Ready, Set, …Wait

We’ve been cooling our heels in Emerald Bay Marina, which is adjacent to the site of the ill-fated Fyre Festival. I went for a run this morning to go view the festival site, which is now the beginnings of a neighborhood development. As someone who has deep interest in both project management and events, the Netflix and Hulu documentaries about Fyre gave me cold shivers.

We are ready to sail Gratitude to Turks and Caicos, which should take five or six days, but there has been this little problem of the wind. It’s blowing strong and from an undesirable direction. While we are waiting to set sail, I wanted to write about the process we go through before we undertaking a passage.

Step 1 – Passage Planning. There are whole books written about the passage from Florida to Grenada, which is the big picture of what we are undertaking. It’s commonly known as the Thorny Path. It’s a more technical and complicated route for us, and we have both put a lot of research into this. My general approach is to research what others have done and to review routes, depth charts, and wind conditions and then pick our intended anchorages. I pay particular attention to the next leg or two of the trip and pore over charts and depths and sometimes factor in tides.

The screen shot below is from Active Captain, which is a great tool for us when we have internet access. It’s sort of a Google Maps and Yelp mashup for reviewing routes, anchorages, marinas, and more. We use this for high-level planning and then our on-board chart plotter for the more detailed navigation.

One of the charting tools we use for passage planning

Step 2 – Meal Planning. We are anticipating 18 meals (3/day) at sea, snacks, with some contingency rations in case we are delayed. Obviously, I hope we catch a fish or three along the way. Coming up with that many meal plans in advance takes a bit of work. Of course, this is small compared to what some people do when they are on a major crossing.

Karen, doing meal planning for the trip

Step 3 – Provisioning. We used the weather delay to rent a car and go into George Town. The only real complicating factor here is that they drive on the left side of the road in the Bahamas, with the steering wheel on the right. It takes some time to adjust. We bought groceries, went to several marine hardware stores, and filled our propane tank. In the process of this, we discovered there was a diesel shortage in this part of the Bahamas, and to make matters worse, some guy just took 4,000 gallons of diesel for his mega yacht, so we were left with a decision as to whether to proceed with our tanks half full or wait five days for more fuel to arrive. They had a little bit left that they were carefully rationing out, but Karen saved the day by sweet-talking the dock master out of 100 gallons, which was enough to top off our tanks.

Step 4 – Making Ready. This involves last-minute checks, securing everything that could get knocked over or fall over, moving things from outside to inside as needed, tightly securing the dinghy, and closing all hatches and vents. With each pass you make, you tend to find “one more thing” that needs doing.

Step 5 – Not So Fast There! Weather really matters when you’re on the sea. I still tend to think about weather the way an airplane pilot would, but being on a sailboat is an altogether different undertaking. In a plane, oftentimes you can change altitude if things get rough. That is not a desirable option for a sailboat. And even relatively slow planes can probably make about 60 mph over the ground, so you can outrun or dodge a lot of bad weather. Sailboats like Gratitude are happy to make nine mph, so you could easily get caught in some nasty stuff if you weren’t careful.

While we were planning our departure and trying to get fuel, our weather window collapsed. The winds shifted direction and increased, and the seas got very stirred up. We had to stay put. The winds have been blowing hard for days now, and the next possible weather window looks like Monday (Memorial Day) or maybe Tuesday. One thing we have learned to embrace, however, is that waiting is part of the journey when you’re sailing.

Speaking of weather, we use a couple of sources for weather forecasts and information. We subscribe to Windy (below) to show predictions for wind, seas, tides, and more, and we also subscribe to a weather forecasting service where a meteorologist, Chris Parker, emails us a marine-specific forecast for our area each day. He focuses on the Caribbean, Bahamas, and the East Coast of the US, and most sailers we meet are very familiar with his forecast for the day.

Windy shows wind and current data and more

Speaking of other sailers, when you talk about making a trip like this, something funny happens. We spent a few weeks in Chicken Harbor (AKA George Town) a few miles south of here, and there you will find no shortage of opinions about this passage. Most of those opinions are negative. In fact, we were advised early on by one seasoned sailor to avoid George Town altogether, since hundreds of boats wind up there each year and decide to go no further (hence the nickname Chicken Harbor). The reason is that they talk each other out of going anywhere. The concern is that once you leave the harbor, the seas are rougher, the winds are stronger, and you have to venture from the protection of the Exuma Sound into the more open Atlantic Ocean. There is no question that it is a more demanding journey. Hopefully, we will soon have this leg of the passage behind us.

On the Awesomeness of My Mom

Mother’s Day was last weekend, and I was home to celebrate it as both a mom and a daughter. (Andy and I came home for various events: work for him, music festivals for me.) But my heart was already focused on my mom before the official holiday, because she came to see us on Gratitude right after Dan and Meaghan left and right before we jetted home.

My mom is a quiet, reserved person. She is friendly, and kind, and a person of deep faith, but she is never in your face about it. She and my dad did not do a lot of traveling when my siblings and I were young, but after we were grown they began to branch out. Sadly, my dad got sick (dementia caused by poorly-controlled diabetes) before his death, so for several years, when my mom was at an age where she could have been out enjoying her good health, she was home all day, every day, taking care of her husband of 48 years. Her world really shrank, through no fault of her own. I never heard her complain about it, but I know it was a loss she felt deeply – well before my dad’s passing.

Now my mom is almost 80, and while still in good health, not in a position to do a lot of traveling. So when Andy and I announced to our families that we would be moving onto a boat for a year (or two, according to Andy!), I felt tentative about inviting her to visit us. She was never a water-sports kind of gal, or a sun-worshipper, or a boater. She’s more of a Jedi homemaker, very skilled in the kitchen and the garden and with a sewing machine and knitting needles. (She made a lot of our clothes, when we were kids.) Nevertheless, I asked her: What would you think about coming down to stay with us on the boat?

Her answer: “I think that would be an adventure!”

I just love her.

The Awesome Kathy Hutson in Little Exuma

So for Christmas we gave her the flight, and in April she flew down to George Town. We moved Gratitude to a marina, which was further from town but let us position the boat at a dock, so she would not have to bounce around in a dinghy to get to shore.

For her part, Mom took an Uber to the airport. She had never flown alone before, much less used Uber, but she told me later, enthusiastically, “Uber is the way to go!” Once in George Town, she found a cab and had them bring her to our marina. We would have gone to meet her, but realized the day before her visit that we were almost out of time to extend our permission to be in the Bahamas, so we spent our morning sitting in the immigration office. Then she got directions to our slip and took a 10-minute nap in the cockpit while waiting for our return. That’s how my mom rolls.

And how my mom rolls made her visit just delightful! We didn’t have ideal weather – lots of rain – so we spent a good bit of time hanging out on Gratitude, reading and talking and watching fish swim under the docks. But we did have one good morning of sailing, and she loved it. Never felt seasick. We ate at a French-Bahamian restaurant and she tried conch fritters. And on our last day, defying the rain, we rented a car and drove all over the island. We went to the Straw Market (so much better in George Town than in Nassau!) and the grocery store, picking up an impromptu picnic to snack on. We drove to Little Exuma, down a bumpy dirt road to the Tropic of Cancer beach. She found the coolest piece of coral washed up on the beach – it looked like a miniature tree. We visited Santanna’s for BBQ ribs and Mom’s Bakery for pineapple rum cake. Then we drove back to the marina and put our feet up and spent the rest of the day reading.

Tropic of Cancer beach, Little Exuma. One of the last photos of my long hair! New ‘do photos soon….
The National Family Regatta was in George Town the same weekend as my Mom
Three Sisters rocks off Great Exuma – notable to Mom because she has three daughters
Tropic of Cancer beach lies on… you know….

It was a laid-back visit, but just right for my mom. And true to her nature, even on the boat her favorite thing was kitchen-themed: She loved my Ninja Foodi.

It pressure cooks! It crisps! It bakes, boils, slow-cooks, dehydrates, and steams! It does everything but the grocery shopping, and is PERFECT for a boat galley.

I told you my mother was a master in the kitchen. And she loves gadgets – LOVES them, I tell you. Makes her own yogurt! So in our downtime, Mom spent several hours reading through my Foodi cookbook, asking me questions, and scheming how she could get a Foodi of her own. I told her it would make a great birthday present from her kids, in October… to which she replied, “I’m not waiting that long!” She already owns a sous vide cooker, but she was drawn to the Foodi’s air-frying and pressure cooking capabilities. And when I saw her for Mother’s Day, she proudly led me into her kitchen and showed me her own Foodi. Which she had used already to cook some of our dinner that night.

Mom, you are both predictable and surprising, all the time. And 100 percent awesome.

Great Exuma Adventures, Part I

We have spent the last three weeks either anchored or docked in Great Exuma, Bahamas. This is the longest time we’ve spent in one location on the boat, if you don’t count Florida. (Maybe we should, but I don’t because so much of our time there was spent on the dock, working on the boat.) These last three weeks we’ve explored land and sea, met new people, gone to church on the beach, and hosted friends and family. So there’s a lot to catch up on! Let’s get started.

You’ve already read some about our first week in George Town (capital of Great Exuma). I mentioned Starfish Beach, so will share a photo from there. Apparently there used to be a lot of starfish there, hence the name; we only found one, but he was big! Maybe he muscled all the rest out.

Don’t worry – no starfish were harmed in the taking of this photo

Easter Sunday was notable for two reasons. One, we worshipped at Beach Church. Beach Church is a George Town cruisers’ tradition – it’s been going on seasonally for many years, roughly November though Easter. All are invited, and it’s a simple yet meaningful time of worship, fellowship, singing, prayer, and message. There’s a choir (you can join by showing up 30 minutes early to practice the songs), elders, and a statement of faith. We loved it. It must have been established in the 70’s, because we sang a mix of newer songs (10,000 Reasons) and much older (Pass It On). And every service ends with all attendees standing in a circle singing The Lord’s Prayer. The whole experience reminded me of my high school Baptist youth group days.

The other reason Easter stood out was that our friends Dan and Meaghan came to see us! I had a leg of lamb in the freezer, which was perfect for our Easter dinner, but before we sat down to eat Meaghan was eager to hit the water. So we all donned our snorkel gear, broke out the paddle boards, and jumped off the boat. I’d been watching local boats bring visitors to snorkel maybe 50 yards off our bow, so we swam over to see what we could find. It was a reef! Between Gratitude and the beach, with some lovely coral and friendly fish. A great start to our visit.

The next day we took Dan and Meaghan out for a sail. We had a nice wind and relatively calm seas, and we didn’t have to point the boat toward any particular destination. Ideal for sailing! We weighed anchor and left the harbor for half the day. What made our time especially sweet to me was Meaghan’s genuine curiosity and interest in all the aspects of sailing – anchoring, hoisting the main, unfurling the jib, reading the wind, trimming the sails, navigating, maneuvering. It was a real pleasure to introduce our friends to the pleasures of sailing. We even got to turn off the engines and use only wind power for the majority of our trip.

Dan and Meaghan were AWESOME boat guests! They love the water!

One sobering thing about our sail was passing by a cut between two small cays where another sailboat had wrecked just the night before. The boat was saved from total loss by a local rescue crew made up of volunteers. They were a French catamaran with outdated charts that showed a clear passage where there were CLEARLY, VISIBLY shallow depths and sharp reefs. If they had arrived in daylight, they probably would have been fine, but they did not and simply trusted the chart. It was a good lesson for us. Sometimes you just can’t avoid arriving in a new place at nighttime, but we make every effort to avoid it. This boat was fortunate – they were damaged, but because of the quick rescue response the damage was not beyond repair.

Our time with Dan and Meaghan also included diving with Dive Exuma. We were scheduled to visit a tugboat wreck and Stingray Reef, but were told when we arrived that choppy seas might prevent us from visiting the reef. So we set off knowing that it would be a bumpy ride. Turns out that didn’t bother me – until we hit the water. We were wearing new gear, and the waves were high and fast, and I hadn’t been diving since last summer. All I can say is that I panicked! Everything I knew about descending safely just left my brain, and I got scared. Andy and Dan were ahead of me, already under the water, so I swam back to the boat. At first I thought maybe I could get some help from the dive master, but by the time I reached the boat I was hyperventilating and in no shape to make a calm descent.

So I sat out the wreck dive. It was disappointing, but definitely the right decision. Andy worried about me the whole time he was below, which made me sad, but I was glad he and Dan got to dive together. And as we left the wreck site, I began to think about when I could schedule another dive, soon – in the spirit of getting back into the water quickly so that my fears did not spiral out of control. I love diving, and I would not want to let one incident rob me of something I really enjoy. Fortunately, the dive master made a judgment call that the seas had calmed enough for us to do the second dive. This time, I kept my head and made it down to the reef just fine. We saw some nice coral and fish, but the real value to me was the chance to remember that diving is fun, not scary, and I have what it takes to enjoy it.

We dubbed this “Redemption Dive.” Thanks to Dan T for the photo.
One of the many rewards of scuba – seeing a whole new world underwater

The next day we said goodbye to Dan and Meaghan, which made me sad but not despondent. Our time on the water is definitely richer with friends, but I also knew that my mom would be aboard in just a couple of days, so that made our parting a little easier. I’ll share all about Mom’s visit in the next post.