Ch. 8: Carnage at Sea

I watched him in anticipation as Johnny eyed it and swished it around a time or two.  Water dripped from Yannick’s nose onto his forearm as he, too, strained to see.

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Having confirmed the prop was not fouled, Yannick was more curious than anyone as to why the starboard engine had cut out again on the early morning of June 1st.

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“It doesn’t have enough fuel in it,” Johnny said.  Yannick’s head craned back quizzically.

“How do you know?” he asked, locking eyes with Johnny.  This was the same kind of direct stare that often made me second guess whatever I had just told Yannick and start to mumble.  Yannick has a rabid desire for scientific, rational answers.  He needs things to make sense for him logically before he can accept them and move on.  While it is fun to watch this trait play out as he devours another technical manual or draws a diagram for you of how the flaps on an airplane wing work, it can be a little intimidating when his ravenous thirst for logic is directed at you.  At least that was how I felt when he would shift those probing eyes in my direction.


I want YOU to give me answers.  Annie says *gulp*

It didn’t seem they had the same impact on Johnny, though, with his unquestionable knowledge gained from experience.

“I can feel it,” Johnny said simply, circling the fuel in the filter round and around, along with his thoughts on it, likely thinking back on everything he and Yannick had done to the engines in the weeks before we shoved off.  It didn’t take long for the two of them to come to the conclusion that the fuel had been polished (because it had been sitting for the tank during the months of repairs) but that not all of the fuel filters had been replaced afterward.  Another lesson learned.  And, it was pretty impressive to see Yannick whip out a plastic bin with at least ten spare fuel filters (I told you he was pragmatic) and put a new one on.  Once again, we seemed to face a pretty daunting problem—an engine that would not run—and we were able to reach a fairly easy solution, implement it and move on.  I could already tell all of these little “it doesn’t have enough fuel in it” experiences were going to serve Phillip and I well when we set off to sail our own boat across an ocean.

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Within a matter of forty minutes, we went from Captain overboard to check for a fouled prop and a disassembled fuel system to a fully-functioning engine and bagels on the burner all before the start of my 6:00 a.m. shift!

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Once the buzz of the incident fizzled off, Yannick (who had just finished the 4-6) went back to his berth to sleep.  Johnny headed back to get some more rest as well and Phillip began to fiddle in the galley making coffee. I sat, a little tired at the helm, knowing I was about to be there for another three hours and secretly wishing the fuel incident had occurred just an hour or two later as a nice distraction mid-shift.

Does that sound horrible?  Of course it does!  Hoping for some sort of equipment failure just so I could be entertained with repairs during my shift.  Yannick’s going to howl when he reads this.  That’s not quite what I meant.  I never hoped for a failure, but I will admit I did—occasionally, on some lackluster shifts—hope for some sort of occurrence (dolphins at the bow, a ship sighting, some interesting conversation over the radio, very benign things like these) to break up the monotony of my watch.  That’s only because the minute you were relieved from your post a whole world of wondrous activities waited!  You could then read to your heart’s content, cook up an extravagant meal or sit down and write a vivid, gloriously-detailed story, just for the heck of it.  Outside of cleaning the boat and assisting the Captain with his many-a-boat projects (which was rare, Yannick truly took on most of the boat work in solitude, declining assistance often) that’s really what our days out there were filled with and it was heaven!

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It was funny to watch each crew member start to gravitate toward one of the four rotation days they liked better than others.  The 6-9am, 7-10 dinner shift, followed by the 4-6am “sunrise shift” the next day was definitely my favorite.  Sadly, that day was always followed by the stupid 4-hour shift day, which was actually my idea initially.


“We’ll do one long shift each day, right in the middle of the day when everyone is awake so it will help make the shift go quicker,” is what pre-Atlantic Annie thought.  Well … even when everyone is awake, that doesn’t mean they’re really inclined to do anything that makes your four hours at the helm go any quicker, and why should they?  It’s their off-time.  Outside of boat maintenance or other necessary chores, they should be doing whatever the heck they want, whatever helps them relax and best prepare for their next shift.  Oftentimes, you were left to fend for your creative self during that four-hour shift.  I sometimes counted each of the 240 minutes.

I actually got pretty crafty in finding at least one way to shave this four-hour sentence down when I would ask the Captain, very benignly, very nonchalantly, right at the start of my 12-4: “Yannick, we need to switch time zones today.  Do you want me to handle it?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Yannick would say, his thoughts consumed with yet another diesel engine diagram.


I would walk away with a wicked smile, take my post at the helm at noon and immediately change the clocks to 1:00 p.m.  Muuuhahahaaa.  Sadly, this very peculiar pattern of time changes always occurring very conveniently during Annie’s 12-4 shift was soon discovered by the wily Captain Yannick.  The next time I asked if he wanted me to handle the time change, blinking and batting my doe-like eyes, he went straight to the watch schedule taped on the saloon wall to find, yes, indeed, it was Annie with the 12-4 that day and he replied:

“No,” with a playful grimace.  “I’ll handle it later.”

Dag nabbit!  I did have a good run, though.  Four of the seven time changes we had to make from Florida to France did occur during my four-hour shift.  My God I’m terrible!  Who wants me to crew with them now?


But, I was paying my dues that morning.  Watching the horizon.  Watching Phillip read contentedly in the saloon, counting the minutes.  Then suddenly a match struck and the minutes started to burn.   It was somewhere around 7:30 the morning of June 1st when we heard the first startling whizzz of the fishing reel on the port transom.  Phillip was up and was piddling around in the galley when I heard it at the helm.  My heart started pumping, my eyes darting around the instruments, the engine panel, the chartplotter thinking surely this sound was some kind of alarm that was telling me, as the helmsman, that something was very wrong with the boat.  Your mind (or mine did, at least) went instantly there when a loud noise sounded out.  But, this sound was a good one!  As my frantic thoughts finally stopped swirling and started to come into focus it finally dawned on me.  FishFish on.  The fishing rod!  Then Phillip, far more capable of actual spoken words than me at the moment, shouted it out as he scrambled out of the saloon.


I checked everything at the helm to make sure I could leave my post to help with this awesome new development.  We had a fish on the line!  The line we’d had out for three freaking days now.  “All good here.  FISH ON!” the instruments told me, so I went.  With some tag-team reeling and some creative baptisms-of-rum at sea, we pulled in our first fish of the trip!  A hearty tuna!

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She made a mad bloody mess on the port transom kicking and flailing around until we had her tamed, but boy was she a beauty.  That slick, silver body, contrasted with the rich crimson blood spilling out.  Such a right and proper feeling of carnage!  Often I feel bad for a fish when we catch one and I watch it flip and kick itself to death, but this time, it felt right.  Like we were out there, living on the sea, and this was the bounty she had provided us to keep us fed and motivated and moving along.  I can’t explain it, but I felt like the fish was a gift and I was grateful.

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After an hour spent filleting her and scrubbing the blood off of the transom, my shift was then magically over!  The Distraction Fairy shined down upon me those days.  On days that she didn’t I imagined her a crafty little thing flying above the dodger, hiding from my line of sight, deciding whether I deserved something fun that day or not, like a naughty Tinkerbell.


Obviously I had a lot of time to think about it.

Phillip and I decided to chill the fish filets for a few hours so we could make a huge sushi spread for lunch.  This was one of the those fun moments you had only talked about in the many weeks before we shoved off, when we were discussing fishing equipment, sushi ingredients, and how much fish we might eat during the passage.  Now those visions and predictions were here.  Sitting in the form of four hunky maroon filets in our fridge.  Phillip and I had experimented one evening before the trip making our own sushi at home from fresh tuna bought at Joe Patti’s.  I had never made sushi before but it was really very easy, as long as you have all of the ingredients on hand (most of which keep for weeks except for the cucumber or avocado) and there’s something about home-made sushi that just tastes better.  (Well, assuming you get the rice mixture right–not too much vinegar, not too much sugar.)

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Phillip likes rice on the outside.


I prefer them seaweed out with cream cheese!

The cool thing about making the rolls yourself is you can make them however you want!  And we were about to put that sushi-rolling experience to use making an awesome spicy tuna spread from a fresh fish pulled right out of the Gulf. As with many things I had already experienced in my life—baths, afternoon naps, sushi platters—the version of those things experienced while we were underway crossing an ocean became instantly “the best,” because the sushi platter we all feasted on in the middle of the bright blue Gulf on June 1st was the best of my life.

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I also had another “best of my life” that day.  (Some days out there were full of them.)  Soon after our filling sushi lunch, when the entire crew (except for Yannick who had the 12-4 that day, take that!) was reading and dozing, we were all snapped wide awake when Phillip spotted a pod of dolphins off the port bow, rippling in the water, dipping and jumping and coming our way!  Phillip, Yannick and I all made our way to the bow of the boat and watched as eighteen (by my count at least) bottle-nosed dolphins zipped and played in the glimmering jewel-toned waters of the Gulf.

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I had never seen that many dolphins at one time, all converging, swooping and swishing together.  It’s amazing how agile and aware they are of each other and how quickly they are able to meet up, communicate through clicks and whistles and them swim instantly in sync.  I don’t care how many times I see them, dolphins will always take my breath away and make me sit, jaw dropped, the goofiest grin on my face and stare like a kid at the Wonka factory.  I ran down below to see if Johnny wanted to come up and see the show but it turned out he had the best seat in the house from the escape hatch in his berth, and I caught it all on film!  Friends, I give you a fun little clip I shared with Patrons back in June:

Play Video: “Dolphins at the Bow!”

pat2Another fun project I decided to tackle that day was to try out the OCENS sat service Phillip and I had purchased for the trip.  (Detailed blog post outlining the various services and packages we considered, what we purchased and why HERE.)  And, after some fiddling and holding of the sat phone up to the heavens (seriously), I successfully sent my first email that day from the glassy Gulf of Mexico!

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I wrote it ahead of time (it was my first “Atlantic Log” post for Patrons with a picture), so the only time I spent “on the clock” was about four minutes acquiring a signal, inserting the text, uploading the image (recall OCENS has a feature that automatically compresses the photo for you to decrease the upload time) and sending the email.  With a data rate of $1.39/minute under our package that meant roughly $6.00 each time I wanted to send a write-up with a photo, which in my mind was perfectly quick, affordable and worth it to enable me to send followers an up-to-date report and photo while abroad.

My only disappointment was my misunderstanding that the emails could only be sent from my phone so the typing took longer, but when I am forced to write less, my writing is always better.  One of my absolute favorite quotes about writing is from Mark Twain: “I didn’t have time to write something short, so I wrote something long instead.”  This is so true.  It’s easy to babble.  So, the “phone limitation” (as do many things that are initially perceived as a limitation) turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The GRIB service could be useful, too, in that we could download a fairly detailed (wind, wave and current) GRIB file for the region of the Atlantic we were sailing in at the time in about six minutes (so roughly $8.00 each time you downloaded).  Yannick, however, had such great weather service in the form of a hired weather tracker, who analyzed the weather patterns and sent us new coordinates roughly every 24 hours, a friend who did the same (just for fun and who proved to have a keen eye for heavy weather diversion), as well as WeatherFax on the boat, we didn’t really need the additional GRIB service available under our sat phone plan.  But, it’s always good to have a back-up system, so Phillip and I did not regret the purchase.  What we vowed to get next time we head offshore, however, is a Delorme!  That thing was awesome.

Yannick had purchased a Delorme package that allowed for unlimited texting on the iPad via the Delorme app and that service proved to be invaluable, both in terms of seeking out answers or help when dealing with a non-urgent boat, navigation or medical problem and to simply stay connected to friends and family while underway.  Phillip and I will definitely be getting a Delorme for our cruising this winter to Cuba and beyond, for this reason.  We also shared Yannick’s tracker link with Patrons so they could follow us each step of the crossing and message us along the way, and we will do that again with our trip to Cuba as that was a really fun experience to share with close followers, friends and family.  (Get your Delorme ticket now!)


“It’s going to take you two months to cross at this rate!” some of our friends and followers were saying during those sluggish days in the Gulf, when we were motoring bare poles on a sheet of satin, barely making five knots.  And, at that rate, they would be right.  The winds were non-existent in the Gulf.

Even the birds were beating us to Key West.

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Do you see the bird here?

While glassy waters are beautiful, they don’t offer much in the way of sailing.  This crew was ready to get around the tip of Florida, into the frothy waters of the Atlantic and find some stinking wind!  Be careful what you wish for.  Those first few slow days, we all simply counted our blessings that the engines, swapping from one to the other approximately every 10-12 hours, were still chugging us along and kept trucking toward Key West so we could re-fuel and re-provision.

Seeing as we were headed to port for one major supply, the Captain wisely decided to check to see if we needed others.  Which provision comes to mind first?  If you said water, you would be correct!  Yannick enlisted me that afternoon as his trusty water maker mate and I controlled the water maker panel from Johnny’s berth in the port bow while he diverted the product into a separate container so we could taste and test it before sending it into the main tanks.


I watched Yannick sip, smack and frown, sip, smack and frown before he brought the bottle to me and handed it over without saying a word, which did not bode well.  I dutifully tipped it up and repeated Yannick’s sip, smack and frown, just the once.


Sadly, a system that had been making non-salinated 60 parts per million water was now making a salty 290 ppm concoction that wasn’t going to keep anyone happy or hydrated.  We chocked it up to the making of the first batch in the pure, pristine waters (ha!) of Bayou Chico.  Whoops.  Whatever had caused it, though, it was clear we would not be making any potable water on this trip, so in addition to fuel, we also needed to stock up on water (and lots of it) in Key West.


“Land ho!” I shouted when she came into view off the starboard bow, although I’m not even sure what that phrase truly means.  Why the ‘ho’?  ( says it’s used “as a call to attract attention” … I guess that’s fitting for many reasons.)  But, knowing what something really means has never stopped me from saying it.  I can’t tell you the origin of “Whoo Hoo!” but now having watched over a hundred hours of Atlantic-crossing footage, I can confidently tell you I say it too much.  (Movie will be coming out Sep. 22, 2016 on Patreon! I’m allowed to say it this time … Whoo Hoo! : )  It was exciting, though, to see shore emerge on the horizon after our five serene but slow days crossing the Gulf.

The Captain gave the crew two hours to jump ship and run our errands in Key West.  This was no leisure visit.  We were on a mission.  Key West in 3 … 2 … 1 …  GO!



If you all are enjoying this story, I have (soooo many) more!  Become a Patron for an additional weekly post giving you an up-to-date report on mine and Phillip’s current adventures and boat projects and our preparations for sailing “To Cuba and Beyond” (said in a Buzz Lightyear voice) this winter.   A HUGE thanks to my many supporters and followers who make all of this fun sharing possible. patxtra

Ch. 6: First Sail of the Trip

Now did that happen at 8:58 a.m.?  8:59? Heck no!  It happened at 9:02.  Right after the start of my shift that morning.  Are there times that I like to hear that piercing elongated beep of the high-temp alarm on the engine?  Sure, right when I’m about to crank the engine and right after I kill it.  Not anywhere in between.  But, that’s what the crew of Andanza heard at 9:02 a.m. May 29th, as we were making our way out into the Gulf.

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The word “cut” hit my brain first so that’s what I did.

While Johnny only said to “cut it back” when he heard the alarm, alarms freak me out so I kind of jumped at the kill switch.  Phillip looked at me a little funny and I just shrugged.  At least I killed it instead of revving it up or something worse, I thought.  You’re supposed to cut the engine when it overheats, right?

We cranked the port engine to keep us going and Yannick jumped down into the starboard engine locker with Johnny in tow to eyeball everything.  When nothing visibly answered their inquiries, they tore down Yannick’s bed on the starboard side—the first of many, many times Yannick would have to do that on this trip (he got surprisingly good at it!)—and inspected the engine from another angle.

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Where’s Johnny??

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Two hours in and they were greasy.

Phillip and I had dealt with an overheating engine on two occasions previously: 1) where the thermostat was defective and was not opening up completely, and 2) when we (seriously) thought a snail got sucked up against our thru-hull and temporarily blocked the raw water intake.  Seeing no snails around this time I mumbled (very un-confidently I might add) something about the thermostat.  This high-pitch, hard-to-hear tone of my voice was later coined by Yannick as my “recommendation voice.”  We’ll get there.

It was also Johnny’s first instinct to replace the thermostat, so that’s what he did.  The rust-colored coolant they had drained from the engine was then poured back in and we then waited for her to sufficiently cool so we could re-crank the engine to see if she held temp.  While Yannick had many (many!) spares aboard the boat, an entire new coolant system for the engines, he did not.  The crew had a very depressing conversation while waiting for the engine to cool about potentially pulling right back out of the Gulf to order and wait for a new raw water pump to be sent from Italy if that was the problem.  Those darn Italian engines!  No one even wanted to consider it.

Hoping while waiting that the cause was indeed just the thermostat, this sparked a conversation between Yannick, myself and Phillip about the defective thermostat we had once installed on our Niagara and how we discovered it.  The thermostats on these engines are really pretty cool.  It reminds me of those springs they put in people’s arteries to hold them open and prevent clots.  In other words, something that works automatically simply because of its property elements.  Don’t quote me on this (or feel free to offer your two cents in a comment below) but it’s my understanding the thermostat automatically regulates engine temp by using the elemental properties of wax.  Yep, wax.  When wax heats and melts, it expands.  The thermostat capitalizes on this property by relying on the automatic heat=expansion to push on a piston that opens a valve and allows coolant to flow in.  Once the engine starts to cool, the wax contracts, shrinks down and a spring pushes the valve back closed again.


See?  I think that’s cool.  It was also nice for Phillip and I to be able to bring some experience to the table by relaying a thermostat-related event that had happened to us and the “thermostat trick” (Annie term) we had learned in the process.  I’ve uploaded the video from this entire starboard engine overheat incident as well as the thermostat trick Phillip and I taught Yannick that day in this week’s Ch. 6 (Patron’s Extra): Thermostat Trick:


I kind of joked lightheartedly about this in None Such Like It—mine and Phillip’s first passage as delivery crew—when I imagined Kretschmer’s response to a similar situation:

“Orange fluid starts to pour out of the faucet in the head and he’d say: “Oh, that’s nothing, just some compensating fluid for your alternator.  A slight over flow.  I can fix it with a toothpick.”

While the thermostat trick may sound kind of normal to those who have dealt with a defective one.  For someone who has never experienced it, the proposition might sound like a toothpick fix for “compensating fluid.”  I found it almost unbelievable Phillip and I were actually gaining experience by simply being on boats when things broke.


Things break on boats?  Noooo …  Of course they do.  So, “while you’re down there” Mitch, fix it!  Ha!

Using the thermostat trick, we found the thermostat Johnny had just taken off the starboard engine on Andanza was not opening all the way, so it was not letting enough coolant in to sufficiently cool the engine.  Put in a new one, whose wax contraption does its job and—voila!—a properly cooling engine.  That was our fix that morning and, thankfully, we seemed to have saved ourselves a potentially costly and time-consuming repair.  I honestly think we kind of collectively willed the starboard engine to just work that afternoon.  And, thankfully, she did!  And she held temp!  Hallelujah!

It seemed the Wind Gods were proud of our will power as the breeze started to freshen in the early afternoon and we hoisted the spinnaker.  It was actually Brandon who had encouraged us initially, during one of our very first test sails on the Freydis out in Pensacola Bay, to raise the spinnaker with his famous: “Alright, time to fly the chute!”  I’m not sure why, exactly, Phillip and I haven’t been more inclined to fly the spinnaker on our boat—having owned her three years now and never raising the chute once—but I believe, after hoisting it on Yannick’s boat and seeing how truly simple and easy it can be, Phillip and I will be far more inclined to do so on the Niagara when the winds are right.  It was nice Brandon had encouraged us to raise it with him on the Freydis, though, so the Andanza crew could all get a good feel for the process of raising it, unfurling it and furling it back up before we set off on this passage because the crew was all smiles and elbow nudges as we confidently pulled the spinnaker out, raised it up and began to unfurl her.


I’m not sure there is anything more beautiful on a boat than a spinnaker flying.  There’s just something magical about it: sheer canvas filled with possibility and potential.  The billowing green, white and red filled me with the same kind of child-like awe I had when I saw an entire horizon of spinnakers during the Abacos Regatta I did in 2015.  So many colors, vibrant in the sun.



“I never would have thought,” Phillip laid a hand on my shoulder as we both stood at the bow of the boat just watching the spinnaker.  “That would have been the first sail we would raise on this trip.”

A true sailor, that man.  I love him for the way he sees things.  The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, but Phillip—of course—saw it that way.  It was true.  While technically, we did sail over to Ft. McRee for the “last hoorah” sendoff with friends the night before, for Phillip and I, this trip (as does any voyage from Pensacola) had not truly begun until we headed out the Pensacola Pass and started to lose sight of the shore.  Then we’re not just day-sailing.  We’re not just tacking back and forth for fun in Pensacola Bay.  We are GOING.  And the first sail we hoisted to get us to France was the spinnaker—the big, billowing, green, white and red spinnaker.

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That was a pretty cool feeling.  We made decent time that day too, around 5-6 knots with a nice breeze on our stern.

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Once we were settled into passage, making good way, our very next mission was to have a safety briefing with the crew.  Yannick called us all into the cockpit, had us bring each of our respective ditch bags up and we went through to account for and discuss use of all of our respective GPSs, flares, the EPIRB, etc. and how best to respond to emergencies.  We also talked about how to stop bleeding and treat wounds, cuts or other significant injuries like fractures, how to respond to a fire aboard, radio for help, etc.  Yannick had a great resource he used to make sure he had covered all of the necessary safety topics:



I tried to find an English version … sorry.  It seems only French and Italian at this time.

Yannick also set off a “man overboard” on the chart plotter and it was shocking to see how quickly the boat and the “man” separated.  If you needed any motivation to move slowly and cautiously on deck, set off your MOB and watch “yourself” get immediately swept away.

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With that minor major chore done, the crew was officially on passage, on schedule and free otherwise to fill the time as they pleased.  It was around 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  I remember it vividly.  It’s the same feeling I usually feel when Phillip and I leave our dock and head out into Pensacola Bay and the sails have been raised and trimmed, the lines in the cockpit cleaned up, we’re on a steady tack—at least for the next foreseeable amount of time—and you realize time is yours.  You are sailing.  The boat is handling everything and you are free to do whatever you want to do.  I often just sit and stare at the horizon and the water swishing by the hull for a few minutes doing nothing other than that.  Just appreciating the movement of the boat and looking out.

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And, while it is always an incredibly freeing feeling when Phillip and I are just headed out on our Niagara for a day sail or over to the anchorage for the weekend, the feeling now was magnified.  Because now I was going much further.  Now I might not see land again for thirty days.  The next time I did, it might be France!  All of those realizations fell down on me like feathers and I closed my eyes and let them brush by and pile around me, then I sunk into the soft pillow of my own freedom.  My shift having ended at noon, I wasn’t on again until 2:00 a.m. so I had plenty of time to just soak it all in.


I laid on the trampoline, closed my eyes and let the sun seep through my eyelids and listened to the hulls cutting through the water.  That was the moment the passage truly began for me.



I opened a book I had been reading off and on for the last three months—one I had enjoyed but had always struggled to make myself sit down and open again.  What with all the important things I could clack around and conquer on the computer when I had a solid, pumping wifi signal, why sit back and read when I could be productive, right?  It’s hard sometimes, when work is so available to make it go away.  Well, now I had no signal.  I had no internet and all of my work, at least for the next foreseeable amount of time, was done.  All of those hours Phillip and I had spent the past month clacking away on our computers late into the evenings, working on Saturdays, working on Yannick’s boat, our boat, all of it allowed me now to open a book and with the gentle background of babbling water underneath me, just read.  I read for three straight hours that afternoon, completely enthralled in the story.  I read mostly every day all day those first days on passage.


I could have worked some then, writing content for clients, editing photos, making movies, but I didn’t.  I just read and finished a book, in two days, that I had been struggling to read for three months: Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival (on recommendation of Brittany from WindTraveler – thank you Brittany!).  It was glorious.

“Steaks,” Phillip said, snapping me out of the mini carnival that afternoon on the tramp.  “We definitely have to do the steaks tonight.”  We had so many provisions on board, the decision of what we should have for dinner was often difficult, but I knew he had hit the nail on the head with this one.  Grilling out on the starboard transom and enjoying a group dinner in the cockpit was something we wouldn’t always be able to enjoy when the weather turned snotty or the winds and temps were too cold, so although a glassy Gulf did not offer much in the way of speed, it did offer a spectacular calm setting for a gourmet meal of grilled steaks in the cockpit.

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Yannick put on some French music to really get us in the mood and the crew cheersed “Sonte!” to our first night on passage and watched as the chute continued to remain taut and full and pulling us along at 5 knots further and further away from shore.

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The crew decided to leave the chute up for the night as the wind prediction was so low.  The sail actually billowing too much and requiring a crew roust in the middle of the night to furl and pack her away was actually a bigger concern than being overpowered.  We were expecting some very lackluster winds in the Gulf for the next few days.  I almost couldn’t believe as I laid down in mine and Phillip’s berth that I would be waking up in a few hours to hold my first night shift on Andanza.  The thought of being alone at the helm, in complete and total control of the boat, was—to be honest—a little frightening but also exhilarating.  Often some of my favorite moments on passage with Phillip had been during my night shifts.

“Here I go!” I whispered to Phillip as I left him snuggled down in the warm covers and stepped out of my cabin at 1:45 a.m. to get ready for my shift.  Before going to bed, Phillip and I had made sure all of our “night gear” (our life jackets, head lamps, our EPIRB, a flashlight, etc.) was readily accessible in our locker by the stairs so we could easily don and doff by our berth.  A surge of excitement pumped through me as I started suiting up.  This is really happening.

I found Johnny smiling up at the helm.  At what?  I don’t know.  It could be a million things: just the fact that we were out there, making way to France, or because it was his first night shift, too, or maybe he had just heard a dolphin or … anything.  An inexplicable smile was not an uncommon sight on that boat.  We had a brief chat about the conditions and how his shift went.  “It’s nice out here,” Johnny said as he headed down below to rest.

The wind was holding at a nice 10 knots on the starboard stern and the chute was moving us along slow and steady.  That was all I really needed to know to take over.  The auto-pilot was doing all the work, the batteries had got a lot of juice from the solar panels all day, so the boat was totally self-sustained for the time being as long as the wind and auto-pilot held.  Those were the two things I really needed to monitor.  Otherwise, it was sit, listen and enjoy the night air.

The wind was cool but not cold.  I was wearing a light fleece and leaning out from the helm so I could feel the wind on my face, hear the water dancing lazily against the hull and see the faint starlight on each chop.  The stars that night were so crisp, each one a startling white contrast against the vast black of the sky.  It was actually easy to lose focus on the instruments with a free open gallery spread in every direction above you.  They managed to keep pulling me back, though, with a gently billowing sail and light, finicky winds all throughout my shift.  While a steady ten knots of breeze on the starboard stern holds the chute just fine, when the winds would sink down to eight knots, then seven, the big, ethereal chute would billow and luff and threaten to collapse.

I hate to say it frightened me a little, but it did.  I knew if the winds were not holding strong enough to justify keeping the spinnaker up, I was to wake the Captain and suggest we drop the sail.  The crew would then be roused and we would drop her.  Nothing to it.  But, what if the wind were to die fairly suddenly and the spinnaker flopped and flailed at the forestay, caught on something and got snagged.  The spinnaker sometimes seems, to me, like a fragile silk sheet up there—just waiting to go astray, drag her beautiful body across something treacherous and sharp and rip a horrid hole in her center.  And I was sure, each time the winds dropped below eight knots, that was going to happen on my shift.  But, as soon as that thought entered my mind, the wind would puff back up to ten or so and she would hold steady another fifteen minutes before torturing me with these types of nagging hypotheticals again.  It was a beautiful shift, mesmerizing yes, but also tiresome worrying over the delicate spinnaker like that.  I’m sure I did it to myself, but it’s not like you can just turn it off.  Plus, the worrying kept me alert so I indulged it a bit and sat in awe that we were really flying the chute overnight, our first night on passage.

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Phillip seemed to share my sentiment when he came up ten minutes early for his 4:00 a.m. shift and looked first thing out at the green, glowing canvas in front of us shaking his head a bit in disbelief.  I just smiled back at him, knowing exactly how cool this trip felt so far.


Video extras from our passage are available each week on Patreon with free access as well to my complete Atlantic-Crossing movie once it’s complete.  It’s almost 90 minutes now about I’m about 80% done.  Whew!  Editing, editing, editing …  Thanks to my many followers and supporters who make this all possible.  Get inspired and get on board!

Chapter Ten: Everywhere We Look … Lightning

So … accidental jibes?  Apparently not much fun on a Nonsuch (and probably not much fun on any such).  After assessing the minor loss of the outboard tiller extender and choke, we were able to get that big ass sail settled over to starboard and get on a nice downwind run.  That also meant we could finally kill the engine, which was a relief.  She’d been running another twelve-or-so hours since we’d turned her off the evening before to check the transmission fluid and Phillip and I were eager to let her cool so we could check the level again to make sure she wasn’t bleeding out.  

While Mitch’s Westerbeke isn’t super loud, it was nice to have that industrial rumble gone.  It was still dark out, still cloudy, but just more serene with only the sound of the wind in the sail and water gently lapping along our hull.  It was almost 6:00 a.m. by then and the sky to the east was starting to bloom into a bright pink.  We knew the sun was about to rise.  Sleepy or not, there is no reason to ever miss that.  It marks the start of a new day, a new canvas for adventure and─in our case─another safe night passage behind us.  We were getting that boat closer and closer to Pensacola.  


Neither of us said much as we watched this blowing pink ball start to peek over the horizon.  It seems slow when you’re staring right at it but if you look away just for a minute, to another point on the horizon, or some spot on the boat, or your own body, whatever, when you look back, you notice it has changed.  The vast expanse that was once a brilliant yellow-pink is now fading to purple and then blue.  It’s happening right before you and always quicker than you want it to but you can never stop it.  Time.  She just keeps passing right before you.  


My Lorde-inspired “not done sailing” shift that night and the Mitch-silencing sunrise the next morning were probably some of the most memorable moments for me on this trip.  They’re just sights and feelings I have no way of replicating so I just have to remember them.  I think we all felt we had kind of made it over a hurdle that night, probably because we had.  This offshore passage was definitely the longest of the trip and the furthest offshore, not to mention the same passage that had cost Phillip and I a dinghy, an outboard and some busted davits the last time.  Let’s just say it was good to get those particular nautical miles behind us and wake to a new day with all equipment working and all signs pointing to the Florida panhandle.  Getting the boat across the big bend of Florida was certainly an accomplishment and now─just five or so hours out of the East Pass─we were getting close to achieving it.  

But (how many times have I said this?) just when you start to sigh and let your guard down, Mother Nature likes to scooch across the floor in socks and zap you.  Then she laughs about it.  Just as we started to settle in for coffee and a nice morning sail, the winds started to kick up, some gnarly clouds started to bubble up to the east, then we saw it.  A white crack of lightning across the sky.  


“We need to crank soon,” Phillip said.  With the way the weather was building we knew we were going to have to drop the sail soon.  Yes, the big huge one that we had not thirty minutes ago raised.  Sailing is such fun.  The engine was still a little warm but I was able to get the transmission fluid dip stick off in order to get a peek.  She had a nice pink coat on the bottom of the stick, so we were fine there.  The oil was a little low but not dangerously so.  Phillip decided to forego topping it off this time so we could get the sail down in case the storm jumped on top of us.  

We were ready to crank.  Phillip tried once, twice, three times a lady, but no dice, which was baffling because she had been running solid for hours, days even, on end.  Phillip was stumped, irritated, frowning at the ignition.  He didn’t want to try again and have it not crank for fear of pulling in too much raw water and overflowing the intake.  

“I don’t think I can kill it again,” he said.  Crank? I thought.  You mean you don’t think you can crank it again?  But, it must have been a fortuitous Freudian slip because just as the words tumbled out of his mouth, Phillip’s face lit up in a bit of an “Aha!” realization and he lifted the lazarette lid to check the kill switch.  We had done this before many times on our boat─accidentally left the kill switch in the up position, so it prevents the engine from turning over.  It’s not a hard thing to do.  Like leaving a light on when you leave a room.  And, Mitch’s boat was still somewhat new to us and the accidental jibe had left us all a little flustered.  That definitely did the trick.  Once the kill switch was down, the engine roared to life and I jumped topside to get the sail down.  Yes, the big one.  (If it wasn’t already apparent, I, personally, am not a huge fan of the huge sail on the Nonsuch.) 

The winds were blowing a good 15-18 by then and it was definitely pushing us around as we turned into the wind to drop the sail, which pointed us right toward the storm.  I could see the boys back at the cockpit trying to sheet the sail to center.  It was clear they were having trouble.  Right when I saw it, I knew.  It was my fault.  I had put it there.

“The chafe guard!” I hollered back as I made my way to the cockpit.  The sail on the Nonsuch is so big the main sheets actually run behind the bimini.  When we had first got the sail settled far out to starboard on our downwind run, I noticed the main sheet lines were rubbing hard on the corner of the bimini frame.  Worried about chafe (which I’ll grant myself is a legitimate concern), I had wrapped a towel around the lines at the chafe point and duct-taped it (a very unique method, patent pending).  But, lesson learned: do not put the chafe guard on the line, which needs to move, put it on the immovable fixture, which does not.  I should have put something on the bimini corner if I was worried about it because where was my chafe guard now?  After our accidental jibe, the heavy winds, the flapping around of the sail during our turn-around?  It had slid down the line and was now jammed in the pulley at the base of the cockpit.  I tried scooching it up the line enough to allow us to sheet in and get the sail centered but she wasn’t moving fast enough.  As I mentioned, we’d had the sail waaay out to starboard so there was a lot of line to pull in.  

“Get me a knife!” I shouted to Mitch and he grabbed the utility knife we kept near the companionway, for this very purpose I suppose.  I started sawing away on the duct tape and─for a brief moment─felt a bit like I had been transported back in time.  Back to that fateful night when the three of us were hacking the drowning dinghy off the back of mine and Phillip’s boat.  Phillip had been at the helm then, too, and Mitch had handed me a knife and watched as I sawed through lines.  I was struck by a strange reminiscent feeling.  Maybe I need a new sailing nickname: The Hacker or something like that.  

But, I finally made it through the layers of terry cloth and freed the line.  Like I said, it had been my fault for putting the guard on the line, so I deserved to deal with the aftermath.  Many lessons to be learned in sailing.  With the sail centered and another hack job completed, we were finally able to drop the sail.  Putting the sail cover on, though, was a bit challenging in the heavy winds.  She’s just massive!  Running from the mast back to the cockpit, I guess that must make her thirty feet at least, with a grommet and toggle about every two feet.  I was sure after Mitch got the strong track put in on the mast to make raising the sail easier, the very next thing he was likely going to want would be a stack pack to make lowering and covering the sail easier.  If you give a mouse a cookie …

When it was all done, the three of us fell into a heap in the cockpit and kept an eye on the storm.  I swear every time we seemed to get offshore in that boat, there was a lightning storm on our horizon.  I’m serious, they were everywhere!  Maybe it was the time of year (late June) or just that part of the state, but I can confidently say there wasn’t a day that went by that we did not see lightning.  Thankfully, though, it seemed this one was content to just eff up our sunrise sail and then back off.  It left us little wind, however, that was─of course─right on the nose, which meant we had to continue motoring.  

It was more favorable once we turned toward the pass so we raised the sails around 1:00 p.m. in order to kill the engine (remembering this time to push the kill switch back down) and check the fluids again.  Yes, those pesky things.  Trust me, if you see anything dripping out, you need to keep a close eye on them.  Recall the oil had been a bit low when we cranked right before the storm.  Well now, five-or-so hours later, it was really low.  And, so began the adventure of adding oil to the Nonsuch.  We had yet to do this and─this may sound crazy─but when Phillip and I first looked at the engine, we were a little unsure of how exactly you would go about it.  The oil cap is literally back about a foot and a half from the front of the engine with maybe ten inches between it and the ceiling of the engine room.  It would be difficult to get a funnel in there, much less a bottle of oil above the funnel to pour in.  We all kind of scratched our heads a bit then I offered up the one thought that always seems to pop in my head when we talk about catching, pouring or saving fluids.  

“Maybe use a water bottle?”  


The boys seemed to be on board with this, so I began cutting the bottom end off of a water bottle.  Mitch insisted he could do it and Phillip and I decided he would need to get used to doing it at some point, so we handed him the water bottle oil bin with about a cup of oil in it.  I can’t tell you how many times we asked him: “You got it, Mitch?”  “You sure?”  “Can you see the opening?”  “You sure you got it?”  


“Gees guys, would you shut up already.  I got this,” Mitch finally said.  And, turned out, he did.  I was a little surprised, but he displayed some real finesse wiggling into that position and gingerly dumping bottle after bottle of oil in.  We kept checking the fluid level and determined she looked decent after we had put about a half quart in.  Certainly a good bit.  The transmission was still slowly dripping around the shifter arm and we put a dash more transmission fluid in there too─for safe measure─then deemed her fit to travel.  The wind was still steady enough at the time, though, to allow us to keep sailing and, with all of us sweaty, sticky and dirty from the fluid ordeal, Phillip decided it was time for a dip.  

I have to say, I have never (knock on teak) fallen off of a sailboat when it was under sail, but nor had I been allowed to float behind one while it was under sail.  What a rush!  With the wind pushing us along at about 4 knots, Phillip tied a throw line behind the boat and we took turns letting the boat drag us along by that or the ladder.  

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It felt just like a roller coaster ride.  I cinched my wrist in right and tight in the line and let it tug me along, sometimes slowing so my body would ease toward the boat as a wave rolled under, then pulling me hard and fast with a swift tug as the boat coasted down the front of the wave.  I was all giggles and “Wheees!” the whole time.  It felt so good to let the fresh cool water wash over you.  I had never done that before and I was so glad Phillip had the idea.  


But again, it was short lived.  I tell you, Mother Nature had some real fun with us on this trip.  As soon as we got dried off, we saw some big thunderheads rolling up on the horizon.  We were close enough to shore for cell service now and the radar showed a big green pile of crap coming toward us.  It was time to crank and get that big ass sail down again.  Yes, again.  

“What the heck was that?” Mitch asked right after Phillip cranked.  He was leaning over the back stern rail.  I’m going to presume he was checking to make sure raw water was coming out as we had taught him (points for you Mitch), but he also pointed out, behind the boat, at a huge blob of black floating behind us.  It was maybe two feet in diameter, with a rainbow-like sheen to it.  Obviously oil.  And, since we had just cranked, it had obviously come from us.  Now we knew where all that oil we had replaced went.  I can’t say I know exactly what happened or why such a big blob blew out but we didn’t take it as a good sign.  We made a mental note to pick up some more oil (along with transmission fluid) once we docked in Apalachicola.  But, at the time, we needed to keep motoring in order to get the sail down for yet another impending storm.  


I could feel it in the air by then.  Fifteen minutes prior I had been hot, sweaty and thrilled to death to dip and be dragged in the cool water behind the boat.  Now, in my bikini, goose bumps began to form on my arms and my wet hair began to turn chill on my head.  The temperature drop was palpable.  I’m sure if the barometer on the boat was working, it would have shown a drop as well.  We all donned our foul weather gear and prepared to drop the sail.  Mitch insisted we all put on our life jackets as well.  Oh alriiight.  I’m not terrible about wearing mine, I’m just not super eager.  But, he was the Captain this go-round, so Phillip and I did as we were told.  It was probably for the best, too, because that particular sail-drop was the worst we’d endured.  Coming into the East Pass, the water was churned up and the Nonsuch was bucking and kicking over 2-3 foot waves, which made the sail flop and misbehave.  The wind had picked up too and was batting her and us around.  

“Hang on!” Phillip shouted from the cockpit, “but tie her good!”  Okay.  “I’ve got winds over 30!” he said.  Oh shit.  It seemed to have come up so suddenly, but that seemed to happen often with the storms we saw on this trip.  Mitch and I clung to the flinging sail, hugging her every 2-3 feet and working a sail tie around.  The salt from the sail ties filled my mouth as I clenched them in my teeth and gripped the sail.  After Mitch and I got them all tied, we decided to forego the thirty-foot, 15-grommet sail cover for the moment.  You can imagine why.  

And, two small gripes here about the Nonsuch as well, because I think it’s good to share.  There is a row of pointy nubs around the perimeter of where a dodger would go if there was one.  There is not, so that just leaves little spike-like stickey-ups (yes, that’s what I’m going to call them) along the top of the companionway placed just perfectly to step on if you’re trying to wrestle and tie the sail down, particularly over the bimini.  For barefeet, they’re worse than Legos.  And, while we’re on that─Gripe No. 2─the sail is really hard to reach in the center of the huge-ass bimini.  I’m a pretty sporty gal and even doing an acrobatic tiptoe on things I shouldn’t be standing on, I still couldn’t reach it.  Mitch, with some difficulty can, but he’s 6’4”.  Not all sailors are!  The big sail is just a bit awkward to man-handle.  That’s all I’ll say.  

With the sail finally contained, though, the crew thoroughly pooped, we hunkered into the cockpit and watched a wicked lightning storm brew to the east of us.  Lightning seemed to bubble up and percolate, until the cloud would finally boil over and a shocking white streak would jet out.  We watched in silence, and probably within just a two-minute time span, as three big bolts broke free and stabbed the ground.  Phillip told Mitch and I to go below and put all of the handheld electronics in the oven (another helpful trick he’d learned from his vast cruising/sailing resources).  If you do and the boat gets hit by lightning, it at least won’t zap your phone, laptop, GPS, etc.  He’s a smart man that Phillip.  It was strange to think not one hour prior we had been swimming and frolicking on a joyous sailboat amusement ride and now we were geared up in foul weather and life jackets putting the electronics in the oven.  It was shocking how quickly things sometimes changed.  But, we felt prepared.  The sail was down and lashed.  The engine was running strong and we were all tethered in.  The three of us sat in the cockpit and watched as the sky to the northeast grew a dark grey and wicked cracks of lightning continued to spear the shore.

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Bombs Over Baghdad!

May 5, 2014:

Shrimpers.  That’s what they were.  Those strange looking UFO ships out on the water.


They were huge shrimping vessels with massive football stadium-like lights flooding the deck.  No red or green for port or starboard, so you couldn’t tell which way they were going (or coming!), only that they were getting closer and closer and closer.  Super annoying when you’re cruising at night and not sure if the shrimp boat is going to come across your bow or cut behind your stern.  And, what was worse, when they finally passed us about 100 yards off of our port stern, it looked like there was no one on deck or at the helm.  They were probably all below playing poker and smoking cigars or something, just trudging blind across the Gulf, blissfully unaware of any other potential vessels in their path!  Stinking shrimpers!  We were cursing them all night.  We probably “encountered” four or five of their “kind” that night and had to stay on constant watch.

Sadly, too, there wasn’t much wind that night.  We had to motor until about 1:00 a.m. when the winds finally picked up to about 3 knots.  It wasn’t much, but it was the most we’d seen in 12 hours, so it was enough for us to throw out the sails.  I will say the Hinterhoeller is an exceptional lightwind boat.  Favorable seas and any breeze 3 knots or greater and we can usually achieve hull speed about 2 knots less than the wind, if not more.  So, if it’s blowing 5 knots and we’re not beating into big waves, we can usually make around 3 knots, which is great.  A typical wind of 7-8 knots, and we’re often making 5, easy.  Like I said, an incredible vessel that still never ceases to amaze us.  Thankfully, with a light 3 knots of wind that night, we were able to finally kill the engine for a bit and sail!  Until about 4:30 a.m., when the wind died out again and we had to crank back up.  Dag nabbit!  But, we did cruise right on into a beautiful sunrise over the Gulf.

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May 6, 2014:

And, have you ever had one of those perfect Saturday mornings where you wake up, lounge around in your PJs, make a big weekend-morning breakfast like french toast, or pancakes, and then fall back asleep till like 10:00 a.m.?  Ahhh …  Isn’t that the best?  Well, this morning was kind of like that.  We watched the sun rise, made some piping hot coffee, sipped it, devoured two heaping bowls of steaming oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar and then …


took a nap!  The morning chill was still in the air and we were both a little tired from the two-hour shifts the night before, so we eased into the day nice and slow like, taking turns napping in the cockpit.  But, the sun finally started to ease up and so did we.  It was a gorgeous day out in the Gulf.

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Unlike the crystal green waters we had encountered around Clearwater and Tampa Bay, the waters here were a deep, rich royal blue,

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and just as stunning in their own way.  We even had a sea turtle come and visit us!

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I know, looks kind of like a grainy alien photo, but I promise, it’s a turtle.  I finished a fun, quick suspense read that morning – Lee Child’s 61 Hours – and the joke was we had been motoring about that long, too.  61 hours, huh?  Not quite that long, but it felt like it.  About 12 hours the day and night before, and add another 6 or so since we’d cranked around 4:30 that morning.  So, 18 hours so far, which is a long time to keep that engine going.  We decided to turn her off and bob for a bit so we could let her cool and check the oil.

You know what they say — “Diesels love oil like a sailor loves rum.”  (And, by “they” I mean Captain Ronnaturally)

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There you go girl …  Drink up!

The wind was still mocking us, gracing by our boat at a light 0.5 to 1.3 knots.  1.3??  Look out!  It’s getting gusty up here!!  It was amazing to see the waters of the Gulf, which we have seen many times brimming with 3 foot, 4 foot, even 6 foot waves, look like solid … glass.

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There would be no sailing for this vessel anytime soon.  So, we cranked back up and decided to heat up some of our broccoli-less broccoli crappola (also known as sweet potato chili),

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and throw together a great cucumber, tomato and feta salad for lunch.

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This salad is great because it’s super easy.  It’s literally cucumber, tomato, a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and feta.  A great way to throw together some random vegetables you may have on the boat or some feta that needs to be eaten.  With water like glass, a nice lunch spread laid out before us, and nothing but easy motoring to do, we thought we were in for an tranquil day.  But, that’s when it struck …

You might recall me asking you all, in jest — What’s the Worst Thing You Can Have On a Boat?  And, no, it was not the “busted mate”


(although that was close).  For us, it was the LEAK!


Our stupid dripping dripless.  That was the worst thing we’d had on the boat … up unto that point at least.  But recall we ran through some possibilities then – fire, lightning, etc.  Now, it seemed we were about to have something new.  Phillip and I had just curled up in the cockpit with our chili and salad and were ready to kick back for a relaxing lunch when

>> BOOM <<

Out of nowhere, with nothing out of ordinary in sight.  We both jolted upright and starting looking around.  And then again

>> BOOM <<

It sounded like bombs were exploding over head.  I’ll never forget how quickly Phillip put his bowl down and jumped behind the helm, scanning the horizon.  In military mode.  Of all the things that we could expect to happen on the boat.  A bomb?!?  You have got to be kidding me.  When another BOOM came with no sign of an explosion or threat near our boat, we started to run through the possibilities.  Phillip said he knew they often used the northern part of the Gulf as a testing zone for bombs and other detonation devices.  They would fly out of Tyndall or Eglin Air Force Base and drop in the designated zones.  Tyndall AFB is just south of Panama City.


Assuming they had a drop zone about … yay … big (give or take)


and assuming our projected path of about … here’ish (I know, real technical stuff),


it was wholly probable that we were either in their testing zone or at least close enough to hear it.  While Phillip knew they often did testing in this area of the Gulf, he said they usually issued some notice or warning to mariners over the radio to advise of the bombings.  If they were bombing anywhere near us, he would have expected to have heard an advisory go out over the radio or to have seen marine vessels or air support checking to make sure the testing zone was clear.  He clicked on the radio and listened for any advisories, but we didn’t hear anything.  Either the testing was occurring much too far away to constitute any potential threat to us (although I can assure you it did not sound like it), or the ole’ Rest had gone rogue and done slipped through their barriers!  Flanking them on the inside!  We didn’t see any action on the horizon or hear any advisories on the radio, so we figured we were at a safe enough distance, but that didn’t stop us from standing up and doing a 360 every time another bomb went off!  BOOM!

It was the wildest thing.  As cruisers, you prepare for a lot of contingencies when you start doing overnight passages and Gulf crossings – you pack spares for every single piece of equipment, and then spares for those spares, you have a ditch bag handy and rehearse man-overboard drills, you keep a knife, a flashlight and a gaff near the cockpit in case someone or some thing goes overboard – all kinds of safety precautions.  But, a bomb plan??  I can tell you we certainly did NOT have that.  But, like I said, they seemed to be no real threat, so we let the bombs drop all around us all afternoon while we continued to motor toward Carrabelle.  As the sun started the drop, the wind laid down even more (it was blowing — if you can even qualify it as “blowing” — between 0.3 and 0.5 knots) and the water began to look like a smooth satin sheet laid out before us.

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Eventually the two became one and there was no discernible horizon.

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It was incredibly beautiful and humbling, to know that a body of water so dangerous and deadly at times could lay down and  spread out like a smooth silk path for our passage.  Even more awe-inspiring was the friend who joined us for dinner.  A tiny, lone sparrow flitted around our boat twice before finally coming to a shaky halt on a lifeline and heaving little pants of exhaustion from his overwhelming flight.

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Where did he come from?  Where was he going?  How did he make it all the way to our boat, more than a hundred miles offshore, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico?  We didn’t know, but we didn’t need to.  He was welcome regardless.  He closed his beady little eyes and stayed right with us until the sun set and we could no longer make him out.

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It was Phillip, the bird and I, motoring into another night on the Gulf, with Carrabelle awaiting us, on the other side of the sunrise.

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Back at Sea! Me, Phillip and the Mackerel Makes Three!

Yep, a mackerel!  Which we originally thought was a wahoo, but I’m getting ahead of myself.


Back it up.  Rewind.  Bzzzwwwhooop.

April 22, 2014:

We woke to a beautiful sunrise on our last morning in Ft. Myers Beach.  While we love being on anchor (or on the ball, or at a marina, or however we find ourselves stopped and secure for the time being), what we really love is sailing.  Getting that boat going!  She loves it too.  It’s what she was built for.  We brewed our coffee, filled our mugs and tossed our line off of the ball.  We were going to do some sailing today kids!

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See how we smile?  Like Donna Summers at a disco!  Just doing what we love!

We expected about a 30-hour passage to Key West.  We left Ft. Myers Beach around 8:00 a.m., and we expected to arrive in Key West around mid- to late-morning the following day.  While there is a mooring field near Key West, the Captain had booked us a few nights at the A&B Marina in Key West Bight.  He figured since it was our first time there by boat, and the expected highlight of the trip, might as well splurge a little, huh?  Go big or go home!  Isn’t he great?  He called the marina that morning to confirm our reservation and learned then that we were going to have to back in to our boat slip.  *Gulp*  I’ll save that nugget of a story for another day!

For the time being, we were thrilled to find that the motor cranked that morning on the first turn, using the engine battery.  After the issues we’d had the night before with the dead starting battery and the engine overheating, we were incredibly pleased to see everything charged and running so well.  After we got to thinking about the overheating a bit, we figured it might have been one of those freaky amoeba-like snails we’d seen swimming around in Ft. Myers Beach.  Have you guys ever seen these?

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They’re hard to capture on film but I kept trying.  They look like some strange slimy Darwinian organism that hasn’t quite evolved yet.  I imagine it’s what a conch looks like once it’s spilled out of its shell, and they swim by flapping their wing-like … things.

Some riveting “flapping footage” for you:

Some were tan and spotted, others black and splotchy.   They were just so weird.  Phillip first spotted them when he spent a solid three hours changing the oil of outboard on the dinghy.  You remember the day the car wouldn’t start


Yeah – he got up close and personal with the water that morning and said he saw like fifteen of them swim, or flap, by – whatever it is they do.  With so many of them in the water, we started to think perhaps one of them weird snail things got sucked up against our raw water intake through-hole the night before, causing it to clog and the engine to overheat.  It was totally possible, likely probable.  I have to say I derived a small bit of pleasure imagining the little snail turd, panic-stricken, stuck up against our hull, unable to flap away.  Serves him right trying to screw with our boat!

But, we watched the engine temp closely that morning and found she was holding just fine, so whatever had happened, we figured it was a fluke and counted our lucky stars.  We made our way out of the mooring field and headed out to sea!  (Or the Gulf … same thing … to me, anyway.  Whenever we head out to go sailing, anywhere, we go to the SEA!!)


It was nice this time to have a boat buddy along for the passage – our friend Johnny Walker and his son, Jeremy, on Johnny’s 38′ Morgan, s/v Windwalker.  They were making the passage as well from Ft. Myers Beach to Key West.


There’s the Walker – coming under the Matanza’s Bridge!

It was a gorgeous morning.  Blue waters, a bright sky and big billowing sails.


Yeah … billowing.  Unfortunately, the wind was a little lackluster that morning, so we had to motor for a few hours, but we were thankful to see the engine purring right along, running just fine.  It was right around noon, though, that the wind kicked in, and we found ourselves on a perfect beam reach for the afternoon.

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There’s Johnny up ahead!


All you could see was beautiful blue water to the edge of every horizon.


It felt incredible to be back out in the Gulf!  Otto (our auto-pilot) was holding great, we were making good time and the sea state was perfect.  We tossed out our fishing line a little after noon and kicked back to enjoy the sail.  Around 2:00 p.m. Phillip decided to cook up our “big meal” for the day – broccoli and beef stir-fry – as we figured if you’re going to eat a big meal and get sleepy, better to do it during daylight hours so we would be refreshed and ready to hold our respective shifts that night.

But, of course, right when we decide to cook something we brought, we find food from the sea!  (See, again with SEA!).  We had a fish on the line!!  Who knows how long he’d been on there.  The stretchy band we used as our “indicator” had broke clean off and the line had been taut for, likely, quite some time.  Phillip was occupied with lunch below so I started to reel him in.

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Yes, it took that long …


But we finally got him up to the boat, and MAN, what a beast!

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It took a team effort to get him hauled in to the cockpit, but we got him in there.  We bagged him up mafia style, but I swear he kept trying to eat his way out and nab Phillip’s toes!  Chomp, chomp!

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He had some wicked teeth!

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That’s actually what helped us identify him.  We looked through the fisherman’s guide to try and find some identifying characteristics to determine what he was.

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The spotting on his back and body looked kind of like a wahoo, but his teeth and upper dorsal fin gave him away.

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We had caught ourselves a king mackerel!

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A thirty-seven incher, too!

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How’s that for royalty!?  But, then the fun began … Guess whose job it is to clean the fish we catch on the boat.  Go on.  Guess!  That’s right … it’s the First Mate’s.  I busted out my fileting tools and set to it.

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While the Captain …

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Well, he was hungry.  And, to be fair, he had cooked us up an awesome lunch.

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One of our go-tos on the boat.  Broccoli and beef stir-fry.  Recipe HERE.

To be honest, though, I’m not sure how he could find the scene in the cockpit very appetizing …

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It was a bloody mess.  (No British accent intended).

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But, it seemed I was getting better at it.  I carved off some pretty sweet looking filets.

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Trying hard to get every last morsel of meat off.

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If I had to guess, I’d say we carved off about 9 one-pound filets total.  Quite a bit of fish.

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But, also quite a bit of work.  From the time of the catch-and-bag, then the gut-and-clean to the dreaded wash-and-scrub of the cockpit, the whole fish debacle turned into about a three-hour chore.  But, I mean … what else are we doing, right?  It seemed our buddies on the Windwalker smelled the blood, sweat and toil and they ventured over to have a look at our spoils.

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That Morgan sure looked great glistening in the afternoon sun.


And I sure wish we could share the pictures they took of us while we were underway, but let’s just say I don’t have them yet … (Jeremy – you know who you are, and what you have not yet done!).


In all honesty, though, it was a great day sail.  A lot of fun with the big fish catch and nice to have boat buddies sailing along beside us.  After the big meal and the boat chores were done, we settled in for a nice evening of leisurely reading as the sun dropped down in the sky.

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We were still on a perfect heading easing into the night.  Our bellies were full.  Our hands were finally clean (albeit still tainted just a bit with that distinct fishy smell).  But our hearts were content.  We were really out there.  Sailing across the Gulf.

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When the sun rose again, we would finally be there — the Florida Keys!