Sunday, May 29, 2016

Days like these...

If there is no breeze, not a breath of wind on a sun-baked Exuma day, is there any air at all?
The wall gadget that survived our lightning strike tells me it’s 35 celcius. The digital man is smiling, stiffly standing in sunglasses, a t-shirt and shorts. He thinks it’s safe to assume it’s gonna be a hot one out there. But I know this already. Sweat trickles down my back. My front. Well all around really. And then I just step outside into this world. The stillness and the beauty overcome me.

Is it not all a turquoise mirage created by a fabulous artist with perfectionist tendencies? The innumerable blues along the water, the slightly too imaginative cloud formations. It all points to a world in a frame, not to be disturbed by the reckless movements of the human animal.
Indeed, on days like these, with no one else to share the beauty, to verify its existence or ours within it, I need to pinch myself.
Yes, our boat is still crippled after the lightning strike of lottery winning odds. We are well on our way back to fix it all up. The journey toward Nassau first to hopefully replace the main electronics, and then either straight back to the US or slowly, to replace the rest.
But thoughts like this have no place here. Insurance coverage? Groceries? Document printing, scanning and e-mailing? What? Does not compute.
Paddle boarding along with an outgoing tide, through the glorious silence of the mangroves – yes! Swimming through the mouth of the river with the rushing tide out into the ocean – yes again. Baby lemon sharks come to see us as well, no problem. 

This is Shroud Cay, northern Exumas. We’ve been here before. So has every expat from Nassau on a Saturday afternoon, appearing in droves as they do, in a whir of manmade noise and engine power. Beers at the ready, picnic baskets, children shrieking. But never mind. We need someone to pinch us. This place really is. We can sneak away to random secret beaches by dinghy, our footsteps breaking the crust on pristine white sand. 

And at night when the sun has burned out, a fiery orange at the horizon, and completed it’s nightly performance of pinks and purples, we can see the haze of light from Nassau. 30 miles away, 30 million lifetimes away. And gone are the power boats, back to the dirty streets and air conditioned houses, and we are here alone.

The season is winding down. The cruisers are heading north, back to Florida, to the Carolinas, some all the way to Canada for the summer. Leaving a paradise that we cling to for a few last days. Responsibilities, practicalities loom over there where the haze of light beckons. Here only heat, and colour, and showering with sharks.
A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of our strike I was talking to a fellow cruiser in George Town about it – he raised his eyebrows at our luck and asked me “Have you ever thought of buying an RV?” with a smirk. Got to admit, people might think we’d be safer.
But safety doesn’t get you here. It doesn’t take you to places like these:
View from one of our hikes

The bubbly pool - north end of Compass Cay

Exploring with the dinghy around the south of Warderick Wells

View of our boats from Hog Island

An impending storm

The ocean mouth from north end of Hawksbill Cay

Hello from Hawksbill!
 And so it's all got me thinking. Pondering. Appreciating the choices, all the choices, that have brought us to where we are today. Lightning strikes and all. Though this is a corny, common cliche saying, it just fits so well:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Strike 2 - A 1 in 490,000,000,000 chance... what luck?!

I’m standing in the middle of the boat. The skies are weeping all around. I see only water. I’m alone. 

Minutes ago, mayhem. After two weeks of sunshine and rum and laughter, our guests were off to shore to catch a plane. In a squall. A storm that filled the dinghy to bathtub capacity over and over, that had to be bailed out over and over, before we could load their luggage, clad in black garbage bags. A storm that had them heading to shore in swimsuits and rain coats.
The wind whipped up, howled at us and threatened to drag the boat. We put on the instruments and watched the wind speed, huddled in the saloon, waiting for a lull in the incessant rain.
And then it hit. There was an earth shattering crack beside the boat as a rogue lightning bolt was unleashed from above on the bay. We literally jumped, screamed and exchanged some wide eyed stares. And the thunder rolled along, and all that was left was the rain.

And we still had to get the guests to shore. So we hugged abruptly and they climbed out into the wet, whipping waters with JW.
And all the anger of the skies was gone. In it’s place, devastation, along with that sickly smell of burnt electronics. Shiloh was hit by lightning again. Like the rain soaking through my t-shirt, it began to sink in.
9 months ago, almost to the day, we climbed aboard after an even more vicious storm, to find that smell and all our systems dead. Chart plotter, wind instruments, depth sounder, autopilot, battery charger/inverter, TV, VHF radio, FM radio, fridge, freezer, lights, fans… everything that makes the boat liveable and sail-able!
And when JW returned this time, we winced as we checked each system. Wind instruments, depth sounder, autopilot, battery charger/inverter, VHF radio, FM radio, fridge, freezer, solar panel regulator, lights… all dead. 
So much of the same! But last year’s strike found us in the land of plenty. 100 miles of riding blind, without autopilot to a well equipped boat yard. In a country where there are marine surveyors and replacement equipment and expertise to install it all.
So different this time. We are well over 500 miles from the boatyards of Florida, and 170 miles from the only surveyors in the Bahamas – in Nassau.
And so we face the rotting meat in the freezer and the prospect of weeks with canned food, no entertainment and blind sailing – not knowing the wind speed or angle, or what depth we find ourselves in. And the worst part is the missing autopilot. The concentration and tediousness of holding the wheel for 6 to 8 hours a day.
And then, enter friends. Real friends. Friends I could not hope to ask for in this lifetime. Who refuse to let you suffer.
We moved aboard Shiloh 4 years ago. Since then, we’ve met some of the most remarkable people this world has to offer. People who are independent but socially adept. People who can fend for themselves but will do anything for each other in a pinch.
We have been buddy boating with a catamaran called Alley Cat for nearly three years. We met and clicked and compromised effortlessly. We get along so well. We sail together, explore together, socialize, commiserate, laugh, plan, unplan, replan and of course drink rum.
On a day like this I am humbled. Humbled to the core at how deep their friendship goes. Alan in his dinghy, wearing swimming goggles, appearing at the edge of the boat in the heart of the storm to help take our guests ashore.
And then the encouragement later as we sat pouting, devastated at our predicament. A smile and a genuine promise to help. And help doesn’t cover it. It’s a weak word to describe what true friendship is.
Hours, scrounging in their bilges for spares and days crouched in our narrow passages, fixing, trying, making a plan. All for a mere cup of tea and a heartfelt thank you.
To know you are not alone, to feel a united front in a storm, to be far from the support systems of the western world with true friends in tow, is exhilarating.
When I told my dad what happened, he said “If you didn’t have bad luck you’d have no luck at all.”
But  here's the thing about don't know if it's good or bad until you have some perspective.
I think he’s wrong. I know we are lucky; so lucky to have found true friends, a privilege many never experience.