December 2011 ~ USVIs

Chronological Order

Day 473 ~ Uncle Dick's IslandDecember 31st, 2011

Early start to the day.  Breakfast and in the dinghy by 8:30am, we were going for a hike.  Didn't realize how choppy the waves were until we rounded Cow's Mouth.  We had nearly a mile to go straight into a nice 10-15 knot tradewind and 2-3 foot swell.    Every so often we would come down against the face of the next wave and eject a wall of spray windward.

Did your father ever give you any advice about water and wind?   We'll when sending 6 gallons of spray up and into the wind there's only one thing that's going to happen.  It's going to come back in your face, with a vengence.  This happened over and over again.   I contemplated turning back for the first minute or two but, after a couple of soakings, did we really have anything to lose?

We gained the protection of Mosquito Island within about 10 minutes and the remainder of the trip was mostly dry.   We pulled up on a nice deserted beach that had been raked smooth sometime within the last few days.   Hmmm, seems a bit much.

Hiking up and over the top of the island we were offered several sweeping views of Virgin Gorda Sound and a breath of fresh wind in the face, which is always appreciated.  Rod and Cedar had been here once before and led us to a tiny secluded beach walled in on both sides with high cliff walls.  We treaded down a goat trail that terminated in man-made steps leading right down to the beach.  It was like a setting in a fairly tale book.  The kids swam around while the adults relaxed and enjoyed an early sack lunch.

On the return trip, we stuck to the lower perimeter of the island and found ourselves picking our way around a compound which included heavy equipment and various watercraft all on trailers or in several shops.  Turns out this is Richard Branson's (Virgin Airline founder) private island.  Thanks Unca' Dick!

Later, we snorkeled the reef in the middle of the bay and saw lots of flora, fish, stingrays and turtles. Had more ham soup than we could eat so Jaru and their guests came for dinner to help us finish it, bearing a fresh potato salad treat of their own.  Jeremy brought his guitar.

 

Day 472 ~ Grinding StartDecember 30th, 2011

We've spent several nights on this ball in the past and know it's a rolly one.  Such is life, I guess.  We dropped it first thing and sailed on a beautiful reach north to rejoin Jaru off Long Bay, Virgin Gorda.

We made the mistake of asking them what their school plans were on the radio.   The girls heard that they had taken the day off and were playing at the beach.   Since we had missed yesterday, Lisa and I agreed with a glance that we were going to stick it out.

Have you ever tried to focus on work while your friends are partying next door?   Well, it's not the most fun.   The moaning and groaning would fill chapter of a book on Whining as an Art Form.  Please.  Finally, we all breathed a sign of relief and sent them off on Sea Pearl to find their kindred spirits.

The Jaru crew joined us for some outstanding snorkeling north to Mountain Point, probably the best we have seen in the Virgin Islands.

 

 

Day 471 ~ Road Town BazaarDecember 29th, 2011

With a ton of chores on today's menu we got up and moving first thing, or tried to.   The windlass retrieved about 10 meters of chain and then decided to stop.  Hmmm.  Breaker was popped but flipped it back and still no luck.  Was just about to start opening up control boxes when I noticed that the chain was jammed under the gypsy.   Ran it down for 2 seconds and then cleared the jam.

Once released, we sailed fast and free with the wind rushing down the channel.   We dropped anchor in one of the two designated anchorages, both of which are horribly exposed to the prevailing swell.   Getting into the dinghy was an acrobatic act.   Motored and bounced all the way to the Customs' dock.   Got tied up and then realized I had forgotten the boat registration paperwork.

Being almost out of dinghy gas, it took another hour to get the papers, find two fuel docks that were out of order and finally a third that could sell me some gas.  Then, another 10 minute bouncy ride back to the Customs' dock.  I was halfway through my paperwork when a ferry arrived and dumped 150 touristas into the Custom office.  Another chance to learn patience.

Back to boat to collect Lisa, kids, laundry, dive tanks and bags for groceries.  Split forces with Lisa doing laundry and the girls and I tackling groceries and tank fills.  Prices were all over the map, from outrageous to reasonable.  Then, it was time to motor into the harbor for some water.   The girls fared well with all the busy distracted adults and hauled their share of groceries back to the dinghy without complaint.

Finally, at 4:30p, we're ready to move out.  By now, it's too late to meet up with Jaru at the north end of Tortola.  Ended up on the private ball by the Baths.  We'll head north in the morning.

 

Day 470 ~ Girls in the GrooveDecember 28th, 2011

Picking up anchor around 10am, Jaru departs for Tortola where they have guests arriving in the late afternoon.  With an extra 5 gallons onboard from yesterday, thanks to Jaru's water maker, and mostly 3G coverage, we opted to stay put for one more day. 

We'll delay the check-in/grocery/laundry/water stop in Road Town, Tortola, one more day.  Turns out this was a wise choice as Jaru radioed us once they were around Peter Island, "Good thing you decided to stay, we see 3 cruise ships in the Road Town harbor right now."  Not sure what Thursday will bring, but we breathed a sigh of relief for the moment.

Once departed, lessons proceeded at a quiet pace.  Whether it's the lack of kid distractions or something in the oatmeal for breakfast, the girls were on task and clipped right along through math and phonics.  We were done in 2/3 the time it normally takes.  We rejoiced with some fresh, homemade bread.

I found a desulfinator on the web, called the guy and was just giving my credit card number when the cell call was dropped.   The phone said it had coverage, but never would connect again.  Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.  In search of some sort of cell waves, I dropped the girls off at the beach and zooomed off to drift around the bay...in vain.  Nothing to do but wait and go for a swim, shortly after which Lisa hollered out that the cell waves were back on and the credit card had been successfully received.

After a nap while the girls listened to some stories, I put together dinner, read a story and then finished the blog.  After 3 weeks of silence, it was good to have that caught up, especially since they stopped being posted the day before our arrival into St. Thomas from 2 weeks at sea.  Sorry folks.

 

Day 469 ~ A Cozy SpotDecember 27th, 2011

The day broke clear with sunshine and constipation.   Having internet, I did some research and found that most of the recommended remedies assume you have a grocery store nearby.   With our fresh fruit mostly gone, I turned to our medicinal nursery.

Little did I know that, in addition to being a web geek and sailor, I have a touch of herbal medicine man as well.   Lisa and the girls were duly impressed as I filleted an aloe leaf and proceeded to concoct the appropriate elixir, which was promptly administered to the wary patient.

A few minutes later, shazam!   It was hard to resist a gloating chortle.

After lessons, we teamed up with Jaru for some snorkel and diving action around Key Point.   The kids made a fort (novel behavior we know) ashore and collected more treasures of the deep that somehow always get washed ashore.  Out of a bit of yard and sea grape leaves, the kids fashioned a "green" outfit for Osa (6 years old) who proceeded to prance around the deserted island with all the regalia of a tropical queen about to inherit the throne.

Long since out of bread back at the boat, we finally worked up the motivation to go for a homemade loaf which, at home, was a daily exercise.   We had to remember the recipe in bits and pieces, and it took all day to rise, even in the tropical heat, but was warmly welcomed by all and promptly devoured for din din.

 

Day 468 ~ On the MoveDecember 26th, 2011

We enjoyed a lovely set of days in Lameshur Bay protected from a torrent of air that is dead-set on getting to Mexico just as fast as it can.  Today broke sunny with patchy clouds and calmer winds and seas.   We had agreed to tag team with Jaru and head farther east to some snorkeling spots they had found last year.

We agreed to be up and off the mooring by 7am, or as close as possible.   At 7:09, from my horizontal sleeping position, I glanced at the clock and realize we were already behind.   I figured Jaru would be a speck on the horizon, bobbing towards the distant sun.  But no, they were right were we had left them, complete with towels left out for drying, flapping lazily in the wind.  Come to think of it, we had our own share of laundry hanging about.  So thick in the cockpit were the swim tops, towels and accessories of life that I kind of had to pick my way through the forest.

Lisa was up right after me and in a few short minutes we had the clothing down and an engine running.   We had raised all the dingies the night before, which now looked like a burst of inspiration.  We dropped our mooring about 7:30 and Jaru followed right behind us.

It was nearly a two hour slog, straight into a nice stiff breeze with some decent swell at times.   Not to mention a nearly two-knot contrary current.   Sometimes, all the forces seem against you.  We snagged a Day Use Only dive mooring ball near The Indians, a small cluster of rocks in the lee of Pelican Island.   The water was fairly rough and a nice current was running, doing its best to wash the schools of snorkelers out to the Caribbean Sea just behind us.

The water was fairly clear, and the fish and flora were plentiful, so Lisa and Rod agreed it was time for a dive.  It took a bit to dig out all the gear, some buried since long back in the Deltaville days, but eventually we had it all out and in the dink.  I dropped Rod and Lisa off and did a little more snorkeling.   The fish, the colorful corals and teaming life pulsing under wavering gleams of refracted sunlight were an impressive sight, too much to process really.   Numbed after another half hour of visual feast, I got back to the boat just after Rod and Lisa had emerged from the deep, all smiles.

We traded our kids back and headed another couple of miles East to anchor off Peter Island in Key Bay.   The kids were more interested in craft projects then exploring another water park, so we left them to their dowls and glue and found more underwater trenches and cliffs arrayed with aquatic life to snorkel around.  After sampling non-descript, so-so and hum-drum, Key Point was refreshingly exquisite.  A dive is planned for tomorrow.

Our fresh food long gone now, we reverted to leftover spaghetti and the second half Hampton, Virginia, butternut squash.

Well after sundown, a chartered cat came charging into the anchorage.   There's a full 1/2 mile of room on our port side, but instead they wove their way through the four of us anchored here.  We watched, half afraid, half bemused.  As flashlights pricked the night from our neighbors, all thinking what we were thinking (they have to be crazy) the new boat got the message that things were a little too tight for them and wisely opted to anchor in the large empty side of the bay, well clear of everyone else.  Perhaps sending the girls out to bounce around on the front deck didn't hurt either.

 

Day 467 ~ Burned on ChristmasDecember 25th, 2011

Well before 7:00am, Lisa and I heard the pitter-patter, or thunk and clunk (boat reality) of little feet comparing stocking stuffers.  We tried to stick it out and get back to sleep, but eventually gave up.

We ate a traditional Swedish pancake breakfast and then enjoyed opening our gifts.  Most were homemade creations; carvings, sea glass art and craft projects.  It's amazing how much more joy the girls have in bestowing presents on Lisa and I that they had made themselves with hours of creative energy.  Giving Walmart specials just never feels that way.

We were just wrapping up and getting ready for some kid boat time when the kids saw a Park Service "Law Enforcement" speed boat pulling up to Burning Palms.  The long and short of it is there is no anchoring on St. John's south side and they are 65 feet while the moorings are only rated for 60 foot boats.  They got off without a fine, which I guess could be seen as a gift, but somehow the kids didn't interpret it that way.  Everyone was sent back to their own boats, Rupert had to run around for an hour getting everything in order and then they were off, forced out to sea on Christmas Day.

The kids were crestfallen.  How rude can life get?  I resisted the urge to use today as a working example to indoctrinate young impressionable minds about the evils of the Mommy State.  Probably for the best.

 

Day 466 ~ The return of Burning PalmsDecember 24th, 2011

On a whim, we had sent Burning Palms an email asking where they were and letting them know where we had landed.  It wasn't a total shock when Lisa looked out and saw a long, low, sleek boat with kids dancing around working its way into our bay.

Burning Palms was back and the kids were abuzz with anticipation.   Before long, the full tribe of savages was aboard, multiple rope swings were in play, bodies were crashing about and fun was had by all.   It's amazing how much adding two boys to the mix can change the dynamic.

Burning Palms and Jaru broke out the paddle boards so now a small flotilla worked its way around our small bay, accompained by whoops, hollars and spashes. 

Whipped up the perennial favorite of tacos for dinner.  Nothing like traditional Christmas fare.  Lisa topped the evening off with a reading of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to girls who just managed to stay awake through the entire thing.

 

Day 465 ~ Learning PatienceDecember 23rd, 2011

We gave the girls a lessons break this morning in prep for Christmas.  We agreed to meet Jaru for a hike up to Ram's Head promontory, about a mile and a half one way.  The weather pattern now is in a typical groove with sunny days, bursts of clouds letting loose 30 seconds of rain, followed by more sun.

We doped up and were underway at 10 minutes to nine, all primed to meet Burning Palms at their beach.  We hoofed it to Salt Pond for a cooling dip, said goodbye to the Aussies who headed to town for some shopping and then wormed our way up to the rocky cliffs of Ram's Head.  When we broke cover near the razor's edge, the winds picked up dramatically.  In the cleft between the peaks, the wind was funneling through in 30-40 knot gusts.  Enough to lean into.  We watched a catamaran pound slowly upwind with a double reef in the main and both engines cranking.  Looked like fun.

After enjoying the view for a while, we wound our way back and split forces.  Rod and I opted for the dollar bus to town while the girls took the kids back to the boat for lunch and swimming.  We set up camp at the bus stop, a small rock-hard wooden bench at the side of the road, just before the pavement ends.   We were there promptly at 1pm for a 1:10 bus.   At 2:30 we finally gave up and meandered home.

Male bonding time, isn't that what every cruising dad needs?   Well, the reality was we covered some topics but mostly just relaxed and talked about how hard it was to wait for things in our past lives and how much easier it is now.   Neither of us even had a watch on.

We dinghied back to home base in Lameshur Bay, grabbed a bite to eat, then hit the water.   The only decent snorkeling was finally found just off the rocky Yawzi Point that divides Little and Great Lameshur Bays in half.   Nothing spectacular, "passable" came to mind.  But it was worth getting wet for and far better than the previous trips which were respectively dubbed, "nondescript" and "a desert with interesting geology."

Wrapped up a busy day with homemade spaghetti and an early bedtime for an exhausted Mom and kidlets.

 

Day 464 ~ Yet another Endless DayDecember 22nd, 2011

The sun rose and set in seamless patterns behind a skating cloud cover and bursts of wind.  These days were dreamlike in their glitter and hue and yet more real than any corporate retreat.  The girls tackled their lessons while I worked through the morning hours.   After a quick lunch, the young savages mounted up their war canoe and headed over to Jaru for some fresh recruits.  

Fun was had "anchoring" Sea Pearl with a dive weight belt and snorkeling around her, playing sharks and minnows and such.  Rod and I explore various snorkeling options while the moms did mom stuff or just enjoyed some alone time, a rare specimen on a boat.

 

Day 463 ~ Another Endless DayDecember 21st, 2011

So began an unforeseen string of nearly identical days.   Sure, each day is different in texture, but the flavors were much the savory same.  We tackle lessons in the morning, then team up with Jaru for some hiking, swimming, sailing, snorkeling and/or just hanging out.  Perhaps we take out the garbage.

On this day we hiked over land to Reef Bay, a 2 and a half mile, 1,000 foot vertical feet ascent and descent over rocky twisting trails.   We found a nice beach on the far side and the kids enjoyed cooling off in the surf and building a huge sand castle wall, large enough to park a small car in.  We expected whining and complaints on the way back, given the roughness of the terrain, the heat and the distance, but the kids chattered on happily all the way back.  Go team.

All night blasts of wind slammed us against our iron mooring, occasional rainbursts drummed on the deck overhead.   Sure glad I re-bedded those hatches in Deltaville.

 

Day 462 ~ The Endless Days BeginDecember 20th, 2011

After lessons, the girls went to Jaru to pick up their kids and headed off to the beach for some playtime.  Rod and I checked out nearby snorkeling which we had heard was "exquisite."  Afterward, Rod described it as "non-descript" which pretty much sums up all there was to say about it.

The kids played on the trampoline for a while, then came in to play some board games. 

The weather forecast called for strong winds and they were right.   It's got to be nasty out there on the big water, 25-30 knots plus with a 4-5 meter swell coming in at 90 degrees to the wind.   Hunkered down behind thousand foot towers of rock we are still whipped with blasts of wind and driving rain for short spells, followed by lulls and pockets of sunshine dropped on us like paint spilled on a gray, noisy freeway.

Feels really good to be tucked in with friends nearby and nowhere in particular to go.

 

Day 461 ~ Jaru ReturnsDecember 19th, 2011

We had considered putting off lessons until post-Christmas, but what with all the travel and excitement, we figured the break had been long enough.  The longer the break, the harder it is to get going again.  So, today we were off and running with more math and phonics than the girls really care to know about.   More than I know about, in some cases.  But Lisa is really patient and has an ear for the most subtle of intonations.

After our work, we got Sea Pearl down and tooled around our bay and the adjacent one.  Had a good time taking Nika and Nana our separately, letting each do their part of the sail and tiller management.  They are coming along nicely.

Jaru stayed in St. Thomas for another day to try and purchase a new dinghy.  Their existing PVC inflatable is literally coming apart at the seams.  Multiple patches have been applied, but it still loses air slowly and required constant pumping.  Fun.

Well, Jaru arrived about 4:30pm and all mayhem broke loose.  They were unsuccessful in getting a replacement dinghy, but they did arrive in time to help us eat the king mackerel we caught.  Peter whipped up a fish taco dinner complete with homemade salsa and, 20 small tortillas later, every pan and bowl were licked clean.  Jaru's brownies disappeared with the same vehemence.

 

Day 460 ~ Change of Scenery at LastDecember 18th, 2011

Not sure how we get hooked into some places.  I guess inertia, and good 3G internet, just makes anyplace feel like home, despite the daily ferry wakes that rock the boat regularly.  But today it was time to move.  We motored into Crown Bay Marina for a water top up, then sailed to Little Lameshur Bay on the south coast of St. John island.   We tacked numerous times, the fickle wind always seeming to shift against us within a few minutes.

On a whim I trailed a fishing lure.  The pool danced a little and some line ticked off the reel, but when I worked the pole it felt empty.  As I was watching our wake for a bit, I saw a small fish skating along the water's surface.  We had a fish, a small one but still edible.   A blue mackerel, as it turned out.

Got the hook back in the water and, in another 20 minutes, it was hit again.  This time, really hard.  Fresh from passage fishing practice, I tabbed the auto pilot upwind to slow us down and worked the fish in slowly and carefully.   I couldn't make out the specie until he was landed on the back step.  Wahoo! Something other than a barracuda.

He turned out to be a king mackerel, and a pretty nicely sized one to boot.  A good 15 pounds of teeth and muscle.   I gave him plenty of time to expire before working the hook out.  It took 20 minutes to get him all cleaned up, but our freezer now is packed with a couple of weeks worth of protein and something to share with friends.

 

 

Day 459 ~ Old TownDecember 17th, 2011

Jaru invited us to join them for a shore excursion into old town St. Thomas.  We agreed to get started fairly early to avoid the heat.  We wandred the old narrow streets and alleyways that were once a throbbing nerve center of northern Caribbean commerce.  Field stone walls assembled by slave labor once watched rum, sugar and tobacco crops flow through.  Now they enclose row upon row of jewelery stores, some with rather pushy salesmen.  The kids kept most at bay simply by being present.

The early settlers didn't have concrete so mixed their own concotion: salt water, sand, molasses (leftover from the sugar mills) and donkey hair (cut off to keep the animals cooler).  On this sturdy foundation the town was built, and is now slowly tilting towards the sea.  It's a mystery.

There's not much variety to the shops; they either sell jewelry, alcohol, or perfume with a chocolatier here and there.  We did find a great shop with unique local painting and items created from wire and glass bottles.  Funny how unique is unique because the throngs of cruise ship tourists come all this way to shop for Rolex's, Christian Dior and diamonds.  Go figure.

We finally found a local lady making fruit smoothies.  Having mixed too much, she handed me the extra in a cup, "for the kids."  There's nothing better after baking in the sun for a few hours than sipping a handmade fruit smoothie, complete with a generous helping of crushed ice.  Yum.

 

Day 458 ~ Christmas ParadeDecember 16th, 2011

True to their word, Burning Palms upped anchor and sailed over the horizon (or at least behind the mountain) first thing in the morning.  Place seems emply without them.  Reducing the kid players by two boy and one girl left our collective 5 staring off into the distance.

They quickly recovered when Rod from Jaru marshalled forces and lead a hike up to the peak of Hassel Island while I caught up on client demands.   They found ruins of an old fort where the British were beaten back by Dutch forces.   There was an old ship rail for hauling boats out for maintenance, a blacksmith shop and other cool old relics.  Once back and fed, the kids took to Sea Pearl again and spent the balance of the afternoon exploring the beach and finding irreplacable shells, rocks and treasure.

Rod had heard there was to be a boat parade tonight at 7:00pm, with various vessels decked out with Christmas lights and decorations.   Lisa figured out they must have a radio channel picked out, so she scanned slowly and soon found it on VHF 3.   Listening to the chatter nearly brought us to tears.   "Bud, where are you?!"   "There's too much space between you, close the gap."   "Number 7 boat is missing."   "You are number 7!"  Etc.   All good Caribbean organizational fun.

On the return trip, the lead boat weaved his way around our little anchorage playing Christmas songs through huge speakers.  He was decked out including a complete Frosty the Snowman on the bow and burning hundreds of watts of Christmas lights.   Tropical Christmas songs reverbrated between the rocky peaks that flank our bay as they turned for home and left us sway gently in his wake.

 

Day 457 ~ Burning EnergyDecember 15th, 2011

It blew hard most of the night.  Torrents of wind would tumble off the nearby peaks and blast us first one way and then the next.  I was really glad we had an anchor set deeply with plenty of chain out.  There were occasional bursts of rain, but they rarely lasted longer than a few minutes.  Just enough time to get all hatches closed and latched, actually.

After brekkie, the kids met up with Burning Palms (new Aussie boat) and Jaru for hours and hours of kid water fun.   Sea Pearl was in play as a paddle-powered kid machine and ferried little bodies between all the various floating homes and back to shore, again.  A satellite tracker would have shown an incredible number of crisscrossing paths.

Burning Palms invited us all over for a sundowner and Rod and I were thrilled to get to check out such a fine sailing machine.   Turns out it was in the slip kitty-corner from the one I used in San Diego with J-World Sailing School nearly 5 years ago.  Small world.

Burning Palms just has a 10 weeks to see the Caribbean so are planning on leaving tomorrow.  The kid court disapproves.

 

Day 456 ~ The Deep CleanDecember 14th, 2011

It must be a woman thing.   You can have everything packed just to your liking.  Equilibrium attained, so you think.  Then you come back in the dink from a short provisioning trip and find the entire contents of lockers out and arrayed all over the deck, in various stages of disassembly. 

Don't ask why.  Don't even wonder.   Just receive the new wisdom as gospel truth, provide cold drink, sun lotion and sandwiches.  Provide more polishing compound for rusty bike parts, more mesh bags for stray line.  Answer questions politely when asked.  Above all, trust that the new world order really is better than the old.  Make cookies to show your appreciation.

About 1pm a new boat pulled in and anchored.  Kidlets were spotted almost immediately.  We waved to them as they puttered by in the dink.  They came over and introduced themselves.  Aussies, more of them.  A whole dingy full of explosions of hair and engaging accent.  They had some errands to do, but would be back a bit later.   Jaru motored over from the marina about 2pm and, by 4pm, with the new Aussie crew on board, all mayhem was in full swing.   The kids playing like they had known each other for decades.

 

Day 455 ~ Dirty Laundry and a Canadian BoatDecember 13th, 2011

The dreaded day has come.  Laundry.  With a week's worth from the girls traveling, living and preparing for the storage of all winter bedding, we ended up with several loads.  Crown Bay laundry has 2 large washers that can fit about 3-4 normal loads so in went the comforters, bedspreads, towels and clothes.  While there, Lisa ran into a mom named Cedar, who lives on a boat with her husband and two kids.  They are Canadian, understand winter and laundry.

When the girls and I arrived to help haul out the loads, we met her entire fam including an 8 year old boy and almost 6 year old girl.   We made tentative plans to see them the next day for some much needed kid play.  We'll see how things go.

 

Day 454 ~ Airport DropDecember 12th, 2011

Time to leave Francis Bay.  Ken flies out at 6pm, so it was time to drop the mooring ball and motor out.  We stopped at Trunk Bay and took a day ball.   The snorkling was reported to be "exquiste", or something.  However, turns out it's all relative.  We all snorkeled around the entire island, which provied an exercise for muscles more than eyes; there really wasn't much to see.  The Western side was okay with a few fish and coral, but the Eastern side was a desert and the water quite cloudy.  We then continued on and returned to Hassel Island just around from Charlotte Amalie.  There was only one boat there and, despite the periodic ferry wakes during the daylight hours, it makes a decent anchorage.  Felt good to get some sailing in again.

Ken packed all his gear and I took him to Crown Bay Marina where he caught his taxi to the airport.  A quick run to Pueblo and then I was back to the boat.  

 

Day 453 ~ Neighborhood 7-11December 11th, 2011

Francis Bay still.  With such a calm bay, who wants to move?  Lisa and I ventured out in the afternoon in search of eggs and lettuce.  I heard there was a small store just off the beach.  Ken agreed to take us in and watch the girls...again (thank you!). 

Once on shore, we asked directions and were told to turn right and head up the hill.  Twenty minutes later we climbed the big hill, descended even further and ended up at the store.  For $8.80 we left with one head of Romaine and a dozen eggs.  Not exactly the place to provision heavily.   I resisted the Häagen-Dazs at $8.50 per pint.

Continuing down the small hill from the store about a hundred yards, we ended up at Maho Bay, the next beach over.  Oh well, the exercise did us good and, since we didn't leave our dinghy at the other beach, we just called Ken to pick us up from there.

 

Day 452 ~ Staying PutDecember 10th, 2011

We discussed going somewhere.  The wind was blowing pretty hard from the only attractive direction.   Rain clouds burst and broke, occasional lightning crackled.   We did a slow brekkie, debated the various costs/benefits and decided, surprise, to stay put.

So, we launched Sea Pearl and sailed around the bay while Lisa began the painful process of undoing all the guy packing decisions and then re-thinking the what to do with all the new stuff that somehow had made it from Alaska to the tropics crammed in little carry-ons.

The water line just keeps getting higher and higher.   Not much a guy can say, but "sure nice to have you home."

 

Day 451 ~ Dan heads outDecember 9th, 2011

Daniel had a 3pm flight out so we left early and managed to sail a little.  We swung into Henley Cay and took a day mooring ball for a few hours to give Dan, who is headed back to the Arctic (seriously), another shot at some tropical fish and coral.  With an eye on the clock, we were underway promptly at 1pm and sailed downwind with only a head sail straight into our least favorite anchorage of all time, Red Hook Bay.

It's exposed, rolly and subject to nearly constant ferry traffic and their large wakes.

Managed to get Dan and most of his gear ashore and into a cab with out too much drama.   He arrived with literally two minutes to spare before they closed the counter.  One of his parting comments was, "Now I am going to have to cross the Atlantic."   So, despite a rough start, he found the open ocean to have its own allure, far from the tundra of Kotzebue which draws him back with the call of the wild each summer.

We then bolted out of Red Hook and motored an hour or so upwind to Francis Bay, which offers very little other than a good wind and wave protection, which proved to be more than enough attraction for a windy, cloudy day and tired crew.

 

Day 450 ~ Tele TimeDecember 8th, 2011

Took an easy day relaxing and snorkeling Waterlemon Cay.   Dan and Ken took the girls for a few hours while Lisa and I hiked up the nearby hills to check out some ruins from the sugar plantation era and find some 3G cell coverage.   I had a teleconference with a key client at 1pm,  I thought.

I called in at 1:05pm and found out I had got the time change/conversion wrong and in fact it wasn't until 3pm.   Oh well.   Lisa and I found an old picnic table and enjoyed the view, the breeze and catching up on all things Alaska.   The hours flew by and the phone rang.   A half an hour later we meandered back down the hill to see if Ken had managed to keep everyone afloat.   Really nice to have a babysitter who is always handy with a snake or tarantula story.

Lacking motivation, we spent another night right were we were.

 

Day 449 ~ Vacation LandDecember 7th, 2011

With the guys headed out soon, we decided to try and show them a bit of the Virgin Island experience.

The winds didn't cooperate much, so we ground it out for nearly three hours to make it to Green Cay where we found last year's snorkeling to be fantastic.   The surf was pretty high so visibility wasn't too great, but we had a good time exploring the island and then had a nice pleasant sail down wind to Waterlemon Cay where we tucked into the bay and enjoyed a peaceful night under a nearly full moon.

 

Day 448 ~ Cleaning FrenzyDecember 6th, 2011

After a nearly two weeks at sea, a full night's sleep felt pretty good.   The sun peeking through the hatches in the morning was now swinging arcs from side to side as we floated on our anchor, swaying to and fro with little puffs of breeze.  Then, it hits.  That feeling, when laying there half awake and half asleep and you suddenly realize: there is a ton of stuff to do today!   Get moving!

I wasn't up and banging around long before Dan and Ken showed their faces as well.  We all kind of knew, without really saying too much, that with girls arriving soon the boat needed a lot of work.   There was some informal, 'I'll do this while you do that' kind of thing but, in general, the idea was to get the boat as clean as possible, as fast as possible.

First, we collected laundry.  Loads and loads of it.  Nearly a dinghy full, what with all the sheets and towels and clothing from eons back in the cold country of Deltaville which, only two weeks back in time, feels like another world.

Ken bought $40 bucks in quarters and set up camp in the steaming heart of the laundromat while Dan did the dishes and wiped down many a grimy corner.  I tackled a bathroom and then Dan and I took the boat in to Crown Bay for the topping up of fuel and water.

With a close eye on the clock, I put the finishing touches on a few spots and caught a taxi to the airport.   I was only there a few minutes when the girls' plane arrived.  It was a happy, tearful reunion.   In only 6 weeks I could clearly see changes in the girls faces; time marches on.   The changes I see in my face don't look quite so good.   Better get used to it.

We motored out to the nearby anchorage and set the hook.   The boat feels right again with the pitter patter of little feet.

 

Day 447 ~ Arrival! (day 12)December 5th, 2011

The morning broke with a new feeling to it.  There was light, but no sun.  Out my Wonder Bread sized hatch I saw a high, dark bank of foreboding clouds.  I rush through my morning manicure routines, very elaborate I assure you.   The more time we spend out here the less basic habits like brushing our hair or -- heaven forbid -- shaving, seem to matter.  Like the fish are impressed with a clean cut.

I relieved Dan about 6:45 and we discussed the squall line ahead of us.  One large one ahead and to port, and several smaller ones marching off to the west off the starboard side.   Most were small and we could see right through the rainfall to the blue skies beyond.  We decided to keep all the sails flying and to wake him if I needed help.

About a half an hour later, the clouds parted on the horizon and a black ridge of land was clearly visible.   LAND HO!  I wanted to shout, but Ken and Dan were fast asleep and it seemed the height of cruelty to wake them.  Well, the first hour ran by nicely.  The large squall morphed and appeared to be sliding away from us.  I was scanning the horizon when the hootchie rigged pole took off with the sound of a miniature buzz saw.

I keyed the auto-pilot 20 degrees downwind and grabbed the pole.   It was bent hard over and the fish was running like mad, leveraging the boat speed to its advantage.  It turned sideways cutting large arcs behind the boat, the 100 lb line cutting slicing arcs through the water.  It was all I could do to hold him and time and again he would run off more line than I had just retrieved.

Dan and Ken came up and rolled up the genny; the reduced boat speed gave me the upper hand.  Slowly I gained inch by inch, then foot by foot, then yard by yard.  After a 15 minute fight, he was alongside, a large dorado, twice the weight of my first, but a bit smaller than Ken's.  He was as tall as a first grade teacher's yard stick.  Dan grabbed the gaff and, after a couple of attempts to penetrate his armored gills, got him stuck and lifted into the bin.   A huge forked tail was sticking out of the bin, but I sat on the lid anyway as he thrashed around.

Fish 4, Crew 5

Eventually, all was stillness.   We're pretty well practiced now; the knife and fillet glove appeared, water was retrieved by the bucket full, Ziploc bags were maneuvered artfully under fillets as long as a baguette.  The freezer is now officially full so we decided we had better stop before things got out of hand.

I was just finishing the last fillet when we hit the edge of the squall.   First light rain, then hard rain and blasts of wind.   In 10 minutes we were through it, and sailed out into sunshine on the back side.  We unrolled the genny, and patiently worked our way through puffs of wind, and calms.  Eventually, the winds filled back in and we skated into the gap between St. Thomas and Tortola.  As we cleared the second line of islands, the fluky wind completely died.   We motored for a half an hour and, finally, after 12 and a half days of flying, gave the mainsail a rest, packing it neatly into its bag again.

We motored along the bottom edge of St. Thomas and in a couple of hours were winding our way through the anchorage.   Our preferred spot was full, so we found a nice little niche a half mile further along.

I offered to the run the guys to shore to stretch our legs and see some civilization, but there were no takers.   We all just sat there a bit dazed, not sure what to think.  We made it; we should be glad.  Celebrations seemed in order, but all we could do was sit and stare off into the distance.   "Civilization," or what passes for it, seems so overrated.

We enjoyed a peaceful light dinner, some light conversation, a long overdue shower, and then turned in.   We're here but, reading between the lines, we all would really rather be back out there, at sea.

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:18.967
Longitude:-64.95096
GPS location Date/Time:12/05/2011 06:44:11 EST

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:18.6155
Longitude:-64.89447
GPS location Date/Time:12/05/2011 11:15:39 EST

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:18.33557
Longitude:-64.83383
GPS location Date/Time:12/05/2011 14:28:29 EST

 

Day 446 ~ Enroute (day 11)December 4th, 2011

DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:21.26524
Longitude:-65.44946
GPS location Date/Time:12/04/2011 0700:30 EST

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11:00am

I awoke with the rising sun. We were moving along nicely in a quartering sea with steady and persistent breeze. The boat was really moving.  I cleaned up, or what passes for it on a passage, and relieved Dan. He had only been down for a few minutes when the line started screaming off the hoochie-rigged fishing reel.  I thought about trying to fight it alone for a bit, but the boat was moving so fast, it was all I could do to keep the fish from running all the line off the spool.

A quick knock on the hull brought a hazy Dan and Ken up from the depths of sleep.  They got the genny rolled up and, as we turned off the wind, the speed finally tapered off.  There was nearly 100 yards of line in the water, much of it picking up weed and piling it against the fish. Slowly, inch by inch it seemed, we started to make headway.

Finally, we could see the dorado and soon had him beside the boat. At the last minute, seeing how small he was, I decided to just lift him in. Dan caught a sharp fish part on the hand cutting him in the process, but a moment later he was in the bin and flopping his last.

Fish 4, Crew 3, with injuries.

Then the long dressing and clean up process began. We powered the sails back up, brought in buckets of sea water for rinsing and got him filleted and in the fridge.

Everyone was just starting to relax again when Ken dropped the pink hootchie back in the water. It was wet for 10 seconds, before it was screaming off the reel again, with a buzzing hiss. Ken hadn't even had time to flip the reel back into drag mode. The fight was on. We turned down wind again, and Ken slowly worked his fish up to the boat, a hot sweating process now in the full glare of the morning sun.

As his fish neared the boat, it was clearly much larger than Dan's or mine. Dan grabbed the gaff and with one practiced sweep lifted the mahi mahi straight into the bin. He didn't really fit, but we pinned the cover down despite the large forked tail protruding from one corner.  Another round of water, knives and cleanup. The fridge is now packed with fish, we had to triage some old lettuce and leftover burger to make room for the new
priorities. Yum.

Fish 4, Crew 4

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7:20 pm

With a fridge jammed full of dolphin fish, we were reluctant to fish too aggressively, trailing a single hoochie for the rest of the day. Dan had two strikes, and a fish could be seen trailing the lure, but it never hit again.  The breeze held steady throughout the day as the miles ticked past. Swell was confused for a while, making walking around difficult, but by evening it had evened out into small waves that are barely perceived much of the time.

I whipped up a large offering of mahi mahi fillet sandwiches which were promptly devoured.

With the setting sun, the wind tapered off a little and our speeds are now down to 5-6 instead of 8-9. If the predicted winds hold, we should see land fairly early tomorrow morning, and make landfall by early afternoon.  Excited to see Lisa and the girls, but not all that excited about land. The last week's sailing, or sitting bobbing around, has been so peaceful, so beautiful and so relaxing that the return of land and its demands carries with it the edge of a dental visit. All for the best, right?

Of course, if the weather were sour, I am sure it would feel completely different. Overall, we have had a fantastically mild and fair weather window. Only a little rain on two days, no heavy wind or seas; just day after day of sterling sunny weather and fair breezes. The becalmed days were slow but, other than the mental tedium, were hardly suffering.

It's funny looking back; I had contigencies schemes for South Carolina, Bermuda, Florida, the Bahamas, the Turks, Puerto Rico, for low water, low fuel, bad weather and boat trouble. But never had it occurred to me that we would be becalmed for three days in the middle of the Atlantic, in winter. It's usually the one thing you haven't thought of that upsets your plans.  As we were bobbing around, going nowhere, Dan's plane reservations came and went. Sorry man, there's just not much a sailor can do.

The moon is up now directly overhead and, though only 60% full, is casting a twilight glow to the shimmering world. A huge cargo ship ghosts 4 miles back across our wake, its bow and stern lights twinkling in the radiant heat of a tropical sea, one we know now to actually contain a few fish.

 

Day 445 ~ Enroute (day 10)December 3rd, 2011

DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:23.13677
Longitude:-65.91827
Date/Time:12/03/2011, 08:19:10 EST

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7:00am

Today started as it seems all have since the beginning of time. I slide slowly back to consciousness rocking and swaying as if in a mother's womb. The orange ovals of a distant sunrise dance across the starboard wall of my port cabin, cut by the portlights. The gentle gurgle of water slides past the hull.

In reality, we are barely moving. We motored 10 hours yesterday, and still had so little wind that speeds averaged under 1 knot per hour. We could have burned our remaining diesel, motoring 24 hours, but I just didn't have the heart for it. I arbitrarily picked 8pm as our engine cut off time.

Once silence descended and our momentum faded away, the softest of ripples drew us forward at just enough speed to maintain steerage. We tweaked the sails a bit, but there wasn't much magic on this placid expanse.  But there was motion, plenty of the up and down kind. Two huge wave trains, one from Africa, the other from New England were slowly getting acquainted in odd triangular forms creating peaks and valleys that would pass for nameable hill features in Kansas.

Up one side and down another we would slip, with just enough power to keep from going backwards down the rising faces. It was a gentle motion, but firm, 10 feet up, 13 feet down, 7 feet up, 4 down, 20 up, 14 down. At times, mountains of nearly glass smooth water would fill the salon windows and we would rise by a silent elevator slowly up the gentle crest, enjoy a sweeping view for a moment, and then softly descend.

This morning, having caught a few blinks of a morning glow, I lay listening and feeling these monstorous breaths, as it were, of a giant sleeping animal. As a flea must feel on the heaving breast of a sleeping water buffalo, glistening in a rising sun.

The fishing pole stuck in its holder just above my roof went off with a urgent buzzing. "ah, I thought, we snagged some more weed."  Dan's soft footsteps were overhead, the reel was clicking its retrieve. A minute later and it was all in, then I heard the soft zinging of the line being let out again.  In my dazed state, I didn't compute that we were moving far too slow for any weed to trip the reel's drag. In fact, glazed with morning sun, Dan had briefly fought a lunging Dorado until the old steel leader parted near the hook.

Fish 2 Crew 0

But Dan is an experienced fish fighter and knew the best recourse was a quick re-load. He had another lure on and out in a minute.  I lay there, slowly becoming more aware, when the line buzzed yet, again, this time with real urgency. Wow, I thought, another snag.

Then, slowly it dawned on me. We were barely moving. This might mean real fish action, after nearly a week of drought. I rubbed my eyes. Then a firm knocking on my ceiling electricfied my somber limbs.  I was on deck in a flash, and there was Dan, with a smug smile.

"You got something?" I queried.

"Take a look." he replied in understated fashion.

There was not one, but two mahi mahi trailing his line, each impaled on one of the hooks of the lure, their bellies touching. They were nearly white with exhaustion.  Now what? Landing a single fish is always exciting, but what do you do with two large animals on one line?

I quickly retrieved the bin, and the gaff and the tail looper, but then stood there dumbly trying to work out what to do to whom and how.  Ken arrived and watched as I tried to tail loop the largest male on the foremost hook. The moment the wire touched him he flicked is tail and dove hard, spooling off yards of line with ease and wrenching himself free.

Well, that worked great. Now we are down to one. Ken favored the gaff approach.  Dan pulled the smaller female in close and, with a practiced jerk, Ken gaffed her and arced the fish smoothly into the Rubbermaid tote. I slipped the lid on and we pinned it down while the fish gave its final flurry of flips.

Smiles all around, at least the curse of the dorado is broken, and our losing streak is over.

Fish 2, Crew 1

Ken, the fish master, did a little gill slitting, mumbled a few congratulations and stumbled back to the bed he had barely had time to warm up to.  We gave the fish a few minutes to expire, set up a fillet operation and shortly had two fine fillets laid out in the kitchen, just begging for a taste test. I sizzled a few small bites and passed them around. Wow, pretty tough to beat.

Our daily mileage total for yesterday, 8am to 8am, was a whopping 63 miles. At this rate we are still 4 days away. The latest GRIB files, however, show a nice line of wind coming our way.  Dan and I put up the genny about 9am and by noon we were actually leaving a wake. By 2pm we were making 4 knots routinely and by sunset we were actually over 6 knots. To our doldrum conditioned minds, we were flying again, at last.

I rustled up some killer mahi mahi sandwiches just after dark which the crew agreed were the best meal yet, hands down. After two meals, we are down to half a fish. I guess this means we'll need to hook another one tomorrow.

We have a full half moon waxing large by the night. It's nearly directly overhead at about 7pm. Bathed in moonlight, the sails are drenched with a dream-like frosting as they pull us urgently on towards a thinly cast horizon.

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:22.24619
Longitude:-65.61642
GPS location Date/Time:12/03/2011 21:06:03 EST

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Day 444 ~ Enroute (day 9)December 2nd, 2011

At 4am, I am rolling over and hear the autopilot go into alarm mode with rapid urgent beeping. We are out of power. It's been something like 5 days since the solar panels have seen more than a glimpse of the sun, and with so little breeze the wind generator just can't deliver the goods. I guess an engine is in our future. Ken fires the port engine and since it's running anyway, we elect to admit sailing defeat for the present and put it in gear.

The engine room shares a wall with my bedroom. It's not deafening, but certainly not quiet either. However, the pulse of the prop and thump of the cylinders is so regular and rhythmic that in a few seconds it's back to dreamland.

I awake with the first hints of dawn and lay there for a while listening to the water gurgle past and the engine purr onward. I relieve Dan about 6:15 and he points out that the wind is getting really fluky, shifting sides now slowly.

The GRIB files promise that more is coming. We are getting close now, within seemingly striking distance of the Virgin Islands; just a couple good wind days and we'll be really close.

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:24.08259
Longitude:-66.59839
Date/Time: 12/02/2011, 06:30:34 EST

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:23.76749
Longitude:-66.39127
Date/Time:12/02/2011, 11:40:29 EST

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:23.60073
Longitude:-66.19205
Date/Time: 12/02/2011, 16:53:41 EST

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7:00pm

Downloaded the latest GRIB file and was chagrined to see that, once again, the super computers were wrong. I am sure some geek in a distant, windowless office looks at the forecast model errors as an abstract mathematical problem. Out here it's an entirely different matter. The previous file showed us picking up a nice wind this afternoon. The new file shows us dead center in a 300 mile wide windless hole for nearly 48 hours total, all of today and most of tomorrow.

There's really not much we would or could have done differently if we had known this a few days ago, but the hopes of great sailing, and a timely arrival are now dashed, and that always leaves a sour feeling.

On the plus side, no wind beats a hurricane any day, so I guess we have plenty to be thankful for.

About 3pm Dan was hankering for a swim, so we shut things down and got the fishing lines in. I asked Ken if he had remembered to bring the rotten side of horse meat to drag behind the boat for a while before Dan went in, but alas he had neglected it. Sharks don't bother Finns anyway. They taste so bad. Dan swam around for a bit while Ken and I did saltwater bucket showers. Feels really good to be clean again.

I was just toweling off when I spotted a white triangle piercing the horizon to the east. It was a sailboat, a large one. They had their main up but were obviously motoring as well.

We angled to get a little closer and hailed them on the radio several times, but never received a response. I guess they have their radio off as we have had for many days now, husbanding every electron for the autopilot's precious work. We watched them from time to time; they appear to be headed on a parallel course.

Suddenly, a bird flew past us. A land bird. A finch, actually (Ken knows his birds). We were astonished. Being 350 miles from land, how did this poor thing get out here. She fluttered around a bit, stopping here and there on the spreaders and sail. Then she took off and headed guess where? Straight to the other boat. She was gone for 10 minutes or so, then came back and checked us out again. She went back to them and back to us yet again, before winging into our cockpit and snuggling up under the bimini next to the shampoo and closepins.

She appeared to be settled there for the night until I, momentarily forgetting she was there, made a move to get a pillow just under her on the bench.

She took to wing, made a small circle over the deck, the came back to her perch. However, finding it not to her liking anymore, she landed on the table, and then promptly flew into the salon and nestled in among some books where she now sleeps soundly, beak under her wing.

Go figure.

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:23.34464
Longitude:-66.11938
Date/Time: 12/02/2011, 20:21:30 EST

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Day 443 ~ Enroute (day 8)December 1st, 2011

8:00am

We spent the day ghosting along under the genny and mainsail. At times a puff of wind would arrive pushing us into the racey 5 knot range, but generally we hung out in the 3's and 4's. We could motor, I suppose, but we don't feel any rush to get there, and the noise and smell and fuel just don't seem worth it.

It's incredibly peaceful. We slowly rock from time to time, and on occasion slide up huge rolling hills of water from some distant storm, say off the coast of Spain. These occasional groundswells are huge, and bear the shape and contour of a rolling Kentucky pasture. They are so wide at the foot that the boat climbs up them as a car drives up gentle hill, then glides down the backside.

We swap all the stories we can think of, each slowly working our way through our life portfolio towards a point, not far in the distant future, where we really won't have anymore stories to tell.  Poor Dan, sandwiched between two political junkies, is slowly losing his innocence.  Tales of rampant corruption, stonewalling, personal vendettas among lawmakers and the like are slowly acquainting him with the finer points of sausage making, an ugly art indeed.  But then we hear about his employee dramas at work and fine parallels, "See Dan, you really are into politics!" He confesses, with a sheepish grin, that it's probably true.

As the sun barrels into the watery median again, we roll up and stow the genny, just to be on the safe side. Our speed drops the the low 3s. We talk, again, about an engine, but with fair winds coming late tomorrow, it seems pointless to burn hydrocarbons.

I am hit with a hankering for something like actual food. Dan triages our produce, most purchased November 18th in Richmond, VA. It's a sad, sad tail. Avacados by the the fist full are flung to the fishes. Tomatoes, found in pussy pools, are promptly pitched. When all is said and done, a few tomatoes are all that remain of our lettuce, kale and other veggies. Of course, we should have been eating them much sooner, but no one was interested.

Dan whips up some pico while I fry some dead cow and grate the cheese. Cutting a few corners, we skip the tortillas and just go for a bag of corn chips. Was college food really that bad? After a week of nibbling, the nachos are devoured with relish. A balanced meal, what a novelty.

Ken crashes in prep for his 11pm watch while Dan shows me through his spring construction photos. As he opens the 40th folder of pics, I reflect that, in another life, there just wouldn't be time to look at them all. But here, with nothing but miles of blue on every side, we may as well go for the full enchilada.

Dan goes down shortly after. It's so quiet and the stars so bright, I build a little cocoon out on the tramp and watch shooting stars flare by under a crescent of silvery moonlight. Scattered clouds float past slowly, illuminated by the creamy glow.

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DayDreaming Spot
Latitude:24.75731
Longitude:-66.77298
Date/Time: 12/01/2011, 17:25:37 EST

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Day 403-448 ~ Meanwhile in Alaska...December 1st, 2011

While the boys were battling boat projects and blowouts in Virginia, the girls and Mom flew to Alaska for 6 weeks.  Our time there was busy reconnecting with friends and family.  We hit the door running and, partly due to the 4 hour time change, wore ourselves out in the first 6 days.

When we arrived, the girls were disappointed to see green grass; they were hoping for snow.  Thanks to our generous friends, my Mom had collected enough snow gear and warm clothes so we didn't have to use our days shopping for snow pants and gloves.   However, the girls didn't have to wait long as the snow came a couple days after our arrival and they had a snowgirl built before the last snowflake landed.

Then, it kept right on snowing for 2 more weeks.

Mom graciously loaned her car so we could get around.  It felt a little strange to drive again and I got honked at my first day out.  Oh, yeah, turn signals.  We were busy just about every day, driving to Palmer, Anchorage or somewhere in Eagle River.  It's a bit strange to cover in a half an hour what would take us 6 hours on the boat.  Not sure how many miles we added to Mom's car in those 6 weeks, but likely it was several hundred.

Mom celebrated a decade birthday and that called for a party.  Mom's friend, Sue, helped to organize a gathering at Jitters coffee shop and we figured about 60-70 of her friends showed up.  Happy Birthday, Ma.

Thanksgiving was a quiet affair.  Carl, my parent's renter, came up and joined us for dinner.  Then, later, my brother and his family came over for a visit.  We stayed up very late, but it was nice to see them all again.

Aside from friends and family, I also took advantage of doctors and dentists who we know and trust.  Finding medical care from a moving boat is challenging at best.  We never knew where we'd be and when as our schedule and movements were ever-changing.  We managed to get an appointment at one doctor to check out a bump on Nana's head, but only because our stove died completely and we had to wait for the new one to arrive.  Even so, that doc couldn't do anything and recommended a dermatologist.  Well, once we found out we were going to Alaska, I called ahead and loaded up our calendar to cover as many things as I could think of, Nana's being the main focus.  In the end, it was discovered that Nana's bump was the accumulation of four cysts, something found only through surgery.

It's hard to cram 25 years into 6 short weeks and our time came to an end much too quickly.  The other issue that I was dealing with was when Peter and crew were going to arrive in St. Thomas.  Our tickets to DC were set for December 3rd, but our flight to St. Thomas was up in the air (no pun intended).  A friend from college days could, thankfully, put us up for a couple nights in DC, but then had other company arriving.  I spent the last week monitoring web flight prices and anxiously awaiting the daily email via satellite modem from the crew.  One day, prices dropped significantly for December 6th and, hoping for the best, I snatched them up and booked one night in a hotel.

We had to get up at 4am to make our 7:30am flight.  Thankfully, I was able to get all packed and ready by midnight so I managed to get some sleep.  With all of us sleeping in our clothes, it didn't take long to load the truck and set off down the road.  Of course, we were checked in and ready to go through security by 5:30a so we hung out with Gramma and Grampa for an hour or so.  The flights went quick since we slept most of the way.  Once at the DC airport, there was a lack of communication about connecting since we had no phone, but eventually connected with Helen, a friend from college days who lives about 20 minutes south of DC.

With her impending Christmas vacation to Alaska coming soon, Helen had to work on Sunday.  Being as though we were sleep-deprived anyway, along with a 4 hour time change, we didn't mind just vegging out at her home.  With 2 king charles spaniels for company, Nana and Nika were quite content.   Nina slept the latest and finally roused about 2pm.  Once up, dressed and ready, we ventured out for a quick walk before sunset.  Having left all our borrowed winter gear behind, we weren't exactly dressed for DC winter weather.

Helen cooked dinner for us that night and then we were in bed early as Helen would be taking us to our hotel on her way to work at 6am.  Arriving at 6:30am, the desk clerk took pity on us and gave us an early check-in, 9 hours early, despite the fact that we were Hotwire reservers.  By now, the trip chaos was catching up and Nana was feverish and feeling puny.  She and I slept for several hours while the others listened to stories.  By early afternoon, we were all ready to get outside and go in search of food.  Thankfully, the hotel had a metro shuttle that would get us most of the way to Costco with a sick kid for some cheap lunch.  We devoured a salad and bought one more for dinner along with some rolls for the plane.  Picking up some lunch meat and cheese on the way back, we spent the evening in our room and even found a movie to watch for fun.

On Tuesday, we arose again long before sunrise to make our 6am flight to St. Thomas.  After a run-in with a rude Delta agent who sent me off to the wrong place with our bags and then chewed me out for going to the wrong place, we made the flight with plenty of time to spare.  Thankfully, the flight attendants were more professional and we ended well.  Once we finaly landed, it was good to know our 3-day travelling chaos was over.  Peter was there to meet us, which made all the stress of the last flight go away.  The boys had arrived 24 hours before.  Nothing like cutting it close.