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Rick & Ami's 8 Year Sailing Adventure
...or, how to log 8000 miles in 8 years!
Venezuela: Isla Blanquilla
Ami
08/23/2007

I am writing from Isla Blanquilla, Venezuela. One of the most beautiful spots we've ever anchored in. The water is gin-clear. Our boat is anchored in about 22 feet of water, yet we can see the ripples in the sand below the boat. There are 3 lone palm trees on the beach, the sand is whiter than white, so enticing. There are several rocky points, hosting plenty of live coral, with lots of fish, seemingly unafraid, lots of activity, and great visibility. The water is 83 degrees, the air is 83 degrees, and the humidity is less than in the Eastern Caribbean, making it a bit more comfortable here. The island is quite dry, covered with cactus and shrubby things, so different from the lush rainforests of the other islands we've visited.

Last night Rick BBQed a mid-sized tuna that he caught on our sail here, and we ate it with the mango salsa I had made from deliciously ripe, sweet mangos. The night was quiet, but for the wind in the rigging, and an occasional 'splash' from a fish jumping. Blanquilla is uninhabited, so the night skies are exploding with stars, with stars that you just can't see in the vicinity of civilization's lights. There are 8 other boats anchored around the island, 3 of which we know, but we've been so enjoying the quiet and tranquility that we haven't felt like socializing yet. We're enjoying the complete relaxation that a place like this encourages.

When we were preparing for this adventure, working so hard to organize our lives so that we could sell everything and buy a boat and go cruising, this is the kind of place we yearned to be in. The kind of place that they write about in the cruising magazines. The kind of place that other cruisers rave about.

Our experiences in Trinidad and the Eastern Caribbean were richer that we could have ever imagined, ever planned for. To become immersed in such a different culture was a highlight of our lives together. We spent 6 years there, with more than half the time in Trinidad. Except for the family and friends that we miss, Trinidad feels so much more like home than California ever did. It was so hard to leave.

But now we are exploring new islands and our pace has relaxed considerably. It's time for this next part of the adventure. There are so many small islands to explore in this Venezuelan archipelago, and we've got all the time in the world. What a wonderful feeling!


Where We've Been
Setting Sail for the Southern Caribbean
Ami
05/25/2007, Trinidad, West Indies

Never thought we'd be able to leave Trinidad, but this last season we did so much, fit a lifetime of stuff into 8 months, pan and calypso and dance and drumming and talk tent, and actually feel very satisfied, feel full and content, will always love it and miss it, and feel so thankful that we got to experience it, as it is a most unique place on earth.

Friends that just completed their 20 year circumnavigation, starting from Trinidad and returning to Trinidad, agreed that Trinidad is incredibly special. They advised us to be prepared to never find another place where the people are this happy and wonderful and have such a lust for living, or where the culture is so rich and the music so happy. But they stressed that the world is big and wonderful and each place has something unique to offer, and that we still must see the world for the other rich experiences we'll have. We thought that was good advice, and we're excited to start the next chapter of our adventure.

Many of the places we'll be sailing to over the next few years are very remote, so part of the challenge is making sure that we are completely self sufficient in every way. That means planning for any situation, having the right tools on board, and all the right spare parts, and sufficient food provisions. We have spare light bulbs, extra snorkeling equipment, vitamins, plenty of yeast to bake bread, medications for emergencies, plenty of batteries, books, DVD movies, sheet music, toilet paper, well, it's quite a job to plan for every possibility.

We plan to spend the hurricane season exploring some remote islands off the coast of Venezuela: Los Roques and Los Aves. They are mostly uninhabited islands; in fact, many of them are just coral cays. We may not see anyone for 3-4 months, maybe just some other cruising sailboats. We are very much looking forward to quiet days, swimming and snorkeling, kayaking, and playing music. (Yes, I'm still loving my steel drum, Rick has taken up the sax, and we bought an African Jambe drum in Trinidad!) Then we'll visit Bonaire, which offers incredible diving, then a quick visit to Curacao and Aruba before sailing to Colombia. We are looking forward to spending some time in Cartagena, a wonderful old Latin city that other cruisers have raved about.

Where We've Been
Trinidad Carnival
Ami
02/28/2007, Trinidad, West Indies

There's an ad in the paper, listing fruit and vegetable prices at a local market: sorrel, paw paw, dasheen, melongene, pomme cita, cassava, eddoes, green fig, plantain, patchoi. Huh, where are the apples, oranges and bananas? Rick looks at me and comments, "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!"

No, we're in Trinidad, and spending several months here each season for 6 years, we now feel quite local. We eat pelau and roti, we know most of the maxi taxi drivers, and are hard pressed to drive through Carenage Village without bouncing up someone we know. We have our favorite local radio stations, know most of the local popular songs, and are friends with the singers and band members. Our cell phone rings off the hook. Local friends call to ask where the hot pan and calypso events are. Cuz we know. And when we go to these events, we hug up the band and the performers, cuz Trinidad is a small island, and if you stay open and friendly, you soon know everyone.

It's Carnival season here, and that means that the streets are pulsating with the rhythm of steel pan and calypso. It is just indescribable. There are festivities everywhere, with primal music and vibrant colors and dance and art and creativity and song. There are Calypso contests, pan competitions, children's parades....what a celebration of life! This is our 4th Trinidad Carnival, and each year we discover several new treasures.

Just imagine dozens of steel bands playing in the streets, while thousands of fans dance to the rhythmic and magical music of the pan, with broad smiles and eye contact with every stranger (have you noticed how Americans often avoid eye contact with strangers?) These happy islanders are beaming with a love of life that fills your heart and intoxicates you. I am close to tears many times for the joy of it all. We have never seen such pure and heartfelt happiness as we see here.

Every night there are dozens of spectacular shows to choose from, exhibiting local cultural arts born in Trinidad, including calypso, steel pan, chutney, soca, chutney soca, limbo, and tassa. Chutney is a beautiful form of East Indian singing and dancing, and soca is Trinidad party music, so chutney soca is East Indian party music. Tassa is drumming that takes you to other worlds, other times. Amazing that so many wonderful and different musical art forms were born here.

We love the competitions for King and Queen of Carnival, with the amazing 40' high costumes. They are incredibly creative, colorful works of art.

One of our favorite Carnival events is the 'Talk Tent', a showcase of AfroTrinidadian oral tradition, which is old time storytelling at its best, African style.

But really, there is no other musical art form that defines Trinidad like Calypso, which is the ultimate AfroTrinidadian oral tradition. It's a combination of social and political commentary, all set to a lively rhythm. Calypsos typically have clever and humorous lyrics, and are sung by well dressed gentlemen in 50's style fedora hats. They say that if you want to study the history of Trinidad, just listen to the lyrics of the Calypso songs. Harry Belefonte popularized his own form of Calypso in America, but he learned the art form from the Calypso icons of Trinidad.

Two years ago, we met and quickly became close friends with "Lord Superior", the granddaddy of Calypso, or "Kaiso", to use the traditional Patois term. He is one of the most loved and respected Caribbean entertainers here and abroad. He introduced us to his world of Calypso, which we adored. He brought us everywhere with him, introducing us to other Calypsonians, and inviting us to intimate gatherings, where these old guys sat around singing old Calypsos, and we just absorbed it all with our mental video cameras, treasuring these experiences that possibly no other foreigners had been exposed to.

When Lord Superior decided to produce a Carnival show with vintage calypsos, to be called the 'Vintage Kaiso Brigade', he asked us to help. Working with him, and all of the other calypsonians in the cast, has been a wonderful and rewarding experience, taking us 'backstage' in a way we never thought possible. Talk about 'immersion' in another culture!!!!!

It's funny. When we first planned to sail around the world, we dreamed of exploring rain forests and hiking up volcanoes and snorkeling in warm, clear water. We looked forward to learning about other people and other cultures. Never really thought we'd be producing a cabaret-style show in a developing nation! Few, if any, other foreigners have ever become immersed in Trinidad's culture like we have.

With Lord Superior, we produced a total of 9 shows last season and 14 shows this season, and the show was televised, and will air from now until next Carnival season. Though it was a lot of hard work, it was a very rewarding experience.

Lord Superior has now adopted me as his goddaughter. That makes it even harder to leave this island paradise. Trinidad has truly become our second home, and we have so many wonderful friends to say goodbye to. But after Carnival, it's time to wrap up some boat projects, and get ready to set sail again. This time we're really leaving the Eastern Caribbean, heading toward Central America, looking forward to exploring the islands off the coast of Venezuela, Colombia, and Panama, as well as Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and finally Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. We have the books and charts, have been reading up on where were going, and are getting so excited.

Take care, sweet friends, and write to us about your lives and what's new, we miss you very much....love always, Ami and Rick

Where We've Been
Silver Stars Steel Orchestra
Ami
12/23/2005, Trinidad, West Indies

The lights dimmed. The band captain tapped his pan sticks against the side of his pan....one, two, a one two three four....and the band started the first set of the concert with a lively version of "In The Mood". The audience could not stay in their seats, moved by the song, driven to get as close to the band as possible, shouting at us, screaming gleefully, dancing and laughing and loving the music. In Trinidad, people don't just listen to music. They participate in it, become part of it. Especially when the band is the Silver Stars Steel Orchestra, known as the best dance band in Trinidad.

In August, I was asked to join the "stage side" of Silver Stars, which is a selected group of 15 players who play at engagements. It was a huge challenge for me to learn their repertoire of over 50 songs, mostly complex original arrangements of popular songs. Rick was so patient and understanding, as I was spending every night and most weekends at the pan yard, practicing. Oh, but what fun! We perform at concerts, weddings, festivals, and private functions. This time of year, we are doing a lot of Christmas parties.

Rick has a new passion....he is teaching himself to play the saxophone! He's really doing quite well, and loves it! He spent the month of August in Europe with his mom, sister and her husband. They visited relatives in Sweden, explored the Fijords in Norway, and stayed at his sister's place in Rome. It was a great vacation for him!

In September, Rick and I celebrated 20 years together....yes, can you believe it! We went to Tobago for the weekend, stayed at a quiet resort on the beach, and just had a wonderful time!

We've completed a lot of our planned boat projects, in preparation for extended offshore cruising. We've replaced our standing rigging, have had a new main sail made, and have installed a radar system. We're going to install a wind generator to supplement the electricity we currently get from our solar panels. We have worldwide charts and cruising guides, and lots of reference books. We hope to start heading west after Carnival, to visit the Venezuelan islands, the ABC islands, Cartagena, and then go on toward Panama. This planning phase is really very exciting, and fun, but a lot of hard work and difficult decisions, too.

In the meantime, we're thoroughly enjoying the Christmas season here in Trinidad. Trinis celebrate every holiday with music; in the streets, on every corner, downtown, everywhere! Small neighborhood bands form, and go from house to house, playing music, and being rewarded with love, rum, and sweets. It's a truly joyful time!

We reflect on this past year with fond memories. Memories of zipping along under full sail, sea spray on our skin, delighting in the dolphins dancing alongside our bows. Memories of discovering a rare and beautiful "magnificent urchin" while snorkeling in the Grenadines. Of swimming with a pair of stingrays, in among the coral bommies. Remembering sunsets shared with friends. And dancing in the streets to sweet sweet pan music. Of all the fetes and festivals in Trinidad. Of the wonderful people we've met here. All in all, it's really been an incredible year for us!

We hope that everyone is enjoying a joyous season, and hope that the New Year brings love and laughter and adventure to all!

Where We've Been
Trinidad Reflections
Ami
08/12/2005, Trinidad

It's great to be back in Trinidad. Feels like home. We know so many people here; can't go anywhere without running into friends, though admittedly, they are mostly pannists.

We've really fallen in love with the people of Trinidad. These happy islanders are beaming with a love of life that fills your heart and intoxicates you. I am close to tears many times for the joy of it all. We have never seen such pure and heartfelt happiness as we see here.

This is our first summer in Trinidad. We are amazed that there are so many fetes, festivals, concerts, shows and competitions. And it's not even Carnival season! These Trinis sure know how to have fun!

The captain of the band that I played the Panorama competition with, SilverStars, invited me to join their "stageside" group! Every steel band has a smaller "side" of the band, about 20 pannists that are hired to play at functions, mostly weddings, funerals, festivals and private parties. SilverStars has perhaps the best, most highly paid and most often asked for stageside steel band in all of Trinidad!!!!! I have been practicing like crazy, trying to learn their complex repertoire of songs, which has been extremely challenging, but I am just having a blast!!!!! And to fill the time while I'm away in the pan yard, Rick has taken up the saxophone with a passion! His first real try at a musical instrument, and he loves it! And I'm amazed how good he sounds

It's gonna be hard to leave Trinidad, but we are working hard to outfit the boat, and are preparing to start out on our circumnavigation. We're installing some new equipment, getting charts and cruising guides for Central America and the South Pacific, buying spares and medical supplies, making minor repairs, doing annual maintenance, and reading up on stuff like heavy weather tactics and recommended world cruising routes. We've had the opportunity to talk with other circumnavigators here, and learn from them. It's really exciting!!!! Barring any unforeseen problems, we should start sailing west by springtime, with new rigging, new sails, and a boat well outfitted and provisioned for extensive offshore cruising.

We go for long periods of time living in remote areas, where products and services are scarce, or non-existent. So once we do arrive someplace like Trinidad, where there is more of a marine services industry, inexpensive internet cafes, and more availability of products, we have a long list of things to do that we've been adding to for months! But each day, no matter what work we're doing, is still an adventure!

While we both love this cruising lifestyle, it certainly is not easy or convenient, like life ashore in California was. We are constantly fighting the effects of this harsh tropical climate. The salt corrodes, the sun damages, and the movement of the boat is conducive to breaking and chafing things. The high humidity causes all kinds of green growth everywhere, and drains our energy. We're living on a small boat, where space is at a premium, yet we need to carry with us everything we need to survive for months at a time. We have to monitor our water usage, as well as our energy usage, and are constantly devising ways to make more, and use less, of both of these precious commodities!

We're living in different foreign countries, without a car or an address or a phone, and each new place we visit we need to learn about public transportation, pay phone services, local shopping and internet cafes. We have to remember whether to divide by 2.65 or multiply by 1.27 to determine what a product would cost in U.S. dollars, just to judge the value of that product in the local currency. And which way to look when crossing the street! It's not easy and comfortable, but it's the adventure and new experiences that we seek and treasure, and the rewards are indescribable.

While in Peru, even in the most remote villages in the Andes, we saw children wearing Nike caps and Rebok sneakers. On the secluded island of Marie-Galante, we were surprised when someone joked about "Jacobi & Meyers". Satellite TV is bringing American shows to every corner of the world, and it's going to become harder and harder for different peoples to preserve their own cultural expressions. We are anxious to travel the world before this happens.

Where We've Been
Hurricane Emily
Ami
07/14/2005, Trinidad, West Indies

"....National Weather Service Forecast Advisory #13...Tropical Storm Emily has been upgraded to a Category 1 Hurricane...current position is 11.9 north, 62.3 west, moving WNW at 20 knots per hour...sustained winds of 80 knots, gusting to 105... uh,folks, it's gonna be a rough night..."

We turned off the SSB radio at the end of the transmission. We sat in silence for a few moments. The eye of the hurricane was now only 80 miles from us. The good news, for us, was that she was veering slightly to the north, away from us. The bad news was that she was strengthening, and becoming more organized. The very word "hurricane" struck terror in us.

We were exhausted. We had worked hard over the past 48 hours to prepare for the worst, and now it was here. We felt fairly secure in our marina slip, with double lines forward and aft, and extra fenders on both sides. Our sails were down, decks cleared, dinghy hauled up on shore and filled with water to weigh it down. Everything inside was secured, VHF handheld radios and spotlights were fully charged. We were able to get reliable updates on the radio every three hours from the National Weather Service.

We kept our VHF radio on station 68, monitoring the communications between vessels, to see if fellow cruisers needed help. We periodically checked our lines, and the lines of the boats on either side of us, for chafing. We were up most of the night, just keeping watch, monitoring the conditions.

We were lucky. The winds were not as strong as projected. The swell bounced us all around quite a bit, but our lines held us well. The torrential rains made the conditions seem worse than they really were.

It's just starting to get light. The worst is over. Ok, we've just been through our first hurricane, and have learned a lot. It was a rough night, but other than a few new leaks around hatches and portholes, we seem to be just fine. A lot of other boats had problems, but many were just not as prepared as we were. There are still high winds in the mountainous areas of Trinidad, with flooding, and loss of electrical services in some parts, but no reports of other damage. We have not yet heard reports of damage on Grenada or the other Windward Islands.

Where We've Been

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Who: Rick & Ami Bergstrom
Port: Laguna Beach, CA
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