Saturday, June 30, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, to Fowl Cay, Bahamas

3.9 nm
Wind: SE 10-15 knots
Latitude: 23°29.63’N
Longitude: 075°42.43’W
Maximum speed: 3.2 knots (under diesel--didn’t lift sail)
Average speed: 1.9 knots

On the boat today, as we ghosted out past the sand bores and shoals of Elizabeth Harbor, past our friends and acquaintances where they still sat anchored, past the buoys that marked the coral, I was filled with near ecstasy. We actually did it. We upped anchor, we’re staged tonight, with the dinghy on deck, the sunset behind me out the companionway, the delicious candlelight dinner of stuffed cabbage with tomato sauce in my belly. The alarm’s set for 5:30 tomorrow morning, when I’ll double-check the weather and Karl will cook breakfast, and we’ll sail out past the reefs and rocks and shoals of the Exumas, sail away from them forever.

Not that I haven’t loved the Exumas, even loved Georgetown in its own way, for what it’s taught us. We got schooled in Georgetown, with everything that term implies. But I’m always ready for bigger and better things, grander adventures. The itch to move, move, move rests continually under my skin.

I fear I may be dragging Karl along at this stage, especially as our adventure gets more remote. He is the captain, and, as such, is responsible for my safety. Unfortunately, his crew (moi) keeps begging him to take her on riskier outings, outings where he is responsible not only for the boat’s safety but also for the vast majority of the boat’s work--changing filters, bleeding diesels, lugging jugs, reefing and furling sails--all that jazz. I try to keep up, but in some cases I’m just not physically strong enough, and in others I’m not emotionally strong enough to fight to do things that I’m not well-equipped to do and don’t particularly want to do in the first place.

I keep dreaming of the perfect Bahamian island, even though I know we’re en marche now. I’d love to find a spotless stretch of uninhabited white sand, a beautiful reef for fishing and diving, a place we can turn into home for just the two of us for the next couple of months. I know, though, that we have to get to the Dominican Republic, have to get away from the hurricanes, have to find a place to make money, have to keep moving. So we will. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t dream of pink-sand beaches and lobster.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 15-20 knots, scattered showers and thunderstorms

I’m sitting in the boat, in my usual place, at what I call the dining-room table, typing away at the computer. There seems little else to do. In fact, there’s an endless list of things to do, but I feel helpless to accomplish them. I’m annoyed, beyond annoyed, aggravated and angry--that we’re still here, sitting in this little harbor, at our awful anchorage too close to the pink Peace and Plenty complex, too close to the mosquitoes, so far from my ideal vision of what the Bahamas should be.

I woke up this morning at 5:30, my usual routine now that we have the weather radio. Sometimes I just get back in bed, but I was convinced this morning that we could stage. By stage, I mean move to a different anchorage within this harbor, one close to the exit, where we can have a candlelight dinner, move the dinghy on deck, watch the sunset, and then get the heck out of here at six AM the next morning. It’s a brilliant plan, taught to me by the Gentleman’s Guide, my canonical guidebook. So I spent three hours listening to the weather instead of going back to bed--taking shorthand of the National Weather Service’s offshore report for the Southwest Atlantic, then thumbing through the endless list of weather forecasts I’m supposed to be able to get via short-wave: some out of St. Thomas, out of the Virgin Islands, out of San Juan, from Barbados.

Of course, I could get nothing. Not even Chris Parker, the SSB dude everyone hails as God around here, who gives you an individualized forecast for your specific area if you subscribe to his weather service and call in. It’s only really handy if someone calls in from the harbor at which you happen to be anchored. Still, though, I hauled Karl out of his bunk where he was snoring away when one of our acquaintances from a nearby boat came by with a zinc for us, and I made him stay awake through the 11:30 weather, which was the moment of truth.

The weather’s still bad for tomorrow, though. I’ve set our level for leaving at less than five-foot seas, and they’re forecast for six feet for tomorrow. So we’ll stage tomorrow, and leave the next day, I swear. I can’t stay here any longer. Not when countless untouched, exquisite islands await, with vibrant coral reefs and naked white sand beaches.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15-20 knots, heavy showers and thunderstorms in the morning

Today was a last, desperate flurry to get absolutely everything we need from town before we leave. We had talked about our plans for two days straight, and everything went like clockwork: chart, phone calls, faxes, provisions, marine supplies, water. It had stormed all morning, so we were afraid that we wouldn’t be able to be ready to leave by tomorrow. I began to pace around the cabin like a maniac, putting stuff away, tidying. If I can’t get out of here by Saturday, as soon as this weather window opens, I’m going to crack up.

But the weather settled down in the afternoon, the rain ending and the wind quieting a little, and Karl decided the row was doable. We’ve both realized it’s a higher priority now. Earlier on in our time in Georgetown we would have twiddled our fingers and spent the afternoon at the boat, but today the chore-doing was at crisis level. We have to get this stuff done, or we can’t leave. Period. End of story.

I only wish we had realized that two weeks ago. I wish we had been at that stage before the radio got here. Karl keeps blaming everything on the radio, but the truth is we used the radio as an excuse to do nothing. And now that we’ve actually accomplished everything that we needed to, I don’t understand why we didn’t do it before.

What it boils down to is that living on a boat is just plain hard work. There’s so much to do: water and fuel to keep full, food to keep fresh and edible, cooking and washing dishes and keeping the mildew and condensation at bay, rot and osmosis and bottom growth to fight, endless boat projects to accomplish and new ones that are thought up every day--when you add in time for enjoyment of your surroundings, diving, fishing, and touring, there’s barely time for cruising! And by cruising, I mean the actual business of moving the boat from one place to another. That’s the most work of all--making sure everything has a place so that if the boat heels over 45 degrees and then gets hit by a wave everything in the boat won’t be destroyed, and then the actual sailing. Karl insists that we know how to sail by now, but I’m not sure that we do. We haven’t had that much actual sail time, to be perfectly frank. We feel like we have, and we have a lot more than most of the other boaters we see out here, but still don’t have enough. Not nearly.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 15-20 knots, gusting to 25 in thunderstorms overnight

Another day spent doing nothing, lounging on the boat, stalled by thunderstorms that sweep down over us. Nothing to do but read, write, and dream. I’m still hoping beyond hope we can get out of here, at long last, on Friday--I listen to the weather four times a day, starting at 5:30 in the morning. I go back to bed, of course. I’m not that brave yet.

It’s frustrating, in some ways, but in others it’s nice to have another enforced furlough. We’re talking a lot about our moneymaking prospects, which, to be honest, are slim. An option is always putting up the boat and flying back to the States for a little while, but it seems like admitting failure. I’m convinced we can make a living out here, we’re just the world’s worst salespeople. Karl could make a fortune just doing electronics on boats. How to get into that niche, though? That’s the problem.

Our breakfasts become more elaborate, and later, by the day. Today was scrambled eggs with cheese, onions, garlic, and peppers, with an oat-bran bagel. I had resolved to reduce my coffee consumption to a cup a day, after seeing the ungodly cost of coffee around here, but that resolution has fallen by the wayside. I was unable, once again, to convince Karl to play cards, but he did pull out his sketch pad for the first time in forever. I’m convinced he could make a fortune if he started drawing picturesque sailboat and sunset scenes, too, instead of people tearing out their eyes. But who am I to compromise his artistic vision?

So our plans our moved back, again, until tomorrow. Hopefully the rain won’t pour down and overwhelm us once more. The coolness of the weather is nice, though, the wind whisking through the boat. I even love the thunder rumbling in the distance, and the rain pounding on the hull, even the odd drop plashing through the cracked forward hatch. It’s all beautiful.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-ENE 15-20 knots, gusting higher in morning thunderstorms

Karl and I woke up this morning still tense from yesterday’s stress. Our nerves are drawn taut over all of this, as we try to convince each other to get to town and of our priorities. We had larger goals today: last-minute groceries from the dratted grocery store, much-negotiated-over ice blocks, a few desperate attempts for phone calls, zincs, and charts. I felt like I was holding my breath all day until around three, when Karl took a deep breath and said, “Let’s just give ourselves the day off.” I had had vast plans for this week--everything done by Monday, giving us a chance to go anchor off one of the nice beaches on the other side for this week of bad weather--but I think I was too ambitious. This anchorage has been stressful for us, as has this town time, and we need to take time and just be happy with each other and the boat.

Admittedly, we’ve had plenty of time in Georgetown to try to do that already, but we’ve spent it all being stressed about all the stuff we should be doing. Today, we took one of our fabled “zero” days, so named because that’s what we called days on the Appalachian Trail when we hiked “zero” miles. Sometimes we need zero mileage days, even on the boat.

So we read, and talked, and listened to Bob Dylan, and I made huge salads with the end of our slowly going bad unrefrigerated romaine lettuce. Karl proposed that our food stays good by faith, and I can posit no better reason. Who would have thought romaine lettuce would last for more than a week, unrefrigerated, stored in the sauna of an un-iced fiberglass icebox? All it needs is a couple of black leaf edges plucked off and it’s crisp and delicious as ever. Not so carrots, that wilt in the space of a day.

Still, both made it into our dinner pile of vegetation, with a full tomato each, a can of tuna, a special-occasion can of blue-cheese-stuffed olives, a hard-boiled egg, homemade balsamic vinaigrette, and a splurge half of tortilla. Best salad I’ve had in forever. After dinner, I finally had my good cry at sunset, to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “You’re A Big Girl Now.”

I love that song. I know it’s off Blood on the Tracks, allegedly a breakup album, but it seems to be written to a couple in the throes of conflict. I can think of no sadder line in a Dylan song than that one where he sings, earnestly, “I can change, I swear.” The moment that got to me tonight was when he says, “I can make it through--you can make it too.” He’s not generally that up front, but tonight he was singing to me. I can make it through, through the mess of this urban sludge, back to the other side where we sail, with widespread wings, from island to island in the sun.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10 knots

Our day today was one of our most exhausting and bewildering yet, as the wire really comes down on us needing to get stuff done before we’re ready to leave here. It’s not even so much getting stuff done, but the emotionally draining work of organizing and planning every step that we need to take when we get on land. We can’t just think of someone, pick up the phone, and call them--we have to pick a time to row to shore when it’s not raining and the wind’s not too strong, row across in the ninety-degree sun, do this during BaTelCo hours if we need a new card, find a working pay phone where the ambient noise isn’t too loud, and then pray whoever we’re calling is around. Coordinating with each other, in the frustration of sweat and impatience, tries all our nerves.

We can also never make things simple. Rather than dinghying to the dock where there is free water for the taking, Karl sneaks it off the Peace and Plenty dock after dark. We haven’t seen any sign that that’s not allowed, but he still doesn’t want to be caught. Rather than docking at the fuel dock, Karl lugged fifteen gallons of diesel back and forth the half-mile to the Peace and Plenty and dinghied them back to the boat. He still hasn’t cleaned the fuel in the tank, either, which strikes me as tempting fate, but I’m not in charge of the engine. I’m not the one in charge of engines, though, or in charge of docking.

My duty today was the laundry. After stopping by the cheap laundromat for what felt like the umpteenth time and getting the cold shoulder, I finally got fed up and went for the deluxe, upscale laundromat. It was a different experience, to be sure, tokens for the machines, stacks of Vogues to read, cold sodas in a refrigerator behind the counter. I’m not sure it would always be worth the $12.50 to do two loads of laundry, but it was today. The proprietor was perfectly friendly, but I wasn’t in any mood to socialize. I did use the phone in the corner and got through to my mom for the first time in forever, and even though I spent eighteen minutes on the phone with her (that’s six dollars) it felt like nothing. It’s hard being so far away from our families. Really, really hard.

So I was close to tears by the time we marched past Exuma Docking for the zillionth time that day in the scorching heat, with cars zooming by, and Karl carrying his huge trail backpack full of clean clothes. We had agreed that showers be one of the goals for the day, at least for me, but Karl made a comment to the effect that they were unnecessary as we walked on by. I haven’t taken a real shower in two months. Sun showers are valuable, but they have their place. Every once in a while I need to feel water flowing over my body. Especially when I miss my family and need a good cry. So I was unrelenting and angry and talked my way into the worst shower of my life.

It made a disappointing day that much more disappointing. I didn’t even want a hot shower, because I knew what I needed was cold water, ice-cold water. All I want these days, from anything, is cold. Instead, the cold water in the shower didn’t work. The water never got below scalding, so much so that standing underneath it was enough to make me cry out. I could stand it for exactly ten seconds. I let it run in the desperate hope that the hot-water heater would run out of fuel, but no luck. My only few minutes of comfort were when the water dribbled out as I turned it off--then it was only a little hotter than room temperature, and the seconds when I turned it on before the heater kicked on. The heat would have been intolerable even after a day hiking through knee-deep snow while it was sleeting. In the ninety-degree weather, it was like a brutal kick in the ribs.

So my good cry was suspended, and I tugged on my black tank top and my newly purple-stained brand-new sarong, already sweaty. I should still be grateful for my shower, I know. And I should take this as a sign of God’s condemnation of my selfishness. Karl is still stinky, and happy.

The day ended well, though. I decided to make one last attempt at Peace and Plenty to call my parents, making a desperate plea to the front-desk girls to let me a receive an incoming call. They were gracious, bless them, and when the call came through, they even let me take it in air-conditioned comfort behind the front desk. I talked for longer than I should, but it was so great to hear all the news from home, to go into detail about what happened while we were anchored, to just have a full newsy phone call. I’ve been living for those phone calls since I was eleven years old in boarding school. Back then I only got one call a quarter, one of about an hour, every month. So I need about that much. No more.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

We finally motivated ourselves to get to town to do some laundry today, figuring it was the one thing we could get done today, only to get to the laundromat and find it utterly full. My experience at the laundromat was one of the best I had when we first got here, but I’m reeling from something now--culture shock or staying in one place too long--and I no longer had the patience to deal with it. There are now fewer than four washing machines working in the entire place, and every time I’ve been by, there are long, elaborate lines around the place with people waiting with bags full of clean and dirty clothes. I somehow can’t seem to figure out the system, and the Bahamians don’t want us around--they’ve told me three times to go to the other, more expensive laundromat down the street, where each load costs a dollar extra.

I don’t want to give in to the lure of the luxurious tourist laundromat, but the mosquitoes were brutal down there tonight, and the gray pools of sudsy water on the cracked linoleum more depressing than usual. So Karl and I gave up and went back to the Peace and Plenty for our second task for the day, doing research on the internet into sailing dinghy conversions. Karl’s convinced our dinghy can work with a PVC-tarp rig, and looking at some of the configurations on the internet, I’d have to agree. There are pictures of sailboats (big sailboats, like ours) with Tyvek and tarp rigs, kayaks made out of tarp with a PVC frame, and crazy junk-rigged dinghies of all description.

The problem is finding PVC and tarp around here, or even deciding whether or not we want to invest the time in finding that stuff. Every day here means more money spent, money that we don’t necessarily have. Unless we’re willing to look for work here, which is beginning to appeal as an idea to Karl more and more. He’s ready to settle down and be someplace for a while, someplace where he knows the ropes and can make friends and relax. I’m getting ready for that, too, but not here. It’s still just too close to America, in every way--the television, the currency, the cars, the ever-present tourists. I’m still pinning my hopes on the Dominican Republic. At least things will be cheaper there. In theory.

The Peace and Plenty is an interesting place in and of itself. They’ve been great to us, letting us use their internet permissively, letting us tie our dinghy up and use their reverse-osmosis water, but it’s still definitely a place built around the foreigners. The outside patio, where the pool and tiki bar is, is geared for the tourists--the people who come on vacations or for honeymoons or to experience “real Bahamian culture” as a day trip from the Four Seasons--but the inside section, with cozy booths, murals, and a TV room, is the collecting point of the klatsching expatriate culture, Americans who have lived in the Bahamas for years. Karl yelled at some of them the other day while I was on the computer. He said, incredulously, to the collected Bahamians, “You guys put up with this?” The Bahamians, in general, seem to be very forgiving, but being in such close proximity to such ugly Americans for such a long time has to have an effect on their perception of us.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: calm in morning, rain, thunderstorms, and waterspout in the afternoon, SE-S 10-15 knots

On the VHF this morning, we made plans with Gypsy Rose to go visit the monument, the big concrete obelisk on the highest mountain surrounding Elizabeth Harbor. The beach in front of it is one of the most beautiful in the Bahamas, called, aptly, Monument Beach. Jennifer of Gypsy Rose has been telling us since they got here that she wants to go for a hike up it, and we decided to avail ourselves of their offer to buzz us across the harbor in their motorized dinghy

It was the grandest plans we’ve had for our day for a while. Things didn’t turn out so auspiciously, however--when we made our way into the path in the woods, mosquitoes attacked. They came down out of the trees in a cloud and attacked our little party viciously. No one had even thought to bring any insect repellent. We don’t even have any. So we all ran down out of the jungle in our flip-flops and bathing suits and gave up on the monument hike.

Instead we went for a little swim and a snorkel, my first for any purpose other than scraping the bottom for some time. I’ve been really missing the snorkeling aspect of our time here in Georgetown. There’s nowhere to go swim, and the diving is one of my favorite parts about the Bahamas. About the beach, period. So it seems a shame to be missing it. Not that there was anything good to see at Monument Beach--I went out for a little while and all I could find was sea cucumbers. The one animal that I have a morbid fear of, aside from the hippopotamus, is the sea cucumber. My rational mind is perfectly aware that they are harmless creatures that do nothing except sway about on the ocean floor, collect algae, and be ugly. They’re not even poisonous. But I loathe them. A shark could come up and bite my on my butt and I wouldn’t even care. Snakes and spiders make me happy. But a sea cucumber? Kiss your grits goodbye.

So I ran away and hid on the beach instead, dangling my feet off the nearby dock and trying to avoid the leering glare of the nearest oblong sea cucumber (oddly, I don’t like to eat cucumbers, either), which was when the first of the afternoon raindrops began to fall. I didn’t think much of it, since the Peace and Plenty Beach Club and the Chat ‘n Chill were both nearby--I was still hoping I could talk Karl into buying me a splurge burger--but then Jay and Jennifer began to notice what looked like two horns coming down out of the bottom of the thundercloud. The things began to swarm and merge and lengthen, and slowly they erupted out of the bottom of the cloud into a waterspout, a huge one, just on the other side of Great Exuma Island. We stood and watched the gray water swirl up and down the spout. The water mist was clearly visible, curving up and down in a spiral.

There was nothing we could do but watch and hope that the island’s land mass would stop the spout. Which it did, which is what it’s supposed to do, which is why we’re anchored here. It was still a scary moment, though. Jay and Jennifer wanted to race back to their boat in the motorized dinghy, but it didn’t seem like the best idea to me, not when we could get caught out there in a waterspout. The waterspout dissipated, though, and we raced back to their boat and then rowed back to ours, so they could batten down their hatches. We did too, but the storm didn’t end up being that bad. So we spent another afternoon doing little to nothing on the boat.

The day ended with another after-dark swim, my favorite prebed ritual in these days of oppressive heat. One little swim in the inky black water, hanging off the swim ladder and watching the lights of the Peace and Plenty and feeling around for phosphorescence. Last night there was a live band at the Peace and Plenty, and I could hear every word, like a waterfront concert where I get to stay in the water. Tonight was the Junkanoo Festival down at the Fish Fry, and though I could hear little, the beat was still there, rounding out the night.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: calm in morning, faint breeze out of south in the afternoon

Yesterday, we were zooming around all day on the high of accomplishment. We got so much done--or at least I did. Posting the pictures was a huge accomplishment. I was excited to finally figure out the dang software, even if it did take a lot of evil glances from the Peace and Plenty gals. I’m not even sure if there were many evil glances. It’s probably just my guilty conscience for stealing internet. We shouldn’t even be using their internet there, when there’s a shack with internet down the street for $3 a day.

Literally a shack. Probably 10 by 20 feet, with five children of various ages pushing each other around in strollers and office chairs, and a few lazy flies buzzed around the groceries lined along the wall: pigeon peas, cake flour, Joy dish detergent. In the corner, a big, black recent Dell computer spilled its innards. The proprietor, a handsome young man in gray coveralls, oblivious to all the kid activity, was the most helpful person we’ve met yet in the Bahamas. He offered us a CD to burn our important documents too, and printed them for the exceedingly fair price of fifty cents a piece. We had heard other cruisers warning us about this place, saying under their breath, “It’s actually a... shack!” Best internet shack I’ve ever been to.

The fatal flaw was the lack of air conditioning. I think I could have hacked it, but this heat has been brutal on Karl. The last couple of days have been gruesomely hot, with about 100 percent humidity. One expects the occasional thunderstorm to break the heat up, settle it down a little bit, but all the rain does is force the front hatch to be closed. Then, as soon as the brief wind after the thunderstorm lets up, the heat huddles back down again, like a bird going to sleep.

So that’s been tough on the motivation. It means Karl has a hard time sleeping. This morning at dawn he actually went for a swim and tried to sleep with his head resting on the swim ladder. It was a bad sign. The lack of sleep and the oppressive humidity make it tough for us to be motivated to go into town at all until about two, at which point we only have three hours left before the whole town shuts down, and one hour left before the important things do, things like banks, and post offices. We need to learn the secret of the early morning cool and the siesta. Instead, we have to jump into the water four times a day, two times before breakfast. As soon as think I’m done with swimming for the day, I peel my bathing suit off and tug my clothes back on, only to discover they’re already coated with sweat.

The heat is mainly because there hasn’t been much wind lately. Which makes us feel more guilty about being here--we should be using these calms to make progress upwind. I can’t believe we’re missing this weather window. It makes me want to claw my fingernails against the Lexan hatch. I’m trying to be patient, though. I always want to go, go, go, and Karl’s not only dealing with a foreign culture for the first time, he’s also getting sick of being forever on the move. We both are. It’s wearing us down more than we’re letting on. We’re both ready to find someplace where we can let ourselves be at home for a while, but I don’t want that place to be Georgetown. I’m already sick of it here. The Dominican Republic--that’s my goal. I even scoped out potential dive shops for the summer in Manzanillo.

The mosquitoes are brutal, too. After Karl gets back to sleep at around dawn, the mosquitoes begin to attack me, buzzing around my ears. I only have enough insect repellent to dab it around my face. “You can have my feet,” I tell them. “Just leave the ears alone.”

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 10-15 knots

I'm back in the Peace and Plenty, and I can't believe it's been two weeks since I used the internet. After all my grand planning. Still, I'm feeling a lot better today than yesterday--we've gotten a ton accomplished: a partial refund (for the overcharge) on our groceries, a phone call to my parents, postcards mailed, papers printed, and an extension on our tourist visa. More than we've accomplished on any single day up until this point.

Some things don't look likely to be accomplished, though--they're out of the guidebook we need, the bank won't cash my tax refund check, and we haven't found a fax machine yet. Still, we might be able to achieve the Friday goal. I am envious of the tourists (I call them resort-ies) that I can hear out at the pool, the ones who have twenty grand to spend on vacation and can actually do nothing here without guilt. I saw all them eyeing me with their snack purchases while I bought my three carts full of groceries.

Walking down the street today Karl and I saw two Bahamians with a bunch of chicken on a big cut-in-half-barrel grill, with tupperware containers full of Bahamian sides and salad and I wanted to buy a plate, but we're getting to the stage where we now that's a bad idea. That's the problem with buying 200 pounds of produce--you have to eat in.

I am happy that the one thing giving the tourists a good view is the quaint, picturesque sailboat with green sail covers anchored off the resort, though. We even met a honeymooning couple the other day who had noticed our sailboat and said to each other, "Why can't that be us?" That is us. My brother sent me an email the other day that said, "Don't forget, you're living a dream." I do forget, all too often. It's nice to be reminded.

Well, I'll go and try to get some pictures, that I've been promising for so long posted. Check them out--I'll be lucky if I can get two up. But they'll be good ones. They'll be worth it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-NE 10-15 knots, occasional showers

Our motivation to get out of Georgetown seems to have disappeared. Or at least Karl’s has--I’m getting more and more antsy. I want to get things done and get out of here. We’re a team, however, and I can’t make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. His occupation for the day was finishing Catcher in the Rye. one of the many paperbacks that I brought for him to read. He read it in three days, which is an all-time record. I joke that he’s turning into me. He props up his legs in the vee-berth under the hatch and reads for hours at a time. Now he’s tackling a Theodore Dreiser novel. I’ll get him a Ph.D. in literature yet.

My one accomplishment for the day was working on scraping the bottom of the boat, something that we’ve been putting off for a while. The water’s so clear here that every time we dinghy up to the boat we can see just how furry the bottom’s getting. The plus side is that it’s so clear that you can scrape it easily. I practiced my diving and breath-holding abilities, still not exactly up to snuff, but I was at least able to get down to the bottom of the hull for a quarter of the boat. Karl’s doing the waterline, which is easier for him to reach with his ears.

The best part of it was the cloud of tiny yellow-tailed fish that began to follow me as soon as they figured out what I was doing. “Look!” I could almost here them say. “This giant fish is making lots and lots of algae! Yummy!” They would even dart in between my hand holding the scrubbing pad and the hull to get the big juicy bits and a couple of times I almost mauled them. They were good at getting out of the way, though, and after a while, I turned around to make sure they were still down-current from me, eating happily. I felt a little guilty because I knew all that scum was growing on copper-based paint. I hope that it doesn’t hurt them.

I kept going until I started getting itchy under my bathing suit, which always makes me think about all the microscopic organisms living in the vegetation, all of the ones I’m angering and disturbing with my vicious destruction. I’m sure they get riled up and drift through the fabric of my suit where they get revenge by biting me. That, and I saw a crab that was living on the hull, the size of my thumbnail, and that freaks me out, too. So I gave it up for the day and figured that I had done my part. I’ll get better as time goes on, I know, and eventually I hope I’ll be able to get down to the bottom of the keel. In the meantime, I need to work on increasing my muscle mass so I’m not quite so buoyant. I’ll never get a job diving if I need an eighty-pound weight-belt.

Dinner was the unfrozen lamb chops in the uniced icebox, which were still delicious and did not make us sick. I pushed it even further by leaving two of them cooked for lamb stew tomorrow. It’s astonishing how good fresh meat tastes when you haven’t had it in eons. We’re both big meat-eaters, but the last couple of months have turned us into virtual vegetarians. Five miniature dried shrimp in a bowl of rice is our protein ration for the day. We have eight dozen eggs now, so that should help us out a lot. Vegetarian fried rice with egg is a lot better than without.

So tomorrow, maybe I can convince Karl to get our butts in gear. If we keep pushing, maybe we can get out of here by Friday. Maybe.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

We bought $500 worth of provisions today. Gulp. That’s half of our remaining budget, at least at last count. We may dig up a couple of extra hundred dollars here or there, but that’s our money to get us to the Dominican Republic. We may have to just start charging it, as so many cruisers do out here, and try to find a place to earn money later. So I have at least a hundred pounds of produce hanging above my head in hammocks right now: Granny Smith apples, butternut squash, oranges, cabbages, plantains, sweet potatoes, garlic. There’s 25 pounds of onions (the bruised ones) and thirty limes sitting on the settee beside me. We still don’t have any ice, and we’re praying that the lamb chops we bought frozen today will keep on their own recognizance until tomorrow.

We’ve become good at figuring out what keeps and what doesn’t, but we may have gone over the deep end. Lin Pardey can keep this quantity of produce fresh and delicious, but I’m afraid it’s going to be a fulltime job for me. Lin Pardey can also leap tall buildings in a single bound.

It was a devastating experience, too. We have to get better at it than we were. We had talked exhaustively about what and how much to buy, and Karl had gone through the store with a manager last week, who had made a list and told us that we would get a ten-percent discount on our bulk order. Karl even questioned him: “On everything?” “On everything,” the guy assured him.

In retrospect, we took that statement for granted. We should have confirmed it with every authority figure we encountered, like the manager we talked to yesterday about the produce boat, and even the manager on today, before we started loading our three grocery carts full. Shopping is always a conflict-filled event for us, even in the best circumstances--I lobby for luxury food like meats, coffees, and cheeses, so we don’t end up eating cabbage and rice for the next two months straight, and Karl falls on the side of ramen. Always ramen. Argh. So by the time we had our carts lined up to check out, and I kept running around the store grabbing last-minute items that we had agreed on, we were barely on speaking terms.

Then the moment of truth: Karl queried the cashier, “Don’t we get a ten-percent discount?” She giggled and called the tall, obnoxious manager over, the one who had been eyeing us with annoyance all day and had already been pulled to the cash register for voids four times during our checkout. What did he do? He laughed in our faces. Laughed. In our faces. I’m trying very hard not to hate him to the core of my being, not to wish evil things on him and his children, but I’m having a tough time. I was speechless with rage by the time we left the store. Speechless. I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye, not even Dan and Dee, who had been gracious enough to tow our dinghy to the dock. The cashier was extremely gracious--she knew I was upset, and ran out to help me box up my eight dozen eggs and give me the postcards I had forgotten.

Still. I had budgeted for that ten percent. Karl and I had carefully plotted and schemed, gone into the grocery store at least five times to check prices and negotiate what we could afford and what we couldn’t, had even decided to use our credit card, which carried a five-percent penalty, because at least we’d get five percent off. I had even allowed myself to buy coffee, thinking it would only be nine dollars instead of ten, and a small container of mushrooms, and cream cheese--all splurging items that I justified by saying at least I was getting ten percent off. We wouldn’t have bought half that much if we hadn’t been expecting the discount. Worst of all, we would’ve been out of here earlier, because I could have been slowly accumulating staples rather than thinking I needed to buy everything at once.

It’s our fault, I know. We should have confirmed it, we should have pressed the issue, or at least, we should have put half of everything back. Kicked up a fit. It had all already been rung up, so if we had tried to back out, it would have thrown the management into an uproar. I don’t know if the other manager was just lying to us or didn’t know what he was talking about. They did give us ten percent off on the case lots of onions and tomatoes we bought, but not on the tuna and corned beef. They even charged us double for the corned beef, meaning they owe us fifty dollars. We still had to pay the five-percent credit-card fee, which cost us $23.

It was all I could do to keep from dissolving into tears when we got back to the boat. So much of our hard-earned cash gone in one fell swoop, and so much more than we expected. If we hadn’t been overcharged, and we had gotten our ten-percent off, we would have paid $400 for the same amount of food. Every hundred bucks makes a difference these days. If only we had known, we would have sought out Bahamian farmers, different markets, or waited until the Dominican Republic and bought less.

I have to sigh, and thank God for the food we have, how well (and healthy!) we’ll eat in the coming days, and pray blessings on the mean manager from hell. And in so doing pour burning coals on his head. We’ll do better next time. Every time we learn. It would have never happened to Lin Pardey, I know. Then again, she’s had thirty years of practice.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

At the grocery store today, we discovered that the mail boat actually comes every Tuesday and Thursday, so another part of our inexplicable delay has been negated. We could’ve gone in for our order twice last week. We’ve straightened it out now, and we’re planning to head in tomorrow when the produce is unloaded. The nice Bahamian lady in the office, prim with a bun, even took a copy of our list and said that she’d have them keep the cases of vegetables we requested separate. The market is definitely the major economic institution in this town.

So that left us with the rest of the day off. All the Batelco phones in town are down because of the rain, meaning that I still haven’t been able to call my parents, other than the two-minute cell phone call that let them now I was alive. We should have made an effort to use the internet, but we were informed, erroneously, that the internet was down too. We did wander through the straw market and bargained for a beautiful orange sarong emblazoned with hibiscus. I don’t have a sarong, so I was enthralled and we splurged.

We decided to splurge again and go out for dinner. Not that we really should have. I was aghast when I tallied up what our provisions are going to cost us. Not that I really should be. We spent much more than that for our full provision in Massachusetts, and almost as much as that for not very much in Miami, and we’ve been dropping about $100 every two weeks on groceries the whole way down. We haven’t spent anything on provisions since we’ve been to the Bahamas, so that’s two months of wearing down our food supplies. Still, spending that big chunk of money all at once makes one gulp. Especially when it’ll probably be half of our remaining cruising kitty. We’re beginning to hatch plans for Karl to fly home for two months and harvest cranberries, or work in electronics, or sell debris lying around on his Maine farm, anything to amass some cash, while I work on my infamous book manuscript and try to get some articles published. It’s not a bad plan, aside from me having to crew the boat myself in an unknown harbor in the middle of hurricane season.

I don’t regret going out to dinner, though. We’d heard about this place called the Fish Fry, but we had heard different things from everyone and weren’t even sure it existed. It was alleged to be about a half-mile down the road, so everyone had warned us against walking down there, but we were in the mood for a walk, so we went. It wasn’t a bad walk, aside from the cars whizzing by from either direction in the dark. After contemplating it for a long time, Karl has determined that there is no established side of the road to drive on. The Bahamas is a former British colony, so it seems like left would be the preferred side, but most of the cars come from the States. It seems about evenly divided as to which side the steering wheels are on. It was especially scary when we saw a car, recently wrecked, wrapped all the way around a coconut tree, surrounded by yellow tape. So we tried to stay to the dirt at the side.

Eventually, we rounded a corner and lights sprang out of the dark, clustered around brightly lit open bungalows where men and women sat watching TV and drinking Kalik beers, the national beer of the Bahamas. We asked around for where we could find some food and were sent to a little cottage towards the water. Inside, the plastic-covered tables and chairs were completely empty, so we sat at the counter, which was a cross between an old-fashioned lunch counter and a bar. The owner eventually came out, a little surprised at seeing white folk in his establishment, and said he was only serving snacks tonight We said that was fine--I ordered the conch snack and Karl the snapper. We knew that a Bahamian snack is a full order of fish and a heap of french fries and occasionally coleslaw or a salad. I’d hate to see what a meal looks like.

Even after our conch debacle, I’d been craving Bahamian crack conch for a while. Karl’s order was a little more suspect. When he ordered, the guy looked him up and down and then shrugged, as if to say, whatever. I had told Karl about the way they serve fish in Thailand, the whole fish with head and tail and bones, and how you can dig out the really good nuggets of meat in the cheekbones. So he was thrilled when his snapper arrived and had its head on, staring up at him. He picked it up and chowed down, gnawing behind the head for the good meat there, and even pulling out the eyeballs and chewing on them for a while. I wouldn’t have gone that far, though I did steal my favorite cheek bits. When the cook came back, the fish was demolished into a pile of bones, and he even complimented Karl, saying, “Boy knows how to eat some fish!” My conch was delicious, too, though not quite an event the way Karl’s meal was.

As a benefit, we were able to watch the Red Sox get spanked by the Braves on satellite television, and Karl discovered that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was alive and well, even in the Bahamas. I wish we had a tape of the Bahamian men slamming on the Yankees in Creole. It was great. I felt a little out of place at first, especially since I was sporting my brand new sarong, but I’m sure if we go back we’d be welcomed with open arms.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE-S 15-20 knots

Today we had a grand adventure across the harbor, whisking across in Dan’s inflatable dinghy. Our goal for the day was the pig roast at the Chat ‘n Chill. It ended up being rather disappointing, though--I had visions of gnawing a big haunch of pig flesh. Instead, it was nineteen dollars a plate for a little tiny measly portion of pulled pork. Obviously geared for the resort folk, who were out in droves. It’s a little bewildering to step out of yachtie world and into resort world, which children screaming and running around, bikini-clad squads of teenagers traipsing around, and chubby pallid tourists lounging on brightly colored lawn chairs.

Still, Karl and I would have happily stayed. I was ready for a swim at the beach and I had scouted the menu for the four-dollar burger. We’re definitely feeling a shortage of animal protein. The other two boats’ crews were dismayed, however, and decided to whisk us back to Pegasus where Dan promised to throw some lamb chops on the barbie.

It was just as fun as it would have been at Chat ‘n Chill, I’m sure. We swam off the boat and talked for hours. It’s the first day in ages that the sun’s been out and the weather’s been halfway decent. There’s nothing like that chilly layer of water underneath the sun-warmed aqua blue surface to make you happy. I need to resolve to just jump in the ocean daily as an antidepressant, no matter the weather. Every time I do I’m reminded of how happy I am out here, how content, why it is that I’m doing all this. The water alone is enough to salve my conscience and soothe my worries.

I keep having a hard time being motivated to write, to record. I debate only writing once or twice a week instead of daily, so as to keep readers from being overwhelmed by the profusion of my prose. I have to continually remind myself that I’m doing this for me, not you (sorry, whoever you are), and that I love recording everything I’m experiencing, even the doldrums of boat life. When I return to these pages (going on 80 since January) years from now, I’ll recall everything--the smells, the tastes, the sights. That’s the point. To recall it as vividly as I can for myself, which I hope will recreate it for you, which will nourish my imagination for years to come.

I keep remembering these little college notebooks my sister used to write. She collected old address books, the type that everyone gets for Christmas in gift sets and never uses. She’d write anything that came to her mind, quotes from professors or books in class, overheard comments in the cafeteria, jokes, ideas, thoughts. She let anyone read them. She even quoted at length from one of the notebooks recently on her website (which I would link to if I could), and even now, rereading those cryptic lines, recalled to me exactly how it felt to be living thirty miles away from her in the city in those days. I keep a little notebook now, not quite as inspired as hers, but ideas of boat projects, boat articles, ideas for the blog. That notebook will be shoved into a box somewhere someday and won’t emerge for a decade, but when it does, I’ll remember exactly how it felt to be here, sweating in the humidity, the thunder rumbling outside, tapping away at the keys of my little white laptop, Karl reading with his feet propped on the teak in the vee berth, recalling a day spent in the company of friends in the tropical sun.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE 10-15 knots, severe thunderstorms with gusts to gale force

I’m sitting at our little white formica-topped table, writing in my notebook yet again. I’m almost our of notebook space, and good notebooks are impossible to find around here. My kingdom for a college-rule! It’s dreary and thundering outside, giving us another excuse to not do anything. I’ve been fiddling with the weather radio all day yesterday and today, with no real luck. On Thursday night I got a great signal and a beautiful weather report and I anticipated, too soon, that this short-wave thing would be easy. Now I think I’m going to go crazy because of static--death by SSB.

It’s hard (particularly hard, next to impossible, for me, a night owl) to drag my sorry ass out of bed at 5:30 in the morning when the clearest weather comes in. I hit snooze on the alarm clock for a half-hour this morning without meaning to. I’ll have to try again tomorrow, and keep on trying. I knew nothing about short-wave signals before this--I had no idea they were affected by the solar eleven-year cycle of sun spots, that the radio waves reflect off the ionosphere, nor that signals vary significantly in different wavelengths by day and night. Yet another thing I’m getting a rapid-fire college education in: Radio Waves 101. My real college classes in Physics are coming in very handy. At least I know what a wave is.

This morning, while I was making tea (I’m out of coffee--argh), Karl said, “Maybe you should try the weather again.” I looked out at the cockpit and the sky was absolutely black behind it. I’ve never seen a sky that color, like the cloud of smoke from a soot fire. Worse than the smog in Los Angeles, rolling towards us. It didn’t end up being that bad, just one more thunderstorm, but it gave me incentive to study my weather books and spend another couple of hours listening to static and amplified lightning strikes.

I’m despondent that we didn’t get to town today. It was meant to be our grand, hundreds of pounds of produce reprovisioning day, because the mail boat come in on Friday. Allegedly. The mail boat is also the produce boat. We have a great view of the docks, though, from where we’re anchored, and we haven’t seen a mail boat yesterday or today, and we’re too shy to radio and ask. So Monday we’ll have to try again, and hopefully all the produce won’t be rotted or full of fruit flies or gone as it was on Thursday when we checked.

Pegasus stopped by in their dinghy this evening for a chat, and they’re planning to go to the Pig Roast on the other side of the harbor tomorrow, where there’s supposed to be free internet, too. So maybe I’ll be able to post something. I’m beginning to feel again, like I’m talking to myself. I hope someone’s finding this educational. Or entertaining, at least.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 5-10 knots, scattered showers in the morning, heavy rain in the afternoon

I’m getting sick of the de facto racism of cruisers. It’s another thing I’d been warned about--the Gentleman’s Guide says: “Culture shock is responsible for the flocking syndrome of expatriates in any country... Grumbling about the environment producing your stress is normal and even necessary.” I have vivd memories of being a child in Thailand listening to all the missionary wives klatsching together to complain about the hired help. I did the same thing when I moved to the Philippines for school. I hung out with the other boarders from Thailand, and we complained about Filipino food not being spicy enough, the mangoes not nearly as sweet, the people being obnoxious, and the beaches not nearly as nice. Everything was better in Thailand. Even when I lived in France, we Americans got together for Thanksgiving for boneless skinless turkey breasts.

Today, the issue was our propane tank. Karl went ashore with Jay and Jennifer from Gypsy Rose and left both tanks to be filled. The guidebook said, infallibly, that the tanks needed to be dropped off by twelve and picked up between four and five. Astonishingly, this appeared to be true. When we rowed back to the dinghy dock that afternoon, however, in the pouring rain, and Karl made a soaked dash down the street for the propane, the tank had yet to be filled. At 4:30. Karl, being a smart guy, talked to someone, who guided him to the guy who did the filling, talking on his cell phone. Karl assisted him in filling the tank, doing most of the work himself, and walked away with twenty pounds of propane. Mission accomplished.

Gypsy Rose was not so smart and therefore not so lucky. Their tank was left unfilled, they didn’t check on it or follow up, and now they have to wait until Monday, the next day the shop is open. So this was cause for bad-mouthing the Bahamian work ethic today. I hate it. I know that I’ve traveled cross-culturally a lot more than any of these other cruisers, so I need to give them some wiggle room, but I don’t see any reason at all to write off another race, wholesale, as “lazy.”

The work ethic differed profoundly in Thailand, too. Buildings took years to go up, and it was par for the course. Thai time was like island time, appointments were made plus or minus a full hour. Maybe two. Thais, just like Bahamians, have different priorities--things like community, or what they call in Thailand “sanuk,” which means fun as a way of life, or tradition. Just because a whitie comes in flashing his bucks US doesn’t mean he’s going to get things done the way they are done at Walmart, back in the “civilized” world. Nothing gets done down here in fifteen minutes. And why should it? Isn’t that exactly what we came down here to get away from?

I forget that just because our friends are Australian and therefore “international” doesn’t mean that they’ve traveled widely. They’ve never been out of Australia aside for holiday in Fiji. They haven’t learned that the most profoundly important trait for crossing cultural barriers is humility. I find that ta couple of acknowledgedly stupid questions, some genuine compliments, and as many snow-melting sincere smiles as you can throw at a person break down all but the highest cultural walls. Maybe this is why I get in trouble with Bahamian men. Still, all the other cruisers complain about the “antagonism” of the Bahamian women, something I haven’t encountered once. At the laundromat, I was having in-depth conversations with the Bahamian women there about childbirth and medical care until a tall, blond German cruiser showed up in short shorts. They clammed up until she left, and then continued talking to me as warmly as ever. What matters is sincere interest in others regardless of race and culture. What you have to learn first is that culture exists, that just because people from another place does something differently than you do doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Everyone should know that by now. Don’t they?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 5-10 knots, heavy rain all night and morning

Karl took a bath in the dinghy today, which was full of rather dingy water from all the rain we’ve been having. Ha. Dingy dinghy water. He actually hopped down there and lathered up, like in a bathtub. He pulled out a couple of buckets for me, too (our one leaky plastic bucket and the other good bleach bucket he rescued from our rusty anchor chain) and I showered in the cockpit, a luxury for me because generally I only use two gallons worth from the solar shower bag.

I rinsed my hair about ten times and now it’s soft and silky and shiny and I feel wonderful. Bathing in rainwater--didn’t Cleopatra or someone do that? Not that it’ll last long. Tomorrow I’ll be slimy and stinky from sweat again, with all the humidity in the air, and my fingernails will be dirty from my own body grime. The baths in rainwater are the romantic part of life on a sailboat. The dirt is not.

Our morning activity energized us for the rest of the day, so we went to the post office and bank in town, and then to the grocery store to buy perishable provisions, including lettuce, tomatoes, and ground beef. I’ve been trying to convince Karl to have our friends over to dinner to repay them the hospitality they’ve extended to us. So we did a quick but thorough boat cleanup, I made a big pot of spaghetti, and we had everyone over. It was extremely fun--we’ve never had that many people on our boat before.

I love entertaining, but I’m a lousy housekeeper, and you kind of need the latter to be the former. Still, everyone had a good time. We had taken our rain tarp down in order to get more breeze in the cockpit, and, wouldn’t you know, as soon as everyone had been here a half-hour the skies opened up again. So we all had to crowd below in our little boat. With the hatches closed, six people down there breathing, and the oven going for garlic bread, the heat was nearly unbearable. The guys just sat in the cockpit in the rain for a while, getting wet, and all us girls took turns out there too, cooling down.

The best part of the evening was being inducted into the Porch Pirates Association by Dan and Dee, who are official Senior Ambassadors for the Southern Hemisphere. We have a Letter of Marque written on an old chart and everything. We’re entitled, now, to never let the truth get in the way of a good story, so if you read stories of flying pink polka-dotted dragons on this web journal henceforth, you may be wise to disbelieve them. We have our Letter of Marque proudly displayed on the wall for all to see, with its bold letters declaring the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy injunction: Don’t Panic. An excellent adage to post on a bulkhead in any yacht.

I can’t believe I forgot to mention, too: our radio came!!! Shocker of all shocks! So all this time we’ve been squandering, doing nothing, lounging about, reading paperbacks, we could’ve been getting ready to go. Now we still need to do our full reprovision, do something about the dirty diesel in our tanks, fill up with fresh water and get rid of trash--all those mundane details of boat life we’ve been putting off.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: ESE 5-10 knots, gusting above 20 in thunderstorms, then shifting to SW

Our laziness continues. I’m having a very hard time being motivated to do anything because it may be another two weeks before our radio even gets here and then I’m going to have to learn how to use it. That’s an immense amount of time to get everything done. Another difficult part of my motivation is the cheap paperbacks that Pegasus lent me. I’m diving into trash fiction now instead of DVDs. It takes me about two days to whip one of them off, but it means I don’t do anything else at all, not even the dishes, while Karl cast glances askance at me.

He always asks me why I never fail to read tasteless bestsellers when they’re around instead of the accumulation of great literature I have aboard. I’m carrying books by Thomas Merton, Iris Murdoch, Toni Morrison, and Dostoevsky. Instead, I read books that are hailed as “best beach reads” by People magazine, named things like “Absolute Rage.” I guess I deserve a break after Ulysses.

Trash fiction, too, is like candy, while literary fiction is meat and potatoes--real food that nourishes me. My books are food and drink, I believe, as well as talismans to ward off danger, and things of beauty. They make me happy just to look at. The idea of writing one gnaws at me--I haven’t revised my NaNoWriMo manuscript from November yet, haven’t even looked at in months, and I feel profoundly guilty about that. The prospect of getting jobs looms ahead and I don’t want a job. I want to write. But I don’t.

I can’t make money writing a blog, though. I either need to start writing how-to-fiberglass articles or start writing a real manuscript. Since reading my sister’s blog, I have this brilliant idea to do a dual memoir, exploring our atypical childhood and divergent present. Maybe we need to get an agent.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: ESE 5-10 knots, occasional scattered rain showers

We continue to be stalled by rain and laziness, unwilling to go to town. The bugs have been bad the last couple of days, leaving us hiding from the heat all day and hiding from the bugs all night. We’re anchored a little too close to shore for our own good, as we tend to do because of the rowing dinghy. It makes rowing a dinghy to shore a lot easier, but it also makes it a lot easier for the mosquitoes to jaunt over here for a bite in between rainstorms.

I’m reminded of our adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail when, because of the snow, the mosquitoes were out with gestapo-style force. They make the mosquitoes here look like little baby pansies that go crying back to their mother. I can’t even begin to explain the mosquitoes in the Sierras of California. They were great black clouds that blotted out the sun. Still, just a mosquito or two on your boat is enough to make you unhappy, enough to keep you up at night. I hate their whining right around my ears almost worse than I hate their bites. I wake up in the middle of the night to hear a little high-pitched whine and I can’t go back to sleep until I’ve found the source of the noise and slaughtered it.

We really should have netting for our hatches, something which restricts air flow but may in the long-term make life on a boat more comfortable. Our problem, though, begins to be one of supply. Where are we going to find mosquito netting? If we can find a place that sells it, how are we going to get there? How much is it going to cost, and is it worth it, or is it a better idea to anchor farther offshore and use more insect repellent? Every choice now is a choice of cost, and every choice of cost is a choice of time--how long can we cruise on the money for mosquito netting? Out here they’re not called dollars. We call them cruising chips. How far can this one measly dollar carry us out here? I calculate one day’s food costs, and try to keep it under a dollar a person--that can of tuna cost us 50 cents, that can of evaporated milk a dollar, that tortilla 20 cents. It’s a fantastic way to look at money. How long can we live on nothing?

The key is to not let expense become an obstacle to our goals. On the trail, because of frugality or stupidity or laziness, we never made the effort to put netting on our tarp or even to buy Deet, and because we didn’t do that, we gave up hiking. It was a decision that both of us forbade ourselves to regret. Nevertheless, part of me regrets it. So the lesson learned is that we need to spend money on the things that are going to keep us out here, the things that are going to keep us happy enough cruising that we don’t retreat back to America with our tails between our legs. Columbus didn’t do that. Neither can we.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: ESE 5-10 knots, scattered rain showers

On the phone today, Karl’s mom informed him that the radio has been shipped to us via FedEx, for a grand cost of $180. Gulp. Neither of us had any idea it would cost that much for a little short-wave radio. If we had, we would have probably made alternate arrangements. Especially frustrating is that we’ve found out that Gypsy Rose has a spare weather radio on their boat, exactly the type that we’re have shipped, that they would have been willing to part with. Now we’re stuck here for two weeks, at least, waiting for a very expensive weather radio when we could have left today.

You win some, you lose some. You only have to make a mistake once--we’ll never do that again, not at least without finding out how much the shipping costs. It’s deeply exasperating, though, because a large majority of our plans for the future have been based around the idea of having stuff shipped from the States, for boat repair, or our personal possessions, whatever. Now we know that we can fly to the States for cheaper than it costs to ship stuff. It’s good news in some ways, but bad news in others--it means we’ll be able to fly home more often, but it also means we really should’ve flown home in this case. For the cost of our shipping and the cell phone calls the other night, Karl could have flown home, visited his parents and his nephews, taken care of his real estate paperwork, picked up tons of junk that we need, and still have gotten back before the radio will arrive. Argh.

That, and the rain, is making it difficult to find the motivation to do anything in town. There are plenty of things we need to get done, or could go look for, but they all seem expensive and time-intensive. Our budget isn’t looking so pretty, either. It’s great that we’re able to live on so little--cans and cabbages and potatoes--but it makes the road down to the Dominican Republic seem grim and expensive. Puerto Rico is still very far away, and either there or the Virgins are the next place we can reliably find work. Even the prospect of job-hunting seems far less exciting when we’re faced with the reality of it. The idea of it sounds grand, but the prospect of hunting around for under-the-table jobs in a country where we don’t know the language seems a Herculean effort indeed.

We’re also still struggling through the inertia of our three weeks at anchor. We’ve settled down into island time, where nothing really seems that high of a priority. It blows my mind how cruisers continue to call Bahamians “lazy,” for whatever reason--they lack the entrepreneurial or agricultural sense of Americans, or they’re not willing to work a forty-hour week, or they don’t keep reliable office hours. Heck, I’m not willing to work a forty-hour week! I came down here to escape the western rat race, to join the relaxed Caribbean lifestyle! What sense does it make to blame Bahamians for doing exactly what we’re doing?

So I’m content to let the rain clouds wash down our decks, to let the FedEx pilots dawdle their way down to Great Exuma, and to enjoy the dolphins playing off our quarter and the calypso music from the Peace and Plenty at night. We’re not accomplishing much, but isn’t that the whole point?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 11-16 knots

Today we accomplished a whole lot of nothing. There’s not much motivation to get much accomplished when we know we have to sit here for two weeks and wait for our new SSB radio receiver to get here. We were told that regular mail can take us much as three months, so we’re using FedEx, the most reliable service internationally, or so we’ve also been told. Even overnight FedEx is supposed to take 5-8 business days, so that leaves us here almost until the end of June.

Karl’s been in negotiations with the owner of the grocery store to buy a whole bunch of fresh produce in large quantities. He wants 100 pounds of potatoes, 100 pounds of onions, 100 pounds of oranges, and 100 pounds of flour. I’m arguing for slightly more moderation, but I do agree it would be nice to have the boat completely stocked with nonperishable fresh produce. Especially because it costs less than canned goods around here.

So we watched more DVDs today--Pegasus is refusing to take back their book of movies (about which we were so concerned) until we get through them all. That leaves us watching cartoons and movies that we’ve already seen. Or watching movies for which I haven’t read the book yet, my worst pet peeve. Last night we watched Eragon, a fairly good fantasy movie and a book that I’ve been wanting to read forever.

We find ourselves wishing we had a stack of sailing DVDs, like the ones they sell in Latitudes and Attitudes magazine. Master and Commander, The Perfect Storm, Captain Ron, even Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s just fun to see the Hollywood interpretation of what we’re doing. Pirates are especially fascinating subjects of film. We saw a great documentary on the History Channel about pirates before we left, expounding on their iterations, from privateers, to buccaneers, to flat-out pirates.

Even Columbus seems immensely fascinating out here. The whole cliché about Columbus “crossing the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ‘92” really belies how adventurous he was. I like to think about us like Columbus, just crazy adventurers relying on a dream. If he hadn’t made it anywhere, his parents would have felt about him about the way ours do about us. They probably did at the time, in any case. He’s also alleged to have died destitute and alone, with nothing to have consoled him but his adventures. Still, he’s remembered by history as a great man, when all he wanted to do was wander around the world crazily, in a way that no one had done before, just like us.

We can’t hope to achieve the greatness that Columbus did, I suppose. It’s nice to know, though, that we can still follow in the wake of greatness.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: ENE 10-18 knots, gusting to 20 in thunderstorms

I’m sitting at my clean dining-room table, having just tidied up and done the dishes. Beside me, in its giant yellow sailbag, is our perfectly repaired genoa--what a great feeling. Even though we ended up spending the night over at Pegasus, eating breakfast there, and hanging out until three o’clock this afternoon, having a reliable second foresail to switch to, not to mention a good light-weather sail, is accomplishment enough. We had only intended to stay for lunch, too, so we had left our boat completely open. Wouldn’t you know it, last night was the only night in the last month that it decided to pour rain, not to mention blowing 25 knots.

I woke up in the middle of the night, hearing the wind howling and the rain pounding, and praying to God that we hadn’t left our front hatch open. Of course we had. Luckily the vee-berth isn’t too wet, nor do any of our electronics situated by the navigation station at the companionway seem to be damaged. Phew.

Karl’s ashore with Pegasus and a second boat’s crew, Jay and Jennifer from Gypsy Rose. Gypsy Rose just sailed in after doing almost 200 miles in two days from Andros Island, in horrible weather. Their boat is a 1970 Cal 34, a boat built by the same company as ours, Jensen Marine, a year before ours. They rafted up to Pegasus this morning for fresh-cooked bacon and eggs and coffee, a great welcome after an all-night beat to windward against three knots of current in a rainstorm. I didn’t envy them at all. That’s why we pick our weather.

They’re a crazy couple, though, about our ages. Jennifer is a large part Native American, and they fund their travels making jewelry and doing leather work. Pegasus kept telling us how well we’d get along with them. “You’re all hippies!” they said. Not that Karl and I are really anywhere near hippie status. Real hippies scoff at us. After all, we eat meat and wear synthetic fabrics. I always felt intimidated of the real hippies, from when I used to go to Bob Dylan concerts. I somehow couldn’t bring myself to sew my own tie-dyed dresses, nor could I find real love in my heart for the Grateful Dead. Non-hippies think we look like hippies, but real hippies know better.

Nevertheless, we will get on famously with Gypsy Rose. They’re just as crazy as we are, never having sailed, and setting off with a little beat-up fiberglass production boat. Their last adventure was bringing a seventeen-foot Boston Whaler across the Gulf Stream to sell at a 100-percent profit to a Bahamian fisherman in Andros. That’s supposed to give them the funds they need to accompany Pegasus to Australia. Karl’s always coming up with crazy schemes like that (his latest is to fill up a shipping container with ten-year-old Ford Explorers and bring them here where they go for $20,000 a pop). Maybe I should start listening to him.

So we’re getting caught up in the social whirl of Georgetown. We now have three boats’ hospitality we need to repay. Today’s allegedly Junkanoo Days in June, a local festival at the fish fry, with junkanoo music, rake-n-scrape, and crack conch galore. We might be convinced to attend. We were warned, after all, about the cruising festivities in Georgetown. Come for a week, stay for the summer, seems to be the motto.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: NE 10 knots, gusting to 25 and rainy overnight

Happy birthday, Mom! Sorry I didn’t get to call you today--I tried. I used the cell phone that Karl spent three hours on last night to call my family this morning, but I was only able to spend an hour, and couldn’t get through to many people. After all, Karl squandered all our communication funding, not that I’m bitter or anything. We’re thinking seriously about Skype, an internet communication service where you can call anyone you’d like over the web.

We’re falling into town time, waking up late and going to bed late, and trying to get as much accomplished as we can a day, which is not really very much. Today our plan is to go over to our friends’ boat, Pegasus, and have lunch. People are beginning to discover that Karl used to be both an electronic engineer and a diesel mechanic (at Mount Killington) and are wanting him to mess around on their boats with them. Yesterday, Plan B, a 42-foot Fountaine Pajout catamaran, wanted him to come over to tear apart his alternator with the captain, and today Dan off Pegasus is going to have Karl resolder their broken autopilot. It’s kind of great to think that maybe he could get work just fixing up broken electronics on other people’s boats. Not that he’d ever charge our friends (and I don’t always think that he’s brave enough about asserting the knowledge that he has. He thinks everyone knows what he knows, that it’s obvious, when that’s the farthest thing from the truth), but if we find a big harbor full of laid-up yachts, he could probably do pretty well. He really wishes that he’d brought more electronic supplies. If he’d brought everything he had, he could probably even be building circuit boards for people.

It’s fun to use the barter system, too. We could probably get everything we needed from the other boats in the harbor, and we could probably trade them for something that we had on our boat or a skill that we had. Plan B offered us a Racor water-separating fuel filter for our diesel, exactly what we need, for having Karl help him with the alternator, and Dee (off Pegasus) is helping me repair our 130-percent genoa’s rip along the spreader with her Sailrite sewing machine in exchange for the autopilot repair. They’ve also invited us for lamb chops for lunch, which sounds fantastic--we haven’t had fresh meat in eons. I feel a little bad, because we can’t exactly reciprocate. Yesterday they came over for a little bit of a visit, and all I could offer was lukewarm, bad-tasting water, fantastic hostess that I am. I kept racking my brain for some kind of snack food I could feed them, and somehow I couldn’t come up with one among cabbages, hot peppers, coffee creamer, and uncooked rice. Even though we survive off dried and salted meats, beans, cabbage, and rice, I don’t expect other people to!

Even if we could offer reciprocal hospitality, I’m a little embarrassed to even have people on our boat because of the head smell. I haven’t been on a boat yet where there wasn’t a slight bad tinge of head smell, but at least they can let guests use their heads. I live in horror of the day when someone needs to use our head, and I have to say--just stand back when you pump to avoid the spray. The little sewer-ish smell is something I’ve gotten used to, as is the horrific whiff of methane gas from the outside vent when you pump into the holding tank. It’s just funny--we’re using a holding tank, the way we’re supposed to, not out of choice but for lack of any other setup, and our head is the embarrassing one. Everyone else pumps directly out into the harbor, but at least they can have guests over.

Was it Oscar Wilde who said, “Everyone likes the smell of their own farts”? Maybe it’s like that in the cruising life: everyone likes the smell of their own head.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
E-SE 10-15 knots, gusting to 20

Karl is currently on the cell phone, which is suddenly and just as mysteriously working again, and he has been for the last three hours talking to his family. So he just spent about three months of our budget. Cell phones are dangerous things. I’ve spent that time catching up on my sister’s wonderful blog that everyone should read. If I was typing this up online I’d give you a link, but since I’m typing it on the crappy AppleWorks program, I’ll just have to tell you that I’ve linked to it over to the right. The link should say, my sister’s wonderful blog about Bob Dylan and motherhood.

So this is for Erica, because I know it will give you that wonderful, beautiful tingly feeling of longing and happiness and sadness all at once, that I know that both you and me get but I don’t know if anyone else gets. This is from one of the New Yorkers (the fashion issue!) that you gave me:

Four Poems

I’d like to buy her some toffee
but I don’t have a daughter

as I pass a sidewalk store in autumn.
the mother has fallen asleep
so her baby is listening all alone
to the sound of the night train.
Frogs croaking in flooded paddies--
if there really is a world beyond,
echo far enough so my dead brother can hear.
A boat whistles in the night.
For a moment I too long to sail away

but merely pull the blanket up over the kids

--Ko Un (translated from the Korean)

So too all you people out there pulling the blanket over the kids, longing to sail away, I raise a glass to you. Your lives are beautiful, too. All our lives are, if only we recognized it at the time. Even our two-week debacle anchored out, which I will probably remember in the future as paradisiacal, and at the time I was miserable and complaining and hot. Now (other than listening to Karl rack up the phone bill--at least 70 cents a minute, kaching, kaching) the breeze through the fore-hatch is blowing against my newly washed legs from the sun shower, I’ve just spent two hours communing with my sister whom I love (although she doesn’t know it), and I’m realizing just how content I am out here. How happy. How much progress I’ve made in the last five years towards being truly happy. Five years ago I couldn’t have said that--I was one of those people who always worried about the things she wasn’t doing when she was doing something else. What’s the point? Karl’s taught me a lot about that, Jesus has taught me a lot more.

Oh, and I want to tell you Erica, because I’m probably not going to be able to afford any time on the phone thanks to Karl’s current verbosity, that I had a dream about Sophia the other night--during the storm in the night I woke up and she was in my arms, her frail two-year-old body all naked and bony in a cloth diaper, the way yours used to be when you were two and we would sleep together in our double bed. I clutched her to me to keep her safe and in the dream I kept calling her “Little Melissa.” She was “Little Melissa” to me. I don’t know how you’ll feel about that, as her mother, but I do feel close to her, even so far away.

The hardest thing about this, bar none, is being away from our families and friends and the people we love. Hands down. There’s nothing harder about this--not the weather, not the sailing, not the head stank, not the endless corned-beef hash and resulting cottage-cheese thighs, not the money. The hardest thing about this adventure is knowing that our parents and grandparents are growing older without us there, that our nieces and nephews are growing up and forgetting about their crazy aunt and uncle off in never-never-land, that our friends and us are growing apart--they’re having adventures and making friends we know nothing about. We were warned, but it doesn’t prepare you for that wrenching jolt of being away from people, of the holes in your lives when those people get torn away.

That’s what this adventure with the Royal Bahamian Defense Force is making us realize. Our family is going to worry about us, and we need to have a plan for dealing with that. We are going to need to budget more for communications, something else that wasn’t even on the list. We’re going to need to make an effort to be places with phone and e-mail coverage. These things are not luxuries, they’re essentials. That’s a difficult thing to realize, but maybe a good one. We all need to make a conscious effort to connect with the people we love in our lives.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas
0 nm
Wind: E-SE 5-10 knots

I’m in the lobby of the Peace and Plenty, where internet access is $5 for a half-hour. Karl’s just been to the grocery store to buy us apples and oranges and eggs, and Plan B has invited us over for hors d’oeuvres this evening. I feel warm and content--we have friends, we have family that loves us and worries about us, and we’re someplace where we can get all the things we need for the next several months. Everyone we meet is heading to Luperon, in the Dominican Republic, three French-Canadian boats, our Australian friends, another young couple on a 27-foot boat that’s ahead of us, everyone. It might be good companionship down there, but if the harbor’s full of boats, I’m not sure it’s the best place to be for hurricane season. Even the hurricanes feel far away, though. As the Gentleman’s Guide says, what are the chances that they’ll come and hit our little patch of earth? If one does, I’m sure we can find a patch of mangroves to hide in.

I’m feeling a little guilty, as always when I use the internet, because I’ve overstayed my half-hour and the ladies in the office are glaring at me. That price is a little steep, so I don’t feel too many moral qualms. Karl’s getting a little fed up with the Bahamian men forever hitting on me. It’s a little bit like mid-century Italy here. They say it’s worse in Cuba and Jamaica, that men will cut right in between a lady and her companion, but Karl’s already sick of it here. I keep trying to explain that it’s merely a cultural difference, but I’m not sure he buys it.

The people everywhere are a little overwhelming, and it’s not quite as friendly as at Farmers Cay. They’re more used to cruisers, and I feel the need to be a little on guard against graft. I have a Bahamian gentleman lounging on the couch next to me, waiting to get my attention, among several others who have already offered to be tour guides. I love the Bahamians, but it’s hard to know when one is being taken advantage of. Our friends in Pegasus took a tour of Andros with a guy they thought was their friend, who then presented them a bill for $100 at the end of the day.

This is even the first place where I've had some worries about leaving our boat open. Sometimes we'll lock it anyway, just as a deterrent, but here we're close to shore. The boat's in view if I peek around the corner, but it's still just a little weird. I almost think my qualms have more to do with being in the big city again, after so long in isolation. All these people! All this bustle and hustle! I can't deal with more than one of them at a time.

I better take off, before I rouse the indignant ire of the kind office ladies, and before I get too much attention from my gentleman caller. We'll be here for two weeks, and my fondest hope is that I'll be able to post photos before we leave. We have some great ones--fish, starfish, white sand beaches, all that jazz. I'll do my best to pirate some bandwidth. I hope I haven't been too whiny the last couple of weeks. It's been rough, and I hope I've come out stronger.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E-SE 10-15 knots

Our families called the Royal Bahamian Defense Force. I guess they thought we were dead, or something. I feel more than a little guilty. Maybe we shouldn’t have told them it would only take us two weeks to get to Georgetown. Or we need a better way of getting in touch with them. Karl called the Bahamian Defense Force and let them know we were alive, on the cell phone that is suddently and mysteriously working.

We had a great day, though--I did laundry, which is always a great way to meet friendly Bahamian women, and Karl filled up our water tanks. We’ve also run into two groups of friends here, which is really how people get stuck in Georgetown. Our friend Adam on Eve, who we last saw in Bimini, and a couple from Arizona on a beautiful 42-foot Fountaine Pajoit catamaran named Plan B. We first heard of them on the radio when someone said, “We’re going to go to Plan B,” and we thought to ourselves, plan B? What was plan A? But we met them for the first time on Normans Cay, and now I feel like the life of the party. We have friends to hang out with, food to eat, water to drink. Life’s good. And Pegasus is due to arrive tomorrow. They ended up staying at their marina for two weeks. Even at 70 cents a foot, two weeks is an expensive marina stay. I’m glad we didn’t leave Galliot after all.

The best part of the day was hanging out at the Peace and Plenty Inn, poolside and dockside, with all our friends, and then moving to Eddie’s Edgewater, where we had a beautiful grouper finger and crack-conch dinner with french fries and a green salad. I wolfed down my salad. I never thought something would taste better than french fries, but I think that salad did. As did the conch, which tasted--I swear--as good as New England lobster. After our conch debacle the other day, I was incredulous. Those Bahamians know what to do with conch, that’s for sure.

We also have our SSB receiver in the mail, thank God, so soon we should be able to have good weather forecasting. Karl’s poking around to farmers, to find out where we can buy 100 pounds each of onions and potatoes, as well as ten dozen eggs. We’ll be set by the time we leave here. The market here is fantastic--I was in awe, wandering around, staring at the Bounty and the portabellos and the truffle oil. A real grocery store! We tried to convince Adam to come back to our boat for the night--he ended up breaking his rudder post, fixing it himself in the harbor, but then having the boat hauled by the local marina. He’s going to leave it here for the season and head back to New York to work for the man. We’re hoping he’ll return and head farther south next year. Life is good. Karl and I had a long discussion and cleared the air this morning. My claustrophobia has dissipated, and I feel happy to be in the Bahamas, happy to be alive.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Big Galliot Cay to Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

39.5 nm
Wind: SW-S 10-15 knots, dropping to 5-10
Seas: flat
Latitude: 20°30.54’N
Longitude: 075°46.14’W
Maximum speed: 5.5 knots (motor-sailing)
Average speed: 4.3 knots

We did it. We made it. All for a round of the Hallelujah Chorus. I know I certainly am hallelujahing away. It was a beautiful motor-sail, too--we didn’t try to sail it for better pointing and to use up the dirty diesel in our tank. Getting the batteries fully charged was a nice side-benefit. The whole sail was a lot less eventful than all the buildup. A nice simple close-reach down in flat seas. It’s enough to make you believe in this whole wait for weather thing, despite all my complaining.

The fun part was lunch--we ended up staying up past midnight last night catching fish! A red snapper, whose tail caught us a yellowfin tuna!! I only wish we’d been catching fish all this time instead of on the last night. So Karl was up late, spreading blood and guts all throughout the cockpit, and hacking heads off fish. I always feel guilty about leaving him with those dirty, stinky jobs, but the tuna was certainly delicious fried up with garlic and olive oil for lunch, over the tabbouleh I made for dinner last night. And we still have the snapper marinating for dinner tonight.

We sailed into Conch Cut, tacking back and forth to avoid the shoals like real pros. I guess we remember how to sail. The sky was perfectly blue, reflected in the water, the coral visible beneath the water. Everything was perfect, just as we had planned--the perfect slack-tide cut entrance. Georgetown Harbor is a lot more picturesque than I had imagined. I can see how people get stuck here. There’s town on one side of the harbor, and white-sand beaches on the other, with great anchorages in every corner and little beach shacks selling food and drink. We dinghied over to town after we anchored and walked around in dumbfounded silence. Civilization! We were in awe of the Shell station and the grocery store and the pay phones dotting the place. I’m sure we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies, or refugees right off the boat.

The stores, unfortunately, were all closed by the time we got to town, so we’ll have to wait until tomorrow for cold drinks and fresh fruit. Just fresh non-algae-crusted water is a blessing. We sailed in with under a quart, completely dehydrated. So the free water on the dinghy dock here tastes fantastic. We’ll get stuff done in town tomorrow, and tonight we still have fish to eat.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Big Galliot Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SW 15-20 knots
Seas: 3-5 feet offshore

We didn’t leave today. Surprised? I’m not, but I’m absolutely sick about it. I feel like vomiting. I don’t care anymore. I’ll beat as long as you want me to, cavort upwind in 25-knot wind and thunderstorms, laugh in the face of eight-foot crosscurrent swell, coming into a coral-strewn harbor against the tide after dark--I don’t care! If Karl said, “Up anchor,” I’d say, “Aye aye, captain,” at this very moment, even though our day’s light is almost gone.

It’s a beautiful day, fifteen-knot breeze almost due west, and every time I look at the blue sky and the few scattered mare’s tails I try not to be sick. Why didn’t we leave? Why? What’s wrong with us?

Karl doesn’t seem to be affected. He’s peaceably reading a book in the vee-berth. I don’t know how he doesn’t let these things get to him. Of course, he’s much more in control than I am, being captain and all, and it was his decision not to leave this morning. I, as mere crew, can only question in dumbfounded silence.

I fear this interlude is driving a wedge between us. I understand how couples have a hard time out here. I didn’t agree with his decision this morning, and I don’t agree now. Still, someone has to make the decisions. Maybe he’s right. Or maybe we’ve just become craven, huddling day after day in our little hole, like Narnian Talking Beasts who lose their ability to speak. (We’re on to the Chronicles of Narnia in our collective reading, the one bright spot in our lengthened days--Go Team Aslan!)

It’s probably just the all-around filth. The humidity today is 100 percent, according ot the radio, meaning that I’m covered in that sticky, salt-crusted sweat that only an hour-long shower will remove. My last one of those is so far away as to seem like a dream of a far-off land, or like the sun to those in Plato’s cave. I stink, even though I changed clothes today. My stock of clean clothes is rapidly dwindling. I noticed today (after choosing to ignore it for some time) that my sheets are covered in yellowish-brown slime from weeks of salt and sweat and dirt and grime. Flies were landing on my pillow this morning. The dishes are piled up in unwieldy heaps. I can’t seem to bring myself to face the conch slime. Our last four gallons of freshwater have cloudy clumps of algae in them, despite our attempts to kill them with bleach.

I need to make a better effort to not complain, I know. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe we did come too soon, maybe we did need an SSB radio and more water jugs and buckets so I could do some freaking laundry and a windmill and maybe a reverse-osmosis water filter. I can’t allow myself to think that. I’m just more of a Type A personality than I had realized, and God is obviously trying to teach me patience in discomfort. We’ll come out stronger, better able to predict weather, more ready to grab windows when they happen. I believe that. Lord, help my disbelief.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Big Galliot Cay, Exumas, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: SE-S 20-27 knots
Seas: 8-10 feet offshore

The big news today: second tropical storm of the year, Barry, heading towards the Gulf of Mexico, nearing Florida. It makes me glad we didn’t stay in the US. Perturbed, also. Hurricane season is upon us. Now is the time when we need mangroves always at our backs.

The wind has picked up again, big time--the forecast is for gale-force gusts out of the southeast tonight, so our little spot perfectly protected from northeast swell is useless. It just doesn’t get any better. I aim for eternal optimism and my hope still dwindles every day. When are we going to get out of here? I see now why everyone abandons the Gentleman’s Guide and bucks on into thirty-knot trade winds and ten-foot seas. Something, anything, would be better than this limbo, this stasis.

We have to leave tomorrow. Have to. The wind’s forecast to shift west, one of the things the Gentleman’s Guide has been telling us to wait for, and even if it’s at twenty knots, it’s better than fifteen knots out of the southeast, on the nose, which is what we’ll have for the next week if we wait another day. How we’ll sleep tonight, though, with this swell, I don’t know.

In all of my complaining, though, these last two weeks (and I’m really doing my level best not to complain too much, I swear, even though that my seem improbable), I had forgotten how truly awful it is to have two-foot chop rolling in at you at anchor, how it reduces every task to an absolute endeavor, every chore to a Sisyphean effort. Even using the head, pouring water, walking from one end of the cabin to the other. I hadn’t appreciated how expertly we had chosen our little spot, how carefully we were protected from the northeast, how actually comfortable the last two weeks of interminable waiting have been. The grass is always greener, right? Now we’re overcome by existentialist ennui and depression, and though we should move to get more protection from the south, we probably won’t. Not that there’s anywhere to move to. All the anchorages around here are shallow, with disreputable holding and barely any space.

So I cling to this hope: west wind tomorrow. Then Georgetown, beautiful Georgetown, mythical Georgetown, like the lost city of Atlantis, beckoning only forty miles to the south!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Hurricane season begins...

Big Galliot Cay, Exumas, Bahamas
0 nm
Wind: E-SE 20-27 knots
Seas: 6-8 feet offshore

I’ve been rereading my last two weeks of entries to overcome the depression that’s settle on my shoulders like a cirrostratus cloud. They don’t sound as bad as they’ve felt. I’m glad I’ve managed to remain relatively chipper, at least on paper.

We went to the island again today--a big step, even though it was cold and windy and stormy. Because the wind’s shifted to the southeast, I felt safe enough snorkeling among the rocks and coral, something I hadn’t done yet. The fish here are breathtaking, perhaps just because of my long absence from them. I pulled out my Peterson Field Guide to Caribbean Seashores when I got back to the boat, a great value (it was included in our boat’s purchase price, though unsurveyed), and it’s great fun scouring it for the genus and species names of Purple Sea Fans and Disk Algae. I might be using a lot more Latin in my journal entries from here on. I may even develop an affection for sea cucumbers, the one animal I’ve been most afraid of since I was a wee child, though they’re utterly harmless. I saw a gargantuan black spiked one today, and I stayed as far away from it as I could. If I had had my Peterson Guide, I may have been seduced into identifying it. I only wish I had a fish guide, but I’ll make do with coral and shells.

We also took a conch today, a giant granddaddy of a conch that I discovered, and about which I feel profound guilt. We were hungry, though, and living off couscous and sausage and sardines just wasn’t cutting it. Not to mention watching the Bahamian fishermen waltz by in their fishing boats with 180 conch a day, and our little cruising neighbors taking them just for bait, and the ocean floor littered with crushed shards of pink shell left by past boats. “One measly conch,” I convinced myself. “Fried with our last onion over rice. Delicious. What could it hurt?”

A lot, evidently. My conscience, for one. Karl bashed the thing in the cockpit for what felt like hours with a ball-peen hammer, while I shuddered in the corner, the whacks resounding in the hull, the conch still alive and huddled in its formerly gorgeous curled shell, oozing green fecal matter. Karl finally gave up bashing it after scattering knife-sharp shell fragments, sand, yellow and brown goo, and sickening conch death smell all over our boat. I discovered that the Joy of Cooking recommends boiling them for three minutes and then “easily” removing the meat with a skewer.

So we dutifully boiled the conch alive, half-crushed, for three minutes, then five, then ten, until Karl was able to “easily” remove it. The Joy of Cooking also says that everything is edible and “delicious” aside from the operculum, the hard disk that serves as a door to the conch’s shell. Gazing at the gray-green interior end of the conch, full of internal organs and linings and mucus and black ooze, filled me with dismay. Karl cut off its cute little face, at least, to use for bait, leaving inch-long chunks of black eye-stem to go in our pot. He was unable to tenderize it as we had done for the conch cleaned for us by our Bahamian friends, it having been boiled for ten minutes. Even the chunks he was able to hew it into were huge because it was so tough.

Our dinner was intestiny, mucusy, and full of sand. We didn’t discover the inner sand-filtering lining that we were evidently supposed to remove. I got what I deserved for my moral turpitude. I don’t think I’ll be taking conch anytime soon. We have a huge pot of leftovers (there’s so much meat in a conch!) and I don’t know if I’ll be able to stomach anymore. I feel so badly for Karl--it was his idea, he did all the hard work of bashing and cooking and cleaning, and for what? A barely edible, albeit quite flavorful, meal. It sums up our lives lately. We’re trying, hard, and all we’re doing is running in place.