My Four Daze
My 51-day Bahamian Solo Ends
Day 4 - Saturday, July 15, 2016
Time: between dusk and 3:00 AM
On my fourth and final day before arriving in Miami, I sailed Mystique across the Florida Straits and the Gulf Stream when I noticed a another cat overhead. Yes, your eyes read it right, a floating cat! As my floating catamaran returned to Florida waters, an uneasy un-reality teased and challenged my tired senses.
By dusk a quintet of towering squalls miles away had encircled Mystique. By evening a moonlit sky emerged, a stiff southeasterly breeze built waves and a parade of low-flying southeasterly clouds drifted above my vessel.
During my voyage I never felt alone. Nature always kept me company. This last 48 hours I was continually reminded of her omnipresence. Many of her creations had become my crew during those 51 days. Water, waves, wind, weather, clouds, sky, light, dark, sun, moon, planets, stars, sea birds, fish, calms, rains, showers, heat lightning, humidity and warmth had accompanied my sailing present with them.
As low-drifting clouds spotted the darkening day, stars blinked and lightning flashed in the distances. They shined, buffed and sparkled the sea. The waves gleamed as well as clouds shadowed the night seas. The entire sea horizon appeared with eerie clarity. Light and dark danced around me.
So sure I was that all seemed real, I had difficulty comprehending this vision. I thought maybe my sleepy countenance and consciousness were playing tricks on me. Accepting the image floating above my boat was simply too farfetched to accept. So with disbelieving eyes, I cleaned my glasses and then rubbed them. Surely that would clear my vision. Alas, the image did not change or disappear. if anything, it became clearer. Then to confirm my sighting and verify I wasn’t losing my mind, I photographed the image.
During this energized, electrified night the distant lightning steadily flashed across the landless horizons while Mystique sailed her way back to Miami. While Five or six squalls in the area escorted my catamaran downwind I suddenly noticed an low billowy cloud mass drifting downwind towards my vessel. It was catching my vessel from behind. Like so many other low-flying clouds that night, this one particular one was moving faster than my boat but overtook us as if in slow motion. The steady 12-15 knot humid night breeze added to the mystery of those moments. A surreal feel overtook me as I steered northwest.
As we headed northwestward, a floating feline-faced phantom stoically passed by cat-like above my Mystique. Following the head was a shadowy furry barge-like body which slowly disappeared into the misty night.
While I am neither superstitious or deeply religious, I believe in spirituality. I understand what I witnessed could possibly have been part-hallucination, part-fantasy, part-sleep deprivation, part-exhaustion, part-dream, part reality, part-message, or part spirit or none of the above. I tried to create a rational explanation for my sighting. I knew it was neither alien nor figments of my imagination. It was too passive and calm to be foreign and fearful.
I realized the sky may have been playing tricks on me. The clouds had seen earlier in the day had certainly fascinated me. Like some art showing off its gallery, the day’s clouds had held my interest for hours. Then I finally rationalized my cat sighting was a fitting final act for four days of AWEs. This was the Universe showing off for me. I knew I wasn’t crazed, maybe only dazed by energy and circumstances:
80-90 miles SE of Key Largo;
80 miles west of The Bahamas' Andros Island
70 miles south from The Gulf Stream
Destination: Marine Stadium, Miami, Florida
Wind: SE 15-18 knots; 25-30 in gusts during squalls
Temperature: humid 80-85 degrees
Weather: thunderheads, occasional line squalls and showers, frequent lightning
Sky: cloudy, with partial clearing after nightfall; moon
Visibility: 10-12 miles before dusk;
Seas: SE 3-4 feet
Current: favorable 1-2 knots southwest
Sail Conditions: jib torn (nonfunctioning) + full mainsail
Point of Sail: running dead downwind, frequent jibing
Intended Course: 320 degrees / northwest
Catamaran Speed: 6 -7 knots
Auto Pilot: disabled
Crew: exhausted after 4 hours of sleep in previous 48 hours
True Course: sailing in circles
The night the two cats floated with me felt tame and peaceful. Unlike the two previous days when my cat challenged me with some Herculean efforts During that time a symbolic hungry tiger roamed freely aboard while I fought the last of my worries. During my voyage I had confronted it, but it still fought me when I didn’t face it. That cat would not calm down until I too felt at peace with my situation. When wild life surrounded me, my inner strength and skills defended me. I knew life was survival of the fittest. And life was showing me I was fit enough to survive her tests.
For a few moments the cat on a barge-like cloud and I had stared at one other, studying each other as in a peculiar standoff. Curious to who would win the staring contest? Locked in awe, yet not fearful, filled with wonderment in being alive in this moment. Witnessing something so amazing, I didn’t think I was alive except I was more alive than I had ever been. Amazing duality to feel these two simultaneously.
I remember feeling uncertain of what I had seen that I wanted any human to corroborate my sighting. Then I realized no one could have observed it but me. This vision was mine. Only I could account for this. As my account in this post can attested to. Of course, at that very moment that night I realized how relating this tale to any other stable, well-balanced individual may only suggest my overwrought imagination. It all still seemed pretty hallucinatory to me at the time. But my flawed description as accurate and detailed as it may seem does not do justice to what appeared before my weary eyes that night.
Then I started to attempt to decipher the imagery. My mind had recorded these images. From a rational perspective, I reasoned I was just too weathered and bleary-eyed to see straight. Yet I could not dismiss that the cloud was anything but threatening or ominous-looking. This seemed significant with all the squalls in the area. In fact, while I was aghast at the cat’s appearance and size, I somehow felt its pAWED peacefulness. I was not so AWEstruck or rAW I could not function. I knew I had not ingested any mind-altering foods, drinks or substances. Then I had the presence of mind to capture this phenomenon with my camera. At least, I thought surely had captured the cat when I snapped my photo.
Actually, what I eventually discovered I had captured myself and didn't know it. Nevertheless, I knew my writing would capture the story, And it didn’t matter if anyone believed my story or not.
As I gazed at the floating feline facade, I thought I had recorded my sighting, but only a small nondescript light amidst darkness appeared. the moon? At the time I did not recognize the moon as the skylight. The moon was shaped differently in a different part of the night sky. The light (the cat’s head and eyes?) appeared shaded like a glowing lamp attached to moving barge body behind the cat's ear. There was no barge or cloud in the photo either. Except for the shaded light, it now only looks like some darkness with a distant pinhole light.
Before I departed Mystique and left Miami for Maine, I wanted to write my recent 4-day sailing impressions while it was all still fresh in my mind. What had happened to me on my voyage back to Florida so profound, my boat’s condition seemed secondary to this experience. I was so eager to write, the little restful down-time during those four preceding days seemed unimportant after I lowered my anchor in Virginia Keys’ Marine Stadium.
I was still felt exhausted from the ordeal, but the next day after 10 hours of sleep, I finally sat down to write ashore, but then another odd occurrence happened. While writing, I sought some synonyms for "hallucination". Then the following 7-word list below popped up on my Google search. Nothing unusual you might say.
Then more inexplicable surprises arrived. As I copied these seven words onto my laptop's notebook application, instead of the synonyms appearing verbatum and as I had copied them as they appeared above, each of them mysteriously transformed added "STAR" as a suffix. I was again perplexed. How could this oddity have happened? Again I was caught in disbelief for a short while. When I found the Nietzsche quote found me, I considered how chaos had helped me find my calming star. That the cat light was a star; not some cat’s eye. What appeared were:
Not only was I STARtled by the Google search response, but I also intrigued by the subtle suggestion that a STAR might have been what I had seen. It was all too freakish for me so I STARted to consider a rational explanation for all of these happenings. A rational explanation for something irrational. Typical questioning, unbelieving human.
How and why could this strange Google search result occur? Was I still hallucinating? Had I crossed into another sea dimension? Were all of these messages? Were they in alignment with my physical condition? Were the cat face and floating barge just figments of my imagination? Was the fact that I sailed a catamaran solo significant? Had I fallen, knocked myself out and started to see stars? Had I become a Tweety Bird to the Puddy Cat?? I knew I had guided my battered cat back to civilization. And the cat and the barrage had also seemed to direct me home. But that was only a guess. The question that intriqued me the most “Was the Universe trying to tell me something?”
Before I unraveled my personal mystery any further, I had to come to terms with all of what had happened before and during my solo. I knew I was recovering from that loss and understood most of these recent days. Yet I knew I had healed a great deal by sailing solo for 51 days. I felt so much better despite all the challenges. The struggles had helped me face it all. And eventually I realized that logic and understanding are relatively unimportant; in fact insignificant when recovering from some self-inflicted trauma before my sailing adventure. Appearances rarely explain life rationally. And what at sea is often seen isn't always real.
I know what I actually saw was not what I thought I perceived. I finally realized my tired mind and body had actually conspired against me to play the trickster. I had chased chaos in my soul over the last year so I knew exactly what Nietzsche was suggesting. And I now know my search for answers sometimes leads me into darkness. Of course, this blog is a kind of cathartic search for possibilities and a healthy way to shed some light on this for me at least. To any stranger, or close freind for that matter, it might actually confirm I was off my rocker!
My floating feline was only one of a series of personal challenges...my imagination had more games in mind. It felt like mere moments later when I imagined I was actually playing a videogame with Mystique's Raymarine GPS navigation. I imagined my GPS was competing with me as I was attempting to "thread the needle" up the Florida Straits. Note my boat's direction finder as shown by the green line in above photo of my GPS screen.
My GPS seemed to be taking control of Mystique, and I seemed to be in a constant struggle to steer her towards Miami. The GPS seemed like it had a determined mind of its own and wanted me to head anywhere but back to Miami. I was losing my tussle and struggle with my GEE PEE SSS.
Letting me know who was the captain, Mystique gybed every 5-10 minutes despite all my efforts to keep the wind coming over the starboard quarter and stay on starboard tack. I tried focusing on pointing my boat in a northwestern direction, but I was too tired to stay focused through the night and Mystique's gybing was becoming too frequent and intense.
I finally decided to stop struggling and hove-to for the night. I first placed a waypoint on the GPS to record my position so I could determine my progress after I woke up in the morning. It was no around 3:00 AM and there was no shipping in sight at this hour. I knew there would probably be none as Mystique was located between Cuba and the US. We had been going in circles for an hour or more, and I knew I had to rest before I could get a clear mind and straighten out and steer a true course.
Because Mystique's auto pilot (aka AUTO) was inoperative, I decided to let the boat steer itself. It was too deep to anchor and I figured with the prevailing current and winds I would wake at dawn with a few less miles to sail during the daylight hours. As it turned out, my estimation was way off.
Yea, I know, just as crazy as the flying feline! Ok, even more so! Maybe too close to call! Either by themselves seemed to suggest I was both dazed and crazed. Both together suggested I needed to rescue myself. Somehow these two images lodged so realistically inside "my reality", I managed to take photos of them. But as I discovered many days later when I downloaded my photos onto my laptop, I discovered my reality wasn't real.
Though the strange and mysterious all started in the latter stages of my four-day solo sail back to the States,
I was actually AWE struck started all three preceding days as well.
Day 1 ~ Wednesday, July 13, 2016:
When my Mystique and I departed Monument cove off Stocking Island at around 11:00 AM on Wednesday, July 12, 2016, the weather had a favorable forecast. And with sunny skies and a broad reach angle, the 15-18 knot SE breeze felt quite promising. My catamaran scooted along the eastern coast of the Exumas southern cays. By sunset, we were anchored 45 miles northwest of Great Exuma, just north of Little Farmer's Cay.
Day 2 ~ Thursday, July 13, 2016:
Mystique and I rose at sunrise to taste the Tongue of the Ocean, crossing an 80-85 mile stretch from Great Guana Cay to Andros Island's southern shallows. At first, I was a bit apprehensive of this homeward bound course since much of it would be across uncharted waters and far away any shipping lanes. Most charts revealed countless coral heads and shallows. And since none of my Bahamian guidebooks suggested traversing Andros Island's southern route, it seemed a bit risky. Did that deter me? Of course not. My challenge had been sailing through adversity.
One of my charts showed uncharted depths - I had sailed through the white batches. In those I had my inexplicable adventures. These remote places were so remote no navigator needed them surveyed. I had set out to cross these shallow patches with Mystique's 3'8" draft to prove I could do it. And I tested myself as I knew there was NO island haven, no protection from weather or any anchorage protection waiting for me on this south of Andros Island course. If I got in trouble, there was no rescue possible. Two hundred miles from Florida. 50-60 miles west of sparsely-inhabited Andros, no radio reception and no shipping in this part of the of the world. Foolish one might say. but I knew this was part of my recovery. to take on more changes on my own. As I discovered it was not water depth or squalls that challenged me the most; it was my perceptions of weather and personal conditions that confronted me most.
The Tongue of the Ocean did not give Mystique and me a licking. But all went well until Mystique and I got licked attempting to sail away from Andros Island, away from the Bahamas and into US waters.
Crossing the Tongue's depths and shallows around Andros Island was much easier than it appeared. As the 15-18 knot SE prevailing breeze continued into my second day's dawning, I felt exhilarated by Nature’s waking and warming this day's journey. I knew the day would be a long one with a estimated 80-100 miles from Little Farmer Cay to the west side of Andros. As Mystique’s 6-7 knot hull speed was encouraging, it still meant at least 10+ hours sailing simply to cross the Tongue of the Ocean.
Like most travel days, questions abound. What would Andros's underside taste like? Would its shoals and coral heads give me fits? Lull me into its shallows. Hard to belive 60 miles west of Andros was only 6-8 feet of water. Or would we, boat and man, take a licking or a liking to this alternative course?
The sun rising as Mystique and I heading due westward leaving Great Guana Cay under low morning clouds. Of course, no one expects the unexpected. Preparation for an absolute surprise is impossible. Yet little did I know that on this latter stage of my voyage I would be surprised and challenged like never before. Over and over again each day brought forth a uniqueness, fear and wonder.
Because during my four-day solo from the Bahamas to the States, the improbable and inexplicable confronted all of my sailing skills, navigational acumen and physical strengths.
a strange occurance reminded me of a famous Roaring 20’s novel came to mind as we sailed past Andros Island. In The Great Gatsby the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are a pair of fading, bespectacled eyes painted on an old advertising billboard over the valley of ashes. A no-man’s wasteland island situated between two worlds. Eugene Fitzgerald may have inserted the symbolic image into his story to represent God staring down upon and judging American society as a moral wasteland. But I too felt eyes staring at me these last two days.
When I looked to Mystique's stern in the early afternoon, I noticed a similar image of a pair of shiny sunglasses on the salon's wind screen. Of course, it was only a simple reflection oddly floating behind Mystique’s wheel. When I first saw it, the novel came to mind. Wanting to know what was causing the image, I could not help ponder possibilities. Its timing, source and symbolism seemed again oddly important. Eyeglasses staring at my backside? Guiding me? Protecting me? Warning me? Communicating with me? Whatever the answers, the possibilities still intrigued me. Of course, there was an easy literal explanation that could easily dismiss all interpretations. But what fun is that? Maybe, just maybe, things were starting to happen beyond any human understanding. Maybe my over active imagination was kicking in! But maybe not! Just a reflection from Mystique's swim ladder or was it a harbinger for me about keeping a lookout up ahead? A little while after I noticed the mysterious reflection on the windscreen, the wind intensified.
When the southeasterly breeze refreshed the late afternoon breeze south of Andros Island, I felt its thrill and chill. When the wind gusts piped-up, my cat's sails caught them, and her hulls accelerated to "humming" speed. Riding waves and surfing to nine knots dead downwind pumped my adrenaline. An exhilarating and reverberating vibration swept over my steering. This new pressure energized both boat and me. Like riding a sleigh down a series of hills. Some sailors might call this OM or OMG moments.
As the evening sun set, I passed two GPS and chart-suggested anchoring locations. I rejected them as 20 feet of water south of Andros Island, out in open, choppy seas did not feel safe to me. I realized the more moderate breeze had not calmed the waves much in the open sea. So anchoring there would make for a rough, sleepless night. I imagined the waters would surely subside and flatten if the evening's weather report responded as promised. But the fickle forecast and skies would have other plans.
With a beautiful sunset dead ahead, I decided to proceed for at least another couple of hours, heading towards the Hurricane Flats and some 6-foot depths. Surely the seas would get calmer in shallower water. That is if squalls didn’t somehow interrupt the night. Of course, when the sun descended and the heat disappeared, squalls appeared all around me. I could clearly see at least one growing in each cardinal compass direction. That’s at least four surrounded us. So much for a calm night. What was I thinking?
As I neared the shallower 6-foot depth location, a sudden almost invisible squall overtook us with a wind direction change that abruptly gybed my boom and mainsail. When the gust hit in the dark, I could not decipher the wind's direction or its intensity until it was too late. But these multiple gusts did more than bring the boom over to the port side with a one single CRASH. The boom swung repeatly into multiple gybes in a matter of minutes...BANG...BANG...BANG....CLANK.....CLANK.....CLANK.....I believed it was now near 9:00 PM. In the pitch black an occasional lightning flash in the distances were the only lights. The cloud cover had completely extinguished the moon and stars. Seeing the squalls approach was almost impossible. Their lightning was a clue, but their speed and surreptitious nature
I knew and anticipated significant boat damage by the crashing sound. The sound was so horrific, I imagined the mast and rigging having parted ways. When the short-lived 30-knot wind, torrential rain and deafening thunder finally dissipated, I felt prepared to witness rigging, mast and boom damage. But when I carefully maneuvered my way up to the foredeck with a flashlight in hand, I discovered instead of mass destruction, the multiple gusts and gybes had damaged the boat’s traveler.
Mystique anchored herself!
That’s right, I concluded that most of the noise had come from the squall anchoring Mystique. The forces had released the spare anchor by un-cleating it from the mast. So as soon as I determined Mystique had sustained no major damage and breathed a huge sigh of relief, I concluded Mystique was anchored securely in 6 feet of water on the Hurricane Flats (ably named). Deciding I could do nothing but make sure the second anchor was secure, I decided to catch some ZZZZ's and revisit the situation after sunrise. But when I realized the time was actually around 3:00 am, I went below and slept until I woke up. It was dawn three hours later. so with less than three hours rest, I awoke to a morning rainbow for the second straight day. Felt restored enough to
A partial rainbow appears 60 miles west of Andros Island. Rainbows don't exist unless someone is there to witness them? How many of us know that a rainbow doesn't really exist unless we are present to see it?
Friday, July 14, 2016 ~ The Third Day:
My AWEary condition starts to notice Awe. When the wind dies out 35 miles in the Hurricane Flats, Mystique is making less than 3 knots - most of which feels like water current. So I decide to roll up the jib and tighten the mainsail so the boom does not flail from side to side. Once secure, I go below to catch 40 winks. Almost as soon as put my head down and got horizontal, I fell asleep. I might actually have been running on autopilot adrenaline much earlier so maybe I had been asleep even before my head hit the pillow. But for some unknown, unforesaken reason, I woke "fully rested" in about AN HOUR!! UGH!
While my inner time clock had betrayed me, I somehow felt rested enough to convince my body to get out of my bunk. Staying in it to get more rest felt like a waste of time. The day light was upon us so I had to take advantage of her. When I came up on deck, the wind was calm, but the current was strong and pulling heartily on the anchor. I nevertheless reset the jib, turned on the two Yanmars and pushed their throttles to five knots.
A few hours later around mid-afternoon, the wind started to build. Then Mystique's jib twisted into an hourglass around the forestay. I noticed it had ripped along the bolt rope and could not be set without tearing the sail more. So I wrapped the excess sail around the forestay with her two sheets. The jib was done for the remainder of the voyage so I continued to motor into the evening hours. As I approached sunset, the sky became a Jason Pollack painting. I was absolutely positive I wasn't "seeing things" But I eventually concluded my vision and imagination reduced, induced and seduced me. I had never been so aware of my mind playing such tricks on me. These improbable mirages were probably because I was sleep deprived, sleeping 3 hours in two days while sailing alone was foolish.
This hazy GPS screen image shows how out of kilter I was when I woke at first light. With the southern tip of Florida in the upper left and Mystique's icon near the bottom of my GPS screen with the green line pointing to the northeast. The reddish waypoint is to the left of the boat icon, which I placed there before I went to sleep, off to the northwest.The distance between the two is 17 miles. That is how far I drifted in the opposite direction during my 3-hour sleep. This is how off I was in calculating the effects of a southerly current and and southeast wind. In my exhausted state, my two sleepy days of cloud-gazing (and star-gazing?) gradually lead me to imagine cloudy characters and crazy creations on the horizon. That practice and those sightings probably contributed to my eventual state of seeing. While I was "sea-ing" beautiful cloud images, mostly people and animal faces, all around me, I did not hear them speaking, yet I do recall imagining their stories unfolding before me. So I was anthropomorphizing my horizons - a common horizon-gazing practice amongst sailors at sea for an extended period of time.
I remember imagining various tales the cloud characters might have told if they were to come alive.
One telling sign that I did not realize or recognize how clouded my perceptions had became was my photographing clouds. I thought I could provide evidence / prove to myself upon my return to the States that I felt certain my perceptions were not fabrications until my camera confirmed otherwise. However, I di just the opposite. I had indeed been delirious, yet again deceived by my own perceptions.
Lasting until My Return:
I thought my photos would confirm my sanity. Surely they would validate my perceptions.
When I downloaded and viewed them; however, I was unable to discern any evidence of what I had thought I had seen. It soon became obvious that my exhaustion and imagination had gotten the better of me. My photos actually revealed and confirmed my two day's daze. Maybe I had experienced temporary insanity. (But some might question the use of the adjective "temporary".)
The storied clouds - igniting my imagination:
Their lined formations constantly told me tales.
It was not until I woke up from my trance that I ascertained that I had been probably drugged by my own adrenalin. Before I left the Exumas, I had felt an uneasiness about returning to the states. I had many mixed feelings. Events seemed to intensify as my return to the States became closer. I've been through the wringer - My nemesis - ME!
I was both eager and anxious about my return to Florida. I no longer had a definite home to return to. I had sold my house before I left. I had experienced too many some unfortunate losses during 2015.
Soon after I arrived I would be traveling to Maine to say a final farewell to a man who became a father to me. And I knew I would have a fresh start with a trusted friend. In many ways, I felt like I had squeezed through the previous year. Thankfully, my experiences in the Exumas on my boat helped me recover and restore myself and have another chance to start a new life. Bring on the unexpected; I am ready to face all surprises now! I've been through the proverbial wringer.
It is inevitable. There is always breakage during a long voyage. Mystique might had some bumps and bruises as well. Her running lights had burned out. Her autopilot had stopped functioning. Her jib had torn. She was battered but not beaten. In fact, she, like me, would become bettered by the Bahamas. She was, after all, had endured the Gulf crossing like her skipper. Her mainsheet became twisted like her skipper.
Miami skyline and my twisted mainsheet - a remnant and reminder of my return trip.
I had some unraveling and some recoiling to do after Mystique was anchored.
A part of the steel slide above broke off during one of Mystique's numerous snap gybes.
I think so, but before I truly unraveled my personal mystery, I had to come to terms what was happening to me. I still had a ways to go before I could make any real sense of this. And I realized that understanding is not the important thing.
I know what I actually saw was not what I thought I perceived. I realized my tired mind and body had actually conspired against me to play the trickster. I had chased chaos in my soul over the last year so I knew exactly what Nietzsche was suggesting. And I know my search for answers sometimes lead me into the dark. Of course, writing this blog has acted as a cathartic search for possibilities.
My ripped jib all rolled up ready to be taken to a local sail loft to be restitched.
In the final analysis I actually sailed to many more islands than I thought: Perception, Conception, Imagination, Illusion, Fantasy, Mirage, Dream, Reawakening, Restoration and landed safely ashore in the light of my days and daze of AWE!