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.

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.

Karen….
…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.

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.

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.”

Sails Up!

We had our first successful sail on Saturday (we sailed on Friday, but I would not describe that as a particularly stellar success – more on that another time).

Saturday, we climbed back on the horse (or the Leopard in this case), motored out to sea, and unfurled the jib. The jib is a smaller, but by no means “small”, foresail at the bow of the boat. We trimmed (adjusted) it, and the boat seemed so happy. You can feel when the sails are right, because the boat rides and performs just the way you want her to. Once the jib was fully out, we shut the engines off. That is when things truly felt amazing. She was making 7+ knots (about 8mph) on 13 knots of wind. The solar cells were generating over a kilowatt of electricity, charging the batteries. Everything was quiet, controlled, efficient, and… just perfect. We sailed around the ocean for hours, tacking into the wind to adjust our course.

We also spent our sail time desalinating about 80 gallons of water, doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning the boat inside and out (or as cruisers put it, “keeping things yachty”). It was a fantastic day.

That night, we dropped anchor in a cove on the quiet side of the island where we would be sheltered from the wind, but I didn’t like the way the anchor addressed the seabed. I ended up “diving the anchor” to have a look at it, and I was still not comfortable with it. We tried three times to get it to dig in and set properly, but it simply was not having it with this floor. Consequently, I was up most of the night, checking to ensure we weren’t dragging. The one consolation was that the stars were brilliant. My worries turned out to be unfounded; by morning, we had not budged an inch. I think a lot of new boat owners have similar experiences.

Very limited internet has requiring a bit more adjustment than I expected. That said, I think it’s a good thing that I don’t have it 24/7.