Pity The Fool. This Man Has No Island

In our house April Fools Day is the holies of all high holidays. Each year it gets harder and harder to sneak it up on the kids. They are ready, prepared, perhaps with an attack of their own.

Gotca PicThere was the time we were coming back from a Florida on the night of March 31st. I remember sitting on the plane planning the strategy. We got in after midnite. The sacred day was upon us, but luckily they were too sleepy to realize it. We picked up the car from the airport and on the drive back to Boulder there was a strange hesitation with the engine, sort of a jerking motion. I grew more concerned and let them know that it wasn’t running right. We started heading up the canyon, and the jerking got worse. Hopefully we make it home. It was cold, snowy, at 3am, and wasn’t looking good. Just as we pulled in to head up Magnolia it died, and wouldn’t start. What to do. The best idea that I could come up with was for them to get all dressed up, and stand outside hitchhiking while I put the headlights on them as the next car came by. The coats and gloves were on, they were headed out, April Fools.

Elia PicThe tricky part now is how to get them when they are not close by. Last year I wrote a long email to young Malcolm in New Zealand talking about my boating plans and how it was looking like the best option available was to pick a sailboat in Australia, and wondering if he might be willing to sail it back for me. He reported back that he was reading it aloud to some friends and got more and more excited until he got to the line at the end saying that maybe he should look over at the calendar and see what day it is. Got cha. First email back he was ticked, then the respect grew.

Last year Ethan knew it was coming but wasn’t sure from what direction it would arrive. I woke him up at 1:30 am to take his morning shower. It was dark like usual, and he stumbled in to get ready for school. I heard the water running and hovered around the corner. He came out of the bathroom, and I just started laughing. Score another one for dad.

They do retaliate. There is the stamp taped on to the bottom of the computer mouse. Why won’t it work? The saran wrap across the toilet seat. Slowly they are maturing.

All of this to say that the recent post about Elia and I buying an island perhaps needs to be understood from the background of the fool. The hints were there. Come back on April 1st of next year to see how it all plays out. I hope this wasn’t a foolish move. But word came back of true excitement and admiration for our bold new move.  Ah well, not this year folks.

At this point we are in the Bahamas, heading back towards Florida. Lots of long sails behind us, a few ahead. Switches in the brain are slowly being turned back on to Colorado time and reality. Trying to plan the next phase. Not sure how work will look.

Do I sell my snow business and start something else? What will have changed internally to bring to the game. Thinking it would be fun to play bass in an old guy band. Play the rock and roll but no gigs after 9.

Then there is the changed world of Mr Carrot top in charge. How to plug in to the ridiculousness of that. Looking forward to the drive up Magnolia, and back to the old homestead. What will be the same, what different. These are the thoughts that fill a portion of the brain as the miles drift by under the keel.


There are changes afoot. Elia and I have been on Vieques, hiking a lot, talking to local people and starting to fall in love with the place. We began to wonder if there was a way to stay here longer, or find a way to come back.

It kind of started out as a whim. Let’s just wander around the island and see if anything catches our eye. We talked to some local people to get a sense of the place. We met with a real estate agent mostly to just get a free tour of the island. As we drove around she showed us houses and lots with million dollar views and everything was quite out of our reach.

Island 5We had given up on the idea of buying a place and stopped in at a little bar in Esperanza to get out of the sun and get something to drink. I mentioned to the bartender that we had been looking at properties, and he threw out, seemingly as a joke, “well I have an island you can buy”. Yeah, right!. We got to talking and he actually did. His name was Ramon and he said that it had been owned by his grandfather, but that he had recently passed The island had been left to him, but he didn’t know what to do with it. He said that it was  “kind of rustic” and hadn’t had loved in a while, but had lots of potential for the right person”.

RamonHe could take us out there the next morning and give us the tour. We met him at 9 on the rickety little dock and got into his old fishing skiff. He gunned the engine and we were off, out of the bay, through some mangroves and north for about 8 miles. As we came around a bend he pointed and there it was.

It had a little beach where we could pull the boat up. There was a small run down house with some palm trees. As we went around the back and up the hill we found some plantation ruins, and some boards hanging off the trees. What was this place we wondered. What had it been?

Island 3It seemed that his grandfather had worked as a slave on the plantation cutting sugar cane, and that he had grown up in one of the little shacks. Some rich Dane had come in the early 60’s and tried to make a commune with people living in treehouses. When hurricane Enrique came in 77 it blew down most of the treehouses and toppled a tree onto the main house where the Danish man and his island bride were living, killing both of them. After everyone else had left the grandfather stayed on, and since there were no other claims on the land it became his.

The man said that his grandfather had told him a story that the first plantation owner, Mr. Partridge had tied one of the slaves to a tree and left him there to be eaten by fire ants. Ever since then the land, and especially the trees had been cursed. Local people were frightened to go out there, and nobody seemed to be interested in buying it.

Island 2This was getting more and more interesting.

We went to a local bar to discuss and try to get onto the internet to see if we could find out any more information. It was very hard to come to any real conclusions, but it started to seem like maybe it could be worked out somehow. The Vieques government is a protectorate of the US so some of the legal issues are fairly strait forward. The owner seemed to like us, and want us to have the land so he said he could carry a note for 10 years which would stretch us, but seemed doable.

Island 1If we could put in some time and effort to rebuild the main house, then rebuild some of the tree houses perhaps we could make it into an eco tourist type of destination. Elia feels sure that she can lift the curse off of the land.

We are now in a legal quagmire of looking at zoning, talking to lawyers, administrators, government officials. But as of just yesterday it’s looking like it’s a go. Give us a year or so to pull it together, but hopefully on April 1 of 2018 we will have built our shangri la. Hopefully this is not a foolish move on our part.

Stay tuned.

The Cruiser

The Captain’s New Look

Everywhere we go there are other sailors. Very rarely are we on our own. These are our people, the cruising community. Who are they?

In general cruisers are people that  have been able to carve out a chunk of time away from the responsibilities of land and have made the effort to figure out how to live on their sailboat. They are all into sailing, and just by having made it this far into the Caribbean, have proven that both they and their boat are at least adequate for the task.

Most are couples and in many cases the men were the driving force behind the decision to take off. Perhaps they had been sailing forever, it was their dream, and many of the women have come around to either loving it, or tolerating it. There is always some talk of the men doing the long passages, and the women flying down to meet them there. The guys get together and talk about solar panels and power loads. The women cooking, and books they’ve been reading. Many guys call their partner, “The Admiral”, i.e. if you ask them on the VHF about plans for the day they say they will check with The Admiral, and let you know.

Some are in their 50’s, most in their 60’s, with a very few on either side of that. They are quite varied in their pasts, and their plans. Some have been on the water for years and are ready to head home. These are more jaded, with less of the the enthusiastic glow, and a little slower to jump into the conversations about how many amps your battery bank holds. There are newbies, quite wide eyed and open. There are a few single handers out there, almost always men. They are an interesting lot, with crusty beards, a slightly crazed look and an endless need to talk. So far everybody we have met has been white.

People take to the lifestyle in different ways. Some have become quite sedentary and rarely leave their boat. Others embrace exploring land whenever possible and go on long hikes. At times people rent cars, hire taxi’s, or ride busses. Many of these choices seem to be determined by how much money is available, but also by peoples levels of comfort. One woman told Elia that she would never consider riding on the local buses. We, on the other hand, choose that whenever possible, as much for the local experience as for the transportation.

There is lots of alcohol involved. The standard greeting is delivered by dinghy in the afternoon, come on over for drinks around 5:30. Painkillers, sundowners, black and tans, rum punches. Island drinks. As would be expected the conversations get sloppier and more animated as the evening progresses. From my non drinking perspective it all gets a little old and tiresome.

Cathy and her crew

There are dogs, cats, even a bird on board. We’ve heard tell of a monkey but haven’t seen it. The dog owners tend to be slaves to their pets. They modify their plans around which countries can take them easily, which beaches are safe. In most countries they need to have a vet sign off that it is healthy. Fears of going ashore and having their dog attacked by local dogs, or possibly shot, because they haven’t checked in are real. The cats curl up safely in a cubby below, except for the rare marina stop when they saunter down the docks.

One of the joys in this lifestyle is the ability to move on whenever you want to, or stay as long as things are good. Everybody is moving, transient. You get used to lots of goodbyes, then often unexpected friends turn up in another anchorage. We are all on a similar groove, with a limited number of places that cruisers tend to stop. Many people will be seen again, but you never know who or where.

The Oyster

The boats vary like the people. One of the big differences is the amount of money spent to pull off this dream. There are many that cost well over a million dollars new. They tend to be shiny, larger, newer, with more gadgets. The people on them, come from backgrounds that generated large sums of money. Investment banker, sold their business, sold their house in Nantucket. Women wearing nice jewelry, white polo shirts, gleaming teeth with a real estate smile. The Oyster, Hylas, Outbound, Halsberg Ralsey. Truly beautiful blue water boats.

Cantana Catamaran

There are the catamarans either bought as high level sailing machines, or bought from the charter industry, that needed some TLC (read MONEY) to get them in cruising shape. Much more room than a monohull, don’t roll in the anchorage, great for entertaining, and gives a feeling like a condo on the water with sliding glass doors and a large back deck. and lots of space for guests. Fast, but expensive to own with 2 engines, and much more cost to haul out and to dock.

Many smaller solid monohulls made to cruise around the world. These tend to be funkier, older, the people a little crustier and willing to have more of a camping experience. As the people on the less expensive boats tend to tell each other, when talking about the larger, shinier ones, “We all have the same view”.

And what are our plans? As I write this we are in Les Saintes, just south of Guadaloupe.  Our turn around point was last week in Dominica. We are headed back. But back means  2 and a half months of slowly working our way to the left coast of Florida where we will leave her for the summer and a good portion of the fall. Back to Colorado to make a garden, to invite a cat into our lives, to hang out with Ethan while he gets back into high school in America. (Check out his blog on tumblr at Under_Brazilian_Skies if you get a chance)

And our future on Orion? Still to be determined. I kind of like mustached Mike’s version. 4 months on the boat, 8 months on land. Or then again does it make more sense to do 6 weeks on, with a big space between. Right now going around the world and living on her full time doesn’t look like the plan. But then, who really knows. We would love to go to Europe, sail around Britain, up to Norway, the canals of France, the Med. There is the western side of the Caribbean with Belize, and down to Panama. Cuba is opening up to sailors. And then a whole world in the Pacific. So many places to see, and nice to feel like we have the illusion of unlimited time. Our plans remain flexible.

The Mate

How did I get so lucky? It started with the dance. There she was, standing all alone. I eased up close, touching softly, slowly moving together. Faster it became, more playful, more energized, turning more into the lion dance, with the Leo’s inside both of us finding someone to wrestle, to hold, to play with. All so very natural and easy.

We are sailing now. A life much different than our dance in Boulder. What has made this part of the journey so wonderful for me is my sweet Elia. She brings a humor and goofiness into every day  that makes our little Orion such a happy place. We laugh and play constantly. Who knew it could all be so much fun?img_2080

The banjo comes out and starting with G, we jam. It started with Cripple Creek, over, and over. Then added Boil That Cabbage Down with a slight twist to the G. Branching out now to Miss Ohio, to Ripple, to singing, and growing. So shy at first, playing stronger now.

We make up stories about ladies in restaurants, about other people on boats. Who are the wife swappers we wonder? And then the questions about what does this mean, what are we doing with our lives, where will we go next, how do we want out lives to look when we got back to land.

I’m her little play thing. Her French man to dress up in my green linen shirt. Wouldn’t I look good in that bathing suit, those le saints underwear. She will get fixated on me, my body, my beard, my cute little face. I preen, and she laughs. She keeps telling me I’m the cutest thing ever. In my wetsuit, my pink bathing suit. She doesn’t want a skinny mini, wants something substantial to hold on to. I got that covered. Stroke, stroke, stroke.

img_2052She cooks us dinner, she makes me lunch. Great spreads of Garbanzo beans, tacos, green drinks in the mornings with the bullet blender she found on line. I always love it, that’s the deal. We watch inspector Lewis at night with his sidekick Hathaway. Silly British crime shows gets her going.

She gets in the water and swims much longer than I do, entranced by the fish and the coral. A turtle rises and she calls out to it. Porpoises surface and the 5 year old dances with glee on the deck

She has a frock addiction. Before Elia I didn’t know what a frock was. Now we go by the shops and I find there are frocks everywhere, and they are all “so cute”. Many are reluctantly passed by. Some make it into her drawers back on Orion.

img_1996Every week she conscientiously does her work from the boat, writing her articles. Always on time, quite responsible in the midst of our loose lifestyle. I read her my blog posts, and she listens and gives insights and feedback.

We sail, and she embraces her role as the one and only first mate. Coiling lines, getting the outboard onto the dinghy, snagging the mooring line, driving back on the anchor. We have developed our roles and our jobs. She secures the forward hatch, me the back. When someone else comes onboard it’s much easier to ask them to just step aside than to help. We have this down.

She writes, and it’s beautiful. So introspective and pure. I admire and envy her ease with the written words. Her mind is so clear as she remembers, when we read about the snorkeling spots to hit, or which restaurants have the best baguettes.

Has taken to rowing the dinghy. First try in Annapolis we went around in circles giggling. Now she takes over when the engine won’t start and gets us back home. Talks about developing her one tiny claw. Over to a boat in the evening with some friends. Eyes sparkle and come alive, laughing, engaging. Beautiful in the morning asleep, Full of her emotions of happy, sad, introspective, questioning, not hidden behind a mask for long.

She tells me we are clairaudient. She’s speaking what I’m thinking and vice versa on a very regular basis. I am feeling more like the women who live together that share their cycles. I too can rise and fall with the moon.

And we sail off into the sunset together. Or maybe just to Florida. This boating future still seems uncertain, but what I’m sure of is that I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.img_2189

A Tale Of Two Islands

The contrast between two versions of Antigua is profound. Falmouth on the southern coast is the resting ground for super yachts. As you come into the harbor they are nestled side by side, stern to like so many dominoes. Beautiful, shiny, mammoth. And here, not focused as much on the powerboat, but on the mega sailing yachts. Gorgeous J boats from the 40’s. Immaculate and gigantic.

The Maltese Falcon

A whole economy buzzing to keep them looking sharp. Lots of yachty types from England, France, Italy. All very well heeled, and used to being surrounded by luxury, and the finer things in llife. Living on the boats, or in the nice gated community up the hill with the view overlooking the bay. Expats running the restaurants and bars, most of the customers white, All quite clean, people nice, happy, living a good life all based on the tourist/boating community.

There are two ways to get to the other side of the island. Take a taxi for $25, or a local bus for about $1.50. Elia, Ed and I hopped onto a bus from Jolly Harbor into the biggest city, St. John. The sense of adventure starts with the bus itself, which is actually just a small red minivan, crammed with as many seats as could fit. Once all the available seats are full there are drop down benches that fill the isles. We are packed in with older ladies in uniforms heading home from work, kids in matching cloths getting out of school, sweaty t shirted men headed to town, all locals, we are the only white people there.

Through the gates of the marina, past the security corner, and into a different world. At home we dream of tiny houses on trailers as a pc correct, cute alternative to the sprawl. Here they are everywhere. Cute, run down little houses, many with the faded bright colors of the Caribbean, some past saving from the last hurricane. Concrete roads with cars stalled or stopped randomly. Kids playing cricket in red and yellow team shirts.The bus careens around with a toot of the horn for pedestrians or cars heading our way. An endless game of chicken, that our driver wasn’t about to lose.

English Harbor Yachts

Into the city. Fast moving, scurrying, humanity, and once again, we are the only white people to be seen. Fancy dressed women with towering hair buns of orange. Teens off the bus, out of school. A few rastas, some scary looking, sullen guys hovering by outdoor bars. Sidewalks crumbling, next to mini canals, for rainwater. Shops carrying whatever seemed to be on sale on the boat from China last week, with a srange assortment of plastic goods and bright shirts, kitchen supplies, and discount shampoos. Everyone moving quickly down the skinny streets, walking half on sidewalks, taking their chances with the next car coming through. No street signs, stop signs. People just know where to go, know the rules.

Dropped from the bus stop at the edge of town, to walk downtown where the cruise ships dock and it all tidies up. Yogurt shops, and a  Burger King, in the same older buildings but with a new coat of paint. Some days up to 5 cruise ships in town at once we heard. No cruise ships in now so all the duty free shops are empty and cavernous.

St John an absolutely  different world from the harbors with the pretty boats. Much poorer, and almost all black. People sweet, kind, helpful to us and to each other. Lovely cadence to their speech which was English and incredibly hard to understand, but with another version that they could switch to when they wanted to communicate with us.

Our Guide George

And as I compare the two parts of the island I can’t help but wonder how it all seems to the local Antiguan who is providing the services that make it all happen. From my perspective it feels like the different tourist groups are hugely significant. Us cruising on Orion, anchoring out to save money, trying to do it on the cheap feels like another level than the guys on their Hylas 54, with their 450 gallon fuel tank and their 100 gallon an hour water maker. And then another level to the mega yachts with the crews running it all. Then there is the cruise ship traveler. I have categorized them according to my reality, my values. But to a local my guess would be that they look out and see Orion and see just another white guy with money.

Some places in the world I have felt very excluded by the local population. Here, not at all. The local people have been very friendly, warm, respectful, helpful. The super nice kid helping us with groceries telling us about his girlfriend that left him, and his daughter that he doesn’t get to see enough and about the time he spent in Los Angeles. The old man in the gas station smiling wide and taking about sailing in Penobscot Bay in Maine, and sharing stories of lobster pots, tides, and fog. I am from a different world, but they seem to be ok with that.

Probably these are the questions that come up in any tourist town, with the poor locals providing services to the wealthy transients. Here I guess it’s just that the chasm is so very very wide in places. Is it so wide that it is beyond comprehension? I know that I look at the mega yachts, and am blown away by the absurdity of them. I don’t feel like I want to own one. I’m happy in my life, my version of paradise. Perhaps that is how it is to be from here. Is that really what they are feeling inside? I don’t know how I’ll ever really know.

Damn, I love the music

It started the first week we arrived with a jam on the back deck of Paul’s Blue Sky Catamaran. Guitars, ukulele, harmonica, and even a keyboard came out from below decks. That jelled into a band Elia named Hair Of The Dawg.  We wrote and played the Salty Dawg Blues, with me singing in front of over 150 people at the Salty Dawg dinner, then Jimmy Buffet songs at the Thanksgiving day potluck. We rewrote Christmas carols and joined with 9 other dinghies to serenade the anchored boats in Maho bay on Christmas eve.

Bro Ed. Onboard

Slowly we are finding the musicians. Sharing the tunes. I’m playing more guitar than ever and getting over my fear of singing in front of people. Elia with her banjo and her public debut of Cripple Creek on the Catamaran back deck the other night was awesome. Brother Ed in and out with his guitar for the O’bros jams. Lots of people on boats with guitars, some playing a lot, others feeling like this would be a good time to learn. Giving guitar lessons. Let’s start with blues in E.

Wherever we go there are bands in bars.

The Steel Drum band that plays Sunday nights at Shirley Heights in Antigua high atop a hill in an Admiral Nelson era fort overlooking English Harbor. 20 or so guys all playing parts of an orchestra on steel drums and other percussion. Bag haired Rastas up front on the bass and treble steel drums. Full kit in the back, Young and old in matching T’s. Getting into it. Many different parts making up the whole. One guy just knocking on the wood block all night long, keeping up his end. Old rock standards with the island twist. Hard not to dance, to move.

Followed by what was billed as a reggae band, but was far from Bob Marley. Insistent, pounding, loud, singer out front rapping, singing, man on one song, woman the next. No break between sounds. Loud. No space. Island rave. We couldn’t keep up.

Elia on the 5 string

At Lagoonies on St Martin we made a rare late evening dinghy ride in for The Sound Experience from Antigua. Billed as a combination of swing and funk. Swunk! Sweaty young artist types creating something new. “I used to be a seaman, now I’m dancing with my demons” sung by the earnest long haired, shirt open post Jim Morrison lead singer.  Bopping gal on a nord keyboard. Sparkling shirtless bass player with a teenage girl in spandex oozing up a flying hula hoop.

Scratch band on Virgin Gorda. Wrinkled, smiling old man playing banjo. All strum, no picking. Old timey sounding like calypso/ pre reggae. Rock standards done to the island beat, all influenced by a different musical history than my own. Grew up in a different kind of groove. Bass player looking bored playing the simple music. Talked to him later and he is in a jazz band, another reggae band. Plays any gigs he can.

George Werthmore at Sopers Hole on Tortola. Solo guitarist finger picking Hot Tuna, Jerry Jeff, Mozart. Bulging eyes, funky hat, all New York, stopped and stayed at our table sharing long stories of running a nightclub in South Africa and all of the crazy things that went down. Played with Hot Tuna once and has tales of Jack Cassidy backstage.

A local band at the lobster festival on Anegada. Huge bass speakers. Need to back way up, or get off to the side. Full sound of much percussion, but then to realize that there was only one drummer, and one guy on a computer that was programming in at least half the sounds. It felt like cheating.  Then out one night to a beach bar to hear smooth island schmaltz played by three guys with matching shirts singing pop tunes, while Elia and I danced barefoot in the rain.

There was a local Jam night on St. Martin. A good old american rock and roll band was playing Tom Petty, Rolling Stones.  They were ripping with 2 guitarists, weary and jaded looking at 30, smoking cigarettes, trading off licks. Old guy drummer was locked in, the bass solid. I just sat and grooved and smiled and felt a profound welling of joy inside. I understood the language they were using. I could speak it, and just appreciated it for being spoken well. The more I listen, the more I play, the more I hear. Damn I love the music.

St. Martin

90 miles upwind from the Virgin Islands you come to the island of St. Martin. Half french, half dutch with the line that goes through the middle seemingly inconsequential. Different rules apply when checking in. It costs more on the dutch side, with strict regulations and fees, but is way casual on the french. Just go to the Budget Marine and fill out the form on their computer. The business owner looks to make sure your passport and ships documentation numbers match. After that he could care less. As long as you check in and out from the same side you can travel throughout the island.

french-bakeryWhen in the french half I am back in France. The pastries are mind blowing and literally bring tears to my eyes after so much bland, english food of the last few months. Chocolate croissant, and a cafe au last. Oui, merci boucoup. Endless restaurants, patiseries, and the usual local ladies selling bright caribbean shirts and dresses made in China.  People so wonderfully french. A kiss on the cheek, then the other. Bonjour, bonjour. Not right down to business, but happy to see each other with a twinkle and a smile. French fashion invites me to let Elia dress me up as a little french man in my new lime green linen shirt.

lagoon-rust-bucketAnchored in the massive inner lagoon that has access through two antique swing bridges that open twice a day. We enter into a Mad Max world of rusted out ships sunk during hurricanes, boats in the anchorages funky, dirty, falling apart, some still lived on. Over 200 cruisers anchored, out of the wind, out of the swell. Each of those boats is emptying their heads into the water, so you don’t want to swim, and probably a good idea to wash your hands if you touch the lines that have been in the water.

apple-boatOn the Dutch side, of the lagoon are the mega yachts. Steve Jobs Apple boat nestled among the gleaming white and polished chrome. They wait here for their next cruise, getting repaired, having their stainless shined daily by the shore bound crews, who at night are seen drinking hard in the bars, in their matching shirts with the boat name on the front and the line drawing on the back.

Walking through town the sidewalks incomplete or mostly non existent with gaping holes to swallow the ankles of the inattentive. Cars whistling by, inches from our side. The smell we call sargasso of open sewers drifts by briefly as we walk the back streets. Car horns blast insistently in greeting. Dark skinned kinevils on scooters pull off 100 yard wheelies.

Rent the car, to the east side of the island. Beaches named Cocoa beach, Waikiki, huh? Where are we? Stunning white sand. Turquoise waves breaking. Parade of umbrellas and beach chairs, with topless ladies of many generations browning all of their parts. Jet ski’s zip along. Para sailors glide overhead. And the breeze, always the trade winds blowing strong from the east.

cruise-shipsOver to the dutch side on the $2 bus. We are the only white people aboard. Sweet smells of sweat. Quiet with the occasional, “stop de bus” heard. Hard to know where the line between countries is crossed. Into the main town of Philipsburg. Looking out into the harbor are 4 mega cruise ships regurgitating humans continuously onto the streets. They have a look these cruise ship travelers. Older, pasty, eating too much, drinking too much, They drop into a town on their excursion. Take some pictures. Soak up their 15 minutes. On to the next stop.

Which brings me to the joy of Orion. To sail away from it all and anchor off where the cruise shippers don’t reach and the tourists can’t go. Drop the hook, and dive into the crystal clear water. Just the turtles, coral, fish, Elia, and me. Peace.sunset



The tropics are filled with saturated hues of color; the homes, painted mustard yellow, vermillion, bubblegum pink. The sea, with its shades of turquoise, azure, indigo, and, infrequently, charcoal. Palms clatter, showing verdant spears of light, and there are the phallic cacti, a dusty, desert green. Every color is intense, like the sun, and against this background I see the people: silhouetted in the glare, haloed by a ray of light as it penetrates the belly of a passing squall.
I am one to focus on landscape, on weather. You know this about me. But there are people here, passing through my journey, splashed across my photographs, snatches of their conversation peppered through my thoughts. My interior world is deep and I’m often lost in it. But, like the turtles, I do come up, occasionally, to the surface, and am always fascinated by what has appeared around me.
In this world people shift like a kaleidoscope. I walk down the street: in the parking lot of the Yacht Club there are the locals with their ropes of dreads piled into leather or knitted caps. They call to each other in the lilting sway of their Caribbean English. Three men are always sitting under a palm, by the fruit stand that is sometimes there. They drink lager all day and stare into the distance; their skin is glossy dark and their eyes are bloodshot red.
Up two blocks the yachties are parading up and down; decorative women smoking, with disheveled lovely children, and men with paunches. Scattered through them are the young crew that keep the superyachts shiny, ready for the one week a year they might be used. White shirts, brown skin. They are beautiful, young, capable of withstanding enormous amounts of tedium and alcohol. One is towheaded, mannered, with a posh accent (British) and I can see in him the watchful, tiny lad he was, and the tired old man he will become. His face is fascinating. He looks exhausted; his eyes are the palest, searching blue.
When we pass the basketball court, shining black, freshly asphalted and painted, there is a loose crew of island boys playing futbol. Assorted sizes, one tiny with a curly little man-bun. They are loose-limbed and barefoot. Careless of themselves, they dive for the ball, and are skillful in a casual way. The game is not that serious; they are delightful to watch, like dancers. I like the little one, with his shorts too big, as he is learning from the older boys. Where are the girls—they are braiding each other’s hair, or dancing in doorways, walking along the walls pulling at their school uniform skirts.
One man on the beach has a little champagne colored dog who I talk to, and he gives us some local fruit from his pocket; another man, wispy knots of nappy hair texturing his head, rides a donkey sidesaddle, bumming cigarettes, looking at the dark night through huge women’s sunglasses.
Later it’s drinks; we see another nice boat—this one has a washing machine. Women discuss laundry, cooking, keeping things clean. The men: solar panels, battery charge, engines. One-on-one it’s snatches of life: this one is a base jumper—“sometimes the guy jumping ahead of you dies, you just have to push it aside”—and plans his cruising schedule in the US around Dead & Co. shows; that one was married twice too, recounts the painful divorce and how we’re all on our second, third, down here. The boat life is relationship proving ground. Someone describes the death of her sister-in-law, how she cried every day for a year.
The essence of people, it comes unexpectedly and you see it if you happen to be looking, like the tarpon that arrow up and fly, fly, fly in a silver arc through the air. You just get a moment to see, and they are back down, under the surface. I like to look at people, the lines around their eyes, what shines out, or not. Catch them jumping.
Can I know them? Be known? How did I happen into this slipstream, this current? There’s nothing to hang onto, like the gleaming fish in the surge below, we drift, rise, disappear. We pass; the horizon remains bright, the houses gleaming, the palms chattering in the ever-present wind.


ps: I know, I don’t have any pictures of people . . .

I Heart Chris Parker

Our day starts at 7am when we turn on the SSB to channel 4045 and listen to weather guru Chris Parker. He lets us know how the day and week are shaping up, and it determines everything. Should we stay or should we go. How long until we can head east? When is the weather window?  Will we anchor on the south, on the east?  Will there be squalls?

The Portal

While waiting in Hampton Virginia with close to 80 boats preparing to head for the Virgins there was a video feed every afternoon with Chris Parker broadcasting from Florida just what to expect. Well over 100 people grew silent as he spoke from on high about the low forming, and just when the best time to cross the Gulf Stream would be. He is like the rockstar weather man. People talk about Chris Parker sightings, Those that have actually met him brag about it.

Once we left Virginia, 600 miles from land his soothing tone became even more anticipated. When he says follow the rhumb line to the Virgins because just 50 miles to the east there is a low that has stalled off Bermuda that is kicking the winds up over 30 sustained, with gusts of 35-40, and 15 foot seas, there is a deep down sense of well being knowing that he is watching out for you.

When he speaks on the radio you can feel that he truly cares about you. He’s a sailor. He looks at weather through a sailors eyes. When the winds are picking up, the swells growing, and headed right for you, he lets you know your best plan of action, and that it is going to be alright, and that this too shall pass. You can call him by satellite phone, or call him on the radio. When he answers, “Orion, come back with your position”, you know that all of his attention is locked on you alone and is focused on your best interests. If only all of our gods were so attentive. 

In terms of the weather,  It’s not just the wind, or the squalls. Sometimes the biggest component is the swell. How big are the waves, how long the duration, and from what direction. They can make all the difference between a smooth, beautiful day on the water, or a ride through the washing machine from hell. And then, as we learned in the Anegada passage, there can be wave trains coming from 2 different directions. These are, what are called, confused seas. The motion is not smooth, even, but up down, side to side, bam, bam, bam.  At these time Orion creaks like on old Spanish galleon. Wherever you are sitting you are braced on at least two sides from an unexpected motion. When we slam into an especially nasty surge there is a bell below that clangs to punctuate the sensation.

When the swells get over 8-10 feet they feel more and more like walls of water coming at you. They are massive, and our 42’ boat starts to seem like a toy. The entire boat can be down low in a trough and looking out you see a wave coming in, high above your head. But instead of crushing you beneath its volume our lovely ship floats on up the side of it and then down the other side. When they are behind you they push you along, and you surf down the frontside, focusing on nothing other than to keep the bow pointed forward. The last thing that you want is to get sideways to a large breaking wave.

We have some friends that did just that. They had hired a “captain” that told them he had been doing this passage for years and years. No need to pay attention to Chris Parker, go east, then go south. That’s how it’s done. They went east of the rhumb line. They got into the big seas, the huge waves. In the dark a random surge came out of nowhere breaking over the side. filling the  cockpit, and gushing like a waterfall down the companionway. There were screams from below. Everything in the cockpit and above decks was swept overboard. All of the lines were dragging in the sea. It was a solid ship and the water drained quickly. The boat was fine. The people were shook up. The “captain” perhaps not quite so smug. I believe they have learned their lesson and have converted to true disciples of Chris Parker.

English Harbor Antigua

At this point we are in Antigua. We have done basically done all of the upwind, easting that we have to do. Now it’s just gentle tradewinds aft of the beam. Gentleman don’t sail to weather. And with Chris Parker on our side neither will we.