The Gift of Going Without

Needing Less Doing More

Page 2 of 5

4 Months Out

There is nothing better than to know that you don’t know.

-Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)

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NIla Girl through the trees.

As Ren and I drive down US 17 South in a rented 10’ Budget moving truck I realize that I am not sure what our plans are.  Yeah, I know where we are headed and when we have to be at Port Everglades to ship out cargo over to the Bahamas but what about our plans?  We do not even really know what we are doing or where we will be in four months from now.  Part of me is terrified by this fact.  The other part is ecstatic at the prospect of change and adventure.  There is a third part of me also.  the third part is saying, “Yeah, yeah, no plans…great.  Yeah, yeah, excitement…whatever.  But how will you make it happen?”  Everyone would be living like we do if they could answer that question with 100% certainty.

Although we do not know what lies ahead of us four months from now what we do know is that we are about 1/4 of the way into a two year plan.  The two year plan includes traveling on Nila Girl and focusing solely on freedive training and competition.  For two years we will suck up all of our financial hardships, missing our friends and family and coping with out other non-conformities in order to pursue these goals.  This brings me to a valid point and one worth making.  How are we doing what we are doing?  How are we maintaing our relationship along the way.  The short answer and the most relevant one is that we make goals and we stick to them.  If I want to jump ship in a year and abandon sailing it is not an option.  We are committed to two years.  If I get tired of training and competing, too bad, two years.  “Stick to the plan” is a mantra developed by Ren, myself and our buddy, Nick Mevoli.  When faced with a fork in the road traveling through the Caribbean we always fell back on this mantra to help make our decisions.  When I want to jump ahead deeper and deeper in my freedive training, Ren and I rely on this mantra to keep the focus and keep us from getting injured or burnt out.  The simple act of setting common goals together is productive.  It assures both of us that our concerns and needs are being considered.  That our hopes for the future will not be washed up on a Bahamian shore one day where we reach down to pick it up, not even recognizing our hope for what it was.

Setting and sticking to the plan shines a light at the end of the tunnel.  If we get tired, bored or craving stability there is always an exit strategy.  I encourage everyone to grab life by the horns, live for the moment, carpe diem, blah, blah, blah but please and especially if you have a significant other to consider, do not be afraid to commit to a change of plan or at least the option for one even if it is a temporary solution.  It’s ok to make plans and it’s ok to stick by them.  It doesn’t mean you have lost your thrill for life, your edge…it means you care about something or someone other than just yourself.  We are in this together and by having goals and discussing them openly, both partners actually feel like this is true.  Like they are part of something bigger, a team.  The work of a team is a beautiful thing.  I am no lifestyle or marriage counselor.  You’ll smirk to hear that I have been married less than two years.  The advice of goal setting is timeless and transcends my limited life experience. 

Whether you are attacking credit card debt, planning to start a a family or working towards the trip of a lifetime, break the unmanageable , daunting parts of your life into smaller bits.  $40,000 of debt sounds like a lot more than a transitional plan would.  A plan where you never look at the $40,000 but look at the debt in terms of  monthly and yearly goals.  If paying off the debt isn’t a real goal, you will never make it happen.  Sit down with your partner and discuss goals in terms of 6, 12. 2 or 5 year plans.  If is was not for this organized approach to managing our lifestyle two people with mediocre paying jobs like ours could not have ever made this happen.  The finances of this trip must be discussed often, sometimes daily (or every time the talk needs to happen).  Sure the conversation isn’t always pleasant.  Sure the tone becomes accusatory and mocking sometimes but we get through it together and keep each other’s attitudes in check.  Besides, a hostile tone can even be productive.    It let’s people know you care.  Nothing wrong with righteous anger.  We live with the same standards working towards the same goals..sometime grudgingly.  However, this team approach to life makes it a lot easier to assess when one of us looses track of the plan.

I know this little equation sounds a bit cheesy but it’s true:

goals+communication+compromise=anything you want!

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A Look Back Before Looking Forward

Our two year plan:

1.Conquer the world.  If that fails…

2.Dedicate the next two years to freediving and sailing around in Nila Girl.

After two years:

1. Figure out if we want to go back to life on land, 8 hour work days, traffic jams, television….

A LOOK BACK BEFORE LOOKING FORWARD

12/6/12

As the first installments of the next set of Nila Girl blogs let’s start with a factual account of last years accomplishments, pitfalls, experiences and observations.

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Tracks from Nila Girl’s first voyage. Highlights included…well…everywhere but especially Cuba.

Total Miles Traveled: ~3,677

Countries Visited: 4

Communist Countries Visited: 1

Crew Along the Way: 3

Failed Marriages Under the Pressure of Confined Space: 0!!

Plane Tickets for Oreo: 2

Freediving World Records Earned: 3

Fish Harvested While Trolling Under Sail: 9

Lures Lost: 2

Bags of Stacy’s Pita Chips Consumed: 4

Bottles of Cuban Rum Drank: 2

Gallons of Diesel Burned: 70

Bottles of Sriracha Consumed: 2

Rolls of Toilet Paper Used: 30

Adventures Left Un-adventured: Too Many

Unforgettable Moments: Infinite

Looking forward to catching you all up on this seasons’s adventures.  The newer adventures will likely include more about our freediving exploits as our new two year plan is all about freediving and living free!

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We’re Back

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

-John F. Kennedy

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The freediving crew on the beach, enjoying a day off from the Vertical Blue competition with Nila Girl in the background.

Ren and I are back yall!  We have truly re-threaded ourselves into the fabric of Long Island.  It occurred to me one night when we first arrived again on Long Island.  We embarked on the second of our twice-daily hitchhikes between Salt Pond, where Nila Girl stays and the 20 miles to Dean’s Blue Hole, where we dive.  Usually we hike in the morning, as people are leaving for work and in the afternoon, when people are returning home from work.  This night Ren and friends, Brian Pucella and Will Trubridge finished a spearfishing adventure late.  Ren and I set off after kisses to our friends with a shopping bag full of fish down the long, dark Queen’s Highway back to our home and some supper, which I still had to make.

As it got darker and darker that night it became much harder to find rides.  Long Island is affectionately known as the “family islands” of the Bahamas.  Any good family islander knows that you have to be home for supper if you want to maintain a happy, healthy home.  As the number of churches outnumber bars, restaurants and grocery stores combined, the Bahamian’s have a great sense of core family values.  Perfect for family life, not so helpful when trying to catch a ride after dark, swinging a bag of fish by your side.  We walked along the side of the road, which really doesn’t exist.  There is no “side” of the road.  Only concrete then an abrupt transitional slope of vegetation leading directly into the ocean.  Slapping mosquitos, which were many this particular night, we trudged on in the dark.  The world was quiet except for the sound of our light footsteps smacking the pavement and the occasional gust of wind, which has a character of it’s own out here.

The faint sound of rhythm echoed in our ears.  We stopped and listened closely as the drum beat got louder.  The beat was intensified by horns and a voice.  The darkness of night was interrupted suddenly by lights.  Bright lights!  The lights came careening towards us and we thought what any other hitchhiker might have thought at that moment, “Aliens!”.  We assumed our routine hitchhiking position, Ren in the front me in the back.  We have noticed that my placement at the rear of the hiking train improved our chances of getting rides.  Probably because anyone welcoming a stranger into their car would prefer a women to a smelly, hairy man.  Not that Ren is either smelly or hairy but hey, how is a stranger supposed to know that.  From our routine positions I lifted my right arm straight out and gave the Bahamian “slow down” arm shake.  The sound of an engine coming to a halt woke us from our fantasy that aliens were picking us up.  Hello!  Alien spaceships don’t sound like 1970’s model Ford F-150s…I don’t think they do anyway. 

To our disappointment, we were not being approached by aliens after all.  To our excitement, we looked up at our ride to see the midnight blue F-150 with silver bed rails running down it’s back.  Emerging from the opaque tinted window which was rolling down in front of us was a head of perfectly suave dread locks and beautiful reggae music, that explains the drum sounds.  The dread locks poked their head out and turned down the music just long enough to say, “Whe ya goin’?”  Our usual reply, “As far as you’ll take us.”  Ren jumped in the front seat which was lined with a patterned seat cover.  The old school bench covers, woven with mulit-colored thread.  The kind my brother has been trying to find in the States for his truck.  Throwback seat covers that remind Corey and myself of our Dad’s grey F-150, the manual shift I learned to drive on.  For people that don’t have as many material belongings as the typical American, this guy would sure give Corey something to covet. 

I had two options, squeeze in the middle of the bench between dread lock, ghost rider and Ren, or take my preferred seat in the bed of the truck.  It didn’t feel like a choice to me.  I threw our bag in the back of the truck, stepped on the rear truck tire and swung my leg over the bed rail.  Saddling up against the rear window with my legs sticking straight out towards the tailgate, I slapped mosquito after mosquito all but yelling for the guy to, “Get moving!”  The truck clunked into gear and we were off.  I had an immediate flashback of this time when my family was very young and living in Charleston, SC.  We were in our maroon Astro minivan going, who-remembers-where.  Ahead on the side of the road was an old black man.  The guy must have been 50 or 60 but seemed ancient to me at the time, just having crawled into the double digits myself at the ripe age of 10.  The man was wearing standard blue Dickie pants and jacket set.  He carried a huge black lunch box.  The kind that comes with a full sized thermos.  Your Dad may have had one, mine did.  One hand on the colossal lunchbox, the other outstretched towards the road, thumb pointing straight up, fingers curled in a fist beneath the thumb.  I remember my Dad saying, “If you guys weren’t in the car with me right now, I’d pick that guy up.”  My Mom looked at him in horror.  She couldn’t believe he would suggest such a thing in front of her precious babes. 

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You can never have enough shots like this.

“Oh God, Earl.  Don’t tell me that!” 

“But really, Mari.  He’s just trying to catch a ride home from work.  He’s harmless.” 

“Ugh!” 

That’s when I first realized that everyone was out to get me…and probably nobody was out to get me, all at the same time.  This thought flashed through my head sitting in the back of the truck, wind blowing my hair straight out in front of my face.  I watched the moon rise over the water from the back of that truck.  The moon was blood red then shifting to orange as it flew up from the horizon to give us nature’s street lamp.  The moon rose quickly overhead and shone bright white illuminating the waters, land, the midnight blue truck and me.  The truck became a bullet, shooting down Queen’s Highway and a smile stretched wide across my face.  I imagined watching us from my perch on top of the moon, shooting down the road, three people, strangers communing in the moonlight just trying to get home after a day of work. 

Although NC is our home, this was the perfect way to usher us into what is quickly becoming our second home, Long Island.  I tried my hardest to silently will the truck to go faster.  Like diving down to depth, you reach a certain point and you just want to keep sinking or in this case,  flying down the road.  It didn’t matter at that moment if we ever got home, I was already there.  Nila Girl emerged in the distance and the truck slowed again, this time to drop us off.  Ren  pulled all of the lionfish he had out of the plastic grocery bag nestled between his feet in the cab of the truck.  He gave the lionfish to dread locks, the perfect payment for a ride home, and a pure experience of gratitude.

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Brief Thought On Cuba

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

-Thoreau

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A farmer in the rich Vinales Valley of Cuba. The crew (including Nick) enjoyed traveling the countryside.

Cuba, Briefly

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Nick, Ashley, Ren and our two guides behind our trust steed, rojo caballo. The car did not have first gear so we pushed it to get it going through the hills.

I cannot motivate myself to write a play by play of our adventure in Cuba.  I do, however, think about the trip often and of the lasting impressions it has left on me.  The simplicity of the life there was appealing to us, as Americans.  As people who are not forced by our government to work in a cigar factory, drive a car, or own a grocery.  Although the underlying impression was that the people lived frugal lives we never encountered a moment where they seemed oppressed or poor for that matter.  This does not mean they are not oppressed, because they are.  But how can someone be poor if they have a place to live and food to eat.  The Cuban people are not hungry, we cannot always say the same for the people in our Country.  Because they are censored, they do not have access to the latest styles or TV shows, but then again, who needs either of these things anyway.  Distractions.  We occupy our time with meaningless interests just to pass time, or because everyone else is doing it. 

Everyone should come to freedom on their own terms, I do believe this.  The Cuban people should find freedom when they are ready.  But, they should also be ready for “freedom”.  They should be ready to vote for Presidential candidate, who will in turn seem ineffective.  They should be ready to have their lives bogged down by a convoluted Democratic process.  They will stand by and watch as “freedom” builds hotels across the green mojotes of Vinales.  “Freedom” will clip their horses and buggies with rearview mirrors as new, improved cars race by.  Be ready Cuba.  This being said, I am writing this at a comfortable kitchen table and will upload to the internet without censorship, hassle or restrictions.  THAT is beautiful! 

What else is beautiful?  Toilet seats!

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Ashley and Ren with some local spearos.

Later, as I recounted the story of our Cuba adventure over and over I realized that I was glossing over an integral element of the country and it’s people.  When people asked, “Are they really poor there?”  I would answer with a dismissive, “It’s all in the context, “ and launch into a lecture about lifestyles, materialism and the decline of our culture, family orientation and core value system.  I conveniently omitted any mention of the fact that toilet paper is a luxury in Cuba or that there are no toilet seats in most places.  A little piece of porcelain or plastic that is, no doubt, not completely necessary.  When asked about the toilet seat the people would either doge the question or answer with, “No se.”  “You don’t know,” I asked back with confusion.  How could they not know that toilet seats are an assumed luxury in America.  Actually, the toilet seat is never considered a luxury.  It’s a part of the toilet, a part that is always there, faithfully waiting for its next customer.  Furthermore, how can they not know why toilet seats are absent from the servicio scenario?

Freedom comes at a cost but it’s one I’m willing to assume.  As for the Cubans, they will find their breaking point soon enough.  Whether it be a breaking point with a Communist regime or whether it be a breaking point with a new Capitalist system.  Hurry and see Cuba now, before it’s not anymore, the land that time forgot.

The Worst Part of Sailing

The Worst Part of Sailing

Saying goodbye to friends and six months of awesomeness…

I am grateful that it is raining as we depart from Fort Lauderdale.  It will be way harder for Ren to notice that my uncontrollable sobbing is punctuated only by brief calls back to reality, a look at the depth sounder, a glance around for boat traffic.  The tears are not even leaving streaks down my face because the rain is washing them away too quickly.  Down to the cockpit floor and out the drain.  The tears become a perfect illustration of the impermanence of the sailing life.

As with everything good in life, anything worth mentioning, the parts of sailing that are so great area also the parts that make it so terrible.  A perfect yin and yang relationship.  Where there is light there must also be dark.  Impermanence means seeing new places and meeting new people, a life of adventure.  Impermanence also means you must leave and say goodbye.  Goodbyes are not all created equal.  There are those you leave with a smile.  You smile and laugh thinking about beers with these people in the cockpit of a boat.  Sailing stories and maybe even a night swim…clothes optional!  “Fair winds,” you say as you bid adieu.  “Catch up with you down the road,” a half-hearted side note.  Not because you do not want to cross paths again.  It is just a little unlikely in this great big world with so much to explore, besides, you are a sailor.  You are no stranger to goodbyes.  Then why do some goodbyes feel like you just swallowed a golf ball, lodging it about halfway down the throat.  You try to choke it back, swallow it, for two or three days but only time will push it down to your gut…which feels empty.  You try to fill your empty gut with food but that does not work.  These goodbyes leave you feeling lonely, isolated. 

As we travel North, I look to the left.  The buildings are perfect tall rectangles.  Like towering stacks of Lego blocks they stretch down the South Florida coast as far as I can see.  There must be a million people over there, working, eating, playing with their kids.  But just offshore, Ren and I are on our own little island.  Both of us are bittersweet that we are saying goodbye to an adventure that has lasted six months and led us to two World Records, a communist country, a religion of our own, full moons in the middle of nowhere, two crew members, new friends and even a little money along the way.  We are bittersweet.  I look to my left, where the rest of American lives and I feel nothing except the damn golf ball in my throat.  It has always been hard for me to say goodbye.  I have a knack for sensitivity, thanks Mom! 

Today I say goodbye to a six month chapter of our lives.  Six months where we lived more and lived closer to the earth than some people live in a lifetime.  I will be able to swallow the golf ball eventually.  It will happen, it always does with a little time and immersion in a good book…or two, depending on the length of the passage.  But distractions are few on a boat.  With nothing but miles of open ocean to focus on.  That and your own thoughts, a daunting proposition for most. Part of you does not want to heal, not yet.  It is like the sweet pain after a good workout.  The pain becomes a physical way to measure the intensity of your workout and to mark your progress.  You know, by the very existence of the soreness that you are better for having worked out at all.  Your future left just a little brighter.

Seven hours later

I took my own advise and decided to avoid myself with distractions.  Five episodes of “This American Life” and two chapters from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and I look out at the glassy ocean and feel at home again.  The overwhelming lights off the Florida coast have faded into a thin sparkling horizon and my throat does not hurt…right now.  Yin is creeping back in and is ushered by momentary peace.  My body, finally, relates again to the passage, the lonely night watch, the ocean, and reminds my mind to cooperate.  Maybe now I can wake Ren up and take my turn with sleep.

Public Service Anouncement

Fielding a Team

It’s that time again!  The Olympic Games are upon us.  We are filling our hearts and homes with national pride (despite out differing nationalities) and will soon be sitting at our kitchen tables with a schedule of the Games and a highlighter, sure to catch every promising athletic moment we have waited the last four years for.  Where does this leave you die hard freedivers?  There will be no static breatholds or dynamic events at his years Olympic Games.  You will not be able to tune in as your favorite freediver just barely earns a white card on a shaky surface protocol.  Although the lack of freediving publicity is unfortunate, countries from all over the world are already putting together teams to compete at the biennial World Freediving Championships. 

This year the championships will be held in Nice, France.  The best of the best will come together and test their physical endurance and mental fortitude at static apnea, dynamic with fins and constant weight with fins.  The Americans are no exception and already have several applications in to the USAFA for a team that is looking even stronger than already stout past teams.  The women’s team is still looking for one more athlete but the line up is strong.  Never have the US sent a more well-rounded set of teams.  The success of the US seems set in stone but there are some challenges.  In order for the Americans to really make a splash on the world stage they must train, train, train.  With multiple national and two world records under their collective belts this is not an impossible task for the accomplished group, but the money is.  The cost of getting the team to suitable locations to train for depth not to mention the cost of going to France for an extended period of time has presented some issues.

The only option for the star spangled athletes is sponsorship.  They are currently seeking sponsorship in the form of airfare, living and training expenses.  Let’s get creative though.  Dollars and cents are great but maybe you have extra skymiles you are willing to donate.  Maybe you have an “in” with a wetsuit manufacturer or someone who can donate custom  designed t-shirts for the team.  Spread the word so the US can bring home the gold on all fronts this summer, including freediving.

Email me for more information on how you, or someone you know, can help.  Cue the chant “U-S-A, U-S-A!”  Oh the excitement!  Their will not be opportunities to tune in to ESPN to catch the record setting underwater swim or the ever humbling black out.  However, you will be able to catch internet updates from the second-most exhilarating world athletic event!

Journal to Jamaica Day 2

A journalized account of our non-stop sail through the Windward Passage from Long Island, Bahamas to Port Antonio, Jamaica.

DAY TWO:

PRE A.M. (2:00 A.M.)

Ren and I just switched watches.  After a four hour fit of no sleep I am sitting in the cockpit with Oreo under a waxing full moon, completely exhausted but resigned to my watch.  We passed the “night necklace” we wear while on water like the baton in a relay race.  Dangling from the necklace is a whistle and a strobe…just in case.  However, we mitigate the risk of falling overboard at night by staying in the cockpit at all times.  Never leaning over the lifelines, not even to urinate.  If one of us must go forward, escaping the safety of the cockpit, they must first wake the other person and wear a harness.  The harnesses are made of strips of purple webbing that wrap around both legs and arms, joining up in the middle with a clip that attaches to the jack lines.  The jack lines run the entire length of the boat and are only on deck when we are traveling.  Ren made the harnesses for us before we left.  This precaution may sound like overkill to the sailor already well seasoned by salt but losing each other…well…that would be devastating to say the least and this kind of accident is mostly preventable. 

I just sat back down from tweaking the sails.  Ren’s approach to keeping watch includes constant vigilance to the sails’ shape, our direction and speed.  He is always trying to bring the boat back to a homeostatic condition, pulling in one sheet, relaxing another in his constant attempts to gain speed and efficiency.  It is this commitment to Nila Girl and our ETA that makes Ren a great captain.  Personally I find the tweaking tiresome.  I prefer to view my watch schedule as four hour appointments with myself where I can read, write, type up this blog entry, or spend time with Oreo.  Tweaking sails is a minor inconvenience to the true purpose of watch keeping.  My myriad of activities must also be interrupted-every fifteen to twenty minutes-by a visual sweep of the horizon and radar if we are using it.  So far, no boats on this particular watch.  I could really get some serious things done around here if it wasn’t for all the sailing. 

Oreo is faring well but like me, takes a day or two to get adjusted to the new sleep, or rather, non-sleep patterns.  It has been almost twenty-four hours now since we have parted Salt Pond and he still refuses to pee.  His bladder will give in, it always does, maybe even sometime later today.  Let’s hope he’s not lying in his bed when it decides to throw in the towel.

A.M.

We are all sitting in the cockpit watching the sunrising overhead.  I have always preferred the sunrise to a sunset.  The sunrise, if awake before dawn, is a welcomed friend, come to bring promise of a beautiful and full day ahead, unlike the sunset who is always trying to turn the lights out.  Also, I gain a sense of accomplishment from watching the sunrise.  Any schmuck can catch the sunset but it takes another level of commitment to be up for the sunrise.  This morning, the pressure is off, literally off Oreo’s bladder as he had decided to urinate, finally.  We just did the math and we made about one hundred and two miles from yesterday AM through the night.  We are averaging over five knots, we are making great time.

All three of us are tired this morning.  We will spend the day partly lethargic, sleep tonight when its is our turn and then we will be in the groove tomorrow.  We will feel better rested and in turn healthier by then.  I have failed to mention that I have a set of workouts to be completed every day while traveling.  We made a lot of progress reaching depth at Dean’s Blue Hole.  Diving almost every day I was able to become more and more comfortable with the world record dive I will be attempting…soon.  Since we will not be able to dive for the next few days because we are sailing, I have a daily exercise schedule.  Yesterday included two stretching sessions and a series of eight breatholds called a “breathold table”.  The table was successfully completed and the stretching was great.  Today, two stretching sessions and an arm workout, yum.

MIDDAY

The morning, in one word, sweaty.  Ren caught another dolphin, a bit smaller than yesterday’s, but just as beautiful.  I made tuna salad with the remaining tuna, which turned out excellent (mayonnaise free for all of you training athletes out there) so we kept the dolphin, as previously planned.  Ren fought the fish up to the bow and back down the starboard side of the boat passing the rod around numerous obstacles, shrouds, sails, the stern railing.  Each time he passed the rod around something from one hand to the next, he also had to be careful not to drop the rod or let the dolphin rip it from his hands.  Fishing off of a sailboat is a real challenge.  No fighting chairs, harnesses, or wide open sterns to secure fish from.  Just a bunch of rolling from side to side and nowhere to stand.  After finishing his lengthy dance around the boat Ren pulled the yellow and green fish out of the water and stabbed a knife into his brain, killing him and alleviating the suffering.  He finished pulling the fish all the way into the cockpit, our living quarters, blood everywhere.  We promptly laid a black rag over the dolphin’s eyes to reduce the chances that he would freak out and thrash about if he decided to come back to life.  We watched in amazement as the fish turned colors from green and yellow to stark white and a brilliantly bright light blue color.  His light blue dorsal fin was tipped in black like it had been dipped in ink.  I am not sure if there is an evolutionary advantage to the color change but the radiance of the spectacle is unparalleled  Although, the rapid color adaption of the octopus is a close second only trumped by the vibrant colors of the mahi.

We are now less than forty miles from Inagua where we will be making a turn to the West to head through the Windward Passage and deeper into the Caribbean.  I will not conceal the fact that thoughts of pirates flooded my sleep deprived brain last night.  My only distraction from the thought of six men with semi-automatic weapons ripping our boat apart only to find what we already told then we had, nothing, was the inspired cadence of Mark Twain.     

P.M.     

The wind has picked up and I have the first shift 9:00pm to 1:00am.  Before the shift starts we decide to watch just one episode of our TV series du jour, Pushing Daisies.  Ren and Oreo cuddle up in a corner of the cockpit and I arrange the computer and external speakers so that we can both see and hear the show.  I stay in the cabin while Ren stays in the cockpit to keep a watchful eye on passing ships.  The show if full of really interesting cinematography.  The colors are vivid and the plot and characters almost fantasy-like.  It is an entertaining show.

Watching such a benign program with my little family helps to dry the tears a bit.  They have  been pouring out in fifteen minute bursts at unpredictable times.  There must be something hormonal going on with me because, although we are leaving comfortable territory for the unknown, I still have Ren and Oreo with me.  We are still living a dream.  I predict a combination of emotions, both controllable and incontrollable are at fault here.  Brewing a pot of emotional instability just for me.  Ren is very patient with me right now.  He understands that there is nothing he can do to fix the problem.  His patience is not beyond asking me once, “You still like me don’t you?”  It will pass in another day, whatever it is.  In the meantime, “I want my Mommy!”

After the show I settle in for my watch and am interrupted within the hour by Ren who cannot sleep.  Nothing surprising there, it’s hard to sleep here right now.  He takes the first watch from me and I sleep for one hour and toss for another two.  It is comforting for Ren to take the wheel.  When he is on watch I am exempt from making decisions which is great.  When he take the wheel I can lie down confident that everything will be fine.  The rough seas are going to leave me exhausted.

 

Journal to Jamaica Day 4

A journalized account of our non-stop sail through the Windward Passage from Long Island, Bahamas to Port Antonio, Jamaica.

DAY FOUR:

A.M.

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Port Antonio, Jamaica. This port would come to be one of our favorites due to the afternoon showers and fresh food right around the corner.

There was a nice surprise waiting for me this morning at shift switch, and no, it was not a severed head.  We were scheduled to do three hour shifts.  Mine ran from 9:00pm to 12:00am then on again at 3:00am to 6:00am.  Ren woke me for my 3:00 shift at almost 6:00!  This means we were further along when I woke up than expected, a welcomed surprise indeed.  The sun is rising right now which is huge for the mental component of the sail.  Waking up tired at 3:00am is a lot different than waking up to a rising sun at 6:00am.  What this really means is that I got to sleep through the night, for the most part.  I am not sure if I ever entered the deep sleep phase of the sleep cycle but I definitely dreamt for the first time since being on this passage.  I think this is the first time I have had time to dream.  To really stretch my sleep legs.

My Mom and I were walking through a dusty little town.  The place had an Eleutherian feel.  This vision must have been the product of the time we Ren and I just spent in the Bahamas, no doubt.  Actually the town looked exactly like the part of Georgetown, Exuma you have to walk to get to the community trash receptacle.  I only walked there once.  Funny how even the most insignificant details imprint themselves into your subconscious.  Eager to be considered important, worth recalling at a later date.  Imagine all the information that must be stored in our brains if only we could recall the stored bits of data on demand.  Wow!  I’m blowing my own mind here, and I digress.

Mom and I were walking through this town during a small festival.  We were trying to get a handle on the local flavor.  We wore big smiles and talked to everyone.  We attempted conversation but were readily rebuffed by the locals.  Their noses turning up at the site of us, or maybe at the sound of our voices.  We walked into a big ping government building to get a drink of water.  A tall white woman with bright red hair, green eyes and a green sequined evening gown hung up a sign advertising her newly missing dog.  The big grin on her face did not match the anxiety she should have been feeling over her lost companion.  Her smug smile in sharp contrast to the sympathy she tried to elicit.  Dream sequence ended.  Suggestions?

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Kids playing soccer on a beach during our entry to Jamaica.

Oreo greeted me with a lot of tail wagging and rolling over on my feet this morning.  Amazing how such a small mammal who contributes nothing to conversation or the necessities of the household can make you feel so loved.  It is kind of like the alcoholic brother you have living on your couch.  You can be damned if he is going to send a few bucks your way to help with rent.  He is not going to get up early and whip up some breakfast for you before you’re off to work.  But the guy is funny and you love him because he is your brother.  Anyway, Oreo greeted me happily and I responded happily especially when I learned that we only had sixty eight miles to go.  As of right now we have fifty eight nautical miles left and are averaging almost six knots.  It looks like the end is in sight.  As a matter of fact, I think last night was my last night shift.  We should be in Jamaica in about 11.6 hours, roughly 6:00pm, and this is a conservative estimate based on only five knots average.  I cannot believe we have managed to shrink a six day passage down to four.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

MIDDAY   

Another hot, hot, day, another nap (two hours), and another dream this afternoon.  I will spare you the details of this dream but let’s just say this, we were traveling the world by horseback.  A white horse with a blue trimmed saddle.  I woke up mad at Ren for having gotten two tattoos without even mentioning it to me first.  The worse of the two being a hug snake covering half of his back.  In real life neither of us have tattoos.  In real life, as in my dream, a huge expensive surprise tattoo will not be a cause for celebration.

I awoke to only thirty two miles to go.  This should put us in Port Antonio at dusk or just after dark.  Jamaica does not acknowledge daylight savings time so we are gaining an hour of travel time.  Imagine that, they do not amend Time to fit demanding work schedules.  Sounds like a bunch of backwards people huh?  I bet they say, “hello” when they mean “goodbye” and I bet they walk on their hands too.  We shall see. 

Ren is fishing again, hunting mahi.  He has been having a great time as we have been traveling the perfect trolling speed.  This is the hottest part of the day.  Usually we try to sit as still as we can and read, fish a bit, write something, anything non-physical.  Any workouts or chores to be done must wait until at least 3:00.  At this time, not only is the heat starting to subside a bit, but our stomachs are perfectly settled from lunch too so we get pretty productive.  No worrisome digestion getting in our way.  Training for this record has made me intensely aware of the digestive process.  It takes thoughtful schedule management to make sure breakfast has had time to digest before the dive.  If the digestive schedule is considered, the dive is much more comfortable and a lot easier as the body is not wasting valuable energy on a process it could have taken care of earlier.  This principal works for anyone, not just freedivers.  Avoid midmorning indigestion or unpredictable evacuations by eating on time and slowing down.  Do not eat on the way to work, eat well before you get there.  Chew your food, a talent inspired by our friend Lance on EZ.  I’m still working on this one.  The body already knows what to do, learn to use your body properly and will not leave you feeling used.

P.M.

This place is lush and green…and mountainous!  We cannot wait to explore Jamaica and take lots of pictures.  More to follow…

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Banff Brownies Gourmet Galley #4

A spoonful of inspiration.

Vegan, no sugar added brownies that will knock your socks off.  This is why I need almond butter so bad!

We have made Banff brownies twice in Nila Girl’s galley.  Once on our passage to Jamaica (please reference Day 3 blog post) and once while my brother, Corey, came to visit.  I am not much of a baker, never have been but I will admit that if you really want to make someone feel truly happy, special, have a big dish of warm homemade brownies waiting for them.  These are the sentiments I want to impart to both Ren and Corey, which is why I have made brownies for both of them.  Homemade brownies does not mean you’ve opened a box, added water and baked them in your oven.  Homemade means you have dirtied at least four different utensils during the measuring and mixing process.  And in the case of these brownies, you have used more than three ingredients.  Besides, Banff brownies do not come in a box at the store.  In fact the vegan, no sugar added recipe is the brainchild of the ever inspiring Banff Luther of Pavana.

These brownies mix up wet.  Even after baking they are a moist, sticky mound of black pleasure (why is it that the brownie description is already sounding like the preface of a porn novel?).  The brownies are so dense that your fingers get lost in them as they sink deep into the gooey food while you are just trying to hold one of them (again, maybe I should omit the words “Banff brownies” change them to “Chuck Longwood” and send this article to Hustler).

Banff always had a fresh supply of these brownies made up.  If he had a vice, this was certainly it.  He was not ashamed to turn us all into brownie seeking zombies searching for our next fix.  So here we are, in the Bahamas addicted to Banff brownies but there is a serious problem.  Bahamians cannot bake brownies.  They can do bread.  Their fresh, warm coconut bread is unrivaled.  They can also make a sort of tart, so I have heard, I never tried one myself though.  Why would I?  The tart does not have chocolate in it.  But they make brownies in the fashion of their English brethren, dry, bland and wholly unsatisfying.  Like a little square of dry chocolate cake, crumbly and bad.  Banff brownies are in the sharpest contrast to these abominations of chocolate.  Remember folks, we cannot all be good at everything.  Bahamians, stick to bread.  By the way, you owe me $1.75 for the crappy little confection you misnamed “brownie” that I bought in Governor’s Harbor.  Yes, I ate it anyway but not because I wanted to.  Only because I am compelled to finish everything on my plate.  This is in thanks to my half Italian heritage, I am sure.  I have got to learn when to say, “Basta!”

Banff Brownies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 cup white wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup Hershey’s extra dark cocoa

1/4 cup regular cocoa (we used carib powder)

1 teaspoon sea salt

2.5 tablespoons vanilla (we are pirates now so we used rum which is a perfect vanilla substitute)

1/4 cup water (we used rum…just joking)

1 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup safflower oil (we used olive oil which we do not mind but it’s a lot stronger than safflower oil and affects the flavor slightly)

3/4 tub almond butter (we used peanut butter because we ran out of almond butter a long time ago and my brother brought us Nutella instead of the almond butter we requested…FAIL)

Mix all ingredients by hand until smooth and pour into any baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 22 minutes until the middle is loose but tooth pick pulls out clean.  Baking times may vary depending on size of the baking dish or maximum temperature of your oven, which in our case, Nila Girl’s only reaches 300 degrees.

When done, let cool 10-15 minutes for settling before cutting.

Enjoy!

NOTE: The ratios above are copied from a recipe I got from Banff himself.  All substitutions are  unauthorized but work!

Journel to Jamaica Day 1

DAY ONE:

A.M.

I woke up to the gentle rub of a familiar and rough hand on my back.

“Come on Ash, time to get out of here,” as Ren tried to coax me out of bed.  I whined, and whined and whined, until he had to ask me again.  Not so gently the second time around.  We stayed up too late last night saying goodbye to Jeanette and Brian from Puff.  It’s likely the last time we’ll see them for a few years, unless I get sponsorship to go to the Vertical Blue competition in Long Island this coming November.  Hint, hint.  5:30am was not in my useable vocabulary this morning.  The only thing that was may have been, “this sucks.”  However, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.  No amount of bitching on my end was going to change the fact that we have ten days to get from Long Island to Jamaica in the forecasted light winds.  Ren thinks it will take at least six days to cover the four hundred mile distance, again, the winds are forecasted as light.

I ripped the covers off of myself and stomped around with a sour frown on my face.  It was dramatic, especially considering I had to make my point in the confined space of our cabin.  All the while Ren is humming and dancing about.  He is more of a morning person than I am.  It’s a quality I love about him.  He bounces out of bed and spreads his contagious good cheer song and dance by little song and dance.  I immediately felt bad for making a tough situation worse with my crappy attitude.  We worked together to haul the dinghy onto the bow of Nila Girl.  By carrying the dinghy on Nila Girl instead of towing her behind us we will gain up to one knot of speed.  We only tow her on shorter, one-day excursions.  Ren, engine already warmed, pulled Nila Girl up to the government dock in Salt Pond where we have been beating around for the last month.  Oreo was awarded one last land pee and I threw away one last bag of trash.  Reluctantly, Oreo and I, answering Ren’s whistle, walked back over to Nila Girl after out ten minute land break.  Ten lousy minutes to last us six days on the boat.  I was looking on the voyage with trepidation.  We neglected to say our goodbyes to Mike and Jackie at Long Island Breeze.  We did not say goodbye to the donkey, Grey Boy, who we made friends with, visiting him nearly every day.  We taught him how to play tug of war with a piece of rope in lieu of nipping at people for affection.  I suppose that’s the nature of the sailing life.  Unparalleled experiences, new friends, landscapes but leaving a wake of farewells behind you.  You are always saying goodbye.  As the captain pulled us away from the dock I said my silent goodbye, shed a tear, straightened the cockpit for travel and went back to bed.

MIDDAY 

We ate leftover lobster and garlicky rice from the previous night’s “goodbye supper” for breakfast.  On the side, some of the homemade blueberry jelly my Grandma canned.  The rice was made garlicky by adding a pickled mixture of whole garlic cloves and gardenier mix Ren’s Mom helped us can.  The mix is perfect to add a punch of flavor to anything or to eat straight, as an appetizer.  The day is hot, sunny and the water a deep purple.  I cried once at the thought of leaving a month’s worth of routine and new friends behind.  Not to mention, the most perfect freedive training alongside world record holder, William Trubridge.  We dove every single day almost, great preparation for the feat ahead.  I always cry when it’s time to move on but the tears dried as Ren reminded me that we are on our way to Jamaica.  The anticipation of the new adventure creeps into all the empty spaces in my heart leaving Long Island has left.  I am ok again.  Oreo is hot this afternoon and may get a haircut tomorrow.  It is particularly hard to keep him comfortable during a passage but it is hard on all of us.  Now back to “The Autobiography of Mark Twain.”  Thanks Mom and Dad…and Corey for bringing it over for me!

P.M.

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Oreo waiting patiently for his supper, which was rarely just dog food.

We caught a skipjack tuna about midday.  Oreo had a supper of tuna, including the roe while we had lightly seared, but slightly overcooked tuna steaks on a bed of pasta.  We also caught a dolphin but readily released her since we had meat already.  The tuna is going fast so we will keep the next mahi we catch.  The sunset was brilliant but foreboding.  Anxiety was starting to creep in as the sun hung lower and lower in the sky.  I always dread the first couple of nights watch.  Everything is intensified at night when veiled in a cloak of darkness.  The wind blows  harder, every bump against the hull is deafening as I imagine the boat twisting in half and breaking apart between waves.  All of this teamed with a little sleep deprivation should be a torture technique.  Tonight could be a long night punctuated with tears as I tend to get homesick while at sea.  No distractions, just your thoughts and a lot of time.

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