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Posted on July 4, 2017 | 0 comments

The Land of Ma’am

The Land of Ma’am

After 48 hours of sailing, we entered Georgia’s Wassaw Sound that boasts sprawling 3-story antebellum mansions, complete with their own dock and a perfect line of Adirondak chairs. The 90+ degree weather and dripping humidity, however, kept any signs of humanity indoors so our arrival on this July 4th was quiet.

“Good morning ma’am,” was our first encounter with this southern civilization as we tossed our dock lines to the three young men at the Isle of Hope marina outside Savannah. Memories of being Miss Shiera from my Atlanta days came flooding back. “May I take your trash ma’am? Yes ma’am, it’s very hot today. Thank you ma’am, y’all have a nice day.” Ahh, that southern charm.

No sooner had we docked and were settling into our home for the next three nights, I heard the familiar voice of my dear friend, “Hey y’all, welcome to Savannah!” Complete with flowers and birthday balloons from my kids, Kathryn launched the beginning of a fabulous birthday. First stop–boiled peanuts from a roadside stand to accompany a lovely brunch of mimosas, Georgia shrimp, berries, and gluten-free cupcakes. The Stout hospitality even included a doggy fix from their two Golden Retrievers.

Now with full bellies, sleep deprivation really kicked in and we couldn’t get back fast enough to Gémeaux for a nap. Following yet another shower (we took many to combat the high humidity and temps), we drove the dock’s loaner car downtown to join the millions of other tourists visiting the historic squares of Savannah. We spent the rest of the evening with Rachel Henry, who’s all growed up and taking Gulf Stream by storm. She entertained us with stories of how to build and test aircraft and Allen and I had great fun watching Rachel and Jim Moore talk airplane shop. Fantastic views of the Savannah River from the Topdeck Bar on the top of the Cotton Sail Hotel, followed by dinner at nearby Vic’s with a fireworks display just outside the restaurant window completed the perfect birthday.

Later in our sailing adventures we would discover three things–we always visit the local West Marine store, we always hire the local marine expert to fix something on the boat, and we often end up hiring the local expert at the next stop to fix what the first guy repaired. I like to think of it as doing our share to ensure the various local economies are thriving. And thrive they did as we pulled into the Thunderbolt Marina to repair the steering and autopilot issues that the first guy in Ft. Lauderdale repaired. These were issues that we discovered during our night shifts (of course) were not properly working.  No time like an offshore night passage to pretend you’re Christopher Columbus and practice hand steering. But all was not lost–Thunderbolt was an impressive facility in the Port of Savannah and it was our first chance to watch giant 150-foot vessels be lifted out of the water and dry docked, like Larry Ellison’s former super yacht that we just happened to have seen on an earlier sailing charter to Catalina in CA. Nice to know we travel in the same circles:)

While Allen and Jim supervised work on Gemeaux, I had a delightful afternoon being a southern belle with my girlfriend. Kathryn took me to the famous Pink House for a lovely champagne lunch, followed, of course, by ice cream at the famous Leopold’s. One must hit all the famous spots, right?

Not to be left behind, Allen and Jim got a chance to be tourists too after they finished their chores and safely returned Gemeaux to Isle of Hope. Having hiked the 200-mile John Muir Trail through the Sierras, this trio is quite accustomed to walking and it’s generally our preferred method of sightseeing. Given the sweltering heat, however, we chose to do a trolley tour of the city. It turned out to be fabulous and I highly recommend it if you’re headed to Savannah.

We were on our way the following day. So happy to have had the chance to finally visit my dear friend and see her southern home.

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Posted on July 3, 2017 | 0 comments

Sea Artist

Sea Artist

In an instant, the clutter of civilization is behind us and we are surrounded by a canvas of blue as far as the eye can see. The endless view of only blue water and blue sky is both boring and awesome.

The simplicity of it is comforting and gives me a sense of peace. It forces me to notice things I haven’t seen before. Like, how many different shades of blue there are. Or, the yellow butterfly who appeared at the stern of our boat midday when we were 20 miles offshore. Where did he come from? How far can a butterfly fly without landing? I know millions of sea critters live just below but only the occasional flying fish entertains us. Certainly, the sunsets are not just more noticeable, but more spectacular as they break up the blue monotony with oranges and reds.

Tonight, the setting sun ducked behind a puffy cumulus cloud revealing its stunning silver lining. So that’s where that term comes from! Day turns to night and the canvas becomes even more monochromatic as the dividing horizon fades. The stars are bright and the Milky Way runs the entire length of the sky overhead. I notice phosphorous streaks alongside the boat as our motion stirs the water. They’re everywhere–most are small bursts of light, others spread their glow across a couple feet and finally dissipate several feet behind in our wake.

It’s a quiet night with only a few freighters appearing on the horizon and even fewer crossing our path. Soon, the last bit of light from the moon sinks below the horizon and the canvas is now completely black. There is no distinction between sea and sky and we are engulfed in stars with Venus taking center stage. It’s 4:30am and soon the sea artist will open the palette of oranges and reds and draw another day.

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Posted on July 1, 2017 | 0 comments

Wandering Underway

Wandering Underway

When I grow up I want to wander the planet and photograph and write about women. That’s been my dream and today it began. Well at least the wandering began…there are no women yet. Just two men, two of my favorite men. After two days of scrubbing, repairing, and organizing, Allen, Jim Moore, and I set sail in the wee hours of the morning. So different from our arrival two months ago to this busy metropolis, today was eerily quiet, the water calm and flat, even the no see ums were still asleep. It was as though we were sneaking off trying our best not to wake the sleeping giant of Ft. Lauderdale. Within minutes, we merged onto the gulf stream freeway just a few miles offshore and began our northbound journey up the Eastern seaboard.

The crowded South Florida coastline faded and before long we were surrounded by the deep blue sea. Where the sea ends, the blue sky begins on every horizon. In many ways, it’s a very monotonous view that forces contemplation. Or in my case, sleep. So far, my dream of wandering is filled with just that…dreams. The steady motion of the boat rocks me instantly to sleep. And, until my tummy adjusts to the rocking and I gain my sea legs, sleep indeed seems the best solution. Jim Moore is on the same program so we keep the couches warm while Allen, who requires no adjustment time, keeps us sailing north.

Destination: Savannah, Georgia where I’m hoping to spend my 4th of July birthday with my dear friend, Kathryn, in a city I’ve never visited. In order to reach our destination on said date, however, we must sail through the night. To understand how I feel about sailing through the night, read Blog Post, Night Watch is Like Childbirth.  You get the idea. 

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Posted on June 5, 2017 | 0 comments

Squall!

Squall!

At 2am we float quietly away in a dead calm from Ft. Lauderdale’s Harbor Town Marina. Allen and his son, Grant, are at the helm. Down below in our separate berths are Cara, Kate (Grant’s fiancée), and me–sound asleep with the promise of waking to a tropical vacation in the Bahamas. As we enter the Atlantic Ocean, we take a southerly route seeking a better angle on the Gulf Stream. The dark night skies are a perfect canvas to various lightening strikes and distant storm cells on the eastern horizon. They are far away so Allen and Grant just enjoy the show.

A new cell appears and begins approaching from the south. Father and son debate about turning around and returning to Ft. Lauderdale, but decide it’s possible to squeak between the two cells and so they press on. A nice southerly wind comes up, blowing about 12-14 knots, so the small crew raises the sails and sail close-hauled on a course just north of Bimini. After four hours of sailing, we are about 10 miles from Bimini and most of the crew is still sleeping. Another cell approaches from the west. The early daylight exposes the very dark, black ominous color of the approaching storm so we decide to bring down the sails.

Allen gets the jib in and immediately notices that in addition to the dark color, the approaching cell has very strong winds and is rapidly approaching. Just as he starts to lower the large main sail, the incoming 45-knot blast strikes the boat. The wind rotates Gémeaux about 90 degrees and rips the sail off the top two cars that attach it to the mast. As the wind continues to rock the boat, a three-foot section of the sail remains clinging to the top of the mast as the rest of the heavy canvas sail collapses on the deck. Grant is at the helm trying to maintain our position into the wind to reduce the amount of blow onto the boat. I’m sound asleep when I hear Cara at the foot of my bed yell, “Mommy, you need to get up—we’re in a big storm and we lost the sail.” Gathering my wits and fumbling into my life vest, I stumble up to the boom where Allen is wrestling with the wind trying to stuff the sail back into the bag. The boom swings back and forth several feet as the wind whips us around. I’m grateful to have had enough wit to put on my life vest as I’m sure it’s only a matter of minutes before the boom sends me flying over the edge into the sea. Or worse, it sends Allen overboard, the only person capable of sailing this vessel. The broken sail, no longer attached to the mast, is hanging off the back of the boat—the wind determined to blow the sail completely overboard. Adrenalin and teamwork collaborate as Allen pushes on one side and I push on the other and slowly we negotiate the unwieldy mass of canvas back into the sail bag. The tropical vacation in the Bahamas has begun.

We limped into Big Game Club Marina with our 3-foot storm souvenir hanging sadly from the top of the mast. Allen sent me up in the bosun chair to fetch the remainder. Dinner ashore that night was especially nice and all slept well. Heavy winds continued the next day as we pushed off the dock at North Bimini for Honeymoon Harbor. Waves, current, and 13-15 knots of wind, gusting up to 30 knots made progress slow. We decided to duck into a nearby bank which was much smoother but still windy. Honeymoon Harbor had waves breaking across the entrance so instead we anchored off the east side at Gun Cay.

Determined to see Honeymoon Harbor, we took the dinghy to shore and enjoyed a magnificent welcome by 20-30 stingrays surrounding our approaching vessel and slithering around our ankles in the shallow water. A little creepy at first but a very cool experience. Winds finally dropped around midnight finally providing calm.

Winds remained light the next day as we departed Gun Cay and finally anchored in Honeymoon Harbor. Snorkeling proved fruitless as the wind had stirred up the seas so much that visibility was really poor. We left around noon and headed to Nixon Harbor at South Bimini, where we anchored about ¾ miles offshore near the marked channel to an abandoned marina. After we navigated a very shallow anchorage, we snorkeled around Round Rock where we discovered lobsters hiding in the rocks. Determined to have a lobster feast, Grant and Kate made some very creative attempts to catch the spiny creatures with very effective claws. The lobsters won.

The tapering winds seemed the perfect invitation for mosquitos to take up residence on Gémeaux. Grant and Kate appeared to have the best-tasting blood as most of the mosquito army targeted their berth. Of course, we discovered the newly-installed generator wasn’t yet working so without air conditioning, we had to choose between blood thirsty biting beasts or hot, sweaty temperatures.

There was a lot of shuffling between indoor and outdoor sleeping spots and finally at 4am, we declared the mosquitos victorious and took up the anchor and headed out in the dark. Wind was dead calm, which didn’t make any difference since our 3-foot sail remnant wouldn’t have been sufficient to sail anyway. One final mean-looking storm cell hovered over the distant Miami and Ft. Lauderdale skyline but turned out to be only a fabulous photo opp. Alas, a 6-hour motor back to civilization landed us back in the safety of civilization, car accidents, and random shootings. Wonder if we’ll ever get Kate and Grant back on Gémeaux again?

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Posted on April 9, 2017 | 0 comments

Destination: Ft. Lauderdale

Destination: Ft. Lauderdale

The second and final leg of our journey–

Destination: Ft. Lauderdale, FL via the Bahamas
Crew: Allen, brother JP, Jim Moore, and Shiera

4.3.2017  Best laid plans…Jim and JP’s luggage didn’t appear at Provo airport so our planned departure of Monday morning was pushed out to the afternoon. Just as Jim and JP finally bit the bullet and purchased a new sailing wardrobe at the local general store, their luggage appeared. Gémeaux is now outfitted with two extra sets of rain gear! A small hole in the fuel line just 300 yards from Southside Marina was exciting, but we managed to repair it AND stay off the coral! Enjoyed our packed lunch of local fried chicken as we officially got underway on this second leg of moving Gémeaux to Ft. Lauderdale. The turquoise color of the water is unreal!

Not to be outdone by brother Don from part one of this journey, JP put out two fishing lines. Gémeaux once again was a fishing boat. Almost immediately, JP caught a barracuda. Just as he returned the barracuda to the sea, the other line raced. The crowd roared! We pulled in one of the sails to slow down and all hands were on deck to pull in what appeared to be an enormous fish! After much excitement and running around, JP successfully landed a 15lb red snapper! Or maybe it was 500 lbs, Don–it was soooo big! I watched from afar as JP transformed this living creature into dinner filets–hacking bits of the poor critter with a serrated bread knife and scales flying hither and yon in the galley. Note to self: purchase fish filleting knives for JP or provide a scalpel for this world-renown surgeon. We modified dinner to incorporate fresh snapper and sailed through the night taking shifts. Princess Shiera was allowed to sleep off a sick tummy, worse now with the new fish fragrance in the galley.

4.4.2017  Passage continues with this 360 degree view. Occasionally we see flying fish, some birds, or huge freighters on the horizon. Otherwise, we haven’t seen land or any signs of civilization since we left Turks and Caicos.  You really get a sense of how big the world is. After a full day of sailing, motoring, and catching up on shut-eye, we arrived into Flamingo Bay off Rum Cay just before sunset. It was quite a maze dogging hundred of coral reefs. The guidebook assured us it would be “okay,” but before we knew it we were boxed in by coral. With each of us on deck as spotters, our excellent helmsman navigated the coral and we anchored as the sun set behind the horizon. Yummy grilled pork tenderloin and four hearty appetites now that we have all successfully gained our sea legs and put away the Bonine. Night swim and early to bed. Nice to be at anchor.

4.5.2017  Morning drone flyover confirmed the best passage out of the coral maze. Fishing gear out and sails up! Just a brief sail with the Gennaker–mostly motoring as we wished for more wind. Arrived in Emerald Bay on Great Exumas Island around 6pm to refuel and get underway again. However, we couldn’t refuel until we cleared Customs. So, we showered at the marina, did a load of laundry, and waited. Customs finally arrived and we completed all the formalities for a mere $420! Now, of course, the fuel dock was closed. So, we decided to just stay tied up to the dock and have dinner. Besides, we still needed Immigration to clear us. Just as we were sitting down to a fiesta of fish tacos, Immigration showed up. Naturally, the official stayed for dinner. I think it was the highlight of his day–and we loved the chance to learn about the world of human and drug trafficking.

One would typically assume at this point that it was safe to have another round of Bombay gin and collapse into bed to prepare for an early fueling and departure the next day. Captain Allen had a different idea and I knew our plans would change as he said with a mischievous grin, “You know, I was thinking…” After a quick group discussion, we agreed the best wind was tonight and we should get underway to avoid potential fallout from an incoming cold front. We topped off our water supply, pushed off from the dock, and had sails up by 10:30pm. Argh, this night sailing.

4.6.2017  Less than an hour into our sail last night we noticed the block on the main sheet finally failed and the halyard jammed inside. Damn, that halyard sure causes a lot of trouble. Allen and I were on the first shift so I sat dutifully at the helm, while Allen tackled the task of replacing the block…in the dark…under power. What a hero. We continued under power through the night and arrived at Highbourne Marina around noon. Bought fuel and ice cream bars and enjoyed this pretty, private island. After a brief stay, we motored a short distance to Allen’s Cay–seemingly appropriate–with the lure of gigantic iguanas ashore.

Just as we set anchor in these beautiful turquoise waters, Allen noticed a familiar green trawler pulling around the corner. Sure enough, it was John and Debbie on Aftermath, our neighbors from Southside Marina. The sailing world is indeed small. Spent the rest of this sunny day snorkeling and of course feeding the iguanas. Busy little place with about 15 boats anchored by the end of the night. Expecting a shift in the winds overnight as the cold front approaches.

4.7.2017  After a quiet night, we woke to low cloud cover but not the dramatic storm we were expecting. What started as a leisurely departure from Allen’s Cay quickly turned into a rough ride as we endured a 6-hour beat dead into the wind. What a pleasure to finally arrive at Bottom Harbor on Rose Cay just east of the Nassau metropolis.

Great snorkeling and JP actually retrieve a conch for dinner. It was a very entertaining process to remove the conch from its shell involving a drill, hammer, lots of pounding, and even an attempted get-away by the poor critter as it dangled from the fishing rod to relieve the suction. We invited John and Debbie for cocktails to officially kickoff our sailing socializing.

4.8.2017  9am and we were underway with sails up…for awhile. Wind died and we eventually turned on the motors and arrived around 4pm at Chub Cay–a quaint, but rather deserted island with no signs of life. Standard operating procedure now seems to be anchor, play, eat, and then sail through the night to maximize wind and weather conditions. So for playtime, we took the dinghy ¼ mile to some of the best snorkeling I’ve seen so far. Billions of fish, including a bat ray, a small turtle, and colorful, vibrant coral, which until today, I thought had completely expired from our planet. Eating included our final planned meal aboard–steaks and scalloped potatoes. After tonight, soup packets for meals! Now, we are underway again following AfterMath across the Great Bahamas Bank. Water depth is only ~15 feet and with a full moon, we can just make out the many dark patches of water indicating a coral reef just a few feet below our keels. I’m sure we’re maximizing weather conditions by sailing through the night but it sure would be nice to see this amazing place in the daylight.

4.9.2017  I woke at 7am just in time to witness our final sunrise in the Bahamas. In the past, no matter how fabulous the international adventure was, that return to our USA home always felt good. This 2017 return, however, feels very anticlimactic and anything but home. We motored past the iconic lighthouse on Gun Cay, signifying the official entrance, or today, the official exit to the Bahamas. We bid farewell to AfterMath as they head to Key Biscayne and put up the sails for this final leg into Ft. Lauderdale. The seas and skies look the same, but the increased number of container ships every direction indeed confirms we are headed towards civilization.

Mission part two of our 1500-mile journey successfully completed. Gémeaux makeover ready to begin.

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