Well, we're underway. I haven't been able to write because my energy level has been so low since this trip began. There is so much to do onboard and sailing is very taxing. By the end of each day I have been tired and could hardly wait to lie down and rest. I think I'm getting better at it though and I think my bones are once again healing and they aren't aching quite so much. I just finished my first 28 days of Thalidomide and started another 4 day dex last night. The Thal treated me pretty good but made me very sleepy. I could sleep anywhere. My spirits have been good and I'm looking forward to going to San Diego in a couple weeks.
Ok, here we go, I'm going to take you back to the haul out then bring you up as close to NOW as I possibly can.
This is the earlier email I started but never finished. Now its way overdue and I must get it done so please forgive my tardiness and tenses.
Well, the deed was done. Athena came out of the water without a hitch. She was on dry land in a cradle or as sailors like to say it: "on the hard." I chose to have her stored in a warehouse where she stayed frozen thru the winter but at least she was out of the weather. When we pulled her out of the water, her keel was scratched and her rudder suffered only a minor cosmetic ding in the forward lower corner from when she ran aground last October. When I dove underwater in the murky zero visibility at Sandusky Marina, I was relieved to find much less damage than I had thought.
I was happy that she slept safely and peacefully thru the winter. This gave me time to take some sailing and navigation classes and time to chart our course to some degree and work out a few ports o'call. I also had to put together a rough budget and put together a list of equipment, materials and foodstuffs we needed for the beginning of our journey.
As the winter flew by, I grew increasingly nervous with so much to plan for and so much to consider. I studied nautical charts, pilot guides cruising guides and various sailing books. I studied for the courses I was taking and continued with my Dexamethasone and Aredia treatments. When I got back to San Diego, my numbers began to drop which was good. (The lower the IgG, the less active the cancer is, generally speaking.)
On April 16, we were back in Sandusky to wake up Athena and bring her out of her suspended animation. I was dexing again and that gave me some energy to start writing a bit more.
Awww, there's our famous Sandusky train rolling by again as I type. My nephew, Lee, and I have been here since Friday, April 16 and have been working like dogs trying to get the boat ready to launch on the 21st. I repaired her rudder perfectly and bottom painted it too, as Lee began to de-mold the interior. There was water left in the bilge throughout the winter so when we arrived, she was a bit fuzzy in most places with mold. Eeeeooooowwww!
While Lee was scrubbing all surfaces, I ripped out all the potable waterlines and removed the water tanks so we could clean them in daylight. My brother, Jeff, joined us on Sunday, and brother, Tony, joined us on Monday. It was such refreshing energy to have all of us together working on Athena. The work done by those guys was absolute art in the truest sense.
Wow, what a whirlwind of blood sweat and tension. Tony totally redesigned the electrical system while Jeff worked with him replacing the entire electrical system doing his own work on things that needed changing. With Lee's help, Jeff ripped out every single wire on the boat and reinstalled them in his own artistic way. Like rivulets leading to a lake, each circuit flowed side by side in harmony with the next, creating paths for energy to flow to and from the batteries. Never will you see anywhere such manmade beauty in the team effort of those guys. Lee was all around us, flying here and there, pulling, pounding wrenching and cleaning, helping me in the heavy stuff and helping Jeff and Tony as their right hand man, yet still maintaining his own agenda of getting Athena shipshape for cooking and taking on stores. Truly incredible.
Mission accomplished, we gave her a new lease on life and got her ready for saltwater. Her circuits and switch boards are brand new and now has her own A.C. electricity, a water maker, radar and 450 Amp hours of battery storage plus a separate starting battery.
She went back in the water on schedule but we got her underway 2 days late, still in time to rendezvous with our Aunt and Uncle. We cruised from the west end to the east end of Lake Erie to Buffalo and picked up our Aunt Lila and Uncle Art and dropped off Lee to catch a plane to SF for his friend's wedding. We took them with us down into the Erie Canal and cruised the canal all the way to the Hudson, we had a lovely time. My uncle got his front teeth broken off from a swinging pipe during a squall then immediately got drenched as we threw the cockpit cover back over and dumped buckets of water on him (We ALL had a great laugh over those two events; he started it!)
We had a few problems along the canal including engine overheating and fuel problems but we got it all worked out before the Hudson. We even sideswiped a big huge concrete barge that was stealthily parked (is that an oxymoron?) on the right bank of the Erie Canal during another squall where our vision was impeded by incredible sideways rain. We were lucky we had all our fenders (bumpers) on that side ready for the next lock. Art was a great hand all around, especially in the locks and Lila was a great cook and navigator, always keeping us informed of how far each lock was and where we could go for fuel and get something to eat when possible. She also did some miracles in the galley, scraping together all there was that could be called food, creating masterpieces. (Any food is a masterpiece to a hungry crew! No offense Lila, the food WAS good!)
All in all, it was a safe passage to the Hudson and the highlights were far and few between. When we passed thru Troy at the end of the Erie Canal, we crossed the Hudson River where we docked in Albany and said our goodbyes to Art and Lila. We made for the Albany Yacht Club to step our mast and the service was free but we had to crank the crane up and down by hand. The whole process took Jeff and I about 3 to 4 hours but it was done that evening in time for us to go to the club and toast our success. Now we can put our sails up! Yippee!
Lee came back from the city of SF and our friend, Melanie, joined us (bringing her famous chocolate chip cookies and more supplies) to travel down the Hudson to Manhattan. Like any river run, the scenery was beautiful and there were some very nice touristy things to see but I just didn't have the energy to stop and go walking. Energy was the thing I was lacking most during that period.
During the many days and many miles of arrow straight stretches of manmade ditches locks and bridges, the serenity was occasionally broken up with areas of beautiful forests and fields, foliage and homes. It was a relatively uneventful journey down the Hudson, at least no mishaps and upon arriving in Manhattan, we rented a mooring for a couple weeks down at the end of 79th Street at the 79th Street Boat Basin. The Boat Basin is a very old and famous restaurant/marina where the architecture is somewhat Rome like. Shortly after arrival there, we said our goodbyes to Melanie and I flew back to SD for treatment.
Joanie joined me for my visit to my lovely doctor Ewa who scheduled me for Aredia, MRIs and the new regimen of Thalidomide. My numbers weren't so good and my back and rib cage had been giving me a lot of pain, it was hard to find comfort in sleep. The MRIs didn't seem to show any further damage so I'm hoping now that the Thal and Dex together will curb the bone pain. I go back again around the end of July.
After the doctor stuff I joined up with my good friend, Jim, and we flew back to Manhattan together so that he could join us for the next leg of our trip. Before leaving Manhattan we met up with a "cave howl" buddy of ours named Maury and dinghyed in to get him so he could see Athena and share some tequila. Later that evening, he took us over into Chinatown to have the greatest tasting Chinese food I have ever eaten. Mmm, the eggplant, beans, egg rolls, tofu and noodles were indescribably delicious. We left nothing on our plates or in the serving bowls either. About 30 bucks including a 20% tip left the five of us stuffed and wandering around Chinatown looking for ice cream. I refrained but it was a nice walk even though my back and hips were aching by that time. (I use a cane on long walks which is very helpful on street corners and standing on concrete.) We thanked Maury for the feast and for being such a great city host then said our goodbyes. We went back to the dock and dinghyed out to Athena, quite satisfied with the night.
The next day we did some more work on the boat, fixing this and that, getting her ready to sail. Later that evening we went back into Manhattan and met up with Terri, an old friend of Jeff's who took us to a healing meeting. It was very nice and calming, sort of what I would call a mixture of yoga, tai chi and concentration of energy and attention. Though the physical stretching part of the yoga was a bit much for me, the rest of it was very relaxing and I am glad to have experienced it. Afterwards we left the class room there and walked on down to an Irish pub for a few drinks before saying goodbye to Terri then headed back to Athena.
The next morning we stowed the dinghy, threw off our mooring line and finally got underway for the Atlantic. Leaving Manhattan, we were all on deck watching the city gradually fade into the past behind us as we headed for open sea. As we cruised past the Statue of Liberty, we heard that Ray Charles had just died. We all felt the loss and it made the Statue of Liberty seem somehow more important.
We got outside and headed south, I took the helm and we put the sails up! Yeah! We were FINALLY sailing!
The ocean sailing was great; Athena absolutely danced with delight as we sailed into the night 150 nautical miles down the Atlantic coast to the Delaware Bay. We sailed up that bay as far as we could til it got too dangerous to sail in the narrow channels at night. We turned on the engine and took down the sails cruising thru the night up to the C&D Canal which connects the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. The Delaware Bay showed us very little at night except great ships trying to share those little narrow channels. We nearly got run down by one coming up behind us at a great speed. I was down below running our course on charts and getting constant GPS fixes to see where we were when Jeff took emergency tactics and steered us out of the channel just in time to allow this lumbering monstrosity to steam by. There were several others to watch for but we had it down now. There was really no place to anchor or dock so Jeff and Jim decided to cruise thru the night. About the time I woke up, we were at the top of the Delaware Bay and just entering into the C&D Canal so I took the helm and let Jeff and Jim get some needed rest.
Coming down the Chesapeake was the next leg of our voyage. With the exception of some amazing weather changes, it was in my book as a whole, rather uneventful because again, I didn't have the energy to stop and do the tourist thing. We did get into an incredible thunderstorm and squall. In safety harnesses and clipped to jack lines, Jim and I did all we could to keep Athena on a heading with such high winds and horizontal rains. Under bare poles and engine on, Athena healed probably 20 degrees or so at times and it was hard to see our own boat in front of us. Our engine could barely keep us heading into the seas with these driving winds and rains. The thunder was louder then I've ever heard before with cloud to water strikes all around us and no place to go. While I was on the helm, one bolt hit so close to us and so loud, it caused me to let out a sort of primitive yell from deep with inside me, a sound I had never heard myself make before in all my life. I wasn't even aware I was capable of making a sound like that; it was more like a primal scream generated by instant terror. The scream was smothered by the howling wind and rain and God and I were its only witness.
Typically, these squalls are short lived as was this one. Luckily we had a charting GPS which gave charting locations of where we were relative to shore lines as we were heading up a narrow river for calmer waters when the squall finally let us go.
We made it to Norfolk all in one piece. Athena brought us safely thru rough rains and winds and treacherous storms to safe harbor after many nights of anchoring in various little rivers, inlets and coves coming down the Chesapeake. We said goodbye to our friend, Jim, but stayed in Norfolk for nearly a week doing a few things on Athena to ready her for a trip around Cape Hatteras. While we were still in Norfolk, a few friends were warning not to go around Hatteras and one associate of mine had told some of my friends that we were just an accident waiting to happen. When I finally heard about this and found out that there were so many people with the feeling that we shouldn't go around Hatteras, we decided not to go outside but instead take the "safe" route inside thru the ICW. (Intra Coastal Waterway)
We brought on stores, water and fuel and did some minor repairs and finally got underway heading south with thunderstorms brewing every day between 3 to 5 pm and lasting for 1 to 3 hours and sometimes into the night. After several days of sailing and motoring, we cruised into the Albemarle sound about 20 to 30 miles off shore and a thunder shower did catch up to us. It was promising high winds and rain, thunder and lighting and delivered. Jeff was on the helm and I was in the cockpit while Lee was down below when lighting struck our mast. I have never heard a louder noise (A point blank shotgun blast to the ear might have come close) and Lee seemed dazed as he wandered up thru the companion way to describe to us his still ringing ears.
The lightning hit our VHF antenna (on the top of our mast) which disappeared instantly. Simultaneously, every piece of electronic equipment onboard went black except for our handheld GPSs and 2 Handheld VHF Radios which have their own battery power. It burned out our brand new radar, VHF radio, shore power supply, alternator and regulator, battery monitor and all the navigation instrumentation like the depth sounder, hull and wind speed and direction monitors. It also burned out our running lights which weren't tuned on, fried our stereo system which wasn't even plugged in and exploded one of our float switches in the bilges and fried another so that the pump began to run continuously. Fortunately, I purchased 2 backup VHF radios and 3 GPSs and even purchased a cheap little depth sounder before starting this voyage.
We finally limped into port and sorted out the damage and started the process of getting some safe workarounds until we could get the equipment replaced. We installed the depth sounder and used one of the GPSs for speed over ground. We replaced float switches and running lights right away and purchased a new VHF Radio and antenna and installed that dockside. I got the crowning pleasure of placing the new antenna up on our 50 foot mast head. While up there, I inspected everything and fortunately, there was no other lightning damage.
After several weeks now, everything has been replaced with the exception of the radar which we will get serviced in Melbourne. It is still under warranty so we hope the dealer there will honor that warranty.
We bounced down the coast going outside to the Atlantic these last few days going from inlet to inlet to anchor inside while keeping an eye on the weather. On our way to St. Augustine it was a bit bumpy and I fell against the steel helm steering wheel and thought I broke a couple ribs on my upper chest. When we got to St. Augustine I arranged to get some work done on our sails and visit the hospital for some chest X-rays. The X-rays couldn't find any bone damage, thank goodness.
We stayed dockside there for 3 nights and 3 days then headed out in the morning bound for the Atlantic. We sailed down to Ponce De Leon and anchored there last night just outside the inlet on the Atlantic. We got there early and the water was warm and crystal clear so we did some snorkeling and swam to the beach. We couldn't resist doing a little body surfing but I suffered for it later that night. I mean, all I have is a bruised chest and little bone cancer in my back for cryin out loud, so what's the big deal, right? (dumb, I know) Sooo, after a couple Advil, 1 Ativan and 1 Oxycodone, the pain went away, I slept like a baby and woke up this morning relaxed, no pain, a born again happy sailor. We got up early and made it to Cape Canaveral and came right into the inlet and cruised on thru the barge canal crossing the Banana River and turned south in the Indian River heading for Melbourne. We nearly made it to our destination port before dark but our crew wanted to spend one last night on hook before the 3 weeks dockside in Melbourne. It is in Melbourne that I have a trip planned to San Diego for more treatment. I will be back in SD on the 4th of August and come back to Athena a couple weeks later.
So far so good. Athena gently rocks us and the fishes are easily seen in the clear dark waters tonight. Neon streamers of light trail from their bodies as their movements thru the phosphorescing water stimulate this awesome silent light show. So many gifts have come our way in such a short time it is simply unbelievable that life is so infinitely generous with its goodness.
UPDATE October 14, 2004
We motored into the Anchorage Yacht Basin in Melbourne, Florida after a warm night at anchor in the Indian River. Joanie’s brother, Tim, and his family live in Melbourne and came to greet us shortly after we arrived. We kept the boat docked there for a month. I was overdue and needed to get back to San Diego for treatment and Jeff and Lee took that opportunity to fly to their homes. We were treated so well that we didn’t want to leave, but we also knew we had to get going because we were moving deeper into the hurricane season.
We flew back to Melbourne and spent some more time there getting our radar fixed and some minor repairs but finally said our goodbyes to Tim’s loving family and shoved off and motored down the Intra Coastal Waterway to Ft. Pierce. We wanted to get back out to the ocean, but we stayed inside all the way to Riviera Beach in West Palm Beach where we spent the night. Our plan was to take off from there and head for the Grand Bahama Island but Hurricane Frances was kicking up her heels heading for the Bahamas. We then figured if we went south a bit more, like to Ft. Lauderdale, we could sail over to Bimini Island which is closer, spend a couple days there and sail back before Frances was on us. With that in mind, we headed out the West Palm Beach Inlet to the Atlantic coast, raised our sails and pointed south, sailing as fast as we could go, using the engine when the wind wasn’t in our favor.
We sailed all night long since the wind was fair and seas still gentle but there was an unspoken feeling of encroaching doom out there somewhere. About 0300 in the morning we made it to a little inlet above Ft. Lauderdale. It was Sunday and we got some rest there, did a little swimming, took showers and headed out again in the afternoon. Still going south, we arriving in Ft. Lauderdale around 1700 in the afternoon where we found a place to dock. We tied up there and walked to the little beach town where we had margaritas and Mexican food along with some rest and relaxation. Throughout our walk, we were able to catch glimpses of hurricane news on all the TV monitors in most of the little restaurants. They were predicting Frances would hit anywhere along the Florida coast from above Melbourne to the Keys.
After a good night’s sleep, we checked the radio weather reports and logged into the hurricane watch site via my laptop where we discovered that Frances was going to be relentless about her mission. Up to the moment, we were still considering going to Bimini but that potential reality was rapidly fading. On the morning we had planned to go there, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was projecting that Frances was going right by Bimini and coming right at us in Florida. With internet access, we could track her eye on the NOAA Hurricane Watch website. (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov). We decided then and there that it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. We thought and felt that the further south we could make it, the safer we would be. We headed out of there Monday afternoon knowing we would not sail to Bimini Island but rather run down south towards the Keys. The race was on.
That day we made good headway and spent the night in the Port of Miami. We were tired and it was late but we went out for dinner and had some vegetarian food, with spinach pie and other interesting stuff. I nearly broke a tooth on a fairly large rock I found in my spinach pie. I also discovered I can only eat so much spinach. (Sorry Popeye.) Still, it was pretty good. (Everything and anything can taste good to a hungry sailor.) The people in the marina were friendly and helpful and again, we had a good night’s sleep.
The following morning we left Miami and sailed down to the upper keys, found a little place to hole up in Caesar Creek and anchored while the sun was still high. Settled on hook there we decided to do a little fishing, diving and maybe wind up with some fresh catch for dinner. Lee was the first into the water and excitedly shouted back to us that there were lobsters right under the boat and all over the place. Wow, I could already taste them with a little butter and lime. I gave Lee some gloves and a spear pole (the pole was for fish, not lobster) and Jeff and I also went into the water anxious to get a look around and maybe some food. We were just getting into the swing of things when we heard a loudspeaker announce to us to GET OUT OF THE WATER!
When we all surfaced and crawled aboard, a ranger patrol boat pulled up alongside us and we tied it up to Athena. The ranger appeared to be a bit agitated but his wife who was with him seemed to be a calming influence. The ranger asked to see the boat documentation and then began to tell us what he was on about. He said “Where shall I start”, then began asking questions: “Did you know it is illegal to dive within 100 feet of a marked channel?” I looked around bewildered searching for channel markers. “And where is your dive flag? (We had one but didn’t think it was necessary in such wilderness) I see you have gloves on and have a spear pole, are you attempting to take game from this location? What sort of game are you after?” Still somewhat in shock and adrenalized from this surprise visit, I told him we were after some dinner, maybe some fish but lobster seemed to be what was most prevalent. He then said: “Did you know you are in a lobster sanctuary?” My jaw dropped and I was getting pretty sweaty and hot around the ears about that time, wondering if I should just sign the boat over to him now and save further embarrassment and questioning. Then he wanted to see our Florida fishing licenses. (gulp. Uh, did he say fishing licenses?)
I made a slow motion like I was going to go look for them, stuttering and stalling as I went, silently praying for a break of some kind when he answered my prayer and actually changed the subject for me. He pointed out across the water to the ranger station where they lived, not more than a hundred yards away. He said they were just going home when they saw us anchored right out in front of the station and came over to check us out. Wanting to keep the fishing license subject changed, we all started chattering about the hurricane coming in and told him how we were running from it, trying to get as far south of it as we could. He picked it up from there and told us they were monitoring it very closely and were planning to evacuate the station and the whole key the following morning. I think through our nervous body language and his intuition, he knew exactly what we had and didn’t have. We must have appeared so naïve at the moment that he probably just felt pity, and told us he would only warn us this time and not write a citation. He said we should move out of the sanctuary and across the channel and up a smaller creek where we could anchor and resume our fishing if we had licenses. I just said thank you. As we were leaving, they lightened up and became friendlier, advising us to keep our eye on Frances. We thanked them for their advice and made way for the smaller creek. We were in good spirits, and so relieved that it wasn’t the day for a spanking…
We got underway the next morning and sailed through the day making good time, still with fair winds and seas. We made it all the way to the southwest end of Key Long. After starting the engine and dropping our sails, we headed into the Florida Bay side of the Key passing under the bridge that connects that key to the next. The bay was a great, shallow, lake-like body of water with crab or lobster trap buoys everywhere and a maximum depth maybe 10 feet in the deepest places. The bottom was sand under a deep, silty, spongy layer, way too soft for an anchor to get a bite. Discovering this, we put out all 3 anchors (Two 35 pound Bruces and one 25 pound Danforth) off the bow, spread out in a clover fashion. We had tried to set the first one several times with some reverse engine but it would only barely grab. Looking towards the shoreline I thought that the worst that could happen was we would be blown into shallower water until the keel began to dig into the mud and we would eventually just be sitting there, a bit stuck in the muck. We were all too tired to fight it. We anchored in about 8 feet of water and Athena draws (needs) 4 feet 2 inches. I set the alarm on the depth sounder anyway and an anchor drag alarm on one of the GPSs in the cabin. We all went to bed but I kept another GPS by my side so I could occasionally glance at it and see what distance, if any, we had traveled since we anchored.
That night the wind freshened and kept increasing until it really began to blow hard, bringing in a squall. It rained like crazy and gave us some thunder and lightening and blew so hard that we dragged all 3 hooks. I didn’t sleep much and around midnight I woke and glanced at my GPS and noticed we were creating a track towards the shallows that ran straight to shore, and though the wind was still blowing outside, Athena was very still. I got up and checked the depth sounder which was reading less than 4 feet. We couldn’t hear the alarm outside in the cockpit while we were down below and the wind was howling. I cranked on the steering wheel and couldn’t move it much, the rudder wouldn’t budge which verified we were definitely stuck in the mud; we were no longer rocking and rolling.
I got everybody up and we tried for a couple hours to get out of there. We turned on the spreader light so we could see to work on deck and easily (Jeff and Lee may argue about it being easy) hauled in all the anchors by hand. We fired up the engine, full power on and tried to move out to deeper water. We tried every combination of shifting from forward to reverse and back again, working the steering wheel too. We were so shallow now that the prop wash was stirring up the bottom and the engine sucked weeds into the intake and we had to shut it down to keep it from overheating. Jeff took out the strainer and the seacock to remove the long weeds that were jammed up inside like a handful of straws. Fortunately, there was really no urgency to go anywhere at the moment but it was just unnerving to know we were pinned to the bottom like a specimen in an insect collection. We tried again with the engine on, in gear and sails up, still in a pretty stiff breeze and healing now. We were hoping we could lay over far enough to get her keel out of the mud but she just wouldn’t budge. Nerves raw and dead dog tired; we all decided to call it quits for the night and headed back down to our bunks.
I laid there staring at the overhead (ceiling) thinking of escape. With only 10 inch tides, I had visions of us putting the dinghy in the water in the morning and taking all the anchors out about 50 yards to deeper water. We would dive down and bury them all together in a nest by hand, deep in the silty sand, underwater. Then we would dive down under the boat (We’re only talking 4 feet) and dig a long groove in the sand from the keel leading out towards that anchor nest. Of course, the thought also occurred to me that to winch a 7 ton vessel out of the muck with anchors anchored in muck was probably not really going to happen. I also roughly worked out the combined weight of the crew; throw in the anchors and scuba tanks and water jugs and anything else heavy. Tie it all together and hoist it up the mast or rather hoist the mast down towards the water. Pull the boat nearly to a knock down position and float her out of there on her side, towing her with our dinghy. There was virtually no wave action so that was possible. ut, we also had Hurricane Frances breathing down our necks so we wouldn’t have a lot of time.
The following morning I woke up barely refreshed and hailed a towing service provided by our insurance company. They showed up out of nowhere in about 45 minutes, pulled alongside with a little twin engine towboat, had us run their towline around both our bow cleats and twisted us off that spot into deep water in about 15 minutes. Yippee, we were FREE!!! (This should be a plug for BoatUS.)
The skies, radio and internet told us we were still OK to go back out on the ocean so we sailed out of there and made our way in good time down to the Marathon Marina in Marathon, FL. It’s in Key Boot which is on the west end of Key Vaca, about 45 miles east of Key West. It’s a fairly new marina with good solid concrete docks and haul-out facilities. We were relieved to be back in civilization near an actual highway where we could get public transportation out of there if Frances delivered. We stayed docked for nearly a week watching Frances do her thing, relieved to discover she wouldn’t come any further south and get us. We rented a car and drove down to Key West the first night anyway just to be safe and to wait while the worst of Frances passed above the Keys.
We were then making plans to cross several hundred nautical miles of blue water and head down and over to the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula from Key West when Ivan began to kick up its heels. Ivan was projected to intersect our course to the Yucatan so we finally gave in to Mother Nature. We decided to haul Athena out of the water there in Marathon, put her back on the hard and get out of Florida for 2 months while these hurricanes had their way with the area. Besides, I needed to get back to San Diego for Aredia and Radiation on my lumbar spine and right side of my sacrum anyway.
I’m still on 20 Mg of Dexamethasone 4 days on, 17 days off and 100 Mg of Thalidomide continuously for 28 days at a time and no days off. I do take a few days off anyway between those 28 day cycles and this time I’m taking off 2 weeks, I’ve just got to give my body a rest. We increased my dose of Thal to 200 Mg this last month but it was making my skin too sensitive so I dropped it back down to 100 Mg. I’ll see my wonderful doctor tomorrow and we will work out what to do this next month. My numbers are pretty good and have been getting better. Over the last couple months, my IGg dropped over 1200 points and was at 3277 on Sept 10. I find out tomorrow if it’s still on a downward trend.
We are all home safe now as I type. I’m in San Diego, Jeff in Sacramento and Lee in San Francisco. We are all anxious to get back now and we have plane tickets to return to Athena on the 1st of November and continue our journey.
Taking Athena out of the water was simple process and putting her back in on the 2nd will be a snap. She sits patiently now, up on blocks, safe and secure, waiting for us, longing for salt, longing for wind, waiting for the calm…
Life is but a dream
UPDATE December 3, 2004
We arrived in Marathon on the 1st of November after nearly 2 months back home. I was able to get Aredia and blood work which showed that my numbers dropped another thousand points. That was really good. I also saw a doctor in Santa Maria who invented a medicine called Green Essential and I am taking 2 table spoons daily for 8 weeks.
We were scheduled to go back in the water the following day but that morning I noticed a crack in the forward part of the keel up near the hull. I think it happened when we ran aground and got pulled off. I also saw some horizontal cracks in the rudder about 2/3rds of the way up. We postponed the launch and I dug into the cracks on the keel with hammer and chisel while Jeff did some more electrical magic and the rest of the crew worked on getting her ready for our cruise. After 8 days of working on Athena, we were finally ready to go back in the water.
My nephew Brian joined us for the next legs of our journey. We originally wanted to go to Andros Island in the Bahamas and then thru the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti. A couple days before our launch, a Northeaster kicked up and warned us to finally forget about the Bahamas. Besides, the Bahamas took quite a beating from hurricanes this year and its people probably would not be welcoming a motley crew of sailors looking for a good time.
We went back in the water looking very pretty, with fresh bottom paint and zincs and everything in tip top shape. After a great deal of study, we all decided to go to Belize, starting in Isla Mujeres, a small island at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.
From Marathon, we headed out for Key West, Florida at 0730 Thursday morning with a fresh breeze already blowing. When we got outside, we turned off the engine and literally flew, running from the wind doing as much as 10 knots at times with the strong winds at our backs. We made it to Key West by 1710 that afternoon, pulled up to a fueling dock and topped off our fuel and water. The fuel attendant let us stay there for a couple hours to give us time to take a little walk and shop and even time to drink a beer in one of the fish bars close by. We anchored out, off a little island in the bay and rested for an early start to the Dry Tortugas, the last stopping point in the United States before making the 300 mile open water crossing down to the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.
We left Friday morning at 0130 to make the 75 nautical mile run, not wanting to arrive in the dark. The wind eased but handed us a little squall which was refreshing and welcome, and only lasted a short time. We motor-sailed part of the trip when our speed dropped below 5 knots and made it there in plenty of time to get around and anchor on the Southwest side of the island before dark. The water was beautifully clear and Jeff did a little fishing off the boat while Brian went surfing and Lee and I did some snorkeling. Later that night we ate chicken soup and clam chowder with crackers and watched while several 150 to 200 pound groupers began milling around under Athena. Except for sharks, I haven’t seen a fish that big since diving in Oahu back in the seventies.
Saturday morning I woke to do a little writing while Athena rocked and rolled gently as the crew slept. The Dry Tortugas are as they sound, no water, no fuel or food. They are a tiny cluster of little Islands with the main island covered almost completely with a huge fort named Fort Jefferson. It was built starting back in the seventeen hundreds and nearly completed in the early eighteen hundreds.
We visited the fort Saturday morning and I was impressed with the layout of the fort and the history there. It had a huge court yard surrounded with a mote on the outside and high walls filled with canon mounts and other war paraphernalia. The entire fort was made of brick and mortar. Cement embankments and walkways where mixed with coral, rocks, and pieces of brick. The craftsmanship was incredibly precise. It’s now a national park and the rangers live there in a small part of the fort for maintenance and to protect the surrounding areas from the island and out to one hundred miles. They printed us the weather report for the following week which didn’t look good.
On Sunday we received another warning that a storm was coming in hard and it would cause high winds and high seas in the area we were scheduled to cross. We decided to stay put in safe harbor and I didn’t think to put out more anchors. Well, the wind did come up alright and just about the time we were going to sleep, our GPS anchor alarm began to sound.
We spent the next couple hours skirting boats in the dark harbor in thirty-four to forty knot winds (Fresh Gale) trying to get a 35 pound Bruce Anchor to set, then the Danforth, followed by the second Bruce. We drug all three again even after setting them one at a time in a clover pattern. Finally, on the 4th try, we were on harder bottom and the Bruce dug in and caught, so did the other two. (My lesson for the night was to take storm warnings as a hint to prepare for high winds, and get all ground tackle in the water and set when it is still daylight and a gentle breeze. A side note about anchoring with numerous hooks is to not bother with other anchors until the first one is absolutely set and unmovable.)
The following morning was beautiful yet continued with gale force winds. We discovered our dinghy had escaped us in the night. Yep, our baby girl had severed her painter and took off out into open sea. I had tied her to our stern in the storm that night and in the morning, all that was left was half of her dock line looking like a chewed off leash hanging from the neck of the escaped neighborhood dog. Fortunately, the dinghy was a bit tired, but unfortunately, we had a brand new Honda outboard motor on her.
I needed to figure out how to get back to civilization and buy a new dinghy. The ferries and sea planes had stopped running and weren’t scheduled to start up again for a couple days so we spent that day and night inside Athena, rocking and rolling in the stormy anchorage while tossing ideas around.
The next morning, the sea had calmed a little inside and a surprise came our way. While sipping coffee and listening to the VHF radio, we noticed a catamaran heading out of the anchorage. I radioed the boat and found they were going to Key West. I asked the skipper if he wanted a couple of mates and he came back right away with a positive yes! Brian and I quickly threw together some clothes and things and I radioed a newly acquired friend who offered to dinghy us over to the catamaran. What luck!
At 1100 we left Jeff and Lee to watch over Athena while we set sail to Key West. When we got outside, the ride was bumpy and rough in the stormy seas and took us nearly 21 hours to get there. Bri and I took turns navigating for the captain until I got tired and rested but Brian stayed with it and continued to take fixes for the skipper all the way to Key West. We made it there safely by 0700 the next morning. We said our goodbyes to the friendly crew. Their generosity was greatly appreciated and I hope to see the skipper again.
I took that opportunity to fly back to San Diego for Aredia and found that my IGg numbers were the lowest they’ve been since diagnosis back in 2000. I must be doing something right, or, not be doing something wrong.
We got back to Florida and purchased the dinghy and motor in Key West but found that the ferries wouldn’t take our equipment aboard and private boats were quoting over a thousand dollars to take us. We took a ferry back to The Dry Tortugas to get back to Athena and sail her back to Key West to pick up our Dinghy and motor. The trip took us about 3 hours to get there and about 14 hours to get back. We loaded up our dinghy and motor and spent a couple days in Key West.
We topped off our fuel and food and, finally, after what seemed an eternity, headed southwest for the Yucatan Peninsula, a sea crossing of 340 nautical miles against the one knot plus or minus current in the Gulf Stream. We took turns at the helm. The crossing was blessed with fair weather, strong winds at times and gentle seas. In fact, the second night’s water was smooth as glass. Jeff was on the Helm and I was on the charts and GPS, continuously taking fixes and keeping our position recorded while the rest of the crew slept. We had been motor-sailing for several hours but he managed to summon up some good wind under a full moon on the glassy lake-like ocean and I joined him topside to sail with him in the warm, night breeze.
We mostly sailed, sailing when the wind blew hard and only motor-sailing when the wind calmed to where we made little headway. Leaving the main sail up had a calming effect to the back and forth rolling motion of the boat so we kept it up the entire time. Our Auto Pilot died the first day out but the following seas were mostly quartering and would have been too much for it anyway. Even while motoring, when large waves rolled in behind Athena at an angle like that, her steering became difficult to hold steady and took a lot of work to keep her on course. She had to be steered the old fashioned way with someone out there on the wheel 24/7, rain or shine, storm and darkness. But, we sure had fun doing it.
The tiny Island Isla Mujeres was our first port of entry and we made it there in 3 days. Tomorrow, Saturday the 4th of December, we plan to set sail for Cozumel, then head south for Belize.
How can I explain the beautiful feeling of laying up forward while Athena cruises the Caribbean waters. I can hear the water thru her skin being gently parted by the bow and imagine it flowing around each side, rubbing and scrubbing her sides as it goes by.
UPDATE December 16, 2004
We stayed in Isla Mujeres for 6 days and 7 nights; it was quite a party town. Slower pace than mainland Mexico , it seems that drinking, eating, and shopping are mainly what it has to offer and tourism is apparently what it thrives on. I’m still looking for those places a little more laid back where I can see the roots of a culture unspoiled by the frantic chase for dollars. I know that’s asking a lot.
We originally wanted to go to Cancun, Cozumel, and then down to Belize but decided it would be better to go half way to Belize, which would break up our 300-mile trip and give us a rest before going the remainder of the way. When checking out with customs, we discovered that we were not allowed to go into any Mexican ports we hadn’t listed when we first checked in with immigration and customs. Cancun, Cozumel and Belize were the only ports we listed. We thought we could add additional ports as we went, but that is not the case (according to the customs officer). We would have to start all over with customs and immigration so we decided to go straight to Belize .
Before leaving for Belize , we needed/wanted to have a new autopilot to replace the one that broke while sailing to the Yucatan . It was ordered and accidentally sent to San Diego . There it was repackaged and sent to Melanie’s house in St. Louis where it was delivered by midnight. Flying out to Isla Mujeres, Mel brought it to us in person and joined us for the sail down to Belize City .
With a crew of 5 now, we finally left for Belize on Sunday morning, the 5th of December. The trip was long and uneventful. When the winds and seas were calm enough, we were able to use the autopilot which allowed an additional person to rest. We were warned by the Coast Guard to stay a good 30 nautical miles offshore because of recent reported piracy along the coast from the bottom of Cozumel down to Belize . Staying that far off shore is the same as crossing a large body of water. It’s so far out that you can’t see shore so you just sail along and enjoy sailing. Well some of us did. And some of us got sick. I was one of the lucky ones and didn’t have a problem.
I was on the helm and tired early evening (we were all burnt out) when a squall came up and tried to get the best of me. I simply surrendered to it, heaved to and went below. We bounced around there in the tossing sea while on the outside, the wind and rain tried to get in. Then, like a switch thrown, it was gone. We immediately got back out and up on deck and cranked the wheel to the lee, and off we were again, flying along under sail. We only lost a couple hundred yards of cross track error which we got back in a heart beat.
Tuesday Dec 7, we arrived and docked at the Princess Marina in Belize . Yeah! We made it! It is always exciting to actually get somewhere, yet, for me, somehow surprisingly anticlimactic.
The sickly soon perked up as feet hit terra firma. We had our quarantine flag up under the Belize flag, and we contacted the Harbor Master to get the boat thru all the documentation stuff we had to do. He was easy to find because he was also the dock master on the dock where we had pulled in to fuel. He said he would contact all the folks we needed, and they would be there shortly.
Well, we’ve learned about foreign time tables. An hour means two. Two hours means 4. Noon means 3 and so on. They would ream us right there on that dock, keeping us for 2 days for lack of coordination (or intentionally). Immigration and health were the first to arrive, near the end of the first day. They sat with us and checked our passports and looked at Athena’s documents and finally signed us off. They told us we needed to pay about 100 dollars, covering the documentation fees along with their taxi fees and harbormaster fee. Then they told us we needed to wait for Customs and Quarantine which would be coming soon.
We dined in the café overlooking the dock where Athena rested while we waited. We waited and waited, and it wasn’t until the following day that Customs and Quarantine finally came. They asked us the same questions as immigration did and finally left us after another hundred dollars and copious quantities of redundant paperwork. Well, that’s the way it goes.
My back was hurting too much, so I didn’t go into Belize City with Jeff. I decided to take a room at the Princess Marina Hotel and get some non-rocking and -rolling flatness. It seemed grand compared to a couple places up in Mexico but no HOT WATER!!! I couldn’t belize it. Still, I managed to have a wonderful night’s sleep, lying flat and motionless, allowing my bones to sit together and do some knitting.
We fueled up there, three bucks a gallon, and got underway for an island a little north of Belize City called Cay Caulker. (Still pronounced key like any other Cay.) Well, being pioneers that we are, we headed out the shortcut way which we figured would save us several hours. We ignored the recommended and tried route written in our cruising guide by Frieda and got stuck in mud about 5 miles out. Our keel was submerged in goo. We finally came to a stop, plowing slowly into a mound of sandy muck. There was no telling which way to go to get out of it. We tried to weasel our way free, but I knew that it was time to see if I could hail some help. (There are many ways to get out of these situations, but I like to go with the easiest first.)
I radioed for a tow, and the folks at Belize City were useless in response. Someone from shore said they would finally send out a tow boat when they could. Jeff, Brian and Lee took the dink and went fishing, Mel and I stayed back to wait for the tow boat then radio the guys back when they came. After about an hour, someone in Belize City radioed us that they would have someone on the way. I hailed the boys back to the boat and once again we waited and waited. Finally, as luck would have it, a taxi style fast boat came near and Jeff flagged it down. With two engines equal to 300 horses, they agreed to pull us to deeper water and did just that. The ride was mushy and felt very weird. We plowed along the slimy bottom and occasionally hit soft little mounds of mud slowing us down momentarily. Finally reaching deep water, they cut us loose and waved goodbye. They asked for nothing in return but I gave them 40 dollars Belize (20 US bucks) for their gas and good deeds done. Finally, we were back on track on a recommended route for Cay Calker, but decided to stay at a little island along the way because it had already gotten late. We pulled into a little anchorage in St. George Cay.
It was a gentle night on hook and we were able to get underway for Cay Caulker the following morning. It was a light wind and sea; we had no problem going between sailing, motoring, and motorsailing. The autopilot was a big help. It made the entire day a relaxing one.
We pulled into an anchorage on the back side of Cay Caulker and anchored not too far out. That evening promised a storm, so we put down another hook and set it good. We had a great time in Caulker, with a great beach and tourist town right off our dinghy dock. They had internet cafés and diving schools and services. Mel and I decided to take a diving tour to the Famous Blue Hole, the Half Moon Cay and Light House Cay. The company we went with, Paradise Down, is owned some good folks named OJ and Patty. Their programs offered both snorkeling and scuba diving in some of the best diving places north of the equator.
The two hour ride out there was a pounding experience on my back, even though I sat in the back of the boat on my air cushions. But, once I got into my gear and got in the water, aaaaaaaaah, total weightlessness. They took Mel with the other snorkelers to one place for safe snorkeling and good seeing, and all the scuba divers straight to the rim of the hole which is about a 450 foot drop to the bottom. They only allowed us to go down together at a maximum depth of 130 feet for 8 minutes, just long enough to swim into a cave where there were stalagmites and stalactites made way back when the water was still shallow. The rest of that dive lasted about 15 minutes at 30 feet. There were two more dives at 60 feet, 3 dives total. After the 2nd dive they took us all to a nice spot on the beach of Half Moon Cay for lunch where we enjoyed chicken, beans, rice and tortillas. After lunch we had our final dive then made it back to Caulker.
What wonder. In fact, all three of the reef dives we did out there were more than spectacular, the most amazing aqua beauty experience of my lifetime, including diving Hawaii . I was in awe as I swam down hovering weightless above the brain coral and trumpet shaped coral and pottery vase looking reef coral. More and more variety filled my vision, almost to overload, groups of cilia type succulent plant/animals (I think they were a type of sea anemone) parked next to Antler Coral and great long tubular inverted cones. Some looked like huge funnels growing out of the rock and coral. There were many different kinds of snails, and small, large and huge fan corals waved in the gentle surge at that depth. And the fish, oh my, such a delightful living example of how beautiful and colorful life is when allowed to grow unmolested. It was all so surrealistic and yet cartoon like with the incredible, infinite shapes and multi-colored flora/fauna. It gave me a deep feeling of being connected to everything with every part of me. Love could not escape me as I was overtaken with so much splendor. It reminded me of nature turned inside out. Its entire nakedness hanging out there to be touched by what ever nourishment was brought by the sea’s love. It seemed comical too, like a scene of lets say, cross between Salvador Dali and Dr. Seuss. Wow, I’ll never forget it!
Cay Caulker was my favorite place so far. We are now at a turning point. Either we go further south or turn north for a different sort of plan. Our original plans were to go south thru the Panama Canal . My crew and my back are dropping me hints. I think it’s time to head north. My crew is getting restless as this journey has gone into overtime for both Jeff and Lee as far as their work opportunities go. You can only leave a job so long before competition will fill it and this voyage has been going on since April. Also, the hurricane season took a big chomp out of our scheduled time so now we are paying the price.
My body is telling me the same thing. The constant movement (and not so gentle at times) is telling me to get somewhere and stay put for awhile where I can be flat and calm. That is how I healed my back the last time it was hurting. It’s been getting worse, especially my thoracic spine region and left rib cage towards where it connects to my spine. It hurts to walk short distances, I’m back in my shell at times and it keeps me awake at night because I can’t find a position that is painless. I do have Advil, Ativan and Vicodin which is heaven sent when the pain is heavy. I usually only need the Advil but sometimes I take an Ativan and within a half an hour I’m back in the nurturing arms of loving, restful sleep.
Our water maker has been working perfectly, giving us pure, fresh water to drink and rinse off the saltwater when we climb out of the ocean after diving. It’s quite a luxury to have fresh water but there may be something about pure water that isn’t so good for Myeloma. I think it may be taking too much calcium from my from my bones so I’ve started taking a calcium supplement.. (I’ve been told this can happen even to a “healthy” individual drinking pure water) The calcium with seems to be helping.
The decision was made; we are now sailing back up to the tip of the Yucatan where we will head straight out across the Gulf of Mexico straight for Texas . Of course we will stop along the way from here on up to the tip for some final touristy stuff but I am already making arrangements to have the boat pulled out and trucked to San Diego from Texas around the 15th of January. I also have a slip available and paid for. Joanie personally did the transaction for me in the Chula Vista Marina.
This decision to head north was relieving yet bothersome for me. I made plans to do a thing and found it changing every step of the way. Just like life, the ever present changelessness changing all the time, keeps a fella on his