shelf cloud on Atlantic

Atlantic Crossing Days 2 & 3: Be Careful what You Wish For

Friday 6/13/14

It turns out Matt was right when he said a few hours sleep would bring about a bit of perspective. Not only were last night’s events more distant and a little less terrifying in my mind when I woke up, but it also came with the realization of how much I do want to get to Europe and what comforts I’m willing to sacrifice to get there. It did not mean that my wishes would give us an expedient arrival though. Even though I told him to turn the bow north again as I went to bed (Europe if I changed my mind or New York if I still felt the same) we should have been getting pushed along by the Gulf Stream all night, we somehow must have wandered out if it for we had only gone a distance of about 12 miles in the 4 hours I had been sleeping. The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent pointing the bow NE and and trying to find our ticket back into a speedy ride north.

Later in the afternoon we were convinced that we may have found the outer edges of it as our speed jumped to a whopping 4.5 knots as a gentle breeze of 7 knots came from behind. When both of us were actually up for the afternoon after trading hours of sleep shifts and naps, we turned to something that’s hopefully going to keep us entertained every few days for the remainder of the trip. Back in Miami I had drafted Matt’s mom to put together a series of small gifts to be opened by us during the passage. She had come through with flying colors and sent us a bag full of wrapped presents to be opened every five days, beginning on day two, for the next thirty-seven days. Just as excited as if it were Christmas morning, I tore open the first gift to find two books of puzzles and a little bag of treats containing things like mini candy bars, gumballs, and single serve instant coffee. I set about right away on the puzzles while Matt decided that he had been awake entirely too long and needed another nap.

Compared to what our other passages had been, and with the exception of the storm last night, we’ve had nothing but light winds and calm waters. By late afternoon I was praying for some kind of wind to pick up and speed us along, but as the saying goes, ‘Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true’. No sooner had I started to lament our lack of wind power when a set of dark clouds formed off to our northeast. Winds were still steady out of the south and I assumed this dark mass would be coming nowhere near us, until 20 minutes later when the winds shifted to the north. Again.

Now these are the kind of situations I hate. Everything was still calm…for the moment. Do I bother waking Matt and telling him that something might be coming our way?, or wait until that ‘oh shit’ moment where it’s too late and I can no longer handle it on my own? Luckily I didn’t have to worry, for two reasons. Matt had just roused himself out of bed as I was contemplating what actions I should take, and the dark mass of clouds moved just enough to our east that we only caught the very tail of the storm, winds only jumping into the high teens and nothing more.

The late afternoon and evening remained calm, and once again we were able to enjoy a nice dinner out in the cockpit.  One I would have been fully capable of making from scratch since the water around us was so calm that it was like being at anchor and my seasickness would have in no way been aggravated, but since we now had six days of meals already prepared I just threw a few slices of our remaining Domino’s pizza in the over and filled our glasses with Coke.  Everything was pointing toward us continuing to have a calm night where I could actually sleep through my entire shift without storms blowing our way, but once again, that was not the case.  Just as the sky was growing dark and I was finishing up the dishes before I hopped into bed, the sky in front of us was alight with lightning.  F*@k.  Just after that, our VHF began it’s loud siren alerting us to bad weather, and after last night’s episode we were glued to each word, listening to the county names and trying to find them on our charts to see what was coming our way.

Since I was caught so off guard last night with our storm which left me scrambling into the cockpit in the midst of all hell breaking loose without any clothes or a harness attached to me, I decided tonight would not be a repeat performance.  Putting on my foul weather gear and a harness, I arranged a group of cushions and pillows on the floor as a makeshift bed and tried my best to go to sleep.  Every time I heard the wind gust up I would whisk up the companionway steps to see what was happening.  Both of our nerves were on terror alert high.  But…since we were prepared this time, nothing came of it.  By the time my shift began at midnight all the dark clouds had disappeared and I was able to enjoy my shift in relative peace, where my only worry was the speed and direction of the dozens of tankers out on the water with us.

shelf cloud on Atlantic

AIS traffic in Gulf Stream

 It’s a party out here on the Gulf Stream!

Saturday June 14, 2014

We were comfortably sitting in the cockpit enjoying our afternoon and trying to make our way north when that now dreadful and heart thumping siren went off from our VHF, signaling more severe weather in the listening area. Being 30 miles off shore now we were starting to lose the signal just a little bit and had the volume all the way up as we strained to hear the forecast. Beginning to catch the words, I wish we hadn’t, although ingnorance isn’t always bliss. ‘Destructive winds, 50-60 knots, 52 knots recorded over land, seek shelter inside a sound structure’. These were the words broadcasting themselves into our little cockpit. Did they just say destructive winds? Seek shelter inside a building? If they were giving those kind of instructions on land, what the hell was to become of us in our little 34 ft boat, out to sea with nothing to protect us?

Catching the names of towns that were being listed we figured out that yes, we were just east of these areas, and yes, this storm was headed right our way. Again, I looked around and noticed that if we were to get hit, our saving grace would be the fact that we were once more starting with clam seas. The oncoming storm might build them up, but not much, so luckily the winds would be our only concern. Over the next hour we watched the sky turn from bright blue to partially overcast on the horizon. At first it didn’t look like much, more of a haze than anything, but as it came within 10 miles, the menacing traits came along with it. Up close and personal, we could now well make out that this was a shelf cloud, and it spanned the horizon for as far as we could see. Even the power boats had no way of racing around this one. If you check the image of the shelf cloud we were just able to skirt around yesterday, this one extended even further out, with the rolling clouds on top appearing as if they were extending out miles to us. I took a spot behind the wheel and clipped my harness in while refusing Matt’s offers for a jacket, or even to take my spot while he sat next to the companionway and listened to Georgie’s meows while she was locked down below. It is the best to see the website for the best jackets and vests.

Turning on the radar to judge when it would hit us along with how long it would last, we brought down all sails when it was within just a few miles of us and decided the best course of action would be to motor right into it. The winds hit us before the rain, a sudden and angry gust causing our guages to jump from 13 knots to 58 in one swift blow. The intent had been to point the bow directly into the wind, but once the winds started in, even with the wheel hard over I was struggling to keep us within 45 degrees of it. Small whitecaps started to roll on the water, and, shortly after, the rain set in, pelting me with a ferocious force as the winds subsided into the mid 40’s and stayed there. Based on how much rain was showing on our radar, and the broadcast’s stated speed of which the storm was moving at, I figured it would all blow over in 30 minutes, and as uncomfortable as it was I could handle that.

Keeping the wheel hard over, I fought to keep our spot 45 degrees into the wind instead of being pushed beam into it. That work wasn’t so hard, but as the rain battered down on me at well above gale forces, I began to regret turning down the jacket from Matt. My body wasn’t too bad though, it was mostly my face that was stinging from the drops, my eyes luckily protected by the glasses that were now fogging up and blinding me. It wasn’t too bad, and I counted down the minutes as the little whitecaps began to turn into small swells, all the while thinking to myself, ‘Only 20,…15,…,10 more minutes. You can do this.’ But then the original five miles of storm in front of us extended into five more. The pink blob on the radar just wouldn’t end. Jesus Christ, 30 more minutes of this? I give up. Finally relenting my position behind the wheel, I let Matt slide in as I sought shelter under the dodger from the wind and rain. Also slipping a jacket over my wet body I was immediately warmed up and begged myself to answer the question of why I always put myself through so much unnecessary torture. Oh Captain, my captain…I guess I feel I should be the one to experience the brunt of it all.

As soon as those next 30 minutes were up the storm was gone with it, and we were back to our measly ten knots of wind.  Back to going nowhere.

6.14.14 (3)

Georgie’s so proud of providing her own meals when a flying fish ends up on deck.

6.12.14 (4)

Atlantic Crossing Day 1: Never Leave For a Passage on Thursday the 12th

Thursday June 12, 2014

6.12.14 (1)

They say that you should never leave on passage on a Friday. Sailor’s supersition that it’s bad luck. We were almost caught leaving for our Atlantic crossing on Friday the 13th. Does that make it doubly worse? Or do the two negatives cancel each other out and make a positive? I wasn’t sure and made SURE that we busted our butts so that we wouldn’t have to find out, leaving one day earlier on Thursday the 12th instead. I think we would have been better off taking our chances with Friday the 13th

The morning should have started with relaxing, enjoying our last cup of coffee for the next month where we didn’t have to hold everything down on the counter to make sure it didn’t slide off, before completing last minute projects like stowing everything away and deflating the dinghy. It did not start like that. Just as we were going to bed last night we realized that the fitting on our bow water tank had broken, leaking all of it’s contents into our bilge. Since this was to be our back-up source of water for our crossing, only taking from and refilling our port water tank, this was an issue we needed to fix right away.

The new goal was to wake up first thing in the morning and walk to the local Ace Hardware to pick up the replacement part. Knowing that we were already going to get very little sleep as it was, since we had stayed up well past midnight since we had pushed off all that evening’s projects to enjoy a hot pizza and an episode of Sherlock, I was vexed, and truthfully, terrified, at the thunderstorm of epic proportions that rolled through our anchorage at 5 am, bringing with it 50 knot winds and leaving me wondering if something similar could roll through the next night while we were on passage. Letting ourselves sleep in just a little bit longer we ended up with a late start to our morning, but we were back to the boat with the issue fixed by 11 am. The other small projects took a little longer than we anticipated, as they always do, and the anchor wasn’t weighed until 1 pm. Spending another 45 minutes circling the anchorage as we calibrated our autopilot we were finally off, exiting the Government Cut at Miami just after 3 pm.

Even though the sun was shinning down on us on our way out it didn’t take long for the clouds to roll in, and we watched Miami become consumed by darkness and rain which we were soon swallowed up by as well. It wasn’t anything more than a nice rain shower though, and winds continued to stay around 10 knots and we glided up the Gulf Stream in glass waters at 5 knots under headsail alone. Based on sheer excitement about the journey ahead of us, we even frolicked out in the rain for a bit (or Matt doing whatever the manly term for that would be) while taking in a free shower during the downpour. Things cleared up a few hours later as we passed Ft. Lauderdale and we even managed to catch a decent sunset while enjoying left over pizza in the cockpit.

6.12.14 (2)

6.12.14 (3)

6.12.14 (4)

Before I even knew it my eight o’clock bedtime was before me and I was more than ready for it. I’ve learned that the key to a good first night on passage for myself is collecting no sleep the night before we leave so I am more than ready to conk out at such an early hour. Sliding in behind the lee cloth that we’d set up on the starboard bunk in the salon, I slid easily into sleep. Something that normally takes me three hours to do our first night out.

I had been lying in my bunk for just over an hour when I heard a loud ruckus on deck. I knew it was Matt messing with the headsail, and even though all sounds are amplified below deck, this seemed much louder and as if something were wrong. Jumping out of bed I raced over the companionway boards and into the cockpit. It was immediately evident to me that we were in trouble. I looked at the chartplotter to find winds nearing 60 knots and we were being pushed so far over that our rail was in the water. Matt was feverently working to get the headsail rolled in, but had enough good sense to yell at me to get back in the boat and get a harness on before I could topple out the boat and into the Gulf Stream.

Rushing back below deck I tore through the cabinet to search for our second harness. Usually we never have both out at the same time unless we know bad weather is coming, normally just trading off the one harness between ourselves, but this storm came upon us so suddenly that we barely had time to react.

Finding the second harness I raced once more into the companionway where the headsail was still being overpowered by winds that were now sustained in the upper 40’s. With the furling sheet in hand, Matt was still trying to save the sail by bringing it in, asking me to gently release the sheet for the headsail still wrapped around the winch. The strain on the line was so heavy that I couldn’t even loosen it from the teeth that hold it in place, all the while trying my best to work it free while we’re still heeled all the way over in Force 9-10 winds. Finally Matt realized this was not going to work and it was very likely we’d tear the sail in half while working to winch it in. Looking up through the dark and thinking that we’d already blown it out he slid over to my spot he released the sheet from the winch and let it flap in the wind while he quickly grabbed the furling sheet back to get it in. Eventually the sail was rolled in, though the lines were a knotted and tangled mess that would have to be saved for another day.

Now at hand we had to deal with winds that were still blowing in the 45-50 knot range and showed no signs of relenting. Not wanting to keep any of the sails up we turned ourselves downwind and began to ride the storm out with bare poles as we were pushed along at two knots of speed.  The winds were coming directly out of the north which meant that we were now moving south, working against the current of the Gulf Stream, had absolutely no sail up, no engine on, and were still making that kind of forward progress.  Bolts of white and pink lightning were crashing down on each side of us as buckets of rain began to pour down.  The whole experience was miserable and I think both of us began to start rethinking this whole ocean crossing.  As I stood behind the wheel to hand steer us, Matt sat clipped in under the dodger and confessed, “This just isn’t for me.  I can’t do this anymore.”  Can’t do an ocean crossing?  Or can’t do cruising?

Seeing that we were only 12 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale we tried to start setting a course there to ease our nerves and see what steps we wanted to take next.  As I tried to keep us ass to the waves, I was going just by feel for the wind direction and slipped up a few times where we took the building waves on at a bad angle and they’d crash over the stern and into the cockpit, soaking me in the process.  Yes, a break from cruising sounds pretty good right now.  Immediately my mind went to us leaving the boat in Ft. Lauderdale while we hopped a plane to Guatemala to backpack for a few weeks while visiting friends, and then returning to Michigan for the rest of summer to spend it with friends and family.  It all sounded so tantalizing that it was probably one of the only things keeping me from breaking down while we continued to fight this monstrous storm which was showing no signs of letting up.

For another hour I stood behind the wheel, knees growing weak and teeth chattering until the winds finally let up into the mid 30’s and the autopilot was able to go back into use.  Somehow I was still wired even though I’d only gathered about 5 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours, and sent Matt to bed while we pushed on toward Ft. Lauderdale with the engine on, still fighting the Gulf Stream and moving at 2 knots.  Two hours later, while he was resting his nerves and gaining a little perspective while I stood awake and continued to daydream of a life back on land, he came to relieve me and discuss our rash decision.  By this point I was beyond exhausted and finally started to break down.

I complained about how it seems like everything for the past six months has been working against us and maybe this is a sign that we should stop before something really awful happened.  He told me to grab a few hours of sleep, but for him, removing himself from the situation for a little bit made him realize that it was just frazzled nerves that made him want to quit before, but he thought that moving forward and continuing our crossing was still the right decision and what we really do want.  He made the comment that it was extremely unlikely that we’d go through anything like that again and the worst of it was probably out of the way.  We might hit the random storm here or there in the future, but none of it would likely be worse that what we’ve already seen in our cruising history.  Hmmm.  Guatemala, Lake Michigan, friends, family…….or 3,000 miles of open ocean and uncertainty ahead.  I think a few hours of sleep might be necessary to make that decision.

caulk removal of portlight

Getting Rid of those Leaks….Hopefully?

Friday June 6, 2014


*I wish I could write more about this project, and I’ll probably go back later and add more to it, but here I sit on the eve of our departure for the Azores and I had to get something down so that you don’t just wonder why we’ve disappeared out of the blue.

Last Thursday and Friday we tackled the project of rebedding one of our starboard side ports, and the forward hatch.  Who would have thought that getting all of the old caulk out would be the easy part?  That only took about two hours, we each took on one area, and then after a visit to the post office to find out that yet another package (filled with fuel filters) has now gone missing, we came back in the late afternoon to finish the job of getting our new 3M 4000 on there.  That should stop any leaks we previously had coming in!  Turns out though, that clean up with that stuff is a total b*tch.

Only smearing it around at first we found out that if left alone for an hour or so it gets a little tacky and is then easier to remove.  Waiting for the second port to dry, our one hour break turned into a two hour nap (yeah, we were a little tired after our day of finally working on something), and when we woke up the sun was already going down.  Which means that I got to spend a good portion of Friday trying to remove it once it had fully hardened.  A lot more work when you have to be extra mindful of what you’re scraping off.

Let’s just hope that if our previous leaks did happen to be coming from one of those two areas, we didn’t just make the problem worse while trying to fix it.  Looks like we’ll have the chance to find out soon enough.

Matt cleaning hatch

rebedding port

working on portlight

looking out portlight

caulk removal of portlight

everything works out

When Everything Works Against You, it Sometimes all Works Out

Wednesday June 4, 2014

everything works out

It’s suffice to say we should have been gone by now.  In the cruising world it’s almost impossible to adhere to a schedule, but we still like to when we can.  You can see that by the way we rushed ourselves through the Bahamas this year.  We’re also the kind of people that would rather show up early than late.  So the fact that we’re still sitting in Miami 4 days after our intended departure date, and still have about 5 days minimum before we can think of leaving, is a bit of an oddity for us.  That’s because we seem to have everything working against us right now.  Almost every aspect that depends on us being able to get out is being held up.

At the moment, we have a multitude of things preventing us from leaving.  I’ve just spend my whole afternoon getting to know the Miami transit system once more so I could swing by the USDA yet again (let’s see, that would be my third visit to their office) to pick up the notarized forms that the vet signed on Monday. If you’re wondering, it was a five hour round trip to go from the boat to their office about 10 miles away, and come back.  That’s one item checked off our list, but it’s by no means the only thing keeping us here.

We also have a number of projects that need to be done to Serendipity before we drag her across 3,000 miles of ocean without rest.  Projects that were supposed to have been completed well over a week ago, but our shipment of odds and ends was lost in the postal system and we didn’t get a chance to purchase them again until just a few days ago.  So even if a weather window came up tomorrow, we still have about three good hard days of work on our hand now that we have a few tubes of 3M 4000 in our possession.  

Another thing keeping us in this spot is waiting for just the right weather window.  This one is a biggie, because, well, weather windows are key.

Ah yes, and the last minute project that just came up..  Even though we’ve had three weeks now to deal with it, we just thought to ourselves, ‘Hmmmm, we should replace the backstay’.  The one we currently have up there right now is original to the boat, and we don’t know if we want to trust it to 30 straight days of pressure.  Better safe than sorry, right?  As you can tell we’re taking this crossing very seriously.  You’d think we’re making ourselves out to be the first people to ever accomplish this feat.  

We just placed an order for a new one today, and even with expedited shipping, we won’t get it until Friday evening.  The real kicker on this is we had a new backstay lying around.  Right in our aft cabin!  Truth be told, we should probably get a stupidity award for this one. The only reason we didn’t install it with the rest of our rigging after exiting the Erie Canal is that we didn’t have the right fitting. So we kept cruising with the old one. Then when we just came to Miami now and we wanted to run an inner forestay, we thought, ‘There’s some rigging lying around in the aft cabin we can use. Brilliant!’. And so we thought we were. Not realizing that, duh, that piece could still go up as a new backstay once we ordered the proper fitting. Now we’re left to ordering new fittings as well as the rigging for our blunder.

So as you can see, we seem to have just about everything working against us right now.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another.  Paperwork, projects, weather….the list goes on.  You think we’d be cursing the fates, wondering why everything had to fall on us at once.  Can’t we just get a break, somewhere?  But here’s the thing.  When everything works against you, it actually all works out.  We’re not sitting here just cursing one single thing.  We’re not pounding our fists saying ‘If only the weather would change’, or ‘If only that package would come in’.  When there’s only one thing working against you, when there’s only one thing holding you back, it’s easy to become angry and think of all that could be working in your favor had that one thing been different.  But when everything works against you, you just sit back with a smile and say ‘Oh well, there’s nothing I can do about it’. And then you make the best of what you have.



Freedom is Another Word for Choosing Radio Presets

Monday June 2, 2014


 Look at that face.  She’s totally worth all the trouble.

Today we had the world at our fingertips. That is because today is the first time ever in our lives we have rented a car. I know, strange right? What have we been doing for the past two years that we have not had a car of our own? Oh right, borrowing other people’s cars or relying on them to drive us around.

Normally we’d be stubborn and try to take the bus, Matt has made it an actual point to see how long he can go without driving, but it just wasn’t a possibility today. Oh, not for him to not drive, he readily handed the keys over to me, but taking Georgie on the bus, even if she happened to be allowed, would have been a full afternoon of sounds being emitted from her that I’m guessing would be close to what you’d hear from a baby seal being clubbed. Of which I never want to hear. From either side.

This on the other hand would give us the chance to hit multiple places in one day and the opportunity to fill up a trunk with goodies from Walmart. I love you Publix (you’re the closest thing I can find to a Meijer), but some of your deals are just beaten to a pulp by Walmart. Though, if you thought our day might go simply smooth because we happened to have a car at our fingertips, think again. Here’s a little bit of what our day went like:

  • Woke up to alarm after six hours of sleep. Had a really good time at Vance’s party yesterday, feeling the effects this morning.
  • Walked a few blocks to the Lamborghini rental in Dubai, a car rental facility and had keys in our hands in less than 10 minutes. Wow, sometimes things actually go right on the first try.
  • Back at the boat, loaded up Georgie and and a spare fridge that we’ve been carrying around for the past 3 months. We finally sold that thing!
  • While Matt went to bring the car around and rain started to pour, I lost Georgie on a ledge under a balcony hanging over the water. Her harness tugged right off and it was a battle of strength which I finally, and thankfully, won. I hope the vet doesn’t notice that her nails just scratched across four feet of cement.
  • With a pounding headache (remember my six hours of sleep or less rule?) I got behind the wheel and drove us through a blinding rainstorm to South Maimi where we’d found a cheap (enough) Accredited vet to inspect Georgie.
  • Found out that even though we let her run rampant in Guatemala, she must not have picked anything up there because she was pronounced in perfect health, albeit a little gingevitis. Guess we need to start brushing those teeth.
  • Left the assistants to figure out the required paperwork while we went up the road to Home Depot and spent way too much time there to only end up with about six things in our cart. Among them, a new tool organizable bag for Matt. Hallelujah, I was literally about to throw the strewn one overboard.
  • Get back to the vet and find out they’re still interpreting the paperwork. All in all, it took four hours to complete.
  • Leaving our destination of South Miami/Kendall behind where we’d had every place we needed to visit mapped out, we tore back up the expressway to get the newly obtained forms to the USDA before they shut their doors at 3:30. This is the second time I’ve walked in just as they were about to close. I think they hate me.
  • Googled new location for West Marine and did three drive-by’s before finding it tucked in the very back of a strip mall.
  • Found out they only have yarn tell tales, and even though we knew they pretty much wouldn’t work out, bought them anyway.
  • Noticed that Walmart happened to be just across the street.  Score!, we never even had to hunt a new one down!
  • Stocked up on a bunch of things that I can’t wait to tear into once we get on passage, including a 2.5 lb bag of Skittles and Swiss Miss hot coco with dehydrated marshmallows.
  • Getting back to the dinghy, Georgie seemed to still be alive and untraumatized, having spent the whole afternoon huddled on the floor of the backseat.  She even had her first cry-free dingy ride on the way back to Serendipity, much more interested in the sights around her instead.
  • I actually found a non-permit requiring spot on the street to park instead of leaving it in a lot all night.

For having a car at our fingertips for 12 hours, it wasn’t as freeing as I thought it would be.  Things went right, things went wrong, and we still ended up ragged and exhausted at the end of the night.  I thought the car would alleviate things like that.  But looking back on if we had to try and do all of that on the bus, I guess it could have been much, much worse.

me & Ana Bianca

Celebrating Birthdays with our Miami Family

Sunday June 1, 2014

kids with bubble gun

So there was no avoiding taking the bus today. Not that we really mind, it’s not like we have a bustling schedule where we need to be anywhere as-fast-as-possible, but we’re always singled out for the crazy people to talk to. There must be some sort of kindness in our face that the rest of public transportees in Miami lack. These people have chosen wisely though, because we are always too polite to abruptly end the conversation and let them go off on whatever tangent they’ve pulled out for the day. Don’t worry though, the two hour ride between riding, transfers and walking to get ourselves to Key Biscayne was totally worth it. Today was Vance’s birthday, and we wanted to make sure we were there to celebrate.

Walking in the door right at two o’clock when it started and finding only Ivonne, Vance, and Vance’s daughter Jenny getting everything set up, they laughed and told us no one mentioned ‘Cuban time’ to us. By arriving on time we had arrived too early. Which was fine because it gave us a chance to help set up and take a small load off their hands. Before we knew it, all the other guests began to show up and we were situated at a table with Ana Bianca and Alfredo, stuffing our faces full of veggies and dip and washing them back with cold Yuenglings. We let them know of our new plan to wait for a good 4-5 day window of south winds and finally get out of dodge. It turns out they’re planning on taking I-65 down to the Virgin Islands instead of the thorny path, and a buddy boat alliance was formed since we both needed to make the same 500 miles east out of Miami. (We later found out though that they can go through the NW Channel of the Bahamas while we want to be above it, so the buddy boat plan didn’t work out)

When the air conditioning indoors became too much for Ana Bianca and I to bear since we’re not used to living our lives with it anymore, we moved outside to one of the shaded tables where we watched Jenny prep the grill and layer it with what looked like the most mouthwatering cuts of chicken I’d ever seen. Luckily I was able to snag the recipe of the marinade from her and will be trying it out on Serendipity sometime soon. Things got even better that when the chicken had finished cooking I didn’t even need to remove myself from the pool to get a few pieces, it was handed right over to me. Trust me, it did not disappoint. Jenny, you are my new grill master. (Sorry Justin, I’ve supposedly heard that you’re also a grill master, but I honestly didn’t see you do much of anything in that area today. The title remains with Jenny).

pool at Toti's

Jenny at grill

Ana Bianca at pool

Alfredo & Gracie

Shortly after, we made our way back inside.  There’s just no pleasing us girls, and soon we were craving our air conditioning again.  Plus all the delicious snacks that lay inside.  Going for seconds of shrimp cocktail and bacon jam (no, not together), I almost filled myself up to the point that when the cake came out and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Vance, I was tempted to pass on the carrot cake being placed in front of me.  A good rallying took me to accept it, and good thing I did because it was so delicious.  And after that I even had to snatch one of the last chocolate chip cookies before they ran out.  This party was full of food overload, but god do I miss those days where I just get to stuff my face.  They don’t happen too often on the boat, usually because that would mean sweating in a hot galley to prepare anything.  Yes, even the cold items.

birthday cake

me & Ana Bianca

kids blowing bubbles

While all the children, a whole gang of them under the age of 5, took their afternoon naps, us adults entertained ourselves out on the patio with glasses of Mt. Gay rum in our hands.  When the kids woke back up later in the evening though, the party got it’s second wind.  No longer content to only entertain among themselves, a collaboration between the children and adults began where some of the adults (mostly me) began acting like children and participating in their games.  There were races around the room on top of boogie boards, dancing to Disney’s ‘Frozen’ soundtrack, and Vance even joined in the childish games with me by whizzing the kids around the room in his motorized chair.  Of course no one could keep us kids away from playing with one of the family member’s labradoodle, Millie, and when we settled down just a little while later we were treated to one of the young boy’s a capella versions of a Disney song while standing on a table who proceeded to dive/crowd surf his way on to Matt’s lap directly after. Because of the current and and ongoing global situation, spending birthdays on these locations might still not be allowed. That’s why most would opt to celebrate on their own houses and backyards instead. As for the kids, their parents chose the best children’s outdoor playhouses which can be placed on their backyards so the kids can still have some fun and get their mind off the ongoing negativity.

Even though we were the first ones to arrive this morning, we were the last ones to shut the party down just shy after midnight.  Good thing Ana Bianca and Alfredo were willing to drive us back to the dinghy because I don’t even want to imagine the kind of bus people we might have encountered on the way back.  We’re starting to become a little sad that our departure date for the Med has been delayed, but as long as it has, we’re just so glad we now have a ‘second family’ in Miami to be able to spend our extra time with.

Matt with champagne

Ana Bianca, Milly & Jenny

Gracie and Millie

Matt holding the crowd surfer

Matt & Jessica 2

A Letter to my Family

Friday May 30, 2014

Matt & Jessica 2

 Don’t worry about us, we’re all smiles now.

(Photo courtesy of Lahowind)


Ha, what was I thinking posting something on the blog last week about having a major meltdown about our Atlantic crossing without sharing any of my hesitations with my parents first?  Here they are sitting at home, thinking everything is fine and we’ll still be leaving in just a few days time, and then BAM, they see something online with me basically running in circles yelling ‘Oh my god, We’re going to die!!’.  Yeah, not one of my smarter moves.

The good thing about getting that blog post up though was so any future ocean crossing cruisers know they’re not alone when that ‘Oh s%*t, what the hell are we doing?!’ moment comes up.  If you stop and think twice about your actions and if you’re doing the right thing, then you can know you’re not alone.

The other reason, and I think I knew this before I published it, is that by publishing it, it would help bring me a little perspective.  In all honesty, I know we’ll be ok, whatever we decide to do.  If it’s to wait for the perfect weather window and cross the Atlantic, try for that but find ourselves running down to Grenada instead, or deciding that the Atlantic just isn’t in the plans for us this year.  I needed to actually hear other people telling us that we’d be ok.  And the support and positive energy you’ve all sent our way has been amazing.   I feel a new vigor like we can actually handle this, and any nerves I had before have now given way to excitement.

With that being said though, it still doesn’t make up for freaking out my family like I did.  I’m sorry family.  Don’t worry about us.  We’ll be smart in our planning and always trust our gut.  And just to smooth out any wrinkles and ease any worry that my previous post might have caused, here’s a follow up on the subject.  A response I sent to my dad after getting a ‘Why didn’t you tell us what’s been going on?!’ email from him that will also let all of you know our most up to date plans:


Hi dad.  Sorry to freak the rest of the family out with my ‘Freaking out’ blog post.  I did want to contact you and mom about our most recent plans, but we’ve still been trying to figure out what they are.  Our departure date of June 1st is totally out the window now, so we’ll be around here a few more days.  (Don’t ever think I’d leave without letting you know!).  There’s actually a number of things keeping us here for about a week longer than expected.

  •   Georgie.  Nope, everything did not go according to plan there. Getting her into the EU seems like one of the hardest projects we’ll ever have to tackle. There was never specific information online about exactly what we needed (or maybe there was too much and I couldn’t make sense of it) and the vets we had talked to before seemed clueless about what was actually needed, only giving us small tidbits of information here and there, so that when we showed up at the USDA yesterday it turns out we did not have all the papers that were required.  Everything we found before (and what the vet in Fort Lauderdale told us) is that we just had to show up to the USDA with an up to date health certificate.  Which we got from the vet in Guatemala, and then added the record of Georgie’s rabies titer test.  It turns out that we needed to visit a certified vet one more time within 10 days of our departure for them to say that she’s healthy, has all of her shots, and THAT’S what we bring to the USDA.  So now we have another vet appt for Georgie on Monday, can drop the paperwork off to the USDA right after, and pick up the signed and notarized copy the next day.


  •   We’re missing a few shipments.  Last Thursday we ordered a lot of things from this online boating store, things that we needed in order to complete projects on the boat before we could leave, like caulk to make sure we fix whatever leaks we’ve been finding.  Ones that we’ve been able to semi-ignore in the past but shouldn’t for an ocean crossing.  We even paid extra for 2 day shipping so that we’d have it by the weekend and get right to work.  Well, that package hasn’t gotten to us yet and is now actually missing.  We put in a claim with the USPS, but we think we’ll just have to get reimbursed for the money of what was inside.  It looks like on Monday when we rent a car to take Georgie to the vet we’ll also have to swing by West Marine and buy all the stuff that was in the box just so we have it in our hands.  Then, we need about 3-4  rain-free days to complete those projects.


  •  The weather.  That was what my worry in the freak-out blog post was mostly about.  Not so much the two other boats that were lost and thinking for sure it would happen to us.  As everyone is telling me, hundreds of boats successfully make the crossing each season, it’s just the ones with problems that make the news.  One of the boats that was abandoned actually had issues last summer and lost their rudder, the same exact boat that made us go through and put an emergency rudder in after hearing what happened to them.  I won’t go too far into it, but it may be questionable if that boat was sound enough to handle that kind of crossing.

So..more with the weather…this past winter seems to have screwed up global weather patterns and things seem to be settling in later than normal.  The kind of weather we’re seeing out there right now is typical in that area for March or April, but not for late May.  We’d never leave unless we were 100% confident about ourselves and the passage, which is also part of what that post was about.  A prelude in case we end up in Panama or the Eastern Carribean.  Not too likely, but we need to have backup plans and I thought I’d introduce the possibility of them now so no one is thrown a curve ball in case we one day show up a few thousand miles from where we originally thought we’d be.  ‘Hey, guess what we just decided today on a whim….we’re going to Panama!!’.

Something I’ve been keeping my eye on, and Matt has actually come around to the idea in the past day or two as well, is to go much further south than we originally planned.  The only thing that had us hesitating to still make the Atlantic crossing is the bad weather that’s been starting off the NE coast of the US, near NY and CT, and then making it’s way east out into the Atlantic.  Most of it dissipates about 500-600 miles off shore though.  The original plan was to ride the Gulf Stream north of Bermuda and then start cutting NE where the North Atlantic current runs, a route normally followed due to trade winds and currents.  What we’re now looking at doing is waiting for a window of 4-5 days of south wind off Miami and then get just north of the Bahamas and cut east.  We’d follow that for the 500 miles or so that all the bad weather has been happening above us, and then turn NE toward the Azores.  Normally people don’t do this because there are constant east winds in that area making it almost impossible to head in that direction, but with a few good days we should be able to do it and it should help us avoid all the depressions off the east coast that have been causing us to worry.

So, that’s all that we’ve been up to lately.  Sorry to freak anyone into thinking we’re certainly going to perish out there.  We’ll constantly have weather updates at our fingertips and are hoping to be able to send short texts from our satellite phone every couple of days giving our location and letting you know we’re ok.

 I don’t know when our new departure date is, but I’ll make sure to call you before we go.

 Love, Jessica 




Alfredo, Jessica, Ana Bianca, & Matt

Just Can’t Keep us Apart

Tuesday May 27, 2014

Crandall Park

It took us about two weeks of sitting here in Miami, but we were eventually able to pin our friends Ana Bianca and Alfredo down for an evening of hanging out. Both our groups have been pretty busy lately, and trying to find a day that we both didn’t have something going on (ok, maybe we’ve had a little more leisure time than them) did take awhile, but we finally planned on an night of hanging out in Key Biscayne with Alfredo’s sister Ivonne and brother-in-law Vance. Two more people that we’ve grown very fond of in our past visit to Key Biscayne, so we were very excited.

Spending my morning searching bus routes and times from Miami Beach over to the southerly island, as soon as I found out that Alfredo had to run into MB for something anyway, we jumped on the chance for a free and quick ride. Not that we couldn’t have taken the bus there, but….between transfers it would have been close to two hours. Plus this ride had air conditioning and someone much better to talk to than the passenger who wants to regale you with their release from prison. That just happened that day. (Two times this has happened to me!)

When we got to Ivonne and Vance’s place we found Ana Bianca waiting for us and ready to show off what all of their recent hard work had been going toward. If you’ve ever heard me joke on this website or our Facebook page about ‘Ana Bianca…saving the oceans!!’ (think of that in a Trey Parker/Matt Stone sing-song kind of way), it’s because she is! Between her experience as a photojournalist and his experience as a director of photography, these are making a documentary series of segments about our oceans in peril. Having already filmed a few of those segments while working their way up the coast of Central America from where we originally met them in Guatemala, this week was the big launch of their new website Element Zero, and they’ve been pouring all of their time and energy into it. We were given a quick tour of the new site where we spied the trailers we had already viewed on their Facebook page, as well as the awesome layout and beautiful photographs they’ve loaded.

They’re work for the day wasn’t quite over yet though, and since our bus wouldn’t have dropped us off there until 4, we’d just hopped a ride because it was available, we wanted to get out of their way for a few more hours so they could finish up their work. Having two bikes at our disposal though, man do we miss those, we were given recommendations of a few beaches and parks to explore and one tasty sandwich shop to grab lunch. Off we went into the bright Florida sunshine, ready to get some food before traveling the island. Hopping over to Oasis and brushing up on my Spanish, we had a mouth watering sandwich while chugging down an ice cold Coke before hitting the open road again.

Matt filling bike tires

Oasis, Key Biscayne, Florida

Word on the street, or out of Alfredo’s mouth, is that Crandon Park has the best beach in Key Biscayne, and since we obviously don’t see those enough, that’s the first place we headed to.  Honestly though, two weeks in the boat stuck in a large channel will leave you craving beaches again.  The parking lot was completely empty as we cycled in, a far departure from the crowds that must have been here the previous day celebrating the holiday weekend.  Waving back and forth on our bikes as we followed the asphalt drive we noticed a sign for a peacock sanctuary to our right and promised ourselves to check it out on our way back.  Suddenly a ruffle of feathers and a loud squawk off to my side let me know that these large birds were not confined only to their sanctuary.  Wanting to be as adult as I could, I refrained from chasing him down to see if he’d arrange his full plumage for me.  Or maybe it was because I thought the tables would turn and it would be him who would chase me down in the end.  So I settled for stepping off my bike and snapping a few photos while he idly eyed my can of Coke.  By the way he slowly advanced on me, I’m pretty sure he wanted me to share.

peacock, Crandon Park

As if seeing a peacock directly upon our arrival wasn’t enough, we locked the bikes up and walked into a scene that looked as if it was taken directly from the coasts of North Carolina with a few palm trees thrown in.  This place was stunning.  We walked out to the Atlantic and waded in the shallow pools of bath water before hiking further up the beach and peeked at a sandcastle contest that was going on between a large group of children.

When we decided it was finally time to make our way back we did still pop into the bird sanctuary which is a lush area of grass, trees, and ponds that’s just as alluring as the beach.  Plus the wildlife (to us) was just an added bonus on top of that.  Iguanas skittered across the path as we listened to more peacocks call and parade next to us on the lawn.  Our big goal was to spot an alligator in the ponds, of which the signs warned us there were, but was unproductive as there were none.  Or they were very very sneaky.  And I wouldn’t put it past us to miss any kind of wildlife that’s right in front of our face.  It may have happened like one or two (or fifty) times in our past. We actually couldn’t even identify half of the birds we did end up stumbling across there.  I mean, what is the thing that looks like a mix between a duck and a goose?*

Crandon Park, Key Biscayne

beach umbrellas at Crandon Park

Matt & Jessica selfie

low tide Crandon Park

lifeguard station Crandon Park

birds at Crandon Park

Once we were back at the apartment we enjoyed a refreshing beer and a little more website looky-loo before tearing ourselves away for a ride in the family’s golf cart, dubbed the Love Bug, for a ride up to the grocery store to stock up on items for dinner that night.  There were items to put on the grill, some chips to snack on, and best of all, a case of Red Stripe.  For cheaper than we bought it in Jamaica!  I’ll have to keep my eye on those sales more often.

Just like the last time we were here with Luki and Elmari, our group took over the area surrounding the pool although the afternoon clouds probably would have driven everyone else away anyway.  What can I say?, except we fell right back into our old dinner club routine and conversations picked up right where we had left them off two months ago.  Except this time instead of talks about our crossing to Europe we were slowly trying to be talked into following Ana Bianca and Alfredo on s/v Kajaya to Aruba and back up the Western Caribbean.  Extremely tempting based on the weather reports we’ve been seeing, and Alfredo’s testimony that today’s weather is typical for February or March, but not late May.  As I said, it was very tempting, but we’re still hoping to stick with our original plan of an Atlantic crossing.  Let me just go write those plans in the sand real quick, I think it’s low tide right now.

As usual, the night passed by way too quickly and before we knew it we were being chauffeured back to Serendipity.  We’re hoping this won’t be good-bye between the four of us, but I have a feeling it won’t.  And it’s not because we’re now planning on hightailing it south instead of east.  Nope, this family is always having get togethers, and the next one happens to be Sunday for Vance’s birthday.  Somehow I have a sneaky suspicion that we won’t be leaving on time and we’ll being seeing these faces once more.

Alfredo grilling

Ana Bianca's selfie

Alfredo, Jessica, Ana Bianca, & Matt

*Not the birds shown in the photo.  I never got a picture of the things I want to keep referring to as a mongoose.   Even though they are completely different things.