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Posted on October 1, 2019 | 0 comments

Millions and Billions of Lobster Pots

Millions and Billions of Lobster Pots

Daylight emerges ever so quietly in a heavy bank of fog. After hours of uninterrupted seas during our overnight passage from Cape Cod, lobster pots make their debut. Suddenly, a loud CLUNK! against the hull draws us all to attention. With only ¼-mile of visibility it’s nearly impossible to see what’s out there, but we’re certain we’ve run into our first lobster pot. Instead, we see a black shark-like fin surface from behind our boat. Our first sun fish with its huge black circular body, bobs away, unfazed by the newcomer in this northern state, and apparently unfazed by a hard, fiberglass hull to the head. Occasionally in this obscured visibility, we stop conversation and say, “Did you hear that?” and then the three of us listen intently to determine if it was a horn or an engine and, more importantly, are we going to collide with it?!

Welcome to Maine.

Dense fog and limited visibility continue all the way to Bar Harbor where we tie up temporarily to a fisherman’s mooring ball for a quick dinghy trip into town to rent sea kayaks. It’s so disorienting to not have any sense of direction or our surroundings in this white landscape, but we manage to get the kayaks onboard and set off to anchor in nearby Northeast Harbor. Barbara and I take turns standing on our little carpet that warms the helm’s chilly floor, being spotters while the captain expertly navigates through never-ending fields of colored buoys.

Over the next week, Barbara and I take our sea kayaks and explore the Maine coastline. Sprawling cabins with four chimneys sit majestically on acres of lush green lawns amidst thick forests of pines. Each homestead is tethered to the water with a long wooden dock that rises and falls with this huge 10-foot Northeastern tide. The variety of boats complete the landscape—noisy lobster boats, weekend motor boats, and beautifully hand-crafted wooden sailboats of all sizes. Rarely do we spot another catamaran.

Even in the beautiful Somes Sound fjard with its thickly-wooded sloping shores that pour into the blue sea, lobster pots litter the water like an urban hillside of Easter eggs. Each day we paddle a little farther, spotting loons, mergansers, and bald eagles. We search for little creeks, take in the detail of seaweed, paddle through dark skies and rain storms, and talk to locals and lobster fishermen. Did you know that 90% of the pots belong to commercial fishermen who hoist up nearly 100 pots a day?

And then we eat lobster…again and again. And it is spectacular. We order it at Abel’s waterfront restaurant, from small docks and diners, and ultimately from the lobster fishermen themselves when they pull up their pots just off our stern. After all, we spend each day navigating around all these lobster pots so of course we should participate in the benefits of the whole industry, right?

Barbara returns home and we continue sailing in Maine with our buddy boat, Exodus, who plays tour guide to their many favorite islands and anchorages. This small state of Maine with more than 4,500 islands has more coastline than California. Every inch of it is stunning. We discover Bucks Harbor, home to Robert McCloskey’s famous children’s book Blueberries for Sal. In this authentic rural fishing village, mom runs the dock, while her daughter studies in the back office for AP exams and her two sons play nonstop with cars on their chalk-drawn driveway city. A 10-year old girl in pigtails and glasses brings in her daily catch. Her lobsters weigh in at 8 pounds on the store sale and the little girl happily runs off with her $32 profit.

Almost a year ago, on the Suzie Too Rally, we met Al and Maggie aboard Sweet Dreams. Today, we visit their home near Pulpit Harbor, a cozy harbor of nearly 100 boats flanked  by a huge osprey nest. We spend an amazing evening at the Turner Farm, where staff greets us with gin and tonics as we wander the farm taking in rows and rows of flowers and vegetables, which later appear on our plates for a delicious 6-course dinner.

Maggie takes us to their local farmer’s market in Vinylhaven, which is the epitome of small-town fun—one produce stand, one guy selling homemade bread wrapped in tea towels, another gal selling lamb grown locally on the island, and about 8 kids marketing lemonade, cupcakes, and rice krispie treats. Everybody knows Maggie and we delight in getting a glimpse of her life in rural Maine. Continuing to be the ultimate hosts, Al and Maggie lead a hike around their island, followed by a yummy lobster dinner at their cottage. If you ever have the pleasure of Maggie cooking for you, be sure to request her cornbread with a secret ingredient.

As we approach the end of August, we join a 3-day rally sponsored by our Ocean Cruising Club’s local port captain, who escorts about 20 boats on a fabulous itinerary to Sea Island, Hurricane Island, and Maple Juice Cove, where American artist Andrew Wyeth created his famous painting of Cristina’s World.

Before this short sailing season ends, however, we want to reach the furthest northern point of Maine so we leave the rally and head down east to Roque Island, which sits just this side of the Canadian border at 44 degrees North. I love the rugged landscape and the secluded bay of Bunker Cove, which we share with about 15 seals who swim so close we can hear their breath. Mid-morning on the following day, we deem the tide ideal for mussel foraging. My neoprene glacier gloves are the perfect solution for picking off clusters of sharp, barnacle-covered mussels from rocks just below the surface of the water while Allen guides the dinghy around the shoreline.

Back onboard, the two captains sit on the stern of their boats, searing off barnacles until the mussels looked restaurant worthy. Ronna and I cook a delicious wine and garlic broth for our fresh mussels and the meal is spectacular! …and nobody died:)

All in all, the weather this Maine season is gorgeous. The lack of wind often forces us to motor instead of sail, but we’re grateful for many many sun-filled, albeit cold days. It’s hard to imagine that in a few months we’ll be dripping in Caribbean sweat. For now, however, we enjoy lazy mornings snuggling under down comforters until someone works up the courage to make coffee. When we do sail, the Captain has mastered a unique method for spotting lobster pots:)

The water temperature is about 50 degrees. The captain has made two very fast dives to dislodge lobster buoys that have become one with our props while tied to mooring balls…brrrr. Although there’s no snorkeling and we paddle board very carefully to stay dry, we explore ashore at nearly every anchorage. We pick wild raspberries and blueberries on Mistake Island; hike to Jordan Pond from Northeast Harbor to enjoy hot popovers; visit more sailing friends in Sorrento, warm our bodies on large granite slabs scattered throughout Merchant Island; hike to the 556-foot! summit on Isle au Haut in Acadia National Park; and learn that in fact before Plymoth AND Provincetown, those busy pilgrims arrived on the little Maine island of Damariscove. We need to update our history books!

Monhegan Island is love at first sight, albeit its long list of rules. The island is 1.4 miles long and nearly a mile across, but stands majestically alone 10 miles from the mainland. We raft together with Exodus for two days of communal living on one of the few available mooring balls near a small rock outcropping, which is flush with nesting gulls and cormorants and seals basking in the sun. Protected woodlands offer several trails on the island that wander through dense forests of spruce and fir and then open up high above a rocky coastline below. For once we can see more than just heads of seals, the clear water exposing their entire bodies drifting vertically in the surf below.

Local crafted beer (and tater tots!) at the Monhegan Brewing Company is the perfect reward for a long hike, followed by a lobster dinner from the Fish House Fish Market that we enjoy back on Gémeaux. Equally as beautiful as the forest is the town of Monhegan—home to many local artists, inns, shops, the world’s first solar-powered post office, a farmer’s market, and a general store that carries all of life’s necessities, including fresh-baked baguettes. Smoking is strictly prohibited anywhere outside the village to avoid destroying the entire wooded island in a nano second. Through rain sprinkles the following day, we explore trail #11 in Cathedral Woods that leads us through dozens of  fairy homes, creative miniature constructions using bits and pieces of surrounding nature. We seek shelter from the rain and tour the Monhegan Museum, fascinated once again by the array of historical artifacts that these rural islands manage to collect. On this day after Labor Day, lobster pots begin appearing as Monhegan’s fishermen return to being lobstermen after a busy season of playing deep fishing guides to visitors. It’s time for us to go.

Even though we are far north of the hurricane line, Dorian threatens the Eastern seaboard, having just devastated the Bahamas. We alter plans, as weather often dictates in this sailing life, and head to DiMillo’s Marina in Portland where a slip costs us $200/night…ouch! Hurricane Dorian ends up bypassing Maine so we simply enjoy the sights of this lovely town built on cobblestone roads—martinis at Blythe and Burrows, lobster mac and cheese at 555, and the best…provisioning at Whole Foods.

In only four weeks, we’ve covered about 500 miles of Maine, just scratching the surface. We bid a sad farewell to this remarkable state and begin our southbound journey, props in tact and no lobster pots dragging behind.

Click here to view our photo book of Maine.

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Posted on August 1, 2019 | 2 comments

Hey Gémeaux–Where Did You Go?

Hey Gémeaux–Where Did You Go?

New Year…near year’s resolutions—I’ll write more! I actually do write an entry every day in our log book but all the sailing talk would bore you. You know I love to write and really I want to keep you up-to-date on all our adventures. Did you also know I get sea sick? Yes, an occupational hazard. So when we’re sailing I can’t write, or read for that matter. I do all my reading through Audible books now. When seas are calm at our anchorages, I swim or snorkel or hike or explore town. Sometimes I do laundry, sometimes I provision the boat, i.e., walk or take the dinghy to a market and schlep groceries back to the boat. (Stay tuned for an article on provisioning.) When we have company onboard, forget about writing. And of course, there’s always a long list of projects and stainless steel that needs to be polished. You don’t really think I sit around and watch sunsets all day, do you?

Okay, let’s bring you up to date because we’ve covered a lot of ground and we’re going to be covering more. One more excuse—it’s hard to keep up!

Most insurance companies define hurricane season between July 15th and November 1st. During that time, your boat must be either north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina or south of Grenada to maintain regular coverage. In 2018, we pulled Gémeaux out of the water and she sat on the hard in a Grenada boatyard for hurricane season. For the 2019 summer, we decided to keep her in the water and sail to Maine. The Suzie Too Rally to the Western Caribbean (See Rally Reflections) finished at the end of April in Belize. We needed to put on some miles to get all the way north to Maine for the summer. One month after the rally ended, we were sitting in a marina in Annapolis, Maryland. We sailed nearly 5,000 miles during that season, 2,000 of which we covered in the final 2-3 weeks making our way up from the Caribbean, past Florida, and into the Chesapeake Bay. I didn’t write much at that time:(

While we ran around the country in June, visiting family and making sure the California house was still standing, Gémeaux remained in Annapolis for a little facelift—galvanized anchor chain, carbon fiber sails, and new 1200 watt solar panels were the most exciting. And you thought only seeing an octopus tickled my fancy. Finally, after nearly six weeks, we snuck out of the marina one pre-dawn morning, pointed Gémeaux north, and headed for Maine.

Since it’s about 600 miles between Annapolis and Maine, the Captain graciously allowed a few stops along the way. We stuffed our faces with Maryland Blue Crabs in Cape May, NJ; rented bikes and ate hot donuts from Payne’s Killer Donuts on Block Island, RI; and watched 12-meter sailboat races with Jim Moore off the coast of Newport, RI—the sailing capital of the U.S. Up and down the east coast, we sailed with dark-hulled monohulls and weekend sailors. We were definitely the black sheep in our double-wide.

July was family month—first my dad and then my niece and nephew. New England proved to be the ideal destination for these visits—short day sails, lovely beaches and anchorages where we could paddle board and swim, lots of seafood, and ice cream everywhere. I’ve spent little time on the East Coast so I thoroughly enjoyed finally seeing Martha’s Vineyard, Chappaquiddick Island, and my new favorites—Cuttyhunk and Hadley Harbor. We even witnessed history as a water spout and record storm with 65 knots of wind struck the area. I loved having the kids onboard—teaching them to paddle board, playing for hours in the sand, watching Kyle fish for hours, and watching Sydney’s horror when Allen first showed her how to shuck oysters and then ate the critter.

The revolving door continued into August as our dear friend, Barbara Thomas, came onboard in Plymouth, MA and sailed with us to Maine. First stop, however, was Provincetown on the northern tip of Cape Cod. And what an absolute delight. We explored great shops and galleries, met up with long-time Park Service friends, climbed the Pilgrim Monument, kayaked and paddle boarded up and down the bay, and hiked the Dune Shacks Trail and gorgeous shoreline. I even had a spa day—haircut, massage, and chiropractor. Most importantly, we learned the REAL story of where the pilgrims landed—in Provincetown of course.

Next stop…Maine.

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Posted on July 16, 2019 | 6 comments

Rally Reflections

Rally Reflections

Eight months ago I sat amidst charts and maps learning how to spell Huaritcheru. I noticed that the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia are actually closer to Nicaragua than to Colombia. That Colombia is a country and Columbia is a city in the U.S. I still had little experience sailing and zero experience with the geography of the Western Caribbean. I didn’t know that the Panama Canal was 50 miles long with a lake in the middle and I certainly didn’t know where the heck the San Blas Islands were. I’d never seen an octopus, a green flash, or a Guna Indian. By April 2019, all that had changed and it’s just now, in the familiar comforts of the United States, that my mind has settled and the experience has finally sunk in. When at last I don’t need to interpret the language or wonder how to buy groceries. When there are no more opportunities to snorkel, dive, hike, noodle, host dinner, be hosted, drink, and be toasted with 40 other boats always eager to fill a social void like a dorm of college students. It’s over. It was exhausting. And it was an experience of a lifetime.

“You’ve created an entire civilization down here,” Cara observed when she and Nick visited us in Santa Marta, Colombia to get a glimpse of our lives on the Suzie Too Western Caribbean Rally.

True—we had book club, yoga, Spanish lessons, haircuts onboard, and dinner with friends practically every night. We also gave back to our community–we had trash pick-up days and donated to a local children’s charity. Different from life on land, we were still learning the names of our new friends and we gathered on sailboats instead of in cul-de-sacs. These new friends welcomed my kids to our little civilization like a bunch of doting grandparents. In turn, my kids got a true sense of rally life and blue water sailing (complete with Scopolamine patches). Before long, Nick was helping Allen dock rally boats at the marina and Cara took on the role of chief Spanish interpreter. In Cartagena, we explored the Old City fully adorned in Christmas decorations and twinkling lights strung from archways that created tunnels of festive color.

Later, after spending Christmas in California, Allen and I would return to Cartagena to celebrate New Year’s Eve. We joined millions of people that night all clad in traditional white, with pop-up dinners and dancing in every street and alleyway. And just like that, January 1, 2019 arrived and we sailed to our next destination—the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. The contrast couldn’t be more different.

Most of the San Blas archipelago of nearly 400 islands is uninhabited and all could be uninhabited by the end of this century if the sea level continues to rise. Islands are named in the local Guna language and most end in dup like Uargandup and Narasgandup. You can walk the perimeter of almost every island, weaving through palm trees on white sand beaches and sea stars in the aquamarine water. The indigenous Guna Indians are fierce protectors of their Guna Yala countrydiving is prohibited to preserve the coral reefs and travel to the islands is highly restricted.

It’s illegal to take coconuts from the island, even if they’re on the ground. Most Gunas are fisherman and many today sell their beautifully crafted molas, clothing that originated from the women’s tradition of painting their bodies with geometric designs. Some residents speak Spanish; few speak English. There are no cars, supermarkets, newspapers or Internet. And sadly, there is no way to combat trash, specifically plastic, which is a growing problem from the influence of Western civilization and the ocean’s current from urban areas that reach as far as Africa.

The San Blas is the perfect destination to explore by boat so we spent more than three weeks sailing from island to island. We rarely went ashore; instead, we played constantly in the water. Snorkeling was exquisite as we added turtles, spotted eagle rays and nurse sharks to our growing list of favorites.

Fresh lobster!

As provisions dwindled, potluck dinners became more creative. Potatoes went in everything (except salad!) and I learned that cream cheese can be served with almost any canned food to be called an appetizer. Guna Indians would paddle by in their wooden ulas to sell a couple of lobster crawling in the bow of their canoes. Occasionally, we were lucky enough to buy produce from a Guna who paddled all the way to mainland Panama,

Line at the supermarket!

procured items from local markets, and turned his canoe into a floating vegetable stand. One particularly industrious Guna with a particularly large canoe (and motor) appeared in our anchorage late during our stay when fresh stores were completely gone. Rally boats lined up in dinghies, anxiously waiting their turn to buy pineapple, papayas, carrots and anything green. Slightly wilted lettuce never looked so good.

The social calendar remained active in the San Blas. Allen’s brother and family successfully navigated the travel restrictions to join us for a week of snorkeling, great dinners, and lots of laughs over our new favorite game, Codenames.

In between company and rally events, the Captain and I would sneak off to an unnamed island, drop anchor, circumnavigate the perimeter with a mask and snorkel, enjoy the quiet of a few nesting hawks, and declare the island Gémeaux-dup. Sitting in our anchorage today outside Newport, Rhode Island, watching cars traverse the bay bridge, airplanes traveling overhead, and boats tacking every direction, I can hardly believe that a place like the San Blas exists on the planet. I do hope in my lifetime that we find solutions to climate change and the plastic trash that are devastating these treasured lands.

In February, we returned to civilization with a bang. Enormous westbound freighters with containers stacked 20 stories high waited in queue at the entry of the Panama Canal as their eastbound counterparts exited in between them. Our marina was just outside the canal giving us front row seats for this dramatic maritime commerce.

While we stayed on the east side, we bid farewell to several Rally boats that transited the Canal for their western voyage to Asia. It was an amazing education to see the preparations for their passage and to actually watch several vessels go through the locks of the canal. It’s hard to believe this engineering feat that so significantly impacts our modern world began construction in the 1800s. 

As if the Panama Canal wasn’t enough to captivate us, Shelter Bay marina’s backyard was a magnificent nature preserve. At sunrise and sunset, great roars from nearby howler monkeys would echo through the trees like a haunted house.

Capuchin monkeys and dozens of bird species made curious bird watchers out of all of us. Even a sloth posed perfectly for my camera. Our stay in Panama ended with a weekend to explore Panama City, where we savored electric flowers in our gin and tonics, delighted in the bulk food selection at a Costco-like store, and languished in hot showers at the Hard Rock Hotel. And still the rally wasn’t over.

After watching so many rally members tout their scuba experiences in this diving mecca, I decided it was time to refresh my certification. The Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia were the perfect places to do that. I had the good company of others in the rally at the same experience level and together we rediscovered the skills and witnessed some amazing creatures like reef sharks. Ask me 20 years ago if I thought I’d ever swim with a shark! 

San Andrés is renown for its duty free shopping. Residents from mainland Colombia swarm the little island and leave with overstuffed shopping bags. The ladies of the rally took a break one day from working on boat engines to participate in the folly.

While I couldn’t justify buying high heels for life on a boat, I did thoroughly enjoy lunch and sangria at a restaurant where you tossed your shoes aside to rest your tired feet in the sand. Later in the week, we dragged the boys out of the engine compartments to rent mopeds and golf cart mules—this was not a difficult sell. Relishing the chance to drive something other than a boat, the captains loved every minute of navigating through bustling streets to circumnavigate the islands. I’m still astonished that people find sailing dangerous 

Rally friends Exodus on their stunning Hylas 49

In fact, the next leg of our journey would prove to be dangerous…or at least we prepared for danger. Pirates. We hear they’re out there and we do our best to avoid them. When we sailed from Grenada to Bonaire, we took a route that purposely kept us 100 miles from the Venezuela shore. In Colombia, our Rally leaders collaborated to have the local navy in or near our anchorage at all times. Eager to encourage more boating tourism, the governments of these countries want to avoid crime and incidents as much as we do. Three days later, our flotilla of four arrived safely in the Honduran Bay Island of Guanaja. The dinghy dock where we landed to clear Customs and Immigration actually proved more dangerous than our journey—boat boys fighting over their claim as guides landed one of them in the drink and the other barely missing a blow to the skull with a metal pipe. Not being the target of the dispute, we found the scene completely entertaining. Nonetheless, we were anxious to leave the crowded town center built on this tiny reef where 10,000 residents live shoulder to shoulder—no wonder tempers flare.

By afternoon, we were sitting under  palapas built in the water, sipping piña coladas and eating French fries and fresh ceviché—paradise after two nights at sea and a long 24 hours to clear into the country. Largely undiscovered by tourism, Guanaja boasts lush mountainous pine forests and world-class diving as it is situated on the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, the second largest reef in the world after the Australian Great Barrier Reef. While our itinerary allowed only a few days to explore, Guanaja holds fond memories; quietly snorkeling on my own, I saw my first octopus.

32 miles away still on the barrier reef system is the larger, more popular and more populated island of Roatán. Ten years earlier, I visited this island with Cara, where friends hosted us in their beachfront cottage and we became certified PADI divers. As luck would have it, our friends were on the island again AND Cara was coming to visit! We transformed Gémeaux into a day charter as we returned the earlier hospitality and made sailors out of our friends and their families. Cara and Matt snorkeled each day off the back of the boat, watched dolphins play off the bow, and joined us in discovering the Roatán Brewery—local craft beer and corn hole just like home. Their 5-day visit ended too soon and it was time to send the children home—a teary farewell as the water taxi fetched them directly from Gémeaux to take them to the airport.

We washed the sheets, restocked the fridge, and prepared for the next company. After a long day of weather delays, Gary and Courtney finally arrived looking like pack mules bearing U.S. foods we missed and boat parts for the entire rally. We introduced our land friends to our cruising friends and celebrated our good fortune to have all of them in our lives with a lovely dinner ashore at the 5-star Ibigari. Always a treat to have Courtney onboard, we gave her run of the galley and she gave us delicious meals. She showed me how to make sauces and I showed her how to spot eels and sharks off the reef. We talked and talked, drank champagne on the bow of the boat, and talked some more. Ah, girlfriend time.

Gary and Courtney joined us on an overnight passage as we followed the Mesoamerican barrier reef system west about 100 miles and entered the country of Belize—our final destination in the rally. Boring as it seems:), we never tired of exploring new islands and sharing our excitement each time we discovered a new fish or unusual coral. When it came time for Gary and Courtney to leave, we started planning for their next trip to Gémeaux—the only way we could bear to let them go.

Once again, we washed the sheets, restocked the fridge from a veggie vendor on the street, and prepared for another round—just a short but always enjoyable visit from Jim and Jane.  When at last we settled into the Placencia Marina to celebrate the end of our 6-month rally, less than half of our original 40 boats remained. So many had transited the Panama Canal, left early to pursue their next journey, or were still getting their fill of fabulous diving in Roatán. Already the mood had changed without the full group and we felt the void these new, but deep friendships left. On the other hand, a smaller group in a marina environment allowed us easy access to one another. Just like neighbors in a cul-de-sac, we’d hear the rap rap rap on the hull like the doorbell at the front door. We’d find someone standing on the dock to borrow a part and they’d end up staying an hour, weighing in on the latest mechanical issue or weather forecast. We’d become deeply entrenched in our civilization and were acutely aware that in a few days our cul-de-sac would stand empty again.

It’s difficult to express how life-long friendships can form in such a short time but it’s inherent in the cruising community. We come from different careers, lifestyles, and countries. We share not only a love for sailing, but for adventure and for a simpler life. We accept the risks and dangers in exchange for the thrill of exploring. We pause to watch the sunrise and sunset and know that the sea is not just blue but a hundred variations. We face uncertainty, illness, loneliness, and sometimes death, realizing that it could easily have been one of us. The Suzie Too Western Caribbean Rally brought us experiences of a lifetime and left us with lifetime friends. Sitting alone in Belize’s famed Blue Hole, we reflected on the irony of the hole in our hearts that the rally left. Fair winds and following seas until we meet again.

Click here for our photobook about the Suzie Too Rally.

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Posted on June 15, 2019 | 0 comments

From Dot’s Diary…

From Dot’s Diary…

When your sweet kitty leaves a hole in your heart, it’s a real treasure to revive some memories. Hidden deep in a pile of half-finished stories was this fun account from our sweet Dot. May it bring you a smile:)

You won’t believe what I saw this morning as my mom was giving me a spa treatment with the brush. She does this a lot—she says it helps keep all my gorgeous locks out of the bilge, whatever that is. Anyway, I was lying on my back, relishing in the sun, when suddenly I saw this thing hop across the water. It looked like one of those fish my dad has in his big tank at home but then it was flying like a bird. It was crazy. It just hopped along the water and almost landed on me in the boat. I quickly jumped up from the massage table and got down low in my stealth mode, quietly waiting for this thing to reappear. A thousand thoughts are flying through my mind. I decide that I don’t care about all that water. If that thing jumped again I was going to tackle it, kill it, and bring it to my dad in bed. I love to bring him gifts in bed. Sadly, that flying thing never came back but I’m gonna watch for it.

So you’re probably wondering how I’m doing and wondering how long I stayed in the closet. I know a lot of you thought I would fail at this boat thing, but I’m a survivor. Don’t you remember before I became a princess I lived outside and hunted my own food? Mom says I was called a feral. I think that’s some kind of mythical goddess because I pretty much rocked that life.

Anyway, I’m rocking this life too. I just stayed in my dad’s closet to complete all my studies. I needed to learn why the floor always moves. How does the water in my bowl fall out of my bowl when I’m drinking? I needed to learn what all those boat noises meant. They were scary at first but frankly they’re no worse than the guy at home who scares me death when he blows all the leaves from my favorite hiding spots. Speaking of leaves, where did they go?

Anyway at first, nighttime was my very favorite. I remember as a youth when I lived outside, nighttime was the safest time to hunt and play. It was dark and quiet and all the scary people and their scary dogs go away. I could sneak out of my hiding places and go explore. So, I figured that was true here too. I know I’m supposed to stay inside the ropes mom calls lifelines and never ever jump off the boat. Most of the time I’m okay with that. Look, I admit I like to drink water out of the sink and it doesn’t bother me when my paws get a little wet. And when it rains, I kind of dig how it feels when it cleans my beautiful pelt. But otherwise, I do not like water. I don’t like puddles or bathtubs or sprinklers or hoses. And I definitely do not like all this water around me. So not to worry, I’m staying on the boat.

However. Sometimes the boat is on a long leash and water’s actually not everywhere. When nobody is looking, I sneak around the outside of the boat and I can see dirt and trees and GRASS! Oh man I miss grass. I want to eat grass. I want to eat so much grass that I throw up all over the place. I can probably get over to that grass if I just do a little jump. Well maybe not, there’s kind of gap between me and that grass and it’s filled with a bunch of water. I could fall and I’d get wet and my mom would be mad because she told me never ever to jump off the boat. Hmmm, what to do? And just as I’m weighing the pros and cons of this idea, I see something run across the grass. There it goes again. Wait, there’s one…two…three…oh man, there’s a whole bunch of them. They’re CATS! I hate cats. I mean I know I’m a cat, but I hate other cats. They’re almost as bad as dogs. They steal my food and pee in my box, and they’re just mean. They like to scratch and bite and they ruin my hair. Maybe this is why mom tells me to never ever jump off the boat. But dang, why do they get all the grass?

So I don’t leave the boat unless my parents take me to my old home in California. I’m a good cat. Yes you were Dot…you were the best and we miss you:)

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Posted on May 15, 2019 | 0 comments

Stolen Hearts

Stolen Hearts

None of us was prepared to have our hearts stolen. Our goal was to drop off several bags of clothing, toys, and school supplies that fellow boats from the Suzie Too OCC Rally had donated for a local charity in Colombia. My goal, as a portrait photographer, was to capture images of the children and their mothers and give them a photograph to treasure.

FUNDEHUMAC formed initially in the 1990s to support victims of Colombia’s violence and corruption, offering counseling and assistance to access government relief programs. Today, Alba Moreno, founder and president, operates this nonprofit organization from her home in Santa Marta, serving children as young as 3 years old, many of whom are orphans, victims of violence, and/or children of single mothers. In addition to human rights and micro-lending programs, FUNDEHUMAC provides scholarship and community action training for 21 university students and counseling and economic support (e.g., school uniforms and books) for more than 125 displaced primary and secondary school children. As part of the scholarship terms, students must maintain meritorious academic work and provide community service, which includes administrative support for FUNDEHUMAC programs.

Singing and music bellowed from the building as we entered through a narrow hallway decorated with colorful murals, which now boast certification by Colombia’s Network of National Museums. Later we would learn that the artwork represents cathartic expressions of mute victims from the Wiwa and Wayúu indigenous communities. Teenage children dressed in brightly-colored traditional costume entertained us with festive Colombian folk music, while younger children in simple matching shirts sat quietly in front, as curious about these navigators of the world as we were about them. An interpreter presented Ms. Moreno’s welcome and overview of how the various FUNDEHUMAC programs were changing the lives of the children seated before us.

I let my camera lens candidly pan the crowd, delighted to capture both shyness and giggles among the children—a sense of genuine pride resonating from them all. Just as we thought our visit was ending, each child rose with an enormous smile and dashed to take our hands for what would be the true highlight of the morning—a personal tour of the facility and invitation to contribute to its artwork. A member of the second group of Suzie Too OCC Rally boats who had a similar visit to FUNDEHUMAC, recalls the daunting feeling of being led to the art room where he was handed a pot of pink paint. “I was at a loss as to what to do until the children pointed out a stencil of a flamingo that simply needed filling in,” he realized with great relief.

I had the honor of being escorted by a lovely girl who joyfully described the significance of each room and painting with a confidence and maturity well beyond her 11 years. Each of us remained in the firm clutch of a child for the next hour, sharing paintbrushes to complete more paintings and crafting dream catchers. With each strand of yarn woven into this joint craft, we traded dreams and taught each other words in our different languages. It was a brilliant Spanish lesson! I quickly learned that my astute and curious 11-year-old host had clear aspirations of a university education and world travel. A connection formed as I showed her photos from my phone of my family and home in the United States and she introduced me to her mother, brother, and cousins. I looked around the room and noticed young children sitting on the laps of people who just moments earlier were complete strangers. Clearly this morning had gone far beyond simply dropping off donations, and I knew already that I would happily support an 11-year-old’s dream of becoming an independent young woman.

Today’s visit to FUNDEHUMAC exceeded all our expectations. In just a brief visit, we walked away with a true sense of how a community is working hard to fulfill the dreams of their children. We went from merely being a drop-off service for donations to advocates for these children. For me, I captured some great photos and am personally committed to supporting at least one 11-year-old child’s dream of becoming an independent young woman.

Join me in making a difference in the life of one of these amazing children. Click here for more information on the FUNDEHUMAC programs and learn how to donate or sponsor a child’s education.

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Posted on March 13, 2019 | 4 comments

Mountain Sailing

Mountain Sailing

The first thing I noticed about Colombia were the mountains–an endless horizon of flat ocean now distinctly interrupted by valleys and peaks reaching straight up beyond the clouds. New adjectives like Purple Mountain Majesty and Sky Blue replace Ocean Blue and Aquamarine in our color vocabulary. As we enter Colombian waters, Pico Cristóbal Colón gives us a glimpse of its 18,000-foot summit. How I’ve missed the mountains.

I grew up in the mountains–born in Yellowstone National Park and then attending elementary school in Yosemite Valley. Later in life, I lost track of the mountains. Then, one day they reappeared in a most surprising way. “Want to go for a hike?” he asked. “I would love that, I replied, “I’ve missed the mountains.” Allen and I spent the next 9 years hiking the planet. We would hike for miles—I’d pour out sadness, anger and fear of navigating a traumatic divorce; Allen would listen, restore confidence, and offer heartfelt advice. Little did I know that as I was discovering the fabulous trails of the East Bay Regional Park District in northern California, so too was I forming a life-time friendship. 

Bay Area day hikes turned into backpacking and river running and eventually led to the world of mountaineering. I climbed my first peak in hard-shell mountaineering boots and crampons in 2009 when we summited the 12,000-foot Telescope Peak in Death Valley. Then Mt. Shasta, north of San Francisco, where at an elevation of 14,000 feet, I got a taste of what altitude sickness feels like. Later that year, Allen and I climbed the majestic Mt. Rainier in Washington state. And then the ultimate paradise for the outdoor dreamer–snowshoeing across the Antarctic island of South Georgia southeast of South America. Twelve years later I would land on that same continent…this time in a sailboat.

Punta Gallinas, the northernmost edge of South America at 12°N, came into view early morning after our 24-hour overnight sail from Aruba. Cooler air and water temperatures and a different time zone marked our entry to this new continent. We dropped anchor with other rally boats in Ensenada Huaritcheru—a bay flanked by rocky cliffs and a dusty, red savannah that fades into distant snow-capped mountains. A sandy beach directly in front of us with wood thatch structures hinted at a few signs of civilization. Upon closer examination, we discovered a couple hostels, bars, and even world-class kitesurfing in this small indigenous Wayúu community. Soft-spoken women commuted from a nearby village on the back of mopeds and sat among us weaving brightly-colored tribal designs into bracelets and handbags.

The wind whips through this bay, which makes sleeping a pleasure, but puts everything that isn’t securely tied down at great risk. One afternoon, we noticed our dinghy was missing. It was broad daylight and we had been onboard so it seemed unlikely that a thief would have pinched it—as our British friends would say. In fact, the painter rope that ties the dinghy to Gémeaux was still in tact. And then we saw it—our little gray raft being carried away by the fierce current, quickly becoming another donation to the sea. Naturally the captain’s first instinct was to swim after it so he quickly dove into the water and began a vigorous freestyle out to sea.

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Just then, one of the local world-class kitesurfers—I think he was about 12— swept in, indicated for Allen to grab his harness, and resumed his ride effortlessly with a 220-lb body in tow. In just a few seconds, the two of them successfully navigated to the runaway dinghy, at which point Allen released the harness, propelling the kite surfer about 30 feet up into the air. The kite surfer majestically performed several tricks during the aerial opportunity and Allen returned the dinghy to safety. It was all a very spectacular way to learn that constant wave motion can actually wear a hole through the metal eye of a dinghy. Who knew?

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At noon the following day, after a short hike above the coastline, we picked up anchor and began another overnight sail. We had studied the weather and calculated this specific departure time to coincide with an event not to be missed— sunrise over one of the world’s highest coastal mountain ranges. As much as I hate night passages, I absolutely love sunrises. That alarm clock has rung many many dark mornings to allow us to get to a summit and witness the first glimpse of a day. The shadow of the mountain that is cast across the waking city below. That quiet, peaceful moment that lasts only seconds until the world awakens. While hazy, the sunrise today was indeed spectacular as we watched the sun finally reach the top of the Sierra Nevadas and announce a new day.

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Serenity came to an abrupt end, however, when our famed spinnaker played yet another one of her dirty tricks. (See Aruba: Island Civilization for the story of how the spinnaker became untethered from the halyard.)

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I like to tell these stories so our readers get the full scope of this gorgeous sail’s schizophrenic personalities. And you must trust my writing because we only photograph the sail when it’s on very good behavior and looks spectacular. When its other stormy, violent, and narcissistic behaviors surface, we are yelling and running around the boat trying to wrestle it into submission. On this particular morning, 30-35k overnight winds settled into a steady 10k and were mostly behind us—perfect conditions to unleash the eager parasail. Jim Moore was still onboard so the three of us worked together to raise the parasail, cautious to avoid the sail backwinding and getting caught in the main sail. Not enough caution apparently and before we knew it, the sail billowed behind the main and a couple of its tee tiny little orange threads caught precisely in a tee tiny crevice in the spreader that supports the mast. We couldn’t do it again if we tried. We once again found ourselves wrestling the big sail onto the deck, but even 6’4” Allen could not reach high enough to untangle the caught threads. Out came the bosun chair and up the mast I went to dislodge the evil sail, all while we were still underway. I gave Allen a brief moment to shed a tear over a tee tiny amount of damage to the sail and then tossed the little shit into a locker for what I hoped would be a very long timeout. 

Calm once again was restored on Gémeaux as we rounded the corner into Santa Marta, Colombia’s oldest city. Different from Huaritcheru, Santa Marta boasts a shoreline of high rises and a population of 450,000. Snowcapped Sierra Nevadas, however, still outline the landscape, assuring us that this new temporary home will give us a chance to explore the mountains.

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