Deb’s Rock

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Descending from Glee with a soft thud of my old walking boots breaking the dawn silence on the dinghy hull, I tilt the outboard to get the propeller out of the water, deploy the oars and gently row away toward a clearing by the two tugs moored near Mount Fortune.

The morning is still, with hardly a ripple on the lagoon. There’s no-one else around, I could be the only man on Earth in this moment. The ‘slip, slop’ of the the oars stirring the water’s surface massages my mind for the few minutes it takes to reach the shallows. It’s a temporary relief from the pain of tragic news of the sudden passing of a close friend and lover.

The Sun had not yet risen but was now painting the tops of the cotton-candy clouds a new-born pink. Today is the dawn following the vernal equinox. The Sun had crossed the Equator confirming the end of the long British winter and on it’s way north to dry out my homeland and to turn up the heat in the Caribbean. I had felt happy to have escaped the cold and damp alone, but today I felt like I’d abandoned a treasured friend.

The water here looks about 3 inches deep but the dinghy’s draft is shallow enough to clear the bottom and I reach the cluster of rocks protruding from the shallows. The rocks are unyielding and solidly support my weight to keep my boots dry as I step across to land. The trunk of a nearby shrub offers the perfect mooring point.  It doesn’t cross my mind to use the lock and cable. I leave it unlocked.

If this land is private, I don’t care. We all belong to the land, the land belongs to no-one. Ownership is an illusion created by men and supported only by a collective belief.

I didn’t sleep well last night. Grief, guilt, regret, memories and thoughts of lost opportunities sprout out of the shock of unexpected loss. I think of all the things left unsaid, projects left unfinished and dreams left unfulfilled.

Glee is only about a hundred metres south of me but, even this close, gives the impression to be too small to be a home for anyone. The branches of the shrubs are low but thin and easily brushed aside as I turn to move inland. Within a dozen strides, grassland opens up before me.

This is not Britain; there are no badgers and hedgehogs here so what sort of creatures lurk beneath the undergrowth? I take a stick and sweep the knee high grass as I walk in order to disturb any snakes or whatever might be startled upon my sudden arrival. The vista is not so different from places I’ve been back home and reminds me of our stealth camping adventures around Britain. My throat starts to tighten and squeezes tears up to my eyes over the memories.

I bear left into the woodland. The trees are not as dense as they appear from the water and I easily crouch and duck my way through the woods and over the rise toward the rock at the end of the peninsula. Apart from some discarded boat batteries and beer bottles as I walk along the incline, the place seems unspoiled by civilisation and the land soon levels out to a clearing on a leafy Plateau.

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Through the branches of the trees I can see the boats on the lagoon but I myself am concealed from sight. Deb would have loved hanging out here. It would be places like this on our travels that we’d cook up a meal, read, doze in the hammock and quietly repack the van before moving on. These places were never a destination and we rarely visited the same place twice. Yes, we both would have loved spending some time here. I continue on, for today I have a purpose: to conquer Mount Fortune in the memory of Deb.

I arrive at the foot of the eastern side of the rock and look up, the climb looks too steep and the footholds too far apart so I edge around to the north to find an easier route. The western side beckons me to the summit, not so steep and with plenty of footholds; some steps were a stretch but it was neither difficult or dangerous.

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The sun had cleared the eastern hills and had beaten me to the summit. No matter, standing next to the cellphone mast, looking across to all points of the lagoon. I see the whole of the Dutch side to the south, the Lowlands to the west and, to the north, I make out Fort Louis at Marigot and even the island of Anguilla beyond. The view is spectacular. Below me, a small dinghy carves a white line into the dark blue water.  The livening easterly wind turns the faces of the yachts into the sun in unison, as if to present them for worship at its arrival.

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I wander around the mast taking photographs and eventually settle on a rock. The sun slowly escapes the hills and I take time to indulge my random thoughts.

Call it what you like, this is now ‘Deb’s Rock.’ If I had been the first Westerner here, ‘Deb’s Rock’ would be printed on every chart and map in the world. But this is the 21st century. What’s left to be discovered for us in this world? Wherever we go today, the towels are already on the deckchairs…

Grief comes in waves; in peaks and troughs. But unlike the ocean you can’t see them coming, you can only feel the effect as they pass. Here on the summit, I feel numb inside but I know this won’t last. The brain chatters like a waterfall, the heart surges like an ocean swell in a gale and the stomach knots up like a seasick passenger.

I’d stay here all day but what would be the point? I’d done what I set out to do. I’ve admired the beauty of the world and digested the experience. What’s left is all internal and I can take it with me back to Glee.

My own life is not yet done. Each day is a bonus. A bonus that Deb no longer has. If it were possible, I’d trade some of my time to have her sharing this day with me now; or the last few weeks on Glee; one more chance to get her out of the house that, on one hand, held so many good memories for her and her family, plus sustained her with an income, yet ultimately became a prison for her soul…

But these thoughts are futile. Whatever I would have done differently, it still would never have felt enough in the end. And if our choices happen to lead us to a path of self sacrifice then that’s no good to anyone.

Nevertheless, I feel I’ve somehow missed an opportunity for us both and I can change nothing about it now except change the feeling itself.

I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. (Ho’oponopono: ancient Hawaiian healing prayer)

 

Tip of the day: Live each day like it may be your last because someday you’ll be right.

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In Memory of Debbie Bulman:

2nd July 1961 – 21st March 2016

Billy Folly

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I bring the dinghy into Palapa dinghy dock cutting the engine early, drifting the last few feet on a light following breeze. I lock it to the rail, grab my backpack and step out onto the quayside. I’m the first of our group at Vesna Taverna for our regular Sunday morning breakfast but our usual table and the neighbouring tables are taken.

I turn around and sit at the picnic table outside under a palm tree and take out my notepad and pen to start some kind of to-do list for the day. Instead, I start to sketch a redesign for the layout of Glee. Mike walks in, barefoot as usual. I wonder how he deals with the the shards of glass along the side of the road. His soles must be like leather. I can barely walk along gravel without looking like an impression of a pigeon. I stuff my things back into the bag and join him at the bar just as Jaco and Johan from Atlantech Divers roll up and we quickly grab our regular table now that it had been vacated. Mason arrives as we are about to order and we set about simply enjoying each other’s company in a shared meal.

Mason and Mike have so much to say, I end up listening in fascination most of the time. How can these people know so much? Boat life is perfect for reading and working stuff out. Our boats are little sanctuaries of peace, study and tranquillity.  Glee still needs some work but is patiently waiting for the end of my ‘non-doing’ phase. There is a dilemma here that work is going to cost while leisure is free; it’s the opposite of having a job where work usually means income.

Our two hour breakfast quickly passes and I ponder what to do for the three hours before the Mexican Train Dominoes starts at Little Jerusalem. I hadn’t played it before but I heard the game broadcast on the VHF Radio Net for cruisers around the lagoon. Besides, it’s an opportunity to make new contacts.

Mike points East down Airport Road and suggests exploring the road to the South that joins next to Burger King. Tick, next… that will be at least an hour taken care of.

It’s hot along the roadside and the shops and cafes both shield the breeze and trap the Sun’s heat and I feel the sweat building between my back, t-shirt and Cabin Max backpack. This bag was designed for airports, not hiking in the tropics.

In the shade at the Burger King Junction. My cheap and cheerful tourist map shows that the road loops round the shore in an elongated circuit or fizzles out indeterminately. When I look around, I see one road that veers off at thirty degrees South of East and another that seems to turn back on itself to the South West, which has to be the one that follows the shore further down.

These thin soled deck shoes are not made for walking but Mike’s bare feet return to mind. These will do nicely. The road winds around and up and down quaint palm tree fringed resorts, cafes and casinos. The resorts and time-shares hint toward retirement homes rather than holiday accommodation. People must come here for relaxation rather than activity.  It’s a different feel to the main drag through Simpson Bay.

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A green iguana and I startle each other and it races off down the side-walk with it’s comedy waddling gait along the foot of a wall looking for cover, by the time I take out my camera, it’s barely visible beneath the palm tree on the lawn around the end of the wall. I rest for 5 minutes removing my pack and cap to cool down.

There’s rumour of a breeze, which is faintly heard in this neighbourhood. I get a glance from a man in a small white Hyundai as he approaches the junction and turns left up the hill. It must look as if I’m waiting for a lift or something. There’s no-one around and nothing at this junction apart from private apartments and time-shares, gleaming white in their immaculate paint under the tropical sun, and closely cropped lawns.

I stride economically up the hill in the wake of the white Hyundai and in the dappled shade of the palm trees feeling no cooler than before. I turn right continuing uphill to the peak of Billy Folly. There’s nobody on the streets, cars are in drives and wrought iron gates with security intercoms are closed.

The road is steep and eventually, the surface changes to a shale track and starts to level out through shrubs and short trees but there are no signs or gates restricting access. At the end of the track is a turning area, service building and storage tank. It appears to be a dead end. A finely worn groove hints is the clue that the route to the peak skirts a twenty metre diameter holding tank and up through some shrubs. Before I know it I’m on top of a slab of white pumice presented fully to the fifteen knot cooling easterly trade wind and a perfect view of the island from Cole Bay to Anguilla, 9 miles North of St Martin. To the south is an expanse of royal blue ocean flecked with flashing white horses. The place is beautiful. I can see the whole of the lagoon,  the giant yachts in the lagoon marinas below me, Glee at the foot of Mount Fortune just over the causeway, Marigot and Fort Loius beyond, the white buildings of Anguilla toward the horizon and the KLM 747 over at Princess Julianna Airport preparing for its departure for Amsterdam. An unexpected pleasure on this Sunday… what time is it?

After taking some pictures I make my way back down the hill, I wasn’t expecting this outing so I didn’t have any water with me. I feel hot and tired as I start to dehydrate. I slow a little and distract myself with the scenery. Twenty minutes later I’m perched on a stool at the Buccaneer Beach Bar and order a glass of iced water and a bottle of Presidente lager. No rush.

Manchester City are playing Manchester United on the flat screen behind the bar; echoes of a former existence. The faces of the football fans look milky white from the long British winter. Twelfth January I left the UK but it seems like a year. I’d packed light for a two month air-conditioned stay in Houston and I look incongruous in salt stained deck shoes, heavy jeans and navy coloured t-shirt. I’m hot and in need of some shorts and sandals.

Downing the water, I suck on the ice cubes and think of Debbie; of our summer travels around the southern counties of England and our winter escapes in Egypt. As beautiful as this location is, it loses some of its lustre without the sharing of it. I see someone approach out of the corner of my eye. Moving my backpack off the stool, a man sits next to me with a nod of thanks. I nod back but we don’t speak. The condensation runs down the beer bottle like a cold sweat.

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I sip at my beer as he half watches the football over the top of a bar menu, I guess it must be lunch time. I quietly finish my beer, don my cap and backpack and shuffle along the soft sandy beach like some sort of displaced time traveller…

I’m late for the Dominoes…

Thought for the day: You can’t really plan for adventure since adventure lives in the ‘not yet known,’ which means having to overcome the fear of uncertainty.  Embracing uncertainty is the route to the life you dream of and all its treasures along the way.

Barnacles

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The seabed in the lagoon has a gentle slope up to the beach at Great Key, a small island in the lagoon unofficially known as Explorer Island, which means I have to step out of the dinghy into the water before I reach the shore. What is this growth under the water, does it sting? I don’t want to get my shoes wet. I step barefoot out of the bow and I pull the Dinghy up to the sandy beach – all’s well. The small beach faces west and is enclosed by shrubs that make it fairly private. A wrecked wooden fishing boat lies 20 metres to the south in the water as does a cosy looking barbecue area, under a single palm tree, separated by the waterline. If I wasn’t alone, I’d be making more a more leisurely use of this hideaway.

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The sun is quickly gaining in ferocity since I failed to set off at dawn for taking advantage of the most comfortable temperatures. What is it, about 10.30? It must be 80F/26C in the shade already.

I unload the dinghy placing the fuel tank into the shade of a shrub on the beach, take off the outboard and flip the dinghy upside down half in the water and half up the beach. The cooling water on my feet counteracts the effects of wearing a black t-shirt in direct sun.

There are not many weeds but lots of barnacles across the hull. Oxalic acid and a wipe, the Google search told me. Spraying the oxalic acid got the sea lice scurrying from under cover of the weed and the bottle only just about covered the hull.

“I want to clean the underside of my dinghy” I said to the folks at Budget Marine. “You need this.” handing me a giant green scotch-bright pad.  The weeds wiped off fairly easily but the barnacles were stubbornly ripping the pad to pieces. The oxalic acid hadn’t touched them at all. They were still welded to the hull.

The edge of a screwdriver was slow but effective. rotating my cap to shield the sun from burning my neck, I set about dislodging the shellfish. A sweeping sideways movement of the screwdriver shaft dislodged 80% of them but the other 20% needed a diligent chiselling motion to avoid the screwdriver going through the soft fabric.

Thirty minutes later, I was onto the outboard. The outboard is heavy and I am feeble through inactivity but I find an old Mercury outboard cover used as a seat in the barbecue area and invert it to use as a cradle. On the end of the leg, just above the propeller is a delta wing. Underneath the wing was a wing shaped colony of barnacles with no view remaining of the surface they clung to. Patient chiselling with the screwdriver cleared it in about 20 minutes and another 5 minutes on the propeller had that clear too. It was hot work and I had soon finished my water bottle. After reassembling the outboard and reloading the dinghy, I steered out into the lagoon. I was on the leeward side of the island so the water was almost mirror flat. I’d earned myself a reward and started off toward the causeway and then south to the Dinghy Dock to get something to eat. The dinghy was up on the plane in no time and skimmed along the surface like a pebble across a pond, what a difference. How much fuel had I been wasting by dragging this sea life around with me?

Out of the lee of the island I was against the wind on a rough chop which made the extra speed bouncing from crest to crest with the dinghy  contents jumping up and down uncomfortable and dangerous. Three quarter throttle was just about right for the rest of the way.

Cafe Atlantico is a French bakery on Airport Road, Simpson Bay. Approaching the cafe, Mike from Quinn spots me passing the neighbouring mini-mart and calls out from the check out. The attention from people makes me feel popular and I spend enough time alone to enjoy company when it’s available and gladly amble together with Mike onto the cafe’s wooden veranda. The breeze is perfect for helping me cool down. I take off my cap and put it on my lap to feel the cooling effect of the sweat evaporate from my forehead into the breeze.

For $10, I get a carton of coconut water to quickly rehydrate myself and wait for my Mexican omelette to arrive. Mike had already eaten so he sips iced tea and updates me on his latest project whilst watching me eat. Somehow, being watched feels uncomfortable and I find myself eating faster than usual.

Mike’s an interesting guy: a single-handed transatlantic sailor who alternates between St Maarten and the Canaries each season. He created the Nimble Navigator Navstick which is a USB stick that plugs into a laptop and contains a GPS and all the charts of the world so you can see and plot your position in real time from your computer. He was telling me about his new project of integrating Automatic Identification System (AIS) which shows ships in the vicinity of VHF range. Collision in the ocean from freighters is a serious risk so having ships visible on your plotter is a big bonus when you’re out in the ocean. His claims of laziness aren’t well founded – he just does what interests him to generate an income from his peeling boat, which doesn’t include painting. Whereas, I think about what might interest me for no income at all, which also doesn’t include painting. I win.

Tip for the day: As soon as you’re aware of procrastinating just do one small thing for five minutes to stop the barnacles from dragging on your mental to-do list. Do it if it’s likely to get worse with time, delegate it if necessary. Ditch it if it isn’t important but whatever you do, get back to living a life you love. And if you aren’t doing that then you need to find out what that is and start navigating toward it.

Check Mate

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Monday,  a rainy day in paradise. I’m laid out in the fore-peak getting online stuff done while the rain drops beat a drum-roll on the hatch. It’s a comfortable 75 F (24 C) although it feels muggy with it. I’ve been collecting water off the awning into my 25 litre canisters. I doubt there is any pollution to worry about here but need to be careful of bacteria if I keep it for very long.

Saturday was the monthly flea market at Time Out Boat Yard (TOBY). The previous night’s rain had deposited a few gallons of water in the dinghy which needed to be bailed before setting off. Also the slow air leak needed compensation with the pump to firm up the chambers. This would be the furthest trip I’d made since fixing the carb problem in Port de Plaisance. It was a pretty stiff east north-easterly across the open northern part of the lagoon and any breakdown here would have see me blown out to the western side of the lagoon near the airport.

The motor was sounding sweet but the choppy waves were slapping the starboard side of the Dinghy and giving me a soaking. Moving to the port side gave me the feeling that any gusts under the starboard might flip me over. The other thing with switching sides is that the throttle control feels awkward since using the left hand on the starboard side rolls it backwards to accelerate while the right hand on the port side rolls it forwards. The whole thing feels reversed.  I settled for crouching low in the centre of the dinghy. Uncomfortable but not far to go.

It was gone ten by the time I got round to embarking on this outing and people at TOBY looked like they were already to wind down but there were still lots of interesting items available. I had a bit of a casual browse. I spotted Des from the night on the catamaran on a metre squared stall selling his Irish Coffees – he’s a specialist, that was his only product. He told me that Irish Coffee has the four major food groups: sugar, caffiene, alcohol and fat. Sounds like a fair breakfast, so I bought one. Does a good job of lightening the head on a warm, sunny Saturday morning.

After dumping my trash and happily discovering a glass recycling container, I was on my way back to Glee. A dip in the lagoon and a quick shower after lunch was a great reviver physically and mentally.  I’ve been here a month now and this tropical paradise has become almost as normal to my senses as mowing the lawn and driving to work in the 8.40am drizzle used to be. It’s clear that I didn’t just buy a boat here, I bought a whole new lifestyle in a ready made community. This part came without a price tag but is probably the most valuable part of the whole deal.

Saturday afternoon was chess at Little Jerusalem. A great excuse for sitting with people for long periods without having to say a word apart from “Sorry, is it my go?” I hadn’t played chess for years but I enjoyed it. Won one, lost one but both games were fun and I got to know some more salty sea dogs.

Skimming across the lagoon, I looked down at the basket where I keep my things out of the bilge: empty. I had bought some almonds, crisps and a baguette. They were still on the dock where I had been preoccupied with untying the dinghy without blowing into the shore. I couldn’t just leave it since my wallet and phone were in the same bag. Technically, the bag hadn’t left my line of sight but if anyone wanted to, they could have walked off with it while I observed from a safe distance while returning to the dock from the water. If I have a system of checking I have everything with me, it doesn’t work very well.

Sunday at breakfast, we were talking about the ideal model of Government and it was settled on that individual self-governance would probably be the best. All other governing models force the will of the majority, dictator or oligarchy upon the rest. We seem to have self-governance here in the lagoon. Technically, we are under French jurisdiction but they leave us alone. We are all individuals that do their own thing without interfering with the rights of others but if anyone runs into trouble, the community kicks in to come to their aid. This is the free-est I’ve felt since I was 4 years old, when ‘the law’ said I had to go to school or else. This model only probably works below a certain size threshold before it breaks down and society becomes vulnerable to corrupt and greedy  power hungry sociopaths, but why not have millions of small communities like this? Power hungry psychos can’t get a foothold in small communities. The rocks are too small for the cockroaches to hide under.

I remember things being similar in my grandmothers village in the late 60s early 70s. If anyone was up to no good, everybody knew about it. I hadn’t felt this gradual erosion of community  before, which brings me gratitude for the life I have now. All this could change tomorrow; a security crack-down, Fees being levied and regulated for mooring, US invasion? Time to be grateful here and now.

Thought for the Day: What would your dream life look like if you chose it today, and if you traded your current life for that dream, what would you miss about the life you have now?

Port de Plaisance

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The mission for today? Get some parts for the outboard and start replacing worn items. Toward the end of the morning broadcast of St Maarten’s radio net on the VHF, Mason on ‘Out of Africa’ announced he was off to Budget Marine straight after the net, I could ask him for a lift, so I quickly got dressed and I gave him a radio call. No answer. He wasn’t kidding when he said ‘straight after’, I could see him through my port hole. That was him in the distance climbing into his dinghy.

It was a leisurely row downwind to Port de Plaisance, it’s not that far, perhaps half a mile. Tying up on the northern corner of the marina under the watchful gaze of two Iguanas, I climbed out and made my way down quayside. I was parched already. I had prepared a bottle of filtered water but left it on the galley counter and the day was warming up quickly. It was only about 10am and I was making my palm tree shaded, looping way along the drive of the marina to the main road. I didn’t realize the road was so far away from the shore and, turning right, I still had a distance to go to get to the chandlers.

A happy discovery along the way was the Carrefour supermarket. Dropping my backpack in a shopping trolley, I slowly wandered up and down the aisles, flapping my t shirt to dry my back where the pack had been restricting ventilation. Carrefour’s air conditioning plus chilling out in the chilled food area did the trick nicely. Buying a bottle of water,  abandoning the shopping trolley and donning the back pack, the next stop was 5 minutes down the road at Ace Hardware. More free cool air, free toilets and cheap hose clips.

Both the chandlers, Budget Marine and Island Waterworld, are next to Lagoonies Bistro and Bar so I settled there for an hour, sipping iced mint, browsing the internet and catching up on email. The beauty or curse of my life here is that there is virtually no time frame to get things done. One day can run into the next. If the dinghy isn’t repaired today then maybe the next day. Even though I was on a self imposed mission, I was enjoying the walk, the exploration and resting in the breezy shade of Lagoonies. Really there isn’t any work or play, it is all life. Employment installs the illusion of this separation.

Island Waterworld is a Santa’s Grotto of boat parts and yachty stuff. They are not cheap since the number of boats that come to this part of the island means that the law of supply and demand is well in the merchants favour, and the presence of ‘tax haven’ registered super-yachts means that a good proportion of their customers are reasonably well off.

Neither chandlers had the gasket or the diaphragm: a simple paper ring and piece of plastic film, but they did have the carburettor repair kit which included those two parts for $115. I settled for an in-line fuel filter and a can of carburettor cleaner spray and kept the $115 in my bank account.

I made my way back to the marina via Carrefour, to stock up on some groceries and grab some lunch from their buffet counter. Lunch was a picnic in the shade of a palm tree in the marina grounds, squinting at the white boats, basking in the sun on their pontoons.

Through the steel gates, nodding to the security guard I made my way back along the quayside to the dinghy. Breaking out the tools, spray and filter, I set about taking the carburettor apart again. I could almost do it with my eyes shut by now. My spectators were the yacht owner where I’d tied up near almost under his bow and a large Iguana at his feet. Buchi was a Harbour Pilot and the Iguana was no relation; it was wild and came to the boat looking for food. After giving me some advice and some distracting entertainment, Buchi left to collect his kids from school.

I gave the carburettor a good spray in every nook and cranny and reassembled everything within 10 minutes. My plan was to get as far as possible and as close to the shore as possible. The shelter from the wind that the shore provided would make rowing back to Glee a bit quicker and easier, and perhaps I’d be out of hailing distance from Buchi when he came back.  As it happened, the motor started after a few pulls and revved higher and smoother that it had since it broke down. The best part was that it  kept on going all the way back to Glee. I was home in 5 minutes. Whatever the problem, the spray had probably flushed it out of one of the narrow channels between the jets in the carburettor.

It’s such a rewarding feeling having a problem solved by your own hands. Not only did I save money but I learned a great deal about this outboard motor that I would never have done if someone else had fixed it for me.

Tip for the day: Try one thing new today. Something that has an uncertain outcome. Drive a route you’ve never driven before without using your Sat Nav. Try some food you’ve never tasted before. Try fixing something you think you know nothing about – the internet is a great resource for this sort of thing. Each of these small things build a habit for adventure and personal growth.

 

Transcending Borders

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The Traffic was slow enough that the silver SUV could collect me without pulling over. This was my first time on wheels on St Maarten, or even away from the shores of the lagoon. Looking at the size of the island on a map, you would think you could hop on a bike and cycle round it fairly effortlessly.  The roads are more like a roller coaster around the volcanic hills and, with so much traffic, I wouldn’t want to risk it on these steep, twisty and narrow concrete ribbons.

The change from concrete slabs to European Union characteristic tarmac signalled crossing the border from Dutch to French territory, as we headed inland. The vacant border monument seems purely symbolic.  Two nations controlling a tiny 37 square mile island… How many governments are needed in one place? In practice, we can cross borders at will.

We were late arriving at Quarter D’Orleans but there was plenty of time to explore the possibilities for the future between Lowlands Community Garden and Eco Vie. It was a pretty short meeting but long enough to see our commonalities and to for introductions.

One of our group invited us back to her home in Orient Bay. From the terrace looking Northeast over the palm tops to the Atlantic, a memory returned, this was a scene of a tropical dream I had carried for almost a lifetime. It was just like this: a table and chairs, a roof with open sides; perfect. And somewhere in the direction of my gaze my friends and family were sheltering from the cold, British rain.  It hardly seems like the same world.

During dinner and wine to lay on top of my Little Jerusalem shawarma from earlier on, I realised that none of us shared the same nationality but we all shared something that transcends borders. I can’t explain it  yet but being here in this place, with these people just felt easy.

If there is a secret to life it’s trading the familiar for uncertainty. As tempting as it had been for me to make an excuse to stay on Glee because I wouldn’t be able to row back against the wind. I would have missed this particular experience forever.

Taking the northern route back to Simpson Bay meant that I had completed a lap of the island. It was past 11pm by the time I was dropped at Palapa Marina and I was now standing looking down at my dinghy with the stale pop tunes blasting out of the neighbouring ‘Soggy Dollar Bar’ to a handful of souls that looked either bored, drunk or tired of their search for meaning.

The wind was still keenly out of the Northeast, I couldn’t stay here, it was warm enough outside but too noisy and too busy, The plan? The night was young, let’s get some exercise and row out into the wind and if it became too exhausting then change course for Cole Bay and either stay or hitch a ride from Lagoonies Bar.

Once you start rowing against the wind, a 10 second pause will undo 20 seconds of rowing. I fixed my light and set off for a marathon Gym session on the inflatable rower. I could see by the position of the masts of the boats in the anchorage that I was making headway be it slowly and I was settling into a rhythm against the short choppy waves when I saw another dinghy deviating out of the channel and heading my way. He was a young guy running a charter boat on the French side on his way back to his vessel, and offering a tow back to Glee. He’d seen my light and came out of his way to see if it was anyone in distress. As it turned out, it was me, no more distressed than normal but very grateful for the tow.

I was back to Glee earlier than I expected. I had needed nothing from by bag. What looked like a mini adventure from the outset turned out to be an evening that could hardly have been planned better; all down to perspective… If I wasn’t so full, I would have enjoyed a beer on the deck to complete the experience before turning in but that’s OK, the wind rocking me to sleep was good enough.

The Trip To Jerusalem

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Today is Wednesday, the 4th day of being without a functioning outboard motor. This means getting to shore has been a bit of a problem. Well, not so much getting ashore but getting back to Glee since the wind has shifted toward the North and Simpson Bay is to the South. It’s been blowing 10 to 20 knots for the last few days.

After breakfast, last Sunday at Vesna Taverna with Mike of “Quinn” and Mason of “Out of Africa” followed by restocking my supplies at the local mini-mart, my motor stalled about 40 metres out of Palapa marina in front of the mega-yachts, toward which the usual Easterly breeze was blowing me. It’s maybe 3/4 of a mile to Glee so out came the oars for a leisurely Sunday morning row and an opportunity to bask in the sun. It probably took me about 10 minutes to get a quarter of the distance before the folks from “Fawkes” offered me a tow for the rest of the way.

It’s one of the striking things about the boaters here that there’s always someone offering a hand to anyone who looks like they need a bit of assistance.

After a cooling dip off the side of Glee and a quick rejuvenating siesta I had a look under the cover of the outboard. It’s not much different to a lawnmower really. A 2 cylinder 2 stroke 9.8hp thing, which brought back memories of my first motorcycles back in the days when it was legal for school kids to buy a 250cc 90mph machine without having to pass a driving test for tempering our foolhardiness. Those were the days, for those of us that survived, anyway.

I found the carburettor drain screw and emptied the bowl. A couple of pulls of the starter cord and the motor fired up.

The good thing about breaking down so soon the next day was that it wasn’t too far to row back to glee, maybe 30 metres. Well, I had food on board; no problems for changing my plans and spending the day on Glee although it’s difficult to chill out with the main means of contact with land being out of action. Stripping down the carburettor revealed sediment and water in the carb bowl, fuel lines and tank. About an hour had the carburettor jets looking clean and pristine; flushing the lines cleared the rusty looking water and decanting the tank cleared the rest.

Not bad for an hour or two… for extending the range of the motor to 50 metres. I couldn’t understand it, the fuel system looked perfect. Brought back memories of all the times I fondly pushed my motorcycle home. Never liked 2 strokes.

The evening brought the stiff prickly sensation announcing the arrival of sunburn. Spending the afternoon, lying on the stern of the dinghy removing, disassembling, cleaning, reassembling, testing and repeating the process several times took time. Even though I was in Gee’s shade the suns rays were finding my pale English hide. It wasn’t too bad, it only hurt if I moved and it felt like I was sleeping on toast crumbs.

Tuesday I had a date with the people at Lowlands Community Garden and I needed to get to Simson bay to catch my ride. Although I was still in possession of a powerless dinghy with an immaculate looking carburettor, I wasn’t going to miss this. I’d been looking forward to it. A chance to get on land and in touch with the island.

Not knowing how to return to Glee would have been enough for me to back out in the past but that’s not been me for a while now. These things are the ingredients for mini adventures.

Here was the plan: the wind was from the North East pointing the stern of glee slightly up the shore from the dinghy dock at Palapa Marina, where I wanted to land. Glee is moored on a bow line so the stern always point downwind. The motor would get me about 50 meters before cutting out so I packed the basics for an overnight jaunt along with some tools and headed South West through the anchorage. By the time the motor died I was pretty much directly upwind from where I wanted to be and a leisurely 20 minute row with a cooling 5 minute rain shower saw me in on shore in Simpson Bay looking at the vegetarian options on the menu of Little Jerusalem, Lebanese cafe consisting of what looks to be a transport container and a covered veranda across the road from Palapa.

“Sit down, young man, and I bring you something berry good.”  That’s service for you, I didn’t even have to choose anything. A bottle of Presidente to wet my whistle before a giant shawarma was carried out in a white paper bag nestling on a disposable plate, reminiscent of a nurse bringing out a new born baby to meet its father for the very first time.

This thing is a kind of kebab of assorted mammals and fowl. Flexitarian – someone with the intent of a vegetarian, but hungry enough to eat any stray critter given the level of hunger. It was actually pretty tasty and very filling -too filling; the baby had returned to the womb.

I was out in time for my ride to the meeting between Lowlands Community Garden and Eco Vie, another community project on the other side of the island. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get back to Glee since the wind was, if anything, getting stronger. But I had a full belly and an overnight bag and this small island was my oyster…

The Matrix

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It’s Heineken regatta week here in Sint Maarten. Yachts from around the world congregate to race around the island in the day and party and rub shoulders with the sailing elite in the evening. Me? I’ll be hunkered down in Glee ignoring it as much as possible in my quiet corner of the lagoon imagining my own impending future. I guess my reasons for sailing a different from the mainstream; to live as free as possible from bureaucratic interference.

I’ve been here 2 weeks and 2 days now but it feels like I’ve been here at least three times that. I know my way around the Lagoon area  pretty well now and have got to know a few local liveaboarders. Glee is already kitted out as a liveaboard and, if I was happy with that, then all would be well as it stands. Adventure calls so some work needs to be done. For Glee, I’ve started on my Project Matrix: a handy tool for getting things done in Don Casey’s book “This Old Boat.” You can use this to prioritise almost any project so take note:

The Matrix

  • Get a large sheet of paper and split it into 3 columns and 3 rows.
  • Label the columns from left to right: 1, Immediate. 2, Less Urgent . 3, Someday.
  • Label the Rows from top to bottom: A, Structure. B, Feature. C, Finish.

You should end up with a matrix of 9 squares. The order of execution goes from A1 as items to be done first followed by B1 and C1, then up to A2, B2 etc. ending in C3. From this, you can see what jobs are out of order. It makes no sense for redesigning Galley to follow replace counter-tops. Most importantly for me, it chops up the work into small prioritised chunks so the overwhelm of thinking of everything at once doesn’t stop me from taking action altogether, and I get a real sense of progress by checking off each task. So as soon as A1 and B1 are complete, I can head out of the lagoon and continue as I go.

Sure it took a few days to get the pencil and paper out but what’s the rush? I’m still living on a boat in the Caribbean and that’s not too bad. I get the impression that the slower I go, the less money I spend and I get this dilemma between living rent free in the lagoon and funding cruising further afield.  Everything has a cost: tools and equipment for getting ship shape, check in fees at other islands, wear and tear, repairs, commerce geared up for the wealthy yacht set…

The other night I was talking to an Irish skipper over too many Irish coffees on his Catamaran and he said “Don’t get stuck in the lagoon refitting your boat. Get out there over to Anguilla and around the Islands while you do it. My brother and I took our first boat from Plymouth to Southern Ireland and we hadn’t sailed before…”  although he had been out in fishing boats. I take heart from those that have had less experience than me and think, “Well, if they can do it, so can I…” The other trick is to turn a deaf ear to the criticisers in the bars. “Take what you like but leave the rest” as they say…

It’s just too easy to sit back in the tropical scenery and let life drift away; no different to being in a ‘comfortable’ job back home. We can easily get sedated by comfort and we are not meant to find comfort as a destination, we are meant to grow.

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Last year I had severely decluttered and moved out of my flat and into my van. For the cold, damp, British winter, the plan was to hop  over Texas visit my Dad and return in the Spring to take the van down to Portugal before the next Winter and maybe help with some organic farming along the way. I’d expect some travel costs but not as much as for updating a yacht. I get the sense that my downsizing and economising has regressed from that path, so there is a real temptation now to just sit back in the sun on deck with a book and a beer, rather than trekking around Ace Hardware for wire brushes, electric cable, cordless drills and rust preventer at island prices.

Sure, the van to Portugal was the easier and cheaper option but Glee seems far more adventurous despite the work that needs doing. It’s like I outgrew my shoes faster than expected, and it’s time to take bigger steps.

Anyway, time for a beer before the sun goes down and the crickets start singing over on the shore…

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Cheers!