Life Aboard LULU

November 4, 2008 (A belated— AND ANTICIPATORY—Thanksgiving wish)
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A belated—AND ANTICIPATORY—Thanksgiving wish

In case you’ve been thinking we dropped off one of many available horizons we pass, we are, in fact, still living aboard LULU. We had a hectic 2008, once again sailing the eastern Caribbean from St Croix back down the island chain, then on to Venezuela and Bonaire one (possibly) last time. If it seems to you like we retired to a Hilton Head Island condo, doing nothing we haven’t done before, know that we are right now in Curacao, staging for a passage to Cartagena, the San Blas islands, Panama and beyond.

Yes, this too is re-run but it’s 5 years since we made this 1500-mile passage west.

Blame this long writing silence—forgive the oxymoron—on too much restaurant research, too many visiting kids, too many new cruising friends and even too much land travel—back to NY, back to Beijing for the Olympics in August, back to Tuscany in September and on across the uncharted (at least by us) Adriatic to spectacular Croatia—yes, even aboard a chartered sailboat.

Seems we can’t get enough boat life—despite the mishaps you’ll read about below, which actually happened about a year ago—as we traveled north from Bonaire back to the Virgin Islands.

Once we’d arrived safely in St Croix I wrote this description of our passage, meaning to send it out to all of you last Thanksgiving—2007. Instead I recast it—toying with the truth by fast-forwarding the action to this Thanksgiving, which technically speaking, hasn’t even happened yet. But the ruse worked, as it was just published in the November issue of the sailing magazine, “Latitudes and Attitudes.”

Just one more case study in journalistic deceit. You can’t even trust your friends in the press.

I called it A Sailor’s Thanksgiving. They red-penciled it down to just plain “Thanksgiving.” Sorry no pictures—as you’ll read, we sort of had our hands full.

Without further ado…

(A Sailor’s) Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving rolls around we are grateful for another year—our ninth—of cruising. We’re thankful for all the happy times, our good health—and even some excellent food moments

But most especially we are grateful to be done with our passage north.

We hadn't really sailed much since early June, when we fairly flew into Bonaire in 30 knots of wind and a beam reach, which is about as exciting—in a good way—as sailing gets.

We stayed pretty much put until December when we moved from Bonaire through Los Roques, Venezuela, to St Croix. This last 300 miles was as terrible as usual. Only worse this year. The huge, confused seas and the number of boat-things that went kerflooey gave us renewed understanding of the term "shakedown cruise."

A brief review of this bruiser of a passage would start with the numerous ugly black and blue contusions Little Lulu--the person (that is, me)--sustained during the three days of pitching and tossing. These new blobs and blemishes accented the overall red-kidney-bean texture and color of my skin-a woeful pattern created by the vicious warrior mosquitoes that rule Los Roques anchorages in rainy season.

These small black monsters dive-bomb unarmed deck bunnies and bikini'ed beach worshippers in wave after wave of shock-and-awe sorties. Landing even on repellent-slathered skin, they regroup into infantry squads, then break up into individual troop units that then brazenly browse the terrain for unbitten targets. Swatting doesn't seem to faze them; there's no defense against such articulated battle plans. Ultimately the bugs drove us into making a hasty, possibly ill-timed, getaway to the open water. It was a passage that had to be made anyway but maybe should have waited for some weather guru to draw the curtain on an actual weather window,

In any event Big Lulu (the boat) soon fell to pitching, yawing, slamming, all the while drinking in big gulps of salt water via her big "eyebrow" salon windows. This eliminated most usable sea berths. (Really, it's quite amazing that we have no workable sleeping nooks on this 61-foot boat, which once looked perfectly suitable to us powerboat innocents making the curious switch to sail. In any event, the only possible sleeping area was the non-leaking central area of the salon floor-atop a haphazard array of squall-soaked cockpit cushions. These presented their own skin perils: the hooked (AKA dagger) side of the Velcro attaching strips.

The engine ran most of the trip; thus, when the generator gave way on Night One, our "bedroom" turned into a seagoing sauna.

Day Two brought more of the same, plus more frequent squalls and some unanticipated water sports. First our six-passenger life raft decided to go sailing-off the boat. It passed by us as we drank our morning coffee in the cockpit, giving off a huge HISSSS as it inflated and passed overboard between the lifelines. As it disappeared into the sea in all its orangeness we could comfort ourselves with the thought that we did not have to be in it. And fortunately we still had what we now knew was a dependable four-person raft.

Depending, of course, on its mood.

Next, the dinghy went for an impromptu dip in the sea. As we finished lunch we heard a loud TWAANG. Turning to its source—the stern—we saw the dinghy hanging from one davit, as if we had just reeled in a huge 500-pound gray shark. The starboard davit cable had snapped. The dinghy motor either was or was not submerged—neither of us could remember later, because we were so shocked. My husband, Gary, reeled in both sails, while I ran (well, in truth one can't exactly run on a pitching sailboat—rather, one lists, lumbers or, more aptly, crawls like a penitent in some Middle Ages basilica.) In such fashion I stationed myself at the stern to take orders. Suddenly, yet another TWAANG, as the other cable snapped. The dinghy was fastened to the boat solely by the painter, clipped onto the stern rail. Gary (ever the master of emergencies) got out a long line and we (he) managed to tie it around the port davit (this after three tries, during which the line got tangled and knotted around itself and the rail, like some oversized knitting error.) But eventually the dinghy was bouncing over the waves some 30 feet back, looking almost happy.

The autopilot only quit once and jumped right back into active duty, clearly a blessing in such waters. We couldn't find our night-vision binoculars. Some time during Day Three Gary's sunglasses dropped, the lens fell out—and the screw disappeared. Fortunately we inventory duct tape and fishing line.

Nearing land we looked back at our "happy" dinghy: the console had disengaged and was dancing a polka around the available floor space. Luckily, it was still attached by the motor cables and so didn't also hop into the drink.

As we finally dropped anchor we discovered the hydraulic foot controls at the bow had frozen up. Luckily we had a backup remote controller.

Luckily also, when we began checking the damages, the dinghy coughed to life. The generator was a simple fix and the saltwater cleanup proved no more than its usual soggy mess. (Cruiser wisdom I could further celebrate: a mixture of Downy fabric softener and water works wonders removing salt water without stains.)

Even more luckily it: wasn't our dinghy that was stolen from the dinghy dock in Frederikstad, St Croix. That blessing was bestowed on our buddy boat.

One last luckily: luckily, passage memories—like childbirth pain—soon fade; and so we slipped easily into holiday mode.

To those of you who weren’t nuts enough to “sail off into the sunset” or who have passed on to actual land lives—and are silently or loudly congratulating yourselves for being so lucky (and smart)—having missed all those delights, we send our wishes for a thrilling, fulfilling 2009.

And we hope all you liveaboards are gifted with smooth sails, benign winds, calm seas and squall-less passages. Since that won't happen, how about placid anchorages, gorgeous sunsets, fun sundowners, yummy pot lucks, low scores in dominoes, high times, lush snorkeling, bountiful fish and lobster—in season, of course.

We would like to add our holiday thoughts to the flood of annual gratitude lists, good wishes and year-end round-ups soon to sluice through cyberspace.

We now look forward to a smooth sail to St John and to Christmas Eve, when we'll join a small horde of cruisers, some old and still-to-be made friends, will gather in Maho Bay for a drinks and appetizers free-for-all on the beach, with live music, a strawberry sherbet of a sunset and a yellow pie of a moon.

And we will raise a glass of something rummy to all you still-wannabees and the many thank-the-lord-we-didn'ts with this nautical toast:

There are good ships
There are wood ships
There are ships that sail the sea

But the best ships
Are the friendships
May they always be.


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