I remember when I was in the beginning stages of purchasing Annie Laurie. Some shared my excitement, others expressed concern, and others shrugged the reality of it off as a pipe dream. My brother Christopher of course had an opinion on the subject, and I remember his words exactly; “Laura, you can’t just buy a boat. That’s something people do when they’re old and retired!”.
I think of those words every now and then. He may be right, in a way. Perhaps with a lifetime of experience behind me, and accumulated friendships and memories, and maybe even a partner in life, maybe everywhere I go and everything I do would hold more meaning. It’s mildly depressing when I find myself nudging Effie awake to point out a giant sea turtle swimming under the boat, or another breathtaking sunset over the water. She just doesn’t get it.
We’re not far into this trip, but she has already used up 8 of her 9 lives. One night, anchored just south of Cape Canaveral, I noticed she had been unusually quiet. I didn’t think much of it, and didn’t put a serious effort into finding her for a couple of hours. I was having a good time, cooking dinner, dancing to the reggae music station on my Sirius Satellite radio. When I eventually went on deck to see if she’d taken up her usual station in one of the sails, I heard a pathetic, weakened meow. She was under the bowsprit, carefully balanced on the stays beneath it, just above the water. Her eyes were as big as saucers as she looked at me and awaited rescue, not daring to move an inch, lest she fall in.
And the other 7 lives, you may be asking? They vanished instantly a few mornings later, when I awoke to find that she had CHEWED THROUGH MY SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO ANTENNA! I don’t think I’ve been that furious at anyone or anything or any situation since last June. Later as I was fetching buckets of salt water to wash the deck, she was foolish enough to come stand at my feet. So, oh yes, she got the next bucket, all 3 gallons. I never would have thought something so cruel could make me feel that much better, but it did. Go ahead Mom, call the SPCA.
With some careful tampering, and patience I never thought I would find, I eventually coaxed the antenna into receiving a signal again. Effie is forgiven, but my first words to her every morning are, “Good morning! Mommy’s little girl! So tell me, how many lives do you have left?”.
As planned, I met up with Road to the Isles at West Palm Beach, where we waited only 2 days for our weather window to cross the gulf stream. It was a long day, but 14 hrs and roughly 75 miles later, we were anchored in 20 feet of water on the crystal clear Bahama banks at dusk, not a breath of wind, and no land in sight.
That morning, I was up at 0230, up the mast with headlamp on, doing some last-minute fixes with one problematic roller-furling sail, then I relaxed with my coffee while listening to the latest forecast and current conditions. A little after 0400, I set my mainsail, hauled up the anchor and made my way out the Lake Worth inlet. It was generally calm, about 2 to 3 foot waves just outside the inlet, but I came face to face with one square breaking wave that sent everything that wasn’t properly stowed flying, and put the bow underwater, stripping the jib of its sail bag and the line that had it nicely furled, and I dragged the sail under the bow for a couple of hours, that is, until daylight showed me what the wave had done. Light winds and a bit of a swell caused the slack mainsheet to get caught under my hatch cover, and the next puff of wind ripped the hatch right off. It was heading for the water, there was no doubt in my mind it was a goner, but remarkably, it landed on the momentarily-slack genoa sheet, which, with the next puff of wind, sprung the hatch back on deck. What luck.
During my evenings on the waterway, after I had set the anchor for the night, I wrote 5 letters to place in bottles to be tossed into the gulf stream as I crossed. I’m curious to see how far they go, or if they’ll ever be found at all.
My favorite moment of the crossing came after I had crossed the line from dark blue water, almost a kilometer deep, to just a couple of meters of depth in under a minute. That was quite a moment in and of itself, but I find moments of awe can often be surpassed by moments of laughter, and if you’ve never seen a 2 foot flying fish speeding energetically and gracefully over the glossy surface of a green sea, only to unexpectedly smash into a wave, then proceed to somersault and skip sideways like a stone, then you really are missing out.
It’s amazing how fast you adjust to shallow water. I was dreading it, in a way, thinking I’d probably have a heart attack over any approaching dark spot ahead, expecting it to be a coral head, and for an unavoidable one to clip the side of my hull and split it open. Instead, I’ve been enjoying the curious cylindrical creatures, the GIANT turtles, the dolphins that seemed overjoyed at Annie Laurie’s presence, and the shadow of my hull and sails over the sandy bottom 7 feet below.
Being alone isn’t so bad. And when I think about it, I’m not alone at all. Meeting people while sailing is usually a chain reaction. Mine began while at anchor at Green Turtle Cay, when the wind picked up behind a passing frontal system. Dragging anchor in a crowded anchorage is a great way to meet people. Within minutes, 3 dingys converged on my boat and we set a second anchor, which after some adjusting, eventually held. That’s how I met Dave, Sid, and Jerry. Jerry invited me over for a drink that evening, where I met Jim and Jeff. The following day, I noticed Jeff dragging anchor, so I rowed over to help, arriving at the same time as Charlie. That evening, I was intercepted by Charlie while rowing back from spending the afternoon ashore, who invited me aboard, where I met his dad Charlie, and their friends Raffi, Lisa, Brenda, and Webb. Charlie introduced me to Trevor and Brendon, 2 young Canadians who sailed down from Kingston this past fall. Road to the Isles introduced me to another couple down from Nova Scotia, Heather and Peter, and I’ve since met their friends Jason, Mike, and Sward, all sailing solo. And to my great surprise and delight, who else was at anchor at Green Turtle but my old friends aboard Pathos, Mike and Jan, who I met way back in New Jersey on my way down the coast in 2007.
No, I really can’t say I’m alone. When I dropped my anchor, popped my bottle of champagne, and sat back to listen to the songbirds welcoming the setting sun, I thought of my brothers words once more, and was grateful to have arrived at White Sound, Green Turtle Cay on my 29th birthday, and not my 65th.