There is nothing better than to know that you don’t know.
-Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)
NIla Girl through the trees.
As Ren and I drive down US 17 South in a rented 10’ Budget moving truck I realize that I am not sure what our plans are.Yeah, I know where we are headed and when we have to be at Port Everglades to ship out cargo over to the Bahamas but what about our plans?We do not even really know what we are doing or where we will be in four months from now.Part of me is terrified by this fact.The other part is ecstatic at the prospect of change and adventure.There is a third part of me also.the third part is saying, “Yeah, yeah, no plans…great.Yeah, yeah, excitement…whatever.But how will you make it happen?”Everyone would be living like we do if they could answer that question with 100% certainty.
Although we do not know what lies ahead of us four months from now what we do know is that we are about 1/4 of the way into a two year plan.The two year plan includes traveling on Nila Girl and focusing solely on freedive training and competition.For two years we will suck up all of our financial hardships, missing our friends and family and coping with out other non-conformities in order to pursue these goals.This brings me to a valid point and one worth making.How are we doing what we are doing?How are we maintaing our relationship along the way.The short answer and the most relevant one is that we make goals and we stick to them.If I want to jump ship in a year and abandon sailing it is not an option.We are committed to two years.If I get tired of training and competing, too bad, two years.“Stick to the plan” is a mantra developed by Ren, myself and our buddy, Nick Mevoli.When faced with a fork in the road traveling through the Caribbean we always fell back on this mantra to help make our decisions.When I want to jump ahead deeper and deeper in my freedive training, Ren and I rely on this mantra to keep the focus and keep us from getting injured or burnt out.The simple act of setting common goals together is productive.It assures both of us that our concerns and needs are being considered.That our hopes for the future will not be washed up on a Bahamian shore one day where we reach down to pick it up, not even recognizing our hope for what it was.
Setting and sticking to the plan shines a light at the end of the tunnel.If we get tired, bored or craving stability there is always an exit strategy.I encourage everyone to grab life by the horns, live for the moment, carpe diem, blah, blah, blah but please and especially if you have a significant other to consider, do not be afraid to commit to a change of plan or at least the option for one even if it is a temporary solution.It’s ok to make plans and it’s ok to stick by them.It doesn’t mean you have lost your thrill for life, your edge…it means you care about something or someone other than just yourself.We are in this together and by having goals and discussing them openly, both partners actually feel like this is true.Like they are part of something bigger, a team.The work of a team is a beautiful thing.I am no lifestyle or marriage counselor.You’ll smirk to hear that I have been married less than two years.The advice of goal setting is timeless and transcends my limited life experience.
Whether you are attacking credit card debt, planning to start a a family or working towards the trip of a lifetime, break the unmanageable , daunting parts of your life into smaller bits.$40,000 of debt sounds like a lot more than a transitional plan would.A plan where you never look at the $40,000 but look at the debt in terms ofmonthly 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:
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
As the first installments of the next set of Nila Girl blogs let’s start with a factual account of last years accomplishments, pitfalls, experiences and observations.
Tracks from Nila Girl’s first voyage. Highlights included…well…everywhere but especially Cuba.
Total Miles Traveled: ~3,677
Countries Visited: 4
Communist Countries Visited: 1
Crew Along the Way: 3
Failed Marriages Under the Pressure of Confined Space: 0!!
Plane Tickets for Oreo: 2
Freediving World Records Earned: 3
Fish Harvested While Trolling Under Sail: 9
Lures Lost: 2
Bags of Stacy’s Pita Chips Consumed: 4
Bottles of Cuban Rum Drank: 2
Gallons of Diesel Burned: 70
Bottles of Sriracha Consumed: 2
Rolls of Toilet Paper Used: 30
Adventures Left Un-adventured: Too Many
Unforgettable Moments: Infinite
Looking forward to catching you all up on this seasons’s adventures.The newer adventures will likely include more about our freediving exploits as our new two year plan is all about freedivingand living free!
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.
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!
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 blowsharder, 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.
I am sitting here on one of our saloon cushions at 1:15am.At this point, I have already slept for five hours and will go back to sleep after I get out a bit of restless energy.This kind of midnight sleeplessness happens often now that we are on a boat, without jobs and without a grueling social schedule.After routinely getting plenty of sleep night after night, the body readjusts to it’s new rhythm.A more natural rhythm that doesn’t leave the body starved for sleep.Down in the early evening, up in the morning with a midnight interlude to the sleep.During the usually quiet, middle of the night, sleep respite is the perfect time to surf the internet if any is available, read a book, or write if the mood strikes.Sometimes it is Ren awake, sometimes me, but rarely both because as soon as one of us wakes up, the other one instinctively stretches their cramped limbs and discovers they have the entire bed to themselves.Whoever is not awake slips into an even deeper sleep as they stretch horizontally across the bed.The v-berth, when occupied by only one person, is the roomiest spot on Nila Girl.Tomorrow, Ren will be well rested, bright eyed and bushy tailed after ten or eleven hours of uninterrupted sleep.
At this moment, the wind has been howling for twenty-four hours straight.A cold front has moved through and Nila Girl is confined to a narrow strip of water called Joe’s Cut located on the northwest side of Long Island.We made it here two days ago from the balmy and bustling, Georgetown, Exuma and the Captain deemed this place adequate protection during the strong bluster, scheduled to keep our hair tangled for four days.The blowing wind has offered a unique chance for us to catch up on boat chores.Today I scrapped glue off the cabin floor while Ren wired an outlet to the v-berth.I placed random artwork and pictures in attractive places around the boat while Ren replaced the hinge on one of the lockers.The blowing wind allowed me to finish reading Kate Chopin’s, The Awakening, without guilt.
When the wind is too strong to sail with, you can use it to rest instead but only after you have adjusted to the sounds of a boat trapped in an intense weather pattern.The howling is exacerbated against the hull of the boat with small waves splashing against Nila Girl.Every ill-adjusted halyard running up the mast is audible as it smacks up against the metal.Ting, ting, ting, ting….arrrgh!The wind is restful after the first 12 hour period of the storm.The 12 hours you spend adjusting every ineffectual piece of line and chain to keep it’s clamoring from climbing up your spine while you try to sleep.Ah, to be blessed with one deaf ear, as I was.I never really thought I would find a practical purpose for my disability but then again, I never knew I would be living on a boat either.My stormy nights are simplified by turning over on my left side, exposing my useless right ear to Nila Girl’s commotion.The Captain resents my potential as he gets up for the tenth time of the night to adjust this or that, because I cannot hear the ruckus outside, but he has his own useful gifts including near x-ray vision, which is annoying to me since I have undergone surgery to improve my eyesight and I still find my capacity for long distance vision inferior to his natural talent.Oh well, I get over it quick as I turn on my left side and fall fast asleep during the weather fronts.
My brother, Corey is scheduled to fly in the day after tomorrow.I will spend another windy day tomorrow making two batches of hummus so we have plenty to snack on while he is here.I worry a bit about the duration of this wind storm since it is Corey’s first vacation in a long time, his first trip overseas, and his first time visiting calm, clear, beautiful waters such as those Ren and I enjoy every day here in the Bahamas.I hate that instead of leaning his head against the window pain of the small engine plane he is taking from Nassau to Long Island, mouth agape, as he flies over miles of blue, turquoise, and even bluer waters, spotting sharks, fish and sailboats along the way, he will instead be seated upright, white knuckled, gripping the armrests on either side of him, visualizing the small plane catching a gust of the stiff wind, throwing it off course, careening in a death spiral out of the grey sky down to the white capping seas below.The waves swallowing the plane, burping in contentment with it’s latest meal.Maybe my imagination has run away with me from slack of ten hour straight sleep, or better yet, maybe my brain is turning to mush from all of the sleep.Either way, this is what I worry about as I wait for my brother to arrive.I will pass the time tomorrow preparing for his arrival by making the hummus and finishing up my weekly meal plan.
Corey will spend his first day here, a windy day, with us on the boat instead of jumping directly into the water to harvest supper as we had hoped.But the weather will clear by the next day and we will enjoy a half-day family sail south down the coast of Long Island, finishing up the day with the long awaited dive session.Making sure to harvest Corey’s first lobster supper of his trip.It’s not just the diving I’m excited to share with my brother.It’s everything he hasn’t seen yet.Buying warm coconut bread from one of the local bakeries, shopping in an ill stocked “grocery store” but still finding yourself eating better than you ever could at home, ordering a sweaty Kalik from the only restaurant in town, tasting the Kalik and realizing it is actually terrible beer but nothing short of a cold, canned Budweiser after mowing grass in 90 degree weather could taste better at that moment, toting the laundry to a laundromat on the dinghy while the waves come over the bow and soak you in saltwater, taking pictures of the “end of the road” whatever that may be, walking half way through the island to the top of a hill where you can see both the mighty Atlantic Ocean and the calm Exuma Sound at the same time, passage making on Nila Girl, trying to get a glimpse of the flamingo flocks in the Acklin Islands, not to mention, just chilling in the cockpit with the full moon overhead and a candle flickering on our cockpit table sharing wine and a lobster supper catching up after the longest period we have ever spent apart…ever.It is going to be great to have our little brother on board.
“It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain”
Nina stayed at the house with us for three days.As Nila Girl’s leave date approached we were not eager to leave our new friend behind quite yet.We were sharing experiences; she introduced us to the movie, Taxi Driver…which disturbed our sleep, we showed her the value of a home cooked lobster supper.She engaged me in really fulfilling breakfast conversation, we took her diving.It was a symbiotic relationship that needed more time to develop.Against our initial gut-reaction, which was to haul away and leave a trail of tears behind us, we invited Nina to crew along from Green Turtle Cay, Abacos to Harbour Island, Eleuthera.It would be two full days of sailing.We warned her that she may get sick, the weather could get rough, we didn’t have facilities to urinate in, etc.Without batting an eye, I told you she has a pure sense of adventure, she agreed not to complain about the aforementioned shortcomings and spent the rest of the day canceling and re-booking flights, and I mean the entire day.
A hint of apprehension came while Ren and I were loading Nila Girl up with the personal effects we had brought to Doc’s house.Laundry, food items, toiletries, etc. filled the bottom of our dinghy.After we offloaded our belongings we started carting Nina’s stuff over, and kept carting, and kept carting.With the hard bottomed rolling duffle she had it was apparent that when she booked her vacation she was not anticipating a stay on a sailboat.And if she was, she had no idea how to pack for it.This, however, was not her fault but I admit, I panicked a little when the walls of our 10’ beam boat began to collapse in around me as more stuff came piling in.It wasn’t just the sheer volume of extra things we were taking on that caused the trepidation but the idea of letting a near stranger into our intimate little nest.The boat is small and Ren, Oreo and I are already exposed to too much in our tight little space.For example, I can smell and hear Ren pooing while I’m cooking breakfast just 10’ away.When Oreo got sick from eating sand, he barfed up the fish skin he ate just 4’ from our pillows.We woke, not to the sound of him barfing, but to the smell of rank fish.A lot of love and trust make living in this constricted space possible.I was concerned about how well Nina would fit in to this, and not necessarily with her comfort level but with mine.A strange girl peeing off the side of the boat just seconds from my husband.Things could get weird pretty quick if the situation wasn’t handled tactfully.Ren left me alone on Nila Girl to unpack and organize our things and Nina’s many bags.I sat alone on the settee for a moment as he ran the dinghy back to the dock to retrieve Oreo and our new crew member.As I sat, I though to myself, “Well hell, there’s no turning back now.The sooner I get all of this stuff put into a proper place, the sooner I can regain a sense of control,” which, unfortunately, my character needs.
Nina Sernacker, Nila Girl’s new crew. Stay tuned for more info on this author’s new book.
With about two minutes to spare before everyone arrived, I found a place for everything and threatened the rest of the crew when they did arrive that everything should STAY in its place.After the threat, Nina explained to us that her family was incredibly apprehensive about her decision to board a boat of strangers and set sail.Turns out we weren’t the only nervous cast of characters in the play.Over Skype, the captain and I had to reassure, as best as we could, Nina’s Mom and sister that our intentions were not to lure her in to a death trap, knowingly.We had never murdered anyone on the high seas, yet.And our pirate lifestyles were limited to Ren’s beard, the pour of rum into our coffee (pirate breakfast), and the occasional pillage.In turn, our family had to be convinced that Nina wasn’t a “friendship scammer”.Picking us out of the crowded harbor to gather intel about our boat and relay the valuable information to her counterparts who would ambush us at sea.If this were true of Nina’s intentions, it would make her both the worst friendship scammer and best actress in history.The worst scammer because of all the boats in the White Sound anchorage, all but us clearly had enough resources to ensure the most basic comforts while sailing.Comforts such as a head that you can urinate in, or a shower even.These comforts must have been lost on Nina because she choose Nila Girl.A boat where she was required to pee in a bottle (also sharing the apparatus that funnels the pee into the bottle with me) or pee overboard in front of the whole world.She was required to shower out of a bucket, outside in the cockpit (which she opted to refuse during her time aboard).She would be the best actress in history because not even Martin Scorsese could script the laundry list of questions and concerns that Nina poured on us.She responded to our directions and plans with the utmost concern, verging on panic at times.None of her questions were of the type that would be helpful in conveying usable information to scamming counterparts.She had no clue about our direction, coordinates, firearm situation, communications, nothing!These simple facts alone were enough to convince us that she was crew material, not a really bad scammer.A bed was made for Nina on the starboard side settee, the beautiful, yellow curtain/door for the v-berth was pulled shut (thanks Nannie!) and we closed our eyes, excited about the leisurely sail we had ahead of us the next morning and slightly nervous in anticipation of how our new situation was going to shake down.
Ashley and Nina bonding in the settee.
We began a nice two day sail over to Harbour Island, Eleuthera at about mid-day the next morning.We were waiting to depart for high tide so we could traverse a particularly shallow part of the path.Before our departure we had time to treat ourselves to another breakfast at the Green Turtle Club.Breakfast is definitely my favorite meal of the day.It also happens to be the most affordable meal to eat out (win, win, win).We ate, stowed our gear, pulled the anchor and were off.The wind was nice, the company was stellar and the sunset later was magic.
Nothing like a little yoga to keep the muscles loose under sail.
Along the way, Nina and I enjoyed stretching on the bow of Nila Girl while Ren took pictures.We listened to good music the whole way ending in blue grass, which Nina loves, surprising us since she lives in NYC.Nina and I practiced our amateur psychology as we discussed our families, work, fears, passions, blah, blah, blah.I’m sure Ren and Oreo were wondering when the chickens would stop squawking…which would be never….muhahaha.I took full advantage of having a female companion on board.You know, another female, who would actually answer your questions in a timely manner after you ask them.Another female who would patiently listen to your rendition of the night’s dream before sharing hers.Having Nina on board for conversation was a luxury.Ren, eager to make Harbour Island, suggested that we sail through the night.I was not as eager to subject our new crew to that kind of treatment, meaning, an overnight sail.He shortly rescinded his threat of a night passage when his stomach began to growl and he realized his chances of a descent meal were greatly reduced if we were not at anchor.Also, the path was a treacherous one at night.We would be able to navigate more safely during the day, with the sun overhead.We dropped our hook ina desolate and protected place called Lynyard Cay.
Nina, throwing the peace sign, happy as a lark under sail.
Leaving Lynyard early the next morning, Ren and I let Nina sleep in as we prepped ourselves and Nila Girl for the ocean crossing making Harbour Island would require.Letting her sleep seemed like the descent thing to do but proved to be a mistake.Having your breakfast down, things stowed, coffee or tea made and morning constitutional expelled before letting the ocean push you around all day is key to having the most pleasant day of sailing possible, despite the conditions.It is not prudent to wait for Mother Ocean to kick you in the face before attempting to cook breakfast, and you wouldn’t want to miss breakfast!Once the motion of the ocean begins, the time spent below deck, in the cabin, must be limited, otherwise you run the risk of being punched in the gut by the nausea of seasickness.This is precisely the ill fate that awaited our newest crew.It was our fault for treating her like a passenger, not a crew member, by letting her sleep.Melville warned against sailing as a passenger as opposed to crew in chapter one of Moby Dick, which I know because Nina read this aloud to us while sailing.
She spent the sick day lying about the cockpit, swallowing bits of vomit just to keep it all down.Ren assured her that she was earning her sea legs by hanging tough through the sickness.Landfall at Harbour Island couldn’t have come soon enough for Nina.When it did, an elated smile washed over our three faces.We entered the precarious inlet and were rewarded with the flat calmwaters of the harbor.The shallow harbor floor was littered with huge starfish, nestled in stark white sand.The captain picked out a quiet spot to anchor Nila Girl where we saw Puff anchored just behind us.Puff is a mini-pirate ship looking sailboat belonging to our friends Brian and Jeanette Pucella, who are also from NC.Needless to say we dropped the hook, met up with the sea-weary Brian and high tailed it to land with our libations, avoiding the additional cost of buying drinks at the resort bar where we tied up the dinghies.We drank and decompressed while Oreo enjoyed peeing on every manicured grain of sand at the resort.He ran through the neat Zen garden of a beach, peeing and dragging his feet through the little sand rows.We didn’t even try to stop him.He deserved the moment.When we finally limped back to the boat, we made a gorgeous and substantial supper and swallowed the meal and the day down.All apprehensions relieved through a successful trip, drinks and food.
“Behind every man’s busy-ness there should be a level of undisturbed serenity and industry, as within the reef encircling a coral isle there is always an expanse of still water…”
Beyond all the incredible experiences, adventures of a lifetime, new friends etc. you may be able to imagine that there is a healthy chunk of down time on a sailboat when en route to the next destination.In fact, our adventures are punctuated with long, extensive periods of nothing but staring deeply into each other’s eyes.Loving eyes wandering to all the imperfections of the face and body exacerbated by time in the sun, on aboat, in the salt air.Eyes averting, not so loving after seeing crud from breakfast lodged in Ren’s beard.The beard which our friend Ryan said, “…looks like something growing on the jetty rocks.”But Ren is a pirate now so he MUST have a beard.
Other than exhausting already exhausted conversation, Ren, Oreo and I engage in other various activities to keep sane and actually improve our mental status.Nila Girl offers us a unique opportunity to engage in activities and other devices of mental improvement not available on land working 9-5.Things like learning to speak Spanish, playing guitar, writing, etc.Below is a top 10 list of some of the things we do when there’s nothing to do (without the top because they are listed in no particular order).
1.Spanish.Sometimes we play the “Learn to Speak Spanish” CDs my father in law gave to us.They’re great for the first 15 minutes then the sounds of Spanish vocabulary begins to lull us asleep.However, Entiendo Espanol!
2.Guitar.Ren is learning to play “Blackbird” and has been for several weeks now…
3.Read.I have inhaled several books on this trip including (in no particular order), Wuthering Heights (again), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (very gripping. not a literary work of art but super entertaining), The Jungle Books (Rudyard Kipling is the man), Love’s Executioner (from my psychologist friend, stories of psychotherapy…yeah), The Help (need I say more?), Lies Your Teacher Told You (I highly recommend this non-fiction), and of course, The Manual of Freediving (reference only).Ren is a little bookworm on Nila Girl too.Not sure about his list though.
4.Write.I blog about our trip, not enough though, and have tossed around some ideas about an Oreo story.This trip is about the dog, you know that by now right?
5.Sleep.When you’re not on watch, it’s a great time to take a little nap right there in the cockpit with Oreo.Snuggle up to the little guy and let the sounds of the waves slapping the boat and Ren cussing at the imperfect sail configuration drift you off to sleep.
6.Clean.Wipe the floors down in the cabin.Keep the cockpit clean.Yawn.
7.Repair.Despite popularopinion (tongue in cheek), boats are an endless supply of repair projects.They are a hole you throw money into.If You have a bunch of $100 bills you can do one of two things with them, wipe your butt or spend them on your boat.Nila Girl is always moving towards a state of chaos.We use $$ and lots of Ren’s time to bring her back to a state of stasis.
8.Jump!If the wind is down and the boat is moving slowly, we take turns getting buck naked and jumping off the bow of the boat, drifting to the stern and catching the ladder for another climb and jump.We have pictures of this but….our families might be reading 🙂
9.Eat.I cook a lot on the boat.There is nothing but time for preparation, cooking to perfection and cleaning up.The only time we do not eat like kings is when the weather is rough and we’re underway.The hardest place on the boat to fight that, punch-in-the-gut-swallowing-bits-of-vomit-all-day feeling is the cabin.As soon as you go below in snotty weather, your ears tell your body you’re moving but everything looks like it’s sitting still.Add on top of this the odor of cooking food and you’ve got yourself a recipe for green bile overboard.On these days, trips downstairs are limited to fetching small items needed for sailing or general comfort and working up snacks.Snack preparation is not to exceed 5 minutes in these conditions.
10.Oreo.When we are bored of everything else, we simply pet Oreo.He makes out like a bandit on NIla Girl.The hair on his head is oily with pets.Oh yeah, kisses too.
“Once you’ve ruined your reputation, you can live quite freely.”
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 andstrangely enough graduated with the same major as myself, from UNCW and plays ultimate frisbee.This was my kind of new friend!
Hanging out with new friends in the salon of NIla Girl.
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.
You wouldn’t think we would be this excited to be on another boat.
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 gunwe 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 pointingflash 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.
Leaving Big PIne Key, we set our sights, and sails, for Key West.That place was an adventure in itself and I will come back to that.All you need to know for now is that we got our fill of beer there, and liquor, and wine.Key West was just a stopping point between Big Pine and our real goal, the Dry Tortugas.With some luck, we’d even make it to the Dry Tortugasjust in time to intercept some Wilmington friends who were planning a day trip to the small Key.
Nila Girl and her inhabitants (Ren, myself, Oreo and possibly a small rat, who may have stowed away in Big Pine) raised sail early morning on December 29th.Since Tay Filer and family were going to be in the Dry Tortugas on December 30th we were really pushing it, in true Ashley/Ren fashion.Why get somewhere on time maybe even with time to spare when you can get there by the skin of your teeth, often inconveniencing family and friends who are more punctual than you?It is a flaw I hope we can correct in the future.Too late for this trip though.So we sailed all day and through the night.The wind was down so we fired up the engine for a few hours, technically on December 30th.Our original plan, on leaving NC, was to never run the engine unless coming into port or if emergency requires.This plan is only valid if you are not sailing on a schedule.Something we still have not accomplished except for a few days at a time.The sails were up and the engine roared until about 5:00 am.We cut the engine and silently advanced.Stealth like, but not really with Dinky (our inflatable dinghy.Our car essentially) flapping around behind us!Quiet Dinky, damn you!Garden Key of the Dry Tortugas is home to Ft. Jefferson.An old Civil War era fort which looks particularly menacing in the middle of nowhere, just standing there, cannons pointing right at you.Union soldiers ready to board your boat, raping and pillaging.I digress, it is easy to let your imagination get carried away in the lee of the fort.So, like I said, Quiet Mr. Dink!
Nila Girl had the Dry Tortugas to herself.
Approaching a shoaled complex such as the Dry Tortugas at night is not an easy feat.It’s hard on the nerves.This was evident on our boat by the presence of all three crew members on deck.One armed with a Q-beam (me), another at the helm (Ren) and another licking his crotch in anticipation of landfall (Ren…I mean Oreo).Daylight began to break which was a welcomed friend!Not to mention a breathtaking sight as the red-orange sky rose on the east side of the fort, illuminating the ancient red bricks.The fort is dotted with open air windows from which watch was kept and cannons were aimed.The dawn poured out through these spaces and reflected on Nila Girl and our grateful faces.It is funny how much a sunset, sunrise or blue moon come to mean to you when you’re living on a boat.Without DVDs, Netflix, or anything but books and some writing and chores, the sky becomes an awesome form of entertainment.I have managed to see three green flashes on our adventure during sunset.Before this trip my grand total of green flash sightings came to a whopping zero, in fact, I kind of doubted their existence.
We picked up the channel markers and easily sailed to the east side of the fort where we dropped anchor (silently of course, who knows who’s in the fort watching).A few anchor dropping chores were done.These chores include putting the engine on Dinky and taking Oreo to land ASAP.He deserves a trip to land whenever we are somewhere to manage it.Ren is in charge or Oreo and I’m in charge of getting everyone’s breakfast ready.Did it, ate, then decided to lay down for a nap since we had sailed through the night.But.However.Captain Ren was banging about the cockpit getting all his dive gear ready.At our first sight of “Caribbean Blue” water since leaving NC, he was not about to pass up a dive for a much needed nap.Truth be known, neither was I.It didn’t take much to rouse me and before I knew it, Oreo was cashing in on the nap and Ren and I were in the water, swimming with a ~200 lbs. goliath grouper!I can sleep later!
Dinky was ready for action so we decided to crawl in and go exploring while we were still brimming with excitement.We soon realized that it was terribly hard to pick out an appropriate dive spot.To remedy this situation, we got out of the dinghy and drug it behind us.First stop, underneath a sport fishing boat that was anchored near us.Underneath that boat, seven goliath groupers!These groupers were the puppy dogs of Garden Key.They chilled underneath boats looking for handouts, and who didn’t have the heart to give some to them?Not us!A guy from the boat we were hanging with the groupers under gave us a little jack he had caught earlier.I attempted to, ahem, feed the grouper but chickened out.The mouth on that thing was pretty huge and who knew if he had good eye sight or not.Like an old dog, he may misjudge the end of his treat and the end of your hand.Confusing where one begins and the other ends, the dog chomps your hand a bit.I didn’t want to risk this from a 200 lbs animal.But Ren did.Before Ren knew it, the grouper skillfully chomped the fish, and looking down we realized, he left Ren’s hand.Phew!
Just a cool shot.
Moving on we dove a few more spots.Colorful angel fish and tangs swarmed the huge coral colonies that littered the rocky bottom.We picked out two huge NC sized lobster and three lionfish (which are delicious to eat and make great ceviche).The lobster were hanging out in front of their rock crevices.Not in the holes, outside catching some rays I guess.One reached his antenna out as if to shake my hand.They were not afraid of us, that was for certain.As we were on a reconnaissance dive we did not bring our animal harvesting gear so the spot was mentally marked.We were to return later after a visit to the fort to collect our lunch.Good thing we decided on a recon mission first because later when we reached the fort, and had an interview with the park ranger, who bum rushed us as soon as we got off our dinghy, it came to light that spearfishing and lobstering are strictly prohibited in the Dry Tortugas.In fact, you are only allowed to hook and line fish within a mile radius of Garden Key.There goes lunch, and dinner, and breakfast the next day…
We had collected Oreo after our dive, changed clothes and planned on making an afternoon outof land exploration.Our buds were supposed to be arriving by seaplane sometime that day.We had already seen two seaplanes come and go and the ferry arrive with a horde of people.No sign of any other North Carolinians.This place was also the first place where we found anice beach to hang out on.Taking advantage of this fact the three of us spotted a nice place in the sand and relaxed, letting the warm sun burn our poor little bodies (which I wish it was doing right this minute.A cold front moved in and I’m freezing right now!).After a few hours we got hungry and decided to go back to the Nila Girl and rustle up some grub.But wait!What’s that noise…a seaplane!Leaning against the dock, we waited in anticipation to see if our buds would emerge from the awesome plane.The plane circled around the fort and touched down in the water between the same channel markers Nila Girl navigated early that morning.We watched the pilot run across the water and back the plane up right next to the beach.This guy was good.The small plane swung open her doors and people began pouring out.We saw three children, two girls and a boy, jump to the sand.Uh oh, our friends have two girls and a boy.We saw a slightly chubby guy handing bags to the kids.Ren pointed to the guy and said, “That’s him.That’s Tay.I can hear him from here”.Now Tay works out a good bit.I see him often at the UNCW pool swimming laps with Mr. Bob Berger.This is how I got to know Tay.I took one look at the gut of the man Ren pointed to and said, “Nope.Give Tay some credit will ya?”Underneath the plane were two more man legs.Also, I saw the legs with a stance just like Tay’s!Yeppers, our friend’s arrived.
They only had two hours to check the place out, not enough time, but we ran through the fort, reading this, questioning that.The children earned their juniorranger badges (they will thank their Mom later for making them do that at all the national parks they visit).The visit ended with a quick snorkel.Ren and I got to spend some timewith some NC-ians and alsoleft with one cold can on Lipton iced tea, a blueberry muffin and two, one serving sized containers of cream cheese.Who scored?We did!
After their visit, it was back to the boat for some three hour late lunch and that nap I thought about earlier in the day.The Dry Tortugas proved to be a place where we decided to stay three whole days.
Sweet Christmas card made by our buddy, Caleb Jimenez.
Pictured left is a homemade Christmas card made by freedive student, Caleb Jimenez.He even included the perfect number of weights on the bottom of the weight belt (silver squares at bottom of card).Thanks Caleb!
Merry Christmas Ren!
To preface this entry you must know that, until today, we have been docked in Big Pine Key at a friend’s house since December 14th.Our longest dockage yet.A great pair of family friends, Mr. Duncan and Mrs. Lee Dawkins gave us permission to dock at their home.While there, for a week and a half we had access to their scooters, home, everything!It was a wonderful reprieve from the boat, especially for Oreo who really relishes his “pee on everything” time.Which doesn’t come often enough while traveling.We will never be able to adequately thank the Dawkins for their hospitality.
The first Christmas ever spent away from my family was…you guessed it…this year, on Big Pine Key.Well, I suppose the word family encompasses more than my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and brother these days.Now that I have a husband, Oreo and in-laws there’s plenty of family to go around.Tnis doesn’t absolve my nostalgia for missing the Futrals badly.I’m not ashamed to admit, I cried.Christmas in the Keys includes warm weather (no white Christmas this year) and no shopping (a plus on a fixed income).Instead, Ren and I spent a good bit of time hunting the elusive, barely legal lobster in the bays surrounding Big Pine Key.After exhausting all of our lobster hunting resources, we managed to surface with two lobsters the entire week and a half we were in the Keys.Needless to say, the overflowing lobster Christmas Eve dinner I had planned was lobsterless.This could’ve been a problem (until we realized it didn’t matter at all) since the entire menu I had planned really depended on lobster as the centerpiece.What is it they say about eggs and one basket?
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without our travel friendly Charlie Brown tree.
Good bud, Kolt Johnson and Ren during a Christmas visit.
We didn’t spend the holiday completely alone, the three of us.The “Big Chapmans” came down for a four day excursion.The “Big Chapmans” consist of my father-in-law and his wife.Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula added the family element to our tropical Christmas.Despite the slow paced Key-sey (everything is a bit tackier in the Keys, read: Keys-ey) holiday, ours was not without a little bit of obligatory family tension.All tension was dissolved the first night with a bit of rum, some Will Farrell re-runs and X-Factor (the popular Fox talent show).Our buddy Kolt Johnson and his family also came down to Big Pine in search of the Christmas lobster.Kolt has been abroad for several years now and catching up with him is becoming increasingly more difficult.It was really great to have the opportunity to spend quality time with him.We even got to go hunting together, which is what spurred the friendship to begin with.Mr. Ken Johnson, Kolt’s Dad, took us all out hunting in his boat one afternoon.We also had the chance to have a few “family” meals together.The only thing missing was our other buddy, Bruce.Bruce, Kolt, Ren and I have become pretty good buds over the years.What makes better family than friends?
It was a bit harder than usual to get into the Christmas spirit with the common Keys theme of kissing dolphins (ugh), tropical fish and pastel colored everything.Sent with the in-laws by Mom was a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.We set the perfectly sad little tree up on the kitchen island and surrounded it with Christmas cards from family and friends.Both of our mothers sent boxes of cookies with Mr. Frank and Mrs. Paula.We received the cookies four days before Christmas and have managed to eat all but about five.We have to save the last five because if we eat those, all of our worst thoughts about our lack of self-control will become reality.We will have proved ourselves to be the gluttonous pigs we always thought we were.Those five cookies will sit and get stale before they are ever chucked down the gullet.We have to maintain control out here.WE CAN’T LOSE CONTROL!Sorry for yelling.Also arriving with the Big Chapmans were bits and pieces of our lives left behind in our haste to get on the road…ahem…water, back in November.Evolve Freediving t-shirts (for sale, email firstname.lastname@example.org), a few pieces of exercise equipment (made for me by Don Kimball, thanks Don!), two fresh blocks of parmesan cheese (my mother has Italian roots),Italian bread, our mail, etc.These were all welcome Christmas presents until last night when we had to load all of our new treasures into the boat.Which we did, complaining the entire time.
The “Big Chapmans” down for a visit!
To set the mood Christmas Eve, none other than Bing Crosby would do.My favorite Christmas music memories are of Bing’s low voice echoing down my childhood home’s hallway as I raced to the steps near the kitchen with my brother, Corey, to peer across into the living room where our always grand Christmas tree shone bright with multi colored lights.I was always grateful, and still am, at my Mom’s ability to avoid the themed Christmas tree.No all white light trees or mauve bows on our tree.It was every man for himself as we littered our trees with lights andornaments of every kind.No comparison to the Charlie Brown tree of this year but the small tree proved to be enough for us and is nestled in one of our boat lockers waiting for next year.Since there was no lobster on the menu, Mrs. Paula and I supplemented with collard greens sent by Ren’s Mom and Mudder (Grandmother), angel hair pasta with anchovie sauce (don’t worry Mr. Frank, no anchovies in your pasta) and eggplant and squash pate with crackers.It was different from the usual hoopla of a huge Christmas Eve supper but DAMN, it would do.It wasn’t half bad either.We finished up the meal with chocolate roll sent by my Nannie.I’ll go ahead and tell you, you’ve never had anything like it.A little “It’s a Wonderful Life” and that was a wrap.
The Big Chapmans left Christmas morning before we checked under the tree to see if Santa came to Big Pine Key.We said our goodbyes, sent them off, then checkedthe tree.Santa came!He left, tackily in a brown bag, a Spanish-English dictionary, a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and a bar of Dr. Bronner’s “magical” peppermint soap.Ren was happy since he really wanted the dictionary and loves Dr. Bronners and chocolate with sea salt.Santa takes notes and always surprises!The day was spent outfitting the boat for our next adventure.Wecleaned and organized the boat for the next leg of the race, down to Key West.Actually, this is being written en route to Key West.We are exactly, hold on a second….”Ren!Ren!How far are we from Key West?Huh?What? Ok, Ok!….Ren says we are 12 miles to our entrance.Not too shabby.We left Big Pine Key last night to catch the high tide.We did not wanta repeat performance of our arrival into Big Pine, where we spent about 5 hours ran aground,waiting for the tide to shift in our favor.We safely exited the channel from the Dawkins’ into the bay at about 9:00 pm last night.We camped in the bay and left at 7:00 am this morning (Captain’s orders) to continue on to Key West.
First thing is first when we get there, dunk Oreo in the water…he’s hot, poor guy.Second thing is second, or first maybe, dunk Ashley in the water…she’s hot, poor girl.