Ship's Log

September 5th, 2010 - St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands:

Pretty Maho Bay in St. John.

Well, it’s almost Labor Day. Hope everyone’s had a great summer, now that it’s almost over!  For us, the past few months have been a total curveball.  Things started off simply enough.  In June, we took a little snorkeling trip to a lovely “secret” spot over in St. John for Brian’s birthday. 

Elkhorn coral at Brian's classified birthday location.

Baby yellow snapper tell Brian he hardly looks a day over 20.

Then, just after July 4th, Alicia’s dad flew down from New York City for a visit, which was a lovely couple of days' worth of beaches, restaurants, and downtown wandering.  Having stayed with us aboard in the Bahamas, he slipped into boat-mode easily, and we had fun showing him our favorite places around the island.  

Dad went home, and things hummed along nicely for a while.  Brian’s work schedule stayed packed with maintenance on the pirate boats, which was a happy surprise for our bank account.  We mentally prepared for the shift to land living and mapped out the projects we'd do on SARABANDE after she was hauled out the first week of August.  Things were going according to plan.

Us with Dad at Magen's Bay beach.

Then, in late July, things began to unravel a little.  All of a sudden, we just couldn’t seem to catch a break.  It was as though someone had placed a low-grade hex on us, filling life with minor annoyances, snowballing into a cumulative effect that made us want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers.

"Life for Brian and Alicia will be irritating and confusing for weeks on mote it be!"

Some examples of the nonsense:

Exhibit A:

Both of our laptops and the iTouch staged a walk-out.  All of them stopped working on the same day.  Not long after, Brian accidentally dropped his phone into the harbor.  Onboard communications were severely crippled, hence the long lack of website updates and email responses (sorry!).  We sent the Mac over to the Apple Store in Puerto Rico for repairs and Fed Ex held it hostage there for a month and a half.  We almost had to fly to Puerto Rico in person to get it back.  The PC, which we use for navigation, and the iTouch remain out of service for the time being.

Exhibit B:

Our house-sitting gig, which was the foundation of our hurricane season plan, fell through when Doug, the owner of the house, contracted a serious illness and had to cancel his summer vacation.  We learned this two weeks before SARABANDE’s haul-out date.  After a frenzied, hopeless search for a month-to-month lease on an affordable, furnished, pet-friendly, safe place (this doesn't exist here!), Doug graciously offered us his vacant basement apartment.   He's been extremely generous and is a boat fellow himself, and without his help we'd probably be living in the boatyard.   

Exhibit C:

Because pregnancy has turned Alicia into a diva who will not accept boat cushions on the floor as “furnishings”, we rented a bed, a sofa and a loveseat for our temporary home from the local Rent-A-Center.  We borrowed a massive work truck owned by Brian’s boss to pick them up, nicked a curb, and ended up leaking a river of hydraulic oil all over the Rent-A-Center parking lot.  The fire department and the police were called.  We had caused what the manager called a “situation 29”, and he implied we had probably incurred ourselves thousands of dollars in fines.  Alicia waddled as fast as she could to a liquor store for two big bags of “apology presents”, while Brian frantically broke open sandbags to sop up the oil and turned on the charm to buddy up with the staff.  It worked:  the “situation 29” was downgraded, the authorities were called off, all the oil was cleaned up, and the kind and understanding staff of the St. Thomas Rent-A-Center started off their Friday evening drinking something classy.  Brian fixed his boss’s truck the next day, a simple repair.  All in all, we spent about $300 in booze, truck parts and oil in the name of saving ourselves the $50 delivery fee.  Lesson learned.  Maybe.

Booze and schmooze saved us from the law, but here's what could have been.
 Brian at the US Virgin Islands Texas Chili Cook-Off.

Exhibit D:

Our hex follwed us to land.  One week after moving into the apartment, the refrigerator died.  Just two days before, we’d joyfully packed it to the gills with ice cream, frozen meat, gallons of milk - all the perks of landlubber-style living.  We saved what we could, but most of it went to waste.  It took a week just to get a repair company to come out and look at it, and then almost another to replace the fridge.  Nobody loves peanut butter sandwiches more than we do, but let’s just say we won’t be in the mood for them again for quite some time.

Exhibit E: 

Our cousins from Long Island, Christie, Sean and Caileen came for a week-long visit in mid-August.  That’s certainly not the unlucky part.  It was awesome to see them, and we had a lot of fun together.  But when Alicia took them over to St. John on the car ferry and tried to drive them around on an island tour, the Jeep suffered a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere.  A quick inventory of available tools revealed that we lacked a suitable lug nut wrench to change the tire.  It was late afternoon, and we were on track to miss the last car ferry home.  Being stranded on a wooded road in St. John for the night with only wild chickens and tortilla chips for sustenance was not on the vacation itinerary!  To our immense relief, a drunken couple in a pickup truck arrived on the scene.  The driver wobbily exited the truck and pulled an immense ratchet set from the bed of the truck.  “Hell yes, I’ve got a f#@%ing socket set!  Let’s git ‘er f#@%ing done so you kids can make it back home!”  Foul-mouthed and extremely cheerful, the gentleman helped us get back on the road within a few minutes, and we made the ferry back to St. Thomas just in time.   Without him, we’d probably still be in over there, hunting chickens and donkeys with spears and going completely “Lord of the Flies”.

St. John's wild donkeys.  In the end, we didn't have to eat these guys.

We don’t mention this stuff so much to complain, only to illustrate the unusual amount of malfunctions and mishaps that dogged us from mid-July onward.  So after our cousins had returned to NY and we got word of a tropical depression gathering strength in the Atlantic, we got nervous.  When the depression was upgraded to a tropical storm named Earl, we gritted our teeth.  Our luck had not been a lady as of late, and Earl was lumbering right for our neighborhood. 

The storm drew nearer and did not veer to the north as all the experts had predicted it would, and everyone on the island launched into hurricane preparations.  Early Sunday morning on August 29th, Alicia drove down to the boatyard to secure a few last things on SARABANDE while Brian worked with his company to drive their five boats into the mangrove lagoon nearby. 

SILENT LADY, BONES and DOUBLOON, each rammed headfirst into the mud with double anchors off their sterns.

The storm was set to hit us within 24 hours.  Both of us laid our hands on SARABANDE’s hull and took a long time to walk away from her when it was time to go.  Would she be laying on the ground in ruins the next time we saw her?

Trouble coming.

On the way home, we stopped by the mobbed grocery store for extra drinking water, then helped Doug put hurricane shutters over the windows and doors of the house.  Clouds were rolling in and the wind had begun to pipe up.  As night fell, we took the canopy off our Jeep, called Steve inside, and cooked a big chicken dinner, suspecting that a hot meal might not be an option for much longer.  We tuned in our clock radio, and a weather report announced that Earl had officially become a hurricane, and was still heading straight for us.  The shutters over the windows and doors made the apartment stuffy and hot, and neither of us slept much that night.

We lost power just after breakfast the next morning, which seemed odd since it didn’t look so bad outside - windy and rainy, sure, but nothing awful.  A radio report we’d heard just before the outage had said that by now Earl was a Category 3 and still 140 miles away, moving about 13 miles an hour.  We napped, played cards and were generally bored.  Our priority had been securing SARABANDE for the storm, and the preparations we’d made for ourselves in the apartment were minimal.  We had plenty of water and food, but our radio was useless without electricity.  Now we were cut off from the news reports in a dim apartment, lit by the slivers of grey light from outside creeping in around the edges of our boarded-up windows.

Louie looking pensive as Earl comes closer.

As dusk fell, it was definitely becoming “hurricaney” outside.  The wind was now strong enough to fling avocados off the trees and the smaller plants in the yard were whipping around crazily.  After dinner, we had an ice cream eating contest based on the feeble excuse that it would soon go to waste without refrigeration anyway.  Later, as we lay in our sweaty bedroom, clammy and dairy-bloated, all around us we heard the sound of limbs breaking and trees falling as the wind and rain pounded the walls.  We prayed that our boat was OK out there.  Brian tried to sleep while Alicia stayed up to read Heart of Darkness by candlelight.  It was a fitful evening.

We both woke up before dawn Tuesday morning because all the crashing, wailing and howling outside had just.....stopped.     Not a breath of air moved a single leaf, no birds chirped - outside was silent except for the faint crash of the ocean down below the mountain.  The first thing we thought of was SARABANDE.  We had to go see her!  We got dressed, cleaned the debris out of our Jeep and ventured soggily down the road to see if we could reach the boatyard.

We were grateful to have four wheel drive as we headed towards town - the road was wet and strewn with blown-away branches and leaves, broken bits of plywood, ripped tarps, and several magnificent old trees, felled with their roots high in the air.  Town was quiet and still, and we buzzed our way through traffic lights that weren’t working.

This poor tree in Frenchtown is over.

Driving along the waterfront, we saw one of our mooring field neighbors washed up on the rocks, completely ruined.  Looking further out, we could see several other boats washed up on Water Island and Hassel Island.  It was chilling when we looked closer and recognized them, too, as former neighbors. 

The catamaran SERENDY used to be just a few hundred yards away from our mooring spot.

We drove on, feeling sad for the owners of the wrecked boats and worrying more and more about what sort of state we’d find SARABANDE to be in.  Waves in the harbor were still high, hitting the side of our car as they burst over the seawall and onto the street.  It seemed to take forever to get to the boatyard, and when we finally made it we rushed out of the car, straining our eyes to search for SARABANDE’s familiar mast and bracing ourselves for the worst. 

Boats washed up in the mud in Flamingo Bay of Water Island.

Our mooring ball, in the water on the right, and two more of our unfortunate neighbors up on the beach.

We laughed with relief to see SARABANDE upright and dignified as usual, completely unaffected by the storm.  Our home, our prized possession, our dear vessel was safe!  WHAT’S HER FACE and THE DONUT made it through unscathed, too.  Our recent difficulties all of a sudden seemed like small potatoes.  We were dead wrong to think of ourselves as unlucky. Hurricane Earl, which we learned had actually been a Category 4 storm when it swept though, made a mess of St. Thomas, but our little family and our boat were all safe and sound.  We can't ask for any better than that!

Brian comes down the ladder after checking on deck and inside.

Please keep your fingers crossed that our good fortune will hold.  We’re in the heart of hurricane season now, and there will  be other storms coming our way yet.  Keep those positive, safe, storm-proof thoughts coming our way, if you don't mind!

In other news, our baby is getting big and kung fu fighting away in AMC’s belly day and night.  We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but we were relieved when a sonogram determined that the baby has only one head, plus the usual number of arms and legs.  We successfully completed an excellent natural childbirth class, and received a fancy certificate to serve as proof to our child that at least we tried.  Alicia is as big as a house and feeling pretty good, with about 10 more weeks to go until the wee sprog’s due.  Her last day of work is projected to be October 1st.

It seems the baby has a propensity for excessive punctuation and text-message speak.

As for boat projects, Brian has jumped into some tasks that would be difficult to complete if we were still living aboard.  SARABANDE still has her original black iron fuel tanks, which have troublesome pinhole leaks that need to be addressed. The tanks are located under the floor of the deckhouse, a difficult spot to tear into and explore when the space also serves as your kitchen, dining room, living room and gymnasium.  He's using some "vacation" time off from work to tackle the project while we live here in the apartment.  Along with the fuel tanks,  he's also doctoring all the minor injuries a boat suffers during a solid year of constant liveaboard use - a busted switch here, a broken latch there.  It's nice to have this time to re-evaluate and re-organize things onboard now that we know a little more than we did when we started out, and SARABANDE deserves the spruce-up.  

Belated love and best wishes for Tommy and Angie Collins, who had their 2nd wedding anniversary on August 23rd,  Alicia's wonderful Aunt Katie, who just had a birthday on 9/1, and Uncle Brian and Aunt Jenny, who celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary on 9/3.  More people we love are having birthdays this month, too: our most glorious friend Kevin Ginty (9/16), Brian's beautiful Grandma (9/18), and our nephew Pete turns a whole year old on September 23rd!

Thanks to everyone who's sent along support, congratulations, and words of advice.  We appreciate all of it!  We also appreciate our computer, the brand new, ice-cold refrigerator in our apartment, and peaceful weather like never before.  Take care!

Your friends,
Alicia & Brian


 *home        *who we are        *our boat        *the plan        *photos        *misc        *contact us