We had a plan: leave the Bahamas in February, sail to Grenada by June, then head west to Panama in the fall of 2015. We learned early on that planning a sail is like writing in sand below the low-tide line. But I am way too much of an overachiever (and a recovering corporate lawyer) to not have timetables, goals and itineraries.
The plan was abandoned slowly, first from a desire to stay put for a while, to rest after four months of intense sailing, to let the freedom of retirement set in, and to put down roots and make social ties; and later from an acknowledgement that, though we’d traveled the miles and checked in and out of the countries, we hadn’t actually seen much of the Caribbean islands. One day, I measured the distances between (i) (a) Grenada and (b) Bonaire and (ii) (a) the Dominican Republic and (b) Bonaire, and, upon announcing to Jason that (i) and (ii) were almost the same distance (and both of us knowing that (ii) affords a much better sail angle and avoids the unfriendly Venezuelan waters), I knew the plan had changed.
The new plan requires 700 nautical miles of backtracking. I am way too much of an overachiever to embrace backtracking.
I could focus on the new elements: the handful of new islands, the new anchorages, the new hikes, the new dives, the new friends, the new freedom of staying as long as we want. I could focus on the positive elements: the significantly better sail angle; the ease of knowing where to anchor, how to check in, where to leave the trash, and where to do the laundry; the chance for me to pick up more French in the French islands and for Jason to pick up more Spanish in the Spanish islands; and the joy of having friends at each anchorage along the way.
Instead, I wake up most days saying to Jason with serious consternation, “I need a purpose in life.”
Purpose for the first few days of the backtracking came in the form of new boat chores. As our friend James on Lovezur (a fellow Illini!) says, “Cruising is a vocation, not a vacation.”
First, we fried our solar panel regulator a day out of Grenada. Jason made some MacGyver-like solders, but it went up in smoke. We were stuck in Carriacou with only the diesel engine to keep the batteries charged and no decent chandlery anywhere near. After a day or so of serious problem solving (anchored off the very stunning Sandy Island), we had a new regulator en route – purchased via email by us, picked up by our friend Devon at Budget Marine in Grenada, handed off to our friend Kendra on her layover in Grenada, and flown to us in St Vincent tucked in Kendra’s carry-on. Then, the mainsail tore down the entire leech a day out of St Vincent. We took the sail into Grenadines Sails in Bequia, who expertly cut out the damaged portion and sewed in a new piece. Since Bequia, I’ve been busy cleaning and oiling the teak in the interior of the boat and polishing the stainless on the exterior. I even broke out the sewing kit and mended the quickly shredding American flag.
Purpose for the last few weeks of the backtracking has come in the form of learning.
In Martinique, I have been learning bits and pieces of French, aided by a small French phrasebook, an app Jason downloaded and my friend Catherine. Other than its pronunciation (which I find absurdly difficult and convoluted), French is shockingly similar to Spanish and Portuguese. Jason calls me “stupidly conversational”, because I’ve picked up a few key verbs and nouns, though I still feel like a stuttering idiot. Luckily, we’ll spend much of January and February in French islands, including a weeklong visit from our French friend Sophie, so with any luck I’ll be not-so-stupidly conversational before we sail to the Spanish Virgins.
I’ve also decided to study up for the ASA 104 (Bareboat Cruising), 105 (Coastal Navigation) and 106 (Advanced Coastal Cruising) tests. It gives me a structured way to identify areas where I need to learn more and to advance my skills.
And I have a huge crush on the instructor. ;)
Purpose everyday has come in the form of enjoying this paradise we’re backtracking through.
The backtracking so far has included almost entirely new islands for me (the Tobago Cays, Mayreau, Mustique, St Vincent and St Lucia) and more time digging into the islands we’d stopped at only briefly on the way down (Carriacou, Bequia and Martinique).
We’ve done a handful of spectacular hikes: (i) Peggy’s Rock in Bequia, (ii) Gros Piton in St Lucia, (iii) Trace des Caps in Martinique and (iv) Canal de Beauregard in Martinique. The landscape is so varied on some of these islands that you could think you’re in the red rock hills of Arizona, the rainforests of Brazil and the prairies of Illinois all in the same hike.
With our cruising and hiking buddies on Mowzer, we always manage to find cold beers along the hiking trail, and usually find some precarious place to do a yoga pose. Watch the video!
We’ve also done a handful of spectacular dives: (i) Devil’s Table in Bequia, (ii) Montezuma Shoal and Jonas wreck in Mustique, (iii) Point Marin reef in Martinique and (iv) ruins from the volcano in Martinique. Every time I dive I find a new form of sea life I’ve never seen before, and I am becoming more and more comfortable with the scuba gear and skills. (My underwater camera was broken – I promise to post diving pictures soon.)
Somehow we even managed to fit in a round of nine holes of golf on the jaw-droppingly scenic Martinique Golf Club.
Backtracking hasn’t been so bad so far; we always seem to find ourselves with a sky full of sunshine, a bottle full of wine and a boat full of friends. Not bad a’tall. We’ve entered the Leeward Islands for some more amazing backtracking. Sail ho!