Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The "Vacation" Question

Someone recently asked us, "So what's it like to be on vacation for a year and a half?"

We tried to explain that we aren't really on vacation, because there is a fair amount of work that goes into living aboard and actively cruising, but I don't think we explained it well enough, so here's a better analogy:

Imagine that you want to go driving around the US in your trailer or motor home for a year or so. You make all kinds of lists, pack up the rig with food, supplies, spares, and everything else you think you might need, and off you go. Travel about 100 miles the first day, stop a park you've never been to, set up the rig, enjoy a beautiful evening and go to bed happy with the knowledge that you are on a permanent vacation.

The next morning you find a way to visit the local natural attraction, have lunch in a strange restaurant, chat with your neighbors, run to the grocery store for something you forgot, and have another nice night. The only bugaboo is showering in your tiny little bathroom and having to wipe the whole room down when you are done.

Then you decide to move on, so you pack everything up, drive 50 miles, set up again, and prepare to enjoy another nice day, but you realize you've crossed into different "jurisdiction" so you have to find the Customs and Immigration Office, check in, pay a fee, estimate how long you'll be there, guess at your next town you'll visit, and, by the way, show them your vehicle registration, insurance papers, and engine serial number.

You spend a few days there playing on the beach, meeting new people, collecting shells, visiting the local attractions, then decide to move on. You need to buy more food so you walk to a strange grocery store and try to buy what you need, but they don't have much, so you end up with potatoes, carrots, onions, some strange cut of meat, and a case of beer. It's going to be a strange dinner tonight.

Early the next morning, you try to pack up the rig, but the neighbor's rig has moved in the night and is now right in front of your trailer tongue. Crud. You wait a while hoping his rig will move away by itself, but it doesn't so you holler over to them and ask nicely if they could please move so you can hook up. Thankfully, they are nice about it and don't mind being woken up at 6:00am.

You only drive about 20 miles this day because it's really windy, the road is horrible and you are getting bounced all over the place. The park isn't all that great and you are tired and grouchy from the rough ride. To add to your misery, the rig keeps rolling and bouncing all night long. You can't even leave a coffee cup on the table or it will slide off. Sleeping is difficult because your body keeps rolling back and forth, but you finally manage to fall asleep from exhaustion.

Up early the next morning, you decide to bug out, but the rough road yesterday increased your fuel consumption, so you need gas. Unfortunately you need to carry jerry jugs to a gas station and lug them back because the tiny station doesn't allow trailer rigs. You are still tired from the rough ride and lack of sleep, but you don't want to spend another night here, so you schlep the jugs back and forth until you have enough fuel.

You have a pleasant day traveling through lovely green hills full of flowers to the next beautiful park. The park is pleasant and clean, but has no hookups. In fact, none of the parks you've used has hookups, but that doesn't matter because you have solar panels on your roof to keep the batteries charged. You set up your rig, unfold your chairs and watch a glorious sunset with a cold drink in hand. If every day was like this, you think, the whole world would be living in trailers traveling around enjoying nature like this.

It's so nice here that you stay a whole week, but you are running out of clean clothes. You ask around and discover there is a laundromat about 2 miles away, so you bag up your clothes and drag them to your vehicle, but you can't drive the vehicle all the way to the laundry; you must carry your bags the last 4 blocks. You finally arrive at the "laundry" and discover that there is only one machine and no hot water. Luckily you brought a book to read and you spend a few hours doing laundry, reading, and swatting at the hungry no-see-ums which congregate around the machines. Did I forget to mention the machines are outdoors under a little roof at the RV repair facility? Kind of weird, but you are thankful you don't have to wash laundry in your kitchen sink.

Every day is filled with the usual daily tasks, cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, little repairs or maintenance. Once in a while you go out for lunch, but rarely dinner because you are uncomfortable arriving back at your rig in a strange park in the dark. However, you get together with the ever changing group of neighbors now and then and share drinks and snacks in the evenings. You become friendly with another couple and enjoy some really fun times with them, but unfortunately they are headed north and you are headed south, so you sadly say "Goodbye" one morning and head your separate ways.

Things go along like this for months; some days are really good, some days are pretty rough, and some days you wish you could click your heels and be back in Kansas in your tidy little home with your washer, dryer, and huge bathroom. Then one day, way out in the desert, far from any kind of store, your starter stops working and you don't have the part to repair it. Now every time you need to start your vehicle, someone has to open the hood and tap on it with a hammer. Consequently you leave the engine running when you stop for short periods of time and you ask at every auto parts store for the part you need. You endure weeks of this until you finally find the part.

Finally you arrive in Florida, the Sunshine State, but no one tells you it's also the Lightning State. After a blissful day playing on the beach and collecting shells you have a beautiful seafood dinner, and retire to bed. At 2:00am a loud boom wakes you up and you realize a thunderstorm is rolling through the park. You get up, look outside, and start counting the seconds between flash and boom, trying to determine how close the lightning is. When you get down to "One thousand one, One thous..." you get really scared, and then in a few more seconds the whole rig lights up and you feel like a bomb went off inside. Smoke pours out of the walls, and you just know the whole thing is going up in flames. Panic stricken, you run around opening cupboards, trying to find the fire, but eventually discover that some little electronic thing has melted and nothing is really on fire. Opening all the windows clears out the smoke, the storm moves off, and eventually you go back to bed, but find it nearly impossible to sleep.

The next morning, you start checking all your systems to determine the damage. You start on the roof and discover that your antennas are all melted so you have no communications. You also discover that the lightning fried the electronic brain in your cruise control and your inverter. Then you crawl under your rig and inspect all the plumbing because the bolt had to go to ground somewhere and you just hope it didn't blow off any fittings. Thankfully it didn't. Making a list of the damaged items, you tally up losses of over $5000 and your insurance won't cover them because you were above 12 degrees North latitude during hurricane season. Contemplating the expense and lack of replacement equipment, you decide to push on with no communications and no cruise control.

You sometimes wish you could just go home where everything is neat, clean, and easy.  Where you know which stores carry what and how to get things done. You just want to take a week off, do your laundry, clean your rig, restock the cupboards, and regroup. You want to repair the damage from the lightning strike and fix all the little maintenance issues, but you are so far from home that it would take weeks to get there, so you make do, jury rig things, and just keep moving on enjoying your never ending vacation.

I guess you could say we have been on vacation for over a year; but we never go home to regroup, do our laundry, restock our rig, or repair things. We never have any room service, we don't eat at restaurants very often, and we spend a lot of time in the bowels of the "cruise ship" fixing things. Even though it is a fabulous lifestyle with one crazy adventure after another, I'll let you decide if it's really like being on vacation.

Added later:
Maybe it's my own fault that folks think we are on a constant vacation, because I try to highlight the fun days and gloss over the tough days. But as I said in this post, it's only human nature to look forward to, revel in, and celebrate the good days. We all have to do laundry, clean the house, deal with bills, and fix the car; who wants to hear about that?

I had a homestyle blog with a good following for many years and I rarely posted about unpleasantness. I concentrated on traveling, decorating, gardening, cooking, and entertaining. Similar to what I post about now on this blog. No one ever accused me of being a Pollyanna for that, but I have been accused of being a Pollyanna in the cruising blog world.

On my old blog no one ever asked me about being on a constant vacation either, because they knew I cooked, cleaned, unclogged toilets, mowed the lawn. They all lived in houses and knew what it was like to live in a house, yet few people know what it's like to live aboard a boat. The ones that don't, think it's a constant vacation. The ones who do and can't get out here cruising must be jealous.

Since what others think of me doesn't motivate me, I intend to keep right on doing what I've been doing on this blog: enjoying this cruising lifestyle as much as possible, posting beautiful photos of things we see along the way, showing you our boat in gorgeous anchorages, and inviting you to slip away for a few minutes now and then to share our unusual lifestyle. And I sincerely thank you for joining us.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Back in the United States?

For the first time in over sixteen months we are back in American waters. We could tell we were back in the good old US of A the minute we entered the Customs Office because they had one of those privacy lines on the floor. You know the kind; you stand behind it and wait your turn and it gives privacy to the person at the window.

Every other Customs Office we have been in (and we have been in at least sixteen since we started this cruise) was so small that everyone knew everything about everyone else in two minutes. No privacy at all.

So here we are in Puerto Rico, an American territory, and it's almost like America, but not quite. Puerto Rico uses the American dollar, but the official language is Spanish. It's full of American cars, but they are filled by the liter at the gas station. Its people are American citizens, but they can't vote in the upcoming election. We see all the American brand name stores, but their banners and posters are in Spanish.

In short, it's an interesting juxtaposition of America/Latin America. And you know what? It's kind of nice to be saying Buenos Dias again. I think we are going to enjoy Puerto Rico.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bag Lady

Since we have been cruising I've become a bag connoisseur. Not because I love bags, but because they are so necessary for our lifestyle and there are so many kinds. We need bags for toting things to and from the boat, bags for carrying things on a daily basis, bags for short term storage, and bags for long term storage. Just about everything eventually ends up in a bag.
Anchoring out as we do for months on end means everything must be ferried from shore in our dinghy, so we need water resistant bags because the dinghy is often wet. It's almost like spray and splashes are magically drawn to clean laundry and important papers.
When we were outfitting our boat I ordered some of those expensive, heavy-duty canvas bags with our boat's name embroidered on them. They are sturdy, stylish, and tough, but totally impractical for long term cruising. They might be okay for toting stuff from home to boat if you are a weekend sailor, but they are too bulky and too heavy to fit our needs now. Just finding a place to store them is a chore. They also absorb water and take forever to dry.
Now our favorite tote bags for groceries and laundry are the heavy plastic reusable grocery bags with webbing handles. First and most importantly they are water resistant. They are lightweight, easy to clend dry quickly, and small when folded up. The long webbing straps can be tied together to keep the top closed.
We first found bags like this at grocery stores in countries where they are trying to eliminate single use plastic bags. We have always taken our own bags to the store, but one day we needed more and we bought one of these. Now I wish I'd bought four of them; they are so useful.
I also have a few Tesco Cath Kidson bags that are smaller and good for heavy things like canned goods and drinks. I got these many years ago and love them, but they are starting to get stained because they are a fabric instead of plastic.
Speaking of grocery stores, some still give plastic bags at the checkout. We always save those because they make perfect garbage bags. We have a very small garbage bin because we generate so little trash, and those grocery store bags fit it perfectly. When full, they easily fit into a five gallon bucket in the lazarette for later disposal on shore.
Every cruiser needs at least one large insulated bag for bringing perishables home from the market. We pack anything frozen, all the meats, cheeses, butter, and lettuce into this bag right at the store. Everything stays cool on the (frequently) long walk back to the dinghy, and ride to the boat. We also use this bag for picnics and potlucks.
For shore excursions and hiking, backpacks are popular, but we rarely use ours because they make our backs sweaty. However, they do distribute a heavy load better and I've used mine several times when the Captain was busy with another project and couldn't accompany me to the store. Using the backpack and two tote bags I'm able to carry a triple load a couple of miles.
When you check into a foreign country they want to see all kinds of important papers including your boat documentation and passports. You dont want to take any chances with those papers, so a totally waterproof bag is the best solution. You could use a dry bag, or a waterproof folder inside a larger tote bag.
We keep two sizes of zip lock bags aboard and use them for lots and lots of things. With humidity and spray always trying to dampen everything, we use them to protect our passports and phones when going ashore. We keep small parts together in them. Moving between islands with different currencies we keep money in them so as not to confuse pesos, euros, and ECs. Oh, we also use them for their intended purpose: storing food and meats in the freezer.
I've noticed that quite a few of the lady cruisers have the same brand of handbag; namely Ziploc. Not extremely stylish, but very practical. Last week when I was in St. Eustatius, Mazinga was having a sale and I snagged this Guy Harvey beauty for half off! I guess this bag Lady is coming up in the world.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Cane Garden Bay

Encouraged to visit here by friends, we have not been disappointed with Cane Garden Bay. It has a good sized anchorage, a clean sandy sweep of beach, and several palapa-like establishments selling food and drink. It reminds us of the Mexican beaches we enjoyed so much last year.

There is a sunken barge in a protected corner in only 10' of water. We saw a large ray and lots of reef fish there this afternoon. After that we cleaned the bottom of our boat. Not a fun job, but we just keep doing it month after month.

The locals are friendly and industrious.
Someone has invented a solar powered, mobile snack boat, which we didn't see in operation, but what a great idea. It had a little BBQ, an ice chest, an electric motor, and was built around a picnic table. Swim-up snacks!

One evening we watched the sunset while drinking the local specialty: a BBC, or Baileys, a Banana, and Coconut Cream, blended with a dash of nutmeg. It was like a milkshake and tasted delicious.
Cane Garden Bay, our new favorite anchorage.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

International Peanut Butter Cookies

We haven't been "home" in over a year, so our lockers are filled with an international blend of foodstuffs. We are planning a visit home soon and we need to use up the perishables because the refrigeration will be turned off while we are gone. One of the items in the freezer is 3 lbs. of butter. I know that sounds like a lot, but in some countries it was hard to find, so I stocked up.

I've been thinking of ways to use up the butter and decided cookies would be good, so today while rolling downwind from Virgin Gorda to Tortola, I made peanut butter cookies. The butter cane from England via Antigua; the white sugar came from Cartagena; the brown sugar came from Dominica; the eggs came from Virgin Gorda; the peanut butter came from America via Antigua; the vanilla came from Mexico, and the flour came from Bequia.


1 stick (1/4 lb, 4 oz, 1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
Extra white sugar

Cream butter and sugars. Add peanut butter and mix well. Add egg and vanilla and mix well.
Combine flour and baking soda in a separate bowl. Add to first mixture. Combine thoroughly. Chill for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350°. Form dough into 1" balls. Roll in extra sugar, place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each cookie a bit with a fork creating an "X" on top. Bake for 10 minutes for a chewy cookie, 12 for a crispy cookie. Makes 36.

The Baths, British Virgin Islands

Yesterday we joined some other cruisers, rented a car, and drove across Virgin Gorda to the Baths. The Baths, the premier tourist attraction on the island, is a formation of huge granite boulders spread out over the southwest tip of the island. Over the centuries waves and rain have eroded them and created a beautiful series of paths and caves underneath. With little beaches between the outcroppings, it is a tropical wonderland.

 After parking we walked down the path for about 15 minutes and arrived at the first beach. From there we turned left and entered the maze of boulders, sometimes wading, sometimes going up stairs, sometimes ducking through small openings. We eventually arrived at Devils Beach where we all went swimming, then sat in the shade worrying about the tourists' sunburns. Some of those folks have got to be in extreme pain today.

On our walk back we lingered under the stones marveling at this extraordinary natural phenomenon. The huge stones looming over your head, combined with the soft light filtering through the cracks, creates some gorgeous photos.

Our late lunch at Hog Heaven Restaurant gave us stunning views down to North Sound where we could see our boat anchored in 50' of water right next to the seaplane landing area.

I'm so glad we stopped at Virgin Gorda. Thanks Don for the recommendation.