September 3, 2009
Ashore, people ask us “What do you do?” Though they may not put it so directly, most cruisers want to know, “What are your dreams?” And, more importantly, “What are you doing to make your dreams come true?” A very few people we have met cruising answer that final question by living their dreams every single moment of their lives. Ken Murray was one of those.
We first met Ken and his then-wife Helen in April of 2002 in a remote anchorage called Anihue in the northern part of the Chilean channels. But Evans and I had been hearing about them ever since we arrived in the Beagle Channel four months earlier. A stock fiberglass powerboat cruising the most challenging coastline in the world would have been enough to make Pelagic stand out from among the dozen or so mostly custom and mostly metal cruising sailboats. But in addition, while most boats passed through the 1,000 nautical miles of coastline in one short summer season, Pelagic had been in Chile for more than two years, and Ken’s penchant for gunkholing in uncharted fjords meant that he had a wealth of valuable information which he shared freely on the high-frequency radio net. At age 73, Helen was by far the oldest person anyone had ever heard of living aboard a cruising boat in the channels and nearly 20 years older than Ken. The age disparity between Ken and Helen offered even more grist for the rumor mill, as did Pelagic’s name because it was the same as a steel charter sailboat used for Antarctic climbing expeditions owned by Skip Novak, a well-known sailboat racer, climber, writer and adventurer. During one of the first evenings we got together Ken told us with an impish smile, “Skip was incensed that a powerboat should have the same name as his boat and told me to change it when we arrived in Chile in 2000.”
Ken was thin and rangy, his face sun creased, his brown eyes always smiling, his sharp mind easily engaged. With his engineer’s logic and skilled mechanic’s hands, he could fix almost anything, and he had somehow held the aging Pelagic together on her 15,000-mile voyage. When telling us about his repairing something on board, Helen said, “Ken got it to work with his usual method – magic!” In their eight years aboard Pelagic, Ken had spent almost as much time off the boat as on it, using his mechanical skills to help others with their boats, traveling around South America on his lovingly restored 1952 Matchless motorcycle, working on a ship doing underwater salvage in the Rio de la Plata, and contributing to whatever shoreside community lay beyond Pelagic’s decks at any given time.
Fifteen years before, Ken and Helen had both been with other partners, and both had dreamed of sailing to distant shores. Both had fit out sailboats with their spouses and headed down the west coast only to discover that their partners suffered from debilitating seasickness. Both had been unwilling to give up their dreams; for that and a variety of other reasons both ended up divorced. Ken was cruising Baja alone aboard his 42-foot steel boat, La Cuna. Helen had done everything she could to hitch a ride on a cruising boat, but no one would take her once they discovered that she was almost sixty years old and had some health problems. Undaunted, she had purchased a Toyota Minivan, loaded it with camping supplies, and headed south for the Baja peninsula and the shores of the Sea of Cortez. When Ken rowed ashore from La Cuna and landed at Helen’s campsite on a sandy beach in Baja, he asked her what she was doing there. “I’m waiting for someone to take me sailing,” she replied.
There were a dozen reasons why Ken and Helen should not have been where they were doing what they were. By almost any standard, they had no money and an entirely unsuitable boat. Helen had a plethora of health problems, and they had no health insurance. But they weren’t interested in excuses. The life they lived was tough, demanding and, at times, scary. But it was everything they wanted.
We sailed in company with Ken and Helen for much of our southbound trip through the channels from September to December of 2002. When we left Chile bound for Australia in January of 2003, we sailed away believing we would see them both again on a return trip to Chile at some indeterminate time in the future. But that was not to be.
In May of 2005 Helen suffered a stroke. Rather than leaving her in a nursing home in Argentina after she was released from the hospital, Ken brought her home to Pelagic and cared for her himself for five months. At the end of October, a second stroke put her back in the hospital and eventually she lapsed into a coma. On November 4, 2005, she came out of the coma long enough to spend a last hour with Ken. She told him she loved him and “the times we spent together were the best years of my life.” She had lived her dreams beyond her wildest imaginings, she said, but now it was time for her to move on.
When we returned to Chile in October of 2007 Ken was still cruising the channels in Pelagic, but much had changed in his life. Ken had fallen in love with and married Eef Willems, a merchant marine captain and charter boat skipper. I have told the remarkable story of their relationship in an article in the August Cruising World. Suffice to say that they had found true love, and seeing them together the most jaded person would not be able to deny that such a thing does exist. But less than a year after Helen had died and just six months after he and Eef had found each other, Ken was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had already metastasized into his bones and his lymph system and given a 20% chance of surviving the next five years. The first thing he did was to ask Eef to marry him.
Ken and Eef made the decision that quality of life mattered far more than length of life; that whatever treatment Ken pursued, it had to allow them to live aboard their boat and be together in Patagonia. Ken’s doctors at the VA hospital worked hard to give Ken all the time they could while allowing him to spend periods of many months 7,000 miles away from the hospital and the treatment facilities. They took advantage of every minute. When we were with them in the Beagle Channel in March of 2008, Ken and Eef went off for a month’s cruise, hiking and kayaking miles into the large islands at the bottom of South America, charting anchorages that, as far as anyone knows, no one had ever visited. They cruised the way that most people dream of and few achieve, as at home camping on a mountain along the edge of a glacier or kayaking up a stream as enjoying their boat’s snug cabin in a 50-knot blow.
Last year at this time, they had the choice of sitting around in hospitals “waiting to die,” as Ken put it, or having one last grand adventure. No one who knew Ken and Eef would have been surprised at their decision. He and Eef set off on Eef’s steel boat, Tooluka, and sailed 12,000 nautical miles to Greenland. For all of Ken’s sea miles and experiences, he had never taken a sailboat across an ocean, and he had never visited Greenland, another remote area of icebergs and glaciers where whales dance in steely gray waters. Against all the odds, and thanks to Eef’s strength and abilities, Ken made it to Greenland and spent two months cruising there under the midnight sun. He passed away with Eef at his side at 23:50 in Aasiaat, Greenland on August 25th in the local hospital. Our friends Clive and Laila were with him and helped Eef in every way they could in the last days of Ken’s life. Laila told me that the Greenlanders have a tradition of an “outsinging” for the dying, singing a hymn about sailing new waters and hunting new fields to carry them over the threshold of death. Most of the hospital staff joined the family of the man in the bed next to Ken’s to sing Ken out of this life and into the next.
Ken seemed to dance and laugh his way through life no matter the heartaches he encountered. When you lose a person like that, you cannot mourn for him, because you just know that he is still dancing and laughing somewhere. Instead you mourn for yourself and others like you, left bereft on a cold and empty shore watching a sparkling bright light pass out of your life forever.
July 18, 2009
After a whirlwind visit to friends and family in Syracuse, NY, Beth was joined Evans at the beginning of July in our new home in Provence in the south of France about twenty minutes east of Marseille. We are both struck by the differences between living in the US and living in Europe, and we thought we’d share some of our observations so that those who have not lived in Europe can understand why we feel that living here offers us many of the advantages of living on the boat without some of the disadvantages.
On the boat, almost all of our drinking water came from the sky in the form of rainwater that we trapped on the decks and used to fill our tanks. Most of our electricity (but, alas, not all) came from pollution free solar panels. When we had too little sun (as in Chile last Southern winter), we generated electricity using a highly efficient gasoline generator. We kept our electrical demand low and used less than a tenth of the electricity we would have used ashore. Once the boat was built and we were off sailing, we lived a very comfortable life while consuming a tiny fraction of the resources we had when living ashore while building Hawk. During that time, we were surprised at how little control we really had over how much water, electricity and fuel we used every day.
But here in Europe, while we’re using more resources than on the boat, we’re living much less resource-intensively than we have ever managed to in the States. Our boat-sized apartment is tucked into the thick-walled basement of an old stone and stucco building in a medieval town called Ceyreste that perches on a hill above the Mediterranean about twenty minutes east of Marseille. Though daytime temperatures average in the mid-80s and we’ve had several days in the 90s, the apartment remains very comfortable even without air conditioning. In the morning, when the sun shines fully on the one outside wall of the apartment, we close the French doors and lower a mechanical shutter. The heavy walls of the building retain the cool of the night, and the apartment remains up to 10 degrees cooler than the temperature outside during the hottest part of the day. In the mid-afternoon, when the front of the apartment is in the shade, we open the shutter and the French doors and let the near-constant sea breeze blow into the apartment, airing it out and further cooling it.
Evans bikes the 10 kilometers to and from the boatyard in La Ciotat. For much of the way, there are bike lanes or wide shoulders. Where there are not, drivers are patient and courteous, never in a hurry on the winding little streets that make up the town center. When I want to have lunch with him or go shopping at the “hypermarché,” the big supermarket in town, I can take the clean, efficient, inexpensive bus that runs every twenty minutes into town and back. There really is no need to own a car, though we do have one as part of Evans’ job. It is a tiny little Renault Clio diesel that is rated for 53.5 miles per gallon on the highway. We haven’t done any highway driving, but it looks as if we’ve been getting more than 35 miles per gallon on our little jaunts to explore the countryside around us.
With an average rainfall of just 24 inches per year (compared to 41 inches of precipitation in Boston), water has always been scarce in this region, and the Romans built many aqueducts, catchments and cisterns during their 500-year occupation a couple millennia ago. Many of those still function today, and they keep the area supplied during the dry summer months, but there is no water to waste. Like most European toilets, ours has a two-part button on the top. Pushing half the button puts about half the volume through the toilet as pushing the full button, and the water runs for as long as you hold the button down.
The area has long been known for its agriculture, and driving around we see vineyards, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. But only drought-resistant crops are grown and there is no artificial irrigation. Absolutely no water is devoted to lawns – the area around many houses consists of yellowed grass and bare soil with lots of flowering bushes and plants that thrive in bright sunshine, low moisture environments. Pools are a rarity – people go to the beach and swim in the Mediterranean. When I ride the bus back from town, the seats are often filled with kids sticky with salt and sand carrying buckets and trowels.
We have a washing machine in the kitchen which uses no more water than a boat washing machine per load. There is no dishwasher and no dryer. Everyone dries their clothes outdoors on lines or plastic racks that are hung out open windows of the apartments that line the narrow alleyways. The hot, dry weather and the constant breeze dry even heavy towels fresh out of the washing machine in less than an hour.
The little medieval village has dozens of small winding alleyways, and a set of small shops that meet all our day-to-day needs. La Poste handles mail and la tabac carries postcards and stationary supplies. La pharmacie has most everything to be found in an American drugstore. La boucherie has fresh meat; la boulangerie has fresh bread and pastries. A fruit and vegetable store boasts local produce all fresh every day. A small natural food store carries whole grains, and a small grocery store has cereal, yogurt and other things. The stores close from 12:30 until 4:00 each day, and around 4:00 I finish up my writing, put a shopping bag over my arm, and do my shopping for the day. Evans gets home shortly after that, and we usually eat a simple dinner of salad or fruit with baguettes on the little table on the stone patio in front of our front door while the long twilight paints the buildings golden and lights the steeple of the 12th century Catholic Church visible over the roofs of the buildings around our courtyard.
The economic situation in Europe seems as bad as in the States when we look at the economic indicators, but the only evidence of it we have seen directly is that the boatyard where Evans is working is all but empty. Every bit of the hardstand area, which is the size of a couple of football fields, was covered with superyachts two years ago. Now the only boat besides the one Evans is working on is a 120-foot powerboat that has been repossessed. Yet when we ask people about the economy, they say that the average person hasn’t really felt it because the safety nets in Europe have protected them from the economic collapse. This is a real contrast to the short time we spent in the States where it seemed as if just about everyone we know has been directly impacted in some way.
Of course, there are downsides. The boatyard, despite promising to work full out all summer, is down to a 30-hour work week. When Evans contacts suppliers for technical information available in a brochure (but not on their website), he gets an out-of-office reply saying that someone will get back to him in September. This is part and parcel of the European lifestyle, and not unexpected after our experiences living in Europe before we left on our first circumnavigation. It’s wonderful to get all of July or August off and most of December, but it’s not so much fun if you’re trying to get something done.
But when all is said and done, on a day-to-day basis we are able to live in a way that we only wish we could in the States. The suburban, car-centered existence we seem unable to avoid in the places we have lived seems out of step with modern realities. When we eventually return to the States, we’d really like to find a place where we can live where we can commute by bike, shop on foot, have access to nature and still earn a decent living. Of course, we can always head back to sea!
June 28, 2009
A Quick Update
Evans has settled into his project management job in the South of France. Our flat is in a lovely old small village called Ceyreste (43° 13' 0N, 5° 37' 60E), and he is biking to and from work every day (to the slightly bigger town of La Ciotat). We expect this job will run until about November 15th, and then he will likely come back to Annapolis and work on Hawk’s refitting.
Beth is joining Evans in Ceyreste in a week and will stay until mid-august, working on the new book she is writing.During the fall, she will be back in the US doing various slide shows and seminars.
Hawk is all hauled out and snug in the marina near Annapolis (Cypress Marine) where we originally built her interior. She is in surprisingly good shape. So, the yard has a short work list, mainly focused on renewing ancillary engine components (like the rubber mounts) and the sails are off being looked at with stitching being touched up and chafe patches being renewed.
Cypress Marine, Magothy River
June 4, 2009
END OF A VOYAGE
Hawk lays in her berth at Cypress Marine, a little boatyard on Cypress Creek off the Magothy River just north of Annapolis. We arrived here two days ago, after a nine-day passage from the Virgin Islands, motoring through the narrow entrance channel into the nearly landlocked Y-shaped cove surrounded by lovely houses fronted by wooden docks. We first passed through that channel and tied Hawk up in this slip in April of 1998 after her maiden voyage from Florida, when she was little more than a bare hull, and then we spent a bit over a year fitting the interior and finishing the boat. Ten years ago today, Hawk sailed out the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, bound for Newfoundland. Entering the Magothy River and then Cypress Creek two days ago, it felt as if we had stepped back in time, as if we had never left, as if all the years and all the miles had never happened.
As we backed into the slip so full of memories, we couldn’t help but recall our last moments here. Beth had just sold her car, the last personal possession binding us to land, and as her car disappeared out the driveway she stepped aboard Hawk. Evans had the engine running and all but two docklines untied and coiled on the deck, removed from the pilings for the first time since Hawk had arrived in that slip more than a year before. Beth pulled in the last two lines, and we motored away from the dock, away from one life and toward another.
We hoped we would cruise aboard this boat for ten years. We hoped we would sail to Chile and spend at least a year in the archipelago on its west coast. We hoped we actually liked sailing in cold weather. We hoped we had the skills to keep ourselves and our boat safe. But we didn’t know. We did know that we were once again giving up the security of a paycheck, health insurance and retirement savings, but we didn’t know if we had any hope of supporting ourselves by writing from the boat. We knew we were leaving behind many conveniences including well-stocked supermarkets, showers with limitless hot water, washing machines and dishwashers, 24-hour shopping, the Internet, easy communication with family, mechanics and sailmakers… We left wondering if we were doing the right thing, walking away yet again from jobs and financial security, setting off knowing nothing for sure except that we would face uncertainty, risk and challenge.
Now we are decommissioning Hawk after a 75,000-nautical mile, ten-year voyage that has taken us around the world, as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as Cape Horn. We visited Chile twice and spent more than two years exploring that vast archipelago stretching from Cape Horn north for 1,000 miles. We’ve sailed some 15,000 nautical miles through the Southern Ocean. Our writing paid for most of our living expenses aboard, even if it didn’t stretch to cover the expenses of maintaining the boat. Together we have faced down our fears, strengthened and deepened the bond between us, taken care of ourselves in the most remote corners of the globe, fixed problems we would have thought insurmountable and uncovered reserves of strength and determination we never suspected. We have also built friendships with extraordinary people around the globe, danced with albatrosses and whales on the open ocean and visited remote wilderness areas virtually unchanged since the days of Cook and Darwin. The sea has tested us again and again, humbled us often and punished us occasionally. But it has also rewarded us with perfect sailing days under a wide spread of canvas, with sunsets so beautiful they brought tears to our eyes, with the magic mystery of the green flash, with the fearsome beauty of giant waves breaking green in a storm.
We left this slip filled with doubts and fears. We return knowing we have been blessed to have the opportunity to make this voyage.
Now we are decommissioning Hawk for what will likely be six months or a year on the hard. Yesterday we took the mainsail and jib off, flaked them, and stowed them in the sail locker. We removed all the halyards, leaving messenger lines in their place. We took all the running rigging and removable hardware off the decks. We started emptying lockers and filling the trunk of the rental car. We have lived on this boat three times longer than we have lived anywhere else since we met more than twenty years ago. Beth has lived twice as long on this boat as she has lived anywhere in her entire life. We leave with regret, but we leave knowing that we will live aboard this boat again, that she is and remains an integral part of our lives. In the meantime, Hawk can have a well-deserved rest and some much needed TLC. If we cannot find “real” jobs in the next year, we may well be back aboard and heading out the Chesapeake again a year from now, bound for Greenland.
Don’t worry – we’re not signing off. We will continue to post to the website on topics related to offshore sailing and to our transition back ashore. When we finished our voyage aboard Silk we thought we were done with sailing. It took us only a few months to decide we had to leave again. We’ll see how long we make it this time around.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
May 21, 2009
We are getting ready to head North. It would normally take us 10 days to sail from St. Thomas to the Chesapeake Bay, but the weather pattern right now is unsettled, with lows spinning off Florida right across our path, so we will probably take it slower and more carefully than normal.
A CLOSE CALL – A CAUTIONARY TALE
In the past few weeks, we have had a very close call. Not, as you might immediately assume, with the boat. This is Beth’s story, so she’s going to tell it.
Three weeks ago, my sister, Leigh, and brother-in-law, Steve, joined us for a week of cruising around the US Virgin Islands. Leigh and Steve are sailors too, though they normally sail a somewhat smaller boat. In fact, they are the 2008 national champions in the Inland 20 scow, a 20-foot, keel-less, planing dinghy that they sail on the inland lakes of the Midwest. We love having such accomplished sailors on the boat. Not only do they get us out sailing, but they help us sail the boat better than we normally would. And they do all the work! Our week included a movie on the beach under the stars, an upwind sail in 30 knots of wind, hours spent chatting and catching up, and, for Leigh and Steve, lots of snorkeling and lots of relaxation.
While my sister was visiting, I asked her advice on something that had been bothering me. When we reached St. Helena in December and started wearing shorts for the first time in more than a year, a small mole on the outside of my left calf started changing. The mole was about half the diameter of a pencil eraser and the color of a dark tan with a slight thickness and texture to it. I had first noticed it the year before when cruising Mexico, Costa Rica and the Gambiers, and it looked no different than a dozen other small, brown moles on different parts of my body. While we were in St. Helena a small area of skin on one side of the mole took on a strawberry color, as if the mole were leaking red. The area was no more than a thin border along one edge of the mole and the skin felt the same with no thickness or texture. It seemed benign, but it bothered me. I didn’t like looking at it, didn’t like how the color seemed to flare when I sat out in the sun. The mole gave me the willies, which seemed downright silly.
Between St. Helena and Antigua, the colored area of skin advanced out from one side of the mole until it was almost the same diameter as the mole. When we got to Antigua, I looked up how to diagnose melanoma on the Internet and discovered the ABCDE of melanoma identification. Melanoma moles tend to be asymmetrical, with irregular borders (blurred or scalloped). They are usually more than one color with a diameter greater than a pencil eraser and evolve over time. For more details and pictures of melanomas, go to http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/melanoma/DS00439/DSECTION=symptoms.
My mole was not asymmetrical, though by the time we reached Antigua it was oval in shape instead of round as it had been the previous year. It had a clear border between it and the surrounding skin. The only slight scalloping in the border occurred where the brown mole joined the redder lesion. It definitely did consist of two slightly different colors, though once we got to Antigua and were not in the sun as much as we had been on passage the strawberry-red color faded a bit to a reddish-brown that more closely matched the old mole. The total diameter was still a bit less than that of a pencil eraser. It had been evolving, though that too seemed to have come to a halt when we got to Antigua. With only two of the five indicators definitely positive, I concluded it was not a melanoma and told myself to stop being a hypochondriac. But I continued to find the mole distasteful and didn’t like to look at it.
Melanoma is one of the deadliest of all cancers. So long as the tumor is removed before it has advanced beyond the surface layers of the skin (generally, a mole thickness of 0.2mm or less), long-term survival rates remain near normal. But once it has penetrated through all of the skin layers, and especially if the surface of the lesion is ulcerated (has broken through the top layer of the skin), 10-year survival rates drop to less 60% or so (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_How_is_melanoma_staged_50.asp). If any of the cancerous cells have reached a lymph node at the time of diagnosis, very few treatment options exist and five-year survival rates drop to around 50%. What starts as an easily removed surface lesion can, in a very short period of time, penetrate surrounding tissues and go on to invade the lymph nodes – sometimes in a matter of months.
I showed the mole to my sister because I knew she wouldn’t laugh at me but would give me her honest opinion. Not only did she not laugh, she took my concern very seriously. She urged me to visit a dermatologist right away and reminded me that we have a family history of melanoma, which is one of the main risk factors. I contacted friends who live on St. John and asked for the name of a good dermatologist. I had lots of things going on, but I dutifully put seeing a dermatologist on my list. The day Leigh and Steve left, I heard back from my friends who told me that there was only one dermatologist on the island and that most people went to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, to a clinic that specializes in skin diseases. When I got that news, I crossed seeing a dermatologist off my list. It didn’t have most of the characteristics of melanoma, so it seemed like it would make no difference to wait six weeks or two months until we were back in the States.
My sister and I have written one another once a week for the past fourteen years. In my sister’s weekly letter, which I received on the Sunday after she and her husband flew home, she said, “Please don’t wait to get that mole checked by a dermatologist… I know you already know what a difference it makes to catch any possible melanoma at the very early stages. Treatment gets so much more complicated and is less effective once it gets into even one or two lymph nodes.” I groaned when I read that, but I couldn’t ignore what she had said. I looked up the phone number for the only dermatologist in Charlotte Amalie and put calling him at the top of my list for the week.
Unlike in the US, there was no hassle about getting an appointment – I didn’t need a reference from my regular doctor or insurance documents and there was no six week wait. I went to see Dr. Robinson on Thursday. He examined the mole and thought it was highly unlikely to be melanoma. But when I explained my family history of melanoma, he decided to remove it just to be sure. It took fifteen minutes and cost me $300, and when I walked out of the doctor’s office, I felt like I was walking on air. I hadn’t realized how much that little piece of skin had been worrying me and weighing me down. I was so glad to have that darned thing of my leg, I was practically dancing.
I thought that would be the end of it, but Dr. Robinson called me the following Tuesday. “I’m really surprised to be calling you back,” he said. “But it was melanoma.” I saw him again last Thursday, and he did a wide excision around the original site of the mole, removing several centimeters of skin and underlying tissue in each direction from the mole to ensure that the cancer had not spread. Eight sutures and $500 later, I left his office for the second time, hoping that this biopsy would be negative. Yesterday, Dr. Robinson called me back with good news: no sign of melanoma in the second biopsy. If I had waited until I got back to the States, it could easily have been several months before I got situated, had an appointment with my regular doctor, got a referral to a dermatologist and got an appointment. Those months would have been critical and might well have been enough time for some cancerous cells to make their way to my lymph nodes.
Living on a boat, Evans and I get far more sun than is good for us. Like many cruisers, we never seek out the sun. We wear hats and sunscreen most of the time, and stay below during the hottest/sunniest part of the day. I hope that my experience will convince anyone reading this who has been worried about a mole to act as soon as possible. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Take extra care if you have a family history of melanoma. One of the single biggest risk factors for melanoma is having a blood relative who has already had the disease. If I had not had a close relative with a melanoma, the doctor probably would not have removed my mole. Now that many people over 50 or so are getting small moles removed, most of which prove to be benign, it’s important to check with near relatives to see if any of their lesions were melanoma.
Trust your instincts. I knew something was wrong with that particular mole, as have several other people we have met who have had moles removed that proved to be melanoma. I will be far more decisive if I have a similar feeling about another mole in the future.
Use sunscreen on your whole body. I always put sunscreen on my face, even after I’ve tanned. I usually put it on my arms, though I get less diligent as I get more tanned. I only put it on my legs at the very beginning of the season. If most women are like me, it might explain why the most common site for melanoma on women is the lower leg (http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/wha/wha_melanoma_crs.htm). The most common site for men is on their backs and torsos – so use that sunscreen, guys, when you take off your shirt! Not only is it important to put sunscreen on in the first place, but it is necessary to reapply sunscreen every two hours that you remain in the sun.
For more information, check out the following sites:
Honeymoon Cove, Water Island
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
April 6, 2009
IF YOU REALLY HAVE TO WORK…
It used to be that people didn’t go cruising because they’d have to learn celestial navigation and to sail without an engine. When we started cruising in the early 1990s, engines had become reliable and GPS has just become widely available. Then people didn’t go cruising because they’d have to leave behind their comforts and conveniences: refrigeration, fresh water, showers and washing machines. Now that many boats have all of these and more, we think the next big barrier to going cruising will be unplugging from the Internet. One of the boats in this anchorage is named Offline… even though they probably aren’t.
Being connected is the main reason why we’re hanging out in the US Virgins instead of our favorite anchorages in the British Virgin Islands. After being relegated to the Internet’s back roads and country lanes for the past two years, we both had a long list of critical activities that could only be conducted over the information superhighway: researching information for Beth’s new book, reorganizing our battered investment portfolios and launching job hunts among other things. We’ve already discovered that wi-fi, even paid wi-fi, is not good enough when a hundred boats are all trying to download movies and podcasts in the same anchorage. And trotting into the cybercafé with our laptops gets expensive after the third $6 latte of the day. No, we needed to mainline, and we wanted to be able to do it in a lovely anchorage instead of the dirty, crowded harbor at Charlotte Amalie. So we purchased an AT&T Aircard – a sort of data cell phone that plugs into a USB port on our computer and dials us right into broadband internet if we’re within AT&T’s 3G coverage area. That means the US Virgins, and, more specifically, St. Thomas. This is the natural culmination of a phenomenon we first saw in Mexico three years ago: picking cruising locations by the availability of internet connections and selecting the best anchoring spot in that anchorage based on signal strength.
We are now anchored in a delightful little cove just south of Charlotte Amalie with beautiful water for swimming and a perfect white sand beach ashore within dinghy distance of grocery stores, laundromats, ATMs and garbage dumpsters. Here we have found a group of cruisers working just as hard as we are. Many have had their cruising plans temporarily set back by the downturn in the economy, and they are waiting tables, bartending, doing boat deliveries, studying for their captain’s licenses and finding a dozen other ways to earn money without returning ashore. And, if you have to work for a living, things could be a lot worse.
We get out of bed by 6 and go out on deck before getting to work to admire the various shades of teal, green, blue and azure in the waters around us and to check our anchor by looking at it lying on the bottom in the perfectly clear water. We eat breakfast, stroll three feet to our desks and arrive at work. We work in t-shirts and shorts with the hatches open and a fresh breeze blowing in. We eat granola and yogurt for breakfast, work until noon, and break for a salad. Then we go back to work until 2 or 3 in the afternoon before shutting down for an hour-long swim in the beautiful tropical water. Back aboard, we turn on our Sirius radio and listen to NPR and BBC while we do a few boat chores. We prepare dinner and eat out in the cockpit watching for the green flash as the sun slips beneath the horizon. After cleaning up the galley, we both do one more mainline injection of Internet and then relax with a book before falling asleep with a light sheet over us and cool, fresh air coming in through the open hatch. And tonight we’re going ashore to eat hot dogs and popcorn and watch Slum Dog Millionaire on a screen stretched between two palm trees on the beach under the stars.
No commute, no pollution, no cubicle, no suit, no boss, no cranky office mates, no set schedule. No car payment, no mortgage, no monthly bills… but also no health insurance, no retirement plan, no vacation days. Well, you can’t have everything.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
March 21, 2009
BACK IN THE US OF A… SORT OF!
We wrenched ourselves away from Antigua on Wednesday morning bound for St. Barths, but we quickly decided to change course and make for the US Virgin Islands directly. That decision was based largely on the need to buy Evans a new computer – his has been in its death throes for the past two months. Since we needed to go shopping, it only made sense to head for the closest bit of America. As any cruiser will tell you, America is shopping paradise, and many of our foreign friends take quite convoluted routes when flying from the boat to their home countries to spend a few days in some American city hitting the malls and shopping on the Internet. “All you need is a credit card and a US address,” they say. And it’s true!
Our change of course made for a very pleasant overnight passage with 15-18 knots of wind shifting between the beam and the stern quarter every couple of hours, almost no swell and not a single squall. Before the moon rose, the stars stood looked like layer upon layer of sparkling gems scattered across the sky. The phosphorescence was as gentle as the night, winking fireflies playing on the dark water on the leeward side of the boat. We saw a procession of cruise ships making their way from the Virgins to St. Martin like jets lined up on a flight path, but we were far enough south that they remained surreal glowing castles streaming across the northern horizon. It was a perfect night sail, one that made us think of how few overnights we have left before returning to the Chesapeake and some time ashore.
And once in the good old US of A… we shopped. Office Max and Radio Shack served up a computer and a phone with all the trimmings. All we needed to do was flash our plastic. Then we retreated to the boat before our plastic jumped out of our wallet and flashed itself! We spent this morning at the local cybercafé, Badass Coffee, on the fastest Internet connection we’ve seen in more than three years. No sitting and waiting for two minutes while the website loads, and streaming video actually streams instead of stuttering to a halt every ten seconds. But we’ve also been shocked by the traffic, and it feels as if even here, in the Caribbean US, everyone is hyped on caffeine and just a bit touchy. We’re a long way from being acclimated, even though we know that the Virgins are moving at walking pace compared to what we’ll find when we get back to the States.
We’ve rarely felt culture shock when making landfall at an exotic destination. After all, we expect that most things will be different, and we’re always surprised at how much is the same. The basics don’t change that much – in the places we have visited most people live in houses with four walls and a roof, most get water through a tap and most have indoor plumbing. Food gets bought in a supermarket, mail gets sent from a post office, people drive cars, people without cars take buses and international travelers come through airports.
But whenever we have returned to our own country, the culture shock has been all but overwhelming. We expect things will not have changed in our absence, but they have and at lightning speed. And we have been changed by our experiences, so that we don’t quite fit anymore, a square peg trying to slide smoothly back into a round hole. Yet we also have the luxury of being observers of our own culture, of seeing things we would never have noticed before and won’t notice again in another few months. For the moment, American energy and can-do enthusiasm seems a bit overwhelming. But we’re really enjoying American convenience, the “have it your way” attitude combined with “of course it’s in stock!” No other country in the world does that better.
Antigua, Leeward Islands
March 16, 2009
We have not yet managed to pull free of the Antigua vortex. We have been here since we arrived from St. Helena in the South Atlantic in mid-January. We had intended to cruise down island for several weeks, but unrest in Gaudeloupe and Martinique put us off. Even if the islands had been peaceful, though, we probably wouldn’t have gotten away. Our friends, Clive and Laila, whose 72-foot yacht, Billy Budd, we took care of while we were in the Beagle Channel during the (southern hemisphere) winter, arrived here a bit over a week ago. Clive and Laila came from two different directions. Clive came by plane from Spain after surveying a 112-foot yacht for the owner of Billy Budd, having flown there from the Falklands after their trip to South Georgia. Laila brought Billy Budd north with a crew of three, so we had to be here when Laila arrived after a month and 5,800 miles on her first offshore passage as skipper. After Laila berthed Billy Budd stern-to in Nelson’s Dockyard at 3:00 in the morning, we sat on deck and drank champagne on a dead calm night under thousands of stars. We had not expected this reunion. When Laila started out on her passage, she was heading for the British Virgin Islands.
Our sailing lives have been full of transitions, of sometimes painful partings and unexpected reunions, like the one we enjoyed a little over a week ago with Laila. Sometimes the hardest thing about this life is the uncertainty when we finish one leg of a voyage and try to decide what’s next. Even more difficult is the transition back to shore, as we discovered when we sold Silk in 1995 after our three-year circumnavigation. In less than four months, we had both concluded that land life no longer suited, and we began the process of building Hawk so we could go to sea again. This time, we’ve lived aboard our boat for more than a decade, longer than either of us has lived anywhere since before graduating from high school. As we’ve been getting closer and closer to the United States, the questions have loomed larger and larger: Where will we live? Can we keep the boat? Where will we keep her? What do we want to do? Will we be able to find jobs we really want to do in the current economic climate?
It’s not that we’re worried about finding a way to earn a living, it’s that at the transition point from sea to shore everything changes – from what we do day-to-day to where we live and who we interact with. That’s a bit overwhelming and somewhat intimidating. As adults, most people take pretty much for granted that they’ll be doing next year what they’re doing now. But every few years, we are forced to examine what we’re doing and to make wholesale decisions about our lives that often take us in a completely different direction.
Last time, we returned ashore and Evans spent six months looking for a job. This time, the job came looking for him. He was in Spain with our friend, Clive, surveying the 112-foot Royal Huiseman yacht, and he has been asked to be involved in the refit of the boat. Laila changed her Caribbean landfall to Antigua so Billy Budd, the Oyster 72, will be here for the Oyster regatta, when they hope to find a buyer for the boat. Evans will be working pretty much full time on this project for anywhere from four months to a year. And we’ll be working with Clive and Laila instead of saying goodbye again for an unknown period of time.
So our plans have become just a bit clearer – more like tomato soup than mud. We had planned to clear out of Antigua last Thursday when our visas and cruising permit expired, but we got permission to stay a few more days, in part because of the local election on Thursday and the national holiday the day after. That turned out to be a very good thing, as it gave us more time to coordinate with Clive and Laila over the refit. We will be leaving tomorrow for the Virgins, where we will cruise for six weeks. My sister and brother-in-law will join us there at the end of April, and then we’ll be heading north for the Chesapeake in early May, returning to the boatyard on Magothy Creek just north of Annapolis where we fit Hawk out and from where we left ten years ago.
January 8, 2009
On Passage, North Atlantic Ocean part ii
We now have 775 miles left to Antigua and have made good 1150 miles in 6 days. That's just shy of the mythical 200 mile/day average and we could have easily added 50 miles here and there, but as usual we fine it more comfortable and relaxing to back off just a little.
The weather has been sort of strange. We have definitely had strong NE trade winds but not the cumulus clouds we usually associate with the trades. Instead we have had a pretty constant stormy looking cloud cover. I am not sure what is causing that. As usual the gribs have not been very accurate within 15 degrees of the equator. The model primarily uses pressure gradients and wave heights to calculate winds and within 15 degrees of the equator there are only very small pressure gradients here and the wave heights are as good an indicator of wind strengths as elsewhere. Fortunately the weather is not that complex, at least out of hurricane season.
January 3, 2009
On Passage, North Atlantic Ocean
Happy New Year!
We made our 6th crossing of the equator yesterday at 29 21W and entered the doldrums at 2 20N 30 23 W. This was a bit further east than we had originally planned, but as we were approaching I saw that in this area the weather forecast (Grib rain layer) had the doldrums pulling north as we approached and then moving back south, so that we would have a to deal with them for only a very short time. That seemed to work out as we exited the doldrums and picked up the start of the NE trade winds after only 34.3 miles. We now have about 2000 miles to go to Antigua and should have pretty fast sailing but it may be a little rough if the ‘Christmas winds’ (winter reinforced trade winds) pick up.
Each of our 6 doldrums crossings has been different. Sometimes they have been quite wide and sometime narrow, sometimes they have been clearly defined (as this time with solid walls of rain on entering and exiting) and sometimes with no clear edges, sometimes there has been a lot of rain and lightening inside the doldrums and other times there has been clear sunny sky’s (Pretty much the case this time – most of the rain and no lightening was at the edges).