Imagine you had a friend or a family member who lives on a sailboat in the Caribbean and he/she would tell you:”Whenever you have a chance, vacation time or the desire to come for a visit, feel free to do so! All you have to do is book your flight. Your stay on the catamaran is entirely free.” What would you say to such an offer? If that were me, I wouldn’t think twice and hop on that plane to the tropics for my next vacation... Only, I am already here.
Mark giving 7-year old Jake advice on how to steer the catamaran
Surprisingly enough, not all that many people take us up on this magnificent offer. Everybody is the first to exclaim “what a wonderful and idyllic” life we have, how fortunate, lucky or “blessed” we are and “oh, I wish I could be there, do that” and so on, but when push comes to shove there are many excuses to resist the temptation of a visit to the Caribbean, sailing the turquoise waters on a catamaran, with snorkel trips and shore visits on the side. Why? Well, I think most of you can answer that for yourselves: there are the kids, the house, the pets, the family, the lack of vacation time, other commitments, the expense of the plane tickets and –of course- the job and other chores that will get postponed.
German friend Sabine enjoying some quiet (and pink) time in Irie's cockpit
Once in a while, and actually quite a few times this year, friends or family from “home” do make the jump and decide to leave their cold environs behind for a short amount of time. They come to the Caribbean, mostly to spend time with us, but also to share the boat life, experience what this cruising life is all about and relate to all the things I rave or complain about. Those visiting times are moments Mark and I look forward to. It is always great to connect with people you only see once a year and to show off the good things about the boating life. We plan, organize, shop, anticipate, hope for good weather and are happy to entertain our guests.
Our American friend Karl LOVES rock climbing
Receiving people on Irie also means that we have to take a break from work and chores ourselves and, even though there is a lot of pressure of making everybody happy and trying to create a perfect world on and off the boat, we schedule in our time off and look forward to some vacation. Weather dependent, we sail to the nicest bays we know, take guests for wonderful walks, visit the island’s sights, go for daily swims, point out the colorful fish during snorkel trips and –believe it or not- actually go sit on the beach (and get burned!).
Sister-in-law Kristen enjoying her book on Irie's trampoline
When living with friends or family in the close quarters of a 35’ sailboat, you get to know each other well and learn where the focus of a good holiday lays. Some people like shopping, others like the beach. Some try to fit all possible activities into one visit, others are completely at ease reading a book and hanging out on the trampoline up front. My mom just wants to be around us; my dad likes to get into boat projects and enjoys being the handyman. My cousin actually doesn’t mind doing the dishes in a saltwater bucket in the cockpit, while my brother-in-law’s face excitingly lights up behind Irie’s steering wheel. It is a joy to make people happy and turn their precious vacation into a special one. Getting treated to dinner is a special bonus.
Dinner out with Mark's best friend Ryan and his family
Of course, anybody visiting us has to be flexible and that is sometimes tough. We never know ahead of time where we will go or how the weather will be. Each time, I make the mistake to get very excited myself about going to a certain bay, only to discover that on the day of the planned itinerary, the wind howls, comes from the wrong direction or is missing altogether. Or, a north swell turns an otherwise comfortable anchorage into a bumpy occurrence. Or, it rains and indoor activities are the only way to spend the day. Luckily it is only me being disappointed, because I am the one with expectations. Most of our visitors take it as it comes, already happy to be in an exotic environment, with people they like, having a boating adventure never experienced before.
Cousin Griet doesn't mind doing the daily dishes in "the bucket"
No matter how much any visitor enjoyed their stay on sailing vessel Irie, all of them are happy to go back home, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Life onboard is pretty primitive and self sustaining. Baths happen in the ocean with a quick freshwater rinse afterwards. Dishes are done by hand; food is home cooked and eaten on plastic plates. After a few days, not much is left in the small fridge and living out of a duffel bag or suitcase gets old. The expansively patched dinghy needs to get pumped up and filled with fuel regularly and every trip to shore requires an acrobatic maneuver to get into the little inflatable and climb a rickety dock or a wavy beach onshore.
Dad Jacques helping out with filling Irie's water tanks in the Bahamas
And, when the guests leave and life turns back to normal on our boat, no more cues for the bathroom and no more help with the dishes, Mark and I get all our tanks filled again, stock up the fridge, enjoy some peace and quiet and start inviting the next set of guests, anticipating another vacation down the island chain, just when work and boat projects are getting too much again. It does require some effort to offer our visitors an as fun vacation as possible, but the smiles and excitement we get in return, the occasional dinner out and the chance to actually share our boat life with people we love (making it easier for them to connect and understand our stories), makes it all worthwhile. So, next time a friend or relative offers you a chance to go sailing with him/her or experience a part of the cruising life, accept it full heartedly and enjoy a different world!
Belgian friends Rosy and Peter relax on Irie's trampoline