The World is Ending, Bring on the Guifity!

Sunday June 16, 2013

skid row t-shirt

Last night as Matt and I were cooking dinner, we could tell a storm was about to blow through the area. First the clouds highlighted to a soft but brilliant pink, and off in the distance of those clouds were faint strokes of lightning. While grilling up a few steaks in the cockpit, I enjoyed the show, wondering when the storm would actually hit. Soon after we sat down with hot plates in front of us the rain began, not even a sprinkle, but an instant downpour. We poked our heads out and looked around, but everything seemed more or less normal. Cutting into the very under-cooked meat in front of us (20 minuted on the grill for rare…really?), we felt some sudden wind shifts and threw on our cordless Raymarine remote to check the wind speeds. 28…32…36. Somewhat worried since we anchored on top of eel grass and we weren’t sure how well our anchor was holding, we tentatively went back to eating as our eyes zoomed in on the remote anytime we felt a gust. Soon, not only were the winds reaching 40 knots, they were well sustained there and still climbing. At this point it was really time to worry and I took position behind the chart plotter to monitor things like depth and the distance between us and the buoy marking the reefs directly behind us, making sure we were not moving, other than a little swinging from side to side.

We looked to be doing ok, as far as keeping our position, but the winds would just not die down. They were still holding in the mid to low 40′s but even then we’d see stronger gust from time to time. 47…49…..52. The highest winds we’d ever seen, much stronger than anything we’d encountered during Hurricane Sandy last fall. I think we were both silently cursing ourselves for not being to a suitable hurricane hole by the beginning of June when it’s possible for storms to begin forming, but that extra month out on the water traveling had sounded so much more appealing. Hearts beating fast, we were ready to up anchor at any moment, although I doubt I would have felt comfortable putting it back down in the storm, especially in the dark, and had visions of motoring around the small bay until first light. Luckily, it did not come down to that. The storm, as strong as it was, was also very quick and started to die out after 15 minutes. When winds finally dropped back in the 30′s, we let out a sigh of relief, glad we were back down to something that now seemed so insignificant. They did stay in that range for the rest of the night though, and even though we promised each other to sleep lightly that night and keep an eye or an ear out for anything that seemed strange, both of us were completely passed out as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

 

storm 2 headsail 3

Utila during storm

This morning was a usual wandering of town. Getting a lay of the land, eating out at what we hoped would be steeply discounted prices (compared to Cayman they were, but not quite the dirt cheap we were hoping for), and wandered from place to place, trying to find a good internet connection. Strangely, the best connection we found was at Trudy’s, the hostel Nate was staying at. After running in to him there, we found out he had plans to check out a few restaurants and bars that night at the recommendation of new friends at the hostel, and lost in all knowledge ourselves, we tagged along. First was dinner at an Italian restaurant where some throng of insects must have just hatched, and these fine winged bugs tried to make homes in our hair, clothing, and even food. The critically acclaimed pasta was somehow worse than my cooking, and it wasn’t long before we exited the restaurant and were on our way again. Our next destination, a hole in the wall bar called Skid Row. Nate had heard about it from other backpackers staying at his hostel, and apparently they were famous for serving some kind of drink called Guifity, and even though I still have no idea exactly what made it up, the bottle it came in was full of leaves, herbs, and possibly dirt. There was of course, a challenge that came along with the guifity. For the cost of $10, if you could drink 4 shots of it, you were awarded a t-shirt, a symbol of pride to be worn around town, of either great braveness, or great stupidity.

I was bored, sober, and needed a little excitement, so I found a drinking partner (who shall remain unnamed) to partake in the challenge with me. I may have also participated because, well, my drinking partner was paying for me to do so. A girl can’t just pass up free drinks, even if they come from a bottle with dirt inside. (Have I mentioned I’m a cheap date?*) My heart pounded a little bit as my mini Solo cup was placed in front of me, I’m terrible at taking shots, even when it’s something I like. Our bartender with her bouncy blonde curls poured us each a shot, and I examined it through the opaque plastic. Stupidly, I asked if there was a time limit, and even if there hadn’t been one in place before, there was one for me now. 4 shots in 2 minutes.Ughhh. But there was a free shirt of my choosing at the end, and I couldn’t turn away now. Not allowing myself to even sniff the substance for fear that it would go nowhere near my mouth, I rose my glass to cheers my drinking partner, and threw the drink down my throat, doing a short little dance after where your face gets scrunched up, your tongue sticks out, and you run in place for a few seconds, sure this will make the horrible taste in your mouth go away.

One down, three to go. The taste wasn’t quite as horrible as I expected it to be, lots of spices such as cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, seemed to come to the surface. It still wasn’t an easy drink though, and I forced myself to take the remaining three shots before my brain could catch up with what I was doing. I had taken them all, and in under the two minute time limit. Success never tasted so…earthy. Given that both my drinking partner and I had passed the challenge, we went to the collection of shirts where we riffled through every size, color, and style, until we each found one that suited our taste. Surprisingly, I did not go for the pink tank top.  It wasn’t long before the Guifity hit me full on, and I was a silly mess, changing into my new top in the alley next to the bar, and escaping both my chaperone’s gaze to wander down random docks and begin taking photos of nothing in particular.  It was time to put me to bed.  When Matt had gotten me back to the boat and tucked in to the v-berth, I rolled over and asked “What time is it anyway?”, thinking I’d finally cut loose and partied with the youngins.  ”It’s 8:30″, he replied.  Huh.  Not even out past cruisers midnight.

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Guifity

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pink skid row shirt

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 *Since some certain friends and family are starting to remind me that my life is beginning to sound like a never ending booze cruise, let me clear one thing up.  I don’t drink much.  Usually one, maybe two drinks, when I actually do drink.  A wine here, a beer there.  And since I don’t drink much….I’m usually past intoxicated at that point.

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Bienvenido a Utila

Saturday June 15, 2013

utila 1

After I was able to just keep my eyes open long enough for the end of my shift at midnight, it was time to wake Nate up for his 12-3 watch. The first morning had been pretty difficult waking him up from his sleep, basically having to kick him in the head, but yesterday had been much easier. I made sure to make just enough noise as I was coming down, getting out of my harness and using the bathroom, that it might help rouse him out of his sleep a little. Bending over him I shook his arm while loudly whispering, “Nate, wake up!”. Nothing. I tried again and again with the same result. Ok, maybe a hard shoulder shake would do it. Three attempts at that and he was still out cold. I stood there for a second, laughing to myself, wondering how hard I should try before giving up. There wasn’t much I could do about loud noises since Matt was soundly slumbering two feet away and I didn’t want to take the chance that I’d wake him as well. I shook his shoulder a few more times, and even tickled him with a feather pen we had on the nav station, although I’m sure all that did was make his dreams a little more interesting for the next few minutes. (Just know that I was very sleep deprived and found it incredibly funny at the moment.) Running out of options now, I grabbed the end of his pillow and swiftly yanked it out from under his head. His eyes fluttered open and I just laughed, telling him that he was the hardest person to ever wake up, before throwing the pillow back in his face. Making sure he tethered in, I gave him a run down of his shift now that we were getting closer to land and then made my way down to my bunk where I was able to comfortably pass out for the next six hours.

I knew that if the speeds we predicted held up as planned we should just be pulling up to the harbor at the end of Matt’s 3-6 shift and I could just throw on the engine to bring us in the last couple of miles as my shift began. It worked out so well that even though he was only going on 4 hours of sleep, he decided to keep pushing on when his shift ended and only woke me up when we were about a mile outside of the harbor so that I could bring him the quarantine flag to put up. Reading the chart plotter very carefully, we positioned ourselves to ride between the markers and the narrow channel with coral flanking each side. A couple of other boats were anchored in the harbor and we took a spot pretty far back, knowing that robbery of yachts was an issue in this area, and thinking the further we were from land, the safer we would be. As soon as the hook was dropped we went through the normal routine of putting the boat back in order and dropping the dinghy down from the deck. I could tell that Nate was getting antsy to get on land as soon as possible, so I packed up all our paperwork as well as the handheld VHF, and drove myself to shore to begin the check in process which would then let the guys on shore as well.

Having no idea where to park my dinghy since nothing in the area was clearly marked, I accidentally went to someone’s private home and trampsed through their yard before finding out I was locked in from the road and needed to find an alternative route. Bringing the dinghy to the fuel dock, I locked it up and began wandering the streets in search of customs and immigration. From what I could tell, Utila looked to be one popular main road that housed three things. Restaurants, hostels, and dive shops. Walking from one end of the road to the other I could not find customs or immigration, and finally broke down and asked the heavily armed guy outside of the bank. He pointed down a little side road to the ferry dock, but also mentioned that it would not be open until Monday. Hmmm, here it was, first thing Saturday morning, and I was being told that I wouldn’t be able to check in for another 48 hours. Which legally meant, that no one besides me was allowed off the boat for the next 48 hours. This was not going to make the guys very happy. Making sure to find this out for myself I went to the offices anyway, which as correctly described, were locked shut. It was before 9 am though, so I just pulled out my Nook and holed up on a porch until business hours started. But no one came. Pulling the VHF out of my bad, I hailed Matt to let him know what I’d been told. He suggested I ask every person on the street what they knew about the offices, so I did. I asked the grocery store clerk, the dive shop clerk, and yet another bank guard. All with the same answer. The offices are not going to be open until Monday. Yet…none of these people could wrap their head around the fact that I was a cruiser that came here on my own boat, and I needed to check that boat, along with myself and my crew members, into the country. To them, I was just another backpacker that flew into the mainland and took a ferry here so I could dive the reefs.

Getting back to Serendipity, I relayed all this information to Matt and Nate. Although we’re not normally the kind of people who do this, and I’m in no way recommending it, we decided to say ‘screw it’, and pretend to be those backpackers that everyone thought we already were, until I could legally check all of us in a few days later. Technically, Nate was a backpacker anyway, he just got there by alternative methods. Loading the guys into the dinghy, we all went to shore to get Nate checked in to his hostel and find some food and internet. It’s nice to know that there’s someone else around as desperate to find it as I am. Parking the dingy once more at the fuel dock, Nate didn’t even get two steps on solid ground again before he was on his knees kissing it. No, really. We asked him what he thought of his three and a half days at sea, and he responded that, although he’s glad he did it once, and given the chance to go back in time he’d still make the same decision, but there was no way he’d ever choose this mode of transportation again. We don’t blame him. Half the time we’re asking ourselves why anyone would want to travel this way.  For an interview about our passage that Nate’s wife, Jenn, gave him on their blog, click here.

After finding Nate’s hostel and dropping his bags off, we set off in search of food, although I had already spotted a few places on my many loops of this road, and already knew which ones offered wifi. First stopping at the bank to withdraw some local currency, we settled on a little place called Munchies and slumped our tired bodies into the plastic seats. Nate and I were logged in with our computers and on Facebook like we hadn’t seen internet in years. Our food was eaten in record time, although my egg sandwich was not quite what I was expecting. It was just scrambled eggs on top of a piece of bread that looked like it was just pulled out of the bag, and placed between the two was a room temperature slice of cheese that looked like it had just been pulled out of it’s wrapper seconds before it went on my sandwich. But it was food, and I didn’t have to make it, so I was still happy. Out on the porch, we bid adieu to Nate, making plans to at least meet up again on Monday morning so I could get his passport back to check him in, and then Matt and I were back at the boat to sleep for hours and hours and hours. For the rest of the afternoon we actually did all the same things we had been doing on passage to keep busy, reading books, watching movies, or napping, but somehow, all of these things seem 100% more enjoyable if you’re flat calm while doing them.

  utila 2

See, he couldn’t wait to get off.

utila 3

 

utila 2

Nate’s dive hostel.

Munchies Restaurant Utila

breakfast 2

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You’ll Find us Chasing the Sun

Friday June 14, 2013

passage to Utila

Our first night on passage, we went easy on Nate and let him sleep through the night without the interruption of shifts since he had just set foot on a sailboat for the first time only five hours beforehand, and we weren’t about to leave him alone at the wheel in the dark.  Or autopilot, whatever.  I was on my morning watch when he finally woke up around 8 and joined me in the cockpit.  Asking him how he slept, he replied that it felt like he was constantly up, the only way he was even able to tell that he’d gotten any sleep was that every time he’d look over at mine & Matt’s bunk, a new one of us would be asleep there.  He may have laughed the previous night when he’d asked what one does on passage, and I replied with “Sleep, or count down the hours until you can sleep again”, but before he could even spend 30 minutes awake with me, he was promptly passed out in the cockpit, napping for the next two hours.  Matt was finally beginning to stir around this time as well, and now that it was daylight hours, agreed that we could raise the main.  We hadn’t done it the previous night since our course was putting us almost directly downwind and we’d need to go wing’n'wing, using the spinnaker pole to secure the headsail to one side.  Nate, trying to be a helpful crew member, kept asking what he could do to help, but it was really only a two person job anyway.  Although I think he thoroughly served his purpose just by being on the boat, and when I let the main out a little to quickly and almost knocked Matt off the boat with the boom, was saved a severe screaming since Matt didn’t want to cause a scene in front of an almost stranger.  There was still a look of death, but it’s much easier to ignore by just looking the other way.

Georgie in companionway

Georgie is just having so much fun.

 

The rest of day one was divided up between the three of us by reading books and taking naps.  With a scopoalmine patch on, my stomach was actually settled enough for me to pick up a book for once, so I decided to start ‘Maiden Voyage’, which has been sitting on our bookshelf for over a year.  I was two or three chapters in when I went to make lunch for us all (out of one of my worst loaves of bread ever), and came back up to find that Matt had stolen the book from me.  I was actually quite alright with this since it meant the Nook was open for the taking, and brought up ‘A Brief History of Nearly Everything’ to keep me occupied for the rest of the trip.  I don’t know if it was the added bonus of finally being able to read on passage again, or the novelty of having another person aboard, even if we were all doing our own thing, but before I knew it the sun was dipping down in the sky and it was time for dinner and sundowners.  Passing everyone a cold Red Stripe, we enjoyed the spaghetti I had prepared the previous day, and even though I think Matt’s eating habits are on par with mine, Nate made sure to mention how he’d never seen such orange spaghetti before in his life.  Ok, so maybe the grease of the ground beef mixed a little oddly with the Ragu, but it was still edible…right?  And probably much better than the only other option…Cup-o-Noodles.

Nate asleep on settee

 The lee cloth is doing it’s job of keeping Nate in his bunk……mostly.

 

Thursday brought even more excitement…in the form of movies.  I don’t know why the two of us never thought of it before, but when I started moving around the cabin without actually getting sick I thought ‘Hey!  I probably have enough energy to actually hook in all the necessary components to get the tv working, and then I can plop down on the settee for two hours of entertainment.  As strange as it sounds, I think I’d never actually done it before because I felt bad for leaving Matt up in the cockpit alone on watch while enjoyed the movie, but he was so engrossed in his book that he didn’t mind.   For the next two days we kept the movies rolling and introduced Nate to such cinema classics as The Proposal, The Adjustment Bureau, and Hot Tub Time Machine.  I think he was very impressed with the two TB of movies and tv shows that our hard drive houses.  After the first movie played, everyone would join in on viewing, with the scheduled ‘watch’ person poking their head out of the companionway every 10-15 minutes to conclude that we were still surrounded by water and nothing else.  Popcorn was popped, very poorly, and it was a nice distraction from the fact that we were actually traveling.

Friday afternoon we were all getting antsy though and ready to make landfall.  For awhile we had hoped that we’d be to Utila by Friday night since there was a period our speeds were shooting up, but then we realized we were going to fall short and get there in the middle of the night, meaning we had to slow ourselves down enough so that we wouldn’t arrive before daylight.  I tell you, nothing slashes spirits more than the hope of getting somewhere early and then finding out it’s not going to happen.  Later in the evening though, we were treated to some building seas and winds blowing over 30.  The sky held promises of storms that we prepared for by strapping on life vest and gathering in the cockpit, but each time we saw a wall of water coming our way, it would divert at the last minute and we were in the clear.  The skies finally started to clear around sunset and we prepared ourselves for bed, trying to sleep away the last agonizingly long hours of the passage.

Nate & Georgie

 Nate, playing with Georgie while waiting for our non-storm.

sunset off Honduras

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Three’s a Crew

Tuesday June 11, 2013

CPA 1

(Photo courtesy of Offshore CPA)

 

Thanks to Nate’s boss for letting him out a day early, and winds that would be on our side (albeit light) for the three to four days that fit into both our schedules, Serendipity was taking on an extra crew member for the 380 mile crossing from Grand Cayman to Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras.  With the departure date set, Matt and I spend yesterday touring what felt like the whole island by foot, looking for extra fabric to make a shade from the mast back as well.  We visited the same shop we bought the first set of fabric from, only to find out that the next day, someone came in to purchase whatever was left.  So then we went to six other fabric stores sprinkled across the island, only to find out no one else carried Sunbrella, and the one store that did, couldn’t sell it wholesale.  I guess the back shade will just have to wait.  While out on our hunt, we also filled up our both our backpacks to the brim, pretty sure that we’d never see things like granola bars or pop ever again.

Today we planned on leaving in the early evening, so I spent a good part of the morning in the galley, prepping meals so that little to no cooking would need to be done underway.  I made two loaves of bread, spaghetti with meat sauce, and a pepperoni pizza.  Cooking and clean up took a lot longer than I thought, I don’t even know why this surprises me anymore, it never changes, so Matt was left to do all the other pre-departure prep such as cleaning the boat and making sure everything is stored in a place that it will not get thrown about the boat.  Then we took a break to do something we’ve simultaneously been looking forward to and dreading at the same time.  Making sure Georgie knows how to swim.  We don’t have protective netting for kids/pets around our lifelines, and we make sure to keep her in the cockpit, harnessed in, whenever we’re underway, but that still doesn’t give a 100% guarantee that she may never fall off the boat at some time.  Our friends Kim and Scott have had their cat fall off multiple times at anchor, but their cat has always gotten back on by swimming around the boat to a little rope they leave down for her.  We have a small net that we tie to our stern while at anchor, just for this reason for Georgie.

We’ve never wanted to practice this cat overboard drill with her in most spots because of currents that might have swept her away, but now we were in a perfect area to try.  Both of us were excited to see her try out her swimming skills, but neither of us had the heart to toss her in.  A few days ago, Matt almost got her by giving a soft kick to her bum as she was leaning over the edge, but that little ninja was able to hold on by one paw and bring herself back up.  So today we mentally prepped ourselves to actually do it, and before thinking twice, Matt scooped her up and tossed her over the side.  The net was within eyesight of her, and we wiggled it around in hopes that she’d move toward it, but nope, this cat was making a beeline for the bow.  Matt jumped in behind her in case she needed assistance, but only having to guide her without even touching, she swam, quite speedily I may add, one full circle around the boat until she got to the stern again and used the ladder to pull herself up.  Go figure.  Wanting to make sure she knew what the net was for, Matt took her once more and lowered her to the waters edge right in front of the net, where it didn’t take her two seconds to use the net and climb back onto the boat.  It’s official.  We have a swimming cat.

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 ”Never feed it after midnight.”

 

With that taken care of, it was off to customs and immigration to meet Nate and check out of the country.  It was just as easy as checking in, and we were all off on one last grocery run before departing.  Jenn met us at the docks to say one last goodbye to Nate, and took some great shots of us as we were getting ready to depart.  She also wrote a nice post on her own blog about our departure here.  With all crew members on board the ‘Dip, we went about last minute projects like raising the dinghy on deck, and giving Nate a run down of where everything was located and how everything worked.  All of our latest purchases were stowed away, along with Nate’s backpack (and the Lo Carb Monster he bought for me, best gift ever!), and we were ready to go.

CPA 3

Nate, I think you may be confusing ‘pirate’ with ‘gangster’.

CPA 2

The crew of Serendipity is off to Honduras!

(Above two photos courtesy of Offshore CPA)

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Before we knew it, literally, Nate and I were below when I happened to look out of the window, we were moving.  Coming out on to the deck we gave our new crew member a run down on the headsail that was being using at the moment, what the lines did, and the fact that he shouldn’t have to touch them unless he wanted to because we’d take care of all of that.  Then getting a lesson on how to read the chart plotter, we had a failure.  The autopilot stopped working once more, just as it had on our way to Cuba.  Ten minutes into our journey.  We could still see shore and just make out our mooring behind us.  As Matt went to work on it, with ever attempt resulting in nothing, it now became a question of ‘Continue on, possibly hand steering for the next three and a half days? Or turn back and try again tomorrow?’.  I don’t know why I was so determined to go that day, probably because I thought we’d lose our third crew member if we didn’t, but I was ready to push on.  Good thing, because 20 minutes later, everything was fixed and Serendipity was back to steering herself.  To celebrate the occasion I grabbed sundowners for us all to enjoy, dark & stormies for Nate and I, and a Red Stripe for Matt.  We had a great time chatting while watching the sun go down, and then after dinner, Nate and I played a game of Settlers of Catan on his touchpad.  Yes, this guy had Settlers of Catan with him.  Best. Crew member. Ever.

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‘Merica!

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(Sittin’ On) The Deck of the Boat

Sunday June 9, 2013

6.8.13

Ever since Nate dropped us off at the docks on Wednesday night, we have not been off the boat.  Once.  For anything.  Normally that would drive me insane, but I think we just got really into project and relax mode.  One of the places that Nate helped us run errands to before dinner last week was to a fabric store, where we purchased about 8 yards of what we told was Sunbrella (we’re still not sure) so we can made a shade cover to hang over the deck while we’re at anchor.  In can get incredibly hot in the cabin with the sun beating down on us all day, usually with interior temperatures reaching 90 during the day, and only cooling off to 85 at night.  We use our fans so much that, at this rate, they’ll probably have to be replaced in about six months.  And those things are not cheap.  Although, through reading through forums and accounts of other sailors, by shading your deck, you can bring down the interior temperature by up to five degrees.  We were sold on finding some way to shade our deck.

Until…dun, dun, dunn…..Matt said we had to make it ourselves.  Which I thought meant, ‘Here’s the fabric Jessica, go to work while I watch from the sidelines’.  Dear God, do I hate any projects involved with configuring and sewing.  Which happen to be the only projects that get thrown my way.  Believe me, I understand that Matt gets plenty of projects himself, none of which ever look very fun, but when you’re only project is different variations of the same task, and that task happens to be something you loathe more than anything in the world, it gets old really fast.  So imagine my surprise when the day after we bought all our fabric, Matt pulled out all my sewing supplies to begin measuring and marking the fabric.  He had already been up on deck taking measurements of where it would start and end, and was now transferring those measurements to the fabric.  He was taking over all the logistics, the part I actually hate the most, and all I had to do was push the fabric through the machine.

The first thing we did, since we read it’s better not to have the seam running straight down the middle from forward to aft, is measure the width of the fabric at it’s widest part as it would hang from the beam ends, and cut it at that length.  Then those pieces of fabric were laid side by side and sewn together, using three zig zag stitches.  One in the middle, and one on each end, just to ensure extra strength.  The piece we’re working on now will only be long enough to run from the bow to the mast, so we’ve measured the width of the deck at different spots moving forward, since the deck angles to a point near the bow and isn’t as wide there as it is midship.  We’ll probably have to take the fabric to shore tomorrow where we can lay it out flat, transfer those measurements, and make the necessary cuts.  After that it will just be sewing the the edges to make some pretty seams, and adding reinforcement patches to where the grommets will be.  Dare I say….that might be it?  It could actually be ready to hang after that?  We’ll see how the rest goes, since from my experience, these projects tend to get effed up somewhere along the way.

Other than that, we’ve just been hanging on the boat relaxing.  Taking advantage of the Burger King internet signal that has been coming in strong for the past few days, and, while Matt’s been distracted with that, I’ve been able to steal my Nook back for a few days to get some reading in.  Tonight I tried to remind myself of the splendors around me, and went up on deck with a glass of wine to catch a gorgeous Cayman sunset.  Which I’ve kind of been needing, since once more, I’ve been feeling a little off for the past few days.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been stuck inside the boat working on sewing projects, even though having Matt tackle this one with me has been a huge help, or maybe it’s because our friends have been gone for almost a week now and I’m feeling a little lonely.  Who knows.  I just hope I get out of this funk soon, because with Matt starting to fall into one as well (“I hate fricking boats!  Everything on them always breaks!!”), Serendipity might eventually succumb to our secret desires of pyromania.

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Clear bottom of the anchorage, 15 ft below me.

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This little face can always cheer me up.

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Don’t I Know You from TV?

Wednesday June 5, 2013

HHI

To get a better understanding of this story, let’s go back a few months to January when I was visiting my parents in Arizona.  Somehow, that one week decided it wanted to accumulate 1/4 of the yearly rain fall in that area, so more time than we planned was spent sitting inside in front of the tv.  Being a lover of TV though (don’t judge), I sat there happily, enjoying all the shows that I used to love watching back home but hadn’t been able to catch up on for months.  While eating lunch one afternoon, I was flipping through the channels and found one of my old favorites on, House Hunters International.  It’s a show on HGTV that follows people as they go to buy homes in new countries across the world, showing them three different properties, and having them decide on one at the end.  The one being featured that day was about a young couple around my age from Pennsylvania that was moving their life to Grand Cayman Island, where both would be continuing their careers in the banking industry.  At the end of the episode, where it showed the couple happily moved in to their top choice and enjoying the splendors of their new location, the girl mentioned that she would be blogging about their time there so friends and family could keep tabs on them.  Hmmm, sounds familiar.  I filed this couple, their location, and the blog in the back of my mind.

Fast forward a few months.  We had just arrived in Grand Cayman, and probably our second day there I thought, ‘Hey, there was that couple that moved here from PA.  I should try and contact them, see if they can give any info on the island, and maybe see if they want to meet up sometime’.  Doing a little research on Google, I found their blog, Offshore CPA, and sent an e-mail, which was responded to by Jenn within a day.  She gave a lot of great tips of places to check out on the island, but was unfortunately off the island at the moment for a wedding back in the States.  A little bummed out, but still grateful for the info, I kept in touch with her a few more times, until we found out that tropical storm Andrea was keeping Serendipity put for much longer than originally anticipated, and we would still be in Cayman when they got back.  Even then, Jenn was incredibly bogged down with work, but her husband Nate, was just about to transition between jobs, and had much more free time on his hands.  Not only that, but he was also about to leave for a trip to Central America before his new job started.  She passed the e-mails off to him, and we began to talk, trying to find ways to meet up and discuss traveling.  After a few failed attempts, he was even going to pick all of us up from the Masochistic Trail and have lunch with us, but with very limited internet and low spirits that day it was pushed back, we finally made plans for him to snorkel the West Bay with Matt and I.

Meeting up at my favorite place in the world, Burger King, we sat in a booth and chatted for awhile, getting to know each other, and finding out all the dirty little secrets behind shows such as House Hunters International (like that it was actually filmed one year after they moved to the island!).  We probably could have sat at the BK all day chatting, but since we had promised Nate snorkeling, and that this would probably only be a 2 hour outing, I forced us down to the dinghy dock so we could run over to Serendipity to change and grab our snorkel gear.  Once Matt and I were suited up and I had packed a small cooler with a couple of drinks, we were off to find a dive buoy to tie off to.  We found one about a half mile out from shore, and one by one dropped into the water to check out the scenery below.  In one area that we were swimming over, there were small caves and tunnels that were filled with thousands of little fish called silversides.  They were so thick and clouded that you could barely see past them, but as soon as you dove down to get a closer look they would spread apart and then swallow you as you swam through.  Both Matt and Nate took turns diving down through the caves with the fish while I watched mesmerized from near the surface.  We also went in to just off the shore where we found dozens of little squid, darting in groups near the shallow bottom.

When my legs and fins were getting tired, we swam back to the dinghy where I pulled out an odd array of drinks for us to enjoy.  Nate was given the last Red Stripe, I took the last Lime-a-Rita, and poor Matt got the 345, Cayman’s version of Steel Reserve.  As we sat out in the sun enjoying our cold drinks, Nate told us of his seven weeks off between jobs, in which time he’d fly in to Honduras, and then go to Guatemala and Belize before meeting Jenn back up in the States for some more family time.  His first stop in Honduras was going to be the ever popular diving area of Utila, one of the Bay Islands.  Also, conveniently, where we were headed next with Serendipity.  We kind of joked around that, ‘Hey, you should come with us instead of flying, we’d love to have an extra crew member’.  We all kind of laughed about it, how he could spend three days traveling the high seas with us, until Nate kept responding “No, really, I’m intrigued”.  He said that he would need to talk to Jenn about it more, but he was seriously thinking about cancelling his flight and coming with us, should we be able to hold off until his last day of work the following week.  I’m sure Nate was thinking that trip would either be 1.) a nice relaxing way to sit out in the sun, drink some tropical rum drinks, and catch up on a few books, or 2.)  a high thrill adventure complete with stories to tell of ‘That one time I braved the Caribbean Sea’.  All Matt and I could think was ‘Six hours of uninterrupted sleep’.

Pretty serious about running off into the sunset with a couple of Michiganders that he had just met, Nate had run this new plan by Jenn, who wasn’t opposed to it, but thought it might be nice to meet us before sending her husband off with us on a 400 mile journey in a sailboat.  After helping us run a few errands with the use of his car, we went to eat at a place called Sunshine Grill, which serves some of the best tacos I’ve ever had.  Jenn came to met us while taking a quick break from work, and over dinner we discussed our traveling so far, and the idea to bring Nate to Honduras with us.  We listed off all the navigational and safety equipment that we carry on board, as well as the fact that we have a satellite phone, which can keep her and Nate within reach of each other at all times.  Being the all around awesome wife and person that she is, she agreed to let him come with us, should timing and all other things work out.  Meeting new friends and a possible new crew member all in one day?  See, it pays to watch TV.

Jen & Nate

 Nate & Jenn.  Too cute!

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Matt diving through the silversides.

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Nate’s view as he swims with the fish.

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Matt and I float near the surface.

Nate’s Video from Jessica Johnson on Vimeo.

(Yes, the music was added by me.  Before you say anything, all I had access to was the classic rock my dad downloaded for me while I was visiting in January.)

*All photos and video courtesy of Nate Smith

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It’s the End of a Buddy Boat Era as We Know It

Monday June 3, 2013

  6.3.13

Our wish did not come true.  I was informed by Stephanie last night that they found a weather window, on the back of a tropical storm no less, and that Road Trip would be departing the next evening to make it’s way to the Mediterranean.  They had just enough time to squeeze in one last outing with us, amongst finishing up all their last minute provisioning and goodbye Skype calls to family back home.  While we were out to lunch at an upscale pizza restaurant close to 7 mile beach (don’t let that $16 Cayman for the 9″ pizza fool you, it’s actually $20 US), they went over once more what their plan was, even though I’m sure they were already exhausted of telling to every single friend and family member.  What they explained to us, was that with tropical storm Andrea passing by, it was going to cause some South winds to form North of Cuba.  This is exactly what they needed, since after making a couple hundred miles Northwest up to the tip of Cuba, they needed to make about three days of Easting, which is normally exactly where the wind is coming from.  There was a chance that winds could be a little stronger than they’re used to, but Rode Trip is a big heavy boat that might actually enjoy surfing through some high winds and waves for a little bit.  The crew….I’m not so sure of.  But it’s either take this window, or come to Guatemala with us.  I guess you know what kind of friends you have when they’re willing to go out in a hurricane just to get away from you. (I kid!)

Once they’ve passed under Florida, they’ll hook a louie and ride the Gulf Stream up, possible as far as North Carolina.  At that point, they’ll point their bow straight to the Azores (about 900 miles from Gibraltar), with the option to jump out to rest at Bermuda if they feel like it.  If they do go straight from Cayman to the Azores, the trip will be over 3000 miles and take them four to five weeks to cover.  Hopefully Matt and I will be ready one year from now when we plan on making the same jump ourselves (most likely leaving from the BVI’s), but right now, I’m not even looking forward to the three days it’s going to take us to get to Honduras.  Four weeks would be torture for me.

After lunch we said our goodbyes at the docks, us going back to the ‘Dip, and them checking out with customs and immigration.  There was lots of hugging, smiles, and laughter, but surprisingly, no tears.  After traveling thousands of miles together, side by side, we knew this couldn’t be the end.  Just ‘until we meet again’.  For originally having the idea that the two of us would be loners on the high seas, never getting sucked into the buddy boating regimen of where you’re at the mercy of where your friends wanted to go and when, we could not have found two better people to fall in with.  They have made this trip so incredibly enjoyable, and a lot of the best moments we’ve had while traveling have been with them.  Every day we were excited to go to a new location together, make plans to explore together, or usually the best part, sit down to a meal or a drink at the end of the day, going over the highlights, and at some points, more likely, lament about everything that seems to be going wrong.  Because you can try to explain the lifestyle to your friends and your family back home.  You can complain about being out in your cockpit for 10 hours a day when the high is only reaching 50 degrees, or condensation on your hatch caused a dripping on your face that woke you up every 10 minutes while you were sleeping, or even how incredibly boring your last three day passage was. But no one is going to understand your sorrows and give you true sympathy like a buddy boat will.  They’re right next to you living the same exact thing.

So Brian and Stephanie, let me take a moment to raise a toast.  We didn’t know it, the first time we met you in Cape May to share a bottle of wine on Anthyllide, or the next day when we took our very first buddy boating trip across the Delaware Bay, that you would become our new best friends.  We’ve shared ups and we’ve shared downs.  We’ve traveled to three new countries together and spent hundreds of hours passing the time with excursions, meals, and games.  I can’t imagine getting as far as we have without you, nor would I ever want to.  Good luck on all your future adventures, and we’ll see you again out there, I’m sure of it.  Cheers!

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Stephanie and I at our Frankenstorm party.  Silly girls.

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Rode Trip, Lockin’ it up in the Dismal Swamp.

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Enjoying the Harbor of Hospitality.

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Such nerds.

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Stephanie, trying to turn a frog into a prince in St. Augustine.

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 Briefly reunited after two months apart.

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The Mas(ochis)tic Trail

Saturday June 1, 2013

6.1.13

Whenever Matt and I travel with Brian and Stephanie, we always let them plan the fun activities and outings, and we just tag along once given a date and a time.  It kind of makes sense though, they’ll have much more local knowledge than us since Stephanie, well, loves to talk to the locals, and they’ll both pour over books, magazines, and pamphlets on the area.  I have no idea what’s going to happen when they leave us in a few days to start their journey across the Atlantic.  Not only are we going to lose our weather routers (but we have internet right now, so it’s ok), but we’re also going to loose our cruise ship activity coordinators.  Who’s going to be the one to inform me that Caybrews are going to be served on the lido deck at sunset, or that today’s activity is hiking the Mastic Trail?  I’m pretty sure that each boat thinks that the other is going to change their mind at the last minute and follow the other one.  And if a good weather window doesn’t pop up really soon (one comes up and then disappears almost every day), we might have our wish with Rode Trip following us to Guatemala.

But they haven’t left yet, so once more, all four of us were still together to do a little outing.  Stephanie found out about the Mastic Trail from a magazine she picked up at the laundromat, hiking trails is right up her’s and Brian’s alley, and Matt and I joined in since we miss hiking the trails of Northern Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes area, although we didn’t quite think the trails would be even close to the same.  As we hopped one of the local shuttle buses to take us to the other side of the island, I read up on Stephanie’s magazine article, and how people would come from all over just to hike this trail.  Even though the skies were once more overcast and rain was threatening at any moment, it sounded like we were going to have a great time hiking this beautiful trail.  The shuttle driver dropped us off, after having shown us where the trail would end and we could come back to the main road to catch another one back, and told us to have a good day.  We followed the main road until it turned into the beginning of the dirt path that started the trail.

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 The road leading up looked nice enough.

 

It started out fine, albeit a little boring for Matt and I.  We attributed it to the overcast and dreary skies and kept walking, waiting for more interesting things to pop up as we got further in.  Every couple of minutes, a little sign would pop up with a letter of the alphabet and an informational tag describing what we were looking at (we must have been doing the trail backwards since we started at Z).  There were Red Birch trees that grew right out of the limestone, and many other things that you had to squint your eyes to see otherwise you might miss it in the overgrowth of the area.  Brian and Stephanie were having a ball, but Matt and I just felt like we were walking through someone’s backyard in Michigan.  The trail felt overcrowded, cramped, and with nothing much to see except whatever was two feet in front of your face.  We missed the great views provided from the trails back home, but then again, maybe we’re just spoiled.

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The roots of a Red Birch tree.

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I think this describes the mood of the day.

 

There were a few fun moments for us though when we’d come across birds we hadn’t seen before.  Again, it was almost impossible to make them out in the trees through the thick brush, and it was almost a game trying to pin the spot that the sounds were coming from.  It’s a good thing Brian brought his zoom lens, because my little point-and-shoot I was tugging along for the day was not doing the job.

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A Grand Cayman Parrot.

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A West Indian Woodpecker.  (Above photos courtesy of Rode Trip)

 

Any fun was very quickly ended though as we came up on the swamps.  The magazine article had said there would be some light walking through water, so we all prepared ourselves with water friendly shoes.  What we came up to though, were not the small puddles we were expecting.  They were calf deep swamps of brackish water.  Stephanie was the brave one that began to push through the first one, until the thing that scares her most in the world made an appearance right in front of her feet.  A water snake.  She shrieked and jumped up on a log, and being a trooper to make sure she didn’t disturb it any more so a photo could be taken, replaced herself near the back of the group so we’d come across any creepy crawly or slimy things first. (For the record, I love snakes.  If it was me up there, I would have been chasing it around trying to play with it.)  I was the one to take the lead in front of the group, and although there were no more snakes I could see for me to chase down, I did have the unfriendly job of pointing out crabs that we scuttling through the shallow waters, and using my face to collect spider webs.

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‘Snake!!!’

mastic trail - Matt n Jess in swamp

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

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It didn’t get much better for me.  Once we finally thought we found salvation on a wooden boardwalk, I stopped for a moment to take count of all the mosquito and spider bites I picked up along the way.  It was when I was looking over all the bumps on my arms and legs that I felt a pinching down by my feet.  Thinking it was stones in my shoes, I ignored it for a minute until it got stronger.  Then finally bending down to take my shoes off and find out what it was, I looked down to see fire ants creeping into my shoes and biting me.  Both shoes were off in a matter of seconds as I hobbled around, trying to pick them off of me and off of my shoes.  It took the help of Matt and Stephanie, but finally they were clean of ankle biters and we could get on our way again.  Not only had Matt been fed up with the trail by this point, but I was more than fed up.  We wished Brian and Stephanie adieu so they could continue at whatever leisurely pace they felt like, and ran the rest of the trail to get out of there as quick as possible.  Watch out Stephanie, your responsibilities of activity coordinator is now on very thin ice.

mastic trail - ants on boardwalk

(Photo courtesy of Rode Trip)

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It almost looks pretty here.

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And I even found a turtle under a non ant filled boardwalk.

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Finally, a way out.

 

 

For a view of this trip through the rose colored glasses of Brian and Stephanie, check out their account of it here.

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A Three Hour Tour – Day 2: Roger, We have Stingrays in Our Sights

Thursday May 30, 2013

5.30.13

There was something very strange about being anchored in the North Sound last night.  It wasn’t that we had four people packed into a West Sail, getting tipsy on a game of Settlers of Catan, that’s actually quite normal, it’s that we were on a boat that was absolutely still.  It was so calming that I almost told Brian and Stephanie that this would be Rode Trip’s permanent location until Matt and I decided to make our next passage, and hey, by the way, we’ll be staying here every night until then.  Having enjoyed ourselves way too much at our little slumber party the night before, alarm clocks didn’t go off until after 8, and even then we were rubbing weary and bloodshot eyes.  Brain took the remaining leftovers from the previous night of chicken and potatoes, and tossed them around in a skillet with a few spices and an egg on top.  I really must try this thing that people call cooking.  Spirits were high as we had full stomachs and the sun was shinning.  I think the words ‘perfect day’ were uttered too soon though, and as soon as that phrase fell into the air, more dark storm clouds rolled in overhead.  We’ve noticed that when the rain actually does come, it passes by fairly quickly, so we’d just wait it out in the cabin before traveling the few miles across the sound to the shallow banks of Stingray City.  Settlers of Catan was broken out once more, without the distilled sugarcane and molasses this time, but Matt decided he wouldn’t get suckered into playing again.

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Beautiful morning we’re having!

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I think Settlers of Catan was too much for his brain to handle.

 

When the rain finally let up, even though the sun was never looking like it was going to make it’s way out, we upped the anchor and began making our way to Stingray City.  Visually we could see right where it was by the plethora of other boats packed into one tiny area, but we did still have to keep our eyes glued to the charts since the North sound is full of shallow areas only 5 to 6 feet deep (with the sandbars around the rays at only 3 feet).  Still keeping a safe distance, we dropped the hook in a patch of sand and lowered the dinghy in the water.  Maneuvering our way through jet skis, we dropped the much smaller hook on the dinghy and fell back into the water with our snorkel gear on.  For a few minutes we floated around only staring at sand and the occasional conch, until a few dark spots began drifting our way.

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It’s a stingray floating by us!

 

As soon as one came by, the rest of them began to swarm over as well.  Since we weren’t part of a group and didn’t get the ‘swimming with stingrays’ lecture, I was still a little unsure of what I could or couldn’t do around them.  Both the guys told me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground so I wouldn’t accidentally step on one, but with the waves that were just rolling in enough from outside the sound, keeping my feet flat on the sand was much harder than I thought.  So I instead floated at the surface, watching the stingrays swim by and weave in and out of people like they were cones for a drivers test.  It wasn’t long before Matt and Brian wanted to go a step further than having the stingrays just swim around at their feet.  They wanted to feed them.  So pulling out some squid that Brian had picked up at the marine chandler the previous day, they wiggled the tasty treat between their fingers….until the stingrays came to suck it out of their hands.

I tried to hover for a bit with the camera as swarms and swarms of them came by, the whole time worried that I was going to accidentally kick one and end up with a stinger through my food.  In the end though, it wasn’t me who got hurt.  Brian had a nice little chunk taken from his hand when he let the stingray suck on it for too long.  Maybe it was more of a bite than a chunk, but it still looked pretty nasty, and we’re pretty sure he’s going to mutate into some kind of sea creature.  It didn’t keep Matt and I from feeding and playing though, and even I had my turn with a feeding, trying to hold my ground as the ray literally kept pushing me back with it’s force.  I decided I was better off with the camera than feeding them, and went back to taking pictures of the guys until one came up to me and basically suctioned itself to my back as I floated there.  Sneaky little bastards…

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I’m sure I would have been stabbed by this point.

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Here fishy, fishy, fishy…

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Like sharks being drawn to blood.

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There goes Brian, getting his hand eaten off.

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But they still ended on good terms.

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Mmmm, finger licking good.

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 ’I swear, if I feel one tooth on my finger, I will eat you for dinner!’

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Before long, another storm started making it’s way in and we made our way back to the dinghy so we could get to Rode Trip before a downpour let out.  It seemed like once more for our trip, we had to hide out for bad weather.  I thought this was supposed to be paradise?  I guess that’s what we get for staying in the tropics at the beginning of hurricane season.  When it finally let up we started the long trek back home, making a few light bumps on the sandy bottom while trying to get to the deeper waters of the sound, but clearing any coral through the channel this time.  Once all eyes were not needed on deck anymore, I was put below with a cup of tea, soon zonked out with the wonderful memories of our trip to see the stingrays swimming in my head.

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