|A Plant-based Sailing Adventure|
I recently had the good fortune to be invited on a wellness adventure. To me, a wellness adventure is one of those adventures that is far removed from your regular wellness path. For those who don’t have a wellness path, I’ll take this opportunity to encourage you to think about getting one. A good one can be awesome, as it has the power to reconnect you with your inner kid.
It impacts you, not only physically, but more more ly, mentally. It will only serve your wellness. And feeling good and living with a wellness plan – well, it can transform you into a different mental state.
In sum, it’s an authentic experience, with a whole lot of health, physical and mental benefits. Don’t look to be babysat! Look to expect a fresh perspective on life, a renewed spirit, and an experience that will be far outside your comfort zone.
My premier article is on a company called Wellness On The Sea (wellnessonthesea.com), an adventure sailing experience, operated by international partners – a Canadian national, Jose Martucci and partner Alexandra D’OnoFrio. They call Fort Lauderdale Florida home port. Their wellness adventure is more than just fresh salty air, naturally powered by the wind. It’s also about a healthy lifestyle focused around a plant-based diet. But on this excursion we also fish. With salt water five feet beneath your feet to a depth of 2,800 feet, you will experience some of the most beautiful blues the human eye has ever seen.
Eight days living on the water sounds like a long time. There are no buffet style breakfasts, lunches or dinners. Everything is prepared and measured. Space and weight always a concern. Your boat must be nimble, and at 43 feet, the RIO is a nimble boat.
The trip is professionally planned. Pre-arrival, the hosts get a good understanding of each guest’s diet, possible allergies, and their familiarity with the open water, the deep seas and of course, do they like to bask in the outdoors, on beautiful beaches and explore historically significant landmarks – landmarks that include destinations where names like Seagram, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. gathered. The trip was to take us to Bimini Island. It claims to have been the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, apparently after meeting with John F. Kennedy on the island.
The RIO will take you on two speeds, “slow and stop”, but if the wind picks up, the ride can be exhilarating. The adventure includes encounters with wild tropical nature – wet, wild tropical nature. If I were not experiencing it with other people, these unknowns would have naturally kept me out of the water. But self esteem, trust and confidence are a huge part of wellness. On this trip, you gain a new understanding of what is “you” in Ontario Canada, and who you are when faced with new challenges. The tour of these very friendly sea creatures, is led by a seasoned surfer, windsurfer, diver, hiker, snorkeler, fisherman and all round outdoors man, Captain Jose Martucci. One of the first lessons you learn, he explains, is “it’s not about how much you consume, but more so, how much you absorb.” That’s important. The adventure begins.
Home port for sailing vessel RIO, a 43ft, single mast sail sloop made by the Benneteau boat company out of France, is Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Departure was on Sunday afternoon, July 8, 2018. After loading and stowing goods, the first order of the day was to time our departure so it would coincide with the opening of two drawbridges located along Port Everglades, leading us to the mouth of the harbour and then the Atlantic Ocean.
We were on our way to the Bahamas. RIO is skippered by Canadian, Jose Martucci. For those who Youtube sailing adventures, Martucci says it’s the same vessel that Riley and Elayna had first when they launched their YouTube channel Sailing La Vagabond. The trip started off with a nice breeze blowing South, competing with the steady Gulf Stream current flowing to the north.
To keep us on schedule to arrive at the predestined mooring, early in the night rather than later, we had to run the motor.
Martucci has been on or near the water his entire life. His life partner Alexandra D’OnoFrio, is a beautiful woman who co-owns the vessel with Martucci. Together they operate a plant-based sailing experience called Wellness on the Sea. Wellness on the Sea is a off the beaten adventure that focuses on a healthy life, attained from eating well and experiencing the Atlantic waters between Florida and Bahamas. What I quickly discovered was that by the sheer nature of this adventure it slows you down! Ninety-nine percent of the time there is no hustle. Once your craft is ready to go, sails are trimmed and you’re pointing in the right direction - you chill - enjoying the 360 ° horizon.
The first day was full of clear views and lots of sleep. At one point I was thinking we were nearing the Bimini, our destination island, but it turned out to be a rather enormous container ship, stacked as high as it possibly could be.
That night was a great thrill. It was a first, and firsts are fun. I woke up early, as usual, making sure I would rise with the sun, floating in the Atlantic Ocean, near a island, secure in a tropical cove. It was a little surreal for this country boy, who loves the water. As the boat started to come to life. I could see other boats exit out to sea.
We fished, some bites but no fish on, simply the fun of casting off of RIO in this clean and peaceful place was satisfaction enough.
Alex asked how the experience of crossing over was. I said spectacular. We discussed the amount of sleep their passengers get on the sail – most usually sleep the entire crossing and to wake up in the cove.
Before we ate breakfast, the crew prepared for heading into the marina.
We prepared to raise anchor, I was put in charge of powering the vessel, while the skipper laid the anchor chain into the anchor box. I really didn’t know what to expect, the largest boat I've ever powered was a 26 feet, but then again isn;t all about momentum. Everything came up and went up without an issue - we were sailing again.
We used the engine to exit the cove. The skipper, using GPS and visual aids, guided the vessel through the narrow channel reef that dampened the oceans rolling waves - ones that otherwise would have disturbed our slumber.
The skipper said we were headed to Bimini Blue Water Resort, home of the Hemingway Fishing Tournament and JR, the self proclaimed ring toss champion of Bimini South.
I’m finding most of the Caribbean claims heritage and pays homage to Hemingway. Bimini was no different, so I first thought.
Approaching the marina, we entered a generous channel 10 feet deep and full of very large fish. The marina was what you would expect of a small sport fishing port that has survived numerous hurricanes and all the foul weather you could give it. Layers of repairs accentuated the bleached colours of this genuinely organic, tropical gem of a port.
We were greeted by harbour master JR, who directed us to our slip and provided what was my first taste of the friendly Bohemian hospitality. He joked while we tossed him the lines and tied us off.
Setting foot on solid land after nearly a full day on the boat felt surprisingly good. As we re-organized and cleaned the boat, I was looking forward to exploring Bimini and its authentic and it's simple way of life.
Bimini is a long strip of land that has both a North and a South. The North is described to me as more developed and commercial, much like you would find on Nassau, or the mainland. The South, where we harboured, has more of a "townie" feel, authentic Bimini. The town of Alice is as authentic, true and organic as it gets.
The first orders of business, after cleaning up, was to restock the boat with drinking water, clear customs and immigration, and then take care of JR.
In May of 2018, new landing rules were put in place to ensure landing vessels declared their true landing value, firearms, including the number of bullets and all the proper numbers. This had to happen prior to any local marina accepting slip fees, captains had to clear customs and immigration. Once done, they receive a landing registration number that then would permit the harbour master to accept the vessel. Thus a legal port entry, bohemian style.
So we trotted off to customs. The customs office was located at the Big Game complex, another Hemingwayism.
Clearing immigration, we proceeded back to the marina where we started to fish of the pier, and ended up catching numerous tiny tropical fish. I did spot the elusive barracuda, a 5 ft long nurse shark, and many little nibbling Sergeant Fish.
The day continued as we had lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of the salon, hung around the pier, and went to the beach for snorkelling, a rest and to take in the beautiful vista.
The afternoon went fast, too fast. The sun was going down, and we were getting hungry, but we had to leave the spectacular setting and headed back to the pier where we could shower in the marina’s customers’ washrooms.
Walking across the island back to the marina took no longer than five minutes. We stopped at a place called Dolphin House. Dolphin House was a work in progress, built from the generous donations of people.
Arriving at the marina, we cleaned up and headed out for dinner.
Arriving at our destination we hopped out of the bucket. Wanting to pay I asked how much did that cost? “Nothing,” said the skipper, “The Bahama people won’t accept money for being friendly. It’s in their nature to be generous.” Everywhere was the same: friendly faces, good natured with a feeling of security, nothing would happen – it was way to hot and everyone was chill.
We arrived at our dinner restaurant, a small structure half on land and half hanging over the water. Entering, we discovered we were five minutes to late. Our mission was conch salad, but the establishment had run out of conch, five minutes ago. Asking where we could find more, we were directed to head further down the King’s Highway.
Walking along the way, we came across Bonefish Ebbie’s in Bailey Town, owned by David Ebbie, certified Bonefish Guide. At first it looked like a rather large compound, with its own uniqueness; a full service fish hut, boat yard with mechanic, a car mechanic, scooter mechanic, general store and bed and breakfast, and restaurant.
We headed towards the water and entered a one room building with magnificent deck that looked relatively new and whose deck was hanging inches over the surface of the water, for about 50 feet, 5 feet above the channel bottom. The last hurricane created a storm surge that took out the previous restauranteurs deck, forcing "Bonefish Ebbie", to rebuild it. The meal was fantastic: conch salad, conch fritters and the favourite local beverage, Kalik beer.
Sitting outside at a picnic table we joined two locals who provided great conversation and many stories about life on Bimini. Leslie, who worked in Nassau and was on vacation and Ken, her distant cousin.
Ken told the story how Bimini brokered the meeting between Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, saying Martin Luther King wrote his “I have a Dream” speech on Bimini Island South. There are numerous plaques recognizing King along the King’s Highway.
After dinner, we hung around, looking straight down at the water where we could see a plethora of fish. And yes, I could see the elusive barracuda, but also Jacks and marlin. A nurse shark swam amongst them - it was worth the visit and the cost. It’s unique, no other way to put it.
Leslie left me with the impression that the height of the water was relatively new, that as kids she and Ken could wade waste deep in this now 5 foot depth water.
Finishing up, we headed back to the King’s Highway. Walking back to marina, the skipper spotted the owner of the first place we tried, Fabian. Asking if we need a ride back, he offers his Ford 150; we climb in the back and head to Blue Water Resort.
Arriving at the boat tired and exhausted from a full day of adventure, we finish the day off with a game of UNO on the deck and then headed to bed. This time in the air-conditioned comfort and calm water of a marina.
The decision to go on a plant based, adventure trip was about stepping over self impossed boundaries with a focus on wellness. Studies are now showing more and more that a big part of wellness is getting a good night’s sleep.
We were cruising in the same time zone as Toronto, so there was no adjustment to a new cycle.
I needed to find the Bahamian way, which from what I was told has two speeds: slow and stop. I needed that.
First order of the day was to catch some bait fish for today’s fishing adventure, as we were headed for a fishing spot, offshore of North Bimini.
The skipper knows a reef, with some fish around it ....
We got back to the boat, sat down and had a wonderful breakfast, all of us were ready to cast off for a full day at sea.
The wind was light today, we had to use the motor to keep us between 4-6 knots.
Sailing North we headed to a reef of North Bimini, close to Resorts World a resort, casino and marina. The captain told us, "we would catch us some fish". And he was right. Putting the line in the water and trolling west of the reef we suddenly heard the bait casting reel start to whine - fish on DAnny shouted.
The fight was good, you could see the work that Danny had to do to land this fish. Working hard he was able to reel in our first catch of the day, the elusive barracuda, with gnarly teeth, and a thick long body. It must have been at least 30” long and weighed 11-13lbs.
Landing it, we cleaned it up and put the meat in the cooler. Satisfied with the fishing we decided to search for dolphins – to swim with them not to fish for them. The skipper prefers sailing to fishing, and was quite pleased we could continue sailing again.
Pointing the boat further north, we went in search. The water was pristine, and a couple hours went by without any sighting.
We decided to prepare for lunch; veggie burgers were on order. Using the rail BBQ, the captain heated it up and put on the burgers.
The captain pointed the sails into the wind and tie off the wheel to fix the rudder in a position of controlled drift. He then tied a life jacket to a long line and threw it overboard, off the stern. Next thing, he was overboard, swimming with the line as we drifted away from him. He, reached out and grabbed the line … it pulled him along with the drifting boat in the Atlantic Ocean, without land or another boat in sight.
Naturally this was a uncommon situation, so I jumped in next. It was another surreal moment – there was an island that was a distant speck behind us and away from the current. As we floated and swam along with the boat we could see bottom. Soon, with some coaxing, the rest of the crew followed. We swam as the burgers cooked on the grill.
It was refreshing in the day’s heat. Climbing back on board we sat down at the large table and ate our lunch. Finishing up we sat and talked, listened to music and attempted to sing an adaption of a well-known Bimini song by adding Canada to the chorus. We all joined in … but were suddenly interrupted by the sound of air escaping from the hole on top of ... a herd of dolphins.
Swimming along side the drifting vessel, the dolphins had joined us by the boat. Without hesitation the skipper was overboard, diving into the water swimming with them. We scrambled to get our masks, while the dolphins hung around for a short time. It was awesome. Climbing back on board we set off in chase.
Dolphins are smart, nimble and fast swimmers, it was impossible to catch them.
Spotting another group of dolphins we circled the herd as they swam with the sail boat. Wow – what a exciting site and experience.
It was getting late and we sainted to do some more fishing. Putting the boat into drift mode, we started to fish the reef as we slowly drifted out into deeper water.
I put fresh bait on and dropped the line in. I felt the line tug as I set the hook - fish on I called out! After a 10 minute fight, the fish came within sight, it was the elusive barracuda, my prize fish, a fish I had set my sights on the earlier December, it was on my Christmas list with my first attempt fishing in Cuba. Finally I had one online, and it was a little bigger than Danny's … I was so excited to have it online, I was celebrating before landing it, I lost focus turning to the skipper yelling I finally caught my barracuda! … my barracuda, flipped to the side and spat out my hook. Ugh! Peak satisfaction plummeted to utter disappointment. I lost the fish I had set out to catch just seven months earlier. As the crew scolded me for loosing my concentration, I took the position - no worries - there’ll be another. What I did catch was a type of Jack .
It was getting late. Skipper decided we should head back to Blue Water Marine and have some dinner. It was a full day. Arriving at the slip just after 8pm we tied up and cleaned the boat of the fishy smells from the day’s adventure. Sitting down for dinner we ate the fish and enjoyed a bottle of wine sharing stories of the day.
Another day in paradise. We all were exhausted; nearing 11pm we crashed.
Like every day, we started the sail off by putting the fishing line in the water. After about 20 minutes in we had a "fish-on". Reeling it in - we saw that it was another Barracuda … I was determined, this one was not going to get away. The fishing was spectacular, my second ‘cuda on the line and the first one landed. What a great start to the day.
Arriving at Honeymoon cove it was around 1:30. We anchored then lowered the tender, mounted the motor and set off for shore.
Honeymoon Cove was a small sandy beach in Gun Cay, with a coral bottom smoothed out from decades of people setting foot on this island.
As soon as we got close to shore, stingrays were everywhere - it was pretty awesome. They were not afraid of people, and there were of all sizes of them.
The biggest we called papa-ray; it was about 1 meter wide, with a tail that had seen bigger and better days.
Danny, who had brought bait for fishing started to feed them squid … we were swarmed. At one point one upended me. Falling on top of it was like I was riding a stingray like a bull in a rodeo, there skin is like a combination of hard rubber and hard leather.
Over the next two hours we spent played with the rays. Swimming, standing chasing and feeding, the skipper and I swam out further, there we could see nurse sharks, and not realizing it at the time a tiger shark … that did not even seem to notice us.
After swimming with the rays the skipper took Danny, Gala and I to nearby island, less inhabited by people, to fish from. He and Alex left to prepare dinner.
As they set off for the RIO, we could hear a distant storm build …lighting and thunder was slowly approaching. The skipper noticed too and soon reboarded the tender and set off to retrieve us.
Arriving back to the boat we lifted the tender and proceed to deeper water. Raising sails and putting the boat into auto pilot, we had our dinner while heading back to Blue Water Marine.
As the storm approached, we could feel that the wind was building.
We were making great time, the wind was strong and steady. Trimming the sails you could see the wind build by looking at the water surface. As the wall of wind hit, the RIO started to heel, our speed increased. As a sloop the RIO loves the wind. The acceleration felt smooth, we were sailing windward of a long number of submerged reefs, making the water less wavy almost flat, and what was a 2 hour trip there became a 40 minute trip back – we were sailing.
With stronger winds, its sometimes the best decision to not enter a channel or harbour, if your don't have to, unnecessary risk and all that.
Nearing the channel, the wind was blowing 18 knots, 4 more knots than the skipper felt safe entering, and a perfect wind to sail. He knew it wouldn’t blow for much longer. So we decided to sail.
Skip called me over and asked if I want to take the helm - I did.
Rain had started to pour from the skies and the wind became steady and strong. Taking the helm, and feeling like a true yachtsman, I started to sail the 43 foot long RIO, the biggest boat I’ve steered, let alone sailed.
It was accelerating, while I pointed the vessel into a heel, trimming the sails, and then tacking the large vessel, it was all under my control. The experience was awesome, inspiring and lasted about 30 minutes. As the wind calmed down, we decided to head back to the island, we lowered the sails and motored into port.
What a day, catching my second barracuda and more importantly, this time landing it, swimming with Stingrays, Nurse sharks and Tiger sharks in the open water of the Bahama Islands, to top it off I had the extreme pleasure of getting to sail a 43’ vessel named RIO. Life was beginning to feel really differnet, a true test of a wellness vacation and nothing like crossing some items off the preverbial bucket list.
As we approached Bimini and the Blue Water Marina the rain increased in density. Lightning struck and thunder cracked all around us. The rain was cool compared to the ocean. If you like storms, this was a good one, standing on deck made the expereince a little surreal.
We pulled into the slip, tying off the boat, we did the regular boat routine, tyding up and cleaning. As living in a tiny space, outdoors requires constant organization and cleaning. Alex took advantage of what she called “a gift from the heavens” and scrubbed the 43' deck surface.
That night we went to Bimni Big Game Club and had mahi-mahi fingers, fries and a large Caesar salad. Food is expensive on the island, however it can't get any fresher, also, there is no hunger on the island as the sea provides enough for everyone living on Bimini.
This was another beautiful day in paradise, it would be hard to top this one.
Today started off a little earlier for the crew of the RIO. Our plan was to head to the SS Sapona, a sunken ship, one of two large shipping vessels built by none other than Henry Ford. Its history is as colourful as the fish that now make its underwater water carnage home.
Originally, the vessel was used for shipping in the early 20th century (1920); it was then purchased by the founder of Avis car rental, who grounded the vessel in amongst the south Bimini islands. There he converted it into a restaurant and dancing club.
Later, when prohibition was enforced in the states, Joseph Kennedy, father of US president John F. Kennedy, who had his smuggling operation located on the west shores of Bimini, used it for a off shore warehouse.
"He would buy crates of whiskey for 18 dollars and then sell to mainland speakeasies for 240 dollars" says Thomas Saunders, (79) a well known local. He used the sunken vessel as a secret warehouse to avoid the US coast guard. When the US Government found out, they petitioned the British Commonwealth (Bahamas was once under the British Commonwealth), for permission to use the grounded vessel for target practice. Saunders, remembers as a child, watching the planes swoop down and bomb the ship. "Exciting," he said.
Today locals and tourists anchor around the boat and climb to the top deck where they jump off. A wonderful place for snorkelling as marine life flourish.
Along the way to the Sapona, we caught yet another barracuda; catch and release policy was enacted by the skipper, so we threw it back.
We spent the better part of the day swimming in an around the sunken SS Sapona.
Swimming back to the RIO the Skipper introduced me to the sport and art of Keel-sitting. This is where you snorkel under the boat and literally try to sit and hold yourself on the keel of the boat. The keel of a sailboat is the heavy weighted chunk of cast lead that provides sufficient weight beneath the waterline of the boat that prevents the boat from tipping over. It's big and it has a place to rest your butt. The trick is to hold your breath long enough to allow you to wedge yourself between the hull and the lower keel. It took a number of attempts to get it right.
We had had a late lunch on board. Cleaning up, we headed back to port at around 3:30 pm.
Arriving back at the Blue Water marina, we cleaned the boat and went ashore. Before dinner Alex rented a club car and we toured the length of the island. Heading to the northern tip, we explored a Hilton Resort and Casino called Resort World.
Resort World is a gated resort that occupies much of the north end of the island. Near the tip is a development made up of private homes and villas, an upper scale community, where small homes are 4500 sq ft bungalows, and start around $1.3 millionUS. The investors are reshaping the northern tip much to the disappointed of the locals, who feel unheard.
The Resort World playground is a place full of expensive power boats and Villas with 360 views, it's not at all like the eco touristy surroundings of the south end of the island. As we returned to Blue Water marina, the familiarity and friendliness of the local Bahamians was instantly refreshing. That night we enjoyed a wonderfully prepared meal by Alex and Jose.
We called it a night at around 11 pm. Another great day in paradise.