Food provisioning: 7 regretful lessons

“Do we have to throw everything?” Ryan asks, as we pull cans upon cans of coconut milk, tomato paste, soup and more from the bowels of our galley storage on board Hideaway.

“Did I not tell you what happened when these guys returned to their boat in Tahiti after leaving it for six months?” I say insistently, holding up my copy of Torre DeRoche’s “Love with a Chance of Drowning,” my latest sailing adventure read.

“I glove up and attack the worst job: wiping up piles of maggoty mush. I hold my breath and scoop up the chunky stew, tossing it in garbage bags. All of our food gets flung into the dumpster; over a thousand dollars’ worth of canned goods, flour, sugar, grains, pastas, dried potatoes, cereals, olives, yeast, long-life dairy— all spoiled.”

Maggoty mush. That’s all I can think of now when I see a can of beans sitting on our galley shelf. “We have to throw it all. Just think maggots.”

I don’t know why Ryan’s complaining. He tried to throw most of our provisions overboard, along with my shoe collection, when we reached the Bahamas with an over-weighted stern, only to find that someone had written regulations against that sort of thing.

But now, looking at the massive pile of uneaten food we’ll be throwing out if we can’t find someone to give it to, I’m mostly annoyed that I fell into the over-provisioning trap. Even after I promised myself back in Fort Lauderdale that I wouldn’t get carried away.

over provisioning bahamas passage

All our leftover canned goods, not including other dried goods.

But the more sailing blogs I browsed and the more I saw how much provisioning other cruisers were doing for the Bahamas, the more nervous I got. And before we knew it, we’d nearly sunk our boat under the weight of everything we bought. Forty-eight bottles of wine? Check. Twenty-six cans of coconut milk? Check. Three thousand four hundred sixty-two tubes of tomato paste? Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. And could someone please tell me what the hell it is I’m supposed to do with tomato paste anyway?

And it wasn’t just fellow cruisers who were going overboard. Even Skipper Bob’s Bahamas Bound guide recommended provisioning as though we’d never see a grocery store after waving goodbye to the Florida coast.  Which in hindsight is just plain daft. So I’ll say it now for those of you who are wondering, “Yes, Virginia, they have food in the Bahamas.”

So now, looking back on our provisioning mistakes, I’m writing this reminder to myself to be a little more sensible in the future.

Lesson #1: Bahamians eat, too.

Contrary to Skipper Bob’s wisdom and the intrepid cruising bloggers before us, Bahamians eat food, just like you and me. And as the average inhabitant of these idyllic isles is not a hunter-gatherer, but a 21st-century citizen, they generally congregate in stores to buy their supplies.

Looking for something to cook while traveling around these islands? Try heading to a local grocery store or market, where you’ll find many a well-fed Bahamian shopping to their heart’s content.

nassau bahamas grocery store

“I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken. There is no fresh, affordable food in the Bahamas.” (Nassau)

nassau bahamas grocery

“Oh, I see. These $6/lb. peppers must be imaginary, then.” (Nassau)

highborne cay marina bahamas store

“What?!  That can’t be FOOD!” Ryan, in disbelief that we found food a day away from Nassau. (Highborne Cay)

george town bahamas grocery store

“Oh yeah, there’s food.” Ryan, looking ever smug at the grocery store in George Town.

Lesson #2: If we didn’t eat it before, we won’t eat it now.

Traveling on a boat has changed many things about our lives, but what it hasn’t done is turn us into someone else.

As such, my visions of transforming myself into a healthy morning oatmeal eater and Ryan into a quinoa and soup lover simply did not happen. It turns out I still like Ramen noodles and eggs for breakfast and Ryan likes anything that doesn’t involve quinoa or soup.

Lesson #3: We can never have too much wine.

48 bottles may sound like a ridiculous amount of wine for two people to get through in just three months, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little focus and determination. Seeing as we ran out half way between Nassau and George Town, we must have been really determined.

Thankfully, though, the Bahamians seemed to know we were coming and duly stocked their stores with exotic imports. Sparkling California Champagne for $10? Yes, please.

And on those days when we felt compelled to reduce our carbon footprint and “go local,” we treated ourselves to a bottle of Fire in De Hole “Erotic Rum” for $8. Hells yeah.

Lesson #4: Food shopping in a foreign country is a cultural experience.

Roadside vegetable stands, hole-in-the-wall eateries, Saturday markets and fishermen’s docks are some of the most vibrant centers of life in any community, and some of the most sensory places to experience a new culture.

By stocking our boat so well with food that we’d never have to step ashore to buy anything more than a pint of milk or a jug of distilled water, I feel we robbed ourselves of the need to go exploring for unusual ingredients or something new to cook with.

For some this may be a plus (I mean, can you even trust food you’ve never heard of?) but for us, it’s crucial that we get off the boat and spend a significant amount of time on shore, lest I start ranting about things I hate about living on a boat. So why not spend some of that time ashore searching for the ingredients to try out a local recipe? If nothing else, it could lead to a story-worthy experience.

fish beans rice stanley cay bahamas

Meals like this are cheap and delicious in the Bahamas, if you get off the tourist track.

Lesson #5: Our favorite foods bring more joy when they’re hard to come by.

Ryan’s face, when he picked up a packet of chocolate Hob-Nobs in a George Town Bahamas grocery store, was that of a kid whose Christmas dreams had just been fulfilled.

We didn’t bring any chocolate on board with us when we left Florida because, well, we thought we’d be transformed into oatmeal and quinoa-eating health nuts by the time we reached the Caribbean. But, apparently we lacked the dedication we had when we drank ALL THE WINE. So finding Ryan’s favorite British treats after months of chocolate deprivation was truly a delicious moment.

Lesson #6: Trying to save money up front costs more in the end.

Before arriving to the Bahamas, we were told that things would be five or six times more expensive than in the US. In hindsight, having traveled my fair share of both cheap and expensive countries, I should have known better than to believe this. As it was, things were only 20-50% more expensive in the Bahamas.

But by buying a truck-load of provisions before we left the US, we actually spent more money than we would have if we’d provisioned as we went along because over half the food we bought never got eaten. I mean, who would choose canned soup and tinned meat over the 50%-more-expensive frozen steaks and fresh vegetables found on any inhabited island?

With the price of food we’re now throwing out, I’m guessing we just increased the cost of what we actually paid by about 50%. Some savings, eh? Not to mention, that money could have gone elsewhere…

bahamas provisioning turf to surf

“What was I thinking?!”

Lesson #7: Who are we supporting?

You hear time and again how important tourists are to a country’s economy. Especially in the Bahamas, where an estimated 60% of its GDP comes from tourism alone.

And if the Bahamas were anything like New York City, you could just imagine tourists getting taxis, paying exorbitant hotel prices, buying hot dogs, seeing Broadway shows and having dinner at TGI Fridays before rushing off to the Apple Store to buy half a dozen iThingamawhatits they don’t actually need. Who cares if they don’t need it; it’s great for the economy, right?

Now think of cruisers in the Bahamas. How much do we spend on hotels? Nothing. We bring our own “house.” How much do we spend on transportation? Nothing. I mean, we may not travel quickly, but our boat will get us anywhere…eventually. What about buying iThingamawhatsits and bad t-shirts? There’s not much to buy, but there are plenty of free shells to bring back as souvenirs. Fuel? Not so much; it’s a sailboat. Water? Nada. I’m holding out for a free water tap. Shows and entertainment? The night sky is free, and the marine life doesn’t charge admission.

Hideaway sails down luperon harbor

Hideaway, stripped free of canned goods and ready to rest in Luperon for the hurricane season.

So what do cruisers in the Bahamas spend their money on? Not much, really, unless they eat out a lot or stay at marinas. Which doesn’t often happen with cruisers who’ve provisioned like they’re going to the moon in an effort to keep costs down.

But as I sit here, staring at the gluttonous pile of food I’m now burdened with getting rid of, it pains me to think that the 50% I saved on groceries in Florida — which isn’t really savings when I’m throwing most of it out — could have been spent on groceries in the Bahamas as we traveled through. We could have sailed with a lighter load and uncluttered back berth and just spent money on what we needed, when we needed it. We could have contributed that 50% to the economy of the very country that welcomed us in to enjoy its picturesque islands. And we could have avoided wasting space and money on supplies we wouldn’t use.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda. These are the words that accompany any important lesson, I suppose. So what did we learn from this experience? The next time we provision for island hopping, we will only buy enough to get us to the next inhabited island. And when we get there, we’ll be damned sure to head down to the nearest mom-and-pop store and buy us some over-priced foreign food. Because that’s the sane thing to do.

courtesy flags hideaway turf to surf

Taking down our courtesy American, British and Cocktail-Time Flags for hurricane season.

4 Lessons Learned in Level 1 Clipper Race Training

“DROP AND GIVE ME FIVE!” Skipper Jim yells as I freeze and look up to realize I’ve just run below the boom on the low side of the boat — a major sailboat safety no-no.

“Shit! My bad!” I say, unloading the runner line from the winch. “Can I do my push-ups after the race?”

“DO YOU WANT ME TO ADD A ZERO AND MAKE IT FIFTY?! Give me five NOW!”

“Damn it!” I drop on the deck, cursing myself for wasted time while pumping out five push-ups as fast as I can. An instant later, I’m back in position at the back-stay runner, with taut muscles and high adrenalin beating my heart against my rib cage.

My boat is competing against Ryan’s boat in a racing headsail change to test our mettle and see how much we’ve learned this week on our Level 1 training for the Clipper Round the World Race. And right now I’m focused on nothing more than winning. Which means doing each job quickly, efficiently and without mistakes.

racing headsail change level 1 clipper training

Nikki and Andrew hanking on the new sail as quickly as possible

“Ready to TACK!” shouts the helmsman.

“Runner coming BACK!” I scream, pulling in the runner line, alternating hands and rotating my shoulders as fast as I can to make up for the seconds lost doing penalty push-ups. “READY!”

“HELMS TO LEE!”

As we tack, the boat zings with sheets being pulled in on the headsail, mainsail and staysail. I grind in my runner until it creaks under tension and I look over at Ryan’s boat. His team is still crouched on deck, flaking their sail. They’re nowhere near ready to tack.

“YESSSS!!!” My crew shouts victoriously, rushing to the rails just as our boat passes closely enough for our opponents to see the whites of our teeth. Jim chuckles as the other skipper shouts to his defeated crew, “Feel the PAIN!”

clipper race training

Crew mate, Dave, getting ready to hit the grinder

Sure, it’s not an official race, and it’s only a race to see how fast we can change our headsail, but this minor victory means a great deal to me. It means I have officially fallen in love with ocean racing.

Which is quite a statement from a girl who wasn’t convinced she even liked sailing a few months ago. And here I am, counting down the days until I’m standing on deck with my fellow crew, poised to hoist our sails under London’s Tower Bridge and race off to France, and then Brazil.

When I say,  “I can’t wait,” it is a gross understatement.

I have learned so much this week during my training, and it has whetted my appetite for victory on the high seas. I still have a long way to go, but here is a little taste of what I’ve experienced and taken away from my first week on a racing yacht:

Lesson 1: The only similarity between cruising and racing is that they both involve boats.

Nothing else is even remotely the same. Where cruising boats are designed to be comfortable and easy-going, racing boats are designed to be fast and working hard at all times. Comfort is of minimal importance.

I learned this my first night on board when I had to climb over a heap of sails to squeeze myself into my Spartan top bunk. It didn’t look like the most comfortable resting space, but I was so exhausted by the time I unfolded my legs inside my sleeping bag that it took no more than five minutes for me to pass out cold. I don’t think I even changed out of my thermals, which means (1) I was too tired to care, and (2) my bunk was exactly as comfortable as it needed to be.

clipper race berths

Nikki, my bunk mate, sitting on the sails that live below our berths.

Lesson 2: When it comes to crew, determination and technique are more valuable than youth and big muscles.

The ages of my fellow crew ranged from their twenties to their sixties and our physiques ran the gamut from small and light to big and stocky. But everyone, and I mean everyone, brought something to the table in addition to their bold determination. Small girls hoisted large sails, learning how to use their full body weight to sweat the heavy halyards. Large men crawled into small spaces and developed nimble fingers for tying knots quickly. And everyone worked the winch grinder until they thought their arms would fall off. And then they ground some more.

And we all watched in awe as our oldest crew member, Gil, volunteered to be hoisted up to the top of the mast, calling out periodically, “Higher! Take me higher!” And when she was lowered safely back onto the deck, we eagerly asked, “How was it?”

“Fucking BRILLIANT!” Gil exclaimed with a grin as wide as her face.

Which just happens to be how I feel about my first week on a racing yacht.

going up the mast clipper race training

Gil’s reaction to being up to the top of the mast and back

Lesson 3: The skipper is the boss in more ways than one.

The skipper is less like a manager and more like a military general. His job is to keep his crew safe and motivated while engaged in battle at sea. That might be battle with the sea, or it might be battle at sea against other boats. It depends on the seas and the circumstances.

By making us drop and do push-ups anytime one of us breached a safety protocol, Jim showed how seriously he took our safety. And he repeatedly drove home the fact that we were on a racing boat, not a pleasure boat, giving us challenges that came with time constraints. “You’ve got 6 minutes to get that sail flaked and stowed!” He’d shout, while adding, “And THEN you can have lunch!”

skipper jim clipper race training

Skipper Jim at the helm

On the docks in the Isle of Wight one morning, when Jim noticed the other Level 1 boat was getting ready to cast off, Jim interrupted our morning coffee to dole out jobs and get our boat off the docks before the other boat.

“Do they even know we’re racing them off the dock?” I stupidly asked Jim.

“WHENEVER THERE ARE TWO BOATS, IT’S A RACE!” Jim shouted. “Do we have everyone on deck?”

I quickly did a head count. “Wait, we only have 8! Where’s Gil?”

“She went to the pharmacy to get a bandage,” someone shouted.

“SHE’S LATE!” Jim shouted. “Slip those lines!”

“What?! We can’t just leave Gil behind!” I exclaimed (again, stupidly).

“We’ll come back for her,” Jim said. “But we’re leaving this dock NOW. I WASN’T KIDDING WHEN I SAID THIS IS A GODDAMN RACING BOAT!”

Lesson #4: Safety really is no joke. An injured crew member affects the whole race.

I learned this the hard way on my second day of training when I slipped on the companionway steps, holding a sandwich in one hand and a soda in the other. I disappeared down the hatch like I’d been yanked, hitting my head on the steps on the way down and landing in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Luckily, the pool of blood that had formed under my head was nothing more than an eager-to-bleed small cut. Nothing a little super glue at the Minor Injuries Unit in Gosport couldn’t fix.

clipper level 1 training injury

Me, holding a bag of frozen peas to my bleeding head

But because of me, everyone’s training was cut short that day, as the crew quickly downed the sails, got the Coast Guard on the radio, sped the boat back to port and got me checked into a clinic. Not to mention that two additional crew members were taken out of commission to look after me and make sure my condition didn’t change. In short, it was a major bummer for the whole boat.

So, what did I learn from this? I need one hand for me, and one hand for the boat AT ALL TIMES. Oh, and I am officially a hazard to my own health (remember that time not long ago when I ended up in the ER in Cabarete?). I should really look into wearing a helmet, like, all the time.

mast climb helmet clipper race training

The helmet was for climbing the mast, but maybe I should consider keeping it on all the time?

As of now, Ryan and I are on our way back to the Dominican Republic to get Hideaway hauled for hurricane season and to prepare for our Level 2 and 3 training in England in a few weeks’ time. We have a lot of work to do until then. Not to mention we need to get our cats back to New York, where my parents will look after them while we’re gallivanting around the world on sailboats, planes, trains, buses, motorcycles, RVs and what-have-you.

Most importantly, though, this week has stoked a fire under me that has me racing through the many jobs on our long to-do list. Because come September 1st, I want nothing more than to be totally mentally and physically prepared to cast off from St. Katharine’s Docks.

All I can say is, “Let’s DO this!”

cv 1 edinburth clipper race

My training boat for Level 1, the Edinburgh boat from the ’11-’12 race

isle of wight anchor inn clipper race training

The smug winners, my crew, enjoying beers on the skipper at the Anchor Inn, Isle of Wight

post-line-divide

For more photos of our first week of Clipper Race Training, check out this photo album on Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page. All photos in the Album (not the photos above) are courtesy of Jason Parlour at www.jasonparlour.com. Jason is doing the full Round the World Race.

Q & A: Clipper Round the World Race

As the sun comes up, unveiling charcoal circles under my eyes from lack of sleep, I wrack my brain trying to remember what it is I need to pack. Thermal underwear, shorts, iPad, sunscreen, wool socks, sharp knife, swimsuit, ski hat, headlamp…God, what are the customs officials going to make of this collection…?

In just a few hours, Ryan and I are boarding a plane in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, bound for England, where we’re going to do our first week of Clipper Round the World training in 68-foot racing yachts on the Solent and the English Channel.

I’ve had absolutely no sleep, but my spirits are high from a mix of anticipated adrenalin and the outpouring of support from Turf to Surf readers and friends regarding the challenge we’re about to take on. Not to mention the helpful tips and advice we’ve received from those who are experienced racers or just experienced at doing the insane.

You, my readers, have written some great emails asking me about the Clipper Race, the boats, our training and the two legs we’re competing in. So before I am swallowed up for a week to freeze my butt off at sea with a boat full of strangers, I thought it would be fun to take this delirious opportunity to answer some of your questions.

Q1: Are you insane?!

Actually, no one’s asked that. Well, maybe my parents. But, really, they should be used to this kind of thing by now, so I’m not answering.

Q2: How long will it take to complete one leg of the race?

A lot longer than it’ll take for me to empty the bottle of whiskey I’ll be smuggling on board.

JUST KIDDING, Clipper Officials! I know the rules, I swear. NO ALCOHOL allowed on board (wink).

Seriously, each leg will take about 23 days. The 1st Leg is from England to Brazil, but is divided into 2 races. The first race will be from London to Brest, France (about 3 days), and the second race will be from Brest to Rio de Janeiro (about 20 days).

Leg 3 will be one hell of a long, continuous race from Cape Town, South Africa across the Indian and Southern Ocean to a port in Australia, which has yet to be announced. The passage should take about 25 days and these boats are predicted to reach speeds of over 30 knots. There are even rumors that these boats can do 11 knots in 10 knots of wind. I’m not even sure how that’s possible, but I think that means we’ll be going as fast as the wind. Or faster.

Q3: Why did you and Ryan decide to race on different boats?

To save our marriage.

Again, KIDDING.

Sort of. I say that because I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve taken a back seat to Ryan these last six years of sailing Hideaway around New York and then to the Caribbean. While Ryan has dedicated his energies to learning everything he could about sailing, I’ve defaulted to Ryan on most things boat-related. Which, of course, means I’ve learned a lot less. And that’s my own damned fault. So, for me, this race is an opportunity to make up for my years of inadequacy, learn everything I can about sailing and racing and develop my skills as an individual; and, most importantly, to develop my skills without Ryan around to fall back on for help.

Alt_Tom Salt climbs the mast to check the halyardsHullHumber

Rumor has it I’ll be climbing the mast during my training (Photo credit: Clipper Ventures Plc)

Q4: How and where do 22 crew sleep on a Clipper boat?

Funny you should ask, because I’m kind of curious about this myself. From what I know, my Skipper, Eric Holden, is a fan of “hot-bunking” as a racing tactic. Basically, because proper weight distribution is so important to successful racing, we will all be required to sleep where our weight is most advantageous to the boat. Which means we will never have a fixed berth.

So when I’m not sleeping in my dandy new Gauss waterproof sleeping bag, I’ll be keeping my belongings (including my sleeping bag) in a dry sack clipped to a bunk, so it’s ready to move to a new bunk at any time.

With 22 crew on board, half of us will be on deck at any given time, while the other half of us will be sleeping where we can best aid our boat’s performance.

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Individual berth on the Clipper Round the World Race (Photo credit: Greg Kyle)

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Sleeping berths inside the Clipper boat (Photo credit: Clipper Ventures Plc)

You might ask why on earth I would need a waterproof sleeping bag. Am I likely to get wet while I’m sleeping?

Well, a LOT of things will be getting wet inside the boat with soaked crew moving about inside and dripping sails being stored between our berths. And since I’ll be cold and wet while sailing a lot of the time, the last thing I want is to be cold and wet while sleeping, too. Also, we will be experiencing everything from the hot weather of the tropics as we cross the equator, to the frigid cold of the Southern Ocean below the Cape of Good Hope. And for that, we need a sleeping bag that will keep us comfortable in all conditions.

After a lot of research, we are thrilled with our decision to buy the Gauss Dreamseeker sleeping bag, from an online company called Fierce Turtle. The Dreamseeker is, without a doubt, the kit that’s most crucial to our comfort on the race, other than our foul-weather gear. And the great thing is we can use our bag on future outdoor adventures, not just on a racing boat crossing the Southern Ocean.

gauss dreamseeker sleeping bag

Tasha at Clipper Race Headquarters with her Gauss Dreamseeker sleeping bag

And here’s some good news! Having built a relationship with the company Fierce Turtle while doing our research, they offered to give away a FREE Gauss Dreamseeker sleeping bag (valued at $250) to one lucky Turf to Surf Facebook Fan!

Sorry guys, the contest is over. But congratulations to s/v Bora Da for winning this amazing sleeping bag!

(Featured photo credit: Clipper Round the World Ventures, Plc)

Photo Essay: Paddleboarding in Cabarete, Dominican Republic

In a slow, lilting, surfer’s voice, our paddleboarding guide John identifies each plant we see, sometimes tearing off a leaf and shoving it in his mouth. We’ve only known him for 5 minutes, but we scramble after John through a winding natural maze in his backyard leading down to a lagoon, pausing now and then to hear what he says about a certain tree or flower, the names of which we don’t recognize. Though Ryan and I are both nodding our heads as John talks.

Plucking a leafy green stem from a nearby plant, John urges me to eat it. “This stuff is the best thing for you,” he says. “Put it in your salad and you’ll live forever. Want some almonds?” And before I can say no, a smiling Dominican woman appears, takes out a knife and splits open a beige pod on a tree stump. She hands me two almond halves in their shells and I marvel at how little meat comes from such a fat, stubborn casing.

I’m not sure if it was the email exchange with John, in which he sold me on the paddleboarding tour including “a lunch of coconuts, almonds, sugar cane, and a 10-herb Noni tea, fresh from the garden,” but when Ryan and I turned up to the “Method Lodge” at 9 am, I truly expected our guide to be a local Dominican who’d been exploring this area since he was a toddler.

Instead, John turned out to be a nature-loving American who spent 15 years in Hawaii teaching surfing and kiteboarding until government bureaucracy drove his business elsewhere. And with the Dominican Republic being open to enterprise, and Cabarete being the Caribbean home of kiteboarding, John came to Kite Beach, built a new school, and started inviting people into his backyard to look at the plants, eat from the trees and tour his beloved lagoon by stand-up paddleboard.

As a result, this was not just your average paddleboarding trip led by some employee of a tour company. As you can see in this photo essay, our host John invited us into his home, fed us from his garden, introduced us to his family (and adorable dog) and taught us things about the wildlife and ecosystem of this Dominican lagoon, which only someone who lives, breathes and loves this place could teach us. Really, it wasn’t so much a tour as it was an experience.

Would you like to experience the Method Lodge tour? Email John Holzhall at methodlodge@gmail.com. He loves visitors and teaching his guests about Cabarete’s natural surroundings.

dominican puppy love

Upon arrival, we met the Method Lodge’s future guard dog.

method lodge cabarete lagoon

The lagoon tour starts in John’s backyard.

lagoon paddleboarding tour method lodge

John follows in the rear, giving us pointers on our paddleboarding technique.

turf to surf paddleboard

Though this is easy on flat waters, I wonder what paddleboarding is like on the ocean.

john holzhall method lodge cabarete

John shows us how to do “Hawaiian paddleboarding” on our knees.

turf to surf paddleboarding tour cabarete

Ryan takes a breather to enjoy the view.

john paddleboard guide cabarete

…Which is encouraged by our guide

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After 2 hours, we push our way through the reeds to head back.

dominican sugar cane

Our lunch of sugar cane, coconut, almond and 10-herb tea from John’s garden, just as promised.

cabarete dominican puppy method lodge

Except I feed most of my goodies to this adorable dog.

john holzhall method lodge cabarete dr

We stay for another hour, listening to John’s stories about Hawaii

dominican puppy

“Can I take him home with me? Please?”

For more photos of Cabarete and the Dominican Republic, visit Turf to Surf’s Facebook Photo Albums.

Plans are written in sand

As I stare at the Macbook on my lap, I’m uncomfortably aware of sweaty, criss-crossed lines being burrowed into my ass from the vinyl pool lounger I’ve been perched on for more than an hour.

I’m tapping away in the hot, late-morning sun while Tommy, an eager golden retriever and fellow resident of Bali Hai in Cabarete, is perched poolside, fidgeting, panting and glancing back and forth at the pool, then at me. The pool. Me. Pool. Me.

Alright! Enough!

I push my laptop aside, peel myself off the lounger and jump into the pool to fish out Tommy’s red ball, which I know is resting somewhere at the bottom. Tommy knows the routine as well as I do, so he takes off running before I even raise my arm to toss the ball into the courtyard between the Spanish-style townhouses of Bali Hai.

Dripping warm chlorinated water onto my laptop, I try to shift myself back into a comfortable position on the lounger when Tommy bounds happily back to the pool with his drool-covered red ball. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch him lie down poolside, spit his ball onto the concrete deck and use his nose to slowly nudge the red ball towards the water’s edge.

Plop.

“Tommy! Can’t you see I’m trying to concentrate here?!” Tommy looks up at me panting cheerfully, then looks back at the pool. Me. Pool. Me. Pool.

bali hai cabarete pool

Bali Hai pool, where I do my morning writing and fetch Tommy’s ball

Frustrating as it may be, this has been my and Tommy’s routine every morning for the last two months since Ryan and I left our boat on a mooring in Luperón, Dominican Republic, and came to Cabarete to explore its kiteboarding, surfing and general easy-lifestyle options.

Our stay in Cabarete was originally supposed to be just a quick side-trip with our friend Morgan to check out his favorite Dominican beach town before we said our good-byes and sailed on to Puerto Rico without him.

kite beach cabarete horses dominican republic

Kite Beach in Cabarete attracts the young and the sporty

We weren’t expecting to fall in love. And we definitely weren’t expecting to stay. After all, we’d excitedly formed a plan to sail Hideaway to Grenada and leave her there for hurricane season while we jetted to England to participate in the upcoming Clipper Round the World Race.

But then, ambling along Cabarete’s Kite Beach, surrounded by muscly surfers, smiling Dominicans, Bachata beats and coconut drinks, the warm Caribbean waters swilled around my ankles and washed away any desire to hurry anywhere. This place seemed to grab hold of me, tugging at my shirt sleeve and pleading like a childhood friend to stay just a little while longer.

At times, cruising can feel like a lifestyle that’s dictated by external elements more than emotional instincts. Hurricane seasons, weather systems, wind patterns and engine troubles are just a few of the influences that decide when we move on from a place and when we stay put. Which feels wonderfully primal at times, but has also made me miss the kind of travel you can do with a backpack, with routes and schedules dictated primarily by how much you love or hate a place.

For six months, sailing from New York City to the Caribbean, we steadily moved from one port to the next, never stopping for long, moving when the wind blew and staying put when the weather interfered or boat projects called. Like Tommy the golden retriever, who doesn’t question why he has to run when his red ball is tossed in the air, we sailed. When the wind blew, we weighed anchor and moved on.

But upon discovering the inviting buffet of jungles, beaches, mountains and rural villages the Dominican Republic has served up, we started to wish we didn’t have to leave so soon. Then we started to wonder, “Why do we have to leave so soon?”

It wasn’t until Ryan suggested, “Why don’t we take an apartment in Cabarete, exhaust this place to our heart’s content, do a little work, have a little fun, and leave the boat in Luperón for hurricane season?” that I realized if we’d been backpacking, that’s exactly what I would have chosen to do.

“What about Grenada?” I asked.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Ryan said.

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Morgan looking pretty smug about our decision to stay in the D.R. for a while

And it occurred to me that sometimes the best adventures require quashing the plans you’ve made and creating new ones. For the first time in years, we had the luxury of time to play with indefinitely, and yet we’d somehow forgotten that no one dictates our schedule but us.

For me, at its best, travel is an organic experience. The best stories and experiences come from those impromptu moments when you get lost, are thrown off course or find yourself on an unexpected journey with people who’ve invited you into their lives for a brief moment in time, in that country.

It’s hard to fully experience that joy when we’ve so strictly planned our travel itinerary that we find ourselves rushing through places we love. So we made the conscious decision not to blanch the organic experience of stumbling through the Dominican Republic in search of adventures just to mindlessly scurry off to Puerto Rico with the winds, like some kind of time-stamped Mary Poppins. Instead, we decided the rest of the world could wait until we’d quenched our thirst for this country.

After all, plans are written in sand… at low tide. As they should be.

So rather than run after the red ball this time, we’ve buried it in the backyard instead. But you can be sure the next time that ball sails through the air, jerking us into action, it will be because we dug it up on purpose.

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Our non-floating home in Cabarete, where I can spread out and do work

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Charlie, exploring the heights of her new, temporary home

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Our local pool hall, where we go to unwind in the evenings

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The Millennium Hotel pool, where we go for Saturday gym workouts and a luxurious swim

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Having more space means we can have more guests! Our friends visiting us in Cabarete.

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Luperon Harbor awaits our return at the end of hurricane season

For more pictures of travel in the Dominican Republic, visit our Photo Albums on Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page.

Learning to wakeboard in Cabarete

I know I’ve only just recovered from that little kiteboarding accident that landed me in the Cabarete ER not long ago. But how could I possibly turn down an offer to learn to wakeboard on the Rio Sabaneta de Yásica?

The truth is, I couldn’t.

I mean, Cabarete isn’t called the Adventure Sports Capital of the Caribbean for nothing. This town is a youthful, water sports haven, and I am a hopeless sucker for any sport, in or out of the water. So, I was sure I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to have an adrenalin-fueled aquatic adventure.

And I’m so glad I dragged my bruised hip out on the water. Not only did I get to see a unique part of Cabarete river life — with farmers working along the riverbed and kids swimming out to collect reeds on a surfboard — but I learned that wakeboarding feels very similar to kiteboarding. So familiarizing myself with the body mechanics of riding a wakeboard is sure to help me when I finally return to kiteboarding for another try.

As far as adrenalin goes, wakeboarding didn’t disappoint. If you’re looking for a fun adventure, a rush of excitement, and a new sport you can pick up on your first day out, I highly recommend giving wakeboarding a try.

But if you need a little more convincing, no worries…we made this little video just for you. Enjoy!

Learning to Wakeboard in Cabarete, Dominican Republic – Turf to Surf from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

If you want to see more photos of us as we learn to wakeboard, visit our Wakeboarding on Rio de Sabaneta de Yasica Photo Album on Facebook!

Educating Cabarete: 3 Mariposas Montessori

I drove my motorbike up and down the dusty road to La Ciénega (The Swamp), one of the poorer neighborhoods in Cabarete, in search of a Montessori school called 3 Mariposas, or 3 Butterflies. But all I could find were houses guarded by cinder-block walls and apartment buildings with sun-faded laundry hanging from derelict balconies. I couldn’t see anything that looked remotely like a school.

But after a few more laps of the same road and some help from Dominican passers-by, I realized what I thought was someone’s home was actually a primary school in a converted house. I just couldn’t see the yard full of toys and the butterflies painted on the walls from the road.

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3 Butterflies adding a splash of color to Cabarete

Once inside the walls surrounding 3 Mariposas, I found myself in an inviting and colorful space full of love and inspiration. Located in the heart of a Dominican/Haitian community, whose families make an average income of $2,000 a year, this school offers free tuition to 75% of its student body. Which is a huge relief to the small number of parents whose kids attend 3 Mariposas; especially since formal education for children under age 8 and over age 13 is rare in the D.R.

Yet there’s this little Montessori school for kids aged 0-7 in the middle of a swamp, offering free education with qualified teachers to Dominicans and Haitians who can barely afford to feed their family, let alone invest in education. And it’s full of smiling kids hard at work learning shapes, colors, math, reading, writing and more, in both Spanish and English.

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A little girl working on her own with color blocks

And since Ryan and I are teachers who built our own teacher training school and English language school in New York City, we were interested in meeting 3 Mariposas’ American founder, Sarah Ross, and learning more about the school because, (1) we believe in the power of education, and (2) we have a policy of donating money each year to an educational cause.

Sarah welcomed me into her school warmly and, despite her perpetually full schedule, gave me a full tour. And as she told stories about the school construction, her students and the two years it took to get non-profit status, I could see how much passion and sweat equity went into creating 3 Mariposas. After all, it was Sarah’s own house that she and her Austrian husband converted into a school.

They redesigned the layout to form open, airy classrooms; cleaned up and expanded the backyard to create a colorful playground with mango trees and flowers; and recruited foreign students and church groups to help paint the school in bright colors, giving the place a warm, child-friendly feeling.

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Sarah Ross, the founder of 3 Mariposas, telling us the history of her school

And inside the colorful classrooms, there was a different kind of bilingual education at work than I’d ever seen before. Kids of different ages worked independently or with teachers on tasks in different corners of the room. And in the middle of the room, two children sat on the floor spelling out words and sentences with wooden letters while a teacher helped them sound out the words they wanted to spell.

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Two girls hard at work spelling out sentences in Spanish

“Children can read and spell long before they have the motor skills to write,” Sarah explained. “Which is why we use these wooden letters. Most schools teach children to write at the same time they learn to read, which frustrates kids. Their hands get tired, they can’t hold the pencil, and they give up. Instead, we have them reading and spelling as early as three years old so that by the time they are physically capable of gripping a pencil, they already know the words and their spellings. It makes learning to write easier.”

I thought back to my own Kindergarten class, which was taught by a gray-haired woman who hated children and smelled like a medicine cabinet. To keep us quiet, she used to make us copy our names endlessly on paper until some kid inevitably started throwing crayons and got spanked for it. Just thinking of it made me wish I’d gone to a Montessori school.

Meanwhile, a little girl, who was about 6 or 7, was mopping the floor and scrubbing chairs with soap and water. I was about to ask if this was some kind of punishment, but Sarah explained that each student has a job or “Practical Life Activity,” of his or her choosing. These activities teach children responsibility and the importance of taking care of their environment. As Montessori educational theory asserts, it is always a goal “to make the child independent and be able to do things for himself… When the children are able to do things for themselves there is an increase in their self belief, self confidence and esteem that they may carry on throughout their life.”

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One happy little girl putting together a puzzle by herself

This tenet must hold some truth because what I saw of the children at 3 Mariposas, who varied in age from 3 to 7, was a great deal of respect for school property. When a child finished a task, he dutifully packed up the items he was using and put them back on the shelf without being asked. And at snack time, children as young as 3 were given real glasses and ceramic plates, rather than plastic dishes, which Sarah explained was to show the children they could be trusted with “adult” things, which relates back to Montessori’s theories of child responsibility and building confidence.

I’m sure that long after I’ve left Cabarete, my visit to 3 Mariposas — and the experience of seeing first-hand how Dominican children have benefitted from Sarah’s work — will stand out as a highlight of my stay. It also serves as a reminder of the wonderful opportunities that arise when traveling, as long as I remain open to learning from the amazing people I meet along the way. Sometimes those people are native residents, and sometimes they’re expats like Sarah who’ve traveled abroad and created something amazing in the community they’ve settled down in. There’s a lot of inspiration to be found out there in the world, if you look for it.

And because we were so inspired by 3 Mariposas, Ryan and I decided to donate $3,000 from Teaching House, our ESL teacher training school, to help support the kids who attend the school. And, in addition, we’re asking you, our friends and readers, to visit the donation page on the 3 Mariposas web site to read more about the school. And if you feel inspired, you can also click on the “Donate Now” link.

Every little bit of aid really does help, so if this story has inspired you, please consider donating to this wonderful project. Even $10 makes a difference to a youngstudent’s life.

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This colorful school breathes life into the education of local children in Cabarete

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Sarah works with two girls to develop their spelling and writing skills

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A little girl celebrates a classmate’s birthday with a cupcake and real “adult” utensils

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When a boy gets hurt, Sarah holds a meeting with the children to drive home a lesson

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3 Mariposas thanks you for all your support

To find out more about 3 Mariposas, visit their web site www.3mariposasmontessori.com. And if you’re ever in Cabarete, I encourage you to come see for yourself how they’re tackling education in the Dominican Republic.

Photo Essay: Motorbike trip to Rio San Juan

My first weekend motorcycle trip felt like a milestone achievement when I pulled into Rio San Juan with Ryan on the back of the bike and all my limbs still in tact. Despite my fears, the trip was nothing short of breath-taking, scenic and exhilarating. The wind whipped my hair into knots as we rolled up, down and around one long road along the coast with nothing around us but dense jungle, craggy cliffs, grazing cattle and friendly Dominicans working in their little roadside huts selling oranges, peanuts and eggs.

Ryan and I had agreed to take turns driving so I could gain some open-road experience, which required some courage from me to take the reins, as well as courage from Ryan to put any hint of machismo aside to endure the alarmed stares and surprised double-takes from passing Dominican drivers. No doubt, they were wondering if Ryan had misplaced his cojones when he put me in the driver’s seat.

After a long journey of being glued together on a small seat, though, we were rewarded with a new town of a completely different vibe from Cabarete or Luperon, towns we’d gotten to know quite well. The people were just as generous and friendly as they are in the rest of the country, but Río San Juan offered unique local treasures like the gorgeous beach of Playa Caletón, tucked away in a protected cove beyond the mangroves.

Looking now at this photo essay, it would appear that what I thought was a casual fling with the Dominican Republic, sparked by love at first sight, has turned into a long-lasting relationship. And if this is what biking through the Dominican countryside brings, I can see myself falling quite hard for this country during our time here.

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Tour leaders: Joelle and Tasha.

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Tour stuntmen: Ryan and Morgan

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Stopping to stretch our legs in a one-moto Dominican town

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Hotel room: $30. View: Priceless.

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We woke up to see the day’s catch coming in

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Learning the history of Rio San Juan from our animated guide, Felix

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The highlight of the tour was our stop at Playa Caleton

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Back in Rio San Juan, we were tempted by fresh oysters from the mangroves

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Who could resist Julian’s offerings?

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They don’t get much fresher than this

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Spending the evening with some local Haitian girls

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The trip home was no less adventurous

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On the open road, heading home from our 3-day adventure

For more photos of Rio San Juan, visit Turf to Surf’s Photo Album on their Facebook Page.

Book Review: Love with a Chance of Drowning

After six months of cruising and reading books about sailing, I thought the last thing I needed was another sailing story on my bookshelf. What I really needed was a literary escape from boat life, rather than more reminders of what could go wrong at sea as confirmed by the many disaster tales that are born of the ocean.

But then a copy of Torre DeRoche’s memoir “Love with a Chance of Drowning” dropped in my lap, and once I started the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down. Witty, emotional and laugh-out-loud funny, “Love with a Chance of Drowning” is the story of an aqua-phobic Aussie gal (Torre) living abroad in San Francisco who meets and falls in love with an adventure-loving Argentinian who has been planning for the last seven years to sail his boat around the world.

Torre is put in the difficult position of having to choose whether to watch the love of her life sail away, possibly forever, or swallow her phobia and get onboard with exploring the world in a way that she never thought she could.

It’s an immediately lovable book for sailors, travelers and any of us who have either fallen in love with adventuring or an adventurer. And even if you’ve never stepped foot on a boat or traveled abroad, you can identify with the emotions Torre feels as she questions herself, her love and whether her fears should stop her from living out a dream, even if that dream is not hers.

Torre is blessed with the gift of great story-telling, crafting the tale of an unusual journey, with all its peaks and troughs, while also injecting a good dose of self-deprecating humor and a love for anyone who has an interesting story to tell.

I can’t recommend this book enough to those with an adventurous spirit, a love for human flaws and a healthy sense of humor. It’s hard not to find something of yourself in Torre and her experiences and find humor in the folly of the way love is stumbled upon sometimes.

In a word, this memoir is loveable. If you don’t believe me, watch this video trailer:

 

“Love with a Chance of Drowning” is for sale now on Amazon.com.

A crazy adventure on the horizon

“Robert Granville, Nick Golding, Domenico Grazzani, Tasha Hacker…”

“Holy shit, that’s me!” I screamed, jumping up from my seat and reaching over to high-five Ryan.

After a morning of chugging coffee, chewing my nails and pacing back and forth in anticipation of this moment, it was a relief to hear my name and know my fate had been sealed.

Contrary to your guesses, I was not at a Hogwarts’ ceremony with Harry Potter waiting to find out which house the Sorting Hat would choose me for. Rather, I was watching the live broadcast from England of Crew Allocation for the Clipper Round the World Race.

Yep, that’s right. I’m going to be an ocean racer.

The Clipper race is the closest an amateur sailor will ever come to doing something like the Volvo Ocean Race; a round-the-world adventure on stripped down, 70-foot racing boats. It is the only race in the world to take hundreds of amateur sailors, train them specifically for ocean racing, and place them on racing monohulls to battle it out at sea on a circumnavigation. There are 12 boats in total, each carrying 22 amateur crew and 1 professional skipper.

Before you ask, we were completely sober when we signed ourselves up for this insane challenge. Ryan and I even signed up to crew on two different boats, which means we won’t be racing together. We’ll both be doing two out of the eight legs making up the full round-the-world race. And, of course, Ryan and I have a little rum wager on who’s going to win.

We’ll be setting out with the fleet on Leg 1, which includes two races: the first starting in Southern England and finishing in Brest, France, and then after a 2-3 day layover, we’ll be heading off to the west coast of Brazil. The entire leg covers nearly 4,500 nautical miles, taking us out of the English Channel, across the Bay of Biscay, across the Atlantic Ocean and the equator and down the Brazilian coast. We’ll tackle strong tides, confused seas, the fluky conditions of the infamous doldrums, and both cold and hot weather.

Once we are safely deposited on Brazilian soil, we’ll have about 30 days to get to South Africa and meet our boats again for the third leg of the Clipper, which will start in Cape Town and finish in Western Australia. This epic 4,700-nautical-mile leg takes us across the South Indian Ocean and the treacherous Southern Ocean, which will have us facing torrential rains and fast-moving weather systems, fighting large, powerful depressions, surfing down monstrous waves at speeds of up to 30 knots and hopefully dropping us at the doorstep of a well-stocked pub when we finally reach Australia.

The Clipper team has three months to train us and a fleet of 650 amateurs to be ready to take on this awesome challenge.

But not to worry. As the Clipper Founder, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, said in an inspiring speech he gave on Crew Allocation Day, “We’re giving you about the finest training anyone has developed for what you’re taking on. We train you to go out and sail oceans. And there’s not many people who do it. More people have climbed Mt. Everest than have sailed around the world.”

What’s more, I’ll be covering the experience from start to finish here on Turf to Surf. So stay tuned for more news about the Clipper race and our upcoming training in England.

I know this experience is going to be nothing short of amazing and difficult and life-changing. So, despite the concerns I have about this adventure, I’m banking on the advice of that oft-quoted fellow, Mark Twain, who said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.”

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These boats might have a few more lines than we have on s/v Hideaway.

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Two excited crew preparing to race in ’11-’12. Next time out, that will be us!

Featured photo credit: Clipper Ventures Plc

To follow the rest of this crazy adventure in real time, keep an eye on Turf to Surf’s Photo Albums on their Facebook Page.