The idea of sailing off into the sunset, bound for distant lands, conjures all sorts of romantic notions: lounging on your dream boat beneath a tropical sun, sipping on a coconut drink and eating mangoes before your fresh-caught sushi is served. While such visions do indeed occur somewhere, the day-to-day realities of life afloat here in the southern Caribbean are a bit different. Here's a chronological look at a typical day on board Althea, our 35-foot home for the past year and a half.
0645 Anchored in Prickly Bay, Grenada among 50 or so other cruising boats from all over the world—flying ensigns from France, South Africa, the UK, Italy, Canada and the US—our day starts in a mellow fashion. Mornings revolve around the radio and food. One of the crew wakes up, the cat meows, the coffee goes on. Soon a dinghy zooms by outside and the boat lilts from side to side. We have breakfast and groggily converse about whatever topics surface.
70715 It's time to listen to the day's weather on the SingleSideBand net. George on the Caribbean Maritime Mobile Net serves up the weather forecast. Tropical waves are of particular interest on their way across the Atlantic. We note their location, speed, whether or not a low-pressure system is associated with them, or whether they have convection activity or an associated wind surge accompanying them. Hurricane season in the Caribbean puts a premium on monitoring the weather constantly, especially as we move into the later part of the summer.
0730 Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday a local cruiser's net is held on the VHF, Channel 68. Here cruisers inform each other of any safety and security issues, the weather, activities ashore, as well as enacting a bit of a swap meet over the radio as they try and trade or sell items that may be cluttering up their boats. Once it ends, our breakfast discussion becomes slightly more coherent.
|"Hurricane season in the Caribbean puts a premium on monitoring the weather, especially as we move into the later part of the summer."|
0815 It's back to the SSB radio for the Caribbean Safety Net on 8104 USB, although sometimes we can receive it, sometimes we can't. Breakfast in paradise is the similar to breakfast in the marina back home, except for the local ingredients. Favorites include the simple but fulfilling eggs and toast, homemade muffins, fruit salad complete with local mangos, pineapple, and kiwis. There's the infrequent muesli (or the dreaded oatmeal in leaner times), and the gourmet breakfast tour reaches its pinnacle with Belgium waffles—among other important things we've learned cruising, the secret is to use whipped egg whites, no more than three minutes on a side.
The Caribbean Safety and Security Net focuses on ‘hot spots' among the islands. Characteristically, cruisers radio in with anything from reports on the latest customs procedures to mysteriously missing dinghies, petty thefts or more serious issues, including robberies on board or on shore. A recent report included a Moorings charter boat whose crew somehow fell overboard. Luckily they were rescued, but the boat continued on under autopilot, and as of this writing has yet to be recovered, putting it in the category of hazard to navigation. There have also been reports of break-ins and robberies up and down the island chain. Sadly, we've had our own share of security issues. Visiting guests staying in a hotel ashore had a laptop, cell phone, and digital camera, stolen, along with our handheld VHF. A few other items (including a jar of peanut butter and a pineapple) went missing from their hotel room—all while they slept. Another boat in St.George's, Grenada had its hatch pried open, whereafter the perpetrators conducted a thorough rummaging of the interior. Nonetheless, we've met lots of friendly people here in Grenada and throughout the Caribbean. The sad fact is that break-ins and muggings occur all over the world, and liveaboards aren't immune.
0830-1230 Apply sunscreen—SPF 48. Now that the caffeine has taken hold, we're continuing our on board project du jour—reconstructing Althea's bow roller. The previous owner had built a bowsprit for the boat to keep the anchor chain from clunking into the topsides. While the design was beautiful, what it offered in beauty it lacked in strength, and while we were in the British Virgin Islands, the bow roller broke and went over the side. We put a jury-rigged roller in its place, but the time ahs come to replace it with something more legitimate. We initially spent a considerable amount of time measuring, shaping, sanding, drilling, cutting, and so on. We keep reminding ourselves that this fitting isn't a piano, but we're still trying to make it as perfect as possible, which means working with epoxy, filler, and lots of sanding and of varnishing, sanding and varnishing.
The defining structure to our days at anchor is that most mornings are devoted to one maintenance project or another. These can be divided into two categories, improvements and general maintenance. Improvements are usually larger-scale projects, like our current bow roller refit. We also put off painting the decks for a long time until we knew we'd have enough time to work on them properly, and we're happy to report that they are now gleaming. We'd like to make a cockpit table, and have thought about having a grab rail for the binnacle fabricated. Also, we may haul out when we get to Venezuela and get an Awl-grip job, which remains a mind-boggling thought as I write this, but apparently it is about the cheapest place in the world for such an improvement.
General maintenance, as most live aboard sailors know, is a given. For every hour spent actually sailing, one could easily spend two preparing—and repairing—the boat. Living on board an anchored boat means obtaining water, food, and diesel are ongoing chores. We don't have a watermaker on board—although we hope one day to have a rain collection system—so every gallon has to be put into jerry jugs and lugged out via dinghy. Since we lack the luxury of a watermaker (but don't need to worry about it breaking or changing its filters either), we're intimately familiar with the how much a gallon of water weighs (eight pounds) and how many trips in the dinghy it takes to fill up our two 60-gallon tanks (two and change). Diesel replenishment requires less frequent trips since we usually just run the engine to move the boat, not to keep up with the battery charging needs. (Like most other boats out here, the on board refrigerator is a piece of equipment we're living without at the moment.)
Simple chores on a boat can occasionally require Herculean efforts. The ordinarily straightforward affairs of buying groceries, finding a hardware store, a bank, or even just a phone that works can't be accomplished by just getting in your car and driving around. We don't have a car, of course. So what might take an hour at home can take half a day when you live aboard at anchor. First you have to lock up the boat, get into the dinghy, go to shore, lock the dinghy up, consulting the map or talk with other cruisers already familiar with the lay of the land, then take the bus (usually replete with eardrum-splitting music of varying genres) to the store, buy groceries—sometimes with the added challenge of speaking in another language—wait for the bus, and then retrace all the above steps in reverse and in the increasing heat.
I haven't even mentioned washing the laundry yet, which we now do by hand? And I haven't shared the fact that our outboard motor has now started to like being taken apart and put back together frequently. There's just no shortage of things to keep us occupied when it comes to maintenance and daily duties on board.
1230-1330 Lunch and deep rehydration take place during this time. Tuna salad usually suffices, although lunch usually depends on what is at hand. The heat doesn't make us especially hungry during the middle of the day, but potato salad, cous cous, and rice and beans have all been known to make an appearance from the galley at midday. Staying hydrated in the tropics is crucial and water (no ice) is our drink of choice. As soon as projects start putting up a fight, or valuable pieces and tools start falling overboard, it usually means the sun is sapping our strength and it's time to cool down and rehydrate.
1330-1530 The hottest time of day isn't to be taken lightly and indulging in a siesta is always a good idea. Sometimes we'll work all day on the boat, but those are times when we're under the gun, like recently when we had the decks half painted and guests were set to arrive in two days. Barring deadlines, one of the great freedoms of cruising is the gift of unstructured time. We read voraciously, bake elaborate and time consuming bread recipes that one would rarely have time for given the frantic pace of life ashore. And of course there are those naps that frequently occupy this time slot.
1530-1730 The social hours are upon as the sun begins to sink and there's usually no telling what they'll bring. Sometimes it means helping out a neighboring cruiser with some project that requires a few more hands. Today we're helping a neighbor step his masts. A month ago he brought his boat in to have its masts pulled and both broke in two when they were lifted out. To his credit, a month later he had built two masts and was ready to have them stepped. We've also been helped in turn. An electronics guru anchored near us not only pointed out to us that our autopilot and GPS were interfaced, but he fashioned a cable to connect the GPS and our laptop, ushering us into the era of electronic charts and navigation. We've used them on daysails since and found them useful in harbor approaches especially, although we'll always have paper charts on hand as well.
1730-1930 Once the projects are done, the sawdust swept up, and the tools put away, it's time to get cleaned up by jumping overboard into 85-degree, pristine waters. The schedule this time of day may include a cocktail with friends in the cockpit while watching the sun set. Ideas for dinner are proposed. Fish is a welcome guest for dinner although stir-fried vegetable dishes with rice and tofu are more frequent, and pizza is showing signs of becoming a classic in our repertoire. If we're low on fresh vegetables, well there's always pasta or rice and beans.
1930-2130 Some nights we are lucky enough to catch a band and a drink ashore. Some nights we are just too tired to move. If this is the case, our evening consists of reading, writing in journals, putting the brain on autopilot with a borrowed DVD. Playing guitar in the cockpit, or looking at the moon and stars through binoculars. This is the time for us to wind down and really relax. Soon after it is time for sleep.
Life afloat is pretty different, though I‘ll have to admit that I often have a vague idea of what day of the week it is, which I can either confirm or alter by listening to the BBC or NPR on the radio at the end of the day. If anything definitive about cruising could be said, it is that it presents something of a paradox of freedom. We've escaped traffic and mini-malls, but are bound to keep the boat in a seaworthy condition, which amounts to a time-, money-, and energy-consuming proposition. Still, the allure of the lifestyle for us is that it offers expanding and challenging experiences. The people, both those from other cruising boats and those we encounter ashore, along with the lands, customs, languages, stories, and food all distill into a conglomeration of remarkable experiences that can only be had traveling via water, currents, and wind. There has been plenty of fun on non-working days, snorkeling among coral reefs, sailing in our dinghy, and exploring the sights ashore. At sea, we watch the unbroken cycle of day and night pass by while sailing from one island to another, visited by reeling sea birds, frolicking dolphins, pilot whales, glowing phosphorescence in our wake as we plot the slow tick of miles gone by under the keel on the chart. My impression is that we're living life to its fullest. Time is structured to suit us, and the typical day is one that is never quite like the day before.
Calculating the Cost of Cruising by Paul and Sheryl Shard
The Cruising Life, How to Get Started by Sue & Larry
Preparing to Head South by Mark Matthews
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