It’s been a while! About six months ago I reported on hurricane recovery in the Abacos as we left those islands for the remote Berrys. If you’ve been keeping up with us on Facebook, you’ve seen most of the rest of the story – pictures of stunning, lush verticals in the Dominican Republic; video of bioluminescence from Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island; images of the dinners we brought aboard as our fishing fortunes improved; harrowing tales of Caribbean passages and other daily adventures of a wandering life at sea.
“Adieu to the Blue” was originally a reference to departing the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas to venture into new territory in the deeper, darker Caribbean. As it turns out, I’m writing “Adieu to the Blue” to close out our life aboard La Vie Dansante and bid farewell to life on the sea – at least for a while.
Changes in Lattitudes
When we went to sea, part of our life plan involved keeping a rental property in Kyle, Texas. The home provided a place for Barbara’s daughter Brooke to live while she attended Texas State University; a nice rental income from other local students; a nest-egg for the day we’d return to shore and a mailing address.
When demand for homes began to drive a robust sellers’ market just as Brooke was finishing school and the other renters’ leases were expiring, we decided to liquidate our Kyle asset and hired a local realtor to put it on the market while, back in the warm waters of the Caribbean, we prepared to cross the Mona Passage from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and continue through the Windward Islands to our final destination – Grenada.
This course, though, was about to get a 180 degree change – literally and figuratively.
Changes in Attitudes
After a smooth Mona crossing (following VanSant’s advice in “Passages South”) and an uneventful check-in with US Customs and Border Protection with the CBP ROAM app, we anchored at Boqueron and took our dinghy ashore to begin our exploration of the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. Although our day’s pursuit was cut short by rain, we spent enough time there to discover mofongo – a flavored dish of mashed plantains that remains one of our favorite culinary discoveries!
Anxious to push on with visiting the rest of this diverse and rich island, we sailed around the southwest corner bound for great fishing and diving!
The next morning found us anchored off La Parguera, getting our SCUBA gear together to load into our dinghy for a day under water at one of Puerto Rico’s world famous diving spots. As I op-checked our gear, my phone rang and it was my Dad, who called from time-to-time to check us. This time, though, he was different. His health had taken a downturn. He was struggling through great pain and a loss of mobility. The call was a cry for help. My head began to spin as I worked through reconciling our remote living situation with the need to get back to the States to help my Dad. Barbara and I talked it through and came up with a plan.
We prepped La Vie Dansante to get underway and motor thirty miles East to the town of Ponce, where our calls verified there was a secure marina with space to accommodate our boat for several days or weeks. As we skirted the south coast of Puerto Rico, we arranged for dockage in Ponce, a cab to San Juan and air travel to DFW. Five hours later we were tied up at the Ponce Yacht Club and within 36 hours of getting the call from my Dad, we were back in Texas.
Dad is stable now, with appropriate medical care and a treatment plan; but the trip got us thinking about what we’d left ashore and had us viewing our life at sea through a different lens. Our next stop was St. Thomas, where we’d arranged for a new 2-to-1 main halyard to take the strain off our electric wench at the helm. We’d go ahead and make the trip, enjoy the US Virgin Islands, get the new rigging up and look at life a little more through this new perspective.
Our concerns revolved around four key factors – family, Caribbean COVID protocols, finances and an incredibly hot catamaran market.
There is a lot happening ashore, now and in the near future. Much of it involves loving and caring for family members. Both our sets of parents are alive, but they’re getting older.
The rest of it involves being there for events we really want to experience and be a part of. Barbara and I have long felt the desire to build something that would strengthen the relationships within our family. I think La Vie Dansante did that to a degree, since several family members got to sail aboard her, but the distance precluded us from doing a lot with family. If we were really going to develop relationships in our rapidly growing family, we’d have to be present.
My oldest daughter has given me two grandsons; my middle daughter is working on a family herself; my youngest is traveling the country and Barbara’s kids are both in long term relationships. We’ve been lucky to get back for some important events like births and marriages; but that luck is certain not to hold out at the pace our family is changing.
COVID – the thing that just won’t go away
Although freedom to move about the Caribbean had improved since COVID border closures forced us back to US shores last year, new infections on several islands resulted in repeat closures or draconian entry and quarantine requirements. Along our intended route out of the Hurricane Zone, COVID-19 fears had closed most of the islands we’d hoped to visit. We could still get into St. Martin, although we’d have to quarantine for 5 days to do that; but the next island south we could get into was St. Lucia. We’d essentially have to bee-line it between the two islands, skipping hopeful island stops like St. Barts, Antigua, Montserrat, Guadalupe, Dominica and Martinique – pretty much all of the Leeward Islands.
Although we held onto the hope that a trip north after hurricane season might find the islands open again, these new closures were making our vagabond lifestyle increasingly difficult to pull off, not to mention making it next to impossible for friends and family to meet us in the islands.
There’s an old saying that sailboats represent the most expensive way to travel for free, and it’s true. Although we had established a budget for boat maintenance and still enjoyed the cushion our reserves provided, we were dipping into them at an unsustainable rate. While some of the things that go wrong with complex boats like sailing yachts are inexpensive and easy to fix, others require shipping very large, heavy and expensive parts internationally, then paying premium rates for professional marine technicians. It’s hard to determine how long our sailing kitty would last, and that uncertainty also played into our thought process.
Finally, the market for catamarans is ridiculous right now. Similar to what’s happened in the housing market, demand is WAY out ahead of supply and the wait for a new boat like ours is over two years. We had been contacted earlier by a broker representing numerous buyers looking for our make and model. Further inquiry revealed we could actually sell La Vie Dansante for more than we paid for her, which is unprecedented in this world. Usually these things are among the most depreciating of assets. Of course, we put a lot into her too. Although we wouldn’t get everything back we’d spent, we would get a lot of it. The rest we considered well-invested in an incredible adventure at sea.
The Journey Home
On a short, turbulent passage from Puerto Rico, we came to the realization that, all things considered, the time was right to head back to shore.
With the decision now made as we sailed into St. Thomas, I reached out to the broker we bought the boat from (better the devil you know …) and began the process of putting our sailing home on the selling block.
She had an offer on the first full day she was listed, so we charted a course back to Fort Lauderdale – 10 days of downwind sailing on the backs of gentle waves. The forecast could not have been better.
Our 180-degree sailing course change was accompanied by another kind of turnaround – we declined a great offer and took our Kyle rental house off the market so we’d have a place to come back to, at least for the immediate future, now that our floating home was basically sold.
Our last sail was an especially beautiful time. We went 7 days without starting the engines, propelled only by the wind and powered only by the sun. We caught tuna on our return through the Mona Passage, anchored for a night’s rest off Little Ragged Island in the Bahamas, then made good time through the Old Bahama Channel along Cuba’s north coast. After months of beating against the trade winds and stuffing square waves, it was a welcome final passage and perhaps our best sail ever, although a little bittersweet as we prepared to bid farewell to the boat we’d both put so much into.
Another old saying goes “The two happiest days in a boatowner’s life are when they buy their boat and when they sell it!” We really weren’t feeling like this would be one of those days.
Tell Tale Signs
It’s almost like it was meant to happen at this point in time, though. I finished my last bottle of Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva on the last full day of our passage; Barbara baked bread with the last of her flour; there are only three pages left in my logbook and we logged our 10,000th nautical mile sailing La Vie Dansante just off Miami, on the final leg into Fort Lauderale.
Even tied up to the dock at Atlantic Cruising Yachts, we had indications we’d come to the end of our adventure.
Part of getting La Vie Dansante ready for sale involved descaling the seawater cooling systems, so I went to West Marine (which is kind of like a fusion of Home Depot, Best Buy and REI, but for boat life) to get Barnacle Buster – the most awesome stuff for the task. I had $30 in my West Marine Rewards account, and the total came to $29.96. I carried my Barnacle Buster out of there without spending a dime, and with my account empty. Everything was ending quite neatly, as it turned out.
The process of buying and selling a boat is much faster than it is for a house. In fact, La Vie Dansante is sold – the deal closed just a few hours ago. As I write this, a new owner is excitedly hustling aboard, unpacking the first few boxes, taking measurements for their stuff, spending too much at West Marine and dreaming of the crystal clear waters they’ll anchor in and the exotic islands they’ll explore. I hope, in their excitement, they remember to change the zincs, charge the batteries and leave the air conditioners on dehumidify.
We wish them well, enthusiastic in the knowledge they’re embarking on a great boat!
After a few weeks ashore – two in Fort Lauderdale and two here in Texas, I really thought I’d be missing the afloat life a little more than I am. Instead, life ashore has proven surprisingly enjoyable. My sleep is deeper without the ever-present concern that our anchor could drag; we use water comfortably without worrying about how much is left in the tank; I don’t have to fire up the generator to run the air conditioning; we can grab a bottle of our favorite wine when we want; Barbara enjoys easy access to shopping and Amazon delivery and our toilets empty themselves. After the adventure, the comfort of terra firma makes for pretty comfortable living.
Besides, we’ve done it! We set out to find adventure, and we found it. The three years we sailed La Vie Dansante – part time at first, then full time – gave us more adventures than we can count; growth experiences rarely obtainable while staying alive; a firm reliance on each other when the chips are down and memories that’ll last a lifetime.
Are we through exploring the world’s oceans and islands? No way. The next iteration may be seasonal, though – more balanced, with a place ashore for half the year and a vessel at sea for the other. One way or another, we’ll be back on the water some day.
While we prepped La Vie Dansante for her upcoming survey and sea trial by the prospective buyers, we were blessed by my Navy buddy John and his wife Daniella, who once again offered us a place to stay, receive shipments and stage our move ashore. John and Daniella have been a big part of our La Vie Dansante story since the beginning, providing us a home-away-from-home as we found, purchased, improved and now sold our floating home. John even loaned me some deep-sea fishing gear! Our experience would have far more horror stories were it not for these friends. Thanks guys!