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May 3, 2012 / Nautical Mom

St. Thomas’s 60th Carnival

Last week, a lovely lady working in a gift shop, Mina, told us to stay for Carnival. Are we ever glad to have heeded her advice!

Today was the last day of a weeklong celebration that included parades, calypso contests, food festivals, and amusement rides. Yesterday we watched the children’s parade where various organizations present floats and dance troupes. The floats were somewhat unimpressively decorated, but included some very talented youth steel drum bands. The dance troupes wore elaborate feather and sparkle costumes. In the two hours we were there we saw approximately 10 groups perform, but way less than half the parade. Most memorable were a group of preteens on stilts, majorette club (with 3 age groups and more than 60 twirlers) and another team of modern dancers.

Today was the adult’s parade. The best part about this carnival is that it is surprisingly family friendly: both parades start just after 10 am. We arrived today just about 3 pm and it was nowhere near over. The first group we saw was the adult stilt troupe. In NY we’ll see a handful or rainbow suited giants dancing at a street fair. This was 20 or 30 identically costumed 10 feet tall acrobats, hopping, limboing, dancing and otherwise amazing us. We saw another excellent dance troupe in feathers and rhinestone bikinis that included every age and shape imaginable. Grandma had to take a few rests to catch her breath but she was out there! There was another group of Mexican dancers in ruffled dresses and mariachi suits.

The parade route was about 2 miles and lined 4 or 5 deep, so not like the thanksgiving parade, but still I wondered where they all came from. Especially since the parade itself had at least 3000 performers. When we left after 5:30, it was still going strong. Deafeningly so. We did some serious hearing damage with the loud base mixes and pounding steel drums.

Speaking of hearing damage, the carnival closed out with a Grucci fireworks display over the harbor. The barge was no more that 300 yards away from our boat. We had complete and unobstructed views of the exploding jester hats, dripping Tina Turner hair, and bursting ringed globes. Best of all, we were upwind with a delightful breeze to carry the smoke and ashes far from us. The last firework was a green 6 and a white 0 to signify the 60th. Can’t believe how perfectly they pulled it off, but it really was a no holds barred celebration this year. And despite the revelry, we never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Thank you St Thomas and those who encouraged us to stay.

Pictures from Saturday’s Adult Parade

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April 24, 2012 / Nautical Mom

Answering the big “why”

Ok, so I haven’t written in a long time mostly because we’ve been in the bvi’s: it has the best snorkeling, but is still rather mundane compared to our adventures thus far. Another big reason for radio silence is that we’ve been preoccupied with plans going forward.

The other day I came across this NY Times article citing their elementary school that clearly put into words a major reason why I’m out here: 500 kids selected East Side Middle as their first choice middle school and met the basic screening qualifications. There are about 100 spaces for incoming sixth graders. The applicants, 10 year-olds, are subjected to interviews, math tests, and personal essays.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/education/new-york-citys-tutoring-industry-grows-with-competition-for-admissions.html?_r=1&nl=nyregion&emc=edit_ur_20120416

Gigi has the grades, so at least she’d have a 1 in 5 shot. Am I wrong to pull her out of the running? Maybe. Is she being deprived of an opportunity? She thinks so. Am i being overprotective because of the potential rejection? No, she’s strong and could handle it.

Then there’s Jason’s classmates being tutored for a test they’ll take in a year. Not because they’re deficient or slow, but because their parents want them to be…what? Given every possible advantage? To what end? Higher and higher stakes feeding the next generation with a sense of entitlement and superiority to their endlessly sacrificing parents. And, at what cost? These kids are meant to be doing something better on a saturday morning.

The honest truth is that I cannot participate and thereby condone such a system. We (i think I speak for ej also here) believe in another way. In my utopia there is ample opportunity for individuals to reach there full potential without having to aggressively compete and defeat others. The land of the win-win! If we sail long and far enough, perhaps we’ll actually find it.

We’re off to Puerto Rico after Carnival on St Thomas. More soon.

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March 20, 2012 / Nautical Mom

March 20 – Turning north

Mission accomplished: We’ve gone as far south as we imagined.

We’ve greatly enjoyed our time in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Sailing here most reminds us of home or the bvi’s because there are diverse destinations mere miles apart. We visited St V for a week, and then bopped around the islands. Bequia for my bday and lobster dinner, where we saw the turtles and Gigi and EJ went suba diving. Then Canouan to visit an acquaintance, and Mayreau’s idyllic Salt WhistleBay, the Tobago Cays and finally here in Union. The water is the clearest turquoise and acquamarine we’ve seen,the sun is unforgivingly strong yet the air is cool almost chilly at night.

We are hopefully going to Dominica, which will be new, and then up further north to the Virgin Islands to meet friends the first week of April. Although these are new and appealing, we feel the sorrow of an impending end of our time in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately my iPad screen shattered, so not many photos, nor much enthusiasm to type. We’re looking into repair options, so all will be well in the world of blog soon. Until then…

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March 4, 2012 / Nautical Mom

Saint Vincent March 3

Loyal followers, we are now in St. Vincent.  What an exciting overnight from St. Lucia.  We left Rodney Bay in pitch black at 7pm during a torrential rain storm.  It was a 70-plus mile voyage. It had been blowing over 25 knots all week, and we were feeling stuck, so hearing about a lull Thursday night and Friday we were eager to make ground despite the rain.   We decided to do an overnight because the 20 mile stretch of ocean between St. Lucia to St. Vincent is known to be a bit rough, and the kids and dog could sleep through it.  
It poured steadily for the first two hours of our trip in utter blackness down the coast of St. Lucia.  My only regret about the overnight is that we’d seen the coast by car, but by boat the views (i.e. of the Pitons) are supposedly even more spectacular.  When we reached the bottom of St. Lucia (around midnight) we called the Veaux Forte Lighthouse.  We had visited it earlier in the week and met Allen, one of the keepers who’s worked there 30 years.  He was happy to hear from us, warned us of continued high winds, and wished us a safe voyage south.  It’s nice to hear a friendly voice over the VHF radio in the middle of the darkness, and to know although we feel very alone, there are people watching out for us.
Jason was such a cute trooper for our trip.  As soon as we left, he put on foul weather gear, donned his life jacket, clipped on his harness and went to sleep in the cockpit under a plastic blanket so that he could be “on watch” with us.  Gigi was a little sick and panicky as we departed, and very sad to be leaving her marina friends, but she soon pulled herself together and slept comfortably on the couch to be close to us.
Anyway, I did much of the crossing alone while EJ slept from 2-4 am.  Not much exciting, passed within a few miles of 2 or 3 ships.  The boat sailed well enough with double-reefed main and reefed jib.  The wind was pretty much off our beam and there were 9 foot swells also off our beam.  The swells were slightly uncomfortable because the boat rocked a bit side to side coming down the waves, but nothing eventful.  After I went to bed after my shift, and was awakened at 7:00 with everything flying off the walls as the boat surged side to side.  We stow our stuff, but not as meticulously as other sailors, so now the pots were flying, the storage boxes of clothes fell off the dressers hitting me on the head and all our electronics (pcs etc.) jettisoned across the main salon.
I went upstairs to find EJ battling a monster of a sea.  At the northern tip of St. Vincent the wind whips around the island and the waves turn from gentle rollers to vicious chop.  It was blowing steady above 30 knots and although the waves were not that big, they were close together and very choppy with some breakers.  Of course, it was also raining.  I was proud of him for enduring this alone and letting the rest of us sleep as long as we had.  We completely furled the jib, headed a bit further off the wind and just made ground until finally we were in the lee of St. Vincent.
We arrived Kingstown, the capital at 11 am, hoping to clear Brooke with the vet.  No such luck!  After several phone calls, we learned there was some problem with our application in that we had no permanent address in St. Vincent.  We’d just listed our boat as our home, but that was inadequate.  Of course bureaucracy dictated that we have to redo the entire package and wait until Monday.  Poor puppy is stuck on the boat til then.
We’ve finally had time to do some updates to the blog layout.  Check out Carribean Places and Adventures page.  The kids have also updated content on their pages.
February 17, 2012 / Nautical Mom

Martinique to St. Lucia feb 13-15

What a perfect passage today. We were traveling from st Anne right outside Marin in Martinique to Rodney Bay st. Lucia. It was 22 nautical miles as the crow flies with only one slit outcropping of rocks to circumvent. Today the breeze was 15 knots max with 5-8 foot rollers ever 6 seconds. The wind blew steady from about 90 degrees and we were headed 195, so it was slightly aft of our beam. Totally amazingly perfect! The kind of sail I’d been longing for after much motor sailing or beating into the wind.

Everyone seemed to enjoy it. From the moment we left our anchor until we entered the bay here. Gigi helped raise the main and shake out the reef and then we set a course and held it steady the whole way. This was much different from our passage last week from st Pierre to st Anne. Although that was a coastal run within Martinique the wind was pretty much on our nose. Then it was also unpredictably gusty because of the mountains, so one minute it was 5 knots and the next minute it was 30.

So today, when we were between the two islands in the st Lucia passage we were in water 1000 feet deep with no land for hundreds of miles on either side. Mexico to the west and Africa to the east. This helped smooth out the waves a lot. Then as we approached the shore, the bottom would shelf rapidly. We went from 200 feet to 20 feet within a quarter mile. It was visibly different in the color f the sea: changing from bright turquoise to deep blue and back again with visible delineation.

We are happily anchored in Rodney Bay, but are very preoccupied about customs. The British islands are very strict about animals. In some islands, they have mandatory 6 month quarantine. Here there are some very stringent requiremts that we can’t possibly meet. For example, Brooke must have 6 months since her rabies test, which can’t be done before 3 months of age. Well, since she’s not yet 7 months, none of this is really feasible. We are at th e mercy of the local officials.

I hope we’re allowed to stay because tonight we met a Danish family with a daughter exactly Gigi’s age and a son Jason’s. While their kids are still struggling with English, the parents are fluent and seem like interesting people. The mom is a teacher and the dad works with mentally Ill children. They are a nice compliment to Raftan, the other kid boat we’ve been traveling with for th e past month. Raftan are French Canadians with 2 boys aged 8 and 9 who speak French but are quite conversant in English. The dad is an engineer with plenty of machismo and the mom teaches psychotherapy at Canadian university.

After a month in French-speaking countries we all agree that we are still thinking in French. For example, passing someone n the street, I’m more likely to say Bon jour than hello at this point. The kids concur, and even though it’ll be English from now on, they want to continue with th sir French studies. We’ll see how that goes. Soon it’ll be time to introduce spanish.

Feb 14 valentine’s day – today I woke up to Gregory the boat peddler hawking his fruits and wares off the stern with EJ haggling for pricing. As my v-day gift, he bought me 6 papayas a coconut and a grapefruit. Although it sounds unromantic, it’s much more appreciated than chocolate.

In the afternoon (after some school) we went to the beach with the other families. The waves we’re thunderous. unlike waves at home that roll up onto the shore, these met with a counter current driving seaward that caused them to peak vertically into 12 foot translucent turquoise alps than slam with intense immediacy downward into the shore. At first we were too terrified to go in, but another oddity about these waves was that they appeared only on 1/4 of the beach.

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February 7, 2012 / Nautical Mom

Fort du France – Martinique Feb 2

Joy of joys, a decent sized city, at last. We spent the day running around getting to know the place and seeing some interesting sights. Parts of the city resemble the developing world (Rio, Sao Paolo), parts are truly Caribbean (brightly painted houses), and some parts reflect French colonization.

This photo is taken during a study break in the Schoelscher Library, which is very ornate. The architecture is Italian renaissance, Spanish, Moroccan with Doric columns and a Hindu or Muslim minaret-type roof.

Anyway, we anchored off town behind a large 17 century fort. There is a lovely promenade with easy access for dinghies thAt runs a half-mile along the shore. The kids found a looping rope swing that was just too fun! All the sailing guide books described this as uninviting, uncomfortably rolly, crowded and polluted anchorage, but we are finding it to be none-of-the-above. We enjoy the short dinghy ride ashore, the easy access to town and the handful of interesting historical sights surrounded by dollar stores with 50% off signs everywhere.

There is also a great natural history museum. We had an individualized tour and got a thorough explanation of the island’s evolution and it’s native people. Maybe the kids will write a report or something to reinforce their learning. They have been doing some homework and studying.

 

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Gigi in Fort Du France Schoelscher Library.

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The fort and anchorage.

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Jason studies on the boat.

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Mom sailing past Diamond Rock with a big heel on our way from Fort du France to Sainte Anne near Marin on the south coast.

December 28, 2011 / Nautical Mom

“Head”ing into Christmas

Spend the better part of the last two days fixing the marine heard with EJ. Been a real disgusting mess but finally got the hoses reconnected and thought we were done. No such luck! Back at it tomorrow.

Just wanted to wish everybody happy holidays. Christmas trees aree all around us, but they seem out of place. The boats have great lights though.

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