Thursday, March 31, 2011

Night Passages

Sunrise at sea.
The sun is setting.  We are sailing along, close hauled, in comfortable seas with winds 12-15 knots.  Behind me the sky is a palette of  wispy reds, yellows and purples.  Ahead of me hues of blue fade slowly into inky black on the horizon.  Night is falling...or rising, rather.  The first, brightest stars begin to pop up in the darkening sky.  I settle in, check our course.  Look at the chart. I take stock of what I have around me.  I have my PFD (inflatable life jacket) and tether on, the sails are set correctly, my headlamp is within arms reach as is our LED spotlight.  The autopilot is right on course and our buddy boat, s/v Earthling, is about a mile off our port side.  Our navigation lights are on, I have a high protein energy bar in my pocket and there is a red bull with my name on it in case I get sleepy.   I have another three hours to go until Scott comes back up to relieve me.

Night sailing is something special.  As night fills the sky your senses become exponentially heightened.  Your eyes adjust to the darkness, your ears become almost super-sonic, your skin feels every puff of the warm, tropical breeze.  It's not cold, unlike our last night passage over three months ago along the east coast.  No, tonight it is mild and warm - much, much more pleasant but it will be very dark.  The only moon that will appear won't do so until my next watch at 4am and it's nothing more than a Cheshire cat's smile.   As the sun sets flying fish pepper the water around me, leaping out and soaring hundreds of yards.  They amaze me these fish, I had no idea how far they actually flew or that they could actually steer themselves while in the air.  Sometimes I mistake them for birds soaring low on the water, but then they flop into the water with a splash and my confusion is cleared.

The darkness envelops the boat and we sail along.  Phosphorescence, an ocean phenomenon, dance in our wake as we push through the water.  These tiny, neon green specks light up as our waves awake them and then they dim behind us.  The only other thing I can see in the water are the whites of the waves as they crash around us.  There is a tad bit of anxiety that comes with sailing in the night.  What if a whale is sleeping at the surface in front of us?  What if a sudden unexpected squall blows through?  What if something suddenly breaks?  So many what ifs.  But you cannot dwell on these thoughts, because there is nothing you can do about them - so you sail on.

Before you know it, the stars are out in full force - blinking and twinkling all around you.  I look up and sigh, just staring up.  Is there anything else in this world that can make you feel smaller than the ocean and the sky?  Here we are - floating in the ocean being swallowed by the sky.  It's incredible.  Falling stars are everywhere.  If you look up for at least five minutes you are sure to see them.  I see one that actually shoots across the horizon and leaves a tail behind it, like a comet.  Hmmm...I wonder.  Was that a star, or something else?  Your mind goes into overdrive in the night.  You think you hear voices in the wind, in the creaks and craws of the boat's movement - more than once Scott and I would pop our heads down below and say, "did you just call me?".  But we didn't.  Just our overactive minds playing tricks on us.  Suddenly I think I hear a baby crying, but no, it's just a lost bird screaming for it's friends into the wind.  Our boat becomes a haven for one such bird during one of Scott's watches.  He clings to to the bow pulpit for dear life, knowing not where we will take him - but resting his wings so he can continue on when he's ready.

In my slumber I am awoken by Scott.  "The wind's picking up" he says, "we need to reduce sail." I lumber out of our sea berth (I wasn't sleeping soundly anyway, I could tell the wind was up because I felt the waves building) and hop into the darkness that is the cockpit and take the wheel.  The wind is up and we are overpowered, heeling at an angle of 20 degrees or more.  The wind blows through the rigging and howls past our sails.  We roll up the jib and I turn the boat into the wind to slacken our mainsail so Scott can reef.  He puts in one and then I suggest putting in the other.  The wind has climbed to 17 knots and t's better to reduce sail early.  Better to be safe than sorry.  We unfurl the jib and turn away from the wind and begin to sail again.  Much better.

I think the sunrise might be my favorite time on a night watch.  The world lights up again, slowly and surely, and the sun paints the eastern sky.  The waves are lit up and the flying fish return.  I make toast and tea and just enjoy the dawn of  new day, except that Scott is back on watch in twenty minutes and I will soon be going back to sleep, letting the wind and the waves rock me to slumber as the sunlight dances in and out of the cabin through the windows.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


We are not what you would call "church going" people.  But, when the lovely Delores invited us to church with her, we couldn't say no.  It's not every day you get invited to a local church in the Bahamas by a 79 year old woman who also happens to own the most hopping bar on the Cay (pronounced "Key" to clear up any confusion).

We met Delores and her daughter, Kaye, at 10:45am on Sunday morning wearing our "sunday bests" (bikinis and board shorts weren't going to fly) and hopped into the back of their pick-up truck.  We ambled along the dirt road until we finally came to a simple, understated, white little church with a painted sign propped up our front reading, "St. Johns Baptist Church".

None of us had ever been to a baptist church before, but we knew we were in for a treat.  Locals (most of whom we had met the night before at the bar!) strutted in from all over dressed to the nines.  The women were in all their plumage - colorful dresses and big, beautiful hats.  The men stood tall in brightly colored suits. The children in khakis and little party dresses wearing patent leather shoes.

The service began with song.  LOTS of song.  Not the slow and boring churchy stuff I remember from childhood, but vibrant, lively song with lots and lots of "Amen's!" and "Hallelujahs!" spontaneously interjected.  People were stomping their feet, clapping their hands and praising the lord left and right.  The room reached a full on Baptist fever pitch.

The message was one of perseverance: "The best is yet to come".  They spoke of community, of togetherness, of love and how it is what makes the world go 'round (a message I 'preach' all the time).  The children got up and sang, their little voices echoing with words of thankfulness, appreciation and their love of God.  It was adorable.

Then the preacher approached the podium slow and purposefully.  WOW.  I don't know if all Baptist preachers are like Mrs. Pearl Maycock, but this woman had pipes!  She was screaming (yes, actually screaming!) and yelling so loud I looked at the children to see if they were scared, but their calm faces told me this was how it was done.  She gave us a lovely welcome and thanked us for being there, and then continued on with her fervor and vigor.  What a presence.  There was no doubting how this woman had become a community leader - she has an obvious strength of spirit.  She was inspirational and honest and she was most definitely a woman of the Lord.

After church, we were invited to a lunch to honor her.  We were treated to a feast of Bahamian goodness consisting of ribs, chicken, fish, rice and beans, baked macaroni and, of course, delicious Bahamian desserts.  We felt awful for showing up empty handed, but these wonderful people just shook their heads and scooped up more food for us.  It is amazing the kindness and generosity they possess.  This tiny Cay with it's tiny population is more like a family than a village.  They all know one another, they all look out for one another, they are a true community.  There is but one policeman who doesn't even have a car!  The children run free in the streets and there is an overwhelming feeling of peace and security here.

While we weren't "saved" that day, we certainly saw something special in this community.  Something is most definitely at work here.  Whether you call it God, or the Universe, or Jesus, or Allah or just people being good to one another...this is a place of pure goodness, generosity and community.

And I can say "AMEN" to that!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pa RUM Pum Pum Pum

We arrived at Kaye's Sand Bar around 7pm, we had heard that there was going to be some local rake-n-scrape, but when we got there, there was no sign of it.  Delores was there, as were a couple of the other locals we had met earlier in the day - so we bellied up to the bar and ordered a round of drinks.

"They be comin'" Delores assured us with her signature smile, "you jus wait".  She sipped her Kalik.

A couple hours later they arrived - about ten of them - in a cloud of tambourines, saws, drums, maracas,  cowbells and silverware.

Suddenly the bar was filled with smiling faces, greeting one another, shaking hands and handing out instruments to anyone who didn't have one.  There was a cacophony of noise while everyone got acquainted with their tools when suddenly the bongos started going.  Slowly at first, to get everyone on the same page, then faster and faster.  Rat a tat. Rat a tat. Rat a tat tat tat.

Then the big drum started beating.  Bum...bum bum.   Bum...bum bum.  Deep and resonating, this drum carried the beat.

In no time the cowbells chimed in, then the maracas, then the saw-scraping and the tambourines....Before we knew it we were all letting go, dancing wildly to the beat and letting the rhythm take over.

And take over it did.

If you have ever experienced a drum circle, you know what I mean.  The music fills your heart, your body and your soul.  You become almost entranced with the beat.  If you are able to set yourself and your ego free you will begin to stomp and sway and dance like no one is watching.  You can look around and see the people who 'get' it.  You can see they are free.  The ones who don't, well, they stand out.  Their egos get in the way and block their ability to let go.

It is an amazing feeling, and an amazing sight to behold.  People in an almost primal state.  People being taken away by music.

There is something special about tribal music and drum circles - it is so raw, so simple and so profound.  They tap into the very vibrations of the Universe and the world, and suddenly - everyone who is taking part becomes as one.  Endorphins are flying, adrenaline is pumping and the music begins to take a life all on it's own.  Everyone becomes one with rhythm, the rhythm of life.

A dozen souls 
Together for a dozen reasons 
Headed for a dozen destinations 
Yet we travel as One. 
Supporting one another 
without a word 

Building something of beauty 
and energy 
and spirit 
that not one of us 
could have conceived. 
Ending each piece with laughter 
...or with silence. 
Feeling so alive, 
and in the moment, 
and so connected. 
- Excerpt from Rick Cormier's "Drum Circle"

After the drumming finished, Kaye (Delores' daughter) brought out a meal of stew and coconut rice for all to share.  They charged nothing for this.  Such is the beauty of this place and these people.  There is nothing like filling your belly after filling your soul!

Brittany & Scott

Monday, March 28, 2011

There's More than Rum In Rum Cay

The Town's Main Dock
This little Cay, far on the outskirts of the Bahamas is nothing short of magic.  We had read in our guidebooks that you wouldn't want to leave, that the locals are exceptional, that there is something "special" about this place - but as with everything, we took that with a grain of salt and kept our minds open.

Sometimes you hit a place just right.  Sometimes, the stars align, and you get to visit a place in the moment it shines.  I think our timing was right when we found ourselves here at Rum.

We knew we found a gem when we went ashore and found our self in Kaye's Sand Bar - which is a little bar with a sand floor, a pool table, the most tasty conch fritters we have found and (we were to learn) the best rake-n-scrape* in all of the Bahamas.

Immediately at Kaye's we met Delores.  Called "Lauris" by her friends, she is the 79 year old proprietor of Kaye's and is one of those women who you meet in life and think: this person is amazing.  She is gentle, witty and kind and her smile is the warmest you will ever see.  She was born and raised on Rum (an island populated by no more than 100 people, mind you) and wrote a small book about her experiences which she will proudly show you if you belly up to her bar.  She has lived quite a life, met a ton of people (both famous and not) and has a boat load of stories to tell.  Be good to her, and she will be more than good to you.  I think I hugged her a hundred times this weekend.

We are planning on leaving sometime tonight, feeling confident that we got to experience Rum Cay at it's very best (I mean, we are literally on a first name basis with pretty much the entire population).  We were entranced by a drum circle, enlivened by a Baptist Church** and welcomed, wholeheartedly, into this amazing community by it's wonderful people.

* Rake-n-Scrape is the local style of music utilizing household items - like scraping a saw with a knife - to produce music.

** More on these experiences in later posts.

Note:  If you want to see more pictures of all the fun we had at this place, please become a fan of ours on Facebook where you will see more pictures and more of our "day to day" type experiences.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Live Each Moment as If It Was Your Last

I just got some terrible news that a blog follower and fellow Chicagoan, though one that I did not know personally, was killed in a terrible and tragic accident.  She was finishing at the car wash, getting into her car - when another vehicle careened off the road and struck her.  She was pronounced dead on the scene.

Immediately when I read the email sharing this terrible news, my eyes welled up with tears and I was overcome with a sadness that I cannot shake.  Though I did not know this woman personally, she was an avid blog follower, fellow boater and her husband and I have shared several emails over the past few months.  This is the second freak accident I have been within six degrees of.  The last was my best friend's  uncle who was struck while at a stop sign on an afternoon motorcycle ride with a friend.  Taken too soon.  Tragic.  Senseless.  Terrible.

What I feel is empathy.  There is nothing that strikes me (and I imagine, most people) harder than a sudden, senseless death.  Perhaps it is because I lost one of my best friends in such a way, perhaps it's because I am an emotionally sensitive person who (at times) can actually feel the pain of others.  I get deeply affected by what I call the "vibrations" of other people's emotions.  Whatever the case - I am absolutely gutted and thought that this would be a good time to reiterate a message:

Life is short.

Life is precious.

Tell the people you love that you love them every single day.

Get out there and DO what you feel in your heart.

Smile and laugh and love with hopeless abandon.

Don't proceed with caution, but know that no life is guaranteed.

Pick up that phone and call that friend, relative, loved one you have been meaning to.

Mend that relationship.  Bury that hatchet.  Let go of that grudge.

Everything...everything...can change in the blink of an eye.

Try to live out every day as if it could be your last.

I know we all "know" these things but, unfortunately, we are often reminded to appreciate all of life's gifts in the wake of tragedy.

Sorry for the downer, but right now - everything else seems pretty trivial.

Brittany & Scott

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Creatures of the Deep

We've been getting in some snorkeling the past few days.  The last anchorage where we were even boasted a whole slew of lemon sharks, ranging from three to eight feet in length.  Of course, we didn't know they were there until after we had swam about 300 yards to the beach, when a good Samaritan cruiser dinghyed up to us to let us know and offered us a ride back to our boat, which we happily accepted.  We thought he was telling tall tales at first - but sure enough - after dinner as Scott was collecting water for dishes, a shadowy silhouette that could belong to nothing other than a shark glided effortlessly under the boat and swam around our stern for a while.  I opted not to snorkel in that harbor the rest of our stay - but we did enjoy seeing this little fellow rear his bulbous head when we threw over some scraps leftover from lunch!  I've said it before and I'll say it again - the sea creates some of the most magnificently bizarre and beautiful creatures on this planet.

Brittany & Scott

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lazy Days and General Goodness

What's it like living on a boat, you ask?  Here are some simple experiences - in no particular order:

Dewy deck.  Damp clothes.  Salty bottoms.  Static radios.  Heavy air.  Sticky fingers and tacky skin.  Snorkel gear.  Full sails.  Flapping sails.  Lapping waves.  Stars so plentiful they make you gasp.  Never missing a sundowner.  Simple meals that taste delicious.  Canned goods.  Jack Johnson.  Angling the solar panel.  Turning off the engine.  Coral heads.  Charts, charts, and more charts.  Palm trees. Anxiety, anticipation. Coconuts.  Machetes.  Yum.  Rum.  Sarongs.  Checking the battery meter.  Checking for chafe.  Sleeping on deck. Red wine.  Laughter.  Love.  Sound carrying over water.  Tropical birds - the kind with the wispy long tails.  Calm.  Peace.  Slowing down.  Bob Marley.  Spectacular colors. Checking the engine oils.  New horizons.  Wondering "where to next?". Using just a quarter of the paper towel.  Building wind.  Fronts on the horizon.  Rainbows.  Squalls.  Finding the sunny spot like a cat in a window.  Reading an entire book in a day.  Bernard Moitessier.  Poetry.  Outdoor showers on deck.  Sunbathing topless.  Morning cup of tea.  The smell of suntan lotion.  Thankful every day.  Rust.  Crusty salt.  The flag flapping in the breeze.  Doing dishes in a bucket of saltwater.  Wrinkled fingers.  Stingrays.  Sharks.  Bungee chords.  Making water.  Charging batteries.  Colorful fishing lures.  Fresh fish.  Leaving the boat with no shoes.  Wonderful new friends.

The general feeling that anything...yes, anything is possible.

Brittany & Scott

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Our buddy boat, s/v Earthling in Calabash Bay, Bahamas

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look towards another land.  There is no other land, there is no other life but this.

- Henry David Thoreau

Brittany & Scott

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Slow your Roll!

This is what the swell bridle looks like in practice.  Notice the whitecaps on the horizon?  The ocean is just around that point!
When we left Chicago (as total cruising newbies) we, or at least I, had this vision that all anchorages are protected, cove-like, calm and serene.  For those of you out there who think the same - this is false!  Not all anchorages are created equal!  While there are the rare few that offer all around protection, most do not - and oftentimes you'll find yourself dropping the hook in a place that feels like your bobbing out in the middle of the ocean somewhere.  This is not fun, even in paradise.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Wind direction is the most obvious - as this is what you want to be protected from.  So you find an island or a cay that will block you from that particular direction.  Considering there are hundreds of islands and cays around here, this is not a problem.  The problem, we are learning, is ocean swell.  I don't have the scientific reasoning for this - but basically, it works like this:  the western side of the Bahamas is protected and (relatively) calm, the eastern side is exposed to thousands of miles of ocean and is not.   Huge underwater waves (or swell) can wrap around these islands and make their way to you, causing a seemingly "protected" anchorage to be rolly and very, very uncomfortable.  If the swell is coming from a different direction from the wind (a boat almost always points the direction of the wind at anchor), it can become unbearable.

Such is the case here at Calabash Bay.  Luckily for me, a) I have a teflon enforced stomach and do not get seasick and b) I married someone who sees a problem and finds a solution.  We were sitting down below, pitching and yawing, rolling and bobbing when Scott said, "This is downright miserable".  I had to agree.  He then said (what are becoming his famous words), "When there is a problem, there is a solution..." and up on deck he went.

What he did was make what Bruce Van Sant calls a "swell bridle" and this thing makes me want to marry Scott all over again.  On a boat, being comfortable is in direct proportion to being happy.  Here's how it works:  You attach a line to your anchor chain (or rode) and then bring it back to an aft winch and cleat to secure it.  You then let out more anchor chain (or rode) until your boat is positioned into the swell.  We are now sitting at a very comfortable 90 degrees to the wind, and directly into the swell - a much more pleasant motion.

Here is a diagram in case my words don't make sense:

So instead of up and moving to another spot - just use this method and slow yo' roll!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dark and Stormy

What a stunning contrast!
Contrary to what it might seem, it's not always sunny in paradise.  This morning Scott and I were awaken by a sudden downpour on our boat.  Not only do I love the sound of rain on the deck, but I really love when the fresh water rinses the salt off the boat.  If it wasn't so early in the morning, I would have done what I have in the past, which is don my bikini and start scrubbing!  If you have never boated in salt water, you have no idea how much salt cakes over everything.  After a wet passage, you can see visible grains of sea salt all over the deck, gear, sails...everything.  Nevertheless, this was the little squall that rinsed our baby clean this morning.

There are a few more of these on the way, so we're going to hunker down and have a rain day.  Play some games, bake some bread, read, enjoy the peace and maybe just watch these storms roll in and out.

Like I said, it's not always sunny in paradise, but it is always beautiful!

Brittany & Scott

PS.  One of my new favorite rum drinks is the "Dark-n-Stormy": a mixture of dark rum and ginger beer  - which is a local ginger soda (not beer, as the name implies) that we have fallen in love with.  Mix the rum with the ginger beer (or ginger ale if you can't find the real stuff), serve over ice and you have a true drink of the islands!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bahamian Rhapsody*

If there was one thing I never, ever expected to see in the Bahamas, it would have to be a marching band.  Not that I think about them often, because I don't, but when I think of music in the Bahamas I can firmly say I have never thought of a marching band.  Steel drums?  Yes.  Calypso?  Sure.   But an organized, uniformed and good marching band compiled of the local police force?  Heck no.

They not only exist, but they thrive!  Yesterday, here in Thompson Bay, Long Island was the annual festival for the local police force.  Aptly named "The Steak-Out" (do I need to tell you they served steak?) - they come together once a year to raise money for the police.  For $10 - you can eat a delicious meal of steak, baked potato, salad and macaroni and cheese while enjoying some local "rake-n-scrape", a DJ and - the highlight - the police force marching band.

These guys were good.  Really good.  The crowd was moving, the band was grooving and we had a blast!  Long Island has proven to be one of our favorite Bahamian settlements thus far.  The people are lovely, the island gorgeous, and the locals know how to throw one heck of a party!

Brittany & Scott

* I realize that a marching band does not fall into "rhapsody" music category...but the name was just too good to pass up.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Image borrowed from here.
Obviously, this is something that has been a bit of a problem as of late.  We were going to leave Georgetown, then we stayed, then we were going, then we stayed...and so on.

Today, for example, is another such day.  We, along with our friends on s/v Earthling, were planning on leaving today to head north to Joe's Sound - a 20 mile jaunt along the lee of Long Island.  We woke up this morning and began to ready the boat when we got a call from our friends on the radio telling us they decided to stay for a local festival that is going on today.

Local festival?  That sounds pretty neat.

What to do?

Do we stay, or do we go? (Go ahead, insert the Clash song if you must).

On the one hand is the weather - the winds are light today, 13 to 15 knots, which would be a nice ride.  Plus, we'd be all snuggled into our anchorage for Monday's blow (20-25 knots with gusts to 30) with plenty of time to spare.  Tomorrow is not too bad, but the forecast is for winds of 17 -20 knots which means a slightly wilder ride (granted, it will be in the lee of Long Island, so not as bad as open ocean).  Furthermore, others might have the same idea as us, making the anchorage a little more crowded than usual.  On the other hand is the local festival and staying with our friends - isn't this large part of why were doing what we're doing anyway? To live spontaneously, meet new people and experience new cultures and embrace them?  


We looked at both sides and eventually after a few back and forths, made the call to stay (after we made the call to leave, and stay, and leave, and stay).  To experience a local festival and remain here a day (or two? or three? who knows!) more is not that big of a deal.  Plus, we'll stay with our friends.  We are on island time, right?

This little episode, however, got me thinking about indecision and how unproductive and frustrating it can be.  Other cruisers and readers - please - how would you have handled this situation?  Furthermore, how do you deal with indecision while cruising (or in life!)?  Do you go back and forth after a decision has been made or are you all in, all the time?  We would love to know!

Either way, we'll let you know all about the Bahamian Marching Band!

Brittany & Scott

Friday, March 18, 2011

Race to Long Island

Scott and I participated in a "rally" from Georgetown to Long Island.  What made this rally cool was the fact that they turned it into a race.  Scott, ever the racer at heart, jumped on the idea. 

We haven't gotten the results yet, but we sailed our boat very well and passed up a slew of boats that were a lot bigger.  Guess we couldn't escape our racing backgrounds completely.  We were definitely "in the game" and Scott was a master tactician and skipper.

Either way - racing or not - upwind or down - sailing on this water is nothing short of a pleasure!

Brittany & Scott

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Know What I Love About Islands?

Max's Conch Bar.  About 15 miles (or something) down the one road in Long Island.
I love that a little shack, in the middle of nowhere along a seemingly endless road, can become a the best known bar on the island.  With nothing more than a few 2x4's, some tiki roofing, a few barstools, cold beer, good rum and one hell of a conch salad - you too can be the next big thing in town.

I love it.  So simple.  So basic.  So true.  No fluff here, this is the real deal.  I've been to a hundred bars that have tried to emulate this, and no amount of money can do it.  It's all in the vibe, and you can't buy vibe.

We were walking aimlessly down the road when a local with a pick-up truck stopped and asked us where we were headed.  We told him we had no idea, and asked if anything of interest was along the road.  He said, "Get in" and took us here.  This is how it's done in the islands.

Brittany & Scott

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Discovering Beauty

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must 
     carry it with us or we find it not.

                                                                                - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Allow me to introduce you to my very good friend, fellow blogger and sailor, Lara Neece.  In addition to what I just mentioned, she is also an artist - and an incredibly talented one at that.  The picture above is a picture of one of her 4 x 4 wooden panels.  I also own two of her hand-printed tee shirts.  Though I could try to describe her work, she says it best in her artist's statement: 

My artwork explores the cognizance of the living and human perceptions of and connections to nature. The vitality of life fascinates me, including my own hyper awareness of its existence. Daily I am reminded of the complexity and beauty of nature, and I often seek to relate my perceptions of the world to the perceptions of other living species. In this manner, I continually work to understand and reconnect with the natural world both as an artist and as an individual.  I have found that the process of creating artistic works encourages a heightened sense of awareness and a greater understanding of the world around me.

Please check out her work.  It is inspiring, beautiful and unique.  If you buy a print of hers (or better yet, a panel!) - you will be supporting an artist and a fellow sailor to achieve her dreams and, perhaps, inspire your own.

Thank you Lara, for your company, your friendship and your art.  All are beautiful!


Brittany & Scott

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Power of Sail

A beautiful shot of Rasmus under sail by our friend and artist, Lara Neece from s/v Illusion.
There is truly nothing more magnificent that catching the wind in your sails, kicking your feet up and sailing off to a new horizon, a new place, a new adventure...

Traveling by sailboat is different than any other form of travel I have experienced.  First of all, you are traveling in your home.  Anything you need is there, usually within an arms reach.  Secondly, you are almost entirely self sufficient.  We make our own energy with our solar panels and make our own water from the sea.  We use so little energy and know so specifically what what we need and when.  It's amazing to be able to measure your own carbon footprint.  In addition, you have to work to get where you want to go - really work.  You must trim sails, crank winches and steer your ship through waters calm and rough.  The reward of finally getting to a destination by catching wind is truly something to relish.  Finally, the world opens up to you in a such a way that it never did before.  You become in tune with the rhythm of nature - the ebbing of tides, the clocking of winds, the direction of waves.  Mother Nature is number one out here and to be surrounded by her, with her, know her and depend on her is a truly beautiful gift to experience.

I will be the gladdest thing under the sun, I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one. 
- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Brittany & Scott

Monday, March 14, 2011

All of We Is One

We are still in George Town.  The irony is not lost on me that my last post was about "keeping time" and here we are - flubbing our departure dates.  The truth is - we couldn't say goodbye to our friends just yet.  We have been having a blast with Lara and Brian, Jay and Nicole (yes, they're still out here!) and our new friends, Kelly and George.  We will be heading south with Kelly and George and it's great to know we'll be heading to the Caribbean with the company of another boat and a couple of great people who have become instant friends.

Across from where I sit, there is a local children's festival going on.  The theme is clearly "unity" and the simple fact that we are all part of the human family.  As someone who wholeheartedly believes this - it is a beautiful message to be reminded of and it's wonderful to see it being instilled in such young children.  A little girl, no older than eight just sang a lively song to a Caribbean beat called "All of We Is One".  Her little voice boomed over the speakers and was so precious:

"Your my brother, your my sister - all of we is one.  Your from Jamaica, I'm from Bahamas - all of we is one.  All of we is one family, all of we is one.  All of we is one family, all of we is one."

A great reminder. No matter what color we are, no matter where we are from, we are all after the same things: friendship, community, purpose and love.

Brittany & Scott

Friday, March 11, 2011

Keeping Time

Image was found here.
On land, I never wore a watch.  Even when running or training for triathlon, I relied on Scott to tell me my splits or I just "felt" it.  I've never been a watch person.

Until now.  Which is really ironic seen as how we are now on something called "island time".  "Island time" is, essentially, the absence of time or (in the best case) "t" plus two hours.  That's just how we roll these days.

Despite this, I find myself looking at my watch half a dozen times a day and I can even pony up the time promptly when someone asks "What time is it?".  Something I could never do before.  I'm even beginning to get a watch tan line (something I am desperately trying to avoid by moving it up and down my wrist and wearing the face on the underside of my arm).

So, why the watch?

A wrist watch or good time keeping device is considered "essential" sailing gear by most.  You'd be surprised to know how many "schedules" we must adhere to.  Weather repots at 'x' hour, cruiser's nets at 'y' hour, a secondary weather report at 'z' hour, a scheduled radio call at another hour.  Then, when offshore, you must adhere to a strict watch schedule of three hours on and three hours off (or something similar).  In addition, we need to pay attention to how long we are running our water maker, how long we run the engine (although this one does have an anemometer), and how long I'm cooking in the pressure cooker.  None of this can be done without a time piece of some sort.

Finally, an accurate time piece is critical should we ever need to navigate without electronics and with our sextant (a dying art known as celestial navigation).  Taking a "site" requires the observer to know the time - exactly - down to the second.  An error of one second will put your position off by a quarter mile.  Pretty gnarly.

And so I wear a watch.  A fact I begrudge just a tad.  After all, didn't I kiss the "real world" goodbye when I stepped onto a boat and sailed into the sunset?

Apparently, even paradise has schedules!

Brittany & Scott

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Time to Move On

Into the great wide open!  We are headed out there.  Yes, I am feeling very Tom Petty today.
It's time to move on, time to get goin'...
What lies ahead I have no way of knowin'...
But under my feet, baby, the grass is growin'...
It's time to move on, time to get goin'...

That Tom Petty song has been on repeat in my head since we got up this morning and heard the weather forecast for tomorrow and realized we have our weather window to continue on.  We have decided that we are going to try to shoot for arriving in the Virgin Islands sometime in April, so we need to keep moving.  This is a big step, and marks the beginning of a new chapter for us.  For one, we are parting ways with most of our friends which is really sad, but we've had a good run and know in our hearts that this isn't goodbye - just goodbye, for now!   In addition, we are now heading out into the big blue ocean and will be doing longer passages (including many over night) via the "thorny path". (dun dun dun)

The "thorny path" is the name given to the windward route from the Bahamas to the Virgin Islands. It is called "thorny" because, in a word, it is (mostly) a very uncomfortable ride. The trade winds and current are against you, forcing you to have to beat into them head on, and safe harbors become fewer and farther between. I sought the advice of one experienced sailor I met through Cruisers Forum and he had this to say: "You can make it to the VI's by April if you are willing to grit your teeth, hang on for dear life and have a good engine and lots of diesel. When you do get to the Virgins, you will have earned the mythical badge of honor for now being real "ocean cruisers". You took your lickin's and kept on tickin'." Anyone fancy a cruise?

Either way, we are so excited and so ready for this next chapter. New places, new faces and new adventures lie ahead and we are ready to meet them all!


Brittany & Scott

PS.  Yes, we do have Bruce Van Sant's book "The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South" which, if we listen to him, promises to guide us via the "Thornless Path".  We plan to heed his advice as best we can.  Either way, we're preparing ourselves and our boat for a wild ride!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

When Anchors Drag

Beautiful to look at, but these rocks do not bode well for fiberglass!
Nothing quite gets your heart thumping and your blood pumping like popping up the companionway hatch at 11pm in the pitch black to check that all is well and see a boat not 15 feet from you that wasn't there before.

This is what happened to us last night.

We had just finished a wonderful dinner with friends aboard Rasmus* and were tucking into bed when Scott decided to check the scene outside.  Thank god he did because all of a sudden he yells, "Where's the air horn?!  Where's the air horn?!!"  Panicked out of my doze, I jump out of bed and yell, "Under the stairs!" and within three seconds Scott gives it three long (very loud) blows.  Adrenaline was racing.

I look up and sure enough, there is a very large sailboat 15 feet off our port beam, dragging anchor and headed to shore.

The poor captain (probably still disoriented from being woken so suddenly) hops on the bow and yells, "Is it you or me?"

It was him.  We had heard about this happening, but couldn't believe that it was actually happening to us at that moment.  It was all a bit surreal.

Dragging at anchor is something that is (unfortunately) pretty common.  We have seen several wrecks of boats that ended up on the rocks - a total loss - all because of a poorly set anchor.  An alarming amount of boats are either under anchored, under scoped or both.  This is precisely why Scott and I invested in an anchor that is twice as heavy as is "recommended" and have 275 feet of all chain 5/16 BBB rode.  In addition, we have two smaller anchors that we use (mostly) as anchor weights**.  If the forecast calls for winds 20 knots or more, we throw out one of our smaller anchors on the same rode, essentially doubling our holding power.  This method is known as "tandem anchoring" and you can read more about it here.

The boat got sorted out and re-anchored and the gentleman even came by this morning to thank us, adding, "I am indebted to you!"  We were all lucky last night and the bottom line is that it could happen to any of us in any circumstance, so looking out for each other is what we do.

After last night though, boy oh boy were we happy we bought a 40lb secondary anchor yesterday!

*We met another boat from Chicago!  With young cruisers on it!  And they are headed the same way we are!  Check 'em out on their blog!
** For those who are curious, our ground tackle is as follows:  Primary anchor:  55lb Delta, Secondary anchor: 40 lb Danforth.  In addition we have a 25lb CQR and a 15lb Fluke as well as a little dinghy anchor.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Dangers of Expectations

One thing you can expect!  The sun will always set.  Pic of our friends on s/v Illusion 
I wish we didn't lose our dinghy motor.  I really do.  If we hadn't, we would be in Long Island (Bahamas, not New York) with our friends, enjoying the peaceful calm of a (semi) private anchorage.

But we did lose our dinghy motor.  And we are not in Long Island.

Which got me to thinking about expectations.  I have always, always said that expectations are dangerous.  If they are too high - you risk being disappointed...if they are too low, you risk short selling yourself...if they are wrong, you find yourself plain old dissatisfied.  I know you can all relate.  This is not profound, but I do want to share because, well, that's what I do here...

We unexpectedly lost our dinghy motor, expected our friends' sailing dinghy would work out (which sadly, it didn't).  We bought a new (to us) motor which (we now have learned) is going to take more work than we expected and, in turn, cost more in mechanic fees than expected. We expected to depart with our friends on Panacea.  We expected to leave the day before yesterday. Expected, expected.

I don't want anyone to feel "bad" for us - I am not looking for pity.   I mean, we are in the Bahamas on a boat for heaven's sake!  Like I mentioned yesterday, it could be worse (way worse!) and we are by no means in dire straits.  Life is good!  But I am re-learning an important lesson that I have learned over and over again in all of my travels (lessons are so much more cut and dry when I travel) - and one that I feel is important to reiterate and share - and that is to be very careful of expectations.  They should be treated gently and considered frequently; " Is this realistic?  Is this fair?  Is this too much? Does this sound too good to be true?"

We can all cross check our expectations.  Do we expect too much from our friends, our partners, our siblings, our companies, our schools, our spouses, our parents, our children, our teachers, our lives (or, as in our case, our used engine)?  Or worse, do we not expect enough? Are we creating our own dissatisfaction, limitations or unhappiness with our own expectations?
Dreaming is one thing, and working towards the dream is one thing, but working with expectations in mind is very self-defeating.    Michael Landon

Monday, March 07, 2011

Stuck in Paradise?

The "ocean" side of where we are.  You'd never know there were five hundred boats on the other side!
I know, I know....poor me. I don't mean to complain - because, really - we are stuck in the Bahamas, of all places and let's face it, there are certainly worse places to be. But no matter what - when you want to move and cannot (and it is out of your control), it's just sort of a bummer.

Our dinghy saga continues, and - as with most lost and found stories - there is good news and bad news. The good news is, our dinghy was found. Our little Johnson 2HP motor was found as well, just at the bottom of the ocean and full (and I mean FULL) of sand. The mechanic told us it was a wash.  That's the bad news...

So the hunt for a new dinghy began...

At first, we were going to buy our good friends' sailing dinghy. Scott has wanted one forever and we were really excited about it. Unfortunately, when we tried the dinghy on the deck, it was too big. We were bummed. Really bummed. So the search continued...

We then heard on the "net" (the cruising community's form of "Good Morning America" here; it's on the VHF every day around 8am) that someone had a dinghy with an outboard they wanted to get rid of. We checked it out and it looked promising. The dinghy was in better shape than ours, and there was even a 5hp motor - which was better than nothing, right?


The engine isn't working exactly right.  We decided to buy it anyway (the price was a steal) - but now we sit and wait to hear of it's fate from the mechanic.  Time is ticking by as we sit here with fingers crossed.  Granted, I am sipping on a cold Kalik Beer, so again...could be worse...

Being without a functioning dinghy has us feeling sort of stranded.  We can't just zip to the beach or zip to town or zip to a snorkel spot.  Instead we hitch rides (thanks to all our friends who have helped us out!) or we just chill on the boat.  And wait.  It has us feeling slightly helpless.

And finally, while George Town has been great for the past week, we are ready to leave.  But we can't, because the next place where we will find all the resources we can find here is weeks away.  If anything is going to get fixed or bought or found, it will most likely happen here.

And such is the story how we have completely fallen right into the George Town cliche of "just another couple of cruisers who got 'stuck' here".  This is not a title we were striving for...

Stay tuned!  We should hear about the motor in another hour or so...

Brittany & Scott

Saturday, March 05, 2011

It's a Small World, After All

Found a single flower among all this greenery!
What do you think the odds are that two sets of sisters - one set raised in the south, one set raised in the north - would meet each other on opposite ends of the globe, on two separate occasions?  Two sisters would meet in Tanzania, East Africa - the other two would meet (about 5 years later) in Eluthera, Bahamas.  These separate meetings would occur totally independent and unbeknownst to each other - until the two sisters who hadn't met yet - figure it out at a dinner party. Well, at last night's dinner party - this is what was discovered.  Confused yet?!

I lived in Tanzania for a few years, and made the acquaintance of Stephanie.  We both moved on and kept in touch loosely via email/Internet.  Fast forward five or so years and my sister, Chelsea, who was living and working in the Bahamas, made the acquaintance of Catherine.  Fast forward another year or so and Stephanie gets wind that I am headed to the Bahamas, and writes me that I have to contact her sister (Catherine), who lives in Georgetown.  Which I do.  We hit it off instantly and she invites us and our friends to a dinner at her and her boyfriend, Bob's, beautiful island home here* and that is when we realized it:  she knows my sister.

To put it simply:  Stephanie and I are friends from Africa.  Chelsea and Catherine are friends from the Bahamas.  And none of us realized this until last night.

What a small world.

I could go on and on about instances like this that have occurred since we left.  It seems the more we explore this world, the smaller it becomes.  It's incredible and just makes me shake my head in awe and, in the words of Louis Armstrong, "I think to myself, what a wonderful world".

Brittany & Scott

* I wish I took photos, because this home is of the 'dream home' variety.  Completely off the grid - with rain catchers and solar panels - beautiful, open and airy - with a huge (almost wraparound) porch with a fire pit.  We had a wonderful time and some great conversations with great people and we are looking forward to heading to Georgetown to hear some local "rake and scrape" with them tonight!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Bye, Bye Little Dinghy

Nat and Scott put-putting along in better dingy days.
Well, we've done it.  We became "those" people the other night.  We lost our dinghy*.

Because it had been causing us so many troubles as of late, we had actually joked about letting it go, or perhaps just leaving it on the beach.  All jokes, mind you - we never really intended to do either.  But that just goes to show that what you put out into the Universe, you might just get.  Be careful what you wish for folks, because our dinghy is now gone.  I (and yes, I will take full responsibility for this) did not tie the boat up properly when we returned back to the boat the other night.  It was very late and very dark.  The wind was howling and we were scrambling to get on deck.  I thought I had tied a bowline (I mean, I have literally been tying bowlines since I was SIX for god's sake) but apparently I did not.  The next morning I woke up to Scott (who doesn't swear much), say a loud, "Oh s*@!".  And then he told me what happened.

And I laughed.  I actually laughed.  Really hard.  Oh the irony!  I mean, what else could I do?  Scott stood at the back of our boat and said with a sigh of defeat, "It could be anywhere out there."  I laughed harder still.

So, at the moment, we are dinghy-less.  Here in the cruiser's world this is like being without the family car.  We now rely on our friends to pick us up and take us around - but hey, that's what friends are for, right?

We haven't given up all hope that we'll find it...but I think we both secretly hope not too, because a new dinghy is in our future and there is even a deal in the works to snag the coolest dinghy of stay tuned!

Brittany & Scott

*For those of you that don't know, a dinghy is a little boat that we use to get to and fro shore.  It was a little inflatable with a cute little 2hp motor that resembled a Star Wars Storm Trooper and was actually the family dingy and outboard from when I was a child (do the math:  30 years old).  RIP.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Summer Camp for Cruisers?!

This is only ONE side of the harbor!
Over 3000 nautical miles traveled and we have made it (almost) to the bottom of the Exumas Island chain otherwise known as George Town. Touted as a "summer camp for cruisers" we are not entirely sure what to make of this place. There are, literally, hundreds of boats here. It is a virtual city of cruisers and at night, all the mast head lights combine to make a sort of skyline. It's insane. Contrary to what I thought prior to leaving on this trip, I am finding that I prefer the more secluded, more private, more local establishments. I like waking up in an anchorage and only seeing our group of favorite place thus far was the remote, uninhabited little island of Shroud Cay, where only us and our friends were for days.

All you need to do is tune in to the "net" at 8:10 am and you get the scoop; organized sports on the beach, religious sermons, various lessons from yoga to Spanish, parties (well, lets face it - I do love a good party), even a dog parade (yes, there was actually a dog parade today) - all lead by cruisers, for cruisers. The "day camp" moniker - though I thought would be an exaggeration - seems to be spot on. There are cruisers who spend the entire season here which leads to the other nickname: Chicken Harbor. Apparently boats like us pile up down here  - and while some have great expectations to cruise to far off places - many just stay put, afraid to leave the relative ease, familiarity and comfort of the Bahamas. We will be here for at least a few days to weather out a front that is pushing through, but we are eager to make our way further south next week.

Something tells me we'll enjoy George Town for a spell and maybe just maybe we'll take part in a game of cruiser's volley ball, but it might be just the push we need to move on.


Brittany & Scott

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Does Land Life Make You Complacent?

The other night, while Scott and I were sipping a delicious Pinot Noir on deck, under the stars - I had a little bit of an epiphany.  Earlier that day I had made tomato-basil soup from scratch (and sans recipe!) and that night, I thought to myself, "I would never, ever had made soup from scratch when I was on land".  In fact, on land - I was loathe to cook anything.  For one, I was too busy and just didn't have the time and on the other hand, I didn't need to make things from scratch.  Convenience, when it comes to food, is at it's apex in the USA.  I always told myself I couldn't cook - when the reality was simply that I didn't.  I thought of all the other things we don't do because we don't have to, like walking.  I drove all over the place in Chicago - not necessarily because I had to - but because I could.  I would never have walked four miles to a grocery store and back - it would have been so much easier to take the car.  Now, we don't even bat an eye at a two mile jaunt to go get supplies because it's simply what we have to do.  There is no running out to get this or that.  It not that easy.

Now, instead of television (which we never watched much of to begin with), we read.  Instead of long, hot showers, we take efficient, quick showers off the back of the boat.  Instead of a chore taking one hour, it now takes four. Instead of going to the grocery store with a list, we go to the grocery store and see if they have what we want.  It's all about working with what is at hand and making do.  The strange thing is that this extra energy we put into our lives now makes it all so much more rewarding.  It's the little things we appreciate now.  Funny how it seems the less you have, the less you want...and need.

I don't mean to say that living on land makes you complacent - but if you are someone like me, it just might.  It's so much easier to take the path of least resistance; so much easier to make choices based on convenience rather than need.  When your life is ruled by schedules and deadlines I think it is almost impossible not to.  Out here, there's little to none of that.  The other day our little dingy motor put-putted out so we are forced to row wherever we want to go, taking us five times as long to get from A to B.  Neither of us got angry at this fact, we just shrugged and said, "Guess we're rowing".  Life on the sea takes a little more effort, a little more thought and a lot more work.  There are many risks and many rewards.  But we take it in stride.  Living in paradise doesn't come for free, but it is well worth the price.

Brittany & Scott
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