Space Chimp and the Jamaica Crossing


I stared at the chimpanzee, spellbound. A parade of majestic Mayan figures marched across his face carrying signs that made up a system of messages I found fascinating but impossible to understand. A lone, lithe figure dressed in iridescent greens and yellows danced gracefully above the Mayans. Simply amazing, I thought. The chimpanzee was wearing a helmet, a space helmet, and was projecting this ancient dance to me aboard my boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Slowly one of the Mayan signs came into focus. EEO, it read. E, E, O, I thought. What in the world is that? I concentrated hard. I knew the answer was out there, and I was hoping it would come to life for me. I wanted so desperately to know.

Indeed the answer came swiftly and severely—like a bomb. The chimpanzee was in fact my cockpit bulkhead compass. The Mayan symbols were not parading across his face, they were the compass wheel revealing my bearing as Ave del Mar spun to the north. “EEO” was “330,” which meant I was 60º off course. The dancing man was simply the yellow-green of the central marker on the glass of the compass, his head the shield from the compass’ internal light. I was sailing, and I was hallucinating, somewhere in the middle of my second night without sleep and somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.

Sleep deprived heroes in books and movies wear this battle much more romantically than I did this starry night aboard my little boat Ave del Mar. I was sailing from Ile a Vache, Haiti, to Port Antonio, Jamaica, a quite doable distance of about 155 nautical miles. Somewhere in that first day of sailing the autopilot had failed in a kaleidoscopic display of lights and a cacophony of beeps and buzzes, and my attempts to repair it had failed despite the aplomb I thought I had displayed. No autopilot meant no help steering the boat, and no help steering meant no sleep.

There was a notable absence of drama in this event as Ave and I were hardly in peril. The seas were a bit lively but far from being dangerous. We weren’t falling down waves the size of city buildings, we weren’t fighting leaks that could sink the boat, and we weren’t without food or water. What we were was mired in an exercise of epic inconvenience.

Ave and I made good progress despite running under soft winds. I had the genoa poled out to starboard and pulled taut. So many of the mysteries that used to challenge me while sailing were comfortable old friends now, the drama of their newness gone from our relationship. Sailing without land to hit or shallows to avoid meant that the chart plotter stayed off for most of the trip, silently recording our track in the background while I sailed from the magnetic compass. As that first night fell, I opened the tablet to double check my progress. Ave was right where she was supposed to be but the navigation tablet’s battery was clinging to a charge of less than 10%, another dangerous inconvenience.

A little troubleshooting led me to realize that the USB outlet that powers the device had failed, so I rearranged some electronic assets and I plugged the tablet into one of the backup power sources. Happy to see it charging again, I knew that in the course of the night it would slowly come back to life. The battery charge on my backup navigation tablet was satisfactory to get me into port if needed. Catastrophe avoided.

That first night passed without incident. There were good moments of sailing, of stargazing, and of free thought flow. That is what nights at sea do when they are calm. Morning broke and I was feeling good about the trip and my ability to push through.

As the sun crept higher in the sky I started to realize that the absence of sleep was impacting my thought process, and so I started to think about what ways were available to me to catch a little shut eye. It was becoming clear that not sleeping was not a viable option, despite the good story fodder that it made.

I decided to heave to—a process of effectively stalling the boat just off the wind. This is an old and simple sailing trick that calms the boat’s motion and allows a respite from the attention that the helm requires. In short this involves arranging the sails in a conflicting configuration, each trying to turn the boat in an opposite direction. I have never had to heave to as a storm management strategy, but I have practiced numerous times for whatever the occasion may be, and this was the occasion.

After dousing the genoa I went forward to raise the mainsail, my safety harness responsibly clipped to the bright red jackline. Raising the main was also more complicated than one might expect, because I had no auto helm to hold the boat’s direction. To raise the mainsail you ideally want to point the boat right into the wind which renders the sail inert and makes it easier to hoist. Without a crew member or autopilot the boat wants to fall off as the wind blows the bow away, so you end up side to the swell which amplifies the boat’s rolling action rather dramatically and makes simply standing on the deck a risky undertaking. But I’ve been through this enough times, have feared for my life enough times, have braced myself while clipped to the jackline enough times that it really wasn’t the biggest deal.

The mainsail somehow went up, as I used the boat’s rolling action to offset the pressure of the wind. With the sail in need of tensioning I grabbed the winch handle, looped the halyard thrice around the winch, and started to crank. As the second crank began I was treated to an encore of my “Bahamian Flying Winch Drum” drama as the Australian-made Barient winch fell apart in front of my eyes and the drum flew off of the base. Unlike the Bahamian episode, this one did not smack me in the face and did not fall overboard, both welcome edits to the storyline. But with the second of only three mast winches now out of order heaving to was off of the table as an option. Sleep would have to wait.

A most-undramatic drama, this one, absent all of the squalls, winds, lightning, and heroic undertakings that lend color to the stories that sailors inevitably tell. “The Story of That Night I Didn’t Sleep” seemed a poor title for a tale. I wasn’t holding my breath for Hollywood to come knocking.

Throughout Tuesday I crept onward and the wind speed crept downward. By afternoon the winds were marginal at best, so I started the engine to power through the second leg of the journey. The genoa offered a bit of steadiness to the boat’s rolling action, and the 35 horsepower Universal diesel pushed Ave along at a slow if not steady pace of 3.5 knots or so. I could survive this, I reminded myself. No one ever died at sea from moving slow and steady in settled weather.

It was late in the afternoon when I noticed the unmistakeable sound of the engine RPMs plummeting as the diesel workhorse was being starved for fuel. The particulate was back—or, rather, the particulate was still there—and it was clogging the fuel line out of the tank and into the filters. For the first of six or seven times during this trip I shut the engine down, took apart the cockpit grates, and climbed down into the engine compartment to clear the congestion. With the motor off and the winds light the boat fell predictably beam-to and tossed violently side to side as I tried to hold onto tools and perform my diesel bypass procedure. At one point we rolled enough that my canvass bag of food which lives in the cockpit poured its contents onto my head and down into the engine bilge as I was draining the fuel lines. My prepared sandwiches fell into the murky bilge along with crackers, hard boiled eggs, and whatever else had been at the ready. I paused my fuel operation long enough to pull soggy food from the bilge water and fling it back out into the cockpit with a violent and angry cry. Things were starting to build up.

Onward I motored, onward I steered, and onward I checked the Racor fuel filter vacuum gauge for restrictions. Half of my brain said this isn’t so bad, and the other half brainstormed ways to sink the boat in the first Jamaican harbor I could find and buy an airplane ticket home. It’s a familiar tune on an old boat with the problems that come with boats and age. I remember fondly sitting with a young man in George Town, Bahamas, who was telling tales of making way through a cut that he had no business attempting to clear (yep, I’ve done that too). He confessed so effortlessly, as sailors do, that he almost hoped at one point that the boat would just hit a reef and sink because then the torture of trying to make it through the cut would be over. “No one who hasn’t done it will ever understand just how much you really mean it when you wish those things,” he said, deadpan.

It was in the early stages of the second night that the hallucinations began. They started mildly, not full on space-chimpanzee-and-Mayan-parade level but a simple detachment of consciousness. I would be motoring and staring at the compass when I would suddenly realize that despite looking right at it, I was allowing the boat to turn off course. The numbers just stopped conveying meaning to my brain and my brain stopped sending signals to my hands and everything got weird.

The detachment eventually gave way to a parade of confusing episodes where I couldn’t figure out what the compass numbers meant. Eventually I started to think that some of the numbers were actually words, and I would stare at the wheel trying to determine what it meant and how I should steer. I am navigating currently somewhere between ‘270º’ and ‘EFO.’ Hmmm. What to do, what to do. Reality was slipping steadily away.

Then Dancing Man appeared. He entertained me endlessly, sinewy figure moving elegantly side to side on the front of the compass, tall and thin in an elaborate carnival costume. He seemed so happy and carefree that he brought a sense of carefree to my night. Rarely during that time did I realize that Dancing Man didn’t really exist. There was no ebb and flow into and out of awareness, no moments of Oh! I was hallucinating again. Just me and Dancing Man motoring slowly westward, he with his big hat on and me smelling of diesel.

Every few hours I had to dig deep enough to find the ability to climb down into the engine compartment again to drain the diesel lines of their sediment. This, too, became less of an ordeal. I was Job, and my duty was to persevere. I didn’t want to drain the diesel. I didn’t want to sit in the cockpit confused. I just wanted to see my anchorage in Jamaica magically appear before my eyes, to have a shot of rum and go to bed. I wanted this desperately.

I had long lost contact with my sailing companions as they were both out of VHF radio range. As Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday day I could occasionally hear enough to know that they were out there talking with each other, but the words were merely indistinguishable background noise. Ave del Mar and I trudged on, progress slowed by our erratic route as we twisted and turned off of our desired course. By the time I made landfall in Port Antonio we had added about 12% to the length of the journey by virtue of our wanderings. So goes life.

When I was a young boy my family regularly vacationed in Colorado, camping in summer and skiing in winter. We would drive west on I-70, the five of us in our 1965 Microbus, my father commenting that we were the only vehicle that the tractor-trailers ever actually passed going uphill in the Rockies. Somewhere in Colorado the Rocky Mountains would cut the horizon and I would get so excited. The mountains! I would think. We’re almost there! Throughout that day of slow westward driving the mountains proved elusive. On and on we drove. The mountains were some sort of evil depth perception trick. Jamaica rekindled that struggle in me during the daylight hours of Wednesday as I could see the mountainous skyline of the Jamaican shore, but it never seemed to actually grow closer.

As we know, though, it did draw nearer and late in the afternoon of Wednesday I entered the channel towards Errol Flynn Marina to clear customs and immigration. I was too tired to be relieved. Again I dug deep, concentrating hard as the numerous officials climbed onto my boat and I completed form after form to clear in. I asked questions. I confessed readily and rapidly that I was in a compromised state from lack of sleep. The officials were all professional, friendly, courteous, and helpful. Eventually the parade of red tape ended and I paid for two nights in the marina. Untying to go anchor was more than I could begin to imagine doing. I walked down the dock to my friend Aldo’s boat where he was engaged in a lively conversation with a young French man who had hitchhiked into town on a Dutch catamaran.

“Aldo,” I said, “I am going to walk to THAT bar”—I pointed to the poolside bar—“where I am going to eat something and drink Red Stripe until I am drunk. I am leaving in three minutes, with or without you.” I drifted back to Ave where I put on a decent shirt and grabbed some money, and I was back at Aldo’s boat in short order where nothing had changed. Shirtless Aldo still sat on his coach roof chatting with the nice French lad.  “I will save you a seat and I will buy you a beer,” I said, “because I am going right now.”

Walking alone towards shore along the dock I was soon joined by Aldo who scrambled, commenting to his new French friend on the insanity of the American man he had chosen to sail with. I paused, and we walked together. Grabbing a seat at the bar my first Red Stripe fell quickly away. I snapped a quick photo which went up on social media to announce to the world that I had arrived, arguably alive, in Jamaica. The beer tasted good.

Aldo told me in his broken English that I drive him crazy. I listened to him, as another Red Stripe and a plate of food came and went.

Soon enough Aldo refused another beer but I forged forward without him, solo sailing again, happily and deeply and at the perfect pace.


Paradise Smells of Failure

Hungry Hungry Fish

“Be careful,” a wise friend once said, “when you make that decision to jump into the lifeboat. Remember that all your baggage comes with you.”

He was speaking metaphorically to marriage, not sailing, but it holds true through all walks of life. As it was phrased in the arguably-brilliant movie Magnolia, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

To that end I will apologize to anyone who by error of ignorance or simple inattention has concluded that I am on a trek of paradisical scope. Oh, there are moments, don’t get me wrong. The weather is spectacular. Million dollar sunrises and sunsets color my world on a daily basis. No commutes, no bosses, no car payments—it’s tough to garner sympathy in my world. But the challenges that confront the human animal exist here as they do in any walk of life, and I am here to tell you that while you thought I was choosing between which tropical cocktail to order and which powdery-white beach to visit, I was in fact slaying the dragons of my life.

I had two main objectives in Nassau: (1) to clear customs and immigration, and (2) to get a Bahamas SIM card for my iPhone so that I could be in touch with friends and family without needing to seek out wifi—and while a .500 average would earn me billions in the major leagues it tasted bitterly of defeat here in the Bahamas. I stood hour after hour in the local BaTelCo office, using their crackly landline to run the gauntlet of AT&T customer service. It seems my unlocked iPhone wasn’t in fact unlocked but AT&T couldn’t seem to figure out what to do about that. I was promised an email with an unlock code and instructions, for which I waited three days, rowing back to shore in my dinghy, scaling the scaffolding-like dinghy dock to buy a ginger beer I didn’t really want so I could sit in the gas station and use the wifi to check my email. Finally it arrived. Your phone is not locked, it informed me. Simply install the new SIM card and repower the phone, following the activation instructions.

So I returned to the BaTelCo office, where we switched SIM cards and repowered my phone only to get the same error message as before. Borrow their landline again. Call AT&T again.  Everyone thinks I’m sipping ice cold beer on a sandy beach when in reality I am trying to stay calm on the phone with a man whose fault my problems are not. I actually uttered the following sentence to this man: I should be sailing, but instead I am locked in some perverse AT&T prison from which no one seems to want to free me. I’m still not sure if that was a high point or a low point, but I got quite the look of approval from the BaTelCo rep for my choice of words.

Finally help poked its head over the horizon like a sunrise. “I have identified the problem,” Marcos the AT&T CSA finally told me, . “Tech support processed this wrong, your phone is locked. I will re-issue the unlock order and flag it to be rushed. You can expect an email within 24-48 hours.”

Odd, their definition of rush.

The next day the email arrived. Your phone is not locked, it informed me. Simply install the new SIM card and repower the phone, following the activation instructions.

At wit’s end, I left Nassau to head to the  Exumas, away from high-rise buildings and cellphone stores and water taxis, leaving friends and family with a phone number they think will work but won’t, a tinge of guilt in my soul but not enough to make me stay. My $50 was clearly down the drain. Cést la vie.

Ave and I motorsailed from Nassau to Highborne Cay, my planned first stop in the Exumas, less a destination than a rest stop along the path to little uninhabited islands where perhaps I can spend a day doing what it is you think I do all day. As I rounded out of my bearing and in towards my anchorage I happened to glance down at the tiller, where I noticed two small but very dangerous fissures in the stainless cuff that attaches the tiller to the rudder shaft. This was a time bomb of the highest caliber, something that won’t break under light load but will wait until I am fighting big seas where it will split like kindling and I’ll become a sailing statistic. No thank you.

There are no welders in Highborne Cay, just big mega yachts with tenders that cost many times what my actual boat cost me, flitting about like bees alighting on a flower and buzzing off again. George Town would have welders but, although it was on my course it was days away and seemed a bad decision; this was something that demanded immediate care, and that meant turning back to Nassau to find a welder. I resolved to depart the next morning, immediately after changing my engine oil. All this motorsailing had pushed my engine hours up, and we do not tempt fate with critical systems; engine oil is changed every 100 engine hours, slightly less if feasible, and is never put off. Luckily it is a routine undertaking, one I had performed many times, and I carry plenty of oil and filters with me.

After a rather uncomfortable night where the flitting speedboats, mega-yacht tenders, and sportfish boats repeated buzzed past me, tossing me to and fro in their wakes, I awoke, had coffee and breakfast, and got to work on the oil change. Run the engine. Drain the oil. Add a quarter sump. Crank the engine a few times to distribute it. Drain again. Change the filter. Add 5.4 quarts of new Rotela T 15w-40. Run the engine. Check everything. Bam. But today, with my spirits already somewhat on the ropes, the new oil filter didn’t seat properly and my 5.4 quarts of Rotela T poured out of the block and into the bilge. Note to self: those red oil filters seem not to be compatible with your Universal M35b after all. Toss the rest of them out.

Stuck in an anchorage I hated, dodging the very essence of excess that I am eager to get away from, failing miserably at work that I don’t want to do anyway so that I can return to another anchorage I don’t really want to be in so I can spend money I don’t really have didn’t really add up to that Mai-Tai-in-paradise feeling. To boot I had a bilge full of motor oil, daylight was wasting away, and the tide was ebbing. I settled in, focused but decidedly not chipper. I suctioned what I could out of the bilge, soaked the rest up with my year’s supply of oil absorbent pads (add those to the “to buy” list (again)), all the while knowing that the process was cumbersome and wasteful and that the time spent on it would render both a return sail and a re-anchoring in the falling tide untenable. So the prize that awaited me at the end of my work was another miserable night getting knocked around like Sancho Panza getting blanket tossed outside the inn. At this precise moment in time the line between “cruising” and “hazing” seemed blurred at best.

The next morning, unrested and edgy, I weighed anchor to again motorsail into the winds and return to Nassau. The violent bucking of the boat over the past day or two had sheered the clevis pin out of the block that holds my snub line off of the chain bobstay, an easy fix but another issue to deal with. I pulled the now-dangling snub line aboard only to watch the bronze hook that holds the block in place tumble into the waters of my anchorage. I was ready to leave. The engine, fat and happy from its two oil changes, was warming up, the cockpit staged and ready. I stared over the bow, wondering how much I cared about this bronze hook. Winds were supposed to pick up in the afternoon—was the “responsible” thing to do diving to retrieve it? Or kissing it goodbye, declaring it a tax paid to the “‘No!’ Day” gods so I could get on my way and sail with a cracked tiller cuff into building winds? Every option sucked. Chances are that at that moment I would have sold you the boat and everything in it for a simple coach ticket out of paradise, had you offered.

These are the moments when you remember that your baggage is there with you. You remember that struggle and challenge are a part of the human narrative. You’ve bought a ticket to a ride with higher highs but deeper lows, afloat but adrift in Walden Pond, you know and appreciate that it is real but you maybe-not-so-secretly wish that you still had someone’s shoulder to cry on or that maybe right now you were drinking a Mai Tai even though you don’t really like them. And you trudge. You push forward, knowing that meeting real challenges pays real dividends that are elusive to those who simply tread the treadmill through life. This is the “real” that you sought.

So I killed the engine, shut systems down, fetched my mask, snorkel, and fins, and dove to look for the bronze hook. It seemed the right thing to do. There were some huge fish—are those barracudas??— down there that I was convinced would want me for breakfast when I dove to their depths, but if that was to be my end so be it; I would die fighting for the last bronze hook that I owned, fighting for a toe-hold of control in my life that seemed desperately short of control at the moment. Fighting to win just one little battle. The hook revealed itself in about 16 feet of crystal clear water not far off of Ave’s bow. I stared off the man-eating fish, filled my lungs with air, and dove like a merman, fins fluttering above me as I sank like a stone to the depths. I grabbed the hook without ado, never did have to punch the fish in the face in a glorious moment of self defense, turned upwards again where the surface appeared to be about 100 yards above me, composed myself and fluttered again, upwards this time, breaking the surface with the hook in my hand and a sizable grin on my face.

Maybe, just maybe, my trudging was paying off. I was nearing the mythical, emotional, metaphorical “other shore,” surviving the sharpest stones that cut at my feet and the roaring rapids that had threatened to wash me away as I steadily placed foot in front of foot, unsteady, unsure. That bronze hook was my ticket, my proof that I could ride the ride. I tucked it into my trinkets box, toweled off, and restarted Ave’s engine for the trip back to Nassau. The engine ran, the oil stayed where it should, and Nassau slowly crept into view through the course of the otherwise uneventful day.

I suppose that paradise could be a lot worse than this.

The Library Aboard Ave del Mar

Just a few selections from Ave's library.
Just a few selections from Ave’s library.

I was reading the amazing blog of Howard Rice and the Voyage of Southern  Cross when I came across his list of books on board (I’ll be sure to include a link to his blog at the end of this post).

Reading is a vital part of my happiness—and sometimes part of my efforts to regain happiness when it is elusive. I have Kindle readers on my iPads but do not yet actually own any e-books; despite my love of the tactile relationship between man and book I’ll be more than happy to download some digital media if that is what is available. 

Meanwhile, I’ve compiled my own list of reading materials that are currently aboard Ave del Mar, starting with the books that I have read but continually turn to in moments of need. I thought it might be fun to share. 


  • “Fernando Pessoa & Co.,” Fernando Pessoa, the Richard Zenith translations. 
  • “Why I Am Not a Christian,” Bertrand Russell. 
  • “Complete Tales & Poems,” Edgar Allan Poe. 
  • “Love Is a Dog From Hell,” Charles Bukowski. 
  • “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching,” Thich Nhat Hanh (I had the honor of seeing him in DC)
  • “Tao Te Ching,” Lao Tzu
  • “Living Dharma, Teachings and Meditation Instructions From Twelve Theravada Masters,” compiled by Jack Kornfield. 
  • “What Makes You Not A Buddhist,” Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse. 


  • “Don Quixote,” Miguel Cervantes. 
  • “The Singing Wilderness,” Sigurd Olson. (Note: I have never tried so hard to not finish a book. I am savoring Olson’s sweet, gentle words one slow chapter at a time. I don’t want it to end.)
  • “A Land So Strange, The Epic Tale of Cabeza de Vaca,” Andrés Reséndez. 
  • “Yarns,” Tristan Jones. 


  • “The Funnies,” J. Robert Lennon
  • “The Tiger,” John Vaillant. 
  • “Shantaram,” Gregory David Roberts. 
  • “The Immoralist, André Gide. 
  • “The Counterfeiters,” André Gide. 
  • “The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays,” Oscar Wilde. 
  • “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil,” George Saunders. 
  • “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 
  • “Dove,” Robin Lee Graham. 
  • “The Book Thief,” Markus Zusak. 
  • “The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower,” C. Northcote Parkinson. 


  • “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” Michael Chabon. 
  • “Guns, Germs, and Steel, the Fates of Human Societies,” Jared Diamond. 
  • “Atlantic High,” William F. Buckley, Jr. 
  • “Around America, a Tour of Our Magnificent Coastline,” Walter Cronkite (signed). 
  • “The Caine Mutany,” Herman  Wouk. 
  • “Neruda, Selected Poems,” Pablo Neruda. 
  • “Garlic and Sapphires,” Ruth Reichl. 
  • “Hard Times,” Charles Dickens. 
  • “Public Opinion,” Walter Lippmann. 
  • “Kafka, a Collection of Critical Essays,” edited by Ronald Gray. 
  • “The Man Within My Head,” Pico Iyer. 
  • “The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao,” Junot Díaz. 
  • “Glare,” A. R. Ammons. 
  • “The Dude and the Zen Master,” Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman. 
  • “After the Crash,” Michel Bussi. 
  • “The Inferno of Dante,” Dante, translation by Robert Pinsky. 
  • “The Royal Nonesuch,” Glasgow Phillips. 
  • “At The Same Time, Essays and Speeches,” Susan Sontag. 
  • “Fear,” Thich Nhat Hanh. 
  • “Heidegger and Modernity,” Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut. 
  • “Benito Cereno,” Herman Melville. 
  • “The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” Carlos Castaneda. 
  • “Xenocide,” Orson Scott Card. 
  • “Speaker for the Dead,” Orson Scott Card. 
  • “Children of the Mind,”  Orson Scott Card. 

I elected to skip reference books, cruising guides, and the like.

Here is that link to Howard Rice’s blog about his epic Cape Horn adventure, The Voyage of Southern Cross, and you can click HERE to hear Mike McDowall’s amazing recent interview with Howard on Boat Radio. 

Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Much love to you all from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where I sit poised and ready to cross to the Bahamas as soon as weather allows. ♡ 


Fare thee well, West Palm. 

There was adventure aplenty as Leg I fades into the books. Never have two men and one badass boat had more fun being arguably miserable a’sea than Chris Pruitt, Ave del Mar, and I did during our 20 hour slog south from West Palm in the near-coastal waters of Mother Ocean. I will only say that it was both a shakedown and a test of substantial magnitude, and I could not have chosen two better companions than them to be by my side.

Most of those hours were spent in wonderment of Ave del Mar’s incredible ocean going manners as she chewed up and spit out wall after wall of Atlantic water, while Mr. Pruitt and I accepted our repeated wash downs with a reactive holler, a brief (and insincere) expletive, and then a hearty laugh. It is a rare friend who proves himself so absolutely, and a rare friend in Chris I have indeed.

I left West Palm Beach with a bang, not a whimper.

Postcards from Sea, Episode II. “Capricious”

Shortly after arriving in West Palm Beach, Florida, I took it upon myself to clean out the boat of a man who had recently died, and as always the universe paid me back more than I gave. In Episode II of Postcards from Sea you can hear the whole the story and meet  the man who is bringing the boat — and her former owner’s dreams — back to life. My show and many other exciting boating shows are available on ♡ ॐ 氣

Sailing with Jamie

With Marjorie Bryson and Ave del Mar.
My phone chirped, and the screen said New Text Message from Elizabeth SV Luna. I slid the screen open with my thumb and looked, but there were no words — just a photo of a brown cardboard box with my name on the front. I had a package awaiting me at my friends’ office.

A couple of hours later, after dropping Margot, my dinghy, back into the water, I rowed in and walked the few busy West Palm Beach blocks to a tall, white office building. In shorts and a t-shirt, with my flip-flops flip-flopping and a red bandana tied around my crazy hair, I made my way across the mirror-clean tile floor of  the building’s main foyer and sprung up the stairs to the second floor, two at a time as always. I poked my head in the office door where my friend Chris sat hard at work on his computer. He motioned me in. “Just picking up a package,” I said somewhat nonchalantly, such that if he were deeply focused he could wave and I would be gone.

He stood, though, and we chatted for a few minutes about those things that cruisers chat about: pretty new boats in the anchorage, drama on the docks with boats that have been sold and re-sold and never seem to shake the tragedy of their own energy, comings, goings, and pleasantries. I knew that my friend was busy, so a few minutes in I stuffed the delivery box into my backpack and offered my farewell.

“Someday,” I said to Chris, “when one of us writes this book, we need to make absolutely sure that we tell the story of me having my dead friend’s ashes mailed to your office. This kind of thing just can’t be left out.”

Chris laughed — a tad uncomfortably at first, but then again, louder, deeper, with the discomfort far gone like a passing fog. “We do,” he said. “We really do, because the more I think about it the more awesome it is.”

The package was from Ave del Mar’s previous owner Marjorie Bryson, the wife half of the husband-and-wife team of Jamie and Marje Bryson, and indeed it contained a portion of Jamie’s ashes. He had died in early August of 2016 after a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease that left him in constantly-declining health but with a spirit that remained as big as the Alaskan skies he used to fly in his small plane. His ashes had been divided into thirds, with one lot sent to rejoin him with his Alaskan home, one lot sent to rejoin him with his first wife (who had died many years ago when a plane they were flying went down into the Gulf of Alaska), and a third lot sent to my care, so that Jamie could have one last voyage aboard his beloved sailboat Ave del Mar, this time with me at the helm.

I think Jamie would be proud of me at the helm, even if he might scoff at a few of my “improvements” to “his” boat. I think he would rib me about my obsession with LED light fixtures and feign disgust that the top stripe on the hull has been changed from blue to marine green. He would grumble about his cassette tape collection being discarded or that I store food in bins on what was a paperback bookshelf for him. But he wouldn’t actually care, and I wouldn’t bother to defend myself to him anyway. We would stand there, face to face, old regime and new regime in a courtship of mutual respect.

Jamie sailed Avelot. I’ve told those stories many times over. Together they circumnavigated the world with Marje and their son Stewart over five years, passing through both the Suez and Panama Canals. Years later, thirsty for more, Jamie set out singlehanded, conquering the gold standard of sailing: the rounding of Cape Horn on South America’s southern tip. Jamie and Ave del Mar both have pedigree. They have chops. I have dreams. I can’t even see chops from where I sit.

But Jamie was a fan. We stayed in regular touch over the years, Marje handing the phone off to him when I called and Jamie’s voice sparkling to life through the speaker. There were a few busy stretches when we may have missed a week or two, but in general it stayed consistent right to the end. Marje and I offered faint debate as to who among us benefitted more from the calls. We never did settle that. I still think it was me. She thought it was her, because Jamie always perked up dramatically when I called. Whether or not Jamie thought it was him we will never know.

In the beginning the calls were of mysteries unfolding on the boat, advice about systems or hardware, or requesting Ave’s former-captain’s input on pending decisions. As time wore on the tenor of the calls changed, as Jamie grew more confident that I was the right person for Ave and as I grew more confident in my own decisions and my own voice. One warm early-winter day on the Chesapeake Bay, as Ave del Mar and I were underway southbound, we had a particularly good phone call. Jamie’s praise was heaped deeply and sincerely onto the decisions I had been making while sailing along. “Skipper,” he said to me at the end of that call, his voice calm and lighthearted, “you’re like a son now. I am going to call you ‘Adopted Son No.3.’ You know what that means, don’t you?”

These sorts of questions were usually straight-man setup lines. You weren’t really supposed to guess. “Tell me,” I offered.

“It means you can’t fuck up, because you have me as family to answer to.”

We never met face to face, Jamie and I, but I cried long and hard and deep when I got that phone call back in August letting me know that the end was upon him. I have painted his boat and fixed her engine. I’ve re-rigged her and re-wired her and sailed her from Annapolis to Florida and again within Florida as much as I could. She is as ready as I can get her and I am as ready as I can be. Soon Jamie and I will finally sail together — him for the last time as I take him to sea, and me for what I hope is the first of many crossings. I can see him scowling at changes made to his beloved Ave, but I can see that sparkle in his eyes, too, and the hint of a smile on his lips.

He really is ok with it all, in the end.

Guest Post from Mike McDowall

Mike McDowall of Boat Radio

Mike McDowall, Boat Radio’s founder and gifted host, lives on the idyllic island of Mallorca and has a truly-fascinating backstory. He has agreed to be a guest columnist here on I trust you will enjoy his tale as much as I did.

If you never caught his interview of me, you can hear it here:


On the first evening in our new home on the island of Mallorca, I gazed out of the bedroom window at the Mediterranean Sea and at the mountains lit pink by the setting sun and I thought how wonderful it all was.  I then looked into a nearby garden and watched open-mouthed as one of my neighbours – an overweight, bandy-legged and particularly hirsute man in late middle age – took a shower under a hose clipped to a washing line.  Mercifully he wore a pair of underpants, although they were sodden and sagging and water piddled from the swollen pouch in a constant stream.  I called my wife and we watched, mesmerised, as he shampooed his entire body, getting both hands down those underpants.  Somewhere a donkey brayed hysterically.

My wife and I moved to Mallorca from London just over a year ago in search of a better life for our daughter, Molly.  Island life has always appealed to me although even now, after dreaming of it for years, and after living it since last summer, I cannot quite put my finger on why.  What I can say for sure is that there are a great many positive aspects to living on this island.  And, of course, one of those is the multitude of boats.

I love boats.  I love them as a means of transport but also as objects of sometimes ethereal beauty.  I love them too because it is possible, in a relatively small vessel, and without an engine, to circumnavigate the globe in some comfort and at very little cost.  I find this reassuring and also remarkable almost to the point of miraculousness.

I have sat for many hours in dockside bars in Piraeus, southwest of Athens – the busiest passenger port in the Mediterranean, actually in the whole of Europe – and watched boats of all types and sizes arrive and depart.  I’ve done the same thing in London, New York, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sydney, Hong Kong, Genova, Monaco, Eivissa, Palma de Mallorca and numerous other places around the world.  I can while away entire days watching boats.

As I write this, thunder is reverberating around the Sóller valley.  The rain is absolutely torrential and a remarkably large, vivid green praying mantis has sidled in through the open window looking for shelter.  After another long, dry summer, this weather is welcome.

Meanwhile in Florida, John Herlig, skipper of this blog, has been forced ashore and is doubtless anxious as Hurricane Matthew threatens to destroy Ave del Mar and, with her, years of passionate toil and craftsmanship.  I have renovated a couple of old houses but that’s mostly donkey work: gruelling but not particularly skilled.  Restoring an old boat, on the other hand, is more like breathing life into a piece of antique furniture.  It requires expertise, dedication and, above all, patience.  Plus, when your house renovation is completed, you’re not then required to float the finished project in a churning, swirling, splashing body of corrosive liquid.  Boat restoration requires a level of forbearance I’ve never had to find.

One day, perhaps in my home harbour, Port de Sóller, I hope to join John on board Ave del Mar and crack open a bottle or two of the excellent local cava Mallorquín.  And I will record that momentous occasion, in both sound and vision, for myself and also for Boat Radio.  So I’m a little tense as Matthew approaches Florida; concerned primarily for the people in its path but also for Ave del Mar.

But it wasn’t boats I was dreaming about as I gazed out of the bedroom window on that first night, it was Boat Radio.

I have worked in media for more than twenty years.  I started out on hospital radio in Bristol, reading aloud from the newspapers and spinning a few tunes.  My core audience consisted of those receiving treatment on a long-term basis – mostly the elderly and the dying.  Back then old ladies were still very fond of Frank Sinatra so I received many requests for ‘My Way’.  Unfortunately, the opening line – ‘And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain’ – was deemed inappropriate for those in palliative care so it was on our list of banned songs.  So were ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ by The Smiths and ‘Drop Down Dead’ by The Housemartins.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t ever play anything by The Grateful Dead and even Joe Jackson’s humorous ‘Cancer’ was forbidden.  Looking back, I realise I should have subverted those nonsensical rules.  I should have played Amii Stewart’s ‘Knock on Wood’ and dedicated it to ‘those planning a casket send-off’; ‘Disco Inferno’ for those headed for the crematorium.

After college, I took a job as a newsreader on a local network called Chiltern Radio, based just north of London.  Within eighteen months, I’d moved to LBC – London’s best-loved but doomed talk station.  Since then, despite my being a dyed-in-the-wool slacker, I have presented and produced some of the most popular and acclaimed news and current affairs shows in the UK, working for the BBC, CNN, AP, ITN and various other acronyms and abbreviations.  Oh, and Reuters.  These days, I ignore all of them.

Boat Radio began as an idea for a weekly show on a local station.  But Radio One Mallorca was not the place for what I had in mind and I could drum up no interest at all among other media outlets so, in the end, the only option was to start my own radio station.  Or so I thought.

Boat Radio burst into life on July 1st, about an hour later than advertised and about two weeks after the birth of my second daughter, Martha.  The first manifestation was as an audio stream.  Visitors to the Boat Radio website immediately heard the day’s programmes as though they’d switched on a wireless set.  I sat in my garden, sweating buckets in the scorching summer heat, editing and uploading radio programmes with maniacal fervour.  Alongside me sat the mighty James Finlayson – another former BBC radio man, who came to stay in the casita at the end of our garden and who was pivotal to the launch of Boat Radio.

Even before lift-off, we were plagued with technical problems.  If the audio streaming service was interrupted for a software update, which it was, frequently, the schedule would suddenly and irremediably fall out of kilter and it would take me hours to rewrite it.  Add to that the pressure of feeding the voraciously hungry beast that is talk radio and things soon started to unravel.  Even with James working away for 12 or 15 hours at a time at the other end of our garden table, and dedicated presenters and producers delivering fresh reports from all over the world, I was unable to keep up with the sheer quantity of material required.

Help came from an unexpected quarter – the listeners.  They rode to the rescue by making it abundantly clear that what they wanted was not radio in the traditional, scheduled sense.  Instead they wanted a library of shows available to stream or download whenever they felt the inclination.  And so the current manifestation of Boat Radio emerged.

I use the word ‘current,’ but in fact it changes all the time.  Soon we’ll start adding video to the website: interviews, documentaries, vlogs and other material of interest to our listeners.  We will also be covering some live events, including Sarah O’Kelly’s upcoming shark dive.  There will be feature articles and photo essays too, and I hope to revive the original plan to have a decent weather programme.  I hope also to begin a series about boats and sailors in popular culture, fictional or otherwise.  Michael John made a terrific show about Joseph Conrad’s yacht, The Nellie.  I would like to hear similar programmes about the African Queen, The Bounty, Alexander Selkirk, Donald Crowhurst, Thor Heyerdahl, F/V Andrea Gail, and many more.  Plus, Zaca, of course – Errol Flynn’s old schooner, which was berthed here in Mallorca for many years and which later rotted for three decades before undergoing a complete restoration.  Yes, Boat Radio must somehow find a way to get on board Zaca.

James Finlayson will soon be launching a show about inland waterways – Slow Boat, will look at the UK’s magnificent canal and river network and the many different types of vessel which plough those waters.  Sailing royalty Lin Pardey will be joining us with regular programmes from her home in New Zealand.  We’ll be podcasting some of the very best interviews from Andy Schell, who many of you will know as the face and voice of 59° North.  Plus, Dan Mattson of Hooked on Wooden Boats will be providing us some of his excellent material, recorded in the Pacific Northwest.

Boat Radio isn’t about boats, it’s about the people who sail or drive them; the people who live and work on them.  It’s about great yarns and inspiring life stories.  It’s a labour of love but it’s also a real contender in the world of podcasting.  Our programmes – 145 of them to date – have already been streamed or downloaded 50,000 times.  Last week, 1,000 people per day listened to our programmes.  This week, I expect that number to be around 1,100.  It’s clear there is a demand.  Pretty soon there’ll be commercials but we’ll keep them as unobtrusive as possible, preferring to opt for programme sponsorship rather than ad breaks.  And I plan to use Boat Radio’s growing popularity to promote good causes like our chosen charity  I hope as well to persuade John Herlig to document his voyages aboard Ave del Mar – irregular postcards from an irregular life, if you will.

Please take a look at the website – – and let me know what you think of it all.  If there’s anything you think we’re missing, let me know.  We may already have a solution in the pipeline, we may not.  Either way, it would be great to hear from you.

Incidentally, our neighbour, who works in a bank, has not indulged in any more al fresco bathing.  Well, none that I’ve witnessed.  That first night must have been a special occasion.

PS.  I know, I know – Eddie Floyd’s original ‘Knock on Wood’, on the Stax label, is doubtless much preferred by aficionados, but I was a disco-era kid.