Needing Less Doing More

Tag: fishing

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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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]  🙂

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.