Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tropical Shipping: Shipping to the Caribbean

When you move to a tropical island with three small children in tow, you will likely have a lot of stuff.  The thought of flying with three said children was daunting enough, bringing along a fair amount of excess baggage to lug in addition to those children was even more so. After some discussion, Scott and I decided we'd ship down a few boxes of goods in order to lighten our load. He got three 15 inch square boxes for us to fill, and we began the task of selecting what to pack and what to ship.

Over the course of a week - with the help of my very organized packing list - we went through our belongings and decided what to bag (things that were more urgent, like toiletries and clothes, and any items with a higher value) and what to box (things that were not urgent, like kitchen items, toys, and bulk toiletries). All of our boxes weighed under forty pounds each and, at the advice of the marina manager where our boat was being stored, we took them to FedEx to have them shipped.

Then FedEx told us they would charge us over $400... per box... to ship our stuff down island.

Needless to say, we did not ship via FedEx.

I did what I do best and turned to the internet for help and found it by putting out a query in the great "Women who Sail" Facebook group I am a part of. I cannot remember who suggested Tropical Shipping to me when I inquired about the best way to ship personal effects to Tortola, but whoever it was - THANK YOU!

If you, too, are moving to the Caribbean and have a fair amount of excess baggage that the airline will happily charge you an arm and a leg for (unless you fly first class, which allows for unlimited bags - something to consider as it might be worth the upgrade if you crunch the numbers) you might also want to consider shipping your items on a slow boat (container ship).

For less than $300, we were able to ship all three of our boxes to Tortola. Here is how the numbers worked out:
  • 3 Boxes from Chicago > Miami via UPS ground = $150
  • 3 Boxes from Miami > Tortola via Tropical Shipping container ship (5 days transit) = $83
  • Broker fees to assist our boxes through customs (not necessary but highly recommended) = $40
  • Duty paid to customs for our goods = $2! 
    • (The duty is based on the "estimated depreciated value" of the contents.  And our excellent broker was able to talk to the Port Authority and have them approve the fact that all of the contents were going on a "Yacht In Transit"... meaning they were going on a boat that would eventually be leaving the country and therefore were not being "imported."  We had been told that this doesn't always work in the BVI. See "Note" below.)
The customer service at Tropical Shipping is excellent and they will talk you through the whole process, step by step. Most everything is automated and done through forms on their website which makes it easy.

Some tips if you decide to go this route:
  1. Do exactly what they tell you (down to the labeling of your boxes) and fill out your forms completely. Having lived in these islands on and off for quite some time now I can tell you that it is very easy for hiccups to arise and the tiniest cut of a corner can cause a ton of grief on the back end. I made sure to call the offices of Tropical Shipping in Tortola to make sure I did everything correctly so we didn't end up with crazy fees or find our stuff impounded in customs. I am happy to report our items arrived just as promised and, thanks to the use of a broker service, we got our boxes out without a huge headache (anyone who has dealt with customs offices in the islands knows how potentially tricky/difficult/mind numbing it can be.)  
  2. As you are packing, make an itemized list of what is in each box. They will want this - nothing too specific, but general. But the itemized list is more for you to be able to determine the "estimated depreciated value" and if customs opens the boxes (they did not open ours, but we have heard horror stories.)
  3. If you are shipping brand new items, take them out of the packaging to avoid heavy duty fees and/or confiscation. If you ship a box full of packaged cell phones for your buddies, you better believe customs is going to believe you have imported them to sell and they will not be happy with you.
  4. Try to ship used items/personal goods so that you can undervalue (depreciated value) everything, and therefore pay less in duty. All the items we shipped were labeled "personal effects and household goods (used)" to make it clear we weren't importing anything new and of high value. Anything of high value, carry with you on the plane.
  5. Label boxes as part of a series, i.e. "Box 1 of 3, Box 2 of 3...etc" to make sure your boxes stay together.
  6. Consider using a broker service to assist you with getting your boxes out of customs. We were very pleased with our broker, Glenford (we cannot find his site nor do we have his card, but the company linked to above came highly recommended as well), who made the paperwork and "red tape" part of this process a breeze.
We were very, very pleased with Tropical Shipping and would recommend them to anyone looking to ship excess luggage to the Caribbean.

What other economical ways have you found to ship bulk stuff to the Caribbean? Share any tips in the comments.

Note: My box above reads "yacht in transit" which can sometimes waive duty fees. The BVI's do not typically recognize "yacht in transit" unless you physically bring your boat to port to pick up the items, and then leave...but many islands do recognize "yacht in transit" and by labeling your belongings as such you can waive (potentially) expensive duty fees.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It's a Small World...When You've Got a Blog

Most of the time, I love the fact that we have a blog. It's given me a wonderful outlet to write, gotten us some amazing deals on gear, resulted in some cool sponsorships, and - best of all - has connected us with some incredible people all over the world.  The fact that our blog has a decent sized readership combined with the fact that we now find ourselves in the charter capital of the world means that we, at times, can be "recognized" while we are out and about which is pretty interesting, if not a little shocking. In the past week, we've witnessed no fewer than four "light bulb" moments when the people we've been talking to around the marina or by the pool all of a sudden either a) tally the children who are with us or b) see our boat and say, "Wait a minute! You guys have that blog, right? You are Windtraveler!" Yep. That's us. I must admit it's a tiny bit embarrassing (I mean, to be recognized by strangers for blogging?) but also pretty cool. We have yet to meet a follower who was not completely wonderful, interesting and kind. We have great readers, that is for sure.

The other cool thing about blogging is the blogging community itself. Right now there are quite a few fellow bloggers in the area and last week we got to meet up with Carly and her lovely family of Salty Kisses (if you think we are crazy, check them out! They are attempting the Northwest Passage with their three kiddos this summer). We've also had the pleasure to meet a couple long-time followers who'd emailed us in advance telling us they'd be in the area and would we be able to meet to say hello? Of course we are crazy busy at the moment, so gone are the days when we can kick back in the cockpit with a few cold ones, but I'm always happy to say hello and (if projects allow) give people a little tour of our boat. That said, I would particularly like to say thanks to Mark and his beautiful daughter, Lauren, for making the effort to stop by after their charter trip (Lauren - the world is your oyster, girl!) it was great to meet you both and I'm only sorry we couldn't have hung out longer. I also owe a very big THANK YOU to the Pingle Family (I'm talking to you Walter and Colleen!) who randomly recognized us by the pool, and then gave us a very generous cash donation for "all the blog entertainment throughout the years." Me being me, of course, got misty eyed at this incredible kindness and had a hard time accepting it. But then we went to Budget Marine and saw that the simple fan for Isla's berth was over $100 so we graciously accepted and thanked them in advance for keeping Isla cool at night.

In hindsight, I wish I would have gotten photos with all these great people but these days my brain is pretty fried. Between the tropical heat, my running around like a crazy lady all day long, and the fact that many nights I lay awake making lists and walking through scenarios in my head means I am usually a little "slow on the uptake" as it were. So I have no pictures of these great folks other than those in my mind's eye. It'll have to do.

As for projects, we have gotten a ton of great stuff done and while we're definitely feeling the pressure of our less than one week countdown (AJ leaves Wednesday, Grandma leaves Saturday - once our helpers leave, work will come to a screeching halt) we are feeling pretty good about what is going on. Our boat will seriously be better than ever in so many ways and this feels very good.

We have hired out some work in the interest of time, but the bulk of it has been done by Scott and AJ. Here's a list of what we have done - in no particular order- and what are working on, in case you are curious:

  • Bottom painted and hull polished (done by yard before we got down)
  • Replaced all zincs
  • Tested all thru-hulls
  • All lines re-run and sails put back on
  • Polished all (well, most!) stainless
  • Checked engine/genset zincs
  • Re-wired our Rogue wave WiFi booster (new antenna on the way)
  • Slowed leak on our generator heat exchanger (new end cap and assembly on the way)
  • Designed twin berth (the local sailmaker is tackling this, as it was too complex for me to sew)
  • Designed twin dinghy seat (local sailmaker tackling this as well)
  • Re-purposed old (very cumbersome) cockpit table into additional shelving throughout the boat
  • Added two more shelves in hanging lockers adding a LOT more usable storage space
  • Removed our old microwave (we never used it) and added a shelf for food storage
  • Added a fan in the walk through for Isla's berth
  • Designed a lee board for Isla's berth (local wood worker made this, we didn't have the length of wood we needed)
  • Designed additional counter space by having the local woodworker re-purpose an old countertop into cutting board covers for sink and stove
  • Moved light in the v-berth from port to starboard side so not in the twin bunk (little fingers would have found it for sure!) and added one additional light
  • Re-bedded leaky deck prism
  • Fixed leaking forward hatch
  • Serviced a ceased winch (checked all others - fine)
  • Added washer to bow roller shaft to eliminate clunking noise when boat swings at anchor
  • Checked all toilets to ensure they work (they do - phew!)
  • Mounted the brackets for Isla's lee board (her little bed rocks!)
  • Re-wired engine starter circuit (there were some fried wires in there from a previous issue)
  • Replaced DC outlets in the salon and moved DC outlet port from Isla's bunk to the nav station (important for a power-hungry bloggers' office!)
We have created a ton of space and, right now, our boat is more or less empty of personal effects which means we *should* have plenty of room for all our toys, clothes and (gulp) the provisions (have I mentioned how much I despise provisioning?) One of the many things I love about this boat is the fact that she has a ton of storage. We'll need it!

While there has been a lot of work going on, don't be fooled... There's been a little play as well. My mom and I take the girls to the pool almost daily (they are definitely the fish they were predestined to be!) and we take loads of walks around the lovely marina ground that is Nanny Cay. By 7pm when the kiddos are in bed, the boys and I usually head to the local beach bar for a nightcap to discuss the day's work and make a list for the next day, it's a nice way to unwind and lists made over cold beers are always better. 

Alight...Back to work! Here's some pics of progress and our daily life for you...
Added additional counter space over the stove
We added the middle shelf, and some more decorative bins for one of the main toy storage areas
Removed the microwave from this space (not pictured) and added a shelf for additional (easy access) food storage
Replaced the old starboard sink cover with a butcher block one. Much nicer.
Work and play, work and play. 
Carly and I enjoying some cocktails sans kiddos!
The beginnings of Isla's bunk!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

She Floats!

It's been a whirlwind since we've arrived. We have so much to do and so little time, because the minute my mom and our friend AJ leave in the next ten days, any productive work on our boat will come to a screeching halt (seriously, I cannot thank these two enough. Worth their weights in gold right now, gold I tell you!) Three small children require a lot of attention, particularly if two of them are 100% dependent on an adult for everything from feeding to moving, and even more so if the almost three year old has entered a should we say? Challenging stage. It's all hands on deck over here and while we are very happy to be back in the islands, it's certainly not relaxing and time is seriously of the essence.

But enough of that - things are getting done! Because a) we were so meticulous about putting our boat away and b) we had a company keeping an eye on her every few weeks ($150 per month) we returned to a boat more or less in the same condition we left her. This made life much, much easier. Our varnish, of course, has gone to hell after a year in the sun - but after being quoted a cool $3,000 to re-do it all and we quickly made the decision to simply let it peel and flake like a puff pastry until it goes gray. We won't be the prettiest girl in the anchorage, but we won't be the ugliest either.

That said, splashing your boat for the first time after being on the hard for so long is always a bit of a nail biter. "Make sure to check all the hoses before she goes in," the yard manager cautioned us, "if any rats got on, they might have chewed through some - they like hoses." Boats are one of the few things that actually become worse for wear when not used, and it's often after a long time out of commission when an issue will rear it's ugly head. So after checking our cutlass bearing (it was fine), and replacing every zinc (they were not)...after re-packing the stuffing box, and attempting to replace our generator's heat exchanger (we were sent the wrong model -it's okay, it was more preventative)...after loading up the sails, running the rigging and polishing the heck out of our stainless...our the boat was more or less ready to splash.

I am happy to report she floats!

Asante is now back in her element and we are one step closer to moving aboard.

There is still so much work to be done, but having our boat back in the water was obviously a biggie on the checklist. So there's that...

Totally unrelated, but I also have to give a little shout out and big, huge virtual hug to our blog follower Tracy. When we landed in San Juan after our insane travel day, we discovered, sadly, that Scott had left our GoPro Camera in the seat back on our flight. Talking to the ground crew in San Juan was proving futile, when I suddenly remembered that we had a follower who told me she worked for American Airlines. I reached out to her on Facebook and told her of our predicament. What ensued was pretty incredible and shows the power of social media combined with awesome, loyal followers.  After my message, she simply replied that she was "on it" and got to work trying to contact the flight. Ten minutes later - while the flight was in the air en-route back to Chicago - this was the message I received:
"Sooo, as it turns out, my instructor in training is the purser (flight attendant in charge) on this very flight. He is very thorough. If he gets my message before he gets off the plane, he will make sure he finds your Go-Pro! In addition, as I was checking the crew, a pilot decided he wanted to help out. He contacted the flight deck (pilots) on the flight by sending a message via their communication system. They are probably checking row 10D now! I will keep you posted."
And then, this message, a day later:
I am very diligent about finishing what I start, especially when it comes to my "personal projects" as in everything that is not husband or children related. Now that I am done rambling, I wanted to tell you although your GoPro was never found (sorry), I was overly impressed by the graciousness of both the pilot who contacted ATC directly and the crew of the return flight to ORD. In fact, the ATC contacted the working pilot mid-flight requesting a search of the seat back pockets. Once the crew landed, the flight attendant sent me this message, "We just landed in ORD. We got a message in Flt from dispatch & checked 10D. There was nothing there. Our plane came in from ORD to SJU When we got on the plane in SJU the cleaners were on already. There was a sweet old couple in those seats from SJU-ORD." I am sad that I do not have better news for you. I wish I could have helped find the camera. I know it would have come in handy.
Okay, so we never found our GoPro (major bummer - hope the thief enjoys all the baby movies on it!) we are so incredibly grateful for Tracy and American Airlines for all their efforts on our behalf. What a small, awesome world. ^^^^^This right here is why I love blogging.^^^^ (Okay, that and I have an insatiable need to write.)

Okay, life is pretty hectic now, and I will try to keep posting when I can. In the meantime, it's much easier for me to update via our Facebook Page, so you will find more regular postings there.

Thanks to everyone for all your support, well-wishes and love. We're soaking it up over here like the vitamin D we've been missing for so long.

Pretty new zincs all ready for sacrificing
This guy...good people. 

Happy in our slip!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How Traveling with Three Restored my Faith in Humanity

The beginning of what would become a very long day
When we labored up to our gate at O'Hare overburdened with babies and associated gear (strollers, diaper backpacks, purses, toys, baby carriers., carry on bags..etc) I could literally feel the collective groan from the fellow passengers. "There goes the neighborhood" their sidelong glances and polite-yet-worried smiles seemed to say. I mean, let's be honest; babies are like ticking time bombs on planes, and sitting next to one is enough to make anyone nervous. But sharing a vicinity with infant twins and a toddler who is in the thick of the "terrible two's" for a four hour plane flight? There are very few souls who'd willingly sign up for that.

The morning started off easily enough. We were packed, we were ready, we woke up the girls, loaded up the car and headed to the airport. Checking in was a breeze. Security was an effort and a bonafide three ring circus but nothing that a little time and energy couldn't help (note to those traveling with multiple children: time is your friend - get to the airport early!) We got to our gate, and because we had two lap children - we were told to wait for our seat assignments, as they had to do some shuffling. We waited. And waited. And waited. They boarded the first group. Then the second. Then came the announcement that the plane was over-sold and would anyone like to give up their seats in return for $500 in vouchers? Skeeert. It became painfully obvious who would be getting bumped if no one volunteered. We stood at the counter like deer caught in headlights and desperately panned the thinning crowd. The passengers continued past us, one by one into the plane. Some avoided our eyes completely, others gave us sympathetic smiles with the subtext: "We're so sorry...but we're not giving up our seats for you." The gate agent upped the ante and made another offer - $1000 in vouchers - to anyone willing to give up their seats on what appeared to be an over-sold flight. We were now ten minutes from take off and there were only a handful of people left in the gate area. It was not looking good for us. Our motley crew of three adults and three children stood at the ticket counter looking rather pathetic and desperate when a man came over to me and asked, "Are you the ones who need volunteers?" "Well," I started, "as it stands right now we are the ones without seat assignments." Without a beat, this kind man and his beautiful wife, walked up to the agent and announced "We'll give up our seats." He waived their boarding passes like one might wave a white flag and smiled at us. I was so touched by the kindness of these two strangers that I literally started crying and gave each of them the biggest hug I could. Even a gate agent got teary witnessing the exchange. "Thank you, thank you, thank you" I repeated to each of them, "You have no idea how much this means to us." I swear that one day I will pay this kindness forward. Ladies and gentlemen, if you see a young family traveling with multiple children, any gesture you can offer them - from helping fold up a stroller to giving up your seat - will mean the world to them. Please remember this next time you fly or travel.

We were the absolute last passengers to board the plane mere minutes from our take-off time (which was a blessing in disguise), and our new friends' good karma was cashed in immediately when two no-shows opened up enough seats for them as well. Happy days. Off we went.

Seen as how this was the first flight for the twins, we really weren't sure how it would go or how they would behave. Both Scott and I had a lap child, and Isla had her own seat (any child age two and up must pay full fare for a seat). My mom was in business class (travel agent perks + miles + unlimited checked bags made this decision easy) while the rest of us were in coach. Because there are not enough oxygen masks for five people in a row, Scott and I had to sit on opposite sides of the aisle meaning there were three people directly subjected to our family shenanigans, not to mention the other folks in front of and behind us. I am happy to report that all three kids were absolute angels for the entire flight, and minus some shuffling about and handing babies back and forth across the aisles so I could nurse them, the trip went off without a hitch . This was due largely in part to the great "team" surrounding us. We could not have been luckier with the people we shared our rows with.  I joked on our Facebook Page that "if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole plane to fly with them" and it is really true. We are so grateful to have been surrounded by such generous, understanding and patient people. The fact that they all seemed to love our kids was icing on the cake.

When we landed in San Juan, however, our luck changed.

"What do you mean we are not in the system?" I overheard my mom frantically ask the gate agent as Isla and I walked up. It was time to board. "I mean," she quipped, "you do not have a reservation. You are not on this plane." This did not bode well for us since, according to our records, we did have a reservation which became very clear when they confirmed that our bags had been loaded on the plane. "Yes" the gate agent told us when we inquired about this, "you were *supposed* to be on this flight, but something happened and now you are not." This was the only explanation we were given for the mishap which obviously made zero sense. There was some back and forth to try and get to the bottom of the situation but Scott and I have learned that getting demanding and huffy with Caribbean folk does nothing for one's cause in these parts and, after some failed attempts to get us on the plane, we watched our flight take off with out us.

We were re-assigned to a later flight on a different airline at 8pm (adding three more hours to our two hour layover), which, when we arrived at the gate, we learned had been cancelled, subsequently bumping us on to an even later flight at 9:45pm. This was very bad news to us considering we had three small children who had been traveling for over twelve hours and were in dire need of sleep, not to mention the three exhausted adults who hadn't had a decent meal in hours and were in dire need of a team of chiropractors (baby wearing is great, but after a full day of it, it can get...tiring). It didn't end there either, apparently due to all the shuffling of passengers from two earlier cancelled flights, the plane - we were told - no longer had a seat for my mom.  It looked like Grandma would have to stay back in San Juan and be on the first flight out at 8am. Not the end of the world, of course, but rather annoying considering if we had been on our original flight the three of us would have been sipping painkillers while the kids slumbered in their beds.

Two hours passed killing time in the terminal and just as we were about to board we discovered that Cape Air did, in fact, have a seat for my mom. Hooray! (Lesson here: when flying a Caribbean airline it's not over until the plane takes off without you.) We were moved to a holding area for our eight passenger puddle jumper where we were loaded on and off the plane not once, but twice due to "weight issues." Back to the gate we went, where we were told to wait for another twenty minutes while they "sorted it out". This does not sound like a big deal, but when you are shuffling three children, strollers and diaper bags, the simple act of moving from A to B is quite exhausting, especially if that move is a very long walk across an airport. Again, the kids were incredible and taking it all in stride, and everyone kept complimenting us on how well-behaved everyone was. I thanked them, but gently reminded them that our luck could change a the drop of a pin. Such is life with three under three. But I will admit I was very proud of our girls.

At 9:45pm we were finally en-route to Tortola and flying through and inky black sky with five of our new best friends.

We landed on the runway and upon exiting the plane I was enveloped by the all too familiar sticky-sweet Caribbean air. It felt amazing. "Smell that, Isla?" I whispered in her ear as I took a deep breath in, "that's the smell of the ocean." I can't really describe the feeling other than taking in that breath felt like coming home. It felt right and it became apparent that the crazy journey to get here was totally worth it. We entered the tiny Tortola airport where we were met with all of our luggage (remember that it flew in four hours earlier...) which was another bit of luck - losing luggage is commonplace in these parts. The sound of five passport stamps echoed through the now-empty tiny airport and we were all cleared in.

"Welcome home" the officer said with a toothy grin and handed back our documents.

Welcome home, indeed.

Driving along in our taxi, the Caribbean night unfolded along the roadside. The skunky smell of marijuana wafted in and out of our taxi windows and palm trees silhouetted by the moonlight made up the tableau on the horizon as we buzzed past the slumbering markets and homes. It was good to be back and, at that moment, felt like no time has passed.

By 11:30pm, we were in our condo. We immediately put the kids to bed after enjoying a couple glasses of well-deserved wine we all crashed. Hard.

The day was long and exhausting, that is for sure, but even with the many mishaps we encountered we were met with tremendous luck as well. It was confirmation that we were on the right path that every step of the way, luck seemed to be on our side. "Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls." We have a very long and challenging road ahead, and what we are about to do will no be easy - we know that for certain. But if we continue to be met with good fortune like we were met with on this day...if we continue to meet the sort of people who so willingly opened their hands and hearts to us on this first leg, then I think we're going to be just fine.

Asante sana, Universe.

And now, the real work begins...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Packing for a Family of Five? Our List

I love a good list. There was a time in my life where this sort of rigid organization was not necessary to move from A to B, but having kids threw all that out the window. Maybe unicorns exist and there are families with multiple children who do not need preparation of this magnitude in order to travel, but for us - this is the only way to maintain order - and sanity - during what can be a pretty stressful and hectic time: the pre-departure panic.

We decided to make sure we were fully packed two days before we left (this is the "packing dry run" I made reference to in my earlier post). If you are traveling with kids...heck, if you are traveling at all... I highly recommend this system. It allows you to pack, assess, weigh (all bags under 50 lbs), revise, repack and make sure you are a) maximizing luggage space and b) covering all of your bases. If you look at the list, you'll see we are almost all packed up - minus the few items that we need on a daily or nightly basis.  This means that tonight we can make merry at our family farewell dinner and tomorrow night we can kick back with a bottle of wine and a movie if we want. We are pretty much "okay to go". Siiigh.

I posted this list to our Facebook Page last night and I had to laugh at some of the responses. You don't miss a beat and really know how to make me laugh out loud (have I mentioned lately how much I love you guys?):

Minus the fact that Scott and I lay awake each night giggling like school kids and exclaiming, "Holy crap. This is happening. Are we insane?!" followed by pressure-releasing squeals into our pillows, stress is at a minimum. We're excited. We're ready. What cracks us up even more is that our kids, minus Isla of course, are completely oblivious to the gigantic change that is about to take place. It's all business as usual for them and as long as they have mommy and daddy, they're gonna be cool. We're just going to pick them up and move them to Tortola where they will simply carry on as normal. There is something profound in this but I can't put my finger on it. Kids, I tell you. We can learn a lot from 'em.

Now that the preparation frenzy has simmered down and we find ourselves with some time to think thoughts outside of those related to all things packing, we're beginning to feel the first pangs of pre-departure sadness. We have been here for over a year, we have created a lifetime of memories and have been surrounded by incredible friends and family.We are very blessed and we are hyper aware of - and grateful for - this fact. I am, by nature, a nostalgic person which means I am terrible at goodbyes. I hate leaving. I am emotional and get choked up by sentimental songs and Hallmark commercials. My best friend utters the words, "I'm really, really gonna miss you" and I burst into tears like a baby. I wish I was more stoic, but that card was left out of my deck I'm afraid. 

Despite the choked-back tears and the millions of unknowns that lie ahead, we know we are making the right move. If we didn't go we would regret it, and - really - that is the only fuel we need in order to move forward. 
“Perhaps that is where our choice lies -- in determining how we will meet the inevitable end of things, and how we will greet each new beginning.” ― Elana K. Arnold, Burning
This. Is. Happening. 

Bring it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BVI or Bust

Four days. That's how much longer we have until we uproot our life and kids and move back to our boat in the British Virgin Islands. I know I have said it before, but it bears repeating: this is no small feat. I mean, we are doing a packing "dry run" tomorrow night just to ensure we are prepared for our departure on Saturday. Never heard of a "packing dry run" before? Yeah. Us either. But we are learning that when you move your family of five from a suburban home in the Chicago-land area to a forty-four foot boat on the island of Tortola via airplane, you need to be sure you can handle the load. And what a load it is. Despite trying to be minimalists, we have no fewer than seven bags coming down with us. That is not including the three 15 x 15 x 15 inch boxes we shipped already. When it comes to babies on boats, you gotta have equipment.

So, how is this going to go down?

Lucky for us my mom is coming with us for the first two weeks to "escape" the polar vortex (and love up her grand-babies) which will be *hugely* helpful on the flights and once we are there (mom, you are the BEST.) We have rented a condo at the marina for the first two weeks because that is about how long we anticipate our boat will be an unlivable construction zone (fingers crossed it doesn't take any longer!) My mom will help me with the three kiddos on land while Scott works his butt off to get our boat re-commissioned and back in ship shape.

For a boat that has been sitting on the hard for a year, this is not a small job. Our water-maker needs to be revived, our engine given some TLC, our generator needs a new heat exchanger (this is in one of those seven bags mentioned earlier), our portholes need re-bedding, our forward hatch needs replacing, and then there's all the "little" stuff like general cleaning, re-running all the rigging, putting the sails back on, bringing our outboard back to life and making sure all our electronics and mechanical systems are still kicking. This obviously doesn't count the unforeseen things that will inevitably pop up, which is pretty much a given when it comes to boats. The past twelve months, however, a company has been doing checkups on Asante every couple weeks and sending pictures of our interior and exterior, so (in theory) there will be no "big" surprises when we return. We will not be met with mold and mildew (a humidifier has been running), dead batteries (a small solar panel has been trickle charging), or an infestation of bugs or critters (every morsel of food was removed and traps were set). The bottom of our boat has been repainted and the hull has been buffed. We know, more or less, what we are coming back to when we arrive. There is great relief in this.

Another great relief that will make this transition significantly easier is the fact that we have a good friend coming down with us who will a) act as a sherpa for one of our bags and b) be Scott's right hand man while getting the boat up and running. You might remember AJ as one of our trusty crew for the journey from the Bahamas to the BVI's and he's making a repeat performance as the best blog-follower-turned-friend EVER. He loves the BVI's (charters there yearly), has a very flexible work schedule and also happens to enjoy our company so he offered his assistance. He will, quite literally, be worth his weight in gold because so many boat projects, even the "simple" ones like putting the sails back on, require two able-bodied people. His presence will not only be wonderful as he is tons of fun and an all-around awesome guy, but he will be a *humongous* help to us as he is also an accomplished sailor who knows his way around boats.

We have so many other projects that will need to get done in our two-week window as well. I will be busing out my trusty Sailrite and am bringing down some great fabrics that will be used to make the twin's berth (they will be sleeping in the pointy end) and we are making our walk-through into a custom berth for Isla as well. There are lots of other sewing projects as well, and - if my schedule allows - I will post about them. I have no idea what sort of time I will have for detailed blogging, so if you'd like to keep up with what is going on in the next couple of weeks, by far the best place will be on our Facebook Page. It's much easier to post and engage with people "on the fly" over there.

Okay, back to packing and deep breathing. Wish us luck! We're gonna need it...

Friday, January 09, 2015

Return to the Blue Lagoon: Flying South

"We're leaving in nine days," Scott said to me while eating dinner last night. "It doesn't feel like we're leaving in nine days," he paused. "Shouldn't it feel like we're leaving in nine days?"  I agreed and then contemplated; what, exactly, should we be feeling? Because he is right, as I sit here on the couch listening to the television drone on in the background as our three little ones slumber peacefully, it feels very much like business as usual. At this moment, we're no different than any suburban family. Sure, we've shipped three boxes of personal effects and goods to the island of Tortola, and I have packed up the clothes for the girls and myself. I've had no fewer than five "farewell" dinners with close friends and the bottom of our boat is getting prepped and painted as we speak so she's ready to splash when we return. But, still, it just doesn't feel like this is really happening.

This move, understandably, feels pretty momentous which is kind of hilarious considering our "cruising plans" are so un-adventurous they border on laughable. But what we are trading in nautical miles and passages, we are gaining in the unchartered waters of "three under three" on a boat. I don't know of many (any?) boats out there that have our configuration of little children aboard (if you know of any, please let us know! Would love any tips and tricks). Lots of boats have kids of course, and many have a baby on board, I've even heard of a few boats with twins - but three kids under three? This is certainly rare which inadvertently puts us on the front lines of this whole "boating with multiple babies" thing. And, based on blog stats, interview requests and emails, I think there are a lot of people out there that really want to see how - and if - this pans out. Some days - most days - I am hopelessly optimistic about what we are doing, totally adopting the "we got this" attitude. Other days I worry that we are getting in over our heads. Only time will tell.

So how does it feel? Surreal. For so long this move was just an arbitrary date in the distant future and now it's just over a week away. On the one hand, we're heading back to our home and a very familiar lifestyle. On the other, we have doubled our crew tipping the parent-to-child ratio in favor of the kids which ups the "challenge" quotient considerably. There's a lot to think about, and a ton to prepare. Lucky for us, I practically have a masters degree in preparation. As with anything - I am being very thorough about our return. Where will they bathe? How will we get in and out of the dinghy? How will they sit in the dinghy? Where will they sleep? Which toys will give us the most bang for the buck? How will boat projects ever get completed? Which craft supplies make the most sense? What will be the most versatile safety seat to use? How will we manage naps? Will one of us ever be able to handle all three alone on the boat so the other can rest? Every day I run through at least a dozen scenarios in my head like a professional athlete might visualize winning before ever setting foot on the field, court or track. Preparation. While we are definitely jumping into the water head first with this whole "three babies on a boat" thing, we are certainly not doing it blindly. We have the fortunate experience of having lived aboard and cruised over 5K nautical miles with *one* baby, which gives us a picture - albeit a very vague one - of what we might be in for.

These past few days have been a blur of organizing, selling and purging goods. I have an incredibly detailed packing list (I love my lists!) that continues to grow because with each item added, another item goes along with it. For example, if I need the camera, I must have the charger, the spare battery, the float strap, the DC battery charger...and oh! That reminds me, I need another DC USB plug...and, what about the DC computer chargers...and the hard drives for storage and...hmm...speaking of electronics, did we need more head lamps? Those things are notorious for disappearing...and do we need extra batteries for the white noise machines for the babies? You get the picture. The list grows, and grows and grows - no matter how thoughtful and discerning we are. For a lifestyle that is touted as "minimalist" - we sure 'need' a lot of stuff. Without realizing it and with very little effort, our list has grown Fibonacci sequence-style.

Friends of ours just left today on their maiden voyage, and in their blog post they shared this great quote by Tegan Phillips that so perfectly put this crazy packing whirlwind into perspective:
I wish I had known how easy adventuring can be so I could have avoided the ‘preparation panic’ people often face before trips of any sort, where you somehow convince yourself that if you don’t have this particular tool or type of tent or type of saddle or type of clothing even then your adventure will be a disaster and you will probably die. As I discovered, whatever you are going to do, the chances are somebody has done it with much less than you and somehow survived.
Of course traveling with a toddler and twinfants makes our situation slightly more unique than most. While we do try to adhere to the "less is more" approach to kids stuff (the twins got their first "high chairs" last week, prior to this we ate on the floor!) we need to be very mindful of safety and security which requires a lot of forethought and, yes, gear. Harnesses, tethers, life jackets, additional webbing and buckles, new materials for lee cloths and a twin bunk, more netting to secure the bow and pushpit...etc. There is so much to consider - particularly because we have one twin (Haven) who is a bonafide "Dennis the Menace" and is walking now - that even though we are going to some of the most "developed" islands we've been to where we will be able to get most anything we could get here (at a premium, of course) - we are still pouring over our packing list as if we were going to the moon. Only this time it's not provisions and boat parts we're thinking about, but baby gear. Oh, how times have changed!

So...I'm not quite sure how it should feel when we are about to take a giant leap into a pool that many people think we are quite insane to jump into. All I know is that a) it doesn't really feel like were leaving and b) when I sit and really think about it, it feels a little sad, a little happy, a little nerve-wracking, a little uncertain and a lot exciting. T-minus eight days until this family is island-bound.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Optimist's Creed

It's go time over here. We head back to our boat in two weeks and, as such, the already frenetic pace of life has been kicked up a notch. While the overriding emotions surrounding our impeding move back to the boat and the islands are excitement and anticipation ("I wanna go back to my boat now, mama!" is Isla's latest and most persistent demand), I am not without reservation either. I have asked Scott, "Are we crazy??" at least once a day and as our departure date looms closer and closer, (thus becoming more and more real) the magnitude of it all is coming sharply into view.

Pre-departure nightmares have begun -- as they so often do on the cusp of big events -- when worries seep into our sleeping subconscious. The other night I awoke in a total panic after dreaming that we left for the boat forgetting all of our luggage and missing our plane right after sending Isla, alone, up into first class (I think this makes it clear who gets top billing in this family!) Every night I lay awake in bed with a million thoughts racing through my head, my mind ping-ponging between adding items to the packing list and general concerns about the uncertainty ahead: "Will we have enough room for five of us?" "Can't forget the scone mix..." "Will the babies sleep okay?" "Get more teething tablets..." "Will it be too hot for the twins?" "Must order new heat exchanger..." "Will we have the boat ready in time?" "Email the boat yard in the morning...." "Will the kids enjoy boat life?" "Stock up on sunscreen..." "Will *we* enjoy boat life with three under three?!"

So, yeah. There's a lot going on, and a lot of emotion going with it.

The other day I read a quote that helped ease my naturally busy (and slightly overwhelmed) mind:
"When you believe something is hard, the Universe demonstrates the difficulty. When you believe something is easy, the Universe demonstrates the ease." (Thank you Margret for sharing!)
I'm not delusional. There are going to be some big challenges ahead for us and there will inevitably be hiccups along the way, but *maybe just maybe* if our overriding belief is "success" then that is what we will find? Could it be that easy? (insert emoticon with squinty eyes and teeth)

I'm willing to give it a shot.

The other night my dad shared with me a quote he came across. It's called "The Optimist's Creed" and it preaches...well...optimism. If it wasn't so damn long I'd have it printed on a canvas and hang it on our boat so we can read it daily with the hopes of living more like it by osmosis. Unfortunately our wall space won't allow it so I'll just have to post it here on the blog and call it good.
"Promise yourself:

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble."
- Christian Larson, 1912 Your Forces And How To Use Them
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