Tuesday, August 7, 2018

With Concrete Below

Venezuela in the distance.  Trinidad to the left.

I haven’t written since mid-April and this post was to be my first after returning to Trinidad. We had every intention of being back there by now, aboard Northern Star, but as we all know, life throws a curveball from time to time. Rather than complain unduly about that, we are trying to just get on with it; make the best of a change of plans.

Cruising boats at anchor in the Caribbean.

Bear with me, if you will, while I clarify our original plans for the 2018-19 “sailing season.”  As you know, June 1 through November 1 is called, the “hurricane season” in the Caribbean—a good time to not be roaming around the Caribbean. We put Northern Star “up on the hard” (resting on stands, on dry land) in Trinidad, right next to Venezuela.
Northern Star on the hard

Trinidad is part of the Caribbean, but our marine insurer considers Trinidad to be below the hurricane zone.  Therefore, Trinidad was a great place to leave our boat while we flew back to the U.S. for a few months to visit family and friends. Round flight airline tickets were purchased in April, departing Trinidad on May 1 and returning on August 1st.  

If we had flown back in Trinidad on August 1st as planned, we would now be busily getting our boat ready to go back into the water and then we would start preparing for a long winter cruise with a rally of 30 boats. The rally takes us from Trinidad, north to Martinique, then on to Curacoa, a small island just north of Venezuela.  

Some of these boats will go with the Rally to Colombia
From there, the true rally begins. December is to be spent in Colombia, then on to the isolated San Blas Islands, Panama, Honduras, Belize and finally Mexico; an agenda extending from November 2018 through April 2019. We’ve made several cruising friends this past year who are making that same journey and we have been so looking forward to traveling with them.

Sailing friends and Jax in D.C.
Raleigh, North Carolina was where our U.S. travels began in April. First, we retrieved our car from where it had been stored in Oriental, NC and immediately put on 4 new tires, a task that you will soon agree was a really good idea.  

We visited friends in Oriental and Raleigh. Then, with giddy anticipation, we drove to Washington D.C. to see Jax and his other human family that live on their boat, Narwhal at the Capitol Yacht Center. 
View from above the Capital Yacht Club

It was so wonderful to see Jax!  He ran around in circles when he saw us. Jax is 14 years old now, and doing really well.  He’s a happy guy, and we still miss him terribly but he is at home in downtown D.C. now and well loved by so many in the marina. 
Brian with a new Master's of Social Work from
Loyola University.
Next, it was on to Chicago for Carl’s son’s graduation from Loyola with a Master’s in Social Work. 
I had the distinct honor of being the first MSW to welcome him into the fold of Master’s level Social Workers.  A HUGE congratulations to him on this achievement!

Newest family members, twin boy
and girl
We drove from Chicago to Memphis to visit Carl’s sisters and their families, which by the way, now includes a new pair of beautiful twin babies. We were a little out of practice at baby holding techniques, but that side to side rocking motion turns out to be instinctive.  

While in Memphis, we had all of our doctor appointments for the year. We have been very pleased with our medical care in Memphis. 
The Little Rock Nine, the first black
students to attend a white high school.
Just for the heck of it, we took a short trip to Little Rock, Arkansas from Memphis. When we headed back to Minnesota, we purposely chose a longer route which took us through the Ozarks in Missouri, an area neither of us had seen before.  We also stopped to visit with friends in Iowa City.

My great niece was Syttende Mai queen
 last year (Seventeenth of May,
Norwegian independence day)
In southeastern Minnesota, we arrived in time to celebrate my great niece’s high school graduation. This milestone is celebrated with great aplomb in Spring Grove, MN. Our visit coincided with the visit of my sister who lives in Florida. 

Six of us seven siblings went on a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi as part of our ritual “Sibling Weekend” (which now can occur any days of the week since all of us are retired.) Sadly, my eldest sister now has health issues which make it difficult for her to travel freely with the rest of us. 
A lovely day on a Mississippi paddle wheeler,  La Crosse, WI

This brings us to mid-June, when we arranged a lunch with friends that I worked with at Gillette Children’s in St. Paul. The fact that I left Gillette nearly 20 years ago seems preposterous.  Apparently, however, the calendar tells the truth. 

Carl, me, son Peter, his girlfriend, Itzel and
my daughter, Liz
The next day we flew out to Portland, Oregon to spend 17 days with my son and daughter.  Between their two households, they took good care of us and never acted as if we had overstayed our welcome. 

You can see at least 4 whales just below the surface.
Whale-watching and kite flying, winery tours, and an outdoor Trampled by Turtles concert were some of the highlights. We got to see my son in three bicycle races, and meet my daughter's new dog. 

Next, we flew back to Minnesota, and drove north to a cabin owned by friends on Clearwater Lake, Ontario, Canada. Fabulous fishing, food and friends! 

Then, back south to Duluth which was our home until we moved aboard Northern Star 3 1/2 years ago.  
An unusually calm evening on Lake Superior

Alas, Carl was phoned by his Memphis gastroenterologist just after we left Tennessee  for Minnesota. The doctor offered his strong recommendation that Carl seek a second opinion on his endoscopy. Seeing as Minnesota is the home of the Mayo Clinic, he followed through with that recommendation here in Minnesota. 
Lewis and Clark, Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO

The good news is that he does not have cancer, but rather, a condition that may precede esophageal cancer and thus requires treatment to prevent progression.  The bad news (although this is not truly a bad thing) is that we won’t be returning to our home with water below for some period of months.  It is unlikely that we will be joining the rally to the western Caribbean this next season—a disappointment but not a bad thing. If we had not discovered the condition that requires treatment so early, that would have been a bad thing.
In Duluth now

We are at the same cabin on Island Lake where we lived the ten months prior to moving onto our boat. Friends own this lake house as their second home and they graciously allow us to call it “home” while we are in Duluth. 
the view from the cabin on Island Lake

So, here we are, back in Duluth—surrounded by good friends and staying in a lovely home in the woods on a beautiful little lake 35 minutes drive from downtown. Honestly, we are fortunate beyond belief. We have moved our medical care from Memphis back to Duluth again since Duluth feels the most like home while we're away from Northern Star. 
Carl launching Pete's kite, Oregon shore.  How about competitive kite flying?  

Our primary challenge now is to figure out what to do with ourselves for the next several months. Neither of us are any good at thumb twiddling. Without our usual routine of boat projects to work on, we feel a bit adrift, so to speak.  But we will figure it out. And it will be okay. For now we are living with concrete below.  
P.S.  Miles driven on the new tires--8,725 and counting.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The End of the Season...Already?

While our Minnesota friends have had their hopes for spring dashed time and again. we on Northern Star are working our way south in order to put our boat up on the hard for the next few months, May through at least August 1st.
Dinghy dock on Iles des Saintes

If the boat is north of 10 1/2 N latitude when a named storm hits, she will not be covered by our insurance. That will put us south of Grenada.  South of Grenada lie the islands of Trinidad and Tobago as well as the country of Venezuela.  Trinidad is our destination. We have been looking for another cruising boat to traverse the waters approaching Venezuela with us without success as of this date. Venezuela was once a safe country for cruisers but reports of piracy now come out of that area. We will be avoiding pirates by sailing at night and staying well away from oil rigs and the Venezuelan coast.
Harbor on Beqia

Kite-surfing north of Mayreau
We have just left Bequia (BEK-way), the northernmost of the Grenadine Islands that are part of the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines; SVG for short. What was once a British colony now has its’ own flag and its’ own economy.  If you were to tell me that you had never before heard of the Grenadines, or St. Vincent or Bequia, I would not judge you harshly.  Prior to leaving with the Salty Dawg Rally from Hampton, Virginia last fall, I could not have told you what or where they were.  This I admit only to emphasize that the Caribbean is a very large area with hundreds of islands; the largest of course, being Cuba and then the Dominican Republic (not to be confused with Dominica (dom-in-EE-ka).
Bequia. Locals call it "Paradise." Nobody disagrees.
Bequia just may be the jewel of all the Grenadines.  When our friends on S/V Lulu cleared into Customs on Bequia, the Customs agent stamped their passports, looked them squarely in the eyes and said, “Welcome to paradise. You have arrived.” 
View of Bequia harbor from the Tantie (Auntie) Pearl restaurant

Every morning at 8:00, Lafayette, a woman who happens to own the popular restaurant, The Fig Tree on the waterfront, comes over VHF radio Channel 68 to draw us together under the spell of her calm, joyful voice.  She loves the cruisers and she is not afraid to tell us so.  She greets new arrivals warmly and gives a sad but understanding farewell to those who must leave. She inquires about things lost, stolen or found overnight.  She allows time for cruisers to offer their “treasures of the bilge” over the air. She invites other businesses to advertise their cruiser services, such as water, ice, gas, and laundry services.  
One of the double-enders on Bequia

Each morning Lafayette talks a bit about how she loves her very special island, and hopes that we (cruisers) will too.  She encourages us to be thankful for each day in paradise, and to be the best that we can be.  She ends each broadcast with, ‘As my mother always says, “One Love.”’ You might think that this broadcast is cheesy or self-serving (as a restaurant owner) but you would be wrong if you question whether her words are genuine. 

After some lovely snorkeling, we said farewell to our friends in Bequia and then made the short hop to the Tobago Cays (not to be confused with the island of Tobago). If you ARE confused by now, I understand completely.
The island of Canouan, looking north.  At anchor in Tobago Cays.

The Tobago Cays is a national park and an area ringed by reefs on the northeast through the southeast sides.  The reefs contribute to a diminished swell from the ocean, but certainly do not remove it altogether.  Behind the reefs are a few very small islands and lots and lots of turtles. We anchored in what was a rolling wave area between two islands and went to explore the Horseshoe Reef due east by dinghy. The Cays are picturesque beyond my well-oiled imagination.  Beautiful aquamarine water punctuated by darker water indicating turtle grass below. We could see islands nearly all around us, several of them many miles away.  
Just dropped anchor between two islands, Tobago Cays

This morning we snorkeled with the turtles.  In my case, it was only one turtle really, but he was very accommodating and allowed me to shadow him for a long time as he munched, came up for air, and returned to his repast.  Carl actually spent time with several turtles closer to our dinghy and out of the cordoned-off “turtle” area.  I was sad to have strayed so far from the dinghy.
Tobago Cay turtle

Alas, the anchorage continued to be uncomfortable with choppy waves and since we did not plan to snorkel there again, we made the short 3 mile jump to the island of Mayreau ((MAY-roo) where we again connected up with a familiar group of cruisers. 
Mexican train dominoes

Now in a much calmer anchorage, we discovered that our cruising friends, in our absence, had taken up Mexican Train dominoes on the beach in late afternoon.

We are now only three days from our 24 hour passage to Trinidad.  We check out of the Grenadines on Union Island, then sail on to Carriacou (KARE-EE-a-coo) which is part of the country of Grenada.  We check in and out of Grenada and then sail to our final destination for this season, Trinidad.  

Whether buddy boating or not, we shall be sailing the most dangerous waters during the night as we approach Trinidad.  Pirates coming out from Venezuela tend to have small boats (without navigation aids) and thus are more likely to be out on the ocean during daylight hours. We have every intention of avoiding them altogether. I feel a little like we are going to be starring in a James Bond movie. 

With background music that is somber and building in intensity, the trailer goes something like this…”There she goes, under full sail, the sailing vessel Northern Star quietly slicing through the waters on the high seas, thwarting the region’s piracy by slipping past under cover of darkness while they sleep. 
Captain Carl.....Carl Richards

The boat captain’s name you ask? It’s Bond…NO, no, it’s  Richards…Carl Richards.”
Did you say "Carl?"
I thought I heard his name....Carl.  Carl Richards.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Meaningful Life

*Apologies for the quality of several photos that were taken at dusk, thus not very bright or clear.

Northern Star under sail approaching
Bequia, (BEK-way) 2018
There were several months after we moved aboard Northern Star that I found myself deeply pondering the question of “what brings meaning to life,” to my life specifically. Tackling the greater ‘Meaning of all life’ question would have to take a back seat for a while. I had become untethered from the life I knew, and I wondered whether I had brought enough of whatever makes me “ME,” along with me into this new life.
Photo taken near Kennedy Space Center
before crossing the Gulf Stream the first time. 2016

After all, my working life was apparently behind me, rather abruptly, it seemed. Our old six bedroom home was long gone, along with my perennial projects, the gardens and bread making.
My social work "sisters"

I left behind a very loyal and interesting group of friends and family to travel off to places unknown for an undetermined period of time. I tried to pinpoint an answer to this question that kept circulating in my head, “Do I belong anywhere now? 
Some of our dog friends and their humans in Duluth. 2017

As it happened, I had packed our boat with several things that were given to us by people we love. The poignant side effect is that whenever I use these items, I am thinking of the giver. I reach for the cheese knife or mixing bowls and I "see" our daughters, put on my Vibrum 5 Fingers (shoes with individual toes) or use the classy can opener and our sons are "here" with me, the hand mixer makes me think of my sister, the dry bags that were a wedding gift to us years ago puts me in mind of those friends. And there are many more examples. Somehow these things helped me to feel connected to my previous life and I was glad that I had them along.
Friends in Duluth, on Barr's Lake. 2017

Was I missing my friends and family? Yes! I looked forward to checking my Facebook pages—(the Northern Star page, the Life and Times of Jax and my own page) more than I ever had while living on land. 
Long-time friends at their
cabin in Canada. 2017

Previously, I had secretly pooh-poohed the concept of selecting “Like” on a FB post. But once living aboard, all of those “Likes” meant that someone was thinking about me and that felt really good. I was still connected. And I, in turn, enjoyed thinking about each of those folks individually. 
Five of my six siblings, 2015

Was I lonely?  Well, not lonely, per se, but hungering for some alone time with women friends. Missing being part of a tight group.

A visit with Carl's cousins and a sister in
Portland, ME  2016
I missed the feeling of walking into a room and having familiar people look at me with gladness that I was there. It seemed that where I “belonged” had been left far behind and that I had ventured into a foreign land without touchstones.  And if I truly felt that where I belonged was back on land, why was I living with water below?

Friends in Duluth who allowed
us to rent their lake cabin before
moving aboard our boat in 2015
Somehow though, the days were filled with things requiring immediate action—tackling problems with the boat, how to fight mildew, and how I could make our limited living space seem bigger, and with those occupations, time passed quickly.  
Thanksgiving with new friends on Lubbers' Quarters,
in the Abacos, Bahamas, 2016

Then, little by little, I found that I was in the company of new people that I liked, wherever we stayed for a little while.  Not everyone that we met was destined to become a fast friend; certainly not, but we did find that ‘friend-making’ is accelerated on the water.  
This merry band of Halloween revelers became
friends.  Note the "parrot" resting on
pirate's shoulder. Hampton, VA.  2017

We (sailors) need each other, dare I say, more than we did living on land. Although sailors tend to be quite independent and self-sufficient people, when things go awry whether big or little, we want to confer with one another. 
Women friends in Fort de France, Martiinique
celebrating Carnaval.  2018

We offer up spare boat parts when we can. We offer to come aboard and help each other with tasks. That’s just the way it is between sailors.  
Friends that toured around the Pitons on
St Lucia with us.  2018

And when we share our similar histories of planning and preparation required before moving aboard, we find others who understand the challenges involved with leaving land. 
Hiking friends and jokesters, Bequia. 2018

The first time we arrived in the Bahamas, in fact, within the first hour, we were hailed by some sailors from Minnesota.  One of them called out to us,  Duluth! I just graduated from (U of M) Duluth!” Instant connection. They were on a boat named Namaste. We were invited into their little network of friends and with that, we were part of a group. We saw all of those same people when we arrived in the Bahamas the second year.  Old home week!
The owners of Namaste are on the far left. Green Turtle
Cay, Abacos, Bahamas  2016

Last summer was spent in one place, a boatyard in Oriental, NC, while I recuperated after back surgery. We both took a liking to one particular couple there that was working on their boat, Lulu.  Over a beer, we gaily told them one of our favorite stories, about the ermine that found its’ way into our bathroom at our rented lake house.  He (or she?) did his job by first clearing the house of mice and then considerately found his way out of the house again. 
English sailors shared our tour of Dominica.

I ended the story by relating that when the ermine returned for a second “visit” we of course, were compelled to name him. Before the ermine's name escaped my lips, she exclaimed presciently, “Herman!”  Which of course, was correct!  What else could it be?  
 Stephanie & Greg have arrived! Bequia. 2018

The four of us laughed and I knew in that instant we were friends.  We’ve kept in contact with those friends all winter and we are going to see them again soon. They have been clawing their way across the entire Caribbean toward us and we are waiting like children at Christmas for the arrival of Lulu.

A circus on the water.  Audience rafted up on dinghies to
watch. Le Marin, Martinique. 2018
Our good friends that we met in Annapolis living on a boat called Narwhal, the same folks that love and take care of our sweet Jax, visited us here in Bequia (BEK-way) for a week.  It was fantastic!  We snorkeled and regaled each other with stories of Jax.  It does our hearts good to know that they love him as we do. Jax owns the four of us—not the other way around.
Jax's humans: Justin, Megan, Ardys & Carl 
Bequia, 2018

After arriving in Antigua with all of the other Salty Dawg Rally boats, we mingled with the scores of other sailors.  Eventually we found our “place” amidst the mass of boaters—people from all across Canada and the U.S.  A few from England. Where they are from matters little.  We found and continue to find people that we feel at home with, wherever we are. When I show up, these friends look up and greet me, looking for all the world as if they are glad that I’ve come. 
A "Dinghy Drift" before sunset.  We attach our dinghies together and float wherever the wind
takes us, while sharing snacks and beverages. Carl and I are in the tan dinghy. Bequia, 2018

A hike on Bequia. One of the Grenadine
Islands. 2018
As we travel the islands, the boats part ways for a while, and then, we inevitably happen upon one another again, on a different island. Sharing stories, meals, sundowners, hikes, and help on each others’ boats as needed. 

Racing in the Easter Regatta on Allegro
Bequia, 2018
The other night, our dinghy went walkabout in an immense harbor opening onto the Caribbean Sea.  Our friends launched three dinghies and immediately went in pursuit of our wayward dinghy in the dark, on choppy waters. A dinghy is essential to living on a sailboat. When it was found, we heartily thanked everyone at which one of the dinghy hunters stood up in his dinghy and called out, “We love you—we had to find your dinghy.” It’s hard to find anything more meaningful in (my) life than discovering that I am where I belong.