Our Life

The Adventures of Mike and Kelly At Sea

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

And We're Off!

After a month and a half at anchor in Aruba, we're finally going to raise our sails once again and head down to the coast of Colombia! All of our parts have arrived and the weather seems to be giving us the perfect window to take off. We plan to bay hop down the coast, with our final destination being in Cartagena, Colombia. Aruba has been nice, but we are all eager to see a change of scenery and experience a new culture. We will be buddy boating with our fellow friends from Canada aboard S/V Dutch Dreamer. Check out their blog at www.dutchdreamervoyage.blogspot.com.  We'll try our best to keep everyone updated, however, the internet will probably be quite spotty along the way. Stay tuned for future blogs about crossing one of the top 5 roughest passages in the world. Isn't sailing thrilling!! Farewell until Colombia!

-Kelly and Mike

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thoughts from Captain Mike

In the daily grind of a “normal” lifestyle it is easy to become immune to the little things that help the days pass by smoothly. For example, take the small everyday items you just can’t imagine living without (i.e. toilet paper or ice) and think about how infrequently you give thought to having such items. Most of you may have your bulk pack of toilet paper stored away in your bathroom cupboard or that magical box called a refrigerator that keeps your food cold and gives you ice, thus eliminating the need to think about how you will obtain these items. Living on a boat, however, turns these little everyday items into luxuries. Once you cut the umbilical cord (your dock line) and set off into the unknown, many sacrifices and improvisations must be made. Soon you start to look for those special treasures that used to make your life so much more complete while ashore or in a marina only to find out that it is not so easy to come by. Those quick trips to the store for a loaf of bread or a few simple boat parts that you got used to finding at the closest one stop shop are no longer a reality but more of a nightmare. In these small little bays you now anchor in, you long for that special oil you always used for your engine which now seems to be on the endangered species list. Instead of hopping in your car, you gingerly step into your dinghy (in our case an orange bomber of a thing that is leaking air and water and requires incessant pumping from a worn hand pump before any trip) and search for a secure dock to tie off to as you hope that you are close enough to the local grocery store, if that even exists.

Let us not forget about the inevitable necessary evil of having to get special parts (sometimes not-so-special) shipped into the closest port. It is something that almost every cruiser will have to go through at least once in their travels. Endless hours are spent on the computer researching the items you need for the best prices and availability coupled with finding a decent shipping company that won’t rip you off, all while keeping the beer steadily flowing so it doesn’t feel like so much of a chore. You seek comfort in talking to the other boats at anchor as you realize their situation is no different from yours. Why not sit back and have a rum while you wait together, at least now the time will go by a little smoother. But, you can’t get boat off the brain. You find yourself contorting into your neighbor’s engine room to help them troubleshoot their newest problem welcoming the temporary distraction from your own problems. Meanwhile, the women make countless calls to the shipping company about the parts that are long overdue, but are continually disappointed by the [said] delays due to island holidays or bad weather that have swallowed the parcels into the void of Customs and Immigration. So you drink more rum and wait your time and let the women go sun themselves at the beach. At least you’re not alone.

Boat life poses many ups and downs, but we’d like to think mostly ups. Taking the leap to live a non-traditional lifestyle is an adjustment, but well worth it. Amidst all the trials and frustrations, we find the hardest part of boating is the coming and going of new friends that we meet at anchor or in our travels. The connection is much deeper as you get to know each other very quickly while bonding over silly (or frustrating) things that don’t typically occur while living on shore. You look to your new friends to help fill that void of missing the people dear to you that you have left behind. The relationship between boaters is unique. We unite over countless bottles of rum, compare endless maintenance lists that never shrink in size, and share do-it-yourself tips that help one another evolve into self-sufficiency. With each other, those luxury items we once couldn’t live without seem obsolete as our minds have made the biggest adjustment of all: be happy and make do with what you’ve got. The change is hard at first, but once it happens you realize that life is simple and life is short. Your standard of living gradually shifts until you realize that you don’t need much to get by and you never know what might happen. We make the most of our days here as we revel in the rising and setting sun above the sea each day, thankful for this life that we lead. At the end of the day, we’ve got good friends, fun, sun, and rum, and if we’re lucky, a little ice to make it all worthwhile.

I'll drink to that! 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Staying Afloat

The days start blending together as we sit here in Aruba waiting for Brian to come back again so we can finally set sail to Colombia. We rise early and piddle around the boat working on various projects until the sun slowly starts to creep in and bake us. The wild breeze that sweetly cooled us through previous days has disappeared and we get our first real taste of the heat we’ve been seeking since we arrived. The white capped waves vanish with the winds thus exposing an aqua-green glassy sheen that allows our eyes to meet the sandy bottom underneath our hull. Armed with our snorkel masks and fins, we finally venture into the water excited not to fight the current. We are quickly disappointed, however, by the dull seabed below us aside from a beautiful starfish hidden amongst the sea grass. The monotony of the days begs us to seek new forms of entertainment.

We find ourselves shivering in the overly air conditioned Alahambra Casino, where my Great Uncle Ray spends the majority of his days. He’s been living in Aruba for 18 years now and visiting for about 40. I remember him telling me about Aruba as a child when he would visit us on his trips back to the states, so it has been neat to finally see the place that he calls home. We took many long walks to visit Uncle Ray at the casino and were constantly entertained by his great stories and his funny buddies. Additionally, Uncle Ray was gracious enough to take us around the island a bit, even though his car was in a very unfortunate state. Little did we know how dangerous Aruban driving could be; a simple trip to the auto part store quickly turned into a hair-raising adventure thanks to the unique driving style of Uncle Ray. Amidst the squealing transmission, the frequent slamming on the brakes, and the inability to shift out of first gear, he tried to assure us not to worry about him, but rather “those yahoo cabbies are the ones you need to watch out for…they really don’t know how to drive!” Needless to say, we made out just fine, but decided that we were better off taking our long walks to meet him. We enjoyed our visits with Uncle Ray; he presented me with his cherished 1950s Navy Bluejacket manual (that he signed) as he entertained us with stories from when he was in the service. His longing to be on a boat again inspired us to make plans for a day sail where he could come along. We were also extremely appreciative of his pal, Ricky, who educated us on the hassles of Aruban Customs as he helped us through the process of obtaining our new Lewmar traveler car for the catamaran (a part that we were supposed to receive in the states, but didn’t due to the horrendous weather on the East Coast).

Between our visits with my Uncle and our daily tasks ashore, Mike and I started hanging out with our fellow boat neighbors, which is one of our favorite things to do. We met some amazing people who shared so much with us and really helped us get into the cruising groove. We befriended an amazing family from Yellowknife, Canada (far NW territories) living aboard their 50’ ketch called Dutch Dreamer. They bought their boat in South Carolina and sailed down through the Caribbean for the past 14 months. Greg and Carol along with their two teenage sons Brett and Dylan instantly welcomed us with open arms as they shared their stories about the frigid environment they left behind in Canada to the adventures they’ve had living at sea.
Additionally, we met a few couples who have been cruising around the Caribbean for years. Nadine and Murray, also from Canada, were on their sixth year aboard their boat Squiz and were full of wisdom when it came to these waters. Jim and Lara from the m/v Antipodes told us their stories of coming from the opposite direction and provided many useful suggestions for the trip to Colombia and beyond. Eddy and Glenda aboard s/v Helena tapped into our electronic side as they impressed us with their many years at sea while helping us with navigation programs and topping up our entertainment hard drive. Surrounded by such amiable people, we’ve had many nights of fun and full bellies (thanks to all the amazing galley wenches) as we all gather together on one boat or another at anchor. And let us not forget about the one staple that never tires, especially on a boat in the Caribbean: RUM! Ask anyone their drink of choice down here and they will answer “RUM” with a slanted smile from the night before on their face. Herein lays the irony as I (Kelly), am allergic to rum (I guess boarding a boat called RUMBOOGIE wasn’t the best idea). Lucky for me there is always, with a little care from our twelve year old bartender (Dylan), whiskey. I just need to watch my glass like a hawk, especially as the night progresses.

Enjoying the camaraderie with our new friends and delighting in the arrival of our new traveler car, we decided to take the boat out for a few day sails to get ourselves better acquainted with how she handles. We brought along our neighbors and were even successful at getting my Uncle Ray aboard one day. We all enjoyed the cool breeze and the sunshine as we sailed up the coast of Aruba joking about how we had spent too much time at anchor and had to get our sea legs back. Our resident fisherman, twelve year old Dylan from Dutch Dreamer, accompanied by his fifteen year old brother, Brett, would cast the lines while underway in hopes to catch dinner. We were fortunate on both trips as they caught an 8 lb Tuna the one day and an 11 lb Wahoo the next. Nothing finishes up a day of sailing better than a fish barbeque with cruising friends! At last, the days of monotony were long gone as we balanced entertainment with boat chores. Boat life truly is a unique paradise.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bon Bini to Bonaire and the Tragic State of S/V Rumboogie

I'm having a hard time starting out this blog as it is long overdue. I would love to share a grand story about our exciting adventures in the ABC Islands, but the truth is, it has been pretty bleak and I have felt very uninspired to share about this experience. But now, after a month and a half of sun, sea, and sand, my spirit has been revived and I'm able to relay to you a somewhat decent tale, bitterness mostly put aside.

Mike and I left the US for Bonaire back in January in pursuit of a new job opportunity to fix up the 45' Leopard Catamaran, RumBoogie, with the hopes of doing high end charters.Our flights were seamless for a change, and we arrived feeling on top of the world as we peeled off our layers of clothing to let the sun warm our pastie white skin. We squealed with excitement the closer we got to the marina knowing we were just a few minutes short of embarking on a new journey that we hoped would turn into our 'dream job'. Our hopes were shattered instantly upon arrival to the boat. Trashed would be an understatement; mold covered the walls and cushions gave the normally white fiberglass a slimy green-black hue. Evidence of countless parties littered the floors as we tripped over bottles of booze and empty food containers. Hatches had been left open for the 3 months the boat was left unattended in the harbour, which in turn invited a fair amount of pesky rats inside to contaminate the boat with their droppings and urine. The smell alone made the idea of catching the next flight back to the states very appealing. Naturally, we weren't very pleased with the task that was in front of us, especially since we had been told the boat was in a completely different condition.

As I scanned the boat that was supposed to not only be our new employment project, but also our new home, panic set in. With a quavering voice, I bombarded Mike and Brian (the owner of the vessel) with questions about rats and the worst things they could do to humans. I've never been the best with creatures (namely rats, cockroaches, and spiders), even though I have gotten a bit better after numerous encounters in my travels. I quickly started thinking of other options for accommodation. Mike kept apologizing to me, and Brian sat there quietly not entirely sure what to make of everything. I finally snapped out of my shock as I saw the sun rapidly sinking and decided that I better get moving on cleaning out a bunk so we could at least have a place to sleep for the night. We left all our gear outside for the night so it wouldn't be contaminated, and were able to find some cleanish sheets that would suffice for the night. This was one of those nights when sleeping pills came in extremely handy!

We managed to make it through the night fighting off mosquitos (not rats, thankfully) and woke up hoping last night was just a bad dream. To our dismay, we were once again greeted with the stench and the mess of the boat, convinced we had already done damage to our health from just one night's sleep in such a toxic environment. This motivated us to get a move on and expidite the process of getting this boat up to a liveable state. Who knew that 'liveable' had such a broad meaning. We found out that our standards were a lot higher than we thought compared to our owner's, who had treated the boat as a bachelor pad and was not bothered by the idea of mold. We had a hard time believing him when he said, "living in mold only makes you stronger as you build up immunity to it"  as his health was clearly deterioriating before our eyes.

We spent the next five days on a mission to clean the boat and get all of the parts running once again. Between trips to the professional cleaners to clean the moldy cushions, and trips to the grocery store for provisioning, I scrubbed the boat from top to bottom (aside from the owner's cabin which he insisted on cleaning himself) until blisters were forming on my fingertips while Mike wrenched on the inoperative engines and generator until they were finally running smoothly. Mike and I were both rewarded with a hundred dollar tip, which was honestly more of an insult than a tip. Apparently we were "too thorough". Who knew that would be such a bad thing? Our only break was a half day car tour getting lost on the way to what Brian remembered to be a great restaurant which only led us back to the harbour around the island with our empty tummies rumbling . Bonaire, as we had been told, was known as one of the top dive spots in the world where people can literally dive off beaches to some of the most amazing scenery and fish life. We were gutted that we didn't even have a chance to experience this and our attitudes immediately took a turn for the worse as our dream job started to look dismal.

We made plans to leave Bonaire a week earlier than intended, but found out during our visit to the Customs Office that the boat had actually overstayed its legal amount of time in Bonaire by a week. Luckily, the Customs official was extremely nice and cleared us with no problems.  Good thing we had rushed to get out early, it is just a pity we didn't get the week of free time that we had hoped for. Once we were all checked out, the plan was to sail to Curacao and anchor for a night and then head on to Aruba, where the boat could legally stay for another year since Aruba had gained independence from the Dutch Antilles. The owner wanted us to leave at 2 AM so we could arrive in bright daylight, but seeing as this was the first time Mike and I would be sailing the boat, Mike pushed for a later departure at first light in case there were any problems. It is a good thing we did as nothing went as smoothly as we were told it would. This is why Mike is a great Captain, and I am realizing his good judgement more and more each day which gives me hope for the future with this project. We set sail at 6 AM from Bonaire en route to Curacao and arrived at the anchorage at sunset. Unfortunately, we were unable to anchor due to the inablity of the anchor to hold on the bottom and had to carry on for another 10 hours to Aruba. The owner didn't have the first clue about sailing, as we suddenly realized when he backwinded the sails 4 times in 20 minutes during his nightwatch. We realized it would be up to Mike and I to take care of this boat and pull an all nighter (Mike was kind enough to let me get a little rest). Thank goodness for coffee! After a long night, we pulled into the anchorage in Aruba at 6 AM, exhausted after a long 24 hours of sailing and struggled once again with the faulty anchor. After 3 attempts we finally got it to hold and we wearily crashed into our bunk to the light of our first Aruban sunrise through our port holes. A few hours later, we began the hassel of checking in through the Barcadera port, in which we had to backtrack three miles and squeeze in (through gale force winds) behind all the Venezuelan fishing fleets that took a break from unloading their booty to help us secure our lines.

As we arrived in Aruba, things started to look hopeful in terms of getting the boat up to par. For starters, we had just sailed for 24 hours non stop and the boat made it without any major problems aside from anchoring. Furthermore, we realized that Aruba would be our last stop off before our journey to Cartagena, Colombia where would could finally get all the repairs done on the boat. But, just as quickly as things were looking up, they once again took a turn for the worse. The owner's health was looking grim as he had just had surgery before he left for this trip and was going to have to cut his trip short to go home. We took him to the airport with empty suitcases and a list of needed parts for the repairs as we, in turn, prepared to stay in Aruba for the next month before he would return and we could set sail again.