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Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Lizards make another trip around the sun

I see a white sail
Skipping cross a blue bay
And I say Someday I will
I see a young man
strumming a green guitar
and I say Someday I will

I don’t have a plan
It's not that kind of thing
I'm not Martin Luther King
It's just sometimes I know
That's the way I'm suppose to go

"Someday I Will" Jimmy Buffett, Matt Betton

Something happened earlier this month, we started our third year of "Living the Dream"!  It was a Monday, just like any other day here in the Caribbean.  I moderated the morning cruisers net here in Carriacou, checked the latest tropical weather as it is the heart of "H" season, and it had been blowing like stink all weekend.  We ran our two engines the previous day due to squalls and high winds and at one point put them both in gear to take stress off our anchor chain in 40 knot winds and they made a terrible grinding noise so shut them down; we'll deal with that tomorrow.  A fellow cruiser who is far more experienced then we are said it sounded like bad engine mounts; great how many boat units is that? (1 boat unit = $1,000.00USD) On top of all of that, Jo was recovering from what we are pretty sure was Zika. (Jo is fully recovered but I seem to have it as I write this - kind of inevitable)  Yup, we're livin' da dream!  One of those Facebook share your memories things popped up from 14 years ago; really Facebook has been around that long?  It was a picture of Jo and me in Abaco where the dream live on a boat began.  Fourteen years, wow, that’s a long time ago and we just started year three of actually living aboard.  Of course the dream was always tempered with realities of family, job, and money but it was always present from that point on.  I remembered once at a memorial service for a friend, an acquaintance brought up, in the kind of small talk you engage in these sorts of things,  that he had heard about our dream and thought that was so exciting.  Jo said to me "I guess we had better go through with it now".  Not that we weren’t going to but there were those exerting pressure on us to stay on land, keep working, be there for the family, you know, that kind of stuff. I'm sure they were earnest in their concern and only wanted what they thought was the best for us but…  So as you know, it's well documented, we did it.  We sold most of our stuff; home, cars, possessions, etc. and we bought a boat; oh shit, we bought a boat, abandoned our responsibilities, and sailed off the edge of the earth.  Well made it to the Caribbean at least.

Dreams come with expectations and expectations come with realities.  Not to put too much of a fine point on it but we were clueless when we began this dream; maybe we still are.  I put together a logical plan of approach to it however.  We would charter some boats, I would take some sailing classes and get certain certifications. We would read blogs, books, magazines, whatever we could find.  Yup we would be prepared!  I follow a lot of different groups that have to do with sailing on Facebook and I enjoy reading the post that start "we have this dream…." , yup been there.  They are usually followed with a series of questions that can't really be answered because dreams have variables.  Jo is a member of Women Who Sail.  A very earnest group dedicated to supporting each other without male pontification!  She occasionally shares some posts with me and some have practical questions about the dream, like "what kind of toilet paper can I use, I mean I have my favorite".   Now this is not meant to be demeaning to the question asker, in fact, it shows more in-depth analysis of the dream than men seem to do.   We tend to be a "we'll figure it out once we are there" sort of group in general.  For the most part those who respond to both kinds of groups are supportive and offer advice from their point of view, leaving the original poster, the one with the new dream, to decipher and decide what opinions they want to hold on to, or more importantly what they want to share with their partner.  Then there are those who post, "I have this dream but my partner thinks I am nuts",  I'm not even going there.  We are lucky, we both share the dream, which is a good thing for the simple fact that if we didn't, we wouldn't still be out here, or out here together.  The thing is, no one can create or live your dream for you and be ready, dreams, like boats, are fickle.  

The dream is powerful in this one!  There is a French boat anchored near us here in our hurricane "time-out" box south of 12⁰ 40.00' North, or as we call it, Tyrell Bay, Carriacou W.I.  It's a very small boat, looks to be very basic.  There is a couple, maybe late 20's with a small child.  The boat is solid and the male spends his day working on the boat while the woman and child often go ashore.  They seem perfectly content with their dream and appear to have all they need.  There are others here with very large boats well appointed with generators, water makers, lots of room, and some even have air conditioning.  Oh that would be us, although we seldom run the AC when at anchor.  Same dream, well maybe, at least the living on a boat thing, the freedom thing.  We met an Italian sailor in St. Martin who was on an even smaller boat than the French boat.  Truthfully, I don't even know how it was still afloat but it had gotten him across the Atlantic ocean and now he needed to go back.  He had no GPS, a compass of dubious accuracy and no way to obtain an accurate weather report.  That's how we met him, he rowed over to see if we spoke Spanish or Italian (his two languages) of course we did not, but through his little English and hand signals we told him what we had heard on the morning net, then one morning, he was gone, sailed off in that very little boat across that very big ocean.  Did he make it?  Don't know, but I hope so.  Was that what his dream was when he first stepped on that little boat? We met another couple, we dubbed them "the kids" the year before in St. Martin, who had walked away from jobs in St. Thomas and figured they had enough money to buy a boat and sail for two years before they headed back to the "real world."  Last we heard they had taken jobs in St. Johns U.S.V.I, short of their two year plan.  Did that invalidate their dream somehow, or did realities alter the dream?  Don't know, but they are young and more flexible than us old farts.  We are boat friends with a couple most recently from Alaska.  He was a pilot in the Navy back in Vietnam, part of Air America and was part of St. Thomas back before there were massive charter companies and credit card captains.   Fascinating people with a very deep back-story.  Do they have a specific "dream" that brought them here, or are they more like a line in a Jimmy Buffett song:                              
                 Some of them go for the sailing
                 Brought by the lure of the sea
Trying to find what is ailing
living in the land of the free
Some of them are running from lovers
Leaving no forward address
Some of them are running tons of ganja
Some are running from the IRS.

Don't know, maybe.  There are many more boat and island friends we have met.  Each fascinating in their own way, each with their own reality, story, and dream.  Some have swallowed the hook and moved back to land, some are look at doing just that, at least part-time.  Some have found their one particular island, dropped the hook and haven't moved since.  Some have struck out across the big blue and are prowling the islands of the South Pacific or the western Caribbean.  They come and go from anchorages each following their own dreams and with the exception of making prudent judgments regarding weather are free to so.  Do they find what it is they are looking for?  Who says they have to be looking for anything. 

"To Dream the Impossible Dream"  See I know other songs than Buffett's.  You must be wondering what's our back story, what are we running from?  Well sorry to disappoint, no great mystery, no bodies left in the desert; although there were times.  No, we just decided to follow that dream, our dream.  To not only live the life Jimmy Buffet sings about but to, well I'm not sure;  that's the thing with dreams, you don't always remember all the details once you wake up.  Has this dream, our dream, been fulfilled?  Well in a way yes.  We did sell-it-all, buy a boat and sail away.  In another way no.  My dreams of crossing oceans and exploring the South Seas has been tempered with the realities of and commitments back home and what 30 days at sea might mean.   Does that mean that dream is dead?  I hope not, it just needs time.   Jo's dreams, well you have to ask her.  So here we are, year three of this "dream".  Will we make it to year four?  I have no way of knowing, but I think so. Is it perfect, does it meet expectations?  Well I am reminded of a story…  A fly fisherman died and went to what he thought was heaven.  On the first day there he was standing in a beautiful trout stream just enough breeze at his back, gently casting dry flies to rising trout and with each cast a hook-up.  After a while another fisherman wandered by.  He had been there a long time and told the same story.  Every day idyllic conditions, rising fish, hook-up after hook-up.  The new arrival exclaimed "wow this really is heaven".   The old timer paused, looked at the newbie and said, "what makes you think this is heaven"?  You see, I think our dream was just an outline, something to motivate us. In some ways it is better than I imagined, in some ways worse; like being a parent.  If it had met all the expectations, it might have been easier in some respects but what might we have missed and what satisfaction was gained from overcoming and dealing with the challenges.   As for the grinding noise in our transmissions that we thought might lead to an expensive repair:  turns out it was hard growth, barnacles, etc. that had made their way into the rubber bearing (cutlass bearing) which the prop (propeller) shaft goes through and which, along with the dripless bearing, keeps the sea water on the outside of the boat. A little heat applied and some tense moments while it ground its way out and we are back in business.  No boat units expended; at least for now!  Cause, well we sat in one place too long!  

Another boat just entered the anchorage and set to our starboard.  A French boat, there are a lot of French boats here.  They were somewhere else last night and for whatever reason they are here now.  That’s just how it goes, like the tide, boats  come and go, dreams live or die. For now our dream lives on.  Different than 14 years ago when it was conceived, or three years ago when it was born.  In many ways different than we had expected and when it gets too much we look to the West at sunset and the original Lighting Designer reminds us of how lucky we are. 

OneLove from your Lizards on Ice

Monday, May 30, 2016

Stranger Danger?

One of the greatest things about traveling are the constant new experiences you have and people you meet.  When we started cruising we were not antisocial rather very reserved.  New and unfamiliar situations were to be avoided at all costs.  Hey we were WASP's.  The problem with that is you miss out on a lot. Little by little we learned to escape our comfort zone and jump into new situations and cultures.  Things that would seem sketchy or potentially dangerous back in our past lives became new adventures.  Wandering around areas where we aren't sure where we are going or even speak the language are done more comfortably now. This is not to say we go blindly into every situation or country. There are several places where cruisers have recently been attacked a couple fatally.  We trust our instincts and if it doesn't feel right we leave. There is also a wide net of information regarding safety and security at we pay close attention to and bypass some lovely spots because of safety concerns.  We have never felt a need to be armed beyond my cutlass and we seldom are at shore late at night and we lock the boat and our dinghy.  In dealing with strangers we have lost the "stranger danger" mentality and instead look forward to who we might meet.   We have learned that being the first to say good morning (or appropriate time of day) always brings a warm response.  An attempt to order or communicate in the native language will bring smiles and appreciation, well except for the French Coast Guard.  Listening and not talking or complaining sits you apart from most Americans as well.  We have met some unique and wonderful people both on and off the water.  We always wave at a passing boat, be it dinghy or mega yacht, we even wave to powerboats, it's the Texas thing to do.  We have made some fast and great friends out on the water, but it's the ones on land who take you by surprise. 

This past weekend we took the ferry from the Isla de Culebra where we are anchored to the big island of Puerto Rico  Culebra is part of Puerto Rico and also referred to as being part of the Spanish Virgin Islands.  Other cruisers had told us how to catch the Pubilico ( bus/ van) to go to Walmart and  West Marine so we had an agenda for our adventure. I need to stop and inform you that the official language of Puerto Rico is Spanish, (which we speak only slightly better than French) not English and yes it's part of the USA, but most Puerto Ricans do speak some English.  We got off the ferry in the town of Fajardo to a mass of people and announcements in a language we do not speak.  After wandering around for a while looking for signs of the Pubilico we asked a cab driver if they would take us to Walmart (we had been warned most don't know West Marine).  They said no they were not available and told us to wait on the corner for the bus it will be by, eventually, we are on Puerto Rican time.  A little while later a guy in a brown van came by and asked if we needed a ride. I asked him if this was a bus, he said yes and would be back to get us.  After 30 minutes of waiting for him we figured this was not going to happen.  While waiting however we met a guy from the Bronx in NYC who's son was also getting no where on line trying to but ferry tickets so they could all go to the beach.  He and Jo talked about grandchildren I think while I looked for our mystery bus driver.  I later joined the conservation and trough the course of it I discovered he is a professor at Fordham University and he found out about my past academic career.  Like most people we meet from the upper 48 he was fascinated that we lived on a sailboat, just the two of us.  He had mentioned he went to Western Illinois University and was amazed I knew where that was.  We had a pleasant conversation while we waited for the Pubilico and he and his family for ferry tickets.  I don't know if when ever got on the ferry to go to the beach or not as we decided to walk up towards a busy street in search of a bus.  As we walked along it was not an area that inspired security but no one seemed threatening.  We passed a bar with several Puerto Rican men out front drinking beer.  Hey it's 5'clock somewhere right! We went on to a corner and looked lost as we waited.  One of the old men came up to us and asked us if we needed help in English much better an my nonexistent Spanish.  We explained what we were trying to do and he said he would help us get a bus.  Sure enough there was one down the street (we would never recognized it as such) and he waved it down.  He told the driver where we wanted to go but the driver wasn't going that way or was off duty or something that meant he wasn't going to be our ride.  While this was going on, a woman with two small children stopped in the street and asked if we needed a taxi. I said yes thinking she would call us one not that she would be the taxi but what the heck. At this point the old man who had been helping us went up to her and told her not to take advantage of us.  She shuffled her kids around, the baby started crying, we climbed in and off we went after we thanked our helper.  She spoke excellent English at a rate that equaled Jo's sister (very fast).  It was only when she spoke to her daughter in Spanish that the rate went into turbo drive.  She wove back and forth through back streets talking about her country, children's school, family business, etc. we had no idea where we were but had faith we would get where we were going.  Indeed, we got to Walmart and got suggestions on where to eat lunch and when we need to leave to get back to the ferry in time.  She gave us her card and said to call if we needed a ride.  I asked her how much for the ride and she said $10 or $5; I gave her $20 and agreed that would cover our ride back too and asked her to pick us up at 13:30 at Walmart. More than the Pubilico would have been but well worth it.  Oh yes I forgot to mention the family business, well besides owning several tow trucks they also worked as a collection agency and repossess cars. She was out tracking down delinquent cars to be repossessed when she stopped to be our taxi driver.   Yes, Janet Evanovich fans, we had met the Puerto Rican Stephanie Plum!

So be open to new experiences. Sometimes it's not stranger danger, sometimes it's stranger fascinating. 

One Love-One Blood from your Lizards on Ice.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Lizards One Year (more or less) Into This Adventure

So I guess it's time to write something.  Why?  Well I know my 10's of fans are rolling their eyes right now, but the why is because I don’t want to go do the laundry and am tired of boat chores.  Also, it has now been over a year since we started this adventure and I know there should be some reflection.  We moved on da boat 15 August 2014.  Hold on Newt, back up the turnip truck, it's now October 2015, that’s more than a year.  Well good, that high priced education you have is working but we be on 'island time' so time takes on different configurations.  I also turned 60 this past August and I have been told that's a big deal.  Well there was cake (thanks Dad & Kim) and cake is always good.  So here goes, one year into this adventure what have I learned.  I will let the other part of the team write her own reflection, if she so chooses, so please do not assume I speak for both of us (this is my disclaimer and escape clause for her more than me.)  Someone once said that 'the difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude' and a truer statement has never been stated.  Of course I could quote daughter #1 "I don’t have an attitude!"  yea, right.  I will say that maintaining a positive attitude is not always easy but rum (rhum for my French readers) does help but at 0600 it is often frowned on. So here we go:

What has this Lizard learned in the first year (in no particular order as that would take a level of organization that is incongruent with island time.)

1. So we decided to go sailing!  Often, usually when fighting with some piece of machinery or system broken on Caribbean Dream I will state (sometimes loudly) "I just wanted to go sailing!"  In reality we do very little sailing.  When going from one island to another island the wind is either too strong, too light, and always on the nose so we run the motor a lot.  Now besides the fuel costs there is the noise.  Two 57hp diesel engines make a lot of noise and the exhaust fumes are not always pleasant.  Then there was the dream of living totally off the grid.  My fellow cruisers feel free to laugh at this point.  I will say while not totally "off the grid," we do go days at a time without burning fuel. However, when the sailing gods deem we can sail and we do, and it's glorious, mostly.  On a recent run back from taking our friend home to Dominica when between the islands we had some glorious sails.  Easily making 8+ knots against the current with a heavily reefed sail plan. Then just to remind us of who's in charge, on come the engines when in the lee (the side the wind doesn't blow from) since the wind speed and direction there is always a pick-em.  I know the purist would just wait it out or ghost along at 2-3 knots and we have done some of that but I draw the line at heading backwards; yes that does happen.

What we really do is sit and wait.   Sometimes by choice, sometimes because the weather deems it so and the insurance company requires it, sometimes because we are waiting for a boat part or repairs to be done, and sometimes just because we want to.  When we were chartering boats before we became owners and boat-bums, each day we felt we needed to move to another anchorage or beach bar.  Now we have slowed down and sometimes we have decided to stay an extra day or week or month.  The upcoming season (when hurricanes go away) we have a variety of plans and the odds are we will do something else.  So if you want to come visit us prepare to be flexible, but I guarantee you won't need a coat or anything other than flip-flops.

2. Boats have a mean streak.  A fellow cruiser has a theory that a boat will punish its new owner; he may be right.  Ok, so one of the things I misjudged was just how much work this would be and how ill prepared I was.  A piece of advice, a theatre degree, even an MFA does you little good on a boat, except if you have a technical theatre degree and then you have a little knowledge.  OK so not all my former students will post those lists of how being a theatre major will help you become a CEO or President but to be a boat Captain or Pirate, not so much help, unless you pay attention in the tech classes and then again, maybe not.  It also helps if you grew up working on your own cars and developed a problem solving mentality, but the boat has never asked me for my motivation (theatre reference.)  Like most wanna-be cruisers I read all the magazines and blogs where people talked about this or that breakdown and I thought this is just embellishment to make the story more compelling; nope it wasn't, if anything they might have downplayed it.  We weren’t on Caribbean Dream a week and the starboard heads stopped working,  the water maker wouldn't work, the aft air conditioners wouldn’t work, most of the 110v outlets stopped working, and the list went on.  Now I often think back to an email one of the former owners sent us saying you will be totally overwhelmed once you get on board and man, she wasn’t kidding.  I do need to interject here that Glen and Angela (the former owners) were beyond gracious with their time and advice and there wasn’t a day that went by in the first few months that I didn’t email them; many, many thanks!

I adopted the attitude early on that I would just 'throw money' at the problem.  This is a good approach given two things.  One, you are somewhere where there are the parts and services you need, and two, you have an endless supply of money.  While in the BVI's and then St. Martin there were plenty of skilled people but the bank account buffer slowly shrank and it was time for me to get over the intimidation and try to fix it.   So I adopted a Buddhist-like attitude and approached each project in one of two ways.  First, if it was broken I couldn't break it any further and secondly, as long as the water stayed outside the boat we were going to be ok(ish.) So while I still called skilled people for those things I could really screw-up or hurt myself doing more than normal,  I am much more willing to tackle problems that come up.  Most recently our inverter/charger kept overheating. I tried putting fans on it, and took shelves out and even read the manual but no luck.  I was ready to call an electrician and I thought that there must be a cooling fan (not shown in the manual) in there so I went to take the cover off; of course it was not accessible.  I took off all the machine screws that the manual showed but the cover still would not come off.  So I thought about taking the unit out of the cabinet but thought better of it and tried to devise a work-around for the overheating.  When that wasn’t working I gave the cover one more try and with the assist of my iphone camera I found a very small hidden screw (not pictured) and thought "what the hell" took it off and damn, off came the cover.  Ok now what?  Well, determined the unit had two fans and one of them seemed to be working, one not.  OK sticking your finger in it to see if the fan is turning is not OSHA approved.  Simple fix, a new fan, except finding an exact match was near impossible.  I say near because instead of finding a 3-5/8" x 3-58" x 1" fan I found a 3.15" x 3.15" x 1" fan and with the help of zip-ties I channeled my inner MacGyver (Patron Saint of Boat Bums) and it worked.  Put the cover back on, minus the secret screw, and we were back in business.  The list of boat projects never shrinks so I am guaranteed of full employment.

3.  It ALL costs a lot more than you think it will.  From repairs you do to hire out, to clearing in and out of countries, to just grocery shopping any conception I had of the costs and time needed were misconceptions.  I thought of listing all the major expenses we have had in the first year then thought better of it.  The most frustrating part is they often come out of the blue.   We are about to have the boat hauled and worked on.  The bottom paint needs to be redone.  Thankfully that expense will be covered by the paint manufacturer since the paint of theirs we put on last year was part of a defective 350 gallon batch and after much back-and-forth from December 2014 to just last week they have agreed to pay for the redo.  The last job was over $4000 so not chump change.  We also had other projects on the wish list.  Some maintenance, some quality of life upgrades; but then…  I noticed the trampolines had a seam where the netting was pulling loose.  This is not good since you have to walk on or want to lay on the trampolines and if they give-way you get wet or if at sea potentially worse.  We called "Our Guy," you gotta have a guy, who replaced our fraying headsail UV cover to have a look.  He was to come out on a Sunday and on Tuesday he came and had a look… island time.  We talked about options when he noticed more bad spots and where the stitching was coming out.  So off come both tramps, leaving two big holes in the front of the boat but IF repairable it could be done over the weekend and replaced.  When he called two days later it was going to go one of two ways.  First, they were ahead of schedule and would be out tomorrow to lace the repaired tramps, or second….  Of course it was the second way and we are having him make us new trampolines at 5x the cost of the repair job but it's a safety issue and those take precedent.  Needless to say, the haul-out list will be altered.  In all fairness the tramps were 11 years old and it would need to be done at some point, but why couldn’t have waited until we were in St. Martin where is it cheaper.  Oh yea, see #2 about boats and mean streaks.   

4. It takes a lot longer than you expected.  From having boat work done to grocery shopping to taking out the trash it can consume the better part of a day.  In the BVI's you had to go to three stores to get the groceries you wanted/needed and the cab drivers see you as an never ending revenue stream.  In St. Thomas it was either a hike (it's a hike everywhere) or a bus ride and then once you had a cart full of groceries you had to find a gypsy cab from the Cost-U-Less back to the dinghy dock then the trip back to the boat (often a wet trip) then there is the trip back with all cardboard, which is outlawed on a boat, to throw it away before all the critters living in the cardboard decide to live on your boat.  Did I mention that taking the trash out could take an hour or more and you often have to pay to throw it away?  You know when at home you run out of an ingredient for dinner and you just run to the store, yup not on a boat.  It does simplify meal plans and as long as we have cheese and crackers and rum/wine/beer we have dinner.  On the upside I have lost 60lbs.  Here in Grenada you plan your week around shopping busses, Jenny's farmers market at your marina,  and two-for-one pizza night at the bar.  But then you are in someplace like St. Pierre Martinique where you can take your dinghy into town and grab a fresh-from -the-bakery baguette or to-die-for raisin pastry for breakfast, always with one for the ride back.  I won't even go into the difficulty finding ice!

Waiting on boat parts and technicians is a little more maddening because it requires you stay put often missing weather windows.  There was the new anchor chain that would be here in 10 days that showed up 3-4 weeks later or the repair person for your water maker who disappeared off the grid for days at a time, and then there was the good folks repairing my autopilot who found something else wrong and fixed it but forgot to fix the original problem.  Then there are the government/religious holidays.  Want to go to a French Island, forget about May, as all but a scant few days are public holidays and very little gets done.  We started to think that our arrival in port was the trigger for a holiday.  Mostly it is just inconvenient  unless you have to clear in to the country in which case you must pay an 'overtime' fee.  But we have learned to adapt and slow down and that is a good thing, well unless you are out of ice for your sundowner.

5. Missed Communications. Communicating with home is hard sometimes and expensive all times.  It's often said that a cruiser will pick his/her anchorage based on the quality of the wifi signal.  I admit riding around in the dinghy with my iPhone looking for a free signal I can pick up.  When we started this adventure, we wanted to be able to communicate with our daughters and especially be able to Skype our son at least once a week.  While we were in the USVIs we were able to use my iPhone as a hotspot and pretty much enjoyed internet only dictated by the amount of power in the device.  While at the dock in Tortola they provided Wifi for those renting space but it was spotty and not strong enough to Skype.  Now, both of us grew up on rotary dial phones and although we enjoy technology we don't always understand it, so in terms of what was available to us our knowledge going into this was somewhat behind the curve.  We knew there were satellite phones that cost more than we had to buy and even more to operate.  Very basic email via an SSB Radio and Proctor Modem (which we didn’t have), something called a myfi, and wifi booster antennas with names like Rogue Wave and Bad Boy.  The one constant in them all was they all cost money and the boat had a firm hold on our wallet.  Once we headed off from the USVI our options became even more expensive.  We did buy a pay as you go phone and a myfi unit and now have a collection of sim cards from every island nation; why can't there just be one??   After paying outrageous international fees to AT&T even with their international plan, when back in the US this past August switched to T-Mobile who has a much better deal on international calls (.20 a min from here as opposed to $1.00, and unlimited texts).  We bought and figured out how to use a wifi booster antenna and router for the boat that allows us to connect to the interweb and bring you these enlightening posts, well as long as we can find a signal or buy service from HotHotHot Spot or Cruisers Wifi.  We know which bars have not only the cheapest beer at happy hour but also the best free Wifi, and have sat in a McDonald's in Martinique nursing a coke to use their Wifi.  Is it perfect, no.  Does it always work, no, but we are adapting and most weeks get to Skype Big E and I always have a reason to go to happy hour.

6. You Can't Always Get What You Want.   We belong to a lot of different sailing bulletin boards and Facebook groups.  Often these are a good source of information and sometimes they reassure that, hey you might be a newbie but some people should have never left home.  From complaining about the brand of toilet paper they are not able to find, to this or that brand of food in the market.  One of the most frequent questions I got when back home was "but what do you eat?" and although I wanted to respond, food, I would remind them people eat everywhere in the world.  If you want to have your favorite American brand of some foods, you can usually find it, for a price, at one supermarket or the other; be prepared to travel around looking.  We like pretzels often with our evening libation, so when we choose to have them we know we will pay upwards of $12EC a bag for them (sometimes a lot more.)  They are a treat, not a staple like back on land.  If you adapt to what the locals eat it is often much fresher and always cheaper, although I have not adapted to salt-fish yet.  The other thing we have learned is that if you see it, and you want it, then buy it right then because it might not be there next time if ever again.  Since they don't import foods with GMOs or use chemicals on their crops everything is smaller, no 20 pound chickens, but they are better tasting and better for you.  The real adventure begins in the French Islands where the labels of most foods are, you guessed it, in French, which we don't speak.  We guess a lot and look at the pictures and have learned some key words but sometimes I do get a surprise.  Like in St. Martin's when we bought what looked like Chinese water dumplings so I prepared as if it were.  I don't know what it was but it weren’t dumplings.  However it is all worth it for the cheap French wine, cheese, and fresh baguettes.  The thing is we adapt, and when we want pretzels we buy pretzels or tortilla chips.  As for toilet paper, well there is something else that everyone does in the world beside eating so no worry mate.

8. We Have Nothing to Fear Except…. I will admit it, I get scared at times, the sea and weather gets my attention and I know that if it didn’t I could be seriously injured or worse.  Jo's biggest fear is what if I become incapacitated, what does she do then?  Mine is what if she goes overboard while on watch and because of my hearing don’t hear her?  It's serious stuff so we take precautions like wearing PFD's and harness ourselves to the boat.  We are very careful!

When, on a recent trip to take a friend to Dominica in the middle of hurricane season after a tropical storm devastated the island where he lives and his wife was stuck there without him, we were facing 25-30 knot winds, 12' seas, and water in the cockpit.  It got my attention.  It is said there are no atheists in foxholes, there are none at sea either.  We also stayed in the USVIs longer than we might have wanted to until we were ready to head out into the night.  I know many folks that never leave the dock because of "what might happen."  When we both finally admitted it "might not," we left.  Before we started we were worried about our abilities to handle every situation that came up.  Are we over that? I hope not because I never want to become complacent.  We worried that the boat would break-up and leave up us clinging to wreckage hoping our EPIRB worked.  We quickly learned that our boat is tougher than we are.  We read about and worried about crime in the 3rd World.  So far we have not fallen victim to crime but mostly it is theft so we adopted the theory of lock it or lose it.   As for violent crime, well it does happen, but all you need to do is look at the recent mass shootings in my country or horrors in others and I like our odds.  No, fear is designed to keep you in place and while we are careful and respect the forces of nature and pick our weather windows carefully we try not to let fear dictate our lives.  There are places that it is not safe for cruisers to go, we don't go there.  We follow several sites that report crimes against cruisers and we make note and alter plans if necessary.  We understand that even though we live on a teachers' pension, and by the standards of back home we are not rich, compared to everywhere we go we are indeed wealthy, so we are respectful of that and help out by using locals and supporting the local economy and vendors every chance.  As for pirates, well we are as close to Venezuela as we plan to get and the only ones we have seen are a few cab drivers in the BVI and some ship chandleries.   If we had never left our safe anchorage we never would have experienced the beauty of a star filled sky at night or a pod of dolphins playing in our wake, or experienced the satisfaction of arriving in a distant harbor after all night at sea.  Yup I'm still afraid at times but I have learned to embrace that fear not be debilitated by it.

9. Other things that need no explanation:

1. Naps are good; any parent of a toddler or cruiser can tell you that
2. It's not always going to be fun; sometimes the beer is warm or you are out of ice.
3. You're going to get wet, especially when you don't want to.
4. As Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett taught us it's 5'oclock somewhere. Beer, not just for breakfast anymore!
5. Watching the lunar eclipse of a super moon  from the deck of your boat is unparalleled and indescribable
6. The world does not revolve around you or where you come from or what you believe; it never did!
7. Cruisers will always help other cruisers whether in danger, needing assistance with fixing their boat, or getting in or out of the dinghy after too much #4
8. A bad day on a boat is better than a good day at work (ok I stole that)
9. There are no words to describe watching the sun and moon set and rise or the blanket of stars when at sea on a clear night.
10. Every day is different and holds something magical if you look for it
11. I miss my children and granddaughter more than I could ever describe
12. It IS the humidity!
13. Trust your instincts
14. Being together with your love 24/7 in a small sailboat takes some getting used to, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.   

OK you suffered enough and it's time for more wine and the sun is about to set.  How about a Green Flash!

One Love - One Blood, from your Lizards on Ice both on and living the Caribbean Dream

Friday, March 13, 2015

Part 17: Top Ten List of Things That Are Great about being on a boat and living the nomadic life

It has been brought to my attention by my editor that my recent blog postings might be "scaring off" family and friends from the sailing life at the least and feeling we are in mortal danger at the worst.  This is NOT the case.  Yes we do get bumps and bruises, and it is not all palm trees (although there are few places we have been without palm trees) and rum punches (again rum punch is pretty much everywhere.)  As for it being dangerous, well statistically my former job in tech theatre was far more dangerous than this.  Here we often can control, to an extent, the "danger" by making wise choices.  For example, driving on ice, very dangerous.  Living and sailing in the tropics we have avoided that danger this winter, how about you?  Storms!  Well come May we will be heading south to another set of lovely  islands complete with palm trees and rum punches to 'suffer' through the storm season.   For smaller storms we stay put on our new, safe oversized anchor or snug in a marina until the storm passes or we get ready to move on.  As for scrapes and bruises, well trust me I got plenty living on land and working in the theatre. But you still might need further convincing that this is NOT a miserable existence so in homage to David Letterman I have come up with a:

Top Ten List of Things That Are Great about being on a boat and living the nomadic life
we have CHOSEN.

Number 10: Da Boat.

Ok, I shouldn’t have to say any more but you know I will.  We live on a sail boat!  Not sail one around for the weekend and go back to our condo/house, the boat is our world.  Like your home on land (I address this to those on land because those living on boats already get it) our home on water is our pride and joy as well as our pain in the you know where.  She is not the biggest girl in the anchorage by far but she's not the smallest.  She's not the fastest but she goes as fast as we want.  There are things that aren't ideal but I dare say there are things about your dirt located home that aren't ideal.  What she is, is: safe, mobile, and represents the freedom to move whenever we wish.  Neighbors too noisy, move if you want.  Anchorage too rough, move somewhere else.  Rum or beer at the beach bar a little warm or the cheeseburgers not as good as you wished, well you get the idea. This is my idea of a mobile home. The other thing about our boat is that she is damn good looking!  She is sleek comfortable and has just enough projects for me to keep me as busy as I want to be.  The other thing great thing about our boat, well she allows us to live, while not completely off the grid, very eco-friendly.  We burn very little diesel and are taking steps as budget allows to use even less by upgrading our batteries and adding more solar as the cruising kitty (bank funds) allow.  We walk or take public transportation almost everywhere and only when necessary because of the amount of provisions we have, take a taxi.  Unless we have to, we sail which is kinder to the environment and the cruising kitty.  It's not camping by any stretch of the imagination.  We have ice and cold beer and make our own water so we can take showers whenever we want.  We mostly hand-wash and line dry the few clothes we choose to wear and except when trapped in a marina without a breeze our air conditioning is provided by open hatches and steady trade winds.  Yes she moves under us and we have to be in tune with our environment and adapt but did I mention we live on a sailboat!

Pictures of S/V Caribbean Dream

Number 9:  Location, Location, Location!

Isn't that what every realtor will tell you? My friend Kyle who owns Mountain Hideaway back in Lubbock TX (my fly fishing pusher) once told me trout don't live in ugly places, and he is right.  They also don't live in warm places so I now fly fish for other species.  Now I can't say everywhere poses idyllic beauty but if not, sail on to another location (see #10) so we tend not to live in ugly places.  We live in an ever changing environment that constantly amazes us.  From seaplanes that take off a few hundred feet from us to all ships anchored next to us it's amazing.  Some days there are 20' sailboats that you wonder how they made it across an ocean in that and some days mega motor yachts 245' long are our neighbors.   

For me I think a hot dusty boat yard is beautiful but for most people gin clear blue water and swaying palms fit their ideal description; yup that’s our location.   Now in all honesty we have only sailed the Abaco's in the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands but so far so beautiful.  There are more shades of blue than in your paint tray and the sun reflecting off the different bottom surfaces means those shades of blue are constantly changing.  The green of the hills and the foliage goes from intense green to the bright yellow green.  There are the rain forests of western St. Croix (STX) that are in stark contrast to the semi-arid landscape of eastern STX; all dictated by the constant Trade Winds.  Sunrises and Sunsets are provided by the Original Lighting Designer and like snowflakes, no two are ever the same and most evenings we pause to appreciate the sun sinking below the horizon often with the aptly named 'sundowner' beverage in hand.  The wind sings different tunes through your rigging and the water warns you of danger by its turmoil or lulls you to sleep by its gentle rocking.  The water can also soak you to the bone when it breaks over the bow of your boat or dinghy and while not always welcomed it beats being blanketed with snow.  Each town has its own distinct architecture and character.  

Where we are currently anchored in St. Thomas (STT), there is a strong Danish influence likewise in Christiansted and Frederiksted in STX.  There are your beach bars with their sandy floors and structures made up of whatever floated up onto the beach.  There are the ruins of the past, a darker part of our history where men sold other men to work sugar plantations.  There are the ruins of dreams and plans that have been consumed by the landscape.  Now it is the Third World down here so there is poverty, a lot of poverty, so it all isn't right out of the travel brochure but it isn't a bleak as you might imagine either.  There are your big luxury themed resorts and posh private islands to your small and funky boutique hotels and B&B's.  Hint: go small and funky!  And then there is the weather.  Yes it is hot in the summer but it's also hot in the winter, well warm but it doesn't vary much.  Right now it's March and while the water is a little cooler that in the summer (more about that in #6) I still wear shorts and a t-shirt if any shirt every day.  We seek out shade not so much to escape the sun but to escape the sunburn.

Yup, the realtors are right, it's Location, Location, Location!

Maho Bay St. John
Look to the Rainbow

Seems every day a rainbow, this one in Long Bay St. Thomas

The Queen Came to town on Boxing Day

S/V Staid Amsterdam
Seaplane off the stern of S/V Mystic

Three Pretty Girls
Washington Estate St. Croix

Washington Estate St. Croix

Washington Estate St. Croix
Sunset from the Original Lighting Designer

Another Sunset from the Original Lighting Designer

Anchored next to Eric Claptons (former) boat

Maho Bay St. John

Far East End of St. Croix

Morning has broken at Buck Island St. Croix

Number 8: New People and Cultures

In this one I am not talking about fellow cruisers and sailors, that comes later and you might want to place your bets of which number it possesses.  No, I am talking about the people who inhabit the islands, Da Natives  Mon.  Now like the USA the indigenous peoples are few and far between and most of us are immigrants legal or illegal.  In the Carib, there is a blend of Europeans- mostly Danes, French, and English- with those from the USA as latecomers to the party. 

OK, I need to take an arrogance and ignorance break here and hopefully save some of you from embarrassment.   Those of us from the 50 states and various territories that comprise the United States of America and outlying territories you are not the ONLY Americans.  If you are in Panama for example and someone asks you where you are from, if you answer 'America' you might get a chilly response or one in which you are informed that so are they, from America.  So even if you have the new and improved version of history taught in schools understand that the USA is part of the American experience shared with neighbors to the north and all the way down to Cape Horn.     

Back to our little story.  The other group of people are comprised of the descendents of those displaced by the Europeans who came here and those brought against their will.  There are also a good number of people from Latin American countries, especially Puerto Rico.  In the Bahamas, there are a good number of English descendents who left what was to become the USA before and during the Revolution in support of England.  Well, it's all very confusing and James Michener I am sure goes into great detail in his novel  "The Caribbean,"   my point being people are different down here.  Customs are different and while most speak a version of English, there are local dialects that will leave you confused and amazed.  For the most part the people are friendly and helpful although there is some racism (black towards minority whites) it is not prevalent and don’t ever fool yourself that it gives you a taste of what Blacks in our country experienced, it's not even close.  The best advice we got was from a person who lives down here and does the briefings for one of the charter companies; he told us to always start by saying hello or good morning/day even if you are ordering food.  When we are taking the public transport, the Safari Bus here in  STT there will be a mix of school children, locals, cruisers, and confused cruise ship passengers and crew who wander on, almost every adult local (not as much with the younger ones) will get on with a Good Morning, Good Morning and your response is Good Morning; well of course not morning if its afternoon.  Since I never know what time it is I opt for Good Day which seems to work.  It is amazing how much better any service or acceptance is when you start with a greeting instead of a demand or request, or silence.  Other local customs can be a bit more confusing.  At the marina we were moored at in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) the restrooms seemed to be treated as unisex by the locals, I was not so brave.  There is a lot of car horn honking here and its seldom a warning but rather a greeting to others.  As a pedestrian you must adopt the attitude that you do not have the right of way; ever! Above All, remember it is not YOUR island!  You travel to experience different ways of doing things so don't expect it to be like home.  Yes it can be frustrating but it usually isn't the end of the world, just a new one so slow down, breathe, relax, enjoy, and remember Evy Tin Kewl Mon!

Number 7: Exotic Food; Or Not

We quickly learned two lessons about food.  First it is far more expensive than we were used to and second it can be strange and different looking.  Of course there are hundreds of places to get a cheeseburger and strangely enough they are all "the" cheeseburger in paradise.  Most are pretty good which might have a lot to do with where you eat them (see #9) and some are paradise lost.  We have had good luck going to places the locals go, many having no names posted and we found by accident.  We stumbled on to a bakery in STT while trying to cash a check and discovered apple strudel that keeps us coming back.  While in the BVI, we discovered a BBQ food truck that had the locals lining up before it opened and that was often our meal for the day.  They always had chicken (dark meat, not Jo's favorite) or ribs (Jo's favorite) and we always seemed to miss when there was swordfish and never tried the oxtail soup.  We will often just ask a local where they like to eat and go there.  If the place is all filled with white people we shy away.  We found good Chinese in the TuTu Mall in STT and there is even pizza served out of the back of a boat anchored in Christmas Cove in the USVI.  Our rule when traveling is never eat somewhere you can eat back home.  Pretty easy here since the only 4 chains we have seen are all in STT and are comprised of KFC, Wendy's, McDonalds, and Subway.  Of those, with the exception of KFC there are only one or two franchises. 

We haven't been brave enough to buy fish off the back of a truck but the avocados we have found in the famers' market in STT are the size of a softball and beyond delicious.  There are things we don't recognize so we often ask and there are things we don't particularly care for; dumb bread comes to mind.   I have written about how going to the grocery store can be an all day affair but it can also be an exercise in culinary adaptation.  Remember, almost everything gets brought to your island by a boat so depending on when you go to the market will dictate availability and freshness and price.  If you have to have your familiar brand names from back home you can often find them but they might cost you twice as much as the same thing from the Dominican Republic or Australia.   We get butter (not margarine, stop eating that crap) from New Zeeland and strawberry preserves from France on local bread.  Beer is expensive and soda pop even more expensive but rum is relatively cheap.  We seldom buy bottle water because we make our own from seawater (see #10 Da Boat.)   We don't eat a lot of red meat (besides the cheeseburgers that often call our, ok my name and every time they do the Veggie Tales Cheeseburger Song pops into my head (<if you know it then you know>) but occasionally we will buy a small steak and grill it.  We do make use of our pressure cooker to make a killer BBQ pulled pork from otherwise unidentifiable cuts of pork.    There are other unidentifiable cuts of meat(?) in the market along with something called salt-fish (I think its Danish) that we have yet to try but we may get there.  Recently in STT at the Cost U Less there was a whole previously frozen pig for sale; I was told it was a good price, we passed. The greatest thing about the food down here is that foods containing GMO's are avoidable and once we leave the USVI many island nations forbid them, so take that Monsanto!  There are plenty of free-ranged  chickens if you can catch them and many different fruits and vegetables to try; just make sure you wash them very well. 

Yes, we could eat all US brands and eat at the handful of franchise fast food restaurants but we could also be doing this adventure on a cruise ship.  We have both lost weight, how much, we don't know, don't care.  I need to check my blood pressure to confirm but I am sure it is mostly down.  All of which is a combination of lifestyle and different eating.  I must admit that we found $2 a bag taco chips at K Mart so we haven't been totally off the junk.  Hey we're from Texas, chips and guacamole are a birthright, even if we weren't born there.  When it comes right down to it, people eat everywhere in the world so they will be food.  You might not recognize it but its food so; Bon' Appetit

Number 6: World's Biggest Swimming Pool

OK so for some of you the thought of swimming in the ocean cues the Jaw's soundtrack in your head but we have yet to see a shark in the Caribbean.  That doesn't mean they are not here, they just don't seem to be interested in us.  The Bahamas are a different story but more on that later.  For the most part, wherever we are anchored or on a mooring ball the pool is off the back step of our home.  The few exceptions being dirty marinas where you rarely swim.  The underwater world is incredible and all you need is a snorkel mask and maybe fins to explore it.  I scuba dive a little, Jo does not, but we both love to snorkel and even if you stay in one place the world below you keeps moving by and changing.  It's salt water so you are more buoyant so you can just float along and although not "bathtub" warm even here in the middle of Caribbean winter it is quite refreshing.  During the summer the water temp rises some but there is nothing more refreshing than at the end of the day to jump in the ocean and cool off.  We will often tie a float (usually a fender) on a line off the back platform so if there is any current we don't want to work against we can just hold on and float there; sometimes with adult beverage in hand.  If there is no current we grab a couple of swim noodles and, you got it float.  We can even choose to bathe in mother ocean; it's called a Joy bath after the Joy dishwashing detergent you use.  You see, Joy sudses up in saltwater (other soaps do not) so you jump into the ocean, climb out via the handy swim ladder, suds up then jump back in to do your first rinse.  After you are done swimming/bathing you get out again and rinse off with fresh water at the outdoor shower.  Regardless of whether you choose a Joy bath or not you always rinse off after you are in saltwater before you go in the boat since saltwater never really dries and you really want to keep it and any gritty sand out of the boat. See, easy as can be! 

Creatures in the ocean.  Yes, there are and often they are as curious about you as you are about them and with rare exception they are more afraid of you that you of them.  There are creatures you don't even know are creatures, I speak of coral.  It might just look like a rock or a plant to you but it is a complicated organism that is critical to maintaining the health of the ocean.  Sailors are a mixed lot when it comes to their politics but when it comes to the health of the coral reefs we are all agreed, if they die, the ocean dies; and they are dying; and yes, human-assisted climate change is partially to blame.  Ok off my short soap box and back into the water.  On to avoiding: with toothy underwater creatures or the jellies this just takes common sense.  Don't bleed in the ocean yourself or spear a fish and not get it out of the water directly.  Don't wear shiny silver jewelry, especially if it dangles as this looks to a Barracuda a lot like lunch.  Other things we avoid, swimming at night as this is when a lot of feeding appears to be going on.  The first time we were in Caneel Bay on St. John (STJ) we kept hearing splashing off the back of the boat one evening long after the sun went down.  By the time we looked around whatever caused the commotion had ceased.  After it had happened a few more times we got out a flashlight and shined it on the water only to see dozens of amber eyes.  Upon closer observation we saw the very large silver bodies that accompanied the eyes.  Seems a group of Tarpon were attracted by the light from our cockpit that was spilling onto the water attracting smaller fish that the Tarpon seemed to enjoy as their dinner.  There's always a bigger fish!  Also, if the locals tell you it is not safe to swim in the water because of X Y or Z, don’t swim in the water.   In the Bahamas there are a lot of sharks, and the industry that centers around feeding them just so tourist divers can swim among them is very popular.  To my thinking this is effin nuts!  Sharks associate people with food, ergo  people bring food, ergo if people don't bring food then people must be food.  See, it's a slippery slope.  The number of shark fatalities and attacks is very small compared to the number of attacks on people by land based animals but they do make better TV.  Bottom line, situational awareness and don't do something stupid, ok!  Sometimes the life in the water jumps out of the water.  On a crossing to STX you will see hundreds of flying fish; yes they really do have wings.  They will fly hundreds of yards across the water to escape a bigger fish that wants to make them their dinner.  We have yet to see pods of dolphins swimming along the boat or whales breaching, but I did have a Ray jump out of the water chasing a smaller fish that had jumped seconds before.  This all happened maybe 2m from the front of our dinghy while we were heading into shore; yes it was awesome! 

Then there is the water clarity.  Except in crowded harbors the water is so clear that you can see the bottom even in the deepest of anchorages.  The color of the water represents infinite shades of blue.  As you head out towards deeper water the blue gets deeper and richer than I can describe.  In the shallower areas the blues change from deep to light to cyan and every hue between.  The water warns you of dangers by it color.  If its brown or greenish that means coral heads that can rip a hole in your boat.  If its breaking more in one area than where you are it is a sure sign there is a reef or rocks there so stay away.  Yes it is a great swimming pool we live on and the greatest thing is I don't have to vacuum it every week. Oh and BTW, it's ok to pee in the ocean, not in your neighbors' swimming pool.

Fifty Shades of Blue (Give or Take) and a creature who lives in them

Thats' 15' down and you see the bottom

swimming around Da Boat


Swimming in the BVI

Swimming in the BVI

Swimming in the BVI

The Water of the Bahamas

Deep Blue Sea!

The Water of the Bahamas

Number 5: Sex IS Better On A Boat

OK so my editor rolled her eyes on this one and I am sure my daughters have covered their eyes but yes, sex is better on a boat and sailors do make better lovers.  I mean it was on the interweb so it must be true:

Ok so it was an Aprils Fool's article but my contention is that it is the truth disguised as an April Fool's joke.  That's my story and I am sticking to it!

 Number 4: Self Reliance

There are no plumbers at sea; or mechanics, or electricians, seamstresses, doctors, or countless others you might need to keep going unless you bring them along.  That can make for a very long and expensive crew manifest.  I know there are many 'official' patron saints of sailors but one unofficial one has to be MacGyver.  His ability to take a piece of string, chewing gum and a bobby pin and make a Buick is an inspiration to us all who work on boats.  A couple of entries ago I wrote about boat projects and maintenance and since there is yet to be a self-maintaining boat on the market those chores continue to fill a small or large part of my day.  When we first came on the boat all of it was overwhelming, but little by little, project by project it is less so.  Notice I didn't say easier.  You become creative, whether on a sewing project, a plumbing leak, or a broken spring on one of your engines (all real things on CD). You read a lot of manuals and ask a lot of questions and get a lot of advice that often leaves you more confused.  Ask three sailors about batteries and you will get five different answers.  Anchors, nope, it's safer to discuss politics or religion.  Several discussions go like this:  "ok, so if we take that piece of line and splice it around that washer we can……"   You get the point.  This is where being out of technical theatre helps, it's what we did all the time.  In fact theatre and sailing are closely linked.  The first theatre riggers were sailors and many of the terms used backstage came off the tall ships; pin rail for example.  Every time we come up with a solution or master a new skill we build our confidence.  Now I must say it is easier for sailors today than even 20 years ago, especially sailors with a good wifi signal.  I needed to change the fuel filters (there are two on each engine that I know about) for the two Yanmar diesel auxiliary engines on CD.  There were two things I know, 1. Where they are located 2. If I screwed it up it would be bad; hello Mr. Google!  Yes a quick computer search for my primary Racor filter and I had a You Tube of my exact unit there for me to watch.  Still intimidated by the project I dove in and guess what, the engines started.  Turns out these Racor filters were very dirty so I decided to then change the secondary filters located on the engines themselves.  This is trickier since the next stop is the engine itself and any contaminate (mainly water) or air introduced into the system and all my hard work on the Racor's would be for naught.  Ok so back to my friend Mr. Google, but guess what nothing that looked like my engine model so I went and took pictures with my trusty iPhone6 of the parts involved; see, you have to use a pump to pump the air out whilst pumping the fuel in and 'turn me' or 'pump here' wasn't labeled anywhere.  Then through the magic of the interweb and Facebook I posted my questions and pictures on an owners group of our manufacturer and I got two different versions of how to do it, one with pictures and arrows with a paragraph (not on the back <again if you know you know>) describing the process.  Once the motion of the ocean (not related to #5) calmed down I decided to tackle it and guess what, it didn't work; hmmm.  A quick call to my buddy John on S/V Marilyn and he dinghied over and showed me what I did wrong and we got the port engine working and then after he left I did starboard.  "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." It was while working on the starboard engine I noticed a spring dangling and figured it was not a good thing so looked around, found where it had broken off and with string, chewing gum, and a bobby pin….no, no, a trip to Ace Hardware and I was able to find something close that I could modify to work.  I still have no idea what the spring does but it is there to do it now.  Oil changes are pretty straight forward  and happen every 100 hours for the engines and 200 hours for the generator, why, well because "a diesel loves its oil, like a sailor loves his rum, squirt."

One of the more baffling things to me when I first considered running off to sea was how do I know where I am?  Are there street signs?  Well yes there are my son, they are called the stars.  Well forget that, I have trouble keeping the names of my children straight, let along billions and billions of stars well except for the one really big one, the sun.  If all else fails I know it rises in the east and sets in the west and from there north and south are just 90 degrees away.  Yes I really want to learn celestial navigation but damn, GPS makes it so easy.  Yes sailors today have that part easier but the prudent ones still have paper chart backups and remember the sun rises in the east.   As for getting from point A to B, well if we get lost we can "just pull over and ask directions."  No we can't but where we are in the Caribbean- with a few exceptions- you can see the next island you are heading to, and,  as long as your chart plotter(s) are working, also see it electronically.   The chart plotter is like your Garmin or TomTom device you might have in your car that shows you the roads, your car on the roads, and gives you verbal directions.  The only difference with the marine chart plotter, no roads and no verbal directions.  It does give you your position on an electronic chart as well as other information, important information, such as what’s in front of you and under you so you don't run into it or up on it.

 One test of our self reliance is coming up for us here on CD.  If all goes as planned, shortly after I have posted this we will be undertaking our first real open-ocean crossing from the BVIs to St. Martin (SXM.)  Although it is just 90nm (right down the road a piece in Texas terms) it does involve us leaving at midnight from the BVIs to arrive in good daylight in SXM; this is very important.  This means sailing at night.  Along with no street signs in the ocean there are no street lights and no headlights (per-say) on a boat.  There are the stars and if you're lucky a full or partially full moon to help guide you.  The moon will be of no help to us at this time of the month so we are depending on light from the stars along with the aid of the device that has made sailors' lives far easier: GPS and the chart plotter.  We still need more but right now we have a dedicated chart plotter with the charts (maps), one on the iPad, one on the iPhone5, and if needed my iPhone3s.  We will also set a compass heading and plot our course on a paper chart via Dead Reckoning or DR.  We are both excited and nervous about what challenges we might encounter but we are sailors and you know I can't help myself, "if it's going to happen, it's going to happen out there".

Number 3: Freedom

OK, so no one is ever totally free, especially of responsibilities but sailing does allows us a certain amount of freedom that our lives on land didn't.  You are free to go where you want, so long as the weather and governments of where you want to go allow.  You are free to go when you like, well except for the weather part. But along with this "freedom" comes responsibilities.  Responsibilities to the boat, to your crew, to yourself.  If, like us, a bank owns part of your freedom then also to them.  In our case we have chosen to carry insurance (well the bank liked the idea too) so we are responsible to the insurance company who puts restrictions on where we can sail and where we have to be at certain times of the year.  I am reminded as I write of other limits on my freedom. Such as the desire to have a freezer, refrigerator, and the electricity to run all the devices I feel are really important in my life.  All of the afore mentioned items takes power supplied by batteries charged by either the sun (it's raining right now) or a generator (that is chugging away right now) that makes our dependence on fossil fuel greater than I might wish.    

There are limits on our freedom such as how much or how effectively we want to be able to communicate with family and friends back home.  It is important that we are able to Skype with our son and talk on the phone with our daughters and fathers.  This puts restrictions on where we are or how much we have to be willing to pay for the services needed.  Freedom tied to money.  The idealist in me wants to say we can do it without any money, my wife reminds me I like to eat.  How much money does it take?  Well after the givens, insurance and boat payment, it takes as much as you have got or you want to spend.  Looking at some of the 200'+ mega yachts around us money isn't a determining issue for everyone but I know sailors living on less than $500 a month so it all comes down to making your choices.   There is a saying; 'go small, go now' that promotes a very simple existence on the water.  No or minimal electrical requirements, no refrigeration, no auxiliary engines or only outboard engines; this is great, if it fits your dream.  

My point of this being, freedom isn't always free and can come with restrictions and responsibilities.  However, when you are at the wheel or tiller of your boat, and it's just you and your mate and the sound of the wind and water, well that's a feeling of freedom you have to experience.  At the end of the day when sailing into that one particular harbor to set the hook or grab a mooring and once everything is stowed away and shut down and you stand there looking around at the sandy beach, palm trees and gin clear water that’s a certain feeling of freedom that is worth all the cost.  And when in that one particular harbor the jerk in the mega yacht complete with jet skis and rock concert sound system blasting some gosh-awful thump-thump music(?) you are also free to move your floating home to another harbor.   You can also try to get yourself invited onboard his boat to enjoy their air conditioning and fancy food along with drinks with ice in them.  Of course there is also the freedom (within the social mores of the island country you are at) to wear as many clothes or as few clothes as you wish.   To quote one of our kids' babysitters "be naked, be free!"  We are still warming up to that concept but on a long ocean crossing; hmm, we'll see just how free we will be.
So I leave # 3 Freedom with lyrics that are as true for us as any written:
When the sun's at his back                                                                                                     
And the wind's in his face                                                                                                            
It's just him at the wheel.                                                                                                      
He wouldn't take a million for the                                                                                         
way it makes him feel.
            Boats                                                                                                                                                   Vessels of freedom                                                                                                                                  Harbors of Healing                                                                                                                             Boats

You either get it or you don't.  Thanks Kenny Chesney

Number 2: Change in Lifestyle

It should go without saying that living on the water is different than living on land.  I am not talking about those fancy houseboats in Sleepless In Seattle but living on a truly mobile home on a very fluid surface.  The real change for us however was that we went from a 3,800 square foot home to a few hundred foot catamaran.  Somehow though we also went from a 4 bedroom 3 bath house to a 4 bedroom (cabin) 4 bathroom (head) boat.  What there is not a lot of is storage, especially convenient storage, and added weight to a boat is a detriment to its performance and safety so the first change in our lifestyle was to have less of it.  We downsized!  Not cleaning out your closet downsizing, cleaning out your life.  We sold or gave away almost everything we had spent 35+ years together accumulating.  If you went to our estate sale there was a lot of stuff.   Still after that we had more stuff and had a garage sale and still after that we gave away or threw away more stuff that must have been important or necessary at the time until we had it down to a 5x10x10 storage locker and then it was still too much to fit on the boat.  Do we miss all that stuff?  Well sometimes yes!  Mostly that coking pan or gadget or tool you wish you had.  Has it impacted our life afloat? No, we adapt (see #4). We had too much stuff plain and simple.  All I am sure was a great deal at the time but you can't take it with you, especially on a boat. 

So what don't we need?  Well still about half the clothes we brought.  Mostly our lives are spent in shorts and t-shirts.  Some sailors live in bathing suits but I don't find them that comfortable day in and day out.  A lot of the female cruisers wear bikini bottoms and t-shirts while mostly the European men wear Speedos.  I have yet to see a suit or tie (although I kept two of my favorites) no blue blazers, but then again we don't  belong to a Yacht Club.  We do however have nice clothes and long pants for when we decide to join in at a local church service or when checking in to a country where you want to show proper respect.  I mean, they have to spend the day often in a hot uniform, so showing up in long pants, a shirt with a collar, and shoes/sandals,  is the least you can do.  So let's talk about shoes.  On the boat we seldom wear shoes.  This has led to the sanding down of the bottom of our feet by the non-slip surface on the boat.  We do have 'boat shoes', no not some fancy leather thing with tassels, no, shoes that only stay on the boat and are safe on slippery surfaces.  The reason they stay on the boat is so we don't track dirt, oil, sand, and the grime of land onto the surface of the boat and damage the finish.  The reason we sometimes wear the dedicated boat shoes on the boat, well, see Part 16, Boat Bites. Although we think we want some sneakers for exploring islands and walking about the towns, so far a good pair of sturdy sandals have sufficed.  Although we both have socks on board it has been months since I wore mine.  We do each have a jacket, well foul weather gear to be more precise.  Clean clothes becomes a combination of hand washing in an ice-chest or coin laundry or paying per-pound to have someone else wash it, so our whites aren't that white and colors are faded; oh my what to do!

What we eat (see #7) and when and how we eat has also drastically changed.  The idea of 3-squares isn't always practical.  Our food day often goes like this; breakfast: I start by making coffee, if that’s not available tea.  When Jo gets up tea and then fresh fruit if we have it and breakfast cookies (yes cookies for breakfast because I can, see #3 Freedom) or if we are lucky some fresh bread and jam or butter, or both.  In the 7 months we have been on the boat I can remember 'cooking' breakfast (besides toast in a frying pan) two times.  Once French Toast made from some stale French bread and the other, eggs for a Sunday brunch.  We like to keep it simple.  Lunch/dinner and dinner/supper are pretty fluid and are dictated by where we are and what we are doing at the time as well as how hot it is and do we really want to heat-up the boat with the stove.  We usually eat one "big" meal a day and that is often but not always in the middle of the afternoon followed by nap time.  Then for the evening meal, well this is often cheese and crackers, popcorn, or something light after the sun goes down as well as the sundowners.  It's not a hard and fast plan but more times than not, it’s the plan we follow.  We try and eat locally sourced food when we can but it is not always possible.  What I am amazed at is there is not as much fish (well that I recognize) available.  Yes I want to be able to catch and eat my dinner but in true confessions, I have only caught and released fish, I have no idea how to clean or prepare one; time to learn.  In the Caribbean you have to be careful about eating reef fish because of the toxin Ciguatera.  This covers most grouper, snapper, barracuda, amberjacks, triggerfish, parrotfish, and moray eels; so we are careful.  Now offshore it is not a problem so I am hoping to hook a mahi-mahi  on my way to SXM.  We also don't drink a lot of soda (it's expensive) and have cut way back on artificial sweeteners; baby steps! We try to be aware of how much sun we get each day.  Being a former natural redhead I still burn easily and the top of my hands often sport blisters from second degree sunburn if I am not careful.  Likewise my rapidly thinning hair allows for prime burn surface on the top of my head so I never leave without a hat. 

The biggest lifestyle change is that we have had time to slowdown.  It's not always easy to adapt to island time but we are learning.  I get embarrassed by my fellow countrymen who are pushy  or demand it be done right then, afterward complaining about the service loudly.  If you wanted it like it is back home then STAY HOME!  Way, way back in one of my first blog entries I wrote about getting started on this adventure and mentioned it began with our first trip to Abaco in the Bahamas.  We met a young couple who were commenting on the pace at which the renovations on the timeshares was happening, or not happening.  He made the bold statement that if "they" worked for him, it would be at a more efficient pace and the job would get done faster.  Yeah right buddy; their island, their rules Mon.  Later on that trip we went with some others to Treasure Cay, one of the most idyllic beaches you would ever see.  A hawser (a large rope) from a very large ship had washed up on this talcum powder white sand and the 'Big Boss' at the resort wanted it moved.  We watched as two locals tried to move it with a wheelbarrow; of course it was slow going and soon after Da Boss went inside they figured they had moved it enough for the day and went to have a beer.  We got to go back to Abaco the next year and to the same beach and damn it that hawser had now made it 10' up the beach.  That, my readers, is island time.  One cruiser calls cruising 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror; they might be right, I don't know haven't done it long enough.  I will say when things happen, they often happen very fast, but not to worry, you're in tune with your boat and you'll deal with it.  So slow down, what's the rush?  Life is short and you're going to be dead a long time!    

And now, I know you have all been waiting for it.  The Number One Thing That is Great about being on a boat and living the nomadic life is:

1. The Other Cruisers and Sailors You Meet

Don't get me wrong, we have some very good friends back on land, you might be one of them; no, no, not you, him.  Many of those friendships took months and years to develop and are tied to a common geography, sometimes job/school, and often church life.  The friends you make out here are made fast and the only commonality you share is that you live on or work on, or both, boats.  When we first got Caribbean Dream we lived at a dock in the middle of hurricane season.  There weren’t a lot of people around and few if any cruisers.  There were many people in the service industry who we got to know very well.  Dave and Donna who worked in Road Town and lived on their boat two slips down from us.  I am sad to say that Dave passed away a little while ago, it is a real shame.  He was one of the good guys who had stories to tell from the early days of the charter industry as well as a lot of good and free advice for this newbie, especially after I crashed CD into the dock trying to back her into her slip the first time.   He will be deeply missed by everyone who knew him.  Eight Bells Dave Romasco. We met another Dave when I was trying to back CD in the first time and he offered to help me out; thank God.  He and his wife Desiree run the charter cat S/V Majestic Sprit and although we seldom see them since they are busy with charters still they have been tremendous support as we started out.  Tim from S/V Jet Stream, another charter captain, spent two days with us on the water working on our docking and boat handling skills.  He also introduced us to Lincoln, the Yoda of boat systems who if we need something big done we move the boat to the BVI and call Lincoln.  Of course the most gracious with their time and help have been Glenn and Angela the couple from whom we bought Caribbean Dream.  In the first few weeks, ok months, of ownership I would email questions about this system or that.  There are still more I want to ask but I am trying to figure it out on my own (#4). 

What we hadn't met were other cruisers.  I had established communications with many on Facebook in the various groups and I had read stories of many of them still sailing these very waters but we hadn't met them.  No sundowners, potlucks, outings, or buddy boats on a crossing.  In all honesty, I didn't know how that all worked.  We had a couple if false starts getting off the dock due to repairs that sprung up (see Part 15) and had finally made it to Honeymoon Bay off Water Island in the USVI shortly before Christmas.  There seemed to be a community of people who lived on boats which were flagged from all over the planet.  One day I had posted a question on one of the USVI Cruisers FB pages about anchoring in another bay and was getting all kinds of advice.  That morning a guy in a dinghy showed up and introduced himself, Tom of Tom & Pay on S/V Lone Star; which just happens to be the same make and model cat as CD.  He gave me additional information on the anchorage I had asked about and gave us some valuable information.  He told us to meet other cruisers, just go up in your dinghy and knock on their boat and introduce yourself; pretty simple.  Well neither of us are exceptionally outgoing but we could warm up to the idea. (All that "stranger danger" and "don't make eye contact" safety stuff we taught the kids infected us too.)  One day after we were out sailing we came back to Honeymoon Bay and after a failed attempt or two finally got the anchor to set.  We ended up still closer to another boat than we had wanted so I went over in my dinghy to ask the captain, Eric, how much chain they had out.  You see, it is best if you and your neighbor have close to the same amount of anchor chain/rode out in case the wind shifts and you start spinning around you all spin inside similar sized circles.  We chatted and he thought we were fine.  We also chatted about other things, one being the island of St. Croix where we were thinking about going, and about fishing.  He said he would come over the next morning and we could look at the chart and visit some more which we did.  A couple days later we saw him and his wife, Lynne, as we dinghied back to our boat and they invited us over to their boa S/V Amarula for sundowners later along with some of their other cruiser friends.  Asked what to bring and we learned 'whatever you want to drink'.  (When we got there we learned to also bring something to share as a snack; note taken.)  That night we met three other couples who were anchored in Honeymoon Bay,  Janice and Don of S/V Plane To Sea; Pat and Bridget on S/V Kioni; John and Sue on S/V Marilyn and had a great time.  One of the couples (Janice and Don) were from Texas with a Texas Tech conection; Janice was even from Whiteright where my brother and his wife used to live, talk about your small world!  The next day we all went snorkeling and followed that by watching the Dallas Cowboys trounce the Washington Redskins at a beach bar there at Honeymoon.   I found out that another cruiser I had only met through Facebook was due into Honeymoon; Christina of Mark & Christina of S/V Rainbow  We eventually met Christina and Mark on New Years' Eve on our boat as we partied on CD along with 15 other people.  ( We joke that monohull sailors make friends with catamaran owners so they have a big platform for a party!) All of those we have met have far more experience than we do and have been a source of great inspiration, advice, and stories.  They are from different countries and backgrounds but little is discussed of our past lives.  Christina had been through a horrific experience in Union Island West Indies (WI)  and came out the other side continuing to cruise and meet new people; I don't think I have met many stronger than her.  On New Year's day part of the group, us included, made for STJ and Maho Bay as Christmas Winds (high sustained winds and gusts lasting for several days) were predicted and Maho was a great place to ride them out.  Of course we all had a great time, helped each other out with projects and enjoyed sundowners together and met other cruisers; Wes & Karen of S/V Tropical Division.  There were Birthday parties where we met fascinating people, beach potlucks, hikes, and trips to town.   Now each time we arrive in an anchorage we look for the boats we recognize an if we don't know any, well we are getting braver about introducing ourselves.  As of this writing our original group has split up with one in STX, two in SXM, some of us here in STT, and one in the Bahamas.  We are all looking for the next weather window and adventure and any morning you might wake up and someone you had dinner with the night before might have gotten that window and taken off.  Many we will meet up with again in Granada this summer to ride out hurricane season. When it comes down to our boats we all make our own decisions and seldom move as a group, although that's allowed and kinda of fun too. 

Right now we are anchored 20m or so from John & Sue on S/V Marilyn who we have become particularly close to.  Within the next 60 days they plan to head out for Columbia then Panama and eventually through the canal and across the Pacific and off to Sue's home in Australia.  We will leave here in three or four days (weather permitting) for SXM and may not see them for years if at all, but if/when we do, we will most likely take up where we left off with a few more stories to tell.   This network of friends/cruisers, all sharing the same joys, fears, frustrations, and successes will stay with us wherever we go thanks to computer communications.  For me, I think the number one thing I have learned from them all is that it was hard for them too, especially the first year.  We have ceased to be known as Fred & Jo Christoffel but rather Fred & Jo of S/V Caribbean Dream.  We have a collection of Boat Cards complete with the first names of boat crews and the name and picture of their boat.  We now have our own Boat Cards (works in progress) and have to remember to carry them with us when we meet new people.  If there was something missing in the new life we had undertaken it was this, the network of likeminded people all living in a piece of fiberglass on a big beautiful sea. 

People and Friends We Have Met (So Far)

OK!  There you have it our Top Ten List of Things That Are Great about being on a boat and living the nomadic lifeNothing scary, no blood or danger, just what makes up 90% of our life now.  It is a great life so far but not without both ups and downs.  No, it's is not all rum drinks and palm trees but no one's is.  I will say however, that spending the winter in shorts a t-shirt with shoes optional ain't half bad even on one of those 10% days.  So if you find yourself in the neighborhood, come knock on our hull, say hi and enjoy a sundowner while watching the greatest show on water.

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