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.

Greetings from George Town!

Greetings from George Town, Great Exuma, renowned cruisers’ playground! The last we wrote, we were slowly making our way south through the Exumas, stopping at small settlements and unpopulated cays to see wildlife and see how people live, island-style. Along the way we enjoyed a visit from Anne and meeting up with new friends Steve and Janny, hosting them for dinner one night.

After that, we anchored for a few days at Black Point, which is a small town with an excellent laundry and a few authentically Bahamian restaurants. We enjoyed the food – conch! Lots of conch! But also lots of BBQ ribs, surprisingly. One of our meals was sitting at little desks at the elementary school, eating a rib plate with homemade sides as part of a fundraiser for the school. Good food and a good cause!

How to get around Black Point

The nicest encounter we had was with a couple we met at the laundromat, Charlie and Michelle from Rascal. They’ve been at this cruising thing for a few years now, and were patient in answering a lot of our questions. They were particularly helpful in calming me down about our passage to George Town. Here’s why:

At that point in our travels, we had been working our way south along the western coast of the Exuma Cays. The western side is the shallow Exuma Bank, where the majority of the major anchorages are, and snorkeling, and things to see and do. But George Town – the largest settlement in the Exumas – is on the eastern side of Great Exuma, so to get there from the west you have to traverse a “cut” between cays. And those cuts are the subject of much discussion in guidebooks and blogs about the Bahamas. They can be tricky – you are advised to plan your cut carefully, so that you don’t have tides, currents, and winds working against you to create adversely high seas.

So, while my anxiety level has been steadily improving/abating, I was starting to get worked up about getting through the necessary cut to continue our journey. I think it was providential that we met Charlie and Michelle when we did. When I told them our tentative plan and my fears about it, they IMMEDIATELY reassured me that making one of those cuts was not a high-risk event, unless there are strong winds, which were NOT in our forecast for several days. They told us a few anecdotes about the cuts they had made over the years and what we could realistically expect. And they agreed with us about the plan we’d made – felt that we did, indeed, have favorable weather predicted the next day to make our cut without incident.

Let me tell you, this was a HUGE relief to me, and an answer to prayer. I was so grateful to have experienced sailors speaking into my fears and bringing balance to my thoughts. More than that, I felt seen and heard by God, who knows my heart and my needs, and brought this couple into our lives at the right time. And the next morning, I woke up aware of my need of Him, and with both the desire and the ability to trust Him for the day. So we pulled up anchor, in light wind, and sailed down to Farmer’s Cut, where the seas were mostly calm at slack tide, and about 30 minutes after we entered the cut, we arrived on the east coast of the Exumas with a straight shot down to George Town ahead.

It took about another 7 hours to get here, but my head and heart were in a good place, able to release the things outside of my control (like, will we find a good place to anchor?) and to “abide” in Him. We even had a favorable wind angle to do some sailing without the motors – which makes Andy so happy! And upon arriving in Elizabeth Harbor, outside George Town, we found that there were maybe 200 boats already here – but always room for one more. (Sometimes, we hear, there are over 500 here!) We anchored near a small beach off of Stocking Island, across from town, and settled in.

Distances from Chat-n-Chill on Stocking Island. Has Greenville, SC!

One great thing about George Town is a daily radio broadcast called Cruisers’ Net. Every morning at 8 a.m., you can tune your VHF radio to channel 72 and hear amazingly helpful information: announcements from local businesses, opportunities to meet other cruisers at Pilates or trivia night, where to take your trash or find help with a repair or catch a ride to the airport. It has helped us meet a few new people, and given us some guidance and structure in getting used to a new location. This, too, has been a great blessing. We’re still hoping and waiting to make some friends we can journey with – but with hope that it may happen soon.

…and Andy on the path to the incredible, deserted Ocean Beach on Stocking Island.

In the meantime, we are happy that we’ll have our friends Dan and Meaghan join us for a few days starting Easter Sunday. And after that, my mom will also come for a visit. We’ll move to a marina, with a dock, before she arrives – I’m not going to ask my almost-80-year-old mom to ride in a dinghy! But I am really looking forward to these visits, and spending some time getting to know George Town so that we can share it with our loved ones. Up next, hopefully – a visit to Starfish Beach. We’ll let you know what we find.

We interrupt our usual posts…

This is going to be a different kind of post than the previous ones, a more personal one with spiritual content. Those of you who are more interested in Gratitude’s adventures themselves than the psycho-spiritual effects of them may want to skip ahead to the next post, which will feature pigs! And snorkeling! But this one seems necessary for me to write, regardless of how widely it’s read or received. So move along, if this is not your thing; if it is, let’s dive in to the murky depths of my soul!

When Andy and I first began to dream about creating a new life aboard a sailboat, we knew that we didn’t know everything to expect. We did a lot of research and reading; we took instruction on a live-aboard cruise for a couple of weeks; we talked to a lot of people who had done this before us. But we knew that there would be no way to truly know what we were getting into except to Just. Do. It. That’s always the way it is with risky ventures – you can plan and prepare and calculate the risks, but there are always going to be unknowns that you just have to deal with when they appear. It’s part of the adventure.

We’ve shared some of those unknowns with you as we’ve experienced them: waiting on weather to sail; dinghy drama; overheating engines and broken impellers and blown fuses; getting out of the path of approaching storms. And I’ve hinted at how those things have been tough for me. But the fuller truth is, after a while, the cumulative effect has been downright disruptive. At first, these stressful events would cause a temporary unpleasant adrenaline rush, until we figured out a solution to the problem. Then the stress reaction would subside, sometimes with the help of a glass of wine and a good night’s sleep. And we’d wake up ready for the next day’s challenges. That’s still pretty much how it works for Andy.

But about 2-3 weeks ago, I began to struggle with ongoing anxiety. I would wake up in the middle of the night worried about something that had happened that day, or that might happen tomorrow. Or I’d begin my morning with hypervigilance, dreading the day, for no good reason, with sweaty palms and a racing heart. I’d pray, and journal, and read the Psalms, and ask God for help. But for reasons unclear to me, these things would provide only minimal, usually temporary relief.

I reached out to a few trusted friends and spiritual advisors. I asked them for prayer, and any words of wisdom or comfort they might hear from the Lord for me. This proved to be invaluable – I began to gain some perspective on what was happening to me, and possible theories on why. As someone who does not often struggle with high anxiety in my normal, land-life, I desperately needed some basic understanding of what can trigger it and how to cope with it.

So on my last trip home, I visited my doctor and met with my counselor and my pastor. Each had good strategies for me to try, and I have put their suggestions into effect. The result has been positive; my stress levels are no longer on constant high-alert, and I am sleeping better, and when things go wrong (as they will keep doing) I am able to focus, with Andy, on the problem and help solve it. This is major progress, for which I am grateful.

But the anxiety is not totally gone. It has subsided to manageability, but it has not disappeared. So I am now in a phase of soul-searching, asking God what it is He wants to show me about Himself, and about me, in this experience. As one of my favorite authors, Father Richard Rohr, says, “Invariably when something upsets you, and you have a strong emotional reaction out of proportion to the moment, your shadow self has just been exposed.”

Much of my professional and personal work over the last 10 years has been around identifying and facing my false self, what Rohr calls the “shadow self.” I do it because it has brought me a lot of freedom and a closer relationship with Christ. And I love helping others who want to do the same. My false self is all the “good” I want to believe is true about me, and I want others to believe, while minimizing or justifying whatever is negative or sinful. This false self is a real hindrance to spiritual growth and to true, loving intimate relationship with others and God.

One thing I’ve known for a while is that I think of myself as a calm person. I have the desire and the training to be a good listener, a calming influence, a steady companion through emotional challenges. I think these are a part of my True Self. Yet here I am, living on a boat in the Bahamas, in the grip of varying intensities of fear and anxiety. Another facet of my self-deception has been brought into the light; I am not entirely the Steady Suzy I thought I was.

What to do with this new self-knowledge? I believe the Gospel, which says that only Jesus can save me. I cannot change or save myself; only He can do that.

My best hope is to ask Jesus to take me on a journey – a spiritual journey that parallels this sailing journey. A journey of self-discovery, and repentance, and true heart-change. I am asking him to help me befriend and embrace anxious, fearful, stressed-out Karen – to gently show her the unbelief and misplaced trusts at the root of her fear, and to transform those hidden places with His love, as only He can. I have taken similar journeys before. They are usually painful. As a friend once told me, “You know it’s real repentance when it feels like death.” Yet the death of my false self always, in my experience, leads to resurrection and freedom and new life.

Hopefully it is clear now why I needed to write this post, and make public a rather personal struggle. For one thing, honesty is a good and necessary tool for someone who wants to see and repent of her false self. Not just honesty with self – but honesty with the world at large, with life, with the people at the various levels in my circle. For another, I know that life lived in community – even the virtual community of a blog – is richer and deeper and more satisfying. Maybe some of you have prayers, or wisdom, or help to offer me. Maybe something I’ve written here has something to offer you. Either way, we are fellow human beings learning how to stumble our way toward God in an unpredictable world. Let’s learn together.

Swimming with Stingrays

Last week I was in a tough place, mentally and emotionally, after all the drama with our passage back to the Bahamas and our engine troubles and the approaching storm. So Andy suggested a mental-health field trip – something fun, to remind us why we wanted to take this sailing journey in the first place.

We were anchored in a beautiful cove off of Cat Cay, in the Biminis. Cat is a small private island, frequented by Jimmy Buffett and Jeff Bezos, and outsiders are not particularly welcome ashore. But just north of Cat Cay is the unpopulated Gun Cay, and at the top of Gun Cay is Honeymoon Harbor – a popular beach and snorkeling spot. We had anchored there once overnight, after an all-night passage, but we did not go exploring then. So Andy did a little research and found that Honeymoon Harbor is the home of stingrays and turtles. A worthy candidate for a field trip!

So we loaded up the dinghy with towels, water, and snorkel gear, and motored about a mile to Honeymoon. The sea was calm, almost placid, making the ride smooth and enjoyable. As we approached the beach, we saw them – a large school of rays!

Stingrays at Honeymoon Harbor, Bimini

We drifted toward a dock and found a spot to tie on, eager to get closer to the stingrays. We knew from previous experiences that stingrays are gentle creatures that only sting you when you step on them. As long as you shuffle your feet along the sand, they will hear you coming and get out of your way, so there’s little risk of either of you getting hurt. Several families with kids and dogs were already in the water feeding the rays – it’s a common practice here, and Andy had brought a small bag of bait fish from the stock he keeps in our freezer. (Mr. Project Manager plans ahead.)

We carefully climbed out of the boat and eased into the water. It was cool and clear, and about ten rays swam immediately to us. They were so beautiful – gray, with some blue tones up close, varying sizes, gliding smoothly over the sand and each other. At first we just put the bait in the water and watched the rays race each other to it. But we soon found that we could just hold a piece of fish in our fingers, and let the rays swim over and “Hoover” it up directly from our hands. These rays have “teeth” that are more like sandpaper, and they simply suck the food up from the surface of your hand. We both tried it, but only Andy was bold enough to hang on to the bait long enough for the ray to suck it up.

A word on the color of the water here – WOW! After our bait was eaten up and the rays moved on to some nearby little kids with a full bucket, we took some time to walk on the beach and gaze out over the glorious water. Every shade of turquoise – Who knew there were so many? Eventually we struck up a conversation with a dad supervising his kids and dog in the water; he was very friendly and told us a little about his experiences living and boating in the Bahamas. His dog, a pure-bred Corgi rescue, was the most water-happy dog I have ever met. He was neither spooked by nor aggressive towards the rays; he just stood there and let them swim around him. Such a sweet pooch.

Feeding the rays in Honeymoon Harbor

This little field trip did indeed help my mood, and I was grateful Andy thought of it. It’s easy to get tunnel-vision on all the tasks and projects that keep our vessel afloat. “Stop and swim with the rays” is going to be my new “Take time to smell the roses.”

P.S. After Cat Cay we motorsailed to Chub Cay, in the Berry Islands. We waited out a big storm at the marina there, which is SO nice – a pool, restaurant, bar, and places to run. (We both logged a couple miles). We met a receptionist who had heard of Kennesaw because she will be enrolled at KSU next fall – small world! We also met Ben and Nancy who were in the slip across from us on Mimosa, their Leopard 45, and we had fun comparing features and layouts on our boat before hanging out at the Nauti Rooster. They were headed back to Florida, but that encounter did bode well for the new-friends potential of our continued journey.

Everything takes longer than it does.

Hi everyone. We write you today from a dock in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We had hoped to be back in the Bahamas by now, but God just chuckled at our plans. Here’s an update on the last couple of weeks.

Our sail back home to the US was uneventful, blessedly so. We did catch another fish – a tuna this time. Andy is great fun to watch when the reel begins to spin – he gets both excited and uber-focused! The tuna was just large enough for us to get a couple of meals out of him – we cooked it for lunch, while still underway. I decided that I will not cook that way again – too much motion on the boat, even though the sea was relatively calm. Lots of sailors pre-cook their meals when preparing for a long passage, and now I know why.

We arrived back in Ft. Lauderdale in the early afternoon and headed for our marina. There we had another “adventure.” We radioed the marina and followed their directions to our slip… only to discover that the slip they’d assigned us (right beside a big cement dock) was a few feet too narrow for our boat to fit. And another boat had followed us into the docking area, so there was no room to back out. It was a struggle to keep the boat out of harm’s way, but thankfully the other boat caught on to our situation, pulled out, and gave us room to back away from the dock. The dock master sent us to the other side of the marina, where there was plenty of room to maneuver and a spacious berth for Gratitude. But we were both sweating buckets until we got the lines tied.

This incident gave me a couple of insights. One, I’ve decided I’m going to be a lot more assertive from now on, when making marina reservations. I’m going to make sure, on the front end and right before pulling in, that the folks know all the dimensions of our vessel, and ask them for the biggest slip they will give us. I’m not making assumptions that everyone else knows what our boat needs.

The second decision may not be fully in my control, but to the extent that I am able, I am going to stop worrying so much about whether we hit something. If we do, we do. Right now the fear I feel is disproportionate to the risks we are taking. We’re taking it slow and not making big crazy moves. If we damage our boat, we’ll fix her. If we damage someone else’s property, we’ll make it right. As long as no one gets hurt – and in all our scary situations so far, the closest we’ve come was Andy falling into about 10 feet of water in a bay – we are okay. This incident showed me that I’ve been afraid – too afraid – of looking foolish. I know from experience that that is a fear that is based on a lie. So that’s where the battle is, for me and this boat – to remember the truth that learning always involves making mistakes. And we’re allowed our share. It will be okay.

Once Gratitude was docked, we set to work getting her cleaned up, because we would welcome friends aboard just a few hours later. Dan and Tracy flew down from Atlanta to spend a weekend with us, and we had such a good laid-back time. We ate at Coconut’s (twice), lounged around the boat, shopped at West Marine (Dan was like a kid at Christmas!) and generally soaked up precious time with friends. It did both our hearts good.

Dan and Tracy left on Sunday, and the next Thursday I flew home for a short visit. Andy stayed with the boat, to oversee the repairs. I saw all my kids, some dear friends, and my Mom and sister. Worked out (of course!) and went to church. And saw Fleetwood Mac in concert. I would have loved more time and more visits with friends, but I also missed Andy and our boat. Which helped me recognize (not for the first time) that we’d made the right decision, buying Gratitude. She already feels like our new home.

I flew back to Ft. Lauderdale with our son Kyle and Andy’s dad Theron. They are with us now, and we had hoped to sail with them back to Nassau and give them a taste of the Bahamas. However, our repair work has hit various delays, and we learned yesterday that someone made a mistake in fulfilling an order for parts, so now we have to wait again for the right ones to be shipped. Which means that we will not be leaving Ft. Lauderdale by this weekend. It’s disappointing – but on par with what everyone has told us about boat ownership. To quote one of my dearly departed and much beloved college professors, Dr. Brewer: “Everything takes longer than it does.”

Nassau to Spanish Wells

Well last week we finally left Nassau. It’s been an eventful two weeks so I thought we might fill you in.

Nassau was not our favorite locale. It is a great place to grocery shop and eat out; but it is also crowded, touristy, and very expensive. One thing that frustrated us a little there was that there are not really any good anchorages. We found a couple that provided adequate shelter, but not much to do once you arrived. Perhaps you could take your dinghy to shore, but then it would be a $20 cab fare each way to the grocery store. To get close to things like Starbucks or restaurants or provisioning, you had to stay at a marina- with its daily fee and extra $$ for electricity and water.

After a few days of trying to find a good anchoring spot, we gave up and headed to a marina in anticipation of our son Clint’s visit. He and his girlfriend Sierra arrived in Nassau February 7, after their cruise celebrating her birthday. This was our first visit from home! We decided we would do some sailing and anchoring at an island off the coast near Nassau, then return to the Atlantis resort marina for the final part of their stay. This allowed them to manage their luggage and cab rides with ease. It also gave us all some variety throughout their visit. Atlantis, while expensive, was still a good value compared to renting a room there. The price of the marina stay included access to the pools, restaurants, and water park. We had a very enjoyable Sunday there cruising the water slides and trying out a few of the restaurants. I don’t know that I’d rush back there, but it was fun to try once. I will say that the marina was top-notch. Docking was relatively easy, and the ambiance around the place was upscale. Definitely a step up from your average marina.

I must confess that I was a bit blue when Clint and Sierra left us. It was a wonderful visit, and it made me not homesick, but perhaps family-sick. I did really soak up the time with people who know us and love us. It made me look forward to the next visit with family.

The next morning we cast off the lines and motor-sailed all day to Eleuthera. It was a little bumpy; we were sailing into the wind and the seas, which is not comfortable as compared to sailing with the waves coming from behind you. But we really, really wanted to get somewhere other than Nassau. And we were glad we did! It took us about 6 hours to reach an anchorage at Royal Island, an uninhabited island on the northern end of Eleuthera. The next morning we did some laundry, worked out, cleaned up, and motored one more hour to Spanish Wells, where we picked up a mooring ball right near the town.

For our non-boating friends, a mooring ball is like an anchor that you sail up to rather than bring with you. It’s usually a heavy object (stone or concrete) with a buoy and a line attached. The line has a loop at the end, and you attach to lines from the bow (very front) of your boat through the loop and back to your boat. It is usually very secure. It is also, we discovered, difficult to pick up with just two people.  We got a line attached to one side of Gratitude but were having trouble getting a line in from the other side. (We decided we need some longer dock lines for occasions such as this, to make it easier.) Fortunately, a guy in the boat moored next to us got in his dinghy and paddled over. He ran the second line through the loop for us. Turned out he was a fellow Mariettan! His name was Thad, and he lived in Marietta for about 11 years. We dinghied over later that day with some beer and our profuse thanks and had a nice visit with him.

Our time in Spanish Wells was very laid-back. We checked out the local restaurants and rented a golf cart for a few hours to explore the town. It is the opposite of Nassau – a working town, no glitz and not touristy, except for some rental properties for a few families who vacation here every year. No resorts, just a quiet secluded beach. Great seafood, because their primary industry is fishing. Two supermarkets, but not like Publix back home – more expensive, less selection, but you can find almost everything you really need.

You may have seen on Facebook that we took one day away from the boat and visited Harbor Island. To get there, you go to Pinder’s Supermarket the day before and tell them you need a taxi to the ferry dock. They’ll tell you what time to be back there the next morning. The water taxi takes you across the channel to North Eleuthera. The captain ties up his boat, gets off, and disappears for a few minutes – he’s gone to get the passenger van. You transfer yourself into the van, which takes you to the public ferry dock on the other side of North Eleuthera. The captain tells you what time he’ll be back at that public ferry dock, and that if you are even one minute late he will be OUTTA THERE. (He’s quite emphatic about this.) Then you get on the government ferry boat (one is always leaving or arriving within about 10 minutes of each other) and you ride over to Harbor Town.

Our captain (a very crusty elderly gentleman with some interesting stories) told us that Harbor Island was Sin City and that he guaranteed we would not want to stay long. What does it say about us that we absolutely LOVED it? Ha! It is clean, full of friendly people, and has the Pink Sand Beach, at which I could happily have stayed for a week. You rent a golf cart right across from the dock. You drive that cart about three long blocks to the public beach access. At the end of the access road is a fabulous (albeit crazy-expensive) restaurant and a little shack that rents chairs, umbrellas, towels, snorkel gear, paddle boards – anything you might need for a beach day. And bottled water. And Cheetos.

We plopped ourselves down on two chairs and beached, all day. It was heavenly. The only thing I neglected to do was take a picture of the pink sand. Truth be told, the pink is very faint. It is mostly white, with a pinkish tinge, from coral they say. But it is glorious, because it was the softest sand I have ever walked on. Not hot at all – cool and smooth beneath your feet. If I’d had a little more time, I’d have rented snorkel gear too and swum out to the reef to see if I could find some fish. That’s okay, though – I have already decided I will find a way to come back here.

The only bad thing that happened to us this day was having to leave to go back and meet Captain Crusty at the ferry dock. Oh, and our dinghy had some water in it when we got back. We don’t know why – it wasn’t alarming, but it’s yet another problem to solve. So we counted this as a very successful day.

Today we spent the day cooking and cleaning. We are going to start tomorrow sailing back toward Ft. Lauderdale. We knew when we left that we would need to go back in a few weeks to get some issues resolved with our newly-installed solar panels. And our time away has revealed a few other things (like that busted eye on the dinghy that sent Andy crashing into the sea!) that need repair. So tomorrow we will leave Spanish Wells for a series of day sails – back to New Providence (anchoring away from Nassau), then to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands, then a long sail to Bimini, where we will be only 50 miles from Florida. We hope to be back in Ft. Lauderdale on Friday.

After our return, the plans are to host some friends on the boat for the weekend, then for me to get a quick visit home. I’ll return to Gratitude with our son Kyle and Andy’s dad (“Papa”). They’ll be with us for a week, and I can’t wait! I’m also excited about touching base at home, seeing my family, and of course working out with my Crossfit III squad. Andy will supervise our boat work and see if we can get ready for a return to the Bahamas, Part II. But of course, we hold these plan loosely. We’re learning.

Dinghy Drama (A Joint Post)

Andy: Karen and I have both been surprised as to the way we have had to problem solve together. For example, the other evening after shore excursion and a nice dinner out, we lowered the dinghy into the water and inadvertently spooled the line all of the way off of the winch. No big deal, right?

Wrong! The dinghy is rigged to a heavy-duty rack called the davits, and this is connected with a system of pulleys and cables that all came undone when the line spooled off. Now we had a dinghy in the water that was far too heavy for us to lift by hand (I estimate at least 600lbs with the engine, but it could be much more), and the davits more or less collapsed on top of it. To add to the fun, waves were pounding the boat, causing the davits to bang violently against the dinghy steering wheel and console. Due to the collapse, the carbon fiber line that attached everything would no longer reach the winch.

We were up against the proverbial wall and had to problem-solve, and we had to do so quickly. We cut a piece of spare nylon line we had bought a few days earlier for emergencies and tied a sheet bend knot to the carbon fiber line to create an extension. We rigged up the davits again through the eyes and pulleys, and we were finally able to use the winch to hoist the dinghy up out of the water.

Karen: I want to interject that the time it took for all of this to occur was probably about 45 minutes to an hour, up to this point. We were tired, wet from riding the dinghy back to the boat, and eager to get inside and dried off. And, it was getting dark. Instead, we kept fighting the dinghy, the davits, the waves, and then the cables. Then running from locker to locker searching for the right tools and gear and lights to rig a solution. If all this sounds like chaos, trust me – it was!

Andy: Things were looking much better until everything just stopped. The winch breaker had blown. I figured that too much water had splashed into the dinghy, making everything too heavy. After all, water weighs 8lbs/gallon, so I leaned in to remove the dinghy’s drain plug to let the water drain in order to ease the load on the winch. Hilarity ensued when one of the steel connection points attaching the dinghy to the davits snapped clean, and the entire system fell suddenly into the sea – with me tumbling right in with it.

At this point, it was dark, some of our possessions were floating away with the current, and things had basically gone from really bad to worse. (Note: when I hit the water, my first thought was that I was so glad Karen was on deck, and I knew everything would be okay).

Karen: Ok, my first thoughts are a little too salty to repeat here, but they basically ran along the lines of “Are you ok? Are you ok? Let’s get you back onto this boat NOW.” And then I saw one of Andy’s shoes floating away, and thought, well, we’re kissing that pair of shoes goodbye. We gotta get Andy back on this boat!

Andy: I swam back to the boat (after chasing down that shoe), Karen helped me back onboard, and we regrouped. This development was not good, but we did keep our heads and were able to focus on the problem. Before long, we had the dinghy out of the water again and more or less held in place with a system of our own ropes and straps. Which meant we could finally go to bed.

The next morning, we reassessed the situation. Using spare rope, we made new lines and connections to create a greatly improved support system for the dinghy. It had occurred to both of us, overnight, that the last people to work on the boat had rigged the dinghy to the davits incorrectly. They were set too low for us to get the dinghy down to the water, and that was the root cause of our difficulty.

It became evident in the whole process that Karen apparently paid more attention in knot school than I did (we received quite a bit of formal training in sailors’ knots), and she was a rock star at making lines fast and tying knots that would not give or loosen under load. This saved the day!

Karen: Don’t let Andy fool you. He stayed way ahead of me in evaluating and assessing the situation each time it got worse. It was his idea to tie a leader-line onto the cable so that it would reach the winch, and I think THAT is what saved the day. But of course I’ll take his compliment on my knot-tying, all day long.

Andy: Several times in my life I have gone through team-building exercises where I solved problems together with my teammates, but being on a boat has dialed that up to 11 for us. We have had a couple of situations now where we had no choice but to keep our heads and work together. It took both of us to rig our dinghy safely. We are a team.

Karen: My lessons learned: Everything is harder, more complicated, and more time-consuming on a boat. Everything. My hope and belief are that we are on a learning curve, and that maybe things will get easier and quicker and more intuitive over time… and yet I can see that boat life is already very, very different than land life. As we say at CrossFit III: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Building Our Skills

Where to begin? It was only 10 days ago that we left our home in Atlanta and arrived to Ft. Lauderdale to move onto our boat. Honestly, it feels like 2 months. So much has happened, and we have been in constant motion, with very little time to reflect on our experiences. For this reason I’m grateful for this blog. It’s primarily a way to keep everyone we love up-to-date and reassured that we are safe. But of course there’s value in sitting down and remembering where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what we’ve learned.

(Side note – I tried to upload some photos to this post – but I had some difficulty. So if you’re on Facebook, you can see a video and some photos on my profile page. I’ll get the hang of photos on the blog, eventually. )

Our time with Captain Richard was a whirlwind. From the moment he arrived, there was a continuous stream of knowledge flowing from him to us: how to run the water maker, the gas stove, the shore power hookup, the generator, the air conditioner, and (believe it or not!) the heat! (I know, I know, you were much colder – but there are no heavy blankets on this boat, and I wanted to sleep rather than shiver all night long.) And then, as I wrote in the last post, we puttered around the Florida coast a few days, preparing to cross the ocean to the Bahamas.

What’s it like to drive a boat across the ocean? During the day it’s like regular sailing. The seas were calm, winds were about 10 knots (that means 10 nautical miles per hour), and we used both our mainsail and our foresail, which is called the jib. We kept raising, lowering, and trimming the sails as needed to accommodate changes in the wind. This part was pretty straightforward and gave us an excellent chance to practice what we already knew. It was after dark when things really got interesting.

Sailing at night (which wasn’t technically sailing, as we used only our engines) is like traveling at about 8 miles per hour down a giant interstate, in pitch-darkness, with no headlights. There is only starlight to guide you until the moon rises, and our moon was a slivered crescent that did not appear until about 2:30 a.m. During the day Captain Richard showed us how to find other ships on our radar. With the system we have, we can click on another vessel’s icon and see its name, size, speed, and – most importantly – the Closest Point of Approach (CPA) to our ship. And the TCPA – the Time to that Closest Point of Approach. So, for example, we can see when another ship is going to be a mile away in 28 minutes. Or .4 miles in 10 minutes, when we probably want to alter course a bit to put more distance between usand the other boat.

Doing this in daylight is a pleasant exercise. At night – well, it’s nerve-racking! Especially doing it for the first time. We took watches – meaning we all took turns sitting at the helm throughout the night, a couple of hours each watch. What this feels like is…

Every 3 hours or so you’re being roused from sleep to go take a solitary post. You sit there trusting the radar is working as it should, and that the other boats are using their radar too. You can’t immerse yourself in anything else, like reading; you have to stay alert and keep checking the screen for other ships traveling much faster than you are. And if you see a CPA and TCPA that is too close for comfort, you need to figure out whether you are supposed to get out of his way, or he’s supposed to get out of yours. There are rules about who gives way – but generally if that other boat is a great big freighter or cruise ship, you’ll be the one to move. With smaller ships, it can be dangerous to change course when the other boat is the one that’s supposed to give way. So you have to remember and follow the rules.

Can you see now why sailors are superstitious? I can only imagine how worrisome it was in the days before radar and GPS.

We arrived in Nassau an hour ahead of when we’d thought – top score! It is gorgeous here – clear turquoise water and temperatures hovering around 70-72. (The climate alone makes it worth the long trip.) Once we were docked at our marina, we showered, got some lunch, then said our goodbyes to Captain Richard. We were so incredibly blessed to have his expertise guiding us. And we were like sponges, soaking up everything he had to teach us. It was cool, because he let us get inside his head – showed us how he thinks about things, from boat maintenance to handling the lines and sails to navigating to choosing a spot to anchor. And now we are eager – and yes, a little nervous, but I think that’s healthy! – to put our knowledge to the test, on our own.

We’ll be heading out of Nassau this morning to go to Eleuthera. It’s a day’s sail away. We don’t have to do any more long or overnight passages for quite a while now… which gives us time to practice, gain more experience handling this boat, and build our confidence and our knowledge of these islands.

I spent some time praying early this morning, and the Lord reminded me that I am always dependent on Him… whether I am doing things I’ve been doing for years (like driving a car or living in a house) or doing things at which I am a beginner (like living and traveling on a sailboat). It struck me that being a beginner, at the sailing/cruising life, is an excellent way to get back into a daily – no, moment-by-moment – awareness of God’s presence and love for me.

Elvis Has Left The Marina!

This week has been one big lesson in revising our plans. We flew to Ft. Lauderdale on Monday morning and hit the ground running – moving boxes and bins from our storage locker onto the boat, making runs to Target and Home Goods and Publix to start provisioning, and coordinating boat work with various contractors. Wonderful Randy left our boat in excellent condition, but we had some additional solar panels installed after closing and there were some unforeseen adjustments needed. We also needed to have the old name and graphics removed so our new name could be installed. I must say, I LOVE how it turned out. This boat really feels like ours, now.

After two very full days of this kind of work, our skipper arrived. Captain Richard is the very definition of an “old salt.” Very warm and friendly, and incredibly knowledgeable about cats in general but also Gratitude in particular – he has sailed this boat from Panama to San Francisco, and again from Panama to Key West, so he knows it inside out. So when he arrived, he started testing every system. This resulted in many trips to West Marine (the Home Depot for boats). If you have ever moved into a new home and had to make a gazillion runs back and forth for tools and supplies and spare parts, you’ll have some idea of how these days have been.

Andy and Captain Richard motoring out of the harbor

But we are now underway! We left our slip at the marina on Friday, instead of Wednesday, but it felt great to get going. We stopped for diesel, and I confess I was nervous as a new mom watching Captain Richard steer the boat toward the fuel dock. (Imagine me covering my eyes with one hand, peeking out from between my fingers, mentally screaming “Don’t hit it!” But, y’know, looking cool at the same time.) He, of course, could not have been more competent. So we filled both tanks, and motored along for about an hour or so, till we reached Lake Sylvia and dropped our anchor.

The sun was setting, so we didn’t go far!

The weather has been crazy for this time of year. It is in the 60s in south Florida, and the wind forecast for the next few days indicates that we won’t even THINK about heading offshore until Tuesday. “It’s blowing stink” is how Captain Richard puts it. The current plan is to motor along the Florida coast for a few days, and pull into a marina for Sunday night when it’s supposed to storm. We’ll keep checking the forecast. (We’re learning to read wind maps!) If conditions continue as predicted, we’ll get up very early on Tuesday morning and point the boat east.

I’ll try to update Facebook to let y’all know for sure when we are headed out for the open seas! Say a prayer for us. We’ll use good sense and take all precautions – but this will be our first big passage. Elvis is very happy to have Captain Richard here with us to show us how it’s done.