Friday, February 28, 2014

Not all is fun

Just in case some of my readers may come to think that the trials and tribulations of life do not apply out here, let me set the record straight. Out here, we strive against all manner of challenges on a daily basis. It is only our disposition that defines a good day from a bad one, and as I have mentioned before "a good disposition is the greatest gift of God". For example, some of you may have noticed that the text on my blog has gotten larger? Well, it's not you, it's me. I have been pushing the computer farther and father away from me in an effort to see. This is a progressive thing that started, maybe 7 years ago. Well, I'm running out of arms! My arms aren't long enough to reach my "focus point" anymore. Lucky for me, everything looks bigger underwater.
Out here in paradise we must home-school the kids ourselves. If this last sentence didn't send the fear of God racing up your spine...well you just need a little more elaboration on the matter. We do not own passive, obedient, or industrious children. Oh no, we have the defiant, hedonistic variety, nothing like me. Most mornings are set aside for school.
An unhappy Eva...doing school work.
The kids completely refuse any interaction unless fed first, and they want what ever takes longest to prepare. With breakfast behind us, Marie starts trying to get the kids on subject and making progress on whatever subjects must be covered that day. At about his time we start getting defiant outbursts like, "I hate my life!", or "I wish I was never born!".
Marie has to spoon feed Hadrian.
Marie starts out really supportive and patient, but starts to wear down with all the resistance. About 2 hours into our little classroom, Marie is like a pressure vessel about to blow. She lets out a little steam, "do your work!". The tone and volume just keeps getting stronger and louder. At about this time we start hear broadcast on the radio from the children who actually do posses some of the attributes mentioned earlier, "I'm done with my homework, wanna go to Hamburger Beach?". Upon hearing this the kids just start crying, begging, and promising to make-up any work they have failed to finish, at a later time of course. By now at the edge of her sanity, Marie starts to scream at the top of her lungs. I mean we're talking trailer park loud! I poke my head out of a hatch to see if any of the neighbors are alarmed by this burst of decibels, wondering if perhaps we will ever be invited to another social gathering. However, so alarming is this screaming that the kids hunker down, and reach a point in the schooling somewhere between less than they are suppose to do, yet beyond  child neglect, which all we really want anyway. The following day we start this process all over again! If abnormal is in fact normal, yeah, we got that.
The kids are building a sandcastle.

Eva and Lily putting on a modeling show with very limited resources!

Hadrian and his model boat.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

City of Lights

Flip-flop beach is located towards the northern end of Stocking Island, on the west side. The sand is soft, like cotton candy, and the water is clear, and tranquil. Someone has built a bar and a gazebo complete with furniture there, out of materials found locally, driftwood, small logs, and palm thatch. There is a fire pit with a section of metal grating that makes a great BBQ. Add some friends, and a birthday, and you have the recipe for a great night.
Flip flop beach resort.
Early staging at "The gazebo at Flip-flop beach".

The entertainment was great, so much talent. Any requests?
As the self-proclaimed "Grill-Master", I man my post zealously. All manner of meats were on the grill. We had Chicken wings, sausages, pork chops, and pork tenderloins, the bounty was piled high on the grill. I moved and rotated the meats in and out of the fire, timing the cooking so that all would be done together, and each properly cooked. At the bar the libations included beer, rum, and wine. Those more musically inclined, played guitars, and sang. We all laughed til our sides hurt. The kids enjoyed building a bonfire in the pit after I was done with the food. It's hard to imagine being so at home, so far from home. A sense of camaraderie bound us together that night, well that and a few drinks. 
The night sky sparkled like jewelry, so far from any city lights. As we all headed back to our boat, everyone on there dinghies, the anchorage seemed like a city in the distance, a city of lights. I wish that I could somehow save this night away to later share with our friends back home. It saddens me that some may never experience such a night.

This rustic grill only enhanced the setting.

The "Grill-master"!

The kids had egg races, but the sand is so soft you can drop your egg, and it doesn't break.
I think we have pyro-babies?!
It is hard to pull away from Elizabeth Harbor, to continue on our journey. We are doing exactly what I said we would not do...Why does this sound soo familiar? I said that we would not be staying at George Town for the sailing regatta. I said we will just stop there for a week, get the feel of it, and then be on our way. Yet, here we are, it has been a month, albeit a wonderful month. We have made many friends. Every day is a party...oh right, we are at adult summer camp! We have had lobster and conch every which way I could think of, by the way, my conch chowder will change your religion. I heard one girl complain, "I'm tired of lobster, I want chicken". 

We have raced anything that we could get to go in a straight line, and some things that just wouldn't. 
At this point my back is against the wall, I don't like to do this, but I have to name names! Ben & Sylvia on "Whisper", thank you, our kids are into compact gardening. Tyler, Pam & Cyrus on "Mirage", you are so easy to over-serve, we love you. Joe, Marketa, Oliver and Martin on "Anticipation", thank you for being there for us. Nathan, Wendy, Lily, Eli, & Jedo on "Whistling Cay", thanks for the hospitality. Green, Jen, Caitlin, & Juliana on "Lyra", Thanks for all the help.   Doug, Kathleen, Abe, Jack , & Ella on "Wonderful Life", we had fun. Shane, Mary, & Franklin on "Sea Change", we missed the mutton! Mary, and Coleen on "Glass Slipper", you really did a great job with all the kids events. To the many other collaborators that I did not get personally acquainted with, but whose contributions have been essential to this gathering, I thank you.
Our time here at Elizabeth Harbor has been a celebration of life, and proof in my heart that "people" are intrinsically "good". Now, I knew this to be true even before, but all concepts need reinforcing.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Haridan and Spider

Our son Hadrian has been a real handful every step of the way. His dread of finding himself without access to the internet and subsequently his games has made him pessimistic and bitter. Nature does not offer him the rewards that computer games do. I have to say that computer games can be a parents curse. They are the modern replacement for tobacco addiction. With enough dedication, kids become larger than life in this cyber world. The more they play, the better they get at the game, but more they slip away from the real world, and truth. I find myself frustrated at times, trying to compete with the euphoria that he finds in these games. I could possibly be providing him with the opportunity of a lifetime, something that he may never have the freedom to do again, sailing the Caribbean, and he has almost no appreciation for what is at his grasp.
We are currently in the southern Bahamas, and the landscape is amazing. The waters are crystal clear, and teaming with life. I cannot convey the beauty around us, it simply has to be experienced, yet reaching the next level in his game is his obsession.
Hadrian, captain of Spider, a Bauer 10 dinghy.
Lately we have had a small breakthrough. A few months ago, Hadrian would try to start the small outboard on our dinghy "Spider", but he just didn't have the strength. Now, it has taken a while, but he has slowly developed enough strength to get the little motor running. We try to place the responsibility of running the dinghy on him, and he is proud of this task. Other kids watch as he pilots the vessel, making the decisions that one must as you weave through traffic and to the dock.
God, give me the wisdom, and strength to capitalize on this little window.

Waiting for a window

What is a window? Well, when you're "out and about" on a boat, a "window" is a break in the weather that allows you to get to your next destination, in one piece. Now this doesn't mean we're sitting in bad weather, it just means that you need weather that's going take you where we want to go, wind blowing in the right direction, being sailors and all. Who ever said "hell hath no wrath as a woman scorned", didn't go sailing in the wrong weather.  It doesn't start out this way. Oh no, you have to make a bad decision first. No sailor is spared this lesson. At some point in time, we always have this place that we need to be at by a certain time, no matter what, and so we head out against all that we have been taught. It is only after this pommeling that we develop the respect for weather that it deserves.
We took this picture while in Biscayne Bay, get the point?
The Captain and his grandson, two of a kind! Can life get any better? Funny, I've caught bigger lobster!
Did you think I was lying?
One of the biggest challenges when you are out here, so far from civilization, is how to get the weather information that you need to make a good decision. We follow weather reports in several ways, and always obsessively. The traditional method, a radio called the "Single Side Band" was the choice for all long distance communications and weather reports. The problem with this type of radio is the amount of training and practice needed to extract what you really wanted from it. You see, you need to select a frequency range based on how far from your target you are. For example, if you're 200 to 400 miles away you select a certain frequency range, if you're  400 to 600 miles away, well then it's another frequency range, and so on. I only manage to talk to anyone except the person I was trying to reach to unless I stumble across a cell phone tower, and then I just phone them, but those can be hard to find out here. Now, I don't have a SSB radio because I deduced, based on the way technology is progressing, that remote area communications will go the route of the satellite phone. Satellites now have almost complete global coverage and they are as easy to use as the cell phones that we are already using, and the data is billable so companies can invest resources into the continued development of this technology. So what's the problem? We don't seem to be there yet! Almost, but not yet. I bought the phone and they said "yes, you can data." Even with the help of professionals, we can't get the data we need. After several unsuccessful attempts a little more equipment was suggested, and so it is that I continue to dig a "financial hole", but I have yet to extract any weather information.
Okay, all whining aside, here we are in Elizabeth Harbor. There are now about 300 boats here for the festivities, and more arriving every day. There are gatherings day and night. Plenty of kids and adults that behave like kids to keep all of us on Mirador entertained. The farther we explore, the more amazing the discoveries we make. We are meeting the most interesting people that anyone could imagine, all walks of life. No imaginary boundaries here! You cannot tell these people, "I can't", I wouldn't dare. You would be hard pressed to scare them with a gun!
Eva celebrating another sunset by blowing the conch.

The cruising community is just wonderful, they come up with all kinds of activities. They nurture the cruising kid's confidence, and hone their skills to back up all that confidence. My impossible son is even letting down his facade, and joining the activities. We all learned how to use a conch shell as a horn, surprisingly Eva is the best at it. She kinda reminds me of Dizzy Gillespie.
There was a model boat building activity. All of the tools, fasteners, and materials were donated by this generous group, but even more precious, they donated their time. I'm sorry to say that from the results you would be hard pressed to guess that we are all sailors. The important thing is the day that we all shared. With all the tools buzzing, I thought for sure someone is going to the hospital, maybe an Air-vac, but no, only one person let a knife fall off the table, and onto her foot, but I won't mention Pam's name. 
Hadrian with his boat. I see naval architecture in his future.
So you see, weather window aside, this is a very hard place to leave.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Leaving Mirador with the crew...for the first time.

There is a facet of my work that does require my physical presence. I monitor the progress and payments for a construction project. In the past, the project progressed like a Swiss watch, and I would make my site visit once a month, on the first Tuesday of the month, every month. This site visit takes me about four days from the time I step off the boat, with travel and all. It was easy to plan, I just had to be at a marina where I could leave Mirador, Marie and the kids, all tied up and plugged in to power and water.

Eva with some newly made best friends.

Lately, the project has slipped off schedule, and planning a site visit has become as challenging as picking the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby. And so today I find myself having to leave Mirador in beautiful Elizabeth Harbor with nothing to keep her in place but an anchor, with only the water in her tanks and the power in her batteries. Marie and the kids are about as comfortable with this idea as a cat about to be bathed.
We have been anchored in the same spot for a week, the winds have blown in every direction possible as if to test the set of our anchor and it has held tight. The weather reports show no strong winds for the next couple of weeks. I have topped off the water tanks, that's 80 gallons, you can keep an elephant for four days with 80 gallons. I made a loaf of bread, a batch of coconut rice and a pot of Galician Stew, enough food for a week. The other cruisers around us have all stepped up and offered assistance should there be the need. They even said they would keep their VHF radios on all night, that Marie could call if she so needed.
Marie, on the bow of the Mirador.
Yet for the entire week preceding the trip Marie was a nerves wreck. It was alarming to see her go from reluctantly accepting the situation to, "you can't leave me out here", flip-flopping two or three times a day. I thought hard about going to a marina, but the only option was to go back to Emerald Bay. As nice as that marina is, leaving it's comforts is like breaking a bad drug habit, I really didn't want to go through that again.
I kinda stepped back a little and let Marie deal with the inner demons herself. Other than the natural anxiety of being alone, there was no real rational reason to her fear staying with the boat for four days. Marie really connected with the other wives, and their assurance has made all the difference.
The dreaded day came. As the water-taxi arrived to take me to George Town, where a "normal" taxi was waiting to take me to the airport, Marie and I said our good byes, and we parted. It was a lot like dropping a child off on his first day of school.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Adult summer camp

We have finally broken away from the comforts of Emerald Bay Marina. I thought the Mirador may have grown roots, but no, we were able to back out. One guy suggested that I should seek employment there. We've traveled 8 miles south, to a protected body of water called Elizabeth Harbor. Stocking Island frames the bay from the east and Great Exuma is to the west. The water in the Harbor is an amazing bright clear turquoise color. The islands rise out of the water 60 feet, maybe more, they are lush with green foliage, and surrounded by beautiful white beaches. The sand is so soft that your feet sink 6 inches with each step. On the east side (ocean side) of Stocking Island the waters are strewn with reefs that can be seen from the hill top. The impact of the combined scenery is simply awe-striking.
The Captain
Not a rough passage

Elizabeth Harbor, Great Exuma in the distance.
Elizabeth Harbor hosts a very popular sailing regatta in March, and boats are arriving daily. The anchorage is already impressively populated. In the evenings the lights on top of the masts blend in with the stars, the sight is heavenly. There are over 100 boats here, and there will be 500 by March, I can't imagine. We traveled along the anchorage looking for a clear spot, not too close to other boats yet close to the beach. Eva had a mild tantrum so we anchored near a boat with kids that we had met earlier at Emerald Bay Marina. Our first attempt to anchor landed us a bit too close to another boat, but our second try was just about prefect...well perfect enough. A funny thing about cruisers, when you are attempting to negotiate a spot in a crowded anchorage like this one, the people on the boats around the area that you selected come out and stand on the deck, critically analyzing your every step, ready to complain about your proximity to their boat, they put on their "angry eyes". There always has to be something to remind us that we are not in Heaven.
Eva & Hadrian found a hot tub.

Ocean side beach on Stocking Island.

It is amazing to see so many North Americans gathered for pleasure so far from their homes. Most of the population is in their 60's and the numbers diminish along with the age. There are 4 named beaches in the Harbor, and a diversity of activities that are organized by the cruisers to suit everyone's tastes. There is an alcohol research group, volleyball & softball teams, a solar panel & battery charging seminar, yoga on the beach, home schooling meetings, etc. In the mornings, at 8:00 am there is an amateur broadcast called the "cruisers net" on the VHF radio, it is surprisingly professional. It seems that all that have something to say are poised, and ready to speak on queue. It took me a while to wake up at 8:00 am  and catch a broadcast, but quite interesting once I did.
The legendary Chat-n-Chill.

The spoils of the Alcohol Research Group, and my Mom thinks I have a vice? 

Marie posing on Stocking Island.

The best description of this gathering is an "Adult Summer Camp". There are personalities from A to Z. There are people that are eager to have rules implemented, and there are out-of-date hippies that want no rules, but in the end they know that it is everyone's best interest to "mesh", and they do.
There is this place, a bar/restaurant called "Chat-n-Chill" that is a hub of activity. We are making friends by the hour. Yes, after you finally secure your spot in the crowded anchorage, people put away the "angry eyes", and put on their "friendly eyes", it's as if you are now family. Us newbies have to get used to the protocol, but the repeat offenders do a good job of showing us the lay of the land.
Highway signage Exumas style.

Eva feeding stingrays in Elizabeth Harbor. Yes, these are wild.

Across the harbor is George Town. Everyone goes over to this town once maybe twice a week to buy food and supplies (alcohol). Exumas Market is the main grocery store. It is probably twice the size of a typical Seven Eleven". When you first arrive you really don't think much of it, it's nothing compared to a U.S. grocery store, but as supplies dwindle you learn to appreciate this, the "flagship" of Bahamian stores. Also in town are a bank, a beauty salon, a hardware store, a gas station, and 2 liquor stores because one was just not enough.
There are roughly 40 kids out here, all being home schooled. Its great to compare experiences, and frustrations with the other parents, it seems we are not doing as horribly as we thought. All the kids are suspect of "ADD". It actually takes a while for the kids to realize that they can't complain their way out of school, they have to do the work. All the kids work hard to finish the day's lessons so they can go out and play. We are together all the time. We are so close as a family, it is a rare blessing in our time.
There is such a diversity of activities to do here, and we are forming bonds with other cruising families. I know that it will be hard to leave this wonderful place.