Saturday, July 21, 2012

The slime that moves us

To the landlubber, cleaning your vehicle usually consists of a trip through an automated car wash or on a hot summer day, a bucket and sponge in the driveway.
For cruisers it’s a different story. The environment under a boat (big and small), especially standing relatively still at anchor is the perfect recipe for growth. Ugly growth. 
We do avoid the task for months when possible, but there comes a time in the life of every cruiser when they have to tip their transport over, and scrub the bottom. This is no small feat. It involves facing the growing swamp green beard of slime and  the finger-slicing sharp barnacles with an artillery of scrapers and eye watering vile cleaning fluids. Strong scrub brushes and sand are the second phase.
It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy and it’s not fun. But it has to be done.
So, while others sat in their cubicles this Wednesday afternoon, gazing out their windows if they are lucky enough to have one, awaiting a lunch break to wake them up, we stood on the beach, paradise surrounding us, and we faced our demons.
We disconnected the fuel tank and removed all the junk in the little ‘trunk’ including our fake ‘Crocs’, emergency flashlight, rain ponchos and anchor with it’s rusty chain. We brought out the strongest cleaning implements we had and we threw her over.
And there it was. A gooey, live, smelly mess.
The radio active toxic shade of dinghy bottom slime
Up close with the slime
Luckily for us there was a shallow sandy beach pool close by for frequent dips to cool off. The whole task took about two hours, but by the end, we had her shining.

It felt great to have her all clean. It is just one of the tiny daily accomplishments that keep your heart beating and a spring in your step. These are the things that were so missing in my past life. Expat existence means everything is done for you, and then you complain about how poorly it was done. But there is no motivation to do things for yourself. The house and the car belong to the company and there is a surplus of cheap labour. We lazed around or sat idle and decaying at our desks.
Only here, on our little boat, with it’s daily demands for attention, and constant chores, do I feel alive. Every sinew, muscle, synapse. It’s buzzing.
And we take the rewards for a day’s work as enthusiastically! After our hours sweating over the dinghy, we were treated to a potjie stew, complete with cold beers and warm crusty bread, on the beach with a group of cruisers. Thanks to the organizer Stewart, a South African who also makes boerwors and biltong (a nice treat for JW).
A few cruisers digesting with wine and beers of course!

Our view from the communal lunch table

 We motored back to the boat in our glowing dinghy, tipsy from the beer, full of homemade food and rested our sore arms with a sigh of pure satisfaction.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Motors, Mud, Meat - doing with and without

It’s been an eventful week (sort of), since the departure of our guests and our return back to Hog Island.
We survived the dinghy impeller malfunction, made it across to Le Phare Bleu marina, across the epic waves.  We arrived safe but sopped and salty, and then had the dinghy motor lifted and carried away in the wheelbarrow to the engine hospital. An hour later, she was as good as new. The impeller turned out to be a little star shaped black rubber thingy… amazing that it could make or break a motor!
We are just crazy enough to have volunteered for another hash – read mud, mud and more mud. It didn’t help that the skies opened unabashedly for the first time in weeks just as we boarded the bus, en route to Cabier Lodge where the Bastille Day hash was being hosted.  We worried about getting there alive as the windows fogged up, and our driver swerved and overtook cars in washed out roads, while the cruisers inside gasped and held on. We also worried about Shiloh out in the bay, left alone to face the rain and possibly some strong winds. (Secretly I was happy that I’d set up my little rain catcher and was dying to prove to JW that we could in fact catch a meaningful amount if it really rained.)
It really rained. But it was over an hour later when we arrived and it left behind mountains of mud and slime on the trails, for the huge turn out that set off and a couple hours later, completed the hike. 
The crowd heading off on the hike (notice my French colours!)
 The highlight of the day were the crepes on offer back at the lodge. What a reward!
Our boat neighbors and blogger friends at Zero to Cruising, who are definitely the fittest couple we know, took the French theme of the day to another level, sewed up some great costumes, proceeded to run 8km in them, and then deservedly won the prize for best costume!
The after party with Mike and Rebecca from Zero to Cruising
 And all of that led to today. The day we have been leading up to for so long, that we denied and many times lost piles of meat…. The day where we admitted that the freezer was more trouble than it’s worth.
This morning as we listened to the continuing pitter patter of rain on the newly waterproofed bimini, I decided it would be a ‘cooking’ day and headed over to the freezer to pick out some chicken to thaw. But alas all the chicken was already thawed. Along with the steaks and the sausages and the soggy buns I was trying to keep fresh.
A quick sniff told me that most of them had tipped the scale between ok and might kill you in a violent and painful way. So we had to toss everything. Again.
I had that deep down GRRRRRRR anger again, and really it’s just not worth the long lasting effects of stress. I left the world of traffic jams and work deadlines for a reason. No more GRRRRRR.
So after I chewed out JW on learning he’d turned the freezer down ‘ever so slightly’ as it was drawing too much power and necessitating we run the generator for hours every evening, I resigned myself to the loss of meat.
We realised we don’t eat that much meat anyway and if we do want to make something, we’ll buy it that day, cook it up and for dessert we’ll savour the sweet display on our inverter/battery charger, showing such low current draw. We might only have to run the noisy little red generator once every two days!
Boating life takes some adjustments.  Today we are at the second Laundromat, as the first we tried had a power outage.
It’s either hunt around or handwash everything, using up our precious limited water supply on the boat and hope the things will dry, hung along the sides of the boat, as the rain squalls come over one by one…
On the bright side, this marina has fast wi-fi, cold Coke Zeros, and we have left the rolling swells back on the boat for a couple hours.
A beach scene in Bonaire... more adventure awaits!
Our friends on Chaotic Harmony meanwhile, have headed off today on a three day straight sail to Bonaire, and it has me dreaming of all the places we have yet to see. The sailing we’ve yet to do. The plans we're starting to formulate. But those are other blog posts and for now, all the little hassles melt away.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dick Brano - junk and inspiration

At times we can kid ourselves that we’re living on the edge; that we are pioneers and adventurers, out on our boat in the big bad ocean. Friends and family also like to create this image in their minds. We happily step up to the fill the imaginary spot as risk taking free spirits who’ve cast off the security blanket of society and headed out to face the world!
But in reality, we have savings and a relatively large and fancy boat. We eat in restaurants when we like and there’s always petrol for our dinghy, diesel for our motors and spare cash for any repairs we might need.
Yesterday as we hiked over from our bay to the chandlery to buy some more frivolous parts for Shiloh, we stopped at De Big Fish restaurant to chat with a couple friends and share a tasty chicken roti. Really roughing it ;)
We glanced out at the dinghy dock and noticed what was difficult not to notice. A ramshackle hobie cat type vessel with a patched up little windsurfer’s sail, old metal garden chairs propped up on upside down beer cases and graffiti all along the little hulls.
 There was also a blog address boldly printed there. The boat had a strange name – “Dick Brano”. Well my curious mind had to find out more. And indeed I did!
This mess at the jetty, it turned out, was a vessel built literally out of junk, here in Grenada on it’s route from St. Marten in the northern part of the Caribbean, all the way to Venezuela. About 1000 nautical miles!
Here was a boat built by two true adventurers, travelling without a safety net, or even a roof, facing every day the wrath of the sun and sea, sleeping in a tent on random beaches, eating free coconuts and no doubt fishing for their own protein.
These people had come so far, sat on a barely floating set of pontoons, with a few tiny boxes strapped on, holding all their earthly belongings.
 I sat mesmerized, soaked in by the blog and it’s entries. They found themselves at some stage, after years of frugal traveling, in the Cape Verde islands off West Africa and took a spur of the moment opportunity to crew on an Australian boat to the Caribbean with $2 to their names. They were already so far from their native homes - he from the UK and she from Guatemala. They decided they wanted to see the whole region, but that they needed their own boat. And with less than a fiver, they'd have to be creative. And they were more than that. Dick Brano was built completely of others' discarded junk. 
I think of the bad weather we've faced just between the few islands around Grenada, and how Shiloh was bashed, and how scary it was at certain moments. I simply cannot imagine it on a 14ft open hobie cat.
There is a post where they found themselves halfway down the island chain, and in some violent waves the boat capsizes and they lose pretty much all of what little they had. My instinct was to cry - it was so sad! And yet, because of their eternal optimism and faith in the journey, they find a village of people who donate, cook, labour and support them to build the vessel back up, so they can carry on. No quitting there. 

See video above - as they passed through St. Lucia, a local news station did a brief story on the pair.
So, I’ve been inspired.  To live each day more fully. To appreciate everything about the journey and not focus on the things at all. At the end of the day, the things are nothing at all. This couple jumps, swims, laughs, hugs and soaks in every minute of every day.
We waited hours there to meet them, but alas we had to move on and only on our return a while later did we see them, already pulled away from the dock, headed further on their journey.
I send them virtual hugs and I truly hope they will find everything they need along the way, depending on the good nature in people and ignoring the negatives that would have kept them back, stopped them in their tracks, held them back from a life of learning the world.
If you have a minute, visit their site HERE, read their story and be inspired. They are not a cute little post-it note or inspirational message written in calligraphy, but a real live flesh and blood example of how you can take life by the horns and ride it.
They abolish fear and hold on to nothing but each other and the passion for learning more.
As 10ft waves push them around, each wind gust or rain squall threatening their trip, not to mention their lives, they push on, happy for the opportunity. The great gift of being alive!
Imagine if we could all take just a little lesson from that – what a different world it could be!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Family Vacation - part 2

I’m ravenously downloading movies using the high speed Internet at Secret Harbour marina. I’ve got a cappuccino in hand and an afternoon of relaxation ahead, after the busy weeks we’ve had.
We might currently be stranded here, in this bay, while Shiloh sits on anchor around the corner at Hog island. Our dinghy motor is not behaving, stopped spitting water and instead gasped out a lot of smoke as we arrived here a while ago. Not sure she’ll make it back as it seems we have a clogged filter/impeller. But that is another story, for another day. I’m confident it will pan out into a blog post in the next few days.
For now, I’m looking back on the week that was, with our enthusiastic guests onboard, and lots of fun and games with mother nature out at sea.
We arrived in Tobago Cays through a washing machine of waves and were finally able to make good on our promise to JW’s neice, that she would swim with turtles. She devoured every minute of what the aqua wonderland had to offer and we barely saw her little face without a snorkel suctioned to it. She collected shells, marveled at the iguanas and played with starfish.
Swimming with the turtles
 As for her big brother, he named himself dinghy captain from day one, and if he was not pranking us with mayday calls on the two way radio, he was buzzing around on the rubber speed machine, or taxiing us around. Dad, the avid fisherman tried his best and caught a few small ones but the big dorados and albacore tunas evaded us. 
 Luckily there was local rum to soothe the disappointment. Mom took some well deserved moments of quiet reading time and joined in for some great snorkeling as well. Basically a fun time was had by all.
On the other hand, captain JW and I faced some weather phenomenon that led to at least a couple of sleepless nights. On the first, I awoke in our normally protected anchorage in the Cays, to find Shiloh facing away from the anchor and getting dangerously close to the beach. I woke JW and we observed the swirling pool we found the boat in. The current was pushing us toward the wind and the result was a spinning boat. We upped the anchor and let it settle just outside the strange area, but alas we were almost touching the stony reef behind us and at midnight we tried anchoring again. This time we moved a bit further into the channel and fought the current for a while until we gave up and went back down to bed.
When we left the Cays and checked out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Union Island, we decided to skip checking in at Carriacou and find a desolate bay for the night, before heading straight back to Grenada. We rounded the southern tip of Carriacou and found White Island, a gorgeous sand bank lined with palm trees, but as we came closer, it became obvious that the waves were far to rough to anchor. Just behind, there was a small island called Saline, with a slightly more protected bay, and we decided to check it out before heading further south to Isle de Ronde. A French catamaran was out there in the waves with us, and they headed in right in front of us. There was room for a boat and a half in the tiny bay, but it was calmer. As we decided whether to move on or stay the night, our fisherman realised his eager line had caught something big alright – our propeller! So, we had to hold still in the swell, now realising how close we were to the reefs, while he dived down to get it all untangled. The boat moved further out into the waves and he struggled, coming up looking like a punk rocker with our blue anti-fouling paint all over his head. He had also gotten a few scrapes from the increasing barnacle population under the boat, and we decided we should get back into the relative protection of the bay and anchor so he could work at it properly.
So, with one engine we motored toward the French Cat and dropped anchor in the clear shallow water, falling back in crystal blue water, mindful of the coral, and rocks that lined the beach and the edge of the island behind us.
A view of Shiloh from the Saline Island beach, dinghy captain in the foreground, French Cat further ahead
 The fishing line was removed and we all agreed the island was too quaint to leave. We explored the water, finding a wealth of bright coloured fish below the surface. And along the beach, an old fort, an abandoned wooden cottage, the marked grave of Patrick John who died in 1959, surrounded by conch shells, and a tipped over sign saying NO TRESPASSING.
Patrick John's tombstone
 We retreated to the boat, but JW kept looking back at that reef, so close. He rigged up a system to mark the danger point in the water, something involving a lifejacket, a waterproof light and a rope with a big rock attached. The whole thing was eventually abandoned and we had a relaxed drink and supper and headed to bed early. The plan was that the two men would get up early and we’d start back toward Grenada at 5 am.
But as it goes, the wind picked up considerably about 11pm, and JW was up, monitoring. Our anchor drag alarm is not a precise tool, and it would warn us we had moved about the time we would be upon the reef. And so it was that JW stayed up the whole night, as the wind beat us harshly.
The anchor did hold though, and luckily it was the same for the French Cat in front of us, or we’d have had them upon us in seconds as well.
I guess JW was tired of watching and upped anchor at 4am. We then faced a mean current and slamming side-on waves for a good 2.5 hours. I lie awake in the cabin below, wasting my chance to sleep in, with the violent slapping Shiloh was enduring.
I emerged at 7am as we were reaching the top tip of Grenada and one sight of my captain pulled at my heartstrings. He was beyond exhausted.
He asked me to take over at the helm (now that we were in calm seas, protected in the lee of the island), and stumbled by me to get an hour or two of sleep.
A little while later his sis came up from her cabin with a dry mouth full of toothpaste and managed to explain that there was no water. But we had done so well with water conservation?! Everyone had barely showered?! But we checked a few taps and indeed it was dry.
Turns out the shower pipe at the back of the boat had burst and we’d lost over 300 litres of water, directly into our bilges. So, Shiloh made the final leg of the trip waterlogged, and with a crew of morning breath.
And somewhere around 10am we woke our captain and made a smooth entry to Port Louis marina, pulled up alongside, desperate for hot showers, a swim in the pool and some cool cocktails.
And by the next morning our guests had gone, and we made loose plans to do this again. Then we set to the task of cleaning. Luckily the mountains of salty towels and sheets were laundered by the marina and we pumped out all the water.
By 5pm we’d done everything and collapsed into the pool.
Are we ready for chartering? I decided if we ever did it, we’d only offer one week a month, the other three would be for turn over and recooperation!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Near maydays, mooring from hell and a great holiday

Yesterday as JW and I stood on the bow of Shiloh, discussing the disaster that was our attempt at picking up a mooring ball at Sandy Island, we heard a faint but strained call,
JW’s sister, hubby and kids, visiting for a week, were piled in the dinghy, looking a bit lost as it drifted quickly backward with the wind and current.
“We can’t get the motor down”
They had decided to head in to the beach at this gorgeous deserted island, after our angst ridden arrival with the mooring ball incident, and most likely they thought they’d leave us to our ‘after lesson in what-not-to-do in a mooring situation’.
JW looked at the situation with the dinghy blowing further and further out of reach, muttered “sh*t” under his breath, and jumped in the water. He struggled to catch up but managed to swim out to the dinghy and heave himself up. All the while, I stood at the back step biting my nails and knowing there wasn’t much I could do. Here we were on a deserted island, our visitors being blown swiftly out to sea.
JW got the motor down and it started after a few revs and all was well. He motored back to the boat and I reached out to grab the dinghy painter (rope). But just short of the boat he cut the engine and I missed the rope. And they started floating backward again. But this time JW pulled the choke over and over and it wouldn’t start. It had flooded.
Now I stood once again watching them all drift away, but this time JW, my all-knowing captain was with them.
Luckily for us, there was one other little sail boat at Sandy Island and I ran to the front of our boat, waving my hands wildly in their general direction, hoping they’d see me and then see the dinghy as it disappeared.
The man jumped in his tiny dinghy and headed toward them. But his motor was very small, and in the endless time it took for him to reach them and grab a rope to tow them back, they discovered he couldn’t pull the weight of the bigger dinghy and group of ‘flounderlings’.
I felt a pit in my stomach, stabbing now. What could I do? In this boating life, I’m finding that I really struggle with the sense of helplessness. Mostly it is my lack of knowledge that renders me useless in critical situations. But this time it was the fact that there was nothing I could do, barring calling out a mayday on the radio. And I had to decide at what moment that should be done?
Just then, JW pulled the choke for the umpteenth time, and this time it worked! They let go of the struggling man in his well-meaning little would-be rescue boat, waved a big thanks and headed back finally to Shiloh.
Crisis averted. Again.
JW the ever calm and able captain of SV Shiloh
 Just an hour before, I had been up at the bow of the boat trying to catch a mooring ball and feed two ropes through it, pulling them each back to a hull and tying them off. After a few tries, where JW motored forward and his brother-in-law and I directed him, got hold of the mooring ball and then failed dismally to get the ropes the right way round, eventually Shiloh was blown back by the strong winds and the ropes came flinging along, as we let go. But in my panic-mode, during one attempt, I tried to hold one of the ropes so we wouldn’t drift away from it. I, me, tried to hold a 20 ton boat, against 20knt winds, with a little rope. Not smart. I ended up almost losing my legs as the rope pulled swiftly, and I was trapped between it and the front stay. JW was livid. I was shaken by the experience and hotly embarrassed by my inadequacy, not to mention the burning on my thighs where the rope had whipped past. It was ‘all bad’, especially with our guests as the innocent victims, just trying to have a relaxing holiday.
We did eventually get ourselves hooked on the mooring ball. They did eventually have a great swim over the corals and with all the multicoloured reef fish. And hopefully all was forgotten.
They had all survived the day before, as we made the 6 hour journey from St. Georges in Grenada, up to Carriacou, with the wind on our nose and 12 ft (4m) swells. We had at least one seasick moment, with breakfast being offered up to the sea below, but all in all, the crew handled all those salty, shaking, jarring, jolting hours quite well.
We spent the night in a deserted anchorage on the north coast of Carriacou, called Anse La Roche, which only attracted a single sentence in the most popular guide book. It advised that the place was great for a lunch break but not for an overnight due to the big northerly swells. We stayed anyway. Right about now, you are thinking,
‘That probably wasn’t a good idea.’
Well, after putting out a second anchor manually from the side of the boat (a first for us), we did have a great swim and a walk on the beach, a peaceful supper and cocktails, then retired early. All good, right?
Forward to 3am when we awoke to our anchor drag alarm, and realised that the second anchor had come slack and the current was busy trying to beach us completely. The back of the boat was swinging toward the shallow sand at a fast pace. JW had to use the winch and bring the second anchor in, then heave the rusted chain and anchor up by hand. That done, we motored forward, lifted anchor and tried again further out in the bay.
It held, though the northerly swell had us in a rolling stomach churning motion pattern for the rest of the night, and though my eyes did close, I didn’t manage to get any more actual sleep. Luckily, the kids, exhausted from swimming, diving and snorkeling, slept through it all.
We were all good and ready to up anchor at 8am and head toward Union Island of the Grenadines.
After a peaceful stroll through the sleepy dusty main road and immigration sorted, nurse sharks visited by the dinghy dock, we headed out to our main destination – Tobago Cays.
And we did arrive alive, but not before we encountered some 15ft (5m) waves that lifted and dropped us, toying with the 20 ton boat like a mouse in the paws of a cruel giant cat.
I braced myself in those moments and apparently I made ‘the face’ – which is the face of panic and terror that JW claims he sees wash across my face when I sense danger (real or because of my lack of experience).
In response, I got The Look, and that one says,
‘Holdsworth, don’t you dare go into panic mode, we have guests and if you look all worried, they will get worried and it’s our job to be the calm and controlled, gracious hosts.’
Just then a wave blindsided us and all the wine, whisky, rum and vodka bottles on display went flying with an ear jarring slam and resounding clangs.
Luckily they all made it through in tact. Less cleaning for me on arrival, and more for us to ingest later. In fact, there’s a party on the beach, the kids are swimming happily around the boat, the afternoon sun is coming down to a burnt orange warm, I’ve got butternut and broccoli with chicken ready to bake, and it’s time for a rum n’ coke now.