March 26, 2010. St. Augustine, Florida.
I am just wrapping up the last watch in the pale yellow pre-dawn before our day begins; we are at anchor in St. Augustine, just inside the inlet leading to the open sea, which I can see just a few hundred yards from where we are now. We were trapped behind the Lion’s Bridge for a few days while it was closed; it is an historic bridge at the entrance to St. Augustine inlet that has just been re-opened after 4 years of restoration–a beautiful bridge but looking at the sea through the closed bridge pylons was like looking through bars in a cage. Yesterday evening, they opened the drawbridge for us, and we dropped anchor safe and sound on the ocean side of it. Very, very frustrating to be stuck for a couple of days, but of such things is life at sea made. The sea is always the same–ever changeable, and always throwing up new challenges and new opportunities. All we can do is adapt as fast as possible, and we have learned to be good at it.
Dr. Cutler, a doctor from Los Angeles, and his family (his wife is a nurse and his 16 year-old son is coming to help out as well) are scheduled to meet us in Petit-Goave, and fortunately I made sure that Dr. Cutler knew that there was always the possibility of unforseen circumstances that could keep us from making our rendevous with incoming docs, and had contingency plans in place for several different scenarios., Dr. Tania Desgrottes–an anesthesiologist in NY and niece of Hughes Desgranges, Ministre du Cabinet for Petit-Goave and director of the health center where we will be working–has arranged for them to be picked up at the airport in PAP, driven to Petit-Goave, accommodated, fed, and started in the health center until we arrive in a few days and bring them onboard.
There was much to do while we waited for the drawbridge to re-open; securing 20,000 pounds of cargo well enough so that, if the boat is upside down, it will not shift (always ‘think inverted’ when stowing gear onboard), poring over the charts, arranging long-range radio contact times and dates for the different cruising nets we will be passing through, cooking, standing watches at night, tinkering with our systems and acclimating our ship’s cat and dog to life onboard. It is mentally and physically exhausting, but also exhilarating. To see the crew working pretty much 7 days a week for 11 months in defiance of heat, high winds, cold, and rain, to see the huge pile of 10,000 lbs of supplies and material collected at our house in Jacksonville (and 8,000 lbs of lumber and 2,000 lbs of tin roofing delivered to us in the marine yard) absorbed into Southern Wind, to be living on the boat and safely at anchor just inside St. Augustine inlet after so much time and hard work rebuilding her, to be stowing gear for departure, and most of all to have all the people in Flagler, Palm Coast and St. Augustine (and across the US) give us so much of their time, encouragement, and support has been an amazing experience.
“The Breaking Of A Wave Cannot Explain The Whole Sea” –Vladimir Nobokov
Looking back over the last 2 years, I really feel for old Vladimir’s sentiment. Two years of planning and hard work have last week been realized when Southern Wind took to the air again. She was lifted off the hard ground on the travel lift a few days ago and gently lowered back into the welcoming embrace of the ocean, her hull all repaired and sound, her bottom paint and hull shining fresh, her clean propellers eager to bite into the water and once again push her out of the safety of the harbor, into the deep blue and over the horizon to far shores under different stars. A ship up on blocks in a marine yard always looks out of place somehow; stranded in a world alien to her needs and abilities like a fish dying on a dock, unable to understand why its swimming motions aren’t propelling it to safety, or like a water turtle turned on its back by some cruel tormentor and struggling futilely in the hot. I especially hate to see ships whose owners get them up into the marine yard and then neglect them or give up on them, letting them molder until they have to be sold for scrap. Ships aren’t made to die slowly on land, their repairs forgotten or given up; their purpose is not to rot away at their moorings. Taking them to sea is a risk—every single time, but every time I see a beautiful ship tied like a forgotten pet, unused year after year, or a once-proud vessel that has seen wonders none of us will ever know shoved into a far corner of a marine yard with long grass growing under its keel, I remember an old quote that I often think of when I am faced with a risk (as most decisions of consequence in our lives always involve): “A ship in port is safe…but that’s not what ships are built for.”
At last, Southern Wind is returning where she belongs, and true to her namesake she will carry us south to new places and new people who do not yet know that soon a white sail and red hull will appear over the horizon and bring a team of people who have demonstrated time and again during this long process their commitment and courage to doing whatever it takes to bring aid and help wherever it is needed.
As we near our departure, we wanted to show everyone who has supported us the faces behind Floating Doctors. This is us, interviewed and edited by NotThisBody, and posted to answer (in our own voices) a lot of the questions that we have been asked over the past many months. Thank you to everyone who made it possible for us to get to this point, and wishing you a prosperous and healthy holidays from all of us at Floating Doctors.
Ok, if you follow us on Facebook, by now you have surely seen our boat dog and boat cat. Their full names are as follows: our cat, a little grey Manx, is properly called Professor Tweek Stubbs, and our dog is a black lab-pit-mastiff mutt called Giles McCoy.
The story of our animal acquisition is gradual, but in hindsight was an inevitability. Originally, Sky and I strongly resisted the crews’ (and our own) pleas to get a boat dog. We had opted not to get any boat animals because although Southern Wind is big enough for animals not to be cramped, we were worried about quarantines and immigration. However, we talked to a lot of other cruising sailors who had little trouble—and at worst, in some places the animals might have to stay onboard—which in a 76-foot vessel with air conditioning (while we slog clinical equipment ashore in tropical heat) might be the nicer option! We had to get travel health certificates for them, like the pet passports I got for my Irish cats when I brought them back to California (thanks mom for looking after them!).
While mulling over that news, we visited the local VFW and met a veteran named Bert. Bert told us about a member of their VFW that he wished we had been able to meet—Dr. Giles McCoy. Dr. McCoy had passed away a few months before we got to Florida, and had recently told his story at the Palm Coast VFW.
Claudia and I headed down to Fort Lauderdale for the boat show—one of the biggest in the country. I have actually never been to a boat show, so this was kind of jumping into the deep end—the show was HUGE; you had to take a bus from one area to another. We went from booth to booth talking to people about our project and trying to find support—we still desperately need a watermaker; we have an atmospheric watermaker donated from Generative Planet that draws drinking water from the air, but although it makes just enough for drinking, we need a reverse osmosis watermaker to have the capacity for washing, cooking, cleaning clinical supplies and getting salt off equipment.
The variety of products and vendors was amazing—I saw a lot of gear we really needed, but I also saw a lot of gear I really WANTED. I know the difference, but just the boats alone that were on display gave me some pretty serious boat envy (“Now this magnificent vessel comes equipped with a docking minisub and helipad…”). Captain J was working at the show, representing a series of beautiful coastal cruisers, and one of my favorite companies, US Submarines (they make luxury yacht submarines…think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meets 21st Century technologies), had one of their original submarines on display. I can dream, ok?
One thing that was strange was that we only came across one single booth focused on medical issues at sea—there was a lot of safety equipment as part of other booths’ products, but only John Alibrandi and First Responder Educational Services were entirely devoted to dealing with medical emergencies offshore. FRES sells AWESOME offshore medical kits, and they donated one of their Res-Q-Kits to us, as well as extra IV fluids, a HeartSine automatic external defibrillator, adrenaline injectors and saline injections. John also put us in contact with On Call International, a remote medicine and rescue service—and they are going to let us call them to access physician advice from our clinics, bringing more expert medical advice to our remote locations, and are giving us a special deal on their remote rescue service. If any of us get badly hurt, they can coordinate our rescue and repatriation.
August 5, 2009. Los Angeles, California
Leaving on a Jet Plane
Sky and I are at the airport in L.A., waiting for our flight back to Palm coast and the crew…we are shell-shocked after a whirwind visit home. We got in at midnight 4 days ago, and from early the following morning till now was a non-stop chedule of meetings, interviews, fundraising, meeting with members of our Advisory Board, and trying to squeeze in some time for our folks. Tonight, we came to the airport straight from the premiere of a play in Hollywood that was being generously put on to raise funds for our voyage, and we were interviewed by FOX News-exciting! It was amazing to be home in L.A. and feel the support of our home turf under us.
I think for both myself and Sky, the highlight of our trip home was our visit to the Wishtoyo Foundation’s Chumash Villiage, a working Native American villiage on a four-acre historical site at Nicholas Canyon Country Beach in Malibu. Founder Mati Waiya is a Chumash ceremonial leader who has re-built a village of aps (Chumash word for the dome-shaped dwellings in the village) and a Sacred Fire. He is also a powerful, powerful speaker.
Sky and I went with our mom and dad, and we had no idea what to expect. One of our supporters had told Mati about us, and Mati had invited us to come to the Wishtoyo to visit the village and to have a blessing said upon our voyage. The Chumash were a maritime people who thrived on the sea, plying the waters between the California Mainland and the Channel Islands in their long canoes (or tomols); in fact I once came across and arrowhead on Santa Cruz Island that was made of a type of stone not found on the island, or anywhere on the nearest part of the mainland either. Since we were born, Sky and I grew walking in the Santa Monica Mountains and plying the waters off Southern California. Everyday, we lived and breather the sage and dry grasses of the Santa Monica Mountains and smelled the salt of the deep swells rolling in across the great waters of the Pacific. Whenever we sat on the mountaintops of by the streams of our young mountain range (still growing!), or kayaked along with the gray whales making their annual migrations along the coast, we never felt that the experiences we were having we new–rather we felt like we were playing a role in a long continuum of people stretching back over 8,000 years of continuous human occupation of our land. I missed the smell of the chapparral every day of my seven years in Ireland, and I miss it every day I have been away from it in Florida. Sky and I are deepy tied to our homeland and sea.
In particular, the Chumas hold sacred the dolphin, A’LUL’QUOY. The Chumas believe that their ancestors came to the mainland over a rainbow bridge from Santa Cruz Island, but that they were told by the Grandmother Goddess Hutash not to look down as they crossed. Halfway accross the bridge, some of the Chumash looked down and became frightened and dizzy and fell toward the sea. Hutash, not wanting her people to be harmed, transformed them into dolphins as they hit the water.
July 2, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida.SHARKS IN THE CANAL!!
You know, the story here keeps changing…when we got here, Sky and I took one look at the green, zero-visibility canal teeming with life and thought immediately, ‘Wow, what a bullsharky-looking place! And wow—the only shade anywhere around the canal for a big alligator to rest on the bottom during the heat of the day is under our boat and under our dock!’ However, everyone around here told us that sharks don’t come in here, and they have only seen an alligator once every few years during big storms. So last week, we saw a big 7-foot alligator idling around in the canal before it disappeared in the twilight, and today we saw a 5-foot shark (a bull or a blacktip) swim casually past the boat. It makes me a lot less happy about going back under the boat to clean the propellers! If I didn’t know better I’d think the neighbors were trying to encourage my demise, except that they have all been so nice to us—one of our neighbors, David, sent me a photo of the Southern Wind graphically altered against a nebula shot from the Hubble space telescope called ‘The Cosmic Voyager.’ Hopefully we’ll never be that far off course! Zero cross-track error is our goal!
A supporter of ours named Jonathan, an ER Nurse in L.A. (who is also an experienced transit captain, having spent years sailing the breadth of the Pacific) gave me great ‘rule-of-thumb’ advice about swimming in unknown waters. You never know if the seemingly calm, placid water you are about to dive into to survive the blistering heat has had 10 huge tiger sharks show up every afternoon at 5 PM for the last thousand years, so always seek local knowledge—but if none is available, never go in the water if you can’t see the bottom clearly from the deck of your boat! The dark, tannic waters of this canal looked sharky from the moment we saw it!
But that is the consequence of having a canal teeming with life. Now that we are living in Dennis and Jeannette’s old house (they moved across town and are letting us stay in their house where the boat is docked), we have taken to fishing off the boat in the evenings—after 6 PM, we are DONE working on the boat and we often take a break before dinner to fish, since a lot of the crew are just learning and we will have to provide a lot of our protein this way during our journey! Tonight we caught a stingray, which we let go right away—she was gravid (pregnant); you can see the large bulge in the middle of her body from the base of the tail forward—and I caught my first ever tarpon; which we also let go. Fascinating and Beautiful, respectively, but so far we have caught a lot of fish but none that are much good as food! We SEE them in the water, big red drums, but so far they seem to be mocking us!
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