21 November 2015

The Ants Come Marching

It is so wonderful to be at anchor again.  We are in Scotland Bay on the Northwest shore of Trinidad.  A beautiful natural setting and small bay surrounded by lushly, textured steep hills. There are no buildings at all, just a couple of campsites on the beach.   Beautiful until you go to shore where, disappointingly, the human picnicers leave there vast quantities of garbage lining the shore.  Really disturbing! 
A small amount of the copious garbage.  Humans can be disgusting!
But from the boat, where the garbage is less visible, we see schools of silver fish jumping like skipping stones in synchrony across our path, sea turtles languid until we glide up politely in our kayak when they gracefully swim faster than any stereotypical turtle ever moves.  It’s obviously better to be in buoyant water with a house on your back then on land.  We see bank swallows and bananaquits.  We have suddenly become birders, sitting over morning coffee and tea with bird books at hand trying to identify the birds perching on our spreaders, even on our wind instruments where they turn with the wind.  
Milly as birdhouse
We are searching for an 8 km trail to a distant waterfall where we can bathe in a pool at it’s base.  Sounds idyllic on a hot, humid day when the air seems thick.  But, of course, we have to walk there first…and back…. after the cooling swim.

We hid our kayak in the lovely ferns that are pushing up through discarded beer cans, styrofoam take-out containers, water bottles, plastic bags etc. etc. etc. and tried to find the trail head.  After several false starts where the trail ended in a ruin of a quasi shelter with no less than a porcelain toilet inside connected with pipe to a hole a few meters uphill.  There are at least a dozen of these civilized outhouses surrounded by litter!
The toilet and pipe are the most prominent remains in the sites along the beach.
We finally find a trail occasionally marked with orange ribbon - a good sign.  It follows concrete mud covered pavement, the ruins of an American military camp from W.W.II.  A hanging vale of branches eventually prevents us from going further.  We have learned that this particular tree’s bark, leaves and little green apple-looking fruit are “poisonous” and since we don’t want any itchy rashes, stinging welts, or watery eyes, we decide to turn around.  
Descending into the depths of the gully
Instead, we turn right and clamber up a hill along another trail marked with blue tape.  It takes us up and then down into a deep, damp gully which is a river during floods.  We stop very briefly to look at a column of long-legged, red bellied ants marching across the rocks.  And then we notice that the ants are everywhere in great swarms of military movement.  On we go for a few short steps until Peter yelps in pain.  He has been bitten by those ferocious insects.  We both look down to see our shoes and ankles swarming with ants. They are quickly moving up our legs as we dash about swatting with hands and hats.  After minutes - or at least, seconds - we are clear and continue on the path.  But the earth is now swarming with these ants, all moving in one direction but not in discrete columns that we can step over.  They are everywhere.  After a brief sprint up the steep path we decide that these creatures, which are now enormous in our minds, are not worth the adventure of exploring.  We turn back only to go over the spot of our original infection.  In even a few moments as we literally run over the slippery rocks our shoes were again covered.  Again, we furiously batted them off as we gained higher, drier ground.

We have done quite a few jungle walks but so far had not encountered these tiny, hostile creatures with strong and painful pincers.  We did not reach the waterfall but we are not giving up.  When the locals come on the weekend, we will ask direction.  If it’s the same path, we will choose to wait for another waterfall on another island.
Peaceful serenity after our encounter with the mad ants
Today, we instead headed back to Milly for a swim and a paddle to look at the teeming underwater life from the safety of the kayak.
Milly looking enormous beside our only neighbour

18 November 2015

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Chaguaramas, Trinidad - Season Highlights

We had a wonderful time visiting “home” and catching up with family and friends. Many asked questions that have made us thoughtfully reflect on our first season abroad, almost three months living in Buenos Aires and then eight months on Milly. Of course, as with all good answers to great questions, they don’t occur spontaneously but were tossed about late at night when sleep evades or as a topic of conversation over dinner and a glass of wine in Trinidad upon our return to Milly.  Nothing like rehashing a season before we start a new one.

Because this is a blog, questions will be answered in point form with a new picture when possible.  I find it painful to skip the stories and limit the list to so few.  Perhaps, one day, we will write a chapter or two.  But, unbelievably, when we are cruising, there isn't enough time!

What surprised us?

The stunning beauty of the Brazilian coast
  • never a dull moment during those long passages. 
  • daily rainbows, after every squall 

Cars left to rot at the side of the road in residential Buenos Aires
  • dealing in the “Blue Market” to change American to Pesos in Argentina - felt clandestine but is a nonevent for the residents, a matter of survival
  • the amount of plastic water bottles in the sea - very sad
  • the lack of North American cruisers in Brazil - not one!  And only a handful of Europeans.
  • the heat and humidity.  It’s wiltingly hot! In Trinidad especially.

Were we ever scared?  This is commonly the first question.  Usually people who ask are thinking of the weather we encountered, imagining fierce storms and huge waves.  I readily admit to being a bit - no, quite a bit - wide-eyed and nervous at the end of our passage to Santa Catarina  ( A Shake Up Cruise).  I won’t repeat the ewww and ahhh I felt that final night again but, yes, I was scared/nervous for some minutes until I realized Milly could handle the waves the ocean was hurling our way and that Peter, enjoying the tumult, was an incredibly able captain.

Peter was never unnerved by weather or anything to do with sailing.  He loved every minute of it - calm, waves, upwind, downwind.  However, he also had his nervous moments.  One was while anchored in the very small Maracas Bay on Isla Grande, Brazil.  The bay was beautiful, surrounded by steep, rocky shores which rose to high mountains on the island side.  The exit/entrance was one small cut through rocky shores.  Although the anchor felt solid, the wind rose to such intensity on a pitch black night that he sat at the helm for what seemed like a few hours.  The next day when we weighed anchor, we pulled up mud, a couple of plastic bags and a few pieces of metal.  The anchor had done just as it should and dug in deeper.

Peter’s second nervous night - why does all the scary stuff happen at night when it’s that much scarier? - was in Galeao, a small, secluded and impoverished town well away from any sail traffic.  We anchored with local fishing boats.  The town was in the full swing of celebrating some festival or another - there is no shortage of parties in Brazil.  Somehow in our isolation, we felt guiltily like an ostentatious super yacht.  And when we went ashore, we were sensitive to a lack of welcoming smiles.  Peter was vigilant that night and we left the next morning.

Were there any bad moments?  Really very few and mostly momentary
  • missing my kids.  I was very grateful for our communication systems when they worked.  But when they didn’t…I was not a happy mum.
  • Peter hanging off the bow in rough seas in the middle of the night to fix the furler
  • electrical problems that prevented the batteries from charging properly for a couple of weeks.  The fix was easy, once figured out.
  • until the drugs started working, seasickness was never fun
  • a ship making a last minute turn directly at us on a dark night, oblivious to the little boat in it’s way
  • not being able to figure out which way Brazilian fishing boats were headed because their lights did not follow any of the conventions.  Instead, they were decorated like flashing Christmas trees.
  • me releasing the screecher halyard instead of the main.  Luckily, I realized quickly and it didn’t come down too far.  But I was in the doghouse for a short time.

What were the highlights?  Really too many to list - every day held several:
Splashing Milly - January, 2015

The wild beaches of the Uruguayan South Atlantic coast
  • sailing in the company of dolphins at the bow
  • looking over the gunnel to see a school of rays just below the surface, gliding in formation
  • the moon and stars above and bioluminescence below on night watch
  • Dropping anchor after a long passage
  • The long passages

  • Shopping in farmers' markets
  • The culinary adventure and fast sensations of trying new-to-us fruit and veg
  • the political intensity of Argentina, from bombing to cover-up to murder to more cover-up and the daily protests of thousands who are engaged in the politics
  • the many wonderful South American characters we had the pleasure to meet
  • dining on the beach with chefs dressed in shorts - only
  • the French Guyanese military shorts worn by seriously macho soldiers as described by John Gimlett in The Wild Coast. “These (the shorts) were always half a dozen sizes too small, making them look magnificently gay, as though Village People had taken over the bush.”  Completely accurate description! And, no, I don't have a picture.  We were trying to be respectful.
  • Fernando de Noronja

  • Introducing our son to Milly
  • hanging out with other cruisers for the first time in French Guyana

We had some fun!!  And now, we are about to start our second season.  More fun to come!

10 November 2015

Coming Home

We have arrived back in Trinidad to find Milly looking brilliantly white, patiently waiting to be put back in the water where she belongs.

Prior to our trip back to Toronto and during our seven weeks there, I have spent some time considering a few questions commonly asked and what our nomadic life means with respect to those questions.

First, “Where are you from?”  That’s an easy one when you have lived in one place all your life minus a few years here and there.  We are from Canada and, even more specifically, from Toronto.  
Canada follows us everywhere!
When cruisers ask, “Where are you coming from?”  they often mean where have you sailed from last.  This is a somewhat confusing answer - is it the last port or the port of origin or what?  Even more enigmatically, we proudly fly the Canadian flag but will most likely never sail the boat to our fine country.  Instead, Milly’s origin is Argentina, an answer that baffles many.

Next, “Where do you live?”  A bit difficult.  We could say Toronto or Canada but we have only been there for seven weeks in 2015 and maybe not at all in 2016.  More accurately, we live on Milly.  I’m comfortable with that response.  But if the answer to the question needs to be a place, well, Milly wanders from port to port.  The longest we have been in any one place is San Fernando, Argentina which we may never return to and here, in Chaguaramas, Trinidad, which appeals as a place to get boat work done but from which we will sail as soon as we can.  Actually, we live on the sea.  Okay, so the answer to the question is, “We live on the sea in Milly.”

The question that I struggle with most is, “Where is home?”  When we travel, we fall easily into referring to our hotel or, even more so, our rented apartment, as home as in “let’s go home” even though we are both aware that this is not really the case.  Home, when we travel, is where we lay our heads.

However, when we were about to return to Toronto or when we arrived back here, we said we were going home or had been home.  We referred to Toronto as home - feeling each time that we were betraying Milly.  When we arrived in Toronto, indeed, the place felt like home even though we had only lived in our rented condo for a month before we left for Argentina.  Our friends and family were there.  And the streets, people and ambiance were so familiar, it felt like we had never left.  After all, we had only been away ten months.  Places don’t change that fast.

But we have given up our apartment and moved a few things into a 5’ x10’ storage space.  Our daughter, Emily, moved to New York City the day after we returned to Trinidad and our son, Tom, is as nomadic as we are.  So we no longer have a space in Toronto to call home and our little nuclear family has dispersed.  Still friends and some family remain and the familiarity makes returning exciting and easy.

Home in the Kawartha Lakes
We have a cottage where our children grew up and where we have lived as a family each summer.  We have stuffed it full of some of our city furniture and it holds some of our parents things - those things that we are sentimentally attached to and find difficult to discard.  Our precious photos of our children and family at all ages and stages are there.  On the cold, damp, windy days that we spent there on this return trip we were very cozy and comfortable.  It is a three season place that we love but is it home?  It’s always been “the cottage” but I guess it’s home when we are there.

Which leaves Milly.  Again, when we are away on a hike, for example, we might say “let’s go home”.  And she is familiar and comfy for us.  When returning after a hot expedition ashore, her cool indoors is a relief to come home to.  Even better is a dive into the ocean from her transom and a rinsing fresh water shower on the transom steps.  On passage nights, her helm is headquarters for radar and chart, stars and bioluminescence.  From her bow we delight in playing dolphins and secure her in ports with her anchor.

At home on Milly
 I prefer to believe that we are at home on Milly.  Her interior still predominantly has the elegant Antares touch.  Boats have built-in furniture and photos or paintings are tough to put up - it’s difficult to personalize a new boat.  On this trip home, I brought a couple of rugs and I’m going to add some watercolours and cushions when we come across them in our travels.  My happy mission this season is to make our home homey.

If home is a space, then Milly is it.  If home is a place, then Canada and Toronto are it….I guess.
Home in Canada - the cottage
The answer to the question, “Where is home?” still makes me a little uneasy but I consider myself very privileged to be able to say that we live on Milly on the sea.  Perhaps that is why cruisers are called liveaboards.
Our wandering home, Milly