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First of all, thank you.
Thank you for all of the support and feedback over the last few weeks.
We had to think hard about what to share on this blog.
It would be so easy just to share lighthearted stories about exhilarating sails and lazy days on the beach. Photographs of a tropical paradise. Cocktails with new friends. Fun anecdotes about having to do our washing by hand and cook in a small galley. Explainers of the constant jobs that need doing on a boat.
But that wouldn’t be the whole story. Maybe it’s 12.5 years of working at the Scottish Parliament. Honesty and integrity have been two of the guiding principles of my professional life, and I’ve come to value them in my personal life too. To not be open about the difficult side of this move would be letting my belief in those values slip.
It’s not that I don’t see why some people stick only to the positive stories, or why they like to build a time lag into their posts. That’s what works for them. But we’re not in this for likes and follows, we’re in it to tell our story, our way.
So thank you, for accepting the heart that’s on my sleeve. And for all of the words of comfort I’ve received as I struggle to settle in.
If we were to share the ins and outs of each week, it would cease to be entertaining. Humans are often creatures of habit and routine, and living on a 45-by-21-foot hunk of fiberglass in the Caribbean sea is no different. But a flavour of our humdrum lives every so often will give you an idea of what it’s like. It will also help us, one day, to look back on how we were getting on at certain points. What life looked like.
So, you get a snapshot. A picture of 7 days in our life afloat, every so often, maybe every month or so. We’ll start with the past week, our third week of living on Mirounga.
Week three onboard
This covers 10-16 May 2021. It’s the start of a new week, after a particularly difficult week for me emotionally. On Sunday I had felt completely broken, sinking into the thick black mud of depression. My one comfort when I feel this way is knowing that I’ve been that low before. I’ve questioned my existence before. And I’ve always come out the other side.
The plan for the week was routine. Try to build something I could cling to, and bring some structure into my life of leisure.
I’ll admit it, I’m mean and wake up later than Colin, who gets up at 4:45 to start work at 5:00. I just don’t see the need to wake up in the dark when I don’t need to. I’m also not ashamed to admit that I’m finding some comfort in a little TV watching on my iPad. I fell into the habit when I had severe insomnia a few months ago and now lying in bed watching TV helps to soothe me.
This morning, it’s Drag Race Down Under, so I can chat about it with friends at home via Whatsapp. Then, in an attempt to boost my exercise, I slip on a sexy swimming cap and goggles and swim for half an hour. I like to use a tether as it means I can keep my back to the spray and do a little stretching between bouts of breast stroke. Out of the water, the workout keeps going with laundry, which currently requires a lot of manual labour.
We eat breakfast together, then I tackle some cupboard organisation that’s been begging to be done since we moved. I find some time to start researching a flight in August, to bring me back to the Caribbean after a visit home.
Colin finishes work at 1pm, and after a little tidying up we head ashore with our trash. We try to empty the bins every 1-2 days to keep everything fresh.
A disappointing lunch
We decide to eat lunch at Frangipani, who assured me in a very deadpan manner on Instagram that they have the best lobster sandwich on Bequia. Lobster season is almost over, so I want to judge this for myself. Unfortunately, the wait is so long that I’m at risk of missing my 3pm appointment with Dr. Gregory Thomas, my chiropractor. We’ve been in the restaurant almost an hour, and waiting for food for 40 minutes, when I decide I just have to go. I fast walk my way around, have my 3-minute click, and walk back – I’m only gone 15 minutes. Our food came out 5 minutes after I left, with not so much as an acknowledgment that I’d gone. The lobster sandwich was meh, not a patch on De Reef’s offering, and service with a smile wasn’t enough to make us ever go back.
After some grocery shopping, we’re back on board. I swim for another half hour while Colin snorkels, and we watch the sunset as always. I’m skipping the sunset beer, trying to have a few alcohol-free days a week. We ate lunch so late that we’re not that hungry, so we eat a small plate of samosas for dinner then head to bed to watch the latest episode of The Rookie.
Today’s morning viewing is Glow Up, which I’m just catching up on, and then it’s time to swim. Through the morning I find and book the flight I need, and start making plans with friends and family. We didn’t get to see a lot of people before leaving, so August is going to be a hectic month of catch-up for me.
I have a video chat with a friend, then do three hours of work on a voluntary project, helping a local charity improve its web presence and communications. Today this means building and promoting a survey for some baselining work around how people connect with charities.
A messy job
After work, we eat callaloo soup and roti bread for lunch. Colin then has the unenviable task of removing the old waste pipe from the heads. This is functioning fine, but the survey flagged up that it was an outdated type and should be replaced. Thankfully the pipe comes out without mess, and we manage to measure it so we don’t overpay for a replacement. We dingy ashore to dispose of the old pipe and buy the new one at Dockside Marine.
Frustratingly I badly stub my toe on the companionway door as we come on board. This toe has been broken a few times, so we don’t take any chances. I spend much of the afternoon with my foot in ice or elevated. Colin manages to fit the new waste pipe, and once I can stand I make banana bread. My afternoon swim is aborted because of the pain in my foot. Instead, I grab a noodle and a sponge and spend half an hour cleaning Mirounga’s hulls below the waterline.
A social evening
Richard comes onboard soon after 5pm. We have a few questions he can help with, and it’s his last chance to see that we’re taking good care of Mirounga before he and Suzanna head back to the UK. After a chat, we head ashore to Mac’s for dinner. We finally meet the owners, and I get the warmest hug as a welcome. Dinner is pleasant and it’s nice to finally get a social evening with Richard and Suzanna.
Back onboard, we’re in bed before our usual 9pm bedtime.
Wednesday was a bit of a write-off in some ways. My energy was very low, I was suffering period cramps, and the heat was making me very uncomfortable. It meant a slower start, watching Glow Up and Below Deck Sailing Yacht, and skipping my swim. Then I lay wherever I could stay cool working on my plans for August. Unfortunately, laundry can never be escaped for long, so I got some movement in at least.
After a lunch of eggs, bacon, and fried banana bread I perked up and had a little time in the sun. I generally avoid sunbathing, but sometimes 20 minutes recharges the batteries.
Errands that never end
The afternoon was for errands – we had a couple of returns/exchanges to make, and we had to figure out the glass return system. We managed to return our crate of empty Hairoun bottles, and Colin went back alone to buy new crates of beer and bitter lemon. We’d had no idea until Richard explained that it was far cheaper to go straight to the Hairoun depot than to buy from the grocery store.
We both spent some time in the water, me swimming on my tether and Colin snorkeling, and I battled through the ordeal that is washing my hair. Washing thick, long curly hair on a boat is a liability; I refuse to do so inside for fear of clogging the drain.
As the sun set we answered Q&A questions on Instagram. Dinner ended up being a couple of bowls of crisps – we just don’t always need that third meal. We watched Superstore and Bob’s Burgers in bed, and as always fell asleep towards the end.
I started the day with Glow Up and kept my swim short because my hip was playing up – I’m hypermobile and have to be very tentative with exercise. My dad called briefly whilst visiting my Grandma. Joan is 94, and lives near Rotherham in the same house she’s had since around 1950. My mum was her only child, and this was the first chance Dad, her son-in-law, has had to see her since a fall and hip replacement last year. It was good to see her face.
My morning work was completing a written test for a job application. A completely new subject and area of work for me, but as always if it involves words I can hold my own. Watch this space on that one… Later in the morning, first one Caribbean Brown Booby, then its young, then its mate, took up residence on the dive boat next door. It was nice to spend some time observing and photographing them.
Rain, at last!
After ramen for lunch, we spent time tidying and cleaning the boat. We run errands and I had my 3pm click with Greg. Before I can think about an afternoon swim, it starts to rain, and we have our first go at collecting rainwater from the deck. We are sadly not awash; we get very little. I throw a hoodie and raincoat on and enjoy some time sitting on the nets, getting a soaking. It soothes my homesickness massively. Meanwhile, Colin makes a loaf of bread.
We had planned to go out for dinner but don’t fancy a soggy dighy ride, so Colin collects a takeaway pizza from Mac’s. We somehow eat the whole thing with a bottle of Vinho Verde and nod off watching Bob’s Burgers.
It’s a morning of chores before cheese on toast for lunch. Then we do some proper grocery shopping, visiting both Doris’s and Knights. For once, I drive the dinghy, and manage to get us on to the dock and Mirounga neatly enough.
I stow a lot of empty plastic bottles from a cockpit locker in the forepeak lockers, which I’ve been meaning to do for weeks, and use up some tank water to scrub the decks before a refill from Daffodil. Then I drive us to Jack’s for a classic Bequia sunset and dinner. Max the dog joins us, and I take a parcel of chicken and chips down to the beach to feed the good boy.
We enjoy some time looking at the stars on the nets, then manage all of 10 minutes of an episode of Fear the Walking Dead before bed. Friday nights are just WILD on Mirounga.
Today is the big day – our first sail out of the bay on Mirounga. We’ve decided to head to Saltwhistle Bay on Mayreau for the night.
We get a little lie in but are still up by 7:30 to prepare. I make banana bread, and we eat a big breakfast of cereal, fruit, and the remainder of the last loaf of banana bread. We start getting ready to leave at around 9. We have some trouble when we go to unfurl the mainsail. Our roller-furling main seems to be getting bunched up and isn’t coming out easily. We call Richard who comes down, and in the time that takes the sail shakes itself out. Richard is delighted to come out for a false alarm.
It’s 10:10 when we leave the mooring ball and we have a very calm, peaceful sail making 5-8kts. We watch boobies glide along in our slipstream and flying fish leap in the distance. We both find ourselves nodding at times, and to wake myself up I boil a kettle and make tea. It seems inconsequential, but getting comfortable having tea and biscuits underway is my way of building life skills. From tea and biscuits, I’ll move on to meals, washing up, and, should it be needed, the balance and skills needed for multi-day passages.
The calm sail lulls us into a false sense of security. We get the staysail and genoa in once Saltwhistle is in sight. Colin seems flustered, so I’m trying to step up and be ready to do my part. I check we’re ready to furl in the main and he agrees. We both fail to check whether we’re still into the wind.
We’re not. My left hand takes the brunt. I can see there’s no skin off and I feel no pain so I guide Colin as he starts to furl in the main on his own. Then the pain hits. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. My whole hand is on fire. I stagger down to the galley and grab the first thing I can – a mojito popsicle. Clutching my lurid green ice pack I can watch Colin finish furling, and head to the bow. From the bow, I shout back guidance as Colin drops the anchor. Thankfully we dig in to the sand well on our first attempt.
The anchor is secure by 14:30, and I gaze at the paradise we have to ourselves with tears in my eyes. We’ve visited before so the bay isn’t new to us, but it’s one of the most beautiful we’ve known. The beach begs us to enjoy it, but I can’t take my hand off the ice for even a minute. I’m furious at myself for making such a stupid mistake.
Colin feeds me sugary drinks and my prescription painkillers as I sit mournfully with my hand in ice water. I can’t think straight when a local restauranteur paddles over to see if we want BBQ for dinner so we blindly say yes, even though I’m not likely to feel like it.
I need a distraction so I watch Pooch Perfect while Colin snorkels on the anchor and has a swim. After over an hour I can finally remove the ice. I’m drained though, so I shower and take a nap. Colin can have paradise to himself for a while. At least, it looks like paradise. He spends much of that time chasing birds off the deck. They seem determined to stain every inch of Mirounga’s topsides with the berries they had for lunch.
Restaurant for two?
Finally, I start to revive. My hand is blistered and hard to straighten but the pain is going. After dragging the dinghy onto the beach we sit with beers and watch the sunset. It’s a subtle one, but nice to see from a new view, with Mirounga in the foreground.
When we arrive at The Last Bar Before the Jungle we’re greeted warmly by both a server and a lovely one-eyed ginger cat. We have barely fussed a cat in weeks, so it’s lovely to have this little creature in our hands. Colin gets a cuddle, and we enjoy the purrs before the waitress unceremoniously carries the poor thing away.
We are unsurprisingly the only guests. Dinner is fish with coleslaw salad, baked potato, and rice. It’s very tasty, and the cat seems to agree – it’s back and sitting between us as soon as our plates are down. We take it in turns holding it off on our laps before it is removed again.
We’re slightly unsettled the rest of the meal as we can the cat yowling – Colin even gets up to ask about it. We don’t see it again, but we do see a brother, a larger cat with both eyes who is just as friendly. We’re assured that the cat is fine and will get our leftovers. We’re still uncomfortable about the habit of locking it up to keep it away. We understand not everyone wants a cat on their lap at dinnertime, but there’s surely a kinder way to distract it.
After Colin gets a thorough soaking trying to get the dinghy back afloat we drink some cream punch back on board. We love the quiet and the clear view of the stars, but we’re soon crawling into a muggy bunk, exhausted.
We’ve slept well, but it’s been warm. There’s nowhere near as much breeze here as there is in Bequia.
It’s also a very hot morning, and we don’t feel like doing much. We have a slow start, and spend some time reading before having a brunch of bacon, beans, fried egg, and bread. Then we tidy up again, ready for the trip north. We had considered staying longer and heading to Canouan for a night, but the lack of breeze and the pooping birds has put us off.
We raise the anchor just before noon, ready for what Richard had described as ‘a slog’ back to Bequia. I’m worried about having only one decent hand, but with sailing gloves on I can help Colin and we manage. We find the sailing fine, bumpier but not a slog at all. We start by motor-sailing, but find we’re doing just as well under sail alone so turn it off.
We listen to Hamilton, for the millionth time. I find it amusing just how many settings we’ve listened to this album in the past year – walking around locked down Edinburgh, driving through the Yorkshire Moors or the Cairngorms, cooking in Iona, whilst putting in 14 hour days on our renovation project last year. It somehow always keeps us going.
Because of the wind direction we have a choice once we approach Bequia. Tack, or motor. It’s approaching 4pm and my hand won’t take many tacks, so we decide on the latter. We take the sails in (without incident this time) and trundle back home. Again, despite injury, I’m perfectly able to pick up our mooring ball when we arrive after our 5-hour passage. Because we’ve listened to music, it’s flown by.
Once the deck is tidy, we swim and shower, and have a calm evening. We do, however, have some prosecco with our samosas to celebrate our first proper sailing and night away. We even manage to finish watching the episode of Fear the Walking Dead we abandoned days before.
Back in Bequia
So there you have it, a week in the life.
It’s dull at times – even on a yacht time needs to be taken to work, do chores, grocery shop, and wash clothes. Some would argue more so than in a house. Days can feel very busy, and very tiring, yet we get to the end of them wondering what we did.
We both agree that our favourite time of day is after 4pm. When the relentless sun disappears and work and chores are done. When we can sit with a beer and watch the sunset. When we can climb into our comfortable bunk and enjoy the cool breeze as Mirounga rocks us to sleep.
Having more routine is helping my mental health, but I still don’t feel myself. While Colin looks forward to the cool evenings, I look forward to them for an added reason. It means I’ve survived one more day. One more day on Mirounga. One more day in the heat.
I had thought that getting away for the night, getting some sailing in, might be a lightbulb moment. We both enjoyed it, but at the end of the day, the climate is still inescapable.
Will the beauty of exploring more islands be enough for us to adjust to the burning sun?