Needing Less Doing More

Category: Travel (Page 2 of 3)

Journel to Jamaica Day 1

DAY ONE:

A.M.

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

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

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

MIDDAY 

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

P.M.

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

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

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Journal to Jamaica Day 3

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

DAY THREE:

A.M.

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

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A cockpit shave job. Only the best for Ren!

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

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

MIDDAY

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

1. Salty, crispy clothes itch.

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

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

P.M.

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

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

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

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Acquiring Crew-Part 2

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

-Thoreau

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

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

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

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

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Ashley and Nina bonding in the settee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Passing By-By Ren

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

-Omar Bradley

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Ren and Ashley, smiling despite the beard.

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

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

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

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

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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]  🙂

Passing The Time

“Behind every man’s busy-ness there should be a level of undisturbed serenity and industry, as within the reef encircling a coral isle there is always an expanse of still water…”

-Thoreau

Beyond all the incredible experiences, adventures of a lifetime, new friends etc. you may be able to imagine that there is a healthy chunk of down time on a sailboat when en route to the next destination.  In fact, our adventures are punctuated with long, extensive periods of nothing but staring deeply into each other’s eyes.  Loving eyes wandering to all the imperfections of the face and body exacerbated by time in the sun, on a  boat, in the salt air.  Eyes averting, not so loving after seeing crud from breakfast lodged in Ren’s beard.  The beard which our friend Ryan said, “…looks like something growing on the jetty rocks.”  But Ren is a pirate now so he MUST have a beard. 

Other than exhausting already exhausted conversation, Ren, Oreo and I engage in other various activities to keep sane and actually improve our mental status.  Nila Girl offers us a unique opportunity to engage in activities and other devices of mental improvement not available on land working 9-5.  Things like learning to speak Spanish, playing guitar, writing, etc.  Below is a top 10 list of some of the things we do when there’s nothing to do (without the top because they are listed in no particular order).

1.Spanish.  Sometimes we play the “Learn to Speak Spanish” CDs my father in law gave to us.  They’re great for the first 15 minutes then the sounds of Spanish vocabulary begins to lull us asleep.  However, Entiendo Espanol!

2.Guitar.  Ren is learning to play “Blackbird” and has been for several weeks now…

3.Read.  I have inhaled several books on this trip including (in no particular order), Wuthering Heights (again), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (very gripping. not a literary work of art but super entertaining), The Jungle Books (Rudyard Kipling is the man), Love’s Executioner (from my psychologist friend, stories of psychotherapy…yeah), The Help (need I say more?), Lies Your Teacher Told You (I highly recommend this non-fiction), and of course, The Manual of Freediving (reference only).  Ren is a little bookworm on Nila Girl too.  Not sure about his list though.

4.Write.  I blog about our trip, not enough though, and have tossed around some ideas about an Oreo story.  This trip is about the dog, you know that by now right?

5.Sleep.  When you’re not on watch, it’s a great time to take a little nap right there in the cockpit with Oreo.  Snuggle up to the little guy and let the sounds of the waves slapping the boat and Ren cussing at the imperfect sail configuration drift you off to sleep.

6.Clean.  Wipe the floors down in the cabin.  Keep the cockpit clean.  Yawn.

7.Repair.  Despite popular  opinion (tongue in cheek), boats are an endless supply of repair projects.  They are a hole you throw money into.  If You have a bunch of $100 bills you can do one of two things with them, wipe your butt or spend them on your boat.  Nila Girl is always moving towards a state of chaos.  We use $$ and lots of Ren’s time to bring her back to a state of stasis.

8.Jump!  If the wind is down and the boat is moving slowly, we take turns getting buck naked and jumping off the bow of the boat, drifting to the stern and catching the ladder for another climb and jump.  We have pictures of this but….our families might be reading 🙂

9.Eat.  I cook a lot on the boat.  There is nothing but time for preparation, cooking to perfection and cleaning up.  The only time we do not eat like kings is when the weather is rough and we’re underway.  The hardest place on the boat to fight that, punch-in-the-gut-swallowing-bits-of-vomit-all-day feeling is the cabin.  As soon as you go below in snotty weather, your ears tell your body you’re moving but everything looks like it’s sitting still.  Add on top of this the odor of cooking food and you’ve got yourself a recipe for green bile overboard.  On these days, trips downstairs are limited to fetching small items needed for sailing or general comfort and working up snacks.  Snack preparation is not to exceed 5 minutes in these conditions.

10.Oreo.  When we are bored of everything else, we simply pet Oreo.  He makes out like a bandit on NIla Girl.  The hair on his head is oily with pets.  Oh yeah, kisses too.

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Key West

“Once you’ve ruined your reputation, you can live quite freely.”

-Amigos

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The Western Union with full sails up.

Ren and I had to traveled to Key West once before to teach a freediving course with PFI.  At that time we spent two days diving the Vandenburg and filming, Defending the Vandenburg.  If you haven’t seen it yet scroll right back over the title right now and click on it!  Ren worked hard to make a spur of the moment video shoot turn into something close to golden.  The short video won 1st place in the amateur division at the North Sea Film Festival.  We spent a couple days diving for fun with our PFI buds, then transitioned into instructor mode and taught an Intermediate level course.  We try to squeeze every bit of possible fun out of the moment when we’re hanging with PFI, who we don’t get to see often enough.  We tramped around Key West drinking and people watching.  All in all I got a particular impression of the small key, Duval Street, debauchery and homelessness.  We never saw the waterfront or Hemmingway’s place.  We didn’t get to hang out with salty sailors or check out the huge Schooners at Schooner Warf.  We didn’t even eat Cuban food or Key Lime Pie.  I left, satisfied having spent time with our friends but without a dying urge to go back to the place where people go to “drop out of society”.   

Thank doggy paws that we had the opportunity to get back, by sailboat, which is the preferable method of transportation to anywhere, especially Key West.  As we entered the harbor entrance we pulled up just outside of Key West Bight and dropped the hook at about 3:00pm.  After a hot cruise with the wind in your hair, but not in the romantic “blowing in the wind” kind of way, in a continuously wrapping itself around your mouth and turning your hair into something resembling greasy pasta noodles, it was time for a quick swim around the boat.  Nothing dries up the grease like a little salt water.  I jumped into the water and swam around the boat a few times, daring Oreo to jump in.  Which he didn’t.  He would never jump in, he would definitely bypass jump and go straight to stumble and fall.

We stayed in that night and most of the next day, finally deciding even Key West would be a welcome diversion from the cramped quarters of Nila Girl’s cockpit.  Plus, Oreo really appreciates it when he doesn’t have to pee (or poo) on the boat, please see earlier post titled, “Two Humans and an Oreo Boy”.  Once on land he will, however, pee on everything short of people’s feet, and this is only avoided by having him tethered to a leash where Ren and I can yank him away from feet and bags.  Not without a fight though!  We loaded up Dinky with a dry bag full of provisions we wouldn’t really need, a leash, a bailing cup and a flashlight and headed for Key West to meet up with our new buddy, Jay.

Confession.  Before, while we were still in Big Pine Key, we had traveled to Key West on a day trip with our friends aboard Ohana.  Check out their blog.  Through our bud’s Tony and Ella aboard Ohana, and their new baby, Mellia, we met some new people and had drinks on the beach.  Here we hooked up with a guy named Jay who is an aspiring freediver and  strangely enough graduated with the same major as myself, from UNCW and plays ultimate frisbee.  This was my kind of new friend! 

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Hanging out with new friends in the salon of NIla Girl.

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Amigos! Best people watching in Key West. That’s saying a lot!

So we met up with Jay at a bar in Mallory Square, which proved to be a really neat, eclectic part of Key West that I didn’t even know existed.  A few beers later, we made our way down to the waterfront where everyone relieved themselves of the beer we just drank.  I squatted behind a rock and went while keeping a close eye on the homeless guy lingering on the other side of the dock.  Ah, Key West!  After the pee break it was time to trek on over to Amigos.  Amigos, the home of the square taco, burritos and plastic souvenir cups!  Also, the best spot in the Keys for people watching.  Jay’s girlfriend, Rachel, works there and was happy to have at least one familiar face take up part of her section for a little while.  Since a lot of bars and restaurants in Key West are open air, Oreo was pretty welcome almost everywhere we went.  We stuffed our faces with tex-mex style cuisine and Dos Equis Amber, although I prefer the Lager.  If you ever happen to find yourself down in Key West, I highly recommend bellying up to the Amigos food bar, which faces out to the street and check out the commotion.  The streets are filled with drinkers, some dressed in costume (pirates mostly), some hardly dressed at all (females mostly).  Enjoy the hedonism for a minute and remember to wipe the guacamole from your mouth..

Having achieved a pretty nice buzz it was time to part ways.  It was essential to get back to the boat before we blew our allowance on alcohol.  Besides that, the sailboat is not the most hospitable place to battle a hangover.  Ren and I limped back to the boat and serenaded each other with sloppy guitar.   

The next day, needing some fresh air, we headed back over towards Key West Bight.  Along the way, we “rescued” a fellow dinghy captain whose engine had quit (Sidenote: later, on our way back through Key West from the Dry Tortugas we heard report of a flare being fired near the bight.  We monitored the USCG station 22A and learned that a dinghy had sunk and the pilot fired a flare.  We later learned that the sunk dinghy pilot was the same guy we “rescued”.  Small community I guess).  This captain, Troy, imparted a HUGE pieces of helpful information to us.  There is a dinghy dock in Key West.  All dinghies use this dock, they don’t just tie up underneath a restaurant dock, hoping not to get caught like we did the night before.  Well, news to us!  We followed his directions to the dinghy dock where we observed a rugged sight.  We fought our way through over 50 dinghies in varying stages of dilapidation.  Some were bright grey, just off the West Marine shelves.  Some you could only see because a tattered grey line hung the bow of the dinghy like a noose to the dock cleat.  Other’s were dressed in bits of weather worn denim, canvas and other pieces of cloth, I assume for sun protection, these ‘quilted’ dinghies were hideous.  Dinky pushed and pulled through the crowd to an acceptable dockage space.  We tied off, departed ways with the hapless Captain Troy, and sauntered down to Schooner Warf taking this quiet, Oreo-less opportunity to have some “grown up time” and check out the mammoth schooners of Key West, including but not limited to, Key West’s flagship schooner, Western Union. 

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You wouldn’t think we would be this excited to be on another boat.

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Haul away Ren!

Western Union is nestled between a couple of other schooners but is unmistakable by her sheer size.  Her whitewashed hull and wooden masts draw you in as you stare at her massive stern with big gold letters running across, “Western Union”.  The Western Union is an original, old vessel (with some renovations of course) that was used to run cable throughout the Keys to Cuba.  She is a floating museum that is run by a non-profit organization which offers a variety of services, most interesting to us, sunset cruises.  Now you would think that after all this time on a boat the last thing we would want to do for entertainment is take a boat ride, you are mistaken!  When confronted with a vessel of this size and beauty you become a bit nostalgic (for a time when you didn’t even exist).  Pirates dance around your head and songs like, “Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum” echo in your brain.  We gawked until drool started dripping from our mouths.  To our rescue came a guy with a blue collard shirt and an embroidered “Western Union” on the left breast.  He kindly took the time to wipe the drool from our mouths with a napkin, saving us further embarrassment.  The man smiled at us and asked us about the little black and white beast he saw us walking around with yesterday.  He has noticed Oreo (who couldn’t?).  We told him it was grown up time and that the little guy was back on Nila Girl, on pirate watch.  Captain Lynn, as we would come to know him started right in with chit chat about sailboats (go figure), our boat in particular and our sailing itinerary.  We enjoyed the conversation and were surprised and elated when he invited us to join him and the crew on the sunset sail, departing in 15 minutes!  We jumped out of our pants, landed, put our pants back on and hopped aboard the historic vessel.  Derrick, the first mate who happened to be from NC (all the best people have roots in NC, although I may be bias), informed us that the bar was open, wink wink.  The proverbial icing on the cake was an open bar to complement our complimentary sail!  Holy crap, maybe good things to happen to those who can’t afford to go on the boat ride without a little charity.

The sail started and despite wimpy winds, the many huge sails on Western Union managed to pull us out of the bight and into the big open waters.  The sail is accompanied by a stellar crew, Captain Lynn and Derrick as I mentioned, Brian the bartender/doom metal guy from Tampa, and the two brothers who were really interested in our adventure.  Good people all around.  We were serenaded with live music, which included a hammered dulcimer and some fun “Haul Away” songs which Ren and I still sing even though we can only remember four words.  The sun began to set, sans green flash, and we fired the canon, twice!  Whether or not a cannon was really loaded into the gun  we will never know.  Captain Lynn assured us we hit a boat though.  It must have gone down fast because no one else saw it.  The trip was concluded with a stargaze.  A pointing  flash light was used to point out different planets, constellations, etc.  Super cool stuff!  $10,000 was promised to whoever could find the first satellite.  Ren, of course, with his x-ray vision found it.  We are checking our accounts daily looking for the   deposit.  Haven’t seen it yet but probably will soon.   

The end to a perfect evening, Amigos one more time and a nightcap down at the Schooner Warf Restaurant/Bar.  We collected our Coors Lights (with lemon of course, because we are classy) and headed over to a not so quite corner where we found, who else, the crew of Western Union.  Man, if we didn’t like this crew before we really did now!   We clinked Coors Lights and Bud heavies and chatted about real life (they were all living one). 

On our return from the Dry Tortugas, days later, we stopped back by the Western Union while in Key West to say hey to our friends one more time before heading back north.  We never saw them again but will be sure to look them up next time we’re in Conch Country.

New Years in The Dry Tortugas Part1

“Isn’t she lovely?” 

-Stevie Wonder

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Meeting up with the Filer’s was a huge treat!

Leaving Big PIne Key, we set our sights, and sails, for Key West.  That place was an adventure in itself and I will come back to that.  All you need to know for now is that we got our fill of beer there, and liquor, and wine.  Key West was just a stopping point between Big Pine and our real goal, the Dry Tortugas.  With some luck, we’d even make it to the Dry Tortugas  just in time to intercept some Wilmington friends who were planning a day trip to the small Key.

Nila Girl and her inhabitants (Ren, myself, Oreo and possibly a small rat, who may have stowed away in Big Pine) raised sail early morning on December 29th.  Since Tay Filer and family were going to be in the Dry Tortugas on December 30th we were really pushing it, in true Ashley/Ren fashion.  Why get somewhere on time maybe even with time to spare when you can get there by the skin of your teeth, often inconveniencing family and friends who are more punctual than you?  It is a flaw I hope we can correct in the future.  Too late for this trip though.  So we sailed all day and through the night.  The wind was down so we fired up the engine for a few hours, technically on December 30th.  Our original plan, on leaving NC, was to never run the engine unless coming into port or if emergency requires.  This plan is only valid if you are not sailing on a schedule.  Something we still have not accomplished except for a few days at a time.  The sails were up and the engine roared until about 5:00 am.  We cut the engine and silently advanced.  Stealth like, but not really with Dinky (our inflatable dinghy.  Our car essentially) flapping around behind us!  Quiet Dinky, damn you!  Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas is home to Ft. Jefferson.  An old Civil War era fort which looks particularly menacing in the middle of nowhere, just standing there, cannons pointing right at you.  Union soldiers ready to board your boat, raping and pillaging.  I digress, it is easy to let your imagination get carried away in the lee of the fort.  So, like I said, Quiet Mr. Dink!

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Nila Girl had the Dry Tortugas to herself.

Approaching a shoaled complex such as the Dry Tortugas at night is not an easy feat.  It’s hard on the nerves.  This was evident on our boat by the presence of all three crew members on deck.  One armed with a Q-beam (me), another at the helm (Ren) and another licking his crotch in anticipation of landfall (Ren…I mean Oreo).  Daylight began to break which was a welcomed friend!  Not to mention a breathtaking sight as the red-orange sky rose on the east side of the fort, illuminating the ancient red bricks.  The fort is dotted with open air windows from which watch was kept and cannons were aimed.  The dawn poured out through these spaces and reflected on Nila Girl and our grateful faces.  It is funny how much a sunset, sunrise or blue moon come to mean to you when you’re living on a boat.  Without DVDs, Netflix, or anything but books and some writing and chores, the sky becomes an awesome form of entertainment.  I have managed to see three green flashes on our adventure during sunset.  Before this trip my grand total of green flash sightings came to a whopping zero, in fact, I kind of doubted their existence. 

We picked up the channel markers and easily sailed to the east side of the fort where we dropped anchor (silently of course, who knows who’s in the fort watching).  A few anchor dropping chores were done.  These chores include putting the engine on Dinky and taking Oreo to land ASAP.  He deserves a trip to land whenever we are somewhere to manage it.  Ren is in charge or Oreo and I’m in charge of getting everyone’s breakfast ready.  Did it, ate, then decided to lay down for a nap since we had sailed through the night.  But.  However.  Captain Ren was banging about the cockpit getting all his dive gear ready.  At our first sight of “Caribbean Blue” water since leaving NC, he was not about to pass up a dive for a much needed nap.  Truth be known, neither was I.  It didn’t take much to rouse me and before I knew it, Oreo was cashing in on the nap and Ren and I were in the water, swimming with a ~200 lbs. goliath grouper!  I can sleep later!

Dinky was ready for action so we decided to crawl in and go exploring while we were still brimming with excitement.  We soon realized that it was terribly hard to pick out an appropriate dive spot.  To remedy this situation, we got out of the dinghy and drug it behind us.  First stop, underneath a sport fishing boat that was anchored near us.  Underneath that boat, seven goliath groupers!  These groupers were the puppy dogs of Garden Key.  They chilled underneath boats looking for handouts, and who didn’t have the heart to give some to them?  Not us!  A guy from the boat we were hanging with the groupers under gave us a little jack he had caught earlier.  I attempted to, ahem, feed the grouper but chickened out.  The mouth on that thing was pretty huge and who knew if he had good eye sight or not.  Like an old dog, he may misjudge the end of his treat and the end of your hand.  Confusing where one begins and the other ends, the dog chomps your hand a bit.  I didn’t want to risk this from a 200 lbs animal.  But Ren did.  Before Ren knew it, the grouper skillfully chomped the fish, and looking down we realized, he left Ren’s hand.  Phew!

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Just a cool shot.

Moving on we dove a few more spots.  Colorful angel fish and tangs swarmed the huge coral colonies that littered the rocky bottom.  We picked out two huge NC sized lobster and three lionfish (which are delicious to eat and make great ceviche).  The lobster were hanging out in front of their rock crevices.  Not in the holes, outside catching some rays I guess.  One reached his antenna out as if to shake my hand.  They were not afraid of us, that was for certain.  As we were on a reconnaissance dive we did not bring our animal harvesting gear so the spot was mentally marked.  We were to return later after a visit to the fort to collect our lunch.  Good thing we decided on a recon mission first because later when we reached the fort, and had an interview with the park ranger, who bum rushed us as soon as we got off our dinghy, it came to light that spearfishing and lobstering are strictly prohibited in the Dry Tortugas.  In fact, you are only allowed to hook and line fish within a mile radius of Garden Key.  There goes lunch, and dinner, and breakfast the next day… 

We had collected Oreo after our dive, changed clothes and planned on making an afternoon out  of land exploration.  Our buds were supposed to be arriving by seaplane sometime that day.  We had already seen two seaplanes come and go and the ferry arrive with a horde of people.  No sign of any other North Carolinians.  This place was also the first place where we found a  nice beach to hang out on.  Taking advantage of this fact the three of us spotted a nice place in the sand and relaxed, letting the warm sun burn our poor little bodies (which I wish it was doing right this minute.  A cold front moved in and I’m freezing right now!).  After a few hours we got hungry and decided to go back to the Nila Girl and rustle up some grub.  But wait!  What’s that noise…a seaplane!  Leaning against the dock, we waited in anticipation to see if our buds would emerge from the awesome plane.  The plane circled around the fort and touched down in the water between the same channel markers Nila Girl navigated early that morning.  We watched the pilot run across the water and back the plane up right next to the beach.  This guy was good.  The small plane swung open her doors and people began pouring out.  We saw three children, two girls and a boy, jump to the sand.  Uh oh, our friends have two girls and a boy.  We saw a slightly chubby guy handing bags to the kids.  Ren pointed to the guy and said, “That’s him.  That’s Tay.  I can hear him from here”.  Now Tay works out a good bit.  I see him often at the UNCW pool swimming laps with Mr. Bob Berger.  This is how I got to know Tay.  I took one look at the gut of the man Ren pointed to and said, “Nope.  Give Tay some credit will ya?”  Underneath the plane were two more man legs.  Also, I saw the legs with a stance just like Tay’s!  Yeppers, our friend’s arrived.

They only had two hours to check the place out, not enough time, but we ran through the fort, reading this, questioning that.  The children earned their junior  ranger badges (they will thank their Mom later for making them do that at all the national parks they visit).  The visit ended with a quick snorkel.  Ren and I got to spend some time  with some NC-ians and also  left with one cold can on Lipton iced tea, a blueberry muffin and two, one serving sized containers of cream cheese.  Who scored?  We did! 

After their visit, it was back to the boat for some three hour late lunch and that nap I thought about earlier in the day.  The Dry Tortugas proved to be a place where we decided to stay three whole days.

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.

Christmas in The Keys

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Sweet Christmas card made by our buddy, Caleb Jimenez.

Pictured left is a homemade Christmas card made by freedive student, Caleb Jimenez.  He even included the perfect number of weights on the bottom of the weight belt (silver squares at bottom of card).  Thanks Caleb!

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Merry Christmas Ren!

To preface this entry you must know that, until today, we have been docked in Big Pine Key at a friend’s house since December 14th.  Our longest dockage yet.  A great pair of family friends, Mr. Duncan and Mrs. Lee Dawkins gave us permission to dock at their home.  While there, for a week and a half we had access to their scooters, home, everything!  It was a wonderful reprieve from the boat, especially for Oreo who really relishes his “pee on everything” time.  Which doesn’t come often enough while traveling.  We will never be able to adequately thank the Dawkins for their hospitality.

The first Christmas ever spent away from my family was…you guessed it…this year, on Big Pine Key.  Well, I suppose the word family encompasses more than my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and brother these days.  Now that I have a husband, Oreo and in-laws there’s plenty of family to go around.  Tnis doesn’t absolve my nostalgia for missing the Futrals badly.  I’m not ashamed to admit, I cried.  Christmas in the Keys includes warm weather (no white Christmas this year) and no shopping (a plus on a fixed income).  Instead, Ren and I spent a good bit of time hunting the elusive, barely legal lobster in the bays surrounding Big Pine Key.  After exhausting all of our lobster hunting resources, we managed to surface with two lobsters the entire week and a half we were in the Keys.  Needless to say, the overflowing lobster Christmas Eve dinner I had planned was lobsterless.  This could’ve been a problem (until we realized it didn’t matter at all) since the entire menu I had planned really depended on lobster as the centerpiece.  What is it they say about eggs and one basket? 

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Christmas wouldn’t be the same without our travel friendly Charlie Brown tree.

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Good bud, Kolt Johnson and Ren during a Christmas visit.

We didn’t spend the holiday completely alone, the three of us.  The “Big Chapmans” came down for a four day excursion.  The “Big Chapmans” consist of my father-in-law and his wife.  Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula added the family element to our tropical Christmas.  Despite the slow paced Key-sey (everything is a bit tackier in the Keys, read: Keys-ey) holiday, ours was not without a little bit of obligatory family tension.  All tension was dissolved the first night with a bit of rum, some Will Farrell re-runs and X-Factor (the popular Fox talent show).  Our buddy Kolt Johnson and his family also came down to Big Pine in search of the Christmas lobster.  Kolt has been abroad for several years now and catching up with him is becoming increasingly more difficult.  It was really great to have the opportunity to spend quality time with him.  We even got to go hunting together, which is what spurred the friendship to begin with.  Mr. Ken Johnson, Kolt’s Dad, took us all out hunting in his boat one afternoon.  We also had the chance to have a few “family” meals together.  The only thing missing was our other buddy, Bruce.  Bruce, Kolt, Ren and I have become pretty good buds over the years.  What makes better family than friends? 

It was a bit harder than usual to get into the Christmas spirit with the common Keys theme of kissing dolphins (ugh), tropical fish and pastel colored everything.  Sent with the in-laws by Mom was a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  We set the perfectly sad little tree up on the kitchen island and surrounded it with Christmas cards from family and friends.  Both of our mothers sent boxes of cookies with Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula.  We received the cookies four days before Christmas and have managed to eat all but about five.  We have to save the last five because if we eat those, all of our worst thoughts about our lack of self-control will become reality.  We will have proved ourselves to be the gluttonous pigs we always thought we were.  Those five cookies will sit and get stale before they are ever chucked down the gullet.  We have to maintain control out here.  WE CAN’T LOSE CONTROL!  Sorry for yelling.  Also arriving with the Big Chapmans were bits and pieces of our lives left behind in our haste to get on the road…ahem…water, back in November.  Evolve Freediving t-shirts (for sale, email [email protected]), a few pieces of exercise equipment (made for me by Don Kimball, thanks Don!), two fresh blocks of parmesan cheese (my mother has Italian roots),  Italian bread, our mail, etc.  These were all welcome Christmas presents until last night when we had to load all of our new treasures into the boat.  Which we did, complaining the entire time.

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The “Big Chapmans” down for a visit!

To set the mood Christmas Eve, none other than Bing Crosby would do.  My favorite Christmas music memories are of Bing’s low voice echoing down my childhood home’s hallway as I raced to the steps near the kitchen with my brother, Corey, to peer across into the living room where our always grand Christmas tree shone bright with multi colored lights.  I was always grateful, and still am, at my Mom’s ability to avoid the themed Christmas tree.  No all white light trees or mauve bows on our tree.  It was every man for himself as we littered our trees with lights and  ornaments of every kind.  No comparison to the Charlie Brown tree of this year but the small tree proved to be enough for us and is nestled in one of our boat lockers waiting for next year.  Since there was no lobster on the menu, Mrs. Paula and I supplemented with collard greens sent by Ren’s Mom and Mudder (Grandmother), angel hair pasta with anchovie sauce (don’t worry Mr. Frank, no anchovies in your pasta) and eggplant and squash pate with crackers.  It was different from the usual hoopla of a huge Christmas Eve supper but DAMN, it would do.  It wasn’t half bad either.  We finished up the meal with chocolate roll sent by my Nannie.  I’ll go ahead and tell you, you’ve never had anything like it.  A little “It’s a Wonderful Life” and that was a wrap. 

The Big Chapmans left Christmas morning before we checked under the tree to see if Santa came to Big Pine Key.  We said our goodbyes, sent them off, then checked  the tree.  Santa came!  He left, tackily in a brown bag, a Spanish-English dictionary, a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and a bar of Dr. Bronner’s “magical” peppermint soap.  Ren was happy since he really wanted the dictionary and loves Dr. Bronners and chocolate with sea salt.  Santa takes notes and always surprises!  The day was spent outfitting the boat for our next adventure.  We  cleaned and organized the boat for the next leg of the race, down to Key West.  Actually, this is being written en route to Key West.  We are exactly, hold on a second….”Ren!  Ren!  How far are we from Key West?  Huh?  What?   Ok, Ok!….Ren says we are 12 miles to our entrance.  Not too shabby.  We left Big Pine Key last night to catch the high tide.  We did not want  a repeat performance of our arrival into Big Pine, where we spent about 5 hours ran aground,  waiting for the tide to shift in our favor.  We safely exited the channel from the Dawkins’ into the bay at about 9:00 pm last night.  We camped in the bay and left at 7:00 am this morning (Captain’s orders) to continue on to Key West. 

First thing is first when we get there, dunk Oreo in the water…he’s hot, poor guy.  Second thing is second, or first maybe, dunk Ashley in the water…she’s hot, poor girl.

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