Needing Less Doing More

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 3)

The Tipsy Taxi and Other Dinghy Misadventures


This picture is completely unrelated to the post but features Ani asleep at the wheel.

It took one season, and not even a whole season, for our first dinghy to die.  The dingy was an afterthought anyway.  It had been folded up and stored away in some random warehouse for an undetermined amount of time.  It’s sedentary lifestyle did not deter us, in fact we were looking forward to breathing life back into the crappy ‘ol PVC raft.  Plus we were just grateful to have been given a tender at no cost to us.  It was probably this cavalier attitude and our endless demands that killed the girl.  The dinghy didn’t appreciate being ripped out of retirement just to be put back to work.

In the first months of our maiden voyage, a slow leak started in the dinghy, planned by her I’m sure.  Being the clever (vindictive) girl she was, our tender waited until we were deep in the Bahamas (no dinghy life support), two miles from our sailboat (no first responders), and full to the brim with freediving gear to start sinking without the slightest shred of integrity!  You may think I’m being dramatic but you were not there!  You didn’t have to scramble to find a line long enough to sloppily tie the bow and sides up, connecting the boat together at the stern with 1” of free board between you and the water.   And you didn’t have to limp home her lifeless corpse with your tail between your legs.

And each time, Jackie looked on from the upper deck of the Breeze with a smile.  Sometimes smiling at our obvious success, sometimes with a smirk at the thought of us actually hitting the drink.  One of these days…


Another unrelated picture but come on! You’ve gotta be impressed with Ani’s apple eating style! Is it obvious that the author is her Mom?

You would think that the previous encounter would be enough to teach us a lesson.  Prevent us from being cheap…ahem…as resourceful when a tender is concerned.  You are thinking, surely they saved their pennies and sprang for something reliable.  You’re thinking of the wrong couple!  Do not get into the habit of overestimating the author and her husband.  Our next hand me down, dug out of retirement dinghy, was the infamous Tipsy Taxi.  Because of her crappy…ahem…unique design, the Tipsy Taxi earned an actual name.  The name was coined by a friend of ours and one of the proprietors of the cruiser friendly, Long Island Breeze.  Being a Louisiana girl, Jackie Higgins has a quick wit although the Tipsy Taxi was low hanging fruit for her!  She watched us get in and out of the ever rolling 7’, round bottom, fiberglass junker each time managing to board our not-so-trusty steed, clutching our hearts in utter disbelief that once again, we had eluded the inevitable roll and plunge.  And each time, Jackie looked on from the upper deck of the Breeze with a smile.  Sometimes smiling at our obvious success, sometimes with a smirk at the thought of us actually hitting the drink.  One of these days…

The Tipsy Taxi managed to bowl through the Bahamas to Jamaica, Honduras, Belize and the Florida Keys.  It’s crowning moment was undoubtedly proclaimed when she found herself floating (barely) our 210 lb. buddy Bruce, his 6’6” brother Logan, an obliviously fidgety Ren and a very pregnant me, perched atop the Taxi, an unlikely bow maiden.  We were rowing to shore, and why were we rowing?  To add insult to an already humiliating situation our small outboard motor decided to sprout legs and leave us in Honduras.  I hope that if the engine was that unhappy with us it found a better, more dignified post with another family.  Engine, if you are reading this, we are sorry and trust your new family needed you more than we did.

After our return to the US it occurred to us that the Tipsy Taxi never once threw us.  We never once suffered a wet fate at her hands.  So we gave her the most fitting retirement we could imagine.  We placed her, upside down of course (she wouldn’t have wanted to be a mosquito breeding ground) on the banks of the Cape Fear River, at the bottom of the hill where Ren’s mom lives.  There were hopes of her someday becoming a flower planter or bench.  I have no idea where she is now.  She disappeared one day and my hopes for her are that she’s scaring the crud out of some other poor souls every time they step over her gunnel.


Ren’s Bird Obsession…Sometimes Pays Off


Ren loves birds and wants us all to. It’s easy to understand why when you see the bald eagle in flight.

If you don’t jump, you’ll get “the look”.  The, “I seriously doubt your connection to the natural world” look.

A few years before Ani was born in a time we now refer to as W.W.H.T.A. (When We Had Time Alone), Ren and I embarked on our first trip through the Caribbean.  When we hit the Bahamas one of the first things we noticed as distinctly Caribbean besides the clear water, the coral reefs, the sudden upending of our role as the white majority was the call of the smooth billed ani.

Ren’s Dad is a trained ornithologist.  Because of this Ren grew up with a healthy obsession of birds.  He knows all the birds and wants you to as well.  He probably doesn’t know all the birds but he sure knows more than I do (and probably you).  Ren has no hesitations pointing out a bird and having you rush out of whatever precarious situation you might be in to check it out.  He definitely expects you to shake it off, pants around your ankles, toilet paper in hand just to catch a glimpse of the 1,000th bald eagle of the day.  If you don’t jump, you’ll get “the look”.  The, “I seriously doubt your connection to the natural world” look.  You’ll get this look despite over 20,000 miles of sailing, 8 years freediving and spearfishing together, and over 11 years of everything else.  One mis-step, just one time ignoring his frantic emergency calls, deciding to wipe before pouncing up the companionway stairs and you blew it!  All evidence that you don’t actually HATE bald eagles is out the door.  You’re back to square one with the guy and just exposed your flag (although unknowingly) as a maniacal bald eagle murderer just waiting for your chance to pick them off one by one with the gun you don’t even own.

When the bald eagle lost his luster the new fixation became the white pelican. They're huge, by the way.

When the bald eagle lost his luster the new fixation became the white pelican. They’re huge, by the way.

Now I need to address all of you who are in solidarity with Ren, the Nature Boy.  You know who you are because you are probably harassing your own family somewhere over a sea gull or two.  Bald eagles are not that rare.  And guess what else?  They’ve had white heads and white tails EVERY time I’ve been commanded to look at them.  I say, unless the eagle lands on Jade and starts reciting poetry, just let me regard him at my own pace.  But I digress…

Because of Ren’s relentless bird education fetish the unique call of the smooth billed ani was immediately apparent to me.  I, for once, pointed the bird out to Ren (who had already discovered and researched the bird during a previous trip to the Bahamas I was not there for).  When he told me the name of the new bird it was exciting.  Since the ani is not found back home the modest black bird’s song was a symbol that we had arrived!   Years of planning were over and our liberation had begun.  Ani, we decided, would be an awesome name for a kid if we ever decided to have one.  Turns out, it’s the best!

Our favorite bird! The Ani bird relaxing in her hammock.

Our favorite bird! The Ani bird relaxing in her hammock.


Mom’s Fear of the Ocean


Flying the kite, headed towards the unknown.

I’ve come to realize that the fear of the unknown is better than what you already know can kill you.

Sometimes my Mom finds it necessary to remind me that we’re in the middle of nowhere.  This sentiment is usually expressed after our decision to leave the safe confines of the Intercoastal Waterway (ICWW) for the dangers of the ocean.  She tells us this in response to her fear for us on the big blue.  The thought of her little family sailing on the ocean conjures images of a plywood heap, barely floating with her half starved crew dodging pirates, sex trade minions and the temper of King Neptune himself.  It’s a miracle we survive!

Ani's job as the Comandorable is to be on constant lookout for pirates. So far, so good.

Ani’s job as the Comandorable is to be on constant lookout for pirates. So far, so good.

What she doesn’t understand or get to see is that the Waterway is exhausting.  Sure a few hours or even days on an especially beautiful stretch of the waterway such as the Low Country of South Carolina or even northern Florida can leave you rejuvenated, grateful for the chance to observe creation.  But we all know intrinsically what lies just south of rejuvenation…exhaustion.  Like the first piece of pie, the proverbial icing on the cake, those first few days on the ICWW leave you feeling satisfied without being too full.  However, splurge on a second or third piece and you’ll never be as satisfied as if you would have stopped at one.  You’re now left feeling heavy, unmotivated and in a sugar coma.  Ah, the Waterway after day four.  The monotonous hum of the engine (like nails on a chalkboard to a sailor), the physical demands on the captain to stay on the stick hours upon hours and days upon days without the  option to “set it and forget” in the vastness of the ocean, and of course trying to occupy a tenacious three year old with extremely limited physical outlets stretching your imagination to the brink of it’s shelf life.  It’s enough to suck the life out of anyone.  Especially me.

Fatigue can set in when you're constantly on watch in the ICWW. The Captain and the Comandorable take turns keeping watch for dolphin.

Fatigue can set in when you’re constantly on watch in the ICWW. The Captain and the Comandorable take turns keeping watch for dolphin.

Despite the hardships associated with the ICWW (first world problems, I know) another much more critical reason to reach for the high seas comes to mind.  Just turn on the news….get it?  King Neptune’s wrath does not hold a candle to to psychosis we get to dodge at sea.  The motion of the ocean can illicit fear at our most basic level, survival.  The discomfort and fear felt at sea is the kind that heightens the senses and makes one feel more alive and connected to both the natural world and God at the same time.  I welcome this emotion.  The fear and discomfort illicited by Dylan Roof, John Wayne Gacy or Charles Carl Roberts IV is unnatural, terrifying and unconscionable.  Sea monsters are no match for the real monsters that prowl the Ft. Lauderdale airport or even sleep next door.  The abuse and disregard for human life is enough to keep me at sea forever.  I understand that this is a selfish state of mind at best.  Why do I reserve the right to run and hide, sheltering my family from the inhumanity?  The short answer is that I don’t.  Life is best lived in the trenches.  But sometimes we’re offered an opportunity for a break.  A chance to refuel before jumping back in the mud with everyone else, with the unthinkable.  I’ve come to realize that the fear of the unknown is better than what you already know can kill you.




Ashley on their new ride, the ruckus! Check out the retrofitted blue seat in the back welded by Ren. And don’t forget the trailer in the back.

In a previous blog post I made it clear that hitchhiking was the preferred method of travel here in the Bahamas.  Well, that was before we got the Ruckus.  Before the scooter came along I looked forward to who I was going to meet along the road and the slow journey from Salt Pond to the Blue Hole.  Now, I can’t wait to crawl onto the little blue retro-fitted seat Ren welded to the back of our 2009 Honda Ruckus.  Not only is the Ruckus a blast to ride on but it’s cool too.  Google it!  There’s a whole sub-culture of people out there dedicated to pimping their modest Ruckus rides.

Because maintaining a schedule is more important this season due to having people come onto the island and meet up with us for training and such, Ren traded his Miller Syncrowave 250 TIG welder for the little Ruckus.  This way we could rest assured knowing that we could take the reigns on our schedule destiny.  Of course, traveling on a moped that tops out at 40 mph (and trust me, that’s screaming) with two grown people and pulling a trailer, you are not going anywhere fast.  In fact, it takes us just about as long now to get down to the Blue Hole as it did when we were hitching.  But now we do not have to carry loads of stuff back and forth.  If Ren has to get some of his power tools “up” South (yes, that’s the Long Island way to indicate that you are traveling South.  They also go “down” North.) to help our friends Atil and April out with some home improvement projects he has only to load the tools onto the trailer we pull behind the Ruckus, strap them down with some bungee cords and kick it, hoping he does not spew tools over the side of the trailer as we bump down the Queens Hwy.

The trailer we use is worth mentioning.  As a last rendezvous with the Syncrowave, Ren spent a few days riffling through his pile of scrap aluminum and designing and welding the cutest… ahem… I mean sturdiest little pull behind trailer you have ever seen.   The trailer attaches to a black metal plate that hangs down from the rear of the Ruckus.  the plate’s purpose is to suspend a red reflector down low by the rear tire and fender.  Now it’s job description has been expanded to include being an attachment point for the trailer tongue.  We all keep double duty around here.

The trailer flys along the rough road making contact with the Queens Hwy through two old bicycle tires salvaged off a couple of different bikes around Ren’s grandfather, Gaga’s, shed.  We strap a black Rubbermaid box to the trailer with bungee cords and fill it with food, clothes, water, whatever we will need that day.  Since we spend our days so far from Nila Girl we pack heavy, ready for internet access if we can find it, last minute supper plans, or the emergency grease job Ren tends to find himself caught up in. 

The real magic of the Ruckus does not lie in it’s convenience.  This factor is only a bonus.  We are used to an inconvenient life on the boat where a trip to land includes a tippy dingy ride to shore, sometimes through winds and sea spray.  Where your meals are dictated by what’s available locally, not by what you want for supper.  Where calling a business for service includes no less than five disconnected numbers, two hang ups and one answer that leaves you more confused than before you asked.  So convenience is secondary.  The real magic is the freedom we have to explore land.  Exploration by sea, check!  We have Nila Girl for that.  Exploration by land has always been limited by lack of transportation.  Not anymore.  Two days ago we drove to the end of a long dirt road just because we could.  At the end of the road was a beach,  not just a spit of sand with some salt water lapping against it.  I mean a beautiful cove with rocky cliffs and pink sand.  The kind of place that invites you to take your clothes off and hop in.  No one’s looking.  They weren’t either.  There was not a sign of anyone anywhere.

We rode past the brach up a hill made of red dirt and gravel.  Flanked on both sides by dense vegetation, including the scarring poisonwood.  I have three scar streaks on my left thigh from the stuff.  On the Ruckus we are fearless.  We bob down the road hopping from side to side to avoid big holes in the ground.  The Ruckus crashes through vegetation on both sides of the road when Ren pushes the handlebars a bit too far in one direction, unaware of the poisonwood.

Ren’s circular saw clanks around on the trailer behind us, along for the ride just like the rest of us.  We push just a bit further to the top of the hill, stopping just before the path narrows a bit too much and starts it’s decent.  On our left is miles of stinky mud covered with sporadic green plants and egrets.  Although the mud smells, the place seems healthy.  An inland estuary and probably a relic salt pond where historically salt was harvested after sea water evaporated.  To our right, miles upon miles of ocean.  Three sets of waves, almost organized enough to ride, crash against the reef leaving only foam to continue on the journey to the pink sand.  A huge rocky cliff is just to the left of the wave set.  The cliff protrudes from the ocean abruptly, reminding us that we are standing on ground just like it.  We are standing on an ancient coral reef, abandoned by the ocean as sea levels fell.  Here it is hard to decide wether or not to stay and enjoy the privacy or leave.   Somehow, slightly feeling that we shouldn’t be there.  That we had stumbled upon an untouched, unmarked place.  A place that our human hands could only destroy with a little time.

YouTube video of a pimped out 2009 Honda Ruckus:


4 Months Out

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

-Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)


NIla Girl through the trees.

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

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

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

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

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

goals+communication+compromise=anything you want!


A Look Back Before Looking Forward

Our two year plan:

1.Conquer the world.  If that fails…

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

After two years:

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



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


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

Total Miles Traveled: ~3,677

Countries Visited: 4

Communist Countries Visited: 1

Crew Along the Way: 3

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

Plane Tickets for Oreo: 2

Freediving World Records Earned: 3

Fish Harvested While Trolling Under Sail: 9

Lures Lost: 2

Bags of Stacy’s Pita Chips Consumed: 4

Bottles of Cuban Rum Drank: 2

Gallons of Diesel Burned: 70

Bottles of Sriracha Consumed: 2

Rolls of Toilet Paper Used: 30

Adventures Left Un-adventured: Too Many

Unforgettable Moments: Infinite

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


We’re Back

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

-John F. Kennedy


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

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

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

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

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

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


You can never have enough shots like this.

“Oh God, Earl.  Don’t tell me that!” 

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


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

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


Brief Thought On Cuba

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


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

Cuba, Briefly

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

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

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

What else is beautiful?  Toilet seats!


Ashley and Ren with some local spearos.

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

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

Journal to Jamaica Day 2

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


Journal to Jamaica Day 4

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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