My First Cave Dive

What do you think when you hear cave dive?  Some people think of a horror movie where you swim into a cave and meet some sort of biblical monster and battle it to the death.  Others think of cold darkness, with an eerie feel swimming into the unknown without an idea of what's ahead. I think of excitement, of wandering off into a new experience, of letting your guard down and trusting yourself to come out on top.  It takes a certain person to go dive into a cave without a whole lot of experience, but luckily we were in good hands, and we were swimming into a hole that wasn't as challenging as you would think.  The only intimidating factor was that we hadn't planned on this, the opportunity presented itself and we spontaneously decided (underwater mind you) to follow through.  

THE DIVE

This dive started out as a normal one would, customers on board, mostly full boat, and a few of us DMT's (Trainees) on board to learn and backup our instructor.  There was also a good friend on board tagging along on what we call a "fun dive."  He was a seasoned Divemaster who had completed his training there, and was a friend of the shop, and filled in as a lead when they needed it.  He is one of the most excellent divers I've ever had the privilege to swim with and follow.  Our drive was only about ten minutes from the shop, so once we were loaded up and underway we didn't have much time for a briefing or explanation for what we would be doing. There were a whole lot more of us DMT's than needed, and we were always goofing around with each other since we had grown so close being side by side each day.  We chug along to the spot, our instructor gives the briefing to the guests, and we all chat and ask what is needed of us.  The answer was "not much."

We have moored up and are currently floating along a shallow reef, less than twenty feet deep. One by one we all file off of the stern of the boat (know which part that is?) and all get together in the waves for a gathering before our descent.  The sea is choppy and it is too hard for us all to stay close, so our instructor signals for us to go down giving us a thumbs down motion.  We slowly descend under the surface and as I look up I can see the boat getting thrown around, and many waves crashing all over.  I look back to our instructor and my friends and we head over towards the deep water following the shallow and colorful reef just below. The current isn't rough at all at this point, and we easily cruise over to the drop off.  This particular reef is vibrant and full of sea fans (they look like giant leafs) of all colors, brain corals, and a myriad of other lively sea life.  The reef drops off however just in front, and our shallow fifteen foot depth is abruptly replaced with a two hundred plus drop into the depths.

We slowly swim over the wall and ride it down to about sixty feet, which is a great depth to explore and conserve air.  I could stay at sixty feet for the whole dive, unless something thrilling pops up and a chase is involved.  The side of the wall is the same as the top, colorful, vibrant, full of life.  We saw a giant school of Jacks (common fish that travel in huge packs), many other types of fish on their own, exotic little shrimps, just an endless world of action.  

The first twenty minutes or so was spent exploring small openings, looking for new species we hadn't seen before, and pointing out the exotic ones to each other.  Every now and then we would hear or supply a tank bang (smacking a metal clip on our tank to garner attention) and see a sea turtle, sting ray, and even a giant barracuda.  The one larger fish that I could never get over was the Parrot Fish, these things would swim all over with these big goofy teeth always showing, making it look like they are laughing or smiling at you.  Look it up, it's the silliest thing, I almost drowned because I was laughing so hard at some of those.

Some time had passed and my friend banged on his tank for my attention and was pointing down at the ocean floor.  I looked at him and threw my hands up like I didn't know what he was talking about.  Obviously we can't talk down there, so we usually had our own sign language and after diving together for a while we could communicate quite easily.  He made a signal like he was driving a car, then pointed down again.  There on the sea floor was the hood of a car, white and almost invisible laying in the sands on the bottom.  Our seasoned friend swam up with his eyes large and full of excitement, this had reminded him of something.  He signaled for us to follow him, so we did, and we swam hard to keep up but had to know what he was so giddy about.  He stopped, turned around, and pointed to an opening in the wall and gave us the "excellent" signal (thumb and pinky out, middle fingers closed).  We all looked at our instructor and she signaled to us to go ahead and go in, she would take the guests along, and we would meet back at the boat.  

THE CAVE

I had never trained on cave diving, I honestly had no idea what to expect, but luckily I had brought the shop camera with me!  I filmed the whole experience, and will post the video at the end of this post.  I let everyone go before me so I could film us, and our buddy that had done this before lead us all into the cave.  It was single file, there were very narrow parts and shallow parts that could barely fit one diver at a time, little less two.  Everybody disappeared into the hole, and all I could see now was the last set on fins from my last buddy going in.  Here goes nothing, camera is on, and it's time to carefully streamline myself and enter.

I am holding the camera with two hands stretched out in front of my face, arms extended and straight, swimming with a normal freestyle kick instead of our usual frog kick.  The cave starts around sixty feet, and slowly ascends almost all the way to the surface.  It takes quite a bit of technical skill to control our ascent, and avoid the walls to our sides, as well as our tanks that are strapped to our back.  It is usual practice to never use your hands while diving, you just lock up your arms and hands and use your breathing and legs to direct yourself, but in this instance hands were necessary to keep from running into the sides that could have fire coral, or other harmful agents.

As we enter the cave, it is dark, blue, and narrow, the visibility at first is minimal.  Keep in mind this was spontaneous, so we didn't have our nigh lights as we normally would if it was planned. We swim in and it is an immediate climb, it is a steep climb with fuzzy rocks on all sides, but no other life to see at first.  We slowly climb avoiding the rocks as much as we can, and follow up and up and up.  This was a real test of our skills, and it was a fun experience and a crash course on control.  Once we reach the top we are only about ten feet from the surface, and it is bright and cramped.  We can't all fit up there, so our lead has to turn upside down and swim head first in a vertical position down the other side before we get there or we won't be able to fit. Once I get to the top our lead has already started down the other side, and my friend in the middle is fins up getting ready to follow.  As I enter the "pool" at the top I'm not paying attention as I'm filming and a giant claw speeds by the side of my face.  I jerk away and look over and see a giant crab, the body about two feet across and not happy.  Apparently he was living right in that spot and wasn't thrilled about all of us swimming through, so he was on the attack once I pulled up the rear.  He snaps at me again and again, but doesn't leave his nook, so I think it's time for me to speed it up and descend now.  I flip the camera back on and catch my friend swimming straight down, and I slowly follow keeping an eye on the crab, as well as making sure I fit nicely through the little crack in the rocks.

It gets dark again, but not dark enough that we can't see, as long as we can see the fins in front of us we are fine.  Deeper and deeper we swim, through the rocks, through the darkness, wondering when the opening will show up.  It is impossible to know how deep you are without your computer, but there isn't enough space to see it so you just trust in the cave itself, and hope you will eventually pop out on the other side. Under more rocks, and through the rest of the cave we slowly go, trusting and following our lead until eventually we see an opening.  I'm running low in air, with all this excitement and concentration I forgot to check how much I had before the entrance.  It's okay, we made it to the end of the cave, we are right back where we started and it is time to head back to the boat.

SUMMARY

Doing something spontaneous can be one of the most amazing experiences and stories you will have ever had.  Always think about whether it is a good idea first though, even for a minute, because if we didn't have an experienced diver who had been through this very same cave before the consequences could have been disastrous.  I know it isn't fun to think about safety, but it is imperative in certain situations.  All of our boxes were checked before we did this, and even so, one of our friends didn't feel comfortable with it and proceeded along with the instructor and skipped it.  It's okay to say no if you aren't comfortable with something, but if you can make a quick list in your head and check off everything, trust yourself and go for it. This ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I have a video of it and will remember it forever.  Oh yeah, always have a camera with you, you never know what you might be able to record!

The Sunset Storm

A few years ago I worked on a concrete sailboat.  Yes, it was made from cement and had sailed around the world twice and over fifteen hundred miles down the Nile river I was told.  Back in the day, it was very cheap to create your own boat with cement as the shell, and then fill in the rest with wood, steel, and whatever other materials needed.  But fiberglass is expensive, cement was cheap, and easy to mold.  Back in the WWII days many boats were made from cement, and they continued this practice for decades.  The particular boat I worked on was built in the late 60s, and was still going strong after all these years.  It had a full kitchen (or galley in boatspeak), two bathrooms, two separate rooms, and a deck that could easily fit over thirty people. It had been converted into a charter boat and moved to the US Virgin Islands, and this is where I saw it for the first time.  

It had an "off-white" hull with green accents, kind of a dull and aged white color.  Most of the construction below in the rooms was full of  deep and dark mahogany.  The cabinets, tables, and benches were shiny and polished, the floors were hardwood, and most of the handholds on deck were as well.  It had one large mast and was a mono-haul, meaning a traditional sailboat and not a catamaran.  The Captain was at the helm which was towards the back of the boat (or stern) and was surrounded by a U-shape of seats where guests could sit and chat with him/her.  Through the eyes of the Captain you would see the entrance to the galley, the main mast, most of the deck, and the front sail (also known as the jib).  I was the first mate on this boat, and I played relief captain in certain situations, but for the most part I was walking around the deck obtaining drink orders and handing out hors d'oeuvres when I wasn't manning the lines and securing the ship.  Typical apps were caviar, bruschetta, and salmon on crackers to go along with free champagne!  The sunset sail was romantic, and we did it right, we actually had quite a few marriage proposals on board during sunset.  

I would typically get on board an hour or so before the sail with my other mate and captain to make sure we were prepped for the trip.  This meant making the pasta salad, baking brownies, and getting the main course ready before guests were on board.  We had two ovens on board, so the main course was prepped but not cooked until we were under way.  We did lemon tuna and sweet and sour chicken, along with a bunch of delicious sides all made right on board while we were sailing.  We stocked the bar, made sure the coolers were all iced down, and checked that there was enough champagne.  We garnished twenty or so glasses with a strawberry and kept them close to the wine cooler that was full of champagne bottles.  Once it was time, we would put our logo golf shirts on, hop up above and look all pretty for the oncoming guests.

The Captain and one of the mates would greet the guests as they came on board with a glass of champagne.  The other mate (usually one that doesn't want to deal with anyone) would be down below pouring more glasses, and getting the bar and food ready for distribution.  This is when the greatest act of our night began, giant smiles, happy greetings, welcome to our boat! The Captain would then have a nice segment on our itinerary for the night, we would make sure everyone had a drink, and it was go time.  Don't forget to kick off those shoes!  Yeah, no shoes on the boat.  This was especially awkward asking the ladies to kick their designer shoes off into a laundry basket with our flip flops, but rules are rules. Everyone is set, speeches are done, it's time to shove off.

Our boat was heavy, very heavy, as I stated before it was made our of cement!  It was so big and heavy that we were unable to steer it out of the slip all on it's own.  One of the mates had to hop in a little dinghy and push the bow (front) into the right direction before we get going. This dinghy wasn't new, and was not easy to operate even as a small boat, it just wasn't built properly.  It took some getting used to, but after a while you got the hang of it.  So you would hop in the little dinghy, and knock the bow of it up against the side of the sailboat, very close to the bow of the sailboat.  If you are looking at a picture of a sailboat haul from above, just the shape of it, you would place the nose of the dinghy on the upper right side, that way you can help the boat make a sharp left turn.  Once the boat is pushed in the right direction there is a scramble to get the dinghy back to the boat, tied up, and to make sure you have vacated the boat before the last big turn out of the marina.  Once this is all completed, you are back on board, and it's time for the trip!

Where we were located, we couldn't see half the storms come about, we were blocked by the mountain.  If the storms came from the neighboring islands which was typical, we could account for them and plan accordingly.  In the Caribbean many storms form out of nowhere and there isn't a way to plan.  It was the evening so not dark, but getting there.  We didn't have daylight savings time like the states, so the sun set at the same time all year long.  Once we were out of the channel, we were pointed to an uninhabited island that we went to each night. The island was historical, quaint, and serene, the perfect spot for a sunset dinner.  The cove was always turquoise and calm with a light breeze, with welcoming reflections.  That was our destination, as long as we can get there.

We curved around the opening of the channel and were out in the open water now, leaving our island and now in a dangerous channel.  The sound in between the islands was treacherous, full of seismic activity and choppy seas.  The gap in the islands is an extinct volcano that routinely had small earthquakes three times a week on average.  Not major ones, but a few measuring a three on the scale each week, which makes for some violent seas at times.  We were used to the average night out there as we were involved in it most nights, so a calm night out was a rougher night but usual till we got to our cove.  Unfortunately, this ended up being a rougher than normal night full of surprises.

I was serving drinks, giving out (mostly) accurate history and geography on the surrounding terrain, entertaining the guests as I usually do.  The captain was smiling and telling old salt tales to the guests around, and the sails were thrown out, ready for a smooth trip over for dinner.  The sea was dark and choppy, but not anything out of the ordinary at the time, and we could see cloud-free skies in the distance.  Our guests were laughing, having a grand time, and the boat was slowly churning through the waves, with a mild slam over and above each one. The guests and all of the crew were above deck, with a light breeze and a mellow demeanor. Darkness then proceeded to show itself over our boat, and the ocean.

Without notice the skies turned black, the seas roared like a frightened lion protecting it's pack.  We heard horrible sounds from the sea, and the waves grew, they grew so fast we were unable to react.  Our big heavy boat was thrown up a steep wave, up further than I'd ever seen it, almost vertical, and then slammed down just as quickly.  The bow crashed down onto the backside of the wave and was buried by the dark sea, guests were thrown off their seats and panic ensued.  The winds howled so fiercely it was like a wolf on the attack.  Deep swirling sounds, harrowing winds, and rain so strong it felt like shattered glass was being rained upon us.  I yelled for the guests to get down below, and had to help many of them with winds so vigorous they were hanging onto every clip and railing they could.  

The guests were eventually all lead down below and secured, shaken and frightened.  I told them all to stay here and we would all be okay, but I wasn't so sure.  Our boat was not equipped for this storm and I had to go back above.  My other mate stayed down below to comfort the guests and crowd manage.  I went up to speak to the captain who looked flustered, stressed, and honestly more scared than I was hoping for.  We were getting battered, but we couldn't do much, our boat was heavy and slow, not cut out for such a situation.  I went to him and asked him how we were doing, he didn't reply but merely pointed at the throttle. Obviously in this setting, your sails are useless, you have to turn on the engines and hope to motor through.  The throttle was at full, and we were barely getting over the giant crests that were fifteen feet at least.  Getting over the waves was only half the problem.  Once at the top of the crest, we had a long hard landing waiting for us as half the boat went under the water.  "We might sink" said my Captain.  He looked frightened, stressed, and terrified.  I have always been good at remaining calm, even in extreme situations, and that's what I did this time.

I started rescue procedures at this point preparing for the worst, although the worst in this situation is we go down quick and nobody survives.  How fast do you think a concrete boat sinks?  Yeah, like dropping a boulder in the water, faster than anything you can think of.  Did we have a life boat?  The dinghy we were pulling behind and an inflatable raft, which can't fit all of us.  The dinghy was still attached but had been horribly battered, and would not survive a full on trip in this storm.  I have thirty people on board, now the captain and I are trying to figure out if we need to call the Coast Guard, or how to get out of this situation. Guests down below are soaked and terrified, but they don't know the circumstances.  We are halfway to the other island in the worst part of the sound, getting battered left and right, and our main sail is hurting our progress.  The Captain looks at me and says "If we are going to have a chance, I need you to pull down the main."  

I didn't have to climb up the whole mast thankfully, but I still had to step up on a part of the deck that nobody was allowed to be on.  My Captain looked at me and nodded, I gave him a thumbs up and proceeded to slowly make my way to the mast in the shrieking winds.  It was like rock climbing, I had to keep a point of contact at all times, holding on to whatever was close.  One hand at a time I pulled my way over to the center of the boat, and climbed up and grabbed the mast like a friend I haven't seen in twenty years.  Hugging the mast I grabbed the rope on the other side with my chest pressed up against it.  I went hands free with my whole front attached to the mast with nothing but the force of the wind.  I yanked the sail down hand over hand until the mast was securely rolled up and secure.  Looking back to the Captain I received a thumbs up, followed by a point behind me.  With a smile on my face I jerked my head around and pointed my eyes at the bow and saw a wave, a big dark presence I had never seen so close to my face. I held on, turned my face and waited for the water to hit.

Huge forces of water ran into my face, and across my hands that were clutched on to the mast, holding on as hard a I have ever held on to anything.  I could see nothing, my eyes closed tight, and my head turned away from the oncoming rush of ocean water.  Our boat was halfway underwater, and I was a loon that had to dive down to avoid the full force of nature.  The wave passed, it rolled over us, and I was still holding on.  I looked back to my captain who was soaked, and concerned about me.  I gave him the thumbs up, I was okay, but shaky and not letting go of the pole that had saved me.  We locked eyes, nodded, and knew that it was over.

The worst was behind us now, it was time to clean up and get the trip back on track as the storm moved passed us.  There was still thunder, passing thunder though.  You know that sound when the storm has moved through and is now moving away?  We were battered, beat up, and surprised but we knew the storm was moving on.  I went back to the helm, soaked and shaken, hugged my captain who had thought I was a goner, and we focused on the next steps. It was time to go down below full of smiles and get the guests back on board for the rest of the trip, we have a job to do!

I have chills going down my chest, and I'm still shaken after almost getting torn from the mast like a bird in a tree, and now have to put on a happy face and welcome everyone back to the night.  We have towels, dinner to cook, and a romantic and wonderful night to finish.  We approach our destination and carry on as usual now that the storm is gone, and anchor up and serve dinner like a normal night.  The blast created a beautiful sunset, cloud formations, and an amazing night after everything.  The guests down below weren't alarmed, it was some rain and wind to them, they didn't know what had happened up above.  We ended up having better reviews from that night versus any other night on board.

This story is true, and it makes me think about obstacles in life.  You never know what's going to be thrown your way, it's all about how you react in certain situations.  Most of our guests didn't know how scared we were, and how dangerous our position actually was because we handled them accordingly.  I rarely get scared, it's something I'm good at (handling stressful and scary situations) but you also have to recognize the gravity of where you are.  I love this story so much because of how we handled it, despite all the odds against us.  That boat shouldn't have made it out of that swirling hell pool, but we did because of our communication, some luck, and a lot of skill.  Workers make the world go around, and safely!

So You Want To Move To Paradise?

Is this what you are thinking?   Maybe you are tired of traffic and cold weather.  Maybe you are tired of staring at concrete and asphalt all of the time.  Maybe you just need a fresh start or are looking for a temporary release.  Whatever your reasoning, lots of people have thought about picking up and just getting out.  You have pictured yourself sitting on a beach, sipping a cocktail, feeling the sand between your toes, and feeling good liming under a coconut tree. Despite what you may think, you can be there very easily.  "But iTodd, I don't have any money!" Yeah I didn't either, you don't need much to get started as long as you are prepared, and do your research.  It would've been helpful to have some pointers however, and that's what I will be going over here.

BEFORE YOU MOVE

Research, research, research.  When I first decided that I wanted to move, I then had to pick a place to go!  I made a list (I love lists) of all of the places I wanted to go, from Hawaii to Thailand to different islands in the Caribbean.  I researched each one by one and eliminated them as I did my research.  Different reasons eliminated certain places, too expensive to live, too far from home, didn't speak the language, etc.  My advice is to stay as close to your home as possible, just in case it doesn't work out.  The average person only lasts three months in most of these exotic destinations, mostly because they were unprepared and didn't study up at all.  Read forums from people that lived there, blogs, and just google the living heck out of wherever you want to go.  If it doesn't check all of your boxes, eliminate it and move on to the next place. Once I eliminated every place, there was only one left and then I could concentrate all of my energy on that.

Now, it's not all fun, sun, and rum, your first focus is going to be on getting a job.  Most islands are touristy and there are lots of jobs during the season.  Make sure you know exactly when the busy season is, because that's when there will be a ton of jobs in all different fields.  I wrote a piece on this called "Where to work in paradise," you can check that out if you want some helpful hints on where to look and how to get these jobs. Make sure you move down a couple of weeks before the season starts, maybe a month so you can get through training before they are busy.  You can also reach out to some shops via email and ask them if/when they will be hiring, or check the newspapers (also online).  In any case, try to make sure you have some work contacts setup before you move.

PRE-MOVE VISIT

If you have saved up some capital and have the necessary funds, it is the most helpful and wise decision to do a PMV, if even for a few days.  I wish I had been able to do this, but I wasn't in a place to unfortunately.  Visiting before you move is so incredibly beneficial.  You can see first hand how the island operates, meet people, and maybe even secure a job while you are there.  This can also be a bit deceiving however, because you are there on vacation, not actually living there.  Live like a local though, get a temporary apartment or home stay instead of a resort, get up early and try to use whatever public transit they may have. Don't rent a car, force yourself to get around without one unless it is absolutely necessary.  If you are interested in a boat job, find where the charter boats are docked and hang out around the dock in the early morning or late evening when the boats are there, and they are cleaning.  If you can strike up a couple of conversations and tell them you are thinking of moving there, you might be able to land a job or at least meet someone that knows who is hiring.  Go to restaurants and bars, bartenders are usually very well connected and will be able to give you a TON of information.  Going at lunch is a good time because they usually aren't that busy, unless there is a cruise ship in town or they are just a touristy place.  Find a place where the locals hang out, look for white long-sleeve shirts, those are the boat people.  Most or all of them moved down there at some point, and would be more than willing to be friends, answer questions, or help out, I know I was.  We are proud of our life down there, and always willing to talk about it.  Now it will be time to get your things in order.

WARDROBE

Once you have decided where you are going, done your research, and possibly even done a visit, it's time to prepare.  Are you fully set to move to a tropical island?  If you were like me then probably not, but mostly.  You won't need many warm clothes so leave the winter stuff behind, but you will want a light sweater, raincoat (this is crucial), and suitcases that aren't gigantic.  Don't think cargo shorts are cool?  Too bad, I do, I wore them almost everyday, they are quite helpful down there.  Also a waterproof backpack, and flippity floppities.  Bring a couple of pairs of flip flops, and a few pairs of shorts at the very least.  Ladies, leave the heels at home, and don't bring too many shoes, they take up space and you will never wear them (not much different than at home eh?).  Two medium sized suitcases are all you want because you are going to be schlepping them around town for a while until you settle in.  As far as wardrobe goes, don't plan on being able to buy things there, or have things shipped to you. You might be able to, but plan not to.  You won't have the above down there either, closet space is very minimal, but what do you really need? Pack for summer all the time, and store the rest.  You will most likely get a care package from home after not too long, so have them put whatever you forget as well as any items you miss (like triscuits) in there.  You will also have visitors, people will absolutely want to visit you in paradise, so get ready for that as well.  You can have your visitors bring down stuff as well that you are missing or miss.  We will cover visitors later on, that's a whole other topic.

TOILETRIES

Only bring what you might need for a week or so, these things you will be able to purchase down there.  Now, they will be much more expensive, but readily available for sure.  If you have a special kind of shampoo that you use, or anything that can't be bought in a regular pharmacy or grocery store, bring a lot, otherwise you will be able to get by just fine.  You might have to switch brands based on cost, but it isn't really that big of a deal.  I was a suave man when I moved down there, because it was the only thing affordable.  Also, make sure to buy sunscreen that is reef friendly, don't be one of those people that uses lotions that routinely damage and kill marine life.  You are moving to a tropical island, it's time to become a conservationist and only buy things that can be recycled and don't hurt the sea.  If you wear contacts like I do, buy a bunch of boxes in advance if you can, again, you might not be able to get them shipped down there.  Make sure you do your best to conserve space, you are a minimalist now.  Please don't waste an entire suitcase on toiletries and shoes, you will waste that space and this is one of the only things you can buy there.  I didn't wear shoes for almost a year, and getting deodorant, shampoo, and everything else was possible.  Pack to live, but live lightly.

WATER

Why would I mention water?  Because on an island there is only a finite supply.  Have you ever heard of a cistern?  If not go look it up, it will be how you get your water from now on.  If it doesn't rain, your cistern doesn't get filled and you don't have any water. Even when your cistern is full, you will need to get in the practice of heavily conserving how much water you use, and how you go about every day tasks.  Say goodbye to long showers, leaving the faucet running while shaving, and baths.  Although there is most likely a pool and ocean nearby you can bathe in, at home you will use as little water as possible.  Not only is there not a lot of water, but if you need an emergency fill when you run out it can cost upwards of a thousand dollars to have it filled.  The little steps you take will pay dividends in the long run, but it will be quite an adjustment.  When you shower, you will no longer leave it running while shampooing your hair. You will hop in, get your hair wet, turn off the shower and shampoo your hair.  Once you are done shampooing, now you can turn it back on to rinse it off, then immediately turn it off. Same goes for shaving, I would just fill up the sink a little bit and use that instead of the stop and go method used for your hair.  Depending on where you are moving too, you also might not be able to drink the tap water.  Investing in a water filter (either the pitcher or faucet attachment) will be one of the first things you'll do.  It's hot down there, and rum is cheaper than water, so make sure you can get drinkable water regularly.  Get used to asking for "tap" also when you are out, otherwise they will give you a plastic bottle of water and charge you a bunch.  Typically at the bars and restaurants, they have a filter on their soda gun and you can just get filtered still water.  Doing the dishes is also an adjustment, forget about a dishwasher, most places won't have them, and even if they do you won't be able to afford to use it.  Filling up the sink with soapy water, and having extra towels to dry them is the best go for this one.  I made sure we didn't have a lot of dishes or cutlery, that way you are forced to wash everything after every use instead of generating a sink full of dishes to wash.  You also won't have laundry in your unit, although there might be a communal laundry room on the premises, stock up on quarters!  You'll get used to it, it is a small price to pay for living in paradise, and you'd be surprised what you can get used to, this wasn't a huge issue.  One last thing, have you ever heard the phrase "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down?"  If not, google it, you will be doing this often...

ELECTRICITY

Just like with water, electricity is a pain in the rear view mirror.  There isn't a finite supply, but it is astronomically expensive, four to five times what you pay at home at the least.  Forget about air conditioning, and get used to lots and lots of fans.  I usually had at least two stand up fans on me at all times, and didn't use the ceiling fans because they were too expensive to use.  We would just go purchase smaller more efficient fans and use those forgoing the built in fans that came with the place.  Also, lights, we had one light on usually, maybe two if we were cooking or something (which we didn't do often). When I left for work in the morning I would just turn the whole electrical panel off, that way I didn't have to go around unplugging everything every day.  My electric bill ended up going down a bunch with these practices, from around five hundred dollars a month to less than two hundred.  Candles are a good investment, you don't need to bring them down with you, but buying a few once you are there is a good idea for a couple of reasons.  So the electricity is super crazy expensive, but it also goes out quite often, mostly a couple of times a week.  We had rolling blackouts regularly, and without a generator you would deal with powerless nights a lot.  If you like reading books by candlelight then you will love it!  Especially during storms, always make sure to have candles and flashlights handy, and turn off your phones because you may not be able to charge it till the next day.  The local bars almost always had generators, so sometimes we would meet up there during the blackouts and charge our phones and hangout.  Again, it's something you will get used to and laugh about, we even made shirts with the power companies' name on them that glowed in the dark, hilarious.

SHOPPING

Are you a shopaholic?  Do you like malls, getting your nails done, and spending lots of time going from store to store buying a bunch of things?  Don't move to a tropical island then, you will not have any of these things.  Now, there are cute little mom and pop shops, souvenir shops, and even little stands set up all over with people selling the things they made at home.  Remember, you are a minimalist now, and anything materialistic in you will have to disappear.  Leave the jewelry at home, put it in storage, it will just take up space and could even be damaged by the salt water, air, or getting lost amongst all of your moves around the island.  You will shop however, but it will be prideful things you discover while down there.  Some of these islands have their own sayings, and their own types of jewelry that you will fall in love with.  The two islands I was on had the sayings "Positive is How I Live" and "We're all here cause we're not all there."  The also had local hook bracelets that were beautiful, I still wear mine every day.  So, the things I purchased were shirts, stickers, and things local to the island I was on, as a prideful way of showing how happy I was to be there, I even bought a flag from the territory that I fly loud and proud.  You will buy the local beer, wear only island shirts, and get completely lost in the wonderful image that is the place you have moved too.  If you work on a boat you will also be wearing your uniform shirt all the time, my outfit was typically shorts or trunks, and my work shirt or a local island one.  You should be proud to wear things like the locals, and when you come home you will still wear the same to show off to your friends.

GROCERIES

A few things to note about groceries on an island.  Expect to pay about forty to seventy percent more than you are used to.  A regular block of cheese that would be three dollars in the states, was six or seven dollar on the island.  You end up getting familiar with brands you've never heard of because they are just cheaper, and you don't need much. Getting fresh meats and cheeses is a luxury, we didn't purchase those very often, we opted for the frozen kind mostly because it was affordable.  We did have cookouts and we would all pitch in and get things for just that night, but it wasn't an every day thing. Utilize the local fruit stands, there are many natives that make their living picking fruits and vegetables and setting up a stand on the side of the road and selling what they can. Not only does this help that person and the local economy, it's usually fresher and cheaper (and not full of pesticides).  Whatever is local to your particular island is something that will be cheap, plantains for instance were readily available and super cheap where I was so they were always on the menu.  It also wasn't very easy to get to the grocery stores, and you didn't want to carry lots of bags back on the bus or a long walk, so get used to making frequent trips to the local fruit stand and maybe a once a week trip to the store.  It's best to find some friends and get a taxi to the grocery store together, shop and then split one back home unless someone has a car.  I had a car so I would ask all of my friends before I went to the store if they needed anything, or wanted to go with.  The last thing that is quite important, is expiration dates, get used to finding those on everything you buy.  You are on an island, everything is imported to the stores and very lazily checked for dates.  Before you buy ANYTHING look for the expiration date, and make sure it is still valid.  Seriously, make this habitual, it is imperative you don't go home with half of your goods expired and ending up with stomach issues...

INSECTS AND ANIMALS

This guy just walked up on the bar, he was harmless and very photogenic so I didn't mind, but there are some things that you will mind.  Ever heard of a palmetto or sand flies a.k.a no-see-ums?  You will get VERY familiar with the bugs and local animals as they will mess with you on a daily basis.  No see ums are tiny little flies that you can't see, hence the name, and they are the worst.  They hover around your ankles and no amount of slapping, bug spray, or citronella candles can get rid of them.  There is an old tale that says if you drink a lot of gin and tonics the quinine and gin can help them become uninterested but that didn't work for me, I drank a ton of those things and still got torn up each and every night.  In addition to the sand flies (or fleas depending on who you talk to) the mosquitoes are an absolute menace.  I touched on it in my last article, these mosquitoes carry Dengue Fever, Zika, Chikungunya, among other random illnesses that will ruin your week.  You will get used to bug spray, most restaurants and bars have it readily available behind the counter and you can usually ask for "Island Cologne."  I never thought the spray worked, I watched them walk on a puddle of that stuff on my leg and still take a bite and fly away seemingly unhinged.  This is one thing you won't get used to, and they are completely unavoidable.  I have a friend that just posted that she has been bit at least once every day for the last four years.  You get bit, itchy, and sometimes scabby and bloody, it's just a way of life.  So ladies that shave their legs regularly, this sucks.  I used to wear knee socks with my flops, not very fashionable and I got made fun of, but it helped a lot.  They go after your ankles first and foremost, so if you can cover those up you will drastically reduce your bites.

They aren't all bad though, this is my mom making friends with the local donkey.  He walked the streets on the island and was dumb as a box of rocks, and had no idea what he was doing, let's just call him Donald.  You can have a lot of fun with some of the local animals but most of them are a pain in the boat.  The chickens on island were so loud, and they didn't just cock-a-doodle-do in the morning like a nice alarm clock, they would cluck their heads off all night long right next to your window...

TRANSPORTATION

Odds are you won't be bringing your nice car down to the island, it's expensive and your car might get trashed.  There are a few ways to make sure you have viable transportation, but make sure you can get to your job via public transit if possible.  Don't get a place far away at first, make sure you are as close as your pockets are to start until you get the lay of the land.  One thing you can do is buy an island car (as seen above).  Is that a trashed car that has been abandoned?  Nope!  I bought it for six hundred buckerinoes and it ran great, it was just missing a few things and wasn't much of a looker.  But, if it has four wheels and turns on you are already doing better than most on the island.  At one point with that fabulous monster I had the stereo, dashboard, side view mirror, and headrests all in the trunk.  Cars get beat to heck on the island, so it's best to get a "beater" and get around.  If you don't care about appearances you can get quite a good deal.  The other option if you aren't in the financial market for an island ride is relying on the public transit, which will be a tad different than you are used to but functional.  Ours was called a "safari" and it was a dollar and went one-way around the island.  There were no bus stops, you just waved it down, hopped on, and signaled the driver when you were ready to get off, how you ask?  They (no joke) had doorbells on the ceiling that would buzz the driver, or if those didn't work you would stomp your foot on the floor and the driver would pull over.  They were pickup trucks with benches on the flatbeds, and usually a native (notice my terminology between local and native) was getting off when you wanted to so you could just hop of whenever the truck pulled over, pay the driver, and go on your merry way.  The safari's only ran until dark, then there was no transit so you could find a taxi or "gypsy cab."  I met people at the bars and at work who either drove gypsy cabs or had friends and/or family that did.  Get those numbers, save them in your phone, and call them late at night to get you home for cheap cash.  Best thing to do is get a place that allows you to walk everywhere, even if it's a mile, walking is key, you will be incredibly active anyway (most people lost double digit pounds after moving there).

PHONE SERVICE

Make sure you look into this as much as possible, communication is imperative.  If a possible employer can't contact you, the job might slip away.  Where I lived my service provider didn't exist, but my contract was up and I was able to switch to one that did exist before I moved there.  If it's essential, get a local number immediately, even a pay-as-you-go phone for the first month will suffice. Make yourself available right away, it's so important, you will be meeting people all the time and you want to be able to text and/or call them from the start.  Find out what the local provider is and research it, if you can get a SIM card with them when you move there, do it right away.  You will find WIFI in most bars and restaurants, and if there are hotels you can always go sit in the lobby and soak up the AC and use their internet as well if you need to. Worst case scenario, get a cheap phone at the local shop and use that in the meantime with a local number, you can always switch that number to your phone later.  When you apply to jobs, meet new connections, and are waiting for a job or something you HAVE to have a local number.  It also makes you look more serious.  These companies are used to getting applications from people that want to move there but never do, so having a local number shows that you live locally and are serious in your application.

PAUSE FOR A THOUGHT

I hope I didn't freak you out too much and you still want to move.  I just want to be brutally honest about the adjustments and what to expect.  I wasn't prepared and didn't know about any of this before I moved, and had to figure it out as I went.  I think you will be very surprised with yourself and your ability to adapt and change with your surroundings.  Just keep images in your head for motivation, look at pictures of the area daily, and remember why you are doing this.  Nobody ever said it was easy, but it's going to be the best experience and decision of your life.  It should scare you, it should concern you, and you should have second thoughts.  Otherwise you wouldn't do it, easy things are never as rewarding.  If it was easy I wouldn't have anything to write about, but you will be rewarded with amazing tales, friendly jealously, and it will be something you will remember forever.  All the mosquito bites in the world don't change my incredible experiences there, and short showers and expired foods are still worth it to make that leap.  I hope you are ready to go!

LET'S CONTINUE

So, you have made your decision, gone through your wardrobe, stored whatever you needed to, and it's go time!  If you've come this far, you are all forward, and don't look back, once you've made your decision it's imperative that you follow through and stick with your plan, no matter how scared or nervous you are.  Keep picturing where you are going, keep it positive and make you move ahead.  Don't let anything stand in your way unless it's catastrophic.  So you are all packed up and ready to go, now we are going to talk about the transition, what to expect, and what is going to happen next.  If you can, take a stop off along the way for a couple of days, it will ease the tensions, and give you more of a transition that will help with the smoothness.  I was able to stop off in Puerto Rico for a couple of days and vacation, it really helped out a lot and wasn't that much more expensive.  If it's possible, try to plan for a two day stay somewhere along the way, it really helps with the move a lot.  It will help you reflect, it will help with the realization that you are actually doing it, and it will make your friends and family follow along as well.

ARRIVING

This was one of the first pictures on island, my first steps in the ocean.  You aren't here yet, but soon!  If you are able to take a couple of days off on the way down, please do.  We don't need to go into that, take some days or don't let's move on to your first day on the island.  When you arrive you will be filled with awe and wonder, it will feel like a dream, like you are living in a different world.  Hopefully in your research you found a temporary place to stay in for the first week or so, if you have go out!  Go for a walk if you arrive during the day, if it's evening or night go out to a bar and talk to people.  Tell them you just moved here, and make sure you tell them you live here now it's not just a vaca or a temporary move, you are here for good now.  Chill and hang out the first day, tomorrow is when you start your exploration, and your new life!  Explore that beach you saw in those pictures, go to that bar you read about, and check out the immediate area for now, in the morning it's time to get serious.

FIRST STEPS

It's the day after now, and it's time to explore your new life.  I went to an amazing beach the next day after I slept so well, put my toes in the ocean and reflected.  I want this, I want to be here, remember all you did to get here.  Now it's time to get to work, hardcore.  Get the lay of the land as they say, figure out the transportation, map your mind, find out where things are and figure out the part of the island you want to live in. Once you know where you want to live, go there, that's where you start looking for everything, a job, an apartment, bars, friends, everything, circle your life here.  If you are setup to get an apartment financially right away, do that first.  Most places want a person that is on island and setup with a place to live, this way they can tell if you are going to make it to work every day.  If you've saved up and can afford an apartment go for that first, but I will warn you, it will take three months rent just to move in.  Because of the turnover, almost every place requires first, last, and a security deposit to get in which equates to three months rent.  If you need a job first, look for rooms to rent, there are always island people looking for roommates, again with the turnover.  Being able to tell an employer where you live is crucial, it shows your commitment to living here, and your honesty in being able to show up every day. More than half your job down here will be showing up, it's more important than you think!

ACCLIMATING

Hopefully you have an apartment now, and quite possible a job!  It might take a few weeks, but there is a demand for us so you will get a job, and a place to live for sure. Now it's time to assimilate into the culture, and become a local.  Remember, you are a guest in another culture, so respect that, learn about it, and take what you will from it, but always remember you are in their life, and on their island.  Go to happy hour, or out after work, meet your neighbors, you will find that people are MUCH more friendly down there than back at home.  Say "Good morning" and "Good Afternoon" always start any conversation with a greeting, it goes a very long way.  If you have been reading forums or blogs, reach out and share your experiences, respond to the forums, just keep yourself involved as much as you can.  On an island people are more involved in community, face to face, every day actions more so than on the mainland.  Figure out where people are living and join them, go to beach parties, ask everyone about what they are doing.  Make yourself involved as much as possible, even if it's out of your comfort zone, heck moving here was probably out of your zone.

WORKING

Most of these places have a season, yes I know it's beautiful year round but there is still a season.  Move in October and you are sure to get a job, that's when they are always hiring, through the holiday season.  You are moving to a place everyone wants to go to, and usually around the holidays.  You won't have days off, you won't be able to go home and visit during this time, it's your busy time and it will be work time.  Even though you are crazy busy, it's a good time to have family or friends visit as crazy as that sounds.  I had my parents visit after only two months on island during Christmas, and it was great! Yeah it's crowded and expensive, but there is so much going on, and if you are going to do Christmas and/or New Years with you family, might as well be on a tropical island! Just keep in mind that you will not have time off for them, and they need to know that as well, you aren't on vacation, you are working and living here.  If you are working on a boat however you can have them join and watch you work which is actually pretty cool, even though it sounds terrible ha!  If you are a mate on a boat, you typically will be able to have your family or friends be customers at a discounted rate, and they can see what you do each and every day.  Bear with me, I know lots of you don't want your family on your boat or at your job, but it can be really really cool.  My family visited me a couple of times, and I have an extremely positive and memorable time with them.  It was great for them to see first hand what I do each and every day.  It's one thing to tell their friends what you do, it's another to see it and experience it, and then go back and tell everyone what you do.  Trust me, it's not for you, it's for them, and they will love it.

LIVING

Things will become very regular for you, after a while that is, but not at first.  When you visit these amazing places you will be blown away, snapping pictures, and bragging about how amazing your life is. After a while these things will become just a day in your life, doing things that you are supposed to.  That beach pictured above I went to a dozen times, it's routinely voted in the top five of "Most Beautiful Beaches In The World."  Was it beautiful?  Absolutely, it was one of the most tranquil and sublime places I've ever been in the world, but I went there so much it almost became routine.  Yeah, get used to being used to pink sands, turquoise waters, and readily being at incredibly beaches that are in magazines.  All those little things I talked about in the last article will be moot, because you will be here.  You will meet amazing people, go to parties, and join an incredible community that you will be hard pressed to ever leave. You will also get a good plan for when people visit, for me I hit the same places, no reason to deviate they were solid and incredible.  You will have your landmarks, your hits, the places you will want to bring everyone to see when they are visiting.

FOOD

What the hell are those?  Pancakes?  Donuts? Something in between?  Yeah, something in between, they are called Johnny Cakes and they are amazing.  Learn about the local food, it's important, locals and natives alike will want to know you are interested in their food no matter what it may be.  This was one example, but there were other local foods that were important as well.  Even going to the local produce stand (which I covered before) is important, natives want to see us take an interest in their culture and life, and food is a gateway.  Learn about the local food, try it, love it, and tell your friends about it, I promise you it's incredible.  One of the most wonderful things about this small island and community is how fresh everything is, buy local and experience such an amazing and fresh understanding.  Yeah, you might not be able to go to your five star restaurant, but that should be out of your mind by now.  Have a seventy year old grandma cook you dinner from her local roots and you will never want some hollywood chef's food ever again.  You will most likely still be able to get whatever you are used to at home, bagels, egg sandwiches, steak, salad, whatever you are used to I'm sure it exists on island.

SUMMARY

These are your first steps in your new life, take them slowly and enjoy the life around you. Everything you are worried about will be okay, you will adapt and assimilate, there is nothing you can't get used to.  Just keep these images in your head, this is why you are here, these beautiful moments will always keep your head pointed in the right direction. At the end of the day, you will love the food, the people, the bars, your job, and everything else.  There will be lots of negatives, but they really won't matter or affect your life the way they did at home, there is to much positivity going on around you.  Live every day loving everything, accept and promote your way of life and where you are living it, it's important.  I was prideful, still to this day tell everyone how amazing everything was and is down there.  If it's not for you it's okay to pack up and go home, there is no shame in it at all, it happens to most.  But enjoy it while you are there, take it in, snap photos, love your life as much as you possibly can.  Stay if you can, only leave if you must.

A Mate's Tale Part 1: Day Sail

So you want to work on a boat huh?  Great!  It was one of the most rewarding and fun jobs I ever had, but also one of the most challenging.  It is an ever changing position that will test you everyday, but if you stick with it you will never regret it.  There are many different types of mate jobs, whether it is on a cruise ship, a day sail, or motor charter.  I worked on day sails, sunset sails, and motor charters with various destinations and excursions.  Some were snorkel trips, some dinner cruises, some booze cruises, and some had all of that with a hike involved.  It didn't really matter where we were going, it mattered more what we were doing with our guests.  I can only speak to my personal experience, so I will tell you about my experiences with the particular boats I worked on. Today we will focus just on the day sails.

There are mono hauls and catamarans you can work on, both unique and not much difference in them from a mate standpoint.  I worked on both, and only the captain really notices the differences based on performance and handling.  For us mates, we have the same tasks no matter which type of boat we are on.

BEFORE WE SAIL

Whether it is filling up Dinghies with beer, water, and ice, or prepping for lunch, there is usually at least an hour of prep before guests are on the boat.  Once prepped we had to put on our logo golf shirts and greet the guests.  They are typically lined up along the dock where they can board the boat, very eager to get on.  These trips are a little later in the morning typically, so it was a little more relaxed and a little easier to get going.  We would get the guests on board, have them remove their shoes or sandals, get them situated, and bring them drinks before we left.  The mates would then retreat to the galley while the Captain addressed them and gave them a run down of what our day will look like.  During this time we could wash dishes, sweep up, and get the snorkel room prepped before we are underway.  Once the Captain has finished his address it was up to us to get the boat out of the slip.

Getting the boat out of the slip was a bit of a challenge for some boats.  One of the sailboats I worked on weighed over eighty eight thousand pounds, was made of cement, and as you can imagine didn't have the best turning radius.  One of us had to hop in the dinghy and push the bow out as instructed by the Captain while we were backing out of the slip.  This was another part of training that you will most likely not have to do but it was a good skill to learn, made us learn how to use this specific dinghy in case of emergency.  Dinghies sound hilariously easy to use, but that's not always the case, they can be hard to use (giggity).  Anyhoo, one of us would tend to the ropes, and the other would hop in the dinghy and get the boat out of the slip.  Once we were turned out and facing the right way, we would tie up the dinghy and get started with the trip.  For other boats we would drop off mates and materials at all the boats and get them ready to go, stranding ourselves out in the harbor until it was quitting time.

UNDERWAY

As a mate, especially the first mate you act as the relief Captain in case of emergency, or if he/she needs to leave the helm for any reason.  One of the reasons for us was that we had a manual sail, which only the Captain was allowed to put up.  While the Captain set up the main, one of us had to steer and take over the helm, making sure we were heading directly into the wind (this made it easier to release the sail).  Other times it was so the Captain could, well, you know, relieve him/herself, always be prepared!

In addition to sailing to a couple of islands, we also had a snorkel/lunch stop, so once the Captain was set it was our job to get every guest outfitted for snorkeling.  Giving everyone masks and a snorkel was pretty easy, it was when we needed to get shoe sizes from everyone (in Euro sizes) for fins and only had a limited time.  People would typically give you a range, and you had to bring multiple sizes in order you to find their fit.  Sometimes it would take until we were right at anchor point, but there were usually two of us mates so one could finish up and the other could drop anchor or moor (depending on which spot we went to that day).  Once tied up, one of us would have to "life guard."  Typically it was up to the Captain, but we would usually just rock-paper-scissors for it, unless one of us wanted to do it.  I was the only male mate for this company, and most of the women I worked with didn't want to get their hair wet, so I typically jumped in.  It was a lot easier than staying on the boat during that time, all I had to do was float on a buoy in a breathtaking place, usually off an uninhabited island and get tan!

While all the guests were snorkeling or setup tanning on the beach tanning, the mate left on the boat had to make lunch.  We had a full kitchen in our boat, so we were able to provide a hot lunch.  We made sure to have vegetarian options, as well as options for children too since this was a day trip.  The Captain will ring the bell, we will finish up and then help get all of the guests back on board.  Once everyone is situated, the Captain will make a little speech about what we offer for lunch, how to go about lining up, and where the trash cans are (that was us, we were the trash can).  Once everyone is done with lunch, we would bring up the anchor (or untie from the mooring ball) and sail to our next stop.

This was our history and interaction time, our main task during this stretch was to mingle with guests, make them laugh, and give them historical facts about the area.  It's also a great time to photo bomb every guest on board.  It was also a good time to answer some let's call them interesting questions.  Some of my favorites were "why is the water so blue?" as well as "what makes the water so salty?"  Making up random and incorrect answers on the spot became a specialty of ours, lots of talks about pirates salting their food, to tourists throwing blue jeans in the water to answer those...It was also a time where they would like to get to know their mates and captain.  The captain had group around the helm that he/she was always engaging with, and it was our job to walk around and make friends.  Lots of questions about where we were from, and what brought us down here ("airplane" was my response to that usually).

RETURNING TO SLIP

On the way back in is one of the only times where we can pretty much ignore every guest on board, it's too important to focus on the tasks.  Some guests will ask you for another rum drink while you have lines in your hand, but the day is over for them and we need to safely get the boat back in.  One of us has to pull the dinghy in, hop in and help push the bow while the Captain backs the boat back in.  The other mate has to make sure the lines are ready and ties us up as soon as we are backed in.  Once we are all tied up we run to the back of the boat to say our farewells, thanks, and hold out the tip jar!  We do get a mate wage per trip, but the tips are really what puts our wages up to "livable."  All the guests are off the boat, we are all done for the day right?  Not so fast, we have a dirty boat that isn't ready for the next trip, that's right it's cleanup time!

There are a few things that are nice about cleanup time.  First and most importantly, we are allowed a shift beverage once all the guests are off the boat (rum and something typically).  We usually take about fifteen minutes to wind down, sit and chill before we get working, talk about the day, blast some music and hang out.  Once the first drink is done, we all choose our tasks and get to work.  We get paid by the trip, so there really isn't any time frame, we can take as much time to cleanup as we want and the drinks are cheaper on board.  One of the other nice things about cleanup time is if something cool happens, we are free to go check it out.  For instance, one evening we were cleaning up I was folding t-shirts down below, and my mates yelled "Dolphins!!" and all I heard was a bunch of splashes.  I ran up and my Captain and mates were all swimming with a school of Dolphins, so what do you think I did?  Heck yea, I dove right in and swam around with a school of dolphins during sunset, it was absolutely incredible.  There are perks!!  Once we were done swimming with dolphins, cleaning the boat, making sure it was ready for the next day it was go time.  What does a mate do after a long day?  I'll cover that a few articles from now under "A Mate's Tale Part 4: A Mate's Time Off."

A Mate's Tale: Part 2 Sunset Sail

One of my favorite trips was the sunset sail, I always tried to request a spot for this one, it was always so peaceful and gorgeous.  We had a few marriage proposals on board, right at the bow as the sun was setting, cool breeze going by, absolutely perfect.

BEFORE WE SAIL:

Getting us underway was very similar to our day sails, just more alcohol involved, different food, and no snorkeling.  These trips were typically only an hour and a half or so, just enough time to sail to our spot, serve dinner and drinks, and slowly head back as the sun was setting.  Usually, the night captain and one new mate would be waiting on the dock for us, help us in, and have all of our new inventory there for the evening.  Day sail crew also did some prep work for us during the day (if they freakin remembered...). Our crews were based on numbers, so depending on how many signed up for the sunset sail we could have two mates and a captain, or only one.  It was very unusual for a mate to work straight on through because that was a thirteen+ hour day, and they didn't like to do that to us very often.  But if all the other boats were full during the day, sometimes it was necessary.  It just meant we were allowed to have a shift drink during night shift! Champagne and cranberry was always a popular choice. We greeted the guests with free champagne with a strawberry garnish as they walked on board, and it was all you can drink for the night, although we typically switched to other spirited beverages once we were underway.  Same deal getting out of the slip, captain speech, food prep and we are off!

UNDERWAY

FOOD!  This trip is mostly about the sunset, hence the name, but there are a lot of hungry people on board, so one of us stays down below almost the entire time and makes apps, dinner, and desert!  Caviar was one of our appetizers, most try it even if they are a little weirded out, I know I was!  But, once we are moored up it takes a little time to cook up the dinner and get it all plated, so drinks, apps, and music is enjoyed throughout while it's cooking.  We went to a private little cove that very rarely had any other boats or trips going on, it was incredibly serene.  Once dinner was put out (buffet style) and the folks were eating it was okay to take a quick break before it was time to do the dishes, refill drinks, and get underway for the quick trip back.

Or if you have some really cool guests they will ask if you want a picture of yourself at work, since you take pictures of other people all day.  Some of the nicest people in the world come on board, and that's most of what makes it such a memorable experience day in and day out.  Also the uniform, can't wear that to many formal office events huh? I did have to make sure my khaki shorts and golf shirt went back on before we reached the dock however, just in case the boss was looking.

 

RETURN

The trip back is almost always lit by moonlight, beautiful, calm, and smooth sailing so to speak.  People are in the mood to drink, and sometimes dance depending on what we have on the transistor radio.  Could be Bob Marley, could be a little Hall and Oates maybe?  Whatever gets them going, we take requests as long as I have service, otherwise they had to choose from the iPod from 2003 that is pre-loaded by our bosses with "family friendly" songs (lame).  The favorite to take us home was always "Moon dance" by Van Whats-his-name, always a nice finish to the night.

Same tasks getting us back into the slip, although it's pitch dark (except for the marina lights) so it makes things a tad more challenging, but who doesn't love a good challenge? So what if we run aground and beach thirty drunk guests, at least we are on land now! No but seriously, safety is priority #3.  Once we are all tied up and the guests are off the boat, it's cleaning time which also means shift drink(s).  It's late and we are usually very tired, so if there isn't a day sail the next day we can do a speed clean, and finish up the next day.  If there is a day sail the next day, there is most likely going to be less champagne after our shift *wink *wink.

A Mate's Tale Part 3: Day Charters

Day charters are similar to Day Sails but with a larger motor boat, typically more people, and more things on the menu.  Because the boats are faster they usually go to multiple stops, sometimes four or five different islands or snorkel stops.  One of the boats I worked on (pictured above) held upwards of a hundred and fifteen guests!  Now, you have a bunch of mates on board to help, but it is still a bum rush getting that many people outfitted with fins for our snorkel stop, we typically had about twenty minutes...Other boats have a lengthier plan, with a whole day planned out accordingly, that's what I would like to talk about here, so let's get started in my usual manner ;)

BEFORE TAKEOFF

Okay, well if a big storm happens to pop up and your early morning trip gets cancelled, you do the above.  Otherwise, there is a lot of prep work to do for your fourteen hour day.  Typically you are on the boat around six am, which gives you an hour before takeoff, and about forty five minutes before guests start showing up.  The Captain checks the engine, does his tests and evaluation, and us mates are down below.  We have to slice up muffins and fruit for breakfast, stock beer, soda, and ice, and get customs forms ready.  We went to islands in a different country so we had to go through customs at the end of the day.  Once that is done, we greet the guests on the dock and get them outfitted for snorkeling BEFORE we leave, that way they can just keep the equipment with them and we don't have to worry about sizing them up underway, we have enough to do on this trip.  Once all the guests are on board, Captain has his speech, and then one of us mates calls out directions for them to fill out their customs forms, and we are off!

UNDERWAY STOP #1: HIKE

On the way to our first stop we don't have a ton of tasks, mostly getting to know our guests, get them water and juice, and tell them about the islands we were passing.  There were so many islands going by, I didn't know what they were all called, or all the beaches people kept pointing too so we made up a lot of names.  Usually I would ask the names of the kids on board before we left and name random ones after them.  "What island is that?" - Guest, "Oh that's Tyler Quay" - Me, "Oh my god that's me!!" - Random kid.  Works every time, also named one after myself hence my blog name.  Anyway, once we got docked, we got everyone ready for a hike to that beach above.  The hike was about an hour and a half round trip, very beautiful with a few nice picture stops, and a few historical stops for education including a Goonies joke for good measure.  We had about ten to fifteen minutes of chill time in the water at the beach, depending on how quick our guests were that day, then we would hike back up and hop back on board for the next stop.

 

This was one of our picture stops during the hike, I would take people's phones and digital cameras and take photos of them and their family.  Usually I would tap the "turnaround" button first and make some faces and snap a few while their backs were turned and before they were set so they have a fond memory which they will find later.

 

STOP #2: LUNCH

Yeah rough place to have a lunch break huh?  I know, its one of the things that just never got old no matter what.  Many things you get used too, or take for granted, but not this.  I ate here almost everyday, and once we got the guests their food and situated we had some time to just chill and eat.  We also had a deal with this particular restaurant where the crew ate for free!  They had a decent menu, enough that you could rotate things and get something you were in the mood for.  Although if you've ever worked in the business you know that whatever you are craving that day isn't available...but tough to complain when you are sitting here, just pick something else it's gonna be fine.  This whole island only had this restaurant, and a gift shop, that's it.  Once we were done with lunch, we would round everyone up and head to our next stop!

STOP #3: SNORKEL

After a proper digestion time we head over to our snorkel stop.  It is only a couple of minutes away from our lunch stop, so we slowly chug over there trying to kill time for our full guests.  We moor up, Captain gives a speech and we slowly get ready for snorkeling.  I usually volunteered to lifeguard, so I hop in first, check for jellyfish and sharks and what not and float around on my buoy waiting for them to file in.  I don't have to do all that much, just float around for an hour making sure people don't go too far, and if they do just swim over and tell them.  Sometimes I'll have to go retrieve a fin or mask if it's dropped (sometimes down forty feet), but otherwise I just swim back and forth watching everyone.  When the Captain sounds the horn it's time to gather everyone up which is the first time (but not the last) I need to go around gathering people up. Once everyone (and myself) is on board, it's time to start heading towards our last fun stop of the day, and one of my favorite places on earth.

STOP #4: BAR ISLAND

Okay that's not what it's really called, but it's an island that has a beach just lined with bars and not much else.  We serve drinks on board, so our guests have had a few on our steam here, so they are already getting tuned up.  There is no dock here, and all the charter boats come here at the end of the day in addition to everyone else in the area, it's a very popular spot, so it can be quite crowded.  We have a big boat, and finding a decent space close to the beach is always a challenge, sometimes we have to get other boats to move, or circle till there is a spot, but it doesn't take long.  The most fun part for me on this was anchoring (I know that doesn't sound like fun, but it was! Let me explain).  Once we got the bow (front) anchor set, because of the limited space and our size we also needed a stern anchor which someone had to toss an anchor as hard as they could behind the boat.  This was so much fun!  The Captain would just point in which direction he wanted it and bombs away! Once anchored our guests had to wade in neck deep water typically, and head to the beach and the bars.

This was what we looked at from our post (My co-mate is on the right). We would fold towels, clean up a bit, and get the shrimp cocktail ready for when the guests came on board.  Remember when I said there was another time when I had to gather people up? Yeah this was the biggest pain in the rear all day, finding thirty guests spread across a bunch of bars having a good time and telling them to pay up and leave.  I usually swam ashore, and walked up and down the beach yelling our boat name and "We gotta go!" Then I would signal to the Captain how many he had on board, if we were still missing a few I had to go find them.  If we didn't leave at the right time we would get stuck behind some awful smelly boats at the customs dock and would be late getting back.  Once we get everyone on board it's off to customs and the end of our day.

LAST STOP: CUSTOMS

Yeah, have you ever tried to get thirty drunk people through customs?  Let me tell you how THAT goes, ugh.  So, we tie up once it's our turn, bring out the laundry basket full of flip flops for them to put back on, ask them to put shirts on and get to the customs building, sounds easy yeah?  Hang on, they have to step over a rope and a gap just to get off the boat (one out of ten bites it and ends up face first in front of a customs officers shoes on the concrete).  We also have to make sure we are all together, there can't be any other people not from our boat in line unless they are in front or behind our group. Remember how busy I said that last island was with other boats?  Yeah well they are all here now trying to get through customs.  Some people forget their passport, others don't put a shirt on (they won't let women pass with just a swim top on, or men without a shirt).  We spent a lot of time running back to the boat to get random things, some people even walked through customs and started walking down the street in the town away from the boat!!  It was like herding cats to a boat, and this is all we have left before we are home free.  Oh by the way they had four dollar Patron (Tequila) shots on that last island, always a great idea after a day of sun, snorkeling, hiking, and activity hehe.  Once they are all through it's a great little hop home and people are usually in a great mood. We blast some music, some usually dance as we approach the dock, and it's the usual thanks and tip jar task from the last time.

Well!  That's it for the tasks, work stuff, and all the seriousness and what goes on in our typical work days.  My last post in this segment is "A Mate's Day Off" and I'm so excited for that one!  I didn't take nearly as many pictures while working as I did on my off days (Which is probably right for anyone), but my day off pictures are so cool, and I can't wait to share those experiences with all of you!  There will be less words and a lot more pictures for that one, I hope you are all okay with that!  Thanks for reading :)

A Mate's Tale Part 4: A Mate's Day Off

Yeah so THIS is why we move here, when we have a day off we get to play!  Typically someone will have a boat going out, and we can hop on and go island hopping with whoever is off that day.  It was hard to plan, and usually you didn't get to choose who you hung out with that day because of our random schedules.  We had a group on social media and someone would post about a boat trip and how many spots there were, and how much it would cost.  We usually knew the captain as well, so we could do anything we wanted and go anywhere.  These ended up being LONG days usually, since we start drinking rum right off the bat.  Breakfast was rum and OJ, usually leaving around seven in the morning, yikes I know.  Each trip was different, but we had a few "hot" spots that we always had to go to.

This was usually our first stop, pretty much every boat trip went here right away.  It was a remote and uninhabited island that wasn't too far away, had a very nice beach all the way around, and it was peaceful.  We would setup beach games, throw a frisbee or football, blast some music, and have some more drinks.  We spend a couple of hours here, it's our very own private beach party, not easy to leave.

This was our boat that day, they are all about the same for these day trips hopping around the islands.  They are fast, spacious enough for up to ten of us, good stereo on board, and you don't need a dock so you can just beach it nice and close (you have to make sure the cooler is close by you know).  We have absolutely ZERO timeframe, we just go with the flow.  If you have a boat full of close friends (as we were this time) it makes things so much smoother, but people are so laid back on de islands that it doesn't matter. Once everyone seems to be done and ready to move on we slowly make our way back to the boat and head out!

 

Ummm hey girls it's time to go!!  It's okay, you can walk around the entire island in less than ten minutes, we will be loaded up and ready to go by the time they come back around.  With our morning fun in the rear view mirror, it's time to find us a cool place to get some snacks, and maybe a drink or two.  Can you recommend a place?  That's okay, I think we will find something, gotta be a bar around here somewhere no?

We found one! You have to stop at a bar before noon, it's a Pirate's code or something. Even though we have rum and beer on board, it's more about socializing than just drinking, I mean it's both.  Luckily this place has an actual dock!  We usually take a vote on board for where to go but most of us don't care and let the Captain take us wherever he/she wants.

 

Sure Captain that looks fine, what do you think?  This place ended up being really cool, they actually had horses out back and a couple of hiking trails.  Cool little bar spot with an unbelievable view, cool breezes, and excellent food.  Ever had Conch Fritters?  If you haven't, please do, I don't even like seafood all that much and they are delectable.

 

Sometimes there is a house pet as well that you can play with or pet, there was a house cat here that was sitting in the only available bar stool.  Oh well, guess we will stand!  We get a few beers or rum drinks, some appetizers, and walk around taking pictures. It's never easy to leave any of these places, but you know the next place is going to be really cool as well!  Now that we are full and have sobered ourselves a tad, it's time to hop back on board and have some drinks!

Do you like music?  Strange question I know, I don't think I've ever met a person that said no to that seriously.  Our playlists are always all over the place, reggae, classic rock, r & b, little bit of everything on these trips.  We would just trade off hooking up our phones, unless the Captain had his hooked up then we would just let him/her pick the music. Let's go I'm thirsty!

 

Aaaahhhh much better.  Yeah the boat has cup holders absolutely EVERYWHERE.  Only problem is there ends up being two drinks in every holder all over the place and it gets hard to keep track of which drinks are which.  We are always moving around the boat, mingling with different friends, bothering the captain, and changing the music.  But as long as you make sure everyone on board doesn't have cooties you will live.  Time to stop again!

So, even though we have a bunch of drinks, we do like to be active throughout the day. So we decided to make a snorkel stop at this incredible place.  No land to stand on, no beach, just amazing corals and sea life under all those rocks poking up right there.  There is also a swim through where you can dive down and swim through a little opening in the coral.  Be careful though, it is lined with fire coral and you can get stung pretty bad. The currents can be challenging as well, so not everyone wanted to jump in, but I did! Once we were all done snorkeling, guess what it's time for?  No not another drink, come on now, plenty of time for that, plus I still haven't finished the one from before I dove in.  It's time for another stop!

Man, this day is flying by.  We usually stop off somewhere that has hammocks and is quiet and peaceful, our "nap spot."

 

Some take a nap in a hammock, some of us walk the beach taking pictures, some read, others make sure our rum consumption is kept up correctly.  We usually only spend about an hour here, before our last stop of the day.  *Yawn* I'm getting tired just thinking about how relaxing this is.  Okay okay, wake up it's time to go!!

Our final stop, every trip always ends up here.  If you read my previous post I called this "Bar Island."  A beautiful beach just lined with bars amongst the palm trees, my favorite place on Earth.  A certain Country Music star frequented this place and even wrote a song about it.  Pulling up we had to look out for floaters, snorkelers, passing boats, drunk people, floating coolers, etc.  Once we get beached, it's time to find a good bar.  There is one that is famous, and always over-crowded, not really our style.

 

Want to nail your shirt to the wall ladies?  Not a problem, this ceiling is lined with shirts, towels, all sorts of random things from all around the world.  There seems to be some music coming from one of these places, I'm sure we can find it.

There it is!  This guy was actually the owner of the place, he just sat out singing about anything and everything.  He would look at you and ask you where you are from, then sing a song about your home town making up stuff, incredible.  I'm pretty sure he was real, and I didn't imagine him singing did I?  

After music it was time to jump off the boat a bunch of times.  This is a very good sobering activity, and a ton of fun!  Especially if you have a tennis ball or something, brings me back to my kid days trying to catch something jumping into the ocean.  After a bunch of jumps, I guess the day is over and we have to go back to the dock and end the long sunny day huh?

 

Bye favorite place ever!!  Oh man, this day went by so fast I am so not ready for it to be over with.  But it sure is pretty out here, if only there was one more thing we could do before we go home, just one thing, one teeny tiny thing.  Wait a minute, do you see that?

In the distance, you can't see it?  Wait a while, it's coming up fast!

 

That's what we needed!!  A floating bar!  The party isn't over quite yet, it's time to get a drink and jump off the back of that boat.  Every time I see something like that all I can think of is how badly I want to jump off of it.  Apparently you get a free drink if you jump off naked, but I have no problem spending two dollars on a rum drink.  Ready, set, go!

 

My belly is not that big in real life I swear, it's just full of Caribbean beers and rum today, geronimo!!  Okay, NOW we are done for the day and have to head back in.  It's so terrible we have to leave such beautiful places to head back to our boring apartment.  I'll show you a picture of the awful beach I lived on, it's not for the faint of heart however, please don't fill yourself with pity.

I know, you are asking yourself "How did he ever live in such shambles?"  It's okay, as long as I had a day off every now and then I was able to survive.  This was only one day, this whole story and all of these pictures were from one day off.  I had many days off down there over the course of the two years I spent there, and I could write so many posts about my days off.  This is what made me want to move down there, days like this made it all worth it, and made me be happy with my decision to move there.  It's all all rum and fun though, it is more work and hours in paradise to maintain that lifestyle and have those fun days than it is in your home town.  But who wants easy?  If days like this are the result of the many many hard days of work I'm okay with that, and you adjust accordingly if you want this.  Hope you had fun with me today, it was a long day :)  The next and final post in this segment isn't fun, and will really show you the hardest part of working on a boat in paradise.  It takes place in a spot we called "The Boneyard."  Yeah not a fun sounding place to work in huh?  See you then!

A Final Mate's Tale

So, everything is happy and hunky finding Dory now right?  We just had an amazing day of hopping around islands, toasting with friends and fun strangers alike, and had a day full of delicious drinks and savory treats.  Our job as a mate is going well, and our life is looking quite marvelous.  Just like anywhere there are good days, and there are bad days, then something awful happens and makes life a real challenge.  This is a scenario that you can't plan for, that happens to some but not most, and makes you question everything from your job, to where you are living, and it forces a choice.  This was me at the end of the day after that wonderful day off.

Happy, content, and honestly in total disbelief of how amazing things were.  This was the happiest I would be living on the islands, overnight something happened.  For starters it was now the off-season, we didn't have boats going out as often, and we had to pull rough shifts in what we called "The Boneyard."  The Boneyard was the place where our boats would go to be renovated and fixed, it was a place full of loud noises, cranes, paint, grinders, and all the things that are needed to redo an entire charter boat.  It was not a fun place, in fact it was one of the worst places to be on island.  It was always super hot without a breeze, and you are doing hardcore manual labor getting covered in metal shavings and lord knows what else.  It.was.hell.

This was one of the only times that we are required by law to wear shoes, and for a good reason.  Please don't ask about the nail polish, that is a really long story and I caught enough heat from my bosses and Captains on it already.  Our boats do get routine maintenance, but once every now and then we need a complete overhaul.  We strip the sails, lines, and masts off and basically start from the bare bones.  We have to make sure the thickness of the haul is still intact, and sometimes have to cut out holes and patch them up.  This was however a good way to maintain a living during a time when most people are sitting on their hands, or back home visiting family and not making money. You do what you have to do, and when the boats aren't going out during hurricane season and the start of school, you work in the boneyard to pay the rent.  Remember that nice happy guy on the boat you saw above?  Well this is him now.

"Stay in school kids" was my headline after posting this.  Luckily we had a really great team, and we all worked incredibly well together.  You learned how to do a lot of things on the fly, lots of people didn't have any experience in boat renovations.  I had experience as an electrician and demo tech, but not specifically in this field, so I learned a lot too, but I was also able to adapt quickly since I was used to the rough dirty working conditions and the work itself.  Now, things get worse for me, and I'm getting there, but I'm going to go through this type of work first.  It's something you need to know before going into this profession.  We were all expected to be in the boneyard, and do whatever was asked of us.  Sanding, painting, grinding, hammering, climbing, wiring, welding, nothing easy, but all necessary.

That was one of our most successful boats, and the original one the company started with.  We had to strip it down and basically build it all over again.  I won't lie, it was kind of fun watching it take shape piece by piece, but it took a long time and was not easy work.  The finished product was refreshing to see however, and that first ride on a freshly painted and redone boat was indescribable, it was such a ear to ear smiling moment for all of us.  So, that was the before, and this was the after!

No guests were there for the inaugural sail, no bosses were on board either, it was the Captain that was set to take over the boat permanently (or the one that had been driving it a while) and a couple of us mates that worked on it.  We toasted some beers on the mast and gave it a good test run, amazing.  You can't see it but there is a smear of paint on that flag back there that will always belong to yours truly (Total accident in the wind, but nobody noticed so I remained silent).  So, there were some rewards to the rough work, and this was one of them.

We also celebrated in the boss's hot tub.  Luckily we had a really cool owner who would have all of us over to his amazing place, grill us steaks, offer us free wine and drinks, and show his appreciation for us.  It kept up moral, brought us closer together, and made those tough days worth while.  I loved wearing that shirt, I still wear it all the time, but I miss wearing it with a dozen of my mates together.  We would walk into a bar and take the place over, customers would look at us with envy because of how close we were, and how much fun we were having.  It was something I will probably never have to that level again, unless I join or start a similar outfit.  These were some of the most incredible people I have ever associated with, and I would have done anything for each and every one of them.

Now to go back a couple of steps, I said that I was going to go over the rough job and then get to what the worst part of it all was, the thing that forced a choice and made my life miserable.  Well, read the above.  The one fear of living in a tropical paradise is the insects, and the possible diseases they carry.  I had both of the ones listed above, at different times, and had different reactions to them.  The first one was Dengue, this you might have heard of and is absolutely awful and painful.  The only good thing about it is that it is gone in a week, no matter what.  I worked a couple of days with it, but was unable to work entirely for about five days.  That was the easy one.  Chikungunya is the one you probably have not heard of (unless you knew me then and heard me talk about it).  It is also supposed to last a week, but there is a small percentage that lasts longer, and that's what I got.  Mine lasted for nine months!  The fever, rash, and flu-like symptoms lasted for a week as usual, but I had this awful persistent joint pain that just would not go away.  This was at the same time I was in the boneyard, so I'm doing hardcore manual labor with joint pain as bad a osteoporosis.  I couldn't even open a beer, tragic.

Yeah, even rum didn't work!  The worst part was that there is no cure or treatment.  NIH has been conducting studies for years, and they have nothing.  It ultimately ended my career and life down on the islands, but I had a VERY rare strain that less than 2% of the people that contract it get.  It did go away one day randomly nine months later after I had moved back home.

This was one of my last days on island, reflecting and deciding.  My hands were virtually useless, I couldn't man the lines, steer a boat, or do anything relative to my work, so I had to make the hard decision to leave and go home to recuperate.  Here I am, sitting on a beautiful beach, my apartment a hundred feet behind me, the turquoise waters in front of me, and I can't do what I have loved to do.  I had an awesome tan, glorious beard, and thought I had everything figured out.  In life sometimes you get curve balls, you get impossible tasks to overcome, and you get a bad hand dealt to you, it's how you respond. My point with all of this negative info I'm throwing at you is respond positively.   I was lucky that I had a caring set of parents waiting for me with a place to stay, and a mother willing to help me get through everything.  I was very sad to leave the life, my job, and my incredible friends.  Now that I'm healed and better, and have had more experience I can always move back, and I may one day.  I hope that my writings have been informative, and my experiences interesting.  Even after all the rough things I went through down there, I would still move in a heartbeat, and I still love the experiences I had down there.  I miss it all the time, and I'm so excited each and every day to come home and write about such an amazing and incredible time.  If any of you ever have any questions, or I can help at all please find me on the "Contact" page and reach out! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you will join me on my next adventure!