Saturday, November 24, 2012

A pirate's life

It’s my birthday so I can be a pirate, right? 
Well actually my birthday is not until Monday but that’s never a good night to hit the town, so we decided to celebrate tonight with Elvis and Mrs. Scissorhands, our new pals. The plan is to do supper at The Devil’s Table, a pirate themed waterfront joint, run by Swedes. In Bequia. Go figure.
 Meantime, I sit in idyllic surroundings, a fig tree overhead, the turquoise water of the bay just beyond my reach. We’re using the free wifi, but the restaurant isn’t actually open as it’s still technically low season.  I don't mind at all. Though I hear that December brings with it alot of holiday celebration on this little island, and hopefully some of our yachtie buddies as well. There could be many rum squalls ahead. So for now, the calm is blissful.
 We’re nursing sore backs and wrist muscles from yesterday’s three hour cleaning and boat job marathon. Followed by a couple hours of amazing snorkeling. The work is always balanced by the wonderment. The dinghy breaks down, we get towed. JW fixes it ably, and we head to the beach for an intimate little barbeque as the sun sets with friends.... it goes on.

Life is sweet. Every day is a celebration really – no difference in a birthday. I celebrate the freedom to move independently from island to island, and I celebrate the privilege of waking to a beautiful sun and fresh blue sea every morning.
Shiloh at full sail between Tobago Cays and Bequia
 I celebrate the miracle of sharing every day with my best friend and lover, exploring the world together.
I am open to the newness of brightly painted wooden houses, and a little blond rasta boy, playing wire cars by his mother’s brightly coloured jewelry stand. I soak in the smells of fish on a grill, bright local flowers like perfume hanging heavy in the heat of the afternoon. I am like a child with eyes and ears peaked – the rooster crowing, the clothes blowing on the lines. Everything welcomes me and dares me to look further, walk more, taste everything, be more alive. 
So it’s my birthday (soon) and I will celebrate by acknowledging and absorbing, and feeling it all.
And tonight I may get at least one sheet to th' wind ;) 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The lonely sailor? Don't think so....

As I delicately unravel the crispy gold paper from my second indulgently smooth, rich Swiss chocolate, I have to steady myself quickly with my legs, so as not to appear inexperienced and clumsy. This monohull is rocking and swinging so violently in the rough night waves, that I can’t imagine how anyone handles it.
Meanwhile, the others chat and calmly snack on tiny decadent wedges of fresh parmesan and crackers infused with thyme and sea salt. Wine glasses are balanced in hands and laps. It’s all very civilized, apart from the wild movement that engulfs us.
This evening we find ourselves aboard a ‘rental’ boat, a 41 foot Moorings charter Beneteau with a Swiss couple who have sailed for years, and now come down to the Caribbean or the Med to charter twice a year. He is a gentle dentist with a poker straight white halo of hair, she a graceful air hostess. Lovely people. We met only a couple hours earlier, over fresh grilled lobster, rum punches and country music Christmas tunes on the beach. Sometimes it’s all a bit surreal this life. While ‘Black Boy’ served up an amazing spread and Dolly Parton serenaded us in the tropical surroundings, we got to talking to the other couple at the table. As you do.
Blackboy (on the right), who served us the wonderful lobster supper
 Cruising turns out to be quite a social way of living.
The next evening in a new island setting, we are invited for supper aboard Serena, owned by a lively Finnish couple – he, an Elvis impersonator, she a hair stylist. Living aboard their 38 foot Swedish boat for a few years now, they are quick to offer up some exotic Portugese port, followed by fresh grilled tuna with coconut and rice, AND a glimpse of his lavender sequined Elvis costume. Gotta love’em.
We met some stops back, on the beach at Sandy Island, an uninhabited finger of white sand and amazing reefs for snorkeling, off the mainland of Carriacou.
JW and I had managed to hook on to a mooring ball with no incident and had decided to celebrate with a late afternoon walk on the beach. Next thing we knew, there had been an impromptu barbeque party organised by one of the American crewed boats in the anchorage, and the couples from about 10 boats pulled in by dinghy for some live music (courtesy our soon to be friend), socializing, beers and a great potluck. 
Arriving by dinghy to the impromptu cruiser barbeque party on Sandy Island

It’s a small intimate world despite us all being ‘out here’, supposedly away from society as a whole. Though perhaps that is why we gravitate together and always find a common thread.
We met a couple from Mississauga at the barbeque (even pinpointed the street they lived on) – and then remembered we’d actually met them last month back in Grenada at the cheap burger Fridays that attracts lots of us frugal cruisers.
The 'gang' on the beach

I have a feeling we’ll meet them again. Along with our awesome new friends, Elvis and Madam scissorhands. These days I remark how odd it is when we see a boat arriving in a bay that we DON’T know or haven’t seen or heard from on the Grenada cruiser’s net.
So we make our way up through the Caribbean islands and beyond, but we are never alone really. We say goodbye almost daily, or more like 'farewell', but every bay has boats full of potential new pals, ready for suppers aboard and rum rendezvous on the beach. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Graceful turtle RIP

Lazy jazz wafts through the thick humid air, the immense bearded lady in her stained apron sits in front of me, frowning at her Blackberry. Beads of sweat trickle down her chins into the orange t-shirt that stretches beyond it’s capabilities, around her dense shining skin. She is on a break from the steaming kitchen, like me she is basking in what little breeze teases as it flutters by.
I’m at the Lazy Turtle, a French run pizzeria on the tiny island of Carricou. I’m the only one here, using the free and fast Internet. Pastel painted wooden chairs are lined up in rows at the empty tables, awaiting this evening’s crowd of cruisers and holiday makers. Fresh coconuts are on offer - the seller's sharp machete slicing through the hard shell, spilling the fresh, sweet juice and handing the ready made cup to eager hands and lips. The season has begun, the hurricanes are hopefully all gone and the tourists are coming back.
Today is our last day in this bay. There are many ‘lasts’ lately, but this lifestyle has taught me to never say never. We might be back, we might not leave. Something might need fixing on the boat; we might be invited to another social event. Life is fluid.
Life is relaxed. The laid back beats are backed by the surf, lapping the beach below me. A crowd of divers has just arrived next door, eager to head off to the reefs, alive with coral and multi coloured fish.
The islands are paradise.

But there is another side, as with everything. Even paradise has an ugly underbelly.
As much as we cruisers pass through these places with rich cultures and customs, there are things that happen that we find difficult to accept. Hard to witness. Things that have happened for centuries that rub us with the coarse sand of cultural difference. Of taboo. Our righteous backbone stands straight up and urges us to do something.
Many areas in the islands have been designated as marine reserves, protecting the wildlife that is in danger of extinction; that is so precious to those of us who have not grown up with this exotic flora and fauna at our fingertips.
However, not everyone sees these animals as sacred, precious, as cows in India.
Once when I was living in Ghana I showed my local friends a photo I’d taken in Houston Texas, of an advert for taking photos of your pet with Santa Claus. This concept was absurd, frivolous, bizarre. It was cultural. Dogs and cats are not considered members of the family in Ghana. In some areas, cats are a savoured delicacy. They are food.
It’s with this understanding that we try to accept what we saw the other day on a stroll through town.
The other side of paradise is that conservationism is not universal. Turtles to some are food.
And we try to compute this, when remembering our days of swimming alongside these gentle, valiant creatures in the Tobago Cays, marveling at their grace and swiftness in the water.
We try to view the islands with a sense of balance. Of good and bad, light and darkness. We walk on, but our knees are a bit weak. Something tugs at us, something feels not right with the universe. There are so many questions, but no good answers.
Some days are harder than others to face.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Time to move!

Sometimes it seems that our life consists far more of fixing and provisioning and sitting in marinas and a lot of waiting, than anything else.
But when the day comes that you lift the anchor and head out, it just makes sense. Everything that has led you here is worth the wait, and all the hassles melt away. You realise that this is what it’s all about.
A relative made a tongue in cheek comment on facebook the other day, pointing out that the days of drinking rum on beaches and marinas outnumbered our days of sailing, at something like 147 to 1. And it’s the truth.

We came to the Caribbean at the end of March this year, to sail. What we discovered was that there would be a lot more of the activities at anchor, and that to be a cruiser does not mean being out at sea every day. Though now that the hurricane season is ending, we will be sailing so much more than staying still. And I’m so excited.
Sailing, when you get the opportunity, means a freedom that’s difficult to explain. To leave a land mass or a country on your own, it’s like leaving the world behind. The ocean before you is massive and limitless. You revel in the beauty of the sparking surface of the water, set sails, and when you realise you can turn engines off and the wind will carry you, the rush is palpable. 
The other day we left Grenada finally. It has become a home, as places do when you stay long enough to become familiar. And we don’t know when we will be back. And I am ok with that.
Is this a trait with sailors? No desire to set down roots. So many other adventures await. The lure of the unknown, the journey and the potential beauty of the next destination wins out over the comforts of what you have come to enjoy where you are.

There will be new challenges with anchoring and avoiding reefs and dolphins alongside and meeting new friends, drinking the rum from every island, tasting new fruits, sweating under new hot pepper sauces.
I will no doubt have to jump from the boat, line (rope) in hand when we arrive at a concrete dock in need of water for our empty tanks but no one is there to meet us.
There will be threatening storms that pounce on us with the fury of a thousand black clouds, blowing with the breath of a thousand dragons, and we will feel so small. A floating leaf in a big big ocean.
I am humbled and I am ready for all of these things and more.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The good the bad and the ugly

The good news is that Shiloh is fixed! All her parts are working, or at least all those we know about until we get moving and test it all out.
The bad news is that it has taken a good two or three extra weeks as more and more ‘issues’ were discovered.
The discovery that we had an internal seal leaking AFTER the haul out, led to calling help onboard, moving our 300lb engine, through the bedroom hatch with a rope contraption, and another discovery, that a water pump had been leaking salt water and other bits and bobs were corroded….
Finally all the parts arrived and were installed, and all the goopy thick oil was pumped out from under our engine (and bed!), and we are ready to go!
The bad news is that this week, for the first time in a month or so, the winds have changed completely, to north/north east – which is exactly the opposite of what we need to sail north!
The good news though, is that some old cruising buddies have come back to Grenada and the cruising life, and we’ve had a blast with friends, new and old. 
 We've seen some epic sunsets and had some great get togethers. Our delays meant we were around for the great Halloween party this week at the fancy Port Louis Marina in a … yes it’s true…. Airconditioned bar! There were some amazing costumes and some unfortunate ones. Let's just say that orange blow up boobs are just not a good look on JW...

The mermaid and the squid
Our friends who won best costume - as California sushi rolls (yes the balloons are the caviar!)
 The bad news is that the infamous northerly swells have hit our anchorage, which means the boats are tossed violently about, lifting and plunging. Inside, the people and their belongings fall from side to side, bottles tip, hips smash on door frames, all while the horizon bobs in and out of view.
But luckily we have friends in fancy places (ie the marina) so we can come on land and take indulgent showers and sit on terra firma for sundowners. And there’s an awesome two mile white sandy beach just a dinghy ride away.
But the lure of new adventures calls. We now have plans… yes plans… to provision (with food and drink that is either unavailable up island or cheaper in Grenada), fill up propane tanks, and move. If only one or two anchorages north of here. Today!
By the end of the weekend we should be out in deeper waters, with the wind in our sails, or the sound of diesel motors as we beat against the wind on our nose.
Either way, windward islands, watch out! The *DEET fleet is heading to unsuspecting anchorages.

*DEET Fleet is a term of endearment coined by my friend Leslie on a vessel called Texas Two Step, given to a group of us party animal boats, who have travelled together, standing for ‘Definitely Entertaining Every Time’, and used as a play on the word DEET (which is actually an Acronym for a lethal anti-mosquito ingredient in bug spray, used in copious amounts while in rum squalls on the beach).