January 2021 - January 2022
Friends and Family: It’s been one year since our previous blog update, that’s too long, but Covid is always a good excuse to procrastinate.
We were blessed with many adventures this past year but our biggest adventure was crossing the Atlantic in our new sailboat, Breezin’.
Last spring, we travelled to South Florida with the intent to purchase a used sailboat. For many reasons it did not work out and JoDon was crushed with disappointment. We later came up with Plan B, invest in a partnership for a 45’ Bali 4.6 sailboat catamaran that will be put into a charter fleet at the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Caribbean. For more info:
While the yacht was being built in France, we volunteered as delivery crew for Breezin’s maiden voyage from LaRochelle, France to BVI. Spoiler alert: “Be careful what you wish for.”
We flew Dallas/Paris on October 24th after preparing a stack of paperwork for France’s Covid passport. To board any bus, train, be served in a restaurant, etc., you must present a QR code from the French government. A waiter or gate agent then scans the QR code with their phone before allowing you to be served. Pain in the butt, but not exactly a severe hardship.
Our surprise upon arrival was learning the rail workers were on a slowdown strike, for the same reasons as when we lived in France three years ago. For us that meant a 6-hour delay and the cost was tripled for the only remaining seats. C’est le vivre!
We took the photo above when we visted LaRochelle in 2018 never dreaming that we would return to sail our own boat past this iconic gateway. LaRochelle (English: small rock) is an historic city (which city in France isn’t?) located on the southwest Atlantic coast, that is now the center for French boat building. La Rochelle has been a center for fishing and trade since the 12th century. There was a famous siege of La Rochelle in the 17th century when Huguenots (Protestants) rebelled against the Catholic controlled government. Of the 25,000 Huguenots in the city, 15,000 died and 5,000 fled. The Huguenot resistance movement ended.
We met with our captain, Anthony, and his 1st mate, Joseph. Anthony spoke perfect British English and Joseph spoke fragmented English. After accepting the boat from the factory, our captain was ready to push off for N Spain due to upcoming unfavorable weather. What? The boat had nothing; no lifejackets, food, etc. Long story short, we didn’t leave that day and our trip was postponed a week waiting for favorable winds. Stuck in France for a week? Damn, what a hardship to sample different restaurants every day!
During the week waiting for weather, we prepared the boat. The biggest chore was to wrap or cover all the furniture, floors and areas that could be scratched with plastic and/or cardboard (that we found in dumpsters). It also made the crossing more uncomfortable.
On November 3rd we went to sea, our destination, Cascais, Portugal. The previous high winds left 10’-12’ confused seas that constantly crashed into the sides of Breezin’. JD and I had taken seasick medication as precaution and we did not regret it with the rough conditions. None of us got sick. Two days into the trip I suggested that we have one large shared meal together but with two Frenchmen aboard I was certainly not going to volunteer to be the chef! After learning the crew had no cooking skills, I volunteered to be the cook (not chef). My biggest challenge was we only had one medium saucepan, a few small skillets and very limited provisions to make meals for four. No one starved to death so I suppose my cooking was a success.
During our voyage there was always someone on watch. Our watches were 2 hours on/6 hours off. Two-hour shifts pass quickly but your sleep time is also shortened preventing a full night’s rest. Tip of the day: take lots of toothpaste on a long voyage because if you brush your teeth before bed, you use twice as much toothpaste when you go to bed several times per day.
Crossing the Bay of Biscay toward Portugal we had rough seas, gray skies, cold and wet, but noneventful other than catching a fishing net on one of the props. On the third day we could see the coastline of northern Spain. The clouds gave way to sunshine, the seas flattened and we could remove a layer of clothes. The Spanish coastline is dominated by wind towers and the coastlines are beautiful. That same day JD spotted the first of many whales that we saw during our voyage. Very cool.
Rounding the northern tip of Iberia, we were now closer to the shoreline. The beauty of Portugal made us wish to return for a closer look. After 5 days of sailing, the port city of Cascais certainly did not disappoint; it was a charming city to enjoy some Portugal wine, restaurants and reprovision the boat. Unfortunately, since we were behind schedule due to the weather, we only spent one night in Cascais and we left the following afternoon for the Canary Islands.
The Canary Islands are an autonomous region of Spain located about 600 miles west of Morocco. Christopher Columbus made the islands famous as his final stop before crossing the Atlantic to the New World. Other than location and intent, we have little in common with Captain Columbus.
It took us about 5 days to reach La Gomera Island, part of the Canary Islands archipelago. The local dock hands were using handheld radios to provide docking instructions. Our French captain asked that I translate their Spanish, but I was having difficulty in understanding their Spanish cadence until I realized the dock workers were of Cuban and Venezuelan descent with their distinctive dialects.
La Gomera is a mountainous island with little vegetation and grazing resources. Like the other Canary Islands, it depends on tourism. Retirees are attracted to the slow pace of life and pleasant year-round weather.
Alas, we were still behind in our boat delivery schedule so we only spent two nights in La Gomera. Sailing conditions were predicted to have too little wind, but we had to move on. That put considerable pressure on us to provision the boat with food and water for 4 people for the undetermined amount of time needed to complete the trip. We had 200 gallons of diesel so motoring across the Atlantic was not an option. On board we only had water storage of 200 gallons so we bought 20 cases of additional drinking water. I made a meal plan for 23 meals and we bought extras for breakfasts and dinners. It was a little scary leaving port with so many variables, but nothing like the probable trepidation of Columbus’ sailors.
As predicted, the winds were very light. We headed NW for better winds but that didn’t work out so we then motored south. Within 10 days we had consumed 40% of our fuel but the prevalent westerly trade winds increased making motoring an option, not a necessity. Most people think downwind sailing is favorable, but it’s not. Sailboats normally perform best on a crosswind unless there are specialty sails onboard, which we didn’t have. Most of the journey we sailed “Wing-on-wing” which means our main sail is on one side of the boat and the genoa sail (front or head sail) is on the opposite side. It makes for good sailing until a squall hits, and we got hit about once/day and that made life much too exciting. But we got through it all without damaging the ship or losing crew overboard.
Sailing is a combination of being bored to death or being scared to death. On crossing the Atlantic, a 23-day trip for us, being bored was a recurrent event. Spotting whales or visits from dolphin from time to time helped break up things and catching an occasional mahi fish gave us four additional meals.
After 23 days sailing (a total of 33 days at sea) we arrived to BVI with no food, limited diesel and water. Our luck was to be greeted by BVI Immigration officer who placed us under quarantine despite we were all in good health and we had been quarantined for the past 23 days. We were all devasted, we were all MORE THAN READY to get off the boat and drink a cold beer (did I mention there was no alcohol on board for the entire trip?) Our quarantine was lifted the next day with our negative Covid test results. We now very much look forward to spending time in the Caribbean aboard Breezin’ without having to endure night watches.
Now to back up and fill in the other events from 2021. On the return trip from our boat shopping in Florida, we joined family, brothers Casey & Nakia + their families, for a two-day Spring Break at Destin, FL. The white sugar sand and warm waters were outstanding and spending time with family is always cherished.
The most rewarding adventure of 2021 was volunteering for Samaritan’s Purse in the aftermath of a flash flood in Nashville, TN. Samaritan’s Purse (SP) is part of the Billy Graham organization and provides faith-based assistance throughout the United States and the world. Volunteering can sometimes be disorganized and frustrating but SP was highly organized, well equipped and funded. SP had an 18-wheeler full of machinery, parts and consumables to support the volunteer teams and the five large vans that went to homes in need. In addition to the physical healing, SP provided important spiritual support to the residents, many who were elderly and who were completely overwhelmed by their damaged homes. The work we did was called “mud-outs”; removing mud, soaked sheetrock and other debris caused by a flood. The nastiest job was removing soaked duct work that in Nashville is commonly located in the crawl space under the homes. It was hard work but my work partner was an 80-year-old woman and I was barely able to keep up with her!
An interesting comment was made by a 40-year-old man that was in need of help. He said, “I always thought Christians were hypocrites, but you guys came in and helped. And where are my atheist friends?” If you’re looking for an organization to support, we strongly suggest Samaritan’s Purse. They put your money to good work!
After the cleanup we hiked in the Great Smokey mountains that included parts of the Appalachian Trail. What a great experience & beautiful scenery. Returning to Oklahoma we made a stop in Memphis that included the Lorraine Motel (site of the MLK assassination), camping along the Mississippi River and of course eating BBQ.
In the Spring we accepted a house-sitting assignment in Ruidoso, NM. We briefly got healthy by taking the two large dogs on long walks every day followed by a workout in a local gym. Ruidoso, at 7,000’ in elevation, is breathtaking in several ways. There are elk, deer and wild horses that roam the town and that’s very unique.
During our house-sit, we made the short journey to the Three Rivers Petroglyphs. We have visited petroglyph sites around the world and Three Rivers (Tularosa, NM) has over 21,000 petroglyphs dating from 1,000-1,400 AD. What a hidden treasure that most do not know about!
Another side trip during our Ruidoso visit was a trip to Carlsbad Caves, NM. A well over used word to describe the caves, AMAZING! In 1898 a 16-year-old Texas cowhand, Jim White, discovered the caves. Carlsbad Caverns is now a national Park (reservations only). To view the caverns, you walk down a paved, gentle path to the bottom. Along the way the formations constantly change. At the bottom, the cavern opens up to a vast area, The Big Room, that is 4,000’ long, 625’ wide and 255’ high with spectacular rock formations. Pictures do no justice to its beauty! When you’ve seen enough, there are elevators to take you to the top, 1,600 feet!
Before Ruidoso we spent a week in Santa Fe, NM. Ruidoso and Santa Fe are completely different, other than both are in New Mexico. Santa Fe caters to the well-heeled with upscale restaurants, shopping along with stunning countryside. Nearby is Los Alamos, famous for the ultra-secretive development of the nuclear bomb during World War II. For more details read the fascinating book, “109 East Palace”.
There’s so much to do it’s no wonder so many retire in Santa Fe and why New Mexico has become such a popular tourist destination!
After New Mexico we spent the summer on the bay side of South Padre Island (SPI) with family. We thought it would be fun to teach the grandkids to sail on a Hobie Cat, and it was! We sailed, celebrated a few birthdays, a spectacular 4th of July fireworks show, lots of pool-time and also time on the SPI beach. It’s hard to imagine a better way to spend time with family.
We continued the sun and beach fun time in September/October in Kauai, Hawaii. We were blessed to be invited (again) to housesit two dogs and three cats. While there, family visited and we had a blast showing them around “The Garden Island”. It was more beautiful than ever and a road that had been closed due to flood damage was opened making The Na Pali Coast State Park available. The hike was muddy and exhausting, but definitely worth it!! It wouldn't be our only muddy, exhausting, totally rewarding hike during the stay.
THE TEXAS BIG FREEZE: In February we carefully planned our trip from deep S. Texas to Oklahoma to see nephew, Cohl, in his senior year play basketball during their playoff season. We waited for most of the deadly storm to pass, then we pulled our trailer through the snow. Somehow, we made it to the games without incident. The Hill Country of Texas was unique with the ice & snow and fallen trees. Our biggest challenge was to find diesel for our truck, most filling stations had no electricity or they were out of fuel due to previous road closures.
The greatest sadness of the year was the passing of two good friends and former teammates, Bill Pitchford and David Specht. I think of these two often and try to be positive about life. But we are all walking around with an expiration date, and that thought was brought home succinctly in 2021.
2021 is a wrap and we look forward to 2022 with optimism.
Best regards and hoping all is well for you!
Brian and JoDon
Christmas is always a special time of year and this year it was made even more special with the addition of Milo. Granddaughter, Penny, is an animal lover and for many years she was been asking for a dog. This year she pulled out all the stops by writing letters to Santa every night asking for a dog. We were blessed to be present when Penny discovered Milo, a Boston Terrier pup, that Santa delivered Christmas night. Penny was so happy she cried; it was a very emotional time. Meanwhile, Milo is doing great, he’s so cute, and loved by all.