The Gift of Going Without

Needing Less Doing More

Page 3 of 5

Journal to Jamaica Day 3

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

DAY THREE:

A.M.

My A.M. shift ends at 7:00.  I have been at the wheel since around 2:30am and have done my fair share of hand steering.  Usually we just set Duane the Wind Vane and he steers for us.  This frees up our bodies and minds.  Having to hand steer takes a lot of mental fortitude.  Looking ahead a the deep blue nothing, staying on course, occasionally fighting oncoming waves, staying awake…for hours. 

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A cockpit shave job. Only the best for Ren!

Ren took over at 7:00am and I went straight back to bed.  Before my morning nap I had slept one hour the previous night.  My nap tacked on almost four additional hours of sleep.  Usually we get eight to ten hours of sleep per night, uninterrupted.  Change this healthy pattern to maybe five hours per twenty four hour period, not a consecutive five either.  Five hours taken in one to two hour increments, not healthy.  We are both extremely tired.  The lethargy can be blamed partially on the oppressive sun.

I woke from my nap sweating.  The waves have turned into a lake and the wind is non-existent.  Not even a breath of it to dry my sweaty body.  We have resigned ourselves to firing up the ol’ “Iron Jib.”  We hate to do this because running the engine both wastes fuel and costs money.  However, we cannot spend the day going nowhere either.  I have a flight to catch from Montego Bay to Fort Lauderdale in a couple of days to try to hustle us some money teaching freediving.  Also, let’s look at the numbers.  Since we have left North Carolina we have only had to purchase fifty nine gallons of diesel.  Fifty nine gallons and we run the engine whenever we need to.  This means, we have not been exceptionally frugal with our fuel.  Back home, Ren’s F-250 Ford diesel pickup held thirty eight gallons of fuel.  He would burn a whole tank of fuel per week on average, running around town.  This does not account for out of town trips, the diesel for his tractor, or the diesel for my car.  Our little Perkins is nice and efficient.  Today she will run to keep us on track.  She is currently running 6.3 knots with some help from the mainsail and spinnaker with only one hundred and forty four nautical miles to go to get to Port Antonio.

MIDDAY

The wind is so calm that we had to take down the spinnaker to keep it from flapping around.  The engine is making sure that we maintain a respectable speed.  Today is really going to affect our overall trip average which stinks because we made such great time the first couple of days.  Besides the breathold tables and arm workout I will do later, when it is cooler, my goal is to dry out a bunch of my cold weather gear that got soaked during the more turbulent weather of the last couple of days.  Nila Girl still has some leaks, a problem I am hoping we can completely eradicate this summer.  When water leaks into the boat usually when we are heeled over pretty far or taking waves over the bow, it leaks mostly in the v-berth area.  This means that our freshly laundered sheets and some of our clothes have become tainted with sea water.  The tainted items will never dry.  The salt in the sea water hold water in, keeping things feeling damp.  I can hang the affected items out and get them crispy in the sun but there are still two problems:

1. Salty, crispy clothes itch.

2.When the items contact moisture again, even just the humidity, they feel as wet as when you first found them doused in saltwater.   

We will have to rewash everything when we get to Jamaica.

P.M.

A beautiful end to a beautifully calm day.  We just ate supper in the cockpit under the nearly full moon.  I seared up a piece of mahi for Ren and made a cold pasta and pea dish.  My belly was craving something without a lot of seasoning and I wasn’t in the mood for any meat tonight.  Oreo had fish and cheese. 

Speaking of Oreo, his spirits were exceptionally high today, as were mine and Ren’s.  Since the seas was so calm and the winds were down we had to run the engine through the entire day (it is actually still running now).  This means that we had a calm day on the ocean.  The kind of day where we were afforded the opportunity to accomplish some goals.  I dried out all of the salt tainted clothes and bedding described before.  Ren re-glued pieces of our dinghy that were causing air to leak.  I made Banff Brownies, a recipe passed on to us from Banff on Pavana (see earlier blog entries for Banff description).  The brownies are sugar free, for all of you athletes in training out there.  Oreo walked all over the boat, going out on the gunnels anytime he wanted.  We relaxed and enjoyed the calm.  I was able to do another breathold table and stretching session today.  My arms are really sore from the workout yesterday,  I love the feeling of soreness earned through physical exertion.  It is good for the mind to push the body to hurt.

We still have not seen anything notable in the water.  No turtles, dolphins or anything, except the beautiful fish we caught.  We are now only ninety eight miles from Jamaica.  I am looking forward to exploring a strange new world.  I am also looking forward to the trip back to Fort Lauderdale.  It will be sobering to see some old friends again.  I also look forward to the prospect of making a bit of money.  It feels good to line the pockets with a bit of cash.    

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Awake

I am sitting here on one of our saloon cushions at 1:15am.  At this point, I have already slept for five hours and will go back to sleep after I get out a bit of restless energy.  This kind of midnight sleeplessness happens often now that we are on a boat, without jobs and without a grueling social schedule.  After routinely getting plenty of sleep night after night, the body readjusts to it’s new rhythm.  A more natural rhythm that doesn’t leave the body starved for sleep.  Down in the early evening, up in the morning with a midnight interlude to the sleep.  During the usually quiet, middle of the night, sleep respite is the perfect time to surf the internet if any is available, read a book, or write if the mood strikes.  Sometimes it is Ren awake, sometimes me, but rarely both because as soon as one of us wakes up, the other one instinctively stretches their cramped limbs and discovers they have the entire bed to themselves.  Whoever is not awake slips into an even deeper sleep as they stretch horizontally across the bed.  The v-berth, when occupied by only one person, is the roomiest spot on Nila Girl.  Tomorrow, Ren will be well rested, bright eyed and bushy tailed after ten or eleven hours of uninterrupted sleep. 

At this moment, the wind has been howling for twenty-four hours straight.  A cold front has moved through and Nila Girl is confined to a narrow strip of water called Joe’s Cut located on the northwest side of Long Island.  We made it here two days ago from the balmy and bustling, Georgetown, Exuma and the Captain deemed this place adequate protection during the strong bluster, scheduled to keep our hair tangled for four days.  The blowing wind has offered a unique chance for us to catch up on boat chores.  Today I scrapped glue off the cabin floor while Ren wired an outlet to the v-berth.  I placed random artwork and pictures in attractive places around the boat while Ren replaced the hinge on one of the lockers.  The blowing wind allowed me to finish reading Kate Chopin’s, The Awakening, without guilt. 

When the wind is too strong to sail with, you can use it to rest instead but only after you have adjusted to the sounds of a boat trapped in an intense weather pattern.  The howling is exacerbated against the hull of the boat with small waves splashing against Nila Girl.  Every ill-adjusted halyard running up the mast is audible as it smacks up against the metal.  Ting, ting, ting, ting….arrrgh!  The wind is restful after the first 12 hour period of the storm.  The 12 hours you spend adjusting every ineffectual piece of line and chain to keep it’s clamoring from climbing up your spine while you try to sleep.  Ah, to be blessed with one deaf ear, as I was.  I never really thought I would find a practical purpose for my disability but then again, I never knew I would be living on a boat either.  My stormy nights are simplified by turning over on my left side, exposing my useless right ear to Nila Girl’s commotion.  The Captain resents my potential as he gets up for the tenth time of the night to adjust this or that, because I cannot hear the ruckus outside, but he has his own useful gifts including near x-ray vision, which is annoying to me since I have undergone surgery to improve my eyesight and I still find my capacity for long distance vision inferior to his natural talent.  Oh well, I get over it quick as I turn on my left side and fall fast asleep during the weather fronts.

My brother, Corey is scheduled to fly in the day after tomorrow.  I will spend another windy day tomorrow making two batches of hummus so we have plenty to snack on while he is here.  I worry a bit about the duration of this wind storm since it is Corey’s first vacation in a long time, his first trip overseas, and his first time visiting calm, clear, beautiful waters such as those Ren and I enjoy every day here in the Bahamas.  I hate that instead of leaning his head against the window pain of the small engine plane he is taking from Nassau to Long Island, mouth agape, as he flies over miles of blue, turquoise, and even bluer waters, spotting sharks, fish and sailboats along the way, he will instead be seated upright, white knuckled, gripping the armrests on either side of him, visualizing the small plane catching a gust of the stiff wind, throwing it off course, careening in a death spiral out of the grey sky down to the white capping seas below.  The waves swallowing the plane, burping in contentment with it’s latest meal.  Maybe my imagination has run away with me from slack of ten hour straight sleep, or better yet, maybe my brain is turning to mush from all of the sleep.  Either way, this is what I worry about as I wait for my brother to arrive.  I will pass the time tomorrow preparing for his arrival by making the hummus and finishing up my weekly meal plan. 

Corey will spend his first day here, a windy day, with us on the boat instead of jumping directly into the water to harvest supper as we had hoped.  But the weather will clear by the next day and we will enjoy a half-day family sail south down the coast of Long Island, finishing up the day with the long awaited dive session.  Making sure to harvest Corey’s first lobster supper of his trip.  It’s not just the diving I’m excited to share with my brother.  It’s everything he hasn’t seen yet.  Buying warm coconut bread from one of the local bakeries, shopping in an ill stocked “grocery store” but still finding yourself eating better than you ever could at home, ordering a sweaty Kalik from the only restaurant in town, tasting the Kalik and realizing it is actually terrible beer but nothing short of a cold, canned Budweiser after mowing grass in 90 degree weather could taste better at that moment, toting the laundry to a laundromat on the dinghy while the waves come over the bow and soak you in saltwater, taking pictures of the “end of the road” whatever that may be, walking half way through the island to the top of a hill where you can see both the mighty Atlantic Ocean and the calm Exuma Sound at the same time, passage making on Nila Girl, trying to get a glimpse of the flamingo flocks in the Acklin Islands, not to mention, just chilling in the cockpit with the full moon overhead and a candle flickering on our cockpit table sharing wine and a lobster supper catching up after the longest period we have ever spent apart…ever.  It is going to be great to have our little brother on board.

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Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley #3

  

Smorgasborg

A spoonful of inspiration.

A simple supper.

Please note the “ “ around “gourmet” in the title of the Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley blog entries.  These “ “ act as a disclaimer so that you will not expect each entry to be a life changing work of art.  Far from it even.  Sometimes I would like to report on what we eat when the cookey does not feel like cooking.  What goes on in Nila Girl’s galley when we have spent the day freedive training and only have enough energy left for the most basic meal?

It is my job to feed the family.  Only on the rare occasion can I complain my way out of this essential duty.  In the same rare way that Ren can convince me to get out of bed, get dressed and dinghy Oreo over to the beach for his pee-pee, way before I am ready to move; I can con Ren into making up some vittles for us.  When I will not cook and he will not be convinced to take over, we resort to our family smorgasborgs.

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Smorgasborg has always been one of the author’s favorite meals. Ren is easy and quickly adapted to this simple pleasure.

Smorgasborg supper is a long standing lazy supper tradition passed down to me from my family.  Mom, Dad, Corey and I would gather around a kitchen counter, armed with knives, cutting up cheese, pickles, pepperoni and sometimes olives.  We would take the cutting board, now loaded with the recently cut goodies, into the living room and make toppling towers with the bits of food stacked too high on top of saltine crackers.  We never called the meal smorgasborg, we just called it “crackers and cheese”.  The name, smorgasborg, is unique to Ren and myself.  The simple meal/snack of goodies was expanded to include bananas, raisins, sun dried tomatoes, leftover bits of fish, simply EVERYTHING from the fridge.  We add and add to our own cutting board until it resembles a veritable smorgasborg, a plentiful buffet fit for a king.  We know the meal is fit for a king because we tried it out on King Oreo.  He approves of smorgasborg night mostly because we must drop more food on the floor as bits of overcrowded food are pushed closer and closer to the edge of the cutting board with every swipe of carrot through blue cheese dressing.  As I scoop up a handful of raisins and pair them with a couple of green olives I taste the pungent cheddar cheese and salty pepperoni of my past.  I enjoy the flavor until my tastebuds are assaulted with the conflicting tastes of raisins and olives.

Funny how food does that.  It becomes the bookmark by which we remember past experiences or the vivid tastes of food for the first time.  Something about taste and flavors sends signals to the brain, singeing memories into our psyches to be recalled at the next bite.  You may taste bitterness every time you eat scrambled eggs, recalling the harsh words your parents screamed right before their divorce as you sat by, eating scrambled eggs and ketchup.  A cheap hot dog made perfectly with ketchup, mustard and too many raw onions (that you will not doubt regret later) may conger up memories of running around with your teammates at the ball park growing up.  Waiting, and eating hot dogs, before your game began.  I will never eat pasta fagioli again without thinking of my Papa and the last meal I remember eating with him, pasta fagioli he had made, cluttered with bright green peas.  Tacos were a favorite in my family.  We ate tacos often but still not enough for my taste.  I remember sometimes running out of sour cream and substituting mayonnaise on our tortillas.  I secretly loved the mayonnaise substitution.  Not a tear was shed by me when we ran out of sour cream.  For some reason, I did not transition from a sour cream to mayo user in my adult life.  I use the obligatory sour cream on my tacos like everyone else, except I long for the mayo…or the taste of childhood.  As I sit here writing, I am also in the process of making burritos for lunch.  Maybe today I’ll use mayo.

Smorgasborg (Futral-Chapman Style)

Ingredients we used during our last meal:

2 eggs fried sunny side up.  Ren accidentally broke two eggs while unloading our grocery bag so we cooked them up and added them to the board.

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup bananas

1/2 cup green olives

2 cups lightly fried potatoes and carrots (in olive oil)

2 squirts blue cheese dressing

2 squirts Sri-Racha magic red sauce

Cut all ingredients and serve on a cutting board.  Limit cooking, this is lazy supper, remember?  Smorgasborg must be communal eaten off the cutting board, preferably with the hands.  Forks or chop sticks may be used if absolutely necessary. 

*Get creative with the ingredients.  Include anything that is on the verge of spoiling.  This avoids food waste and makes the smorgasborg interesting.

Enjoy!

NOTE: I never measure amounts when I cook and guessed all the ratios in the recipe above

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Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley #2

Pizza on Pavana

A spoonful of inspiration.

Pizza made with a mahi Banff harvested baked in Pavana’s oven,  served with a salad on the side.

It seems that of all the foods we crave while adventuring on Nila Girl, which are many, pizza is at the top of the list.  It’s hard to find descent pizza in the Bahamas and if you do, it’s not likely to be worth the pretty penny you would spend on it.  Ren and I crave Antonio’s Commentatore pie from back home.  Lots of sauce, garlic, eggplant, basil and two cheeses perfectly melted on top with just the right amount of cheese grease drip when you fold a slice in half.  We miss ordering out a Commentatore and drinking one beer each while we wait for the pizza to be ready for pick up.  We pick up the pie and eat it with lots of crushed red pepper while taking in a movie projected on a king sized sheet in our old living room.  Next year, we’re bringing the projector with us on our cruise.

As Banff of Pavana, Ren and I perused the grocery aisles in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, we brainstormed about the night’s supper.  Within minutes, and almost jokingly, Ren sighed, “Pizza would be good.”  I groaned and immediately started pouting, knowing that this wasn’t an option until Banff, a beacon of light on our grim pizza situation, said, “Alright, let’s do the pizza thing.”  Banff already had the whole wheat flour and yeast needed to make the dough, which was really the only limiting factor.  Pavana was also adequately overstocked with everything we would need for the top of the pizza or anything else your culinary heart desired.  In short, Pavana was like a floating grocery store, but not Food Lion.  Pavana was a Whole Foods or Fresh Market, complete with organic selections and vegan options.  I think I spent a total of $40 shopping at ‘Groceries a la Pavana’.  Anyway, Banff already had pizza sauce, soy cheese, jalapenos and mahi to be grilled and added to the top.  Nila Girl isn’t exactly shabbily stocked herself.  She was to contribute fresh parmesan, straight off the block (thanks to a little Italian ancestry) and a nice big salad with all the fixings.  We picked up some mushrooms to add to the top, payed out and met Oreo at the grocery store sliding doors where he was keeping a close eye on the golf cart we rented. 

Eager to get back to the boat and start the dough, we finished our uneventful self-guided golf cart tour of Spanish Wells and hopped back into Banff’s dinghy to head back to the strong ships…

Digression:

Spanish Wells was uneventful if you consider I stayed up half the night researching the small island and it’s history of inbreeding.  It is safe to say that I became momentarily obsessed with the history of Spanish Wells, which includes Anglo-Saxon settlers, racial pride, and a long line of inbreeding.  I searched the internet for pictures of the people and family trees with branches intertwining like the trunk of a ficus.  Needless to say, I was disappointed when we got there.  First, the long history of inbreeding was not readily apparent in the people.  They looked normal, just with a backwoods sense of style.  Second, the place reminded me of my hometown of Richlands, NC but Richlands about 30 years ago.  Industrious people with a big red streak in a mostly white town.  Nothing unusual about Spanish Wells if you are already from the rural south.

We needed to shower, feed Oreo and pack our “supper time bag” (a waterproof bag made of recycled sailcloth by Ella Vicker’s Recycled Sailcloth Collection, perfect for keeping food items dry on the wet floor of a dinghy) for Pavana.  Snapping photos of the locals while heading out of the harbor area, I spotted something strikingly red floating in the water.  so red, it reminded me of that scene from the book, The Giver, where the young giver gets his first glimpse of color in an otherwise black and white world.  The color he saw was red and the imagery was powerful.  We approached the bobbing red objects with caution until…holy geez!  The floating red balls were bright ripe tomatoes with the occasional red bell pepper sprinkled in.  Apparently a box of fresh tomatoes and peppers had fallen off the dock right into the dinghy’s path, and nobody was claiming them.  Guess what goes surprisingly great on pizza…yep!  Tomatoes and red bell peppers.

Banff weaved in and out of the crimson gates as Ren and I stretched to retrieve very piece of valuable food we could.  Trust me, if retrieving floating food with a dinghy was an olympic sport, we would be representing Team USA.  A local, who was working on his boat engine nearby (I told you they were industrious people), noticed us scrambling and joined in on the aqua-harvest.  He relinquished his bounty to us poor sailors and we greedily grabbed the goodies.  Besides being on a budget, we were Team USA of the Aqua-Harvest event, not him.  He should check himself!  Ah but the pizza was looking better and better.  We wiped the drool from our mouths with our sleeves and continued on to the boats.

The four of us, Oreo was always welcomed on Pavana, met back up on Banff’s boat around 6:30 or 7:00, all freshly showered and hungry.  Banff had already let the dough rise and it was time for the art to begin.   Ren saddled up on the settee with a cold Budweiser and watched the magic happen.  Oreo sat right between my feet and waited for me to drop some magic on the floor.  Banff worked on shaping the whole wheat dough and grilling the fish while I threw together the salad and prepped the toppings for the pizza.  Cucumbers, chopped spinach, grated parmesan, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and some basil colorfully lit up the stainless steel mixing bowl the salad was contained in.  For a dressing, I mixed together olive oil and pear infused balsamic vinaigrette.  Banff opted for Amy’s Goddess dressing (a noble choice).  When the pizza dough was sculpted, Banff added jarred tomato sauce and swirled in spoonfuls of my Nannie’s homemade pesto, which I will be bringing a lot more of for our next cruise.  Pesto is good for a lot more than just pizza and pasta, folks.  The base of the pizza was painted perfectly with the sauces before flaked bits of lightly seasoned, grilled mahi were sprinkled in.  The already radiant pizza required some more green so chopped spinach and jalapenos were thrown on top.  The tomatoes and red bel peppers we found were sliced and delicately arranged on the bed of spinach, offsetting the green.  A few sliced mushrooms, the yellow soy cheese and white parmesan…voila!  The beauty of the meshing pizza ingredients made the raw colors palatable.

Banff popped our canvas into the oven and the three of us started giggling in anticipation.  Oreo did not giggle.  In fact, he was pretty pissed that I had prepared my share of the meal without dropping a single slice of anything.  Don’t worry, he always gets his share of, well, everything that we cook.  So that we didn’t start gnawing our fingers off, we passed the pizza cooking time in the most painless way possible.  Ren and I cracked open a couple of beers and the crew settled in for two episodes of the hilarious TV series, 30 Rock.  The laughter was the only thing strong enough to distract our appetites.  Of course, we checked on the pizza no less than four times while watching.  The hardest ten minutes of the evening came when the pizza was taken out of the oven and placed on the counter to cool.  Who’s idea was it to let food cool anyway?  We stared at the pie and suffered through the last ten minutes of our second episode.

Finally, the moment arrived.  The pizza was judiciously served in even amounts to prevent WWIII.  Since I am an athlete in training, i got a fair share of the pie too, despite being of the fairer sex.  The salad was dispersed, a mere afterthought lying next to the pizza.  A fluffy side dish to keep our slices comfortable before we devoured them.  We ate, savoring every bite, while watching a third episode of 30 Rock.  If you haven’t seen the show yet, you’re walking backwards.  We shared a solitary tear when supper was finished and the dishes were licked clean.  Banff took Nila Girl’s crew back to our boat and we said our goodbyes.  You see, homemade pizza was the perfect last supper to share with our new friend on Pavana.  We parted ways with a good taste left in our mouths, already eager for our next encounter with Banff.

Mahi Pizza (Pavana Style)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Ingredients:

1 grilled Mahi steak, lightly seasoned

1 cup cheddar or cheese substitute

1/2 cup parmesan (NO substitutes)

1/2 cup canned pizza sauce

1/4 cup pesto

Our Pizza Toppings:

spinach

tomatoes

jalapenos

red bell peppers

mushrooms

*Get creative with your toppings.  Include on your pizza anything that is on the verge of spoiling.  This avoids food waste and makes the pizza interesting.

Dough:

1 cup warm water

1/2 cup seawater

1 tblsp powdered yeast

1 tblsp sugar (we use agave nectar)

4 cups unbleached flour or wheat flour

Combine yeast warm water sugar and seawater and let stand 5 minutes.  Mix in flour and let stand until dough doubles in volume.  When dough has doubled, punch down and knead.  Let rise again by 50%.  Punch and knead again.  Take out 1/3 of the dough for the pizza crust.  Bake the rest as bread!

Mix “pizza herbs” into the dough (basil, parsley, etc). Spread the dough out on the cooking surface (foil works well on the boat).  Cover the dough with pizza sauce and add half the cheese. Let the toppings begin.  Add your toppings and cover with the remaining cheese to hold it all together.

Bake at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Let the  pizza cool on a cooling rack for at least 10  minutes before cutting.

Enjoy!

NOTE: I never measure amounts when I cook and guessed all the ratios in the recipe above.

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Acquiring Crew-Part 2

“It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain”

-Thoreau

Nina stayed at the house with us for three days.  As Nila Girl’s leave date approached we were not eager to leave our new friend behind quite yet.  We were sharing experiences; she introduced us to the movie, Taxi Driver…which disturbed our sleep, we showed her the value of a home cooked lobster supper.  She engaged me in really fulfilling breakfast conversation, we took her diving.  It was a symbiotic relationship that needed more time to develop.  Against our initial gut-reaction, which was to haul away and leave a trail of tears behind us, we invited Nina to crew along from Green Turtle Cay, Abacos to Harbour Island, Eleuthera.  It would be two full days of sailing.  We warned her that she may get sick, the weather could get rough, we didn’t have facilities to urinate in, etc.  Without batting an eye, I told you she has a pure sense of adventure, she agreed not to complain about the aforementioned shortcomings and spent the rest of the day canceling and re-booking flights, and I mean the entire day.

A hint of apprehension came while Ren and I were loading Nila Girl up with the personal effects we had brought to Doc’s house.  Laundry, food items, toiletries, etc. filled the bottom of our dinghy.  After we offloaded our belongings we started carting Nina’s stuff over, and kept carting, and kept carting.  With the hard bottomed rolling duffle she had it was apparent that when she booked her vacation she was not anticipating a stay on a sailboat.  And if she was, she had no idea how to pack for it.  This, however, was not her fault but I admit, I panicked a little when the walls of our 10’ beam boat began to collapse in around me as more stuff came piling in.  It wasn’t just the sheer volume of extra things we were taking on that caused the trepidation but the idea of letting a near stranger into our intimate little nest.  The boat is small and Ren, Oreo and I are already exposed to too much in our tight little space.  For example, I can smell and hear Ren pooing while I’m cooking breakfast just 10’ away.  When Oreo got sick from eating sand, he barfed up the fish skin he ate just 4’ from our pillows.  We woke, not to the sound of him barfing, but to the smell of rank fish.  A lot of love and trust make living in this constricted space possible.  I was concerned about how well Nina would fit in to this, and not necessarily with her comfort level but with mine.  A strange girl peeing off the side of the boat just seconds from my husband.  Things could get weird pretty quick if the situation wasn’t handled tactfully.  Ren left me alone on Nila Girl to unpack and organize our things and Nina’s many bags.  I sat alone on the settee for a moment as he ran the dinghy back to the dock to retrieve Oreo and our new crew member.  As I sat, I though to myself, “Well hell, there’s no turning back now.  The sooner I get all of this stuff put into a proper place, the sooner I can regain a sense of control,” which, unfortunately, my character needs.

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Nina Sernacker, Nila Girl’s new crew. Stay tuned for more info on this author’s new book.

With about two minutes to spare before everyone arrived, I found a place for everything and threatened the rest of the crew when they did arrive that everything should STAY in its place.  After the threat, Nina explained to us that her family was incredibly apprehensive about her decision to board a boat of strangers and set sail.  Turns out we weren’t the only nervous cast of characters in the play.  Over Skype, the captain and I had to reassure, as best as we could, Nina’s Mom and sister that our intentions were not to lure her in to a death trap, knowingly.  We had never murdered anyone on the high seas, yet.  And our pirate lifestyles were limited to Ren’s beard, the pour of rum into our coffee (pirate breakfast), and the occasional pillage.  In turn, our family had to be convinced that Nina wasn’t a “friendship scammer”.  Picking us out of the crowded harbor to gather intel about our boat and relay the valuable information to her counterparts who would ambush us at sea.  If this were true of Nina’s intentions, it would make her both the worst friendship scammer and best actress in history.  The worst scammer because of all the boats in the White Sound anchorage, all but us clearly had enough resources to ensure the most basic comforts while sailing.  Comforts such as a head that you can urinate in, or a shower even.  These comforts must have been lost on Nina because she choose Nila Girl.  A boat where she was required to pee in a bottle (also sharing the apparatus that funnels the pee into the bottle with me) or pee overboard in front of the whole world.  She was required to shower out of a bucket, outside in the cockpit (which she opted to refuse during her time aboard).  She would be the best actress in history because not even Martin Scorsese could script the laundry list of questions and concerns that Nina poured on us.  She responded to our directions and plans with the utmost concern, verging on panic at times.  None of her questions were of the type that would be helpful in conveying usable information to scamming counterparts.  She had no clue about our direction, coordinates, firearm situation, communications, nothing!  These simple facts alone were enough to convince us that she was crew material, not a really bad scammer.  A bed was made for Nina on the starboard side settee, the beautiful, yellow curtain/door for the v-berth was pulled shut (thanks Nannie!) and we closed our eyes, excited about the leisurely sail we had ahead of us the next morning and slightly nervous in anticipation of how our new situation was going to shake down.

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Ashley and Nina bonding in the settee.

We began a nice two day sail over to Harbour Island, Eleuthera at about mid-day the next morning.  We were waiting to depart for high tide so we could traverse a particularly shallow part of the path.  Before our departure we had time to treat ourselves to another breakfast at the Green Turtle Club.  Breakfast is definitely my favorite meal of the day.  It also happens to be the most affordable meal to eat out (win, win, win).  We ate, stowed our gear, pulled the anchor and were off.  The wind was nice, the company was stellar and the sunset later was magic. 

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Nothing like a little yoga to keep the muscles loose under sail.

Along the way, Nina and I enjoyed stretching on the bow of Nila Girl while Ren took pictures.  We listened to good music the whole way ending in blue grass, which Nina loves, surprising us since she lives in NYC.  Nina and I practiced our amateur psychology as we discussed our families, work, fears, passions, blah, blah, blah.  I’m sure Ren and Oreo were wondering when the chickens would stop squawking…which would be never….muhahaha.  I took full advantage of having a female companion on board.  You know, another female, who would actually answer your questions in a timely manner after you ask them.  Another female who would patiently listen to your rendition of the night’s dream before sharing hers.  Having Nina on board for conversation was a luxury.  Ren, eager to make Harbour Island, suggested that we sail through the night.  I was not as eager to subject our new crew to that kind of treatment, meaning, an overnight sail.  He shortly rescinded his threat of a night passage when his stomach began to growl and he realized his chances of a descent meal were greatly reduced if we were not at anchor.  Also, the path was a treacherous one at night.  We would be able to navigate more safely during the day, with the sun overhead.  We dropped our hook in  a desolate and protected place called Lynyard Cay.

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Nina, throwing the peace sign, happy as a lark under sail.

Leaving Lynyard early the next morning, Ren and I let Nina sleep in as we prepped ourselves and Nila Girl for the ocean crossing making Harbour Island would require.  Letting her sleep seemed like the descent thing to do but proved to be a mistake.  Having your breakfast down, things stowed, coffee or tea made and morning constitutional expelled before letting the ocean push you around all day is key to having the most pleasant day of sailing possible, despite the conditions.  It is not prudent to wait for Mother Ocean to kick you in the face before attempting to cook breakfast, and you wouldn’t want to miss breakfast!  Once the motion of the ocean begins, the time spent below deck, in the cabin, must be limited, otherwise you run the risk of being punched in the gut by the nausea of seasickness.  This is precisely the ill fate that awaited our newest crew.  It was our fault for treating her like a passenger, not a crew member, by letting her sleep.  Melville warned against sailing as a passenger as opposed to crew in chapter one of Moby Dick, which I know because Nina read this aloud to us while sailing.

She spent the sick day lying about the cockpit, swallowing bits of vomit just to keep it all down.  Ren assured her that she was earning her sea legs by hanging tough through the sickness.  Landfall at Harbour Island couldn’t have come soon enough for Nina.  When it did, an elated smile washed over our three faces.  We entered the precarious inlet and were rewarded with the flat calm  waters of the harbor.  The shallow harbor floor was littered with huge starfish, nestled in stark white sand.  The captain picked out a quiet spot to anchor Nila Girl where we saw Puff anchored just behind us.  Puff is a mini-pirate ship looking sailboat belonging to our friends Brian and Jeanette Pucella, who are also from NC.  Needless to say we dropped the hook, met up with the sea-weary Brian and high tailed it to land with our libations, avoiding the additional cost of buying drinks at the resort bar where we tied up the dinghies.  We drank and decompressed while Oreo enjoyed peeing on every manicured grain of sand at the resort.  He ran through the neat Zen garden of a beach, peeing and dragging his feet through the little sand rows.  We didn’t even try to stop him.  He deserved the moment.  When we finally limped back to the boat, we made a gorgeous and substantial supper and swallowed the meal and the day down.  All apprehensions relieved through a successful trip, drinks and food.

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Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley #1

A spoonful of inspiration. 

Lobster quiche made with a lobster Ren harvested baked in our gimbaled oven with a side of grapefruit.

Genesis of Nila’s Galley

From the early emergence of our plan to purchase a sailboat, then live and travel on her, the boat’s galley became of particular interest to me.  Ren would lie in bed looking at hundreds of potential Nila Girls passing the laptop to me when he found one that met our criteria.  He would point out the more integral aspects of the bateau du jour while I acted interested and twiddled my thumbs until he graciously let me off the hook and skipped to the pictures of the inside of the boat.  I wanted a good look at my territory.  The part of the boat I would be allowed to make into a home, where we would sleep, eat, entertain guests, work on the computer and most importantly, cook. 

We both love food and have always eaten well.  It  is important to us to fill our bodies with good fuel and love every minute of it.  Eating is social and brings people together, family, friends and strangers alike.  Try going to a cookout or friend’s dinner party without noticing at least one or two people with their cameras out, shooting the food.  We all love to eat and we all love a beautiful meal.  Through pictures, we make new, brilliant art out of the chef’s craft.  From early on, it was not hard to get me excited about food and the prospect of eating.  I vividly remember a moment in college when my brother, Corey and I lived together.  My brother announced that we would make tacos for supper (a family favorite growing up, and still is mine).  I broke out in dance and song, jumping around our apartment in anticipation.  “Man,” Corey said.  “I’ve never seen anyone get so excited about food before.”  Anticipation is a funny thing.  As our friend, Branff suggests, anticipation is often worse than the thing itself.  Not true for food, bring on the anticipation!  I want the thought of the food to melt in my brain much like it will melt later, in my mouth.

As the captain of Nila Girl, Ren has imminent domain over most of the boat.  He controls the engine room, where I didn’t bat an eye when he informed me that we were driving down to Florida to purchase a “new” engine.  He rigged the boat and spent countless hours and pennies outfitting the topside, making sure she would perform safely and still look good.  Function over form of course but form becomes more important when you are considering spending a substantial amount of time in a small space.  I wanted to love and be proud of our boat.  As Ren controls the topside, I can flex my authority over the inside.  I wanted new cushions, he sewed some up.  The floor was rotten looking, we got a new one.  The walls were bare, we added pictures and art.  The galley counters were outdated, Ren resurfaced them. 

Although I have considerable power in the belly of the beast, it became apparent early on that we were not making the boat purchasing decision based on the arrangement of the living quarters.  Having the exact galley style that I wanted was not a consideration with our budget (next time it will be).  However, I persevered.  When we finally decided on a boat and brought our Nila Girl home, we set to making the galley right.  We fought over how much room I could consume with cookware.  Ren argued that I only needed one pan to cook everything in.  HA!!  If any of you out there are foodies, you know that this is like saying, “Yeah, Ren.  Just bring the sawzall, you can do everything you need with that right?”  It’s just not so.  We settled on me taking up as much space as I needed to bring all the tools of my trade, which equated to four cabinets for cookware, one for dry storage, one non-working refrigerator compartment for dry storage and one spice cabinet.  This may sound like a lot of space to dedicated to the galley but this is my art.  I cannot sing or draw.  I cannot just pick up the guitar and understand how all the strings work, even with practice.  I cannot paint would like to try.  I love to express myself and feel jealous towards those who have a real talent for art.  Cooking is my art.  I love to research and read about it.  Not just recipes, although they are great to muse over for inspiration.  I like to read “The Salt”, the NPR food blog.  I like the Food Network, although we have not had TV in years.  I like to have an extra hour or two to just start throwing things together, using whatever is in the galley to create something that is not only lovely and presented well (which is why I love the colorful Fiesta-ware my parents bought us for our wedding) but something that nourishes our bodies (including Oreo) and makes Ren happy.  He takes care of 75% of everything required to sail us from one place to the next.  Our lives are in his hands and it feels good at the end of the day to let him tap away at the computer or read a book while I make something that feels like a reward for his efforts. 

One thing I held fast about when we began traveling is making sure that we did not alter our eating lifestyles to fit the boat.  This means, I went to great lengths to try to provision Nila Girl adequately so that we did not resort to eating like we were out camping (which we eat pretty well camping too but that’s an entirely different story).  I didn’t want Ramen Noodles or tons of canned food, both foreign to us in our kitchen at home.  I wanted to have every spice, vinegar and oil that was used at home to make our meals.  I read and read about cooking on boats, provisioning the galley, etc. and found a lot of useful information about food storage and proper preservation.  However, a lot was still lacking in the cooking aspect of the galley.  Sure, in a pinch I’d like to have a can of black beans to open.  Sure it’s harder to find EVERYTHING you need, all the time, to make homemade salsa but come on!  The proper cheese grater was on board, a throng of knives was at my disposal, three cutting boards of different sizes, a juicer, chopsticks, the Magic Bullet, and of course the kitchen sink.  Why would I have to learn to cook from a can when I had all the resources to cook like at home?  NIla Girl was home now and I wouldn’t compromise our health or dignity by indulging in a new and less dignified cooking style. 

I learned to cook aboard Nila Girl.  It was a seamless transition.  She is only lacking in counter space and extra space on the stovetop to have two pots going, but only if I want to use my big pan, otherwise, the two burner, gimbaled stove works just fine.  The oven is completely operational too, and has proved to be a major asset (gotta have cornbread once in a while).  A lot of books and resources warned against using real dishes aboard a boat.  One guy even suggested to us that he uses dog bowls because they don’t break or slide when sailing.  No, no, no, no, no, no!  I would not serve our meals in dog bowls and especially not to guests.  Don’t get me wrong, the functionality of the decision to use dog bowls does not elude me.  I’m just not doing it.  Would you use dog bowls at your supper table?  Neither would I just because my table sways from side to side a little bit.  We use real coffee mugs, real plates, real cookware, real everything, and have yet to break anything.  Because we heel over while sailing in our mono-hull I did take extra measures and placed a small piece of bubble wrap between each of the six dishes we have on board.  This has worked wonderfully to prevent movement of the dishes and to prevent the dishes from getting scratched from the constant undulation of Nila’s hull.

The galley is one of my biggest sources of pride here on the boat.  Ren swells my head during every meal with grunts of satisfaction and the occasional plate licking (a bad habit).  I’m not even sure if I can cook well or if he’s just really hungry all the time.  Either way, we have taken colorful picture after picture of our meals aboard Nila Girl and other friendly sailboats.  Through the new series, Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley, I hope to whet your appetite while sharing these pictures with you.  I would like to tell you all about Pavana and everything I have learned about the galley and eating in general from her solo crew.  I would like to share a few recipes and ideas along the way too.  Mostly, I would like to share our gastronomic experiences with you, appealing to your sense of form along the way.

Lobster Quiche

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 sizable lobster tail

1 graham cracker crust (ours was store bought but homemade would surely be better)

6 eggs

1/2 cup freshly grated parm

1/2 cup freshly grated cheddar

1/3 cup milk (we used dry milk)

3/4 cup finely chopped spinach

1 tbl cumin

generous amount of fresh ground pepper

pinch of salt (unless your drinking water contains salt, as ours does)

Steam lobster in 1/2 of water until meat is white all the way through.  Cut tail down the middle and peel meat out.  Chop lobster until fairly fine.  Beat eggs and milk.  When beaten thoroughly, add half of the parm and half of the cheddar (reserving the rest for later), lobster, spinach, spices and lobster.  Pour mixture into graham cracker crust and place on baking sheet, uncovered, in oven.  Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. 

When done, add remaining parm and cheddar to top of quiche and let bake another 5 minutes.  Pull quiche out of oven and let cool 10-15 minutes for settling before cutting.

Enjoy!

NOTE: I never measure amounts when I cook and guessed all the ratios in the recipe above.

Acquiring Crew-Part 1

“It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain”

-Thoreau

While in Green Turtle Cay (GTC) we managed to pickup our first crew aboard Nila Girl.  Ren was hankering for a cold drink and some socialization (apparently only having me to talk to 24-7 isn’t enough.  I don’t get it).  We walked down the half-paved, half-dirt road from the house we stayed in to the Green Turtle Club, 

Digression:  Yes, we are lucky!  The night we pulled in to White Harbour Ren announced our arrival on Facebook where he was assaulted by a barrage of instant messages from our very generous friend, John Shedd, or Doc as the locals more affectionately know him.  Not only does Doc own a house on GTC but he insisted that we stay there.  Although I was already naked in bed, and almost asleep, I was prodded to rise with the hopes of a full on shower (you know, hot water turned up, letting the water run over your head like you’re not going to run out of it anytime soon…or maybe you don’t know because all of your showers are this leisurely!), a bed that doesn’t move, and a little piece of yard for Oreo to pee all over.

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Brendal taking it easy on Green Turtle Cay.

Back to end of first paragraph: your average overpriced tourist hot-spot.  There were already two people at the club’s bar when we arrived; Brendal, the local (and not so local) dive legend who runs Brendal’s Dive Shop.  An example of the not so local legendary, earlier that day we hung out with Brendal for a moment, stopping by to say, “Hey” from a mutual friend.  While we were hanging out we learned that Brendal was waiting for the Today Show to come interview him.  A huge plaque on his dive shop wall boasts a whole list of similar accolades.  Not to mention, he’s a 50 something, completely buff, dark black man (think, Seal dark) with high cheek bones who wears a red speedo.  He is a specimen deserving of a second look, man or woman, you look no less than two times!  Brendal was drinking something orange colored and was sitting next to a woman who I took to be part of the Today Show entourage.  She was alone except the company of Brendal and a salad, which had too much Italian dressing on it (I cannot vouch for supper at the GTC but breakfast was amazing!) and wasn’t dressed like a cruiser, meaning, she looked clean and put together with big wild hair that had been slightly tamed and reigned in to the top of her head.  My cutoff shorts were no match for her colorful, layered style. 

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Nina and Ashley tearing it up on a golf cart.

As we started chatting, and she told us she was a writer from NYC, my interest was peaked.  We learned, over $8.00 cocktails that we later felt guilty for indulging in, although she drank cranberry juice which I’m sure absolved her guilt, that Nina was not, in fact, part of Brendal’s production.  She was a lone traveler who had ventured over to GTC from Treasure Cay for a look at the “real Bahamas”.  I was immediately fascinated, a writer (who cares what she has written and what she hasn’t, I was definitely curious, however, about what she was working on at the moment, being alone on vacation meant that she had a lot of down time for thinking) and a lone traveler.  I have always wondered about the merits of traveling alone.  I have also assumed that they are many as you have all the time you would ever need, without the structure of considering someone else’s schedule to really get a place figured out.  Ren and I met early, meaning soon after I graduated from college, which has limited my opportunities for alone travel, but he has an adventuresome spirit.  I don’t think I’m missing out by having a permanent traveling companion, because he is so intrepid, however, to think is one thing and to know is another.  It may be nice to try it sometime (Nina, I think ennui would be an improper term, if not a downright impudent term to use when describing your traveling audacity!  Screw whoever said that).

The four of us, Nina, Brendal, Ren and myself chatted over drinks with the occasional input from the bartender, Julie, who poured us drinks, listened and spent the rest of her time holding the top of the bar down with her elbows, just in case it decided to run off I guess.  With nothing else on the agenda that night (or really any other night for that matter, we are on sabbatical) we agreed to follow Brendal and his wife Mary over to a local party at Don’s house.  When Mary walked into the GTC bar in a white miniskirt and scarf, I felt like I was sitting on the barstool in my pajamas.  My mother would not have been proud of me next to Mary or Nina.  I would have definitely gotten a, “Aaaaash!  At least brush your hair!  Damn girl!”  I’m still not sure who the hell Don is but I do know one thing, the people of Don’s party were gracious, offered an open bar, shook hands firmly and had the music turned up WAY too loud.  So loud that Ren, Nina and I decided the party wasn’t conducive to conversation so we spent the rest of the night touring GTC, drinks in hand (sans Nina) on the golf cart she had rented.  We enjoyed winding around the dirt roads, a new beach at every bend with the gasoline golf cart engine humming.  The wind was up a bit and felt good on our skin, cooling but not cold.  There was no “city smell” on GTC.  You could really open up your lungs and let the fresh air in.  Ren and I would pay $8.00 per drink but drew the line at renting a golf cart, which proved to be a huge asset for our explorations.  In time, Nina’s golf cart became as good as our own anyway, so it was a win, win (or win, win, win as Michael Scott would call it).

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NIla Girl heeling with Nina in tow.

As we parted ways that night, we made firm plans to dive the next day and firm-ish plans about a meeting time.  Nina was interested in breakfast at the GTC.  She was craving french toast, which I agreed to make on Nila Girl the next morning.  I only agreed to make the french toast because the thought of paying too much for french toast where the bread may be cut too thick and soaked in too little egg wash makes me sick.  It makes nina sick too!  We both hate dry french toast!   Now, I already told you that the breakfast at GTC was delicious and worth the money they charge for it, however, you cannot gamble with french toast.  Armed with a new personal breakfast connection we departed until the following morning.  On the way home Ren and I decided that Nina was looking for adventure, and being that she has been living in NYC, she may benefit from our slow, southern style (cue Alana Miles’ “Black Velvet”).  We would invite her to save some money and come stay at the house with us for a night or two.  There was plenty of room at Doc’s. 

Not to get into too much detail about the morning dive trip since I have already described it in detail (please see previous post titled, “The Blues”),  you must know two things that I did not mention before. 

1.Nina agreed to stay at the house.  She was stoked about the opportunity.  As one who has been traveling for years she has a healthy sense of adventure even if she doesn’t know it.  Without the NYC neuroticism, she would be a regular Lewis and Clark (or one of them anyway), paving the way for the rest of us.

2.Before the dive, but after and ONLY after breakfast,  we suited up for our dive on Nila Girl.  Nina, not being self-conscious about her body, even with a full breakfast belly, stripped down to her nudey suit and started to don my 5mm Dessault wetsuit.  She did not have her bathing suit and I didn’t want her to get her undergarments all wet while diving.  She needed to wear them later, so yes, I encouraged the situation.  As happens, especially with a 5mm open celled neoprene wetsuit and extra-especially for her first time attempting to put on the suit, she got completely stuck at the head.  She could not pull her head through the neck and hood of the suit.  This means that her arms were through the arm holes but suspended out and stuck like the little brother from “ A Christmas Story”.  You  know the scene where he cannot put his arms down because his snow suit was too thick?  That was Nina but with her head still stuck inside, arms rendered useless, and the front of the suit conveniently jacked up, and also stuck, above her breasts!  Her girls were really catching some fresh air.  Our dive companions, Ren and local guru, David were trying their best to be gentlemen but come on, if there is a train wreck ahead, you have to slow down and look (or so they say, although I’ve never witnessed a train  wreck).  Now imagine the train wreck were breasts and the girl the breasts belong too is stuck so that the breasts are flapping in the wind and she can’t tell what is going on outside because her head is still inside.  To make the storm a little more perfect, a huge catamaran with six retirees rolled by about ten feet from Nila Girl’s bow.  The cat’s crew were on the geriatric side of retired and were moving slowly, really slowly, since we were anchored in a sound with a ton of other boats.  I rushed over to pull the  wetsuit over Nina’s head but was rendered helpless by the moment.  I looked at the boys who were sharing ear to ear grins as they watched the faces of the elderly on the cat.  I looked at the cat and cringed as all twelve eyes were staring at Nina’s helpless situation and her breasts of course.  Ren yelled out, “Welcome to GTC!”  The cat’s crew waved and smiled.  We broke down in tears, except Nina who had no clue what was going on.  I ripped Nina’s wetsuit over her head, along with clumps of her hair, and started in on a play by play of what she just subjected everyone to.  With her head stuck inside the suit, she had no clue she should have been charging for the show.  That was the fortunate beginning of an even more fortunate day of diving.

Passing By-By Ren

“Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

-Omar Bradley

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Ren and Ashley, smiling despite the beard.

Ashley and I have been on this trip now for over two months and really the only regret I have is passing by places we have yet to explore.  It’s easy to have  someone tell us “Hey you should go there or here or….” wherever it might be and pass all these wonderful places.  The land is one thing but what about what we are missing beneath us?  I have been on this lobster kick and for good reason. We don’t really get to eat lobster much back in NC.  One of the reasons we came on this trip to begin with was to eat from the sea and here we are passing by an amazingly rich area of seafood only to arrive in a port of overcrowded, overfished areas all for what seems to be a good internet connection or a place where other cruisers will be.  Not that this is a bad thing because it’s not.  There really is not much better then meeting new people  and hearing their stories of how they arrived in the same crowded port and their experiences along the way.  But as I look back on it I still think about everything we passed in the night.  Every hidden ledge under our keel with an army of lobsters in its crevice.  “We will come back to it later” is how we justify it.  “We are on a timeline” we mutter.  It’s true, we are on a timeline and there is only so much you can see.  I guess that is true with life in general.  I feel like one of the most important things in life is to see and to meet and to explore as many things and people and places as you can in order to understand and appreciate and even under-appreciate these things.  If you have never seen it or experienced it or never met he or she then how can you judge it?  I guess you can take another person’s word for it but that is not giving it justice. 

As I write this we are anchored in Harbor Island, Eleuthera.  Not really my kind of place.  A Bahamian island with a Hamptons, NY flare.  The super wealthy have ruined it’s small island charm bringing their money and causing prices to rise which in turn has increased crime by the locals probably trying to keep up.  It’s kind of not right.  Green Turtle Cay is the opposite.  No apparent crazy money, no crime, no problem.  The funny thing is that they really have no idea how great they have it on Green Turtle.  No one is hungry, no one appears to be on drugs…..

However, they are all hoping now that their boat will come in with the “High Class” folks with dollars to spend.  “I just wish enough people would come to keep the restaurants in business” says Julie Farrington of Island Properties Management.  So where do you draw the line.  Unfortunately I think it is inevitable.  The ultra wealthy or their extremely fortunate children will arrive and poison it with their over complicated, over ambitious  homes and boats and things that really just don’t matter.  Along with an attitude of total disregard of those things that do matter.  Let me tell you what matters.  People matter.  The environment matters.  If you have to step on any of these things to obtain something, then to me, you don’t matter.

So why do I feel like I’m missing something on this trip?  Mainly because I haven’t eaten enough lobster.  And here I am, 6 miles as the crow flies, from the commercial lobstering capital of the Caribbean, Spanish Wells.  This place is where Red Lobster gets all there crayfish.  No wonder I’m striking out.  Time to move on down the road to a place where living is more simple and people are more simple and life takes on an old meaning and at the same time a new one.  Ashley and I are so very fortunate.

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Focus

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

At this point, most of you know, or have an idea, that Ren and I are avid freedivers.  I have filled our blog posts with accounts of our spearfishing excursions.  Ren has taken countless pictures and video of the underwater world.  We have shared most of this media with you, right down to how the fish, lobster or crab was transformed into a remarkable meal, by our standards (the description of the meal not without pictures).  However, I have failed, up until this point, to really describe what freediving is and what it has come to mean to us.  I have taken for granted that you all understand, on the same level as we do, the healing and transformative characteristics of the deep blue.  I have assumed that you already know that I am a competitive freediver and there is physical pain associated with our sport.  By virtue of the fact that our blog page resides on our website, which is used to conduct our freediving instruction business, you must have noticed that we are pretty serious about holding our breath.  But why?  What’s the appeal?  I will attempt to describe, using words, the sensation of freediving which, if you have never tried, will be a lot like trying to explain the colors red and blue to a blind person.  I will do my best.

All day, we, as people, struggle to balance our thoughts.  Lists of duties, groceries, bills are constantly circling in our heads.  As we sit in traffic, seething over the jerk who has his music too loud, breathing as shallowly as possible to reduce the inhalation of exhaust, we form a headache.  Then we get pissed at our spouse for requiring that we stop by the grocery store, for what again?  Oh yeah, some veggies for supper…and beer, yes, beer!  There we sit, in traffic, with that headache, red-faced with anger and still one more stop to make.  LIfe sucks sometimes!  Very little about this every day scenario connects to us on the inside.  We forget about the moment we are in because we want only to escape it.  We want to be transformed to a time in the future, vacation, supper time, whatever, or a time in the past, breakfast this morning, five minutes ago before turning on to the interstate.  But there is something missing.  There’s is something liberating about focusing only on the moment, nothing else.  We are missing the liberation, daily. 

This is not to say that you will begin to enjoy every moment you are stuck in traffic just because you are trying to live in the now.  But what if being stuck in traffic wasn’t such a big deal anymore because you habitually engage in an activity that is so focusing and freeing that it actually makes you a happier, healthier person?  What if, by practicing this new sport, you become stronger and learn to breathe deeper so that you stop developing headaches?  What if the sport requires you to eat in a way that minimizes colds and any kind of sinus and chest congestion you battle with?  What if every time you practice the sport you are rewarded with a very powerful new sense of self-confidence, having performed better and pushed your body further than the time before?  Through freediving, I have found focus and liberation from life.

There are four distinct elements of freediving that allow the metamorphosis to occur.  This is, there are parts of freediving that transform you from a sickly, stressed-out, shell of a person to a full-feeling, strong, confident person.  The most essential element is the only tangible element of the group, water.  Although you may not freedive, you have probably experienced the calming nature of water at some point, unless you are already dead.  You have watched the sun flash green on the red horizon with your mouth gaping open (do it again, please!).  You have spent time with your camera and dog at the beach in an attempt to immortalize the serenity you’re feeling through art.  You have sat in the bow of your boat, rocking gently down the river, hook and line bobbing in the water.  Who cares if you catch a fish?  The only sounds are the movement of the water and the crack of your can as you pop open the first beer of the day.

Water.  We spend nine months in the womb where we are immersed in fluid.  Water constitutes 60-70% of our bodies (as adults).  Our blood has a base of both salt and water, like the sea.  It makes complete sense that there is an innate feeling of calm when affronted by water.  We feel weightless in water, a polar difference from the constant assault by gravity, and our daily routines, that weighs us down.  When we enter the water, our bodies undergo physiological changes allowing us to “become water”.  Whether you swim in the ocean every day or haven’t been in liquid since the womb makes little difference to your physiology.  We are water mammals and our bodies know it.  When in water, our heart rates decrease dramatically.  A blood shift occurs, focusing the body’s blood volume into our cores where our hearts are.  Just these two physical changes make us feel at home in the liquid environment. 

Another element of freediving that helps to complete our transformation is the silence of the sport.  Once we plunge into the deep, we can no longer communicate with our clumsy, complicated language.  A language we use to relay misinformation to each other, causing misunderstandings.  There is only one way to interpret the gaping mouth of the shark or the watchful eye of the barracuda.  In the blue, there is no talking, none that we can understand anyway.  We are our animal selves, relaying information to the surrounding fish, not with our tongues but with our core.  Our surroundings sense our intentions (through electrical impulses) and we are either welcomed or shunned in their world.  Through silence, we can communicate much more naturally and wholly than we are able to at any other time.  This revelation reminds me of a time when Ren and I were once watching a homing pigeon.  Ren narrated every move the bird was about to make and in perfect synchronicity the bird circled above us (to get his bearings) and in less than a minute plotted a course homeward.  “Wow!” I exclaimed.  “Too bad we don’t have that power, huh Ren?”  “Actually we do, we just don’t use in anymore.”  In the same way, if we “listen”, we are still able to communicate to our underwater cousins through perfect silence.

Transformative element number three is most apparent to me while competitively diving.  Finding your focus is the only way to “fly” while down there.  Freedom comes as your day washes away in the water and your thoughts and energy are focused entirely on the moment.  Eli Manning could not be his best, could not throw a Superbowl winning touchdown if his mind wandered to the past or future.  He gets sacked if he finds himself wondering about the TV interview he has to do later or the Netflix movie he forgot to mail back.  He thinks only of the ball in his hand and relies on  his training.  He “becomes” football and nothing else.  In a sport where you are willingly plunging to the deepest depths you can achieve, walking the tightrope between consciousness and unconsciousness, and reserving just enough to bring yourself back up on one breath, the liberation of intense concentration is found.  Each part of the dive is broken down into its smallest parts so that focus is maintained through each smaller part of the dive.  You’ve felt it before while driving too fast on a motorcycle, up at bat during a baseball game, shooting a free throw, you’ve felt it.  Here, in the deep, you can be completely alone.  With practice, you may even learn to enjoy the exercise in meditation. 

The last element of the sport that facilitates and completes the metamorphosis is the physical pain.  Along with the intense psychological pleasures associated with freediving comes pain.  How can you have white without black?  Part of the pleasure comes from defeating the pain.  If you have ever hiccuped with your mouth closed, you have experienced a contraction, a self preservation mechanism your body has evolved to ensure that you continue breathing.  While holding your breath for long enough the respiratory muscles team up against you.  They push and pull with increasing force to get air into the lungs.  The pain is not physically intolerable but takes a lot of mental fortitude (or stupidity as some people may call it) to ignore.  In a freedive, you are denying the body one of its most primal needs, to breathe, and the body will fight you to get the oxygen is strongly desires.  It is a powerful feeling to be able to overcome pain with mental endurance.  Learning to find a connection between the mind and body in order to push further and harder into the depths.  The mind overcomes the physical pain the body feels.  Now, you are water.

Next post, back to fun stuff about our trip (more pictures too) 😉

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The Blues

“…You were only waiting for this moment to be free”

-The Beatles

6 days now in the “Real Bahamas”.  No casinos in Nassau, no cattle boats, just locals.  Let me tell you the first thing you will notice about the island nation.  The water is always four shades of blue.  When the ocean floor is sandy the water is a brilliant Carolina blue.  If you aren’t familiar with Carolina blue, think Tarheels.  If you can’t think Tarheels, you have other issues.  When the floor is grassy the water turns into a darker royal blue color.  Think, Blue Devils…or if you prefer, as I do, don’t think about them.  When the floor is rocky with coral reef, the blue is more turquoise.  A nice transition between the sand and grass.  And when the water gets deep, the blue is a dark, tempting, navy color.  My only wish is that I could swim through each stratification of color and bottle the different blues.  I’m sure with a little food coloring you could sell the bottled blues to the tourists.

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Oreo boy sporting the lobster scarf his Grammy made him.

We are now in Green Turtle Cay, on the Atlantic side of the Abacos, where we have run into luck.  A friend of ours, John Shedd, happens to own a house here.  He has insisted that we take advantage of some solid ground, a bed that doesn’t move and a….SHOWER!  Of course, with some reluctance, we took him up on his offer.  John, we will never be able to pay back your generosity.  So yes, your protagonists have found themselves in another fortuitous situation with access to a house.  Living next to us is the caretaker of the property, Ms. Julie, her husband, and their son David, who happens to be an excellent freediver.  In fact, we managed to talk David into taking us out for a dive, which didn’t take much effort.  The guy has lived on an island his whole life.  His blood needs the water in a different way than the rest of us water mammals.  The island people feel closer and live closer to the water.  If only they could breath it.

We have met a friend here on the island, Nina.  She is traveling alone from New York City, where the water is not blue, and the saltwater content in her blood is just a relic of our evolutionary process.  She is a teacher and a writer who we invited to come stay at the house with us.  She spent the first part of her vacation on Treasure Cay only to find herself on Green Turtle Cay where the non-authenticity of Treasure Cay became immediately apparent.  Treasure Cay is resort Cay.  There are shops surrounding the resort and this co-dependent nature of resort and surrounding shops masquerades itself as a community.  Much like a series of American suburbs whose center is comprised of no less than one Target, a Wal-Mart, Lowe’s Foods, Great Clips, Walgreens, China One Take-Out, Tony’s Pizza, Barnes and Noble, and Old Navy.  A strip mall or two next to a housing development is not a community.  These development situations lead to depression because they lack something.  There is a key ingredient that everyone knows is missing but the ingredient is hard to identify.  The unknown variable is soul.  There is no soul.  There is no artist, musician, assemblage of free thinkers, the heartbeat of a community.  The elements that make up a “downtown”.  Unlike Treasure Cay, Green Turtle has soul.  Green Turtle operates as it’s own collective even when there are no white people around to buy up all the postcards.  The people are beautiful and patronize each other.  They go to church on Sunday, they fish and lobster, they bake bread, they rent houses, they have parties where the whole island shows up (which we were privy to attending).  For this reason, Nina could not return to Treasure Cay, so we invited her to stay on with us in Green Turtle.  I knew she was friend and travel companion material after we both agreed that a perfect breakfast, such as french toast, is ruined when the chef does not use enough egg wash per piece of bread.  A friendship was forged over a detestation of dry french toast.

As I mentioned, David agreed to take the four of us diving.  After the french toast discussion, it was decided that we would eat a nice french toast breakfast on the boat (that I would cook to ensure proper egg wash to bread ratio) then have David pick us up at Nila Girl on his boat for the dive.  I should mention that Ren and I have cultivated a natural circadian rhythm for island time, which we are predisposed to anyway.  For example, this is how the dive morning went:

“Yes David, we will meet you at Nila Girl at 10:00 sharp where you can pick us up in your boat and take us for a little dive.” 

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Ren and David with their bounty.

Bermudian accent: “Ok guys.  No worries if I am 5 or 10 minutes late.”

“No David, see you soon!”

10:00 arrives.  The cast of three + Oreo are on Nila Girl, having just arrived.

“Oh hey David.  We have just managed to put the french toast in the pan.  Breakfast will take at least 15 more minutes to prepare, 20 to consume, then we have to suit up.  That’s Ok though right?  Does not your life revolve around us?”

“Oh sure guys, that’s fine.  It’s Sunday and all I want to do is wait on your American asses and then show you all my special diving spots even though the weather is not favorable.  You know us Bahamians, too nice to say no to you demanding devils.”

“Oh David, you’re the best!”

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There’s nothing attractive about pics of dead fish, however, lobster are absolutely delicious!

That’s exactly how it went before we managed to make our way onto David’s boat for the dive.  He first took us to a spot for lobster…which proved to be fruitful.  The spot was not an extraordinary dive as it was pretty shallow with sporadic coral life.  We managed to scrape supper together in about an hour in the form of 11 lobsters, one NC sized.  I’m not bragging, I’m just recounting the facts.  This may sound like an absurd number of lobsters but rest assured, the meat is already consumed.  The second dive spot was special.  It was the kind of dive people pay big bucks to go on.  An underwater playground of fish, sharks, and four humans.  We pulled up to the spot and left all fishing gear in the boat.  It’s not the kind of place you take from.  Leave only fin splashes, take only pictures kind of place.  We anchor in about 20 feet in sand and swim over to the reef.  At this point we are offshore and are in an area just inshore of the reef where we are completely protected.  The depth at the reef was about 30 feet.  The four of us cruise along, checking out the fish, blah, blah, blah.  The spot was good and the reef came all the way to the surface of the water, creating almost surf-able waves.  However, I was hoping for a little more.  I was hoping that we would go somewhere where I could fly.  That’s when I saw David and Ren swimming through a break in the reef.  I finned over to the break that reminded me of the Oracles from The Never Ending Story.  Each side of the reef wall towered above me.  You enter the “other side” through a huge crevice in the towering reef.  As I swam through the crevice, I looked down to see the bottom drop out from under me.  The 30 foot bottom gave way to 80 feet just on the other side of the Oracle.  This is 80 feet, Bahama style.  Meaning, you could see blades of grass and grains of sand on the bottom.  Looking down the 80 foot drop, a Bahamian reef shark swam by, followed by a school of Bermuda chub. 

Damn it!  There is no way, other than through video (come ON Ren!) to convey the feeling of being suspended over deep water able to see the bottom below.  It would be like jumping off an 80 foot building but not falling, just riding the wind, floating like a bird.  My first instinct was to fly.  This is how I do  it:

I nestle myself back over the reef which is protruding through the surface of the water in some spots.  So I’m suspended in one or two feet of water.  I tuck back in the reef so I cannot see over the edge.  Then, in a sudden burst of energy, I pull myself past the wall of the reef as fast as I can, hold my breath, and soar over the edge of the reef into 80 feet of nothing.  I “jump” off the edge of the building and free fall down to the sandy bottom.  This is the only way I have learned to fly without growing wings, which i have been trying to do for some time now.

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On Doc Shedd’s porch, chilling and grateful for his generosity.

After my flight I look up at Nina and she says something striking.  She says, “This is so beautiful  I don’t even know what to do!”.  I almost cry when she says this because I know exactly what she means.  When your heart fills up completely full and there’s not room for anything else without it overflowing.  It fills with gratitude.  To whom?  Who knows.  For what, everything I just described to you.

Needless to say, we finished the night off with a few Budweisers, some lobster rolls with Thai sauce, lobster tails with red curry sauce and vegetable brown rice.  And yes, Oreo ate lobster too.  In fact, he has a special bandana made by his Grammy Nancy that he wore just for the occasion (see picture).

To learn to fly, contact us at [email protected]  🙂

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