Jacko and his Mahi

Onwards – To Cuba

There are two primary factors that decide my schedule: weather and boat condition. Especially on a longer crossing – other considerations are secondary, at best. People’s schedules, people’s desires, flights, holidays, weekends, day or night – none of this really matters.

Waiting to Cross

And so we waited on weather. Longer than we would have liked. Damo was on a schedule, so we considered leaving a bit earlier – but the seas were 3 meters + and that makes crossing seem more like bullriding – for five days.

So we waited.

We pre-cooked food. We did last-minute boat repairs. I charted and re-charted our route. We got fishing gear ready for any eventuality. We burned trash. We recycled cans. We organized the decks and checked sails and reefing gear.

We waited.

Then, it was time to get underway. The waves were still 2 meters +, and the wind was on the nose at 15 knots. But we were so ready to move, we just did it. Outside we dropped lures back behind the boat and got the first taste of the short-period beam sea that we would take for the next 5 days.

620 nautical miles was our route. That’s a long ways. Even in a car that’s a fairly long drive. But a sailboat is hardly a car, the ocean hardly a road. There aren’t any rest stops. No gas stations. No roadside restaurants. No tow trucks to call.   You can’t call an ambulance if someone gets sick or injured. There aren’t mechanics in the middle of the ocean.

It’s between 4-6 days of open ocean. No land in sight.

We planned, based upon weather predictions, an average speed of 5.5 knots. That’s not too hard to do in this boat, and it gives us a little wiggle room in case we hit a bad current or have an engine failure or the wind doesn’t cooperate. At 5.5 knots we were looking at just over 4.5 days of open ocean sailing. Our worst-case calculations put us there a bit over 5.5 days (4.5 knots average).

Onward to Caymans

Our first day we just motored against a 15 knot headwind and cursed the weatherman. We were averaging 4.5 knots with both engines giving us everything. Then we lost an engine. Naturally, the boat was bucking and pounding through the waves, making mechanical work painful and frustrating. When a diesel engine dies, assuming you maintain it halfway decently, the first things to troubleshoot are fuel and air. If you keep a diesel engine cool, give it clean air and clean fuel – it will last forever.

So I changed the airfilter. No dice. So I changed the fuel filter. No dice. So then I was forced to pull off fuel hoses and start sucking on them – hoping to get diesel in my mouth. I found the clog, blew it out, bled the engine and sure enough – we were back in business. Of course, at this point I was bleeding and bruised from being repeatedly smashed against the engine in the beam seas. But we were moving again. Crawling along at 4.5 knots.

We lost the same engine twice more over the crossing – all related to the black, nasty fungus that grows in diesel here. This is despite my using the anti-fungus diesel additive. But, fuel problems are easy to diagnose and relatively easy to fix – so I prefer them over more serious issues…

Damo was on the edge of seasickness the entire time. Ana got a touch of seasickness, but it passed. I, despite working on the engine and sucking on diesel hoses – avoided seasickness altogether. The first twelve hours we motored with a headwind and a beam sea which burns diesel, has a horrible motion, and adds a level of stress (what’s going to break next?). And at 4.5 knots, we weren’t going to be getting to Caymans (on the way to Cuba) anytime soon…

But soon the wind shifted to 35 degrees. And NOMAD, surprisingly enough, sails at 35 degrees. And 40 degrees. And at 60 degrees she flies. Very few people believe this, until they sail with me. And even then they have a hard time accepting what the gauges and numbers show. But the proof is in the pudding.

Over the next few days and nights we would spend most of our time bashing through seas. At 8-10 knots. Read that again. In winds under 20 knots, in the open ocean with steep, short period swells, in a catamaran pointing into the wind, with only 37 feet of waterline – we spent our time sailing between 8 and 10 knots. I, for the first time, saw 11 knots on NOMAD. It was exhilarating. And surprising.

Speed

Speed

Then we broke our boom topping lift. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. But with a catamaran like mine – the boom topping lift serves as a partial backstay, helping to strengthen the rig. So. After I noticed this I watched and listened and debated. Climbing the mast in these kinds of seas with this kind of wind, in the open ocean – is a little bit challenging. It’s also a bit dangerous, and definitely painful. Minimally you’ll be beaten against the mast, or you’ll fall or you’ll get tangled in the rigging.

The only thing that’s guaranteed is that it won’t be fun.

Watching and listening and thinking I decided to let it go for a few hours and catch some shuteye. Afterall, the wind was no more than 15 knots.

That evening when got up from my nap I could hear a creaking in the mast that didn’t inspire confidence. And the wind was increasing. And so I woke up Ana, and I climbed the mast to replace the boom topping lift. I was right – it was painful. But I didn’t fall and after a few bumps and bruises and a couple of mistakes – the boat was moving along with all of her rigging intact.

I was limping for a couple of days, though.

By day three we were all in the zone. Wake-up, make coffee, eat something quick and get into the cockpit for your 4-hour shift. Then you read or fish or do something else to pass the time. Then, when your shift is over – you relax and lay around or go below and take a real nap.

Meals are really snacks. Sleep is really naps.

And then, almost suddenly, we could see Grand Cayman. Land! We joked about how in a few hours we’d be drinking beer at an actual bar. There would be real grocery stores. People would speak English. People might even be friendly.

We were stoked.

Grand Cayman Port Security guided us into a dock. We tied up NOMAD and proceeded to do our paperwork. Then they casually told me that they would bring the canines to search my boat. I told them I had nothing to hide, but that I’d like to just be done so I could shower and have a beer and get some real sleep.

The Grand Cayman Customs guys are jerks (and there are better words for them).

They are the Customs equivalent of the guy who was picked on in highschool so he becomes your hometown police officer and now gets off on over-exercising the limited amount of authority that should have never been granted to him. Such a cliché.

Their first words to me were: “I hope you don’t have any plans today.” I told them my plan was to drink a cold beer at an actual bar. The main-guy, a clear example of someone that seeks to make other people as miserable as himself retorted with: “So you think you’re getting out of here today? Ha!”

Whether you’re a criminal or not, when you’re treated like a criminal and somebody is tearing apart your boat and bringing (not one, but two) sniffing dogs through your entire boat (including letting the mangy mutts on your beds) – it’s makes you feel like a criminal. It makes you feel like you have something to hide. It makes you nervous the way having a cop follow you on the highway makes you nervous. But worse.

Way worse.

Eventually these Customs agents, so clearly frustrated with their position in life and so intent on abusing the limited power they have – they left. The boat was in shambles. Ana and Damo were stressed. I was exhausted and furious. But also relieved. Knowing what I know now, though – I suspect my next encounter with these gentlemen won’t be so one-sided.

But. We made it.

Soon enough we were walking through Grand Cayman and marveling at the grocery store and the marine store and the bars. Then we were drinking a cold beer and connecting to WiFi. I downloaded weather and found that I wouldn’t be leaving Cayman for a week… Damo found out that he would be leaving from Cayman, rather than from Cuba.

Two nights of going out and drinking led me to abort any future drinking missions. Rather than drinking at the overpriced bars, I decided to spend my time fishing (and drinking – a little) on the boat. So after Damo returned home, our friends Jacko and Crystelle jumped onboard and we headed out to the Twelve Mile banks for some trolling and drifting.

Skirted Ballyhoo

Skirted BallyhooSkirted Ballyhoo

Fishing Dogs

Fishing Dogs

I made an early mistake and lost a nice fish, but we made up for it with a nice Bull Mahi later in the day. Then we spent an enjoyable evening drift and bottom fishing.  Then there was champagne to celebrate the Caribbean circumnavigation of Jacko and Crystelle.

Jacko and his Mahi

Jacko and his Mahi

Champagne on the water

Champagne on the water

And after all of that was done – it was suddenly time to get ready to go to Cuba.

Onwards To Cuba

Now we’re back to the present. And tomorrow, at 6 AM, we’re dropping our mooring here to sail to Cienfuegos on the Southern coast of Cuba. And we couldn’t be more excited. It’s about damn time.

So – I’ll update again when possible, but we’ll be back to sailing remote and beautiful islands with limited connectivity.

Which means it may be awhile before another update. Try not to hold that against me.

Dolphins!

Finally, A New Post!!

How about that time lapse between this post and my last? Been awhile, huh? Yep. I agree. We’ve been insanely busy. And there’s been crap connection. And there’s still crap connection. And we’re sailing to Cuba, where there will been even less connectivity. So.

Hauling Out

I spent some time limping around San Blas with one engine and hanging out in the Swimming Pool. Then we sailed to Puerto Lindo. Then we arranged to haul out at Panamarina. There we pulled NOMAD out of the water. The first thing we saw was oil leaking out of the problematic saildrive. It was very clear what the problem had been (and continued to be): a screw had backed out of what I call the “endcap” of the saildrive. This, when we reversed, allowed the prop shaft (and all of its gears/seals) to separate from the saildrive housing. Of course, this was only obvious when we hauled the boat, and – in the water – would only be obvious if someone were watching the saildrive closely as the engine was shifted into reverse. This (being in the water as the engine is shifted into reverse, close enough to observe), I should add, would be a tricky proposition (see: dangerous).

Back to the story, which is my life.

To avoid using the German mechanic in this area, I’d looked far and wide to find a reputable mechanic capable of finishing this job. I found one. He agreed. But then when the time came to fix the saildrive, he balked and delayed. I half-expected this, but I had no backups. Thankfully Panamarina employed a Volvo Penta mechanic and he had time to work on the saildrives.

We pulled both of the saildrives and rebuilt the starboard saildrive with parts from my spare saildrive. Then we replaced the main rubber gaskets on the saildrives, all the seals, cleaned them, and put them both back in. That’s easy to write, but much harder to accomplish. It’s a f*$%#ing ordeal.

Boatyard torture....

Boatyard torture….

Saildrive seal protection

Saildrive seal protection

Stumped by MaxProps

Stumped by MaxProps

That also involved pulling off, cleaning, greasing and putting back on the MaxProps. Let me just say that MaxProps are a royal PITA to get right. It took a few tries and I burned more than a couple of days getting the pitch right. I even (though I hate to admit it) had to pull the boat back out of the water AFTER we splashed to make another minor pitch adjustment. I am intimately familiar with MaxProps.   And propellers have never been on my “I wish I was intimate with…” list.

Another hidden gem, when we cleaned off the saildrives: the previous owner had used the wrong bottom paint on the aluminum saildrives which was leading to corrosion. To that end I spent a day polishing all of the toxic bottom paint off of the saildrives, then had to find an epoxy primer and bottom paint compatible with aluminum. Not easy in these parts. But we did it.

There’s so much more. We replaced all of our anchor chain. It was horribly rusted 3/8” chain, replaced with G4 5/16” which is both lighter and slightly cheaper than the 3/8” BBB – while retaining a higher breaking strength. This involved replacing the windlass gypsy, which involved cutting out several welded screws… That job was supposed to be couple of hours. It took two days.

Then I added 300W of solar to the hard-top and tied them into another MPPT controller. We now have 560 W of solar on the arch, 150 W on the lifelines, and 300 W on the hardtop. This makes for a grand total of (wait for it……) 1010 W of solar, tied to two different (see: redundant overkill) MPPT controllers. Even on cloudy days, we make energy. Lots of energy.

Next up was the watermaker. I sent the Clark Pump into Spectra for their $450 rebuild. Upon receiving it, they told me it was not serviceable. I needed an entirely new Clark Pump – to the tune of $2200. I received this during our haulout and wired it all in. It works!!!!!! Finally, after nearly two years of having the boat – I have a working watermaker. In fact, it’s producing over 14 gallons per hour of freshwater. Amazing for a 12V system. No generators, no motors. Just a couple little pumps and we make saltwater into freshwater.

Out here – that’s valuable.

Then there was the sails and sailcars. I had to replace two sailcars (specially manufactured from US Spars) – not cheap, but necessary. Then I needed to get my Genoa restitched. Not cheap either.

Then we pulled every single thing out of the boat, organized it, wrote down where it was, cleaned it, and put it back. Backbreaking and filthy work, but it’s done.

Then the bottom paint. We raised the waterline just a bit, which required priming the bottom, and then adding several layers of bottom paint. For bottom paint, we chose Islands 44 and used the harder ablative on the leading edges and then covered it all with three coats of the soft ablative.

There’s more.

We had to re-engineer the swim ladder. It wasn’t standing up to the abuse (we dive a lot), so I had a welder build in another anchor point for it – and now, it doesn’t budge. Since we had access to a decent welder – I welded some fishing pole holders and a piece of stainless that covers the saildrive seals – so that fishing line can no longer get into the seals and destroy them.

Ana was back onboard helping me, and I can honestly say there was no chance I’d have this done without her. An amazing person. We accomplished all of this in 10 days. TEN DAYS, in a third-world country, without a car. Where you have to travel (literally) across the country to get parts. It may not sound important to you, but it was nothing short of a miracle for us.

Back to The Swimming Pool

Then Damo showed up. He’s been onboard before, he’s a friend, a good cook, and a fisherman (mostly a spearfisherman). So, now, most of the major systems are working and we’re sitting in the Swimming Pool – waiting on a weather window to sail to Cuba.

And with all of our solar energy – we’re full of water and are powering a second freezer which is keeping all of the Tuna we’ve been catching fresh. So much sushi. You should be jealous.

Dolphins!

Dolphins!

Mahi Mahi on Sterling Tackle Mahi on Sterling Tackle

Mahi Mahi on Sterling Tackle

Tuna on Sterling Tackle

Tuna on Sterling Tackle

More Tuna on Sterling Tackle

More Tuna on Sterling Tackle

More Tuna on Sterling Tackle

More Tuna on Sterling Tackle (and Damo’s butt)

More Mahi on Sterling Tackle

More Mahi on Sterling Tackle

The boatyard work was mindnumbing, painful, frustrating, dirty and it didn’t make for happy people. But it’s (for the most part) done. And NOMAD is in better shape than she’s ever been before, with a good crew, in a beautiful place – waiting to sail to Cuba. In case you didn’t catch this – we’re SAILING TO CUBA. We’re all excited about the passage (plenty of time to pull lures behind us and catch tasty fish) and about the destination. Cuba. Soon.

Hogfish and Mackerel

Hogfish and Mackerel

Smoked fish (thanks Jacko!!)

Smoked fish (thanks Jacko!!)

Damo and Permit

Damo and Permit

Ana and Tuna

Ana and Tuna

Fish Cleaning Crew

Fish Cleaning Crew

San Blas

San Blas

Diesel top-up

Diesel top-up

In the meantime we’ve been eating Hogfish, Snapper, Permit, Triggerfish, Tuna, and Mackerel – just about every way you can imagine it. And fresh. You can’t afford to eat this way anywhere else in the world. And even if you could, it wouldn’t be this fresh.

We have plenty of things that aren’t working as they should and I know we’re going to keep breaking things. There will be bad days and rough days. Weather with batter us and make us wait and make us angry. We will get hangovers and feel pressure and have crazy situations. There will be risks to our lives and health and everything in between. People won’t always get along.

This is all given.

But for now all is well.

So we wait on weather with our friends from Sondre (Jacko, forgive me dude, for not knowing how to spell your boat name).

Just a couple more days and we’ll be on passage and our larger concerns will be based around what lures to troll and how to bring in large fish at 6-10 knots.

Then it’s a couple of months in the largely untouched paradise of Cuba. Where I’ve heard the Black Grouper and Hogfish swim up to you and beg you to put them on your boat.

If you’re not at least a little bit jealous, you’re wrong.

Nothing further.  Until we’re 600 miles away, in Grand Cayman.

 

 

The Swimming Pool

The Usual Shenanigans

Another good few days.  Sondre showed up, Kenny showed up. A beach party.  Moved to the West Hollandes. Sandra left and Lindsay and Eline showed up.  I’m thankful that we’re done with crew-related movements for a few days.  I’ll finally be able to go somewhere and relax there until I decide to leave.  That’s nice.  Speaking of leaving – I have to haul the boat soon.  So much work coming up.  But, when I’m done I’ll be free to sail longer distances – which I need to do much more of this year. 

Future Kuna Bacon

Future Kuna Bacon

Beach fires, drinks, and a boat

Beach fires, drinks, and a boat

As far as updates are concerned – here’s what’s been happening:  diving, swimming, sailing, beach fires, fish, eating, drinking.  Then more of the same.  That’s more or less what we’ll be doing until I haul the boat, mid Feb.  To that end – since I don’t enjoy repeating myself, you may not receive a ton of updates until we start heading toward Puerto Lindo to get the boat hauled (at Panamarina).  I’m on vacation until then, and I’ll earn every bit of this vacation in the damned boatyard.

Visits From Friends

Lindsay was on for only three days, it’s still unclear how long Eline will be onboard.   They arrived the same afternoon Sandra left.  Since I wanted to get back to The Swimming Pool for a calming trend – I had everything ready.  And as soon as they were onboard – I fired up the engines and we pulled anchor – heading back North into a 15 knot headwind.  Not fun, but it was only a few miles.

Pulling into The Swimming Pool, I saw on my AIS a vessel that looked very close (see:  on top of) a reef that I anchor next to.  Almost in my spot, but dangerously so.  There was a rally of some sort stopping in, so there were boats anchored everywhere.  The boat in question, we soon saw, was firmly lodged on the reef.  Her entire bow was above water and the whole thing looked no-bueno.  Based upon the lack of panicked radio-chatter I assumed she wasn’t holed. 

We dropped the anchor just thirty meters from her, but in a much safer place, and begin setting up the boat for a few days of chill-time.  The tent-shade thing came out and I rolled down the rear-shade.  Then I dropped the dinghy and headed over to see if I could help with the yacht-reef issue.  After a quick look at the reef and the keel of said yacht – it looked pretty good.  I had a feeling we could, with the help of a few dinghies – get the keel out and free. 

Quick introductions were made, but it soon became clear that there wasn’t much experience onboard – at least in getting boats off reefs.  I’m hardly an expert – but we’ve done it multiple times here (San Blas is a dangerous spot to navigate).  The right move is to decide which way to go (forward or reverse) and then tie multiple dinghies (side-tying is usually best).  Then all the dinghies and the boat itself – use the engines to push together.  Dumping water helps too – it raises the boat in the water a couple of inches. 

We managed to get the keel dislodged – but then the rudder was scraping the coral, which is a delicate situation.  It was clear, though, that the boat would come loose.  And during this time many more dinghies with many unexperienced drivers had arrived to help.  And I was starving and there were two bikin-clad girls making a lunch for me on my boat.  So rather than stay and wade through the chaos of too many dinghies, too many chiefs, and not enough Indians – I returned to NOMAD, ate some cheese and drank some wine.  It was surely the right decision.  Shortly the boat was free, and the damage seemed minimal (if there was any). 

Onward.

We decided to head to BBQ Island with the beach gear.  The beach gear is typically:  a bluetooth speaker, a music playing device, sun-protection, bug spray, a cooler with alcoholic beverages, etc.  The guys on the island were happy to see me (or really, my crew) and welcomed us ashore.  Then it was exploring and volleyball and drinks. 

On our way back to NOMAD that evening, we passed Gris Gris (heya guys!) and had a quick conversation.  There was supposed to be a calming trend over the next couple of days, so we planned on a fish BBQ on the beach.  Naturally, that night, the wind picked up to 20 knots – and there went the next few days of diving outside the reef. 

Meet Lindsay

Meet Lindsay

Coco Banderos

Coco Banderos

Beach parties and such

Beach parties and such

My girl

My girl

We spent the next couple of days playing and doing light-duty snorkeling in The Swimming Pool.  Then we sailed down to the Western Coco Banderos for a night.  Another beach fire and drinks as we watched the sun go down and turn the sky into fire and then violet and then the moon was full and lit up the ocean around us. 

It was Lindsay’s last night.  The next morning she’d leave on her way back to Panama City and “reality.”

And, again, I would be thankful that my reality is what it is.   So, very, thankful.  

Two things – if you’ve read this far:

  1. I have a friend offering charters here in San Blas, and from San Blas to Cuba.  It’s a beautiful boat and a great captain, reach out if you’re interested.
  2. I’m looking for experienced sailing crew to sail longer distances coming up.  This is a paying-crew position – meaning you pay a day-rate to be onboard, and you’ll have duties (just like every other crew member).  Reach out if you’re interested.  You must be 25 or older, have sailing experience, and be very comfortable in the water.  I’m going to be very picky.
Paradise

Back There

Laundry.  I desperately need to do laundry.  The good news is that board shorts never really get too dirty to wear in the water.  It’s the time out of the water that gets you.  I’ve discovered the art of using towels as clothes, though I can’t say that my towels are in much better shape.  This, though, will hardly make me leave my favorite dive spot. 

Onward. 

Back to The Swimming Pool

With Sandra onboard and getting her sea-legs we headed back to The Swimming Pool for a break in the weather.  Kenny (S/V Makai) was on his way up there, and we’ve become great friends so I was getting excited to see him.  I was being lazy, and ended up leaving the kayak in the water and towing it.  About halfway to The Swimming Pool, in the middle of a 6-8 foot beam swell, I noticed the kayak was no longer behind us.  A quick look around and (though it is bright red) – I realized that we would have trouble finding it. 

Aw, shit. 

We made a huge circle, taking into account wind and waves.  No luck.  Then we were back where we’d started a couple of hours before.  Still no kayak.  This was beginning to worry me.  Kayaks aren’t cheap.  At some point Sandra caught sight of the kayak in the binoculars.  A bit of maneuvering and we got along side of it and then got it back onboard.  A piece of the kayak had broken – it was nobody’s fault (except mine for being lazy and not bringing it up onboard).  The buck always stops with the captain.  Now we just needed to get back to The Swimming Pool.  

There.  Finally.

We pulled into The Swimming Pool and anchored in a spot I that I hoped would have good internet reception.  Of course it didn’t.  The updates here, the various boat-parts-searches, the “important” emails, communication with family and friends – would all have to wait.  We were, afterall, in an island paradise.   Internet connection, at least for short periods of time, is a sacrifice I’ll happily make.  

With the anchor down I immediately got my diving gear out.  I was here to chase fish.  As we headed toward the outer reef it looked rough.  Rougher than they were predicting in the weather forecast, surely.  The swells were 6-8 feet and breaking. That’s rough weather in a dinghy.  We did make it across the reef, though, and soon I was back in one of my favorite dive spots.  After all of that effort to get back here I was hoping the Universe would cut me some slack and give me an easy fish or two.  That was not to be.  Hell, it took us 15 minutes to set the anchor in the sloppy seas.  

Sandra had come out with me, but after a bit of diving through the swells she decided to wait it out in the dinghy.  I couldn’t blame her, it wasn’t comfortable diving.  Even for me, having done this more than a couple of times – it wasn’t an easy dive day. 

After a half-hour of being churned and pounded and rolled in the giant washing machine that was my favorite dive spot this day – the giant Dog Snapper, Cubera Snapper, or Black Grouper had evaded me.  Not even a sighting.   

So I kicked and kicked and kicked and eventually found myself in a slightly different area. And there I saw the only two shootable fish that day.  One large and one passable Dog Snapper.  I was out of breath and definitely not relaxed – but I made the dive, grabbed ahold of the bottom, and waited.  And waited.  And waited. 

The smaller of the two fish came and investigated.  The bigger one was keeping it’s distance.  As I waited on the larger fish, I was having a fierce internal debate.  Shooting the small fish would guarantee me ceviche, but since the dinghy was a long ways away – it would be nothing short of a miracle to be able to land his bigger brother also.  But a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  But I really wanted his big brother.  Really.

After a few seconds of the smaller fish swimming around me I took the shot.  The spear passed through the gill-plate, so he was absolutely stuck.  Before I even made it to the surface, I had the spear back in the gun and was reloading the rubber.  On the surface I took a quick breath and then went back down, the smaller of the two snapper still swimming around on the end of my spear – making it very difficult to a) aim and b) control the speargun.  The good news was that the large Dog Snapper was still within eyesight when I hit the bottom. 

With the smaller snapper still swimming around on the end of my spear I waited on the bottom.  Much to my surprise, his big brother decided to investigate.  He came closer and closer.  But I needed him close to the end of my spear before I could take a shot – I had no way of aiming and the speared snapper was continuing to jerk me around.  About the time I had given up hope, the larger snapper came within range and I pulled the trigger.  Stoned.  He quivered and then, with two Dog Snapper on the spear I returned to the surface. 

The kick back to the dinghy in the rolling surf with two large and bleeding fish was a long one.  Then I needed to retrieve the anchor.  Then get the engine started and the dinghy away from the breaking waves.  With all of that done, I could catch my breath.  I earned those fish. 

Sandra and dinner

Sandra and dinner

On the way back to the boat, Runner waved me over and I met the fine folks on Paradise.  Both were interested in fish, and I was planning on diving every day I could – so I was happy to give some away.  I cleaned the fish and an hour later delivered it, ziplocked. 

That evening, after an awesome fish dinner, Runner and Paradise came by and gave me some fresh-baked bread.  Once again – among friends and with a fridge full of fresh fish, all was right in the world. 

San Blas

Hotel California

Connectivity hasn’t been great.  That’s my excuse.

It’s been a good few days – though I took a couple on the chin.  Things were going too well for me to get through unscathed.  It’s become more about keeping composure when I get hit, than avoiding the punches altogether.  One thing is becoming obvious – how hard it is to put San Blas in the rearview.  You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

The saildrive.  The ****ing saildrive.  I’ve come to hate these things, though I wasn’t a fan of them in the beginning.  The saildrive is a transmission of sorts – it has three gears (forward, neutral, reverse) and transfers the power of the engine to the prop.  I have two and the starboard one chewed through an integral piece called the Sliding Sleeve.  It’s a pretty rare occurrence – but I’m accustomed to unusual failures. 

A common failure would be so bland. 

With the help of Mike on Gilana (thanks dude!) we were able to remove the offending part.  Then the parts-search was on.  Turns out it was about $700 to get the part in the States, never mind the shipping and other BS required to get the part back onboard.  Never mind the labor and the downtime.  I decided, instead, to purchase a complete spare (though used) saildrive for the same price – thereby securing a bunch of other spares as well.

When I arrived back in San Blas, the saildrive was waiting on me (thanks Susan).  It was then up to me to remove the part from the spare saildrive and put it into my starboard saildrive.  Sounds easy, but it was hardly so.  It took about a day of sweating and cursing and bleeding in the engine room in inhuman positions, but I got it back together.  Then I needed to put back together the spare saildrive.  Then I tried it all out.  Reverse was forward and forward was reverse.  I’ve seen this before so I pulled things out and got them put back together correctly. All said and done, it seemed as if my saildrive woes were (at least temporarily) over.

I was free again.  Wow. 

NOMAD

NOMAD

Lots of diving.  Nate’s fish delivery service was back in full swing.  Need fish?  No problem – I was keeping my skills sharp and bringing back quality food for friends.  I put more fish onboard Bad Kitty, Runner, and (later) Paradise.  Steve quit bullshitting about eating SPAM and admitted that there were fish here – probably more to do with said fisherman than the fish (just getting even for all that SPAM talk, Steve).  Though one night Steve caught a Horse-eyed Jack (and told me it was a Blackfin Tuna).  My fridge/freezer was full.  Teena’s days onboard were coming to an end. 

Ol’ Andre

Then Andre showed up. Both of the pics below are dated – but we didn’t take many pictures last time ’round.

Andre (Dani is in there too)

Andre (Dani is in there too)

Andre!

Andre!

Andre has become a close friend.  As close as you can be without being blood.  He runs a backpacker boat from Cartagena to San Blas (and back the other way).  He pulled in next to us and we headed over there.  Then we had lunch with his crew and guests.  He was leaving later that afternoon for Robinson Island and then onto the East Lemmons for a little beach party.  This was as good of a chance as any to test my saildrive repairs and so – we decided to go with Andre.

On the way to Isla Robinson everything was fine.  We were chugging along at a fair pace, under full power.  Of course, when we arrived, things took a turn for the worse.  As I was setting the anchor I put my starboard engine into reverse – and heard a grinding sound. I immediately killed the engine and took a look into the saildrive – there was oil and nothing seemed amiss.  This led me to suspect one of two things:  a small piece of the broken part worked it’s way into the gears/bearings or the bearings had begun to seize.  Not cool.  Major bummer. 

Determined to not let this screw up my day – we continued on as planned.  After the short stop at Robinson Island we headed to the East Lemmons and started the party routine.  There were several captains there with full crews – so the party was in full swing.   

The next day was Teena’s departure – after which I would spent a few days alone onboard.  Steve was heading to Shelter Bay.  I had crew coming in on the 19th – but that was 9 days away.   So that evening when a girl asked me if I wanted crew for a few days, I responded positively. I told her that she would be cooking and cleaning – but that we would sail a bit and dive alot.  She was keen, and so plans were made to move her from Andre’s boat to mine in a couple of days.  The crew in question is a 23 year old Austrian girl named Sandra – and to date, she’d been epic.  As a general rule, I don’t bring on people under 25 – but this was spontaneous and turned out to be a good time to break general rules.  Meet Sandra.

Sandra

Sandra

When Sandra arrived, we spent a day relaxing and cooking and getting ready to get under way the following day.  I wanted to get back to The Swimming Pool for a break in the wind/waves/weather – so I could get to the outer reef and chase Black Grouper.   Of course – the wind was in our face, so I diverted to a Western part of the Coco Banderos, where we dropped the anchor behind Drummer – who would become friends.

Lionfish

Lionfish

That afternoon we went for a quick snorkel and I found a couple of giant lionfish for the beach-fire we would have with Drummer and Soliel (?) that evening.  We made friends that night and all of us were talking about heading to Cuba – wanting to get there before the floodgates opened and officially let Americans in to do what they do best – corrupt culture with the almighty dollar.  All of the reports of Cuba are great – big fish, cheap living, interesting culture.  Cheap rum, good cigars.  Even pretty women.  There seems very little reason to not go (besides the horrible amount of boat work that lies ahead of me). 

Another epic sunset

Another epic sunset

After we ate garlic/butter lobster and grilled fish, talked sailing and spearfishing – everyone perched on driftwood benches around the fire – I was reminded, again, how lucky I am to be here.  Even if the damn boat would never be completely fixed.  Even if I have to work until I’m one hundred years old.  Even if I’m going broke faster than I ever imagined. 

It’s all good. 

Back in San Blas!

Joy, Back in Panama

I left off last post as I was boarding a plane from Houston to Panama, with only half of my boat-gear.  On this flight a couple of pretty women took an interest in  me and so we exchanged numbers and names on the plane, much to the surprise of many of the passengers.  Never they mind, this is S.O.P.    

On the flight, I napped for a few minutes and read.  Real sleep continued to evade me, but a nap was progress.  

Joy, Back in Panama

When we landed the girls found me again and cut in the customs line so we could talk.  They seemed fun and adventurous.  To that end, I could think of few reasons to not have them onboard.  It soon became obvious they would visit NOMAD. 

As I walked out of the gates in Panama City, I was greeted by Teena (other crewish) and Roger (our taxi driver).  We went straight to the hotel, dropped my bags, and went in search of a good meal and a good drink.  It was also Dec 31st – meaning we needed a party.  The good news is that the meal, drinks, and party were easy to find.  And find them we did, complete with a ridiculously dangerous fireworks show that you can only get in near-3rd world countries. 

The next morning we were a little hungover.  I’m functional in this state, so I was up and starting to accomplish what I could this fine (New Year’s) day. I needed boat stuff, a ton of groceries, comms, an iPad repair, SIM cards, etc.  Naturally, this was New Years Day,  there wasn’t much we could do (everything was closed) – but we did try.  That evening the girls I met on the plane (Bobbeye and Alexis – hey girls, miss you already) came shopping with us and we arranged to get out to the boat the following day. 

Around 1PM the next day we loaded too much food/drink and too much boat-gear into a 4WD vehicle and took off toward San Blas.  A short stop for food and then we were suddenly unloading all of this into a launcha, the very same launcha that picked me up three weeks ago from NOMAD (this will be important as the story progresses).  We double-checked everything and made sure we all understood what was happening and then we pushed off toward NOMAD. 

Now,  NOMAD was in The Swimming Pool, and the drivers of my launcha knew this and had – just a couple weeks before – picked me up on NOMAD in The Swimming Pool.  So getting back to the boat wasn’t a huge concern of mine – we were going home and we would be there by sunset.   Surely.  

So when the launcha driver stopped in Yansaladup (many miles from The Swimming Pool and NOMAD) and inquired as to where my boat was – I was surprised.  My boat was another 10 miles away – exactly where I’d left it and where this very man picked me up just a few weeks before.  Even if he was stoned, this shouldn’t have happened.  When the driver told me he didn’t have enough fuel to get out to my boat, it was hard to hide my frustration.  We had reached the point that I was doubting his mental faculties.  Now I had myself, three guests, and two months worth of food (some of it needing refrigeration) – and we had no way to get that to my boat, nor anyplace to spend the night until we could regroup.  Light was fading fast, we were cold and wet, and there was no easy solution.  But I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve and I knew more than a couple people around here.

As we pulled into the nearest island chain, I heard the launcha driver trying to figure out his next move on the phone.  He was trying to justify his mistake and patch it up as best he could – but he’d effed up badly.  Very badly.   It was, after all, his only job to know where boats were and to deliver people to them.  Incompetence is so common here, but this was above and beyond. 

As we pulled into Chichime (still many miles from NOMAD), I saw friends on the islands.  A huge wave of relief washed over me as I recognized a good friend and fellow Texan – Steve.  Steve has a beautiful and large and fancy and expensive 44 foot Leopard catamaran.  And we needed something like that to sleep on tonight, since our launcha driver failed us so completely.  Luckily for me, it wasn’t a group of guys I was asking to put onboard Steve’s boat – but a group of beautiful women.  So he said yes and we began the process of unloading the launcha onto Bad Kitty. 

That night we came to the decision that we would all sail together on Steve’s boat (Bad Kitty) to The Swimming Pool.  After all Steve needed some fish and I could (minimally) provide that for him, since he’d been such a gracious host.  Of course, Steve was doubtful about The Swimming Pool providing the kind of fish I said it could – but I know this spot and I know it well.  To that end, I would fill his freezer- providing the weather wasn’t overly strong. 

Underway

The next morning we pulled Bad Kitty’s anchor, stopped by a friend’s yacht to pick up groceries to deliver to another friend in The Swimming Pool – and headed towards NOMAD.  Finally.  The girls began to get seasick, despite a tiny swell and sea-sickness pills.  As we arrived and NOMAD came into view I couldn’t help but do a little dance.  Finally, finally, back home.  FINALLY.  I promised myself to think hard before I left her (NOMAD) again.  

Surprisingly the boat was in good condition.  There was the mold-farm, but that is the nature of leaving a boat locked up in the Caribe.  Batteries were full.  Water was full.  Both of which were important, considering I now had three land-lubbing ladies onboard – afterall, it takes months to develop water and electricity discipline.

Dinghy-grocery moves

Dinghy-grocery moves (and Steve/Bad Kitty)

The rest of the day was spent moving things from Bad Kitty to NOMAD, saying hello to old friends that were in the area, and drinking our celebratory drinks.  More friends showed up – hey Lisa, you still have my pans :)   … Everyone was asking for fish.  But when we headed out to the reef – it was too rough, even for me.  And so we ended up eating spaghetti and making plans for tomorrow’s fishing escapade.  We drank and talked and Lisa stopped by so we could catch up.  She reminded me that it was a year ago that we met – on New Years on an island named Yansaladup.  It’s been a wild year.  

The girls

The girls

Good days

Good days

The next morning found Bobbeye and Alexis leaving abrutly, in search of a reliable internet connection that proved impossible to provide the night before.  Something about work.  And it was another moment in which I was reminded how good my life really is – to not be controlled by such outside forces.  I was sad to see them go, but such is life.  With the girls gone and hangovers to nurse – the rest of the day was spent resting and cleaning.  That afternoon I got in touch with Kenny who is now in this area (Kenny, can’t wait to see you dude!).  Having good friends around you makes all the difference in the world.  

At some point Steve began telling me (again) how few fish there were in The Swimming Pool.  I told him I would fill his freezer in less than an hour – depending on some amount of luck with weather/fish.  Steve told me that he bet we would be eating SPAM for dinner.  I knew better, and always appreciate a spearfishing challenge.

After all of his chiding – I picked him up in the dinghy that afternoon and we went outside the reef.  The rolling waves were steep and every bit of 8 foot – crashing into the reef with a sound that is exciting to me, but terrifying to others (I soon found out).  Steve was at the edge of his limits – his knuckles were white and when I was laughing, he was tight-lipped as we jumped and crashed through the surf to the outer reef.  It’s always a bit dicey getting outside, but we made it.

As I found the nearest honey-hole and dropped the anchor – Steve decided he would stay in the dinghy.  It was too rough for him.  And, of course, he didn’t think I would find fish.  As I rolled into the water – he said “Just think about SPAM.”  

Three minutes later I put the first of the fish into the dinghy.  No big deal to me, but Steve was a bit surprised. 

Within twenty minutes I’d speared Black Grouper, Dog Snapper, Triggerfish (Teena placed this order), and Yellow Jack.  And I’d seen a Goliath Grouper the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.  Stoked?  Yep.  My first dive back at The Swimming Pool and I’d landed another Black Grouper.  At this point we had fish for a week, and the dinghy was rolling precariously over the steep and near-breaking waves – so I called the trip and we navigated back to our catamarans.  As I jumped into the dinghy with the last fish – Steve said:  “Thank God you’re done, I was sure these waves were going to flip the dinghy.”  

Once back at the catamarans we cleaned the fish and planned our dinner, which was to be held onboard Bad Kitty.  I actually took a shower, put on clean clothes and even combed my hair.  We brought a bottle of red wine and the dinner ended up resembling a get-together in someone’s $1M condo downtown – but with better views.  Sometimes I feel spoiled.  And sometimes I feel like the most overworked and underpaid captain that has ever existed.  I suppose it all balances out. 

We talked until I’d finished cooking the fish – then we gorged ourselves on one of the best meals I’ve had in months.  At the end of it, as I stretched out on a cushion to listen to the waves break on the reef and the fish jump around the boat.

It wasn’t silent, but it was peaceful.  No car horns. No sirens.  No dogs barking.  No road noise.  No alarms.  No children screaming.  Just the sound of the breaking waves underneath a beautifully starlit sky.  We were quiet for a moment, just enjoying the silence, lost in not-so-deep thought.    

Then Steve verbalized what I was feeling.  He said, “What the f*ck would you do if you had to go to work tomorrow in Austin?”  We laughed hysterically at this.  

And as his words faded into the night, so did the very thought itself, never to be taken seriously. Joy.  Back in Panama.  

Holiday Madness

The Holiday Madness (is finally over)

There is an unalterable fact about the Holiday season in the States:  as the Holidays approach, madness ensues.  Sometimes this stateside madness even reaches out and grabs ahold of people many miles from the States.  Sometimes it even grabs me.

This year was no exception.  Last year my family visited me in San Blas for Christmas, but to think that would happen again would be wishful thinking. Which left two options:  1) go back Stateside (not preferable) or 2) don’t see the family (also not preferable), don’t participate in the madness, and spend Christmas on a deserted, white sand beach cooking freshly caught fish (preferable). 

Of those two options, I chose option 1.  The truth is, I like seeing family.  Which is, besides a boat-part search, the only reason I can see to return stateside.

Leaving NOMAD wasn’t all that easy.  The night before there was a small going-away party.  I needed to leave the boat somewhere safe (and get it there with a single engine).  I needed to go through all of the rigamarole of closing up and turning off the boat for a couple of weeks.  We emptied the fridge and turned it off, shut down all unnecessary electronics, put everything inside, and locked everything up. 

With our going-away party the night before, we were very short on sleep when the launcha arrived to carry us away.  The ride to Carti from The Swimming Pool was a long one.  Because of a minor emergency, I was leaving a little earlier than planned, and we (Ana, Dez, and I) were all in the water-taxi and then all in the same 4-wheel drive vehicle – heading to Panama City. 

At the airport, I said goodbye to my crew and then the usual nonsense started.  One of the security guards balked about the contents of one of my carry-ons.  I was bringing part of my watermaker home to have Spectra re-work it.  He didn’t like the way it looked, and despite it breaking none of the rules about contents of a carry-on;  he decided it warranted further investigation.  He insisted that I get an employee of the airlines to come and look and make a decision.  I raised Hell.  He quickly lost his confidence as I explained the issue to the police – who took notice when I raised my voice.  I could see, across the face of this particular security guard, that he knew he was going to lose this – but he stood firm and so I went off to try to get some underpaid flight worker to make a decision that I already knew would go my way.

Explaining to a Spanish-only airline employee that you have a part of a desalination system in your carry on, and that a security guard with a learning disability is insisting that someone from an airline come and pass judgement on it’s validity as a carry-on item isn’t easy.  But I did it. 

The airline worker kept saying that he didn’t understand what the problem was.  The truth is, neither did I.  But this was the game, and so we played.  After a brief discussion, the airline worker looked disgustedly at the security guard and told the security guard that he needed to let me through, as I was breaking no rules.  The security guard balked at first – but I got the police involved again and he sheepishly helped me re-pack the part and let me through.  Jackass.  This was the beginning of my re-integration, and it was already feeling like it would be a struggle. 

Next up was a flight delay.  Then on the flight there was a screaming infant one row in front of me and a morbidly obese person on my immediate right.   People were coughing all around me.  My larger than life neighbor was already asleep and leaning toward me – a sure sign of me becoming their head-rest and drool pillow for the next few hours.

This trend, thankfully, began changing when I touched down in Houston, Texas.  My Mom was there to pick me up and I collapsed in the passenger seat – wanting nothing but Taco Bell and somewhere to lay my head.  Back at her house I took my first hot shower in months and attempted to sleep.  Sleep, I would learn, wouldn’t come in these next weeks. 

The next day I unpacked, sorted through the corrugated Great Wall of China that the UPS, USPS, and FedEx guys had constructed along the front porch.  This was the result of my Amazon shopping for my boat-toys and replacement parts.  With life slowly starting to take shape here, I packed the minimal into the saddlebags on my motorcycle and that evening I sped toward Austin.  Admitting the speed in which I made it to Austin probably isn’t a great idea, but I will say that it was an exciting ride, despite the traffic the car-drivers endured.  Getting back on a motorcycle, after so long, is a remarkable feeling.  The speed and freedom is addicting. 

On The Move

In Austin, things already broken deteriorated.  But eventually I was back in my groove and day-drinking with friends that should have been working. 

A trip to Houston.  Back to Mom’s.  Back to Austin.  An expensive ticket on the bike.  A music festival.  New friends, old friends.  Drinking and playing.  Never feeling at home.  Sleep a thing of the past.  Everything so superficial.  Everyone taking such pride in uttering the words:  “I’m busy.”  

People were now married or now had kids.  But all was remarkably similar.  If we’re being honest, the people were so similar that I often wondered if I’d ever left.  What, pray tell, had they done in the last months?  I wondered if it would always be this way.  I had changed, again, immensely.  I could feel it.  The growing impatience with the small-talk of “home”, the lack of interest in people’s job-talk, the tiring of hearing the same bland story over and over.  Even more, now than ever, a man apart.  Everyone else just going with the flow. 

The distance between “normal” and myself ever-widening, those “normal” folks seeming completely stuck.  I’m moving, changing, growing so quickly – sometimes it seems as if they are altogether unmoving, despite running faster and faster on the wheel.  What is it about the Rat Race which is so hard to identify as fruitless, when one is running it?  Or is it a constant state of distraction that enables it?  

No Home

I’ve always been an easy-sleeper. In the military, you so often find yourself at the end of your wits and completely physically exhausted (through lack of sleep, the adrenaline-crash, and extreme physical exertion).  In this state you learn to sleep in any position and in any environment.  But sleep evaded me this time home, despite air conditioning and luxurious beds.  Hot showers, baths, cold drinks, Benadryl, and full stomachs didn’t help.  This added to an ever-deepening feeling of discomfort Stateside. 

Christmas came and went. The family was together and that was what mattered to me, the gifts and the religious muddling could be left for the birds.

I’m a grown human being – and when grown human beings want/need an item, they hardly make a list and hope that Santa delivers it on Christmas.  They visit Amazon and it shows up on their doorstep two days later.  If I see something I want/need on December 24th, I’m buying it, not waiting and hoping someone can read my mind and get exactly the item I want/need.  Please.  Of course, I’m also expected to mind-read and have gifts for everyone else.  I’ve always been a bit curious about this, but especially now. How, after months sailing around the Caribbean, in limited contact with everyone but the people in my anchorage, should I know that you need a new leash for your dog?  I prefer Thanksgiving.   

What Did You Guys Do After I Left?

One morning, shortly after I returned, I made a mistake and watched a bit of news in a hotel lobby while eating a marginal continental breakfast.  It was Donald Trump defending a ban on Islam, as a presidential candidate.  I won’t get into the reasons this is a dumb f*cking idea, but lets just say if and when one has this kind of idea – it would behoove them to keep it to themselves.  Better to be thought a fool, than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.   It was a stark reminder of how foolish the American public is.  And that is enough to remind me that removing myself from the clutches of those very masses was an intelligent decision.  That was my last flirt with news and “real-life”, I decided.  You  can have all of that, I have no use for it.  

Leaving

Suddenly it was time to go and everything was in disarray and half-complete and I was wondering where the time went – despite, earlier, spending hours wishing it would just be over.  Goodbyes.  Farewells.  Tears. Hugs.  That last email. This last Facebook message.  The last phone call.  A couple of very permanent goodbyes.  Some goodbyes I hoped were less permanent. Genuine heartbreak. Shedding anchors. 

More Airport Foolishness

Packing for these trips is stressful. I have too much boat-gear that needs to get to my boat-home, and the airlines are doing a great job of taking up where the rest of society leaves off:  if you don’t fit in their box, you’re going to have a bad time.  This “fitting into the box” makes moving through life much easier, but as everyone tries to fit into the box we remove individuality and everything becomes so vanilla. 

And this evolution of the airlines – once a symbol of freedom, now another source of stress and outrageous regulations and “security” – all pushing conformity.  The feeling of a cattle-herding operation, the whole of which is a near-perfect metaphor for the progression of our society. 

The feeling of being outside-looking-in never stronger, and from where I’m sitting (outside) – it seems more like a dystopian nightmare playing out on the inside.  I’m not fighting to get back inside.  This I promise you. 

Arriving at the airport with too much baggage and trying to make the square peg fit the round hole is part patience and part dealing with people that have below-average intelligence.  Maybe I’m being harsh and it’s just an exercise in futility.  Or maybe, this may be a circle of Hell. 

Part of my baggage included three flexible solar panels that I was planning to mount to my hardtop bimini to increase my solar capabilities onboard.  Upon arriving at the airport, we were almost through the bullshit – when a roving airline worker noted that these panels (which I was trying to check in) were actually three separate boxes that were taped, and roped together.  This was against some protocol.  I explained that if it made them feel better about their lives, I would happily cover these three boxes in a piece of fabric, because, afterall, that was (essentially) what my other checked bag was.  I offered to cover these three separate (but well secured) boxes in whatever material they wanted, and though the airline workers (surprisingly) recognized my sarcasm and the underlying point (what, exactly, constitutes a single “package”) – they would need a manager’s approval. 

As soon as we (Mom and I) saw the manager we knew we were screwed.  My Mom made a comment to that effect immediately.  Picture an unhappy, overweight, past middle-aged female airline worker. Someone resigned to unhappiness, a tangible aura of unhappiness emanating from her.  Got that mental image?  Good.  That is who they sent to ruin my day.  She arrived with a frown on her already unpleasant face, and I only saw it change for a nanosecond when she got the satisfaction of ruining someone else’s day. She was so efficient at this I actually wondered if it were in her job description.  

Rather than being human and waving the bag aboard, she chose to go through every possible reason the package wouldn’t be able to go.  The thing she decided upon was (wait for it…..) an embargo.  There is, as I write, some random embargo.  This embargo restricts packages above 68” in total whatever they measure – from entering Panama.  There is, of course, no notification of this to travelers.  I checked the baggage rules right before I left, and there was no mention of this.  So this airline worker refused to allow my package onto the plane.  When I asked her how we were supposed to know about this embargo, (I shit you not) she replied:  “You know now, don’t you?”  And, as if to try to top that as the shittiest thing an employee of an airline may say to the customer of said airline, she ended our brief and unpleasant encounter by explaining that this embargo “Inconveniences us more than you.”  The ignorance in this statement is and was dumbfounding.  Thanks United Airlines, here’s my middle finger right back atcha.  

And so, the solar panels so carefully chosen and packed (and so necessary to my lifestyle) are in Houston, Texas as I made my way to my boat. 

All of this, in combination with lack of sleep, didn’t help my mood.  In an effort to get over that – I decided to have a crew interview as I was waiting on my plane to board.  The interview went well and reminded me how good my life was soon to be.  The interview reminded me this trip home was coming to an end, and that soon I would be back onboard NOMAD.  Soon, if I could just make it to my boat, all would be right in the universe.

This positive interview reminded me of something else – after all of this insanity, the universe owed me something awesome.  It needed to balance out the scales.  We have an understanding to that effect.  The universe came through in the form of two beautiful women that were just ahead of me in the boarding line.  One turned to me and after an up-and-down look, she asked me why I was going to Panama.  I told her I had a boat there.  She asked why I had a boat there, and I told her it was a good place to have a boat.  And then this beautiful woman told me that neither of them had plans, they loved boats, and they were looking for good beaches.  Of course – I was anchored around some of the best beaches on the planet and had room on my boat. 

So the women were interested and beautiful and available and on my flight.  And as I boarded, I couldn’t help but smile.   Here it was: the universe balancing out the bullshit I’d so recently endured.  My friends in San Blas would be, again, surprised by a bikini-laden NOMAD. 

PS – to those of you I met at home, who read this – you made the trip infinitely better.  Seeing people back home, and reconnecting with people who read what I write is something I enjoy immensely.  So thanks to everyone in Bellville, Houston, and Austin that tolerated me for my brief stint Stateside.  Without you hoodlums, I’d likely have been driven insane :)

Buen Viaje

Happy Holidays from The Nomad Trip

So.  This post is part catchup, well-wishing, and looking back.

Since my last post, we’ve done a ton of fishing, poker-playing, some Holiday celebrations and making of new friends from other places on the planet.  I’ve traveled and said goodbyes and said hellos and reconnected with people from my previous life in the ratrace.  I’ve shed a couple of anchors and found unexpected freedom (not without struggle).  My (awesome) crew has moved on to other adventures.  My (super-awesome) friends on Sundowner have moved on as well.  And my plans seem to be changing faster than I can make them.

 

More San Blas Shenanigans

The Swimming Pool is undoubtedly my favorite anchorage in San Blas;  I guess that is somewhat obvious to those of you that follow along.  Here we have a beautiful and protected anchorage with great holding and a stunning view every morning.  We have good-to-great fishing that is usually accessible.  We have peace and tranquility.  We have friends.  And sometimes we get a weak internet signal that allows us to communicate with the people that we need to communicate with.  We even managed to do some Amazon shopping for Christmas and book flights for our upcoming adventures.

The Swimming Pool

The Swimming Pool

Hi

Hi

The Swimming Pool

The Swimming Pool

We’ve been eating well.  Very well.  Dez cooks like a champ and Tate and I put as much fish on the table as we can eat (and more).  In fact, we are so successful so consistently that it’s become tradition for us to get fresh fish for our friends in the anchorage.  Often, before we even leave to go freedive/spearfish, we take fish orders.  Our friends on Meridian (heya Dom, tell the fam we miss y’all) went as far as to give us a fish-order which we promptly filled.  Other boats that anchor near us have stopped their attempts to fish altogether (now that they realize we are giving away fresh fish fillets, cleaned and bagged).  Our free fish ordering and delivery service is a running joke that we enjoy participating in.

Cleaning up the reef

Cleaning up the reef

Crabs and such

Crabs and such

Spearfishing girls

Spearfishing girls

San Blas Hogs

San Blas Hogs

FISH!

FISH!

Dez and Ana have become addicted to spearfishing, and as new addicts do – they have more of a drive to spearfish than I often do.  The days became somewhat predictable, in the best possible way.  I would stumble upstairs to fresh French-pressed Colombian coffee and a great breakfast.  We would listen to the net at 08:30.  Then around 10:00 Tate or Dani and I would decide who would play who in our morning chess ritual.  During this chess game we would discuss plans for the day, boat gear, and cooking ideas.  The plans for the day were based around how much fish we had, what the weather looked like, and how we felt.  Some days were diving days and others were cooking days and others were chilling days.

Kitchen boss

Kitchen boss

Thanksgiving

One thing I’ve always appreciated about this lifestyle is that under normal (whatever that means) circumstances we have the time to celebrate almost any occasion.  Thanksgiving was no exception, and even our foreign friends (who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving) came and celebrated their first Thanksgiving with us Americans.  We hosted Swiss and Brazilian and Spanish friends on NOMAD.  Tate showed us his gumbo skills (I learned about rue).  Dom showed us her cheesecake skills.  Dani showed us her bread skills.  Ana and Dez cooked too.  Then we all gorged on a feast on par with any 5 star restaurant (and with better company and views).

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

Gumbo!

Gumbo!

Int'l Thanksgiving

Int’l Thanksgiving

Real-life

My friends in this community, and myself, have taken to calling the inconveniences and interruptions from home (see legal, banking, travel, and family concerns) “real-life.”  The words “real-life” are muttered in a tone that conveys a bit of frustration, and we all know what the other is talking about.  But, over the last couple of weeks,  I’ve been thinking about that.  I’m not convinced that is “real-life.”  In fact, I’m convinced that the life I (and those lucky enough to be doing something similar) live is remarkably more “real.”  Legal, business, money, and other “back-home” concerns aren’t very real.  Those are the things that we must do, and those are the things that take away from “real-life.”  Interest rates and worries about paperwork and entanglements that we are unable to shed are anything but real. They’re constructs of society that are forced upon us, infringing upon our days and trying oh-so-hard to bring us back into the fold.  When we call that “real-life” – we’re doing everyone a disservice, as what our modern culture accepts as “real” is – in fact – the least real way of living that I have ever encountered.  If not immersed in the ratrace, one can’t help to look at it as some dystopian nightmare. It’s a facade that keeps us from seeing and living real life.

With all of that said, no matter how much one tries to distance themselves from these issues and concerns – they do pop up from time to time.  Crew leaves.  Friends move on.  Family makes requests.  Things break.  Relationships crumble.  Plans must be made.  And with that, our real-lives here (living well, having good conversations, eating well, drinking well, exploring and traveling, owning our time) are halted while we deal with the consequences of our societal constructs we (dangerously) label “real-life.”

There is very little real about it.  But it snuck up on us and suddenly things in our utopian lives were, again, changing.

 

Looking Back

At the end of a year we all look back.  It’s natural.  Inevitable.  It’s not a bad thing.

Langosta?

Langosta?

Kuna taking our fish heads

Kuna taking our fish heads

Looking back, it’s been a long road, though I’m remarkably close to the very place all of this started.  But physical proximity to the start of one’s journey can hardly be a metric.  The metrics should be growth and learning and time well-spent.    After all, if one is to indeed circumnavigate, one will end up back where one started – but with a host of experiences that cannot be bought, only earned.  And earn them we do.

Pipes and such

Pipes and such

 

Two years ago I was a very different person.  Unhappy in my moments of honest reflection, with the realization that the life many expected me to lead would be hollow.  I couldn’t fix things. I’d never owned a boat.  I couldn’t cook nor did I appreciate food.  I took for granted many important relationships.  I was fat, stressed, and always planning my great escape.  Everyone owned my time.

On the surface I had an enviable position – I lived in a great city, I made good money, I was productively employed somewhere that gave me the illusion I was making an impact.  I had great friends, a strong relationship, an awesome dog and more vehicles than I could drive.  There were motorcycles and vacations and parties.  I was on sound financial footing (much moreso than now) and I didn’t need to rely on anyone else for any of that.

But. The great understanding is that the only thing that we truly posses is our time. And I didn’t really own that.

It’s hard for anyone who can really think to put too much value on these things modernity has put on a pedestal.  Are they important?  Sure.  And it’s often hard to be happy without food and shelter.  But I’m of the opinion that thinking men (and women) inevitably come to the same conclusion, if they are honest with themselves (that’s a big if):  the daily grind is mundane, and the art of getting by is mostly the art of distraction.  Busyness is mistaken for productivity.  What is called productivity is busyness.  The metric of a day well-spent is this mislabeled  “productivity.”  And if you just stay busy enough, if you can stay on the path to the white-picket fence – you may be lucky enough to survive a divorce and heart failure and the stress that comes with a grownup career and kids.

You may have a spawning event in which you bring forth more humans into a world that is unsustainably populated and unquestionably being vandalized by our species.  Stay the course, though, and you may get a chance to retire (if the stock market or Enron or a frivolous lawsuit or Bernie Madoff don’t wipe you out).  In which case your ego will likely be tied up in your job or your education, the cessation of which may kill you.  Of course, you’ll then have a mortgage or two and car notes and you’ll have to have made a fair amount of money to sustain that (or continue working until you drop dead).  You’ll be up to your eyeballs in commitment that sneaked in.  And if you manage to get free from those things – you’ll be at an age that makes enjoying your newfound freedom (?) difficult.

So.  Looking back – I’ve made choices that freed me from much of that.  I’ve had experiences that can’t be bought or recreated. My travel hasn’t been restricted to two weeks a year and I’ve strayed from the path more traveled.  My destinations aren’t resorts nor are they in The Lonely Planet.

Island-signage

Island-signage

Coke

Coke

Shopping runs

Shopping runs

My mistress

My mistress

What’s different now?  I’m a bigger and better person with a more satisfying life.  Cocktail party conversations aren’t limited to the mundane: interest rates, caring for newborns, workplace politics, or even geo-politics.  We have stories that involve real-life and real living.  We have real struggles.  And, most satisfying of all:  I built this house.  There were a million ways to live my life, a million choices, a million forks in the road.  Challenges that seemed insurmountable.  Knowledge that seemed unlearnable.  Conflicts that seemed unwinnable.   Steps that seemed too large to take.  Chasms too wide to cross. Risks that seemed too great.  Bills that seemed too large to pay and checks that seemed too large to cash. Relationships that have crumbled, mistakes that have cost me dearly.

Where I face challenges

Where I face challenges

With all of that, I’m here.

Here and present

Here and present

Here’s me wishing you a truly New Year in which you take big leaps.  I hope you defy convention.  I hope you tell the nay-sayers where to shove it – not with wanna-be pipe dreams, but with actions.  I hope you think of your life as a tapestry and not a series of steps along a path that was predetermined by other’s expectations.  That in this New Year you decide your journey is too important to leave to fate.  That your time is too precious to give away, or even sell.

On this New Year – blaze your own trail.  It’s infinitely more rewarding than mediocrity, and the challenges you’ll face as you try to break free are merely tolls along the route that leads to a life that’s actually worth living.  Pay the tolls, take the leap, face all of the fears – and live.  

Buen Viaje

Buen Viaje

Happy New Year from a semi-notorious, self-proclaimed captain of an always-broken sailing vessel.

Paradise!!

Fish and Other Stuff

The saildrive fight is still on.  It’s the seventh or eighth round and I’m not sure who will win.  It may end up a split decision. I’ve overcome bad businesses, crappy customer service, impossible connectivity, and strange personality differences.  If I can’t figure it out before I go home for Christmas, I’ll simply buy the part there and put it all back together after I return.  But I really hope it doesn’t come to this.

With all that said, we’re still having fun. 

New, Good Friends

We’ve become great friends with Sundowner.  They have an awesome site here:  Sundowner Sails Again…  When you’re cruising, you live with a much greater understanding of the temporary nature of things – and this leads to relationships which form and strengthen remarkably quickly.  Because, inevitably, one of you will sail away.  Our friendship with Sundowner has been no exception. 

It helps, of course, that Tate is a promising spear fisherman and than Dani is an all-around awesome chick who plays chess closer to my level (when I’m sick of getting my ass kicked by Tate).  It also helps that Tate drinks good scotch.  And that they are funny.  And that they are in their 30’s (at least 20 years younger than the average cruiser).  There has been much laughing, some dancing, much fishing, much diving, beach fires, and a fair amount of drinking.  All in all, it’s been great. 

It’s probably not much of a surprise that Tate and I did some great diving. 

At some point the wind and waves calmed down enough for us to “get outside” to the good fishing.  Tate knew a spot, I knew a couple of spots – and together we were in great shape to land quality fish. 

The outside reef in The Swimming Pool is accessed through cuts in the reef – some can be taken when the waves are 1 meter or less, some can be taken when the waves are up to 3 meters.  But ain’t nobody wants to go outside when the waves are stacking up to 3 meters.  So on our 1 meter day – we all went outside.

The girls have the spearfishing bug as well.  They’re sometimes more excited about spearfishing than I am.  All the gusto of a beginner in an adrenaline-filled sport.  Ana shot her first Dog Snapper the other day.  Impressive stuff, all around.

Fish and Other Stuff

On the day in question Dani stayed back with another of our friends on Meridian (hey Dom!) to do some snorkeling.  That left Ana, Dez, Tate, and myself on our voyage.  We made it outside the reef and then I tried to find the familiar landmarks that make up one of my favorite spots on the outside of the reef.  I found the landmark, but our first dive produced nothing but a couple of swim-by’s (Tarpon and Permit).  So I swam back to the dinghy, picked everyone up, and repositioned. 

On our next dive we found the spot. Huge caves in the bottom where Grouper and Dog Snapper hid and hunted.  Sharks too.  Lemon sharks and Blacktip sharks and Grey Reef sharks all competing for your fish.  But where there are sharks there are fish, so this is a good sign. 

On my first few dives I scored two large Dog Snapper.  The sharks were active, so I returned to the dinghy with the fish.  Restringing my speargun in the dinghy I heard Tate yell, “HELP!” – and when I looked over at him I saw his speargun floating next to him and I knew he’d speared a fish.  He had, and the fish was in the process of thoroughly kicking his ass.  Tate’s a big guy.  So as I jumped in and kicked towards him I was hoping his struggle involved a giant fish.

I was not disappointed.  When I saw the flash of the fish I knew immediately he’d shot a respectable Cubera Snapper.  And when I saw his shot placement I loaded my speargun and prepared to shoot the fish again.  Tate’s spear was precariously lodged just under the skin of this huge fish who was literally fighting for his life.  By the time I reached the fish and got my hands in it’s gills to secure it, Tate had mostly recovered and the fish was largely under control. 

We high five and Tate tried to tell me the story of the fish between gasps and between waves.  I was mostly concerned with landing the fish so I pulled it back to the boat and let Tate recover.  That’s when I noticed the second fish on Tate’s shooting line. 

The story goes like this:  Tate had shot a couple of nice Dog Snapper and on his way back to the dive spot (from putting the fish in the dinghy) he spotted a few nice Dog Snapper and then something larger in a cave.  He dove to the bottom, sat there, and threw a few handfuls of sand up into the water column.  Which is when the Cubera’s curiosity got the better of him.  The fish approached Tate, and as the fish turned to give Tate the shot – a smaller Dog Snapper got between Tate and the Cubera.  Tate took the shot and his spear passed through the Dog Snapper into the Cubera.  At which point the Cubera went apeshit.

The Cubera ducked back into the hole (as they do) and refused to come out.  This is a large fish, at home underwater and in caves.  Tate is less at home underwater and in caves.  Which is why Tate and the fish had such a disagreement about where they were going next. 

To make a long story slightly less long, Tate’s shooting line wouldn’t let him get back to the surface without dragging the fish out of the cave.  Which left him with two choices:  get the fish out of the cave so he could return to the surface to breathe, or let go of his gear and lose the fish and the gear.  Tate managed to wrestle the fish out of the cave, which is when he hit the surface and yelled for help.

Here, it would make sense for this story to end.  Alas, there was more in store for us. 

With the Cubera secured in the dinghy we all laughed and congratulated and back-slapped.  But I knew we were in a hot spot, at the right time, and that this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often.  So I apologized for not sticking around and then jumped back in and kicked toward a hole I hoped would hold a nice fish for me. 

I was kicking hard when I saw the tail.  I knew it was a grouper, but couldn’t see the body and had no idea how large it was.  Just a tail that vanished into a hole.  That, though, is enough to dramatically raise my heartbeat. 

You see – in all of the time I had been diving San Blas I still hadn’t shot a Black Grouper.  It wasn’t an issue of seeing them – I saw them.  It wasn’t an issue of freediving skill – I could get down to them.  It was an issue of their spookiness.  They bolt, I mean HAUL ASS, whenever they see a diver.  You can chase them.  You can follow them to a hole.  You can search the entire labyrinth of the cave they swim into – but you won’t get within range.  They’re incredibly difficult here. In the Bahamas they are relatively easy.  In Mexico they’re an achievable goal.  But the Kuna Indians have been hunting them religiously for hundreds (?) of years here.  The Black Grouper in San Blas are a savvy fish.  And, as of the moment in question, I needed this monkey (Black Grouper) off my back.  Back to the story…

So when I saw this tail, I figured out an approach to the cave that would leave me hidden. Then I dove.  And this time, rather than running away the Black Grouper poked his head back out of his hole.  Then he turned slightly sideways to begin his escape, but it was too late. 

My heart was pounding and in my head I was screaming:  No Way! No Way! I’ve got him!  I’ve got him! FINALLY A BLACK GROUPER!  Nervous and excited in a way that neither Tuna, Billfish, Snapper, Wahoo, nor any other gamefish makes me, at least at this point in my spearfishing. 

I squeezed the trigger.  When the spear hit him he rolled and twitched.  One second the lights were on and somebody was home and the next it was an empty house.  Lights out.  And then it started to dawn on me that finally, finally, after over a year and a half – I had a San Blas Black Grouper.  Jesus H. Christ.  So much work.

Line fishing?  You can catch three a day.  But we work for our fish. 

With my prize in my hand I called the dive and we all regrouped at the dinghy.  From zero fish to enough to feed the anchorage – in TWENTY MINUTES.  When it’s hot, it’s hot.  The kind of day that you work really hard for and get rarely.  Finally. 

To make this fish story more interesting, I’ll tell you that Tate shot this Black Grouper too.  You read that right.  Tate shot the fish before I did.  When I got the fish to Tate he pointed out a hole in the fish’s tail where Tate’s spear had been only a few minutes before my spear stoned him.  A crazy day. 

Back in the anchorage we made the rounds.  We showed off the fish (many of the cruisers here are spearfishermen) and took orders.  It’s a longstanding tradition on NOMAD – when we have a good day fishing we clean and bag fish and give it away in the anchorage.  That makes friends and brings people together.  We had Permit, Yellow Jack, Black Grouper, Dog Snapper, and Cubera Snapper.  A great day fishing. 

Back onboard we took pictures.  Enjoy.

Fish and Bikinis

Fish and Bikinis

Dinghy full-o-fish

Dinghy full-o-fish

Fish!

Fish!

San Blas Trophies

San Blas Trophies

Then we set about the fish-processing.  It takes a couple hours to correctly process this many fish.  Every boat in the anchorage wanted fresh fish and as we were cleaning the Kuna came by – so they got fish and took all of our fish heads.  Not a drop was wasted.

Moving Around San Blas

After our first night in the Swimming Pool, Sundowner left.  We still had Gris-Gris, Runner, Hiatus, the Dragonboat, and a few other friends around.  Everybody is our friend as we feed the anchorage when we have a good day fishing.  

The Girls

The Girls

It was a little windy, the surf was up – so we couldn’t “get outside” to the good fishing, but we needed our daily diving session.  So we did a small dive inside the reef. Then we explored BBQ Island and decided to let the Kuna cook lunch for us.

The beach

The beach

Days full of simple living and no schedules.  Nights spent watching fish, chatting, and enjoying good wine. 

Then it was time for Teena to get back.  So we picked up our anchor and sailed to the East Lemmons. It wasn’t much, but it was sailing – finally. When we arrived at the East Lemmons we dropped anchor and I noticed a familiar boat in the anchorage – a captain that I’d met and become friends with in Cartagena.  Andres. Teena made it clear she wanted to party, and with Andres and crew – there’s always a party. 

So then night began.  We partied and ate with Andres and his crew – the group consisting of almost twenty people.  The girls danced and Andres gave salsa lessons.  I drank and laughed and did my best to make jokes in Spanish.

Suddenly we were out of beer.  There was beer on an island about two miles away.  But it was midnight.  The good news is I had the latest charts on my iPad and with Andres holding the iPad up front – I was able to steer the dinghy through the black night and around the myriad reefs to relative safety and cold beer.  It was a first, and we made people happy.

Teena was out early the next morning – heading back to Mexico.  After she left I was back asleep.  Then it rained.  So I  read.  We all relaxed as it rained and filled our tanks.  The real downside of rain is that we get no solar to charge our batteries.  And with another two people on the boat, we use a ton of energy.  So we were out of energy.  Naturally, when I pull out my Honda generator, it doesn’t start.  As if I was looking to compound the issue, now the pullcord breaks.  Have to take it apart, the girls help, we fix it and get it running to recharge our batteries.  It takes a few seconds to type that, but it took us hours to get it done.

We decide to stay around the East Lemmons waiting on news about my saildrive parts.  Naturally it doesn’t come (I’ve come to believe the guy I’m sourcing parts from borders on mentally handicapped).  I decide to not rush.  I decide to not worry.  Worst case scenario I’m returning home for Christmas and can pick up the parts then.

More charter captains (and good friends) come and go.  By day three in the East Lemmons, we’ve met almost all of my charter/backpacker buddies from Cartagena.  It’s good to know people. 


During this period I’m losing my mind.  There is very little diving in this area.  It’s raining.  My boat is broken.  I’ve killed a few good books.  But Mike takes me to a spot he knows.  He shows me a Dog Snapper hole, tells me it’s at 50 feet – a fair freedive when you’re hunting Dog Snapper (the tactic is to locate them, feign disinterest, dive to the bottom, sit there until curiosity gets the better of them and they approach you, hoping that happens before you need to breathe). 

The spot is a few large coral heads that are in a channel and connect to a reef wall.  The spot turns out to start at 45 feet and then drops another thirty feet before it hits the ocean floor.  So.  That’s beginning to get into the depth that I want to have a safety watching me.  If I sit on the ocean floor and a Dog Snapper circles just out of range – I have the tendency to forget that I need to breathe.  I set a mental depth limit at 55 feet, which would serve as my “bottom limit” – unless there was a great fish just two more kicks down

At 55 feet, with no sun and 20 feet of visibility I perched behind a coral head.  Waiting.  Concentrating on relaxing my muscles.  A fish circles just out of visibility.  The contractions start.  I run out of air. 

The surface.  Breathing. 

On the surface, Mike asks if I found the spot (the visibility made it impossible to locate the spot from the surface).  I tell him yes.  He asks if there were Dog Snapper there.  I told him no.  He says – they may be deeper.  I reset my depth limit to 66 feet on my dive watch and make the dive. 

Naturally I was more than a few feet away from where I wanted to be when I finally made it into the gloom and found the coral head.  More oxygen wasted as I swam along the bottom toward the coral head.  Finally there I headed down bit further.  My depth alarm went off.  66 feet.  And here come the Dog Snapper. 

The school stayed on the edge of my vision.  A good-eating size Dog Snapper gives me a broadside shot.  I take the shot, hit him well, and he slips under the coral head.  At 70 feet.  Already most of the way there, I descend further and untangle the fish and bring us both to the surface.  A lot of work for an unexciting fish.  He didn’t even make it into a picture. 

But we ate ceviche that night. 

And I slept well. 

The next post here will have bikinis and fish.  Which is why you’re all here.  So stay tuned.