Where oh Where Will My Hurricanes Be

As mentioned in the last number of posts, we are still in St. Lucia as the pandemic has locked down all East Caribbean Islands (ECI’s) for inter-island and international travel. They are starting to “open up” as I write this as the spread of the virus has been blunted by the lock down and controls of the islands. Grenada just opened its border to cruisers from other islands seeking safe haven for the hurricane season. We anticipate that Trinidad will do the same, hopefully in June.

The official hurricane season is June 1 to November 30. This is declared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and covers the time period for the vast majority of hurricanes for the year. NOAA also gives these storms names so that the public can follow them easily. Tropical Depressions and Tropical Storms, which proceed or follow the evolution of Hurricanes carry the same name. In other words, systems that are tropical in nature which could develop into hurricanes, whether they do or not, are named.

Needless to say, boats and ships try to avoid these destructive “named” storms. Insurance companies don’t like them either. Most insurance coverage explicitly spells out that there is no or limited coverage during the “season” in the specific hurricane “box”. No wonder then, that boat owners move away from where hurricanes and named storms tend to gather in “the box”. So where oh where will my hurricanes be?

That brings up the crystal ball forecasts that NOAA and many others issue regarding the Hurricane Season. “It’s going to be an above/below/average season, with such and such storms”. A full-throated justification with all sorts of detailed theories, reasons, analysis, percentages etc. of why this will be so. Interesting but what use is it? How should I react knowing that we will get 16 storms (maybe) rather than an average of 14? All it takes is one to ruin your day.

Hurricanes and storms spawn and exist in an area from Africa to Mexico to New England, in other words, a very big area! Compared to that area, the area of an individual storm is really small. Some are larger than others and can affect large areas. In any case, you cannot discount the destruction if you are ever near one. Fortunately forecasting the track, intensity and time frames for individual storms get better each year. And that is much more important than what the “season” will bring. There is no way anyone can forecast months in advance when, where, how big or much of anything about these storms. At best, maybe two weeks before initial development, something might be noticed. And even then, where its heading or how strong it will be is not certain at all. But we can look at history.

NOAA has great public records of all weather forecasts (to verify how accurate they were) but what I was interested in was the actual track of the hurricanes and named storms in the ECI’s (Virgins to Trinidad) over the last 30 years. NOAA publishes a track map for each year which I studied and then compiled the table below (you could also analysis how accurate their forecasts were).

The data needs some explanations. The table lists only NOAA’s named Tropical Depressions, Tropical Storms, Hurricanes and Major Hurricanes. Hurricanes go through stages of strength and organization and so these are the classifications of the “named” storms. There are also tropical waves, subtropical and ex-tropical systems, heavy squalls etc. which may offer sever weather but were not included. I wanted to concentrate on the named storms.

Each storm listed crossed over or between the island chain (Leeward and Windward plus Trinidad – ECI’s) on the date indicated. Don’t assume that winds and destruction only occurred on the islands mentioned. It is only the center (eye) that was noted, neighboring islands would also have experienced effects of the storm. This is especially true of the small islands like Saba, St Kitts etc. Storms evolve over time and therefore become stronger or weaker as they churn their way from the east to the west. You may note that a storm is notated as a Tropical Storm, but you may remember it as a Major Hurricane. That is because it was only a Tropical Storm at that point. Storms that did not pass thru or were not close were not listed. Storms that only hit Puerto Rico, DR and north were not listed. I only looked at the last 30 years. Data goes back much further if a true climatology study was to be done. In any case, this is just a look at the last 30 years, I don’t intend it to be anything more than that.

What did I find? The number of named storms in the Atlantic, 1998 to 2019, totaled 431. Of that, only 59 crossed over or through the East Caribbean Islands (ECI’s). That is less than 14% of the totaled named storms. Of these ECI’s storms, 6 were tropical depressions, 34 tropical storms, 10 hurricanes and 9 major hurricanes. Meaning only 19, 4.4%, of all Atlantic named storms during that period were hurricanes that hit one or more ECI’s.

The official season is June 1 to November 30. However, Atlantic named storms did occur from April to December. One storm, hurricane Alex in 2016 tracked from January 12 to 15 in the central Atlantic.  In the ECI’s, all named storms only occurred during the official season. In 4 of the years there were no storms at all in the ECI’s: 1991, 1992, 1997, 2003.

Of the 59 ECI’s storms, the majority, 76%, were Tropical Storms. Hurricanes accounted for 42% and Tropical depressions were 11%.

Where were they? This became interesting. It is popularly believed that Trinidad has no storms and as you go north from there the numbers, and therefore the chances of getting one, increase. Looking at the numbers however (last 30 years only) shows that Trinidad had 5 storms: 2 Depressions, 3 Tropical storms (no hurricanes). Grenada had 11 storms: 1 Depression, 9 Tropical storms, 1 Major hurricane. All the way up north, the Virgin Islands had 10 storms and 7 were hurricanes. Between Grenada and the Virgin Islands the range varied from 5 to 8 storms each, almost even distribution. The take-away is that Trinidad did indeed have the lowest number of storms and that Grenada is not as immune to storms as believed. In fact, Grenada is only second to the Virgins in number of storms. The most other islands had considerably fewer but not as few as Trinidad. It is noted, however, that the strength of the storms increased as you go north from Trinidad to the Virgins. The Virgins had 4 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

Other interesting points. All storms formed east of the ECI’s and traveled westward except 3: Sebastine 1995, Lenny 1999, and Omar 2008. All 3 had a track with an easterly component. Both Lenny and Omar were major Hurricanes when they were in the ECI’s. Lenny was also interesting because just a month before, Hurricane Jose tracked the same path but in the reverse direction. Iris in 1995 has the record for hitting all islands between Martinique and St. Martin when it tracked up the chain. 

Finally, what was the trend overall of storms during the last 30 years? The below graph indicates that named storms in all the Atlantic trended up. Storms in the ECI’s may also show that trend but not as pronounced. Storms per year ranged from 7 to 28. Twenty-eight in 2005 was off the chart! The average number for all storms was 14.3/year (13.8 if you delete 2005). ECI’s average was 2.

Series1 = ALL STORMS, Series2 = ECI’s STORMS, Series3 = TREND

A popular often asked question are storms getting bigger or stronger. That is beyond the scope of this review although you certainly can get data from NOAA to get some idea. Actually, that question is much more difficult to answer and there is no definitive answer…yet.

So, where oh where will this year’s hurricanes be? TS Arthur already formed, nowhere near the ECI’s. All I will say is that, yes there will be hurricanes and storms this season. And Lord knows where they will be.

Where Are We Going?

The sun rose this morning, much as it has since I can remember. It’s dark and then there is light. As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the first inkling that I had that it would soon be light was the sound of the milk truck. It woke me as it stopped in front of the house. The clinking of milk bottles being deposited into the milk box on the back porch signaled the end of night. The sky brightened, and another day began. I was on my way.

A few years later, my mother’s voice, alarm clocks or my older sister’s scurrying to get dressed for school took the place of the milk bottles. It was time to get going. Get dressed, have breakfast, off to school, to the beach, to the park, to college, to a dance, to work, to a wedding, to a funeral. We were on our way.

As the family grew, so did the destinations of the day. The standing orders of family life directed our efforts to provide destinations to those we cared for the most. Competing destinations, conflicts of paths, objections, both rational and irrational, surfaced. But there was always that sense, if not perfectly clear, that we all were on our way.

When the family blossomed into families of their own, and when destinations could be unhinged from the constraints of wage earning and parental responsibilities – not due to a lack of love or concern but an acknowledgement of their own destinations – we were on our way.

Sailing took us down south through turbid tidewaters and saltmarshes, across the deep indigo blue sea and over the clear turquoise shoals. Through squalls and sunshine, between the flat Bahama sand banks and the volcanic islands in the Caribbean we carried on. Hurricanes occasionally scar this landscape, but vegetation grows back quickly, covering the gashes and slashes. Human history washed over the islands as well, leaving a patina of mixed races and legacies that also left scars. Time may heal all wounds but sometimes fail to hide the scars. Nevertheless, the continual forward march is unstoppable. They are on their way.

We enjoy the journey knowing full well that there are many other possible voyages. Many other destinations. But here we took pause and then the possibilities froze. In short order, there was no way we could be on our way. Was this how the wooly mammoth felt when the ice and snow descended on their roaming lifestyle? What do the sockeye salmon think when they swim up against a dammed Baker Lake? Totally out of their control, they cast their fate to the wind. We sit and wait for the virus to subside, mask at hand, hand sanitizer at the ready, an eye to the weather, and hope wind is not our fate to challenge. Others rebelled. It was not impossible to carry on. They did go on their way only to find similar circumstances at their destination.

The deep freeze is slowly thawing. Movements are small but encouraging. Businesses are further opening their doors beyond mere take-out. Of the two big summer destinations, Grenada and Trinidad, Grenada has already opened their doors to cruisers, quarantine and tests required. We believe Trinidad will eventually allow us to proceed and, if so, we can haul Kalunamoo and fly to New York to visit. The threat of hurricane damage there is minimal, and the boat will be safe. So that is where we are going, eventually. And we will be on our way. Again.      

The Hurricane Season Approaches

Migration is a natural occurrence. The animal kingdom has been at it for a considerable time. The swallows of Argentina may be the most famous. From their cliff side home in Goya, to the Mission in Capistrano, they are celebrated in song and folklore. Oddly enough, when the Mission renovated their building a few years ago the swallows failed to return. The good people of Capistrano feared their loss and notoriety. After some research and experiments to lure them back they successfully restored their nests in the renovated Mission with a replication of what was there before. I suppose they should have thought of that before they tore down the old nest. But we humans love new digs don’t we?

The Swallow of Capistrano

Other birds migrate. Butterflies migrate. Turtles migrate, Leatherbacks over 1200 miles. Whales, fish, and yes, even fresh water fish migrate. Land animals also migrate. Not as far as the mobile air and sea creatures but many travel many hundreds of miles during the changing seasons.

It not surprising then, that humans also have a migration urge. Of course, it has been considerably repressed ever since we discovered fire. Or more properly, used fire for more than having our wildebeest cooked medium rare. By the way, wildebeest travel nearly 1500 miles a year on the Serengeti. Partly to escape being cooked medium rare?

Which brings me to the migration of humans in our neck of the woods, or sea. The famous Snow Birds that migrate south to Florida from the North East has made the Sun Shine State famous for years. Attracted to the warmth of the southern sun, Snow Birds will never be found in snow. In fact, if it weren’t for those early Snow Birds, Florida would still be a place best fit for reptiles, mosquitos, and pink flamingoes. By the way, none of those migrate. In any case, Snow Birds have the ability to fly, usually in an Airbus 300; move at speeds approaching 80 MPH in everything from Altimas to Winnebagos and in general arrive in their winter nesting grounds in the northern hemisphere winter, returning in the spring.

We belong to a different migratory schema. It is also connected to the seasons but inversely related to the attractive properties of the migratory destination. The islands we sail among during most of the year have marginal temperature variations. It is one of the reasons we are here. Call it perpetual summer or “another boring day in paradise” but the fact is, the change of seasons is generally unremarkable. The additional fact that the actual time of sunrise and sunset doesn’t vary more than hour year-round makes time seem to stand still. Sunset is always around dinner time. (Clarification for Snow Birds: dinnertime is considerably later than any Early Bird Special). At our age, that is not a bad thing.

But there is a migration for those who are mobile. As mentioned above, it is not a move to a more attractive location but one where a thing doesn’t occur. That “thing” of course is the dreaded Hurricane. Known world-wide as Hurricanes, Typhoons, Tropical Storms or any number of other names, they do rather upset the local population when their houses and land blow away. Understandably so, the best way to be prepared for a hurricane is to be where there’re not. The islanders have a distinct disadvantage in that regard as no islands have the capability to move, even only a few tens of miles, to be “where there not”. The destructive force of these things can be such, that moving an island should be considered. Given the advance of technology, I’m sure it may be possible. Remember the TV show Lost? Something the geeks need to work on.

Until such time, we, living on a sailboat, have the capability to move our homestead out of harms way. Hurricanes and boats are not a good combination, much worse than to those ashore. We, along with many other cruisers and visitors on boats here, start planning to head to “where there’re not” about this time of year. For us, that is Trinidad. Since 1850 only 6 hurricanes affected Trinidad and Tobago. North of Trinidad, all the way to the U.S. Coast, hurricanes are not that unusual. Granted, the chance of a particular location getting hit is very small. But it is enough of a concern that many boat insurance companies ban coverage from north of Trinidad to Florida during the hurricane season. That same logic propels people to buy Lotto tickets.

The time to be south of here (St. Lucia) is in the next months. Normally this is not a problem, but of course, these are not normal times. Migratory travel is restricted and so we may be in the same dilemma as those sparrows heading to Capistrano. We know that Trinidad is inclined to find a solution as those in the Mission did. Otherwise, we need to go “where there’re not”.    

Restless

How’s that lockdown treating you? Yes, I know the feeling. I can’t stop this feeling, deep inside of me. Girl you don’t realize what you do to me.  Well B.J. Thomas must have been singing about that girl coVid, only 19 years old, but what a looker. Turns the whole world upside down.

Restless, that’s what I hear. Everybody’s talking at me, can’t hear a word they sayin’. Something about they can’t get no satisfaction. Maybe that mask is a little too tight. Well I see many are moving on up. Up to the north side. They goin’ for a better piece of the pie. Maybe its that country road calling. West Virginia? Blue Ridge Mountains?

Sailing took us away to where we always heard it could be. And it’s not far down. You understand why you came this way. Well, we got stuck in paradise as the virus closed all the doors. What else can we do but have some quality time. Been scraping and sanding, cleaning and sealing, and tossing and turning all night thinking that things just ain’t right. Should we be restless like those we know? For all we know it may be just a dream. But they are sailing on. Sail on, down the line, about a 1000 miles, don’t really want to know. But do wish them well. If I had wings like Noah’s dove, maybe we could fly.

Sometimes it’s the end of a perfect day but we never know it. There were birds in the sky, bells in the hills, and there was music all around, but do we here it now? Time has come today and my soul has been psychedelicized. There’s no place to run, so we sit on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. But are we wasting time? Is that what causes restlessness?

Cold hearted orb that rules the night, although we rebrand it now as super. Can we decide which is right and which is an illusion? Or is it just a brilliant disguise? A big pizza pie? Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. We were born to be wild, to get out on the highway, Thunder Road lies ahead, restlessness can be cured.

Gotta’ move. Gotta’ keep that big wheel turning. Rolling, rolling, rolling down that river. Start spreading the news, a brand new start, come fly with me, and fly me to the moon, we gotta’ get out of this place. 

But stop! In the name of love.

Just hold on to what we got. And if you got a nickel wouldn’t you lay your money down. Spend time on the corner and hear that happy noise. People come from miles around just to hear that sound Johnny. Up that lazy river, ain’t misbehaving, and just like Jack Horner sitin’ in the corner, don’t go nowhere and don’t care. Lazzy bones, hope the fish don’t bite. Mister nowhere man? The worlds at your command? Maybe, but I’m content ‘causs I got sunshine on a cloudy day. It feels like May, every day. What can cause that? My girl, my girl, I got my girl.

I found my thrill…   

I hope this awoke some soundtracks of recognition (although you may need to be a certain age) in these times of turmoil. Let the songs fill your days and be blessed that you can still sing in the shower, in the clothes you were born with, and with a voice that perhaps only God can appreciate.  

Turning Point

We have been in St Lucia since March 2, almost six weeks. That is not unusual as we have spent similar times on other islands. The unusual part is that since March 20th (just when the engine work was completed) virtually all destinations had been shut down to help stop the spread of the pandemic. The only destination that remains open for us is the U.S. For a number of reasons, we are not considering that at this time. But like the rest of the world, it seems like life is on hold.

St Lucia just came out of a 7 day 24 hour/day curfew with all food stores and all business, restaurants etc.. closed. After this Easter weekend we’ll see how much reopens but expect that food stores with restricted hours and some takeout food will be available. Overnight curfew is still in effect as well as no social gatherings including beaches.

As written about in the last blog, it is that veneer of everyday life that is being removed. But underneath that veneer, the base of a working civilization is being revealed. The medical system is one part of that base and is looked upon for our survival. Maureen, a retired RN, knows full well the extreme stress that these frontline heroes face every day and how it will have a lasting impact on themselves and their patients.

Other workers are also part of that base. Police, firemen, farmers, and the whole food/utility/communication industries that can’t be put on hold or easily peeled away. Add other essential support systems that are invisible and you realize that if life was peeled away and the base put on hold, at best, utter chaos would ensue.

This gives hope to many that it is an opportunity to review what we, the society in general, really desires of society. Where are our priorities; what is important to our (societies) wellbeing? The cynical will always say, don’t let a good crisis go to waste. Is this the turning point in our society or do we only hope to return to “normal”?

The last major social turning point occurred after a catastrophe. The arc of history of the ever-increasing concentration of wealth was last disrupted by WWI and II. Society needed that almost 40-year break to allow the accumulated concentration of wealth to breakdown and to convince the populace that it doesn’t need to be that way. That excess is not necessary. We can decide to have a different future. And it worked for almost 2 generations until the arc of history resumed its economic historic self. Can a few months of a world-wide pandemic be another major turning point?

Historical change stems from the interaction between, on the one hand, the short-term logic of political events and, on the other hand, the long-term logic of political ideologies. Evolving ideas are nothing, unless they lead to institutional experiments and practical demonstrations; ideas must first find their application in the heat of events, in social struggles, insurrections, and crisis. Conversely, political actors caught up in fast-moving events often have no choice but to draw on a repertoire of political and economic ideologies elaborated in the past. At times they may be able to invent new tools on the spur of the moment, but to do so takes time and a capacity for experimentation that are generally lacking” – Economist Thomas Piketty.

The virus itself is not an economic artifact but look at the economic impact. We can no longer put life on hold than to stop the sun from rising. The peeling away of life’s veneers can lay bare the structure of society. Is it what we think it can be? What we can do is act responsibly and thank those who can’t put life on hold. As far as a major turning point, it may be like the low ocean swell that, to the experienced mariner, foretells storms over the distance horizon and where long-term logic is called for.   

Thin Veneer

I have often commented on the earth’s thin atmosphere, at least the part we breathe, that contain all the storms, clouds, heat and winds that affects our lives. It is thinner, by comparison, to the thickness of an eggshell to the size of the egg. And how fragile that shell is. The thin veneer of human life is no less fragile.

We are on Kalunamoo here in the small island of St. Lucia amidst a world-wide human pandemic. Within the last two weeks, actions to stop, or at least slow down the relentless spread of the virus world-wide have focused on preventing movement and contact between people. This was inevitable since, at present, there is no way to stop it and no cure once acquired. Very much like a computer virus that shows its fangs only after the damage is done. The biological virus is only an active agent inside a living cell. It re-programs the cell to reproduce it. Unfortunately, that living cell is attached to a person that moves around, shaking hands, sneezing, breathing out and possibly shedding bits of that damaging human operating code, now known as Covid-19. Talk of the 85% of the infected people having mild to moderate consequences is of little solace to almost everyone.

Many of our cruising friends live, literally, in two worlds. Six months on a boat enjoying the pleasures of the Caribbean and 6 months (more or less) back on land in their home. This is a hard time for them as the tightening travel restrictions means that the transition from one life to the other could very well be closed. Entry and travel restrictions and conditions have been changing daily if not hourly. Since each island is independent of each other, each had different restrictions, time frames etc. This made island hopping out of here, or flying off island, a nightmare for many – ports were closing, flights were cancelled, quarantine requirements implemented. The difficulties of “getting back home” are, at this time, harder to negotiate than the actual virus and is the main topic of concern. That thin veneer of easy transportation world-wide vanishes as airplanes are mothballed and airports close. The reality of being immobile must be faced.

The situation for us, living full time aboard, is somewhat simpler, although we do spend time visiting family and friends that add up the frequent flyer miles. We hope that by the summer travel restrictions are relaxed enough to allow this. Of course, the hurricane season, is a major concern but by August or September if conditions remain as they are now, hurricanes may not be the worst thing to address.

So, the thin veneer of life is peeled away layer by layer. The glue of social interactions become like Swiss cheese, the holes expand and only essential services keep us together. Arguments can be made that the collective “we” should have been more prepared. After all, isn’t that what distinguishes us from all the other animals? We do now, what we must to avoid being a transmitter and enabler of this virus. Whether we contract it or not, we still have a responsibility not to carry it forward. All are challenged to see how we react to this peeling. I do believe that ultimately the veneer will be repaired. Humanity’s ingenuity will prevail but not without costs. It will take an unknown amount of time, which itself is a challenge, and we all will be affected. Lessons will be learned, hopefully.

So, we are staying put where we are. We are doing all we can to be physically isolated so that when it comes our way it hits a wall. St. Lucia reported 9 cases. All non-essential business are closed. The marina is open with water, electricity, Wi-Fi, security and even a limited amount of restaurant take-out food with many cruisers here. No new arrivals to the island are allowed. Our 6-week visitor’s visas are automatically extended indefinitely. We anticipate that it will be like this through at least April. We can take our dinghy to the bay for some swimming but don’t land on the beach. We keep our 6-foot distance from other cruisers here that we know as social contacts are kept to a minimum. A good time to catch up on reading, DVD’s, Wi-Fi phone calls, and practicing the keyboard. And observing clouds.

The first wisps of a new puff , lower left.

The bright blue sky is dotted with fair weather puffs of white cotton. The small Cumulus clouds streamed westward in the easterly trades. They are only about three thousand feet above me and constantly change shape, expanding and contracting in the swirling vertical drafts that spawned them. From my vantage point they first appear just east of here. Out of the blue, literally, they start as wisps of haze, steadily growing in minutes. The moist air rising vertically is invisible, but these puffs form the cotton balls trailing off to the west. The invisible steam engine puffs away all afternoon. Continuing west the cotton balls evaporate and the sky is again clear blue, oblivious to the human dilemmas below.

Family and friends, especially in the New York City area, are constantly in our thoughts and prayers. Even though health is of primary concern, the realities of jobs, economics, social connections, schooling and plans for the future cannot be dismissed out of hand. Those are the things that make up the veneer of life. In times like this, we all realize how thin that veneer is and how easily it can be disrupted.

And the Good News is that Kaluanmoo is Cricket fee!

Dock Lines

“Are those dock lines virus proof”. We believe they are, but not as effective as a saltwater barrier.

We are still tied up alongside at Rodney Bay Marina and the good news is that the engine work has been completed successfully. Followers of Kalunamoo know that we spend most of the time at anchor and only come into marinas in order to fly back to the States for visits or, as now, for repairs. But the world has changed in the 2 weeks that we have been here. Most of the East Caribbean Island have implemented either closed entries for non-nationals or implemented quarantine requirements. These have complicated sailing to different ports. We believe our plan to be in Trinidad in June is still viable despite the daily changing circumstances. Living day to day is the modus operandi.  

The new oil cooler is in!

In practice this has crimped everyone’s business as a necessity to get a handle on the whole virus pandemic. We are self-restricting travel ashore to get provisions and an occasional restaurant meal while we continue to ply our “live aboard” lifestyle. Being retired and physically isolated (as needed), the restrictions and requirements are not all that disrupting. Our planned short visit to NYC in May will not happen as the disruptions of daily life ashore multiply. For our children and grandchildren it may not be that simple. The reality of economics will be challenging. Opportunities that seem to be closing now for them will give way to future ones. The best we can wish for them is to not lose faith in their own ability to overcome the challenges they (and we) will face in life. On a very personal level, we have lived a good life and the future is with our children, and our grandchildren and our actions should be directed toward their future.

As many have wrote and said, it is a time of concerted effort by all to address the reality of a pandemic. Each will react differently emotionally, but our actions must be coordinated. In that way, isn’t that what civilization is all about? Coordination of action benefits all while coordination of our emotions leaves us open to the manipulations of the savvy. As the storm clouds appear to gather, we are hopeful that they will pass quickly and we all remain afloat.

Charter boats awaiting the next season.
Restaurants awaitng their next customers.

The resorts in these islands have begun emptying out while the whole tourist season ends prematurely. Not an usual situation in the hurricane belt, but it now is world-wide. The charter sailboats have returned to port, the marina restaurants are sparsely populated, and we sit watching the birds and fish. But we can still go swimming!                         

One of the benefits of being in the marina is the excellent wifi service. This enables free phone calls, internet connections and constant contact with the world. At anchor, we have limited availability but are never totally cut off. So the question is, when do we go back on the hook? With the constantly changing conditions we are not sure. As written above, it is on a day to day basis.

Isolation

Safe at Sea

As much as we think we are leading an isolated life, a biological virus demonstrates how connected we are to almost everyone on the planet. A previous post – The Nature of Nature – commented on the sometimes at best, inconvenient, sometimes deadly, challenges Nature hands us. Since then the stakes have only grown. Are we really only six degrees of separation from everyone?

St. Lucia, population 165,000, was originally known as Lyonola by the Amerindians and Hewandorra by the Caribs. St. Lucia is the only independent country in the world named after a female saint. It is small, very picturesque, and relied on the tourist service industry for 83% of its GDP. It needs to be connected (as all East Caribbean Islands) for the continued foreign revenue that it relies on. As most of the world, it faces the challenge of isolating and limiting the coronavirus invasion. Isolation is not a permanent solution.

As our good cruising friend Bob wrote on his blog, the safest place to be in a zombie attack is on a boat. Far from shore. Zombies can’t swim. Neither, I understand, can the current virus of concern. In that we take solace, but no one can live in isolation forever, nor would we want to.

Trou Gascon, St.Lucia

Isolation is needed to slow the spread of the infection so that the medical systems are not overwhelmed. There is no greater demonstration of thinking about the “common good” than this. Our strong tradition of honoring individualism is clearly challenged when isolation – the ultimate manifestation of individualism – seems to be problematic to the majority of the population, not to mention the disruption to daily life, long term goals and desired security.

For now, we take note of the recommendations of limited social interactions, wash hands frequently, and avoid panic buying. I still can’t make the connection between toilet paper and the apocalypse. There must be some other stuff that is more important in life than toilet paper but maybe we’ve been at sea too long.

As of today, we are waiting for some engine repairs and are safely docked at the Rodney Bay Marina. Hopefully, we will complete repairs this week and be free to head south. Each day we will need to hear about the conditions in St Vincent, Grenada and Trinidad – specifically entry requirements. We expect there will be constantly changing requirements until the world situation settles. This will take some time, but we think that in the next two or three months that will happen. The lasting effects may take longer to return to “normal”, but we are confident they will. Hopefully the lessons learned will not be for naught.

Swimming Naked

According to the New York Times, the investor Warren Buffett once gave a famous warning: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” Maybe that is why many now seek what Paul Simon sang some time ago, “a time of miracles and wonder”.

Kalunamoo in Rodney Bay Marina

We are in St. Lucia on the dock at Rodney Bay Marina having some engine work done (again!). The work done in Antigua in November worked fine. That concerned the freshwater side of the engine cooling system. The saltwater side of the cooling system now needs attention. This entails cleaning out the oil cooler, heat exchanger, transmission cooling pipe and raw water pump. It sounds more complicated than it is, but it is more a preemptive work than a “fix it” problem. But it does bring up the topic of “being prepared”.

The Volvo TMD31A, heat exchanger low right.

There is no question that I like to swim naked. Literally. No, pictures will not be posted. Although living on a boat makes this eminently possible, the other sense of swimming naked – not being prepared – needs some exploring.  In that sense some people still question our chosen lifestyle. After all, we are in our (very) early ‘70’s and most people of our ilk are seeking the easy life of the sunset years. Living and cruising on a sailboat sailing foreign shores and islands is not exactly a rocking chair on a porch existence. Questions of sanity arise all the time. How are we preparing for the future?

Are we naked to the challenges that exist? We know our limitations and experience has taught us the reality of life on the water. It is not all pretty sunsets, rhum punches and naked swimming. There’s bickering, breakdowns and bailing. We keep our heads above water (mostly) and watch the world turn. We prepare for the predicted winds while a miniscule virus spreads havoc across the globe. We analyze the boat’s diesel engine’s performance, anticipating future problems, while crickets defy extermination. Our political sensibilities are confounded by a tweet.

The advantage of growing old (is there another way?) is that experiences constantly increase. And that is the best preparation of what the future will bring. It is amazing to see how many people buy big new boats and set off to circle the world. Many not having sailed offshore at all. Are they prepared or will they sail naked? Well, they must decide that themselves. They get high marks for initiative but hope they are fast learners. Then there are those who live to prepare for every eventuality and never leave the dock. Sadly, too many succumb to an eventuality not envisioned. They would never swim naked.

So, the question remains, are we prepared? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that life has to be more than being prepared, more than being worried about all eventualities, more than only taking the easy path. Humans have the ability to envision themselves beyond their own existence (as alluded to in the last post) but the Achilles Heel of that is that we can also envision our failure. That vision of failure shouldn’t discourage us in living each day in the best way we can. Can we be more prepared? There is no limit to being “prepared” but panicking never solves anything. Bottom line – wash your hands, enjoy the sunshine and sometimes swim naked.          

Celebrations

Only humans construct structures for Celebrations

Man is the only animal that celebrates. Or needs to. (*apologizes to Mark Twain). The operative word is need. I know of no other animal that holds celebrations. Do dogs, cats, cows, chickens celebrate annual birthdays of their offspring? Some fish, whales and turtles may return to their place of birth to spawn new offspring, but would you really consider that their way of celebrating? Do they celebrate weddings, anniversaries, good food catches? Do they build special places for celebrations. We humans must have an innate need to celebrate.

Cathedral in Fort de France, Martinique

That need, and what we celebrate, defines who we are and where we are in the social structure of our existence. Humans, therefore, look for reasons to celebrate. Every year we all celebrate our birth, the birth of our offspring, the birth of notable strangers, and sometimes the birth of technology’s smart machines. We celebrate the position of the earth in relationship with the heavens every New Years Eve. Some celebrate the sun shining between certain rocks that happens once a year. Some celebrate when the monsoon rains begin or when the crops are ready for harvest or after they are harvested. We celebrate the dates of historic hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, fires, droughts and windstorms. We celebrate weddings. We celebrate people who announce their future wedding. Some celebrate their divorce from their wedding. We celebrate those who announce their future parenthood. We celebrate promotions at work, retirement from work. Many celebrate Fridays at the end of the work week.

We even celebrate death. We mourn for our loss of a loved one, a friend, a companion. But that mourning is our showing of loss, the deceased mourn for no one. We celebrate our time with them as most humans believe they are in a far better place than we are.

How we celebrate is as varied as the reason to celebrate. I don’t need to list all the ways but the beverage, food, travel, hospitality, clothing, banking, insurance and medical industries would collapse if humans did not have a need to celebrate. From what I understand over one third of consumer spending is done in December. I need not say more.

And so it came to pass that we sailed into Fort de France Martinique the week of Carnival. The almost week-long celebration takes place before the Christian season of Lent that begins on Ash Wednesday. Of-course that season ends with the celebration of Easter.

Most of the islands here celebrate at the same time. Trinidad has the biggest, if not the most elaborate, celebration parades during this time. But Carnival also happens at other times during the year on all islands, a bow to the importance of attracting tourist dollars. Here in Martinique, like most islands, carnival is celebrated in most towns and villages. The bigger the town, the bigger the celebration. Fort de France is the capital and largest town, so it has the biggest celebrations.

Many photos of the parades were posted on Facebook and you are invited to take a gander of the revelers. We were there with a few other cruisers we know and had good reasons to celebrate, wear silly hats and masks, indulge in adult beverages, sing loudly and protect our ears form the high decibel drumming and mobile sound trucks. The marchers seemed to enjoy their work, although many were on their cell phones while marching, presumably to their friends in competing groups.

Each day of this Carnival had a different theme and color pallet. The themes had something to do with celebrating new female queens, cross dressing and gender switching, the sugar trade, body art, environmental hazards and even some French political comments. The general theme was to celebrate heartily before the fasting of the Lent season. The last day, Ash Wednesday, saw the fiery death and funeral of the devil, Vaval, and it marked the end of all the merriment. We know Vaval will reappear at some future point as humans have a tendency to revert to merriment.

Vaval

But do the reasons matter? I think not. As mentioned above, humans have a need to celebrate. It is in our nature and so to celebrate is to be human. Say it is a way of giving thanks, say it is a way to remember, say it is a statement of philosophy. Say what you will, life is the ultimate celebration and maybe that is the driving force to fabricate reasons for those too blind to that idea.

We left Fort de France after Carnival and went to St. Anne. In a few days we head to St. Lucia. Yes, there are a lot of Saints here but I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of Vaval. Let the celebrations continue! 

*Mark Twain actually wrote: “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to”