Against the wind

We left ourselves ten days to get from Eluthera to Georgetown, a distance of 80 miles as the crow flies, considerably further as the boat sails.

Now here’s the thing about a sailboat—you can’t sail directly into the wind. Some boats can get pretty close to the wind. But not our boat. Twenty tons of steel, remember?

The trade winds were just setting in on the first leg, southwest from Eluthera across the Exuma Sound. Deep blue water, over 5,000 feet in the middle of the sound, sunshine, a brisk southeast wind. Perfect. We passed a sport fishing boat bobbing in the deep water.

“Look,” a man shouted. He held up a four-foot tuna, grinning. The man, not the fish. Chris immediately put out our line, and within minutes something big seized his new red plastic squid. Then ran off with it.

“My new squid!!!” Chris put out his second-best squid, but we didn’t have another nibble the whole way across.

We made landfall at Highbourne Cay, got a good night’s sleep, then turned our bow… southeast. Right into the wind, which had built overnight and kept building. By midday we were pounding into steep choppy waves, salt spray drenching the boat, flying in through the cockpit windows from time to time.

“This is stupid,” Chris said, wiping his sunglasses. “And we’re not making much headway. Let’s try again tomorrow.”

We tacked our way into Hawksbill Cay, a shallow anchorage far from shore but more or less sheltered from the southeast.

The next day was no better. The winds, if anything, were building. The trade winds had well and truly set in. We turned and ran north. With the wind at our back, it was a beautiful downwind sail. We decided to carry on past Hawksbill to Shroud Cay, which has slightly better protection from the south.

Distance made good, minus three miles, I wrote in the log book.

We didn’t even try the next day. We watched what was going on out on the banks—lots of boats heading north; only a foolhardy few heading south, hobbyhorsing wildly through the whitecaps. Instead we explored the coast of the uninhabited island in our dinghy, found a huge ray loafing in a pool on the tidal flats, discovered some very strange mud mounds—who lives here, I wondered, stepping carefully around them. I didn’t really want to find out.

Who lives here?

A couple days later, we tried again. Same thing. This time we turned and ran north all the way to Highbourne Cay (distance made good: minus 10 miles) so we could access the internet, get a long-range weather forecast. And let our friends, who were flying into Georgetown, know that we wouldn’t be there.

They’ve rebooked their flight, and will meet us in Staniel Cay in a few days, a mere 40 miles south of Highbourne, as that proverbial crow flies. The trade winds are finally easing a little. We’ll try again this morning, tacking all the way.

We’re older now, sure, but still running against the wind.

We could live here

at anchor

We woke this morning to find the water in the sandy bay just off Gregory Town in Eluthera where we were anchored absolutely flat. Seriously. I mean flat.

“Come see this!” Chris called. He was above deck, wiping the dew off the windows, I was below, making coffee.

He pointed to a big stingray, flapping lazily by the boat. Oh, there’s conch. And a starfish. And what’s that weird-looking thing? Heh heh. It was our anchor, dug firmly into the soft sand.

We’re back in the Bahamas, as you’ve probably gathered, and winter is now just a dim memory. The boat show was so much fun—who knew so many people were interested in sailing across the ocean, or at least talking about it? Our seminars were well attended and there were lots of questions, and our time in the Nautical Mind bookstore’s booth just flew by. So many interesting people, including a young girl who sails with her father and wants to write a book. I really enjoyed talking to her.

But here’s my greatest accomplishment: I sold a book to a blind woman. Okay, it’s not as impressive as it sounds. She had come to the boat show specifically to buy my book (very flattering!) which she was going to have read onto a CD so she could share it with her… wait for it… blind sailing friends. Turns out she’s a member of Blind Sailing Canada. Who knew such a thing existed? I think she’ll enjoy the section in the book that describes my brother John, who was pretty much blind by the time he was 30, going sailing with my dad. You can read that excerpt here.

smooth waters

As much fun as we had at the boat show, it’s great to be back here. Although there’s no wind today—we’re motoring over flat seas this morning—the sailing has been fantastic. We sailed from the Berry Islands all the way to the Exumas without having to motor at all. We waited out some big winds at anchor tucked behind Highbourne Cay, snoozing, swimming, playing bocce on the beach (our new favourite thing.)

Then when the weather calmed, we sailed to Eluthera to visit friends we had met sailing 15 years ago, who liked the Bahamas so much they sold their boat and bought a beautiful house on top of a cliff overlooking the calm waters of Eluthera Sound. Tempting…

snowy lashes

Even more tempting when people send us pictures of what it’s like in Canada right now. Thanks, by the way. They really cool us down on these hot, windless days.

 

Showtime!

The Toronto Boat Show

We’re back in Ontario now, just in time for a major “weather event,” as they’re now called. But we’re going to be spending the weekend at the Toronto International Boat Show, so it really doesn’t matter what it’s like outside.

It’s been a lot of fun getting ready for our presentation. A big part of the preparation involved going through all our photos and videos (we forgot we’d taken a few videos) of our ocean crossing. It was like making the journey all over again. Including getting seasick as we watched videos of some of the big seas. Did we really sail in that??

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This is one of my favourite shots—Chris having a big nap after diving under the boat for half an hour with a pair of bolt cutters in order to remove a huge ball of rope from the prop. That little episode ended better than it could have. The ball of rope had attracted a little school of fish, and where there are little fish, there are bigger fish, and where there are bigger fish… there are sharks. Luckily Chris managed to free the prop before they got wind of the free lunch.

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Here’s what making landfall looked like just after the second gale—that’s right, there were two of them.

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And this is what we looked like.

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Come to the boat show if you can, and see the whole presentation. You’ll find times for our presentations on the events page of this site. It would be great to see some familiar faces in the audience.

And we’re not showing videos of big seas, so you don’t have to worry about throwing up.

A lumpy ride

“I thought we weren’t supposed to set out across the Gulf Stream if the winds had any northern component,” I said to Chris.

“The winds won’t be going northwest until we’re across the stream, and anyway, they’re light. And if we don’t go now, we won’t have another opportunity for two weeks.”

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Never a good reason to go, but our flight home from Nassau was in less than two weeks—we’re coming home to do seminars at the boat show in Toronto—so as soon as the tide began to flow out of the Lake Worth inlet, we pulled anchor and set out. Me with some trepidation, Chris with all the confidence in the world. How bad could it be?

It started out okay. The winds were light, as predicted. We put the sails up but kept the engine running—it’s always a good idea to cross the Gulf Stream as quickly as possible because conditions can deteriorate suddenly. Ten miles offshore we began to feel the current pushing us north and see pieces of Sargasso weed—we were definitely in the wide, warm river of water that flows relentlessly from the Gulf of Mexico, up the coast of North America, and across to England.

As all the weather models had shown, the wind-driven waves were very light so didn’t fight much with the current. But what they hadn’t shown was a great swell from the north, left over from some storm off the eastern seaboard, that was meeting the current head on. As we moved further into the stream and the current increased, the waves grew steeper. And steeper. And began to break. This was about as bad as anything we’d seen in the ocean.

“These are a lot bigger than the four-foot waves they predicted,” I fretted.

“I’d say they’re six to eight,” Chris said grimly. And we were taking them on the beam so the roll was pretty uncomfortable. Lunch was cancelled due to lack of interest. Then the bucket came up.

Now Chris and I have very different techniques for dealing with seasickness. He wedges himself in the corner of the cockpit bench where he can keep an eye on the sails and the instruments. Essentially, he makes himself part of the boat.

I use a technique I learned from Bica we call “weaving.” I sit up very straight on one of the side benches, my feet planted firmly on the floor, and move with the motion of the boat, counteracting it as much as possible and keeping my eye firmly on the horizon.

Of course neither of these techniques really works when the seas are as lumpy as they were that day, but by nibbling dry crackers and sipping ginger ale, we managed to make it to the other side of the stream without deploying the bucket.

The cross seas slowed us down considerably and we had been swept north some distance by the current, so by nightfall, we were still 100 miles from Great Harbour Cay, our destination in the Bahamas. But we were in for a beautiful night sail. With the wind and the seas behind us now that we were heading southeast, the motion was much more comfortable. We had cheese with our crackers for dinner and settled into our night watches.

We were sailing across the Northwest Providence Channel, which runs between Grand Bahama and the Berry Islands and is probably one of the busiest stretches of water in the world. It’s a regular route for ocean-going freighters and oil tankers and all other manner of working ship, and a superhighway for cruise ships going to and from Freeport and Nassau. But the boats are well lit and, with the advent of AIS, visible on our chart plotter long before we see their lights. It helps that they are on the lookout for sailboats–nothing complicates a ship captain’s day more than arriving in port with pieces of sailboat hanging off the bow.

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It was all worth it, because now we’re in the Bahamas, where we’ll spend the next four months. Except, of course, for our trip home to Canada next week.

Why are we doing that again? Oh yeah. The boat show.

Seemed like a good idea last August…

Wet Christmas

No-one really dreams of a wet Christmas, but we may be in for one this year. As I write this, rain is pelting down on the steel deck above my head, making a lovely ringing sound—or are those sleigh bells? No, it’s way too early.

Though we had hoped to be in the Bahamas for Christmas, it looks like we’ll be in Florida, waiting for the right weather window to cross the Gulf Stream—and for a new compressor for our fridge.

The compressor is easy—a two-hour drive to West Palm Beach to pick one up (and lunch at my favourite French café there…) then two hours back and many hours of poor Chris with his head in the cabinet beneath the sink while he installs it. I see some skinned knuckles in his future.

The weather, well, there’s nothing we can do about the weather. There is a massive storm system coming through today, bringing heavy rain and a band of “strong to severe” thunderstorms, whatever that means. I’m sure it’s bad. The storm system is dragging a cold front behind it with gale-force winds. The marine forecast calls for “very rough” conditions on the intracoastal waterways, something we’ve never seen before. “Light chop” is the norm in these protected waters. And Chris Parker, our weather savant, is describing the conditions offshore as “horrendous.”

So we’re actually glad we’re still in the boat yard today, up on stands and tied securely to, well, palm trees. For some reason the boat yard workers, who really know what they’re doing here, have untied us from our mafia blocks—huge rectangles of concrete they tie boats to during the hurricane season. But the palm trees look pretty sturdy.

We’ve reviewed our “what to do if the boat starts to tip over” strategy just in case—well, I have. Chris says it will never happen. My plan is to wedge myself into the V-berth where nothing heavier than a pillow or a roll of paper towel will fall on me and to try to remember to point my feet in the direction we’re falling. What do you think? Sound like a plan?

Florida is a weird place to be at Christmas time. The holiday decorations have a decidedly tropical bent—hula Santa is our favourite, outside a motel along the highway here in Titusville. The garden centres have all the usual lush, flowering plants and trees as well as Christmas trees and truly magnificent poinsettias.

Yesterday, the cashier in the grocery store was humming “White Christmas” as she scanned can after can of chick peas, jumbo packages of toilet paper, many bags of pasta and yes, a few bags of nacho cheese Doritos. We’ve been stocking up on non-perishables—there are only a few supermarkets in the Bahamas, and they are in places we try to avoid, like Nassau.


“Have you ever seen snow?” Chris asked her.

“No. Well, yes. On TV.”

Fortunately, we had a bit of white Christmas in Ontario before we left the farm, so much snow the last few days we were there that we weren’t sure we were going to be able to make it out the unplowed road to the highway. But we did.

The weather forecast was right. It’s raining harder now. The boat yard will be ankle deep in water by the end of the day. In weather like this, it feels pretty good to be living in an ark.

With any luck, the weather will clear once the front moves through and we’ll get the boat launched and be at anchor somewhere on Christmas day. Maybe we’ll find some coconuts and play a little bocce on the beach before settling in to a dinner of fresh crab cakes and a glass of prosecco.

However you spend it, may your day be merry and bright, and may your Christmas be white.

Or at least not wet.

Standing room only

Ten to two and the only people at the back of the bookstore where we’re holding the launch are Chris, my sister Brenda, and my friend Charlene. Gulp!

Then my niece Kathy and her husband Rob arrive. While I’m chatting with them, trying to hide my nervousness, people begin to trickle in. Then flow. At five to two all the chairs are full. By two o’clock, there are people standing at the back.

It was like having my whole life spread in front of me. My family. A friend from highschool. My best friend from grad school. Former work colleagues. Old friends. New friends. There were even some people I didn’t know.

Looking at that sea of faces it was impossible to be nervous. I talked about how the book came to be, read from it. There were some horrified faces as I described what it was like to be in a 43-foot sailboat in the middle of a proper North Atlantic gale.

After the gale

Then I talked a bit about how the experience changed me. I’m not the same person I was before I sailed across the ocean. I’m stronger, and braver, and happier now than I’d ever imagined I could be.

One thing I hadn’t expected was how much fun signing books would be. Fortunately I’d had a chance to warm up my signature the week before at Balzac’s in Stratford, where I signed books for Chris’s ex-wife Linda (starting to see a pattern here?) who bought copies for all her friends for Christmas presents.

Signing books at Balzac’s

There must have been a lot of that going on at the launch. Most people bought two or three copies, some five or six. In no time, the bookstore had gone through all of its stock. Fortunately Karen, my publisher, had the foresight to send me a box of books and instructed me to bring them along, just in case.

Now my book is out there, which feels great. Sales are nice and all that (I say this with a nod to Karen…) but what a writer really wants is to be read. I’ve heard from several people who have finished the book already, some of them in a single day. Their glowing praise is making me quite impossible to live with.

After such a successful launch, I’m really looking forward to our presentation at the Toronto International Boat Show in January. There had to be 50 people at the launch in Guelph. What’s a crowd of 150? Though I may have to recruit some friendly faces to sit at the front.

Any takers??

Countdown to launch day

writing

Writing is a solitary occupation, which suits me just fine. I am at my happiest when we’re rocking gently at anchor and I’m tucked in on the starboard settee, my computer open on the table in front of me, a cup of coffee within easy reach, the oil lamp swinging gently overhead.

Working in my treehouse when we’re at Meadowlark is almost as good—in some ways it’s better: my coffee never slides across the table when I’m not paying attention. And when I’m stuck, I can gaze out the window at cows grazing in the meadow below the treehouse.

So getting myself ready for the launch of Sea Over Bow is a bit of a stretch. It all starts on Sunday, November 25th at 2pm with a reading and book signing at The Bookshelf in Guelph. I’ve already sorted out what I’ll read, and what I’ll wear. I’ve even bought new boots for the occasion: I call them my writer’s boots and will wear them to give myself courage.

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I’m feeling better about the launch now that books have finally arrived. Delays in printing have been frustrating, but they’re in stores now. The e-version of the book is out, too. Amazon, Chapters, and my publisher, Signature Editions, all offer it online.

But what’s really making me feel confident are the initial reviews which have begun to appear. Below is my first online review at Chapters. Yes, it makes me blush, but it feels so good to be read—and praised. Who wouldn’t like that?

If you live in the area, I hope you’ll come to the launch next Sunday. I’ll try to be brave, but if it’s too much for a quiet, introverted writer, I’ll just tap my heels together, close my eyes, and say, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

Okay. I promise not to do that. I’ll give you a bit of background on the book, read for you, answer questions, sign books, and we’ll have a great afternoon together.

And you can admire my new writer’s boots.

Prepare to be swept along with Sea Over Bow! 

I’m no sailor, but I felt like I was a stowaway on Linda Kenyon’s passage through the storms of the North Atlantic, and through the tempest of her past. Alone on the night watch, with no moorings or landforms, it turns out to be all too easy for her to lose her bearings and let her mind flood with painful memories and self-doubt. The narrative flows from one timeline to another, through multiple generations of women attempting to navigate the shoals of their lives. As well, maternal warnings float up, on ancient waves of fear and vulnerability. Yet, in the present, in the context of her new relationship, Kenyon is awash in the delights of shipboard terminology, food, sea light and wildlife–and the terrors of “proper North Atlantic gales.” This tumultuous immersion in the senses transforms her from passenger in life to sailor: a woman able to adapt, to take risks, to acknowledge her own bravery, and, above all, to find and celebrate the joy of the moment. In the end, she may have buried her past at sea and have her future in sight on the horizon, but I am left becalmed, wanting to know what happened when they sailed the boat back. It seems I’ll have to wait for the sequel…

–M. Jeanne Yardley