It always amazes me how quickly everything can go wrong. One minute everything is fine and we’re pulling easily out of the slip, excited about finally leaving the comfort of Key West for the adventure of a lifetime that has to be sailing around the Caribbean, and then in a second the wind takes our little boat and we’re heading at the super expensive motor yacht in the slip next to the one we rented for the night. To be fair we hadn’t been in a slip since a year earlier, the day we arrived in Key West. So we were a little out of practice.
I grabbed a fender and put it between us and the boat. I had learned a tangible lesson about trying to break up boat fights in New Orleans when I got crushed between our boat and another trying to pull out of the spot next to us. I had almost lost half my hand that time.
Lots of yelling ensued and at the last second Adam was able to jam it in reverse and avoid hitting the other, far more expensive, boat.
We were off.
“I know what breakfast is!” I yelled as I disappeared below. I came up with 3 tiny bottles of horrible 99 proof shots. The boys each had peach and I had espresso. As always, our faces morphed into dear-god-why-do-we-do-this. Before they could complain I said, “It’s tradition guys, *cough cough* It’s tradition… oh god.”
We put up the sails and the sun was shining and we shut down the motor and life was awesome.
As we sailed away from Key West Bill yelled, “Dolphins!!” and pointed out to sea.
“Where??” We yelled as we flung ourselves out of the cockpit to look.
“There!” he said.
“There. Under the birds!” he gestured unhelpfully.
“Whatever, they’re dolphins,” He said. “We’ve seen dolphins.”
“No Bill,” I said, shielding my eyes and searching the horizon. “When the dolphins don’t matter we might as well throw in the towel.” And then “DOLPHINS!” as they broke the surface.
We spent the night anchored in Key Largo and were gifted with truly incredible colors as the sun went down behind America for the last time for the foreseeable future. We set sail the next morning.
The sail over was delectable. The day, utterly gorgeous. As we entered the gulf stream, the Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald came incessantly into my head. We thought this might be a bad omen but decided to add it to our gross shots as pre-sail tradition. Sort of a break-a-leg kind of thing. The sail being what it ended up being only solidified this.
The dichotomy between this time through the gulf stream and the last time through the gulf stream was remarkably vast. The only problem was that this time we had no wind. We put the sails up but motored almost the whole way, not wanting to get caught sailing through the night. We also didn’t want the stream to push us too far north or we’d never get back to Bimini where we planned to check into customs in The Bahamas. The waves lovingly rocked us as we motor sailed on, reciting Captain Ron almost in it’s entirety, simply to see if we could.
At one point a loud beep, disrupted our lovely day. We had a sea water cooling alert. Bill shut down the motor right away, we stopped completely and bobbed easily in the water. There was nothing in site on any side of us. Everything went quiet. Adam jumped into the water to check the intake. It was not obstructed. He came up talking about how beautiful and blue and clear the water was. He took apart the motor a little and fixed the problem. And that’s the extent of my knowledge on the motor, or it’s problems…
We listened to music as the ocean breathed. I couldn’t believe this was the same water we had come through in November. The swells were big, but far apart and not breaking. We rode them gently up and down, up and down, in a meditative dance that started 100,000 years ago when Neanderthals began sailing the Mediterranean.
We had decided to drag Hemingway, our dinghy, instead of folding him on deck like normal. If someone wanted to be alone he or she would get into the dinghy and be dragged for a bit.
The boys got very drunk and sang Rocket Man so many times that I wanted to throw them overboard.
We anchored at Bimini in the dark, so when we woke up we were blessed with coming out from the depths to blues bluer then anything we had ever seen. The wind was up, so the water was choppy but we could still see the bottom. Something we could never do in Key West. And the color of the water was something out of a painting. Blues ranging from navy to teal to so light it almost looked white depending on the depth. We got up, had breakfast, the boys had coffee and we pulled in the anchor to go find a dock somewhere. As we drove into the harbor we watched huge rays fly under the water around our boat. Bill and I just happened to be looking the right way when one left the water and flew five feet before belly flopping back to earth.
After Adam checked us all in at customs without the rest of us even being there or them looking at our boat, we found a marina and had our first real taste of island time. We must have hailed the marina 26 times. They never responded. We motored over to the gas dock and finally the man at the pumps told us we could park there and wait. We tossed our bow line to J.R. and I jumped off and secured our aft one. J.R. was a charismatic, ham of a man. His skin was deep brown, made darker by being in the sun all day, everyday. He had a navy blue Gilligan’s hat on his round head. His teeth were bright white and showed prominently when he laughed. Which he did often and with gusto. We had to wait for a boat that was fueling up so he showed us the ring toss game he used to stave off boredom. It’s very simple, just a piece of line with a metal ring on the end of it and a hook on the wall. My analytical minded men spent the next hour and half trying to win at this. Adam did eventually. Once.
J.R. was loud, spoke quickly in an island sort of vernacular. Which the internet says is Creole but I spent a lot of time in New Orleans and must respectfully disagree. “Tah dyat ah fomenah.” Was how he told me to cleat off my line. We liked him right away.
Everyone told us we had to go have the conch salad at this certain stand down the road. We walked 20 minutes to the stand, reveling in our new surroundings. The buildings were old, not well cared for and crumbling. They were painted bright happy colors and had bright happy children running around in their yards.
When we got to the conch shop there was a teenager hammering the shells out back. He stood in front of a massive heap of conch shells, higher then our heads, next to a bright aqua colored ocean scene. A small boy watched intently close by. The conch salad was horrendous. It was essentially conch and lime juice soup. It made our eyes water, our lips pucker and our skin moisten. We ate it, thanked the ladies and moved on. Three small bowls of salad and three beers came to $45.
On the way home we decided to stop at a bar called One, Two, Three, Floor. As we sat down a large man came up from behind and put his arms around all our necks and laughed into our ears. It was J.R.. he introduced us to his friend Derrek and then kicked our asses at pool.
I sat and talked with Derrek. He was a robust man with a shaved head. His face sagged with the extra weight. He had a large gold chain around his neck, a very expensive looking watch and a gold ring. He told me about his wife and his girlfriend. When I asked why he doesn’t leave his wife he told me that he loved his wife more then anyone on earth. I then asked why he doesn’t leave his girlfriend and he said she was too beautiful. They bought us a couple drinks and then we tipsily left the bar.
It was still light out but a storm was rolling in. We had left the boat open, which was stupid on many fronts, and so when an old Biminian man drove by on a gulf cart I asked if he would give us a ride. He said no, pulled over and waited for us to get in. We were as confused as you are but we didn’t look in that particular gift horse’s mouth.
When we got to the boat we got all the hatches closed and just as the last one was latched it began to bucket down. We sat around eating, drinking and talking as the rain ushered in the night.
We woke up at the dock and were itchy to get into that beautiful water. We sailed over to Turtle Rocks, a rock formation three miles out. We found a mooring ball and all put our snorkles on and jumped in. The water was exceedingly clear. There were so many fish. Bright blue angel fish in huge schools that spread around us as we swam through them, parrot fish, squirrel fish, whom always make me giggle, which makes my mask fill up with water. There were cute, fat puffer fish, electric blue, super handicapped looking fish, little black fish who fiercely protected their homes and darted at our faces when we would get too close, and hundreds and hundreds more. I chased a four foot, black tip shark for a while hoping to keep him in sight until the boys could get close enough to see. I lost him but caught up with him again later when we were all together. He swam straight at us then veered off as we must have come into focus. Adam pointed out a huge fat ray as it glided gracefully by. When the boys went back for sea-food catching gear I swam with two baby sea turtles for a long time. They had little flippers and little heads and their back legs ruddered along behind them. At some point I realized I was more then a mile from the boat and headed back.
The boys tried to catch some lobster but they were too fast. We speared a fish and went home. On the way back to the boat Adam and I came upon a massive swarm of tiny, clear jellyfish. It was so big and wide we could not see a way around it. He went under, I went through. Neither of us got stung.
We impulsively decided to begin the sail to The Berries, planning to anchor whenever we got tired. It was extremely shallow the whole way (15 feet average) so we could pretty much anchor anywhere. We would get beat up all night. Adam kept dreaming about the boat breaking away or the rudder breaking off and whined in his sleep.
Sailing has become an absolute treat. Especially when the weather is nice. We are a well oiled machine. We don’t need to say much anymore. Everyone knows their parts depending on where one happens to be relaxing when a tack needs to happen or a sail needs to go in, out, up or down. We know the names of all our gear and we use them correctly(except that I kept calling the main sail the head sail leading to us now, and probably forever, calling the main sail the second head sail. Which ironically I can remember). It is much more stress free then ever before and has become empowering and makes us trust each other more. It isn’t often in my life that I have been part of a team of any kind. I never played sports or cared about extra curricular activities and so this feeling of being one part of a whole is very new to me. I find I like it quite a bit.
After a truly spectacular sunset on the water (Adam claimed it as the best of his life) we put on a movie and, covered in blankets, watched it, as we sailed. The stars were spectacular. Better even somehow then in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
After a rough night we were all exhausted when we woke up. We tried to sail off the anchor but it got a little chaotic and we ended up turning on the motor to get faced into the wind.
We balanced the sails and laid around being lazy. The winds were coming out of the East so we could only go North or South. It was going to take us a couple days to get there.
We put out a line and eventually it zinged out and we had caught a fish. I jumped into the dinghy to grab it. We got him right up to the dinghy, I grabbed him and pulled up. He broke lose, taking our lure with him. We think it was a barracuda. Which you can’t eat anyway.
We decided to use trusty old Mr. Washington, a giant green and orange Rapala with which we caught all the Spanish mackerel coming through the Gulf. Every time I see him I get a little twinge, remembering the time in Key West that he lodged one of his big barbed hooks two inches into the meat of my hand.
We were going slow. Really slow. And not in the right direction. But the water was so very clear and beautifully teal. And with the motor off the spray around the boat made an effervescent sound as we glided gracefully through the water.
I love sailing. I love when the sails are so balanced that nobody needs to touch the wheel. I love the extreme heel of the boat that forces you to walk sideways and presses you into the seat on the leeward side. I love standing on the bow when the boat lunges out of the water, tosses me up in the air and then dives down into the next wave to catch me. I love the song the boat sings when the wind blows through her rigging. I love how quiet it is and how slow it is and how peaceful it is. I love the blue water and the salty spray. I love playing games with my boys instead of playing on the internet or playing music and dancing. I love how much time I have to read, write and think. I love how much I learn about sailing everyday. Without even trying.
We decided to keep sailing after yet another spectacular sunset.
The stars are something. I didn’t realize how much light pollution America really has but I have never seen the stars quite like this. Orion has twenty stars inside his warrior body. He has only ever had three or four before, at most. We stare at and talk about the stars every night, much like, I assume, the natives did. It’s our entertainment and our meditation. It’s stunning.
Once the sun went down we found out just how gun-shy we are of sailing at night from our first experience with the gulf stream. We were flying through the water, which had been fine during the day but at night seemed far too fast. So we reefed our sails, making them smaller so that we would slow down. In doing so we had to turn on the motor to head into the wind so we could work the sails. We still had a line out and, though we wouldn’t find out until we anchored that night, the line had wrapped around the prop. Adam psyched himself up for an early morning swim to cut it away, but when we woke up, after a night of being slammed up and down in the waves, the fishing lure had worked itself off.
We had a hard sail in. We really worked for it. We smashed our way toward the Berry Islands as the sea came over the boat to lick our faces from time to time. We yelled instructions to each other in the wind and the boat leaned heavily to port the entire day. We anchored, as soon as we could, in a cove just north of The Berry Islands, ate spaghetti, watched a horrible movie about straight guys accidentally ending up on a gay cruise and went to bed exhausted, to be thrown around all night once again.
The next morning we sailed into Great Harbor Cay. Bill dropped the anchor as Adam and I quickly and expertly pulled the sails down. All of it happening so smoothly that it seemed we had been doing it for years. Later a man, another sailor, who had been eating at the beach bar on the shore and watching us come in, would praise us and call us purists for not starting our motor to anchor.
I rowed us in, slightly emasculating my boys. We pulled our dinghy up onto the beautiful white sand and walked in the sun 100 feet to the bar. We had drinks and ate and chatted up some other sailors. Afterward we took our dinghy over to a small island and snorkled around. I swam down, turned up and watched, mesmerized, as the waves broke over a shallow part again and again. It’s new and enchanting from underneath.
I couldn’t believe we were finally there. We had worked so hard. And it was so much more beautiful in it’s remarkable details then ever we had imagined. My soul was on fire.