Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Getting back on the gerbil wheel

So here we are, back on the US mainland. We will need a car; my wonder-lust gets the best of me, and I buy a car in Connecticut through Ebay. Everybody thinks I'm crazy, but I thought that flying to Connecticut, and driving down the eastern seaboard would be a great way to kickoff this new chapter in our lives.
When we arrived at the car dealer, the car didn't not fit the description in the ad. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It's funny that people always ask me if I've ever had trouble with pirates while we were sailing???, "No, there all here, on "Main Street, USA". It's amusing to me how people feel safe not because they are safe, but because they are familiar with their environment, and they think I take risk... Oh, and just so you know Ebay doesn't care if you get ripped off. 
While not what was expected, the car could be "brought back", and so I now have an unneeded extra project. I take it this is just a reality check about the dog-eat-dog environment that we will be living in.
Marie and I really tried to make a go of it in the Florida Keys, but all of the work seems to be in Miami. "Maybe we can just commute to Miami?" We gave-up on this idea on the second day. The 2 hour drive was absolutely horrible, and so we moved onto "Black Orchid" in Coconut Grove just to be closer to all the winding's of our daily lives.
Marie got a job at the University, and I will be helping my son with his construction business. Our routine is a far cry from the privileged lives that we had previously enjoyed in the islands, but a good disposition is the greatest gift of God. I can literally sense the stress that the busy city bears upon you. I'm sure that in time it will feel normal, like "white noise".
We are both worried about how the kids will adapt to there schools. We were never more than 50 yards from our kids, 24-7 we always had our kids in view. Now we drop them off, and don't hear from them again for the next 10 hours, no other mammals on earth do this.
While money does come easier here, we seem to go through it like a fish goes through water. From the moment we leave home in the morning, money starts leaving our pockets. Even if you don't get out of the car, automated toll plazas just milk your pockets. Then there's coffee, lunch, groceries, gas, and on and on. You just seem to get "assimilated" to where you can't see an end to the vicious cycle of earning, and spending, it's all a blur.
We live our lives as if we could live to be 150; until that day we get the wake up call that we thought was so far away, "it will never come". Oh, but it does.
Yeah, we're officially back on the "Gerbil Wheel"!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Looking back on a dream fulfilled

Mirador gracefully at anchor.
As I slowly scroll through a thousand pictures, each one takes me back to a precious moment in time. I relive the memories like the essence of a recent meal on my palette. For two years I island hopped through the the Bahamas, the Turks & Caicos, and the Caribbean with my wife and my two youngest children. The reward of perseverance, and a little help from many friends. I can't say how old the dream was, but I can say that I started working on it in 1997 when I purchased Mirador, our 41' sailboat. She needed everything, and then some. I worked on it for 15 years, and there were many times when my dream grew hazy. There were many times I doubted myself, or the path I had taken. There were times that I blamed my wife for her high standards (I am referring to the boat, not to me). There were many times that I thought that I could never meet her standards, and would just fail trying.  As I look back, I thank her because it made our adventure so much more comfortable. Mirador is equipped to provide all the comforts of home, no matter how far you stray off the beaten path.
Derrick, Hadrian, and Eva approaching Saba Rock.

Eva couldn't be more at home.

Marie on a secluded beach.

Onward to paradise!

As for the kids, I just know that they'll will look back on our adventure, a decade from now, and wish that they had realized just how spectacular it was. Their next "great adventure" will be funded from their own pockets, and they will look back, and say "Wow, how did my parents pull that off?"  I must say we did set the bar high.
The big question is, "Was it worth it?" The answer is, "Yes, yes, a hundred times yes!" I feel so satisfied with what I have been able to accomplish in my life, and this trip has been my crowning jewel. I'm not saying that it would impress a person like Mr. Trump. His kind wouldn't understand me, just as I don't understand them. I'm sorry, does that sound derogatory?
If I could share a bit of advice it would be:  Don't allow your life to become an aimless routine.  Don't allow people that are lost to lead the way for you. Don't allow your dreams to be dismissed with a mere "It's not normal." You don't have to go sailing, but you do need to pursue your own dreams, and live with enthusiasm. If you don't wake up in the morning excited about the day ahead, you may need to take a closer look at your life, and make some adjustments. 
The only limit is you!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Different strokes for different folks; What does it take to go cruising

Some people need more comforts than others.
I would like to think that I'm not stupid. I would like to think that I'm just a late bloomer, if not, well then I would just be stupid? In truth I am constantly learning. And I make this obvious statement on the premise that it is not always the case, like common sense not being common. I know people that don't seem to get a damn bit smarter with time. We are creatures of habit, and we don't adjust to change all that easily. I have found that one of the most important things that you should achieve in life is to know yourself. This is the only way to answer the question "what does it take to go cruising?" Well, if you are going to be out cruising longer than a month then you'll want to live as closely as possible to how you live now, with some adjustments of course. Don't expect to somehow become a new person that can go spartan, and spend the days enduring hardships, and still enjoy the adventure. No sunset is beautiful if you are miserable with hardships, and discomfort.
This feller is definitely not having a good time.
I have heard many cruisers say "this isn't for us" after just one cruising season. It's not the travel to exotic places that isn't for them, it's the hardship that they didn't account for. What they are really saying is that for whatever reason (usually budget) they have fallen short of their "minimum bearable level of comfort" (MBLC), and are just not enjoying the experience. Yeah, I'm making this stuff up as I go, but bear with me. If you ask these disenchanted cruisers about their boat they'll describe a most basic of vessels that is lacking equipment that most of us from the 21st century have grown to expect. MBLC is different from one person to the next. I have found that it relates directly to your current standard of living.
If your standards are high "Dreamer" is for sale...17 mil.
You can make adjustments, and compromises, but you won't enjoy yourself if you drop below your personal MBLC. Long, drawn-out periods of hardship and discomfort can sour any paradise.
Pooling resources is a great way to stretch the cruising dollar.

I got the grill!

Entertaining 55 kids takes teamwork.

Wait, don't lose hope, there are several ways to meet, and achieve your MBLC. Breaking up the time at anchor with time at marinas helps restore moral, and provisions between excursions. Installing equipment to help meet your needs can ease the hardship between marina visits. Cruising with a group of other cruisers to share resources, and support each other enhances your experience, and in many cases life-long friendships are forged. The right answer for you will most likely lie in a combination of these. I know people that are just delighted about not showering, skipping a week at a time, but if this is not you, and you like to shower, you have to figure out how to make it possible. There are people that can eat the same bland canned food day-in and day-out, no problem. If this is not you, you'll have to figure out how to keep and cook the foods that you like. I for one can eat granola bars everyday for a month if that is what it takes to fulfill a voyage, but on day 31 I will roast, and eat the person next to me. 
I would trade my homemade bread for fish.

10 pounds of fish for 1 pound of bread because some cruisers didn't realize how much they would miss bread.

There are cases where the old "just go" adage that some periodicals endorse actually works, but these are very few, and far between. In most cases you do have to meet your MBLC, or you're just in for misery. The best way to establish your true position is to test the waters before completely committing. Don't just buy a boat and leave on any given Tuesday for an extended voyage, slowly test the waters. Go out for a week, and then two weeks. Enjoy cruising your local waters before traveling longer distances. Get to know yourself, and your tolerance levels.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Island of Enchantment

We are moored in Christmas Cove on St. James Island, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We're having one last dinner with our friends before heading back towards the States. On the menu, fresh caught lobster creole, Cuban style. The uncertainty of our lives in the months to come weights heavy on us. The smiles we wear are as fragile as butterfly wings.
Eben and Genevieve on Mirador. 
I plan to make my way back as easy as possible, a little bit at a time. Our first stop will be the island of Culebrita in the Spanish Virgin Islands. Everyone that has been there has recommended it over all other places, even people from St. Thomas. You won't live to be a ripe old age without following advice, so we're stopping.
We picked a beautiful day to sail. It's 20 miles or a leisurely 5 to 6 hours. Everyone was just laying about the boat, like hippos wallowing in a marsh. All movements made were slow and subtle as the hours melted off the clock. The last 5 miles were not well protected, and there was a little discomfort. Nobody said "I hate my life," so the situation was manageable. We went over the top of Culebrita and into Bahia de Tortuga.
Bahia de Tortuga on Culebrita.
Before us lay one of the most beautiful beaches of our 2 year journey. It was the perfect scale, not too big, not too small, the water was sapphire blue, and the sand was a powdery white. Sea turtles were everywhere around us.  Everybody that had encouraged us to visit this place was right, this place is gorgeous.
I have heard people say, "it is better to never have had money, than to have had it, and have lost it." And I reflected, if this is true than it would be better that I never see this place than to see it and leave it. In a very eloquent conclusion to my brief philosophical interlude, I thought to myself, "those people are really full of crap!"
I love looking out from our cockpit, and seeing the kids play on the beach. I feel we have given them an enhanced sense the world around them, and I hope we have stretched their boundaries.
Hadrian and Eva playing on the beach.

Bahia de Tortuga on Culebrita.
Mirador sitting in crystal clear water at Culebrita.
Hadrian and Eva on the beach and Derrick in the water.
We enjoyed our surroundings for a couple of days before sailing over to Bahia de Sardinas on the Island of Culebra. The small town of Dewey is on this bay. We put our dinghy down and went to shore. Culebra is small, but not so small that you can walk it. We rented a golf cart. Our first stop was Flamenco Beach. As beautiful as this beach is, it is crowded, just like Megan Beach on St. Thomas, and I don't like it so much. There were a couple of abandoned Sherman tanks  on the beach that were once used for target practice by the Navy. Hadrian was fascinated by them, and asked me a million questions in the hour that followed. I tried my best to appear knowledgeable.
This statue is at the entrance to the town of Dewey

Eva at the town of Dewey on Culebra.

Hadrian and Eva atop a Sherman tank at Flamenco beach.

Hadrian is fascinated by the tanks.
Mirador sitting in Bahia de Sardina, Culebra.
Zoni beach on Culebra.
Puerto Rico is just a "hop, skip and a jump away." The kids will be leaving Mirador indefinitely, they want to be "normal." They home-school 3 or 4 hours a day, maybe 3 or 4 days a week, and even that is very flexible. They've gone back home for standardized testing 2 years in a row, and scored above average. I suspect that waking up at 7 am, 5 days a week, for 8 hours a day of school plus 2 hours of homework is going to blind side them like a freight train. Let's see how great holding on to the tail of the elephant in front of them is then, (I always say that people go through life doing what they think society expects them to do, like the elephants in the circus, just holding on to the tail of the elephant in front of them, never questioning the path).
It is the end of a great chapter in our lives. We worked for 15 years to make these 2 years happen, but they have been the best 2 years of our lives. 
Mirador sailing from Culebra to Puerto Rico.
The "Island of Enchantment" on the horizon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


It is time to head to the British Virgin Islands. I think I can throw a rock from St. John and hit Tortola, so don't think that this is going to be a long trip, it's just a chance to use our Passports.
The USIV & BIV combined on a map.

The US, Spanish and British, Virgin Islands are the ideal cruising grounds. There are 9 main islands and a hundred smaller ones. It is almost always just a short hop from one island to the next...in protected waters! The travels are so easy that sometimes it's not even worth putting the sails up, just putt-putt over to the next anchorage. Oh, and speaking of anchoring, most areas have mooring balls available so that you don't even have to drop an anchor. Marie and Hadrian have gotten quite proficient at grabbing these moorings balls as I steer up to them. There are plenty of grocery stores with an ample variety of products. Unlike other areas where you have to be ever-so vigilant for shoal water, here the water is almost always deep enough. 
Derrick, Hadrian and Eva getting ready to pick up a mooring ball at Soper's Hole, Tortola.

The kids are eager to get a dog, so we want to visit the humane society on Tortola because they're the most difficult island to enter when it comes to having pets on-board, but if the pet came from their own island, well, what can they say?
Sailing just doesn't get any better than this!
We were able to get a slip at the Moorings Marina in Road Town. 
They're a bargain because they're in the charter business, and they just rent slips for a little side business, and the prices are the best. The Mirador kinda stands out among all the sharp new prissy charter boats, but I'll put my money on our boat any day. She's got some battle scars but she built tough, and robust. I would bet that you could build 2 of their boats with one Mirador.
Finding the Humane Society was difficult because it's not much more than a shack in a field, not a single sign. Once we did find it, the dogs available were not really so much a pet as they were financial liability, and none looked anywhere near a hypoallergenic breed. Coconut retrievers is what they call them, and they look like the stars of a fund raising campaign. We all agreed, our dog was not here.
We stayed at the Moorings marina a few more days before heading to Peter Island. When we got to Peter there were no moorings left. We tried to anchor, but it was just too deep. Left with no good options, We decided to go to Norman Island instead. We were able to get the absolute last mooring available at the Bight, but not before circling the Bight a couple of times, weaving our way around a hundred boats. Hadrian had made a friend at Normans Island on our previous visit, and he was eager to reunite.
Hadrian and his friend Jason at Norman Island dinghy dock.

We even spotted a mermaid!

Pirates Bight restaurant, what an incredible setting !
Happy hour!
With the wind coming straight out of the east (on the nose) we had to travel north and south because sailboats can't sail directly into the wind. We are headed to Trellis Bay on Beef Island just east of Tortola. They are so close to each other that some people don't even know they're on a different island. There artists shops and restaurants around the Bay that make for a cool environment. "Da Loose Mongoose" was our hangout. Kelly the bartender is quick to remember your name and your favorite cocktail. Just what you want in a social chemist.
There were free ferries to the resorts on neighboring islands so each day we would visit a resort. Scrub Island Resort had a great pool with a water bar. On Marina Cay (pronounced key) There was a Pussers store. They are the makers of the original "grog" or navy rum. 

Eva and Hadrian enjoying a hammock on Trellis Bay.

Trellis Bay.

Hadrian and Eva at the beach in Josiah's Bay, Tortola.
Without any urgency we sailed south across Drakes Channel to Cooper Island and picked up a mooring ball in Manchioneel Bay. We finished the day with cocktails at Cooper Island Beach Club. The next day we dove the reef at the south end of the bay. It was one of the prettiest reefs we have had the blessing of visiting.

Crossing Drakes Channel.

Cooper Island.

The Cooper Island Beach Club on Manchioneel Bay.

Caribbean squid are so cool to see!

Eva is really at home in the water.

Fire Coral! Talk about a burning sensation!

Eva is trying to angle in for a shot.

And she got it!
Our next stop will be the island of Virgin Gorda. The eastern most Island in the Royal archipelago. Our first stop will be Devils bay at the southwest end of the island. Just a few yards north of Devils Bay is the area called the Baths.
Natures cathedral.

Hadrian posing in a pool.

Beautiful spaces created between boulders.

Marie and Eva.

Derrick at the Baths

The park service has placed stairs at the more difficult areas to access.

Derrick, Hadrian and Eva on top of the world.

The kids found a whirlpool.
We took a slip at Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor for a couple of days just to recover from all of the excitement. The Bitter End is our next destination. This area is comprised of about 9 bays, but it really feels like one big body of water. On the north end is Saba Rock, a very ambitious resort on very little real estate. The Bitter End Yacht Club is on the eastern side. It resembles a picturesque small village. To the southwest of the bay is Leverick Bay resort which is accessible by car. The area is a playground.
Here we are approaching Saba Rock.

Everyone's excited.

This is Prickly Pear Island. Nobody told us about the bug problem!

These bugs are everywhere!

Luckily they are very tasty.
We spent about a week exploring this side of Virgin Gorda. The ocean floor is covered in conch. They about 5 feet apart, and stretch for acres. 
Nice snappers were easy to catch right off the boat. I can play "Survivor" here. 
Well it's time to move on. Derrick needs to be in Puerto Rico in about 10 days, but the anxiety is starting to get to him. We'll start making our way to Josh Van Dyke. 
On our way to Jost Van Dyke, we're passing by Scrub Island.

Those are the Dog Island ahead us.

Approaching Jost Van Dyke.

The crew went exploring.

Hadrian and Derrick close to an are called the Bubbles.

Hadrian and Eva at the Bubbles.

Quite a few people have been carried away by the surf over the years.

I struggle for the words to that will do justice to the experience we have had. The British Virgin Island have been a great host. Exploring the area on by sailboat is the best way to see these islands. If these Islands are not on your bucket list, well then there is something wrong with your bucket.