I first heard this poem read by a minister who had a strong Maine accent, and who included the poem as part of his eulogy for my Uncle Clayton. This poem still brings Uncle Clayton to life for me and always makes me smile.
Now, we live on a boat on the Matanzas River where we watch, meet, assist, and befriend those moving north or south. Here is my ode to our current life:
The Boat At the Side of the River
There are hermit souls that live withdrawn In the peace of their self-content; There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart, In a fellowless firmament; We are sailor souls that chart our course Cross oceans, along rivers, and straits. But while I live in my boat at the side of the river Let me be a friend to my mates.
Let me live in my boat at the side of the river, Where the race of sailors go by- The sailors who are good and the sailors who are bad, As good and as bad as I. I would not sit in the armchair seat, Or scorn each vessel’s traits. Let me live in my boat at the side of the river And be a friend to my mates.
I see from my boat at the side of the river, At the side of the highway of life, The mates who press with the ardor of hope, The mates who are faint with the strife. But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears- Both parts of the sailors’ fates;- Let me live in my boat at the side of the river And be a friend to my mates.
I know there are star-strewn skies ahead And seas of wearisome height; That the waves roll on through the long afternoon And strengthen throughout the night. But still I rejoice when the sailors rejoice, And weep with the sailors that moan, Nor live in my boat at the side of the river Like a sailor who dwells alone.
Let me live in my boat at the side of the river Where the race of sailors go by- They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish- so am I. Then why should I sit in the armchair seat Or scorn each crew’s traits- Let me live in my boat by the side of the river. And be a friend to my mates.
We struggle when we talk about the San Blas. It is an exquisitely beautiful area and we are indeed fortunate to have been able to visit these islands. We did not realize that relatively few boats spend time here in the summer. Grenada is a huge hurricane season draw for cruising sailors, but fewer than 30 boats spend a lot of time in the San Blas from June through November. It’s hot, with a challenging number of severe lightening storms.
This area is incredibly beautiful.The photo below was taken from the stern of our boat. I could and did swim from La Luna around this first reef and snorkeled, viewing eagle rays, the ever tasty ocean trigger fish, and the more beautiful queen trigger fish. Before they set sail to travel East, Keith and Jaime led an expedition to the reef you can see breaking in the background. There are caves, huge coral, sharks,and millions of fish.It was the most breathtaking snorkeling I’ve experienced.
This is how we shop for groceries. Dos Hermanos or another “veggie” boat will visit the anchorages nearest Carti. Many cruisers spend most of their time in one of two island groups just so they can be served by the veggie boats whose visits are infrequent during the summer season. In addition to fruits and veggies we can purchase wine, beer, whole chickens, and a small array of rotating items. Note, everything that is sold by the pound is weighed in the same scale. Can you say chicken blood on the broccoli? Yep. Cleaning is vital.
Here’s a storm building from the east and a bit north. The ones we really have to watch out for come from the south, with no warning. Folks have clocked 30-50 to even 70 knot gusts during those “chokosanas”. (Spelling mine and probably wrong.) We’ve been fortunate to be around only for the 30 knot gusts, but it’s important to anchor where you have 360 degrees of swing.
This is not safe anchoring and was taken from amidships on La Luna as a storm brewed up from the southwest. We were not happy. This is a local charter boat and (forgive me) they anchor worse than the normal French cruiser. This guy was doubly bad as the boat hails from Guadeloupe. (It’s not prejudiced if it’s true. If EW and I get invited to a Halloween party next year, we will wear stripped tees, white capris and manpris, and carry dingy anchors. When folks ask what we are supposed to be we will drop our anchor on their toes and say, “Bonne nuit! We are French cruisers!”)
This is S/V Runner, at home on anchor in The Swimming Pool. Reg and Debbie also provided EW with excellent medicine for shingles, and had us over for a wonderful dinner once EW was social (defined as getting dressed). They’ve lived in the San Blas as retired residents for 20 years, and willingly share their knowledge. Deb is an avid snorkeler, obtaining small fish for her three on-board tanks, and catching smaller fish for food. As you can imagine, with the Panama Canal close by, VHF Channel 16 is pretty busy with important stuff. Years ago, the authorities asked the cruisers to pick a channel for hailing and emergencies and they picked 72, which we generally keep on all the time. During our first month in the San Blas in addition to the normal boat-to-boat calls, I would often hear a vibrant voice saying, “Ten Minutes!” and nothing else.
It bugged me. I just wanted to know what those people were doing in ten minutes. While we were in The Pool I asked Deb if I could join her one day when she snorkeled. She agreed and told me that we’d go around 10:30 and she would give me some warning. At 10:25 I heard that vibrant voice say “Ten Minutes!” and was delighted to learn I was now part of the club. No initiation was necessary.
During the summer, a large number of power boats transit the canal from the Pacific side, leaving their boats at various marinas in the Western Caribbean and bringing friends and family out to the San Blas for the weekend. They fish, party on the beach, and party on the boats. They pretty much ignore us, and refuse to stick to the Channel 72 protocol, using it to have lengthy conversations. We sincerely hope they have a wonderful weekend, each and every time, and can’t wait for them to leave on Sunday night. We did not laugh when this boat ran aground setting his anchor close to Barbeque Beach. We don’t wish that on anyone, but we also knew he was on sand and grass and certainly more embarrassed than damaged. He did not go on the radio to ask for help getting off.
The power boats anchor near us only for a few hours, then head out about a 1/2 mile to another spot for the night. Early Sunday morning, we motored slowly through the fleet on our way to Linton.
Bonus! S/V Joanna is on the dock in Linton! Nico and Maria came out for a visit, dog cookie, and glass of wine (respectively) the other night.
I know I’m loud. Sometimes I don’t know how I am loud, but I am willing to learn and I can be quiet if I need to.
Before we knew EW had shingles he thought it was a 1) New bunch of bug bites, or 2) Sting from a jelly fish so we went snorkeling in the “caves” with Keith, Jaime, and Tate and Dani. This is a section of reef between the flats and the Caribbean Sea with caves, an underwater tunnel, and passages between huge mounds of coral.
I was meandering toward Keith when he gave me the “come here” motion and I meandered faster to see what he wanted to show me. It turned out that they had startled a largish nurse shark on the other side of the coral, and it had headed around to my direction so Keith wanted me to move out of the path of the shark.. No problem. When I meandered faster, I “chugged”, and the shark turned tail. “Chugged” is Keith’s term. Turns out I’m a loud snorkeler. When I kick to move forward, my flippers always clear the water and I make a heck of a lot of noise that I can’t hear because my ears are underwater. The fish (and that shark) can hear me coming from a mile away. That which may be good when one wants a shark to turn, is not good when one wants to get up close and personal with a tang, parrotfish, or turtle.
I can learn, however, and used my new knowledge to keep my feet still and let my arms do all the work—underwater, in long slow motions. Later in the week, when Keith invited me to snorkel a new-to-me reef while he hunted two lionfish, I promised “No chugging.”
Later, I told Jaime that this was not the first time “chug” had been used to describe me.
In addition to being loud, I tend to walk fast. In high school I remember some boys standing off to the side of the hall and saying, “Here comes the train! Chugga. Chugga, Chugga, Whoo Hoo!”
So basically, after blankety-blank number of years, not much has changed.
Well, except now I’m chugging in warm ocean water, and stopping to view the fish, anemones, rays, and turtles.
To keep things honest, we’ve seen everything except a turtle, although they live and frolic in the Guna Yala, they are shy. They probably heard me chugging.
I have an excellent sense of direction, except on islands—and sometimes in Panama. When the full moon rose one night in Linton Bay I was nonplussed for a moment, thinking it was rising from the west. On the Caribbean side, Panama has a snaking, curving coast, so the mountains on the mainland are south of us. On the chart, we are anchored west of Isla Grande under that big messy red dot. Our cruising ground in the Guna Yala are inside the messy red circle.
This anchorage/marina is the shortest distance from the Guna Yala where one may take a bus or taxi to Colon or Panama City. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It means it’s possible. A bit closer to Colon is the town of Portabelo, where one can anchor and go ashore and catch the bus. There are pluses and minuses for anchoring in Portabelo: On the plus side, it’s on the regular bus route and more buses go between Colon, Sabinitas, and Portobelo than go to the end of the line. We anchored at Linton Bay Marina, which is close to the end of the bus line and offers fewer buses. Also on the plus side for Portabelo, there area a couple of hardware stores, a few small groceries, an excellent Panamanian bakery, a good fruit and vegetable vendor, and Captain Jack’s, the cruisers’ hangout. On the minus side, we have been told not to leave our dinghy ashore overnight, and Portobelo, surrounded by mountains, makes its own weather. It may rain nearly every day in Panama during the rainy season, but it always rains in Portobelo. Also, bad thunderstorms occur more frequently there than they do where we opted to anchor. I will put up with quite a bit of inconvenience to avoid severe lightning.
This cruising life is a trade off.
The big trade off is that end of the bus line thing. Affectionately known as “chicken buses” these old, retired, US school buses are often pimped out with graphics and giant versions of those bicycle handle bar streamers we all used to have in my youth. In addition, they have generally taken out the last two seats to allow for large backpacks, bicycles, and groceries, and they have installed pipes along the ceiling so folks standing have something to hold. To say folks are squeezed in would be an understatement. “How tightly are passengers squeezed together?” you might ask. On his last run back from Colon, EW was squished into the window by a rather large woman on the aisle, who was being pressed herself by someone standing in the aisle. At the end of the trip, EW’s elbow had been rubbed raw on the window molding. Trips to Colon will take about two hours and are never comfortable—though that’s our only injury thus far.
Still, for weeks, one or the other of us would plan a “quick trip” to Colon. One in which we’d scoot in to pick up something that had been ordered or repaired, with the intention of getting on—if not the next bus back, the one after that. It never happens. And—since the buses to “Laguaria”—the end of the line don’t run during the afternoon, if one misses the last mid-day bus, one waits until 3:30 to begin the trek. If one is burdened with groceries, a case of beer, or two alternators, it is best to go to the dingy bus station so that said heavy things can be easily loaded into the back of the bus, and so that you are sure to get a seat.
We usually try to catch the 6:10 bus at the marina going toward the end of the line so that we have seats when the school kids get on at that end. On my “quick trip” I opted to leave at 7:10, and shared a seat with a cruiser from Columbia, who speaks some English. As we entered the last stop before turning back towards Colon, the bus was waved over by the police, who boarded and walked down the aisles. I’m not sure what they expected to achieve, but gathered that two German tourists had been robbed and the police were trying to find the culprits. We sat on the hot bus for 45 minutes, after which the driver returned and we resumed our regularly scheduled program.
It took me well over two hours to get to Colon that day, but my task was quick and easy and I opted to catch the return bus near the Quarto Altos Mall. Every seat was taken except for one full, two-person seat which had two small bags of items sitting all alone. One woman conveyed that I could take it, but I understood she had been holding the seat for someone. I left the groceries in the seat until a gentleman sat next to me and I had to take them up. This kind of ticked me off. This is the only time I’ve been on the bus without having to hold groceries or boat parts or an alternator and there I was, holding someone else’s stuff.
People got on. People got off. The man next to me got off and someone else got on. In the meantime, I’d use my phone to translate, “These are not my things,” which brought smiles to three ladies in my area, but no relief. Finally, one young woman with a small boy in her arms indicated I should do…something. At first I thought those were her packages, but no, the three ladies had been watching for a moment to get me into another seat, and she wanted me to move next to her quickly “rapidamente” before the school kids got on at the next stop. The bags belonged to the first lady, who was saving a seat for her two school-age sons. Evidently this is Panama’s version of picking up the kids from school.
In addition, the three ladies had paid attention to me when I mentioned my destination as Puerto Lindo, and my young seat mate conveyed that this bus did not go through to the end, but stopped in Portobelo and turned around. “No problemo.” I said, followed by “Gracias.” I hopped off in Portobelo, helping my seat mate with her own packages, while she carried her baby down the cramped isles. There, I waited for a bus to the end of the line. I had left for my quick trip at 7:00 AM. I arrived in Colon after 9:30 and completed my one mission there in just 20 minutes. Still, I didn’t get back to the marina until 4:00 PM
Proving once again, that there is no such thing as a quick trip to Colon.
If either John or Lela played an instrument, EW would be absolutely ecstatic. As it is, he is merely very happy, having fun, and eating well. We are still anchored in Sabudupored, where the snorkeling is fine, the thunderstorms mild and not right overhead, and the neighbors are both strong and good-looking. It doesn’t hurt that Lela is a fantastic cook and a generous soul.
We met them in the Lemon Cays where they invited us and Jim and Christine from Ullr on board their cat, Yachtsman’s Dream, for grilled hamburgers on the Fourth of July. John and Lela are from Richmond, Washington (that’s the western USA) while we are from Maine (and kind of Florida—both eastern USA). Hence, the East Meets West. John is retired from the navy and Lela is a retired nurse. They have two sons and one grandson, and sail a catamaran. Other than that, we are just alike.
Not really, but we all enjoy each other, we all have have a well-developed sense of humor, and we all help each other out. Furthermore, we all like to eat, two of us like to cook and two willingly clean up after the cooks. See, we are twin couples from different mothers. What we are – are cruisers. The longer we cruise, the more people we meet, and the more places we visit, the better I understand what makes a successful cruising couple. * Some of those qualities are:
The desire—if not to be different—then certainly not to be bored. Those who cruise want to do something relatively few have done or are doing. While there may be more cruisers sailing the seven seas than ever before, this is still a lifestyle not for the average sailing couple.
The ability to work together in every freaking area of their lives. There are few secrets on a cruising boat. Essentially you know where the other is at every moment of the day. Literally. One can rarely use the head without the other knowing. We plan everything together, from a shopping trip to the next cruising destination. We may not share all tasks, but we are prepared to help each other with any task, and are often called upon. Furthermore, there are few tasks that do not impact the other person.
Flexibility. We don’t always get to where we planned to go when we planned to arrive. The veggie boat doesn’t show up for four days. It rains buckets when we were supposed to go on a shopping trip in Grenada. The dinghy motor (or any one of a million other things) breaks down. Successful cruisers deal with it. We may bitch and complain and use “OH NO Mr. Bill!” words (remember duck rhymes with…) but we fairly quickly learn to adjust course, change plans, fix nearly everything, and move on to whatever awaits.
Being your partner’s best friend. We are often alone on board for a few days at a time (longer during passages) and it would be absolutely impossible if we didn’t enjoy each other’s company. Every successful cruising couple clearly make compromises for each other’s needs, and clearly enjoy most of the time they spend alone together.
The ability to make new friends and accept others as they are. I certainly left some great friends behind when we started cruising, and I’m thankful that we are all still great friends even though we are far apart and living vastly different lives. Still, cruisers discover that there is plenty of room in their lives for new great friends, and we form strong bonds with other sailors. EW and I have a long list of cruising couples (and singles) with whom we have formed firm friendships—the kind that will keep us in touch forever. After all, one of the reasons we came here was to see Jaime and Keith from S/v Kookaburra. They’re due back in a few days and we are anxious to see them again.
We hope we get to introduce them to John and Lela – who also embody all of those qualities (as do Jim and Christine from Ullr and Becky and Denny from Kokomo. Meeting people like this is one of the reasons I love cruising.
So, back to the original point of this post. Both La Luna and Yachtsman’s Dream left the East Lemon Cays and headed east. We went to the Green Island group for better cell phone connection, and they went to islands a bit farther north to check out the snorkeling. (Snorkeling is to Lela what writing is to me and music is to EW.) A few days later they hailed us on the VHF to see whether there was room for another boat here in the anchorage. Oh yeah. We were alone here, and there was plenty of room. Since then, we’ve snorkeled together, Lela had kayaked while I have paddled on Keith’s board, John and I did a trash burn on the beach, we took a dinghy ride to “town”, and we have both hosted the other boat for dinner on numerous occasions.
The burn happened just after they arrived. I had told EW that he had to deal with the trash and he and John set up a time for a beach burn, and then it rained a bit. After the rain, both EW and I realized that he couldn’t go to the beach due to the sand fleas (remember, they come out after a rain) since Lela is afflicted the same way, John and I did the burn. Lela was cooking Thai food that night and had invited us over. (Yeah, life is tough when you cruise with great cooks.) John and I have a bit to learn about running a trash burn, but we got ‘er done. EW had felt guilty for deserting the expedition and hoped I hadn’t been uncomfortable going ashore with a man who was relatively unknown to us. “No problem!” I said. “We got along like a house afire.” “Did you really just say that?” asked EW. And I told him about our adventure including (icky alert. the following anecdote may not be suitable for landlubbers):
“John realized that we both were burning our used toilet paper and we talked heads for a bit.” (NOTE: Cruisers talk about heads just like new parents talk about their baby’s poop. It happens.) “We had a bit of trouble getting the fire going,” I continued, “but we worked it out. Seems fire is a bad thing on Navy subs so that’s not John’s best skill. He said that ‘ The Hunt for Red October’ is the best submarine movie. We had a good time. He even laughed a couple of my jokes.” EW asked about the jokes. “Well,” I said, “He told me Lela was spending the time cleaning the boat for company. I said, ‘You mean us?’ and he said ‘Yes.’ I told him we were no longer company. We’ve already eaten aboard your boat once, you’ve been on our boat, and we are burning used toilet paper together. I think once you burn toilet paper together you can no longer be considered company.”
EW rolled his eyes. “You really said that?” “Sure. He was a bit startled but he laughed.”
Since then, we’ve had more dinners together, shared recipes, books, movies, and lots of stories. Lela has provided her itch relief treatment to fellow bug sufferer EW, and EW helped them fix their outboard. I led that expedition to Nargana for provisions as I’m the only one of the four who had been there.
So that’s what it’s like when Eastern cruisers meet Western cruisers. State- or even country-of-origin doesn’t matter. Once you’ve broken bread together, shared stories and laughter, helped each other a bit, and burned your personal waste together… you are friends for life.
And that’s what makes a successful cruising couple.
*My apologies to those solo sailors, both men and women, who started out as part of a couple, or were brave enough to follow their dream alone. I cannot conceive of doing that. You all amaze me. I’m part of a cruising couple, which presents its own rewards and challenges.
P.S. Since this post was written and before it was published, we were joined by Ocean Star and Ullr. We went on a group snorkel and Yachtsman's Dream (as the only Cat) hosted all of us for tapas and sun-downers. Music provided by EW and Jim on Ullr. Oh yeah. Life is definitely good.
Two Guna ladies, one in traditional dress, the other, who lives in Panama city, dressed in a more modern style.
To go with the Thai dinner, I made coconut cookies (and banana bread for EW) both from the cookbook I own thanks to the recommendation of another cruising friend for life, Diana from One White Tree.
Lela choosing tomatoes at the larger of the stores on Nargana. Cruisers call this store “Wal-Mart”.
I haven’t done a “Spam” post in a while. It’s a great way to provide a bunch of tidbits about our current location. “Spam” posts were started in The Bahamas when I took a photo of three shelves of different varieties of Spam in the local grocery store. The world doesn’t need that much Spam, and it may not need another one of my mashed together bits of into, but that’s what you get.
San Blas or Guna Yala? The Spanish named these islands the San Blas, more recently, the people who own these islands, the Guna, have let it be known that they prefer the region be known as Guna Yala. If you read about this region in the past, you know them as Kuna. There is no “K” in their alphabet, so they prefer “Guna”. Some cruisers still pronounce it Kuna. The sound is in the language, not the letter. You confused? In the future I will use the term Guna Yala more often than San Blas.
The Topography. These are not the tall volcanic islands of the Eastern Caribbean (or of the Azores). These islands have more in common with photographs I’ve seen of the Pacific, and are small sand islands with coconut palms. They are surrounded by a whole lot of reefs, so navigating is tricky, but the anchorages are lovely, the swimming and snorkeling is great, and we are sailing every few days. It does not suck.
Boat Life. We have friends here as Jaime and Keith from S/V Kookaburra are enjoying their second year in the region. Our week with them was chock full of sailing, anchoring in new spots, learning to navigate some of the reefs and to respect all of them,, meeting fellow cruisers, and playing music. (Jaime found at least three other boaters who play and jam. EW is happy. They’ve gone back to the States for a few weeks and—while we miss them, we are doing boat projects, still cleaning up from the trip, and getting use to sailing in an area much more remote than we’ve ever experienced. Good thing EW and I like each other.
Groceries. Not many. In 150 square miles of the most visited islands, there is one island known for having a number of stores that stock for cruisers. (Actually two islands joined by a foot-bridge.) (And I use the term “stock for cruisers” loosely. Very loosely) Since this is not the busy season and there are fewer than 50 cruising boats in the region, the shops are not stocking many items. A few of the Guna with power boats do still bring veggies, fruits, and groceries to those anchored away from Nargana, the island with stores. We did learn this week that there is a store on the only island that has fresh water available and I had much better luck getting provisions there. Between the two, we rely on the veggie boats, and the Guna who catch and sell fish, lobster, and crab. The crab is delicious.’
Laundry.Remember my old post from back in the day when I was discovering washing laundry in a bucket using ammonia? That was fine as a novelty, but over the past 5 years, I’ve generally hit the laundry every other week. Here, there is no laundry facility and I will be washing in the bucket through November. We arrived after 12 interesting days with a huge pile of salt water laden clothes, and it took over a week to get them all washed and dried. Now I’m catching up on regular laundry, and have learned new things about bucket laundry.
I should have bought more clothespins and another bucket.
Ammonia doesn’t work on food stains. Some loads you just have to treat and use soap, and rinse. Deal with it.
Two bucket loads fill up the two clotheslines on the foredeck.
We need to wear less. I found three sport shorts in St. Thomas and will seek more everyday outfits than can be worn on the boat and in the water and washed out after our afternoon dip. (Full disclosure: In our current anchorage, clothing for the afternoon dip is optional. We are find we like that.)
The People. The Kuna are interesting. They are a closed society in that marriage outside of the society is forbidden. They are an autonomous society in that, while they are residents of Panama, the chiefs set the rules for this region, and work to ensure that the people don’t lose their old ways. Still, each populated island has a Panamanian school which the children attend wearing uniforms much like those in the Eastern Caribbean. Also, many of the adult population in the towns no longer wear traditional dress. And practically everyone has a cell phone.
Many of them still make as sell molas, squares of fabric with designs created largely by cutting away layers of fabric cloth to reveal certain colors to create images or geometric designs. There are traditional molas and tourist molas. One of the master mola makers showed us a design he does of a Christmas tree; this is not a traditional mola. We’ve opted for two so far, made by two different master mola makers; one depicts a sea turtle and the other a ray.
Most people are friendly, helpful, and honest. and while every day folks stop by to see if we want to purchase molas, crab, lobster, or groceries, a simply “No Gracias” will send them on their way. At this anchorage, we had visitors of a different sort. We had spent Wednesday going into one of the few settled islands to get water (That’s another long story, already written to send to a magazine.) We had come out to an anchorage near the island of Sabudupored, that Jaime and Keith just call “Workman” because it’s usually empty and they can get a lot of work done. The theory is that if there aren’t a lot of boats, there are fewer Guna stopping by to sell stuff. Not so much.
Wednesday had been a long (though great) day and we just wanted to settle back in the cockpit and enjoy a gin and tonic with fresh limes purchased on the dock. But just as I had pulled out the gin, three drunk boaters came by in a nice newish fiberglass local boat. They wanted gas and beer and EW sold them some. One wanted photos with us and showed no interest in going; he owned the new boat and he was the happy, insistent, and friendly guy, out for a day on the water and indulging in too many beers. That guy. He lives everywhere. He said he was a “professional” electrician and worked at the power plant and he’s very proud to have a job like that, which obviously provides a good income. They drank the three beers and wanted more, but EW did manage to get them to go home. The whole encounter only lasted about 20 minutes and we were able to move on to our G and Ts.
On Thursday, we worked at Workman. EW has a long list of repairs, and I am still cleaning, and need to write. He fixed the fridge fan and worked on the engine, while I defrosted the freezer, cleaned the fridge and wrote 4000 words. Not a bad day at all. Again, we were just thinking about stopping for the day, when I heard another power boat and a Guna man calling out “Hola!” I stayed below and when I heard EW say, “Pepsi” I thought this person wanted a Pepsi, but he was selling Pepsi. EW bought a six pack, and gave the man a $20. (Note to self and spousal unit: We will get LOTS of small bills when we go to town later this month.) Instead of giving us change, the salesman/con artist asked whether he could sell us anything else, and offered onions, veggies, fruits – none of which he had on board. I said yes, we needed more veggies. (When in the Guna Yala, get fresh stuff whenever you can.) He let go of La Luna and began to drift away, repeated my list back to me and said he’s see us “manana”. As EW called him back for the change, but he waved it and said, “No problem! No Problem!” He was slick; as EW said, “He left before I could beat him up!” The whole thing happened so quickly that we could only laugh. So far, at 1500 on “manana” we have not seen him or our 13.00 dollars of change. Lesson learned.
To be fair to us and the Guna, a few days ago we bought $10.00 worth of crabs and the fisherman took our $20 to another boat and got change and came back. That is the more usual experience here.
Gotta dash. Keith on Kook kindly left his large green stand up board for us to use and I need to exercise today. Time to get wet, followed by pizza night.
It seems everyone wants to know about our plans for hurricane season. We certainly have been sitting here too long, and we are both anxious to move on, so … see that big ship?
Just kidding. Unlike many other boats leaving St. Thomas this year, we will be powered by our sails. In the meantime we have watched over eight transport ships load boats destined for Europe or the US. It must be an amazing feeling to watch your “baby” and your home be hauled out of the water and strapped onto a ship.
We aren’t heading back to the states or Europe yet, and will instead sail to the Western Caribbean. We’d decided our destination when we changed our plans last year, opting to sail back to the Caribbean instead of heading to Brazil and Argentina. We still wanted to sail and explore new places and there are reasons the Western Caribbean appeals to us:
Friends: Keith and Jaime from S/V Kookaburra are there and we would love to spend more time with them. They are waiting for us in the San Blas and we plan to cruise those islands together through hurricane season and venture to other cruising grounds after the season.
It’s on “the list”. Please understand “the list” is rather fluid. (So fluid that it isn’t capitalized; it’s “the list”, not “The List”.) There are a lot of places we’d like to see, but neither of us want to circumnavigate, so we’re looking at places on “the list” in or near our comfort zone: EW wants to visit pyramids in Mexico; we’d both love to help someone else traverse the Panama Canal again; and there are other things on “the list” in and near the Western Caribbean.
More friends. Alice and Steve, Vicky and Bob, Gretchen and Michael, and Bill and JoAnne are all currently in the Western Caribbean – or their boats are and they’ll return after the season. We plan to be in touch via Facebook and sail to an anchorage near each of them at some point in time.
So are we ready?
Well, not yet. We’re waiting for one Sailrite order and for new credit cards which were sent to the old address. As soon as those cards arrive at our Green Cove Springs mail drop, we will have everything waiting there packed up and sent here.
In the meantime, we need to provision. The sail over to the San Blas should only take 8-10 days, and we’re going straight there, so it would be easy provisioning--- if things were available in those islands. Jaime’s message listed fewer than 20 products sold in the only store. At the end of the list, she said, “Notice there is no etc.” She did say they sell fresh fruits and vegetables delivered via small boats. We’ll purchase and stow enough provisions to last at least six weeks by which point Jaime and Keith will teach us, guide us, and show us the way to Panama City for the next round of provisioning.
In the meantime, we are picking up some things they need—items as diverse as fake ice tea and a new generator; stowing things we need; and getting stuff done on-line while we have the Choice program. Once I can figure out the technology, our cell phone will provide Wi-Fi while we’re in Panama.
Summer has arrived in St. Thomas. The days are hotter, there is less wind, and more humidity. We aren’t used to it, complain to each other daily, and remind each other, “It’ll be worse in Panama”. How’s that for positive thinking? We will be much closer to the equator. I plan to write in the morning, jump overboard for an exercise swim/snorkel, and then tackle boat projects in the afternoon. We’ll eat lighter meals, consisting of fresh fish caught by EW (no pressure there), and the fruits and veggies Jaime assures me are available weekly from the Guna (formerly known as the Kuna Indians).
EW has a bunch of boat projects of his own, and has armed himself with various guitar instructional books and videos. By November we two and La Luna will be in better shape, more published, and more musically adept. (Well, EW will be more musically adept.)
(Jaime and Keith, if you are reading this, please be assured we will take time to sail to other islands and to explore with you. All work and no play make for exceedingly dull blog posts and articles.)
Now you know the plan. Remember: it’s fluid, like the list.
For now, I have to complete the tasks which should have been finished weeks ago, and EW has to push me out of my hunkered down mode. For some reason, leaving any spot (except Georgetown in the Bahamas) is difficult for me. That first step is hard. Once we are off and on our way, I’m good.
NOTE: Did you catch “Guna” instead of “Kuna”? According to Jaime there is no “K” in the Guna language so they changed the way their name appears other languages. When I went to check on that, I learned we won’t actually be in the San Blas, either. According to Wikipedia we are going to visit Guna Yala:
Guna Yala, formerly known as San Blas, is an indigenous province in northeast Panama (Official Gazette of Panama). Guna Yala is home to the indigenous group known as the Gunas. Its capital is El Porvenir. It is bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea, on the south by the Darién Province and Embera-Wounaan, on the east by Colombia and on the west by the province of Colón.
The Guna Yala is in red on this map. My funky blue arrows show both ends of the Panama Canal.
How to describe Open Mic Night at Tickles? On Wednesday nights the Tim West Band (Tim West lead vocal and guitar, Tommy “Bronx” on drums, and whoever joins in on bass, lead guitar, harmonica, or whatever.) Tim and Tommy have day jobs and numerous gigs around the island. On Wednesdays, they run the Open Mic Night with skill, humor, and an eye on the clock. (Since Tickles is a typical Caribbean establishment, open on two sides, and located only steps from boats in Crown Bay Marina, the performances have a 10:00 PM curfew.)
Those out for dinner, perhaps without even knowing about Open Mic Night, arrive after work, or a day doing boat projects, or basking on the beach, looking for a convivial bar, dinner, and drinks — not necessarily in that order. The rest of us: professional musicians, and musician/sailors/professors/dive instructors/attorneys/contractors/waitresses/students, some accompanied by “band-aids”, begin to gather at 6. Some sit at tables and order dinner, others opt to sit at the bar or a high table in the corner near the water. The guitars, mandolins, and saxophones pile up in the front corner. It takes Danny three trips to the car (two with help) to schlep his keyboard, stand, and stool.
The bus boys have already moved tables from the “stage” area, and now bring the drum set out from the storeroom. Tim and Tommy set up microphones, test the sound system, and greet the “guest” musicians. “Hey, Stew! You going to play tonight?” “Hi there Peter, you’ll play after Kevin.” Tim and Tommy walk through the crowd, noting strangers with instruments and inviting them to perform later, keeping a list, and estimating how long it may take to give everyone a chance to perform. On a slow night, they are allowed to do three songs, on a busy night they may only get two.
We eat, we drink, we greet friends. During the high season, (and during our best years here) the cruisers would commandeer two or three adjacent tables, Peter, Ross, Kurt, EW, Tony, Mike, and others usually with significant crew (aka band-aids), would laugh and share stories as if most of us hadn’t been together in days. In reality, we probably spent time on one boat or another for at least two music nights during the week. Those who live on the island may have shown up without knowing it was Open Mic Night, others come every week for the show. One senior couple show up early, sit in the corner surrounded by instruments and wait for the one of two songs with the tempo that will allow them to dance a low-key jitterbug.
It’s a lively night. Everyone is our friend. We all share the language of music.The wait staff is alert and good natured as we frequently jump up to greet someone, slide over to a different table for a conversation, or steal a bar seat close to the stage in order to take photos.
One night, the attorney/singer/songwriter offered his version of Open Mic Rules among them:
Don’t play over someone’s solo
The person who is singing is in charge. He or she gets to pick the song, style, and who will perform with him or her.
Don’t play a song you know is another player’s key number.
Remember to thank Tim and Tommy, and those who played with you.
Never stick your hand in the tip jar.
Newbies are encouraged to perform, and Tim and Tommy are there to catch them when they fall—or don’t know how instruct the band to end a song. After every performance, Tim or Tommy will step up to the mic and say, “Let’s hear if for Stew!” (Or whomever.) Some of those who came with instruments don’t lead sets, but want to sit in with the band, providing sax, harmonica, washboard, mandolin, bass, and lead guitar creating great walls of sound, and a bit of bedlam, and music magic.
They will play blues, rock, country, pop, hard rock, and ballads; generally ranging from the 50’s to current hits. They will play old standards, new arrangements, and original music. Professionals may try out new pieces; for some St. Thomas is their starting point before heading to Nashville or New York. Others drop by while on the island for professional gigs in larger venues. One memorable night a group of middle-agers from New Jersey arrived from the Marriot by taxi. Turns out one of them is a crooner in the best New Jersey tradition, and he quickly cooked up a couple of numbers with the “house band du jour” and wowed us. If the older dancing couple is in attendance, EW always plays “Teen Age Wedding” because they always want to dance to his rendition of that song.
Under all this music you can hear laughter, attempts at serious discussion, folks meeting other folks and invariably finding some connection. “You’re from Auburn Maine? The principal at your high school was Larry L. He’s my cousin.” You’re from Texas? Meet Coach.” Turns out they grew up within 15 miles of each other. St. Thomas is like that. Everyone who performs gets a chip for a drink, and the occasional audience member will congratulate the attorney, or sailor for a great set and offer to stand them a drink.
We know the wait staff, the manager, the bar tender who lives on Water Island, almost all the sailors, and more and more of the locals. We know the drummer’s lady, and his son. We’ve met her mom, dad, and brother from Utah. It’s a social evening that breeds both lively discussions among strangers who will never meet again, and life-long friendships among cruisers and musicians who will keep in touch via Facebook and email—and who hope to meet in other harbors.
Our rule for Open Mic at Tickles is just go. You never know when music magic will happen.
Last night, we said “fair well” to Jerry Lee, who is leaving St. Thomas to promote his music. We enjoyed one more performance of his distinctive “Messing With the Kid” and “ Unchain My Heart”. Good luck, Jerry Lee. “Hey!”
It’s been a busy week in St. Thomas. Most importantly, we were excited to have boat guests on Tuesday when cruising friends Steve and Lynn stayed with us on their way to the BVI. They are crewing on a boat heading up to Annapolis in the Salty Dawg Rally. Those who know Steve and Lynn know that they are outstanding sailors who have sold their boat and are renovating a home. But they’ve not given up the sailing life and we hope to entice them aboard for a longer visit.
In the meantime, they flew in to St. Thomas late Tuesday afternoon, and we were ready for them. Yes, I had to clean the boat and make room in the forward cabin. Steve is the guy who kept his engine compartment so clean and well maintained that the Coast Guard (or Coast Guard Auxiliary) asked his permission to tour it with other boaters. Lynn is equally neat. This is a Facebook post from when she was getting ready to sell their boat. To contrast, this is a photo of La Luna when we were getting ready to cross to the Azores from St. Martin. Lynn, this is a mess.
I didn’t try to get to get La Luna to Celebration standards, but I did spend a few hours organizing and cleaning, and that’s not a bad thing. (Plus I’m done for a week. Woot.) Once again, I made my new favorite meal: barbecue chicken cooked in the pressure cooker. EW finished it off on the grill. Everything was nearly ready when they arrived, so we had a lot of time to catch up. And we had a lot to talk about: our crossings, the Azores, selling their boat, buying a home, renovating a home, neighbors, other boat friends, kids, and more. We talked long after they should have been asleep. It was so great to see them and hard to let go.
They wanted to take the noon ferry to Tortola, and EW and I had reconnaissance to do for friends on Kookaburra who need a new generator, so I suggested that it “wouldn’t be awful” if we all went in the dinghy into Charlotte Amalie. It was pretty windy, but I knew that even if we went to the closer dinghy dock at Crown Bay that we’d all get wet in the “rinse cycle”. How is a wet dinghy ride like being pregnant? Just as you can’t be a “little bit pregnant", on days like Wednesday you don’t get a “little bit wet”.
Still, I should have brought the poncho I have used to protect myself from the salt spray. (Especially knowing that when Lynn cruised she had made a Sunbrella wrap just for wearing on wet dinghy rides.) She and I took many waves over the bow. They guys didn’t fare much better. We were four drenched cruisers when we got ashore.
Our hair was wet and sticky with salt; my straight hair clung tight to my scalp in wet strands, making me look older, and unclean. Lynn’s wavy hair, was standing above her scalp in large curls. It may not be a look she would cultivate, but it wasn’t unattractive. She ran her fingers through it and laughed, saying, “People pay for this.”
“They pay for what?” I asked, thinking first of those who charter sailboats, paying for the “adventure” that is our daily life. But no.
“They pay for salt spray to style their hair.”
“They do not!”
“Oh yes. It’s a thing.”
Research has shown me that yes, it is a “thing”. One for which you can purchase a spray bottle of salt water for $25.00; or for which there are many recipes for salt water styling sprays. And this would be different from the cheap “White Net” styling spray my mom used 40 years ago, how?
Evidently this is how:
Who knew we cruising women had been setting a trend? Hey, EW! I have a “salty, sexy, sun-dried, wind-styled” mane! It would be a shame to wash that out.
I’m glad we’re cruising. Sometimes current culture back home is too much to contemplate.
We dropped them off at the wall, just past the Customs fence near the ferry terminal. There is no dinghy dock; just tires tied to a wall. The dinghy was bouncing in the breaking waves. (Did I already take responsibility for this trip? It was my idea. EW, Steve, and Lynn were good sports. Good sports who wore wet, salty clothing for the next few hours.) Back to that wall and the dinghy: We had to get Steve, Lynn, two small cunnin’ backpacks, a 50 pound L.L. Bean duffle, and a 6-foot long box up onto the quay. Fortunately, a young man waiting at a job site jumped from his truck and offered to help. Steve scrambled up onto the quay, and EW and I handed the bag up to the two men while Lynn held the dinghy.
Then, the young man reached down and offered Lynn his hand, saying, “I’ve got you Mommy,” with a Spanish accent. He later called me “Mommy” as well. It kind of made us feel old. But I’ve decided that he was actually saying “Mami” and that it still has the definition found on Urban Dictionary. If I’m wrong, I prefer ignorance, thank you very much. If I’m right, must have been all that “salty, sexy, sun-dried, wind-styled” hair.
And, in the category of “you can’t make this s#%t up, We arrived to find that the noon ferry was canceled, and they wouldn’t be able to leave until 2:00. Steve suggested it was time for a “painkiller” and who were we to argue. Evidently the Big Kahuna has no qualms about serving drenched salty customers. (EW not only knew how to spell “Kahuna” but insisted on telling me that it’s the “surfer’s god”. Thank you, EW.) So, we got to spend another hour or so, visiting with Lynn and Steve in St. Thomas. I’d call that a win.
That evening, EW and I enjoyed a dry dinghy ride to Tickles in Crown Bay for Open Mic night. He didn’t play, so we sat at the bar with friends Ryan and Jenn and their entourage, and a number of musicians. It appears that Harvey has moved to St. Thomas. He’s right behind me isn’t he?
NOTE: The bit about Harvey being behind me was stolen from my Maine Friend Candace K., who delights me with her creative posts from Maine and her travels.
Finally, EW got into the act today, snapping this photo of me writing this post. I like it. (Don’t get excited. The cushions haven’t been covered and we aren’t using this peach color. It’s just a throw over the foam.) I love the new laptop nest.
NOTE: Some of you are easily confused. We are still in St. Thomas and will remain here until later in April. I just didn’t get the opportunity to tell you much about our stay in Guadeloupe and want to fill you in on a few interesting facts.
Like their public toilets, which have a certain je ne sais quoi.
One day, while we were anchored in Islet du Gosier, we opted to join cruising friends from S/V Silverheels III, Lynn Kaak and Ken Gooding, on a bus trip to Saint-Francois . It was lovely to relax and see a new-to-us part of Guadeloupe, and to check out prospective new anchorages and marinas. Saint-Francois is a beautiful town and I happily took photos of boats at anchor or on the hard, interesting buildings, birds, and …. a toilet.
A really, really, cool public toilette. It takes an act of some god (or a four-hour parade and two beers) to convince me to use a porta-potti, but I wanted to try this beauty out and was thankful that the bottle of water a while back and provided the necessity to spend 50 euro cents.
This exact change only, necessity stall was pristine, because the whole unit is sprayed and disinfected after each use. It’s just big enough for a parent and child, if that’s what must occur, but tight for two people who want to save time and 50 cents. You insert your coin and the door opens automatically. Inside is a hook for your bag, and a toilet with the tiny hand washing sink beyond the toilet.
Do your business.
Hold your hands over the tiny sink, first comes soap, then water, then – after a bit of time for scrubbing --- hot air all from the same nozzle. How cool is that? Once you are done, and exit the facility, the door closes much too quickly for someone to enter on your four euro-bits, and if they did (or if you decided to stay in) they’d be sprayed with disinfectant and water. Hence, always clean public toilets, and a slight delay between uses.
Special thanks to Lynn “Vanna White” Kaak for her so ably modeling this facility.
I later heard that there is a 15 minute limit and wonder if the door just opens when time is up. This brings about a number of disturbing situations to my disturbed mind. Still, these public toilets are one of a number of areas (like brie, and champagne, and pan du chocolat, and free busses for Carnival) in which the French are well ahead of us.