Back Home

Some months ago I asked Viktor to write a free text as an exercise in writing within the homeschool experiment. I gave him the topic ‘Home’ thinking that after so many months living on the boat he would write about the boat as his new home.

He sat down very inspired and wrote uninterruptedly for a few hours producing the following text:

 

The Good Old Ways of Home

-by Viktor

My home back in Canada was just like any other big old country house but mine was transforming depending on the seasons.

In summer, staying inside was like staying in prison: I lacked oxygen and I felt depressed, like I was missing out on things. So I would go outside where life was welcoming and vast. I could take a stroll around the house and I would see my dad mowing the lawn, my sister singing on the swing, birds pecking about, or even a little grey rabbit staring at me. It was green, it was bright; the summer feeling was greatly appreciated, and I would never have the same experiences repeated since every summer something new would always happen.

But when those pretty lime-colored leaves camping on the trees fell down to my knees, I knew that summer was over… A new season would take place. Some called it fall or autumn, others called it the time of sickness and disease, an unforgiving season that brought coughing pain and confusion about what to wear. Me? I yelled: “Yes! My birthday is finally coming!” All those season-names were telling the truth. Leaves would fall, people would get sick, and I would celebrate. I think, if it wasn’t for my birthday, this would be the worst season of all times because all it brought was misery, viruses, and a handful of cheap candy and broken potato chips.

This next one will break your heart. You will need a box of tissues at your side. Winter will not help your coughing but it will help you feel better if you have good friends and entertaining games…mostly virtual.

After a crushing blow of a snowstorm and an overnight earthquake of machinery, I would wake up in the morning and I would see a bright white light shining through the curtains. I would look through the window feeling like someone had injected ecstasy in my system. No more dead leaves, no more grass. I would see snow. Mountains of snow. I would take a deep breath of happiness and then suddenly I would hear a series of pounding knocks on the door.

I would smile, run down the stairs, run across the corridor, and I would approach the door while glancing through the glass at the dark sinister figure outside. I would reach for the door knob and quickly open it to make way for my frozen friend. Over my pajamas, I’d put on my black snow pants, my heavy winter boots, my gloves and Russian hat, slip on my jacket, ready for battle. Next thing, I’d be beating the crap out of my friend with snowballs and then we would return home for some video games and hot chocolate.

There were tons of other great events happening during this joyous season of ice and fire but I will have to write a book the size of the holy bible to describe my full emotions on this topic.

Sooner or later, the glorious white element melted into our sewers and that marked the start of the season of rebirth: spring. Almost everything was reborn anew: the grass, the sickness, school. I have mixed feelings about this season for it gave me joy as it would bring an end to the never-ending cold wrath of winter, but I was also sad to think that I had to wait six months to play with snow again.

Honestly, I miss my old home and friends. Now I will have to adapt to my new life at sea and Neptune’s anomalies, stuck on a boat with my family.

.

.

After a little over a year stuck on a boat with his family, cruising aboard Fata Morgana and visiting many countries and islands all over the Caribbean region, Viktor, almost 17 now, decided it is time to return home. To his friends, to school, and to all those places and things he missed so much in the past months.

Cruising is a great learning experience for families with young children and we have met countless little sailors everywhere we have been, children with a unique sense of adventure, exploring, and love of the world that school-based and land-based kids lack.  We wanted to open the world for our children as well, to show them an alternative way of life more disconnected from the civilized material world and more connected to nature, more free. For Viktor, a very shy and introvert person, we hoped that our travels will provide a way to unplug from the computer and video-games which were at the center of his interests through a healthier, more active way of life. That he will accumulate knowledge and acquire new skills. And surely he did, despite his nostalgia. He became a good sailor, and will forever keep the good memories of our travels, the moments we enjoyed together, the places we visited, the people we met. But at his age, he is anxious to begin his own independent journey, to follow his own dreams back in Canada.

We can only wish him good luck, help him and support him in any way necessary.

Farewell Vik!

 

 

That day Viktor caught 10 flounders

The day Viktor caught 10 flounders

Evo and Viktor

Evo and Viktor

 

Viktor and Dylan

Viktor and Dylan

Dylan and Viktor

Dylan and Viktor

Viktor and Evo taking a rain-shower

Viktor and Evo taking a rain-shower

.

.

Viktro with a puffer fish

Viktro with a puffer fish

.

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

Viktor "pushing" Maya off the roof of the fort

Viktor „pushing“ Maya off the roof of the fort

Viktor, Maya, and Ivo walking with bug-repellent palm leaf hats, Cuba This is how we showed up at the beach.

Viktor, Maya, and Ivo walking with bug-repellent palm leaf hats, Cuba
This is how we showed up at the beach.

Ivo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

Evo, Viktor and Maya, The human pyramid

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company.

Viktor on the helm, Maya keeping him company.

Viktor swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes (because we forgot the shoes on the boat...)

Viktor swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes (because we forgot the shoes on the boat…) Mexico

Viktor, Agua Caliente, Guatemala

Viktor, Agua Caliente, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Walking in a canyon, Guatemala

Walking in a canyon, Guatemala

.

.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

.

Best swimming pool, Bahamas

.

.

The swimming pigs, Bahamas

The swimming pigs, Bahamas

Viktor and Mira with iguanas.

Viktor and Mira with iguanas, Bahamas

Viktor in Thunderbolt Grotto, Bahamas

Viktor in Thunderbolt Grotto, Bahamas

Viktor

Viktor

Vick and Maya building a small fire.

Vick and Maya building a small fire on the beach, Bahamas

Maya and Viktor (Ivo behind them) with burgers.

Maya and Viktor (Ivo behind them) with burgers.

Viktor and Nick

Viktor and Nick

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Viktor, Maya, Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Vick and Nick

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Up on the mountain El Mogote

Damajaqua Cascadas

Damajaqua Cascadas, Dominican Republic

Viktor on the way to Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic

Viktor on the way to Pico Duarte, Dominican Republic

Viktor with the mules. Hiking to Pico Duarte, DR

Viktor with the mules. Hiking to Pico Duarte, DR

Viktor and Evo

Viktor and Evo

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Viktor and Maya at the summit. Pico Duarte

Damajaqua Cascades, DR

Damajaqua Cascades, DR

.

.

Viktor

Viktor

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

The Nomadiks & Friends at Caja de Muerto, Puerto Rico

Maya and Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Maya and Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor, The Baths, Virgin Gorda

Viktor

Viktor

Viktor hovering above baby fishes

Viktor hovering above baby fishes

 

Share

Happy One Year of Sailing To Us

Mira, Evo, Maya and Viktor 1 year The Life Nomadik

Mira, Evo, Maya and Viktor
1 year The Life Nomadik

 

Our Sailing Journey is One Year Old Today

 

.

.

One year ago, in July 2013, we took off from Florida aboard Fata Morgana, our new home and ocean vehicle.We headed south.

In the next twelve months we visited a dozen countries and over 50 islands.

 

Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Cuba

Cuban girls

Cuban girls

Mexico

Tourists at Tulum

Tourists at Tulum

Guatemala

.

.

The Bahamas

Maya and Mira

Maya and Mira

Dominican Republic

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Puerto Rico

.

.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

British Virgin Islands

The Baths, BVI

The Baths, BVI

Saba

Saba. View form Scout's Place bar and restaurant

Saba. View form Scout’s Place bar and restaurant

Sint Maarten

Evo's bottle, St Maarten

Evo’s bottle, Sint Maarten

Saint-Martin

Mira at Fort Saint-Louis, Marigot, overlooking the harbor, Saint-Martin

Mira at Fort Saint-Louis, Marigot, overlooking the harbor, Saint-Martin

St Barth

Anse de Flamand

Anse de Flamand

St Kitts&Navis

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Our Journey

We met remarkable people and made many new friends.

Noial, Sofia, and Maya in traditional mayan costumes. The skirt is called corte and the top is gupil. Mayan women in Guatemala wear similar clothes.

Noial, Sofia, and Maya in traditional mayan costumes. The skirt is called corte and the top is gupil. Mayan women in Guatemala wear similar clothes.

We swam with dolphins

.

.

And we swam with pigs

.

.

We walked across spectacular forests and river canyons.

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

We jumped from waterfalls

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

We entered caves

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

We discovered new flavors and fragrances.

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time. Saba

We snorkeled in coral gardens with tropical fishes in water like liquid glass.

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

We learned to surf

Maya

Maya

We got involved with many of the communities we visited, we volunteered and worked with the locals.

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

We met a whale

.

.

And a sea turtle

A green sea-turtleheading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

A green sea-turtleheading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

We met howler monkeys

Black Howler Monkey

Black Howler Monkey

We saw flamingos

DSC_1797

 

We caught a lot of tasty fish

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

We lived the dream.

.

.

We did all this while being very conscious about the fragile environment we enjoy so much.

.

.

We sailed for over 3,700 nautical miles without polluting the air and the sea, almost not using the engines. fueling once every 6 months. We also used a kayak instead of a dinghy.

Mira "sailing" the kayak with an umbrella

Mira „sailing“ the kayak with an umbrella

We lived off-grid not paying electricity bills, water bills, mortgage, taxes, or any other bills thanks to our solar panels and watermaker.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Our average speed was 3.7 knots which makes us Slow Pokes Drifters, but we had to sail against waves and tradewind most of the time heading east-southeast, tacking constantly, but not turning the engines on, no matter what.

Evo pulling the boat with the kayak in deadcalm. The engines remained turned off...

Evo pulling the boat with the kayak in deadcalm. The engines remained turned off…

 

Thank You!

The people we met along the way, whom we befriended, who helped us and guided us, who shared our adventures and joys are the most treasured part of our journey. We thank you!

Friends Key West, Florida

Friends
Key West, Florida

Tyler, you started us sailing and helped us so much. Thank you, we love you!

 

Vanessa Linsley, you were not just our broker, you literally adopted us, guiding and helping us so much. Thank you!

 

Rich, you were there for us when we needed you most. Thank you!

David, Lori, Kashara and Dylan, we value so much your company and all the lessons you thought us about sailing and cruising even before we started. Thank you!

 

Dale, you were the best boatyard neighbor. Thank you for the books and the veggies!

 

Peter, you fixed our jib and thought us so much in our first days of sailing, thank you!

 

Sherry and Nate, you adopted our Baba Ganoush, best thing that could happen to her! And you gave us Agent Orange! You have no idea how much we appreciate this kayak, thank you!

 

Tony, Cherri, Stacie, Ryan, Joey, Rebecca, Miranda, Sky, we had so much fun with all you guys in Key West. Thank you!

 

Suzy Roebling, we learned so much about sea turtles thanks to you and we really enjoyed the coconuts. Thank you!

 

April and Harley from s/v El Karma, you gave us lures, helped us to fix our watermaker, and shared some great moments in Cuba with us. Thank you!

 

 Daeli, Joni, Elan, Lovam, Noial, and Spirit from s/v Friendship, you and your journey inspire us so much. We love you, we miss you and we hope we will see you again soon!

 

Joseph, Jana, Katchka, and Anichka s/v Blizzard, so grateful we met you guys and shared so many crazy adventures in Guatemala together!

 

Alice s/v Suricats, yoga in the morning with Joni and you was one of the best things in Rio Dulce anchorage. Thank you!

 

Angie and Marty, thank you for your hospitality!

 

 Scot, Stephanie, Riley, and Wren, s/v Kiawa, without you our journey in the Bahamas wouldn’t be the same!

 

Ben Rusi, s/v Christel, great meeting you in the Bahamas!

 

Susanne and Jan s/v Peter Pan,so good sharing a few moments with you!

 

Mary, Shane and Franklin, great meeting you all, you have amazing stories! Hope we meet again around Australia next year!

 

Kate and Rob, nice bumping into you, twice!

 

Gabriel and Jade, how awesome of you to take us surfing in the Dominican Republic and show us how it’s done! Thank you!

 

Joao, Nae, Maria, and Noel, s/v Dee, it was wonderful having friends along the way between Domincan Republic, Puerto Rico and St Maarten, and sharing so many moments (and a rental car)!

 

Ivan, Nikola, Peter, Nanny, we had the best time with you in the Bahamas and in Puerto Rico, good old friends. Thank you for your visit and for all the gifts!

 

Greg and Michelle s/v Semper Fi, great meeting you in Puerto Rico guys and sharing your amazing stories! Thank you for the tips, the T-shirts, and the hats!

 

Tom, you mad our stay in Water Island unforgettable, thank you!

 

Ilian and Bisi, it was so great meting you in Saba, hope we meet again!

 

Martine Dora and Raphael, happy to have met you in St Maarten, hope we see each other again, maybe in Tahiti? Raphael, thank you for the ride!

 

Line and Corentin, thank you for your company in St Kitts and for the music!

 

Sejah Joseph, thank you for being our friend and guide in St Kitts!

 

We also want to thank our Sponsors, all those companies and individuals who supported our journey. Thank you!

 

 

What’s Next?

Our plans are weather dependent and as fluid as the sea. If all is well, we will keep sailing south the Windward Islands, exploring some more interesting places, until we reach Tobago. From there we will sail west to Columbia, then Panama and across the canal to the South Pacific and Australia next year.

 

Follow our journey and LIKE us on Facebook to find out what will happen in our SECOND year of sailing. Everyone is welcome aboard!

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Share

Marooned in Burger Paradise. Part Two

.

.

After a week of unlimited burgers in the private cruise ship resort Half Moon Cay, we decide it is time to go and make a first attempt to sail away to the next Bahamian island south, Cat Island. As we lift anchor we look back at the beach, the fake pirate ship, the cabanas. Our friend ‘Crazy George’, one of the island workers whose job is to clean the beach and even the sand early in the morning before the arrival of the tourists, and whom we befriended, is standing on the shore whistling and waving in our direction with both arms over his head. We are waving back at him, our hearts heavy, we feel like we will never again see this place we enjoyed so much.

"I wish i could stay here forever."

„I wish i could stay here forever.“

But as soon as we are out of the protected anchorage, we are overwhelmed by strong headwind and big waves and the thought that for the first time in a week we will not have a proper lunch. After an hour of banging and too much stress, we turn back. For the first time in our sailing experience (about 7 months now) we change plans, give up, and turn back. With the wind now pushing us from behind, we arrive in the anchorage we have just left in only 20 minutes. There are a bunch of other sailboats which have arrived the evening before and as we drop anchor we spot two little girls, about Maya’s age, watching us from their boat just a few feet away. They have long hairs: one the color of gold, the other the color of fire. Riley (11) and Wren (9) become instant friends with Maya (10).

Wren, Maya, Riley

Wren, Maya, Riley

Thus, in the next few days, the three girls are inseparable. They play together all day rarely getting out of the water having tons of fun.

Maya, Riley, Wren

Maya, Riley, Wren

At the same time, Ivo and me become instant friends with Riley and Wren’s mom and dad. Turns out, they are „professional“ adventurers and teachers on a sabbatical vacation. Scott is teaching Adventure Education and Tourism (and currently writing a manual on the subject) at Washington County Community College. Stephanie, an athlete, is also an instructor in the same collage with many years of experience working as a White-Water Adventure instructor. Avid adventurers, hikers, mountain-climbers, skiers, free-divers, sailors, Scott and Steph are also great parents and friends, great people.

Stephanie

Stephanie

Riley, Scott, Maya, Ivo

Riley, Scott, Maya, Ivo

 

Wren and Stephanie

Wren and Stephanie

The perfect paradise became even perfecter with friends in it. We show them around and invite them to our buffet, and the girls are happy all day long. Scott, a snorkeling and spear-fishing addict, teaches Ivo how to spear-fish with a Hawaiian spear. They disappear and spend pretty much a million years in the water coming back in the evening, just before shark-time, with a bucket of assorted fish and a huge lobster. We improvise a small party on our boat and have fish for super for a change.

Riley, Maya, Wren with lobster

Three little savages and an unlucky lobster.

After a few days, we sail south together with our new friends aboard s/v Kiawah and spend a couple of days more with them at Cat Island, hiking up the tallest hill of the Bahamas where the famous Father Jerome hermitage is, shooting coconuts with rocks (Scott is an unbelievable good shot with those rocks, no coconut has a chance), drinking beers and listening to live music at the small beach shack with Cedell and Poompey, world-famous Rake-and-Scrape musicians, plus an epic sleep-over (Maya had the best time sleeping over at Kiawah with her two friends).

Wren and Maya at Cat Island

Wren and Maya at Cat Island

Riley in Blue, Cat Island

Riley in Blue, Cat Island

 

What the boat-girls play with

What the boat-girls play with

Hiking up Mount Alvernia

Hiking up Mount Alvernia

Inside the Hermitage's small chapel

Inside the Hermitage’s small chapel

 

A hermit-frog inside the hermitage

A hermit-frog inside the hermitage

Shack on the beach

Shack on the beach

 

Maya on the flute, Cedell in the saw, Pompey on the accordion, Scott on the drum

Maya on the flute, Cedell on the saw, Pompey on the accordion, Scott on the drum

And then is time to say goodby… Kiawah continued her journey taking away our friends, and we stayed behind for another week. We had a job to do.

Dear Riley and Wren,

Dear Riley and Wren,

 

Maya, Riley, and Wren BFF

Maya, Riley, and Wren
BFF

Check out S/V Kiawah amazing blog and follow their journey here.

Share

Bimini, Gateway to the Bahamas

Beach, North Bimini

Beach, North Bimini, Bahamas

 

The Bahamas is truly a fascinating place. It is a country made of water, ancient lava, and sand. Of its 470,000 km2 of territory less than 5% is land: a chain of over 700 bizarre-shaped flat tropical islands and cays.

Bimini, the closest island to the United States mainland only 40 miles east of Miami, is our gateway to the Bahamas. We drop anchor in front of Big Game marina and clear customs and immigration in under one hour. None of the Bahamian officials has any intention of inspecting the boat; it is only a question of filling a few forms and paying the entry fee of $320 (even though it is printed $300 on the receipt).

We spend two days walking around South Bimini and visiting Alice Town on North Bimini.

Bahamian lizard

Bahamian lizard

In the Bahamas we were expecting to find luxurious hotels and resorts, crowds of vacationing tourists, and Johnny Depp chilling on the beach. Instead, we find ourselves in a sleepy settlement of a few hundred inhabitants surrounded by vast sandbanks, its small houses with boarded windows painted pale blue yellow and pink, the cars driving on the wrong side of the narrow streets without sidewalks.

Bimini Big Game Club

Bimini Big Game Club

There are about five or six shops in Alice Town of which four sell alcohol, a church, a school, a bank, and a little dark library, totally abandoned, with piles of wet books lying all over the place, the librarian is nowhere to be found.

Bimini library

Bimini library

Hardly any other tourists but us are to be seen walking around and the locals all smile and say hi, how are you. They look chill, and slowly, without pressure, decorate the town for the Christmas festival which begins at noon.

A small stage with huge speakers on both sides is being installed in front of the church. Across the street, on a vast green loan, a trampoline for the kids and tables where women sell homemade delicacies out of pans and pots are already set. Grilled fish, rice and beans, fried chicken, ox tail in tomato sauce: everything 10 dollars. Men are standing by in the shades sipping beers, waiting for the music to begin. There will be a live performance organized by the school and later, when the sun goes down in the Gulf Stream, everyone will dance and have fun.

Stage for the Christmas festival

Stage for the Christmas festival

We like this place. After almost a month of intense work on the boat we switch into a chill mode.

South Bimini beach and anchorage.  The boat anchored in the distance is Fata Morgana

South Bimini beach and anchorage.
The boat anchored in the distance is Fata Morgana

 

Ivo and a Bahamian friend talking about life on Mars in the little boat crossing from South to North Bimini

Ivo and a Bahamian friend talking about life on Mars in the little boat crossing from South to North Bimini

 

.

.

 

 

Old house destroyed by storm, Alice Town, Bimini

Old house destroyed by storm, Alice Town, Bimini

 

 

Share

Waters of Chaos

This is the story of how we almost died one night when the sea was not there anymore, but a black raging mass of liquid walls and howling winds; when the whole world had disappeared and our small boat left all alone in the entire universe was doomed. This is the story of how we passed Neptune’s first test on our way to becoming sailors.

 

 

.

.

After two months in Guatemala, we begin a long passage north, 500 miles from Rio Dulce back to Key West Florida, where we planned to do some work and improvements on our 38-feet 2001 Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana. We start in rainy weather with unstable north winds and high seas in the Gulf of Honduras.

The very first day two of the blocks, old and rusty, which hold the boom attached to the traveler break. Ivo uses a rope to tie the boom immobilizing it in the center of the boat. This causes the mainsail to rip off from the base where it is attached to the boom, about two feet. We reef it to the first reef and thus we are able to sail. From now on, for two weeks and a half, we sail with a crippled main and a boom stuck in a central position.

For the next 17 days and nights, the wind is always coming from the direction where we want to go: north-northeast. The good thing about it is that we don’t have to play with the boom much. The bad part is that we have to tack constantly climbing against the wind at a very slow speed, thus covering at least three times the distance.

Many cruisers turn on the engines in such situations in order to go faster motorsailing. Not us. We never use the engines. If there is no wind, we wait. If there is little wind, we drift slowly. If the wind is too much, we reef. We drop anchor and lift anchor under sail most of the time. The two engines on our boat are for emergency situations only, and this is not an emergency situation. Yet. This is just a part of it, part of sailing.

It takes us a week to get to Isla Mujeres Mexico as we make the big mistake of choosing the Belize Inner Channel instead of the offshore route. The current in the 100-mile long channel running between the shore of Belize and the barrier reef is going south, flowing against us like a river, robbing us of at least 2-3 knots. The waves, 4-5 feet coming at an angle from northeast, are stopping us some more. Add to this not one but two mean winds, one northwest descending from the Belize mountains, and one northeast pushing from the sea, and try to sail between them, going north, tacking a hundred times per day with a reefed main and no engine! Not fun.

Our progress is between 1 and 3 miles per hour. We cover about 20-30 miles per day and anchor at night. Being able to stop and get some rest at night is the sole reward we get for sailing in the channel, but it’s not worth it.

After three days of this struggle we are finally out of the channel and sail for three more days and nights nonstop to Isla Mujeres. The plan is to anchor there and get some rest, a day or two, stock up on provisions, check the weather forecast, and cross to Key West: 300 miles northeast of Isla, where the current of the Yucatan Channel and the Gulfstream merge.

In the morning on the seventh day of sailing, we arrive in the familiar anchorage in Isla Mujeres in front of El Milagro Marina, exhausted, but happy we made it. The day is beautiful. We plan to go shopping first thing after we check our E-mails, and then we can sleep all night; sleep like babies.

While the rest of us are checking E-mails, Ivo is checking the weather.

“Strong north winds and big waves are coming soon,“ he announces, „we can’t sail directly to Florida. The best thing would be to sail east to Cabo San Antonio, Cuba, then to Havana, and cross the Gulfstream from there, the same way we came. But we have to go now, immediately, before the weather hits, or wait here for a week or who knows how long. We only have a few-hours window, we have to hurry up, let’s go!”

I take a look at the forecast and maps on the PassageWeather website. “Let’s wait. It doesn’t look too good. What if we cannot make it inside your ‘few-hours window’ and we hit a storm? I am not doing this! Haven’t you learned yet? In sailing the most important thing is waiting. Waiting for good weather. A week, a month, doesn’t matter, we wait here!”

We start a huge fight, like always, and the kids interfere. Both Viktor and Maya want to get to Key West as soon as possible; they don’t want to wait. Three against one.

We lift anchor one hour after we dropped it, without setting foot on land, without shopping or getting any rest, and we begin the 100 miles passage east-northeast across the Yucatan Cannel, trying to run in front of bad weather with a mainsail that doesn’t work quite well. There is your classic recipe for disaster.

Twenty miles offshore, the north winds pick up. The sky becomes thick with dark clouds and the first squall hits, rain and all. We reef the main to the second reef and the jib, and ride it out, 40-knot winds. It pushes us south. All night we fight with three more of these squalls. No one sleeps, we wait for the day. The day comes but it doesn’t look good. The north wind doesn’t drop below 25 knots. The powerful Yucatan current is flowing north, against the wind. When you have a strong current and strong wind in opposite directions, you get enormous waves, taller than the boat, from the direction of the wind. Not long, slow, sleek waves, but sharp, quick, confused ones. These are the worst possible conditions, and small crafts should not go out in the middle of such a mess.

Ivo is at the helm hand-steering since more than 30 hours and we are still in the middle of nowhere. We get pushed south after each squall and coming back north is impossible. We are so much off course, we start looking at the charts to see if we can go somewhere else, south, but there is nothing south of Cuba.

As the second night of this passage approaches, the north winds pick up even more reaching 30-35 knots, steady. We are now begging for those 20-25 knot winds which terrified us in the beginning. With the enormous waves charging at us, and the boat heading off course in a direction where there is no land any time soon, it becomes one of these ‘emergency situations’ when the engine is your only hope. We bring down the sails, turn on the two motors and abandon the boat in the hands of the autopilot, direction Cuba.

It’s only the beginning of the night; only the beginning of our worst nightmare. We find ourselves between two worlds: the above and the below, the air and the water, the living and the dead.

The world above has become a black rampaging monster. The monster is facing us with its cold mouth gaping wide open, and deep from its infinite entrails comes a powerful endless roar. Its breath is loaded with the screams of thousand flying witches, his fury is sublime. Thus is the wind.

The world below has gone mad too. All the underwater invisibles have gathered below the surface of the sea around our boat and are restlessly pushing and pulling us, throwing walls at us: a bizarre sadistic game. Each wall is the last. Will the boat go through it? Will it pass? Or will it turn over? That’s it! This time we won’t make it. How about this one? And the next? We have loads and loads of these, even worst, even bigger, coming from everywhere. Thus are the waves.

 Viktor, Maya, and I sit in the cockpit, protected from the outside hell by the thin plastic enclosure. Our lifejackets are stowed away in the starboard engine room, not accessible under the present conditions. So if the boat turns over and sinks we will find ourselves floating in the middle of the sea without lifejackets, in the dark. I promise myself that from now on, if we survive this, the lifejackets will always be close to us when sailing. Viktor has a whistle hanging on his neck, a submergible flashlight, and a knife. Maya is armed with another flashlight and the flare gun. I am holding the submergible VHF radio and a glowing stick. We count: Nine more hours of darkness. Eight and a half more hours of darkness. The time is slowing down, stopping, going backwards, laughing at us. The night is here to stay.

Ivo is out on the deck holding on to the rigging, screaming at the world above and the world below, losing it:

“Why, Night, why? I can’t see anything! I can’t do anything! That’s enough! Stop! There is nothing I can do; I don’t see! I hate you Night; how can I fight if I see nothing, if I’m blind? This is not fair. I am sorry. I didn’t know… I don’t see, I see nothing…” His hopeless howls are terrifying us more than the storm.

Maya is crying. “Mum, let’s call someone on the VHF, let’s ask for help. Let’s call!”

“There is no one around us, there is no one to call, we are all alone,“ I cry back. „Plus, we are not sinking yet, so we have no reason to call for help.”

We can only call nearby vessels on the VHF radio, we don’t have a satellite phone (we don’t have any phone), and there are no vessels near by. We have never been more alone, more abandoned.

We are also beyond exhaustion, especially Ivo who has broken all records for staying awake up on his feet, night after night after night.

“You deserve it,“ I yell at him, „but we don’t!”

The port engine suddenly stops. We are left with only the starboard engine, but the boat keeps going. The boat, our Fata Morgana, keeps going, against the wind, against the waves, against all odds: she takes it. She is like a brick house, they told us, heavy and stable. Such are the Leopard catamarans built in 2001, you will see when you hit bad weather.

Sometime after midnight on the third night, Ivo falls asleep in the cockpit. Viktor and I take turns at the helm, although we do nothing, just sit there and stare at the GPS and the wind-speed indicator. Wind is still the same. The autopilot is navigating and the starboard engine is slowly pushing us towards Cuba. Twelve miles left. Six more hours of darkness. How many more waves?

By this time, we are beyond fear. You can only feel fear for so long. After some time, you just get used to it, accept your situation, prepare mentally for all the imaginable possibilities, for the worst, and ride it out. You kind of become numb. But you never stop hoping. We came so far, why not getting all the way to the shores of Cabo San Antonio? Why not getting to the shallow calm waters where our anchor can reach down and grab the sand? Can you imagine? Land, safety.

Then I fall asleep.

The next morning is the most beautiful perfect morning in our lives. Fata Morgana is anchored, gently swaying on top of crystal blue waters. I can see the bottom underneath. The shore is so close. We sit in the cockpit in silence and look at each other smiling. We breathe. We breathe as if it is the first time we are breathing in our lives, like if we are being born, but realizing it and enjoying it so much, big gulps of air, can’t get enough of it.

Share

The River Cave Expedition

 

 

The River Cave Expedition is the first of series of expeditions we went on together with our friends, the Friendship crew and the Czechs, on the north and west shores of Lago Izabal where we sailed together for almost two weeks.

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

The members of the River Cave Expedition are: Josef and Katchka; Daeli, Noial, and Lovam; and Ivo, Mira, Viktor, and Maya. Total of nine people. Meanwhile, Joni with Elan who was born with cerebral paralysis, and Jana with Anichka, spend the day at the Agua Caliente waterfall. They will join us for the next adventure.

 

.

.

 

.

.

 

We start at the Agua Caliente waterfall going up river. There is no other path but the riverbed. In the beginning it is wide and shallow surrounded by lush jungle vegetation. But soon it gets narrower and the water becomes deeper and faster, cutting a deep canyon through the mountain’s grey rocks. An awe-inspiring view.

 

.

.

 

Some places are difficult and dangerous to pass; we help the younger kids climb big boulders and swim across deeper waters. Josef has to carry Katchka most of the time. Lovam accepts help very rarely and only if he truly needs it, trying to keep up with Maya and Noial who are jumping from rock to rock with great ease leading the expedition.

 

.

.

 

.

.

 

After a while we get to a small pool of green water where the river suddenly stops, turns towards the eastern wall of the canyon and enters a dark cave. We follow. The water inside the cave is still, deep, and freezing cold. This is the place where the river sleeps. We only have two submersible flashlights for nine people, so we keep one in front and one in back of the group. We swim in the dark cold water getting deeper and deeper into the cave until we don’t see light from the entrance any longer. The world becomes black. Colors never existed here; the sun has no memory of this place. We are blind.

It is a completely new and bizarre feeling swimming in a cave, in total darkness. We hear the tiny sounds of bats above our heads. We are trying to hold on to the wet slippery rock-walls covered with guano. Everything is mysterious. Who knows what  thing without eyes is lurking in the waters beneath. Who knows what thing without soul is listening from the cave’s ceiling some 30-40 feet above our heads.

Only if you abandon yourself to the cave and its secrets you will be able to feel and appreciate it. Fear should not enter the river-cave.

Everyone is silent. At places there are big rocks we have to go over one by one helping each other. I am expecting some of the kids to start panicking in the darkness, but it seems they all are truly enjoying the ride, even Katchka, she is so brave! And Viktor tells me later this was his favorite of all expeditions so far.

 

.

.

 

Then, gradually, the silence gets filled with the muffled sound of water booming in the distance: an underground waterfall. The roar trapped in the cavern gets louder as we go further and soon we cannot hear each other anymore. We now feel the strong current against us. The waterfall is about fifteen feet tall and the only way to continue would be to climb over it. So we turn back. The journey back to the cave exit is a lot faster, going with the current.

Exiting the cave is a happy moment. I think of Plato’s caveman and his amazement at the outside world. The trees, the river, the clouds, the rocks. We look at each other and we lough. Wow, what an experience!

We have reached the end of one more unforgettable journey.

.

The Cave’s Exit

 

 

* All photos were taken by Daeli with his GoPro camera

Share

Beyond the last thing you see in the distance. The story of the Czech family.

 

 

Katchka and Anichka aboard Blizzard

Katchka and Anichka aboard Blizzard

Another great family we met and befriended here in Rio Dulce Guatemala are Jana, Josef, Kachka, and Anichka, living and cruising aboard Blizzard, a 1982 32 feet Beneteau. They are from the Czech Republic and that is why we call them the Czechs.

 

Together with the Czechs and with the FriendShip family (read about the extraordinary story of the FriendShip family here) we spent over a week sailing around Lago Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake. We visited a mining village, explored a cave-river, went for a swim in a canyon, climbed a mountain, and took a dinghy ride down the Polochik River with howler monkeys in the trees around us.

 

Friendship, Fata Morgana and Blizzard sailing in Lago Izabal

Friendship, Fata Morgana and Blizzard sailing in Lago Izabal

The Czechs captivating stories of most unusual travels and adventures invigorated us and gave us a new charge for living. Here is a fraction of their journey; the entire story would take many pages to write.

 

Josef 37, and Jana 30, are the sweetest most humble ever-smiling people, as if surrounded by a transparent cloud of serenity. Truly Zen. Kachka 4, and Anichka 2, on the other hand, are two wild water creatures who will scream and cry and throw things to the ground out of sheer boredom, but are thrilled when it comes to swimming inside a completely dark cave-river or a freezing canyon. You won’t believe what these two little girls have been through during that memorable week I mentioned. Heroes. But you wouldn’t be surprised that Katchka and Anichka are such adventurous brave little kids if you knew their parents.

 

.

.

Josef and Jana share an extreme passion for heights.

 

Jana studied Economics and Operational Air Transport and worked in Aircraft Maintenance back in the Czech Republic. In her pastime she flew glider planes, the ones without engines, solo. „Nothing serious, it was just a hobby, she says. Up there, you look for the hot currents, not so much the wind. Once I flew 300 kilometers and the trick is that you always have to come back to where you started from.“

 

Jana

Jana

 

Josef, as tall and as strong as a pine tree, is a professional arborist and his specialty is high-rise work. It means, he is a professional tree-climber. His favorite job is picking pinecones from tall needle trees, the taller the better. The highest job he has done was installing ground lines for lightning on an atomic power station. So, when we saw him climb up the mast of their boat without ropes or harness in order to photograph Blizzard, Fata Morgana and Friendship sailing together, we just smiled and posed for the picture.

 

.

.

 

 

Josef and Jana also share a passion for traveling and adventure.

 

“ I have this urge to go and see what lies beyond the last thing that I see in the distance“, says Josef. He first left the Czech Republic when he was 16, heading east. He went to Romania. He kept a travel journal and painted the landscapes on the way as he didn’t have a photo camera back then. Since, he has been traveling in many different places of the world.

 

Josef

Josef

He toured Turkey and Bulgaria on a bicycle. In Greece, he worked picking olives.

He helped a friend sailing his 15 feet boat from Italy to the Caribbean. This was his first time sailing.

 

Josef didn’t comeback from that sailing trip, he stayed in Capes Verde. When he finished the money he started working with Senegalese people polishing wooden sculptures. Thus, he became interested in Senegal. So, as soon as he earned enough money for airplane ticket he flew to Senegal. But he had no visa, no passport, and no documents of any sort. It was a huge problem at the airport, they wanted to arrest him. But he somehow managed to escape. Josef never felt freer once he was out of that airport, even though he had no money, no luggage, and no papers. Hard times followed: he was homeless in Senegal, slept on the streets, worked on farms for food.

 

Then he had the idea to walk back to the Czech Republic. From Dakar he went to the border of Mauritania. There he was “offered” to go to prison because he had no papers. In prisons in Mauritania food is not included in the services; friends and family are expected to bring food to inmates. But Josef’s friends and family were too far away. When he was very hungry he would bang on the walls of his cell until the guards or others prisoners would give him something to eat. Finally, after 10 days, the Czech ambassador got him out and he was sent back to the Czech Republic.

 

Free again, Josef went on another trip, this time to South America. He started in Venezuela and finished in Bolivia on a bicycle he bought for 2 dollars and sold for 20. In Bolivia he worked for a bit shining shoes on the street. But he was much better off this time, he remembers. He had not only a bike but also a comfortable tent to sleep in and a sleeping bag.

 

Josef with his bike somewhere in Africa?

Josef with his bike somewhere in Africa?

 

Next, he went back in Africa this time with a tent, a bicycle and papers traveling from Morocco to Mali. There he built his first boat in a very slow river in Niger. “It was not moving much”, he remembers. The boat was two meters long made from plastic water tanks. When it was time to leave again, he bestowed the plastic boat, as well as his 90 years old bike which was very heavy, to the local people and he hitchhiked back to the Czech Republic.

 

Josef's first boat

Josef’s first boat

 

There he made another boat, this time a catamaran. It was about two meters long, made from two old surfboards and a sail. Yea, it was a boat!

 

Josef's catamaran

Josef’s catamaran

 

Jana’s travels before meeting Josef were mostly within the Czech Republic’s skies.

“Once I finished in a field with my plane near a very small village. I got out and started walking to the village. On the way there I met this lady and asked her where I could find a phone. In a hurry, she told me which way to go and where to find the phone. ‘And I’ll go look at the dead pilot’, the lady added and she kept going in the direction of my crashed plane.”

 

Jana's sky misadventures

Jana’s sky misadventures

 

When Jana met Josef their travels together began. Today they sail around the world and raise their two little girls aboard Blizzard, inspiring people everywhere they go.

 

Katchka, Josef Jana, and Anichka

Katchka, Josef Jana, and Anichka

 

 

Share

The Cave Expedition

 

 

The week after our first failed attempt to visit a cave, we (FiendShip and Fata Morgana crews) sailed to Finca Paraiso on the north shore of Lago Izabal. We leave the boats anchored there, sneak past the Agua Caliente hot springs and waterfall and after about 40 minutes hiking through the jungle, we finally get to the entrance of a big deep dark cave.

 

Maya walking through the jungle

Maya walking through the jungle

 

The members of the this time successful cave expedition are: Daeli, Noial, Lovam, Spirit, Ivo, Maya, and myself. Three adults, three kids, and a dog.

 

Mira walking towards the cave

Mira walking towards the cave

 

The walk through the jungle is fun, the kids are running in front, and even Lovam, the youngest member of the expedition doesn’t complain. I am at the back of the group, stopping from time to time to take pictures and am the last one to arrive at the cave entrance. I hear the others go „Wow!“ one by one as they come out of the forest and very suddenly face a giant gaping black hole in the rocky wall of the mountain. I go „Wow!“ too.

 

Entering the cave

Entering the cave

 

There she is, finally, awaiting, hungry, her sharp teeth drooling with underground waters; spiders, the squeaky sound of bats, disturbed. We enter, eager, cautious, our flashlights illuminate her bowels: strange textures and shapes.

 

.

.

 

Our eyes widen in the dark, we cling to each other. Her breath is humid and cool: the sweet-and-sour smell of guano. Our voices travel the dark walls of the cavern’s huge chamber in a weird way: bumping, disappearing, coming back again.

 

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

 

We go further. We get to a place where it becomes impossible to continue without ropes. The cave plunges some ten meters down and we don’t know what lies beyond. There is nothing more mysterious than the entrails of a cave.

 

The kids staring in the dark

The kids staring in the dark

 

Cave Picture Gallery

 

 

 

.

.

 

 

 

 

Noial, Maya, Ivo, and Lovam

Noial, Maya, Ivo, and Lovam

 

 

 

 

Mira

Mira

 

 

 

 

.

.

 

 

 

 

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting

 

Share

In Search of the Lost Cave

 Hiking Across the Guatemalan countryside

 

.

.

 

The mountains around Lago Izabal are home of many caves. Most are difficult to find and hard to access as there are no roads, not even paths leading there but wilderness. Once, we walked up and down Sierra de las Minas all day searching for a cave we never found.

Our journey started on a Friday afternoon. Together with the FriendShips we sail to Dennis Beach, on the south shore of the lake. We leave the two boats anchored there and we head for the mountains looking for a cave.

 

The beginning of the long walk.  Noial, maya, Ivo and Daeli walking past a traditional mayan house

The beginning of the long walk.
Noial, maya, Ivo and Daeli walking past a traditional mayan house

 

Joni stays behind chilling on the beach with Elan and Lovam. The rest of us: Daeli, Noial, Ivo, Viktor, Maya, and I, with Spirit and a random dog that joined us, spend the day hiking through the Guatemalan countryside following a narrow path through the jungle, past a small Mayan village, across rivers, bamboo forests, cornfields, and cow pastures.

 

Bamboo forest

Bamboo forest

 

We meet people carrying wood and people working in the fields and every time we ask them for directions to the cave. “Down the path, across the river, past the orange orchard is the cave”, they tell us, but we lost our way and cannot find it. And it doesn’t matter anyway. The green of the land, the hot smell of the cornfields, the coolness of the river waters, and the spectacular view of the lake shining beneath the mountain is worth it.

 

River crossing

River crossing

 

We return to Dennis Beach before dark, tired, our feet covered with mud, our sight filled with green landscapes.

 

More photos from the hike
.

.

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

Cornfield

 

 

.

.

 

 

Daeli with cows and two dogs

Daeli with cows and two dogs

 

 

 

.

View of Lago Izabal

 

 

.

.

 

 

.

A Traditional Mayan House

 

 

 

 

.

.

 

 

 

Maya and Noial met a family of ducks

Maya and Noial met a family of ducks

 

 

Maya and Noial chilling in the stream

Maya and Noial chilling in the stream

 

 

Share

Most of all, I need a friend

 

Maya with candies

Maya with candies

She was crying.

„You know how much I need a friend? I would give up all the candies in the world and all my toys for a friend right now… And every time I make a friend we leave or they leave… You know how many friends I’ve lost? Too many…“

„Don’t cry, Maya, you are making me sad. A friend you never really lose. You always keep them in your heart. Your heart will become a piggybank of friends, a map of the world with a million pins: a pin for each friend, you will see. You will become Million-Friends-Maya.“

“ I only need one now…“

 

 

This was weeks ago.

Maya met Noial on a Friday, at noon. By 2 pm they were best friends.

 

Maya and Noial. Breakfast after a sleepover in the boat.

Maya and Noial.
Breakfast after a sleepover in the boat.

 

Since then, they have been together all the time. At school, at the boat, at the pool. In jungles, in rivers, in caves.

 

At school

Noial and Maya In the schoolyard with chickens

Noial and Maya
In the schoolyard with chickens

 

 At the boat

Noual and Maya Making art while sailing

Noial and Maya
Making art while sailing

At the pool

Maya and Noial At Nanajuana Pool

Maya and Noial
At Nanajuana Pool

In jungles

Maya and Noial Hiking up the river

Maya and Noial
Hiking up the river

In rivers

Maya and Noial Chilling in the river

Maya and Noial
Chilling in the river

In caves

Noial and Maya Light-painting in a cave

Noial and Maya
Light-painting in a cave

They have been taking showers together, dancing together, jumping together.

Shower together

Noial and Maya  Taking a river shower off the boat.

Noial and Maya
Taking a river shower off the boat.

Dance together

Maya and Noial At a school party

Maya and Noial
At a school party

Jump together

Noial and Maya  Jumping off the boat

Noial and Maya
Jumping off the boat

The best moments are the ones we share with a good friend.

Maya and Noial  Taking El Poderoso (the kayak) for a ride

Maya and Noial
Taking El Poderoso (the kayak) for a ride

Maya and Noial In traditional Guatemalan costumes at the school dance.

Maya and Noial
In traditional Guatemalan costumes at the school dance.

They even cried together once…

Share