Saturday, June 29, 2013

Windward we Go

There was a time when I would have really appreciated - and possibly gotten involved with - a spirited drum circle that carried on until four in the morning.  That time, unfortunately, has passed.  Regardless, that is what we were treated to here in the beautiful anchorage of Deshaies, Guadaloupe last night after yet another exhausting full-day slog to windward.

The past two days have had us and our buddy boat, s/v Yolo, sailing into 20+ knot headwinds and bashing into very large seas for nine hours a stretch.  First was Nevis to Monserrat.  Then it was Monserrat to Guadaloupe.  Believe it or not, despite this, we all managed to enjoy ourselves (except for Darcy on the first leg, the theme of which was "friends don't let friends sail hungover" according to her).  We are now at the point where we can appreciate a passage where a) the sun shines, b) conditions are (semi) "moderate" and c) weather is squall-free.  I honestly think the day that we eventually "follow the herd" and actually sail downwind we're going to laugh out loud at how ridiculously easy it is and wonder what anyone could possibly complain about at that point of sail.   We've been taking a LOT of white water over our bow these last few weeks.

While these two passages were, all things considered, "pleasant" - sailing to windward is exhausting which is why when we found ourselves in this peaceful and perfectly picturesque French-Caribbean anchorage we were all looking forward to a good night's rest.  The town festivities, of course, had other plans in the form of some sort of soulful revival in which one singer chanted in deep, resonating rhythms alongside incredibly enthusiastic bongo drumming.  This musical foray was executed with such heart-pumping fervor that I can say without question that souls were saved.  Like I said, there was a time in my life where this type of scenario would have been completely up my alley, but - as much as I hate to admit it - that ship has sailed...right alongside the ship that used to sleep in.  Sigh.

At 3:30 a.m. I woke up in a total panic thinking someone was on our boat.  There was a deep, powerful intonation coming from our cockpit rhythmically chanting "boom yah! boom yah!! ooooo aaaaa oooo aaaaa boom yah!".  My heart started racing. Then, the bongos kicked in with full gusto and I realized that, holy crap, Djimon Hounsou was not, in fact, on our boat but the bongo revival was still going on strong.   We were now clocking eight hours of this madness.  I cannot think of a single artist that I would want to hear for eight straight hours.  I mean, I don't even think the longest Grateful Dead concert went on that long.  Who in the heck was still up and intentionally listening to these people?!  I shut all our hatches, turning our cabin into a veritable hotbox and uttered something along the lines of "I cannot (bleeping) believe that these (bleepers) are still playing this (bleeping) crap".  Yeah.  It's official.  I'm old.

Anyway, we are thrilled to be here.  We're all looking forward to a slower pace and some land-based exploration over the next couple of days.  From here on out it should be "smoother" sailing with shorter hops all the way down to Grenada.  Now that the longest sailing beats are out of the way, looks like the only long beats we'll have to deal with may be from bongo drums.  And I'm totally cool with that.
Here to can see the angle of the dangle and windspeed.   Gusts to 25.
This child always has a smile on her face!  Yes, even beating to windward! 
Isla likes to get in on the navigating mix
Our buddy boat, s/v Yolo, coming in to Monserrat
The beautiful anchorage of Deshaies, Guadaloupe

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

When Batteries Go Bad

When it rains, it pours.  And when marine batteries go bad, they go bad pretty quick.

When we were in St. Maarten, Scott noticed that our battery voltage was low.  Like, really low.  For the record:  we have had two 12 volt 8D AGM batteries as our house bank.  They were reading 11.4 in after a night at anchor when they should have been reading in the high 12 range.  Much to his annoyance, I had been telling Scott each morning for days that our refrigerator didn't seem cold (I am ever fearful of wasting cheese!) and now, it seemed, we knew why.  Our batteries were dying a slow and steady death, and taking our cheese down with it.

Since we have a generator on board, this was by no means an urgent matter - or so we thought.  We continued on our normal course south, figuring this was nothing more than a minor annoyance, and that we'd replace our battery bank once in Grenada.  Our batteries, of course, had other ideas.

Each day our battery voltage dropped lower and lower, quicker and quicker.  We started going into energy conservation mode, turning off all systems at the breakers, and finally shutting the refrigerator off at night.  This attempt to tourniquet the outpouring of energy from our AGM's did next to nothing for the health of our batteries.  They continued on their downward slope, slowly draining a little more life, each and every day.  I was getting worried.  We ran our generator more to keep up with our energy needs.  While this charged our batteries for a spell, they just couldn't hold on to it.  Almost immediately after the generator stopped running, the voltage would drop.  I watched our Victron battery monitor religiously, hoping to see something positive.  It never came. Our fridge began to smell.  Food began to rot.  The mood on the boat drained along with the battery acid.

Then we couldn't start the engine, and this is when I began to cry.

I know we are a sailboat, I know that sails don't require power - but to me, an engine represents safety and when, after running our generator for thirty minutes, we still couldn't start our engine, I got very nervous.  We had a problem. (Note: our engine starter is tied to our house bank.  I know that this is not ideal, and it's not the way we would have set up this boat - but it's the way it was - we are learning there are LOTS of things the previous owner did that we would not have done).

After more generator running and some desperate pleas to the Universe to "please let our engine start one more time" our trusty old Perkins laboriously coughed to life.   And then I smelled sulfur which, unless you are near Old Faithful, is not a normal smell.  New smells on boats are bad and require investigation.  I did some quick Googling and after reading words like "over charged batteries" and "explosion", it was an easy decision to limp into a marina.  Which is exactly what we did.

Within an hour we located an electrician.  He went in the engine room and told us our batteries were "hot"...after which he smiled and shook his head "too hot".  They needed more ventilation.  We took note.  And he continued to poke around.  After a spirited "discussion" with Scott about what the problem might be and what, exactly, this "electrician" was doing (he never told us anything we didn't already know) - I decided to take a walk with Isla to give the men some room to work.  When I came back our 12V 8D AGM batteries had been replaced with 12V 4D wet cell batteries.  Not ideal, but they should get us through.  Thanks to the advice given to us on our Facebook Page, we changed the settings on our charger from 'AGM' to 'wet cell' and have added "check battery water" to our list of weekly chores.  We are also going to be much more cognizant of voltage and battery monitoring moving forward.

Neither of us feel entirely confident that our problem is solved - we're not entirely certain that we don't have some other electrical snafu that might have caused this in the first place.  But for the meantime, we have put a band-aide on the problem.  Hopefully, this band-aide sticks until we get to Grenada.  In the meantime, I'm going to eat me some cheese.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Christophe Harbor

Yesterday, I wrote in detail about a particular day when cruising sucked, so today I'd like to post the "yin" to that "yang".

Enter: Christophe Harbor, aka "Heaven on Earth".

Nothing makes a blogging cruiser happier than free, fast wifi, and so when we dropped the hook in Whitehouse Bay, St. Kitts and found the "Christophe Harbor" hotspot, I was a happy girl.  Before they let you surf for free, however, they make you sign a virtual "guest book" where you fill in details about you and your boat.  Call it "market research"...

Anyway, soon after signing in I was treated with a personal message from Aeneas - the marina manager and consummate gentleman - asking us if there was anything he could do to make our visit more pleasant and an invitiation to "stop by".  Having not seen the marina but knowing it was just around the corner from where we were, I wrongly assumed that he was there - and the facilities that I had seen so much about on the website were there as well.  After spending a day at Frigate Beach with our friends on s/v Yolo, we took our dinghies around the corner to the marina to have a drink and a dip in the pool.

When we rounded the corner we were greeted by a meager "marina" with zero facilities.   The only sign of life as far as our eyes could see were a couple of chain-smoking Frenchmen on a dredging boat.  ", what are we supposed to be doing here?" Scott asked with accusing skepticism.

"I thought there was a bar and pool here" I trailed off, desperately scanning the shore for a sign of anything that resembled...well, anything.  It was looking like our afternoon plans were going to be a bust.

Just as we were about to turn around and abort our mission, a man stepped out of a truck by the docks and waved his arms at us.  I recognized him immediately as Aeneas.  "That's him!" I said excitedly, "That's the marina manager!" All was not lost!  We dinghied over and tied up.

He walked over to us with a smile.  "I was just driving home from work when I saw two dinghies headed this way" he said, "I knew it must be you so I stopped.  Come on, hop in the truck, I'll show you around."  Talk about serendipity.

Aeneas drove us around the premises which at the moment are barren save for a few luxury homes, and painted the vision for us of what was to come. His passion for the development project and his adopted home of St. Kitts is immediately evident.  There are big plans for this part of the island - and the developer is clearly a man of great vision and taste.  The little marina that housed all of four boats will soon be a bustling mega-yacht marina (see the future vision here) and then there's the real estate, the golf course, the hotels and more...  All to be done with exquisite taste, an eye for design and a great effort to blend in with the local environment.

Then, Aeneas dropped us off at the private beach club (aka "Heaven on Earth") where we got a taste of what it must be like to go on vacation if you are Beyonce Knowles or George Clooney.  The word "fabulous" is a gross understatement.  We lounged in the infinity pool, sipped the most delicious rum punches we ever had, and did all of this in total privacy because - aside from the staff - we were the only people there.  "It's times like these I wish I was a millionaire" Darcy said  dreamily.  And, while I don't usually equate money with happiness, I did have to agree.  Calling a place like this your own was certain to bring up the "happy" factor.

It was a great afternoon, with great friends and one of those days that make you ponder, "I wonder what the land folks are doing today?"

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cruising: The Ultimate Life...or...Lie

“Tell your blog followers that this is all a lie.” Scott was pissed. “Everything is a lie. This life is not awesome, it’s a total pain in the ass, everything breaks, we hardly get to sail, islands are all the same and I hate it.”  He continued to mutter angrily to himself as he fought our swinging dinghy that was not hanging properly on the davits despite a lot of effort and engineering from Scott earlier that morning.  The white capped seas were huge and confused, the wind was blowing over 20 knots and our boat was being tossed around like a toy.  I was feeling nauseous, Isla was seasick and the overall vibe on the boat was utterly unpleasant.  Scott can be less enthused with the cruising life than I from time to time (understandable as he's the one that does most of the boat work these days now that I am on baby duty), and this was most certainly a low point for him.

We were on our passage from St. Maarten to Ile Fourche.  Scott and I hadn’t been getting along due to communication issues, and as if a passive aggressive shuffle around our boat wasn’t enough to kill the mood, this trip was the icing on the cake. “I’m done.”  He continued. “We’re hauling the boat…I’m finished with this.  Cruising sucks.  I’d rather just have a Laser, sail on a lake by myself and be done with all this. Enjoy these last few weeks, because this is it for me.  I’m out.”  He was not joking.  I might have tried to cheer him up, told him to “look on the bright side” and remind him of all the wonderful aspects of cruising, not to mention the fact that he wasn’t entirely thrilled with his life ashore either, but this would have been pointless.  There was no stopping this rant.  Best to just nod my head and let him run with it.  I sat silent, cradling a seasick baby.  Miserable.  All three of us were miserable.

Five hours later we picked up a mooring ball in Ile Fourche, a tiny uninhabited little island off the coast of St. Barths.  Suddenly, the boat was still, the breeze gentle, and the sun danced brightly on the water.  Peace.  Everything was right in the world again.  The horrendous passage we just endured felt a million miles away, like it happened in another time, another place.  Such is the dichotomous nature of cruising; one minute your cursing life the next you wonder how you got so lucky.  Our friends on s/v Yolo came over for dinner and it was unanimous: the passage sucked. “But” Luuck continued with a smile, “anchoring some place like this makes it all worth it.” Luuck is definitely the kind of guy who looks on the bright side which is a quality I admire, and one that you should possess if you plan to live on a cruising boat at sea.  Because – honestly – things can get really rough on a boat, both literally and metaphorically.  Being able to keep your chin up should be a prerequisite; if you are prone to depression or tend to see the glass as half-empty, this might not be the life for you.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; cruising is punctuated by high highs and low lows.  Rare are the days in the middle, at least that is our experience.

The next day we dropped our mooring and set sail for St. Kitts, a nine hour trip away.  This time, however, the seas were more manageable, the wind was at our beam and we sailed – strictly sailed – 90% of the day.  Scott was in his element.  The boat was quiet save for the rush of the water against the hull and the sing-song creaks of a boat at sea.  The conditions were mild and our boat gently rode the rhythmic waves – up, over and down, up, over and down - like a galloping horse.  The bellies of our sails were full of a fresh wind and trimmed to perform, and we charged forth at over six knots.  It was a pretty perfect day – one that you couldn’t help but appreciate. “Well,"  Scott suddenly piped up out of nowhere while gazing forward to our lush, hilly destination, "maybe we can cruise a little longer.”  He sat there pensively, taking it all in, no stranger to the fact that this type of day was exactly what he signed up for. I had to laugh – because out here, moods change like - and with - the wind.  We take it one day at a time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Asked, We're Telling: More Common Questions (in no particular order)

How are your solar panels working for you?
We first introduced our solar panels here.  And did a follow-up here.  Basically, we love our flexible solar panels.  When we are at anchor on a clear, sunny day they more than keep up with our power needs and we see anywhere from 8-16 amps going in.  Underway with the chart-plotter, autopilot and instruments on or if it's been cloudy we need to charge the batteries with the generator, but this has not been a problem or hindrance for us.  We would like to add one more 125 watt panel and once we do that, I think we'll be gravy.

What do you do about diapers for Isla?
Sigh.  I had every intention of being a super green mama.  I would make all her baby food from organic produce (not a smidgen of sugar!), swath her in organic (dye-free!) clothes, and diaper her bottom with non-toxic (bleach free!) cloth diapers.  None of these things occurred.  Call me lazy, call me "real", call me what you will - but this is the truth.  To be honest, I devote pretty much all of my time to Isla and her well-being, so the sliver of time that is left over for me is spent doing things I want to do, and those things do not include mashing up organic produce or hand-washing dirty diapers.  We use disposables.  We're never more than two days away from a dumpster so our dirty diaper situation has never gotten out of hand and they are so good at holding in junk these days that our boat never smells like dirty diapers despite our lack of fancy diaper-thrower-outer thing.  Like kermit sings, it's not easy being green, but it is relatively easy to buy disposable diapers.

How do you always seem so on top of things?
While I would love to perpetuate the illusion that we are a perfect, happy family that is always prepared for whatever might come our way, it would be just that - an illusion - and eventually, you'd see through it.  We are far from perfect.  Our blog is kind of like a Hollywood movie, and you're getting mostly the highlights because I don't believe in airing dirty laundry online.  Despite our flaws (of which there are many), we actually are pretty on top of things because a) we are very well researched in boats and babies and therefore semi-prepared b) we possess, for the most part, go-with-the-flow attitudes so that when things that aren't expected come up we deal with them accordingly and c) we drink Ovaltine every morning.  Okay, that last one is a lie.  But really, I am flattered you see us in such a positive light and while I do think we're doing an O.K job of cruising and baby-raising, we are human and we have our (very) imperfect moments.  Small example to wet your whistle: I swear like a sailor, which you might not be able to pick up on from the blog.  I'm working on this so that Isla doesn't start dropping F-bombs each time she trips/stubs her toe/can't find what she wants/is annoyed/can't reach something...etc.  Baby steps.

Do you ever get seasick?
Scott gets seasick but usually only on the first rough passage of a season while he gets his sea legs.  I have never puked from seasickness but have been known to get nauseas at which point I usually refrain from going down below and declare things like "we will only be eating saltines and blow-pops on this passage" (that was exactly what happened when we crossed the Mona.  Saltines and generic blow-pops for 40 hours).  For our last big passage we all put the Scopaderm patches on and no one got sick.  No heros on this boat.  I have now stocked up on those patches and we're going to wear them any time we think a trip will be rougher-than-usual.  Especially now since I am down below a lot more with Isla and Scott is doing most of the sailing single-handed.  On Rasmus we never used any seasickness medication.

How often do you apply sunscreen?
For anyone sitting there at their desk and tapping their pencils as they gaze out the window wistfully wondering: "What sort of product can I create that will make me rich?"  I have a million-dollar idea for you:  create a sunscreen that is a little pill that will protect you for, say, twelve hours.  You are welcome for this genius idea.  I don't even need a cut.  Just please for the love of God someone create this product!  I despise sunscreen; the application, the stickiness, the fact that mixed with sweat it makes you feel like a greased pig... BUT, lest I look like a 100 year old Cherokee Indian circa 1850, I wear it every day.  I put SPF 50 on my face and SPF 30 on my body at least once a day.  Isla gets coated in SPF 50 from head to toe daily - sometimes twice a day.  I am sick and tired of nagging Scott to put it on so he wears it every now and then when it strikes his fancy.  Luckily we are a family that tans though, and does not burn.  The sun just sticks to us despite our efforts.

The best part of your lifestyle?  The most challenging?
Jeeze.  This is hard.  I probably should dedicate a whole blog post to this one and perhaps I will another time.  For now, I will try to sum up for you...
  • Best part:  The travel.  Exposing Isla to new faces and places, being exposed to new cultures.  The  constant education.  Meeting incredibly inspiring people and collecting awesome stories for my grandchildren.  Living more simply in a cosy, floating home that goes with us wherever we go.  Being in nature almost all the time.  The sailing (on the rare occasion it's pleasant and conditions are favorable).  Getting to spend so much time with my little family.  New foods, new smells, new everything... These things are awesome.
  • Most challenging:  For me, it's managing my worry (what if we hit a floating container?  What if the engine dies?  What if our rig comes down? What if we get slammed by a white squall, a rogue wave, an undiscovered sea monster?) and the fact that Scott is pretty insensitive to this worry.  It is also hard on our relationship from time to time as living 24/7 with someone who's stubborn nature rivals your own can be tough.  Missing friends and family is tough.  I long for quality time with good girlfriends and the ability to get a decent New Zealand sauvignon blanc for under $10.  I think it goes without saying that the maintenance issue is a trifle annoying as well.  We have a never-ending list of projects and things to fix from heat exchangers to leaky portholes.  Luckily, I am married to a bonafide handy-man but this doesn't mean we love the constant work.  Crappy passages are no fun either.  Oh yeah, and we have cockroaches.  They have proven...challenging.
How do you stay so disciplined to blog?  What are the challenges of this?
I love to write.  I love to collect and tell stories.  Love, love, love it.  I am constantly observing the world around me and there is always an interesting story to tell if you just pay close attention to your surroundings - no matter where you are.  I feel incredibly honored and flattered that there are so many of you that are reading what I write and smellin' what I am steppin' in, so to speak.  Discipline to write is not a problem for me, as I could easily tuck myself away and write on the computer all day long.  Unfortunately, this does not bode well for my husband who is constantly tapping me on my shoulder and saying "pay attention to me" each time I sit down at the computer, so I need to find a balance.  Dealing with very slow internet connections can be a pain as well, but this is to be expected.  A more unexpected downside is the fact that I have "haters" but, funnily enough, the most animosity and opposition has been from other bloggers.  In this way the blog world, unfortunately, can seem very much like high school.  I just ignore and delete.  Lots of power in that.  After all, "haters gonna hate".

What is your anchoring technique?
We have a very solid anchor set up with an electric windlass, a 73 pound Rocna and 275 feet of 3/8 high-test chain.  While this is probably worthy of another blog post, I'll sum it up in a few steps:
  1. The most important part is selecting a good spot to anchor, this means taking into account things like: swing room, proximity to other boats, depth, bottom (sand is best), and weather conditions (wind strength, wind shifts, approaching storms..etc).  
  2. When we have found our spot, Scott points the boat into the wind, stops almost all forward motion and I begin to lower the anchor from the bow while Scott slowly reverses.  Usually, we let out 4:1 scope (four feet of chain to one foot of water - don't forget to add the distance from the bow roller to the water!) first to see how the boat settles out and then... 
  3. We back down good and hard to set the anchor.  When backing down I take a site on land - lining up something in the foreground with something in the background to make sure we're not dragging.  
  4. Once the anchor is firmly set, I let out the rest of the chain (5:1 in normal conditions, 7:1 in gale force or storms) and then snub it off with our Mantus Anchor chain hook.  Sometimes Scott will dive the anchor to make sure it's dug in, but not always.  We have - knock on wood - never dragged and have sat at anchor in 40 knots of wind.
What are your sailing plans/destinations?
Right now, we're going to stay based in the Caribbean for the foreseeable future.  We have plans for more kids and think it best to stay on this side of the Pacific for now.  There is talk about basing ourselves in the British Virgin Islands for a while, possibly going to Costa Rica for a few months and getting our surf on, hitting up South America and also the San Blas Islands of Panama.  I'd love to sail to Cuba and possibly Mexico.  Who knows?  Our plans change frequently.  Scott is also less enthused with the cruising life than I...he enjoys too many things, like biking and skiing to name a couple, to put his eggs in one basket (or boat as it is) and would like us to be land-based again at some point.  I could live on a boat forever, never see a land-home again and travel the world endlessly.  So we must compromise.

What is your biggest homemaking issue?
My friggin' hair.  Seriously, it falls out like crazy and is everywhere despite the fact that I wear a ponytail 90% of the time and only brush it on the aft deck.  If I thought I could pull off the bald look I would have shaved my head a while back.  I threaten to cut all my hair off every other day.  Scott, not being a "hair guy" could care less, but then I have visceral flashbacks of the famous "butchered bangs incident" of 2009 whence I cried (literally, cried) every day for a month and then I get very nervous about chopping it off lest we have a repeat. (No, despite what they said, living on a boat has not completely rid me of my vanity - see my post Hygiene on the High Seas for more info).

Also - optimal organization and storage.  We're always trying to maximize space and find the best locations for stuff.  Plastic snap-tight bins are our friends, we have about a hundred on board and they keep things nice.  The other issue is making this boat feel like a home and not just a boat.  I am currently in re-decorating mode and will share more on this in a later post.

Where do you store all your water toys (SUP, kayak..etc)?
We do love our toys, don't we? Asante has a big cockpit locker (often called a lazarette) that goes all the way down to our engine room and this is where the SUP goes.  The Kayak lives under the v-berth which is less ideal for ease of use but a good fit.  Scott's kiteboard stuff is tucked away all over the place, under floorboards, in the back of cupboards.  We make it work.

Can you tell us about your watermaker?
Sure.  We love it.  You can find all the posts about it through the links below.  It is one of the best pieces of gear we installed on this boat.
Where does Isla sleep?
Isla sleeps in the v-berth in a Phil and Teds travel bed that we purchased off Craigslist.  We mounted the bed to the underside of the berth using eyestraps and line (the feet of the bed have holes in them) and so it's a very secure and safe place for her underway.  We love it.  For more about it you can see these posts:
What sorts of boats to you see cruising?
We have seen ALL sorts of boats cruising.  I would say most are in the 35-45 foot range, but we have definitely seen people cruising on smaller boats in the 25-30 foot range.  We've seen people happily cruising, full time, on full-blown, rugged "round the world" blue water boats and seen people happily cruising on the most generic, flimsy production boats.  We've seen people with every single piece of gear you can imagine, and people with hardly more than a handheld GPS and a hurricane lantern and of course we've seen everything in between.  There's no rules.  People work with what they've got and make it happen.

Any weapons on board?
Besides these guns? (*Flexes arm muscles*). Nope.  There are strong arguments for and against having guns on board but, in our opinion, we don't need them at this juncture.  I don't really know the rules involved with having them and what not as far as customs go - but I know the logistics of carrying weapons can be a real pain in the butt.  Perhaps we'll change our tune if and when we get further afield  but for now - we just have Bear Spray.  Man, that story still cracks me up.

What about laundry?
When we lived at a marina and had lots and lots of fresh water I washed by hand almost exclusively.  Now, we take it ashore once every two weeks or so.  No matter where you travel I am certain that there will either a) be a laundromat or b) someone who will wash your laundry for you.  In these parts, it's the latter.  For anywhere from $10-$20 our heaping bag of laundry is washed, dried and perfectly folded for us.  Finding a coin laundromat down here is like seeing a giant octopus in the wild - possible, I am sure, but definitely not easy.

Annual cruising budget?
Ah.  Money.  I knew it would come up!  We don't track numbers so this is a total stab in the dark - but I'm guessing we spend about $1200 a month.  Sometimes less, sometimes more.  We don't live as frugally as some because Scott has a job with reliable income and my online musings and kickbacks from this blog have been known to buy a beer or two.  If you are planning to live aboard, probably best to budget on at least $1000 - $1500 a month (this is just a guestimated average - there are people doing it on less, for sure!).

How do you get internet aboard?
We almost always patch in to a local unlocked WIFI signal.  To do this we have a Rogue Wave WIFI antenna which amplifies signals that are picked up from land.  Relying on wifi is getting a little trickier now as people have gotten wise and started making passwords.  To get these it is helpful to a) be creative and b) have a cute baby.  The WIFI we used for the past ten days was from a hotel.  We saw the signal, recognized the hotel at which point Scott walked right in - armed with a smiling Isla (babies have a way of throwing people off your scent) - and flat out asked the front desk what the WIFI password was.  They gave it to him.  We surfed happy.  Other times you might have to go grab lunch or a drink somewhere to get it.  Either way, internet - in the Caribbean at least - is not very hard to come by.  But it is important to note that it will almost never be the speeds you are used to, so don't plan on downloading Game of Thrones (whatever that is) from your boat.  That will not happen.

What happens if you get sick and need a doctor?
Thankfully, life at sea is a pretty healthy and free from the flus, streps, and colds of the temperate climates.  Ironically, Scott is sick right now for the first time in two years and we're almost certain he got it from the doctor's office (he had to get a physical for work).  We carry a very large offshore medical kit (never used it) as well as just about every over-the-counter remedy you can imagine from Ibuprofen to Benadryl   Dayquil to Nyquil.  In the event that we need to see a doctor, we go local.  I've written about this before when I talked about insurance - you can see my post on the subject here.


Phew.  That's all I've got right now!  I know you had more questions - but this took a heck of a lot longer than I thought it would...

If you have more questions, go on over to our Facebook Page, give us a "like" and ask us over there.  I interact more regularly on that platform and you'll see lots of extras like up-to-date happenings and pictures that you won't see on the blog.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Sailor’s Code

How many times have you passed a stranded motorist on the highway?  Turned a blind eye to the neighbor who’s basement flooded?  Watched in stillness as the elevator door closed on a very winded, very pregnant woman at the airport as she ran to catch her connection and yelled "Pleeeease hooooolllld" (yes, over one year later this still irks me.  I mean, really people!?)  Most of us have done one or all of these things.  Life is a little different than it was in the days when Lassie roamed free; we don’t know our neighbors, kids bring guns to school with the intention of using them, and highways are the (real or imagined) prowling ground of serial killers and psychopaths.  Between all the crazies and our love of litigation, we’re all a little more guarded these days.

I’ve touched on it many times before, but life afloat is different in this regard.  Out here, it’s a cardinal sin to ignore a fellow boater in need.  No matter how inconvenient/risky/annoying it might be, when another cruiser is in trouble, it’s usually up to other cruisers to come together and help them out.  There are countless examples of this – and every single sailor you will ever meet will have their own stories to share.  There are so many inspiring tales of heroism at sea; one of the best – no doubt – is detailed in the incredible book Close to the Wind which is the harrowing account of a rescue at sea during the 1996 Vendee Globe Race in which one solo sailor, Pete Goss, risked his own life by turning his boat into hurricane-force headwinds to rescue fellow single hander Raphael Dinelli.  Of course not all instances of help on the high seas are of the life and death variety; sometimes it's just catching a line at the dock, a spare part gifted, a radio relay, or elbow grease.  Regardless, every single day there are examples, large and small, of boaters helping boaters – oftentimes strangers – because we all know that one day, it will be us that needs that hand.  And this, my friends, is the sailor's code:  if you can help, you do.

The other night as we came back dinner and we saw a boat in a bit of a pickle and seemingly tangled witha another boat.  There were a few dinghies around clearly trying to help, but whatever problem was occurring was not under control.  Scott dropped Isla and I off on the boat and headed over to see if he could lend a hand.  Turns out, the boat had gone aground and then drifted back on to another boat's mooring line which, in turn, tangled around the keel and prop putting these two boats in a Chinese fingercuffs type of situation.  Considering the wind was gusting up to 30 knots and these boats were making contact, this was not a good place to be.  Scott and some other boaters worked for the next hour to free the two boats and after a little leverage and some strategic fender placement - the boats were free and Scott was enjoying a nice bottle of Tuscan wine with the Italian couple on board.

Of course there are many examples of good samaritanship on land but, unfortunately, I believe it's the exception and not the rule these days.  People are a little bit lazy, a little bit leery and AAA exists for a reason.   On a boat, however, we all know we're a mere ring-ding away from disaster and it's nice to know that there is still a place in this world where a helping hand will almost always be extended when needed.  At sea it is most certainly prudent to be self-reliant but the fact remains that none of us would be afloat if not for a little help from our friends.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Mornings around here are pretty great.  Isla starts squawking between 6 and 6:30am and one of us sleep-walks up to the vee-berth, opens the door with an anticipatory  "I hear a baaabbbbyyy..." and are greeted by a very well-rested, bouncing little monkey with the biggest smile you ever did see (I have mentioned that her smile lights up a room, right?  Because I swear, it does). We then lay down, unzip her from her little tent/bed at which point she pounces on us with all of her twenty-something poundage and smothers us with open-mouthed kisses (we're working on the 'open mouth' bit).  Once convinced we're adequately loved-up, she heads over to her little toy hammock where there are about three stuffed animals and sixty books.  Then the real action begins - she starts flinging books out of that hammock with such determination and vigor that any residual sleepiness left lingering in us is immediately knocked out by the very hard corner of a board book.  We hang out like this, dodging flying books and what not, for about an hour: reading, working on the ABC's, naming animals and boat parts while listening to Isla "talk" incessantly in her secret baby language as if she is having legit conversation (what the heck is going on in that little brain?).  It's a pretty awesome ritual, not gonna lie, and I feel incredibly blessed that this is how 99% of our days begin.

This morning - being fathers day and all - I was the one to get up with her and we made daddy breakfast in bed.  Scones, fresh fruit and extra strong coffee were on the menu and Isla even got Scott a super-cool Quiksilver button-down shirt which he loves.  She has such good taste, that baby.  She even wrote him a note.

Anyway - it's going to be a nice, lazy Sunday around here.  We're having a Father's Day lunch with our friends and then tonight, we're having Father's Day Dinner, again with our friends.  (What can I say?  We're creatures of habit).  It looks like we'll be leaving St. Maarten on Wednesday (you guessed it, with our friends) for points south.  The next two days will be busy with little chores like stocking up on fresh provisions and doing laundry to prepare for our southbound island-hop.  Very excited to get moving again.  Our itinerary is loose as in non existent which is exciting and refreshing.  We'll check the weather and sail as best we can wherever the wind will carry us.

In the meantime, Happy Father's Day to all the great dad's out there.  Particularly my husband and my papa.  I am lucky to love and be loved by you both.
Isla's lair.  It's a pretty cool place for a baby.
Okay, so I might have helped her with this note...
She even serenaded Scott with an original Father's Day tune on the ukelele! (Okay, that's a joke - but what is not a joke is that finger placement!  I mean, pretty good, right?)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

When Cockroaches Happen to Clean People

“Britt, how many roaches would you say we kill a day?” I heard Scott call casually over his shoulder from the front seat of the rental minivan we were sharing with our new friends.  We had just gone grocery shopping and he was talking to the husband, Luuck (pronounced Luke).  Apparently the mention of “cardboard" and the common knowledge amongst boaters that it's a vehicle for roach eggs gave Scott the go-ahead to tell our compadres about our little, er... situation. “I mean, like, two or three at least, right?” he continued with a shrug.  Like it was no big deal.  Like we were discussing flooring options: hardwood or wall-to-wall? Hmmmm....

What the HELL!?!?

I wanted to die right there.  I mean, what was he thinking making our cockroach issue (it is NOT a problem!) public?  I thought we had an understanding! It was supposed to remain our dirty little secret until we got rid of them, at which point we'd talk about our former pests much like people reminisce about the Depression Era and shudder as we recalled "the time we lived with roaches".  I mean, we are clean people.  Cockroaches aren't supposed to thrive amongst people like us.  This should not be happening.

I sat silent while I turned a lovely shade of crimson and slowly looked over to my friend Darcy in defeat, knowing full well that she would never ever come over to our veritable roach motel for a another happy hour again.  Dinner? Ha! Forget about it.  Bring her baby over to play with my baby?  No way, Jose.  It was over (not true, but still, I thought that at the time).  I felt like Hester Prynne with the scarlet letter on my chest, only my "letter" was a cardboard cutout of a German cockroach, antennae and all. "Hi! I'm Brittany...oh, the cockroach on my chest?  It's nothing, really.  Just ignore him...hey, where are you going?"  Gross.

To add insult to injury, Scott prattled on...

“They’re small though, really tiny...” he said matter-of-factly, "... I mean – the biggest we’ve killed is no longer than three-quarters of an inch, wouldn't you agree, Britt?”  I swear to God if I had "go-go Gadget" arms I would have strangled him right then and there.  But being that we were in the company of our new friends and respective children. I chuckled uncomfortably and said, “Um, honey…you do realize our friends are never going to come over again, right?”  If looks could kill.

There is no one, no one who doesn't find cockroaches in a living space completely and utterly appalling.  And rightfully so.  They are synonymous with filth and squalor.  Our roach problem issue has been documented before on the blog - but since we've been cruising, I wanted to keep hush hush about it because, frankly, I wanted to stick my head in the sand.  We've tried the boric acid cookies, we sprinkled Borax powder liberally in nooks and crannies, we tried the motels, hotels and traps and we fogged the boat on six - yes six - occasions.  Useless.  Each time, the little monsters prevailed.  I could almost hear their shrill, high-pitched roachy-laughter echoing from the woodwork every time a new battle tactic was attempted. "Good luck suckers!" I imagined them saying, "You know the Armageddon-style explosion that killed the dinosaurs and all life on earth as we knew it? Yeah.  We survived that! Bwa-hahahaha!" they'd say.  It was - is - maddening.  It's even worse because I am of the OCD variety when it comes to cleanliness and I have begun to take their presence on our boat as a personal affront.  I mean, if there was a holster that could contain a roll of paper towel and a solid cleaning agent, I would wear that bad boy with pride.  I clean a lot.  I repeat, WE ARE NOT DIRTY PEOPLE.

And that's not all!  I'm also compulsive about how we store our food.  Everything is in airtight containers, double or triple bagged and after meals there is nary a crumb for them to munch on.  Unfortunately, I have learned they don't need actual food to survive.  They can happily make a meal of book-binding glue, soap, nylon stockings, grease and dried skin flakes (we will be exfoliating, family-style, on the aft deck nightly now).  To make matters worse, they will even eat their own feces and dead brethren in a pickle.  It is clear we will not be starving them off our boat.

I was at a loss, so I hit the world wide web.  Waving the white flag and accepting the possibility that we might be living with them for a while longer, I wanted to know just how bad roaches were.  Are they really as gross as everyone says?  Did they really spread ebola?  Was my boat indeed a cesspool?  Turns out - none of these things were true.  Cockroaches are actually the cats of the insect world and clean themselves fastidiously - even obsessively so.  According to this article they are not as dirty as people think and the only filth they spread is the filth that they are actually living in and walk across.  Therefore, if you keep a clean house (as we do), you have clean roaches (semi-happy dance).  A human hand carries far more germs and bacteria than a cockroach.  And your cell phone?  Dirtier than a toilet seat.  This news made me breathe a small sigh of relief, however temporary.  They were not, in fact, going to infect my family with a flesh-eating disease.  This did not make living with them any better, of course,  but it was nice to know all my cleaning was not going to waste.  I was actually cleaning our roaches too.

The real problem with roaches is, from what I can gather, is their excrement.  Apparently people are all sorts of allergic to their - er- deposits and this is their true claim to pesty fame.  Luckily, the Meyers family shows no signs of being allergic and I have yet to see any roach poop in our living area (I look, trust me).  The other down side of having roaches (and the bigger one, in my opinion) is psychological.  I now see imagined roaches EVERYWHERE I look.  The errant piece of fuzz that blows across the counter?  A roach.  That tiny crumb that fell off my toast?  Roach.  That little shadow I see across the galley?  Roach.  The coffe ground stuck to the side of the sink? Roach.  The random drill hole in the wall?  Roach.  The stray hair caressing my back? Gah!! ROACH!  I feel like I'm living in the Twilight Zone whereby I see things that are not really there.  I'm pretty sure I'm scarred for life in this regard and I will forever see roaches in every tiny dark shadow and little black speck that crosses my peripheral from here on out.  It could be worse, I guess.

That said, we have not conceded to live peacefully amongst our persistent pests.  Despite the fact that they might share my OCD nature, they still gross us out and we want them gone.  We have a full-blown, real-deal exterminator coming today.  He is going to spread some industrial strength cockroach-killing gel around the boat and we're buying an extra tube of it from him for good measure.  He, and several others we've talked to, swear this will work.  We're being cautiously optimistic.  In the meantime, we'll just keep reminding ourselves that we're the owners of clean cockroaches because - I would like to stress - we are clean people.  And yes, cockroaches can happen to clean people.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Don’t Live on the Edge…Live on the Margin

When I saw an email in my in mailbox from “Patrick Schulte” my stomach dropped.  “Uh oh” I thought, “He’s going to unleash on me his irreverent wit and I will be left in a pulpy, tongue-tied mess”.  After all, we had broken several of his cardinal rules for successful boat blogging and I was pretty certain he hated us.

For those of you who have been living under a rock and do not know Patrick Schulte, he is the (hilariously and sometimes bitingly contemptuous) voice of Bumfuzzle which is, without a doubt, the most successful “sailing blog” on the internet today.  Pat and Ali are just a couple years older than we are, and yet they have lived approximately four lives: one in which they sailed around the world with pretty much zero sailing experience, another in which they drove across the parts of the world they missed on their sailing adventure in a VW bus, another in which they raced across country in a vintage Porsche and yet another when they had a couple of (adorable) babies, bought another boat (a monohull! Egad!) and moved to Mexico.  When they started blogging there were probably no more than three other sailing blogs and Pat has no one but himself to blame for the fact that there are exactly one million, eight hundred and twenty-two thousand more today.  Bumfuzzle opened the floodgates.

Anyway, I opened the email and it was not the verbal tongue lashing I expected, but a friendly response to a post I wrote about common questions we get in which one shrew super-charged on bitterness and (pregnancy?) hormones wrote me a comment peppered with words like “spoiled” “holier than thou” “nothing more than a stay at home mom” who "relies on her husband for income" among other things (after a little chuckle I hit "delete").  Never one to shy from controversy (actually I think they are fueled by their haters) Pat wrote that perhaps next time people inquire about how to finance a dream like this, we turn them on to his new book Live on the Margin.

Which is, no joke, exactly what I do now.  (He’s so smart, that Pat).

The book is not a travel narrative or a pithy account of a life at sea, but rather a how-to book aimed at showing people that it is truly possible to think outside the box and live your dream life (be it living out of a camper van in Baja, a surf shack in Costa Rica, or a thatch hut in Bali) by adjusting your spending habits, evaluating risk, and taking that exhilarating leap into the unknown while playing the stock market with realistic sums of money to pay your way.
Making that dream happen—stepping into an unknowable future for a life of adventure takes courage, decisiveness, an unwavering belief in yourself, and the willingness to take 100% responsibility for the outcome. Those happen to be the very same traits that define the successful trader. The skills you learn in pursuing the dream might just remove money from the list of reasons you can’t go. -From the LOTM Facebook Page.
Pat co-wrote the book with Nick O'Kelly, a fellow intrepid traveler and on-the-margin-liver and, despite the fact that I am famously terrible with numbers and math, the book is written in laymen's terms with real-life examples and the signature Schulte wit peppered throughout.  While it's still a book about online trading (not exactly a gripping page-turner) - it is not the total yawn fest that most other books in it's genre offer up.  It's could also have been named: Trading for Dummies, but that book probably already exists.

Anywho... if you are sitting there in your cubicle dreaming of backpacking across Southeast Asia, living on a sailboat in the Caribbean or volunteering on an eco-farm in South America - Live on the Margin might just open your eyes and show you that yes, there is a way.

Patrick Shulte is also the author of Bumfuzzle - Just Out Looking For Pirates which is a refreshingly hilarious account of their travels around the world by sailboat. At 2.99 for the Kindle addition, I promise you it'll be worth every penny.

Full disclosure:  I received a free copy of Live on the Margin.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Family Love Affair

When we travel together, it's like boat baby gang.  "Look out! We've got dirty diapers and we're not afraid to use 'em!"
It's often said that friendships in the cruising community blossom fast and furious.  While we have definitely made life-long friends on this journey of ours - I would have to say that Scott and I have actually struggled a bit in this area.  Turns out this kind of camaraderie does not, as is often alluded, come in spades whence on the water.  People are nice, helpful and friendly and all...but sparks are not flying at every single pot-luck (to which we have only been one this season) with every single cruiser.

Part of this is the fact that Scott and I are always a little "behind the pack" and late to the party.  Right now, for example, most "cruisers" are tucked safely away to wherever they will stay for hurricane season.  It's "low season" in these parts.  The anchorages have thinned out, the happy hours aren't exactly "hopping" and the marina's are more or less empty.  Most people on our route south passed through this area months ago, so we're meeting less folks because we're picking up the rear as it were. We actually kind of like it this way though, so no complaints here.

The big reason for our lack o' buddies, however, is most likely our age.  At thirty-four and thirty-seven, we are approximately thirty years younger than most cruisers.  This is not to say that friendships cannot blossom cross-generationally - because they absolutely can.  Some of the very best friends we have had the pleasure to cruise with are Baby Boomers.  Sometimes, however, it's nice to hang with your peers.  But we've had trouble here... On the rare occasion when we do meet "young" cruisers (the further south we go, the fewer there are), more often than not they are a) sans children b) lack alarm clocks of the "human" variety and c) have livers pickled with cheap rum and Ginger Beer (with the exception of my beloved Bahama mamas). Not that Scott and I are above cheap rum and Ginger Beer, because we're not...we just have a baby who wakes up at 6am and waking up that early with a colossal hangover while still expected to perform parental duties is HELL (trust us, we know).  We like to think we are in the "cool parent" category and we do indulge from time to time - but we cannot party like we used to...and like other young cruisers often do.

But I digress.

We made friends here in St. Maarten (insert happy dance).  Really, really, really, really COOL friends (insert even more exaggerated happy dance). And guess what?  They are young, they live on a boat, and they have a BABY! (somebody get me a scrap of cardboard, because I'm practically break-dancing over here!)  This, my friends, is the ultimate trifecta of togetherness!  Ladies and gentlemen:  we have fallen in love with the "S" family.

Darcy, Luke and baby Stormer live in St. Maarten on their boat.  They'd been reading our blog for some time and Darcy and I emailed back and forth hoping for a meet-up.  I was excited at the prospect, I mean - you never know how people will gel - but I got a good feeling about this family.  "Scott!" I exclaimed after her first email, "There's a family in St. Maarten!  They are sailing to Grenada too... and get this: their son is named 'Stormer'!! Isla could have a playmate with a super cool name and we might have a fun buddy boat - they're going to be in the Caribbean for the next couple years like us!!"  Scott doesn't exactly share my 'insta-excitement' over things unknown, but he smiled and said "Oh really?  Cool," and continued tinkering with whatever he was tinkering with (the man can tinker).

The morning after we arrived, they dinghied over to our boat to say hello.  We invited them and their (absolutely adorable) little boy, Stormer, aboard for coffee and the love was almost instant.  We've been hanging with them ever since.  We even had one night where we all got a little starry-eyed and drank way too much after the babies went to bed.  Needless to say, we all suffered the punishment for it.  But here's the thing: misery loves company.  The fact that we all woke up the next day at the crack of dawn to bouncing babies and had to be functioning parents took a tiny bit of the edge off the pain.  Solidarity people.  We all had a sluggish greasy lunch together complete with dark sunglasses, pounding headaches and Bloody Mary's.  The evening served as a brutal reminder that we cannot drink like that any more.  None of us.  Ever.  Again.  Sangria: 1  Parentals: 0.

Meeting this awesome family has been a total breath of fresh air.  While Scott and I enjoy each other's company most of the time, it has been so nice to hang out with other people that are young and have a baby.  We didn't realize it, but we've been positively starving for this kind of companionship.  Their friendship is legitimate soul food.  The best part?  Seeing Isla and Stormer play.  They giggle and laugh, they kiss and hug.  He pushes her in her stroller and she shares her sippy cup with him when he's thirsty.  It's pretty freaking adorable.  They play so sweet with one another and they keep each other entertained (siiiiiiigh).  The four of us parents get all aflutter trying to catch their kodak moments on film.

So it's official:  Isla is off the market.  Arranged marriage might be considered "old school" and not the norm in our culture, but this match is just too good to be true.  We're having a family-style love affair over here and it's nothing short of awesome.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Haircuttin’ on the High Seas

“Want to do something really fun?” Scott yelled eagerly from the cockpit.  Being someone who loves herself some fun, I perked up and got excited.  Was he planning a cool hike?  Did he book us his and her massages at the resort hotel down the street?  Was the local beach bar having two for one specials?  My interest was piqued.

“Yeah!” I replied, “What are you thinking?” 

Scott’s face emerged in the companionway with an I-love-you-honey-and-I-need-you-to-do something-for-me grin.  He raised a pair of clippers in the air and said excitedly: “Cut my hair!”


Not exactly the definition of "fun" in my book.

Considering I am not a stylist and the last time I sashayed into hair cutting was in 1983 when I butchered my little brother's bangs (the result was not unlike Jim Carrey’s coif a la “Dumb and Dumber”) this was a brave request. 

But I rarely shy away from a challenge and, if nothing else, I figured I could have a good laugh if I completely butchered his ‘do.  After all, he did ask me – a complete and utter novice – to use clippers on his head.  If the results were disastrous, he’d have no one to blame but himself.

Luckily for Scott, he a) has a ton of hair  (it’s insane how thick his mane is) b) he was very good at giving me  instructions (he talked me through the process much like a surgeon would guide a resident through an open-heart procedure) and c) he’s so dang good looking that no matter what I did to his head people would still stop him on the street to let him know he’s a dead ringer for Ben Affleck (it’s true).

All in all, I think it went pretty well.  Aside from the little snafu in the back of his head and the fact that I did cut the front a bit *too* short (what can I say, I loved Dumb and Dumber) – I do not laugh out loud every time I see him and that says something.  Regardless, I’ll not be signing up for beauty school anytime soon and I’ll refrain from asking Scott to return the favor.


Saturday, June 08, 2013

Passage from BVI to St. Maarten (or): Getting Reacquainted with Exhaustion of Epic Proportions

If you think you've seen a face like this before, you have.  On a woman who just gave birth.
Well, that passage sucked.  Nothing like estimating a trip will take fourteen to eighteen hours at the very most, and then dropping the hook a completely battered and oh-my-god-someone-get-me-a-pillow exhausted twenty-four hours later.  Yes, it appears we had indeed been spoiled and disillusioned by the calm and lovely waters of the British Virgin Islands - we forgot all about what cruising can really be like.  In all fairness, twenty-four hours is not long at all.  And, to be honest, it wasn't even that bad.  Furthermore, we chose this and sailed directly into the wind (or attempted to at least).  But regardless of these things, when expectations don't match with reality, well, things always seem a little worse.  Or, is that just me?

It was our first overnight sail with just the three of us, and after the forecast: winds 15-20 knots on the nose with waves 6-8 feet, we knew we'd be in for a bit of a ride.  Prior to weighing anchor Scott and I talked about our watch schedule and how we'd manage so that I would be able to get some sleep while still being able to help out with the boat and care for Isla during her "wake times".   Considering she goes to bed around 6pm and wakes up around 6am, we decided I would take the 9p-12a watch, and then 3-6a watch, so that when I came off watch at sunrise, I could feed her, hand her over to Scott and get some shuteye.  This, we learned, was a mistake.

We weighed anchor at 5pm and headed out to sea.  We ate the veggie casserole dinner I pre-made, and I tucked Isla into her bunk in the v-berth which was rising and falling anywhere from ten to twelve feet as our boat charged forth into a building ocean swell.  "Do you think she'll be okay up there?" Scott asked incredulously.  "We'll see," I replied as I gave her a quarter tablet of children's dramamine.  This child and her ability to sleep in the most uncomfortable circumstances never ceases to amaze us.  I kissed her goodnight and she drifted off into a very bouncy and at times, probably weightless, slumber.  I cleaned up from dinner and hit my bunk for the next three hours.

When I awoke, the seas were approximately 10-12 feet, and wind 18-20 knots on the nose.  We were motor sailing with our main and stays'l, chugging along at 6 knots which sounds lovely, except for the little fact that we were going in the wrong direction.  Our velocity made good, or "VMG" as it's known to sailors, was a mere 2 knots.  Meaning the forward momentum to our actual destination - St. Maarten - was a snail's pace.  Literally, a snail's pace.  I kid you not, a one legged man can walk faster than that.  I made myself some coffee, gazed up at the beautiful blanket of stars above me, noting immediately the Southern Cross to starboard, and settled in.  I stared down to the water where the phosphorescence danced in our wake like tiny fireflies before petering out like embers from a fire.  Our boat powered forward into an endless battle line of angry waves, her bow rising up and crashing down again and again with a huge SPLASH! which would not only thoroughly soak the boat (and sometimes the cockpit) but also create a spectacular show of phosphorescence where the individual wave splashes landed in the water.  It was as if a million glow sticks were exploding in our wake before dissipating back into the darkness.  (This here is the silver lining, FYI).

By morning, we were not even half-way there.  Morale was not good.  We were tacking almost perpendicular to St. Maarten and by 6am, our ETA was still twenty agonizing hours away.  Isla had woken up at her predicted time and conditions were rough.  There was no way I could leave Scott to tend to both her and the boat.  Isla, of course, was totally oblivious to anything amiss and was fully charged and eager to play having (incredibly) just slept soundly for twelve hours.  Totally deprived of sleep and burdened with the kind of physical exhaustion usually reserved for the mothers of newborns, I strapped her into her carseat with a few toys and played “footsie” with her in a vain attempt to get myself horizantal while still keeping her entertained.  This worked for all of five minutes.  It was going to be a loooong day.

Finally, I suggested we stop trying to sail and just motor directly into the wind toward St. Maarten. "I mean, it’s not like it’s going to be any worse than what it is now…” I trailed off deliriously.  Scott shrugged and began furling the stays'l, leaving the main up for stability.  The boat pitched and rolled wildly and, as he pointed our bow much closer to the wind, and therefore more directly towards our destination, we slowly watched our ETA go down…16 hours, 10 hours, 7 hours!! Hooray!  We’d be there by nightfall after all!  Morale was going up, but only slightly so.  Both of us were still completely exhausted and the motion of the ocean was incredibly unpleasant.

We dropped anchor at 5:01pm in Simpson Bay exactly twenty-four hours from the time we raised it.  That is nine hours longer than we calculated, ten hours longer than our last trip from the BVI’s to St. Maarten, and a solid eleven hours of complete and utter exhaustion.  We were grouchy, tired and caked in a veritable crust of salt spray.  We rinsed our salty boat and bodies with blessed fresh water, stuffed our faces with some leftover pasta salad and crashed with a whole new appreciation of exactly why “gentleman don’t sail to windward” and dreamt of the day when we actually follow the world cruising routes and sail downwind. day.

Sunrise.  Most people are rested at this point, me?  I was exhausted.
Squalls developing off St. Maarten
This is the "footsie" game I was talking about.
She's a good little deck swab, I'll give her that!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Kiting in Virgin Gorda

The past couple of days have been play time.  Actually, the past couple of weeks have been play time.  We've throughly enjoyed the good, clean livin' here in the British Virgin Islands, leisurely sailing from anchorage to anchorage as if we have all the time in the world.  We might have been stuck waiting for weather, but we've been doing anything but sitting idle.  To be in a place where we have the luxury to sail just a few hours to yet another breathtaking anchorage without having to really care about weather, wave height and all that jazz has it's perks.  It's effortless cruising in these parts, and we've learned that we like effortless cruising.  We will be back to this neck of the woods, there is no question about that.

As most of you know, Scott took up the sport of kiteboarding about a year ago and he's hooked.  While I can appreciate any sport that has the sense of humor and audacity to name a strategic piece of gear the "donkey dick", I'm not going to lie, I was not entirely thrilled with his almost overnight obsession with what is - no question - an 'extreme sport' (read: one that is dangerous to life and limb).  I mean, new boat, new baby...didn't we have enough going on?  Couldn't he enjoy a leisurely paddle around the anchorage on our iSUP? Maybe a peaceful jaunt to a coral reef in our kayak?  And then there was the issue of storing all that gear: the kites (multiple kites for multiple conditions), the boards (yes, plural, multiple conditions), the harness, helmet, control bars, lines, and pumps (and, yes, the 'donkey dick').  My inner neat freak had a kitten looking at all that stuff piled up.  But Scott's got the adrenaline-junky gene wedged somewhere in his DNA right next to the expert-packer gene and he'd made up his mind and somehow tucked all that stuff away in our boat without sacrificing any "prime" real estate.  After he pinky swore he wouldn't die and stowed all the gear I became (semi) cool with it.

Kiteboarding (or kitesurfing) is definitely not an easy one to learn; it's physically demanding, condition specific and requires a pretty decent amount of coordination and gear.  If you can get past these things, it can actually be a nice complement to cruising.  Typically, we prefer to sail from place to place in winds under twenty knots.  Luckily, winds twenty knots and above happen to be primo for kiteboarding so the two fit nicely in that regard.  The fact that - as one kiteboarding friend told us - "every kiter I know has had some serious injury; blown out knees, broken bones, whiplash...some even died" is a mere afterthought after the rush of the ride.  Or so I am told.  (This friend did not help Scott's case, for the record).

On a positive note, we've met loads of kiteboarders along our travels who seem to be completely in tact (Scott has an inner radar for them, I am certain) and I can honestly say that they are a very cool, very helpful bunch of folks.  We met up with some yesterday and not only did they give Scott some pointers, but helped him launch his kite, and manned the chase vehicle while I chilled on the beach snapping photos and watched Isla nibble on driftwood.  To say Scott was stoked would be an understatement.  Good times had by all.

In other news, it's looking like we have a little weather window to cross over to St. Maarten (aka 'the land that wifi forgot'), so - if all goes as planned - we should be leaving this evening for the fifteen to eighteen hour passage.  Unfortunately you might not hear from us for a couple of days and won't be able to track us because our SPOT tracker up and stopped transmitting during our offshore passage and they have been incredibly unhelpful in getting us up and running again.  Don't be alarmed by the radio silence and keep an eye on our Facebook Page for updates as I will most likely post there first.

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