Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Current Location: Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

There’s a part of me that feels guilty about writing this entry before updating you on all of other adventures in El Salvador and how much we love it here. The people, the weather, the culture, the pupusas! Life is quite tranquil and peaceful here; very little drama. I must admit I'm never one for high drama. I like it this way. However, this tale must take precedence over the trivial and tame events that take place during the average day of a cruiser.

It’s taken me the past few days to digest what occurred on last Saturday evening. If it was a tall tale, it would appropriately begin with a line like “It was a dark and stormy night”……but unfortunately it isn’t a fictional story or fairy tale, it was real.

It began tamely enough and followed the pattern of any other Saturday night for us. We took a dip in the pool, had dinner, socialized with other cruisers over a cold beer and took a dinghy ride back to our boat. We had recently decided to pull up anchor and move over to the mooring field joining about 20 other boats. In retrospect it was like checking into Psycho’s - Norman Bate’s Motel. There was no crazy, murderous Anthony Perkins dressed up like his mother, attacking us in the shower, but Mother Nature did show up. She decided to create a fright night in her own shower stall, called Bahia del Sol Estuary.

We arrived back at our boat around 7:00 p.m. and started to relax, eat some dessert and put on P.J.s (apparently to my fellow Floating Frat House members, this means changing out of a wet bathing suit and into underwear…if I’m lucky).

As the wind picked up and the common nightly thunder and lightning show began, I reassured Mickey and J.P. all would be well. I recall saying something like, “let’s get cozy, put in the hatch boards and enjoy snuggling up while it rains for a bit. Maybe watch a movie.”

It should be noted that Mickey REALLY doesn’t like thunder and lightning, but has shown great courage and witnessed that many of the storms do not pass overhead. It’s the beginning of rainy season in Central America and nightly rain, thunder and lightning are common. On our first encounter with this phenomenon, we found ourselves at anchor running around in the cockpit stashing things and taking down anything that could blow away. It took us by surprise and you will cringe to discover we were both butt-naked while doing this. There was not enough time to change clothes and it was too darn hot for foulies. Take heart, nobody was anchored close enough to witness this scary event and if they were, I’m sure their dreams are haunted by naked Doolittle’s dancing in their heads. For this I apologize.

Little did we know we were about to experience our first “microburst” weather (see    for the scientific explanation).

A microburst is a small, very intense downdraft that descends to the ground resulting in a strong wind divergence. The size of the event is typically less than 4 kilometers across. Microbursts are capable of producing winds of more than 100 mph causing significant damage. The life span of a microburst is around 5-15 minutes.

It began benign enough and we followed the same protocol we had before (clothed this time). However, within 20 minutes we were experiencing high winds, a deluge of rain, and intense thunder and lightning. As I handed up a raincoat and lifejacket to Ben in the cockpit, the wind had picked up to 80 M.P.H. and the rain was coming down in sheets. It was difficult see our position and other boats, until the night sky was lit up by flashes of lightning. To put it into a term I embarrassingly admit to using in the 80’s, “It was getting GNARLY!!”

Ben turned to me and calmly yelled over the howling wind, “That boat over there is moving! He’s loose from his mooring!! Give me the radio!!”

Sundancer had been off our port bow and was now moving fast down the estuary directly at another boat, Blythe Spirit. Ben announced over the radio a warning for the other cruisers to watch out for the drifting vessel and gave a heads up to Blythe Spirit that a boat was coming right at them. Thinking and acting quickly, Sundancer’s skipper threw out his anchor and came to a stop after missing the other boat by about 15 feet. For a minute Ben and I thought we had imagined it, but soon realized what he had done. I quickly made a mental note, “have anchor ready to go”. I’ll admit it was not a comforting thought to picture Ben handling a huge hunk of metal on our bow, while lightning bolts filled the sky.

Only moments before, I was gently telling the boys that this was just another rain storm, and was now shoving their lifejackets in their face and sternly commanding, “Put these on NOW!” I could see the contempt on their faces and the clear accusations of “You’re a stinkin’ liar!! This is NOT just another rainstorm!“

At this point we were being tossed about on our mooring ball and after violently heaving to port a few times; I considered that we may be breaking free very soon. As Ben looked out over the cockpit dodger, he saw our bow disappear under the water and bounce back up again. This repeated action was enough to cut us free from the mooring ball and we quickly started to drift.

Let me pause for a minute here and articulate what happened in Molly’s world at this point. (Yeah, I know this is like one of those annoying “emergency broadcast tests” that occur on your TV while watching your favorite show..….you can skip ahead if you want). When the weather picked up, Ben instinctively knew that this storm cell was not like any other. It took me longer to come to this realization. However, when I knew the sh## was about to go down, (sorry, but there really is no other word to describe it), a calmness came over me. Call it motherly instinct, the ability to stay calm under pressure, an out of body experience, being in the moment….whatever, but everything fell away except for the fact that my family and I were going to survive this and I would do everything in my power to make this happen.

In a way it reminded me of giving birth to J.P. I waited and waited to go to the hospital and barely made it there, because I knew my body could do it on its own and I didn’t want anybody gettin in my space like the first time. It was a visceral, primal experience and even in the face of nurses telling me I wasn’t close to giving birth, I knew they were wrong and I was getting this done on my own terms.

Imagine their surprise when that kid popped out and practically shot across the room as they wheeled me into the delivery room. Yep, I was going to get this done….come hell or high water (ironically we were experiencing both at the moment).

As we broke free, I ran to the electrical panel, adjusting the batteries so Ben could start the engine and turned on the navigation instruments, which includes a depth sounder. As Ben stood at the helm, I stood in the cockpit and read aloud that the current water depth was “5-9” which indicated we were 9 inches away from running aground. If this occurred we were screwed and would be at the mercy of the swell and hurricane strength winds. I remember looking over at the dark gray water as Ben did a u-turn with our boat, quietly willing it to make the turn. Glancing at the depth, we were now 6 inches away from hitting bottom. Miraculously we swung clear, back in control of our boat and headed into the deeper water of the channel. Crisis diverted….for the moment.

For the next 15 minutes we drove up and down the finally decided to anchor behind the marina where there would be more protection from the 72 knot winds. I took over at the helm, heading up into the wind and Ben stood in the cockpit scoping out a place to anchor. The wind and rain was so strong I couldn’t keep my eyes focused as water pelted my eyes. I informed Ben that I really couldn’t see anything and he headed out to the bow to take a look. I soon heard him screaming from the bow, “TURN-TURN-NOW!”

Then I saw her. The boat Talaria appeared in front of us about 10 yards off our bow. I wrenched the wheel to the right as we barely swung clear of her. She had broken free of her mooring, side swiping another sailboat and was awaiting assistance to enter the marina. It clearly articulates how dark and confusing it was out there that night, we couldn’t see a 42 foot boat 30 feet in front of us.

Crisis averted once again. This is where the narrator of the story would say, “Those Doolittles are lucky bastards!”

Little did we know the boats in the marina were undergoing their own challenges. Cleats had broken free, waves were crashing over the wooden dock and barrels used keep the pier afloat were flying everywhere.  Go to   for the exciting story at the dock and some great photos. If we had known this, we probably would have second guessed our decision that night to take a slip and tie up.

As quickly as the system had developed, it went strangely calm just as rapidly. This allowed us to tie up to the dock for the night and lick our emotional wounds as there was no physical damage to any of us or Knee Deep. As we maneuvered our way in, all hands were on deck assisting and attempting to get everyone to safety. That’s what happens in the cruising world, when people need help, everyone jumps in to make it happen. We rely on each other and it’s one of my favorite things about this life.

The boys quickly hopped off the boat and I found it fascinating that they had huge smiles plastered across their faces. When someone asked Mickey what he thought of the events of the last hour, he replied, “That was awesome!!” And later in the evening, J.P. made the astute observation, “I really liked how everybody was helping each other!” It put their mother’s mind at ease that they may not be scarred for life after all.

Mickey and J.P. were quickly escorted off to our friends’ boat, Stray Cat and Blue where they were looked after by their surrogate grandmothers who watched them so adoringly.

All in all, only one boat sustained structural damage (see blog post on for the details and the incredible story of his boat that decided to save itself), while most others were only cosmetic. Physical injuries were what we would categorize as “boat bites” which are bruises and cuts that occur while scurrying around your boat.

The next day was spent partaking in therapy-like conversations on the dock. After an intense event such as this, I found it interesting that an important part of the healing process is the purging and sharing of your stories and observations. All in all we only lost 3 pair of shoes, the bench to our dinghy and our foot pump. Ironically the guy who rarely wears shoes, retained his flip flops, perhaps it was the weight of them that saved them. In the morning I realized I could not locate Mickey’s new IPod and my Kindle and figured they too had disappeared in the storm. They were later recovered from inside of our microwave. I quickly threw them inside so they wouldn’t get wet from our leaky windows the night before.

As I lay in the cockpit last night looking up at the stars, mulling over how to tell this story, inspiration hit in the form of a James Taylor song, The Secret O Life. Here’s an excerpt:

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it There ain't nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to The top of the hill
But since we're on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride Give us a smile now

Isn't it a lovely ride
Sliding down And gliding down
Try not to try too hard It's just a lovely ride
Now the thing about time is that time
Isn't really real It's all on your point of view
How does it feel for you Einstein said that he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Try not to try too hard It's just a lovely ride

The line that struck me most was “Isn’t it a lovely ride” and the inherent message of just enjoy life. The highs, the lows, the flat lines….all of it. There’s nothing better than experiencing an event like the other night to reinforce that fact.

I could walk away from an event like this, declare it a disaster and leave the sailing life. Or I can learn from it and I wholeheartedly did. I learned that I am capable in a crisis situation and that I would protect my family with everything I’ve got.

I think we all experience things like this, maybe not with this much intensity, but life throws you curve balls and you either get hit by the pitch and whine about it….or smack it out of the park, declaring it a victory. Most of the people I encounter take the homerun every time. I know I will!


From Ben,

I woke up the morning of the storm and told Molly, “We are in for some weather tonight…”. Nor sure what it was but it felt really warm and dry. My “unagi” was working.

We had a typical day and headed out to the boat that evening. Molly is right that in one moment she was telling the boys “Let’s cuddle up and enjoy this” and the very next she was shoving life jackets at them and things were getting interesting.

Here is my description of conditions at the height of the storm: Imagine driving down a country road at 85 MPH on a VERY rainy night… turn your headlights off…..NOW put your head out the window! A little scary.

What was most amazing was my crew. The boys hunkered down below and just rode it out. Molly TOTALLY stepped up, taking care of details (the depth sounder was HUGE) that I was too busy to think of.

It was amazing to watch SunDancer pitch violently and pull on her mooring so wildly. She is a very big boat and given the conditions, I was not surprised to see her bust loose. I was shocked at how fast she went passed us. I knew immediately when we broke free and was not worried, as I was able to get the boat to come around and power into the wind and current.

The visibility remained poor which explains how we almost plowed into the back of Talaria. Again, Molly was totally on and we got snugged up to the dock with no hassle.

Nothing beats Mickey’s “THAT WAS AWESOME”! I then went into rescue mode and helped pull Tolerance off the pilings that wrecked her, got her secured to the dock, tarped her to stop the ingress of water, and weighted the boom so she would heal away from her cavernous hole.

This was definitely the BIG event of our cruise so far, and I can proudly and confidently say I have an incredible crew. Our family was awesome in the eye of the storm.

Looking forward to getting home and seeing everyone.

Photos by Zachary SO Lough (

Doolittle boys happy to be at the dock!!!

J.P. checking out the damage to sailboat Tolerance @ Bahia del Sol Marina.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Belated Pictures - Chiapas, Mexico

Current location: Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Finally some photos from our coffee plantation tour while we were in Chiapas. Here's some of what I wrote previously:


One of my favorite parts so far has been the coffee plantation tour where were able to enjoy a beautiful and different environment. We actually had to put on sweatshirts to keep warm, a nice change of pace for us tropical residents. Visiting this place was a great reminder of how much I love being in the mountains and look forward to enjoying them again soon.

The boys and I, with a few of our friends, were picked up at the marina in a van driven by Ulysses who turned out to be the coffee plantation manager. We drove an hour and a half inland to the “finca”, the literal translation in English is “country house” (Ben was unable to go since he needed to finish his captain’s license requirement…another story in itself, requiring urine samples and drug testing).

This particular coffee plantation, Finca Hamburgo, has been owned by a German family for over 125 years and their tag line appropriately states, “A place two blocks from heaven”...or something like that (which conjured up this disturbing thought in my head, “I’m a long way from my destination if I’m headed the other way!!”). We traveled into the rainforest to about 5,000 feet in altitude and were amazed at the lushness of our surroundings.

Although Mickey and J.P. weren’t inspired by the subject of coffee growing, they found off-roading in a 4x4 truck through the rainforest quite exciting. As we passed people on the dirt roads with machetes in hand, they found it even more intriguing. They also raved about the the amazing meals we were served at the plantation’s restaurant/hotel. Chicken Parmegian in the middle of the rainforest….does it get any better than that???

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story, but let me just clarify that the beauty and tranquility of this place was astounding. I was quite content to get off the water for a while and enjoy a different region of Mexico, a country I have grown to love.


I have to admit most of the more beautiful photos were taken by J.P. on his new Ipod Touch. The kid has some camera skills!! Enjoy!

Of course, John came along with us. Here is goofing around on the old gondolas used years ago to move the coffee down the hill.

J.P. got a great shot of a family that works on the plantation, taking a spin on their motorcycle.

Coffee plantation stray dog....too much caffeine? Poor guy!

Ulysses and John checking out the youngling coffee plants.

The plantation has a school (and a health clinic) for the children of the workers. Here they are enjoying their lunch before heading back to school.

Zach from Panache teaching J.P. and Mickey some camera skills.

John, the photographer....wait, he doesn't have any thumbs! How does he do it?

A room with a view on the plantation.

A gorgeous coffee plantation amongst the rainforest!

This is Ana.

These women sit for 8 hours a day and sort coffee beans, weeding out the bad batch. Their names are written on the back of their chairs.

Maybe Lilibeth needed a butt break.

JP Reading

After lunch the kids return to school.

John & Ulysses

This was at the shopping mall near Chiapas, Mexico where we realized gringos were still a novelty. A group of junior high girls were so excited to take pictures with the boys. Mickey was a bit overwhelmed by the attention, but was a great sport about it!

Check out the girl hugging J.P. She was in awe and couldn't stop touching him. Hopefully he doesn't grow up to think that getting girls is this easy...well, knowing him it just might be!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Love Letter to Mexico

Current location: Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

As I looked back on some of my journal notes and blog ideas, I had an intention of writing a love letter to Mexico as we sailed off to southern latitudes. You know the kind that were written years ago, before e-mail, twitter, facebook, etc.?? If I had the time and motivation, I think it would have gone something like this….

Dear Mexico,

As I sail out of your warm waters towards other destinations, please let me express my love and respect for your lovely land. The people that occupy your towns have been my greatest enjoyment. Strolling through your streets of cities big and small, I was always greeted with genuine smiles followed by a compliment or a warm, encouraging pat on the head for my sons.

I loved so many things about you; your doctor who plays soccer with his children in the cobblestone streets near his office as he waits for his patients to arrive; the family dinners carried out for hours on small outdoor patios in the heat of the day; your true generosity of spirit and willingness to help out however you could. I never expected someone to walk my tired, Spanish butchering butt to the laundry place six blocks out of their way, but inevitably someone always appeared to help me out.

I loved your 10 peso charcoal grilled tacos consumed at plastic tables and chairs placed randomly on the streets. I loved that I could support my avocado addiction by buying your cheap and delicious fruit. I loved your carnival-like bus rides that could include anything from scary, yet entertaining clowns, loud 70’s disco music with flashing neon lights or reaching NASCAR race speeds just to get us to our destinations at the low, low price of 8 pesos.

Thank you for letting me enjoy the amazing, clear blue waters of your islands, frolicking with your dolphins and allowing me to catch and consume amazing sushi dinners. Thank you to your Navy that patrol your ocean waters who greeted us with warm smiles and would depart with a reminder to call them if we needed anything.

There are many back home that would say your country is dangerous and unsafe. They are so very wrong and I hope one day they realize their error in judgement and get to enjoy it.

During my six month stay in your country there are a variety of things for which I must apologize. I am sorry I butchered your language and my annoyingly repeated question of “Como se dice (insert English word here)?”, afterwards promptly forgetting what you told me. Please forgive me when I failed to remember that I was a visitor in your country and complained about not being able to flush toilet paper or cursed the ponga fisherman for laying nets in the vicinity of my sailboat prop. I must admit I talked badly about your busy city of Acapulco, but it made me appreciate all of your other wonderful destinations I had lived in. I also wholeheartedly also must apologize for driving the prices of beer up, due to the large consumption of your local product….it was mostly my husband’s fault.

Please don't be jealous as I move on to see other countries. You will always have a special place in my heart and I hope we can still be friends.

I will forever be grateful for the time I spent within your borders. The experiences we had as a family exploring new places, meeting new people and making life long friends will never be forgotten.

Viva Mexico!


Next up: My new love....El Salvador!!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Current location: Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

I have to confess that when I was younger, I was a bit crazy and partook in some questionable activities. One of my favorite youthful antics was climbing out of a little four seater Cessna airplane, stepping out on the wing and hurling myself off of the plane to plummet towards earth. I laughed and screamed the whole 10,000 feet, “this is Aaaaaawesome”. My only regret is that I did not pay the extra $50 to get a video (my friend, Weber will confirm that it did actually happen). I have shot automatic weapons in Vegas, flown an airplane in Petaluma, repelled down an apartment building in Chico, partied at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, ate from a chicken carcass at Munich’s Oktoberfest and hung upside down by boot straps in Mexico while doing a tequila shot. I’m sure as my father reads this, he is cutting me out of his will. In my defense…it was all my brother’s fault (see how I can still throw you guys under the bus?).

I have definitely had my share of mediocre adrenaline inducing activities, but crossing the bar at Bahia Del Sol pleasantly brought back those endorphin inducing chemicals. I also realized that I missed it over the past several years. Something happened when I had children; I got more careful and cautious which is understandable considering I am currently an active facilitator in two little people’s lives. Middle age also has reminded me that mortality is true and real. I am indeed going to die someday.

BUT…as the character Andy Dufresne said in one of my all time favorite movies, Shawshank Redemtion, “It comes down to a simple choice, get busy living or get busy dying.”

Honestly the pictures and video do not do the entry justice, but you sailors out there will understand. It is not often that you purposely bring your sailboat into 6to 7 foot breaking waves. I guess the story begins with our 3:00 a.m. arrival outside Bahia del Sol, where we anchored a mile offshore in 40 feet of water. Ben promptly fell asleep in the cockpit and I took it upon myself to play Solitaire on my Iphone and watch out for passing boats.

You see, there is a prize for any woman who drives the boat across the bar and we decided that I would drive our ¬¬¬5 ton boat over breaking waves at 8:00 a.m. Needless to say I was a bit nervous (but I wore a cute, striped sundress and a Hawaiian visor for the occasion…see photo).

When the sun was up, we cleaned the cockpit of any loose items, tucked away things down below, put on our life preservers and harnessed in. J.P. had cowardly (a.k.a. wisely) decided to sit down below and read his book. Mickey volunteered to be our official photographer and snuggled up against the companionway. Brave and courageous, Molly was at the wheel with Ben standing closely by. The pilot, Rujelio, who has been bringing boats into this bay for years, along with Bill, the leader of the El Salvador Rally, came out to guide us in on a jet ski. Ben immediately noted that Rujelio had his dream job and put it on his list of “Things I Want to Be When I Grow Up”.

As Ben explained that there would be a clear opening where the waves were not breaking as big, Bill told us over the radio to approach the set of waves to the west and stop. I was not comforted by the fact we were headed for the set of waves I had spied earlier and said, “huh, those seem pretty big”.

As we approached, I did what any sane, brave, adrenaline junkie mother of two would do….I bailed!! With the distinct sound of “CLICK” from the harness, I was out of there, declaring loudly and with utter certainty, “I’m OUT!”

Soon after our 10 year old photographer’s own declaration of “I’m sooooo out!”, was followed by a graceful and quick dive through the companionway down below (I swear I haven’t seen that kid move so fast in his life…well , except when he saw the crocodile while body surfing in Tenacatita). Dutifully, Ben took over at the helm with a huge smile plastered to his face. All was as it should be!

The first wave passed under us and I quietly said to myself, “This is not so bad!”
Then the next wave in the set approached and as I watched it, I was convinced it would break at the stern and douse us with a flood of water (the sailing term of “getting pooped”). Amazingly, we rode the top of it and it broke perfectly as we surfed atop it, hitting 13.65 knots. Keep in mind our average speed is 5 knots with our max hull speed being around 7 knots. With the wise words of “Holy Crap!!” from the new photographer (come on… holy week was coming up), we surfed a third wave and were safely across.

One of my favorite moments occurred when Bill greeted us with a hearty, “Welcome to El Salvador!” We had made it safe and sound. As Ben and I yelled and danced about our cockpit, Rujelio, the pilot turned to Bill on the jet ski and said, “I think they are having fun!”

Indeed, my new best friend, indeed!


P.S. Ben will post a blog soon with some great photos!

Here's the Youtube link for the video of the crossing:

One must dress appropriately for a bar crossing!