Captain Jack here…
Back in 2010, Nicole and I set sail from La Ceiba, Honduras headed for Panama. We had been working on the Kitty Hawk since we got back to Honduras after our honeymoon with the idea of someday starting a circumnavigation.
Circumnavigation? Well, something like that or sort of. You see, as the saying goes, “Sailors don’t have plans, just intentions.” And boy is that statement true. So many things can change in this life and in fact they do and when they do, you must adapt. Some factors are within our control and others not. Sometimes we are caught up in conditions, wind and waves for example, that we cannot change even though we wish we could. However helpless we may feel about the hand we are dealt when out at sea there is always something we can do. We can always adjust our sails, change our point of sail or course and destination. All I can say is, if you can’t be flexible about your plans then this life is not for you. What about the circumnavigation? Well, this I have learned over the past twelve years of cruising. The intention is not about sailing around the world, instead it is centered around sailing about the world. Since we started, Nicole and I have sailed over 12,000 nautical miles and before that I had accumulated well over 8,000. For me that adds up to over 20,000 miles, a distance which is not too far from that of a complete circumnavigation and all of that on the Atlantic seaboard and the Caribbean Sea.
Back then we made it to the Panama Canal. We had a mechanical problem with our new engine, so we had to stay at the Shelter Bay Marina not only to fix the engine, but also to connect with our friend Clive, a Kiwi we got to be friends with back in Honduras. He was on his way to Australia on his Morgan 47 ketch, Orchid Lady. He had agreed to buy our old dinghy and we had agreed to help him transit the canal as his line handlers. Since we had planned to follow suit the following year, we welcomed the opportunity to learn what it would take to transit the canal in our boat. Clive had two guys on board as crew and with us two that gave him the minimum crew required in case we transited the locks unattached to another vessel. With two lines on each side, fore and aft, we could essentially hold the vessel in the center of the lock while the churning waters filled and emptied to raise and lower us. As it turns out we ended up being rafted up in threes, two monohulls with a Catamaran in between, so we only needed line handlers on one side, but the loads pulling on those lines were considerably augmented.
The first locking showed me that it would be better to use a turning block at the cleat and run the line to a winch. That way I could more easily take in or let out the line as we rose and fell in the locks.
The folks in the catamaran next to us were German and had a little baby on board, maybe six months old. Back in the marina we had been tied next to a Swiss boat who’s captain was married to a Colombian woman and besides a 7 year old boy, they had a baby about 9 months old. That was surprising to us since they were about to begin a Pacific crossing. Now there was a second couple doing the same. That night we commented to ourselves about the risks associated with undertaking such a passage with babies. It is one thing to sail along the coast or in the Caribbean where one can be easily reached by a helicopter in case of a life or death emergency. However, out in the middle of the Pacific, one is way out of reach of such rescue crafts. The next morning while moored in Lake Gatun Nicole commented
how she felt seasick. “Seasick?” I exclaimed in awe. “It is flat as a mirror out there. It’s probably something you ate,” I said. The next morning she felt seasick again, but that was understandable since we awoke on the Pacific side, rocking and rolling to the wakes of the shipping traffic entering and exiting the canal. Upon return to the Kitty Hawk a pregnancy test revealed the cause of the malaise, it was positive and no rabbit had to die. (Even my RN wife never heard of this Neolithic Age method for determining pregnancy. Ha!). All of a sudden our plans were up in the air, “What now?” It was the month of March and we had planned to spend that year in the San Blas Islands and Cartagena, Colombia to do some more work on the boat before beginning our Pacific Crossing the following March.
We figured that the baby would be born in the fall so that would mean the baby would be about six months old at the time of our crossing. Hmmm? Not a good thing. What if the baby gets seriously ill on such a long passage. It could take us three to four weeks or more to get from Galapagos to Marquesas 3000 miles apart. That very year one of our friends on Flina had a badly infected finger due to an injury that could have become deadly. Already the infection was so bad that the risk of blood poisoning ensued. Red striations were already visible running up his arm. Through their SSB radio they were able to hail our other friends on Sarah II who deviated from their course to rendezvous with them a couple of days later with much needed antibiotics on board. Flina and the finger were saved, but even with Nicole’s medical expertise and an array of medical supplies on board we agreed that such a passage was not something we would attempt with a new born. So we spent a season in the San Blas and decided to return to Honduras before the start of the hurricane season, where Marietta was born.
That is how we ended up cruising the Eastern Seaboard and the Bahamas for the last few years. And that decision was followed by the fact that we did not want Marietta to be an only child, so then Jack Benjamin came to be and was born on the boat in Charleston, South Carolina. Our plans of crossing the Pacific got pushed way back. We envied our friends on Soggy Paws who were already in the South Pacific. Every time we spoke with them they kept egging us on to catch up with them. We had decided to be coastal sailors until we grew the crew.
The Sea of Cortez has always been a place on my bucket list of places to go, hence entering the Pacific via Panama seemed like we would miss it especially if we departed from there heading to the Galapagos; another one of those places on the list. When the plan to remain coastal developed, we began to plan a trip through the Panama Canal, up the Pacific Coast of the Americas to spend a couple of seasons in the Sea of Cortez. This would also afford us the opportunity to travel
inland in Mexico and during the hurricane season leave our boat somewhere to travel the western United States to visit friends and family. All of a sudden we were translated from Atlantic to Pacific when the Kitty Hawk sold in Florida and we found Let it Be in San Diego, CA. And now we are in Ensenada on the Pacific side of Baja California enjoying our new “condo on the water” and dreaming of the day we will attempt our big crossing. Will we go south all the way to Panama, cross our track there and then head to Galapagos, or do we jump off from somewhere on the Pacific coast of Mexico and head straight to the Marquesas from there. The distance is about the same. B-b-b but what about the Galapagos? Hmmm, we may just have to skip them….or not!
This morning we read the blog of a family who left La Cruz, Mexico, a common place for the Pacific Puddle Jumpers to depart from, on their thirty six foot boat with a three year old and a baby girl onboard. We enthusiastically follow their blog because we admire such adventurous people and love to hear about others like ourselves, feeling somewhat envious of those who have left ahead of us and are already out there.
This is a feeling that tends to come over us from time to time when we find ourselves in port working on the boat trying to make her ready (as ready as we feel she needs to be) to do it safely while watching others depart. However, the news today was grievous. The baby is deathly ill and a rescue attempt is under way since their vessel is apparently disabled 900 miles out. Because no helicopter can fly that far out, a medic team out of San Diego known as Sky Angels will parachute down to the vessel and assist to stabilize the baby’s condition.
We read further that there will be an attempt to rescue them and fly the baby to a hospital on the mainland. This operation will require a Navy ship to serve as a refueling platform for a helicopter or a specialized air refueling aircraft, which is a very risky operation now involving the lives of others putting them at risk as well.
As I write this my heart is prayerful for this family and the crews involved. We pray for the baby’s recovery and for safety in every aspect of this operation. We pray for the mother and the grand mothers and the weight of their worry. We pray for strength for the mother who has already been exhausted by the passage thus far and for wisdom for the father and captain who must consider what to do with the remaining crew and the vessel.
Because these things happen, such is why we have not left yet… but in so many ways we have.