The cruising community is really very small. Meet cruisers in one port and you know you’ll likely run into them somewhere on the other side of the world. It’s also a very giving community. Lend some cruisers a hand here, and you’ll likely have a hand held out for you in the next anchorage. As the salty crew of Andanzahopped off the boat in Key West, we were greeted right there at the dock by a couple of cruisers we knew from back home in Pensacola.
Amanda and Saunders are live-aboards who had just started their cruising adventure a few months prior. They were living out on the hook in Bayou Chico while Phillip and I had our Niagara on the hard during the big repair/re-fit earlier this year, and it was cool to see them now actually out there, doing it—exactly what Phillip and I would soon be doing—living on their boat and cruising to different ports and cities.
Amanda and Saunders were definitely earning their good “cruising karma” that day by making the two-hour run with us n Key West like pack mules, lugging bags, schlepping supplies, even offering their bike if we needed it as we made our way quickly to the local West Marine, the grocery store and the hardware store.
We tried to grab lunch at one of mine and Phillip’s favorite spots in Key West. Phillip and I discovered it when we cruised down to the Keys in 2014 and it was the only place in Key West we were willing to sacrifice two meal cards for and dine at twice: Paseo’s. We kept talking it up to Amanda and Saunders who had only been in Key West for a few weeks and hadn’t experienced this gem yet for themselves. “The bean and rice bowls are as big as your head!” I assured them, “with gooey melted cheese, fresh tomatoes, avocado, corn, sour cream, like eighteen different ingredients in every single bite.”
I was getting a little carried away. But it is an awesome little Caribbean joint. And, they have whole roasted ears of corn slathered with butter and dusted with salt, pepper, paprika and fresh parsley. Easily the best corn I have ever had (even over my grandma, Big Mom’s, famous BBQ corn).
Paseo’s is also (although Phillip hates when I use this word) super cheap! A $12 bowl can easily be split between two people and have you both waddling away absolutely stuffed, which is why I knew Amanda and Saunders, as cost-conscious live-aboards, would LOVE it too.
But I think our desperate Caribbean love jinxed us because when we finally made our way to Paseo’s, it was closed that day. Dag nabbit!
But we grabbed some samiches at another little bistro, “To go!” Phillip said, and started lugging all of our goods back to Andanza. Then a guy with a golf cart pulls up and asks if we want a ride. We had ventured about 8 blocks out chasing the Caribbean cuisine so we said “Sure!” and hopped in. He seemed so excited to play even just a tiny role in our offshore adventure when we told him we were about to cross the Atlantic. Amanda and Saunders felt the same, like they were sharing in it just a little by joining us for a brief moment in Key West. It was heart-warming to see people so ignited by our journey and willing to help.
When we made it back to the boat, we found Yannick had just completed the daunting fuel top-off back at the boat, having filled not only the two fuel tanks, but also the additional jerry cans we had brought along that we had dumped in while motoring across the Gulf. He was a hot, sweaty mess, but sporting a smile as he helped us bring the goods aboard, stow them away and get ready to toss the lines and head back out.
We waved goodbye to Amanda and Saunders and the folks at the dock and were back out in the Gulf in a matter of thirty minutes, munching our sandwiches and talking about our next waypoint. The stop in the Keys was so fast, it almost felt like it didn’t even happen because we were excited to be back underway. Out there, holding our shifts, traveling across a bounty of blue water, is where we wanted to be. The crew of Andanza had been five days at sea and it had only fueled our desire to stay out longer and sail further. “To France!” we cheersed that evening over dinner in the cockpit.
I held the 2:00 a.m. shift that night and learned, or I guess taught myself, a good lesson in offshore sailing. While I had considered myself a fairly alert sailor, before setting off on this voyage, I realized I was fooling myself. I would often read during my night shifts, listen to music, write stories in my mind, which is fine, intermittently, but you should make yourself—for the entire shift if you are able, but at ten or fifteen minute intervals at least—focus entirely on the boat and your surroundings. Entirely. You got that? Ask yourself: How is she doing? How are the seas treating her? How is the sail trim? Where is the wind coming from? What has its pattern been the last half hour? Are you on your heading? Is she holding steady? If the engine is running, what’s the temp? The oil pressure? What is the sea state? Do a 360 around the cockpit, looking in every direction. Check for chafe on every line. Force yourself to not be complacent, not for one minute.
Once we made our way around the tip of Florida and started to turn north up the east coast, the winds finally found us. They were on our stern during my shift that night and threatening to kick the boom over into an accidental jibe. I had brought my book up with me to the helm, out of habit, but that is the last time I believe I will ever read on a night shift at the helm. Because I was worried about a jibe, my thoughts crystallized into acute focus on the boat and I found myself, early during the morning hours of June 3rd, asking and answering all of those questions, quizzing myself almost, on the status of the boat. Once I was able to answer all of the questions, it was time to start the inquiry again and after six or seven rounds of this, I found an hour had passed rather quickly and I had thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of being intimately connected with the boat and her surroundings the entire time.
The thought of then picking up a book and reading while on watch felt a bit like driving and texting. Like I was going to miss something and cause an accident. I am not in any way saying reading during a night shift is dangerous or should not be done. What I simply realized, for myself that night, was that I enjoy my shifts more when I direct all of my mental efforts toward the boat. Time passes quicker and I feel safer. This discovery came to me merely the fifth night of our passage across the Atlantic and it marked a mental milestone for me as I spent each of the dozens of night shifts I held after (as I am sure I will hold each night shift on a boat in the future) in this fashion—in complete fixation on the boat.
After my shift, I crashed hard in our berth. Another benefit of exerting significant mental energy on the boat is exhaustion. I never found myself struggling to fall back asleep after my night shift was over, even in surprisingly noisy or rough conditions. When I groggily came to the next morning around 9:00 a.m., I found Phillip cheerfully making toast in the galley.
“We caught a mackerel,” he said with a smile. “It’s in the fridge.”
“Sweet!” I replied and thought I could sure get used to this lifestyle. But it’s all encompassing. My first cup of coffee in hand and I stepped out into the cockpit to find Johnny and Yannick had dissected the starboard engine once again. Rusty, greasy pieces were laid out on a tablecloth on the cockpit floor like they were playing the game Operation. Yannick turned to Phillip with a little stone that had come out of the elbow in his hand and said:
I admired Yannick for his resilience and his sense of humor, even in the face of what might seem to many a daunting boat project. Hearty are the French.
Johnny and Yannick were trying to solve, yet again, unsatisfactory performance of the cooling system in the starboard engine. Johnny said the flow coming out of the exhaust was too light while the stream coming out of the pisser was too strong.
And, I don’t know if I can take credit for that one as an “Annie term” as it seemed everyone called the tiny squirt stream out of the engine the “pisser.” After a few days on passage, and multiple conversations about the coolant systems in the engines, I found myself simply saying it, not knowing when or how I had learned it. While I did learn some French on the voyage, the first language I started to pick up was Diesel.
Johnny believed, because the pisser was strong but the exhaust was light, that there might be a clog between the two, so he and Yannick had removed the exhaust elbow from the engine and were now taking turns blowing through it, the grease from the piece leaving crusty black marks around their lips. I could tell Yannick knew I was trying not to laugh at them when he handed the dirty elbow to me saying I might be the most well-equipped crew member to “give it a blow.” Ha ha.
We were surprisingly able to have a pretty good time doing most anything on that boat, even greasy projects. I’ll spare you the days and details spent dicking around with the coolant system on the starboard engine as it seems it was a multitude of issues that converged into one big problem: the engine not holding temp. Once the elbow was cleaned out (as it was found to be partially clogged), Johnny also discovered the cap on the water pump was not fastening down tight enough to enable the system to seal. Having heard good things about them, Yannick had put SpeedSeal fast caps on his water pumps, in case the impellers had to be changed often or quickly during our passage, but it seemed the screws on the cap weren’t holding well enough to allow the pump to draw water in. Think of a straw with a hole in it. The suction was compromised. However, after some creative tapping in the cap and creation of a few “magic bolts” Yannick was able to fix the issue and the starboard engine had no more coolant problems after that.
Notice I said no “coolant problems.” Engines are such fun.
Thankfully, we were able to undertake all of this engine work while still making great progress up the north coast as the winds were holding steady and strong. It was somewhere off the coast near Ft. Lauderdale when we first broke the 10-knot barrier on the boat. Some fun raw 10-knot footage for you here:
Yes, it required a Whoo Hoo! You’ll hear plenty of Annie “Whoo Hoos!” in the 2-hour MOVIE. We’re only one week out now from the premiere! Get your ticket to view on Patreon.
The fastest I have seen our Niagara go is 8.3, and that was surfing down a wave. I’m confident I never want to see her go faster than 10 knots. Moving so fast on a sailboat was a wild feeling. It seemed no matter how much wind you put on her stern, Andanza could take it. No heeling, no groaning, she just went faster. It was strange, almost frightening to watch the wind climb to heights that would tighten my throat on our Niagara—15, 20, 25 and upwards—and the cat held fast. And it was a good thing, too, because a thick, blue wall was forming off our starboard bow as we sailed around the tip of Florida and right into our first storm of the trip.
“Let’s go down to second reef!” Yannick thundered from the mast. In the slick, glassy waters of the Gulf, we had barely raised the sails, much less had any need to reef them so this was our first time running a reef drill. Looking back, I’m sure every member of the Andanza crew will tell you we should have done this sooner, even if just for a drill. Or better yet, intentionally just as a drill. Safety was definitely a very high concern for the Captain and crew and we had talked many times about reefing often, every day at sunset, etc. but we had missed the all-important need to actually DO IT, several times over, so that we as a collective crew could reef quickly and efficiently, like a well-oiled machine. Now here we were, in 28 knots of wind, watching it increase and preparing to execute our first reef drill.
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“I wouldn’t go if I couldn’t take a hot shower every day.”
It was my brother who told me this recently. Sorry, John (if you’re reading this, probably not!), but you did say it and I’m sure you would still stand by it now. We were talking about the Atlantic-crossing, what it was like for me and whether he would ever want to do something like that and that was his response: “Not if I couldn’t shower every day.”
“You could shower every day,” I huffed back at him, “as long as you used mostly saltwater with just a quick freshwater rinse.”
John looked at me kind of funny. I think he seriously forgot it’s saltwater out there and that your fresh water supply on a boat is limited. Understandable as he is my brother. I forget the order of the cardinal directions sometimes and have to say that “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” ditty to myself to remember. We’re both well educated but still blondes at heart.
Love you Bro.
“It would have to be a hot shower, though,” John said. “The water out there is probably super cold. I would want a comfortable shower.”
“Those were some of the best showers of my life,” I responded, instantly, immediately because it was so true.
The second day of the trip, Phillip and I took our first of several showers on the transom of Andanza and it was an incredible experience. There is no better feeling when you’re sweaty, dirty, oily and all gummed up from a passage to be able to jump overboard and submerge yourself in cool, crisp cleansing water. As predicted, the wind in the Gulf was virtually non-existent, which sucked for sailing but was great for a Captain-approved intentional man overboard dip! Phillip and I tied a tow line and jumped in, both of us squealing and shouting “Whoo hoo!” when it was our turn in the water because it just felt so incredible. I don’t care what the instruments said. 2.9 knots? Please! In the water it felt like we were making 10!
Get your drawers Annie!
Water whisked across my body like a running river, washing all of the dirt and grime away and almost sucking my britches clean off! I had to keep reaching back and snatching them to keep them on. It was also difficult to pull my legs back underneath me just to get back onto the boat, but it was so much fun! Phillip and I took turns jumping in, coming back out to soap up, jumping in again to rinse off then helping each other with a warm Solar Shower rinse afterward and I honestly cannot think back on my 34 years and recall a shower I enjoyed more. I can walk up to a tub, turn on the water and have the same “hot shower” experience everyday and it will be just what John craved: comfortable. What I cannot have, though, is a crisp, chilly, invigorating saltwater cleanse like I had on the back of Andanza with an endless blue horizon around me in every direction. That kind of unrepeatable newness is what I crave.
The sunrise that morning, our first on the trans-Atlantic passage, was also a moment I will not forget. We were all kind of shocked that the first sail we raised on the trip was the spinnaker and that we had flown it all through the previous night without a problem. She was still up and fluttering in the bright morning sun when I rose just after 5:00 a.m. May 30th, to find Phillip in his absolute happy place. He had made a pot of coffee and was standing in the cockpit just watching the sun rise. His serenity was infectious, so I just stood next to him and watched too.
“Some minutes go slow but the days go fast.” Andy Schell with 59-North told me this recently when he interviewed me about my first ocean crossing for his “On the Wind” podcast. (Such an honor! You know I will let you all know when that comes out!) Andy said someone had told him that’s what it feels like to cross an ocean and I could not agree more. That moment with Phillip, our first morning on passage, watching the sun rise, felt so vivid and slow. I remember the feeling of the cool morning air, my hair dancing and tickling my face, the sight of the spinnaker with sunlight glowing through it.
What I don’t quite remember, though, is the rather large chunk of time from that moment until our shower on the transom some seven, or perhaps eight, hours later and what I did during that time. Some moments tick by like an eternity but other stretches of time pass by in a blurry succession and all of sudden you can’t believe it’s already Thursday, or June or just 1,000 nautical miles left to go! Time slows and speeds like an accordion and the song is over before you want it to end. Andy was right about that.
While the lackluster wind did not make for great sailing, it did make for an absolute beautiful backdrop for the hours of reading, writing and daydreaming the crew did as we motored our way across the glassy Gulf.
We knew we were going to have to stop in Key West to fuel up at the very least and it appeared—at the rate we were going—we would get there in about three days, although no one was in a rush.
I tried to make myself do some “work writing” (I call it)—the various articles and pieces I write for my legal marketing clients—during those first few days, but to be honest, I found it difficult to make myself do anything that felt like work. With a beautiful blue backdrop, the smell of salt water all around, water as blue as a sapphire with sun streaks that pierced down for miles, it was hard to force your mind to do anything but relax and reflect. This is probably one of the aspects of blue water passages people love. It’s like your mind rejects stress. It flat out refuses to fret over anything that doesn’t involve your immediate surroundings.
With each of us having pushed ourselves to our stress-load limits in the days before we shoved off, the crew rested a great deal during those first days on passage. And I say “the crew” because the Captain, Yannick, remained in boat project mode, every hour, every day of that trip. Unlike the rest of us, he never slowed down.
And if you think that’s a lot of photos of the Captain working, I laugh at you. I have at least 103 just of Yannick doing boat projects. I’ll do a whole montage one day! It’ll be great.
The only thing the crew focused on, however, was the status of the boat and when our next shift was. And, for Phillip, what he was going to make us for lunch and dinner!
It was tuna pasta with beets for lunch that day. Thank you Chef Phillip!
My shift that night was ten to midnight.
I was sitting in the cockpit with Yannick while he was finishing what we all started to call the “dinner shift” (7-10pm). That was an awesome shift because it usually included the fun entertainment of everyone making and eating dinner and often a movie. That shift was cake. It seemed it was the 2-4am shift that most folks didn’t care much for.
I was getting ready to take over around 10:00 p.m. when I saw a zip of white flash by in the water. Perplexed, I craned my head over the side to try to decipher what I saw. At first it was just darkness, black water. Then I saw another zip of bubbles, quick and nimble, fast up to the bow and it finally clicked in my mind what I might be seeing. Dolphins. In phosphorescence. I nudged Yannick and told him to look.
“They’re all up at the bow!” he said. “Get your tether. Let’s go.”
I couldn’t scramble into that thing fast enough. I was fidgeting and fighting my way into my life vest. And, I would say I didn’t think to wake Phillip because I knew he was tired and needed to rest up for his midnight to 2am shift, but that’s not true because I wasn’t thinking about Phillip at all! Not one bit. There were dolphins at the bow! And, they were glowing! And I was going! Yannick was tapping his foot at the helm waiting for me so we could both go together. (We were still sticking by our rule that no one was allowed to leave the cockpit to go foreward at night alone.)
The sky was dark. The moon had been rising around 2:00 a.m. every morning since we set off from Pensacola, leaving often a dark night sky with a barely visible horizon, until the moon would rise a fiery orange on the port beam. Yannick had his head lamp on and lit my way to the bow. I heard them before I could see them. The gentle puff of dolphin’s breath, three puffs, at least four, in a matter of seconds, which told me there were many dolphins, and they were everywhere. I could hear them on our starboard side, near the starboard bow, and near the center of the boat where Yannick was already looking over.
I perched on the edge near the port side, my feet dangling over the bow feeling the crisp salt spray from the water and I saw them. Dolphins. A dozen at least. Zipping through the water at seemingly lightning speed from one hull to the next, leaving behind, each time, a trail of glitter. At least that’s what it looked like. Their bodies gleamed with phosphorescence, moving so fast they left a sparkling trail behind. I have never seen such a thing and I believe the only experience that could compare would be this same sight and phenomenon again: Dolphins in phosphorescence. It was breathtaking. Inexplicable in its beauty. These creatures move with such speed in the absolute dark, completely aware of their surroundings, our boat, each other, the entire body of water it seemed. They had no fear. Only joy. And in the moment, so did I.
It was a very memorable moment to share with Yannick, as well. We both looked at each other like two kids at an aquarium, saying nothing, just smiling. I’m sure he remembers that night. The glowing pod stayed and zipped along with us for about ten minutes. When they finally trailed off to the east, their last brilliant streaks fading into dark, Yannick and I slowly made our way back to the cockpit where it was my turn to hold the helm. I kind of thought Yannick would stay up a little with me to re-live the dolphin moment, but “Goodnight” he said as he made his way down below.
I’m glad my shift that night began with such a lively, invigorating scene because it was a long, slow two hours after that. The “time accordion” was slowly stretching apart. I forced myself to stay alert. Do a walk-about around the cockpit every ten or so minutes. Look at the instruments. Check the engine temp. Without any wind, we had been motoring all day, letting the starboard engine pump us across the Gulf.
It was a calm night, but cloudy, which meant no sparkling chop, no horizon. There is something eerie about motoring straight toward a black sheath. You’re not entirely confident that you’re not about to slam into something. It’s hard to look away from the bow. You have the instinct to keep verifying but each time you do it just stirs your worries anew because you can’t see anything. Shifts like this, like Andy said, ticked by slowly. I was always so grateful when a worrisome shift ended to hand over the helm with the glorious, gratifying knowledge that the boat hadn’t struck something and cracked into a hundred pieces during my shift. That didn’t happen when I was at the helm. And, I know how awful and selfish that is to say, but it is just the truth. I also shocked myself at how easily and quickly I could fall into a deep sleep after my night shifts because the tediousness of the worrying had exhausted me so.
The crew was able to fall off into deep slumbering comas often with the mere closing of our eyes. Johnny slept ten hours a day those first few days. While all three of the crew members had been working incredibly hard the final weeks before we left to complete work that had to be done or finished ahead of schedule so we could leave the country for six weeks, Phillip and I had been doing that at a desk while Johnny, as a diesel engine mechanic, was doing that often on his feet or hands and knees finishing several rather large engine repairs before he left. And, he’s 72! He’s an impressive guy that Johnny. And, he always held his shift so it didn’t bother anyone at all that he slumbered so much in between during those first few days. It actually turned out to be a blessing because the next morning we sent him right down in the hole at the crack of dawn.
I heard the rumble of the port engine cranking beneath me in my berth early the morning of May 31st. Something felt a little off about it as we had been trying to split time between the engines and Yannick had told me the night before he was planning to run the starboard engine until well into the following day. I thought something might be wrong, but I was also tired and didn’t quite want to wake up yet so I just rolled over. Then I heard rushed footsteps. Then Johnny’s voice. Then I woke. It was just after 5:00 a.m. I popped my head out of my hatch on the port-side as Phillip rustled out of bed and I heard Yannick’s report.
In the middle of his 4-6am shift, the starboard engine had shut down again on its own. No sputter, stutter or puttering out. It stopped immediately. Yannick had already checked the oil and other fluid levels, the temp, etc. There were no visible problems in that regard. He was preparing to go overboard to see if something had fouled the prop as Johnny, still blinking himself awake, starting making his way down into the starboard engine locker.
“Well, it’s a good thing you got a lot of rest yesterday, Johnny,” Phillip said. Johnny just smiled and shook his head as he eased down into the hole.
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