Much of what we’ve experienced while cruising has felt surreal. We’ve been in completely new-to-us situations and open to the unexpected interrupting those periods of calm. When preparing for our journey, it was with shades of anxiety that we anticipated some of those unexpected situations.
Most of that anxiety was completely uncalled for. Generally, our unforeseen encounters have been inconsequential and even often entertaining. Just last week, on the rather uninspiringly labelled No Name Cay, for example, we followed our usual routine. Once we were certain that our anchor was well set, we rowed ashore to explore. Not so usual, though, was the reception we received. We were met by the peculiar site of a feral pig ambling up to greet us. Well, perhaps it wasn’t so much a greeting, as an inquiry as to what goodies we had to offer. It wasn’t pleased that we had deposited our rubbish, yes, even the organic stuff, in a bin before departing Green Turtle Cay that morning. So the supposedly feral pig, looking rather unimpressed, ambled back its self-feed water reservoir, took a sip, and claimed its piece of the beach not too far from the platform altar where tourists leave their offerings, under the protection of the Ministry of Tourism. Strangely we have noticed a fair number of pig roasts advertised in the area. So although no goodies were to be had from these cruisers, the pigs, for today, could take solace knowing that this visiting vegetarian and his flexitarian mate meant no harm.
Some unexpected situations, though, loomed large in our list of pre-departure concerns, and warranted some healthy worry. In the 2 years before leaving, we stoked our dream by reading and watching as much as we could digest about all things sailing. My dear work colleagues, as part of a bon voyage gift, gave me John Kretschmer’s excellent book, “Sailing a Serous Ocean” to add to our collection. When I read the opening lines – “The cabin looked like a crime scene. Bodies, books, clothes, tools, and assorted fruits and vegetables were scattered haphazardly, rearranging themselves with every wave,” – I questioned the intentions of these skilled, supportive, mental health professionals. These kinds of readings stoked our fears of the unexpected. How would we deal with storm conditions? What is the likelihood of a dreaded knock down? The more we learned, though, the more we were confident, that even if we encountered one of the worst-case scenarios at sea, something like Ariose going over, we could trust in our growing knowledge and in the Alberg 30’s design which had proven itself to be able right itself. Those kinds of fears remain – which is a good thing – but are not paralyzing. We knew, however terrifying it might be, that we could come through.
Although we’ve definitely had some unexpectedly tough times, we’ve certainly never experienced anything close to a mast-in-the-water knock down. We will continue to take every precaution to ensure that we are never out in conditions that could result in one, and as added insurance in case we fail on that intention, we have done things like beefing up our rigging to minimize possible damage. Just in case.
We have, however lived through some rather comical, innocuous, slow-motion knock downs. I’m talking about gentle, mast-tipped-far-over–toward-the-water incidents. One of these happened just last week. In anticipation of upcoming heavy winds, we sought out the shelter of Black Sound, Green Turtle Cay. It’s a well-protected bay, with secure mooring balls. Until then, we had rarely encountered other boats while cruising this part of the Bahamas. It felt as though we had the entire Sea of Abaco to ourselves. As we entered the bay, we discovered where everyone was. They were here! Not only were they here, but they were secured to every last mooring ball. None remained for us. We eventually found some room in a rather shallow area to drop our anchor and were relieved that it seemed to set well. We knew that we were taking a bit of risk, as there were only a few inches of water under our keel, but we had confidence that the situation would improve. It was low tide after all, and by high tide, we’d have several feet under Ariose. We set our GPS to alert us should our position change significantly. That would mean the anchor was dragging, never a good situation, and certainly not when surrounded by other boats. We had dinner and went to sleep.
It wasn’t the GPS alarm that woke us that night. It was the musical sounds of dirty dishes shifting in the sink. Strange, when the waters are calm. If that wasn’t enough to fully wake me, Tim encroaching on me, was. It wasn’t amorous intentions drawing him to me, it was just gravity doing its thing. A quick peak in the cabin and out the porthole confirmed it. We were grounded, and on a heavy lean.
It was only 2 hours past high tide – how puzzling. We were upright and fine at low tide but grounded now when the water was much higher. How could that be? After groggily thinking it through, we realized that as the tide lifted us, the winds shifted and moved us over just a few feet to a rise, not enough for the GPS to care. As the waters fell, Ariose’s keel stayed put on that rise, and slowly, slowly, we heeled over to the point where our starboard toerail was buried underwater.
We did what we could to mitigate the situation, kedging out anchors, so that we had 3 in total that would pull us toward deeper water as we came off. We just needed patience to wait 10 hours for the tide to rise again and free us. As you can imagine, the rest of the night was rather sleepless, with our efforts to get comfortable in this off balance carnival funhouse rather fruitless. Tim braced himself on the walls of the v-berth, and I piled cushions on the floor trying to sleep on what were usually the vertical surface of cupboard doors.
We saw the humour in the situation, and knew that it was an uncomfortable, but harmless situation. There would be no harm to Ariose nor to us, unless you count our egos.
As the next day dawned, we imagine that we were the topic of our many neighbours’ breakfast conversations. We were the little Canadian boat doing its best to “turtle” on Green Turtle Cay. We expected others would get quite a chuckle, and maybe many did, but we were amazed by the kindness of so many. The sun wasn’t even fully up when our first visitors dinghied over with steaming cups of coffee, knowing that our galley, gimballed stove notwithstanding, would not be much use that morning. (Thanks Cathy and Dave from Happy Hour). A parade of others approached, with even the most seasoned sailors supportively disclosing their embarrassing moments, everyone contributing lots of advice, and offering assistance. We were moved by their helpfulness, figuratively, that is. Ariose, however, stayed put. By 10:30 a.m., though, with a bit of help from Mary and Rodney of Pegasus, we were free. After retrieving our anchors – a challenge to accomplish in the stiff winds without putting ourselves back on the ground – we motored over to a nearby dock and secured there for a couple days until the winds abated. Was there a silver lining to this knock down? There sure was. We made several new cruising friends AND we have added a few more factors to our list of considerations when anchoring in future.
Many of our fears of unexpected incidents have ended up much like this one. They have been little more than inconvenient or uncomfortable, usually with something positive emerging, and always with valuable learning.
There was another unexpected situation, though, that loomed large for me in my concerns. As we planned our journey and since we’ve been underway, as a mother, as a daughter, and as a friend, I’ve continued to carry with me what I thought was an irrational fear of something dire happening to a loved one while I’m away. I say irrational, because I also recognize that being in close proximity is not going protect those I care about from life’s knock downs. I do feel the geographic distance more acutely than I had expected,though.
Communications, whether texts, emails, comments on Ariose Notes, or those rare phone calls are cherished. Just this past Friday, my daughter Rachelle and I enjoyed a long-overdue catching up call. We had a great chat that unfortunately was cut short by my phone’s battery dying. A few hours later, once we had sailed off and anchored (at the aforementioned No Name, aka Pig, Cay), Tim and I enjoyed the sunset. My phone was now charged and I noticed that Rachelle had been trying to reach me. With what seemed like an uncharacteristically demanding tone, she asked that I get in touch with her right away. My gut tightened as I called her back, feeling a rush of nausea, and not the kind that sea sickness remedies would help. There had been a knock down, literally, in our family.
My youngest son, Marcus, vibrant and active, who embraces life as only a 21 year old can, was biking back to his Vancouver apartment from university, when struck by a SUV. It was a hit and run. I’ve since watched, with a mix of horror and gratitude, the video of the media interview with the compassionate soul who was first on the scene, who protected Marcus from further harm, and let him know he was loved. He has suffered a long list of serious injuries. Marcus is healthy and fit, and has a resilient attitude far beyond his years. Thankfully, not only are none of his injuries life threatening, but with hard work and healing, none should even be life-style threatening.
In the days since the accident, Marcus has had excellent medical care and phenomenal support. Rachelle and his close friend Julia provided round-the-clock support, advocating on his behalf, interfacing with the medial team, police, insurance, family & friends. Many, many others have been there for him as well.
This has been the hardest challenge I’ve faced since departing. As a mom, I still feel a virtual umbilical cord connection to my kids … and to be so far and feel so utterly helpless… I ache. I am so appreciative, though, of how technology has shortened distances. Rachelle has been able to update me several times daily, my other son Adrian and I have been able to support one another, other family and friends well wishes have meant a lot, and yesterday, finally, I was able to talk to Marcus. That was a precious few minutes.
First thing the morning after getting the news, Tim and I sailed south and made it to Marsh Harbour. This morning, we rowed Poco to shore, and hiked to the airport. Ariose is in Tim’s capable hands, and I trust that our boat will take care of Tim as well. As I write this Ariose Note, I am mid-way between Miami and Los Angeles, en route to Vancouver. How surreal. By tomorrow morning, I will be able to wrap my arms (very gently, of course) around Marcus. It will be an enormous relief to be at his side as he gets on with his new job of righting himself after this knock down.
Post-script from Vancouver: Marcus has been released from hospital, and is doing incredibly well in body and spirit. The hugs don’t even need to be so gentle anymore.