Update 30 A, Well Into Year Two & Island Paradises Continue Not to Pall
Sorry for the long delay in updates: for some a welcome respite, for others too long and abrupt a break. It was both for me. That long writing hiatus gave me on average a few hours a day for other leisure activities – primarily plowing into the amazonian Amazon.com piles I’m always bringing back from trips back to New York.
We’ve both been taking it easier, reading more, working less, making our days more relaxed and unhurried. Nonetheless, even in retirement there aren’t enough hours for everything – at least for me. Gary, on the other hand, has a different perspective: While I tend--still--toward filling my days with activity, he’s emptying his of content. He’s actually been able to expand his nap regime to two or more a day…
Nevertheless, in this new mood of languor, I’ve again begun sitting Zazen – an intensely focused sort of meditation. Just in case I wasn’t already appreciating this life, sitting is about awareness, being attentive and invested in every moment, all of which makes me even more conscious of my good fortune.
We find ourselves in a new place emotionally this second year of cruising. If Year One was about discovery, newness and adventure, Year Two seems to be centering on continuity and community, along with an increased emphasis on comfort.
We’re returning to shores we’ve already touched – and finding it feels – as much as is possible in this water-gypsy lifestyle--like coming home. We’re familiar with the streets, know where to find Customs, buy bread, get dinghy fuel. We know the locations of produce stands, groceries, pay phones Internet cafes. I remember where our favorite restaurants are and Gary, where the hardware store is. We notice the changes--a new road, a modern supermarket – or the lack thereof. We’re anxious to see favorite tour guides and taxi drivers, boat workers, shopkeepers, marina staffers – find out how their lives are going, what’s happened to their islands, what’s new on the political and economic scene.
As we come into a harbor, thread our way through the boats to choose our “parking spot” we find we know six or seven – or more – boats. Or, if we anchor somewhere and recognize no one, we have zero compunction about dinghying up to any boat or couple or flag that intrigues us and introducing ourselves.
That kind of ease and neighborliness reminds me of the mid-sixties, when I lived in a low-rise garden apartment complex where everyone’s door was always open and everyone was welcome in everyone else’s apartment at virtually any time--where my next-door neighbor and I actually shared an entire rainbow spectrum of Pappagallo loafers. And then we even ended up sharing a husband – mine. But that’s another story.
I still feel so incredibly privileged to be living this cruising life. Hardly a day goes by, and sometimes not more than a few hours, where I don’t I find myself hugging myself inside with glee or wanting to pinch myself to make sure it’s still real. In a real way I feel I am storing up treasured memories, incremental moments of tropical beauty – like a squirrel in fall--against an old age that I know now is coming, even if it’s not visible. Well, almost not visible…
How can I describe the wonder of our life, I was going to write. But then I realized the wonder is just the result: the cause is the unpredictability. It’s the breathtaking unpredictability of our life that is so invigorating. Our days are unplanned, their outcomes completely unforeseeable. And change is as much a staple of our diet as spaghetti.
In the past six weeks, we have been in 14 countries, tiny little island states, for the most part. But less significant than the number is the range. We’ve swung at anchor in flat, virtually unpeopled Barbuda and Blanquilla, pancake islands sitting on white plates of sand. We toured Saba--a tiny Netherlands clone built upon a castle of pure rock, taller than it is wide, whose every cranny could pass a white-glove inspection. We toured sprawling mega-buck resort complexes and super-luxe spas that occupy verdant chunks of otherwise scruffy Nevis, Anguilla, Canouan, Petit St Vincent. These almost storybook playgrounds for the affluent employ--even as they must affront--the bulk of a far less fortunate populace. We gawked at Montserrat, once as green and gorgeous as its nearby sisters, reduced, in the time it takes to make a phone call, to volcanic rubble. All this variety was bracketed by and interspersed among, the prosperous, well-lardered, divinely breaded and Frenchly sophisticated St Barth’s, St Martin and Martinique.
And the people. We’ve met a 3rd generation Texas rancher & his small town banker wife--you know, the “Daddy-owned-the-bank,” sort, who probably earned the money to buy their boat from the S&L fiasco. And a former Marine who jumped into a post-retirement career as an 18-wheeler trucker, complete with appropriate tattoos and high-crowned engineer cap. A laconic buttoned-down (despite the Mount Gay Rum tee-shirt) corporate purchasing agent. A duo of retired chiropractors, one of whom supplements the family income by making glass jewelry; They’re living aboard with their two sons, ages 11 and 16. A former house painter who may or may not be dying of pancreatic cancer. A spaced out or drugged out or perhaps just blissed out Rasta guy who cleans boats in as desultory a manner as he can get away with. A honey-haired, rail-thin, 50ish Belgian goddess-type, a Jane-Fonda look-alike, who lived the past decade in a Liberian village and, when the revolution broke there, hid in the bush with the native tribe, instead of fleeing with the ex-pat European white population. Two young airline pilots, one apple-pie American, the other a rangy 6-plus-foot Swede, who grew up in a castle, cultivating a whiplash mind inherited, no doubt, from his dad, the former Saab CEO who invented the auto lease….all these and perhaps 50 or 60 others whose stories I never got a chance to learn.
Four weeks ago, we were playing bocce on a Martinique beach, Two days later I was winning a steak- eating contest--setting a 32-ounce record--in St. Lucia, Two mornings after, in Bequia, we initiated Canadian cruiser friends into the marvels of matzo brei & the intricacies of condimenting it. That same evening we sat on the terrace of an out-of-season Canouan resort, drinking kirs & margaritas, watching the sunset and following with an appallingly bad pizza dinner. From there we zipped through Grenada and into Venezuela, where we are now.
And interspersed with all this have been whiz-bang passages averaging 8 & 9 & 10 knots, hitting high notes up to 12 knots, all in 15- to 30-knot winds.
Are we still happy out here? You bet we are!
A pall did descend on the entire cruiser circuit recently. A sailboat, along with its owner--disappeared, Tom, the male half of a couple we met last summer in Trinidad, a real nice guy. He was on his way from Trinidad back to rejoin his wife, Betsy, for a summer in the States. His first stop, sailing alone, was St Lucia to pick up crew. When he didn’t make it, word went instantly out on the Ham Nets and on our morning Safety and Security Net.” A “boat watch” was instituted for Tropicbird, a 39-foot white cutter-rigged sailboat--anyone with information to call the Coast Guard in Miami. Days went by, all of us in our separate boats speculating, hoping, reviewing our own safety equipment, emergency plans and, yes, thanking whatever lucky stars we’ve sailed under.
Tom left Trinidad on June 7th. On the morning of the 23rd we were informed that the boat had washed up gently, without damage, on a reef along the western coast of Antigua, about 400 miles from Trinidad. The owner was not aboard. The sails were set, the instruments were all working, the “ditch” or emergency bag, was there with his wallet and passport. The last entry in the log was midnight on June 8th. He was passing Grenada.
With nothing amiss, disturbed or, at first glance, broken, it would appear Tom was yet another victim of the most common cause of male overboards--and deaths--at sea: taking a leak over the rail. What a waste.
We are all taking it very personally: one of our own is gone. We are not only sad but considerably sobered. Though such long-passage single-handing—even as a duo--would never be in our plans, we do travel alone, albeit rarely at night. We think we are cautious. We’ll be even more cautious in the future.
We lost another Tom in February. Friends and friends of friends – our ages and even younger – continue to attract crippling or killing diseases--or die suddenly. Tom McGrail was barely 50, ostensibly perfectly healthy; died one night in his sleep. Many of you remember him as our former Plastic Works co-buyer and visual display director – who, in fact, orchestrated those wonderful, eclectic backgrounds for our wedding. He was endlessly creative, a warm, funny, out-there human being.
Doctors speculated low-blood pressure slowed his heart down and it just stopped. When we first heard it, we thought he’d OD’d; I’m sure we weren’t the only ones. Tom had a long history of flying high on cocaine, making him a frequent no-show at work. He lost jobs faster than some men lose hair; his talent always bought him another. But, in fact, he had cut out cocaine, had gone-to-fat, been finally domesticated, settled into a good job, and a quiet(er) life with Frank, his stable, long-cuckolded lover of many years: faithful, conservative Frank, who’d simply waited out Tom’s wild, wise-cracking, partying, out-there-dancing-till-dawn years.
From the vantage point of an early death, looks like Tom did the right thing, burning his own brand of multi-wicked candle as maniacally as he did. His regrets could only have been never achieving the kind of public and financial success putting his nose to the grindstone instead of the coke-spoon would have brought. Again in February we got news that Joan & David’s friend Bruce. Probably in his 50s. No warning. Just dropped dead.
Steve, a cruiser we recently met, said, “You either have a dream or you’re dead.” By this I assume he meant, people without a purpose that’s personally meaningful stagnate. The spirit withers and you’re suddenly old, really old. Dead inside.
And bitter, I figure. If you don’t live your dream you’re left with one of three things: resentment, regret or reasons. If you’re resentful you blame it on others; if you’re regretful it’s your own fault and if you’re reasonable you just explain it away.
Even if we were inclined to be complacent, to take this life for granted, we get these constant wake-up calls, which underscores our resolve to live this dream.
Here, then, at last, is an update on the dream. I last wrote you on our one-year anniversary, October 15 or so. Here’s what’s happened since. (In at least two installments.)
In November, we returned to New York for a family Thanksgiving and to be there to greet our seventh grandchild: Matthew. We spent three weeks primarily crawling on floors, speaking baby talk in an array of high squeaky voices, twisting our features into ridiculous faces, clapping our hands like trained seals and leading frequent impromptu triplet parades.
We are determined to have relationships with these grandchildren, despite our absence and distance. Which made it thrilling to hear, the other day, that our triplets, finicky eaters who have anthropomorphic nicknames, invented by their parents, for all their favorite foods – now call all hamburgers “Grandma Luluburgers,” I have the non-nutritional distinction of first introducing them to Big Macs. But, in my defense, I did thereby add an entire category to their diets.
Early December found us back in Trinidad. We marveled at our capacity to shuttle between two such different lives and sink so completely back into whichever one we happen to be in.
Various tradespeople continued to confound us with their mistakes. We prepared, with great glee, to move up-island. And then Trinidad, as if unwilling to let us go, showed it’s talented side at long last. Certainly not in the realm of marine engineering or yacht finishing--or sandwich assembly, for that matter. We went to a couple of concerts. So inured to disappointment, it was especially thrilling to have the country deliver so much more than expected.
Trinidad, the birthplace of steel bands and Calypso, is Talmudically serious about music and singing. First, there’s the national obsession with both traditional and modern Calypso. Trinidad is to Calypso as New Orleans is to Jazz. Add to that the year-round focus on Carnival music. Myriad 100-member pan (steel) bands not only practice obsessively but joust with each other during marathon competitions that decide which groups will play for the Carnival Mas (short for Masquerade) Camps. The Mas Camps are the countless parade groups,each embodying a theme, that march on FatTuesday—an all-day celebration starting at 8AM. They wear--both men and women—elaborate and thong-skimpy costumes.
Trinidad showed us its best at a holiday concert by a choral group called the Lydian Singers, held in the church of the picturesque St. Bonaventure’s Monastery. The Lydians, as a group some 20 years old, number about 70 or 80 singers--men and women, teens to elders--who sing in perfect harmony and syncopation. They belt out lyrics, as if one voice, from a startling range of world music--traditional Christmas carols or souped-up gospel versions; local holiday Calypsos; spirituals like “Go Tell it on the Mountain;” the Trinidad National Anthem; Verdi arias; Handel’s Hallelujah chorus or any one of Mozart’s Requiems.
They’re all amateurs, mostly black, who work daytime jobs, yet train some three nights a week with a short, buxom, diesel engine of a woman with popping eyes and a matching spirit. Pat Bishop has nurtured and helped many of the more mature voices develop from their first airing in high school. One of the young men is currently studying at a world-renowned school of music in London, but we could picture any of the dramatically gifted soloists catapulted out of his simple surplice-style Lydian vest and into rococo Falstaffian operatic costumes. The sopranos’ voices were crystalline, the tenors heartbreakingly pure, the baritones deeply sonorous. As if this weren’t enough contrast, there was the startling juxtaposition of such voices accompanied by a steel band. What seems an unsophisticated conglomeration of “instruments” —giant steel oil drums, kindergarten tambourines, dried seed pods, wooden maracas and African and Tassas drums--is capable of anything from Frčre Jacques to Beethoven’s Ninth
They were magnificent, and most of us--not just our small cruiser group, but many near us in the larger audience of some 500 people--agreed it was the highlight of their music-going lives, which encompassed Broadway musicals, Lincoln Center symphonies, Metropolitan Opera performances.
High on this experience and on the arrival of our friends, Joan and David, we took to the high seas again on December 22nd, bound for Grenada. Unfortunately, we’d forgotten how--not how to sail, but how to prepare for an overnight passage. What’s called for is a light meal, non-alcoholic, of course, along with a doses of Dramamine all around. The thought of Dramamine never crossed our minds. We fed our poor landlubbing friends a celebratory welcome feast, at around 3 PM, consisting of a smoked salmon appetizer, two giant aged porterhouses, plus two double-thick veal chops, garlic bread, a mixed salad dressed in a spicy balsamic dressing. Plus we downed 3 bottles of red wine. Then we set sail. At 5PM.
We chugged gaily out of Chaguaramas Harbor, under perfectly clear skies, garnering significant applause from everyone around for matching tee shirts that covered our own aging hulks with a colorful imprint of outlandishly curvaceous bikini-ed bodies – front and back.
By 9PM, we were huddled in windbreakers and sweatshirts. Three out of four of those ill-advised dinners were splattering over the decks. The thought of any movement at all terrified poor Joan; only an ingrained delicacy (or shame) propelled her head out over the cockpit onto the deck. David was similarly sick and Gary fared not much better. I was unfelled but left to contemplate my own potential fate--I might be the only one capable of cleaning up those once glorious, but now dreaded, chunks of steak. Not to mention stubbornly unmoving lettuce shreds. It wasn’t a pretty thought.
Not only stomachs, but weather and instruments, acted up that endless night. The electronic wind-speed indicator shorted out, which successfully blew out our entire instrument package--depth, speed, auto-pilot, compass, everything. Gary fixed all but the wind vane, and so we traveled with no knowledge of the wind speed. Maybe it was better--we are positive the wind hit 45 or more that night, and squalls pursued us all night as well--downpours of uncharacteristically chilly water. All unpredicted.
Fortunately, we’re wired so that memories of pain are mercifully short-lived. Especially when you--I can’t say awaken, because no one slept--andopen your eyes to merry sunshine playing on scampering wavelets. And even more fortunate for me, everyone rallied to clean up their own mess.
“Ya shuda waited a coupla days.
It is good boat policy that every member of the crew and guests be assigned
their own personal barf bucket. We have discovered that the buckets need not
be of great volume. After the first couple of evacuations, dry heaves set in
and there is little volume.
The best buckets we have discovered are the sand buckets that kids take to the beach. Everybody can select their own favorite color...they come with handles so they are quite convenient to schlep around the boat. The handles should have some line (about two-feet, nylon is best) for security and for hanging near your berth. Dietary considerations aside, we have discovered that well marbled fried pork chops with brown gravy accompanied with a side of red cabbage makes an interesting meal prior to departure.”
I told him he should add bright green lettuce to the menu.
By dinnertime we were all up for celebrating my last birthday as a fiftysomething. Joan and David were never sick again, though David, no gazelle even on land, did tear his rotator cuff one day getting out of the dinghy. Climbing out of a dinghy that’s pitching in choppy waters and up onto a splintery dock that’s two feet above takes some practice. Painful as David’s shoulder was, it had very little effect on his ability to propel a fork to his mouth. He soldiered gamely through Christmas and New Year’s Eve and a week of otherwise great Grenadines sailing.
I was also sorely tested during their visit. Whatever David lacks in physical coordination, Joan, my most stylish friend, makes up for in clothing choices that are perfectly coordinated, creatively assembled, usually with unexpected flourishes of whimsy. So when she appeared in her first beach-bum-by-way-of Donna Karan ensemble it became painfully clear (as I rushed to change my purse) that my alleged renunciation of fashion slavery had no more solidity than a scrap of tulle. Maybe it never went deeper than my tee shirt didn’t have to match my bathing suit--and the fact that you can embarrass yourself mightily in this cruiser life by showing up overdressed for bocce or happy hour or dinner with your feet in the sand.
January: Luxury’s Lap
In January I got a chance to drag out my finery, as six of us “Melon” couples (see Lulu website, July 14, 2001) rented a villa in Barbados. Five were flying in from New York; we decided to sail the 100 miles there. We’d been warned repeatedly about what a dreadful trip it is for craft smaller than cruiseships – actually sailboats can’t sail at all because there are almost always tempestuous Christmas trade winds out of the east and the route is straight into them. We opted to endure the discomfort to have the boat with us and because the sail back, invariably with strong winds at the hindquarter, is as divine as passages get. Ironically, the winds were practically asthmatic and the seas slack, so the trip was a 12-hour bit of nothing that we'd worried about unnecessarily. Which says a whole lot about the uses of worry.
The docks are concrete, there was a three-foot tide inside the seawall and the surge was positively frightening. The dock personnel, since they get so few boats, had no clue as to what they're doing. As we docked, one took the bow line and tied it so tight there was no more than 12" slack, while the ape at the stern was trying (and failing) to hold the line all by himself, without benefit of a chock. This caused the stern to swing across a slip that was meant for maybe a 30-foot beam boat, taking with it the rest of our 61-foot boat and propelling it into the sailboat next door. Gary had about zero maneuverability. Ultimately we got docked without damaging the boat--but only after some harrowing moments. Now we knew we were staying at the most dangerous--and least serviced--marina we’d ever encountered. We soon discovered it was also the most expensive, by a factor of almost two--in the Caribbean.
When we looked around, there was one large powerboat, maybe a 120-footer, one big motorsailer about 100 feet & a 57-ft Oyster look-alike. Within 12 hours we were joined by Free Spirit, an 80-ft Oyster and Thunder, a 70-ft Oyster; together we looked like an outdoor Oyster showroom. Lulu looked positively anorexic.
Fortunately we had those those 12 hours in which to figure out how to secure her so we could leave. She was swinging alarmingly and in huge arcs, like an oversized belly dancer. All 10 fenders were out to keep her from bashing into the concrete dock, but they too were dancing, as if making ready to high-kick out and up onto the dock. We were chafing through not only the dock lines but their rubber chafe guards as well. Gary had to screw the lines down with hose clamps to check the abrasion.
We got her as settled as we could, then looked up Klaus, a friend-of-a-friend, who owns a St. Charles town house. We invited him down to see the boat. Klaus--whose marketing of himself is positively Vegamatic—got right down to business, regaling us immediately with the story of how he’d sold his company and avoided paying $20 million in taxes to Canada, all by relocating to Barbados. All he had to do was renounce his Canadian citizenship and never go home. Seemed to us if $20 million was the tax bill alone, he probably could afford to pay it. He was, he lamented, also boat-less, having recently accepted an outlandish price for his beloved, 60-foot custom trawler. Seemed to us with that extra $20 million cushion, he probably could have kept it. But, deducing he had a 60-foot boat slip empty, we hinted-- sledgehammer-style--that it would ease our minds considerably if we could find a way to leave the boat in the lagoon. Klaus, unfortunately, wasn’t much of a listener…
We left Lulu—nervously, like new parents with an iffy babysitter--to join the others at Villa Bon Vivant. The house, about 20 minutes away in an estate complex, was quite something in its day: but, used hard by a full calendar of revolving guests, could use a redo. It was comfortable, agreeably staffed and chockablock with toys. We had four bedrooms with king-size beds in the main house, all surrounding a planted courtyard. There were oversized couches everywhere. A swimming pool, of course, plus a hot tub. At one end of the pool was a guest villa with two more king-size bedrooms separated by another overstuffed living room. There was another separate little building, called the Nest, with a queen-size bed suspended from ropes—sort of a swing/bed. We were happy we didn’t land that room or it would have felt like we’d never left the boat.
We had a tennis court, a monster billiard table indoors and a smaller one outdoors, a shuffleboard court, a ping-pong table, a gym, all manner of board games and sports-bar sorts of machines. And the night watchman--a huge statue of a man with enormous biceps who, in his daytime life, was a massage therapist and foot reflexologist--was also available to us. He was magically talented masseur.
As usual we laughed ourselves
sick, downed books and traded them, engaged in a lot of girl gossip and enjoyed
each others’ company thoroughly. We got well stuffed with really good
Caribbean cooking-- breakfast with homemade scones, outdoor buffet lunches,
sunset drinks & hors d'oeuvres, followed by a two-main course dinner. And
coffee in the lanai.
When we returned to the marina, we found that some time during that last night an unusually strong surge --even for Port St. Charlesp—had dislodged one of the fenders and sent it up on the dock, leaving Lulu's port side unprotected. The teak toe rail took the concrete beating, which splintered it up pretty bad. Twelve feet needed replacing. (A toe rail is a piece of wood that essentially finishes off the top of the hull--it’s a carved 2 x 4—that protects the hull from a dock.)
The marina, instead of insurance, had a disclaimer: it expected boats there to be crewed. We figured the damages could have been far worse and Gary went to customs to check out. Meanwhile, Klaus came a’callin.’ Told me he’d been lunching on their terrace and suddenly (after a week!) noted that our boat was jumping from side-to-side in her slip. So, suddenly a born-again Samaritan, he invited us to use his slip that very night! And, oh, yes, by the way, would I mind showing the boat to his wife who'd missed the original tour? At that point I was happy Gary, already fuming, was off dealing with the Bajan bureaucracy.
The boat was rocking so fiercely even I felt queasy and took a Bonine. Klaus’s offer notwithstanding, we beat it out of the marina by sunset and were out of Barbados at 1 AM, raring to enjoy that well-publicized idyllic sail back. You’ll no doubt guess the rest--we had absolutely no wind, and had to motor back. At $3.00 a gallon. Klaus would have found a way around it…
February: Dominica & Martinique revisited
It’s a good thing St. Lucia has
a lot of restaurants we like, because we spent some three weeks there having
that toe rail section replaced by Tyson, a sweet man with an impossible stutter.
He didn’t talk much, for obvious reasons. I was rendered breathless myself
whenever he spoke, wondering which he’d finish first-- the cliffhanger
sentence he was working on or the toerail itself.
I don’t know how stutterers live with those long moments of
struggle—they fill me, just a bystander, with fear and dread. And yet
therapists like my friend Toby say stuttering is disguised rage. If it’s a bid
for attention, it sure is a strange one, but I suppose it works, nailing
listeners in place and effectively paralyzing them. At the same time it’s a
pretty good victim stance, arousing the desire to help, to make it better. I
never could connect mild-mannered Tyson and rage in the same thought.
After many a false start, Tyson eventually finished most of his sentences and our toerail. We took off for Martinique to meet our daughter, Wendy, and her husband, Jeff. Traveling from Martinique to Dominica with them, we were treated to a reasonable facsimile of the sail denied us returning from Barbados.
As we set out in calm seas and 10-knot winds, we checked in with David Jones, our weather service person, who chuckled and told us to expect, any minute, anything from 30 to 45 knots. He’s usually wrong. (We subscribe to him almost for good luck, so that whatever dire thing he promises we won’t get. But in this case, the prophecy kicked in as soon as we passed the northern tip of Martinique. I don’t remember whether David had mentioned the 15-foot waves that curled high around our hull and flew up from the bow, sailing over the canvas and into the cockpit, treating Wendy and Gary at the back to constant drenching blasts of water. The salt turned Wendy’s thick black hair to a thick, solid halo of gray.
However, all this transpired in glorious sunshine and Lulu loves big winds. We were barreling along at 10, 11, 12 and even up to 13 knots and the four of us were shrieking in pure elation. Afterwards Wendy said, “I wasn’t sure but I looked at you two and you didn’t seem to be afraid, so I decided there was nothing to be afraid of.”
The Dominican mood of anticipatory elation we saw last year is largely gone. Roosevelt Douglas, the activist Prime Minister who so impressed us, died suddenly this year, after only 8 months in power. Hopes for big infrastructure changes and infusions of cash have been dashed.
“Those things are gone, man,” our favorite taxi driver, the ebullient MacLean Marie, told us. “The engine was really Rosie.” Mac counted himself part of Rosie’s “kitchen cabinet,” a boyhood friend, a confidante and unofficial advisor. “A lot of guys don’t know the scope of what Rosie planned. Some of those initiatives were never even brought to the Cabinet.” They’ll die in bureaucracy or be scaled back, he predicted.
Rosie had charisma, courage and connections to world leaders that might bring about change. He intended to sit at the banquet tables of world power and get more slices of the limited international aid pie for his people. He courted not only the United States and France, but Kuwait and Libya. Mac said he had a long-standing personal relationship with Quaddafi, had encouraged a the Libyan leader to do something about the terrorism and Libya’s pariah position.
I, like many of the cruisers, have joined Dominica’s fan club and Martin’s welfare matters, so we too were heartsick. We encourage cruisers not to miss its striking beauty because they’ve gotten wind of the hardscrabble poverty and occasional boarding or dinghy theft. Because fewer boats visit and the Portsmouth harbor is vast, such incidents, which number fewer than other islands, tend to be overblown.
There have been only two boardings since the one last year on Feisty. Then, the morning after Wendy and Jeff left. Montombi, anchored right in front of us, was boarded during the night. They had left a hatch open; some time between midnight & 5:30 AM someone entered the boat through a hatch, picked up a kitchen knife, it appeared, for defense should the owners awaken, proceeded to steal money left on a table, a handheld GPS and a pair of binoculars. The couple heard not one thing.
The boat boys were very upset. Jeffrey on SeaBird came over and took them to the police. Martin was at church, fathering and taking the day off. Max, another local taxi driver with a big personality, told us "he was on the case." The police were really upset, the Montombi owners told us when we visited them later to commiserate. The name Montombi, sounding sonorous, possibly some powerful storm--sister to, say, a tsunami-- is a nonsense word they invented and call all their boats. They were new to full-time cruising; we told them it wasn’t really like this. They looked doubtful. Eventually several of their possessions, we never learned which, were recovered by the police.
Around 2PM that Sunday we began to hear heavy Reggae? Soca? Calypso? music booming across the huge harbor at us, coming from the hotel area outside of town. It got louder and louder, closer and closer, more and more infectious. Eventually we had to investigate. We dinghied to town around 5 PM, where the music was most insistent, beating so loud it vibrated through the dinghy bottom. There was a big traffic jam leading into town and in front of it all kinds of people bopping, grinding, jumping, frugging, wiggling and flailing their arms behind a giant truck cab pulling an open-air stage, all decked out in Heineken colors and decor. A local band rode inside, banging out the music, which was carried out over huge speakers, with very sophisticated audio technology. Atop the cab stood a singer and a sinewy, skinny-assed local swiveling his lower torso into the most complicated of Mobius patterns and at a most prodigious number of gyrations per second.
This procession wound its way down the main street, back up the street behind forming its own Mobius strip, getting progressively more and more frenzied till about 8PM. We left at about 6, feeling we'd got the gist. What was it, we wondered? We ran into Max, still “on the case,” he reassured us. And told us it was the unofficial opening, a sort of pre-celebration of Carnival. The biggest attraction was watching the locals' intensity, their giving themselves over 100 percent to what can't be new news. On the other hand, there’s also no Bruce Willis movie playing at the Tenplex…
We sailed back to Martinique where we anchored in tiny St Pierre, with Lulu's bow practically nuzzling Mt. Pelé whose own point was itself nuzzling a big clump of whipped-creamy clouds. Pelé’s wide conical lower level is one verdant carpet into which nestles the small town, whose highest point is its twin Catholic church towers--squat, square concrete spires coming to terra cotta points, the sort of neo-Gothic attempt that might be found in any self-respecting Provence village. The whole scene is so wholly peaceful and bucolic it's hard to believe the innocuous-looking crumple of green in the background actually spewed forth enough black venom in 1902 to eliminate the population and eradicate the town.
We spent the rest of Carnival in Martinique with Feisty and a big group of cruiser friends, but compared to Guadeloupe’s celebrations last year it was tawdry and bawdy. Still, Martinique has its own magnificent compensations. Here, itemizing a few of them, are some of my diary notes for a few of those glorious February/early March days. They will also help answer the question we’re always asked: “What does your average day look like? Subtext: “But what do you DO all day???”
February 22: Grand Anse d’Arlets: Taxi to Marin for the Feisties to clear in; typically French plat du jour lunch--paupiettes de veau; confit de magret, frites, salad, espresso, great bread. Dinghy across the harbor, Sweep through a few marine stores, supermarket filled with French goodies–even cooked beets for salad--goat cheeses, lardons, fresh meats. Across the parking lot to Ti Poulet–the un-Perdue--for a fabulous rotisserie chicken with a piquant oniony-hot-sauce. Taxi home featuring glorious vistas across turquoise waters of distant mountains, stark coves, cozy villages. Just in time for a glass of wine and a layer cake of a sunset –-swirling marbles of baby blue and lavender topped with frothy coral and magenta icing. Some writing, some reading, a bowl of soup, pop in a laundry and off to bed…
March 6: St Anne: 9:30 AM, dinghy into St Anne, a postage-stamp, two-street village with quaint church spire and pleasant little square. Walk to the boulangerie, led by our noses, where we share a baguette--still hot from the oven, so crunchy it tears your mouth up, but who cares? Plus two croissants, greasy buttery flakes fluttering onto our shirts, like snowflakes, reminding us how lucky we are not to be mired in NY snow—Suey reports they’re getting 12 to 18 inches. Walk to and through the outdoor market, jabbering local women presiding over almost identical tables, piled with healthy tomatoes, pale yellow christophines, tiny local pineapples and huge grapefruits. In Martinique all kinds of produce are still grown--or, if not, imported. Today discovered those small yellow globes with green stripes that looked to me like some overenthusiastic maneuvering of squash genes, are actually the sweetest cantaloupes ever.
11:00, dinghy to Marin, Gary combing–yet again--the marine stores and visiting electronic fixitman. We check out Annette’s Market, buy some Bordeaux grand vins–prices from $2.00 up to $10.
1:00, lunch at the no-name restaurant, its terrace on the almost deserted strip of beach. We watch Lulu and the other boats lolling at anchor. A small carafe of wine each–me, white, he rosé, a new lunch favorite. We share moules marinieres--mussels in a light cream and shallot sauce. I devour a fresh grilled fish, blanketed, as only the French can, in some miraculous caper sauce--with plenty of dunking bread. Gary combatted his hamburger craving with a poulet colombo--sort of a stewed, curried chicken--and some perfect frites. Well, the French did invent the recipe: seems lard, not McDonald’s is the secret of the French Fry.
3:30, time for some reading, dozing (Gary); reading, emailing (me).
Five PM sharp, glass-of-wine and sunset time. Bed by 10, (Gary); laundry-time and reading (me).
Just about the only consistency to our days is every morning
we make the bed together, listen to the Security Net. Most mornings we each do
some boat chore, repair, cleaning project. Sometimes, though rarely, we work
most of the day; sometimes we sail all day between islands. Otherwise, we get to
do some form of snooping around somewhere.
We’ve been trying to eat one big meal a day, though Gary
rarely makes it. He
continues with his own personal spa program--dunking his heart in daily fat
baths. Last night it was a half a pound of lardons--oversized bacon bits you get
pre-packaged, in the dairy cases of French islands (the equivalent of our
packets of Kraft sliced American, which, on the other hand, you don’t ever
see) stuffed into a three-egg scramble. Then he downed the last of his precious
Cherry Garcia stash--three pints he special-ordered in St Lucia.(Every island
has its own particular charm.)
Lucky for him, it wasn’t long before he
was back in New York for a Cherry Garcia binge–and regular infusions of
Amatraciana sauce. Aside from that we got our family-friend fix and I got to
watch Ryan take his first steps.
TO BE CONTINUED…