In December, 2000, after the international crew that sailed with Ben across the Atlantic had left to return to their homes in Finland, Austria, and Canada, Gretchen, Thomas, and Kristen arrived from the Canary Islands. The had a overnight stay in Caracas before they flew on to St. Lucia. The poverty was more depressing than any they had seen. Their trip was complicated by the fact that the ATM card that had been their international source of cash had been canceled because Ben had his stolen when at a Gros Islet (St. Lucia) "jump up", a sort of street party. None-the-less, they made the final leg. Ben was waiting for them at the airport. He was feeling a little lonely, not just because of the lack of crew for companions, but mainly because he hadn't been living with the family for three months.
The family soon found a three bedroom apartment in a friendly part of Gros Islet, a ten minute walk from the boatyard where Mother of Perl was waiting her repairs and improvements. This was the biggest and most comfortable home the family had occupied since they left the United States. St. Lucia, while no where as poor as Caracas, still lacked the abundance and variety of products that the family was used to seeing in Tenerife and particularly the United States. Reflective of this economy, Christmas gift exchange in St. Lucia is not common. Thomas was a little surprised that there were so few presents under our little synthetic Christmas tree. He wasn't as much disappointed as surprised. Kristen, however, barely noticed because she had contracted dengue fever. Even though it was a peaceful, no-stress Christmas, it wasn't the most pleasant for Thomas and Kristen in particular.
After Christmas, work began on the boat. Tony, the mechanic, began disconnecting the engine in order to repair or replace the engine mounts and strengthen the thrust plate, the structure that the drive shaft uses to transfer the thrust of the propellor into the frame of the boat. Kelly Charles began preparations for sandblasting and priming the hull, removing the patchwork of greens and primers which was loosing its adhesion to the hull. Thomas and Kristen continued their home-schooling, which included Gretchen as a full time administrator and tutor.
Bill Forbes, Thomas and Kristen's father, came to St. Lucia for a two week visit. Thomas and Kristen stayed with him at his hotel. All five of us would occasionally get together for a swim at the beach or dinner at local restaurant.
One of these dinners was most memorable for the food: steak at the Big Chef's. It is the first quality corn-fed USDA steak that we had eaten since the USA. In fact, we all think it is the best we have even eaten, even in the USA. The beef that we had in Europe and the Canaries had an unfamiliar flavor. It didn't seem as sweet and American beef. As a result, we seldom ate beef outside of the USA. But here, in St. Lucia, the Danish Consulate (the Big Chef) served a delicous meal. We had reached a new level of compatibility and acceptance among parents and step-parents. It wasn't just the good food, but the relaxed atmosphere of the Caribbean that helped us achieve this.
The sandblasting and priming of the hull complete, it was time to prepare the hull for the finish coats. The boatyard workers worked for weeks puttying and sanding. Unfortunately, they sometimes sanded too much, right down to the bare metal, and the bright spots would have to be reprimed. What we had been told would be six days of work, was dragging into its third week. Meanwhile, Tony had left the engine hanging from the engine room beams and gone off on more urgent work. We knew to expect these kinds of delays in the Caribbean, but were hoping to get the boat sailing before Gretchen's sister Fritzie and Kristen's friend came to visit. Kristen had recovered from her fever without any permanent damage but Ben's temperature was rising with every additional day of delay.
One day, when the boatyard crew wasn't working, Ben and Thomas went to work to see how much they could accomplish. When they discovered that the two of them could accomplish in a half day what took the crew two days to do, Ben called it quits on the this crew. He went to the boatyard manager and the superintendent of the crew and complained. They agreed not to charge for the labor. Ben went to Kelly Charles, the man who had done the sandblasting, and arranged a contract for finishing the preparation and applying the AWLGrip finish coats. This was the big turn around. Even Tony came back to work.
The family moved on to Mother of Perl while she was still standing on boat stands in the boatyard. Even though we had considerably less space and living convenience (we had go up and down a eight foot ladder to get aboard, and the bathrooms were halfway across the boatyard), we had returned to our own home.
The daily life of the boatyard became our life. Anthony, the night watchman, brought by pictures of his trip to Alaska. Studying aboard was impossible with the noise and commotion of Tony welding and grinding in the engine room. So, school took place in the boatyard's open air bar before the clientle crowded out the workspace during lunchtime. The people who worked in the yard became our close friends. In fact, we felt that we had joined some of their families. In particular, Lawrence (Chinaman) and his wife Schenesa and their children were our closest friends. We spent many afternoons and evenings with them, sharing our adventures and philosophies.
The cats and chickens were our major entertainment. Franchesca, who spends here working time keeping the buildings clean and tidy, supervised the care and protection of the cats, many of whom were so wild that it was we who needed protection. Life in the boatyard may be culturally as sophisticated as Boston, but it is rich and very relaxed.
Fritzie and Betsy came for their visits. The boat wasn't in the water, but it had returned to being our home. Finally, the boat was ready for the finish coats: two coats of Aristo Blue AWLGrip with white lines between the portlights and at what we thought was the waterline (about 4 inches too low).