Sunday, December 20, 2015

The waves of Christmas

Forgive me blogger for I have sinned. It’s been 52 days since my last post.
I’ve been caught up. We’ve been relaunched – set free from the confines of a dusty boatyard and allowed to sail along a waterway that offers up town and city, each becoming warmer as we head further and further south. 
Our amazing friends in St Augustine have set us free, cut the cord. The farewells were part of our nomadic reality.

We’ve been hugging a coastline and clinging to it’s landlubber luxuries. Getting caught up in it’s busy motorway reality…
Seasons have changed. Holidays have come and gone. To some, it’s now winter.

Enjoying the lights and sand Christmas tree in West Palm Beach

Accosted by perfume wielding retail warriors, shoving by glossy displays of patent leather footwear, obese flesh in motorized lazy chairs, shrill echoes of the kids swooshing by below the adult faces, sneezes, sniffles, we wind our way through the mayhem of pre Christmas in a shopping mall.
Dry air and jolly carols pumped through the vents above, tinsel, trees, BOGO signs, we are drawn along with the crowds in a cinnamon scented coma.
On days like these I remember 20 years ago where this was the norm. When I headed into that, armed with gift lists. When my family lived close by. When I was part of it all. Days of stocking stuffers, huge turkey in the oven all day, a fresh new Christmas outfit for when the relatives arrived.
Nowadays, after 17 years worlds away in Ghana, I find myself nearly 4 years living on a boat. A boat that takes me to remote islands, that has taken me to the feet of the Statue of Liberty. A boat that now sits anchored outside a touristy little enclave south of Miami called Coconut Grove.
Here, the people go to malls with gift lists. They buy turkeys, they drag 8 foot tall Christmas trees home and decorate them.
It’s easy to forget that we are here in the mall to check the weather online. That the impending cold front is due to bring in high winds and choppy seas. That we may have to re-anchor the boat or at least let out more chain so we don’t drag into a pole and have a hole in the hull for Christmas.
It’s easy to forget, when in the mall, that for us there is no pine tree or even a turkey. That my galley oven can barely fit a small chicken. That there is no family close by and that the Christmas outfit will be flip flops and shorts. Maybe I’ll wear my new novelty light up Christmas earrings to the cruiser’s potluck on the 25th.
For now we head out of the mall as darkness closes in. We need to take two buses to get back to the dinghies and get across to the boats before it’s too late. Others in the mall are thinking of supper, of the weekend ahead. Of all the plans for Christmas. Me, I’m thinking this: We don’t have regulation navigation lights on the dinghy, just a flashlight and the Florida boat patrol police do not approve. We’ve heard they pull  little dinghies over and they hand out harsh fines. We need to get back before it’s too dark.

My new pants are tacky with dried salt water from the ride into shore earlier. My waterproof backpack is sealed up and ready. We arrive back at the dock and climb like awkward spiders across the dinghies in the watery parking lot. Flashlight on, and we’re off.
And since then two days have passed. Days where my view of shore bounces by 4 feet every two seconds. I hold on to everything I can as I bump my bruised hips along from one side of the boat to the other. The wind is blowing 25 knots and gusting to 32 knots. Shore life is a far off concept. Our dinghy bounces and flails wildly at the back of Shiloh, drenched with salt water, thrown by waves and tugged back violently by it’s ‘leash’. Heading toward land would mean a full salt water shower. Probably closer to a bath.
Days like this I can barely remember what it was like to live in a house where weather is something separated from your life. Where the winds don’t play a role in your plans for the day. Where the floor of your house isn’t moving 4 feet up and down and the view out your window is stationary.
Mantras about travel and expanding horizons run through my head over and over. They try hard to drown out any naysayers up there in my mind who may wonder what the hell I’m doing out here a mile from shore being thrown around for days at a time. 

But there is one little voice that remains strong and steady. It is strongest at Christmas. It’s the voice that makes me wish the world was small. Where I could see the faces of my niece and nephew on Christmas morning, begging to open their stockings, excited that Santa ate his cookies and drank his milk, tearing open presents, while the adults sit blurry eyed clinging to coffee cups, looking for strength to face this hectic day.
It’s those moments that travel can never replace. For us, home is where the anchor drops and that is a glorious indescribable freedom. But for a big part of my heart, it comes in waves of emotion: home is where that family is on Christmas morning by the tree.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A tale of cranes, cronies and pink bunnies

I’m elbow deep in a muddle of cables, wedged sideways, half under our saloon table, obeying the gruff instructions barked from outside at the base of the mast.
“Pull red!” “Now blue” “Pull the thin grey one. Not THAT thin grey one!” etc. It’s re-wiring 101 onboard today.

The men in hard hats and the massive crane came bright and early this morning and our mast has just been re-erected. Shiloh is almost a sailboat again!

A few weeks ago the reverse procedure happened. 

It’s late October and we’re still awaiting the delayed delivery of an inverter from Europe – of course we couldn’t source one here – that would be too easy! It’s late October – just letting that sink in, just a week over two months since Shiloh was hauled out for lightning repairs.
“We’ll only be here a few days” we told the yard manager, infinitely naïve and hopeful.
“Just put us near the lift. No need to take Shiloh to a back corner as we’ll be here such a short time.”
And so they did. We’ve had a front row vantage point watching all the other boats wheeled by and launched, day in, day out.
Until the morning came, about a week ago, when the familiar noise of the lift came a bit too close and our hazy morning minds perked up immediately. I jumped out of bed only to find the lift coming directly for us!
“It’s too soon! What are they doing?!” Convinced they’d lost the plot and come for the wrong boat. Before I knew it, our trusty mast that lay beside us was gone. Whisked away by three men with a wheelie contraption. The slings of the huge travel-lift looming ever nearer. 

Turns out the boat behind us needed moving and we were in the way. Our ‘short term stay’ had run out, and without warning the yard master decided it was time to send us for detention, to a dank corner, far far from electricity, water supply, washrooms, showers, relative civilization. And that is where we will stay until our inverter arrives, all the re-wiring is complete, and testing of batteries and new equipment is completed. Only then will we be allowed back into the water where we belong. This might be in a few days. It might be in a few weeks. JW told me to pick out a Christmas tree here…
But there is another side to all this trauma and chaos. The side where I lean on my Walmart cart and barrel forward, dodging Walmartians who scowl. I, on the other hand am almost giddy. Halloween is coming up and I’ve been focusing all efforts on getting JW to agree, and then put the components together for his debut as a pink bunny. I’ve been riding the free Cruiser Shuttle to Walmart every week for weeks and I spotted the full length adult front zip one-zies ages ago. Apart from the usual super heros, there were Minions and Cookie Monsters, but none compared to the pink bunny. It called out to me and I knew it had to be. Today I bought it while JW managed the mast back in the yard. I also bought a pink fluffy shower sponge – perfect tail. And little ribbons to tie to his flip flops. I can hardly wait. Once I stop laughing I know I’m gonna love him in this costume. I got a $10 space girl costume and a pink gun, so I am going to town as a ‘bunny-chasing-galactic-space-goddess’. That works right?
We’ve had our share of fun. No, really. We made it a Greek Fest, an underwhelming Oktoberfest, movies, yacht clubs, cruiser events, rooftop concerts at a winery and a free distillery tour - to name a few. And the circle of cronies in our quest to make the best of our time here grows wider each week. We’ve made new land lubber and cruising friends, met up with cruiser friends we knew years ago in Grenada and Trinidad, and friends of friends of friends who all know how to party. We know the deal of the day in this town – pick a day – I’ll tell you where the happy hour is the best.
At the awesome Corazon Theater - drinks and a movie!

At Ann O'Malleys

Never grow up - it's a trap!

The rugby armada

Old friends from Sea Schell - saw them last in Grenada 2013!

The GANG at White Lion

One day soon that lift is gonna come back for us. It’s gonna take us right over to the launch and Shiloh’s bottom is gonna be wet. We will be excited and nervous and thankful on that day.
But in the meantime we are going to walk the half mile to the dirty boatyard toilets with smiles or at least without too much grumbling. We’ve learned as we so often do, it’s the people you surround yourself with, and the perspective you have that make a can change the experiences you have.
The difference between adventure and ordeal is attitude. And a pink bunny suit doesn’t hurt.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Life on the hard - boatyard blues

I share my evening showers with a huge gangly cellar spider (commonly known as the daddy-long-legs), and an adorable frog, smaller than my fingernail. I’ve only seen them face to face once, and the frog bolted. 

Mother nature is interesting and complicated. So is a boatyard shower stall where germs are multiplying in the sweaty humidity and heaving toward you from every direction. You tip-toe within the 2x2ft stall in flip flops and try in vain to touch nothing, while finding a place to set down your bag, towel, soap, dirty clothes, new clothes. And you hope to come out of there cleaner.
Amidst this awkward ballet, I mustn’t step on the frog who hops around with a dilemma of his own, trying desperately to escape drowning in shampoo suds. The spider in her nest just waits. Patiently. Each night she is there in the same place on the wall in her complex webbing. I hope she’s been eating the mosquitos, who could use a culling!
This is my life. I’ve forgotten what it is to be out on the water, let alone sailing. A boat yard will suck that vibrancy, that zest for freedom right out of you. Temporarily that is.
We move between ‘the room’ as we affectionately call the captain’s lounge, and up the rickety ladder to the boat, and to the public toilets, and on special days, we walk into town.
The weeks are bleeding into one another in a gravel paved existence as we wait in the syrupy slow world of insurance claim procedures and contractors delays. We. Are. Still. Here.
This is ‘post-lightning strike drama (PLSD)’ and we are suffering through it.

But there is another side of life here. The chicken wing and cocktail specials, free distillery tours, live bands EVERYWHERE, quaint neighborhoods with haunted houses to walk through and devise creepy back stories and scenarios, parties at local land lubber friends’ houses, meet ups with cruiser friends staying in nearby towns, even the free cruiser shuttle to Walmart and other choice destinations!

We make the best of this place. You have to. This is home for now. It’s another wild adventure, just a bit different from swimming with stingrays and watching for squalls out on anchor.
Now we dodge raccoons in the boatyard garbage bins by night and watch TV for hurricane updates. We couch surf with the investment sharks on Shark Tank. It’s how we get through the days of frustrating e-mails with insurance brokers who misunderstand on purpose, and contractors who raise our hopes and then disappear for weeks.
Tomorrow we’ll be off to the local yacht club for their Friday night soiree and Saturday we’ll be watching the World Cup rugby on the TV here, courtesy of JW’s streaming genius. It’s not that bad being on land.
It's just a punch we're rolling with, spiders, frogs and all.

Monday, September 14, 2015

My sister is practically a body builder

My sister is practically a body builder. I live chicken wing to chicken wing fix. While she holds down a high power job, two awesome kids enrolled in everything from gymnastics to hockey, a hubby AND works out at the gym like mad, I can barely figure out where each week disappears. 

While I opted for a completely off-the-wall life, taking off to volunteer in Africa years ago, getting an expat job there along the way, and retiring at 42 to live on a sailboat, my sis is sticking it out in the ‘real’ world. A world I know almost nothing of.
She likes designer bags and high heels but she’s no airhead. She might look like Pamela Anderson on a night out on the town, but at heart, she is as down to earth as they come.  And smart. Very smart.
She’s got more than her fair share of charm and gusto too - she could sell meat to a butcher. In fact, she does sell meat. Like a boss.
She has always looked up to me – the big sis, the role model. But what for I’ll never know. I’m not the highly ambitious type. I enjoy bargain hunting in Walmart and I did live for 5 years in Africa quite happily on $200 a month. AND I was a mother of a 4 year old at the time. Some say I’m crazy. Maybe they’re right. Irresponsible, wayward, a drifter. But not my little sis.
She doesn’t see my lack of self control around fresh cut French fries or 3-for-$10 t-shirts. She thinks I’m great.
While she’s pumping big iron in a gym at 6am after prepping kiddies lunches, I’m sound asleep, only hours later rubbing the sleep from my eyes and wondering which bar has the best happy hour deal today.
She juggles a mortgage and temper tantrums. I helm a catamaran around Bahamian beaches and bays. And she thinks ‘I’ do something to admire.

Letter to my little sister:
You are a wonderful woman. You are far too hard on yourself and somehow somewhere along the line you came to believe you need to be superwoman. You are doing a great job.
But I love you behind all the muscles and the beauty and the promotions and the amazing kids you are raising. I love you for you. The pudgy blond baby I used to push around our 70’s shag carpet in a car seat/speed machine. Back then I told Mom that you were MY baby, so she should get pregnant again and have another one for herself.
You were determined even back then – to a fault. Holding your breath in the supermarket until you turned blue – if you didn’t get what you wanted. Your skills at moving your life in the direction you want have improved immensely over time. But I still see those eyes squeezed shut. That spirit has not changed. You are ambitious.
You are worth looking up to.
I not only love you with all my heart, I respect you. I have no idea where those genes came from - the dedication to a goal, the motivation to succeed, the positivity you bring to it all -  they missed me completely.
I am me, so very different. And you are you. 

I wish for you everything you want in this life. I wish this with every fibre of my being. But what I wish even more than that is for you to look within and see how amazing you are. And believe that. 
You have enriched my life and made it whole. I was an only child. A lonely child. You made it both a challenge and you brought the rewards. To this day I've never laughed so hard, until I am bursting, red faced, spewing, snorting REAL LAUGHTER as I do when I'm with you.
Thanks for being my little sis, and mostly thanks for being you.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pancakes not passports: southern hospitality for the maritime squatters

The captain’s lounge is an oasis. A sparsely furnished, brightly lit, air-conditioned haven, beyond which lies the wasteland of a boatyard.
Dust swirls down boat lined corridors in the furthest corners, where sailing dreams come to die. Up in the front where boats are in various stages of repair, muddy puddles create an obstacle course in the rough loose stone surface. Everything is a hazard. Multi-coloured extension cords criss-cross the ground like snakes playing Twister. Chemicals, paint fumes and fiberglass dust fill the stagnant humid air, mosquitos move in gangs, hiding in dark places and emerging as the sun sets. 
Our friend AlleyCat working on a new project in the yard

The only safe way to breathe in a boatyard!

Shiloh is here for some healing – replacement of her essential systems after the epic lightning strike. It takes time. There are insurance companies to deal with, surveyors, quotes, delays… For the crew it is not a pleasant visit. Nothing nice about clambering up and down a lean-to ladder to hobble across the yard for a shower or a pee. No fridge, no cooking in the mayhem of tools and wood shavings and the electronic graveyard strewn across all surfaces. By 7pm it’s 36 degrees celcius in the boat.
Shiloh's current mayhem

And this doesn't even consider the humidex factor!!!

But we are lucky. We are staying in a hotel by night. We can escape this industrial, miserable boat hospital and pretend we are tourists in St Augustine. Here to enjoy the history and the culture.
And culture we found. But not the type St Augustine hoped we’d find, with their upcoming 450th year celebrations and connections to the king of Spain.
No, we found the meth ravaged pancake eaters and fall-down-drunk biker chicks of ‘Debby’s’. We just can't get our heads around it, but pancakes for supper? It's a thing. Actually it's a thaaaaang.

It’s attached to the hotel and after a long day ‘in the yard’ we couldn’t be bothered to venture further. Our friendly waitress seated us in a torn up forest green vinyl booth and presented us with menus. JW noted the hole in his seat and the cheap prices and asked me if this was perhaps a government subsidized place, “like a soup kitchen maybe?”
He ordered something smothered in pudding-brown gravy, with scoops of distinctly institutional looking mashed potato.  

I made the quintessential mistake in a restaurant where syrup is the condiment of choice… I ordered the healthy option. I was informed that salmon could only be ordered medium well due to health concerns. I should have known. A sad plate of fishy sawdust arrived with little rocky pebbles that passed for brown rice and a few barely formed, mushy broccoli florets.

But the food paled in comparison to the clientele and our waitress who endeared herself to us right away. Must have been JW’s accent. Exotic as it is…
In her lilting syrupy drawl, she told us her name – her mother so loved the southern belles. ‘Crimson O’Mara’ inserted between regular first and last names. JW asked if her passport had all those names on it, to which she grinned from ear to ear and exclaimed,
“Passport?! I ain’t so privileged to have a passport! Ain’t never been outta Florida!” For us maritime squatters who move fluidly through borders, it's unfathomable.
Crimson O’Mara with the beautiful green eyes and brown jagged teeth then shared with us her basic life story. Pregnant at 15, which led to 3 more of the same, so that now at 30 years old she is the mother of 4. Works 2 jobs, lives in a tiny 2 bdrm apartment with hubby, kids AND her mama. Mama gets $500 a month as pension and spends $300 of that on a storage unit. Mama has ‘champagne tastes and beer pockets’ though and once bought a block of brie cheese! Crimson was so angry she (insert drawl) “threw it clear across the room!”

She was real, raw, sliced open and served with grits. She was the stuff of fiction yet here she was in the flesh – red polyester uniform, hair net and all. When we were leaving she said she enjoyed us. I couldn’t tell her how much we cherished her. She was at once our entertainment, and she tugged at our heartstrings with her vulnerability.
Back at the hotel the next morning “housekeeping!” rang out in a low husky voice. Immediately after that, two scrawny sickly pale guys, backward caps and sagging pants, burst in the door. All bushy eyebrowed and surly scowls, they scurried back out as quickly. We weren’t being robbed, though even after a few days of meeting our housekeeping crew in the mornings, I’m convinced the hotel is part of some ex-convict rehabilitation program.
We’ve changed hotels now, and restaurants too. But the Americans we meet are the same. From the Walmartians and Home Depot greeters to the fellow sailors and boatyard staff, they are all open and genuine, helpful and kind.We were even invited to speak (at a bar of course!) about our recent lightning strike by the local cruising sailors.
JW giving his talk on lightning

We are entertained despite our predicament. We are overfed if not well fed. We are missing life at sea but we are living a whole new and unexpected adventure.
They say a hurricane is coming now. We will cross all our fingers and toes that it swings offshore, but we may find ourselves amongst our new Floridian family, watching it hit from the windows of our temporary oasis.