“Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”
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 havesomeone 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 peopleand 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 ambitioushomes 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.
“…You were only waiting for this moment to be free”
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.
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.”
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!”
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 doit:
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.
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 beautifulI 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 firstname.lastname@example.org🙂
Well we were finally on our way and we were approaching our first obstacle, the 42 foot tall bridge.We had already leaned the mast back so all that was required was to pull the engine back and ease her through.So we did.And as soon as we pulled it back the engine went dead!Luckily the wind was behind us and we drifted under the bridge and dropped anchor on the other side to assess the problem.I bled the engine several times and tried time after time to restart.After throwing the wrench at it we decided to reset the mast and then come back to the engine.If all else fails we could sail downwind to a marina at Dragon Point, which is where the Banana river meets the Indian river at the Intracoastal Waterway (ICWW).So we got the mast back in place and started back on the engine to no avail.
This is where I first realized how helpless sailing can make you feel. Ren is wrenching on the engine and cussing for me to bring him tools.I’m cussing for him to hurry up!Losing your cool makes engine wrenching in rough weather pretty difficult.In the meantime, it’s raining outside.I understand, even at this early moment in our cruising careers, that this emergency is probably a level 1 on a scale of 1 to 10.This reality check makes me think we need more practice, at least communicating effectively under pressure.
As I’m contemplating our situation I realize that we are drifting back towards the bridge.My default reaction is to trust that Ren knows exactly what’s going on all the time.I watch the sweat drip down his butt crack and think, nah, he has no clue that we’re drifting.I dramatically scream out, “The anchor is slipping!”We both rush on deck.Ren begins pulling the anchor up until the rusty end of the anchor chain slips past the bow pulpit.Where’s the anchor you ask?Hell if we know!It’s about 30 feet on the south side of that 42’ bridge we mentioned.Probably creating an artificial reef for some pinfish.Good thing the boat was already equipped with two anchors up front and one in the back.We quickly dropped a second hook and continued arguing.
We contacted the closest marina and the draw bridge, both to our south and informed them of our predicament.For the first time we were under sail in our new boat!Just as if we were back home sailing our 18’ Hobie Cat, we maneuvered our 35 footer perfectly into the slip under sail, dousing the main and then the jib at the perfect moment to the amazement of the dockmaster who had been awaiting our arrival.
Back in our comfort zone, the arguing subsides and we are immediately in love again.At this moment, during our first sail in our new boat, I remember that I want to marry Ren more than anything else in the world and this new adventure we are dreaming about has become the ONLY option.No more sitting in traffic on my way home from the office.No more Ren working in the heat, coming home with bloody knuckles from manual labor (or so I think).No more paying bills!We are going to be cruisers and every day of our lives will be like this moment, a moonrise (full moon at that), a perfect downwind breeze, warm beers and a huge stretch of water between us and everything else we are responsible for.A naive perspective, yes, but the Polyanna rose colored life perspective I had hoped sailing would bring.
We tied up and I immediately began working on the Westerbeke 4-108.Actually the engine was manufactured for Westerbeke by Perkins so in fact it is a Perkins 4-108.Westerbeke buys engines from numerous manufacturers, paints them red and does the marketing and sales under their name.Anyway, within about 30 minutes I had the thing running again.
By now it was getting dark but to stay on schedule we had to make Titusville, FL which was 35 miles to our north.The adventure had just begun and we were already sailing at night and loving it! Throughout the entire trip to North Carolina I can count on one hand theopportunities where the wind wasn’t in our faces and we could actually sail.This first night was one of them.We were on our way!
We made it that night to Titusville and woke to a gorgeous morning on the space coast.After a calm night at anchor we motored into the Titusville municipal marina and had a huge breakfast at a local diner and were back under way by 9am.We really had no idea how far we were going but we knew we wanted to try and at least do 120 miles each day.
“Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air.They are where they should be.Now put the foundations under them.”
We can’t thank Eric enough for all of the help he gave us getting things moving.
For two weeks after the first inspection of Nila Girl we combed the web for information on buying a sailboat.What should we look for?We asked questions and asked more questions.We spoke with everyone that we knew that either owned a sailboat or had previously owned a sailboat.And then we had to find the money to buy the thing.Big problem!We thought of everything.We had a good idea the banks wouldn’t loan us any money and we were right, so we had to get creative.We had a yard sale and sold my 1982 Toyota pickup, which I didn’t drive anymore.I sold my half restored 1964 Simmon’s Sea Skiff, a really neat wooden fishing boat built by a Southeastern North Carolinian and craftsman.I had a little money in the bank to make up the difference.
After negotiating for several weeks with the broker, I drove back down to Merritt Island, FL in November of 2010 and took ownership of a 1968 Pearson 35.Polonez was now registered in Ashley’s name and from day one the work began for me.When we purchased her, the engine was not running.It worked out that the day after I got to Florida our friend Eric.
An extremely talented diesel mechanic, was headed to the Keys to visit his parents and stopped in to lend a hand.Within an hour we had the engine running and I was one happy camper!I stayed on the boat another night and left Her in Merritt Island with the intentions of returning with Ash the following weekend to bring her the first leg of the journey back to North Carolina.
A sweet little card from our first sailing buddies.
Merrit Island is about an eight hour drive from Wilmington so our goal was to finish the delivery in a few weeks doing 200 mile legs each visit south, shortening our road trips by at least 3 hours each time.We left the weekend before Thanksgiving for our first leg.The plan was to leave our car in Merritt Island, make it up to Jacksonville, FL with the boat and then rent a car in order to drive south and retrieve our car.Sounds logical enough!So after several days of prepping the boat for departure, which included the laying back of the mast, we left Merritt Island.Why would we lay the mast back you ask?Well, the only way out of the Banana River was either under a 35 foot bridge or a 42 foot bridge.The problem with this is our mast is 44 feet from the waterline.So we spent a day deriving the plan and it all worked out.
I will interject here!It wasn’t until we actually showed up at the dock that we realized we were “trapped” in the Banana River by a bridge that happened to be shorter than our mast.We had two things going for us upon assessing our condition;
1. Ms. Maria had successfully sailed Polonez over the course of 15 years, and we knew she went further than the Banana River.
2. Ren happens to be one of the most resourceful people on the planet.Nicknamed, MacGyver in high school, the man can build a 747 out of tin foil and rubber bands (not really just tin foil and rubber bands, he would require a paper clip too).So, armed with this information we did what any anxious new boat owning couple would do…we scampered back to Ms. Maria and asked for advice.
Polonez…but not for long.
We spent several hours catching up with the Ciechanskis.They told us stories, offered us some Polish cookies and went to explaining how we would accomplish getting Polonez through the bridge.As Mr. Alexander drew diagrams for Ren, explaining the feat all the while in broken English, Mrs. Maria also explained, at the same time as Mr. Alexander, over his shoulder, in better English.Confusing…yes.It became obvious that we would need to lean the mast back as opposed to de-masting the boat.The Chiechanskis, innovative immigrants as they are, constructed a special tool to aid in the process.The tool is made of two 2x2x12 pieces of pine formed like a “V” with a metal plate at either end of the “V”.The metal plates connected to either site of the boat at the chainplates.The main sheet and vang is connected to the bottom of the forestay and the top of the “V” of the tool, to the bottom of the main sheet.Using the main sheet, we slowly laid back the mast and forestay.
As Ren and our temporary neighbors, Mike and Dana (we talk more about them in a minute), worked on the project, my job was to document the process through pictures and film.The laying back of the mast was a success!
Oh, before I forget, we met some really terrific people at the Banana River Marina.Dana and Ricky and Mike.They were big help to us with preparing the boat and just filling us with the confidence to pursue our goals.Thanks a bunch guys.And Mike, thank you for the care package!
Again, I feel it is necessary to make proper mention of our new friends.Dana and Ricky are a couple who have spent most of their married lives together living on the water.The managed to raise two little girls traveling and sailing all the while.While they live on a powerboat now, an old Hatteras, they talk of finding a sailboat to take them wherever the winds might blow once again.One of their daughters actually grew up to live on a boat too with her husband, a few boats down the dock from Dana and Ricky.During their sailing years they’ve lived all over in the Caribbean including Jamaica.It was only until their daughters reached their teenage years that they flirted with the idea of moving to land.They lived this way, topside I mean, for ten years before the ocean called them back home.
While preparing our boat for travel, Ren and I frequently became agitated with each other.Aswe are usually team mates, partners, contemporaries in every aspect of our relationship I soon was faced with the realization that Nila Girl needed Ren MUCH more than she needed me.My feelings of uselessness were frustrating and causing me to lash out at Ren, who took no issue shouting orders at me.He thinks, I need a screwdriver. I’m curled up in the engine room like a pretzel right now and Ashley is just sitting there.I’ll ask her for a screwdriver.He says, “Ash, get me a screwdriver!”I think, I’m right in the middle of something right now.Get your own screwdriver.I don’t want to negotiate the companionway for the tenth time in the last 5 minutes.I say, “Ugh, fine!Here!”And so it begins….
Ricky provided me with a little woman to woman advise.“First rate, first mate.”Meaning, my jobs are just as necessary as his jobs, even if his jobs determine wether or not we’re leaving the dock.The work wouldn’t get done if a first rate, first mate wasn’t there to hand over screwdrivers, provide lunch, and steer the boat while the captain is down below, cussing at stuff.This is how I reassured myself anyway.
Mike was our “next door neighbor” while docked at Banana River.Mike, a long time surf friend of Dana’s from their formative years, spends his weekends aboard Tater.Yes, his dinghy’s name is Tater’s Tot!The three of them just sit back on the water, playing some guitar, drinking some beers and talk.The good life!Mike was nice enough to leave Ren and I a little care package on our “doorstep” while we were out provisioning for the upcoming haul.Who knew velcro sticky pads could be so useful!We now have them everywhere.
Five years ago Ashley and I pulled out a dry erase board that had been behind a door in my office and decided that we would start writing on it.Both of my parents preached about setting goals and I recall my father always having these inspirational posters around the house.One in particular that I remember had a picture of a freshly released arrow flying towards a bullseye.The poster read “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it”.So it was time for Ashley and I to take aim.We listed several goals, I don’t recall them all but one I do remember was the acquisition of at least a 32 foot sailboat.
I had always browsed around but never really felt it was time to pounce until the recent recession.Why not spend a few grand during a recession?Probably not a great financial decision but I was still looking none the less.Each night I would scan various websites in search of a deal.Maybe someone’s lost dream or maybe a boat that had already fulfilled someone’s dream and it was ready to take on ours.Sites like Sailboat Listings, craigslist, Ebay, Boat Trader and every other site I could find.Most used boat sale sites have detailed search criteria so I narrowed my criteria down by price and size of boat.Anything less then $10,000 and anything between 30 and 40 feet.After many nights of searching She finally appeared.Yachtworld.com had pointed us to her.
It all seemed to be coming together.She was in Merritt Island, Florida, a thin sliver of land running parallel to Coco Beach between the Indian and Banana Rivers.Fortunately it worked out that 3 weeks after finding her we were headed down to south Florida to work a freediving course.We made time to cruise by the Space Coast to do the first site inspection.After finding that Her broker was in Jamaica for a week we decided to check Her out without his assistance.We checked all the usuals.Is the deck solid?Is the bilge clean?Does the electrical equipment operate?Check, check and check.The boat was loaded down with equipment for doing what Ashley and I wanted and everything on it worked. We wanted to know more. What is the story of this boat?We began looking through paper work and found a phone number for the owner.Hmmm, the broker is going to be pissed if we call the owner, but then again, if we are going to buy the boat we are going to have know more about it.We decided the broker would only be able to tell us a fraction of what the owner who sailed her could.
So we called Maria Ciechanski.Actually we went over to her house where we spent about an hour and a half talking about sailing and the boat.Maria Chiechanski is a Polish immigrant and former orchestra conductor in her late sixties.She conducted under her maiden name of Maria Tunicka.Her and her husband Alexander, a former cellist for the St Louis symphony, had owned Polonez since 1995 and had to part with her due to Alexander’s deteriorating health.According to Maria if it wasn’t for taking care of him, she “would be out cruising now”.Maria was the captain of Polonez and would single hand her over to the Bahamas, a 70 mile ocean passage.Alexander would fly over and meet her after his performances.Maria is a kind lady and it made us that much more comfortable with the prospect of possibly taking over ownership.We left Merritt Island for South Florida excited about what we had seen.