Friday, January 23, 2009

The Trip Continues

The weeks after Kali’s death were difficult. The first week we couldn’t stop crying, thinking and talking about her. We alternated great sorrow for Kali with great love for Darwin. He got lots of attention. Mark and I took turns comforting each other. We were confused, second guessed our decision at the vet and felt like zombies. Hundred times, we talked everything through and convinced ourselves we made the right decision. We also appreciated the time we had together with her and were happy about the fact that we knew she was precious and that we always expressed our feelings and love towards her.

Life had to go on, though. While the tears were running over our faces, we left Culebra, the last place where Kali was a happy girl. Darwin looked at us. Something was missing and would stay missing. Culebrita was our next stop. This little island east of Culebra was a place we looked forward to visiting. We tried to enter the bay on the north side. The wind was blowing hard, the waves were pretty big and to top it of, a squall just hit us when we wanted to enter. Waves were breaking ahead of us. All I could think was “Just a little bit further and we are safe inside”. We got pushed towards the bay by the monster waves. Luckily, Mark had more wits than me. This wasn’t good! He decided to turn around and we left the place as quickly as possible. To get back out, we revved the engines and climbed a few steep waves, all the while hoping that they wouldn’t break before we got to the other side… Talking about excitement. We reached the west side of Culebrita without further problems and wisely picked up a free mooring to spend a couple of nights.

We tried to stay busy that first week. We walked the trails on Culebrita, one to the dilapidated lighthouse that offered a pretty view after a dangerous climb, another to the beautiful north beach. From there, we reached “the baths”, pools of water surrounded by rocks. Each time a big wave arrived, everybody got splashed, the water rose and bubbles appeared. We also found another, less crowded beach on the east side of the island. Darwin joined us every moment of the day, even though he technically wasn’t allowed on the island. We don’t really see why, since he behaves very well and we encountered several lizards, birds and a deer in his presence. Who could say that while visiting this wonderful island?

The second week after Kali’s death was a period of depression. Mark and I couldn’t get rid of our foul moods and we blamed each other for everything that didn’t go right in our lives and on the boat. It was terrible. We made the “smart” decision, to leave Culebrita on New Year’s Eve, knowing that –if we stayed- we would mope all day and night and straight into the New Year. Our plan was to go to Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas in the USVI.. We were bound to meet people there, go to parties and be surrounded by activity. And, activity there was… From the moment we arrived in the big harbour, the noise of a jet was heard overhead, a sea plane landed around the corner, the ferry wake made our boat bounce and sailboats were present as far as the eye could see. We tried to anchor in front of beautiful Honeymoon Beach, but that was impossible. The harbour was filled with moorings and boats; the water was deep and the holding terrible. We decided to anchor somewhere else and were glad we did. What a contrast with the Spanish Virgin Islands!

Our minds got distracted by busy Charlotte Amalie. Mark and I tried to check in, but that proved unnecessary, since everybody and everything on the boat was American. Then, we explored town a bit. The streets and shops were filled with cruise ship passengers and the mentality was based on that. Not too many friendly locals around! We bought some fancy groceries and cooked a wonderful meal on the boat. After a bottle of wine, we felt too tired, lazy and unmotivated to go party in a bar. Instead, we snuggled up under a duvet on our trampoline and … fell asleep. At midnight, the fireworks woke us up. We

watched the spectacle, while Darwin was trembling against us. Kali sure would not have enjoyed this evening!

Charlotte Amalie meant running errands for us. We took Darwin to the vet for his annual check-up and came to the conclusion that he needed to have a tumor removed from his abdomen. That kept us in the area longer than

planned, giving us enough time to explore town, fill our tanks and fridge and do laundry. We also needed an extra signature on Darwin’s health certificate for which we had to get to the other side of the island. The only transportation was a taxi and knowing the expense for that, we decided to hitch a ride. When our vet heard about our plan, he promptly handed his keys to us and we were able to use his car to deal with the red tape. There are friendly people in St. Thomas; you just have to find them!

Darwin’s tumor was benign and we took the stitches out a week later. Irie and crew explored St. John in the meantime. The harbours were busy and anchoring was getting challenging, but we managed. Cruz Bay is a funky little town with cheap happy hour at Woody’s.

Most of the island is National Park, where overnight stays cost $15. We decided to “splurge” one night and picked Waterlemon Bay as our destination. After picking up a mooring ball, snorkelling around the reef and enjoying the pretty surroundings, we took Darwin to shore. The three of us walked to an old sugar mill and to the top of a hill, where the view was amazing. We could see Tortola and the British Virgin Islands. So close, but yet so far away. Before leaving the US Virgin Islands, we had to sail to the other side f St. John and check out Coral Harbour.

The sail to the east side of the island was exhilarating. Beating into the wind was hard work, but we were flying and thoroughly enjoying it. Coral Bay didn’t do much for us (yet), but we wanted to see what it was like. The people are way more friendly and relaxed here than in St. Thomas, which we really liked. Somewhere in our head we have the feeling that we might come back to this place for a longer period of time. However, the options for anchoring around the island are not optimal.

After a few more days of keeping Darwin out of the water, he was ready to swim again and get rid of his piled up energy. That didn’t happen until we reached the nice beaches of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, a place that Kali would have loved.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Goodbye, Sweet Girl.

It is Christmas Day. The four of us are on Irie, near Dewey on the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico. We made it safe and well to the Spanish Virgin Islands and are happy not to be “on the dry” during this special time of the year. We finally made it to the Caribbean islands and are looking forward to some fun times on the beaches.
I am making eggs and bacon, while Mark is taking the dogs to shore. The boat is rocking in the wind, and I’m thinking about today. Once Mark is back, I start the conversation.
“I’ve figured out what I’d like to do for Christmas.”
“I’d like to move to the West side of Culebra, where the water is calmer and clearer, and where there are beaches for the dogs. It’s easier to take them to shore there as well. It’ll only take an hour. Then, I’d like to go snorkel on the reefs. In the afternoon, I want to take the dogs to shore and hang out on the beach, and in the evening, we could go out for dinner. It’s been a long time…”
“It sounds appealing, but there is still too much wind to move. Maybe we can move over there in a couple of days. We can take the dogs to the beach from here as well. Going out to dinner sounds good, though.”

We have a wonderful breakfast. Darwin is eating his food. Kali is not touching hers at all, as usual. This behaviour has been going on for a few days now. She did eat less, the previous weeks. We thought she didn’t like the new food, once again, or that it was too hard on her teeth. We have been mixing it with wet food or boiled rice and she was fine with that, until recently. In St. Thomas we would take both dogs to the vet for an annual check-up, and see what was going on with Kali’s appetite. When Mark and I finish our meal, we pour the bacon grease over her food and watch. Nothing happens! This is weird. Normally, she would gobble it up. She loves bacon grease! We are getting really concerned now and decide to take her to a vet, first thing the next morning. We search in books and online what could be wrong with her…

Around noon, some friends come over and invite us for a Christmas meal around 2:30 pm. Nice of them! Mark and I accept the invitation. “We better get the dogs in the dinghy and head for the beach if we want to give them some time off the boat!”
Without further delay, we all pile into the dinghy and drive over the choppy bay, under the draw bridge and into calm water on the West side of the island. From the moment, we reach the beach, Kali disappears in the shallow water, where she stays until we leave. She strolls through it, wagging her tail and barking excitedly. She looks for rocks in the water to “paw”. Sometimes, she moves them closer to shore and carefully picks them up with her mouth. That’s what she did the previous day in another bay. Here, the sea floor is sandy and no rocks are to be seen. “She likes the other place better,” I mention to Mark, still hoping to move the boat over there one day. Today, we don’t have time to walk to it or take the dinghy. Darwin tries to play with his “sister”, but she shows no interest. She stopped playing and running around with him more than a year ago. Her age is catching up with her.

Mark and I watch her, while we sit on the sand. The thought that something serious is going on enters our minds. We don’t want to believe that, though. She is still so happy.
“Look at her tail wagging!”
“She seems a little weaker when those waves push her.”
We’ve both noticed how she has a harder time jumping in and out of the dinghy and walking on the back steps of the boat. “She’s getting older,” we keep thinking.
“I hope she doesn’t have cancer,” I say.
“I don’t think so,” Mark answers, “We would have noticed it in her body. My guess is that it has to do with her heart.”
We hate to think those thoughts and it makes us sad.
Hopefully the vet figures out what it is and she gets better soon! She’s still playing in the water and eating some and she wags her tail when we come home…

We leave the Christmas party right before dark, to take our pups to shore one more time. They both enjoy the walk and do what is expected from them. Kali is a little bit slow. Before we go to bed, I pet our girl and let her know how much we love her. I feel something heavy in my heart, but don’t know what it is. I give her kisses on her nose and hold her head. I smell her ears. They always smell very sweet. It’s her smell.

The next morning, Mark and I find the house of a Humane Society member. We explain what our problem is. By then, we had discovered that there is no vet on Culebra. Marsha is a great help to us. She calls her vet, Dr. Delgado, to confirm his clinic is open today, she arranges transportation for us once we arrive in Fajardo and she manages to find a big cage for Kali. We need the cage to transport her on the ferry to mainland Puerto Rico. The only other option is to fly her there. “Are you coming with us,” Mark asks. “I probably should. It would make things much easier,” I reply. I have no idea yet how important that decision would be for me.

At noon, we put Kali in the dinghy and take her to shore, which is a bit challenging with the high waves. Darwin stays on the boat. This is the first time in his life he is all by himself for a big amount of time. The three of us pick up the cage and Marsha accompanies us to the ferry dock, where she wishes us good luck. We are half an hour early and wait in the shade. “This is going to be a long day,” Mark comments. Kali lies comfortably on the curb, but when she gets up, she limps. After a while she’s back to normal. Her foot must have fallen asleep. From the moment we enter the ferry building, she is required to get in the cage. Mark and I carry her all the way onto the ferry. She is not allowed in the air-conditioned section. Cargo has to be put outside, in the back, partly in the sun, on top of the roaring engines. Mark and I keep our girl company during the hellish ferry ride. The noise is unbearable, the sun hot, the boat rolling back and forth. Kali is trapped in a cage. She doesn’t deserve this. Poor girl. We are angry at the ferry company and feel helpless. We wish to take the car ferry back, at 4 pm, where we hopefully find a better spot for all of us. It will be hard to make that one, since this 1 pm ferry won’t get there until 2:30 pm and we have to get to the vet and back.

As soon as the cage is off the ferry, we release our girl. Man, what did we hate that treatment. A taxi is waiting for us and takes us to the animal clinic. We are lucky; it is a quiet day at the vet. After ten minutes or so, he calls us in to examine Kali. Mark lifts her onto the observation table. We talk about her symptoms, while the doctor checks her out. When he reaches her abdomen, he tells us he feels a big bump there. Are we sure she barely ate this morning? This is not good. He will take a scan and do some blood work. Mark eyes fill with tears. We hold Kali while the doctor draws her blood. Then, we put her back on the ground and sit with her. She stretches out over the cold floor and relaxes. We talk to her, pet her and hug each other. We hope that whatever it is can get removed.

When Dr. Delgado comes back in the room, he starts with the good news: the blood work all seems fine, nothing out of the ordinary. The scan, however, shows two big growths near her abdomen. He shows us the photos in his lab. One tumor is the size of a baseball, the other as big as a football. He tells us immediately that with growths this big the chance of it being spread out is pretty high. Kali is not in pain, but the masses keep her from eating much, because they are pushed against her belly. A shock comes over us. This can’t be true! Tears well up when we ask the vet what he recommends. “I can’t recommend anything,” he says, “I can only give you options.”

We stare at him, unable to grasp what is going on. None of the options sound good. We can take Kali home, keep feeding her wet and liquid food until she becomes too weak and has to be put to sleep. Or, the vet can perform an exploratory surgery and remove the tumors if not spread out, and Kali will heal. Or if the cancer is too bad, he can either sew her back up and we take her home in an even worse state or put her down right there and then. The meaning of his words hit us like a lightning flash and we are faced with a terrible and hard decision. This is just unbelievable. Who would have guessed?

Mark and I turn back to the observation room, unable to see or think straight. When we enter the room, Kali is still comfortably stretched out on the tiles. Her tail sways back and forward, slapping on the ground. Three times. It always made us happy when she did that on the boat, at a slow pace: thumb, thumb, thumb. It was one of the few and typical expressions she showed. We sit back down with her and let the tears flow. “I’m not ready to let her go. Are you?” Disbelief. We’re crying out loud. She doesn’t deserve this. Ten and a half years is too young for her. We still need to let her play in the water, give her steak and surround her with balls. She has to come home! We can’t say “goodbye” yet. Mark and I think through it all and understand she must be very sick. How could we not have noticed before? There is a chance the tumors are removable. We have to take that chance! Her blood work is fine. Maybe it’s all not that big of a deal?

We decide to go ahead with the exploratory surgery. We need to know what’s going on and this is the only way to get her better. If the cancer is too far progressed, we will take Kali home and give her all she needs and likes for her last days or weeks. We can’t part with her yet. After making our decision clear to the vet, we spend more moments alone with our sweet girl. Does she have any idea what is going on? We cherish her, pet her, communicate with her in the same way we always did, using words and thoughts only she knows. I smell her ears, make her do one more trick, enjoy her smile and the intent look in her eyes. Mark gives her a butt rub. “Be strong, baby. You survived Parvo. You can do this!” She and her daddy have been through a lot together. They have a very special bond. We make her get up on her leash. She walks to the door, the one to the waiting room, the wrong one. She wants to go home. It breaks our heart. We have to pull her away and send her through the other door, the one to the operation room. She keeps looking back, asking “What’s going on? What are you doing to me?” I want to be with her while the doctor anaesthetizes her. It’s not possible. We hope to see her back soon and wish her good luck.

While the vet operates Kali, Mark and I take a walk around the block. We both apprehend she’s pretty sick, but believe it will all work out. We talk about Kali, her life and what she means to us. Taking her back home if the cancer is bad doesn’t sound like a good option anymore. Her belly will be stitched up. She can’t go in the water or walk around like that. Taking her on and off Irie will be painful and almost impossible. She will be in worse shape than she was before. We wished we lived in a house. It would be easier that way. We push the thought of having to leave her behind away. This can’t happen to our girl! Nobody is ready for that yet.

We are sitting in the waiting room, when the assistant calls us in. Dr. Delgado is standing in the observation room with bloody hands. He tells us quickly what is going on. “When I first opened her up, it looked promising. Her spleen is full of cancer, but I can remove that without any problem. Dogs can live without a spleen. I was hopeful. Then I checked further and her liver is totally covered with masses. It is in very bad shape. You can have a look if you want. My guess is that the cancer got in her lungs as well.” Another shock. More tears. Disbelief. The realization that nothing can be done. We don’t want to look at her liver. We believe him. He gives us a few minutes in private to decide what to do. We don’t have much time, since our girl is lying on the operation table. Mark and I hug each other. There is only one option. We have to put her down…

The two of us join the doctor in the operation room. Kali is laying on the table, stretched out, a towel over her body, an IV in her arm. Her eyes are open, her tongue clipped out of her mouth. This must be all a dream. A nightmare. We stand next to her pretty face, pet her and talk to her. She can’t hear or feel us. She’s already somewhere else. The vet gives her the final injection. It doesn’t take long. Words cannot describe how we feel. For the last four years the four of us have been together 24 hours a day. She’s a family member. We can’t lose her! The machine with her heart rate stops beeping. Our baby is gone. She is no more. She just lays there. Motionless. Dead.

The doctor leaves the room. Mark can not stay any longer. It is just me and Kali, my sweet girl. Poor baby. I pet her soft head. It is wet from our tears. I kiss her nose, smell her ears, tell her we are so sorry that this had to happen. Reluctantly, I leave the room and join the other two men. While looking at our peaceful dog, we ask more questions and obtain all the information we want. Dr. Delgado tells us we made the right decision. “Now I can say this,” he adds. Kali was in bad shape. Cancer symptoms in dogs show up at the very end. She wouldn’t have lived more than a few days anymore and her condition would have become very bad. She would have weakened quickly and we would have seen her deteriorate. We would have had to put her down somewhere else not too much later and go through it all then.

At 3pm, we arrived with our dog to find out what was wrong with her. At 5 pm, she passed away and we had to leave without her. Just like that. In two hours time we went from a family of four to a family of three. Reality hasn’t sunk in yet. The cab picks us up. We put the empty cage in the trunk. “El perro?” the driver asks. “Muerde.”
My eyes run again. After a silent ride, we get dropped off at the ferry dock. There, we have to wait for another hour and a half. In the bathroom, I notice my eyes are read. My face looks awful. I don’t care. I don’t care about anything anymore. We sit on a chair with our own thoughts. I stare in the distance and feel numb. Tears keep appearing and disappearing. I notice people looking at us. We talk about Kali and keep telling ourselves we made the right decision. It is hard to believe what just happened. It all went too quick. We want her with us. Right here! I see the empty cage. I hate that cage. What we would do to have our girl back.

The ferry ride to Culebra is a trip from hell. The wind is still blowing like crazy. It is pitch black outside. We head into the waves and get thrown all over the place. Our thoughts are with Kali. She wouldn’t have liked this trip at all. I’m cold and feel sea sick. We just want to get home. This has been a long day. Darwin has been all by himself for 9 hours. When we walk on shore, Marsha is waiting for us. “I heard what happened. I’m so sorry.” She gives us a big hug. I burst in tears again.

Back on the boat, Darwin greets us profusely. His wagging tail almost falls off. Then, he looks around. Something is missing. Mark and I feel terrible. He didn’t even get to say “goodbye” to his sister. Neither did we, really. Imagine I would have stayed home today… We sit down with him and let it all sink in. It feels quiet on Irie. No more Kali. No more slow thumbs on the floor. No more intent, understanding looks. No more high pitch barking in the calm sea. No more digging of rocks. No more panicking when somebody jumps in the water. No more whining when we have an argument. No more funny barks when we make love. Kali’s blanket is empty. We lost an important family member. Life is not the same anymore. The dynamics have changed. She was such a special dog. Very unique and irreplaceable. More than “just” a dog. She meant a lot to all three of us and left an impression on most people she met. Now she’s gone. We don’t seem to wake up from our nightmare.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Puerto Rico: The Haul-out

From Punta Patillas, our last stop on the South Coast of Puerto Rico, we decided to go all the way to the Fajardo area. That was a 40 mile trip, which most cruisers cut in half by stopping somewhere along the East Coast. The few options there, did not allow us (or the dogs) to go to shore and we were getting antsy to leave the country, so we went all the way. The sky was blue, but the wind came out of the North East, apparently a normalcy in winter, making it impossible for us to sail again, since we were headed north. From the moment we rounded the South Eastern cape, our excitement rose about getting to our last destination in “mainland” Puerto Rico. The last hour we got to sail a bit and we reached the anchorage of Isleta well before dark.

We’d heard from quite a few people who anchored here. We wondered why… The protected places were filled with boats on moorings, so we had to drop our anchor, way out. We tried an open spot closer to shore, but got yelled at by a ferry driver. We were in his way and had to move. Now we were located on the outside of the anchorage, a little bit behind the reef, with little protection from the wind and chop. The boat was rocking non-stop and we were very uncomfortable. The anchorage of Isleta is near a little island with a marina, a boat yard and condos. To get to the mainland, you have to cross a half mile stretch of water. When there is a lot of wind, it is impossible to do this, so you are trapped “on the other side”, with no services, no stores, no internet, no garbage disposal… And, it got very windy over the next days. The only reason we were here, was to get hauled in the Isleta boat yard. While we were bouncing around, we wanted to get out of the water as quickly as possible, do our work and leave. From our boat we could see the Spanish Virgin Islands all around us. Luring, but unreachable. Yet.

From the moment we were settled, we went to shore to inquire about the haul-out. It was Saturday, 4 pm. The office was closed… We looked at the Travelift and a shock went through our body. It was not wide enough for our catamaran! When we called them before, it didn’t seem a problem. We noticed a rusty rail lift and realized that this would be the way they’d have to get us out of the water. This method would be more expensive and we’d have to stay on the thing until we got back into the water… While walking around, we stumbled across a little, chubby guy, who thought he was in charge of the world. He told us we had to pay $10 each time we left our dinghy on the island. For that price we could use their ferry to the mainland and the other facilities. Pretty expensive, but the only alternative when it was windy. We figured we’d take our dinghy across the water, even though the dock in Puerto Real was a total disaster with dangerous holes and planks missing. It sure was a hassle being here.

Of course, the office was closed on Sunday, so we returned on Monday, first thing in the morning. When the person in charge finally showed up, we found out the rail lift was indeed much more expensive and it was reserved from Tuesday for seven to ten days. What a bummer. There was no way we would just sit that long in the bad anchorage. We could go to one of the pretty islands and come back after a week… We hoped the other boat only needed a week to get the work done, but we knew out of experience that boat projects always take longer than planned. This was not very good news. We would be on the dry for Christmas. Not very tempting.

That Tuesday, we rented a car and drove to Puerto Del Rey boat yard, not too far away. The first time we phoned to the person in charge, she gave us the rates and told us we couldn’t do our own work and we couldn’t stay on our boat while it was out of the water. We gave up on Puerto Del Rey. We called them again when Isleta didn’t seem to work out. From that conversation, we learned, we COULD do our own work as long as we followed the rules. We still weren’t allowed to live on the boat there. So, this time we decided to talk to the manager in person. She was a very friendly and understanding woman. When we explained our situation, she agreed to us staying on the boat for the duration of our work and … the dogs weren’t a problem. We booked our haul-out for the coming Thursday and were excited about this good news. The rest of the day, we did more shopping and dealt with more problems with our post packages. We also drove all the way to the capital, San Juan, to pick up bottom paint for Irie.

Mark and I had planned our time out of the water well. We would need four to five days of hard work to get it all done. On Thursday, we waited for hours until they finally lifted Irie out of the water! It was 3pm by the time we were blocked and settled on the dry. We’d expected to be settled by 11 am! The power washing took the rest of the day, so we only got about one hour of work in on this first day. A total waste of a day. This big delay, the unavailability of water on Saturday and the fact we did not buy enough paint, made us live on land for a week. The bathrooms with cold showers were a half a mile walk away, our fridge didn’t work, so we needed ice and climbing on and off was tricky for Kali and Darwin as well as for us. The gravel ground was pretty dirty, but luckily, there was a big grassy area close by. The dogs loved it there.

For the following three days, we worked for ten hours straight. The bottom got scraped, sanded, washed, cleaned with thinner, taped off and painted twice. We replaced three thru-holes, marked the anchor chain, got the propellers fixed, repainted them and the sail drives, changed the oil in the sail drives, and added new zincs. All for of us were blue for days. The only time off was spent with our pups on the grass in the evenings, until the bugs drove us back inside. The work was made a bit harder and more painful with the presence of fire ants on the ground next to the boat.

One day we had to rent a car again, because we ran out of bottom paint. We took the dogs this time for our drive to San Juan and decided to take the afternoon off to see the old town, which was very charming and special. Parts were off limits for us, because the dogs weren’t allowed to walk there, but the old, well preserved city wall, cobblestone roads, colonial buildings and two forts were interesting sights. The last two days in the boat yard, we finished the painting, re-caulked the transom and washed the cockpit. It was great to have unlimited water and finally clean the outside of the boat and to fill the tank without having to haul six gallon jugs back and forth to shore with the dinghy. Once back in the water, we moved back to the Isleta anchorage, the only place to drop the hook in this area. Man, did we hate that place! We couldn’t wait to leave and start exploring the wonderful islands!

Our little family rented a car for one more 24 hour period. The first evening, we finished our re-provisioning and the next day, the four of us visited El Yunque National Forest. We stopped at several view points, walked to a couple of waterfalls and through the rain forest. It was pretty, but cloudy and wet. The dogs loved the exercise. The girls were exhausted at the end of the day!

December 19th was a special day for Mark and me. Seemingly for no reason, Kali walked on deck and Darwin followed her, early that morning. She got on the trampoline and peed! Without coaxing or being asked. Darwin did the same. This was huge for us and opened the door to an easier life! We had been trying to teach them this habit for a long time. We were very happy about this development. Now, we didn’t have to take them to shore quite as much and we could do longer trips on the water. We were so proud! The next day, we finally left for the Spanish Virgin Islands and were ready to enjoy life again, after almost six weeks in Puerto Rico