Tuesday, May 28, 2013


SOPER'S HOLE - Get-To-Know-You Sail

Things haven’t gone according to plan. Our get to know-you-sail was postponed, then canceled because George, the skipper of Carpe Diem, has been sick for the last week and a half. We’ve been dockside in Sapphire Marina on the eastern side of St Thomas, an island in the U.S. Virgins that is highly developed in all the wrong ways. The marina couldn't be lovelier with a view of the British Virgin Islands and two beaches, two pools and gobs of internet. Still I’m looking forward to getting gone.  

Me on the beach at Soper's Hole on the Island of
Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Last week,
while George was recovering, I took the fast ferry, Native Son, over to the Island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to see Soper’s Hole, the cove where my parents married thirty one years ago. We had planned to sail into Soper's Hole as part of our get-to-know-you sail, but the ferry was an experience all its own. The speed boat blasted head on into the trade winds, amplifying the wind's strength so that it almost hurt to keep my eyes open on the top deck. It felt good to peak outside the marina, to get a feel for the size and shape of the waves, turn blotches on the chart into places my eyes have seen and my feet have touched. Incredible to think that my parents saw these same islands more than thirty years ago when they were about my age.

Once through customs on Tortola, I turned right out of the ferry building and walked down the road thick with vegetation in what I hoped was the right direction. Eventually the road opened up into a patch of colorful, antique looking buildings, cute shops, and American style restaurants in front of docks lined with boats. I wandered along the marina walk wondering what it would have looked like thirty years ago. Today it seems like a disneyfied recreation of what someone might hope the Caribbean to be. I decided to eat lunch at a restaurant in a bright green house I had passed earlier behind the shops lining the waterfront. Though the view wasn't as nice, the food was delicious.

The restaurant, Pisces, didn't have printed menus. Two men eating their lunch at the front table, who had called out to me when I’d passed the first time with promises of delicious food, instructed me to talk to the chef to find out what was cooking. I walked back toward the kitchen and introduced myself to Sheila. She had chicken soup for $3-9 a bowl depending on the size, ox tail soup, the fish of the day, and conch for $18 a plate. I thought I should be frugal and have the chicken soup, but then I wasn't sure when I would get a chance to eat conch again. I himmed and hawed in the doorway, talking with Sheila, finally deciding on the conch.

I was expecting the conch to be chewy like a clam, thinking it was a big mollusk, but conch is actually a giant sea snail and the meat is delicate and succulent. Sheila, who was also the waitress, brought me a plate of sauteed conch in a butter sauce served with rice and peas, green banana, a dumpling, and best of all cassava. I ate my lunch in the front courtyard of the bright green house in the shade of palm leaves cooled by the steady trade winds. After licking my plate clean I couldn't help myself and slipped in and out of consciousness slumped in my chair. When I regained composure Sheila came to take my plate away and let me to guess the recipe for the conch, even telling me the secret ingredient:

Conch Sautéed in Butter

Red Bell Pepper
Fresh Parsley
Sliced Conch
Pinch of flour to thicken the sauce
Secret Ingredient: Dash of rum to “cut the rank” or the fishy taste of the conch

I left the restaurant with a Red Stripe in hand, drinking my beer as I walked down the road over to a boat yard and down to a beach strewn with beautiful decaying wrecks. From that beach the entrance to Soper’s Hole framed the other British Virgin Islands in just the same way as in one of my parent’s photographs.

I only recently realized I want to get married and there I was standing on the sand looking out at the cove where my parents promised themselves to each other. In that moment I felt acutely that I was alone on the beach, but I was still glad to be there. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Leaving TOMORROW! What to Pack?

S/V Carpe Diem, Hunter Passage 420

I’m leaving TOMORROW! In less than twenty-four hours I'll be winging my way to the Caribbean to meet up with George Hamilton on S/V Carpe Diem, a Hunter Passage 420, docked at the island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands! Good lord do I have butterflies in my stomach. If I call my jitters nervousness, the label puts a pessimistic tinge on my mood, but naming the bubbly feeling excitement paints a rosy outlook on what's ahead. So excitement butterflies it is! Here’s to the wild ride.

On my last day I’m getting down to the nitty gritty last minute todos and packing is at the tip top of my list. These are the essentials and the not so essentials (gotta make room for a lil’ comfort ;) I’m taking with me:

2 Bathing Suits
You see where my priorities are ;) But seriously, when its hot, I live in my bathing suit. The bikini tops double as my bras.
2 Tank Tops
2 T-Shirts
2 Warm Long Sleeve Shirts
1 Pair of Jeans
1 Pair of Pants that Zip Off as Shorts
2 Pair of Shorts
I like roomie cotton shorts because they are breathable and cool in the hot, humid weather of the tropics. I wear them to sleep in and just around town.
1 Pair of Fleece Pants
I wear these on cold, wet night watches. Even in the tropics it can be cold in the middle of a squall, especially when you have to be out in the weather for hours.
1 Pair of Non-Marking, Hiking Sandals
1 Pair of Non-Marking Shoes
1 Sun Dress
In the heat, there is nothing so comfortable as a dress; sometimes its great to be a woman.
1 Wrinkle-Free Black Dress
This is my go-to fancy outfit if I need to dress up.
1 Colorful Shawl
For warmth and if I need to cover my shoulders in a place that requires modesty.
1 Week’s Worth of Underwear
Sun Hat
Baseball Cap
Warm Hat

Sailing Gloves (or biking gloves)
Rigging Knife
Foul Weather Gear
Light Rain Jacket
Wet Suit (3 mm shortie)

Tether (the kind with 2 clips so you can move around the boat and always be attached)
PFD (hydrostatic auto-inflating)
This kind of PFD is more expensive, but it will inflate with the pressure of the water if you are  
knocked unconscious.
Mask and Snorkel

*Sometimes I travel will ALL this gear and it is really cumbersome! This time S/V Carpe Diem has extra gear that I can use which means I can travel lighter.

Essential equipment for staying in touch.
A super light and simple camera that is incredibly durable. Mine has ventured into the Sahara  
desert and crossed oceans. The downside is that film is expensive to buy and develop and 
the cool, old-timey look of the pics can now easily be replicated with instagram.
Digital Camera
I traveled for a year with only my holga and people I met could not belive that I was only 
traveling with a film camera! In Australia I broke down on bought a cannon... which has been 
a lot of fun.
The best thing for voracious readers while traveling, that is, unless you have an ipad...
Listening to music and audiobooks helps me stay awake for hours in the middle of the night 
on long night watches.

Sun Screen
Dramamine and Ginger
If you have an iron stomach, more power to you. For us mere mortals susceptible to  
seasickness, candied ginger is great to settle mild bouts of nausea and Dramamine is my go 
to when the seas kick up.
15 Clothespins
These are great for hanging hand washed clothes to dry. Not a necessity, but no boat ever 
seems to have enough.
Ear Plugs
Sleep Mask
Sun Glasses
Polarized sunglasses allow you to see into the water and watch for reefs, etc.
Extra Pair of Prescription Glasses

Mini Bug Spray
Mini Aloe Vera

Wet Wipes
Freshwater is a limited resource on a boat which can make getting clean low on the  priority 
list. Wet wipes allow you to give yourself a quick sponge bath without using the ship’s 
stores. Friend’s of mine have also recommended a wet, soapy washcloth.
Inflatable Neck Pillow
Totally not a necessity, but this will come in handy during my 16 hours of travel time I have 
tomorrow flying from San Francisco to St Thomas via New York and San Juan.

Regular strength for my period cramps and some extra strength in case an old back injury 
flares up.

I didn’t worry about shaving in the remote islands of the South Pacific, but I expect the 
Caribbean islands will be firmly seated in civilization rather than floating outside it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

13 Days and Counting

In less than two weeks I will be winging my way to the Virgin Islands to meet up with my next boat. The past few months with family and friends in the U.S. have been precious. Still, I am excited to get back to life on the water. 

George contacted me a few weeks ago through FindaCrew, asking if I was interested in joining him in Grenada. I originally declined his offer because it didn’t fit with my round the world dreams, but was eventually overcome with temptation at the possibility of seeing Soper’s Hole, the cove on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, where my parents were married thirty one years ago.

The oh so proper Registrar General (above on the left) married my mom and dad only after grilling my dad to make sure his intentions were honorable. The captain (above on the right) of the Flying Cloud, a three-masted barquentine, gave my mom away, shaking with fear as he walked her down the isle of palm fronds on deck, though my mom wasn't sure what he had to be afraid of since she was the one getting married. Illuminated by the setting sun, the ceremony took place at anchor in Soper's Hole on October 16, 1981.

As strangers who met over the internet, George and I have agreed to a get-to-know-you trial week. If things don't work out because of incompatible personalities, expectations or whatever, I'll fly back to the continental U.S. having made a pilgrimage to Soper's Hole, a place I consider my point of origin. If things do work out, we'll sail Carpe Diem from the Virgin Islands to the Bahamas and possibly on up the eastern seaboard to New York.

S/V Carpe Diem, Hunter Passage 420
I've never been to the Caribbean before and am looking forward to sailing through historic pirate stomping grounds, exploring tropical islands, tasting local cultures and most of all - getting back out on the water. I'm also a bit intimidated. In a few weeks I'll be flying to a region of the world I've never been to before, to meet up with a person who I've never met face to face, to sail on a boat that I've never seen. There is so much unknown involved in this process and yet so many incredible moments and friendships have resulted from taking the crewing leap in the past. With George's patience, we have worked through a list of standard questions I ask every boat to make sure that we're on the same page and we've checked out each other's references. That said, it doesn't always work out. In the past I've met up with boats that just weren't a good fit for me. I have to go down there with the thought that I'm going to the Caribbean for a week that might turn into something more, or it might not. Either way, it'll be an adventure.

So here's to meeting up with George on S/V Carpe Diem, a Hunter Passage 420, on May 17th in St Thomas and one wild ride!