Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Idaho, Gelato and Seafood Gumbo

Idaho, Gelato and Seafood Gumbo

"It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small, small world." Originally penned by the Sherman brothers for the 1964 World's Fair and made famous by Walt Disney, I can still remember the very first time I went to Disneyland and rode It's a Small World while listening to this song. The animation, costumes and setting was like being an observer in a fairy tale come true. Today our kids would yawn, I am sure, at how "fake" and "antiquated" it all looks but none the less it remains a wonderful childhood memory and the song has always stuck with me. In fact the song came racing back to mind just a couple of days ago in the most unlikely of places for the second time in the past two months.

Having checked into Belize in the small town of Placencia we were waiting out a few days of unsettled weather. We took advantage of the time by doing a few small boat projects, catching up on school and stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Placencia is a laid back spot with a cool beach vibe and a nice spot to chill out. Placencia has great beaches and good diving but it may however be most famous for its incredible gelato. Made fresh daily at Tutti Frutti Gelato we have never had better. We discovered Tutti Frutti two years ago while visiting Placencia on a dive trip. We seemed to come up with every excuse known to go to town and get gelato. We can even confirm that they are open at 9 in the morning. In fact on one visit Marshall was disappointed that there was no papaya gelato today. The reason given, "the papaya this morning just was not good enough to use". Fresh fruit gelato is like eating chilled fruit on steroids. This is seriously good stuff. But I digress.

Having just finished a fun game of soccer on the city soccer field s/v Side by Side, s/v Unplugged and s/v Mima decided to head over for post game, you guessed it, gelato. While standing around outside and massaging our aching bones and muscles and reliving our finest Pele moments, a couple having just discovered the gelato store said hello and a conversation quickly ensued. After introductions were made we learned that Todd Caperon and Patty Charron were from Boise and live less than 20 miles from us. They quickly gave us an update on things "back home" and Amy was thrilled to get to make new friends from home. We look forward to boating with Todd and Patty when we get home at Lucky Peak. You meet the nicest people at gelato stands in Placencia, Belize.

While sitting at the Mario's Marina bar and having a morning cup of coffee 8 weeks ago, an energetic conversation about politics ensued that eventually turned to a discussion on state politics. As the conversation unfolded and as we began to have similar acquaintances I abruptly asked, "Where are you from". "Kuna, Idaho" was the response from Doug Dorn now living on his sailboat s/v Eyrie. Doug and his dog Maggie quickly became friends and we had many fun political conversations. Maggie, a miniature Australian Shepherd, seems right at home onboard s/v Eyrie, and as an Idahoan, former team roper and rancher, she seemed the logical pick for Doug. Maggie quit rounding up cattle many years ago and now focuses on rounding up kids and keeping s/v Eyrie in ship shape. You meet the nicest people over a cup of coffee at a marina bar in Guatemala.

The weather settled down and we headed out as fast as we could pull anchor. We island hopped for a few days and with another "northern" coming we settled into a neat group of islands called the Pelican Cays. The anchorage was originally chosen because it provided good north and west protection and along with s/v Side by Side we had the place to ourselves. For all you Google Earth people we anchored at N 16*40'20.5", W 088*11'30.5". The weather skipped over us and we took advantage of the nice weather to relax, suntan and get in the water snorkeling. In fact we made snorkeling part of school and it fulfilled our P.E. and Science class for the day. The P.E. assignment was simple, do not drown. The science assignment was to find at least one new species of reef fish or creature or explain a new fish behavior you observed.

After two hours of great shallow water snorkeling we returned to the boat with wonderful memories, new fish and coral to look up in the reference books, and 5 nice crabs, 4 lobsters and 3 large conch. After taking care of our catch, lunch was a lite fare of cheese and bread with pate and salami. As we savored one of our favorite lunches at anchor we dove into our reference books and had a great time describing our new discoveries and trying to identify them. We really love shallow water snorkeling. Often times the greatest diversity of marine life seems to be around coral heads in shallow water. The coral we were exploring was in 1-6 feet of water. This shallow coral allows you to float on the surface and just observe the interaction of all the marine life in an unhurried way. Throw in a Spotted Eagle Ray, Lobster, Crab and a little sleeping Nurse Shark and you have all the ingredients for a perfect snorkel.

Having purchased fresh okra in Placencia, Susan and I had made a roux and began preparing gumbo earlier in the day. The question was would the gumbo be chicken or seafood? Fortune had smiled on us and as we enjoyed gumbo loaded with lobster and crab we had fun talking about whom of our family and friends would enjoy this meal most. It was easy, Grandpa Rob and Grandma Sue was at the top of the list with my good friend Jay Snyder a quick second. The kids cleaned up from dinner and all four of us headed up on deck and cuddled under blankets and watched the stars and told stories. We finally went to bed after one of those days you dream about before you go cruising.

There are many things that can frustrate a person about living on a sailboat. They seem to disappear quickly after a day like today. Making new friends from "back home", spending time with your kids discovering new and wonderful things about this amazing world we live in, great food fresh from the sea, and telling stories under the stars are priceless treasures we hope we never forget. I look forward to our kids cuddling with their children and telling them stories. Maybe one of their stories will begin, "Let me tell you about the time science class turned into seafood gumbo".

Live Slow, Sail Fast, Love Well

The 4Wheelers

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cruising Realities

Cruising Realities

"Dad, can I drive?" was the request made of me yesterday as we loaded onto a 22 foot long fiberglass launch powered by a 90 horsepower Yamaha outboard. Selfishly I wanted to say no because this is a fast and fun boat to drive especially when you consider we were navigating through a myriad of mangrove canals on the coast of Belize. It is sort of like being in charge of your own Disneyland ride, except that you are in control of the throttle. As we raced through the mangroves I could only smile as I thought about the stories my now 10 year old son would tell someday about driving this launch.

We had left our boat in Placencia, Belize for a day to visit a piece of property being developed by a foundation upon whose board I am a member. During our time with the founder of the foundation he inevitably asked each of us, "what is the most exciting or enjoyable thing that you have done in the last 10 months?" The kids were able to quickly list off quite a few and yet Susan and I found ourselves able to generate a list of challenges or realities of cruising faster than we could identify the "most enjoyable" events.

I have been asked by a number of people over the past few months to write about the realities of cruising. In a nutshell cruising is really not unlike any other lifestyle choice. There are those parts of this lifestyle which appeal to you and are the ones that cause you ultimately to choose this path. In the case of cruising on a sailboat it might be the challenge of harnessing the wind to sail the ocean, visiting remote and exotic destinations, the sense of freedom that comes along with life on the sea, or many others. In talking with cruisers over the past 10 months the motivators to go cruising have been as varied as the individuals we have met.

Then there are those much less talked about realities which in one way are simply the mechanics of the endeavor. Cruising like any other undertaking has as part of its makeup certain requirements or expectations that cannot be avoided. Some of these are known prior to casting off the dock lines yet the majority are not understood and certainly not fully appreciated until one makes the commitment and finally leaves. Many of these realities do not often get written about because they are frankly not that enjoyable and certainly not "fun" to write about.

The mundane activities of life continue on a boat much like they do on land. There are meals to be prepared, laundry to do, a boat to keep clean, dishes to wash and school to attend to. Keep in mind that most of these are more difficult and take more time on a boat as well. Add to these the unique requirements of living on a boat and what you have is a long list of things that need constant vigilance and attention. In writing this article I realized we do not even have many photographs of the everyday routines on board. You don't usually grab the camera to preserve the image of someone preparing a meal, cleaning the head (bathroom) or polishing stainless steel.

The real nemesis of all those who live on the sea is salt. Salt on a french fry makes an ordinary snack suddenly cause one to pause and consider all that is good in life. Every electrical connection, pipe fitting and interface is under constant attack. The Gameboy DS that Marshall brought on board less than one year ago has already been rendered useless, even though it was always stored in its own case and transported in a dry bag. Place any device or object not originally designed by God to live in a salt water environment and what you have is an unrelenting race against time. The very best materials and engineering in time all give up to the tireless attack of Neptune.

To some people life's daily routines or maintenance and upkeep is a fun challenge, to others it is a constant irritant or simply the cost of going sailing. To me, sailing author and editor of Latitudes and Attitude magazine Bob Bitchin summed it up when he said, "Attitude, the difference between adventure and ordeal." Sailing has many lessons for it's' students and perhaps one of the most important is that we each have a choice whether life is ordeal or adventure. We are the first to admit that much of what we have experienced has been sheer joy and still other moments have made us want to pack our bags and head home. By persevering through the curve balls that life at sea has thrown us and by choosing our attitude we can say without pause that the reality of cruising has and continues to be a grand adventure.


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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

300 Days Afloat

300 Days Afloat-Another Chapter Comes to a Close

Since I took the opportunity to reflect upon our journey as a family after 100 and 200 days afloat I guess it seems reasonable to write a 300 days afloat article. We certainly have experienced much in the last 300 days and as I write this article I find myself struggling with two opposing emotions I believe common to most cruisers, or to anyone who chooses to live a life of exploration and discovery.

This morning we made one last round in the marina saying goodbye to so many who have become family to us over the last two and a half months. We said goodbye to Vince, Basil, and Maggie, the three boat dogs that came to visit daily and always brought a smile to our faces. They were charming additions to the marina and we will miss them and their owners.

I am the first to admit that I do not do goodbyes well, and frankly I do not like them, so I generally choose to say, "See you soon" or "take care and we will catch you on the water in Belize". The truth is we will undoubtedly see some of our new friends again and others we will not likely see again. I am reminded of the statement made by Jodi Picoult in her book Keeping Faith, "The truth doesn't always set you free; people prefer to believe prettier, neatly wrapped lies."

The reality is we said goodbye to a number of people today who we will not see again soon, if ever. Many are sailing south and we are sailing north. Still others like our friends Frankie and Roger on s/v Infinity who we planned on sailing with all the way from Panama to Florida have encounter boat and health challenges that have held them in Panama and we doubt our sailing paths will ever cross again. It is tempting and certainly more comfortable for me to construct a prettier neatly wrapped lie that denies this reality and yet I recognize it is not the truth. The leavening ingredient that makes all these goodbyes palatable is that those we left behind this morning gave us much, having invested themselves in relationship with us, and we are better because of it.

Amy and Marshall have matured so much during our time in Guatemala. A number of people commented on how nice it was to see Marshall come out of his shell, and Amy is quickly changing from a little girl into a lovely lady. We owe much of this maturation process to the individuals who took the time to befriend and get to know us and our kids. There were many days that our kids spent more time with other people in the marina than with us on our boat. I was proud of Marshall at the Halloween party for wearing a costume that most 10 year old boys would not. He liked it and wore it proudly and even won a prize for funniest costume. Amy also dressed up and won the award for most original costume in the adult category and danced the night away with all of us.

The contrary emotion I am facing is one of excitement. As we lifted the anchor and began to slowly motor away from the marina I felt like dancing on the foredeck. We were no longer tied to a dock. I could feel the water moving under Mima and the breeze blowing through my hair. It felt like I was taking that first motorcycle ride in the spring. It was as if I had been confined and bounded with no horizon and now I had been set free. Amy, with her highly social personality, liked the marina and easy access to so many people and activities but Sue and I are not marina folks. The confines of the marina and lack of privacy and independence do not appeal to us and as we motored down the Rio Dulce we began to feel free again. We dropped the anchor in Texan Bay, where we will spend the night before checking out of Guatemala and heading to sea tomorrow and begin to rediscover why it was that we went cruising in the first place.

Today we said goodbye in order that tomorrow we might say hello to new people and places. The very nature of the cruising lifestyle requires that one become proficient at saying hello and goodbye. We all admit that we like the hellos better than the goodbyes but we are also realizing that the reason the goodbyes are difficult is because we have been blessed to make so many good friends. As we journey on together as a family we remain committed to investing in our relationships with each other and those with whom we have the pleasure to come in contact with.

We wish you many happy hellos and sad goodbyes, the 4Wheelers