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!


  1. Another great post! We're not cruising yet, but I do imagine it's not for those that like to always be comfortable. I believe this discomfort will be worth the adventure though!

  2. Have you ever thought that the discomfort of the life over here in Ghana has helped you to cope with life over there? After all, if you can live in the compound, you can live anywhere with enough Gravol. Looking forward to my visit.

    1. I was thinking the exact same thing as Trish. Living in Ghana is not exactly easy when you arrive from abroad. So you are having these extreme life adjustments, each with its own special "something" that only a strong will can make you see and appreciate on a daily basis.

    2. Trish - definitely I agree about living in the compound. I know that it was the complete opposite of life in Canada. It required complete compromise and zero privacy. But I loved it. So it's difficult to see it as a lesson :)

      The boat life is more about the fears than the inconveniences.

      I met a cruiser last night who said that living on a boat is all about learning how to deal with sh*t. And I think I've been trying to avoid the sh*t instead of focusing on learning how to deal with it. So - that change is being worked on! :)

  3. Since you have started blogging, my dream of living at sea even if for a year may now just become a reality. I have shared your posts with Allan and now we are looking at Catamarans to park out in The Pearl Islands near our B&B. To be a cruiser was what we wanted to do before we moved to Panama...then we felt we better do the tropics on land first then take it from there. Your honesty and vivid illustrations of life aboard a live aboard have us both convinced...we can do it and the plan is that we will. Thank you Holli!

  4. Reading your blog, 2 things stand out as appealing about life on a boat and 2 things I'm wondering about


    1) close to nature all the time
    2) nice community of helpful people

    But I'm wondering how you handle these things:

    1) water moving all the time seems like it could get really annoying, like trying to read, write, eat, drink
    2) being up close and personal with your boat mate all the time, like what if you need some space, or you want to do something and he doesn't but it's not like you can each take separate cars. Yes, there's the dinghy, but that's a hassle.

    Beyond that, however, I do have to kvetch about part of this post--where you complain that your friends think you're "living the life" when in fact you face hardship. Ok, Holli, I love you dearly, and definitely was worried about the anchor drag thing and don't think every aspect of anyone's life is enviable all the time. But PLEEEEASE. It's going to be really really hard to get lots of sympathy from your friends about your hauling laundry in a dinghy--although it's a funny story and I'm glad you shared it--but we still think you're living the life. Why no sympathy? Let's review the facts:

    1) you're in your EARLY 40s and you're RETIRED. That's quite an accomplishment even in ordinary economic times, but in an economic downturn, it's really unusual.
    2) you're beautiful, healthy and voluptuous
    3) you have a great son who is talented and actually likable, which is virtually unheard of in people his age
    4) oh and there's John; let's not forget him; he's, um. likable
    5) you're in your EARLY 40s and you're RETIRED
    6) repeat number 5 100 times

    BTW it's not that we're so wedded to convention that we haven't all joined you in retirement in the Caribbean, or in an ashram in India, or in a yurt in British Columbia, or in my case a world tour of boxing gyms. Ok???? so while we're stuck in a 2 hour traffic jam in Accra due to today's heavy rain on the way to try to get our internet fixed again, it's some small comfort to know that once in awhile at least, you're there in your dinghy, hauling laundry. OK??? Give us that much.

  5. Excellent comments Laura :) You should start a blog! I would love to read a blog about an expat female boxer in Africa! Especially one with your dry witty sense of humor. Oh, and photos too! Of the gym, of your big bouts... I bet it would be the only such blog. So, how about it?!

    Definitely not looking for sympathy - just sharing ALL aspects of 'the life'! :)