Our Kiwi friends left here bound for Mexico on the first leg of their trip back to New Zealand.
They left behind a general sense that neither boat nor crew was ready for the trip, having struggled just to get to the fuel dock. We saw them off without misgivings though, believing that the first 50 feet of a trip are always the hardest, fate protects the young during such misadventures, and no amount of preparation is really enough.
We expected it to take them four days to reach Mexico, and though we did not extract any promises, we expected blog updates on arrival. But the updates never came and by Day 10 we were worried. We knew they had a satellite phone, EPIRB, and life raft, and we knew the US Coast Guard did not rescue them. So we figured they must have diverted somewhere that didn’t have Internet access.
Eventually we got wind that they were back in Florida. One of the crew had experienced seasickness to a dangerous degree, which combined with a realistic evaluation of themselves and the boat, put the kibosh on the whole trip. They instead turned for Key West to rest and then continued on to West Palm Beach to put the boat aboard a yacht transport bound for New Zealand.
We share their disappointment, but also their relief. We also recognize their story as an anecdote for several lessons we’ve learned one way or another.
Communication is important. We haven’t had a lot of experience worrying about the whereabouts or welfare of other people, but haven’t found those times very pleasant. As travelers ourselves, we make an effort to let our plans and location be known. For longer passages we file a float plan with my father, who is the emergency contact registered on our EPIRB. We also carry the SPOT satellite tracker, which shows our position when underway. On future trips we will probably also carry a satellite phone.
Plans should be constantly re-evaluated. We’ve had to relearn this a few times, usually after we’ve seriously screwed up. Better to change the plan than push a bad situation and risk the consequences. We crossed a poorly charted bar in bad conditions once. It was stupid and had the potential to really damage the boat. We escaped because we were lucky. We’re now extra careful about plans that have us arriving at a pass or bar in unknown conditions. If there is any doubt, we change the plans and feel good about it. We don’t know if it has actually saved us any grief. We weren’t there.
Don’t underestimate the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is notorious for steep, tightly packed waves that are hard on boats and crews. The first leg to Mexico was possibly the hardest of the whole trip.
Seasickness can be serious. The misery of seasickness is difficult to describe, but usually that’s all it is. It usually lasts for a day or so, during which the intrepid sailor swears to quit and take up gardening. Occasionally, though, it can be so intense and prolonged that the sufferer can dehydrate and die. In our case, even a mild case can have serious consequences since we can’t afford to have the skipper incapacitated or his judgment dulled. Unfortunately, there is no surefire cure, and the most effective defense is prescription medication, which we normally try to avoid.
We probably would have supported any decision the Kiwis’ made, but think aborting their trip (for this year at least) was wise. Rather than transport the boat, we would have suggested keeping the boat in Florida and trying again next year, but admit our advice is somewhat selfishly motivated since we enjoy their company. We don’t know all the factors that went into the decision, but we do know the cost of transporting a boat is phenomenal. Apparently the boat market is such in New Zealand that buying here was still economical.