Sailing to Windward in the Bahamas

My boyfriend and I just got back from a 10 day sail to the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas! I should really say that we survived a trip to the Abacos! Our boat is little. It’s an F27 Trimaran.  I’ve tried to explain to people that it may sound luxurious and romantic but it’s a lot like camping on the water and a whole lot of work! There were some lovely moments in the trip but the REAL story is that this trip kicked our butts, tested our relationship, taught us a lot about what we do and don’t enjoy and we were very glad to make it back in one piece!

My boyfriend tried to warn me. For about a month before we left he kept asking me if I was sure I wanted to sail over the gulf stream in our boat? Would I really be ok camping on our small boat for an undecided amount of time? He’d been to the Bahamas before in a small boat so he knew exactly what we were in for. I assured him I would be fine! I’m a rugged wilderness girl! I can handle it! I also had total faith in him and knew he wouldn’t put me in an unsafe situation. What I didn’t realize was exactly how wild and vast the passages would be!

We set out on that first day to cross the Gulf Stream from West Palm Beach to West End. The weather looked good except that the wind was coming from the exact same direction we were sailing! As anyone who sails knows, going directly into the wind is bumpy, wet and uncomfortable and for 50 miles we crashed into wave after wave covering our foul weather gear (YES we wore our foulies on the way to the Bahamas!)  in salt crystals! And it continued like that for the first 3 days!

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(Day 3 of sailing into the wind!)

It was exhausting and frustrating! But there was good along with the bad. Eventually the wind and weather calmed down and we had a few enjoyable days of sailing. My favorite stop was at Manjack Cay. I had been longing to spend some time on the beach – after all that’s what you go to the Bahamas for right? We pulled our tri up onto the pristine white sandy beach just as a small nurse shark swam in front of our boat patrolling the shallows. We spent the afternoon walking the beach and checking out the marine life.

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(Maravilla on the beach at Manjack Cay – soooo dreamy!)

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( I imagined these Rays as a courting pair – her leading slowly and him waiting for his chance!)

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(A sea slug(? )That didn’t like me touching him(?) and squirted purple ink!)

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(Sand so deep and soft it felt like walking in deep snow – except warmer! There were no footprints but mine!)

Later that evening we were greeted by Brenda who was staying on a neighboring trimaran. She invited us to a full moon party that evening on another part of the island. It was at that moment that I realized what it feels like to be a part of the sailing community! It didn’t matter what kind of boat we had, how big our motor was, or if we were grumpy or kind. We belonged! We were sailors and we were welcome and invited! We spent a lovely evening meeting other sailors with all kinds of boats from big Catamarans to gaff-rigged Schooners. We visited by the fire and even howled at the full moon!

Luckily during our ten days out at sea we didn’t have any major difficulties. Having an engineer as a boyfriend is a very good thing because he can fix anything and doesn’t give up easily! Even if he has to almost hang off the boat to get to it!

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I made sure to take some time for yoga as well. Yoga is how I stay fit and flexible and it helps me remain calm and focussed. It allows me to let go of any negative energy I’m holding and I had a lot of it on those long 6 or 8 hour sailing days! It was not easy on a small boat but I was able to practice on the outside nets a couple of mornings and even did a little practice in the cabin!

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(Lots of time for meditation on a long passage!)

No one can talk about the Bahamas without mentioning how beautiful it is! There were portions of the ocean that were so bright that it looked like someone was shining a light from underneath the water! Sand so white and soft that it felt like baby powder, water so clear you can see all the way to the bottom!

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The water is so blue that it doesn’t even look real!

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(This is my favorite photo from the whole trip! Yes, it really is that lovely!)

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(Water so clear you can see everything on the bottom! Looks like a Monet!)

As we began to sail back toward home from the Bahamas my mind was turning over and over thinking about my experiences out there. What had I learned? How did I feel about sailing – especially long passages with not much to do? How rugged was I? Did I feel like a success?

I had a lovely time. I am proud of myself for sailing upwind multiple days in a row and being a good sport. I’m a good partner to have on a boat. I can grind up the main, raise the jib, act as the Windlass over and over until we get a good grip on some sand. I can spend all day in the sun and wind and still smile at the end of the day. I can swim and snorkel and hike and walk beaches to explore each and every new place we see. I can cook and keep the boat clean. I can use a camp shower in an open cockpit. I am brave and adventurous and strong.

But, I also learned that I’m a little older than I used to be. Things are not as easy for me physically as they were a few years ago. I enjoy some comforts like refrigeration and a stove. I prefer shorter sailing days and more time for exploration on land. I learned that the ocean is a wild and dangerous place and that you have to be rugged to sail on those deep blue inky depths that swell and roll and push you around. And I also learned that I would like to have a boat with standing head room and maybe even an electric windlass! LOL.

Fair winds and Following Seas to all of my sailing sisters out there! Go get em and be safe out there!

 

The REAL Pirates of the Caribbean

It’s easy to tell the difference between the Pirates of St. Thomas and the Tourists. The tourists wander around in groups of three or four, they look a bit confused, are usually overweight and their skin is shiny and pink from exposure to sunshine. They wear new designer clothing and smell of sweat, sunscreen and bug spray. The Pirates on the other hand, roam around individually. They swagger slowly and confidently in an “island time” gait. Their skin is tanned and leathery from years in the sun, their hair is pulled back and their clothing is worn and faded. Pirates smell mostly of Rum.

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(Cruzan Rum is made on the nearby island of St. Croix)

Latitude 18 is a pirate haven dive bar in Red Hook on the east end of St. Thomas. The bar stools are starting to come apart at the seams, the rain leaks in through the roof and the dock out back won’t last much longer as holes work their way through the plywood! But the Rum flows freely, there is live music every night and the locals love coming here!

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(Red Hook Bay looking east toward St. John in the distance)

We were in St. Thomas to see if we had what it takes to become Pirates. We had the idea that maybe we could buy a charter boat company of our own, run it as Captain and First Mate and earn our living taking tourists out to the beautiful beaches of St. John.

We met our first Pirate at Latitude 18 – and by Pirate I mean those intrepid souls who love it here so much that they would do anything to live here – including work multiple jobs, put up with whiny cruise ship tourists, serve, clean and by hook or crook eke out a living.

Taylor is a 19-year-old red-headed elfin girl with a personality the size of Montana! She has a mega watt smile and the energy to accomplish everything she chooses to do in life! Taylor came to St. Thomas for a visit and loved it so much that she moved back and has now purchased her own boat for $1,000! She has at least two jobs. She works as first mate for a charter captain and she also helps with the Airbnb boats that we rented as our accommodation for the week.

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(The boat next to ours. Great use for an old book huh?)

Jeremy is Taylor’s boss and he is a Pirate with a capital P! Jeremy had the genius idea to buy older, run down boats and turn them into rooms for rent! Of course, because the boats are older they tend to have a few problems – A halyard acting as mast rigging, a few holes in the deck, a rudder that flops back and forth with the tide and even a boat with no motor. But that’s ok because they’re not really boats anymore. They are rooms for rent and they are the cheapest to be had on the Island so they are rented all the time! Genius, I’m telling you! I wish I’d thought of it!

We were eating lunch on our first day and a man leaned in really close to my Boyfriend and said, “You must be Barry?!” (The Arrrggghhh was implied!) We both leaned back and took in the sight of grey hair sticking up at all angles from a tanned head, wearing only a pair of trunks,  a gravelly voice ( I might have imagined an eye patch) and a huge bleeding gash across his nose! Pirate to the bone! Captain Pat turned out to the be the broker we were supposed to meet the next day to look at the charter business. But at the time we had no idea how this stranger knew who we were! News travels fast between Pirates!

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(Salomon Beach on St. John – I could live right here! It’s breathtaking!)

It’s easy to see why these folks work so hard to live here. It is unbelievably beautiful! The beaches are white and the water is the perfect shade of blue. The terrain is hilly and green and makes a wonderful contrast to the flat open ocean. It’s a dream really. Everyone wants to vacation in a place like this. It’s not a far stretch from wanting a vacation to figuring out how to live here to make it your home!

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(The view from the beach bar on Tortola – Cane Garden Bay Beach)

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(Two friends swimming along at Honeymoon Beach on St. John)

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(Cane Garden Bay – I could walk this beach all day!)

We were able to visit St. Thomas, St. John and also Tortola in the British Virgin Islands during our short trip. They are all amazingly beautiful and fun. The people were welcoming and friendly but it turns out we don’t quite have what it takes to be Pirates yet. It was a close thing though…..We planned and schemed and tried to figure out what we could sell, trade or borrow to be able to make a living here. But in the end we realized that we still want to travel.

We’re not ready to settle down – Not even for THIS place. Wanderlust runs strong in us. We still have other places we want to see – beauty to be uncovered. We’re still tourists who want to go to The Bahamas next. But I predict that we will be back to the US Virgin Islands. It’s just too pretty a place to ignore.

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(A sunburned tourist trying to look like a local!)

Set Your Course – Gibraltar!

Queens Way Quay is a neat rectangular marina on the west side of Gibraltar in the shadow of the giant Rock. The east side of the Marina is home to the restrooms, laundry and a few restaurants and the rest of the rectangle is surrounded by condos and large homes. I sat on the fly bridge last night of my home away from home – a motor yacht owned by a retired British couple – and watched the sun set between the houses while the clouds that continually blow over the Rock from East to West curled up and over into the sunset creating large pink and orange swirls. Sometimes I feel like this is all a dream. How the hell did I get HERE?

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Queens Way Quay Marina

Last week I completed my Competent Crew course with Allabroad Sailing Academy. We had a full boat with two students doing Yacht Master, two Day Skippers, an instructor and me. Some of the highlights of the week included our instructor drilling us on ‘man overboard’ by throwing a fender in the ocean unexpectedly and each of us took turns at the helm attempting to retrieve our lost “crew member,” sailing Gibraltar harbor at night to study the light pattern each boat displays and how each buoy and marker flashes, sailing around the Rock and up the east coast to Duchess, Spain where our instructor took us to his favorite Tapas Bar and finally sailing with dolphins across the Straights of Gibraltar to the African continent.

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Our crew & instructor making funny faces.

We spotted their sleek gray forms often shouting and pointing “Dolphins!” Everyone would freeze and look in their direction. We saw huge schools, individuals and babies. We even saw large pods of energetic dolphins arcing up out of the water in front of fast-moving tankers. My favorite moment was when a small group swam in our bow wave for about 20 minutes. I fell in love. It was just as I imagined it would be. I stood on deck hanging over the pulpit watching each dolphin dance and weave and blow – catching their breath with each breach. It was magical, dreamy and fantastic!

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Sailing toward the African continent.

Moments like that make you stop and take stock of your life. They make you realize how joyous life can really be. Sailing on the ocean is peaceful and calm – as long as the weather is fair – the sun shines down on you, the wind is pushing you onward and then you get a quick glimpse of the divine. A moment that catches your breathe and makes you grin like a madman. A simple moment that catches you up in wonder and majesty and everything else just falls away.

I never imagined that I would be sailing to the African Continent. I never imagined that I would be doing sailing training to have this as a profession. I never imagined that I would travel to Gibraltar or Costa Rica or Belize or Croatia and yet I have. At some point in time I changed my course and set off for new horizons. Now it’s time to trim the sails and hold on tight – always scanning the horizon for the next big Adventure.

My wish for you is that your life has adventure, that you have someone special to love and that you are healthy and happy. Set your course and GO FOR IT!!!! Who knows where you will end up and what wonderful things you might see!!!

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Duchess, Spain