April 2011 ~ The Virgin Islands
Day 228 ~ Tranquility BaseApril 30th, 2011
I awoke just a few minutes before Steve poked his head in at 0300. For the first time in 4 mornings, felt well rested and ready to go. Guess at some point the body cycle gets in sync with the passage demands and life gets easier. Enjoyed several hours of transluscent peace and serenity alone on watch under a canopy of stars. The wave trains are small now and regular.
It's difficult to describe the sense of completeness and balance that runs over your soul on a peaceful night while underway. The boat rocks gently, like a cradle. The waves gurgle past slowly, the sails whisper from time to time as they slack between powder puffs of wind. There's nothing to do but think, pray and wonder how, if this world is indeed fallen, heaven could be any better. It's like being baptised with stardust in an crystal cathedral while millions of waves cheer softly from every quarter.
There's no feeling like being where you are supposed to be and doing what you were meant to do. Being surrounded by family and friends on a beautiful craft surfing the sparkling seas before a following breeze doesn't hurt much either. The fact that the water under our keels is 4,550 meters deep adds something to the sense of austerity that the sea impresses us with through every pour, increasing a feeling of uniqueness and value in being here, and being alive.
The sun rose slowly, like a watched pot that never boils. It was a typical tropical burst, stunning, accented with multi-layers of golden clouds.
I was in the mood for a simple cereal breakfast so opened our large fridge, which we use for dry storage since de-commissioning it as a working fridge. I grabbed a bag of flakes and poured a bowl, of which I was halfway through, when Steven piped in quoting Master and Commander:
"Don't you know you should always choose the lesser of two weavels?!" Looking down, there was a nice healthy insect larvae crawling off the bag and venturing out for a journey across the cockpit table.
Steve was apparently not impressed with my ho-hum reaction. I wasn't surprised, actually. We've had some moths living in a cabinent for a while and never really took the gloves off to go hand-to-hand with them. Just removed the birthing bag of repackaged peanuts, jettisoned them to sea and squished the adults we saw from time to time.
Just 'getting by' on a boat is a really bad action plan that will eventually bite you. Watching a larvae crawl across my table was sufficient motivation to get moving. A half an hour later, we had a pile of 'save' and a pile of 'fish food'. Several bags of cereal were compromised, a bag of brown rice housed full-grown inhabitants. Jeff suggested we just boil the rice, pick them out and go for it. "What do you think they used to do in the good old days?"
Lisa wasn't impressed.
With lessons done and the moth population hammered, we relaxed on the tramp reading and enjoying the feeling of being underway without the diesel grind.
Hour followed hour in a easy, timeless way that never seems to happen on land. The sun accelerated toward the horizon. It was clear that we were going to make the north end of Long Island just at or after dark. I dug up some old track files from a few years ago that gave me the confidence to enter the harbor after dark, which is exactly what happened.
We followed our old GPS track to the foot and set the anchor in 3 meters on a sandy bottom to the pin prick illuminations of headlamps and then collapsed into a deep, long and grateful slumber. No motion, no creaking lines, no 0300 watch wakeup call. Bliss.
04/30/2011 03:31:40 AKDT
04/30/2011 11:53:39 AKDT
04/30/2011 16:02:21 AKDT
Our Native Guides
These guys appeared, about 20 to the pod, to welcome us to the Bahamas.
The Real Flipper
Remembering these guys took the edge off a depressing day in the office. You too?
We haven't seen land for 5 days, but the sea is so calm we relax a bit too much.
Day 227 ~ The beautiful blurApril 29th, 2011
I have read of the phenomenon, but it's something else to experience. The voices of the rig and the sea. There are so many sounds and so many tonal combinations that, twice now, writing this while sitting in the pre-dawn inky blackness in the soft glow of the laptop screen, I have heard voices in the distance, convincing enough to get up and take a look around just to be sure someone hasn't gotten up and taken to sleep-walking around the deck.
Steven reported hearing a the most convincing imitation of a phone ringing. It was a relief, actually, to know that I am not the only one hearing things and not losing my mind, yet anyway.
It's now 4:26am and the sliver cresent of the moon just popped out from behind a cloud, bright enough even in its shyness to leave wrinkles of white silk flowing towards me over the singing swells.
The girls have been itching to watch a movie so, after chores, breakfast and math lessons, they got their wish. The two hours while they watched Polyanna should have been the ideal time for the night watch crew, Steven and I, to catch up on some much needed sleep. But no, it's too hot. The light winds are from the stern, so our top hatches block what air flow there is available. After a futile half hour of feeling like a rotisserie chicken, I gave up and came up on deck.
After that, the day was a blur of voices in the mist. You know, the feeling of when you hear yourself talk? After several nights with 3-4 hours of sleep, it's hard to keep the trains of thoughts on their tracks. Not even sure how many days we have been our here, but at least it's calm and the wind is blowing us straight to our destination. Not much else seems to make sense or be important.
I vaguely remember making some soup for lunch and warming up planovers for dinner. Oh, and the fish. The score is pretty pathetic: fish 7, me 0. That's right. Seven solid strikes and not a bit of slime to show for it. The fish out here are not impressed with my 60lb test, 90lb steel leaders or heavy dual pronged norwegian hooks. They rip them to shreds, time and again. It's disheartening.
04/29/2011 01:04:35 AKDT
04/29/2011 09:26:40 AKDT
Day 226 ~ Escape ArtistApril 29th, 2011
The seas continue to flatten out and take on a more standard rhythym. The boat settles into a nice regular motion, that is slower, and two- instead of three-dimensional. The bridgedeck slapping is rare now, and the creaks and whines of the rig and wind seem more natural and less urgent. Part of a healthy conversation, like a barnyard in the dewey morning instead of neglected teenagers running loose with shotguns in a scrap metal yard.
Steven does the heavy lifting again, taking the watch from 11pm to nearly 4am. I am on deck about 3:30am and finally awake enough a few minutes later to be coherent. The smoother motion and starry skys hint of a beautiful day to come.
The hours before the first tinge of dawn are amazingly peaceful and surreal. At last, after all the rush and hurry to meet schedules and provision and saying goodbye's and weather checks, there is nothing to do now but soak up the silence and vastness of an endless sea. Everyone has their favorite analogy, so here's mine.
Every time you meet the sea she is freshly wrapped in a silken gown of the most alluring shapes and hues. She bids you to come, join her in her castle so spacious and clean. Naturally, you're enchanted. Then, slowly at first, you realize that her palace rooms are decorated with a disturbing array of knives and that every noble portrait hanging on her richly tailored walls has two small dates engraved neatly on its shadowy frame.
The first crack of dawn is discernable about 5am, but builds with incredible subtly and slowness, lifting the veil from the sky by imperceptable degrees. The fire ball finally bursts paving the waves with gold as far as the eye can see. Jeff joins me on deck just after sunrise and, one by one, the girls stir and poke their heads out to have a peek, like praire dogs on a vast plain of waving blue grass.
The intensity of the motion and emotion of being here has dulled everyone's appetites considerably. Batches of things that are normally devoured are left half-eaten. Guess we have 10 days of food instead of 5. Not a bad problem. But I, for one, felt hungrier today and in the mood for some oatmeal. It was a popular notion, so I did a large batch of which, soon after, no trace remained. Guess everyone's tummies are getting accustomed to the new normal.
I dropped a hook in about 7am and around lunch happened to look up at the pole just as it got hammered. The drag had just started to run when there was a loud snap and the first 10 yards of line came recoiling onto the deck. Darn, another lost lure and another fish lost to gear failure. I knew the line was time for replacement, and now I get to pay for my laziness with what-if scenarios. Mahi Mahi (Dorado) are my favorite fish, and we have never caught one, nor even hooked one. Tuna, Mackerel, and Barracuda by the dozen, but not a Mahi Mahi. So, naturally, I wonder was this the one that got away?
Anna and I respool with what I think is an adequate amount of fresh 50lb P-line, all that's left on the spool. It takes 20 minutes to select, coordinate and match a new set of hootchie skirts and weights with one of the eyeballed bullet heads that the previous owners used. When we finally wet the hook, it's immediately clear that we don't have enough line. Oh well, I decided to try dragging it 35 yards back instead of the preferred 50+.
Most of us take a restless nap or two, restless because the sun is hot and pouring in, a nice change from the overcast dampness of yesterday, but not exactly prime sleeping conditions. Finally, I decide to tackle some dinner. Lisa and I mix up a batch of homemade sauce, and then I do the pasta while Lisa and the girls get a shower in. It's amazing how much a hot solar shower can do for one's state of mind.
I serve up dinner and am just sitting down myself when the fishing pole starts bobbing again. Knowing I have only a few precious yards of line left on the spindle, I jump to the pole and am sickened to see the little remaining line flying off the reel. But then it stops, with only 4 spins left to go. I frantically heave and reel and heave and reel. The boat is moving pretty good and the pressure is immense, the drag releases only slightly less line than I am gaining.
Steven turns off the auto pilot and spins the boat into the wind to slow down. The transition from downwind to upwind is always a surprise. Wind speed goes from a nice light breeze to powerful blast. The table, set with dishes and steaming pots of liquid does everything it can to empty itself. I hear crashes and yells as vessels fly to leeward as each wave crest drops us sharply.
But all I can think of is Dorado and there he is! He leaps with a flash, an incredible iridescent blue back, and flashing yellow green sides with a sharply spiked green and yellow tinged tail. He jump several times, then dives and runs. Steven can't hold the boat stalled forever, and opts to fall off some to maintain steerage. The wind blasts, and the boat, now sailing on her best angle, across the wind, leaps forward. Back and forth we fight like boxers in the ring. My forearms are killing me now and the fish is close enough that his colors glow through the few feet of water he maintains as a barrier between us. Closer, closer by the inch. Gaining 4, then 6, losing a foot and getting it back the next instant. The fish leaps again, and then again, with a ferocious twisting crash now etched in my memory, the line leaps back from the water into my lap.
He's gone. The 90lb steel leader I purchased just two days ago, parted at the crimped eye loop.
I didn't really think fishing mattered that much to me as we often sail hours before I even think of reaching for a pole, but this loss goes right to my gut. I really wanted that first Dorado, something tells me the second won't matter nearly so much, but this guy was so perfect, and now so free. I guess from his point of view it's not a bad outcome, but the cold noodles to which I return now taste like a bowl of worms.
The curse of the Mahi Mahi continues.
04/28/2011 12:25:27 AKDT
04/28/2011 15:58:50 AKDT
Moving in a Seaway
The best I can do to give you the feel of being underway at dawn.
Day 225 ~ Sled RideApril 28th, 2011
There were accidental jybes, midnight madness, a rush of lines and snags illuminated by the donut sized beams of flicking headlamps set against a immense darkness of watery chaos. The boat is new to both Jeff and Steve so there were inevitable tangles and hangups, but eventually we got settled on a point of sail that worked.
The ride was incredible, something akin to sledding down a mogul mountain blindfolded, never knowing when the next lurch or plunge would hit. A wave would rise under us, exposing the full expanse of sail to the wind from the stern and the boat would accelerate instantly jumping from 7 knots to 10, or 12. The stern would kick out as the slightly off centered blow of the wave crest would strike the sugar scoops (stern of the boat). Pivot, then twist back as the auto pilot wheeled the helm over. Rush, wallow, pivot, twist, rise, rush pivot, ad nauseum. It was exhilitrating, fast, and a bit scary and times.
The sound! It's a cresendo of water sounds, rushes, swirls, bangs and slaps. It must be what the sock at the bottom of the washing machine hears. The sheer volume and variety of water sounds filled the brain until every neuron tingled with numbness.
But, despite the sounds that the boat was being torn to pieces, she took it all with confidence, rising and sledding down the never ending slopes with aplomb while the autopilot held her right on course.
At about 4am Steven was on watch when the rain hit. Since the wind was from behind, the watery pellets were driven inside rudely awaking the girls whe were huddled under their blankets. There was a mad scramble for new positions, blankets and such.
Steve awoke me about 4am and crashed himself. Dawn came revealing decent swells that were crossways to each other and confused. The wind was still piping along nicely, 12-16 knots of apparant wind from the rear, and we were going 7-10 knots over the water. Do the math.
One pm yesterday to 1pm today we made 187 miles, not bad at all. As the day wore on, the swells began to even out and become more regular. The crew breathed a collective sigh of relief and the legos and coloring books started to appear.
Managed to make some real food for dinner, which was met with a cool shoulder. The wave action is just a little too intense to allow ones appetite to blossom. There were blossoms, as it were, but not of the kind that you want to write about in a blog. At this rate, our food would hold long enough to make it to Greenland.
04/27/2011 02:01:33 AKDT
04/27/2011 05:28:08 AKDT
04/27/2011 11:13:05 AKDT
04/27/2011 21:54:41 AKDT
Day 224 ~ Launch TimeApril 27th, 2011
The morning broke like so many in Juneau. Windy with high overcast and lower dark clouds skating along. It rained, then stopped. Then poured. In 20 minutes we had our water tanks topped off, which saved us having to dock or haul water.
Lisa said goodby to Remi De, then we were up and going. We sailed around to Spanish point and anchored just outside the channel, rocking and rolling in the ferry wakes the entire time.
With the prospect of 5 days at sea, everyone wanted to go ashore to get final provisions. Go figure. We were pretty well stocked, but managed to find a grocery cart full of extra stuff, snacks and goodies and you name it.
Steven bought a couple of pizza's which, once aboard were promptly devoured by the wolf pack. Then, the time had come to take whatever the sea would dish at us and go for it.
It was still over cast and windy, but the winds were headed the same way we were and in a few hours we were flying past the north end of St. Thomas surfing in 10-12 foot stern to seas with occasional side swells that did their best to kick us north toward Bermuda.
The autopilot worked flawlessly, and hard too. Constantly adjusting for the confused sea in a never ending battle with the wind and waves. It was a fairly rough ride, and several crew suffered mal de mere. We broke out the Dramamine and prescribed healthy doses which soon knocked out the the kids and left Lisa and I sitting in the cockpit feeling the surge and headlong rush of each following wave as we rose, slid down the face and then wallowed in the trough. Saw 13.8 knots go by on the GPS once while looking, but that was a small one.
The noise in the hulls was impressive making non-drug sleep nearly impossible. The waves which looked moderate in the daylight, seemed to grow louder and larger as darkness feel. We had started out with a reef in the main and were now glad of it.
The night wore on, wave after wave, rush of air after blast. We were flying to the sound of raging water falls under our hulls and resounding bridgedeck impacts that turned the salon into a zero gravity zone. With the wind on our stern, there was little ventilation in the rooms, so the girls crashed on the cockpit seats, a decision they would soon regret.
04/26/2011 11:26:38 AKDT
04/26/2011 16:13:04 AKDT
04/26/2011 20:10:10 AKDT
Working at the Mast
Steven makes some adjustments forward as the sun sinks beneath a liquid horizon.
Day 223 ~ Hello GoodbyeApril 26th, 2011
The anchorage was a little rolly last night but was nice to wake up with a kid plan in place. Before long, all the Ondine kids were over at our boat stomping on deck like a herd of elephants running from a predator. What a beautiful sound.
Steven tackled a number of minor boat projects while I caught up on the blog, a never ending task.
James called to invite us to lunch at 12:30p. I went for a swim and ended up scraping barnacles for a half hour. We enjoyed lunch with James and Emma-Kate on Ondine. Richard, a brit who had been sitting in a pub a week ago, commiserating with a friend about needing sailing experience but not knowing how to get it, was still in shock at being here, in the tropics, rocking on a boat. Turns our that Richard was friends with Tom, who was going to crew with James on one leg of his Atlantic crossing. Emails flew about and Richard boarded a plane a few days later.
James is thrilled to have a favorable weather forecast for his 780 mile run to Bermuda. Twenty five to thirty knots of wind right on the beam (side). The waves will be pretty high, 3-4 meters, but he didn't seem to mind. The same wind and sea will be on our stern quarter and make a quick first few days.
Ondine was on a tight time-table, so we wrapped up lunch about 2:30p and managed to weigh anchor and get moving before they did, a rare occasion.
We sailed up the west side of Virgin Gorda and tacked into the lee of Eustatia Island where, amazingly, Remi De just happened to be sitting on their anchor. Remi was over in a flash. While Lisa and Emma checked out Saba Rock and the Bitter End Resort (only $13,000 a week for a family of four, book now), I whipped up some chili and brown rice.
Jeff was on his way from Alaska and, after 3 flights, 2 taxis and 2 ferries, he called us on the VHF about 9pm. Steve and I took off on the dinghy into blustery blackness. We foolishly hadn't checked out the route in daylight, and now, with flashlights and paddles, had to work our way over a shallow sand and coral bank to the Saba Rock anchorage and finally to the ferry dock where an exhausted lobbyist was waiting for us.
It was great to see him again. We caught up on Alaska news for a bit, unloaded loot from home, then crashed. With the current weather prediction, it looks like tomorrow is the day to head for the Bahamas, 700 miles northwest.
Day 222 ~ Diving down the Cow's MouthApril 24th, 2011
I guess the colonists who slaughtered their way to domination of the region used all their creative juices to win. They had none left for naming things. We are looking out at Beef Island and today Lisa and Bruce dove on the Cow's Mouth rocks. These are but a sample of the creative naming schemes we've seen all along the chain.
The anchorage in the North Virgin Gorda sound was tranquil and shallow, just like we like it. Awoke to a sunny Easter morning and took things slow. Lisa realized she hadn't been to a town in three weeks, or more now, and felt the need to see some form of civilization again. But alas, being Easter, most things were closed so she ended up extending her town hiatus by another day.
Bruce was interested in another dive, so we arranged to meet over by the Cow's Mouth about noon, when the light is good. They dove for about 40 minutes but reported cloudy water and less than impressive underwater flora or fauna. That makes 14 dives for Lisa, "the dive master" as Bruce says with his Aussie twang.
Remi and the girls played at the boat for the afternoon. The girls went spastic when we heard Ondine call us on channel 68; they motored past and anchored just south of us in Savannah Bay. Guess where we are headed next?
Savannah Bay was now the number one destination focus. We made it over about 4pm, but the girls were crushed to learn that the Ondine kids were visiting other friends ashore. "Other friends?!" "What other friends?!"
Paloma and her friend, Ginger, a school friend from back home, finally arrived. That pulled Emma out of the depths of despair. They talked and did girl rope swing stuff until dusk, when we dingied the Ondine crew over to the beach.
We did a chili and rice dinner, always a hit, and then Steven regaled the girls with his guitar skills. It was nice to have some music again. I brought along my guitar, but am too exhausted every night to pull it off the shelf.
- Cow's Mouth, Mountain Point, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
- Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Day 221 ~ Back to the BathsApril 23rd, 2011
We were up and going at 7:30am. The winds were calm, and the sun out, again. We motored half an hour over to Soper's Hole just across the lines in a the BVIs. It's not named "hole" for nothing. The anchorage was jammed with boats, and deep, precluding anchoring. Being Easter weekend there were boats everywhere and the chances of getting a ball seemed slim. But there was one! Missing its float, we had to take a second pass to be able to tag the sunken line and get hooked up.
I did the customs check-in thing which went smoothly and cost only $31. I snagged a few postcard for the girls and made it back to the boat by about 9:30am. We motored out and towards the Baths, finally finding some wind halfway there. The air was light, but we were able to make fairly good time, and Steven had a blast while actually sailing. We managed to make 5-6 knots in 8-9 knots of wind and keep up with several large monohulls, which is always fun.
We spotted Remi De as we motored up into the mooring field. There were no balls available, so we ended up dropping the hook. Remi was dancing on deck and, before long, Bruce brought her by. The kids explored the caves and beach while I snorkeled around a bit.
Deep under the shadow of a submerged rocky overhang, lurked two monstorous barracuda. The male was easily 5 feet, perhaps 6, with eyes the size of golf balls, unblinking and lit with the cool glow of a seasoned predator. Time is always on his side. His head was the size of a buzzsaw, his metallic wrapped lower jaw was studded with thorny teeth. I knew what would happen next.
The fish guide we have says that, "Barracuda have the unnerving habit of following swimmers." As I swished past I intentionally stroked forward briskly about 20 feet then turned a full 180 to face them. Sure enough, both glittering missiles were out from under the rock and slipping after me.
But they are wimps. I swam toward them and they turned tail, not quickly, but slowly, no doubt feeling me out for signs of weakness.
I turned and went on, checking back one more time, only to see them circling slowly under their rock again; like vultures of the deep, biding their time with the certainty that, like yesterday, something is always going to come their way. Like crooked politicians in a bar the night before the big vote.
- Sopers Hole, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
- Gorda Sound, Prickly Pear Island, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Day 220 ~ Exploring St. ThomasApril 22nd, 2011
The night was exceptionally quiet and calm, especially for a city anchorage. The lights flickered and danced over the lazy lake-like ripples of the harbor. I tackled some coding work in the morning while the girls did some lessons.
I "took out the garbage" as men have been directed to do for centuries. In this case, it means loading the bags in the dink and zipping around looking for a dumpster or marina that will take your garbage off your hands. Since most islands are small, there aren't many good options, so $2 a bag in this case wasn't unexpected. Topped up the dinghy gas as well at $4.85 a gallon.
Emma needed a hat, hers having come under the dissolving power of salt water immersion more than once. So, the girls and I headed to St. Thomas's shopping district. We poked our heads into store after store, at last finding a hat that suited Emma nicely. We left it behind to check out a few others, but I could tell she was attached to it already and thinking about it the rest of the day.
I found some flip-flops that were "guaranteed to be non-marking". We backtracked to the first place and I grabbed the door and pretended it was locked. I saw panic sweep across Emma's face. "Oh, they're closed!" I exclaimed. She looked like her dog had just died.
I let the moment hang for a moment, then opened the door and said, "Oh look!" She brightened up and we found her choice hat right where we had left it. After, we stopped at Wendy's to enjoy the usual fare and then did a quick stop at Pueblo for dish soap and eggs before returning to the boat.
Steven texted that he was on the ground so I went back and hung out on the St. Thomas waterfront waiting for his taxi. Turns out there are some really interesting winding old passageways between ancient stone walls that open into hidden courtyards with blown glass shops, artisan restaurants and little knick-knack shops. I took some sequencial photos that should help.
As it turned out, Steven's taxi driver drove past and had to come back, but it was great to see him again and he was more than glad to exchange the cubicle for a stateroom for a week or two.
We motored out of St. Thomas and over to Francis Bay in preparation for going to the BVIs tomorrow.
Day 219 ~ At the Mercy of the Airline GodsApril 21st, 2011
So here we sit, baking in St. Thomas. Actually, it was only 84 degrees today. There's a gallon of sweat separating the 86 of yesterday and the 84 of today. Lisa and I re-installed the autopilot armature today, a project which actually took about an hour as long as it was supposed to. Was interrupted right in the middle by Bruce coming by to pick up the girls and offering to give me a lift to Cost U Less, the local island equivalent of Costco. I jumped at the chance, and left the cap off the silicone. Oh well, it was nice to have a chance to stock up on decent cheeses and reasonably priced meats. It was fun to hang out a little with Bruce and his friends, Steve and Christy, who arrived yesterday from Down Under. Got back just at the sun was starting to really hit hard and finished up the autopilot installation. Things seem to test out okay so, hopefully, it will work properly for the days ahead.
Since I was already greasy and sweaty, why not tackle a little more engine room maintenance? It seemed logical at the time, anyway. The fuel filters needed changing, a process which is impossible to do without getting plenty of fuel on your hands and elsewhere. By the time I was ready for the second one, I had the system down pat and it went much more smoothly in a third of the time.
The engines have burned about a half quart of oil in 100 hours or so of running, not too much to complain about. I topped them both up as well. Did some leftover lunches after which the girls and I went swimming, or floating as the case may be. The water here doesn't look too bad, but not sure I want to put my face in it.
Lisa, Anna and Sara went to the fuel dock for water while Emma and I started on dinner and I tackled some client issues. Oh the joys of coding in the tropics.
Finished the Speckled Band tonight, while Sara was awake. That was a mistake. Had to start into the next story for 20 minutes, then play beddy-by music just to keep a lid on the panic. Reading aloud to the kids is reaping benefits in their vocabulary and Emma's writing skills, but I do need to be a little more careful on the material choices.
Steven, a friend from Juneau who is coming to help us with the big sail to the Bahamas got bumped today, so we get to hang out in St. Thomas one more day. I still maintain that the most dangerous, and inconveniant, aspect of this life is when you have to interface with the rest of the world, specifically the airline culture. These people take time way, way too seriously.
Day 218 ~ The Roast and GrindApril 20th, 2011
Perhaps we should take up coffee. Today was another windless smoker, hotter than hot. To add joy to the steaming, there was no wind, so little wind anyway that motoring out of the anchorage this morning you could see our exhaust following us. How nice. We motored over to St. Thomas and stopped in at Tropicom to retrieve our repaired autopilot armiture. We thought the only issue was a seized collar pin, but when they took it apart the clutch was about ready to fall off as well.
"It would have lasted another week or two, maybe." Herman said.
Well, that's why we had it checked out before the Bahamas passage. Living without it for 700 miles would really hurt. We upped anchor about 1:00pm and motored around to the harbor in the big city, Charlotte Amalie, and set the hook right next to Remi De. The girls were dancing around with joy to have a friend again.
While Anna and Sara played over on Remi De, Emma and I went for some provisions at the local Pueblo market. Rough neighborhood. Was glad to get in and out as quickly as possible. It's kind of funny because we landed the dinghy at Yacht Haven Grande. However, when passing through the decorative fencing, we were suddenly transported to the real St. Thomas complete with confrontational, toothless street vendors, jacked up Corollas and dirty streets.
Guess we're supposed to stay inbound. Must be how it feels to live in an upscale New York City apartment, but walk to work each day in the real world.
Anna saw some pictures on Lisa's screen saver of home, friends, our house, the cabin and her favorite dog-sitting client, Branwell. She had a nice little breakdown complete with a full complement of tears. But this time, after talking about all the things she missed, she countered herself with all the friends she has made here as well. At least she realizes it's a two-way street.
We did a dinner of sausage pasta (trying to match Ken's cooking again, but falling short) and then did some more Sherlock Holmes, this time the Speckled Band. I didn't remember, until we were well into it, how it may not be appropriate bedtime reading for an 8 year old. But, when I looked over Sara was fast asleep already.
- Jersey Bay, Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands
- Inner Harbour, Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Day 217 ~ A Quiet DayApril 19th, 2011
The night was exceptionally calm with little wind. The day broke sunny and calm, but quickly became toasty. I think I successfully rewired the SSB antenna, but was unable to raise any stations. Have to do some more research.
We were underway by about 9:00am but the wind was non-existent. We hate motoring, but had little choice. After an hour or so of grinding away, we arrived in Francis Bay on the north side of St. John, a large inviting bay but mostly populated with powerboats, not the best of recommendations. Though only 10:00am, it was near stifling, so the girls and I took to the water. Anna, who had procrastinated on her math work, had to finish it before joining us; this led to some consternation, and a lesson in diligence that hopefully penetrated the haze.
We floated around the nicely temperate water and then rehashed leftovers for lunch. I spent the afternoon grinding out some client code work while the girls went snorkling and did literature with mom.
Working in this environment is pure torture. The sparkling water is calling, the kids are angling for attention and it's hot and sticky. The keyboard, which was once was as fluid an extension of one's hands as a fork and knife, is now growing foreign and clumsy. The hours dragged by. I got snappy with the interruptions, the kids retreated to safety and called home to talk to Grandma and Grandpa.
Finally called it a night about sundown and enjoyed some fantastic homemade bean soup and brown rice. Yum. Read more Sherlock Holmes, finishing the Mystery of the Blue Carbuncle, much to their delight.
Day 216 ~ Friends All AroundApril 18th, 2011
The full moon last night was so intense that you could see the bottom clearly as ghostly fish silohettes flitted by.
It rained enough in the night to add a little glisten to the decks reflecting the sparkling morning sun as it broke over the ridgeline to the east. A school of junvenile jacks were taking advantage of our considerable shadow and hung out under us for a couple of hours. We enjoyed breakfast on the veranda and then I decided to tighten the slipping alternator belt which has been driving us crazy for a few weeks. We run the engines so little that I never think of it until we start them to go somewhere, and that's usually not a good time to tackle it.
Well, once I was mobilized and in the dark engine room I found the suspect belt was tight, but the other primary alternator belt was pathetically loose.
As I snaked my fingers through the maze of hoses and wires under which the bolts were hiding, I heard a spark and saw a curl of smoke, small but enough to make an impression. Like finding a snake in your bed, a fire on a boat doesn't have to be big to make an impression.
Suddenly my belt tightening mission took a back seat while I tried to figure out where the ignition had occurred. When my fingers ran along the bottom of thick red alternator wire I was amazed to find the insulation completely gone, with exposed copper wires clearly in view.
This is not good. Eventually, I got it cleaned, re-wrapped and spaced nicely off the block to which it had been arcing; makes me wonder what else I don't know about, yet. We finally got things fired up and, after waiting for some snorklers to pass, we motored out of the bay and north towards Jost Van Dyke island. We tacked for an hour or so in light air, and then motored up to Green Cay where Tépacap was expecting us.
We snorkled together off the idyllic sandy beach. The girls met a German family with three girls and, after a little shy time, they were fast friends, ending up on their boat during the last hour of the day.
Tépacap invited us to dinner to help them polish off their Mahi Mahi stockpile. What a chore! After dinner the kids played games (checkers and score four) while the adults caught up on life. They took away the DS a week ago and, after the initial shock, reported a much happier household.
Rays of Light
Lisa and Cédric from Tépacap go diving and find this little guy hanging around.
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Day 215 ~ The Rhone III, Divers DoomApril 17th, 2011
The title is just meant to prove that you don't have to be a marketing genius to write cheesy movie titles. But this one just sounds cool as nothing bad happens. We got an email in the morning from Remi De, and since we have some repaired dive gear to return, we agreed to meet them and try it out at the wreck of the Rhone, which will be Lisa the dive addict's third drop on the sunken ship.
Turns out that the custom in that day was to strap passangers into their beds for rough weather, in this case while it was trying in vain to outrun a hurricane. Funny, only 23 crew survived the wreck. Go figure.
We had a nice Swedish pancake breakfast and then dropped our ball and motored into the wind for a good hour until we could get a decent tack angle across the Francis Drake channel. We spotted Remi De along the way and tacked across them a couple of times. It's always frustrating trying to keep up with a boat that's 25% bigger than you, but it was fun to smoke a 52' charter cat, gaining windage and distance on him all at the same time.
We moored near Remi and Bruce soon brought her by to play. Bruce has been loaning us some of his dive tanks, which have seen considerable use in the past couple weeks, and was interested in learning to dive himself. As a result, he and Lisa went over the gear and then went for it, spending nearly an hour exploring the wreck and taking movies of the life forms they found there.
Remi and the girls played legos, dress-up and all the other unfathomable things that occupy the feminine mind while I pounded out some pizza crusts and caught up on some reading.
The divers returned all smiles and Lisa visited with Toni while Bruce re-filled the tanks with his dive compressor that Dan re-commissioned a couple of weeks ago in St. Maarten. We had 11 miles to sail back to our preferred anchorage, so dropped out ball about 4:30pm and enjoyed a picture-perfect broad reach (sailing across and downwind) down the channel.
Boy, do we miss our autopilot. It's fun to sail by hand, and I am getting a better feel for the boat this way, but it's also a lot of work always having to have someone at the helm paying second-by-second attention. There were a few times where the sails were balanced enough that she ran for a couple of minutes with no input, but in general there's always a little correction going one way or the other.
The sun set into the sea ahead of us just as we dropped sails and motored in and around Waterlemon Rock. There was one mooring ball available, but it was exposed and near a rocky lee shore. We were just contemplating our options when a power boat dropped his ball and growled out of the bay, leaving us a ideal spot close in and protected.
The pizzas came out hot and tasty. A dash of Sherlock Holmes in between servings produced sleepy eyes all around. A completely full moon crested the ridgeline and bathed the anchorage in a surreal frosty light, obscured at times by skating, snowy clouds.
- Lee Bay, RMS Rhone Marine Park, Salt Island, British Virgin Islands
- Waterlemon Bay, Saint John, US Virgin Islands
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Day 214 ~ Learning to WaitApril 16th, 2011
The day broke sunny with scattered clouds, apparantly the rain has passed for the time being. We haven't taken on fuel in exactly 2 months and I have the sense that we are lower than ever. This last two months has seen us underway and moving considerably faster than the first few, so my gut was telling me we're nearing empty. Well, the funny splashing, hollow sound in the tanks I had never heard until recently might be part of it.
Having now spent 4 days here, motoring into the marina several times a day, I have yet to see a single boat on the fuel dock. So, I thought, this will be easy; we'll up anchor, dash across the channel, take on some fuel and be going in no time. Plus, we like docks with no other boats around, just in case something unexpected happens.
So, we had a leisurely breakfast and, about 9:00am, I was thinking that it's "about time to call the fuel dock" when the radio exploded. First one fuel call, then another, then another and then a fourth. Each person jumping in line. I looked over, and to my chagrin, watched a queue of boats line up for fuel, holding station just outside the now choked entrance.
We waited for a while thinking, ah, this will soon past, but when a 112' sailboat of majestic proportion pulled in line, I was at wit's end. We finally upped anchor and motored over so we could "claim our spot" only to have to hold station for nearly an hour. This meant motoring up wind then drifting down, trying to avoid real traffic and just learning the island lesson, "cool your jets, Mon".
We were finally called in. As we slipped through the entrance I couldn't believe my eyes. The 112 footer was still on the dock and two other power boats were at the other end. Two mega yachts were tied to outside slips making the channel feel like threading a needle. And, on top of that, we had to spin around. I was ready to bail on the whole thing, but Lisa kept her cool and aced the touchy maneuver doing a nice 180 spot-on turn with 4 million dollars worth of shiny plastic on all sides. She had everyone's attention including the dock master and the professional crews on the glittery starships as she slowly and backed our condo right into a space that just fit us.
Put in Alaska terms, Lisa parallel parked a People Mover in the icy, sloping parking lot of a Ferrari dealership without a scratch. She made it look so easy. The dock master lady – think hockey mom, cheerleader and football coach all rolled into one – even complimented her on it. "Wow, that was smooth!"
To top off the uncertainty of our fuel level, I am not even sure how much our tanks will hold. We put 31 gallons into the first, and 25 into the second for a total of 56 gallons in 60 days but that still leaves me uncertain as to how low we really were. In any case, we burned quite a bit more by making more miles, but still under the 1 gallon per day goal which, considering we have gone over 500 miles in that time, makes our average .112 gallons per mile...not counting the wind.
We finally got out and underway about 11:00am, and motored out of sea until the wind filled in, then sailed several hours due east to Ram Head bay. We picked up a ball about 4:30pm and enjoyed a lovely evening of solitude, moored in a cove without a building or boat in sight. The moon rose nearly full just after sundown, and the night was calm and peaceful. As I washed dishes from our beef stew off the back step, the largest Jack I have ever seen came swooping for the tailings. He was huge and fat, easily worth a dozen fish tacos, but alas, we're in a park, which probably explains why he's still here.
04/16/2011 09:04:10 AKDT
Day 213 ~ Catch up timeApril 15th, 2011
The day broke with a few scattered showers and patches of sun. Lisa and the girls tackled lessons for several hours while I caught up with photos and blog entries. It's pretty pathetic when the website takes so much time you have to mention it in an entry, but the week with the Ozturguts was so intense, and so many photos were generated, that it took several hours to collect, sift and post them.
After a quick lunch, the girls and I buzzed down to Honeymoon Bay to meet up with Wandering Dolphin's clan. We hung out at the beach for a couple of hours while the kids meandered around on the beach and talked. Since they have mostly boys, things never really took off.
We ran a bumpy, upwind return to the boat; the girls do love to go fast. We had just enough time for me to pick up the dive gear that had been inspected and repaired and make it to the chandlery to get new bolts for the autopilot. I slipped in at 4:58pm, cutting it just a little too close for comfort, but they had the 2" stainless carriage bolts that fit the bill, so all was good. I did a quick trip the local drug store for generic Benadryl which is always good to have on hand when experimenting with new seafood treats, and stopped by Pueblo again for some fresh fruit and cleaning supplies.
We did left over chicken pasta for dinner and crashed, another immersive day.
Day 212 ~ Rain, rain and more rainApril 14th, 2011
The day broke with scattered clouds and a Raymarine technician. The autopilot started clicking ominously a week ago and, after a series of phone calls, it turned out the Herman was the man. I met him at Tickles, the local marina bar at 9:00am and we discussed the issue as we motored out to the anchorage.
Turns out the Herman is friends with a boat named Wandering Dolphin. That rang a bell from long ago. We had met Wandering Dolphin and their clan (5 kids) in the Bahamas in 2007 where their Emily had become fast friends with our Emma. One thing led to another, and eventually we had the drive armature out and in a garbage bag, just in the time for a torrential downpour. In a brief break between squalls, we zipped back to the marina and I left him dashing to his truck through the second cloudburst.
It's tax day tomorrow, so Lisa dove into Turbo Tax while the girls and I did math and tidied up after breakfast.
Then the rain came like a firehose and we collectively realized that the abundance of water was a opportunity to get some long overdue deep cleaning done (and procrastinate the IRS duty). I attacked the deck with my battery of various chemicals (all bio-degradable of course) while Lisa opened up the cockpit floor lockers and attacked a month's worth of foot traffic scum, hair, bits of cheese, lost halves of broken clothspins, used bandaids and a layer of outdoor shower scum that would surely be of use in an experimental laboratory.
The rain broke for a spell compelling us to throw open the hatches to gain some much needed airflow. The girls and I also took the dry opportunity to dinghy over to Wandering Dolphin and arranged for some mcuh needed kid play tomorrow afternoon.
We wrapped a very wet day with leftover chicken pasta and some Sherlock Holmes.
Day 211 ~ Town MadnessApril 13th, 2011
After a week with company, the boat was ready for some recovery time. There's mounds of laundry, an empty fridge and disarray at every quarter. On top of that, Lisa has taxes to finish in two days. It's going to be non-stop fun.
I dinghied Ken, Jana and kids over to the Crown Bay Marina parking lot at 6:00am. We touched land just as the taxi rolled up. Then it was one of those quick formal goodbyes and they were off.
We did a quick breakfast and then started the clean up process. The boat requires a lot of attention anyway, and when you neglect her in favor of friends, and those friends are aboard as well, the backlog gets pretty steep. Lisa dove in and I tried to keep the girls focused on lessons and being helpful where we could.
By lunch time things were in pretty good shape, so we loaded up the dive gear that Remi had sent with us and motored over to Scotty's, who was supposed to have our tanks re-certified.
But, you guessed it, not done yet. It's the busy season and he's slammed. We left our regulators and a BC for inspection and/or repair with hopes that things will be done on Friday.
We collected 5 huge bags of laundry and headed over to the marina. Several steamy hours and $32 later they were done.
The girls and I made a trip to Pueblo grocery where we stocked up on fresh fruit and a few staples that were in need of re-supply. Then it was a short, but very hot, haul back to the laundromat, which wasn't exactly cool either. To deal with the excess heat, we snagged a Häagen Dazs at the marina store and, having just happened to bring spoons with us in case such an occasion should arise, we quickly downed all 1,040 calories contained in that little frozen pint. Yum.
We got back just before sunset and did a quick chicken and pasta dinner.
Day 210 ~ Final DayApril 12th, 2011
The Ozturguts leave early tomorrow morning, so today was their last full day. It rained during the night and the day broke with heavy overcast and distant shower cells. There were several trails visible from the boat so, after breakfasting, we dropped a crew off on the rocky shore. With good 3G coverage, I tackled some long overdue client projects until we saw the kids back at the beach. Ken offered to free dive on the fishing lure. He managed to recover it and, on a second dive, the floaty. Go Ken.
We moved the boat over to a day mooring next to Booby Rock allowing Ken and Lisa to scuba right off the back of the boat. Zephan and I snorkeled for a while and got to see Lisa and Ken work their way back over the reefs. The fish were plentiful and varied with several species we had never seen before.
Then it was time to make tracks back to St. Thomas and find an anchorage that will allow us to get everyone and their gear ashore at 6:00am without getting soaked.
The winds were good so took a 10 mile jibe to the south and then a 6 mile one north into Charlotte Amalie Harbor. We motored over to Crown Bay Marina which is closer to the dive shop and the airport. We set Mr. Bruce in 8 meters of water and he did his job, once again.
Kenan regaled us with one more tasty chicken dish and a surreal atmosphere descended on the boat as it rocked gently in the calm anchorage under a cresendo of rain. The squall passed leaving a clean-ness to the air and freshness to the boat. We let the kids stay up late to have extra time together, after which the suitcases were unearthed, land shoes re-appeared and slowly the eyelids grew heavy.
04/12/2011 12:17:10 AKDT
Day 209 ~ Taking in the BathsApril 11th, 2011
Having discovered the network of caves created by the boulders of the Baths, the kids were itching to explore some more today. So, after a quick egg breakfast we dropped off a party of explorers at the beach.
While the crew was ashore, I ran to back Spanish Town for another load of water and a few more dozen eggs. This crew likes their eggs, burning more than a dozen a day.
The Baths were definitely more interesting in the evening when not innundated by toursistas. I've never bought into the idea that Americans are significantly fatter than other European groups, but snorkeling around there was plenty of anecdotal evidence around. Yikes.
We finally got mobilized and underway about 2pm. The winds were fairly light and from directly astern so we sailed off-angle by about 10 degrees and enjoyed a nice quiet ride, sliding silently down the 15 miles through Sir Francis Drake Channel.
We jibed (turned with the wind behind us) past the southeastern tip of St. John and into the lee of the island, taking a mooring ball near Booby Rock. There were no buildings in sight, the beach was bluish gray and green rocks, ground smooth by the wave action. Other than a few cactus sprinkled over the hills, it could have been Prince William Sound. Oh, and the temperature was a bit different.
The kids played on deck while the sun faded behind the rippling outline of St. Thomas to the east. We had forgotten to take in our fishing line which, naturally, snagged some coral when we tried to recover it. I dinghied out, cut the line and tied it to a floating key fob in hopes of recovering it tomorrow.
Day 208 ~ Exploring the BathsApril 10th, 2011
There is something surreal and cruel about working in this environment. The sun is high and sparkling off the diamond-hued water; the artistically sprinkled boulders, which tumble into the liquid crystal, strike a theatrical chord. And yet, here, glinting through the glare, is a computer screen with the same mind-numbing lines of code that suffer the same entropy that they do in Seattle, or Anchorage, where the gray overcast at least tricks one into believing that there's nothing better to do than debug them.
Suckers. How I would love to leave this code behind and never look back. Alas, with three young children, incalculable college tuitions, weddings and untold future expenses, it seems prudent to keep a few key client relationships alive and well. So, code we do.
The gang took off to explore the Baths which proved, in addition to great snorkeling, to offer a striking network of boulder formed caves. These "secret" passages, that ducking and crawling through, lead to hidden mini beaches, impressive granite-hewn caverns and snorkeling among the boulders.
The hours droned on and the code slowly came into compliance with the designer's intentions. The gang returned, famished from their morning's adventures. After a quick lunch, Ken and I dinghied over to Spanish Town to get a few staples, some water and dinghy gas. Oh yes, and to take out the garbage which, with 9 souls aboard, is generated at an amazing rate.
We found a neat and tidy harbor and soon had all our missions accomplished. We motored back in the afternoon light. Tépacap came by for a visit and Bruce of Remi De stopped by to refill our dive tanks, for the third time now.
We all met again at the beach and had another cruisers' sundowner discussion about the risks of taking unproven crew on multi-day passages, etc.
Ken sautéed some lamb for a famished crew...and there were no leftovers, again.
Day 207 ~ Diving the Rhone, againApril 9th, 2011
We pumped the dive guy in Soper's Hole for information and he made it pretty clear that the best wreck dive in the area was the RMS Rhone, which Lisa and Dan had done last week.
Lisa was game for another dive on it, and Ken didn't know what he was missing, so we were up and going in good time to motor our way across the 10 windward miles to Salt Island. The day winds were light and the morning of another glorious bluebird variety so, as windward slogs go, it was about as good as it gets.
We arrived about 11:00am just as the light was getting good. The dive mobilization process is getting more fluid and, in half and hour, Ken and Lisa were down and the kids were snorkeling the shallow end of the wreck.
Salt Island had an intriguing looking trail system, but by the time all the water work was done it was time to get moving again. We tacked up Francis Drake Channel in great wind. The islands on both side keep the swell down so the sailing was smooth and near perfect.
We took the mooring at the Baths area of Virgin Gorda again, probably the most picturesque place we have seen anywhere. Ken whipped up some sausage and pasta which was promptly devoured en masse.
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Day 206 ~ Exploring the Ruins of a Slave AgeApril 8th, 2011
The wind tapered off through the night and protected in the lee of Waterlemon Rock, the tranquil anchorage in Leinster Bay, free from the wakes of the USVI to BVI ferry armada. The sun was shadowed by the surrounding bluffs for the first hour of the day giving the water an Orca hued polish until well after 7:00.
Leinster Bay was once wrapped with a 600 slave sugar plantation owned and operated by a Dane. After the British freed slaves in 1848, the Danes enacted draconian measures to keep their workforce from swimming or boating the 1 mile to freedom across The Narrows straight to Tortola. For instance, all boats had to have their drain plugs removed and under lock and key each night before the slaves were allowed slumber.
While I did some long put off computer work, the entire crew explored the sugar plantation ruins ashore and enjoyed the beach at the head of the bay.
With two empty dive tanks, Ken and I schemed to dinghy across the channel to BVI's Soper's Hole, where a dive shop lived, and snag a few groceries. The ride across was pretty tame and we found the dive shop prompt and professional and the marina grocery clean and thoroughly stocked. You could definitely tell we weren't in the third world anymore.
The ride back started off easy, but near the last 1/4 mile we encountered a nasty current-driven surf with large breaking waves and it took all the dinghy manouvering skill I had to keep us from getting broached (flipped sideways to the waves).
Since it was getting late and the anchorage was so peaceful, we decided to stick around another day. We snorkeled some more in the afternoon and enjoyed a fantastic Ken-engineered dinner of marinated pork chops. Yum.
Day 205 ~ Tacking FunApril 7th, 2011
The night proved a short one, frequently interrupted by the mooring ball tapping up and down our hulls, then scraping underneath and popping out the other side with a whoosh splash. Most of the boat was up and rubbing their eyes before 7:00am, and by 8:00am we were on the move. We picked up a ball in Hawksnest Bay for a few hours.
Turns out the diving trade harbours many secrets and, after fruitless phone calls and internet searches, we came up empty. We know there are numerous wrecks, coral shelves and the like, but when you look out across the top of the water it all pretty much looks the same.
Like looking at a passing crowd of people; you know there are authentic souls, but in the blur, they all pretty much look shallow.
We finally hit the jackpot with Wayne of Red Hook Dive Center. He spent time describing several good beginner dives in protected areas. One was nearby, and the winds were good, so we tacked our way out to Jost Van Dyke and then back between Tortola and Thatch Island and into Lienster Bay. We picked up a ball in a nearly idyllic setting of Waterlemon Bay; calm, breezy, beach, rolling hills and great snorkeling right off the boat.
I helped Lisa and Ken mobilize for the dive and then dinghied them out to the shelf. Lisa's tank fitting was leaking a fair amount, so had to come back for the o-ring set Dan had fortuitously purchased in St. Maarten. A few minutes with a pick set, and the new ring was in place and working like a champ.
I whipped up some beef stew while they were under the velvet carpet and motored over to recover them a few minutes after they were up. Took along some freshly cut pineapple to cut the salt flavors that submerging usually involves.
The stew percolated, the sun eased its way lazily into a carmel horizon while the silence descended gracefully over the anchorage like fairy dust. The stew came out and all three gallons were promptly devoured, along with the wheat biscuits and green beans.
By the time dinner and its accompanying stories of Alaska survival were over, it was well past night-night time. But, as I sit here working on the blog, I hear Anna and Isa, two souls from the same strange planet, talking and giggling in fits like slow waves rolling upon a rocky beach.
Day 204 ~ Off the HookApril 6th, 2011
The day broke overcast and breezy with a few shower cells moving past on both sides of us. Ken did some eggs for everyone and, accompanied by another outstanding pineapple, made a great breakfast.
I burned a little too much time installing the AIS receiver that our guests brought over from the States. AIS is the system that big ships use to show each other where they are. After an hour of wiring and re-wiring, mounting and testing, it worked. Now the laptop chart and GPS system displays the locations, speed and vectors of all commercial traffic in a 10-20 mile radius. It should be handy for the long overnight passages ahead of us.
Ken is from Turkey and grew up in Italy. To say that he has a different cooking style would be to put it mildly. We stopped in at the local Food Center to stock up on anchovies, cucumbers, olive oil, lamb and other Mediterranean favorites.
After an ATM hunt, we got back just in time to unload the goods, fuel up the car and return it by 11:30am for the next renter.
It took a good hour or two to pack in all the food we now have aboard, probably several hundred pounds of pasta, rice, beans, eggs, canned tomatoes ad nauseum. Probably not the best word choice for a boat, but we are stuffed to the gills. Time to start eating.
Red Hook Bay isn't exactly idyllic. It's rolly with ferries dashing in and out numerous times per hour. We all felt the need to move, and the sooner the better. So, even though the boat wasn't exactly organized, we fired the engines and welcomed Mr. Bruce back into the family.
We motored the half hour upwind to St. John and took one bouncy mooring, only to move a few minutes later to another more peaceful setting, in the lee of a deserted island. The kids swam, again, and the adults snorkeled around.
I spent an hour or two getting the new iPad Ken had brought set up with navigation software and talking to the AIS and GPS feeds from the laptop, wirelessly. Upon succeeding, the laptop is now the mothership and we can walk around the boat with an iPad displaying chart, position and traffic information in real time. It's all more geeky than I enjoy – been there done that – but it is really cool and should make life better for whomever is on watch.
Ken whipped up some chicken delicacies and dinner was served.
Day 203 ~ A touch of life on the hardApril 5th, 2011
The dawn broke overcast and blustery. We downed a quick breakfast, dropped our mooring and motored across to the Customs port at Cruz Bay, St. John. We anchored in 2 meters of water, just enough. The customs forms and process wasn't much different than most of the less developed countries. Forms and forms, many with the same information, nothing computerized other than the passport check. Lisa checked out the St. John National Park visitors' center and then we upped anchor and motored the 4 miles over to Red Hook Bay, St. Thomas. It's a rolly, windy, miserable anchorage with plenty of ferry traffic to keep you on your toes.
Just before anchoring and now that our cell phone doesn't incur hefty "foreign" chargtes, we managed to secure a minivan at Zip Car Rental, a little rundown shack behind a rusting, leaning fence with barbed wire laced lazily along the top. The car was so beat up that the guy just put squiggles all around it on the inspection sheet. But, it ran good and was full of fuel so in two shakes Dan, his luggage and the whole crew were piled in and we were zipping along in left-hand traffic with a right-hand American car. No texting while driving.
After a few missed turns, we got Dan to the airport in time for his flight, which was, of course, delayed in the end. Then we did some provisioning at the Pueblo market. Prices aren't too bad; a little higher than Alaska but certainly cheaper for most things than on the French Islands.
After some cell phone tag, we found a shop that would hydro test the dive tanks that Remi De has loaned us and give us two loaners while ours are in the shop. Nice. The shop was classic. Little walking paths through piles of dive gear some old, some new, most in various stages of repair or dis-repair. Old equipment, some clearly mothballed, lurked in every dim corner.
The girls had been troopers, so we stopped at Pizza Hut and got them each a personal pizza, much to their delight. Ah, the innocence. The missing ceiling tiles, peeling wall paper, stained threadbare carpet, stone employees, and grease impregnated flourescent lighting were all lost on them.
Daylight was slipping by, but as we returned to Red Hook we spotted a Home Depot. After 6 months, it was a bit of culture shock to step right back into Wasilla, Alaska as the glass doors slid open. Found a few more parts for the new solar shower, which should make it all work.
We reached the dinghy dock and found a perfect little spot to slip the minivan right up to the dock and unload without having to truck things too far. A relief. But then it was a wet dinghy ride out through a dark anchorage to our floating home waiting patiently right where we left her.
After a mad scramble to unload the food, clean up every area from days of neglect, resheet the beds and otherwise make things hospitable, Anna and I were back in the van while the others finished up. Another few, but different, wrong turns and the kids were hollering and whooping upon seeing each other again after so many months.
Day 202 ~ The BathsApril 4th, 2011
We were up and moving in pretty good time. We have 30+ miles on the docket for today and two full dive tanks that Dan and Lisa are itching to empty. We sailed downwind for an hour trying to fly the main and the genoa, but without any success. The main just shadows the head sail and nothing gets done. We arrived at Salt Island about 11:00am, just as the light was getting really good. We found an empty mooring ball and mobed up for a dive.
The RMS Rhone, a large wooden and steel riveted ship, went down in 1867 and now lies in 20 to 80 feet of water, a virtual palace of coral staffed by a wide array of fish. Dan and Lisa used a full 50 minutes of air and came back with big smiles. While they were down, the girls and I snorkeled around and saw some reef squid changing colors as they moved and hovered over various backgrounds. The change was so subtle and so silent, I had to blink several times to believe it had actually happened. Like some people I know who got elected.
We had a quick lunch and I fiddled with a sticky through-hull fitting for half an hour with limited success. We removed Sara's toilet and replaced it with a porta-potty so we'll be in compliance with US regulations on holding tanks. I fought the valve for a really long time, sweat running down my back and into my eyes, croutched in the most contorted of positions. When I thought the value was finally closed, I gave the toilet several good vigorous pumps and felt the satisfaction of solid back pressure from the now closed valve. Ahhh.
However, a few unthinking minutes later, I popped off the hoses connecting her toilet. The intake required some working to get free, but as soon as the last hose clamp came off the 1 1/2" exhaust pipe, POW, all those vigorous pumps, and their contents, came exploding out of the now open line, spraying the walls and bursting like a baptism over my face and chest. I did get my eyes closed, thankfully. Dan wanted to laugh, but managed to contain it. I wanted to cry. My exact words were, "I am not going to think about what happened. Dan could you get me a paper towel."
Paper towel, and then a good wash down on the back steps and I was feeling a little better.
We sailed downwind out of the BVIs and into US waters for the first time. When I mentioned we were heading to the main town, I could sense that Dan preferred to spend his last night off some lonesome beach. So we changed course 90 degrees and took a mooring in Christmas Cove, off St. Thomas's southeastern tip. It proved a great move as we had a nice quiet evening fronted off of a deserted island. Not a bad way to end a day.
Date/Time:04/04/2011 10:48:41 AKDT
Day 201 ~ Sledding for 18 hoursApril 3rd, 2011
The day technically started at midnight, of course, and found us quietly skating along with the rolling swell under a full Genoa (large head sail) backlit with a curtain of flickering stars.
Dan had taken the first watch which allowed us all to shower and get the kids to bed. I relieved him about 11pm after which he finally hit the sack about 12:30am.
Laying on the tramp under the stars, warm puffs breezing by, accompanied by the rushing sounds of each wave lifting and pushing us forward was a surreal peaceful sensation. I imagine this is how it feels to be an astronaut, flying through a vast emptiness wrapped in your own atmosphere as a infant is wrapped in his first blanket, safe and secure, a tiny packet of life in unimaginable expanse.
We weren't alone. Twice I had to alter course to avoid other sailboats who had the right of way, and were also under sail power, silently gliding by with just enough starlight to make out vague ghosts of their white hulls.
The iPod and a couple of good books kept me going until about 4am, when Lisa appeared. She wasn't comfortable being up alone, so we got Dan back up. They kept an eye on things while I crashed into a fitful rushing sleep laced with dreams of running downhill, earthquakes and periods of weird half-sleep where I was aware of the boat, and the occasional snaps of the genoa, without really knowing how or where it was all happening.
I finally gave up at 7:30am and found a brilliant sun sparkling above the glittering swell. We were only able to sail 4-5 knots in the 8-12 knots of wind. Ironically, sailing downwind is one of the slowest angles; as soon as you pick up speed, the relative wind velocity diminishes to next to nothing. We could have sailed much faster across the wind, but there lay nothing but Nova Scotia more than a few days away.
We did a light breakfast and the time blurred on. It's funny how, if you don't sleep normally, the entire day's progression is unhinged and non-linear. Time seemed to get fuzzy; Emma wondered if it was 4 o'clock, when in fact it was noon. About 12:30pm we skated through a tiny cut to find shelter behind Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands hooking a nice Barracuda on the way through. I think that brings our Barry count to 6.
We swam and snorkeled the Baths area, a theatric like setting of huge sculpted boulders that are sprinkled down into the sea. Many form reef walls richly populated with tiny fish. The waters are crystal clear, a nice change, and noticeably chillier.
We did a early dinner of pasta and white sauce which is always a big hit. Then Facetimed grandma and grandpa and re-connected with Ken and Jana who will be joining us in a few days. Anna went spastic when she discovered out that her bosom buddy, Isa, will be here the day after tomorrow.
Date/Time:04/03/2011 03:08:04 AKDT
Day 200 ~ Goodbye St. MartinApril 2nd, 2011
We really don't like St. Maarten. It's just a little too commercial, a little too dirty and a little too shady for our taste. But, alas, we are still here, much to Lisa's consternation.
Lisa and Dan did a laundry and shopping run while the girls and I did some lessons. Lisa and Dan stumbled onto a cruisers flea market and found a BCE (dive vest) for $25 that we hope will work well for Lisa. Since the basic ones are $250 or more new, she was pretty excited.
After they returned, we dropped the girls off at Singing Frog for some kid time. Carla (mom) is most generous with her kidsitting, but it does make life easier to have friends around. Then Lisa, Dan and I zipped back to Budget one more time for a few more parts. The wind generator fixer dude had been pretty sketchy on whether they could reassemble the unit by this afternoon so, when I walked in and found the shop locked up tight, my heart sank.
But there, right next to the door was our D400, all put back together. We were free to leave, what a great feeling.
We wanted to leave before dark to use the last light for avoiding boats in the anchorage and fishing balls out on the reefs. But, re-mounting the wind generator took an hour or more and innumerable other details dragged on. Since we were going to be running downwind all night, it made sense to try the genoa which, up to now, has remained stuffed in its bag, right were Alan left it after our test sail 14 months ago.
I suspected it wasn't rolled properly since it hadn't been then. Sure enough, as soon as we got it up the top 30% was flapping noisily in the breeze. It really needed to be opened and re-rolled, but because the anchorage was tight we opted instead to up anchor and do the sail work out in the large protected bay.
After some tense moments getting out, we ran the genoa sheets three times to route them properly through the lifelines, shrouds, blocks and stoppers, rolling and re-rolling it several times. Finally, it was up and flying, a beautiful sight.
The boat settled into an easy downwind rhythm. The crew breathed a collective sigh of satisfaction to finally be on the move again. The swells were steady and small. The rig creaked occassionally, waves rushed under the hulls as we surfed down each crest. A magical air of relief and rightness settled over our little craft as we slipped into the metallic glow of a fading sun.
Date/Time:04/02/2011 22:42:40 AKDT
Date/Time:04/02/2011 23:51:27 AKDT
Day 199 ~ Playing the FoolApril 1st, 2011
Up with the dawn again and ready to make some tracks. But goodbyes were due Tépacap so, by the time we got rolling, it was well after 10:00am. We motored out for a few minutes, then flew some canvas. It was a nice down hill run and then a broad reach southwest down the west coast of St. Martin. The wind piped up nicely at the end which had the GPS showing 11+ knots, a thrill to make under sail.
Dan and I had tried to install the new water tank level sensor a few days ago, the one programmed remotely by Derek at great consternation to his staff. In retrospect, I pushed too hard. Well, it didn't work, and I assumed there was something wrong with the sensor and that it would require reprogramming.
Time to eat humble pie and beg Derek to have another go at it. I introduced myself, thanked him for helping last week and explained the problem. He was cool but professional. Turned out the sensor was fine. He suggested I bring in the gauge for testing. Another 20 minutes of dinghy riding and the sensor was in my hand and on the table. Derek tested it and, sure enough, it was bad. Nothing a little more moola won't fix. And so the boat story goes.
The wind generator parts arrived from England, a big relief. I took them straight away to the electrical shop but was met there with an, "I am sorry, we're booked." I was crestfallen, as you can imagine. Last week they had plenty of time. So many hoops had been jumped through, and now one more hurdle.
I basically begged and pleaded, but we won't know if it worked until tomorrow afternoon, a half an hour before closing.
Did a grocery run, and then hauled it all back home. No surprise, Remi was over playing dress-up with Sara and Anna. I did a quick internet run and then headed back home to find Bruce and Toni over as well. The conversation flowed easily and the kids were having a blast. One thing lead to another and I did some quick burger math. No problem, we had enough to go around. So we slapped some burgers on the "barbie", as the Aussies say, and an enjoyable evening was had by all.
Then came the inevitable post-kid let-down. The boat was thrashed, again, and the girls were grouchy and tired. Not a good combination. But they stuck with it pretty well and got things in enough shape to make it possible to walk around again and find their bed. Just another entry in the "what cruising with kids is really like" log, which at some point I'll have to officially add to the site.
Hint: chocolate cake crumbs smeared on solar panels is part of the mix.