Saturday, November 30, 2013

St. Barths: Simply Mah-velous Dah-ling!

"If the tiny island of Saint Barthélemy were to succumb to some kind of natural disaster and sink into the sea, the world would suddenly be bereft of its rock stars, rappers, fashion designers, supermodels and Russian oligarchs. It would be a tragedy of almost insurmountable proportions."  

I wish I came up with that line, but I did not.  Alas, St. Barths (pronounced: St. Barts, drop the 'h') is truly an island unlike any other we've been to.  To be totally honest with you, I loved it.  LOVED it.  Maybe I have champagne taste on a beer budget, but - despite living a "simpler" life at sea - like a moth to flame I am definitely not immune to going starry-eyed at the glitz and glamour that is St. Barths.  I suddenly had a taste for bubbly, felt the need to kick my wardrobe up a notch and rarely, if ever, did I take off my sunglasses in a weak attempt to appear mysterious (okay, really I just wanted to people watch without getting caught, but still...).  Did I mention the king of the Caribbean, Jimmy Buffett himself, has a home here?  The man knows his Caribbean islands and he chose this one to call home.  That says something (namely that he is filthy rich).

First of all, the island is totally beautiful and the main town of Gustavia feels as just as chic and lovely as it's "mother", the South of France (think Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez...).  Furthermore, if you like to shop, this is your place.  All the top designers are represented along the cobblestone streets; Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Cartier, Hermes...the list goes on. But fear not, the knick-knacky stores are here too... Heck, if you feel like spending 85K on a nice new watch to wear to dinner and $5 on an "it's better in St. Barths" shot glass to add to your collection, you can do it on the very same street!  The pace of life on this tiny island is just a little bit quicker, the style a little more fabulous (effortlessly tropical boho-chic, of course), and the food a little more gourmet.  I probably don't have to mention that it's also a lot more expensive.  But hey, you only live once, right?

Don't get me wrong, superficiality, overspending and celebrity sitings are not all that St. Barths has to offer - like the other French Islands (which are now, hands down, my favorites.  Note to self: learn French), it has an authentic and relaxed European feel, well maintained buildings and roads, beautiful beaches and you are never more than a block away from a buttery croissant and a perfect cappuccino.  The island is clean, the locals are sophisticated (yet friendly and laid back...) and - despite the granduer - it maintains a quaint, small town feel.  There are no chintzy resort chains and the largest hotel boasts fewer than sixty rooms.  It's all boutique, all the time.  In other words, it's really hard not to fall in love with this place.  Pretty much all of Hollywood has.

My favorite moment in St. Barts occurred on the famous Shell Beach.  Scott was staking out a place for us to lay our blanket and chill out, and Isla and I were trailing behind, beach combing.  Suddenly I hear a ruckus of laughter followed by "oooooo's" and "ahhhhhs" from the restaurant up the shore a bit.  I look and see a gaggle of glamorous fashionista-type people waving excitedly with their hands on their knees, visibly gushing with big, exaggerated grins (fyi, spotting a model on the job in the wild requires zero skill - they are that obvious).  I turn to look at the source of their gushiness thinking that perhaps Lindsay Lohan just waded up from the surf, and lo and behold - there is Isla, about thirty feet behind me, wearing her million-dollar smile, doing her very best Miss America wave and excitedly yelling "hi!!" at the group of fans.  Before I can say a thing, the eldest of the fabulous ladies (the designer? a location scout? makeup artist?) walks right up to Isla, scoops her up with a smile while muttering something in French and brings her over to her fabulous friends who continue to gush over our little munchkin's super friendly personality, pretty smile and Shirley Temple curls.  For whatever reason they had with them balloons, which just so happen to be Isla's favorite thing on the planet right now, and while the folks were fawning, she was trying to get her hands on one.

I walked over and chatted to the group for a bit and gathered was that they were from New York, on a photo shoot and came to St. Barths to "work" pretty regularly.  They were drinking very expensive champagne and had about a college education's worth of camera equipment with them.  A slinky and bikini-clad heart faced model gave Isla a balloon before the group called it quits on their lunch break and packed up to return to the catamaran in the bay where they continued their photo shoot from afar.  Only then was Isla content to march along down the beach, balloon firmly in hand, finally getting what she had been after all along.  One of my friends said it best when she said in a Facebook update, "Balloons: entertaining toddlers since forever".  True that.

So I cannot begrudge Beyonce for wanting to kick back on this island.  If I were rich and famous, I too would vacation in St. Barths as much as humanly possible.  It might not be the toned down, less commercial Caribbean paradise that we've become accustomed to, but it was paradise nonetheless.  And yet, even after getting a taste of how the other half lives (and really, really liking it), I was happy as a clam to return to our (relatively) modest gypsy home and set our sails for a new horizon...
Considering cheeseburgers are my #1 pregnancy craving, we ate here.
Look out Zsa Zsa! 
Shopping, anyone? 

Isla, climbing, as usual.  This child has one direction and that is UP.

I am very angry that this photo didn't come out as clearly as it could of, but here is the quintessential tortured intellectual Frenchman reading, smoking and enjoying a cappuccino.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

It's turkey day back home, and - to be totally honest - if it wasn't for Facebook I would have forgotten all about it as, obviously, they do not celebrate Thanksgiving here in St. Maarten and a cruiser who actually knows the date is something of an anomaly out here.

But despite of the lack of football, turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie - I find today as good a day as any to reflect on all that is good in my life.

I have so many things to be thankful for - too many to list, in fact - and I am grateful for the gifts that have been bestowed to me every single day... But today, I am mostly thankful for this little person who has enriched my life beyond belief, taught me more about love than I could have ever imagined and makes each and every day better by just being her amazing little self.  I feel like I won the lottery every morning I wake up to her and the gift of motherhood is by far the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

I love you sweet, little Isla.  More than you will ever know.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans, may you - and everyone else out there - find something to be grateful for on this fine day.  Asante sana Universe.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Your Life Raft Might Not Save Your Life...

Image found here. fact, it might not even inflate in your hour of need.  And I don't think I need to tell anyone just how badly that would suck considering the general rule of thumb is not to step into a life raft until your primary vessel has all but sunk from underneath you.

One of the perks of this blog is the fact that we have some pretty savvy followers who have advised, assisted and helped us on more than one occasion.  Many are active cruisers and sailors and pretty keen to share pertinent information with us when they see fit, and we have benefitted many times thanks to the brains of others.

Brian, a blog follower turned friend who actually helped us deliver our boat from the Bahamas to the BVI's back in May, just sent us the following excerpt from a thread on life rafts in an Allberg 30 forum he belongs to.  Knowing that we have a canister life raft stowed on the deck of our boat, he thought we might find it "of interest".  I most certainly did find it interesting and I think you will too so I am reprinting it here for you.  The following is reposted with the permission of the author, Gord Laco, who happens to be a marine historical consultant with a very interesting and very impressive resume.  In fact, I would very much like to meet the man!

Good day - 

My only direct experience with life rafts was when I served as a consultant on the television show 'Survivorman' in which Les Stroud is sent into various environments and copes for five days with what one might expect to have at hand. Sometimes he's been in the desert, sometimes a swamp, the one I did with him was assuming he'd had to abandon a yacht at sea and live in a life raft for five days. 

The production company made a deal with a popular life raft company for the use of one of their four person life rafts; but they backed out at the last minute suggesting that a five day test of a life raft was unrealistic...their representative said 'in this day and age anyone anywhere should expect rescue in two days'. 

I reckon he doesn't read the news nor books much. 

We were in a pickle; there we were in Belize about to set Les adrift but without a raft. I hit upon the idea of renting a raft from a yacht actually on a voyage; there were several yachts around, I knew people would probably be glad of the cash and it would add an interesting story point to be using a 'real' raft in the midst of a voyage. 

The first two rafts we tried (and you can guess where this is going) which had both been stored in on-deck canisters, inflated correctly when the lanyard was pulled. The first literally fell to pieces before our eyes. You should have seen the look on the owner's face. The glue had perished and the raft sank as a bunch of sheets of hypalon rubber. 

The second raft didn't quite fall to pieces, but it leaked so badly that we couldn't use it. You should have seen the look on that fellow's face too. 

The third raft blew up and...and.... Stayed inflated. However, when we opened the emergency kit, we found twice the amount of food in the container, but no water. You should have seen the look on that fellow's face. 

Each of these rafts were by name-brand manufacturers you'd all know. The first two were older, past their first and second "re-pack" cycles and had been stored in deck canisters and I reckon baking in the sun is what did them in. The first one was three years past it's repack date, the second one year past, as was the third. 

We gave Les a very old Zodiac inflatable boat (editor note: to use in conjunction with the third life raft) reckoning that it was reasonable to assume a sailor abandoning ship would bring his dink. 

Les ended up living during the day in the life raft to get out of the sun, but he had to work steadily to keep it inflated and also bailed out. It leaked through it's bottom. 

The ancient Zodiac however, performed flawlessly and he slept in it at night. Which was fine except when it rained in which case he really suffered. 

So what did I come away from that with? Always observe the repack dates. And with regard to stowage - most certainly on-deck stowage is best with regard to getting the raft over the side; but beware the effect of the sun baking your raft while you're sailing. I'd suggest only putting it out on deck when you're making a passage. 

Well there's another long message, I hope it's interesting.


So there you have it.

Just like everything related to cruising, there are vast and passionate arguments on the necessity and/or practicality of having a dedicated "life raft" on board (some say a dinghy will do just fine and that to spend so much money on something that is akin to potentially bad insurance isn't worth it or that having one is false security and might cause you to "abandon ship" when, really, you should not).  While I am certainly glad we have our life raft on deck (and, yes, it is current) - this definitely gives us something to think about... (and yet another "action item" on our to do list: make sure life raft is regularly serviced).  Safety gear is something we have plenty of on our boat (we are, after all, super conservative cruisers) and it's sort of assumed it will work as planned, but there are many stories of such items (including inflatable PFD's) not working properly - or at all - when they are needed most which is a very good way to make a really, really bad situation infinitely worse.  Not sure what the answer is, but it's definitely something to be mindful of before you head out to the big blue and begin selecting your safety gear.

Thank you, Gord Laco, your knowledge and findings and thank you, Brian, for sharing them with us. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

For Each Day To Have a New and Different Sun...

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun".
- Into the Wild
I posted this quote on our Facebook page the other day as I am wont to do from time to time...  It spoke volumes to me (I have been rather introspective and pensive as of late) and, judging by the number of "shares" it got, it spoke to many others as well.  Of course a few folks pointed out that the man who scribed this quote in his journal died not long after it was written, which I guess for some justifies living a "safe" life.  But in pointing out this man's folly and demise, they are forgetting the fact that this man died doing something he loved and felt passionate about, and dismissing his very poignant message:  we're only here once, so why not live the heck out of life because the more we experience, the richer in soul and spirit we become.  People can keep their hearts beating for many years and fail to ever truly live (we all know at least a few of these folks) so the fact that this man died - tragic as it was - doing something he felt very passionate about and loved, for him, was probably better than the alternative.  While I do not begrudge anyone for living a "normal" life and know that many do this happily and willingly (I have done it before and will do it again as we find ourselves between adventures), I do find it interesting that so many people fail to see just how many of the people around them are actually living a life someone else wants them to live (be it a parent, a spouse, society...etc.) and are, in fact, dying slow and rather agonizing deaths in their very "safe and responsible" existences.  Obesity, heart disease, alcoholism, self-medication with prescription and/or illicit drugs and depression (among other things) are huge problems in the United States perhaps working for "the man" to attain the white picket fence, the dog and the Rolex aren't exactly fulfilling people like we have been bamboozled into believing?  

Along the same vein, I came across this very interesting article about the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying which has been floating around the interwebz for a while.  They are pretty eye-opening and very much in line with what I am waxing poetic about here:  Live the life YOU want, laugh more, follow your dreams and work less.  (I warned you I have been introspective lately...)

And just to finish off this random post with some more randomness, I leave you with the trailer of what is sure to be an inspiring documentary about an incredible individual who's legacy loudly reiterates the sentiments above:  

I don't think we all need to live on sailboats, become extreme skiers or shed all of our worldly belongings and head off into the wilderness in order to live our lives fully and without regret - but to find something that excites you, challenges you, makes you grow as a person and fills your heart with passion and joy is probably a good start.  To create your own horizon and find your new sun in each and every day.  Thoughts?  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


An interesting note on Barbuda, given the general consensus that ocean levels are rising and the sheer existence of many islands (amongst other things) is threatened by this, is the fact that allegedly this is one island that used to be underwater but apparently came up for air.  In fact, all around there are signs of this.  The main topography of the land is coral limestone with very little variation throughout, and if you look closely as you walk along the natural footpaths you will notice that you are actually walking on ancient bits of brain coral and the like.  This island is a bit of an anomaly amongst it's neighboring volcanic cloud-dwellers in that it is very low lying with hardly any contour at all.  Sailing the thirty miles from Antigua to get here, you can hardly get a sight on it until you get five to seven miles away which is definitely unusual for these parts.

I mentioned before that it's a bit off the beaten path, and this combined with the fact that we are currently traveling during "low" season, meant that we seemed to have the island all to ourselves.  We explored the windward side of Gravenor Bay, hiking around the dramatic Spanish Point and checking out all the treasures in the tide pools.  We took an island tour (at at ridiculously embarrassing price - yes, even after haggling - with a tour guide who I can only describe as "uninspiring") to small the village of Codrington and then hiked inside some nearby caves where we learned a bit about some medicinal plants and local flora and fauna, and were treated to some fantastic views from the islands "highlands".  We anchored for a day along eleven mile beach, home of the famous pink sand, and strolled along seeing nary a soul on the whole stretch - once again punctuating the fact that it seemed we had this place all to ourselves.

If you want to know more about the amenities, activities and services offered on this beautiful, sleepy island, check out the BARBUDAFUL site run by the lovely Claire of the ArtCafe.
Ancient coral is all underfoot on Barbuda.
Beautiful beaches and a harsh, reefy shoreline made this island a menace to ships in the 1700's.
Family photo in a cave.
A plant whose medicine is a natural antibacterial salve.  (No, do not remember the name) 
A view from the "highlands" 
24 weeks pregnant with twins and spelunking!
They play a local game called Wari (same as Mancala) with the seeds of this plant. naturally we took one as a souveneir. 
We found a dead blue crab while exploring a nearby salt pond.  (Isla is REALLY into crabs at the moment).
We had the entire Gravenor bay all to ourselves.
Beautiful pink sand lined all of eleven mile beach.
Air Isla!  This child is a bit of an adrenaline junkie.
I finally found my very own completely in-tact conch shell! (not an easy feat)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Back in Action

Barbuda was about as remote as we thought it was going to be.  It was actually quite strange feeling so far away from other boats and other people, considering the past few months we have not only been in the constant company of a buddy boat but most islands here are pretty well traveled, even in low season.  Not since the Bahamas have we had an anchorage all to ourselves I don't think, and we felt as if we had made landfall on an uninhabited island (there are, in fact, about 1200 residents).  Don't get me wrong, it was lovely; we had the entire Gravenor bay all to ourselves, with no signs of life around us save the birds and the few fish that would pass under our boat in the crystal, clear water and every now and then we'd spot a local fisherman out past the breakwater.  We reveled in the solitude by taking naked showers and swimming in our birthday suits at least once a day, but for me it was almost disconcerting because it has been so long since we've felt that sort of alone-ness.  Part of it, no doubt, is the fact that I am 24 weeks pregnant with twins (always more "high risk" than a singleton pregnancy) and being so out of touch, away from services (the hospital in Barbuda has twelve beds), made me feel a tad bit uneasy which is odd because - despite being the certified "worry-wart" when it comes to all things boat - I am not this way in pregnancy and motherhood (go figure, right?).  Anyway, we had a lovely time and I'll write more about Barbuda later, but I am just checking in to let you all know we're safe and sound and have arrived in St. Barths after an uneventful (but rather uncomfortable) overnight passage.  Mental note:  giant ocean swell on the beam combined with light winds that continuously go aft does not a gentle passage make!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Family Photos and a Sad Farewell in Antigua

Jumping for joy because I am 23 weeks pregnant!
Despite our less than auspicious beginning, we have been having a blast here in Antigua.  But don't take my word for it, we'll let a few photos do the talking.  It's a bittersweet place for us though, as this is where we will part from our incredible cruising buddies on s/v YOLO.  Luuck, Darcy and Stormer have become more like family than friends to us, and we're going to miss them in a huge way.  They'll be leaving us tomorrow evening, bound for St. Maarten, (they were supposed to leave today but we have serendipitously been granted one more day), meaning that for the first time in months and months we will not be together.  This is sort of heartbreaking for me, as most of you know I am terrible at saying goodbye - even if we are meeting up with them in about a week or so and have plans to cruise again with them when we get underway after twin girls are born.  But still... it's hard to say "see you later" to people who have become fully engrained into your daily life and don't even get me started on the precious little friendship that has developed between Isla and Stormer...  C'est la vie, as they say.   We've had the best time buddy boating together and we have memories and a friendship that we will cherish forever.  Soon we sail for Barbuda...then St. Barths...then St. Maarten...
It was SOOOOO windy up there but the views were breathtaking.  Best views of our trip so far, I'd say.
Our little mountain goats on a hike up to Shirley Heights for the Sunday evening fete. 
Feeling the wind through our hair at Devil's Bridge
When you find a lone bathtub at the top of a peak after a hike, naturally you get in it for a photo.
Isla enjoying books in an adorable bookstore in Falmouth Harbor.
Our "family".  There is so much love here it's insane.
Cheesy grin from our little ham.
The incredible beach at Jolly Harbor.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hide... or Seek? When People Don't Support Your Dream

"You two are just hiding out down there in the Caribbean," the voice said to us, "You are not living in the real world."  This individual continued on about how eventually we'd learn that it's not about "us" anymore, and we'll want to return to a normal life on land so that our kids get "socialized normally" because raising a growing baby on a boat is no way to raise a child.  This person went on to tell us we were selfish, irresponsible and that raising kids on a boat would be robbing our children of important skills needed to maintain the status quo thrive in society.

Unfortunately, this sort of reaction is very common to anyone who lives this - or any unconventional - lifestyle.  I cannot even tell you how many cruisers we have spoken to and how many emails I have received from wannabe cruisers lamenting about the lack of support they feel from family, friends and loved ones.  We're a couple of the lucky ones, the people who matter the most to us are incredibly supportive of our choices, and for that we are grateful.  More often than not cruisers are deemed "crazy" by friends and loved ones, sometimes in a playful way - sometimes in a hurtful way.  When young adults take a couple years off of the corporate treadmill to travel and explore, they are foolish.  When parents take their children on sabbatical to see the world, they are irresponsible.  If retirees take to their boats to sail off into the sunset after decades of hard work, their grown children call them cruel.  Almost always we are considered "selfish."  The list goes on.  The fact of the matter is this:  if you want to live a life that doesn't fit the "lather, rinse, repeat" cycle our society so successfully generates - you will be met with opposition.  It's been happening since the beginning of time.  Apparently, there are folks out there who believe they have the answers for everyone and when people veer from a certain path, they feel that it's in their wheelhouse to tell them so.  As much as we humans say we value "originality" - we also really, really love for everyone to fit into nice, predictable, little boxes.  Pretty ironic, actually.

What sucks even worse than being judged is the fact that the same people who sit on their high horses pointing fingers, often cannot see past their own noses.  While some are well-intentioned and simply concerned, most are often incredibly closed-minded and - as frustrating as it is - there is not a crow bar in the Universe to pry it open.  Save your breath.  No amount of talk or rationale will convince these folks otherwise.  Instead you should just appreciate the care from the loved ones who mean well, and feel badly for the people who have completely forgotten (or worse, never knew) what it means to have a dream.

Let's take a look at the people who have changed our world: Rosa Parks, Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, Joan of Arc...  I can't be sure, but I'll bet a vital organ that none of these people lived life according to the status quo.  I'll bet that every single one of these people was, at some point or another, considered "different" and probably ostracized for it.  I can also bet that stay at home dads, entrepreneurs, inventors, artists and any other soul who has dared to venture outside parameters of society gets the same sort of message:  "You are different.  You are wrong."  What is with this logic?  Why do people get their knickers in such a bundle over people who do things another way?  If people are making their lives work, if they are happy, and no one is getting maimed in the process - why can't we just live and let live?

I know that being judgmental is part of the human experience and, for one sociological reason or another, we have evolved as a species that likes to be a part of a group and reject those that aren't.  I get it.  I've done it.  We all have.  We're judging people all the time; other parents, their children, our peers, our coworkers, celebrities, etc. typically using ourselves as a measuring stick.  Most of us, however, keep these judgements to ourselves and let the differences keep things interesting.  We focus on our own lives and living them as best we know how.  But there are others of us who feel the need to tell people what they are doing is "wrong" and this is where I get my knickers in a twist.

Wouldn't it be so much more effective if we all examined our own lives, instead of those around us? What is so bothersome about someone else's path?  What satisfaction is gained from trying to control, manipulate, or steal joy from another person?  And furthermore, what does this sort of mentality say about you?  Wouldn't it be so much more effective if we all drew inspiration from these diversions or at the very least used them as a way to learn more about our world, about each other?  I think so.

Scott and I are very blessed and very lucky.  I have always said this and I'll continue to say it forever:  I am thankful every. single. day.  We live a very full and (mostly) happy life.  We are surrounded by amazing friends and are part of a very loving and supportive family.  Sure, we've chosen a path that looks a little different than most of the people we know, and that is okay.  If we want to raise our kids on an organic farm in a hippie commune somewhere in Northern California, big whoop.  If we decide that we want to spend the rest of our lives raising fainting mountain goats, than so be it.  And if we choose to spend some of our kids lives "hiding out" on a boat in the Caribbean (or any other place on this beautiful planet), then that is exactly what we are going to do.  But it's important to note that what one person might consider "hiding," another might consider "seeking."  One mind is closed, the other is open.  And this is the greatest difference of all.  Our current goal?  To raise free-thinking, loving and open minds.  If we decide to go about doing this in a way that is different than you, well, I guess the proof will be in the pudding, won't it?

This world we are living in right now IS the real world.  It might not be yours, but it's ours.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

We're In!!

The kindness of strangers is truly something to cherish in this crazy world of ours.  Luckily, we cruisers (and any wayward wanderers) seem to find it in every corner of the globe and, more often than not, we are on the receiving end of tiny acts of goodness from others on a day to day basis.  After a less than auspicious beginning, we have successfully cleared into Antigua.

Huge "thank you" to Ariane in Guadeloupe for going out of her way to act on our behalf and deal with the customs in Les Saintes to help us track down a copy of our clearance papers.  After hours and hours of internet searching, fruitless phone calls and pleading with authorities (while running on fumes, mind you), Scott decided to "change tacks" as it were and found the contact information of a boat concierge company in Les Saintes.  He was desperate after being told by customs that they had no record of our papers and when he made contact with Ariane, despite the fact that she was in no way obligated to help us, she went above and beyond and called the authorities over there to make magic happen.  After attempting to clear in at 9am, we finally received a PDF copy of our papers and our confiscated passports were returned to us just before 4pm.

After getting a solid twelve hours of sleep last night (we were so tired from the overnight sail, which certainly didn't help matters yesterday), today is a new day and we are back on track.  Ladies and gents: we are now free to roam about the country.  Thank you all for your words of encouragement and concern.  Always appreciated. x

Saturday, November 09, 2013

I am an Idiot. Or: How to be Denied Clearance into a Country

I am writing this incredibly exhausted and upset.  At this moment, Scott is in the customs office here in Antigua trying desperately to get us cleared in to this country after sailing all night.  Why is he having difficulty, you ask?  Because this moron (Brittany) accidentally threw out our customs papers from Guadeloupe and the Antiguan port authorities will not clear us in without them.  This, my friends, is a major snafu.  A first for us and it's all my fault.  Pretty embarrassing.  Antiguan customs are currently withholding our passports until we get a copy of the forms from Guadeloupe which is much easier said than done, I'm afraid.

Dealing with customs and immigration offices is part and parcel for this lifestyle.  Each time you enter a new country you must "clear in" and then, subsequently, "clear out" before you reach another.  Procedures are different from island to island.  Some customs offices are pretty painless and easy (all the French islands come to mind) others are  Every cruiser has tales of woe centered around immigration procedures and dealing with unpleasant customs officials in some place or another.  Today is a day I would love to simply bemoan a rude customs agent.  I wish that was our problem.  Sigh.  But no, today I bemoan my silly little mistake that is really throwing a monkey wrench - one who's effect has yet to be determined, mind you - into things.  Perspective.

Scott does all the clearing in and out of customs for us.  We keep all our boat papers (registration, documentation, customs forms) and all our passports in a small pelican case so that everything is right where it should be when we need it.  When we arrive to a new country, Scott grabs the case, hops into the dinghy and heads to shore to clear us in or out (some places you can do this simultaneously, omitting a step).  Here in Antigua, though, we did a few things wrong:

First mistake:  Isla and I went ashore with Scott to clear us in.  We had just sailed all night long and I thought a little running around would do Isla good before her early afternoon nap.  This was very poor thinking on our part.  Many islands state that when clearing in with customs, only one person from each vessel can go ashore (usually the captain).  While many places do not really enforce this, Antigua is clearly one of them that do and when they saw Isla and I in the office (why did we go in there?!?!)  they made sure to tell us so immediately upon arrival.  No bueno.  That first exchange sort of set the tone for this whole deal...

Second mistake:  When Scott cleared us in to Guadeloupe (an utterly painless process, mind you) he folded up the form and put it in his pocket.  It then rained and the form got wet.  When he came back to the boat he took the paper out of his pocket to dry it out which leads us to mistake number three...

Third mistake:  Scott gave the paper to me.  There are a couple fundamental problems with this as a) I am pregnant with twins and am currently suffering a very major case of "pregnancy brain" (it's real, people) and b) I am a total neat freak so when I see a crumpled up piece of water-logged paper laying around (yes, even after Scott says: "Keep this safe" [see 'a'] it is a natural instinct for me to throw it away.  Who needs a water-logged crumpled piece of paper anyway?

Umm....We do.

They say bad things happen in threes, right? Well, we effectively struck a trifecta of customs and immigration "no no's" here in the 'Tiga.

So now I am back on the boat, feeling utterly helpless and anxious while Scott tries to track down a copy of our clearance papers.  From customs officials.  On a Saturday.  With a French island (I love the French, but do I need to tell you how many breaks they take in a day?).  So I do the only thing I can do when I feel like this, which is to write. it. out.

The best case scenario?  We will get ahold of the customs folks in Guadeloupe and they will fax us our papers after which this will be a cautionary tale that we will have learned a big lesson from while letting out a sigh of epic proportions because it could have been so much worse.

The worst case scenario?  We cannot obtain a copy and have to sail back to Guadeloupe to get a new one.  We will have learned a HUGE lesson that costs us a significant amount of time that we will not get back.

Either way, I guess we learn a lesson.  And, of course, I know it could always be worse.  We're healthy.  Our boat is fine.  We are safe...yadda, yadda, yadda...  But you better believe the only paper I will be throwing away on the boat from this day forward will be toilet paper.

Stay tuned, I will let you know how this plays out...keep your fingers crossed for us.

A True Artiste in Les Saintes

Sometimes you meet a person who just makes you want to hug them.  Such was the case upon meeting Ulrich on the tiny Ilet a Cabrit in Les Saintes.  He lives alone on this small island, a mere dinghy ride away from the main town, a deal he made with the powers that be when he allowed his land on a nearby island to become a wind farm.  Born in Bordeaux, France he moved to Les Saintes in his early twenties and has lived here ever since.  He has resided on Ilet a Cabrit, alone, for the past seven of those years and fills his days living a very simple and sustainable life growing herbs and produce and creating dynamic clay masks from the earth he harvests from outside his door step.  His dwellings are modest: a simple concrete home and a small sailboat tied to a ramshackle little dock at the water's edge, but his life is no doubt full.

The thing that is immediately apparent about this man is that he is kind.  The sort of person who immediately makes you feel at ease.  If you set foot on this little island and he is there, he will most certainly greet you with a smile.  His face is warm and his eyes are gentle and in the constant half-moon shape of a soft grin.  When we approached him he was quietly working, painting one of his beautiful clay masks which he makes from molds and fires in a rudimentary clay oven in his workshop.  Once he saw we had little ones in tow, he immediately got up with a beaming grin and asked in his French accented english, "Would the children like to paint?"  Yes.  Yes they would.

What followed was an hour of painting and working with clay with our new artist friend.  He was so sweet and patient with the kiddos, helping them use a few basic tools (bottle caps, forks, marbles and what not) to make shapes and designs in the clay and assisting them in painting their little masterpieces.  All the while he continued working on painting his masks alongside them with a content smile on his face.

When we left with the art Isla and Stormer had created and our thoughtfully selected masks of Ulrich's to adorn our walls, he called out to us eagerly asking when and if we would return.  We assured him we'd be back, but that next time we'd have not one but three little girls in tow.  He laughed and smiled warmly as he waved us goodbye and resumed his painting in content solitude.

Isla's masterpeice
Our new mask, made and painted by Ulrich
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