Ship's Log

February 22nd, 2010 - St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands:

Did you think we’d been eaten by sharks?  Blown far, far offshore?  Been hijacked by pirates?

Fear not.  All is well on SARABANDE, and we’re anchored in St. Thomas.  

The main harbor of Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas.  SARABANDE's down there amongst the anchored boats.

The only thing that got hijacked in the past year was all of our money, so we’ve stopped here to top up the bank account and pay back the nice folks at American Express.  

This was sort of in the cards since the Bahamas.  Surely you’ve noticed by now:  we like to travel at a snail’s pace.  You know how when you walk somewhere, you notice and experience a lot more than you would if you drove the same distance?  Well, we like to walk, so to speak.  If we rushed, we would miss all the good stuff.  Also, we like sailing within safe, benign weather windows.  Those don’t always come along when you’re ready to leave, and you have to hang around and wait for them.  

So who's up for a little sailing?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Hello?

We didn’t factor these things when we were saving up in NYC for this trip.   From within our freezing shrink-wrapped bubble in New Jersey, we were so ambitious and so clueless as we imagined ourselves zipping around the globe, ticking off countries and speeding along on a breakneck schedule.  Pretty early on, it became clear that rushing around like that doesn’t work for us, so we threw our projected schedule out the window.  Once that was settled, life was great, but our allotted funds couldn’t hack the extended timetable.

The root of all evil.  In the words of Method Man, cash moves everything around [us].  

When we saw the writing on the wall (and in our online bank statements), we had an emergency meeting and built St. Thomas into our plan.  It’s one of three US Virgin Islands (the other two are St. John and St. Croix), convenient little dots of American territory in the Caribbean where we can legally work.  It’s also the most popular cruise ship port in the Caribbean, and you can’t swing a cat without hitting a resort. 

St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix - little islands full of American vacation dollars!

Winter is the biggest season, with people from the frigid north coming down in droves to escape the cold and hit the beaches.  The entire island makes its living sheltering, feeding and entertaining these warmth-starved tourists.  

We bet the house on St. Thomas being our cash cow and rushed our way through Puerto Rico, hoping to time our arrival with the hiring rush that happens just before the holidays begin.  It was a shame to have to hurry, since Puerto Rico is a really fun, beautiful little island filled with happy, nice people.  If we’d had the cash we would’ve stayed a lot longer!  We still managed to enjoy what little we saw, though.  Here’s a rundown of our Puerto Rican highlights:

Well, hello!

- We finally saw some manatees!  There was a group of six or so in Punta Patillas, and a mother and baby loitered around SARABANDE for 20 minutes or so, looking us over with their tiny eyes and making loud, cute PFUFFing sounds.  Louie was, of course, beside himself with joy, but Steve was less enthusiastic.  He ran down below to hide behind the toilet.

- Soon after we crossed the Mona Passage with buddy boats TE OIGO, LALA and SANDY ANNIE, several more of our friends and neighbors from Luperon joined us and we all sailed through southern Puerto Rico in a big pack!  

Our good friends on LOAFER'S GLORY search for an anchoring spot in Salinas.

Our buddy boat TE OIGO, about to catch a fish.

We all took turns hosting parties and had a blast sailing, snorkeling and exploring Coffin Island* together.   We hosted a brunch on SARABANDE and Alicia busted out one of her favorite recipes, which went over so well we’re now known to certain boats as CINNABUNDE.

- We speared our first lobster, a monster that was loitering under our boat while we visited Coffin Island.  Brian and the lobster matched wits for almost half an hour before the battle was over.  It was big enough to share with 12 friends that night at a fish fry, who all gave Brian a standing ovation.  That thing was delicious!

Brian: 1  Lobster: 0

All too soon, it was time for our flotilla to disband and everyone to go their separate ways.   We needed to face the music and begin trying to remedy our financial situation.  After a couple of nights in Vieques, one of the two small Spanish Virgin islands that lie off the main island of Puerto Rico, we made the short jump to St. Thomas.  We dropped anchor with less than $100 in our pockets and butterflies in our bellies. 

Now, we could have made that money last a long time; we are highly skilled in the sad arts of broke living.  We had enough food on the boat from the DR to last us for months, but that doesn’t mean we were cool and calm.  Brian hadn’t held a job for 14 months, Alicia in 18.  We worried and fussed to ourselves as the first night fell:  had spending so much time on the boat turned us unknowingly into complete freaks, unable to assimilate back into regular society?  Would we find jobs, or would we have to tuck tail and go back to the states to work at Taco Bell?  Would we ever have enough money to travel again?  It was with much fear and trembling that we dug out our only remaining presentable outfits and headed out on the job hunt.

Say what you will about the state of our country’s economy, but we found jobs in less than 5 days of looking.  We both just happened to end up in the right places at the right times, plus we both were able to control the urge to burst into tears, fall to the ground and beg during job interviews.  And just like that, we went from zero to warp speed, from sleeping 10 hours a night and doing whatever the heck we wanted to every day to waking up at 5:30am and hustling 14 hour days!  It wasn’t a graceful transition, and that’s why it’s taken us so long to finally update this website.   We’re tired and cranky now sometimes, but the money flowing into our piggy bank has a revitalizing counter-effect.  We will travel again!  And no Taco Bell!  Hallelujah!

Christmas was saved!  We were the most festive boat in the harbor.  

Brian’s working as a mate on a cool schooner all done up like a pirate ship that takes cruise ship passengers out on snorkeling tours.  His boss’ name is Burt Reynolds, and that's how we knew that this job was going to work out well.  He and his co-workers pick up their sleepy passengers from the docks at 9:00AM and take them to a snorkeling site a couple of miles south of the harbor.  It’s a favorite place of endangered green and leatherback turtles, and there’s a nice little reef there.  Then they all pile back on the boat, get the rum drinks flowing and sail over to a picnic lunch at pretty Honeymoon Beach.  After swimming and beach volleyball, it’s a short hop to run the happy, sunburned tourists back to their giant cruise ship in the main harbor. 

Brian's office, SILENT LADY, complete with busty figurehead.

The job is an intriguing combination of swinging from halyards, yelling, swimming with sea turtles, flirting with tipsy old ladies, cross-dressing and steel boat maintenance.  Brian gets to end his work day by gunning a pirate schooner at full speed through a crowded anchorage at sunset, blasting rap music all the way back to the mooring.  He friggin’ loves this job.


Brian as "Brianna", his hot sister who hides down below in SILENT LADY until it's time
to sell the women's souvenier t-shirts.

Alicia found work waiting tables in a high-end restaurant.  It had been eight years since she’d waited tables in college, but it’s a skill like riding a bicycle: master it once, and it’s yours forever.  This restaurant has a menu that changes every day and the chefs are well-versed in lots of different cuisines, serving everything from spaetzle to monfongo to unagi to manicotti!  Plus, the wine list is longer than some novels.  Prices are high, and the tips are good.  She’s been asking lots of questions and learning a ton about food from the kitchen staff, so when she has time for her own galley again, she’ll have a bunch of new dishes up her sleeve.  Louie and Steve are staying fat and happy with all the steak and fish scraps she brings home for them.

Alicia basically lives here.

This island is a funny place with American stores, American money, and American citizens, but some things about the place are very foreign and even somewhat insane.  Take, for instance, alcohol.  There are no open container laws here, the drinking age is 18, and it is not illegal to hit the sauce while driving.  Repeat:  drinking and driving is NOT illegal.  Being intoxicated while driving is a crime, but sipping a beer in traffic while maintaining a blood alcohol level below the legal limit is perfectly fine.  It is acceptable, and pretty much expected, at a bar to ask for your last drink to be served in a to-go cup and leave with it.  The first time we asked a bartender for a “roadie”, we felt the thrill of the forbidden as we walked through the streets carrying a clear plastic cup of red wine and a bottle of Sierra Nevada.  The thrill is gone now, but it’s still completely weird to see people putting beers in the cup holders of their cars as they head home for the night.  Certainly these laws put a whole lot of trust in the good people of this town!

Carry on, guy.  You're doing nothing beyond your legal bounds.

Getting around the island is easy.  For those without cars to drink in, there are open-air mini-buses known as “safaris”.  A safari is a heavy-duty truck with benches and a roof built over the truck bed, forming a sort of trolley car body that passengers climb in and out of.  Each safari is individually owned and likewise personally decorated by its owner, and they barrel around on a circular route all over the island from dusk til dawn.  You hop on, push on a buzzer mounted on the roof when you want to get off, and for $2, you can get yourself all kinds of places!  It’s a surprisingly efficient mass-transit operation.

Get on the bus!

The island is tiny, only slightly bigger than Manhattan, and gorgeous with high green hills and more than 20 beaches.  Iguanas, mongooses and feral chickens scurry around the place like squirrels.  A good percentage of the local population is Rastafarian, which means real reggae on the radio stations and a good health food store (hooray!).  Each morning we can see another string of cruise ships on the horizon pulling into the harbor, getting ready to offload thousands of tourists anxious to live it up before moving on to their next destination.  

We've had the good fortune of being able to visit with family and friends over the past couple of months.  In December, Alicia flew home to the states, bearing seashells, a machete and Dominican coffee to attend the christening of our nephew.  Although a giant snowstorm changed everyone's plans and the christening was cancelled, it was still a fabulous trip and she got to spend time with lots of family members. And luckily there was plenty of time at Tom and Angie's house to play with little Pete and give him the maracas we got for him in Santo Domingo.  Pete, as is obvious from the photo below, is one cute kid.

A meeting of the minds.

Then in January, our lovely and talented friend Kate came down and stayed with us for a week!  Kate is an old hand at boat living, having visited us last year in Georgetown, so she settled right in, bearing paperbacks and coffee from Brooklyn.  Kate's just the best.  We caught up, we lounged on beaches, went snorkeling, ate out, and drove a Jeep through some crazy hills in St. John, trying not to hit wild donkeys.  During her visit, two of our favorite boats happened sail into town:  Mike on GAIA and Keli and Stuart on BEANNACHT!  A joyous, boozy reunion was held at Betsy's Bar and we felt so lucky to be surrounded by great people.  

Mike sailed on with friends to St. John, but we got to spend a few days frolicking in the rain together with Kate, Keli and Stuart.  But then it was time for BEANNACHT to move on to St. Martin and for Kate to go back to New York, and the fun was over.  One difficulty of living this way is constantly being separated from the people you love to be around:  friends and family back home, and the new friends you meet that move on to places you're not going.  But when it does work out that you do get to see them, it's like a nourishing tonic for your heart.  Distance is no match for real friends, particularly in this age of the internet and discount airlines!

Alicia and Kate swimming at Honeymoon Beach on Water Island.
So here we are, anchored in St. Thomas and pooling our tips for a few months. Not a bad place to spend the winter, really.  Things are going according to plan and the funds are accumulating nicely.  We're happy with our jobs and excitedly planning our getaway in the spring.  One definite perk of staying here for a while is the abundance of marine stores, hardware stores, and reasonable shipping rates from the continental US at our disposal.   We can resupply and replace everything that’s worn out or broken throughout our travels without paying too high a premium.   So when we leave here, SARABANDE should be flush with cash once again, with all systems replenished and ready to go.  But until then, we're plugging away. Whenever the urge to hoist our sails and blow this joint hits, we just imagine ourselves clocking in at a suburban Taco Bell, and it gives us the patience to carry on for a little longer.

Money, cash, hos:  living off tips makes you look like a drug dealer when you go to the bank.

It's not as though we don't feel guilty for not updating.  To try and compensate, we've added a little retrospective gear write-up to the PSA section, along with our raved-about brunch recipe, and we're working on overhauling the photos section for the next update, which will NOT take another 4 months to post!  Honest.  Pinky swear.

A very happy birthday to Alicia's mom Belinda on 2/23 and congratulations to Mike Izzi and Jenny Diaz, who will very soon be married!

Alicia & Brian

*Coffin Island, or Caja De Muertos as it’s known in Spanish, is a beautiful little gem of an island that looks more like a corpse lying flat on his back from the water rather than a coffin.  Our guidebook for Puerto Rico, which thusfar had proven good for nothing, told us the island got its name from a shaky love story gone wrong.  A Portuguese pirate named Jose Almeida fell in love with a woman who was married.  Luckily for Jose, the husband soon had a stroke.  Jose and the widow got married, but soon afterwards, Jose’s new wife was murdered.   Poor Jose had her body embalmed, and put her in a glass-lidded cedar coffin.  He took the coffin and hid it in one of the island’s small caves, and regularly visited her there between pirate raids.  Eventually, he was caught and hanged, and the coffin was taken to St. Thomas and buried.


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