Monday, May 22, 2017

A Mother's Day Mini-Vacation in Maho Bay and a Nostalgic Awakening

"What do you want for mother's day?" Scott asked me while looking up from his computer. I was making breakfast, the girls were being their usual boisterous selves, and it took me about .02 seconds to reply, "Go to St. John for a night and have brunch in Cruz Bay!" St. John, while part of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), is a short sail from where we are, and with the blissful haze of our last >>>quick getaway<<< fresh on my mind I was thirsty for thirsty, apparently, that one night away turned into four.


St. John, despite the minor nuisance of having to clear out of customs here in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), being that we are US citizens and approved for the SVRS (small vessel registration system) clearing in on the "US side" requires nothing more than a phone call. It makes trips over to St. John not only appealing, but rather easy as well. It's one of the perks of being an American and another perk of >>>living in the BVI<<< many places to sail for a quick getaway!

St. John is easily one of my favorite islands and, after having been to most of them from the Bahamas to Trinidad at least once (and some two or three times), we've seen enough to know what we like. First of all, most of the island is national park, meaning that vast swathes of the place are completely untouched and undisturbed. The hiking is reported to be amazing, though we have not experienced much of that being that we've had three kids three and under for most of the time we've spent there. Then there are the beaches...these are the beaches that beach dreams are made of! White sand, turquoise water, abundant sea life, and a calm, inviting shoreline. You gaze out at a island dotted horizon with gently lapping waves at your feet and a side of OH MY GOD PINCH ME. It's pretty amazing.


Our plan was to head out on Saturday morning, spend the day on a mooring (you cannot anchor in most places in St. John being that it's national park) and dinghy into Cruz Bay, the island's main - and picturesquely beach-chic adorable - "town" for brunch the next day.

When we approached our favorite spot to tie up - the purty-as-a-picture Maho Bay - I was met with a wave of happy nostalgia tinged with a hint of melancholy... We have so many great memories here in St. John and have had some very good times in this particular bay, from the >>>twins' first birthday party<<< to >>>Lobsterfest 2016<<<, and many others in between, mostly with our best friends from It's A Necessity. At first it felt odd not meeting them here, or seeing their boat pulling up from their former base of St. Thomas, but we quickly settled in and enjoyed this new normal. If there is one constant in life, it is change and as people who have lived a semi-nomadic life (and certainly become friends with very nomadic people!) this constant ebb and flow is normal...not always easy, mind you, but normal. Goodbyes are inevitable in this part of the world.


As we swung on our mooring ball after arrival I got to work making lunch and the girls immediately wanted to jump in the water for a swim and a paddle. If there is one perk to living at anchor (and there are many!) it is definitely the ability to swim off the back of the boat. After a paddle, swim and a freshwater rinse we ate our lunches in the warm breeze of our shady cockpit and readied the kids for their naps. I retreated with my book and Scott kicked back for a well-deserved snooze. The two+ hour siesta that happens every day here is a welcome and blessed event. [AMEN for naps, people.]

Our afternoon was slotted for beach time and Scott took the girls on the paddle-board while I followed in the dinghy after packing a simple picnic dinner for us all. The girls were their independent and industrious little selves, oscillating between working away with their sand toys and splashing in the water while Scott and I sipped our respective beer and wine and watching them in that adoring "oh my gosh our kids are so amazing" kind of way that all parents do when kids are happy and cocktails are in hand. We closed down the beach and lingered as the last sole beachgoers while the sun sank into the sea in a dreamy, blood-orange haze. We did not make haste until the hungry no-see-ums could be bared no longer (when the sun sets, those suckers come out with a vengeance) and we scampered into the dinghy, slapping our legs and thighs while we did so. 

We dinghied back home for a fresh-water rinse, jammies, stories and a bedtime lullaby of gentle rocking and the cool breeze through our boat.


The next morning was Mother's Day and I enjoyed it in bed while Scott and the girls made me crafts. Letting me sleep in is a gift in and of itself and eventually I woke to the pitter patter of excited little feet on the cabin sole above me punctuated by the shrill, happy laughter from a game of "tag". I quickly made my daily liter (wince) of coffee and off we went to brunch.


Oh, let me ruminate on that word for a moment. Brunch. That blissful and delectable meal that is not quite breakfast and not quite lunch but somehow allows for alcohol to be shamelessly consumed before noon in the form of Bloody Mary or Mimosa... Sigh. I love me some brunch (Remember, I come from the City of Chicago which has singlehandedly made brunch it's b*tch.)

I don't get too many opportunities to do brunch these days, mostly because it is rare on our rock (only a couple places serve it to my knowledge and only on Sundays) and also because I almost always have three kids in tow who are up against naptime and not always the easiest of restaurant companions. But I digress...back to brunch: We hopped in the dinghy for the 20 minute ride into town and settled on the Waterfront Bistro where I devoured (delicately, of course) the most delicious huevos rancheros I have ever had. Of course I washed it down with four mimosas, which were equally delectable and gave me a happy beach-side buzzed up glow. The girls were well behaved, I got lots of compliments on my "Tired as a Mother" slogan tee-shirt and we dinghied back to our boat with full bellies, happy hearts and ready for naps.


We had planned to make our way back to Tortola that afternoon but I begged Scott to stay out just one more night..."It's so nice out here!" I pleaded. "You can tether to my AT&T SIM (for internet) to get work done (check emails, etc) while the girls are sleeping...pretty pleeeeease?" I begged. Scott, of course, conceded and we settled in for another afternoon of beach, picnic, sundowners and lounging. Despite what it may look like, we do not get much time as a family with Scott  >>>running our business<<<, and this getaway was a welcome change of pace for all of us.


The next morning we opted to do the grueling hike to Colombo's Smoothie Shack. "Grueling?" you say? Well, while not a true "hike" through the wilderness (you follow the paved road all the way up to the top of the hill above Maho) it is incredibly strenuous as a significant portion of it is nearly vertical. Difficult on your own, for sure, hard as HELL when you are carrying a thirty-five pound three year old who just can NOT hack it anymore (Isla, for the record, did the whole thing without a single complaint!!) The reward, of course, is worth it otherwise we would never subject new friends to such pain, for at the top of this cursed hike demanding walk are the most delicious smoothies ever known to man. (Pause) Okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but after walking uphill for forty-five minutes I dare you to taste a tour-de-flavor of fruit that better excites the palate and cools the core as those served at Colombo's. They are GOOD and so refreshing. This time I tried a soursop, pineapple and passionfruit blend - slurping it down all red-faced and dripping with sweat - and if there is such a thing as fruity ecstasy, I reached it. We finished our smoothines and all began the hike downwards on jelly-like legs with a bit more energy and the overwhelming consensus that, "Yes, those smoothies were definitely worth it."


And so our days continued in this manner...we'd wake up, meet friends, hike, beach, swim, go home for naps, make a plan to leave, and then... not. We did this for two more nights. The highlights of this wonderful extended weekend away were (as usual) meeting up with two great families, first the family behind S/V LARIDAE who also have three kids aboard and, after a significant sailing sabbatical, are in the process of selling their boat. The other were the PREPPY NOMADS who's mamma bear is pretty much my sister from another mister. So much so, that a mutual friend had said before we even met, "Oh, you and Renn need to hang out - you would get on like a house on fire." After weeks and weeks of trying to coordinate after our first meeting (yep, we clicked) we were able to meet for one final hurrah before they too would step off their boat and move on to new adventures (check out their >>>YouTube Channel<<<!). Getting to meet up and hang out with these two families was a major highlight for us.

Finally, the time came to return. The girls had missed a couple days of school, Isla had missed ballet and tennis and we were feeling pretty delinquent as parents. Not to mention Scott had a business to run. After four days of fun, we dropped our mooring ball and said goodbye to Maho, yet again.

I must say, being back has had me in a tiny bit of a funk. So many feelings that have laid dormant this past two years were awakened; the feeling of being free, untethered, and able to roam freely. We simply do not have that anymore. Just as arriving in Maho made me nostalgic for our friends, the trip itself made me wistful of our old cruising days. Granted, we are in the place we are meant to be right now and I would have it no other way (I am grateful every single day for this lifestyle and how and where we are able to live), but that feeling of missing a time gone by...that came up while we were out long enough to get a little taste of how it 'used to be'. The time will come again for us to venture further and elsewhere, and though we don't know when that will be or what that will look like, it is just beyond our reach...For now - I am happy right where we are knowing there are many adventures to be had in our own back yard - and happy to know that within me my wandering spirit is stirring...

Underway, these days, our little food set is the big playtime hit.
Mira examines fruit while daddy clears us out of West End, BVI
Boat hair, don't care.
Looking out towards St. Thomas from Maho Bay, St. John

These goofballs untied themselves from the boat and floated off. Daddy to the rescue!
Mira and daddy going for a swim, this one is just not as keen as her sisters to swim without floaties. In good time.
There's a reason they call this "The Golden Hour"
Chilling on the paddleboard with our new friends.
Salt life.
Pretty much every evening looked some variation of this.
Stunning way to end the day! "Goodbye sun, thanks for a great day!" 
While we are outside almost all the time at anchor, Isla loves coloring and crafts and there's time for that too.
They are very serious about their beach creations and concoctions.
Upstaged. I swear. They stripped naked and started running into the water together laughing hysterically.
Daddy, catching zzzz's when he can.
Columbo's smoothie shack. A must visit!
Yum, yum, yum.
Even Mira, the pickiest eater on the planet who doesn't usually like smoothies, drank all hers!
St. John is full of wildlife...but you should NOT feed them because iguanas that come this close are clearly too tame!
Naptime. Bliss for all.
Never got a great shot of a sea turtle, but they are all over the place in St. John. Literally popping up every few minutes.
also, seagulls....
Mixing potions

Good morning mama
Pensive little soul. Love her mind.
We ran into a friend who showed Isla the "I can remove my thumb trick" She was BLOWN AWAY and literally tried to pull of her thumb several times.
Playmates is the very best perk of having three kids so close in age. They keep each other entertained!
What's up little pickle?
Us and the Preppy Nomad parentals. LOVE. THEM. SO.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Getting off the Dock: A Recharge, a Refresher and a Water Commute to School

We have had our boat since December and have sailed her only once. Pretty pathetic, right? Thing is, >>>running a business<<< in the islands is a >>>heck of a lot of work<<< (even though the job comes with lots of perks!) and the months have been slipping past. With Scott managing >>>our company<<< and me managing our kids and home life, time flies by with zero effort and no lag. It's been go, go, go around here and we've had one heck of a busy high season with lots of fun stuff in the mix - but one thing we haven't been doing? Sailing.

That had to change.

"We need to take this boat out" Scott lamented one morning with tired eyes as he sat in front of his computer working on accounting. "I mean, we live on a boat for God's sake..." The ring of his cell phone cut the conversation short and he answered the call.  He was right. When transitioning from "cruisers" to "live-aboards" we didn't envision sailing so little. We knew we would no longer be "gypsies" roaming around to our hearts content - at least for the time being - but, still, we *had* expected weekly or at the very least, bi-monthly sails. Our business and our personal life, however, had other plans. "Yes, let's do it!" I agreed after he hung up the phone. We needed to put a big, fat X through this item on our to-do list and we needed to make it a priority. Even the girls had been begging to go sailing lately.

The problem is, sailing is S L O W and time is often against us. We hardly ever have a couple days in a row that would allow us to enjoy life "on the hook" as it were... When we do get time together as a family it's usually an afternoon or morning here or there at which point we opt to take out our "fast boat" to maximize efficiency and respect the all-mighty nap or bedtime. This weekend, we said to hell with that. "Let me get some work done this morning," Scott continued, "...and we'll sail this afternoon and anchor out somewhere close tonight." I reminded him that the girls had school the next morning and he just shrugged and said we'd sail back first thing in time to get them there. I was sold.


I've >>>written about it before<<<, but getting off the dock is like a giant "sigh" to the soul. Don't get me wrong, while lots of sailors hate on marinas (they are hot, expensive, crowded, etc, etc.), I am not one of them. Our marina is SO much more than a marina; it's a community and our neighborhood. It is home and given our current situation as non-cruising ex-pat live-aboards, we would have our living scenario no other way. HOWEVER...there is something amazing about releasing the dock lines and setting sail. It is, after all, why we have chosen to live on a sailboat. No greater archetype of freedom exists I don't think than a sailing vessel pointing it's bow to the open sea... But freedom means nothing if it's not exercised and a dock, by nature, hinders the very spirit of a sailboat.


We weren't entirely sure where we were going to end up as we raised the main, but given there are a multitude of anchorages a very pleasant two-hour beam reach from our marina, we weren't too concerned. As we slipped quietly past the breakwall, the girls settled into their "comfy spots", snacking on popcorn and watching the waning sun shine on the water as the wind whipped about their bed tousled hair. We finally decided on Benures Bay on Norman Island and it quickly dawned on me as we were dousing our mainsail to enter the bay in that this would be our first time ever anchoring >>>our new boat . <<< Hmmm....


We slowly motored around anchorage looking for a spot to drop the hook - noting we were a little rusty at the practice - and soon as we found a place we thought was suitable, I started to lower our >>>beast of a Rocna<<<. It was at this juncture when I had yet another realization: we had no idea how this chain was marked, if it was marked at all. For those of you non-sailor readers, knowing how much chain you let out upon anchoring (also known as "scope") is pretty vital to the success of staying put. Letting out too much scope could have you banging into your neighbor in the middle of the night, too little could find you >>>dragging into another neighbor,<<< or worse, into rocks or shore. Both scenarios are very, very bad.

But I digress...

As I started lowering the chain I was pleased to notice that it was indeed marked but I had no idea of what increments (20 feet? 30 feet?) after letting out what I thought was 150 feet (but, in hindsight, was probably a lot more) we backed down and determined we were good for the night. Just as we were about to shut off our engine and crack open a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc a neighbor who had been tentatively and casually watching us from his bow (the universal sailing signal for "I am uncertain with what you are doing here but not going to be a jerk about it") kindly yelled to us that the bay we were in was notorious for flukey winds and he was concerned that we might do a little tango in the night...being utter newbies to this particular anchorage we decided to trust him and up anchor to move over to the completely empty western corner of the bay. Considering our crew and their very early rising hour (and distinct lack of 'inside voices'), this move was probably better for everyone.

We re-anchored, Scott dove it, and after swimming for what appeared to be a very long time, determined I let out way too much chain. Knowing we were alone where we were and extra chain wouldn't be a problem - we settled in the cockpit with our friends Ray and Sandy who'd we randomly run into in the first bay and had come over for a happy hour cocktail.

As the sun slipped behind the ridge, our very boisterous and energetic girls took turns blowing Ray's conch shell to signal the setting sun while the adults tried (rather unsuccessfully I might add) to have uninterrupted adult conversation. The sky grew dark and our bellies started to rumble so our friends buzzed off in their dinghy and I got to work preparing a simple dinner of salad and pasta. We ate in the cockpit with nary a soul within ears reach and our beautiful boat gently bobbing in the breeze. The vibe all around was decidedly happy as we chit chatted and ate underneath a sky dotted with stars. Scott and the girls retired to the bow of the boat to check out the waxing moonrise while I went below to clean up after supper.


A boat at anchor feels, smells and sounds a lot different than one at the dock. For one, we didn't have our air conditioning - and the associated white noise it brings - running. Instead, hatches were all flung wide open and a cool sea breeze wafted through the interior in puffs clearing out all stale air. We also move at anchor (sometimes a lot which is >>>incredibly unpleasant<<<) which is a marked difference from life at the dock. It's ever so subtle and almost womb-like, and every time we anchor the girls go right to bed when the time comes. Then their are the noises a boat 'on the hook' brings;  the sound of wind and birds overhead heard through open hatches, the muffled shifting of contents in their cubbies due to the gentle movement of the boat, and wind singing in the rigging ... but the main difference I noticed on this night was the haphazard sound of waves lapping against the side of the hull. This sound, very reminiscent of my youth from family cruising vacations and a very visceral, pleasant memory that gives me the warm fuzzies and literally transports me back in time - on this particular night actually kept me up all night long. Subtle changes like these usually take a day or two of adjusting for me and had we an extra night or two to find a groove I'd have been fine, but as it was - both Scott and I had a very (comfortable and peaceful) sleepless night, if that is possible.


The girls awoke with the cries of the gulls overhead and we enjoyed another simple meal al fresco in the cockpit, relishing in the serendipity that brought us to a solitary part of the anchorage as we most definitely were the first ones awake and the aforementioned lack of the "inside voice" would probably have rustled a few neighbor's feathers. It was so beautiful to watch the sunrise and be outside, unencumbered by the worry that we would wake neighbors or disturb anyone, a concern that is ever-present at the marina...By 7 a.m. we had weighed anchor and raised our sails and were sailing back to our home marina. The girls had school that morning and we needed to get an early start.


The getaway was short and sweet, but it was just what we needed: solitude, simplicity and nature. It reminded us why >>>we are here<<< in this beautiful place we call home: A place where you can feel a million miles away from civilization one moment, and commute to school by boat the next.

And now for some pics of our little staycation...

I got to bust out my 'good camera' (Canon Rebel) and the new lens Scott got me!

Our little thinking, Mira. Her name means Ocean in sanskrit.

A typical snapshot of what it looks like when we are underway.

The girls love sailing.

Entering the harbor and spotting our friends aboard s/v Megerin, a pleasant surprise!

Mira taking care of her baby after we set the anchor.

Once we anchor, the girls throw off their life jackets and begin playing like monkeys.

Scott dove our anchor to make sure it was set. 

Possibly my most favorite picture ever.

Our cove was far from the one we first tried to anchor in, so we had a nice solitary morning.

The girls getting dressed for the day.

Wine glass left on deck. A sign of a nice evening, right?

The sunrise through our salt-sprayed dodger.

We stuck with a simple breakfast on this morning.

This child. Oh, Haven! Her name means "safe harbor" but her personality is more reminiscent of a (totally adorable and lovable!) hurricane!

Our Isla, an old soul and a salt life baby from the start.

Playtime before we set sail.

A little post-breakfast pow-wow.

Sailing home. An amazing night!
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