Strawberries and Champagne on the Beach

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December 30th, 2013

Shroud Cay is one of the many uninhabited islands in the archipelago of the Exumas, some 3 miles long and 1.5 mile wide. The low flat rocks and sand dunes of the island are covered with thick impassable mangroves, a population of short and very resilient trees and shrubs adapted to saltwater and the relentless tides of the sea.

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A web of tidal channels cross the island from east to west, like salt rivers which empty their riverbeds in the sea and fill them again every few hours, switching direction.

At some places the channels are deep and narrow, carving their way through rock and vegetation.

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Further they spill their waters over vast sand dunes, completely exposed at low tide and shallow at high tide.

The only way to explore the place from one end to the other is by kayak. A dinghy would not go through the shallows and even our brave kayak, Agent Orange, had some difficulties at times.

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We start at low tide, at the west end of one of the channels, Maya, Ivo, and me. All is completely silent and still. The roots of the mangrove trees, like dark fingers of dragons or giant chicken feet, are exposed.

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The vast sand dunes in the middle of the island are now dry, only faint streams of blue water allow us to continue across.

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The water is completely transparent and clear like in an aquarium; crabs, yellowtails, small nurse sharks and sting rays swim around us.

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We get to the other side of the island.

The sea to the east of the Exumas gets deep, there are not many anchorages, and with prevailing east winds and big waves coming all the way from Africa, it is a lot more dangerous and difficult to sail, so cruisers usually keep on the west side, protected by the east winds and waves by the islands, where the water is shallow and calm.

Our tidal river has brought us to a vast white-sand beach, completely deserted, where the only footprints are the ones left by our feet.

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December 31st, 2013

Here is what might have happened on this beach on December 31st, 2013:

A guy named John Collins, or John Dillinger, or John Johnson, proposed to his girlfriend Susanna, on New Year’s Eve.

John, born in a small town in Georgia, or in a small town in Pennsylvania, or in a small town in New Jersey, is about 30-35 years-old, college graduate, passionate about American Football and fast cars. He has a handsome little job as an executive assistant in a small corporation in east Florida where he lives in a nice second-floor apartment, since two years now. As a next logical step of his comfortable life development, John has decided the time has come to settle down. First marriage, immediately after that mortgage, and then, maybe after a few years, a kid. Plus, Susanna is a nice girl, 26, blond, good-looking, and fun. She would make a good wife and with the income from her receptionist job, they will do pretty good.

So John takes out his Master Card and organizes everything to the minute detail eight months in advance. He charters a luxury yacht for four days. A beautiful 48-foot Jefferson with two 210 hp engines, three double staterooms, outdoor speakers, and a nice little deck where Susanna can sunbath in her bikini. He has thought of everything: an affordable ring with a small diamond, a bottle of champagne, Dom Perignon 2003, chocolates, strawberries, he even buys a beach umbrella and a small cooler. He is ready to propose.

Susanna looks excited to go to the Bahamas on a luxury yacht with John for New Year. She posts photos in Facebook of the boat and the sea so that all her 682 friends can be jealous.

John is sure she will say “Yes”. She cannot possibly say “No” with all these preparations and expenses from his part.

John finds the perfect place: a beautiful secluded beach on the east side of an uninhabited island in the Exumas. There is no way they will be disturbed by anyone here; all cruisers go on the west side. He is planning a very romantic afternoon on the beach. He will set everything beforehand: the umbrella, the cooler with ice, the beach towel, maybe he should bring chairs? No, no chairs, a beach towel so that they can lay on it, chat, and make love after she says “Yes” and after the champagne and the strawberries. Like in the movies.

December 31st, 2013, they get to the beach a bit later than he has planned as she was busy texting with a friend, and then couldn’t find her sunglasses.  

They sit on the towel (John brought one of the boat’s white towels as he forgot to get a beach towel, the only think he forgot) , but the umbrella keeps falling because of the wind. They chat and kiss. She gets irritated when he starts talking something about all the plastic garbage that the sea has brought to the beach and how there is no one to clean it, even though this place is part of the Exuma Land and Sea Park. She hates garbage and she loves the environment, but this is not the time to talk about it.

Then he pulls out the little red box with the ring and the ice-cold champagne from the cooler and she is really surprised. She thought the champagne was for New Year?

“Susanna, will you marry me?”

Her face becomes all red, like the strawberries. It’s all perfect: the beach, the ring, the champagne.

“Oh, John…wow” is all she can say with her shrill voice. She tries on the ring, wonders how much it costs, they kiss, drink a bit of the champagne, she tries the strawberries and then the chocolates, but they are not her favorites.

“These are your favorites, that’s why I bought them.” says John.

“No, my favorites are the chocolate truffles, not these.” says Susanna.

“No, I remember you like these.” says John.

“Maybe is your ex who likes them, not me. You still think about her, don’t you… You think I don’t know she called you yesterday.” says Susanna.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” says John.

“You know what, here is your stupid ring and you can bring the rest of your stupid chocolates to your ex, I’m off.” says Susanna.

January 1st, 2014

We celebrate New Year alone on the boat with a nice dinner and a movie, nothing special. We forgot to buy a bottle of champagne and so we have no reason to stay up until midnight. There are no other boats in the anchorage, and it is just like any other night.

The next day, January 1st, 2014, Ivo and I take the kayak for another trip through the mangroves and channels, this time in high tide. 

Everything is different. The roots of the shrubs, the sand banks are submerged. We don’t have to walk across any shallows.

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As we get to the beach on the east side we discover a white towel, a beach umbrella lying open and crooked on the sand, and a small cooler with strawberries, chocolates (two of them half-eaten), and a bottle of champagne, Dom Perignon 2003, half empty. Everything looks abandoned; there are no people dead or alive and no boats nearby.

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We have no idea what has happened here not too long ago; we can only imagine. There are so many possible scenarios. One thing is sure, they left suddenly, in a hurry.

We wait for a while; we explore the hills, the shallow pools with hot water formed by the tides, the beach. There is a bunch of plastic debris on the sand: a broken bucket, shoes, bottles. It is incredible how much garbage accumulates washed by the sea on such beautiful deserted places, spoiling them.

As the afternoon advances it is time to go back to the kids and the boat.

We are now faced with a dilemma: leave the umbrella, cooler and towel on the beach, or take them.

The people might come back to look for their stuff. But why did they abandon them like that, the umbrella open in the wind, the champagne half full getting warm, the strawberries about to go bad, the chocolates uneaten?

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It looks like they left suddenly, affected by something, never to return. In that case, this stuff will simply become part of the rest of the garbage on the beach.

We decide to act responsibly and do the right thing.

 

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We eat the strawberries and the chocolates, we drink the champagne, and we take the umbrella, the towel and the cooler with us.

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There, we did have champagne for New Year after all, and an adventure!

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If the owners return later looking for their stuff only to find the green parts of the strawberries scattered about and two pair of footprints in the sand, too bad! They should not have abandoned their stuff on a public beach like that and I am sure next time they won’t.

On our way back, champagne in our system, we are pretty excited and happy, as well as a bit guilty.

The beach umbrella immediately proves to be very useful. With the wind about 10 knots coming behind us we use the umbrella as a sail and we get back to the boat at an incredible speed, sailing with the kayak through the mangroves, using the paddles only to steer.

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Note: if you know John, the owner of the stuff we appropriated, and if he wants them back, tell him we are willing to return them and we’ll share a bottle of wine when he comes to retrieve them.

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16 Advantages of a Simple Kayak

A simple kayak will:

 

1. Get you to a shallow place

A simple kayak will take you to the place you want to go, even if it is too shallow for a dinghy.

The drought of a kayak is 0.0002 ft.

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Near Comunidad Indigena Caxclampon Pataxte, Guatemala

 

2. Get you to a quiet place

The kayak has no engine, therefore it makes no noise.

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

You can sneak upon people’s properties without being noticed; or float downriver without disturbing the wildlife.

 

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Floating down the River Polochic, Guatemala

3. Get you to a tight place

You can paddle even in mangroves, between roots and branches.

 

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

4. Get you to a beautiful place

With the kayak you will be able to explore the most beautiful places on your journey.

 

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

5. Not pollute the waters

Keeping the environment clean (and having your conscious clean) is another advantage of not having an engine.

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

6. Save you money

This is an obvious one. No engine= no fuel= no dollars

 

Mira and Ivo paddling. Photo bi Joni Spencer

Mira and Ivo paddling.
Photo by Joni Spencer

 

7. Provide a nice spot for kids to do art while under sail

 

8. Provide a dark shady spot on the boat for resting

Maya sleeping under the kayak

Maya sleeping under the kayak

9. Keep you in shape

Paddle, paddle, paddle! Often living on a boat means less physical exercise. Paddling the kayak will make you spend that extra energy and it is good for your heart and muscles.

 

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

10. Take your kids and their friends off the boat

The kayak will become a favorite jumping-off platform and transportation for your kids, no matter how old they are. They will paddle between boats to pick up their friends, go to shore, or to explore the region.

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

 

11. Provide transportation for Cuban officials

If you ever sail to Cuba you will be unpleasantly surprised how many times you will have to deal with officials. Every time you move the boat from one cayo to another you will have to do another immigration checking out and checking in. The Cuban officials will board the boat every time to verify if there are any undocumented people on board (you are not permitted to have Cuban friends visiting the boat EVER even if the boat sits at the marina). Making the officials paddle to the boat instead of taking them there by dinghy is a nice little revenge.

 

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.  Here Ivo and an immigration officer paddle the kayak, El Poderoso (the name of the kayak means The Mighty One in Spanish) back from the boat anchored at Cayo Levisa. Fastest kayak ride ever, said Ivo.

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.
 Cayo Levisa, Cuba

12. Be loved by children everywhere

When you show up with a kayak in an indigenous Mayan village in Guatemala, you become The Event of The Year. Not you, the kayak!

Finca Jocoro

Finca Jocoro

There hasn’t been any scientific research done on the subject of How many indigenous kids can sink an unsinkable kayak, but the experiments have already started.

 

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

13. Help you make friends

Your new indigenous friends will visit your boat if you invite them. They are as curious about your way of life as you are about theirs.

 

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

You may take a few kids to the boat on your kayak, the rest will arrive shortly with their lanchas and cayucos.

 

Our kayak also has new friends!

Our kayak also made new friends!

14. Transport you and your groceries

You can park your kayak on the docks everywhere and visit the local village or town. Be sure to lock it against theft, though. When you comeback with bags full of fruits and vegetables, the kayak will be there for you. It will take more load than you think.

 

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Angelica and Andrea... Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Anthonia and Andrea…
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

15. Transport 10 cases of 24 beers!

Yes, it will. You can load as much cases of the cheapest beer you ever saw on a simple kayak as you want. 10 is not the limit!

 

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

16. Pull your boat

When there is no wind there are but a few alternative ways to advance with a sailboat without using engines. Put your flippers on and go push the boat; or jump in your kayak and pull! Ivo has done both, but he prefers to pull: it’s more efficient. His record speed pulling the boat by kayak is 0.5 knots!

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

 

The story of Agent Orange

 

A few months ago, our good friends Neith and Sherry gave us a kayak along with a bunch of other useful things, before heading off to the desert in New Mexico where they will take part in The Solar Ark Project. We named the kayak El Poderoso which means The Mighty One in Spanish after Che Guevara’s famous motor bike. But after some time, we nicknamed him Agent Orange, as the kayak’s most notable feature is his bright orange color.

 

Agent Orange is a simple plastic unsinkable kayak. We didn’t realize then how much we will be needing it on our travels. The kayak became one of our most treasured possessions. We use it for transportation to go from the boat to shore and back when we are anchored someplace, as well as for a number of other things and I am sure that the list of ways to use it will keep growing with time.

Sailing into the sunset

Sailing into the sunset

 

 

 

 

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