Getting Our Land Legs Back

In case you were wondering, the crew of Sanitas are land lubbers this summer. Like most everyone, we’ve been separated from our friends and family way too long due to Covid, so we’re making a grand USA cross country tour this hurricane season. We’re loving the quality family time (with lots of hugs – thanks vaccines!) the opportunity to cook delicious meals in a full size kitchen, and the chance to stretch our legs and run, hike, and go on bike rides. There have been a few instances of culture shock for sure, as we readjust to life in “the land of plenty” but we’re having a great time. Have you SEEN how huge a Walmart Superstore is? Especially compared to a typical grocery store on Bequia in The Grenadines?!?

The long flight home

First stop has been visiting family in Upstate New York. We bought a used car (we sure have good timing, huh? Buying a car during a nation-wide car shortage?) installed a bike rack, and hit the road. We told our folks to have the ToDo lists ready – what’s the point of all those boat projects if we haven’t learned something to help out with our parents’ home maintenance while we visit? We helped with lawn work, cleaned out basements and garages, configured streaming accounts and Bluetooth speakers, and even rebuilt a fieldstone wall. Or at least Capt. Mike did. I mostly supervised and took photos. Did you know you can put almost any old junk by the side of a country road and SOMEONE will stop and take it?

But it’s not all work! We’ve also caught up with high school friends, and been tourists in our home towns.

We had a great time looking through photo albums at my parents house in the southern tier of New York. Recognize this future sailor?

I’m really enjoying the chance to get some land-based exercise again. Not much of a swimmer, I’m loving alternating between hiking in the national forest, building my running endurance with the C25K app, and getting used to my road bike again. You know what they say – it’s just like riding a bike, lol.

I know, I know. It’s not as exotic as life on a small sailboat. But we’re enjoying it! Please follow along, as we start our epic road trip to Colorado on Monday, and as we attempt to get in shape to backpack the Long Trail in Vermont this fall. Watch out mountains! These sea level sailors are coming for ya!

Just-In-Time Living

Another “keeping it real post” about nomadic life. Since only about three people actually read this blog (Hi Mom and Dad! Hi Sharon! Love you guys ♥️) I guess it’s ok to go public with my love of thrift-store finds, and maybe even to admit what I spent on my 30th reunion outfit.

One of the toughest transitions from land life to boat life was getting used to the idea that I could no longer buy in bulk, and couldn’t keep things around just in case I might need them someday. There’s no room! There’s high humidity! You gain weight! You lose weight! Basically, if I manage to keep stuff around, by the time I need it either it’s no good anymore, or I don’t like it anymore. Capt. Mike shared with me a great article on minimalism that suggested using Craigslist like your own personal storage unit. If you don’t need it on a regular basis, sell it! When you need it again a few years later, odds are you’ll find something just like it on Craigslist or eBay. Great advice. I feel better now about parting with something that rates marginal on the “brings me joy” scale.

When we were packing last June for our summer in Europe, a record-setting heat wave was blanketing the continent. So we carefully packed light, and left thermal jackets behind. But we knew we’d end our trip at northern England in September when weather conditions could be very different. I stayed firm, forcing Mike to leave those wool tops and jeans behind: “We can spend $50 each at Primark when we get there. It’ll be fine.” And, for the most part, it was!

I think I walked off a layer of fat in the 900km between St Jean Pied-de-Port and Finisterre, and by the end of the Camino de Santiago I shivered through the chilly fall evening temps. But no problem! I discovered the European sporting goods chain Decathlon and bought my favorite color purple long sleeve top for €9.99. Plus, they have gluten free energy bars!

And yes, it was every bit as cold and rainy in Harrogate, North Yorkshire as we anticipated in September. But that was ok too. We spent our first afternoon wandering the town where we lived for four years in the late 90’s ducking into all of the charity shops and really enjoying the vibe of the town. We did great too! Mike found a pair of khakis and a navy blue sweater. I found a cute winter jacket for £9 and a pair of Converse sneakers for £15. After that promised trip to Primark, we were set for anything the cool and rainy English countryside could throw at us. You wouldn’t even recognize us by looking at our Camino photos and comparing to our English selves, and we didn’t have to carry all those warm clothes or have to pay to ship them ahead while backpacking.

The coup de grace of our thrift store shopping adventure was preparation for my 30th high school reunion. The dress code was “cocktail” and we sure didn’t have anything in our backpacks to fit the bill. In fact, Capt. Mike decided he wouldn’t even attempt to achieve cocktail status, he’d be happy just hitting the halfway point between hiker and formal, lol. I think he hit the mark: black Gap jeans with the tags still attached and grey dressy button down shirt from Plato’s Closet with black leather shoes from Thrifty Shopper. Grand total – $28. I was feeling a bit more conflicted. After all, it was actually my reunion, and and hadn’t seen any of these people in 30 years. And I was more geek than cheerleader in college. I didn’t want to LOOK like I’d shopped in a thrift store. But … I’m a retiree on a fixed budget now, so I’m not going to spent a lot of money on fancy clothes I’ll never wear again, right? My outfit: dress from Plato’s Closet, purse from Thrifty Shopper, tall boots from MoShop30. Grand total = $22. I cheated and bought new high heels from TJ Maxx for another $20. We salty sailors / backpackers / homeless nomads clean up pretty good, don’t ya think?

Well That Was a Shit Show (Pardon my French)

If you’re reading this … and you’re my mom … you might want to skip to the next blog post. I’ll post about beautiful beaches and sunsets again soon, I promise.

Quote from the Explorer Chart Books: “Warderick Cut is wide and deep. This is probably the best cut between Highbourne and Conch Cuts unless you encounter a north wind against an ebb current. The current can be particularly strong here.”

The cuts in the Exumas are gaps in the island chain that divide the deep, rough Exuma Sound from the shallow, protected Bank. When the tides change, massive amounts of water funnel through the cuts driving extremely strong currents. On a good day, you aim right down the middle and let the current carry you through. On a bad day…. you don’t go through at all.

I have a rule, or maybe more of a goal, that I never want to have a good story about passing through a cut in the Bahamas. I always want us to have reviewed the weather reports in advance, researched the tides, planned the time of day, and then simply glide through each cut like we’re floating on a lazy river. Unfortunately, this time I got myself a story.

We left Rock Sound on Eleuthera in a veritable parade of boats. Everyone had weathered the most recent cold front, and decided to use this good weather window to move on before the next one hit. Six boats were traveling the same route as Sanitas; a straight shot of 46.5 nautical miles to Warderick Wells, halfway down the Exuma chain. Weather forecast was for 10 knots, increasing to 15 knots over the course of the day. Totally benign sailing conditions. Until they weren’t.

At about 12:30, we were seeing 20-30 knots directly on the stern, with at least 3 meter swells. Tricky sailing, because the swells really bounced Sanitas around, changing her direction relative to the wind just enough to trigger some accidental jibes – a fast powerful swing of the boom from one side of the boat to the other, ending in a powerful crash. We use a break system to control how far the boom can swing, but the force was still significant.

Jeff, on Elixir, radioed and asked us to double check the tides. When we expected to arrive at 3:00, it was supposed to be mid-tide, when the current is the strongest and fastest. We agreed to monitor conditions, and radio ahead to other boats to ask about the conditions. If it looked too rough, we’d wait.

Then, chaos erupted. While Capt. Mike was trying put a second reef in the mainsail, the starboard lazy jack lines snapped, and suddenly about 75 feet of thin line was whipping around crazily in the wind. On the next accidental jib, the unbalanced sail put pressure on the remaining port lazy jack lines, causing them to snap too. Double the amount of lines whipping in the wind. One failure cascaded into the next. While Capt. Mike went forward to grab handfuls of line and wrap it in duct tape to get it under control, one piece of line snagged on the corner of our dodger canvas and ripped the hardware right off, folding the canvas and our flexible solar panels in half. We used the knife mounted on the steering pedestal to cut that line to relieve the pressure. So much for saving the lazy jacks! Now I had control of the helm while Capt. Mike had to finish corralling the lazy jacks, and also had to dig spare lines out of the cockpit locker to lash our solar panels on before they could sustain more damage. So now, with our mainsail double-reefed and falling out of the destroyed sail bag, and our view from the helm partially blocked by the sail, we arrived at the Cut.

We hailed The Colonel’s Lady on 16 and asked what the conditions were like when they passed through the cut just before us. Their Captain responded, “Are you familiar with the term ‘a rage’? When northeast winds are blowing against the easterly flowing ebb tide right at the strongest mid-tide levels, forming big standing waves? Well it’s raging right now.” Capt. Mike asked, “But it’s doable?” And the Captain answered, “Well …. how heavy is your boat?”

At this point, we didn’t have a lot of options. Winds were over 30 knots, gusting higher. Swells were 3 meters with a very short period between waves. Our buddy boat Elixir reported “falling” down the waves at over 11 knots. You’re not in control of the boat or able to steer at those speeds. When the boat ahead of us entered a wave trough, it disappeared from view until it climbed up the next one. We couldn’t simply do circles out on the Sound and wait for better conditions. And our mainsail was a mess (we were afraid to turn into the wind and finish dropping it without our lazy jacks and sail bag in these conditions), the dodger and solar panels were barely tied on using a spare line, and stuff was thrown all over the cabin. So we went for it.

Capt. Mike was standing at the helm, tethered in and hand steering; trying to simultaneously keep us from going broadsides to the waves, and to keep us off the rocks and shoals. I was sitting close to the companionway, tethered in, holding up the iPad with Navionics so he could see the best route to take between the hazards. He said, “Don’t be surprised if a wave washes over the cockpit.” Yes. Really. He’d spin the wheel all the way to one side, then spin it quickly all the way back, trying to hit the waves head on so that we wouldn’t be knocked down by a sideways wave. He tried to stay on his feet, but Sanitas was bucking so hard, he got knocked back onto his butt on the cockpit bench. When he’d look back over his left shoulder to try to time the next wave, all he saw was frothy white water higher than our heads. The rock bars on either side of the cut looked awfully close, and Warderick Cut didn’t seem so wide anymore. But good steering and running the engine at maximum rpms got us through it. Capt. Mike would have a sore back and shoulders the next day.

Once we had enough sea room, we turned back into the wind and dropped the sail, manually flaking it and lashing it in place with dock lines. We had already passed the entrance to the mooring field, so we pointed Sanitas’ bow back into that wind and aimed for the narrow entrance. A fellow cruiser jumped into his dinghy and zoomed over to help us pick up the mooring ball. Thank goodness. It was still blowing 22+ knots in the protected mooring field when we got there, and we had to make a very tight turn to head upwind to the mooring ball inside a channel only two boat-lengths wide. Once secured, we took a deep breath, gave each other a hug, and radioed the park office that we’d not be coming ashore to check in that night. Did a quick survey of the damage and decided to put that off until tomorrow too. We confirmed that Elixir made it through ok (although they’d actually been spun around 360 degrees in the cut!), and we poured ourselves a whisky and watched the sunset, grateful to have made it to a safe harbor.

Downsizing

“We’re going to sell everything and move onto a sailboat.”

It’s such an easy thing to say and such a difficult thing to do. We bought our sailboat in St Petersburg, Florida in March of 2017 and spent the next five months closing out our lives in Boulder, Colorado so we could join her there. At the time, Mike and I owned a townhouse in Boulder, two cars (including the obligatory Subaru Outback), six bikes, and the plethora of outdoor gear required to support our addictions to

  • Road biking
  • Mountain biking
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowshoeing
  • Road running
  • Trail running
  • Golfing
  • Car camping
  • Backpacking
  • Woodworking

We adopted two mantras: “Does it fit on a boat?” and “Does it bring you joy?” With those questions always in mind, we set about downsizing. We held a gigantic garage sale in June and got down to normal people amounts of stuff, and made a few bucks. We sold the most valuable items of gear to friends and CraigsList patrons, and eventually made daily trips to Goodwill. I’m surprised the Goodwill donation guy didn’t get a bit more friendly after we started spending so much time together. I brought trunk loads of excess running gear to share with my Lilly’s Coaching training group. I spread kitchen items on every surface and posted an invitation on Facebook, “Come and get it. Everything must go!”

I spent hours looking through photo albums over a glass of wine selecting the pictures to digitize and sharing the best throwbacks to Facebook. The rest were thrown in the dumpster to Mike’s horror.

Eventually, the day came when we emptied the house and left the rooms hollow and echoey. We slept the last two nights on the floor in piles of every quilt and pillow we had left. I’m forever grateful to our friend Toby for helping with last trips to the dump, and for basically carting away everything that was left in the garage at the very end.

In the end, we loaded up the smallest moving van we could find with the items we planned to store at Mike’s mom’s house in Buffalo; souvenirs from our travels, glass from Africa, a few items of winter clothes, kitchen items….. The goal was to get down to only what could fit in my Volkswagen Eos convertible by the time we left Buffalo and headed south to Florida. Piece of cake! In the end, it took at least three more organizing and purging sessions, but we finally made it.

We only stored this much of our belongings, after 20 years of married life together!

And we filled every single inch of the VW, almost to the point of bottoming out, as we set off on our road trip to Florida!