The Decision

New York

I’m not sure why we decide to spend the summer in New York. I want to garden and our friends need help with theirs. They have a dairy farm and plenty of space for a garden, plus space for our trailer and a few extra people. We want good, wholesome food after so many months of traveling and know we can have organic, raw milk, truly free range eggs, and grass-fed meat in addition to the organic veggies we can grow.

We visited them last fall and were enchanted by the lovely rural area without box stores, strip malls, or chain restaurants. There was Lake Champlain, the Adirondack mountains, and small “hamlets” and towns. We want to explore the idea of living in this idyllic area.

Plus, they invited us. And, we knew that we could help them with energy and labor, and they could help us with food and grounding.

So we fly from Central America back to Cleveland, move back into the trailer, and drive over to New York. It is nice to be back in the trailer. Familiar though slightly chilly in April, it is amazing how quickly we adjust back to our tiny home.

Our friends Maeve and Ben have a son Graysen’s age and he goes to a magical Waldorf school set on a historical farm on a hill with a fantastic view of the Lake Champlain Valley. The kids spend most of the day outside, jumping tree stumps, balancing on logs, and looking for frogs. Instead of yelling at the kids to line up for their hike, the teacher blows a flute and sings a song. A real-life pied piper. It is the kind of school you wish every child in America could attend, especially your own. We arrange to have the boys attend twice a week until summer break.

We set up our trailer under two enormous maple trees in the front yard of Maeve and Ben’s rented ancient farmhouse. A weeping willow and two apple trees frames a view of the Adirondack mountains out of our vestibule.

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When the boys wake in the morning, they run to check for eggs and to see if Finn, their friend, is awake yet. Together they trap chickens, ride bikes, pet the calves, and check on the ducklings. By the end of the day they are all dirty and exhausted.

I throw myself into the garden and Matt throws himself into projects; building a picnic table, rebuilding a diesel tractor engine, making hay, getting and moving wood chips, running errands, and numerous other emergency projects all of us need help with. We relish the hands-on work after the winter on the sailboat. After endless hours of trying to make money online.

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We love living with a like-minded family. We have dinners together and all look out for the children. There are many great conversations about a myriad of subjects. It occurs to me that farming should be a cooperative profession, that it is almost too much for one family to do by themselves. Life is easier when you have a community and everyone is helping each other out.

We entertain the thought of opening a restaurant in the former diner for sale in downtown Westport. We check out a magnificent old house on 5 acres, gutted by fire, and imagine how we could restore it to splendor. We entertain making all-beef hotdogs out of their extra young bulls or starting a creamery. There are so many ripe opportunities. Then we find a tiny stone home on half an acre, right down the street from the school. Totally affordable, but we have to act now to make it livable for this winter.

They are all tempting opportunities. Not to mention that we love the area and all the people we are meeting. After over a year and a half of traveling, we are ready for a home of our own. Not to mention, we really need an income source.

And yet there is a piece of us (ok, maybe more me) that cannot give up Alaska. For better or for worse, it is home. I miss my family and friends. I miss the rugged beauty and the quirky people. But I’m not sure if I can achieve my big goals there. I want to bring food gardening into mainstream culture in America, so that everyone is doing it and food is growing everywhere. How can I do that from my tiny “island” of Alaska.

I allow myself to let go of the “how” and focus on the big dream. Anything is possible, right? If Alaska feels like the right place for us to be, then it is. The details can be figured out later. There is no right or wrong answer to this question.

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Sailing South

Spring is coming and we have to move on soon. We talk about sailing north up the East Coast out of the hurricane area, but I am itching to have a garden this summer. I need dirt under my fingernails and homegrown food in my belly. I need to get back to the garden if I am going to implore others to garden.

We decide to sail back to the Rio Dulce and leave the boat there for the summer. It is safe, affordable and we know the place well. One Friday when I come back from dropping the boys off at school, Matt says there is a good weather window and that we should leave in a few days. It seems kind of sudden, but Matt is promising fair winds and calm seas.

We have a hectic few days provisioning, checking out, and preparing the boat for our passage, but we even manage to fit in a date night thanks to our friends on Jade. By Sunday we are ready to leave. As we fill up at the fuel dock, the band at the Cuban restaurant next door is playing full force. I am really going to miss this place, but I am excited to get back to the Rio and back to the states.

We shoot the chute, coming out a narrow passage between two islands. It is late in the day and snorkelers are still swimming in the water, boats are full of passengers for sundowner cruises and coming back from diving the reefs. We celebrate with a glass of wine and then I fix dinner. The wind is light but there is a swell that keeps knocking us around and making life uncomfortable. The sun sets as we sail past Cancun and we brace ourselves for a few days and nights on the boat.

I have some things I still need to finish up before we lose cell service, but I’m feeling seasick and can’t quite function. I head to bed while Matt takes the first shift. About 1:30 in the morning he wakes me up for my turn. The swell has calmed and I’m no longer sick. I get out my computer and start working. My fingers fly over the keyboard in my zen-like half-awake state. By the morning I have finished all I needed to and more.

The mahi-mahi are biting so we have fresh fish for lunch. Everyone is exhausted so there is lots of napping. Later some spotted dolphins come and play in our bow wakes. They seem as curious about us as we are about them.

We get cell service again outside of Belize. It seems strange after 3 days at sea to have reception. We decide to sail into the reef and anchor for the night at Tobacco Cay. There are other sailboats anchored there and a couple bars to get a drink. As we are having a sundowner with some other tourists, we spot a moray eel hiding among the conch shell retaining wall. It is a little one, but it is fun to watch it dart out, swim around, and go back to its hiding spot.

We are in the Sapodilla Cays, our last stop before Guatemala when we finally get Graysen to put on his mask and snorkel and get his head under water. He is stoked about everything he can see. We decide to sail back to Placencia and re-provision so we can spend a few extra days in the Sapodillas snorkeling and enjoying island life before we go back the real world.

It’s a good idea. Out here in these remote islands it feels like everything else can wait. What’s important is that Graysen sees some amazing coral and a lionfish. That Rylan and Graysen play for hours with hermit crabs. That we relax and enjoy the present instead of rushing off to the next thing. It is something we constantly remind ourselves of and the boys often help us remember. Be present in this amazing and inspiring world!

Life on the Hook

There are problems with our paperwork and Matt has to go to the Port Captain’s office. He wouldn’t have known this if he had not been checking out some marinas and one of the guys asked to see his paperwork. Apparently, the Port Captain in Cozumel did it wrong. They are used to pushing through big cruise ships, not sailboats.

The officials in Isla Mujeres seem unwilling to help fix it, but just as it looks like we might have to sail back to Cozumel, the Port Captain makes a phone call and has the paper sent over. It takes a full week to get it taken care of, including two trips to Cancun on the ferry. Poor Matt is out of his mind. For most people this takes just a few hours to do all the paperwork.

In the meantime we meet up with our friends the Kortmans. They are staying in an RV park in Cancun so I take the boys over on the ferry one day to get some much needed play time. The next day they come over and spend the day on the boat. We try to go sailing but the water is a little rough, so we end up back at the anchorage, swimming and hanging out. It is fantastic to see them and we end up hanging out several more times.

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The day after Matt gets the paperwork sorted, I set out with the boys to find a dual-language school I have read about. We finally find it and go inside. The woman, Marissa, is very friendly, and there are 3 siblings from Canada who speak both Spanish and English. There are only three rooms, but a nice little yard with two turtles. It doesn’t take much to convince me. I ask the boys if they want to stay or come with me and return tomorrow, and they both are excited to stay.

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Matt confused when I arrive back at the boat without kids, but I am triumphant. The boys and I have spent pretty much every day together for the past year and a half and we are all ready for a break from each other. They want other kids to play with, and I need time to build my teach gardening empire.

The commute to school is a little unusual. First, we jump in the dingy and motor to shore, landing among the fishing launches on the beach. Then we either walk, or usually take a cab to the school. At first the rides cost 40-50 pesos apiece, but one day it is only 15. I have a hunch that I am being taken for a tourist when I ask how much so the next day I just hand him a 20 and wait for the change. It works! Now our rides to school are less than a dollar.

Of course, there was that time when the dingy motor broke and we had to row a couple days before Matt got it working again!

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After I drop the kids off, I usually go to the grocery store and load up on fresh veggies and other products we haven’t seen since the states. Everything is super cheap. I fill two big bags and walk back to the dingy. Then I have a few precious hours to work, do yoga, or whatever I want! I feel like a liberated woman!

Matt does the afternoon pick-up most days. He does his errands, then gets the kids and takes them to a plaza where they hunt for dragons and play for a while. Then they cab or walk back to the dingy. Back at the boat the boys play or swim until dinner.

About once a week a northern blows through and we have to keep watch on the boat to make sure the anchor doesn’t drag. Sometimes it does so we learn to put out two anchors. Sometimes other boats drag, so we have to watch out for them. One time, I see a boat dragging right for us and Matt drives us out of the way so we don’t get hit. There is nobody on the runaway boat so he gets in the dingy, drives over and boards the boat to save it from hitting other boats.

On the weekends we clean the boat or go to the beach, almost like a normal family. The restaurants are outstanding and even the street food is great. It feels nice to stay a while a get to know a place.

 

We fall into a rhythm and the days pass quickly. Before we know it a month is gone and Amy arrives. The boys are elated to see her. Our rhythm changes to include a lot more beach time, pool time at her hotel, sea glass seeking, and meals out in restaurants. It is fun to be more like a tourist for a few weeks and to have a good friend around to talk to.

Saying goodbye to Amy is difficult for all of us. She is like family for us. She is our lifeline to the regular world. We haven’t really made any new friends and life gets pretty lonely out here.

Just after Amy leaves, when things seem hardest, we meet another couple with a 3-year-old girl, Ani. The boys are so happy to have another boat kid and are instantly best friends with her. We are so happy to have cool, fun parents in the same situation as us to talk to. We go fishing one day with everybody, they have us over for dinner, Ani goes to school with the boys, and we trade date nights. They are gone a lot for work, but we make the most of the time when they are around.

We eat breakfast with the sun rising over the island. We watch the island come alive with fisherman, cruisers, and people making their way to work. Boats full of vacationers go by to snorkel, or on a booze cruise. We have ups and downs just like on land. The boys are cranky, we are stressed, things break. But every evening we eat dinner watching the sun set over the Yucatan, and see the island settle down to rest. We know we are lucky to live in such a beautiful place. To live in a different culture, experience new and different things, and to be able to spend so much time together as a family.

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Arriving in Isla Mujeres

In the deepest of sleeps, I hear Matt moving around above me, hoisting the mainsail, pulling up the anchor, and starting the engine. It must be 3 or 4 in the morning, because that is when we decided to leave Cozumel and head to Isla Mujeres. It is a 50-mile sail, which could take us anywhere between 10 and 14 hours. We need to make it there before dark so we can find our way into the harbor safely and find a good spot to anchor.

Soon we are out of the harbor and Matt turns off the engine. The sound of the wind in the sails is wonderful. We are still going upwind, but the swell is not nearly so big. I give up trying to sleep and climb into the cockpit to watch the stars and wait for the sun to rise. It is so peaceful and beautiful.

Eventually, the sun begins to warm the sky with a red glow, melting away the stars. The boys wake up one by one and cuddle up to us in the cockpit. We look for dolphins and watch fishing boats in the distance.

We sail right in front of Cancun, marveling at the endless row of high-rise hotels right on the beach. We sail past it for hours and I wonder how many tourists are watching us, wanting to be on a sailboat right now. I think about how nice it might be to sleep in a comfy hotel bed and order room service at an all-inclusive resort. It sounds nice, but I am pretty darn happy to be on the sailboat today.

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Just past Cancun Matt is reeling in his fishing line and realizes he has caught a barracuda! He is stoked and the boys are beside themselves. Matt cleans the fish while I get the boys down for a nap, and before we know it we are coming into Isla Mujeres harbor.

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We set anchor with a big sigh of relief. We don’t have to move again anytime soon. We are meeting our friend, Amy, here in a month. We have time to check out the island and get settled in. We are tired and weary from being on the move for so long.

The next evening is New Year’s Eve, and we celebrate in style on the boat with a huge bowl of barracuda ceviche. We don’t make it until midnight, however, still too exhausted from our trip we are in bed by 9. We wake up briefly at midnight and enjoy the fireworks exploding over our boat.

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Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve morning and Matt has sent me into town with the boys to get groceries, find internet to get the number for T-Mobile to find out why our data isn’t working, and possibly get some Christmas presents for the boys since we don’t have any yet.  He is on the boat trying to fix the engine.  We are 2/3 of the way there when the dingy engine dies. Really?

I take out the oars and begin to row. There is a strong current setting south, and it is quite an effort to move us across to shore. I don’t have much choice of a place to land and end up on some flat rocks near the seawall. I drag the boat as far up as I can but there is only a loose cinderblock to tie the boat up to. As we walk away I have a sinking feeling that the tide is going to come up and sweep the dingy away.

But we have Christmas shopping to do. I hurry along the seawall without the faintest idea of where I’m going. We are in San Miguel, Cozumel and there are 4 cruise ships in at the moment, so I know there will be things to buy. I see a gift shop and usher them in there. It is full of highly breakable things and I spend my time telling them to look, not touch. There is no chance that I can purchase anything without them noticing.

I manage to get them out of the gift-shop and down the road. Rylan has a particular way of dragging his feet, looking anywhere but where he is going, and finding every whale shark or dolphin painted on a sign. There is no rushing this kid, and he really has no concept of the trouble we will be in if the dingy floats away.

After stumbling along blindly for a few minutes, I see a man in a dive shop and ask him where I can find a grocery store. “Just three blocks up this street, turn left.” I’m sure I have a crazy look in my eye and he doesn’t even try to sell me a snorkel trip.

I pick Rylan up and start hustling up the road. It sure feels like more than three blocks, but somehow we find it. I am amazed by all the fresh produce and products. Compared to Belize and Guatemala, this is fantastic. Everything is about a quarter of the price as Belize so I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

I try to stay focused on what we need for the holiday, but I haven’t really had much time to think about it, so I just run around throwing stuff into my basket. I can’t stock up too much because they might come aboard the boat and confiscate any fresh produce or animal products. I maneuver around the crowded store as quickly as possible, making sure to pick up the promised juice boxes I’ve used to bribe the kids.

We are out of the store and heading back to the dingy to see if it has floated away. I am not only carrying Rylan, but 30 pounds of groceries. Graysen is hustling to keep up behind me, but I can’t really see him so I have to ask every few minutes if he is there. This is the most cardiovascular exercise I’ve had in two months and I can sure feel it. Huffing and puffing, we finally make it back down to the seawall and I let Rylan down from my shoulders. The boys are running ahead but I am too tired to keep up.

“I see the dingy!” Graysen calls. Super.

Now we just need to get back. I manage to get the dingy back in the water and the boys and the groceries into it. We are fighting the current to row back to the boat. It feels impossible, as we are anchored too far out, way beyond the other sailboats, since we had to sail in last night. I am really hoping for a rescue when I see a guy from one of the other two sailboats get into his dingy and come toward us. “Do you need a tow?” he asks. Yes. Yes, we need a tow. Thank you Christmas angel!

Back at the sailboat the engine is running again. Matt found several clogs in the fuel line. The wave action must have stirred up the sediment in the tank.  I am so thankful once again that he can fix things like this. He also fixes the dingy engine while I am making lunch so that he can go to town and finish the Christmas shopping. I put the boys down for their nap and begin tackling the crazy mess in our boat after three days at sea.

When Matt gets back we decide to go out for dinner. We are both too tired to think about cooking. I throw on a dress over my sticky body and try to tame my sea hair.

The streets are full of revelers. People are doing last minute shopping and kids are playing in the fountain in the square. At the restaurant we order extravagantly. Cheese dip, margaritas, the Mexican sampler platter, and fish tacos because Graysen has to have seafood. The bill comes to about $30.

We make our way through the square and back to the dingy. We drive back to the boat in darkness. As we prepare the boys for bed, I remember that we don’t have a tree to place presents underneath. We’ve been collecting tiny shells and looking for branches to make a tree, but have not found any. There are not many branches on tropical islands.

I am desperately looking around the boat for anything we can make a tree out of, when I spy the cinnamon tree branch I brought home from touring a nursery in Guatemala. It is dried and gnarled. Matt tried to throw it overboard a few times already. I fill a jar with the tiny shells and stuffed the branch in. There, a Christmas tree!

When the boys are safely asleep, we get out the presents and wrap them in newspaper. We put an R and a G on the gifts so they can tell them apart. We can’t leave a plate of cookies out for Santa or the ants will get it so we get a plastic container and put some crumbs in it. Matt even pours a glass of milk and drinks it. Then he takes a cardboard star wrapped in tinfoil that the boys made and sticks it to the top of the tree. He puts out two candles to light in the morning.

I don’t have a single gift for Matt. I had lots of thoughts of what I might want to give him, but most of it was simply not possible because of lack of time or resources or availability. I’m feeling pretty shitty about our thrown-together Christmas as I crash in bed.

In the middle of the night I wake up with the idea to make Matt a pirate hat out of a big straw hat someone left on our boat. The thought won’t leave me so I get out of bed and grab the hat from over where Matt is sleeping. I sew up the three sides in the bathroom and use the last of the newspaper to wrap it. I also remember some chocolate I bought back in Guatemala for everyone. Then I head back to bed.

In the morning, I hear Matt’s alarm going off in the other room. He wanted to wake up before the boys to light the candles. It goes off for an hour. He must have gotten up in time because I hear Graysen’s voice. “Santa added a star to the tree! And he lit TWO candles!”

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I make some cinnamon rolls as the boys open their presents. Somehow, despite the lack of preparation, it is magical. The decorations are crude but meaningful. The gifts are neither elaborate nor expensive, but everyone loves them. We have a restful day in Cozumel’s harbor, recovering from our passage, and enjoying each other’s company, in the true spirit of Christmas.

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The Passage

The opening in the reef is narrow but clearly marked with a yellow buoy. We eye it warily as the rough seas outside the reef break around it.  We watch a few big dive boats go out and head into the steep waves on the outside. They have much bigger engines than ours. Should we go for it? Once we go, there is no turning back.

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We are heading for Mexico, hoping to make it to Isla Mujeres before Christmas which is 4 days away. To get there, we will have to sail overnight without stopping. The weather is predicted to be OK for the next few days, without the squalls we’ve been having, but still pretty brisk winds coming from the northeast, which is the direction we will be traveling. We can always use the engine to get us upwind. It’s not ideal, but we are already checked out of Belize and anxious to get back to Mexico.

So, we head into the cut. We take the diagonal course laid out in the book headed straight for the yellow buoy. But after a while Matt stops looking at the GPS. He can see where to go. He is reading the waves. Once we get to the buoy we turn to face the waves head on. This is it! We surf over the waves, coming steeply down the other side. Water crashes over the front of the deck. I am so glad the boys are safely napping down below.

The boat handles the waves beautifully, and soon we are away from the reef and the worst of the breaking waves. Ha ha! We did it! We are out on the open ocean! We have a long journey ahead of us but I feel like celebrating! Graysen wakes up from his nap and I break out some drinks and snacks. We keep the mainsail up and the engine on and try to make some headway through the big, rolling waves.

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A little while later we are all enjoying the sunshine and snacks when the engine starts to sputter and cough. Oh shit. Not now!

Stay calm. We still have sails.

Matt is in the engine compartment trying to figure out what is going on while I take the helm. I have us pointed in the right direction, but the wind and waves are pushing us west instead of north. Matt gets the engine going again and we head back to our course, but a few minutes later it dies again.

I think about when we had Three Lions and we were headed into Utila in the Bay Islands just at sunset. The wind died. We started up the engine but a few minutes later I went down into the salon and there was water everywhere. The coolant hose burst and we were filling the boat with sea water. Matt stopped the engine, threw up the sails, and sailed us, with the lightest wind, between the reef into the bay and anchored safely in the dark.

I have enormous faith in Matt and his ability to fix things. He always comes through. Now he is coming out of the engine compartment drenched in sweat. Soaked. It is not easy to fix an engine in high seas with the heat of the Caribbean sun compounding the heat of the engine.

“I need to take a break.” He says. I heat up dinner while he pulls out the jib and gets us going in the right direction. Everyone is feeling a bit seasick and no one eats more than a few bites of the chili.

It is starting to get dark now and we can still see the lights from Ambergris Caye. We can’t turn around and go back through the reef without an engine. We could go 30 miles further south and go back in through the reef through a wider cut, but neither of us really want to do that. We decide to push on and hope that the waves settle down a bit and Matt can figure out the engine the next day.

Matt and the boys lay down while I stay on watch. Graysen sleeps in the cockpit with his life jacket on and clipped in so he doesn’t fall off the bench. Rylan lays with Matt in the aft cabin. I hear him crying suddenly, then “Oh, no!” from Matt. Rylan’s puked in our bed. Great! What’s one more thing?

The stars come out, blinding me with their beauty. The wind and the waves are still raging but somehow I feel peace. There is a certain kind of magic sailing in the night. As much as I loathe missing sleep, I enjoy being alone with the wind, waves and stars.

A bright light appears behind me and soon reveals itself to be a cruise ship. It is heading north northeast, the direction I want to go, but since the wind is coming from there, I am going east, directly into its path. It gets closer and closer. A million lights illuminate all the different decks and music drifts my way on the wind. I imagine all the people dining and dancing and retiring to their cabins to get a good night sleep and I am slightly jealous. Why do we always have to do this the difficult way?

We have the right of way, but I can’t take the chance of getting smashed by a cruise ship so I tack. He cruises by effortlessly on my port side. I see the flash of a camera go off as a passenger takes our photo. It must be quite beautiful to see the sails illuminated by the steaming lights. Before long the cruise ship disappears over the horizon. They will be in Cozumel by sunrise and we will still be tossing about on this sea.

Two more cruise ships pass me and I am grateful for their company on this windy night. It is almost 11 and my head is starting to nod. Matt sticks his head out of the aft hatch to see how things are going. We trade places and I lay down in the bed for a little sleep.

At first I have trouble getting to sleep with the boat straining into the wind. It is surprising how loud it is with the water rushing by and the creaking and groaning of the boat. I try not to squash Rylan as I am tossed about the bed by the rolling waves. Before I know it, Matt is calling me and it is my turn for watch again.  My body does not want to get up, but I know Matt is exhausted.

My duties on watch are few. We have auto-helm so I don’t have to sit and steer the boat. I do have to watch out for ships and tack occasionally to keep us on course and adjust the sails and course as the wind shifts slightly. The moon is up by now, giving everything a warm glow. It is 3:30 and I know the dawn will come in just a few hours. I alternate between sitting behind the wheel where I get a face full of cool wind and hiding behind the dodger, where I almost fall asleep.

Finally, slowly, a soft light appears on the horizon. We made it through the first night! The boys wake up with the sun and I am thankful for the company. We look for shapes in the clouds and listen to Sparkle Stories I downloaded. We are behind the Chinchorro Bank, a huge atoll, so the seas are much calmer.

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When Matt wakes up I manage to make some oatmeal, a couple cups of tea, and do the dishes from the night before. Then he gets to work on the engine. It’s not getting fuel. He bleeds the air out of the system and it starts up again. Yay!! Nice work Matt! The wind is really picking up and getting gusty, so we pull in the jib and motor sail.

We celebrate a bit and then Matt finally lays down to take a nap. A few minutes later, I hear the dreaded sound again. Cough, sputter, then the high pitched sound the ignition makes when the key is turned but the engine is not on. Shit! Double shit!

There is a large bay with a few safe anchorages just ahead of us, but the sun is sinking low in the sky and we won’t make it there before dark without an engine. There is too much reef, rocks, and shallow water to take a chance. We will have to keep going. At least out here on the ocean we are relatively safe. We are not even half-way there.

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The second night is similar to the first except there are no cruise ships or any other boats to keep me company. The night is black as black can be. The wind is stronger, and even with the sails reefed, we are cruising. While it is nice to make up time, sailing upwind through these waves is rough. It takes great effort to move around the boat, so I prefer to stay in the cockpit. I stare at the waves looking for bioluminescence. Whenever I start to nod off, a wave will shake me awake again.

I think about why we are here. What draws Matt and I to these situations? Most parents take their kids to see Santa Clause for Christmas, we take them on a crazy sailing trip. The boys are doing pretty well considering how rough it is. Did I mention we don’t have Christmas presents for them yet? Or anything resembling a tree? We don’t even have much fresh food because we are not allowed to take it into Mexico with us. What happens if we don’t make it to a town? We will be eating rice and beans for Christmas dinner, and Santa might not even make it. Worst. Parents. Ever.

I look for the moon in the east, where it should be rising. Through a short bank of dark gray clouds it emerges. The ultra-thin crescent looks like a cradle as it rises out of the sky. It is breathtaking. A simple reminder of what is really important. We are safe and healthy and together. It may take us longer than anticipated to reach our destination, but we will get there.

When Matt gets up we decide to stop in Cozumel instead of going the extra 50 miles to Isla Mujeres. Cozumel is a cruise ship town with a party reputation. Not really our thing. It is supposedly more difficult to check into Mexico there, and the anchorage is notoriously a bit rough, but we will just have to deal.  Anything to stop moving. We should be able to get in there under sail and drop anchor so Matt can fix the engine without the rough seas.

The wind dies down a bit and the waves improve, especially as we get behind Cozumel Island, making it almost a pleasant day of sailing. We tack up the coast and reach San Miguel, the town on Cozumel as the sun is sinking low in the sky again. It is difficult to tell where the anchorage is because there are so many cruise ships and new development that makes our map seriously outdated. We need to anchor before it gets dark. Finally, we spot a few masts and know we have gone far enough.

As we get close, we pull the jib in to slow us down and glide towards the other boats. There is a small boat with some spear fishermen in the water in front of us, but our steering capacity is a bit limited. We think we have them all accounted for, but as we silently sail past I hear one of them say we are right over another guy. A second later he comes up with a scared look in his eyes.

We turn upwind and drop the anchor. Relief.

Matt goes to put the main sail down and finds that the cover of the halyard is torn right off. Only the core is holding the sail up. Thankfully it didn’t break through while we were sailing! One more thing we have to fix before we can go anywhere. For now, I am filled with gratitude to be anchored in one spot. We are mentally and physically exhausted, but happy we made the journey.

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Island Hopping

We leave Placencia on a calm morning the day after Graysen’s birthday. We are excited to explore more of Belize as we make our way north. Graysen spots an eagle ray gliding gracefully next to the boat, and a few minutes later he spots the rolling back of a manatee.

The water is smooth and silky and there is barely enough wind to push the sails. We move at a snail’s pace north. We are in no hurry. The boys take a nap and I sunbathe on the deck. Pure luxury. Eventually the wind picks up enough to get us to a safe anchorage in the Pelican Cayes.

We just have to cross over a shallow bar which the book says is 8 feet deep and we only draft 6.5 feet. Still, I go up on the bow as we get shallow. The water is so clear, I can see right to the bottom, but it is difficult to really tell how deep it is. We get shallower and shallower, but we don’t bump. As the water begins to get deep again, I release my breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

We drop anchor behind a mangrove island just before the sun sets and enjoy a glass of carbordeaux smuggled in from Guatemala. If this is the sailing life, I think I could get used to it.

The second day is similar, making our way north in light to moderate winds, across a shallow bar, and anchoring behind a mangrove island. Matt goes fishing while the boys and I swim behind the boat.

The third day we go east to South Water Caye on the outer barrier reef. We motor because the wind is coming from the east and there are numerous shallow patches we have to avoid. The water becomes bright aqua as we get shallower and I go to the bow to make sure we don’t run into any shallow patches or random coral heads.

“How are we looking up there?” Matt yells to me. “Shallow!” I yell back. It looks super shallow, but nothing looks too much more shallow than anything else, so we keep going, slowly. The boys are up front with me, talking away and playing, while I watch, trying to breathe. It gets a little deeper, and then goes shallow again. My heart is in my throat.

Thankfully, we don’t have far to go and we are anchored by lunch time. The wind has really picked up and the small, low island doesn’t offer a whole lot of protection.  The anchor seems to be holding, though, so after the kids take a nap we go to the small beach on the south end of the island.

The water is very shallow and the boys have a great time practicing swimming without their life jackets on. We see a small skate go by in the grass and other fish swimming in the shallows. There are some dive boats coming and going from the island, but there isn’t anyone else on the beach. It is kind of strange how quiet it is.

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The sun is sinking low and we are getting ready to pack up and go back to the boat when a launch pulls up. The woman is holding a baby and next to her is a little girl about Rylan’s age. It’s not often the boys have other kids to play with so of course we have to stay a little longer. They are Americans managing a lodge on a nearby caye, and we have a lot in common.

An hour goes by in the blink of an eye and it is getting dark out. We must get back to the boat and feed the boys dinner, but we are all really enjoying spending time with our peers. In the two months we have been back down at the boat, we have not met any other family. We might be able to go to their island but they have a wedding party coming to the lodge so they will be busy.

Back at the boat we try to see how we can make that work. Our book doesn’t talk about their island, and we are not sure if we can make it there with our deep drafted boat. We also know we have to get water soon, and think that Belize City is the best place to do that. We also know that we have just a few days left of good weather before some nasty storms are supposed to come.

We snorkel in the morning and then head up to the Tobacco Range. We share the calm, protected anchorage with a local fishing boat and have a great night’s sleep.  It feels good to be out of the relentless wind.

The next day we decide to take advantage of the strong east winds to make our way north. The sailing is wonderful. Behind the protection of the barrier reef, the sea is calm despite all the wind. It’s Matt’s birthday and we have no cake, no party, and no presents. But we do have sunshine and perfect sailing. He even almost lands a 5-foot tarpon.

We anchor outside a marina by Belize City, hoping to fill our tanks with water. We make grilled pizzas for dinner and go to bed early, but the bar is having a major dance party and the music carries across the water like we are right there. It is a really strange contrast from the peaceful nights on the islands.

We aren’t able to get into the marina to get fuel or water, and the marina in Belize City has been destroyed by a hurricane, so we must head up to Caye Caulker and hope that we can get some there. We make a quick stop in Belize City for supplies, and then head north again.

We have to time our trip to get through Porto Stuck during high tide so we don’t become victims of the narrow, shallow passage. Luckily, we go right through without a problem, and end up anchoring in Caye Caulker right before sunset. We are excited to get to know this place a little and maybe meet some new people. We will stay here for at least a week, so our island hopping is done for now.

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