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Sunday, 31 March 2013

Want to apoligize to any followers for not posting in a while, but I've been having computer problems. Posting from my IPhone presents a challenge!

However, exciting things are happening rapidly! I will provide a full update as soon as possible!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Beware of the Force

Have you ever had that feeling? The one that leaves you convinced that there's a force greater than anything earthly. A force that's got a plan for you, and it's going keep you ON the plan no matter what?

I'm reminded of the movie Truman as a great example. It's a story of a young boy adopted by a Hollywood production company. The story of Truman's life is set out in soap opera fashion, for the world to see. But Truman is none the wiser that he is part of a reality series, and every detail of his life is planned by the producers, and captured in a studio.

For us, we first began to suspect a greater force at work on our 'plan' during the labour day weekend 2012. We had trekked to Ottawa for business/recreation weekend. I had a new rep to train on the Friday. Then two days taking in the ByWard Market, and all else that Ottawa had to offer. We also planned to see some boats for sale while in the area. While I could share many stories of our weekend in Ottawa, I'll save them for another story.

We left Ottawa early Sunday morning, with plans to see a 33' C&C in Toronto. It was priced higher than our budget, but we had a sense the seller was anxious to move. Turned out the boat was in poor condition for the price, so our interest was minimal. We decided to take in the scenic drive west along Lakeshore Blvd, stopping at Bronte Harbour, to see what boats might be for sale there. Along the way, we ended up in Port Credit, where there were several brokerages. Being late afternoon, Sunday, all the brokerages were closed, or about to close, but there were several listings posted in front of the brokerages. As we did some 'window shopping', a gentlemen rode past us on a mountain bike. He didn't say a word, but I could sense he wanted to. He circled back twice, and on the second approach he stopped. Being Port Credit, the likeliness of getting robbed was minimal, but not impossible! I'd heard that boating can be expensive! Instead, he posed the question "are you looking for a boat"? I puffed out my chest and proudly answered yes! I dreaded the next question, because I knew our budget was out of whack with most of the boats in this yard. It turned out that our new friend Patrick was very down to earth, and willing to help. We discovered that he was a marine mechanic, who worked for one of the brokers. He began to share what he know of each boat, and offered to show us one that was still in the water. While we chatted, we also learnt that Patrick lived aboard his 41' Hunter, and had been to the east coast, and the Bahamas with it. He told us there were several live aboards in the marina, as well as several more who had left to head south. All in all, he gave us our first personal touch on the viability of this lifestyle. Until now, my idea seemed fantastical, but now it seemed on the fringe of realistic... Sort of. A message from above? Perhaps!

We arrived home thinking of the 'Port Credit experience' as more coincidence than devine intervention. Then came the 'Penetang Experience'.

This time, we had decided to shop the Midland, Penetanguishene area for boats. Our first stop was at Midland Marina. We discovered that they had only power boats listed, but the sales rep recognised we had travelled a fair distance, and didn't want to see us leave empty handed. So he asked around for us, and came up with the name Ewan Campbell We were told that Ewan was the region's top broker of sailboats. He also did a quick Internet search on Yacht World, and advised that Ewan had a 27' Catalina berthed in Midland, for sale. We called Ewan and made arrangements to see that listing later in the day.

While we were killing time, we took a drive over to Penetanguishene, to see Hindson Marine, and what they might have to offer. On route, we discovered a dog park, which provided a welcomed opportunity for the 'monsters' to run. Having a dog park so convenient to a marina instantly made Penetang a leading destination for any eventual home for our boat!

Once at Hindson's, we went to see Jack, of Jack Paddy Marine. We informed him of our search details, and asked what he may have available. As we chatted, his assistant popped into the conversation, by informing us that a Hunter 33 had just come onto the market. Until then a Hunter sailboat was not on our radar, and this one was listed for considerably more than we intended to spend. But it was parked in the back of our minds. Once we discovered that it was listed by Ewan we all agreed if there was any interest, we should follow up with him.

At 3pm, we met Ewan at Bayport Yachting Centre, where he showed us the Catalina 27. It was a clean boat, but small, and very impractical for us and the dogs. Disappointed, we asked about the Hunter 33. It turned out that it was in the marina right beside us, and could be viewed immediately. Not being ones to waste an opportunity to see another boat, we headed over. During the 1 minute drive, Leanne and I reminded each other how out of reach the price tag was, and reinforced the fact this was JUST an exercise in comparisons!

We stepped on the boat, and our discussion was quickly forgotten! This was a clean, spacious boat. It slept 7, and appeared to need little work on the interior. It was a boat we could see ourselves living on, with much happiness. By now, many had warned us to buy the boat that will make us happy, and those words rang in our ears. I've always offered to others, "you can find a way, for anything, if you want it bad enough". Now those words were haunting me.

In reflecting back on the chance discovery of a boat we weren't looking for, we started to seriously wonder if some devine force was guiding us.

Three months later, entering the new year, we had all but forgotten our suspicions of a greater power, when we headed off to the boat show, where I mentioned previously, we discovered a book that would alter our plans considerably. For those who missed that story, after spending four hours touring through the show, we had completed the list of things we came to see. We decided to take one last roam through the aisles, in case we missed anything. That's when we came across the Nautical Mind booth. While I roamed through the many titles, Leanne stumbled onto the book A Sail of Two Idiots. Immediately the clerk approached Leanne and advised that it was a MUST read. Truth is it has been the largest single influence in convincing us that we can execute this adventure. Again, the mind began to wonder about the inner workings of the universe!

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. We travelled to Hamilton, to visit a marina. We've considered living aboard the boat, briefly, before departure. There is a marina in Hamilton that allows year round live aboards. After visiting the marina, we decided to get a bite to eat. We headed to a favourite pub, Emma's Back Porch, in Burlington, where we sat overlooking Lake Ontario. As we stared out on the water, we reflected on what our future holds. While the time we will spend sailing is rather clear, we still wonder what we will do when it's time to get back to work. We're clear we don't want to return to the cold. But how to stay in the Caribbean is less clear. Suddenly Leanne overheard our waitress telling some patrons that she just returned from living in Costa Rica. When the waitress came to check on us, we enquired into the details of her travels. She told us that she and her boyfriend saved up, and packed up. She talked about the ease of which she got a visa, and found work there. She also spoke of how cheap the cost of living was, and how affordable property is. Coast Rica is one destination Leanne frequently dreams of going to. It was incredible to hear such a story of how someone at the tender age of 25, was able to experience such an adventure. Again we wondered about the possibility of divine assistance.

As we move forward in this journey I'm certain we will encounter many more curious sets of circumstance.  We will continue to wonder about the powers of the universe, and our role in it. It is often said that when you want something bad enough you create your own luck. But one can't help but think that sometimes life just seems a little too perfect to be explained by luck alone.

Be it luck, be it a plan of the universe, or be it a plan of the foolish... we now have a clear vision of how we see the plan. We welcome any assistance the universe can offer, as we work to execute the plan!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Why , The Who, The How …

If you have ever sailed a sailboat, you know the incredible satisfaction that comes from harnessing the wind. I’m not talking about the tingle you get from tequila shots, and rum punches, on an excursion catamaran in the Dominican. I’m talking about the sheer exhilaration you experience when you hold the wheel in one hand, and trim the sails with the other.

Imagine,  it’s early morning, and the sun has just  broke the horizon. It’s warm, but dew still drips from the palm leaves. The water ripples, while a soft breeze begins to build. As the sails lift, they luff in the breeze. You turn the bow from nose to the wind, to 45 degrees on a port tack (that’s ‘wind on your left side’ for land lovers). As the sail fills, the boat gains momentum. The sun climbs the bright blue sky, as the boat continues to stretch the  space between you and shore. No sooner do waves start to form fore of your bow, when your bow smashes through them like a knife through butter. You realise the freedom of an open sea, and an endless breeze. You wonder how far you could go, and recognise there are no firm limits! Your spirit, your bravery is all that will set your boundaries!

This freedom is at the core of  our motivation to give it all up. Beyond that, there is also fear. I fear a lot of things in my life. I fear regrets. I fear failure. I fear a life unfulfilled, potential not realised.

I also I fear the unknown. For me,  the biggest unknown on earth is the ocean. The ocean is vast, deep, and mysterious. I can sit beside the ocean for a whole day, staring, dreaming, and meditating. It’s  a day well spent, asking questions to my inner self, and seeking answers from the vastness.  But the thought of being IN the ocean, REALLY IN the ocean? The rumour is true, it terrifies me. I’ve lived a lifetime of facing fears, to a point that perhaps my biggest fear is not facing fears? Or perhaps it’s just the Leafs fan in me, makes me a glutton for punishment!?
Our Tiki Bar
This, in warm weather, the boat, and a perfect sailing day...

By now, I’m sure the sailors are thinking “when is this guy going to start talking sailing, already??”, so, The Who?!

When I tell anyone about this adventure, first question I get is “do you know how to sail”? The form in which  the question is asked changes, depending  on the experience of the person asking. But I’m sure the point is always a qualification of sanity. I could answer this simply by pointing out that my father-in-law has seen me sail, and he’s not interested in coming on the boat anytime soon!  

I have sailed before, but survival depends largely on always knowing there is more that can be learnt. I got my first sailing experience when I was 8. My dad brought home a “Sea Snark” he bought at K-Mart. Yes, I’m THAT old! It was a 12’ Styrofoam  sailboat. Simple, and easy to rig, we enjoyed many years of puttering around small lakes in it.

As a young  adult, I began to wonder if I had outgrown the Sea Snark, when I was out in Georgian Bay, with two buddies. We were in a busy Penetanguishene harbour on a Sunday afternoon, as pleasure cruisers buzzed back to port all around us. Already overloaded with 3, in a 2 seat boat, we got swamped from wakes coming at us from all sides. Luckily, it was Styrofoam, so no real damage was done. Although, I took a break from sailing for a while after that experience.

I hit 30 absent from the sailing experiences of my earlier days, and started to slide to the dark side. The power boat life that my parents enjoyed with their 30’ rebuilt Lepeche started to grow on me. It was nice to fire up the engines, point the boat to where we wanted to go, and be able to cruise straight to a destination, arriving in a predictable amount of time. My sailing roots always came haunting back, however, each time we filled that gas tanks. Shouting over the engine sound, to have a friendly conversation, while we choked on fumes wasn’t all it was made out to be either. This was not a lifestyle that offered the freedom and tranquillity mentioned earlier.

In my early 30’s my parents bought a store, which brought an end to the boat. For them, and for me. I suppose I could have carried on the tradition alone, but there were kids to feed, careers to build… What’s that Harry Chapin son?? So my love for the water had to be put on hold. At 40, mid life crisis started it’s work. I needed a boat, but I was surrounded by boating rookies, so I bought a learner… a 14’ Zuma. For anyone not in the know, a Zuma is a daysailer, the equivalent of a Laser II, but wider, and more stable, for recreation purposes. It would serve as a GREAT learning tool for the family. Unfortunately, only my daughter had the courage to venture out with me! One life change later, my new wife didn’t like venturing out on it much either! It seems that my penchant for sailing as close to the wind as possible, wasn’t so appealing to recreational sailors! Did I mention my father-inlaw’s opinion on that? Boat Sold!

During this same time, I also took an interest in racing. I realised the potential for learning. I would be working with seasoned sailors, who would teach for free! I posted an enquiry on the Bronte Harbour website, and was offered a spot on the crew of Heart Breaker, captained by Mike Judd, and accepted. Shortly after, I got a call from another boat, and was encouraged to rethink. I did, based on “questionable intelligence” and spent Tuesdays and Thursdays on a less competitive boat, with less experienced racers. I learnt just the same, and had fun doing it!

When the wind was good, racing was fun. When the wind wasn’t, it made for a long night. But I got a great insight into the ‘Club’, and it was good! Work, with a LOT of travel, as well as the rigours of being a single dad, forced me to give up the racing. I came away with knowledge, and the understanding that the sailing community was a close knit fraternity, dedicated to promoting a simpler life, a fun life.

So fast forward to today. Now that you know a bit about who I am and what motivates me, I’m sure you’re wondering how I can quit everything, at 47, for a simpler life. To achieve this, many things need be addressed. Financial means, and sailing experience are the two most important things we needed to realise.

First, the Financial

Well, winning the lottery is the BEST option… but probably not so likely. We considered donations , but people are funny when it comes to asking them for money to do what they would rather do themselves! Still not likely. Fortunately, we have two houses, some investments, and a willingness to live simple! So financially, liquidating everything MIGHT give us a few years of freedom, with a decent retirement… someday! The plan is to budget $25 000 per year, with a goal to enjoy at least two years of sailing. Lots of uncertainty, but my office walls is filled with ‘what if, options’! Beyond that, we’re hopeful that somewhere, somehow, along our travels, we can discover a way to seek out a living, and stay in the area.

As for sailing experience, buying the boat a year ahead of our departure date is step one. My past experience, combined with a Canadian Power Squadron course, will get us off the dock. In the book “A Sail of Two Idiots” Renee tells the story of running aground 10 minutes outside Miami. We’re hopeful our entry level qualifications can at least prevent that! The lessons they learnt, shared in her book, will be of GREAT help! We also plan to hire an instructor, for private lessons, and mechanical instruction, as soon as we take possession. Down the road I’ll take an Intermediate course, and Coastal Nav course from Humber Sailing School. When the time nears, to depart, we will evaluate then, whether a captained charter will be needed, to ensure a comfort level with ocean cruising.

As a person who loves to plan, the detail in our plans are thorough. I have notes, maps, charts and lists posted all across my office walls. I am constantly thinking of new ideas to save more, and  to learn more. Fortunately, the sailing community is full of good people, willing to help in anyway they can. We already have encountered dozens of sailors who have graced us with the experience and ideas they have to share. As our journey continues, so will our learning.

That’s the story of The Why, The Who, and The How. We’re getting close to launch date now, so I look forward to sharing the real time experiences, and dramas that lie ahead!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Dreams, Goals, and a Plan

We arrived back in Toronto in the wee hours of December 20. Freezing, and tired, we went back to the grind. Being close to Christmas, it wasn't exactly typical grind, but still a major adjustment from the life we just experienced. Returning to work that following Monday, I was committed to the promise to return to the Caribbean... someday. As the hours passed, that promise became cemented in my brain!

A few days later, another 'Values Check' moment.

A friend who I chummed with in high school, had passed away. Details were sketchy, but it was a shock just the same. This was a friend who was always the life of the party, and always the one who would find a new way to make every experience, one to remember. I reflected on how he would always comment "better to burn out, than to fade away'. It was a shock when I heard that he had been found with a note, including instructions of no funeral or memorial. I had lost contact with this friend, who I'll call him 'Sam', in college. I had tried to reconnect with him through Facebook, and mutual friends. But no one seem to know his whereabouts. When I discovered he lived close by, and then this, it causes you to wonder... "how does the stress in your life compare to the darkness that 'Sam' had in his. Now, more than ever, I was committed to finding a way to make my dream work, before such darkness could ever overcome me.

So now I had a Crazy Dream, another reason for pursuing it, and a family who still hadn't had me committed. Lord knows that the commitment part wouldn't be hard. Anyone who knows me, would vouch for the fact I belong there! But the streets I still roamed, and the idea of a life in the Caribbean still occupied by nearly every lucent thought! So off to the boat show we went!

My first trip to the boat show was with my son, Daeyten. It was an annual rite of passage that we would go there, board the big sail boats, and dream of the day when we would have our own. I always thought when the day came that I had my own, it would be different. It was like I wanted to be a part of the club, and owning my own BIG boat would make me a member. As we boarded the various new, shiny boats, I did notice a difference, but I didn't feel like a member. I felt freedom. It was like I suddenly no longer needed to belong. The club no longer mattered. I could do my own thing, my own way. In a way, I felt let down that standing on such nice boats was no longer the  exhilarating experience it had been in the past.

Onward we went, with a shopping list in hand. Still in the shadow of the sailboat ally, we came across the "Class Afloat" booth. They were promoting their private school, which takes place on a tall ship, while at sea, travelling around the Atlantic. While such an experience would be amazing, in my opinion, I was elated to see how it inspired Daeyten! The boy who, at best, endures school, suddenly was passionate about it. On the drive home, he talked about various ways he could get into this program. Unfortunately, one semester was $35000, making it a little impractical for us. Still, he spoke of fund raising, and various other ideas, to make it work. It was during this process that we began to discuss, in real terms, the idea of going to the Caribbean. Until then, I was unsure if he had the desire to realise such an adventure with us. He was in. Over the next few days he began researching sailing schools, marine careers, and crewing opportunities. It was clear he was taking this seriously, and was excited!

The following weekend I was back to the boat show, with Leanne. We looked at a few sailboats, but even she agreed, the payoff for braving the lineups wasn't there. Instead, we started on our shopping list. The boat purchase agreement listed the major things included in the deal, but was shy on details. So our list was small, since we didn't know how many anchors, or charts would be left with it. So we picked up two dogie life jackets, some foul weather gear, and looked into getting the dingy fixed.

 As we straggled around, killing time, before heading home, we came upon the booth "A Nautical Mind". Being an avid book collector, I was delving through the treasures, when I heard someone tell Leanne, that's a MUST READ book. Saying that to Leanne, normally, is like saying "that's a steak you MUST try", to a vegetarian! But in this moment, someone was giving us the nudge we needed, to stop TALKING about our dream, and start PLANNING!

The book was "A Sail of Two Idiots". If you're a sailor, who dreams of the Caribbean, you must read it, before you start planning. If you're a sailor who is sailing, or has sailed the Caribbean, you must read it, for the chuckle, and the memories. If you're anyone who has ever dreamt big, you too MUST read it!

It's a story of two "Idiots" (sorry Renee and Mike) who left Arizona, after selling everything. They had no sailing experience, but BIG dreams. They bought a boat, and headed for sunny skies. Their lack of experience shines through in their first 10 minutes at sea, when they run aground on their way out of harbour! Long story short, it gets better from there, and they end up spending more than 3 years roaming the seas! It was a great book, that suddenly lent legitimacy to our plan! I remember thinking "we can do this". When I was done the book I sought out the author, Renee Petrillo, on line. I sent her an email, with compliments, and a litany of questions. She responded with detailed answers to every question, and at the end, the most important advice I've received throughout this journey. She said "just set a date. You'll never have enough money."

The words seemed simple, and scary. But they were words of truth. In life we worry ourselves to death. We worry if we have enough. We worry if we have too much. We worry if we will screw up. And when we succeed, we worry how we'll better that success. Yet, when the chips are down, none of what we worry about, helps us. Somehow, we always find a way to make it work!

When your daughter informs you that she has a major project, and it's due tomorrow, you find a way to make it happen. When my wife calls to say she's bringing a client home for dinner, be there in ten minutes, I find a way to clean the house, and cook a roast in five! Ok I took it one too far, but the point is made. We have enough to make this plan work, sorta! With a little more planning, while staring a deadline in the face, we will make this work! So August first it is! Ok, since my baby sister turns 40 August 2, August 4 it is!

Next up, explaining the how. That will have to wait for the next chapter...

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Cruise Over, Next Chapter Begins

So with the cruise nearing it's conclusion, we took stock of what we had experienced. The Caribbean is an amazing place! We Knew that going in. As someone who finds peace in the sea, I knew there were places there, that could offer the tranquillity we seek. Even still this was an entirely different experience. It exceeded our every expectation. We saw more 'off the beaten path' destinations, and every day people, and loved the memories... we were sold!!

Back on the ship, we took some chiding from our Utah friends for our liberal ways. We hoped they had forgotten. Or had come to realise our attempts to hide were in embarrassment. But she was sure to tell us how we looked great! Surely she was only seeing Leanne! But they were both kind souls, and we wished them safe travels.

We tried to max out our experiences of just about everything. While we would welcome another cruise in a heartbeat, we knew our first choice was to do whatever it takes to make our next cruise, a much smaller boat, captained by moi! As though to emphasise that, the service on the boat was noticeably laxed this last night. Perhaps management didnt' want beer stupored people lazing in bed beyond the 8:00am check out?  Or perhaps the servers saw us on the beach too? AWKWARD!! But no piano bar, no live cigar lounge music, very slow service. It was time to depart.

Next morning, we were out of the room at 8:00am, and got to wait... and wait... and wait. If a cruise is your next trip, and you are offered a way for an early disembarkation? Take it! I can't pretend to understand all the angles to gain that edge, but loyalty programs is one! For us, we waited until 11:00 with no pool, bar service, casino, or entertainment. Add insult to injury, it was raining. Great vacay, but less than exciting end. Fortunately, we had 3 days in Puerto Rico to get over it!

Marriott Beach Resort, Isla Verde, Puerto Rico
When we finally got to the dock we took a cab out to the Isla Verde region, by the airport. We stayed for some R&R. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard, where I was able to get my needed stays, to top up my status, and earn my maximum free nights. It was relaxing, as we chose to just park our butts chill.

Proof the Winter Dogs can love the beach too!
We walked the beach, and even got down to a local section known for the local food and parties. Other than that, we sunned our behinds. We met a bartender, Terry, who had just completed a trip across from Florida on a 38' Carver. We gained a little insight into the challenges we would face, chasing our dream.  Before we knew it, it was time to head home.

On the route home, we flew through Charlotte, NC, a very cool airport. There are several terminals all connecting, to bring the many corners of the world together, in one central location. We had time during our stop over, to have a drink and we sat by the piano bar, go figure. Still in the beach mode, it was a little different, reflecting on our beach experiences, while we listened to Christmas music.

I guess it's something I could get used to!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Off to seminar, "Aids to Electronic Navigation" at the Rigging Shop. Will post next Blog by tomorrow. Sorry for the delay!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Coming Soon...

With our cruise over, there was not much exciting to talk about with disembarkation. The stay in Puerto Rico was primarily an R&R event as well. So I will finish up those minor details, and begin to discuss the PLAN and Motivations, by this weekend.

Thanks for your interest and patience!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Sint Maarten, and the Orrient Experience

DISCLAIMER: For any families following this blog... this chapter MAY or MAY NOT include discussions of nudity, and alcohol consumption, leading to additional nudity. Please read with due consideration!

Arriving back on the boat in St. Kitts, with only two nights left, we quickly found Lou, ordered another round of Mojitos. Our minds scrambled for ways to get back to the Caribbean, on our own boat, at the earliest opportunity. Lottery, inheritance from a long lost relative we didn't know we had, selling one or both children!? Many ideas raced our brains. Few seemed logical, practical, AND legal! With daylight slowly shimmering away, we had great hopes for a future in the Caribbean, but were a little short on the how.

It was formal night on the ship, so we left for our room, in hopes of getting to our 6:00pm seating sometime before the 8:00pm seating. Remarkably, we managed to make it before 7:00pm. By now our fellow seating guests had become used to us showing up late, so they were impressed by our 6:45'ish arrival! We sat, got a glass of wine, and placed our orders.

Then came a 'values check' moment that became a large factor of why I write this Blog today... Our waiter, a Philipino who's name I never came to understand, began to tell the table his story. Until then, to me, he was a hard working man, extremely friendly, and fun to have as our server. He told the story of how his wife had cancer. He talked about how he would leave the home for 5-6 months at a time, to work aboard the Carnival Victory, leaving his family at home. Even when his wife became sick, he had no choice but to go away to earn a living for his family. He talked about when the call came to inform him that his wife had passed. It took a few days for the company to finalise his travel arrangements, and he talked about how he continued to work until it was time to leave. His tone was so matter of fact. Even as tears rolled down my face, he continued to explain that earning a better life for his family means making sacrifices. Instantly he became my hero. A shining example of someone stronger than I'll ever be! I began to reflect on my life, and my priorities. He was struggling to provide for his family, to give them a better life. He missed out on a chance to say good bye to his wife, his 'best friend' to do this. I realised how many things in my life that I take for granted. In that moment, I completely lost sight of the things I don't have, and appreciate the things, the opportunities that I DO have.

After composing ourselves, we left the dining room that night with a new purpose and commitment to a life lived and to be lived. We headed over to the cigar lounge. I figured if I'm REALLY going to start living my life, best to start with a nice cigar. Unfortunately we bought cheap cigars in St. Thomas. But the beer was cold!

As we sat enjoying live music, cold beer, and our cheap cigars, we were joined by John and Jodie, from Florida. We hadn't seen them since the Piano bar a few nights earlier. We shared stories of our last few days, and looked ahead to St. Martin the next day. Jodie asked us our plans for the day. We had only a vague idea of renting a car, to drive around the island. She asked if we were going to Orient Beach - the nudist Beach. We had heard about it from just about everyone. We figured NOT going there would be like going to Arizona and not seeing the Grand Canyon, so we planned to check it out. To use the Grand Canyon example, we had NO plans to go scaling down the side of the Canyon! so to speak. When we shared that with John and Jodie, she quickly informed us they were nudists. We wished them well, and said we would see them back on the ship!!

Morning came, and again I was wide awake, early, taking in every bit of view I could get on the approach to the harbour! While the landings were always somewhat serene, St. Martin had an indescribable energy about it.

We disembarked the ship with no more of a plan than to rent a car, and drive the island. Oh, and checking out this Orient Beach, to see if it was all we had heard! We didn't know where to rent a car, but reasoned there had to be somewhere, close to the dock.! On the dock we asked for directions, and got lost! We asked for more directions, and they sent us back the way we came!? Confused frustrated, and wanting to get to a beach, we spotted a shack, renting four wheelers. As we approached, we noticed they also had dune buggies. Sweet! $150 later, we were in motion! The dune buggy was a little rough, but they promised to come get us if we had any problems! Five minutes down the road, we put that to the test! We were getting splashed with gasoline on every bump and corner. We discovered they guy hadn't put the gas cap on correctly. When we asked them to catch up to us with a replacement... they couldn't. Quick repair and we were back on our way!

First stop, the beach bar by the airport. Anyone who's been to St. Martin or heard about St. Martin, has heard about the beach by the airport! When I was in college, I got my first experience of it. We were going to Dominican Republic, but made an unscheduled stop in St. Martin. As we made our approach, all I could see was water! I'm pretty sure I could count the fish in the water, before we got our first glimpse of land! A little unnerving! The end of the runway is about 75' away from the edge of the water, with beach, and road in between. As a past time, beach goers enjoy standing in the jet wash as planes rev to take off. There is a bar adjacent to the runway's end, on the beach, where people gather to watch the planes come in. Standing there, you get a sense that you can almost touch the plane's wheels as they come in.

While we did see a plane take off, we were too early, and too late to see anymore than a small island hopper land. Onward, we weaved around the twisting roads, from the dutch side of the island, Sint Maarten, to the French side St. Martin. We drove through a small town Les Terres Basses, and stopped at Baie Nettle. This was a gorgeous harbour full of sailboats, catamarans, and yachts. Luckily, there was still at least a few spots where I could squeeze in the Tranquilo! There was no need to further convince Leanne. However, we were still curious about this OTHER beach we'd heard so much of. So we motored on.

As we drove through the French capital, Marigot, we again took note of a place we must come back to! It is a clean, vibrant town, with cute shops, and borders onto a lovely beach. But it wasn't Orient beach, we needed to keep going! At this point, I feel I should point out that Orient beach was said to be known, FIRST, for it's beauty. It had a clothing, AND clothing optional side. We were determined, as we were, for the sake of the NICE BEACH! Honest!!

A short while later, we saw the turn for the beach, and headed down the gravel road. As the road worsened, we wondered if we had missed something, but continued. After passing a cow, and a few other oddities, we came upon a parking lot with a pub, and a rather deserted beach... was THIS the infamous Orient Beach? Trying to be cool, we stopped at the bar, ordered a drink, and eventually asked that question. We were told by a tall french blond, that it was around the point, but we could walk there. She went on to say we would have to walk through the clothing optional section to get to where us prudes would spend the day. We asked for driving directions!

Within a few minutes we were back in the dune buggy and it was a quick re-route over to the beach that was our target. We parked and found our way through the cluster of bars, to discover one of the most beautiful beaches I've seen! To be clear, we were on the clothing mandatory side, so it was simply nature's beauty that left me so awestruck! Turquoise blue sea, met bleached with sand. The beach curved like a boomerang, for a total of about 2 miles. As a back drop, there were bars all along the western border. You can rent loungers, and be served food and drink right to your lounger, all day. The 'optional' side was hidden behind a point to the south, allowing for family outings on the side we set up on.

After taking care of business, setting ourselves up with loungers for the day, we got on to thinking about what was 'beyond'?? We didn't have to rely on our imagination too much, as there was a proud naked man standing at the northern edge of the nudist portion, pointing the way to the ocean. Clearly we weren't venturing over until he no longer occupied the narrow passage way!

Within a few minutes, the coast was clear, and we snuck around to the forbidden zone! While we weren't sure what to expect, I don't think we expected it to be quite what we saw. People were going about their beach routines pretty much the same as on the other side, except that they had more areas to cover with SPF15. Or in this case, perhaps SPF45!

As we walked along the beach, our solid definition of what SHOULD be covered up, somehow didn't seem quite so bsolute. All the dreams I had as a child, of finding myself in public, naked, suddenly didn't seem quite as terrifying!? I was quickly beginning to feel like the odd one out! As though to put an exclamation mark on that sediment, I suddenly heard "SHAWN!!"!? We turned to see John, and Jodie waving at us! They were "comfortable in the lifestyle" on their loungers. We were not anxious in any way, to get to know them THAT well! We waved, and moved on... briskly!

As we made it to the end of the clothing optional beach, we felt relief... until it occurred to us that we now had to walk back. The thought of going the long way around was an option. A very inconvenient, out of the way option. As we stood there, working ourselves up for the return trip, our trepidation turned to outright unease, when we realised that John and Jodie were heading directly toward us. Turns out we were standing directly in front of the clothing optional bar, and they were headed in. At this point, I believe the awkward look on both our faces was a clear signal we weren't that thirsty at that moment! They went in, and we headed back.

Walking back, it became less about the awkwardness of the un-clothed, and more about awkwardness of the few clothed. Leanne is a person who often changes in the closet, rather than stand naked in front of even her husband. So no part of me expected her to even entertain the idea it would be more natural to be of the 'un-clothed'. However, when I brought it up, she showed a shocking understanding of that point. Not agreement, understanding! Her response to me was "you TOTALLY want to do this don't you"! Suddenly I was being called out, and I had no idea if I could answer the bell! I stammered back with a philosophical "don't you think if we don't do it, we might experience regret for not trying?" Correct response would have been "maybe, but we'll take our chances"!

I'm not sure what her actual response was, but we quickly found ourselves sitting at the end of the beach, almost daring each other to make a decision... for what seemed like two days! Finally a decision was made. I honestly have no idea who made the decision, or how, but we quickly found ourselves in deep water, and living with our decision! It felt free, exciting, liberating! We expected to hear the applause of the entire beach at this point. I'm sure they all watched us, giggled at us, as we struggled with the question "should we, or shouldn't we"!

We splashed and frolicked in the water. We enjoyed the warmth of the sun, on our exposed skin. As all good things must come to an end, this moment came crashing down too. We realised we now had to come out of the water... FACING everyone!!

We reminded ourselves that we wouldn't be the only ones on the beach naked, and sprinted to our awaiting clothes.

We headed back to our loungers, feeling like warriors returning from victory. A celebration was in order. A bucket of beer it will be! We drank, we ate, we swam, and we walked the beach, WITH clothes.

As it was becoming time to go, we felt we needed to go back for one more experience on the wild side of Orient Beach. Since having beverages of courage, we decided a little more adventure was in order, so we decided to take the "when in Rome" a little further. We would walk along the beach, but in the water, so as to not be too crazy, or exposed. We didn't think about the fact that the water we used as cover, disappeared, as the waves went out! Houston, we have a problem!! Just as we were figuring this out, Leanne also happened to notice our Mormon friends, whom we met aboard the ship earlier in the week. They were headed straight for us!! We sprinted for deep water, and thought we were safe, when suddenly hear someone yelling in our direction, shouting whooohooo! I turned to see her giving us the thumbs up!

Clearly enough adventure for one day, we packed up, and headed back to the cruise terminal! We shopped the shops for a few more gifts, and relaxed at a dockside bar, to reflect on the amazing day we had. Without discussion, we both knew St. Maarten was a MUST stop for our future travels! Future home? With Leanne having Dutch heritage, it was a strong possibility!

Back aboard, it was our last night, so we tried to cram in everything, while reflecting on the day past. We chuckled about our childish embarrassment, and wondered what would happen if we encountered our Mormon friends again? We were certain she would come to understand our embarrassment, and pretend it never happened. No sooner had we finished discussing this, than we saw them both, walking past the casino bar. She ran up to us, and quickly informed "HEY, we saw you today!!". BUSTED, without a defence! Leanne chuckled, and admitted our attempts to run and hide. I covered my already covered parts! She confessed that they were too far away to see anything! Whew. We chatted about a weeks worth of great experiences. As they walked away, she informed us "you looked GREAT!". What did she say about too far away!!??

Note: For any readers wondering about the picture blackout during the 'Clothing Optional' sections... it's a NUDIST BEACH! Did you REALLY think cameras were allowed!? So for any disappointment! Although, I'd rather expect relief!