In Curacao   2 comments

Let’s finish this story.
When I last wrote, Lee, Kurt and I had completed our crossing from St. Kitt’s to Curacao. We anchored in a snug little spot but were out of there shortly after breakfast the next morning. After making sure the boat yard that would be hauling Pirat had space for us in their marina, we weighed anchor and hoisted our sails again.


After just one night of rest from our 4 day passage, it felt good to sail again. The brisk wind whisked Pirat down Curacao’s south coast to Willemstad in no time. We took in the sights as we motored into the busy harbor. There was a cruise ship docked just outside, a giant tanker preceding us in, the swinging pontoon bridge we had to pass through, and a ginormous bridge that even the tanker fit under.



The marina was way back in the industrial part of Willemstad’s harbor, which had some interesting scenery. Curacao has a lot of oil refineries so this harbor is frequented by tankers and cargo ships.


Lee steered Pirat into a tricky slip and we headed out to the airport as soon as the boat was secure. We had to go out to check in with customs and immigration anyway. First came customs in downtown Willemstad. Checking in went smoothly and relatively quickly. Then we learned that the immigration office was on the other side of the harbor. The three of us ventured back into the blazing sun to cross the pontoon bridge with all the tourists. We walked along the edge of the harbor, entered an unused cruise ship terminal where a security guard checked our passports at the gate, and proceeded under the high bridge to an unassuming building along and industrial fuel dock. There were forms to fill out at the immigration office but it didn’t take too long. Again, this was a pretty efficient check-in as they go.

We managed to snag a cab that was ferrying another person from immigration to the airport. At the airport, Kurt made it onto a flight to Aruba where he would join Lee’s mom, who had been waiting for us where. Lee and I picked up a cheap and tiny rental car and headed back to the marina. This was just the beginning of our driving adventures on the island (people have an insanely aggressive, sort of European way of driving on Curacao).


Let’s see, what did we do for the next week+? The first thing I wanted to do was visit the Floating Market – a row of stalls selling produce from Venezuelan boats pulled up to the dock behind them. With my new supply of Antillien Guilders (the local currency) I bought tomatoes, squash, carrots, bananas, mangoes, and a huge papaya (my favorite). This was the first of two trips to the Floating Market and we enjoyed every pound of beautiful produce I bought there. We made many trips to the various different grocery stores on Curacao. I’m not sure I can remember, spell,or pronounce any of their names but may favorite was the first one we visited. It was very Dutch with all kinds of European products and Dutch favorites. There was muesli, big crackers, unrefrigerated coffee milk, hazelnut spreads and sprinkles to top your spread-covered bread (interesting, I didn’t know this was something people do…), spice cake, canned hot dogs (which Lee had to try), and yummy yogurt everywhere. In short, it was “Rachel Heaven”, as Lee likes to say.


Lee and I goofed off during our first weekend on the island. The yard office was closed so we couldn’t coordinate with them on hauling the boat yet anyway. We visited a pay to enter and then pay for a beach chair beach (bleugh, not our taste). To add to the unpleasantness every other person on the beach was smoking cigarettes. Oh yeah, these are European tourists.

We spent the entire Sunday afternoon driving around looking for a laundromat. We found lots of dry cleaning and laundry service places, all of which were closed on Sunday, but no obvious do-it-yourself laundromat. We patronized the local home improvement chain and found everything about the same as Home Depot in the states except that all the kitchen stuff was sleek and stylish. We ate out at a restaurant downtown where the waitress first addressed us in Dutch. That was the first hint that maybe American tourists are not the norm on Curacao.


On March 26th Lee and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary by checking into the Kura Hulanda Lodge out on the end of the island. This luxurious resort was amused me with it’s decor: completely decontextualized Central and South American antiquities displayed in the reception area. There was even a lizard living in the case full of gold and ceramics. I don’t even want to know what unethical dealings brought those objects there.

The rest of the resort was fabulous. Our room was in one of the many small, circular buildings scattered around the lush grounds. There were also ocean-front condo units with huge patios and balconies that looked like they’d be really nice. We swam in the ocean from the resort’s beach and then lounged by the pool. I was super excited to find several palm-thatched huts shading lounge chairs around the pool. I relaxed in the shade and listened to the birds. It was very peaceful. We had a delicious dinner and breakfast the next morning at the resort’s restaurant. It was perfectly romantic and I would not have wanted to celebrate our anniversary any other way.


The romance ended the next morning when I scrambled to do some of our laundry in the available machines before we had to check out. Success! Now I could put off visiting a laundromat until the end of the trip!

That was when the hard work began. Lee and I spent the rest of the week prepping Pirat to come out of the water. We got a quote for a full-boat canvas from an old Danish woman who told great stories about her cruising days. Unfortunately, her quote was outrageous and we decided to go with shrink wrap to protect Pirat this time. The shrink wrap guy agreed to do our boat reluctantly. He had gotten out of the business recently and didn’t have many materials left. He did have enough for our boat, though, and shrink wrap just seems like the most practical way to protect the deck from the elements.

Our hydraulic backstay sprung a leak that week. Lee didn’t feel comfortable leaving a leaky unit supporting our rig so we consulted a rigger on what to do. Lee removed the hydraulic cylinder and lashed the backstay on with spectra. The rigger agreed to replace that with a turnbuckle for us.

A big part of our work that week revolved around clearing junk our of the boat. Lee went through everything, bow to stern, and came up with tons of things to get rid of. Some went in the trash and the rest we packed up to bring home on the plane. Fortunately, we flew home first class (cause it was $1 more than a regular ticket) so we could each check 3 bags for free. Score! Lee also planned to bring his windsurf board on the plane but spent all week worrying whether the airline would accept it. The boat barely met the maximum size of boards to be checked.

When it finally came time to haul Pirat out of the water we were definitely ready to get out of the heat and the buggy nights. I acquired a dozen new mosquito bites every night we slept on the boat, leaving me with very, very itchy, red, bumpy, and swollen knees and ankles (the bugs liked those best). We planned to have Pirat brought to the storage yard immediately upon coming out of the water since we didn’t need to do any work in the work yard. That meant we couldn’t keep sleeping on the boat (no live-aboards in the storage yard) so we made a hotel reservation for our last couple nights on Curacao.


Curacao Marine uses a hydraulic trailer to haul boats. This was something Lee and I had never seen in action. All the yards we’d used before had travel lifts. With Pirat completely ready to be put away for (potentially) more than a year, we brought our precious boat over to the ramp. A team of 3 yard workers came over with the GIANT tractor pulling the hydraulic trailer. Two guys came out on the dock to handle the lines and a third drove the tractor. The two on the lines didn’t speak English and the driver wasn’t too interested in sharing his plans with Lee and me. We ended up just standing by while the yard workers did their thing to situate the trailer under the boat and begin pulling it up the ramp. We did first remind the driver that Pirat has a 7.25 foot draft and our depth sounder said we were about the run aground tied up at the dock. He didn’t seem concerned.


You can probably tell where this is going. When Pirat was allllmost out of the water the workers realized that the keel wasn’t going to clear the ramp. They immediately backed the trailer into the water again, put our boat right back where it started, and drove the trailer away at a god clip. Meanwhile, Lee and I realized that the keel had been scraping along the ramp for several feet before progress stopped. A big hunk of something had fallen off the bottom of our boat…luckily it was just filler from previous keel damage thanks to a previous owner. Oh how I love our solid lead keel!


The yard workers finally explained that they just needed some extenders on the trailer to hold our deep-drafted beauty. Everything went much better the second time around. I must say that they hydraulic trailer was really impressive. It contorted and adjusted in ways that I didn’t expect and gave Pirat a much smoother ride than any travel lift has.

With that I’m afraid I must leave the rest of the story for one final post. Real life back in SF calls (new job, dog care, dinghy sailing, etc.). I promise there’s more!

Posted April 4, 2012 by Rachel in Uncategorized

St. Kitt’s to Curacao Part 3: Sailing, eating, and sleeping   Leave a comment

Finally, I’m getting to the part where we actually go sailing!

Lee, his dad Kurt, and I left Basseterre in the early morning on Monday March 18. It wasn’t that early, really, more like 6:30-7am by the time Lee replaced our head pump, which had randomly failed overnight. We had food, water, and fuel but not much wind. That meant a day of mostly motoring after some brief breeze mid-morning.


Windless days are the worst. Without the breeze the temperature is unbearable. Luckily, motoring creates a little bit of airflow over the boat. The boat’s motion through the seas isn’t much fun without wind either. Kurt and I both took our Marezine but I still felt seasickness come and go. Sometimes all I could do was stretch out on a bunk and wait for the feeling to pass. This state of affairs continued for the entire sail, despite my usual ability to overcome seasickness after 24 hours or so at sea. I had to limit my time down below and snack constantly, since my stomach seemed to feel much worse when empty. Fortunately, I could still read. I don’t know what I would have done without a compelling book on my Kindle!

Sailing-wise, our first day was pretty crappy. There was nothing to see, no other boats. A Coast Guard plane did buzz us at one point.. It flew past and then circled back to fly right over us and take a look at our transom. I think it was from the Netherlands Antilles Coast Guard.

The three of us sorted out the first night’s watches without much thought. Kurt is an early riser so he took the 3-6am shift. I volunteered to take the middle shift but Lee actually wanted that one so I ended up standing the first watch. We continued to motor though my watch that night but the wind had picked up enough to sail by the end of it. Lee and I hoisted the main and the MPG (lightweight genoa) and I went below for a peaceful 6 hours of sleep to the sound of water whooshing past the hull. That was the end of motoring, We wanted to save the rest of our fuel for emergencies and for arriving at our destination.

This is where the days all start to blend together in my head. I know we switched to the working jib on day 2. It’s extremely difficult to judge wind speed when you’re sailing downwind, even with wind instruments. I don’t trust our true wind speed indicator one bit. For the most part, we saw somewhere between 10 and 18 knots once the wind picked up on the first night. Once it started hovering above 15 for longer periods of time, we switched to the working jib. Pirat cavorted through the swells that lifted her from behind, pushing her down their faces with a whoosh and then sliding out from under her bow.

We maintained as broad a reach as we could hold and still keep the job full. Our only tactical decisions were which jibe headed more in the right direction and which brought us to where there might be favorable current. Sometimes the current was against us, sometimes with us. It was frustrating to predict.

Night 2’s watch was my favorite. The stars were bright and there was intense phosphorescence in the water. I sat on the cockpit floor right behind the whee, put on my ipod, and watched Pirat’s sparkling wake for most of my shift. Various freighters passed, night and day. We used AIS to track them.

I think I started going crazy on day 3. Okay, not really, the sun and the prospect of more days of the same were getting to me. We weren’t sure whether we’d arrive in Aruba, our intended destination, on the fourth of fifth day. The lack of wind in the beginning of the passage and some unfavorable currents had hurt our pace. I couldn’t stand the thought of a fourth night and a fifth day. I was sooooo tired and bored. My book kept me occupied but there was only so much reading I could do. Seasickness and general lethargy kept me from doing much other than sleeping, reading, eating and just sitting and staring at the water. Conversing with my crew mates wasn’t too appealing any more.


At last, we made it through the final night. A freighter passed very close right when my watch was starting. It was close enough that Lee stayed awake to make sure the ship would pass safely. A giant mass of lights did go by and then the ocean got darker and darker again. I could barely stay awake. I had to move around constantly and fight to keep my eyes open. This was the hardest time I’ve ever had staying awake. Finally, after only 2 hours of my shift, I had to wake Lee up to take over. He and Kurt finished off the night’s watches with only some mild exhaustion-induced hallucinating on Kurt’s part.


Day 4 brought the dramatic weather that I think we’d all been waiting for. Even though the Caribbean is known for it’s steady, strong but not too strong trade winds this time of year we were experiencing relatively mild conditions. The waves weren’t 6-10 feet and very steep like the could have been. The wind had been steadily increasing on us and on the last day little rain squalls blew over one after another. The first few tricked us into thinking they were no big deal. Similar rain had come and gone throughout our passage. Then a grey wall came up on us from the direction of Bonaire. The wind instantly increased by 8-10 knots, I’d say, and we were very overpowered. Lee and I acted quickly, roller-reefing the jib and then tying two reefs in the main. The waves hat gotten bigger too but with the reduced sail area we lasted through the worst of the little rain-spitting storm. By that time, we were off the end of Curacao, which we had decided to make our destination.



Skipping Aruba was a difficult decision. I made it, in the end (hey, someone had to decide). Aruba would have added another night to our journey and Lee and I would only have 1 day on the island before we’d have to turn around and sail 70 miles back to Curacao and get the boat ready to haul. Lee’s mom was waiting on Aruba and Lee and I hoped we might be able to find a way to see her without sailing there. We did have to return Kurt, which we did by plane the day after reaching Curacao.


Some time in the late afternoon on that fourth day, we pulled into Fuik Baai on Curacao’s South coast. A couple other cruising boats shared a peaceful anchorage with us. It was breezy and the land smelled like California. There were cacti and other desert-type plants all over the hillside and I awoke to countless loud birdsongs the next morning. It felt incredibly good to swim in the water and wash off some of the sweat/sunscreen coating. I washed the dishes for the first time since our first day out and threw our remaining vegetables into a stew for dinner. We made it!

Posted March 29, 2012 by Rachel in Uncategorized

St. Kitt’s to Curacao Part 2   Leave a comment

Bringing Pirat to Port Zante

Now comes the hard part. Once Pirat was in the water, Lee and I had our work cut out for us getting her ready to sail. Fortunately, Port Zante Marina had very reasonable rates and an excellent location relative to downtown Basseterre. We didn’t feel rushed and no longer had to drive our rental car back and forth to the boat yard. We did get to make that trip once this trip in one of our favorite St. Kitt’s buses, complete with blaring reggae, crammed seats and high speeds.

The first order of business was scrubbing the extremely grubby deck. My feelings about our teak deck go from hate to love every time we give it a good cleaning. It may be a long, grueling task but there is nothing more satisfying than the healthy glow of a freshly scrubbed teak deck.

A lovely island.

Lee and I had spent almost an entire day back in the yard re-rigging the halyards, whose feeder lines had chafed through and become tangled. I hauled Lee up the mast no less than 4 times to accomplish that. We put the sails and deck hardware on at the marina.

I had an easy time provisioning in Basseterre. In one trip, I bought produce from various stands in front of the supermarket across the street from the marina. I loaded up with yams, carrots, various local roots, chayote squash (Lee’s favorite), green onions, thyme, eggplant, cucumber, tomatoes, bananas, and even lettuce. Everything was fresh and gorgeous.

In my next trip across the street, Lee helped me gather the rest of our provisions from Rams, the local supermarket. Certain things were hard to find (like coffee, which the Kittitians don’t seem to to care much about) but I didn’t want to fill the boat with too much food, knowing we’d only have a couple weeks to eat it. I already had some staples like rice and beans, which miraculously survived the scathing temperatures.

Lee’s dad arrived on Saturday the 16th and we decided to take one more day to get ready. It’s a good thing we did, because it took us most of the next day to check out with customs and immigration. First we waited for the customs officer to show up at the nearby cruise ship port office. He happened to be the same officer who checked Lee in back in Sandy Point when we first arrived in St. Kitt’s. Weird! Lee remembers him being really afraid to come out to the boat in the dinghy.

The customs guy sent us to immigration at the airport to get our passports stamped. That meant a taxi ride, since we’d already returned our rental car. At the airport, the woman we spoke to at immigration wanted paperwork from the customs officer who said he wouldn’t give us our papers till we got our passports stamped. Ummmm…okay… The immigration officer was not happy. The grumbled. She made some phone calls but didn’t seem to know the number of the customs office. Finally she just stamped our passports and sent us off. Fine with me!

With everything officially ready to go, the whole crew settled down for our last good night’s sleep for a while. We were up early the nest morning, March 18th, to sail for Curacao.

Posted March 26, 2012 by Rachel in Uncategorized

At It Again: St. Kitt’s to Curacao Part 1   1 comment

Argh! I wrote this whole great post in St. Kitt’s before Pirat’s latest voyage last week but then my computer trackpad decided to stop working so I couldn’t do much with my post. Let’s start over, shall we. Here’s the beginning. It will take me a few posts to catch up to where we are now, closer to the end of our trip than the beginning.

In brief: Lee and I are in Curacao, one of the Dutch Antilles off the North coast of Venezuela often referred to as the ABC islands. How did we get here? When I last wrote, we were leaving Pirat in a hole in St. Kitt’s, part of the Caribbean’s Leeward island chain. That’s more than 500 miles from Curacao. I still can’t believe we sailed all those miles across the Caribbean Sea!

Lee and I never intended to leave Pirat in St. Kitt’s for more than one season. Well, maybe before we got there and saw the place we thought it might be a more permanent home. After one hurricane season of constantly worrying about storms hitting our island and knowing that Pirat was uncovered and not in the most secure of boat yards we thought we’d better move her somewhere else. Lee did some research and came up with Curacao Marine, a small yard with haul out and storage facilities South of the hurricane danger zone. We made our flight reservations and carved out 3 weeks of our now busy mainland life to make our most ambitious passage yet.

We flew to St. Kitt’s by way of Atlanta (hi Jeff!) on March 13/14. By the afternoon of the 16th, Pirat was back in the water and happily docked at Port Zante Marina in Basseterre. It took A LOT of scrubbing, polishing, and reassembling to get to that point. When we first came aboard the boat we found a lot of sun damage on deck and heat damage down below. That was to be expected. Things faded, melted, exploded, and turned brown with grime from wind and rain. Plastics grew brittle and spices solidified in their bottles. Lee and I swore we’d never leave our boat uncovered in the harsh Caribbean environment again.

To be continued…

Posted March 24, 2012 by Rachel in Uncategorized

In the Ground, Off the Island   3 comments

Firstly, here is a long overdue photo album of pictures from Puerto Rico to St. Kitts.

All the way to St. Kitts


It felt weird to put Pirat in a hole on an island and then leave. I can either think of the boat as buried or as hibernating in a strange nest. I’ll try to stick with hibernating.


Pirat on her nest.

Lee and I stripped as much as we could off Pirat’s deck. Sails, lines, hardware, deck bags, and anything else that could be easily removed came off. Meanwhile, an explosion of stuff turned the inside of the boat into a disaster zone. Everything had to come out of wherever it was so we could stow it properly, pack it up, or throw it out. I took many, many bags to the dumpster. It’s amazing how much useless stuff we’ve been carrying around on the boat for a year! How was I supposed to know I wouldn’t need all my climbing/backpacking gear?

Heat and bugs made working in or on the boat extremely uncomfortable. The deck burned our feet. We dripped sweat all over the inside of the boat. At one point Lee was trying to wrestle the wind generator (without it’s pole) through the head and into the aft cabin. It was quite a puzzle getting that thing through the doorways and Lee was smearing gobs of sweat all over the doors while he tried to open and close them in the right configuration. The wind generator never made it into the aft cabin.

I said goodbye to my little galley and all my cooking supplies. A lot of staple foods that I hope will withstand long-term storage in a tropical climate stayed on the boat. I brought a few things that I just couldn’t part with (Poachpods, giant Jack Skellington mug, favorite spoons…I know. I’m weird.). When Lee and I had finally sorted through the chaos down below I went on a cleaning rampage with lots of rags and a spray bottle of eco-friendly cleanser. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a dirty stainless stovetop and sink!


Nothing left on deck!

Throughout the clean-up process, we staged the stuff we planned to pack in our checked luggage back at our hotel room. On our last night there, we tried to cram it all into 2 checked bags and 2 carry-ons each. Ha! That was comical. Quit a bit went back on the boat. Hopefully that unopened bag of oatmeal I left behind doesn’t turn into a huge bug/mildew mess.

Our dehumidifier is pretty much useless, as it turns out. The power on St. Kitts isn’t reliable enough for an appliance like that to safely run unsupervised in a boat. We ran it a bit while packing and then left it onboard but unplugged.

Pirat was battened down and ready to hibernate by late Saturday morning. Lee and I took our lunch up Brimstone Hill to the fortress and did some exploring in the hot sun. The fortress was really spectacular and we could look down on our boat in the yard below.

Then it was finally time to go to the airport and leave St. Kitts behind! Our only hiccup along the way was the unpleasant customs officer in the airport but we didn’t have the time or energy to argue with him over the color of our pens or whether the pen he gave us contained any ink. We stumbled onto a plane, sweaty and exhausted, and sat for 4 hours till we landed in Atlanta. That airport presented another customs circus. We spent our entire layover juggling baggage and tromping from terminal to terminal.

The next flight lasted another 4 hours and brought us to Los Angeles in the middle of the night. After an emotional scene on my part when I found out I couldn’t get into the Alaska terminal until morning, we ended up sleeping in the international terminal. The 6 hour layover went relatively quickly. Then I was off to Seattle and Lee boarded a plane to San Francisco.

What a trip, and what a week we’ve both had since then! Lee started work at Meka Robotics almost as soon as he got to the bay area. He mostly stayed with my Dad and Peggy in Napa but spent a few nights in SF with Doug. Meanwhile, I tried to adjust to the time change and the long, long days in Seattle with my mom. I got a good dose of girl time and packed up my things to bring to California. My aunt Kate also came to visit and we immersed ourselves in big city culture with movies and plays.

This Monday evening my mom and I started our drive south with my car full of stuff. We stopped in Klamath falls to see my aunt, uncle, cousin, and Doc! Doc (my favorite dog) is as cute and playful as ever. He is going to keep my cousin company on her move to Seattle. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to see Doc, my family, and Oregon. I’m so glad Lee and I will be living relatively close by!

Yesterday I dropped my mom off at Sacramento airport and drove the last hour to Napa by myself. Lee didn’t get home till after 9pm. I’m very happy to be reunited with my husband : )

Now begins the great apartment search! This house is very welcoming but we can’t live with my dad and Peggy forever and Lee can’t commute into the city from here without losing most of his sanity.

These are busy and exciting times but I promise one more Pirat post before the blog, too goes into a state of semi-hibernation.

Posted June 22, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized

And We’re Off!   6 comments

Just like that, Lee and I have left Pirat and are flying back to the real world – a non-floating world of regular life things and regular places, a world where the questions “Where are you from?” and “What is your address?” are a bit easier to answer. We won’t be defying classification as tourists or residents any more.

I think we are both ready to be back, at least for a while, at this stage in our lives. It was hard to leave the boat all naked and alone in the dirt. Pirat looked so out of place high and dry on a tropical island.

At the moment, I’m trying out the in-flight internet on our Delta red eye to LAX. When I eventually land in Seattle and recover from my travels I’ll get to work on a real post.

For now, I leave you with one of my favorite van-isms from St. Kitts.
The hood of the van is emblazoned with “BU$$INE$$” and above the windshield it says “You won’t find any ‘ting loose”. Curious, isn’t it?

Posted June 12, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized

Drive on the left   2 comments

Life doesn’t stop when we get off of the boat, although sometimes it seems like it. I’m glad to be staying in a hotel for these few days on St. Kitts but I feel kind of defeated by not being able to stay on the boat. The heat and the bugs were just too much. Even spending the day at the yard to work on Pirat is painful! Today is the hottest day yet and poor Lee is on the boat all alone. I helped him flake the jib and put away a few other things this morning and then I went off to deal with all our laundry. As the formal rental car driver this time around I get to be transportation independent.


No more pensive poses on the boat, for now.

Transportation is always an issue when you live on a boat. It is one of the first things Lee and I try to figure out when we get to a new port. If we want to do any exploring or errands we’ll need a way to get around! Thankfully, most of the places we’ve visited since leaving the U.S. have fabulous public transportation systems. They are usually cheap and fast, albeit a bit quirky. Back in the states we relied much more on our bicycles and the occasional rental car.

We’ve ridden some wild buses on our journey. There were the independent, and therefore competitive, mini-buses in Nassau that wove around each other in the streets to get to passengers first. There was the high-speed short bus on St. John that gave us a white knuckle ride over the hilly, windy island roads.

The publicos and motoconchos in the Dominican Republic topped everything in terms of passengers crammed into or onto a vehicle. 4-5 people would cram into the back of a standard sedan and two sat in the front alongside the driver. Motoconchos gave rides on the back of their motorbikes.

The mini-buses or vans in St. Martin were easy to grab on the main streets. They were relatively cheap and sometimes air conditioned!

In my opinion, St. Kitts tops all of these places with it’s wacky public transportation. The island has one main road circumnavigating it and various branches leading out of the capital, Basseterre, to residential and tourist areas on the peninsula. There does not seem to be a government operated bus system but there are dozens of vans that race from town to town without a schedule or designated stops. The best part about these vans is their decorations. They all say something in large, gaudy font on the front of the hood. A few examples are: Up 2 De Time, OOH HOO, Bashment, Sailor, Jigga, John, Kervin… I wish I could remember some of the other ones. There are some really, really wacky van names.

I wish I had some pictures, too.

In addition to the creative naming, these bus-vans often have shiny paint jobs and lots of decals. On the inside, there are three rows of bench seats with fold-down jump seats along one side. The bus driver sits on the right in the front seat, as driving is on the left here. They pick up people wherever they stand by the side of the main road, holding an arm straight out to indicate that they want a ride. Passengers pile into the van, where some kind of music is always playing very loudly. To ask for a stop, people just say something like “Bus stop” or another, totally unintelligible to me, local phrase for the same. I don’t know how the driver hears them over the music.

The drivers Lee and I have ridden with drove really, really fast on the St. Kitts roads. They slam on their breaks frequently to pick up passengers or to allow a car going the opposite direction to get by when parked cars crowd the street. Getting from point A to point B is an exhilarating experience. I love watching people in the vans. Uniformed school kids ride them at the end of the day. Well-dressed Kittitians ride them to work in the morning. Mothers squeeze young children in wherever they can and then sit elsewhere. When someone wants to get off, everyone between that person and the door has to get up, fold up the jump seats, and get out of the van.

We rode quite a few vans from Sandy Point before we rented a car the other day. We never had to wait long to catch one. I think they make up more than 50% of the vehicles on the road. Now that we have a rental car I find myself driving like a van driver! We even started with a mini van for the first day of our car rental since they didn’t have anything else. That van was much, much easier to drive than our current car, which has the steering wheel on the right! I have not had any problems remembering to drive on the left but sitting on the opposite side of the car AND driving on the opposite side of the road is very disorienting. Lee keeps thinking I’m going to run into something on the left (curb side) of the car and I feel like I’m way to close to the traffic on my right. It doesn’t help that the rental Camry is ridiculously wide!

Posted June 9, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized

St. Christopher   5 comments


Sandy Point at dawn with the volcano to the right.

That’s the formal name for the island of St. Kitts. Don’t as me how Christopher was shortened to Kitts. I’ve forgotten most of my linguistics.

Lee and I got a little antsy in St. Martin after a few days. We spent quite a bit of time in what became our favorite cafe for internet: La Vie en Rose. The waiter/bartender there was really nice and the air conditioning was heavenly.
One day, we took a bus to Phllipsburg, the capitol of Dutch St. Maartin. What a clash to Marigot! Cruise ships come into Philipsburg so the town’s waterfront is completely made up of seedy jewelry stores, souvenir shops, bars, and general tourist crap. There was a huge cruise ship in port when we were there so the place was crawling with people (some had even overflowed into Marigot). As soon as we stepped onto the beach someone tried to sell us lounge chairs, beer, and jet ski rides. I ran the other way.

We did manage to procure ice cream cones in Philipsburg but other than that it was a pretty depressing experience. I know tourism supports the economies of many Caribbean islands but it all seems so fake. I hate watching people throw their money away on cheap souvenirs that are the same in every port. The idea of zooming around mindlessly on a jet ski makes me want to vomit (preferably on all the people who own or operate jet skis). The complete lack of anything that really represents the people and culture of the place in question must not bother cruise ship travelers. I guess I inherited my parents’ distaste for throngs of tourists.


Me at Fort Louis with Marigot in the background.

Back in Marigot where things were much quieter, Lee and I walked up the hill to Fort Louis. From there we had a view of Pirat between her two gorgeous sailboat neighbors. I enjoyed the wacky English translations on the French signage.

After spending our last few Euro’s on mangoes and stumpy little bananas (slightly different flavor but good) we left Marigot on Friday evening. I think I prefer sailing at night now, since it’s so much cooler. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much wind and we motored most of the way to St. Kitts. It was a beautiful night, though. Phosphorescent sea life shot through the water, getting out of Pirat’s way, and the lights from nearby islands gave us something to stare at on the horizon. There was Saba, which looked like a strange boat at first, the St. Eustatias, then St. Kitts out ahead of us. When I came up for my second shift I saw a huge, dark cone surrounded by twinkling lights around it’s base. Lee and I had finally reached our destination!

We anchored in Pump Bay off of Sandy Point Town, the nearest settlement to St. Kitts Marine Works, where we plan to keep Pirat. I immediately decided that this was one of the most beautiful inhabited spots we’d ever been to.

There is a dark-sanded beach with palm trees on the bank above. The mountain, actually a volcano, rises up steeply behind the town. To the right, just inland from the town, is a steep, domed peak with an 18th century stone fortress on top of it. Brimstone Hill Fortress is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will definitely visit!


The Brimstone hill fortress.

Before arriving in St. Kitts, Lee and I heard a read a few things about this half of the St. Kitts and Nevis island nation. One of our cruising guide insists that St. Kitts has no good anchorages. Okay, that’s fair. We showed up expecting exposed anchorages with lots of swell and that’s what we got. It doesn’t bother us too much. As to the Kittitians themselves, two separate people have told us that they are not particularly nice. One old cruiser in Salinas as well as the waiter in Marigot made that claim.

As soon as Lee and I landed our dinghy in Sandy Point and walked into the bar at the end of the beach I had the feeling that someone had told the Kittitians we were expecting hostility so they decided to give us what we were not prepared for: a kind welcome. One man enthusiastically ushered us onto the bar’s patio, making introductions and insisting that we make ourselves comfortable. People offered us drinks and ice. They asked about our journey and where we were from. We sat at the bar while a few locals played dominoes and others sipped rum or locally brewed Carib beer. One man talked to us for quite a long time about St. Kitts and it’s people. He may have been a bit intoxicated but he was certainly friendly and genuine.

I think that’s what I like most about the Kittitians and their island: genuineness is abundant. People are either wholeheartedly welcoming or they want nothing to do with us. They’re not trying to sell us anything. I feel like I’m watching people live in a place that doesn’t know or care that I’m here. This may not be the most prosperous or glitzy Caribbean island. Sometimes poverty, dirt, and strangeness make us Westerners uncomfortable. I think it’s good to move out of our comfort zone, though. It’s good to ride the bus and shop in local markets.

Alright, enough of that. Back to the boat.
St. Kitts Marine Works took Pirat out of the water yesterday. They have a huge travelift big enough for mega catamarans. Pirat swung around like a toy boat in the lift while Lee and I sat on deck. It was quite a view. Once we crossed the road to the yard, a backhoe dug a hole for Pirat’s keel and rudder. Then the yard workers positioned tires to cushion the hull and the lift operator lower Pirat into the ground! She’s sitting in a kind of ditch/tire nest. This way the boat is as low to the ground and stable as possible in case of hurricanes. We are also having the mast taken out and the boat strapped down to very solid anchors in the ground. I don’t think Pirat is going anywhere!


Pirat crosses the road!


A nice big hole for our keel.

The boatyard is an interesting place. There aren’t many boats here now but the yard manager said they fill up when storms come though. The place is strewn with debris, which they say will be cleaned up shorty (in time for hurricane season, we hope). There is a bathroom/shower shack behind a shipping container in the corner of the yard. The whole place is infested with more mosquitos than I’ve seen for a long time. Last night they joined us in the boat when it started raining outside. A sweltering, closed-up boat buzzing with mosquitos is not my idea of a pleasant place to spend the night. Lee and I survived the night, partly thanks to Lee’s skills with the bug zapper (an electrified fly swatter). One particularly loud fly he swatted didn’t die after the first hit but changed the tone of it’s buzz.

This morning it was still raining. No run for us. We hopped on a bus to Basseterre instead. In St. Kitts’ capital city we rented a car (actually a mini-van, which was all they had) and then drove off in search of a hotel I’d seen online that seemed relatively inexpensive. We found Bird Rock Beach Resort easily and booked a room for the rest of the week.

We spent the rest of the day working on the boat. I packed and Lee babied the engine. I hauled him up the mast to retrieve the radar. We both had scores of new mosquito bites by the end of the day. It was all worth it for the satisfaction of our first showers since Puerto Rico. Our hotel room is nothing fancy but it’s a welcome sanctuary from the bugs and the heat.

On the calendar for tomorrow: a morning run, more boat work, maybe some laundry, maybe the crane will come to take out the mast.

Posted June 5, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized

A Week in Words   2 comments


This past week has been a bit of a blur. I think the heat blurs the days together. One island melts into the next in our trip through strung-together countries.


We left the rustic Spanish Virgins in sticky heat and glassy water. Visiting St. John by boat was much more satisfying than flying there. We tried to see some different things and go to new places but also took advantage of our familiarity with Cruz Bay.


American National Parks gave way to throngs of charter boats in British waters. My dad, Lee, and I watched the bloated catamarans and the rest of the charter fleet in fascinated disgust. They were there to party, blast around on engine power, run their air conditioning, and generally make fools of themselves when they tried to sail.


From Virgin Gorda we set off on an overnight sail across the Anegada Passage. The wind was light at first but filled in enough to move Pirat along. The trade-less days made for relatively flat water and an easy beat to St. Martin. The wind only increased enough to warrant reefs in the main and switching to the solent when we were a few tacks from our destination. Those last few miles were long, though.

From our anchorage outside the French Capitol of Marigot, we rushed to clear customs that first afternoon but were too late. The office closed 20 minutes before we got there so that activity had to wait till the next morning.


Yesterday, my dad’s last day on Pirat, we enjoyed cafe au lait and croissants in one of many French cafe’s along the Marigot waterfront. We shopped in the nearby produce market, took a bus to Budget Marine for some boat-related shopping, and ate a delicious meal at Le Bistro Nu. I’m still emanating garlic-ness from my shrimp and scallops in sauce provencales (garlic, tomatoes, butter…).

I hope my dad made it to the airport alright this morning. The only cab we could find at 6:15am was off-duty and reluctant to give him a ride. Lee and I had a great time sailing with my dad and it’s always nice to have an extra hand on the boat!

Now we are back in the same cafe we visited yesterday. This time we have plug adapters so we won’t run out of batteries on our laptops! There are lots of plans to make for our upcoming move back to the U.S. We’re officially heading to California in a couple weeks! Pirat will be all tucked away in St. Kitts, waiting for our return.

Posted June 1, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized

The closest I’ve been to France   Leave a comment

St. Martin!

We finally made it to an island where they speak French! It’s great – I can actually understand people!

Lee, me dad, and I arrived here yesterday after an exhausting overnight sail from Virgin Gorda. We had some good adventures in the Virgin Islands that I’ll have to cover later when I have more time and some pictures.

I just wanted to let everyone know that we’re here. We’re one island away from St.Kitts!

Posted May 31, 2011 by Rachel in Uncategorized