Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blue Eyes

There is something exciting and intriguing about meeting a young rebellious couple with adventure in their eyes and a definite wild side, who are sailing on a tiny hobie cat vessel, made from other people’s trash… hopping from place to place, without a care in the world like the Dick Brano duo.
There is something entirely different about meeting a couple close to the standard retirement age, who have quit their jobs, taken a few sailing courses, bought a sailing boat not much bigger than a dingy, and have sailed it 5 times across the ocean.
Little Blue Eyes is the tiniest sailboat out on the right side
 We were invited for ‘sundowners’ on a miniscule German boat called ‘Blue Eyes’ last night. All day, as we moved along the promenade of St Pierre, from laundromat to town square, to the mini market and back, I peered over at it, anchored in the bay.
We’d met the friendly couple who are both quite tall and didn’t seem extremists in any way, and I just couldn’t imagine how they lived on such a tiny vessel. At the time I didn’t even know about the 5 ocean crossings, but I was already confused and amazed. I couldn’t wait to get onboard for a ’tour’, or more like a lesson in how to stuff two live, moving bodies into a large coffin with sails. Not to mention where they could host 4 of us, making it cocktails for 6!
We arrived in one of the many small rain squalls to mark the evening. Dinghys tied on, we climbed into the cockpit. With 6 of us it was a tight squeeze, all knees touching, appetizers held in laps. Our host sat on his upturned liferaft while his wife sat on the entrance to the inner cabin. Rain whipped the tiny white tarp around us and trickled down our backs. But we laughed and sipped T-punch (straight rum, brown sugar and fresh lime).
We were offered the ‘house tour’ which consisted of peering inside, which held a tapering berth, and about 2 feet of floor room surrounded by small storage compartments, and lots of things which couldn’t find a place to go. I didn’t see a sink or a stove, so the conversation began, about how the basics of living were handled.
‘Blue Eyes’ has no sink, no shower, no toilet, no oven apart from a portable camping stove and drinking water is manually pumped at about 1 litre per 350 pumps. There is no fridge either. Yet it has been across the ocean many times.
We inquired about what foods made it across on the 30 to 45 day journeys they’ve done, and discovered that plain yogurt, butter and cheese all survive perfectly. Apparently a few tomatoes made it over 20 days as well! Canned tuna and veggies were of course staples, but through the whole lesson I just kept imagining trying to piece a meal together of any description in that space, or rather lack of it.
They mentioned that they didn’t eat much of their rations this time, as their last crossing was rough. Every day little Blue Eyes was thrown about, hour after hour.
There is no space to walk, no room to turn around or stretch or have ‘alone time’. No privacy as the toilet set up is a simple ‘bucket and chuck it’. Not glamorous. For me, not quite fathomable.
A week before we had visited another boat, this time a 44 ft  Lagoon catamaran, like ours, but that crucial few feet longer, which creates masses more living space. We came home to Shiloh with boat envy.
After our visit on Blue Eyes I laughed. With them for the sheer tenacity.  At us, for being silly the week before. Everything is relative. Shiloh is a mansion on the sea.
My captain onboard Blue Eyes, marvelling at the tiny circumference of the mast
What it really comes down to is what you are looking for. What you are trying to prove or escape, or what you really value. Living on a vessel that small proves that we don't need a 100th of what we think we do, not really. Happiness is not in belongings. 
And fears? Well if a boat this small can conquer the ocean many times, then most of us harbour silly fears.
If your boat gets you where you want to go, and if it is a home to you along the way, then it is good. Then you are on the right track. Happiness is in the journey. If your journey lacks a toilet and you are happy with that, then I say not only follow that dream, LIVE IT. 
What an inspiration!
The crew of Blue Eyes with us on a hike (on the left) - awesome, happy people.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Un docteur s'il vous plait?

Like a mini sweat parade, donning the signature 'yachtie uniform' of flip flops and backpacks, , I lead my captain through the bustling slightly urine scented streets of Fort de France from doctor’s office to doctor’s office. 
Each time, we find a small inconspicuous door, painted black with a small sign. We open and climb sets and sets of stairs – dusty, dirty stairwells in ancient buildings. Each time we arrive to another disappointment. The office is closed or there are 30 sick people squished into the inadequate seats, the afternoon sun throwing dust over the coughing lot. We leave and trudge back  down into the bright city streets.
The day began like many others of late, with my ailing captain on his daily dose of Voltaren, waiting for the drug to activate so he can get up and move.
He really needs a cortisone injection or weeks of physio for his aggravated sciatic nerve, or both, but as vagabonds on the sea, moving from port to port, he will likely receive neither.
Life on a boat is hard. Well it’s hard work at times – which is what caused the captain’s injury, but it’s also hard when it comes to the things we all take for granted on land. These are the days when living without a home, a community, a structured society as a catchment are more difficult than others.
We were out of water when the carnival was over the other day, so as the regular Martiniquans headed back to work and school and general café lounging, we had to get our tanks refilled or face not bathing… again.
And then there is the issue of finding medical treatment when you need it. We are actually in quite a modern, civilized port. Probably the most likely chance here of finding a rheumatologist or efficient medical care in general. Or so you’d think. But considering our limited time in each place, and the bogged down French medical system here, not to mention our language barrier…  it has proved to be an insurmountable task.
So, drenched in sweat, hungry, grumpy and completely disheartened with the medical community in Martinique, we found ourselves once again in the cool fried world of McDonalds. Free wifi. Familiarity. Food (sort of).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blow up dolls and diapered men - a carnaval of note!

Was it the 6 foot evil penis pistol with coco’nuts’ on top of the graffiti’ed car, or the man in a diaper dancing in the middle of the street? Could it have been the drag queen brides in killer stilettos, or rather the blow up girl with functional mouth proudly carried through the crowd. In fact if might have been pregnant male mannequin floating above the sea of revelers, all clad in black and red and devil horns and feather boas. Was it the tattoed lady in her 70's with the full petticoat and tequila sunglasses?!

Whatever that sensory explosion was that signified the Martinique four day carnival, it has blown my mind. Eclipsed all other experiences to date.
Were we in a peaceful bay, snorkeling by day and identifying the stars in the still dark night, just days ago?
How is it that in the meantime my captain has joined hundreds of men, stuffed into dresses of taffeta and sequins, adorned with bright shiny jewelery. That I have now two sets of blingy deeleyboppers and wore them through the town, blending in to the crowds - didn't turn a single head?

We had no idea what we were ‘in for’ when we sailed across the huge bay into Fort de France for their annual carnival. I expected a parade with elaborate costumes and lots of glitter. Who'd have know that the crowds would be as interesting and exciting as the official parade?! Who'd have guessed that every Martiniquan and visitor would join the spirit of the events and don the colours of the day? What a feeling to experience such an all encompassing vibe! Who'd have known that the parade itself would barely scrape the surface of what assaulted our ears, eyes, stomachs.
I’ve eaten chichis and bokits, seen more painted flesh of all ages and colours, and witnessed hairstyles that defy gravity and all sensibility. I’ve tasted Lorraine, the local beer in huge cans, and soaked up music and backfiring cars. I’ve danced and laughed and walked until my soles ground through the pavement.

And it has been a blast. An amazing experience. A cornucopia of sensory stimuli. Caribana could take a few lessons from these guys. No violence, no trouble, just fun fun fun and alot of exhibitionists!

The cruiser partiers!!!
Today is the final day, where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, wears black and white and they burn an effigy of the king.
All of this is supposedly related to the Christian Lent, but with all the penises and diapers and cross dressing, I’m really not sure how it all relates. Either way, these people know how to shut down a city completely and just give it all up to the party. For four full days. During the week. Supermarkets - closed. Restaurants - closed. Thank god for McDonalds and the free wifi.
Though my feet and eyes and ears are tired, I can’t wait to witness this unbelievable spectacle for just one more day.
And then the next day we’ll go to a real mall! And then, yes then we’ll sail away to find a peaceful bay, and snorkel by day….