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Jumping Ship
Monika
06/05/2012, St. Barths to Guadeloupe

We spent another day in St. Martin after the scratch and win incident. Justyna and i went over to Marigot market to look at local arts and crafts. After all we never made it to Philipsburg for souvenirs the day before. We also checked out of the country at the Captainierre office and then made our way back to Grand Case to provision for the next leg of the trip. We decided to head to St. Barths the following morning. A weather window was opening up and we needed to take it before it closed up, trapping us where we were. We had no regrets about leaving St. Martin. Sometimes it's hard. We find a place we like and wish we could linger. There were a lot of things we enjoyed about St. Martin: delicious cheeses, fresh pastries, inexpensive wine, smooth jazz on the beach, but after a week there we were ready to move on.
We were underway early Sunday and sailed well into the afternoon to get to Ile Fourchue, just north of St. Barths. The rugged, moon shaped island is an old volcano and the bay where we moored is its flooded crater. The 2006 guide book we've been using says there was a herd of goats living on it, decimating all the vegetation, eating itself out of food. Well it must have finally, because when we got there there were no goats and a number of new, green bushes were covering the hills. Aside from these few patches though, the island was barren and grey, the rock face dry and wrinkled like elephant skin. The place was captivating. And it afforded great snorkeling, which Justyna's been really looking forward to. We enjoyed those serene surroundings for a day and were off again on Monday. We hoped to ride that weather window all the way to Guadeloupe. It would be a 24 hour passage, which meant a night sail, something Justyna was excited about. She's done her share of sailing and it was nothing new to her, but this time it was with a twist. We suggested that she join Gerrard on Saltwhistle since he's single-handing and could probably use an extra set of eyes and hands. They both liked the idea. Gerrard said that if nothing else it would be nice to have the company. The problem however, was that we were already under way when we sprouted this brilliant idea, so now we had to figure out a way to transfer Justyna from one moving vessel to another. The seas were just rough enough to make rafting together dangerous. She wouldn't be able to step from boat to boat. She would have to jump overboard and, hopefully, be retrieved by Gerrard before being swallowed by the dark, cold vastness of the open ocean. It really wasn't that dramatic, but it sure sounds good in a story. Anyway. We considered our options and finally decided that Gerrard would pull up alongside Rodeo and pass over his life ring so that Justyna could put it on before she jumped in the water. Once she did, he would pull her aboard.
She packed a change of clothes, a book and a few other items in a dry bag, that I would toss over to Saltwhistle once she jumped. It almost went according to plan. Almost. As Saltwhistle pulled up alongside, Justyna and I waited at the bow, ready to retrieve the life ring. Gerrard threw it and missed. It landed in the water. No problem, we could motor side by side and try again. But before any of us had a chance to react Justyna was climbing over the life lines, throwing herself into the narrowing space between the boats, reaching for the life ring. She just went for it. We couldn't believe it. It happened so fast. She jumped and was holding onto the floating ring a few seconds later. Gerrard now worked on pulling her in towards his swim ladder and I attempted to pass her dry bag over. I missed. It bounced off the deck and tumbled into the water, floating fast between the moving boats toward where Justyna was trailing at the end of a long line. Holding onto the ring with one hand she reached out and snatched the bag with the other as it drifted past her. What a girl. Finally Gerrard pulled her up into the safety of his boat just to be rescued in return from a long night of loneliness.

06/09/2012 | Serena
Went to pub night at BBYC and (as usual) was asked if I had any news of you guys. Glad to read (you're a great writer) that you're both well and enjoying your adventure. Love to both of you. Safe and happy journey. Serena
Scratch & Lose
Monika
06/02/2012, St. Martin, French Antilles

Justyna's second day with us began uneventfully. We had a lazy morning and just before noon set out, with our friend Gerrard from Saltwhistle, to explore the town of Philipsburg on the Dutch side of St. Martin. We were going to there to stroll on the boardwalk, grab lunch and check out some souvenir stores. It is very easy to move around the island, and travel between the two sides is permitted once you clear on either side. All we had to do was catch a "maxi taxi", one of many privately owned cab vans that run frequently between all the major towns. We took one to Marigot to visit a marine store first, and after waited for another to take us to Philipsburg. Standing on the side of the road in Marigot we talked about food. Preoccupied with our mission to the marine store we lost track of time. It was close to 2 PM and we suddenly grew very hungry. Once in Philipsburg we would quickly chose a place to sit down among countless waterfront cafes, if only the bus would come soon. We stood awhile under the shade of a roadside tree, when a young man approached us. He introduced himself as en employee of a Westin Dawn Beach Resort and wanted to know if we'd like to participate in a giveaway. We had food on our minds and not a lot of time to kill, but he handed us some scratch and win tickets anyway. The bus hasn't shown yet so we scratched. Unfortunately the bar of symbols at the bottom of my ticket revealed 3 sevens. The most coveted combination in the Westin scratch and win ticket world. I say unfortunately, because what followed was an unfortunate turn of exciting, comical and frightening events.
The triple sevens combination, young Jason informed us, would give us a one time opportunity to win a $1000 or a 5 day retreat at a Westin of our choosing... after enjoying a mandatory 90 minute tour of their facilities, of course. This sounded like a bit of a hassle for four hungry foreigners, but we're poor cruisers and we got so excited about the possibility of winning the cash we caved. Though not without protests from our empty stomachs, which Jason promised to fill on the way to the hotel. He seemed really excited about this, much more than we did, and we quickly learned why. Bringing 2 couples in with a triple seven card for a tour meant a $400 bonus for young Jason. He was stoked. He began to coach us in terms of the types of answers we would have to provide in order to fit the ideal Westin target demographic. I guess he was supposed to ask them all before letting us scratch the tickets to make sure that we were over 30, in long term relationships, preferably with kids, earning $10,000/month per household. We are the furthest thing from what Jason needed to bring in, but he didn't care. He just fed us the answers. Justyna and Gerrard had to pretend to be a couple of 6 years and they took their roles very seriously, beginning to bicker on cue. Jason spoke fast and erratically about what we should expect and we began to feel uneasy about our part in it, but by then we were already in his car and driving towards the Westin resort.
As promised, Jason was taking us to eat first, but upon checking the contents of his wallet he announced he had very little money and needed to stop by a friend's to borrow some. Uh-oh! We exchanged a few suspicious glances. Justyna said to me in Polish: "This is beginning to feel like that time I got robbed in Jamaica". Uh-oh! Jason called his friend and spoke in French, something about meeting him at the beach. We drove on. When we got to the beach the friend was not there. Another short, cryptic phone conversation followed. We decided we didn't need Jason to pay for lunch. We could cover it if he only just got us to a place we could eat. We didn't feel in danger, the area we were driving through was populated, but we were certainly apprehensive. This guy's behavior was proving to be less than professional and it concerned us. We pulled up to a small convenience store with a deli counter to get sandwiches. It felt good to get out of that car. Jason wasn't threatening in any way, he even showed me his driver's license, but we still felt uneasy. I think he sensed it and when we asked how much further to the resort he asked the lady at the deli counter to confirm that it was just down the road. Seeing as though the place he was taking us to really existed, we felt relieved and piled back into his car after our sandwiches were ready. We were fed and a bit more comfortable, until Jason pulled into a parking lot saying he was going to grab that money from his friend after all. He jumped out of the car and disappeared inside a storefront. We didn't know what to do. Justyna laughed nervously saying: "Something like this happened right before I got robbed in Jamaica". Gabe was starting to get a really bad vibe, and when Jason emerged from the store followed by his friend, Gabe got out of the car and watched them. Jason's friend walked over to his own car and pulled something out. It was a stack of pamphlets, with details about some other prizes available to us. Clearly this other fellow was Jason's work associate, helping his buddy seal the deal. That's all. Clearly Gabe was overreacting. Or was he? He began whispering in my left ear just how wrong all this felt. Justyna sat in the back seat with us, over to my right, speaking in Polish about how it all felt wrong to her too. And then Jason told us the resort was just over there, down the hill and beyond this really awesome beach we just had to see. It was going to be a short detour, but well worth the views. Once again, laughing with disbelief, reluctant to accept that it might actually be true, Justyna whispered: "It's starting to look more and more like the time I got robbed in Jamaica". That's when Gabriel said we needed to get out of the car. Whatever it took. Thankfully it didn't take much. Jason stopped the car promptly when Gabe faked car sickness and demanded to be let out. Everyone piled out. Confused at first we tried to comfort Gabe, never truly realizing it was a ruse. So did Jason and once he saw through it he seemed to be genuinely affected. He asked if we're getting out because we didn't trust him and I had to tell him that yes, his conduct left too much to the imagination. We were glad to see a "maxi taxi" come around the corner and we hailed it. Once in the safety of the van tensions relaxed and we laughed. We laughed at our stupidity, at our gullibility. We laughed at Gabe's outstanding performance. The way he staggered out of the car, bent in half, grasping for a nearby wall and dry-heaving. We laughed at our dumb luck and at poor Jason, who in the end seemed very hurt by our betrayal. Ultimately we came to agree that we may not have been in danger, but we all felt we were being played, and that was bad enough. Gabe had a strong hunch that he refused to ignore and we're very glad we followed his lead, especially that after a quick internet search the next morning we learnt that Jason and his Westin resort deal were in fact a fraud.

06/04/2012 | Justyna
I'll never forget Gabe's act hahahah and I'll be forever grateful :)
I'd be incredibly upset if I got robbed again during my holidays lol
10/22/2012 | mariusz aborygen
Hi guys can we exchange information ;) I will give Polish anthem sailing but I'll ask for contact Justyna . Have a pleasant next journey. my e-mail goldcoast@op.pl so enthem is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKPU-_QUTcA&feature=related Regards Mariusz ;)
Fair enough
Monika
05/23/2012, St. Martin, French Antilles

No I don't think it's fair that our friends and family work hard to carry on, responsibly, through the daily routines of their lives back home while we squander a good portion of our savings on gourmet creole dinners, French wine and fresh baguettes. I don't think it's fair that the people we care about the most are left to fight traffic on their morning commute, while some days the biggest challenge we face is deciding what kind of rum to put in a ti-punch or how much sun screen to use. We don't always have it easy, as you know from previous entries, but we do have it pretty sweet most of the time. That's why we've extended an open invitation to all of our family and friends to come join us for as long as they can, whenever they can. Sometimes I wonder what we did to deserve this life, this adventure. And the simple answer, I've discovered, is we left port. We took a chance on the boat, on each other and our ability to handle this challenge. We stepped out of our comfort zone to discover something about ourselves and the world around us. We leapt, and we have encouraged others to do it with us.
This month my friend Justyna flew in from Edmonton to accompany us on the passage between St. Martin and Guadeloupe. We picked her up at the small airport on the Dutch side of St. Martin and transported her to Rodeo on our friend's dinghy. Ours is barely big enough for the two of us, let alone a guest and her luggage. Already low to the water "Mini Max" would never make it from Marigot Bay to the airport without taking on the liquid waste that fills Simpson Lagoon, which separates St. Martin from St. Maarten. The lagoon is filthy, especially on the French side. It is a landlocked body of water accessible only via 2 bridges, one on each side of the island. It is home to dozens of charter boats, permanently anchored live-aboards and countless transient cruisers. Effluent from these boats is constantly and visibly fed into the stagnant waters of the lagoon. Absolutely revolting.
Rodeo was anchored out in Marigot Bay, on the open ocean side, where water was moving and clean, but every trip into town was a health hazard. I'm not even exaggerating. Shielding our hands from contact with lagoon water and plugging our noses was all we could do to keep our breakfast (of delicious crisp pastries and fresh coffee) down and staph infections at bay. By the time Justyna arrived on a Thursday afternoon, May 12, we had already been there a few days and had no desire to stay any longer. After our friend unpacked and settled in we made a move for cleaner pastures, a neighboring bay of Grand Case. Thursday night is salsa night at Calmos Cafe in Grand Case, and that's where we headed after a modest supper of BBQ tuna, coleslaw and rice. The waterfront cafe is as much a local hang out as a tourist attraction. No more than a beach shack with most of its low tables nestled in the sand, it's a quirky and fun place with a laid back atmosphere and a killer drink menu. We felt obliged to drink, laugh and kick up some dust on the sandy dance floor way past our usual bed time. I know, life is tough. But like I said, it could be for you, too. The invitation stands.

05/25/2012 | Melissa
Wish I could take you up on your invitation!!! So inspiring! Sounds like you're having an adventure of a lifetime! xoxo Melissa
05/28/2012 | Brian
Hi, i am loving your blog. My partner and i have dreams of following in your wake. One issue with us is we love animals. How are you coping with pickles? Does it ever go ashore. How do you organise toiletting?
06/02/2012 | Gabriel Bonventi
Hi Brian, thanks for following. Our cat Pickle very rarely goes ashore. She will if we're docked in a marina, which doesn't happen very often, but even then she doesn't stray far from the boat. I know that many countries/islands have strict regulations for visiting pets, especially dogs, but we've had no issues with Pickle. We brought lots of biodegradable cat litter before leaving Canada. It's one we used back home anyways. She uses a large storage bin with a lid that we cut an access hole in. It contains the litter better than a regular litter box. We have friends who have a small dog on board and he uses a piece of astroturf that gets rinsed overboard, secured on a line. It takes some getting used to for the pets to enjoy this lifestyle, but they do, and we're really glad to have Pickle's company. Good luck with your adventures. Hope you get a chance to get out here soon. All the best.
More of the good stuff
Monika
04/28/2012, Francis Bay, St. John, USVI

Caneel Bay is home to an awfully gorgeous resort, set amidst the ruins of an old plantation. The main building is low lying, colonial style, surrounded by lush vegetation and tropical flowers. Inconspicuous cabanas, tucked into dense foliage, spread across the hills of the estate, each with a view of the bay. The long stretch of the beach is backed by rolling hills threaded together by a handful of narrow roads that wind about the island. We spent a few leisurely days in Caneel, taking time to explore the neighboring town, too. While there we picked up a hiking trail guide and some informational pamphlets. I'm telling you, we were having a hard time sticking to our preconceptions as we learned more about St.John.
After Caneel Bay we moved a whopping mile north to Hawksnest Bay to find another charming mooring with more stunning beaches. Later that day we were joined by Blue Kai, who had caught up to us after a 3 day detour to visit St.Thomas and together we set out on a short hike that led us to old sugar mill ruins. Rye and Hanna, the youngest crew from Blue Kai spent their time climbing rocks and snapping photos of everything in site while the adults discussed the finer points of cruising. Gabe and I hovered somewhere in between. We usually do. We have become very fond of the kids and we tend to get drawn out of the adult world and into theirs when we're all together. Since reuniting with all three boats in St.John, we have spent most of our time as a group, exploring the island by day and sharing pot luck dinners at night. Gabe's birthday was no exception. We joint forces for a BBQ on the beach to celebrate. Hawksnest Beach has common grilling areas with picnic tables, hidden among the trees. We took over one of those and caroused till dark, at which point we moved the festivities aboard Blue Kai for shots of Yagermaister and cake. Some sang and some danced until the children fell tired into the laps of their parents. The rest of us quickly took cue and retired to our own boats.
Following morning we were on the move again, this time to Francis Bay at the north end of St. John. We loved Hawksnest because of its setting, but the mooring field was shielded from wind yet exposed to ocean swell, which meant pretty rolly nights. Without sufficient wind to push the boat away from the mooring ball, it was at liberty to smack into our haul as the rolling sea drove us into it. The hollow thuds were pretty hard to ignore the first night it happened. When it became obvious that we wouldn't be able to dodge the ball the next night, Gabe brought it out of the water and onto our deck. It worked, the banging stopped. Still, the swell persisted and even without the assault from the mooring ball we had a few rough nights of sleep. That's one of the reasons why Francis Bay was such a welcome change. It allowed enough wind to push Rodeo away from the mooring ball, but was sheltered from the swell. Having secured the boat we went ashore to check out the beach and the forest beyond it. There we a discovery path led us through the woods and towards mud planes. The path was a boardwalk, raised off the ground to minimize our impact on the soft forest soil. Lookout points granted clear views of the mud planes where curlews waded through wet spots, fishing for crab. Wild deer and chickens could be seen rustling through the dried leaf bedding of the woods. Mongoose and lizards were hiding in the cool shade of the trees. The island was truly captivating and we could no longer deny it. We were getting smacked right in the face with it.

05/09/2012 | sean
I am so glad you got to St.Johns.
I have lived at Francis Bay 5 years in a row for a few weeks each winter and this island is truly one of the gems in the central Carribean. I follow with interest and wish you fair winds. by the way Monica, I just bought a Tartan 40 in Nova Scotia. hopefully we will cross paths someday.
Sean
Be careful what you wish for
Monika
04/26/2012, Caneel Bay, St.John, USVI

We wanted to avoid going to the US and British Virgin Islands if we could help it. We felt as though it wasn't going to be our cup of tea. Countless charter boats unloading masked bandits into our water, scaring our fish; beach combing tourist kicking up sand, disturbing our utopia! We certainly didn't tread the thorny path all this way to put up with that. Sure we wanted internet access and good provisioning, maybe a bar stool to kick off our sandals from at happy hour, and still feel like we were a world away from civilization. But at what cost?! The serenity of it would surely be ruined by the hoards of sun worshipers stepping on our sandy toes. Turned out St. John in the US Virgin Islands had enough beaches, palm trees and enough water for us to displace into our own little paradise. No elbow pushing necessary. Most of the island is a very well managed National Park with small settlements and resorts dispersed throughout. We joined our friends on Katarina in Caneel Bay, just outside a quaint little town of Cruz Bay. At 4PM it was still bustling with the day's activities. Large catamaran charters were picking up schools of beached snorkelers who had spent the afternoon exploring the area, but by 6 it all began to quiet down. We settled in for the evening on a mooring ball provided by the park. Anchoring is discouraged, because it damages coral and sea grass beds. We were happy to oblige. We set in the bay with a great view of St.Thomas on the other side of the channel. As the sun set over its hills, the city lights began to glow in the distance, serenaded by quiet lapping of waves against the nearby shore behind us. We were able to pick up internet from a resort close by, Cruz Bay and all of its conveniences were just around the corner, beneath us 30ft of clear, cool water arrested by a long stretch of a palm fringed beach. It was perfect. And we hated to admit it. We knew we were going to enjoy it, despite ourselves.

Magic all around
Monika
04/25/2012, Vieques Island

We spent a few days bobbing around Culebra Island and its sister island Culebrita, a National Turtle Sanctuary, where we were able catch a glimpse of some native Green Turtles and their habitat. At Culebrita we rafted together with our friends on Pura Vida and Blue Kai. We swam together, explored together, and at the end of the day we shared meals together. A little floating commune. Culebrita was a blast. An unpopulated island with beautiful ruins of a light house that afforded stunning views of the area and great swimming and snorkeling, which meant great hunting grounds for Gabe. He loves diving and spear fishing, he does it with compulsive determination. He has gotten very good at it, and we were all reaping the benefits, but the few 5lb lobsters Gabe could catch at Culebrita would only feed his habit for so long. He needed a bigger hit. We heard through the cruising grape vine, that Vieques Island, just south of Culebrita had what Gabe needed and we all coveted: bigger, juicier lobster. We moved our flotilla to Vieques where Gabe and the boys from the rest of our fleet set out on a dive immediately upon arrival. Like I said, compulsive determination. And it paid off. We dined on lobster alfredo that night, but it wasn't until the following day that he speared a 20lb king of the reef. We pot lucked on Blue Kai that evening along with friends from Pura Vida and Saltwhistle, 12 of us in total. Oh what a feast that was. Complete with French 75 cocktails by Susan and tuna patties by Gerard, who sang and played guitar for us after dinner. But the treat of the night came once we got back in our dinghy and made way for Rodeo. South coast of Vieques is famous for abundant bioluminescence which flares up on the surface of the water when it's disturbed. There in Bahia Salina del Sur, under a nearly perfect cover of the night, with only the light from our anchored boats piercing it, we saw what looked like underwater fireworks. Ahead flashes of lime green glow appeared deep under the surface, where current and fish disturbed the luminescent microorganisms, while the wake from our propeller left a milky way of glowing dust behind us. It was magical.


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Who: Gabriel, Monika, and Pickle
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