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.

Concerning Iguanas

We are making our way south through the Exumas at a leisurely pace. This is an incredibly beautiful part of the world, and the weather has been ideal.

Yesterday, we dropped anchor at Bitter Guana Cay en route to our overnight anchorage so we could spend some time mingling with the wild iguanas that inhabit the island.

When you arrive, several of the prehistoric-looking creatures take careful notice of your landing. Some amble up to you, and a few fake an outright bum’s rush. Some of these lizards are over four feet long, so it commands your attention.

Some of the locals on Bitter Guana Cay

But these reptiles are content with eating vegetation, saving hisses and aggressive snaps for each other when one gets too close to another’s “street corner.” We took Romaine lettuce and some bits of apple for them, and they were not at all shy about getting it.

Here, kitty kitty kitty…

There are also some very scenic cliffs that might not match the White Cliffs of Dover, but they don’t seem like such a bad substitute when you’re this side of the Atlantic.

Bitter Guana Cay

Staniel Cay, Bahamas

On Monday, we made our way down to Staniel Cay and dropped anchor. The natural bay is large with impossibly beautiful water and a sandy bottom that provides excellent holding. Every now and then a nurse shark or a stingray glides under the boat.

We took the dinghy over toward the airport and waited for Anne’s tiny plane to arrive from Nassau. The airport concourse at Staniel Cay (TYM) consists of an open wooden pavilion with benches, and security is a chain link fence.

Since we’ve been here, there have been no shortage of sights and attractions. Our first outing was to see the famous “Swimming Pigs of the Exumas.” This is a group of wild pigs that live on…. wait for it… “Pig Beach” on nearby Big Majors Cay. The cool thing about these pigs is that they will swim out in the ocean to meet you on the good faith assumption that you are bringing them food. We came with bread and chopped-up apples, and that did not disappoint. It’s safe, but these are large, wild animals, so there’s always a concern in your mind. Some stories say these pigs are descendants of ones left behind by Christopher Columbus, while others trace a less noble and more recent lineage. After that, we dined at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club.

This little piggy was not overly thrilled at being picked up.
He could swim better than I could

Our next outing was to Thunderball Grotto, literally around the corner from Pig Beach. It’s a cave you swim into that was made famous by the James Bond movie, Thunderball, where Sean Connery romances Claudia Auger underwater before dispatching several bad guys.

Thunderball Grotto is a natural wonder. At low tide, you swim in and out through a small gap, but at certain high tides the entrance can submerge completely, so timing matters. Once inside, you enter a natural cavern with amazing light and an organic kaleidoscope of fish and coral. Our underwater camera could not adequately capture the hues and grandeur of this place.

Anne in the Thunderball Grotto. That’s one entrance behind her.
Sergeant major damselfish in Thunderball Grotto
Brain coral.

Finally, we motored over to Staniel Cay to eat and shop, and I decided to wade in and experience the nurse sharks for myself. A couple of them made lazy approaches and then veered away once they got within a foot or so. It was certainly an adrenaline rush. 

Easy does it…

Tomorrow’s forecast calls for favorable winds to sail back north for a few hours and explore Cambridge Cay some more. We want to introduce Anne to the art and beauty of sailing. For me, it only took once to fall in love.

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.

Another Gremlin?

Today, Karen flew home to go to a concert, so I have no real adventures to share. I am, however, at Palm Cay Marina in the Bahamas. It’s wonderful. It has an infinity pool, a lap pool, a hot tub, a bar, a private beach, a coffeeshop, a gym, and a restaurant, so I’m good for a few days… really, really good, as a matter of fact. 

As there is nothing particularly exciting to share, I am afraid you’ll have to suffer through another repair blog. This boat is simply too large for me to take it anywhere by myself. (I am aware that I just lost a majority of readers right there. It’s OK – you’re all super-excused).

Here goes… About a month ago, Gratitude’s galley lights suddenly stopped coming on when we flicked the switch. This was unexpected and unwelcome, since the galley is an important shared living space as well as the place we cook. Karen got out the electrical schematics book, and we traced it down to a particular 8-amp fuse (fuse #15). After taking various detachable panels off of walls, we found the fuse box in the starboard cabin. I pulled #15 and tested continuity with my multimeter and confirmed that the fuse had, indeed, blown clean through. Then the search began for a replacement fuse of this size and amperage, and believe me – we went everywhere. Four stores later, we were empty-handed. No one in Nassau had it. When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, we tried West Marine and McDonald’s Hardware, and neither of them had one either (to our great surprise). 

Amazon to the rescue. This entire box of assorted fuses, delivered to the marina in one day, cost less than $7.00 It’s hard for me to wrap my head around those economics.

Fuses galore

Then, there was the nagging problem that even if I replaced the fuse, I would not have determined what caused it to blow in the first place, so I arose sometime around 2:30 a.m. and grabbed my trusty multimeter to go investigate.

An electrical short is often as simple as two wires touching that should not be connecting. This can happen for a number of reasons – particularly in a moving environment like a ship. If there is no fuse to burn up, this could heat up the wires and start an electrical fire, so it can potentially be a big deal.

In this case, I traced the problem down to the blue, 12-volt LED accent lights on the port side stern steps. These lights were on the same circuit as the galley lights but operated off of a different switch. There was a short somewhere in the system, and the worst part was going to be wriggling into the very tight space to change out the wiring and lights once I had new lights to use as replacements. 

A day later, when I was back in Fort Lauderdale, someone working on the boat who was about half my size volunteered that he could fit in there “like… no problem”, and I decided that was pretty much an offer I could not refuse. Soon thereafter, the short was resolved, and everything worked. 

Well, that was the port side of the boat, but yesterday, back in The Bahamas, the starboard (opposite side) lights started doing the same thing and blowing the same fuse all over again. #DejaVu. There always seems to be some maintenance needed on the boat, and in this case it reminded me of the classic Twilight Zone episode where William Shatner was on a flight and saw a gremlin on the wing destroying things, but he was the only one who could see it. Technically I never saw a gremlin, but it could explain a lot.

Don’t be afraid to look, William

Anyway, I got the joy of repeating most of the aforementioned steps to track this down. And the culprit is…

A (charred) 12-volt Lumitec Andros Accent Light

These 12 volt Lumitec Andros LED Accent LED lights seem to fail closed and short out the entire circuit when they go bad, rather than just quit working like a good old-fashioned incandescent lightbulb. Go figure? The net result is that the surrounding wiring heats up very quickly, and the fuse is (mercifully) the first thing to sacrifice itself for the greater good.

I cut out the bad bulb, replaced the fuse, and seven of the eight accent lights now work perfectly, so that is a partial victory. Karen is bringing a few replacement/spare lights back with her on Thursday, and I have the wires all stripped and ready to attach so that I will be able to check this one off the list and resolve my symmetry issues for the time being.

Gratitude safely docked with galley lights and ⅞ step lights working perfectly

As a last word here, I have one tool that has become indispensable aboard Gratitude. It is a Vise Grip wire stripping tool. If you or someone you love enjoys working on electrical things, buy them this for a birthday gift or stocking stuffer. It’s very well-designed and super-functional. I’ve probably owned a half-dozen or more wire-stripping tools in my life, and this one is the best, by a long shot.

Vice Grip wire strippers: an indispensable addition to my tool bag

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.

Replacing an Impeller

(Andy’s note: Most of this entry may be of interest only to boat nerds and people troubleshooting engines.)

Early Saturday morning, we struck out from Bimini to explore Gun Cay and North Cat Cay. All of that was lovely until our starboard engine (a Yanmar 57) signaled an overheat alarm about 10 minutes into our trip. It had been chugging along at a very modest 1600 RPMs, which should be fine, but I still had the port engine, and that had plenty of power to take us the 10 nautical miles or so to where we were going.

No big deal, right?

Wrong! I was trained as a private pilot, and losing an engine made me highly nervous, and it made Karen even more nervous. When an engine overheats, this is serious business.

We made it to a beautiful, calm anchorage outside of Cat Cay and took the dinghy over to Bu’s Bar at the Cat Cay Yacht Club to have some lunch and to take stock of our situation.

Taking a moment…

After talking it through, Karen and I came to the conclusion that we were probably in a tight spot due to the following facts:

  1. Really bad weather was bearing down on us (less than 72 hours out), and we had been planning every leg of our trip around finding good shelter.
  2. Our preferred shelter spot (Chub Cay Marina) was about 12 hours away via Gratitude.
  3. We were suddenly and unexpectedly down to one engine.
  4. In order to get our starboard engine working, we (thought we) needed a part we could not locally source. More on this further down.
  5. The marine store where we could source the part was 18 hours away (on one engine) in Nassau (we could return to Florida in less time, but that would be sailing into the bad weather).
  6. If we went to get the part, we would likely end up with two good engines but no good place to take shelter from days of heavy rain and very high winds.
  7. If we made the trip to our originally preferred shelter spot, we would have to limp there on one engine. If the port engine failed, we could end up in a more serious situation.
  8. If we reached our preferred shelter, I might not be able to safely dock this boat using only one engine, as I use the port and starboard (left and right) engines to maneuver into a slip. Only having the port engine functioning would not allow me to do what I was trained to do. I may get to the point where I could dock the boat in a slip with one engine, but I’m not there yet. We would have to source help from someone who could do this (assuming it’s even doable).

So while we sat and discussed our dilemma, we decided the most likely culprit for the engine overheating was the water impeller.

Now, if you are still awake (or maybe you found this in a web search, and this is why you started reading), one of the ways many marine diesel engines keep cool is this:

  1. Raw seawater is drawn in through an intake pipe
  2. The raw water is strained through a plastic, raw water intake filter to keep out plastic, seaweed, and ocean critters
  3. The filtered seawater is drawn through the system by a rotating impeller (similar to a propeller, except that it sits in front of the hose to move the water along)
  4. The water is circulated back and forth around engine components, so that the water heats up while the engines maintains an optimal temperature
  5. The now-heated sea water is expelled through the exhaust back into the ocean, and fresh, cool seawater is drawn in to continue the cycle

Once I disassembled the impeller housing, I confirmed that we guessed correctly. We definitely had a bad impeller.

Now, I will not inflict upon you the entire story of how we located the spare impeller. Suffice it to say that this took the entire day. After trips ashore and an excursion to another island, we located a spare on our own boat late in the day. Spare impellers are like spare tires. You should always have one, and we did, thanks to the previous owner.

The impeller is a moving part that is subject to wear

Once we located a spare, this turned out to be a straightforward repair. Here were the steps involved:

  1. Folding myself into the engine compartment
  2. Closing the thru-hull seacock to seal off the raw water intake system
  3. Removing the four bolts and cover that house the impeller
  4. Gently prying out the old impeller (I used two sets of pliers to extract the old one)
  5. Lubricating the new impeller with grease and installing it
  6. Replacing the cover and the four bolts that house the impeller
  7. Priming (filling) the raw water strainer with water (an essential step that I missed the first time)
  8. Starting the engine
  9. Immediately opening the thru-hull seacock to allow the system to function
  10. Rejoicing as water spilled out of the side of the boat, indicating that the engine was circulating and cooling

More on step 7 above (priming the raw water intake). When I first fired up the engine, no water circulated. This was a very unwelcome development, as I wondered if the whole problem might be more serious, but once I primed the system and tried again, everything worked as designed.

Voila! Now we are back up and running with two engines and plenty of time to get to shelter ahead of the approaching storm.

Family Time

My dad, and our son, Kyle, joined us for eight days aboard Gratitude. We had to remain at the marina for the first few days while modifications and repairs were being made, but we were able to get in several solid days of sailing too. It gave them a taste for boat life. We made some provisioning runs, sailed, motored, and took the dinghy around. Dad and I made some of our own repairs, and the two of them experienced some basics about how boats operate. Kyle keenly observed, “If sailing were a TV show, it would have pacing issues.”

He is right. Cruising life contrasts being immersed in tranquility, beauty, and fun, punctuated by periods of intense action and stress. The stress may be situational (e.g. something intense is happening, and you have to deal with it immediately) or it may be self-induced. Most often, the locus of my stress involves safely stopping the boat. Hovering in place on a river in front of a drawbridge, maneuvering into a dock slip, or trying to get the anchor to grab and hold can get my heart racing. The reason is that there are usually currents, winds, and other boats or structures to contend with.

As an example, on Wednesday night we were asleep at anchor with the hatches open when it started to sprinkle, around 2:30 a.m. Karen secured the hatches, and I decided that while I was awake, I would check to see how our anchor was holding. When I stepped outside, I noticed the winds and tides had shifted considerably, and the monohull sailboat closest to us was now swinging frenetically on his anchor. After about ten minutes of watching him dart and undulate wildly, his stern came all the way over toward ours. His was a lighter boat than Gratitude, so I was, with some effort, able to physically shove him away when he was close enough to hit us, but he swung back again and again. So, I woke Karen, and we spent hours watching him make Spirograph-like patterns before unpredictably careening right back into us. We used our fenders (basically giant, inflated rubber balls) to keep his boat from crunching ours.

Karen took this whole event quite calmly, but I was full of adrenaline. It felt like being in a fight where your opponent kept getting up and coming back, over and over. (Terminator 2 would be too dramatic a comparison, but you get the idea). We debated trying to wake the owner of the other yacht, but ultimately we just accepted our fate and kept watch to prevent any damage. The next morning, we left that anchorage, bright and early, with his yacht still channeling Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

In order to get back out to sea, we needed to pass under the Las Olas drawbridge. Gratitude is too tall to do that without having the bridge up, so you get the pleasure of being “that guy” and stopping all traffic on Las Olas Boulevard and making everyone wait while the bridge raises for you to pass through. This time, however, the bridge only opened one of its two spans. I radioed him to ask if there was a malfunction, and he informed me that he was only opening halfway for me, and I would need to squeeze through. Again – you transition abruptly from a leisurely journey to a quick jolt of stress. And all of this happened pre-coffee!

The Las Olas Bridge when the operator isn’t trying to play chicken with me

But yesterday, we sailed south to Key Biscayne, and we have never coaxed such great performance out of the boat. We regularly made over 9 kts on that trip with only our sails in about 18 kts of wind. The boat was happy, and so was I. We had a great sail and an easy time anchoring. We dinghied over to a restaurant a mile or so away and enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing meal and some sangria.

Gratitude making great time sailing southward

Today, as I write this, we have made it back to the Bahamas. We spent the day “beating” (traveling into the wind), and crossing the rolling Gulf Stream. Once we were at tonight’s destination, we deployed our anchor and went through all the right steps, but when I dove off the boat to have a look, it was laying sideways on the ocean floor instead of digging in. We had to start over to get it to set, but all’s well now.

Not the way an anchor should look.

Tomorrow looks calm for us. We’re sailing south to explore Gun Cay and North Cat Cay. Then we will start making our way to shelter to ride out some approaching bad weather predicted for next week.

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.”

Overnight to Bimini

We had the notion to make the 95-mile trip from Chub Cay to Bimini on Wednesday, but we knew we would need every minute of daylight and then some. We tried to tried to weigh (raise) anchor well before sunrise so that we could arrive at our destination and make a docking or anchoring decision during daylight, but the winds were very strong, and we ended up scrubbing the entire idea and going back to bed. We decided it was easier to weigh the anchor around 5:00 pm and travel Wednesday night. We made good time, taking shifts at the helm, and arrived at Bimini as dawn was breaking Thursday morning. We dropped our anchor in Honeymoon Harbor, which is a beautiful and uncrowded anchorage, and we immediately had a visitor come swim to greet us!

A sea turtle – just like the one in our logo

The wind has been quite strong, and because we are close to numerous rocks, I swam our anchor (once at high tide and then again at low tide). Our Rocna anchor had dug in to the sea bed perfectly and had not budged an inch. I will sleep better tonight knowing that.

We are headed back to Fort Lauderdale to have one of the ship’s antennas relocated, which is a definite kink in our plans. About that… the one significant modification we made to Gratitude was installing more solar panels. A. Lot. More. Solar. That just fit the vibe we were going for. We have a water maker which desalinates sea water and makes fresh water, and having a lot of solar capacity seemed like we were closer to being off the grid and self-sufficient.

The trouble is, we were not in Florida when they did the work, and the contractor relocated the large KVH TracPhone satellite antenna directly into the path of the sheets (ropes) that adjust the main sail. These sheets come under a jaw-dropping load at times, and if they get accidentally wrapped around that antenna, it will happily deposit the whole system into the ocean in about a quarter-second, and that would be a very costly mistake.

The Antenna Problem

After a short time of sailing on our own, Karen and I decided that disaster was only a matter of time, and we scheduled an appointment to return and have the antenna moved. Right now, we are about ¾ of the way back to Florida from where we started, with only the notorious Gulf Stream left to cross tomorrow morning, and forecast conditions appear favorable for that.

One more note – I caught my first (edible) fish!

First mahi-mahi caught aboard Gratitude. I didn’t have time to get properly dressed.

Just before we set sail, my friend, Dan, gave me three beautiful salt water fishing rods and reels as a bon voyage gift (and an epic one at that), and he and I went shopping to stock up on the necessary tackle and lures. I rigged everything the best I could (I’m not going to be nominated for any knot-tying awards just yet), and after having my confidence shaken by pulling up three consecutive barracuda (non-edible monsters with ridiculously long, sharp teeth), I caught a beautiful mahi-mahi. It was a thrill! I cleaned it on the back of the boat, and Karen marinaded it in salt, mirin, and sherry (we didn’t have sake), and we grilled it for dinner that night. We enjoyed four large, delicious servings.

Same mahi-mahi. The best tasting fish is the one you catch. Right?

One fisherman commenting about trolling a lure through the Gulf Stream in the days and nights surrounding a full moon wrote “the fun is, you never know what you might bring up.” That’s the conditions we are headed for tomorrow morning when we sail to Fort Lauderdale. I’ll have my lines out. I’m hooked!