adventure in the journey
I just got back from a trip. A trip that combined a lot of things that I love and was happy to experience them all in equal measure. Learning, drinking, and exploring. Most people think of vacations as a way to relax and get away. In the past my trips had mostly been centered around service and now I see the trend changing to my travel being about learning. Study abroad trips and trips where I learn new skills to be better able to enjoy myself while on the adventure whether it be scuba diving, serious hiking, surfing, sailing. This most recent trip was about learning to sail, there's a sweet video recapping the whole adventure if you want to watch it, but don't cop out and just watch it and not read about it, because society is becoming way too dependent on videos and there is still so much value in reading.
We started out by landing in St. Thomas, an island in the US Virgin Islands. We took a ferry almost immediately, to St. John where we met up with Sarah who showed us a great time on the island she is currently inhabiting (she seems to be one of those souls whose 'home is where you are' and is a citizen of the world). We were able to sit and watch the sunset over Cruz Bay while sharing a picnic table with another couple on vacation from Pennsylvania. Whenever people ask us where we're from, they roll their eyes because we leave one paradise to vacation in another paradise; but what can we say, we know what we like and where we like to be. Sarah was able to hook us up with a sweet glamping tent in the State Park of the island on Cinnamon Bay. We didn't get there until late at night but we were put to sleep with the sound of the waves through the 'walls.' In the morning we realized how amazing it was where we were and quickly took to snorkeling in the water to take full advantage of the beauty we stumbled upon without even planning for it. We also went on a short little hike that overlooked another bay that we ended up sailing to a few days later in our trip.
So I've realized that all the best views and the best places take a struggle to get there. Hikes up mountains are a great example, you have to put in the work to get there but it's always worth it when you see the view. So since we got to our accommodations at night and Sarah dropped us off 15 minutes away from Cruz Bay, we found ourselves hitch hiking to get back down to civilization. Of course we could have easily taken a taxi but we like the adventure wherever we can take it. It was my first hitch hiking experience but certainly not John's first and won't be our last (even on this trip). We made it back down after a few stops here and there to visit beaches along the way, we got picked up at one point but had intentions of visiting a certain beach so we ended up walking up and down hills 2/3 of the way and getting a ride for 1/3 of the way. I guess we didn't look too threatening in our matching Tilley hats.
Back in town we met up with Sarah for a quick bite to eat then ran to the ferry with half our lunch in our hands in order to make it back to St. Thomas in time for meeting our boat captain, Jose, at Salty Candy, the 44' Leopard Catamaran sailboat that would be our home for the next week. After unsuccessfully attempting to come to a consensus on how many alcoholic beverages should be purchased to last 6 people for 6 days on a sailboat. We settled on 4 cases of beer, 2 bottles of wine, 1 bottle of bourbon, and 3 bottles of rum. We thought that was alot, until we asked our boat captain, Jose, what the most he had ever seen brought by another group for the same trip with the number of people: 18 cases of beer that ended up not lasting long enough for the whole trip.
As it turns out, we didn't even finish all our alcohol because we quickly realized that this was not going to be a 100% pleasure cruise, we were in for it with our studies as we had to take four tests and ensure we scored 80% on each test in order to pass the course. The course we took is a week long course put on by Blue Water Sailing School and the course content was from the American Sailing Assocation and those who pass can then charter a boat. We don't want to charter a boat, we want to buy a boat, but we're not stupid enough to buy a boat without having the slightest idea how to sail it. So we studied books a lot and took as much knowledge as we could from Jose who was a wealth of knowledge. We learned about everything from the gimbles on the stove that allow it to stay stable in the waves to the impeller in the engine that uses sea water to cool the anti-freeze.
We woke up and had breakfast and coffee. We were pleasantly surprised to not have an early wake up call and the earliest we ever had to be up was 7am. I guess there's not much to be in a rush about when you're sailing, so long as you can get to your final destination in time to snag a mooring ball before they're all gone. We quickly figured out that even though Jen woke up early and made coffee for us all, that David made the best pot of coffee so he always made the second pot much stronger.
I don't remember much of the second day, it was pretty uneventful as we were just learning the basics about the boat and mostly just following directions from Jose and not really having to think about what were doing and how it was affecting the boat. We slept at Maho Bay, the one we had overlooked from a hike the day before that took us to a dilapidated old structure overlooking the bay, (if that structure weren't in the state park boundaries, I'm sure that someone would love to turn that piece of real estate into a mansion to display their wealth). That night we played a card game called 'asshole,' which was the game that Sarah desperately wanted to play although much to her demise later in the evening.
This day was rough, 1/2 of us were feeling slightly sea sick and queasy as the wind was quite strong and we were headed upwind for 40 miles, tacking the whole way through some vicious chop especially. Sarah and I had the sea sickness patches on and were still feeling it and John who is usually quite 'hearty' was also feeling sea sick. Whenever we could stare at the horizon or get our turn at the helm, the feeling substantially subsided. While the queasiness was not fun, it was truthfully a great experience for us to get to see the boat perform under such conditions. It gave us all confidence as sailors too as we all talked about how if we experienced winds like this after the course and not before, we would be hesitant to take the boat out in them. Seeing how the boat handled itself up and down the crashing waves and having a captain who had no doubt about the ability to stay afloat, was settling. Although I'm sure he would have preferred slightly less intense conditions for Day 2 of sailing with complete amateurs, I was glad we got thrown into the fire.
At the end of the day, we found ourselves moored just in front of Saba Rock, at the 'bitter end' of the British Virgin Islands. Saba Rock is literally just a rock, only large enough to hold up a restaurant and a small dock where everyone can tie off the 100's of exactly the same gray colored dingy's that I can't believe no one has come up with a better color or variety of. (I'm sure there's some reason why they all have to be grey, but if not, it's ridiculous, I see no reason why people wouldn't want customized pink or purple dingy's hanging off the back of their boats being flaunted in the same way that everyone plasters their windows with bumper stickers and stick figure families to show what they're all about.) It was a long journey to get there that day, but it made every other day so much sweeter because sailing 3 or 4 hours instead of 8 hours was always pleasant. The shorter the time sailing on any given day, the more time we would have to snorkel, explore, play cards, and undoubtedly, study. Even though during the day we sailed in pairs, each couple taking their turn at the helm and rotating, there wasn't much you could do below when it wasn't your turn at the helm because it was so rocky and reading made everyone queasy (at least on the first day for sure).
It's interesting to think about how it would be on a long passage, and perhaps that's why you hear about so many people finding an area that they like and then sailing around that area rather than long passages around the world. I can definitely see the appeal of attempting and succeeding at that feat, but the sheer number of relentless hours at the helm seems grueling. I see now why Jose is able to make money by being able to make those passages for people who want the appeal of the boating lifestyle but not necessarily want to put in the all the work to get to the destination (I think that's cheating though). Besides, the adventure is all in the journey anyways. We all talked on the trip about how satisfying it feels to sail somewhere, even the short little day trips we made on this trip each day. It takes so long, but it's so rewarding. It's like how you feel when you ride your bike somewhere instead of drive, but 100 times better because everyone over the age of 5 knows how to ride a bike and only one or two people you may know can actually sail.
There's something about earning your destination through both physical and mental strength. Riding a bike 100 miles or even doing an Ironman require both physical and mental strength but sailing requires much less physical strength and much more mental strength. But it's a different kind of mental strength more likened to grit than to willpower. I'm not even sure if that is the best way to explain it, and I'm sure that over time sailing starts to require different things of you as you start to learn more about the wind and the waves, I'm sure it does become more like riding a bike, but the beauty of sailing is that the wind can change at any moment, and your mind has to be accustomed to reading those changes. There is no autopilot. Well, there is, but when learning, it's best to not become dependent on such fancy devices that leave you clueless in their wake when they decide to malfunction.
Today we sailed from Saba Rock in Virgin Gorda to Norman Island. We stopped along the way at The Baths which proved to be an amazing place, now I understand why we had to troll around and wait like vultures for a mooring ball in what seemed like a parking lot for sailboats. We snorkeled around and went to the beach which led us to these caves which weren't really caves they were just holes and caverns amongst the gigantic granite rocks that look like they have just fallen from another planet. On our way back to the beach though, we took a nice little side cave and found an alternate way out that was a fun little exploration off the beaten 'path' (if you can call it that when it's water).
Once to our mooring ball at Norman Island we ate dinner on board the boat and took the dingy to Willie T's, a local 'bar' that is in a sailboat. I've realized that anything becomes real estate when you are able to build a 'dock' and attach it to the area you want people to frequent. So you drive your dingy up, tie it to the dock that is attached to no land, merely serves as a midway point between your dingy and the boat bar. I thought it was funny because there are cutaways in the walls of the boat so you can walk onto it from two sides, but only one side has a 'dock' and the other side just drops right off into the water. I don't think it's such a good idea since the place is a bar. I can't imagine how many people have accidentally walked off that thing. We didn't stay long at Willie T's, even though the place was certainly a novelty, I think we all quickly realized how much we enjoyed our own company and we preferred to hang out on our own boat and play cards and hang out rather than stand around on someone else's boat 'bar' and pay for drinks when we had more than enough bottles of our own yet to be consumed. I always feel like that's a good sign, when you go out and then realize you are content at home. Not to say anything negative about new experiences but there's only so much space to 'explore' on the deck of a boat bar.
After leaving Norman Island we cruised for just about five minutes and moored at the Three Indians, which are three rocks that jut out of the water nowhere near any of the islands, we moored here so we could get in some snorkeling and then relaxed and had breakfast here. This was the day we were trusted to chart the course for the day and it was also the day that we practiced jibing the whole way to Jos Van Dyke. Once we got to Jos Van Dyke we anchored instead of moored so we could learn how to do that. Even though we got there pretty early in the day, we stayed on the boat and played cards after we took our test and practiced our knots for the knot test. Also, John asked tons of additional questions about the boat so we also got to learn more about the engine and see it's parts. We played euchre and John and I beat David with whichever team mate he decided to pair up with. I guess David and John typically are team mates for a world championship on their annual surf trip. We took the dingy in to land in the evening and ate at Ali Baba, a mom and pop restaurant.
This morning we woke up and headed back to the marina on St. Thomas but on our way there we made a few stops to practice some things. We all got to take turns attaching the dock to mooring balls at Cinnamon Bay where there were no other boats around for us to crash into. Then we went to a bay in St. John and did some snorkeling and hanging out on the boat. Jose let me 'climb' the mast, which really wasn't climbing at all but rather I was hoisted by the main sail halyard to the top of the mast. It was a little nerve-wracking at first but then pretty fun once I got comfortable. Then we headed back to the marina on our own, without waiting for Jose to give us directions. We figured it out ourselves and then eventually he came out and taught us how to sail wing on wing since in reality we were trying to head straight downwind and we were sailing on a broad reach but wing on wing made it a much more direct and fast ride. Once back at the marina, the boys couldn't help themselves and we walked around and looked at all the other sailboats on the rest of the docks so they could lust after them.
Woke up and got all our stuff packed to leave the boat, went to breakfast at Molly Molone's with Jose then went back to the boat to get our stuff and say our goodbyes. Jose gave all of us our books that included our certifications and allowed us to track our future sailing passages of which we hope to have many. Then we were off to explore St. Thomas for the rest of the day. We had lunch at Gladys' Cafe, John and I ended up leaving our backpacks there for the day so we wouldn't have to carry them everywhere since our Air BnB accommodations were quite a far taxi ride outside of town and we only wanted to go there once. We just took the essentials: our passports, toothbrushes, and rain jackets. There was a carnival going on in town, (and had been the whole week we were sailing too) and this was the day of the Children's Parade, so all the children from the schools from all other the Virgin Islands were there and most all of them did baton twirling or steel drums, not a whole lot of variety in the skills, but tons of variety in the outfits, so it was fun to watch. The town was packed with people because I guess this was the 65th anniversary of the Carnival and it seems that everyone and anyone who has ever lived on the islands comes back to town for the Carnival, almost as if it's some giant family reunion that everyone is expected to attend. Then we went exploring and found the 99 steps which apparently is considered a 'state park' although I'm not sure why but I realized that 99 steps is not very many and it wasn't too hard. Saw some awesome views at the top of the hill we climbed, even though we have the ocean where we live, we only ever see it from one vantage point, but the hills on the islands here make the views much more idyllic.
Jeff and Jen ended up going to go shopping and back to their hotel. John, David, Sarah, and I kept hanging out downtown and ended up at the concerts for the Carnival. We rode a roller coaster, drank $1 beers that were cheaper than water, listened to the bands play, danced, and took way too many jello shots. On our way back to our respective hotels, John and I ended up having to hitch hike again because there were so many people going to the Carnival that no one would drive so far out of the way over the hillside to take us to where we were staying. So we started walking, straight uphill, when the GPS told us it was a 1 and 1/2 hour walk to get there. Luckily we ended up getting a ride at some point, but not before trudging up and down a few hillsides first to make us appreciate the ride. Unfortunately the GPS took us to the wrong place and we ended up having to call the owners to figure out where we were and they were nice enough to come and pick us up, despite the fact that it was midnight, dark, and we were situated on the side of the road 2 miles away from where we were supposed to be. Also, we only have about 2% phone battery left on the phone to try and figure out where to go. So we made it to the house with our toothbrushes, passports, and rainjackets and went to sleep.
That night John and I both had some crazy dreams waking up in the middle of the night thinking we were still on a sailboat, not being able to find the bathroom because it wasn't where it was on the boat, and talking in our sleep about how I couldn't tell which direction the wind was coming from and needing help to steer the boat. The next morning we got a ride back down to town with the property manager woman who lived next door, she was nice enough to give us a ride as not many taxi's drive to that location on the island because it is so remote. Once back in town we didn't do much but mostly hung out and ate a substantial meal, ran into Sarah and David and rehashed our night of jello shots and carnival rides like we were kids in college. We eventually went back to get our bags from the cafe we had left them at the day before. The owners were concerned that something had happened to us because we hadn't come back for them the day before. It's funny how even though we both only packed one backpack each for the trip, they still became a nuisance to carry around while exploring. Less is always more when traveling, it seems the best experiences come when you're not worried about stuff and clothes. In the end no one really cares if you wore the same shirt two days in a row (as long as you got in a shower and brushed your teeth) what people really care about and remember, is how much fun they had and it seems that you're much more likely to have fun when you're not worried about lugging a bunch of stuff around with you.
We headed to the airport and boarded the plane. The flight was too full and they were looking for 9 volunteers to take a different flight and were offering two round trip tickets to anywhere Spirit airlines flies and hotel accommodations for the night since the next plane didn't leave until the next day. Typically John and I would have jumped at this chance but there were too many unknown factors and we really were ready to be home. We cherished being able to be home and have a day of rest before heading back to work on Monday. Also, we were doubtful that even the airline would be able to find a hotel room for us as so many people were in town for the Carnival, and we just didn't want to deal with all that again. So we let others take advantage of the opportunity and went home.
Overall it was a great trip, one that can never be repeated or replicated but a journey that I am so glad we were able to take. You never know on a trip like that how people are going to get along being stuck on a boat together for so many days, especially since some of us were just acquaintances. If we had done the same trip and course with random strangers it may not have been as valuable of an experience because you never how the other people will be but granted, I have found that for the most part people are inherently good if you give them a chance.
We were the first group that Jose had ever had on the sailing course that went through 250 gallons of fresh water that was stored on the boat. I guess that means we showered too much. I don't think I contributed to that though as my hair had seen better days. I think that I've realized after this trip that 'a shower a day keeps the dreads away' and I was definitely on the verge of dreads at the end of the trip and got a haircut immediately upon returning home.
John has already started researching more about buying a sailboat and figuring out mooring and dingy docking situations available in St. Augustine and started racing smaller sailboats in local races for practice. I am so glad that he does what he says he will do and doesn't just talk about his dreams, he pursues them and goes all in. I am happy to be a part of his life and look forward to all our wonderful adventures yet to come.