Needing Less Doing More

Tag: freediving

4 Months Out

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

-Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)

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NIla Girl through the trees.

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

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

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

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

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

goals+communication+compromise=anything you want!

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A Look Back Before Looking Forward

Our two year plan:

1.Conquer the world.  If that fails…

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

After two years:

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

A LOOK BACK BEFORE LOOKING FORWARD

12/6/12

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

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

Total Miles Traveled: ~3,677

Countries Visited: 4

Communist Countries Visited: 1

Crew Along the Way: 3

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

Plane Tickets for Oreo: 2

Freediving World Records Earned: 3

Fish Harvested While Trolling Under Sail: 9

Lures Lost: 2

Bags of Stacy’s Pita Chips Consumed: 4

Bottles of Cuban Rum Drank: 2

Gallons of Diesel Burned: 70

Bottles of Sriracha Consumed: 2

Rolls of Toilet Paper Used: 30

Adventures Left Un-adventured: Too Many

Unforgettable Moments: Infinite

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

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Focus

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

At this point, most of you know, or have an idea, that Ren and I are avid freedivers.  I have filled our blog posts with accounts of our spearfishing excursions.  Ren has taken countless pictures and video of the underwater world.  We have shared most of this media with you, right down to how the fish, lobster or crab was transformed into a remarkable meal, by our standards (the description of the meal not without pictures).  However, I have failed, up until this point, to really describe what freediving is and what it has come to mean to us.  I have taken for granted that you all understand, on the same level as we do, the healing and transformative characteristics of the deep blue.  I have assumed that you already know that I am a competitive freediver and there is physical pain associated with our sport.  By virtue of the fact that our blog page resides on our website, which is used to conduct our freediving instruction business, you must have noticed that we are pretty serious about holding our breath.  But why?  What’s the appeal?  I will attempt to describe, using words, the sensation of freediving which, if you have never tried, will be a lot like trying to explain the colors red and blue to a blind person.  I will do my best.

All day, we, as people, struggle to balance our thoughts.  Lists of duties, groceries, bills are constantly circling in our heads.  As we sit in traffic, seething over the jerk who has his music too loud, breathing as shallowly as possible to reduce the inhalation of exhaust, we form a headache.  Then we get pissed at our spouse for requiring that we stop by the grocery store, for what again?  Oh yeah, some veggies for supper…and beer, yes, beer!  There we sit, in traffic, with that headache, red-faced with anger and still one more stop to make.  LIfe sucks sometimes!  Very little about this every day scenario connects to us on the inside.  We forget about the moment we are in because we want only to escape it.  We want to be transformed to a time in the future, vacation, supper time, whatever, or a time in the past, breakfast this morning, five minutes ago before turning on to the interstate.  But there is something missing.  There’s is something liberating about focusing only on the moment, nothing else.  We are missing the liberation, daily. 

This is not to say that you will begin to enjoy every moment you are stuck in traffic just because you are trying to live in the now.  But what if being stuck in traffic wasn’t such a big deal anymore because you habitually engage in an activity that is so focusing and freeing that it actually makes you a happier, healthier person?  What if, by practicing this new sport, you become stronger and learn to breathe deeper so that you stop developing headaches?  What if the sport requires you to eat in a way that minimizes colds and any kind of sinus and chest congestion you battle with?  What if every time you practice the sport you are rewarded with a very powerful new sense of self-confidence, having performed better and pushed your body further than the time before?  Through freediving, I have found focus and liberation from life.

There are four distinct elements of freediving that allow the metamorphosis to occur.  This is, there are parts of freediving that transform you from a sickly, stressed-out, shell of a person to a full-feeling, strong, confident person.  The most essential element is the only tangible element of the group, water.  Although you may not freedive, you have probably experienced the calming nature of water at some point, unless you are already dead.  You have watched the sun flash green on the red horizon with your mouth gaping open (do it again, please!).  You have spent time with your camera and dog at the beach in an attempt to immortalize the serenity you’re feeling through art.  You have sat in the bow of your boat, rocking gently down the river, hook and line bobbing in the water.  Who cares if you catch a fish?  The only sounds are the movement of the water and the crack of your can as you pop open the first beer of the day.

Water.  We spend nine months in the womb where we are immersed in fluid.  Water constitutes 60-70% of our bodies (as adults).  Our blood has a base of both salt and water, like the sea.  It makes complete sense that there is an innate feeling of calm when affronted by water.  We feel weightless in water, a polar difference from the constant assault by gravity, and our daily routines, that weighs us down.  When we enter the water, our bodies undergo physiological changes allowing us to “become water”.  Whether you swim in the ocean every day or haven’t been in liquid since the womb makes little difference to your physiology.  We are water mammals and our bodies know it.  When in water, our heart rates decrease dramatically.  A blood shift occurs, focusing the body’s blood volume into our cores where our hearts are.  Just these two physical changes make us feel at home in the liquid environment. 

Another element of freediving that helps to complete our transformation is the silence of the sport.  Once we plunge into the deep, we can no longer communicate with our clumsy, complicated language.  A language we use to relay misinformation to each other, causing misunderstandings.  There is only one way to interpret the gaping mouth of the shark or the watchful eye of the barracuda.  In the blue, there is no talking, none that we can understand anyway.  We are our animal selves, relaying information to the surrounding fish, not with our tongues but with our core.  Our surroundings sense our intentions (through electrical impulses) and we are either welcomed or shunned in their world.  Through silence, we can communicate much more naturally and wholly than we are able to at any other time.  This revelation reminds me of a time when Ren and I were once watching a homing pigeon.  Ren narrated every move the bird was about to make and in perfect synchronicity the bird circled above us (to get his bearings) and in less than a minute plotted a course homeward.  “Wow!” I exclaimed.  “Too bad we don’t have that power, huh Ren?”  “Actually we do, we just don’t use in anymore.”  In the same way, if we “listen”, we are still able to communicate to our underwater cousins through perfect silence.

Transformative element number three is most apparent to me while competitively diving.  Finding your focus is the only way to “fly” while down there.  Freedom comes as your day washes away in the water and your thoughts and energy are focused entirely on the moment.  Eli Manning could not be his best, could not throw a Superbowl winning touchdown if his mind wandered to the past or future.  He gets sacked if he finds himself wondering about the TV interview he has to do later or the Netflix movie he forgot to mail back.  He thinks only of the ball in his hand and relies on  his training.  He “becomes” football and nothing else.  In a sport where you are willingly plunging to the deepest depths you can achieve, walking the tightrope between consciousness and unconsciousness, and reserving just enough to bring yourself back up on one breath, the liberation of intense concentration is found.  Each part of the dive is broken down into its smallest parts so that focus is maintained through each smaller part of the dive.  You’ve felt it before while driving too fast on a motorcycle, up at bat during a baseball game, shooting a free throw, you’ve felt it.  Here, in the deep, you can be completely alone.  With practice, you may even learn to enjoy the exercise in meditation. 

The last element of the sport that facilitates and completes the metamorphosis is the physical pain.  Along with the intense psychological pleasures associated with freediving comes pain.  How can you have white without black?  Part of the pleasure comes from defeating the pain.  If you have ever hiccuped with your mouth closed, you have experienced a contraction, a self preservation mechanism your body has evolved to ensure that you continue breathing.  While holding your breath for long enough the respiratory muscles team up against you.  They push and pull with increasing force to get air into the lungs.  The pain is not physically intolerable but takes a lot of mental fortitude (or stupidity as some people may call it) to ignore.  In a freedive, you are denying the body one of its most primal needs, to breathe, and the body will fight you to get the oxygen is strongly desires.  It is a powerful feeling to be able to overcome pain with mental endurance.  Learning to find a connection between the mind and body in order to push further and harder into the depths.  The mind overcomes the physical pain the body feels.  Now, you are water.

Next post, back to fun stuff about our trip (more pictures too) 😉

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The Blues

“…You were only waiting for this moment to be free”

-The Beatles

6 days now in the “Real Bahamas”.  No casinos in Nassau, no cattle boats, just locals.  Let me tell you the first thing you will notice about the island nation.  The water is always four shades of blue.  When the ocean floor is sandy the water is a brilliant Carolina blue.  If you aren’t familiar with Carolina blue, think Tarheels.  If you can’t think Tarheels, you have other issues.  When the floor is grassy the water turns into a darker royal blue color.  Think, Blue Devils…or if you prefer, as I do, don’t think about them.  When the floor is rocky with coral reef, the blue is more turquoise.  A nice transition between the sand and grass.  And when the water gets deep, the blue is a dark, tempting, navy color.  My only wish is that I could swim through each stratification of color and bottle the different blues.  I’m sure with a little food coloring you could sell the bottled blues to the tourists.

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Oreo boy sporting the lobster scarf his Grammy made him.

We are now in Green Turtle Cay, on the Atlantic side of the Abacos, where we have run into luck.  A friend of ours, John Shedd, happens to own a house here.  He has insisted that we take advantage of some solid ground, a bed that doesn’t move and a….SHOWER!  Of course, with some reluctance, we took him up on his offer.  John, we will never be able to pay back your generosity.  So yes, your protagonists have found themselves in another fortuitous situation with access to a house.  Living next to us is the caretaker of the property, Ms. Julie, her husband, and their son David, who happens to be an excellent freediver.  In fact, we managed to talk David into taking us out for a dive, which didn’t take much effort.  The guy has lived on an island his whole life.  His blood needs the water in a different way than the rest of us water mammals.  The island people feel closer and live closer to the water.  If only they could breath it.

We have met a friend here on the island, Nina.  She is traveling alone from New York City, where the water is not blue, and the saltwater content in her blood is just a relic of our evolutionary process.  She is a teacher and a writer who we invited to come stay at the house with us.  She spent the first part of her vacation on Treasure Cay only to find herself on Green Turtle Cay where the non-authenticity of Treasure Cay became immediately apparent.  Treasure Cay is resort Cay.  There are shops surrounding the resort and this co-dependent nature of resort and surrounding shops masquerades itself as a community.  Much like a series of American suburbs whose center is comprised of no less than one Target, a Wal-Mart, Lowe’s Foods, Great Clips, Walgreens, China One Take-Out, Tony’s Pizza, Barnes and Noble, and Old Navy.  A strip mall or two next to a housing development is not a community.  These development situations lead to depression because they lack something.  There is a key ingredient that everyone knows is missing but the ingredient is hard to identify.  The unknown variable is soul.  There is no soul.  There is no artist, musician, assemblage of free thinkers, the heartbeat of a community.  The elements that make up a “downtown”.  Unlike Treasure Cay, Green Turtle has soul.  Green Turtle operates as it’s own collective even when there are no white people around to buy up all the postcards.  The people are beautiful and patronize each other.  They go to church on Sunday, they fish and lobster, they bake bread, they rent houses, they have parties where the whole island shows up (which we were privy to attending).  For this reason, Nina could not return to Treasure Cay, so we invited her to stay on with us in Green Turtle.  I knew she was friend and travel companion material after we both agreed that a perfect breakfast, such as french toast, is ruined when the chef does not use enough egg wash per piece of bread.  A friendship was forged over a detestation of dry french toast.

As I mentioned, David agreed to take the four of us diving.  After the french toast discussion, it was decided that we would eat a nice french toast breakfast on the boat (that I would cook to ensure proper egg wash to bread ratio) then have David pick us up at Nila Girl on his boat for the dive.  I should mention that Ren and I have cultivated a natural circadian rhythm for island time, which we are predisposed to anyway.  For example, this is how the dive morning went:

“Yes David, we will meet you at Nila Girl at 10:00 sharp where you can pick us up in your boat and take us for a little dive.” 

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Ren and David with their bounty.

Bermudian accent: “Ok guys.  No worries if I am 5 or 10 minutes late.”

“No David, see you soon!”

10:00 arrives.  The cast of three + Oreo are on Nila Girl, having just arrived.

“Oh hey David.  We have just managed to put the french toast in the pan.  Breakfast will take at least 15 more minutes to prepare, 20 to consume, then we have to suit up.  That’s Ok though right?  Does not your life revolve around us?”

“Oh sure guys, that’s fine.  It’s Sunday and all I want to do is wait on your American asses and then show you all my special diving spots even though the weather is not favorable.  You know us Bahamians, too nice to say no to you demanding devils.”

“Oh David, you’re the best!”

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There’s nothing attractive about pics of dead fish, however, lobster are absolutely delicious!

That’s exactly how it went before we managed to make our way onto David’s boat for the dive.  He first took us to a spot for lobster…which proved to be fruitful.  The spot was not an extraordinary dive as it was pretty shallow with sporadic coral life.  We managed to scrape supper together in about an hour in the form of 11 lobsters, one NC sized.  I’m not bragging, I’m just recounting the facts.  This may sound like an absurd number of lobsters but rest assured, the meat is already consumed.  The second dive spot was special.  It was the kind of dive people pay big bucks to go on.  An underwater playground of fish, sharks, and four humans.  We pulled up to the spot and left all fishing gear in the boat.  It’s not the kind of place you take from.  Leave only fin splashes, take only pictures kind of place.  We anchor in about 20 feet in sand and swim over to the reef.  At this point we are offshore and are in an area just inshore of the reef where we are completely protected.  The depth at the reef was about 30 feet.  The four of us cruise along, checking out the fish, blah, blah, blah.  The spot was good and the reef came all the way to the surface of the water, creating almost surf-able waves.  However, I was hoping for a little more.  I was hoping that we would go somewhere where I could fly.  That’s when I saw David and Ren swimming through a break in the reef.  I finned over to the break that reminded me of the Oracles from The Never Ending Story.  Each side of the reef wall towered above me.  You enter the “other side” through a huge crevice in the towering reef.  As I swam through the crevice, I looked down to see the bottom drop out from under me.  The 30 foot bottom gave way to 80 feet just on the other side of the Oracle.  This is 80 feet, Bahama style.  Meaning, you could see blades of grass and grains of sand on the bottom.  Looking down the 80 foot drop, a Bahamian reef shark swam by, followed by a school of Bermuda chub. 

Damn it!  There is no way, other than through video (come ON Ren!) to convey the feeling of being suspended over deep water able to see the bottom below.  It would be like jumping off an 80 foot building but not falling, just riding the wind, floating like a bird.  My first instinct was to fly.  This is how I do  it:

I nestle myself back over the reef which is protruding through the surface of the water in some spots.  So I’m suspended in one or two feet of water.  I tuck back in the reef so I cannot see over the edge.  Then, in a sudden burst of energy, I pull myself past the wall of the reef as fast as I can, hold my breath, and soar over the edge of the reef into 80 feet of nothing.  I “jump” off the edge of the building and free fall down to the sandy bottom.  This is the only way I have learned to fly without growing wings, which i have been trying to do for some time now.

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On Doc Shedd’s porch, chilling and grateful for his generosity.

After my flight I look up at Nina and she says something striking.  She says, “This is so beautiful  I don’t even know what to do!”.  I almost cry when she says this because I know exactly what she means.  When your heart fills up completely full and there’s not room for anything else without it overflowing.  It fills with gratitude.  To whom?  Who knows.  For what, everything I just described to you.

Needless to say, we finished the night off with a few Budweisers, some lobster rolls with Thai sauce, lobster tails with red curry sauce and vegetable brown rice.  And yes, Oreo ate lobster too.  In fact, he has a special bandana made by his Grammy Nancy that he wore just for the occasion (see picture).

To learn to fly, contact us at [email protected]  🙂

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 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.