Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blessings and Curses

Ok, we know about the “Christmas winds”, which usually pick up in December and taper by the end of January. And yes, we know that we’re down in the Leewards where the trade winds always blow. And truly, they mean: Always. Blow. What we didn’t expect was that the winds wouldn’t taper this year due to the “La Nina” climate we are experiencing this year. (Great.) Apparently this only occurs every few years or so, so is a bit of an anomaly, and even the locals are grumbling about the rain and winds. Yes...we’re here, and it’s now: reality!
The unseasonably windy weather and rough seas are a prime example of what real-life cruising can be like: it isn’t always another day in paradise! Ron likes to be out doing things, so when the seas and the weather don’t cooperate to allow us to get out to dive or swim, the enforced inactivity drives him bonkers. He is ready to chew his arm off in impatience, with the sheer wanting to just do something! As for me, can I point out that the constant rumbling of the gale force winds and the grinding of the anchor chain against the snubber line shackle are not conducive sounds to a good night’s sleep?
Even so, most folks can’t believe we have the audacity to complain. (The typical response: “But you’re in the islands, for Pete’s sake!!”) So again, I must stress it isn’t always warm temps, blue skies and easy seas, lounging on the beach near the poshest oceanside resort (which is what everyone envisions, I suspect). While that romantic ideal of carefree cruising and easy living is very pervasive, the reality is that spending months aboard is a simply another way of life, not a permanent vacation.
Which is…simply life, isn’t it? No matter where one is, there are things that drive us crazy, there are things we that bring us joy. Life on a daily basis! You have to mow the yard and repair the car, we have to wash the salt off the boat and maintain the generators. You have to shovel snow, we have to clean the hull. You think your commute is bad? Try dashing through a sudden downpour in an open dinghy in a rough harbor, hoping the eggs you just walked a mile (or more) to purchase survive the bouncing ride! You get the idea!! Although, it helps to realize it's all about perspective. Scrambled eggs or not, in any tough situation, it helps to laugh, go with the flow, and, well, look on the bright side! 
So we know we are pretty darn blessed to be out here. We're lucky to be experiencing incredible moments of quiet joy and solitude, enjoying challenges and amazing adventures, meeting unique characters who turn into good friends, and sharing laugh-out-loud fun (all of which I wouldn’t trade for the world). Yet, the truth is more complex. Our decision to be aboard a boat in the Caribbean takes hard work, persistence, dedication, a large dose of good humor, the ability to be optimistic, and more than a modicum of patience. (Being mechanically inclined is a big plus, too.) Because things break, and parts may be hard to find. Because seas are rough, and the anchorage may be less than optimal. And while sometimes life is a beach, when we are blessed with sunshine and calm seas…there are days when we are blessed with windy weather, days where we are cooped up on the boat, days of being pinned down in an anchorage. Once we get over the boredom, the whininess and that pesky urge to chew our arms off, we chill out, relax and let time pass. Which ... gives us time enough to count our blessings, too! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Harbour Hopping: A Good Day!

First stop: Five Islands Harbour. Second stop: Falmouth Harbour. We’ve been to Falmouth three times already, but this time we anchored off the east side of the harbour, near Pigeon Beach. A popular anchorage with cruisers, you get a great view of the AYC and FHYC piers with all their big sailing vessels and charter yachts, and a lovely sandy beach nearby for swimming and relaxing. We were happy to secure a spot with good holding amongst the many sailboats already there; on our previous visits, it was just too crowded for safe anchoring. Nice to be tucked in and enjoying the view!
We're talking huge sailing ships here!!
Mega-yachts of all kinds at the Antigua Yacht Club
We took the dinghy around to English Harbour for lunch and tied up at the jetty in front of the Admiral’s Inn at Nelson’s Dockyard. The Inn is housed within the restored walls of a three-storied Georgian building built in 1788 from bricks brought over from England as ship’s ballast. (It’s said that the ballast on the return trip was mostly rum!) Tar, turpentine, lead and pitch were stored on the ground floor; offices for the engineers of the Dockyard were housed upstairs.
A sign on the Inn
It’s a beautiful building on a secluded area of the Dockyard, adjacent to large pillars that were used to support a large boat house with a sail loft above it. It's a very cool place to wander and explore! We enjoyed an excellent lunch on the terrace overlooking the water. I had Alaska salad (with smoked salmon and grilled shrimp) while Ron had a delicious grilled whole lobster. The setting made it all the more delicious, I think!
The inn and its terrace

Sail loft pillars
After lunch, we returned to Equinox and thought we’d indulge in a bit of swimming. Just as we prepared to swim to shore, whom should we see sail into the anchorage but our Jolly Harbour pier-mates, Ralph and Mary, from Restless Heart! Always fun to have friends nearby! After our swim, we invited them over to Equinox for dinner and a movie….the signal to rendevous being Ron’s signature blowing of the conch shell at sunset!
Best of all, Karyn received excellent family news that evening, too! Just before dinner a sat phone call brought news of the birth of Jack Smith Hennes (6 lbs, 10 oz), Karyn’s nephew! (Wow, a boy in the Smith family! After 51 years of only girls, the estrogen spell has finally been broken!) Thus, a great celebration was in order: good wine and an excellent spaghetti dinner followed! Yes, all in all, a good day indeed.

Back to the Island, yet again!

Equinox in her slip at Jolly Harbour Marina

Well, we’re back aboard once more! Our trip to visit with family and friends went well, and we have a few days to ourselves before more friends come to join us. After we arrived, we unpacked our various supplies, greeted cruiser friends and made sure to renew our cruising permit with the port authority here at Jolly Harbour. We made a provisioning run to the nearby Epicurean for fresh veggies and the like; pickings were slim with it being Sunday, but we managed, like always. We later treated ourselves to a break from all the necessary chores, and went to the Crow’s Nest to watch the NFC Championship football game. Unfortunately, we wound up being heartbroken when the Ravens lost in the final seconds to the Patriots. (Nooo! That was not the plan!)

Monday morning bright and early we moved from the marina, to get out on our own and run Equinox a bit. We’re hoping to do some harbor-hopping around the island, and are now on anchor in Five Islands Harbour, in Hermitage Bay, north of Jolly Harbour. This is a gorgeous anchorage: shimmering, milky blue water surrounded by steep mountainsides of green, with harsh-looking rocky shorelines interspersed with smooth, sandy beaches. There is an upscale resort – The Hermitage -- just to the east of us, with private bungalows dotting the mountainside and beach chaise lounges and umbrellas lining the shore. Not a bad view at all, although I admit to plain happiness to be right where I am: sitting on the back cockpit looking out over the water at the rugged beauty around us!
Looking west 
Looking east
Speaking of the water, it’s definitely colder now…brr!! Winter has arrived! It’s interesting how the rhythms of the seasons are defined by different things in different regions. No snow here, obviously, but you can tell that it’s winter just the same. Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t constant warm humid sunshine all the time in the Caribbean….but close! There are basically two seasons: wet (July - January) and dry (February - June) with definite seasonal differences. Once you are here awhile, you get a feel for how the seasons show themselves. While temps consistently range from 78º to 85º year round, in the rainy season there are more frequent showers and sometimes full rainy days with no sun. Currently, it’s cooler, with lower humidity (58% today, according to the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Service), and the winds are ENE at 15-18 knots. Some days the trade winds are a bit more brisk (25-30 knots) as frontal troughs and tight isobars generate unsettled windy weather -- called the Christmas winds for a reason! Sometimes when storms or cold fronts roll in from the north, they produce ocean swells that can make many northern or west-facing anchorages very uncomfortable to downright untenable.
Happily though, we are almost done with the rainy season, and the forecast for the next few days is for a dry, high-pressure system to settle in over the Leewards, so the chances of rain are dimished. Which is welcome news for our harbor-hopping expedition! Away we go!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stateside Hiatus

Well, I must apologize, as we've been incognito and incommunicado for the last two weeks. Not to worry, as we are fine and all is well (thank you to all who wrote to see if we were ok!) but we've taken a brief hiatus from the boat. We've been stateside visiting with family and dear friends; it was a planned visit but as always is the case when we are back in the US, our time has been …um, chaotic!! And, my blogging has suffered because of it. But all is good: it's been good to be with family, good to be with friends, great to reconnect in person, to laugh and share tales of amazing experiences and foreign adventures, and tales of small mishaps and misadventures. Of course, it's always better to have more of the former than the latter! 

A big part of enjoying time with family is knowing that the boat is cared for while we are gone. Peace of mind comes from preparation, and prepping for any time away from the boat takes a bit of doing. Actually, a lot of doing!! For instance, you need to clean. Clean, clean, clean and clean before you leave, because who wants to return to a messy boat? Worse, how about returning and finding new “friends” aboard, like bugs, nasty odors or mildew? Not on our boat, if we can help it! So we clean: I wipe out the refrigerator, scour the sinks, clean the counters, scrub the heads, vacuum and dust, take out the trash, launder and make all beds with fresh linens, to name a few things domestic. 

I usually make a “provisioning run” too. Not to get items, but to give away items! After cleaning out the refrigerator, I usually have some fresh veggies that we haven’t eaten yet, so we make a run to share our perishables with any and all takers. Most cruisers don’t mind a few extra eggs, veggies, onions, potatoes, fruit or cheese, and we're happy to share the bounty rather than toss out those hard–to-find ripe tomatoes! Plus, who wants a horde of fruit flies awaiting your return?? Everyone benefits from this endeavor, frankly!

We also do a systems check to make sure all systems have been run before their brief shut-down. We pump out the holding tank -- actually, we pump out, rinse and pump out again -- before we leave. I'm more than paranoid about odors aboard so that is simply a major must-do prior to departure. Boats always have a strange way of smelling when no one is aboard for any length of time, and since I can't tell myself (alas, still no sense of smell!)...I don't want to take any chances. 

We also make sure the proper breakers are off that need to be off, and that other breakers are on, that we choose to stay on. Right now, Equinox is in a marina slip at Jolly Harbour and as we have someone checking on her daily, we opted to leave a few vital breakers on. (Primarily to ensure that our refrigerator and freezer stay operational so our frozen stores won't spoil.) But other systems are also checked before departure: the propane system is off (solenoid shut off, and tanks closed at the source), the water-maker is in auto-store mode, bilge pumps are on and working, and appropriate seacocks closed. There's more to it than that, but you get the idea! 

We don’t just prep inside, but make sure everything is ship shape, inside and out. Outside cushions get pulled in, or are stowed safely out of the elements, folding bikes are wrapped and stored in the pilothouse (not their usual berth), scuba gear is all rinsed, dried and locked away, all loose items are battened down and secured so that an unexpected wind storm won’t wreak havoc. Dock lines are set (with chafe guards in place and redundant lines where necessary), and fenders set at the right heights against the pier. 

So, while there are lots of little details, all are necessary to ensure peace of mind while we are gone. Each are worthwhile, and while we've enjoyed our time with family, our efforts will make our return all the more enjoyable too. Guess that's the true meaning of ship-shape!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Foreign Fruits, Take II

Bright red sorrel for sale

At the St. John's public market the other day, we came across several vendors selling these ruby-red, pod-like clusters...and as usual, not being familiar with them, inquired what they were! We were told they were sorrel, used to make a festive holiday drink here in the Caribbean. Caribbean sorrel is actually a type of hibiscus plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa) that blooms in November and  December, just in time for the Christmas holidays. Indeed, the market was full of piles of freshly-picked sorrel pods, glowing brightly in the sunshine, looking very merry for themselves.

We asked Etta, one of the many local market women, what one did with sorrel. While sorrel leaves, fruit and flowers are all edible, it is the gorgeous red sorrel sepals that are used to make this drink as well as jellies, jams, chutney and syrups. After discussing the many qualities of Sorrel Drink (as always, "very healthy" and "good for the males"!) we purchased two bags of sorrel sepals already separated from the interior seed, and Etta graciously gave us her recipe for making sorrel juice. We went home and immediately put it to the test! Here it is, as best as I can transcribe it:

The essential ingredients
2 bunches sorrel pods (approximately 2 cups)
8 cups water
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 stick cinnamon
4 whole cloves
dash of grated orange peel

Our sorrel pods boiling on the stove
Bring your pot of  water to a boil, then add all the ingredients to the pot. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat to keep it at rolling boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, cover and remove from heat, stir in 1/2 cup sugar and steep overnight. In the morning, strain the contents into a juice jug and taste. You may need to add more water if the juice is very thick and syrupy, and adjust to taste if you feel it needs more sugar.  Then --- enjoy!!

Sorrel juice is light and tart, somewhat like cranberry but with a mellower, more pleasant flavor. We fell in love with it -- easy to make, and very refreshing! We didn't add much sugar (my palate preferring it less sweet) but it really is a very delicious, thirst-quenching drink! We are looking forward to trying it this evening as a sundowner mixer with a bit of Antiguan rum, or perhaps tomorrow morning with a bit of champagne for a brunch treat….should be fun!