“I’m Okay!” … sort of (Viewer Discretion Advised)

April 28, 2014:

The first thing I remember seeing after the fall was the big, white meat of my arm.  Between the time I hit, opened my eyes and blinked several times at it, it had grown twice the size.  I knew it had hit, something, and I knew it hurt, but to see it so swollen, so suddenly, just mesmerized me.  I really thought it might be broken.  In all of the wild antics of my youth – gymnastics, barrel racing, cheerleading, jello wrestling and other numerous, countless stupid decisions in college – I had yet to break a bone (knock on wood) and I was thinking this might be the end of that lucky streak.  I clenched my first a time or two and rolled my wrist and, while my entire forearm was numb and throbbing, everything seemed to be working fine, so I decided the bones were at least intact.

“I’m okay … I think,” I said.  “I, … I think I’m okay.”

I heard Phillip set the auto-pilot so he could come on deck to check on me and I noticed the main halyard (that bleepin’ thing) was now dangling at about his waist-level on the deck.  Before thinking about how it got there, I grabbed it (that bleepin’ thing) and began to surmise that I must have pulled it down, at least in part, during my fall because it was now so much lower.  But, I couldn’t recall exactly, grabbing it or letting it go.  But that got me thinking about the fall.  Why had I fallen?  What had snapped?

As if hearing my thoughts, Phillip said “the lazy jack snapped,” as he stepped up on deck.  I didn’t even look up (assuming I even could turn around to see it), I knew exactly what he meant.  We had busted the lazy jack line for the stack pack on the starboard side during our passage to Port St. Joe.

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That time it was because of rough wind and weather that had caused the sail to put too much force on the starboard lazy jack line, causing the rivet on the spreader to rip clean off.

Spreader

And, what we gathered from that incident was that the lazy jack lines are not intended to hold extensive weight.  We have since learned (from our trusty rigger, Rick Zern) that this design is intentional so that the rivet for the lazy jack line will fail before excessive strain is placed on the spreader.  Makes sense.  But, clearly this riveting (no pun intended) fact somehow escaped me as I was doing my circus act up on the boom, reaching with all my might, one strained, out-stretched hand to the halyard, the other with a mighty death-grip on the port-side lazy jack line.

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And, then SNAP!  I’d done ripped the one on the port-side off, too, and suffered a mighty fall as a result.

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Dad-burnit!

It all made sense–now–as I lay in a crumpled heap on the deck.  But, what’s done is done.  At least I hadn’t broken anything, or so I thought.  As I started to stand, though, to re-secure the halyard, I discovered a new pain–my knee.  It seems it, too, had hit something and it, too, was already swollen.  Phillip frowned at me and laid a sturdy hand on my shoulder, which told me to sit tight for a minute. He secured the halyard then helped me to my feet so I could hobble back to the cockpit.  Like my arm, my knee was numb and throbbing, but it appeared to be working.  Phillip seemed to be comforted, slightly, by the fact that I was somewhat satisfactorily mobile, but I hated to see such a look of worry and anger on his face.  While I had managed to get that bleepin’ halyard down, it was at a serious cost, and it was clear the Captain was not impressed with my … heroism.

We set me down in the cockpit for a good once-over (I warn you, this is not pretty):

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The arm had developed some gnarly purple streaks where (I can only assume) it sheared down the lifelines on the way to the deck.

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It was fat and painful, but, like I said–working.

The knee had developed this very strange ping-pong ball-shaped lump on the left side of my kneecap:

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I wasn’t sure what to even make of that.  Why the perfect round lump?  Why swelling in such an isolated spot?  I had injured my knee before–well, this knee (the left) actually, years and years ago.  I tore my ACL while tumbling in high school and had it surgically repaired back in 2000.  But, just last year, I sprained the MCL in my right knee during my first attempt at skiing.  It had swollen then, too, almost instantly, but it was a global swelling of the whole knee–not just a perfectly segregated ping-pong ball lump–and it required a massive needle and surgical suction for that swelling to eventually dissipate.  (You may recall the removal of the spawn of Satan from my knee!).  This lump was strange …   We did all we knew to do at the time–ice everything and see what developed.

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As I sat there, looking back on it, I can’t promise I wouldn’t jump back up on that boom to try and retrieve a swinging halyard–it is such a monstrous chore to retrieve it once it inches its way out of your reach–but I guess the best I can say is I hope to never let go of the halyard again.  We already knew this lesson, we’d learned it several times, but it just happens, sometimes as a result of rocking waves or other hazards, but other times just as a result of a senseless human error (it’s entirely possible to just accidentally let go of something).  I mean, you have hands to hold things, but they’re human hands, so they err.  I am hopeful, at least, that we have now sufficiently modified our halyard-shackling procedure to eliminate the frequency of the latter.

We always secure our halyard away from the mast while at anchorage or the marina so as not to be “that guy” at the party.

ThatGuy_Party

Yes, that one.  If the sun’s just starting to set at the anchorage, folks are just starting in on their second cocktail or dinner,  kicked back in the cockpit for a quiet evening on the hook and you’re the one whose halyard is banging, trust me, you are that guy.

Murray

And, to make sure my internet scouring for the perfect “that guy” images does not go to waste, do know that there are various websites on the web devoted entirely to helping you NOT be “that guy”:

1) “Avoid Being that Guy (or Girl) at a Party” (you gotta love Wikihow’s gender equality – no one wants to be “that girl” either); and

2) “Office Holiday Party – Making a Good Impression

Rather, we like to come to the party real quiet-like, nice and smooth and subtle.  The svelte gentlemen in the black attire, if you will, the guy that everybody likes.

Bond

Yeah, that guy.  So, when we drop our main sail before dropping the hook, we have made a habit of securing the main halyard to one of the lazy jacks that holds up the stack pack.  Here:

Stack

After this incident, we decided to snap the shackle back to the sail before leaving the dock or anchorage, but we found this occasionally allows the sail to start bouncing up a bit, particularly in rough seas, putting slack in the main halyard line which may cause it, if the wind is on your stern, to get wrapped around one of the arms of the spreader.  Recall, this is exactly the incident that caused me to climb up on the boom in the first place.  And, this is true even with the stack pack zipped closed as the rocking and bouncing of the boat can cause the sail to inch the zipper open and try to climb.  This does not happen often, however, so we chose the lesser of two evils–that is, securing the main halyard to the sail before leaving the dock/anchorage so that we are not doing it up on the deck, while underway, potentially in rough seas.

But, we have since learned an even better trick from a trusted boating friend and the knowledgeable fellow that did our bottom job back in May of last year (thank you Bottom-Job Brandon with Perdido Sailor).  We still remove the shackle from the stack-pack line and attach it to the main sail prior to leaving the dock/anchorage, but we now bring the line down and wrap it around the winch on the port-side of the mast so that the tension is pulling the sail down (not up) to prohibit any slack from forming in the line.

Slack

See?  In sailing, you learn something new every day.  And, trust me, you will find a way–every day–to do something you’ve been doing for years in just a little better way.  It’s all about getting out there and doing it, making mistakes and learning, but continuing to do it.  A fine example is our stack-pack lazy-jack fix!  If you recall, when the lazy-jack line on the starboard side busted, the Captain came up with an ingenuous way to raise it back up using a somewhat-of-a spare line (the staysail halyard), so that we still had a functioning stack pack for the remainder of our trip to the Keys:

Halyard

He’s kind of smart like that sometimes!

But, since we had had to improvise and rig up a busted lazy-jack line before, we now knew how to do it again.  With another somewhat-of-a spare line on the port-side–this time, the topping lift for the spinnaker.  But, as it seemed we were running out of “spare” lines to hoist broken things, we vowed – “no more lazy-jack snaps!” – for the rest of the trip and hoped it would stick.  For the time being, I was numb but not broken.  We decided to hold the ice on for the first hour or so to attack the swelling, then we would remove it and have me move about a bit later in the day to assess the real damage.  I was sure there was going to be some (potentially severe) soft-tissue injury to my knee–and what an annoyance on a boat!–when it’s always up and down the companionway, kneel down here, squat there.  I couldn’t imagine losing the full function of such a crucial joint.  I was nervous and anxious about my limbs and my ability to fulfill my duties as First Mate for the remainder of the trip.  I mean, we had just left the Keys.  We still had 500 nautical miles to sail …

But, what’s done is done.  I had fallen, and I couldn’t change that.  And, we were still on the best sailing voyage of our lives.  I laid back on the ice, the Captain handled the sails and we set out for a beautiful day of sailing across the Gulf.

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“Annie, Are You Okay??”

April 28, 2014:

It was time to say goodbye to the Keys.  While we certainly enjoyed our time on that quirky little island (and the breathtaking ferry over to the Dry Tortugas), it was time to give our livers – and pocketbooks – a break and start making our way back north toward Pensacola.  After a week on dry land, though, we were ready to make another passage, ready to find ourselves back out in the middle of the Gulf with nothing on the horizon but blue sky meeting bluer water, water gently lapping the hull, the sun warming our skin as we read on the deck all afternoon, and, yes, even the night shifts, sailing that beautiful boat under a smattering of stars.  It was time to make way!

We woke early and started readying the boat for passage.  We tossed the lines first thing and headed out (literally, bow first from our stern-in slip at the A&B Marina – which was much easier exiting than entering, I can assure you).  We made coffee on the boat for the first time since we had docked in Key West, and we promptly decided the Cuban Coffee Queen Hut had “nothing on us!”  There’s just something about making your own coffee on the boat in the french press, and sipping that first warm mug while you’re starting out on a long passage.

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We waved goodbye to Sunset Key as we made our way out of Key West Bight.

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We had a bit of a scare when a pretty intimidating law enforcement vessel started motoring right toward us.

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Phillip and I watched them with furrowed brows likely thinking the same thing – “Is that Y valve in the head turned the right way?”  We had heard they keep a pretty close eye on regulation compliance in the Keys and the Coast Guard guys won’t hesitate to come aboard for an inspection.  We were sure it was, but it’s one of those things if you ask yourself twice – “Are you really sure?” – that you start to second guess.  Thankfully, though, The Law motored on behind us and continued on their way.  Whew!  Disaster avoided … or so we thought.  But the adventures that day were just beginning.

You ever have one of those days that starts out perfectly normal, you begin your typical routine, you go about your business – completely unaware that this day is probably going to stick out in your mind for the rest of your meager existence.  Everything seems to routine, so mundane and then BAM!  It happens.  Whatever it is – a car accident, a fire, an unexpected encounter, you win the lottery (let’s all hope!) – but, whatever it is, it’s something that makes that day stand out among the hundreds of bland, uniform days that preceded it.  I guess being on this trip – a daily adventure – sort of changes that equation (in that every single ONE of our days on this trip held something new, something that will probably stick out in my mind for decades to come) but, still, I thought we were just going to get underway and make passage back to Ft. Myers.  I thought maybe we would see a shark, perhaps run into some weather, some “adventure” I was mentally prepared for – but not this …

My day started something like this,

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but that’s not how it ended.

We were motoring through the channel out of Key West Bight.  It was a beautiful morning, around 9:00 a.m., not too hot yet, a light breeze coming in.  We were ready to do some sailing!  We decided to raise the main while we were making our way out of the channel so we could throw the Jenny out as soon as we made our way out and catch the wind.

KW

I hopped up on the deck to attach the main halyard (the line that raises the main sail) to the sail.  We always detach it from the sail and clip it away from the mast so that it does not bang when we’re in the marina or on the hook.  (But, I’ll tell you – as a direct result of this very incident – we have since formed the habit of connecting the halyard BEFORE we leave the dock so that we are not doing it underway.)  But, that is now.  This was then.  This is how lessons are learned.

I loosened the halyard and hopped up on the deck to connect it.  Unfortunately, the wind was on our stern so it caught the slack in the halyard and blew it around one of the spreaders.  For those of you who are sailing newbies – just imagine an important line is caught on some of that stuff up there on the mast, so we can’t pull it to raise our sail.  And, the wind is on our stern, so it’s holding the halyard firmly in it’s ‘caught’ position.  I let out more slack and embarked in an ancient rope-whipping dance (do recall my country roots),

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that thankfully freed the halyard.  You would think the hard part is over, but I’ve got to move quickly to get the slack pulled out so the line remains free and untangled so we can raise the main.  So, I’m now holding the shackled end of the halyard in one hand, and holding the slack taught down the mast in the other.  Basically pulling against myself to keep tension in the line so it stays flush on the mast and cannot snag on anything.  A fine practice, if you’re standing on the deck, doing nothing other than holding the line, but I get the brilliant idea that I can go ahead and climb the step up the mast and hook the shackle whilst holding both ends of the halyard taught in 2-3 foot waves.  Looking back on it now, that’s probably a three-handed job, and I’ve only got two, so … 

As I’m stepping up the mast, a light wave rocks the boat and I have to grip or I’m going to fall.  My body takes over instinctively (I guess) and lets go of the bleepin’ halyard so I can grap a cleat on the mast to avoid falling.  To avoid falling … yes that was the plan, initially.  But, now you know I’ve committed the ultimate sin.

I LET GO OF THAT DAD-BURN HALYARD!!

I couldn’t believe it had actually happened until I saw it swinging playfully in front of me, taunting me, just out of reach.  As you recall, we have only let go of the halyard a couple of times on the boat, but each time required a monstrous chore to retrieve it – climbing the 50′ mast.  The first time, we were at the marina back in Carrabelle and we raised the halyard on the Jenny back up the mast not knowing it wouldn’t come back down with just a wiggle and a shake.  A rookie mistake – but it meant a mast-climb (thankfully secure at the marina, though) for me.  The second time was when we were making the passage from Dog Island to Clearwater on our way down to the Keys (you remember the attempt at the butterfly-net retrieval?).  Since we were underway, that time meant another mast-climb for yours truly, only this time mid-sea.  That climb was one of the scariest moments, so far, on the trip for me, and I was damn sure I wasn’t going to let that happen again.  I was going to get that halyard!  Nothing was going to stop me!

It was swinging around just out of reach, I didn’t even think the Captain knew what had happened yet, and I thought if I could retrieve it and snap it on the sail before he even knew — even better.  I jumped up on top of the boom.

Yes, the boom.  I told you — I was going to GET THAT HALYARD!

And, up there, I was eye-level with it.  I had a fighting chance!  I just needed it to swing my direction (in those random, bouncy 2-3 foot waves – it could happen!).  It came so close several times, and I almost had it.  Phillip had seen me up there by now, but all he could belt out was a forceful, “Annniiee” followed by a stern “be careful!”

I will try my best to depict this with my rudimentary sketch skills, so bear with me, but it at least helps you visualize.  Here I am, up on the boom, going for that bleepin’ halyard!

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I was standing on the main sail, holding daintily onto one of the port-side lazy-jack lines that holds the stack-pack up, just for balance.  After we had snapped the one on the starboard side clean off the spreader during our first rough night into Port St. Joe, I knew it didn’t take much to rip one off, so I was just using it for balance.  I was, I swear.  Until …

Until the halyard came swinging toward me.  Finally!  There it was!  I could reach it!  I stretched a hand out toward it …

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and then SNAP!

With the halyard in sight, my fingers finally feeling the threads on it, I am sure my dainty little hold and light pull on the lazy jack line became a full-on death grip and full-weight dependent tug.  Just as I clinched my hand around the main halyard shackle, I heard a loud SNAP!, I can’t remember what I saw or how my body reacted, but I felt a sickening thud, and the next thing I remember, I’m raising myself from a crumpled position on the starboard deck (between the cabin and the lifelines) with the main halyard in my right hand.  Phillip stepped out from the behind the bimini with a horrific look on his face, his voice commanding, “Annie, are you okay?”

“I, I … ” I couldn’t really form a complete sentence.  I didn’t know how, or what to say if I even could.

ANNIE, ARE YOU OKAY?” Phillip persisted, his voice now a stern shout.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  Because I didn’t.

May 11, 2013 – Such Great Heights

After the bad news from Kevin about the batteries, we tried to call the marina in Carrabelle several times to get Mechan-Eric or a technician, anyone, on the phone to make sure our boat was plugged in and getting a charge.  I finally got a woman on the line who said she’d “look into it” but I got the impression she was less than enthused and not nearly as concerned about our boat as we were.  Or, scratch that, not nearly as concerned I felt she needed to be.

Call Center woman

It sounded like she was writing my name and number down while painting her nails and twirling her hair, planning to leave them on a flimsy post-it note on the desk of someone who was already gone for the day.  I was less than pleased with her response.

Bitch Switch

But it was Thursday.  And, whether I went postal on her or not (which I didn’t – thinking she could light a match to the boat if she wanted to – best not to piss off the caretakers), we were not going to feel comfortable about the batteries until we went down there ourselves to see what kind of charge they would hold, if any.  When we got back to the boat on Friday night, she was plugged in but only had about three (out of four) bars.  That meant she was not yet fully charged but she was taking a charge, which was a good sign.  When we had left her the weekend before she had NO bars – nothing, zilch, nada.  So, some bars were good.

Now, I think it’s time for a fun little battery tutorial, don’t you?  Because I now know way more than I ever want to about marine batteries and if I had to suffer through it, alas, so do you!  So, shall we?

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This is our E-Meter which shows four different readings for the batteries (these are the four circles under the “18.3” reading) from left to right:

1.  “V” for Volts:   Our battery bank is wired for 12 volt output.  Meaning, the volts reading should ideally show around 12.5 – 12.6 volts (at max charge – a little over 12).

2.  “A” for Amps:  This reading (which is lit) is showing 18.3 amps are going into the battery because it’s plugged in and receiving a charge.    This reading indicates the flow of amps either in (a positive number when the battery is receiving more charge than it is discharging) or out (a negative number when there is more discharge, like when we use it to run the fridge, lights, etc. while not simultaneously charging it).  Much like a tank of gas, the batteries have a capacity to hold only a certain number of amps (i.e., gallons of fuel).  Ours holds 450, so when we’ve burned 50 amps off and don’t re-charge it, we’ve only got 400 left, no more.

Knowing this, you start to get real familiar with just how many amps certain appliances are going to “cost” you.  For instance, the fridge pulls about 4-5 amps/hour, the lights and fans another 1-2/hour, and these are purely luxuries (you can always bring ice and use flashlights).  As you can imagine, it’s easy to start getting real “Scrooge-ey” with use of electronics on the boat.

Scrooge

Turn that light off would ya?  It ain’t Christmas!

But, Scrooge or not, there are some things you simply HAVE to run whether you like it or not: a mast headlight so other boats can see you when you’re at anchor (1-2 amps/hour), navigation lights (bow, stern and mast) so other boats can see you when you’re under way at night (2-3 amps/hour), etc.  Hence the all important “Ah” amp hour reading.

3.  “Ah” for Amp Hours:  This reading shows you how many “amp hours” you have pulled off of the battery, much like the needle on your fuel gauge.  If the amp hours are showing roughly half of your 450 amps (around 225) remain, you’ve used about half of your tank of gas.  Which begs the question: how long can I go on a half tank?  That’s where the time reading comes in.

4.  “t” for Time:  This is the total time you have left on the batteries based on your usage and is akin to the number of miles you can go on the remaining gas in your tank.  As you know, the faster you go, the less miles you can travel on that tank.  Similarly, the more appliances you use, the less “time” you have left on the batteries.  And, just as you don’t want to suck up all the rusty junk floating around in the bottom of your fuel tank, you don’t want to let your batteries get down below 50% because it’s not good for them.  So, when you near the half-way mark, you should really try to give the batteries a charge (either by running the engine or plugging in if you have access to shore power).

See?  All very interesting stuff that you can impress your friends with at cocktail parties.

Cocktail (2)

Oh Bob …  Your amp hour calculations are so exciting they make my head spin.  Ha, ha ha!  

Trust me, everyone is dying to know about marine batteries.  I promise, just ask them.  If they say they’re not, I would just walk away.  They’re clearly boring people.

So, we let ours charge up fully and then unplugged her and kept the fridge and some lights running to see if she would actually “hold” a charge.  It wouldn’t help anyone if she showed four bright shiny bars when we set off into the Carrabelle River only to drop down to nothing the minute we got back in the Gulf.  This is what Kevin told us can happen when batteries are completely drained and re-charged.  But, we were apparently lucky – this time.  We watched her for two hours and she held a steady charge, which gave us hope.

With the battery situation now put to rest, we set our sights on the Genny and getting her raised back up on the forestay.  (Recall that’s the wire that runs from the mast to the front of the boat that the Genny furls around).

Jenny 7

Well, I’ll tell you we learned a very valuable lesson that day.  “Don’t let go of the halyard!”  That may mean nothing to you, but you’re about to see why it’s so darn important.  It’s something terribly basic but easy to forget.  Like the sailing equivalent to “Don’t crowd the mushrooms!”  Such brilliant advice.

Julia

Thanks Julia!

So, the halyard.  On a boat, that’s any line (which, remember, is a rope) that is used to raise a sail.  On our boat, there is a clamp on the end of the halyard that pulls the Genny sail back up the forestay.  After we had dropped the Genny halyard from the top of the mast down to the bow of the boat to lower and take off the Genny, we promptly pulled the halyard right back up to the top of the mast, thinking “What a nice, safe place for it.  I’m sure it’ll drop right back down when we need it to … ”

We were dumb.  So dumb.  Julia herself should’ve slapped us.

Julia slap

BAM!

Because I’ll tell you what didn’t happen.  That halyard didn’t drop.  Wouldn’t drop.  We shook and banged the line, hoping the clamp on the end of the halyard would vibrate and wiggle down, but it wouldn’t budge.  So, I remind you again, “Don’t let go of the halyard!”  Now, how does this all translate to entertainment for you?  Trust me, it does.  Because guess whose happy little ass had to climb that 50 foot mast to get the halyard down.  Uh-huh …  That’s right.  Yours truly.  Albeit a bonehead move and not one I think we will make again anytime soon (let’s hope), that little mistake of ours took me to such great heights:

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And there she goes …

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Annie are you okay?  Would you tell us?  That you’re okay?

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I’m okay!

That is one tall mast let me assure you.  And, you may be wondering how the heck you climb a thing like that.  Years of training with Tibetan ninjas, that’s how.

Ninja 3

But I think I’ve enlightened you enough for one day.  I’ll save that post for another.  I’ll tell you, though, it really did feel incredible up there.  Every tiny little rock of the boat is magnified and it feels like you’re swaying from side to side like blowing with the wind in the top of a tall pine (when the boat below appears to be standing perfectly still).  Funny thing about climbing a mast, though.  It seems to attract a crowd.  A bunch of old salts, who clearly had nothing better to do, started to gather around as I ascended, telling Phillip “Woman like that oughta have a sister!

I do.  She just didn’t get the looks in the family so we don’t really like to acknowledge her.

Brinkley (2)

Poor thing.  I don’t know what she’s made of herself.  Probably nothing nearly as cool as a sailor-slash-blogger.  Not nearly.

The good news is I made it down safe and sound and the boat was looking ready to go.  We emptied out the fridge and turned off all the electronics so she would stay juiced up no matter the “plug” situation.  Mechan-Eric told us they were expecting the new transmission to arrive the next week and then they would drop it in there.  All seemed right with the world, so Phillip and I headed home to start planning the last leg of The Crossing – over drinks and dinner of course!  Phillip made us his famous pan-seared grouper and mushroom risotto with sauteed spinach to celebrate the big climb:

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Because he’s just kind of amazing that way.