The Thorny Path Part 1: Bahamas to Turks and Caicos

(Andy wrote the bulk of this post, but Karen couldn’t help interjecting a few notes along the way. It’s interesting to both of us to see what each of us remembers about this journey.)

Monday, May 27: Great Exuma, Bahamas to Calabash Bay, Bahamas

We were home for a couple of weeks in May, and we left the boat tied up to a dock in Emerald Bay Marina and paid a fellow named John a few dollars each day to check on her. He texted and sent me photos each time he came, so I knew someone was looking after the boat in our absence. 

(Karen: Let me say a word about Emerald Bay Marina. It is not convenient to town, but it is a GREAT marina. We had stellar service and friendly interactions with everyone we met there, from the marina staff to the taxi drivers to the bartenders across the street at the Grand Isle Resort. Also, some reviews of this marina on Active Captain note that there’s lots of surge – but we found that extra dock lines made our boat very stable there.)

When we arrived back aboard, everything was just the way we had left it, which was very welcome news for me. Then we had to wait out a week of unfavorable winds, so we were delighted to pull away from the dock about 6:30 a.m. on Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day). With winds averaging 15 knots from the east or southeast predicted for the next week, we motored and sailed east until we arrived at Calabash Bay, also know as Columbus Cove. This was the location where Columbus first made landfall after his journey across The Atlantic. We spent the night there, and it’s crazy to think that your boat is in the same location as such an historic maritime event. 

Tuesday, May 28: Calabash Bay to Clarence Town, Long Island

The next morning, we got up early and passed the Columbus monument on our starboard side as we steered to a more southeasterly route. We sailed a good bit of the way before the winds shifted and began hitting us “on the nose.” This is undesirable if you are a sailor since no sailboat can actually sail directly into the wind. You can get reasonably close since the sail acts a lot like a sideways airplane wing, but the physics simply don’t allow you to attack the wind straight on. When the wind blows like that, you are basically reduced to two choices: you can zig-zag across the wind, known as “tacking”, or you can turn on the engines. We actually did a combination of the two, tacking for the first part of the trip, and then giving in to more modern technology. 

On the way, a barracuda took my favorite fishing lure. He surfaced with it in his mouth, as if to mock me before biting cleanly through my leader with those enormous, jagged teeth and swimming away. Enjoy your plastic and metal breakfast, loser. A little while later in the morning, we caught a nice blue runner, but we weren’t hungry enough to try and eat that. 

A blue runner – technically edible, but not anyone’s first choice

We arrived at Clarence Town on Long Island and pulled into the Flying Fish Marina. It’s a small marina that caters to fishing boats, but it has a couple of docks big enough to fit Gratitude. There was a strong crosswind, and I was nervous about docking. Crosswinds are difficult for a lot of boats, but they can really be challenging for a catamaran since there is so much surface area for the wind to catch and blow your boat around. You don’t have a bow thruster, so keeping the front where you want it can be a real challenge. I hailed the marina ahead of time on the VHF radio and told them the crosswind made me nervous, but they assured me this would be a walk in the park. Suffice it to say that it was not, but we got through it just fine.

Gratitude at dock in the Flying Fish Marina, Long Island, Bahamas

(Karen: If we weren’t in a hurry to take advantage of the good weather, I would have enjoyed staying one more night in Clarence Town. I dubbed it “Uncle Clarence Town” after a beloved and now-departed uncle. There were some interesting sites to see, but we would have needed a car, and more time. Sigh. We can’t do it all.)

While we were at the Flying Fish Marina, I decided to tackle a needed repair to our beloved dinghy. The last time we used it, the engine died at an inconvenient point, and it refused to stay running for more than a few seconds after that. Later that afternoon, we followed our noses and discovered there was a good quantity of gasoline in the hull of the dinghy. Aha! A clue! The engine and the fuel tank looked fine, so I decided the likely culprit was the fuel line, and when I worked the fuel line out from its conduit under the deck, that suspicion was confirmed. It had disintegrated in the middle between the deck and the hull. That explained why the engine acted like it was running out of gas even though our tank had been full. It also made sense why we had gasoline sloshing around in the bottom of the dinghy. I spent the evening cleaning/cutting/splicing/clamping/repairing it with the tools and supplies I had on board. After that, Karen suggested we name the dinghy “Patience”: an inspired choice!

Wednesday, May 30: Clarence Town, Long Island to Pitts Town Point

The next morning, we pulled out of the Flying Fish Marina at about 7:30 a.m. and the wind and waves really picked up as soon as we turned in to the Atlantic Ocean. About two hours into our trip east, we got an email from the meteorologist we use, saying it would probably be too rough to make this leg of the trip. At this point, however, we felt committed. We were motorsailing along, but the front of the boat was plowing hard into the waves, so I dumped about 120 gallons of fresh water. That lightened the front of the boat by about 1,000 lbs, and the rest of the ride was much better. We were headed to Attwood Harbor, but around 1:00 p.m., the computer projected that we would arrive some time after 8:00 p.m., and as our intended anchorage sat between two dangerous reefs and we wanted plenty of light to navigate that, we decided to divert to another anchorage a little south of Pitts Town Point. 

Pitts Town Point is absolutely beautiful. We pulled in around 3:00 p.m., and we were completely alone. For that matter, we saw almost no other boats the entire day. Everyone else on the Thorny Path seems to have a solid head start on us. 

That night, sharks showed up at the boat and swam in slow circles around Gratitude for a couple of hours. I was fishing at the time, using mullet for bait and hoping to catch something tasty, when one of the sharks grabbed my bait and took off. For the next three minutes or so, it felt like I was trying to slow a moving car. Finally, the shark broke the line, which I considered a merciful outcome. At that point, I collected my toys and retired inside. 

One of the many sharks that came to pay us a visit that night

Pitts Town proved to be a perfect anchorage on a clear, moonless night. There were innumerable stars, and the bright band of the Milky Way was clearly visible later in the night. It was complete solitude, and we drifted off to sleep to the gentle sound of rain falling outside.

Thursday, May 30: Pitts Town Point to Plana Cays, Bahamas

We got off to an early start and enjoyed the sun rising by Bird Rock Lighthouse as we departed Pitts Town. The first few hours were spent beating directly into the wind. I half joked that we don’t need GPS – all we have to do is navigate directly into the wind each day and we’ll get to our desired destination. 

Sunrise at Bird Rock Lighthouse

Around lunchtime we raised the sails, turned south, and turned off the engines. This was bliss. When the boat is “happy”, it makes all the difference in the world. She sliced through the water, and the solar cells captured the sunshine and topped off our battery bank. Then the fishing line went spooling out. 

Another barracuda.

Seriously. This is getting ridiculous. If I were willing to eat these things, and a lot of people around here are, we’d be set for life. I haven’t crossed that line yet, but if I ever do, it will be out of pure spite. 

(Karen: Just to be clear, Andy and I are agreed that there will be no eating of barracuda on this boat until their reputation for Ciguatera poisoning is cleared. No matter how annoyed we get with them.)

We have not seen anyone on the ocean today – no cargo ships, no other sailers, and no fishing boats. It seems that we have this part of the world to ourselves. It is strange to sail for hours on end and see no signs of human life. 

When we arrived at Plana Cays, we were both amazed at the beauty. Stretching out in front of us was an uninhabited island with crystal clear water, a couple of miles of white sandy beach, swaying palm trees, and not another boat or person in sight. 

Playa Cays: pristine, clear water, miles of sandy beach, and no one in sight

I truly did not know places like Plana Cays existed, or if they did, I expected them to have hundreds of boats in the area playing loud music with dudes in cut-off jeans and mirrored sunglasses yelling and doing cannonballs into the water. As it is, we had this deserted-island-of-a-paradise entirely to ourselves, and I had to pinch myself a little. Karen made homemade guacamole, and we got out some chips and poured cocktails in the front cockpit. We both went for a swim, and among the many fish and coral we saw, Karen spotted a large manta ray, and I saw a Caribbean reef shark about 50 yards away from me. Karen cooked shrimp and grits for dinner (delicious!), and I fed the shrimp tails to a ravenous group of jacks and barracudas that had congregated beneath Gratitude at dusk.

Friday, May 31: Plana Cays to Mayaguana (pronounced “my guana”)

I did not want to leave this spot, but we needed to push on east, and I have a sense we are lagging behind everyone else. Finally we saw another boat, even though we didn’t actually spot any humans aboard! We motored directly into the wind much of the way, unfurling the jib for the last couple of hours when our angle to the wind improved. This made our speed shoot up, and we made really good time. When we reached the entrance Abraham’s Bay around 2:30 p.m., we decided to press on about three more hours east to anchor in Southeast Point. This put us about 15 miles closer to Turks and Caicos, gave us a friendlier departure in the morning (i.e. no reefs or coral heads to dodge as there would have been in Abraham’s Bay). We ended up anchoring in 18 feet of water, in an unusually rocky and rolly location. After last night’s serene stay in one of the most beautiful places I have ever dreamed of, this was an somewhat unwelcome change. I tried to “swim the anchor” to have a look at it, but the current was strong, and the anchor was 20’ deep. Fortunately, I could easily see to the bottom in this crystal-clear water, and everything looked perfect. 

When I awoke around midnight and arose to check on the boat, I noticed two things. The first was bioluminescent protozoa in this bay, which is super cool! Swirl your hand, and the water comes alive, twinkling with innumerable, tiny green lights. The second was that I could see a faint glow on the horizon from the Turks & Caicos islands 45 miles to the east-southeast, where we would be heading in the morning. Both made me smile. 

Saturday, June 1: Mayaguana, Bahamas to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. 

…And good morning hurricane season. June 1 – November 30 is the official hurricane season, and it has a lot to do with the path we are on right now. One of the driving forces in our passage south is our safety; the other is insurance. Both of these are heavily influenced by  the weather. Most insurance policies mandate that you have to be below 12°40’ north parallel, which basically means “Grenada” if you’re anywhere near the Caribbean. We are generally headed there now, but the pressure is partially off since we just coughed up a bunch of money to have our boat covered by insurance anywhere in the Caribbean through the entire hurricane season. We are still in the hurricane belt right now, but historically, the bad storms hit in the months of September and October, and we plan to be much further along and in a safer location by then. 

This was another day of solitude. We did not see another boat on the passage. For that matter, we didn’t see another human from Wednesday morning until we got very close to Providenciales on Saturday afternoon. 

We had been underway on this leg of the trip for about 10 minutes, when my fishing rod made the excited “Biiiizzzzzzz” sound that sends adrenaline pumping into your bloodstream. Before I picked up the rod, I could tell that something living was on the other end. There is something primal that happens in you when you experience a big fish on the other end of the line. I tightened the drag a few clicks to help tire him out and pulled the rod out of its holder, making sure that what was on the other end would not likewise take the rod out of my hands and out to sea. I used the rod to pull the fish in and then reeled down the slack that created. The fish would come close to the boat and then tear away and spool off line, but finally, the rod and I prevailed and tired it out. 

You guessed it. Another barracuda. This one thanked me by shredding another good lure. Catch. Release. Process all five stages of grief. Tie a new lure. Start again. 

The Caicos passage, as this leg of the trip is called, was the roughest we’ve encountered since crossing the Gulf Stream back in February. The boat did quite a lot of plowing into big waves the first hour or so of our trip before things settled down some. In general, there were about six hours where the boat surged up and down with the waves and things slid off shelves and smacked down onto the floor. Once again, we found ourselves beating directly into the wind, which reduced our speed to about five knots (almost six mph). The last couple of hours, as we got closer to Turks and Caicos, the land sheltered us from the wind and the waves, and things could not have been smoother.

The approach into Providenciales, Turks and Caicos bristles with coral reefs that would seriously ruin your day if your boat were to encounter any one of them. There is an arcane channel that wends and bends its way around the unsafe areas, occasionally putting your boat alarmingly close to the coral. The channel, known as Seller’s Cut, is marked (kinda sorta) with scattered green and red channel markers, but the marina offers a free piloting service where someone will come out a smaller boat and guide you through the channel. This turned out to be pretty important. We had started navigating the cut without any pilot in sight, with Karen at the bow of the boat on the lookout for the next set of channel markers and any hazards, and me at the helm, going as slowly as I could while maintaining helm control and staying in the middle of the channel. When the pilot finally arrived (he had engine trouble), I breathed a sigh of relief. He instructed us to follow him, and then he cut outside of some channel markers, and occasionally twisted and turned for no apparent reason. I followed close behind and kept my mouth shut. Before long, we were docked at Turtle Cove Marina, and all was well with the world. 

Our first leg of the Thorny Path is now complete. We’ll enjoy Turks and Caicos for a week or so before sailing south to the Dominican Republic. We have both honed our sailing skills considerably since we left Florida, and we have taken our problem solving to new levels. And we sailed a boat from Fort Lauderdale to the Turks and Caicos Islands! It feels really good, but it also feels obvious that we’re just getting started. 

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.

…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.