When those who cruise still (or later) own a home, they “get” it.
They tell you to bring your dirty laundry when you go to dinner. Often, they let you know that you’re invited to arrive early enough to take a shower prior to the meal.
They offer a ride to the store.
They get it.
To be fair, as liveaboards for over 16 years, we have land-lubber friends and family who also get it and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
This weekend I saw a whole new level of “getting it”.
We have dear friends in St. Augustine who are off for a cruise this summer, seeking cooler air, fewer hurricanes, and more light-houses, ports, restaurants, and beaches. In addition to preparing and loading the boat, they prepared their home: turning off the water, emptying the fridge and pantry, setting the air-conditioner to a lower level, and hiring a lawn service.
As their dear friends, we and another boater have access to the home (and workshop!) and check it frequently.
They left their Internet service, have strong Wi-Fi and readily agreed to let me go over there for as long as I needed in order to move this blog to Word Press.
I spent much of Saturday and Sunday in their home. It was one of those times when the only accomplishment was to have “learned a lot”, but it was (sort of) time well spent.
While I waited for things to download, I did a housekeeper’s check of the home and found a whole lot of dead flies. Dead flies in the sink, on the windowsills, and a whole bunch on the floor. It was my pleasure to remove the bodies and it’s something I’ll be sure to do before they return.
But here’s the thing. Here’s where they really “get it”.
They had said that if we get yet another hurricane this season, we three were welcome to hunker in their home, and they left us notes. This was not an idle comment. After they prepared their home to be left, they prepared it for us, providing notes, water to flush the toilet, and a pair of reading glasses (because I have frequently shown up there without mine).
How cool is that?
Some of the weather gurus have dialed back their dire predictions for the number and severity of hurricanes this season. I hope they’re right. Even so, if one heading our way is not more severe than Matthew or Irma, we’ll be taking our neighbor, Tim, our water jugs, food, and butane stove on over to the home that’s set up for us. We already feel welcomed. They certainly “Get It.”
On December 16, EW and I will have been in St. Augustine for two years, which would we absolutely awesome if we were ready to leave—but we are not. We are determined to be out of here in May, though because there will be no more hurricane seasons in Florida.
A Dream Must Be Specific (But may be subject to change.)
When we set sail, we were truly living our dream and incredibly excited, and we felt that way for 99% of our first five-years of cruising. (That 1% represents a brief moment in time during the “Endurance Crossing in 2014”.) We are still living our dream but a cruisers’ dream is not a fairy tale. Boats break down. We get health issues. Boats need repair. We find bad weather or it finds us. Do you have any idea how many things can go wrong in this cruising life? Most of us can imagine the worst, but I’m talking about those things you don’t think about, like an infestation of bugs, or losing the dinghy motor overboard, or (and this happened to at least one person I know on Facebook) you are knocked down by a severe reaction to lime juice and sunlight.
Sometimes during these past two years, I’ve had to keep reminding myself that we are still living our dream. But, then I hear of someone who must sell their boat due to family or health issues, or those who lost their boats during this horrible hurricane season, or even those whose life partner has decided they are done cruising—and I know that I’m living my dream and that EW feels the same, and I am incredibly thankful.
Claiming Our Dream Motivated Us When We Lived Aboard in Maine
So, what did we do back B.C. (Before Cruising) to keep us focused? We planned and plotted and researched destinations. We imagined anchoring La Luna in a beautiful Caribbean Harbor, or going through Scotland’s Caledonian Canal, or sailing into Quebec City. Deshaies in Guadeloupe was the first Caribbean anchorage that met my dreams, we have not yet opted to go to Scotland, nor did we get to Quebec before we left the northeast. Still dreaming and planning and plotting—claiming our next adventure is what keeps us going while we live the dream of the live-aboard (boat project and working) life here in St. Augustine.
Well, EW still continues to surprise me after over 33 years together. One day this summer we realized we would not be ready to set sail in 2017 and began talking about where we would go if we left here in the spring of 2018. Here are his exact words, “I’ve always wanted to sail to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
Really? Can we parse that sentence?
Define “Always”. Well, the museum didn’t open until 1995 (10 years after we were married) and I’ve never heard him say this. So I’m not sure when his “always” started, but I’ll let it go.
“Sail to” Since I didn’t grow up on the Great Lakes, I keep forgetting that one can actually sail to them from here. So yes, you can “Get the-ah from he-ah, de-ah”, as my dad would have said. You can, but it’s a heck of a sail.
As for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s not on my bucket list, but I’m game. (Heck, I was willing to sail to Gambia!) I’m sure Cleveland will be interesting, and there are a lot of great stops along the way. (Such as—ta-da!—Quebec City.) Now, we are still in the planning stages and cruisers know that living the dream requires us to cast our plans in sand but here is what the 2018 dream looks like right now.
Current Plans for 2018 Include the Following
I make a bunch of money. We fishing the decks, get the bottom cleaned, and get new rigging. (Both of us have a lot to do to make that happen.) Then, we leave here and sail as quickly as possible to Maine. This may require going to Bermuda, or going to Providence, or just going. Yes, Maine people, we plan to stay a couple of weeks to see as many of you as possible and to eat lobster. (Alas we will be too early for corn on the cob.) From Maine we’ll head to Nova Scotia, again bypassing many “must do” stops for other cruisers, and aim for Cape Breton Isle and the Bras d’Or Lake, where we will spend a week or so. W will exit to the north, and sail into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where we will spend time with whales and visit Quebec City. (See, I’m getting something out of this.)
By mid-August, we will transit the St. Lawrence Seaway which will take us from the ocean to Lake Erie. (How cool is that?) Watching the weather, we’ll sail to Cleveland and dock just steps from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Seriously. I mentioned this dream trip to folks who sailed to Florida from the Great Lakes. Guess which was their favorite stop before getting to the Erie Canal? Yep. Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!
From there, we’ll again watch the weather (the Great Lakes scare me a bit) and skip back to Buffalo and EW’s family, plus take the mast down before going down the Erie Canal. Down the canal (down my foot – EAST again) and down the Hudson to New York City, where we plan to have a bit of time for to play tourists before heading south to the C & D Canal and more touring and family in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington D.C.
Claim Your Dream
It’s ambitious, and we have a lot of things to get done before we can go, but this will certainly keep us motivated and focused. Right now, this is the dream we claim for 2018 and we're going to do everything we can to make sure it happens—after all, it’s apparently something EW has always wanted to do.
What’s your dream for 2018. Claim it. Reach for it. I dare you.
We’ve been stuck fortunate to have been living aboard in St. Augustine for nearly two years. And we still have about five months to go. I will tell you that there have been days when I’ve despaired of ever getting back out to the cruising life and I greatly miss it. We are in limbo, neither having moved ashore nor able to set sail and go where the wind takes us.
We are merely liveaboards just as we were in Maine for eight years. But now, we are liveaboards who have cruised and even if we currently don’t feel the deep peace and satisfaction we get when living the full cruising life—we still feel like cruisers from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes. Accordingly, while we may act like dirt dwellers in polite company, we have the hearts, souls, and minds of cruisers.
So for you newbies and plan-to-bes, here are a few examples of how to think like a cruiser.
Think Like A Cruiser: Know the Difference Between a Vacation and an Adventure
va·ca·tion noun 1. an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.
ad·ven·ture noun 1. an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.
When you’re on a one- or two-week camping vacation and it rains for three days straight, and you’re cold and wet and are not having any fun, it’s perfectly normal and healthy and possible for you to pack it up and head to a motel or home. You are also allowed to complain to friends and family about how miserable you were.
When you have embarked on a months- or years-long cruise on your sailboat and encounter a storm with 30-knot gusts, 10-foot seas, rain, and the threat of waterspouts—causing you to sail for over 24 hours in the slightly wrong direction to avoid shoals or crossing the Gulf Stream—you cannot quit or complain. You must maintain your watch schedule and you must present a positive attitude (feeling some fear is OK—that means you’re paying attention). You are on an adventure. Any adventure of long duration or in a difficult location will include rough weather, broken down parts, and boring dead calms. Adventure Happens. Get over it. Afterward, you are allowed to complain to fellow cruisers about how miserable you were as long as you also relate one funny story. (The Dinghy at Cape Fear in 2010.)
Think Like a Cruiser: Simplify and Be Proud
Back home, I enjoyed decorating for the holidays, hosting parties, and “doing it up right”. As cruisers, my (never magazine worthy) standards are considerably lower. This year, EW’s birthday “card” was made from two napkins and a Guadeloupe dish towel knotted together to form a banner with “Happy”, “Birthday”, and “Stew” taped to the three triangles.
While cruising, our holiday celebrations have ranged from a high of the sunrise Christmas carols and tomfoolery in Emancipation Park in St. Thomas to the low of a sad little Christmas feast of packaged Stolen and a small shot of Schnapps on our “Endurance Crossing” in 2014. We do have one plastic shoe box of Christmas ornaments on board, but no decorations for any other holiday. And while we recognize that some cruisers do carry more crafts or special decorations on board, I’ve never been made to feel inadequate for not doing so.
One of my friends has, though. One year she attended one of the well-known cruisers’ Thanksgiving celebrations along the U.S. Southern Coast and learned that they were expected to “decorate” their white-paper-covered table. Being more like me than a sailing Martha Stewart, her party took magic markers and traced their hands to create large-size kindergarten turkeys and colored them. “Awesome!” I thought as she related the story. Until she said that one cruiser took one look at their table and called it “Tacky”.
That my friend was judged is not acceptable. We have simplified our life and cruised off into the sunset or sunrise to a place where we don’t have to comply with keeping up with the Joneses anchored next to us. Do not judge us as we will not judge you for filling your boat with Halloween Costumes, plastic eggs, and accordion tissue turkeys. (Well, maybe we will a little but we won’t do so in public.)
Think Like a Cruiser: Walk it Off
EW and I have chosen not to purchase a car while we are here in St. Augustine—both a financial decision and a philosophical one. Since 2010 we have lived a life that didn’t require the use of a full-time vehicle (or often any vehicle) and didn't drive at all for two years while in the Caribbean. We walk, we ride two third-hand bikes, or we take the bus; every so often we rent a car and a bit more frequently we have relied on the kindness of dirt-dwelling friends for the occasional ride. The point is, that our default is to walk or take the bike. I’m on the edge of the planning committee for the St. Augustine Cruisers’ Thanksgiving, which needs to be held 3/4 of a mile from the Municipal Marina this year. There was a discussion about “transportation” and how many people the three or four car owners can take to and from.
“Um…Ninety percent of us walk farther than that to go have a beer every dang week!” “Of course!” “The only difference is that we’ll need to carry a bunch of stuff – drinks, our own plates and service, and a hot or cold dish. We need one or two cars to take the two to six folks with mobility issues and all the stuff. One trip and we’re done.”
We are cruisers. We walk, we take our dinghies, we help each other. Sometimes we are tacky and it’s not always fun but all of it—every single good and bad thing about this lifestyle—is all part of the adventure.
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.
For us, and I think for most cruisers, this lifestyle is all about People; People-with-a-capital-P. P that rhymes with T and stands not for Trouble but for Team, or Togetherness, or Touch (as in Staying in). And these People, these precious friends, loved ones, and relatives range from those we’ve known all our lives, to those we’ve met at sea.
Just as parents of toddlers seek playgroups and other parents of toddlers, cruisers seek other cruisers. Our lifestyle is rare among the general population and we cruisers share a language, similar stories, trials, and triumphs. Get us together and you can’t shut us up. (OK, shutting me up sometimes is difficult in any situation, let’s not go there.) We love to share favorite recipes, fixes, harbors, weather reports, bars, marine stores, tools, boatyards, bottom paint, and stories. We learn about each other’s families, food allergies, collections, hometowns, pets, and drink of choice. We form fast friendships that last for years. We find forever friends and stay in touch even as we anchor in different harbors, sail on different seas, or swallow the anchor and move ashore.
From June 2014 to now, EW and I have sailed more than 7000 miles. This stunned me. I checked it twice and asked EW if this was possible. “Oh easily,” he replied. Dear friends for life and non-sailors Cathy and Stu who continue to provide a wonderful welcome to Florida, have expressed how brave they think we are. Yet we know many others who have sailed greater distances in more treacherous waters. We don’t feel brave. We feel very, very fortunate. And while we have some sea stories, such as the “Endurance Crossing” or the “Horrific Passage”, or the long trek north from Panama, even those stories are about the People; family back home, people helping us with weather, people watching anxiously for reports of our safe progress, people welcoming us to the San Blas, Isla Mujeres, Key West, Miami, and St. Augustine, and the people we’ve met on boats and on shore.
You’ve heard it all from me. How supportive our families have been (especially my late sister, Patricia, our champion, and our son Mo, AKA “Favorite”); how much fun we’ve had with the many wonderful cruisers we’ve met, from Hampton, Virginia in 2010 to nearly every port we’ve visited; and how delighted we’ve been to make new friends on shore—especially those in Grenada, St. Thomas, and the Azores.
For us, it’s all about the People: People who keep us informed and included on Facebook, People who sailed to Guadeloupe just because they knew we needed an English-speaking friend. People who offered medicine and aid when EW had shingles. People who cook; laugh; tell great stories; listen; help with projects; need help from us; show us outstanding snorkeling areas; walk with us for fun and exercise; need fur-fixes as much as I do; play music with EW; and organize hikes over hill, dale, mud, and cow dung.
The end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 finds us on an adventure of a different sort. La Luna will live on a mooring, rest, and get some much needed TLC. (Those 7000 miles were much harder on her than they were on us.) Our cruising kitty (MEOW!) will also get some much needed TLC, and EW and I will work. We will also visit with friends, relatives, or other cruisers, such as Cathy and Stu, and Kathy, and Andy and Linda, and Lauren and Rob, and Pam and Nick, and John and Dora, and Mike, and Vicki and Bob, and Peter—and many more with whom we have not yet connected.
We’ve already met new friends, some of whom will drop by on their way back north after a winter in Florida, and others who have left armed with names of boats and friends they will meet as they follow our path through the Bahamas to the Eastern Caribbean.
Cruising. Starts with “C” which rhymes with “P” and stands for People.
EW and I wish all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous, New Year. Whether you travel great distances by land, air or sea, or stick close to home we wish you wonderful adventures and “smooth sailing”. Most of all, we hope that each and every one of you feel as fortunate and loved as we do, for we love you all.
(Bonus points for those who know the musical reference. Kathy, Chrissy and Beth, I’m counting on you.)
EXTRA BONUS if you can answer this question, found at the top of a lighthouse in Panama:
I don’t know who Olaf is or what he’d do. If I could list every person who has made me feel connected, special, and loved this year, it would be an insanely long list and include friends, relatives, former colleagues, and many cruisers. But not Olaf. I don’t know Olaf.
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.
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 wants 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 online 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!”