At the top of the rollercoaster

December 20, 2021

Reading time: 13 minutes

I’m not much of a rollercoaster person. At least I don’t think I am.

Although I visited theme parks as a kid and teen, it was never about the rides. Give me the backlot tour at Universal Studios over a Big Dipper any day. And when I did go on rides, at the shows when they visited Kelso each summer, it was different. Those were the rides that were 4 minutes of abject, constant discomfort. The Walzer, the Dive Bomber, the Flying Chairs.

I can only think of a handful of times I’ve been on a rollercoaster or flume, and only once or twice without friends to jostle me into it.

So why have I felt recently like I’m at the top of a rollercoaster? That feeling of nervousness, excitement, fear, and a soup├žon of peer pressure.

Back to just us

We’re in Sint Maarten, on the Dutch side. We have been for nearly three weeks, since our journey up from Guadeloupe via St Barths.

Alastair and Rose went back to Scotland two weeks ago and Colin and I went into full R&R mode. We loved having them onboard, but I’ve realised that I have some work to do on accepting other people being in my space. It took some decompression to realise that, not through any fault of theirs at all, I was in a constant state of anxiety just because my brain can’t cope with my space being used differently. A fork being put back in a different place to where I’d put it shouldn’t trigger a flight or flight response in me, but it does. I was constantly overstimulated and overwhelmed, and feeling huge amounts of guilt for feeling that way.

I now know I need to speak up more about what’s going on in my head. I’m hoping that because the other guests we have coming are people I’ve spent far more time ‘living’ with, it will be easier for me. They’re probably more used to my need for control over my environment, and I’m more used to them being part of it.

Coming down

A&R’s three week visit was the tail-end of three months of what felt like perpetual motion. Since I got back from the UK in September, we’ve sailed over 600 nautical miles from Grenada to Sint Maarten. Aside from a couple of weeks each in Bequia and Sainte Anne, Martinique, we’ve been moving a lot. Exploring. Doing. Seeing.

All in, we really needed some time where it was just us, lazing around in our underwear and binge-watching TV. No interruptions, no obligations, no pressure. After a few days though, we started to feel stuck. And trapped.

Normal service is resumed

The best laid plans

Sint Maarten/St Martin may be the top of our rollercoaster. Martinique and St Barths aside, everywhere we’ve stopped on our journey was familiar to us. Even Montserrat and Dominica, which we ‘yellow flagged’ overnight on our journey, are places we’ve visited. We’d kind of expected momentum to keep us going.

We were excited to see the islands that were new to us, to experience the novel. We didn’t have a clear plan, but we’d expected that after Christmas in St Marten and meeting friends in the BVI in January, we would head to USVI. Then we’d get to see Saba, St Eustatius, St Kitts and Nevis, and spend more time in Guadeloupe and Martinique. We would have a whole two months taking in new places, before meeting my dad in Bequia in late-March.

The reality

As we moved north, excitement carried us.

Throughout all of this buddy boating and seeing friends at different anchorages has been a pleasant backdrop.

In Saint Lucia, we picked up our first two solar panels, and I could buy Branston Pickle in the supermarket.

In Martinique, we gorged ourselves on cheese and fresh bread from the boulangerie. We got the paddleboards and washing machine we’d been dreaming of. We also found ourselves in laid back bars with friends watching the sun set with a can of Lorraine in hand.

In Guadeloupe, we were spoiled for choice on wine, and I discovered that butter flavoured crisps exist. We could eat out with almost any cuisine we fancied at Marina Bas du Fort. We could catch up with our friend Laurie.

In St Barths, everything was so pristine it barely felt Caribbean. We goggled at the windows of designer stores and mused about how the other half live.

Sint Maarten? It has everything. Amazing supermarkets (hello halloumi, burrata and Hawaiian bread rolls). The largest chandleries (hello third and final solar panel). An incredible array of bars and restaurants (live music! Neapolitan pizza!). It even has an entire store that sells nothing but Crocs! It’s also amazing for Superyacht spotting, and we’ve loved having the iconic Christina O in our landscape, and passing Steve Jobs’ Philippe Starke designed yacht Venus when we pop to the shops.

So why aren’t we into it?

An unexpected dip

We really thought that our excitement for the next few months would just be growing beyond all measure now. I can’t quite define it, but it’s been a bit of an anticlimax.

Sint Maarten is incredibly friendly, at least in terms of locals. It has everything we could possibly need. But… it doesn’t.

It hasn’t really got much of a soul. We have cruiser friends here, but I can’t say we feel connected to the island in any way. We hired a car and drove around, but this tiny island just didn’t speak to us. Is it because, split between two nationalities, it’s failed to from a cohesive identity? Has its status as a Superyacht and Cruise Ship haven put off liveabords? Has it yet to recover its former glory after Hurricane Irma in 2017? Or is it just a wee bit too close to America?

For whatever reason, we don’t love it. It’s expensive, ridiculously so. It makes those restaurants and amazing supermarkets less appealing. It’s partly the time of year, but it is so damn windy. All the time. As a result, we don’t really get in the water even on the paddleboards. It’s so built up that we don’t know where to start on walks ashore. And it’s lonely. Without Bear and Ray here we would just feel a total lack of community. There is virtually no data signal, and no decent wifi available on anchor, so we feel disconnected, from everyone and everything.

Lost in limbo

We’ve had this strange state of limbo where we get up and just read all day, not really having a purpose in life. It’s fun for a few days, but into our second week of it we feel listless and restless all at once. I finally have time to start working out or writing more, but I don’t have any drive. We have all these options to eat out or go for a drink, but we don’t feel the urge. We could day sail, or book a dive, but we don’t. Last week we made plans to clear out so we could go to the French side, but we dithered and changed our plans over and over. It’s not like we’re being held here because we love it, more that nothing else feels appealing enough to make the effort of hauling anchor worthwhile.

Is Sint Maarten to blame?

I don’t think it’s Sint Maarten’s fault, even though it doesn’t help. It would have been impossible for us to keep up the pace of what we were doing, and any pause in that would feel like a crash. And I think the apathy around chandleries is to do with being done nesting. We’ve put a lot of money into making Mirounga a home. Now we don’t have an income, anything else we want to do is a frustrating expense we have to let slide.

I think impending Christmas doesn’t help. We’re softly heartbroken not to have the friends we call our “Christmas family” (though they’re always family) onboard for the holidays. At the same time, I’m feeling homesick for the first time in months – I actually want the dark chilly nights and rain. It doesn’t feel like the festive season at all. I’ve not watched a single cheesy Hallmark movie on Netflix. No amount of steel pan and reggae interpretations of carols seems to change the vibe. It’s also always a bittersweet time of year because of the anniversary of our friend Heather’s death and my mum’s cancer diagnosis.

I think being ‘disconnected’ hasn’t helped. It’s silly, but not having reliable data has made me feel quite alone. It’s a coping mechanism of mine which I needed when A&R were onboard, and not having it probably added to my stress. Basically, for neurodiverse people, playing with a phone is often a way of focusing input into a manageable size and having a time out. I miss my friends, and miss being constantly connected. I miss sharing what’s going on in our life. And I hate knowing that a video call home isn’t an option.

We definitely can’t blame our mood entirely on Sint Maarten.

Crashing down

Still, the buildup of excitement, fear, camaraderie and joy that we felt approaching this point has fallen flat. Our ideas of what the next few months would be have stalled, because we’re not enjoying “the plan” as much as we expected.

(This is usually the point where someone who doesn’t know us that well tells us to relax and go with the flow… We’re not miserable, not in any way. We feel relaxed, and happy to be living on a boat in the Caribbean. We’re just bored!).

We considered short trips to Saba and Statia, but the cost of PCR testing and the weather make it untenable. Saba in particular is supposedly far better to visit by land, but our finances just don’t stretch to that. We’re accepting that we won’t see those islands. We’re also realising that if we don’t love Sint Maarten because of the American influence, we won’t like USVI much.

We toyed with just heading to the BVI for Christmas but it would be bittersweet to be there after our plans with friends fell through. Instead, we’ll go around to the French side and spend Christmas in Grand Case with Bear and Ray and their friends Debbie and Fraser. Then, before new year, weather allowing, we’ll be in the BVI.

Perhaps it’s watching the last season of Lucifer, but we decided to shelve the grand plan and consider what we truly desire.

Epiphany

We realised what we were pining for. Bequia. Everything about it. The people, the beautiful clear water, the protected bay, the access to other beautiful islands, and even the basic supermarkets. Sure, we can’t buy anything and everything there, but we also couldn’t spend US$400 in a week on groceries there. We know a lot of our sailing friends have moved on but we know that, unlike other islands, we won’t be alone there. If we were there right now, we’d be so busy and be having so much fun.

A new plan forms

We thought about the other stops we’d expected to make. St Kitts and Nevis we anchored beside, and I have the strong feeling we’d prefer visiting on land. Dominica we’ve probably actually seen the best of that we can see as cruisers. It’s the reality that, without hiring a car or getting a guide, you just don’t often see the best of islands. And realistically, with our budget, hiring a car and having the odd stay on land just isn’t possible. I badly wish we could go to Saint Lucia and have a few nights at Tet Rouge, but again, we can’t justify that financially.

At the end of the day, since we moved onboard the highlight for us has been the social aspect. It’s no coincidence that the islands we’ve liked the most, Bequia and Martinique, have been the ones where we’ve been out 2-3 nights a week with friends.

So, after BVI, unless we find any of our friends we want to see are stopped en-route, we’ll head south. We want to go back to Guadeloupe to see Laurie, and we’ll stop in Martinique again, but otherwise we’ll head as directly as possible to Bequia. When we arrived there last year it was at the tail end of a season stolen by Covid, and amidst the chaos of a volcanic eruption. From what we see online, the island is back to its best. February will be buzzing, and we can’t wait to be back there in a few short weeks.

Doing things our way

Some people would think we’re mad to not spend more time getting to know St Martin/Sint Maarten. Some would criticise our choice to skip other islands and go back to the one we know best.

Sometimes, though, it’s not all about the rollercoaster. All that buildup and excitement is sometimes just underwhelming, and at worst it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Sometimes, you just wish you’d used your token on a calm, familiar ride that you can enjoy with your friends.

You’ll find us on the merry-go-round…

A.