Homeward bound March 23, 2020
It all sounded so good, Washington State schools were adding 2 weeks of spring break. It was stated as a precaution. That meant we could extend our sailing trip, which was cut short by a fishing net off the Ecuador coast. SeaQuil was stuck in Panama for more than a month getting repaired and instead of cultural interaction the children were getting lessons in working on a boat. Ye Ha! our five years of preparation gets at least 2 more weeks of sailing in the Caribbean.
Today, We are getting our departure papers from the Colombian government to leave Providencia. This island paradise is on military enforced lock down. While there are no cases of the virus here, the precaution to keep it out is massive. Having three Chinese children has stirred speculation among some here that they may be the foreigners who brought it in. The mood went from so warm and welcoming to that of distance and concern.
All countries in the Caribbean are now on lock down. No entries by foreign vessels allowed at all. Our only option is to sail non-stop to the United States. In less than 24 hours we will have all our paperwork and be underway on a 1,100 mile sail to Key West Florida. We are expecting to be quarantined upon arrival, but we will be home. The greatest aspect of world traveling is coming home and we are homeward bound for the good, the bad and the challenges.
In 2014 for Pam’s birthday, we took a trip to San Fransisco. Since we were in a seaport, we thought we should look at a few boats, as well as walk the Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge and redwood forests. There was a deal to be had, an old Tayana 55 sailboat and at this price we couldn’t go wrong. Or at least that is what I conveyed as we started the process to ensure we would not retire. “It’s a gift to us”, I enthusiastically offered. Pam said, she’d rather have a new car, but, “we are sailors and we need to get our son out sailing before he becomes normal”.
In one month it will be Pam’s birthday again. This trip was what we planned and not what we planned. The stop at Isla del Coco’s was a high point, but there were plenty of lows too; getting extorted by the Ecuador authorities for an extra $400, catching a long line and bending the drive shaft. Then, the US Navy came out to help us and the US Coast Guard got us towed in and we felt unbelievable joy and happiness that the boat did not sink. Time was ticking away and we were stuck in a boat yard.
Then, we sailed to Bocas del Toro and met Ed and Nila on Shepard Island. We spent several days in a jungle house, eating cocoa beans and eating incredibly healthy food right from the land. Ed and Nila were so kind, caring and so interesting that time stood still. We all say ‘welcome’, but when you are really welcomed it means so much more.
The stop in Manta, Ecuador: Consuelo and Jorge take us on a two day whirlwind of the least attractive city we’ve ever been to. Despite our terrible ability to speak Spanish, we left Manta in near tears as we said good bye. Their gift was a big one, God, a reminder to pray and be thankful, and live life with unbridled enthusiasm every day. This was something we would need when we were getting rescued.
Vern Pahl, the busiest lawyer in Canada, always picked up the phone to help with whatever we needed. He also had the knowledge of a seasoned seaman to know what to say and exactly what we needed to hear, whether it be a calm voice or a solution to a mechanical problem. I wonder if he’ll pick up the phone in the middle of the night when we are in Anacortes?
The only hold over from our last journey is Carl Peterson. Carl got me out of jail in 2008 and I’ve never lost his number since. It was like de ja vu on January 11th when we looked at the sat phone knowing we would need to call for help. We knew Carl was there. Carl may also be the only person who doesn’t think these family escapades are mere vacations. He took his own children out on the sea and ironically they both married mariners and are impressive people top to bottom. I credit Alec and Robin’s success to being forced on a boat as children.
When Pam said yes to getting married, to me all would say in near unison: “Wow, you’re marrying up”. So does that mean she married down? Probably. However, I know up when I see it, when Bob on Nirvana was stupid enough to say, “I can fix any outboard”, that was too big of a challenge not to pursue. Ironically, that outboard sits in 9000 feet of water, but he had MeiMei playing violin again which was a moment to revel in. Then to find, Bob is literally a rocket scientist who knows more about process and procedure than anyone I’ve ever worked with. Despite not being able to see the drive train, he stood by his phone and email to help reassemble SeaQuil’s drive system with precision and know how. As the outboard he fixed sat on the bottom of the Pacific, he stated, “worry about getting those kids to port, you can get another outboard.” Ironically, Bob’s wife Sherry is not a rocket scientist, but he too married up.
This is why I love sailing. In many ways it is why I don’t understand life on land. In all our years in Anacortes, the people we call friends is so short that we don’t even need a full hand to count them. Conversely, for moments in time, while sailing we find and experience connections that let us know how amazing the world is. The boat takes us to places that are awe inspiring all while trying to kill us when something goes wrong. It is holding on to a tiger by the tail. This experience truly puts us in financial and physical peril. MeiMei’s crushed hand haunts me, but her skills as a crew and person inspire me. Money always comes and goes, at least for us. The above mentioned encounters with people live on for all of us and binds us together.
God works and God is, if you don’t believe that then you need to meet Consuelo and Jorge and forget the thousands of other reasons why one would question his existance.
Crew mates come and go and yet they stay. Near and far they sail with us even if it is from an arm chair. Our hope is that the time we spent with those listed above, and our old crew mates, be powerful enough to last longer than just the actual time together as if it were a glancing encounter. If we did it right we’ve created meaning, then those moments live on way beyond the actual experiences.
On March 30th, we will have completed our trimester at sea. It will also be Pam’s birthday once again. What started six years ago will end. Linzi will go on to college and we will start following her adventures as she brings in new people and new places that will expand our family. It will be great as MeiMei and Bryan follow in Linzi’s foot steps when they move on. Each will take so many connections and memories with them from these experiences, but for us now, this is the end, the end of our family as we built it.
We ended our travels on Red Thread to bring Bryan home. It was terribly sad, but life without Bryan is unthinkable, it just goes too fast. While beginnings may sound better, they are not. The culmination of what has transpired with the people we connected with are all worth the sorrow, heartbreak and elation. Let the celebrations begin, for this is the end.
On January 14, 2019, the Panamanian Coast guard instructed us to maneuver sideways to the wind in order to throw a tow line. It was dark, the winds were in the mid to high 20’s and waves were 9 – 12 feet high and breaking. The first few tries to get a line to the Coast Guard cutter were unsuccessful and a huge wave broke right into the cockpit making everything slippery. Linzi slipped and went down the companionway. All we could see was a motionless person lying on the floor, who looked up with concern in her eyes.
We were convinced she had broken her arm. The Coast Guard offered to dispatch a helicopter to get her to a hospital, but we decided not to separate. We put her on the settee bench, slung her arm and let her fall asleep for the remainder of the night.
On February 4, 2020, MeiLing was guiding the generator back in place after a week of repairs to the drive shaft. A piece of 1/2 inch spectra line held up the generator (breaking strength of more than 5,000 lbs) when the sharp edge on the generator cut through the line sending the generator onto her hand pinning it under the 350 pound generator. In less than 30 seconds, the generator was back up and MeiLing reported that she was OK until she saw the blood and swelling. Her hand looked deformed and we were certain her hand and/or forearm were broken.
The mad dash to the hospital was excruciating; for one it was my fault for the accident, it was my daughter, and my job is always to ensure the safety of the crew. “Why couldn’t it have fallen on my hand?” I wondered. MeiLing is so tough that not one tear was shed nor one sound of pain was vocalized.
Here in Shelter Bay, Panama my two daughters are hurt due to this trip. The x-rays show no breaks, but MeiLing’s two fingers were dislocated and she had extreme swelling. All cuts in the tropics are worrisome for infection.
Linzi fell trying to secure a tow line late at night in big seas and did not shy away from being a courageous crewman. MeiLing knew we needed help repairing the boat and wouldn’t even think of not being part of the process to fix the boat. While I cringe at seeing my daughters in pain, I also glow to see impressive young ladies who will never be bystanders. They give to the greater good whether that be putting themselves in harm’s way or believing it is their obligation to help… either way my heart is skipping beats thinking of how bad I feel and how proud I am of them.
On my first assent of Castleton Tower in Utah, while rock climbing years ago with friends, there was no question we didn’t know what we were doing. The daunting endeavor had us so nervous that we could barely swallow until, Doug Holzman said, “I am not going to let safety get in the way of having a good time”. While safety is important it is not paramount to everything else. I think we’ll put safety…third.
At the turn of the 19th century, buffalo hunters roamed the west hunting for bison in wild abandon. It was profitable and it fed a lot families. Their ‘harvesting’ made the economy boom and nearly ruined the western eco-system as bison neared extinction.
Teddy Roosevelt outlawed the destruction of bison and put lots of protections in for land and animals. In what might seem heartless by todays standards, he put all those buffalo hunters out of business and ruined their livelihood. However, we still have bison and at least a small glimpse of the old west.
At the turn of the 20th century, fisherman have become the bane of seafarers and peaceful people around the world. Todays’ fisherman are as likely to be pirates as ‘honest fisherman’. As we fish our seas to depletion, fisherman turn to drug trafficking, human trafficking and the transport of other contraband as they try to blend into the maritime background as peaceful. They operate outside international law with the blessing of most governments who may as well be promoting piracy on the high seas. While there are many hard working fishermen who deserve respect and accolades for their hard work, it is time to send them the way of the buffalo hunter.
Even if you are an ‘honest fisherman,’ these people do not obey internationally recognized rules and laws. They don’t take care of the oceans and leave it a mess with their lost nets and gear. In the tens of thousands of miles I have sailed, nothing scares me more than a fisherman. They have regard for no one. They set long lines with no markings, they ‘dredge’ the waters killing top predators in droves like sharks and dolphins. They never have their navigation lights on nor are they required to have AIS transponders like every other commercial boat on the sea. Despite the facts that they are making the world a worse place, we seem to forgive them because they are ‘working hard’ and see their plight as noble with thought of ‘what impact can a fisherman have?’
I blame Jesus and Ernest Hemingway for their modern day stature. At the turn of the calendar, Jesus and his disciples were fisherman. The sign of Christianity is a fish. Then Hemingway writes a book about the Old Man and the Sea and we all feel for the poor fisherman. First of all, that was a long time ago.
Today, Fisherman are mostly former fisherman who can no longer make a living at it. Virtually all acts of piracy around Nicaragua and Honduras are from fisherman. In 2011, we lost our friends on S/V Quest to what the news called “Somali Pirates”, they were fisherman. While sailing off the Mexican coast we were approached by a high speed panga when we got tangled up by an unmarked fishing net. They are lucky we didn’t shoot, as they operate in the dark with no rules, but unto themselves.
Fisherman leave the oceans full of trash, trash that kills everything including turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks, all discarded items we universally believe are bad for the ocean. The lines and nets they put out are not biodegradable, they float in the oceans until they either end up on shore or snag a vessel at sea.
On our visit to Isla del Coco, the most remote island in the world, the rangers pull tons of nets and lines off the shore every year.
Just five days ago we got tangled in a lost net and it nearly sunk our boat. Fishermen leave tens of thousands of hazards and are never held accountable for their mess.
The clamor about “Climate Change” is fine, I think everyone agrees the climate is changing. While we argue about why things are changing, how about doing something in which we know the reason and the result? Something everyone deems illegal? Outside North America and Europe, fishing is a free for all. We need a law that states: No fishing outside the 12 mile sovereign limit for every country? They would impact their own country and not theinternation waters. I would like to imagine a world in which we can travel, exchange experiences and provide to the host country’s economy, but fisherman are making this a pipe dream for anyone who hopes to go there by boat.
The way we ended piracy in the Gulf of Eden was to start assuming those fisherman, weren’t fishing. By doing so, we put them on the run and piracy off Somalia is nearly non-existent right now. If fishing were regulated and allowed for only large scale accountable entities, the seas along the west coast of South America would be safe. People would have food and anyone trying to do illegal activities would be hunted as we who go in peace have been hunted.
Or, we could resort to the wild west ways: have no bison, no raw beauty and everyone is a gun slinger. Thank God there are no more buffalo hunters. When will we say, “Thank God there are no more fisherman?”