[Note: this blog post is more than a tad overdue but we finally have a connection that we can post pics through..... more soon!]
First of all, we really need to apologize for not doing a better job at keeping you all updated is a t actively writing on the blog. The pace of cruising life for us has changed in some regards over the past 2 months in that we have not been actively island hopping through the Caribbean chain quite like we were over the winter.
However while our traveling pace may have slowed some, the days are still full of activity and we have not yet achieved the slow pace of life we thought this lifestyle would bring. For starters the kids are still both working on school lessons most days of the week. They are closing in on the end of the school year and the countdown to the last lesson has them pushing for double lesson days. A double lesson day typically has us doing school from 9am till about 4pm. As of this posting, Max has 11 lessons left and Anya has 8. Summer vacation has never been so anticipated by all of us! [Update: They are D.O.N.E.!]
Max has just finished competing in his biggest Optimist regatta to date, the International Optimist Regatta at St. Thomas Yacht Club. Formerly the Scotiabank Regatta, this year it drew 115 kids from all over the Eastern Caribbean, Cayman Islands, Nicaragua, and of course the continental US, with many kids from California. Max was proud to carry the SSA (Severn Sailing Association – our old racing club in Annapolis) flag during the Parade of Nations at the regatta opening event. Leading up to the event we had been doing some practicing, but Max has reached a point in his sailing where Dad is no longer the coach he needs. Unfortunately, we have realized that for Max there are only so many hats that Dad can wear and we have decided to limit them to teacher and father.
Our near term plans have us returning to the BVI sometime around the end of July. We have decided to remain in the Caribbean through hurricane season as Ted has accepted a position with a yacht management company in Tortola. Presently we are in the US Virgin Islands while we wait for the work permit process to run its course. In order to legally work in the British Virgin Islands one has to have a work permit. The permitting process is rather arduous and while we have ours filed and are hopeful it will be processed there are no guarantees. If we are not successful with the permit we will likely be looking for a window to sail back to Annapolis, but that’s our last ditch plan. We have found the climate, culture, people, and sailing here to be nothing short of amazing. At nearly every turn we are meeting exceptional people who embrace life and have diverse backgrounds. Nearly everyone has an amazing story to tell. The cruise we took this winter down the chain to Grenada was far too rushed and we left so many islands unexplored. On the trip back north we made the decision to pursue work in the BVI if we could find it to allow us to remain in this island paradise indefinitely. The BVI offers so much for us as a family with many other kids Max and Anya have quickly made lasting friendships. Being based in Tortola means access to one of the best Optimist sailing programs in the world and first rate coaching for Max. A private school on the island following the IB curriculum offers a host of resources to our kids without being actively enrolled. There are sports teams and a number of extracurricular clubs the kids can participate in. The position I have accepted, assuming the permitting process works out, will allow us to keep Demeter in a convenient location. This location is also an ideal place for family and friends to come visit us. The separation from family has been a big challenge for all of us, but Claudia and I feel strongly that the BVI and the Caribbean in general is a much better place to raise children than the US. We have all adjusted to a life that does not include TV, malls, traffic, or winter. The children we do meet here are very well mannered and seem to have a much better grasp on life than those we left in the States. We breathe much easier down here not having to listen to constant barrage of bad news, tabloid politics, and eroding culture that seems all to rampant in the US.
So just what have we been up to lately? Well, we left the BVI at the end of May when our tourist visas expired and we sailed west to St. John in the USVI. After a few lovely days in the Cruz Bay area we sailed a bit further west to Christmas Cove in St. Thomas. Ted is going to take an accelerated course to obtain his US Coast Guard Captain’s License during the first week of July in Red Hook so we were scoping out places to stay on the boat for that week. The course runs from 8am till 5pm for 8 straight days. Christmas Cove is also adjacent to the St. Thomas Yacht Club where Max would be sailing so we wanted to become familiar with the place before it was overrun with regatta kids and their parents. When registering for the regatta Ted was looking into ways to lower the entry fee and discovered they were looking for a Race Officer to run the Green fleet sailors. Green fleet is the group Max sails in and with Ted being a US Sailing Certified Race Officer it made a perfect fit. Both of us ran the 33 boat Green fleet and had a great time over the 3 days of racing, running a total of 18 races. The club was well organized and had us missing our home club Severn Sailing Association although we found the SSA burgee proudly pinned in the clubs collection. In addition, Claudia discovered that the Regatta organizer when to the same (very) small high school that she attended and they knew people in common – love that small world stuff!
After a few days in Christmas Cove we headed further west to Water Island which is just off the main town on St. Thomas, Charlotte Amalie. Water Island has an anchorage called Honeymoon Bay which is super convenient to all Charlotte Amalie, but without the noise and traffic. It was a great anchorage with a beach on which the kids made new friends once again! We also discovered easy access to grocery, marine supplies, and laundry all via the $1 busses that run through town. While in St Thomas we picked up a USVI SIMcard for the cell phone to make calling the US cheaper. After a few days in Honeymoon Bay we decided to sail further west to the Spanish Virgin Islands. We had been meaning to cruise there and figure now we would have some time. There is a lot to see with the main islands of Vieques, Culebra, and Culebrita and we also were interested in Puerto Rico, but given our limited amount of time we decided to focus on Culebra. We had a great downwind sail to Ensenada Honda on Culebra and after a few days there we decided to take a ferry to Puerto Rico instead of sailing the 20ish miles downwind followed by another 20 upwind back. There is a ferry to the town of Fajardo on the east coast of Puerto Rico that only costs $2.00 each way. It was a no brainer. In Fajardo we rented a car and drove an hour and a half to Old San Juan. The trip was a real culture shock for all of us. After 7 months of cruising we were suddenly in a car barreling down a 4 lane freeway at 70 mph! Large billboards screamed out on both sides of the highway, fast food restaurants, shopping malls, it was sensory overload for all of us. We found Old San Juan to be an amazing town filled with history, culture, great food and beautiful architecture. Many of the buildings date to the 1500’s and the city is filled with historic sites like Casa Blanca; the family home of Juan Ponce De Leon. We spent a full day exploring the sites, old forts, and wandering the beautiful cobbled streets. In the evening we stayed in a hotel on the 9th floor and the kids got to watch a few of their old favorite TV shows. We were all excited to take a bath in the hotel tub, a luxury with limitless water we don’t have on the boat. Alas, there was no drain plug for the tub so it would have to be showers, but at least we could let the hot water run as long as we wanted! Anya is so accustomed to life on Demeter though that she promptly turned the water off once she had gotten wet and began to wash up just like aboard. Claudia reminded her she could let the water run as long as she wanted though. After a nice dinner we all hit the beds for our first night sleep ashore as a family since July 3rd 2012.
The following day we headed east out of San Juan to the El Yunque National Rainforest. This is the only US National Forest that is a rainforest and the US Park Service has done an amazing job with the park. We explored a fascinating visitor’s center before heading deep into the parks interior. There are many great hikes to do and numerous waterfalls to explore. We spent the day hiking and swimming in the many falls. In the afternoon we drove back to Fajardo to catch the 7pm ferry. With some time to kill we discovered a very “local” restaurant for dinner. One of the nice things we had found in Puerto Rico is that while everyone speaks Spanish and most signs are in Spanish, English is also everywhere. We were able to live like the gringos we are with no trouble. This particular restaurant however was different. It was a bit off the beaten path and in what looked to be an old house that was converted to a restaurant. The host made us very welcome and advised they were having a Father’s Day Special that included life music! We had a great meal of roast pork (well, not Claudia) and were treated to a uniquely local experience. The ferry took us back to Culebra where Demeter was safely waiting for us.
The following day we sailed to Culebrita – a smaller island near Culebrita – with some hopes of exploring but the weather had begun to deteriorate with the approach of a tropical wave. We opted to sail back to St. Tomas the following day to avoid the worst of the weather and leave time for some errands we needed to run prior to Max’s regatta. Max did a great job racing in tough conditions with winds 15-20kts every day. Green fleet sailed a total of 18 races over 3 days and after the regatta was over we were all ready for some relaxation. We have since been sitting in Christmas Cove waiting out another tropical wave and focusing on schoolwork. We have a few more days before Teds course starts and we hope to spend the weekend in St. John picking up some mail and exploring a few anchorages.
We will try to be more diligent about blog posts as well!