Needing Less Doing More

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Journal to Jamaica Day 2

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

DAY TWO:

PRE A.M. (2:00 A.M.)

Ren and I just switched watches.  After a four hour fit of no sleep I am sitting in the cockpit with Oreo under a waxing full moon, completely exhausted but resigned to my watch.  We passed the “night necklace” we wear while on water like the baton in a relay race.  Dangling from the necklace is a whistle and a strobe…just in case.  However, we mitigate the risk of falling overboard at night by staying in the cockpit at all times.  Never leaning over the lifelines, not even to urinate.  If one of us must go forward, escaping the safety of the cockpit, they must first wake the other person and wear a harness.  The harnesses are made of strips of purple webbing that wrap around both legs and arms, joining up in the middle with a clip that attaches to the jack lines.  The jack lines run the entire length of the boat and are only on deck when we are traveling.  Ren made the harnesses for us before we left.  This precaution may sound like overkill to the sailor already well seasoned by salt but losing each other…well…that would be devastating to say the least and this kind of accident is mostly preventable. 

I just sat back down from tweaking the sails.  Ren’s approach to keeping watch includes constant vigilance to the sails’ shape, our direction and speed.  He is always trying to bring the boat back to a homeostatic condition, pulling in one sheet, relaxing another in his constant attempts to gain speed and efficiency.  It is this commitment to Nila Girl and our ETA that makes Ren a great captain.  Personally I find the tweaking tiresome.  I prefer to view my watch schedule as four hour appointments with myself where I can read, write, type up this blog entry, or spend time with Oreo.  Tweaking sails is a minor inconvenience to the true purpose of watch keeping.  My myriad of activities must also be interrupted-every fifteen to twenty minutes-by a visual sweep of the horizon and radar if we are using it.  So far, no boats on this particular watch.  I could really get some serious things done around here if it wasn’t for all the sailing. 

Oreo is faring well but like me, takes a day or two to get adjusted to the new sleep, or rather, non-sleep patterns.  It has been almost twenty-four hours now since we have parted Salt Pond and he still refuses to pee.  His bladder will give in, it always does, maybe even sometime later today.  Let’s hope he’s not lying in his bed when it decides to throw in the towel.

A.M.

We are all sitting in the cockpit watching the sunrising overhead.  I have always preferred the sunrise to a sunset.  The sunrise, if awake before dawn, is a welcomed friend, come to bring promise of a beautiful and full day ahead, unlike the sunset who is always trying to turn the lights out.  Also, I gain a sense of accomplishment from watching the sunrise.  Any schmuck can catch the sunset but it takes another level of commitment to be up for the sunrise.  This morning, the pressure is off, literally off Oreo’s bladder as he had decided to urinate, finally.  We just did the math and we made about one hundred and two miles from yesterday AM through the night.  We are averaging over five knots, we are making great time.

All three of us are tired this morning.  We will spend the day partly lethargic, sleep tonight when its is our turn and then we will be in the groove tomorrow.  We will feel better rested and in turn healthier by then.  I have failed to mention that I have a set of workouts to be completed every day while traveling.  We made a lot of progress reaching depth at Dean’s Blue Hole.  Diving almost every day I was able to become more and more comfortable with the world record dive I will be attempting…soon.  Since we will not be able to dive for the next few days because we are sailing, I have a daily exercise schedule.  Yesterday included two stretching sessions and a series of eight breatholds called a “breathold table”.  The table was successfully completed and the stretching was great.  Today, two stretching sessions and an arm workout, yum.

MIDDAY

The morning, in one word, sweaty.  Ren caught another dolphin, a bit smaller than yesterday’s, but just as beautiful.  I made tuna salad with the remaining tuna, which turned out excellent (mayonnaise free for all of you training athletes out there) so we kept the dolphin, as previously planned.  Ren fought the fish up to the bow and back down the starboard side of the boat passing the rod around numerous obstacles, shrouds, sails, the stern railing.  Each time he passed the rod around something from one hand to the next, he also had to be careful not to drop the rod or let the dolphin rip it from his hands.  Fishing off of a sailboat is a real challenge.  No fighting chairs, harnesses, or wide open sterns to secure fish from.  Just a bunch of rolling from side to side and nowhere to stand.  After finishing his lengthy dance around the boat Ren pulled the yellow and green fish out of the water and stabbed a knife into his brain, killing him and alleviating the suffering.  He finished pulling the fish all the way into the cockpit, our living quarters, blood everywhere.  We promptly laid a black rag over the dolphin’s eyes to reduce the chances that he would freak out and thrash about if he decided to come back to life.  We watched in amazement as the fish turned colors from green and yellow to stark white and a brilliantly bright light blue color.  His light blue dorsal fin was tipped in black like it had been dipped in ink.  I am not sure if there is an evolutionary advantage to the color change but the radiance of the spectacle is unparalleled  Although, the rapid color adaption of the octopus is a close second only trumped by the vibrant colors of the mahi.

We are now less than forty miles from Inagua where we will be making a turn to the West to head through the Windward Passage and deeper into the Caribbean.  I will not conceal the fact that thoughts of pirates flooded my sleep deprived brain last night.  My only distraction from the thought of six men with semi-automatic weapons ripping our boat apart only to find what we already told then we had, nothing, was the inspired cadence of Mark Twain.     

P.M.     

The wind has picked up and I have the first shift 9:00pm to 1:00am.  Before the shift starts we decide to watch just one episode of our TV series du jour, Pushing Daisies.  Ren and Oreo cuddle up in a corner of the cockpit and I arrange the computer and external speakers so that we can both see and hear the show.  I stay in the cabin while Ren stays in the cockpit to keep a watchful eye on passing ships.  The show if full of really interesting cinematography.  The colors are vivid and the plot and characters almost fantasy-like.  It is an entertaining show.

Watching such a benign program with my little family helps to dry the tears a bit.  They have  been pouring out in fifteen minute bursts at unpredictable times.  There must be something hormonal going on with me because, although we are leaving comfortable territory for the unknown, I still have Ren and Oreo with me.  We are still living a dream.  I predict a combination of emotions, both controllable and incontrollable are at fault here.  Brewing a pot of emotional instability just for me.  Ren is very patient with me right now.  He understands that there is nothing he can do to fix the problem.  His patience is not beyond asking me once, “You still like me don’t you?”  It will pass in another day, whatever it is.  In the meantime, “I want my Mommy!”

After the show I settle in for my watch and am interrupted within the hour by Ren who cannot sleep.  Nothing surprising there, it’s hard to sleep here right now.  He takes the first watch from me and I sleep for one hour and toss for another two.  It is comforting for Ren to take the wheel.  When he is on watch I am exempt from making decisions which is great.  When he take the wheel I can lie down confident that everything will be fine.  The rough seas are going to leave me exhausted.

 

Journal to Jamaica Day 4

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

DAY FOUR:

A.M.

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Port Antonio, Jamaica. This port would come to be one of our favorites due to the afternoon showers and fresh food right around the corner.

There was a nice surprise waiting for me this morning at shift switch, and no, it was not a severed head.  We were scheduled to do three hour shifts.  Mine ran from 9:00pm to 12:00am then on again at 3:00am to 6:00am.  Ren woke me for my 3:00 shift at almost 6:00!  This means we were further along when I woke up than expected, a welcomed surprise indeed.  The sun is rising right now which is huge for the mental component of the sail.  Waking up tired at 3:00am is a lot different than waking up to a rising sun at 6:00am.  What this really means is that I got to sleep through the night, for the most part.  I am not sure if I ever entered the deep sleep phase of the sleep cycle but I definitely dreamt for the first time since being on this passage.  I think this is the first time I have had time to dream.  To really stretch my sleep legs.

My Mom and I were walking through a dusty little town.  The place had an Eleutherian feel.  This vision must have been the product of the time we Ren and I just spent in the Bahamas, no doubt.  Actually the town looked exactly like the part of Georgetown, Exuma you have to walk to get to the community trash receptacle.  I only walked there once.  Funny how even the most insignificant details imprint themselves into your subconscious.  Eager to be considered important, worth recalling at a later date.  Imagine all the information that must be stored in our brains if only we could recall the stored bits of data on demand.  Wow!  I’m blowing my own mind here, and I digress.

Mom and I were walking through this town during a small festival.  We were trying to get a handle on the local flavor.  We wore big smiles and talked to everyone.  We attempted conversation but were readily rebuffed by the locals.  Their noses turning up at the site of us, or maybe at the sound of our voices.  We walked into a big ping government building to get a drink of water.  A tall white woman with bright red hair, green eyes and a green sequined evening gown hung up a sign advertising her newly missing dog.  The big grin on her face did not match the anxiety she should have been feeling over her lost companion.  Her smug smile in sharp contrast to the sympathy she tried to elicit.  Dream sequence ended.  Suggestions?

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Kids playing soccer on a beach during our entry to Jamaica.

Oreo greeted me with a lot of tail wagging and rolling over on my feet this morning.  Amazing how such a small mammal who contributes nothing to conversation or the necessities of the household can make you feel so loved.  It is kind of like the alcoholic brother you have living on your couch.  You can be damned if he is going to send a few bucks your way to help with rent.  He is not going to get up early and whip up some breakfast for you before you’re off to work.  But the guy is funny and you love him because he is your brother.  Anyway, Oreo greeted me happily and I responded happily especially when I learned that we only had sixty eight miles to go.  As of right now we have fifty eight nautical miles left and are averaging almost six knots.  It looks like the end is in sight.  As a matter of fact, I think last night was my last night shift.  We should be in Jamaica in about 11.6 hours, roughly 6:00pm, and this is a conservative estimate based on only five knots average.  I cannot believe we have managed to shrink a six day passage down to four.  Where there is a will, there is a way.

MIDDAY   

Another hot, hot, day, another nap (two hours), and another dream this afternoon.  I will spare you the details of this dream but let’s just say this, we were traveling the world by horseback.  A white horse with a blue trimmed saddle.  I woke up mad at Ren for having gotten two tattoos without even mentioning it to me first.  The worse of the two being a hug snake covering half of his back.  In real life neither of us have tattoos.  In real life, as in my dream, a huge expensive surprise tattoo will not be a cause for celebration.

I awoke to only thirty two miles to go.  This should put us in Port Antonio at dusk or just after dark.  Jamaica does not acknowledge daylight savings time so we are gaining an hour of travel time.  Imagine that, they do not amend Time to fit demanding work schedules.  Sounds like a bunch of backwards people huh?  I bet they say, “hello” when they mean “goodbye” and I bet they walk on their hands too.  We shall see. 

Ren is fishing again, hunting mahi.  He has been having a great time as we have been traveling the perfect trolling speed.  This is the hottest part of the day.  Usually we try to sit as still as we can and read, fish a bit, write something, anything non-physical.  Any workouts or chores to be done must wait until at least 3:00.  At this time, not only is the heat starting to subside a bit, but our stomachs are perfectly settled from lunch too so we get pretty productive.  No worrisome digestion getting in our way.  Training for this record has made me intensely aware of the digestive process.  It takes thoughtful schedule management to make sure breakfast has had time to digest before the dive.  If the digestive schedule is considered, the dive is much more comfortable and a lot easier as the body is not wasting valuable energy on a process it could have taken care of earlier.  This principal works for anyone, not just freedivers.  Avoid midmorning indigestion or unpredictable evacuations by eating on time and slowing down.  Do not eat on the way to work, eat well before you get there.  Chew your food, a talent inspired by our friend Lance on EZ.  I’m still working on this one.  The body already knows what to do, learn to use your body properly and will not leave you feeling used.

P.M.

This place is lush and green…and mountainous!  We cannot wait to explore Jamaica and take lots of pictures.  More to follow…

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Journel to Jamaica Day 1

DAY ONE:

A.M.

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

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

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

MIDDAY 

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

P.M.

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

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

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Journal to Jamaica Day 3

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

DAY THREE:

A.M.

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

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A cockpit shave job. Only the best for Ren!

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

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

MIDDAY

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

1. Salty, crispy clothes itch.

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

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

P.M.

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

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

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

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Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley #3

  

Smorgasborg

A spoonful of inspiration.

A simple supper.

Please note the “ “ around “gourmet” in the title of the Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley blog entries.  These “ “ act as a disclaimer so that you will not expect each entry to be a life changing work of art.  Far from it even.  Sometimes I would like to report on what we eat when the cookey does not feel like cooking.  What goes on in Nila Girl’s galley when we have spent the day freedive training and only have enough energy left for the most basic meal?

It is my job to feed the family.  Only on the rare occasion can I complain my way out of this essential duty.  In the same rare way that Ren can convince me to get out of bed, get dressed and dinghy Oreo over to the beach for his pee-pee, way before I am ready to move; I can con Ren into making up some vittles for us.  When I will not cook and he will not be convinced to take over, we resort to our family smorgasborgs.

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Smorgasborg has always been one of the author’s favorite meals. Ren is easy and quickly adapted to this simple pleasure.

Smorgasborg supper is a long standing lazy supper tradition passed down to me from my family.  Mom, Dad, Corey and I would gather around a kitchen counter, armed with knives, cutting up cheese, pickles, pepperoni and sometimes olives.  We would take the cutting board, now loaded with the recently cut goodies, into the living room and make toppling towers with the bits of food stacked too high on top of saltine crackers.  We never called the meal smorgasborg, we just called it “crackers and cheese”.  The name, smorgasborg, is unique to Ren and myself.  The simple meal/snack of goodies was expanded to include bananas, raisins, sun dried tomatoes, leftover bits of fish, simply EVERYTHING from the fridge.  We add and add to our own cutting board until it resembles a veritable smorgasborg, a plentiful buffet fit for a king.  We know the meal is fit for a king because we tried it out on King Oreo.  He approves of smorgasborg night mostly because we must drop more food on the floor as bits of overcrowded food are pushed closer and closer to the edge of the cutting board with every swipe of carrot through blue cheese dressing.  As I scoop up a handful of raisins and pair them with a couple of green olives I taste the pungent cheddar cheese and salty pepperoni of my past.  I enjoy the flavor until my tastebuds are assaulted with the conflicting tastes of raisins and olives.

Funny how food does that.  It becomes the bookmark by which we remember past experiences or the vivid tastes of food for the first time.  Something about taste and flavors sends signals to the brain, singeing memories into our psyches to be recalled at the next bite.  You may taste bitterness every time you eat scrambled eggs, recalling the harsh words your parents screamed right before their divorce as you sat by, eating scrambled eggs and ketchup.  A cheap hot dog made perfectly with ketchup, mustard and too many raw onions (that you will not doubt regret later) may conger up memories of running around with your teammates at the ball park growing up.  Waiting, and eating hot dogs, before your game began.  I will never eat pasta fagioli again without thinking of my Papa and the last meal I remember eating with him, pasta fagioli he had made, cluttered with bright green peas.  Tacos were a favorite in my family.  We ate tacos often but still not enough for my taste.  I remember sometimes running out of sour cream and substituting mayonnaise on our tortillas.  I secretly loved the mayonnaise substitution.  Not a tear was shed by me when we ran out of sour cream.  For some reason, I did not transition from a sour cream to mayo user in my adult life.  I use the obligatory sour cream on my tacos like everyone else, except I long for the mayo…or the taste of childhood.  As I sit here writing, I am also in the process of making burritos for lunch.  Maybe today I’ll use mayo.

Smorgasborg (Futral-Chapman Style)

Ingredients we used during our last meal:

2 eggs fried sunny side up.  Ren accidentally broke two eggs while unloading our grocery bag so we cooked them up and added them to the board.

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup bananas

1/2 cup green olives

2 cups lightly fried potatoes and carrots (in olive oil)

2 squirts blue cheese dressing

2 squirts Sri-Racha magic red sauce

Cut all ingredients and serve on a cutting board.  Limit cooking, this is lazy supper, remember?  Smorgasborg must be communal eaten off the cutting board, preferably with the hands.  Forks or chop sticks may be used if absolutely necessary. 

*Get creative with the ingredients.  Include anything that is on the verge of spoiling.  This avoids food waste and makes the smorgasborg interesting.

Enjoy!

NOTE: I never measure amounts when I cook and guessed all the ratios in the recipe above

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Nila Girl’s “Gourmet” Galley #2

Pizza on Pavana

A spoonful of inspiration.

Pizza made with a mahi Banff harvested baked in Pavana’s oven,  served with a salad on the side.

It seems that of all the foods we crave while adventuring on Nila Girl, which are many, pizza is at the top of the list.  It’s hard to find descent pizza in the Bahamas and if you do, it’s not likely to be worth the pretty penny you would spend on it.  Ren and I crave Antonio’s Commentatore pie from back home.  Lots of sauce, garlic, eggplant, basil and two cheeses perfectly melted on top with just the right amount of cheese grease drip when you fold a slice in half.  We miss ordering out a Commentatore and drinking one beer each while we wait for the pizza to be ready for pick up.  We pick up the pie and eat it with lots of crushed red pepper while taking in a movie projected on a king sized sheet in our old living room.  Next year, we’re bringing the projector with us on our cruise.

As Banff of Pavana, Ren and I perused the grocery aisles in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, we brainstormed about the night’s supper.  Within minutes, and almost jokingly, Ren sighed, “Pizza would be good.”  I groaned and immediately started pouting, knowing that this wasn’t an option until Banff, a beacon of light on our grim pizza situation, said, “Alright, let’s do the pizza thing.”  Banff already had the whole wheat flour and yeast needed to make the dough, which was really the only limiting factor.  Pavana was also adequately overstocked with everything we would need for the top of the pizza or anything else your culinary heart desired.  In short, Pavana was like a floating grocery store, but not Food Lion.  Pavana was a Whole Foods or Fresh Market, complete with organic selections and vegan options.  I think I spent a total of $40 shopping at ‘Groceries a la Pavana’.  Anyway, Banff already had pizza sauce, soy cheese, jalapenos and mahi to be grilled and added to the top.  Nila Girl isn’t exactly shabbily stocked herself.  She was to contribute fresh parmesan, straight off the block (thanks to a little Italian ancestry) and a nice big salad with all the fixings.  We picked up some mushrooms to add to the top, payed out and met Oreo at the grocery store sliding doors where he was keeping a close eye on the golf cart we rented. 

Eager to get back to the boat and start the dough, we finished our uneventful self-guided golf cart tour of Spanish Wells and hopped back into Banff’s dinghy to head back to the strong ships…

Digression:

Spanish Wells was uneventful if you consider I stayed up half the night researching the small island and it’s history of inbreeding.  It is safe to say that I became momentarily obsessed with the history of Spanish Wells, which includes Anglo-Saxon settlers, racial pride, and a long line of inbreeding.  I searched the internet for pictures of the people and family trees with branches intertwining like the trunk of a ficus.  Needless to say, I was disappointed when we got there.  First, the long history of inbreeding was not readily apparent in the people.  They looked normal, just with a backwoods sense of style.  Second, the place reminded me of my hometown of Richlands, NC but Richlands about 30 years ago.  Industrious people with a big red streak in a mostly white town.  Nothing unusual about Spanish Wells if you are already from the rural south.

We needed to shower, feed Oreo and pack our “supper time bag” (a waterproof bag made of recycled sailcloth by Ella Vicker’s Recycled Sailcloth Collection, perfect for keeping food items dry on the wet floor of a dinghy) for Pavana.  Snapping photos of the locals while heading out of the harbor area, I spotted something strikingly red floating in the water.  so red, it reminded me of that scene from the book, The Giver, where the young giver gets his first glimpse of color in an otherwise black and white world.  The color he saw was red and the imagery was powerful.  We approached the bobbing red objects with caution until…holy geez!  The floating red balls were bright ripe tomatoes with the occasional red bell pepper sprinkled in.  Apparently a box of fresh tomatoes and peppers had fallen off the dock right into the dinghy’s path, and nobody was claiming them.  Guess what goes surprisingly great on pizza…yep!  Tomatoes and red bell peppers.

Banff weaved in and out of the crimson gates as Ren and I stretched to retrieve very piece of valuable food we could.  Trust me, if retrieving floating food with a dinghy was an olympic sport, we would be representing Team USA.  A local, who was working on his boat engine nearby (I told you they were industrious people), noticed us scrambling and joined in on the aqua-harvest.  He relinquished his bounty to us poor sailors and we greedily grabbed the goodies.  Besides being on a budget, we were Team USA of the Aqua-Harvest event, not him.  He should check himself!  Ah but the pizza was looking better and better.  We wiped the drool from our mouths with our sleeves and continued on to the boats.

The four of us, Oreo was always welcomed on Pavana, met back up on Banff’s boat around 6:30 or 7:00, all freshly showered and hungry.  Banff had already let the dough rise and it was time for the art to begin.   Ren saddled up on the settee with a cold Budweiser and watched the magic happen.  Oreo sat right between my feet and waited for me to drop some magic on the floor.  Banff worked on shaping the whole wheat dough and grilling the fish while I threw together the salad and prepped the toppings for the pizza.  Cucumbers, chopped spinach, grated parmesan, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and some basil colorfully lit up the stainless steel mixing bowl the salad was contained in.  For a dressing, I mixed together olive oil and pear infused balsamic vinaigrette.  Banff opted for Amy’s Goddess dressing (a noble choice).  When the pizza dough was sculpted, Banff added jarred tomato sauce and swirled in spoonfuls of my Nannie’s homemade pesto, which I will be bringing a lot more of for our next cruise.  Pesto is good for a lot more than just pizza and pasta, folks.  The base of the pizza was painted perfectly with the sauces before flaked bits of lightly seasoned, grilled mahi were sprinkled in.  The already radiant pizza required some more green so chopped spinach and jalapenos were thrown on top.  The tomatoes and red bel peppers we found were sliced and delicately arranged on the bed of spinach, offsetting the green.  A few sliced mushrooms, the yellow soy cheese and white parmesan…voila!  The beauty of the meshing pizza ingredients made the raw colors palatable.

Banff popped our canvas into the oven and the three of us started giggling in anticipation.  Oreo did not giggle.  In fact, he was pretty pissed that I had prepared my share of the meal without dropping a single slice of anything.  Don’t worry, he always gets his share of, well, everything that we cook.  So that we didn’t start gnawing our fingers off, we passed the pizza cooking time in the most painless way possible.  Ren and I cracked open a couple of beers and the crew settled in for two episodes of the hilarious TV series, 30 Rock.  The laughter was the only thing strong enough to distract our appetites.  Of course, we checked on the pizza no less than four times while watching.  The hardest ten minutes of the evening came when the pizza was taken out of the oven and placed on the counter to cool.  Who’s idea was it to let food cool anyway?  We stared at the pie and suffered through the last ten minutes of our second episode.

Finally, the moment arrived.  The pizza was judiciously served in even amounts to prevent WWIII.  Since I am an athlete in training, i got a fair share of the pie too, despite being of the fairer sex.  The salad was dispersed, a mere afterthought lying next to the pizza.  A fluffy side dish to keep our slices comfortable before we devoured them.  We ate, savoring every bite, while watching a third episode of 30 Rock.  If you haven’t seen the show yet, you’re walking backwards.  We shared a solitary tear when supper was finished and the dishes were licked clean.  Banff took Nila Girl’s crew back to our boat and we said our goodbyes.  You see, homemade pizza was the perfect last supper to share with our new friend on Pavana.  We parted ways with a good taste left in our mouths, already eager for our next encounter with Banff.

Mahi Pizza (Pavana Style)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Ingredients:

1 grilled Mahi steak, lightly seasoned

1 cup cheddar or cheese substitute

1/2 cup parmesan (NO substitutes)

1/2 cup canned pizza sauce

1/4 cup pesto

Our Pizza Toppings:

spinach

tomatoes

jalapenos

red bell peppers

mushrooms

*Get creative with your toppings.  Include on your pizza anything that is on the verge of spoiling.  This avoids food waste and makes the pizza interesting.

Dough:

1 cup warm water

1/2 cup seawater

1 tblsp powdered yeast

1 tblsp sugar (we use agave nectar)

4 cups unbleached flour or wheat flour

Combine yeast warm water sugar and seawater and let stand 5 minutes.  Mix in flour and let stand until dough doubles in volume.  When dough has doubled, punch down and knead.  Let rise again by 50%.  Punch and knead again.  Take out 1/3 of the dough for the pizza crust.  Bake the rest as bread!

Mix “pizza herbs” into the dough (basil, parsley, etc). Spread the dough out on the cooking surface (foil works well on the boat).  Cover the dough with pizza sauce and add half the cheese. Let the toppings begin.  Add your toppings and cover with the remaining cheese to hold it all together.

Bake at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Let the  pizza cool on a cooling rack for at least 10  minutes before cutting.

Enjoy!

NOTE: I never measure amounts when I cook and guessed all the ratios in the recipe above.

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Acquiring Crew-Part 2

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

-Thoreau

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

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

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

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

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Ashley and Nina bonding in the settee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Blues

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

-The Beatles

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

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Oreo boy sporting the lobster scarf his Grammy made him.

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

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

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

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

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Ren and David with their bounty.

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

“No David, see you soon!”

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

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

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

“Oh David, you’re the best!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing The Time

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

-Thoreau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Key West

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

-Amigos

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The Western Union with full sails up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Haul away Ren!

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

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

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

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

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