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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

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