Sailing Cielo: March 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Good People

Yesterday we said goodbye to our friends Marina & Marcelo. Their departure, like the friendship itself, was completely unexpected and took us by surprise. Over a month ago they made an offer on a boat in Antigua, and the owner finally decided to accept. One moment they were planning on sailing back to the US with us on Cielo, the next they were buying plane tickets to Antigua. We expected to spend the next two months with them, and suddenly we had to say goodbye.

It is a different and fantastic lifestyle we live on the boat - the only life I can imagine where the following could have happened: We met Marina & Marcelo in St. Maarten, where they were crewing on the last boat we looked at before looking at and buying Cielo. That boat was purchased in Rhode Island and sailed down to the Caribbean and we ended up anchored right next to it in St. Maarten. That crewing arrangement didn't work out for Marina & Marcelo and just a few weeks after meeting them, we invited them to move aboard Cielo for a couple weeks until they found a more permanent crew position. We got along so well and enjoyed each others company so much that we all agreed they should just stay aboard until we got back to the states where they would look for their own boat.

It is impossible to describe what a joy they were to have aboard. We hiked, fished, sailed, lobstered, cooked, did yoga, and looked at boats. In six weeks of close quarters living there wasn't a single ill word uttered among us. Everyone shared tasks evenly, willingly, and happily, from cooking to cleaning to working on the boat. It had been a seamless transition from two people to four on a small boat. From Marcelo's ubiquitous wake-up call of "Good Morning, Good People" to Marina's endless production of wonderful items from the galley, they became a wonderful and loved part of our daily lives. In six short weeks, they had become family. Then, a mere 24 hours after the surprising news, we were saying goodbye and I was ushering them into the dinghy hoping they didn't see the tears in my eyes.

More than anything else, they represent what we love about our lives living aboard - the wonderful people you met and friendships you forge. We are sad to see them go, but happy that they have found a boat and can begin making it a home. We hope to see them again this fall, but for now, goodbye, good people. We miss you terribly already.

Posted by: Kevin

Monday, March 24, 2008

Contem-plaint

As I sit in the one bar in Le Marin (a lovely beach side town on the south east coast of Martinique) that has a free internet connection, I am forced to contemplate what's most annoying....is it the older guy to my right yammering to his friend in the states (in a heavy NY accent) about the boat next to him and the naked German lady who was doing laundry outside all day yesterday? Or perhaps it's the teen-aged French kid to my left screaming (and slobbering) into the mic on his computer in the vain hopes that the person on the other end can make out what he's saying. No....wait...I've got it... it's the stereo blaring classic hits like "Pump Up the Jam" throughout the bar....but I digress...

We've been in Martinique for about a week now and though we've enjoyed our time here, I have to admit, I have nothing terribly new to report at the moment. The island is beautiful, the baguettes delicious, and the sailing to get here and to get around has been pleasant. We took a six hour hike yesterday complete with stunning vistas and fresh cantaloupe picked right from the ground. Two evenings ago, we strolled around Anse Mitan (another beach side town) and found yet another fantastic gelateria (may I suggest a scoop of double dark chocolate and a scoop of rum raisin in a waffle cone next time you’re unsure of what to eat for dinner?). The bottom line here is while I have nothing exciting, scary or otherwise noteworthy to report, I have absolutely nothing to complain about...OK, except for maybe my loud bar mates....and well, maybe there's something else too. It’s not a complaint exactly, but more like a slow realization that when our time in the Caribbean is up (in just over two months), I will be ready to move on to the next adventure. Not that our travels over the past 8 months haven’t been amazing—they truly have been. It’s no wonder there are folks we've met who've been cruising the Caribbean happily for years and years. The islands are relatively close together, so you can avoid overnight sails most of the time, the islands themselves are beautiful, the weather is fantastic and the rum is ever-flowing. But I think for the longer term, both Kevin and I are looking for something more--or at least something different.

When we first planned this sailing adventure, I was adamant that under no circumstances did I want to complete a circumnavigation. While I could see bumming around the Caribbean and possibly Europe via sailboat, the thought of challenging ourselves, our relationship and our boat to take three years to sail around the world just didn't appeal. I didn't relish the thought of multi-week passages, challenging weather (or worse) and remote corners of the world where we'd truly have to practice self-sufficiency. In fact, when we were still living in CT, Kevin was e-mailing with a fellow cruiser who'd just completed a three year around the world sail with his wife. I remember that this guy was relentless with his harrassment that we think big and trade the yacht clubs of the Caribbean for something more aggressive...namely, the kind of trip that he and his wife had just completed. At the time, I'll admit, I thought the guy was kind of a jerk and that he couldn't possibly understand how scary a trip like that would be for someone with no sailing experience.

Fast forward eight months and I'm leading the charge to begin a circumnavigation via the Panama Canal starting next February. Given the numerous schedule changes to date, I suppose it's more than possible that this latest plan will evolve in a manner previously un-thought of, but I can say with certainty that whatever we decide to do, it won't be to spend another season down in the islands. Amazing how quickly things change.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dominica

This past Monday we sailed the 18 miles south from Ilet les Saintes, Guadeloupe, to Portsmouth, on Prince Rupert Bay in Dominica. Before sailing the Caribbean I knew very little about Dominica, and like many Americans, originally confused it with the Dominican Republic. As it turns out, it is a fantastic, wonderful, beautiful country.

Boat Boys

We knew that Dominica would be our first experien
ce with the infamous "Boat Boys". Boat Boys are local men (and generally not boys) who are reputed to hassle visiting yachts in the southern Caribbean islands, coming as far as a mile out to sea to sell you fruits, vegetables, or tour guide services. While we were indeed met more than a mile out by Alexis, we've been anything but hassled. Dominica is a poor country, and visiting yachts are a significant source of income for the people here, so they come around and aren't shy about asking you if you need something. But with few exceptions, they have all been wonderful. Alexis waited patiently and quietly for us to get anchored and settled before offering us his services. More than a few people cautioned us against coming to Dominica because of the boat boys. I now regard with suspicion the folks doing the cautioning.

Indian River

Alexis took us on an early morning tour up the Indian River. Dominica has, wisely I thin
k, recognized that its single biggest asset is the natural beauty of the island. They require that any and all guides be trained and certified, and they have cultivated one of the best eco-tourism industries in the hemisphere. The Indian River is among the more accessible of Dominica's sites, and all we had to do was sit as Alexis rowed us up the river, and then follow as he took us on a hike through a neighboring plantation. There he loaded us up with grapefruit, cocoa beans, bay leaves, lemon tree leaves, carrots, guava, and coconuts. As he rowed us up and then down the river he pointed out all kinds of wildlife and indicated that apparently Dominicans eat pretty much all of it; Iguanas (tastes like chicken), Mountain Chicken (really a frog, tastes like chicken), snakes (tastes like chicken), bat (tastes like chicken), and Pelican (which tastes like turkey).

The Boiling Lake


One of the more inaccessible of Dominica's wonders is the Boiling Lake in the Valley of Desolation in the south-central part of the island. Along with our new friends Joshua and Kelsey, the crew of Cielo rented a car and off we went to check it out. An hour later we arrived at the trailhead, lives foreshortened a few years after my first experience driving on the left side of some incredibly steep roads. The Boiling Lake is a three mile, two and a half hour hike each way through the jungle, and covers about 1500 vertical feet. An hour and a half in you reach the peak, at about 3200 feet, at which point you plunge down into the Valley of Desolation in one long, winding continuous descent, erasing all but a few hundred of the 1500 feet you just climbed. As you begin the descent into the Valley of Desolation the landscape begins to change from lush jungle to rocky and barren. As you get further down it becomes apparent you are hiking on top of a lava flow that is just under the surface. There are plumes of steam coming up from the ground, the air smells more and more of sulfer, and water bubbles up out of the ground and runs down in hot streams. As you near the bottom, you can feel the heat radiating, and the ground hisses under your feet as steam shoots out through small holes in the ground. About an hour beyond the peak and another couple hundred feet up, down, and up again you finally walk out on a ledge and the Boiling Lake sits about 75 feet below you. The Boiling Lake is something called a flooded fumarole - basically a volcanic vent that is filled with water. The temperature is within twenty degrees of boiling at the edges, and the center boils up furiously. The steam is so thick you can only see it clearly when the wind blows strongly and clears it away. The hike and the lake are among the coolest things we've witnessed so far on this trip. If you get the opportunity, it is not to be missed.

Market

The fresh fruits and vegetables are wonderful here, but we hadn't seen much in the way of meat. Tony, the local baker (who sells his excellent bread right on the street), told us that to get fresh meat we needed to go the market on Saturday morning. He said to get there early - 3AM - and that by 8AM everything would be gone. We made it to the market a little after 6AM, and sure enough, almost all the meat was gone. Nothing but joints, bones, and knuckles left. We did get lots of fresh fruits and veggies though.

Perspective

Aside from being the name of Joshua & Kelsey's Island Packet 35, perspective is something that has changed
significantly for us over the last six months. Since we've recently decided to sail Cielo back to the US for the summer, we have to decide where and when we'll turn around and start heading north. We can visit more islands but for less time, or vice versa. It was with some shock that we realized during this process that we consider a week the absolute bare minimum time to spend in even the smallest of islands. This is quite a change from our perspective in our previous lifestyle. When we were working our old jobs we would have been thrilled to have one whole week in a Caribbean island, just once a year, and would have endured a long plane right at the beginning and end of it. We don't know exactly what our future holds, but we know this - we don't ever want to go back to our lives the way they were before.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seven days

Our time in the Caribbean is flying by. Anyone concerned that we’d run out of things to do need not worry. The words “I’m bored” have not passed my lips since Cielo became our home. That said, I’m sure some are still wondering, what we actually do all day down here in paradise, so I thought I’d keep a (brief) daily log for your enlightenment and (hopefully) entertainment.

Sunday
We spent the day getting ready for the overnight passage to The Saints (a group of islands that are part of Guadeloupe). Kevin cleared us out of Antigua which took a bit longer than usual as we had to explain that we came in as two, but were clearing out as four. Marina made muffins for the next day’s breakfast (or a midnight snack) and I made a pasta salad for lunch in case we were still under way for lunch on Monday. We spent the afternoon/evening polishing all of the metal on Cielo’s topsides and then took some time to study the charts before hoisting the anchor at around 10 p.m.

Monday
The overnight portion of our passage south was uneventful with good wind and moderate seas. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the final hours of the passage Monday morning. We were soaked by squalls and waves that broke over the rails for several hours. If you’re interested to know what this feels like, just set your washing machine to cold and then hop in and sit inside while a loved one runs it for about four cycles. (You should feel free to wear a rain coat and snorkel mask). When we finally arrived, we managed to muster enough energy to go for a hike and then into town (the only one on this group of islands). While wandering around, we encountered the best gelato any of us has ever eaten. No seriously, it was that good. Prior to ordering I’d considered just getting a cup of coffee as I wasn’t that hungry. Somehow I ended up with two giant scoops (cinnamon and nutela) and left stuffed, but vaguely sad that I hadn’t ordered more.

Tuesday
Perhaps in an effort to work off all the ice cream, we spent today in constant motion. We got up early to hike up to the top of the main island, approximately 1,000 ft. It took us over an hour of straight uphill to get there and then another hour and a half to hike down the other side. In the afternoon we snorkeled along the shoreline and saw tons of starfish and a sea turtle. Spear fishing is legal here, so Kevin and Marcelo were out looking for dinner. They were unsuccessful in finding a fish big enough to be worth eating, but luckily since they’d gone out the night before, we had baked fish for dinner.

Wednesday
The vast majority of the day was spent trying to find free, reliable internet at a place where we could charge our laptops (this is the ultimate triumvirate in island internet). It takes us so long to find this access that we miss lunchtime which means all of the restaurants (and the best gelato place ever) are closed when we finally set off to find something to eat. We finally find a snack bar where Kevin and Marcelo proceed to order a fried ham, egg, sausage and cheese sandwich. We are all surprised when neither of them gets violently ill on the wet and bumpy dinghy ride home. Note to reader, if the prospect of spending multiple hours a week trying to get online (or find a laundro-mat, grocery store, hardware store, post office etc), does not appeal, the cruising life-style may not be for you.

Thursday
Today is boat project day so by 6:30 a.m., all four of us are on deck and Kevin is giving a lesson in how to sand varnish off of teak. From 6:30 a.m. to 1: 30 p.m. we are sanding and sweating and pondering the virtue of a boat without teak. We decide to take a break to grab lunch in town and once again arrive too late to be served. Happily, one restaurant owner takes pity on us and we’re able to eat a proper lunch before again gorging ourselves on gelato (cinnamon and rum raisin this time). Feeling high on sugar, we race to the nearest store to pick up some food to take to the cruiser pot luck we’ve been invited to. The thing starts in an hour, so we’re a bit pressed for time and this is not like the states where you have tons of pre-made food items at the grocery. I mention to Kevin and Marcelo that I’d seen a 5lb can of tuna the previous day in the store and for a moment, we consider whether we could get away with popping off the top, mixing in some mayo and bringing it as an appetizer...perhaps with some forks? Instead, Marina manages to pull off a spinach quiche, which is the hit of the party.

Friday
Teak, day two. We sleep in a bit later this morning, but are still at work by 8:00. The work is just as sweaty, though today we work straight through until dark. Note to reader: if sanding teak in the tropics does not sound like fun, the cruising life-style may not be for you.

Saturday
Marina and I have wrangled an invitation to use the giant fore deck of the catamaran anchored next to us for some early-morning yoga. We consider the potential market demand for a floating, mobile yoga studio on the dinghy ride home. Kevin works on (more) boat projects and successfully sews his first grill cover while Marina and I bake cookies, banana bread and biscotti. Our home economics teachers would be pleased and proud, I’m sure. Just in time for dinner, Kevin’s makes cocktails…a delicious and dangerous proposition. Sure enough, after two I’m asleep on the settee. Not a bad way to cap off yet another active, interesting, occasionally frustrating, but never dull week.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

And then there were four

Tomorrow morning we plan to leave Antigua after a wonderful visit. We’ve spent the past two weeks snorkeling day and night (night snorkeling, by the way, is amazing, albeit cold), taking long walks on the beach, hiking up to stunning vistas and eating some really, really good meals, including lots of lobster (which it turns out I'm not allergic to since the ones down here are actually a type of crayfish...yet another reason to love the Caribbean). Though Antigua itself is great, it turns out that one of the biggest reasons the last two weeks have been so much fun is that Cielo has two new crew members on board. Marina and Marcelo are friends that we met in St. Martin who ended up needing a new boat to crew on after their original arrangement turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.

When we heard about their predicament we were still in Guadeloupe, but e-mailed them that we could meet them in Antigua so they could stay with us for a week or two while trying to find a more permanent arrangement. In the past, both Kevin and I have made impulsively generous offers that we end up regretting later, so we decided in this case to make a very time-bound offer that we wouldn't end up regretting down the line. With our short-term exit strategy in place, we invited Marina and Marcelo to become Cielo's newest crew members. Within a few days, it became apparent that if Kevin and I made a mistake in our decision to invite Marina and Marcelo aboard, it was in that we didn't invite them to stay longer. Marina is Swedish, but has lived all over the world through her work as a nutritionist with the UN's World Food Program. Her consideration for others is matched only by her skill in the kitchen, (hence all the good meals of late). Marcelo is Brazilian, quite simply hilarious and has a great way with people. Both of them also love to sail and are always anxious to help with anything that needs to be done on the boat.

So, the bottom line here is that these guys are pretty great. But perhaps more interestingly, Kevin and I are somehow greater for having them on-board. Part of it of course is that we're mindful of being considerate to our new guests hence we’re less cranky (me) and less frustrate-able (Kevin) than we might otherwise be. There's more to it though. For instance, Marina bakes bread and practices yoga....two things I've thought about attempting since moving aboard, but had never quite found the time or energy to attempt. Now I have the inspiration and a willing teacher. Marcelo has non-stop energy and is an always up for an adventure, which means Kevin has a partner in crime and a good reason to stop working on the boat (just for a minute) and to start having more fun. I know I've also come to appreciate Kevin more for his effectiveness as a teacher of all things sailing. It’s true that he's taught me the vast majority of what I know about sailing, but I think we all know how difficult (read: impossible) it can be to appreciate being taught by your significant other. However, as Kevin shows Marina, who's new to sailing, how to do things on Cielo, I've been totally impressed by just how patient and knowledgeable a teacher he really is.

On Monday, Cielo and her crew of four will set sail for The Saints, a small group of islands off of Guadeloupe. While there, we plan to buy wet suits so we can stay warm during night snorkels and a spear gun, so we can catch our own lobsters wherever it’s legal to do so, two ideas that we got from Marina and Marcelo. And we’ll be able to buy these items in a French-speaking country, because wouldn’t you know, both Marcelo and Marina speak French. Did I mention it’s nice to have them aboard?