Surgery on the boot of one of the saildrives; Mark is sewing a little rip – a new skill! Photo by Liesbet Collaert

Boatyard! This unpopular word in the cruisers’ vocabulary evokes thoughts of hard work, uncomfortable living conditions, busy, long days and short, mosquito-rich, nights. It is a reminder of sweaty work-outs and being sore and dirty. It promises extra trips to the chandlery, because – better admit it – you will have forgotten to buy something you need, or you’ll have to get more of it.  It means scary moments during the actual hauling and splashing, and a big dent only (you hope) in your bank account. It also requires a bit of planning, and … cooperation of the weather. There is no escape from the Caribbean heat and humidity. Or the downpours.

Yet boatyards are an important part of our extended lives on the water. They are a necessary evil. The time spent in them is preferably as short, as productive, and as affordable as possible. But, in the end, there is no greater feeling than to see our beloved floating home, all shiny, fixed, cleaned up and freshly painted, being lowered back into the water where she belongs. Wasn’t it worth all the work, sweat, hassle, time, stress and expense (at least for another year)?

During our six years of cruising on Irie, a stay in the boatyard was a yearly and sometimes twice a year occurrence for Mark and me. To make matters worse – or better? – and to be able to pursue our sailing plans, Mark and I were married while we lived ‘on the hard’ in Annapolis, Maryland. A few months later, our little catamaran was dwarfed by the giants in Thunderbolt Marine, Georgia.  Many boatyard visits followed once we reached the Caribbean. Some of them were strictly necessary, others were induced by our over-cautious and under-experienced attitude, but all of them are remembered for different reasons.

Puerto del Rey in Puerto Rico had to be convinced that our dogs were really well-behaved and needed to live with us, and that we ‘had to’ do our own work. Walks to the shower block were extremely long; good planning and anticipation were required! Bobby’s in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, had us over for a pit stop. No toilet building on the property, but it was affordable. Then it was on to Grenada, where we spent three hurricane seasons. Our first haul-out was in Spice Island Marine, which is conveniently located next to a chandlery and popular restaurant/bar, and close to buses for shopping. It has adequate facilities and services. If you try one of Grenada’s south coast boat yards then you have to try the other. So, we hauled Irie at Grenada Marine, surrounded by jungle. Upon our return from the US, it had rained … hard. I remember sloshing around in mud while working on Irie’s bottom. A restaurant, marine store, sanitary block and services are on the premises. We stayed for a few days, before heading west.

Mark and I managed to cruise the ABC Islands without hauling and even spent a year in the San Blas, before arriving in Shelter Bay Marina’s yard in Panama; the only ‘game in town’ for catamarans. We had beaten the record … Irie managed to spend an uninterrupted year-and-a-half in the water. While it had always been our goal to ‘go two years’, we failed miserably every year.

Irie being transferred over a potholed road to the yard of Shelter Bay (Panama) on a trailer designed for monohulls – scary moment! Photo by Liesbet Collaert

This last visit in the boatyard was a memorable one. Shelter Bay is an out-of-the-way place with a free, daily shopping bus to a mall and beautiful surroundings. Not only was this our least affordable yard stay, it was also our longest, wettest, and least productive. While usually staying about five days on the hard for a ‘big’ stop, here, it turned into eleven days; another record. No skilled work was available, it rained a lot, and Mark fell from the ladder and strained his wrist. The modern facilities, the pool, and the jungle walks were inviting. Unfortunately, time is money and we were not able to take full advantage of them.

While we try to fix most of Irie’s needs at anchor—from dropping the rudders to change the bushings, to removing and re-bedding the emergency hatches—boatyard visits are inevitable for chores like replacing thru-hulls, serious work on the sail drives and prepping and painting the bottom. Luckily, the Caribbean has a plethora of haul-out facilities to keep working on that never ending list of projects. As for Mark and me (and our memorable haul-out experiences), maybe a boatyard would make a good place to have a baby?!

Liesbet Collaert is a freelance writer. She and her husband Mark have been cruising on Irie for almost six years. They recently left the Caribbean and are heading west for new adventures in the South Pacific. Visit her blog at:

Liesbet Collaert is a freelance writer. She and her husband Mark have been cruising on Irie for almost six years. They recently left the Caribbean and are heading west for new adventures in the South Pacific. Visit her blog at: