In celebration of our one year anniversary as “live-aboards” a.k.a. “cruisers” a.k.a. “sea gypsies”, we thought we’d try and give you a little preamble and a “behind the scenes” look into our life on a “hobby horse” before launching into our adventures of Dominica, the last of the leeward islands. But first we thought we’d clear up a common misconception – Most folks seem to think Roy is the author of these articles, but alas, it is in fact Elaine, so apologies from Elaine upfront for any grammatical errors, ramblings, misinterpretations, misrepresentations, etc. Roy does, however, critique every article before it is published. J
What many folks also don’t know is that this lifestyle and, particularly our planned circumnavigation, is a life-long dream of Roy’s; one he mentioned to Elaine more than 30 years ago when we first meet and one she promptly responded by telling him he was indeed nuts! As time passed though, we did purchase our first yacht, Gallinule, in South Africa. Elaine, however, too nervous to actually sail it, spent all her time cleaning it, while Roy spent his time racing it. At the time, Keenan was a youngster and Elaine insisted that the poor child spend 24 hours a day in his lifejacket for fear of him falling overboard or the yacht capsizing. After leaving South Africa, there were numerous attempts to purchase another yacht, but to no avail. We did have a moment of madness when we first moved to Arizona where we bought a speed boat in 2001 – Fortunately the insanity was temporary and it was sold within the year. It wasn’t until 2008 on a road trip around Ireland, having taken a ferry over to one of the uninhabited islands off the Dingle Peninsula, on the west coast of Ireland, that the plan to circumnavigate hatched. We’d hiked up one of the mountains and while enjoying a beautiful view of a deep blue Atlantic Ocean, Elaine asked Roy if he still wanted to sail around the world. Based on his reply, the detailed planning started in earnest and who better than Elaine to plan this dream! Of course, Roy’s biggest fear then was that he would be “managed” to death by Elaine. As surety against this happening, he made her sign an agreement and promise that she would not. Well, needless to say, she fails dismally every day, but she continues to try her best not to!
So, with the plan hatched, little did we know that every skill we had acquired over the years would indeed hold us in good stead for our life aboard. Shortly after our return home from Ireland a friend visited and enquired about the “blue print” that was lying on the island in our kitchen. Well, sad to say, it was actually a detailed Microsoft Project Schedule of everything we had to do in order to realise this dream. From the initial planning to all the analysis needed to select a yacht, as well as the all equipment required for blue water sailing. It included all the ASA (American Sailing Association) certifications we wanted, activities to get ocean experience including flotillas and joining boat clubs in California – remember we lived in Arizona miles from any ocean, investigating yacht and international medical insurances, wrapping up our landlubber life by selling everything we had accumulated over the years, ensuring the finances were available to fund the dream and, finally, all the activities needed to have our personal items and yacht equipment shipped to an appropriate location. Six years in the making and, after what seemed like an impossible dream, having postponed it twice due to the worldwide financial and housing crisis, as well as the decision to purchase a catamaran over a monohull, the day arrived – we moved onto Paw Paw on 14 April 2014. I think it’s fair to say that dreams, supplemented with hard work and great planning, do come true!
So, what has it been like “living the dream”. Well, there are a number of correlations that we will use to give you a little insight. Firstly, the “hobby horse” analogy attempts to describe the type of motion that Paw Paw has when underway, as well as the constant motion one experiences while living on a yacht; a challenge, especially for Elaine, if the anchorage is extremely rolly and the swells hit the yacht abeam (side to) at a certain frequency. Something easily remedied though by going ashore for a few hours and taking the opportunity to explore whichever “new country” we find ourselves in.
Then there’s the physical nature of our lifestyle. Sailing is a sport, involving lots of physical labour and one we have chosen to do on a permanent basis. Even when you are asleep, your body is constantly adjusting to the movement of the yacht. Couple that with being a full-time tourist, reading numerous guides to determine what there is to experience and then enjoying that which each new island has to offer and your days become filled with hiking, sightseeing, diving, snorkelling, etc, but also lugging laundry to and from a laudromat or carry provisions from a grocery store, as the day-to-day basics of living are still a necessity. In between all this merriment, we undertook the outfitting of Paw Paw and it was our own sweat and excess body fat that was spent while installing all the new equipment. So, besides becoming full-time sailors and loosing a tremendous amount of weight in the process, we also became the full-time plumber, electrician, motor mechanic, electronics specialist, upholstery expert, gas, water and electricity supplier, meteorologists, chef and baker, transferring all our acquired skills and knowledge to a new environment. This includes, in some instances, preparing meals from food we have never seen before in our lives or using ingredients available vs what we actually want or baking bread out of necessity, since the anchorage we chose has no shops available. In other words, we’ve learnt the true meaning of self-sufficency! And, so as not to be bored in any way, shape or form as well as assist in alleviating the languages barriers we experience, Elaine decided to learn two new languages – Spanish and French – which she now muddles together inadvertently. Learning to play the saxophone is also on the list of “To Dos”, but is proving to be somewhat difficult for her from a time and energy perspective – no surprise there then! By the end of a day, although we have a tiredness borne from all the physical exertion; one different from the mental fatigue we experienced on land, we have jammed as much as we can into our day and go to bed completely fulfilled!
On a different note, since one is always exposed to nature and the elements, you eventually become intimately aware of them. Imagine you are lying on your back in bed, except that your bed is not firmly positioned on a floor; it is in fact, floating on water. Boarding one side of your bed there is a huge window and, less than 4ft above you, there is a sky light that can open and close:
· Since you can hear the slapping of waves against the hull as well as feel the motion of the yacht as it moves on the water, one is constantly aware of the sea state. You even know when it is completely calm as you don’t hear or feel anything
· When you fall asleep at night, invariably you are either staring at the stars, the moon or clouds through the sky light. This aspect is only surpassed by the wonders of an overnight sail when on watch – the silence is only broken by the motion of the yacht through the water, the brilliance of the stars in the darkness of a moonless night is indescribable and the beauty of the sunrises and sunsets are truly magnificent
· On a warm, barmy night, you leave the sky light open in order to be cooled by the constant breeze from the trade winds, which, in turn, lets you know how strong they are blowing
· You know when it’s raining as you start to dream about something involving water until the raindrops waken you, if you happened to have left the sky light open. If not, you hear the raindrops beating on the fibreglass
· You know the general weather outlook for the day depending on whether or not the sun streams in your window at sunrise and, usually, you have a fair idea of what the following day holds by the colour of the sunset: “red skies at night, sailors delight”!
It wasn’t until Elaine returned to landlubber life recently and shared her experience with Roy on her return to Paw Paw, that these contrasts become apparent. Between the “rushing around”, the challenge of trying to drive a car for the first time in a year, falling asleep in the stillness and silence, as well as feeling totally “closed in”, did the realisation hit home that landlubber life was probably no longer for us! It didn’t help matters that the first morning after arriving in Phoenix Elaine was startled into consiousness by an initially unrecognisable sound – birds chirping vs roosters crowing.
Some may find the lack of a routine on a yacht surprising. For instance, if the wind kicks up as a result of a storm passing overhead, you may find yourself up at 2 o’clock in the morning fending off boats that are dragging through the anchorage because they under scoped ie they didn’t put enough chain down with their anchor to hold them firmly. Or, a new found friend passes by your yacht in the morning to invite you to join them on a “field trip”. That quiet evening and dinner you planned aboard could be negated by a lovely restaurant you spot while exploring ashore or by an invite you receive from a neighbour in the floating village to join them aboard for dinner instead. Then your peaceful afternoon is altered by the individual who comes roaring into the anchorage, dropping their anchor too close to you and you then get to spend the rest of the afternoon assisting them untangle their anchor from your chain. Or, you get to return the favour of rescuing a dinghy that has broken free off its yacht. More often than not, when you have planned to leave early the next morning for your next destination, you awake to find a yacht that arrived in the dead of night floating over your anchor or, worse, a rather expensive boat part is no longer functioning for no apparent reason other than the longevity has expired as a result of the harsh environment it has had to operate in. The most obvious element that contributes to the unpredictability of sailing is, of course, the weather. You may arrive in an idyllic anchorage with every intention of staying a week or two, only to have a northerly swell put pay to that idea, as your lovely protected anchorage turns into a washing machine with waves crashing onto the shore.
With immigrating to various countries every few weeks, aside from the usual expectations of arriving in a new country, we have discovered some major differences in what awaits a sailor on these adventures. There are some places where you just move in and have to “fit in” no matter what ie you are left to your on devices and, any shyness you may have had before becoming a cruiser, is soon overcome in order to find the various services you may need like a grocery store, somewhere to get laundry done, a fuel station for diesel and petrol or a post office to post that birthday card you’ve been carry around with you for weeks. This is true mainly of the French and Dutch islands thus far. Conversely, there are places where everything is laid on for sailors ie purpose-built anchorages with every amenity you can think of. A fine example of this is Jolly Harbour, Antigua and soon to be discovered, we understand, Le Marin, Martinique. Finally, there’s the place where you can do nothing for yourself without involving a local and, of course, getting fleeced in the process from a financial perspective, just to get your garbage disposed of or find an anchoring spot or secure a mooring ball. Fortunately, the only example of this thus far has been Dominica, which, together with having to “pay for one’s security”, has left a very bad taste in our months. Quite frankly, we’d rather spend our hard earned money as “fun tickets” than on “services” we are perfectly capable of carry out ourselves, but more to follow on this.
Finally, there are those things we completely underestimated or misjudged. For instance, the dynamics of people living together in an anchorage for extended periods of time. We naively assumed that, since everyone we met were sailors, they would be “like-minded people”, but not so. Sailors, yes, but some were people we simply avoided after our first encounter. Fortunately though, there are a higher number of folks we meet, who become friends instantly, albeit for a short period of time and, although the goodbyes are emotionally hard at times, we are, however, still in contact with those who have moved on to the South Pacific and we still manage to re-connect from time to time with those who have remained in the Caribbean. Then there is the matter of our own dynamics and dealing with life in tight quarters as well as adapting / adjusting to our new environment. This has been challenging in ways we had not imagined, but rewarding in so many others. There is nothing like spending your entire day, having fun, doing exactly what you want to be doing, with the one person you love spending time with! So, with that said, our next adventure awaited us.
Having completed our visit to Montserrat, we arrived back in Deshaies, Guadeloupe on April Fools Day.Shortly before our departure for pastures new, we had the coolest day ever - we were entertained all afternoon by a large pod of dolphins in the anchorage. In her excitement Elaine jumped into the water fully clothed from Paw Paw's bow to swim with them. They were a little shy at first, but then they came closer - simply magical! Early the next morning, we set sail for Pigeon Island Cove en route to Iles des Saintes. While enjoying our Sunday morning breakfast and before a wonderful dive off Pigeon Island in the Cousteau National Park, we got to watch two more dolphins frolicking around Paw Paw – so cool! A light lunch followed of, amongst other tropical fruit, one of the sweetest, juiciest Paw Paws we've eaten in years. For those of you who don't know, it's a South African fruit that Paw Paw was named after and, of course, is a play on words, given that our yacht, “Paw Paw”, is a South African built “Leopard” 46 “catamaran” ie a yacht with two hulls. Another fun-filled day was topped off with a much needed nap and Elaine baking a banana loaf using a new recipe she got from Paul’s mom - Delicious!
Easter Monday, April 6th, 2015, we arrived in Iles des Saintes and after a number of attempts at anchoring and moving around, we settled for what was an idyllic spot for one day, behind Pain du Sucre on the island of Terre D'en Haut. We had planned to dive off the back of Paw Paw as well as snorkel the surrounding reefs, but unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the anchorage became extremely rolly and did not abate even after taking a mooring ball in front of the main town, Bourg de Saintes, for the following two nights. It is fair to say though, that despite the uncomfortable anchorages, we did enjoy these quaint little islands, not to mention our various French treats and we certainly got our exercises with all the walking we did. We discovered Bourg de Saintes when we decided to walk to the town from Pain du Sucre our first afternoon, not realising just how far it was and, although we forgot to take the camera, we did enjoy some great views. We also discovered some beautifully decorated homes during our walks to Marigot and Baie de Pompierre as well as our hike to Fort Napoleon, built in 1867. Before we knew it, it was, once again, time to move on.
On April 11th, 2015 we arrived in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica. It wasn’t a bad sail all things considered, given the expected 15 to 20 Kt easterly winds were actually 25 to 30 Kts – The only comment about this is that, as meteorologists, we believe we would have been fired if we’d put out forecasts similar to what we have experienced these past few months, but that's what you get when computer models are doing the work instead of humans. The most important thing though is that we arrived safe and sound regardless!
We were apprehensive about visiting Dominica, given all the stories we’d heard from other sailors regarding the “boatmen”, but also looking forward to discovering the island known as the “nature island” or the “land of many rivers” for its spectacular natural beauty and its 365 rivers, not to mention its beautiful waterfalls. It is said that if Christopher Columbus came back today, the only island in the Caribbean he would recognise is Dominica because it is the most unspoilt one in the region. The little niggle in the back of our heads, however, related to the constant reference to “security” after reading the guide prior to our arrival.
Anyway, we were met by Alexis, who welcomed us “to paradise” and after a lazy first day, we enjoyed a beach BBQ and dance the following evening - fuelled by way too much rum punch - organised by PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Services) for all the cruisers in Prince Rupert Bay and where we met TiSento (Agnes and Bas). Elaine enjoyed the best ever rum punch as a precursor at a local beach bar, decorated with all sorts of freshly chopped fruit and a bay leaf picked from the tree in the bar. Of course, visits to this particular bar were repeated in the days that followed! The next day, after completely all the “officialdom” and a walk around Portsmouth, we took a bus to the Hampstead Plantation ruins, hiked to the adjoining beach where the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed and from there, walked into the seaside village of Calibishie. The Dominican National Dish, Callaboo Soup, made from all sorts of fresh herbs and cacti was enjoyed for lunch - simply delicious! During our stay in Dominica we visited the local market where we bought fresh Mahi Mahi, farm fresh eggs, freshly baked bread, some fruit and vegetables, including lemons the size of oranges.
However, although we have seen and experienced many beautiful things this past year, it is the people whom we have met that leave a lasting impression. This was emphasised again when we weren't able to do our Indian River tour due to rain, which freed up an afternoon. We decided to do a hike to the village of Heritiers instead and, in particular, pass through the agricultural land with fruit trees, including mango, guava, cashew, etc. We took a slight wrong turn and bumped into one of the farmers called Dadiwa, who was happy to redirect us. But before he did, he proceeded to give us an education on the various trees, plants and crops he was growing. Unbeknownst to us, he then went and picked all sorts of fruit and vegetables from his farm and waited to give it to us when we were on our way back down the mountain - as one old guy said whom we passed in town when walking back to our dinghy - "that is not luck, that is being blessed". Blessed indeed!
We eventually got to take the boat tour of the Indian River which was another spot on the island where the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were filmed, as well as a bus trip to Toucari for some snorkelling. Unfortunately the latter was spoilt by the amount of garbage we saw in the marine park waters. Our last day in Prince Rupert Bay involved a very early start to hike the Syndicate Rainforest with fellow sailors from Slowdown (Cheryl and Ed), followed by a hike to the Milton Falls and a swim in the coldest water we've ever encountered. En route we got to pick nutmeg, ginger, lime leaves and cinnamon, some of which made a very enjoyable tea that evening. We walked through orchards of mangoes, papaya, grapefruit, passion fruit, limes, pineapple - Just unbelievable! The beauty of this island was just staggering, but one we decided not to return to because of the security issue. Learning about a single-handed sailor who was boarded at night and robbed at gun point because he wasn’t anchored in the area where “one pays for one’s security” was disconcerting, but our own experiences cemented our opinion on this matter.
With the exception of our chance encounter with the farmer, one of our biggest disappointments was the distinct impression that we, as sailors, were viewed as “money bags” that had to have every possible dollar fleeced from us. The cherry on the cake was a man offering us mangoes as we stood under a mango tree, laden with mangoes, while we awaited our return bus to Portsmouth. When we reacted with delight at his generosity, he promptly picked two mangoes, handed them to Roy and then asked Elaine for money in exchange. He then had the audacity to ask for more money when Elaine gave him all she had on her, aside from the bus fare to get back to the anchorage. Couple that with the fact that we felt extremely unsafe when trying to keep within budget by undertaking some excursions on our own ie choosing not to use the tour guides, but rather use the local buses to enjoy the island. Then while at anchor in Roseau, having planned to tour the southern part of the island and dive Scotts Head over the following days and having paid the fee for security, we were awakened all through the night with strange noises coming from the nearby dock which we ended up swinging towards when the wind changed direction. Independent investigations by both of us at different times of the night revealed people lurking on the dock in the darkness. It was only the next morning, after comparing our overnight experiences, that we decided we were chancing our luck by staying any longer and make a rather unplanned, swift departure for Martinique. Such a pity really! A beautiful island spoilt by a criminal element!
For now though, while we await the birth of our first grandchild and having celebrated our first year anniversary as cruisers on April 14th, 2015, we continue our journey southward through the windward islands, with each new island bringing us one step closer to the start of our World ARC adventure; 1886NM later and 20 Caribbean islands visited including 5 repeats. 32 "officialdom" visits - the majority of which were tedious and unpleasant, which, of course, Roy sent Elaine to deal with as he thought she would be more pleasant - you’d think he knew better by now! 5 Cruising Guides completed and only Auba, Saba, Barbuda and Maria Galante not visited at all - maybe next time!