Matty enjoying the cheap French wine

Thank you to Mrs. Thalacker, Mrs. Van Wersch, Dr. Conwell, and my grandmother for teaching me French. It has come in handy on the French side of St. Martin where everyone kisses once on each cheek and speaks French and only some speak English. Je parle francais plus que je remember! I speak with Mrs. Van Wersch’s singsongy accent. Lundi! Mardi! Mercredi! Vendredi! …. All the conversations in my head are in French too. I am even speaking French on the Dutch side for no good reason at all other than it is fun.
Nous adore le pain and le fromage (je pense que…). We love all the bread and cheese. We go to this wonderful patisserie each day that bakes baguettes fresh into the evening.

Bon vivant avec pain, vin, et fromage.

The cheese is cheap and smelly and gooey and delightful. When we were leaving St. John, USVI, we did some grocery shopping in a sort of island Whole Foods and Graham picked out some $13 brie without us noticing the price (I am accustomed to buying it at Trader Joe’s for $3.50.) It was delicious and gooey and worth every penny. When we arrived in St. Maarten (Dutch side) I bought 2 ½ times as much brie for the same price to prove a point. As Matt and I enjoyed sundown in the cockpit later that night he confessed that while he loves a bargain as much as the next person, Graham’s brie was of a much higher quality. Then he told me the sweetest story that I keep thinking of as we go around enjoying notre pain et le fromage (our bread and cheese!).
When Matt was first out of college from the University of Iowa, he moved to Washington, DC temporarily and lived with his parents. He commuted with his father downtown and on the way home they would stop at a cheese shop in Old Town, Alexandria. Matt’s dad taught him the difference in quality between melty old cheese and hard old cheese. Matt remembers the shopkeeper commenting on when a cheese was too firm, how it wasn’t quite ripe. Graham and I love hearing stories about Grandpa. Here’s to family cheese traditions new and old!


One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.
All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.
One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.
The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.
Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling,
or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open
for each other all day, saying: hello, shalom,
buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días
in the language my mother taught me—in every language
spoken into one wind carrying our lives
without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.
One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together.


Graham on a cannon at Ft. St. Louis overlooking Marigot Bay.

Today we are officially in St. Maarten. As Matt and I were out walking today, we encountered a lovely French bakery and also went into a grocery store. In both we were surprised to know that all prices were in both US dollars and European currency. Later, back at the boat, we were commenting on it again and realized that this was the first time Matt and I had been anywhere that used the Euro since the advent of the Euro. Graham piped up that he bought a very pricey muffin in Charles de Gaulle Airport with euros on his way to Egypt. Well, excuuuuse us.


We left for our overnight trip in the early afternoon and we had a few hours before we got out into the open ocean. I took my beanbag (not the 70s Brady Bunch kind, but an E-SEA Rider teardrop shaped for back support, water proof delight) up to the bow and just listened to music, singing at the top of my lungs. It occurred to me that when I am at home, I listen to music, and sometimes this high volume, but only when I am driving alone or cleaning. So what I am saying is that I am never just appreciating the music or doing nothing else. When I was on the bow I was just listening and watching the beautiful scenery all around me and feeling the cool wind on my face and the water splash over the bow onto my feet when we get a ferry wake. Life is good.


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.

Honeymoon Beach near Caneel Bay

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.

Troubadour is the second boat from the left


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.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Graham and I have done four dives since we arrived in the BVIs.  We did two dives right after we arrived in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda.  The dive shop was part of the Bitter End Yacht Club complex.  However, it is a separate business.  The first dive location was Rhino Hole, named for the eerie sounds made by the waves in a blowhole nearby.  The dive site had an underwater mooring, which allows the dive company to keep the site a secret and to offer an exclusive dive.  The underwater mooring means that one of the dive guides has to dive off the boat and find the mooring in order to secure the dive boat.  A task made easier by an accurate GPS.

It was a great dive.  We descended to 70 feet for the first part of the dive and then we gradually worked our way around the cove and ending at about 35 feet.  We saw a really cool turtle as well as fish like Black Durgin, Barracuda, Blue Tang, and lots of Yellowtail Snapper.

Blue Tang

This Barracuda hung with us for most of the dive




Our second dive was  the invisibles which were two coral towers just below the surface.  Rhino Hole and the Invisibles are at the North End of Virgin Gorda in open water, so entering and exiting the water is made more difficult by the rolly conditions .  I was very proud of the way Graham handled these two dives.  He handled the rolly conditions just fine and he stuck close to the divemaster throughout both dives.  Graham was so anxious to get started on his second dive that he forgot we had to have a one hour surface interval so that we can dive safely.  He was starting to put on his gear when the divemaster reminded him we still had more than a half an hour to go.  This dive had some beautiful Angelfish as well as Grouper and more Black Durgin.

Ben and Kay of Sunchaser Scuba really did a great job of guiding these two trips.  They are excellent Divemasters and Instructors and they really pamper you.  We dropped off our gear on the dive dock and went to tie up to the dinghy dock.  By the time we got back to the dive dock about 5 minutes later our gear was already all set up for us.  These folks are really some of the best in the business.

At the beginning of January we dove the Wreck of the Rhone, a really brilliant dive site just south and west of Salt Island.  It has a really interesting historical background which Wikipedia does a good job of explaining at : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Rhone .  Suffice it to say she was deemed “unsinkable”, which of course meant she was doomed!

Here are Graham’s comments on the dive:


Yesterday we dove the Wreck of the Rhone which sunk in 1867.  I was just telling my mom something really cool which is that when you attain neutral buoyancy, if you take your regulator out of your mouth (no, you can’t breathe underwater without it) then if you blow bubbles in a certain way, they float up to the surface in a ring shape like Bilbo Baggins’s smoke ring in Lord of the Rings.  I saw a lot of different kind of fish like angelfish and a turtle and an octopus.  On the second dive my dad ran through his air quickly so I was with the guide a lot of the time.  There is a sign that tells about the wreck and it is underwater which is very cool.  This was the deepest dive I have done so far with a maximum depth of 83.2 feet.  I have now done 14 dives.


We saw an octopus on our first dive as well as some Porcupine Puffer Fish.  The wreck is really brilliant and most Dive Companies do two dives on the site because the wreck is large and spread out.  On our first dive we penetrated the wreck for a short time.  It was spooky when you consider that 123 souls met their fate in this ship.  As Graham mentioned I had some trouble on the second dive and really burned through my air quickly.  I missed a couple of the interesting parts of the wreck.  That’s how it goes sometimes.

Underwater marker for the wreck

Can you see the octopus?


Swimming through the wreck

Graham inside the wreck of the Rhone



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.

The Bight is a well protected harbor on Norman Island

Pelican Island to the right. The Indians are the rocks to the left.

Not sure what the Blue fish is. The other is a Yellowtail Snapper

The Indians from the water

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.