuckled at me asking so many times. The crew of Andanza had yet to be awakened to the wide range of serious boat repairs MAYS tackles on a daily basis. It makes sense. It’s the first big marina folks come to after 2,000 nm across the Atlantic Ocean. I now know we all underestimated their capabilities because we did not yet know the state many boats are in when they reach the shores of the Azores. We met sailors there who had lost their forestay, cracked their boom, had two feet of water in the bilge, on and on. Our auto-pilot failure was child’s play to them. Laughable almost. It’s no wonder the MAYS folks were chuckling at me.
“Yes, we can fix your auto-pilot. Yes, I’m sure.”
“Okay we’re coming!”
While we hated it for Yannick. None of us wanted his boat to suffer issues and for him to have to put his ocean-crossing on hold for repairs, but once the decision was made (through no fault of ours), I think each member of the crew will readily admit he was very excited to dock in the Azores. Phillip told me before we left Pensacola he had heard other sailors say there is something magical about the Azores. Sharing a drink with your seasoned, salty crew at Peter Sport Café, walking the docks littered with insignia from the hundreds of boats that have come before you and looking out in every direction at the vast blue of the Atlantic. Now that I have seen it, I wholeheartedly agree: there is something magic about the Azores. Up next on the blog, I will share all that magical place has to offer.
But first, landfall!
“Is there a troll down here?” I remember Phillip asking me. I was sleeping in my berth when we made landfall. I peeked my head up out of the hatch and saw it on the port side. Thick lustrous trees. Mountains. Houses with little red tile roofs. A whole hillside looking back at me. I instantly thought of what we must look like to them. A weathered, salty catamaran making our way in to port. Tired and weary we were no more, though. The sight of land invigorated the crew!
Phillip had the GoPro in hand and I’m so glad he captured this moment. Yannick cracks me up. Twenty-one days at sea, thousands of miles of nothing but blue, our first sighting of land and the Captain says …