Ren loves birds and wants us all to. It’s easy to understand why when you see the bald eagle in flight.
If you don’t jump, you’ll get “the look”. The, “I seriously doubt your connection to the natural world” look.
A few years before Ani was born in a time we now refer to as W.W.H.T.A. (When We Had Time Alone), Ren and I embarked on our first trip through the Caribbean. When we hit the Bahamas one of the first things we noticed as distinctly Caribbean besides the clear water, the coral reefs, the sudden upending of our role as the white majority was the call of the smooth billed ani.
Ren’s Dad is a trained ornithologist. Because of this Ren grew up with a healthy obsession of birds. He knows all the birds and wants you to as well. He probably doesn’t know all the birds but he sure knows more than I do (and probably you). Ren has no hesitations pointing out a bird and having you rush out of whatever precarious situation you might be in to check it out. He definitely expects you to shake it off, pants around your ankles, toilet paper in hand just to catch a glimpse of the 1,000th bald eagle of the day. If you don’t jump, you’ll get “the look”. The, “I seriously doubt your connection to the natural world” look. You’ll get this look despite over 20,000 miles of sailing, 8 years freediving and spearfishing together, and over 11 years of everything else. One mis-step, just one time ignoring his frantic emergency calls, deciding to wipe before pouncing up the companionway stairs and you blew it! All evidence that you don’t actually HATE bald eagles is out the door. You’re back to square one with the guy and just exposed your flag (although unknowingly) as a maniacal bald eagle murderer just waiting for your chance to pick them off one by one with the gun you don’t even own.
When the bald eagle lost his luster the new fixation became the white pelican. They’re huge, by the way.
Now I need to address all of you who are in solidarity with Ren, the Nature Boy. You know who you are because you are probably harassing your own family somewhere over a sea gull or two. Bald eagles are not that rare. And guess what else? They’ve had white heads and white tails EVERY time I’ve been commanded to look at them. I say, unless the eagle lands on Jade and starts reciting poetry, just let me regard him at my own pace. But I digress…
Because of Ren’s relentless bird education fetish the unique call of the smooth billed ani was immediately apparent to me. I, for once, pointed the bird out to Ren (who had already discovered and researched the bird during a previous trip to the Bahamas I was not there for). When he told me the name of the new bird it was exciting. Since the ani is not found back home the modest black bird’s song was a symbol that we had arrived! Years of planning were over and our liberation had begun. Ani, we decided, would be an awesome name for a kid if we ever decided to have one. Turns out, it’s the best!
Our favorite bird! The Ani bird relaxing in her hammock.
Ren and Ashley walking the beach at Deans’ Blue Hole during the Vertical Blue competition in 2012.
You know, I had a blog entry all written up for this week.It’s in my little black Moleskin book just waiting for me to type it up, add a picture and send it out to the world.I opened up the computer to transcribe the already written entry when I realized two things:
1.I want my entries to be relevant.This means Valentine’s Day related blogs when Valentine’s Day is upon us.
2.Ren is my Valentine and the whole world should know it.
My husband, Ren, spends a ton of time on Facebook.One reason is because he is a super social person and really enjoys the communication.The other reason is that it is his duty to keep up with our Evolve Freediving Facebook page.He spends hours taking pictures, filtering through them all, editing some, and posting others for your enjoyment.He spends a ton of time exalting me and my achievements.He selflessly posts post after post about “Ashley dove this” and “Ashley dove that”.We don’t get to see a ton of pictures of him because he is always behind the camera.
Ren asked Ashley to marry him in 2010 at 45′ during PFI’s Deja Blue competition in the Cayman Islands.
Ren and Ashley on the beach after Ren’s surprise baptism at Dean’s Blue Hole.
I want the world to know that Ren is the most selfless husband anyone could have.Sure, he has his moments, so do I.But when it comes to 100% unadulterated pride, he has it…for me.You all should know that Ren has innumerable talents and is one of the most sensitive people I have ever met.He cries easily about the smallest things and his feeling get hurt easily.You may not have known this about him unless you are a close friend.It is one of the most beautiful things about him.
Ren, I love you.I want you to know this.I want you never to forget-through all of your efforts to uplift me, Evolve Freediving, and everyone else you spend time taking pictures of, teaching in one of our courses, or taking the time after a ten hour day (two of which are spent doubling up on the Ruckus traveling 50 miles) to talk to other cruisers for forty minutes at at time, patiently answering all of their questions…happily answering them-that you are special.That you touch lives and leave impressions worth making.I am happy to call you MY Valentine and I’m happy to share these sentiments with the world.
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine
Oysters!Oysters were what Ren and I had on our minds as we waited to board our plane from Deadman’s Cay to Florida.We were both in need of some good old, slimy, snotty, NC oysters, which are a staple of the cold weather holiday season back home.In NC the measure of Winter is not made by the thermometer alone but by the opening of oyster season.When the water in NC gets cold, well, by our thin skin standards, the march smells a certain way.The smell goes from a nice healthy rotten egg, sulfur odor that permeates the air during warmer weather to a green, fresh smell.The air and water are both crisp with a chill.The water becomes super clear as the last mud settles from the summer boating season and the algae stops growing.This is oyster season.This is the season for locals only as all the tourists have left, heading back to their inland homes in Raleigh and Charlotte.This is the season where the local folk get into their single motor boats…or john boats even, slowly putting along to each bank of every shallow, unnamed creek in the marsh for sharp, pointy, projections clustered together and sticking up out of the mud.
Once an oyster bed or accumulation of these bivalves has been spotted the Carolinian slowly lowers his hook (anchor) into the water and steps out into the quicksand mud in white, calf-high rubber boots.These boots are affectionately called Sneads Ferry Sneakers, after a small fishing town just north of Wilmington.If you ever find yourself lost in coastal NC and you spot a big burly man with chest waders and these tell tale white rubber boots, do not be afraid to approach.Although he may have a distinct and intimidating Duck Dynasty look, you have found a friend, this man is one of our people.
The oyster harvester steps cautiously through the muck leaving big symmetrical, horizontal lines in the sand with each footprint.He is careful not to disturb anything other than his target catch.The not-so-wily oyster. Once he spots a cluster of these tasty little animals, he uses a big long screwdriver or a piece of available scrap metal to carefully pry or knock off undersized oysters from the cluster.Alas, the oyster man is left with the ever coveted “single”.Bring a bushel of these “singles” over to a buddy’s house for an oyster roast and people will be serving you up oyster shooters all night.The “single” oyster is a sure sign that the harvester has taken good care of the animal during the harvest.The oyster was further respected through the act of knocking off the undersized oysters from the cluster.In this way the population can be conserved.Only the regulation 3” oyster makes it to the table.
Oh and what a table it will make!Oysters are best enjoyed with a crowd of folk.Wear warm clothes, invite your friends and family and gather around a burn barrel until the oysters are ready to eat.Add a couple of beers, oyster shooters, a pot of chili, cornbread and a few chocolate chip cookies (because they are my favorite) and you have got yourself a good time.You have got yourself a bon-a-fide south eastern oyster roast.
Summers are special.The weather is warm and we humans come out of our Winter hibernations with pale skin and extra fluff around the mid section.We look forward to enjoying the outdoors and moving again, being active.Winter, if played properly, can be just as inviting as warm Summer.Get outside, but stay next to the fire.Enjoy a mosquito free evening with friends.Of course, this is being said from the warm embrace of the Caribbean aboard Nila Girl.It is easy to look back fondly on Winter when it does not have it’s cold fingers wrapped around your throat.
For pictures from an oyster harvest and oyster roast this past December visit Ren’s Facebook album.Don’t forget to “Like” Evolve Freediving on Facebook.
Check out video instructions on how to harvest oysters on Ren’s YouTube channel.
The Chapman’s friend, Dave Benson, collecting oysters in the marsh near the Scotts Hill area in NC.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2 cups ground yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup self rising flour*
1/2 cup fresh chopped jalapenos**
2 cans sweet cream style corn
2 tblsp. vegetable oil
Milk to taste and to consistency
Place vegetable oil in the bottom of a 12”x9”x2” pyrex baking dish.Put oiled pan into oven.Meanwhile mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.Chop the jalapenos in small cubes and de-seed as needed.Add the sweet corn and jalapenosto the dry mix.Don’t be scared of the jalapenos…they are what is going to make the cornbread gooood!MIx ingredients together and slowly add milk to consistency.Not to dry but not watery either.Once oven is preheated and oil and pan are scalding hot, pour batter into pan.If more than 1/4” of oil pools in the corners of the pan us a baster to decant some it off.Put the pan in the oven and bake for 30 min.
*Use 1tsp. of baking powder if not using self rising flour.
**De-seed to taste.We like things spicy so we use 5 jalapenos and only de-seed two of the five.
When done, eat warm!The oil will add a fried element to the bottom of the bread making it perfect.
An oyster roast favorite.Imbibe with caution!
1/2 pint bloody mary mix
1/2 pint vodka
1/2 cup freshly grated horseradish root
10 shakes of hot sauce
4 shakes of worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients above and shake vigorously in a screw-top container.Pour into shot glass, add hot steamed oyster and…Cheers!
Ashley on their new ride, the ruckus! Check out the retrofitted blue seat in the back welded by Ren. And don’t forget the trailer in the back.
In a previous blog post I made it clear that hitchhiking was the preferred method of travel here in the Bahamas.Well, that was before we got the Ruckus.Before the scooter came along I looked forward to who I was going to meet along the road and the slow journey from Salt Pond to the Blue Hole.Now, I can’t wait to crawl onto the little blue retro-fitted seat Ren welded to the back of our 2009 Honda Ruckus.Not only is the Ruckus a blast to ride on but it’s cool too.Google it!There’s a whole sub-culture of people out there dedicated to pimping their modest Ruckus rides.
Because maintaining a schedule is more important this season due to having people come onto the island and meet up with us for training and such, Ren traded his Miller Syncrowave 250 TIG welder for the little Ruckus.This way we could rest assured knowing that we could take the reigns on our schedule destiny.Of course, traveling on a moped that tops out at 40 mph (and trust me, that’s screaming) with two grown people and pulling a trailer, you are not going anywhere fast.In fact, it takes us just about as long now to get down to the Blue Hole as it did when we were hitching.But now we do not have to carry loads of stuff back and forth.If Ren has to get some of his power tools “up” South (yes, that’s the Long Island way to indicate that you are traveling South.They also go “down” North.) to help our friends Atil and April out with some home improvement projects he has only to load the tools onto the trailer we pull behind the Ruckus, strap them down with some bungee cords and kick it, hoping he does not spew tools over the side of the trailer as we bump down the Queens Hwy.
The trailer we use is worth mentioning.As a last rendezvous with the Syncrowave, Ren spent a few days riffling through his pile of scrap aluminum and designing and welding the cutest… ahem… I mean sturdiest little pull behind trailer you have ever seen. The trailer attaches to a black metal plate that hangs down from the rear of the Ruckus.the plate’s purpose is to suspend a red reflector down low by the rear tire and fender.Now it’s job description has been expanded to include being an attachment point for the trailer tongue.We all keep double duty around here.
The trailer flys along the rough road making contact with the Queens Hwy through two old bicycle tires salvaged off a couple of different bikes around Ren’s grandfather, Gaga’s, shed.We strap a black Rubbermaid box to the trailer with bungee cords and fill it with food, clothes, water, whatever we will need that day.Since we spend our days so far from Nila Girl we pack heavy, ready for internet access if we can find it, last minute supper plans, or the emergency grease job Ren tends to find himself caught up in.
The real magic of the Ruckus does not lie in it’s convenience.This factor is only a bonus.We are used to an inconvenient life on the boat where a trip to land includes a tippy dingy ride to shore, sometimes through winds and sea spray.Where your meals are dictated by what’s available locally, not by what you want for supper.Where calling a business for service includes no less than five disconnected numbers, two hang ups and one answer that leaves you more confused than before you asked.So convenience is secondary.The real magic is the freedom we have to explore land.Exploration by sea, check!We have Nila Girl for that.Exploration by land has always been limited by lack of transportation.Not anymore.Two days ago we drove to the end of a long dirt road just because we could.At the end of the road was a beach,not just a spit of sand with some salt water lapping against it.I mean a beautiful cove with rocky cliffs and pink sand.The kind of place that invites you to take your clothes off and hop in.No one’s looking.They weren’t either.There was not a sign of anyone anywhere.
We rode past the brach up a hill made of red dirt and gravel.Flanked on both sides by dense vegetation, including the scarring poisonwood.I have three scar streaks on my left thigh from the stuff.On the Ruckus we are fearless.We bob down the road hopping from side to side to avoid big holes in the ground.The Ruckus crashes through vegetation on both sides of the road when Ren pushes the handlebars a bit too far in one direction, unaware of the poisonwood.
Ren’s circular saw clanks around on the trailer behind us, along for the ride just like the rest of us.We push just a bit further to the top of the hill, stopping just before the path narrows a bit too much and starts it’s decent.On our left is miles of stinky mud covered with sporadic green plants and egrets.Although the mud smells, the place seems healthy.An inland estuary and probably a relic salt pond where historically salt was harvested after sea water evaporated.To our right, miles upon miles of ocean.Three sets of waves, almost organized enough to ride, crash against the reef leaving only foam to continue on the journey to the pink sand.A huge rocky cliff is just to the left of the wave set.The cliff protrudes from the ocean abruptly, reminding us that we are standing on ground just like it.We are standing on an ancient coral reef, abandoned by the ocean as sea levels fell.Here it is hard to decide wether or not to stay and enjoy the privacy or leave. Somehow, slightly feeling that we shouldn’t be there.That we had stumbled upon an untouched, unmarked place.A place that our human hands could only destroy with a little time.
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:
“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
A farmer in the rich Vinales Valley of Cuba. The crew (including Nick) enjoyed traveling the countryside.
Nick, Ashley, Ren and our two guides behind our trust steed, rojo caballo. The car did not have first gear so we pushed it to get it going through the hills.
I cannot motivate myself to write a play by play of our adventure in Cuba.I do, however, think about the trip often and of the lasting impressions it has left on me.The simplicity of the life there was appealing to us, as Americans.As people who are not forced by our government to work in a cigar factory, drive a car, or own a grocery.Although the underlying impression was that the people lived frugal lives we never encountered a moment where they seemed oppressed or poor for that matter.This does not mean they are not oppressed, because they are.But how can someone be poor if they have a place to live and food to eat.The Cuban people are not hungry, we cannot always say the same for the people in our Country.Because they are censored, they do not have access to the latest styles or TV shows, but then again, who needs either of these things anyway.Distractions.We occupy our time with meaningless interests just to pass time, or because everyone else is doing it.
Everyone should come to freedom on their own terms, I do believe this.The Cuban people should find freedom when they are ready.But, they should also be ready for “freedom”.They should be ready to vote for Presidential candidate, who will in turn seem ineffective.They should be ready to have their lives bogged down by a convoluted Democratic process.They will stand by and watch as “freedom” builds hotels across the green mojotes of Vinales.“Freedom” will clip their horses and buggies with rearview mirrors as new, improved cars race by.Be ready Cuba.This being said, I am writing this at a comfortable kitchen table and will upload to the internet without censorship, hassle or restrictions.THAT is beautiful!
What else is beautiful?Toilet seats!
Ashley and Ren with some local spearos.
Later, as I recounted the story of our Cuba adventure over and over I realized that I was glossing over an integral element of the country and it’s people.When people asked, “Are they really poor there?”I would answer with a dismissive, “It’s all in the context, “ and launch into a lecture about lifestyles, materialism and the decline of our culture, family orientation and core value system.I conveniently omitted any mention of the fact that toilet paper is a luxury in Cuba or that there are no toilet seats in most places.A little piece of porcelain or plastic that is, no doubt, not completely necessary.When asked about the toilet seat the people would either doge the question or answer with, “No se.”“You don’t know,” I asked back with confusion.How could they not know that toilet seats are an assumed luxury in America.Actually, the toilet seat is never considered a luxury.It’s a part of the toilet, a part that is always there, faithfully waiting for its next customer.Furthermore, how can they not know why toilet seats are absent from the servicio scenario?
Freedom comes at a cost but it’s one I’m willing to assume.As for the Cubans, they will find their breaking point soon enough.Whether it be a breaking point with a Communist regime or whether it be a breaking point with a new Capitalist system.Hurry and see Cuba now, before it’s not anymore, the land that time forgot.
Saying goodbye to friends and six months of awesomeness…
I am grateful that it is raining as we depart from Fort Lauderdale.It will be way harder for Ren to notice that my uncontrollable sobbing is punctuated only by brief calls back to reality, a look at the depth sounder, a glance around for boat traffic.The tears are not even leaving streaks down my face because the rain is washing them away too quickly.Down to the cockpit floor and out the drain.The tears become a perfect illustration of the impermanence of the sailing life.
As with everything good in life, anything worth mentioning, the parts of sailing that are so great area also the parts that make it so terrible.A perfect yin and yang relationship.Where there is light there must also be dark.Impermanence means seeing new places and meeting new people, a life of adventure.Impermanence also means you must leave and say goodbye.Goodbyes are not all created equal.There are those you leave with a smile.You smile and laugh thinking about beers with these people in the cockpit of a boat.Sailing stories and maybe even a night swim…clothes optional!“Fair winds,” you say as you bid adieu.“Catch up with you down the road,” a half-hearted side note.Not because you do not want to cross paths again.It is just a little unlikely in this great big world with so much to explore, besides, you are a sailor.You are no stranger to goodbyes.Then why do some goodbyes feel like you just swallowed a golf ball, lodging it about halfway down the throat.You try to choke it back, swallow it, for two or three days but only time will push it down to your gut…which feels empty.You try to fill your empty gut with food but that does not work.These goodbyes leave you feeling lonely, isolated.
As we travel North, I look to the left.The buildings are perfect tall rectangles.Like towering stacks of Lego blocks they stretch down the South Florida coast as far as I can see.There must be a million people over there, working, eating, playing with their kids.But just offshore, Ren and I are on our own little island.Both of us are bittersweet that we are saying goodbye to an adventure that has lasted six months and led us to two World Records, a communist country, a religion of our own, full moons in the middle of nowhere, two crew members, new friends and even a little money along the way.We are bittersweet.I look to my left, where the rest of American lives and I feel nothing except the damn golf ball in my throat.It has always been hard for me to say goodbye.I have a knack for sensitivity, thanks Mom!
Today I say goodbye to a six month chapter of our lives.Six months where we lived more and lived closer to the earth than some people live in a lifetime.I will be able to swallow the golf ball eventually.It will happen, it always does with a little time and immersion in a good book…or two, depending on the length of the passage.But distractions are few on a boat.With nothing but miles of open ocean to focus on.That and your own thoughts, a daunting proposition for most. Part of you does not want to heal, not yet.It is like the sweet pain after a good workout.The pain becomes a physical way to measure the intensity of your workout and to mark your progress.You know, by the very existence of the soreness that you are better for having worked out at all.Your future left just a little brighter.
Seven hours later
I took my own advise and decided to avoid myself with distractions.Five episodes of “This American Life” and two chapters from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and I lookout at the glassy ocean and feel at home again.The overwhelming lights off the Florida coast have faded into a thin sparkling horizon and my throat does not hurt…right now.Yin is creeping back in and is ushered by momentary peace.My body, finally, relates again to the passage, the lonely night watch, the ocean, and reminds my mind to cooperate.Maybe now I can wake Ren up and take my turn with sleep.
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.
A journalized account of our non-stop sail through the Windward Passage from Long Island, Bahamas to Port Antonio, Jamaica.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.