Needing Less Doing More

Category: Diving

Team Chapman

“We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.”

G.K. Chesterton

I take every opportunity possible to make the “bring it in” call. You’ve brought it in before. It’s the moment right after a pep talk when the coach says, “Bring it in!” Everyone puts one hand in the circle and the whole team says something really encouraging like, “Kill the other team,” or something like that, preferably at volume 10 simultaneously throwing the pile of heavy hands into the air. Ren and I have raised our children on a steady diet of “bring it ins” and chants-but those are for another story.

Because of our relentless devotion to everything team oriented Ani and Cape are actually growing up with a healthy concept of team work, unity and interdependence. In a world where independence is heralded as the paramount characteristic trait we could not be more proud that our children are learning to rely on each other. Ren was especially excited when we inadvertently showed our children first hand how fruitful the harvest can be with a little interdependent determination.

The opportunity for the lesson presented itself while we were sailing the cayes of Belize. Just before sunset, in route to our anchorage du nuit, Jade, our sailing trimaran, lumbered over yet another world class coral reef. We had already been diving and exploring that day but just one more seemed in order. Ren was inclined to bring his Hawaiian sling along, just in case the option to feed the family fish or lobster presented itself.

As per our regular routine either Ren or myself pulled the dinghy along by her painter as the other reconciled themselves to become Cape’s personal diving platform. We’ve tried it all; boogie boards, pool noodles, etc. He prefers the freedom of swimming alongside us as opposed to the confines of a water float. He swims along until needing a break when he retreats to the back of the unencumbered parent. It is actually a good system. Ani is pretty independent in the water these days and swims along side, very much a functioning part of the crew these days.

Being seasoned freedivers, instructors, and most importantly role models to our budding freedivers we take safety seriously. That means one up, one down. Ren takes his turn diving and hunting while I man the dinghy and carry Cape on my back. He returns, recovers, and we switch. Ani joins us every other dive. And Cape wears extra protection, in the form of a life vest, when we’re in hunting mode. This way we can completely disengage and have Ani watch him and the dinghy if safety measures progress past supervision. We’re ALL in wetsuits, if even just a top.

When Ren spotted the sizely hogfish my first reaction, which is my default reaction when hunting, was, “Please miss him. Please miss him.” I guess his spear heard me because he fouled the shot. The injured fish retreated into a collection of coral. At this point our intuitive team dynamic kicked in. I immediately swam over to Ren, relieving him of his sling and burdening him with the dinghy and children. I dove to get a visual on the fish but didn’t. Upon my return we continued the ritual pass off. Ren dove. We probably dove a total of two dives each before finally locating the fish again. I sighted the poor fella through a small hole in the rock. My only option, to try for another shot and put the poor guy out of his misery. I hit him but the spear did not stick.

At this point I feel the need to explain that, as it were, our spear was neither sharp nor tuned. Our faulty equipment, due to our own negligence, complicated the hunt but simultaneously provided us with a life lesson opportunity. for those of you out there rolling your eyes in condescension at our whiffs, well, at least I’m being honest. Plus, in this instance, I’m grateful for our irresponsibility.

After my miss Ren and I completed another pass off and Ren dove, finishing the job. I swam to him, dinghy and kids in tow in order to relieve him of his sling and spear so he could dispatch the fish. The knife used for such a task was being dutifully guarded by Ani as she wears it on a rubber belt around her waist. So, in fact, the hunt really was a true act of teamwork perpetuated by three members of the Chapman family but celebrated by four with a healthy dose of “bring it in” and later a prayer of thanks and a hogfish supper.

Although homeschooling is exciting at times, infuriating at others but nonetheless an adventure what’s even better are the moments that are unplanned, unscripted lessons. The kind you don’t learn completely in the traditional classroom or even in the homeschool experience. These, most critical life lessons are ones of survival, passed down to us in our very human nature. Our children learned from us not just a lesson in team work but a life realization that interdependence feeds the family. That two are better than one and that we all work together for the family. I’m excited for the days when Ani and Cape are very much full fledged participants on the playing field. Their contributions are, right now, small but ever important. It will be life giving, empowering to them to grow up feeling genuinely needed as part of Team Chapman.

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!

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]  🙂

New Years in The Dry Tortugas Part 2

Happy New Years, Corona style!

-Ashley and Ren

Slobber, slobber!  Sniff, sniff!  Lick, lick, whimper!

-Oreo

There we were in the Dry Tortugas on New Years Eve!  Encouraged by our few shallow dives the day before, we decided to make a day of it and check out some of the national park charted dive spots.  We rose with the sun and had a hearty breakfast, something to keep us going for a day of diving.  We worried little about what we ate since we had the freedom of having our “aqua deuce” anytime and anyplace we felt the pangs come on.  After breakfast it was time to embark to location #1, Texas Rock.

The sail over to Texas Rock was beautiful.  We opted to sail instead of dinghy over to avoid burning fuel.  A long ride in Nila Girl is far preferable to a long ride in Dinky.  The former rides like a true lady, graceful and gentle.  The latter rides like little a punky little bronco, noisy and bucking the whole way.  Nila Girl delivered us skillfully to the mooring ball at Texas Rock, which we secured her to all under sail.  Meaning, we sailed to the ball, picked up the mooring line and tied her off while the sails were doing the heaving lifting.  We are getting good!  Jumping in at Texas Rock we were immediately welcomed by the kind of sight we’ve been waiting for since our departure.  Huge corals, fish everywhere and a little relief where lobster and other animals hide out.  We stayed for a while (no longer than the two hour period in which the park permits you to tie up to any mooring ball in the Dry Tortugas network…of course), cruising the reef, pretending we were flying, which is one of the best things about freediving, it’s proximity to the sensation of flying.  Ren got some video footage which I’m hoping will make it to our Videos page sometime soon.

Just to the southeast of Texas Rock is another Key called Loggerhead Key.  Loggerhead Key is infamous as a landing spot for Cuban refugees.  It is the closest US landfall to Cuba and is often a destination for refugee rafts.  From Loggerhead, the refugees go to Key West, then on to Miami for processing.  All this, IF they can get one foot on land before a US guard spots them.  On the Key is a lighthouse and some lodging facilities for caretakers.  There is also a shipwreck near the Key that we were eager to explore.  We were off to location #2 the Windjammer Wreck.  The sail took us a while since the wind was way down.  To keep cool in our ultra-warm Dessault wetsuits, Ren and I took turns jumping into the water and letting Nila Girl pull us along the side of her.  That’s some kind of fun!  We just hung onto a line trailing behind the boat and checked out the scenery, all while cooling the body down. 

The Windjammer Wreck was neat.  It was pretty dilapidated with the influences of time, sand and the tides.  Still, while there, we visited with a huge goliath grouper, not domesticated like the puppy dogs that hang under the boats anchored at the Dry Tortugas (see previous blog entry).  This guy kept shying away before we could get close enough to take some video of him.  The old boat bow provided a vertical structure for schools of all kinds of fish to hang out in.  Ren took video here too and claimed that it was his favorite dive spot of the day.  I thought the wreck was too shallow.  We had to wear too much weight to stay down on it for any bit of time.  Plus, I was pretty mad after I smashed my foot on a hard coral protruding very close to the surface.  I wasn’t wearing fins…bad idea.  My sometimes bad temper will not allow me to “get over it” very soon after getting angry.  To Ren’s dismay, I wasn’t over it until we left the Windjammer Wreck.

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Hook and line supper.

As I mentioned in the previous entry, no spearfishing or lobstering is allowed within the park complex.  Hook and line fishing is allowed within a one mile radius of Garden Key.  As soon as we crossed the invisible radius threshold, Ren dropped a light tackle spinning outfit with a diving plug into the water and we thought nothing else of it.  Partly because we weren’t hungry enough to REALLY care if we caught anything.  Partly because we have had stellar luck trolling for fish.  It must be the quiet of Nila Girl’s hull passing over the water teamed with the perfect trolling speed allowed by her sails.  As we suspected the line was buzzing in seconds as it reeled out behind us.  Ren easily reeled in a smaller yellowtail (translation=lunch) and dispatched the creature right away.  I gutted and gilled the fish just after it’s death and fed the ocean with the refuse.  Now that we had the fish properly preserved and showed adequate respect for the catch, it was back into the water for the fishing line.  As I said, the yellowtail was small (but legal) and we required a bit more protein for our already lacking bodies.  In minutes the line buzzed out again with much more authority than the first time.  I took the wheel of Nila Girl and turned us into the wind to slow down a bit just so Ren could get a handle on whatever we had hooked.  Correction, I took the rod and felt the intense pressure of the fish bearing down on the line. Since the outfit was light tackle, to prevent an argument when I improperly try to reel the fish in and break our tackle off, I handed over the rod to the Captain and took the wheel.  The animal pulled hard and caused us to redirect course multiple times in order to secure it.  Still unable to identify the fish by the fight, Ren reeled all the way up to Nila Girl and discovered that it was a bruiser mutton snapper (translation=dinner).  The fish was treated with the same respect as the previously caught one was.  With our catch secured, and our hunting satisfied, Nila Girl sailed back over to the anchorage where we dropped anchor, showered up (in the cockpit, out of a bucket) and ate some lunch.

Once lunch was ate and we finished cleaning up, it was time to reward Oreo for hanging tough on the boat all day while we pranced around the reef and wrecks of the Dry Tortugas.  Dinky took the three of us over to the beach for a nice sit in the sand and our usual daily viewing of the sunset.  Once we got to the beach, Ren realized it would be much nicer if we had warmer clothes, for after sunset, books, the camera and chairs to accompany the wine and rum we definitely already packed.  He left Oreo and I on the beach while he went back to Nila Girl to fetch the needed items.  Oreo was feeling spunky and further deserved a walk.  He sniffed and rolled and galloped about.  I took him over to the mote wall surrounding Fort Jefferson.  The wall is 6/10 of a mile around and makes a great little walk.  Oreo ran so I started to run.  Oreo looked at me with gratitude and I looked back at him lovingly.  Oreo started to merge over to the edge of the wall and I didn’t.  I couldn’t stop him as he ran clear off the mote wall and tumbled 8 feet down to the clear waters below.  Did I mention that a crocodile lives within the mote walls?!!  Since Oreo is a less than par swimmer, and is losing his eyesight and hearing, it was quite a feat to encourage him to swim back from the fort (30 feet away from me) to where I had posted up, in the water, on top of the only structure I could see that would allow me put Oreo back on the wall and climb back up myself.  Anywhere else and the water was too deep for me to still have access to the top of the wall.  Finally, the poor monster swam back to me.  I grabbed him quickly and lifted him to the top of the wall.  I pulled myself back up and stared in disbelief as Oreo’s tail was profusely wagging.  He was looking at me thinking, “What’s wrong?  It was just a little swim”.  So Oreo survived “Oreo Suicide Attempt #8 (previous attempts are not accounted for in this blog). 

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Oreo boy happy as a lark on the beach.

By this time, Ren must have gotten back from his chores on the boat.  Oreo and I walked over to a ledge where we could better view Nila Girl.  He still hadn’t left the boat!  Don’t ever send your husband out for milk and eggs ladies, they might not come back.  Discouraged, we took a trail back to the beach where we ran in to two campers we had met the night before.  Josina and Bobby are a super nice couple living in Ft. Lauderdale.  Bobby attracted Ren’s attention the previous night when we passed by their campsite and Bobby had his arms elbow deep in a portable film developing tent.  Bobby likes to take pictures using film, which intrigued the developing photographer, Ren.  You can check out some of his work here, www.elevation9photography.com.  I stopped to talk to Bobby and Josina for a bit and invited them to join us on the beach for some wine (if Ren ever came back).  I also found out that they were camping there for the rest of the night.  Sounded to me like it was almost time to start thinking about a little New Years Eve celebration.  Oreo and I rambled onto the beach.  I drank some wine and built a sand scene of an alligator chasing a fish.  Thinking back, I should have moulded a crocodile chasing Oreo but we had already tempted fate and won.  I had nothing to prove.  Upon finishing my scene the Captain returned with our booty.  I gave him one annoyed look at his hour’s absence and quickly got over it.  I didn’t want to be responsible for ruining a  perfectly good time to be.

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Posing from Fort Jefferson.

Our new friends joined us on the beach with more wine just in time for sunset.  No green flash, but we did have a mutton snapper on the boat that was huge and needed to be shared with our new friends for a New Years Eve feast.  A few glasses of wine and a couple sips of rum and we  were again in action.  Ren went back to the boat to collect some things to contribute to a meal, Bobby went to start the coals and Josina and I continued to shoot the poo.  The meal came together quite nicely.  We grilled the fish whole and our friends added to the grill their steak and elephant garlic.  We   spread the roasted garlic on bread and I made some make shift guacamole to accompany the garlic  bread.  We had brie cheese and grilled snap peas, mashed potatoes and even some M&Ms and Jordan Almonds to finish the whole thing off.  Oreo had fish skin and tail and mashed potatoes.  He was a happy boy.  I couldn’t of asked for a more satisfying meal…or company for that matter.  Since Ren, myself and our company deemed ourselves way too cool to stay up until midnight, and there was no ball dropping anywhere close to where we were, and we wanted to avoid hangovers, we departed company and slept. 

We woke up to a happily bright and sunny New Years Day.  We had leftover fish, eggs and fruit for breakfast.  I picked the remaining fish off the fish head and skeleton (which we brought home with us the night before) and proceeded to make fish salad according to a new chicken salad recipe my Mom’s Guamanian friend gave to her.  I smashed the fish by hand into almost mush and mixed in lots of lime juice, some lemon juice, red pepper flakes and fresh coconut.  We brought the salad over to the beach and shared it along with crackers with our friends from the night before while sitting on the warm sand.  They left for home on the ferry and the three of us hung a bit longer.  We went back to the boat where Ren caught a nap in preparation for the night sail we had planned.  It was time to leave our Dry Tortuga heaven and head back towards Key West.  I left him for his nap and suited up for a nice run along the mote wall back at the fort.  4 miles and one beautiful sunset latter, which included a green flash, I went back to the boat where we prepared for our departure, including a shower.  The wind was perfect around 2:00am.  If I looked closely I may have noticed a shed tear or two from one of the three members of our crew as we finally departed the Dry Tortugas after a 3 day, 3 night stay.  Now more than ever we are hungry for warm weather and blue waters.  It’s time to move on.

Injuries

“Cease to gnaw that crust.  There is ripe fruit over your head.”

-Thoreau

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Ouch! Now we know that a mangrove island does not have actual dry land.

Some of you may already understand how much hard work actually goes into sailing.  In the beginning I dreamed of sailing in its most fantastical sense.  Diving off the boat in clear blue waters, the slow rock of the boat lulling me to sleep, a cabana boy bringing me cool drinks with plenty of ice on a hot day.  Not the way it works.  Even when you are just sitting there, actually  doing nothing, your muscles are constantly contracting, trying to keep your body upright.  In a tossey, turney environment like this someone is bound to suffer an injury.
The first injury occurred while docked in Dania Beach, FL at our buds’ Kaitlyn, Patrick and Joe’s house.  They rent a place right on a canal but their dock access is blocked by another boat.  An old boat that never moves and belongs to someone who lives far away.  Naturally, we decided to shorten the width of the channel by half by tying up to the old boat already docked in front of their house.  Yes, we double parked.

For the six or so days we stayed there our routine included giong out the backdoor, opening the gate, jumping over the rail of the old boat, over the other rail of the old boat, then jumping onto our boat, over the life line, then ducking under the bimini top to enter our boat and retrieve the item we forgot to get after our last feat getting on and off our boat (likely a pair of undies, or a toothbrush).  I will admit, I started to get cocky with my little jumps and ducks.  I mean, after doing this 100 times, who needs to look at their feet and make sure the feet are planted before leaping…not me…whoops….BAM!  I jumped (without looking) from behind our lifeline to over the top of the old boat’s rail.  Missing two key steps in the safe crossing between boats.  I pushed my face away from the old boat’s ladder just in time to prevent serious dental problems.  By doing this, I dragged my right leg over the railing of the old boat, scrapping the entire backside into road rash from hell (right behing the knee…come on!).  The worst part was that I landed slam on my coccyx bone (my poor little tailbone).  If you have not yet injured this ultra-sensitive bone I do not recommend it.  It has been two weeks since that injury and I still have to sit in just one position.  It’s a real pain in the ass.

The second injury was sustained by both Ren and me.  We had a nice little day sail from Coconut Grove down to Rodriguez Key which at the Tavernier side of Key Largo.  We were sailing with our buds Ella, Tony and their babby, Mellia  who are aboard Ohana.  Check out their blog while you’re at it.  See what kind of company we’ve been keeping.  Anxious to stretch our legs after the sail and impress our friends by bringing home the proverbial bacon, we decided to hastily jump in the water once securing an anchorage between Key Largo and Rodriguez Key.  Thinking we were going to find a spit of land for Oreo to enjoy while we picked up a few lobsters, we threw on fins without booties and jumped in.  We were only going to be in a little while right?  Wrong!  We put Oreo on a surfboard since our dinghy was temporarily out of commission (the damn transom fell off, but has since been successfully repaired by the captain), and Ren pushed him over to the “beach”.  Thing is, Rodriguez Key is a mangrove island, meaning, there is no beach.  Just a series of mangrove trees rooted through the water to the ocean floor.  So, naturally, we pushed Oreo further around the island, hoping for land (don’t worry people, we’ve learned our lesson about mangrove islands since then).  And pushed, and pushed.  We pushed all the way around the damn island in fact.  It had to have been at least 2 miles (maybe more like 3) around the thing.  Someone measure it on GoogleEarth and get back to me on the distance would you?


We kicked and kicked and kicked.  Meanwhile the sun was going down, the sun went down, and poor little Oreo was shivering like a dog pooping thumb tacks, as Ren would say.  It got so dark as we were still paddling, trying to make our way around the endless island.  A little panicked, I kept my head out of the dark water searching for Nila Girl, any sign of the boat.  Ren kept claiming to see a dark spot in the series of lights over on Key Largo.  Since it was his idea to keep swimming, and keep swimming I couldn’t hear him anymore.  I couldn’t hear him because I didn’t want to listen to another thing he was saying!  We caught sight of Nila Girl and limped back to her.  Oreo was elated at being back on the boat.  I peeled off my wetsuit and assessed the damage.  As you can imagine, after hours of constant kicking with no booties on the rubber of my footpockets, the rubber managed to erase several layers of skin from the back of my ankles.  Looking at my ankles right now, yep, they’re still weeping.  Gross little injuries, they are.  Ren has a couple of rubbed spots too n his foot.  it sure does make diving harder.

Next post, the biggest injury yet!

The Biggest Injury Yet

“The First Cut is the Deepest”

-Cat Stevens

Ren suffered the biggest injury yet.  A gaping, bleeding head wound.  The injury happened as we were day sailing from Rodriguez Key south to Marathon Island.  The wind was hard on our backs.  To avoid the constant bouncing of a boat sailing downwind we decided to go a bit harder into the wind.  This put our sail position more east of south.  In order to get back in line with Marathon we would have to jibe back around and head west.  The dreaded jibe!

As our skills are improving and we begin to work with a bit more synergy we also gain confidence.  The jibe is no longer a problem for the occupants of Nila Girl.  One thing that is a problem…the cleat that grabs the mainsheet and keeps it tight.  Yep, that one, slipped, causing the mainsheet to spool out and the boom to crash over early during our jibe.

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Ren took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’…thankfully!

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I love you hogfish.

It was the mainsheet and smacked Ren on the head and pulled him over, slamming his head into the lid of our port side cockpit locker.  The lid was open for two reasons,

A. to dry the cockpit locker out 

B. to give Ren’s head something to slam in to. 

I heard a yelp and looked back to see Ren laying (meaning crumpled up in the small space behind the Captain’s chair) on the cockpit floor.  He was holding his head and didn’t say a word.  This scared me.  People who are minimally hurt cry or yell or cuss.  People who are really hurt just sit there, shocked, waiting for a limb to fall off.  He was a bit shocked.  I freaked!  I should have prefaced that last statement with this, I pride myself on my ability to stay cool under pressure.  Maybe it’s a function of training for freediving, maintaining low heart rates, or maybe it’s something I do consciously but either way, the rules did not apply to this situation.  We’re in the middle of a jibe, the captain is lying on the cockpit floor staring at me and I am staring straight ahead, at nothing.

Since I’m not here to disappoint the audience, or let Ren bleed out, I jumped into action.  I raced down the companionway into the v-berth and yanked open one of the lockers underneath the berth.  This locker contains the exceptionally well equipped first aid kit my parents put together for us.  As Mom is a nurse and Dad is a retired Naval Corpsman they managed to really hook us up.  Our friends Kerry and Steve also contributed to the kit as they are a doctor and PA, respectively.  Thanks everyone for the wonderful kit!  So, the kit is stuck in the locker between a wall and the dutch oven.  In my panicked state I did not think to simply move the dutch oven out of the way, lift up on the emergency kit and pull it out of the locker.  Oh hell no!  I YANKED and  YANKED and YANKED, trying to pull the damn thing through the wall, which never happened!  I slowed down for two seconds, pulled the dutch oven out, lifted up on the emergency kit, and lifted it out of the locker.  Then went back to panicking.

After loads of sterile gauze we finally got the  gushing blood to subside.  I thought about using the Quickclot Kerry gave us but decided against it and she (and Mom) advised against using it for anything short of a shark attack (which, I decided, this was not).  So with pressure and bandaging, the bleeding subsided.  He was left with the bandage job you see above.

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Stitches or no stitches? We opted for no stitches and things ended up working out just fine.

Hours later (and not a stitch later, which I’m sure he really needed).  Ren decided his head was miraculously healed.  I’m not so sure he realized the intensity of the wound since he never saw the slice in his head.  With his healed up head, it was diving time.  Down he went, up he came and the blood started rushing again.  There was no time to tend to a head would though, there was dinner to catch (captain’s orders I assure you) so I jumped in and speared us a Florida sized hog fish.  Nice by Florida standards I assure you.  Leaving Ren with a gushing head didn’t leave me in the water at ease.  I rushed the job, got the fish then jumped back on board to assist.  This time, using a towel, we stopped the bleeding and limped in to Marathon. 

Once anchored in Marathon we SLOWLY unwrapped the wound, taking care not to peel the clot out of Ren’s head.  We got the wound unwrapped and tended to the cut properly.  Cleaning it up and rewrapping in nice clean bandaging.  Once again, we have managed to tempt fate then spit in his face.  You know what they say though, “Trick me once, shame on me, etc”  We’ll be a bit more careful from now on I suppose.