For us, and I think for most cruisers, this lifestyle is all about People; People-with-a-capital-P. P that rhymes with T and stands not for Trouble but for Team, or Togetherness, or Touch (as in Staying in). And these People, these precious friends, loved ones, and relatives range from those we’ve known all our lives, to those we’ve met at sea.
Just as parents of toddlers seek playgroups and other parents of toddlers, cruisers seek other cruisers. Our lifestyle is rare among the general population and we cruisers share a language, similar stories, trials, and triumphs. Get us together and you can’t shut us up. (OK, shutting me up sometimes is difficult in any situation, let’s not go there.) We love to share favorite recipes, fixes, harbors, weather reports, bars, marine stores, tools, boatyards, bottom paint, and stories. We learn about each other’s families, food allergies, collections, hometowns, pets, and drink of choice. We form fast friendships that last for years. We find forever friends and stay in touch even as we anchor in different harbors, sail on different seas, or swallow the anchor and move ashore.
From June 2014 to now, EW and I have sailed more than 7000 miles. This stunned me. I checked it twice and asked EW if this was possible. “Oh easily,” he replied. Dear friends for life and non-sailors Cathy and Stu who continue to provide a wonderful welcome to Florida, have expressed how brave they think we are. Yet we know many others who have sailed greater distances in more treacherous waters. We don’t feel brave. We feel very, very fortunate. And while we have some sea stories, such as the “Endurance Crossing” or the “Horrific Passage”, or the long trek north from Panama, even those stories are about the People; family back home, people helping us with weather, people watching anxiously for reports of our safe progress, people welcoming us to the San Blas, Isla Mujeres, Key West, Miami, and St. Augustine, and the people we’ve met on boats and on shore.
You’ve heard it all from me. How supportive our families have been (especially my late sister, Patricia, our champion, and our son Mo, AKA “Favorite”); how much fun we’ve had with the many wonderful cruisers we’ve met, from Hampton, Virginia in 2010 to nearly every port we’ve visited; and how delighted we’ve been to make new friends on shore—especially those in Grenada, St. Thomas, and the Azores.
For us, it’s all about the People: People who keep us informed and included on Facebook, People who sailed to Guadeloupe just because they knew we needed an English-speaking friend. People who offered medicine and aid when EW had shingles. People who cook; laugh; tell great stories; listen; help with projects; need help from us; show us outstanding snorkeling areas; walk with us for fun and exercise; need fur-fixes as much as I do; play music with EW; and organize hikes over hill, dale, mud, and cow dung.
The end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 finds us on an adventure of a different sort. La Luna will live on a mooring, rest, and get some much needed TLC. (Those 7000 miles were much harder on her than they were on us.) Our cruising kitty (MEOW!) will also get some much needed TLC, and EW and I will work. We will also visit with friends, relatives, or other cruisers, such as Cathy and Stu, and Kathy, and Andy and Linda, and Lauren and Rob, and Pam and Nick, and John and Dora, and Mike, and Vicki and Bob, and Peter—and many more with whom we have not yet connected.
We’ve already met new friends, some of whom will drop by on their way back north after a winter in Florida, and others who have left armed with names of boats and friends they will meet as they follow our path through the Bahamas to the Eastern Caribbean.
Cruising. Starts with “C” which rhymes with “P” and stands for People.
EW and I wish all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous, New Year. Whether you travel great distances by land, air or sea, or stick close to home we wish you wonderful adventures and “smooth sailing”. Most of all, we hope that each and every one of you feel as fortunate and loved as we do, for we love you all.
(Bonus points for those who know the musical reference. Kathy, Chrissy and Beth, I’m counting on you.)
EXTRA BONUS if you can answer this question, found at the top of a lighthouse in Panama:
I don’t know who Olaf is or what he’d do. If I could list every person who has made me feel connected, special, and loved this year, it would be an insanely long list and include friends, relatives, former colleagues, and many cruisers. But not Olaf. I don’t know Olaf.
Warning: This is a long post. Hang in there, or if not, skip to the Isla Mujeres portion. You have to find out about Que Sera Sera. Really, you do.
I. At Home in St. Augustine.
We received a royal welcome in St. Augustine the day after we arrived. Cathy K. drove down from Amelia Island to spend the day with us, folding laundry, having a great lunch, and giving us a tour by car. In the afternoon, we were joined by two of her (adult) kids and “UA”, her husband Stu. They were too kind. We are not worthy. Since then, we have been getting to know the area and love it, though I’ve taken few photos, we have been impressed by the city overall and by their Christmas lights. We’ve been here less than two weeks.
I will take photos. Really.
II. Thanksgiving E-Mail
Once I knew the blogs weren’t posting I realized that some folks would be wondering whether we were lost at sea. (Sorry about that.) So I wrote an email message to a bunch of loved ones, and apologize to those I missed. I have to update my Google Contacts. Oh joy.
Here are a few excerpts from the email:
There have been TROFs and fronts and all sorts of weather stuff along the Bahamas and US East Coast, and in our first attempt to reach Key West we had to turn back and head to Mexico to wait out a northerly. That one day lost in Panama getting food and checking out would have made the difference.
Ah well. We enjoyed Isla Mujeres and will definitely go back there on our next cruise. We left there with a Buddy Boat, “Party of Five”, owned by Travis and Rhonda from Alberta (think plains not ocean and understand why their family thinks they are crazy). Travis, their elder son, Quincy (whose 8) and two crew were on the dock in Isla Mujeres getting “Party of Five” ready to go to Florida for refitting. There is a great cruisers’ net in IM and the leader of that, Tim from “Tropical Fun” said told us that Travis might like having a Buddy Boat for the crossing. We met, got along, and agreed to head to Florida together.
That worked. We were in radio contact for most of the way and were able to provide moral support on a couple of issues and to email Rhonda back home on the plains with the two younger kids. “Party of Five’s” destination was Key West, we had hoped to keep going, but CP said we’d only be able to get as far as Fort Lauderdale and weren’t sure what the anchoring situation was there. Plus we really liked the gang on “Party of Five”. So, we stopped here to check back into the USA and wait out weather. Three days into it here, and Chris Parker gave us the bad news, “You won’t be able to leave there until December.”
Key West is an interesting place to anchor as there is a LOT of current. How much current? Well, we have had 20-30 knots of wind every day but today and have rarely been pointed into the wind at anchor. That’s a whole lot of current. This kind of situation means:
We heel over at anchor. The chef does not think that’s fair.
The bay is choppy
The flag gets flogged on the gear.
The painter on our dinghy broke. We didn’t lose it because we had locked it with the cable. Afterward, we used the fixed painter AND the tow line AND the cable to keep the dinghy attached to the boat.
It’s noisy: wind, splashing water, more wind.
We had to open the dodger window so that the boat wouldn’t sail as much, which made the cockpit too windy for comfort.
Other than that, things are great.
By the time Thanksgiving rolled around the two crewmembers had left Party of Five and we invited Travis and Quincy over for Thanksgiving Dinner and a rousing game of Dominoes. We had taught them to play earlier in the week when we’d had the gang over for Pizza. Quincy picked it up immediately and began to offer me help. How embarrassing.
III. Riding the Way Back Machine to Our Time in Isla Mujeres
Are you confused yet? I just have to tell you about checking in to the country of Mexico.
The Universe is still trying to teach me patience. On Friday, I practiced as if I'd learned the lesson.
Here's the deal, if one is a cruiser, checking in to Mexico appears to be a bit of a crap shoot. First of all, Mexico loves paperwork. Somewhere a company still manufactures carbon paper and Mexico is their largest client. Secondly, while the authorities are trying to make sure that things are done the same way all over the country and that sailors aren't hit with "tips" or "bribes", formalities differ from port to port. We knew that. The information we read also stated that procedures are subject to change. Still, we knew that there were things we should do BEFORE heading to Mexico, but, since we weren't planning on going to Mexico, we didn't do them. Our Zarpe (exit papers) from Panama indicated we were going to Florida. That and our outstanding attitudes and abject and frequent apologies saved our bacon.
We knew that prior to going to Mexico, cruisers from the US should get notarized crew lists (6 copies). We didn't do that.
We knew we should have a Mexican burgee. We didn't have one.
We knew we should have gone on to their website and notified them two days prior to our arrival. That's impossible for most cruisers as it takes longer than two days to sail from almost anywhere to here. If they had provided an email address, we could have done that, but we can't jump on the World Wide Web at sea. We knew we would have to be cleared by the Port Captain, and the departments of Health, Agriculture, Sanitation, and Immigration--none of whom expected us.
We'd also read that the crew stayed on the boat while the captain took the papers and checked into the country. That was wrong. Remember, all rules are subject to change. We did cook and/or consume all meat and all (well most) of the produce purchased in Panama. That's about all that we did right. Shortly after leaving the boat, EW returned to inform me my presence was required. I donned shore/official visit clothes and off we went, back to the office of the Port Captain. EW let him know that he had returned with his one crew person (that would be me) and we were asked to sit and wait for a bit. A short while later, two uniformed people arrived—one late middle-aged man, and one young woman. They smiled and greeted us in Spanish and also sat and waited, and when out for a smoke, and waited some more, smiled at us, and checked their smart phones. At one point EW asked me if I thought they were getting paid for their jobs. I replied in the affirmative and suggested that they might speak more English than they let on, so we should be careful. He agreed. Good thing. The gentleman represented the Department of Agriculture, and the lady was from the Department of Sanitation. These two could opt to inspect our vessel and make us pay fines for the potatoes or arbitrarily make us pay for fumigation.
We waited some more. I was very thirsty, but didn't think I should/could leave the building since we were illegal, and I figured we were kind of being detained. About 45 minutes later Julio showed up. Julio doesn't work there; we think he's a fishing captain for tourists. He spoke better English than the Port Captain or the two uniformed folks sitting near us and the Port Captain requested his help translating. Julio asked if we had five copies of all of our papers. We did not. We didn't even know that rule. (Really, it's 6 copies. He didn't know that rule.) Now this is where things go from boring to interesting. Julio goes through our paperwork with us (remember, he's not an official) and tells us we need 5 copies of the passports, zarpe, and boat document. He also said that the Department of Health was on their way to see us. This is like waiting for Godot without knowing you are waiting for him. Julio confirmed that EW is the captain, and said the captain must wait for Godot, but I must go and get the five copies. "Andale!" He actually said, "Andale! Andale!" more than once. Remember that cartoon character who said "Andale! Andale! Arriba!"? I couldn't get that out of my head. Julio was not draped with a serape and didn't wear a sombrero but his "Andale" was authentic.
He gave me directions, two blocks up, three over, one down. You know what that really is? Three block over one up. Think about it. He left the building while I was gathering the documents and getting our only cash from EW-- a $100 bill. When I reached the sidewalk, I found Julio waiting to lead me two blocks up three over and one down, pointing out a bright blue store front as he continued on with my "Gracias!" and his final "Andale!" echoing in the street. The shop sold school supplies and the young woman at the counter had clearly served cruisers needing copies in the past. I had the presence of mind to tell her I needed to change money in order to pay her, and she directed me to a money exchange place, one block down the street, from which I could see the Port Captain's office three blocks back.
I got the goods, paid her 25 pesos, and jogged back to the Port Captain's Office. "Andale!" It was mucho calor in Mexico, where we perspired while simply sitting on the boat. My charming go-to-town persona took on a whole new look of glistening middle-aged woman who just ran four blocks (one down and three across), and of course three people from the Department of Health were waiting for my arrival. Let's take a moment to think about this. These people were there to make sure we weren't coming into the country with typhoid or Ebola or some such disease, yet my running around the town to get copies was OK. EW began to call me "Typhoid Bubs".
By the time I arrived, EW had nearly completed filling out the first Health Department form. He failed form, as he had crossed something out and that isn't allowed. So, while he completed the form again, I reminded everyone (for the fourth time) that we knew we had caused problems by not planning to sail to Isla Mujeres and that we appreciated their patience. The second health department form asked us to list the three countries we had visited prior to Panama (Canaries, Guadeloupe, St. Thomas USVI) and that's when I realized they were looking for Ebola and typhoid and the flu. While they would have preferred to learn that we’d had flu shots, we were healthy. Still, part of the procedure is to have our temperature taken by the leader of the health department contingent (three people who all spoke English).
He had this magic temperature taking thingy that he pointed first at EW (who passed) and then to me (who failed). I thought I must have registered high, but evidently sweating does cool you off as it was low. Then again, my normal is lower then the norm. He frowned and asked me about illness, vomiting, and other stuff. He again mentioned that my temperature was off and I looked at him and said with no sarcasm at all, "Do you know about menopause?" Fortunately, he laughed, and the young woman with him roared, and I was allowed into Mexico. Evidently he does know about menopause. I asked that young woman if she was in training with the Health Department and she said "Sort of."
FYI, the second health department form also asked whether mice or rats had died mysteriously on the boat, or whether any crew member had died through illness or accident. Really. Note, they don't care if you have healthy rats or mice on board. EW completed the second form with no cross outs, all three from the "Health Department" shook our hands and we again thanked them for their patience. The Health Department guy wants all other cruisers to know that you MUST hire an agent when coming to Isla Mujeres. He said all of the cruising guides are out of date. He knew we were a special case, but hopes that in the future more cruisers learn to enter Isla Mujeres the right way. This is me, spreading the news as I promised to do. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but do know that the agent tips the officials with your money, so the officials prefer you to go through an agent. (Of course.)
While I had been on my trek for copies, EW had been quizzed by Sanitation and Agriculture and didn't confess to having potatoes and onions on board, passing that game of liar's poker. When I returned they had taken their copies of our paperwork. All through this adventure, both EW and I felt we were taking subtle tests. In fact neither of us believe that we actually met three folks from the Health Department and both of us think that the young slender man hovering in the background was from the Police or a Drug unit. All of the literature we had read told us health checks were done at the hospital, but we warranted three officials who met us in the cramped lobby of the Port Captain. Right. We had no problem with that, they were checking out these gringos who had not conformed to any of the rules.
Once those three had left, we were led back outside to go to Immigration accompanied by Sanitation and Agriculture. While we walked over the same three blocks, the gentleman started chatting to us in broken English and told us he would soon be on vacation to visit his son who lived in Miami. We arrived at Immigration, where we again apologized for not letting them know we were going to sail into their harbor, and explained that we had been trying for Florida. These gentlemen spoke English and were sanguine about our lack of preparation. They did take our paperwork and go online to check us out, leaving us to sit on the fairly comfortable chairs with our two escorts. The gentleman from Agriculture now considered us friends, came over and sat next to EW and said, "I love Doris Day." (This is not a lie. I still don't think the guy's that old, but whatever.) We smiled and said we liked her, too.
And, here it is. He started singing "Que Sera Sera". And he indicated we should join in. So we did. And we sang the first verse and the chorus, ending with a drawn out "Whatever will be, will be." It was a big finish. And Immigration still let us into the country. But first, we had to go to the bank and pay 362 pesos each which required standing in line at the teller's window and then waiting while she made three documents, one for each of us and one for Immigration using carbon paper and an old style printer. Our "minders" remained in air-conditioned splendor at Immigration. I still thought they were coming to the boat. But no, we returned to Immigration and completed these cards that are our Visas (items we would have had prior to arrival if we had done things right) gathered what was left of the paperwork and walked back up my new neighborhood to the Port Captain's Office. On the sidewalk, both of the officials shook our hands and said we were done, and EW and I began to walk away.
I stopped. "Did you pay the port fee?" "No," he said. "We are not done and we do NOT need to make any more mistakes or omissions." EW agreed and we turned back to the Port Captain's office where EW peered through the little chest high window and asked that official whether he needed more from us. Of course he did. And that is why you need 6 copies of everything: Health, Agriculture, Sanitation, Immigration, Port Authority, and the rest for La Luna or for Checking Out. Now here's the thing, the Port Captain has a copy machine and had no problem making that extra copies we were missing. Go figure. EW had to fill out yet another form and hand write a letter saying why we had diverted to Isla Mujeres unexpectedly. I had gone from thirsty before my jog, to parched and now that we were legal I trotted back over my favorite three blocks to the 7-11 and purchased two juices and two waters, offering Sanitation and Agriculture their choice upon my return. They were delighted. That was all the tip they got.
The Port Captain charged us 500 pesos for the boat, shook our hands, and told us that checking out would require a visit to his office first and Immigration second. The whole thing cost $77.00 and was rather entertaining. Afterwards we ended up at a little sidewalk bar that offered two shots of tequila when you purchase two beers. We toasted our safe arrival and navigation through Mexico officialdom. So far we like Mexico a lot.
Altogether now, "Que Sera, Sera .... "
This could be our new theme song. I wonder if EW will learn it on the guitar.
NOTE: Yes, I have no photos from Isla Mujeres. I’m not sure how that happened. We were only there four days, but still… I’ll do better next time. We will go back.
This completes the Way-Back posts, though I may opt to write additional posts about the trek to St. Augustine, they will pop up amid normal, current events posts.
Hope you all had a Merry Christmas or terrific holiday weekend. We had a wonderful time in Amelia Island.
We liked both Key West and Key Biscayne (and we are thrilled with St. Augustine). I’ve especially enjoyed the excellent “fur fix” opportunities. So far I’ve met a recently rescued wire haired fox terrier, a Labradoodle, a stunning Portuguese water dog, and a Golden who stopped by to visit as I sat in the dinghy. We miss having a dog but choose not to sail with one. I think I may feel that void more now that we are here in the states. This post goes out with special hugs to Mimi, Bondo, Scrumpy, Chewy, Sissy, and my sweet Hunter—boat and island dogs of my heart.
As for the stuff, we (mostly I) have been working on a huge tidying project on the boat. You’ll hear a lot more about it in the future. As you may imagine, with a huge list of things to fix, EW hasn’t totally bought into the tidying moments. However, I am sneaky and when I emptied a very accessible cupboard, I offered it to EW for tools and parts storage, emphasizing that he didn’t have to take advantage of it right away. He, however, saw the value in that space and immediately cleaned out two other cupboards, getting rid of stuff between one cabinet and the next.
The result is we had six kitchen garbage bags of stuff seeking a dumpster and there were no dumpsters in No Name Harbor. No worries, when we filled up the diesel and water tanks at Crandon Marina in Biscayne Bay, Ernesto, Superior Dock Person, told us just to space them out in the various bins on the fuel dock. “They don’t have a system here, so don’t worry about it” We heart Ernesto.
II. Heading North with Flipper (Actually a lot of Flippers)
I made a bunch of new friends the last hour of my afternoon watch on November 8th. I was sleepy but pretending to be alert, checking the horizon for traffic, when we were approached by a fleet (pod/troop/bevy) of dolphins. Now this isn't the first time we've had dolphins cavort near La Luna. It's happened before, but never by such a large group and never for nearly an hour.
These appeared to be bottle nosed dolphins--just like Flipper---and they spent the hour playing and performing for me. I was a most appreciative audience. At first I stayed in the cockpit and provided verbal ovations: "Hello beautiful." "Aren't you the best?" followed by many oohs and ahs and soft hand claps of pleasure. It seemed as though many of them swam near the cockpit in response to my appreciation. I called to EW and he joined me for some minutes before going below to read the engine manual. (Don't ask.)
We’ve had groups of dolphins play in our wake in the Azores and Trinidad, but again, not for as long or as exuberantly as this group in the Northwest Caribbean. EW handed me the camera and I again stayed in the cockpit, taking photos and exclaiming. Finally, I ducked below to put on the life jacket and harness and made my way to the bow. There, I was the sole audience for a spectacular show. They leapt fully out of the water; three of them slapped their tails in turn; one stood on his tail to spy me; one did a flip; and all of them chased each other around the boat, passing back and forth in front of La Luna's wake. I snapped photos and wondered at one point whether they were enjoying the sounds of the camera, the little tone and snick-snick-snick that meant I was in sport mode, trying to take many photos to get one good shot. Later, I put the camera aside and simply enjoyed their acrobatics and joy.
I got splashed and laughed. I continued to talk with them. It was my best dolphin experience ever.
Both EW and I feel that seeing dolphins play near your boat is a good omen. It certainly made my day.
As did our progress. As of 0900 on Sunday morning (Panama Time) we were located at 17 degrees 20.42 minutes North, and 82 degrees 12.90 minutes West. We were sailing between 4-5 knots downwind in an East breeze. We had about 400 miles left to the arbitrary mark made off Isla Mujeres, and over 200 miles beyond that to Key West. However, we knew that this East breeze would be Northeast in the Gulf of Mexico and were prepared to tack, perhaps doubling that 200 miles. On this blissful dolphin day, we thought we’d be able to sail al the way to Key West, wait a few days, and make one long passage up to Amelia Island for Thanksgiving.
We were so naïve.
Hey are dolphins like dogs in that if they swim upside down, showing their white bellies, does it mean they trust you? I did not provide belly rubs, but I so wanted to. The harness (and I) remained tethered to the deck.
The original title of this post was “Dolphins and Dinner” For the dinner portion of this message, let me tell you about the excellent lupper we enjoyed on the 8th. (For those uninitiated, a “Lupper” is a meal offered in mid-afternoon. I am a proponent of luppers, particularly at sea as they require me to prepare only one meal in addition to breakfast.) For EW's birthday, I’d cooked the smoked pork chops available in Panama and served them with roasted veggies including chunks of potato, onions, peppers, and eggplant. On Dolphin Day I smashed the leftover veggies and dumped them into hot olive oil in my small iron skillet, and fried that mess until the bottom was a bit crunchy. I whisked four eggs, added shredded cheddar cheese, basil, and mustard and poured that over the vegetable crust. Then I popped it into the oven for 20 minutes.
A veggie boat, selling fruits, veggies, chickens, beer, wine, and other items to the cruisers in the San Blas
Our friends Sandy and Jeff on Magic Inspiration are returning to the cruising life as we are leaving it. While we were in Key Biscayne Sandy sent me an email that included a few thoughts about her re-entry into “real” life, and offering moral support and advice if I had similar problems. I am hopeful that this “soft landing” of Key West to Key Biscayne to St. Augustine will allow us to begin to acclimate to our new conditions. So far, I have started a list.
1. Technology. We are not savvy. I know enough to know that I’m not savvy. EW thinks I’m savvy, so that lets you know his level of understanding. We were amazed by a few of the things Dani and Tate had on board Sundowner. Tate’s an uber-geek and Dani is truly savvy. They kindly gave us a 12 volt plug that has two USB ports so we can charge two things at once. We LOVE It! I swear those weren’t available when we left in 2010. In Isla Mujeres, where we met Travis on Party of Five we learned about these little chargers that you can carry with you to charge your phone if the battery dies. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve hung out in a ladies’ room for thirty minutes with my phone plugged in? And do not get me started on $800.00 smart phones, or “What’s Ap?” I have been left in the dust. And really, how smart are you if you spend $800.00 on a phone? Fortunately in St. Augustine I have found Phone Hospital. These will be my go-to guys on all things tech. They may have fixed my BLU at no charge. If not, I’ll purchase my next smart phone with them—for considerably less than $800.00.
2. Clothing. I am going to get a job—preferably a recruiting/hiring job, and I can truthfully state that I have absolutely nothing to wear. Fashion is not kind to me. Over the years I can count on my fingers and toes the outfits that I felt were perfect. I can think of many more that just missed the mark and others that cause me to shudder. I am a stress shopper, picking up something when I think I have nothing to wear and often getting it wrong. Cathy has informed me that I probably won’t have to wear hose and heels. She has a great sense of style and I am definitely going to use her expertise. As I told her, not only do I have to get some new outfits, I need not to look like I’ve passed the age of 55. Oh joy. I wish “What Not to Wear” was still on and whisked me off to New York so I could purchase $5000.00 of high end clothing with too much style for me and for which I have no room on the boat. On second thought, I just want to find a few mix and match pieces and one pair of fashionable flat shoes. Is that too much to ask?
3. The News of Maine, US, and the World. Wow. That’s all I will say here. Wow.
4. Groceries. So Publix and Win Dixie are quite something. Clean, friendly staff, expensive produce, and well-packaged chickens. This is the last chicken we purchased in the San Blas. While we’ve been in the Caribbean I got used to discovering “new” parts of a “processed” bird, and I’ve seen people barbeque chicken feet, but I’ve never been presented in one quite this way. The nails cry out for polish, don’t you think? (My mom made Kathy M. and me clean and prepare a chicken during one break in our freshman year of college when she realized that our home education had been woefully neglected. I daresay if that chicken had looked like this Kathy and I would have never served a whole bird.)
Well, these are the first four things that come to mind. We’ll see see what the future holds.
II. From the San Blas North and My New Best Friend 11/4-11/6 2015
Some of you may remember our passage from St. Thomas to Panama, during which we had to heave-to for more than 3 days. You can read an account of that journey by going to
"An Horrific Passage", is definitely a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did moment. The term "horrific" was provided by Chris Parker whose weather reports we have followed when in the Bahamas and Caribbean. Chris broadcasts on the SSB at scheduled times with weather for a particular area. In addition, he accepts subscriptions and will answer the questions of subscribed sailors after his regularly scheduled broadcast. We did not subscribe for the trip to Panama, and were rueful one morning to hear Chris tell folks not to travel south from Jamaica to Panama or Columbia because conditions were "horrific". We knew that. We were out in those conditions. At that moment we decided to subscribe to Chris Parker on our next major passage.
When he prompted us to leave the San Blas a week earlier than we expected, he described the conditions as "relatively benign". He also said that we would be motoring for a day and a half until we reached 12 degrees north, then we would have East winds of 15-20 with squalls to 30. We have been out here for just over 24 hours and and are motoring along on a beautiful day. The first night was stunning—a clear, starry night; lovely half moon; no rain; gentle seas. If we'd had wind it would have been perfect.
It was definitely benign.
So. We sweated. We ate. We slept. We kept watch.
And we hoped for some wind.
Not horrific wind. Not huge seas. But a nice stiff breeze from the east, if you please.
Once we reached 15 degrees north, we would also have a wonderful current, pushing us exactly where we want to go.
(NOTE: The shot of the route was taken much later in the trip. Took me that long to figure out I could just take a photo of the iPad screen. See #1 about out technology. This does show you our planned passage. It was a long one.)
Thoughts from that time at sea:
“Heading to sea for a passage of more than 3 or 4 days usually means we're traveling to a different country, and is always exciting for us. In a way, it's like starting over, with new foods, customs, bus systems, and adventures. If we don't have to tuck in to Isla Mujeres to wait for good weather, our "different country" will be the US (Author’s Note: You know how that worked out). Both EW and I are looking forward to this new adventure, and to exploring the areas around St. Augustine. EW wants to get a bike, a big old-fashioned looking one with fenders and a comfortable seat.
It's 14:40 Panama Time on November 4. We are located at 11 degrees, 24 minutes; and 78 degrees 44 minutes, motoring on a (for now) benign sea.
On our fourth day at sea:
Just as Chris Parker had told us, we had to motor for the first full day and the better part of the next 24 hours. (Jimmy Cornell in "World Cruising Routes" says that any yacht making this passage will have to expect to motor for part of it.) Motoring is no fun, but it's more fun that bobbing around with flogging sails, and we had to keep moving so we can take advantage of that "benign" weather window. One of the problems, of course, is that we can't hear each other speak when we are motoring. Understand, that we normally aren't sitting together much during a passage; one of us is doing a project, cooking, writing, or sleeping, while the other is on deck on watch. EW (and less often, I) will simply start talking prior to ascertaining whether the other can hear. This results in frequent repetitions of whole sentences and thoughts, or the more occasional "Never mind!" It does not result in good communication. When the motor was finally turned off, my entire body and soul settled.
Once we were able to sail we also had, as Chris Parker had promised, squalls. Now these were benign squalls. (This is evidently my new favorite passage word. Sure beats "horrific".) Only one hit over 30 knots and the seas weren't bad and we had (glory be!) no lightning. (After nearly 6 months in Eastern Panama going four days without being in a lightning storm is heavenly.) Our only problem with squalls is that "Casey" our auto-pilot sometimes had a hissy fit with a strong shift in wind and seas and turns himself off. Unfortunately, he doesn't turn off totally, so someone must press the "human" button in order to take the helm. That wouldn't be an issue if our auto pilot remote weren't in pieces in a plastic zip-lock. If Casey (not La Luna) get's smacked down, the on-deck person will yell, "HUMAN!", and the below deck person will dive for the button, yelling "Human!" back once it's been pressed. If the down below person was in deep sleep, or has to find glasses, or was "indisposed", then we will have rounded so much that the sails won't allow us to come back on course without help from "Pinetop" (the engine). I'm not sure who to feel more sorry for last night: All of the squalls occurred on my watch, so I was the one manning the wheel in the rain and yelling "HUMAN!"; but EW was the one who was off watch, supposedly getting 5+ hours of rest who kept stumbling out of bed to press the button, and if need be turn off "Gramps" (wind generator) so that I could start the engine. I let him go an extra half hour after midnight, and got up at 5 to give him an extra hour this morning. I called my generosity his birthday present. He was thrilled with his gift.
Remember when you (or your kids) were young and delighted to make a new friend, and called that new friend by his or her full name? "My friend Kathy Hunt's parents own a restaurant." "My friend Kathy Hunt's mom crosses us when we cross Main street." Well, he doesn't know it but Chris Parker is my new friend and on this trip I have been referring to him as "Chris Parker": "Chris Parker got it right when he told us the squalls would end and we'd have 15-18 at 090 degrees." "Chris Parker is always so patient with all of us." "I wonder how Chris Parker keeps track of each boat." One morning, he was late getting to the Western Caribbean because he is helping the Salty Dog rally head to the Virgin Islands. In an unusual confluence of radio waves propagation, we could hear Chris Parker as he spoke to the subscribers at sea between Bermuda and the US. All of this has helped me to understand more fully how important 50 miles can be at sea. Boats 50 to 100 miles apart in the same ocean can be experiencing different weather patterns and may have different solutions available to them for missing a trof that contains 40 knots of wind. (We don't like 40. We don't love 30, but it's not horrible or horrific. We do not like 40.) So far my new best friend, Chris Parker, has been spot on for us.
So today, (Friday 11/6) we have been sailing at 6-6.5 knots with lovely trades from the East, under blue skies with fluffy white clouds. This definitely does not suck. With Chris Parker, we have decided to try to make directly for Key West, which is a 48 hour sail (give or take) from the Yucatan between Isla Mujeres, Mexico and Cuba. We cannot make that sail in strong northeast winds and will not arrive at the Yucatan (that body of water between Mexico and Cuba) in time to take advantage of a window open from Sunday night through Tuesday. This morning, Chris Parker said there may be a window on Thursday/Friday or Friday/Saturday. Chris Parker also said that the winds were going to calm down to 15-18 knots, we'd go more slowly, and (ideally) we will arrive at the turn just in time for the favorable window. (From Chris Parker's lips to the sea gods' ears.) Fingers crossed.
As of 13:15 on Friday November 6 (Happy Birthday, my love!) we are located at 15 degrees 16.29 North and 80 degrees 04.15 West. Raise a glass to (and for) EW. He won't be drinking any spirits until we're in a safe harbor.
And this completes the third portion of our flash-back series.
My smartish phone broke in Panama and would not read a SIM card. I spent a frustrating five hours walking all over Key West before a charming man in a small shop helped me determine that it was, indeed, toast. Technology has advanced a whole lot in 5 years (can you say “Android”) and I am not ready to spend $600 for a phone. Still we need to communicate, so yesterday EW and I walked to an AT&T affiliate store and purchased a SIM card for the old, not-so-smart phone I had in St. Thomas. We still don’t have data, but we can be contacted and can contact others.
Though it wasn't easy in Key Biscayne when we communicated via Sailmail with dear cruising friends Bob and Vicki from Fox Sea, we did get together. We had met them in April of 2011 in Antigua and instantly became friends (that they are excellent and eager Euchre players helped cement the friendship). In addition they are outstanding travelers who have had incredible adventures since we parted ways. Of course we have stayed in touch and they emailed us to say they were currently in Miami, “With a car if you need to get anywhere. We would love to see you.” We didn’t need the car, but we did need a friend fix and invited them to the boat for an early dinner, story sharing, and (of course) a few rounds of Euchre.
The men won more card games.
The Harts won in the friend department. Have I mentioned that we had rainy weather in Key Biscayne? Well that Monday was miserable, with driving rain on their appointed hour of arrival. EW got drenched going in to get them. I got drenched helping EW with the lines, and Bob and Vicki got drenched getting out to the boat. Towels and a change of clothing all around, plus coffee with a shot of whiskey, and we were good to go. It was not a quiet night. Bob and Vicki also had boat problems in Panama and also have stories about getting parts and making things work. They spent time in Guatemala and Mexico, and left their boat for a few months to crew on a boat going from Australia to Africa. Along the way they took tours to visit with native populations, watch birds, and seek out snakes at night in South Africa. (Why?) We sold them on the Azores and commiserated with them about Panama. It was so incredibly wonderful to see them that I can’t even tell you. There aren’t many people you can invite to your boat in a driving rain, especially when they must take a dinghy ride to get here. However, I know that Bob and Vicki aren’t the only ones who would visit us in those conditions. We are very fortunate to have such wonderful friends.
II. Under the Sea in an Octopus’s Garden With You
Flash back to November 1-3. The day before we left the San Blas, we played with new friends, and we are thankful that EW got to enjoy one last and outstanding snorkel adventure before heading back to the states. This was the first time he’d been snorkeling since our time in the San Blas in July. (Having shingles will do that.) Back in July, Jaime and Keith had pointed out a reef they called "The Japanese Garden". It's a dinghy ride (though a longer one than normal) from "The Pool" and we invited Dani and Tate from Sundowner to join us as their dinghy is powered by "Ole Crappy", a 3.5 little chugger.
Dani and Tate invited folks from other boats, whom they had met in Provedencia. Altogether we were three dinghies, and 8 people, from five boats. It's how we roll here in the San Blas. Everyone raved about "The Japanese Garden", which offers scores of beautiful and interesting fish, spotted lobster, at least one (late and now eaten) barracuda, and incredible coral of all different kinds.
Afterward, Tate and Steve from "Tango" went off for further fishing while the other two dinghies attempted to motor around back of the islands for the "scenic" route. One of those dinghies motored all the way back. The other captain took the path less traveled had to rely on two blonds to row through the shallows.
Dani and I are good sports.
That night, Dani and Tate hosted us for dinner of marinated and pan fried dog snapper, mmmmm. They both love to cook, and we love cruising with folks who love to cook. Dani and I planned a joint birthday gathering for EW (the 6th) and Tate (the 3rd)to be held on Monday night. We were going to invite 6 other boats and ask them to bring the standard munchie to share and your own drinks for a night of (crowded) revelry on deck. I was going to make carrot cake.
By now you know that on Monday morning, I tuned in for our first time listening to Chris Parker as a "Sponsored Vessel". We paid for the month of November and had fingers crossed that we would get a window by the 10th. I had plans for those 9 days; plans that included at least two San Blas adventures, much swimming and snorkeling, and many short but important boat projects.
After his normal broadcast, I checked in to introduce myself and to remind him of our intentions. He came back with, "Can you leave today or tomorrow?" EW was in the salon with me and at first we both looked at each other and shook our heads, thinking, "No way!" But Chris continued on with the weather, the possibilities, and that leaving even on Wednesday may be OK, but Monday or Tuesday would be better. After that, who knew when we'd next get such favorable conditions?
So we rallied. Big time. Canceled the party on La Luna, got on the radio to ask anyone in the East Lemons to call us if a veggie boat showed up there. (They tend to stick to the more western anchorages and not as many go to the Holandes this time of year.) EW went up the mast for one project, and then we said our good-byes, and hauled anchor for the East Lemons, arriving at 1430. While we were getting underway, Laura from Gilana called to let us know that the "staples" boat was in their anchorage, saying, "These guys don't often have a lot of fruits and veggies, when they come by I'll call you."
We got lucky, as that boat had plenty of good things. Laura got into the launcha to browse the items while her husband and captain, Mike got on the radio to me. The conversation went like this: Mike stated, "Potatoes." I said "Six, please." Mike said, "Rice." I said "Zero." And so on, down through my want list. They bought and paid for the stuff, put the chicken and broccoli in their fridge, and waited for me to arrive. Perfect. The generosity of cruisers never ceases to amaze me. In addition, Mike advised me about getting rid of that last bag of garbage, and they agreed to hand off an item that belonged to another boat who was not in the anchorage. Mike and Laura took a bunch of monkeys off my back and enabled us to get underway.
At 0714 on November 3 we left East Lemons for Porvinir to check out of Panama.. We arrived and anchored just at 0830, in time for Chris Parker's broadcast and my second talk with him, "Go for it." We expect to motor the first day or day and a half, have up to 30 knot gusts through the "convergence zone" and smooth sailing to just off Isla Mujeres. We hoped to get to the Yucatan in 8-12 days, and crossed our fingers that the weather gods would still love us at the Yucatan, so we could turn right and head north of Cuba to the east coast of Florida and up to Amelia Island for Thanksgiving with landlubber but great boat guests and life friends Stu and Cathy.
As you know, that last bit didn’t happen, but, say it with me….”It’s all part of the Adventure.”
Oh, while we totally understand why Jaime calls this the “Japanese Garden”, both EW and I found that we had an ear worm that evening. We were both humming, “I’d like to be. Under the Sea. In an Octopus’s garden with you.”
Yes, I know that the blog got messed up/closed down/ran only headlines/whatever. Now that we have some time in Miami and I can get online at the wonderful branch library at Key Biscayne, I am working to get things up to date, to edit and repost the lost blogs, and to add photos. So for the next little while, these posts will consist of two parts: (1.) What’s happening in Key West, and (2.) A review of the trip starting from the beginning.
I. At This Moment in Time
We are on a mooring in ….. (see above). Looks like we’re back in Maine! This photo was taken moments after we picked up our mooring. in St. Augustine.
We arrived in time for the 4:30 Bridge of Lions opening and were on our mooring before 5:00 PM after sailing some and motoring most of the way from Miami. We had hand steered all the way, doing “120’s” instead of “90’s”, except for the last day. On Wednesday the fog crept in before sunrise and we were both on watch at helm or radar until 2:00, when it finally lifted. Unfortunately, unbeknown to us, that fog simply moved to the entrance of St. Augustine. Yep, those of you you have entered that “interesting” channel in a rip tide heading out to sea…we did it without being able to see the markers until we were right on them.
No worries. I was taught to sail in Maine. EW has driven boats in the rivers of Maine and New Hampshire. We got this.
As for the rest of the timeline, we arrived in Biscayne Bay on December 3, anchoring outside of No Name Harbor in Biscayne Bay. As of December 6, Miami had broken all prior records for rainfall in December. They are not having a good year. The harbor is well sheltered from the Nasty Northerlies, and here we sat. We have done boat projects, enjoyed wonderfully welcome company, and walked to town a number of times..
It may be fate that we ended up back there—and it certainly brought us full circle. In December of 2010 we spent time here waiting to cross the Gulf Stream to the capital “B” Bimini. That year was also a difficult year to cross and the one-day window fell on Christmas Day. We took it. On December 3rd, nearly five years later, we motored slowly in the somewhat straighter shallow channel, past the old fishing houses on stilts, back to No Name Harbor.
Here’s a photo of what was going on in the Gulf Stream. While we could have motor north in north winds, it wouldn’t be fun, and there would be squalls. We stayed put.
II. The Update of the Recent Past
For this first Update post, let’s look at the timeline to this point.
October 17—One day prior to our fifth anniversary at sea, we announced that we would return to the states, but only as far north as Florida, where I would go back to work and EW would work on the boat. We were (and still are) clear, that once I retire we will head back out to sea. (Being much younger than EW I am not ready for retirement.)
November 2—Chris Parker gave us a “Go Now” directive for a good but short window to Key West. This was unexpected as salty Panama sailors had said that folks usually don’t go until after the 10th as hurricanes can and do form in the Western Caribbean in November.
November 3—We checked out of Panama and headed north, one day later than Chris Parker’s suggested departure.
November 6—EW celebrates his birthday at sea. (I owe him a carrot cake.)
November 9—Dolphin Day
November 11—I jinx our progress by mentioning that we decided to pass by Isla Mujeres. (Some of you know how that worked out.
November 13—We anchor in Isla Mujeres, having decided with Chris Parker that we would not safely get to either Key West or the Dry Tortugas prior to the Nasty Northerlies. (If we had been able to leave on the 2nd, we’d have made it.)
November 17—We leave Isla Mujeres late in the afternoon, heading for Key West (or at least the Dry Tortugas) before the next round of Nasty Northerlies. This time we have a Buddy Boat, the Party of Five, though with only four on board. (Check out this video by Quincey http://www.svpartyoffive.com/2015/12/07/quincys-video/)
November 22—We anchor off Flemming Key at Key West.
December 1—Left Key West for Miami. (Which would be as far as we could get before the next Nasty Northerlies.
December 3—After an “interesting” passage, arrived and anchored outside of No Name Harbor in Biscayne Bay, Miami. We arrived at the entrance of the channel after midnight and anchored on the East side of Key Biscayne until daylight. This is not an approved anchorage but was a safe stop for a few hours and I did keep watch. (Sort of.)
December 14— Moved North. Finally.
We continued to remain upbeat and mostly cheerful. We were thrilled to find we were able to connect with wonderful cruising Friends Bob and Vicki from Foxsea. More stories from our visits with them later.
Finally, an interesting note (to me, anyway) especially for Steve and Alice on Ocean Star (somewhere in the Pacific). Many of us had trouble making bread while in the San Blas. Dani on Sundowner did not. She made perfect sourdough bread with a number of different starters. If I am going to care for another live thing on board it will have fur and give puppy kisses, so no sourdough for us. Unfortunately, my no-fail easy artesian bread from Mike, formerly on Happy Times did not do well in the San Blas.
My pizza dough did fine, so we knew the yeast was good. Must have been the heat. I made Mike’s bread this week and it performed perfectly and tastes great.
We are safe on the Mooring in St. Augustine. There is a new blog post up on our timeline
for this Trek and you will see that we arrived in … fog.
Fog like you find in Maine.
Fog like we sailed in when in Maine.
We know fog.
Florida boaters do no use fog horn signals. We saw them on the radar and we saw them on
AIS and we talked with two of them, but we never heard or saw them in real
life. They were out there. We made it into the channel in the fog and arrived
in time for the 4:30 bridge opening—important because they don’t open the
bridge at 5:00 and we’d have had to wait until 5:30 if we missed the 4:30.
An easy supper, a bottle of wine, a couple of games of Tock,
and we were wound down enough to sleep until 8:00 this morning.
Now we get La Luna organized for “home” life, put of the
Christmas decorations, and I get a job. Life is good.
We have one phone so far, it is now ours but will be Stew’s.
The number is 786-300-8852.