November 13, 2013 – The Best Laid Plans

I guess that’s the thing about plans.  That’s all they are until they come to fruition.  Phillip and I had planned to travel east over the Thanksgiving holiday and make a straight four-day passage across the Gulf to Carrabelle, but, as it always does, life seemed to have something different in store for us.  We had planned to leave on November 15th and had spent the week provisioning and planning and getting the boat ready, when I got a call mid-week from my Dad that changed everything.  My grandmother, better known to all as “Big Mom,” the strongest, most stubborn southern woman I’ve ever met, passed away on November 13, 2013.


Now, while any death is sad.  It’s the end of a life, the severing, or distortion, at least, of a connection you made with someone.  It’s a loss of something irreplaceable, a person.  It’s sad.  Always.  But it’s also inspiring and stirring.  What better motivator could there be than a humbling reminder that our time here is most certainly limited.  That every moment passed is one lost forever, and that, no matter how long it may seem when looking forward, looking back, life is nothing but undeniably all too short.  My grandmother lived eighty-six full years on this earth, fuller, even, than I had imagined.  It’s funny how we forget that the people in our lives exist outside of us.  I learned, while sorting through old photos for her funeral that, long before I was even a gleam in my father’s eye, Big Mom had already experienced a lifetime of adventure.  I found pictures of her hiking in Alaska, riding a furry Clydesdale-looking horse in thigh-high snow, splashing around in the ocean at the ripe age of eighteen, skiing, skating, dancing and laughing, always laughing.  I even found a picture of her in a pretty ‘racy’ bikini for the times (1955) and have to admit I was nothing but proud.  My grandma was hot!  While I didn’t know her as this adventurous spit-fire, that was before my time, I do remember the many years she spent schooling, scolding, spanking and shaping my Dad, my aunt, my brother, my cousins, all of us, into the people we are today.

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And I do mean “all of us.”  Spanking was allowed by anyone in the “village” in those days, and kids behaved in those days.

So, instead of packing the boat for a voyage, Phillip and I packed a couple of suitcases with our black Sunday bests and headed up to north Alabama for the services.  And, holding true to my belief in the power of stories, I chose this one for the funeral, as I believe it captures the essence of the woman we lost that day:

I was quite the cowgirl when I was four.  Well, I made a good run at it least.  My Dad was the actual cowboy and I was his handkerchief-wearing, boot-and-spur sporting miniature.  If Dad was getting on a horse, so was I, in the front, right up next to the horn.  One day, I was riding with my Dad on one of his new roping horses, Rusty.  My brother had hopped on the back so we were three-deep, horseback and walking along the gravel road from the pastures down yonder up to Big Mom’s house.  

Now, I can’t tell you what happened exactly.  I barely remember the actual fall, but Dad tells me the horse was stung by something.  A hornet, probably, based on the welp he found on the horse’s hind quarter later, but Rusty reared back on his hind legs, his fronts doing that classic Black Stallion bicycle kick, and threw John right off the back.  He then came down, firmly planted the’ fronts,’ and gave a massive buck with the back, launching my Dad and I up and over his head.  Now, it was a good thing my Dad held on to me tight when the horse reared back so I wouldn’t fall, but not such a good thing when the horse bucked us over his head and we smashed into the ground, me on the bottom and all two hundred and ten pounds of my Dad on top, and slid across the gravel road and into the ditch. 

My Dad had a look of horror on his face when he rolled me over, pushed a blood-soaked swath of hair and bits of gravel from my face, and asked me if I was okay.  I tried to respond but, although I can’t explain it, I had a clot the size of Kansas in my mouth.  I do remember that.  I also remember the world jostling around me as he scooped me up and started running toward the house shouting for Big Mom.  And, Big Mom was, I guess, all of fifty-nine at the time, but she hoisted me up close to her body and hauled me up every stair in the house, saying, just as calmly as ever, “Now, let’s see what we got here.”  In the bathroom she started drawing a bath and I saw a couple bottles of hydrogen peroxide on the edge of the tub, a home health product I was all too familiar with.  That was the stuff that made a tiny little cut that didn’t hurt at all bubble and fizzle and burn like acid.  I knew what it was capable of and I saw Big Mom dumping bottles (bottles!) of it into the tub.  I started wriggling out of her grasp, protesting and wailing and begging for “Anything but that!” 

But Big Mom wasn’t having it.  Even my most fervent rebellion was not going to stop her from doing what she knew was right for me.  With strength I had never imagined her capable of and not a single word, she plopped in that vat of acid and every laceration on my body started fizzling and frothing until it looked like a bubble bath.  I was flailing and sputtering and shrieking at her in protest, when she grabbed me by my bloody, foamy chin and–this part I will never forget–said “Awww hush, you’re alive ain’t ya?  It ain’t that bad.  Hell, I swish with it.”  And, then she did the unthinkable.  Big Mom tipped the bottle of hydrogen peroxide up and took a swig.  I sat there dumbfounded, totally silent, only the soft sound of my fizzling skin floating between us, as she swished that foul stuff around in her mouth three of four times, her eyes locked tightly on mine.  She then spit a white foamy mouthful out next to me in the tub and gave me a firm “hmmpph” look that shut me up entirely.  I forgot completely that my skin was burning off, that I was in pain everywhere, or, even, that I had fallen and skid across gravel.  Clot?  What clot??  Big Mom had just swished with hydrogen peroxide!?!  Could there be anything worse?  And, just like that, I stopped complaining, I stopped crying and I agreed with her.  It really wasn’t that bad. 


And, it was a lesson that stuck.  There have been many times in my life when something that seemed tragic at the time happened to me and, for whatever reason, my mind flashed back to that foul bath, my fizzling skin and the look on Big Mom’s face as she swished and spat.  You’re alive ain’t ya?

You’re damn right I am.  And, I don’t intend to waste a minute.  Phillip and I knew we were going to have to push the trip back and, likely, plan a different route, but we didn’t mind.  We didn’t care where we went, really, as long as we went.  While we prefer sunshine and cocktails, we know rough seas and foul weather are going to be part of it, too, and will likely be just as memorable, if not more so.  Either way, as long as we’re alive, it just ain’t that bad.  We still had time left and a voyage to plan.

May 25, 2013 – The Crossing Finale – Duct Tape and Dasani

There we were, with fluid dripping out of our brand new transmission like a leaky faucet and we were two hours from Carrabelle, two hours from Apalachicola, at least two hours from any port. It was like a geographical oddity.

Geo Oddity

We were two hours from anywhere!

And with only a half-quart of transmission fluid to go on. Having run her completely out of transmission fluid the last time, did we think to pick up more to have on board in case we needed to add more to the new transmission. Of course not! That would be way too effin smart. Nope, this was the same half-quart the infamous Mitch tried to hand us when we were topping off the fluids the morning she locked up in the Carrabelle River (You remember the Irony! I’ll bet his greasy fingerprints were still on it. I can just see Mitch now, leaned back, fingers steepled, his body racked with the bellowing “Muuuu-ha-haaaa” laugh of an evil villain.

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Okay, so I couldn’t find a picture of Mitch arched back in “villain mode.” Every picture I have of him he looks so sweet and blue-eyed. Mr. Innocent. But I know better. That Mitch is an evil, dynamite-laying, mustache-twirling villain. Deep down. A real Boris, that man.


And I just have to point out the “irony” of this Boris-comparison because Mitch’s real-life “Natasha” is not nearly as … vertically inclined.


You see. Gorgeous? Yes! Tall? … not so much. But, we love Michelle. You’ll see more of her soon, I can assure you.

But, Mitch and “Natasha” and all other evil transmission villains aside, we had really found ourselves in a bit of a pickle. Every drop of fluid that splashed to the bilge put us one drop further from home, and we had a long way to go. Let me put things in perspective for you. Here’s the trip we had yet to make to get our boat from Carrabelle to Pensacola:

Last Leg Revised

Yeah, that’s right. Quite a ways to go. And, the first leg of the passage, from Carrabelle to Panama City:

Carrabelle to PC Revised

is about 90 nautical miles, roughly a 22 to 24-hour trip.

Then the last leg, from Panama City to Pensacola:

to pensacola Revised

is another 24 hours, easy. Like I said. Quite. A ways. To go. Hence, the pickle. The transmission drip was kind of a big dill. (Mmm-hmmmm … that’s right. Pickle jokes. Man I’m on fire today!)

Remember, we had very little wind that morning. It might have been blowing 3 mph. Maybe. But it was blowing out of the southwest, right on our nose, so it certainly wasn’t working with us. We weren’t going to get anywhere sailing even if I jumped up on the deck myself and blew into the sails.

And I’ve got a mighty set of lungs!!


Chill folks … That’s just me blowing up a rockin’ marshmallow number for Halloween last year. You remember ole’ Stay Puft??


Damn that was a great costume!


Okay, back to the tranny. Fortunately we still had cell reception so we called Mechan-Eric to see if he had any brilliant ideas. UN-fortunately, he didn’t answer his phone and we had to leave a message. You can just imagine the agony of the next few minutes while we watched little tiny pink drops fall to an untimely death in the bilge, one after the other, while I constantly checked my phone.

Slide to unlock. Click. No messages.

Tick, tock.

Click. No messages.

Drip, drop.

Then. Finally! My phone shimmied and vibrated on the nav station, like a happy little bee. Such a glorious sound. I clawed and clamored and clicked that thing open faster than I ever have before. It was Eric calling back with what he said was “good news.” If you recall, the guy we bought the new transmission from had bought it brand new for his own project boat, that he, as many men often do, couldn’t seem to find the time for. So, the transmission sat on a shelf for over a year. Eric said he had seen that happen before, when a new engine component sits for a while the little rubber gaskets inside dry-rot and have to be replaced. Eric was sure that was it, just a simple little 97-cent gasket. An easy fix. “Just keep pouring more fluid in and you can replace the gasket when you get home,” he said. “Good news, right?”

Wrong Eric. Very wrong. As you know, we didn’t have that much “more” to pour in. (Cue the evil Mitch laugh again).

I explained our half-quart dilemma and Eric must have been on fire that day, too, because he did have a brilliant idea. Catch it. Capture it. Find a way to save those little pink drops of gold and pour them back into the transmission. Reduce, reuse, right? I nodded slowly and gave Eric the old “mmm-huh” as my inner gears started spinning. I relayed the news to Phillip, who responded with a blank, mind-boggling stare. “Do what??”

Thankfully, for Phillip, for the boat and for that damn transmission, I grew up country.

Me and Patches (2)

That’s right. Country. As a child, I “summered” on my Grandma (aka “Big Mom’s”) farm. In Alabama.

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With cows.


And dogs.


And a four-wheeler!


Man, farming’s exhausting …


But, if there’s one thing I learned on the farm, if you can’t get there in mud boots or fix it with duct tape, it’s probably not worth it.


So, my country instincts kicked in.

“Phillip, I’m going to need that Dasani bottle.”


“And some duct tape.”

I cut the top off of the Dasani bottle and flipped it over to make a funnel into the bottle and taped it on.


Real high-quality engineering. Then I taped her up under the shifter arm of the transmission where the drip was coming from.



The drip was coming from the base of this bolt here and would then fall into the Dasani funnel:


The fluid would then pool in the bottle and voila!


We’ve now successfully “captured” the transmission fluid and can pour it back into the transmission as needed. See? Nothing to it. Just takes a little country ingenuity is all. … And some duct tape.

With the ability to recycle the fluid, we were then able to keep on trucking across the Gulf. We set our sights on Panama City and never looked back.