The anniversary post

I’m a lucky girl; I have found the best partner in life and in 10 days it’s our two year wedding anniversary so I thought I would do a romantic post this time, or at least try.

Mick is great. He accepts me as I am, he encourages me to follow my dreams and be a better person. He would say yes to almost anything I propose to do. He’s always been with me throughout almost all my crazy attempts at volunteering not always getting the best of results.

There was the time when I was joining the “Walk for Tibet” in Brisbane. He joyfully agree to drive me there and join the walk but was shocked when a little Tibetan lady passed him or may I say,  forced him to carry a big sign saying “Free Tibet” that he had to carry during the whole walk.

Then there was the time when Brisbane had the big floods in 2012. I jumped at the opportunity of going and helping with the clean up and Mick agreed to come with me. We picked up Maria, my sister in law that lives in Brisbane and she said she knew a neighbourhood nearby that we could go and help. So there we were the three of us going around the houses seeing if anyone needed our help. I mean, I was ready to get all muddy, I wanted to be part of the mud army but nothing, Maria and I walked around for half an hour without any luck, and Mick (being a plumber by trade and arriving in his Plumbing truck) got picked up straight away and spent the rest of the Sunday unblocking drains, while Maria and I headed back to her place to enjoy a cuppa. Mick wasn’t pleased when he arrived back and almost put him off all my future volunteering suggestions.

But the funniest one till date was when I told him about doing a walk for the koalas. I told him I had read it was going to be massive and we needed to join. You know, koalas are now an endangered species and there was this great group of people raising funds for the cause and they were going to walk from Coolangatta all the way to Southport (that’s a bit more than 20 kms). So there we were really early again on a Sunday ready to join in on the walk, it was Mick and I and maybe 4 others.

We started walking and we had the founder of this group walking along us, he was probably in his 80s and told us on the way he had been having problems with his hips. (He had been walking along the Australian coast racing funds for koalas!) We reached a part of the beach where it had a steep step back into the footpath. This strong determined man was trying to lift his leg to step onto the footpath, well guess what, he couldn’t!! He kept falling backwards and he kept trying over and over again. We had already offered some help but he refused the help, so he kept falling on his back..it was just painful to watch. He finally accepted some help from Mick and we sat him down to rest for a bit but in less than 5 minutes, he stood up again and wanted to keep going! When we got to Broadbeach, Mick and I decided that it was enough for us, and guess what the guy said to Mick when we told him we were leaving: What a bloody poofter!

When I agreed to do this trip, part of me decided to do it because I strongly believe that we have been put on this Earth to be of service to the rest of the world; we are here to help and when we are tied to a 9-5 kind of job it’s hard to have the extra time to volunteer or be of service.

Now that we are travelling and we finally have time there are plenty of opportunities to lend a hand. When we arrived in Antigua, I decided to contact this amazing charity called “Hands across the Sea” that its mission is to improve the levels of literacy in the Eastern Caribbean by building libraries in schools and with the donation of new books.

We had arrived at the right time because there was a school that needed their room all painted and ready for the library. We got in contact with Lisa the link here in Antigua and she offered to pick us up from Falmouth Harbour. Yet another opportunity for Mick to join in, but because of our previous experiences I didn’t want to push him. I was surprised when he said yes but I could sense his fear of what could happen.

We spent Wednesday and Thursday helping paint the room and thankfully we had a great experience. Lisa was there to help and we had Mister Phillip, the school’s groundkeeper lending us a hand as well.  I saw Mick’s smile and how he enjoyed meeting all the students that would come to say hi to us during the day. We even got to do a small mural with the help of some of the students and we had the opportunity of meeting their wonderful principal and some of the teachers. So I can say now that I’m back on track with my volunteering experiences, Mick has finally tasted how good it feels to help and that we can have fun doing it.

So there you go, this was my attempt at being romantic and sharing a few of our more personal stories. We have no big plans for our anniversary. We are a bit broke this month so it may just be a nice chocolate croissant at the local boulangerie here in Guadeloupe but it really doesn’t matter; we don’t need the big dinner or a present. We may be a bit  short on money this month but we are rich in time and we are going to make sure that we make the most of it.

On the move

After weeks and weeks of waiting, it all changes in a second. The anchor is up, the sails are full and we are off. The captain had assured me that the forecast was for 20 knots of wind. I had checked as well and in my predictions it was saying up to 25+ knots; this comes to proof, that you should never blindly trust the captain! And guess who was right?

The sail to Oranjestat in Statia is 35 NM. We started off with 25 knots and these conditions probably went on for about 2 hours. I was a bit nervous but the boat was going really well and we sailed between a close haul and a close reach all the way.

We had the second reef in the main and a 100% of the jibe. There was some swell but it wasn’t too bad. By middle way, the wind calmed down and we had 15 knots for about an hour. The captain here was happily saying how his predictions were right but as I said before it only lasted for an hour or so and then it started blowing again this time with plenty of “bullets”. This is my newly learnt nautical term. For the non sailors out there, a bullet is when the wind is already strong and then you get even stronger gusts of wind. I’m not a particular fan of them.

By the time we reached Statia, the island was acting as a funnel and the bullets were reaching 30+ knots, but we made it safely to port after about 7 hours at sea. It was already past 4pm so we stayed on the boat, raised our yellow flag( this is a quarantine flag that we have to raise every time we reach a new port and haven’t cleared in yet), we cooked some dinner and went to bed really early.

Statia is a Dutch island and its capital and only city is called Oranjestat. It has a lot of history as in the 1700 was one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean as boats from all over the world would come here to trade goods. It was called the Golden Rock and it passed hands 22 times between Holland, France and Spain until it finally became Dutch. Now it has a population of around 4,000 from different parts of the world and its main industries are tourism and oil; not producing oil but storing it for the rest of the Dutch islands.

We stayed there for two days. The first day we explored the city, which has some amazing old architecture and ruins. We went to the beach in Oranje Baii and snorkelled, where we could see the rests of an old wall and the remains of an anchor and some cannons. It’s a very quiet little island; not much happening but lots of people come here for the diving, which we heard it’s pretty good.

The following day we took on the Quill mountain, which is a dormant volcano. You can do a hike that takes you straight to the rim of the volcano and you can look down into the crater. We didn’t go down to the crater as we were already a bit tired and we still wanted to keep going up the panorama trail to see the view from the top. It was worth while the long walk; amazing views from the north side of the island. On the way down, we decided to pick up some rubbish as the previous day we noticed there was a lot of littering around the streets. We filled a whole big bag of rubbish in walking a few roads down to the bay.

The next morning we woke up and went to the port office to do our check out and they informed us that we had to go to the airport to see immigration as no one was there to clear us out. We were annoyed by this information as it wasn’t an easy walk. We would have to do the hike up as Oranjestat is divided into a lower and upper town and the airport was in the upper section of the city. We weren’t going to pay for a taxi so we just started walking and luckily once we were in the upper level of the city a really nice lady gave us a lift to the airport. Her name was Aracely and she was from Venezuela. Her husband has been living in Statia for four years working for an oil company and she comes and goes a few times a year to visit him. She was so helpful that she waited for us outside the airport and took us back to the bay.

Two days were enough and we were ready to keep moving. The anchor up, the wind on our sails and off we went to our next destination, St. Kitts.

I asked Mick if there was anything he would like to add to our narration about Statia and all he could say was: The captain is always right!

 

Life on our boat

Cramped sleeping.  Mick says he doesn’t need to do yoga, all his yoga moves are done by getting in and out of bed.

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To save water we are using a spray bottle (tip given to us by Mark from Sea Life) to wash our hands and sprinkle water, very painful on the wrists but useful tip.

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My left hand is full of calluses, not from the spray bottles but from pumping the toilet.

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We have a salt water pump on the kitchen sink that we use to wash our dishes. Tea has a new salty taste to it that we quickly have gotten used to.

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At 7:30 am everyday we’ve been listening to “The cruiser’s net” very entertaining vhf radio net that goes for half an hour with announcements, things for sale and general enquiries. We’ve become more proficient in using the vhf radio to contact other boats and friends.

The laundry services in St Maarten are expensive so we’ve resort to extreme use of same clothes over and over again. It’s gotten a bit smelly to say the least.

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We’ve met lost of new friends from different boats, countries and age groups. Del and Gary, Australian, sailing on their  catamaran that they bought in Greece, crossed the Atlantic and are on their way to Australia by the end of the year. They are both in their early 70’s, amazing example of great spirits and a thirst for life. Gary shared with Mick some of his fishing tips, and Del her curry recipes with us. We had a great time with them, shared some meals, drinks, and plenty of stories.

Through them, we met Andy (German) who is also sailing a catamaran back to Australia with crew member Danny (Swiss) they were actually one of the youngest sailors we’ve met so far, both in their thirties and really fun to hang out with.

Rob and Carla were our neighbours in the lagoon and they are a nice couple from Canada who shared lots of tips and advice with us. Rob brought up the fact that when he was in his thirties, most of the cruisers were his age and now it seems to be the opposite. Most of the cruisers we meet are in their 60’s and older so that leaves us to the question: Where are all the young people?

Mark from sea life, he was our neighbour in the lagoon as well, fantastic guy, always willing to help everyone around here, also Australian; he’s the one that gave us the tip about using the spray bottles. Mark has sailed around the world and is now doing some repairs on his boat to continue his journey.

We definitely had a great time with all our new friends and it made the time in the lagoon more manageable. We had them all over on our boat one night +another couple (Monty and Jen); that made 11 people aboard Ondular and we actually all fit, a bit tight but we fit!

We have now a rough idea of places and times where we would like to be in the next few months. Here it is:

March

Week 1: St Maarten- Eustatia

Week 2: St Kitts- St Nevis- Monserrat

Week 3: Antigua

Week 4 :Antigua and Guadalupe

April

Week 1: Guadalupe

Week 2: Guadalupe-Dominica

Week 3: Dominica-Martinique

Week 4: Martinique- St Lucia

May

Week 1: St Lucia- St Vincent and the Grenadines

Week 2: The Grenadines- Grenada

Week 3: the ABCs Bonaire

Week 4: Bonaire

June

Week1: Bonaire- Cartagena

Week 2: Cartagena-San Blas (Panama)

Week 3: San Blas

Week 4: Bocas del Toro

This is a rough plan. It will probably change, depending on how much we like some places and depending on the weather too. We may not go to some places or we may decide to skip some. We do know that we would like to be in Bonnaire by May, as Bonnaire is out of the hurricane belt and we’ll be more protected then. We would then like to spend a good amount of time in Panama as it’s a good time for waves and we have no rush then. The next thing on our plan is to be in Ecuador by October or so.

The job list that never ends

This is a post for whoever thinks we have an easy life, for whoever out there is thinking, Mick and Isabel, how lucky are they, living on a boat, not working, what a life!

You know what we have been doing during the last three weeks since we arrived in Sint Maarten, no, we haven’t been working on our tan and lazing around enjoying drinks with umbrellas in them, we have been working, working and working a bit more on our boat. It doesn’t matter how much you read about how hard it is to maintain a boat, you need to own one to really experience how many endless jobs seem to appear every day.

Some are priorities, like fixing things around the engine, others can be done at a later stage, like polishing the gel coat of the boat, but they are all important and necessary and guess what; they are all done by us.

This is not a post for me to complain. It is just an informative post for everyone that is interested in all the improvements we are doing on the boat. So here we go:

Our boat has a bimini but it’s in a pretty bad condition and it’s probably too tall as the boom gets stuck on it on certain tacks. So the first thing we did when we arrived was visit all the different canvas makers and get quotes for a bimini and also a dodger. We thought that they would do the canvas work and also the frame for the dodger, but they said the frame part was on us, so we went around trying to get quotes for a frame but everyone was too busy.

The next resort was building the frame ourselves. Mick did a bit of research on youtube and learned how to make a pattern to be able to bend the metal tubes for the frames. We spent two whole days at this dock near where we had the boat anchored trying to bend these tubes correctly. After a lot of heartache, swearing, sweating and the rest, we got the frame done and luckily the canvas maker “Ernest” was happy with it as well. Now we are just waiting for Ernest to do his part of the job and once the new bimini is installed, we’ll be working on getting the 4 solar panels permanently placed on top of it.

While this was happening, Mick noticed a small oil leak in the engine. He tried to figure out what was wrong with the engine, but because of all the previous problems with it we decided we needed some professional help.

So off we went on our dinghy, from one place to the next, trying to find a good diesel mechanic. They were all busy so we finally went to one of the big companies called Simpson Bay Diesel. They sent a mechanic on board ($85.00 an hour!) and he said that it was a simple thing, that he just needed to go and get an o ring and he’ll be right back. An hour passed and nothing. Then we get “the phone call”. “ Hi, yes, the mechanic has been working on your part but it’s a non serviceable part, so for a new one, you’ll have to pay $600.00!!!!! I could see sparks coming from Mick’s brain and his face turning red. Oh, oh, this is not good news, I thought. Mick told them to just bring the old part back to the boat and he’ll figure out what to do with it. Of course, they had pulled the piece apart and they were saying it wasn’t good anymore. We didn’t here from the mechanic any more that day but they came back the next morning and put the part back in the engine. It still leaks and now is worse than before, but luckily we’ve found the part on ebay for half its price and it’s on its way now from somewhere in New York state USA.

Then, while this is happening our outboard engine starts to go really really slow. That’s been a whole new job to start, trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. We’ve changed the propeller, put new sparkplugs in, new fuel filter, cleaned the carburettor and it’s still going slow !!! so tomorrow we’re going to try and find this mechanic and see what he has to say about it.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on the boat’s floorboards. They had a few stains and were looking pretty worn out, so I’ve revarnished them and they are looking much better. We’ve also installed the wifi hotspot and the iridium go which will keep us a bit better connected to our families and friends and which also will give us access to weather information. Then there’s the wind gear. Mick’s been up the mast a few times to install that and also to change some of our halyard sheaves that weren’t doing so good.

Then there’s the wonderful growth we are getting under the boat for just sitting here at the lagoon for three weeks; little barnacles and a green beard. I started cleaning eat today and hopefully we’ll finish it tomorrow. Although I’m a bit reluctant about going down there again as we’ve heard someone has spotted a giant and hungry barracuda inside the lagoon and they say it’s a biter!

On our free time, Mick redid our cockpit table using a plastic product called starboard that will last longer than the first cockpit table we did out of cheap plywood, worked well and lasted 6 weeks!, so now we are going for a more durable material that will probably live longer than Mick and I.

Then there’s the water maker that Mick will put together himself. He’s been chasing out parts from all over the world. They are all here waiting for us in Aeropost, so we’ll pick them up tomorrow and that’s a new exciting project to start on. I’m trying to find calming herbs to dip in Mick’s tea and see if that helps with his overall performance or maybe I should drink them myself to survive these next few days hahaha.

The endless job list continues on. We have been meeting other cruisers anchored around our boat and going through not the same but similar predicaments as us. Some have said that it takes around two years to really get to know the boat and have it the way you want it (lots to look forward to !).

It’s good to share stories and /or dramas and laugh about it. I particularly enjoy sharing stories about our husbands’ new obsessions every day; like the day Mick spent the whole day checking the solar panels every 5 seconds looking at the input of watts and thinking there was something wrong with them. This went on for hours, going back and forward from the panels to the connections and checking it over and over again. While talking to our new friends the next day, we found out that her husband had been doing the same thing and that it had just being a bad input day due to cloud coverage!

So there you go, there are still plenty to do: the water maker, servicing the engine, waiting for the part to arrive and replace the broken one, installing the solar panels once we get the bimini, polishing the gel coat, buying more safety gear, setting the preventer and the port lifeline, getting some more chain, and the list goes on. We are thinking we still have around two weeks here in Sint Maarten, but who knows, by the rate things are going we might still be here by 2016.