Category Archives: General

Boiling Lake, Dominica

One of the reasons we stopped in Dominica, “the Nature Island,” was to do some hiking. We knew that Dominica had a boiling lake up in the volcanic mountains, and thought it sounded cool. However, it could only be reached by a steep 16-mile hike over rough terrain. Despite this, and the six-hour time limit, Mom, Aaron, Sarah, and I still wanted to go. Dad stayed home to work and keep an eye on Sam and Rachel, whose legs are too short for such a long hike.

Several days before, Mom had purchased a National Parks Pass, which was required to go hiking anywhere in Dominica. We also required a guide to help us navigate the somewhat-confusing paths, a driver to take us to the capital city of Roseau and up to the beginning of the hike, and an alarm clock to help us get up at 6 o’clock in the morning to start the day-long journey. I am typically a late-riser, so hauling my butt out of bed at such an early hour was tortuous. We then ate a quick breakfast and packed lunch, snacks, and water into three backpacks. We were then picked up and ferried ashore by a ‘boat boy’.

The boat boys are a gang of local men in small dinghies and paddle boards, armed to the teeth with fresh produce, and whose only purpose in life seems to be to cater to cruisers. They, among other things, brought fresh fruit to your boat, helped get you around town and plan expeditions, and also gave good river tours. They also served as a water taxi.

We were met at the dock by two local guys: our driver for the day, Anselm, and our trail guide, Francis. We got into the van, and took off. The drive to Roseau was a little over an hour long, and Anselm was apparently very comfortable at high speed, even on the twisty mountain roads. And all the while, Francis gave a running commentary on the history of the surrounding scenery.

The road ended where the hike began: at Titou Gorge. Titou Gorge is, well, a gorge. It sits right next to the beginning of the path, and the Trois Pitons River runs out of the mouth. Before it flows on down the valley, it forms a large shallow pool. Francis told us that it was possible to swim over a hundred feet back into the gorge to a waterfall, whose waters come from a fresh mountain lake several miles away. It sounded fun, even though the water was bitter cold and the average depth was 15 feet. After a short potty break, we hefted our packs, and set off after the guide into the jungle.

Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

Each leg of the hike was entirely different. The first few miles were through lush, wet jungle. The slope was gentle, and water constantly dripped from the leafy canopy overhead, turning the dirt between the stair steps to mud. Everything was either green, like the leaves, or brown, like the mud. Occasionally, we had to cross cold mountain streams that ran across the path. We took the opportunity to refill our water bottles at a mountain spring bubbling out of the rock.

And then there were the stairs. More stairs than you can count. All up and down the mountains, somebody (or more likely several hundred somebodies) had secured split logs across the trail to form crude stair-steps. Francis assured us that the muddy and sometimes slippery steps were a considerable improvement over past years before the trail was maintained by the national parks system. Judging by the difficulty of some parts of hike, even with the stairs, the steeper areas must have been all but impassable.

The next part of the trek was much steeper. The trail wandered up the side of the second-tallest peak in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, and so did we. Even on a nice day, the Pitons are usually blanketed in clouds, and this was not a nice day. As we hiked along a narrow ridge, I drew ahead of the others. Off to either side, the no-doubt astounding view was obscured by blowing clouds. Occasionally, as I took a short rest between flights of stairs, I could see snatches of another mountainside off to my left. The blowing mist had another effect: to fog up my glasses. Q: What do you get when you try and clean foggy glasses on a dirty shirt? A: Muddy glasses.

We took a break to eat some snacks at the top of the mountain (we assumed that it was the top of the mountain, because there were no more stairs leading up). Frances said that you could see the entire island from this vantage point, but all we could see was white, white, white. We were half way to the boiling lake, and we were a bit behind schedule. Francis had brought a thermos of ‘cocoa tea’, tea made from roasted cacao beans, sugar, and milk; in other words, home-made hot chocolate. He shared some with us.

Step three of the journey led us down the other side of the peak, and into the Valley of Desolation. It was very desolate. The rocks wore an odd mixture of colors, from white to yellow, and even green. As we carefully clambered down the rocky trail, we passed a cold spring, a hot spring, and a really hot spring. In several places, steam jetted out of invisible cracks in the rocks, adding to the freakishness of the landscape.

Valley of Desolation, Dominica

Francis found some white clay, and painted all of our faces (including his own) with intricate patterns. We spotted some lost French tourists that had apparently been too cheap to hire a guide. They asked Francis for directions to the Boiling Lake. Francis said that they could travel with us if they each paid him $50EC (about $20US). They grudgingly paid the bill, and we moved on.

Francis, Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

The next and last leg of the expedition was somewhere between a hike and a climb. We gasped our way up several flights of stairs through more jungle, and scrambled up short cliffs and across lukewarm rivers trying not to get any more water in our already-soggy hiking shoes. We also passed a series of warm waterfalls and pools that our guide said we would go swimming in on our way back. Sarah, Aaron, and I drew ahead of everyone else, and so, after climbing up one last hillside, we reached the boiling lake first.

We were standing at the top of a cliff, with mountain behind us, and boiling lake before us. We wearily set our packs down by a rock, and went over to the edge to finally glimpse our objective. We heard faint bubbling noises coming from below, but we could see absolutely nothing through thick layer of mist–or was that steam? Several minutes later, Mom and the French people caught up, with Francis bringing up the rear. We sat on some handy rocks and ate our lunches. Francis was just making himself a special cigarette with “all natural smoking weed” when a soft breeze wafted away the steam cloud, revealing the lake in all its glory.

Boiling Lake, Dominica

It was surrounded on all sides by cliffs, except where a small stream ran out. The lake was about a hundred feet across, and an eerie milky bluish-gray color. And it actually was boiling. Right in the middle of the lake, the water bubbled and frothed like a pot on a stove, and steam rose from the surface of the water. A couple from Martinique, who had reached the lake before us, asked Francis if it was possible to go swimming in it. Francis asked them if they were out of their minds. We stayed by the lake for almost 45 minutes, enjoying the view and eating the last of the snacks, but when the fog rolled back in, we shouldered our packs, and started the long way back.

Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

After about thirty minutes of steep jungle, we arrived at the hot waterfalls. We had been hiking in our bathing suits, so we just set down our packs, took off our muddy shoes, and climbed down into the pool at the base of the fall. It was so relaxing to sit in the warm rush of water cascading down the yellow rock after a long, damp hike. We washed off our war paint in the water, and generally enjoyed ourselves. But all good things must come to an end, and this was no exception. After ten minutes of sitting in the waterfall, we had to climb back out and put our shoes and packs back on, and get moving. And boy, was that wind cold.

The hike back through the Valley of Desolation was just as cool as the first time. If you listened closely, you could hear bubbling and boiling noises coming from underneath your feet. If the climb down from the peak was tough on the way down, the climb up was agonizing. Mom and the French people soon lagged far behind, with Francis staying with the stragglers. Aaron, Sarah and I waited up at the top for them, and when they eventually caught up, we started down. The trek through the jungle was longer than I remembered, but again, on the way up we weren’t extremely tired. About halfway down, it started to rain, but we didn’t mind. We stomped in the mud puddles that formed between the steps, trying to splash each other’s legs.

Tired, wet, and muddy, we eventually reached the bottom of the trail. We laid down our packs, and sat on a bench to wait for Mom and Francis. When they arrived, Mom joined us on the bench, and Francis went over to a small café. We went for a brisk swim in the ice-cold water of Titou Gorge, then we wearily lugged our packs for the last time the short distance to the van, where we were joined by Francis. I was so tired that I almost fell asleep on the way home, despite Anselm’s erratic driving. Back in Portsmouth, a boat boy ferried us back to Take Two. We were immediately accosted by the kids that had stayed home, asking all about our adventure. The day ended with warm showers, hot soup, and a good sleep.

Making Lemonade in Montserrat

On the morning of August 3, 1997, Jay and I left the Miami airport for our honeymoon in Mexico. That afternoon, unbeknownst to us, across the Caribbean Sea, a disaster was unfolding on the small volcanic island of Montserrat. Positioned between Nevis to the north and Guadeloupe to the south, it was a vacation paradise, a place where famous musicians like Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney came to record music and relax. It had a picturesque seaside capital. It had 15,000 inhabitants, a medical school, bustling businesses, and farms that exported tropical produce. It also had an awakening giant.

Plymouth, Montserrat

Standing on the hillside above the exclusion zone, it is hard to imagine what Plymouth looked like before the Soufriere Hills volcano eruptions. What little is left between the scars of pyroclastic flow and lahar is buried waist-deep in ash. The skeletal remains of buildings can be seen above the surface of the wasteland, and the hillsides around the old capital are covered in houses slowly rotting as nature takes over in danger zones that were evacuated after a series of eruptions, the most recent in 2010. A hardened crust of new earth fills in the gap where a half-moon beach once curved along the southwestern side of Montserrat. Today the mountain resembles a sleeping dragon with smoke slowly curling from its nostrils and an acrid haze creeping down its back.

Soufriere Hills, Montserrat

Still standing, like lone sentinels, are two sugar mills from plantation days, reminiscent of the faros of Sardinia, ancient stone markers of a history slowly being effaced by powerful erosive and, ironically, creative, forces. A hotel stands on the outskirts, its pool filled with ash and lush growth, only the tiles and a ladder to remind one what it once was. The lobby of the hotel is filled with ash as well, and the roof is caving in, its supports rusting in the sulfurous rain and wind.

Hotel Lobby

Beside us stand two men who look with different eyes—eyes that remember what this place once was. “Here is the dining room,” says Moose, our taxi driver and tour guide. “This was a very popular spot. They used to have barbecues on the weekends.” Cecil had a successful business (he is still a master leather-worker), but now they make a living taking visitors like us on taxi-tours into the zones surrounding the volcano’s exclusion zone, or selling burgers and beers to people who take a day to explore the island. As much as we would like to gawk at this act of God close-up, the two men remind us of the unseen dangers. Entire houses were buried under the pyroclastic flow, and the roofs have dissolved, leaving a crust of ash one might fall through if he went snooping. There are also hefty fines for entering Plymouth, the old capital.

Cecil and Moose

Moose has to drive by his old place every time he takes people to this side of the island. He doesn’t say anything at the time, but later he talks about what if feels like to see his building. It was built to replace his original business in the old city. At the time, the volcano was quiet, and the exclusion zone was small. He was set to open on a Friday, but Wednesday, there was a government announcement, redrawing the lines to protect people, and his property was inside that new line. The village he grew up in no longer exists, wiped off the face of the earth by the volcanic eruptions. To talk to Moose or Cecil, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they are sad about these losses. Moose says the words “positive” and “no problem” so often that I begin to believe them. These are people who lost everything—sometimes twice—and did not flee the island. They continue to rebuild, to smile, and to welcome visitors. It made me feel insensitive to take pictures of their ruined city, but there is another way to look at the situation: if life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And that is just what Montserrat is trying to do. “We cannot focus on the past,” insists Moose. “We must look to the future.”

That’s a difficult task for an island that lost two-thirds of its usable land to a volcano, ten thousand inhabitants who resettled elsewhere (mostly England and other Caribbean islands), its capital and both the agricultural and tourism segments of its economy, all virtually overnight. Only 19 people died in the eruptions, but the island lost a whole generation; as schools closed or became temporary shelters, families with children left the island to find jobs and stability elsewhere.

But the phoenix rises: Moose has a new restaurant, not far from the government dock where visitors check in with customs and immigration. Cecil pointed out places where the government is preparing to build geothermal power stations. A group of caring recording artists (including such names as Elton John, Sting, Phil Collins, and Mark Knopfler) held a benefit concert in England and the proceeds built a new cultural center, where their handprints, cast in bronze, are on display. A new town is being built in a part of the island that used to be wilderness, and boats are coming back to visit, anchoring in Little Bay to the northwest. And a big draw for the island is the volcano that both put it on and took it off the map.

Soufriere Hills, Montserrat

First stop on the tour is the MVO—Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Here, the volcano is closely watched by scientists, and anyone interested is educated. Every six months, vulcanologists from around the world meet here to discuss the state of volcanic activity and consult with local officials. At a meeting in 2010, the scientists were met with an ash plume as the dozing giant awakened again. Seismographs monitor activity in the earth, and GPS is used to show any subtle changes that may be taking place as the earth expands or contracts over the hot spot beneath the island. The before-and-after photographs on the walls of the MVO leave one breathless and wordless. The only thing more remarkable is seeing the devastation firsthand.

Plymouth, Montserrat

On Statia, one can hike into an extinct volcano, and on Nevis, one can bathe in springs heated by geothermal vents, but Montserrat has a living, breathing volcano, and it is a sight to behold. The island is often overlooked, written off since the disaster, but visitors have both something to offer and to learn. While tourist dollars help rebuild the island and a view of the exclusion zone reveals the destructive power of nature, talking to the locals uncovers an even more amazing phenomenon: the power of a positive attitude.

Bitter(sweet) End

We spent a full month in the British Virgin Islands, and explored as many nooks and crannies as we could. We spent more time sailing our boat in that one month than we usually do in a year, as we crossed and re-crossed the Sir Francis Drake Channel, hopping from one island to another. Our last week was spent in Gorda Sound, where we enjoyed a safari truck excursion all over Virgin Gorda, an adults-only evening out with drinks at Saba Rock and pizza at the Pub at the Bitter End Yacht Club, and Hobie catamaran rentals with the crew of Abby Singer.  We checked out quite easily at Gun Creek and crossed the Anegada passage overnight to Anguilla, where we rest at anchor near Sandy Ground waiting to move south again.

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Photo: View from Gorda Peak

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Photo: Take Two + Abby Singer on Safari truck tour

Before we move on, I’ll take this opportunity to share our impressions of the Virgin Islands cruising grounds. If you have ever considered taking a sailing vacation, this seems to be the perfect place for either a crewed or bareboat charter. The place is swarming with Sunsail and Moorings boats, and it’s easy to see why. That said, I think we would have enjoyed the islands more if the anchorages had been populated with cruising boats instead of with vacationing novice-sailors. We are always looking for the quiet anchorage and the private beach, and that was difficult to find (though not impossible) in the Virgin Islands, especially if one cruises in the off-season.

We were also able to complete a couple of major boat projects: a full cockpit enclosure, jib repair, and a new stack-pack for the mainsail, thanks to Bob and Linda Phillips at Doyle Caribbean in Road Town, Tortola. When they said, “It will be done in three weeks,” they meant it! No need to readjust for “island time.” We had been told that Doyle was more expensive, but if time is money, then their punctuality is worth any extra expense. The only minor inconvenience was that we were required to go into Road Town every week for measuring, fitting, and installation, but it gave us an opportunity to re-provision and explore new anchorages. Bob and Linda are sailors and live-aboards themselves, experts who’ve been in the industry for 40 years, and really nice people. If you ever need any work done on sails or canvas, we highly recommend them for their reliability and workmanship.

USVI: St.Thomas and St. John

We stopped for only one night in the rolly anchorage near Charlotte-Amalie, St. Thomas, and then spent several days exploring the little bays on the northwest side of St. John, paying $30/night on National Park mooring balls (no anchoring within park boundaries). Our favorite beach was in Hawksnest Bay, but the quietest, calmest place was Francis Bay, where we had the pleasure of catching up with old friends Ralph and Kathy on s/v Simplicity. One can also hike to an old sugar mill and plantation from there.

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Photo: Entering St.Thomas

BVI: Jost Van Dyke, Little Jost Van Dyke

We checked in at Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands and had lunch at Foxy’s, before moving around to Little Jost Van Dyke and anchoring near Sandy Spit. We hiked to the Bubbly Pool, where the ocean comes through a crack in the rocks to make a foaming swimming hole, but found that we came at the wrong time. The tide was low, the seas calm, and the bugs out. After swimming in Rachel’s Bubble Bath in Compass Cay in the Bahamas, the Bubbly Pool failed to impress. We did enjoy the one-palm-tree island of Sandy Spit because we had the beach to ourselves at the end of the day.

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Photo: Andrew kiteboarding near Sandy Spit

Tortola: Cane Garden Bay, Road Town, Brandywine Bay, Trellis Bay, and Great Camanoe

We did not find Tortola to be the charming place we had hoped. After a night in Cane Garden Bay, where the beach is lined with bars and literally a thousand beach chairs (for cruise ship patrons), we sailed around to Road Town Harbor, where we were able to buy groceries at the Rite Way, get a sim card at Digicel, and talk to Doyle about our torn jib. We had no desire to spend a night in the commercial, loud harbor of Road Town, so we anchored in a small, quiet place called Brandywine Bay. There is supposed to be a lovely French restaurant on the hill above the bay, but we never made it. On our other two stops in Road Town to visit Doyle, we spent one night in Trellis Bay, where we enjoyed an evening at the Island Last Resort, and one in Lee Bay in Great Camanoe, a beautiful and quiet place we would visit again.

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Photo: Cane Garden Bay

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Photo: Brandywine Bay–goat in a boat!

Channel Islands: Norman, Peter, and Salt

These were easily my favorite part of the BVIs. Norman Island has Privateer Bay, with caves you can swim or kayak in, excellent snorkeling at the Indians, and a beautiful quiet place called Benure’s Bay. Peter Island has two deep bays with good snorkeling and a resort with a gorgeous beach. Salt Island is populated only by goats, but has excellent hiking with breathtaking views and the wreck of the RMS Rhone for a good dive site (see Eli’s post). We spent the night there and had the place to ourselves. We did not stop at Cooper or Ginger Islands.

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Photo: Hiking on Salt Island

Virgin Gorda: the Baths, Savannah Bay, Prickly Pear, Gorda Sound

This is a place we could visit again and again. The Baths, with Devil’s Bay to the East and Spring Bay to the West, with their unique boulders and lovely beaches, never grow old. We stopped there three times and would go again. We loved climbing on, jumping off, swimming in the caves made by the gaps in between, and kayaking around and among the giant boulders. We also had lunch at the Top of the Baths, with its swimming pool and great view. Savannah Bay to the West, and Eustacia Sound at the far side of Prickly Pear Island in Gorda Sound are probably our favorite off-the-beaten path anchorages, though we have discovered that deserted places in the BVIs attract clothing-optional charters (see Sam’s post). Gorda Sound is a great place for a date night, small-boat sailing, or hiking to the summit of Gorda Peak for an amazing view. Rada’s restaurant above Leverick Bay is a great local place with reasonably priced food (the home-made Rotis are the best I’ve had).

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Photo: At the Baths with (left to right) Sky, Aaron, Paige, Sarah, Eli, Sam

Anegada

The sail to and from Anegada was brisk and fun; with a steady breeze of 20-30 knots, we were making 9-10 knots of speed with the jib and reefed main. We found low-lying Anegada to be very similar to the islands of the Bahamas, with its casuarinas, family-run places (Neptune’s Treasure), low scrubby interior, and deserted beaches. Our boys got a chance to do some kiteboarding for the first time, thanks to the patient instruction of our friend Andrew. We spent a couple of afternoons at the Anegada Beach Club (a shuttle ride from the Lobster Trap), a very-cool resort at the end of everything, and well worth the trek.

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Photo: Anegada Beach Club

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Photo: Eli learning to Kite

El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque

Last week we hiked on El Yunque Mountain on the eastern side of Puerto Rico. El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. park system. We hiked down La Mina River trail and climbed on rocks and fallen logs in the river. At the end of the trail we swam in the pools of the waterfall, which were surprisingly cold. Then we hiked back up the hundreds of stairs to the road that led to the car. It was a great day and I highly suggest visiting the park if you are ever in Puerto Rico.

La Mina Falls

Photo by Mary

Meal Planning for Long Passages

We just spent a week at sea, offshore between the Exumas and Puerto Rico. We knew it was going to be at least a 5 day trip, and maybe as many as 8, so I tried to plan accordingly on my provisioning trip in George Town. Knowing what and how much we will need can be a bit tricky.

The first variable is what can be found in local shops. I planned ahead from the states and knew what I would and wouldn’t find in the Bahamas. I had several easy one-pot THRIVE instant meals which I was itching to try, and which were largely successful. Locally, we shopped too early to hit the mail-boat jackpot, but I was able to buy staples like milk, eggs and bread, and some treats for the crew like cheese and crackers, chips, ginger ale, and fresh fruit. A last-minute purchase that worked well was a case of Ramen noodles I found at a little wholesale place. Ramen noodles does not fit into any nutritional profile for our family, but it fits the bill for rough water—only 3 minute cook time.

Thrive Chili

The second variable is sea state: chances are if the seas are rough and I don’t feel like cooking, my crew will not feel like eating. That means having peanut butter crackers and granola bars on hand is critical. It also means making one-pot meals that are quick and easy. For a cook who makes everything from scratch, this is a tough one for me, but meals with long prep-times or a lot of clean-up mean standing in the galley when I’d rather be outside, so I compromise on long trips. I plan for at least one hot meal per day (more if I can swing it) and I also offer one consolation treat for each day—if the day was bad, there’s always a bright spot like a mini-snickers or a lemon-slush to lift morale. Depending on sea state, I may prepare more or less food, and I may have more leftovers than usual, which I store for the next day’s lunch.

The third variable is what can be prepared ahead of time. One of my first boat-mom friends, Vicki, taught me to do a lot of prep whenever you go on a longer trip and keep snacks and drinks ready in a cooler in the cockpit. That was good advice. For this trip, I baked bread, made a double portion of dinner the night before we left, made hummus and salsa and chopped veggies. I wish I had thought to boil a dozen eggs like I often do, and I wish I’d made some sandwiches ahead of time, too. Based on weather forecasts, I thought things would be a lot calmer and that I would cook more than I was actually able to. One can really only plan for the weather on departure day—the ocean has a startling capacity for change, and it behooves a sailor to prepare as much as possible and plan for the worst. An invaluable resource for meal planning and a good read is Lin Pardy’s The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew.

For anyone who does not find it tedious, here is a quick glance at what we ate on our last passage:

Thursday
B-Oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins (before departure)
L-Leftover burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and Jay’s birthday brownies
D-Ramen noodles doctored with THRIVE freeze-dried carrots, peas and corn
Friday
B-Loaf of bread and peanut butter, bananas
L-Cheese and crackers
D-THRIVE instant potato soup (not as good as it smelled), Cracker Jack boxes
Saturday
B-Instant oatmeal in a mug
L-Snack-lunch: hummus, veggies, pita chips, cheese and crackers, olives, pickles, fruit
D-THRIVE southwestern chicken and rice (better than it smelled), Lifesavers candies
Sunday
B-Homemade biscuits baked the night before, raisin-cinnamon and THRIVE sausage-cheese
L-Remaining hot dogs, peanut butter crackers
D-Pasta salad with tuna, peas, and cheese, Werther’s caramel candies
Monday
B-Grits with milk and sugar
L-Leftovers
D-Boxed Mac-and-Cheese with kielbasa, lemonade
Tuesday
B-Granola bars and fresh fruit
L-Ramen noodles
D-THRIVE hearty chili with beans (very good, but soupy), chocolate-banana milkshakes
Wednesday
B-Eggs and corn-cakes made with leftover grits
L-Tuna salad on crackers
D-Fresh-Caught Fish-and-Chips (arrival in Puerto Rico)

A New Low

We have just arrived in Puerto Rico from George Town after a seven-day passage. It was our longest uninterrupted stretch at sea. We supposedly had excellent weather conditions for a passage east and south, conditions that would not be repeated all season, so we decided to skip the out-islands of the southern Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos, and the Dominican Republic and go straight to Puerto Rico. We also skipped the Mona Passage, the Thorny Path, and days of bashing east into trade winds—the only reason we could do this is because a big ole’ cold front cleared out the trade winds for a couple of days. We left George Town on Thursday afternoon, fervently hoping for a calm, uneventful passage.

It turns out that it wasn’t just a quick sail over flat water. The “light and variable breeze” created confused waves three-to-six feet high, and about six seconds apart. Every time a wave hit the bottom of the bridge-deck, the floor of the main cabin between the hulls, water would be forced volcanically up the scuppers in the cockpit, splashing whoever happened to be standing near them. The entire crew, including me, felt a little queasy. Even mom, who holds the second-least-seasick title, could barely fix up Ramen Noodles and Thrive instant meals. Rachel stubbornly refuses to take seasickness medication, on the grounds that it tastes bad, and makes her barf. Hence, she is often seasick for the first few days of a passage.

For most of our grand voyage, the cabin looked like the interior of an opium den, with kids lying on piles of cushions and blankets like giant lethargic slugs, moaning piteously, and moving only to imbibe water and to obey the call of nature. After the first day, I got over whatever queasiness I had, and made the most of what was sure to be a long and tedious journey. That meant that I played video games. Lots and lots of video games. When I wasn’t crashing sophisticated aircraft, I spent my time reading, composing this blog post, and fetching stuff from down-stairs and helping mom with chores. That’s the only down side of not getting seasick: you get to be the gopher. I can’t really complain. Most people don’t require much on a long trip—they get pillows, blankets, and books, crash on the couch, and sleep on-and-off all day.

Mom and Dad took turns taking night watches, and slept as much as they could during the day. On most nights, I would let Mom take a nap while I took the first two hours of the night watch, from eight to ten. If it was calm, we would watch a movie together before I went to bed. If not, then I would head to bed in my cabin, where I would be tossed around like a salad. Sleeping in heavy seas is somewhat difficult; it feels like somebody is messing with the gravity controls.

One night, after Mom and I finished watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, we decided to go out on deck at midnight to have a look around. The seas had finally calmed down, and the wind had all but disappeared. The moon had just set, and, except for the occasional swell, the sea was flat calm. We looked down into the water. There, clearly visible to a depth of twenty feet, were thousands and thousands of bio-luminescent creatures. The depths were alive with glowing, flashing, blue-green stars. Our wake looked like the credits of Star Trek.

Looking up, we saw the Southern Cross, a constellation made up of four stars that are not observable from higher latitudes. Also visible in the northern sky was the Big and Little Dipper, and the North Star. We stood and stared, acutely conscious that with each passing moment, our trusty vessel carried us further south than we had ever been. We had literally reached a new low.

Take the Cookie

My friend Amy introduced me to a saying that has almost become a mantra on our boat: “Take a cookie when the plate is being passed.” Another rendition, which my kids use any time there are treats around (thank you, Curtis), goes, “Life is unpredictable, eat dessert first.” In our gypsy life, you never know when an opportunity will knock, and you can almost guarantee that it won’t knock twice. We just received a potent reminder to “take the cookie” in the Bahamas.

We had planned to spend another month in the Bahamas, exploring islands we’d never visited (Raggeds, Jumentos, Cat, Long, Rum, Conception) and doing some cruising with our friends on Ally Cat, who we met in Washington D.C. two years ago and who just returned from the Caribbean. We had just arrived in George Town, Exuma, and had a merry reunion over fish tacos (Sam caught a Mahi), when Michael said, “You know, with the calm weather coming up, you guys should really be getting out of here and heading East.” That gave us something to think about (Kimberly and Ally may never forgive him for planting the idea). We have always said we are not in a rush, but we do have to think about the approaching hurricane season and where we would like to spend it.

Plan A was Grenada, but we’re a little late to be heading East, as the trades seem to regulate after the winter fronts are done and don’t slack until tropical weather patterns set in (sometimes bringing storms with them). Plan B was Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, if we could find a happy place to plug in for the summer, and find good internet so Jay can work. Plan C was a default passage back to Florida. We never even talked about it, but there was a good chance if we goofed off too long in the Bahamas—familiar cruising grounds—we might not make it further, to do the cruising we bought this boat for eight years ago. The last time we made it to George Town, I was pregnant and we returned to Florida to have a baby and renovate the boat. That baby is almost five now, and with our oldest speeding toward fifteen, we feel like it’s now-or-never for this cruise.

So we decided to use the calm before the front, which would stop the trades, to motor-sail straight east (towards longitude 65) and then let the arriving northeast wind to blow us south toward the Virgin Islands. It was a big commitment (and a bit of a gamble) to make a week-long passage instead of the island hopping we had promised the kids after the gulf-stream crossing. But when we saw the irresistible cookies the weather forecast held out, well, we just had to take one. Cruising down the Eastern coast of Puerto Rico a week later, our only regret is that we had to leave friends behind.

Holding My Breath

I can hold my breath for a long time—almost four minutes. That is, in the comfort of my bed, lying motionless, with up to a minute of hyperventilation beforehand. Even so, not breathing for three minutes and forty-five seconds is a rather impressive feat. (Ah, the happy hours I’ve spent, tucked away in my room with my stopwatch!) It usually takes several  tries to bring my breath-hold up to this level, and once I do, I usually stop (you have no idea how boring it is to sit and do absolutely nothing for three minutes).

When I started practicing my breath-hold, we were about to leave for the Bahamas, and planned to do plenty of spearfishing. I thought I was ready. I thought “bring it on, fish.” Yeah! No. The first time we went swimming off the boat, I took my watch to see how long I could hold my breath immersed in actual water. After hyperventilating for ten seconds, I managed to remain underwater for all of…drumroll…eighteen seconds. Pathetic.

We have been in the Bahamas for a month now, and we are still swimming off the boat. I take this time to practice my breath hold. It takes several tries, but I can get it up to one minute and twenty seconds. I also wear a ridiculously heavy weight belt that we happen to have for no particular reason. It feels really cool to stand on the sandy bottom, looking up at the waves eight feet above you, and not feel the need to breathe.

One day, while standing on the bottom, I had a brilliant idea.  I took a beach chair, weighed it down with weight belts, and set it next to the anchor. Then I took an empty kindle case and a coffee mug and set them on the chair. Then came the hard part. I took a deep breath, dove down, and sat in the chair. Then I had to put a weight belt in my lap to keep me from floating away, pick up the coffee mug and ‘book,’ cross my legs, and pretend to read normally. Meanwhile, Aaron, whose breath-hold isn’t worth jack, had to swim down and take a picture of me with the GoPro, all before I ran out of air. Amazingly enough, my plan worked! We got several pictures of me, relaxing at the bottom of the sea.

Deep Reading

Thunderball Grotto

When we were near Staniel Cay, we went snorkeling in Thunderball Grotto. There were four or five entrances to the grotto, with two of them being bigger than the others, and the rest small. At high tide, they are underwater. I swam through the smaller holes in the grotto wall, which were covered with coral. There were fish everywhere. There was someone who jumped in through the top of the grotto. I wanted to, too, but Dad said it was too dangerous. Still, it was really fun. Later, we watched the James Bond movie that was filmed there.

Rachel’s Bubble Bath

Last week we swam in Rachel’s Bubble Bath, located at the north end of Compass Cay, for the first time. Though we had already been here on a previous trip, it had been too cold to swim. It’s kind of like playing in the surf at the beach, only without the beach.

Bubble Bath

It happens in a place where ocean surge comes through a low place between rocks on the shore and flows into a tidal basin. As the wave crashes over the gap, it forms a large foaming pool, hence its name.

Bubble Bath

The cool thing is that when you jump in while it’s foaming, you sink, because it’s more air than water. Luckily we brought the GoPro, and I got a video of dad jumping in, as well as one showing how the whole thing works (coming soon to a blog near you). Unfortunately, we went at mid-tide and the Exuma Sound was relatively calm, so there weren’t as many big waves, or as much foam, as we’d hoped. So far it is my favorite thing that we’ve done.

Bubble Bath