Life Aboard LULU

December 20, 1999
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Attention K-Mart Shoppers: I found out today pretty much what I already knew: I am not a K-Mart shopper. I've always suspected this, but now know it from first hand experience; (It is, after all, small-minded to dislike an entire chain of stores from afar, never having set foot in one.)

Today, in St Thomas, Gary and I dinghied in to Red Hook and took the dollar bus, so named because it costs a dollar, is open air, 27-passenger maximum, with up to 5 passengers squashing into narrow bench seats running the width of the bus and everyone in the row has to get out whenever the people on the closed ends reach their stops. We took this bus to Tutu Mall, to K-Mart in particular, to look for Replacement Stuff at Reasonable Prices. (You need to get resourceful when a roll of Bounty runs about $2.00 and paper towels run neck and neck with Ziploc bags on the list of Can't Live Withouts for liveaboards.)

You see, now that most of us have just about run out of our original Costco stash, we are rationing Bounty like it's caviar. How to conserve it; where to buy it cheapest; where to store it so it's safe from dampness or, worse, water damage; ingenious places to store extra rolls, how much crushing a roll can take before it won't roll at all - these are actually cocktail party topics among the women. Husbands have been reported worrying they'll go below one day and find their beds taken over by a 15-Pack of Bounty. To prevent this they talk a lot about the important repairs they've completed, the clever jury rigs they've designed; the elusive leaks they've located, so their wives remain convinced they're still as useful as your average roll of Great Northern Quilted.

We practice paper towel rationing. No one ever tears off more than one perforation - we've become masters of the single-perf tear. (SPF) One of us is rumored to have discovered a brand that spaces the perfs more closely together, thus offering almost twice as many "singlet" units per roll. (Many who have studied the subject minutely agree that the average singlet is much too big for most jobs -- and further believe that singlet size is carefully controlled by the manufacturers, doubtless acting in concert. They sell millions upon millions of extra rolls because they keep singlets oversized. We imagine this Singlet Size Covenant is renewed clandestinely at annual industry outings - on the links in Hawaii, on the liftlines in Deer Valley, maybe even aboard sail boat charters in the Virgin Islands.

We liveaboards counter with conservation techniques. We (even the men) leave re-usable singlets (neatly folded wherever possible) in various corners about the boats. Wadding and crumpling are frowned upon; we try to use every surface, encasing the captured dirt, then going for more by folding and refolding. A possibility gaining popularity is the idea of sawing all rolls in half, but a workable paper towel holder has yet to be devised. If Gary had a spare moment, I'd set him at that project.

The other day Jackie resorted to creating 4 luncheon napkins out of one singlet: by cutting it in half AND separating the 2 plys. The result was none-too-large and not very absorbent but preservation of supply, not protection against ketchup, was the primary objective.

What I can report about the K-Mart is that there were no particular bargains; the Bounty in particular was $1.75, just a step below rip-off. The serendipitous find of the day was at the actual supermarket just down the mall strip, called Plaza Extra, (as distinguished from all the Costs Extra around here). There I got a Bounty 8-pack for $7.98. And it wasn't even one to a customer, though there could definitely be no more than one to a dollar bus.

The dollar bus is fun to do. They seem to go around most of St Thomas and St John. People jump on and off fairly randomly. There seems to be no particular schedule and there are no bus stops - you simply walk along the road and wave to the bus driver.(Who is willing to actually wait for you, he operating on Island Time, which is closely related to Tortoise Time.) Likewise with getting off. Any stop is possible, if you can get the driver's attention, the buzzer most often being broken.

It's surprising to see people greeting what appear to be perfect strangers with big smiles and hearty hellos. People call out the latest gossip or news to each other, with criss-cross chats spanning 3 and 4 rows. Very often I have no idea what they're saying, because the Caribbean accent is very thick. But there's a lot of general uproar and laughter. I now understand better our Barbadian housekeeper's frequent use of the expression, "Let me give you a joke," when what she proceeded to deliver was never an actual joke, but a lengthy, chatty, high-spirited account of some recent or past experience she'd had. Sounds like dollar-bus protocol.

You also hear a lot of pious hear a lot of "Praise the Lord's" and earnest religious conversations. This whole area is permeated with a kind of evangelical fervor. At the end of almost every item of news, where our commercials go, the local radio stations deliver all kinds of religious oratory, homilies, exhortations to repent and doomsday warnings. You see people wearing tee shirt commemorating church outings or emblazoned with religious sayings like sayings like, "LORD, I CAN'T EVEN WALK WITHOUT YOU HOLDING MY HAND." These kinds of shirts are worn by men as well as women and with the same regularity Americans see Co-ed Naked Lacrosse tees.

I don't know whether or not there's a link between this religious tenor and the general demeanor and behavior of the kids here, but the differences between our children and theirs is striking. I have not heard a whine or seen a tantrum the entire time we've been here. Possibly it's just that mothers are more quietly effective or that fathers seem to take a more active role in child care,

Regardless of the cause, kids are just plain well behaved. In restaurants, on the streets, on the buses. The little ones don't paw at their mothers, or roll on the floor, or beg for stuff. Returning from school in their dark blue skirt and light blue shirt uniforms, they wait on line quietly or sit politely, squashed tightly on the dollar bus. Even the teenagers aren't loud or inconsiderate or surly. Jackie reports being at a Christmas steet festival in Road Town where she noted that all the kids waited serenely to climb on Santa's lap - and were satisfied with whatever toy or candy he gave them. This is behavior no American child would even consider.

December 12, 1999

We've done not very much sailing because we had a little "event", so to speak. Last week, on a sunny day with the occasional rain shower or small squall -- weather we get a lot -- we were sailing nicely, though the seas were a bit choppy. We entered a narrow passage between islands and were tacking most credibly back and forth in 11-knot winds, making good progress and having fun. Then I spied a dark cloud not far in front of us, with a familiar dark skirt radiating down from it, which indicates squall ahead. I pointed this out to Gary, suggesting maybe we should pull in some sail, but he was unperturbed. On we proceeded. (He is the captain, after all, and when it comes to sailing I'm still quite submissive.)

(Am I hearing the word "cavalier" being whispered in the backround by experienced sailors?)

Because, continuing on with full sails out is not the thing to do. We all too frequently defy the correct technique of reducing sail before a squall so the boat won't be overpowered by the strong winds that accompany them. So it shouldn't have been unexpected that, in the midst of a
tack, the wind suddenly veered, clocking up to 35-knots in seconds. Rain began slashing around us. So did the sails and lines - and then the genoa sheets passed out of my control and into the wind's. (You always discover just how puny your power is when the wind decides to take over.)

These genoa sheets are, in fact, not sheets at all, but rather 85-foot lines, 3/4" thick, whose job is to hold the sail taut so it can catch the wind, which moves the boat. The sheets get
passed from one side of the boat to the other during a tack; they fly loose for a short period of time, as the nose of the boat moves through the wind, until they get winched in tight again on the new tack. The sailor's job is to set them free on one side and winch them in on the other. Eighty-five feet lines launched in any breeze are a handful to pull in quickly, but in gale winds they're whipped around powerfully, snapping loudly and fiercely beating back and forth into the boat.

I took a slash across one arm that resulted in a 6" black and blue-boo, as the port line got away from me. The sheet galloped off like a Preakness favorite, pulling behind it not only the sail, but, in addition, its sister starboard sheet, which rocketed out of all the pulleys, tracks and guides that hold it in place. (We had, it seems, also forgotten to knot the ends of both sheets, which prevents this particular mishap.  (We are, apparently, slow learners, and the cost of our
education looks like it's going to be in the college -- if not medical-school - range.)

The starboard sheet ended up in the water and, when we finally got the boat righted and dragged it back into the boat, we found it no longer an 85-footer. Apparently while flapping
about madly, it slammed into the water, got dragged under the boat and hit the propeller, which promptly cut it down to 65 feet. This is actually the good news: we are fortunate to have such a cutter on the propeller -- or the boat would have stopped dead in its tracks and we'd have been on our way into the rocks on one side or the other of the channel.

The bad news is we had to buy two new genoa sheets.(You can't replace one and not the other because they'd then be different and, as you might suspect, Design Deities like Ralph Lauren would definitely not approve of unmatched sheets. Gary tried to talk me into using our bright red spinnaker lines -- not quite getting this is just as big a fashion faux pas. I tried to be sympathetic to the fact that using these cherry red lines would save us some $350, but some things you just can't do and hold your head up as you pull into a dock. (I had to remind Gary that I am, after all, already putting up with embarrassingly frayed, tastelessly unmatched dock lines, this because I have lost, at least so far, my argument with him for new ones. (I caved due to his uncharacteristic ferocity on the issue and when he insisted we'd be anchored out 98% of the time, making dock lines mostly superfluous and a small bit of indignity I could put up
with. I am not so sure now, what with our ending up in marinas for 2 weeks in Virginia, 2 weeks in Virgin Gorda during the hurricane, plus a week in Road Harbour handling our radio and email problems).

Be all that as it may, purchasing new genoa sheets turned into a mission of sorts because it's not only lettuce and decent meat, but even marine items that can be scarce around these islands. We visited all 3 riggers in Tortola, the principal BVI source of such things, and no one had anywhere near 170 feet of the same line. Here's where the morning chat is so useful: we polled our various 1500 friends, now scattered, literally, to the winds and having been to a variety of different ports with their own repair predicaments. When the report came back that Red Hook might be a primary source, we were happy because this enabled us to be there for 2 lunches worth of hamburgers and mahi-mahi sandwiches at Duffy's. Plus 2 glorious dinners barbequed while anchored nearby for the night, that featured phenomenal porterhouses and fantastic tuna from Red Hook's Marina Market, surely a match for our revered Larchmont Meateria. (Red Hook was not the one-day hiatus we'd planned because the chandlery clerk, who swore he had enough line to meet our needs in his other branch, turned out to be misinformed. So, when we returned at the end of the day, we left sadly empty armed but, as consolation, with the prospect of happy Duffy-stuffed stomachs the next afternoon as well. Because on hearing the bad chandlery news, we decided separately but simultaneously that it would be a mere trifle to swing back into Red Hook after the next day's trip around the island to another rigger. This shop sdid, in fact, have the amount we needed. Of course, this was at a mere 15% more than Red Hook. Not to mention the unfortunate color of his only available sheets - red and white.. But still, mostly white. Ralph, I'm sorry. I tried. Since then, we've been crisscrossing between the same islands, pretty much treading water while we wait for Mel and Jackie, whose refrigeration problems seem to be long term and deep seated. They've been stuck at the same Tortola marina for 2 weeks now and only managed to sneak away and meet us in Jost Van Dyke today for the weekend, because no work goes on in Tortola on Saturday and Sundays. Still, they have to be back tomorrow, when, we're all hoping, their job will get completed. But probably not for several days. Meanwhile, maybe we can get our scuba certification tomorrow.

December 13, 1999

I spoke too soon. We will not be completing our scuba certification tomorrow, because we've had another sailing "event." This one makes the other look like a mere school lunch, not an entire college semester. We were once again happily sailing at 8 to 9 knots, this time in gorgeous 23-knot winds, with all three sails behaving beautifully. We were close hauled, which means as close to the wind as possible without heading directly into it, at which point of sail you don't move at all. I was doing a lot of yanking in of the sails, because we kept coming closer and closer to the wind in order to avoid the island in front of us. Another choice would have been to tack, but Gary was having a bit of sport seeing how close he could come to the island and without hitting and without tacking. When, BAM, the genoa started flailing madly again and once again we were out of control. This time it wasn't the sheets, but rather the sail itself, which we could see had sustained a long horizontal tear. Adrenalin rushing, we rolled both parts in quick as we could and are still mystifyied about what befell us. We don't know enough about sailing to be sure, but will take all local or cyber-sent knowledge. I am of the opinion we should have tacked more, that we were too close to the wind and the sails couldn't take the pressure. Mel thinks we had too much sail out for the conditions (a familiar refrain in our sailing lives); and Gary thinks one of two things: I had the sail pulled in too tightly which made for intense pressure from the powerful electric winches and, added to that, the the sail was simply weak and would have torn, if not today, then tomorrow. "Boats break," he says, philosophically, "and you (meaning me) think if you just get 'em right and keep 'em clean, they'll remain just fine." He can afford to be philosophic, at least right now. We have yet to hear whether this is just a tear at the seam line that can be easily stitched up (costs in the hundreds) or we need a whole new sail (costs in the multi-thousands. As usual, Gary and I break along personality lines, he being ever the optimist and me seeing right-angle rips and impossible-to-resew frays everywhere. But also meanwhile, our window of opportunity for a decent sail to Antigua, where we're supposed to meet some of our children for New Year's, is closing down. The trade winds are expected to shift - in the direction they are already supposed to be but have yet to attain (possibly because they've been so busy toying with) and we'll be beating into them to get down there. You could call it a rambunctious sail or a nightmare sail, depending on whether you're Gary or you're me. Will keep you all posted on our future adventures and newest misfortunes. PS. It turned out Gary was right - too much pressure on a sail that's not as elastic as it used to be (this sounds suspiciously like my skin condition). The sail could be repaired and it was a mere $300, which, on the scale of possible boat expenses, is virtual pennies.


December 16, 1999

If this life is definitely not about finding fabulous food, it's also not about the second of my favorite lifetime pursuits - buying and wearing interesting clothing. Gary and I share a small closet (in boat lingo, a locker, which is the one boat term I understand, this closet being not much bigger than your average high school hall locker.) Considering my crammed two-room closet at home, I would have thought such a state of affairs unthinkable and totally unworkable. Turns out, except for the boredom factor, which is sometimes real, I have too much stuff to wear. Or, often enough, wrong stuff. Sweaters, which I have a real passion for, are totally unwearable - ever. Jeans, of which I probably have 5 pair, are much too hot; rarely do we wear long pants at all - this despite my despised saddlebag knees (a genetic indignity, I like to believe, visited upon me by my mother, but which may have some slight causal relationship to my lifelong refusal to exercise strenuously.) Thus I'm in far too short supply of long shorts -- of the length formerly known (and here I date myself) as Bermuda or walking shorts. This is as far as I've, so far, been willing to carry the shorts thing. Cellulite-displaying short shorts are out of the question, I don't care how hot, relaxed or devil-may-care I get (or how much exercise I can talk myself into, it being simply too late) Short shorts belong in the domain of the apparently endless supply of lithe, bumpless, and perfectly tanned young bodies, belonging primarily to female charter boat crew, whom I am unable to avoid (and Gary & Mel can't ogle enough of) in stores, on boat decks and parading around restaurants everywhere I go. Things are so casual around here that the other day, when a gorgeous 80-foot yacht named Coconuts pulled into the slip next to us, helmed by a swarthy, scruffy, bearded chap in worn khaki shorts and a faded tee shirt, I had no way of distinguishing whether he was the owner or the captain, without asking, which I haven't gotten around to. (I'm thinking he's either quite the alcoholic or it's a charter boat, and he's the captain, as yesterday I watched, goggle-eyed, as 19 (I counted) cases of assorted wines, liquors, aperitifs and after-dinner beverages made their way down the dock and into the cockpit. I now understand the boat's name -- coconut or coconut juice being the primary ingredient, other than rum, of most of the island cocktail concoctions.) In Nantucket, by the way, or, indeed most anywhere along the eastern seaboard, this Coconut guy's status as owner or captain would have been instantly categorizable by gold chains or carved anchors - or lack thereof - around his neck.

Regarding jewelry and the complete absence of status symbols, I have, with great glee, scotched my Rolex, bought in an earlier incarnation, which kept the most abominable time imaginable. (Actually, now that I stop to consider the words, that's what the Rolex did - it kept time - since it was always at least 5 minutes behind the rest of the watches on earth. If I hadn't updated it regularly, I would not be celebrating the Millenium along with the rest of you.) So Gary and I spent hours combing the endless duty-free jewelry and camera stores in Charlotte Amalie, the cruise ship capital of the Virgin Islands and the capital of St Thomas) to find something I liked, passing quickly over the rubber-strapped diamond-faced Hublots (one of the newest in reverse-ish status symbols, probably clocking in (pun intended) at about $10,000); the glittering, multi-metalled Cartiers, Patek Phillippes, Ebels and Bulgaris, and the $6,000 Tag Heuer, that, in addition to telling you the hour, minute and second, will keep track of your life in milliseconds, plumb the ocean depths along with you, monitor the phases of the moon and, it seems do everything but read the morning paper for you. Since these complicated and costly models were repeated ad infinitum in store after store, it took a long time for me to spot the simple, unpretentious, one-metal (titanium) Swiss Army watch I now own, which as far as precision goes lives up to its name - Swiss. (German would not have been a reach, either.) I also haven't worn a ring in what seems like centuries. The weather is too sticky, they're too dressy and besides, my fingernails are retreated to my cuticles, what with all the boat washing and metal polishing that occupy a good deal of my day.) Makeup, the wardrobe accessory of all wardrobe accessories, (which, given my usual NY washed out winter pallor, is something I rarely stepped out of the house without) is something else I've mostly dispensed with - except for very dressy, best-tee-shirt evenings, which are few and far between. Speaking of makeup, it helps my appearance that I am now recklessly and, dermatologically spaeking, unforgivably tanned, despite applying what I consider to be constant applications of suntan lotion. I'm just not being careful enough I suppose. Most people manage to be much more vigilant about the sun and, I've noted, manage to avoid it so scrupulously that it's often hard to tell when passing charterboat check-in/check-out areas just who is just starting a charter and who has been out for a week or more. You can tell from the mountains of suitcase beside them that these are also the overpackers and overdressers you occasionally see around town. The otherwise ubiquitous sub-sporty dress code of the nautical life here makes Gary - whose favorite dock attire has always been a pair of torn cut-offs, preferably with pocket-halves peeking out from below a shredded hem) virtually a stylesetter here. (Although, in order to maintain some semblance of an out-to-dinner wardrobe for him I needed to separate the tattered- from the merely-stained, shorts, I had to, grudgingly, give up one of my scarce tank-top and tee-shirt drawers.)

In the shoe arena, I would have to say I have at least 6 extra pair, though I can't bring myself to throw any out. All that's needed in this lifestyle are one all-purpose set of nice sandals, rubber thongs, some Topsiders (also known on this boat as Deck Hoppers, a legacy of my former friend, Janet, who quite inexplicably - and I believe completely without reason - fired me as her friend). And yes, a pair of Tevas. I say "yes, Tevas" because the first time I saw these creations foisted on the American public, I collapsed into helpless laughter. They were imprisoning, in all their excess strappiness and oversized soles, the slender feet and skinny legs of my son Bob, who did not inherit my mother's leg gene, but rather springs directly from his father's Wollman toothpick gene) Tevas looked to me like a pair of oversized snowshoes and I swore I'd never wear them. Another portion of words to eat. Among the others are "You bought me a WHAT for my birthday!!!???!!!" (And here I must apologize to my former husband, Barry, to whom I uttered this sentence, on the occasion of his giving me for my birthday, within the first two years of our marriage, an electric broom, which had, at the time, just made its entry into the appliance marketplace. Not only was this gift what I considered to be inappropriate, an unloving gesture and a monumental insult, but it was also gilding the lily, since -- given his attraction to, and compulsive acquisition of, all new-to-market electronic trinkets and existing gadget with an on-off switch - we already owned two Electrolux vacuums. And lived in a one-bedroom apartment!) How we do grow up, change perspectives, modify expectations, wants and needs. To return to a recent preoccupation, and ongoing theme of our new lifestyle, this year, when Gary asked me what I want for my upcoming birthday, my instant response was: dock lines, a full set of new, unfrayed, matching dock and dinghy lines! It may actually happen. (I don't think I've mentioned the dinghy-line addition, though. That may end up being Christmas.)


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