Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Childhood aboard

I am convinced I’d never have the patience or inclination to endure home schooling. Even more so in a confined space, rolling on waves, with the sea and surf calling out through the windows.
But since we’ve arrived on the boat-life scene in the Caribbean, we’ve met many families, many mothers who do just that. They follow various curriculums and try as best they can to fit in all the lessons, tests and essays, amidst squalls, grocery and laundry trips ashore or washing by hand, cooking, cleaning and polishing their stainless steel or teak wood on board.
I admire all of them for their courage and saintly patience. The kids as well. Must be near impossible to maintain a routine and the concentration needed for school work in an atmosphere like a Caribbean anchorage.
We never considered taking off to cruise with the kids, and I believe it was mostly due to the fact that neither of us could imagine the day to day of it all.
But since we’ve arrived and I witness the lives of families aboard, especially the kids, I’ve realised that it is well worth the sacrifice. And more than that, it’s an amazing life for a kid.
This afternoon I was sitting at Secret Harbour marina and one of the yachtee kids arrived. She’s 8 years old. I asked her who she came with. Where is mum etc.
“I came alone, in my dinghy. Mom is coming along.”
I smiled. Inside was in awe. I only commandeered my first solo dinghy ride last week.  I found the little outboard motor heavy and awkward, and the motion of revving and steering with opposite motions of that stick makes my brain hurt.
Meanwhile my little friend has her own dinghy. This implies that she is an excellent swimmer, and at ease in the water. Her confidence radiates as she operates the small motor alone and arrives at her destination, ties up and comes up to the restaurant alone. And she talks to me like an adult. She looks me in the eye and she’s got a lot of interesting stuff to say. She’s even written an article in a Caribbean wide magazine publication.
 And what is even more amazing is that suburban parents will judge her parents. Will assume this is no lifestyle to take your children along on. They will cry danger and selfish parental desires.
But on the other hand, we on land complain about this generation of landlubbing kids. They never really PLAY anymore. They sit behind computer and game console screens and they are losing the ability to socialize. They don’t know how to amuse themselves outside movies and games. They are spoiled. Lazy. Disinterested.
And the children I’ve met here are exactly the opposite. They have no TV’s and most have no video games. They play for hours on end on the beach. They have avid imaginations and can busy themselves on long passages, while their parents do the laundry ashore, or work on urgent engine issues.
They have no fears, as they have seen their parents venture out into the world, far from the comforts of home, learning new cultures, skills, languages every day. They play with dolphins and swim with stingrays. They dive metres down on anchor chains. They kayak over to visit a friend.
They can handle real tools and read charts.
The first weekend we arrived at Hog island I watched two raggamuffin boys, enjoying boyhood to the fullest. They ducked and dived behind the adults, putting together a fire. One held a machete that was near close to his height. They were wild yet controlled. No one got hurt and if they did, they brushed it off and got on with it.
Then one of them, all smudged with dirt came running up and cuddled under his mom’s arm. He looked up with glassy blue eyes and a little blond cowlick. And then he spoke. He was articulate, not shy. He spoke with the adults, answered our questions and asked a few of his own. And then he was off again, back to the world of pirates and desert islands and heroes and hooligans. And there was no Gameboy in sight.
Then his mom turned to me and said,
“We had to send him to ‘real school’ recently. We realised he could tie every nautical knot but he couldn’t tie a shoelace. He’s never worn lace up shoes”.
I loved it. I think I will always remember that.
I wondered what a childhood like that would be like. What people it will create. And I am sure it will be a rare breed - kids who are well rounded and well travelled. Kids who play hard and equally, who learn real life lessons that can’t be trapped in the pages of a book.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

How to make a boat a home

Is it human nature to want to mold your environment to reflect your presence? I find that even in the small confines of a boat, with the big beautiful world around us as an infinite yard/playground, we are still looking internally at what about the boat we can alter, change or add to.

We've been visiting lots of other boat-homes and I am inspired, amazed and surprised by what personal touches and innovative designs people have managed to create within a severely limited space.

We bought our boat out of charter. It's previous life was a week in week out transport of tourists, whose aim was to motor to as many beautiful places as possible in the shortest possible time. As chartering is expensive, the aim was always to get as many bodies on board as possible, to share costs.

So Shiloh hosted eight guests at any given time, fully utilising her 4 berths (beds) and 4 heads (bathrooms). She did her job well and made it through the constant turnaround for over 7 years fairly unscathed.

Now that we have moved aboard, we have completely different needs. 4 heads is almost ridiculous. Even in large suburban homes, 4 bathrooms is an overkill. We've got an ensuite for each bedroom, even though these bedrooms are smaller than the average walk-in closet!

We have no shelving, no knick knacks, no clutter. And though that is great, the boat is still looking less loved, less lived in than others.

We will definitely add things as we go, but there comes a point where boat owners have to decide how much to alter or change. Structurally speaking, removing bathrooms involves plumbing and throughhulls and can get complicated. Changing one of the berths into a storage or living space can also be quite complicated, not to mention expensive.

But this is our home and we plan to be with Shiloh for quite a while. So she is worth our best efforts.

The question is where to draw the line. Can we change the colour of the interior wood or even change the surfaces altogether? Should we recover the lounge suite cushions with leather?

The list gets longer, the longer we live aboard.

Installing the new dodger
 We have already added some practical things like a clear dodger above the cockpit so that we don't get soaked during rainstorms and high seas. We've added side panels as well for a cozier and less wet experience at anchor. We added nice white vinyl cushions on the outdoor seating area.

I'm sure we'll continue bit by bit over the months and years.

All around us the turquoise sea holds us afloat and captures our senses. Palm trees wave from the shore. But I guess that a home is always something we need to create, no matter how beautiful our surroundings nor how small the residence.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Castaways with roasted goat

There’s something quite primitive about roasting a whole animal over a rudimentary fire on an uninhabited island.
 But at yesterday’s goat roast on Hog Island, the condiments, cold ice and decanted wine made it all that much more modern.
A friend of ours decided that it would be a great idea to buy a goat from a nearby farmer and meet up with a crowd to eat, drink and be merry. And we all agreed. And it was.
 And due to the enormity of meat on the average Grenadian goat, we will have the second roast this afternoon.
It is a Friday afternoon, and yesterday was Thursday, and none of us was worried about rush hour traffic or property taxes or our gym membership.
We just needed to get a fire started, keep the black birds from nabbing all the breadfruit, and keep the mosquitos and no-see-ums away with some form of DEET spray.
Oh, and keep the beers and rum cold. Ever important in the life of a cruiser.
Well worn Canadian flag at Roger's beach bar

View from the beach - Shiloh in the background
 So although we were quite well organised, lacking any of the land life stresses and enjoying the finest food and drink to be had, there was something fun and primal about feeling part of the island around us, soaking in the lapping waves and cutting up hunks of dead animal to share. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Boats do float

As I sat on Shiloh’s back step this morning, looking out at the unbelievably turquoise water on the sand patches in the reef nearby, my face buried in a bright orange mango, juice poured down to my elbows and onto the bright white gel coat surface. I actually smiled while contemplating our anchoring experiences.
After being released from the mosquito infested boat-hammock-on-the-hard on Tuesday night, we decided to try to find a less rolly spot out in Prickly Bay to anchor, which meant finding somewhere tucked in, close to shore.
So we found a spot where some monohulls were nestled in behind, swung Shiloh around and dropped the anchor. Only the depth metre started reading freakishly low numbers. It claimed we were in less than a foot of water!
We played around a bit – letting out more chain and watching the boats behind us, but wondering how they had managed to get in there with their deep keels.
Finally we had moved behind the most shallow section and were in a few feet of water.
I was at the back of the boat taking a GPS reading so we could determine whether we were stuck in on the anchor when JW shouted from the front,
“If anyone’s going to run aground, it’s this guy!”
And just as soon as he’d said it, I ran up to the front to see a monohull, motoring at full speed, right in front of us, heading into shore on the wrong side of the concrete bouy marking the channel.
Seconds later as we locked eyes with the couple on board, their boat went from speed to stationary with a tremendous jolt. The boat and it’s occupants were shocked and the couple nearly lost their footing, sunglasses flying, hair blown forward from the swift reversal of movement.
“Oh my God!” I shouted.
“I can’t believe they did that!” I probably spoke loud enough for them to hear me, as I’m known for that, but they didn’t seem to notice as they had a boat keel smashed into a shoal and were busy hitting reverse gear with gusto.
The water churned wildly below them as they sped backward, dangerously close to some moored boats.
JW calmly motioned for them to go around the concrete marker in the safe channel.
They waved and seemingly unphased, they went past and headed toward the slip we had been hoisted in the night before.
It taught me a few things right away.
1.     We are not the only ones who find ourselves in dangerous and embarrassing situations on the water.
2.     We were definitely anchored on or near a really shallow something. Was it a sand bank or coral or a wreck?
3.     Boats are much stronger than I imagined – having watched that boat hit at such speed and managed to get away unscathed.
We left the boat and headed to town. Later that night, after a great night and winning the trivia challenge with our cruiser team over at the Tiki Bar, we dinghied back to Shiloh and turned in. Only as I lay in bed with my book I kept hearing what sounded like bubble wrap being popped. It was subtle yet constant. I altered JW who was just about to dive into a deep and well deserved sleep.
We moved around the boat listening until we isolated it’s source. Under the floor boards, the sound was quite loud. We were definitely sitting on something and the popping noise was very unsettling.
We turned on the depth metre and discovered we were in less than 1ft of water. Judging by the noises, we were in no feet of water!
We were both exhausted and didn’t relish the idea of heading out into the rough bay in the dark, but in the end that’s just what we did. Luckily we moved easily from our shallow patch and headed way out into the channel. JW was determined that I relax about the depth, so he wanted to find somewhere with at least 20 ft depth.
It was really dark and our super flashlight barely helped. The wind was whipping and mooring bouys plus fishing nets lurked around us like a mine field.
I ran around the front of the boat, bouncing over the trampoline from corner to corner, on the look out.
We found an empty spot and dropped the anchor. We swung back and found a spot with exactly 20ft depth!
So after 30 minutes of GPS readings and eyeballing our position, we retired to bed. Rolling and bouncing, the rains came all night and I never fell into a deep sleep.
But by morning we were in the same position and no barnacles or wrecks were damaging our under side.
There are many trade offs with sailing and I’m learning it  applies to the whole anchoring experience as well.
 Last night after a rough trip through 8ft waves and sea spray over us, we were back in our favourite spot at Hog island. We had trouble getting the anchor to hold and motored forward raising it and dropping again until we held. And the depth metre read about 1 ft of water! But there was no crackling noise and there were no rolly waves throwing us around. And I decided to relax, and accept the payoff.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Overnight haul out

Up on the hard. Funny phrase that. But that’s just what we are, or where we are to be precise.
Shiloh and her inhabitants are like fish out of water. We’ve motored into a narrow concrete slip at Spice Island Marine, and Shiloh has been hoisted with two massive slings, up and out of the water.
 This was planned, but it can be a bit unsettling.
Maintenance of a boat sometimes requires access to her from below, and this time we are changing the seals on the sail drives. Definitely not a job that could be done in the water.
Also, after a few weeks over at Hog island, Shiloh needed an underbelly shower! Lots of lime green algae and barnacles had made our boat their comfy home. Despite our motoring in some big swells around the Prickly peak, we hadn’t managed to shake them free.
 So, it had to be done.
It’s another adventure, this time a non-nautical one!
I did my part as we came into the slip, our temporary captain maneuvered Shiloh’s 20 tons as if we were slim trim graceful. All I had to do was be calm and throw the lines out to the guys waiting ashore, so they could guide the boat in. It all went off without a hitch.
The most disorienting moment was going down below (while up high), and seeing gravel through our escape hatch windows! Yikes. I’m so used to seeing the aquamarine colour of the sea below us. I much prefer it.
I hear from other cruisers that tonight will not be the most pleasant experience. I’ve gotten used to the lull of the ocean’s motherly motion and the cooling winds at anchor. Tonight will be so still and we are not facing the wind, so definitely hotter than normal. The soothing sounds of the waves rolling over the reef out our cabin window at Hog Island will be replaced by trucks on the road behind the boat yard. The sea spray replaced by the dust of gravel from the nearby construction site.
But still, I’m excited!
Right now I’m at De Big Fish, wifi and soda with bubbles and limes… I can see JW and the mechanic crouched under Shiloh’s massive shadow, a few metres away. My job now is to bring ‘home’ some hot fresh take outs and some icy beers. I can do that.
Every day a new adventure, a new task. A new perspective. This one doesn’t seem ‘on the hard’ side afterall.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chocolate and rum - touring like a tourist in Grenada

It's been a hectic week - lots of cappuccinos, island tours and beach cafes. Rough rough.

Art Fabrik - a sensory delight and store I wanted to live in. All hand made in house batiks.
This has been a 'get to know Grenada' through the eyes of a tourist week. We visited quaint, delicious little curio and clothing shops.  I tried to take more photos, breathe in the colours, the rich emeralds and shocking fuschias. My senses were sharp, raw.

We finally made it to the organic chocolate factory. The universe willed it to happen and we easily gathered a group of cruisers, hired a driver and a van, and set off on a chocolate/rum road trip.

Our driver Cosmus is 78. He's been driving on the island forever. He is pretty much the only driver who takes the sharp mountain turns at a reasonable speed. He doesn't have a death wish, and we don't either, so it worked out well. It took us two hours of hills and valleys, clouds and sun patches, close calls around bends to arrive, but we made it to the Belmont Estate in one piece.

We pre-empted the whole tour protocol by visiting, buying and eating the treats from the gift shop before taking the tour, but it was worth the sin. Dark chocolate cashew clusters, melted in our mouths, on our fingers, and down our chins as we were called over to learn the process.

Sadly, like most agricultural industry in the Caribbean, the Belmont Estate first ran on the sweat of slavery. The big tree at the entrance was a gathering point, where slaves were called using the huge bell that still sits on the bottom branches. For punishment, slaves were hung from it's branches.

After this eery and unsettling story, we are led into the huge barn to see how the chocolate is made, as it has been for centuries.

Chocolate starts as beans inside the white fruit of these cocoa pods:

The beans are dried for seven days and then are laid out in the sun, where they are trampled on from time to time, to spread and turn them.

Walking on the beans.

The beans begin to lose the smell of fermentation and feet as they dry, and begin to take on the rich smell of chocolate.

Cocoa cocoa everywhere! Beans drying in the sun.

The Belmont Estate is fully certified organic and all product is processed completely in-house, no beans are sold or exported before they become cocoa powder or chocolate.

Some of the cocoa beans, ready to be sent down the road to the chocolate factory.

When the dried beans are cracked open, the little nibs inside can be eaten raw or roasted. The Grenada Chocolate Company makes a bar with the crunchy roasted nibs - it's absolutely amazing.

Needless to say, we bought and munched a few of these.

The Estate has recently stopped tours from visiting the actual chocolate factory, so we couldn't see the beans being roasted and blanded into the paste that makes the rich dark chocolate that I've fallen head over heels in love with. Maybe it's better. I might have wanted to stay forever.

Instead, we bought more chocolate and visited their restaurant on the hill above the estate. We watched the magnificent sky turn in seconds from sunny and hot to windy and grey and then open the taps from above. I was actually chilly for one of the first times since arriving in Grenada.

From Belmont we headed to the oldest, traditional method rum factory in the Western hemisphere - at River Rums.

The wheel that crushes the sugar cane has been in operation since the 1700's and was imported from Scotland (JW loved that little piece of trivia).

Sugar cane being fed up the wheel where the liquid is removed.

The waste material is then used for the fire to boil the rum.

Workers moving the sugar cane waste into wagons to be brought down below.

We were led through ancient stinking rooms, where vats of a brownish red muddy looking liquid is hand spooned along, boiling like a giant witches brew. Spiders and cockroach carcasses lie drunk and dead around the vats. I wondered how it was possible that I loved the end product of this filthy process!

From here, the distillation and purification process began.

The end product, a clear white elixir, was offered to us in tiny quarter ounce cups. I still remember the simultaneous burn internally and shiver on my extremities. We were asked if we'd like to buy a bottle but we all declined. I don't think any of us could have survived a whole shot of that!

We ended the tour with an impromptu visit to a roadside fruit and veggie seller. The place called to us as we drove past, and Cosmus happily stopped for us to snap a few photos and buy some fresh fragrant fruit.

Cosmus and Andrea
We arrived back at the marina exhausted and full of chocolate and bananas. Our eyes dozed from sensory overload. Our noses sensing the familiar water life smells, leaving all the tropical red earth and the pungency of it's fruits behind.

We closed our tourist eyes and rum-lined nerves calmed. We slept well, rocked by the waves and wind of spring time in Grenada.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Holiday on a sailboat

I knew that once we moved aboard our boat in the Caribbean, more friends would visit us from Canada than had ever visited me in my 16 years in Ghana. That wasn’t difficult, as precisely zero friends ever came to visit.
Between the distance, travel costs and immunizations needed from a tropical disease clinic, I’m not surprised we had so few visitors. Ghana was too exotic.
We’ve been on the boat in Grenada now for just over a month. And we’ve had our first visitor.
I knew that it would be fun. Grenada is a beautiful country. But I was nervous that our ‘boat life’ would be strange and the living quarters would be small and awkward for a landlubber. And I now believe it.
Everything about life aboard that was and is new for us, we embrace as a choice, but as a visitor, it’s not always the case.
We’ve already started to take for granted the dinghy rides at night, out around a peak. From the perspective of a newcomer, straight off an airplane, this ride can be terrifying. Pitch dark, rolling, rough as we head directly into what looks like the abyss. The imagination goes wild.
“Are there sharks?!”
“Are there life jackets on this dinghy?!”
No. And no. But is this the welcome our guests are looking for? We see Shiloh in the distance, but it’s a journey across an ocean to a newcomer. And when we finally motor up to the sugar scoops that serve as a landing point, Shiloh rocks and shakes us as we hand the luggage up the steps.
We sit and chat, but the friend is slightly green and hot and the tour of the boat and rum punches will have to wait. The only solution is drugs (Gravol tablets) and their accompanying thick molasses sleep.
Each day has been an adventure and we’ve had some great times. Grenada has not disappointed. But has our new lifestyle?
Everyone from afar thinks we’re ‘living the life’, that we are lucky and a bit crazy, but when it comes down to the day in/day out, the reality of dinghy-as-car, being at the mercy of the weather, filling water tanks ashore just to shower, running the generator daily to have light, reading while the horizon pitches in and out of view, well … that’s a different story.
Now that I’ve seen it all from the eyes of someone else, someone who hasn’t dreamed of this life and planned toward it for years, I realise it might not be most people’s dream. It requires sacrifice of routine and comforts. It requires a passion and patience and a love of the unconventional.
This is not a warning to those who would and will come to join us. It is a reality check for me. I promise to seek out and share the best of the islands where we make our temporary home. They are idyllic and there are glimpses of paradise all around.
What I can’t promise is that you will love the boat life; that sailing will charm and lure you.
It’s a lifestyle option that rewards us and brings the world to those who make that choice.  For those who aren't sailors and are on holiday from their own daily grind, maybe it’s too exotic. Definitely hotels promise a much more stable breakfast table!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Anchor drag in a night storm

The dry season in Grenada this year has proven to be quite wet. And windy. The rain keeps our boat clean, washing off the crusted salt from time to time, the wind keeps us cool down in the cabins at night.
So, mostly the weather has been great. Except when it’s not.
Night. Deep in the heart of night. Darkness. Isolation.  I hear the wind begin a slow then rising howl and the gentle swell under Shiloh begins to slam and shove, her fiberglass and wooden bones creaking under the strain.
The deep grey sky opens above us and the rain comes with force, pelting the Perspex windows, pooling in the bimini and slamming harshly off in the next gust of wind. Clothes left out on the lines are beaten and battered. The pegs plead for mercy as they grip against the force.

Visibility is low. Night, where time stands still. Where all the familiar fades into the grey anger of clouds and rain and wind. I peer through the windows, trying to get our bearings. The friendly little beach on Hog Island is a blurred distant form. Our neighboring boats rise and fall with the water, they look small and vulnerable. Like us.
JW and I are awake, the wind’s howling now a prohibitive force to sleeping. We are crouched up on the saloon couch, trying to see what is happening around us, to us. We hear a strange clattering and a bang and a silence. One of our 5 gallon water jugs has been blown off the boat. The towels are still shaking and holding tight.
We begin to worry about our anchor. Are we in the same position? Where is that boat that had arrived earlier in the evening? We check our GPS coordinates against those we recorded when we set anchor days ago. I am shaking. I can barely read the numbers for some reason, and I close the book quickly. Yes! We are ok. Maybe I was willing it to be so. But it wasn’t so.
One boat to our port side begins to wave a flashlight at us, blinding me through the foggy wet window. And again. We wonder, are they out on their deck, looking at the situation? Then on the VHF radio a friend in a close by catamaran calls out:
“Shiloh, Shiloh”
We scramble to answer. It must be 2 or 2:30am.
“Do you require any help?!”
“No, why?”
“Well your anchor seems to have dragged quite a bit”.
NO! I motion to JW to tell him we haven’t moved We are fine.
Then I look once again very wary, afraid to read the numbers that would tell me we are floating out into the sea, so rough, with reefs and rocks behind us, awaiting an unprepared boat.
The numbers are wildly off. And the GPS does not lie as it blinks at me with it’s orange backlight, we are moving steadily south west, with the force of the wind.
JW and I jump up. No time for nerves. He opens the sliding door, and immediately the sounds of the night’s fury hit us. The rain pelts down and in the door.
We have to get out there, lift the anchor, get the engines running and motor against the wind. We need to try to set the anchor again.
I run down into a spare cabin to get the plastic raincoats and roughly throw one on. JW is already at the helm. He is soaked. I can barely see as I make my way around the front of the boat and start the anchor remote. The engines are fighting to move forward. Behind us, the huge motor boat is bobbing, and reminds me that my mistake with the numbers could have caused us to drift swiftly back and into the other boat. I shudder. I am already shivering with the rain in my face and down through the coat. The anchor is up. I shout to JW.
We move forward and let it down once again. My flashlight illuminates the sand just below us, and lets us know we’ve come quite shallow again. We drop more and more chain and are blown back quickly until we stop. Now we are just swaying side to side with the wind, but seemingly we are in one place. Our anchor has held.
I run inside and throw towels down to dry the entrance that is soaked. To dry us, to do something just to keep from giving in to my shakes. At this stage I’m not sure if it is the cold wet, or my nerves. My knees literally knock. JW stands at the helm, calm, checking everything.
Back to the GPS – I write the coordinates and check them every 5 minutes. Each massive gust of wind sends me checking again. The electronic instruments tell us the wind is reaching 41knts. That is 76 km. And a 35 kilogram anchor, dug into porous sea sand is holding us.
This amazes me. It scares me, and in this case, even after we’re sitting inside, dry and warm, it keeps me from sleep.
JW gets an hour’s rest until I notice once again we are moving slightly. He is up and outside, in the pelting rain again, motoring against the wind. One engine, then the other, to keep us facing the wind and not spinning around in the crazed seas.
The anchor holds. JW retires about 4:30 to rest. I try as well. But the rain on the window is calling me, warning me, threatening. The noises are sharp and hard and jolting.
I give up on the pretense of rest and sit alone in the saloon. Watching, wondering, waiting for daylight to bring that false sense of safety and sanity.
When it comes, it is not all sun and fun. The waves are still quite rough, the wind has not let up much. And we have to move the boat. The night moves only left us far out into the channel and not close enough to the safety of the land.
But we had managed to face the storm literally and that made me smile. I’d been through a first. In this case, the first anchor drag in a storm.
And I’d learned that Shiloh’s captain is a calm and confident skipper. That I can be called on to assist. That we can handle the bad with the good. And that in a way, we were not alone. Once again I marvel at the helpfulness and the empathy in the cruising community. Everyone was awake that night. Other boats dragged. Many cruisers were out in their dinghys in that weather, assisting. Amazing and inspiring.
Whatever first I next face, I’m sure I’ll shake a bit less and learn even more.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Boat style... or not

The closest I get to fashion these days is picking through discarded Marie Claire mags at the cruisers book exchange in the marinas. Their pages show exotic locations and safely fake bronzed waifs in flowing sundresses, not a hint of perspiration. I flip through the pages and marvel at a world that’s so far removed from mine.
I have never been much of a fashionista, but even I, have to admit that boat life does not lend itself to high style or anything beyond basic hygiene for that matter.
The last pedicure I had, a distant memory on land. My toenails are now a chipped and scuffed mess of decaying polish and scars from tripping over hatches and off of dinghys. Not to mention the blisters spotted around my feet from hikes...
Shaving is another casualty of the ‘lifestyle’. Whether and when it happens is now dictated by a convergence of all of the following: time, energy, availability of water and razors. It is a rare occurrence.
Make up… ha! Not that I’ve ever been one for much of it, here it just seems frivolous and not on the ‘getting ready routine’. Stops in the head (washroom) on the way out are for confirming the hatches are closed and the pump toilet is set to ‘drain’ instead of ‘fill’.  The mascara and blush are melting slowly in a dollar store case I bought before we arrived. Just the thought of it makes me think salt splash on dinghy, burning eyes, rubbing messy black goo… far from a vision of loveliness.
And that cute summer set of wedge heels with the leather flower in front that I imagined wearing with little summer dresses – well they would probably lead to a broken ankle or a near death experience – now that I know the terrain of life on a boat.  I’ve given them up, dumped in a rough fiberglass ‘cupboard’, replaced by flip flops, crocs and my soleless boat shoes (little beaded foot necklace).
 I am amazed and in awe when we arrive at an evening venue here and some ladies arrive with shiny clean hair, fresh faces and against all odds, smooth clean clothes.
I don’t own an iron (not that we could afford the energy to run one if we did), and the act of washing is a mission in itself. Get all the dirties in a laundry bag, then cover it with a waterproof bag, dinghy to a marina, get tokens, wait through both cycles, roughly fold and haul it all back to the boat without getting wet and salty again. Most of the time our clothes are hanging around the edges of the boat, airing or drying, pinched by pegs and as wrinkled as an elephant’s skin. If we manage to find something semi-clean to throw on then we’re peachy.
Both JW and I have our pseudo-safari retirement holiday floppy hats to avoid the piercing sun, and the last time my hair was clean enough and not knotted or salt caked, was weeks ago when we had marina hot showers. It spends most of it’s time wound up, clipped up or tied up. Away from my hot shoulders and not blowing in the unforgiving wind. 
 We have definitely sacrificed fashion for function. And in a way, I haven’t felt more fresh and alive, and therefore beautiful in ages.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Finding the key

As we made our way back to Shiloh across the bay in the dinghy last night, moonlight bathed us in an indigo glow. Everything was awash with light, dancing on the little waves, bouncing back up at the huge disc of light above us. The bay was quiet. Cruisers having switched off all lights but the mast heads, serving as tiny reflectors to mark their spots in the world.
I was in awe of the weather, the beauty, the peacefulness. But mostly I was in awe of all the people, asleep in their tiny cabins around us.
Since we arrived in Grenada – by plane – we have met countless travelers, having sailed from the UK, from South Africa, some from as far as Australia.
When we hear these stories, I can’t help but gaze deeply in the storyteller’s eyes, to look at their hands, their clothes, their gestures. Could there be a formula that gives people the strength, determination, zest for life, that indescribable something that makes them pack up the family or set aside the lazy retirement and face the unknown of a sea-journey of the world?
Some people look weathered and strong, while others look timid, plain, ordinary. In my mind I wonder, “How did they cross the world by sea?!” What skills, demeanor, training, lack of judgment do they possess?
Last night’s jazz performers at the marine were a talented German duo, having sailed the world for over 27 years, circumnavigating many times. They were nearing, or into their 70’s and not planning to quit anytime soon.
As we were losing stamina for the evening, a friend in his sixties was doing a tequila shot and talking of hanging up his rugby jersey at 52. Since then he’d sailed pretty much around the world.
Earlier in the day, a family with two kids under 5, living on a tiny monohull, had arrived ashore on Hog island with their picnic basket, ready to set up a barbeque.
“How do you watch your toddler on the boat?”
“We have nets around the outside and boats are small, he doesn’t get out of my sight really, he keeps me busy!”
I couldn’t imagine it. Her husband works on the island, and they have sailed from South Africa.
A few minutes later she was swimming back to the boat, way out in the bay to bring their second dinghy back.
This morning we arrived (by dinghy to shore) and as we came around into the second bay, we passed a small old man, rowing his dinghy. He arrived about 30 minutes later. We said hello. He explained that he rows around daily It can take him one or two hours. He must be 70+.
All these stories and the many many more, are inspirational.
A few cruisers had congregated around a palm tree at Roger’s beach bar the other day and they were commiserating on having to visit ‘home’ back in Australia/South Africa/Europe.
“People just compare their ailments and complain about getting old!”
This was the general gist of the conversation. And I could relate. Sitting back on land, where we could jump into our car, everything at our fingertips, we became lazy. We stopped appreciating the little things. We stagnated.
 Yesterday, after a couple hours with my shoulder holding up the engine cover (while JW plunged in below), huge flashlight in hand, passing tools and sweating through my t-shirt, we finished ‘work’ for the day, peeled off the sopping clothes and decided to explore the island, Take a refreshing swim. It was a day of physical work, physical play, and when we did hit the pillow I slept soundly.
This morning we are at a boat jumble sale, surrounded by so many people who are living life in the moment. I don’t know what they have that makes them special. Maybe it’s something that’s in all of us. They’ve just found their key. And I think we’re finding ours.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lessons and Blessings and wind in our sails

Things are getting exciting for us. Finally after the years of planning and our arrival in Grenada to ‘collect’ our dear Shiloh, after a couple weeks of boat maintenance and systems testing and a few trial visits to the bays of southern Grenada over the last two weeks, (all within a few nautical miles of each other), we are now planning our maiden voyage from Grenada’s shores.
Our destination is still less than 50 nautical miles away, and technically we will be within the same set of islands (Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique), but it will be our first sail as a couple alone, our first departure from land as liveaboard cruisers, and a chance to learn anew, the face of a new land. We will also be sailing in tandem with another Cat and a great couple of seasoned sailors we met in Grenada.
Carriacou here we come! 
 In the meantime, today is an engineering day. A day of preparation and of fixing all the things that would otherwise go wrong at the very wrong moment out at sea.
After heaving out both aft cabin beds (despite my having laid fresh clean sheets last night!), Doctor/Captain John spent most of the day under the engine boards. In yogic configurations, his body twisted, sweat poured off his brow, showering down over batteries and carburetors, he worked his magic with voltage metres and cable ties, engines on then off then on again, while I stood by, passing spanners and cutters and the occasional glass of fruit juice. 
 We had a German engineer on board as well in the morning and the two of them ran test after test and commiserated on the mess of wires around the engine.
We have finally decided that a wind generator is not a good idea for us and we have no room for another solar panel (besides, we’d need double the battery capacity we already have and there’s nowhere else under our beds to store them!). So a little portable (and hopefully not too loud) 2KVA generator it is. Captain JW has this and only this in mind now, so that will be tomorrow morning’s first mission. Into town on the bus, buy the outrageously overpriced genset, lumber along in the heat to bring it back home. Theoretically, this will keep our power situation in check on the boat.
I have never had to, wanted to, or been remotely inclined to know this much about power, water, weather, wind. But these things are critical to a life at sea. Things which you must learn and understand and ‘get a feel for’, as JW puts it. Needless to say, there is a learning curve for me that’s exponential.
But the flip side of this, is a feeling of gratefulness and appreciation.
When the boat is hot and humid, the air sticking to everything and itself after a rain storm, we open the hatches and the cool breeze flows in and through. It is delicious.
When we arrive back at a marina after weeks out in the bay on anchor, and I’m dreaming of the hot shower that awaits us – to get under that pressurized flow, to feel truly clean and cleansed. It’s decadent.
To sit in the warm yellow light of our porch or cockpit in the evening, all the other lights off to save power, the quaint romantic glow is special. It is an oasis in the dark and a place to hold only us. Cozy in the tropics.
After a long day of hiking or biking through town or working below deck in the boat, the welcome opulence of an ice cold beer is like nothing else. The ice sliding down a brown bottle, the first bitter taste on the tongue and the exhilaration of that first swallow…. Ahhh. Nothing can truly describe it. Beer as blessing, oh yes.
All of these lessons and blessings overwhelm me, and we are only one month and one country in, on a journey that will hold so many more of both. Count me in - I’m onboard for all of it!