FROM THE SOUTHERN BAHAMAS, BACK TO SOUTHERN FLORIDA
On the night that lightning struck our boat, I figured our cruising plans would have to change. I hoped they wouldn’t. And in the days that followed, my husband and I were often really good at being in denial. “We’ll just order the replacement electronics to be sent to the Bahamas, duh!” “And we’ll wait patiently until they arrive on their monthly supply boat to the southern tip of the Exumas, double duh!” “And then we’ll install them all ourselves!” Wait, what?
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve progressed a lot in our handy-human skills since we moved aboard but replacing the vast majority of our electrical system after a lightning bolt fried it is just a teensy weensy bit out of the realm of expertise. So when we got an email from our insurance adjuster saying they felt strongly that the repairs needed to be done in the U.S., we pointed our boat north and started heading back to the states, to the southern tip of Florida.
We were only there for a few days, which we packed full of margaritas and heirloom tomato eating, before we were ordered by the governor to get out. “Leave and leave now,” he urged Floridians. “This is not a storm to mess around with.” Irma was one of the largest, most powerful, storms in history and we, along with the entire state of Florida and a large swath of the Caribbean, were right in her path.
ESCAPING IRMA: PREPARING LAMO FOR A HURRICANE AND EVACUATING FLORIDA
The days that followed still feel like a dream. An ever-changing series of mental screenshots. Anxiety spikes that made my belly feel like a jar of snakes and nights with exhaustion so thick my actual eyeballs ached and twisted in their housing.
The day we evacuated was chaotic and murkey but looked a little something like this: We wake at 5am to begin preparing LaMo for Hurricane Irma. It’s the first time we’ve ever readied our boat for a hurricane and we don’t know where to begin so we just start going down the list we’d crafted the night before. We remove perishables from the refrigerator/freezer and power it down to thaw. We pack for the road. We anticipate the twelve hour drive home will take much longer than twelve hours and we were right about that. (It took twenty-one.) We take down the headsail in the dark in between sips of coffee and barrel it down the companionway below deck. We flush the water maker with fresh water so bacteria won’t grow in its innards while we’re gone. When the sun comes up, we take out all the cockpit cushions and sail covers to dry them from the overnight rain. We wrap line after line around the mainsail to lash her down. We throw the cushions haphazardly below deck when it starts to rain again. We dance in the rain because nothing has ever felt so good—the heat index has just reached 105 degrees. We hang fenders around LaMo’s port side, then more around her starboard. We affix at least two lines to each of our six cleats, sometimes three, and run them all in different directions. We push, pull, and tie. We sever garden hose into 1-foot chunks and shove pieces of line through it. We position the hose chunks just right so that they rest in any places where metal could chafe the line.
We Barrett gets on a paddleboard and wraps lines to pull LaMo backwards from the stern. We pull pull pull. LaMo becomes a spider, suspended in a web of line mid-slip. We take down the bimini, tug on its seized zippers with everything we have. We cheer when we get her dodger off. We didn’t think that one zipper would actually budge. We hug her. We tell her to be fierce and we pull the lines even tighter since we know they’ll stretch at least 10% in the winds and we toss our duffles filled with things like important documents and our favorite bathing suits and my best knife onto the dock. Her lines are so tight, and we’ve pulled her so far off her floating dock finger, we can barely get ourselves off the boat. I jump and nearly miss the dock and our Jamaican neighbor Captain Claude sees and laughs. He’s staying for the storm and will later be the one to send live updates during the actual hurricane while the cell towers are still up. We wave to LaMo, toss out the trash, and drive.
And we drive and drive some more.
We eat twizzlers. The landscape is a sea of bright red dots. It rains and we eat blowpops, the mega kind that barely fit in our mouths. We drive in shifts. First the shifts are three hours each. Then two. Then they turn into one hour shifts. It’s all either of us can do before our heads start to fall and they say drowsy driving is worse than drunk driving. So we pull over seven thousand times to switch seats. We eat waffles at two am and we make fun of the twenty-year-old stoner who stumbles in looking for a “back route” north to avoid the traffic. There aren’t any back routes, my friend, we’re all headed in the same direction. We finish the bag of twizzlers for breakfast and we tell ourselves it’s okay because fuck evacuations. We listen to approximately nineteen hours of the Up and Vanished podcast. We see signs for Alabama and breath easier as the red lights start to fade. Mississippi, Louisiana. The sea of red is now a sea of hunter green pine.
Back on the bayou.
BACK ON THE BAYOU
The next fourteen days felt soft and strange. We were back in Lacombe, where our adventure began, yet somehow we were also mid-adventure. We watched the news nonstop, from sun up to sun down, and prepared ourselves for this to be the end of the adventure—most boats don’t survive a direct, or even peripheral, hit from a Category 5 hurricane.
But also in that time of chaos, when we drank too many martinis and we slept exactly zero, there was calm. Remembering the moments of hope and joy for the months and years of adventuring on our LaMo that we knew lied ahead way back last Fall. Sure, those months haven’t exactly gone as planned but that’s the only consistent thing I know about life anyway.
It never does.
DATES ON DECK
I’m very thankful to report that our LaMo weathered Hurricane Irma like a champ. She didn’t even end up with a scratch and I like to think that’s because of the spiderweb technique we used, recommended by a fellow sailor friend on facebook.
I do, however, have more to update you on. Obviously, this hurricane season and the devastation it’s had throughout so many Caribbean Islands has changed some things for us and we’re still parsing out what all of that means. As soon as I know our cruising plan, you’ll know our cruising plan.
In the meantime, I want to throw back to a year ago. When Barrett and I had our first “date on deck” on the bayou as part of a feature I was working on for Spoonful Magazine. And we ate muffalettas and crab boulettes dipped in sauce gribiche and forked buttermilk salad that even my non-salad-loving friends love.
Going back to that day, warm and crisp, pine needles prickling onto our deck, eating sandwiches that were so large they barely fit in our mouths and dreaming about what would soon be, I’m reminded of the hopefulness we held in those days. I’m not really sure what the hopefulness was for. Maybe for freedom. Or adventure. Or calm.
And we’ve had a lot of that and also, seemingly, not enough. But now, more than ever, I think that hope is the thing we all need more of. Hope to feel peace even in times of chaos, hope for dreams fulfilled, hope for a better tomorrow.
SPEAKING OF BETTER TOMORROWS…
Below I’m listing a few organizations that could use your support right now. There are dozens of places you could spend your time and dollars, countless worthy causes to contribute to today, but if you feel so moved to donate to the cause of supporting Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria victims, particularly those isolated on islands throughout the Caribbean, here are some ideas to help you get started:
If you’re on the East Coast, offer up your house or a spare room to people who lost their homes.
Help displaced or at-risk dogs in Puerto Rico who need food, water, and shelter. (Bourré is really into this idea!)
Consider giving to one of the many organizations listed here, organized by island(s) they’re aiding.
Contribute to a grassroots organization based on the ground in Puerto Rico and run by fellow sailors who know what the islands need, when they need it, and how to mobilize sailors to get it done.
And if you just want to bring a smile to someone’s day, make these crab boulettes, featured in the latest issue of Spoonful Magazine and seen below.
- 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
- ¼ yellow onion, or 1 large shallot, chopped finely
- ½ green bell pepper, chopped finely
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped finely
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt or ½ teaspoon of regular table salt
- ¼ teaspoon of black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- ½ pound of lump crabmeat (TIP: Though I give instructions here for making the boulettes with lump crabmeat, any seafood will work in a boulette. For a different approach, try making them with chopped shrimp or crawfish or even a flakey white fish such as trout.)
- ¼ lemon, juiced
- ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon of Tabasco or other Louisiana hot sauce
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1-1/2 cups of dried bread crumbs, divided
- 1 tablespoon of green onions, green tops only, chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped, plus more for garnishing
- Canola or other neutral tasting oil for frying, about 33 ounces
- Sauce gribiche, for serving (optional)
- 1 tablespoon of champagne vinegar
- 1 small shallot, chopped finely
- 1 large egg
- 1-1/2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt or ½ teaspoon of regular table salt
- 1 tablespoon of capers, drained and chopped
- 1 tablespoon of green onions, chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon of dill, chopped finely
- ½ cup of mild olive oil
- In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add lemon juice, Worcestershire, and Tabasco sauce and continue to cook until liquids have cooked down, about 5 more minutes. Transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
- Add egg, ½ cup of bread crumbs, green onions, parsley, crab meat and stir mixture to combine. The mixture should be the consistency of a stuffing—wet but thick enough to hold together if squeezed in the palm of your hand. If mixture is too wet to come together well, add more bread crumbs, ¼-cup at a time, until it does. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
- Take 1 heaping tablespoon of crabmeat mixture and use your hands to form it into a ball, just smaller than a golf ball. Do this with the remaining crabmeat mixture.
- Add oil to a dutch oven or deep fryer and heat to 360 degrees F. While oil is heating, roll crabmeat balls through the remaining bread crumbs, shaking off the excess. Drop each ball into hot oil and cook, rotating gently with a slotted spoon, until breadcrumb coating is golden brown, about 3 minutes. If you notice them burning or breaking apart, this is an indication that the oil is too hot. Reduce heat, wait a few minutes, and then proceed. Drain on paper towels and serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with fresh parsley, if desired, and alongside the sauce gribiche.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine shallots with champagne vinegar. Let sit for 30 minutes or until shallots have softened slightly.
- While shallots are softening, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a gentle simmer and spoon the egg into the water. Simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered, and then place egg in ice cold water to stop the cooking. Once egg is cool enough to handle, peel and mash with mustard. Add soaked vinegar and shallots, salt, capers, chives, and dill.
- Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the egg mixture, starting with just a few drops at a time and whisking continuously. Once you’ve added about 12-15 drops, pour the remaining olive oil in a thin stream, whisking continuously as you go.