Breakin' the Law! How We Spent 8 Straight Days on Moxie and Illegally Entered a Country

6 Hills Cay: Our illegal hidey-hole where outlaws like us hang out in the Turks & Caicos and try not to get caught A year ago tod...




6 Hills Cay: Our illegal hidey-hole where outlaws like us hang out in the Turks & Caicos and try not to get caught
A year ago today, I was Artistic Director of the SAF Young People's Theater.  I was in tech week, directing a play I had written called Max & Minerva's Magical Machine.   A year ago today, I had taken a shower and was most likely wearing a cute outfit.  A year ago today I was melancholy because an important chapter in my life was ending.

Today, I hastily type these words in a restaurant where we are dining so we can jump on their wifi.  Today is the first time I have been inside an actual, land-based building in 8 days.  Today is the first time I have worn any kind of footwear (besides snorkeling flippers), for 8 days.  Today is the first time I have said ,"Hello" to someone besides Trav, Hud, Viv, or Sadie, in 8 days.  Back on Moxie we are low on water, and it's been 4 days since my last shower.  My hair is greasy, my legs are prickly, and my skin is covered in salt. Our laundry tumbles in machines nearby and I am wearing the only clean clothes I have- a stretched out cotton dress and a threadbare pair of underwear.  We are in the Turks in Caicos, and it's absolutely beautiful.  I mean, GORGEOUS.  The only problem is, we aren't officially checked in through the Turks & Caicos immigration. For reasons I'll explain later, we CAN'T check in.  We ARE NOT supposed to be in this country.  A police car just drove by and Viv gave me a LOOK.  Then she whispered, "Are they going to put us in jail, Mom?"
"No sweetie," I reassured her, "We have a plan."  

But let me back up a bit.

Eight days ago, we left Long Island, Bahamas  at 10 am and started off on what we thought was going to be a JUST a 24 hour sail to Mayguana, Bahamas, followed by another long sail to the Dominican Republic.  The 24 hour, overnight sail was long and grueling.  What had been a dead calm, easy day of sailing (reading out loud to the kids and strumming my ukelele, idyllic vacation kind of stuff) turned into rough, rocking, yucky seas as soon as the sun went down.  I made myself a coffee and prepared myself mentally for my first watch in the dark, with Moxie hobby-horsing up and down in big waves I couldn't see coming.  I was terrified but I told myself I wasn't.  Trav "slept" in a sleeping bag beside me in the cockpit, ready to help in case I had a problem. We were both clipped in with safety lines and locking caribeaners (sp!).  I was amped up, hypervigilant, and more than slightly crazy, constantly checking the surroundings for lights from other boats that we might run into.  (I saw none.)  I also checked and rechecked our course on the GPS and autopilot every 2.6 seconds.  I was a miserable stress-mess.  Then it was Trav's watch.  He had never really slept when it was my watch, but did I sleep when HE was on duty? HELL YES, I DID.  I slept until I automatically woke up 2 hours later (at 1 am) and  forced Trav to take a break.  I had rested, the rough seas had grown on me, and miraculously, I was ready.  My second watch was better.  To the port and starboard sides I watched our hull break the waves and stir up the bio-luminesence that lives in the ocean here, tiny organisms that light up like aquatic fireflies.  Watching them was hypnotic and spellbinding.  Above me, the constellations seemed to pop out at me like braille or embossed letters on a greeting card, telling me their stories.  It was still terrifying, but beautiful too.

The sun rose and Trav and I high-fived.  Our second successful all-nighter sail!  We did it! We expected to land Mayguana at 10 am for some much deserved rest, but then, we listened to Chris Parker's weather report and, and OH NO!  The weather was turning, the wind was expected to really pick up.  We needed to run for the DR and run FAST.  We told the kids we'd have to sail ANOTHER 24 hours.  Hud's response? "LET'S DO IT!" Viv also agreed we could handle it.  (P.S. Our kids are tough and amazing). We sailed all day in rough, pummeling seas.  The kids (who are so used to movement by now they can happily watch movies below deck, aided of course by the wonder drug Stugeron which you can't get in the US) as Trav and I got soaking after soaking up on deck, listening with headphones to the "Finding Richard Simmons" podcast which is AMAZING (listen, if you haven't already).  We sailed like rock stars, trying our best to make progress in the crazy waves.  But then we listened to the 6 pm weather, and Chris Parker the weather guru told us that in order to avoid the REALLY bad weather, we would need to get to Luperon, DR by noon the next day.  And then we realized, at the rate we were beating up against the insane waves, that just wasn't possible.
We needed a Plan B and we needed it fast.  

My brilliant husband remembered a conversation he'd had with another sailor about a tiny spit of land called French Cay in the Turks & Caicos where he'd hole up and wait for weather while crossing to the DR.  We looked it up on the charts and found it was 10 miles away.  We began our sail there, just as the sun setting.

Anchoring at a strange island in the total dark, when you're totally alone with no other boats, and there are huge breakers nearby, is very scary.  Trav was sweating it.  We anchored in the dark.  We were ok. Kind of ok.

The thing is, we can't be in the Turks and Caicos because of Sadie.  TCI  has the STRICTEST dog laws, and there's a rabies titers test that is nearly impossible to get even in the US, that she doesn't have.  We had already checked about this, and not only can you not bring your dog ashore here without the right papers, the OWNERS of the dog aren't allowed on shore either.  We'd heard the stories about cruisers who had their dogs euthanized and their boats confiscated for breaking the rules.  You're allowed to anchor at TCI, that's allowed, but you CAN'T go onshore.

We slept like rocks that first night at French Cay, an island bird sanctuary that fills the air with deafening chirps and wild avian calls and the strong stench of feathered poop. The 6 am weather report the next day was more than ominous.  Bad weather surrounded us. We couldn't sail off to the DR as planned.  We were stuck, REALLY STUCK, in the Turks and Caicos, a place that didn't want us, a place that wouldn't take us.  

So began an 8 day stretch, 100% confined to our boat.  We moved Moxie to another nearvy TINY island, 6 Hills Cay, because it provided better coverage from the wind and waves.  This place is postcard-lovely, but we were not allowed to step foot on land. Although the closest town to this island is miles away, we were too afraid to break the rules.  Trav would bring Sadie, cloak and dagger style, to the tiny island to run around and pee, twice a day, by paddle board or usually just by swimming with her there.  (We didn't dare put our dinghy in the water).  The sight of Sadie swimming in her life jacket to shore, with Trav cheering her on through the waves, was both adorable and heartbreaking.  It made me realize that even though we've gained so much from this trip, we've all had to give up things, too.

At first, I was really worried about how we'd survive, day after day, stuck on the boat.  I figured we would want to kill each other after a day or so.  I mean, even though we live on a boat, we are usually on land, hanging in a beach, exploring, or being with other boaters.  So how would we manage all of this TIME, in such a small space (250 sq feet), just us, for days on end?  Doesn't that sound scarier than sailing overnight in rough seas?  Ok, well, here comes #765 of the biggest surprises I've ever had in my life-- these days together confined on  Moxie have been some of the happiest of my entire existence.  I'm not kidding.  Talk about having absolutely NO DISTRACTIONS.  No internet. (We rarely had it before anyway, but still) Nothing to do but be together.  And what did we do?  We kept an upbeat schedule: homeschooling with gusto, snorkeling and swimming off the boat (saw a 7 foot nurse shark and so much more), playing games, talking, imagining and playacting, the kids practicing knots and recording the weather.  Viv and I baked some kind of yummy sweet treat every single day! (MOM ARE YOU PROUD OF ME?) The hours zoomed by.  It was the most simple way of living, and I LOVED IT.  My eyes fill with tears at how much I have cherished this time, the endless hours of my sweet little ones telling me their stories and climbing into my sweaty lap all day, every day, as we bob and rock in our cozy ocean home.  This kind of living might not be for everyone, but man, I'm telling you, it's for me.  When I think back to a year ago and how worried I was about leaving the Young People's Theater, how I agonized if I was making the right decision, leaving something I loved so dearly, something I had poured myself into, for so long, how would I live without it?...these days held captive with my crew have answered that question.  I will always love the YPT, but I do not miss it.  I am on a different path, and my heart is fuller than ever.  Apparently, there's no limit on the love your heart can hold.

Back to the story-- how did it come to be that I have, after 8 days, my dirty feet securely on land?
We had prepared to sail today and all through the night to the DR, because Chris Parker had predicted that today would be our window.  But this morning, to our horror, he advised us differently.  The weather has changed AGAIN.  Now, it looks like we won't be able to sail until SUNDAY or MONDAY. Another FIVE days on the boat.  We did an inventory of our food...it's super low.  Water supply is too.  So Trav decided to take the dinghy to shore and try his luck with TCI immigration...he'd explain our plight...he'd beg for mercy.  He shaved, put on a clean-ish shirt, put the dinghy in the water and took off for land.  We waited with bated breath for his return.  Would they say yes?  Would we be able to go to shore?  Or would they kick us out, make us sail on?

The answer is...there is no answer.  Trav went to the immigration offices and there was no one there.  A lady in a nearby shop told him that the immigration officers would be back at 2.  He waited.  They didn't show up.  After a while, Trav left and bought some precious groceries (tomatoes! peppers!  eggs! paper towels!).  He walked around the town.  No one was around and no seemed the least bit interested.  He returned to the boat and we decided to try our chances coming in together (without Sadie) to eat in a restaurant, use the wifi, and do laundry.  So here we sit, looking over our shoulders. No one has said a peep to us.  We have our passports and boat papers with us, in case we are questioned.  We are renegades! We are outlaws!  Will be be caught?  You'll have to tune into the next blog installment to find out.  (Unless we're in a jail that has no wifi).

Until then, lots of love, dear friends. ADVENTURE! xo  
  

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13 comments

  1. Holy shit!! Inga & I have been reading this with varying degrees of amusement & horror! We must talk soon. Back from Africa last week. Next objective: find boat, learn to sail, chase Julias. We miss & love you guys

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    1. Thank you, Banks! As I wrote to Inga yesterday, we talk about you guys EVERY DAY. Buy that boat and chase us down. Julias are standing by, ready and waiting for the Potters. Big hugs to you all! Jen

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  2. I freaking love this! Jen, you are still the best storyteller I know, and it warms my heart to hear how lovely time can be confined on a boat with family. Your adventure, strength, humor and passion are all so inspiring! I also can hear you saying these words (especially the side notes in parenthesis), and am loving it. This article was totally written in the psyched, "I have barely slept in five days", jazzed, a little stressed but pumped Jen voice! You guys are the coolest family ever and I hope the weather clears up or that TC continues to be the most lax country out there and no one looks your way. I'm sure you will be fine! DR bound, you got it Julia family!!! xo

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    1. Julia! Your words bolstered me today, thank you. When you meet up with us, oh the fun we'll have! Thank you so much for reading and for being my forever friend. xoxo

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  3. I love every single thing about what you guys are doing, and that you are able to do so with the entire family is terrific. Best wishes for your travels ahead, and catch some Mutton Snapper, as they are sooooo delicious.

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    1. We caught 1 mutton snapper and it was deliish! Thank you for reading!! Jen

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  4. Special place in time! Wonderful story and glorious adventures you are having!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading, Lara! You should see the kids swim these days, they'd make you proud. :)

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  5. I am so inspired! Thank you for letting us take this journey with you! AH! It's so crazy!!! Stay safe and keep the stories coming! I'm gong to beg Andy to let us meet up with you somehow!?

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    1. DODI. If your gang met up with ours, it would be the biggest treat for us ever. You are welcome any time, truly. Please do! xoxo

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  6. I have missed reading your adventures because I have not had internet either. South America for 2 months. So glad I can get back into your adventures because they are far more interesting than mine are! I can't wait to hear the latest.

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  7. Hey, I just checked in on your blog - this was a great read. It sounds like you are living life to the fullest! Carry on with fair winds and following seas. :) - Green//

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  8. Tia says 'whoa! Look at that water!!! .... Hudson's going to have stories when he comes back ...... ..... if he comes back.' 😊, we think of you guys often!!

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