Sunday, July 22, 2012

Re-entry: Week Three

Just as it takes some time to shut down one's land life before heading to sea for several years, it takes some time to re-enter after living on a small boat in very large oceans.  Jon and I have been both busy and slow.  The boat is clean and we've begun to clear out things we will not need for life on the Chesapeake--that took about a week.

Jon is actively looking for gainful employment, and I am making arrangements to travel across the country to see family and friends and tend to some unfinished business related to my mother's passing last year.  While we still remember how to drive on the right, the traffic can be unpleasant and we are trying to remain calm in the face of stressed out drivers.  Here are some re-entry issues I find myself confronting, not unsurmountable my any means, but there nevertheless.

The first for me was lines.  I do not do lines, at least not yet.  I went into a Starbucks to buy a New York Times and get a tea, and the line was about 15 people deep.  I turned around and walked out--just not that important.  It has happened several times, and thus far, nothing I thought I wanted was worth 20 minutes or more waiting.

A more overwhelming moment occurred when I walked into a high-end grocery store.  In fact "grocery store" does not even seem like the right words.  Food porn is probably more appropriate.  I had some time to kill before an appointment and went into a Balducci's.  It is not that anything there was bad, or necessarily symbolic of conspicuous consumption; it's just that it all looked so perfect, so delicious and so abundant.  Cheeses, meats, pastries, produce, and things in gorgeous packaging making my eyes pop out.  I walked up and down the aisles, looking but not touching, not knowing how one decided what to select.  This is what newly arrived immigrants feel like when they go to an American grocery store for the first time.  It's not bad, just overwhelming.  I walked out, having purchased nothing, feeling a bit numb and speechless.

I also find myself noticing the absence of paying attention to where the wind is blowing from, planning for evening watches, and being attentive to the sails, the boat, and seas in general.  I know situational awareness can be important on land, but in normal civilian life, it does not require the same vigilance as at sea.  I am surprised to find myself missing that need to be sharply attentive.

Crowds and loud noises also require some acclimation.  My usual instinct is to get away from such circumstances as quickly as possible.  I do not panic, but again, find that crowds are a bit overwhelming compared to our quiet life of the last few years.  This evening, when Jon and I joined our son David at a Washington Nationals baseball game, it was particularly challenging.  The game was sold out, the lines for hot dogs or beer were way too long for me, the decibels were pretty high, and it was crowded.  I did not find it intolerable, just tiring.

Nevertheless, it was wonderful to sit outside on a cool summer evening and watch the Nationals break their three game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves.  Baseball is America's pastime, and much preferable to Cricket in my opinion.  And after the game, there was a concert by Jacob Dylan and his band The Wallflowers.  Ahhhh, American rock-n-roll.  We are home and it is good to be back despite a few re-entry issues.  We'll adjust.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Last Passage

The Bay Tunnel is on the right.
At dusk Sunday evening (July 1st), Jon and I sailed ile de Grace into the Chesapeake Bay, a feat accomplished by passing over the tunnel that creates a gap in the low lying bridge for ships to pass through.  We were about 100 miles from our home marina, and seeing the Bay Bridge-Tunnel represented one of the final milestones of our circumnavigation, shared by just the two of us who could feel the distance we have traveled in our bones.

Three days earlier, as we set out from Fernandina, Florida, I reminded Jon that most car accidents happen within five minutes from home, and that we must not become lax in our seamanship just because we were almost home.  Tropical Storm Debby also reminded us that we were now subject to the vagaries of hurricane season.  So we sailed out of the St. Mary's River in northern Florida and headed northeast to make our way around Cape Hatteras and its dangerous shoals off the Carolinas.  The next morning, we were in the Gulf Stream, the strongest current in all the world's oceans, and we were flying, averaging nine knots.  This was fun--and making the last leg of our trip go quickly.  Cape Fear, Cape Lookout, and then Cape Hatteras were well off to port and soon long behind us.  Eighteen hours later, we were at the mouth of the Chesapeake, watching a beautiful sunset.

Despite my efforts to maintain our passage routines, Jon and I were all over the place, me sleeping irregularly and Jon barely sleeping at all.  Meals were mere acts of grazing whatever was handy as there was little enthusiasm to cook.  We were the equivalent of horses who smelled the barn, heading home with little else mattering.  Things began to get interesting when I came to relieve Jon at 1:30 in the morning on Monday, July 2nd, having entered the Bay a few hours earlier.  I noticed some lightning off in the west.  Jon had witnessed a lightning storm the night before, but it had not brought any wind or rains, and it stayed well off in the distance.

As day broke, the worst was over.
By three in the morning, it was becoming quite a light show, with sheet lighting coming closer to port and bow and spider bolts shooting into the water ahead.  Following our usual practice when lightning gets close, I put our laptop computers and the cell phone in the oven--in the hope that they would not get fried, and kept an eye on the radar and skies.  Since what wind we did have was from the northwest, and on our nose, we had no sail up and were motoring our way home.  By four, we were off the mouth of the Potomac River and the winds were picking up.  When they hit 30 knots, I let Jon know, got the foul weather gear out and slowed the boat down per his suggestion.  Within minutes, I could not keep the boat on course with the auto pilot, switched to hand steering the boat and I saw our wind guage read 43 knots.   We were in a blow.  Jon and I quickly got in our foul weather gear, life jackets and tethered ourselves to the helm, and, for  the first and only time on our two and a half years at sea, we hoved to.  That is, we did not try to steer our course, but rather held the boat in a drifting but stable position and tried to avoid the cargo ships and channel buoys that were around us.  We did this for two hours.

So there you have it, we sailed more than 26,000 miles across three oceans, and the worst we encountered was in the Chesapeake Bay, our nautical home.  The sea reminded us who is boss and who could smack us down at will, despite our skills, experience and vigilance.  Point well taken.  Lesson learned, yet again.

Motoring up the Chesapeake Bay.
By day break, we resumed course for another twelve hours of motor sailing.  Jon hoisted the courtesy flags from all the countries we have visited, as well as the semaphore flags  spelling G-R-A-C-E and, just before seven in the evening, we turned to port into the mouth of the West River.

Jon's brother Matthew and our son David were there to welcome us, help us dock ile de Grace and to feed us a lovely dinner waterside.  We were home.

It has now been a few days, and we are overwhelmed with the details of transitioning our lives back to land.  But we also are still digesting what this journey means to us and trying to figure out how we can retain some of the simplicity, and grace, we may have attained on our voyage. 

Finally, what must be acknowledged is that Jon and I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to many people along the way who have helped us, advised us and shared this journey with us.  But two stand above all others.  Our son David and our daughter Katharine have served as our proxies and our life lines and this trip would not have been possible without them.

Coming into Hartge Marina in Galesville, Maryland. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Back in the USA!

Sunset, St. Mary's River, Fernandina Beach, FL
We have spent the last few nights at a marina in Fernandina Beach, Florida, waiting for Tropical Storm Debby to move offshore.  Despite the few days of relentless rain and wind, it's great to be back in the United States.  The last few weeks, after crossing our track in the Bahamas, we've made our way north and west, through the Exumas and then to Eleuthera, just east of Nassau.  Despite the natural beauty of the Bahamas, with their hundreds of square miles of shallow, sandy bottom waters, it was hard not to feel a sense of growing urgency to get ile de Grace back home, and to begin the next parts of our lives.

Waterspout, Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas
It's a case of the horse smelling the barn, this desire to just be home, with family, friends and colleagues after 30 months away.  Nonetheless, we were able to get some lovely sailing in, shared a sunset cigar with friends, managed to avoid a nearby waterspout, dove some nice reefs, and tasted the power of tradewinds on the oceans, as we rode a strong Gulf Stream current up the coast of Florida to this small town on the Florida-Georgia border.  We also had a few rough patches as Debby's reach extended across Florida and hit us with 40 knot winds, but all went well, and the squalls reminded us that any voyage of consequence entails some bumps along the way.

Jennifer diving, Eleuthera, Bahamas

While Debby's center lingered in the Gulf, her reach extended to the Atlantic
But the day has come:  we leave in a few hours to round Cape Hatteras and turn up the Chesapeake, hoping to arrive before the 4th of July, which we hope to celebrate on our National Mall.  This final passage carries a special aura of hope around it, with this morning's news of the Supreme Court's decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.  Thirty months ago, unemployed, we left worried about how we would obtain health insurance; we managed to get an individual policy at a very expensive rate with one company, after having been turned down by several others.  It's a relief to know that the days of being denied insurance appear to be behind us, and we are happy to be returning home to a country where, like virtually every other country we visited, everyone will soon have ready access to reasonably priced health insurance.

It's good to be back in the USA!

Boys night out on the harbor; James, Ben and Jon in Georgetown, Bahamas

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mark the Log: The Deed is Done

At 0230 local time, on June 11,2012, ile de Grace crossed her outbound track and we completed our voyage around the world, rounding Cape Santa Maria, on the tip of Long Island, Exumas, in the Bahamas.  A few hours later, we dropped the anchor off the town of Georgetown, Exuma, returning to the harbor we left several years ago, on February 3, 2010.  It’s been quite a trip, but we have another 1100 miles to sail to return to our home waters of Annapolis, Maryland.

We’ve had guests on board for the last few weeks or so, and our days have been filled with fun and frolic, catching up, playing games, snorkeling, preparing meals, and managing the heat.  Ironically, at this most momentous of occasions, the near-continuous and delightful distractions of family and friends have made it difficult to assemble any meaningful insights or reflections on completing our voyage. But we have a 9 day trip from the Bahamas to the Chesapeake, and if the past is prologue, we’ll have plenty of time for introspection then.

ile de Grace, Georgetown, Bahamas
For now, we are filled with a sense of gratitude to our children, our families, and our friends for their support and encouragement as we set out on this peculiar adventure of circling our globe.  We feel blessed to have had the chance to experience a swath of this world we live on, its islands and cultures, its peoples and places.  We consider ourselves fortunate to have spent time with many fellow cruisers, whose advice and friendship meant so much to us.

Last, we feel a sense of fulfillment.  We set out on a voyage, knowing only that we were headed west.  Now, here, 28 months later, arriving where we started after 26,000 miles or so of sailing, we can say: “Mark the log: the deed is done.”   

As we begin our sail homeward, it’s now time to turn the page in our logbook, and prepare it for further sailing adventures whose direction and pace beckon from the unwritten pages of tomorrow’s entries.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Mark snorkeling at Virgin Gorda's Baths
The journey from St. Maarten to Turks and Caicos has brought Jon and Jen very close to completing their trip around the world.  On this leg, Jon’s brother Mark, who is writing this blog entry, and his daughter Maggie spent two weeks heading east enjoying their first oceanic voyage.  After all four of us flew together to St. Maarten (southern Dutch side) and spent a day preparing the boat, we headed north for a night anchored off St. Martin (French side), where the previous blog entry left off.  A blaring few overnight hours of musical thump from the onshore bars kept us awake and on the next day the guests had their first real snorkeling jaunt near Grand Case.  The trek then continued in earnest with a mostly overnight 90 mile sail/motor to anchor off Spanishtown, British Virgin Islands.  The sun was strong and it was literally and figuratively cool to later dinghy at The Baths, a famous beach area with spectacular rock formations and excellent snorkeling.  Marine eye candy abounded as we all flippered and hiked about the popular park.  

A glassy sea, en route to Turks and Caicos
The next morning we began a short motor to Jost Van Dyke, during which time Jen called out “whale!” – after which we all looked quickly enough to see the cooperating mammal off our starboard bow.  Just after lunch we anchored in the thin, crowded boat parking lot immediately offshore, where the water was clear enough and the shore close enough for us to swim ashore to the Soggy Dollar oceanside bar (with inflation and tourist pricing the bar should really change its name to the plural form). Some pub food and boat drinks were enjoyed open air that day before heading out the next morning for the long 500 mile leg to Turks and Caicos.  The first day we moved under sail with reasonable winds, as we did with part of the second day.  But then the winds faded and by the third day the seas were beyond calm, as we chugged our way over the very deep Puerto Rico trench.  Eventually the flat seas resembled a hazy, metallic undulating mirror, something that may be as memorable as the heavy winds that never came.  

It is not easy to briefly describe the human element of being on a round-the-clock cruise, even if only for four days and on a roomy, well-equipped vessel.  The calmness and experience level that Jon and Jen possess made the journey enjoyable and even possible.  As we approached Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) from the south, our arrival across the broad shallow banks made for beautifully colored seas and even included a prolonged escort from a school of dolphins.  We briefly anchored in Sapodilla Bay on the south side of Providenciales (known locally as Provo), the main island in the western Caicos Islands, separated by a deep trench, from the eastern Turk Islands.   We changed strategies and decided to pull anchor and head for the Southside Marina, after four days in the open seas, and begin another chapter in the voyage with a four-day stay tethered to the docks of Bob’s marina.  

ile de Grace at capacity ... 
TCI is relatively dry (~15 inches rain/year) and mostly flat, dominated by limestone features that uplifted over time above the surrounding sea.  On the next day, Jon and Jen’s longtime friends, the Taylor family, joined the crew.  Maggie especially appreciated the new crew as it included the two mates who are nearly her age, and these three younger folks laughed and entertained themselves and their parents.  Their presence also set a new occupancy record for the boat and led to sleeping locations probably never before seen.  Rental of a van allowed for lots of island options, including scuba diving by most folks, during which time a shark and other fish presented themselves.  

Maggie, driving the dinghy "Doodlebug"
Snorkeling along the public north-side beaches was also enjoyed, where the beautiful white sand morphed into an extended coral and grass carpeted sea of beautiful shades of blue, which was then swallowed by the open sea in the distance.  On the last day, we took a horseback ride along the beaches, culminating in a romp through the surf, which might technically be called a high speed swim.  We met and enjoyed the company of our marina mates and were welcomed by the local natives and residents of this relatively wealthy island.  We now return to the suburban, concrete world, healthier than when we left for two weeks in the sun and sea.  We are so happy for Jon and Jen as they approach their own sailor’s version of Promontory Summit – the circumnavigation of the world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Homeward Bound

Jon, Maggie, and Mark -- St. Maarten

We returned to the islands a few days ago, having flown home to be with our son, his now-wife, and our ever-extending family for the wedding of David and Marisa.  On a sunny Saturday in May, in front of the gentle breakers of the Atlantic Ocean, David and Marisa were married, surrounded by friends and family.  Our hearts remain filled with joy, as they enjoy their honeymoon in Maine.

The trip home was filled with surreal and magical moments, from seeing friends for the first time in years to experiencing the D.C. realities of traffic and noise.  With a bit more reflection, I’ll write about the experience of returning home, however briefly, after over 2 + years at sea; for now, my focus is on this last, homebound-leg of our circumnavigation.

On these final six weeks, we’ll be joined by friends and family; on this first leg, from St. Maarten to the Turks and Caicos, we are blessed with the presence of my brother Mark and his daughter, Maggie.  We’ve spent a few days here in St. Maarten, and leave in a few hours for Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands.  After a few days there, we’ll then sail the 500 miles to the Turks and Caicos, where they will fly home.

More postings to follow, as we wend our way north and west to our home port, our friends, and our family!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Islands in the Sun

Customs office in Barbuda
After Antigua, we continued our northward march toward St. Maarten, where we have a reservation at a marina that will allow us to leave the boat and return home for our son's wedding.  It's a bit dizzying, bouncing from island to island, confronting the alternating colonialist legacies of the French and the English.  Most of the former English island colonies are independent, and, like Fiji and Tonga in the Pacific, struggle economically.  Most of the former French island colonies are, well, still French -- like the islands of French Polynesia.  Owning to some bizarre cost-benefit calculus in the halls of Paris, the French seem to have no problem continuing to subsidize their tropical islands -- and, likewise, the locals seem to have no issue continuing to accept the largesse of the French government.

As Jennifer puts it, "the French know how to do islands."

Poling our way in Barbuda's lagoon
Just north of Antigua, and in fact a part of the country of Antigua, lies the sandy island of Barbuda, arguably home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  Imagine miles and miles of fluffy pure-white sand along the protected western edge of an island whose offshore waters are a mere 20 feet deep extending a mile offshore ... we anchored there a few days, and spent time exploring the enclosed lagoon with some new friends, Dillon and Sally on Orion, themselves about to embark on a circumnavigation.  It's hard to recall our sense of unknowing anticipation at the outset of our circumnavigation, but we do recall meeting other long-distance cruisers who filled us with ideas, suggestions, and above all, confidence that we were going to make it just fine.  Good luck, Dillon and Sally and Orion!

There, we re-visited the nesting world of the massive frigate bird, last seen in numbers during our Galapagos visit of two years ago.  Poled up into the shallows by George, our local guide, these pelagic birds were content to eye us serenely as we intruded their space.

After a few days of sun and sand, we left in the late afternoon for an overnight sail to St. Barth's, one of those French islands that seems never to have lost its old world charm.  I had last been there in the early 1980s, aboard the 65 foot yacht Cygnus,  and on a lark, plugged in some data on the boat into Google.  Amazingly, up popped a portfolio of pictures from one of my crewmates at the time, chronicling the trip we all took together from St. Barth's to San Diego so many years ago.  I can't say as I can recall the specifics of many of the pictures, but it was wonderful to see the faces of my old friends from that delightful trip.  What's harder to see is the impact of time on this aging body of mine ...

Rebuilding our water system's rusted-out accumulator tank
After St. Barth's, it's a short 20 mile sail to St. Maarten, an island divided into Dutch and French sides; here, the Dutch charge boats a small fortune to anchor -- or even to tie up a a marina -- while the French have their typical laissez-faire attitude.  Regrettably for our pocketbooks, we were stuck on the Dutch side,, but on either side, the island is very cruiser-friendly, and we've been able to attend to many postponed boat chores ... yes folks, cruising remains another word for "boat work in exotic places."

We'll keep the boat here for a few weeks as we attend to our son's wedding -- which will be held on a beach, so we'll feel right at home.  As we leave the boat for a few weeks, our biggest worry is whether any of our shoes will fit after a few years of going barefoot ...

... and as we land in the States, me for the first time in 2 1/2 years, our hearts are filled with joy at the thought of David and Marisa embarking on their own lifelong voyage of love, discovery, and adventure. 

God bless you, David and Marisa!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Coping Strategies

I am a cold weather person.  I like cool crisp air to breath.   My brain works best at temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  A doctor once told me that I probably have a high number of some platelet in my blood relative to the average population, which makes me this way.   So being in the tropics for the last two and half years has had its challenges, and I have developed some coping strategies.  Here, now, I share them with you in the hopes of dispelling illusions that I am on some sort of permanent, idyllic vacation.

On land I have several strategies.  I seek out the freezer and refrigerated sections of a grocery store---not something one can always rely on in the Pacific, but certainly here, in the Caribbean, they can be found.  If there are large refrigerator cases, I lean back against the glass and let the coolness penetrate my skin.  I have been known even to open the door briefly.  Freezer sections are usually bins, so I slowly peruse all the items leaning over as much as I can into the cold bins.  I carefully examine everything, trying to seem like a serious discerning shopper, but not taking so long as to arouse suspicion that I may have some nefarious intent.

If there is an air-conditioned shopping center, I will loiter as long as I can.  To Jon, this is a waste of time, since I am not even shopping, and it can be really boring.  But the walking does me some good and I savor whatever moments of AC I can gather.

Later, long after the grocery store is a distant memory (usually in less than half an hour), I am again hot, so then I go off in search of ice cream.  This is an excellent coping strategy, which I highly recommend.  It not only cools me down on the inside, it tastes good.  Jon is used to such excursions and even joins me sometimes.  YUM.

On the boat, I have several strategies to stay cool.  If the water is clear of crocodiles (that is, as long as we’re not in northern Australia), I jump off the boat into the water.  This is a common strategy among cruisers everywhere.  The benefits are immediate.  Being on a catamaran, is especially beneficial because we have two hulls.  I can swim underneath the bridge deck, which joins them.  It is shady there.  As brown as my skin has become, you wouldn’t suspect that I hide from the sun, but Jon and I both do.

We also eat Icy Pops, those frozen plastic tubes of colorful sugar water.  YUM.  I refer to them as my Cadmium rods, since they prevent a complete and total thermonuclear meltdown of my inner core.  These are precious.  Australia was the only place I’ve been able to buy them abroad, but I seriously stock up on my occasional trips back to the States.  Wal-Mart sells them for about $5 for 48.  That is a good price, but when you add how many I purchase with how much they weigh, the amount of money I have spent on overweight baggage makes them precious indeed.  Jon, too, shares in this coping strategy.

During the high heat of the day, when the people who live in hot climates take a mandatory siesta in order to escape the heat, I often lie, in a semi-catatonic state,  underneath my 12 volt fan, nearly naked, wiping a cold wash cloth over my body and holding an ice pack on my head.  Please Do Not Try To Visualize This.

Finally, when I am desperate to save my sanity, I resort to the mind-over-matter psychological technique of visualization.  I imagine myself somewhere high up in the Swiss Alps, where it is so cold that I have to wear wool sweaters and drink hot cocoa. YUM.

So the other day, Jon and I were ashore in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua, where we have been watching the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta.  There is a dockside café called Seabreeze, where, in exchange for a small purchase of food and drink, they let you have free WiFi and watch their television.  Jon was watching the intense semi-final match in the UEFA Champions League between Chelsea and Barcelona.  I was intensely utilizing land-based coping strategy #2—I was eating Hazelnut Gelato—when I discovered yet another coping strategy.  Humor.

The busy waitresses in this café rarely slow down; the business has been brisk with all the racers and spectators.  But this was the day after the last race and things were calmer.  I finally got the chance to read what was printed on the back of their T-Shirts.  For your amusement, it said:

is where 
the police are British
the cooks Italian
the mechanics German
the lovers French
and it is all organized by the Swiss

is where 
the chefs are British
the mechanics French
the lovers Swiss
the police German
and it is all organized by the Italians

… now that would be a Euro crisis!  I had to chuckle and actually felt better. But I think I’ll have another cup of that Hazelnut Gelato for good measure.  YUM.

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Father

Crotch Island Pinky, built by Peter van Dine
My father, who taught me to sail, turned 80 years old this week, a week in which the Antigua Yacht Club hosted its 25th annual Classic Yacht regatta, featuring the kinds of boats my father loved, the boats which provided me the formative sailing experiences of my life.

In addition to teaching me to sail, my father taught me to appreciate the fine lines of a traditional sailing craft.  Our family's first sail boat was a Crotch Island Pinkie, a cat-ketch, sprit pole-rigged open fishing boat from the coast of Maine. Its hull was rendered in fiberglass, but the masts, lines, and rigging were traditional:  the sails were spliced onto the mast using line, and the spritpoles that held the upper corners of the square sails were kept tight using lines secured to small wooden cleats.

Dutch Courage -- as the little vessel was called -- sported neither a cabin, a galley, an engine, nor a head.  It was originally designed as a basic fishing boat, whose design evolved over generations of northeast Maine fishing villages, and remains one of the best examples of a sturdy, functional offshore fishing craft.   We sailed a lot of miles and visited a lot of coves in that boat, making do with a makeshift awning for shelter, a sterno can for a stove, oars for power, and a bucket for a toilet.  It was the first boat I was allowed to sail by myself, and we spent many weekends on it, deepening my love for the traditional boat.

Our next boat, built by the same builder, was a Tancook Whaler, another traditional design whose geneology also began in the fishing towns of the Atlantic provinces.  This boat, also named Dutch Courage, featured a classic schooner rig, with a flying topsail that was a joy to strike, filling the area between the two mast tops.  With a "real" cabin, we could entertain on this delightful little boat, and I spent many weekend days and nights on her during my high school years.  My father also joined the now-defunct Chesapeake Traditional Sailing Association, a decidedly loose-knit group of sailors who shared my Dad's passion for classic boats.  Annual "regattas" were a highlight, and I believe my memory serves me correctly when I recall my father winning a few awards -- in one case, I think, for last place.  It was that kind of Association.

Flicka, a 20' sloop
Subsequent family boats took a more modern turn, but my father always insisted on boats with classic lines:  the Pacific Seacraft Flicka, also named Dutch Courage, and then, his last boat, named after his mother, Wilhelmina, the Crealock 34, a still-venerated bluewater capable sloop.  The Flicka occupies a special place in my heart; it was the first boat Jennifer and I sailed together on a fall weekend, just after we met at Princeton.  I'm not saying that Jennifer had to pass a test, like the bride-to-be in the classic movie Diner, who was tested on her knowledge of the Baltimore Colts, but it was a lot easier to continue to court her once she evinced a love of sailing!

My father's first concern in buying a boat was the quality of the design -- our boats needed to look like sailboats, with a nice shear, fine lines, and a deep keel.  His second concern was the quality of the construction; each of his boats was well-built, and in fact, both the Flicka and the Crealock have circumnavigated.  Well down on the list were any of the normal amenities -- galleys, head space, and a head.  In fact, our Flicka did not have a head per se; buckets sufficed for years until he finally broke down and bought a portable marine toilet.  The net effect of these purchasing decisions was to limit our guest list to serious sailors; dilettantes need not apply.

Crealock 34
The final boat, the Crealock, the one named after his mother, finally hit all cylinders:  a full keel sloop, with a proper staysail, a galley, comfortable sleeping accommodations, a real engine, and, yes, a proper head.  My parents spent a lot of time on Wilhelmina, largely free from the demands of their six children, who had mostly left home and started families by then.  Eventually, my Dad sold Wilhelmina, but not before conveying to me and my five brothers a love of sailing.  Today, two of us own boats, and my son, David, continuing in the tradition, has also purchased his first boat -- a Laser -- which he races.

These days, while my Dad no longer sails, he nonetheless spends his summers at his house at Somesville, Maine, at the tip of Somes Sound, on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, surrounded by the boatyards that designed and built many of the schooners that still grace the waters of Maine, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean.

Happy birthday, Dad!


And, below, some pictures from the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta -- a kind of pictorial birthday gift for the person who instilled in me a love of sailing and a love of traditional boats:

The classic Stevens yacht, Dorade, whose name became synonymous with the air vents
still used to provide fresh air -- but not sea water, to the cabin spaces below.

Eilean, a lovely 1936 yacht

Gaff-rigged schooner; note the wooden hoops used to connect the sails to the mast

Firefly, a Dutch racing yacht; classic lines, but only one year old

Wooden hoops, lined in leather, to secure the sail to the mast

A modern, but classically-designed sloop; note the size of the main sail!

Music for the eyes; hundreds of diagonal lines, each used to control the gaff of
 traditionally-rigged sloops and schooners

Rebecca, a gorgeous 140 foot ketch out of the US

Just before the start; schooner under near-full sail

Heading to the upwind mark; too breezy for the main topsail!

Racing!  These large classic yachts don't need much wind to sail fast.

Every yacht race features water balloons --
harmless projectiles to distract the competition

Leaving Guadaloupe on our way to Antigua; some weather to the west

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Mango Man, Dominica
On our way northward to St. Maarten, where we'll leave the boat for a few weeks to visit home, we spent some time in Dominica, one of the loveliest, least-developed islands in the Caribbean, and one that grabbed our hearts and souls.  So many of the islands down here have been thoroughly Westernized, filled with cruise ships, all-inclusive resorts and chain restaurants. Dominica is one of the least-visited and least-populated islands in the Caribbean, with about 70,000 residents, and garnering less than one-half of the tourists of even Haiti.  Its GDP per capita is one of the lowest in the Eastern Caribbean, in part the result of its decision to become independent in the late 1970s.

Crater lake, in the center of Dominica
One of the reasons for its lack of development is its geography: seven volcanos, no white sand beaches, mostly rain forest, and a forbidding topography.

Columbus crumpled up a piece of paper when he described the land to Queen Isabella, trying to convey the jaggedness of the island's valleys, gorges, and peaks. Dominica boasts the world's second-largest hot spring lake, and the near constant rainfall at its peaks fills the island's many rivers to their bursting points, year-round. These rivers tumble downwards hundreds of feet, creating spectacular waterfalls.

Jennifer, lower left, at Trafalgar Falls
The island is trying to capitalize on its principle asset:  its mountains, rivers, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls, rain forests, and jungles. Eco-tourism, Caribbean-style, is the main attraction for outsiders, and for that, you need to hire a local guide, since the government essentially prohibits self-guided tours. We spent a day diving the waters of Dominica -- we were fortunate enough to see our first full-sized sea horse (Jennifer had spotted a pygmy sea horse in Indonesia), and, on our second dive, we swam among underwater volcanic vents, spewing boiling water into an already-warm coastal sea. While we usually engage a divemaster, Dominica requires you to hire one if you dive here; they've also cordoned off a lot of the coastline as marine reserves, to their credit.

Sea Bird, our river guide in Portsmouth
To hike in the mountains, you also need to hire a guide -- we hired Sea Cat, in the town of Roseau, the island's capital.  Sea Cat -- whose birth name is Octavius, took his nom-de-guerre from the local name for octopus -- sea cat. We spent a few nights moored off Sea Cat's dock, and a day touring the inland. In a reminder of global geo-politics, we learned from Sea Cat that not only had the Chinese funded the construction of the impressive local cricket stadium, but also that his daughter was in China, attending veterinary school on a scholarship. After leaving Roseau, we headed up the coast to the tiny village of Portsmouth, and engaged the services of Sea Bird -- no relation -- as we went up the only navigable river in Dominica to check out the island's abundant bird life.

Freshwater stream, Dominica
Like Sea Cat and Sea Bird, the other water taxis and tour guides usually take on memorable names.  In Portsmouth, there was also Providence (on whom one could surely rely), and Lawrence of Arabia.  Sail boats also have interesting names; so imagine our chuckle when we heard the following hail one blustery Pooh morning: "Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence of Arabia, this is Christopher Robin, please come back."

The island is not immune to the lure of the West; a number of the scenes in the second Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed here.  Happily to these sailors, those sites have been largely left to fade back into the jungle -- a few years after filming, no evidence remains, and the sites have not been exploited for Pirate-tourism.

Dominica seemed to us most like the islands we fell in love with in the Pacific -- wild, remote, and still filled with a sense of exploration.  Below, some more pictures of this delightful island nation.

Tree roots, on the Indian River, Portsmouth, Dominica
Hummingbird, Dominican rain forest
Sun setting on the Caribbean Sea

Jen, enjoying a hot water massage

Greenback Heron, Dominica

Sea Cat's dock and house, to the left of the blue two-story guest house