Rise and Shine

The sun peeked through the portholes and started waking the crew. We wolfed down breakfast before finishing the final preps. The moment was upon us to bugout of Ft Pierce and sail back to Miami.

In early December, we untied the dock lines then pointed the bow toward warmer weather. The course from Ft Pierce to Miami kept us within sight of land for the multiple-day voyage.
Omar and Derek joined me for a mini-adventure. We packed the catamaran with food and supplies for the nonstop trip. A few parts that were already broken had us on our toes even before we started. Plus, a weather front changed at the last minute for a return to port.
After we were finally making-way, we reflected on the earlier decision we had made as a collective to stay put. That little extra time gave us room for a sail repair and relaxation after the beating we received from the weather the night before.

Derek and Omar at the helm as we exit the inlet in Ft Pierce, Florida

Game Time-
Derek received points for reaching top speed. Omar received points for being Omar. I received points for baking the lasagna.

Miami welcomed us with a beautiful skyline and colorful sunset. With the anchor firmly set, we crashed. We slept hard and apologized to our boat neighbors for the deep sleep snoring coming from all three cabins. So generous of sleep I barely even noticed the rain shower pass in the middle of the night.
The sun cracked the dawn like an egg. With smiles and a pang of hunger, we headed to town to find breakfast in the city that Sapphire calls her home port.
Welcome to Miami- Bienvenido a Miami
Rise and Shine.

Found at Sea

One lost writer’s reflections on the water. From recent Aquatramp initiate, Central Florida playwright Tracey Jane.

“Most beginners oversteer.” Sapphire’s Captain Gary turns the wheel until the heading reads 132, and wind snaps the sail taut again. “You’ll get the feel for it.” His eyes scan gauges, sails and sky. I fixate on the digital number before me, but the sea shushes all around, dark in the clouded moonlight, lulling me to introspection.

Maybe I’ve oversteered my life, too. Especially in the beginning, when I had it all figured out: Get good grades in school, get a good job, get married, get a house, have kids, do all you’ve been told to do, believe only what you’ve been raised to believe. My heading was clear. And I was always firmly focused on the number in front of me — but never on where I was actually going.

The busyness of life becomes the business of living. That’s how it was for me anyway, until one day I looked up and realized I was exactly where I was “supposed to be.” Yet completely lost. I wasn’t following my own inner compass, or whatever else you might call it: each person’s unique heart, spirit, energy … The number dances: 126, 128, 119. I spin the giant rim sharply to the right.

“Small movements,” Gary calls from the saloon, where he’s writing the last hour’s log entry. He never looks up, having apparently felt the boat’s movement more clearly than I could see it. “Give her time to adjust.”

It’s been twenty-two months since my divorce, after twenty-two years married. Half my life and nearly all my adult life. While I can’t worry about the weather behind me, it still chases me, the good as much as the bad. The failure looms, even if shared, even though ultimately without blame. The grief of that loss, of love — and even more, of the dream that it will last forever — still crashes over me sometimes, like an abrupt big wave. 138, 143 … I pull back left, and Gary reappears.

“This is distracting you.” He grins and switches off the illuminated gauges. “See where the moon’s hitting the horizon?” I mumble assent, only then noticing that the clouds have moved, revealing a glowing gibbous moon. Nearly centered over our bow, it splays light across the water. “Stay on this side of it.” I nod, setting my outlook to the shimmering triangle. Gary lies down on a cushion atop the cockpit and closes his eyes.

Sapphire Catamaran making way South.

Like the other crewmembers he’s gathered for this venture, I’m here for a reason. Maybe he knows we’re each in deep need of something, even if it’s just this shared experience at sea …

Meg is the free-spirited gypsy who survived a rare aortic aneurysm in her early 20s. Another real-life badass is Omar. A veteran first responder haunted by the Pulse nightclub tragedy, he’s the gentle giant who’s turned his observant eye to professional photography.

David and Alice are the couple straight out of Eden. (Technically, she’s from Britain, but you get the idea.) Together, this tow-haired Adam and Eve have trekked the globe and faced the formidable, including a precarious collapsed lung and devastating family accident. Onward they choose to sail and are restoring their first boat, a classic monohull.

Gary also invited his longtime friend from their quintessential Southern hometown of Erwin, Tennessee. Easygoing Robbie and his flame-haired wife Nicole, our onboard firefighter and medic, are walking metaphors of everything to love about America: likable, tough, and even stronger united.

Then there’s our buoyant first mate. The brother of Gary’s best bud from Navy days, Dan is the likeable, knowledgeable wingman in every great sailing movie you’ve ever seen. You know, the ones where the adventure goes nothing like planned but changes everyone aboard as they rally together through adversity to the unexpected end. But I’m getting ahead of this story …

The Captain and Crew aboard Sapphire Catamaran, Summer 2020

Dan takes the helm for our overlapping watch. In between the continued lapping of nighttime waves, I comprehend half of all Dan says as he freely dispenses wisdom about wind. Like how you can’t sail right into it. And how it’s more often in front of you and not behind you, hence tacking, approaching the wind from alternating sides. So, in fact, the fastest way to get from point A to B is never a straight line. Nor was our route from Titusville to Miami, which was our intended July 4th destination.

“Asshole,” Dan calls the wind when it shifts again. “It keeps clocking around on us.” The navigational relationship between clock and compass, time and direction, has always been a fascination to me. Movement is measured in degrees, minutes and seconds of the earth’s sphere. Or a person’s lifetime.

At the end of my shared hour with Dan, I go to the logbook, thinking of how I might verbally capture the conditions I had witnessed him contend with. I scribble some jumble about the wind clocking around a lot. Then I look at the line above and see Captain Gary’s perfect summary: CONFUSED SEAS.

The entry could just as well describe my post-divorce mindset. Or all the “unprecedented events” that have marked 2020. But like “these uncertain times,” the mysterious ocean has a way of revealing us, of distilling our brokenness to the surface.

The sea tests us. This pandemic and its destructive wake are testing us. But maybe in the end, these trials that force us to change course will prove to be the unwanted events that also help us change ourselves.

I climb to my cabin bed and close my eyes, exhausted, feeling the waves. They rise and fall in equal measure. Some pass soft and gentle, others sharp and jarring, but with an endless balance that in itself is reassuring.

Tracey Jane

Sail to Miami

Who wants to sail to Miami for the Fourth of July? We will be sailing Sapphire Catamaran to South Florida for the holiday.

So far, these blogs have been about past trips. This one is different. This blog post is about our upcoming sail from Central Florida to Miami.

Crew and guests are encouraged to arrive on the boat midday June 28th, 2020. The Safety Brief and Float Plan Meeting will start at 6pm with refreshments served. The meeting is followed by dinner aboard at 8pm. 

The catamaran will leave Titusville, Florida, early the morning of June 29th, 2020. The route will take the ICW South to the Cape Canaveral Locks, and then passing through to the Atlantic Ocean. The weather this time of year can be affected by local evening thunderstorms and extreme storms of tropical nature. With fair winds and nonstop traveling, the offshore sail to Miami should make port on July 2nd. Family-style Meals and safety equipment provided while underway. Watchkeeping, primary navigation, sail theory, and steering the catamaran will be some of the fun for this trip. Don’t forget this will be an excellent opportunity for great photos along the way.

In celebration, Aquatramp.com and Sapphire Catamaran will be hosting a 4th of July/ Full Moon Party in Coconut Grove (Miami), Florida.

If you are interested in joining us for this trip, you can email us at Captain@aquatramp.com for more details.

The Aquatramp Life

Introducing Coco and her first blogpost. Her professional manner of framing the fabric of the Aquatramp lifestyle leads us to believe she will be a regular onboard Sapphire Catamaran.

The Blog post entitles “My Week With Three Women” … I’m one of those women. My name is Coco, and much like Captain Gary, I love to share laughs, stories, and hospitality. Let me tell you how three women from Philly found themselves living on a catamaran for over a week and planning their first sailing trip. My and Hanna’s Week began on February 26th on the West Coast of Florida in Tampa for a bachelorette party. Getting smoke bombed by the police to get off the streets after a night out on the town and boating to an island with a random pet pig where the bride-to-be fell off a jet ski and scraped up AND broke her left hand (yes, the one with the ring) wasn’t enough of a Florida experience for us. Hanna and I stayed beyond the bachelorette weekend looking for more adventure. Adventure we found disguised with the names Gary, Sapphire, and Aquatramp. I originally found Gary through the Couchsurfing App. Our flight was for a few days after that and we also wanted to visit my grandparents so we asked to stay one night (the night of a shuttle launch)! The launch was canceled and rescheduled for the following week so we thought it best to also reschedule our flights and convince our third Stooge to join us. April, the third Stooge, was just finishing her 3-month working in Yellowstone National Park Experience and was eager to get home and see her family and bunny. Insert Coco and Hanna calling and relentlessly pressuring April to join us in the sun. Having spent 3 months in cold Yellowstone, she happily caved and joined us. Thus, began a week living on a boat with three women and a Gary. 

The Three Amigas

Food is an important part of the Aquatramp lifestyle. Considering I have a background in cooking breakfast (my parents had a diner… yes I am Greek), every morning I cooked breakfast. Every evening we all cooked dinner together like a family and it was magical. Gary organized a cookout the evening of the rescheduled shuttle launch and many other boaters came. 

Friends from around the world

We did quite a lot in this week and a half. Gary showed us Playalinda at the Canaveral National Seashore where the shuttles launch. He took us to St Augustine and showed us around town and we went to a Reagea Sunday party. We watched a shuttle launch. We had a cook out. My friends and I are a drinking/dancing group, so we did that too! When we weren’t off the boat, we were on the boat and wishing we didn’t have to get off the boat and onto a plane.

Boat Daze

We met people from all different walks of life who really make you reflect and learn: a women in her 70’s who lives in a hippie camp, a lovely French couple and their dog with many stories, a man from Jamaica who did not understand personal boundaries (this was not on the boat), a nomadic couple who have overcome challenges and still offer nothing but gratitude and love, a man with a beautiful wife and children and a new baby pig (not the same pig from Tampa), and of course Gary. Gary, is the epidemy of southern hospitality. One of his goals is for the Sapphire to become a place where people can let go of the stresses of life, meditate in any way-shape-form they’d like, and leave with a therapeutic experience as a happier person. I can say I have done just that, and I thank Gary greatly. Whether our future trips pan out or not, I have met a lifetime friend and hope and encourage you all to step aboard the Sapphire and experience the Aquatramp lifestyle. 

Feeding the Crew

You know Gary, if you don’t you should change that. Thanks for reading and getting to know the three girls who nearly implemented squatters’ rights. I am Coco (the short blond), a General Manager of a waterpark, Hanna (the tall Ginger) is a bartender, and April (with the glasses) is a flight attendant. We are grateful to have jobs that allow us to have adventures like this and never plan to stop exploring.

How high can we fly?
A baby pig that made a surprise visit
Breakfast on Sapphire Catamaran

Rise of the Phoenix

On a mooring ball in Cane Garden Bay

Sapphire’s Fiery Past

From being the life of the party as a Caribbean charter boat to surviving a fiery grave, our girl has had quite a colorful history. Here is a little insight into the past of our beautiful catamaran, Sapphire.

Caribbean Dinners in the cockpit while sailing around Tortola, British Virgin Islands

Our story starts with humble beginnings in the small coastal town of La Rochelle, France, where the catamaran, originally named Shawna Raye, was built in 2006. After sailing through the Mediterranean, she braved an Atlantic crossing to take up residence as a Caribbean charter boat. Her days were spent amongst guests scuba diving, dolphin watching, and partying into the early hours of the morning. After a few years, she hung up her dancing shoes and retired to the coast of Florida (in other words – she was put up for sale).

She had been on the market for a while with no interest from eligible suitors, when a fire started onboard, spreading rapidly and burning right through to her very core.

This was the view during the inspection as Captain Gary was deciding if he wanted to take on the rebuild project.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that she was up for sale when the fire broke out…
Or perhaps she was set on fire for the insurance money.

The fire had engulfed the entire inside. With a positive attitude, Gary nicknamed the hanging raw fiberglass “Cotton candy.”

Maybe the owner had been burnt by his lover then torched the boat he had named after her as a symbol of their love going up in flames.

Or maybe she was set upon by pirates only to go down in a blaze of glory.

We’re not entirely sure.

The feral cats and crackheads had easy access and lived on the catamaran for a year before the purchase.

What we do know is that after the fire, she was bought by an eccentric guy from Michigan and his two pet lemurs. Lemur guy had big plans (we suspect he wanted to turn her into a floating zoo – although this is an entirely unsubstantiated claim), but nothing ever eventuated. While the trio was vacationing in Key West, one of the lemurs leaped off his shoulder and bit an unsuspecting passerby. With the legal bills piling up, it was time for him to give up on his plans and move to Albuquerque… lemurless and boatless.

Shawna Raye went back on the market, and that’s when she set our hearts on fire – burns and all – we were smitten by this beautifully broken lady.

It seemed lemur guy hadn’t done much with her, besides remove the incinerated mattresses. She was still in a bad way. Captain Gary began clearing out all the crap. Literally crap. Like he actually had to pump out the clogged up toilets. There was even a family of feral cats that had set up camp in the galley, seemingly guarding the carcass of a sacrificial cat.

Day by day, piece by piece, the burnt components were removed, sanded down, and replaced. Shout out to our good mates Robbie, Steve, and Tim, for all their hard work! Accompanied by a soundtrack of taunts and ridicule from locals at the marina, we worked tirelessly for 18 months until she was restored. She took a fresh coat of paint. And a new name. Sapphire.

Did you know that the most beautiful sapphires come from being heat-treated at high temperatures? Well, our Sapphire is no different. She stood up to some pretty extreme heat. She’s not a perfect cut. She’s a little rough around the edges. But to us, she is beautiful.

Looking to the rebuilt Saloon from the Galley

Sapphire now sparkles wherever she goes. She’s a little like glitter. You know how glitter instantly adds a little brightness to the moment. And then days later, you’re still finding pieces of it scattered throughout your entire life? Like, how did I end up with a piece of glitter in my eyebrow six days after I used it to paint my toenails?! Well, we like to think that after taking a journey with Sapphire, you keep a little of her sparkle within you.

Standing on the Gangway dock ramp looking in the rebuilt Cockpit.

With a new lease on life and challenging the Riviera Marina stereotype of being a place where boats and dreams go to die, Sapphire left the marina and successfully completed her maiden voyage, sailing around the coast of Florida in June last year. Our tribute to Poseidon requesting counsel and protection was obviously heard because we were blessed with safe travel, beautiful seas, and special memories with new friends. You can read more about her maiden voyage here https://aquatramp.com/rivieras-rooftops-and-rockets/

The four Private Cabin layout. Plus bunk beds in the V-berths.

And now, no port can hold her down. She is a free-spirited wanderer, rolling with the tides. She has big things planned for her future. We hope you will follow her journey and maybe even join us somewhere along the way!

Sapphire Catamaran currently docked in Florida.

Rivieras, Rooftops, and Rockets

The Sapphire’s maiden voyage around the coast of Florida

When you are offered the opportunity to be part of a small crew sailing around the east coast of the US, is the answer ever going to be anything but aye aye captain?

Having gone through some personal struggles earlier in the year, I decided the best place to be for some ocean therapy was on a boat. And man am I glad I took the opportunity. Sailing with Captain Gary was an absolutely incredible experience that truly exceeded my expectations. And even has me redefining my life goals.

The initial plan was to leave Florida and head for the Bahamas, but due to several factors (time, money, weather, visas, breakups, and rockets), the plan shifted to stay Stateside. But what a blast it turned out to be. Literally, a supersonic blast!

After a week spent at the marina helping to finalize the boat for her maiden voyage, a group of four of us – the captain, myself, and two people from France (who had never even been on a boat!) – set sail. Yep, on arrival at the marina, I found out that the boat I was joining, the Sapphire, was not the fully staffed luxury charter boat I anticipated but instead was gearing up for her maiden voyage and the four of us were to be the crew. The captain purchased her wholly burnt out from what I can only imagine was an insurance claim related to fire. He completely stripped out the entire boat and rebuilt it. Seeing photos of what the boat looked like when it was first purchased and how far it has come, I felt so incredibly fortunate to have been part of this journey. Part of the captains’ dream. We set sail 18 months to the day after the purchase – 12th June 2019. With a quick toast to Poseidon, we ventured into the big blue.

We sailed from Tampa to Key West and on our first full overnight journey hit a massive electrical storm. The captain’s confidence and skills as we approached the storm put our minds at ease. He was so chilled. We watched as he started lathering up his hair with shampoo in anticipation of the rain. What a legend. He later revealed that was a tactic to keep us calm because he wasn’t sure how the boat would handle the storm. It worked on me, not so sure about the French, though! I took the helm for my two-hour watch when another storm hit. It was midnight. A white wall of rain was all I could see and as I approached, it pounded down on me since the helm was completely out in the open.

The waves and the wind were wild. My speed got up to 14 knots (the boat is ideally designed for 7 to 10 knots), a massive fork of lightning cracked the ocean only 50ft in front of our catamaran and lit up the night sky like the Fourth of July. It. Was. Insane!!! And the craziest thing – I had a goofy smile on my face the whole time. I couldn’t believe this was my life. It was like being in a movie. One that instantly draws you in, and you can’t wait to see what happens next. Snippets of the plot line from The Perfect Storm rushing through my head. How did that one end again?! Luckily, we made it through the Gulf of Mexico without sustaining too much damage, aside from a pane of glass missing from one of the hatches where the wind had literally sucked it right out. After being treated to a beautiful post-storm sunrise, we spent a few days in Key West exploring, regrouping, and showering with more than just a bucket of seawater.

From there we sailed through turquoise waters, alongside playful dolphins and sea turtles to Miami where we partied both on and off the boat for a couple of days. Side note: is there anything better than a cucumber mojito and a rooftop pool after days of sailing?

Progress has actually been a lot slower than I anticipated since the wind hasn’t really been in our favour but I haven’t minded. At one point the wind gave up completely and we bobbed around in the ocean for an hour or so – the perfect opportunity to dive off the boat and swim in the middle of the ocean with a dolphin or two. The slow journey allowed for some great thinking time and being completely 360° surrounded by my favourite thing in the world (the ocean) has been exactly what I needed. The more I reflect on the idea of sailing as a mode of transport, it definitely fits with the concept of life being all about the journey, rather than the destination.

While on the boat we experienced the most perfect sunset I’ve ever seen. A crystal clear view of the sun sinking down into the ocean. The hour beforehand, the golden hour, really was magical. No land or other boats in sight. The colours of the sea and sky perfectly blending to form what I envisage as my eutopia. Forever I will now be able to close my eyes and be transported back to the way I felt in those perfect moments.

The beautiful sunset was followed by an incredibly clear night sky. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars. Jupiter, the Milky Way, shooting stars and bioluminescence guided us through our night sail towards our next adventure of passing through lock systems, drawbridges and peaceful canals thriving with wildlife.

Laying out on the bow of the boat, gazing up at a sky full of stars, I was reflecting on how perfect the time on the ocean had been only for it to be topped by witnessing one of the coolest things I will ever see – the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch lighting up the night sky in Cape Canaveral. The sound of the sonic boom as the rocket broke the sound barrier. The sky ablaze. You can actually feel it in your chest. I have no words to describe it apart from saying that it was such a f**king cool experience that will stay with me forever!!!!!

Sailing on the Sapphire, gave me the opportunity to be surrounded by the ocean and wildlife, to explore my adventurous side, to witness things I’d only dreamed of and to make lasting connections with some amazing people. I already knew I had a deep love for the ocean, what I didn’t expect was how quickly the sailing lifestyle would capture my heart. I’ve found my happy place and am now making plans to become a full-time Aquatramp! Stay tuned…….

Guest Writer- Michelle

It gives me pleasure to introduce the first guest writer for the AquaBlog. I have known Michelle and her husband, Tim, for awhile. This article is of her first sail on Sapphire from Coconut Grove, Florida, to Cape Canerival. -Captain

Over the summer, I had the wonderfully unique experience of sailing on the Sapphire Catamaran/living the Aquatramp life for three days that went by way too fast. I hopped on board, and after a few hellos, I had instant friends. For three days, the five of us did fun things together (watching a rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center! enjoying a sunset cocktail!). And we also did mundane things together (boat repairs! cleaning up after dinner!). All done with shared warmth and mutual gratitude during all of it. It was simply amazing.

My new friend Natalie from Australia has traveled the globe by herself and with friends and sometimes strangers. She seemed so sweet and innocent. Not a being a wild child hitchhiking in Alaska or sleeping on strangers’ couches during her adventures through Europe. She had just finished a story when I read a text out loud that it was free donut day, the world traveler’s face lit up “Free Donut Day is a thing?! I love America.”

My assigned task was to make a playlist for everyone to chill to in the afternoons….. since that is about the extent of my boating skills. For some reason, the theme song from Full House ended up on the radio (everywhere you look…. everywhere you look…), and my new friend, Pierre’s head popped up from over his book. In his beautiful accent, he asked, ‘is this from a TV show?’. We learned that they watched the same Full House in France that we all remembered from childhood in the states. We all shared a nostalgic few seconds. We all got such a kick out of having that silly show in common. Who knew?

Captain Gary has a laid-back generosity and is as open as the ocean itself. Nobody feels like a guest on the boat. When you’re there, you are the crew. Everybody belongs. You would contribute with stories, chores, cooking, playing a board game, a shared bar of soap if someone forgot theirs.

I’m looking forward to making many more playlists on many more adventures with the Aquatramp lifestyle onboard Sapphire, each one with totally different songs and memories than the last.

Will you please pass the jelly?

It was several months before Hurricane Irma hit the coastal town of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and I was flying from New Orleans to inspect a catamaran for a possible purchase. At the time, I was in the market to acquire a late model catamaran in the 40′ to 50′ range. The BVI and the USVI are home to several large charter fleets. The yachts in the businesses are shined, maintained, and regularly used by folks on holiday and vacation. The two main reasons to charter a new boat are A) It’s cheaper than owning a new vessel, especially if you are only available to enjoy sailing a limited time each year. B) Folks who will be buying a new boat may want to test drive a similar model to compare before taking the plunge.

Lagoon and Leopard both make quality products. They are built in France and South Africa, respectfully. On this specific trip, I arranged to meet up with a broker from one of the famous charter groups on the island. He and I had been in communication via email over several weeks before the trip on a modist Lagoon 420. The broker was always punctual with answers to questions and sent extra photos when asked, even making travel and accommodation suggestions.

On a three day weekend with an Airbnb booked, flights arranged, and a backpack slung over my shoulder, I traveled to the islands. New Orleans to Ft Lauderdale, to San Juan, to Tortola. With each flight, the planes were smaller and smaller until the last aircraft had seats for six passengers. Early the next morning, I woke with an island roster outside my window, crowing to announce the Saturday sunrise. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I ran down the stairs, and in this case, halfway down the mountain. The marina was still asleep when I arrived but lucky for me a bakery was nearby. Loaded up with fresh pastries, I waited eagerly.

Two hours later, the broker and I had preformed our walk around on the boat. Peeking under floorboards and behind engine parts, we were ready to untie the dock lines and go for a sail.

The sail and inspection did not disappoint. It was a beautiful day, the boat handled as expected, and the broker was respectful. We returned to the dock and secured the small ship. The rest of the day, I wandered the town taking in the sights, sounds, and flavors. A famous establishment most sailors visit is Pusser’s. The name comes from the historic British Rum once rationed on HMS ships. Notably, the Painkiller should be on your drink bucket list.

That night as I pondered of the possible purchase, I danced and made friends in town, I was even introduced to and shook hands with the BVI’s Premier, The Honourable Orlando Smith. Everything seemed right, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on a feeling that was in my gut. It wasn’t the plantains that I had for dinner, it was something else.

A week later, back in the states, it was time to decide on buying the boat. Still, my gut was telling me to wait. I phoned the broker and passed on the deal. Remember I mentioned Hurricane Irma? Not many weeks after my decision to explore other boats elsewhere, the weather system took a violent turn slamming all of the northern islands and leaving destruction from the infamous Irma. Who knows what the fate of that vessel would have been if a different decision would have been made? Note to self, always trust that inner intuition.