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Posted on November 20, 2020 | 6 comments

Cat on Cat at Cat

Cat on Cat at Cat

Hello! My name is Zemi and I’m the newest crew member on Gémeaux. You probably know I’m not the first cat to be onboard—there are many tales about the legendary Dot. Did you know that I too have a little dot on my nose? I have a spot of pink skin on my black nose, which obviously means Dot and I share the same noble lineage. I know Dot was an awesome kitty and my parents loved her very much—that’s why they wanted to adopt me. I’m going to keep up Dot’s tradition of telling you my story of being a boat cat on Gémeaux. Look for Cat on Cat posts—those are my stories. But first, let me tell you how I got here. 

I was born in The Bahamas on Harbor Island in Eleuthera. When I was about 8 weeks old, I was taking a stroll and a bunch of dumb dogs started barking at me. I wasn’t scared of them, of course, but a human said the dogs wanted to eat me for lunch so she took me to the Ada Slaight Shelter/Briland Animal Rescue in town. The people at the shelter were very nice—they gave me my own indoor house with mountains of food, and got rid of all the bugs that were pestering my fur. Someone in New York saw my picture on this thing called Facebook and wanted me to live with them—I guess I’m prettier than all the felines in New York. My doctor, however, who lives on another island in The Bahamas, couldn’t give me my shots because of a Covid lockdown. I don’t know what a Covid is—I think it’s a really big bug that lives on humans and makes them stay home. Well, I sure didn’t want the Covid so I was happy to remain in my Ada Slaight penthouse.  

A week passed and I was sitting high on the top story of my home when I first met Mr. and Mrs. Gémeaux. I could tell right away they were cat people by the way they were holding some kittens that were about the size of my head. I tried to get the humans’ attention. Hey up here—come pet ME! Good thing Mr. Gémeaux is really tall—when he came near my house, I reached out my paw and started petting him. Of course he loved me instantly and I won over Mrs. Gémeaux when I let her pet my tummy and purred at top volume. That afternoon, on Friday the 13th, they became my parents and named me Zemi, which is good luck for the humans who live in my part of the world.  

I love my new home that guess what? is also called a cat. No dogs allowed. I get to be with my parents all the time and I can go in and out all day long without begging someone to open a door. I love walking on the roof, although the wind tickles my ears (you’ve probably noticed I have pretty big ears). I have a good sniffer, too, and I can smell when my parents are making something yummy to eat. I try to lend a helping hand but they always put me on the floor when I offer to help. I’m learning all the shortcuts to go right back, though, so I can convince them I’m the best volunteer taster. One night when they were sitting outside, I discovered a bowl of food that was so big I could sit in it and eat everything around me. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen the big black bowl since then. There are lots of toys—strings and ropes hang everywhere and shells and rocks mom puts in little bowls just for me. Hundreds of playthings of every shape and size are on dad’s table that I love to knock around and carry off to my hiding places. Not much scares me except for the red and white stripy thing in the sky. Mom calls it a flag but I’m sure it’s a monster that’s winding up to pounce on me. My parents are teaching me about water, which is everywhere! They don’t let me get too close, which is fine by me because it’s really loud and tries to attack every time I get too close. Mom told me the two aquariums inside the house are safe places to watch the water but every time I try to look, it makes a big splash and I’m sure I’m going to get wet. When I get scared, I cry and go find mom, who lets me snuggle with her until I fall asleep. 

I’ve been a boat cat for one week now. I love it most when my house is still. Mom agrees. Dad, however, loves to move our house around. I know every time we’re getting ready to go because he sits in his favorite chair, makes the house really loud, and then everything starts to move. I like to sit with my parents when they’re together in the big chair, but only if it’s sunny and we’re not going very far. Otherwise, I find a cozy place inside and take a long nap. Today, we’re going to Cat Island! How do you like that!? I’m a cat on a cat at cat! 

I think I’m going to like being the lucky sailor. As my parents say—come wander with me. I’ll share my adventures and if you ever visit Gémeaux, I’ll share my toys with you…as long as you tell me where they keep that big black food bowl.

Love, Zemi🐾

 

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Posted on November 17, 2020 | 17 comments

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to The Bahamas

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to The Bahamas

We should have been sitting on an Italian terrace drinking a fine bottle of Chianti, but a global pandemic tends to alter one’s plans. After another summer of sailing up the Eastern seaboard and exploring our favorite state of Maine, we decided to return to The Bahamas for the winter. There were hundreds of Bahamian islands still to discover and while we wanted to remain in our offshore Covid pod, we also wanted to be within striking distance of the US in case the world really fell apart and we had to return to land. We registered again for the annual Salty Dawg Rally—it was wild and unpredictable from the start.

2019 Salty Dawg Halloween

Like most things this year, the 2020 Salty Dawg Rally was remote. There were no Halloween festivities (although plenty of masks!), no evening social hours, no live discussions swapping stories and forming bonds. Friendships were made across the bows of our boats and lectures were presented via Zoom. Each morning, the fleet of 30 captains would appear in their little boxes on computer screens as weather forecasts, fishing advice, and safety tips were relayed virtually. Also different this year were the new protocols for traveling during a pandemic. As Covid rates continued to soar, countries dependent on tourism struggled to balance attracting visitors with keeping their own residents safe. The Bahamas had a three-step requirement with some tricky timing for those of us traveling by sea.

(1) Submit a negative Covid test to obtain a health visa (valid for 7 days).

(2) Present a negative Covid test (within the past 5 days) upon entry into the country (replacing the previous requirement of a 14-day quarantine).

(3) Test negative one final time 5 days after arrival at a Bahamian health clinic.

Sounds reasonable if you’re flying to The Bahamas. But if it takes about five days to sail to The Bahamas, how can you produce a negative test upon entry when you’ve been at sea all that time? And what happens if weather delays either your departure or travel time so that the 7-day health visa expires after your arrival? Tricky, right?

Three weeks before our expected departure, we decided to visit our families since we expected Covid would derail any holiday travel plans AND it would give us a chance to experiment with a home Covid test. We took a deep breath, put on our masks, flew West for some wonderful family time, and let out a big exhale when we returned and tested negative for Covid. The Everlywell home test was deemed easy to use and, most importantly, returned results in a quick 48 hours. Two weeks before our departure, boat repairs and provisioning kicked into high gear, as we planned for possible quarantine or at least remote living in the islands. We rented a car and ran errand after errand— our cupboards with luxuries from Costco and Trader Joe’s, and filling every nook and cranny with a lifetime supply of ramen and marine-grade toilet paper. We painted Gémeaux’s bottom and wrapped her sides in a sleek gray. We cleaned and scrubbed while fresh water was plentiful, repaired sails and rigging, installed a new anchor, and ran the laundry continuously. At the end of each day, sweat dripping from our brow, our land neighbors would appear on their patio with an evening martini, signaling that it was time for us to shower up and toast a shrinking To Do list.

As usual, weather was driving the exact date to leave. From Hampton, Virginia, we needed that 5-day window of favorable weather to reach The Bahamas. Consistent with the 2020 chaos , weather was erratic. Hurricane Zeta had just passed through the East Coast and tropical storms were still brewing in the Atlantic. We were keeping a close eye on newcomer Eta that would ultimately strike Nicaragua as a Category 4 storm and re-emerge…location and temperament TBD. We decided to do an overnight passage to Beaufort, NC to get one day closer to The Bahamas, wait a few days while the next storm passed, and then depart for the islands when our weather router and crystal ball predicted just barely a 4-day weather window before yet another system moved in. We bid farewell to the other Rally boats who all planned to start their journey from Hampton and submitted our Covid tests for the health visa.

Still recovering from the effects of Zeta, the sea state was rough leaving the Chesapeake at 3am. A big full moon on Halloween Eve and good wind made it more agreeable as we sailed at an average of 8k, reaching a max of 14k when we surfed a wave. We tucked in at the Beaufort City Docks early Sunday morning beside two super-yachts who obstructed our view of the sunset, but also blocked a fierce wind that clocked 40k by 1pm. Covid tests came back negative and our application for the health visa was approved. The 7-day visa clock started ticking.

Two days later, as the US polls opened on Election Day, the wind subsided and we were cleared for takeoff. Antigua-bound rally boats departed Hampton, but only one from the Bahamas fleet left—the possibility of Eta reaching them before they reached the islands forced the other boats to postpone their plans. This gave me pause. I knew our southern jumping off point required a shorter weather window but still weather was just a forecast and it was unsettling to know we’d be in the middle of the Atlantic on our own to face whatever weather came our way. We walked to the UPS box to drop off another round of Covid tests (since the first test results for the health  visa were now beyond the 5-day window of our expected arrival). We crossed our fingers that the results would appear in our email when we arrived in The Bahamas AND that we would indeed arrive within five days. We topped off fuel and fresh water and cast off, leaving behind 30-degree temperatures, an internet connection, and political chaos. I put all my faith into our captain (and the UPS pickup schedule) and hoped the day would bring calm—on the seas and at the polls.

We motored on a mostly windless first day, but I started a regimen of sea sickness meds, nonetheless, knowing the flat seas wouldn’t last. About two dozen dolphins presented a lively welcome back party, jumping all around the bow of the boat. My how I’ve missed the critters of the sea. Just as I thought I would wear a wool hat forever, my toes began to thaw. I stretched out on the rooftop and soaked up the sun. Now in the Gulf Stream—about 60 miles wide at this point—we watched the water temperature increase to 78 degrees. The only sign of civilization were military jets flying over us—practicing, I hoped. After a dinner of chicken burgers and a stunning sunset that turned the sky and sea orange, I declared it bedtime—at 6:15pm. I won’t tolerate any sleep shaming—it’s the only place I find respite from sea sickness and I was determined to fulfill my watch duties, whether they began at 10pm or 2am.  Day 1: 110 miles completed; 560 to go.

Turned out 6pm was a little early for bedtime—I had trouble falling asleep. Eventually I got a few hours of slumber before the captain woke me at 2am to take over. Foremost on my mind, above weather and the status of the other rally boats, was the Presidential election. Our friend, Courtney, began what would be a steady dispatch of political updates throughout our internet-less journey, and we perked up each time the alarm on our inReach satellite communicator announced an incoming message. Her first report, however, left a pit in my stomach—too close to call. I fixed popcorn, started a new Audible book, and focused on the task at hand—driving Gémeaux. Mild temperatures, calm seas, no squalls, no other vessels around—all I needed to do was stay awake. I proudly did so until 6am when the sound of wind woke the captain. A thin line of strata cumulus clouds appeared low on the horizon, indicating that we had reached the trade winds. We joyfully raised the sails while east winds crept to 22k and clashed with lumpy, confused seas left over from earlier gale force winds from the north. It was like being on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but we were making great southeast progress. Our moods, however, were somber and there was little conversation as the infinite sea forced introspection.

The political angst was just part of a jumbled mix of emotions. I realized, for the first time since that frightful night during our 2016 passage to Antigua when our emergency hatch nearly fell out of the boat, I had some level of fear. My mind wandered and I tried to figure out why. Was it weather? Each time the wind increased I wondered if Eta was upon us. Or would the cold front currently stalled in The Bahamas pick up earlier than its forecasted Saturday arrival? What would happen if we reached The Bahamas only to learn that our Covid tests were positive?! What would happen if our country faced another four years of such divisiveness?

It had been awhile since we were this far offshore and the first time we were heading to another country without a buddy boat or crew onboard. We had made the earlier decision to go solo since this passage was shorter and it was unclear if commercial flights would be available to transport crew back to the US once we arrived. As much as I relish the times when it’s just the two of us, and indeed it was so comfortable and our routines so simple, we were alone.

I don’t know what overcame me to start reading The Godforsaken Sea while on a passage myself. I was immediately captivated by this exciting, yet terrifying chronicle of the Vendée Globe—a 4-month sailing race that circumnavigates the globe, including the intrepid Southern Ocean. A true story about all things, far beyond losing an escape hatch, that could possibly go wrong while blue water sailing. Super book choice, particularly when I was at the helm by myself in the dark. Later, Allen and I would confess to each other that we still glance at that damn hatch each time we use the head…just to make sure no water is coming in.

My greatest fear has always been losing Allen overboard. Each time a squall came through and the mainsail needed to be reefed, I would watch him crawl to the mast while seas tossed us back and forth. I’d fix one eye on him and the other on any rogue wave that was sure to sweep him into the sea. I’d play through in my head the required steps to retrieve a man overboard. Mark our position on the chart plotter. Deploy the MOB. Keep a constant eye on the man overboard. Wait! How do I do that when now I have to take down the sails? This is where my heart always sinks. Could I really get the sails down by myself? Could I actually find him in these 12-foot seas in the dark? Naturally, it would be dark because all bad things happen then. I exhaled a sigh of relief as the captain made it safely back to the helm. Day 2: 278 miles completed; 392 to go.

By day three, the comforter came off the bed and the windows stayed open as we ticked off latitudes and closed in on the Bahamas. We had fallen into a routine of eat, sleep, watch, repeat. For me, it was eat, sleep, watch, sleep, and sleep more. No matter how you sliced it, I mostly slept to stave off sea sickness, lying with my tummy firmly plastered to the mattress to avoid moving when the boat shook and rocked. Our watch schedule was loose—Allen would drive until he couldn’t stay awake any longer and then I’d take over. After no sign of life since we left Beaufort, we were back in the shipping lanes and noticed an occasional tanker or even a cruise ship. Wait—cruise ships?! We knew the cruising industry was still shut down so we speculated the cruise ships, which had been anchored in an ocean graveyard since Covid, were moving farther East to avoid Eta. We ate lasagne for dinner (a passage favorite that I prepared before we left) and as Gémeaux churned in heavy seas, the lasagne ricocheted off the sides of the oven. We fixed our mocktails of tonic water and lime over ice and celebrated the end of Day 3: 467 miles completed; 203 to go.

I took over the helm at 2am on the fourth day, stretching out each kernel, each sip, each chapter, to keep me awake. The waning moon was a luxury, lighting an otherwise black void. By daybreak, the scent of shampoo wafted thru the air and I could smell the end of my shift coming soon. Allen appeared freshly showered with his usual, cheerful Good morning!—what a lovely alarm clock. I showered one time during the passage, having found it difficult to stay upright in the shower stall’s washing machine-like conditions. Winds were picking up to a steady 25k and we wondered again if this was Eta making her Atlantic debut. The captain sat quietly at the helm as millions of neurons fired off data points and calculations to assess our present situation. By noon, we decided it wasn’t Eta; just the normal seas and surrounding squalls. Still, winds continued to howl and seas bounced us around, requiring us to constantly adjust the sails.

I could see land on the chart plotter and it was a glorious sight—we were on the home stretch. But which land exactly should we to head to? Green Turtle Cay on Abaco was the closest to the US but required passage through a cut in the reef that would be dangerous in large swell, and certainly not navigable in the dark, which is when we expected to arrive. Romora Bay on Eleuthera’s Harbor Island was the planned destination for the rally and we had already prepaid our stay there. It too had a tricky entrance—the intrepid Devil’s Backbone, named for the very narrow passage between reefs, which would land you on the beach during large swell. We settled on Yacht Haven Marina in Spanish Wells on the leeward side of Eleuthera, offering the best protection from all the predicted swell. We would anchor first at nearby Meeks Patch and then make our way into the marina early Saturday morning before the weather gods really let loose. Initially, we thought we’d reach the anchorage long before midnight but around dinner time, the weather patterns shifted. An evil black wall of clouds spanned the horizon in front of us. I tried to sleep, while the captain kept a close eye on it, but the best I could do was close my eyes as we surfed waves and water pounded the boat like a firing range. No rain ever came and the wind plummeted, forcing us to motor the next hour until wind resumed and the threat was behind us. As we approached Eleuthera around 11pm, our cell phones reconnected and we waded through hundreds of messages and emails, including a negative Covid test. Day 4: 662 miles completed; 8 to go.

We took down the sails just after midnight barely into our 5th and final day and anchored in the dark at Meeks Patch. We joked that even if our anchor dragged, we wouldn’t hit anything since there wasn’t another boat in sight. A toast to safely completing another offshore passage—good girl Gémeaux! We opened the hatch over our berth, which hadn’t been opened since the summer heat in New England, and cool tropical air (and a lot of dust) blew onto us. At 2am, we fell into bed…together. The captain was snoring before his eyelids closed.

The winds, as promised, were already shrieking by the time we pulled up the anchor at 9:30 the following morning and I was certain I’d be blown overboard while putting out fenders. We made the short, one-hour trip to Yacht Haven Marina and recalled our first visit earlier this year when we dinghied from the anchorage to provision at the local market. The Bahamian government had just implemented nightly and weekend curfews to curtail the spread of Covid and most businesses were closed.

Today, the marina was open, yet still quiet—we shared the space with just two super-yachts. Even at .50/gallon for water and a forecast of rain, we were anxious to bathe our girl and get all the salt off her decks. The customs officer arrived midday to clear in his first victims since the new Covid protocol. Masked and sitting 6 feet away from one another on Gémeaux, we presented our health certificates and our negative Covid tests, promised to test again in 5 days, paid the $600(!) annual cruising permit, and we were official. Just as our meeting ended, I glanced at my phone and learned that we would have a new US president.

Wind peaked at 32k in the harbor and rain poured continuously over the next several days, which was exciting to watch now from the safety of a dock. Each morning we woke to an email from the Bahamian government reminding us to fulfill our requirement for the 5-day Covid test. Eventually, marinas would be equipped with the tests but at this early date, we needed to find a local health clinic. That raised our anxiety level. After all the measures we had taken to stay safe, what if we got infected at a clinic?

Turned out the health professionals were just as concerned about US as we stood in an alley at the back door of a medical office and got our noses swabbed. With a final negative test in hand, we were free to travel. All we had to do now was figure out which islands were on lockdown and which areas permitted inter-island travel. Stay tuned for our next update on sailing during a pandemic…

Passage Summary
Miles—670
Hours—88
Water—30 gallons
Fuel—40 gallons
Covid Tests—3

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Posted on May 28, 2020 | 9 comments

Man-o-Warriors

Man-o-Warriors

Covid-19 is closing borders and businesses, forcing people to find a new way of life within the walls of their home. No matter where you are on the planet, Coronavirus seems to be making all the decisions. For us, living aboard a boat, the ultimate dictator is still weather. In April, an incoming storm with 40k winds drove us to the protected bay of Man-o-War Cay in the northern Abaco region of the Bahamas.

The roots of this island date back to the turn of the 18th century when British Loyalists fled the bloodshed of the U.S. Revolutionary War to the nearest Crown territory. A few years later, Benjamin Albury settled on the island as a farmer and started a long list of descendants who still operate many of the family-owned businesses today. Wood carving and canvas-making eventually replaced farming and Man-o-War Cay established itself as the boat-building capital of The Bahamas. A peaceful and conservative community of just 200 people, the island has two small grocery stores, four churches, and a rainbow of pastel-painted homes lining narrow pedestrian-only streets. It carries the distinction of being the only dry island in The Bahamas. Even with the lack of Caribbean rum, Man-o-War Cay had become a popular destination among vacationing families escaping northern winter climates. In recent years, luxury homes sprouted up in local neighborhoods and foreign-flagged boats dropped anchor next to Albury’s Boat Building. Visitors dined at Tommy Albury’s Dock n’ Dine or Neil Albury’s Hibiscus Café and returned home with a souvenir Albury Sail Makers tote bag.

All that changed on September 1, 2019, when Hurricane Dorian struck this island paradise not just once, but over and over again for several days. Residents who rode out the storm witnessed winds that gusted over 200mph and a series of small tornadoes that sheared off nearly every roof on the island.

Man-o-War Cay was no newcomer to hurricanes and to some extent was the perfect hurricane hole, offering protection from surrounding ocean surge. When Dorian struck, the anchorage was packed with boats tethered to mooring balls, which were tied to the bottom of the sea with 10-foot concrete blocks. Cruisers secured their rigging and then hunkered down onshore with residents, expecting the impending storm to blow off a few window shutters. Instead, when skies cleared, entire buildings had blown away and the island was flattened to a pastel apocalypse.

Winds had picked up 40-foot sailboats from the water and scattered them throughout the island like a handful of plastic toys. Boats lay capsized or completely sunk in the water. One single simple 20-foot sailboat remained upright in the anchorage, unscathed by the fury except for some chipped paint on its mast where flying debris had struck. Amazingly, no lives were lost on the island.

As we entered Man-o-War Cay seven months following Dorian, the island still looked like a war zone. Only a handful of boats floated upright in the anchorage; the majority of vessels were still aground or overturned. Various relief organizations had been working hard to resurrect the island but Covid had driven them all away. Today, the island was quiet—only the sound of a few hammers repairing blue-tarped roofs and the distant hum of generators powering an island still without electricity. We took one of the recently-restored mooring balls and settled in for a two-night stay while the storm passed. Two weeks later, we left.

While weather raged outside, we spent our time reading, writing, and doing laundry. The rain washed off weeks of salt water so we added soap and scrubbed the decks. Covid reports brought different news each day. As chaos unfolded in the U.S., we took comfort in listening to The Bahamian Prime Minister, who spoke compassionately about local cases and then outlined a clear directive prohibiting inter-island travel to reduce the spread. Residents understood the rationale but struggled to imagine daily life in a country where families are spread out across islands and provisions are delivered only once a week. Our plans to go to Nassau to pick up an incoming package and to refuel waned as more Covid cases were reported from there. Among the cruising community, there were still several hundred foreign-flagged boats in The Bahamas, who like us, had decided this might well be the safest place to be during a pandemic. The uncertainty of the viral spread and how it might lead to more restrictions or requirements to leave altogether, however, had an unexpected affect on our sailing community. We heard about cruisers becoming very protective of their anchorages and apprehensive about any new arrivals for fear someone would bring in a case of Covid. One cruiser announced that a ferry was illegally picking up workers at a nearby dock and the cruiser would use his own boat to stop the ferry. Emotions ran high as many cruisers took on a new role of vigilante. We decided to stay put. We hunkered down amidst debris from the last disaster and awaited news from the present disaster.

At first, I hated Man-o-War Cay. No matter how the wind turned us, our view was always wreckage. The boat nearest to us had a piling from a dock sticking through its half-sunk hull.

Another had scraps of sail that fluttered in the wind, clinging to a sailing legacy now lost. These were not pleasure boats, easily forgotten and replaced by shinier models from insurance or by a new hobby altogether. These were homes. Just like our home on Gémeaux. It was heart-wrenching to face the loss every day. I desperately missed being in the water but thought certainly it was contaminated with fluids leaching from the wreckage. The whole scene was depressing and I couldn’t wait to get back to a secluded anchorage in pristine turquoise waters. Then the turtles came—not one or two but a dozen little heads popping up from the water, so close I could hear the exhale of their breath. From behind our boat, we heard a sudden splash and caught the tail end of an eagle ray jumping from the water. Nothing brings me greater joy than to be among animals. I was overcome with a sense of peace and optimism that the bay was healing. And if the water was good enough for the turtles and the rays, it was good enough for me. I ignored the murky, green color and jumped in. It cooled my body and warmed my soul. It was glorious. Wreckage still remained all around but faded more each day as I spent more time in the water and the critters I love so much stole the foreground.

Then we met the people. Covid put a stop to inviting people onboard so we created friendships from afar. Each time someone went by, we jumped up to wave. Everyone waved back, most slowed down to chat. Allen formed a unique friendship with a fellow cruiser who swam over to chat about the latest weather, Covid cases, and the general status of things here and across the globe…all the while treading water off the stern to maintain social distancing—two words we had never before linked together. We watched a young family who lived aboard their small monohull side-tied to another larger monohull—a Dorian salvage they planned to restore. All day long, their two little girls hopped from one boat to the other in their birthday suits, while their father negotiated his sledge hammer with visions of a new home. A Canadian couple kayaked by and told us they too were waiting for things to settle down before heading home. Covid had turned their one-week vacation with another couple into the ultimate challenge of friendship—four weeks together aboard their small trawler.

We were particularly drawn to the story of a woman who introduced herself one day from her paddle board and prompted by our many questions, unassumingly told the story of how she had survived Dorian. After securing their sailboat in the harbor, she and her husband huddled together with locals in the school basement while the hurricane decimated the island. After the the storm passed, they were relieved to find their boat still mostly intact and still attached to the mooring ball and concrete block—the entire bundle astonishingly picked up out of the water and moved to land. The couple spent months making their boat seaworthy and then hoisted it back into the water. When they weren’t focused on their own repairs, they worked alongside residents in rebuilding their homes and businesses—all of whom had become like one big family, having endured a life-changing event together. Just when this remarkable couple was preparing to depart the harbor, the husband was called back to the U.S. to help his ailing mother. Now, with a new hurricane season fast approaching, Covid-19 has him stuck in the U.S. and his wife living solo on their boat in The Bahamas. She left us standing in awe as she paddled away with a smile that stretched across her face. I hope she tells her story to the world someday—it will be an amazing read.

Buddy managed the moorings. Every few days, he came by in his dinghy to collect a nominal fee for our mooring ball and to share tales of his life in Man-o-War Cay. Saddened by constant reports of divisiveness in the U.S., Buddy’s story of how all the residents joined forces after Dorian to pull out every single Albury tote bag from the bay left us speechless. He told us how he worked to repair each mooring ball in the bay so visitors would return. Now he lives essentially without electricity because the $400/month fuel cost to run his generator is so great.

One day, Buddy brought us a bag of fresh tomatoes from his garden. A little apprehensive, I accepted this act of generosity but wondered if tomatoes could transmit coronavirus. “Be sure to wash them,” Buddy said, as though reading my mind. “You wanna be sure they don’t have any white flies.” Oh, don’t you worry, I thought to myself, these little puppies are going to be scrubbed and sterilized…little white flies are the least of my concern. “Thank you SO much,” I said out loud, astonished to know fresh tomatoes were growing just on the other side of piles of rubble AND that a person who has lost so much just a few months ago, whose life was turned upside down, could demonstrate such heart-felt generosity. Stories like these make you grateful for your life. They teach us lessons we should all take away.

Days ran together in Man-o-War Cay. We had enough internet to stay connected to friends and family through text and even brief phone calls if we stood on top of the boat. I started an afternoon yoga practice on the bow, which became a happy part of my daily routine. Some days, the wind blew so hard, it blew me out of poses. After the wind died down, however, the water would turn to glass and we could finally see the bottom.There was a lot of debris, but also an endless amount of sea grass, which beckoned the turtles. In the midst of this chaotic world, it was beautiful to wake up and see that kind of calm. Just before Easter, the Prime Minister announced a 5-day lockdown that would coincide with the long holiday weekend. We decided to check out the local market on the remote chance we could find some fresh produce. Out of respect for this community and careful to protect ourselves, we covered our faces with masks. Nobody else wore them but everyone was friendly and welcoming. No fresh produce but the captain got ice cream and diet coke, which by itself made the trip worthwhile.

Two days before the weekend lockdown lifted, we made a decision to leave. The Bahamas had been the best place to wait out a global pandemic and Man-o-War Cay, in particular, had offered an overall tranquility that we desperately needed during these unpredictable times. We had never stayed in one spot for this long and even with the social distancing and lockdowns, maybe because of them, we felt a bond to this little bay. We knew, however, stricter travel restrictions were headed our way. The Prime Minister was working hard to decrease the rate of Covid cases, which were still on the rise in The Bahamas. Weekend lockdowns were becoming the norm and it was just a matter of time before foreign boats wouldn’t be able to move at all or would be sent back to their respective countries. And, of course, we didn’t want to get sick on an island already lacking resources to serve its own community. Tomorrow we would leave this place that had become home.

Without any fanfare or formal farewells, we exited the narrow channel just as quietly as we had entered. The next day, the Prime Minister declared new restrictions that required all cruisers to remain onboard their vessels. You couldn’t move anchorages. You couldn’t go ashore. You had to hire a service to deliver groceries. It was indeed time to leave. We hoped the sense of optimism, resiliency, and kindness that we had learned from this island prepared us for the next unpredictable part of our journey—returning to our own country.

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Posted on March 25, 2020 | 11 comments

Shelter-in-Place at Sea

Shelter-in-Place at Sea

A virus, not weather, drove the decision—certain that this simple, solitary lifestyle was the best place to be; uncertain of how long the government would allow us to stay. Our friends sailed for home in the US, certain that being closer to family and healthcare was the best place to be; uncertain of what home would look like. We bid farewell to Exodus, our sailing buddies for more than a year, as we each decided to navigate this global crisis differently.

We’re in The Bahamas, surrounded by beautiful turquoise water. Sunsets are breathtaking and we find joy and peace under the sea. We rarely go ashore because everything we need is on our boat. We’re fully provisioned, as usual, in case weather dictates a delay or if there are no markets in this remote area. Our water maker converts salt water to fresh so we have drinking water.

Solar panels are charging our batteries. We even have a washing machine. Our plumbing is fragile so we know never to throw Lysol wipes down the toilet. When something breaks, we fix it ourselves…usually:) We forego haircuts and pedicures, movie dates and gyms. This is our normal day-to-day life as live-aboards on a sailboat and essentially it has prepared us for a pandemic.

Outside our 44-foot corner of the world, we know the coronavirus is taking on humanity. Newsfeeds, phone calls from the US, and social media fill us with updates. We wake each morning to heartbreaking reports in China and Italy, and a list of new cases and restrictions being implemented each day. We know lives are being lost and we are deeply saddened. We read about the fear and panic and desperate measures being taken in communities everywhere. We hear about toilet paper hoarding and runs on hand sanitizers. And while in many ways and on many days, we feel completely insulated from the turmoil exploding across the globe, we understand the magnitude of this event. We’re worried too—about our families and friends who are far away and simply how this planet is going to survive. And if this lovely tropical scene has provided any sense of insulation, it all disappeared the day we learned a family member tested positive for Covid-19.

In early March, coronavirus was just trickling into our lives and our sailing community. The biggest decision for us at that time was whether we should cancel two upcoming family trips to visit us. We live for the moments to play host and I was crushed to give up the chance to see my daughter. But the unpredictability of travel and health risks to everyone (including us) were too great. We put selfishness aside and cancelled. Two days later, the US announced travel restrictions, triggering a cascade of change that immediately shrunk our world. Countries started closing their borders to private vessels. Fellow cruisers were no longer allowed into ports and marinas. In some cases, foreign-flagged vessels were asked to leave the country entirely. Where does a US boat go when they’re required to leave the country of Guadaloupe 2,000 miles away? We heard stories of cruisers who just completed a 2-week offshore voyage, only to be denied entry into a country. For many of our friends, their boat is their home—there is no house on land. Even if they could fly to friends or family, there are no available marinas in which to leave their boats. And in three months, hurricane season will be upon us and options will become even more limited. Many of our Canadian and US friends decided to sail back to their respective countries, uncertain of how to provision and fuel en route as each day brings more restrictions. Other friends stayed put—some by choice, some by government lockdown. Our own itinerary landed us in a country with open borders and only a 2-day sail to the US in the event that changed. We decided to stay put.

Then Nassau reported its first case of Covid-19 and the world came tumbling down. We were pulling into a marina to refuel and buy some groceries just as panic began spreading across the islands. The marina staff, all wearing bandanas across their faces, were flustered and trying feverishly to establish a protocol based on the bits of information the Government was releasing. We were allowed off our boat only after our temperatures were taken. We purchased fuel. Groceries, however, were not available to us. It wasn’t clear when the mail boat, which delivers food and provisions each week from Nassau to outlying islands, would come as scheduled. It wasn’t clear, in fact, if the boat would come at all. The Bahamian system of supplying food to its islands is fragile—food was now being rationed for residents and resort guests until further notice.

This morning, less than a week later, we woke to news that the Bahamian government had closed its airports and issued a 24-hour curfew, i.e., a very strict shelter-in-place to reduce viral transmission and to thwart any potential violence in these difficult times. Although this mama would have loved to have had her daughter stuck with her indefinitely, clearly it had been a good decision to cancel the family trips. All non-essential business closed. Jobs came to a screeching halt. Ports and marinas closed. Visitors are no longer allowed in. There’s not, however, a mandate to leave the country so we’re still staying put…anchored offshore in isolation.

I’m not sure how to finish this writing. I’ve updated, rewritten and updated it again trying to keep pace with this fast-changing pandemic. We’re sheltering-in-place like many of you—we don’t go ashore, we interact with few people and only from afar. We have everything we need on our floating home—fuel and propane, enough food for a month. And since laughter is good for all of us—we’re used to spending 24/7 with one another in a small space so I’m pretty sure we won’t kill each other. If we run out of tp, we have a very big bidet off the stern of our boat:) But we worry—what if our water maker breaks and we can’t fix it? Will our warming planet send some erratic weather our way? Will The Bahamas force all nonresidents to leave? Will our families be okay? Thankfully, we are healthy. All considered, we think the best place for us right now is to stay put on Gémeaux. That’s our plan today anyway. Hoping you stay safe and find peace as our planet heals.

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Posted on February 25, 2020 | 3 comments

The Road Less Traveled

The Road Less Traveled

We could have turned right with everyone else but the other direction just 60 miles from Cuba was described as wild and rugged beauty. No fuel, no hotels, no groceries, and only a handful of residents. There was little protection in shifting weather and the main gateway was a very shallow sandbar impassable by many boats. Perfect—we turned left.

The Jumentos Cays is a 100-mile chain of small undeveloped islands in The Bahamas south of the more popular Great Exuma Island. Salt ponds placed these islands on a map in the 19th century when the population boomed to nearly 500 residents on the southernmost Ragged Island. Since the decline of the salt industry in the 1930s, the census has dropped to around 70 people today. These remote Backwaters of The Bahamas are often forgotten and made only a brief media appearance when Hurricane Irma ravaged the island in 2017.

We began our journey at the southern tip of this crescent-shaped archipelago and immediately faced incoming weather. Southside Bay provided protection from strong north winds, while entertaining us with a couple of nesting osprey. Just above low-lying scrappy brush, we could make out a small plane that an enterprising restauranteur had once placed atop his establishment to increase seating and I guess offer a unique dining experience. Today, the entire island sat in stillness below a huge gray cloud that stretched across the horizon. The stormy weather drove our quiet mood as we sipped hot tea on what felt like the edge of the earth.

Three other boats in the bay was…a little crowded for us so when the winds subsided, we motored around the corner to our own private Coco Bay where a sandy ocean bottom brightened the water color and white limestone formed the perfect perimeter. I swam the 100 yards to shore for some snorkeling and discovered that while the water was that beautiful Caribbean blue, winds had stirred up the bottom masking visibility. My heart raced and I was out of breath—just from that unrelenting fear of not being able to see the bottom. I kept reminding myself—it’s only 10 feet of water…there’s nothing there but sand! As underwater rocks came into view, my breath quieted and I relaxed into my pretend I’m a floating log so the fish aren’t afraid snorkeling mode. I stumbled upon a reef alive with healthy coral and came face-to-face with a gorgeous Queen Triggerfish. It was the first time getting a clear view of this creature’s perfectly-detailed rainbow design, including two blue stripes across its face and around its mouth as if its playful creator hadn’t quite mastered makeup application. I returned to the boat with a much calmer stroke, got into a hot shower, and then dressed in fleece, jeans, and SOCKS. Are we really in The Bahamas? Allen grilled Cornish game hens (such a treat) and we streamed the Super Bowl game—so surreal sitting on Gémeaux all by ourselves in the middle of nowhere watching the most famous football game filled with millions of viewers, crazy ads, and oh so many luxuries. One ad or maybe the cost of one ticket would change the state of this island. The dose of civilization made me grouchy. And the 49ers lost.

Trying to embrace civilization, we made our next stop at Hog Cay—a popular anchorage for the few other cruisers we would meet in this hinterland. A palapa stood on the beach, constructed from palm trees and decorated with colorful floats and buoys. Wooden beams inside were autographed with boat names and the years the boat had visited. A few of the regular cruisers had already made their debut this year, having inscribed 2020 to a string of at least 10 years that followed their boat name. Our guidebook said the palapa was the daily meeting place for a 4pm happy hour. Sure enough, at 3:55 dinghys sprang to life, beers popped open and laughter rang from the palapa. We worked up some social courage and headed to shore, equipped with a can of nuts we hoped would buy our way into the club. “Y’all didn’t read the rules,” proclaimed a bearded man with a thick southern drawl. “You’re not supposed to bring food to the sundowners.” And with that, we introduced ourselves and watched an entire can of cashews disappear in 15 minutes.

Quite content with our club of two, we left the anchorage the following day to resume our quest for wild, rugged…and deserted. We settled into a routine of traveling only a few miles each day, discovering one secluded anchorage after another. The pace was perfect as the environment really settled into our bones. We slept late and spent our days snorkeling, reading, and writing. I even baked! Occasionally, we went ashore to walk the beach where sand fell from our feet like flour, or we scrambled through thick shrubs to the other side for that really rugged, windward view of crashing waves.

Once we had sundowners on the beach. There was no cell service or any sign of civilization. Just the two of us and a few hermit crabs who crawled around our feet as we sat looking at our boat and watching the sun set.

By this time I was in a full wetsuit so I could spend long visits with my undersea friends. I was so disenchanted to learn that fellow cruisers regularly hunt conch, lobster, and even the gorgeous Queen Triggerfish. I understood conceptually that it allowed them to spend months in an area without grocery services, but my heart always ached when I heard the stories.

I rejoiced when I found live conch and mature Triggerfish and Angelfish and hoped they continued to thrive in these bays that shall remain unnamed to protect the innocent. Sharks became increasingly more common in my snorkeling arena. While I knew in my head that I was not their target food group, their 8-foot size gave me pause. Suddenly, I wasn’t the biggest creature out here. I found myself frequently looking over my shoulder as I snorkeled, certain that I was being followed. Surprisingly in these healthy reefs, we still found trash. Small in-tact plastic bags littered the bottom of the sea. We collected as many as we could carry and later learned that the bags were emergency water sachets—a low-cost way to deliver fresh water to disaster victims but ultimately landing in the sea. There must be a better way.

Stories of a man who survived Hurricane Irma by tying himself naked to a tree drew us to Buena Vista Cay. Edward Lockhart lived here alone and off the grid for most of his life. He left only recently when poor health forced him to relocate to Nassau.

We wandered his former homestead where animal pens, a rusty drill press, and a water cistern gave us a glimpse into how one very resourceful man could survive for decades on a remote island. Rumor has it that chickens, goats, and even peacocks still run free on the island.

One morning, as I had my head stuck in my writing, Allen slowed the engine down. Normally that means we’re coming into anchor, but I knew we were far from shore and we had a long day of sailing as we neared the end of our Jumentos journey. “Here’s the next attraction on our scenic tour,” the Captain announced with a grin, and I ran to the bow of the boat just as any curious tourist would do. I watched coral heads in 20 feet of clear emerald-green water pass below us and then just like that, the water changed abruptly to a deep blue oblivion. There we were—once again, in the middle of a Blue Hole. This unnamed heart-shaped Hole was reportedly 155 feet deep with a tunnel that ran miles to the deep ocean. See Stuck in a Hole for a close-up on Blue Holes.

We could have stayed in the Jumentos forever but it might have required that we start murdering our underwater friends. I felt a pang of sadness as we pulled out of the lovely, quiet Flamingo Bay and headed back to civilization. The water was so clear we could spot not just fish, but the type of fish swimming alongside—Triggerfish, a Nurse Shark, and many many sea stars. Mask and snorkel not required.

About a mile from the famous Hog Cut, the gateway out of this paradise, we cautiously crept forward and watched our depth gauge drop to 3.5 feet—the same as our draft. It was like driving down the freeway with the gas gauge flashing, wondering if Empty really means empty or could there be just a few fumes left. Would we hit the bottom? Or, was there a little wiggle room in our depth gauge or actual draft? We anchored Gémeaux to make a dinghy recce and confirm the depth through the cut. I jumped in (no diving allowed) and stood in the water at the back of the boat. With the palm of my hand on the sand underwater, my elbow just reached the bottom of the keel. Yikes!

We motored around the cut in the dinghy sticking an oar into the sand like a yardstick—we measured a low point of 3 feet. Hmmm, that’s pretty shallow, but the tide was coming in and the Captain decided it was safe to give it a go. We bumped our way through, getting one hull momentarily stuck, and making a lot of ocean lattes by stirring up the sand on the bottom. But, we made it through to the other side. We resumed our northbound journey—now on the road more traveled. Messages pinged as cell service brought us back in touch with family and friends. By evening, we dropped the anchor in a beautiful bay with a white sand beach…and 150 other boats.

Wild and rugged now just memories.

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