Have you ever had a piece of machinery with a particular idiosyncrasy that just drove you nuts? A lawnmower that only worked backwards perhaps? A car you could only start in third gear? I used to have a car that was allergic to rain, sleet and snow. Well, now we have a new outboard engine for our dinghy – not just new to us, but actually new and it won’t work at a slow pace. For example, when we are approaching the beach, a dock or returning to our boat, we have to continue cruising along at a regular clip and then throw the dinghy in reverse because we can’t slow down. The other evening we were returning from sundown at the ecolodge at Maho Bay in St. John and we were about to smash into Troubadour so Matt threw it into reverse, at which point the dinghy engine died and we were floating away from the boat rapidly. Thinking fast, Graham grabbed the dink painter, jumped out and swam to the boat linking us to safety. Our little hero.
Last night at dinner we were treated to a very lengthy (albeit one-sided) conversation about Nikola Tesla who was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system.
This morning, when I thought I was catching Graham during a moment of daydreaming, he told me he was actually just pondering what he had just learned in his Sound and Light science book. He taught us that if you were to place a needle on the nose of a jet, it would not emit a sonic boom when breaking the sound barrier. Furthermore, you would not be able to control the plane. Later today, we were lazing on the beach, I on my towel and he in his sand throne and I declared that the clouds weren’t moving. He corrected me that, in fact, they were. Then I asked him how fast the earth was moving. He queried, “Do you want to know how fast it is spinning on its axis or how fast it is orbiting the sun?” Silly me, “What’s the difference?” This was followed by a lengthy recitation of facts and blah, blah, blah ending with the exact numerical values of both answers. I came home and looked it up.
I guess he is learning something after all.
January 16th/17th. Two days for two moms. These are Marilynn Gillman’s and Kathy Beal’s birthdays respectively. Happiness to both, all year long!
We checked out of Soper’s Hole in Tortola on Saturday, January 12th, 2013. I had a morning cuppa with my new friend Kate at Da’Best. So nice to have a girlfriend here. We sailed out of the BVIs and into the USVIs into Cruz Bay in St. John to check in. We prettied ourselves up and dinghied into shore, soaked and not looking very pretty anymore upon arrival. It rained all day but we walked around anyway in this town which is somewhere betwixt and between what we think of as the States and what we experience as the islands. There were half built – and then abandoned buildings, roosters everywhere, cars driving wildly on the left, beautiful water and boats everywhere, t-shirt shops, outside tiki sort of bars yet we ate at kind of a New York deli which was an interesting twist in the middle of all the rest.
Later we dinghied back to the boat around the corner and relaxed at our anchorage at Caneel Bay just off Honeymoon Beach. It is a lovely spot where commercial catamarans come in to bring people snorkeling, and to the beautiful beach and to play bad music.
The next morning we headed to the north side of St. John at Francis Bay. We moored there for a few nights and there is a little camping settlement around the corner called Maho Bay. Way cool. We went there for dinner one night and you have to climb up 333 steps to get there! It is a compound where you can stay in tens/treehouses. I believe my parents stayed there once upon a time. Matt would enjoy it, Graham would do it for Matt and I would be checked in to a hotel on the other side of the island. But dinner was a great experience. They have a different theme every night with 4 specials and a salad bar. We went on Caribbean night; Matt and I had Shrimp Creole over dirty rice and Graham had Jerk Flank Steak with pineapple salsa (and he ate salad – such a good palate). We watched the sunset from the eco-lodge while looking down on Troubadour – the only blue-hulled boat in the harbor and she is spectacular looking among all the white boats.
We are waiting for a weather window to cross to St. Maarten which will likely be on Friday, January 18th – a 20 hour/90 mile trip. I have read three great books this week that I would recommend:
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (very irreverent, hilarious)
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (on family and faith, amazing)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (twisted thriller with good grammar and interesting words)
They were all very different but I loved each one. Everyone should read Sam Lake though. I love that I have time to read 3 books in a week – more like 3 books in 3 days, actually.
Today we went back to Cruz Bay to do laundry and some customs stuff and pick up mail at the US Post Office c/o General Delivery! Matt did the boring stuff (or did he?) and I grocery shopped and walked and did the laundry. As I waited outside the laundry for my clothes to dry I reflected on a colorful mosaic of children playing on a wall of an Episcopal (Anglican) Church, thinking that I never used to take the time to stop and look at churches or mosaics. So good to be afforded the opportunity and to take it and appreciate it.
Graham is way ahead in school and we are all very pleased.
We came into Road Town, Tortola on New Year’s Eve eve and pulled into the Moorings marina for a slip to recharge and restock. It was like a mirage in the desert but this one was real. There was air conditioning in the bathrooms, the showers, located appropriately in the spa, were private and had two showers heads and beautiful tile floors and walls and no lizards. It was the cleanest marina we have ever been in. There was a coffee shop with sandwiches which were delish, a beautiful clean pool, a bar where, when Matt wanted to watch the Redskins play the Cowboys, they just gave him the remote control and a beer and closed up around him. The grocery store was across the street as was a lovely French bakery with breads and cheeses. We had access to the makings of a wonderful New Year’s Eve dinner and enjoyed it while watching a favorite family movie which carried us right up until midnight when we went above and counted down and blew the horn. Very fun and simple. On New Year’s Day we went to the movies because Graham and Matt wanted to see The Hobbit. I went to see Skyfall, the new 007 movie and I highly recommend it even to those who don’t follow James Bond. Very entertaining. When we arrived home from the movies, Matt and I launched into a major James Bond trivia game (complete with internet access, of course) – how many 007s have there been? How many years since the first? How many movies?
One thing I noticed in Road Town which is very much a city, is that no one honks. Cars stop in the middle of the road all the time to pick people up or drop people off, and other cars get backed up behind them, but no one honks. Everyone is on island time and has appropriate priorities. Another great thing about Tortola is all the purple. We saw a purple catamaran with a huge purple sail and many purple cars.
We met up with the Porters again off Norman Island on the second. We were able to give them back the food we were keeping from them in our freezer as they had theirs repaired in St. Thomas over the New Year. In exchange we got a bag of ice – quite a score around here! We rafted up and watched movies and went to Willy T’s floating restaurant. The kids sailed around in the pudgy and everyone went snorkeling at the Indians.
We separated from the Porters today so that they could return to Road Town for BJ to watch the Cincinnati Bengals play in the championship as he has been waiting 20 years to do so. They had to make the trip in order to find the nearest TV. The good news and the bad news is that if they win, he will have to travel again next week to find another TV. We set out for Cooper Island today so that the boys could dive the Wreck of the Rhone tomorrow. But we were beating straight into the wind and were making about 1.3 knots with the engine running. We settled at Peter Island instead which was closer and still within distance of their dive site. I like it because it reminds me of my favorite Unc. When we were picking up the mooring and Graham and I were on the bow we saw a school of silvery minnows jump out of the water in perfect synchronicity. They were only minnows but they looked like the fish in NEMO who made all the pictures for Dory. They kept dancing in and out of the water and they all stayed together – so cool. And then when Matt and I traded placed so that he could help Graham secure the mooring ball, I was behind the wheel watching a sea turtle lollygag right off to starboard. I will miss the sealife when we come home.
Pelicans have always been near and dear to my heart not because I am an avid bird watcher , rather because when my brother was in college (read, already an adult, but not really acting like one yet) he and some friends discovered that you can make 63 other words out of the seven letter word PELICAN including the six letter word PENCIL. Pretty cool, huh? Well, I love trivia, and every time I hear that word or see a pelican I tell anybody who will listen about my brother’s great accomplishment.
Tonight I am in the cockpit at PELICAN feeding time – sunset. It is a frenzy out there and there are so many of them all diving into the same place. I don’t know whether that is where the fish are swimming or something bigger has died over there. My suspicion is the former. Pelicans are everywhere in the BVIs and they are so funny. They circle their prey from above and then plop down in the water with such gusto, you can’t help but laugh out loud when you watch. And they zoom right back out of the water and start circling again. They must be swallowing while they fly because they dive right back in.
Out to Sea
Forts of stone, forts of wood.
Pirates of Old in a Museum of new.
Places where gators are snacks, not creatures of fright.
A Land of space.
Lobster and whales in the harbor free.
A ship has been lost in a sea of books.
A friend to see after many years.
A spider-web of traps and tricks upon a scurried entry.
Friendly stars make a return in a cloud-less sky.
Harbors of all cardinal directions.
Mountains of great height next to the flattest land.
Friends that were made both new and old.
Nature of beauty untold by words.
The Virgin Islands
A mountainous island, free of lights.
The air of magma, the water of ice.
A place that is bitter, yet very sweet.
A wreck of cows, under the sea.
A city of lights, without need of the stars.
Out to Sea…
CHRISTMAS WEEK WITH THE PORTERS
We rafted up with the Porters in Little Jost Van Dyke for almost a week. It was great fun and the best part about it was not having to use the dinghies to go back and forth. Graham spent a lot of time with Will and Danielle in the kayak and the Pudgie sailboat exploring nearby islands.
The whole group trekked to Bubbly Pool one day and it reminded us of Rachel’s Bubble Bath in Compass Cay in the Bahamas where we spent Graham’s birthday, aka Valentine’s Day, earlier this year. Bubbly Pool is a natural whirlpool/blowhole with a small beach. There was a tremendous undertow and luckily a local was there to warn us against going out too far. One person has already died this season. We were amazed at how far people would go out. The kids went geocaching to no avail.
We shared dinner with the Porters every night and had a special Christmas meal with all fixins. We watched Christmas movies and laughed and made new memories. They let us use their BVI phone to call home quickly on Christmas. Unfortunately for them, their freezer broke and they had to give us their frozen foods and head to St. Thomas for a fix. We are holding their food hostage in hopes of seeing them again soon – perhaps in St. Maarten.
After saying goodbye to the Porters, we moved around the corner to Great Harbour on Jost. Sailboats are flocking here for New Year’s Eve but we won’t stay. Matt and Amy went ashore for laundry and the place was a little bit like Twin Peaks. The whole town is a ten minute walk yet there is competition between Rudy’s and Foxy’s (bars at opposite ends of the town) for the big pig roast. We saw a pig being hauled up a tree like a pinata. The laundromat was up a little hill, behind an out of the way bull dozer, guarded by a sweet little girl wishing us a “Happy Christmas”. The laundress offered to do our laundry and told us to come back at a certain time. When we returned and the laundry wasn’t finished, she told Matt just to hang it dry on the boat. It was fine, just odd. We stopped into the grocery which was sparse but we are used to that. A couple of American teenage boys stomped in slamming the door after them while we were shopping. Without greeting to the grocer, the older one demanded, “Where’s your nearest ATM?” What? This place is slightly more populous than Gilligan’s Island but an armored car has surely never visited. Nearest ATM is probably St. Thomas. We stopped into the bakery which was good enough to make it into guidebook. It was pretty bare but Matt bought some banana bread; when I asked what kind of bread was in a particular tray, the cashier looked at me and shrugged, “I don’t know”. The whole place was a bit surreal.
AMY IN JOST
I am sitting under the tarp on the bow on my beanbag. There is a delightful breeze and tarpon are jumping all around. Turtles are navigating their way through the anchorage. The mountains of Tortola are in the distance. I can’t believe my good fortune to have this life. My son is below having completed his Christmas thank you notes and is enjoying his winter break as he is well-ahead in school, my gourmet husband is cooking dinner, and my family is healthy. Thank you God.
We parted ways with Angie in Puerto Rico as she had to get back to the States to do another Caribbean delivery. We cleared customs into the British Virgin Islands in Soper’s Hole/West End in Tortola on November 22. We moored there for one night there before heading out to Bitter End in Virgin Gorda to meet up with the rest of the folks from the Salty Dawg Rally, some of whom had been there almost a week already. We went to Pusser’s for appetizers a la $60. Ouch. The next morning we set sail for Virgin Gorda but only made it to Road Town, Tortola and found no place to anchor and the moorings were fit for mega yachts so we took a slip in a marina and enjoyed the laundry and shore power. It has been really hot here. Next day we finally arrived at the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda – 360 degrees of beauty.
We enjoyed free moorings and use of the pool. We got to hook up with the Porters on Evenstar who we have been following since Maine. They took off the next day and Matt and Graham went scuba diving while Amy went for a pedicure in the spa atop the mountain. The next day we hired a taxi who took us all around including to a bar on top of a mountain, Spanish Town to the Chandlery (marine store) and shopping, and the Baths, which are natural caves for swimming and exploring. Not all days are like this but life is pretty much a constant vacation for us right now and for this we are very grateful.
The Salty Dawgs hung pretty close together in the mooring field and socially. Sailing vessel Goldilocks is named because she is not too big and not too small – she is just right and Colleen and Michael sailed her over from Hampton alone. Moriel is named for the Angel of the Wind and Vicky and Jim have lived aboard for 10 years. We left for nearby Anegada after a few days. It is a very small island with only about 6-7 feet of water in the approach. It has one “resort” complete with cows and an honor bar. The island is resplendent with flamingos. A taxi took us to Loblolly Beach the first day and we were the only people on the beach. We had a not very good and expensive meal – the people were lovely. We had to leave when the number of people on the beach got up to 14. Too crowded for our blood. Our taxi driver took us to the town store on the way back to our boat. It had four walls which kind of leaned into each other to hold each other up. Most products were out of date and flies were everywhere. Again, the cashier was so kind, you just wanted to buy a bunch of stuff from her anyway.
Amy received a surprise opportunity to fly back to the States to stand by her friends Jamie and Luiz as they married later in the week. She started her trek on one of two ferries early Monday morning for the Friday wedding. It was fabulous. Graham and Matt went snorkeling at Cow Wreck Beach in Anegada and met up with some other Salty Dawgs with kids.
They eventually made their way back to Bitter End to hang before they had to cross back into the US Virgins to pick up Amy when she flew in the following week to St. Thomas. They restocked, although Amy brought much of Trader Joe’s back with her, and then headed back to the BVIs to meet up with the Porters for Christmas.
We did a bit of touring in St. Thomas. We wanted to climb the famed 99 steps to Blackbeard’s castle. Instead we were hustled into paying to get a self guided tour through an amber museum and it turned out to be many, many more than 99 steps to get up to Blackbeard’s teeny tiny little tower, which, and this is important to note in case you are going here, you can get to for free without going through the museum. Anyway, we saw an amber waterfall and the glass dated back 300 million years and then were hustled though some amber gift shops. I did get a great shot of Matt with his head in a dinosaur’s mouth (amber is from Jurassic period). Ultimately we made it to the top and climbed the rickety stairs to the lookout atop the tower. We had beautiful views all the way to Puerto Rico and St. Croix.
We spent a week in Hampton prior to departure getting to know other boats, watching Obama win again and waiting for a weather window. The Porters were in Hampton of course so we had fun with BJ and Kathy while Graham pal’d around with Danielle and Will. We left Hampton, VA 11-9 at 10:20 am – Matt, Graham and I plus our crew Angie who is not only an extremely capable sailor but also an excellent buffer for a family of three who lives within 40 feet of each other all year long. I made fresh banana nut muffins for the crew and off we went. I have meals planned for 12 days and then we can always eat CLIF bars or each other. I was not stressed this year like I was last year about the planning. We will not starve. We will make it there. This trip is further than last year (7 days). We hope to make it in 12 days and arrive just before Thanksgiving. Otherwise it will be deli turkey and powdered gravy mix.
I served dinner to the three of them at 6 while Angie and Matt were on the single side band radio checking in with all the other boats (about 60) in the Salty Dawg Rally. I served Graham in the cockpit as his watch is 6-9. I was so seasick that the only comfortable place for me was in the cockpit – no dinner for me. As I was up there anyway, Graham took advantage and delegated his shift to me. My shift was next, 9-12, and by the time Angie was to come on, 12-3, I was so awake, I told her to sleep through. Part of it was selfish as there was a spectacular meteor shower going on and I was having a dance party to all the music I had added to my iPod the previous day. I have had it for a year – a gift from my brother which meant that it was heavy on Grateful Dead and funk music. Now it is balanced by the James Taylor and 80s tunes, so there are lots of solo dance parties up here.
There are 6 other sailing vessels in sight during my watch tonight which is comforting as we are usually quite alone out here. All is quiet on the boat during my watch – Matt has been in bed since 7 as he gets up at 3. Angie went to bed after dinner too so the only sign of life are Graham’s multi-colored fleece clad feet and the glow of his new computer as he plays his new puzzle game. He is sitting on the floor because if he sits on the settee, he slides off – it is still that rough. So I keep seeing him slide under the table while sitting crossed legged and disappear and then slide back and reappear as the boat pitches the other way. In the cockpit, standing up, holding on and dancing, I have much more stability. I had back pain all day and it amazingly disappeared when I was out here finally seeing the stars again. Millions and millions of them. Hard to imagine seeing millions of anything that you can actually distinguish but it’s true. There are so many out here – more than they show you in planetariums even.
The top of the mast is 55 feet in the air and as I look up at the tell tails to see whether the sails are trimmed correctly, I am amazed that I am not overwhelmed by the enormity of it all – the mast, the mainsail, the ships passing by, the ocean. The sail is luffing wildly and I am grateful for the preventer which keeps the boom from swinging and hitting my head each time the sail luffs. Listening to Rocky Raccoon now……
I sit up here and I make lists. Matt is the only one on the boat who has ridden his bike across France. Graham is the only one who has been to Egypt. Angie is the only one who has made this trip before (ten times!). I am the only one who has been in labor. At some points I think I would prefer labor to this – more intense perhaps, but shorter.
We made it to the Gulf Stream about 6 am in a lot of chop and stayed there motorsailing till about 3 pm Saturday. It is finally kind of quiet and we are just sailing, making yummy food with our still fresh veggies before we move on to canned food, listening to the rolling stones (specifically “Angie, aaaaaaaangie”) and laughing. The weather is beautiful and we expect a green flash this evening for sunset.
So that was Saturday. Today is Thursday. I have had nothing to report and no way to report it since then. What I mean is we have been bouncing so much I can’t hold my computer and we are now in the vast Atlantic ocean — who could fathom (ha ha) it is so big? In my twenties I spent some glorious days in South Africa and at one point went waterskiing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Town and thought that felt really weird but that was nothing like this experience of being in the middle of this immense sea. Remember when I said I was amazed that I am not overwhelmed by it all? Well, scratch that.
We have gone four days without seeing any other sign of life. When you are on watch in the middle of the night and everyone else is asleep, it definitely feels like you are the only person in the world. Kind of cool and scary all at once. I think about things like, “What if I fell overboard – how long would it take for anyone to notice?” Of course I am clipped into the boat so I would likely be dragged alongside until the next person came on watch and either thought I was taking a long time in the head or noticed the clumpity clump clump off the boat. Just kidding to the grandmothers and Aunt Betty – no one is falling overboard.
One thing that is fascinating albeit again a bit scary is that when the waves are ten feet and the sea is really rolly, you cannot see the horizon. When you are keeping watch at night, mostly what you are doing is looking for traffic. We are going south/southeast so we don’t have to change course a lot yet and the autopilot does the steering. Sounds easy but when you can’t see the horizon because the huge waves block your view on all sides, a ship could come upon you relatively unexpectedly and that would be most unpleasant. Angie says that you don’t see much traffic when you are this far out but interestingly enough you have to look around more often because you might not have much warning.
I remember years ago when my friend Kate and I were studying for the CPA and MCAT exams respectively she read somewhere that if you went two weeks straight with no real sleep that you would go insane. I thought of that last night when, after 3 days of not much consecutive sleep, Angie and Matt were sleeping very soundly. Graham has been in bed seasick for 3 days. On watch my mind started playing tricks on me and I thought I finally had contact with another life form. I was sure I saw a ship off the port bow and I panicked – it was as if I had forgotten how to deal with the situation. First I realized that our tricolor light was not on atop the mast so the ship couldn’t see us. I was rehearsing my speech in my head while I kept a beady eye on the ship. Just as I had sorted it out and was about to get on the VHF radio to say “Vessel heading north/northwest off Bermuda, this is sailing vessel Troubadour off your port bow. Can you see us? Do you copy?”, I took one last look at the ship which by that time had morphed into a twinkling star rising in the dark night. This is not the first time this has happened to me and I’m sure won’t be the last. Alas, no human contact. I have taken to singing “Twinkle Twinkle” to myself at night, asking the lights in tune, “Twinkle Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, Are you a ship that’s coming after me, or are you a star as benign as can be……”
Before Graham got seasick we were keeping watches together, well, at least his watch. We read a new Andrew Clements book, About Average aloud all in one evening. A couple of weeks ago in school Graham asked if he could skip the poetry unit. He felt as if he had had enough last year and particularly didn’t want to write haikus. He was capable of defining them and iambic pentameter and the like and reciting some so I concurred. When reading this book under the stars in a less regimented atmosphere we started singing a different tune. The protagonist in the story won a poetry contest, specifically haiku, and then she had haiku on the brain and couldn’t stop making them up in her head. The same thing happened to Graham and me while tossing and turning and keeping watch. It began with:
The waves are mighty
Hope we don’t fall overboard
That would really stink
And went on from there. Living on the boat has really shown me that education can come from anywhere. And when material is presented to him in a fun way rather than something he must do, he is much more interested. Another example of how he learns so much from all aspects of the trip is when we were watching the liferaft demo in Hampton, the instructor told us we could live for more than 2 weeks without food but only 3 days without water. This information sinks in for Graham and somehow that information seems more vital to me than how to diagram a sentence.
Today is beautiful. Foul weather gear has been put away until next year. We are all in t-shirts and shorts and the sun is shining brightly. Angie and I are in the cockpit once again having munchies, music and girl talk. It’s like having grown-up girlfriend talk anytime you want – so fun. The sea is calm and tonight we will be able to cook a nice flank steak without worrying about things flying around the galley. Matty and I spent hours in the cockpit today playing Name That Tune. It was the runaway best time I have had so far on the crossing. Have heard wonderful things about the British Virgin Islands and surrounding area – first stop The Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda – can’t wait!
So that was Thursday and now it is Saturday. Matt is our hero. First I will tell you the unsung hero part, the more appropriate to share. Geographically speaking, we are in the middle of the rally so we can hear people at both ends via single side band radio. Everyone checks in at a certain point on the doo dah net with their positions of latitude and longitude. Matt often has to act as relay because the vessels at the back of the rally can’t be heard by those at the front and vice versa. Mostly it is just passing on positions points and weather information, however, this morning a woman was having a rare and severe reaction to a medication and he was able to aid her through relay to a doctor in the fleet, suggesting checking in with the Coast Guard off Puerto Rico and also setting up a check-in schedule to monitor her progress. All is now well and we are all very grateful.
The other reason Matt is our hero is more of a situation that no one talks about. This next paragraph is not for the faint of heart so skip ahead if you need to. Specifically, if this is being passed around the Beal family Thanksgiving table, take it out of Katya’s hands at this point. The head got clogged and was out of order for almost 24 hours. The aforementioned liferaft demo and other similar situations never talk about how one would accomplish going to the bathroom in front of others with no such facilities. I decided it was time somebody talked about it so people know that these things do happen and there are real solutions. Of course people have written chapters in books about how to take apart a head. But that is not what I mean. I am referring to the practical details. I will mention no names. Somehow a baby wipe got pumped through the head and stuck in the pipes, no idea where so the whole things had to be dismantled. Inside the pipes was just what you would imagine to be there – it was not clean. The whole boat smelled. We don’t flush anything, not even toilet paper, and the baby wipe did not break down, not even after sitting overnight. The seas were too rough for even the males to relieve themselves overboard so bottles and cups were used (and reused – individually) — by all. One person had go Number 2 in a bag in the cockpit. There was no privacy for anyone. Matt had to find a wire coil thick enough to snake through every piece of disconnected pipe in this intricate head. I was so worried that something would explode and infect Matt; we have heard of a man who became septic because of a pipe bursting when he was working on the head. Eventually, after 10 hours or so and breaks in between for showers, Matt and Graham located the culprit. You would have thought we were kicking off Mardi Gras with the way we celebrated.
Silly me thinking we would be in Virgin Gorda by now (Tuesday) or even that that would be our first stop. We are a few hours from San Juan, Puerto Rico where the winds are forcing us to go in and refuel both the boat and our bodies. We need diesel, groceries, laundry facilities, big showers, and rest. We will likely spend Thanksgiving – in 2 days – there and do something special for the crew.