Sunday, June 4, 2017

55-56. The Rest of the Story

I know we left you hanging and owe you a blog to wrap up our time in the Caribbean.  I have started to write this blog so many times but can never make myself finish it.  To be honest, it feels like the closing of a great book that you just don't want to end and by not bringing our story to completion, I can somehow keep it alive, like we didn't have to come back to reality :)
But we did and it has actually been exciting and new for a whole different reason.  So I think I can finally start to put into words how amazing our last few months at sea were.

As excited as we were to reach the Bahamas, we knew a big blow was headed our way and we needed to find a safe hole soon.  The southernmost island of the Bahamas, Great Inagua, may be the second largest island in the chain but it offers absolutely no protection for wind from the north, exactly what was heading our way.  So after a quick reprovisioning in Matthew Town, we spent the next two days island hopping to a safe hole to hide out the blow.  
On the way to our hidey-hole we found a deserted atoll in the middle of the ocean.  Nothing as far as the eye could see!  We enjoyed a snorkel and walk-about on the sandy spit.
We finally found a tiny but well protected inlet in the Crooked Islands called French Wells and happened upon an abandoned mooring ball.  We were so excited at our luck until we noticed that the boat wasn't rocking anymore.  We quickly realized the mooring ball had broken free but we hadn't gone far and settled in the soft sand of a shallow less than 10ft from where we started.
 Andrew (with a little help from Sky) dove to the block and quickly got us resecured.  He also added an extra line to be sure we would hold strong through the blow.  

Not many 14 year olds get their own private island view for their birthday but we spared no expense for our Paige Nicole :) We made the most of our windy isolation and had a proper celebration aboard Abby.  
    Pancakes and presents and cake - oh my!
When weather hits and you are in the middle of nowhere it is kind of like being snowed in, without the freezing cold.  We introduced the girls to Star Wars and watched a different episode every night with dinner!  
They have been enlightened :)
During our week waiting out the blow we also started learning new skills, Paige editing in Final Cut X and Sky becoming quite the baker.
 I really enjoyed being stuck aboard with my favorites but Andrew got a little stir crazy so one afternoon when the wind had temporarily calmed a bit, he and I ventured out.  We took the 30 minute dinghy ride to the nearest dock and walked 2 miles before we happened upon a lady who was kind enough to drive us the rest of the way to town to fill up our jerry cans and reprovision a bit.  
    The blue dot is Abby, the red line is our dinghy trail.
We were glad to get out and stretch our legs but the girls were even more happy to see us return as the sun was setting and the wind was picking up.

    Shenanigans aboard.

After a week of alone time, we were eager to get to some of the more populated Exuma islands.  We made our way to the east of Long Island
and even cut a day off our journey by squeaking through Hog Cay Cut (where Paige is pointing) at high tide - with only a few rubs on soft sand.  
    Our lookouts hard at work.
As we rounded the bend to turn north and realized Georgetown was in sight, the excitement bubbled over!  We could see the breadcrumbs of our Delorme path, we were about to complete our Caribbean loop and cross our own path from when we set out from Georgetown on our first overnight sail almost a year earlier!  
We started to reminisce about our previous Georgetown experience; when we barely knew our now very dear friends aboard Take Two, and how we spent hours aboard Alley Cat taking notes of all the recommended places to stop, and how many of the people that helped make this year at sea amazing we hadn't even met yet.  We were chatting, putting beer in the freezer for when the anchor was down and trying to get some tunes cranking when all of a sudden a reef jumped up in front of us!!!  Well, not exactly.  
We had exited the southern channel of Georgetown last year and knew it was a very narrow cut.  Hurricane Matthew had rearranged some of the marker buoys, but even that isn't fully to blame.  I think we just got complacent.  Our attention wasn't where it needed to be and that is all it takes to change your day from best to worst day at sea!
We hit the reef going 6 knots!  Andrew looked up from the chart plotter just in time to see the reef in front of us.  He quickly shut down the autopilot and turned us hard over to port which probably saved us the direct hit.  The rudder high centered on the reef and lifted our entire stern up, I'm sure only inches but it felt like out of the water, before we broke free and continued on, turning a large circle as the rudder was now jammed to port.  Andrew was quick on the draw, I got us out of gear while he got the anchor down.  It was just before sunset so we quickly radioed all in the harbor and had dinghies headed our way to help in no time.  We checked the bilge, no incoming water - phew!  Andrew jumped in to check the damage and it only appeared to have affected the rudder and shaft.  
We were able to hip tie the dinghies to either side of Abby and they escorted us to a great patch of sand off Sand Dollar Beach, just south of Chat & Chill.  Andrew was super gracious to the guys in dinghies who came and helped us get anchored but I can assure you he used every word in his sailor’s vocabulary as soon as they left us to lick our wounds!  You can't help but wonder how you made it all this way, this entire year, with no huge setbacks to then sail into familiar territory and hit a marked reef.  It was an amazing lesson to learn!  And if you have to be stuck somewhere to do boat repairs, you couldn't pick a better place or community than Georgetown!
    Georgetown sunset - January 16, 2017
We were up bright and early the next morning to join in on the cruisers net - a daily radio broadcast where anyone in the harbor can get the weather, ask for help, offer up items they no longer need or just hear what events are planned for the day.  Andrew introduced us, asked for help removing our rudder and had a few guys headed our way with scuba gear in hand before the hour was up.  
    We busted it up good!
It sounds like a simple enough task to drop the rudder while in the water but it was not as neutrally buoyant as we had hoped.  So after a lot of prying and wedging, we finally got the shaft free and our damaged rudder shot to the surface like a rocket.  
Andrew was then able to confirm that Abby had sustained NO damage.  
The back of the rudder was split open like a book and our 1.25” 316 solid stainless steel rod was considerably bent but the hull didn't even have a scratch!

Now as interesting as rudder repair can be, Sky had much more important matters to deal with!  She had not seen another kid (besides Paige :) for 2 whole weeks and desperately needed some fun.  So she got on the radio and asked if there were any other kid boats in the harbor.  Lucky for her, Anna answered and quickly arranged a beach date that afternoon with all her friends.  One of the heroes who came to our rescue on the reef was crew from Seraphim.  They are a family with two boys, Banks & Theron, who just headed out on their first liveaboard adventure and are following a similar path to the one we took.  The boys hadn't really met any other kid boats yet and my girls took it upon themselves to break them in!  
So with the rudder successfully removed, friends waiting to be made on shore and cold beers needing to be shared, we headed off to our first round of sundowners at Chat & Chill beach.  

Things learned aboard this week:
Never fear that “worst thing ever” happening to you because it may turn out to be the “best mistake ever”!  Nobody likes when things don't go the way you planned.  But how well can you roll with the punches?  The less flexible I am, the more painful the strain is.  But if I chose to see all the things I can be thankful for in a less than perfect situation I always seem to be pleasantly surprised with the even better plan that I find in the process.
    Missing old friends,
    but excited to make new ones.

Finally getting the story rolling has me so excited.  Can't wait to tell you about the rest of the rudder repair and the fun we had in the process!  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

53-54. New Year, New Plan

Everyone starts the new year with a fresh outlook, an anticipation for what is to come and a hope for dreams to be fulfilled.  We spend time reflecting on all we’ve accomplished the past year and are always amazed at everything that has changed. This year may be the best one yet (I might say that every year and am rarely disappointed :) 
We’ve had a few circumstances that have changed what we thought our path would be but we are nonetheless excited for this next chapter.  We left the Caribbean island chain and headed west with the intention of traveling with our friends, Take Two, through the ABCs, Columbia and on to the east coast of Central America.  While in Aruba a few things transpired with our commercial property which required our attention back home.  We spent a few days mourning the death of our original plan and the fact that our friends would be heading on without us but finally made peace with what we needed to responsibly do.  So we made a drastic course change and began our trek back to the states.  It is funny how simple that sentence is to write but it is not exactly simple to do!

Our 4 day passage from Aruba to Haiti was the best passage we’ve ever had!  The sea state was beautifully comfortable.
The air was getting cooler as we headed north.  And on our second day at sea we had a pod of at least 50 dolphins play at our bow and in our wake for 30 minutes.
It was our longest dolphin encounter yet and they were showing off all their aerial skills.  

    First land in 4 days.
We sailed to a small island off the southern coast of Haiti, Ile a Vache.  The local fishing boats that were dugout canoes with sails made from plastic met us at the cut.
They skillfully sailed all around us as we made our way into the bay.  The younger boys paddled their dugouts to us as we began setting our anchor, offering their services for boat work, laundry, shopping, guides to town and anything else you can imagine.
We probably had 8 little boats with close to 20 boys come by for a visit within our first hour here.  They were mostly interested in just meeting us, each politely introducing themselves and practicing their English.  We immediately fell in love with this little piece of paradise.
Once we were settled in, Andrew headed out to get the scoop on the local activities since we had only a few hours to figure out how we would ring in the New Year.  He did not disappoint.  He scored us an invite to a local’s house for dinner and the boat boys told us of their celebration going on in town so we quickly cleaned up and headed out for our first night in Haiti.  A couple local missionaries, boaters and locals were meeting at the local watering hole before heading up to our host’s home for the evening.  Everyone was so friendly and the girls quickly made new friends to play with.
After a few beers, we began our trek to the other side of the island.  After cresting the ridge on what can barely be described as a trail, Joe met us to lead the rest of the way.  He is a young 20 something with a beautiful English accent and a huge smile.  He welcomed all of us to his home where he, his girlfriend and mother had prepared an amazing meal.  Later he was telling me they had originally planned for 6 for dinner, after his morning walk to town it grew to 9, a few more friends made it 12 and then they included us without even meeting us.  Amazing hearts-  we don't even do that in the states, where we have everything at our fingertips, but here on this island with no running water, limited electricity and in a kitchen with two burners, these 3 strangers made a dinner for 16.  Paige and I joined Lesley, Joe’s mom who was visiting from Europe for a few weeks, and Claudia, Joe’s girlfriend who spoke very little English, in the kitchen to help finish things up.  We watched as Lesley juggled pots on the burners to keep everything warm and we spread the 16 plates around on the floor so we could dish everything up to make sure everyone got some of everything.
It was such a humbling night to be served but such sweet people and leave the evening having friends in a country that a week prior I had never intended on visiting.  Our genuine Haitian experience continued as we joined the locals at their Community Center for dancing, dominoes tournament, and drinks before the countdown.
    Happy New Year!
When we left the states last year we thought we would have lots of experiences with remote areas and new people but nothing would compare with our time in Ile a Vache.  We were welcomed with open arms by everyone we met.  The “harbormaster” brought us a flask of Haitian Rum to welcome us to his home.  The locals took Andrew on a hike to show him the island.
    That's Abby :)
Visitors almost hourly checking in to see if we needed help with anything.  It was beautiful, although the girls were a little tired of being stared at; it is the cross they bear ;)
We spent our last day in Haiti adventuring out to the fishermen’s island.
It is a tiny spit of land between Haiti mainland and Ill a Vache populated with thatch huts and lean-to shacks that house the fisherman during the week.  We visited on the Haitian Independence Day so most everyone was back home celebrating with family, the one gentleman still there working on his boat said we were welcome to look around.  So we did just that.  The beach is littered with everything that blows in from the south.
The fisherman collect anything that would be useful on their skiffs and discard the rest in a big pile.  If a hut falls over, they rebuild.  If your fishing line breaks, you take a few hours and untangle the mess of line that washed ashore.  There is one large communal fire pit for cooking, warding off the relentless mosquitos and keeping warm when the sun sets.  He probably thought we were so strange collecting the beautiful shells that littered the beach.
It is so hard to imagine living their lifestyle, only having what you can catch and sell, and not knowing if you will make enough to feed your family.  But at the same time I can see how simple and easy that life would be, no further concerns than your immediate needs.  The smiles on every face are genuine, their happiness comes from something other than the stuff they surround themselves with and it was a perfect reminder as we head back to the land of plenty!
    Another beautiful little rock we explored.
    Hangin' out.  Paige showing sailing videos.
    Our last night in Haiti, enjoying an evening at Reit's.

We were so sad to leave and Sky repeatedly said how she plans to come back someday soon to help rebuild the houses lost in Hurricane Matthew and work with the kids on their English as she tries to learn creole and French.  Not a bad goal in my book!
    Beautiful Ile a Vache.

Back on the open water we were a bit nervous about the passage to the Bahamas.  Although Ill a Vache was welcoming, the rest of the waters around Haiti are not always the friendliest!  We even had a motor powered fishing vessel approach us with three men aboard just as the sun was coming up.  We were a few miles off shore and they didn't seem to be in distress so we put the pedal to the metal and wave surfed straight through the breakers that were too big for them to make a clean break for it.  Better safe than sorry!
    Sunset means we are closer to safe waters.
Our two day passage to the southernmost Bahamian island was smooth and easy.  We motored most the way and the seas were so calm that the autopilot did most the work.
    You know if I can bake it must be really calm!
It was so still that we even had the laptop set up in the cockpit for a movie with dinner, we’ve never been able to do that before!  We were so into the Hunger Games that we thought the roar of the Coast Guard vessel approaching us was actually part of the sound track!  Needless to say, we had to pause the movie and put our business pants on :) The sailors aboard were very professional, if not a little bit curious about this family sailing from Haiti to the Bahamas, a path usually traveled by those smuggling either people or drugs.
    Lights from the Coast Guard vessel trailing us.
They rode alongside us for over an hour before leaving us just a mile from shore to get anchored and promised to visit again if they needed anything else - translation, “we will be by to board and inspect your vessel later.”  No sooner did we have the hook down and pizza dough in the oven then they came to visit again.  This time 4 of the 6 came aboard and you would think they had never been on a small boat before.  They were bumping and tripping around like bulls in a China shop.  The boots they are required to polish daily left plenty of scuff marks all over Abby and they broke a few items moving through the cabin, but all in all it was a fairly pleasant inspection.  We passed with flying colors!  And they happily used us as a training exercise for their 2 newbies onboard.
Welcome back to the Bahamas!  2017 has started off with a bang!

Things learned aboard this week:
We have so much to be thankful for and none of it has to be stuff.  I am repeatedly reminded of what an amazing experience this is for us and the girls.  This week in particular did a great job of giving everyone a perspective check.  We will always love Ill A Vache!
We make the plans but someone bigger is steering this ship!   We miss our friends aboard Take Two so much and so many others (Aqua Vida, Vidora, Find Us, Paaion Rebel) whose paths we would have crossed again.  I don't know why our plans had to change.  But I do know that His plans are always better than I can dream so I am excited to see what lies ahead!

Be sure to not miss the next update!  It will include us completing our Caribbean loop, Paige’s 14th birthday, another amazing dolphin encounter and we may even hit a reef!  Stay tuned :)

55 -56. The Rest of the Story