SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
We should have known better. Over the years we have tried to plan ahead and have mail waiting for us when we get somewhere, but we soon discovered that this preplanning is the most definite way to ensure that we will never arrive at that destination. Anchorages that look perfect on the chart are filled with mooring balls; post offices that used to be on the water are now five miles inland; and weather windows close unexpectedly. Boxes of school books for our three boys have followed us across the Eastern Seaboard and island hopped across the Caribbean chasing us, all because we couldn't get to where we had planned to be. But missing your mail and educational materials is not nearly as stressful as having your children fly in to meet you on an island you can't seem to reach.
In April in North Carolina the family reunion had sounded like a fantastic idea. Our oldest son, a freshman in college, and his girlfriend were going to fly down to meet us in Grenada. The fact that we were still working in St. Croix, almost 500 miles away, was a minor detail. Our hurricane plan was to sail south like we had previous years, so being in Grenada by late June was no problem. Or so it seemed in April.
Though we were conscious of our deadline, Dave still had projects to finish, and we had a cruising kitty to fill, so by the time we were ready to ride the next available weather window south, we had a week to get to Grenada, a five days sail away. We still allowed ourselves to believe, "No problem," as we sailed out of Christiansted Harbor. Seven miles to windward we rounded the corner of St. Croix into the full force of the Caribbean trade winds. The winds and waves that had sounded reasonable while we were sitting in the harbor listening to the weather forecast were miserable in reality. After another hour of bashing to windward with a six-foot swell from one direction and a four-foot wind wave from another, our captain made an executive decision. No family meeting, no vote, it was a statement. "We're going to Virgin Gorda to get a better angle on the wind and seas. Tomorrow. Tonight we sleep at Buck Island." A five-day trip to Grenada ended in five hours, within sight of "home."
Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda has become one of our favorite anchorages in the BVI. While we waited for the worst of the seas to subside, we celebrated my 40th birthday. We walked out to The Baths, stopping along the road to find the hallow rock we had discovered a few years earlier. With only a two-foot opening at the bottom, it was difficult to climb into, but once we were inside there was standing headroom. While I set up the camera to take a family picture, my heart ached: there were only four of us; the fifth one was going to be in Grenada in three days. We were not going to be there to meet him.
Back in the anchorage we snorkeled the rock formations: 15-foot tall boulders jutted toward the surface of the water creating a funhouse effect as we followed schools of fish through the maze. After dinner and birthday cake, our middle son got online and was messaging Nick who wished me a happy birthday and then asked where we were. "What are you doing there? We'll be in Grenada in a few days!" I promised we would be there as soon as we could and hoped he was resourceful enough to figure it out until we got there.
We left Virgin Gorda for Grenada the next day, knowing the kids would land before we got there, but confident that they would only be "homeless" for one night. Our passage ended two days later: in Saba. The eight-foot seas and 18 knots straight out of the east we had expected, but the constant lightning from the squalls all around us was making us nervous, so we altered course once again.
Saba's 3000-foot precipice was obscured by clouds, but when we picked up a mooring in Ladder Bay we were within sight of the 800 stairs for which the bay is named. Leading past the old customs house and up to the road, these steps cut into the rock were the only way to get supplies onto this five-square mile island until the 1970s. On a schedule, with a stranded son, we chose not to go to shore this trip. Instead, we got a good night's sleep and vowed to leave for Grenada in the morning.
The chop caused by the Saba Banks the next day continually pushed our bow to leeward: by noon we were 13 nautical miles west of our rhumb line. When we tacked, Statia was directly off our bow; like an oasis to a desert wanderer, it was beckoning us. After getting slammed by a severe squall and watching the series of squall lines that were approaching, we knew we were going to be in for a long, uncomfortable passage. As we sailed near our rhumb line and were preparing to tack back out to sea again, Dave asked the question we were all considering.
"Do we want to keep beating ourselves up, or are we going to stop in Statia?"
"What about Nick?" I asked.
"We'll fly them up here and sail them to Grenada to catch their plane home. That buys us another week to get there. He doesn't even know where we are right now."
Once we were safely in Statia's rolly harbor, we had a few days to waste while we waited for the next series of flights from Grenada to Statia. Never ones to sit idle, the four of us became tourist. We explored the waterfront that was once the sight of the busiest port in the Eastern Caribbean. During the 1600s thousands of ships brought goods to Statia's shores to be sold duty free and then carried away on other ships. Part of the old commercial port is still visible from the harbor.
On our stroll toward town we found the "Old Slave Road." As I walked up this steep trail I found myself thinking of those who had been forced up this long path in previous centuries. Built by slaves in the 1700s, this road was used to lead the slaves that were brought to the island from the port to the trading block. Now the road ends at the edge of town, near Fort Oranje. A fully restored French fort built in the 1600s, Fort Oranje is worth exploring. We spent over an hour wandering around the fort and admiring the spectacular view of the harbor.
When we had cleared into Statia we purchased passes to be allowed to climb the Quill, a 2,000-foot extinct volcano within easy walking distance of the harbor. After nearly an hour of moderate hiking, we reached the rim of the volcano. We were thrilled to find a path leading into the crater, though the trail became more difficult for the descent. Another world awaited us at the bottom. Even the intense tropical sun could not penetrate the dense foliage of this rainforest, giving the crater an eerie eternally-twilight feel. Boulders the size of houses laid where they had landed centuries ago, and enormous trumpet wood trees formed bathtubs with their roots. Our youngest climbed inside a "cage" of tree roots that had grown around a trunk that had since rotted away. We were reluctant to leave this dream land, but the several-hour hike back to the boat was still ahead.
Three days later the kids caught a plane out of Grenada. They had spent their days exploring Grenada's beaches and waterfalls and their nights sleeping at the outdoor airport and in the spare bunks of sympathetic cruisers. They had traveled by bus and foot, eaten in the local restaurants, and in a few days had felt like they had become part of the community. They were excited to finally join us on the boat, but glad they had been forced to live on their own for a while on a Caribbean island.
Their flights took them to five islands where they cleared in and out of four countries in one day. They both agreed that the unexpected beginning of their vacation had the best adventures of the entire trip. And even though I would rather have been in Grenada to meet their plane like a responsible parent, I had to admit that the stops we had made along the way were worth the extra worry, work, and money to finally get our family back together. Cruising is not always the relaxing lifestyle we had dreamed of, and quite often you can't get to where you most want to be, but if you take the time to enjoy the trip as well as the destination, sometimes that's OK, too.
MONDAY we'll share some tips for keeping your back healthy aboard.
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