Nicoles guest post

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Nicole vanDewerker who sailed with us from Honduras to Roatan describes her adventure.

I arrived on Southern Mist extremely ready for a new type of adventure after seven months of backpacking through Central and South America and staying in hostels and guesthouses, meeting new faces every day, and packing my backpack every time I left a hostel. I found Nicole and Patric in the dive shop after two long days of overnight flights, a bus and a ferry from the mainland. I was immediately welcomed and knew things would be peachy and a good time. Nicole and I went on the dinghy to the boat and she showed me around. Where I would sleep, how to flush the toilet, how some things change while we are underway. She really prepared me for the worse.

A normal day on the boat started with a wake up call from Chris Parker to tell us about the weather in the Western Caribbean. Followed by the NET where we would check in with the other boats in the region and another look at the weather. Then Patric would usually cook up some sort of delicious breakfast, lots of times involving BACON… I hadn’t eaten any bacon since leaving the states so was so thrilled to have lots of it again. After our tummies were super satisfied, we would do whatever “had” to be done that day.

For Nicole and I in West End, it was usually some dives. Since Patric and Nicole had recently acquired everything needed to do the dives, we could just take the dinghy out to a mooring ball, and dive as long as we would like. Several of the days we were able to join the other cruisers, and occasionally Patric could join us and the other cruisers also had enough equipment for the three of us to go. After my last dives were completed in Galapagos, diving in Roatan was a little different but I quickly learned to appreciate more and more every dive with the help of the Roatan Reef book. A guy had put together a book of all the different species. I studied the book and with lots of help from Nicole learned a lot more about the species there, the ability to identify them, and in the end my dives were much much more interesting. In the end I ended up doing about 10 dives, and almost doubling my previous dives. My buoyancy improved so much in those dives and I have so much more confidence in the water thanks to the amazing dives and days we had in Roatan. So it was a REAL rough ten days or so in Roatan…. NOT!

Then for dinner time, usually Nicole would whip up something delicious and occasionally we had the treat of the best pizza on the island, made by Patric aboard Southern Mist. Those other people don’t know what they were missing out.. if you are ever on board, make sure you Patric’s makes some. It’s the best. Patric and Nicole had some delicious meals that they both liked and I will eat literally anything that is in front of my face, so I didn’t cook any of my crazy random things for them, however I became the dishes queen while on board. After dinner we played games a few times, hung out and chatted, or just chilled until it was cruisers midnight… or 9pm ish sometimes.

After traveling for so long and all the different noises of people in a hostel, whether it’s coming in late, leaving early, snoring, or everything in between, I was able to sleep like such a baby on the boat. The sweet sways from side to side didn’t bug me at all and I slept the best I had in months and felt more rested than ever. After my first dive, I hung my bikini top on the boat the same way Nicole did but hers, however mine decided to take a swim and not come back up. So I learned quickly that you had to be really careful with things on the boat. Being able to just hop in the water for a snorkel before dinner, or a morning swim was amazing. How cool to live, almost like a mermaid just out on the water.

I didn’t really realize until I got onto the boat that this is literally like Patric and Nicole’s home sweet home! I didn’t really realize you could have a life on a sailboat. Then hearing about all the different personalities of the cruisers was also a huge surprise. Meeting the other cruisers was so much fun, and an inspiration to me to keep doing what I’m doing and always living life to the fullest that the 9-5 office job isn’t for everyone. Then when we left for our passage they were so supportive and helpful with everything in days leading up to the departure and even during the passage checking in with us an extra time during the evening to be sure all was well on board.

Like any morning of living on the boat, we woke up, listened to the weather report on the radio, did the Northwestern Carribean NET and check in, made breakfast, and then it was time to hit the road. We did our last minute packing and secured everything in the boat, said goodbye to our cruiser friends, blew the horn, and off we went into the big big blue sea! We knew going into the trip that it wasn’t the perfectly ideal departure for our journey but if we waited any longer we risked having even worse weather as hurricane season was approaching. Patric watched the weather very closely and did a lot of research to make sure when we started the journey that it would be okay. It was thought to be worse in the beginning and then get a little bit better the further out we went. Once we were away from Roatan and out onto the clear sea, we set up the sails. As soon as the sails were set, the boat shifted and that is how the rest of our journey nearly would go.

Because of the boat heeling to one side it meant a lot of stuff went flying and the bed that I had previously been sleeping on, you could almost sleep on the vertical part of the couch. Going to the bathroom proved to be a huge challenge because you are crashing with the waves, hoping that the things in the toilet don’t come up to splash you, trying to pump the flusher, and not fall over. Then you have to get back out of the bathroom and to the cockpit or the couch without falling. It was quite a challenge, but as Nicole told me from the very beginning.. the boat at anchor is much different than en route. So I knew things would be crazy and really expected the worse.

The first half of the first day I felt fine. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I started to feel a little queasy.. We had some pasta salad that Nicole prepared before we left.. and it was then while I was trying as hard as I could to eat the pasta salad that I knew something wasn’t quite right. But really tried to fight through it. After all the excitement of leaving, I took a nice little nap in preparation of my first night watch and wanted to be fresh for that. I am incredibly grateful that I was able to sleep most of the time when I was feeling sick. When I got up for my night watch, I was feeling it pretty hard. Every time I had to get up to check the front of the boat, I knew that pasta salad was coming closer and closer to back up to feed the fishies. So I’ll spare everyone the details but this continued for two days. I still completed my night watches and one day time watch because after all this is what they wanted me to come on the journey for. It’s not like me to bail on something even if I was sick. But luckily besides my watches, I would usually just be sleeping… so we are talking like a baby or cat. Sleeping usually 17 ish hours each day. After I started feeling better, I was awake more. Sometimes we would chat, sometimes it was silent with the waves crashing under the boat. I had a lot of thinking time during our passage.

I had the second night watch shift. Patric decided that we would all take turns and each do two hours.. so we had four hours to sleep in between since there were three of us. My shift was from 9-11 and then 3-5am. During these night shifts you were in charge of monitoring that the wind didn’t change, that we weren’t going to hit another boat, and that the auto pilot stayed on its course. Unfortunately during the passage we didn’t see any sea life. But there was photoplankton so the plankton would light up when the boat crashed and made waves, so that was really cool to watch.. It’s not the first time I’ve seen that but gave you something to look at and stay awake for during your shift. The stars during the passage were incredible! They are so bright, along with the full moon, I could stare up into the sky for such a long time and never get bored. Then I would stand up and check around for other boats and obstacles every 15 minutes. That was my usual routine to make the watches go by quickly. The greatest perk of my watches was the early morning watch, where I got to see the moon rise and the incredible sun rise over the water. They were the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen and to the best was the day that I could finally spot the land on the mountains and the sun rise over those and against a storm.

For food we just ate really whatever we could without preparing things. Lots of snacks, pretzels with peanut butter, the rest of the pasta salad, cereal, granola bars, etc. I ate very little and tried to continue drinking even though I didn’t want to because everything came back up.

Occasionally there were waves that crashed pretty hard on the boat and would make real loud boom noises, but that is just the direction and the way we had to sail. We couldn’t change anything about it and the way the boat is designed, is to be able to handle waves crashing like that. I never felt unsafe during the journey even if it seemed a little intense.

In the night time we always wore our life jackets.. Which weren’t the Styrofoam orange vests most boats have, but serious life jackets. they self inflate once they touch the water I believe, and have a flashlight and a whistle in them. So they were not super uncomfortable to wear.. at times made you a little hot. They also had a leash.. At night time when we were in the cockpit we were always to be leashed onto something. If a man goes overboard at night.. it is literally impossible to find them and the way the boat was heeled I could see that it wouldn’t be that hard to lose your balance, a wave crashes, and you are over.. So was really grateful for the leash.

During the journey wh

ile we still had radio contact, Patric still checked in to the NW Carribean NET and then we had the cruisers in Roatan checking in on us again at 5pm every night to be sure everything was going okay. Some of my family and friends had a link to a tracker which sent a signal about our where abouts during the journey so they could follow us. There was also a safety boat in the cockpit in case anything went wrong.

After five days and four nights of sailing, we had finally arrived to our first anchorage point.. Which was quite a ways from where we wanted to land but at least we made it safely and had no problems in the journey. We cleaned up the boat, cooked a nice meal, and enjoyed sleeping in a boat that was so calm. Ensenada de Barcos was a large cove where there were tons of huge jelly fish floating all over.. Soo my first reaction to dropping the anchor was to jump in, then decided it wasn’t the best idea. The temperature was absolutely boiling and the sun was so strong. We got out the solar shower and took showers and finally were really happy, clean, healthy, well fed, and ready for a good nights sleep!

I didn’t take many pictures during the journey because it was difficult to really do anything and stay standing. After resting up at Ensenada de Barcos for a night, and making a nice big breakfast, bacon included we started off on our day sails to get to immigration. There is no immigration check point where we arrived so we would have to go on 4 day sails to reach Cayo Largo, where we had originally intended to go to check in. this meant we could not walk on land. Only swim and pass through.

We spent the next four days sailing during the day, anchoring somewhere in the ocean at night in order to reach out immigration check point, Cayo Largo. The day sails were much much more pleasant than the journey from Honduras because the seas were a little calmer and we were not healed. We cruised around Isla de Juventud stopping two more nights. One of those days was through an amazingly clear bright turquoise channel where I learned how to set up the sails. I think for the most part I have an idea about which direction they go in, and a pretty good idea about how to set them up… but would just need a lot more practice to execute it myself. I learned how to steer which is a lot harder than I thought because the changes be such a little tiny turn on the wheel but a huge change in direction. I also learned how to pull up and drop the anchor, and lots of cool things Patric taught me about the boat.

When we finally arrived in Cayo Largo, we called the marina on the radio to let them know we were coming when we were just outside. They answered immediately and asked how many people were on board, our nationalities, and then immediately met us on the dock to help us get all checked in. The dock captain was soo friendly and spoke perfect English, and apparently five other languages. He apologized for not being the first one to greet us because he was helping the owner of Google fill up his mega yacht before departing. Immediately they took all three of our passports and walked off into an office while we were still stuck on the boat.. people taking my passport gives me high levels of anxiety… A passport is like your life line while traveling.. especially in Cuba where there is no American embassy! Meanwhile we had our temperature taken, and a while later… maybe 45 minutes they returned with our passports. Talked about the rules, and such of the marina, and were so lovely. They said that tomorrow morning an agricultural inspector would come and we had to visit the bank to pay our visa fees, then we were cleared to finally step on land. I definitely had a little bit of a dance party after stepping off the boat for the first time. It felt really strange. I was surprised that I didn’t really have that bad of sea legs.. Just felt like I was swaying a few times. Strangely, while going to the bathroom was the weirdest because I usually would brace myself like we had to on the boat.. But a flushing toilet again was soo great. As was a real shower.. well real.. I mean flowing water, not like a hose drip from the solar shower.I did really enjoy bathing in the sea on two of our anchor spots though. Patric had this cool shampoo/soap that foamed in salt water, but after traveling for so long before with varying qualities in showers, I wasn’t super picky about my showers anyways.

After spending six days in our dock slip at Cayo Largo, we headed out for some more adventures, to reach our next destination, Cienfuegos. We anchored just outside of Playa Sirena, or Mermaid Beach in English where it genuinely felt like we were mermaids or mermans for Patric. The snorkeling was really cool, the coral reef was really nice. The insanely clear water was spectacular to swim in. I couldn’t get out of the water! We anchored the next night after our day sail near a sweet little island that we spent some time exploring the next day where we spotted some rays and finally got to do a little bit of fishing. I was absolutely terribly uncoordinated with the spear, but Patric was able to catch us some delicious lobster that we cooked for dinner! The next day we made it to my final destination on the boat, Cienfuegos. Due to a little nasty allergic reaction I had to sand fleas, I stayed on the boat a little longer nursing some of my wounds until swelling had gone back down. After six days exploring Cienfuegos and chilling on the boat, it was time for me to take pack the backpack once again and explore Cuba on land and say goodbye to Southern Mist.

Sailing is an incredible way to travel and was so blessed that I was able to join Nicole and Patric on their journey from Roatan to Cuba. I would do it again in a heartbeat and would encourage anyone who has never been, to hop on a sailboat somewhere in this world and see everything that our amazing oceans have to offer us. It is a whole new world.

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