January 2012


Drifting around the Virgin Islands. Meditations on the future.


The year started as we hope it will continue - in a very sociable way. Our friends on yacht "Sotirius" invited us aboard to celebrate the New Year in Gorda Sound. Sadly, there were no fireworks, but we had a lovely evening anyway.





Not for the first or last time, Irene laid on a splendid feast. Lucky us!


We stuck around Gorda sound for a few days. We met some great people who are venturing fourth on their catamaran with two kids. They were great company, and Libby loved the kids, but sadly for us they are moving quickly on towards South America, the Panama and adventures beyond.


I've heard it said that children raised at sea have great confidence and gain from untold experiences, but social skills tend to suffer. Well, Libby so far seems very adept at meeting new kids and getting them to play with her. I just hope this translates to future life at school. It is really heartbreaking when she quickly forges fast friendships and then she has to watch the new friends sailing over the horizon. She really misses her friends at home, and whilst she is loving this life, it's the lack of their companionship which causes her to miss England.


For the last few weeks we've been drifting back and forth between the British and American Virgin Islands. There have been parts to collect, and people to see on either side, and once you get used to the officialdom at the borders, it's really not too hard.


Currently, (January 18th) we're on a mooring buoy at the south-east corner of St John, (USVI). I'm aware that in the past I've always been a trifle dismissive of the (US) territory, but we've been very pleasantly surprised this time. Maybe it's to do with Libby; neither Penny nor I would have sought out sandy beaches before, but the beaches here on St John are pretty special when you have a child to entertain. Also, we've met some really lovely people here. The locals are certainly friendly, but we've also found ourselves starting casual conversations with holidaymakers from California to New York, Idaho to Texas. Often it's Libby who kicks things off by inveigling herself with other kids and their parents. Generally Penny and I will allow ourselves ten more minutes of "bat and ball" before conscience takes over and we approach the en-Libby'd family with a large British apology on our lips! There have almost been too many to mention them all, but a much tattoo'd party from Michigan deserve a special mention, mainly because they shared with us their beach drinks and later Googled us in order to drop a friendly email. This sort of thing really enhances one's view of humanity generally and Americans in particular!


We never set out to be or do anything particularly special, but as our tale unfolds time after time to attentive audiences, we have shifted our viewpoint slightly. We are not pure sailors - we have a perfectly good engine for when the wind isn't blowing our way - and we're hardly breaking new ground in terms of exploration. However, as we see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of new friends, we realise that what we are doing is actually quite special after all. It's been really wonderful when folk have said we've given them food for thought. Something to dream about. The idea that really almost anyone who is prepared to take the risks and make the sacrifices can do this.


Of course we spent ten years making sacrifices. Our cars are old, the house is furnished mostly from eBay, and most of Libby's wardrobe has been second hand. We had nice holidays only because Penny worked for Sunsail, and cheap holidays were one of the perks. Penny's business laptop was glued to her late into the evenings and she was regularly on the phone to prospective customers at the weekends too. All her commission went straight to the savings account. My shore-jobs were far less lucrative, but I worked first for Oceanair - which led to them letting us have their fantastic blinds at cost price. Then I worked for Raymarine, which led to the acquisition of a very comprehensive navigation suite. Much of the gear is/was officially "under test", and the rest came out of the skip. (It's tragic what gets thrown away by large companies.)


The risks centre mainly on having abandoned gainful employment in the middle of a recession with the hope of finding jobs again once the adventure is over. I shall be 49 years old this summer, and I admit that the darkest clouds on my horizon right now, the thoughts that most often cause me to lose sleep are based on what the devil I'm going to do for work come September. I always used to quip that Tesco would always need people to stack shelves, but as the final curtain gets ready to fall I realise that my heart just aches to stay with boats. Part of this may be to do with enhanced reminiscences of my life as a paid skipper, cruising around these waters in a lovely boat whilst on a wage from a kindly family. Now, as a husband and father I couldn't work for long periods away from my own family - that's not a life for any of us. However I'm starting to harbour a dream about finding a nice boat (of any kind!) close to home, and looking after her and her owners for a modest wage. These jobs certainly come up from time to time and I'm trying to pull together some sort of strategy to market myself. (All ideas welcome!) A good friend has offered to pass me freelance skippering jobs at least, and that might lead to something more, so the ground isn't entirely barren!


Sorry to drone on about personal circumstances, but this is January after all, and therefore a traditional time to be looking at the year ahead.




Last week we spent several days moored in a bay near the "St. Thomas Yacht Club". We were astonished to find a sister ship floating right before us.




She is called "Azulea", and has been owned getting on for thirty years by Jackie and Howard Schwartz. She sports a glorious new paint job, and made us start wondering if "Wild Bird" might deserve the same. (It might also help to attract a buyer.) At any rate, Howard came aboard the Bird for a detailed tour, and Penny was later shown around Azulea. It was an extraordinary experience; only about thirty of these boats were ever built. Howard and Jackie are as enthusiastic about the virtues of Azulea as we are about the Bird.


It's very sad that we will have to part company, but that's life. Wild Bird is a boat that needs to be lived-on, whereas if we ever do buy another yacht, (or, more likely a share thereof) then it'd make more sense to own something far simpler which can happily be locked-up and left. Wild Bird however should be owned by a family of adventurers!


Anyway, Howard and Jackie are charming, and immediately invited us to the yacht club where we were introduced to a whole host of wonderful people. Indeed the very next day we were invited to a Sunday lunch party aboard nearby "Kialoa V" - an 80ft, five-spreader-rig thoroughbred racing machine, which has been adapted to double as a very comfortable live-aboard. Eileen and Fred were tremendously generous and treated us like old friends, while Libby also had a nice day being entertained by various of the sympathetic adults present.




Libby goes from strength to strength. It's funny to think that she was just three years old when this adventure began. Now aged five, she can swim like a mermaid, she can speak a little Greek and Turkish, her reading is very good (thanks largely to the learning books that we've been given along the way) and she can write a basic sentence. But best of all she adores being in the water. She will confidently follow me down to a depth of around two metres or more, then will calmly clear her snorkel as she ascends. She delights in pointing out bits of underwater flora and fauna that she considers worthy of further scrutiny, and her stamina improves almost daily. We regularly discuss our lives in the past, present and future tenses. She understands fully that "proper" school will begin in September and we will then be living at home for the foreseeable future. She knows all that, but still says she prefers living on Wild Bird for now. After a breakthrough dive recently, she broke the surface, spat out the snorkel and declared "I'd like to be a diver for a living". (Devotees of this blog may remember that only last year she was all for a career as a "Princess"!) Of course this causes my heart sing and dance. The idea that one's progeny might actually end up doing something that's both approved-of and enjoyed by the parent is attractive indeed. (I temper my enthusiasm with the memory that my own first stated ambition was to be "a tractor driver"! However I remember I was around Libby's age when I first dreamed of living on a boat, although with land-lubbers for parents I'm not quite sure how I came by that particular notion.)




Libby has a mechanised toy hamster (Zhu Zhu) called "Snowcup". Here she is wearing a new outfit that Penny found in the post-Christmas sales. Very appropriate.






One of the people we met on a beach recently was a holidaying Romanian, who told me he'd come to America eleven years earlier with $100 in his pocket. Now he's married (to a gorgeous fellow Eastern European) has two small children, a house by a lake in the mountains as well as a town house in Philadelphia. I didn't ask him his trade, but we briefly talked about making sacrifices for a better future. And there I stood agreeing with him, whilst clutching a beer and a sporting a tummy which might suggest that it wasn't the first. There HE stood with no drink, while his wife pulled bits and pieces from her bag, including spare fruit for Libby. His politics seemed to be staunch Republican. We talked very briefly about the health system in America, and I quickly devised that our opinions differed dramatically, so I changed the subject.


A foreign girl we know recently had to have a replacement IUD, (NOT for contraceptive purposes but for HRT). Now in England I'm told, this is an elective procedure, and the thing can be fitted or changed "free of charge". A website offers the product for around £90, but I'm assured you'd never have to pay for it in England. On St Thomas, (USA) in a walk-in family clinic this procedure cost the girl neigh-on $2000. The item itself was charged at around $750! Now you can argue the pros and cons of our "state sponsored insurance" over their "private insurance" schemes, but cut through all that to the cost of the physical item. The huge disparity suggests to me that there's something deeply immoral about the health system here. Sheer profiteering at the expense of ordinary people. Disgusting.




We recently moored in a bay called Water Lemon Cay on the north coast of St John. A beautiful place, but as well as the usual colourful snorkeling, there is a diversion ashore which gave us a chance to stretch our legs with a yomp up the hillside to the ruins of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation. I say "we", but for Penny this sort of expedition holds no fascination whatsoever. Libby on the other hand is always keen to poke around in old ruins in case we should discover hitherto forgotten treasure or princesses!




Libby's been playing "Barbie Fashion" on her Nintendo. It's very hard to get a sensible pose out of her now, as she twists herself into what she supposes is a "fashion pose".








Back aboard, Libby loves dressing in pink, and doing crafts.






Ha! One of the things I actually like about writing in HTML is that you can spell words correctly - like "centre" - or in American - "center" and it makes no difference. (Just for fun, sometimes I use one, sometimes the other. In the old days I used to flash around on fast motorbikes to get my kicks......)

Now, if only we could all learn to be as patient as HTML code!




There was a story on the BBC website yesterday about a a young English chap of Irish descent, who was refused admission to the USA (having flown all the way to California apparently) because of something he'd twittered. I'm not going to repeat it here, as I already have problems enough with US immigration. But it makes me so sad that he has been judged (and essentially convicted as) a "threat to national security" because of his selection of words in a private twitter message sent to a friend. It's reported that, he used some Irish vernacular to express his joyful anticipation of partaking in a drink or two during his holiday in the colonies. Some dullard has invaded his private correspondence and failed to understand the proper meaning of it. In my experience, all border agencies in countries across the globe have their quota of ignorant savages. It's not just America. But unfortunately for everyone, the negative experiences that some of us have endured at the hands of inflexible and humourless American officials tend to hurt the most. Americans always seem to respond to situations with aggression, instead of understanding and compassion.