Sunday, December 27, 2015

Friends with Benefits

Midnight here at Staniel Cay, never thought I'd be back here again so soon after our last epic adventure.  We've spent the past couple of weeks with our new friends on Sailboat Furminger.  We met them back in St Augustine, and like us, they are a young couple that sold everything to live on a boat to learn the invaluable lessons that Poiseidon grants us all when we decide embark on this lifestyle.  We had convinced them to join us in the remote Berry Islands, and what fun we have had.  Weeks have been spent spearfishing, partying, laughing, talking, and getting to know one another.  I often forget to mention this on our blog, but one of the most glorious things about boat life are the people you meet.  The friends that you make on boats are none like the ones you meet on land.  Somehow, no matter where you are from (they are french canadian), you almost always instantly bond.  Perhaps it's because those you meet out here are often times like-minded wanderlusts who understand that though this life may seem like paradise at times that it's always a challenge.  Maybe it's because we are on remote islands and we have no one but each other.  The closeness you feel to these friends, even when you've only spent a couple weeks with them is indescribable. This feeling of community and understanding, of what's mine is yours, and no matter what I have your back is so rare that it makes you want to continue to meet more like-minded folk.  We give to each other what we have, and likewise, and there is no counting who paid for what, who's food is who's, who did this and who didn't, because out here, none of that matters.  It's odd to be thinking about these things because in our western society, we all have a proclivity to keep tabs on what we gain from one another, but in this world (at least how Frank and I live), there is no such thing.  Don't get me wrong, not everyone is this way, but when you do meet others that have the same philosophy of communal living as you, it's like taking in a deep breath of air after a 30 ft dive.  

This lifestyle can certainly take a toll on you, the constant hangups, the shit that breaks, the weather that is incessantly challenging your testicular fortitude, the loneliness, the isolation of not having people around you that care about you, the feeling that no one understands, the loss of who you think you are because suddenly you are this tiny little speck of a unit in a little home you call your boat on the big, bad ocean.  I don't mean to sound like an ungrateful little shit, but sometimes, I just want to be normal.  I want to want the things that everyone else has…stability, a comfy salt-free bed, cable television, access to a supermarket. These aren't things that you would say to your landlubber friends who seem to think that your life is a dream come true.  These aren't the things that you would say because let's face it, we are living a dream, waking up every day in paradise, but who's to say that living your dream is necessarily a fairy tale?  These things your boat friends understand because, well, they've been there.  They've been scared shitless, they've vomited into a bucket during watch, they've had petty little fights, they don't think you're crazy for wanting to put a gaff hook in your partner's throat…they understand.  I often bring this topic up in my ramblings, but it's so very true that living in this way forces you to face up to you and who you really are and make you question every thing about your life and what you want from it. There is nothing here to hide behind, and every day you are faced with the choices that you make and the things that you do or don't do.  You simply have too much time to face up your own demons, and sometimes who you think you are is not exactly who you are at all.  You discover that you can't overcome everything, that you can be weak and troubled, and sad, and that it's ok.  That you can be an ungrateful little shit in paradise, because well, that's just who you are.  

Gotta love the Berries….
Trigger, grouper, grouper, grouper, testosterone…
Love this couple...
Dinghy rides…..
Nurse Sharks at Staniel Cay 
Another one bites the dust…
Thunderball Grotto
Another young couple we met in St Augustine on
 a boat… Cameron...
Me, Jackie, and Dani….boat ladies
Our version of Xmas lights this year…

On a side note….I got the most touching email the other day from a complete stranger that simply warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes…hello Phil.  It made me realize just what I have and how far we've come, and though I may bitch and whine, it made me realize how different I am from 5 years ago, and how much I'm just the same. Same old optimist, same old over thinker.  Thank you for reminding me of how much I have and how far we've come.  It's readers like you who inspire me to continue to be candid about my life and honest about this journey.  I try hard not to candy coat things because we all tend to do that when we write about our lives, and perhaps it's a coping mechanism, but thank you for encouraging me to continue to write about the "gritty truth"…Thank you for making grateful once again for the life I have and the life I chose.   

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Long Time No See...

West End

Well, we're back in the Bahamas.  After 4 days of motoring down the Intercoastal, stopping at the same anchorages we stopped at the last time, and hopping across from Fort Pierce, we are finally back in the Bahamas.  If you remember (not that we're so important that you WOULD remember…), but on our last trip, we hopped over from Miami to Bimini.  Well, this time, we came to the West End.  

After waiting too long for a weather window to open up so that we could sail on the outside, we decided to just grin and bear it and take the Intercoastal as there was a small craft warning off shore now for quite some time.   We saw a small weather window potentially opening up for a Gulf Stream crossing when we left St Augustine, and hurried down to try to be at the right place at the right time if it did open.  Believe it or not, the weather forecast was ACTUALLY accurate 5 days out.  (Oh man, praise the lord, Jesus Christ!)  When we got to Fort Pierce, we realized that our window for the crossing would be opening shortly, and in order to intercept it, we had to leave at sunset, sail 8 hours down the coast, and head east for 12 hours before landing in West End. The trip itself was uneventful, though pretty bumpy with the wind on our nose and some choppy seas.  Comparatively, I would say the first time crossing from Miami was an easier trip because of the angle that you have on the stream.  With that route, you start slightly south of your destination which allows you to use the stream more to your advantage and fight it a lot less.  

Being back on the ocean again was intimidating to say the least.  It has only been 3 months since the Ocean and Moitessier rendezvoused, and the experience was no less exciting than the first time.  Like 2 new lovers meeting for a date, butterflies filled my stomach with nervousness, excitement, and warmth.  I was overwhelmed with emotion when going out of the inlet, and to be honest, I couldn't really pinpoint why.  Perhaps it's because it would be a while again until I am back in the comforts of the things and the people that I know and love.  Or maybe it was the unknown of what lies ahead.  Or maybe it was realizing that I would no longer be getting fresh water showers on a regular basis that had me sobbing like it was my last day on earth.     Or perhaps it's knowing that I'd once again be alone with my thoughts and self reliant. Back to a world, where you're constantly humbled by your surroundings, and that though you may be self sufficient, try as you might, YOU are no longer the one that's in control.  But really, who among us are actually in control.  Whether living on a boat where Mother Nature pulls the strings, or living on land, where the illusion of control and safety allows you to live complacently and let life pass you by.  One way or another, I'm not quite sure which one is the key to my happiness, and often I find myself torn between the two. Sometimes, I want both and neither all at the same time.  And ultimately that makes me a crazy person, which makes sense cause you have be crazy to live on a boat, right?   

Sunrise on the ICW
Double Rainbow at Fort Pierce....good omen or what?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Me and Yu, and Yu and Me, No Matter how They Tossed the Dice, it had to be....

After tossing the dice around trying to figure out whether or not we should head north with Moitessier, we finally decided that it was foolish to bring the boat up.  We had debated for a while as to where to keep her and work while we built our kitty again.  We had considered Charleston, Savannah, New York, and other coastal cities, but the problem was Frank and I wanted to be in a place where we could easily pick up work as well as get paid well enough to be able to save a little money for our next big adventure.  The southern cities were viable options because it would never get too too cold on the boat where we had to worry about shrink wrapping and all the glorious cold weather related troubles.   The reason we didn't go that route was because for some reason in the south, skilled labor is not lucrative.  New York was a possibility because both Frank and I could pick up well paying work, and be with our family and friends, but the problem posed here were all the expenses involved just to keep warm.  High dockage fees, shrink wrapping, as well as installing a hydronic heater that would be suitable for living aboard and could be left running for long periods of time unattended, were all factors that kept us from going forward with this plan as well.   We'd be going into debt just to not freeze and that made no sense.

So here we were sitting around for a month in St Augustine, twiddling our thumbs and trying figure what our next step was, when it occurred to us that we could work in the US Virgin Islands.  Since it is a US owned territory, we are legally able to work.  And since the USVIs, particularly St Thomas, are rich with tourism, job opportunities are abundant. That on top of the whole crystal clear blue waters thing, being able to spearfish every day, and being close enough to other islands that were just day sails away that were culturally diverse, really swayed the decision.  

During this time also, our dinghy got stolen....yup...different blog post, but what the fuck?  After dealing with all that and coming to terms with this decision to go into more debt and moving south instead of north, we immediately flew up to NY so that we could both work for a month and save up as much as we can.  During this time, Frank had decided to take the STCW-95 class and get his certification as he is hoping to work as crew on other boats, because from what we hear, this is a common requirement to work on boats.  On top of all that, Frank picked up some metal work with his friend, Zach, where he learned to MIG weld.  He also managed to squeeze in some time to get an abscessed tooth pulled....YAY! And squeezed in some time with his family.  Quite a hectic month.  

I managed to find 2 bartending jobs during this month, and worked doubles for days on end and spent some time with my family, as well as by myself.  It had been 4 years since we had ever visited NY in the fall, and no matter how exhausted I was, I always made it a point to have dates with NY.  Going to museums, walking around the city, and just eating good food by myself was something I hadn't done in a long time.  After spending so much time with someone always around me but in isolation, I was now by myself doing my own thing in the opposite of isolation...NYC.  Since Frank and my schedules were polar opposites during this time, I hardly got to see him, but oddly it renewed our relationship.  I realize how important it was for me to be alone.  Alone with my thoughts, alone to do my thing, alone in interacting with people, alone in my decision making.  Again, that didactic juxtaposition of not having something for a while in order to realize how important it is to one's life.  In this case, it was my alone time.  Being by myself again and not being a part of a "unit" made me feel whole again, like I had been missing myself, if that makes any sense?  I realized that I am actually pretty good company and that I quite like myself.  Hopefully on our next date, I get to second base....

Dates with NY.....
Upstate NY...
Fall...I've missed you most of all....

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Under the Sea….

Foraging for food was the highlight and the goal for most days in the Bahamas.  We got into a routine where every morning, we'd get up, eat breakfast, lather ourselves with sunblock, and pack the dinghy with all of our spearfishing gear, and head out and try to find a new reef to dive on in the surrounding areas by trying to read the water.  At this point, we had gotten very good at reading the water and distinguishing between sea grass, rocks, or coral.  Depending on what we were trying to spear, we'd try to scout out the best spots for what we wanted to hunt.  This was done basically by me just sticking my head in and checking out what was around.  If we were hunting lobster, we'd try to find smaller, low lying rocks with ledges where the lobsters would hide.  Sometimes, we'd get lucky and see the antennae from above and at which point, it was just a matter of diving and spearing them.  We found that we'd find lobster in water anywhere from 5ft to 30 ft, so long as there were rocks for them to hide in. We also discovered that finding one lobster also meant that there were definitely more around as they tend to cluster in groups. 

Our biggest lobsters of the trip….
An iphone for comparison

There was never a scarcity of fresh fish or lobster, and we prepared it in every way imaginable.  Raw, pan fried, lightly floured and deep fried, steamed, ceviched, grilled, made into salads, into paella, or poached in coconut milk. We tried every imaginable way to prepare the fish, and even with this in mind, at times I found myself completely sick of both lobster and fish and wanting a hotdog, chicken wings, or a burger.  Haha, first world problems.  We discovered that if you deep fried trigger fish, since the meat is very hearty and fibrous, that it tastes A LOT like fried chicken.  Now take it one step further, if you dip it in Heinz BBQ sauce, the flavor is much like a McDonald's chicken nugget.  A very welcome respite when you've been eating fish for literally 3 weeks straight.  

It became a game for us to try to forage every type of edible underwater creature there was. Anything from conch, to sea urchin, to sea snails, to fish, to crab, to lobster, we found the thrill of the hunt to be quite addictive.  At times, we were scared to go in the water, especially in the end after Ashley left, because we spotted sharks on nearly every dive.  With one less person on the lookout for them, it became a little nerve wrecking to get into the water as they would appear very suddenly and seemingly from out of nowhere.  On Ashley's last day in the Bahamas, we were on one of our usual dives, when suddenly I hear her shout "Shark!"   Protocol for us is that when one of us spots a shark, we just swim for the dinghy as quickly (and as calmly) as we can while trying to spot where the shark is.  Well, this was one of the days where I didn't spot the shark and just swam for the dinghy as quickly as I could.  Little did I know at the time that I was being chased by a 10 ft shark (which to this day is questionable as to what type it was), and didn't know until I was hoisting myself onto the dinghy and look down to see this thing about a foot from my fin.  Poor Frank was much too far from the dinghy at the time, and watched in horror as the shark chased me, thinking all the while what he was going to do if I needed to get a hospital that was a couple days sail away.  I don't know which is worse, seeing the shark chase you, or seeing it chase someone you love so dearly.  Needless to say, Ashley didn't go back in since she was the one who spotted it out of nowhere and was good and traumatized.  Frank and I both forced ourselves back into the water shortly after, because if we didn't, we'd be too scared to ever go back in and we had more then a month left in the Bahamas at that point.  In the end, despite all the shark and barracuda encounters, we made it out unscathed…though I can't say the same for the creatures you see below.  Yes, a lot of fish were harmed in the making of this blog post….

Typical day's haul (from Bottom Up)….Queen Triggerfish, Grunts,
Jackfish, Ocean Triggerfish, Red Hind
Bucket of 10lb+ lobsters
Bucket of Chicken
Whelps…delicious but pain in the ass to eat...
Frank caught the largest Channel Clinging Crab I've ever seen!
Sea Urchin aka Uni….favorite thing ever
23 Lobsters speared in 20 minutes and a more reasonably
sized Channel Clinging Crab to boot!
Ashley speared the largest fish of the trip….Mutton Snapper!
Big guy in 5 feet of water!