Saturday, October 20, 2012

Days like these

Some days are lazy hazy lolling, where you are in tune with the waves that gently rock the boat. You doze and read, snack, sit out on the deck and observe the bay and your ever changing set of nautical neighbors. You match the sway of the palms on the beach... There is nothing to buy or organise or plan or attend, and the cleaning (which is always there), can wait.
 And then there are the other type of days. Where a calm day quickly evolves into something completely different. Where a simple engine check in the morning leads to a discovery, that changes all your plans and has you trying to organise an emergency haul out with a boatyard, because your sail drive seal is leaking and there is salt water seeping in.
These types of days are apt to disintegrate instantly, all preorganised travel and social plans, and will no doubt involve lots of tools, grease, paper towel, sweating and help from  boating buddies. Thanks be to our boating buddies who always have the tool we’re missing, the much needed second opinion on the technical issue at hand, and the words of encouragement when our faith in the boat and the lifestyle waver.
These days lead to the action days, where you wake early amidst black clouds and rabid squalls and start praying for a break in the weather so you can get around the island and anchor. And you do arrive, as a huge black cloud threatens, unleashing the heavens just as you come in to anchor. So, wet and chilly, you prepare for your haul out. Fenders are gathered and lines (ropes) set in all four corners of the boat, awaiting the hopefully smooth entry into the narrow concrete slip.
And the speed and depth meters need to be changed out with the dummies, which involves dismantling yet another cabin bed, throwing all the stored items aside and watching JW climb down in the cavity. Then each plug is swiftly removed, and for that brief instant the panic inside, as you see the sea below and it gushes into the cavity around JW, as he stuffs the dummy plug in with a determined twist. And repeat for the other. Sometimes a sea creature comes in as well so it’s not a boring job. This time, it involved a small purple slimy octopus who was quickly repatriated to his ocean home. All that’s left is sopping up the saltwater that got onto and into everything in the storage space during the swap-out.
 On these days your captain must be on his best form – manouevering the 20 ton mammoth beast called Shiloh into a narrow concrete parking bay of sorts. You throw the ropes to the guys onshore and captain JW does his thing – and we’re in.
 They force us off the boat and so we watch with the others ashore as the haul out machine heaves it’s massive slings under Shi, and lifts her up, up up.
On days like this, when your boat is swinging precariously above your head, you come face to face with the reality of the sea. It has basically claimed her from beneath. Creatures, shells, plants, all grow and thrive. The propellers are encrusted with layers of oysters and other shells. Then they are blown away by a team with power washers and metal scrapers. And the smell… you remember the smell.
The real work is to begin at that stage and as the boat administrator, you leave your able captain to deal with the technical job, and you head to the marina office to deal with the payments. And booking a hotel, and packing an overnight bag. And when he is done, you climb the hill with backpacks on, pay again at the hotel, climb further to the room, open the door and collapse with a sigh.
You each take one hour showers and wash the matting hair, twirl in all this frivolous space, set the early morning alarm for tomorrow’s ‘splash’ where you will reverse all that was done today.
And you lie down on the white expanse, falling hard into a still, non rocking sleep.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Every step of the journey IS the journey

Disappointment is a relative thing. It varies from person to person and can be anything from devastating to a minor inconvenience.
I’d say that our cruising life hasn’t involved any marked disappointments at all. Until we found ourselves with itchy sails, ready after last week’s storm scare, to head out. Even Roger’s vibrant Sunday beach party had lost it’s lustre – and that it just us getting spoiled. We needed a new adventure and finally got it together yesterday to do just that.
Even our ladder was ready for a new scene - this is what it looked like when we pulled it up to go...

Captain John in his element
 We sailed around to Grenada’s capital, the pretty port, surrounded by house spotted hills, pulled in to the yacht club to fill up all our tanks. All went smoothly, mostly, and we anchored out in the bay.
We filled a huge shopping cart at Foodland and loaded up the dinghy. We got back to the boat and planned a walk on the beach. It was all going swimmingly.
And then JW went down to do a standard check of the engines. There were tools and oil bottles and rolls of paper towel – up and down the hull steps he went, sweating heavily. Silent.
And then he shouted up:
“The sail drive seal is leaking again. The oil has drained out and there is milky residue in the bottom”.
Which translates to:
“We not only can’t sail off as planned, but we have to head back around to the south end of Grenada and get a booking at a boat yard to haul out”.
Which further translates to a night or more of life up in a sling, with no use of water (toilets, kitchen (galley) sink), no breeze, mosquitos… basically hell.
And so for the first time in a long time, I felt it. The stomach gnawing claw of disappointment. I was heartbroken, crushed. Not quite devastated.
And as all things are relative, I remembered that we were anchored near Grenada’s best long white sandy beach. And that Umbrella’s beach bar has the best burgers around. Even on a global scale. And I remembered I had to do laundry, and here I am, and there is high speed Internet here, a light breeze, and this is my view:
 They say sailors have short memories. Soon we'll have 'accomplished' our latest maintenance feat, and we'll be headed off. And disappointment sounds like a foreign word.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The last few weeks of hurricane season - biding time in style

The hurricane season is coming to an end, which means that boats are on the move. Creeping out from Grenada’s safe bays, as if from hibernation, winches grind, anchor chains creak into motion, up up up against the sludgy layers of sea growth and months of stasis. And they’re off. Trinidad to haul out before heading to distant shores, or westward to Bonaire. Some are heading north.
But the season isn’t quite over, and that means some will be caught in the last tropical storms that ravage the region before quieting for another six months.
We lived in a state of limbo this week – all eyes and ears on the weather as a huge tropical storm developed out in the Atlantic ocean. Grenada  is wonderful but we have been feeling that urge to stretch our legs in new surroundings and the movement around us is infectious. So we planned to head north, to Carriacou for a start. But each day the wind and wave forecasts have delayed our departure. 
Hard to believe such rough weather was heading our way with this view from Secret Harbour marina!
 But as it is, cruiser life continues unabated as the days and hours and angry clouds move along.
I busied myself with beading and sudokus, after cabin cleaning and the continuous removal of mold. I combed the crumbling heat soaked streets of St. Georges with a friend, in search of a rubber spatula and shoes for her little girl. In and out of stores, each piled high with Chinese wares, junk junk junk. I spotted with glee, punk rock Halloween wigs and Hello Kitty sneakers.
Back on Shiloh there were chores to be done. While JW dug into the task of replacing a broken hatch, I learned that black silicone paste on a white boat is a nightmare. And once the messy, hot and dirty job was complete, I happened to spot from inside, that I could see the sun through the edge of the newly installed hatch.
 I’d wished that I hadn’t mentioned it when I found us pulling out the gloopy screws and reapplying thick layers of the black-paste-from-hell. As a result, JW has the signature hands of a working man, with black rimmed fingernails, mechanic-esque lines, worn deep in the grooves. But the hatch is watertight and this is apparently how we must view the project’s success.
 We spent some time on the Internet at our ‘secret’ high speed marina, Secret Harbour, and on jumping back in the dinghy to head back to the boat with 4 heavy jerry cans full of water, the starter motor handle came right off in JW’s hand. We stared at it dumbfounded for a moment but then my handyman ‘made a plan’ and took off the motor cover, reset the remaining part of the severed rope and it worked once more. 
 We ate a lot this week as well – delicious suppers on our friend’s yacht Khaya Moya, barbeques on the beach and even a roast pork feast at Taffy’s Welsh bar in Clarke’s Court Bay.
 So it’s a rough life, this living in limbo. The storm swung north and though we braced ourselves for whipping winds and torrential downpours last night, we were treated with a cool breeze for sleeping and a light rain that provided some water for dishwashing this morning.
And tomorrow we’ll head off, like many others, in search of new bays, new trails to hike, shops, beaches, wifi hot spots.
And some friends ask us if we get bored out here?!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thanksgiving is not a physical place

I am breathing quite slowly, the subtle scent of sun baked earth assaults my nostrils. The shock of bright lime palms dazzles my eyes, but I am calm. The breeze is warm but prevents a sweat, even in this 35 degree heat. The sun is deceptively affectionate, beyond the roof construction above me. It sets the sea afire with a glint that excites and entices. 
This is where I am doing my laundry today, in paradise, on Thanksgiving Day. 

I can’t help but reflect.
I won’t be partaking in the traditional Thanksgiving feasts of Canada, or even the one organised at a local marina (due to my failure to be organised enough to book us in), but I am no less thankful. I don’t need a belly full of turkey and stuffing to know that I am a lucky girl.
My family is far away today, and though I will miss my sister flittering around the kitchen, with exotic hors d’ouvres on the table, and succulent flesh in the oven, I am really with them in spirit.
I miss my boy, all 19 years and stretch limbs, with his baby smooth skin and towering hugs. Miss his gentle spirit. But I am wrapped around him with love and he can feel it. 
My little mom, fragile but so strong, always colour coordinated and full of compassion for all of us, will be there, where I am not, but I hear her ‘I love you honey’ and feel her tight little hug.
And Dad, reserved, but wearing his love there, just under his sleeve. He will be cringing at the energy of his hurricane grandkids, racing around his knees, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. His little text messages speak volumes for me, a world or so away physically.
 We’re all connected. And it doesn’t end there.
Thankful covers so many things. So many emotions. So difficult to be thankful for the reality that separates me from my littlest one, lost to us and to this world. But my life is rich beyond words for having known him.
And so I am thankful for his small neck, with it’s peach fuzz blond hairs, lying in a graceful little pattern, on the burnished brown skin below. Yes, I am thankful for the memories that sit solidly inside me. Offering up his tiny hand, dirt under the round nails, he’s been playing in the yard with his friends, leading a parade. He is sweating and his eyes alight. I am overwhelmed by his charm. 
 Shiloh, namesake of our forward vessel, I carry you forever with me.
I thank the wind and the waves, for accepting us, into a life chapter of exploring, tasting, seeing, feeling… for all that lies ahead, and all that led me here.
Thanks to the love of my life, a partner in every sense. For the only one I’ve known who took a dream and polished it, formed it and brought it to light. I am thankful for loving and being loved. It truly is what makes life amazing.
And I’m off to collect the warm, soft towels from the dryer. Thankful even for the cozy smell that awaits me.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Stay connected and marvel at the beauty of love.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My battle with the underworld

Cleaning house takes on new meanings on a boat. Especially when you’ve been away. Inside the mold monsters have been creeping, clinging, happy they’ve been left to grow and propagate in dark, damp corners. They even have the nerve to spread openly across ceilings and cupboard doors. Bastards. The cleaning is tedious but not difficult.
The outside however, the underbelly as it were, is a different story altogether. You get back, air out the boat, clean the mold, inhale the slightly clinical smell of soaps and sprays. You restock the deep fridge and you ease back into life. You try to ignore the dark, hidden secret of what hides, mossy and green, growing, encrusting your bottom below.
But then a day arrives where you have drank enough rum, abandoned the boat to shop, walk on the beach and generally avoid the task at hand, and you decide to dive in, literally, to brave the crusty forest below.
What the underbelly looks like when out of water
Sweating is the default state of being, and so it was the other day, I found myself drenched and ready for a swim. And on a whim I decided to take my trusty plastic scraper and attack the barnacles and seaweed that had taken hold of Shiloh.
Only I hadn’t imagined how intense the growth had been. On my third thrust across the hull, underwater, my red scraper crunched on something huge and hard. I tried again to free it but my scraper came up, shredded. The offending barnacle had taken a chunk out of plastic. It was as if the sea and her creatures were laughing, as I realised my only tool was rendered useless. And I vowed to get some stronger ammunition and revisit this battle.
And so, after a visit to the marine shops, and a sturdy, shining, angled metal paint scraper in hand, I resolved on another day, to escape the heat, slip into the sea, and fight my demons.
It started out well. I kicked the water and treaded with one hand, while scraping vigorously with the other. There is a primal satisfaction in the removal of each barnacle, with a determined push, the resistance replaced by a swoosh and the bastards crumble away and sink downward…
But Shiloh had been left in a very fertile environment. There was a hula skirt of long green grass at the water line, various fan shaped coralesque plants and generally a foul smelling brownish green forest that pooled around me as I went, temporarily enveloping me in a swamp at each interval, before floating down and leaving me in the blue blue sea again.
It was satisfying but yet more revolting than I remembered. All this organic matter, in my hair, my face, my body and suit. I soldiered on, up one hull and down it’s other side.
I noticed at the water line as I went, some small beige bits, which at first I took no notice of. Just scraped and swam, scraped and swam. Until I was done. And JW joined me in the water (at that convenient time – the work being done!). And we floated leisurely a bit behind the boat, me proud of my accomplishment for the afternoon, JW just happy to be out of the heat above.
But then I was itching, and to be honest, still a little queasy from the gunk I’d been in for the past hour or so. And the itching continued until I needed to jump out and rinse off. And as I climbed the ladder JW asked,
“What’s all over you?”
“What?!” I responded with rising panic… my fingers passing over what felt like brail on every surface of my skin. And when I tried to brush or roll this stuff off, it wasn’t budging.
I started the water and continued, daring now to look – only to discover I was covered in tiny, writhing, alive and kicking creatures. OMG!
“What is it?! What are they?!” I demanded from JW, but the hysteria in my voice sent JW into a fit of laughter. It’s sea lice or something… relax, just wash it all off.
And then I remembered the beige bits that I’d been scraping off the whole boat. It seemed they had migrated directly onto my body and that was too disgusting to accept. I threw my swim suit off, in broad daylight, with a myriad of boats around. There is no modesty in panic mode.
And that is when I discovered, the inside of my black suit top was literally heaving with motion as the tiny shrimp-like gools climbed each over the other, trying to survive. It was like something from a horror movie, and a second ago it had been nestled tightly under my bosom.
I scrubbed my body in a frantic dance, wasting far too much water, just trying to clean off and help cleanse my mind and wounded psyche.
I survived. I lived to tell the tale. And to discover this is one of the realities of scrubbing boat bottoms. Another one of the hurdles that boat life presents. Now I know why they call it anti-fouling. Foul it is...
In this case I vote JW as the official boat cleaner on the outside forever. I will be grateful and will make chocolate brownies as his reward. I will never ever complain about a cluster of mold again.

(The photo below is not me - even though I haven't shaved in a while, it hasn't gotten this bad - this is another sailor who was calm enough to take a photo of what HE looked like after cleaning his hull and was covered in these shrimpy hooligans. I, on the other hand, had to lie down for a good hour to avoid vomiting from my trauma and was nowhere near thinking of getting photo evidence for my blog!).