Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Living and Diving Aboard Juliet

   I'm safely home sweet home in rural East Texas for the winter. It's been seven plus months on my maiden voyage in La Lair. I've traveled 13,000 miles of USA and Canadian roads since leaving Texas last May.

     The grand finale of my maiden voyage however wasn't in La Lair but in Juliet, a 107-foot sailboat with three masts and a jib.

     I boarded Juliet at Miami's busy, very retail-ish Bayside Marketplace which is Florida‘s main jumping on/off place for big and little boats, both passenger and commercial boats.

      Twelve SCUBA divers ranging from ages 21 to 69 boarded Juliet; our home-bases ranged from Maine to Texas, including Kansas and Missouri. We were an interesting hodgepodge; none of us was shy! I was glad Juliet promptly motored away from the dock at Miami. Had no desire to spend time or money with thousands of cruise customers at the retail-ish Bayside Marketplace. Pictured below are Chef Anna and Boatswain Jimmy, two of the five crew.

      When we left the very busy Bayside Marketplace, we passed cargo carriers loading and unloading their goods. That's Captain Donnie, in photo below. He chatted with us passengers about the upcoming and notoriously rough crossing of the Florida Straits.

     First Mate Nate motored the boat out of Miami. He explained all the boat's amenities. This sailboat has electric push-button toilets, unlike my last live-aboard about seven years ago when we pumped the toilets and took salt-water showers. Juliet also has a desalination system for plenty of fresh-water hot showers. First Mate Nate called me "Sweetie" for ten days (a benefit of being an old lady), and of course he was my favorite man! 

       We did an all-night rough crossing of the Florida Straits, to arrive at our dive spot the next morning in the Bahamas. I didn't hang around on the upper deck to count, but my guess is about seven passengers got sick all night. My roommate Pam got sick several times all evening, so I wisely gave her the bottom bunk.

     During the next nine days, we dived about three times daily at different reef systems during the day. There were a few night dives, too, but I'm not a night diver. One afternoon, we sailed with all four sails up, that was exciting! Captain Donnie invited me to take the wheel for about five minutes while we sailed. 

     We had to continually motor southeast while we slept at night to reach our dive spot each morning and ultimately our destination, the Turks (just north of Haiti). The route is 636 miles! I plotted our route with my SPOT unit.

     Each dive begins with a briefing from Dive Master Jessica. She calls us around the table on the upper deck and with her eraseable whiteboard, draws a picture of what to expect - such as low and high profile reefs, walls, depths, arrangements of reefs, currents, direction of buoy line. Since really deep dives are short in duration (divers use more air during deep dives near 100 feet), it's good to have a plan on how to see everything with just one tank of air before jumping in. Each dive spot has a name, similar to kayakers and paddlers naming white water rapids. Photo below is a description of the reef named "Born Again" (probably revived itself after hurricane damage). Blue numbers in circles are depths. Pink arrows show current, green squiggly lines show where she saw some garden eels, and orange shows walls and reefs.

     After we're briefed, we "suit up" and get ready to jump in. Since I was the oldest lady (64), the crew put my BCD station (see right-side arrow) closer to the jump-off platform (see left-side arrow). That way, I wouldn't need to walk too far with a 35 pound tank and a 12-pound weight-belt with 24-inch flippers on my feet. Suiting up with fifty pounds of gear and walking around a rocking, swaying boat is the hardest part of diving! Once you jump in, everything feels comfy and weightless.

     Tom took this photo of me and dive buddy Matt as we descended on a dive; looks like I'm clearing my mask or equalizing.

     Chef Anna had the hardest job keeping sixteen adults well-fed and happy. She grilled pork and steaks for three of the nine evenings on-board.

Meals were served family style . . .  we were a rambunctious group at the supper table!

     After supper, my favorite lounge chair was the Captains Throne with a glass of wine. Sometimes I played chess with Kendrick, and sometimes we divers would talk and drink into the night about our lives back home.

One afternoon, a dense beaked whale swam next to us for about five minutes.

Then it said "Au'voir my friends" and gently slipped below the surface.

One afternoon, a few of us took La Dinguette to a sandbar.

This lighthouse was nearby the sandbar . . . .

     One afternoon, we motored to Atlantis in the Bahamas. At their very swanky dock, we tied up with several multi-million dollar yatchs! We met a beautiful lady captain who was hired to sail a rich couple's sailboat from Rhode Island. We invited her to supper as she was lonely; a private captain's life seems glamourous, but she missed her friends and family.

     I'm not a resort-person, so I didn't venture to town. I just walked around the dock to admire all the yatchs, and had a chuckle at the name of the swankiest yatch, named "Incognito".

        Our five crew members were a good team. Here, First Mate Nate looks for the underwater buoy line and picks it up with the hook, Dive Master Jessica signals directions to Captain Donnie who's steering at the helm, and Boatswain Jimmy gets ready to hang over the side of the boat to tie the lines when First Mate Nate snatches the line.

     So where are my underwater photos? My philosophy is, if you want to see spectacular undersea reefs and fish, watch The Discovery Channel or go diving yourself! Quite a few divers invest in expensive cameras and show-off their undersea reef photos, but to be honest with you, The Discovery Channel's films are better. When I dive, I'm not there to fuss with a camera, I'm there to marvel at the beautiful other world that few of us get to see. Photos can't capture my awe at being a part of a school of fish, many will willingly let me swim with them. Yes, there were a couple of reef sharks. And yes, there was a loggerhead turtle with an immense head! as big as an adult's head! And yes, there was a smaller turtle that had been spooked by us and swam amazingly FAST! But better than all the fish is the hard and soft coral on the amazing and sometimes humongous shapes of reefs with millions of different kinds of critters, plants and minuscule colorful surprises everywhere! And all those experiences will be a vivid memory for my lifetime. No tiny photo is going to capture my sense of wonder and excitement of being in a fluid world with no sky and no land.

     My wish is to encourage folks to get certified to go diving themselves. My roommate Pam is 60 years old and she recently got certified; it was on her bucket list.

     At the end of our wonderful ten-day adventure, we took La Dinguette to Providenciales, the Turks airport. I flew back to Miami with a plane load of Cuban-Americans who had visited Cuba via Providenciales.

     La Lair was parked at the Hilton Garden Inn for ten days which is very close to the Miami International Airport. Their price (third party broker) is cheaper than the regular secured longterm airport parking businesses. Happy to report that the hotel's free shuttle service was prompt and La Lair wasn't broken into.

     I love sea stories by the way. The best is Endurance, Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. Highly recommend it, you won't be able to put it down!