Home at Last
After wandering around Central America, Mexico and the Bahamas for the last 17 months (496 days), having traveled 12,186 miles, visiting 9 countries and 16 states we have finally arrived home. Our journey, both by land and sea, has been a life changing experience and we remain profoundly humbled by the blessing of such a great family adventure.
The kids have loved moving back into their rooms and seeing our cat Ike. Marshall has constructed every known Lego figure possible and routinely runs up to show off his latest creation. Amy is also enjoying her new elbow room and after going through all her cloths (yes she tried them all on) found only 10 things that still fit. I guess that is what happens when you go from a little girl to a young lady.
Susan and I are overwhelmed by the house and all the stuff. After living on the boat with all our possessions in a closet no bigger than the average entryway closet the excess of our house seems a little silly. Susan assures me that I will turn back into a consumer once again but it is amazing to us how happy and content you can be without all the stuff. Living on a boat, even one as large as ours, may seem spartan to some but we lacked for nothing and we were very content. Perhaps the hardest thing to get used to is how quiet the house is at night and that nothing is moving.
I wanted to close this final "sailing" update by saying thanks again for your thoughts and prayers over the last year. They were much appreciated and tangibly felt. Having been gone for so long we are eager to reconnect with friends, and with no summer plans our schedule is wide open, so put us back on your party invite list and social calendar. We are well rested and ready to kick up our heels again.
Thanks for journeying with us over the last year and a half. We are blessed to have you as friends.
Mark, Susan, Amy & Marshall
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Home at Last
Saturday, May 16, 2009
The concept of going home holds for me many warm thoughts and appealing images, yet the idea of "home" has always intrigued me. It seems in most cultures home is usually associated with a dwelling or specific piece of geography. The significance of the permanency or stability of "home" as a place is not lost to me, but living on a boat taught us that home is less about place and more about people. We were home on Mima and it felt that way because we were a family. The "mobile" home that Mima provided gave us the opportunity to explore and adventure outside our own paradigms and by so doing we expanded our understanding of self and the world around us.
In a broader context however, we are realizing that being back home in the
As I write this we are in northeast Montana 65 miles from the Canadian border. Over the last few weeks we have traveled from
The hours spent driving have allowed us all to reflect on our time sailing and like happens so often the trials of the journey seem to be fading into the distance and the triumphs are becoming treasured memories. We are all missing the ocean and the amazing environment it is and the opportunities it afforded us as a family.
The lessons learned at sea would be hard, if not impossible, to replicate on land and the people and places we visited have forever shaped who we are. We are almost "home" and as we look forward to being back in familiar surroundings we find ourselves thinking about and longing for the slower and less structured life of a sailor. Whether the kids will ever "go" to sea again only time will tell, but for Susan and me we sincerely hope that life will afford us the opportunity to set sail again to explore more of this amazing world we live in.
Thanks for journeying with us over the past 16 months, the 4Wheelers
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
"Mima Goes Aground"
We awoke to clear skies that contained a tangible chill and a foreboding that today would be like no other we had experienced before and one we would not soon forget. The past 15 months had seen us visiting new countries and meeting wonderful people, who have all added greatly to the tapestry that is our lives. But this day, day number 455 aboard Mima, would be like no other we had ever experienced. This would be the day that Mima went aground.
Actually, only the crew of Mima went aground, but as we said goodbye to our home for the last year and three months we felt like we had run aground. The life we had become accustomed to and the one which had provided so many new experiences was now behind us and a new adventure was underway. Having moved our possessions onto a motor home we were beginning the journey back to Idaho. Visiting friends and family along the way, we are excited to be home, but we are realizing daily how deeply we will miss the sailing lifestyle.
I will reflect a little on our time at sea in my article two weeks from now but for this one I have included a few excerpts from the kids about their time cruising. I trust you enjoy them and we look forward to seeing you all soon back home in Idaho.
The Ups and Downs of Leaving Mima
I am excited to be heading home to see, my cat Ike, our house, friends, and family, but as a result I am truly going to miss great friends, who felt like family, and hopping from island to island. What's nice about cruising, that I personally will miss a lot, is that you make good friends quickly because you don't know when you will see them again since you are always moving from place to place. The nice thing about living a stationary life is that you never have to say "good bye" to people, which I'm not very good at. But I think that's better than not having met them at all. I think at least if you have to say "good bye" you'll get to say "hi" again sooner, and with most of our friends it's not "good bye" just "see you later." I have no doubt that we will see some of our fabulous, fishy friends again soon. As for old friends, I'm over exuberant to have our paths cross again.
Some people ask where my favorite place that we have been to on this trip is, but I really don't know, but it's definitely not the time I got stranded on an island for 6 hours…ALONE! I very much enjoyed the San Blas Islands in Panama and the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala. The San Blas Islands were great because the water was frequently warmer than the air, and keep in mind it was ninety degrees. The white sandy beaches were wonderful and we met some of our greatest friends there. The reefs were untouched and flourished with life and the brilliant colors of the fish made me stare in awe. What I loved so much about the Rio Dulce wasn't where I was but who I was with. I met so many great friends there. Spanish school up in Xela, a small town in the mountains of Guatemala, was a blast. The very kind Guatemalan lady we stayed with was great and so was my Spanish teacher who only knew about one hundred English words. I loved Antigua, a small town in the middle of three of Guatemala's most active volcanoes, where my grandma and grandpa Wheeler came to visit us. We had fun being tourists and even hiked to the top of an active volcano (which I'm extremely proud of my grandma for doing).
Even though there were some things I disliked about living on a sailboat, it was worth it for all the friends we made and all the places we went and all the really awesome things we were able to do. I am sure I will never forget this trip.
Now that I look back after living on our boat Mima for 15 months I can state some of my favorite things and some of my least favorite things. Some of my favorite things and places are meeting the sailing vessel Side By Side, seeing the Goliath Grouper on Christmas Day, going to Atlantis, and making wonderful friends in St. Petersburg, Florida. Some of my least favorite things are not having my own space, missing friends and family, and home schooling.
When we left Mima in St. Pete I knew I would have lots of great things to remember about living on a boat. I was very happy when we became sailing buddies with Side By Side who have a 12 year old boy named Parker who likes almost everything I do. We were able to sail with them for over a year. We became really great friends. It was awesome when we saw the Goliath Grouper that was 8 feet long and weighed 100s of pounds. It was so cool seeing something that big right under our boat. We fed it a chocolate chip pancake when we ran out of fish and he spit it back out. We got to take Mima to a resort called Atlantis in the Bahamas that was really beautiful. Seeing and learning about all the marine wildlife like the Hammer Head Sharks and Giant Mantas at Atlantis was definitely a highlight of our trip.
Even though living on a boat with white sandy beaches to play on and clear blue water to snorkel in is pretty awesome there were a couple of things that were not so great. It was hard not being with family for Christmas like we always do, and I missed not having lots of friends to play with. Now that we are done sailing I can look back and say that the trip was worth it with the places we saw, the things we got to do, and the friends we met.
Live Slow, Sail Fast, Love Well the 4Wheelers
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
"Life in the Slow Lane"
I recently saw a t-shirt with a quote from famed race car driver Michael Andretti that said, "If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough." I chuckled at the notion and then began reflecting on the last 15 months that we have spent sailing along at a blistering 7 knots. At times even that snail's pace seemed too fast and I wished I could slow down.
I coincidently received an e-mail around the same time from a friend back home inquiring about a few things related to our time at sea that I have not written about. The reality is that cruising, in many ways is not much different than life on land. The everyday tasks of living and life must continue. Sure there are additional challenges at times based on our limited space and often exotic surroundings that are new and unusual, but for the most part they are much like life at home. The personal and interpersonal challenges you face on land still exist at sea. The issues that are a challenge in Idaho are still a challenge in Panama, Guatemala, Belize, or wherever life takes you.
The more challenging questions asked by my friend revolved around lessons learned and how one integrates back into life once we return home. I was particularly challenged by a question asking how we would find fulfillment in Nampa Idaho after such an exciting and life changing experience. Everyone who chooses to live out a life dream understands somewhere deep in their heart before they attempt it that the experience will change them. The scary part is wondering if I will like the change and the challenge really becomes how to take the adversity and triumph experienced while attempting the dream and mold them both into character building events.
How a particular individual or family, in this case the Wheelers, achieve a positive end-result is as varied as the individuals who choose to live out a lifelong dream. The real key, it seems, is learning to take adversity and triumph and use them BOTH as building blocks. Not steps upon which one props themselves up but foundational building blocks that become the core of who an individual is.
Amy and Marshall have seen more and experienced more in the last 15 months than they or we could have ever imagined. Susan and I have experienced highs and lows entirely new to us even after 22 years of marriage. We are learning that finding fulfillment is not about arriving at a place but about the process. For me life provided great fulfillment at 7 knots learning and becoming proficient at the process of sailing and living in harmony with the sea. Others like Michael Andretti find fulfillment in the process of driving a race car at 180 miles an hour. One does not take the place of the other and they are simply different avenues for different people to live out a dream.
We decided to take a chance and go for a dream that had been incubating within us for over 10 years. Deciding to go was the hardest part. Once we had decided to go we committed ourselves to making it happen and then the journey of discovery we found ourselves on provided daily opportunities for us to expand ourselves.
The key for me was slowing down enough that I could get the target in focus. I had spent 20 years in the fast lane and the result was a blurry image of life. Many who knew me questioned whether I could stand moving at a sailor's pace for any extended period of time. Not only did we tolerate it but we got to liking moving along at a slower pace. Still, I would presume that some might need to find a way to add some speed to their journey to bump them out of a rut and onto new and fertile soil. Whichever tack you choose (sailing pun intended) the message is clear to this sailor, dreams are worth attempting and fulfillment comes not from arriving at a destination but learning from and enjoying the moments of the journey.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Losing Little Red
The passing of a dear friend or the closing of a chapter in life is tough on the best of days and yet we sadly said goodbye today to a steady companion who has traveled with us daily over the last 10 months. I am getting a little ahead of myself, so first a little background.
One of the things that especially Marshall and I looked forward to prior to going sailing was the chance to do a little fishing. We have always enjoyed fishing together and the notion of catching something big in the ocean really intrigued us. Having said that, Idaho is not the best place to outfit a boat for deep sea fishing and I was pretty sure my trout rod would not hold up to the rigors of ocean fishing. With the generous help of Susan's dad (an accomplished fisherman in his own right) we left equipped fairly well but sorely lacking in knowledge about how to ply the depths for food, not to mention how to catch "the big one".
Shortly after arriving in the San Blas Islands of Panama 13 months ago Marshall and I took it upon ourselves to reach out to another cruiser and ask for help. We were exploring in our dinghy at our first anchorage in the San Blas and noticed another boat that appeared well equipped on the fishing side of the equation. After introducing ourselves we asked for suggestions and help getting rigged and preparing to do deep sea battle. It turns out we were talking with a retired commercial fisherman from New Zealand and his advice has served us well over the months that have followed.
It was in fact our very next passage that we caught our first fish. We had left a group of islands called the "Lemons" headed for the "Eastern Hollandes" and everyone encouraged us to fish. So we got serious about getting rigged and off we went. It was one of those perfect San Blas sailing days. We had 15 knots of wind on the beam with flat seas behind the barrier reef. We were all listening to music and enjoying the sun and tranquility of the day and then it happened. Without warning, out of nowhere, line began screaming off the reel. Now what do we do? We have the sails up and need to slow down while keeping a close eye on navigational hazards and not wanting to lose our first fish.
The Chinese fire drill that followed would easily have made fodder for late night television comedians. Susan took the helm, Amy cleared the deck and helped with sails, Marshall readied the gaff and I grabbed the rod not knowing whether we had a minnow or a mammoth. After a few exciting minutes we were able to avoid going aground on the reef and got a 45' King Mackerel on board. It was great fun, not to mention wonderful eating, and we were hooked (pun intended).
The months that followed saw us fishing anytime we could, and yet it seemed we just were not catching many fish. A few mackerel but nothing of real significance. Not until we ran into a boat in Bocas del Toro, Panama did we get our lucky break. The husband and wife aboard s/v Lone Star Love were not only avid fisherpersons but actually sold a line of fishing lures. We skeptically acquired a few of their lures with strong guarantees that these would catch fish. Sounded like a fish story to me but I was willing to try anything.
The very first time we used them we caught fish. A small shiny red, silver and black skirted lure hooked up first and then again, not once but 4 more times during our 3 hour trip. The best part was that we finally caught a Tuna, the fish we had been hoping for and our favorite fish to eat by far. Over the next few weeks we tried all the different colors but it seemed that without fail it was the little red lure that scored 90% of the time. The fish log that Marshall had started early in our voyage was finally being updated on a regular basis.
Whenever we sailed "little red" was always in the water. On our sail from Isla Mujeres, Mexico to the Dry Tortugas of Florida alone we caught 11 fish, and 10 of the 11 were on Little Red including our largest fish to date a 47 inch King Mackerel. Little Red provided an abundance of fresh fish not to mention hours of fun and numerous wonderful memories. Upon reaching the Bahamas in January we decided to retire Little Red after successfully bringing to the boat Mackerel, Barracuda, Bonita Tuna, Blackfin Tuna, Dorado (Mahi Mahi) and Jack Crevalle. In total, over 30 fish with this one little lure. Not bad for a $7 investment. We thought we might have a plaque made with the lure mounted on it and a list of the fish caught for the trophy room back home in Idaho.
Our sail to and from the Bahamas and our fishing while there saw us hook up 5 Dorado (Mahi Mahi) but no tuna and by the time we started to head back to Florida Susan asked if we could bring "Little Red" out of retirement for one last shot at a Tuna. Ironically I had just met and got acquainted with the crew from one of the most famous professional fishing boats in the world. When I told them about "Little Red" they emphatically said, "If a lure is hot fish it and never retire a good lure."
I reluctantly agreed and am now learning it is almost always risky to make decisions with your stomach. Arriving back in Idaho with Little Red and one last meal of seared Blackfin Tuna was not to be. Somewhere over the Florida banks he disappeared. We do not know whether Little Red snagged on flotsam, a wayward crab pot or a giant fish. All that remains now are the memories and a lot of left over sushi supplies.
For 10 months "Little Red" faithfully followed behind Mima never complaining and never letting us down. From Panama to the Bahamas this little lure logged over 1500 nautical miles. I am not one to anthropomorphize animals or to give to inanimate objects more than their due, but suffice it to say our journey would not have been nearly as memorable if "Little Red" had not come our way. Good bye old friend and thanks for the memories and the sushi.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Saturday February 21, 2009
Location: Warderick Wells Cay, Bahamas
N 25 22'55
W 076 37'25
Sail Log: Atlantis Found and Bahama Mamma
Atlantis has intrigued philosophers since Plato's day and continues to fascinate dreamers and scientist alike. Did an entire civilization once flourish on a mythical or now extinct continent? It is said that on Atlantis the arts reached heights of expression never before seen and that scientists and scholars of the island made great discoveries and built wondrous machines. Its' people traveled far and wide in sleek, fast ships, trading with distant lands and countries. This evolved civilization thrived for years, until one day it was submerged by an unforeseen volcanic eruption. The entire island and all its' treasures were drawn into the depths of the ocean. In a single day the ocean swallowed Atlantis.
I have always liked the idea that somewhere waiting for the right adventurer Atlantis will be discovered and its' riches revealed to the world. But then again I always liked Indiana Jones movies as well. The truth is, we are learning, Atlantis can be found and it may be in the Bahamas or wherever you are.
Having spent all of January in Florida during a particularly cold spell we were eager to get back to the islands and to be at anchor. Our marina experience in St. Petersburg could not have been any nicer but we are wanderers at heart and a month at a marina when there are islands/Atlantis close by and the chance to meet Bahama Mamma is more than this mariner could stand.
We had been in the Bahamas for just a couple of days when Susan's Mom, Step Father and Aunt arrived and met us on Mima in the Atlantis marina. That's right; Atlantis does exist in the form of a super-resort on Paradise Island. Las Vegas has nothing on this place, add to that the largest man-made marine habitat in the world along with literally miles of water park activities and you begin to understand what this Atlantis is like. We were treated like royalty and learned a great deal at the same time. The Manta Ray feedings and predator lagoon presentations allow you to view up close some of the oceans' most intriguing marine inhabitants and learn more about them. Did you know that after feeding Manta Rays do back flips to aid in digestion? What a thrill it was to see it firsthand. Our three days playing and experiencing this Atlantis is an experience we will not soon forget, but I was still longing for a different Atlantis, and when do I get to meet the famed Bahama Mamma?
We said goodbye to Susan's Aunt and with Grandma and Grandpa still on board headed out to a chain of islands called the Exumas. A short 30 nautical miles from Nassau this chain of islands has much to offer sailors and island lovers alike. We are still getting used to sailing along with only 6-10 feet of water under the keel when we are in "deep" water, but so far only water and the occasional wayward jellyfish has touched Mima's underside.
Anchored a few days ago on the south side of Norman's Cay, within view of the old hangout of drug lord Carlos Lehder and a downed airplane in 5 feet of water, we began reconsidering what defines Atlantis and who Bahama Mamma is. A no expense spared man-made Atlantis is one thing but the dozen or so small islets along with good protection from Norman's Cay made for an idyllic anchorage. Is this Atlantis? While enjoying snorkeling around the airplane wreck Susan (aka Little Fish) began looking for conch.
I must tell you that in the last 14 months I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys snorkeling or that is more comfortable in the water than Susan. She is routinely the first one in the water and the last one out, hence her new nickname. Combine all of that with her uncanny ability to spot delectable items from the ocean buffet and then prepare them to perfection and she is perhaps the real Bahama Mamma, and so cute besides. Today she discovered the conch "mother lode".
We are very careful to not harvest any juvenile conch and adhere to all local fishing laws. But with six people onboard our limit was quite high and after "Little Fish" had 31 in the dinghy we called it quits. Two hours later all the conch was cleaned with help from Grandpa Rob and we enjoyed a lazy afternoon onboard. If you ever get a chance to try Conch Fritters, Cracked Conch, Conch Ceviche or my favorite, Thai Coconut Curry Conch you are in for a treat. To this mariner this is my idea of Atlantis and add to it a real Bahama Mamma on board and what more could you ask for?
The following day we made our way to Hawksbill Cay. This uninhabited island played host to Mima and a single mega yacht. We never saw the mega yacht's inhabitants on or off the boat so we had miles of white sandy beach all to ourselves. Amy and Marshall (our children) swam with Grandma and Grandpa and made sandcastles while we walked the beach hand in hand looking for the next seashell for our ever growing collection. As we turned to walk back down the beach we were joined by a sea turtle that swam just 15 feet off the beach all the way back with us. He occasionally raised his head for a breath of air, looked at us and then continued on down the beach with us following close behind.
I was reminded once again that Atlantis is not a "place" in the minds of dreamers and adventurers nor is it the man made result of fabulous imaginations and untold millions of dollars. Atlantis is a state of heart and mind not a place. More and more we are learning that each day is defined by what or whom we put our faith in and the relationships we invest ourselves in. I am convinced that Atlantis can be found, but we must stop looking for the place called Atlantis.
What are we to make of the famed island beauty and legendary Bahama Mamma you ask? Well, what can I say, if you want to meet her come visit, I am sailing with her.
Live Slow, Sail Fast, Love Well
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA
January 28, 2008
N 27 46'05.8", W 082 37'44.6"
It has been quite a month since arriving back into the United States on December 26th. We enjoyed a perfect sail up the coast of Florida from the Dry Tortugas to Venice and then on to St. Petersburg. We got settled into the marina and the kids quickly made friends, and then we were off to visit some of Susan's family in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and on to Orlando to act like tourists for a few days. Amy and Marshall even got interviewed about living on a boat during their visit to DeSoto State Park for an upcoming television special.
I had a number of repairs to make on the boat and all has gone well and we have enjoyed St. Petersburg and the marina community here a great deal. We plan on leaving in a few days to head to the Bahamas for a couple of months. We are excited to get back out to the islands to snorkel and explore. We had forgotten what it feels like to be cold and we all had to buy pants and jackets to stay warm here as Florida has experienced an unusual cold spell during our stay.
For those of you who were around when we left you will remember that our original plan was to be gone roughly a year and a half before returning home to Idaho. As we begin to sneak up on that time frame we have to fight the tendency to look to the future instead of enjoying the present. Enjoying the journey and the day is in fact one of the things we have learned on this little soire. Speaking of learning experiences, I had a number of people e-mail me at our one year anniversary and asked about what we have learned or how we have changed.
In many ways that is a difficult question to answer because the last year has presented times of great joy and others times that were quite sobering. Four people living 24/7 on a boat creates opportunity for tremendous relationship highs and lows. Like life everywhere I guess, there are pluses and minuses. But having been asked I started to make a "top ten" list, here goes;
10: I do not need the t-shirt. This is not a justification to become a nudist I am referring to the "been there, done that, got the t-shirt" mentality. I still want to "do that" but I am growing less needy of wanting to possess the t-shirt to prove it.
9: Getting "corn-holed" by your cousin is a lot of fun. While visiting with and meeting new family members on Susan's side of the family in Florida we were introduced to a lawn game which appears to be a cross between horseshoes and ladder golf. In essence you try to throw a bag of corn into a hole, hence the name. If you successfully get the bag of corn into the hole everyone yells "corn hole".
Hold the presses. While in St. Pete our good friends Kelly and Becky Stover from Boise came to visit. We had a nice time together just hanging out. The wind was fickle and the weather cold so we did not get to sail like we had hoped but none-the-less, we were together. We played cards, snuggled with the kids and like getting to know new cousins and their strange lawn games, we were reminded once again of the priceless value of family and friends. When all else in this material world disintegrates what a timeless treasure relationships are.
We all went to dinner together one night in St. Pete and after a wonderful Tapas dinner we stayed to listen to some really good live music. While listening to the music Sue and I began to dance. Not a big deal really except we were the only ones dancing. Sue looked at me with a tear in her eye and said, "I am so glad we have learned to dance".
She did not mean we "know" how to dance. In fact we would tell you that we both have two left feet. Neither of us grew up dancing and we would certainly never have taken to the dance floor by ourselves before this trip. In our journey we have meet many who seem to be running from something in their lives. We have learned that we went sailing not to escape from life but to keep life from escaping us. For us that has meant learning to dance.
8-1: Dance. We won't pass up the opportunity to dance. I know many of you can remember a time when you saw someone dancing, maybe even by themselves, when no one else was. Their arms may have been in the air and they seemed oblivious to the fact that lots of people were watching them, but not joining them. We used to observe that person from afar, but from now on we may be that person as we have realized that they are simply dancing to what their heart feels and not as concerned about what others think or do.
As we head out to the Bahamas on what appears to be the final chapter of this journey we are looking for more chances to dance.
Live Slow, Sail Fast, Dance Often,