Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What you mean 'we' white man?

Sand monsters! Photo by Marie-Claude Osterrath
Kuna men have told me on three separate occasions that I look like a Kuna woman. Actually, they have tried to tell Matt this, despite the fact that I'm standing right there and that I'm the one that speaks Spanish and even a wee bit of Kuna. The women may own the coconut trees but I get the feeling that the men are still in charge.
Photo by Marie-Claude Osterrath

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cartagena to San Blas

The water in the Cartagena anchorage is extremely icky. That is a nautical term that means gross things float through the dirty water and lots of stuff grows on the boat's bottom. After only ten days, our engines showed their displeasure by running hot (port engine) and stopping altogether (starboard) as we motored out of the anchorage. Our friends on Amelie IV had dark smoke coming out of their exhaust.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

She wants to lead the Glamorous Life

One of the many sculptures in Cartagena--Fernando Botero
The other day we were shopping for toilet paper because it might be hard to find in the South Pacific. We usually get Scott single-ply tissue because it is safe to flush in our hyper-delicate marine toilets. The store didn't have our normal brand and none of the toilet paper was labeled "safe for RVs" or anything similar. We found one brand that looked like it might fit the bill but couldn't be sure. So I put a piece on my tongue to see if it would dissolve quickly, which it did. So something for you to consider--that I ate toilet paper--the next time you're imagining that boat life is constantly drinking cocktails and watching the sun go down in paradise. There's plenty of that too, but then there are those moments which are pretty far from idyllic..

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cartagena, but not for Christmas

When we were in Grenada, various cruisers were planning to be in "Cartagena for Christmas." Besides the obvious alliterative appeal, Cartagena and Christmas go together. In early December, there were lights along the streets of the town center, trees in various plazas, and lights on the buildings. Santa and his elves were at the mall. There was a Christmas parade, complete with fireworks, which was followed by many more fireworks the next night. But, as it turns out, we have decided not to spend Christmas in Cartagena.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Curacao to Cartagena

So a little insight into how boat life is a bit different from the normal 9-5 routine: As we were trying to find a place to anchor in the crowded Curacao anchorage of Spanish Water, we passed a boat where a man was sitting out in the cockpit with his wife. His wife was spoon feeding a seated infant and the couple waved as we motored by. Matt and the husband had a brief, friendly conversation about whether or not you could anchor outside the marked area without being hassled. The woman was completely naked and not at all concerned about us.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


On one of the days we spent in Bonaire, the roads near the courthouse were closed for a big criminal trial. It wasn't a big enough trial to yield any Google results but big enough for all the locals to know about it. A cab driver told us that it involved people from Curacao that were accused of murdering a third person from Curacao a little while back. Apparently, people from Bonaire don't do murder; it's those bad seeds from Curacao bringing down the hood. We had also heard rumors that people in Curacao aren't as friendly as in Bonaire.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bonaire--familiar and not

In Los Roques, I bonded with a woman on the beach (in Spanish, even--yes, I may have just pulled something from patting myself on the back) over our mutual lack of swimming skills. We laughed about the irony of my living on a boat yet being a relatively poor swimmer. Mark and Conrad are both better swimmers than I am, even considering that Mark's technique involves thrashing around and not making much forward progress when he tries to breathe and swim at the same time. The biggest advantage they have is being comfortable in the water. When I first took lessons at around their age, I hated the cold pool water and sank like a rock. It's been hard to shake that early impression.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Las Aves to Bonaire

We had a nice and fast sail from Las Aves to Bonaire. The tuna must have been running because we got these beauties and at least two other boats also caught some (though smaller than ours, not that we're competitive or anything).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The birds (said dramatically, like Hitchcock)

We broke up the trip from Los Roques to Bonaire with several days in Las Aves, which are also islands that belong to Venezuela. Isla Aves de Barlovento felt practically prehistoric with the gigantic mangrove trees and the nonstop caws of the constantly circling boobies.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Wild Wild West

Lately, cruisers have rightfully given Venezuela a wide berth because of some incidents of piracy. Los Roques is an archipelago that is a territory of Venezuela. We went back and forth about visiting these islands. All recent reports suggested that despite being about 70 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Los Roques is gorgeous and safe, and doesn't even really consider itself to be Venezuela. However, we had all but ruled it out because at the official dollar/Bolivar exchange rate, it would cost about $900 to check in. As we would only be staying for a week or so, this was too rich for our blood.
Gran Roque

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Underway again

5 dorado and 1 barracuda. Fish is on the menu for the near future.
As we left Grenada to head to Los Roques, the forecasted light winds were MIA. Fearing that we would be motoring the entire 290 miles, we seriously considered turning around and waiting for better winds. We decided to keep going because the forecasts weren't showing anything better for the next week and you never can tell what will happen anyway.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Last days in Grenada

Is this thing on?
Our last few days in Grenada were bittersweet. Although I had been itching to move on, I may have been the only one on our boat that feels that way. And I got a little teary about leaving the friends we have made. Conrad took it especially hard. It was small consolation that most of our friends will also be leaving soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Scenes from Grenada

Robots made as part of school, along with the poem,
"My Robot’s Misbehaving"
We have been spending the last couple of weeks getting ready to leave Grenada. I guess we could have done a lot of these projects during the 3+ months that we've been here, but we have been busy with friends and all the activities that Grenada has to offer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Daily life at Camp Grenada -or- Rescue at sea!

Book club kids "begging" for the leftover cookies that were the
educational Bingo prizes. What a bunch of hams.
Our friend Steph from Endless Pleasure calls this "Camp Grenada" because of all the activities available for cruisers. Many energetic cruisers and businesses have put time and effort into creating a true sense of community among the boaters and the local people.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rainy Grenada

It's the rainy season in Grenada but you wouldn't have known it from the amount rain that was actually falling. There has been enough "liquid sunshine" to avoid getting water from shore (the last time we had to do that was late June, almost 3 months) but we were down to less than a quarter tank on one side. Matt had beefed up our water collection system and modified it to go directly into the tank. We just needed a good rain.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Still in Grenada

Royal Mt. Carmel Waterfall
Our stay in Grenada has been the longest anywhere as live-aboard boaters. There is lots to do for the kids and we could be busy every minute of the day if we were so inclined. We have seen a lot of the mainland of Grenada, especially around St. George's and Prickly Bay. But getting the gumption to go anywhere else, other than on day trips, seems to take Herculean mental effort (move the boat?  gasp!). There is comfort in knowing a place and its people (both cruisers and land-based folks) but staying in one spot hasn't provided much inspiration for updating the blog.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nana's dream charter

It only looks like Nana's happily drowning the kids.
Mark has been saying, "You're being sarcastic, aren't you?" a lot when I talk. This probably means I should work on being less sarcastic. Which I will do right after writing this post about Nana's visit with us being her best vacation ever.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Carnival Tuesday

Mark showing his carnival spirit...for 5 minutes
and then it was just too hot.
The camera battery died during the last big parade, but between yesterday's blog post and this one, I think you get the idea. Tuesday's grand finale was a lot like the Monday Fancy Mas except with more glitter and louder (not sure how it was even possible) music.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2014 Grenada Spice Mas Carnival - Monday

Carnival in Grenada culminates in 2 days of parades and celebration. This was our Monday:
  1. Jouvert - celebrants douse themselves and others with oil and paint (and even a splattery-brown, chocolate based mixture) and dance to loud music. It starts at 3 a.m. but we arrived around 6 a.m.
  2. Fancy Pageant Mas (short for masquerade) - colorful costumes, dancing, loud music.
  3. Monday Night Mas - a parade of lights, dancing, loud music. It was like being in a slowly forward creeping disco.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sometimes a dull moment

We won 7 goats and a sheep. This little guy is trying to make it 8.
On stage. Surrounded by children.
Back when we worked traditional jobs, our daily routines made a lot of the days run together for me. These days, there's more variety. We might be winning a herd of goats at Bingo one day and then spending a good chunk of another killing houseflies. The buggers keep coming in droves. Wasn't flies one of the 7 plagues? I'm pretty sure.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The (sea) grass is always greener on the other side

Throughout our sailing slog southeast from the Bahamas to Grenada, we enjoyed some beautiful and interesting areas. However, we had left our sailing friends behind and there were very few kid boats. We were really looking forward to getting to Grenada and getting Mark and Conrad some friends their own age.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Christmas in July

My parents came from Chicago to visit us here in Grenada. They brought all kinds of goodies, including some boat parts and early birthday gifts for the kids, among many other items that filled two large suitcases. As usual, they were far too generous. We were all overjoyed to see them and we had a great week. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes loved my mother so much that she came and slept on the boat for a couple nights to get away from their invasion. Every night, a few wily skeeters would find their way into their beachside cottage and torture her endlessly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Carriacou, Grenada

Grenada has already established itself in our book as a place that sucks you in. We learned this the second morning after we arrived in Tyrell Bay on the island of Carriacou. We had checked in the day before and planned to make our way south towards Prickly Bay on the main island to meet my parents who were flying in from Chicago in a few days. We meant to leave in the morning.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Grenadines

Steph on Endless Pleasure took this. It looks like we're sinking.

We started for Bequia at daybreak and decided to sail along the windward side of St. Vincent. It was a bit lumpy (2 of our wine glasses broke that had survived a year and a half on the boat) but the wind was decent and we made good time. It was weird watching Endless Pleasure in the big seas because it was like watching ourselves get bounced around. It also looks worse from a distance, as you don't realize you're moving around as much when you are on the boat. We caught a nice Black Fin tuna just as we rounded the bottom of St Vincent.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When there's too much excitement

Endless Pleasure (before it all went pear shaped)
We finally met a boat we had heard about from our friends on Del Max. Tim and Steph on Endless Pleasure also have a Privilege catamaran that is very similar to ours, albeit a bit larger and spiffier. They're in the process of launching charters of their boat. They are nice, interesting, and fun, with personalities that should make their charters a success. Matt and I agree that most likely I do not have the personality to do charters. Matt says it's "definitely" rather than "most likely."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Elegant Martinique

It's so hot as we head south in the Caribbean that it seems like the dogs have become nocturnal. Almost every dog we see is napping in the shade. As the sun goes down and the temperature becomes more tolerable, we start to hear the howling and barking. Strangely, we never see dogs in the water.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dominica Nica Nica

Purple Turtle Beach near Portsmouth
Dominica is the first place where we encountered "boat boys." In the Caribbean, the term refers to the local men that come out to your boat and offer various services or items for sale. It's not considered a derogatory term, I'm told. In some places they can be somewhat tenacious, as in they won't go away if you don't give them something.

Still carrying the baggage of my American sensibilities, I was not really looking forward to dealing with this unaccustomed invasion of my personal space (so to speak). On a side note, Mark has a habit of getting inches away from people when he's talking to them. Usually, strangers seem to think it's funny, but he's only six. We're working on this with him because it won't be too cute anymore when he's nine.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


An impressive mural on the side of a truck in Deshais.
Guadeloupe is another French island, which means more great bread and chocolate croissants. Deshaies was our first stop and most people do not speak English. We got to practice our French and the locals got to try to figure out what we were talking about.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When a volcano destroys your Capital, keep calm and carry on

Soufrière Hills volcano.
Carry on...and perhaps do a bit of evacuating. Actually, since the volcano went from dormant to active in 1995, the population of Montserrat went from over 10,000 to around 4,000. The initial eruption and subsequent pyroclastic flows destroyed the capital city, many other settlements, and the main airport. Two-thirds of the island is now uninhabitable and off limits to the general public. But that being the case, the island keeps on going and the volcano doesn't seem to intrude on the locals daily thoughts too much.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Nevis (St. Kitts and Nevis)

Pinneys Beach in Nevis is one of those seemingly endless, sandy beaches that you see in movies. We were there on a Sunday and there were lots of locals having a rollicking time in the water. With all the time we spend on and near the water, it's surprising how infrequently we have seen adults in the ocean. Everyone we have met here is very friendly and justifiably proud of the island. And they seem to know how to have a good time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

We live in a PBS nature show

Swallows coming home to roost--in our boom.
Granted, it's not one of the thrilling ones like jumping great white sharks. It's more the kind of nature documentary you'd watch when you're looking for something to help you nod off. But when you live on the water, you can't help but notice the animals all around you. On the overnight passage from BVI to St. Martin, one flying fish jumped on top of our cabin and another one flew up about 18 feet, hit our mainsail, and landed on Matt's head.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

St. Barts to St. Kitts

Cero mackerel that Conrad finally agreed to hold.
We had a nice fast sail from St. Barts to St. Kitts. The 60 degree apparent wind angle made things much more comfortable than the 30 degree wind angle the day before, even though the seas were just as big.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

St. Barts is kind of good but can we go now?

Why did the chicken cross the road? It was stuck to this car...
We decided to leave for St. Barts on the morning of Ascension Day, which is a holiday in these parts. Supposedly all the shops are closed, but everything we needed was open. Matt bought some coffee at McDonalds to use their Wi-Fi to check the wind and weather. Then he headed over to Customs to check out. Most importantly, he got some chocolate croissants and a baguette.

Friday, June 6, 2014

St. Martin/Sint Maarten

St. Martin/Sint Maarten is a relatively small island containing two countries. St. Martin is the French side and Sint Maarten is the Dutch side. We had exhaustively researched our options and decided to go through the Dutch bridge to get into the main lagoon where all the action is. Once there, we would anchor on the French side of the lagoon. The Dutch bridge is friendlier to boats of our girth (it's a lot wider and deeper) but we had heard that their fees are much higher. It was all very complicated, even before trying to time the infrequent bridge opening schedule.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BVI to St. Martin/Sint Maarten

Relaxing at The Bitter End Yacht Club before our journey to St. Martin.
The BVI was our first boat experience with checking out of a country when leaving. Basically you need to get permission to leave the country--and if you show up in the new country without permission  to have left the old country...well, it's probably not like being thrown in a Turkish prison for smuggling hashish, but it's not good either. The U.S. (including Puerto Rico and USVI) and the Bahamas don't require clearing out, but most other places do, so we'll have to get used to it.

We tried to check out Saturday to leave Sunday afternoon but couldn't because once you check out, you have to leave within 12 hours. So we dutifully returned the next morning. In addition to paying an extra $5 for overtime, we discovered that the Customs officer had called in sick. The Immigration officer did his thing but wasn't supposed to use the Customs stamp. Not having the stamp on our document would have left us less than legal. Fortunately, he took pity on us and accidently 'dropped' the Customs stamp on our document, probably a serious infraction.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

British Virgin Islands

The bubbly pools at Jost Van Dyke were pretty tame
when we were there.
The British Virgin Islands are not as British as I expected. No one speaks with an English accent for one thing. They use U.S. dollars. There were two pictures of Barack Obama hanging in the Customs office but no pictures of the Queen.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

We gave Brit, the lifeguard, grief about bringing
 an umbrella on our hike but the kids loved it.
We spent a few days on the beautiful beaches of St. John. Matt has fond memories of the area from his childhood and chartering with friends in his youth. I think it's fun for him to share the memories with Conrad and Mark.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Our friend Brit from Halcyon took this rare family shot for us.
We arrived in St. Thomas on a Tuesday, when a couple of gigantic cruise ships were in town. Downtown Charlotte Amalie was swarming with cruise ship passengers as the jewelry, liquor, and T-shirt stores vied for their attention. After a short time, we had had enough of the crowds and the repetitive stores. The oppressive heat and humidity didn't help either. On the other hand, with tourism as the country's main source of income, we can appreciate the financial benefit that the cruise ships provide. It was also nice to duck into the stores to catch small breaks in air conditioned comfort.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Culebra, Fajardo, and San Juan

Puerto Rico is both familiar and exotic. It has the familiarity of the U.S. Postal Service, Coast Guard, National Park and Forest Service, and just about every chain store and restaurant imaginable. Although English is widely spoken, Spanish is the main and first language in most conversations (a surprising number of people just ignore you outright if you speak English to them). Traffic signs are in Spanish. In an odd schism of competing measurements, speed limits are in miles per hour but distances are in kilometers and gas is sold in liters.  A Quarter Pounder is a "Royale with Cheese"--wait, never mind, that's something else.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

George Town to Puerto Rico

A typical Pacific crossing from Panama to French Polynesia takes 20-something days. So theoretically our seven day passage from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico (or specifically to the Spanish Virgin Island of Culebra) was about a third of a Pacific Ocean passage in time if not distance. Last year, when our longest passage was three days, spending almost a month at sea seemed impossible. Now after surviving seven days, it seems doable - not fun or easy, but at least doable. This is probably not welcome news to our parents, who noticed the unfortunate failed attempt by Rebel Heart.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The people you meet

We gave the mahi mahi some coconut rum that
worked great to calm it down for a few minutes. This was taken
 after it started wearing off and the fish began thrashing again.
There are lots of great things about living aboard and cruising: scenic views from your home, gorgeous sunsets, the freshest seafood you can get. But the best part for us has been the people we have met. We have made fast friendships that we hope will last a lifetime. Many of the people are from different geographical locations or have had vastly different careers than us, so its always interesting to get together.  So many people have had way more interesting lives than we have. It's both inspiring and (at times) somewhat depressing.

We have also been blown away by the generosity and kindness of strangers (both cruisers and land-based folks). It's enough to bring a tear to the eye of a cynical recovering attorney from the big city.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nya-nya-nya-nya Nassau

Mark, Alexis, Nicholas and Conrad enjoying sherbet in
downtown Nassau. Yes, they voluntarily chose fruit ice cream.
We had passed up Nassau multiple times in our previous trips, avoiding the city based on other people describing the city as dirty, noisy and crime filled.  But there was no escaping it this time. We were meeting friends who were staying in Nassau for a week.  So off we went.

In less than 8 hours, we had had our fill of Nassau and it had nothing to do with the State Department warnings about increased crime in the city. So what was problem? Let me count the ways...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Zen and the art of waiting for wind

Little Farmers Cay--One of the friendliest and most
charming settlements we have visited.
Although you wouldn't know it from listening to us at certain times (like when we yell at the boys for quiet when they're going crazy right around the time we're doing something critical like anchoring or maneuvering in tight spaces), Matt and I are becoming more patient.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Safety measures

We finally used the new asymmetrical spinnaker we bought over 6 months ago. The spinnaker was just one of a number of purchases we have made that were somewhat "unplanned." From my perspective, that meant that I wasn't considering them in the costs of the boat and was surprised and unhappy to find out that we had to spend the money.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Long Island, Exumas

One of the caves near Thompson Bay
Although we weren't planning on it, we ended up leaving for Long Island on the same day as the rally of 70 or so boats from George Town. The winds were excellent and the seas would have been fine if we had gone downwind towards Thompson Bay with everyone else. Instead, we decided to sail northeast to the northern part of Long Island so that we could troll along the deep water line.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Homeschooling update

Yes, he's reading a comic book. It's high brow stuff.
One of the most common questions we get is how the homeschooling is going. Honestly, we won't know how the boys compare to traditionally schooled kids unless they get formally tested because we're not following a regimented program that has its own testing. Instead, we wanted to let the boys focus on subjects that interest them, while trying to make sure they learn the core skills they will need.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

George Town

One of the big reasons that we decided to come back to the Bahamas (for the third time in a year) is that we never made it to George Town. It was invariably described as a Mecca for kids to hang out with other boat kids, but we didn't reach it because of our mechanical woes. Worse, due to our boat work delays, we were always a bit behind the migration of boat children. So we didn't really see many other kid boats most of the summer. So we really, really wanted to go to George Town, which reportedly attracts kid boats in swarms.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stone Soup engines

We have been having fun hanging out with Shambala.
The other day, we were telling Mark and Conrad the story of Stone Soup. Basically, a stranger wrangles food out of recalcitrant townspeople on the premise that a boiled stone is good, but if you just add a few things it's even better (I guess it's really about working t ogether for the good of everyone). Matt has decided that the diesel engines on Perry are our Stone Soup.