top of page
  • Writer's pictureSarah Gibbs Underhill

Boat Bums of the Caribbean: Winter, 1981

Updated: May 1, 2023

Jan. 13

Letter home:

Dear Dad-

This is another quick "I survived" message to let you know that David and I are safe on shore in St. Maarten, French West Indies. We left Bermuda on New Year's Day. I was seasick the first two days ( We left the morning after a gala New Year's Eve Party in the hills of Bermuda) but gradually recovered. The ocean was docile and beautiful. We had great weather, although we were becalmed at times. We've been seeing more porpoises, frigate birds and mackerel, and had a very direct encounter with three friendly 25' right whales. They were curious about the boat, following us around and putting on quite a display. We finally stopped the boat, fascinated by them, and cautiously entered the water, clinging to safety lines, to peer at them through a face mask: an incredible sight! Their grace underwater was unbelievable, and they were the most benevolent looking creatures I've ever seen. They were not the least bit afraid or aggressive. They looked at us; we looked at them.

Now we're back to the tender mercies of the shore.

Jan. 15

We came to St. Bartelemy yesterday in the excruciating company of unspeakable fellow American tourists on a big motor cruiser. It took us several hours to find Alex's house, which he said we could stay in until he gets back. Close encounters with French speaking natives finally guided us, lugging all our stuff, to "La Source", as the house is called, as it has a spring or "source" on its property. So far we have had it almost to ourselves. Philipe and Karen, Alex's partners in the place, are in San Maarten. Patrice, or "Patou", Philipe's brother, was here last night. He reconfirmed the impression that housing, let alone employment, is dear this time of year.

The place is predictably gorgeous. It's remote from the activity of the larger towns, an old household of several small concrete buildings connected by a patio with a big tree growing in the middle. The kitchen is a separate building, the eating area is outside. All the buildings have several doors and many windows with shutters to let the breeze in. Mosquito netting hangs over the beds, there's a cistern to collect the scarce rain water in, there are cats and hammocks. Isolated here. We have to traipse down about a hundred yards of a steep, narrow goat path to get here from the road. Roosters crow all around, and limes fall off the trees. The beautiful Flamand beach is just down the hill, though when taking the walking path to go there you have to carry stones to throw at one spot, to discipline the audacious local dogs, who jumped out at us barking and snarling. Our hike down to the immense and deserted white sand beach took us past a little concrete block building with bars on its windows which confines the adult mentally disabled son of a local family at night. The beach sand was as fine as white sugar, and when we jumped into the clear aquamarine of the waves I just laughed and laughed for joy and delight. We've only had a chance to go there once, what with the search for employment.

This is a small island about to be exploited by tourism on a grand scale, barring something unforeseen. Full of goats, inbred cats, and children. The schooner "Grace" of mast boot fame is here. [We had replaced the "boot", or canvas covering, around one of the boat's masts the previous fall in Manhattan.]

We have been sitting around eating pears and Danish butter on fresh French bread. Maybe we'll go down the hill to the beach today, maybe go into town to buy more bread or put up hopeful advertisements on the bulletin boards. We are cautiously beginning to carve out a niche in the rock of this new island, which is being called the new St. Tropez. The weather is flawless, day after day of sun, no humidity, permanent trade wind from the east. It's been unusually dry here for the past ten years, and the natives have stopped growing pineapples - "the best in the world"- in favor of driving celebrities around in taxis or building hotels. But the island is largely unspoiled. Winter population is 3,300; Summer, 2,000. Dangerous twisty roads and an equally dangerous airstrip where only small planes like "Air Guadalupe" can land. Perfect warm water, white sand beaches.

I am so glad I know a little French. We are living with French people here- wonderful guys who share the house with Alex. Three brothers, Phillipe, Daniel and Patrice, and Karen, an American girl from Long Island who lives with Phillipe. They all speak English, but they're helping us learn enough French to get by with. Most of the natives here speak English but would rather speak French and are displeased by the number of inept Americans stumbling around. We'll try to be incognito.

Tomorrow David starts a carpentry job working for a wealthy French woman with an all-French crew for 200 francs a day. That's around $50.00 I will go to see about working a lunch shift at a fancy restaurant called "Autour des Rocher", for considerably less per day. Working hours for David are 6:30 am to 2:00 pm because of the heat.

Unfortunately our status here is shaky and we may have to look for somewhere else to live. We're starting to scheme about making a palm thatched roof for one of the roofless concrete outbuildings here.

Jan. 19

Full moon. I'm sitting dans the outdoor cuisine of Mme. Jeanne Audi [as in the French auto manufacturer] in Lorient. I'm hanging out, helping the womenfolk scrub floors and cook for the crew. David is shingling a roof with some French guys. The workmen are pleasant and friendly and have accepted him into the crew. I'm starting to conduct skeletal conversations in French. It's exciting, enervating to be surrounded by the foreign tongue, and as we begin to pick it up we have started speaking pidgin English to each other, or nonsense phrases. "The ape is a piano",etc., amusing our French mentors, who taught us to say "Go fuck yourself" first thing. Alex is overdue to come back and we are loath to give up his nice room at La Source. The first sentence that David learned in French is "When is pay day?" "Quand est le jour de pay?"

There's a stonemason at work here, building a small stone house; a larger one is complete. The woman has bucks, and we're suddenly part of her entourage. The place is beautiful, like a little village with an open air kitchen and a bunch of outbuildings. The cook, Anne, is cooking up a bunch of vegetables for the men. Madame's boyfriend Bernie, a nautical type and fellow American, strums a guitar and gives her 12-year old white-blond son a Sheffield steel rigging knife.

It's raining, a proverbial tropical downpour. The island needs rain. We need some wheels, or else to live here at the job site in one of the tents, perhaps. It's a long walk at 6:00 am, and the hitchhiking at that hour is dismal, although a lot of people are on the road. We are now wetback labor, and imbeciles at that, incommunicado.

Jan. 21

Chez Madame Audi encore. Today's a gray, rainy day, a blessing for the guys working on the roof. I went into town with Anne, one of Madame's ladies in waiting, to buy nails. On returning I found the gendarmes were just in front of me- with David hiding in the kitchen- asking if there were any Americans working here. I acted nonchalant and said not a word.

Yesterday we noticed a big boat in the harbor; heard that it was "an American barkentine", and sure enough, it was "Regina Maris", complete with Captain Peter Willcox. [We had sailed with Peter as our captain on "Clearwater". He was later to work for Greenpeace, skippering their fleet and having many adventures, including having the vessel "Rainbow Warrior" bombed and sunk out from under him by the French in New Zealand, and being imprisoned for months by the Russians for trespassing on an Arctic oil rig.] We rode out in the launch, which was conveniently waiting at the dock, and spent a few hours on board. We got the grand tour, went aloft, ate dinner with the crew, and looked through Peter's new $1,000 sextant. Good to see a familiar face. He seems well set up, looking forward to skippering the boat to Greenland and the Galapagos. Bilge pumps are running constantly underway, but Peter has a lot of respect for the rig. The boat is an ocean boat. Doesn't go fast, or to weather, but can go anywhere. A beautiful sight and good to smell tar again.

Jan. 30

Toujours chez Madame. David's still shingling the roof; other guys are making a porch and some furniture including a colossal bed out of heavy "angelique" wood timbers. Yesterday we ate pineapple and drank coconut milk after work, and cooked pork chops over a fire, and learned the stars. Canopus, Antares and Shaula in Scorpio, Rigil Kent and Hadar and Menkent in Centauraus, and Gacrux and Acrux in the Southern Cross.

We're still living at La Source and the only news we've had of Alex was a cryptic third hand comment delivered by someone named "the Wolf" that Alex "won't be back for awhile".

Clear dry, hot days. Land crabs eating the offal at night, comical lizards and geckos scampering everywhere.

Bernie, Madame's beau, has had an incident: his partner and part owner of his boat has shown up and they were squabbling about who got to use the vessel, to the extent that the mayor asked them to take their quarrel elsewhere, viz., to St. Maarten. While they were at it they had to take another fellow American who for one reason or another has been exiled from St. Bart's , Madame suspects for smoking dope. So Bernie's persistently inappropriate offer to take Madame, Nicolas, and the entourage to Haiti is once again postponed. Too bad, because the crew here needs a break from her presence.

I'm sitting tucked under the kitchen's eaves, while Anne irons and it begins to rain a little. I drink the rest of Nicolas's chocolate in the morning when he's done with it.

Madame supervises the work. Today, seven guys are working. Michel and Joe are local guys, who work shorter hours and can escape to their homes. Robert and Richard were bumming around on boats and have stumbled into this scene. We are all "les flagoneurs", as David says, the sycophants here. Patrick and Jean-Charles, the other two guys, were imported by Madame from her domain in France. Then there are the personal attendants, Ray and Anne.

A couple of days ago we saw a big iguana here, trundling about, inquisitive about our lunch.

[Later that day] When I was in Gustavia doing the food shopping, I met up with Alex and his girlfriend Avis, who have just arrived and were on their way to La Source. So David and I are without a bed tonight, and will have to find Alternative Accommodations, permanent ones. Alex seemed to be in a pretty good mood. He does owe us a little money, payment for David repairing the planks of his boat, but may claim it as rent. The boat is still in St. Maarten; the weather hasn't been favorable for them to get it over here.

Feb. 1

La Source has been very crowded recently. Alex and Avis came, saw, and moved in, but have now flown back to the "Acamar" and are ostensibly bringing it over here tout de suite. We may be able to crew for a week on a yawl going to St. Kitt's. It's the "Vega", whose crew scribbled something on our note on the bulletin board in town. We'd pay for our share of food. The boat looks in good shape and has been in and out of here numerous times, across the Atlantic, etc. The thought of sailing makes my heart leap.

Feb 8?9?10?

No idea of the date. We've been spending a pleasant, homeless sort of day lounging around Le Tamarin out by the beach at Saline. We might be able to work, for no pay but plenty of good food and dope and interesting sights, on a 40-year old Baltic trader: 130', all wood, ketch rigged, with an powerful old engine, painted white, that produces a most dignified "boompaduh boompaduh boompaduh" noise. The boat is cozy and homey, with a crew of three other women and two guys. Also, notably, a pregnant cat. It's a sailing cargo vessel, well maintained, built in Denmark with plenty of stout oak. The name means "Jens's Woods". Apparently Jens was the name of the gentleman whose woods supplied the lumber to build her. She is gaff rigged, with four or five jibs, built to haul cargo and has always done so. Most of the boat is a huge cargo hold.

Madame got "shitfaced' yesterday, according to David, and made mention of "us" all "sleeping together" after "dinner" at an "expensive restaurant". [Anne had mentioned to me with a casually cautionary tone that David, who after all is strikingly handsome in a Robert Redford-meets-Paul-Newman way, looked very much like Madame's late husband]

We've spent the last couple of nights on the "Acamar" because of crowded conditions at La Source, but feel less than welcome at either place.

I've been to St. Maarten and back on "Jens Juhl", enough to just begin to get to know it a little. In the next few days we may or may not go with them to St. Kitt's or Antigua for cement blocks or to Haiti for furniture, bringing wine to Haiti from St. Bart's. But then again we may not be able to to weasel our way on board. Meanwhile, today, a day of rest: eating strawberry sherbet and lying in hammocks under a big Bois-lolo tree.

Feb 14

Dreamed last night that David and I were going to sleep in a bed made inside a giant Brazil nut. We are still residents of St. Bartelemy, but we are now employed as deckhands and living on board "Jens Juhl" in Gustavia, the island's big town.

We've made one trip so far, a four day motor/sail to St. Christopher (St. Kitt's), forty-six miles southeast of here. There in the port of Basseterre we all helped load the huge cargo hold with 10,000 cinder blocks. Some leftover cargo of Haitian furniture was sold on the dock, and we watched the other cargo boats loading up. The smallest cargo carriers around are run by the native islanders: wooden, homemade sloops, brightly painted, most ingenious and funky looking vessels. We watched one being loaded with a reluctant donkey and two trussed "tranquilized" live cows. Then we had a night sail back to St. Bart's, heavy laden.

Today we're finally done dealing with cement blocks for awhile. It took us three days of hard physical labor to load, and three to unload. We were able to load them on pallets and use the ship's cargo boom. Heaving a lot of bricks by hand was exhausting work, rewarded by ample meals and a daily break to devour large quantities of ice cream. Spectators on the quay were on hand to enjoy the spectacle of the scantily clad, mostly female crew, covered in cement dust, off loading the cinder blocks.

Now we await the next cargo: two or three hundred cases of fine French wines for Haiti. Then to St. Maarten, maybe Tortolla, and Haiti.

We don't get paid anything on this boat, just room, board, and some medical expenses. We were just given free dental checkups on a sailboat which a dentist has rigged up as a complete dental office. But while we aren't earning, we aren't spending a thing either. The boat is well maintained by a lot of hard work, the skipper is conscientious and has been sailing for years, eight years on this boat. He is an abrasive, demanding sort of gentleman, though a thoroughly reasonable one, and I'm not sure how long he and David will remain on friendly terms.

The crew consists of the captain, Johnny, British and about David's age [mid thirties]. His sweetie, Pam, is my age, a very competent sailor and basic tough cookie who looks like Mick Jagger. The other deckhands are : Mike, a twenty year old from Rochester NY, Jackie, 30, a British lady; and Lis, my age, Swedish, lively and beautiful. All hard workers and considerate people, accustomed to working together. It's a pretty democratic ship. The women do the same work as the men, all types, and guff when received is returned without hesitation. Most jobs including cooking are shared. We are enjoying homemade bread and yogurt, a large collection of cassette tapes and a good library. We hope to be able to stay a couple of months if possible.

We're looking forward to the trip to Haiti. Meanwhile we sew the sails, paint the turnbuckles, grease the hatch combing, eat candy and wait for the cat to have kittens. Due to the captain being British, we have afternoon tea every day.

March 2

We're in Cap Haitien, Haiti. Been here a few days now, still waiting to unload cargo. "Carneval" is going on and business proceedings are moving slowly. There are five baby kittens here with us, fresh lobster brought in a little boat by black skinned boys who dove for them. The kittens were born in the main cabin and one somehow fell down into the bilge and had to be rescued. He has been christened Bilge.

Yesterday first mate Pam, Lis and I took a bus ride/pony ride/hike up to "The Citadel", out in the boonies [ La Citadelle Laferriere is a mountaintop fortress constructed in 1820 by former slaves under the leadership of revolutionary Henri Christophe in case Napoleon came to invade.]

People live here in a way that looks good to me, but we only see the surface. Pigs and children run free; people know where their food comes from and are happy to wear bright colors; and children smile at me. Is it really so bad here, so terrible? Probably.

As was customary, we employed a young boy as a guide to take us to the Citadel. We picked a tiny lad whose right arm was crippled by polio. Afterwards we took the little guide and went to an ice cream parlor that Pam knew about and, seated at the counter where vintage soda fountain fixtures gleamed with condensation, were served huge bowls of vanilla ice cream. The reverent look on the child's face as the sundae was placed before him was more than worth the trip. I also caused a happy stir at the market when I paid probably 50 times the going rate for some gray chunks of locally produced rock salt, much to the delight of the vendors. Another vivid image was a homemade Carneval costume on a young teenaged boy: he used halved, hollowed limes as goggles and had attached reeds to each finger, and was mimicking the movements of a frog very convincingly. Cap Haitien's Carneval had none of the glamour and pizzazz of the Port au Prince festivities, at least not down on the docks.

March 12

Back in St. Bart's after a painless trip back from Haiti. A day and a half of close reaching with topsails and all headsails set; yesterday an all day gam with the three-masted Baltic "Lindo" near Tortolla- snorkeling and dinghy sailing and then sailing the two big boats together. A good sight.

Good to be back in St. Bart's too. Next few days will be limbo. Waiting to off load the cargo of wicker furniture, determine our next move, get money...? This boat is still good to be on for the moment, but I could easily move on "when the obvious alternative presents itself", as we say. We talked to our Hudson valley friend Jim Kricker on the radio as we passed near "Charlotte Ann"; saw "Harvey Gamage" and "Rachel & Ebenezer" sailing, looking good. Pondering going to Bequia or heading across the Atlantic. They build beautiful wooden boats in Bequia. There's a fifty foot Bequia boat anchored in the harbor now, the "Water Pearl", that belongs to Bob Dylan. The kittens have their eyes open now and are trying to walk. St. Bart's is still in a drought. Two yachts impounded for small amounts of dope are tied up to the pier.

March 15

We're on a new boat now, the MV "Polar Trans", a 145' Norwegian built steel freighter, actually a converted ferry from Tromso, on a weekly run between Puerto Rico and the West Indies and doing a brisk business carrying the necessities of life: food, clothing and auto parts. We are set up for the moment in our own cabin taking it very easy through the heat of the day as various crew and ex-crew disentangle themselves from the boat and each other. We're acclimated to the heat and the sun now, and are both several shades darker that the tourists. A puppy, rescued by the crew from the docks in San Juan where its mother still attacks prowlers at night, is moping around the deck, and one of the generators hums to itself in a self-satisfied manner.

The big day around here is Tuesday, in San Juan, filling the boat up. Back to St. Maarten to empty it, then St. Bart's, maybe Montserrat. By then it's Tuesday again, and that is the run. We each get paid $100 a week to do this, plus food etc. The crew are all young, energetic types who like rock and roll music. There are four other women on board. One amazing Amazon from North Carolina, Mickey; Helmie, a Dutch girl who is the cook and longtime "home maker" on board; two girls from New Zealand- one the captain's sister- who are here "on holiday". The captain, Lawrence, is soft spoken and young. Nevertheless, his mate and a deckhand are leaving- all this is in process- appalled by Lawrence's demands on them. Two other deckhands, David, a Canadian, and Phantom, a beautiful island man from Domenica- that's the crew. The engineer went missing awhile ago and went back to Holland.

The boat boasts unlimited hot showers, air conditioning in some of the living space, washing machine, freezer, etc. It's top heavy. A previous owner, apparently possessed with a certain reverence for engines, redesigned the boat so as to put the engine room in what were passenger accommodations. The engine room is a spotless inferno, brightly lit, huge, and humming vigorously. Big monstrous four cylinder Caterpillar diesel engine, with two turbo chargers, and a heat exchanger for water cooling. Twin Cat generators, one of which is always running; flanked by air compressors, hot water tanks, electric bilge pumps and things too fierce to mention. The Big Hum is virtually constant. Always a big machine running. But the trade off of unaccustomed luxuries is enjoyable.

There are three huge cargo holds, which are innocently empty at the moment. One of them is refrigerated and another is actually a big freezer. Easy to get hurt on this boat. There are two big cargo booms with hydraulic winches for topping lifts and guys. The bridge is moderne: one sits in a stool and minds the auto pilot. Or vice versa, maybe it's minding us. Radar, radios, the works. Cruising speed is ten or eleven knots, eight knots to save fuel, which is refilled every trip. There are 20 ton capacity fresh water tanks, a luxury around here where it's so parched.

The crew who are leaving are apologizing to the other ones on deck. We told the captain we'd work here for a month. By then it'll be time to go to Antigua, where Race Week starts on April 26th, to scout around for sailboat rides to Europe and continue our easterly migration.

March 17

Today was Tuesday, although by all accounts an easy Tuesday. I am sunburned and feel tired. I recently rescued a cat. This is the same one that was on the trimaran that we came down here on via Annapolis and Bermuda. I knew the little black and white cat, Sassafrass, quite well and had already helped resuscitate her once, when she fell overboard in Annapolis, and even taken her to the vet when we were in Bermuda. She managed to hop off of "Acamar" and wandered onto the "Joanie", an Anguillan freighter which happened to be in St. Bart's and was tied alongside. She then sailed away, unbeknownst to Avis, her mistress, who realized what had happened a day later. Frantic phone calls, radio calls, flights to different islands in search of the cat, radio broadcasts, rewards offered, and a general red alert ensued. I had been asked to look for the freighter in question when we were in San Juan, and sure enough, I located it and eventually found the kitten The captain of the freighter, who was not returning to St. Bart's, was delighted to give me the animal. His agent had been receiving tearful phone calls from Avis ("Lady, I'll send you FIVE cats!") There was some confusion as to whether she'd been put ashore in Anguilla. But she was here, braving the wharf in San Juan and coming to the "Joanie" for food at night. She was filthy and looks woebegone: one ear mangled, a big patch of fur gone off her back, skinny and fearful. But it'll be good to be able to return her to Avis and Alex. Silly cat.

March 20

At the dock in Montserrat, with the surge tossing the boat ponderously back and forth against the pier. I'm feeling better adjusted to life on board now. The boat is doing very well, carrying full loads: mostly food, fresh produce, frozen meat and everything from t-shirts to drums of oil and huge bundles of plywood. The weekly run is not boring yet. Montserrat is a British island, mountainous, with two volcanoes. We're hoping to spend a week here later on. It's very rural, lush, quiet, with a lot of farming.

We saw the "Jens Juhl" last night, visited them and the kittens. There's dirty business afoot with them it seems. Claud, the French guy who now owns the boat because of paying for the massive yard bill after she ran aground in Haiti last year, may be weaseling in a new captain to replace Johnny. All dour mutterings at this point.

But we are in Montserrat with the volcanoes and the waterfalls and dancing under a full moon to the rock and roll reggae band. I have the silliest, most optimistic thoughts about someday having babies, magic babies who wash up near your house by the ocean in a blazoned cedar box covered with intricate carvings, babies who laugh aloud while still in the womb, who invent musical instruments and strangle the serpents who come to their cradles.

March 25

San Juan again. Yesterday was busy. The work is periodically quite hard, slinging sacks of potatoes around for hours, etc. but there's also sufficient time to rest. Now we're just putting the final odds and ends on board: thirty barrels of oil, four bundles of plywood, frozen veal, furniture, a stove and refrigerator. We'll be charging off towards St. Maarten in a few hours.

All our meals are cooked for us, except when we give Helmie, the cook, a break, which she deserves. Standing watch consists of sitting alertly but idly on the bridge while the boat drives itself. Everything is automatic. All we have to do is glance at various gauges, the compass, and the radar, or contact someone via intercom if something goes wrong. There's no wheel- too primitive. Dock lines on this boat make the "Clearwater"'s seem like clotheslines. They are heavy, and take a beating in almost every port from the constant surge.

I'm tucked away in our cabin, listening to the Big Hum, accompanied by staccato wheezes and thumps from the winch as the oil drums are maneuvered onto the tween decks. My feet are encased in old black leather boots which I found moldering away in a locker here; my sneakers have finally self destructed. It could be any time of day or night in this cabin; daylight doesn't come in. A few nights ago I was awakened for a meal and left wondering whether it was dinner or breakfast. Yesterday I stuffed myself on cold grapes, oranges, strawberries, yogurt, apples, orange juice, avocado. Fringe benefits. The rug in the cabin is wet from a leaky water pump The ship's head [toilet], with the minute holding tank required by the US Coast Guard, has broken in half. I am attempting to fill out an income tax form in Spanish. The captain said something about Ronald Reagan being shot, but that's all we know about it at this point. We're tied up at a bleak concrete wharf where vicious energetic dogs prowl. The docks in San Juan are in an unsavory neighborhood despite the parrots that fly by occasionally.

March 27

We're underway at the moment for St. Bart's. It's the middle of a clear, dry, scalding day. There's a healthy chop between St. Bart's and St. Maarten and the whitecaps are racing by as the bow prances. As Phantom would say, "she is prancing through the water". He is nearby, listening to the radio, tuned, in. Big, beautiful badass Mickey, goes by, heading for lunch. The captain's new tender, an obnoxious little pert Boston whaler outboard, is perched on the high deck amidships, and the greased winch cables glisten in the sun. I'm sitting on a bright blue pipe full of hydraulic fluid, fending off nausea in the shade and fresh air.

Though I know I'm not cut out for this kind of life, I'm getting a kick out of being a stevedore for now, wearing boots and greasy shorts, getting filthy dirty, checking customer's orders with the Spanish speaking truck drivers in San Juan, riding the winch cable in and out of the holds. Trucks full of pineapples, PVC pipes, orchid food, pickled pigs ears, etc. will be arriving all day and it all must be accounted for, measured, winched into one of the holds, and stowed in an appropriate spot. Hard, greasy work done in good company. Language lessons have switched from French small talk while hitch hiking to the Spanish names for vegetables. It's a great treat handling large quantities of rare and expensive fruits and vegetables, and we don't hesitate to avail ourselves of the bounty. The fresh strawberries took a major hit last week, and this week they were packaged and wrapped up very securely to discourage more of this raiding.

One thing about the "Polar Trans" is that it has a 16' Norwegian lifeboat on its stern, equipped with spars, a sail, and various emergency provisions.. Since the captain has bought himself a fancy new outboard to use as a dinghy, the old lifeboat boat is for sale for $1200 and we're seriously considering buying it. It's just about exactly what we have been looking for. We hadn't planned to spend the summer in the Caribbean. Already the sun has become something to hide from. Who knows, maybe we'll find some scheme whereby we can transport our boat to Northern Europe. All this is highly conjectural right now. A summer down here visiting all the choice islands we keep hearing about but haven't been to yet doesn't sound bad either. Spring is here and our every day lives will surely undergo another transformation.

It's exciting to live this way. Lots of days I forget, and become moody or miserable for obscure reasons. But David and I are still enjoying being together, and living by our wits or by the mercy of Heaven, whichever it is.

April 2

In a Polar Trance in the cabin. Too hot to write down here, really. Things are happening a little faster than usual. Mickey's disco radio assaults us from the other side of the bulkhead, inches away. My head spins, I'm drowsy. Tomorrow we go to Montserrat again. And the boat, the damn little boat which before I barely even let myself mention- we might actually be buying it in a few days.

April 13

Back on St. Bart's, struggling for money. Spent last night on a boat hauled out on the dock in St. Maarten, and are now back at La Source one more night. It seems to be truly the last night here, as everyone is moving out and strange Italian women moving in. We are going to look for employment with our old shipmate from the "Acamar", Mike Monaghan, tomorrow. Unsure of the probability of success. It's really true. David and I have purchased the boat: a sixteen foot, heavy, oak-on-oak lapstrake Norwegian lifeboat, with accoutrements. We bought it from our erstwhile employers on "Polar Trans", and then managed to transfer it via the freighter's hydraulic windlass onto the deck of a 90' Baltic ketch, "L'Amie IV" while the boats lay alongside each other in the harbor in St. Maarten. The "L'Amie" is heading for Gibraltar, via the Azores, in early May and if we can come up with passage money, David, myself and our proud vessel are going too. We have to meet "L'Amie" in Antigua on May 1st to try to arrange finances, and determine whether we could go with them or not. If we don't come up with enough money, we and lifeboat will stay in Antigua, or send our boat with "L'Amie" and find a ride with someone else.

April 21

We're back on our feet again after a few marginal days. David had the dengue fever and I had the howling bitchies. Because our life changed, because the moon was full, because we needed to scramble to get money and David is doing all the scrambling. But today I don't care whether we stay in Antigua or go to Spain. Both sound good, both are terrifying, and in ten days we will know, it will be made obvious to us. Right now I'm just glad that David is healthy again, and that he's working for $10 an hour with a bunch of multinational clowns.

He and Wayne should appear momentarily, done working for the day on Jimmy Buffet's partners' dream house. We'll row out to the pretty wooden sloop "Mistral" , the one we met in Bermuda first, where we live now, rent free, with Wayne. He is a sweet but unpredictable redheaded backwoods Nova Scotian. He was alone on his boat because, after a disagreement, he beat up his partner in the boat, Bruce, the fiddle player, so badly that Bruce ended up in the hospital and then flew home. We get along fine however.

So I am a lady of relative leisure, keeping the logistics and groceries in order, rowing about in the little pig of a dinghy, lying in the sun, reading, studiously writing down sea chantey words from Wayne's copy of the Stan Hugill book, and taking notes on instructions for sail making. Placated by the sunsets and the sweet air; my skin is turning brown and I'm living in or near the warm salt water. Even this beach with its generators and trash incinerator is fine. Flamande beach. A luxury to live here.

Soon Mary [Dave's ten year old daughter] will come. In two months she'll be with us. I look forward to her coming a lot, more than I did last year.

April 22

Rainy day. Last night I experienced again rambling, active dreams, rich, complex and long.

David is taking a nap; Wayne is in town; I'm attempting to make steam bread and listening to the rain's gentle sound on the deck. David remembers buildings and rooms from when he was little, details of doorknobs, the color of walls. I only remember faces, some events, more often things that were said. Never the wallpaper or the coatroom. I guess it was because I was busy clothing all those things with my own fantasy, pretending, pretending every minute of the day that something was actually something else.

Until now, when I have succeeded in molding my life in to my own fantasy: living on a beautiful wooden yacht in the harbor of a tropical island. Or whatever it was before: tipi, kayak, tall ship, foggy island, backwoods shack. I have been successful at this for several years now, living an extension of childhood imaginings. Escapism. I find nothing unusual in living this way, and am repulsed by what I seem to have left behind, life as a health food store manager in Oneonta, or whatever it might have been.

Two or three Christmases ago in Rochester at my mother's, I remember smoking a lot of dope and pretending again. With the winter outside that comfortable house, I imagined myself a privileged daughter of a highly cultured if helpless aristocracy. Soaking in the bathtub, ritually grooming myself with myriad cosmetics, wearing clean clothes and second generation heirloom jewelry; isolated and quiet, embroidering something opulent and undeserved by the recipient. I pretended that it was all something else, and that I was someone else.

Here, I don't have to do that.

April 23

I'm on the beach at Publique, St. Bart's, studiously taking notes on sail making before David gets back from work. We own a little boat. Our dreamboat. Son of Kayak. "Give me a boat, that can carry two", as the song goes. One week from today we'll be in Antigua, Lord willing, finding, and finagling with, the Baltic trader "L'Amie IV" for a passage east.

A little baby is sobbing here on the beach, tended by two French women. The sun comes out only intermittently, mercifully. Frank Fulchierro's schooner "Voyager" is anchored here in the cove. I watch the horizon warily for "Jens Juhl" or "Polar Trans". I don't really want to see either of them, although I have messages for both. Today I spent close to an hour in the water, scrubbing the mucky marine growth off of "Mistral" 's waterline. My good deed for the day.

Soon we'll be with the little boat. Probably part of my irrational and rather frantic preference for Spain- other than escaping Hurricane season, revolutions, etc.- is the extra months' reprieve that option grants us from the embarrassing nitty-gritty: we own a small, heavy, deckless boat which sinks ( or will until it's in the water long enough to swell and tighten up) and has no engine and a pitiable sail rig. But what a beaut!

April 24

This morning it was raining at 5:00 when we got up. Actually it started raining at 4:00 and chased us inside from where we had been sleeping on deck. By 6:00 it was starting to clear; David doggedly drank two yogurts and I rowed in to the beach with him. He set off towards work.

Later I went to town to buy boursin sausage and tangerines. Got news of the "Polar Trans" from Bernard, the mate on the freighter "Anthol". They've been in San Juan for a week and a half with engine trouble.

Back at the boat I did a little painting, some token maintenance. Wayne got back from St. Maarten. We have two vague possibilities of rides to Antigua: with Alex on the "Acamar" or with Matt and Diane on the "Gallivant'.

In the mornings, I take my temperature and record it in a little chart. David comes back from work and is sleepy and for the past few days sad because he resents working for these people. We read. We eat simple food. We check the mail: there isn't any. Both of us have been dreaming about our families, feeling homesick and out of touch. But we don't want to go back there.

A woman near me on the beach, with very brown tits, has some sort of piece of cloth or cellophane covering her mouth. She is reading and frowning after rubbing oil on her recumbent husband. Naked little babbling babies run shrieking happily on the beach. Black headed gulls and terns and frigate birds swoop around, sometimes noisily. The mothers call out to their kids in French which is easy for me to understand.

Soon we'll be living outside permanently. No reprieve from the rain except our moldy foul weather gear. Permanent salt, permanent beach sand shell fragments. No time to write. Everything clammy, saturated, soaking wet, salty and hot. And the sweet silence, and the sweet breeze, and the creaking and bobbing of the boat. It doesn't matter where it's going to happen. Certain things are expected, certain other things will occur.

St. Bart's kids, covered with sand, are playing volley ball and kicking sand at each other. I'm waiting for David, his ferry service. One of the little naked boys looks like a tiny David. He is standing in the waves feeling the ocean pulling him, almost pulling him off his feet.

April 25

Last night we all managed to attend a party at the place David's been working. It was a birthday celebration for Jimmy Buffet's wife. I drank champagne, 150 bottles of which were rumored to have been consumed there, ate a lot of different kinds of birthday cake, got in a few lungfulls of hash and even, for the first time, some cocaine, which had no discernable effect on me. Joni Mitchel was in attendance. The Buffets' little daughter, Savannah, lay peacefully asleep in her sundress in one of the bedrooms where the revelers were imbibing. David and I were the first ones to claim the hot tub for awhile. We also danced a bit. Stayed there quite late and finally walked all the way back to the dinghy. Wayne was still involved in the revelry so we collapsed and slept on some lounge chairs on the beach rather than leave him stranded without a way to get back out to "Mistral". We slept until dawn when we decided to row out and let Wayne fend for himself. He got in shortly thereafter and we slept all morning until Monaghan woke us all up to take Patou and company sailing. David stayed ashore and slept, but I sailed with them over to Colombier beach and then had a pleasant hike from there back to Flamande, leaving the others to sail back. Found David; we ravenously ate pizza, came back to the boat, collapsed.

May 3

We are in Antigua on board "L'Amie', as crew. The little boat is here too, lashed to the deck. The trip from St. Bart's was awful. I was sick, knocked out with the dengue flu, useless and bitching at David the whole time. We sailed thirty hours to weather with two nice Americans who ran out of food and water. But that's all past now. When we got here we spent last night with the sweet French Canadian "Berlu" people, and came to Falmouth this morning and made a deal with the skipper. We're going to Spain.

185 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page