April 29, 2009

Blanquilla - by Amelia

Blanquilla is a cool island. It has nice sand beaches and lots of cool shells. Me and mom found a bunch that are really colorful. Even orange ones. There are also lots of flamingo tongues. Flamingo tongues live on coral fans. When they die they come up onto the beaches. We found at least a hundred here. It was one overnight sail from Los Testigos to Blanquilla. The water is crystal clear. There are lots of boats around us and the snorkeling is ok.

Today we had to make paper mache for art. Alex made a dragon and I made a fish, just like the one we are going to catch on today's overnight sail. I am going to make a scape book of all the places we are visiting in Venezuela before we come home for 6 months. Yesterday the coast guard came to our boat and boarded us. We gave them cookies and I don't think they liked them. They only ate half of them. They spoke Spanish and Dad only knew a little bit which is poco in Spanish. All Dad knows is dough cervasas por favor. They just wanted to see our boat papers and passports. Mom still made me put all the electronics away just in case.

I am looking forward to going and seeing Los Roques. We are going on the sail today and tonight. It looks like it will be so much fun. Can't wait to see the snorkeling.
Love Amelia

April 27, 2009

Push Pins

I ski but I am not a skier. I sail but I am not a sailor. I snorkel but I am not a swimmer. I am a small town base brat, doing things I never could have come up with on my own.

I remember when Graham and I moved into our first apartment together 20 years ago. He started telling me about how people back packed around Europe. I am sure my first question would of been, "Where's Europe?". I remember how excited I was at the possibility of taking a plane and flying to a different country and setting off exploring. We bought a map of Europe and taped it onto a big piece of cardboard and pinned flags in all the countries we wanted to visit. We began to save and plan and dream. As much fun as it was to talk about it and dream about it I still didn't think we would actually go but I kept putting one foot in front of the other in the planning process. Then before I knew it we had all the money saved up, the three months off, the travel plans and we were off. It was totally possible.

If someone had told me all those years ago as I pushed pins into countries in Europe that some day I would be sitting in the cockpit of a 43 foot sail boat in the dark, with no land in sight, with my two children on board, I would have never believed them.

This is our fourth overnight sail and it is definitely getting easier. Alex isn't sea sick. The kids actually slept through the whole night. The anxiety left after only an hour out this time. We have sailed the whole way. Graham has rigged up Artemo so she sails FAST downwind. It is wonderful.

In the middle of the night I could hear Graham yelling at me, "Julie, Julie, get over here you gotta see this". Of course I wake up in panic mode and then he tells me that he was watching the waves break along the boat and then there right before him on a few feet away in the darkness were dolphins. SO COOl. I didn't get to see them but I fed off his excitement. How lucky we are to be experiencing all of this. Blanquilla is about 9 nautical miles away and we have about an hour an a half more to go.

I can't help but wonder what life has in store for me down the road. Will I be reflecting 20 years from now, saying, "20 years ago I never would have thought that I would be....." Maybe I can imagine up the next crazy dream.

April 25, 2009

Off the grid

Here we are in Los Testigo's. It is such a strange feeling. Feels like we are in the middle of nowhere. There are about 6 little islands and they are fairly low lying. Looks like there are almost no people living here, just a very small fishing village. We are anchored in front of a small gap between two of the islands and we can see the waves breaking in front of us. There is a beautiful white sand beach that goes on for a while on one side of the gap and the water looks crystal clear. We spent the afternoon there today. Late last night one other sail boat appeared. They have a website written on the side of it (www.sailselah.com). We went over and met them today and Amelia made them a bracelet with their boat name on it. We invited them over for happy hour and ....THEY SAID NO??? We are missing our friends Dave and Cheryl from Aries, big time!

A few fishermen rowed out to us today and asked in Spanish for what we thought was a camera. I said, "No but we have hot chocolate chip cookies". They looked at me in confusion. I said the only Spanish I know, "Une Momento". I gave them a big plate of hot gooey cookies that Alex made and they seemed happy. Turns out that they were looking to borrow a snorkel mask to clean the bottom of their fishing boat. Makes more sense! ha.

There are HUGE jelly fish in the water here. They are about the size of a basket ball and they have a red rim. I am not a big fan of swimming with jelly fish. The fishermen say they are harmless....?

Everyone on Artemo is very happy. We have tons of wind, so we can play the WII now! Today the kids woke up and hit the cook books. They have been really enjoying cooking. Last night they made sushi. Dave and Cheryl from Aries managed to make it to Grenada to meet us before we left for Venezuela and they gave us a few speciality items that we have been enjoying. Sushi seaweed wraps being one of them!

Today Graham rigged up a pole that will keep our Genoa sail way out to the side on our down wind overnight sail tomorrow to Banquilla. I am soooo happy. This will mean no flapping head sail. I hate the sound of flogging sails. Now our main and Genoa will be wide open and we should get the maximum amount of push we can get from the wind. We are going to head off before the sunset this time. We are hoping this will help us get settled before the darkness sets in.

We are all suffering from internet withdrawal, hence yet another blog post from me. It is strange not being able to see you all online. Funny how a little green dot next to your names on google talk, an email or a quick skype call can make us feel closer.

Thinking of you while we are off the grid


April 24, 2009


Pitch black, no lights from land or other boats present and Artemo was rolling back and forth from side to side. The motion felt so foreign to me. I just couldn't believe that it could be "Normal".

The wind was coming from directly behind us and the waves were coming from right beside us. Graham had worked his quiet magic in Grenada and rigged up these lines to hold the main way out to the side to catch the maximum amount of wind. It was working but the roll....oh my, "the roll"! We thought we had everything latched down but we found a few more things that came loose and began to bang around. This added to my panicky feeling. I felt my legs begin to shake and I realized it was fear.

I sat next to Graham and asked him, "The boat couldn't roll over on this point of sail...right?" I just wanted him to reassure me all was well. He was not in the mood to play the, "Everything is ok Julie" game. I sat back on my own side and I gave myself a talking to. I took some deep breaths and then it was as if Artemo whispered to me..."It's ok I've done this before".

Beautiful, wonderful, sturdy Artemo. Her strength overtook me and I wasn't scared. My legs stopped shaking and I began to relax. Amelia came up from below and saw how calm and peaceful I was and she mimic'd this. We enjoyed the night together on deck.

Night ended and the glorious sun rose. So good to be able to see again. About an hour ago Graham yelled, "Land Ho". Finally we can see land. We also had the opportunity to talk to our friend Ross from Gemini on the SSB this morning and we got to talk to Dad. This made the ocean seem a little smaller.

Amelia and I made a big batch of crepes and Alex and Graham got the fishing line all worked out and we are trawling. Right now I am sitting in the cockpit. Graham is sleeping. Alex is reading and laughing out loud and Amelia is watching Gilmore Girls. The islands of Los Testigos are really coming into sight and look beautiful.

Artemo has both her Genoa and main way out to the starboard side and she is bringing us in!

April 23, 2009

Venezuela here we COME!!

Just a quick note to let you know that in about an hour we will be heading out to Venezuela. This will be our first time heading out in the dark. We are all excited. We should arrive tomorrow before lunch in Los Testigos. I will try and update our position reports on the way! Sooooo exciting.

April 19, 2009

The Grand Finale - by Alex

We have returned to Grenada after a long sail. About half way through the trip I thought to myself, "Why are we ........... click to read the rest on Alex's new blog site......

April 17, 2009

Overnight sail on Artemo

Forced the kids and Graham to write their thoughts about the trip and resisted every urge in me to edit them :-)! Enjoy

Alex: Sailing in the dark is better because you can't tell if you are on deck or below deck. Sailing to Grenada was so-so. During the day I was sea sick and at night it just got bearable. Sleeping was hard because of the constant rocking but the voice of the guy from Plant Earth helped me go to sleep. Once we got behind St Vincent the rocking stopped and we had dinner and m*a*s*h. Then I fell asleep and slept most of the way. Love most of you. Alex
ps what i mean is I love all my family reading this and like the rest of you!

Amelia: It was very scary being out there. The waves look so different in the moonlight. Although it was cool to be able to stay up for a few hours at midnight, I was so nervous that someone would fall overboard. We didn't even have flashlights or whistles on our life jackets, which we now have.
ps Aunty Ann-Marie tell the Sparks family I miss them
pss I love you Nanny Donna
psss I love you Nanny and Papa

Julie: At one point we looked out ahead and a sail boat was sailing towards us. We all sat and watched in amazement. The front of the boat would dip so far into the huge waves and the wind would push it so far over in our direction that it would look like it was heading for us and then it would come out on top of the wave and correct its heading. As we were all watching with our mouths opened. I looked at the kids and said, "Do you think that is what we look like?" The realization was a little scary and exciting.

Graham: Well, my crew preformed excellent on our first overnight sail of this season. We learned lots of lessons about what needs to be lashed down better (today I was out getting webbing to strap down items that always seem to be on the move). I also found out what it is like to cook a meal while the boat is rocking back and forth in confused seas. I liked sailing at night: the sky is full of stars, you watch the sun set, the moon rise and eventually (hopefully) the sun rise again.

April 15, 2009


The four of us have made a pretty big decision about a week or so ago but before we get there I need to share a few details that I haven't mentioned. When Artemo left Grenada and we watched as we left what we thought was our black cloud behind and we headed to Carriacou, we thought it was smooth sailing ahead. We were exhausted both physically and mentally at that point. When we found more problems on that first leg of the trip after the reno, it was more than a little devastating. We really felt defeated. All four of us. We began to talk about what the trip was suppose to be and were we all happy. We told the kids flat out that it was "Four in or Four out"! They said they wanted out and Graham and I were easily convinced. We were done. We all started to fantasize about our new life in Toronto. A new place near the kids friends, with all our things from Alberta. We even talked about getting a dog. Amelia started thinking about how she would design her new room and Alex was wondering about Jr High with his friends. Graham and I thought about life minus the stress and continuous problems. We thought about how great it would be to start fresh in TO.

We decided that we would sail to Antigua and haul Artemo out and put her up for sale. We decided that we would start enjoying the days more, even though there was still much work to do. Introduce a bit more balance. We also decided to try and just let the idea sit with us for a few months and "Decide not to decide". We realized how easy it is to change our mind and we wanted to wait til we were sure that we were done with this chapter of our life before we said it was so.

Turned out that this was the best thing we could of done. The pressure of "around the world" was gone and we also thought that we might only have a few more months of this life left, so we tried to soak it in. Then the strangest thing happened. Alex and Amelia were gone for the night to our friends Cheryl and Dave's boat and Graham and I had a chance to talk alone. Graham finally said it out loud that he thought we were heading in the wrong direction. Even if we decided not to decide, we could turn around and start heading in the right direction of the Panama Canal. As soon as he said it, I was excited. It totally seemed like the right thing to do. Over the past few months when times were good we would joke about who wanted to stay and who wanted to go. Amelia was pretty much up for anything. She seemed to sway whatever way the wind was blowing. Alex wasn't so easily convinced. He had already picked out his type of dog and was wanting off the crazy Perry roller coaster. Graham and I realized that if Alex wanted didn't want to continue then we wouldn't be.

Well the next morning Alex and Amelia came home. Graham and I were working on the floors and we didn't say a word to the kids about our discussion and out of the blue Alex says, "You know I could see myself sailing around the world." Graham and I stopped working and my mouth dropped. We told Alex and Amelia about our discussion the night previous. All of sudden our faces were all smiles and we were all saying, "Four IN"!!! So exciting, so very exciting. We had decided to turn around and begin to head towards PANAMA! We spent that night reviewing all of our options as a family and making sure that we really were all good with this new turn of events.

So here is the gist of what we have decided so far but please keep in mind that as with any plan, things change. Today (in like 20 minutes) we are leaving beautiful St Lucia and going for a 20 to 24 hour overnight sail to Grenada. We are going to sail down the windward side of the islands, to try and flex our sailing skills. We have had our life raft serviced and watched how it inflated and saw what provisions were inside it. We bought flares that weren't expired. We have our EPIRB. Amelia and I packed our ditch bag. We hooked up our hydrovane. We are deflating our dinghy and we are ready.

The plan is to stay in Grenada for a bit, then sail 3 nights to Los Roches and then to Curasco and then to Cartenga, Columbia!!! We hope to haul Artemo out in Cartenga and be home the first week in June for about 6 months. The kids want to go to school in our old neighborhood, so we will need to find a place from September to December in the district. There it is, our plan on paper! So are we all a little nervous about the sail tomorrow??? YES!! Alex said he wished he could just snap his fingers and we would arrive at the next destination. Wouldn't that be nice. The kids are hoping their friend Adam is still at the marina in Grenada. I will try and post a note enroute through the SSB. Who knows after 24 hours of sailing the plan might change :-)! Life is funny that way but for now it is "FOUR IN"!

April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

This morning we said goodbye to Jason. The water taxi came to Dad's boat and off Jason zoomed around the Piton and out of sight. gulp.....we miss him already.

It was neat to have a visitor on board. We all loved seeing our life through someone else's eyes. We kept asking him what he thought. If it was what he expected. What he liked and didn't liked. Jason felt all the things that we felt and described it to us perfectly and of course with his Uncle Jason sense of humor. We laughed, man did we laugh. The kind of laughing that makes you feel good to the core. Jason got to have a taste of the life. From the motion of the boat, the feeling of movement on land, the shower situation, the lack of space, the glorious quiet mornings, the beautiful setting sun, and of course happy hour!

This was Jason's first holiday to someplace tropical, so he had never snorkeled before. Amelia and Alex were so excited to show him their underwater world. They were so proud of how far their swimming and free diving have come that they couldn't wait to show him their skills. It was fun to watch. Kids and I guess anyone for that matter, love recognition.

We anchored next to Dads boat Mystic Journey and we swam or rowed back and forth. We had dinners at each others boats and we also got Dave and Cheryl from Aries in on the group get togethers. We spent most of our time anchored in between the two Pitons.

Yesterday Alex and I rented a hobby cat. These are little catamarans with one main sail. It was ....ummmm....exciting to say the least. Since Alex has had 3 summers of sail camp on little boats, it put him in a position of having more experience than me but me being the adult had more experience with not pushing our luck, so needless to say we spent the majority of our time arguing while sailing this little cat. Alex's skills were really good though and he even managed to bring it up alongside Mystic Journey and allow Jason to jump on. Jason got to see first hand how Alex and I sail together....LOL. Alex was working the rudder and I was working the sheet (line connected to the sail). Alex would get her on the point of sail he wanted and yell at me to either harden or release the sheet. He would get really angry when I wouldn't do it fast enough or if I was reluctant to harden to much. Oh well, Jason got a real peak at how I do under stress....not well.

The Easter bunny managed to get his act together at the last moment and the kids woke up and began their hunt. I hope, I hope, I hope they found all the chocolate eggs because if not, I am sure the ants will.

We have another piece of HUGE news......we realized that we are heading the wrong direction. We are turning around and heading South not North. We are even considering getting the boat to Cartenga before we come home in June!!!! stay tuned for the next blog!!!!!

Have some ham for us and enjoy your Easter.


April 04, 2009

Where to begin...

We now have the most beautiful floor EVER. We all love the floor. We can't stop admiring it and inviting people over to admire it. It is soooooo nice. Out of all the things we (being mostly Graham) have done to improve the boat, the floor makes the biggest impact to the beauty!

We didn't quite know how to go about making new floors but as with anything new sometimes you just gotta dive in! We checked into options for flooring and decided on buying plywood and teak & holly laminate to glue on top. It worked out really well but of course there was a bit of trial and error. We borrowed a saw to cut the plywood and had to find an area to do our cutting, which of course meant carrying wood back and forth. We traced each of our existing floor boards onto the new plywood and cut them out. Then we............NEVER MIND.....BORING......long story short....a few fights...more than a few swears.....LOADS of sweat.....unrelenting heat......many visitors while we plugged away.......late nights.......frustration....and then at last.......pride of accomplishment!

You guys have heard me say it but I am going to say it again.....Graham is amazing! He can now add "Make boat floors" to his list of things he can do, along with boss me around but that has been on the list for awhile :-)! It was a little strange to be his assistant on this project. Obviously he has more experience with construction and power tools, so there was no way I was taking the lead but I think I would of rathered work the jig saw than spread the contact cement! All totally worth it though.

The kids lives were not disrupted to much. They spent four nights away. They were more than happy to escape the chaos. They were thrilled to have Grampa Griff and Nana Cheryl here to spend time with and they also really enjoyed their time at Aries with Cheryl and Dave. When they were here, they were catching up on their homeschooling, swimming, buying ice cream, and playing with friends.

During the week we met so many new people it was unbelievable. I said to Graham that it is like we are in a movie and new characters keep entering. Most of the nights once we had everything cleaned up and were showered, happy hour began on deck and we had people over. One lady we met had the most amazing stories. She just arrived from South Africia. She single handed her boat most of the way from Australia, once her husband was emergency evacuated from their boat!!! He left in June and she has sailed all the way here since then. You can just imagine her stories and she looks like a granny!!! SERIOUSLY! She is the total opposite of me. Not emotional in the least. When I asked if she considered going back to the states and making sure her husband was ok after his strokes, she looked appalled. Why would she do that when she needed to get the boat moved? She said she had only talked to her hubby a couple of times since June. I guess after 45 years of marriage there wasn't much left to say?? She was 42 days at sea with only a couple of days break at day 12 on a small island. After she left Graham and I looked at each other and were like..."What the heck is stopping us from the world?"! It was inspiring.

Tomorrow Jason gets here and we begin a week of holidays. The kids will take a break from school work and Graham and I will take a break from boat work. We plan on .......HAVING FUN! Artemo and Mystic Journey will hopefully also see their first sail together. Stay tuned.

Missing you.....on our new floors in St Lucia