Thursday, February 23, 2017

53-54. New Year, New Plan

Everyone starts the new year with a fresh outlook, an anticipation for what is to come and a hope for dreams to be fulfilled.  We spend time reflecting on all we’ve accomplished the past year and are always amazed at everything that has changed. This year may be the best one yet (I might say that every year and am rarely disappointed :) 
We’ve had a few circumstances that have changed what we thought our path would be but we are nonetheless excited for this next chapter.  We left the Caribbean island chain and headed west with the intention of traveling with our friends, Take Two, through the ABCs, Columbia and on to the east coast of Central America.  While in Aruba a few things transpired with our commercial property which required our attention back home.  We spent a few days mourning the death of our original plan and the fact that our friends would be heading on without us but finally made peace with what we needed to responsibly do.  So we made a drastic course change and began our trek back to the states.  It is funny how simple that sentence is to write but it is not exactly simple to do!

Our 4 day passage from Aruba to Haiti was the best passage we’ve ever had!  The sea state was beautifully comfortable.  
The air was getting cooler as we headed north.  And on our second day at sea we had a pod of at least 50 dolphins play at our bow and in our wake for 30 minutes.  
It was our longest dolphin encounter yet and they were showing off all their aerial skills.  

    First land in 4 days.
We sailed to a small island off the southern coast of Haiti, Ile a Vache.  The local fishing boats that were dugout canoes with sails made from plastic met us at the cut.  
They skillfully sailed all around us as we made our way into the bay.  The younger boys paddled their dugouts to us as we began setting our anchor, offering their services for boat work, laundry, shopping, guides to town and anything else you can imagine.  
We probably had 8 little boats with close to 20 boys come by for a visit within our first hour here.  They were mostly interested in just meeting us, each politely introducing themselves and practicing their English.  We immediately fell in love with this little piece of paradise.  
Once we were settled in, Andrew headed out to get the scoop on the local activities since we had only a few hours to figure out how we would ring in the New Year.  He did not disappoint.  He scored us an invite to a local’s house for dinner and the boat boys told us of their celebration going on in town so we quickly cleaned up and headed out for our first night in Haiti.  A couple local missionaries, boaters and locals were meeting at the local watering hole before heading up to our host’s home for the evening.  Everyone was so friendly and the girls quickly made new friends to play with.  
After a few beers, we began our trek to the other side of the island.  After cresting the ridge on what can barely be described as a trail, Joe met us to lead the rest of the way.  He is a young 20 something with a beautiful English accent and a huge smile.  He welcomed all of us to his home where he, his girlfriend and mother had prepared an amazing meal.  Later he was telling me they had originally planned for 6 for dinner, after his morning walk to town it grew to 9, a few more friends made it 12 and then they included us without even meeting us.  Amazing hearts-  we don't even do that in the states, where we have everything at our fingertips, but here on this island with no running water, limited electricity and in a kitchen with two burners, these 3 strangers made a dinner for 16.  Paige and I joined Lesley, Joe’s mom who was visiting from Europe for a few weeks, and Claudia, Joe’s girlfriend who spoke very little English, in the kitchen to help finish things up.  We watched as Lesley juggled pots on the burners to keep everything warm and we spread the 16 plates around on the floor so we could dish everything up to make sure everyone got some of everything.  
It was such a humbling night to be served but such sweet people and leave the evening having friends in a country that a week prior I had never intended on visiting.  Our genuine Haitian experience continued as we joined the locals at their Community Center for dancing, dominoes tournament, and drinks before the countdown.  
    Happy New Year!
When we left the states last year we thought we would have lots of experiences with remote areas and new people but nothing would compare with our time in Ile a Vache.  We were welcomed with open arms by everyone we met.  The “harbormaster” brought us a flask of Haitian Rum to welcome us to his home.  The locals took Andrew on a hike to show him the island.  
 
    That's Abby :)
Visitors almost hourly checking in to see if we needed help with anything.  It was beautiful, although the girls were a little tired of being stared at; it is the cross they bear ;)
We spent our last day in Haiti adventuring out to the fishermen’s island.  
 
It is a tiny spit of land between Haiti mainland and Ill a Vache populated with thatch huts and lean-to shacks that house the fisherman during the week.  We visited on the Haitian Independence Day so most everyone was back home celebrating with family, the one gentleman still there working on his boat said we were welcome to look around.  So we did just that.  The beach is littered with everything that blows in from the south.  
The fisherman collect anything that would be useful on their skiffs and discard the rest in a big pile.  If a hut falls over, they rebuild.  If your fishing line breaks, you take a few hours and untangle the mess of line that washed ashore.  There is one large communal fire pit for cooking, warding off the relentless mosquitos and keeping warm when the sun sets.  He probably thought we were so strange collecting the beautiful shells that littered the beach.  
It is so hard to imagine living their lifestyle, only having what you can catch and sell, and not knowing if you will make enough to feed your family.  But at the same time I can see how simple and easy that life would be, no further concerns than your immediate needs.  The smiles on every face are genuine, their happiness comes from something other than the stuff they surround themselves with and it was a perfect reminder as we head back to the land of plenty!  
 
    Another beautiful little rock we explored.
    Hangin' out.  Paige showing sailing videos.
    Our last night in Haiti, enjoying an evening at Reit's.

We were so sad to leave and Sky repeatedly said how she plans to come back someday soon to help rebuild the houses lost in Hurricane Matthew and work with the kids on their English as she tries to learn creole and French.  Not a bad goal in my book!
    Beautiful Ile a Vache.

Back on the open water we were a bit nervous about the passage to the Bahamas.  Although Ill a Vache was welcoming, the rest of the waters around Haiti are not always the friendliest!  We even had a motor powered fishing vessel approach us with three men aboard just as the sun was coming up.  We were a few miles off shore and they didn't seem to be in distress so we put the pedal to the metal and wave surfed straight through the breakers that were too big for them to make a clean break for it.  Better safe than sorry!  
    Sunset means we are closer to safe waters.
Our two day passage to the southernmost Bahamian island was smooth and easy.  We motored most the way and the seas were so calm that the autopilot did most the work.  
 
    You know if I can bake it must be really calm!
It was so still that we even had the laptop set up in the cockpit for a movie with dinner, we’ve never been able to do that before!  We were so into the Hunger Games that we thought the roar of the Coast Guard vessel approaching us was actually part of the sound track!  Needless to say, we had to pause the movie and put our business pants on :) The sailors aboard were very professional, if not a little bit curious about this family sailing from Haiti to the Bahamas, a path usually traveled by those smuggling either people or drugs.  
    Lights from the Coast Guard vessel trailing us.
They rode alongside us for over an hour before leaving us just a mile from shore to get anchored and promised to visit again if they needed anything else - translation, “we will be by to board and inspect your vessel later.”  No sooner did we have the hook down and pizza dough in the oven then they came to visit again.  This time 4 of the 6 came aboard and you would think they had never been on a small boat before.  They were bumping and tripping around like bulls in a China shop.  The boots they are required to polish daily left plenty of scuff marks all over Abby and they broke a few items moving through the cabin, but all in all it was a fairly pleasant inspection.  We passed with flying colors!  And they happily used us as a training exercise for their 2 newbies onboard.  
Welcome back to the Bahamas!  2017 has started off with a bang!

Things learned aboard this week:
We have so much to be thankful for and none of it has to be stuff.  I am repeatedly reminded of what an amazing experience this is for us and the girls.  This week in particular did a great job of giving everyone a perspective check.  We will always love Ill A Vache!
We make the plans but someone bigger is steering this ship!   We miss our friends aboard Take Two so much and so many others (Aqua Vida, Vidora, Find Us, Paaion Rebel) whose paths we would have crossed again.  I don't know why our plans had to change.  But I do know that His plans are always better than I can dream so I am excited to see what lies ahead!

Be sure to not miss the next update!  It will include us completing our Caribbean loop, Paige’s 14th birthday, another amazing dolphin encounter and we may even hit a reef!  Stay tuned :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

51-52. Aruba puts the “A” in the ABCs!

    Goodbye, Bonaire
As you know, we loved Bonaire.  That left very big shoes for Curacao and Aruba to fill.  Here’s how they measure up.
We were so sad to leave Bonaire.  We pulled away at 5:30am, leaving Take Two behind, sleeping soundly.  We enjoyed the sunrise and soon heard the call from our friends who had caught up with us and quickly passed us.  They were headed on to Columbia while we planned to see the rest of the ABCs.  Our 9 hour ride to Curacao was fairly uneventful.  We had some belt squeaking from the alternator but we sailed most the day so it didn't slow us down.  The sea state continued uncomfortably following us until we were in the lee of the land.  We quickly got our hook down and were excited to head into town to see what there was to see.  Our friends aboard Passion Rebel were anchored next to us so Andrew headed over to get the scoop on transport to town, customs and immigration, etc.  They gave us everything we needed to know to catch the bus and head into town.  We were ecstatic to have a dinner of Subway and Starbucks, something you probably won't understand unless you’ve been missing them for a really long time :) 
    Floating bridge, Christmas ready.
We saw the infamous floating bridge and all of town was lit up for Christmas celebration.  
    Paige enjoying the view w/ some Starbucks.
It is not a particularly beautiful town, more industrial than our liking but it is always an adventure to use public transportation so the night was a fun excursion.  Our outing also showed us where Napa was so Andrew could get on the belt issues before they became a problem.  
    Boat projects in exotic places :)
    Andrew showing us how he really feels ;)
This is something that would easily be handled stateside but it seemed the belt we needed was a bit elusive and after 3 trips to Napa (via bus and some hitchhiking) he found what we thought would work but promptly broke as soon as we were underway to Aruba.  We spent a few hours relaxing and swimming at the beach before leaving Curacao behind and hitting the open water again.  Maybe we didn't give Curacao a fair break because we were coming off such a high in Bonaire; but, because of its industrialness and lack of pristine swimming areas near our anchorage, Curacao ranks at the bottom of our ABC scale.

We had a beautiful night sail to Aruba.  We all witnessed the green flash as the sun set and had a meteor shower (my first ever).  Around 3am during Andrew’s watch we were surprised by the Aruban Coast Guard cruising up to our side rail.  They had been traveling in complete blackout until we were within 25 yards of them and they throw on the floodlights, that will wake you up!  Now for those of you who have never done a long passage aboard a private vessel let me just explain that at most times we are wearing as few clothes as possible because it is hot and sticky and you may be jumping in the water or be sprayed with water at any minute (our friends always radio over and say “tell Summer to put pants on, we’re coming over” :) So a sneak approach like the Coast Guard’s found Andrew in only his boxer briefs, I’m sure they had a laugh about it later!  We radioed back and forth the info they requested and they made sure Aruba Port Control knew we were coming in before leaving us very awake and with enough adrenaline to finish the last 3 hours no problem!  
    Rainbow greeting at the immigration dock!
Customs / Immigration was very friendly and welcoming to us and we found a nice anchorage to call home.  We were treated to more Starbucks, Subway and wifi, always a treat.  We quickly got the lay of the land and made some plans for our Christmas celebration.  I mentioned in the Bonaire blog that we did our first Christmas aboard Take Two.  That was our big shindig.  We had a great meal of lobster linguine with apple crisp for dessert.  We decorated Christmas cookies, 
opened presents and played a super fun game that we all highly recommend.  Here it is:
All you need are some small treats or prizes, a main prize and some saran wrap.  You put the main prize in the center and begin wrapping with the saran wrap, adding in little prizes as you go.  You could make the ball as big as you want.  We only used one box of saran wrap and it offered plenty of entertainment.  Sit in a circle and one person begins unwrapping the ball (no ripping) while the person next to them tries to roll doubles on two dice.  You keep any candy unwrapped during your turn but when doubles are rolled, he passes the dice to the next person and you pass the ball of fun to him.  Continue until the center prize is unwrapped.  We had 7 kids and 4 adults playing and everyone had a blast!  

Our Christmas in Aruba was a little more low key but just as special.  Santa found us in the Renaissance Marina and was very good to us.  
Boat Christmas is very much about less being more and we really like it that way.  After a lazy morning we headed to the kite beach to make some memories!  
Andrew kitesurfing, Paige & Sky windsurfing and me supervising made the perfect afternoon of fun.  
 
    Selfie proof I'm there too ;)
Andrew even met a friend who took him to the other side of the island the next day for an even better session.  
Some of the perks of staying at the marina meant full access to the resort pools as well.  
We spent many a morning doing school poolside 
and playing bingo in the afternoons.  
 
    Sky's winnings!
We had lots of visitors while we were trying to get work done, I guess the snacks we brought were a hit :) 
Our Christmas was pretty memorable and puts Aruba in second place in the ABC race :) 
So to recap for anyone planning a trip to the ABCs:  Bonaire- loved it!  Beautiful water and sea life, great food and town life, and some of the best people we’ve met.  Aruba- great vacation spot, lots of amenities but all the crowds that come with that.  Friendly people, beautiful beaches.  Curacao- great for the Dutch town experience but beaches were not convenient to the free anchoring position.  Either get the permit to move around or plan on bus trips to town if you want to see anything.

This is our one year anniversary aboard Abby and what a year it has been!  We could not even imagine all the amazing things we would see and do or the beautiful people we would meet when we pulled through the fog into St Augustine at 11:30pm last Christmas Eve.  
    Christmas Eve 2015
    Christmas Eve 2016
Now on to wondering what the next year will hold!

Things learned aboard this week:
If you have one horrible, awful, really bad passage, every subsequent passage is a vast improvement!  Our tolerance level is pretty high now, I guess.  I still don't like them but it's definitely not that bad.
One year can change everything.  We knew we were embarking on a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel the Caribbean.  We knew the scenery would be spectacular and the experiences unforgettable.  We did not know that it would wreck us - in a good way.  Slowing down the pace of our life to truly see each other.  To learn what matters most to us.  And to see each other through challenging times so we could celebrate the strength and growth on the other side.  Not all the discoveries were what we expected and not all were pretty.  But we not only survived an entire year on a 37’ boat but we came out loving each other and loving this simple life more than we ever imagined!
    These two make us laugh!

Our next blog will update you on some big changes in our plans as we move into 2017.  Hope you had a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!