Miami to Panama on Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse is a 78′ 70 ton steel hull 1958 baltic cruiser with one 250 hp detroit diesel engine, 6 sails, the boom & gaff rig makes it a cutter type boat which has a 4 sided main sail which extended horizontal off the mast (most sails are 3 sided because there is not top piece). The previous owner used it as a repair shop, making the entire lower level a workshop with welding equipment, saws, a lathe, and two generators to power it all. There are two berths, one double bed in the captains room upstairs, and a bunk bed off the living room connected to the kitchen. The water tanks had rusted out, so we stored drinking water in bottles & washed with salt water from buckets. No radar, auto pilot or any of the luxuries of sailing in the 21st century. We did have two large dingys, an emergency life boat and luckily more than enough tools to pull us through the intense trials that awaited us. She sure was beautiful, and unique, everywhere we went she turned a wide eye, and she brought together five unlikely people who would never forget those 19 days at sea and 11 at port.

When I arrived the tools & equipment were everywhere because the 1st captain flipped her. While bringing her into the Miami River, he forgot to check when low tide was and grounded out tipping the entire boat over. The second captain was a crazy old man who brought the boat to his friend’s repair shop. The owner couldn’t come to the US and needed someone to get the job done. This second captain made the situation much worse  and when we came with the 3rd captain he freaked out and brought a shotgun, supposedly called the CIA and coast guard on us, and came by to harass us everyday while we were getting ready.

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This was the first time I had really gone sailing. I was already terrified, so when I was alone one day on the boat and this old captain came by and started pointing out all of these safety issues I started getting scared. Hurricane season had begun and we had no idea how fast this boat would go. We had no radar, or way to communicate with the coast if anything went wrong, we were going out blind. I started to lose trust in the captain and when the crew arrived and gave me a really bad first impression I decided to bail. I called the other captain because he had offered to let me sleep on his couch and teach me to sail. He was super friendly, paying for us to go out to eat and for drinks. The next day he took me to each of this three boats. One of the boats were in need of repairs and he said that if I helped him build the new boat he was working on, he would give me this old one to fix up myself. The boat most of been at least a $10,000, he said he had been trying to sell it for years and was sick of paying to have it docked up and protected during hurricane season. I felt so intrigued by this, but after calling the old captain and talking to him I decided I would go meet up with him and talk about the trip on Crazy Horse. In the end I realized that I didn’t want a boat all to myself and that I needed to face my fear, what was the worst thing that could happen? Death?

I was afraid everyone would be mad at me coming back. When I arrive the three woman started cheering, they were so happy, because they knew how much I would be needed. The next day, the weather was fair, the engine strong, we had heaps of long life milk, everything was coming together. We wiggled right beneath the 6 bridges, straight through the huge sky scrappers along the Miami River.

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Not until a mile out did we begin to feel the power of the seas on this heavy boat, and I began to feel sick, not because of the sea but because I did not know what I had just gotten myself into. I didn’t feel any better when our first challenge was crossing the gulf stream, which made us move at about 1.5 knots (our destination was about 1300 knots away, and at 1.5 we would go 36 knots per day, later we averaged 4 knots which was about 100 knots per day depending on wind). We realized our trip would be at least twice as long as expected, two weeks at sea instead of the planned one. Once we got into the rhythm it was slow but smooth sailing for several days, a few minor problems where a rope snapped and knocked off an radio antenna and a small sail rip had to be repair. Then one night the exhaust started blowing out huge burning embers and pouring smoke into the engine room. The closest place we could go was Cuba. We were worried what would happen in an American boat. In the end we had no other choice.When we arrived in Cuba they greeted us with utmost hospitality and rum.

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We stayed in Cuba for five days waiting patiently for the archaic system to function (yet efficient), we had a great opportunity to travel to Holguin a large city in South Cuba and get a feel for a country on the precipice of change. Only one year before there was no internet connection or phone where now you can pay (quite a bit at 3.50 per hour) for good connection and buy a cell phone of your own. Holguin had one communal TV that you could watch near the center square from 3pm to 10 pm with international channels. They were beginning to make trade agreements for foreign cars. Horse wagons ruled the street, but there were some 50’s American Chevs, Fords, and Dodge that had been well maintained. 

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While in Cuba there was too much drinking and even more drama on the boat. The captain had begun sleeping with the nudist woman crew member, and the other couple was a lesbian couple that got into yelling fights everyday. I couldn’t take it and kept leaving every morning to go into town away from the madness. The captain got mad and said I was losing my dedication to the boat. Then when I tried to stay and help he yelled at me all day. The gal was beginning to get sick of it too, and started to come with me to town. He thought I was sleeping with her, which was the farthest from the truth. He started getting aggressive with both of us, and too drunk to reason with. When we would tell him in the morning he would avoid the issue and say something along the lines that he was the captain and we had to listen to him or leave. We learned that this was the first time he was the actual captain. He had an amazing ability at operating the boat, repairing and keeping calm during extreme conditions. He didn’t have any skill at making sure people’s needs were being met, especially three women. The gal and I went to the airport to try and see if we could get tickets to leave, and found it would be very difficult and expensive. We went back to the boat to tell the captain that we understood he was captain, but besides operating the boat, he had no power to treat us the way he did. We said we would leave if he didn’t apologize. He got angry and said that we were starting a mutiny. I told him I realized the situation he was dealing with was a huge responsibility, so far it wasn’t going as planned and having us in rebellion didn’t make it any easier. Standing on the shore with my bags, I told him I wouldn’t stay if he didn’t say sorry to the gal and I for the way he acted and promise to stop it. Finally he said sorry and I got back on the boat to go to Jamacia.

The sea on the way to Jamacia was peaceful and calm. After we passed the windward pass around the tip of Cuba the wind and current was at our stern (back) and we immediately picked up 1.5 knots extra speed. Port Antonio was full of beauty and culture. The climate wasn’t so terribly hot and there were no longer no seeums that ate you alive at night. The marina in Port Antonio had wifi, a pool and bar, showers, everything you could ask for. While we hung out in Jamaica a few days we met some locals who took us to a beautiful water fall and then to a beach where the locals gather.  A company is trying to privatized the beach. The locals defend it, because hundreds or even a thousand go on the weekends for loud music, street food, bars and a safe place to light their spliff. The police in Port Antonio had been cracking down on marijuana smoking. The monetary penalty was not severe but I was told they started cutting off people’s dreads when they take them to jail, which in my opinion is a serious human rights abuse. 

There was a free concert by the reputable Jamaican artist Sizzler hosted by the up and coming phone company LIME attempting to take control of the island. The stage had a mega screen that constantly played advertisements behind the performers, and between acts performers, dancers and comedians came out and talked or acted out advertisements. The main performer Sizzler yelled “LIME” just about any chance he could during his songs. That night the captain and I had a great chance to rekindle our friendship. Our boat was anchored out in the harbor, and since we only had one boat to paddle in and out, if you were left ashore you had to swim about half a mile to the boat. We did this several times a day, but when you have had a few drinks it becomes a lot more interesting finding the boat in the dark. There was a boat in the marina that was worth about 10 million dollars. A really nice young local Jamaican and his brother took care of the boat for the last few years and had no idea where the owner had gone. They didn’t even know who the owner was, they assumed it was either a celebrity or criminal. All that mattered to them, was a paycheck arrived in the mail every month We partied in this futuristic boat that seemed like a space ship.

I was still a little afraid of swimming after almost drowning in the Ganga in India. Here I had to find more confidence because of the long swims we took everyday. One challenge was swimming underneath the boat, which had a 15 foot hull covered in sharp sea creatures. The next happened one day when I saw a buoy in the distance, at least a mile away. I decided to swim all the way there. I had realized that while swimming all I had to do was take my time and float on my back when I needed a break and I could go forever. It took me at least 20 minutes to get to the buoy. The second I grabbed onto it a white snow owl landed one foot from my face and sat there staring into my eyes for several minutes. I was so recharged after that experience I swam straight back to the boat in half the time.

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Back out in the open blue for the last leg of the journey. The seas were calm, without much rain until the last days. We put up the top sail and it snapped a mast shroud which keeps it up. The mast began bending and we had to climb to the very top to replace the wire . We were lucky their wasn’t much wind or the whole mast would have fallen over. We put up the square sail which requires the wind to be directly behind and one of the spreader arm lines snapped which made the arms almost fall off, so we had to climb out on the spreader to replace this line. Our final night before arriving in Panama the batteries gave us a scare when our lights started flickering and showed only 8vs, luckily with a few attempts the generator started and we arrived in Panama at 1am. We dropped anchor next to a ship wreck (strange choice, but made for a beautiful view with the lightning that night, and also during my watch a few small whales or manatees came and hung out near the boat) Almost forgot the night before our last, we caught a huge mahi mahi, our only catch of the trip.

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Shipwreck

 

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When we arrived in Panama we celebrated with the owner who was waiting for us at the marina with a 15 year old bottle of whisky. That night the captain and I got really drunk together alone and talked about what happened in the last few weeks. We hadn’t really talked much at all the last part of the trip. I had felt like everything was fine, but definitely didn’t feel the kinship we had shared in the beginning. He told me that the whole time he couldn’t stand being around me and thought that all my smiling was me trying to make him angry. He started pushing me, and we almost fell off the boat a few times. He was yelling that he had let me into his world and that I took advantage of it. I told him that I was very appreciative of him “letting me into his world” but that this was not a way to look at things if we wanted to stay friends. I felt better getting things off my chest but chose to get off the boat the next day.

I began sleeping in the marina lounge and planning a flight out on Wednesday four days away. I started getting anxious wondering if I should stay in Panama a few extra days or even go south and travel more in South America. The ultimate challenge was to relax and see what happens. On Tuesday only a few hours before leaving for Panama City, Sea Quill a dream yacht catamaran pulled up. A girl from the crew came right up to me to tell me how she had just joined the boat a week before, but couldn’t stand being at sea. She felt trapped and anxious and asked me if I could take her spot. They were delivering the boat to Australia, stopping at several islands on the way, including Galapagos, Marquise, Fiji and Tahiti, food and visas included, three months eta. I thought, lets go aye?

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