Vinni – Extremely hard sailing from Nassau to St. Martin (oops San Juan)

We are still in Nassau and waiting for the ”steel guy” to finish the temporary repair of our anchor platform that holds our large 30kg Mantus anchor. We’re spending the time repairing the gouge made by the anchor when the platform collapsed. It is deep – but fortunately not a hole. Located about ½ meter above the waterline it has to be filled with marine epoxy. Ideally this should be done from our dinghy, which of course is lying deflated and folded on our deck. Laziness wins every time and since we don’t want to spend the time inflating, deflating and packing it away again afterwards – we choose a different method.

Carsten pulls on a pair of bathing trunks and swims out to the bows (against 2 knots of current) where I drop a rope down and he ties himself in. First he cleans the “wound” with cleaning fluid. Then I send the epoxy and tools down to him in a bucket on the end of a rope. I can hear him bitching about how cold the water is (pussy). Finally he has managed to fill the hole and smooth over the patch. It will dry white but not match the color of our gelcoat. A good job by our skipper, despite his bitching and moaning.

It was horribly difficult to remove our platform. Two of the bolts had broken and were jammed. The fact that the steel frame and the mounting plates had bent didn’t help the process. The steel guy finished his work early this afternoon and Carsten walked down and picked it up. The bobstay has been strengthen by the addition of a 4mm plate on each side – Carsten is confident it will hold as a temporary solution until we get to St. Maarten. The large roller wheel on the anchor roller has been replaced – it only took Carsten 2 hours with an angle grinder to make it fit.

So now the moment when we will try to fit the platform again. We tie a spinnaker halyard to the front end of the platform to hold it up, an extra line goes over to our neighbor who offered to help and is standing on the dock – his job is to keep the platform from crashing into the side of Capri and scratching the gelcoat. I lower the platform with the spinnaker line while Carsten hauls in and out on two other lines to get the platform into the mounting brackets.

Shit! The brackets are mounted backwards – we tie the platform to the dock while Carsten and I get the brackets mounted the correct way. Ready again, our neighbor comes to help and after a while and a fair amount of huffing and puffing the platform is ready to be bolted into place. The 4 bolts give us plenty of difficulties, but finally we can untie all the lines and there it is.

Next is getting the bobstay mounted from the lower bows up to the platform to give it support. Our skipper is familiar with this job – on with bathing trunks, this time we hang a bosuns chair over the front of the boat and Carsten is now hanging with his ass in the water, moaning about how cold it is.

Now how difficult can it be to mount a single bolt at the bottom and single bolt at that top? Very difficult when it turns out that the new plates that have been welded onto the bobstay to give it strength, hit the bows and won’t allow Carsten to get the bolt into place. Back up on the dock, get out the angle grinder and go at. It took two attempts, and over an hour, before Carsten had managed to grind off enough of the corner of the plate so he could mount the bottom bolt.

Carsten says he doesn’t need a shower this evening since he has already had 3 baths today…………………………..

Time to refit the anchor and we use our electric winch to haul it off the dock and get it into place without any great difficulty. We aren’t sure this platform setup is completely trustworthy so we intend to leave the spinnaker halyard tied to the front end of the platform until we get to St. Maarten where we can get a permanent repair made. We also tie down the anchor with 2 extra straps. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a cameraman to videofilm this afternoons work – it would have made an excellent little film.

While we are waiting for a weather window for our further trip, we might as well spend some time exploring Nassau – and why not Paradise Island – home of the rich, richer and famous. The island has been a background for many movies.

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This hotel has been in many a movie

We put on our flip-flops and get our maxitaxis into gear and walk over the bridge to the island. Luxury hotels and big, bigger, biggest megayachts dot the harbor.

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My toy is bigger than your toy

Not a single yacht in sight that is under 100 foot (this is a poverty-stricken rich person with “only” a 100 foot yacht). Most of these yachts have a dinghy the size of Capri.

 

Day 1

February 1 and after a week in Nassau the weather predictions are finally saying that we have 2 ½ days of moderate weather approaching. Moderate meaning 12-15 knots of wind and 1 ½ meter high waves. Both wind and waves smack in our noses of course – but still looking better than anything we have seen so far. We hope we can make it to Caicos before the bad weather sets in again. Caicos is 360nm from here –  assuming you can sail the rhumb line, which of course you can’t when sailing that close to the wind – we’ll be tacking the entire distance (sigh).

Early next morning, at first light and at high tide (we have to sail through a very narrow and shallow channel with lots of coral reefs) we set sail. Everything goes like clockwork – we cross the Yellow Bank, a reef area 30nm across where the water is between 4 and 9 meters deep and filled with coral “heads” that are just under the surface.  Bad news if we hit them – that would mean a hole in the hull. There are several routes shown on the charts for a safe passage through this area and we’ve chosen the one that goes to Highborne Cut. To get there safely, we need to stay stringently on course, because if we stray too much, we’ll get caught in an area filled with coral heads and not be able to find our way back to the route. We running on the engine and our genua – we can’t tack here – too many coral heads.

After a few hours, we come to the part of the route where there are really many coral heads and the next 5 nm will be critical. We have 4-5 meters of water. Fortunately we have timed the transit well and the sun is high in the sky, piercing the water in front of us. But it is difficult to judge the distance to the coral heads through the water. We furl the genua and proceed on the engine alone.

Carsten is at the helm and I’m all the way on the bow looking for coral heads that are lurking just under the surface. It takes 45 minutes before we are clear of this area, a 45 minutes where I direct Carsten first to starboard, then to port, then back to starboard as we avoid hitting the coral. Many times we don’t seem to come completely clear of the coral and I hang on waiting for the crash, but by some miracle we clear everything and finally, we are free of the area and can set our sails again.

We close in on Exumas, a more than 100nm long mixture of coral reefs, and sandy islands with few possibilities for a boat our size to cross so we can get into Exumas Sound, where we can sail southward during the night without fearing corals. Highborne Cut is one of the few places where Capri with her 7 foot keel can go through. The cut is narrow and twists more than a pretzel and has a 2-3 knot current running through it. Surrounded by corals and reefs, filled with malestorms and eddies, this is a sailors nightmare – especially when the winds are blowing. The cut is difficult to find and we have to trust our chartplotter as it looks like we are going to sail right up onto the beach. Carsten helms us securely through even though he turns the boat first this way, then that way, then back again all in the space of 50 meters – only to start doing again.

Oh, I forgot – Are we having fun yet?

Well – of course we are.

Safely through, we now have to negotiate the 2 meter high swells that are breaking on the reef. These waves are vertical and 2 meters high and Capri fights her way across them. Finally through, just before it got dark – we are able to set our sails and our course south for the opening at the other end of Exumas Sound.

Exumas is reputed to a true paradise and we do manage to see the crystal clear jade colored water breaking up on the pure white sand beaches.

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This is exumas – crystal clear water, sugar white beaches

Diving is supposed to be world class here. Unfortunately, we sail past all of it because we are pressed for time. We have to meet our friends Ove and Lene in the Caribbean. The Bahamas and Exumas will simply have to wait until later in our lives when we can come back and rent a boat and sail and dive them. We’ll save our charts and guidebooks for that time – unfortunately we had to pay $300 for a cruising permit. Wasted money.

Late at night and just as we change watches the chartplotter says “beep” and shuts down. My nerves are completely on edge since it is more than dangerous to sail these waters without a chartplotter – especially at night. There are no marks to help guide you –the few lights there are on land are more confusing than helpful. This evening is also cloudy so no moon or starlight.

Carsten plays around with the cables for a few minutes and finally the chartplotter says “beep” again and starts up. Shit – what a scare.

Days sailing distance – 150nm

Day 2

We are finally out of the sound and headed for Caicos, where we’ll spend a night or two while the winds calm down, before sailing onwards. 15-18 knot winds and Capri is making 6-7 knots, the waves are wonderfully round, “only” 1.5-2 meters – real Atlantic swells, and Capri is riding them like a beautiful swan. Happy boat and happy sailing for the crew. We’ve reefed and are sailing in the 2nd reef and have a magnificent sail under a star strewn sky.  Now what?  Of course, there are a couple of squalls during the night – otherwise it would be a boring night.

Days sailing distance- 148nm

Day 3

We’re in doubt as to whether we should sail south of the islands, more miles, but we’d be in lee of the islands so the waves should be less, or go north and the shorter distance. We know the winds will come during the night, but we’re doing fine and by going north we’ll shave a couple of hours off the time needed.

Bad decision – as we find out early in the evening. The winds rise to >20 knots and the waves reach 2.5 meters.  Too late to change our minds and go behind the islands – we’re out here and will just have to take our licks. We have more than 20nm ahead of us before we have passed this island. The wind and the waves are pounding us and setting us closer to the island than we like. We start the engine and are able to point a few degrees closer to the wind, but at the expense of ramming our bows directly into the heavy chop. Crap! My seasickness starts to haunt me now after 3 days at sea.

I go down to take a seasick tablet when I hear a freak wave strike Capri. She moves heavily to starboard and from the cockpit I can hear our soaked skipper curse and complain that the amount of water he took squarely in the face and chest was so large it physically hurt to get hit. But we have no choice but to continue the heavy sailing and endless squalls. Finally we can change course and head for Blue Harbour, but Capri is rolling violently in these swells and that isn’t helping my seasickness at all. I take the rest of the night watch and I feel better standing at the helm than trying to sleep down below.

We’ve made it through the night and are right at the entrance to the cut through the reef to go into the harbor when our chartplotter says  “beep” and goes dark. Carsten is unconcerned, saying he had just looked at the chart and could find our way through the cut just by sight. Which he does.

We’re safely in the harbor, but no one is answering our radio calls, so we tie up onto a floating dock that has a diesel pump, but the dock is not connected to the land. There are lots of pilings in the water, but only 1 floating dock. Maria and Irma have been through here and destroyed it all. There is only electricity and water at the end of the one dock still standing.

Finally, someone answers our call on the radio and directs us to a small face dock further in where we can bunker fuel. Of course, we can’t bunker fuel until we have cleared into the Turks and Caicos and we waited for almost 2 hours before we the customs persons showed up. By now the guy who pumps the diesel has gone to lunch so we wait another 1 ½ hours. “Island time” is what this is known as down here. After 5 hours – we finally get to dock in a slip and we can get some much needed sleep.

In the meantime, Carsten has worked on the chartplotter and found out that the fault seems to come from the radar unit, which we only use in fog – so we unplug that and now the chartplotter comes to life again. – we’ll get an electronics techie to look at that when we get tot St. Martin.

Days sailing distance – 142nm

All told we have sailed 440nm. The rhumb line (direct distance) is 360nm so we’ve had to sail 80 miles further due to having to tack.

We get our much needed sleep and the next morning we are up at the office using the internet to get a weather prognoses. It looks entirely hopeless and we are resigning ourselves to spending a week here waiting for a break in the weather. Carsten chats a bit with the skipper of our neighboring boat, a MEGA catamaran, who tells us that the weather window we have now is as good as it is going to get before the middle of march and they are getting ready to put to sea, bound for St. Martin

Carsten and I discuss the situation and decide to grit our teeth and get moving. We just need to clear customs and this time we wait 6 hours for the customs people to show up. At sundown, we pass the reef and head out into the Atlantic.

Day 1

We’ve given up any hope of meeting Ove and Lene on St. Martin. Likewise with Mario and Grazyna. Mario and Grazyna will fly to Tortula and meet us there instead. The rhumb line from Caicos to Tortula is just shy of 500nm and we’re being cautious and saying it will take us 5 days because we will be tacking the entire way. If the weather goes totally south – bailout is Puerto Rico.

We start out straight into the night with winds at 15 knots and well-rounded swells of 6-7 feet. Clear skies, lots of stars and pleasant sailing. Capri is a “happy boat”, gliding again like a swan. Next morning we are free of Caicos and turn eastward. Our task now is to sail as close to the wind as we possibly can. “Close-hauled” in nautical terminology.

Close-hauled is very unpleasant sailing, but we have no choice. It also means a lot of wear and tear on our rigging and Capri. We reef our sails to 2nd reef, otherwise Capri will heel so much that we will be “walking on the walls” and it will be impossible for us to move safely around on the boat. Despite being in 2nd reef, we feel we are “walking on the walls”. Getting in and out of our foulies is more than difficult due to the extreme angle Capri is heeling on and the constant pounding of the swells. Both of us have so many bruises and are black and blue that we could easily get a policeman to agree that we were being beaten by our husband/wife respectively. We have difficulty finding a comfortable position in the seabunk and therefore we (especially me) sleep poorly. Going to the toilet is a major undertaking, requiring that we almost crawl out there. Holding on while using it requires both hands and wedging yourself in with your feet. Let us not talk about the difficulty using toilet paper.

Days sailing distance – 153nm

Day 2

Wind and waves are unchanged. We are getting used to the hard sailing and the difficulty moving around on the boat. Capri also seems to be getting used to it, although there are more and more freak waves that break over her and soak her already wet crew.

Despite the weather, it is day two and bath time for the crew. We sit on the stern railing and wash with one hand while hanging on for dear life with the other. Difficult yes, but by god it feels good to get even just a little bit clean – fresh as daisies (just kidding), we’re ready for another couple of days of this.

I’m amazed that Carsten can stand in the galley and prepare hot food. Not a 3 course dinner naturally, but Muesli and Yoghurt for brunch, dinner is hot Chili can Carne for the skipper (who knows not seasickness) and a couple of slices of ryekrisp for me (who does know exactly what seasickness is). I’ve totally lost my appetite and get nauseous when I can smell the chili cooking away down in the galley. Carsten cheerfully munches away at hot chili.

This type of sailing is so hard that we can only take 2-3 hour watches, meaning at best we get 2 ½ hours sleep at a time. We have to constantly change watch, even in the daytime, just to ensure we get a little sleep.  It may sound strange – but we really don’t see each other much these days – we’re overjoyed every time it is our turn to hit the seabunk.

Days sailing distance – 163nm

 

Day 3

The weather forecast was correct and the winds are now 20-25 knots and the swells have risen to over 10 feet. There are more and more freak waves and Capri is being tossed from side to side. She works her way against the wind, waves  and ocean current. Our poor Capri. Wave after wave is now rolling over the bows and the length of the boat, filling the cockpit. Whoops – someone forgot to draw the companionway shutter and a wave crashes into our sprayhood, finds its way in through the small opening we have in it for halyards and sheets, sending gallon after gallon of water down into the salon. The whole floor is sloshing in water.

The weather and the sailing worsen, wearing us down and becoming more and more unpleasant – but there are no alternatives, we can only push on. It is a truism that things sound much worse down below than in the cockpit, but as I lie in the seabunk and Capri sails out over the edge of a 10-12 foot wave and does a belly-flop onto water, I pray that the hull and rig will hold. Sometimes the waves are so close that she flies over the top of one and buries her bows in the next one. I pray again that our solution with a halyard and several straps holding the anchor will prove sufficient. Twice a day, I heave Capri to so Carsten can go up to the bows to check the anchor platform and the anchor. We have already chafed through one set of lines we had holding the anchor. This tells something about the conditions out here.

It takes time to retrieve a grib file (weather report) via out satphone and Carsten is sitting at the captains table when an unusually huge wave throws Capri far up in the air and then lets her drop. It also lifts Carsten completely out of the chair and I see him flying across the salon desperately clutching the PC and satphone. I get a Déjà vu of Bente and her broken shoulderblade. The last thing we need here is a skipper with  broken bones. Carsten yells up that he is Ok, but he hit his butt so hard against the companionway steps that he can barely walk.  Maybe it is a good thing that he stopped taking his blood thinning medicine. Proudly, after cursing madly again) he shows me that he managed to save both the satphone and the pc from damage.

Yes friends, it is not unsafe to be on a boat in this kind of weather.

Are we having fun yet?

Well – of course we are.

Days sailing distance – 160nm

Day 4

It is still blowing 20-25 knots true, meaning the apparent wind is closer to 30 knots. The Grib files tell us that on the morrow, it will get much worse – a full blown gale is moving in, true wind will be over 30 knots, apparent wind closer to 40 knots, the swells will rise further, to between 4 and 5 meters. Already some of the bigger waves we are seeing are beginning to break at the top. We’re still having fun, but discretion is the better part of valor and we can see that San Juan is only 45nm or 10 hours away. We change course and head for the barn in San Juan.

The atmosphere on board the last day is depressed and we take turns cheering each other up. You get a bit apathetic just sitting watching the threatening seas or preparing for the next squall. They have been hitting us with depressing regularity. The only thought that goes though my mind is that despite the hard conditions, we have not yet been in a life-threatening situation, although this has seemed like survival sailing. We’ve never experienced sailing as hard at this – it is wearing us down.

Even the fruits we have in our net under the solar panels have given up and jumped ship during the night.

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There were lemons and lines in this net – but they jumped ship during the night

This night is truly hard, for both of us. The squalls are coming with a half hour between them. You spend your time preparing for the next squall, easing the main, furling the genua and then doing it all again in reverse order. During the night Capri heels so much in the squalls that we are sailing our railings halfway under water. The sun finally rises and even though squalls should only come at night, this day they continue to attack us. The winds are gale force, and the winds shifts are 90-120 degrees. The waves are mashed flat by the rains but despite this, we are drenched by seawater from below and the deluge from above. It is hard to handle the boat alone in these kinds of squalls when the other one is down below in the seabunk and can’t make it up to help.

When a squall like that hits – immediate action is necessary or else the boat will end in irons. As soon as the autopilot starts its alarm that it is having difficulty and you see the dark clouds with the white curtains speeding towards you, it is time to lay off from the wind so you can follow the wind shift. At the same time you need to ease the main to take the pressure off it (and slow you down) and also avoid blowing the main out. Now you sail with the wind until this local cyclone has passed. In the meantime, the high pressure cleaner has been smashing you with water so you can’t see a thing. You have to duck your head and hide behind your hood because the water is hitting you so hard it stings your face.

Gee – are we having fun yet?

Of course we are.

One a.m. and I waken as Capri gybes hard around. I run up the companionway and see Carsten fighting with the wheel and mainsail sheet in the midst of a really heavy squall. Our boombreak is set too tight and Carsten is unable to ease the main and in his fight with this, he hasn’t managed to follow the wind around and we’ve gybed. In the worst case a gybe like that can break the mast or boom, but the tight boombreak has prevented the gybe from being too violent, so fortunately nothing untoward has happened. We’re sailing close-hauled so the distance the boom slammed was also not much. The beast (squall) lets up and Carsten gets Capri aright again.

Everything aboard Capri, both in the cockpit and below is soaked. Let me tell you friends, there is no joy in  life greater than donning soaking wet foulies in the middle of the night, after only a couple of hours of uncomfortable sleep and going up in a black night to face single-handing a boat through an endless series of squalls. Yes indeedy – there you are sitting on a wet sponge (our cockpit cushions) and can have the joy of seeing a cruise ship pass you in the night. It is, of course, fully lit up and you know that there are thousands of people on it, sitting having a civilized drink, followed by a civilized dinner, then some nightclub dancing and a night cap before retiring to a nice comfortable dry bed that isn’t playing rock and roll under you.

Several of them passed me during my watches that night – do you think I wished I was on them, instead of sitting here soaked by seawater, seasick and fighting the squalls?

Of course not – I’m having too much fun here in the cockpit (in your dreams)

I’ve never in my life wanted to take a cruise on a ship like that, but that night I could have wished myself right up onto one.

Since we left Denmark I’ve developed two arthritis bumps, one on each hand at the base of my finger. I’ve never had anything approaching arthritis before. Now it dawns on me where they have come from. In hard weather like this, Capri heels so much that I’m forced to hang on for dear life. I’m either hanging on to the wheel helming the boat or, if the autopilot is steering, then I’m hanging on to the targa bar. I think this constant tension on my hands and fingers has caused the arthritis. Shit.

Land Ahoy!!!! We can see Puerto Rico and it is a relief to see land after 4 hard days at sea, especially the last couple where we felt as if we were on the inside of a washing machine looking out.

We’re now 10nm from San Juan when the mainsail blows between the first and second batten. We did try to strengthen it there by putting some sailtape on it – but the past 4 days have just been too much. So we drop the main and finish the last 10 nm on the engine alone.

No one answers our radio call – the office is apparently closed. We tie up at the outer face dock, right next to the Megayachts. On our way through the harbor we see a multitude of anchored yachts with broken masts and other severe damage, greetings from hurricanes Maria and Irma. A truly sad sight and we hope we never get caught by such a beast.

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Days sailing distance 172nm

Total sailing distance has been 648nm (rhumb line 410nm) so we sailed an additional 238nm tacking  over 4 days

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you (but I will anyway) that the 2 G&T’s we drank after tying up tasted more than good and were well-deserved. We toasted Capri who fought side by side with us and got us safely into port. Neither one of us had the energy to make a hot dinner so it was cold cuts and then (thank god) into our big bunk.

We’re waiting for a weather window again to cover the last 90 nm or so to Tortula. The past 4 days it has been blowing full gale force out there (40 knots+) and the waves have been 15-20 feet. Shit. It looks like we will be here for a week and can first sail towards Tortula on Friday. Mario and Grazyna are arriving on Tortula on Sunday. We’ll have a week together and sail around the BVI.

In the meantime, we’ve more than enough to keep us busy aboard Capri. After a good and long nights sleep we start cleaning Capri on the inside. Everything is coated with salt and it “only” took me 4 hours of wiping down the walls and deck before you could touch anything without your hand coming away feeling sticky. The outside of Capri the weather gods took care of – a huge squall came through and high pressure cleaned our hull completely. That meant this “boat swabbie” didn’t have to do that job. Now is also the time for major clothes wash – everything we own needs to be washed – it is soaked with seawater.

Our cockpit cushions are also thrown into the machine and come out clean and as good as new. It is worse with our beautiful white cushion on the sofa and chairs below – they become grey from all the salt water and our laying our foulies on them. Carsten and I “only” spent 4 hours scrubbing them and now they are as good as new.

In the middle of all this our neighbor boat comes over and says he has a small problem, then points up at our windex at the top of the mast. One of his lines has broken loose and been blown over to the top of our mast and has wrapped itself around the windex.

Shit!

People are strange – if it had been one of our lines that had wrapped itself around his windex, Carsten would immediately have offered to go up the mast, but our neighbor apparently didn’t feel the need to offer this and seems to take it as a given that Carsten will now go up the mast (in gale force winds) and retrieve his line for him. So Carsten get out the harness, climbs up the mast and retrieves the line. When the neighbor gets the line back, he doesn’t even ask if it has damaged our windex, he barely says thanks. And he could have easily damaged our windex which is actually a delicate instrument. Carsten was not entirely pleased to have to go 61 feet up the mast in gale force winds. And just to make sure we realized our neighbor was ill-mannered, did he come by with a bottle of wine and say thank you? Of course he didn’t.

But today we got a positive surprise. We shopped at Walmart and were leaving. We look exactly like what we are – a couple of cruising sailors with faded and wrinkled clothes, too many shopping bags and a deep tan. On our way out, a man standing at the check out suddenly grabs Carsten and says “you look like a couple of sailors from the marina – right?” “Here, I’ll give you lift back to the marina so you don’t have to carry all that stuff that long way.” A very friendly fellow, he tells us the damage from Irma is far from repaired. There are still over 1 million (1/3 of the population) that are without electricity or running water. He was also not impressed with the efforts of FEMA or The Donald.

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Trees knocked over by the storm in the historic part of the city – still not removed

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Note the name – Lucky Strike

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Perhaps not so “Lucky” after all

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Nothing left of his sails

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Look at his starboard side……………

Tomorrow the winds will die down a bit and we’ll try sewing the mainsail. It needs to hold until we can get to a sailmaker on St. Maarten. But you say, why don’t you just ditch it – you have a new one on board? We’d like to have these old sails make it as far as the Panama Canal and save the new ones for the Pacific.

As soon as sailors reach port and have had a drink or two and rested out, they have forgotten just how merciless and terrifying it can be to be on the ocean, and thankfully so – because otherwise we’d never go out there again.

You are never in doubt as to who is in charge out there – the ocean is and it just doesn’t give a damn about you or your bravery or your cowardice. The ocean just is.

Despite that – the next morning, we undock and Capri noses out of San Juan harbor past the great guns of the old fortress and into the Atlantic.

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