Yes, we have resorted to googly eyes and baby panda videos to keep us entertained. But luckily (?) for the residents of Charm, those aren’t the only options. I’m going to give you a rundown on some of the more interesting activities we’ve been doing in our time on Charm.
On one of our few dinghy outings to get ice or drop off trash or maybe both, I saw a man waist-deep in the water near shore. He was walking amongst one of the plastic bottle fields that is bobbing just off the spit of land not too far from our boat. I drove over and asked what he was doing. He told me that he grew seaweed there to use in cosmetics and drinks. He worried that people might be stealing his seaweed so I promised to keep an eye on it and text him if I saw anything.
Over the next week or so, I glanced over whenever I was outside. There’s very little going on in our bay except for limited dinghy traffic on shopping days so it’s fairly noticeable when there is any activity in the area. One day I saw a couple of people on land, chatting under a tree. I notified Duane, the seaweed farmer, and he texted me later that it was him, taking a break. A couple of days later, I noticed someone in the water at the farm and sent Cobin over to check it out. Duane again. I did see a local wooden boat one evening late and let Duane know. He got quite agitated (via text) and said he would make a police report the next day. But when he checked his farm, nothing was missing.
Duane has been very appreciative of me notifying him of his own actions around his farm and I like feeling that I’m contributing in some small way. One afternoon, he asked us to stop by so he could give us something and I sent Cobin over to pick it up. Duane gave us 4 bottles of his delicious cherry and guava seamoss-infused smoothies and 3 ripe mangos! Intelligence work pays well!
Partially because it is a good thing to learn and partially to get Cobin in the water (and therefore cleaner than he would be by choice), I decided to teach a course on rescue swimming. Cobin rightly pointed out that this would have been more useful at the beginning of the trip but, well, I didn’t have the idea then.
For the past two weeks, we have spent most of our afternoons learning sidestroke, elementary backstroke, safe water entry, water survival, and rescue techniques. Paul and Joe have participated when they aren’t working on boat projects and we’ve all learned new skills.
Cobin and Marin demonstrate the inflated-pants-over-your-head-floating technique
Cobin successfully rescued Paul, after Paul demonstrated his impressive “I’m a drowning guy” acting skills. Thankfully his loud cries of “help” did not induce any of the neighboring boats to come to his aid.
When not playing rescue swimming with us, Joe and Paul have been playing in the shower together. I found them in the shower room, sweating and grunting and asked what they were doing. In his charming English accent, Paul exclaimed, “Well, it’s not anything sexual!”
No – definitely not. I had shown Joe a small loose corner of the white laminate sheet that covered the fiberglass wall. Repairing that turned into removing the wall section, finding a small leak, deciding to improve the flow of water to the drain and fixing an issue with the water pump that allowed water to flow into the bilge. A miserable series of jobs performed in horribly small spaces with little ventilation. As I said, a great time to buy a boat!
One fun thing about writing about random events is that occasionally people read them. My Aunt Sharon, a former high school science teacher, read about the incident with the sea urchin and the baked bean and told me that we had not discovered anything about the urchin’s digestive system (I thought that bean moved through at incredible speed) but, in fact, had witnessed the urchin’s reproductive system.
She told us that urchins, when shocked, will decide to invest in the next generation in case the shock turns into something worse, and send out clouds of eggs or sperm, depending on their gender. Our little baked bean experiment stressed out the urchin enough that she sent out a cloud of eggs. If we were lucky, we might be able to put eggs and sperm under the microscope and see a fertilized egg divide.
Of course, after learning this, we had to go collect more urchins in the interest of science. There are several different kinds of urchins available to us – for lack of any other helpful nomenclature, I will call them the “big” ones and the “small” ones.
My aunt indicated that urchins are very responsive to shock and would often send out clouds of egg or sperm after being shaken. Apparently, our reef urchins are a bit tougher than the ones they get in biology class or are uninterested in the survival of their species because, despite being harvested from the sea floor by two young girls, tossed into a sack and dragged back to the boat, they sent out nothing apart from a few bits of urchin poop.
The girls set about making the urchins comfortable by emptying their shell collection into the bucket. While this seemed contrary to our purpose of causing them to question the stability of their futures, I was guessing that a rainstorm of shells wasn’t exactly a normal occurrence.
Our original harvest consisted only of small ones but on a return trip to the reef, I discovered a big one. The girls cheered – it had been a big one last time that ate the baked bean. I held it in my hand on the return trip, using it like an unhelpful swim paddle, thinking that it would speed up the shocking process for the urchin. Nothing.
After climbing out of the water with my prize, I learned that Tully had “accidentally” been plucking spines off one of the urchins (still not sure why). While I discouraged this activity, I thought it would surely prompt the creature to question its survival and send out the goods. Nothing.
We had no choice. We brought out the big guns. Mini marshmallows. If baked beans could make the big urchin send out orange clouds, surely mini marshmallows would give us white clouds of sperm. Just before we started force feeding them, Tully noticed that the big one was spewing orange. Yay!
Cobin loaded up the microscope and we were able to see the urchin eggs!
I had been about to give up but the female urchin’s dedication to science encouraged me. Tully and I (Marin and Cobin lost enthusiasm early on) started shoving mini marshmallows into each urchin’s mouth. I figured if the marshmallow wasn’t a shock to the system, surely our brutal handling and time out of the water would be. We threw a few BBQ chips in for good measure.
Sadly, even these extreme measures did nothing to incite the small ones to do anything but normal urchin things. Eventually we all lost interest and took the urchins back to the reef where they could act out their sugar highs in peace.
A local boat has started a trivia session each evening at sunset via radio and another boat has tacked on “Sea Stories at Seven” which is a casual gathering of boaters to exchange sea stories. Tonight they invited children to contribute and Cobin stepped up, answering questions by the host and other boaters about his experiences on Charm. Joe then recounted his trip to Tahiti as a 13-year-old which we all enjoyed.
The kids have also been participating in an afternoon radio session with a handful of other boats in radio range, with some days being trivia or 20 questions and others being Mad Libs. After reading their Mad Libs today, the girls went to swing and Cobin stayed on with the other kids, telling jokes and riddles. He told me after one particularly well-received joke, “It’s all in the presentation, Mama!”
Everyone but me has engaged in the forestay climb challenge. The main participants are Joe and Paul, with an occasional cameo by Cobin. Cobin’s participation isn’t actively encouraged because his agile teenage body gets higher up the forestay than either Joe or Paul. So, they only invite him out when they are feeling strong. The girls have started trying it out, with a bit of pushing at and on the bottoms.
Wrapping up this account of various activities we’ve been doing during our lockdown is my attempt at art class. At the beginning of our time here, I had the idea to gather a bunch of sea materials to use for some undefined project. Later I had the kids do rubbings of them. These papers floated around the boat for a while and then Tully found the googly eyes and I discovered a bag of bottle caps and can tabs gathered in another of my “this would make a good art project if I could figure out what to do with it” moments.
I found some cereal boxes I was saving for some forgotten reason and, voila! Art project! Out came the glue gun and the creative scissors and we made creations that I am calling aquariums. Cobin and I teamed up to make one as well. By teamed up, I mean I used my best persuasion skills to get him to cut out some shapes until he moaned so much that I gave up and finished it myself.
Added bonus – we are going to gift them to Paul to use to decorate his flat here in Grenada. The best kind of art project when you’re living in a small space is one you can give away!