Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical

Chapter 23

Things We Forgot To Tell You

June 2003

As we were re-reading previous chapters we found instances where we had promised to cover some topics later but never did.  We also remembered other amusing anecdotes that didn’t make it into other chapters.  Here they are:


One of the best things I did to prepare for the trip was to take a “women only” week long live-aboard sailing class from a sailing school called “Women For Sail” in Tampa, Florida.  As we said early on this was really Jim’s dream, but I knew for my own piece of mind I needed to be comfortable on the boat (after all, he might fall off).  I also knew that learning the basics of docking, anchoring, navigating, and checking the engine would be easier from a teacher than it would be with my own life mate (think learning to drive here –better done in a driver’s ed class than with your dad in the car).

The class had two instructors and four students (all women) on a 42 foot sailboat.  We met on the boat, stored our stuff, studied the local charts, plotted the course to our first anchorage and took off from the dock for a five day cruise.  During that time everybody had a chance to plot courses, steer the boat, raise, lower and trim the sails, work the radio, lower and raise the anchor, and pull into and out of a slip.  We sailed in the Gulf of Mexico and motored through the traffic on the ICW.  In short we did everything a cruiser needs to know how to do.  It was a wonderful experience.  No voices were raised, nobody felt obliged to step in and take over something he didn’t think you could do.  By then end of the week I believed in a pinch I could raise the anchor, I knew I could dock the boat, and I had learned a few tricks with spring lines that came in handy many times during the trip.


Jim was already a certified scuba diver before we started preparing for the trip.  I had taken a scuba course years earlier but left for my Tahitian vacation before I actually did the final dive, so never got certified.  I knew I wanted to be certified before we left, but all of the boat prep work didn’t leave a lot of time.  And it seemed that all of the scuba classes were in Ft. Lauderdale or places further north while I was in South Miami.  Fortunately we found a class that was actually self-paced learning with one weekend of pool work and diving.

The deal was that I signed up for the course and received the books to study along with a “class schedule” that told me which chapters to read and when to call in for my tests.  I would read the assigned chapters and then call an instructor who would give me an oral test on the material.  If I passed the test, then I was approved to go on to the next set of readings.  I could do the readings and take the tests on my own schedule.  The only caveat was that I couldn’t take more than one test in a 24 hour period.

After I completed all of the readings and successfully passed all of the tests, I scheduled the water work for a weekend in Ft. Lauderdale.  We started Saturday morning with pool work and the introduction to the equipment, weight belts, etc.  Saturday afternoon and twice on Sunday we did ocean dives off the beaches in Ft. Lauderdale.  By Sunday night, I was a certified diver.


When Jim moved to Boston Down Time was trucked back to Miami in the fall of 1989.  We rented a dockominium at Cocoplum.  For the next 18 months we would triangulate our business trips to end up in Miami on Friday night.  Our procedure was to plan our weekend meals in Boston and fax a grocery list to our friends, Rob and Carol.  They would do the shopping, guessing what the menu would be.  We would arrive at the Miami airport at 10 or 11 pm, Rob and Carol would pick us up and we would all go to a Cuban or Spanish restaurant that really didn’t get going until around midnight.  After dinner they would drop us at the boat which would be clean, the air conditioning on, fresh linens on the bed and fresh flowers in the salon.

The next morning Rob and Carol would arrive and we would head off for one of the northern keys.  We would spend Saturday night on the hook and return to our marina late on Sunday afternoon.  The best part of all of this is that we would simply step off the boat and into a cab for the airport and our flight to Boston while Rob and Carol washed and cleaned the boat.  Pretty good deal, huh?

Cocoplum was a very upscale housing development as well as a dockominium.  The houses were huge and most of the boats in the marina were sport fishers.  Cocoplum was completed surrounded by fences and gates and guards.  I wonder what those people did for a living to have that kind of money and need that kind of security?  The marina was so secure that we never needed to lock the boat and we could leave anything on deck without fear of it disappearing.


Remember that we were in Miami getting ready to leave when Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm.  The military didn’t have enough GPS units for all the troops and the manufacturers couldn’t build them fast enough.  So the government decided to commandeer civilian units.  Apparently they got ownership information from sales and warranty data.  One day we looked up from our slip at Dinner Key to see guys in suits and wing tips coming down the dock.  The FBI had been dispatched to collect all the GPSs at Dinner Key.  Each person got a letter saying that “Uncle Sam needs your GPS” and explaining that you would get a new unit when production caught up.  From what we heard, that’s exactly what happened.  Ours escaped the press gang because we had bought it from a wholesaler who normally sent his electronics to South America.  The feds assumed ours was out of the country.


Remember Saba, the island that is a volcano sticking out of the water that’s about 30 miles west of St Martin?  Well, it’s part of the Netherlands Antilles and the residents there are Dutch citizens.  It seems that the driving test to get a license in Holland is very difficult.  On Saba it’s a little more relaxed.  People who cannot pass the test in Europe fly to Saba and get a license that is completely valid back home.


Speaking of Saba, until the 1950s there were no roads on the island, just walking paths that connected the settlements.  The residents wanted a road to connect their two principal settlements, Bottom and Top, so the Dutch government sent over a civil engineer to look at the situation.  His assessment was that it was impossible.  Not to be deterred, one Saban took a civil engineering course by correspondence from some place in the US.  The whole island turned out to build the road – not with bulldozers and earth movers, but with dynamite, and picks, and shovels – all by hand.

When we were there people who were old enough would show you what part of the road they had built.


Now we cruisers were not exactly sleazy but we did like free food and drink and money when we could get it.

I remember a hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas that had a manager’s cocktail party on a given weekday.  We would all put on clean clothes and go mingle with the hotel guests for the drinks and buffet.

One of the cruise lines had a private island in the Bahamas where their ships would stop for a few hours.  The crew would set up a bar and barbecue on the beach and they would ferry the passengers ashore.  On the other side of the island was an anchorage where cruisers would anchor their boats and climb over the hill to join the passengers in their beach party.

St Martin had (and probably still has) an industry of selling timeshare condos to tourists.  The deal was that you got $100 for listening to their sales pitch.  At this point in a cruise, $100 could be big money to some people so we all signed up.  I still have the $100 bill as a good luck talisman.

Now you do have to remember that we all had long hair and island tans and maybe beards when we were doing this.  Do you really think we were fooling anyone?  I guess management just looked on us as adding a little local color for the real tourists.


This story occurred on the next to the last night of our cruise.  We had been cruising for 30 months and still we were not as smart as we thought we were.  We were headed west from the Berry Islands to Gun Cay and decided to anchor in the middle of nowhere on the Bahama Bank for the night.  The weather was calm and we went several miles south of the normal route across the Bank to get away from any possible traffic.  After dark we noticed a large light headed directly toward us from the east.  The island freighters have searchlights and we assumed that’s what it was.  We turned on our spreader lights to make ourselves more visible and still the light came on.  We turned on the radar but could see nothing.  Finally it dawned on us that what we were seeing was a full moon rising.  So much for the seasoned mariners!


Our usual source of weather was the SSB broadcast from WOM (Whiskey Oscar Mike) in Miami.  These broadcasts used a computer generated voice whose input is a text data file.  One day we heard Mikey, as we called him, do an interesting combination of US state abbreviations and Spanish to English translation.  The town he was trying to say was Puerto la Cruz and what he said was “port of Louisiana cross”.  Program needs work.


Probably the last thing you would think about in naming a boat would be how it would be pronounced by someone who doesn’t speak English.  We met boats named Enterprise and Sea Gypsy that became “Enter Pre Say” and “ Say Ah Hipsy” when in Spanish speaking countries.  Of course people in these same countries pronounce Jeep as Heap.


We were standing on the dock (I don’t remember why) in Samana, Dominican Republic looking toward the mouth of Samana Bay.  An object appeared that at first we couldn’t distinguish and then we couldn’t believe.  It was a Tiki bar!  You know, one of those barge like things with a grass roof, bamboo table and chairs and bar?  It seems that someone in Florida had bought this thing in the Virgins and hired some guys to drive it 1,400 miles to the US.  They had set up a tent and installed outboard motors and fuel tanks.  Apparently the crossing of the Mona Passage was so rough that as soon as the thing docked in Samana the whole crew departed for the nearest bar and were never seen again.  The Tiki bar was there when we left.


We didn’t realize how frugal we had become with water until we had guests who offered to clean the dishes after dinner their first night with us.  As they started to stack the plates, we both yelled, “Don’t do that”.  You see, if you stack the plates the bottoms get dirty and you have to wash them too.

Jim & Diane

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