Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Renovations in and out

Today’s post was supposed to be about renovations, about befores and afters. About the realization of a plan. Work completed. The light at the end of the tunnel.
And it is. Or it was, at least it will be. But for now I’m thinking of a different kind of renovation. A reshuffle, cobweb cleaning of the mind. The kind that comes over you on the morning of a birthday. The culmination of all the years and days and minutes that have lead up to this very moment.
I sit in my rocking bed, noises of my captain, best friend and one true love upstairs in the galley, fumbling around trying to make me a cup of coffee. I am deep in thought. Feeling warm beyond the sweat of my brow, feeling lucky and blessed and so grateful for all the experiences my life has crossed path with. For the love and love lost, for my children, travels, jobs, struggles, joys… and he pops his head down into the passage, interrupting my thoughts with two bottles of instant coffee – “this one or this one? Sugar?”
I am grateful for the day to day of life. I vow at this moment to make a life renovation to appreciate it all. The salt water splash on my bum in the dinghy rides to shore, the constant rain storms that won’t allow our towels to dry on the line for days at a time. These are part of what is offered, along with the beautiful moments.
I will always notice the way JW’s eyes change colour by mood and lighting and his wardrobe. This morning the green has separated and there is a glowing yellow radiating from his pupils, giving way to a deep soulful grey. I love him. This morning I can see his soul. Like a child, like me. We are two naughty children, dared to run away with our back packs and not much more, opting for adventure and insecurity, and there are times we cling to each other with a fear so powerful it knocks us over. But we get back up and scamper around, learning how to sail, to live island to island, one mishap to another, broken boat part to the next, creak in the mast, leak in the hatch.
We have recently completed some long discussed changes to make this boat our home. It has taken a lot out of us, spiritually and financially. But it feels like progress.
It feels like a home that could take us places. Far away places, both spiritually and geographically. And as long as I have his warm strong hand in mine, I’m up for the challenge and the ride.
Below, some pics of the renos:

Making due - trying to make the purple velveteen cordouroy sofa look ok...

Life during renovations

Life during renos 2

When they cut out the wall of one of our heads

All the innards are gone, right down to the hull - OMG, it's so thin! There are holes!!!

The completed top cupboard! My new pantry and linen closet!

The completed bottom cupboard - to be used for tools and captain stuff

Finally collecting Shiloh from her unnatural home - heading back to the water!

En route through the boatyard - good riddance!

The renovated saloon - new chair, upholstery, table, and cut off nav seat (on the left - now a cupboard)

A view from further back - including new suede stools for foot rests, storage and seating!

And a view to the right....

And here's Shiloh - back in the water, new graphics proudly displayed, and a happy crew onboard

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A little list of what to consider before buying your dream boat

Being ‘on the hard’ for boat works makes a person introspective when it comes to what’s important and what matters in a cruiser’s life.
Why are we going through these painful weeks of camping in an industrial yard with shared toilets and showers and enough dust to rival a north African desert?
Do we really need a washroom converted to cupboards or a hard top bimini to replace our old canvas one? At the risk of sounding like a cruising princess, I'd like to think, YES.
The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. We should have bought a boat with these things in mind. We should have waited until we knew more about what we would find important in a boat. We shoulda, we coulda, but then we might still be sitting behind desks, looking out the window and wishing we’d taken the plunge – literally.
Back in the day of boat research for us, we knew absolutely nothing about a life at sea. The captain took me aboard a few monohulls, from which I emerged utterly claustrophobic, suffocated by the dark wood walls and submarine feeling inside, and convinced, having never sailed on one, that they were not for me. So it was narrowed down pretty quick to catamarans. Captain looked at a lot of forums discussing the common problems with certain catamaran brands and it was narrowed down further. We eventually chose a charter boat, since we knew that we’d still have to work a few more years, and she would have to do some work herself in a charter fleet. Hence here we are with a Lagoon 410S2, 4 cabins, 4 heads (washrooms), making quite a few not-so-insignificant changes.
And here I am, ready to indulge in a list – in the hopes that future boat buyers will benefit from what we’ve learned in our humble corner of the floating world so far…
What to consider when choosing a boat to live in and on and love as a home:
1.     Storage space/cupboards – From the first time we stepped aboard the boat that became ours, I wondered where we would put things. We don’t have much of anything really, yet the storage still seemed an issue. This Lagoon has tons of empty cavities, but they are in the most inaccessible, un-user-friendly places. Both front cabins as well as the original crew bunks in the bow of the boat are 6ft deep holes. You either have to lift mattresses and huge wood planks, or climb down a small hatch on a treacherous ladder to get anything in or out. I’m sweating and I’ve got cuts on my shins just thinking about it.

2.     Beds – considering we spend half our lives lying in these, the level of comfort makes a big difference to feeling ‘at home’. This model Lagoon does NOT come with standard size mattress spaces, with cut corners and tapering sides, and so we CANNOT even think of buying a sprung mattress that all landlubbers take for granted. And so, it’s foam. There is foam and then there is foam. And we’ve tried all of them. And nothing compares to a bed with springs. Ah, what I’d give for a good old posturepedic… When we got to Trinidad I sought out a good foam factory and ordered the best. We were so excited. It had 5 inches of reformed industrial foam with a 3 inch layer of soft foam glued on top. I had it covered and delivered and voila! We now have an 8 inch high block of rock hard bedding. Sigh…

3.     Helm seat – if you are going to do any passages at all (which really, you must), then have a good feel for the helm seat’s comfort. Ours came without cushions either under or at the back. And having a shiny fibrelass finish means that any cushion you try to slip under you will just slide right on out. Also, this thing was obviously made for a man of about 6’ tall. My feet won’t reach the platform below, so the seat cuts off my circulation at the thigh and I basically cannot sit there for more than a few minutes at a time. So I have to sit night watches by standing or leaning, or popping up from the cockpit table below to look out by the helm and then back again, continuously. These things make a big difference to a peaceful passage.
The full extent of the galley
4.     Counter space – the galley in any boat smaller than 50ft is small to begin with, but the layout of our Lagoon is such that there is no more than a couple feet of counter space. When trying to cook – especially for more than 2 of us – it is highly frustrating to say the least. When you step aboard a potential boat to buy, imagine yourself in there, cooking up a dinner for you and some guests. Possible? If not, think hard. The cruising life involves a lot of time in anchorages and aboard. You need to feel that you are not camping, but in your home. Small doesn’t have to mean cramped.

5.     Galley/pantry layout, storage – this is sort of like points 1 and 4 above, but specific to the galley is where to store food. I was recently on a friend’s boat and happened to be watching as she got some items out of the cupboard for cooking. I was awestruck. “OMG!, You have eye-level cupboards! You don’t have to spend 30 minutes with your butt in the air, blood rushing to your head, sifting through cans to find what you’re looking for! So lucky!”  Simple things make such a difference to life on a boat. Have I already said that?
6.     Veneer/finishing – imagine you weren’t a big fan of wood veneer, and even less of a fan of a garish orange, fake cherry look. Then imagine your ‘home’ is completely kitted out on every surface in every room with it. Walls, cupboards, fake flooring… you get the picture. I’ve seen quite a few South African built catamarans, completely white, glossy finish gelcoat. Modern, simple, easy to clean. I love it. Some don’t. You need to know what you like as you will look at it every day.

The orangey, fake cherry look that I'm not the greatest fan of...

7.     Hard top bimini – In my humble opinion, its best to try to get a boat with a hard top awning/bimini. Ours came with a navy canvas one. It’s hot hot hot under her shade and the canvas loses the waterproofing every couple of months. As I balance precariously on top, roller in hand, reapplying the waterproofing chemical I think, ‘Sunbrella is great stuff but it’s not invincible’. This is the ocean and the conditions are harsh. Sun all the time, salt, wind, rain… And the fabric rattles against the stainless steel frame in anything above 10kts.

A nice, sturdy hard top bimini, retro-fitted on a Lagoon here in Chaguaramas

8.     The dangers of production charter boats – Charter boats are made with that purpose in mind. They are slapped together in a production line – seems kinda obvious. But this means they lack the finishing, the panache of boats built for the sole purpose of cruising. They squish in lots of seating – for those 4 couples who’ve paid their USD $2000 each for the week with their friends onboard. Same thing with cabin and head space. Lots of toilets, not lots of cupboards. Fridge that fits lots of beer, deep freezer that chows electricity. All thoughts of the one-week-long stay. Not the forever sail. 
The Lagoon 410 layout

In retrospect, we’d never have bought a Lagoon, nor a Fountaine Pajot for that matter. The good old, strong Privileges, Mantas, Catanas, seem to hold their value and their popularity as great cruising boats.

Here I am at the end of my rant, I mean list. And here we are in Trinidad, finally addressing most of the issues above. If you throw money at a boat, you can make her just the way you want. The more money you throw, the more you get.
But for those of you who haven’t bought your boat yet, maybe you could just choose the boat that you like as is. That fits your needs. That can take you around the world, safely and as comfortably as possible. Just a thought.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Before and During - transformation at Trini pace

This post should be about new beginnings. It should be full of before and after photos of all the work done. This post should be a high five to Trinidad and the services available here. It should be praise and perfection and a boat transformed.
But then it shouldn’t really at all. If we had hauled the boat out and set tasks and jobs and saw them all completed within the timeframe both allocated by us and promised by contractors, then there would be something wrong in the universe. A proverbial flying pig alert. It never happens. Ever. Not even for us, even though I spoke local slang and smiled a lot but was firm in my position on dates. And pricing.
Nothing ever happens for the price you originally agreed on either. There are extras. More hours needed.
I could blame the weather. Ah, Trinidad in the fall. Every day it is still and baking hot. Oppressive in it’s radiation. And then the skies open and it pours. But not before huge ominous clouds take over and blacken any chance of work being completed.
We listen to the weather forcast. They say there is a tropical wave coming through. Its hot, then it’s dark and then it pours. A lot. They say “today will be a beautiful day!” Its hot, then it’s dark and then it pours. A lot. They say it will be partly cloudy with thunder showers in the evening. Guess what? Its hot, then it’s dark and then it pours. A lot.
I could blame culture. The easy going, laid back, soon comeishness of the place. First thing tomorrow is 11am or the following day altogether. Lunchtime is at noon – but if it’s 11:30, its almost lunchtime, so…. (even if you showed up at 11?!) Don’t now expect anyone back on duty before 2. They might come before, but then that is because they are “really trying for you”.
I could blame us – that would be a novel idea – we had a few jobs in mind. They have mushroomed, bloomed, and grown into a chaotic knotted mess of idea porn. My mind swims. We could do this?! Add this?! Well if we do this, then that opens up this to do something new…. And so on.
What I could do is drop blame and settle in. Difficult though it is, living in a construction zone where its as likely to find sawdust as sugar in your tea, where there is never a surface to sit or a spot of countertop to set a bowl or plate. Nevermind though – no fridge, so not much cooking going on.
I have become reacquainted with the dangers of fast food. It is dangerous as you will get to like it briefly, indulge and then within a couple of weeks, the thought of it will make you cringe. And you will barf just a bit in your throat. Ewwww. I don’t think I will ever look at a KFC the same again. There must be more of them per square mile here than any other single business. Day and night, the town is literally painted red, (with the face of an old bespeckled white haired, white goatee'd American guy).

All of the above ranting aside though, there is something I like about Trinidad. The people are vibrant, bold, confident. There are stores and services and resources unheard of anywhere between here and St Martin. Our little quaint Leeward and Windward islands have nothing on this place for modern amenities.
But alas, we are worlds away from the ocean that laps insistently at the boatyard concrete wall, some metres away. We don’t smell that unmistakable scent of the sea or feel the fresh salty breeze. We are cut off, segregated, kept from the place we love, with all it’s promises of new horizons.
Our boat work is at the 'before and during' stages. We are land-locked for now and our sense of freedom is bruised. I feel wounded. Beat lightly around the ears with a heavy but blunt object. It is the feeling of being trapped. Like cotton wool, like the mud that supports us on our clunky stilts. It’s all stagnant and still.
And so we will plod along, and the before and after shots will definitely follow, on their own time. We will look at photos of the turquoise waters that lie just outside our grasp for now, and smile. Wipe the fiberglass from the corners of our eyes, we will look forward to Shiloh transformed and ready to roll once more.
For now, I need to find some fast food.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Between a dock and a hard place

I’m sat on the cool dusty floor of the cyber café, along with the 10 or so others who got here too late to get a seat at the tables. All around me, at eye level or the lucky ones above us, are cruisers. I can tell by the practical and well used shoes – mostly Tevas and heavy duty industrial tread sandals. Plonked beside us all are backpacks of various sizes and colours. If we all weren’t so wrinkled and tanned, someone might mistake us for students. No one has a hand bag. No one has heels or wedges or even closed-toed loafers. There are lots of hats and caps to keep the vicious sun at bay though. We live on boats in the Caribbean. We need Internet. Here we are.
As the door swings open and closed beside me - cruisers peeking in at the masses of us and leaving, despondent - I inhale the dust and relish the gusts of crushing heat from outside. This is Trinidad in October. It’s HOT.
I am in a boatyard and most of those around me know what it’s like. Our homes, hoisted up on flimsy looking stilts, stuffed in like sardines, like fish out of water we are… can’t use the toilets or the water really. Mosquitos ravage us, the dirt and dust and cables and wires and grinding tools they beat us down, try to kill our spirits, depress us with the lack of beauty and the reality of what is a boat yard. 
Somewhere in these boatyards is our temporary home...

Hoisting Shiloh into her land berth
The cyber café is a retreat. Air-conditioning pumps out at us, subduing the heavy scent of sweating bodies and muddy wet t-shirts.
Most people are all here for one reason. To fix their boat. When they are not sitting in this chilly box of a café, they are busy grinding, polishing, scraping, painting, huffing, puffing and generally getting stuck in to boat maintenance, repairs, upgrades, refits, etc etc etc… that is until 5pm when I’m sure the rum and the beers are cracked open. Reward for the job well done. Only the jobs are long and difficult and when you are using local contractors, the jobs happen slowly. Very slowly. When it’s not baking hot, it’s pouring rain, and no work can happen in the rain. Some workers get stuck at home during flooding from the rain. The boatyard becomes a stagnant pool of mosquito breeding mud baths after the rain… and we all sit in this cyber café to escape. That was yesterday. Today it’s too hot. And about that work that needs doing on the boat? Well it’s Friday. We’ll continue Monday.
And so it happens, that when you sail down to Trinidad (or motor in zero wind in our case), you wade through the thick brown, oil slicked water, dodging coke bottles, used diapers, submerged plastic bags and various cuts of timber, and you vow to get your work done FAST and get out.
But the days turn to weeks turn to months... And Trinidad isn’t all that bad anyway. There are modern movie theaters and fast food restaurants and wholesale super stores and yummy local foods to try…We've had a 6.4 earthquake, we've visited the largest (one of only three) pitch lake in the world. We've been to malls and had some great barbeques, met new friends...
The boys, playing in the strange tarry, sulphur smelling pitch

For Shiloh, there is a make over underway. She is getting a fresh bottom paint (to supposedly keep the barnacles at bay), a new clean, polish and graphics (courtesy my talented son), and a lot of interior changes that she’s been in need of – or maybe that I’ve been convinced of, for quite a while.
We’re raising the water line by heaving out clunky bolted in furniture and adding storage by converting one of our superfluous heads (bathrooms) to a massive storage cabinet with access from three sides.
Ah, the joy that will overtake me when I go to pull out a can of food from an eye level  pantry shelf instead of bending over to rummage through a mess of a locker at floor level. These are the things we come to fixate on in a boat. The access to the stuff. It’s never easy given the small space we have, and it depends on the designer of the boat, whether they did it well or not. In our case, I have to say ‘Lagoon, you failed. Miserably’. But we can change that! And we will. And we are.
Evidenced by the thin white film of fiberglass and wood dust that now covers every surface in Shiloh. Evidenced by the chaos that is currently our saloon and the freaky half-done view of the head we currently have – they’ve cut out a big hole in the wall so you can see the toilet from the galley! 
The massive cabinet that dominated all living space... out!

And now we have all this floor space - got a nice big rug and moveable chair!

Sawing off the silly fibreglass seat/storage

And voila! Oh, well they are now closing it up again with a cute little access door
It’s not ideal living conditions. It’s hectic with two to three contractors in the limited space each day and the continuous mess. And did I mention we cannot use our fridge either? It’s water-cooled and must be turned off when ‘on the hard’.
So it’s a challenge. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
And when we ‘splash’ next – whether it happens this month or next, Shiloh will be a better version of herself and we will have all this tediousness behind us and we can sail off, to the Virgin Islands, to the Bahamas and beyond!
But for now, I need to get off this floor and find the Laundromat.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mas Vibes 2013 - CARNIVAL!

It’s 5am. I’m up, but not awake in the sense of fully functioning. We’ve made it ashore under the cover of darkness, lured by the incessant beat of the Jab Jabs gearing up in the distance.
It’s the morning of Jouvert – first parade of Carnival 2013 in Grenada. It’s a tradition that may very well date back to the days of slavery but I don’t think many know the details of the actual roots. I’ve heard there will be men covered in motor oil, devil’s horns and chains, prowling the streets, scaring children.
The sailing community is here in full force, the dinghy dock is packed and all of us hurry out from the relative safety of the yacht club, to the unknown beyond…
I could use a coffee or a few hours of sleep – given that the night before, the music onshore permeated the anchorage and bled right through to the morning.
Instead we hit the road, which is already covered in a thick slick of oil, and smells of a mechanic shop. It was no rumour. There are men and women everywhere, covered from head to toe in used black oil. They carry buckets and bottles and pour it in copious amounts over themselves and friends and even tiny children. 

There are shopping carts and baby strollers and wheelchairs, all being wildly wheeled here and there, drunken revelers falling out into the gummy streets. Luckily these are all props and no babies or handicapped are injured in the frenzy. Many have linked themselves together with chains, dragging themselves along together, swaying with the heart thumping bass. The scene is reminiscent of the transport of slaves.
The whole thing is eerie and sordid and grimy and then again, a bit magical in the twilight before dawn. We are silent observers here, unbothered and uninteresting, watching as if invisible, trying with little success, to understand the mayhem growing around us.
But as the day emerges from the devilish spectacle, the colours follow in bursts and the street comes alive with an energy unmatched. We are now in the crowds, undulating, splattered with red and blue and silver and gold, the paint which at first is paraded in uniform coloured groups, starts to blend as people bump and grind and smear and hug and rub their way along. The Chocolate Mas truck, complete with huge vats of melted chocolate, which is poured over heads and down shirts and pants, adds to the pungent aromas… 

We are a soup of calypso, with the songs playing over and over again, from one huge speaker laden truck to the next, the crowd is one whole, where there are no rules, no sense and no stress.
“I want a fat gal, I want a rolli polli” ,like an anthem, draws cheers and hands in the air, and hips everywhere gyrating. “Rolli polli – fat gal roll it”….
No woman is concerned about her figure, about muffin tops or tummy rolls here. It’s all celebrated and slicked with a rainbow of oily colour.
“Mas on de plane, mas on de train, mas on de road…” another of the 2013 carnival hits, serenades us all, urging the crowd over and over again to restore their energy, dance, dance and dance some more.
There are songs about rum and sex and dancing and forgetting all your stress and worries.
And by the end, we have all forgotten any judgments or questions and we have jumped in with both feet, sliding along the oily roads, singing along, hopping over one armed baby dolls, broken computers and defunct ceiling fans, all dipped in oil and being dragged along with the crowds at our feet.
And this is just the first morning. The next 24 hours will entail three more intense parade experiences – from the pretty Mas where groups with elaborate and wonderful costumes, display their colours and choreographed talents, to the lights parade in the evening, running to the wee hours, and finally to the last day where the parade is a mix of everything, the pinnacle of the celebrations, that despite officially ending around 6pm, goes on way way way into the dark of the still Grenada night.
These hours of parades and partying will be a unique and more than colourful experience. They will entail a display of Grenada’s party side – their biggest annual celebration, months in the planning and days in the rum soaked enjoying… and we are so lucky to have been witnesses, welcomed and embraced and fully enveloped in the Mas vibes.