When Plans Change.
We made plans, we prepared, we got excited, we set out, we turned back. Sometimes things happen to change plans.
We had set out on Saturday the 13th of May (Piper’s 8th birthday!) to sail towards Panama, from Puerto Rico. We had spent the last week stocking up our boat, driving all over the island collecting food and packages and getting the boat ready to roll across the open seas for 7-9 days. We were mentally prepared and actually pretty excited about it. This was always one of our plans, to head towards the pacific coast, it’s always been an option and we finally felt ready.
So with our dear friends, on the yellow and blue boat Abeona, we left the gas dock around noon and headed south! The winds were fair and we had a great time setting up the new spinnaker and enjoying a lovely sail towards open ocean and watching solid land recede. We had dinner and even got the kids to bed in good time and got ready for our first of many night watches. I know for myself that I sleep poorly, if at all, on a night sail, but Matt is even worse (clue: during our 14,000kms across the country, I only drove about 400 of those kilometres and even during that time, he would barely rest his eyes). He likes to see and know what is going on. He’s not a control freak, he just feels better knowing what is happening. Maybe he is a control freak...
I took the first watch, from about 8pm - 12am, and watched the moon come up out of the horizon, orange and bulbous, looking like a glowing hot air balloon as it took it’s place in the sky.
We were making decent time, maybe 5.5 knots steadily, with the main and the head sail up. It wasn’t too bad.
I was relieved when Matt came up around 12:30am and I headed towards Digory’s cabin to have a rest (it’s always easier to sleep in the kids’ beds in the back of the boat). I dozed here and there, hearing Matt adjust the sails a bit and hearing the steady beat of the water on the boat.
Around 2am, there was The Noise. One small bang quickly followed by loud BANG. I heard Matt say something slightly sailor-ish, and I quickly dashed up on deck to see what was up.
What I found was that one arm of the dinghy davits (the metal arms that hold the dinghy up and out of the water while we are under way) had been broken right off, and the dinghy was pretzeled and hanging only by one arm of the davits, the motor end sloshing around in the dark sea.
I saw Matt running around, getting a knife and trying to contain this situation.
Remember, this is 2am in the morning. It is dark out, we have no lights on deck during watch and both sails are still up: we are moving and everything is black around us.
If I remember correctly, Matt quickly put the head sail away and turned into the wind to slow us down and then said “I gotta contain this situation”. I need to give him some credit: he was cool about all of this. Though his eyes looked a little glassy, Matt moved quickly and steadily with precise movements. Honestly, there was nothing I could do in that moment except for shout every so often “did we lose anything?!” Yeah, not that helpful.
(sorry, my internet is crap and I can't upload these photos again with the correct orientation. Turn your head to the left and you get the idea)
It might not sound like much, but in the moment, this was huge. If we lost our dinghy, along with the bins inside of it (yes, we sometimes use it as a shed, and put our snorkel gear bin in there), it would be a huge loss and it would be unlikely that we could recover it in the dead of night. Our dinghy is like our car, and is a pretty hefty investment and just so bloody useful!
Not only that, but the davits that holds it up are attached to the fibreglass of the boat on the stern, and also holding up the solar panels, which are also connected to the bimini (shade cover). By this one davits arm snapping off, we could have a good portion of our boat stripped in seconds, floating away from us in the Caribbean sea.
For the moment, it was just the motor end of our dinghy that was splashing, being dragged in white water as we tried to secure the dinghy with new lines, while cutting the old ones. Somehow, Matt did all of this (life jacket on, of course!) pretty quickly and soon enough our dinghy was being dragged behind us safely in the inky black sea.
From the looks of things, we hadn’t lost anything in the dinghy (amazing!) and there seemed to be no damage to the fibreglass of the boat. The solar panels were being help up by supports on the other side, and though the life raft we had recently attached to the back of the boat was scraped by the davits, it was still on and secure.
Keep in mind, the wind never slows down, the water never stops and our little Luci lights are hardly enough to properly light this situation.
With the dinghy now following us along like a faithful puppy, we had some time to think what is next.
To tow a dinghy behind your boat for any amount of time is rough: it slows you down, it jerks on the back of the boat, jarring you, and it’s a liability. Matt hates it when we drag it, hence the davits that he worked hard to install early.
Towing the dinghy 8.5 more days to Panama was out of the question. Passages are long and painful enough, but to drag that thing would add salt to the wound (pardon the pun!). The logical thing was to turn back towards Puerto Rico, where it would be easy to fix. We knew PR a little by now and knew someone would be able to weld it back together.
But to turn around meant a lot of things: we had waited for this weather window and we were already pushing the timeline late for hurricane season. By turning back, we were in a way saying “we aren’t getting to the Pacific”. By turning around we were closing a door indefinitely. By turning around we were admitting that this big passage wasn’t happening, maybe never. Neither Matt nor I really want to put the boat up on the hard for a season and wait around, we want to keep sailing, but the weather is chasing us out of certain areas. It was now or never.
When Matt first mentioned turning around, I felt a rush of relief, I won’t lie. This passage so far wasn’t the worst but imagining 8 more night watches wasn’t a welcome idea in my mind, especially when I was right in it. Turning around was the right choice, and it didn’t even really feel hard at the time.
We quickly radioed our friends what happened. They made sure we were all right and said they were turning around with us. I made it clear that we did not expect that of them and they were free to make their own choices, but as it turns out, they were relieved, too. We were glad of the support. Cruising friends are just The Best.
Now, we had plenty of time to think and talk and formulate a plan.
Maybe the Pacific wasn’t for us, or at least not right now. Maybe this was the best time for this accident to happen. Imagine this happening in another 3 days?! That’s too far to turn around but still a bugger of a time forward. We would have gone crazy. This was a great time for something terrible to happen. We were trying to see the silver lining in this dark rain cloud.
At the moment, we are thinking to head north, via the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and then up towards the east coast of the USA. This wasn’t my first choice for some reason, but the more I think of the Bahamas, the more excited I get.
We could also make a straight shot towards Grenada to be protected from hurricanes, but its a 5 day sail and then hanging out in a hot HOT place, waiting for better weather, which could be 3+ more months. That wasn’t ideal for us. We want to keep moving, we’re not done sailing, but the idea of sailing towards home, even if its the east coast, is actually a really comforting idea.
Matt and I have been missing home the last while. I don’t know if Puerto Rico has us in a funk or it’s just getting to be a long time without our family, or that we’ve had to say good bye to some really great friends that has us all sad about what we’re missing at home. Or the fact that before we set sail for Panama we literally called every member of our family to say goodbye for a while, so they were all fresh in our minds. Oh man! Maybe we’re just emotional suckers!
It helps that our friends on Abeona were thinking of same plan. They have sailed this route before and it is a totally manageable route with kiddos.
I mean, I don’t want to blame the kiddos, but it is hard to sail long distances with them sometimes. It is two more mouths to manage, things to clean and entertain and clean up after. They aren’t miserable, but they aren’t all that happy underway. There is only so many games on the iPad, and it does eventually run out of batteries, and no one should stare at a screen for 9 days straight! When the seas get rough and when we get stressed out, they start mentioning all the friends they miss and all the things they are gonna do once they’re home and how they don’t like this, that or the other thing about boat life. There is only so much pep-talk you can give, especially when, in the moment, you feel the EXACT same way.
Our kids do great on one overnight passage. We can all manage and get through but are all happy to see land within a day or two. This is where we are at right now. I know some families to do long passages with their kiddos, they manage and make it and love it. And I am so happy and proud of them. Seriously.
Right now, that isn’t where we are at.
For now, we are still focusing on the present and moving forward a day at a time. We don’t regret turning around, changing our plans: this was the best choice for us, we all feel that way. When we turn one direction we are saying “no” to some things, but it also means we are saying “yes” to something else.
We are all eager to see what comes next. Who knows, plans could change again, or morph into something new. This entire journey has been that lesson over and over again. We’re happy to roll with the waves and see where the wind takes us. We’re happy to be together, exploring and learning as a family and making memories that will be priceless in years to come.
And, today is my birthday and maaaaaan am I happy to not be rolling around in the middle of nowhere! ;)