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Posted on July 16, 2019 | 6 comments

Rally Reflections

Rally Reflections

Eight months ago I sat amidst charts and maps learning how to spell Huaritcheru. I noticed that the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia are actually closer to Nicaragua than to Colombia. That Colombia is a country and Columbia is a city in the U.S. I still had little experience sailing and zero experience with the geography of the Western Caribbean. I didn’t know that the Panama Canal was 50 miles long with a lake in the middle and I certainly didn’t know where the heck the San Blas Islands were. I’d never seen an octopus, a green flash, or a Guna Indian. By April 2019, all that had changed and it’s just now, in the familiar comforts of the United States, that my mind has settled and the experience has finally sunk in. When at last I don’t need to interpret the language or wonder how to buy groceries. When there are no more opportunities to snorkel, dive, hike, noodle, host dinner, be hosted, drink, and be toasted with 40 other boats always eager to fill a social void like a dorm of college students. It’s over. It was exhausting. And it was an experience of a lifetime.

“You’ve created an entire civilization down here,” Cara observed when she and Nick visited us in Santa Marta, Colombia to get a glimpse of our lives on the Suzie Too Western Caribbean Rally.

True—we had book club, yoga, Spanish lessons, haircuts onboard, and dinner with friends practically every night. We also gave back to our community–we had trash pick-up days and donated to a local children’s charity. Different from life on land, we were still learning the names of our new friends and we gathered on sailboats instead of in cul-de-sacs. These new friends welcomed my kids to our little civilization like a bunch of doting grandparents. In turn, my kids got a true sense of rally life and blue water sailing (complete with Scopolamine patches). Before long, Nick was helping Allen dock rally boats at the marina and Cara took on the role of chief Spanish interpreter. In Cartagena, we explored the Old City fully adorned in Christmas decorations and twinkling lights strung from archways that created tunnels of festive color.

Later, after spending Christmas in California, Allen and I would return to Cartagena to celebrate New Year’s Eve. We joined millions of people that night all clad in traditional white, with pop-up dinners and dancing in every street and alleyway. And just like that, January 1, 2019 arrived and we sailed to our next destination—the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. The contrast couldn’t be more different.

Most of the San Blas archipelago of nearly 400 islands is uninhabited and all could be uninhabited by the end of this century if the sea level continues to rise. Islands are named in the local Guna language and most end in dup like Uargandup and Narasgandup. You can walk the perimeter of almost every island, weaving through palm trees on white sand beaches and sea stars in the aquamarine water. The indigenous Guna Indians are fierce protectors of their Guna Yala countrydiving is prohibited to preserve the coral reefs and travel to the islands is highly restricted.

It’s illegal to take coconuts from the island, even if they’re on the ground. Most Gunas are fisherman and many today sell their beautifully crafted molas, clothing that originated from the women’s tradition of painting their bodies with geometric designs. Some residents speak Spanish; few speak English. There are no cars, supermarkets, newspapers or Internet. And sadly, there is no way to combat trash, specifically plastic, which is a growing problem from the influence of Western civilization and the ocean’s current from urban areas that reach as far as Africa.

The San Blas is the perfect destination to explore by boat so we spent more than three weeks sailing from island to island. We rarely went ashore; instead, we played constantly in the water. Snorkeling was exquisite as we added turtles, spotted eagle rays and nurse sharks to our growing list of favorites.

Fresh lobster!

As provisions dwindled, potluck dinners became more creative. Potatoes went in everything (except salad!) and I learned that cream cheese can be served with almost any canned food to be called an appetizer. Guna Indians would paddle by in their wooden ulas to sell a couple of lobster crawling in the bow of their canoes. Occasionally, we were lucky enough to buy produce from a Guna who paddled all the way to mainland Panama,

Line at the supermarket!

procured items from local markets, and turned his canoe into a floating vegetable stand. One particularly industrious Guna with a particularly large canoe (and motor) appeared in our anchorage late during our stay when fresh stores were completely gone. Rally boats lined up in dinghies, anxiously waiting their turn to buy pineapple, papayas, carrots and anything green. Slightly wilted lettuce never looked so good.

The social calendar remained active in the San Blas. Allen’s brother and family successfully navigated the travel restrictions to join us for a week of snorkeling, great dinners, and lots of laughs over our new favorite game, Codenames.

In between company and rally events, the Captain and I would sneak off to an unnamed island, drop anchor, circumnavigate the perimeter with a mask and snorkel, enjoy the quiet of a few nesting hawks, and declare the island Gémeaux-dup. Sitting in our anchorage today outside Newport, Rhode Island, watching cars traverse the bay bridge, airplanes traveling overhead, and boats tacking every direction, I can hardly believe that a place like the San Blas exists on the planet. I do hope in my lifetime that we find solutions to climate change and the plastic trash that are devastating these treasured lands.

In February, we returned to civilization with a bang. Enormous westbound freighters with containers stacked 20 stories high waited in queue at the entry of the Panama Canal as their eastbound counterparts exited in between them. Our marina was just outside the canal giving us front row seats for this dramatic maritime commerce.

While we stayed on the east side, we bid farewell to several Rally boats that transited the Canal for their western voyage to Asia. It was an amazing education to see the preparations for their passage and to actually watch several vessels go through the locks of the canal. It’s hard to believe this engineering feat that so significantly impacts our modern world began construction in the 1800s. 

As if the Panama Canal wasn’t enough to captivate us, Shelter Bay marina’s backyard was a magnificent nature preserve. At sunrise and sunset, great roars from nearby howler monkeys would echo through the trees like a haunted house.

Capuchin monkeys and dozens of bird species made curious bird watchers out of all of us. Even a sloth posed perfectly for my camera. Our stay in Panama ended with a weekend to explore Panama City, where we savored electric flowers in our gin and tonics, delighted in the bulk food selection at a Costco-like store, and languished in hot showers at the Hard Rock Hotel. And still the rally wasn’t over.

After watching so many rally members tout their scuba experiences in this diving mecca, I decided it was time to refresh my certification. The Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia were the perfect places to do that. I had the good company of others in the rally at the same experience level and together we rediscovered the skills and witnessed some amazing creatures like reef sharks. Ask me 20 years ago if I thought I’d ever swim with a shark! 

San Andrés is renown for its duty free shopping. Residents from mainland Colombia swarm the little island and leave with overstuffed shopping bags. The ladies of the rally took a break one day from working on boat engines to participate in the folly.

While I couldn’t justify buying high heels for life on a boat, I did thoroughly enjoy lunch and sangria at a restaurant where you tossed your shoes aside to rest your tired feet in the sand. Later in the week, we dragged the boys out of the engine compartments to rent mopeds and golf cart mules—this was not a difficult sell. Relishing the chance to drive something other than a boat, the captains loved every minute of navigating through bustling streets to circumnavigate the islands. I’m still astonished that people find sailing dangerous 

Rally friends Exodus on their stunning Hylas 49

In fact, the next leg of our journey would prove to be dangerous…or at least we prepared for danger. Pirates. We hear they’re out there and we do our best to avoid them. When we sailed from Grenada to Bonaire, we took a route that purposely kept us 100 miles from the Venezuela shore. In Colombia, our Rally leaders collaborated to have the local navy in or near our anchorage at all times. Eager to encourage more boating tourism, the governments of these countries want to avoid crime and incidents as much as we do. Three days later, our flotilla of four arrived safely in the Honduran Bay Island of Guanaja. The dinghy dock where we landed to clear Customs and Immigration actually proved more dangerous than our journey—boat boys fighting over their claim as guides landed one of them in the drink and the other barely missing a blow to the skull with a metal pipe. Not being the target of the dispute, we found the scene completely entertaining. Nonetheless, we were anxious to leave the crowded town center built on this tiny reef where 10,000 residents live shoulder to shoulder—no wonder tempers flare.

By afternoon, we were sitting under  palapas built in the water, sipping piña coladas and eating French fries and fresh ceviché—paradise after two nights at sea and a long 24 hours to clear into the country. Largely undiscovered by tourism, Guanaja boasts lush mountainous pine forests and world-class diving as it is situated on the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, the second largest reef in the world after the Australian Great Barrier Reef. While our itinerary allowed only a few days to explore, Guanaja holds fond memories; quietly snorkeling on my own, I saw my first octopus.

32 miles away still on the barrier reef system is the larger, more popular and more populated island of Roatán. Ten years earlier, I visited this island with Cara, where friends hosted us in their beachfront cottage and we became certified PADI divers. As luck would have it, our friends were on the island again AND Cara was coming to visit! We transformed Gémeaux into a day charter as we returned the earlier hospitality and made sailors out of our friends and their families. Cara and Matt snorkeled each day off the back of the boat, watched dolphins play off the bow, and joined us in discovering the Roatán Brewery—local craft beer and corn hole just like home. Their 5-day visit ended too soon and it was time to send the children home—a teary farewell as the water taxi fetched them directly from Gémeaux to take them to the airport.

We washed the sheets, restocked the fridge, and prepared for the next company. After a long day of weather delays, Gary and Courtney finally arrived looking like pack mules bearing U.S. foods we missed and boat parts for the entire rally. We introduced our land friends to our cruising friends and celebrated our good fortune to have all of them in our lives with a lovely dinner ashore at the 5-star Ibigari. Always a treat to have Courtney onboard, we gave her run of the galley and she gave us delicious meals. She showed me how to make sauces and I showed her how to spot eels and sharks off the reef. We talked and talked, drank champagne on the bow of the boat, and talked some more. Ah, girlfriend time.

Gary and Courtney joined us on an overnight passage as we followed the Mesoamerican barrier reef system west about 100 miles and entered the country of Belize—our final destination in the rally. Boring as it seems:), we never tired of exploring new islands and sharing our excitement each time we discovered a new fish or unusual coral. When it came time for Gary and Courtney to leave, we started planning for their next trip to Gémeaux—the only way we could bear to let them go.

Once again, we washed the sheets, restocked the fridge from a veggie vendor on the street, and prepared for another round—just a short but always enjoyable visit from Jim and Jane.  When at last we settled into the Placencia Marina to celebrate the end of our 6-month rally, less than half of our original 40 boats remained. So many had transited the Panama Canal, left early to pursue their next journey, or were still getting their fill of fabulous diving in Roatán. Already the mood had changed without the full group and we felt the void these new, but deep friendships left. On the other hand, a smaller group in a marina environment allowed us easy access to one another. Just like neighbors in a cul-de-sac, we’d hear the rap rap rap on the hull like the doorbell at the front door. We’d find someone standing on the dock to borrow a part and they’d end up staying an hour, weighing in on the latest mechanical issue or weather forecast. We’d become deeply entrenched in our civilization and were acutely aware that in a few days our cul-de-sac would stand empty again.

It’s difficult to express how life-long friendships can form in such a short time but it’s inherent in the cruising community. We come from different careers, lifestyles, and countries. We share not only a love for sailing, but for adventure and for a simpler life. We accept the risks and dangers in exchange for the thrill of exploring. We pause to watch the sunrise and sunset and know that the sea is not just blue but a hundred variations. We face uncertainty, illness, loneliness, and sometimes death, realizing that it could easily have been one of us. The Suzie Too Western Caribbean Rally brought us experiences of a lifetime and left us with lifetime friends. Sitting alone in Belize’s famed Blue Hole, we reflected on the irony of the hole in our hearts that the rally left. Fair winds and following seas until we meet again.

Click here for our photobook about the Suzie Too Rally.

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Posted on June 15, 2019 | 0 comments

From Dot’s Diary…

From Dot’s Diary…

When your sweet kitty leaves a hole in your heart, it’s a real treasure to revive some memories. Hidden deep in a pile of half-finished stories was this fun account from our sweet Dot. May it bring you a smile:)

You won’t believe what I saw this morning as my mom was giving me a spa treatment with the brush. She does this a lot—she says it helps keep all my gorgeous locks out of the bilge, whatever that is. Anyway, I was lying on my back, relishing in the sun, when suddenly I saw this thing hop across the water. It looked like one of those fish my dad has in his big tank at home but then it was flying like a bird. It was crazy. It just hopped along the water and almost landed on me in the boat. I quickly jumped up from the massage table and got down low in my stealth mode, quietly waiting for this thing to reappear. A thousand thoughts are flying through my mind. I decide that I don’t care about all that water. If that thing jumped again I was going to tackle it, kill it, and bring it to my dad in bed. I love to bring him gifts in bed. Sadly, that flying thing never came back but I’m gonna watch for it.

So you’re probably wondering how I’m doing and wondering how long I stayed in the closet. I know a lot of you thought I would fail at this boat thing, but I’m a survivor. Don’t you remember before I became a princess I lived outside and hunted my own food? Mom says I was called a feral. I think that’s some kind of mythical goddess because I pretty much rocked that life.

Anyway, I’m rocking this life too. I just stayed in my dad’s closet to complete all my studies. I needed to learn why the floor always moves. How does the water in my bowl fall out of my bowl when I’m drinking? I needed to learn what all those boat noises meant. They were scary at first but frankly they’re no worse than the guy at home who scares me death when he blows all the leaves from my favorite hiding spots. Speaking of leaves, where did they go?

Anyway at first, nighttime was my very favorite. I remember as a youth when I lived outside, nighttime was the safest time to hunt and play. It was dark and quiet and all the scary people and their scary dogs go away. I could sneak out of my hiding places and go explore. So, I figured that was true here too. I know I’m supposed to stay inside the ropes mom calls lifelines and never ever jump off the boat. Most of the time I’m okay with that. Look, I admit I like to drink water out of the sink and it doesn’t bother me when my paws get a little wet. And when it rains, I kind of dig how it feels when it cleans my beautiful pelt. But otherwise, I do not like water. I don’t like puddles or bathtubs or sprinklers or hoses. And I definitely do not like all this water around me. So not to worry, I’m staying on the boat.

However. Sometimes the boat is on a long leash and water’s actually not everywhere. When nobody is looking, I sneak around the outside of the boat and I can see dirt and trees and GRASS! Oh man I miss grass. I want to eat grass. I want to eat so much grass that I throw up all over the place. I can probably get over to that grass if I just do a little jump. Well maybe not, there’s kind of gap between me and that grass and it’s filled with a bunch of water. I could fall and I’d get wet and my mom would be mad because she told me never ever to jump off the boat. Hmmm, what to do? And just as I’m weighing the pros and cons of this idea, I see something run across the grass. There it goes again. Wait, there’s one…two…three…oh man, there’s a whole bunch of them. They’re CATS! I hate cats. I mean I know I’m a cat, but I hate other cats. They’re almost as bad as dogs. They steal my food and pee in my box, and they’re just mean. They like to scratch and bite and they ruin my hair. Maybe this is why mom tells me to never ever jump off the boat. But dang, why do they get all the grass?

So I don’t leave the boat unless my parents take me to my old home in California. I’m a good cat. Yes you were Dot…you were the best and we miss you:)

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Posted on May 15, 2019 | 0 comments

Stolen Hearts

Stolen Hearts

None of us was prepared to have our hearts stolen. Our goal was to drop off several bags of clothing, toys, and school supplies that fellow boats from the Suzie Too OCC Rally had donated for a local charity in Colombia. My goal, as a portrait photographer, was to capture images of the children and their mothers and give them a photograph to treasure.

FUNDEHUMAC formed initially in the 1990s to support victims of Colombia’s violence and corruption, offering counseling and assistance to access government relief programs. Today, Alba Moreno, founder and president, operates this nonprofit organization from her home in Santa Marta, serving children as young as 3 years old, many of whom are orphans, victims of violence, and/or children of single mothers. In addition to human rights and micro-lending programs, FUNDEHUMAC provides scholarship and community action training for 21 university students and counseling and economic support (e.g., school uniforms and books) for more than 125 displaced primary and secondary school children. As part of the scholarship terms, students must maintain meritorious academic work and provide community service, which includes administrative support for FUNDEHUMAC programs.

Singing and music bellowed from the building as we entered through a narrow hallway decorated with colorful murals, which now boast certification by Colombia’s Network of National Museums. Later we would learn that the artwork represents cathartic expressions of mute victims from the Wiwa and Wayúu indigenous communities. Teenage children dressed in brightly-colored traditional costume entertained us with festive Colombian folk music, while younger children in simple matching shirts sat quietly in front, as curious about these navigators of the world as we were about them. An interpreter presented Ms. Moreno’s welcome and overview of how the various FUNDEHUMAC programs were changing the lives of the children seated before us.

I let my camera lens candidly pan the crowd, delighted to capture both shyness and giggles among the children—a sense of genuine pride resonating from them all. Just as we thought our visit was ending, each child rose with an enormous smile and dashed to take our hands for what would be the true highlight of the morning—a personal tour of the facility and invitation to contribute to its artwork. A member of the second group of Suzie Too OCC Rally boats who had a similar visit to FUNDEHUMAC, recalls the daunting feeling of being led to the art room where he was handed a pot of pink paint. “I was at a loss as to what to do until the children pointed out a stencil of a flamingo that simply needed filling in,” he realized with great relief.

I had the honor of being escorted by a lovely girl who joyfully described the significance of each room and painting with a confidence and maturity well beyond her 11 years. Each of us remained in the firm clutch of a child for the next hour, sharing paintbrushes to complete more paintings and crafting dream catchers. With each strand of yarn woven into this joint craft, we traded dreams and taught each other words in our different languages. It was a brilliant Spanish lesson! I quickly learned that my astute and curious 11-year-old host had clear aspirations of a university education and world travel. A connection formed as I showed her photos from my phone of my family and home in the United States and she introduced me to her mother, brother, and cousins. I looked around the room and noticed young children sitting on the laps of people who just moments earlier were complete strangers. Clearly this morning had gone far beyond simply dropping off donations, and I knew already that I would happily support an 11-year-old’s dream of becoming an independent young woman.

Today’s visit to FUNDEHUMAC exceeded all our expectations. In just a brief visit, we walked away with a true sense of how a community is working hard to fulfill the dreams of their children. We went from merely being a drop-off service for donations to advocates for these children. For me, I captured some great photos and am personally committed to supporting at least one 11-year-old child’s dream of becoming an independent young woman.

Join me in making a difference in the life of one of these amazing children. Click here for more information on the FUNDEHUMAC programs and learn how to donate or sponsor a child’s education.

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Posted on March 13, 2019 | 4 comments

Mountain Sailing

Mountain Sailing

The first thing I noticed about Colombia were the mountains–an endless horizon of flat ocean now distinctly interrupted by valleys and peaks reaching straight up beyond the clouds. New adjectives like Purple Mountain Majesty and Sky Blue replace Ocean Blue and Aquamarine in our color vocabulary. As we enter Colombian waters, Pico Cristóbal Colón gives us a glimpse of its 18,000-foot summit. How I’ve missed the mountains.

I grew up in the mountains–born in Yellowstone National Park and then attending elementary school in Yosemite Valley. Later in life, I lost track of the mountains. Then, one day they reappeared in a most surprising way. “Want to go for a hike?” he asked. “I would love that, I replied, “I’ve missed the mountains.” Allen and I spent the next 9 years hiking the planet. We would hike for miles—I’d pour out sadness, anger and fear of navigating a traumatic divorce; Allen would listen, restore confidence, and offer heartfelt advice. Little did I know that as I was discovering the fabulous trails of the East Bay Regional Park District in northern California, so too was I forming a life-time friendship. 

Bay Area day hikes turned into backpacking and river running and eventually led to the world of mountaineering. I climbed my first peak in hard-shell mountaineering boots and crampons in 2009 when we summited the 12,000-foot Telescope Peak in Death Valley. Then Mt. Shasta, north of San Francisco, where at an elevation of 14,000 feet, I got a taste of what altitude sickness feels like. Later that year, Allen and I climbed the majestic Mt. Rainier in Washington state. And then the ultimate paradise for the outdoor dreamer–snowshoeing across the Antarctic island of South Georgia southeast of South America. Twelve years later I would land on that same continent…this time in a sailboat.

Punta Gallinas, the northernmost edge of South America at 12°N, came into view early morning after our 24-hour overnight sail from Aruba. Cooler air and water temperatures and a different time zone marked our entry to this new continent. We dropped anchor with other rally boats in Ensenada Huaritcheru—a bay flanked by rocky cliffs and a dusty, red savannah that fades into distant snow-capped mountains. A sandy beach directly in front of us with wood thatch structures hinted at a few signs of civilization. Upon closer examination, we discovered a couple hostels, bars, and even world-class kitesurfing in this small indigenous Wayúu community. Soft-spoken women commuted from a nearby village on the back of mopeds and sat among us weaving brightly-colored tribal designs into bracelets and handbags.

The wind whips through this bay, which makes sleeping a pleasure, but puts everything that isn’t securely tied down at great risk. One afternoon, we noticed our dinghy was missing. It was broad daylight and we had been onboard so it seemed unlikely that a thief would have pinched it—as our British friends would say. In fact, the painter rope that ties the dinghy to Gémeaux was still in tact. And then we saw it—our little gray raft being carried away by the fierce current, quickly becoming another donation to the sea. Naturally the captain’s first instinct was to swim after it so he quickly dove into the water and began a vigorous freestyle out to sea.

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Just then, one of the local world-class kitesurfers—I think he was about 12— swept in, indicated for Allen to grab his harness, and resumed his ride effortlessly with a 220-lb body in tow. In just a few seconds, the two of them successfully navigated to the runaway dinghy, at which point Allen released the harness, propelling the kite surfer about 30 feet up into the air. The kite surfer majestically performed several tricks during the aerial opportunity and Allen returned the dinghy to safety. It was all a very spectacular way to learn that constant wave motion can actually wear a hole through the metal eye of a dinghy. Who knew?

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At noon the following day, after a short hike above the coastline, we picked up anchor and began another overnight sail. We had studied the weather and calculated this specific departure time to coincide with an event not to be missed— sunrise over one of the world’s highest coastal mountain ranges. As much as I hate night passages, I absolutely love sunrises. That alarm clock has rung many many dark mornings to allow us to get to a summit and witness the first glimpse of a day. The shadow of the mountain that is cast across the waking city below. That quiet, peaceful moment that lasts only seconds until the world awakens. While hazy, the sunrise today was indeed spectacular as we watched the sun finally reach the top of the Sierra Nevadas and announce a new day.

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Serenity came to an abrupt end, however, when our famed spinnaker played yet another one of her dirty tricks. (See Aruba: Island Civilization for the story of how the spinnaker became untethered from the halyard.)

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I like to tell these stories so our readers get the full scope of this gorgeous sail’s schizophrenic personalities. And you must trust my writing because we only photograph the sail when it’s on very good behavior and looks spectacular. When its other stormy, violent, and narcissistic behaviors surface, we are yelling and running around the boat trying to wrestle it into submission. On this particular morning, 30-35k overnight winds settled into a steady 10k and were mostly behind us—perfect conditions to unleash the eager parasail. Jim Moore was still onboard so the three of us worked together to raise the parasail, cautious to avoid the sail backwinding and getting caught in the main sail. Not enough caution apparently and before we knew it, the sail billowed behind the main and a couple of its tee tiny little orange threads caught precisely in a tee tiny crevice in the spreader that supports the mast. We couldn’t do it again if we tried. We once again found ourselves wrestling the big sail onto the deck, but even 6’4” Allen could not reach high enough to untangle the caught threads. Out came the bosun chair and up the mast I went to dislodge the evil sail, all while we were still underway. I gave Allen a brief moment to shed a tear over a tee tiny amount of damage to the sail and then tossed the little shit into a locker for what I hoped would be a very long timeout. 

Calm once again was restored on Gémeaux as we rounded the corner into Santa Marta, Colombia’s oldest city. Different from Huaritcheru, Santa Marta boasts a shoreline of high rises and a population of 450,000. Snowcapped Sierra Nevadas, however, still outline the landscape, assuring us that this new temporary home will give us a chance to explore the mountains.

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Posted on February 26, 2019 | 4 comments

Aruba: Island Civilization

Aruba: Island Civilization

“OH SHIT!” Allen exclaimed just as I was just starting to doze off beside him at the helm. I immediately snapped up and dittoed “OH SHIT!” The entire spinnaker sail had disconnected from the top of the mast and was rapidly settling into the sea. Amazingly, the two of us were able to grab hold of the sail’s remaining tether and wrestle the 1000-square foot drenched heap onto the swim step. Slipping and sliding over the slick parachute-like fabric, we stuffed the sail outside underneath the cockpit table to avoid any more temptations from the wind to carry it away. Later, we would discover no damage at all to the sail, the shackle securing the sail, or the props underneath where the sail was settling in the water. A mystery, but all in all, lucky. We motored the final 2 hours of our 6-hour passage to Aruba without further incident, playing the event over and over in our heads. Customs and Immigration pined for the day’s calamity, requiring 3 hours to clear through all the bureaucracy at a hot industrial cruise ship dock with gummy creosote pilings and rusty nails.


It was quite a sight jockeying 40 sailboats into a single anchorage off the coast of Aruba’s capital city of Oranjestad. Pity the poor boat who just hours earlier had the entire anchorage to himself:( Our first clue that we were in a very civilized and westernized island was the constant air traffic overhead. We could nearly see the faces of arriving passengers flying over our Airport Anchorage  situated just at the end of Aruba’s Queen Beatrix airport. Can’t beat ’em? Join ’em. We put on our fancy clothes, i.e., shoes, and collected about 20 people from our rally for a fantastic dinner in one of the eight restaurants at the nearby Renaissance Hotel. On this Thanksgiving Day I was thankful we averted a catastrophe earlier during our sail. Mostly, however, I was thankful for the shrimp bar and the best Caipirinha cocktail ever.

We spent Black Friday drying out the spinnaker—my least favorite project dragging this enormous sail all over the boat, flailing my body over the sail like a game of Whak-a-Mole each time the wind caught a corner and threatened to pull the entire mass overboard again.

A lovely end to the day, however, dragging the Captain to the local movie theater where our rally bought every seat in the house. Typically thriving on the respite of deserted islands, I thoroughly enjoyed this little bit of civilization—Bohemian Rhapsody on the big screen…with popcorn and Caipirinhas! The captain thoroughly enjoyed his little bit of civilization the next morning when we discovered a Starbucks right near the anchorage.

Civilization continued the following day as we joined several rally friends on an ATV self-guided tour of the island. Yes Dad, I did wear a helmet:) Once off the main roads, it was great fun and a fabulous way to see Aruba since so many of the sights are accessible only by dirt road.

Two days were sufficient to feed our need for civilization so we pulled up anchor and headed to the northern end of the island for a little peace. We passed hotel after hotel with busy beaches and jet skis, parasails, and kite surfers crowding the water front. Yikes-where are the quiet little bays?! Not in Aruba. We settled off Arashi Beach in an anchorage with a few other rally boats, staving off the occasional tour boat by swimming nude off the stern. Sorry, no photo available:)

Snorkeling highlights included enormous parrotfish and two shipwrecks. I don’t know what was more interesting—looking at the wrecks or watching the passengers investigate the wreck through the portholes of a submarine-like tour boat. Overlooking our anchorage was the scenic California Light House so we hiked up the road with rally friends, anxious for a history lesson and a cold drink.

We learned that the lighthouse was named for the 1891 steamship California and we learned the restaurant was closed for the week:( Now parched, we short-cutted our return trip through prickly acaçia trees and cactus to reach icy cold beers at a beach palapa.

As we made our way back to the world of civilization the next day, Allen stopped for a kiteboarding lesson, while I played photographer. We refueled and came to rest at a slip in the Renaissance Marina where we made good use of air conditioning and fresh water and scrubbed Gémeaux until she was sparkly and we earned another Caipirinha at the Renaissance! We skipped the Scorpion at Lucy’s restaurant next door but ate their very yummy ceviche.

Last minute chores before getting underway to Colombia—Allen hosting an electronics therapy session for rally friends, marina checkout, fill sodastream bottles, and provision…after Starbucks of course. An absolute delight meeting Marcus from fellow rally boat, Island Kea, who enjoys perusing the aisles of a foreign grocery store as much as I do. We shared an expensive $15 cab ride to the nearby market and happily provisioned with all the Dutch delicacies, including every variety of Gouda cheese. Santa Claus Jim Moore arrived at 11pm with 4 loaves of Dave’s bread, turkey jerky, enough gluten-free pretzels to feed a flotilla, and boat bits and pieces to delight the captain. We were ready for Colombia!

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Posted on December 10, 2018 | 1 comment

Celebrities in Curaçao

Celebrities in Curaçao

We dress in our formal Gémeaux white shirts since nobody onboard has the requisite roman numerals in their name to don a blue blazer. We are parade celebrity newbies and feel a bit inadequate as we depart amidst fellow sailboats decorated in hundreds of colorful flags fluttering from their masts. We make up for it, however, and sail rather than motor to the parade start with our massive orange and white spinnaker sail that screams, “Here we come!

Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage City. This capital of Curaçao is situated in Punda on the St. Anna Bay with rows of pastel-colored shops, offices, and restaurants emulating the colonial architecture of their Dutch motherland. Locals and visitors sip coffee at the waterfront cafés as the Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge opens and our parade of boats enters in formation.

Few people are aware of our celebrity status and motive; most stare in curiosity and good-naturedly return our waves and enthusiasm. Through our VHF radios, we undertake a series of increasingly complex synchronized maneuvers up and back in the little harbor. We manage to avoid any embarrassing collisions with one another and finally declare our first Parade of Sail a success. The parade motive? Celebrating the inauguration of a new local tv station.

Our celebrity status does not grant us any exceptions from the mandatory step of clearing Customs and Immigration so our next stop is the 1-mile sweaty walk to officially announce our arrival to Curaçao. This bureaucratic protocol in the sailing world could fill a book with stories. Each time we arrive at (and also depart from) any one of the many Caribbean islands, we are at the mercy of a different system—some demand only the captain appear, others want all crew members and pets to come; some use carbon duplicates, others have computers; some require no money, others charge a fee for everything. You must always bring your own pen and never, ever come between the hours of 10 and 2 or you’ll sit outside until lunch is over. Offices typically are small and buried in mountains of paperwork, with a few small fans struggling to keep the sweat from dripping onto your official paperwork. Today, our entire party of six is required to appear. We enter a room painted in cool midnight blue with a temperature to match. Nestled in the corner of this walk-in refrigerator is a treasure that delights us all, brings smiles to our faces, and decidedly makes Curaçao the best Customs office on the planet. A drinking fountain. Pretty please…can we stay at Customs all afternoon?

Our celebrity status does grant us free docking in this capital city so we side tie Gémeaux to cleats mounted on the edge of the main street, amidst parked cars and gawking passersby who are as unaccustomed to seeing a catamaran in the city center as we are to being in this urban anchorage. The town is clean and quaint with many pedestrian-only alleys winding their way through attractions that serve both locals and tourists alike. I like the mix. There’s a Sketcher store next to a local pharmacy, fruit and vegetable stands along the water that sell souvenir spices but also crates of gigantic squash, roots, and tamarind. We discover Dagaz Gelato and enjoy the tastes of passion fruit and stracciatella inside another air-conditioned respite before the frozen treats liquify in the humidity.

The bayside balcony at Le Gouverneur restaurant with a bird’s eye view of our floating home, delivers exquisite service and deliciously-grilled meats on their Green Egg barbecues. Back onboard Gémeaux, we fire up the generator that disturbs not a soul on this festive Saturday night, and greet the perfect end to a perfect day…sleeping in our air-conditioned cabins.

The next several days in Curaçao are divided between chores, prepping for our upcoming sailing itinerary, and each day learning a new name—78 of them in our new circle of friends. Ruth and Allen have departed but David and Barbara are still on board, helping with projects and happy to read a book while we attend obligatory rally events. Having company on board prods us to race through chores, or abandon them completely, and get out to play.

Sources tell us that Playa Piscado is a must-see for snorkelers. Naturally, we make that a priority destination and sail north for about 20 miles to explore a different side of the island. Uncertain about the anchoring permissions in this little bay, our captain graciously agrees to send us off with snorkeling equipment while he circles around on Gémeaux. Secretly, Allen enjoys the peace and quiet. And funny enough, we enjoy everything but peace and quiet.

Once in the water, we wind our way through a maze of local fishing boats anchored around a small pier. The little wooden platform is overflowing with tourists, screeching in delight, clearly captivated by something in the water. We are as curious as they are and absolutely dumbfounded when we make the same discovery. Turtles. Not the solitary turtle you spot out of the corner of your eye who is gracefully swimming by. And not the giant Leatherback turtles we witnessed in the turtle sanctuary of the Tobago Cays, who alternate between lazily resting on the sea bottom and gracefully surfacing for air. The turtles of Santa Cruz are here for a sole purpose—to eat the heads and tails and unwanted pieces of the fishermen’s daily catch. We watch in astonishment as we witness the Jekyll side of about 20 of these sweet creatures aggressively chomping down on fish parts and gulping them down. A turtle feeding frenzy. Who knew?

Some describe Curaçao as a crowded, dirty island. And true, it’s a much more urban environment compared to its sister island, Bonaire. To us, however, Curaçao was a delight. We spent nearly two weeks on this island and as the official origin of our sailing rally, it became much like home. We loved our proximity to the Sunken TugBoat—just a short dinghy ride and walk to a shipwreck, making it an easy, daily event for some pretty spectacular snorkeling. Provisioning was a joy among a variety of grocery stores stocked with Dutch treats, fresh produce, and LaCroix Pamplemousse! Of course we tried Blue Curaçao—that liqueur we all know makes our drinks blue but didn’t realize until now that it’s made from the dried bitter orange peels of the Laraha tree native to Curaçao.

But like many of islands we visit, it’s the people who leave a lasting impression. Our very first night in Curaçao, we met a local couple who casually strayed from their own agenda and told us all about their island, the best restaurants, and sights not to miss. Celebrities or not—add this island to your list of places to visit.

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