Tom's Words

The Old Man and the Sea

It didn’t start out as one of those days. It was just a regular day as if sailing in the Bahamas qualifies as a regular day, but it was a regular day. The objective of the day was to go from George Town, Exumas to Cat Island.  Cat Island is around 50 nm away. We had been wanting to go there for a while, but the weather was dictating a different time table. Why the island is named Cat I do not know. There are islands in the Bahamas that are known for their pigs. Pigs that swim out to your boat looking for a treat, but there are no swimming cats on Cat Island. 

Cat island was home to Sidney Poitier. He was born in Miami, but raised on Cat Island. I remember watching many of his movies when I was younger, much much younger. In the Heat of the Night, To Sir with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Raisin in the Sun among others. He was a giant. He was grace under pressure. He exuded dignity. Was he a product of being raised on an isolated island that valued education? Perhaps. I wish there were more Sidney’s, more people that exhibit grace under pressure, that exhibit a dignity he had.

But I’ve gone off track as this was not my intention when I first sat down to type. The following is.

Then there are days. For a sailor, for this sailor, there is nothing better than 15 to 20 knots of wind on a beam to broad reach. Add in a healthy dose of sunshine, temperatures in the 70s with humidity to match on the boat of your dreams all topped with your gal, your best friend, well, match that one. Oh wait, there was a 56 foot sailboat that had a 3 nm head start on us. Two sailboats, same direction, game on - there’s a race. Now boat speed is by and large (there are exceptions) dictated by size. The longer the boat, the faster it should be. With a 3 nm advantage with 10 feet more of waterline, the boat in front of us should have been walking away. Like bye bye, but not against Lyric. With a full jib and one reef in the main (oh I was aching to shake that reef out which I eventually did) we were making 7 1/2 to 8 kts. Doesn’t seem all that fast, but the sensation is like riding in the back of a pick up truck going down the road at 70 miles an hour. Our AIS (device that tells me who, where and how fast other boats near me are going) showed this 56 footer going 5.5 kts. I had him! He was mine. It was like Russell Crowe in Master and Commander. I was climbing up his stern. Roll out the canons because the broad side is coming. 

He saw me, he shook out his reef. My time was shortened but he was still mine. 

And then the day got better. Two fishing lines were out. One to starboard and one to port. A purple lure on the starboard reel,,, and a green one to port. Those squid looking things that everyone told me would catch fish and in fact did on the way down to the Caribbean. I’m focused on the sails. I’m tweaking the lines. Can I get another tenth of a knot out of what I’m flying? 

Then the sound of zzzzzzzzz - fish on! And then another zzzzzzzzzz - fish on. Both lines running away in the opposite direction of the way we are sailing at 7+ kts. I thought, “Holy cow, I’ve got two fish.” Quickly I jump to one reel and started winding, then the other side. Back and forth. Not only do I have two fish but they are monsters. I must have gone through a school of tuna. The rods are bending, my arms are tired. How the hell am I going to get these 400 pound tunas on board, and then what will I do with them? 

Meanwhile, Patty is filming all this, and not neglecting, but choosing not to tell me that my two fishing lines are crossed, that I have only one fish on the line, and while it's exciting, it's probably not a 400 pound tuna much less two of them. 

Ten or so minutes later I have very colorful and lively five or seven pound mahi mahi on board. Be it 400 or 5 pounds, it's still exciting. Using vodka in lieu of a skewer poked behind its eye worked quicker and more humanely. That monster mahi mahi also made a delicious dinner compliments of Patty.

We didn’t catch the boat in front of us, but we did narrow the gap from 3 nm to 1.5, and factoring in his longer waterline and head start, we did ourselves well. The total was 55 nm for an average of 7 kts, weighing and setting anchor included. 

But as we were sailing to the home of Sidney Poitier, we didn’t boast or revel in our glory. We went a little further down the beach than the other boat, set the anchor and enjoyed what Patty coined as, “A sunset that could be a 1970s album cover.” It was one of those days. 

A Serious One

To date my blog posts have been mostly light hearted. Musings of irrelevant topics simply for amusement. This blog entry is decidedly serious. For those that know me know I have my opinions and I’m going to share this opinion. 

Last week we stayed a few days on Great Inagua Island, Bahamas. It is an isolated rugged island at the bottom on the Bahamian island chain. Not much there but salt, a picturesque lighthouse and friendly proud people. 

We enjoyed our time there, yet I was also reminded that while Patty and I are living this life of adventure, there is still anguish in the world, and a good portion of it is manmade. 

We were docked at the Inagua Government Dock which consisted of one dock with three slips sandwiched between the Royal Bahamian Defense Force (RBDF) station and the two room harbor master’s building. It was the sleepiest harbor we’ve been in, anywhere. 

The first day in the harbor there was all of three boats, Lyric and two small local fishing boats that looked long past their prime. Day two started like most days while at anchor or at a dock. I make the coffee as Patty sleeps. As the water is heating up, I go on deck to check out things. Today was different. Outside the harbor were two large U.S. Coast Guard cutters. One at anchor and one patrolling. About a half dozen local law enforcement and RBDF vehicles were in the harbor parking lot along with several USCG and RBDF patrol boats. A white tent like the ones you see at weddings was being set up. This was no wedding. It was a repatriation operation for 393 Haitians intercepted at sea. One of my new found friends from the Bahamian immigration office told me that the boat was intercepted near Florida. 393 Haitians in a dilapidated fifty foot sailing sloop. A boat four feet longer than Lyric.

As we sailed over the top side of Hispaniola, most of which was at night, the photo we’ve all seen of the Korean peninsula at night with North Korea shrouded in darkness and South Korea awash in light came to mind. The Dominican Republic was speckled with light, Haiti was dark. No light. Nothing. 

That darkness, that nothingness is the result of the breakdown of government. The absence of law. Where there is no law, chaos ensues. Cholera is a serious health issue in Haiti with now. Gangs are running the country. Basic infrastructure like electricity and water is in disrepair. It can’t even be called a country as that word implies some sort of structure, some sort of order. It is hell, and that is why 393 Haitians in a dilapidated 50 foot sailboat were trying to get to the United States. They weren’t trying to get to Cuba.


So as I’m watching patrol boat after patrol boat ferry the Haitians from the USCG cutter to the processing area in the harbor to be readied for repatriation to hell, I couldn’t help but think of those eco-warrior anarchists in Atlanta. They don’t give one damn about law or due process just like the summer of love protestors in Seattle, New York City and the “patriots” that stormed the Capital didn’t give a damn about law.  Absence of law taken to its ultimate breakdown results in Haiti. If eco-warriors can shoot at cops and occupy land not lawfully theirs, then why can’t some other group do the same for their cause the law be damned. In the absence of law and order, it’s the poor that suffer, and yes, those cops in Memphis who abdicated their oath to uphold the law will be held accountable to the law. 

The U.S. wasn’t founded on one common language, religion, or oath to some monarch (even cruising “away from it all” we can’t get away from Harry and Meghan - what the hell did he EVER do besides being born a “royal”?). It is law that makes this country, warts and all. Don’t like a law, fine. Elect someone that will help change it. 

As for those committed anarchists parading as protestors, I’m all for swapping one Haitian for one anarchist. The Haitian will contribute more to the betterment of our country. 

Clearing in under the JuJu Tree

For those non-sailors reading this, when sailing from one foreign country to another, the boat and its crew has to “clear in” with immigration and customs, similar to when flying into Dulles from Heathrow. We also have to provide information like ship’s papers and occasionally departure documentation from the last country visited. This process varies by country and even by port of entry. Some countries, like the BVIs, only require the captain to visit the immigration and customs offices. Other countries will want to visit the boat, and still other countries want the captain and all the crew to visit the offices. 

When sailing into a new country the newly arriving ship must also fly the “Q” flag which is a simple yellow flag designating quarantine. Crew and captain may only disembark the vessel for the purposes of clearing in. It is illegal to visit a store, bar or another other point on land until the clearing in process is completed. Boats are subject to search, and bringing things like fruits, vegetables, meats, more than a couple bottle of beer, wine and liquor is expressly forbidden. One can get in big trouble by breaking the rules.

As each country has its own processes and protocols, there are guidebooks and online resources available to help navigate these processes. Clearing back into a U.S. port (USVI, Puerto Rico), one can wear shorts, flip-flops and t-shirts. The guidebooks advised that when clearing into the Bahamas to get cleaned up, put on a collared shirt, no shorts and to wear closed toe shoes. The Bahamas was once part of Great Britain, so I guess that accounts for the formality. 

Patty and I fretted about our outfits. We also were glad to see that in the Bahamas the visitor typically has to go to the officials in instead of the other way around. We had a refrigerator full of fruits and veggies, a freezer full of newly procured meats and a bilge full of beer and wine. Provisions are cheaper on Puerto Rico!

On the evening of Sunday, January 22rd, we sailed into Matthew Town on the island of Great Inagua after a three day passage from Puerto Real, PR. Great Inagua is the southern most island of the Bahamas chain, and does not receive many sailors. The island is known for two things, pink flamingos and salt. Morton salt produces salt from vast salt ponds on the island. It’s ideal for this as it is very dry on Great Inagua. 

We dropped and set the anchor and went to bed. It was a rolly anchorage, so in the morning we moved closer to the town harbor and then after making contact with the harbor master, secured a berth in the very small harbor. Our intention was to take showers, put on clothes we hadn’t worn in many months and go visit immigration and customs. Patty cleaned up first and put on her finest. She looked great. I hadn’t cleaned up yet when Immigration and then Customs came to the boat. They had seen the Q flag and took it upon themselves to come to us instead of vice versa. 

CRAP! We’re going to get boarded. They’re going to look in the fridge and freezer. They’re going to take my IPAs and Patty’s wine. As captain, I’m going to get thrown in jail, fined and Lyric confiscated. Man oh man have I messed up this time. 

As for the collared shirt, long pants and closed toe shoes, forget about it.  I looked worse than usual, was all sweaty and smelled like a…sailor. The officials were very nice and not at all troubled by my appearance. They were quite gracious. They took our papers and said they would be back. They never asked to come onboard, never asked about fruits and veggies and, thankfully, if I had any really good IPA in my bilge. 

Immigration granted us entrance, but the Customs system was down, so they said we were free to go about the island and that they would come back later in the day to complete the process. I’m thinking, “I might just might get away with it. I might just might get to keep my naval oranges and IPA.” I sort of considered myself a buccaneer, a pirate. 

After a bit, I jumped on my bike (we have folding bikes) and took a ride around town. After exploring for a while, I happened on the Customs and Immigration offices about 1 km down the road. It was a cinderblock building that looked like a small shopping center. There was a liquor store in between the two offices.  As it was 2:30 in the afternoon and hot, I went into the liquor store and bought a local Bahamian beer called Kalik, and then went outside and sat down on a cinderblock. 

About this time Vince, one of the 913 people on the island, rolled up in his truck, got out, said hello and went into the liquor store. He came out with three beers. We commenced to have a very delightful conversation. He told me, “You will not have one beer, mon, you’ll have three.” He educated me on the JuJu tree that we were sitting under. He picked some of its fruit and handed me the large berries. They were really good, tart like a key lime. As I finished my beer, he opened his other two beers and gave me one. The beer was tasting good. 

At around 3:00 one of the Customs officers came out of his office, saw me and said, “I was just coming to see, you but we can complete the process here.” Customs requires a fee of $40. I had a $50 bill. I gave Robert, the Customs officer, the $50 bill.  “I’ll get change,” and he walked into the liquor store. As both my 2nd beer and Vince’s 2nd beer were getting low I thought I’d put that $10 change to good use. That’s when the Immigration officer George came out of his office. I asked Robert if he was still working. He shrugged. I bought five beers as another customs office took a seat under the JuJu tree too.  

Soon we were five happy guys having spirited discussions about the NFL and fishing. George is a Steelers fan, so we agreed to disagree. Robert likes the Dolphins, but his favorite quarterback is Patrick Mahomes. Vince likes college football better and doesn’t think Stetson Bennett will make it in the NFL. We all agreed the days of the pocket passer are over. The fishing is suppose to be good, “Down dare off de point by de picnic table.” They told me poking a Mahi Mahi behind the eye with a skewer is NOT the way to kill a fish.

A white Ford Ranger with RBDF (Royal Bahama Defense Force) emblazoned on this side kept driving up and down the road real fast on an island that operates on 1/2 time. Vince observed that, “Da new captain like to whip up and down da road like he own it.” Robert agreed and offered that, “Da old captain take 2 hours ta drive da same distance.” 

It was a delightful couple hours sitting on cinder blocks and sipping beer under the JuJu tree with my new friends. 

As this here buccaneer rode his bike back to the boat, one by one they all drove by giving a friendly honk of the horn and wave out the window. I had just cleared in under the JuJu tree.

Miguel's Rental Cars

When you travel for work, it’s all about sitting up in the leather. Sitting up in the leather means you’ve earned elite travel status on an airline and you’re sitting in first class. Sitting in the leather also applies to hotels (high floor with a view away from the elevator and club room access) and rental cars. Hertz’s top earned status is Presidents Circle. National is Executive Elite. Avis has the almighty Chairman’s Club. You fly, stay or rent enough times you earn that all important level of status. 

This week I rented a car for two days from Miguel. He doesn’t have a frequent rental club program. He has no program. It’s not a thing he thinks about because there is just no need. Let me set the stage.

I needed to do some work on Lyric that is best done at a dock. We had a lot of laundry to do.  I had parts coming into a post office that required travel on the island, plus we wanted to do some exploring so it made sense to stay at a marina and get a car. We stayed in a nice little port town called Salinas. The marina was great and the local atmosphere of the surrounding area was authentic. We enjoyed it. We picked Marina Salinas as it was convenient and had good reviews on the navigation program we use called Navionics. Navionics, like most programs today, is app based and crowd sourced. It’s a great program. There is the ability to leave comments, reviews, etc. on local waters, anchorages, etc. In the comments on Marina Salinas was a comment about renting a car from Miguel. It wasn’t Miguel’s Rental Car or rent from Avis and ask for Miguel. It was just, “Call Miguel at 787-XXX-XXXX if you need a car.” I needed a car so I called. This is when the fun began.

Miguel has a leg up on me. He speaks about twenty +/- words of English. I’m good for about five for Spanish. But you say, “There’s Google Translation!” Google Translation needs some work, at least with the Spanish Miguel speaks. I can’t complain. Spanish is the language of Puerto Rico. 

Well, I call Miguel the day before we arrive. This is how it goes.

Me:  “Miguel, I’m staying at Mariana Salinas and that I’d like to rent a car.”

Miguel:  “Call me mañana,” then hangs up.

Me the next day:  “Miguel, this is Tom Ray. We spoke yesterday about renting a car.” 

Miguel: “When you need?”

Me: “Tomorrow."

Miguel: “Ok, call mañana,” then he hangs up

Patty: “Do we have a car?”

Me: “I think so.”

The next day...

Me: “Miguel, Tom Ray here.”

Miguel: “Call me quince minutos,” then hangs up 

Patty: “What did he say?”

Me: “I think I have to call him back in 15 or 50 minutes. I’m not quite sure. “

I call him back and learn that he will be picking me up in a blue car. I’m not quite sure when. About a half hour later he has a guy pick me up. He is a very large man. Very large. Like the front seat is fully extended into the back seat, the steering wheel is positioned as high up as possible and its still a tight fit for Miguel’s guy. Oh, the car has a definite list to port. 

Well, silly me thinking we are going back to Miguel’s Rental Car lot. We went to his house. It’s a nice little house in a nice little neighborhood. His office is crammed with figurines and pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Miguel is a very Catholic man. Miguel is also large. He also doesn’t like to wear shoes and has big feet. Dental care is not high on his daily routine,but he does like to smile. I never learned his last name either. It’s just Miguel. 

We all know the breadth and depth of a rental car lease agreement. Written by lawyers to cover just about every contingency. Miguel likes things to be streamlined. No contract, no need to show insurance, he tried to photo copy my license, but his copier was broken so he just waved it off. Payment options did not include credit cards, checks, Venmo, Zelle or anything other than cash. $120 later I was out the door …. and back to the blue car.

I started to take pictures of the car, you know, to record the condition of the car before I left. Common sense prevailed, and I abandoned that exercise as there was no way that in two days I could do any more damage to the car than was already done. 

The car drove reasonably well. It had a working radio tuned to local pop radio stations with enthusiastic DJs, and I could not understand a word they were saying, but something exciting was going on. We believe the car was either Miguel's or a family member’s as the keys to his house were on the key chain. The car was somewhat clean, and the crack in the windshield was not a problem at all. Hertz President’s Club has NOTHING over Miguel. I can’t recall any car I rented from Hertz, Avis or National, but I will always remember Miguel’s and his listing to the port blue car.

Achingly Cold and Distant

I’ve taken you for granted. Once always available. Once always ready and always satisfying…and I didn’t appreciate you. You took different forms depending on the need. But now I know.  Circumstances have changed. You are just within reach but achingly distant. Just a little sliver is all I need and yet it is work to reach you. Frigid is not to be disparaged nor taken for granted.  Frigid is sometimes all I want, all I need. To get to you demands commitment. I have to…..

remove the blue mesh bag that holds the dairy foods, the orange mesh bag that holds the fruits, the other blue bag that hold the meats and the other orange bag that holds the veggies (which always confuses me as there two blue bags bags and two orange bags) then slide to the left the shelf that has all the other refrigerated stuff on it just to get to the compartment that holds you…..ICE. Yes ice. A glass of ice tea requires… A gin and tonic is not a gin and tonic unless it has ice. A glass of ice water has….ice in it. The condensation you wrapped around the glass that used to annoy me is now sweet sensation to my finger tips. Coasters be damned! Cocktail napkins be gone!

So to you my under appreciated, just out of reach, achingly cold cube of joy, I will savor your every melting drop as you quench my thirst and make that drink oh so satisfying. 


Location: BVIs

Date: 12/1/22

Do you remember sitting beside a small creek when you were a kid watching those water bugs that would seemingly float on top of the water? They had what looked like four long legs, sat sort of squat and would just sort of glide across the water. It was always a fascinating thing to watch and only later, after learning about the surface tension of water, did the water bugs magical motion make sense.

Since making landfall in the BVIs, I’m reminded of waterbeds once again. White bodied bugs with a single antennas zipping across the water going to presumably the choice feeding spots. These water bugs take the form of catamarans, sailing catamarans.  From the vantage point of another type of bug, the sailing monohull, it's fun to watch. Where are they going and why?

The BVIs are a popular destination for the “sailing” charter crowd. The BVIs should be appreciated for this as they have built a vibrant industry. Given one to two weeks vacation, a desire to have a bit of water freedom and a willing crew,  then this place is a great place to go. 

The catamarans flit here and there. Finding the best mooring spots. Motoring in lieu of sailing. Decks awash with scuba gear, stand up boards, kayaks as they should be. Cats are water toy platforms. If only I……

In our time here in the BVIs we have had numerous painkillers, and other rum-coconut-fruit punch-and whatever else is in that pitcher concoctions. We’ve heard a bartender call his soccer kids “scalawags” as they walked home from school on a sandy path between the beach and the bar.  Another that educated us on what the acronym meant for the drink called BBC (don’t ask) and others that bought us a drink simply because “You SAILED here from Maryland???”.

What we have to remind ourselves is that we are not water bugs. We anchor instead of making the dash for the mooring ball. There are clothes drying on the lifelines, wind catchers to funnel breezes below and there is always boat maintenance to be done. As much as I enjoy a beer, I have to remind myself, “This is not Friday night at Doc’s”. We are part of the scene but then again, we’re not. We’re the guy you see at a ballgame keeping track of pitches, hits and errors. He doesn’t begrudge the fan with the stack of plastic beer cubs yelling at the visiting team. He likes him because the fan adds the color to the game. He’s just watching from a different seat. So there you go, from water bugs to baseball.

 We like it here but are ready for more cruising. The time will come soon to find new bugs. 

Starry Nights

Location: North Atlantic Ocean

Date: 11/24/2022

We all know Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I will not attempt to paint that picture with words on this page. Describing the genius of the painting would be a fools errand.

I bring it up for the simple reason that when I was in the solitude of the dog watch eight hundred nautical miles from anywhere with the brilliance of the stars from horizon to horizon showering down on me as I stood in the cockpit of Lyric, I thought of Starry Night, my Starry Night.

That light off the starboard side horizon, is it another boat either voyaging like me or a freighter delivering goods to some port? The same with those lights on the port side? How about the ones forward and aft? A quick glance at radar affirms my hopes. Nope, they are stars. The expanse of stars was different than the horizon stars projected on the ceiling of the  planetarium during the 6th grade field trip. These stars on the dog watch bring a person dangerously close to asking questions like, “Why I’m at this lat and long right now when I could be safe at home?”.  Looking below at sleeping crew and the responsibility they willingly obliged me, I snap out of that Starry Night moment and mutter, “I sure hope the wind backs to our beam tomorrow. This is hard going and we need to make some miles.” 

Van Gough fear not for my brush stroke is the trail Lyric made on the various tracking sites we subscribe to. A single line across a blue expanse. 

Yep, its a well worn saying but it is the true - "What is cruising? The opportunity to work on your boat in exotic places." In our case, right now it is Morehead City. We're ready, tommorow we push off for Antigua with the first milestone being getting across the Gulf Stream. As the winds are out of the NE and the Gulf Stream flows north it's like defensive and offensive lines in football when the ball is snapped - could be exciting. We have a competent crew, a damn fine boat, a good forecast so let's go sailing!