Senses Working Overtime

We’re out in the environment constantly, living aboard a focal point, rich with fascinating sensations. As I observe the sun slowly peaking over the silhouette hills of an eastern shoreline, I vaguely hear road machinery, hillside goats, chirping (and gahawing) birds, and crashing surf from ashore. Oh how I wish I could capture in writing the subtleties to share with you! Never mind the awe-inspiring night sky! I’ll attempt to describe at least some context of the daily atmosphere herein. Please read along with your imagination. This gets deep, I’ll warn you!

Fayaway sitting peacefully in Anguilla

Upon some quick visual scanning, I see, but my inner ears also feel a subtle rocking to a pattern, a pattern corresponding to rhythmic waves rolling under and around Fayaway, progressing into brown sinewy roots of bushy shoreline mangroves. The same pattern is breaking – crashing onto an ancient coral reef, protecting us, about one half mile to our south. I’m barely aware of any rocking, and nor splashing unless it changes more than our subconscious expects, say perhaps from the rare passing of the supplier ferry. In addition to this backdrop of wildlife and water, I hear soft Sunday-morning, coffee shop jazz emanating up from the companionway. I breathe more deeply, absorbing a cool lingering morning moisture, harmonizing with a growing fresh coffee aroma – all soon to dissipate away with the rising sun and building breeze.

And all the world is football-shaped
It’s just for me to kick in space
And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste
And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five…

Senses working overtime
Trying to taste the difference ‘tween a lemon and a lime
Pain and pleasure and the church bells softly chime…

– Andy Partridge, XTC

Andy’s words nudge us to think about the reality behind what we sense. Or vice versa? We have become accustomed to many new sensations on our little floating island home, and so had to pause and focus a bit so to list and share with you. Dear Readers, please stop here now, having absorbed, still absorbing, and let your mind run away with a brief sense of satisfaction. Or keep reading deeper into cruising life sensations herein…

Ashore, Above, Below And All Around:

  • Roosters! They crow almost constantly at every Caribbean island! Never in cages, but free roaming, looking for their harem of hens. Chiming cockadoodledoo at ALL hours, day and night. Forget that misnomer of alertness to sunrise.
Rooster follow their harem of hens. These are at a popular St Thomas Marina.
  • Pelicans and boobies. Seeing and hearing them dive for fish. Splash! Pelicans clumsily dive with a rather large splash, remaining mostly at the surface. Boobies are more Olympic-class divers, and pop up close-by with their catch. Would you please share some? Before you digest? Is there enough room in the fridge? Boobies followed Fayaway for miles on our way to Saba, circling around us, and diving after the food we somehow attracted.
  • Goats. Interesting and yet common creatures, seemingly wild on every Caribbean island visited. One hears their varying calls from bahahaha (full grown adult) to a kid’s call, to a younger fellow’s grating infant cries.
Goats. They’re everywhere!
  • The local dump. Yup, this aromatherapy is more common than I would have thought. As the wind softens and backs, while cooling moist air sinks after dark, we sometimes receive a pungent acrid stench from the local waste burning facility. Almost a smog, we were treated to trashy smoke when moored near Fort Bay Saba.
  • Motorcycles and island cars roaring over nearby hills. Seems the whole world thinks that loud pipes somehow make life better!? Or maybe the salty air corrodes the muffler baffles? I think we are too close to people. Or we’re turning into old farts who complain too much?!
  • Waves crashing ashore, or breaking waves on a nearby reef. Surf sound can be either relaxing or terrifying, depending on the context. I’m inclined toward the former, but always listening for the latter.
  • Airplanes above, sometimes taking off from a nearby airport. Almost every populated island pursuing a tourism economy, has at least one airport.
  • Sunrise and sunset, incredulous as the ubiquitous rises and falls near the horizon. Second only to finding anchorages for shelter from wind and waves, a choice location with a view is considered a bonus, and seems we are treated to the beauty more often than not! See gallery at the end of this post for a sampling of shots we’ve taken just during the past few months.
  • Mechanized outboard engines – as dinghies speed past. Do the megayacht tenders really need to do 60 through the mooring field?
  • Perfume and cologne of mega yachts passing upwind (passing gas?), wafting their modern and expensive taste at us without realizing. What a life!
Jets screaming over St Maarten

Sensations remind us of past events, and to emphasize, perhaps also another fitting song. When I watch the sunrise, my brain conjures pieces of a tune. I don’t dwell on painful past, but briefly recall it nonetheless. We cherish and pause for every sunrise as though it’s our last. You never know when it will be your last.

And I think it’s gonna be all right
Yeah, the worst is over now
The mornin’ sun is shinin’ like a red rubber ball

Oh, oh, oh, I think it’s gonna be all right
Yeah, the worst is over now
The mornin’ sun is shinin’ like a red rubber ball

– Cyrkle

Onomatopoeia – Sensations Aboard:

  • Rocking gently, creaking, sometimes groaning. Sometimes we rock more than gently! Weve come to accept each and every creak and rattle, and are concerned when there’s any change to the familiar cacophony. We attempt to temporarily silence some – a wad of paper towel, or a pfft of silicone spray lube. Creek, creek. Not to worry – our boat always sounds like that! Time to reef?
  • Rigging. Pull sideways on each shroud, feeling relative tension. Watch the shrouds from the cockpit as Fayaway heels over slightly to starboard, and then to port, under steady wind, pulling the mast over. Did I see some slack? At rest I stare upwards with one eye closed adjacent to the mast, looking for the slightest bend. Did I turn the port inner buckle a whole turn last time, or only a half? Feel the slipperiness of synthetic Dux dyneema. I mark some turnbuckles with white tape, stretching and ssnap a piece off from the roll. I mark the steel-gray lashings with a Sharpie, briefly catching a volatile inky aroma.
Under a brisk wind, which shivers the timbers!
  • Stuff laying around that isn’t secured, soon to be found elsewhere in the cabin. Usually we worry only about expensive (cell phones and computers) or dangerous items (as in an electric tea kettle, frying pan or drawer full of sharp utensils). Yes, two days out of Bermuda, our heavy utensil drawer, complete with forks, spoons and sharp cutlery made its own passage across the galley! Fork holes in the sole remind us. CRASH!
  • Water splishing past fayaway’s slowly moving hull. Light wind is pretty much silent, except for the trickling sound of water with little bubbles rolling along the hull. (aaaahhh).
  • Spray of saltwater when beating to wind. Or that initial tasty mouthful just after jumping in for a refresher. Always at first cognizant of that salty sensation, it dissipates from my thoughts quickly after entering the warm clear water. Often simultaneously a lingering fish, shading under fayaway’s hull, scurries away, startled by my splashing.
  • Engine. Familiar sound and feel of our trusty three-cylinder YANMAR diesel, creating its own symphony of displays, sounds, vibrations and smells. We have become used to its respective intricacies. Most commonly I’m focused toward turning this machine OFF! Is there enough wind? Is the anchor secured? I love the obnoxious BEEEEP, after pushing the soft, black rubber STOP button as it signals an ending to another obnoxious period of burning diesel fuel.
  • Wind howling through the rigging, while moving or not. We can tell from the sound, how fast the wind is blowing. Not exactly, but close enough to remind us!
  • Is the rudder straight? Look under the helm lazarette. I snap the latch , open the squeaky aft lazarette to peer in at the steering quadrant. I do this every time after setting anchor, or mooring or (bleccckkk) docking.
  • Do you hear that groan of the top rudder bearing as Fayaway rolls over each swell? Guess I’ll dig out that silicon lube again. Give it another pffft spray.
  • Squish squish, squish, squish as Kelly plunges a white plastic bucket of clothes with a blue thingy. Man, that water looks a lot dirtier than I thought were the clothes. Yuck! More squishing fresh water foot pump fills another bucket. A tank vent in the head gurgles with every press of the foot.
  • Zap! Goes the electronic fly swatter. Highly rewarding to hear that sound after lengthy pursuit of one of these annoying bugs!
Mmmm… the smell of freshly baked muffins to go with that delicious black coffee!
  • Coffee level in the little round plastic container, with a screw-top… and groceries too! Listening to the little electric kettle bubbling just before the SNAP of it clicking off when bubbling at full boil. White steam puffs from the small spout! The more-watchful power monitor starts bleeping it’s alarm to say, You’re using too much power! I’m only making coffee! Relax!
  • Reading is seeing, and listening to weather forecasts with Chris PARKER. We try to audibly make out his scratchy voice via a portable high frequency shortwave receiver. Try twisting the little ribbed fine-tuning knob a bit more?
  • Game Of Thrones on our fifteen inch laptop “movie” screen. Can’t you smell the crispy human flesh? Hear the dragons ROAR overhead, and swords clashing, daggers plunging in? Winter’s coming! Not for us anyway!
  • Bilge. How high is the water? – should I switch (snap of the breaker) the pump manually? For non-boat people, bilge is the bottom of the boat, where water collects and is sensed first. There’s an automatic float switch, but the level must rise before it turns the pump on. We like to keep this place dry and clean- an evidently impossible goal. Always wondering where the water is coming from – touch the water and taste it. Fresh or salt? Listening for the gurgling pump to signal it is sucking air and not water, indicating our bilge is closer to dry.
  • THUMP THUMP THUMP… Loud party music. Especially happens where and before we need to clear in/out. In the darkness, feel around in the compartment for the soft foam ear plugs, squeezing between my fingers so it will fit tightly into my ear canal.
Home for three weeks in Dutch Sint Maarten. LOUD music every weekend!
  • Scraaaaping the bottom of my bowl of oatmeal. Need to recover those yummy bits of ground cinnamon. Scraping barnacles off our blue bottom with a cheap plastic scraper. We broke our only spatula (yes, a cooking utensil) while doing this task!
  • Anchor chain dropping… Kachin, chink, chink…. Or our powerful windlass grinding it back up. Feeling the anchor (while at helm) flipping up and rolling into its resting spot on the bow. Feeling the slightest lurch of the anchor catching the bottom as the wind pushes the bow off, or I revvv the engine so to back down on it. Don’t pull too hard and tear it out of the weeds!

Instruments – Digital Marvels We Rely Upon:

A plethora of sensory receptors reside aboard Fayaway, assisting our human reception. We in-turn count on their displays to convert their findings into a sight or sound we can understand. Here are just a few…

Gauges and indicators, radios and switches, oh my!
  • Fuel level. We rock, hear the fuel sloshing, and between the span of time of a few seconds the display says FULL, then 17%, and then another random number. How full is it really? Inevitably we turn to our hand-written log of engine running hours, a more predictable method.
  • Battery Power: Lightly pressing one of four soft black rubber buttons on the LED battery SOC indicator gives us a brightly lit, orangey digital readout of our battery level. Watching solar charging level is more interesting, to see in-action, our free electricity. Not that we worry about this too much, as we’ve only had to start our engine twice (in six months) solely to charge batteries, when only after a rare event of two consecutive rainy days. Maybe we should use some precious propane to heat our coffee this morning?
  • Radios: Listening to music on our meager sound system, a local radio channel complete with creative and entering ads for nearby restaurants. VHF radio for a Cruisers’ Net, and often some entertaining party-line gossip. A bridge operator’s call, “Captains, keep up your speed! Traffic is waiting!” French coast guard’s frequently calling, “appelez tous!” to somehow warn us of something that we never bothered to translate.
  • Holding-tank. The only occurrence I’ve ever come close to vomiting aboard Fayaway is when cleaning up an overflow. Don’t let it happen again!

Senses working overtime…
Trying to tell the difference ‘tween the goods and grime
Turds and treasure and there’s one, two, three, four, five…

How much sewage do we have?
  • Anchor Watch, and other proximity detection. We don’t lay awake thinking Have we moved? Did our anchor catch firmly enough? Watching our proximity to other boats, buoys and land.
  • Radar, AIS, GPS, depth all have watch functions to add to the beeping cacophony. How would we survive without??
Random Selfie on some island
  • Fridge temperature! Opening a cold brew. Click, spffftt, as you flip the aluminum tab back, and pour gurgle, gurgle into your thirsty mouth, tasting that symphony of malt and hops.
  • Air temperature and humidity. Barometric pressure. Will it rain?
  • Chimes of the analog Shipstrike clock – who’s watch is it? Is it time to get up? I lay there thinking: How many chimes did I hear last? But I’m usually too sleepy to recall, since at that point I’m half awake, and if it’s light out, I’ll roll out and start the coffee. I realize this one isn’t digital nor electronic. Call me nostalgic if you want.
Another sunset over Culebra

“There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea.”

Joseph Conrad