Morocco Markets: Objects of My Desire

Sailing into Rabat, Morocco

It was hard to focus on helming as we pulled into the harbor in Rabat, Morocco, as I stared with wonder at the ancient stone structures lining the right side of the entrance and the colorful wooden fishing boats bobbing up and down on their moorings. I sensed that we hadn’t just left Europe; we’d sailed into another era from the distant past.

Fishermen working on their little boats stopped for a moment to stare at Cheeky Monkey as we motored past. A few men smiled and waved and I wondered whether they were transfixed by the arrival of a foreign vessel or the spectacle of what appeared to be a female-run boat with me at the helm and Kristi and Meg preparing the fenders and lines for docking at Bouregreg Marina. Ryan, the male minority on board, was on the radio getting docking instructions from the marina while I looked around and noticed the lack of women on the many boats we passed in the harbor. I smiled and waved at the fishermen as their mouths hung open, their jaws involuntarily unhinged.

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Our jaws also hung slack as we pulled into this cute harbor in Rabat.

We weren’t sure what to expect from a marina that only charged $15/day for a 44-foot catamaran, but we definitely weren’t expecting a welcoming committee of eight officials to step on board bearing gifts of baseball caps, pens and key chains emblazoned with the marina’s logo for each of the crew. Two of the officials excitedly thumbed through our passports and asked us questions about ourselves and how on earth we could all survive without jobs, while the other officials on board looked around silently. I wondered if the extra men were having a dull day in the office and so they decided to tag along just to have a closer look at the boat and its crew.

Our amusing clearing-in experience motivated us to get off the boat and go explore what Morocco had to offer beyond the waterfront of Rabat. So once our French friends, Morgan and Xavier, arrived from Paris, ready and packed for the Atlantic-crossing, we shut up the boat, rented a car and hit the road on a mission to go see Casablanca and Marrakesh, two cities that were near enough to explore in the three days we had spare before sailing away to the Canary Islands.

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Xavier and Morgan were thrilled to join us in Rabat for our Atlantic crossing.

Morocco markets: Shopping in Casablanca

I’m sure Casablanca has a lot more to offer the keen tourist than just bazaar shopping, but as we only had a few hours to stop there on our way to Marrakesh, we dove into the heart of the traditional marketplace in an attempt to absorb our surroundings in the most efficient way possible. We were aiming to shock our senses and dive into the experience of our sudden departure from Europe.

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The best way to dive into any foreign culture is to EAT!

The crafts displayed in tiny market cubicles formed a tapestry of colors, textures and smells that drew me in as soon as we walked through the gates of the Casablanca Bazaar. There was silver jewelry with colored stones, carts piled high with roasted almonds and dates, handmade leather bags and slippers dangled above our heads, all of them too beautiful not to reach out and touch. Vendors pleaded for us to come have a closer look at their wares in their direct but gentle way, looking us in the eyes and smiling as they held out pretty objects to entice us into their shops as we walked past.

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“Must touch…so pretty…how much are they?”

Before we even got a few steps into the market, Meg and I were drawn to a stall that was intricately stacked with polished wooden boxes of all shapes and sizes. The boxes begged to be touched and opened and held, and the vendor took full advantage of the power of his beautiful handicrafts by encouraging us to try and open one of his many “magic boxes,” clever little cases with hidden keys that required puzzle-solving skills to find. Without knowing what we would need a magic box for, and before Ryan could complain that little wooden boxes have no use on a boat, Meg and I bought three of them.

Resisting the irresistible

It’s moments like these when I long to be able to collect things, when it seems like a shame that I can’t keep much on a boat. I ran my fingers through the multi-colored woven cloths and reached up to touch the gleaming brass lamps above my head and, for a second, I wished I had a house I could fill with unique objects from Morocco. But then I remembered that being free to roam means being able to carry everything I need in one bag or on one boat. I remembered that shedding objects and leaving the weight of possessions behind is what has allowed us to keep moving from one beautiful experience to another.

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So many beautiful things and so little room to keep it all.

And with that thought, the shiny brass lamps, though beautiful, transformed into heavy burdens that would require somewhere to be housed and someone to polish them. So I pulled my hand away, smiled at the vendor and kept walking.

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This is Meg. She has a large family and 3 sisters, so she bought everything.

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Update from Tasha

Hey everyone!

Thanks so much for reading and having patience with the lack of postings while I’ve been moving around in areas with poor WiFi. Life on a boat means we’re often not connected, which has its pros and cons. But from the perspective of a blogger and YouTuber, they’re mostly cons. I have learned to switch off and be patient every now and then, but it’s a struggle – I’m constantly chasing down SIM cards and data in remote islands.

In any case, if you didn’t catch our video about Morocco on Chase the Story Sailing, catch it here:

Thanks so much for reading and watching – don’t forget to hit the red subscribe button on YouTube so you don’t miss an update!

Love,

Tasha

Cheeky Monkey is Seeking Adventurous Crew!

Announcement: Cheeky Monkey is sailing across the Pacific Ocean!

AND

We are looking for crew!

S/V Cheeky Monkey is about to embark on the ultimate sailing adventure from the Caribbean to Panama to the Galapagos to the South Pacific islands and we are seeking the right crew to join us on this adventure!

If you’re a Turf to Surf Newsletter subscriber, you may remember me recently writing that “I’d like to slow down in 2016 and look around more” – well, that outlook lasted a whole month before we decided we’d had enough pause and, instead of spending a year in the Caribbean on Cheeky Monkey, we’re heading towards the South Pacific instead! (By the way, if you haven’t yet subscribed to my monthly newsletter, you can do so here at Turf to Surf’s Subscription Page by entering your email address.)

If you’re interested in crewing for us and want to find out more about us (Tasha & Ryan), the crew we’ve had on board so far, and the kinds of adventures we’re out chasing, catch up on our story by watching our YouTube Channel, Chase the Story: www.youtube.com/chasethestoryaroundtheworld

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So, let’s get down to it — are you the next crew member we’re looking for to join the party on Cheeky Monkey?

Have a look at the list of qualities we’re looking for below, and let us know if you’re serious about joining us on this adventure!

Essential Qualities

  • Adventurous
  • Good sense of humor
  • Open-minded
  • Young at heart
  • Fun
  • Sporty
  • Friendly
  • Easy-going
  • Good personal hygiene
  • Not allergic to or afraid of cats

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Extra Qualities

  • YouTube creator / Videography experience
  • Creative abilities
  • Social Media / PR expertise
  • Sailing experience
  • Good at fixing things
  • Good chef
  • Good at water sports (and are willing to teach us some things)

Application Requirements

  • Please submit the following 2 items by email: (1) Answer the question “Why do you want to be a part of this adventure?” in the form of either a 2-minute personal video (include link to video) or a 300-word personal written statement. And feel free to be creative with your answer and how you choose to answer it either in video or in words. (2) Resume / C.V. – we ask for this because we want to get an idea of your professional experience and/or adventuring experience.
  • Application Deadline: March 23rd, 2016
  • Email submissions to ryan@turftosurf.com

FAQs

  • How much will it cost? You only need to cover the cost of your flights and any personal necessities you care to purchase in ports. Board, food, booze and adventures covered by us.
  • How long will I be crewing for? No adventure of this magnitude can be achieved on a two-week vacation. We are looking for crew who can commit to a crossing or two.

Crew Expectations

  • All crew share equally in the duties on board Cheeky Monkey, including keeping watch, cleaning, cooking, maintaining the boat, repairs, provisioning runs and cocktail making.
  • We expect crew to contribute to the creative process on board, using whatever skills they have or are willing to learn – i.e. video-making, posting on social media, photography, website building, etc.
  • We expect crew to have fun and enjoy the adventure!

Note from Tasha & Ryan

We look forward to hearing from you and getting to know more of your story! We’ve had great experiences so far with crew on board who embody all the qualities we’ve listed above. So let us know if you’re the missing link in this next great adventure — we’d love to meet you! Or if you know someone who would love to sail with us on Cheeky Monkey, share this opportunity with them!

Love,

Tasha & Ryan

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Sailing to Morocco: Stress in the TSS

As we quickly tidied up the boat to get ready to sail from Gibraltar to Rabat, Morocco, I examined the charts closely to understand the route we would be taking across the busy traffic channels in the Strait of Gibraltar. There were so many frighteningly large ships moving across the screen on AIS that our chart plotter looked like an arcade game of Frogger with red-outlined vehicles moving in two organized streams, threatening to squash me as I tried to move across the strait.

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If you were a child of the ’80s and ’90s, you might remember the game Frogger.

We would have to pull in with the traffic flow going west, then nudge ourselves slowly south until an opening appeared wide enough for us to make a 90-degree bee-line across the hectic traffic separation scheme (TSS) to the north side of Africa. But I’d been watching the cargo ships moving quickly across the screen for the last half hour and there didn’t seem to be many opportunities for our small cruising ship to cut safely from one side to the other.

There are few places in the world where you can find commercial traffic as heavy as it is in the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow conveyor belt running ships between Europe and Africa. But New York Harbor, where I first learned to sail, is one of those busy ports, so I wasn’t overly concerned about the traffic we’d be encountering. After years of sailing in and around New York City, we were used to being constantly vigilant, tacking and weaving between cargo ships and ferries as we made our way out to Sandy Hook to anchor for the weekend or headed up the Hudson River for the day.

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Ryan, keeping a lookout for oncoming traffic to avoid.

When we first started sailing, we conversed with every experienced sailor we met, collecting tips on weather, navigation, engine trouble and sailing to faraway places. And we were surprised at the number of times we were told “never sail at night if you can help it; it’s very dangerous.” We laughed because night sailing in New York Harbor was one of our favorite pastimes. With the famous Manhattan skyline lit up along the Hudson River, our boat was always blanketed in the glow of the city as though we were sailing under a hundred moons. What was everyone talking about – “sailing at night is dangerous”? Sailing in the busy traffic of New York was all we knew at that time, so it hardly seemed dangerous to us.

It wasn’t until we sailed out of New York to the Bahamas and the Caribbean in 2012 that we realized how little boating traffic exists out there when you move away from New York Harbor. If you jump out on the ocean, you see less than a handful of boats a day. If you stay inside the Intracoastal Waterway, you might spot a few more boats, but between ports, traffic is scarce compared to the areas around New York City.

As I nudged the bow of Cheeky Monkey out into the Strait of Gibraltar, however, I was reminded how heavily surrounded with traffic I once was and how blissfully spacious the seas have been since we left New York. Pulling into oncoming cargo ship traffic in the strait was suddenly foreign and stressful and required being vigilant to the movements of hundreds of ships who all had right-of-way over our slow-moving vessel.

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These ships may look heavy and slow-moving, but they bear down quickly.

Kristi and I sat at the helm, examining the AIS information of oncoming vessels and ships who approached quickly from all directions, trying our best to navigate a path that would be the least nuisance to the priority commercial traffic surrounding us.

As we traveled west along the south coast of Spain with the flow, it seemed like there was never going to be a break in the shipping lanes to get us cleanly from one side of the purple TSS band, which was marked clearly on the chart plotter, to the other. So we took the first small opening we had to turn Cheeky Monkey at a 90-degree angle to the TSS.

To me, the TSS on my chart plotter looked narrow and easy enough to cross, though the traffic on either side of the purple band seemed to still be speeding densely at us in both directions. TSS traffic flows like a highway – the north line of traffic moves from east to west and the south line of traffic moves from west to east. My challenge was to get across the traffic moving west to east at speeds three times faster than Cheeky Monkey so that I could continue moving southwest along the coast of Africa without getting in the way of anyone.

So once Cheeky Monkey’s little ship icon reached the other side of the purple band on my on-screen game of cargo-ship Frogger, I breathed a sigh of relief and turned the boat to head southwest again. Which is when a loud, stern voice came over VHF channel 16 saying, “Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, you are to maintain a 90-degree angle until you cross the TSS!”

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Bird’s eye view of the Strait of Gibraltar from a scenic point in Gibraltar.

I looked at Kristi, confused. “We crossed it, didn’t we?” We zoomed in on the chart and looked again at the purple band marking the traffic zone. I was pointing to a purple line running across the screen when Kristi zoomed out and pointed to a second purple line running across the bottom of the screen just north of the coast of Africa.

“Whoa! I thought that purple band there was the TSS! It goes from that band to the other band?” I said, with my hand moving up and down the length of the screen. “Shit!”

I had suddenly realized my mistake when the radio piped up again, “Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, Cheeky Monkey, what are your intentions?”

“Um, we want to go to Morocco?” I responded into the radio, flustered, as Kristi laughed hysterically at the ridiculousness of my answer. Put on the spot, I had no idea what the yelling man meant by my “intentions,” but it probably wasn’t a diary of my day’s plans, or what I was craving for lunch.

Having realized I had not, in fact, crossed the traffic separation scheme, I turned Cheeky Monkey back to a 90-degree angle and continued on a hair-raising path cutting between cargo ships, putting both engines on full throttle and speeding towards the North African coast as fast as I could go to avoid being hailed on the radio again.

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Cheeky Monkey, pulling into the harbor in Rabat, well away from the TSS traffic.

99% of the time we are out sailing, regardless of the waters we are in, there is ample room to maneuver, deal with mishaps, change course and relax, allowing the direction of the wind to dictate the course towards our next destination. It’s often a peaceful, slow-moving process with our boat sailing along comfortably at a humble 6-7 knots with no one else on the horizon.

But the traffic separation scheme in the Strait of Gibraltar jarred me out of that peaceful reverie and reminded me that vigilance and precision are paramount where traffic is dense and strict rules govern a safe crossing. We’d been sailing in empty waters for so long that I didn’t properly anticipate how heavy the traffic would be getting from Spain to Morocco.

If sailing in the New York Harbor was like getting to Level 3 of Frogger, then the Strait of Gibraltar was Level 10. And I didn’t have enough practice in this game to remember how not to get smashed by an oncoming vehicle. Luckily, we got safely across the TSS and pulled into Rabat with no harm done. But next time I might just review my book of navigational rules before diving into the shipping lanes again.

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Once we got south of the TSS, it was smooth sailing all the way to Rabat, Morocco.

Cheeky Monkeys in Gibraltar

It’s always a little nerve-wracking pulling our 24-foot-wide catamaran through a narrow entrance, past the sharp bowsprits lining the docks with what feels like just inches to spare. But, luckily, as big as our boat is, with two engines, Cheeky Monkey turns on a dime, so I had little trouble nudging our boat safely up to the scary concrete wall in the Queensbay Quay Marina in Gibraltar Harbour. I was sweating a little as I did it, picturing our nice fiberglass hull crunching up against the high stone if I maneuvered badly. But with six crew in total, we had plenty of people at the ready with fenders in hand, and I was able to pull our boat gently up to the harbor wall without incident.

With a population of just 30,000 people, Gibraltar feels like a small English village that’s been airlifted out of Britain and dropped on a spit of land in the south of Spain. Lining the Gibraltar Harbour, there is a string of waterfront English pubs with red-faced patrons drinking pints of beer from sweating glasses and iconic red phone boxes on every street corner, though the mix of Spanish, British English and Arabic being spoken in the shops gives this quaint English village a much more multicultural feel.

We weren’t planning to stay in Gibraltar long, as we had a deadline to get to Rabat, Morocco in a few days to pick up our friends Morgan and Xavier, who were flying in from Paris to do the Atlantic crossing with us. But we also didn’t want to leave Gibraltar without going to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar and seeing the Barbary Macaques, the famous wild monkeys that live on the rock.

I mean, you can’t pull a boat called Cheeky Monkey into a port that’s famous for monkeys and not go see some monkeys, am I right?

So the morning of our departure from Gibraltar, crewmates Kristi, Meg and I went on a mission to get to the top of the Rock so we could squeeze in a whirlwind tour of Gibraltar before jumping back on the boat and rushing off to Morocco.

Originally, we had grand ideas of running to the top of the rock for some exercise plus sight-seeing (you know, kill two birds), but we came to our senses, scrapped the exercise idea and dashed off to catch the last cable car, only to find it wasn’t running because of the high winds. So instead we found ourselves in a tour bus with a group of Spanish-speaking tourists, being driven up a hill so ridiculously steep that I think all of us were glad we didn’t decide to run up it. I like a challenge, but that challenge would have taken us a lot longer than the two hours the bus took, and I’m not sure we would have had much energy to get the boat ready after that.

When our bus reached the top of the hill near the Rock of Gibraltar, I wasn’t expecting to be immediately surrounded by monkeys, or that the monkeys would be so fearless as to jump on the cars and, at one point, Meg’s head. These were intrepid, rather cheeky monkeys (*wink*), which delighted me to no end, but raised some anxiety in Kristi, who showed us a scar on her arm where she was once bit by a monkey.

Even without the monkeys, the views from the top of the Rock were worth the trip alone, so if you ever find yourself pulling into Gibraltar for just a day, make sure to get yourself to the top of the hill — this is what you’ll see:

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The bus stopped halfway up the hill so we could get this view of Africa.
sailing blog cheeky monkey gibraltar turf to surfMeg, Kristi and me at the halfway point. We’re smiling because we didn’t run it 🙂
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I wonder if the rental car companies in Gibraltar charge for monkey scratches.

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Baby monkey! Who doesn’t love baby monkeys? (Kristi, maybe).

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 Meg might not be a big fan of monkeys after this trip, either.
rock of gibraltar mediterranean sailing around the world cheeky monkeyThe Rock of Gibraltar, which we’ve seen from sea and now we’ve seen it from land.
monkey on rock of gibraltar sailing blog turf to surfThis monkey has a pretty spectacular backyard view.
spain gibraltar sailing around the world turf to surf sailing blogThis sign appears to be saying “Spain is that way, so walk this way instead.”

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Update from Tasha

Hey everyone! If you didn’t catch the video Kristi made about our tour of Gibraltar, check it out here!

We post a new video weekly, so subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Chase the Story, so you don’t miss a single update!

Thanks!

Tasha

The Gift of guests: sailing for the first time (again)

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I am sitting in the cockpit of Cheeky Monkey, enjoying an evening glass of wine with a view of several thousand gleaming boats in the Real Club Nautico Marina in Palma de Mallorca, when I get a message from my friend John saying, “I’m ready!” just as this picture comes through my phone:

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I start laughing and immediately reply that Ryan and I are awaiting John and his partner Chris’ arrival to Palma with excitement – after all, it has been over 10 years since we lived just around the corner from them in Sevilla, Spain, where we taught English for a living.

I sip my wine, smiling, because this is the reason we chose such a large boat for ourselves – it wasn’t so much for us alone, but for the opportunity to bring friends on board for any leg of our journey around the world. And now it seems the dream we had of sharing our journey with loved ones is becoming a reality.

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By the time we finally sold our businesses (teacher training schools and English as a Second Language schools in the U.S.) in February 2015, Ryan and I had been making our rounds to boat shows, shopping for what we dreamed would be the boat that would take us around the world one day.

Our first boat, Hideaway, had given us some of our best years in New York, teaching us to sail and to fix engines, tearing us away from the stress of building and running our own companies and inviting us to dream of what the future could hold if we ever decided to close the entrepreneurial chapter of our lives and do something completely different.

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Our old Catalina 34, Hideaway, in the Bahamas.

And when that opportunity arose in the form of a signed Sales Purchase Agreement for both of our companies, we scrapped the boats on our what-we-can-afford-if-the-companies-don’t-sell list and we immediately plunged feet-first into the dream of sailing around the world on a Fountaine-Pajot Helia, a boat with more than enough room to have friends and crew comfortably on board as we sailed to countries that sparked our wanderlust and brought us back to the basic dreams that kick-started my and Ryan’s careers in teaching ESL: to travel and learn about the world through our travels.

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When John and Chris hop out of their airport taxi in Palma, I’m surprised to see they’re not wearing their wetsuits and snorkels already. But soon after they arrive to the docks, they are jumping up and down like excited children, gasping at the boats surrounding them, as well as every detail of our new floating home.

No matter what lifestyle we choose, whether it’s living in an apartment in a big city, a house in the rice paddies of Bali, a log cabin in the woods or a boat that’s forever on the move, there’s always an initial thrill over the change in environment. But then that thrill eventually gives way to a daily routine that’s filled with menial tasks and friends who live the same lifestyle as us. Which means, at some point, the life we’re living slowly begins to feel completely normal. This is a good thing, of course, as it would be exhausting to wake up every morning with a distracting feeling of euphoria, causing me to fawn and delight over every detail of my mind-boggling and extraordinary day.

I mean, I’d never get anything done otherwise. “Honey, do you want breakfast…OH MY GOD! Have you seen this TREE?! It’s growing avocados! I’ve never seen an avocado on a tree before! Wait, what was I doing?”

It’s like falling in love – if we forever remained in that ecstatic love-sick state that we experience at the beginning of a relationship when we can think of nothing else but being near our lover, then we’d never be able to hold down a job.

Ecstasy gives way to a much more comfortable feeling of normal fondness, so we can all go about our day getting things done again. And that normal fondness is the feeling we have settled into regarding our new boat and our newfound freedom.

But then John and Chris arrive on a plane from Sevilla, wearing nautical-themed clothing and grinning from ear to ear.

“OH MY!” Exclaims Chris as we give her a tour of the galley. “Look, John! They even have storage in the floor! How amazing!”

John and Chris flit from one corner of the boat to another, amazed at the economy of size of everything on a boat, as well as the views from the deck, the steering wheel at the helm and the electronic instruments everywhere. They are excited by every little detail and their enthusiasm is wildly infectious. It has the effect of reminding us that, though our lifestyle has become normal to us, living on a boat is an extraordinary thing to experience for the first time.

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Chris and I, making dinner in the galley of Cheeky Monkey.

Watching John and Chris on their first sailboat is like watching someone fall in love for the first time – I see the sparkle in their eyes and though I know the feeling will calm down eventually, I don’t want to spoil it for them. The joy they’re experiencing in the moment expands in the space around them and blocks the thoughts running through my head of the head that’s leaking and the sump pump that doesn’t work.

Within a day of John and Chris arriving to Palma, two more guests arrive who will be staying on board Cheeky Monkey through our Atlantic crossing. We met our friends Meg and Kristi when we were participating in the ’13-’14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which Ryan and I did a few legs of while Meg and Kristi did the full round-the-world circumnavigation.

But even for experienced sailors like Meg and Kristi, who have lived on stripped-down 70-foot racing yachts for nearly a year, stepping on board a cruising boat like Cheeky Monkey is a new experience. For one, you won’t find an espresso machine, hot showers or an ice-maker on board a racing yacht.

Mind you, you won’t find an ice-maker on board our yacht either, but that isn’t because it’s not supposed to be there. It’s just that ours still doesn’t work. I know, I know, #firstworldproblems

The joys of simple land-pleasures like comfortable seating, a queen-sized bed and a large dinner table are the things that excite Meg and Kristi when they step on board Cheeky Monkey for the first time, which makes me remember how bare and uncomfortable my boat Henri Lloyd was on the Clipper Race. Over the next few weeks, we will find ourselves saying, “This ain’t the Clipper Race!” often and with great delight.

With 6 crew on board, Cheeky Monkey, we pull out of Palma bound for Gibraltar, setting up a watch system where each of us is responsible for two hours on deck in daylight and two hours in the night, allowing for plenty of sleep and relaxation time for the crew.

Except John and Chris, who are only on board for three days, forgo most of their sleep to stay up and watch for possible marine life on the horizon.

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This is pretty much where Chris and John stood for 3 days straight.

One night, I groggily step into the galley in the pitch black of night to get a drink, when I hear John scream “Tasha! Come here! I think I see dolphins!”

I have only ever seen dolphins at sunrise and sunset and have never seen any sign of them in the dark, so I assume John is just seeing some flying fish jump out of the water.

John has a spotlight in his hand and is shining it on the water where, sure enough, a fin pops up above the smooth, black surface of the water.

“Oh wow!” we all squeal in unison.

“How long have you been out here looking?” I ask, rubbing my eyes.

“All night!” screams John as Chris bounces up and down next to him. “We’re too excited to sleep!”

Just then another dolphin pops up into the wake under the foredeck trampoline and all three of us rush to the bow to stare at the water beneath us.

“Look! There’s more!” screams John. “Should we wake Kristi?”

I look at my watch, which says 3 am, and laugh. “I think Kristi’s seen plenty of dolphins on the ocean before.”

“BUT HAS SHE SEEN THEM AT NIGHT?!” John shouts, running back to the cockpit. “I’m going to wake her!”

Shortly after, Kristi stumbles out to the foredeck, rubbing her eyes, as John and Chris are bouncing up and down on the trampoline screaming, “Look! There’s another one!”

To which Kristi laughs and says, “I’m going back to bed,” leaving me alone on deck with John and Chris, shrieking and pointing, filling the night air with the joyful noises of hysterical adults.

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Chris, capturing a rare sight of pilot whales on the Mediterranean.

Normally, I like to spend my quiet night watches immersed in my introspective routine of reading and writing while the rest of the boat sleeps. But tonight is not a routine kind of night. It’s a night filled with the first experiences of jubilant friends who, for a few days, I get to share my extraordinary life with.

So, rather than retreat to my routine, I toss my book aside and I lay on the trampoline with John and Chris as we watch dolphins dive and swim beneath us, covered in a sheath of glowing green glitter as their bodies cut through the phosphorescent water, leaving a spray of fireworks in the air every time they jump out of the water.

Our faces are softly lit by the moon as we stare patiently at the water, waiting for the next astonishing thing to take us by surprise.

It’s true, I wouldn’t get much done on any of my night watches if I spent them all lying face down, staring at the water with big eyes full of wonder. But, in this moment, I’m grateful for the gift our guests have brought us – the gift of experiencing something extraordinary for the first time, again.

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John, holding up his first catch. He smiled like this for 3 days nonstop.

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Update from Tasha

Hey everyone! If you haven’t yet seen our video of John swimming with pilot whales on Chase the Story, our YouTube Channel, check it out here! I promise it will make you smile:

And if you like it, click the SUBSCRIBE button so you don’t miss our weekly updates! We’ve been working hard on editing videos so we’d love it if you could share it and give us feedback in the comments!

Thanks everyone for reading and watching – I really appreciate it!

Love,

Tasha

7 lessons learned catching our first fish

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“Fish on!” I hear John scream, slowly nudging me out of a deep sleep below deck.

I pull on some clothes and rush up on deck to find Ryan running around the cockpit, desperately searching for something. “We don’t have a gaff! Wait, I have a trident!” He pulls a long-handled deck brush out of the lazarette. “No, that’s not it!”

The look on Ryan’s face is that of pure delight — it’s our first fish while trolling and he’s determined not to let this one go. Meanwhile John is standing at the stern, pulling in the line on the hand reel while Ryan flits anxiously around the cockpit, finally locating a net to scoop up the fish with. With a couple of swift tries, Ryan and John pull the flopping tuna into the cockpit and start jumping up and down, whooping with disbelief and excitement.

“Who’s going to kill it?” asks John.

john harrop fishing cheeky monkey 7 lessons learned turf to surf

Our friend John, clearly dressed for a fishing adventure.

When our friends John and Chris turned up in Palma de Mallorca to go sailing with us to Gibraltar, they couldn’t believe that in the 15,000 miles we’d sailed that we’d never caught a fish on our boat before. I wouldn’t have believed it either, but I knew what terrible fishermen we were and, truth be told, we hadn’t really tried much. And the few efforts we made only resulted in a tangled ball of seaweed at the end of our line.

For some reason, killing and filleting fish is my job, so once the tuna lands in the cockpit, I get down to the business of putting this fish out of its misery and preparing the kitchen for a sushi dinner.

What I don’t know, however, as we’re fumbling around trying to kill and fillet our first tuna (and a second, even larger tuna a few hours later), are all the mistakes we’re making as we try to land and kill a fish while under sail.

So thanks to all the advice from the expert fishermen commenting on our YouTube Channel, Chase the Story (see the video of our fishing exploits here: https://youtu.be/RyqiL755L-A), these are all the things we did wrong. We’re always learning something new from the sailing community, so if you have anything to add to this, feel free to comment. We might even share some of our sushi with you if your tips turn out to be helpful.

In the meantime, here are 7 rudimentary lessons we learned while catching our first fish on board Cheeky Monkey:

1. Slow the boat down

As newbies to fishing, we got so excited about landing our fish that it never occurred to us we were going too fast to make that happen. I mean, who has time to drop the sails when…FISH!

Also, I didn’t realize how big the fish would be in the Mediterranean and a number of the big ones we snagged got away because there was too much drag on the line, pulling the fish clean off the hook.

What we’ve learned we should do when we hear someone scream “Fish on!” is down the revs if we’re motoring, or luff up, if we’re sailing. That will lessen the drag on the fishing line and make it easier to reel in and land the fish.

2. The net goes in front of the fish, not behind

It seemed like an intuitive action to scoop the fish up from behind, but we had a few comments that advised us to put the net in front of the fish, as the fish will always swim forward and away from the net if you put it behind the fish. Plus, you’re not fighting the drag through the water if the net goes in front.

It makes sense now, but that never occurred to us. And with the second tuna we caught, we found it impossible to net the fish, it was so fighting so hard. Which leads to our next mistake…

tunafish 7 lessons learning catching our first fish

Our first little guy was easy enough to net. But the big guy after him? Not so much.
3. Have a proper gaff on board

We didn’t have a gaff on board at the time we caught our first fish (we do now). What we had was a trident, or as Ryan calls it, “the Neptune thingy.”

The trident kind of worked on our big tuna (estimated 16 kilos) when it was alongside the boat and we were struggling to land it. I managed to get close enough to stab it with the trident, which caused the fish to bleed out a little and took the fight out of him long enough for us to drag him on board by hand.

4. Alcohol is for drinking, not for killing fish

I’m sure I read somewhere that you should always have a cheap bottle of vodka handy for killing fish, so that was the first thing I thought of when our fresh catch was flopping around the cockpit, trying to work its way back to freedom.

I poured some vodka in its gills, but it didn’t seem to do much. Some commenters have pointed out that this is a cruel way to kill a fish, and we should just cut its head off quickly and put it out of his misery. That’s what we did in the end, but there was a torturous period when we were trying to inebriate the poor fish to death. Rather than kill the tuna, the vodka seemed to turn him into an angry drunk.

5. Tuna bleeds like a stuck pig

Our cockpit looked like a CSI crime scene by the time I was done with our tuna. Some people have suggested that we cut off the head and then drag the tuna behind the boat until it bleeds out. It’s less messy and apparently it makes the fish taste better?

I have no idea, but I’ll try that next time. I’m hoping, at the very least, it will save me a few hours of deck scrubbing.

tuna catch 7 lessons learned catching our first fish

This is by far the biggest fish we’ve ever seen. Now, what to do with it?!
6. The best way to fillet a fish varies widely by type of fish

So far, we’ve only ever caught tuna and Mahi Mahi on our boat and the cleaning process is quite different for each, as I’m sure it is for every fish.

Tuna has an interesting bone structure, so I discovered the best way to fillet a tuna, once you’ve sliced its belly and pulled out all the guts, is to run the knife along the bone, which is an L-shape kind of structure. You get the most meat out of the fish that way, and it comes out in nice, fresh substantial steaks.

With Mahi Mahi, the skin is really tough and I’ve found it doesn’t cook as nicely with the tough skin left on it. But skinning a Mahi Mahi is a time-consuming process that requires a few tools that I wouldn’t normally keep in my fishing box.

I have no idea if this is the best way to skin a Mahi Mahi, but what I found easiest was to start the skinning process by running my filleting knife under the skin about an inch from where we cut off the head. Then once there is a lip of skin lifted, I use a pair of long-nosed pliers to cinch the edge of the skin. I then roll the pliers towards the tail, twisting the skin around the pliers kind of like I’m opening an old-fashioned tin of sardines. This allows me to roll most of the skin straight off the surface of the Mahi Mahi. I use my filleting knife, as well, to help slice the skin away from the meat as I roll the pliers.

fillet tuna 7 lesson learned catching our first fish

I may look like I know what I’m doing, but really I don’t.
7. The disco squid lure is a winner every time

We’ve tried dozens of different trolling lures to catch fish over the years without much success. But then someone advised we get a “disco squid.” Every single fish we’ve caught on board Cheeky Monkey has been with one of these guys. Maybe there are other lures out there that work, but I have no idea what they are. Day-glo Dave, as Ryan calls this guy, is our lucky lure from here on forth.

7 lessons learned catching our first fish turf to surf

We affectionately call this little guy “Day-glo Dave.”

We are painfully aware what novice fishermen we are, but we are fish lovers and sushi connoisseurs. And being half-Korean, I feel a responsibility towards my heritage to perfect my sushi techniques from the sea to the dinner table.

Which brings me to my recommendation of this incredibly efficient and easy-to-use sushi-rolling device. I found this in a fancy home store in France, after multiple failed attempts trying to roll sushi using a bamboo mat. This thing is amazing and has changed my sushi-making life for the better. It means I don’t spend hours in the kitchen swearing and throwing rice at the walls. Seriously, everyone needs one of these (Amazon.com link below):

sushi 7 lessons learned catching our first fish

It took the crew less than an hour to throw together this incredible meal.

We still have a lot to learn about catching, preparing and cooking fish on board Cheeky Monkey, but I think we’re off to a good start.

Let us know how we’re doing and if you have any helpful suggestions. That is, unless you’re this guy:

fishing youtube comment

In which case, go home, Almon Gulley Stomppers Roberts, you’re drunk, YALL is not a word and your keyboard is stuck on all caps.

Making it Work in Menorca

making it work in menorca turf to surf sailing around the world

As I pulled on a layer of thermal underwear and dug out my buried collection of wool socks, I realized that Ryan and I had out-stayed the warmth of yet another region. Being October in Menorca and already too cold for flip-flops, it was time to leave the Mediterranean and the Balearic Islands and start making our way towards the Canary Islands, where we planned to make our jump across the Atlantic Ocean.

But we still didn’t have a working autopilot, freezer or ice-maker (poor Ryan, he was so excited about that ice-maker), not to mention we now had a long list of minor repairs to do on Cheeky Monkey after two rough passages across the stormy Med while supporting the Shoreseeker Challenge rowing race.

Shoreseeker Challenge crew of Cheeky Monkey

With 15 crew on board, running from storms, Cheeky Monkey took a beating.

And since Palma de Mallorca came up in every conversation with yacht owners and crew as the recommended place to get boat work done, we started making plans to depart for Palma almost as soon as we arrived in Menorca.

Ryan handed me my phone and a long list of marinas in Palma while I poured myself a stiff drink to celebrate surviving a harrowing few weeks at sea in a rowboat; I was ready to unwind, but it was clear Ryan wanted to get moving before I started buying up wool sweaters and scarves.

We’d never called ahead to book a berth before, so this was an unusual display of organization for me and Ryan. Our idea of forward planning is calling a marina on the VHF ten minutes before arrival to ask if they have a transient berth. We’d never been turned away, so scanning the long list of marinas in Palma de Mallorca, some of which had over a thousand berths, I didn’t anticipate any problems getting a reservation somewhere.

“None?” I heard Ryan say over the phone. “End of December? That’s two months away!”

I looked up from my list and shrugged. So, one marina was full. No big deal.

Then I started making calls myself and, one after another, I hung up the phone, dejected. Within half an hour, Ryan and I had crossed off every single marina on our list. Not even Real Club Nautico, with 1200 berths, had a single transient space for us.

“It’s the low season,” Ryan complained. “What is going on that every marina in Palma is full and yet Menorca is practically empty?”

It was looking like we wouldn’t be getting our boat work done in Palma after all. So we hit the streets of Mahon and started asking about rigging, canvas, fiberglass, electronics, refrigeration, Yamaha outboards, marine supplies and more. Which quickly led us to Pedro’s Boat Centre, where they promised to find us everyone and everything we needed to get Cheeky Monkey in full working order.

making it work in menorca cheeky monkey

Finally, we’re getting a freezer – we need ice for those G&Ts!

Pedro, the owner of Pedro’s Boat Centre, was a wiry, energetic man in his seventies who bounced into the room, shaking our hands vigorously and introducing himself and his sons in quick, impeccable English. We immediately warmed to him and his frantic energy and after he assured us his best workers would meet us the next day on the boat, Pedro excused himself and sped out of the room as his employees followed quickly in his wake, struggling to keep up.

Ryan and I looked at each other and smiled. This was a family business and we liked and understood family businesses. We also liked Pedro and his son, who carefully recorded our long list of requests and even gave us his own internet router to use on the boat when we said we were struggling to find WiFi access. Pedro and his family eagerly went out of their way to help us and we liked them for that.

So just like that, it was decided we would stay in Mahon to get all our work done on Cheeky Monkey. And, hopefully, we’d get a chance to see a little of Menorca in the meantime. Though we all know boat work and sight-seeing don’t exactly mix.

I guess sometimes you don’t have to travel as far as you think to find the things you need. If you ask the right questions and you meet the right people, you might find everything you need right within an arms reach. Palma de Mallorca may be the main hub in the Balearic Islands for boat work, but it turns out cute, quiet little Menorca not only had what we needed, but it had all the charm of a quaint, small village where we were welcomed like family.

mahon menorca cheeky monkey sailing around the world

Certainly not the worst place to spend a few weeks doing boat work.

post-line-divide

Up Next on Turf to Surf

You might be asking yourself what kind of work we would need to do on a brand-spanking-new, three-month-old luxury catamaran?

*sigh* Where do I begin? Remember that post I wrote about The 80% Rule, where I said we were lucky if 80% of the boat was ever in working order?

Well, if you thought that was enlightening, you’ll want to read the next post — Lessons in Outfitting a New Boat: An Addendum to the 80% Rule. Let’s just say there will be a lot of sharing about all the stuff that doesn’t work on our Fountaine-Pajot Helia and why.

If you have your own experiences to share about outfitting a new boat, please share in the comments below — what have you learned?

making it work in menorca sailing around the world

Video Updates!

If you want to get a feel for what Menorca is like, check out this short film I made about my brief travels around Menorca on YouTube:

And if you haven’t already subscribed to our YouTube Channel, Chase the Story, GO DO IT! I promise, you won’t regret it. We upload a new video every week — subscribe now so you don’t miss a single update 🙂

In Other News…

Now you can get Turf to Surf updates in your inbox when you subscribe to my newsletter, which I’ll use to send you informal updates about our plans, where we are in the world and any crazy ideas we’ve got brewing. Because, well, there’s always a crazy idea brewing on board Cheeky Monkey.

Thanks again for reading, watching and for all your support!

Love,

Tasha

On Logbooks and Getting Rescued

on logbooks and getting rescued turf to surf tasha hacker

For all the times I have lazily and inconsistently jotted down coordinates and weather conditions in sailing logbooks, I have rarely (perhaps, never) revisited the pages I’ve written. And, frankly, I’ve not put much thought into the circumstances that might force me to reexamine those logs.

But as I sit here, looking over the logbook pages of SS2, the five-person rowboat I competed on for the Shoreseeker Challenge as my team attempted to row 300 miles from Barcelona to Sardinia, I am annoyed by the information that’s missing; particularly the information I didn’t write down when conditions deteriorated to the point where I feared for my life. And I regret now, looking over the logbook, that I didn’t take a few seconds out of every hour, especially in the hours I was most terrified, to scrawl a summary of events, along with a few thoughts, as my confidence deteriorated and the rational threads keeping my mind intact started to unravel.

The reason I find myself poring over the logbook now, months after the race has finished, is because the race insurer has rejected Shoreseeker’s claim for the €32,641.50 rescue of the SS2 crew, a rescue which the insurance company has not deemed to be a “necessary rescue” with regards to a medical emergency.

The last entry in the race logbook was written on October 1st (which I hastily recorded as September 31st, a small indicator of my state of mind) at 3:45 am. And it was written by me because I was one of two crew who ended up in the stern cabin with all the communications when conditions deteriorated to the point where no one could risk being up on deck, let alone moving between cabins to discuss an emergency plan. And, unfortunately, a roll of the storm dice meant the skipper ended up in the bow cabin, separated from the boat communications, when conditions got really bad.

I can see a certain desperation in my shaky handwriting at 3:45 am, which reads, briefly, “VERY BAD SQUALL –> GETTING WORSE. 40° 22.1 N 005° 14.0 E / Capsized. Aggy outside when it happened –> hit VHF distress.”

I wish I’d written something after that, but the entire book is blank following that last line, even though, looking back, that line represented only the beginning of what was to come.

My darkest moments came well after that entry at 3:45 am, which was already 24 hours after the sea state got so messy that we had to stop rowing, after the skies turned black and unleashed an apocalyptic thunderstorm, after we struggled in the pelting rain to deploy the parachute anchor and after we spent 24 hours dehydrating from lack of food and water because the fear of having to go to the toilet in a bucket on deck negated any desire to eat or drink.

tasha nick claire team ss2 shoreseeker challengeOne of my last blurry, smiling images before it all got very dark.

But there is no written account in the logbook of the truly dark moments, which came after sunrise on October 1st and during the 3 hours of radio silence when no one responded to our VHF distress calls, when our instruments shut down because our main battery had drained to 7 volts while our back-up battery was down to 11.86 volts, when we capsized a second time and when I started to question if we would, in fact, survive this storm.

I wish I’d written down what was going through my mind in those five hours between 3:45 am and our helicopter rescue because the circumstances we dealt with stretched my brain beyond it’s most elastic problem-solving capabilities in ways I’d never been forced to do before, and with an urgency that demanded the real consideration that the very worst was yet to come.

A twisted chess game of survival strategy was being played out in my mind, forcing me to imagine the next two stages of the worst events I could imagine in order to consider what our next move should be. It was like flipping through a series of choose-your-own adventure chapters in my mind, except I didn’t get to choose. I just had to wait and see what was chosen for me. And the possibilities included the following:

Adventure 1: We deploy sea anchor. Wait out storm. Row to Sardinia and win race. (Obviously, the preferred option).

Adventure 2: We deploy sea anchor. Sea anchor doesn’t work. Boat capsizes. Crew is unharmed. Wait out storm. Row to Sardinia and win race.

Adventure 3: Boat capsizes multiple times. Crew injured. Batteries die. Communications lost. Support boat, Sottlo, arrives to help, but it’s too dangerous to transfer crew. Wait out storm with support nearby. Transfer to support boat in calm conditions. Abandon race and get towed to Sardinia.

Adventure 4: Boat capsizes multiple times, injuring crew. Batteries die. Communications lost. Support boat never arrives. Rowboat taking on water. Set off EPIRB. Deploy life raft. Passing ship rescues us once storm subsides. (Obviously, the worst-case scenario).

After the first capsize, my mind followed these paths (and more) to their bitter end in an effort to figure out what we would need to do in the event the next worst thing we could imagine were to happen.

Much to my relief, at every stage of my imagination, I found there was a piece of safety equipment on board designed to be used during the next terrible phase. The life raft, of course, was the ultimate last resort, and there were many stages to go through before we got there. But it gave me some comfort to know that at least we had one on board our little rowing vessel. Even our old sailboat, Hideaway, never had a life raft on board.

This little mental game started for me as soon as we realized our boat wasn’t sitting securely on our sea anchor.

As the seas grew angrier, we noticed the force of the waves and their impact had intensified. And at some point, we could feel that the waves were no longer crashing over the bow and drenching the person perched on deck for anchor watch; they were now smashing over the port side of the boat, each rumbling crash tipping the deck a little more towards the surface of the sea, threatening to roll us.

When the motion of the boat first started to shift, I was sitting upright inside the bow cabin, counting down the minutes until I would have to pull on my foul-weather gear and go out on deck for my hour of anchor watch. And as another wave slammed into us, throwing me off balance and launching me a foot off the mattress, I looked up at the unforgiving fiberglass surface about 3 feet above my head. And for the first time since the storm started, I started to consider what would happen if we capsized. I thought about the position I was in, sitting with the most vulnerable part of my head pointed towards the highest point in the cabin ceiling and suddenly I wished the ceiling wasn’t so far away.

Staring at that cavernous ceiling, I decided to find some way of protecting my head in case we did capsize. But I couldn’t find any of my knitted hats, which had probably washed overboard at this point, so instead I grabbed a sweatshirt and a sleeping bag and I packed them around my skull, which I’d now shoved into the narrowest part of the cabin — the shallow bow point where normally my feet would rest when sleeping.

When my teammate Nick finished his anchor watch, he crawled into the bow cabin dripping wet, relieved to have survived another hour on deck without incident. As the wind speeds continued to build, tossing our little rowboat around like a dog’s chew toy, every hour on deck felt like we were staring down a gun barrel playing a game of Russian Roulette. Except the unlucky player would find themselves being yanked underwater by their tether as the boat rolled 360 degrees.

When Nick climbed inside the cabin, slamming the hatch behind him, he turned around to find me squeezed up in the bow, looking like a mummy with my arms crossed on my chest and my head covered in cloth.

“What the hell…?”

I laughed nervously. “It just occurred to me, if we do capsize, that ceiling is a long way away,” I said. “So I’m trying to position myself so it doesn’t hurt so bad.”

I was laughing because, deep down, I wanted to be joking. After all, we’d been joking all along about being lost at sea and how we should write good-bye messages and launch them overboard in empty bottles. And we joked because we were utterly convinced we would come out of this perfectly okay.

But things were starting to feel less like we might laugh about this later, and more like I might end up using my sea survival training, which I was sincerely hoping I would never need to use.

“Tasha, we are not going to capsize,” Nick said, laughing. “This is not the Atlantic. Stop talking like that.”

“Hey, I’m not being pessimistic. I just want to be prepared!”

By the time we did, in fact, capsize, I had already been preparing for that possibility for 6 long hours.

But the stuff that makes me wish I’d forced myself to keep an hourly account in the logbook is the stuff that happened between 3:45 am and 8:45 am on October 1st. And revisiting those hours in my mind, I think this is how that logbook might have read:

4:30 am – WORSE THAN VERY BAD –> NOT SURE HOW IT CAN GET WORSE BUT, HEY, WE’RE ALIVE. Skipper on deck, pumping water out of starboard food locker. Is that why we’re sitting perpendicular to sea anchor? Skipper removed EPIRB, told me to keep it in cabin, but NOT to activate it yet. His words: “We’re not there yet.” There is a gash on his head.

5:30 am – No word from support boat Sottlo since their message 10 hours ago saying they were 12 nm away. Said they would be within VHF range by dawn. Still no response to VHF distress. No boats on AIS. Low batteries. Shut down instruments and comms to conserve battery – turning on every 30 min. to check for boats. Nothing out there.

6:30 am – WHERE IS SOTTLO? WHY ARE THEY NOT ANSWERING VHF OR SATPHONE? Turning on VHF every 30 min to send out May Day. Concerned email from Ryan on Cheeky Monkey asking what we plan to do – forecast says 40 knot winds at 9 am. Previous forecasts said 25 knot winds and we got 50-60 knots. If forecast says 40 knots, that could mean anything. If Sottlo don’t get here by dawn, WE ARE SCREWED.

7:00 am – Capsized again. No contact with crew in bow cabin to know if they are okay. At least no one on deck this time. Hit SOS on Iridium SatPhone. Tried calling SOS contact but operator couldn’t hear us. Tried calling Tom and Ryan, but they couldn’t hear us. Tried calling Sottlo, but no answer. Sent three text messages via Iridium to Tom on Cheeky Monkey saying (1) just capsized (2) very scared (3) please advise. Iridium battery died – won’t recharge. Second boat battery dying.

7:30 am – SatPhone dead. Received VHF call from ship Boche Mumbai – HALLELUJAH! They say ETA is one hour, but we think it’s a cargo ship. WTF will we do when they get here? Their words: “We are coming to you. We don’t know what to do when we get there, but we’re coming.” BUT, HEY, SOMEBODY KNOWS WE’RE HERE!

8:30 am – WE’RE NOT GOING TO DIE! THERE’S A HELICOPTER OUTSIDE! SWEET JESUS! My mouth tastes like a cat shat in it, it’s been so long since I’ve had a drink of water, but WHO CARES? SOON WE WILL DRINK ALL THE WATER!

When Rob, our skipper, knocks on the hatch and tells me and Claire to come up on deck, that there’s a rescue helicopter outside, I am flooded with waves of joy that the hell of the last 30 hours is over. But I’m also disappointed that we have to abandon a dream we held on to even through the worst moments of the last few days.

Rob instructs us to leave all our belongings behind, but I quickly rummage through the cabin to grab my iPhone and my GoPro. And as I am searching our upturned cabin, I find the EPIRB Rob handed me several hours ago. And as I hand it to Rob, I see the lights are flashing.

“You set off the EPIRB?” Rob asks.

“No,” I say, confused. “It must have gone off accidentally. Maybe when we capsized?”

Rob shrugs and says, “That must be why the helicopter is here. Well, we would have set it off about now anyway. It’s just sped up the inevitable.”

As I climb out on deck, being careful to stay low as Nick and Aggie crawl out from the bow cabin, I see sentiments of relief and disappointment mixed together on both their faces as they stare up at the massive white and red angel in the sky, the Salvamento Maritimo chopper.

Nick shoots me a grimaced look of guilt and says, “This ain’t gonna be cheap.”

I nod my head. “But what choice do we have?”

We’re both gripping the lifelines tightly as the boat swings back and forth, the bow jerking sideways from the sea anchor line, a phenomenon we can’t figure out.

As I’m buckled into a harness and winched up into the helicopter, our little boat grows smaller below my feet and, suddenly, I can see why the last 30 hours has been so treacherous. Our boat and its sea anchor line is clearly and inexplicably sitting in an L-shape on the surface of the water.

tasha hacker mediterranean rescue turf to surfThis photo isn’t great quality, but you get the idea. CRAZY.

With the winds whipping up another frenzied storm that continued to build for the next 24 hours after we got off that boat, the reality of our situation was this: if we didn’t get rescued at 8:30 am on October 1st, we would have been trapped in those cabins on a faulty sea anchor for 72 hours minimum before someone, anyone, could get to us.

Our support boat, Sottlo, was unable to reach us because they themselves were desperately running from the storm and the cargo ship Boche Mumbai, or any other cargo ship, would have struggled to transfer us safely on board. Yes, we could have waited out that storm on board SS2. But we would have been even more dehydrated, battered and, possibly, worse if we stayed, if we didn’t set off our SOS, DSC and the EPIRB.

At the least severe, we would have been in no physical condition to row after 72 hours of repeatedly capsizing in those building seas.

Salvamento Maritimo’s rescue of SS2 saved the crew from suffering further trauma, injury and dehydration. The idea that this rescue was deemed “not necessary” because of a lack of a medical emergency is inconceivable. We were all in grave danger.

shoreseeker challenge crew ss2 helicopter rescue mediterraneanThe grateful crew of SS2 in Mahon Airport, Menorca. (Aggie, Nick, Tasha, Rob, Claire)

Don’t get me wrong: €32,641.50 is a lot of money.

But we were not in a position to turn down a rescue at any price, and Salvamento Maritimo and its employed rescuers did their job expertly and extracted five battered and terrified crew to safety (not to mention the crew of two other sailboats that same day), so they certainly deserve to be paid for the job they were called to do.

If we were a rogue rowing crew of five who decided on our own to take on this challenge without support and without insurance, there is no doubt in my mind that we should be responsible for paying the €32,641.50 out of our own pockets. Because there’s no doubt in my mind that the safety of five people is worth that price.

But to have purchased insurance that covers this kind of emergency scenario only to find later that coverage has been denied because it wasn’t enough of an emergency is more than disconcerting. It undermines my confidence in insurance coverage of any kind. What is the point of paying into a system that will look for a loop-hole in which they can deny your claim? You might as well just save up €32,641.50 over many years of sailing and rowing for that one time you may or may not find yourself in need of emergency or rescue services.

Or, as some people seem to think, there shouldn’t be people out there on the water in boats of any kind, and if they find themselves in an emergency situation, it’s their own damned fault – they should just deal with it on their own and/or die.

When a few vitriolic comments (among the many positive comments) came in on our YouTube Channel “Chase the Story”, where I posted this video about the race called The one where I get rescued by helicopter trying to row across the Mediterranean, I was reminded of the public hatred that was directed at s/v Rebel Heart nearly two years ago, when they found themselves in an impossible situation and required a rescue on the Pacific Ocean, where they watched as their boat and only home was deliberately sunk.

I was struck at that time by the hatred that spewed from a portion of the self-righteous, non-sailing public who stated that this family, which included two little girls, should die because of their stupidity and irresponsibility as parents. They spat at this family online, demanding that they pay back the American tax-payers for their rescue and for using the resources of a public Coast Guard service.

I found the skewed logic of the hateful public fascinating. Because, as we all know, the chances of dying in a car accident are much greater than any chance of dying in a boat or at sea. Yet we don’t attack parents for daring to take their kids out in a car, putting their families’ lives at risk while driving down roads crowded with unpredictable vehicles at speeds ten times faster than any sailboat goes.

And when a car ends up in a ditch in a snowstorm, and a driver has to call roadside services to pull them out, we don’t see the media pages filled with vitriol over those “irresponsible people” putting the lives of roadside service employees at risk because they decided to go driving in the snow. And we don’t read comments from the public about how these people should die for being so stupid and relying on their car instead of walking safely on their own two feet like other, more responsible citizens would do.

Yet those are like a few of the comments we got on our YouTube Channel. Even one which accused me of using the rescue services of Salvamento Maritimo like AAA. (For you non-Americans out there, AAA is a road-side service in the United States for which car-driving members pay an annual fee to insure they can receive help if they ever need any kind of roadside assistance.)

Specifically, one commenter wrote, “I don’t know what the point of these type of escapades are, but they sure do end up costing the taxpayers a lot of money in jet flybys and Coast Guard rescues. All for a pointless leisure activity.”

And the response by another commenter read, “Piss poor planning and then depending on the rescue services like the triple A.”

But I’m not here to entertain short-sighted comparisons of my so-called abuse of maritime rescue resources in Spain to my privileged use of AAA in the United States.

All I know is the five crew of SS2 needed assistance on October 1st, 2015. That is a fact. And we are grateful for the resources of Salvamento Maritimo for being able to provide that assistance, even with a hefty price tag of €32,641.50.

As for the flippant comments about lack of preparation, the race organizers of the Shoreseeker Challenge equipped our boats with every piece of emergency and safety equipment available on the market today to make sure that we had all the resources we needed to remain safe in the event of any worst-case scenario.

Like any emergency and safety equipment on board your boat, you always hope that you’ve spent the money in vain — that you will never have to use your life jacket, your personal AIS, the DSC on your VHF, the SOS on your SatPhone, your EPIRB or your life raft. But responsible and well-prepared boaters have some or all of these items on board and they have thought through the scenarios that might require their use.

It was the same on our little rowboat. It’s just that, unfortunately, we were forced to run through the chain of emergency equipment and use every safety item we had on board. Every item except for our life raft (thank goodness).

I am incredibly grateful for every single piece of equipment we used, which was thoughtfully provided by the Shoreseeker Challenge. Because it meant we were able to get ourselves to safety before any grave injury happened. We, the crew of SS2, were living our worst case scenario and that is a mental exercise I don’t often get to run through, even while living and cruising on a boat full-time.

But we did it and we survived, unharmed.

It is a fact of life that sometimes things go wrong, even when you’ve planned and prepared for everything to go right. And when that happens, you need to pull out all the emergency stops. That’s what the safety equipment and rescue resources are there for.

I don’t regret taking advantage of all the resources we had at our disposal when things went terribly and unexpectedly wrong on the Mediterranean.

The only thing I regret is that I didn’t write everything down in the logbook as it was happening. Because now, more than ever, I can see why that silly little logbook is so important: it’s a window into a moment that you can never truly revisit unless you’ve written it all down.

Shoreseeker Challenge crew of Cheeky MonkeyRyan and all the rowing crew that were transferred safely to Bosa, Sardinia on board Cheeky Monkey.

post-line-divide

An update from me, Tasha, the nutcase who writes on this blog…occasionally

Hey everyone!

I have an exciting announcement! This week I will be starting a regular newsletter of informal updates about what I’m up to, where I am in the world (even my mother can’t keep track of me, so that really is insider info), and anything exciting I might be busting to tell you about on a regular basis.

I want this newsletter to be something very different from my blog, which is my space to tell stories about my adventures sailing around the world. I see this newsletter as more of a direct letter to you, my readers and friends, telling you briefly and informally about the stuff that’s going on in the background. You know, any mad challenges I’ve taken on but haven’t told my readers (or mother) about yet, musings on plans we’re mulling over, pictures of my cats in costumes or anything, really, so long as I’m excited to share it with you.

So if that sounds like something you’re on board with, subscribe to my newsletter by clicking below:

Click HERE to subscribe to Turf to Surf email updates 🙂

I promise not to disappoint. Well, unless you’re not a fan of cats in funny costumes. Then I might totally disappoint you. But, hell, you never know until you try, right?

And if you haven’t subscribed to our brand-spanking-new YouTube Channel, Chase the Story, for regular updates on videos made on board s/v Cheeky Monkey, then you’ve got some extra clicking to do — right here, at this link below:

Chase the Story: click HERE to subscribe!

Thanks, everyone, for all your support. You’ll be hearing from me soon!*

Love,

Tasha

*That is, if you subscribe to my newsletter. If not, who knows when you’ll hear from me next because, lord knows, I’m behind on my blog updates. But I swear I have a good reason for it (you’ll just have to subscribe to the newsletter to find out why). See what I did there?

The Shoreseeker Challenge: Rowing Across the Mediterranean

the shoreseeker challenge barcelona sardinia mediterranean

The first time our rowboat capsizes, I am completely unprepared for such a violent experience.

Though, it’s true, I imagined this moment many times in flutters of pre-race panics, I also convinced myself that my fears were irrational, that the images in my head of being trapped underwater, held down by the weight of a rolled-over boat, were exaggerations; byproducts of my anxiety about the latest adventure I’d signed up for: to row 300 miles across the Mediterranean Sea.

The Shoreseeker Challenge is an inaugural race – the first of its kind — from Barcelona, Spain to Bosa, Sardinia, and the challenge I’ve accepted is to get from one side to the other with the sheer strength and determination of myself and four other rowers — three women and two men — racing three other boats to become the first rowboat to ever cross the Mediterranean unassisted.

The wave that rolls us upside down hits like a clap of thunder on the port side of the boat and before I can get my hands up to my face, my forehead smashes against the VHF radio unit, cracking open a reservoir of cold panic that dumps a stream of dark thoughts from my brain before my mouth has a chance to react.

My teammate Claire and I are coiled in a tangled, defensive ball as we smash into each other and slam into every wall of our rowboat cabin in breathless silence, my mind spinning like a cog trying desperately to dig its broken teeth into some shred of what’s happening. As I land on top of Claire, who is jammed against the ceiling, it starts to sink in that we are upside down. And the spinning reel of my mind rests on one thought. “Fuck. This is happening.”

Then, with a shuddering exhale, I think, “But we’re okay. We’re alive.”

As the boat rights itself, throwing me and Claire across the cabin before jerking us back into our starting position, I grab the left side of my head, the spot that’s now searing with pain. I pull my hand away to see if there’s blood, and there’s none. I look to Claire to see if she’s hurt. She is covered in the soggy, strewn contents of the cabin, and she looks scared, but unharmed.

My mind continues to spin. “If that was my worst nightmare, then what is the next worst thing that can happen?”

We’ve been watching the waves and the wind build for 24 hours since we put out our sea anchor, but we felt confident the storm would eventually pass. From the moment our parachute anchor was set, biting into the waves to keep our bow pointed into them, we were slammed with torrential rain, thunder, lightning and frightening winds which spiraled up to speeds of 50-60 mph. But, through it all, we believed our boat was secure, that our anchor would keep us safe.

Now, my mind is stretching beyond the capsize, wondering how the events of the next 24 hours will play out.

*********************

tom salt mike burton talisker whisky challengeMike Burton & Tom Salt, winners of the 2014 Talisker Whisky Challenge

When I first got in touch with Tom Salt, the co-founder and inspiring force behind Locura Adventures, I knew nothing about the plans he’d cooked up to launch the Shoreseeker Challenge in the Mediterranean in September 2015. I’d merely called him to talk about his experience winning the 2014 Talisker Whiskey Challenge, the 3,000-mile rowing race across the Atlantic, which he won with a former Clipper Race teammate, Mike Burton, in a two-man rowboat, beating their nearest competitor to the Caribbean by nearly a week.

And the reason I called Tom for a chat was because the Atlantic row was something I was considering doing myself.

At the time, I was in the UK taking part in a much tamer challenge to row 50 miles around the Isle of Wight with a team of 8 women, most of whom I knew through my participation in the 2013-14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. And since Tom also did the Clipper Race, we share some common friends and, as it turns out, a common love for seeking endurance challenges that test the human spirit.

About a month after that phone call, Tom sent me an email saying he had co-founded an adventure company and was in the process of building four ocean-going rowboats for the purpose of launching an inaugural race across the Mediterranean, and he needed willing participants.

I thought about it for a few seconds before shooting back my reply: “I’m in.”

If crossing the Atlantic was the ultra-marathon of rowing races, then rowing across the Mediterranean was a mere 10k uphill run, in my mind. It requires a certain level of fitness, but not the kind of training that could take over your entire life.

And as far as risk was concerned, it wasn’t the kind of adventure that was likely to end in a helicopter rescue. Or so I thought.

*********************

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5808.Nick, looking out at Aggie, sitting on deck for anchor watch.

“Holy shit, Aggie!” I scream, as Claire and I scramble to right ourselves and get our bearings. I’m reaching for the hatch when there’s a deafening crack as another wave smashes over the port side.

I quickly wipe away the condensation on the hatch with the back of my hand and press my face against the glass to see if I can spot Aggie outside in the pitch black of night.

I can see a body folded in half over the starboard lifeline and I’m wondering how many surfaces Aggie might have hit on her way around, how long she had to hold her breath underwater or if she’d broken any bones.

Just a few hours earlier, as lightning streaked the sky, I wondered as I sat on deck whether rotating crew outside for anchor watch was like playing Russian Roulette. And now it seems Aggie was the one to get the unlucky bullet.

I want to open the hatch and talk to Aggie, but I realize if a wave rolls us while the hatch is open, the boat will most definitely sink.

As I squint in the dark, I see Aggie move and climb onto deck from her folded position over the lifeline. But instead of heading towards the bow hatch, I see Aggie is now crawling on all fours towards the center of the boat.

“Is she coming this way?” I say to Claire.

I watch and anticipate Aggie’s arrival to the stern hatch, but she suddenly stops mid-deck and starts pushing the strewn oars to the side of the boat and placing the rowing seats back in their tracks.

“What is she doing?!” I shout.

“She looks like she’s…tidying up?” says Claire. “Maybe she’s in shock?”

My brain is exploding with terror, realizing we might roll again with Aggie hanging out mid-deck, doing the housekeeping. So I grab hold of the hatch and throw it open.

“Aggie, get inside the fucking cabin! NOW!” I scream. She looks up at me, startled, and mumbles something into the rain as I pull the hatch closed again. To my relief, she crawls back towards the bow cabin and, when the hatch opens, she is swallowed up and away from the angry sea.

*********************

ss2 shoreseeker challenge pizzaThe team of SS2 ate their body weight in pizza in the days before the race.

The night before the start of the Shoreseeker Challenge in Barcelona, I can barely sleep. My mind is racing back and forth between a catalog of items I’ve probably forgotten to pack and all the ways I could possibly get injured on this 300-mile row. If anyone is going to have a medical emergency in the middle of the sea, it’s going to be me, I think.

Ryan has seen me in a pre-race frenzy enough times now to know there isn’t much he can do to calm me down; this is just something I go through before any big challenge.

He calmly assures me, “It’s going to be okay. I’ll be out there and I’ll be sending you weather forecasts so you know what to expect.”

And though it doesn’t quell my usual pre-race jitters, it does comfort me to know he will be physically out there on the water, following my boat across the Mediterranean on our catamaran, Cheeky Monkey.

This was never the original plan, but like all our craziest ideas, the plan for Cheeky Monkey to volunteer at the last minute as the Shoreseeker Challenge’s second support boat was formed on a night out in Barcelona over several pints of beer and a few shots of tequila. I wasn’t there for the drunken conversation between Ryan, Tom Salt and his crew, but before I could tell Ryan I was fading and it was time to go home, the guys proudly announced, “Cheeky Monkey is sailing to Sardinia! Woo hoo!”

Most people wouldn’t bank on plans made over shots of tequila. But I know Ryan well enough to know he’s probably already assigned jobs to Tom’s crew and, by morning, the guys will be hungover, but they’ll be in full swing, prepping Cheeky Monkey for a last-minute Mediterranean crossing.

And this was a welcome reassurance because it meant, (1) I no longer had to book a hotel in Sardinia (something I’d forgotten to do in my pre-race frenzy), and (2) there would be one more boat on the water looking out for us in case things went wrong.

But what could possibly go wrong?

*********************

The morning of the race start, I am due to be at my boat at 8 am sharp, but I’m running ten minutes late, as usual.

I am an emotional wreck as I make my way through the marina, but I also know the sooner I start rowing, the sooner I can put all my nervous energy into pulling on the oars.

By the time I arrive, the rowboat dock in OneOcean Port Vell is buzzing with fifteen rowers rushing around, stowing away the last of their 200 liters of water and dehydrated food packets. Our skipper, Rob, is in the stern cabin of SS2, plotting our course to Sardinia and making sure the autopilot is working.

Claire, Nick, Aggie and I, the crew of SS2, are pacing up and down the docks nervously, sizing up our competition and waiting for our final race briefing. Though we seem to be one of the more organized boats on the dock, I can’t help but wonder if my team is at a disadvantage when it comes to size and brawn. After all, we are the only mixed-gender crew in the race and the women on board, including myself, look small and slight next to the men.

The only other five-man rowboat, SS1, is full of hardy-looking endurance athletes who have talked openly about their rock-climbing, marathon and Ironman experiences, and though there is very little boating experience amongst them, they seem like the type who can muscle their way through any challenge.

The other two boats in the race are three-man rowboats, one of which only has two rowers, which sounds like a severe disadvantage until I learn that the two guys, Nick and Ed, competed against Tom Salt in the Talisker Whisky Challenge across the Atlantic. Their Atlantic crossing was derailed 10 days in when they pitch-poled, surfing down a mammoth wave, and they had to be rescued by an oil tanker. But I figure these two guys have a leg up on the rest of us since they’re the only rowers in this race who actually know what this experience is going to be like.

The last three-man rowboat has three muscly endurance athletes on board and they are dressed neck-to-ankle in Lycra, which tells me they are possibly taking this challenge more seriously than my team is, if you go by appearances. Nick and I are sporting matching $5 golf visors we bought yesterday in a Decathlon sports shop and Aggie is sporting a floppy, brown sun hat, like the kind you’d wear gardening.

But I should know better than to think appearances mean anything when it comes to uncharted endurance tests of this kind. What the mind is capable of pushing the body through is not something that can be judged by a person’s clothing or physique.

When the gun fires at the start line, SS1, the five-man boat I am convinced are our toughest competition, struggle so badly to steer their boat in a straight line that they nearly run into us. We are able to pull away from them at the last minute and avoid a collision, but shortly after, we watch in confusion as SS1 veers off in the opposite direction, rowing back towards the start line they just crossed.

Our next competitor, the brawny boat of Spandex-clad endurance athletes, stays up alongside us for the first ten miles, pushing us to maintain a mean pace of 4.5 knots in smooth seas. We are working hard to keep our lead, fully aware that this is a marathon and not a sprint, but we are anxious to get moving, so it doesn’t feel foolish to set a tough pace from the beginning.

The seas are calm and the sun is beating down on our necks as we slowly pull away from Barcelona. And it occurs to me that I’ve never done a landfall in anything smaller than a sea-worthy sailboat; I have no idea what it is like to be in a tiny rowboat and not see land for six days.

As I start to row, I feel a calm start to wash over me. I’m glad to put my body to work and give my mind a rest after three days of carb-loading (i.e. stuffing my face with pizza) and incessant worrying. With nothing else to look at but the horizon, I glance over at the three-man boat keeping pace with us to see which one of us is gaining.

And as I watch the guys pulling their oars in sync alongside us, a dark gray fin pops up in the narrow gulf of water between the two boats.

“Dolphins!” I scream. I want to wave at the guys on the other boat to tell them to look, but I can’t take my hands off the oars without falling out of sync. So, instead, I just watch the dolphins swim alongside us, cutting through the smooth, glittery surface of the sea, and smile.

Already this is shaping up to be an adventure like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

*********************

DCIM100GOPROG0015243.

Twenty-four hours into the race, we have covered seventy miles and we are so far ahead that we’ve lost all the other rowboats on AIS. We have no idea what their positions are, but we keep rowing hard while the seas are relatively flat to make sure no one catches up. We can see from the weather forecast that the winds are going to kick up 15-20 knots on the nose, so within a few hours, rowing will get considerably tougher.

Our team policy is to put out the sea anchor only if we can’t maintain at least 1.0 knot of speed. So when the seas are calm and the rowing is easy, we pull hard on the oars to gain distance. When the seas are rough and choppy, we pull hard on the oars to keep from having to put out our sea anchor. It quickly becomes clear that there is no rest for the weary when the only way to move the boat is to row.

As the sun drops lower in the sky on the second day, the winds increase and the waves become harder to penetrate. But with three rowers on, we’re maintaining at least 2.5 knots, so we stick to the mantra of “Slow and steady wins the race.”

It’s not until the end of the day, when a VHF radio call comes through telling us that all the other boats have dropped out of the race and are now being towed either by Sottlo, the 41-foot Beneteau support boat, or Cheeky Monkey, that we start to analyze the conditions we’re rowing in.

It is hard work to keep moving and stay in sync when short, choppy waves are knocking us in the side. But giving up is simply not an option. We came here to row across the Mediterranean and unless our rudder falls off or the boat starts sinking, there is no reason to stop trying. So we digest the news that we are the only boat left in the race, and we keep pulling on the oars, rotating two hours on the rowing seat and two hours down below sleeping.

By the end of each two-hour rowing shift, my shoulders are on fire and I’m glistening with sweat. But I get through it by mentally breaking my watch up into sections.

The first ten minutes are the warm-up. My sore hands, back and shoulders are like rusty machine parts in need of lubrication. I get my body moving as quickly as possible to shake off the cobwebs and work out the kinks in my muscles. After ten minutes of rowing in time to the beat of Rihanna and Taylor Swift, the soreness in my hands starts to fade and my knees stop creaking like rusted hinges.

Thirty minutes into the row, I put my oars down to drink some water and spoon a few bites of rehydrated chili con carne or chicken tikka masala into my mouth. The taste of the food doesn’t matter as much as the fuel it provides to my tired muscles. I stick to the rule of eating little and often to keep my energy up without making myself sick on the dense, spicy high-calorie sludge I’m spooning into my guts.

The paramount rule the team abides by is to always keep the boat moving. This applies to bathroom breaks, watch change-overs, repairs, eating, drinking, bandaging up blisters and applying sunscreen. There is at least one person rowing at all times.

An hour into the watch, I start to feel the strain on my shoulders and back, so I shift my butt on the rowing seat and consciously arch my back to move the pressure down from my upper back to my lower back. I become more conscious about pushing off with my legs and keeping my arms straight to lessen the strain on my upper body. With just an hour left to go, I glance at my watch every five minutes, counting down the minutes until I can lay my head down, fall asleep and recover for another two hours.

The last half hour of my watch, I pick up the pace and start pulling harder since I only have a short time left to make a difference. If I’m rowing with Nick or Aggie, I can count on them to belt out Taylor Swift with me at the top of their lungs, which entertains and distracts me from the soreness in my shoulders as we start to pick up the pace.

The last ten minutes is when I pull on the oars with everything I have. My shoulders are full of pins and needles and my hamstrings feel like rubber bands stretched to the point of snapping, but I have two whole hours ahead to recover from the work I put in. The harder we work now, the faster we go, and the better I will sleep on the hot, sticky mattress that’s festering inside our steamy, airless cabin.

Morale on the boat is high because the pressure to win has been relieved: all we need to do now is simply make it to Sardinia and we win.

How hard can that be?

When the waves start hitting us in the side, we dig deeper and adjust our rowing technique to drive one oar in first, then the other. We pull the oars in short, sharp strokes to keep the boat moving at a steady pace.

This routine continues for 150 miles and five days, as the wind continues to hit us on the nose. But every day, we grow stronger and more capable, and every day we laugh, sing, complain and share stories to get each other through the long minutes of our endless two-hour watches.

We are like human pistons in a well-oiled engine. Each of us is learning what it is like to treat our bodies like a machine with one purpose: to row.

In my real life, I never have the luxury of focusing on just one job. My life consists of a million distractions from the many important jobs I’m always trying to complete. There’s emails to answer, bills to pay, social media to update, news to read, calls to answer and people to check up on; and all of this and more persists and vies for my attention while I try to focus on the actual work I have to do.

Here, on the rowboat, I have just one job, and everything I do applies to that job. If I go to the bathroom and my piss is orange, I need to drink more water. If I’m sluggish on the oars, I need to consume more food, more sugar. If I don’t sleep in my two hours off, my body hurts when I row. If I sleep a full hour and a half, I can row hard for another two hours. My body is a sensitive gauge of everything that is going right or wrong with my performance on the oars.

On our second night at sea, I am staring up at the night sky, wondering why it’s suddenly gone dark as I come up on deck. A shadow creeps slowly over the moon until it goes completely black, leaving a perfect circle of light burned into the black night.

All five crew are on deck for watch changeover, which takes longer than usual because we are all gazing up at the sky with our mouths open. It takes a few minutes to register, but before long we realize we are getting a breath-taking view of a lunar eclipse over the Mediterranean Sea.

As the on-watch crew gingerly stand up from their rowing seats, I can see they are exhausted and dripping with sweat. They look as if they couldn’t do another five minutes on the oars and yet there is a blanket of contentment draped over the entire team.

I am massaging the stinging blisters on the palms of my hands, anticipating the pain of the next two hours on the oars. And yet it occurs to me that there is no other place in the world I’d rather be in this very moment.

ss2 shoreseeker challenge mediterraneanSottlo checking up on us, towing a rowboat behind it.

*********************

Once Claire and I recover from our tumble inside the boat, we wedge our bodies as far down as possible into the shallow space that runs under the rowing deck, as it’s the narrowest space on the boat, whereas the rest of the cabin is a wide open cavern of danger just waiting for us to fly across it when it rolls over.
I keep staring at my watch because the last message I received from Sottlo, our support boat, said they would reach us by dawn. The sky is still dark, but if I remember correctly, the sun comes up around 7:30. It’s now 5:30.

When our boat got turned upside down, I was in the middle of writing an email to Ryan on my Iridium Mail & Web app, saying I was a little scared but we were looking forward to the storm passing so we could start rowing again. But that email never got sent because I, along with my phone, went flying through the air.

And now my hands are too cold and wet to work my iPhone. I try wiping my hands on my sports bra inside my shirt, as it’s the only thing in the cabin that’s remotely dry, but my fingers are like sponges, retaining water and interfering with my touch screen.

“Shit! We need to get in touch with Tom,” I say to Claire.

I desperately click on my Iridium Go! app to make a call, but the call fails. I can hear Tom but Tom can’t hear me. My only hope to communicate is to send a text message, but I have to pound my fingers on the screen ten times just to get the app to open.

“Should we hit the SOS on the Iridium?” Claire asks, holding up our skipper’s phone, which shows the battery is down to 20%.

I glance at the boat battery levels. One battery is down to 7 volts, and the other is at 11.86 volts, which means we have nothing to spare to charge the phones or the Iridium. We haven’t had any sun to power our batteries in over 24 hours and I don’t know how much longer they will hold out, or how much charge the Iridium battery has left. I nod to Claire to hit the SOS on her Iridium app and I open up the app on my dying phone, trying as fast as I can to send a text before all our batteries die.

“My hands are too wet!” I say, tapping furiously on my iPhone.

I keep wiping my hands inside my shirt and tapping one letter at a time, then wiping my hands again. It takes me over a minute just to type two words and hit send. I’m worried if I try to type a long message before hitting send and the Iridium dies, then we’re screwed. At least if I get a short message to Tom one at a time before the Iridium dies, then he’ll at least have part of the story of what’s happening to us.

The 3 messages I send are:

“Just capsized.”
“Very scared.”
“Please advise.”

As soon as the third message is sent, the battery dies on the Iridium and the device goes black.

“At least they know,” I say to Claire. “All we can do now is wait.”

Claire and I huddle together, bracing ourselves for the next wave and trying to protect our heads from the sharp corners inside the cabin. I am terrified that the worst is yet to come, but instead I tell Claire, “The first thing they teach you in sea survival is to stay with the boat. As long as we are on this boat, inside the cabin, we will be okay.”

I’m telling myself this as much as I’m trying to reassure Claire.

“Tell me how you met Tim,” I say to Claire in an effort to distract our worried minds by focusing on happier things than our current situation. Talking helped us pass the time when we were rowing. And now, more than ever, we need time to pass quickly so the sun will come up and we can formulate a plan in the light of day.

But as Claire is telling me the story of how she met her husband at university, my mind is running through a dozen scenarios of what could happen next.

What if Sottlo can’t get to us? What if something’s happened to them? And even if they do get here, what can they do? What if we start taking on water? When do we set off the EPIRB? Why is no one responding on the VHF? Did I break the radio when I hit it with my head? Who else can help us out here? A cargo ship? How would we even get onto a cargo ship?

I am acutely aware of the sound a wave makes when it has the power to knock us over. It starts with a low rumble from a distance and then hits with a sudden and loud explosion above our heads on the port side, lifting the boat in a way that causes me to throw my arms around Claire, half trying to protect her and half as an instinct to grab on to something before we go flying.

The inside of my mouth is covered with a thick, sticky film. I need water, but I’m unwilling to risk going out on deck to get water from the lockers, so all I can do is build up saliva in my mouth and swallow it to keep from feeling thirsty.

As the wave action slows down momentarily, rocking our hot airless cabin back and forth like a cradle, Claire and I are lulled to sleep in our huddled positions on the floor.
I don’t know how long we’ve been asleep for when suddenly I’m jolted awake by a wave smashing into us, throwing me into Claire.

“I was having a horrible dream,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “But then I woke up and I remembered where I was – on this fucking boat!” I start laughing and, soon, Claire is laughing, too, until we’re both wiping tears of hysteria from our eyes.

It seems ridiculous that we can laugh about anything at a time like this, but there is something funny about waking up from a nightmare and realizing that what you’re living is worse than anything that’s trying to kill you in your dreams. This nightmare is real and there is no way to wake up from it.

The next wave that smashes into us, hits with a force that we know is going to roll us. We’ve been huddled up in preparation for it, so we wrap our arms instinctively around our heads as we tumble like two rag dolls being thrown around inside a tumble drier.

It is 6:45 am and the sun is just starting to come up. My entire body is trembling as I fumble with the Iridium, swearing at it for going dead. Claire turns on the chart plotter to see if any boats have turned up on AIS, but when nothing appears, she turns off the instruments to conserve our batteries.

“Sottlo, Sottlo, Sottlo. This is SS2. We just capsized. Do you read me?”

No reply.

I stare at the VHF, willing it to make a sound. After ten minutes of silence, I turn off the chart plotter and the radio.

And, for the first time since we started rowing, I start to cry.

*********************

There is a rumbling sound above our heads, like that of an engine, which sends me and Claire into a frenzy of confused chatter.

“What is that noise? A ship?”

Claire opens up the hatch to get a closer look just as our skipper, Rob, emerges from the bow cabin and starts waving his hands frantically at the sky.

“Holy shit!” I scream. “A helicopter?!”

In all my calculations of what we might have to do next to get ourselves out of this predicament, I never factored in the possibility of a helicopter. And now my mind is racing through the chain of possible reactions that were set off by our VHF distress, the SOS on the Iridium and the text messages I sent to Tom.

Rob makes his way over to the stern cabin and says to us, calmly, “There’s a rescue helicopter here. Leave everything behind but bring your life jacket. I have your passports in the ditch bag.”

Claire and I climb onto deck and sit down next to Rob, Nick and Aggie, mesmerized by the giant white and red chopper hovering over us. This is the first time all five of us have been together for what feels like days and I’m almost giddy with joy that the torture we’ve endured for the last thirty hours is about to end.

I can see Rob’s head is bleeding from a cut on his forehead, but Nick and Aggie look physically unharmed, though their expressions reveal mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. We held on to the hope for so long that we could start rowing again. And this helicopter hovering overhead marks the definitive end of what we have worked so hard for over the last 5-6 days. This helicopter means we failed.

But we are also smiling and squeezing each others’ hands reassuringly because, though we failed in our rowing mission, this helicopter also means the end of our fears that something worse could happen.

*********************

DCIM100GOPROGOPR5826.Me and my teammate Nick, posing in front of our rescue helicopter.

When our helicopter touches down in Menorca, I give our rescuer, a jovial Spanish guy named Hugo, a big hug and thank him for his bravery. He asks all of us to smile for a photo and then takes out his iPhone so we can connect on Facebook and tag each other in our rescue selfies.

“Just don’t tag me until I get a chance to call my mom, okay?” I say to Hugo. “I’d hate for her to find out about this on Facebook.”

Now that I am safe with my feet on solid ground, the feeling of disappointment that the race didn’t go differently is overwhelming.

“Do you think we could have continued if we didn’t get rescued?” I say to Rob.

He shakes his head with a look of someone who is disappointed, but has accepted reality. “We were in bad shape,” says Rob. “And it was only going to get worse. There was another big storm on its way when we got pulled out of there.”

I nod my head, trying to picture what it would be like if we were still on that boat as another storm rolled over us; if we ended up having to wait another 24-48 hours in those conditions. Could we really have rowed after that?

Now that I’m dry and warm I feel like we could have done anything. I forget how scared I felt; it seems like a distant memory now, that feeling of fear that bit at my insides and made me regret that I ever stepped onto my boat in the first place. How could I so quickly forget the terror of being upside down in the middle of the sea, 150 miles from land?

As I stand in line at the Ryan Air counter at the airport, trying to book a flight back to Sardinia to meet Ryan and Cheeky Monkey, I connect to WiFi and watch as my phone lights up with one incoming message after another.

There are hundreds of emails and at least 10 Facebook messages to respond to, but one text in particular catches my eye.

It is a vague message fishing for information about my experience on the race from Barcelona to Sardinia; the message asks how I’m feeling about the whole experience. I snort involuntarily and shake my head as I read over the rest of the message.

“You’re never going to believe this,” I say to the guys on my team. “Someone’s just asked if I want to join their boat for the second race from Sardinia to Barcelona.”

“What, this race? The one we just got off?” Aggie says, laughing. “That’s crazy!”

There must have been a mischievous twinkle in my eye as I shook my head, reading over the message again, because Rob says, “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?”

I’m shaking my head as if to convince myself that I’d never consider getting on another rowboat in the Mediterranean. But even as I’m shaking my head, a knowing smile spreads across my face. Because standing here, safe and secure on dry land, I remember only the adventure that was. I am reliving the experience of rowing under the stars and believing my team would become the first to row across the Mediterranean. I remember the feeling of pushing the boundaries of what I ever thought I was capable of.

It is the adventure I am revisiting, as I stand barefoot in the airport, reeking of body od0r, with torn-up hands, wearing a Salvamento Maritimo rescue T-shirt.

But it is the failure that leaves me wanting more.

And all I can say to Rob is, “Well, I still haven’t done it, have I?”

Shoreseeker 2We made the news in Spain. The day we got rescued, 2 sailboats were also evacuated and abandoned on the Mediterranean. Menorca saw record wind speeds of 75 mph.

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Shoreseeker Challege, Race 2

Probably still high on adrenaline, Tasha did, in fact, respond to that message she received in the airport and went to Sardinia to join the second Shoreseeker Challenge out of Bosa, again with Ryan and Cheeky Monkey following as race support.

Again, the Mediterranean got hit with a storm and, again, Tasha’s boat, SS2, waited out the storm on sea anchor for over 24 hours while Tasha seriously reconsidered her poor life choices.

Because of the pending weather for Race 2 on the Mediterranean, the race was shortened by 100 miles and re-routed to finish in Menorca instead of Barcelona. And because of a great deal of bad luck involving one lost rowboat and a series of unrelated medical injuries the morning of the race start, only two rowboats carrying five rowers each were able to start the race out of Sardinia.

Tasha’s team on Race 2 decided to abandon the race halfway through, after spending 24 hours on sea anchor, despite pleas not to give up. Tasha was out-numbered four to one in the vote to quit, so SS2 took a tow to Sardinia.

SS1, however, carried on and completed the 200-mile challenge, arriving to Mahon, Menorca after roughly six days at sea, proving that completing the challenge was, in fact, possible.

The challenge to row across the entire Mediterranean Sea is still out there for the taking and, as you’ve probably guessed, Tasha is still thinking about it.

Sailing to Spain: A Homecoming

When we pull into Cala Benirras in Ibiza, after 1400 nautical miles and eleven days at sea, it’s hard to fathom where exactly we are in the world and how far we’ve come. It feels warm and familiar, like we could be pulling up to any island in the Caribbean.

It’s the closely packed boats full of naked people that remind us we are, in fact, in Europe. Specifically, in an adorable hippie harbor off the northwest coast of Ibiza.

   sailing cruising spain turf to surf travelI doubt our friends in Spain expected us to sail over to visit them.

This is the first time we’ve dropped Cheeky Monkey‘s anchor by ourselves, so we’re a little nervous as we scramble into our usual places — me at the helm, Ryan at the bow.

As a naked German guy stands up on deck with his hands on his hips, shouting something in our direction, I immediately get nervous, assuming this is going to be like every anchoring experience I’ve had in North America and the Caribbean where an old guy glares at us from across the water, waits until after we’ve dropped anchor and reversed on her to tell us everything we’ve done wrong, insisting that we pull up our anchor and move elsewhere, as in nowhere near him.

It usually provokes an argument between me and Ryan, where I insist on leaving the anchor exactly where it is, mainly because we’re not too close, and I know how we swing, but more just to make a point and piss off the pompous guy with his hands on his hips. Meanwhile, Ryan cringes as his foundation in good British manners threatens to crumble if we ignore the yelling man and refuse to move. “Let’s just anchor somewhere else. It will be less trouble.”

“What do you mean? It’s lots of trouble to pull up this anchor without a windlass and move just because some asshole wants the harbor to himself!” I shout.

But we always end up moving. And I end up suspecting every old guy standing on deck with his hands on his hips is an unhelpful, pompous git.

I am forced to recalibrate my assumptions, however, when I pull into our tightly packed anchorage in Benirras, Ibiza, and I am trying to decipher what the German guy is saying while also trying not to stare at his balls swinging freely in the wind.

As I look closer, I see the naked guy has a smile on his face and he is waving his hands towards him, as if to say “come closer”. And then I make out the words carried on the wind, as he shouts, “There is a good sandy spot right here. Come closer and anchor here!”

And immediately my heart melts. I nod and wave as my shoulders relax and I return to concentrating on where to drop anchor so we fall back on the ideal spot where we have just enough room to swing among the monohulls without hitting anyone. Already I like cruising in these waters.

Returning to Spain feels kind of like a homecoming.

It is where Ryan and I lived before the madness of the last 8 years in New York City began, and it’s a place I remember when I try to revisit a time when I had more time, less money, and I liked the easygoing pace of my life.

It is where we got married on a windy day 10 years ago on top of a cliff in Ronda, just behind an old bull ring and overlooking the valleys of Andalucia.

tasha ryan wedding ronda spain 2005One of the many reasons Spain is special to me.

This exact bay was also where we fled to for a weekend of decompression two years ago, right after Ryan and I finished our final race training before the start of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Spain has always offered the lifestyle that I have aspired to return to — a life full of friends and family and ample time to enjoy good food, beautiful wine and meandering conversations that never want to end.

Ryan gives a thumbs up to the anchor being set and starts walking back from the bow when I have to blink twice to get a better look at what is happening behind Ryan, as it doesn’t seem possible. The German guy, who I am sure was just on the blue-hulled boat off our starboard bow is now standing on the deck of another monohull, running back and forth frantically as the boat drifts towards the rocks.

“Hey, isn’t that the German guy from the other boat?” I say to Ryan, as he turns to look where I’m pointing.

The guy must have seen me pointing because he shouts in my direction, “This isn’t my boat! The anchor dragged and it was all the way over there, about to hit the rocks. I have no idea where the owner is. He hasn’t been here all day!”

“Holy crap!” I shout, giving the guy a thumbs up. “Good thing you saw it! I wasn’t even paying attention! Is there anything we can do?”

“Tasha! Fenders! Grab the roving fender!” Ryan shouts, as the boat is now within 2 feet of our bow. I shove our big orange ball fender onto the starboard bow point, just as the boat makes impact with us. The fender, thankfully, stays in place and pushes the boat off for long enough that the German guy can run to the throttle and motor the stranger’s boat to safety.

After fifteen minutes of frantic activity, our German neighbor drops the drifting boat’s anchor, waits for it to settle, then dives off the side of the boat. He swims back to his boat, where a smiling naked woman waits for him on deck, saying “Muy bien,” patting the guy on the back once he is safely back on deck.

There is a drum circle beating from the corner of the little beach in Benirras, where there are two wooden structures in the sand, selling cocktails and food. There are no hotels or resorts; just a narrow road cutting up into the tree-covered hills. Women are lying topless in the sand, with arms outstretched, baring their breasts to the sun. Naked babies are sat in shallow puddles, running their fingers through the water and kicking their feet. A bearded guy, wearing nothing but a tool belt, is teetering on the stern of his little wooden sailboat, pulling tools from his hip to fix something on his boom.

elements benirras ibiza spain turf to surfElements, in Benirras, caters to chilled-out hippies and cruisers.

I’m sitting on our beanbag chair on the trampoline, hugging my knees, looking towards the beach and taking in where we are and how we got here. It’s been exactly ten years since we lived in Spain and one month since we moved aboard Cheeky Monkey.

Leaning back in the beanbag, I breathe in the salt air, slide my top over my head and bare my breasts to the sun.

Finally, I feel at home.

sunset benirras ibiza spain turf to surfThe sunsets in Benirras alone are worth anchoring here for.