Reads like a novel, a narrative of my taboo life interspersed with wisdom from A Course in Miracles and Disappearance of the Universe. Ch 5 & 6.
Chapter 5 – Cruising Florida!
As 1992 wound to a close, it was apparent to James that my spiritual condition and happiness were deteriorating, primarily due to the influence of alcohol. He didn’t say anything, however. I continued going to the 12 step groups – the incest support group, the codependency group, and the Alanon group. Then I’d come home and take a swig or two of my red wine – just enough to take the edge off, I told myself.
On New Year’s Eve, I got off work at the hospital at 11:15 and drove the few minutes to the marina. I was highly annoyed to find some drunks celebrating the New Year – hundreds of them, actually, as the city had put on a fireworks celebration by the water there. And to beat all, one of them had parked in my parking spot. I stormed out onto the dock, letting the locked marina door slam behind me, and headed down the finger pier to the boat. James wasn’t on board. I took the criboards out of the main hatch, the boat’s doorway, went below, and grabbed my wine bottle.
As I lifted the bottle, two things hit me. One, the bottle was emptier than I’d realized, and two, my attitude was exactly like that of a drunk! I was judging others and projecting my unhappiness onto them. I’d learned from 12 step groups of the importance of accepting others and letting them make their own choices, as James had done for me. It finally hit me that I too was an alcoholic, or at least had some kind of a problem with alcohol.
I entered Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and applied myself with zeal. The principles of recovery made sense and appealed to my intellect. I read as much literature as I could get my hands on. I could not accept the idea of a Higher Power even vaguely resembling the God of my youth, however. I used the group consciousness of AA as the something-bigger-than-myself that could help me grow spiritually and keep me sober. I threw myself into attending and leading AA meetings, and sponsoring newcomers to sobriety.
We were still living on the boat, but now the marina life was pleasant. It was much like living in an apartment, with the van parked at the end of the dock. We were editing James’s novels with the aid of our new Macintosh laptop – a whole 40 MB of storage that could hold as much as 12 novels! We were impressed. Additionally, we were preparing the boat for a cruise to the Bahamas and eventually, we hoped, the Caribbean. I did much of the mechanical work. I rewired the entire boat and did a second reupholstering of all the cushions. James did numerous revisions of the teak work, installed some new solar panels, and completed countless other upgrades in addition to the constant maintenance required on an in-water boat.
It was time for another haul-out of the boat, this time for a new coat of bottom paint and an upgrade of the topsides paint. The boatyard put huge straps underneath the 12 ton sailing vessel, and lifted her, with a crane, onto dry land, just like our previous experience several years earlier. The difference between this experience and the last was that there was no alcoholic bickering and we went to bed at reasonable times. It was still the same backbreaking work as before, but things were much easier and there was less fear hanging around in the boatyard. We were getting close to realizing our dream of sailing. I continued working my shifts at the hospital and saving the money.
During this time, James began developing some health issues. Still, we pressed ahead with the lengthy preparations and stocking of the boat for the trip. We had a medical pharmacy, a storm sail, extra anchor, backup steering system, complicated awning complete with a water catchment system for collecting rainwater, the list was seemingly endless.
And then, finally, after years of preparation, we were ready. The stash of non-perishable food, the extra jerry cans of diesel fuel as well as water lashed along the teak railing to the lifelines, the new dingy hanging from davits off the stern – dropped the boat 6 inches below the normal waterline due to the extra weight in supplies. We moved the boat from the downtown St. Petersburg marina to one on the beaches that also had a boat yard for last minute preparations.
The next sections are excerpts from a compilation of letters I wrote to my girlfriend to stave off the loneliness while we traveled. A theme that runs through them is the incredible amount of chaos that we endured – another sign that the ego doesn’t fold its greedy hands and watch on the sidelines, even if you’re clean and sober!
We faced the worst hurricane year of the decade, that summer of 1995. Hurricane Erin came August 2, very early in the season. We left our dock in Pass-A-Grille, Pinellas County's southernmost barrier island and dropped the anchor in a basin in nearby Tierra Verde. We put out five anchors, spidered around the boat. The West Florida sunset was red with yellow gold highlights on the high-moving clouds, that hurricane eve. But by the time the Erin crossed from the east coast of Florida, it was downgraded to a tropical storm, with winds no higher than what we had experienced many times before in thunderstorms.
We lifted our anchors and sailed a couple of miles southwest to the beautiful uninhabited island of Shell Key, off St. Pete Beach, where we’d set the hook many times before on weekends. We settled in for a couple of weeks to wrap up loose ends before heading south. It was August and very warm with few breezes during the morning and noontime. Our awning was the only cooling grace.
One sweltering 95 degree afternoon, I noticed that the sky was yellow, it was so hot and humid. I told James that this was the kind of weather which produced tornados when I was growing up in Michigan. We saw some clouds gathering, but continued working below decks, preparing the boat for the trip. Then, out of nowhere, a thunderstorm packing hurricane force winds hit us. Both the forward and aft sections of the full awning were up, catching the force of the gusts. The awning had handled 40 knots without a problem, but the wind and driving rain were much more than this amount. The pressure was so incredible we had to use our dive masks for a solid hour to see anything as we worked on deck. The awning increased the wind resistance and put a tremendous amount of strain on the anchors and anchor rode. We weren’t able to take down the awning, due to the force of the wind. All we could do was turn on the 50 horse-power diesel engine and motor into the gale to try to counter the force. Suddenly, the boat was knocked flat on its side! It righted quickly, due to the heavy keel underneath, but then our anchors began to drag. We had out a 35 lb. Peckney, a fisherman's style anchor, and 22 lb. Deepset Danforth. Even though they had been in the mud for a week, both of them scraped across the bottom instead of staying put. James continued driving the boat into the wind, but we couldn't keep Gravity's Rainbow off the shoals. Later that evening, after the storm had passed, the anchors reset, and the awning fastened more tightly to the rigging, we watched the news on the TV below decks. We found that a semi had been knocked over on the Skyway Bridge just a few miles to the east of where we were anchored. The winds were clocked at 70 plus miles per hour on the bridge. What we got at Shell Key was probably closer to 80 knots. No wonder we dragged in the hurricane-force winds!
Hmmn, it’s just like the ego to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Son of God, isn’t it? Unfortunately for me, at the time, I didn’t understand the unreality of the severe weather patterns we began to experience. I made them real. And they seemed to be quite real, at the time.
One hot September day, our computer was finally fixed – one of the reasons for our wait – and the boat was as ready as it was going to be for the moment. It was time to begin our trip. That morning we took up the anchors – which were now deeply buried. Without an electric windlass, we used the motor to drive forward and allow the 12 tons of the boat to break each one out of the muck. One person was behind the helm, the other brought up the sand-and-mud covered anchor rode, fist over fist. We would then lay the rode across the forward deck and pour buckets of seawater over the piles of rope and chain, cleaning the rode before feeding it down through the hawse pipe opening in the deck where it was stowed in the anchor locker. The Danforth anchor was secured in chocks installed on deck and the shank of the Peckney rested in the metal channel that was the most forward part of the bow. Finally, we rinsed the deck with seawater and stowed the empty bucket in the lazarette in the cockpit.
The anchors away, we rode in the cockpit, under the shade of the Bimini. The awning had been disassembled and put away for the voyage. As we motored in the glassy stillness of Tampa Bay, feeling the heat of the morning, we listened to the Eagles’ album, Hell Freezes Over. It was a surreal feeling – our goal, the one we’d had for so many years was happening! We were cruising! We were passing behind Egmont Key, the island where we’d anchored many times before and where we’d made the emergency stop on our maiden voyage from Sarasota. But this time we had everything together, we told ourselves.
Our first destination was Longboat Key, just north of Sarasota, and only a few nautical miles – knots – away. We put the settings into our brand new GPS. As we crossed Tampa Bay, headed for the intracoastal, we set the AutoPilot. This was a nice feature for areas where one didn’t have to watch the channel markers in order to stay in water deep enough for our boat to travel. We decided to take the inland waterways as much as possible. There is a mariner’s saying something along the lines of this: once you leave the safety of the breakwater for open ocean, anything can happen. We’d found this to be true and wanted to keep down the drama.
We spent a couple of days in a nice anchorage in Longboat Key, coming up to land once or twice to go to the grocery store for milk and produce. We had plenty of flour, eggs, and non-perishable provisions stowed in various lockers inside. I had my culinary work cut out for me. I made bread – by hand, of course – every couple of days. The sea air was very moist and warm and so the bread didn’t last long before mold attacked it. For meals, I made a lot of pizza – it was cheap and easy to make. We had converted the built-in cooler in the galley to a refrigerator by this time. It ran off the 12 volt house battery bank and used a lot of juice. We had installed an extra solar panel to help offset the amperage usage, but it was still necessary to run the engine several hours a day just to keep up the charge on the large battery bank. The batteries had been replaced several times in the 6 ½ years we’d had the boat. We found that the ones that held the best charge and failed the least were 6 volt golf cart batteries, converted to a 12 volt system by wiring them in series.
Another chore that was quite time consuming was the laundry. When we were sailing or in remote locales, there were no facilities. So we used seawater and 5 gallon buckets to wash clothes. We’d use a broom handle spindle to plunge and agitate the clothes in the soapy salt water. Then we’d rinse the clothes in salt water until the soap was gone. Lastly, we used a small amount of precious fresh water to rinse out the salt. The final step in the process was to hang the laundry on the rigging and lifelines, secured with old-fashioned clothes pins. Quite a sight to see! Needless to say, there was plenty of salt left in the clean clothes and once they were ‘dry’ – a relative term because salt attracts moisture and the sea air provided plenty of that, leaving clothes and linens stiff and a bit rough on the skin.
We stopped next in the yacht basin in Sarasota, where we’d fallen in love with Excitable Lady, our boat’s original name. So far, everything was going splendidly, really. We took the dingy ashore, walked around the park and downtown area. The next day, we headed south to Venice where a nice treat awaited. The municipality offered free docking. We made fast to the docks for the first time in over a month and the last time in many months! We took a walk on the land and even located an AA meeting. We had purchased folding bikes which were stowed on deck against the lifelines in specially created Sunbrella canvas pouches. We removed them from their containers, assembled them, and rode them to the meeting.
And then our good luck began to change. We were headed south, down the West Coast of Florida when we encountered Tropical Storm Jerry. We hunkered down in the Ft. Myers/Charlotte Harbor area in a tiny anchorage surrounded by mangroves. The rain came down in torrents. Part of the awning contained a water catchment system. There was a complicated system of flexible plastic tubes and lines that we routed inside to the tanks. And so we topped them off. This was a blessing, because our usual procedure was to ferry the 5 gallon jerry cans ashore in the dingy, find a water source, and lug the jugs – 40 pounds each – back to the dingy and then onboard.
The storm went out to sea for a bit – and then returned. Between storms, it was very hot and humid. In addition, we developed what was to become our litany of fuel problems. The engine quit on us in the middle of one of Tropical Storm Jerry's downpours. We were in the gulf, motoring to wind, trying to get to Naples. Using the sails, we got close to shore and dropped an anchor in pretty deep water. After several hours of seasickness from working upside down in the engine room we were able to change our clogged fuel filters.
At last we made it to the Everglades. We anchored in the thick, sweltering swamp air of Little Shark River, and discovered propeller shaft problems! After some intense investigation we realized that the stainless steel set screws holding the shaft into the transmission coupling had sheared off. We spent a day running the generator and hanging upside down in the engine room drilling the stainless steel out of the bronze shaft, while hoards of No-See-Ums poured through our screens and devoured our bodies. It wasn't a pretty picture. After all that labor the shaft still vibrated pretty badly while in gear. It got us out of the Shark River OK, but obviously needed more work.
We set our GPS for Marathon, in the Keys. When we left the anchorage, the breeze was just forward of midships. We set the Autopilot and got busy trimming the sails for a close reach. This meant we were going at a sharp angle to the wind – in this case, the wind was coming from the port side, causing the boat to heel to starboard. The wind was about 15 knots of wind – ideal for sailing – and we noticed we were making way at 5 to 6 knots. Down below, the boat was on a sharp pitch to the right. We had special system for this – small rails around all the shelving held items in place. There was netting around other items, and even the stove was on a pivot that could be adjusted and locked in place for either right or left sided heeling of the boat. The speed of 5-6 knots was great for our boat, which was known to sail poorly due in part, to its beamy girth and shallow keel. Our relative success we attributed to finally figuring out how to trim – adjust – our sails. Our mainsheet needed to go out much further than you'd expect, even when going to wind. We also re-distributed weight forward in the boat to compensate for the dinghy on davits. These two changes increased our sailing speed tremendously. We had one of the best sails of the cruise that day.
It was dusk when we spotted the Seven Mile Bridge just off to port of the bow. As we passed under this bridge, we carefully followed the chart – the nautical term for a map – and made a turn to the north to follow the channel to the Boot Key Harbor bridge. Once the drawbridge opened and admitted us – we were lucky to get the last opening of the day – we were into the large protected anchorage in the harbor in Marathon, Florida. We motored around the bay and found an open spot to drop the hooks – Bahamian style. This meant that both anchors were sent through the channel off the bow, but were placed 180 degrees from each other. In other words, one anchor was set behind the boat, one in front. This system of anchoring limits the swing of the boat to a very small radius, making room for more vessels to anchor fairly close to each other. There were several thousand yachts anchored here – mainly sailing vessels – from various locales around the world. We settled in so we could resolve our propeller shaft issues, fuel problems, and mail our laptop back to the repair shop in St. Petersburg for continuing issues.
One evening while anchored, we had a strange encounter. We had just finished our dinner of chicken wings cooked on the grill, which was clamped to the aft railing. As we ate in the cockpit, we tossed the bones overboard to the fish. We heard several splashes as the fish, we assumed, fought over the pieces in the water. A few minutes later, as I was doing the dishes below, James called out, "Come quickly."
I hurried into the cockpit, and there, coiled on our boarding ladder, was a snake! After examining him, we determined he was a poisonous water moccasin. He was brown colored with reddish-brown markings, had a triangular head and forked tongue. He swayed back and forth on the top of the ladder, looking us over, I guess. We took several pictures, then tried to chase him off with our long-handled boat hook. He was feisty. Instead of slithering away into the water, he held his ground and fought back.
After a few minutes we realized we were getting nowhere. James got the Pepper Spray, which we kept in a small canister by our V-berth bunk, and sprayed the snake. It worked! He became confused and was unable to fight back. We knocked him off the ladder and into the water. He swam away into the night. We heaved a huge sigh of relief.
We had our mail forwarded to James’ mother, in Virginia. Once we arrived at a destination, we had her forward the mail to General Delivery. We also made it a point to call his mom several times. During the first of these calls, she asked that I come on the line. My family and I were estranged, mainly due to our religious differences and she had become like a mother to me. She told me that she had received a call from the police and that my brother had died in his sleep several weeks back. I had not spoken with him for a number of years. Daryl had epilepsy and cerebral palsy. He was 32. He never was able to get his seizures under control and his life had been very difficult. Initially, I was shocked and couldn’t react. I remembered many times during our childhood when he had been in status epilepticus for days on end and had nearly died. But now he was gone. I cried an entire day. Afterwards, I was able to find peace, particularly knowing he was no longer suffering.
One day, after waiting 2 1/2 months in Marathon, we got the repaired Macintosh in the mail from the repair shop. We discovered a fine spray of oil inside the engine room. After calling Mastry Engine Center in St. Pete – they'd advised us many times in the past – we undertook an oil seal replacement job. This required taking off a lot of tough looking gears on the front of the engine in order to get at the worn out seal, popping the new one into place, and using a torque wrench to get the huge nut holding the crankshaft engine pulley in place tightened properly.
We watched the weather closely, until we found what appeared to be a decent weather window for crossing the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean to the Bahamas. A small group of boats were also making the voyage and we exchanged names so we could talk on the VHF two-way radio, assuming we were in range. On the 25th of November, 1995, we at last we pulled out of Boot Key Harbor, unmindful of what was to come.
As I write these experiences, I am taken right back to the Boot Key Harbor day when I found out that my brother had died. The sadness I experienced then was profound. And now, I realize that he had learned all the lessons he needed to, for now. Could he have come back to a body? Yes, I believe he has. But more on that later and why I believe he is now in another body, on another planet, perhaps Universe. For now, I realize that our special relationship has been transformed into a holy one. And this process of remembering is important for anyone who has lost loved ones – the grief and lessons that need forgiving can be done when writing the memoirs. And it’s so vital to ask the Holy Spirit for help with the feelings that arise.
A related idea is a concept that I learned on the second reading of the Course – ACIM. That is that I don’t have to do all of the work in healing myself. My part is to be willing – even if it’s only a little bit. That was such a relief to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’d say to the Holy Spirit – ‘Hey, I’m not all the way willing to forgive this memory. Or maybe I don’t know how. But I do have a little willingness. Can you please help me with the rest? And you know what? Pretty soon I began to have a new perspective on the situation or person and I feel a whole lot better.
I still use this method, but because it has worked for me so well, most of the time now I have a lot of willingness. And this is what the Course calls a miracle, or change in perspective. If everything is a dream after all, and if I’ve made the dream up, including making all the characters and situations up – creating chaos and having people act badly I’ll look better than them, or look like a hero if I have overcome a seemingly difficult situation – then when I have a shift in perspective and see that they’ve actually done nothing, and I’ve actually done nothing – that is a miracle. Because we are all one. And the only reason I’m blaming the others is because I really feel guilty myself. It’s the classic case of projection – first I have denied that I feel guilty, and then, right away, I project that guilt, now unconscious, onto others. But because there aren’t any others out there – we’re all one ego appearing as seemingly separate egos — a miracle causes me to recognize my brother in the other person or persons. And all that seeming crisis and chaos that I endured in the cruising world was just another means of the ego trying to make me and my partner look special, or different, than others. There you have it – time to find another person, place, or thing to forgive!
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Chapter 6 – The Bahamas
We had been moored in Boot Key for over 3 months. As we motored out Sister Creek to the Atlantic Ocean, our engine was running fine but the transmission was vibrating badly, similar to what happened in the Everglades. This, although we thought we'd repaired the problem in Boot Key. We turned the engine off and sailed the rest of the way to the next anchorage in Long Key, 20 miles north of Marathon.
When we looked in the engine room that evening we found one of the bolts holding the engine mount to the body of the boat had broken off. We didn't have a replacement, so James hooked 2 giant hose clamps together to make a big enough one to go around the whole engine. It worked all right, and then he epoxied a smaller bolt in place which lasted until we replaced it with the proper size.
The next day, a Sunday, we sailed up to Rodriquez Key, a small island just east of Key Largo and about 25 miles farther north. We planned to hop over to Gun Cay, Bahamas, from there. A weather window with favorable SE winds for the jump across the Gulf Stream was predicted to open the following day.
We found 3 other boats anchored behind the island, all anticipating the Gulf Stream crossing. We knew one of the couples from Marathon. We had read that we should avoid jumping over with a group so our judgement wouldn’t be swayed by the "flock" thinking. After all, this was our first ‘big’ ocean crossing. As we waited in the aqua marine waters of the anchorage, we both admitted to more than a little trepidation anticipating our venture into the wild blue yonder.
We left Rodriquez for the Bahamas on a Monday, an hour before dark. This was timed so we would arrive at Gun Cay just after dawn in the morning. As we crossed the reef into the open ocean and darkness fell, the wind picked up, something that had not been predicted. The waters became very choppy and our beamy, shallow-draft boat was tossed around like a cork. James immediately became seasick in spite of the Scopolamine patch he'd put on earlier that day.
The south to north flow of the Stream is a tremendously powerful current. Before the voyage, we had plotted the crossing using vectors. In other words, even though we were traveling due east, we had to set our sights much farther south. The increasing southerly wind combined with the strong northbound current to carry us much farther north than what we had carefully plotted. To compensate, so we would arrive at our destination and not 50 miles north of it, we had to steer so far to the southeast that we were hitting the teeth of the steep waves and green water was shipping over the bow. The wind continued to rise from the predicted 10-15 knots to 25-30 knots, with higher gusts.
About four hours into the black, moonless night, our engine surged and died. We were a little nervous, but no problem, we'd just try to sail and tack. We already had the mainsail up, so we let the roller furling jib out. I gave James a shot of Phenergan to keep him from throwing up, then climbed into the engine room to find the problem.
The motion was terrible, like being in a washing machine. James was so sick and dizzy he couldn't even steer a course. I kept coming into the cockpit to help him get back on the right sail tack. This part of the Atlantic Ocean is a huge shipping lane and the lights of ships seemed to be everywhere.
All of a sudden a loud report sounded. Our roller-furl jib crashed onto the deck and was dragged into the water by the waves coming over the bow. I crawled forward, making sure my safety harness was clipped to the boat, and pulled the sail back onto the deck. James came forward too. He twice slipped on the deck, and would have gone overboard if he hadn't been clipped on. The image of him slipping, falling, and going overboard frightened me the rest of the journey. Together we managed to lash the sail safely to the crates lining the forward deck.
Back in the engine room I discovered clogged fuel filters. After changing them and bleeding the fuel lines, we got the engine started. I radioed the other boats and gave them our position and an update on what was happening with us. It was comforting to know someone was aware of our difficulties.
I hand steered for several hours. The Gulf Stream was so vicious, and we'd been carried off our course way to the north, that it was almost impossible to make any easting toward our destination. First we'd go too far south because of the angle to the wind, then too far north due to the current. The autopilot couldn't hold the course either. In addition, our engine began surging again. We finally made the decision to turn back.
Shortly after we began the return toward Florida, our motor died. The rough motion of the waves had kicked more gunk and sludge into the filters and fuel line and clogged them. We were now going downwind, and with only the mainsail up we weren't able to steer accurately. Ships were everywhere, and we couldn't do much to avoid them. Several of them passed very close to us.
James came up with a brilliant idea. We took a jerry jug of diesel from the forward deck, put it on the quarter berth next to the engine room, and, bypassing the clogged filters, ran a spare fuel line from it directly to the engine. Success! The engine got us to Brewster Reef, 20 miles south of Miami.
We heaved-to – a nautical term meaning you set your sail in such a manner that you are not making forward progress – in the lumpy Gulf Stream until dawn. Heaving-to provides more stability than just turning off the engine does. In other words, it dampens the bobbing motion of the boat. Still, it was not a calm, quiet anchorage, but there was no choice as we couldn’t risk crossing the reef in the darkness.
At daylight we prepared to navigate the channel into Biscayne Bay. I was scared to death the whole time because we didn't have a chart of the area. We didn't know if the water was deep enough to avoid running onto the reef and being holed and sunk. In addition, the jerry jug we'd been using had run out of fuel, and we were now into the last diesel jug from on deck. Fear surged through me. I just knew we'd run out of fuel before we could get to a safe anchorage. Little did I know then that, as A Course in Miracles says, you are never upset for the reason you think.
We got safely on the other side of the reef and began steering toward Angel Fish Creek, a place we'd heard about. After four hours of motoring on our precious last fuel, running aground, getting off the ground, then at last negotiating a winding pass from the ocean into a group of islands, we found safe harbor in what turned out to be Rubicon Key. I checked the jerry jug. A mere half a gallon of diesel left! We thanked our lucky stars, dropped an anchor, and though it was noon, passed out for the rest of the day and that night.
You'd think that would have taught us a lesson. We'd lick our wounds and limp back into a safe American harbor. Nope. Two days later we fixed the jib with a spare block we dug up from under the settee. We spent half a day running all the diesel through a large filter using our electric fuel pump to circulate what we thought was the cleaned fuel back to the tank.
Three days after being cast upon the shores of Biscayne Bay we listened on the shortwave radio to the National Weather Service's Offshore Forecast. Calm winds and seas were predicted, with 1 foot waves in the Gulf Stream. Saturday evening before dark we again crossed the reef into the rolling Gulf Stream waters.
This time the forecast matched the reality pretty well. No sea spray foaming our faces. A bright moon shone, making the trip much less intimidating for a couple of neophyte passage makers. The engine ran well until two hours before landfall in the Bahamas when it surged and died. Once again our fuel line was clogged. This was a pretty clear message that our fuel problems were deeper than we'd anticipated. We blew the blockage out of the line, hooked it up, bled the fuel lines and sprayed a lot of starting fluid into the cylinders to get the engine to kick over. The motor finally started, but we were quite skittish about making landfall.
As the sun rose over Gun Cay we motored toward the south end of the tiny island. We held our breaths that the engine wouldn't die and crash us into the sharp rocks, and then rounded the corner into the Bahamas.
The first thing we noticed was that legendary, sparklingly translucent water. It really was something. We set our course across the Bahamas Banks for Chub Cay. We were fortunate that the weather continued its good behavior. Three hours into the Banks crossing our engine abruptly surged and died. We'd already tried sailing without luck, since the light wind was against us. We dropped an anchor and spent the next 3 or 4 horrible hours with the boat rolling back and forth while we changed the filters and attempted to bleed the fuel lines.
Nothing. The engine refused to start. We primed and bled and re-bled, and cursed the day we ever had the idea of buying a boat. By now we'd used up most of the precious starting fluid we usually used to get her going. All we had left was a little in the bottom of a can that had no propellant. We punctured the can, drained the fluid into a bug spray atomizer type bottle, and I tried spraying the ether into the cylinder as James turned the engine over.
Well, it worked, finally. We were so exhausted from our overnight Gulf Stream passage and all the engine work that we didn't feel very happy that we were moving again. But we continued our forward direction, over the 25-40 foot deep waters of the Bahamas Banks. That night, we dropped the hook out there on the banks, fifty miles or so from land in either direction, turned on a bright anchor light, and hoped we didn't have drug runners as visitors, as the guidebooks suggested could happen.
The next morning we motored successfully against the wind over the remaining miles of the Bahamas Banks, across the 10 miles of the northern-most portion of the Tongue of the Ocean, the deep blue of the several thousand fathoms depth (a fathom is 6 feet) contrasting dramatically with the light aqua of the Banks. We made landfall at Chub Cay by three that Sunday afternoon. We checked our lines and filers and found them completely clogged. We'd made it by the skin of our teeth.
The next few days the weather cooperated, fortunately, as our anchorage next to Chub had no protection should any wind have picked up. We had to solve the fuel problem once and for all. So we drained the remaining diesel into our empty jugs. Then we cut two huge holes into the side of the iron diesel tank. We used the generator to power our electric drill with heavy-duty cobalt bits we'd brought with us. We drilled about a hundred holes in a circle because the metal was too thick to hack saw. Sure enough, the inside of tank was covered with a thick, gooey tar created by years of algae growth, something that is common in diesel tanks, we later discovered. A solid two gallons of black, gooey substance was in there. We removed the tarry material, handful by handful.
The following two days were spent cleaning the tank out, epoxying clear Lexan covers over the holes, then re-bleeding the fuel lines. Again, no luck with the engine starting. We must have bled the lines 3 or 4 times, over and over again. After the last bleeding, I used the final ounce of starting fluid in the spray bottle. James cranked the engine while I squirted. When the last spray left the bottle, the engine started! I burst into tears.
That Friday we cleared Customs into the Bahamas in Chub Cay. During our passage to Nassau the next day, in spite of all our work on the fuel tank, the engine once again started the surge-and-die routine. Fortunately, we eased off the accelerator before the motor actually quit and left us stranded in the Tongue of the Ocean.
We left the engine running at idle as we sailed, upwind of course, toward Nassau. We were afraid if we turned it off we wouldn't be able to start again, especially since we were unable to buy any starting fluid in Chub Cay. We sailed most of the way to Nassau, tacking 5 miles in each direction to make forward progress. As we sailed, we mulled the engine surging issue. We decided the only blockage could be in the electric fuel pump which was in the fuel line system. During the priming process we noticed it wasn't running properly. Normally we didn’t use the electric pump when the motor was running because the engine has its own hydraulic fuel pump. The electric one was just used for priming. But with the hydraulic pump only partially open we decided to turn the electric one on, hoping this would force fuel past the clog. It worked! We were able to motor the final 3 hours and get behind Salt Cay outside of Nassau just before dark.
The following day after dropping anchor in Salt Cay, a nasty front came through. We endured 24 hours of rolling gunwale to gunwale (the gunwale is the side of the boat). The next day, after listening to the weather on the shortwave, we heard that the wind was forecast to blow hard all week. We decided we couldn't stand a whole week of rolling and pitching behind Salt Cay. We made a decision to risk the motor trip against the hard driving wind to Bottom Harbor in Rose Island five miles away.
The ride there was a bit too exciting for my taste! We had to cross a narrow pass with the open ocean rushing through. Some of the waves were ten feet high. In order to keep from hitting rocks on one side and coral patches on the other our course went sideways to the waves. We were laid nearly completely over as we steered straight toward the rocks, the waves hissing and spraying foam everywhere. My heart must have skipped a dozen beats during that trip. And I was sure I heard the engine surge a thousand times, although I don't think it actually surged.
Bottom Harbor was a pleasant, calm anchorage. It had been quite a risk, as we found when we took the fuel pump apart. The strainer inside the pump was covered with tar and old gunky algae. I'm surprised any fuel could pass through it. We fixed it, and the engine purred like new.
While anchored at Rose Island, we put on our snorkeling gear and checked out the Bahamian under-water. It was gorgeous. Beautiful tropical fish swimming amongst purplish fans and brown colored sponges. After a few minutes we began to see the eating fish. Grouper were hiding under the rocks with only their snouts exposed. Then I spotted a lobster, his 2 foot tentacles sticking up out of some rocks. I waved to James, who had the pole spear. One shot, one lobster!
We spent another 45 minutes looking for the rest of supper. The grouper outsmarted us and zoomed away into the rocks too quickly. Just before we had to give up, as the light was waning, I saw a huge lobster hiding under a rock, the tell-tale tentacles sticking out. I called James over, and he shot the rest of supper for us. It was kind of like being in an outdoors fancy restaurant. You just pick out what you'd like on the menu, then shoot it!
I made a gourmet meal that night: Real mashed potatoes with gravy, that can of asparagus I was saving for a special occasion topped with Hollandaise sauce, melted butter floated with chives for the steamed lobster. I got all dressed up in a black velour outfit, and James took a picture of our dinner. For about five minutes, we felt like we'd finally arrived in paradise. But of course, this is the ego’s world, so that feeling wouldn’t be around for long!
After we fixed the fuel pump, we motored over to Nassau in the dingy to run errands. Nassau was a crazy place. Big boats called "Booze Cruz" roamed the harbor with hundreds of people hanging over the rails waving cups of liquor. One night before Christmas, the Bahamians paraded all night. A variety of wild looking boats and ships constantly came and went, in and out of the harbor.
On land, our first impression was that Nassau seemed to be a town of beggars. Even the pigeons were looking for a handout. A one-legged mourning dove hopped around the open air verandah at Wendy's, waiting for crumbs to fall. A man roaming the streets fell in step with us. Without provocation he began telling Nassau's history and then wanted money for doing so. A large number of people we met seemed to be high on something, likely alcohol if you took into account the large number of empty liquor bottles strewn on the sides of the street. The town square was scattered with blown litter and a stray pregnant dog with bloodshot eyes came looking for a handout. She lay down to lick her swollen teats a few feet away.
Obtaining the necessary marine hardware, pharmacy items, and groceries riding through the narrow, poorly maintained streets on our folding bikes was quite a trip. And to our minds, of course, everyone drove on the wrong side of the street! Anyway, we negotiated the roads safely, through the maze of half-looped people roaming the streets on foot. As it turned out though, most everyone we met was nice and pretty harmless.
Before leaving for the Exumas we visited Paradise Island, across the harbor from Nassau proper. The Atlantis was one of the fanciest hotel in the Bahamas. It was beautifully landscaped and had paths leading around salt water ponds where sharks were fed. The trail led underground, through rock and coral, and showed the shark pond from a different angle as an aquarium. Hundreds of fish, sharks, lobster, grouper, live seashells and coral formations were visible through the thick glass walls of the underground viewing port.
The next morning, we pulled up anchor for the Exumas, a famed tourist destination chain of mostly deserted out-islands forty miles or so south of Nassau. Our first stop was Highborne Cay. Highborne Cay didn't offer much protection for anchoring. We rocked side to side from the surge of Exuma Sound rolling around the corner of the island into the anchorage. We took the dinghy up to the beach one day and climbed through the loose rocks and cactus plants some 300 feet. The view east to Exuma Sound was spectacular! We could even see the black coral heads as the deep blue water shallowed up into light teal toward the beach.
Christmas Day we sailed from Highborne to Norman's Cay. Norman's Cay is a spooky ghost town. We anchored next to the half sunken airplane ditched by drug runners. It was so weird up on land there. There were huge, fancy houses with cars parked in the garages being taken over by the weather and foliage. Some of the houses we poked around in were riddled with bullet holes. There were millions of dollars of roads, houses, a clubhouse, all falling into ruins. We even saw a United States Coast Guard Helicopter circling the anchorage there, "maintaining a presence" according to the guidebook, so no more smugglers can use the small airstrip for their imports.
We had fun getting water from the cistern at the abandoned clubhouse on the hill. We used a bucket with a long rope to dip into the well, then transferred the water into our jerry jugs to haul down to the beach where our dinghy beached. It took a lot of work, but it was satisfying work. Plus, the water was free, which is a rarity in the Bahamas. Usually the cost is 30-50c a gallon.
While diving in Norman's Cay we got another lobster and several conch. After I shot the lobster, my first, he got off the end of the spear. I saw supper floating free in front of me. It didn't take more than a second for me to snatch him out of mid-water. I swam with him firmly in my gloved hand back to the dinghy. I found a recipe in one of our Cruising Guide books for conch fritters. We chopped the conch and mixed it with chopped peppers and onions, then battered and deep fried them. They were delicious. We didn't do very well getting the conch out of his shell. We punched the hole on the third ring of the shell, but neglected to put a knife in the hole and cut away the attachment muscle. We'd forgotten that step of the process. We ended up hammering apart the whole shell. Quite a mess. At last the thing came out though.
While at Norman's, the boat developed a mysterious salt water leak. The bilge, the bottommost part of the boat, under the floorboards, would fill up over the course of a day. We checked all the usual culprits: the stuffing boxes for the propeller and rudder shafts, the salt water pump, all the thru-hulls – and were unable to locate a problem. One day I went on an aggressive search, and in the recesses of the engine room discovered water dripping out of the back of the body of the motor itself!
After closer investigation, and discussing the problem with James, we found our transmission to be full of salt water! That was a shock. The heat-exchanger, which cools the transmission fluid by using sea water, had developed a leak, displaced all the transmission fluid with raw water, and eroded the seals in the transmission itself.
Now transmissionless, and therefore motorless, we had to travel under sail alone back to Nassau. The next morning, we left Norman's at daybreak. Much of the sail the wind was against us. Why is it always like that? Something to do with the ego, perhaps? We had to execute long tacks to make any progress toward our destination. We anchored overnight on the Yellow Banks, in 20 feet of water about 15 miles outside of Nassau to avoid entering the harbor at dark. The waves were very roly, about four feet high. We let out 250 feet of anchor rode to act as a shock absorber between the swells. It was quite a night, the boat lurching and lunging as we tried to sleep.
In the morning we were able to sail into Nassau harbor downwind and with the powerful current, so we felt pretty lucky. We only ran the engine for a few minutes to find a spot to drop the hook. We realized we'd been placing too much dependence on the engine. The more safe idea was to wait for the correct wind direction and use the motor as an auxiliary. Making that distance between Norman's and Nassau purely under sail gave us a sense of real accomplishment. We discovered by then that our 130% Genoa – the forward sail – was just too big for those tough winter winds. The cut caused it to constantly try to round us into the wind, sometimes forcing to boat into crazy tacks from a single strong gust. Well, we took down the whole roller furling system. In its place we put on a smaller, 100% hank-up heavy weather jib. This sail was cut very flat, and the boat sailed great under the 20 plus knots of wind that were common in the Bahamas.
We dropped anchor in the Nassau harbor and waited for the weekend to pass so we could do our errands in Nassau. One of those nights, as we were getting ready for bed, we checked the weather as usual, mapping out the fronts, troughs, and areas of low pressure on our hurricane tracking chart. We already knew that a cold front was scheduled to come through, but the wind was starting to howl as it ripped through the rigging above decks. James checked our position to make sure our anchors were holding. Everything looked to be in order, so we went to bed. About an hour later, we were awakened by the boat behind us beeping an air horn. We had dragged anchor and were about to hit him! As we hurriedly threw on foul weather gear, we peeped through the portholes at the harbor. Boats were popping out their anchors left and right!
We rushed on deck and James took the helm. Our gearbox was full of a mixture of salt water and transmission fluid, but the wind was wild, and we had no choice but to try to motor away before banging into the boat behind us and doing real damage. Even with our fifty horsepower engine we could barely move forward without being blown off hard to one side or the other. I hoisted the offending anchor, the 35 lb. fisherman's style, which dragged many times on the trip. When you're scared, 35 lbs. with 25 ft. of 3/8 chain attached to it doesn't feel much heavier than a feather.
We dropped another anchor, a 22 pound Deepset Danforth, which held for several hours, but eventually it too sprung loose in the 45 knot winds. Our oversized 45 lb. CQR dug in deep though, and held the entire night. We slipped back close to another yacht, a different one this time with a Chinese guy aboard, but the CQR rotated and held.
At least half the boats in Nassau Harbor dragged that night. Many hit others, or rammed the sea wall and were damaged. That first boat we nearly hit, dragged several hours after we pulled away. Their boat’s name was Odessy, and boy was that what their night was like. They hit other boats, had to cut loose three anchors that fouled other people's rodes, and at daybreak, with the winds in the 40's, lost their engine and broke free of their last anchor. They went flying toward the big bridge in the middle of the harbor that joins Nassau with Paradise Island, where the casinos are. We heard the wife screaming on Channel 16 for BASRA, the Bahamas Air and Sea Rescue, similar to our Coast Guard in the states.
Moments before they'd have slammed the bridge they caught a line from the rescue boat and were towed at full speed downwind and under the bridge, barely missing the abutments. We kept our fingers crossed and waited to either be slammed by another boat or drag anchor and slam someone ourselves. We heard one guy on the radio asking for help to retrieve his dinghy – his painter line attaching it to the big boat had parted due to chafe. One boat's roller-furl mainsail was sucked out of the mast and flogged till it ripped up, the owners unable to do much more than watch. This went on all the next day too. By that evening the winds were easing to around 25 knots. We'd been up nearly 24 hours with at least one of us sitting huddled in the cockpit. We went to bed early and caught up on sleep that night.
We learned a valuable cruising lesson from that experience – always put out the biggest ground tackle you have. For the last part of our trip we used our 65 pound Danforth hurricane anchor as a working anchor. We had to employ the main halyard winch in order to get the thing on deck, since it was too heavy to hoist by hand, even with two of us pulling.
The next day, with the winds settled, we went ashore, hopped on our folding bikes, and did the Nassau tour, gathering the parts for our transmission. They weren't too expensive – $160 for everything, including a new oil cooler, the replacement main seal, and lots of transmission fluid. Before rolling up our sleeves and tearing the transmission apart, we found a payphone that used a special pre-paid card and called our diesel mentors in St. Pete- Mastry Marine. We had turned to them many times on this trip for detailed directions on repairing various engine ailments, including that oil seal under the crankshaft that we replaced in Marathon. They assured us that with all our previous experience we could undertake the transmission job and likely come out on top.
Onboard, we used two block and tackle systems to suspend our engine and transmission from an eye bolted through the floor of the cockpit. The description Mastry gave us sounded pretty straightforward. With the confidence they'd instilled, and a brief description of the inside of the transmission by the man we got the seal from, we put our grease monkey clothes on and jumped in.
We spent 3 days busting knuckles and getting the kind of blackened tan that washes off after much scrubbing with the grease remover called GoJo. The job required a lot of removing of bolts, hoses, and cables, but overall seemed to go smoothly. We put the transmission back together by the end of the third day. We were relieved to find there weren't any leftover parts. Things looked good so far. We held our breaths and poured in the transmission fluid. Believe it or not, the gears shifted smoothly, and there wasn't a drop of a leak! For a couple of mechanical illiterates, this was a success of the highest magnitude.
We left Nassau the next day with high hopes. We did a trial run on our transmission repair to Rose Island, 8 miles away. We smelled the rubber coating on the gasket burning as we passed under the Paradise Island bridge, just a quarter mile or so from where we'd been anchored for the past couple weeks. The brand new seal blew out while motoring in the heavy current of Nassau Harbor! I climbed into the engine room as we continued toward our destination, and sure enough, transmission fluid was dripping from that same hole in the engine that we'd originally spotted the salt water coming from. We were simply stunned at our train of bad luck! We went ahead to Rose Island to make sure it was broken for real. The transmission was working like a dream otherwise. We measured the fluid level upon arriving. We'd lost about half a quart.
The following day we took the dinghy back to Nassau amid 25 knot winds and huge seas to get another seal. What an expedition! The ego was having its way with us, for sure! It was a Friday so we were in a bit of a hurry to get to Nassau since the weekend was upcoming and everything would be closed. We could have taken the big boat, but didn't want to have to re-anchor in that notoriously poor holding ground. We left early that morning, and although we had only a 16 mile distance to cover round trip, we weren't sure we could make it back before darkness fell.
As we fought through the choppy waters, we moaned about ever getting rid of the larger outboard motor and inflatable we used to have. With the inflatable and 9.9hp outboard we would have been able to complete a trip like this one from Rose Island to Nassau in a matter of 45 minutes or so. It was a safety factor as well, as the small 3.5hp dinghy engine we were using could barely get us through the strong currents in most of the Bahamian waters.
We finally arrived safely in Nassau. Once there, without our folding bikes to cover the distance in town, it was several hours before we completed our errands. In the meantime we wandered up several wrong streets ending in cul-de-sacs. Those residential streets in Nassau started out looking innocent enough, kind of like a street in Florida. Then, at the cul-de-sac end, there'd be wild looking Bahamian jungle with paths worn through the undergrowth leading god knows where.
We asked a number of people how to get to Montrose Street, which we knew was only a block or two away. None of them had a clue! It was surreal. One woman standing in curlers in her driveway said she'd heard of the road, but wasn't sure where it was. I asked her if the road she lived on went through or was a dead end.
"I don't know. I never go up that end," she replied. She'd probably lived on that street her whole life.
At last we got onto a street that would lead us to Diesel Power where we originally bought the seal. Armstrong Street was the wildest of them all. New Providence, the island of Nassau, has a number of hills. When roads were built throughout the island many of the hilltops were sliced, similar to the way they do in Appalachia when laying a road through the mountains. On Armstrong Street, the retaining cement walls supporting the earth were dug into, leaving a huge sooty hole that was obviously a fireplace to warm the homeless there on the narrow, sidewalk-less street. It had been used too, recently.
Once at the diesel store, we bought two seals. We should have done so the first time, but on our by now less-than-shoestring budget we were trying to save money. We talked to the knowledgeable man who runs the place regarding what could have happened to cause the seal we'd put in to fail.
He told us one of two things must have occurred. One, the transmission fluid still had some salt water in it. When heated under a load, this salt water expands, unlike the transmission fluid, which doesn't expand, thereby causing pressure in the gearbox and forcing the seal to give way. The second thing he mentioned, and the one we think caused our new problem, was that the shaft that turns inside the seal was rough, possibly rusted or pitted. This roughness chewed the rubber at the contact between the shaft and seal and caused leakage to occur. We thanked the gentleman for his help, paid, and left.
We decided to stop and wolf down a bite to eat after stomping miles all over Nassau. I'd made a lunch to take with us, but we'd already devoured that on the long dinghy ride from Rose Island. While we munched on stale fries from Kentucky Fried Chicken, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was so discouraged. I wanted to sail back to the U.S. then and there.
We wound our way through the winos and the litter and the stray dogs, passed out on the grass after a night of foraging, back to the dinghy dock. It was after 3 p.m. when we once again braved the building wind and seas for the return trip to Rose Island. Naturally, the 2-3 knot tide as well as the 25 knot wind was against us. We could barely pull one knot of speed in the narrow confines of Nassau Harbor where the current is the greatest.
After a long time, probably several hours, we were out of Nassau Harbor. We were making several knots by this time, but were now into open water. As we made the turn between Athol Island and Porgee Rocks toward our destination we encountered some of the weirdest waves either of us had ever seen. The current was outgoing and very strong against the wind. As it passed between the tiny islands of Athol and Porgee Rocks, the tide that was rushing out to the Tongue of the Ocean crashed into the tide flooding out through Nassau Harbor onto the Yellow Banks. This caused the waves to pitch at high right angles, making it impossible for us to avoid taking on water and getting drenched to the bone in spite of being bundled up in our foul weather gear.
The trip to Nassau had been downwind and took only one and a half hours. But our return trip against the wind and tide was nearly 3 hours. Boy were we glad to climb aboard Gravity's Rainbow that evening, and with just a hint of light left.
We could have kicked ourselves for not waiting for the proper weather to dinghy to Nassau, because the next three days turned out to be nearly calm. We gave ourselves some time to recuperate from the wild ride to Nassau and watched the Super Bowl on "The Station" that Sunday. The programming on "The Station," as James called the single TV channel in Nassau, was rather monotonous. Nearly every show was a sit-com. Most of the programs were ones that were rejected several years earlier in the states. The "World News" segment of the evening broadcast told about plane crashes in Barbados, the trial and conviction of two Antiguans who murdered an English couple on a boat, and a strike in Trinidad. The world was "the islands." We didn't really know what was happening elsewhere, but I'm not sure it was that important out there in the wilds.
By Wednesday I was ready to take on the transmission again. We did the same procedure as before, supporting the engine and transmission with several block and tackle systems and uncoupling the transmission from the engine so we could remove the plate that held the seal. This time we discovered that the gear shaft was coated with rough, sand-paper like rust. This had been created when our transmission was full of salt water. Although it stands to reason that the rust would chew up the new seal, our lack of experience didn't consider this when we installed it originally. This time I spent several hours sanding the shaft smooth. Popping the new seal into the plate was a breeze.
We'd started the repair late in the day, around 3 p.m., after working on the book James and I were writing since 9 a.m. or so. We had planned just to get the job set up for the following day. However, since we'd so recently done the same thing, I was able to finish nearly the whole task that evening. The following morning, Thursday, we realigned the engine, jacking it this way and that with a crowbar, and then started her up.
No leaks! At 11 a.m. we tuned in to the weather on the shortwave radio. The forecast said that day was the last calm one before a new cold front was to begin affecting our weather and increasing the wind. We made the decision to leave right then so as to have a calm, safe passage to the Exuma Island chain.
It was an ideal 25 mile trip from Rose Island to Allan's Cay. Not one engine problem! The transmission didn't leak and the engine was aligned so beautifully the boat purred better than she ever did while in gear. We didn't want to enter the harbor at dark, so we dropped anchor on the Yellow Banks, in the lee of Allan's Cay, just as darkness fell. That night the wind started to gradually pick up. We'd caught the last of the good weather window.
The next morning we upped anchor and motored around the corner into the full surround anchorage at Allan's. This was the most pristine place we'd been. It was truly gorgeous. We put our two largest anchors down – the 65 lb. Danforth storm anchor, and the 45 lb. C.Q.R. Plow.
The cold front that came through later that day was a strong one. No problems dragging, although the winds were 30 knots. That Friday we went up to the beach to check out the hundreds of iguanas. We took our camera and tripod. James took several photos of me close to some of the pre-historic creatures. We hoped to use them to sell an article I was writing for Cruising World Magazine, called 'Beauty and the Beast,' about our engine troubles. James had also taken some slides of me working on the transmission, dressed in my grease monkey clothes for the article. Life changes happened though, and I never got around to finishing the article.
One of the largest issues we had to face during the cruise was our health. Both of us were diagnosed with Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes ulcers, while we were in the Keys. By the time we went to a doctor in Marathon, James could only keep down liquids. At first the prescribed medication appeared to have cured the problem. As time we on though, the stomach acid returned. We had to wait two months before taking another round of medicine. This medicine didn't work either. We both again had extreme amounts of stomach acid, diarrhea, and nausea.
James had so many ailments on the boat it was hard for him to have a day without something really hurting him. He continued to have seasickness quite frequently – like when a swell came into the anchorage and rocked the boat side to side. I think this may have made his stomach acid worse, or perhaps vice versa. In addition, over the last few months on our trip his hands developed arthritis. The first and second finger joints became swollen and the knuckles red. This worsened when he over used them, as in tying lines while lashing items down in the boat. The last part of the trip I tried to do as much of these jobs as possible. He had had surgery just before the trip on his shoulders. Naturally, the trip aggravated them.
We left Allan’s Cay and stopped for an overnighter at Highborne Cay. Finally, we were cruising! Next, we headed to Norman's Cay, where we originally discovered the transmission problem. We topped off our water tanks there and did some spear fishing. We weren't able to get any lobster, but managed to gather 10 conchs. We took the bucket of them up onto a small beach in the dinghy and cleaned them in the surf using a hammer and dive knife. We didn't have a problem getting them to slide out of their shell after remembering to cut the attachment muscle. I made conch fritters with two of them that day. We froze the other 8. I made a tasty chowder out of the finely chopped conch, with bacon, tomatoes, onions, and celery. It was a bit on the spicy side with Old Bay and Tabasco for seasonings.
Next stop after Norman's was Hawksbill. We'd planned on exploring the extensive plantation ruins there. We took the dinghy up to the deserted beach, but neglected to bring our guidebook with the directions to the trails leading to the ruins. We wandered up a few foot trails ending in thick brush without finding the ruins.
The next morning we pulled up anchor early and made a pleasant 35 mile motor passage in calm winds and seas to Staniel Cay. We wound in between the rock outcroppings to Little Major's Spot, a sort of long sluiceway harbor. We came seeking shelter from the mini cold front that came through. No howling winds or anchor dragging this time. Nice for a change.
The anchorage at Little Major's Spot had calm water with a small beach on one side, and some high hills on the other. An older local man from Staniel Cay, which is a mile or so from Little Major's, came by in his 15 foot Bahamian style boat to peddle his wares to the 12 or so boats anchored there. He was selling fresh bread, fruit and tomatoes. We bought some bananas and tomatoes. Pretty nifty to have food come right to your cockpit. We went line fishing around Staniel Cay and Little Major's Spot. I caught a moderate sized bluefish. I deep fried it and made homemade french fries. Delicious!
We left Little Major's Spot for Galliot Cay, the next anchorage. While anchored there we did some more hook and line fishing in the deep Galliot Cut, not successfully this time. The anchorage at Galliot Cay was remote and beautiful. We were the only boat anchored in the cove. However neither of us were enjoying ourselves. We both felt lonely and just not "right" inside. We'd had these feelings all along this trip but attributed them to our health problems and the boat's breakdowns. The last few weeks though were breakdown free. All yacht systems were functioning smoothly.
The two of us really opened up that evening and into the night. We asked each other what we'd do if we had all the money in the world and could choose any possible option. Cruising in a slow, complicated sailboat wasn't on the list. We got so excited that both of us felt "south" was the wrong direction. We began to feel truly optimistic for the first time since leaving St. Petersburg, Florida. Heading out into the outer reaches of the Caribbean would only mean more dangerous hassle, seasickness, shoulder problems for James. The list went on and on. Why didn't we notice all these problems before?
George Town, the last stop in the Exumas, was the next destination. We’d heard that George Town was a large anchorage, similar to what Boot Key had been, with its own colorful transient society anchored in the harbor. We decided we needed to stick to our plan and go to George Town, Exuma, to get our mail as it had been forwarded there. In addition we wanted to reach our destination and therefore not have any regrets because we hadn't achieved the goal we'd set out for ourselves. Normally we went to bed relatively early out there, rising with the sun. That night we weren't able to stop talking till 3 or 4 in the morning. Our future began to brighten, our focus on life began to clear.
As we talked, we became more certain of the saneness of our decision. The insanity of cruising was obvious. Most human beings want a land base, a safe haven in which to weather the storms of life. Neither James nor I had been able to put down roots. We seemed to have been afraid. It was a feeling that the only way we could be safe was to constantly be on the move. Running was a way of life. Once again, a “special” form of fear was what the ego offered us and what we accepted. Of course, there is no satisfaction in any mode of living without choosing the Holy Spirit’s version. Yes, we had chosen what we thought was the biggest road, the sea. Yet what we discovered was that the ‘biggest road’ actually made things smaller and the sea wasn't really the sea, but merely a broken transmission, a clogged fuel line, a galley, or an upset stomach.
As I write, all these details come to mind and it can be challenging to not make them real. No question about it, this part of my life was definitely a wild dream dreamt up by a couple of irrational intellectuals. Reliving and then forgiving this nonsensical dream is the best thing I could ever have done. I am so grateful that I have been given this opportunity by the Holy Spirit. So far it has proven to be a great method of safely forgiving much guilt that would otherwise remain hidden in the subconscious mind, waiting to relieve itself in other forgiveness lesson opportunities.
You see, I’m not a guilty son of a bitch. I’m a son, well, daughter in this lifetime, of God who decided to dream this crazy ass dream and forgot to laugh at it. The purpose of sharing this dream with you is not to glorify and make real the details, but to let you know that the life you’ve lived can be similarly forgiven. It’s not up to God to forgive us – He’s already done that. And we aren’t even expected to do most of the work in forgiving ourselves and others. After all, if we were well, we wouldn’t need help. All we need is this tiny little willingness and the Holy Spirit will pick up on that and do the rest.
The idea that I don’t have to do all of the work in healing myself was an important concept I learned on the second or third reading of the Course, as we students of ACIM call it for short. My part is to be willing – even if it’s only a little bit. That was such a relief to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’d say to the Holy Spirit – ‘Hey, I’m not all the way willing to forgive this jerk. But I do have a little willingness. Can you please help me with the rest? And you know what? Pretty soon I begin to have a new perspective on the situation or person and I feel a whole lot better. Thank God I don’t need to be the crazy captain of my ship anymore – I can ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit and get the steering directions from Him.
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