March 30, 2015

Still Climbing Mountains

We decided before leaving Martinique we needed to hike this gianormous dormant volcano that loomed over the anchorage in St Pierre. In 1906 the side of the volcano turned bright glowing red and then exploded fire balls over the town and anchorage. 30,000 people died that day and only two survived. One was a prisoner who was in a stone cell in the middle of town and the other was the cobbler. Not sure what protected him. The town has been rebuilt incorporating pieces of walls and structures that remained. A stark reminder of the devastation.

We rented a car and drove up to the base of the volcano and to be honest I didn't really know what I had signed up for. I am terrible at estimating distances and heights and so I just began hiking merrily on way with my blinders on. When you start at the bottom of such a massive volcano you actually don't see the top. Turns out we made THREE false summits. This is when you hike straight up pushing yourself to your absolute limit and telling yourself that you are almost there and that the peak is just in front of you and then you climb those last few steps and stand up and.....OMG......off in the distance is yet another peak!

My legs were burning, my heart was pounding and I was covered in sweat. Graham and Alex took off ahead of us. Leaving Amelia and I with only one water bottle as they were carrying the packs. Having them carry all the water seemed like a really good idea until we were without water. Luckily after they also realized the size of this beast of a mountain, Alex waited for us with the water. Gotta love that kid.

At the beginning of the hike Amelia and I were playing out stopping at various points but then as we climbed higher the views and landscape of the volcano were unbelievably stunning. We were energized and just wanted to get higher and higher. Soon we were in the clouds and the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. Again a reminder that I had no idea how high we were going. Other more experienced hikers were passing us with jackets and real hiking boots and sticks and then there are the four of us in a mismatch of runners and deck shoes and t-shirts and tank tops. Lesson learned for our next hike. At some points we climbed straight down into massive crevases and then would be pulling ourselves up through boulders. It was challenging but also very cool.

As we climb the official last bit and reached the top it was such a great feeling. The clouds cleared long enough for us to get a stellar view of pretty much all of Martinique. I was freezing but unbelievably happy. Alex put his arm around me to keep me warm and for a moment I just let happiness wash over me. Today on facebook this little pop up showed up to remind me what I had posted a year ago and I had posted a pic of the four of us on top of the mountain in Bora Bora from a few years back and the status read, "I love watching my kids grow up and off on their own but man what I wouldn't give to be climbing mountains together again."  I am savouring every moment.

March 27, 2015

Blood Trail

I hadn't noticed as Graham, Amelia and I tramped along on our hike up to yet another old ruins site, that we were following a "Blood Trail." Amelia brought our attention to it as the spats of blood began to grow on the dirt, rubble and leaf covered trail.

I should set the scene for you because the feel among us was quite ominous. We began our hike just before sunset to take advantage of the cooler temperature, so the light was dim. The trail we were on led out of town and brought us to this tree covered hill with what looked liked an old ancient building near the top. As we climbed and came closer we could see that the fort must be a hangout for either the homeless or partiers. Disturbing garbage was strewn around and as we approached we could see that the inside was covered in graffiti. The building itself was interesting structurally but the state of the grounds was unsettling.

Amelia started to watch where she was walking and this was when she noticed the "Blood Trail". I was a bit surprised by her detective abilities and her interest in analyzing how fresh it was and finding where it led.

We decided we should follow it just in case someone was hurt and needed our help. We were the only ones in the area and it seemed a bit spooky. We could see that the blood was still wet and fresh. We made it cautiously to a small ledge that overhung the rocky sea front. We peered below and could see a makeshift hut with old fishing supplies around it. We decided to call out and see if anyone answered and no one did. Graham decided that we had come this far, he had better go down and see if someone was injured. He negotiated the small rock wall and Amelia and I watched safely from up above, a bit nervous.

He cautiously approached the hut.......and....nothing and no one! Darn it, we were so ready to save someone!

Amelia did some more detective work and quickly surmised that most likely someone had swam to the shore that Graham stood at and hiked back the way we had come. They probably cut their foot on the jagged rocks on the sea shore getting out of the water. The blood was its heaviest at the end of the trail nearest the water. Probably as they hiked to town it began to dissipate.

So there you have it, our otherwise normal afternoon hike (of yet another ruin site) turned CSI exciting!

March 26, 2015

Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way

“Are we all going to get in there?” Alex’s friend Leo asked. The kids, their friends (Mira and Leo) and I had just arrived from the airport in the dark, yet again at another dinghy dock which was falling apart located directly in-between the two hovering Pitons.  The dock was really high and we all looked down to Graham who was welcoming us in the dinghy with his red light head lamp on. He was trying to hold the dinghy off from the dock so it didn't slip under. We passed all four bags down; Amelia climbed down, then Mira, then Alex and then this is when Leo must have thought….. "Omg we are all getting in this tiny boat in the dark." Everyone passed this first test with flying colors, all luggage and people safely in the dinghy and safely transported to Salty Ginger!

Once on-board, the full tour happened. Mira and Leo are pretty much complete opposites. Mira was filled with questions and seemed to want to soak up every drop of the experience. Leo seemed content to just go with the flow and let the experiences happen. It was so great to have both perspectives on board.

The kids made the most of the week, spending their time on the beach, hiking, waterfalls, snorkeling, sailing, swimming, kayaking, late night boat parties and hanging out with new friends. My favorite time with them all was the day we took them on a challenging hike to the Sulphur Springs Volcano Park. The hike was only about 10k but was either straight up or straight down. We were able to challenge ourselves and see some truly amazingly beautiful things. Throughout the hike, walking partners changed and we had the opportunity to visit with each other. At one point I was telling Mira how challenging I found it to go up hill and she said to me, “Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.” This small sentence hit me. It keeps turning up in my thoughts each day. I am really trying to weave this into those activities that I think I am not “good at”.

Another thing I enjoyed was Leo’s story telling. He can paint a picture like no other and his wit and sense of humor were really enjoyable. It was nice for us all to linger after meals and share tidbits of our lives.

For their last two days we took Salty Ginger to dock, so that the kids could have a bit of freedom and enjoy the pool and hot showers. Well the kids did make the most of it. On their last full day the kids had left the boat at noon to go for a swim at the pool and hang out. At about 5pm, Graham and I were surprised no one had returned yet, so we decided to wander down and see what they were up to. We were amused in finding them all at the local cruiser pub involved in a huge team games event. There were the four of them in the middle of the party with their team name “Salty-ettes” on the game board and they were dancing up a storm. We were a bit shocked but also really happy to see them having so much fun. Everyone seemed to love them and they had made a ton of new friends.

At about 6pm, they all came back to the boat and Graham and I were in the cockpit having our sundowners. The four of them sat down across from us on one side of the cockpit. I realized pretty quickly they were there to ask us something. The new friends they had made were heading to the beach in an hour to hang out for the evening and the kids wanted to join them. They had it all worked out. One of the parents had agreed to drive them there and return them by 12:30 pm. They said they could take the cell phone and the vhf radio and call if they had any problems and that they would stay together. I sat there across from them totally torn. I wanted the party to keep going for them. I could see how happy they were but I wanted to be sure that the situation was safe and that it was a good idea. Parenting is hard and seems to get harder the older they get. It also was more challenging have all four of them giving their perspectives. Eventually after Graham and I had weighed all the factors and perspectives, we decided to let them go with many conditions and caveats and not after a “heated” discussion ;-).

They were all back home by 12 pm and according to Alex it was one of the best days of his life. That evening as I waited for them, I reflected on our discussion. For me 18 feels like yesterday. I remember feeling such a sense of freedom, belonging and happiness hanging with my friends. I want them to have this. I want to let go enough for them to taste this freedom and prepare them for life. Given that 18 seems like yesterday though I remember that they won't always make the best choices. That sometimes they will put themselves at risk. That sometimes they won't assess a situation correctly. These memories for me both good and bad are the stories I tell now. I want them to have stories but now as their mom I also want or rather need them to be safe. The need to keep them safe is the most powerful feeling I have ever felt. I have a constant inner battle with myself to allow them the right amount of freedom for their age while balancing safety. My need to mother is strong but my 18 year old self is trying to balance this out ;-).

Leo and Mira are now back home and already missed! Spring break 2015 will be one all four of the kids will not soon forget. Thank you to you both for being wonderful boat guests.

We sailed to Martinique yesterday for a pit stop on our way back to explore Dominica. Our friends the “Gromit’s” are about halfway to us from South Africa. The plan is for us all to meet in Guadeloupe. I am thinking this will be around April 10th or so. Check out their position reports map at: http://www2.winlink.org:8081/maps/PositionReports.aspx?callsign=VE3MZL&title=Position%20Reports%20for%20VE3MZL.  They are amazing and soon will have completed their circumnavigation! So strange to remember us all starting out way back in 2008 together and now soon to be together again. I am so excited to be there with them as they cross their “round the world” finish line.

March 14, 2015

What do you like about living on a boat?

People often ask me this and the funny thing is that the things I like become the things I dislike after a while. I guess this is why Graham and I decided to do this off and on rather than full time. When I am in the city I look forward to returning to the boat and the simplicity of it all and when I am on the boat I look forward to the hustle and bustle of city life. For now though (for the most part ;-)) I am still enjoying boat life.

I like that I don’t have to spend a bunch of time primping each day. No more blow dryer and hair straightener or makeup and no more thinking about what to wear and ironing clothes and pushing my feet into high heels. I also love that I don’t have to be constantly on the go and no more TTC!

I really like the feeling of reducing my footprint and being self-sustaining, making our own power and water. I like travelling with our home and planning where to stay and for how long. I love waking up somewhere new.

I like organizing and managing our life on the boat. I like that everything has a place and nothing seems to go to waste. We plan our meals and leftovers are incorporated into the next day’s meal plan. I actually enjoy cooking and baking on the boat? Go figure…

I feel a deeper connection to the outdoors when we are on the boat. We spend most of our time outside and have a range of activities we do, from hiking to kayaking and snorkeling.

Best of all I like being in my floating home with Graham and the kids. I enjoy spending time with them all together. We all sit down to meals and enjoy more moments together than in the city. They make me smile and help me focus on what’s important.

I imagine if I was to write a blog in 4 months titled “What don’t you like about living on a boat?”, it would be the exact opposite of everything I have written above. Funny how life works. For now though I am basking in my current role as Project Manager of Salty Ginger.

We are currently anchored in between the Pitons in St. Lucia. I don’t think you could find a more perfect spot. The energy from the towering Pitons is powerful and peaceful. We were here six years ago and met a number of our closest cruiser friends here, so many good memories. Tomorrow the kids each have a friend arriving for March break. We are all very excited for another week of vacation mode. All the laundry is done and groceries are bought. The weather looks like it is going to be perfect. We can’t wait to share all the wonderful things about boat life with them ;-).

March 10, 2015

Magic Happened

Rob arrived on Friday night and we decided that barbecue burgers and classic potato salad were a must for his arrival to summer. The kids and I picked him up at the airport and Graham met us at the old decrepit dinghy dock in the dark. Rob didn't seem phased at all and away we all raced across the water to Salty Ginger.

Once we were all on board together it was as if magic happened. Our home was instantly transformed into a floating cottage and we were all in "vaca" mode. We enjoyed a week of non stop barbecues and sunsets. We toured the gorgeous island in our rented car and lounged and picnicked on the beach just off our bow. Our evenings were spent in heated matches of Scrabble and Risk. What's a holiday without a few board game fights ;-)?

As a treat Rob took us for a 5 star meal one night and it was a perfect evening. The waiter described each of the items on the menu as we all sat there drooling. He explained that his father was the chef and that he had grown up on all of the tasty food we would be experiencing. He asked what we liked and recommended seafood dishes perfectly suited to us. Each of our meals were stellar and an "experience" just as he promised. After such exquisite meals we knew we had to have dessert and we were not disappointed. We each ordered something different and forks were crossing the table until every last bite was gone from each of our plates. Everything was so beautifully presented, delicious and served with such care that it made the whole night so special. The restaurant was called Le Mabouya (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g657860-d4041871-Reviews-Le_Mabouya-Sainte_Luce_Arrondissement_of_Le_Marin_Martinique.html).

Rob seemed to enjoy boat life and no signs of seasickness. He did ask if we minded the motion and we all said, "What motion?". Then Graham pointed to the hanging fruit basket that was swinging ;-)....we don't even notice the motion anymore. Thanks to the water maker showers were also allowed but were a bit chilly. We asked what most surprised him about our life on board and he said it was how we eat. He had thought that with a smaller kitchen we might not have been able to cook as we normally do but it seemed we were eating better. True story - "Cruising and Cooking" go hand and hand.

The week came to an end way to quickly but everything on a holiday checklist was crossed off - beer drinking, over eating, lounging in the sun, playing board games including family feuds, exploring new places, enjoying sunsets and R&R.

Miss you already Rob. I set the table for 5 the next day and didn't notice until we all sat down without you :-(. Hope to see you again on this journey.

March 05, 2015

Seaweed in the Cockpit

We finally all decided on a sail plan for the next few weeks and left Iles Des Saintes on Tuesday, Feb 24th destined for Dominica. The weather has been very windy but the trusted cruiser weatherman "Chris Parker" and Graham of course, predicted 1 maybe 2 days of manageable wind to sail. The sail took 3 hours and I guess could be described as manageable but not enjoyable. I was exhausted.

The bay we arrived at in Dominica was very cool. The island seemed to be straight out of Jurassic Park. Everything so green and larger than life. We got anchored and plugged in the wifi antenna and we all crossed our fingers and held our breath for a strong free internet connection and yippeee!!!! The perfect anchorage....strange wonderful new land to explore and internet ;-).

In my email was a message waiting from Rob saying that he had booked a flight to St. Lucia arriving in 3 days and not to worry he would just take a ferry to which ever island we were on. We quickly did some research and ferry schedules to Dominica were not good and given the high winds he might be done with boats by the time he reached us. We checked island hopper flights and no luck there either. We decided to sail to the end of the island, get a good night sleep and then leave first light for Martinique which has many island hopper flights  and is the next island in the chain right beside St.Lucia. Luckily we had just enough time to get tied up to a mooring ball before the sun had totally faded. We slept well that night.

At the crack of dawn we took off for Martinique. I was nervous because winds and waves were higher and our sailing guide spoke of catamarans capsizing due to funnel winds as you left the lee of the island.

The next four hours were insane. The waves were so high and some rolling. Graham had plenty of sail out because he said we needed more power to get through the waves. The boat was heeled over to a point that I have never sailed at consistently and then a wave would knock us even further over. For the first time in Salty Ginger history seaweed was in the cockpit. Water blasted at us from everywhere. Alex sat on the low side working the jib sheet and he said he was shocked how submersed we were in water. We had to have the door in as water was even under the dodger.

So stressful. No one really spoke except when we needed to maneuver. It was difficult to hear each other with the wind. Due to the length of the sail I hadn't set up the tethers in the cockpit. I will not make that mistake again. I was terrified we would lose someone. Luckily all we lost was Graham's beloved Tilly hat. He stood at the back at the helm on the high side and had to hold on the back pole and rail to stay put and we watched as it instantly was swallowed up by the huge waves.

I won't lie to you. I did lose it briefly and begged Alex to put his tether on and attach it to the deck jack-lines. He reluctantly agreed.

Graham was counting down the miles to us as each passed. Finally we reached the lee of Martinique and the wind and waves were blocked by the island. I can't tell you what a huge feeling of relief that was. Muscles I didn't know I had were "un"clenching. The boat settled out and sailed quickly, quietly and beautifully on the calm waters. Amelia joined us and her eagle eyes spotted something jumping way off in the distance. We all tried to see what she had seen. Suddenly we could see many pods of dolphins leaping through the water towards us. We began to whistle and cheer and they surrounded us performing their acrobatics. The past 4 hours disappeared and the four of us sat together watching feeling complete joy.

We found a beautiful anchorage in the main bay of Martinique which would be perfect for Rob's visit. We figured out the flight schedules and car rentals and prepared the boat for an awesome week.

We all really want a way to say thank you to Rob for always opening his home to us before we leave on a trip and when we return. I am trying to make his visit to SG like a visit to a resort....minus the hot water and solid ground ;-)...stay tuned.