This trip had been in the making for over a decade. We became inspired to cruise ever since we said goodbye to our good friends, Linda and Allen Dobie, as they ventured off on a one-year adventure aboard their sailboat back in 1997. As they left the dock, I remember turning to Robin asking him “Hey, do you think we might be able to do that some day?”. His response was “If that is something you really want to do, we can work towards it”. And the rest is history…
After 23 years in the Air Force, your Daddy was finally able to pry himself away from work. The first two months driving through the States were more fun than I expected. New York was overwhelming – after living “north of 60” for three years, the sights and sounds and hustle and bustle had us all experiencing sensory overload. The Eastern Seaboard was a highlight as we literally walked through American history with; from the fabulous Smithsonian Museums of Washington, DC to the heart of the American Revolution in Colonial Williamsburg and on to the Naval Academy of Annapolis. We could not have asked for a better way to introduce the family to the evolution of the United States.
The search for Rafiki was longer and more difficult than I had expected. Many of the boats we saw were either too expensive or poorly maintained. Two offers fell through and we started to get a little nervous as valuable time was ticking away. When we finally found “the one”, she was somewhat of a compromise. Both Robin and I wanted the “sailability” of a mono-hull but, the comfort of a catamaran clearly won out as we anticipated being at anchor more than being underway. Having a cabin each gave you more autonomy and a space to call your own.
After the initial delays and set backs, the trip south was hurried as we tried to get through the Islands and below the hurricane belt in a little over two months. With winds inevitably on the nose and boat systems constantly challenging Robin’s handy-man skills, life was initially more strained than we expected. “Togetherness” took on a new meaning as I hadn’t anticipated the challenges of living everyday life in a small space, 24/7, under strenuous conditions. It was not easy. Though you girls had rarely seen us raise our voices with one another, the next few months became a great lesson for us all in conflict resolution!
Once we got down to Grenada, we were able to relax and enjoy the social side of cruising. You finally found some friends to play with and we were able to get off the boat and find a social outlet with regular happy hours and hikes. We soon found comfort in knowing that we were not the only ones facing the mechanical and emotional tests of life aboard.
Day-to-day life as a live aboard cruiser is not without its charm but friends ashore don’t see the underbelly of the postcard beaches. Grocery shopping can be a challenge which involved driving the dinghy to shore, a bus ride or long walk to the store, with many a shelf laid bare, and then “schlepping” them back again in the heat, often getting the bags wet in the process. Storing goods in any available crevice, under couches, floor boards and beds. Washing clothes and bedding was either done by hand or we would take loads ashore and hire local ladies to clean them for us. With many of the islands dependent upon rainwater, the price of one load could reach up to $20!
Having the opportunity to stay in one place long enough, we made so many wonderful friends during our first hurricane season in Grenada. A virtual armada of boats left in November as we headed north together through the Windward and Leeward chain. No longer under time constraints, we were able to enjoy each island at our own pace when weather conditions were in our favour. Having cruising friends to share in the experience made all the difference.
Looking back, each island stands out for a different reason. I fell in love with the French Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique for their European flavour. Of course, starting our mornings with fresh pain-au-chocolat and coffee may have had something to do with it.
Dominica was a diamond in the rough – full of natural beauty and lushness. Without beaches, cruise ship ports or a major airport it remains delightfully unspoiled and untouristified by the traveling masses.
Antigua was a standout for the Christmas we shared with eight other boating families. From Secret Santa gift trading (used Citronella Candles anyone?) to touch-football, buffets on the beach and an evening bonfire, this will stand out as my favourite Christmas aboard Rafiki. As New Years’ approached, many of us parted ways as families prepared to head north and return home while we arced westward into the Virgin Islands.
The USVIs were easy to navigate and worry-free with plenty of hiking and beautiful anchorages. But picturesque Culebrita, east of Puerto Rico, was by far the front-runner. Ultimately, Cartagena, Colombia wins out as a “must return.” Usually put off by the fast pace of big cities, I quickly became enchanted by the Old Walled City of Cartagena. Having traveled extensively, Cartagena’s colour and vibrance has cast its spell and left me wanting more. If it hadn’t been for the Christmas winds potentially pinning us in South America for the coming months, I would have relished the chance to stay longer and peel back a few more layers of this enchanting country. We will be back!
Homeschooling was, by far, the greatest surprise of this trip. We did not want to screw up your education! We could have bought an off-the-shelf curriculum but, without reliable internet, we knew we would have to be relatively self-sufficient. We ended up buying a Math, Science and History syllabus and, largely, followed the textbooks. However, one of the coolest advantages of homeschooling was our ability to tailor the coursework to our environment; field trips included waterfall jumping, boiling lakes, watching leatherback turtles laying eggs by the light of the moon, and hiking to Pablo Escobar’s safe house. Projects took on a local flavour as we tasked you with researching countries before arrival. Alex learned more about FARC and the Colombian drug trade than any Grade 7 student should typically know, while Kathryn learned all about the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs in anticipation of our visit to Cuba.
Being disconnected and having more unscheduled time than most kids has its perks; one of them being a lifelong love of reading. We all became avid readers and we often wouldn’t see you for an entire day as you locked yourselves away in your cabins, devouring your latest book.
As a family, this trip allowed us to spend countless hours playing together, eating together, and pulling together in challenging times. We created some unforgettable memories and became stronger and closer than I ever could have hoped for.
I am so incredibly proud of how you’ve both grown throughout this journey. You have become these amazing young women who can take on the world; jumping into new friendships without any hesitation, fearlessly navigating heavy seas, new landscapes, and languages. Having seen you in action, we feel confident you’ll be able to draw from these experiences and face any of life’s challenges head-on.
Looking back, I realize how lucky we are to have pursued our dream and made it a reality. Being able to share it with you was such a gift for us, and, hopefully, for you too. As cliché as that sounds, we now know how fortunate we were to have stolen this precious time with you and to have escaped the proverbial hamster wheel, if only for a few years. We hope we’ve instilled in you that desire to live a life full of adventure. XOXO