My Four Daze
Returning from the Exumas
Arrival to Departure
Day 4 - Saturday, July 15, 2016
Time: sometime between dusk and 3:00 AM
On my fourth and last day before arriving in Miami as I sailed across the Gulf Stream, something similar to the image above appeared above my 40' catamaran Mystique and my mind. As it drifted above me, I could not comprehend what I saw. As my catamaran re-entered the Florida Straits, an un-reality teased and challenged me once again. Part-hallucination, part-fantasy, part-sleep deprivation, part-exhaustion, part-dream, part reality and part-message, it was the final act of four days of AWE. This was my return and recovery from falling down a rabbit hole.
- 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
All of a sudden in the electrified night sky, I noticed a strange billowy mass blowing towards me. Like so many other dark clouds that night, this one drifted in slow motion.Then floating cloud-like, a feline-faced phantom passively passed by my Mystique. Carrying a shadowed light, like precious cargo, within its furry barge-like body, the image slowly disappeared into the misty night.
For a few minutes we stared at each other, studying each other's odd curiosities. Of course, I realize now how this image suggests a deranged mind. It all still seemed pretty absurd to me at the time. But that flawed description is as accurate and detailed to what appeared before my weary eyes that night. My mind recorded that sighting. 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. In fact, while I was aghast at its appearance and size, I somehow felt its pawed peacefulness. I was not so awestruck or raw I could not function. I had the presence of mind to capture this phenomenon with my camera. At least, I thought I had captured the cat when I snapped my photo. Actually, I captured myself and didn't know it.
As I gazed at the floating feline facade, my camera recorded the image above.. At the time I did not believe the skylight was the moon. The moon was in a different part of the sky. The light seemed shaded like a glowing lamp on the moving barge behind the cat's ear. This above photo doesn't look like any feline on a barge. Except for the shaded light, it now only looks like low cloud cover!
Day 1: Stocking Island to Little Farmer's Cay - 45 miles
Day 2: Little Farmer's Cay to Hurricane Flats - 95 miles
Day 3: Hurricane Flats to Florida Strait - 80 miles
Day 4: Florida Strait to Miami, Florida - 75 miles
Before I departed Mystique and left Miami for Maine, I wanted to record my recent 4-day sailing impressions and process more about what had happened to me on my voyage back to Florida. I had had little restful down-time during those four preceding days so I was eager to write. When I finally could sit down, I sought some synonyms for "hallucination". The following 7-word list below popped up on a Google search.
Then another inexplicable surprise arrived. As I copied these seven words onto my laptop's notebook application, instead of the synonyms appearing as they appeared above, each of them mysteriously transformed into "STAR" words attached as a suffix. I was again perplexed. How could this have happened? Again I was caught in disbelief for a short while. Then I realized I was still witnessing AWE.
Not only was I STARtled by the response, but I also by the suggestion that a STAR might have been what I saw. It was all too freakish for me so I STARted to consider a rational explanation for all of these happenings. Was the universe speaking to me? Had I crossed into another dimension? Was I still hallucinating? How and why could this strange Google search result occur? Were all of these views in alignment with my state of being? Were the cat face and floating barge just figments of my imagination or was the Universe trying to tell me something? Was the fact that I sailed a catamaran significant? Had I fallen, knocked myself out and started to see stars? Had I become a Tweety Bird?
Before I truly unraveled my personal mystery, I had to come to terms with what happened to me. I still had a long way recover and understand most of this. And soon I realized that logic and understanding are unimportant and insignificant when coming to terms with emotions and trauma. Appearances don't always explain life rationally. And what we see 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.
The charts below show uncharted areas - the white batches were suspect, but usually so remote and unused that apparently no navigator needed them surveyed. I was setting out to cross these batches with Mystique's 3'8" draft. And I knew there was NO island haven or anchorage protection waiting for me. As I discovered it was not water depth or squalls that challenged me; 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 we got licked as we attempted to sail away from Andros Island
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 the exhilaration of nature waking and warming the day's journey. I knew it would be a long day as a 6-7 knot hull speed for 80 miles means 10+ hours sailing simply to cross the Tongue. Like most travel days, questions abound. What would Andros's underside taste like? Would its shoals and coral heads give us fits? Or would we take a licking or a liking to this main 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 faculties and physicalities. 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. Eugene Fitzgerald may have inserted the image into his novel to represent God staring down upon and judging American society as a moral wasteland. I certainly felt eyes staring at me those 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, I immediately wanted to know what was causing the image I saw. And I could not help pondering the various possibilities of its timing, source and symbolism. Of course, there was an easy literal explanation that could easily dismiss all interpretations. But what fun is that? Maybe, just maybe, things were happening beyond my human understanding. Whatever the answers, the possibilities intrigued me. Eyeglasses staring at my backside? Guiding me? Protecting me? Warning me? Communicating with me?
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 relection on the windscreen, the wind intensified.
When the southeasterly breeze refreshed the late afternoon air south of Andros Island, I felt its thrill and chill. When the wind gusts piped-up, my cat's sails catch them, and her hulls reach a new velocity; they accelerate to "humming" speed. Riding waves and surfing nine knots dead downwind pumps my adrenaline. An exhilarating and reverberating vibration swept over my soul as this new air pressure energized both my boat and me. Riding a sleigh down hill! Some sailors might call this OM or OMG speed. Some non-sailors might describe the sensation as HO HUM or YAWN.
As the evening sun set, I passed two GPS-suggested anchoring locations in 20 feet of water south of Andros Island. I realized the more moderate breeze had not calmed the waves much in the open sea. So anchoring there would make for a rough night. I thought the water would surely subside if the evening's weather responded as promising as it looked. But the fickle skies would have other plans.
With a beautiful sunset dead ahead, I decided to proceed for another couple of hours, heading towards the Hurricane Flats and some 6-foot depths. Surely the seas would get calmer in the shallows.
When the sun descended, squalls soon appeared all around me. I could clearly see at least one building in each cardinal compass direction. So much for a calm night. What was I thinking?
As I neared the shallower 6-foot depth location, a sudden squall surprised me with a wind direction change that abruptly gybed my sails. But Or maybe I should write, I did not decipher the wind's direction and 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 into multiple gybes in a matter of minutes...BANG...BANG...BANG....CLANK.....CLANK.....CLANK.....
CRASH - Mystique anchors herself!
I thought it was now around 9:00 PM and was pitch black except for occasional lightning flashes in the distances. I knew and anticipated significant boat damage by the loud sound of things. When the 30 knot wind, torrential rain and deafening thunder finally dissipated, I was prepared to witness rigging, mast and boom damage. But when I gingerly maneuvered my way up to the foredeck with a flashlight in hand, I discovered instead of mass destruction, I realized the gusts and gybes had cause some damage to the traveler, but most of the noise had come from the squall anchoring Mystique. So as soon as I determined Mystique had sustained no major damage and determined Mystique was anchored securely on the Hurricane Flats (ably named) in 6 feet of water, I decided to catch some ZZZZ's and revisit the situation after sunrise. I went below and slept till dawn. I awoke to a morning rainbow for the second straight day.
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?
When I woke, I turned on the GPS and discovered Mystique was located about 60 miles west of Andros, about 140 miles from Florida and about 20 miles from the Florida Straits and deep water. When I went forward, I surveyed that the anchor had held well, but was at the end of about 200 feet of anchor rode.
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, unforsaken reason, I woke "fully rested" in about AN HOUR!! UGH!
While my inner time clock betrayed me, I somehow felt rested yet knew to convince my body to stay in my bunk to get more rest, was a waste of time . When I came up on deck, the wind was still light. 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.
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
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!