At the Extremes (January 24-30, 2015)

We leave St. John early to head to the marina in Red Hook on St. Thomas where we’ll stay for two nights. The sun is just coming up. Matt looks over at me and says, “You’re beautiful.” Then he pauses and adds “…… both of you.” He is referring to me … and to my alter ego Crabby who has also been living with us these past few days. I’m not sure when it started … was it after a day of sailing and checking in and out of customs when we were supposed to stay in a marina (but didn’t) where I would get a much-longed-for shower or was it when we realized our dinghy engine was dying and had to start rowing everywhere? [the dinghy engine, an 8-horse power, was getting increasingly temperamental. First it was getting difficult to start. Then, even once it started, it would sometimes stop unexpectedly. By the end, it seemed like a 2-horse power engine (one lame horse, the other dead and being dragged behind us). A new engine is around $3K, which I just don’t understand].

We re-entered the USVI on January 24, ran out of water and went to Red Hook (St. Thomas) to fill up our water tanks and get fuel. The original plan was to stay in the marina where laundry and provisioning is close and easy. They didn’t have a good slip so we chose to go back to St. John and finish seeing the island. We went to Caneel Bay on St. John and would normally dinghy over to Cruz Bay to do laundry and groceries. Because we have to row the dinghy in, we drive the boat over. We get there but there’s no place to anchor. Most boats are on private moorings and the space we usually use is packed with boats. We drive through the mooring field wondering if we can squeeze in and anchor. We think we’ve found a spot when another boater tells us we can’t anchor there and that the bottom is a spiderweb of chain and line (which would foul our anchor). We motor around for at least an hour and one of the anchored boats finally leaves. In the midst of this, there is a huge rainstorm but I have to stay on deck and help with anchoring. When I go below, I see rain pouring in through the open hatch while the boys obliviously continue doing artwork. At this point, I kind of lose it. The fact that they didn’t even alert me to the rain coming in on the cushions (which take forever to dry and are one of the few places to sit), plus the build-up of small frustrations of boat life [having to stow things every time we go somewhere and even then occasionally things fly off shelves; a hot cabin because of course there’s no AC and the engine heats up the boat because we need to fix the blower but haven’t had time to do it yet and are not sure what is required but the engine has to be run every morning and every night for an hour to charge the batteries so the lights work and also to power the fridge; limited access to ice and, when we do have a bag, having to crack off pieces with a hammer because it constantly melts and refreezes into a big lump when we power the fridge twice a day; cooking on a stove that I have to repeatedly light with a match and which takes 3 matches per burner to light and which then sometimes shuts off anyway which is really frustrating when it’s the oven because I don’t realize it until I think the food is done only to realize it’s not when I check it because the flame went out and this means dinner is late and the kids will be in bed late; showering from a bucket with a cup and never feeling my hair is fully rinsed and not using conditioner because that requires even more water and the Conservation Cop (i.e., Matt) gets upset when too much water is used which makes me feel so guilty that one night I hang over the side of the boat and just chop off half my hair which does make it much easier to wash so it’s actually a good thing; not changing bed sheets as often as I’d like because doing laundry is such a chore and sometimes the huge bag has to be carried 20 minutes up a hill and then back and because half the laundry machines (or more) are usually broken in every place we go so maybe only half of it will get washed anyway; having to load everything into the dinghy (oars, gas can, storage box, water pump, sponge) each time we use it and take everything out every time we leave a place when sometimes I just want to put a key into an ignition and park the damn thing rather than jockey for a space at the dinghy dock and tie it up and then pull out the temperamental lock to lock it so it doesn’t get stolen even though sometimes we wish it would get stolen so we could use the insurance money to get a new one with an engine that actually does work; doing dishes for a family of four by hand (which is getting old after 1.5 years) and which, on a passage day when they don’t get done incrementally, sometimes begin to resemble Mount Dishmore by night when I’m so tired I just want to go to sleep but know that I can’t because the morning will bring yet more dishes; having a galley drain that stinks because the stupid Newport captain shoved food down it and now it is constantly clogged and, although we could replace the hoses, it’s just one more (less important) thing on the list of boat tasks; the fact that we can’t just ‘flush’ a toilet and have to pump the waste 12-20 times to a tank which resides under our berth and, wow, aren’t toilets and a central sewage system great and won’t it be nice to have them again once we have a house again; using a flashlight to see what’s in the fridge and not having any drawers or shelves in it so it’s kind of like living out of a giant beach cooler and sometimes I just really, really want a nice fridge with lights and shelves and drawers and an ice maker (or at least trays of ice) and, wow, wouldn’t it be cool to actually have a freezer again; that my conversations with Matt are whispered after the boys go to bed because our actual living space is only about 15 feet long so every sound is heard and sometimes I just want a living room where I can stretch out and play music or talk in a normal voice without waking someone up; that the 4-inch fan in our berth makes very loud variable noises and occasionally sounds like a small airplane taking off which can make it hard to sleep but it’s the only way to cool off and at least we have that and thank God it’s loud because then it kind of blocks out the noisy drunks in the slip next to us and let’s hope they don’t wake up the boys tonight; that our berth cushion is about the size of a twin bed and that is a LOT of closeness in a marriage and sometimes I just want more space and my own space and now really, really want a King size bed once we get back on land; …] takes its toll and I sit on the settee, put my head in my hands and start crying. This is incredibly rare and seems to shock the boys. They come over and rub my back. My inner storm passes and I feel much better. The rain stops and I go up and drop the anchor. As I’m standing on the chain, Matt backs the engine down and the chain goes taut as the anchor catches. In that moment, the clouds part and a ray of sun hits me. Maybe it’s all ok, I think. I go back to the cockpit and feel a pain in my foot. I yell. A bee is sitting on my toe stinging me. Maybe it’s not, I think. I go below, pull out the stinger and dress it. It’s been years since I’ve been stung and I’ve forgotten how painful it is. My foot begins to swell immediately. I sit down and pull out a pen to write the grocery list. It spills ink all over my favorite skirt. Matt comes down and says, “You’re kinda like Job today, aren’t you?” He gives me a hug.

I recover from my brief bout of wallowing and we get the dinghy ready to go to town and then load it with laundry, garbage and grocery bags. We get to town, decide to have brunch because it’s Sunday, and then walk up the hill to do laundry and groceries. Once the shopping is done, we ask the store to call for a cab (our US phone is not working). After waiting for 30 minutes, we ask them to call again. We wait longer but no one shows up and no taxis come into the parking lot. Matt sees a pick-up truck and offers to pay for a ride back down the hill to where our dinghy is parked. We ride in the open back surrounded by coconuts. It’s a riot and is exactly one of the experiences I was hoping we’d have here. We get back to Caneel Bay about 9 hours after we left.

[With regard to what I recognize was a very long rant (thanks for listening), what I think is actually going on is anxiety (although of course I’m not actually self-aware enough to realize that in the moment). We are going to be on the move again soon. We have left the BVI and it is almost time to leave the US side as well. I’m not sure why I’m so anxious although it could be that there are several overnight sails on the way and the potential for seasickness (or pirates). It also marks the beginning of the end of the trip. As with most things, it’s a mixed bag and I have yet to sort out how I feel about it all].