Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Serena down - the reality of the ocean's power hits home

Just when my irrational sailing fears are subsiding and I am looking forward to each sail, the reality of the dangers come crashing into my face, in front of my face to be precise. There I was, innocently sipping a Diet Coke, surfing in some wifi zone, my face illuminated by my computer screen, when JW pointed out an article he’d found on noonsite. The 38’ sailing vessel Serena had been abandoned at sea off the coast of Spain….
It struck me with a sinking feeling in the stomach, that we know that boat, in fact the crew of Serena are good friends we’d last heard from when they set sail across the Atlantic, headed for Europe a couple months ago….
“Oh my god! Are they ok?!”
I read the article with quick breaths, looking for the key words, and found them – ‘rescued’, ‘safe’…. Sigh of relief. But they had suffered through a gargantuan storm and they had lost their boat, having been lifted into a helicopter and watching their home and precious vessel dwindling into the distance among the crashing waves below as they flew away….
It’s been on my mind for days. They were/are the sweetest people! They had already done an ocean crossing. They were so friendly and calm and knowledgeable. How could this happen to them?! To someone we know!
And the truth just sits there, like a quickly eaten warm donut in your belly. It is doughy and makes you uneasy as it’s hard to digest.
The truth is that this can happen to ANYONE on a boat. No matter how nice or what an expert you might be, a storm can strike and your lives can be in danger. Your life can change in an instant. And if you are lucky, your experience and all your preventative gadgets will be applicable, accessible - to help make the difference between life and death.
Luckily for Hentii and Arja, they were able to access their EPIRB, and help came. But it took the rescue team 8 hours. That is 480 minutes in 20 meter (60 ft) waves, clinging to the remnants of their boat, smashing, crashing, water washing away their dreams…. Terror unimaginable previously. But they survived.
They are not the only tragic story we have heard lately either. But they hold a special place in my heart, and so it was this story that hit me so hard.
Serena's salon table - set for supper

 As clear as if it were yesterday, I remember coming down into Serena’s warm homey salon. Arja had decorated and filled the boat with the cutest European charm, and the whole boat was filled with the aroma of her home-cooked creamy mushroom soup. And though the swell rocked us through supper, we laughed and ate and drank, and afterwards Hentii set up his microphone and amp and serenaded us and the nearby boats with his amazing Elvis renditions. It was a lovely evening. It’s unlikely I’d ever forget it.
Great food and great friends - supper on Serena

Elvis is in the house!
And as I sit here now, imagining Arja and Hentii in the aftermath of their disaster, soaked and possessionless, without passports or dry clothes, I wish we’d been there to lend a hand. And a hug. And just to let them know how brave and great they are.
And deep down my hug would mean even more. That it’s such a wonderful miracle they survived, and how they are an inspiration above the fear that their ordeal has generated.
It’s humbling more than anything else. We play and frolic in these waves, we call the ocean home. But we are truly small and powerless in the face of the unpredictable giant.
It’s easy to forget, when I peer over the edge of the boat into the clear turquoise that invites me to jump in and cool off.
But it’s a relationship of respect, admiration and forgiveness it seems.
I wrote to Arja this week and she explained that they are now living in a tiny apartment, fighting with the insurance companies, trying to find jobs. She is blogging... The search continues for Serena, which may be floating or beached somewhere along the coast of Portugal...
What could be the fate of Serena...
 But in their heart of hearts, the sailing dream is still alive. And one day, they will be out here again. Sailing the ocean blue.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A lifetime in a year - lessons in doing without and gaining so much more

The things I’ve learned in one year:
I can live without toasters – if we really need some dried crispy bread, we can throw it under the broiler for a few seconds on each side… sigh too much work. So as I said, I can live without toast. Plus, there's french toast which involves a frying pan and butter... I can DO that!
I can live without a microwave – though reheating leftovers is more of a challenge and more incentive to eat everything on the first night!
I can live without long hot showers – this just makes me appreciate any visit to a marina or trip to visit family. Not sure I could live without a long hot shower FOREVER….
I can live without ironed clothes – if someone hadn’t ironed our clothes for us in Ghana, I’d have discovered this much earlier. Ironing is NOT an essential in my life! Bring on the wrinkles and creases.
I can live without high-heeled shoes – I could barely walk in these on land, now imagine wobbling and crawling in and out of a moving dinghy onto a moving boat or a non-moving jetty. That spells broken ankle. I’ll take flip flops any day. Wouldn’t mind if I never saw a close-toed shoe of any description again in my life. Plus since I spend lots of time on beaches and boats, I can wear my sole-less bead shoes!

I can live without cable TV – provided I can download some good movies from time to time using a good wifi, for those rare quiet evenings on board.
I can live without air-conditioning in 32 degree weather and 90 percent humidity – this is only because I have no choice. But let me tell you, I gasp with pleasure on every shopping trip when we step inside a crisp cool store… ahhhhhh
I love games! – we’ve become hooked on playing a domino game called Mexican Train. I could gather a group every day and play and play. I lose every game which might be why I need to keep playing. Statistically I’d have to win at least once if I kept playing, right? We’ve also been doing a weekly trivia quiz which I love, even though the prize is a bottle of toxic rum punch – made with 70 proof blindness-inducing pure alcohol. Yikes

I need to learn how to provision – It’s impossible for me to hit the grocery store less than twice a week. I can’t imagine buying kilos of rice or flour at once. I buy the small size of everything and wonder why the hell I did that when I wake up to an empty coffee jar and I’m floating out in a bay, that’s a dinghy and bus ride away from any store…
Cruising is a real lifestyle. All around me are people who don’t work in the classical sense – as in, they do not get paid – but whose days are filled from morning to night with chores, jobs, projects. But the upsides are infinite. They travel, they party, they try new things. They sacrifice and compromise on stuff. Things. Irrelevant really, in the big scheme of things. They swim with turtles and sting rays and lie in hammocks under swaying palm trees any day of the week. They might have had no sleep on an overnight passage or a windy, stormy night in the anchorage, but by morning they’ve arrived in a new bay or wake up to a bright warm sunshine.
You DO NOT need a lot of money to be a cruiser. There are boats out here that cost anywhere from USD$20,000 to $2,000,000. People live on budgets of USD$500 to $5,000 a month!!!
What you need to become a cruiser is a leap of faith, a willingness to ‘let go’ – of things and of the everyday ties of family and friends. You need to love freedom and adventure and a few challenges around every corner. The lifestyle gives you lots of pleasure and a fair helping of frustration. Oh, and lots of rum. In the Caribbean that is.
You must not be a planner, as every plan we have, from when to do laundry, to which country to travel to next and when, CHANGES. On a whim. Or during a chat with other cruisers over a game of Mexican Train and a rum punch.
But contrary to what my blog would have you believe, you do NOT have to be an extrovert or big socializer. In fact, many cruisers keep completely to themselves. Some prefer the lapping of the waves to the company of boisterous boaties, and that is perfectly acceptable. Some of us partiers appreciate the down days too!
I never knew how important the weather could be. To be a cruiser, you must be obsessed with the weather. Or at least it helps. Cruisers discuss storms and wind and tropical waves daily. Many times a day. 
We look at this site... alot.
 But if the weather is right, you can find yourself on the full moon, in the evening, rafted up in your dinghy, with 6 or more others, with snacks and drinks, drifting through the anchorage, cajoling the boats as you go, and marveling at the bright glowing orb in the sky. It beats sitting in front of reruns on cable TV, I’ve realised. 

There's the full moon! Just right of the beer...

It’s better than coming home after a stressful day in an office, with recirculated air, feelin frustrated and stagnated… even if you do get caught in the rain or soaked in salt water on your little journey.
I’ve realized I’m in exactly the right spot, even if that spot moves constantly, and knowing there are a million spots to anchor that could take us the rest of our days to discover, I’m in!!!!! 
One of our favourite uninhabited anchorages - Anse La Roche, Carriacou

Sunday, July 7, 2013

It's all about your degrees

Wave meets boat. Majestic, omnipotent undulation of ocean meets fiberglass, balsa wood, man made hopeful little craft. It floats. It rocks and twists along. The wave taps, slaps and then it repeats. There are millions before it and after it. And the boat will try with all it’s might – huge canvas sails and little motors, to beat its way across this little section of the mass of ocean surrounding it.
We’ve done three overnight passages, and some day sails. They begin to blend into one memory – the rough seas in the exposed Atlantic stretches, the dead calm and absence of wind on the leaside of each island we pass. I’ve gotten accustomed to tethering in, remembering not to jerk myself backwards as I’m attached to a particular clip and can’t get too far! I know all about sailing meals too – ie water and saltines or a scoffed down apple. It’s okay, the appetite is lulled at sea.

I’m getting into this. When we are an hour or so out of our destination bay I start wishing we could keep going. I wonder how far we could go before I missed land, before I would crave terra firma beneath my feet. I never though this feeling would hit me quite like this, but here I am, over a year of living aboard under my belt, and I am loving sailing. Loving the excitement of the departure from each bay, and the moment when sails are set, and we can cut the motors and feel the wind pick us up and take us along. And the journey begins…It’s like the hokey pokey once you feel it. I’ve jumped in. All limbs in.
Maybe I could cross an ocean like a ‘real sailor’! One day. But for now it’s all about your degrees. In latitude that is. We are one of the many little sailboats, tuned in to radio and internet for weather and wind reports, making the island hops down, down, down – to the ‘safety zone’ – or out of the hurricane belt. The season has begun.
Insurance companies are strict about it and cruisers are pretty serious too, when it comes to where you find yourself in the hurricane season.
12 degrees is the magic number. As we began our southward hopping in Antigua, I noted our GPS coordinates at over 16 degrees. And slowly I’ve been watching that number tick downward, through each trip. There’s been the interim stops in St. Lucia, The Saintes, Martinique, Carriacou, rum squalls with old and new cruiser friends, and finally the chat plotter struck 12. We’ve reached Grenada once again!
Rum squall in St Lucia with junior captain :)

This year we won’t be anchored in place though – we’ll go back up to Carriacou for the regatta and then down to Tobago and finally to Trinidad to eat doubles and rotis, oh, and get some work done on the boat.
Once all that is done, there is adventure. Aruba? Bonaire? Curacao? Maybe the wind will carry us further than we’ve been, but for now, we’ve reached 12 degrees and we are theoretically SAFE.
That’s not to say that we won’t be checking weather and wind forecasts between rum squalls though. This is the cruising life and ‘that’s what it’s all about’.