We made the decision to leave Cayo Culebra around noon on Thursday December 16th. That way, we would hopefully arrive in Honduras by dinner time on the 19th, three days later. Originally we had planned to go to Roatan, but then we saw a small island about 20 miles West of Roatan called Utila. None of us had ever heard of Utila, and when we found it on the chart, we didn’t have internet or cell service to do any research, so we just decided to go for it. This was a bit exciting because we would be arriving in a new country that none of us had ever been, at an Island we knew nothing about. The anticipation was high. Using the downloaded chart we were able to see the anchorage, that you could check into Customs and Immigration, and that there was good diving and a grocery store, but that’s all we knew.
Kyle and I had really hoped that the weather had calmed down during our time waiting at Cayo Culebra. We were able to pull a few GRIBs using our satellite box, and the wind had certainly lessened, but the different models were showing mixed information on the sea state. However, it was the best weather window we had had, and were going to have a for at least a week, so the decision was made to go for it. The four of us divided the chores to turn the boat from a house back into an ocean going vessel: deflate the dinghy and bring it on deck, secure everything down below, make up the beds in the main cabin (you don’t usually sleep in the v-berth while sailing, especially in rougher seas), change out the head sail, secure the dinghy motor, and a few other odds and ends. At noon, we motored away from our anchorage, said goodbye to the little island that had provided us protection and been our home, and turned towards the mouth of the bay.
I’d like to continue this blog post by saying it was a lovely crossing and we had a great time making it to Utila, but that would be a lie- especially for me. If i’m being 100% honest, which after some considering, I have decided to do in this post, it was the worst and most miserable two days of my entire life that I can remember. I thought maybe I would just write “it was a bit of a rough passage and I didn’t feel well, but we made it safely to Utila” and leave it at that. But many of you have asked me to share the good and the bad, so that’s what I’m going to do.
I’ll start by saying that Kyle, Mason, and Zoie had a completely different experience than me. The three days are a blur for me, but I have vivid memories of Mason and Zoie playing cards in the cockpit, both of them sitting with their back leaned against the companionway, reading books on their kindles. Kyle making dinner and singing sea shanties. He was watching movies on his off watch! The passage was rough, the seas were confused, but for them, it wasn’t that bad. Was it comfortable and easy? No. But it really wasn’t too terrible of a passage. It was definitely a very authentic experience for Mason and Zoie of what offshore passages are like. Sometimes you have passages with following wind and seas that are what I would call perfect. Sometimes, the winds are light so the seas are calm, so it’s slow but super comfortable. But in reality, to be an offshore sailor, you find yourself in conditions similar to what we experienced from time to time. It was safe, Safi was happy as could be, and we were making great time to our destination. It was salty, lots of spray onto the deck, but the dodger kept us dry. There were some beautiful sunsets and sunrises and life aboard, while a bit uncomfortable due to the movement, continued on as normal as can be in those conditions. My goal in sharing that first, is to give some insight that the experience I am about to share was solely mine- not that of everyone on board.
I can’t remember how soon after we left the protected waters of the bay that I began to feel sick. I think I decided to go lay down and nap for a couple hours. I am prone to seasickness, but over the years I have it pretty dialed in on how to not get sick. I do a variety of natural remedies such as: acupuncture points, essential oils, ginger supplements, sound therapy. And then I always take over the counter medication- dramamine or something of the sort. Then I try to sleep for a few hours once we get underway so my body can acclimate while asleep. I have also spent months working on something called the Puma Method, a method created by a doctor who trained astronauts to avoid motion sickness. I have tried RX patches behind the ear, and every other remedy I have ever heard of. For whatever reason, none of the above worked for me on this passage. I awoke from my nap and felt awful. I had zero appetite and drinking water was a chore. I tried to stay calm on that first day because “I usually feel better by day two”. And on top of that, on a small boat, it’s very important to keep a positive attitude for the morale of the crew. So while I let everyone know I didn’t feel well, I didn’t let on to just how bad it was.
By the middle of second day I still couldn’t eat. I had not eaten anything other than a couple measly bites of various food I thought I could stomach for 24 hours. My water intake was decreasing, and because I couldn’t eat or drink, I wasn’t able to take any more seasickness medication because it was tearing up my empty stomach. So I went into survival mode. I did my watches- every single one- and then I would crawl into bed and fold myself into fetal position. A couple times I hung out in the cockpit and tried to have conversations in order to take my mind off of how awful I felt, but that didn’t last. Eventually, other than my watches and throwing up, I did nothing but lay in a ball. By the evening of day two Kyle was beginning to worry about me. He tried to make me food. He tried to do anything he could to make me feel better. But I barely had the energy to respond to him. I began to get really weak. And that is when my mental state began to deteriorate. I am not quite sure how to explain this part – the physical part of seasickness is easy enough to understand- I felt like shit. I would drink a sip of water, and throw up. I would take a bite of bread, and throw up. I was nauseous, my stomach hurt, my head was pounding. We’ve all been sick before. But on the second night I found myself filled with anxiety. And this incredible sadness that I couldn’t quite figure out. On top of that, all I wanted was for the boat to STOP MOVING. But it just rolled and bashed along and for ~60 hours we were in a washing machine. As I lay in my bunk on my off watch, I started crying and that’s when I realized where the anxiety and sadness was coming from.
Kyle and I had worked so incredibly hard to make this happen. We had been dreaming and planning of a boat like this. A trip like this, for almost 6 years. We felt like we had finally done it. We had a big solid boat. A boat that could take us across oceans and bring crew and family and friends along as well. We had a home. A two bedroom, one bathroom home! I had painted every nook and cranny of the boat. Kyle hand built and welded the dodger and stern arch. We had put up a new mast and rigging. We painted the deck. We sanded the top sides. We fixed up her bottom job. We had poured all of our money, time, sweat, and tears into Safi. Into turning our dream into a reality. And there we were, sailing from Mexico to Honduras, with great crew and a not-too-bad weather window. It was everything we had hoped for. And yet, there I was, curled in a ball wishing to be absolutely anywhere in the world other than on that damn boat. And the reality of that hit me hard. My thoughts were racing: What the hell are we going to do if we’re on an ocean crossing and this happens? This isn’t sustainable. I don’t even think I can make it 18 more hours until we arrive in Utila! We already have crew lined up for the next part of our trip! I can’t quit, but I can’t do this again?! Poor Kyle, he has to do everything himself- Mason and Zoie are amazing crew and super helpful and doing all their watches and participating in every way they can, but they aren’t experienced sailors which means Kyle’s out there doing the sail changes and skipping sleep while at the same time worrying about me. Why can’t I just be stronger? Eat something Danielle. You can do it. Get up. Brush your teeth. Eat something. Anything. Pull out of this…. and they just kept racing.
So I tried. I got up. I went and brushed my teeth, and before I could even spit out the toothpaste I was over the side of the boat puking. But I didn’t have any water or food in me to puke, so instead I dry heaved and I silently sobbed in between the dry heaving. I. Can’t. Do. This.
The sun rose the morning of the third day. We would be arriving in Utila that afternoon. 10 more hours. But that felt too long. Instead of feeling relief that we would be arriving that afternoon, I felt like I couldn’t make it 10 more hours. And again, I didn’t share these feelings with anyone. I let Kyle know a little bit what I was going through, but I mostly went inward and kept to myself. While it is important to communicate while living in a small space with 4 people, I also knew there was nothing that could be done other than for the movement of the boat to stop. So sharing my feelings would just bring the morale down. I pushed on. I tried to lay in my bunk, but I found myself feeling panic in my chest, so I went and laid in the cockpit. The wind helped. And honestly, underneath how horrible I felt, it was absolutely beautiful out. The sky was a mixture of pastel colored clouds and smears of blue. The waves were big, but in a beautiful sort of way. Safi was making 6 knots and sailing along happily. The crew morale was higher being that we would be arriving soon. I kept looking at the chart on my phone to see how long we had to go. 20 nautical miles. We’re making 6 knots. 20 / 6 = 3.3 hours. 18 nautical miles left. 3 hours. And then eventually, Mason, Zoie and I were sitting in the cockpit and I saw land. I didn’t even have it in me to yell “land ho!” so instead I weakly said: “land.” And Zoie and Mason said “what!? Where?!” And thankfully they had it in them and they yelled “LAND HO!!” and in that instant, I felt some relief. I knew we were still hours away, but I could see it. I could feel it. At some point Kyle made me a plane piece of toast and I was able to eat it. Then I drank a few cups of water. And it was difficult to hold it in, but after 48 hours of not eating, I knew I had to do it. So slowly, with the help of Kyle, Mason, and Zoie, I nursed myself back to life.
And then land was getting closer and closer until we could make out trees on the island. And the island protruded from the sea and there was a small mountain and it all looked so luscious and green. And little by little, I began to feel better because as we got closer to land, the waves calmed down a bit as the bigger island of Roatan provided some protection, even though it was 20 miles away. And then we were so close that it was time to turn down wind to head into the anchorage. And just like that, in an instant the boat stopped moving the way it had been. We sailed down the waves, the boat surged forward in a calm and controlled manner. I went down below and opened all the hatches. I grabbed a granola bar and more water and sat in the cockpit with Kyle, Mason, and Zoie and we all oohed and ahhed as we looked through the binoculars. We made guesses at how many people lived on the island. We all talked about what food we were craving. We dreamed of hiking to the top of the mountain. And while I still felt weak, and in the back of my mind all those dark thoughts were still racing, I had a smile on my face and felt hopeful and excited. And we took pictures and we laughed and we enjoyed the calm water as we sailed into the anchorage. I knew deep down that what happened would have to be addressed. That it couldn’t be ignored anymore. I have been trying for over 7 years to get over my seasickness, and it was very clear to me during that passage that I was losing the battle. And that couldn’t be ignored anymore. But those thoughts made me so sad and so I said to myself: Danielle, we have just arrived. Celebrate. Bring yourself back to nourishment and a better mental state. Enjoy the moments. You have plenty of time to figure out the rest. And little did I know, I would have more than plenty of time.
So we dropped anchor in the protected bay of Utila. We went about turning the boat from an ocean going vessel into a home. But we had to be quick. It was 3:30pm and it was a Saturday and we really wanted to check into Honduras that day or else we’d be stuck on the boat until Monday. So we moved quickly- Mason and Kyle working on the dinghy, me and Zoie down below cleaning the boat. I found myself moving too quickly. I had to remind myself how weak I still was and sat down for a minute. “I know we are in a rush, but I have to go swimming. I need to jump in the water.” So while everyone else worked and got ready to go ashore, I jumped into the ocean. And I let the ocean water heal me. It encapsulated me and it revitalized me. Words can’t describe the feeling of refreshment I experienced. I put my head under the water and whether it was my own inner knowing or the voice of the sea, I heard, “it’s all going to be okay.” And it was.
The boat was transformed and we all grabbed our bags. I grabbed the document folder and stuffed it into my backpack with my water bottle and a peanut butter jelly sandwich Mason had made me. We climbed into the dinghy and headed to the dinghy dock at the grocery store we had read about on the chart. As always, when we stepped foot on solid ground we all wobbled and giggled. And then we walked out of the alley from the grocery store and all just stood there in disbelief for a moment. Motorcycles, tuk tuks, bicycles, people whizzed by in every direction. Music played from speakers. The smell of food of every cuisine filled our nostrils. The sound of vehicles, people, music, dogs, children, filled our ears. After being at sea, even for only 3 days, your senses become really heightened. And because we spent so much time at the anchorage in Mexico before being at sea, we were really sensitive. It was exciting and we wandered around aimlessly for a moment looking for the immigration office. What were the chances it would be open on a Saturday at 4pm?
Thankfully, it was. And the Port Captain was sitting at his desk. He had us stand at the doorway while we put on our masks and verified we had all been vaccinated. He then took the paperwork from us, checked our documents from Mexico. “This says you were heading to Roatan?” I responded, “that was the plan, but the weather decided differently.” He laughed and said, “well you are welcome here. But immigration is closed until Monday. You are unofficially checked into the country, so feel free to explore, but be back here Monday at 9am to check-in officially.” We all four breathed a sigh of relief and let out little giggles.
“Well.. let’s go find food and beer!” Kyle exclaimed.
We wandered the busy streets of Utila. I found a spot to quickly buy a local sim card so we could let our families know we had made it safely. It was a lovely little island from what we could tell. Clean, not too touristy, and none of the locals pressed us to buy anything or take taxis. We made our way up a hill and found a restaurant called the Mango Inn. The first few hours after coming ashore are always a bit exciting. We were in a new place none of us had been. We had zero expectations and each moment was filled with a joyfulness.
Once we sat down at the table and everyone connected to the wifi, we all went into cell phone world while we enjoyed our first beer. That’s when I received two emails that would confirm my earlier feeling of “it’s okay Danielle, you have plenty of time.” Originally the plan had been to make our way to San Andres, Colombia in order to meet our next crew who was due to arrive on January 2nd. And then after that, head to Bocos Del Toro, Panama to meet our next crew. It was only the 19th of December, so we had plenty of time to make it to San Andres, but after that passage I was feeling rather stressed about the idea of another 3-4 day offshore passage, but I told myself to let it go and enjoy the first night and figure it out later. Well, when I opened my email, after deleting 20+ spam messages, I had one email from each of our next crew. My uncle, who was going to sail with us from San Andres to Bocos Del Toro wrote to tell me he had broken his collarbone and had to get surgery and could no longer join us. The next email was from the crew who was going to meet us in Bocos and sail with us towards the Galapagos. She wrote to say she could no longer come either. And as had been my habit, I checked in on two of the countries we tentatively planned to visit after the Panama Canal. One of them had changed their entry requirements again, in light of Omicron, and there was a high chance we wouldn’t be allowed to visit there anyway.
While I found myself rather disappointed about my Uncle, one because I felt terrible about his broken collar bone, and two I had been really excited to spend time with him and show one of my family members what cruising life is all about, I also felt a huge wave of relief come over me. I took a deep breath and thought about what this really meant. It meant that our direction and timeline had pretty much diminished. We could go anywhere, at anytime. We no longer had any obligations and finding out that our intended path might be impacted by Covid, left where we should go next sort of up in the air.
“It’s okay Danielle, you have plenty of time.” I smiled to myself. Clearly that inner voice was correct earlier in the day. A good reminder to trust my intuition.
Being people who believe in signs from the Universe, and recently have listened to the Alchemist on audiobook, Kyle and I took the entire situation as a sign or omen, from the Universe. A sign to slow down. When we made our timeline and plan, we were back in Florida. We were working 14 hour days, 7 days a week. We were in hustle bustle, go go go mode. So it makes sense that when planning our cruising season we would take on a similar mindset- go go go, get as much done as possible. Do I think we could have accomplished that original plan (minus the Covid roadblocks)? Yes I do. But at what cost?
Kyle held up his beer to me, “Well, I’d say the Universe is trying to tell us something. We’re listening!” We laughed and clinked our beer bottles together.
I knew it would take some time to really let this all settle in. We had planned to head South to San Andres, but now with no one meeting us there, we didn’t need to do that anymore, unless we wanted to. We were in Utila, and found out about all these other islands in Honduras we wanted to check out. What about Belize? Guatemala? There were so many places right near us that wouldn’t require long offshore hops that we could explore. Slow down. I heard my inner voice say again. Slow down.
And so that’s exactly what we did. It was only December 19th, and Mason and Zoie wouldn’t be leaving until the 26th. We still had time to explore with them, and to explore Utila, the reefs, and the island as a whole. And after that? We didn’t know. And for some reason, instead of bringing me anxiety of not knowing, I felt an extreme peace. I was so content with not knowing what was next. We could go anywhere. Do anything. For the first time in years, I felt really free. And I knew that this time of unknowing, would allow me to go inward and figure out what it is I want. What we want. And as I sat at anchor in Utila, looking at the luscious green island in front of me, the dive boats off to my left and heard the laughter of our crew down below in the cabin, I thought to myself, “what a lovely place to work it all out.”
As I write this, we are anchored in Roatan, Honduras. It’s been a few weeks since our crossing to Utila, and they have been a wonderful couple of weeks filled with contemplation, exploration, celebration, and most importantly, a very slow pace. So here’s a little reminder to slow down 🙂 Stay tuned for my next post where i’ll introduce you to one of my favorite places i’ve ever been- the Bay Islands of Honduras.
*There aren’t many pictures to share from this crossing. And the ones I have were not taken by me, mostly Mason and Zoie, so photo credit goes to them 🙂 *