Free boat ride for three!
We headed out at 3pm. Into perfect wind, it was a gorgeous day with palpable bursts of anticipation. We had 3 painful shots of various 99 proof fruit flavored vodkas to mark the occasion.
Our little ship entertained 3 gorgeous dolphins not far out. A mom and twins. One of the twins was full of something special. He kept playing with the other one. Like an excited puppy, he would swim over and under and around him. He would race us and speed across our bow just barely getting out of way and then back again. They stayed with us for a long while. Mom was variegated greys. But the babies didn’t have a spot on then. Just sleek, little, light gray bullets.
We didn’t really have good watches set because we didn’t know each other’s strengths in this area yet. None of us could have slept anyway that first night. The weather kicked up after dark and the sea started rolling, testing our Dramamine. The waves got bigger and started coming one right on top of the other. Just having a wee or boiling a pot of hot water became a prize worthy effort. Every piece of us would bruise.
Every muscle in our backs and shoulders ached like hell for days afterward. Adam most certainly should have seen a chiropractor. Puddy was utterly miserable and then got seasick. I will never forget coming downstairs to find him “standing” in the middle of the boat, his head hanging down between his legs and his little body trembling and rocking back and forth as the waves pushed us over again and again and again. Then he looked at me and threw up. He was a lot better when I was with him. We’re kind of co-dependent. It made me very unfocused and left a lot up to the boys. Who did awesome despite the lack of experience that was rampant on that little boat.
I tried to sleep a little at one point but it was nearly impossible rolling back and forth in the bed. I packed pillows around me and dozed poorly. Then I drove for a while. There is nothing I had experienced up to this point in my life that could have prepare me for this night. It was so black you couldn’t see where the sky ended and the sea began. Try to picture this for a second. It was so black we couldn’t see the waves coming. Out of nowhere the boat would pitch over on it’s side leaving us fighting for control. And air. I didn’t know how bad it would get. My heart pounded in my chest. We were sailing through this. Not motoring. We are sailors! We had sailed… 5 times? Maybe 6.
Adam came out after a couple hours and I sat with him for a while while he drove. I was shocked watching him make minuscule changes to the sails to give us a more comfortable ride. If even just slightly. He was so good at sailing all of the sudden! How did he become such an exceptional sailor without me knowing it?
It got very cold. Puddy wouldn’t stop crying or go inside without me. I felt maternal and horrified that I had brought him there. I had to take him in and leave the rest up to the boys. I tried to sleep but could not. There was only a couple hours of darkness left and I spent some of it airborne, with poor Puddy trembling, all the while, on my head. Even Bill, our lovely friend, who literally had his first sail 12 hours earlier had to have a go at sailing alone through these conditions when Adam wouldn’t stop “deliriously doing math”.
The seas continued to be rough for the first half of the second day. I drove all morning (unless I was cooking) so the boys could sleep. A little about cooking… Because I didn’t know anything about sailing through the gulf before I actually sailed through the gulf, I didn’t exactly know how to prepare. Food that doesn’t have to be cooked seems such an obvious must now but I simply didn’t think about it. We needed food. I got food. Cut to me sitting on the counter, holding a pot on a dramatically rocking stove with one knee, holding myself upright with the opposite leg braced against the engine compartment, which has me almost vertical because of the extreme heel of boat, trying to open a can of beans or soup or anything while the sea tries to toss my bruised body across it’s beam. The boat would lurch up the side of a wave and lean drastically to one side and as it surfed down the other side it would lean aggressively and abruptly the other way. Think about using any tool or utensil or pot lid in these conditions. The boys were amazing. Praising my terrible salty mush (which was the only thing I could handle making for many of the worse days) with gusto.
It was still cold. A cold front had come in with the wind.
Even with all of this, I found I absolutely loved sailing by myself. When the guys would try to sleep, the whole gulf was mine. I felt completely alone. And braced against everything I could with all four of my points, I felt euphoric. There was nothing. In any direction. Except monster waves. And where in the dark the waves had been unnerving, in the light of day they were quite beautiful.
The water was finally blue. I went to bed in dirty water and I climbed out of bed in paradise. After traveling for a year we were finally in blue water. So beautiful it’s painful blue water. This video is not from this day because it was far too rough but I wanted you to see how blue it is.
With the wind up so much we were making great time. 6 knots on average. That’s about 6 miles an hour. And yes, that’s great time in my world now. One time surfing down a wave Adam saw 11 knots on the GPS.
We were all a little loopy that morning. Lack of sleep, bouts of terror, continued anticipation of what lied ahead and far too much sun had us laughing at utter nonsense and making up pirate songs and weird, weird things no one but us would understand. Yo Ho and a Bucket of Rum was our war cry. We liberated a toy penguin in a moonshine bottle, after we polished it off. He’s still floating out there somewhere having his own glorious adventures. My favorite quote of Bill’s for the whole trip is “All the best ideas come when you’re drunk during the day.”
We were living fully in that moment. Enjoying the adventure, the warmth, and each other.
We had a line out, as we have had a lot since we started back in New Orleans. We are so used to catching nothing that when the line started zinging out we assumed that we had caught some sort of sea junk. As Adam got it closer to the boat we realized there was a fish on there. A huge fish. We got out our trusty, and still in perfect condition, fish chart. Spanish mackerel. We then had a mad rush to figure out what to do next. None of us have ever even seen a fish this big. It was half as long as Adam. We poured vodka into its gills to kill it quickly.
(Side note for the vegans I love with all my heart; I am proud of how long I was a part of your ranks. My little family will always be mostly vegan. I know you don’t like that term but it matters. I have thought this through long and hard. While it is 1000 times worse for the world to eat commercially produced meat than it is to eat plants, it is also 1000 times worse for the world (and the animal community as a whole) to eat commercially grown produce then it is to grow your own or catch one organic, literally free range fish, every couple days to feed your family. The only other death option this fish had was being chewed or swallowed alive. One shot of vodka to the gills killed it instantly. This is a conscious decision that I have made and I am sorry that it hurts you. It’s no picnic for me either, I assure you. We would never fish for sport nor do we enjoy the act of killing such magnificent creatures. And they are magnificent. It is simply the circle of life. )
We filleted the Spanish mackerel on the deck. I cut small strips and we ate the freshest sushi in the world with soy sauce and wasabi. To be honest I didnt know then which parts of a fish were good sushi parts so we all chewed and chewed and pretended it was great even though each of us was thinking seperately, what the hell l, why is this so chewy… We then grilled half and stuck some in the solar oven for dinner. Every sentient being on this vessel was infused with protein and gratitude. There was so much of it. We caught one huge mackerel every other day. And none was wasted. Over the next week we would eat mackereloni and cheese, mackerel salad sandwiches and mackerel chili as well.
Right around the time Adam wanted to crawl into bed at 3pm the wind died off completely. Leaving me and Bill to try to scramble some sort of sail plan that didn’t have the boom banging back and forth uselessly. In the end we decided to douse them and motor for a while. The sea was so calm. And so vast.
I like driving at night. Especially for sunset and beyond.
We don’t have auto pilot so we had to hand steer this particular adventure. At night at least we had something to point at. During the day it was blue ocean with not a cloud in the sky and we had to watch the compass very closely. At night we got to drive by the stars. The stars…. My god, now that we were so far from land they were so bright and so many. The whole night sky, lit up, just for us.
It doesn’t take long for you to start to go a little bananas in the vast sea with no sleep. I was driving by myself with the boys trying to nap that evening, through a glorious sunset and into the night. After it became dark I heard crickets all around me. Crickets! Crickets that were, of course, not there, but I heard them, plain as day. Then I heard children laughing in the sea behind me and I about shit my pants. Later Bill would tell me he kept hearing his phone ringing. We also started to see things on the horizon and in the sky. Things that weren’t there.
Then we started seeing things we thought we weren’t really seeing but actually were. As the phosphorescent algae ride the wave crests to their deaths, it looks like thousands of fireflies.
Our running lights weren’t working. We didn’t have a new light for it so Mcgyver used a smaller one. How you put a light bulb, that is too small, into a bigger light bulbs hole space and make it work just as well, is beyond me. And is one of many reasons I know I picked the right partner to adventure with.
I drove 13 hours straight yesterday (when I wasn’t cooking for the men folk). All day I looked forward to the uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep I assumed this would afford me. Alas, it was not to be. Around 3am, after 3 nights of no sleep, I woke up to catastrophic sounds up top. Explosive sounds that had puddy cartoon running in place with the sheets stacking up behind him as he tried to escape. Then I heard Adam say the word Fuck… In 6 years I have heard that man swear 4 times. I can tell you each story of where, why and how long we were together at the time. This is how rarely it happens. It is a sure sign of serious trouble. I ran up stairs. Somehow we had never tied knots in the ends of the jib sheets and Adam had been holding one and Bill had been holding the other when somehow they simultaneously let go. As I turned to face the bow, both jib sheets plus the head sail were flapping wildly in the wind and becoming a dangerous, tangled, and somehow worse then anything else, extremely loud disaster. Shit was going to break if we didn’t get that sail back under control immediately. Adam was swearing, Puddy was crying and Bill was taking deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
When Adam saw me he immediately started shouting orders and we all did as he said. The waves were hitting us broadside and throwing is over again and again rapidly. They were very close together and everything was exponentially harder to do. We had to get the ship under control but we couldn’t get steerage for very long with only our reefed main sail and needing to turn into the wind to get the jib back over the hull.
We went to start the motor to turn ourselves that way when the key broke off in the ignition.
This was getting scary fast.
Adam had to go out onto the deck to retrieve the jib before it was damaged but the boat kept pitching violently, dangerously and worse, unpredictably. Leaving the relative safety of the cockpit was insane. And completely necessary. Compounding all of this was the fact that if he did fall in that black water, in this black night, with his black head, we would be powerless to rescue him with so much wind and no motor.
At one point he went on deck without being tethered.
I used harsh angry words at him. I don’t do this. “If you do that again,” I then shouted above all the noise, “you and I will fight”.
After he was tethered we watched him hand over hand slowly across the deck, as the boat did everything in its power to toss him out to sea.
This was when I looked at Bill. He was white as a sheet. I said, “it’s all going to be ok Bill.” Without taking his great big shiny eyes off where Adam had disappeared into the night, without taking his white knuckled hands of the useless steering wheel, he told me softly, “… I hope so”.
We arrived in Clearwater to a free slip provided by Roger, a friend from New Orleans. Roger gave us everything we needed and more; a car to get supplies and a shower!!! A damn angel I tell you! Showering… My god, showering…….
We headed to the beach. The damn Jolly Trolley never showed up so we Ubered to the best beach in america. It was stunning with miles and miles of beautiful pure white sand. We celebrated with more fruity 99 proof shots and we did public yoga in the sunset.
We watched the sun go down into the water and marveled at the sea life that had washed up on shore. I hope this never gets old.
We went to a beach bar and ate oysters (ew not me) and had Doseritos (a margarita with an upside down beer in it). This perpetuated me jumping a little too enthusiastically into the electric slide at a private party, down the beach, and getting us kicked out of said party. No problem. We laughed and jumped and ran away and went swimming.
Back to sailing.
When you spend a lot of time staring out into the water at nothing you tend to focus a little too sharply on anything you DO come across. After dark we came upon a vessel, 20 miles out of Sarasota, with its top light blinking. My companions watched and obsessed over it for an hour as we got farther and farther away. Despite my assurances that they were both paranoid and that I was always right, both of my boys were certain the vessel was trying to hail us. At one point they both shouted, “SOS! I just saw SOS.” They didn’t respond to radio calls and we were worried. I admit, a blinking light on a boat signals trouble. Adam, ever the safety conscious pilot, called the coast guard to notify them so they could send a quick speed boat out from Sarasota to check on the hailing vessel and we could all go on with our lives. This would take them less then an hour he assured us. The coast guard asked us to turn back and see if we could help. They then sent out a helicopter, a C130 cargo airplane and a John boat to rescue them.
As we sailed and then motored back to the boat we watched the whole world come down upon it. The rescuers turned the night into day with their lights and I watched through the binoculars as a man on the hailing ship stood up to talk with the men on the rescue boat. At that moment the coast guard came on the radio and informed us there was a body in the water. Because I was so distracted and excited, I didn’t listen carefully to the rest of what she said. We’re god-damned hero’s, I thought to myself. The rescue boat then zoomed over to us to inform us that the blinking was caused by the waves. They were just fishing… The body in the water was somewhere else.
The last half of the day we kept seeing sparrows fly around the Talisman. We aren’t sure if they got blown out to sea or what they were doing 60 miles from the nearest land, but they were tired little buggers. Around dusk, 2 landed right by my head. I don’t know why he ever thought this would work (probably because 2 baby ducks once jumped into his hand) but Adam reached over nonchalantly and one stepped onto his finger. I grabbed my camera and took 20 pictures, thinking this was going to be the most fleeting moment ever. For the next 2 hours 6 tiny sparrows let us hold them, pet them and play with them as they played with us. One fell asleep in my hand. We held them in pairs, in threes, they landed on our heads, in our hands, and on our phones as we tried to capture the moment. They were the most tired, most wonderful, most grateful little sparrows in the world. As the sun went down and it got colder they wanted to go inside. They kept flying in until they saw a big black ball of fur, teeth and claws who thought he had hit the fricken jackpot in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
After that they huddled into one solid brick of feathers, like peeps, out on the lifeline and rode out the night with us. They left at first light.
That night there was utterly no wind. The water was perfectly calm. We bobbed and we bobbed and we bobbed at sea. We decided to all go to sleep. Neither boy slept very well, worried we were drifting into danger. For the first time since we left, I slept like a rock.
The wind died completely.
With sailing it is almost always too much or too little. We are still learning to appreciate it and Bill has to fly out of Miami in a few days. At some point we couldn’t take bobbing around like a top.
So we motored the rest of the way to the Dry Tortugas.
As we tried to pay for a permit to enter the national park on the Dry Tortugas and Bill tried to get his land legs back the park ranger said we had to move our boat forward on the dock because they were, “bringing in some Cubans.”
Bill turned to me, “did she say Cubans?”
When the Cubans got there they were talking excitedly and rapidly in Spanish. Then they were given a tour of the fort while they waited for the coast guard to come get them. They had arrived on Loggerhead Key, an island nearby, 18 deep, in a homemade wooden boat, barely bigger then our dingy, after motoring for 2 days. The rangers couldn’t even get the thing started to bring it to this island. They had to tow it in. We asked the ranger what would happen to them. He said they would take the Cubans to the mainland so they could go through customs properly and then quarantine them for 3 weeks. Then they would be given work visas.
I have no idea if this is true. I hope so. It made me feel kind of salty. These people are fleeing a life that is so abhorrent that they stuck their children in an extremely sketchy wooden boat, with 17 other people, that may or may not make it, to a place they may or may not be allowed to stay and we are sitting on our yacht stroking our beards.
We walked the fort for hours. It was gorgeous out and the scenery and the company were exceptional.
The boys snorkeled for a while, while I took a nap under a tree.
We went back to Tallyman and we watched a spectacular sunset behind the fort.
Adam decided to try and catch us some dinner. He soon grew bored and started playing with a school of small fish with his lure, leading them around like he was their Mama. In a very intriguing tone of voice he said, “um… you guys…?”
Bill and I shot over the rail to see what it was and right there, in the water was the biggest fish I’ve ever seen in real life. It kept following Adams lure, which looked patheticly miniscule next to it. It was moving very slowly. Lazily. Not trying to actually get it. We were freaking out and scrambling over each other to see better. I jumped in the dingy to get closer. I was 100% certain I was sitting 2 feet above the biggest shark I would ever see. Adam swam it past the dingy and it was far more then half as long as it. Our dingy is 12 feet long. This thing was right at the top of the water. Then I made the most questionable decision of my life thus far. I put on a snorkel mask and stuck my face in the water. The biggest, ugliest, crankiest old man face, which was attached to a 700 pound Goliath grouper, stared back at me from a distance of no more then 2 feet. Adam had our huge spotlight on him when I went under. I could see every disgusting wrinkle on that head. It was fantastic!
After he saw the fish let me keep my face, Adam wanted to try it too. He screamed bubbles when he saw it. Then we forced Bill to do it. He really didn’t want to but we couldn’t let him pass up this opportunity. It was getting kind of dark and all we could see from above was the shape of it. Bill also screamed into the water when he saw it. I guess it is well known to the rangers. I never did get its name, though I’m certain it has one with the loving way they spoke of it. That gigantic bastard hung out with us for over an hour. And in fact was still there when we moved on to pirates dice and fireball.
It was too dark to get a good picture so I found of of comparable size online.