Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer Time

Summer is the perfect time for little excursions. We just returned from a little trip to St John where we wandered around town and ended up having coffee and some yummy baking at our favourite spot at Mongoose Junction. The ferry trip is a mere 20 minutes - and always enjoyable. Max usually decides on whether we sit upstairs outside or down below in the a/c. Today was a bit hot and we forgot to fully sunscreen ourselves so hid below.

Last weekend was St John Carnival – with the parade, festivities rolled in with some July 4th fireworks. We didn’t go over to see it this year – but heard some reports from George who is the tennis instructor at the yacht club who is an active participant in one of the Carnival troupes . He showed us pictures of his highly elaborate costume with huge wings and feathers weighing something close to 100lbs! Try imagine parading around in a costume like that for a few hours in about 30 degrees heat and humid summer conditions.

Julian is in Toronto right now staying with my sister Alex, her husband David and their son Nicholas who is a year older than Julian. Julian flew back with them after the Scotiabank Regatta which both boys raced this year.

This year’s Scotiabank Regatta had over 80 children sailing Optimists. The children range in age from 7 -15 years and came to the event from different islands in the Caribbean as well as parts of the US and Canada. This was Julian’s second Scotiabank Regatta following some other regattas he raced this year including one in Tortola in May. The boys had three days participating in a racing clinic where they got some on and off the water instruction and practiced race starts and mark roundings. Alex, Mark and I were out on a friend’s boat to watch the racing over three days which was a lot of fun. – and pretty impressive remembering the ages of many of these children.

The whole regatta was a fun event with evening dinners and entertainment including crazy pyro dancing juggling entertainers. There was an opening event International parade at the beginning of the regatta where all the racers walked with their flags – including Nicholas who was enthusiastically waving the Maple Leaf and representing Canada.

Julian is sailing in Toronto with his cousin at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s sailing program for four weeks. Julian is having a great time but has reported back to us that the “water is cold”. He is also having a great time with his grandparents who are visiting Toronto this week. We all miss Julian while he is away on his first trip away from home.

Meanwhile, back on the rock Max has become a well-known personality at the yacht club. It constantly amazes me what Max manages in any given day – extra snacks from the bar – meals from sailing instructors – he bats his eyelashes and flashes his toothless grin and has everyone catering to his every whim. Max has a six-week sailing camp and is quickly becoming a confident little sailor. We live very close to the yacht club right now which is great for summer camp and activities.

We are still trying to buy a house and recently came very close. The transaction, however, could not be completed due to issues with the title, survey and dispute between sellers and neighbours. At the 11 ½ hour we were in mad-rush mode to find a place to live as we had to be out of rental that we have given notice on – and did not have a house to move into. After a bit of rusging around, we managed to find a good place near the yacht club for a while until we figure out our next plan of attack.

On the business side of our lives, we are busy, busy. Today, however was lovely. We managed a nice day as a family where actually didn’t work and had no emergency power issues. A very rare day indeed! The power utility on the island has been terrible and seems to be getting worse. The number of people who have come to us in the last few months who are fed up with rolling blackouts and outages has been very interesting. We are definitely keeping busy and we are only just getting into hurricane season.

On the recreation side – after all that is WHY we moved here – we have accumulated a couple of boats so far this year. After a lot of looking – we purchased a Sea Cat 25 – with twin outboards from South Carolina. After boat surveys and getting it shipped here, we had some engine work, new fuel tanks replaced and some other boat work completed. Like everything here – it took a while.

Now you see it

Finally in May we got her in the water, and that weekend managed one trip to Tortola when we took Julian to his regatta. A couple weeks following this trip and after some significant rain fall, we discovered the hard way that one of the automatic pumps was not doing its job – resulting in that hull filling up with water and then flipping the boat over.

Now you don't

Yes – there is nothing quite like showing up at the yacht club trying to find your boat in the mooring field – only to discover it has rolled over. The boat, previously unnamed is slowly collecting a variety of very fitting new names that will be put to vote. The mini-disaster , however, has not been as bad as expected as engines were salvaged.

Julian also acquired a boat this year. For his ninth birthday, Julian became the proud owner of an Optimist sailing dinghy which he promptly named “Optimus Prime”. Unlike the previously mentioned boat, this little tub with its little sail gets off the beach and out for a sail at least twice a week for sailing lessons and sails. Julian appears to be better at keeping his priorities straight - and his boat upright.

Hopefully we’ll manage a few more excursions and boat time this summer. This time of year is harder for us to take off and be away from the demands of generators but there are always those little day trips to make us feel like we have escaped the routine...even if it’s just a morning coffee in St John.

Dinner with Alex when she was visiting St Thomas

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back to the Blog

It's Sunday morning and after a run and three cups of tea, I have managed the motivation and courage to tackle our outdated blog. Seeing that my last update, however, was some seven months ago, I will no doubt jump around from story to story like I am changing channels on the TV. We have had a number of family visits over the past five months. In November last year, my parents were visiting with us for a couple of weeks before we all flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico to board a Celebrity ship for a seven-night cruise. The cruise that took us to St Martin, Antigua, St. Lucia, and Barbados was a lovely way for the three generations to travel together. We explored the ports together by hiring a car or taxi and then explored the various points of interest.
Returning to St Martin was fun with a drive around the island, stop at Orient Beach, croissants and cafes in Marigot and lunch and shopping in Phillipsburg.
Antigua, is a big destination for sailors where there is a huge race week in the Spring. The island is pretty with some typical Caribbean architecture combined with old churches and scenic vistas. The weather was a little unsettled the day we arrived so we enjoyed a taxi ride and tour where we saw a few of the island highlights. St Lucia which had been hit but Hurricane Thomas just a few weeks before our visit was lush and volcanic with acres of banana plantations and vegetation. We did see some of the area that was impacted by the storm and heavy rains as we drove up some incredibly steep roads. We also went to the University which was situated high in the hills with some incredible views.
Barbados is a beautiful island, much more developed with a larger population (around 250,000 people). We had a highly informative (and chatty) driver take us around the island for the day. We visited the oldest church on the island, past all the resorts on the west coast and then over to see the beautiful beaches and vistas on the east coast. We had a great time walking along the beach and finding shells. The onboard experience was fun for all of us. Among many great memories, Julian and Max in the formal dining room is among my favourite. The boys rose to the occasion getting quite used to having their chairs pulled out for them and all the attention. Julian ordered escargot EVERY night to start - and Max requested his regular tomato salad.
Going to see the shows was fun and the boys enjoyed the music and dancing.

Then it was Christmas which was filled with school concerts, parties and family events. Max's class did Humpty Dumpty and Julian had his first year of doing carol bells. Over the Christmas school break, Mark's parents came to St Thomas. Despite Mark and I having to work, the boys got to spend a lot of time with their grandparents swimming and doing beach outings. We took the ferry over to St John and explored some beaches and trails in the area. St John is a beautiful place to explore with 2/3 of the island a national park. We visited Cinnamon Bay - which has trails and a National Park Info Centre. More recently, I had the opportunity to be a parent chaperone with Julian's class to visit this beach and park. There was some very interesting history here and the students had the chance to do a "dig" and then sift through the sand and debris to find artifacts.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Julian wins his fleet in BVI regatta

Last Saturday, I took Julian over to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands where the BVI Yacht Club was hosting a Back to School Optimist Regatta for boys and girls. We went over with about six other boys and parents from St Thomas in a couple of boats. It was a lovely day, smooth crossing that took us about an hour from Red Hook in St Thomas to Nanny Cay on Tortola.

Julian who has sailed two other regattas in the beginner (or green) fleet has been fairly quickly introduced to race starts, making his way around a race course, and (possibly most importantly) how to avoid running into other boats while sailing as fast as you can.

And sailing fast he managed (well, most of the time at least) with some good starts and even better finishes. The end of the regatta produced a first place for our little Julian who was possibly more excited about the t-shirt and awards than his standing. What a fun day - we met some other great boys his age who live in Tortola and had a fun trip there and back.

Unfortunately, Mark and Max had to hold the fort and keep people with generators happy. Max actually had a sailing lesson that day at STYC which Mark watched. Max will be the next little racer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

september storms, sailing and school

Hurricane season has taken on a whole new meaning for us since we have moved to St Thomas. What used to be a foreign news story is now a part of our seasonal business and life. And while the official season begins in June – the actual storm activity usually begins in August and September after a couple months of humid and windless conditions.

This year forecasters have been predicting a more active storm season with multiple named storms. It’s a bit of a sport and certainly always the topic of conversation. Despite the warnings and broadcasts for seasonal preparedness, human nature lends itself to varying degrees of procrastination - putting off the things we deem necessary but not quite as fun. Why bother with mundane house projects and shopping when you can go to the beach? Indeed. When news reports were quickly confirming that Hurricane Earl was, in fact, making its way for an uninvited visit to our islands, it was somewhat like finding out that you had 20 dinner guests arriving in an hour when you didn’t have any food and the house is a mess. Mayhem. Grocery stores were filled with people (stocking up on some of the oddest items), gas stations had long queues and storm shutters were being put in place.

I was at the grocery store three times the day before the storm - the final visit to buy some beer for the guys who helped us move the boat. There was an older man buying provisions in front of me - three bottles of single malt scotch and a variety of canned items. He smiled at my little six-pack and said he hoped I had more than that to get me through the storm. I went through another mental check list. What did I have at home?

Of course, we can include ourselves in this group of procrastinators as we were scrambling to move our boat from the yacht club which had declared the mooring field closed Sunday morning, to the safer haven of the boatyard. We were unable to get the boat out of the water before the storm and realized that we were relegated to the mangroves.

Hiding boats among the mangroves is a favoured option for many – especially live-a-boards. The concept is simple: find a good spot that isn’t too close to your neighbour, tie one end to mangrove trees, throw out a couple of anchors on the other end, hope for the best. The end product is a spider web of boat and anchor lines making the trip in and out an interesting challenge.

Our trip was fairly straightforward after we were kicked out of our first spot which was deemed to be someone else’s hurricane spot since the beginning of time. Apparently we were not versed in hurricane mooring history and thanked them for this new insight. Max was determined to steer the boat during this trip which was a little tricky in light of all the anchor lines waiting to catch unsuspecting keels and propellers. We slipped into a nicely protected spot under the watchful eye of various new neighbours who were all more than willing to lend advice on where we should tie and how far our anchor should be from their line. Mark climbed into the mangroves and tied the boat, I threw out and secured a couple of anchors and then we went back to shore in our friend’s dingy. Good luck little boat. Be safe.

As I type this out I am actually having a hard time recalling the blur of what fortunately turned out to be a close call. Hurricane Earl was a category four storm that hit us August 30th in the early evening. Our team at work really stepped up to the plate before and after the storm - and were out until the 6pm curfew and(just before) it was lifted. School was scheduled to start this day and was cancelled once the storm was confirmed. Our two little men were dragged to work with us until we decided it was time to be safe at home.

At home - we watched the wind whip by with some impressive gusts and from a very unusual direction than the consistent easterly Tradewinds. As it increased in intensity, we watched the system take over - sinking a few boats and clearing some areas. We stood outside for a while watching the excitement until things started to crack and fly by at a concerning rate. I was having flashbacks from Wizard of Oz while I watched airborne branches, pots, debris . No witches on bicycles but I brought the boys bikes inside, just in case. The video clip below is taken from the deck.

The aftermath of this storm has been interesting and consuming. The day after the storm, Mark left the house first, breaking curfew with our (quasi)"essential service" status to be followed pretty quickly by the boys and I. There were many trees, branches and things blocking roads not to mention every police vehicle out with flashing lights. Julian sat in the back seat taking photos with my phone (great attempts...) – trees down, boats with no rig, and a lot of debris. Before we even awoke, we were getting call after call regarding generators that were down or not running properly. It was a very, very busy week where our team was working long days and getting many people up and running.

A good portion of St Thomas and St John was without power for up to a week. For those with functioning generators that provided seamless power – the outage wasn’t too inconvenient. However, for the many people without generators, there were huge problems where they couldn’t get water from their cisterns, couldn’t keep food from spoiling in their freezers or didn’t have ways to cook. After we got through the initial back log of emergency response – we then graduated to the next level of dealing with machines that had been running for a week and were getting tired. Refuelling became another challenge as the port was closed for a couple of days and the diesel supply was limited. We were desperately trying to get diesel from our supplier and others to fill our fuel truck and keep up with the demand. Patience levels were wavering and we all had to move quickly to keep businesses and homes running.

One of the other challenges was cellular service. For a few days the service was very poor. In fact the day after the storm it was just about non-existent which meant dispatching the technicians was difficult and customers had to be patient getting through to our office. Our phone lines were so busy that all lines were constantly ringing and there were always voicemails and messages. Slowly as service and functionality returned to the island – our demand continued as there was a steady demand for repairs and information on new machines. We started to sell smaller portable generators which were selling before they even arrived at the port. And we coordinated repairs of smaller units that were getting dropped off at our shop and quickly piling up. The schools and government offices stayed closed for a couple of days due to power outages.

Julian and Max finally started school on Thursday which was a very exciting day for everyone. Julian was so ready to start Grade Three that he was dressed and ready before I even got up that morning (5:45). Can we leave? Can we leave?

With a season unpredictable weather and busy school schedules - there is no time to lament the fact that the boat is now out of the water for a couple of months. Julian and Max, however, are continuing with their sailing program after school and on weekends. After ten weeks of a sailing program this summer, it is no wonder than even Max who just turned five years old is mastering sailing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

summer days

I could begin this entry with all kinds of reasons why I have neglected my writing duties - a demanding business , even more demanding children, and a hectic schedule lying in the sun and working on my tan (oh wait a moment. that was the wishful me...) A couple of recent conversations with dear friends in western areas reminded me that the blog was set up to ensure we keep in contact with our friends and they stay in contact with us!

Enough of the pathetic preamble and onto a bit more substance. I am sitting in the living room listening to some great music on our newly set-up stereo system. Mark is beside me surfing the internet (looking for boats and a crane truck - yes interesting combination but for very separate personal and business applications ).

We have seen some of the heaviest rains in the past few days since we have lived here. Huge downpour, winds and flooding in many parts. I was feeling very happy to be driving my Toyota FJ Cruiser today in four wheel drive passing much smaller vehicles unable to pass through the water. All this rain also brings mosquitoes by the truck load (as I sit here with my electric swat at very close hand) and an increasing number of cases of dengue fever. The boys are now committed to their netting tents at night to avoid the nasty little blood suckers.

Summer is hurricane season and a very busy time for us. We have a team of 11 people right now - all working hard to keep up with the demand. It has been a consistently steady year so far introducing new opportunities and people to our business. Solar power has been a new part of our service offering by becoming an installer for solar thermal hot water heaters. Additionally we are an authorized dealer for a company distributing UPS systems.

The weeks fly by - so much that is accomplished and yet so much seems to be waiting to be done. And while we have come to understand many of the finer points of working and doing business in the USVI - there is always something new to hit us when we least expect it.

And as much as the business environment can change - so can our social landscape.

We have just said good-bye to some very good friends, Frank and Annette, who were one of the first people we met when we arrived in this crazy place. Mark and I were doing race committee for the Rolex Regatta when we met this Californian couple who were dividing their time between the tropics of St Thomas and the jungles of LA. Deciding that they were going to try new adventures, they have sold their home here and have said good-bye to the Caribbean. We had a fun last week with them staying with us which included great dinners, a farewell party, and watching the final World Cup game while eating enough nachos to keep a Mexican family fed for a week. We will miss them.

The sad thing is - our other very good friends - two families in fact - are leaving island soon to pursue business and employment elsewhere. It is feeling like a bit of a mass exodus this month.

And here it is, summer. The island is quieter in many ways with less cruise ships and passengers as well as the many locals who take a break from the island. While Mark and I slave away in our Caribbean headquarters, our two little beach bums have been homing their sailing skills at a sailing camp at the St Thomas Yacht Club. Julian, age 8 1/2 is shaping up to be a very good little sailor. He participated in his first big regatta in early June, the Scotibank International Opti Regatta which welcomed close to 100 sailors age 6-15 from the US, Canada and many islands in the Caribbean. I did race committee for Julian's fleet and it was a really wonderful experience watching Julian perform with these other more experienced kids.

Max, who is not yet 5 years old is the typical second child who is doing everything to keep right up to his older brother including sailing the Opti all by himself. We had both boys out sailing a couple of weekends ago. We rigged up two optis and Max would not let me sail with him. No way. In fact, it took all my negotiation skills to persuade him that Julian should go but wouldn't steer. Mark and I were sailing in a sunfish and sailed off in one direction for a short period keeping a close eye on the intrepid sea dogs. Moments later, Max was sailing by himself and had persuaded Julian to jump out of the boat and into the water. Brotherly love. There was a fair bit of musical boats going on that day and it was great fun (despite the huge bruises on my legs).

Looking back at the last few months, there are probably many great stories. Our visit back to the west coast at Christmas is a very distant memory and still quite a blur considering the short time we were there.

In January, I went to Miami and ran the Miami Half Marathon for a second try - (without sister Alex this time). It is a great race despite the 15,000+ people - and a nice (flat)and scenic course to run.

In March, Alex and our nephew Nicholas visited us and we had many great adventures together. The three boys had so much fun that they cried the morning their cousin left and Max asked after them for weeks afterward. We went to St John a couple of times, snorkeled, explored, sailed and had an exceptional trip taking a boat to the Baths in the BVI.

In May, we took a weekend trip to St. Croix for exploration (and a little business). We did all the touristy things including an ATV tour through the rainforest and trails that took us to old sugar mills. It was a riot! Having said that, I was a little nervous with little Max sitting behind me. I had to turn around and check he was still with me when we hit the big pot holes and bumps. The architecture is very pretty on St Croix and there is a great old fortress and other interesting pieces of historical architecture that mark the period of Danish rule.

More recently, we went to Florida where we visited Miami, Ft Lauderdale and Orlando. The trip was a perfect change from our island life allowing us some time to explore, shop, eat out and even visit the wonderfully exhausting world of Disney. We visited a very fun Children's Science Museum in Miami where the boys controlled their own little tugs boats, loaded cargo with cranes, and drove a fire truck. It was great fun. Unfortunately - Spirit Airlines decided to go on strike the day we were to fly home and we had to pay very full price tickets to fly back with American. The only good thing that came out of it was a really nice relaxing extra day by the hotel pool (which somewhat helped me recover from the shock of having to pay a few thousand dollar to get home.) Another mojito to calm the nerves please.

That is all for now with more stories soon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving in the Virgin Islands

Our third evening of turkey left-overs and the end is near. Despite a crowd of twelve - we really had enough food for a small army. It was a lovely evening here.

I am a little behind in blogging so will post more on the pictoral side than my regular diatribe.

We had a fun little break in Miami over Columbus Day weekend in October (there are a lot of holidays in this place...) where we visited the Miami Zoo, a huge water park and some other parts of this crazy city. Mark and I even managed to get together with our suppliers and went to the Broadcrown warehouse (our generator supplier) which was a worthwhile visit.

Max met a parrot named...Charlotte. Yes, hilarious.

In late October, my parents visited for two weeks after their Panama Canal cruise. We had a great visit which included beach visits, dinner parties with friends, visits to school Halloween concerts and yacht club events. This was their second visit (Dad's third) since we have lived here so they have got to know a few of our friends and have discovered a few favourites such as Magen's Bay, Iggie's at Bolongo and Cafe Amalie downtown (which I think they visited at least three times for lunch!) As usual - most of the photos involve us eating.

Last week the boys were off school for "Thanksgiving Break" which was a week off school allowing those families who desire to celebrate the season with families elsewhere - the time to get away. Of course, these school breaks present some challenges for Mark and I when things are still pretty busy at our business. However - we still managed to squeeze in some fun!

The week before the Thanksgiving break, our friends Christian, Beverley and their daughter Helena were visiting the BVIs at Bitter End Yacht Club from Nova Scotia. While we had hoped to visit as a family - it was just a bit too busy to disappear from work that week. On the Friday, Mark rented a 26ft power cat with Julian and they powered over there in about two hours. After lunch, some sailing and a quick catch up - they said goodbye to our old friends from Vancouver and Victoria days and got the boat back to Red Hook before the 5:00 deadline.

Julian was invited to join a sailing clinic with a couple of the older children at STYC and he had two days of instructional Opti sailing. We followed up the clinic with his very first regatta in St. John where he raced with seven other boys and girls in Johnson Bay near Coral Bay. This little regatta was designed for the novice racer - "green fleet". Despite being the youngest in the group, Julian sailed nine races and did a great job figuring out starts and mark roundings. It was another proud parent moment.

Max accompanied me on the trip and managed to stay quite entertained launching fenders off the committee boat, chatting up a storm and eating his body weight in chips. Max was frequently heard yelling out "That's my "bwa-ther" Ju-ween" or "Tack!".

And I actually wonder how everyone on St. Thomas knows Max???

Import Supply is busy. We are keeping fingers crossed it stays like this over our "slower season" but so far we have a growing list of repairs and machines to maintain. What is also exciting is we are introducing renewable energy products to our customers in the hopes this sector will also take off and "shine" - so to speak.

And to add to our already hectic schedule of business, children, sailing and other activities we seem to be volunteering for - we are moving into a new house next weekend. This three bedroom place has a ideal location in Frenchman's Bay - about 2 minutes from Antilles School and 15 minutes closer to town. We'll be here until we make a decision on what to do regarding real estate which we have been monitoring - closely.

Other exciting upcoming events includes our trip to the west coast. We are looking forward to our first trip back to Victoria and Vancouver in almost two years. I may not recognize Vancouver. Mark and the boys arrive the 20th of December and I'll arrive shortly after on the 23rd. Max has literally not worn longer pants since he left Vancouver as he quite simply refuses. It will be a fun visit for all of us and we look forward to seeing our family and friends - even if we do freeze!