If You Thought The Last Post Was Bad...Try This One

Just after sunrise, trying to look un-traumatized. I know what you must be thinking, because I’m thinking it too: how is it POSSIBL...


Just after sunrise, trying to look un-traumatized.

I know what you must be thinking, because I’m thinking it too: how is it POSSIBLE that in less than three weeks after their terrifying, hair-raising, nightmarish passage to Samana, the Moxie crew experiences ANOTHER, even MORE terrifying and life-altering passage to Puerto Rico?!?!  I feel sheepish telling you this story, heaping more of our drama onto your laps.  But for the same reasons I felt I should tell you my last awful tale, I need to tell you this one, too.  EVERYONE HEAR THIS: The sailing life is beautiful but it is REALLY HARD.  That is the reality. 

The passage from Samana, Dominican Republic to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, is 135 nautical miles and takes 24 hours or more to complete.  This passage is named the Mona Passage, and it is notoriously dangerous, with trade winds on your nose, great variation in depths that cause huge waves, a rocky shoreline, and shoals to avoid because of the rough water.  It is essential to make this trip with a good, solid weather window, with favorable winds.  We had this good window and were given the green light by Chris Parker, our go-to weather guru. We left the marina at Samana at 5:20 pm on December 30.  Our friends stood on the jetty and cheered us on as we departed.  My friend Cheryl took these photos of our exit:

Here is me screaming out at our friends, "Hey cool kids! Did you hear?  Puerto Rico is the new DR!!"





The first few hours of the trip were peaceful and calm, the sunset stunning.  The kids went to bed at 7:30 pm, Trav took the first solo watch from 8:30 to 11:45, and I took a nap.  My solo watch began at midnight.  The seas had kicked up by then, the winds too.  We were at 18 knots of wind at that point, right on the nose, which was more than had been predicted, but still ok.  The waves were increasing in height and Moxie was pitching UP and DOWWWWN. UP and DOWWWWWN.  Pretty uncomfortable but not awful. 
Not yet.
I had an weird feeling at the beginning of my watch.  I couldn’t relax.  To be honest, I never really “relax” while underway, especially on a watch, but this feeling was different.  It was like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I had an audio book to listen to, but I couldn’t bring myself to put my headphones on.  Something inside me told me to pay close attention, to stay on guard.  At 1 am, it happened.
 
KA-KLUNK-KLUNK-KLUNK.  I heard the most awful noise from below my feet in the cockpit.  I immediately killed the motor and Trav leapt up from the cabin.  “That sounded like we collided with something, didn’t it?” he asked.  I shone our spotlight into the water and Trav could see what we had hit.  My heart sunk when he told me: it was a line to a fishing trap.  We had run into it, part of it was trailing behind us, and the rest of it was tangled around our prop.  We had been motoring along at 6 knots and this line had stopped our 24,000 pound boat in her tracks.

We had been told that fishing nets and traps are not set in waters deeper than 100 feet.  We were in over 250 feet of water.  What the hell???!??  Trav grabbed the boathook and hooked the line to cut it.  I shone the light and handed him his knife.  As he grabbed it, the plastic grip slid off the hook, and he lost it in the water.  “SHIT!”  He used our other boat hook to grab it again and cut the line.  But the line had been holding us to the bottom, and now we were drifting.

I knew what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t look at Trav when I feebly said, “Please don’t go in that water.” To which he replied, “Jen, I have to.  I have to cut the line from the prop.” 
“Can’t we just drift and wait until morning?”
“No, that’s too dangerous.  We will drift to shore.”

Captain’s Note from Trav: Everything is freakier at night.  Tenfold.  If we had hit the fishing line in the daytime, it would still have been dangerous, but not nearly as scary.  When I first looked down at the rudder assembly, it was cocked to one side and I thought in my sleepy haze that we might have damaged the rudder and may have lost our steering.  I said, “Oh God.” Jen said, “What?” I took back my words and said, “Nothing.”  My mind started racing- what would we do if the rudder was damaged and we couldn’t steer.  We were a mile and a half from a rocky shore that the wind and seas were pushing us towards.  When day broke, the winds would only increase.  We were offshore from a country where there was no coast guard and limited help options.  It was a fix it yourself situation, and that’s why I had to jump in.  I had complained in the DR about having to get permission from the government to sail from one port to the next- I wanted more autonomy, and now I had it.  Careful what you wish for.

 Trav put the boat ladder out, I retrieved his snorkel, mask, fins, and his diving flashlight.  He took off his t-shirt, put his gear on, and jumped into the pitch black, rolling seas.

This was the very worst moment of my entire life. I shone the spotlight into the water where he had gone down.  Moxie was pitching up and down on a rollercoaster of continuous, large swells, and I had to hold on tightly as I leaned over the side with the light. I knew that if any part of the boat hit Trav on the head while he was under it and knocked him unconscious, he could be trapped under the boat and would drown.  I knew that if he didn’t come up, I couldn’t go in after him, because I couldn’t risk putting myself in danger and leaving our kids alone on the boat.  I knew that there was a chance that I could lose him forever, right then, at that moment.

He came up.  “I’m studying it to see how I should cut it.”  He went down again.  My stomach churned.  He came up again and took a big breath.  “You’re doing great, Trav.” He went down again.  Time inched forward.  After an eternity, he came up clutching a tangle of nylon line and a makeshift soda-bottle float. “I got it off! Get the camera!”  My hands were shaking so badly I could barely snap the photos.  Here’s what I took:           





   
I was terrified that the prop or the shaft were damaged.  We started the motor.  It seemed ok.  Trav went below and checked the shaft- also ok.  We slowly resumed our course, still not 100% confidant that nothing had been damaged. We did not discuss what had just happened- I knew that if I did I would lose it.  My teeth began chattering.  I knew that if I let them chatter I would cry.  I set my jaw and clenched my fists. I put the snorkel gear away.

By now, the seas had really picked up.  We needed to raise the mainsail to steady the boat and to do so, Trav had to go to midship and haul the halyard while I kept the boat pointed into the wind.  The problem with this was that Trav was already nauseous from his rolly, saltwater-gulping swim.  Standing midship to raise the main with the boat rocking back and forth was absolutely sickening for him.  After he got the main up, he vomited several times over the side.  I was worried that real seasickness, the debilitating kind that doesn’t go away, would set in and Trav would be out of commission.  We still had 15 hours or more to sail.   

We sailed ahead in the increasingly rough ocean.  Seawater splashed us relentlessly, we were soaked to the skin, even with our raingear on.   After an hour or so, we felt the first drops of rain.  The clouds ahead were huge and black.  We were headed into a squall. 

The skies looked clearer to our port side, offshore.  We headed that way to try to skirt the squall, but the problem with that was the further offshore we went, the rougher the seas were.  The first squall seemed to hit us fairly lightly, rain and wind, slightly bigger waves.  But an hour after that, the second squall hit.  The seas were the roughest then.  The waves were 10-12 feet high with a heavy wind chop on them. They crashed into us, again and again and again.  I had to keep reminding myself that Moxie is a tough, bluewater boat and she is made for this kind of movement.  The minutes crawled by.  Trav tried his best to fight the seasickness.  My heart raced and I told myself again and again to take deep, calming breaths.  I wished and wished for the sun to rise, but we had two hours of darkness left to get through.  I was so relieved and grateful when squall subsided and the sun edged it’s way into the sky at 6:20 am. 

The kids woke up around 7:30 am. The seas were super rough, and the cockpit was soaked.  Hud and Viv tried to stay below but it was too rolly and they joined us topside.  When you are in rough seas, all you can do is sit quietly and wait.  It’s hard to move, going below to get something you need takes a fair amount of effort.  When it’s rough, we usually don’t even talk.  There’s no other way to describe it: it’s miserable.
You can see the strap where I am clipped in to the boat.



As the day went on, the seas eventually calmed.  We listed to podcasts of “Story Pirates.”  I had made a ton of food for the trip (30 quesadillas!!- my friends had teased me that I had made enough quesadillas to get us to Columbia) but we were all pretty queasy and no one could really eat.  The fishing line Trav had cut from the prop was still on our deck.  Hud asked what it was and I told him we would tell him later.  I still wasn’t ready to talk about it.
Uncannily, at EXACTLY 5:20 pm, EXACTLY 24 hours from our departure, we dropped our anchor in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.  We went about our usual anchoring chores, I wiped the salt from the stainless steel and woodwork. Hud made us a New Year’s Eve dinner of salsa, guacamole, bean dip and cheese dip.  We gratefully ate it.



To say that these sailing experiences have humbled us is an enormous understatement.  I feel changed in a way I can’t really describe.  This is all I know:
1.      My husband is truly, truly amazing. He is my hero.
2.      My kids are tough as nails.
3.      I am stronger than I knew I could ever be.
4.      Moxie is a badass boat.
5.      We will never sail at night again. Ever.    
 


It’s a new year, and we’re on a new island.  Happy New Year, dear readers.  Stay present, live in the moment, stay calm, be positive, keep paying attention, and most of all, be grateful.  xo



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32 comments

  1. Geez, Jen! My heart is in my mouth reading this. Big love to all of you from the Jones/Knechtel clan. Happy new year, Julias! ๐Ÿ’œ❤️๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’š

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    1. Thanks Sue. Big hugs to all Knechtel/Jones clan members. xoxo

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  2. OMFG JEN. Not for the faint of heart is RIGHT. You guys be safe out there!!

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    1. It was crazy. Deep breaths. Hope to see you guys out here in the blue! xoxo

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  3. omg!! you are an amazing family...happy happy happy new year...pffff wow adrenaline..., so happy that you made it xxxx
    love, Renate

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    1. Renate! Thank you for reading! I was so happy to meet you- I felt at the time we would have been soul sisters if we had had more time together. :) Keep doing the awesome work you do for all the young surfers of Cabarete. xoxo

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  4. I am so thankful you are all okay and Trav was able to release you from the trap and line. You are such an amazing woman, wife, mother and heroine. I sat here reading your blog crying and praying even though you were certainly safe by the time you wrote this. Such a scary adventure and pray you have no more dangerous events. Travel safe and keep up your blogs . We love you ❤️๐Ÿ’‹

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    1. Sylvia, the kindness of your words and supportiveness is so appreciated by our whole family. we can feel your love and we love it!! Big hugs from Team Moxie xoxo

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  5. You have now experienced what every real boater fears the floating lost fish traps....my dad and brother (or mom) hit a HUGE net in the middle of the night too and your story sounds just like theirs...congrats on surviving the passage...now just remember these times and know that you can handle whatever comes your way...Happy New Year ❤❤❤

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    1. Darcie, I KNOW- it was so crazy, and it could happen again, that's boating life!!! Thanks for reading and for your insights and support. Big hugs!!

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  6. What a read Jen!...so freaking scary!! I love you all and I am sooooooo very glad you are all okay. Never, never again will you sail at night. Happy New Year, tons to be so thankful for....xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

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    1. KP- thank you. And I KNOW- it was insanity. Night sailing is off the table. Sending you love! xo

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  7. WOW! What a frightening, heart-racing adventure you guys endured for hours!!! Glad you are all safe!!!

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    1. It was nuts. Thank you for reading, Cindy! Wishing you peace, calm, and love in 2018.

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  8. You are all amazing. I am so grateful you are safe and made this passage safely with all the troubles you were having. The force is with you. Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks Ulli! I do feel the angels, good forces of the Universe, and other guardians were with us that night. I do not want to push our luck, however! We appreciate your support. Big love!

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  9. Ditto evryone’s comments! Glad you are safe. Growing up in Friday Harbor I didn’t venture into blue water often, mostly puttered around the archipelago and Canada, but my Dad and I were in large swells one day in a storm that we’ll never forget. Thank you for sharing your story. Reminds me of another...”Red Sky In Morning”. Read when back in Telluride, if you haven’t already. Love to you all and Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi Jamie! I read that book and it scared the bejeesus out of me. Now I feel like I almost lived it! Thank you for reading and the biggest happiest new year to your whole gang. xo

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  10. When you guys get back from this incredible adventure, you really need to write a book. In fact, you might just want to skip the book and write the screenplay.

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    1. Thanks, Mike. That's a high compliment. Big hugs and Happy New Year!

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  11. OMG! What a great story! My friend Bev and I we're on the edge of our seats the whole time.

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    1. Thanks Jamboree! I hope to not provide any more edge of your seat reading from now on though. :)

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  12. Holy shit that was a nail bitter!! Tougher than nails is RIGHT!!

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    1. Stasia, I KNOW-- it was SO CRAZY. Taking a deep breath now in Puerto Rico. Viv and I just painted our toenails sparkly purple. She said, "Shouldn't we save this color for a fancy occasion?" I replied, "My friend Stasia says not to wait for occasions to be fancy. She says we should be fancy whenever we feel like it." She likes that idea and so do I. Here's to being fancier and and loving it in 2018! xoxo

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  13. Hi Julia's!!! Heard you on the koto radio today!! Unbeknownst to you I've been following your journey! Stay safe and keep the news coming! Xo love lordog

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    1. LORDOG!!!!! So happy to hear from you!!!! Thanks for reading and we love you! xo

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  14. It reads exactly like talking to you! SO wonderful -- all of your stories need to be turned into a book -- I am serious! MUCH love as always!

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    1. Mom, you are always my biggest cheerleader. Thank you. I'm sorry we keep creating such stressful stories that you have to process. If Hud or Viv did that to me I would throttle them! LOVE YOU!!!!

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  15. Yikes. Glad you made it. Those always make for great stories....after the fact when you can say it all went well in the end. Not fun to live through, though. Stay safe.

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    1. Hi Green! You are SO right. Trav was just going to email you because he rebuilt the lifting pump on the watermaker and is just waiting for clearer water to test it! We'll let you know how it goes. Hugs to your fam!!

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  16. Jen, please know that you too are a hero in many of our eyes!!! You are an amazing role model for HUD and Viv... your determination, love, strength and hope shine through each of your posts, and you are greatly missed here in Telluride! Stay vigilant, safe and always smiling you beautiful woman!

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    1. Thank you. That really means a lot. Your words made my day. xo

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