Break the cycle of distress with self-regulation

If I could teach everyone in the world one thing it would be self-regulation. This is a key ability for all people, one often disrupted by trauma, especially in those with earliest onset. These simple practices can help an anxious person down-regulate to a more positive and prosocial activation level. They are most beneficial when practiced in advance of anxiety so they are familiar as a go-to for relief. 

The process below is a combination of calming techniques in one brief exercise. I learned these through my intensive personal study of the neurobiology of trauma and its resolution. These actions initiate physiological changes that tell the body it is safe. When practiced at least 5 times per day this can break the cycle of distress and help rewire the nervous system for calmness and presence. Through frequent small changes we create and reinforce new and healthier neural pathways.

  1. If standing, notice the support of the floor or ground under your feet. If sitting, notice the support beneath your sit bones. Take a moment to notice that support under you. Also, a moment to notice the support of the environment around you. 
  2. Cross your arms if you can and gently rub each upper arm with the other hand at whatever speed feels right. Often, slower speeds or deceleration especially help calm the nervous system. Do this for at least 20 seconds to savor the positive feeling. Alternatively, try the Soothing Self-Hold: right hand under left arm near the heart, left hand on the top of right arm near the shoulder. Notice the feeling of holding yourself. Keep the hold as you move to the next step. 
  3. Perform the Flower/Candle Breath: inhale through your nose like you would when you smell one of your favorite flowers. Imagine taking in the scent, smile, and savor it a moment. Exhale through your mouth like you would blow out a candle, a long breath out. Repeat the Flower/Candle breath at least twice more.
  4. Keep the hold for another few moments if it feels right. 

Use whatever aspects of this or other mindfulness practices help you feel calm. Practice through the day until it becomes a habit so it will be familiar and handy when you need it. In the meantime, you will build healthier neural connections. 

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How the number one health crisis in the world caused me to experiment on a living human brain

In the past 3 years I have conducted experiments on a living human brain. Mine. I necessarily studied developmental trauma, trauma theory, the neurobiology of trauma, and trauma resolution. This is due to the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) I acquired from early, repeated, severe, unpredictable toxic stress from childhood neglect and abuse. My experiments focus on neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to “rewire.” I have worked to install new wiring that is positive and pro-social as I have let the old negative trauma networks dissolve.

My CPTSD exploded about a year-and-a-half ago, since I finally had a safe place to deal with it. I turned to the medical system for help and it swallowed me.  Due to the toxic effects of a medication, a negligent psychologist, and systemic failure of the massive local hospital system, I spent a week in the dank belly of the American mental health “care” beast. It was a kind of Cuckoo’s Nest lite, a mental hospital owned by Universal Health Services (UHS). According to a Buzz Feed investigative report, UHS is “America’s largest psychiatric hospital chain” with “more than 200 psychiatric facilities across the country.”

I experienced and witnessed the same kinds of abuse as detailed in the Buzz Feed report. It was easy to see that hospital staff “tried to keep beds filled even at the expense of the safety of their staff or the rights of the patients they were locking up.” The facility was understaffed, utilized clearly unqualified staff, neglected housekeeping and nutrition, and provided no individualized care, only mostly lame supposed group therapy sessions and piles of pills. Staff deprived patients of their rights and even threatened self-admitted patients with commitment if they tried to leave before their insurance benefit ran out.

Thanks to lots of journaling, plus support from family, friends, and an attorney, I managed to survive that unnecessary incarceration without going crazy. However, it took months to resolve the traumatic experience, during which the medical system continued to let me down and even re-traumatize me for a second time in seven months. Of course, one cannot recover from trauma while the trauma keeps happening, so these incidents greatly impeded my recovery from prior trauma as their effects are ongoing.

What I found was a system grossly unprepared and short of resources to deliver necessary services or appropriate care. This makes the system and its facilities a danger to trauma survivors. Fortunately, it seems the hospital system is interested in working with me to make improvements. I’ll soon have a meeting to find out how we can work together.

My experiences with the American model of mental health “care” convinced me to speak up on behalf of myself and countless others who have unnecessarily been re-traumatized by the medical profits industry, which especially monetizes the needs of the most vulnerable; those whose nervous systems were wired by trauma. Although CPTSD robs me of energy and abilities, I have slowly begun to work for positive change. This began with creation of a 1/3-page information card I hand to care providers and ask, “Please take a minute to read this before we begin.” It was my first attempt to inform healthcare providers about my condition and how they can, with just a little info and some thoughtfulness, avoid retraumatizing me yet again.

Developmental Trauma is a worldwide health crisis that America laregely neglects. I intend to spread awareness, help educate providers and the public, and push for positive reform. Therefore, the focus of my blog will be on topics like: neuroplasticity,  CPTSD, self-care, the neurobiology of trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), somatic recovery practices, polyvagal theory, attachment theory, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, emotional and spiritual aspects of illness and healing, inflammatory diseases, chronic disease at midlife, whole foods plant-based diet, veganism, pharmacogenetic testing, honoring the process, expressive arts therapy, importance of felt sense, human need for community, and the value of play, kindness, and compassion.

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When your trust is unapologetically broken, forgive yourself

When someone breaks our trust we sometimes feel a sense of lack for having trusted, for having allowed ourselves to be cheated. It’s an element that is often overlooked, though it may have a deep effect.

After the sailing disaster of 2015, I discovered I have to forgive myself for my imperfections as part of releasing the emotional charge that binds me to an untrustworthy person. Part of the solution came from examining the beliefs I held at the time of the betrayal.

In the case of what happened that fall, I realized that I had put too much weight on my intent to keep my commitment. I had held fast to the belief that I should not let down the other person, even after he had put me in danger.

I realized after the events that there had been several points when I could have walked away from helping someone who lacked sufficient concern for not just my comfort, but also my safety. In hindsight, I recognized the importance of that first “sinking heart” feeling, which, at the time, seemed irrational. Indeed, there was no rational reason to feel that; it was my intuition speaking. But it was a beautiful day and I had committed to help, so I ignored it.

I kept ignoring the gnawing sense that things were not as they had been described, that the other person had misled me, and actually expected a lot more from me than openly requested.

I finally bailed, with some guilt, after I woke up at 3 a.m. with a screaming voice in my head that told me I had to get out of there “NOW!” It was screaming because I had not listened to the numerous whispers.

For a long time after that, I felt a mess of negative feelings, including anger and disgust, whenever I saw the other person or was even reminded of him, by, say, seeing a car that looked like his. I realized that I was somehow keeping myself emotionally tied to him. It was not affecting the violator at all, only me. It was like I was giving him free living space in my own home.

I considered what might be causing this. The other person was certainly guilty of bait-and-switch, disrespect, and disregard for my safety, as well as lack of remorse or any attempt at an apology. But what bound me emotionally was that I had continued to kick myself for what amounted to ignoring my intuition/instincts/inner voice. It was hard to recognize the extent of the damage I had done to myself (including financial loss of about $500) by sticking to my commitment even after the other person had shown me in numerous ways, small, medium, and large, that he had only his own self-interest at heart.

I determined that my resolution would require two steps: to confront him with the truth and forgive myself. The next time I encountered him, I looked him in the eye and told him his behavior was reprehensible and unforgivable, and it was best that he stay away from me.

The more difficult step was the second, where I forgave myself. As part of that, I had to learn from my mistakes. I needed to learn that a commitment is not signed in blood, especially when the other party expects blood from me and gives none of their own. I had to recognize again that my instincts have never been wrong, and I need to listen even more carefully to their wisdom. I needed to understand that true integrity is not keeping one’s word no matter what, but honoring one’s instincts, no matter what.

Only after that work did the emotional charge dissipate. And now I can see that person as not only a pitiful mess but as one who (inadvertently) taught me some lessons that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

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And on the 7th day, I heard a voice

What do you think is the current price for guano? I spent 2-1/2 days scrubbing cormorant crap off this boat. Cormorant crap is the worst. It smells horrible, and sticks like glue.I felt a little piece of my heart sink the moment I saw the boat. From my vantage point, the driver’s seat of a rental car, the vessel was hardly more than a white dot bobbing gently on a mooring far off in the Cape Cod Bay. Still, my heart knew something was deeply wrong, and it tried to tell me. Looking back, I should have stopped to listen to that tiny voice. I should have taken the time to fully hear the highly important message from my heart.

From that distance, I was dazzled by the sparkling water and by the idea of an autumn sailing adventure with a friend, a month of pleasurable wandering by boat as we moved the Aloha 34 sloop from Wellfleet MA to Wilmington DE before the 2015 sailing season ended.

Unfortunately, I let strict adherence to my personal values override the message my wee inner voice spoke. I had Made A Commitment! Quinn*, owner of the sailboat named BELLA, would not be able to safely make the voyage alone. Therefore, someone counted on me for something important, and I simply had to Be Reliable.

Also bearing weight was a lifetime of having been told to shut up and accept whatever crap I was handed, and enough gaslighting in my youth that I still sometimes questioned what I knew to be true. In my life, I had received plenty of crap, which included great disrespect, abuse, neglect, and even some torture. The earliest experiences of these had taught me such treatment was to be expected, was normal, was what I deserved. For these reasons, I toughed it out for days aboard BELLA, through deplorable conditions, repeated displays of incompetence, and chronic disrespect. Until I heard a voice.

From that first shoreside view, I could not yet know that BELLA was horrendously filthy, overly full of belongings in great disarray, and was not sea ready. I had yet to realize that a someone who seemed like good shipmate is not necessarily a good friend or a safe skipper. In addition, I did not recognize that I don’t have to keep a commitment when it turned out the other party willfully and grossly misrepresented the situation to which I had agreed.

Maybe I was spoiled by the quality of the skippers I had encountered at Quantico Yacht Club, where I had been an active member for about five years. The QYC skippers’ tendency was to plan well, in advance, and have Plans B, C, and D as fallbacks. The same was true for my KALMAR NYCKEL captains, whom I know I can deeply trust to put safety first. I had come to expect safety and planning as standard, but that first day, Quinn’s “luck o’ the Irish” operation had us rowing the dinghy out the long way to his boat against the wind, in a tide so low we ran afoul of clam cages, and hit the sandbar at the harbor mouth. We had to get out and walk the boat through the shallow water until we were free of the bar.

As we approached the boat, I began to recognize that BELLA was caked with cormorant and seagull guano, as well as fish parts and small fish. The guano was so thick on the bimini that it flaked off the canvas in chunks. The stench of ammonia and old fish, combined with a sickening sweetness, was an assault to my nose. I didn’t want to touch anything topsides. Quinn gave me a tour of the boat, which was cluttered, disorganized, and dirty. We had to move piles of clothing, gear, and tools in order to simply sit down.

I discovered the best way to clean guano off the boat was to fill the small bucket with seawater, dip the brush, scrub, repeat until the water was used up, and then wash down that section with a fresh bucket. While doing this, I learned that the head and galley port lights leak. The former resulted in guano washing down into the galley that I had recently cleaned. I felt disgusted and frustrated, but put my focus on Doing What Needed To Be Done.

Previously, Quinn had shown respect toward me, but he seemed to think that, once I was on his boat, he no longer needed to put on that kind of show. He busied himself with non-guano cleaning tasks, some of which–like testing the engine–were obviously legitimate. However, he also disappeared below for periods of time during which he did not make any sounds of activity, and I got the idea he was busy texting friends, while I scrubbed the guano off his neglected boat. Still, my actions were ruled by my irrationally high standards, and sense of what I deserved, so I focused on Doing The Right Thing, which was to Keep My Commitment and Be A Good Sport.

It was not until I needed to use the head that the skipper told me that there was no such facility on his boat. He told me I would have to pee in a bucket and poop onto napkins in a plastic bag, and we would keep the solid waste onboard between shore stops. I was horrified by the latter idea, but there was no escape; for two days, the wind was too strong and unfavorable for rowing the dinghy, and the super tide made harbor water too shallow for the deep draft boat, so we stayed put. I wished I had thought that we might be unable to come back for a day or two and had planned accordingly. I wished my supposedly experienced skipper had done this, too, instead of telling me to bring only the barest essentials.

I figured if I was going to be aboard that boat for a month, I’d better get it cleaned and organized, so, after two days of scrubbing guano, I worked to shape up the interior. On the third day, conditions were favorable to take BELLA into Wellfleet Harbor, thank goodness. I had never been more happy to use a toilet and take a shower, even the crummy $3-for-3-minutes cold shower that the Wellfleet marina offered.

While Quinn spoke with the harbormaster and a local friend, I hauled our gear and provisions from the rental car to the boat. Fortunately, I had also brought along a number of large plastic storage bins, leftovers from home ownership, with which I could make some order out of the chaos within the boat.

Before long, the harbor water was thinning, so we were underway back to the mooring ball at 1500. As I hooked and made off the mooring line at the ball, Quinn ran BELLA over the dinghy painter and fouled it on the prop, which shut down the engine. This meant someone had to dive under the boat and cut the line free.

“I don’t do cold water,” Quinn informed me. “I’m too old.” I considered the options: find a diver, wait for them to show, and pay through the nose–we’d agreed to split costs–or do it myself. So I said I would get into the water to unfoul the prop. I put on my bathing suit and went down the ladder into the chilly September brine of Cape Cod Bay. I tried to use my feet to unfoul the line without going completely under. But the fetch kept slamming the dinghy into me, and me into BELLA. It also kept shoving salt water up my nose.

I asked Quinn to cut the painter and get the dinghy out of my way because the little boat was trying to kill me. The old man did not want to cut the painter, so I angrily told him he must. He’d already ruined the line by running over it and he was a sailor, so he could splice, couldn’t he? He relented, rigged up a temporary painter, then handed me his serrated folding rigging knife with a lanyard. I cut the painter so Quinn could move the homicidal dinghy out of my way. I did not want to dive under the boat without any kind of mask or goggles, so I held on to the severed painter and used my feet to work the line off the propeller and rudder.

After about a half hour, I climbed back into the boat for a 30-minute break, then went back into the water for around 30 more minutes. I managed to unfoul the line part way before I was too chilled to continue. After an hour of cold water immersion, I was so sapped I could barely climb the ladder. It was not until I was back aboard that Quinn told me he had goggles somewhere on the boat. By then I was too done to try them. I dried off and felt like a deflated balloon for hours. I tried to warm up again with hot tea and layers of clothing. Quinn checked the weather forecast, which predicted that the water would be much calmer by morning.

I woke early and prepared a big pot of hot soup. Quinn and I ate some for breakfast. I figured the rest could help warm me up at lunch, after my third encounter with the chilly brine. I had asked Quinn for the goggles ahead of time, but he blew it off, and when I was ready and needed them, it took him awhile to find them in his cluttered mess of a boat. Then I had to try on one pair and adjust them, but they didn’t work for me. So I tried the other pair and adjusted them. This took time, pushing back our schedule, minute by minute. I felt great annoyance, but the idea that I should abandon the mission still did not enter my head. Someone was relying on me for something important!

Finally in the water again, with goggles, I used my toes to unfoul nearly all the rest of the line, except for the bitter end, which had frayed and was too tangled and tight. I decided I had to dive down and use the knife. This took four dives, but I cleared the prop by 0930.

Finally, on day 5, after other minor disasters and more work-shirking on Quinn’s part, at 1613 were under way to leave Wellfleet. I was elated to be departing the harbor, where too many bad things had happened, and too many disasters been barely averted. Somehow, I was sure things would improve once we were traveling. But I was wrong; they worsened.

I drove the boat while Quinn secured a few things, removed the sail cover from the main, and set up the lazy jacks. Following the markers, we picked our way along the winding channel until near sunset, when we could finally raise sail and cut the engine. I kept the boat on a beam reach for hours as we crossed Cape Cod Bay. Quinn went below to take a nap, and I sang sea shanties and other songs to myself while I drove, enjoying some solitude and sail as the big moon rose astern. That interlude was the best part of the entire week-long adventure.

I was tired by the time Quinn said we needed to douse the sails in order to enter the Cape Cod Canal. He said he wanted me to become more familiar with BELLA, so I furled the jib on its roller, and since I had the only automatic PFD, I went forward to douse the main. We entered the Cape Cod Canal just after 11 p.m., the full moon’s glow helping us to see. We passed the Sagamore Bridge just before midnight, then I slept for about 45 minutes before Quinn called down the companionway. He woke me because he didn’t want to drive the boat as we exited the canal. I trusted my eyesight better than his, so, I drove BELLA through what seemed an almost endless channel lined with big markers on each side. Quinn indicated we would anchor near the headland where the old canal had run, for it would give us shelter from the wind. That way the boat would not bounce too badly through the rest of the night.

At 0150 we were anchored at Wings Neck, and minutes later, the rain began to fall. We slept until about 0700, and took a slow morning in order to recover some. Also, we carefully flaked the main and put it under cover, to reduce windage and potential damage to the sail. We weighed anchor shortly after 1030. Quinn planned to make for New Bedford. We left the shelter of the shore and found green seas with 5’ swells topped with rolling whitecaps and some blown spray. Quinn paced on the foredeck, and we were out for about an hour before he decided conditions were too rough. We turned back, passing Wings Neck and going more inland for better shelter. I drove the boat while Quinn kept lookout and “navigated” with his car GPS and chart book. Seriously. His car GPS. “Call out the depth every few seconds,” he told me. That was his solution to a non-functioning chart plotter. He noted that sailors of yore had used a similar method. Um, yeah, and they freaking died! To call out the depth every few seconds was as stressful as it was tedious.

At 1148 we anchored at Phinneys Harbor. We had tried to set anchor twice before, but it dragged on the seagrass bottom. During this time, I kept smelling whiffs of something that I feared was the transmission burning. Quinn said that there was a problem with the trans and that it would cost about $1,200 to fix it. He said it might work fine for years, or slowly worsen and then die. “Or suddenly die and leave us stranded,” I noted. 

I took about an hour nap while Quinn researched places to hole up more safely. He settled on Point Independence Yacht Club, a sheltered harbor with facilities in a cove on the other side of the canal. I looked up the club online and called for info. The harbormaster said we could tie up on the fuel dock. With winds as they were BELLA would beat against the transient dock if we tied to it.

On our way to Point Independence Quinn was again on bow watch and had me call out depth constantly as I drove the boat. Fog settled in and we lost our way. We could not see any markers and had no reference point. I wondered how we would get out of that, and recalled Atticus Finch’s admonition, “It’s not time to worry yet.”

Quinn told me to keep calling out depth. All I could see around us was lobster pot markers, like a minefield. Suddenly, Quinn urgently told me to “turn south,” which meant a sharp turn to port. I did so, and the boat immediately ran aground. The impact knocked Quinn down. He looked up at me from the cabin deck below the companionway, a mix of surprise and blame on his face. In moments he was over the shock and took the wheel. Quinn got us off the bar or spoils, turned south again, and ran us aground a second time. I was seriously wondering if we were going to get out of that, when suddenly the fog lifted! We could see the bridge over the canal and I determined that we were in the Mashnee Island “flats” area, which is…flat. So much for Quinn’s old-car-GPS and-call-out-your-depth navigation method.

In the dark, Quinn and I threaded our way up the obstruction-strewn channel to Point Independence Yacht Club and tied up at the fuel dock. We drank the last two beers, ate some reheated soup, and soon after I decided I was done with that day. 

I woke at about 0300, a voice inside me screaming, “I need to get off this boat NOW!” Immediately, I realized that was right; I had to leave as soon as possible. I could not see spending weeks more aboard that boat, without a head or even navigation equipment, with leaks, with great disorganization and clutter, and Quinn doing little to mitigate the challenges.

When Quinn ran over the dinghy painter, he had announced, “I will find new ways to make stupid mistakes,” and indeed, he did. Sort of. He made the same mistakes repeatedly. He used poor judgment, ignored time and tide deadlines, neglected to check forecasts, or to even make a basic plan. But he did make the mistakes in new ways. His stupid mistakes cost us dearly in money or time or put us in a bad situation. Indeed, by hiding the facts about the boat condition and safety he had put me in a bad situation from the start. I decided I would not tolerate that any longer.

Even so, part of me felt guilty, because my decision would put Quinn in a spot. He took it well and admitted he had been afraid I would leave. The old man decided to make the rest of the transit alone, including going “outside,” on the ocean, to sail past NJ, which has no safe harbor. That meant he would sail solo for about 20 hours straight. I worried about him, but my being there would not make things safe enough, only put two people at risk instead of one.

Luckily for me, one of my KALMAR NYCKEL Crew Training classmates lived in the area. Greg kindly took us to a restaurant for great seafood and offered to drive me to the bus station in Providence RI. After I transferred to another bus in NYC, I arrived in Wilmington, DE, where my friend and shipmate, Sally, met me at the bus station. She took me to her home, fed me homemade chili, and put on a humorous movie, all of which helped me feel better.  

Sally, a highly experienced cruiser, said she would make that transit with no fewer than three other people, and she would have a chart plotter and a back-up plotter. My friend’s comments were supportive feedback on my decision to quit the transit, and verification that my being there would only have put both of us at risk. Later, I asked a highly experienced and respected captain for feedback, which was, “That was a difficult situation and you made the right decision. Most people wouldn’t.” 

I tried to keep the friendship with Quinn–and even helped the old man prepare his boat for storage after he moved it to a local marina–but his disrespect continued. For one thing, he tried to stick me with half the cost of bills for boat repair materials he had bought after I left. I declined, but when we split the valid expenses that included car rental, fuel, tolls, and provisions, I recognized just how much the voyage had cost me: about $500 and 10 days of my life to sail about 50 miles. That was outrageously expensive, even for sailing, especially aboard a slovenly boat with a reckless skipper. However, I decided it was perhaps a cheap lesson if I could fully apply it to future decisions. Ultimately, I told Quinn that his behavior had been reprehensible and unforgivable, and insisted that he stay away from me.

After I was back ashore, a mutual acquaintance accused me of abandoning Quinn when I quit the voyage. However, Quinn had abandoned me before the journey had even begun. He coaxed me into a difficult, stressful, and dangerous situation, by hiding the condition of his boat and himself with a pretty picture of words and ideas. As a dear friend later noted, Quinn assumed my competence would carry the day. He could depend on me to make up for his lack, and he disguised his use of me with the idea that he was giving me an opportunity. My friend concluded that “respect is not enough to go sailing with. It can be too easily faked.”

Fortunately, soon after the Cape Cod ordeal, I landed a Hunter 38 delivery with Matt Rutherford. That 11-day voyage offered the sailing, solitude, quiet, blue water, and wide open sky that greatly helped me recover from the painful experience with Quinn.

That miserable Cape Cod voyage taught me a great deal. I learned that I have a tendency toward irrational guilt, which, according to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, is “a feeling of discomfort about something we’ve done against our irrationally high standards, developed early in childhood to please an adult.” It leads us to emphasize self-punishment over behavior change, trapping us in guilt. Aware of that, I could look back and see how large a role this irrational guilt played in keeping me bound to a desperately bad situation. Since the awful voyage, I have been aware that I need to listen to my inner voice ever earlier, when it even murmurs, instead of ignoring it until it screams. Good idea, eh?

*A pseudonym


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J.B. the Philadelphia laundry mule driver

JB PARKES If you are lucky, perhaps once in your life the combination of a beautiful day, an unusually good mood, a snap decision based on a moment’s recognition of another’s struggle, and the inclination to trust the kindness of a stranger can turn a chance encounter into something special. This happened the day I met J.B. Parkes, BSDM, in Philadelphia.
I was walking the mile back to me ship from the laundromat, and my mesh bag of clean, folded laundry seemingly heavier each block. As I made my way down the brick sidewalk along Pine Street, I shifted the load from my arm to the top of my head. Moments later, I heard a voice from over my left shoulder.

“Would you like help carrying your laundry?” the voice said. I stopped, and turned to see a young man on one of the city’s blue Indego bike share bicycles. He wore square framed glasses and blue checked shirt. Wisps of dark hair poked out from beneath a red Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap, and his face was adorned with a black “scruffy look” beard.

At first, I could not believe a young person would make such an offer with honesty. For a second, I wondered if he wanted to steal my clean laundry, but that didn’t make any sense. The young man’s face was earnest and open, and I believed his offer to help was genuine, though I could not understand why.

I accepted his offer, he put the laundry bag on the front basket of the bicycle, walked along with me, and only then asked where I was headed. I told him I was going to the waterfront, and he said that’s where he was going, to play chess with random strangers in the park until his friends arrived for their scheduled meet-up. I thought maybe he was a kindred spirit, the sort of person who enjoys meeting people in unconventional ways.

As we walked, the young man and I got to know each other a little. He told me that he works for a financial planning software developer in the city, and I told him that I work aboard a tall ship that would be in port for a few days. As we waited for the light to change to cross S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., we introduced ourselves over a handshake, and I learned that he goes by the name J.B.

J.B. and I chatted the rest of the way to the ship, and I offered him a deck tour, which he gladly accepted, though he wanted to return the rental bike to the rack first. His errand gave me time to double check with the mate about the deck tour, and to stow my bag of laundry below.

When J.B. returned, I showed him around the ship, offered some facts and history, and introduced him to my shipmates at hand. This perhaps 20-minute exchange showed J.B. to be playful, intellectual, and culturally literate. My shipmates liked him, too.

Soon, me ship was readying to get under way for a public day sail, and J.B. had to go meet his friends. I gave him a hug, my thanks, my card, and asked him to send info about the software company where he works.

The two of us struck up a conversation by text. I referred to him as my “laundry mule,” and asked what had made him spontaneously offer help to a stranger. J.B. observed that he was not the mule, the bike was–since it carried the load. He said that he helped “because it seemed interesting,” and that he was “bored and hate that feeling of needing to adjust a heavy load.”

Before long we arranged for the laundry mule driver to come hang out with me mateys aboard our ship. On the appointed evening, J.B. arrived with a box of gourmet chocolates from the historic Shane Confectionery and a package of 11 beers. He explained that one beer was missing because he had given it to the clerk at the candy store, since she said she was looking forward to going home to have a cold beer. Me shipmates and I loved that glimpse into J.B.’s way of living.

That night, there was the singing of the Rocky Horror Picture tunes, the drinking of whiskey with beer chasers, the eating of fine chocolate, the 3-round arm wrestling challenge, the puppy cuddling and Shiba Inu rubbing, sea shanty singing, sidewalk shoulder massages, and many strange conversations. At one point, I asked J.B. again what had made him decide to offer help. I wanted to know the deeper reason underneath “I was bored” and “it seemed interesting.” J.B. said it was that moment, when he saw me shift my laundry bag from my arm to my head. He could tell I was struggling, remembered what that was like, and decided to lend a hand.

And that’s how one person’s recognition of another’s struggle, and the other’s inclination to trust the kindness of a stranger turned a chance encounter into the start of a fun and quirky friendship.

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The catamaran from hell, continued

Lagoon 43 catamaran, HEAVEN, which was hell.

It could be HEAVEN or it could be HELL.

The US Coast Guard rescue should have been a happy ending to the catamaran from hell story, but the travail continued. This was rooted in skipper Dave’s sympathy for the owners, John and Kat, who had cited a family medical emergency as the reason they needed their liveaboard Lagoon 42 catamaran quickly moved from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, to Annapolis, Maryland. Once Dave had arrived in St. Thomas, the owners had soon flown out to Annapolis, so they could be close to their relative who needed care.

So therrre I wuzzz*, having survived an ordeal of special magnitude, and unaware there was more to come.

Having been towed to safe harbor at Cobb’s Marina by the USCG, our crew of four caught our collective breath, which included development of the amazing “HEAVEN Under Tow USCG-Approved  Bacon-Chipotle Stovetop Granola Bars.” We cleared US Customs, then skipper Dave treated his crew to lunch at Captain Groovy’s Seafood Grill. The food was delicious, servings generous, and it was a pleasure to have a hot meal that someone else cooked, sit on a surface that didn’t bounce, and use the spacious bathrooms with toilets that also did not bounce up and down. The four of us clinked our glasses in victory over the elements and the triumph over the boat. When I turned to Beth I started to laugh.

“You have the funniest eye makeup ever!” I noted. “Like white eye shadow, all the way around your eyes. It’s salt!” Beth looked at me and grinned before she answered.

“So do you!” she laughed in retort. I rubbed my eyes and laughed when felt the coarse dry salt on my own skin.

Back at the boat, Dave sent Bob up the mast in the bosun’s chair to check out the main halyard. If it could be retrieved and repaired, then we could easily motorsail the boat in decent weather. It turned out the halyard was not recoverable, so if we were to sail the boat on to Annapolis, we would need particular wind speed and direction. Bob and Beth generously helped with a lot of getting the boat stored away before they left. The two had to go home to their real lives in North Carolina, lives with regular jobs, commutes, their own beds, and keys to front doors.

At Cobb’s Marina we took on diesel since the stuff in the Jerry cans on deck was suspect, having been bashed about when the owner’s lashing failed, and at least one can with a leak. The good folks at Cobb’s were exceedingly friendly and helpful.

That evening, I sinned. I think I used up the hot water at the marina. It seemed like that’s how much it took to wash off the salt crust from our 1,550 mile ocean voyage.

What respite it was to sleep aboard a quiet boat, that was not then leaking or heaving up and down, and to sleep through the night, after that long chain of 4 a.m. watches. In the morning, our crew of two woke to a boat so cold that we could see our breath. I baked the rest of the bacon as an excuse to turn on the oven and heat the saloon a little.

Dave said the forecast was for winds from the West at about 15 KT during the day, which would be perfect for motorsailing up the bay. However, the wind was expected to clock around to North that evening.
“I’m not up for any more motoring against the wind in the cold in this crap boat,” I told my skipper. “If the wind changes, we’re going to anchor or tie up somewhere. Otherwise I’m taking my chances with a half inflated dinghy, a single oar, and rowing ashore!”

With the good forecast ahead, HEAVEN (or “HELL” as she should have been named) left the dock around 11:40 a.m. Dave and I figured we could effectively motorsail for most of the day and then put in at a marina when the wind changed. We got out of Little Creek and found the wind speed and direction were wrong, and the wind was too much for the one engine. We decided to anchor, have lunch, review options, and make a joint decision.  

Dave wanted to wait half a day for the wind to lay down, then determine whether to go on toward Annapolis or go back to Little Creek. I agreed. The skipper was in email contact with the owners, who were completely unsympathetic to the situation.

John and Kat seemed to have no concern for what we had been through, or, perhaps they simply didn’t care. They had no appreciation for the fact that our crew had kept the boat moving despite its multiple failures, and the debilitating cold. They also were clueless about the impossibility of sailing a catamaran without a main and only one engine.

The owners did not acknowledge the large volume of free advice and tips Dave had given them regarding additional repairs to the former charter boat. wrote back to say they wanted us to stay aboard until the weather was expected to break, on Monday. The owners practically demanded we spend another two-and-a-half days, bouncing at anchor on a boat with no heat or hot water.

Dave was clearly a highly experienced skipper, who had been highly recommended by the owner’s friend, yet the owners suggested their boat’s leaky sail drive had broken due to our letting a line wrap around it, and that the heads were backfilling because we did not know how to use them.

Dave wrote back to John and Kat, telling them that he needed them to square up for services rendered so far, before going forward with other and likely different plans. His letter requested payment by credit card by 9 am the following day.

It was 29F in the warmest part of the boat, where we had the oven running, and 26F in the cabins, so we had to stay under our down sleeping bags.

I checked the battery charge and anchor swing, then hunkered down in my sleeping bag to attempt a nap, as we had agreed to 4-hour anchor/battery watches through the night.

In the evening, Dave came up to the saloon, where he worked on his computer, and made calls to repair yards, Towboat US, and rental car companies. While he worked, I made up a pot of beans and rice for dinner, using of the remaining carrots and celery, as well as a can of diced tomatoes, a palmful of faded dry cilantro, basil, and a couple pinches of chipotle pepper, and grated a bit of cheese for a topping.

Meanwhile, skipper Dave conducted hours of research and made personal contacts to lay out repair yard options for the owners. He was cordial, sympathetic to their situation, and firm in stating his needs. He had rendered service well beyond what anyone expected, in highly unpleasant and even dangerous conditions.

Dave told me he had offered John and Kat a deferred payment plan due to the family issues. Aside from the days of work, e had spent about $1,500 of his own money, which they had not yet reimbursed. The owners demanded significant additional accommodation from Dave, when they had not paid anything. They said they could not settle their account. Dave decided that if they had not met his request, we would leave in the morning, after he had the boat towed to the closest marina with a lift large enough to handle the catamaran, which has a 24.5’ beam.

Through the night the disabled floating cocktail lounge of a boat bounced, creaked, and groaned. The wind howled, and the water punched at the boat like a giant’s fist. Sleep was a challenge, and I’m not sure when I was happier to see morning light. Fortunately, the anchor and battery held, so at least we were safe.

At 6:30 a.m., the Norfolk Towboat US captain, Byron, called to say he was up and starting to move. He told Dave he’d gone out to the jetty last night to see where we were. He called again about an hour later, to say he was on his way. Dave and I suited up in all our cold weather gear. Because the outdoor temperature was painfully cold.

The Towboat US boat arrived around 8 a.m., while Dave and I were taking up the anchor. The skipper had removed the anchor bridle and was driving the boat toward the anchor while I controlled the electric winch to take in the chain. We were right atop the anchor when the Towboat arrived. The anchor lead was bending under the stress, so Dave asked Byron to help. The tow boat captain got the Towboat bridle on the catamaran and Byron pulled us toward the anchor while I pushed the button to raise it.

My hands were so painful from the cold that I wanted to cry. But crying takes energy, and I needed to use all I had to help us get out of there, so I refused to cry. By the time we were under tow and I tried to put the anchor bridle back in the locker, my fingers did not work. I could only pick up the coiled line by using my hand like a claw to hook and lift. I could not understand how Byron could work as he was, with no gloves. As soon as I could, I ran back to the galley to thaw me fingers at the oven door. Dave hailed Byron on the radio.
“Do you want us to do anything?” he asked, since the USCG had wanted a helmsman to keep the boat directly behind theirs.

“No,” the Towboat operator replied, “Just sit back and enjoy the riiiiide,” he crooned, with a humorous uplift at the last word.

It wasn’t a bad ride, compared to all we had been through before. We were out of the wind and spray, at least. I could make warm drinks and sip them, while doing nothing. I had run out of tea, so I tried the Lipton that the owners had left aboard. It was undrinkable. So, I put some Hershey kisses into a pan, covered them with milk from a can, and stuck the bowl in the oven to melt and mix. About the time it was ready to pour, we neared Bluewater Yacht Center in Hampton, VA, where we needed to raft up with the towboat so he could help us dock. There were at least four people and a dog at the dock to help. Evidently, they’d heard about our rescue. It seemed everyone had, even a sailing friend in Texas.

Once we were tied up, Dave treated me to lunch at the marina’s Surf Rider restaurant. All I wanted was a bloody Mary with horseradish and extra spice (plus capers and seaweed, which, of course, they didn’t have), and raw Chincoteague oysters, the best!  

Well fed, Dave and I cleaned up the boat, packed up, and hit the road in the car he had arranged to rent. We arrived at Dave’s around 10pm. His wife, Janet, had the fire going for us. She showed me the guest room and poured a glass of wine for me. My hosts told me I could take a shower, or a jacuzzi bath, or both. I let that idea soak in as I stood in front of the fireplace, sipped wine, chatted with Dave and Janet, and felt grateful for their kindness and the the sensation of stillness.

* "So therrre I wuzzz" is the proper way to begin a true sea story.


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The flying fish of fate

2016 NC to RI - 813 milesA year ago today I met a delightful elderly woman on the train when I traveled from Wilmington DE to Wilmington NC on my way to help with a private yacht transit to East Greenrich RI, over 800 miles away. I had decided to sit next to Addie when I walked down the aisle in the train car. Some other passengers next to open seats had sprawled their belongings across the adjoining cushion, were absorbed in their electronic devices, or offered unfriendly facial expressions. Addie was different, though. Her head was up, bright black eyes welcoming, her expression open. That made my choice for me. I asked Addie where she was headed. She told me she was going back to North Carolina, where she was from. Her children and a 7-year-old granddaughter, were there, and she planned to stay for weeks. She hoped to bring the girl back to NYC for a month or so this summer, to show her a world outside of small-town southern life.
She told me she was 68-years-old, her first job was in a chicken processing plant when she was 18, and she had made her life in New York City as a nursing aide. Addie said she had been married once, but found it to too much trouble to try to please a man, so she vows to never marry again. Addie said she wanted to go back to live in NC, but kept her N Y residency and house because of the access to medical care.

I wondered aloud how fast our train was going, pulled up Google Maps, and showed Addie the blue dot that was us, speeding along at 85 MPH. The earth view map showed the terrain, and we could almost simultaneously see the swampland through the window and on the map as if from space. My elderly companion’s reaction told me she had not seen a map app before.

Feeling ready for some lunch, I pulled a small bag of shelled sunflower seeds from my daypack. I offered to share them with Addie, but she declined.

“I could really go for a bit of chocolate,” she said wistfully. I brightened and pulled out the little bag of foil-wrapped dark chocolate pieces that my shipmate Ann had given me as part of a kind farewell gift when I took a break from KALMAR NYCKEL for the yacht transit.

As we enjoyed the chocolate, Addie asked me the reason I was going her home state. I told her about the upcoming yacht transit, in which I would crew aboard a beautiful Passport 43 for over 800 miles, from Wilmington NC to East Greenwich RI.

“Aren’t you afraid of being out there on the ocean?” my companion asked.
“No, I love it out there!,” I replied. “Last fall I spent 11-½ days on the ocean, aboard a smaller boat, with just one other person. We took turns, called watches, five hours on, five hours off, around the clock.” Addie’s eyes widened. “And we saw a whale! And, of course, flying fish…” The elderly woman’s expression was incredulous.
“What?” she asked, “Fish that can fly?”
“Yes!” I answered. “They can fly for an amazingly long time, and their fins make an indescribable sound as they go.” I pulled up the fabulous BBC video, “flying fish hunt”, so Addie could see for herself. I enjoyed watching her expression as she watched the video, which was clearly a window into a world she had not imagined.

Addie asked how I had become a sailor, and I gave her the thumbnail sketch: fell in love with sailing at age 10, sailed often in my youth, had owned two boats in my youth, always wanted to sail tall ships. I told her that a year-and-a-half earlier, I completed the transition to a sailor’s life, that I had sacrificed everything to follow my lifelong dream. I had quit my horrible job, fledged my children, fixed up my house, gave away my belongings, sold the house at a loss, and went off to live my lifelong dream of sailing tall ships. Addie and I continued to enjoy each other’s company on the rest of our train ride together. My stop came too soon.

“Addie,” I said, “I’m afraid it’s time for me to go. But it has been wonderful talking with you and getting to know you. I wish you all the best, and hope you have a wonderful time with your family.”

“Well,” she replied, “You taught me something important.” I looked at her, questioning. “I decided I’m going to do what you did,” she announced. “I’m going to get rid of that house, move back to Carolina, and live where I want to live!” Her face beamed, and I’m sure that mine did, too. Addie gave me a sweet and gentle hug. I kissed her cheek lightly, wished her all the best, and smiled the entire way to the stop where I was to catch my bus for the next leg of my journey.

Since that day, I cannot see or think of flying fish without also thinking of Addie, and the expression on her face when she had decided to chase her own flying fish of fate, to sacrifice everything to bring her dream alive. Here’s to you, brave Addie! May you long enjoy your life with family in North Carolina.

Copyright 2017 by Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

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HEAVEN under tow USCG-approved bacon-chipotle stovetop granola bars

20170228_165310Although the 1,555 mile delivery of HEAVEN–a leaky, creaky, stinky, noisy, and unseaworthy Lagoon 42 catamaran–was greatly trying and a minor disaster, a few good things did come of it. Like the recipe for HEAVEN Under Tow USCG- Approved Bacon-Chipotle Stovetop Granola Bars.

So therrre I wuzzz*, aboard what amounted to a floating cocktail lounge, crewed by skipper Dave, Bob, Beth, and myself. It was Day 8 of the voyage. The day we lost the main sail, which is part of another story. Except for a few toasted almonds, the crew snack bag was empty. We had eaten the fresh and dried fruit, cookies, crackers, and granola bars that Dave and I had stocked while provisioning. This seemed to make Bob sad, and I like Bob, so, during my off watch I was determined to make something good out of whatever ingredients I could find.

The owners of the boat, a couple by the name Fearnow, are clearly not much into cooking. Their galley was poorly outfitted and meagerly stocked. No flour, no baking powder, no cocoa powder, few spices, and no sweetener but white sugar. However, they are apparently into oatmeal, because there were two cannisters of rolled oats. With that, I devised a recipe for skillet granola bars, made up with the limited ingredients found in the galley: rolled oats, eggs, sugar, the remaining nuts, and the cinnamon I had brought. Beth, Bob, and I had made a number of jokes about eating the piece of sargassum seaweed that Beth had plucked from the trampoline at the bow of the boat. So, just for fun, I also included a tiny piece of finely minced seaweed in the mix.

By the time I cut the bars and removed them from the pan, the cinnamon scent of the pan toasted treat filled the galley/saloon. I carried the plate down to Dave, who was working on his computer down in his cabin. The skipper looked up, clearly interested.
“What have you guys been doing?” Dave asked. “It smells great!”
“I made some skillet granola bars,” I replied. Dave gave me a suspictious look.
“Did you put seaweed in it?” he asked. I couldn’t lie, but I also couldn’t answer.
“Um…” I said.
“Then I’m not eating it!” our skipper proclaimed.
“It’s only a tiny-winy little pice, minced up fine, so you can’t even tell,” I offered.

The bars were cake-like, mildly sweet and cinnamon-y good. Bob seemed quite happy with them, and I was glad we had enough of the ingredients, except the nuts, to make more as needed. The next opportunity arose on the day the Coast Guard rescued us.  Unfortunately, the howling wind and rough sea made the voyage to safe harbor arduous and frigid. Bob, Beth and I took short turns at the helm, each relieving another when the helmsman was chilled.

20170302_112508As soon as I went off watch, I hung up my foulies and warmed up by making a second batch of the skillet granola bars. This time I left out the milk for a less cake-like product, and with Bob’s encouragement, increased the sugar. Okay, I doubled the sugar. After the Coast Guard had us safely delivered to Cobb’s marina, I brought out the skillet granola bars, still warm, and shared them with the Coasties, who gave their approval and quickly ate them up with pleasure.

Poor Bob was disappointed the granola bars had disappeared, and he gently hinted that he would like it if I made another batch there at the dock. “There is some cooked bacon in the reefer,” he suggested, implying that bacon skillet granola bars would be good. I took the hint, and decided to also add some chipotle powder from the boat’s stores.

US Customs arrived right about then, and that bacon-chipotle smell enticed one of the officers to have a taste. It seemed Dave’s suspicion about seaweed kept him from tasting the latest recipe, but Beth, Bob, and I found them delicious. You can, too, because here is the recipe:

HEAVEN Under Tow USCG-Approved Bacon-Chipotle Stovetop Granola Bars (AKA “Bob Bars”)

2 cups instant rolled oats
2 medium eggs
2 tablespoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of chopped nuts (optional)
1/4 cup oil
One speck of seaweed, minced (semi-optional)
1/8 tsp chipotle powder
5 strips of bacon, cooked, finely chopped (optional)

Mush all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Pour into hot, lightly oiled nonstick skillet. Lower heat and cook until it looks pretty good and smells yummy. Cut into squares and eat warm.

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How to recognize a pervert

Unfortunately, there is no simple way to determine who is a pervert.  I’m talking about the kind of perverts who sexually assault other people. They don’t come from any given ethnic or socioeconomic background and they rarely look like a creep. Indeed, the most successful perverts are masters at disguise and deceit.

These people are predators, who work hard to appear normal, and may be considered “pillars of the community.” They present such a façade that other people—potential victims and potential critics alike—cannot believe they would do this.

The pervert could look like a sweet old man with twinkly blue eyes, the kind one would expect to be a beloved grandfather. He is likely to be generally friendly, and extend courtesy or kindness to others—but that is a ruse, to throw off both the predator’s potential victim and those who might support the victim if she or he speaks up about the assault.

I know about this kind of evil person first-hand, through the sexual abuse I endured as a child. When I went into recovery in 1997, I learned that I was not alone, that it was not my fault, that these disgusting people molest anyone they can, and that they studiously position themselves for access to as many potential victims as possible. These perverts carefully scope out their prey and plan their assault with precision, so they can take advantage and strike when their target is most vulnerable.

Through years of recovery and reading, followed by being an active writer and speaker on the topic of childhood sexual abuse, I thought I had come to know the predator’s mind well enough to identify predatory behavior and avoid becoming a target again. But I was wrong.

I know that the common pedophile is skilled at confusing his potential victim with kindness, in order to disarm his prey—and to deflect off any blowback with, “I was just being nice.”  I thought that, as an aware adult, I would be able to discern good touch from bad touch, friendly person from creep. But I was wrong.

A seemingly kind old man, whom I met on a sailing weekend in 2011, gave me advice, helped me learn some new things, and otherwise displayed friendly behavior—which turned out to be the key to his plan. Rodney’s goal was to gain my trust so he could violate me.

This many years later, I recognize that part of the molester’s twisted pleasure comes from his ability to deceive his target into trusting him, the setting of his stage where he will act out his perversion. His deceitfulness itself is a turn on for him, a kind of one-sided foreplay. As is his ability to instantly turn from “nice guy” into pervert when the opportunity is at hand. He gets his rocks off by building trust that he can violate along with his victim’s bodily integrity. How deeply sick!

Near the end of that sailing weekend, I sustained a significant injury that required care. The skipper of the boat did not concern himself with his injured crew, but the nice old man offered to help me find the closest urgent care facility and said he would stay to make sure I was OK. How kind! When I was finished there, Rodney* offered to take me to dinner because it was after 9 p.m. and we had not eaten. How thoughtful! We had a nice dinner and interesting conversation. How refreshing! After that, Rodney said he wanted to follow me home, to make sure I got home OK. Again, how thoughtful! Finally, arriving at my house around midnight, Rodney offered to help bring in my bags, since my injury caused me some difficulty with this. How helpful! This nice old man with twinkly blue eyes had been so kind to me that, I was thoroughly taken aback when I hugged him good-bye and he touched me in an inappropriate manner, committing a sexual assault.

I was exhausted, in pain and my guard was down, so I did not react strongly. Just as he had planned and expected. I stepped back and gave him a serious warning look, said, “You. Need. To. Leave. Now.” which sent Rodney on his way. Later, I told a friend that, “I wish I had slapped the hell out of him.”

In the following days, the old man perp kept trying to engage me by email, as if nothing had happened. I let days pass before I answered one of Rodney’s emails, including the warning, “I assure you that, should you ever again touch me in any inappropriate manner, you will wish you had not.” As I expected, he has not attempted to contact me since. Rodney didn’t even respond to the email I sent to notify him that I had provided in this post his 15 minutes of fame. Sexual predators are often bullies, who, when confronted, scuttle back into their dark holes. Temporarily. Until they spot another potential target.

This predator’s method of operation is that of the classic child molester, so I am certain that this “kind old man” has assaulted many other women and girls—and perhaps boys and men, too—and likely in much, much worse ways.

Some may wonder why I did not report Rodney’s sexual assault against me. I didn’t call the police because I well know that we live in a rape culture. As Clementine Ford noted in The Sydney Morning Herald, a rape culture is one in which “the impact and reality of sexual violence is minimised while the perpetrators of it are supported by a complex system built on flawed human beliefs, mythologies about gender, and good old fashioned misogyny.” We women, and girls, are expected to accept that sexual assault and rape are “just part of life,” that “boys will be boys,” that we somehow deserved to be assaulted or raped because we wore the wrong clothes, went to the wrong place, stayed out too late, or, whatever excuse can take the blame off the pervert. Our society will, as Ford noted, “bend over backwards to defend and diminish culpability of perpetrators, despite recognising the reality of their predatory and violent actions.”

Ford’s article points out that “someone who makes the choice to rape or sexually assault someone isn’t acting out of character – rather, they are expressing a central part of their character,” and with that thought in mind, I wish I had responded differently to “the kind old man’s” sexual assault against me. For the sake of Rodney’s past victims, and for that of his future targets, I do wish I had slapped the hell out of him.

© 2011, 2017 Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

*Rodney is the pervert’s real name. I use it to publicly call him out for his disgusting and perverted sexual predation.

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That time the Coast Guard rescued us

coasties and crewSo therrre I wuzzz*,  unaware of what would soon begin as I stood my 4 a.m.- 8 a.m. watch aboard a 42’ catamaran that was 24’ wide. Two fellow crew, our skipper and I were charged to deliver the boat from St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands to the owners in Annapolis, Maryland.

Our last glimpse of land had been seven days before, when Puerto Rico became a smudge of light that faded off our stern as I completed my evening watch at 8 p.m. Since then, we had made it through one crew member’s day of serious seasickness, my own sudden and brief surprise bout with mal de mer, and adjusted to life at sea, including this boat’s unusually loud creaks and groans as it bucked and whomped through the ocean waves.

By then we had learned that the privately owned former charter boat had a number of minor and moderate issues–most of which were little more than annoyance–but we didn’t yet know it had some serious problems, too. Our crew of four had quickly discovered that the boat lacks sufficient handholds, because it was a trial to make it across her wide spaces, or to even stand in the galley as the boat bumped and twisted over the 5-to-8-foot ocean waves. Due to the lurching, I needed to time my effort with the movements of the boat to climb onto my bunk.

We had learned that the hatches and port light in my cabin leaked. I had stowed my sea bag in the shower and later found it had been soaked by the leaking hatch. My sleeping bag had become damp from the leaking hatch over the bunk. I noticed a smear of silicone along the aft edge, which means the owners had tried to fix it, which means they knew it leaks. The fan in my bunk also didn’t work, so I had to dry my bag in the saloon. I had begun to bunk there, too, on wet days and nights, to avoid dampening my bag and gear again. Also, we found out that for the giant “patio roof” on the boat, there is little protection from rain, and, that there was no place to hang wet foul weather gear, either, and we had four sets of them.

We also knew that three of the four the heads (toilets) had faulty valves that let the wastewater return to the bowls, from which it would sometimes slosh out. Some of their hose connections also leaked into the boat.

On Day 4, a block on the traveler broke. In the middle of the night. In the rain. This meant our skipper, Dave, had to go atop the boat, in the dark, in the rain, waaaay out in the ocean, on a boat that lacks handholds, to rig safety lines that would allow us to keep control of the boom even if the other traveler block also failed. The rain had intensified while Dave readied to go up. It became a torrent while he climbed across the cabin top and onto the rooftop. The danger was due mostly to the lack of handholds on the boat; there was nothing to tie into or even hold onto. If he fell, he could be badly injured before falling into that immense sea. Of course, we would execute the Man Overboard maneuver, but a sailor in the water is instantly at great risk from hypothermia and difficult visibility in high seas.

As Dave’s spotter, all I could see were the bottoms of his feet and a couple of reflective patches on his gear. It was almost as nerve wracking for me as it was for him. About the time our skipper came down off the rooftop the rain had suddenly stopped.

On Day 7, as we had alternately motored and sailed according to the wind’s dictation, I was doused by sea water while down below. In a cabin, where it is supposed to be dry. We were about 250 miles off Savannah, Georgia when I went to the fore starboard berth. Just then, a wave hit the bulkhead and came through the fixed window as if it were open. I was suddenly soaked from the hip down, and seawater crept across a wide swath of the cabin sole. I proclaimed, “This is one leaky-ass boat!”

The morning of the first big disaster, on Day 8, the boat was sailing at about 7 knots on a starboard beam reach, under mostly cloudy skies, with wind from the south southeast at 12 knots. I was alone at the helm while my three mateys slept as the sky began to lighten. Just after 6 a.m., when we were about 150 miles offshore, I heard a faint pop, then watched, incredulous and helpless, as the sail quickly flitted down, dousing itself mostly into the sail bag along the boom. The main halyard parted about two feet below the masthead. I ran below to tell skipper Dave and he told me to wake Beth and Bob. I got to open their cabin door and yell “All hands on deck! All hands on deck!” and then tell them that the main had come down. The surprised and uncomprehending expressions on their faces were hilarious. I wish I had thought to video that.

Dave had no choice but to risk going forward and up to the patio roof again to pack the clew of the sail into the bag at the foot. Once safely back on deck, Dave also rigged an alternate lead from the jib clew which improved its trim and acted like a preventer. We sailed downwind on a run under the headsail only at about 5 knots in 12-knot wind on mild seas. Our course was 324, aiming us at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. During my off watch I devised a recipe for skillet granola bars, made up with the limited ingredients found in the galley: rolled oats, eggs, sugar, nuts, and the cinnamon I brought.

That night, just after my watch ended at 8 p.m., a huge wave broke over the boat and water poured in the latchless aft port hatch into the head. Bob used the last dry towel to clean it up. Shortly after this, I went to my bunk to sleep. About two hours later, I woke up as the bow plowed into a wave. I heard the sound of plastic Jerry cans zipping back and forth across the deck over my head, and water gushing into the shower in my berth. I thought I imagined a faint smell of diesel but I was wrong. One or more of the Jerry cans was leaking. The diesel fuel mixed with the seawater that poured into the port aft and forward heads. My berth smelled like diesel so I tried to sleep in the saloon. Even with the challenges we faced so far, I was unaware that on the following morning the scene would turn increasingly more urgent.

As I took my watch at 4 a.m. on day 9, we motored with the Genny in wind from the SSW at 25 knots while we bounced along at about 7.5 knots. I was wearing foul weather bibs and jacket because there was a lot of spray, and waves sometimes even crashed into the cockpit. The sky gradually lightened to reveal heavy clouds. The wind rose to 30-33 knots, so I called Dave up to help furl the jib.

Our little catamaran climbed waves higher than the boat as we motored against heavy seas, making little headway as we tried to cross the Gulf Stream. I was hungry when I came off watch, but conditions were too rough for cooking, so I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Beth and me, the other crew member who was awake and hungry.

Around 10:45 a.m. the skipper called a strategy meeting, because we were not making progress due to current, windage, or both. Our team agreed to partially unfurl jib and try higher RPMs. That made the boat bounce a bit more, but we were making headway and the autopilot was not blowing out like it had been. A couple of hours later, Bob was on watch when he pointed out several small black dolphins cavorting the big waves around our boat. It seemed to me they were a sign of hope in our deteriorating situation.

I took a decent nap before going back on watch. During that time the temperature dropped more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I put on my wool long johns and Gill base layer top on under my foulies. Wind speed had dropped and the waves were smaller, but we were still bouncing around. The Jerry cans were somewhat more secure since some of them had fallen into the trampoline between the two hulls. The improperly wired bilge pump alarm sounded off every 10 minutes or so with the volume of water we were taking on through the seriously leaky hatches.

So, therrre I wuzz, at the start of my evening watch, with wind from the South-Southeast at 21-23 knots. Big swells pushed on our port quarter. The boat speed was about 8 knots. All was well, despite loss of the mainsail. Less than 15 minutes later, the port engine suddenly quit and the engine alarm sounded.

I turned the engine off at the panel. Bob and Beth left their port aft berth and came topsides. They said the engine had made an awful grinding noise before it quit. Bob went in the engine hole to check it out and said it seemed the port sail drive failed.

With the wind SSW at 23 knots on relatively calm seas, we could motorsail at 7 knots on a beam reach under our single sail and single engine, but we could be in serious trouble when those ideal conditions changed, as they surely would.

Dinner was late that night, about 40 minutes after my night watch ended, so nearly 9 p.m. While we ate, the wind shifted to the nose (directly on the front of the boat). This caused the jib to flog, so Bob and I furled it. But without the jib’s stabilizing effect, the the autopilot couldn’t hold on. Instead, it let the boat spin around, so we had to hand steer, which takes a lot more energy. When I got off watch, we were about 35 miles from the mouth the Chesapeake Bay, moving at only 5 knots. I figured that meant we would get into the bay around dawn, and I expected to feel elated when the floating cocktail lounge of a boat was tied to a dock.

With waves breaking on the bow and leaking into my bunk, I tried to sleep in the saloon, but calls on the VHF radio intruded. I heard various bridge-to-bridge communication and the USCG weather advisory for thunderstorms. As I drifted to sleep I heard Dave quietly call a Pan-Pan, to notify the United States Coast Guard and vessels in the area of our state of urgency with no immediate danger. He gave them info about our boat, crew, and situation, so they would have it in advance in case our safety was in danger. Though I knew we were at risk, I figured there was nothing I could do about it by staying awake, and it was best that I try to rest when I could, so I would save energy for when the time came to rally.

I slept fitfully from about 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. and woke to cold and rain. Since I was wide awake, and Bob was cold, I relieved him early so he could go to bed. Dave and I had to douse the Genny as we turned to head toward the entrance to the bay, because the wind was then too far forward. Again, I had to steer by hand since the autopilot couldn’t handle the pressure without the Genny. Steering was difficult as we motored through the blackness at about 3 knots in winds around 30 knots and gusts up to 40 knots, blowing almost on the nose. Any time the wind caught the starboard fore quarter, she swung left almost uncontrollably. We were closer to the Bay and Little Creek, but progress was slow. I hoped we could make it.

The rigorous conditions required that we shift from regular watches to relieving each other from the cold. I became chilled by about 4 a.m., so skipper Dave roused Bob and Beth. I nestled in my sleeping bag with hot tea in the saloon. The tipping point came about an hour later. The wind continued to howl and throw up spray. Bob was trying to steer, but with one engine out and no sail, we were only going in circles. Our options were to call for aid or blow southeast to Bermuda. Skipper Dave called Towboat US. They took about 40 minutes to decide whether they were coming. Around 5:30 a.m. they informed our skipper that the wind was too much for them and they could not help us. Dave called the United States Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, which he had previously informed of our situation, and soon they were on the way. I got out of my sleeping bag, slipped into my foulies and PFD, and went to my cabin. There I considered what few things I most needed to keep in case we had to abandon ship, and tucked into the pockets of my foul weather gear.

The pre-dawn sky lightened to a strange color green as we saw the lights from the USCG 45’ cutter coming toward us in the distance. I felt a mix of apprehension and relief, as I did not know what would happen, but felt I could trust our Coasties to keep us safe, even though a rescue is also humiliating to a sailor. Using a heaving line, the young Coasties sent over a bridle, which Bob attached to the two forward most cleats on our boat, one on the bow of each hull, to keep the boat pointed ahead for the tow. The Coasties let out the tow line a long way before cleating it off. Their boat was hardly more than a dot in the water ahead.

Unfortunately, the combination of howling wind, rough sea, and the 42’ catamaran’s great windage were almost too much for the 45’ USCG cutter, which was towing us at about 3.5 knots. The voyage to safe harbor was arduous and frigid. Our crew had to hand steer, which was chilling and exhausting in those conditions. The helmsman had to wrestle with the wheel to keep the boat in line with the tow rope, and deal with constant cold salt spray hitting him or her in the face so hard that it stung the cheeks and sent chilled fingers of water down the necks of our foul weather gear. Therefore, Bob, Beth and I took short turns at the helm, each relieving another when the helmsman was chilled.

When I went off watch, I hung up my foulies and warmed up by making a second batch of the skillet granola bars. This time I left out the milk for a less cake-like product, and with Bob’s encouragement, increased the sugar. Okay, I doubled the sugar.

Once inside Little Creek, the Coasties had us shift lines so they could tie along side us to bring us to the dock at Cobb’s Marina, where skipper Dave had called ahead to make arrangements. The USCG had sent two additional crew to meet us at the dock, with fenders to loan us overnight. The Coasties also conducted a safety inspection and completed the paperwork. Their BM2 (Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class) asked skipper Dave when he had retired from the Coast Guard, a complimentary assumption the Coastie made, based on Dave’s crisp radio procedure, how well he had organized his crew, and that we were always right where they needed us to be.

I brought out the skillet granola bars, still warm, and shared them with the Coasties, who gave their approval and quickly ate them up with pleasure. The catamaran travail continued the following day, but that is for another story.

* "So therrre I wuzzz" is the proper way to begin a true sea story. 


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