April 29, 2015

Radio Star

Ever since I can remember Amelia has been singing. For Graham and me it is her health barometer both physical and emotional. When the singing stops we know we have a problem. Everything turns so quiet. Luckily these times are few and far between.

On the boat we have a ukulele and a guitar and singing continues to be a major part of our life. At each port we look for karaoke or open mic nights. Well two nights ago we were successful in our quest and found an open mic night at Lagoonies Pub.

We invited all our new and old cruiser friends…Gromits, Tahina, Cedar, La Luna and Blue Heeler and it was such a fun night. We laughed and mingled and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know everyone. Finally the live band took a break and they came to get Amelia for her performance. All her cruiser groupies gathered at the front by the stage and she sat perched on a bar stool with her guitar on her lap. The sound guy mic’d her and the guitar and she looked so beautiful, calm and confident. Didn’t seem nervous at all.

Finally it was time and she began to strum on her guitar. There was still chatter in the pub at this point and then she began to sing and the room automatically quieted and I looked around and people were enthralled. I still get enthralled. I had goose bumps listening to her. She finished and the crowd called for an encore and she delivered! As she left the stage a fellow from the island radio station came up and gave her his card and asked if she would like to sing live on the radio. She of course said “YES!”

A couple of days later we trekked over to the station in the extreme heat with guitar in hand. The station was just like you would imagine, a broadcast room with an extra stool for guests and a sound/recording room which looks into it.  The sound room even had the red light so you would know when they were on the air. It was the coolest experience ever. The station manager and radio host “Dr Soc” was in the middle of the morning show but during the songs he brought her into the studio. Graham and I let her go in on her own and we listened from Dr. Soc’s cat filled office. I was so nervous for her but she sounded like a total professional.

When it came time for her to sing I could hardly contain myself. She was AMAZING. She finished and you could tell that Dr. Soc was blown away. He was such a great guy, along with his fantastic co-host who was also a cruiser kid when she was young! This was such a unique experience, so different from any other cruiser experience we have had and I hope we have more ;-). Amelia is seeking out her next venue and I am dreaming of being her manager lol.

April 23, 2015

Empty Room – Goodbye to Alex

As many of you know Alex has taken a gap year before beginning University in September. He has been accepted into the Environmental Studies program at Waterloo. We were thrilled that he was excited to come with us on yet another sailing adventure and we knew that eventually he would need to return home for the summer and find work to save for his expenses in September. The timeline regarding his departure was always up in the air a bit. After plenty of discussion Alex let us know that he was anxious to get back to Toronto, find work and start making his way in preparation for September. Beginning of May is when the university students will also be on the job market so he thought it best to get back end of April and get himself set up and job searching.

For me this is a huge turning point. As a parent you prepare your kids to not need you but when the point actually comes to let go it is harder than I ever imagined. Not because I don’t think he is capable but because I will miss this stage with him. There are still times that I miss little Alex. I know there are plenty of great stages ahead of us but moving on is hard. I love having him on the boat. He is mostly light and sunshine. He puts people at ease and his smile seems to be contagious. He doesn't complain and Graham has come to rely on him for help with sailing and any heavy lifting. He knows how to lighten the mood when things get dicey and is a great brother and friend to Amelia. He still makes plenty of questionable decisions and sometimes has to be reminded to wipe toothpaste off his face but these things will come. I am sad, happy and excited for him all at once.

We decided that he would jump ship in Antigua and fly home to Toronto. For our last sail together Liam from Gromit joined us and it was picture perfect. We trailed two fishing lines, laughed and sailed Salty Ginger fast! As we sailed closer and closer to the island my heart was in my throat. Then as each day passed and he began to pack and we made plans for his return back home and planned his goodbye beach party……my heart hurt. I knew he was leaving but maybe I just didn't believe it.

On his last day Alex and I spent the afternoon together. We kayaked to the beach and walked into the marina. We swam and laughed and remembered good times. He mentioned to me that he is looking forward to me shifting from parenting to advising. He makes me laugh. He also said that he will not entertain text messages which read "Where are you?" I really enjoyed that afternoon.

The night before he flew out we had a big beach barbecue with the Gromits and our friends Tanner and Shari and their boys. It was the perfect evening. Liam even fired off his last few fireworks in honor of Alex’s goodbye.

Now his room is empty…..I miss him. Life is different without him. I still have moments where I buy four of something or mention to someone I have two kid on board….then I remember :-(. Amelia has totally stepped in and has taken on Alex’s sailing responsibilities and our 4 night dinner making rotation is now a 3 night rotation.  I know she misses him, especially at night since Graham and I crash so early. We are so lucky to have 3 wonderful Gromit kids nearby to fill our lonely hearts.

I spoke to Alex and asked him how he was doing and he said that the only word to sum it all up was "happy." This made me feel better. Time for me to move on and assume my new role as "Advisor."

Oh and hey on the plus side we have an empty room now for visitors and I have a ton of new cupboard space ;-).

April 17, 2015

Our floating home with neighbors we know

Our plan is to make our way north to the Bahamas which will be our jumping off point for our sail to Chesapeake. The best time to leave Bahamas looks to be around the end of May or early June, so this is the deadline we are tracking to. The Gromits are on a similar plan as they plan on selling their boat in the Chesapeake area so we will sail together as much as possible. While at our vacation rest point we all worked out a rough plan for the next few weeks. We decided to day sail to Deshaise, Guadeloupe spend a couple nights and then day sail to Antigua and then overnight sail to St Martin for a few days and then on to BVI and the Bahamas.

The day sail to Deshaise was so cool. Most of the sail was the kind of sailing you dream about, flat waters, perfect wind, blue skies and a friend’s boat sailing beside you. The last time we sailed together was in the waters of Tahiti. Memories came flooding back as we sailed along. Of course though, what is sailing without the wind? Just when we were all getting quite comfortable with full sails and stretched out lazily in the cockpit the island wind "micro bursts" got us!

It still shocks me how much force a blast of wind can carry. My heart races and my stomach flip flops. I know we aren't in dire danger but I just want the crazy to stop in these moments. The noise of the straining sails and lines, the howling wind and the leaned over boat is really unsettling. Luckily when you are in the lee of the island these micro bursts are short lived. At one point we were sailing in front of the Gromits so we hit the burst first. Once through it we radioed them and gave them a heads up. Cornelia mentioned after that they didn't need the radio call as they saw us heel over ;-).

The Deshaise anchorage is notorious for wind. The guide book reads, "Guadeloupe acts as a windscoop. Deshaise is a vent in this system and the winds here sometimes howl in an alarming manner." Well the guide book wasn't wrong. As we made our approached the winds kept increasing and our point of sail came closer and closer to the wind. I looked at Graham with my…"wth, are we a race boat or a cruising boat look?" and of course with mixed with a heavy dose of anxiety and he finally agreed to reduce sail a bit.

Usually as you enter the bay to anchor you enter a well-protected area from wind, so the wind decreases and you take down your sails and my stress melts away. This was not the case in Deshaise. We needed to anchor in the winds in the high 20’s. This just makes the whole process more difficult as you need to drive directly into the wind and bring the boat to a stop. I was proud of myself though I managed to apply the correct amount of gas to counteract the wind beautifully and also enough gas so that when the anchor caught we didn't have a massive recoil.

Once we were snug in our spot my stress fell away. The captain and crew were also happy because wind means power. The Gromits anchored next to us and radio chattered began between the kids. A new location to explore from our floating homes with neighbors we know ;-).

April 12, 2015

Salty Ginger, Salty Ginger, this is GROMIT

We decided that the anchorage in Iles Des Saintes, Guadeloupe would be the perfect rendezvous point with the Gromits. The anchorage basically has 10 mooring balls which are all within a stone’s throw of a beautiful little island with gorgeous walking trails and a fantastic beach. The water is clear and snorkeling is fantastic. The perfect place to take a week and decompress from 31 days at sea!!

We had been in daily communication with Gromits at sea and were tracking their progress. We arrived at the anchorage a couple days ahead of them and began to prepare for their arrival. I made them a huge welcoming sign out of a shower curtain and colored duct tape I had found in Dominica. The sign read, "GROMIT We Love you Tour De Monde" which means around the world.
Alex and I also made a huge batch of their favorite butter tart squares and Amelia and I bought an assortment of fruits and veggies to get them started. We arranged all of the treats in a Canada basket and included baguette, emmental cheese and chocolate as we were back in the land of the French! We also blew up a ton of balloons and tied them to a long rope and then hung the rope the length of the boat. Thank goodness we had these things to keep us busy because the waiting was the hardest. It was like the night before Christmas. We knew they would be arriving early morning on Saturday (April 11th). We planned to have a big breakfast on board, so we prepared a fruit salad to beat all fruit salads and a ton of food. Graham was up at 4:30am too excited to sleep and cooking. Finally at about 8:00am Graham called them on the vhf and we heard in reply "Salty Ginger, Salty Ginger, this is Gromit"!!!!!

The joy I felt was overwhelming. I knew they must be close. Liam got on the radio and he was also equally excited. Our conversation was interrupted though by a whale! Liam said, "Oh sorry guys I have to run, Dad says there is a whale next to us." Lol, you don’t hear that very often!

Finally around 9am they came around the bend and we could see them out at sea. We couldn't contain ourselves anymore and we raced out to them in the dinghy. The seas were pretty high though for the dinghy and finally we decided we just had to sit and wait for them to come to us. The longest few minutes EVER.

At last we were zooming around Gromit and they were all running around the deck waving and smiling. Mike was at the bow ensuing the anchor was ready just in case anything went wrong with the mooring and Cornelia was at the helm looking so happy. The kids were taking pictures and waving excitedly. We guided them to their ball and helped to tie them up directly beside us. Not a moment after the line was tied the Gromit kids (Zoe, Maia and Liam) were in the water. I was shocked how quickly. Alex had his clean clothes on so he stripped off his shorts in an effort to keep them salt free but in his excitement they looped around his toe as he jumped in. We were all laughing. Amelia was going to go get her bathing suit but she couldn't contain herself and all of sudden she was in the water. Best welcoming ever.

Graham and I jumped on board Gromit and Cornelia and I hugged in a mess of tears and relief.

They had done it. They had just completed their longest passage ever, over 4000 nm in 31 days. They had sailed around the world. An unbelievable 7 year odyssey. Even though the official point where their around the world line joins is somewhere near Cuba, I think they are close enough to celebrate!  I am seriously in awe of this family. We all made our way over to Salty Ginger and talked, hugged, ate, swam and were just basically riding the high for the whole day, for the whole week for that matter. The week was awesome. Dinners on each other’s boats and cruiser get togethers on the beach, swimming, kayaking, hiking, shopping, sleep overs and adventures.

It feels so wonderfully familiar to be together again on the sea. The Gromits feel like family. It will be fun to navigate North together through the Caribbean and all the way back to the Chesapeake.

I am so looking forward to our first sail together!

April 08, 2015

Cruiser God

Our sail adventures throughout the Caribbean islands have been made a ton easier through the use of sailing guide books. The books give us useful navigation tips for each island, things to do, things to be aware of and where all the necessary cruiser amenities are located. The best of their breed are written by a fellow named Chris Doyle who has been sailing these waters for longer than I have been on this earth. In the guides he refers too many of the locals on each island by name and you get the sense that he has an active interest in the betterment of the islands and the people. Amongst the cruisers he is revered as the “Cruiser God”.

While in Dominica we followed Chris Doyle’s advice and took an Indian River tour with a fellow named Martin. Chris had recommended both in his book. Martin picked us up early in the morning and motored us to the mouth of the river and then the river paddle began.  The paddle was lovely but not really for us. We never usually do paid tours and this tour confirmed for us that we were not “tour” people or perhaps we just aren't bird people?

Martin moved from the back of the boat where the motor was to the front to paddle. He was within a foot from Graham and I who were on the front bench. We were literally knee to knee. As he extended his arms on each paddle, I worried I might get an accidental boob punch. Alex graciously offered to switch me spots. Martin let us know the river was 700 meters long……omg…this was our first shock. We were expecting to travel a way inland, especially since we were paying about $25 Canadian each. He pointed out all the different birds along the way..."There is a pigeon"…."There is the soft underbelly of the yellow bellied finch"….."There is a humming bird". He was really knowledgeable on birds and remarked on foliage and the healing powers and uses of the various plants. Maybe I just needed to be a few years older to enjoy this tour ;-). Sorry to all those bird lovers out there.

Martin was really kind and you could see he genuinely loved his island and had a passion for his work. Throughout the tour he also spoke of Chris Doyle constantly. You could see he respected him so much. We mentioned to Martin that we would be attending the "Boogie Woogie" cruiser night that Martin’s group organizes every Saturday night. Martin said we would be in for a real treat as Chris Doyle was anchored in the bay and would be attending! He also let us know that Anne Vanderhoof the author of "Embarrassment of Mangoes" would be attending. A star studded cast for cruisers ;-). We were all looking forward to the evening.

At 7pm all the cruiser dinghies converged on the dinghy dock in the dark. Flashlights bobbing about everywhere. The dinghy dock was loaded full. As we approached the open air tent we noticed all the lights were out. Unfortunately power was out for the whole bay. We decided to drop the kids off and run back to the boat for our lantern.

On our return we found the kids had sat themselves at a table with the one and only "Chris Doyle" and his friend "Pinkie". They were all laughing and looked to be fast friends. I couldn't help but laugh, my kids had found the cruiser celebrity and were monopolizing him. Graham and I joined them and for our $25cdn entrance fee we were able to eat, drink (rum punch) and dance as much as we wanted. Much better way to spend $25 dollars ;-). We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and even ran into some cruiser friends we had made a month earlier. At one point in the evening, Alex, Amelia and I had joined hands and were dancing circles around the two of them as "blurred lines" boomed in the background. My face hurt from laughing so much.

I guess to make a long story short……"I prefer boogie woogie to birds…."

April 07, 2015

Boiling Lake

Dominica lived up to our expectations, the magnificent landscape and friendly people made it one of our favorite stops. On the day we arrived we all dinghied to the main town called Roseau to check-in. We must of passed the dinghy dock that all the cruisers used without realizing it so we made our way around to this break wall with many colorful fishing boats all tied up haphazardly inside. As we went through the narrow channel it was pretty apparent that this wasn't the spot that all the cruisers came into but it was within eye sight of customs, so we pulled up to the side.

Right away we were approached by a few of the men standing about and of course my defenses went up ready for them to want something from us. It didn't take more than a couple minutes to realize they were all just really nice fishermen. They hadn't seen cruisers dinghy in there before but they wanted to help us out and told us where to secure it and one fellow even made sure everyone went around it as they came through the narrow channel.

Graham and Alex went off to check in and Amelia and I had such a nice time chatting with everyone and watching them bring in their catch from various boats. While standing there we met a nice fellow named Lara who was a retired police officer who now fishes in his spare time and also occasionally offers taxi service. We mentioned we had heard of the boiling lake and that we were wanting to hiked to it but were thinking we didn't want to do a guided tour. Funny how things work out, he offered to drop us off and pick us up the next day and show us to the trail head. His price was a fraction of what it would of cost us to have a guide along. We were so happy we could do the trip "Perry Style."

The hike is described as advanced and estimated at 6-8 hours in the guide book. We knew we were up for a long day so the next morning we were off at 6:30 am. Unfortunately the day was rainy and overcast. Turns out that hiking in a rain forest in the rain is REALLY muddy! I am sure I still have mud in places I haven't yet found ;-). Lara got us to the end of the road and at this point it was pouring rain and he says that he will hike with us to the trail head. He gets out of the van and takes off like a jack rabbit. I realized that my idea of hiking is more like walking than his. He estimated 8 hours for our return trip due to the rain and we waved goodbye to him in the pouring rain. For a brief moment I wished I was returning to the dry warm van with him.

The trail went through all different types of landscapes. The first part was through the dense rain forest. The trail had log steps along it as these were often the only thing you could see amongst the mud to step on. The first few hours were slow going and we tried to choose our steps carefully avoiding mud holes and water but eventually it was a lost cause and we just started sloshing through. The hard parts were either the straight ups or downs in the mud. Our hands, legs and bums were covered.

Just when I was at my breaking point we reach "the valley of desolation." This is where the ground is hot and the river flows hot, and steam and bubbling water and mud is everywhere. We found a spot where we could of actually boiled an egg. The contrast of the stark light grey steamy valley against the rain forest mountain we had just climbed down was jaw dropping.

After the valley we continued on the trail and a short while later we came to the most beautiful natural hot pool and waterfall. The water was the perfect hot tub temperature as a bit of the fresh water from the mountain was mixing with the hot. Most folks wait until they have made the summit and are on their way back before taking a soak but there was no way you could of got me to wait. Graham was a harder sell but once he saw the three of us laying back in the hot water with looks of euphoria on our faces, he realized that either way he was going to be waiting and in he came.

After our hot tub I felt invigorated for the last hour of our hike. Since we had started out so early we didn't see many folks for the first few hours but after we stopped a few groups were catching up. The groups had guides and we realized what a good decision it had been to go alone. The guides were all business and the hike seemed to be literally all about "hiking." We were all paused taking pictures of something as one group passed and the guide said to me, "looks like you guys are on more of a stroll!" Oiy my fiery red head temper wanted to pounce out but I kept it in check ;-).

There were a few parts where we had to try and find the trail but this made it a bit more exciting, scaling up rock walls and calling to each other if we found it. When we reach the lake it was pretty cool. You walk out to this look out area and the boiling lake is below and it is almost as if you are standing in the middle of the top of a volcano and the boiling lake is where you would see the lava. There was a geyser in the middle so the lake was truly rapidly boiling. There was also clouds rolling over us so at times it felt like we were in a hot boiling steamy pot of water. It was pretty cool and worth googling if you haven't heard of it and seeing the many pictures online. We divided up chocolate, cheese and crackers overlooking the lake and felt pretty pleased with ourselves. I tried not to think about the 3 hours ahead.

We were all back at the boat by 4 and truly exhausted. The next day was spent scrubbing mud off of everything....shoes, backpacks, jackets, clothes, bodies....The worst part was that our feet were wet for almost our entire hike and also soaked in hot water, so they were extremely shriveled up.......seriously shriveled up.......like I have never seen feet do this kind of shriveled up. They ached when we walked on them it took a couple days before we truly felt they were dry and could walk on them without wincing. They are still peeling and it is a week and half later!

Now all of that said, this was one of our best days. I love challenging ourselves together as a family and experiencing firsts. I like the conversations that happen on these hikes and interactions we have with each other. I like the moments where we all look out at something together in awe. I like sitting exhausted at a rest stop passing a bottle of water around. I like following in the footsteps that the lead person has chosen as we make our way up a trail. I like watching the kids race off ahead together laughing and being silly. I like how a hike is a collection of many many unique moments and emotions that make for the best memories.

April 02, 2015

Champagne Bubbles

Some days you just want to stay on your boat in your pi's but it is strange how guilty you feel when everywhere you look there is beauty surrounding you to explore. Yesterday was just this kind of day. I woke up late, let the kids sleep in, did a bit of laundry, cleaned the boat and basically just puttered. Finally at about 3:30 Graham rallied the troops and got us all motivated to go off for a snorkel at a nearby reef he had read about called "Champagne reef." Turns out that this snorkel spot is truly one of a kind. Due to the volcanic activity in Dominica there is gas released on the ocean floor and little streams of champagne bubbles float up to the surface. When the sun hits these streams in the crystal clear water with the magnificent reef and colourful fish as a back drop it is breathtaking.

Amelia looks out for me when I snorkel as I am not the strongest swimmer. She holds my hand and we swim along together. It was so magical as we swam through these bubbles together. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better she dove down and pointed out the coolest octopus slugging along on some coral with all its tentacles moving trying to get away from an annoying fish. I always wanted to see an octopus! 

After the bubbles and octopus I couldn't imagine it getting better but then we started to hear this eeking sound in the water. We both stopped and popped our heads up on the surface. I recognized the sound and knew there had to be dolphins close by. Sure enough off in the distance I could see a pod jumping through the water. We both started swimming quickly for our dinghy, so we could retrieve the boys and chase after them. 

Once we were all in our little inflatable dinghy we raced off in the general direction we had seen them. Remember we are basically racing out to the open ocean! As luck would have it the dolphins surfaced again and we were in their path. Alex wasn't going to miss an opportunity to snorkel with dolphins so he jumped in before I could even weigh any risks involved. He said 2 dolphins looked him square in the eyes. The dolphins were pretty much moving in a straight line but very quickly, so Alex got back in the dinghy and we raced way ahead to where we thought our paths would cross again. We turned off the engine and waited….and then they surfaced again coming towards us! Amelia was ready and waiting this time and she hopped in with Alex. It was so cool to have the dolphins so close we could almost reach out and touch them and to have my kids in the water with them. 

Next it was Graham's turn. We raced ahead again and as luck would have it he also had the opportunity to jump in and see them under water. Yes I was chicken….I managed the boat and watched happily from my perch. Who knew my lazy day would have Champagne bubbles, Octopus and Dolphins in it!

Unfortunately as I write this blog though I realize that the next time I want a lazy day on board I will have to weigh this against possible amazing missed opportunities.