Life Aboard LULU

February 29, 2000
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February 23, 2000 -- Brief Respite

It’s been some time since I’ve written. No sooner did we arrive from our New York vacation than we found ourselves back in the swing of the fix-the-boat-mentality here in Antigua, repair center of the yachting world, or at least the Caribbean. Gary had a new heat exchanger to install to fix the generator. The new inverter had to be popped in so we could once again make a pot of coffee without turning on the generator, a situation that’s been ongoing since before New Year’s. We had the unsolved mystery of the auto pilot cutting off in the midst of heavy sailing to tackle again. And the problem of how to restructure the bimini (the awning over the cockpit) so it no longer gets in the way of the main winch, which is potentially a very dangerous situation.

Not being able to get the sheets around the main winches quickly causes them to occasionally slam into the fiberglass, making gashes and dents in the boat’s once-pristine finish. That was the reason the sheets broke loose back in the Virgin Islands, dropped into the water, under the boat, got sliced by the propeller, and needed to be replaced. But we’re lucky – they could have inflicted much more critical damage. At 85 feet long and almost an inch thick, when propelled by the force of a strong wind, they become weapons. An errant sheet could easily tear off one of our fingers, hands or arms as we try to reach over the bimini to grab it and get it around the winch.

So, as if we’d never been gone, we jumped immediately back into the work-work-work mentality. It seems as if we have had to readjust our vision of retirement, and we’re not sure we like it. We’ve been struggling the past few weeks with a combination of my Type A+++ personality, Gary’s man?ana complex and the boat’s insistence on taking on filth, leaking, rusting and aging. It’s as if the boat’s decided she’d prefer to retire and it’s our full-time job to keep her groomed and going.

As for me, I’ve got this penchant for wanting to get every single item off my list preferably before it even gets on the list. This puts me in almost perpetual motion, often moving in circles, since every time I see something that needs handling, I turn around to get the cloth, cleaner, remover or polish to remedy it. And when that’s done I try to remember where I was going on before I detoured myself. My hands now see double use as dustcloths – wherever I go I’m running them across some surface that needs wiping. And I’m wearing knee pads as frequently as I used to wear shoulder pads.

I seem to have acquired a local reputation: as holder of the all-time record time for time spent on VHF 68. "Cay Electronics, Cay Electronics this is Lulu" (inverter, regulator, autopilot); "Signal Locker, Signal Locker, Lulu" (autopilot again); "A&F Sails, A&F Sails, Lulu" (bimini and dodger); " "Aboard Refrigeration, Lulu" (starboard cabin air-conditioner); "Marine Power Services, Marine Power Services, Lulu," (improving our uncomfortable stainless steel stern steps); Antigua Rigging, Antigua Rigging, Lulu," (loose staysail) "Seagull Inflatables, Lulu" (dinghy patching); "Nauti-Sign, Nauti-Sign, Lulu" (painting our name on the boom so these people can actually find us when they come out into the harbor.

These calls go out from me and get responded to in kind all day long.

"Lulu, Lulu, A&F Sails.

"A& F Sails, this is Lulu -- switch 72."

"Roger, switching 72."

The other day I dropped something off to a seamstress. When I mentioned the boat name and she said, "Lulu? I didn’t know you were a boat, I thought you were a local business!"

Some necessary perspective on these seemingly negative comments: we are almost all the time aware that the care we lavish on Lulu is a labor of love – and of choice. Though now we are sure that the reason a 61-foot boat is too big for us is not the sailing of her, but the scrubbing of her. In any event, despite its larger size, our boat maintenance pales by comparison to Jackie & Mel’s. For the past two months, since we first arrived in Antigua, they’ve been stuck mostly at the dock, having Feisty attacked by a battalion of professionals. I can’t think of a major local yacht-fixer they haven’t needed. Their problems have been a mix of normal wear and tear -- like degenerating hatches and dried-out caulking -- plus more deeply seated systemic failures and unpleasant surprises – mechanical designs and structural features that were always inefficient or problematic, but remained hidden until they shoved the boat into the more rigorous cruising life. Feisty is also 16 years older and much more aggressively seeking retirement than Lulu. Who can blame either one for preferring lolling about on her fat fanny to being sent out to sea to take on the corrosive, confrontational atmospheric troops? Boats lose the battle with salt water, pounding surf and belligerant winds exactly the same way coastlines and mountains do.

Mel and Jackie’s spirits were approaching abysmal after week on week of putting up with the messiness and intrusiveness of workmen, of watching their boat torn get part to fix things. They were weary from the strain of praying these fixes would work and the disappointment when many of them didn’t. (Most are finally fixed.) But with the boat springing leaks at the rate of one new one as soon as one old one was fixed, and with their refrigeration and their generator still out of commission, they had no no way of getting away from it all. Besides, we all hate deserting the ship when there’s work going on.

But last weekend, we succeeded in prying them loose for a much-needed respite. We stuck them on our boat and we took off to see something of Antigua besides Falmouth. (This also enabled us to get out of here, since we don’t like deserting them any more than they liked leaving the boat.)

We expected a fine reach of a sail up the island’s eastern coast. But the winds continued toying with us -- anticipating our next move and shifting direction to slam us straight on the nose, a now-familiar trick. We had a tough two-hour motorsail until we tucked behind Green Island and into Nonsuch Bay. This is one of the most beautiful anchorages we’ve ever been in.

The bay is a huge ring, which seems to be, though actually isn’t, surrounded almost ¾ around by the mountains of Antigua and by Green Island – untrammeled, verdant expanses of foliage, trees, mangroves and cacti. This purity is virtually unspoiled by humans and homes and is ringed by small strips of white beach that Nature or Neptune has decorated with big sculptural whorls of driftwood. The bay’s fourth quarter appears open to the sea but is in fact protected by a long, low reef, which holds back the surf that barrels in straight across the vast ocean from Africa, completely uninterrupted by any land mass to stop its momentum.

It was magic to dinghy slowly about the perfectly calm bay and observe its tranquil water so tremblingly close to the wild seas. We watched the ocean waves crash, then calm down, breaking into ripples of white lacy waves and charging in like tempestuous white ponies racing each other to the pieces of inner reef. The word is overworked these days, but it was awesome, and we couldn’t help reflecting on the many moods and states of the sea, the way the earth contains and expresses itself.

As we moved closer and closer toward the protective reef and the untamed ocean, we could easily afford to feel like children, full of bravado, teasing the furious, but helpless, surf to come and get us. When we tired of that game, we continued on, threading our way through mounds and strips of reef that have broken off from the larger reef and lie just beneath the surface like muddy, brown puddles sullying the pure clear aqua. And, oh, the nuances of that water – moving imperceptibly, yet in clearly dilineated stripes, from the verdigris hues of oxidized copper, through exotic shades of aqua all the way to a deep, almost mystical sapphire. The only thing missing was any hint of birdsong; we heard just the roll of the sea, the song of the wind. The absence of birds is something we’ve noted throughout most of these islands. We think we can survive the deprivation, though.

We actually tore ourselves away from the dinghy to make dinner: two roasted chickens which my erratic propane oven and ill-performing convection microwave just wouldn’t roast. We almost went to bed hungry, but for a few meager slices of breast meat and -- fortunately -- the pounds of extra salad and brussels sprouts I’d brought along. Sunset glasses of wine helped assuage the dark-meat deprivation that came later, as did some hoarded smoked salmon which we broke out to celebrate our Falmouth escape, as well Mel and Gary’s birthdays. We were approaching ecstasy (and a drug-free ecstasy) by the time we rolled into bed.

We awoke to a cheerful sunny day and the prospect of Harmony Hall for lunch. Harmony Hall is a lunch-only restaurant, with an Italian bent, on the terrace of a small inn high above Nonsuch. The hotel and restaurant are housed in some restored and renovated old buildings of an old sugar cane plantation. We sat in dappled sunlight, under an awninged table, with a view of our very own boat rocking gently below.

Hard to believe.

We treated ourselves to a luxurious 3-hour lunch, along with our friends on Peregrine, who had just finished 3 straight days of sanding and varnishing all their exterior wood. Not only was the meal, excellent, but it was an afternoon passed with no thought of obstinate stoves, failing refrigeration, mildewing teak, rusting stainless steel or dirty white fiberglass anything.

After lunch, we poked around the inn’s art gallery and climbed what used to be a windmill that is now the restaurant’s bar. Atop this stone cone we took in an even vaster areal view of the islands and the peaceful bay. All in all, a breathtaking, and at the same time soothing, day, ending in yet another clear, starry evening. We skipped a formal dinner, passed around bowls of popcorn while we watched two movies. And fell contentedly into bed to be further rocked in the bosom of Nature.

Unfortunately we had to come back to earth – that is, Falmouth – on Monday. Again, we looked forward to some glorious sailing, but alas, the strong winds – 20 to 25 in the harbors – we ‘ve been complaining about for months, suddenly turned south and dropped dead. So, it was a very still, light-air sail back, at a veritable crawl.

And as we neared the harbor, now that we could be heard, Mel & I began trading our handheld radio back and forth across the cockpit: "A&F Sails, Lulu"

"Woodstock, Woodstock, Feisty"

"Aboard Refrigeration, Lulu."

Like we’d never left.


February 25, 2000 -- Farewell, Antigua; Bonjour Guadaloupe?

We are readying the boat for company, our friends Joan & David. For the next 9 days we will have fun, eat the best food we can find, drink the great wines David (we’re hoping) schleps down -- because he likes to pamper us and because he has only contempt for our usual wine selection: usually double-digit but closer to $15 than $25 a bottle (or even $125) that he’s accustomed to dredging out of his ample wine cellar. We will also laugh a lot. I have promised myself I will attempt to create a strategy for maintaining a better balance between work and play.

We’ve planned an island tour for them (which, though we’ve been here on and off almost 2 months, we have yet to do) and up to Shirley Heights for the Sunday steel band and barbeque extravaganza. I am trying, in my best Extra Sauce mode -- to squeeze in another Harmony Hall lunch in the middle of our tour, which is do-able if we ask the driver to drop us off and later pick us up again to finish the island, ending at Shirley Heights for music, beer, sunset, and dinner.

On hearing this potential plan, Gary insisted I email David to ask if they preferred "a relaxing vacation or a Lulu vacation," referring to the degree of frenzy they wanted to sustain. He warned them to wear Depenz because they weren’t going to have time to take a shit. (I maintained they would, but nothing too hard or too soft because we can’t spend too much time in the bathroom, now can we?)

David wrote back, "Boys and Girls just want to have fun but please don’t make it too crazy. I rely on your discretion, God help me…"

So, with a clear conscience, I’ve of course made Harmony Hall reservations.

Monday morning, bright and early, we will set sail (we hope) for Guadaloupe, (5 to 7 hours) which promises at the very least to have excellent French/Creole food, amazing baguettes and, we hear, a supermarket filled with luscious delicacies, quadruple-cream cheeses and scrumptious patés. If we’re pressed for time, we can rub them directly on our thighs.

I will be sorry to be leaving Antigua, despite all the complaints about working on the boat. Part of it is the island’s overall ambiance, this beautiful harbor with its storybook boat. But mostly it’s the people. Everywhere they are unfailingly helpful, pleasant and friendly. Even in situations we’d be afraid of at home – like passing the local boys lounging, drinking beer or high on ganja, which you can smell from 50 feet away.

The other day Gary and I were on the kind of mission we love: we were looking for ceramic briquets for our barbeques. Peregrine had passed on some of their extras – and, after popping them into our had-to-have-it, top-of-the-line Parker Barbecue – we can actually grill the chicken instead of steaming it. Unfortunately, there weren’t quite enough for even our barbeque, much less Feisty’s too.

So Gary and I boarded the Number 15 bus (not as much fun as the Dollar Bus, but gets you there cheaply) to find a hardware store, excuse me, THE hardware store. Of course noone there had no idea what ceramic briquets might be, but one of the clerks, a smiley lady who followed us around gathering up our purchases like she the plastic shopping basket, directed us to the local barbecue maker. She wrote his name on a scrap of paper, after giving careful consideration to how to spell it correctly. She told us to get back on the bus, take it to All Saints, get out,"turn right by the gas station [it’s the only landmark in the village, if All Saints can indeed be called a village], go up the road about 4 streets (if indeed they can be called streets) and ask anyone for Bevis Romeo.

"Can’t I just call him?," I asked.

She looked at me like I’d just sprouted a second nose, and said politely, "He don’t have a phone."

So we got back on the next bus. You just walk out the door and stick your finger out whereever you are, wheneveryou see one. When we alit, the area was swarming with school children of all ages, all – boys and girls – wearing lavender and white gingham-check school uniforms. No one stared at us like we – the only white faces around – were strange or unwelcome. Lots of the kids smiled; some waved, some said hello, and one youngster of about 6 asked, "Are you tourists?" (No, I didn’t tell him we’ve been here so long we’re probably eligible for citizenship.)

As we ambled down the mostly dirt and rock road, we passed what in New York would be the unemployed toughs, hanging around the bodega. They, too, smiled, asked where we were going, and pointed the way, "Just walk till you get to the red fence." The small homes along the way were mostly wood or cinder block, some just one room, most with the flaking paint and aura of ramshackle that spells poverty.

We arrived at Bevis Romeo’s home/shop. He was at work – at his second, apparently his real, job. Meanwhile his wife minds the small counter, occupied by a chubby baby, behind which was a sparse offering of canned goods and dusty sundries. Not a barbecue on display. We tried to explain what we wanted, meeting only a mystified stare. Nonetheless, she grinned a gap-toothed smile and took us outside to show off Bevis’s handiwork: the pervasive Caribbean drum barbeque but with a custom Bevis-made, latticework grill surface. We admired her husband’s handiwork but said it wasn’t what we needed. All in all, we had a fun, if fruitless, outing into the countryside to meet the locals. (Interfacing, I think they now call it in sociology classes.)

Leaving has become even harder because, just yesterday, I discovered the best tuna fish sandwich since Virgin Gorda – and not at some distant hole-in-the-wall but at the (only) local food market, which we trek through 3 times a day on average, stalking decent produce and meat by greeting the new shipments of food that arrive in vans at no particular time that we can figure out. (Mulling over the tardiness of this tuna discovery, I can see clearly that too much attention lavished on the boat has caused me to slip precipitously from my former pinnacle in the food-sleuthing department. Only scant months ago Gary and I would have been feasting on these slender -- maybe too slender -- peppery tuna subs within hours of making landfall in Antigua.)

Last, I will miss Maude’s Laundry horribly. All I have to do, at almost any time of day, is simply hail her on the radio, ("Maude’s Laundry, Maude’s Laundry, Lulu" ) drop our clothes, sheets, and towels, off at the chandlery next to the grocery store and it’s all returned the next day, beautifully pressed -- even the underwear and sheets. Putting on ironed clothes and crawling between crisp sheets that I haven’t had to wash myself, has become a super luxury.

But it’s not necessarily a bad thing to appreciate these simpler pleasures of life. Especially if you don’t have to give up any of the more complex, expensive ones. Bring on the wine, David!


February 29, 2000 -- Addendum

I spoke too soon about the wines -- and apparently whined too much about the paper towel crisis -- because Joan & David decided we needed paper goods far more than wine. No problem -- we're now in Guadaloupe -- a French island, so good wine should be flowing everywhere.

What they did bring in addition to themselves, some Kleenex and some paper Bounty was another kind of bounty -- a huge horde of fabulous, prime meats from the new Westchester Stew Leonard's -- thick porterhouses, pork chops and veal chops. We barbecued the veal last night and it was divine.

Not only did they bring the meat, they almost missed their flight because of it -- the airline made them remove the dry ice (American Airlines asked if there was dry ice inside the 2 big styrofoam hampers Stew Leonard had packed for them). The meat arrived still frozen despite that and we popped it right into our freezer. Meat is really a problem around here, worse than paper towels. You can overpay for paper towels but it's almost impossible to find good, thick meat in cuts we recognize.

Anyway, the meat arrived but their suitcase did not, so we rushed immediately into St John's before going to the boat -- because David, ever the pessimist, was convinced it was probably on its way to Monsserat or Venezuela. Joan and I knew it would arrive -- and it did, on the next plane -- but since David threatened to wear only his underwear for the rest of the week (he does not take being out of control well) and we decided he actually meant it, we rushed to find him a mini-wardrobe.

We're all hooked up now. Sailed yesterday from Antigua to Guadaloupe -- after weeks of 30-knot winds the most we got yesterday was like 10 knots and we had to motor almost the whole way.

It's incredible how hard it is to sail around here! Last week there was a perfect sailing day. Gary asked if I wanted to go out for a sail.
"Are you crazy?" I asked. "We've got people coming to clean and fix the boat. We have no time to sail."



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