All Good Things, Part II

OK, so this turned out rather more platitudinous than I intended, but I sincerely hope that you will forgive me. Some occasions require a certain degree of sentimentality.

Looking back, it is difficult to fully comprehend what we went through. For my first few months back, I didn’t really believe that it was over. No matter what I was doing or where I went, I always felt like I was taking a break, biding my time before returning to the boat. Then at some point my mind just flipped a switch. In a matter of days, it suddenly dawned on me that I was back for good, and I immediately had trouble believing that we had actually done it. Had we really just been on a boat for 9 months? That feeling, hard as it may be to imagine, has remained. It has now been about 9 months since we returned, and that time has simply blown past. As it turns out, life happens a lot faster when you’re sleeping more than 4 hours a night.

It has been a slow, and sometimes painful reintroduction to the real world. There are certain perks, to be sure, to which I have reacclimatized with ease. Showering every day is a luxury that I no longer take so lightly, as is the absence of the unique…aroma that seemed to follow us from port to port. Not one meal has consisted of Kraft singles wrapped around a hotdog, and I thoroughly enjoy not having to take account of wind direction, speed, and my own sense of balance before relieving myself. Nevertheless, there have, equally, been several changes to which it has been more difficult to adjust. Not being within arm’s reach of John and Ellen, while refreshing for a while, can sometimes be stressful, as I have no way of knowing how their morning constitutional went without texting, which just seems a little weird. Additionally, in the real world it appears that no one considers it fair warning to yell “naked” in the process of stripping your pants off in a room full of people. And as it turns out, farting on the person next to you does not only not win ten points for Gryffindor, but can, in fact, get you in serious trouble with your waiter.

Perhaps the most difficult thing, however, is to figure out where to go from here. We have spent so much time so effectively avoiding that question that the shock of its resurgence damn near killed me. To whom do you go with a history degree and extensive experience with marine fecal sanitation, and somehow convince them to exchange money for your unique skill-set? Nevertheless, for all my complaining, I cannot describe how fortunate I feel to have been a part of this trip. It was rarely easy. In fact, there is a high likelihood that my life will end somewhat earlier as a result of the stress, sleep deprivation, and over-exposure to Franzia that I incurred. We began with limited(in my case at least) sailing experience, absolutely no mechanical knowledge, and somehow managed to drag our piglet more than 7000 miles (I actually have no idea what the true distance is, but I can guarantee that it was longer than that), through the Great Lakes, out to the ocean and down to the Domican Republic. Ours was not a story filled with high seas adventure, pirates, or shipwreck (for which our parents are undoubtedly profoundly grateful), but the far more banal day-to-day headaches of keeping an engine running, patching a sail, or trying desperately to touch the dolphins swimming just under the prow of the boat…Ok, so “banal” might be strong. Ultimately, I cannot thank John enough for convincing me that this trip was not just some pipe-dream that would never happen, but a real, feasible, totally reasonable way to avoid facing the rest of our lives for nine months. He was the driving force, the heart and soul, and the sometimes totally irrational anger of this group, and he should get all the credit in the world for that.

It would be remiss of me at this point to neglect giving a resounding thanks to all the people who helped us along our way. From all of our families to Pat in Little Current. From John and Arline in Oswego to Jay in Nassau and Provo. We quite literally could not have done it without you. Now, when most people say “we literally could not have done it without you” they mean “we figuratively could not have done it without you”. What I mean is that we literally could not have done it without you. We would still be cooling our heels somewhere in Lake Michigan, or else lost and freezing, somehow turtled in the arctic ocean without your kindness and assistance. There were so many people who were so genuinely open and kind to four kids whom they’d never met that I couldn’t possibly enumerate them all here. If any of you are reading this, however, I’m sure you know who you are, and you have our everlasting thanks. I doubt that I will ever be able to pay all of you back for your generosity, but I wish you all all the best, and I hope that our paths cross again someday.

It feels almost unbearably cliche to end with a piece of advice (almost)–particularly as any such advice comes from almost a full year of avoiding the very responsibilities that make up most of people’s lives–but I do hope that you will excuse it in this one instance. Being a part of this trip has changed my life immeasurably, and I’m certain that I won’t know for years, and possibly decades, how formative and important it was to me. And if you should ever wish to plan an exciting trip that takes you to far off places, and brings you into contact with new and diverse cultures and fascinating people, for God’s sake, just take a plane.

All Good Things

Over the last several months I’ve become aware of several things. First and foremost, it is utterly impossible to sum up this trip in any kind of meaningful way. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve had a final blog post partially written for going on 7 months now, but for some reason I could never get it to come together. I’ve begun to realize that the entire scope of the trip is so all-encompassing that I truly can’t comprehend exactly what it meant to me in its entirety. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have the tendency to fall back on words like “amazing”, “incredible” or “life-changing”. While those are far from inaccurate, it is difficult to adequately describe how utterly stupendous the trip was for me, when I routinely use the same words to describe the Dominos pizza that I had last night. With that in mind, you will hopefully forgive me for going in a slightly different direction. A few lapses into such platitudes are unavoidable, but I will primarily try to offer a few anecdotes of the waning days of the trip, as well as from the last few months (in a separate post, as I still apparently possess a purely theoretical grasp of “concision”), that provide a more tangible record of the way in which this trip changed me.

All in all, the journey ended on an anticlimactic note. We unloaded our things, went out for a celebratory steak dinner, and immediately crashed from exhaustion. We could hardly drive off into the sunset just yet,  as we still needed to haul the boat and put her on the market. It is staggering how much time it takes to put a boat up for sale. We were informed in no uncertain terms that the boat was a mess, utterly unfit to be sold to anyone who possessed even a passing semblance of taste (though perhaps not in so many words). If you have read just about any portion of the blog up to this point, you will probably recognize that that may have had something to do with our myriad weather, grounding, and sewage (among others) related mishaps. What transpired over the next week and a half was pure hell. We put in 15-20 hour days: cleaning, washing, teaking, painting, folding and stowing, only sleeping when we were finally driven into our beds by exhaustion. As you may well imagine, that schedule had an…adverse effect on the overall mood, and it all came to a head (sorry) a few days after Ellen left, on the night John and I were supposed to depart.

However much or little you read the blog, you have probably had some indication by now that we had a questionable relationship with our head, as it had the tendency to spit its contents back at us at the least opportune times (always). So while we cleaned and prepped the boat for sale, it was entirely unsurprising that a bit of liquid had trickled back into the bowl, and I felt it only gentlemanly to pump the head dry before leaving it. Oh, what a fateful decision that was. In one pump, one totally innocuous, everyday pump, the head pump’s outer casing split, depositing a thin stream of sewage onto the painstakingly sanitized floor of the head, as well as the leg of its hapless inhabitant (Me. It’s always me). At this point, I believe John was notified of our new predicament by the emphatic and vociferous stream of…impolite words that I directed at the head, the boat, and the universe in general.  It was, obviously, too late to do anything about it that night, so we closed the boat up for the evening and returned to my grandmother’s apartment to address our frustration in the most productive and mature way possible (which I will leave to your imagination).

The one benefit of our little snafu was that we had an extra day to revisit portions of the boat that needed a touch-up. So while I went over the boat with the hateful gaze of a prison inmate cleaning the stalls of Alcatraz, John went looking for a new head pump. Naturally, this turned out to be more difficult than we had predicted, and he had to drive all the way to Fort Lauderdale for the replacement piece, only barely returning before sunset. Now, we had a fairly straightforward plan. replace the pump in an hour or so of work, at most, retire for the evening, and set out early the next morning. Care to guess how that plan went?

As it turned out, the piece that we had purchased was simply the casing to the pump. We had to take apart the entire pump system (and the 40 or so pieces of which it was comprised) and reconstruct it in its new casing. Needless to say, this news upset me, and John’s first indication of my displeasure as he watched from the ground was to see the entire pump fly out of the boat’s cabin and over a nearby fence. It was followed soon after, I understand, by my own person, who descended from the boat in the midst of a profanity-infused diatribe, and walked around the fence to pummel the cracked casing with the heaviest hammer I could find, punctuating each swing with the type of language that could get me arrested in 34 states. John did his best to restrain me, although given my mood and implement of choice, he wisely elected to do so verbally from the other side of the fence. As unorthodox as my approach was, it was remarkably successful, as the pieces of the pump were much easier to extract from their shattered casing. Unfortunately, no amount of beserker rage could help me put the pump back together more quickly, and it may have in fact impeded my efficacy, as I rarely exhibit my finest mental acuity in an apoplectic fury.

Ultimately, what we’d hoped would take an hour took 5, and John got about an hour and a half of sleep before we got on the road up the East coast. It’s hard to say how we felt on that drive. The emotional scarring from the previous few days was still a bit too raw, and our brains were too exhausted to fully comprehend what we were leaving behind us. All the way up the coast we saw signs for the cities we’d visited, and the sights we had seen. It felt, in many ways, like a fitting end to the trip, seeing in a few hours what had taken us a month of travel to accomplish. Still there was a vague, almost intangible feeling of loss as I said goodbye to John and we went our separate ways back into the real world that we had so assiduously (and successfully) avoided for so long.


Our Final Leg

We awoke on March 2nd, fully intending to clear customs, return to the boat, and depart by midday. Of course, that was not precisely how it played out. Clearing customs in Florida was a process that required rather more of us than it had in either Michigan or New York. Upon docking, you are free to wander on land, but you must head off for the Miami Dade Seaport within a day of your arrival in order to clear legally. Now, this would not be as much of a burden if the Miami Dade Seaport possessed, you know, a dock near their offices for private boats to utilize. Unfortunately, they possess no such convenience, and so we were forced to rent a car and drive from our marina in Homestead Florida, roughly 40 miles south of the seaport, in what might lovingly be described as “traffic from Hell”.

Upon arrival at the Seaport, I was prepared for a prolonged wait. Surely after making us drive the better part of a morning to reach them, the security-conscious customs officers would at least interrogate us and have dogs sniff through our clothing before letting us proceed on our merry way. I was once again thoroughly disappointed, however. 14 minutes after walking into the place, we were walking out with our passports in hand, having not even submitted to a perfunctory frisk. After an unsurprisingly delicious Cuban lunch and another couple hours in positively glacial traffic, I was forced to concede that leaving that night would be irretrievably stupid, and that we should simply leave the following morning (I would like to report that I did so gracefully, but that would be positively fallacious of me). Nevertheless, I intended to make the most of the following two days to get back to Vero Beach, which is how we found ourselves motoring slowly out the marina channel, navigating once again by flashlight, at 4am.

The next two days were both exceedingly uninteresting and highly stressful. Because I wanted to make it back to Vero in as short a time as possible, we were pushing up the canal as quickly as we could possibly go, frustrated at every turn by the design of the ICW. Whereas the ICW further north was crossed mainly by bridges that were either tall enough to accommodate sailboats, or opened on command, navigating the Southern end of the ICW requires repeated passing through bridges that opened every half hour. Now, this is not a great concern for most boats, as the schedules are designed to make transit convenient, opening some bridges on the hour and half hour, and others on the quarter hours, so that one never has to wait around long before the bridge opens.

Unfortunately, as you are undoubtedly sick of hearing by this point, we travel markedly slower than your average powerboat, and so the schedules that work so efficiently for almost every other boat on the ICW, seemed almost designed to close just seconds before our arrival, forcing us to motor in awkward circles for a half hour until we were allowed through. To be honest, it is a wonder we didn’t get stuck more often. We soon devised a system, by which we would begin talking with the bridge operators maybe 10 minutes before they would open, telling them that we were a mile or two out, but were making all possible speed to make their next opening (this was hardly an exaggeration, as I routinely went so far as to surf the wakes of adjacent boats, just to pick up an extra quarter knot of speed for a few seconds). Most of our calls met fairly firm, though polite insistence that they must open at their designated time, but we found that most of the time, the operators would hold their opening for just one or two crucial minutes that would allow us to sneak through. Obviously over the course of the 30 or so bridges that we had to transit, we missed a few, but we unpredictably made most of them, cutting literally days off of the potential transit time for a boat of our speed.

The only other noteworthy thing about this particular transit was our experience on the VHF radio. We have used the VHF extensively throughout the trip, both for talking with other boats in transit, and for calling in to marinas and yacht clubs to arrange slips. Nowhere was this chatter more enjoyable, however, than on that stretch of the ICW. Have you ever noticed that repetitive contact with faceless people can cause you to care significantly less about what those people think of you? (Think of all the times you didn’t mind cursing a telemarketer’s offspring/antecedents because he/she called you during dinner) Well, it turns out, this works on the radio too, and the result was nothing short of pure fun. What words seem like ideal radio-speak to you? Affirmative? Roger? Stand by? Or my personal favorite: 10-4? Well we used all of them, repeatedly, in every single conversation with a bridge operator. You might consider this immature sport, but the best part was that they took us completely seriously. There is nothing more gratifying than responding “10-4” into a handheld radio, and hearing the operator on the other end not only accept it, but sound positively relieved, as if he has received incontrovertible evidence that he is dealing with a professional.

Finally, after two long days and one very short night on the ICW, we pulled into the slip at Vero Beach, exhausted, stinky, and almost totally oblivious to the fact that we had finally reached the end of our voyage.

The Long Journey Home gets Longer

I’m sorry, did I say “culmination”? That was silly of me. While our pleasant trip along the Old Bahama Channel would have been the perfect ending to the trip, this is the crew of Eastbound N Down here. Something has to go wrong. You may recall that we had 650 miles to go, and 5 days to go it before the wind shifted around to smack us in the face with a dose of reality. Unfortunately, we were not even close to Vero Beach (we were, indeed, many miles south of Miami) when the wind shifted around to the nose and brought with it a sensation that had, over the last few months, become like a mythical oppressor, as terrifying in its own way as scylla and charybdis. Yes, I’m talking about cold. Now, we were maybe 30 miles Southeast of Florida. The previous evening we had all jumped into the water to cool ourselves down, and before we knew it we were hiding below deck with our foul weather gear on as if we had found ourselves transported to the 65th parallel.

For some perspective on the difference, we had just spent the vast majority of the past two months in a state of perpetual undress. Indeed, it was all John and I could do to put shorts on over our boxers when we were coming in to port to clear customs, and that tendency had not changed over the few days preceding this unpleasant shift. You may therefore be able to imagine my displeasure at having to suddenly begin dressing like a polar explorer, a couple hundred miles from our final destination. You might remark that, in fact, we were still well south of Florida, so it is unlikely that the temperature ever dropped below 50 degrees. I am personally certain that it was approaching absolute zero, but as there’s no reason to split hairs, you will hopefully simply accept that it felt cold and move on.

I remained adamant about staying on the ocean to get to Vero Beach (proving, as I did so, that a 23-year old college graduate can still behave like a petulant child sometimes) but John and Ellen forced me (rightly) to acknowledge the fact that the wind was coming precisely from our destination and was only likely to get worse. That, combined with our drastically low reserves of diesel (there were, in fact, no reserves left) finally convinced me to see reason and eschew the unavoidable 4-day life-threatening battle with wind and waves that would surely have ensued had my plan been put into effect. We therefore put in to Homestead, just south of Miami, hoping to start up the ICW the following morning.

The Long Voyage Home: Part 2

So, while our second day of the leg indicated that fishing was decidedly fruitful on our route, we had also managed to pack our ice-box with about 30lbs of fish, making it kinda superfluous to throw the lines out again. Ellen has never really been a huge fan of the whole “killing animals” thing, and our parents will be happy to know that John and I have been well conditioned to avoid killing anything unless we are sure to make use of it, so fishing as a diversionary activity was out. Unfortunately, this left us with absolute oodles of spare time, and very little to fill it. Have you ever spent nine months sharing exactly the same experiences as someone (or several someones) else, day in and day out? If not, then let me give you a little insight into what happens to conversation after so long. You can only relive an event so many times before you realize that you are really just trading off lines from your previous conversations to have some diversity. On top of that, half of what you have to say has either been anticipated, so someone else says it simultaneously, or is a phrase that we have used so many times, we might as well have left it unsaid. As a result, we all turned to alternative entertainment to maintain our sanity. Ellen listened to her podcasts, John somehow powered through his literary sleep aid Diplomacy, and I alternated between listening to Harry Potter and writing blog entries (which I clearly should have done more of, so I wouldn’t still be trying to catch up in mid-April).

For all my whining, this was actually an incredibly pleasant time for me. For a few days we enjoyed a luxury that few people get to experience. Prolonged separation from society, internet and cell reception has a wonderful way of focusing the mind. The only way most people can approximate this feeling is to turn their phones off for a few hours, and even then, there is always the concern that someone might be trying to contact them, providing an unwelcome temptation. Our enforced solitude was therefore blessedly relaxing, as there was literally no way we could possibly contact anyone, even if we were in trouble. The nearest country  for three straight days was Cuba, and the only other live voices that penetrated our world were those of a fishing boat and a Cuban dock officer, having a conversation over the vhf that I’m quite certain I couldn’t understand. We swam, we read, and for a few days, we inhabited the world that we had created for ourselves over so many months, completely remote from the society in which we have lived most of our lives, and to which we had to ultimately return. This remoteness actually made for a fantastic culmination to our trip. After months of frantic anxiety about schedules and getting to port on time, having a few days to simply exist in this totally solitary world and reflect on everything we had done was truly gratifying.

The Long Voyage Home…Part 1

We left Provo on February 24th for our longest leg of the trip yet, back to Vero Beach. We brought an extra 20 gallons of diesel as insurance because we have learned, painfully, to never trust the wind, and running out of fuel 20 miles from Cuba seemed somehow like a bad idea. It only took about half an hour for me to discover 2 very important facts that had apparently been discovered in my absence, or had simply been disregarded by whatever part of my brain prefers to live in a fantasy world (it wouldn’t be the first time). I had been previously operating under the delusion that we only had 500 miles to go. This was already a prodigious distance, and it was quite a blow to find out that it would only get us to Miami, roughly 150 miles south of our destination. This news alone would not have been quite so devastating, were it not for its accompanying discovery that the wind, which had been blowing steadily from the East, or some variation thereof, for the last month or two, was going to shift to the Northwest (known more commonly as “where we want to go”) in just under 5 days. As the wind was light and pleasant, it was clear to everyone with a firm grasp on reality (read: everyone except me), that we would be taking significantly longer than five days to get back to Vero Beach. We couldn’t do much about it, however, and we soon settled into our shifts, once again on the 3-hours on, 6-hours off schedule that proved so wonderfully restful on the way up from the DR.

It wasn’t until the afternoon of the second day that we enjoyed any true excitement. We had put our fishing lines out for just about every daylight hour since leaving Provo, and it was a gratifying surprise to see one of them suddenly bend double. John was kind enough to hand the rod over to me, which was a sign of great faith, as I have displayed nothing on this trip so well as my inability to catch a fish. Nevertheless, after a few long minutes of rather eccentric fighting, I managed to land a perfectly acceptable wahoo, which Ellen immediately began filleting on deck. After getting the meat stowed and the deck washed off, it wasn’t long before the other line went taut and John pulled in a dolphin fish. Despite being smaller than our previous catch, it yielded a surprising amount of meat for the freezer (and blood on our deck). Upon cleaning the deck for the second time in as many hours, we began to contemplate bringing the lines in. We had enjoyed a hugely productive day (for us), the sun was heading towards the horizon, but just before I made an executive decision to give in, one of the rods bent double yet again.

John handed me the rod again, a kindness that I appreciated, even if my arms did feel rather like the inside of a punching bag. I had to struggle to bring in every single foot of line, and it was only after about 10 minutes of gasping and painful cranking that I discovered why. I had apparently hooked the Einstein of the dorado world and it had decided, instead of fighting me, to allow me to drag it through the water, expending very little energy itself, but causing me, after 9 months away from almost anything resembling physical activity, to wheeze like an asthmatic chain smoker. This inactivity turned out to be a clever ruse, because as soon as we had him close enough for John to grab the line, he began flapping wildly, making it impossible for anyone who wanted to keep all 10 fingers to drag him into the boat. I therefore let the line play out a bit, hoping to tire him out, but succeeding only in further exhausting my body. Eventually, however, we came up with a plan (like the geniuses we are). Ellen put our spear together and handed it to me as I got the fish in close. Just as John grabbed the line and the fish began its frantic dance, I leaned out over the back and fired the spear straight into him. Now, I generally have the same aiming ability with that spear as your average quadrupedal amphibian  so I was shocked as the spear went straight through both its gills and we used the barb to haul it out of the water and on deck. This Dorado was one solidly built fish with the temper of a honey badger, and it made several wild attempts to flap itself out of the boat that were very nearly successful before we managed to subdue it. It will hopefully relieve my parents to know that we had a bottle of Brugal Dominican rum on hand all day to dispatch our catches as humanely as possible. We ended up needing to expend roughly half of it on that final fish alone; no great sacrifice, as that was far preferable to having to drink the toxic stuff. I did the honors of filleting the fish this time, and the only complaint I can really express is that it left little room in our ice-box for anything else.

As you can no doubt imagine, cleaning up after a filleted fish is no easy task, particularly when trying to scrub out any trace of smell from the deck that we were going to be sitting on for the next week. It took a while, but we finally managed to get the deck scrubbed off, only to discover that, in all the excitement of dragging the fish aboard, we had smeared fish blood all over the back of the boat, which left the boat’s name bearing a striking resemblance to a B-horror movie title. Even that was eventually cleared up too, however and I crawled into bed soon after for my sleeping shift, experiencing a sensation that is very similar to what I imagine a baseball feels like.

Provo and our final days in the Caribbean

We had hardly finished docking before we had called Jay to meet up, and he came over within the hour to take us back to his place. Because of the island’s shape, it was actually significantly faster for us to dinghy there than to drive, so Jay had come equipped with his own, which he allowed us to borrow for the next few days, as our own 4hp engine still would have taken an hour to push us there at the speed of a rampaging manatee. On top of that, once we arrived at his place, Jay provided us with beers, no mean offering in the Turks and Caicos, where beer generally goes for 70 bucks a case. We went out that night to a a little joint called Da Conch Shack, where we treated ourselves to the last conch of our trip. I must admit, chewy and strange as those creatures are, they do make for a tasty morsel when prepared correctly (Fried. The correct way is fried). The platter that we ordered must have represented at least 6 different styles of conch, from fried and grilled, to spicy and cajun. We found ourselves flagging fairly early on, however, and so we headed back to Jay’s, and thence to our own boat, where we fell into a grateful sleep.

The following day was a day of work. Though Jay did his level best to distract us, we had to get the boat ready to sell, so we spent the day scrubbing, scraping and cleaning, trying to get the base layer of grime off of everything to make our job easier in Florida. More on that banal day need not be said, but we returned that evening for dinner and a party that apparently occurred at his place that night. I say “apparently” because mere minutes after dinner I found myself awakening to Ellen and John shaking me in the most gentle and considerate of ways, informing me that I had been asleep for 4 hours, it was now 1am, and I really should be getting up. Though my nap had refreshed me considerably, everyone else was a real person who did not decide to take a 4-hour nap at 9pm, and were therefore entirely ready to turn in. We went back to the boat soon thereafter, though only after promising Jay that abjure work in order to “play” for our last day in Provo.

This procrastination wound up being thoroughly worth it, as we had as much fun that day with Jay as just about any other day of the trip. After waking up fairly early(four-hour naps tend to play hell with your sleep cycle), we went over to Jay’s for breakfast before he drove us to his catamaran on the North side of the island. Now, we have seen and boarded some luxurious catamarans: monstrosities of nautical design, complete with state-rooms, enormous galleys and opulent decoration. This was not one of those. It was a thoroughly pared down cat, with a bit of storage and living space in each hull, and completely open trampolines stretched between. It was, in short, perfect. The weather had finally decided to favor us with sun and a pleasant wind that we enjoyed with a plethora of coronas as we sailed up and down Provo’s north shore. Jay regaled us with his stories of sailing that very same cat throughout the Bahamas, and we answered with tales of our own much less impressive accomplishments. We finally pulled in close to shore at Grace Bay, and anchored so that we could jump in the water, enjoy the beach, and experience Jay’s hammock, which he hangs between the cat’s hulls and allows you to enjoy both the heat of the sun and the cool water as you recline halfway in each. We also listened to him dubiously as he told us about the seasons in the Turks and Caicos, and how no one goes swimming during the “winter” because it’s so cold. This conversation was held, of course, standing in 85 degree water, with the sun searing our shoulders. In short, I was skeptical.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and so it was with that day. It might seem strange that we spent our last true day of relaxation sailing, but it seemed a fitting way to end our time in the Caribbean. All that was left for us was to enjoy a dinner worthy of our departure. Jay dropped us off to pick up supplies, as we by this point felt that we had intruded extraordinarily upon his hospitality and were keen to, in some small measure, reciprocate. We therefore settled on steak and fries, because nothing says “thank you” like  a 3/4lb slab of red meat and potatoes in oil. For some reason, I was left unsupervised to prepare the fries, and I discovered, gratifyingly, that frying things in oil is easy. We still had a slew of spices from Tracey, so I threw a few of them on the potatoes that I had haphazardly chopped, which I in turn dropped unceremoniously into the skillet. a few minutes later, we had a substantial number of quite passable fries to accompany our plump, succulent steaks(no one let me anywhere near those). Granted, many of my fries were unsystematically cooked. Some baked to a thin crisp, while others, perfectly golden on the outside, where more what I like to think of as “pleasantly raw” in the center. All of them were edible, however, so I’m going to go ahead and take that as a win. We went back to the boat fairly early that night, though we returned to Jay’s the next morning to give him his dinghy back, and set out on our 650 mile leg back to Vero Beach. Before I get to that, though, I would like to extend (another) special thanks to Jay. He was, once again, far too welcoming to us, and showed us the hospitality that one might expect from a friend of years, rather than just a month or two. We owe him so much that we will probably never be able to repay and so I would like to simply express our deep gratitude for everything he did for us.

Yet another embarrassing anecdote and our sail back to Provo

We had hoped to leave the day after Jackson’s departure, but strong kept us unfortunately stuck, as we did not relish the idea of being dashed to pieces on the coral, lining channel out of Luperon. We spent the day preparing for our sail back to Provo and stocking up on things like ice, Oreos, and beer…you know, the essentials. We spent a long morning the next day dealing with customs, because checking out of the country wound up being a multi-hour process, as our forms had to be passed from official to official, before experiencing one of the more humiliating moments in a trip absolutely packed with embarrassing experiences.

To understand just how awkward that morning was, I have to provide you with some context. We began a tradition in the Bahamas that we continued through the Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic. Basically, any time we pulled out of an anchorage or marina, we would blare the song “Eastbound & Down” by Jerry Reed (the inspiration for our boat’s name), while waving jauntily at all the cruisers who would inevitably come out on deck to determine the source of the ruckus. Now, you may be thinking to yourself “that sounds incredibly lame and immature” and you would be entirely correct (we are, after all, kids). You may also be imagining how funny it would be to see someone so cocky get their come-uppance by, I don’t know, running over a mooring line and finding themselves stopped short, unable to move as the music dies lamely and they have to call for help on the radio, blushing furiously. If so, you are in luck, because that is precisely what happened. I loosed us from the mooring ball, Ellen hit the music, and we began to pull away, stopping abruptly as we reached our mooring ball. Apparently there was a second line that we hadn’t seen, which maneuvered its way around our prop. This is, as we’ve discovered before, a rather effective impediment to motoring, so we called Papo on the radio, since we were somewhat concerned about cutting through his mooring line. He was kind enough to drive by immediately and take care of the line within minutes. After thanking Papo profusely, we finally pulled out of the harbor in the early afternoon, considerably humbled.

There was something almost vengefully triumphant about our sail back to Provo. After months and months of beating our faces into a merciless headwind, we finally fulfilled what we’d all been dreaming of as an East Southeast wind sent us speeding back towards the Turks and Caicos.The wind was brisk, though not too heavy, which was relief, as we were forced to run one-person shifts instead of two. A four-person crew allowed us essentially unrestricted travel, as we could always have two people on deck, watching out for one another, with two people asleep, ready to respond to an emergency, and preparing for their upcoming shift. We might not have gotten the most restful sleep (John, in particular, has displayed a reassuring capacity for anxiety that I didn’t think he had in him, and usually runs up on deck every half hour or so, worried that we have been crushed by a freighter and haven’t had the common decency to tell him), but over the course of all our off-shifts in 24 hours, we could usually put together a decent night of sleep.

With three people, however, a similar rotating schedule would require four hours on deck for every two hours off, a highly unpleasant ratio, with potential for disaster and a certainty of all of us refusing to speak to each other ever again before we made it a hundred miles. We therefore settled on a one-person, three-hour shift, with instructions for the driver to start blowing their emergency whistle to wake anyone and everyone within three miles if in any doubt of our safety. Additionally, John ran two lines from the cabin out to the back of the cockpit and made sure Ellen and I knew that if we planned on so much as sticking our heads up on deck, we had to have our life jackets on and be clipped in. Paradoxically, our ostensibly scarier shift schedule actually made for a six-hour off-shift, which made me, at least, feel significantly more alert and aware when on deck, as I wasn’t blearily staving off slumber. The lack of a spotter was riskier, sure, but with the driver clipped in and John sleeping like an anxious gazelle, it was actually far less reckless than it might appear. We arrived back at Southside Marina in Provo on Thursday afternoon, excited to meet up with Jay again (you may remember him from the At Last crew in Nassau) for our last days in the Caribbean before heading back to the U.S.

The Botanical Gardens and The Long Journey Home

We left the airport in somewhat lower spirits, but we still had a few hours of daylight, so we decided to visit the botanical gardens before heading out of town. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, though we were not in the ideal condition to be walking around. Fortunately, the gardens were designed for a bus tour that leaves from the entrance, so we were spared the onerous task of walking to fulfill our enjoyment of nature. The gardens are designed to illustrate the biodiversity of the Dominican Republic, and is therefore divided into several different regions, with the various trees and plants native to that region represented in each. Unfortunately, I can’t give you much more specificity than that, as the entire tour was in Spanish, and I could only understand such words as “tree”, “bird”, and “biodiversity” (biodiversidad, in case you were wondering how I picked up on that one), which were sprinkled liberally throughout. The tour ended with a walk-through the Japanese garden, where the artistry of the organization and design was as beautiful as the plantlife and made an impression upon even our exhausted minds.

We departed soon thereafter for the long drive back to Luperon. As you may have noticed from, well, any of our posts, it generally takes us significantly longer than we would prefer to get places. Up until this point, that had only applied to trips on the boat, but we were about to apply that tendency to other forms of travel too. Our drive from Santo Domingo to Santiago was relatively uneventful, if you consider facing death a few times a minute “uneventful”, but after Santiago we ran into trouble. I was driving again, as John had driven the day before, and because I wasn’t particularly familiar with the area, I kept an eye out for signs. Unfortunately, as I may have already mentioned in a previous post, the Dominicans seem to drive by using the force, so signs are sparse, if they exist at all.

You can probably tell where this is going. After a solid hour or two, we began to see signs for towns that were nowhere near Luperon and had to pull over and ask for directions. It was around dinner time, so there were plenty of people around, though the language barrier turned out to be an interesting hurdle. Both John and Ellen can speak Spanish quite well, and the people we spoke to were trying very hard to be helpful. They seemed, however, (from my own very limited understanding of the language) to be answering questions that we had not asked, and arguing between one another as to the best route to send us. Eventually we all managed to make ourselves understood(though their shouted directions to me went entirely over my head), and we soon found ourselves on a much smaller mountain road, employing some by-the-seat-of-your-pants navigation with a map that, in addition to being wholly outdated, was large-scale and therefore didn’t show most of the back-roads that we needed to get back to Luperon.

To add an extra layer of enjoyment, we were also almost out of gas, since we had adjusted our last fill-up to account for a direct drive to Luperon. We therefore kept our eyes peeled for gas stations(unsurprisingly rare in rural Dominican Republic), and wound our way cautiously through a mountain pass that was certainly never intended as a major artery between highways. We had to stop and ask for directions at every major intersection, as the directions we got from each helpful passer-by only applied to the following 10-15 mile stretch before we reached another T-intersection. Furthermore, as the night wore on, stopping to ask people for directions became less and less appealing. It is one thing to stop and ask a family sitting at dinner where to go. It is quite another to pull over and ask directions of four burly and obviously drunk men, playing cards at a table. John helpfully pointed out, during one of the dark mountain passages that many parts of the rural Dominican Republic are quite as violent as Haiti, a country generally considered by just about everyone to be the nation-state equivalent of Battle Royale. That consoling trivia fact aside, we never appeared to be in any real danger, and in fact, the late hour and remote location of the road allowed us to avoid adding a slew of reckless drivers to our other concerns.  Nevertheless, we were immensely relieved to see the familiar lights of Luperon and return the car to Tony with an earnest desire to never drive again.

Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor and Jackson’s departure

We got up early on Monday morning for two reasons. First of all, we wanted to see a bit more of the city with Jackson before his flight back to the states, and secondly, our enthusiasm for air conditioning had led us to set the thermostat somewhere around the temperature at which vodka freezes. The bare sheets without blankets that the hotel provided, while perfect for a cool Dominican evening, were unequipped to handle such an extreme temperature, and so I awoke around six with my blood the consistency of cake frosting.

Fortunately, stepping outside was an instantaneous cure for his deep chill, as the temperature in the Dominican Republic, though pleasant at night, reaches boiling point about two hours after sunrise. We all took another shower that morning(you really indulge when you get them so infrequently), and headed out to our main stop, the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, the oldest cathedral in the Americas. This is a beautiful, old building, cobbled together from several different styles. It was constructed in the first half of the 16th century and used to harbor the remains of Christopher Columbus before they were moved to Seville. I found the ceiling to be most arresting, as it appeared to be simply constructed of smaller stones cut to fit against one another and hold each other in place. I’m sure this was the only method that they had of constructing it, and I can hardly think of a better, but it does look pretty cool. Apparently the cathedral had been recently refurbished, as all the stonework appeared new and almost reflective, but as Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have any information on any such project, I will have to chalk it up to the Cathedral’s impeccable janitorial staff. The cathedral additionally sports an extremely detailed audio-tour, although it is not precisely scintillating, and some might even call it “exhaustive”.

After the Cathedral we set about finding some food and wound up at a local Dominican diner-looking establishment with sandwiches, fried plantains, and whole chickens. All in all, it didn’t exactly look like the type of place where they wash their vegetables with bottled water, but what’s life without a little risk? We dragged ourselves out a half hour later, entirely stuffed, wondering why precisely we had felt the need to consume quite so much food, leaving us quite unable to tell whether we were experiencing painful fullness, or severe indigestion. After meandering back to the hotel, we picked the car up and drove Jackson to the nearby airport for his flight.

It was sad to see him go. It can’t be easy to join a group of three people who have spent the last 8 months in disturbingly close proximity to one another, for three weeks of living in severely cramped squalor  He had to, upon arrival, begin sharing sheets, utensils, and inevitably germs, and come to terms with the fact that the only consistent daily topic of conversation is of bowel movements(this may seem weird until you consider that we are in each other’s presence for literally every other experience of the day…ok, maybe it’s still weird, but, I hope, understandable). We hit him with sleepless nights, bug attacks, and Montezuma’s revenge, and he bore it all with an unbelievably positive demeanor, and acclimated to the boat in what appeared to be mere minutes after his arrival. We can’t thank him enough for joining us, and it hasn’t been the same without him.