Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home, Sweet Home

Well, I'm writing this entry from the comfort of my bed in Vancouver, having gotten home just after 3 a.m. this morning. I looked outside first thing when I woke up about about 8 and was greeted by a different view than the last couple weeks, but still by the sun on the water and a feeling of how fortunate I am to be in the place I am. It is good to be home. And, as I poured water into my kettle in my nice, comfy apartment, I realized again just how fortunate I am, period. So much we take for granted here, not necessarily because we don't appreciate it, but just because that is our life (for the fortunate ones) here in this part of the world.

So many people in the Caribbean have so little and their lifestyle is very basic. But the thing that struck me most about these people is that they are proud, hard working, generous, and open. Their tiny little homes, which would definitely not suit our western sensibilities, are always tidy and well-kept. They sweep their yards with brooms made of leaves from the trees. They keep themselves presentable, despite any lack. They are smiling and open and willing to share what they have. Our tour guide for the rain forest in Dominica said, "Just because you're poor, doesn't mean you have to be nasty." Everywhere, people were generally happy and grateful for the "food that is everywhere" - the mangoes, papayas, breadfruit, bananas, dasheen, etc. that grow.

Of course, I did meet people who wanted to leave for a better life but I really didn't meet people who were ungrateful for the little they had or who openly resented what others have. We had the privilege of talking to some of the people and finding out what their lives were like and they seemed very open with us. Always, they dealt with things with good humor and a positive outlook. Everywhere there are smiles and laughter, not just for the tourist's sake. They greet each other constantly as they drive down the road, honking and waving and calling out. Maybe that is part of the island lifestyle, as it is on our gulf islands to a certain extent, but it felt like more than that - kind of a 'we're all in it together, and we might as well enjoy it' feeling. I have the utmost respect for the people I met - they are enterprising, optimistic, and hardworking.

And maybe, following their example, I'll be just a little more grateful than I already was, for the blessings I have and the abundance I enjoy in my everyday life. There is nothing like traveling to put your own existence into perspective and that is a great gift. Have a wonderful day, everyone!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Deep Bay

Yesterday we sailed around the corner to Deep Bay. We anchored there and snorkled the wreck of a ship that lies just below the surface. (Thanks again, Dave, for the loan of your gear!)

The story is that the boat was loaded with a cargo of pitch, which ignited with the friction of the journey, smoldering. They weren't allowed to go into the big port of St John's because of their dangerous cargo, so they anchored in nearby Deep Bay. As soon as they opened the hatches to deal with the problem, the oxygen ignited the flames and the crew had to abandon ship and watch it burn and sink.

You can see the ribs of the ship, the crows nest, etc. Coral and all kinds of fish make it their home. The top of the mast stump sticks up above the surface of the water. It was amazing!

Today we're relaxing, packing, shopping, and tomorrow we head home. I'm looking forward to my own bed and, no matter how awesome my shipmates, a bit of privacy, but I have the feeling I'll be back here again someday. This has been an experience of a lifetime!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Boat details

Hi Brian, and everyone else, the boat we're on is a 45.2 Jeanneau. It heels right over, dipping the rail in the water, flies pretty well and is a lot of fun. It's got 2 separate cabins in the back (which house Dan and then Yvon and Carolyn together) and Hayley and I are in the v-berth cabin, with a divider wall down the middle. 2 bathrooms, pretty comfortable. And I can lie on my bed and see the stars through the overhead vent. What more can you ask for? Will have lots of pictures later but it takes forever to load them here so that'll have to wait!


Hi folks. It's been a while since I told you where we were and since then, we've sailed the Isles des Saintes and Dominica.

At Bourg de Saintes, we anchored out and went for dinner and shopping (food, etc.) The next day we had fresh croissant and baguette from the boulangerie in town for breakfast and then rented 3 scooters. Yvon, Hayley, and Dan drove, while Carolyn rode with Yvon and I changed back and forth between the other 2. We went up the very steep hill to tour Fort Napolean and the cactus garden there and then drove along the small island, touring all the beautiful beaches. We walked and swam in the crashing surf and picked up shells and broken bits of coral to study.

As the stores were closing (1/2 an hour earlier than posted - island time, apparently), we had a 'military' shopping mission, spreading out through the stores, finding our assigned items with an impressive focus and barely getting out as the sliding door at the front went down. Later, back at the boat, we watched the seabirds swoop down, scooping fish up from the water in their feet and beaks. After another beautiful sunset, I lay on back on the bench in the cockpit, staring up at a sky full of stars, being very happy and relaxed.

After the Saintes, we sailed to Dominica, my favorite place so far. We were met 2 miles out from port by a tour guide in a small wooden boat who said, "Welcome to paradise!" And he was right. That afternoon, we went on a river tour and two of them paddled us upriver while pointing out the plants and animals and birds and telling us all about what it is like to live there, to grow up in the rain forest environment. We learned about 'mountain chickens' (big frogs), and river crabs and mountain crabs (actual crabs), and stopped in the middle of the rain forest where the river narrowed too much to go forward. There was a small, outdoor bar with a thatched roof, where they served rum punch of every description - the coconut was especially delicious. There was dancing and beautiful flowers, and hummingbirds and lots of smiles. On the way out, Hayley tried her hand at rowing - a bit back and forth, but not such a bad job!

The next day, the same tour guide arranged for us to have a driving tour to the other (east) side of the island and the true rainforest. It was so beautiful and lush and green and you could feel the clean air fill your lungs. It was one of the most moving places I've ever been and I never wanted to leave. There were flowers and birds and plants everywhere, the air is thick with birdsong. We stopped at 2 different pools and swam under waterfalls - it was magical!

On the way there, we stopped at a local roadside stand and bought some authentic Carib (native)handicrafts and fruit, which the woman's son went and picked fresh for us - baby bananas, a papaya and a bunch of mangos. We stopped at a restaurant for an amazing fresh lunch of fish (or chicken, but I think we all had fish) and local vegetables and fruits. It was the best meal any of us have had here and we told the chef and waitress that and they gave us a list of everything we'd eaten, plus 2 of the ingredients - 2 dasheen roots (kind of like potato, though it looks more like a scratchy turnip), and 4 plantains. They were so happy and friendly and generous.

That night, there was a BBQ and dancing on the beach and we all attended. Lots of other 'yachties' from around the world were there, as well as the locals and we had a wonderful time. At the end of the evening, they made an announcement about Yvon's 65th birthday and Yvon and Caroline's anniversary and the two had a special dance. It was lovely! We've since sailed back to Jolly Harbour at Antigua, seeing lots of flying fish, a turtle, and even a couple whales very close to our boat, spouting and diving, and waving their tales at us. I'll fill in the blanks later, but for now, want to get back outside for another amazing caribbean sunset. Tomorrow, we go north on Antigua, to snorkel the wreck of a boat at Deep Bay. I love this!!! And love to all of you at home!

It's in the details

Sailors are always aware of the details. Every small thing counts - where a line lies across the deck, especially in relation to other lines, the shrouds, etc. They are aware of the depth of the water they travel over, and of the currents, and the details of the bottoms they float above. They watch the wind, the slapping of the tell-tales along the sail, the weather, and the roughening of the water ahead of them that signifies wind, puffs that last an instant, but move them forward or to the side. They seek out tiny details and markers on the distant shores they parallel or head towards.

When heading out for the day, they are careful to close every vent, every drain, to put things in their place in the cupboards. To lock cupboard doors and close up cabins. Things move of their own accord when you're sailing. They topple off shelves and countertops if they're not put away and go clattering across the floor.

If water can find its way in, whether sea or rain, it will. If you leave clothes on the lifelines to dry outside overnight, or even during a lull in the day, Nature may turn jokester and pour the rain down, making them even wetter than before. (This isn't always a bad thing if it washes the salt spray off.)

Sailing, you become aware of every inch of exposed skin. Miss a centimeter of flesh when you put on the sunscreen and that centimeter will redden and burn. Keep your fingers around a rope seconds too long when releasing a sail and that same rope carves blisters into the surface of your hand. When one of your boatmates walks past you in the cockpit when you're underway and the boat is well-heeled (tilted), you watch where your toes are, lifting them from the deck so you don't get stepped on.

And as the boat tips to accommodate and use the wind, you keep yourself upright, using the always mobile horizon and the surface of the sea as your guides. Your body works in subtle and not so subtle ways, adjusting its position, flexing through your core and riding the swells like a well-seasoned cowboy on his favorite horse.

You learn to brace yourself against things - a rail, a lifeline, the bottom of the table, rather than always holding on. Your toes become appendages almost as useful as your fingers for keeping you upright, splayed out against the surface gravity is pushing you towards. You quickly know which surfaces are solid and safe and which are not. Eventually, you even learn to sleep sitting up, propped against something, staying upright, the inside of your elbow hooked around something to keep you where you are.

And then, at some point, it happens. For an instant, a few minutes, or longer if the winds and seas and your boatmates permit it, you forget everything but the very instant you are in.

You feel the wind against your body, the deck rising and falling predictably beneath your feet, the sun on your face. You find yourself smiling. There is only you and the skies, and the oceans, and you become one with them and the boat. There is no effort, no concern, only the pure, exhilarating joy of being in that moment, in that place. You exist within Nature and she lifts you up, her favored child, for just that brief, shining second. This is what brings you back, again and again. This is what makes you smile. This is sailing!

Friday, April 17, 2009


We left port early the day before yesterday, heading out for the crossing to Guadaloupe and Deshaise. The water was capped in white and choppy as we motored and then sailed. The winds got up to an average of 20 knots and actually hit 28, with the boat travelling up to 8 knots, and we flew across in record time – 6 hours, although not without casualties. Once before, Caroline had gotten seasick but yesterday it was, unfortunately, my turn. So I spent much of the time drowsy with Gravol and lying on one of the benches in the cockpit. There wasn’t much to see, since we were out in the open ocean for much of it, but I did manage to pull myself together and help pull some of the sheets as we neared Guadaloupe.

We saw flying fish, small silver jewels, leaping out of the water into the air and gleaming there for a second in the sunlight before they fell again into the bright blue waters. There were tales of them jumping into boats or into the sides of boats and speculation on what might be chasing them underneath the waves to make them leap that way.

Once we anchored and ate a quick lunch, we took the dingy into the town of Deshaise, a picturesque little place with an old church, whose spire you can see from the water. A woman waved to us from one of the other boats, telling us the Customs office was closed, since it was only open from 1-2 and it was nearly 3. We went anyway, with Yvon and Caroline walking up the hill to the office while the rest of us looked around the tiny town.

People’s voices had a different music here, a different accent, French instead of strictly Caribbean. A lot of the shops were closed for ‘siesta’ so Dan, Hayley, and I couldn’t do a lot of shopping – probably just as well. We did, however, find the all-important grocery store and get some ice creams to eat while we walked around the rest of the town. After meeting with the others, we got provisions and took them back to the boat with the dingy. We had a lovely dinner sitting on the deck of the boat and watching an amazing Caribbean sunset. This is the life!

That night, while we all lay warm in our beds, the winds blew, and the ship rocked back and forth. Suddenly it was raining – big heavy drops coming in the vents above our heads. I popped up out of the hatchway to pull my roof closed, naked in the darkness. The cool rain sluiced along my warm skin and it felt wonderful. For a split second, I considered jumping up onto the deck and letting the rain wash me down. No one probably would have cared – people are showering naked or topless here on the backs of their boats – but everyone was up on the surrounding boats, battening down against the rain.

Yesterday we came into Basse Terre and tried to get to the marina. It was full and the depth gauge went to zero before we decided to leave and anchor at a nearby beach with other sailboats. On the way here, though, we stopped at Pigeon Island and Carolyn, Hayley , and I went snorkeling. There were brain coral, tubular coral, sea fans, and lots of beautiful fish, including parrot fish and other fish of various shapes, sizes, and colors. It was amazing! I was smart enough to wear a long sleeved shirt so I didn’t burn my back while in the water but apparently didn’t have enough sunscreen on the backs of my upper thighs so am having a ‘no sun’ zone there for a day or two.

The crossing yesterday was amazing with the gusts getting up over 40 knots and the rail dipping into the water as we heeled well over. Very exciting! Everyone is getting more familiar with the boat and the way she works. For much of the time, I stood on the foredeck beside the sails, moving my body to adjust to the movements of the boat. I stood feeling the wind against my body and the sun through my clothes, in panting ecstasy, like a dog with its head out the car window. When I am in the moment like that, I am perfectly happy.

At anchor, Dan and I raised a huge Canadian flag, along with a smaller (but not small) Danish flag below it. The flags are Dan’s but, since we share a Danish heritage, I have adopted them as well. The night before last, we were in a Scandinavian contingent, anchored amongst boats with Swedish, Norwegian, and Swiss flags. Last night, when we raised the flags, our neighbors started cheering, “Yeah, Canada!” There are lots of Canadian flags in evidence here.
Next stop, Iles de Saintes and then on Dominica!

Monday, April 13, 2009

I wake each morning to the sunlight streaming down through the vent above my head. It's warm, and the Caribbean breeze caresses my cheek, coaxing my eyes open. I take in the blue skies with a few fluffy white clouds bobbing around the mast. Everywhere there is light, and color, and music. Most of the landscape here is brown where it’s not cultivated, because it is so dry this time of year but there is color in the water, the buildings, the plants, and on all the boats we see and dock amongst. Often there is music, the sound of steel drums, of people laughing and singing.

And on the water, there is the singing of the wind through the sails, the rhythmic tapping of the lines against the mast, the crescendo of the water cresting over the front of the boat, and the song of joy within me. Yesterday morning, when we started out and got clear of the marina, I had a moment of being overwhelmed – by the beauty and feel of this place. A feeling of happiness of such strength that is reserved for rare moments like climbing the Duomo in Italy and coming out of the darkness to see the city spread beneath me like a shining treasure, or like feeling the lifting of a great weight when you finally know you are free of something you were not meant to take on in the first place. This place makes my heart sing, in a wild, carefree voice full of the feeling of being where I need to be.

In the marina yesterday, there was something I heard a few times – that people come here for a couple weeks and never go back. I can see why although, don’t worry, I do plan on returning. But I can see wanting to come back. :o)

We had our first experience of Caribbean rain yesterday morning before we left. The clouds came in quickly and the air took on the scent of rain. Suddenly, it was pouring, the water hitting the roofs and ground with such force it bounced back up again. Everything stopped. People stood under shelter, or sat, waiting for it to stop. And it did, after about 15 minutes or so. Then the sun was back and everything continued as normal. The rhythm of life here includes the steady, fierce beat of the rain to perfectly offset the warm fluid songs of the sun.

This morning Hayley and I stayed on the boat while the others went ashore for a bit. We dove into the water, straight off the boat and swam around. luxuriating in the warmth and the bouyancy of the salt water. Then we showered off the back of the boat (wearing our bikinis, don't worry). Since we're not in French waters yet, not taking any chances. ;o)

Then most of us toured English Harbour, where there's an old fort and lots of interesting spots. Now, it's off to the beach and the pool for me. Have so far not burned badly so am moving from shady spot to shady spot. I apparently had a tan line after 5 minutes in the sun after my shower this morning....

Adding some new pictures today, but, since I'm new to this blogging thing, you may have to scroll. Enjoy! And feel free to comment, it's great to hear from you all.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hello from Antigua

Hi everyone! We made it safely to Jolly Harbour marina in Antigua and I found my first pirate! Luckily, he's the friendly wooden sort.... The road from the airport is lined with mahogany trees, and flowering bouganvilla is everywhere, filling the landscape with color. The houses too are colorful - pink, blue, green, yellow, coral - small wooden buildings faded by the hot Caribbean sun. It's very dry and hot here.

The boat is beautiful and roomy. Last night I went to sleep gazing up at unfamiliar stars and this morning woke to blue skies and the sounds of strange new birds. We had a sprinkle of warm rain this morning but it didn't last. We leave shortly for English Harbour where, hopefully, I'll have more time but, for now, here are some pictures....

Friday, April 10, 2009

On the Way!

Well, here we are overnighting with some very nice friends in Barrie, Ontario. Tomorrow morning we fly to Antigua and the tropical times begin! We met up with our boatmates at the airport and it looks like we should all be able to get along - no mutinies to come, I hope!

Today I was working on the plane, revamping a website I've been hired to help with. I was sitting by the window, high above the clouds, the sun streaming in, and illuminating my page. Hard not to be inspired. Hmmm, if this is working, it's not so bad, I thought. It remains to be seen if I can actually get things accomplished on a boat in the Caribbean, but I'm going to give it a try. Being a writer is wonderful because you can do it anywhere!

Not much really to report for today, especially since I got about 2.5 hours sleep last night and am drinking my second glass of wine.... Bed soon, and then the adventure truly begins. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Day One

Well, I've finally done it. I've taken friends' advice and started a blog. I'm not sure what this place of mine will come to look like but, for now, I imagine it'll be used mostly to chronicle my journeys. Travels within my consciousness as well as within the big, wide world, and it'll probably only be of interest to my friends, at least at first. So.... here goes nothing!

Friday morning I leave for an epic adventure. 2 weeks sailing in the Caribbean on a boat with 4 other people. I'll be slathering on the SPF (did I mention I'm a fair skinned, fair haired kind of girl?), wearing big floppy hats, and loving the warmth. Quiet moments may find me sprawled, like a cat in the sun, on the warmth of the foredeck, listening to the waves, contemplating the horizon, being rocked gently back and forth, and being quietly, intensely grateful for that exact, perfect moment. Of course, I'm trying not to think about the possibility of rainstorms, big winds, and pirates who, my friend assures me, will 'probably' not bother us. No, I'm determined it will be paradise afloat. But we shall see....