Friday, January 12, 2018

A friend goes East…a friend goes West

It could be argued that our first year of cruising was our best year so far. An amazing confluence of coincidences gathered several people from Carlyle Lake, 800 miles to the west, in Oak Harbor Marina near the tip of the Chesapeake Bay. They became our first “cruiser clan,” helping us in uncountable ways as we struggled to get Kintala cruise-worthy and us launched into this new lifestyle. John was in that group, a solo sailor and new cruiser himself, working his way down the ICW for the first time in Ellida; his Hallberg Rassy 31. His wife, Mari, was completely supportive of his adventuring but open water sailing in a small boat was not her cup of tea.

John, Deb, Tim, Nancy, David  (The Tradewinds East Gang)
before we all took off from Oak Harbor Marina in Pasadena, MD

John leaving Oak Harbor in October 2013

John managed to drop his Oak Harbor dock lines several weeks ahead of us. We kept in touch and he became a kind of emotional scout, breaking the trail as we bumbled our way south that first time. Kintala caught up with Ellida in Biscayne Bay where we shared tales of mistakes made and near disasters avoided, feeling pretty good about making it all the way to Florida still in one piece. John was determined to continue on to the Bahamas but Deb and I were less sure of ourselves. Managing our Tartan 42 had proven more of a challenge than we had anticipated, even along the protected waters of the ICW. Our first open water / overnight jump from Charleston to Fernandina Beach had been both exhilarating and magical. It had also underlined just how steep a learning curve we had yet to climb to being a competent short-handed crew sailing a 42 foot boat far out of sight of land, and at night. We had decided a more modest approach to cruising would be prudent. Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys, and maybe the “Just Like the Bahamas” waters of Florida’s Great Bend would be our first year’s cruising grounds.

John was determined to make it to the Islands but, being a new cruiser himself, wanted company. Our company. Particularly our company on what would be his first overnight, open water jump from Biscayne Bay to West End. He began a subtle campaign to lure us east. His argument, like his approach to nearly everything, was easy going and quiet. The Islands were far closer than the West coast of Florida and a much easier sail. (He couldn’t possibly have known that to be a fact but the years have proven him completely correct.) We would spend less money living and sailing in the Islands for a few months than we would living and sailing in the States. (The cruising kitty had already taken a beating from delays and broken boat bits on the trip south.) And, well, we were cruisers and real cruisers went to the Islands for the winter. (It turns out that real cruisers do whatever they want, can afford, or can get away with; but we had not learned that lesson yet.)

John as we headed out of the channel from No Name Harbor in Biscayne Bay, FL

Waiting out water spouts off West End Bahamas
In the end he won us over and on Feb 21st Kintala and Ellida weighed anchors, headed out the channel south of No Name Harbor, and set sail for West End, Bahama. Ellida made much better time, John blasting through the storms that we elected to sail around. He was waiting at the dock at old Bahama Bay, greeting us with a huge smile. We had sailed to the Islands, how about them apples? We waited out some ugly weather then headed off to explore the Abaco Islands. Getting there meant our first passage through Indian Rock Passage north of West End. Kintala led the way right up to the entrance of the pass, where I chickened out in the face of breaking water to both port and starboard in the narrow, shallow cut. I had visions of us ending our cruising life right there.

John and Ellida heading to Mangrove Cay after going through Indian Cut in the Bahamas

John figured if everyone else could do it, we could do it too. Though Ellida was smaller than Kintala, she drew a bit more water. So long as she didn’t hit anything Kintala should be okay. John happily took the lead and I followed him through so tense I could barely breathe.

We passed with no problem at all.

Later that day John took the picture of Kintala that is at the top of the blog; sailing alongside us in the waters north of Grand Bahama Island. It was one of those magical sails, and one of the best we have ever had. The two boats stood nearly upright yet hard on the wind, ghosting over placid water so clear we could watch the bottom pass under the keels.

We traveled together for many weeks after that, anchoring together in various Cays, waiting out weather, and exploring our first Bahamian towns. It was every bit the adventure that we had hoped cruising would be. That trip set the tone and the goals, established the life style that we have been working to keep up with ever since. John left Ellida in the Islands after that trip, putting her on the hard for the hurricane season and returning home to Mari until autumn. We sailed back to the States, living aboard and sailing Kintala, working to match the joy and adventure of that first trip abroad.

We crossed paths with John several times over the years, as cruisers are wont to do. But we never sailed together after that. The last time we saw him was over lunch, he and Mari, Deb and I, at a restaurant near the Dinner Key mooring field.

Our friend John passed away a couple of days ago. His struggle with failing lungs had been evident from the first day we met, but he never talked of it much, made an issue of it, or let it stop him from realizing the dream of sailing his boat over the horizon. His quiet dedication to living life on his terms had a deep influence on our path, Our adventure would have taken a much different turn had John not lured us to the Islands that first year. Given some of the set-backs we have endured since, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibly that we would never have made it at all. And yet the impact of John’s quiet but unshakable determination, his indomitable heart and courage, went mostly unnoticed - right up until I sat down to write this post.

Unassuming and dedicated to minding his own business, he would have taken quite a bit of pleasure in that.

Fair winds John, and thank you.

Ellida at Sunset, Great Sale Cay Bahamas

Sunrise off Great Sale Cay

John blowing his water bottle horn in the shortest St. Patrick's Day parade, Green Turtle Cay Bahamas 3-17-14

1 comment:

Mike Boyd said...

A touching story and remembrance of your friend. Glad he was able to follow his dream as well as help spark or support yours.