January ~ Virgin Islands
Day 504 ~ Grandma ArrivesJanuary 31st, 2012
We dropped our ball in tandem with Moerae and were off and runing with the rising sun; the 20-25 knot winds made for a quick and bouncy start. We opted out of the cut between Henley Cay and Hawksnest Point and instead took the Western route; three boats were already slogging it out, seemingly within spitting distance of each other.
As we rounded the southeast tip of St. Thomas and gained the unspoiled trade winds it was surfing time. We saw 11.6 knots speed over ground and were dropping the hook in our usual Hassel Island anchorage well before lunchtime.
Lisa left me off at Crown Bay under the guise of getting some provisions and went to pick up her BC from the repair shop. I called around 3pm for a pick up near the fruit stand in town with Gramma in tow. The girls had no clue and didn't even come out of the boat until we called them out to "help with groceries". The third head in the dinghy took them all several seconds to register; you can imagine their surprise upon recognition. Well, we have a video as well.
Day 503 ~ Day TrippersJanuary 30th, 2012
I touched base with parents before hauling an exhausted crew back to the boat yesterday. They were planning on hiking over to Waterlemon Cay tomorrow. Lisa and I thought it would be more fun to all pile aboard our boat and sail over. They agreed.
So, about 11:30a I picked up the entire crew in the dink and wallowed back to the boat with 1,500 lbs of bodies and supplies. Adding 9 people to our 5 was predictable crazy but fun as well. The winds were contrary, so we motored the 3 miles to Waterlemon Cay and took a mooring ball. We lowered Sea Pearl and the kids were gone. The adults did some snorkeling and visiting where whole moments passed without interruption. Imagine.
We dropped the visitors ashore about 5:30pm and had a wonderful downwind sail to Hawksnest Bay, where Moerae was already on a ball and waiting for a visit.
Day 502 ~ More New YorkersJanuary 29th, 2012
Moerae is a small catamaran we first sighted over a year ago in Grenada. It's funny, we've seen them in a few locations but never really stopped by to say hi until Culebra. Guess that was a mistake. Well, we saw them again yesterday, visited for a bit and were invited to their two year old's birthday party, planned for 2pm at the beach.
After some lesson work, our crew paddled over to Maho beach where kids had been sighted. Well, one thing led to another and at 1:30 I called them on the radio to see if they wanted any lunch. The conversation went something like:
"Hey guys, want to come home for some sandwiches?"
"Ahhh, no, nobody's is hungry. Not at all, we're fine" (screaming kids in the background)
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, we're sure."
Despite assurances, I dingied over with a bag of food a few minutes later to find kid mayhem heaven ensuing. There were huge piles of sand and sandy little bodies running too and fro, yelling and splashing and doing things that only made sense when we were 10. I remember the feeling, vaguely.
I left my bag of provisions hanging in a tree (in hopes of avoiding ant imports on the return) and introduced myself to the moms and dads responsible for two-thirds of the motley crew. More New Yorkers, and friendly to boot.
Moerae puttered over to the beach about 2:30p carrying homemade German chocolate cake, juice and presents. The cake would have been just about right for the invitees, but with 5 new kids staring hungrily at the thick frosting, what could you say but, "Everyone's invited!"
The cake was gone in seconds, the juice guzzled and then they were gone like ghosts from an abandoned barn the moment the lights flicker on. Alfy, the two year old, had to be shown what you do with presents, but once he saw that good things lay inside, he was starry eyed. Wow, a plastic boat and a blue 18-wheeler truck that, er, doesn't float.
Day 501 ~ FreezingJanuary 28th, 2012
It blew like snot all night with huge gusts funneling through the saddle created by Francis Bay and Leinster Bay to the east. The howls were enough to wake the dead.
We dropped our ball before breakfast and slid over a half mile to the more sheltered south side of Francis Bay, known as Maho Bay. Lessons proceeded as they do and after lunch the kids needed some shore time. We dropped Sea Pearl and off they paddled to the beach. I swam over a few minutes later and hung out for a while.
Heavy cloud cover moved in and it actually felt, well, cold. Suffering at every corner.
Day 500 ~ Saying Goodbye, Yet AgainJanuary 27th, 2012
Rupert brought the Burning Palms crew over just after breakfast. They were all anxious to play in the fort they had built on the beach yesterday. It's decked out with weapons and supplies to withstand the assault of any hostile natives that may appear. The Island Explorers took weapons for the hunting party (sling shots, bow & suction cup arrows) and their survival kit (yarn, pencil, radio, pocket knives and mini-leathermans). Rupert and Nikah used the morning to do all those many things that must be done on a boat before leaving it.
The kiddies played all morning, busily improving their fortress and finding provisions that would allow them to survive anything that came their way. Lisa kept watch from the boat while I dinghied over to get our BC worked on (sticky valve) and do some provisioning. By the time I returned, the prior wind shift was now bringing swell directly into the channel and making the anchorage downright uncomfortable.
Burning Palms is headed back to the Land Down Under so the dreaded hour was coming. There were wails of protest from the explorers who were, by now, back on the boat eating lunch, faces black and shirts dirty from their toil. Rupert returned at 1pm to retrieve his kids, many goodbyes were exchanged and finally they were off. They may return to the US coast this summer; perhaps our wakes will cross again.
Soon after, it was time for us to find calmer waters as well; all but 2 other boats already had the same idea. Lisa's Mom doesn't get in until Tuesday and we'll go mad if we stay another night in this bouncy anchorage. We upped anchor and sailed our way out, down and around St. Thomas island, through the cut, over to the north side of St. John and into Francis Bay; a mere 18 tacks to reach our destination. The last time we were here, there was a decent north swell that rocked the boat, but today appeared fairly calm. We picked up a ball and settled in for the night.
Day 499 ~ Burning CaloriesJanuary 26th, 2012
With the promise of kid play in the afternoon lessons went like clockwork. By 1pm the Burning Palms kids were over and mayhem ensued with all due speed.
After an hour or two, it was time to take them ashore. One thing led to another and, 4 hours later Nana, Nika, Otto, and Jock returned to the boat exhausted and starving with tales of wild cactus eating natives and a fort they had built with lizards haunting the walls.
Planning to feed the gang, we did a huge batch of pasta sauce with fresh tuna, but by the time dinner was ready, it was dark so we packed up Burning Palms with take-out and sent them on their way. After a quick reading time, the girls collapsed. Nika was asleep before she got her light out.
Day 498 ~ Working UpwindJanuary 25th, 2012
We had a perfect, peaceful, breezy, bugless night on the ball. It was so beautiful here, we were tempted to stay. But, alas, the winds were about as good as they get for a trip east, against the tradewinds, as they will ever be. Today the normal easterly flow is bent to the north by nearly 30 degrees. This allows us to make most of our way back to St. Thomas or St. Croix on just a tack or two instead of having to take one for every mile.
The charts clearly showed a few narrow passes through the reef that borders Culebra's south east boundary. Before last night's experience, I would have been tempted to wind our way through. Not now buddy, no way. We tacked up the channel between Culebra and Culebrita, out the pass between Culebrita and Cayo Norte. I knew that would be a rough spot. With tidal currents ramming into each other and waves reflected from the numerous surrounding cliff walls, it was a dishwasher of confused seas. Fortunately, they were modest and, other than a few pantry items flying about, it wasn't too bad.
Once out in deeper water the swell evened out. We put on some audio history lessons and got into the groove. I put a fishing line out, just in case. "I feel like a mackerel sandwich," I mentioned to Nana, who smacked her lips in approval. A half hour later we landed a small king mackeral.
"Are you going to keep fishing?" Nana, the avid pescadora, queried. I thought for a moment and then replied, "Yes, I feel like some tuna."
A half hour later, we landed a tuna. Nana was amazed. This was incredible! "Now do you feel like some mahi mahi?" she asked, eyes aglow with anticipation.
"No way." I countered, it's time to put the fishing gear away. "It just doesn't work like that. Think of all the days we were hungry for fish and got skunked." She was unconvinced, the 'proof' was right in front of her.
We took one long tack until we were about 5 miles south of Charlotte Amalie harbor, St. Thomas. The swell that we experienced far out was building as we crawled out from behind the wave shadow of St. John. We tacked north and then a decent squall wall hit us with gusts in the mid-30s. We tacked east again and were making great time riding a twist in the wind that had me hopeful of making St. John on a single easterly tack.
However, ahead working downwind toward us, I saw a huge carbon fiber genny attached to a sleek boat with a black mast.
"That looks like Burning Palms," I told Lisa as I fumbled around for the binoculars. "I thought they flew home already," she countered, "but that may be later this week." Sure enough, as we closed with them, it was Burning Palms, complete with kids jumping up and down at finding friends again.
All my sailing tactics went out the window. We spun a 180 and followed them into the sinking sun.
Kid boats rule.
Day 497 ~ Reef-itisJanuary 24th, 2012
Like Southeast Alaska, Culebra is all about ferries. Yesterday the store's produce was in pretty sad shape. "Tomorrow, the ferry comes," was the answer. So, it wasn't all that disappointing when the latest GRIB files show the expected wind shift to the north to be behind schedule. Going to St. Croix today would be a wet and wild ride, something the boys might like, but an experience the ladies in my life have made perfectly clear is, in fact, uncivilized.
No problem, Mon. We wait another day, and maybe pickup some paw-paw. Sure enough, by about noon the market was loaded with decent looking papayas, pineapple and other produce goodness. Nana, Nika and I did some final provisioning then we dropped our ball on Culebra's west side and tacked out way into the lee of Isla Culebrita.
All the mooring balls were taken, but the chart clearly showed a decent anchorage a bit further to the south. It was about 3:30pm as we wormed our way into a large patch of 2.4 meter sand. We passed a couple of suspicious yellow bands of coral on the way in. The chart showed them as being at least 6 feet deep. We dropped Spade in sand and let out some chain.
However, something didn't feel right. At home when I get that unmistakable feeling, it usually means my toast is burning, or perhaps I left the dome light on in the car. When that feeling comes when on the water, an entire way of life is at risk.
I know, that sounds awfully melodramatic, but after ignoring that gut feeling several times and getting a good scare later when the wind shifts or something unexpected happens, I start to take those distinct, but impossible to articulate, impressions with a little more gravity.
I checked the chart again. We should be fine but time for some first-person survey work. I hadn't been in the water 30 seconds when I realized that the charts were set in la-la-land, like a rookie politician. I stood in chest-high water on the spot marked "6" (feet) on the chart.
"Are you standing?" Nana called out.
If any wind came up and we swung, our keels would go crunchy-crunch. On principle, we refuse to buy anything but creamy peanut butter. The entire family hates the crunch. I showed Lisa where the reef was and swam a wide arc around the sand field. It was, it seemed, just large enough. But, once back on the boat, I got that creepy feeling again. Time to stop thinking and and start listening; bail out. Now.
No big deal, right? We fired the engines and had Spade back in the family a minute later. I turned to see the pathway out between the reefs and suddenly realized this was not going to be easy. The sun was getting low and the water to the east, which should have clearly shown the shallow reefs, was blown into glassy metal with reflected sunlight. Visibility was zero.
A rookie mistake. Of course, at this moment, the iPad battery died. I raced inside, ripped the laptop off of power and got the GPS reconnected in the cockpit. The only way out was to follow our GPS track in. Of course, the laptop wouldn't read the GPS without a charting software restart. Seconds dragged by. Lisa calmly held position as best she could in the swirling winds while the software decided it would finally come on duty.
We threaded our way out slowly, after several "reef!" calls followed by rapid reverse episodes. At last, the depth sounder started to feel deep water and we could breath again. We back-tracked a mile and found a picturesque spot called Bahía de Almodóvar with plenty of water and a free mooring ball to boot.
I was jittery until well after dinner with a serious case of reef-itis. The fact of the matter is, I put too much faith in our charts. They are spot-on 99% of the time and so, like a bridge driven across every day, you eventually stop thinking about the drop below. Then one day driving home from the cubicle, you round the corner and half the concrete span is in the river, along with a few smashed cars.
You'll never drive over that bridge with the same frame of mind again, guaranteed.
Day 496 ~ Saying Goodbye, againJanuary 23rd, 2012
There are many educational benefits from living on a boat, knot tying being one of the lesser ones. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons has nothing to do with boats and sailing, but with making and leaving friends. Our girls have gone from taking an hour or two to warm up to new kids, and from having to be talked into going over and introducing themselves to new boats, to hungrily searching each new anchorage for tell-tale signs of juniors, as detected by minature clothing drying on the lifelines or toys scattered about the decks. Rope swings are a dead giveaway.
We only met the Pekala's of New Hampshire 6 days ago, but they have been center stage in the girls' thoughts and plans each day ever since. Today, they fly home in one marathon of connecting flights and freezing cars.
But, first the fun. They don't leave until 3pm so the girls whipped through lessons and were picked up at Suzies, the usual rondezvous point, at 12:15pm sharp for a few final hours of pool time. I think Joe and Kris were just looking for some way to burn off kid energy before plane confinement. Who knows, perhaps they really do enjoy our company.
In any case, the kids had a few fun hours and then re-learned one of life's most important lessons; one that rarely happens in a normal school, or life, for that matter. They had to say goodbye against a backdrop of an indefinite future. "Can't we go to New Hampshire and see them?"
Day 495 ~ Birthday YumminessJanuary 22nd, 2012
Today is the queen's birthday. It also happens to be Sunday, which means her favorite brekkie of Swedish Pancakes is already on the menu.
After the table was cleared and dishes washed (yes, the birthday queen gets the day off from dish duty too), Nana and I mixed and crushed and toasted and melted all the good stuff that goes into Lisa's all-time favorite dessert, Peanut Butter Chocolate pie. This creamy delight comes straight from the Fiddlehead Cookbook, once Juneau's finest restaurante and where Lisa and I enjoyed more than one dinner date in an era now that seems to fading into the hazy past, like Egyptian poetry.
While Lisa enjoyed uninterrupted time just reading, I read to the kids and contemplated several outdoor activity options. Then the iPhone pinged an incoming text alarm; the girls pounced like Barracuda on a striken sergeant major. The Pekalas were at the beach just north of us. In two shakes, we had an engine going and the sails flying. We reached smoothly and with all appropriate speed (10.8 was seen) to Carlos Rosario beach where the Pekala children were anxiously waiting.
Joe, Lisa and I snorkeled "the wall" to the north. Underwater photography has been a steep learning curve. Between lighting difficulties, diving issues, cagey fish and white balance problems (because the manual is only in Spanish), getting a decent underwater portrait, of say a turtle, has proved very difficult.
But today the stars aligned. Check this out (click to enlarge):
A birthday present no gift card can buy, Lisa captures the perfect image of a Hawksbill Sea Turtle.
When a large rain cloud loomed overhead, we took everyone to the boat while Joe hiked back to Flamenco beach to fetch their car and meet us in town. We waited for the rain to pass before moving, but no rain came until we were about halfway there...of course. And, along with the clouds, the winds were fluky so we had to motor into a headwind the entire way. But hey, the kids are happy.
Oh, and the peanut butter pie was smooth as silk and nicely chilled.
Day 494 ~ Jeep de SardinasJanuary 21st, 2012
Pekala's had homework to finish in the morning so we met up with them in town about 1pm. We then all piled into their rented Jeep Wrangler, yes all 10 of us, and drove about 20 minutes to the NE side of Culebra. Zoni Beach is nearly a mile long with a few visitors sprinkled about, but otherwise had a wild exposed feeling to it. Perhaps it was the nice surf pounding away.
We hung out there in the waves and wind for the afternoon and then headed back before the no-see-ums came out. Decided to make dinner at the Pekula's place so stopped by the store to snap a few missing ingredients. Kids played at the pool before dinner and then we headed back to the boat. Having taken a mooring ball in the bay just off the town, it was a quick and easy dinghy ride in the dark.
The girls collapsed into bed. We like that.
Day 493 ~ Kingdom of the FliesJanuary 20th, 2012
The day broke clear and sunny and we started the condo-to-boat conversion process first thing. After 5 nights in the sand Spade was nearly buried but came up with a little persuasion. We motoring out of our quiet little bay by 9:00am and took a mooring ball near the ferry dock to pick up the Pekala family.
Once loaded, we motored around the corner and unfurled the headsail to take advantage of the occasional puff of wind. We motor-sailed to Tamarindo Beach, this time preferring the southern mooring field to try our hand at finding some of those ever elusive sea turtles.
Unfortunately, the flies were pretty bad and, despite the work of four swatters, six kids and four adults, we finally gave up and let them take over the inside as the outside was relatively fly-free. We spent the day snorkeling and enjoying a peaceful day, despite them. Later, the kids took Sea Pearl to the beach and spent another couple hours while the adults stayed behind and talked in complete, uninterrupted sentences.
As the sun descended, we packed up and motored back to town before it got dark. After a homemade spaghetti dinner with the whole gang, I dinghied the Pekala's back to their car with the promise of more kid play on the morrow.
Day 492 ~ A Quiet DayJanuary 19th, 2012
It's amazing how fast lessons go when there are kid plans in the works. We had planned on sailing to Tamarindo Point for snorkeling with the NH family. However, with no wind and heavy cloud cover we put it off for tomorrow. The clouds cleared off in the late afternoon and the girls played at the beach for a short time. Peter and Nina took the sailing dinghy into town to check out the produce selections while Nana and Lisa made cookies.
Overall a quiet, relaxing day.
Day 491 ~ Blasting AwayJanuary 18th, 2012
It was a long night of huge wind blasts and occasional sheets of rain. I was up often checking the GPS to be sure we weren't moving. The wind would let up and we would pull forward due to the weight of the chain. Then a blast would hit and the slack would allow us to build up speed before hitting the anchor with a 1000lb jerk. Not the recipe for a good night's sleep.
Lessons were torture today; we never know why some days are better than others. Knowing that there were kids nearby who weren't studying probably didn't help.
I dingied the crew over to Suzie's for a pool play date at the new friends' hotel. The kids had fun and even played through the rain storm that passed overhead. By the time they got showered, dried and back to the dinghy dock, it was nearing dark. Dinner, followed by a chapter in our book, the girls were asleep in no time.
Day 490 ~ New FriendsJanuary 17th, 2012
Well, Jaru left on Friday and this is Tuesday. What does that make, 4, maybe 5, days kid friend-less? Well, today we decided to go check out the town, such as it is, on Culebra.
We found the Post Office, a gift shop with postcards and were just writing a few in the shop's air conditioning, when a Dad and Mom with two girls and a boy popped in. The girls are 10 and 8 years old, and the only ones not seen behind a school fence, so it didn't take long to start chatting.
We exchanged phone numbers and then all we heard for the next few hours, ones that saw lunch and math lessons and SWR come and go, well, all we heard was, "when are the kids coming?"
I left a voicemail for the dad and finally connected late in the afternoon. I picked up the whole crew in the dink and the kids enjoyed a couple hours of fun in Sea Pearl and on the rope swings. Since the family is on Culebra for a week, I suspect we'll see them again.
Day 489 ~ A cozy spotJanuary 16th, 2012
I was dimly coming to awareness when a blast of wind and rain penetrated the haze. When a battery of large tropical drops, chilled from their lofty perch, slam into my skull at 5:30 in the morning I notice.
Since we needed water pretty badly and the locals charge 25 cents a gallon, I slithered out of bed and into the tempest, grabbing my rain coat on the way out the stairs. I had it on in a jiffy and was soon bracing myself against the watery blasts, the rain slicker shedding gallons right into my boxers, it seemed, no less. The transition from warm bed to cold seeping wetness, punctuated by furious blasts of wind-driven rain, is bracing to say the least. Ahhh, what a feeling. Who needs coffee anyway?
In a minute I had both tanks open and collecting the precious streams. Normally, at this point, the rain stops and we face the fact that all the adrenaline and wet discomfort netted us around 2 gallons of water. But not this time, the rain came on and off in spurts for a good 10 minutes, giving us another 3-4 day lease on our water supply.
Then, as it got light, the clouds parted and the flies started to come back. Turns out we are downwind of the island dump. Gee, I wonder why there are flies? That was the last straw. Another cruiser told us that Bahía Linda, just south of the ferry dock, was his favorite spot so we were off the mooring ball and gone before 8am.
We motor-sailed south again, past the ferry dock and Lisa carefully threaded us through a narrow entrance and into a shallow, picturesque bay. We dropped the anchor in about 7 feet of water and backed down on it twice to be sure it stuck. I was in the water a minute later and, after nearly 30 minutes of surveying by snorkel, was satisied that we were in the right spot and the holding in deep sand was reasonable.
It turned out to be a charming spot, one of our favorites so far. Quiet, close to town and groceries, but just "around the corner" enough to be in another world. The kids did their kid thing at the beach in the afternoon sun. Lisa and I caught up on the blog and some overdue work.
Day 488 ~ Bobbing AroundJanuary 15th, 2012
We find ourselves back at Tamarindo Point. Without Jaru it's just not the same.
The "flag guy", a boat we first saw the day we splashed in Grenada 13 months ago pulled in next to us in the early afternoon. He stopped by for a chat, and invited us to join him at the beach later. He has a 2 year old and a cute dog, so the girls couldn't resist.
Turns out he's a furloughed Continental Airline pilot whose three year hiatus is up in just a few short months. He and his wife left Oriental, North Carolina, in May 2008 and made it all the way to Grenada and back to the Virgins. Nana loved their toy poodle who, it turns out, hates water and isn't too fond of boats but has managed to stick it out. I am sure this means another rally of, "can't we get a dog" talk among the crew. I will resist all canine pressures, at least until land. I will resist all canine pressures. I will...
A nice northerly swell started to propigate into the anchorage by nightfall. When the winds swirled us around we'd be crossways to it and start bobbing around, making casual walking difficult. The first mate started to growl. Get us out of here.
Better wait for daylight.
Day 487 ~ The Run AroundJanuary 14th, 2012
Up early and going as I decided to dinghy the dive tanks in for a refill. "He starts filling tanks at 8am," I had been told. Nina and I arrived about 5 minutes after 8 to find the place locked up tight. Hmmm. We stood around for a while then realized it was Saturday and they probably weren't even going open. As we were lugging the tanks back to the dingy, a truck rolled up and honked his horn. Oh, just a little late for work, I guess.
Twenty minutes later, we had full tanks and the alligator clips I needed to hook up the battery de-sulfator. Got back to the boat to find Lisa in a sick-of-rocking state again. Time to move.
We motored across the one-mile wide channel to Cayo de Luis Peña and the bight on the southeast end. It appeared promising and protected on google earth but it proved quite exposed to the wind. Unhooking from the mooring ball soon after, we went west and rounded the southern tip into the next bay but the swell also seemed to follow us around. As soon as we hooked up to the ball, we knew it was too bouncy even before the 2 ferry wakes hit us. So, onto the third one. There was one ball close to the beach and the bay was much smoother. However, once we hooked to the ball, the boat started to spin around and around, despite the stable wind. Being labeled a "dive only" ball just gave extra momentum to unhook, and quickly.
By now, we're getting frustrated. The fourth bay on the northwest end was the calmest, but there were no balls due to the presence of unexploded ordnance. Anchor anyone? Not. By this point we were out of options and the bay north of Tamarindo Point, the same one where we parted from Jaru only yesterday, came into view. We took Jaru's ball, ready to be done. Turns out the bay was fairly protected and not too bouncy.
Dropped Sea Pearl and the girls went to play near the beach for a while. I hooked up our desulfator, held an uninterrupted conversation with my wife and eventually went for a sail and swim myself. Later, dinner was consumed, a chapter read, off to bed and thus ends another tropical day. And you thought ours is a life of books and bon-bons!
Day 486 ~ Fruitless in CulebraJanuary 13th, 2012
The day finally came. After a month of kid fun, dinners and diving, Jaru was moving on. We elected to move at the same time so we were were "parting ways" instead of being "left behind". It's a difference that's more than subtle to the kidlets.
We dropped our moorings at the same moment and drifted for a minute or two slowly bobbing downwind towards the misty hulk of Puerto Rico, visible 20 miles leeward. They unfurled their big headsail and ghosted westward, while we tacked down the channel to the bay nearby where the ferry terminal resides. We picked up a mooring there and, while Lisa and the kids bounced around in the chop, I headed ashore to find the Friday fruit market.
The place was a ghost town. I finally found a local and asked but "go farther down" was the advice. However, that proved fruitless (!) as well. I finally asked again, and got more advice to go the other way. Then again, "Oh, the fruit guy, he no come today. Ferry problems."
Great. A walking tour of Culebrita in the beating sun wasn't really on the agenda for today, but it happened anyway. Took advantage of the being in town to snap up some provisions and figure out where to get dive tanks filled.
When I got back to the boat the girls were sick of the sideways rocking in the swell so we motored around the corner and took a mooring ball in a small bay by Bahía Tarja (transl: Sink Bay).
Day 485 ~ Flamenco BeachJanuary 12th, 2012
The next time you're in Culebra, you'll probably end up at Flamenco Beach; it's the tourista hotspot. It's a great beach, probably a mile long with soft sand-colored, er sand. Crystal clear water and nearby vendors are top reasons visitors love it there. Cruisers, actually, get that stuff almost every day, so what we love is the free garbage drop, the free endless showers (fresh water!) and a chance to get locally made fruit smoothies, as opposed to say something that was flash frozen in Des Moines last October.
We hiked over the nearby ridge and wound our way through a wild area that, it turns out, is surrounded by high fencing designed to keep people out. Why? Well, it seems the Navy used this end of the island as a live fire exercise range for decades and unexploded ordnance litters the hills and ravines, mostly overgrown, of course.
We resisted the urge to go bushwhacking and stuck to the well-beaten trail.
At lunchtime, we decided to sample some local color, and had lunch the Puerto Rican way. This consists of empanadas (deep fried pastry filled with shredded meat) topped with some rice and beans and a real mango smoothie, ok, a touch of Starbucks, but way better.
On the beach we played improvised baseball, paddle board ping pong and Rod took the kids to work on their body surfing. They'll sleep like babies tonight.
Since we are parting company with Jaru after a month of day to day play, we had them over for one last dinner. In typical cheap cruiser fashion, we pooled our leftovers and had, well, leftovers. Two types of curry, brown and white rice and some spaghetti. Two plantains that were just at the edge of being overripe topped off the evening nicely.
Jaru leaves tomorrow at dawn and to help numb the sting we are going to move at the same time. That way they aren't "leaving us", we're just parting ways. Right, that'll help.
There's going to be some depressed kidlets here for a while.
Day 484 ~ Shark BiteJanuary 11th, 2012
My dad used to pass around the desserts, after having taken a bite of each, with a wiry smile and saying, "Taxes". As a kid we just didn't get it, thinking it a cruel excuse for taking a piece of our good stuff. Well, it's true as we all know; nothing more certain than death itself. So we watched Rod heave and ho his 25kilo Rochna anchor off the bottom, hand over handing the chain up from the murky depths. We were right behind them and had our main and head sail out in a flash. The winds were perfect for a tack straight out of Ensenada Honda, which we managed to pull off.
We jybed at the southwestern corner of Culebra and headed through the narrow channel. Once we were well past the outer island, we hooked a fish. I could see him jumping and skipping a good 60 yards back. I started to fight him in and give and take off line. There were several more leaps, then a bounce on the line and suddenly the pressure slackened and I was making yard after yard of headway. I could see the fish's head now out of the water and planing as I reeled in wildly. About 10 yards from the boat, I saw the reason. A shark and ripped off the back two-thirds of the king mackerel, which was bleeding profusely, his belly torn into ribbons of hanging flesh.
I eased him onto the back step with a simple flick, his 8 or 9 pound bulk now reduced to the size and gravitas of a Subway tuna melt. Poor guy, he had a really bad day. I thought about a guy I had been hired once to replace. He was sure he was just getting transferred to another department and came to the meeting with a confident smile, the only guy in the room who didn't know it was actually termination day. Well, our fraction of a mackerel shuddered a few times and bled some more, but wasn't quite the climax we had expected.
We debated the wisdom of eating a fish that had been shark attacked; what if shark teeth transferred rare and undiscovered viruses straight to humans? In the end, however, there was some recoverable meat there, and a half a mackerel makes a tunafish sandwiches taste like sawdust, so we opted to clean him up and keep what we could.
We dropped the sails and picked up a mooring ball nearby just north of Punta Tamarindo Grande; there were snorkelers checking out the reef. I was really looking forward to a swim, but staring at the fish's shredded belly, I just couldn't bring myself to get in the water, not right away at least. We also know enough not to dump fish trimmings overboard when there are people in the water, so kept it all in a bucket of sea water until nightfall.
Rod and Lisa went for a dive a bit later, and reported an excellent coral shelf and tons of fish. We did some mackerel tacos for dinner and retired early. I felt like I should do some research on shark tackle, but decided to stick to my weight class instead.
Day 483 ~ Surround Sound RoostersJanuary 10th, 2012
At last, a perfectly flat calm night. We don't actually move that much, but Jaru likes to roll in the swells as monohulls do. I awoke about 5am to the sound of roosters crowing. That sounds quaint, perhaps even romantic, but in reality it's torture. I am sure you get used to them after a while, but when "normal" is silence, 12 roosters competing for dominance isn't exactly music to one's ears. No point in fighting it. Lisa and I got up and enjoyed some long overdue one-on-one time reviewing invoice discrepancies. Nothing like marital bliss.
Jaru's guests from Canada left on the early morning ferry. Once light, Cedar went for laundry, Peter for water, kids did lessons and made a quick trip to the store before we were ready to pull out.
We were just about to start pulling chain when Rod called over "hey, my windlass is on the blink." We shut down our engine and I headed over to see if I could be of any help. By the time I got on board, he already had the thing pulled completely apart and neither of us could figure out what was wrong. Decided it was too late to head out, so will stay one more night, pull the anchor by hand and figure it out later.
Calm, peaceful night. Moon still full, slight breeze. Tried my hand at Tikka Masala, a curry chicken dish. With all the girls asking for seconds I think I succeeded, despite some obvious and necessary tweaking with the next batch.
Day 482 ~ Elegance of the PastJanuary 10th, 2012
We wolfed down a quick breakfast and mobilized for a beach assault. The north facing beach on Isla Culebrita is steep and a decent swell was working its way into the bay. Landing with our big heavy dinghy would have been a trick, so Rod from Jaru took two trips with this lightweight inflatable.
We join Jaru for a morning hike to the majestic lighthouse on Isle Culibrita. Spain built it in the 1860s as a way of establishing sovereignty over Culebra only to lose it and Puerto Rico to the States in the Spanish American War. We hiked up a winding pathway mostly and mercifully covered with foliage that provided blessed shade. We approached the old lighthouse from the west and found a crumbling castle of a century gone by. Majestic stone work, elegant brick cornices, vaulted ceilings and doorways, sweeping views of the sea at every quarter. Underneath the dust and grime of a century of neglect, marbled floors and heavy oak doors appeared. The roof, built of wood in the 1800s was long since gone. The lighthouse, seemingly the centerpiece of a castle on a hill, drew one into a fairytale of yesteryear with every step upwards along a spiraled staircase that rusted away as one worked upwards towards the salty rain.
We explored the ghosty old ruins for a good hour envisioning the dinners, the dances, the visions of a family whose lifespans proved far shorter than their means. To build it today, as it was, would be millions. I couldn't help but wonder if their treasure was appreciated by the goats that dodged our descent through the groves.
Back at the sweeping white sand beach, the kids did what kids have done with sand and water for generations. When they got hungry, they swam back to the boat while the adults cooled off in the surf and sat around like lazy bums, remembering when it felt good to burn energy that now seems to require constant conservation.
We dropped our moorings a couple hours later and tacked our way out of the channel between Culebra and Culebrita. Cedar and the kids were onboard with us so Rod could push the boat to the max without making anyone too nervous. They have listed their boat for sale, so he made several close passes with all sails flying for the Paparazzi. It looked like fun.
We wormed our way into Ensenada Honda, the largest bay on Culebra and set the hook near town. We were enticed to Jaru for another taste of Cedar's famous piña coladas then hung out for a while and decimated Rod's prized salsa reserves. He's generous to a fault, it seems.
Day 481 ~ Cayo NorteJanuary 8th, 2012
The night proved a little bouncy, what with a wind shift about 3am bringing in some fresher swells from the East. Being a Sunday, we did our traditional Swedish pancake brekkie and then followed Jaru over to the island. The beach is a hostile collection of shallow reefs and rocks making the dinghy approach a bit of a trick. But with a good crew we got her ashore and safely out of the breakers.
The kids were off in a flash, finding shells and bottles and other treasures that hold an allure only childhood can see. Lisa and I followed an old service road of some kind and ended up on a knoll overlooking the eastern approaches from St. Thomas. Rod and Cedar had already summited and we agreed that, of all the islands we had seen, Cayo Norte was probably one of the nicest, biting ants and cacti not withstanding.
We did lunch back on the boats and moved over to Isla Culebrita in the later afternoon, giving the weekend powerboating some time to take their booze and blaring music home with them. A full moon rose over a tranquil scene, complete with a half mile white sand beach, museum quality light house and waving, frosty moonlit palm trees.
We pinched ourselves from time to time and expect to wake up, but it never seems to work.
Day 480 ~ Making TracksJanuary 7th, 2012
After hanging out in the Virgins for nearly a month, Jaru is headed west, and so are we. Cool as a some places are, it's the people that make a place feel like home. When your home is a boat, you just move with those you feel most in sync with. Rod and Cedar of Jaru have such a similar outlook on life that we just end up sticking together. The kids are the glue, yes, but we're not unwilling to have some adult conversation from time to time ourselves. So, Jaru must make it to Puerto Rico by X date, we have no firm plans, so why not?
Laundry anyone? Or how about propane bottles that are waning by the day. While Rod and his crew took a trip to Cost U Less, Lisa and I did a laundry and propane run. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you have focused task time and a tight timeline for leaving. In an hour and a half we were back with clean clothes and full bottles.
We upped anchor and left within a minute or two of Jaru. We took different routes out of the harbor, but then tacked towards each other and sailed fairly close for an hour or two as we approached Culebrita. We hooked and landed a nice yellow fin tuna. Eight year old Tiegan on Jaru was pretty bummed at being left out of the action, until he got a strike an hour later and landed a Tuny as well. You go, man!
We found our preferred moorings taken, so anchored into the lee of Cayo Norte, one of the most stunning islands we have ever seen. The contours, the cut rock lines, the scattered trees look like something from a movie set, just too perfect. A large spotted Eagle Ray swept past Jaru as they set their hook and couple of turtles poked their heads out to see what was going on.
With a fresh tuna aboard, we invited the whole crew over for fresh tuna tacos. The richest banker in New York can't get tuna this fresh for any price. Jaru brought a pan of brownies, still warm and chewy. There were no left overs, of anything.
Come to think of it, I wonder if many bankers in New York have genuine friends to share their rich fare with?
Day 479 ~ Chore TimeJanuary 6th, 2012
After a couple of weeks hanging out in remote anchorages and exploring reefs, caves and forbidden beaches, it was time for some down to earth life stuff. Like checking back into the US of A, buying food, picking up long lost mail and gathering some water.
Having motored upwind to St. John, like three times now, it was pure pain to have to motor back on one of the few flat calm, windless days that rarely graces these isles. The hydrocarbons just want to be burned. Yuck.
We arrived at 9am and were all checked in and legal by 10am. We waited out some rain showers and just about filled our tanks before heading out to the Post Office and local Pueblo supermarket. Prices here are all over the map, some things aren't bad while others are outrageous. Choosy Moms choose.... what's available.
At one point, I glanced out behind us and saw Lalize, our friends from the Deltaville Boatyard motor past. Turns out they got pretty beat up on the passage south. Hope to catch up with them in person soon and repay their generous hospitality.
Day 478 ~ Doing our DutyJanuary 5th, 2012
After chores, did lessons while motoring across the Drake Channel to Soper's Hole, Tortola. The wind that was forecasted was not there. Found a mooring ball to tie up to and then I went in with the Jaru crew to go officially check out of the BVIs. After a quick stop at the grocery store, we were back at the boats in no time. Good thing as a terrible squall came through with 25-35 knot winds and sheets of rain. It was interesting watching several boats come in and try to catch a ball themselves in the middle of the din.
Once the squall passed, it was calm again. Calm enough that we had to motor back across the channel to Cinnamon Bay, USVIs. However, as we got close to entering the bay, the seas were churning in every direction and we could see huge breakers on the beach. A northern storm's waves had finally reached St. John and were making a mess of the water. We opted for Francis Bay hoping for calmer water. Despite the swell that still made it in, there weren't many other close options. The wind was either non-existent or from the direction of St. Thomas where we needed to go. We already motored East last week and I couldn't stand the thought of having to return under diesel power.
The crew was anxious to get off the rocking boats and decided to hike over to Cinnamon Bay; Rod went via paddleboard in hopes of catching some rollers. The surf at the beach made a dinghy landing challenging at best so opted to return for Jaru's lighter dinghy with no motor attached and row ashore. They looked like they were storming Normandy in a well-choreographed exit, kids first followed by adults running the dinghy up to dry sand without catching a wave. I returned to the boat to take care of some clients; not exactly my first choice, but it had to be done.
The beach crew returned about 4pm, cleaned up and then headed over to Jaru for some homemade pizza. Just as we were loading up, the phone rang and I spent the next hour with a client. The others went ahead and retrieved me later. A good time had by all.
Day 477 ~ Moving WestJanuary 4th, 2012
Peter Island in the BVIs is a great spot, but it's time to move. We tried to sail out of Peter Bay and race Jaru, who had a headstart, but wind died before we could catch them. Actually, we caught them with a final dying gust, or at least got close enough to yell back and forth as both our boats slowly clocked crosswise in the current. A monster turtle surfaced, looked us over, and swam off with enviable speed and we ended up having to motor the rest of the way. This gave us time to wrap up lessons on the passage so we were done and ready for snorkeling by the time we got to Waterlemon Bay.
The day fell into a familiar routine, snorkel, shower off, kids come over for some rope swinging. I joined Jaru's guests, Shannon and Jeremy, for a hike up to the Nanaberg ruins, which were well worth it.
We got thoroughly soaked on the walk there, and again on the way back. But hey, rain is fresh water, so who's stuck up enough to take an umbrella and waste all that wealth?
Day 476 ~ Diving in DessertsJanuary 3rd, 2012
We enjoyed a nice quiet night tucked under the lee of Peter Island. Following the recent pattern, the wind and a few squalls blew through during the night, blasting us from first one direction, then another.
After some lesson work in the morning, the kids took Sea Pearl ashore and did what kids do on sandy beaches fringed with mazes of sea grape and studded with hermit crabs.
Rod and Lisa went diving on Key Point while the others snorkeled. After dinner, Jaru came over for music, piña coladas and surprised us by bringing a homemade apple crisp. Yum.
Day 475 ~ Back to the BathsJanuary 2nd, 2012
It proved a rocky and rolly night in Savannah Bay. The beach here is fantastic with deep soft sand and perfectly arced. But that's about where the attractions stop.
We agreed to sail with Jaru to The Baths, just a couple of miles south. We left early as the holiday charters quickly fill up the place. We were under a reefed main sail by 7:30am and on a day mooring ball well before 9am. We mobilized to shore and the kids enjoyed all the thrills of scaling rocks, finding secret passageways, and hidden little lagoons. Nina, Tiegan and I came back to the boats and gathered some snacks to feed the hungry hikers. Later, we took advantage of the high sunlight to do some snorkeling.
After only a few hours, the hundreds of touristas clambering left and right were enough to convince us it was time move on. We dropped our moorings and sailed south east down the channel. We had several potential anchorages in mind, but one after another was either full of charter boats, rocking and rolling, or just a steep deep shelf. After motoring around for an hour, we wound up back at Peter Island, right from were we had left just 4 days before. Can't beat it though, we enjoyed a nice evening in virtual solitude.
Day 474 ~ An Alien New YearJanuary 1st, 2012
A New Year. Since we never went to a store, went on shore, heard loud music or saw fireworks, you'd never know it was a holiday. We went to bed at 9pm and with the two other boats in the anchorage doing the same, it was a quiet night. Lisa was up late working on some invoicing and caught a glimpse of fireworks on the horizon. That's when it clicked. Duh, it's 2012.
Being Sunday, we took it easy getting up and around. While mixing our Swedish pancakes, Nika mentioned that the charter boat anchored just in front of us the night before "seems to be getting closer". We should, by now, take Nika seriously. She is by far the most adapted boat kid, completely salty in every pore. And she isn't given to exaggeration or flights of fancy, which sets her apart from her kin. "Papa" she announced with authority, "That charter boat is dragged its anchor."
"Hmmm, yeah sure", I mumbled flipping another pancake. I had important work to do. "Keep an eye on 'em," I mentioned in passing.
A few minutes later, Nika came running back in hollering "they are dragging down on us". This time, Lisa went up to have a look and, by the sound of her pounding footsteps, the light bulb finally came on. I ran up to find the charter cat drifting straight down onto us, already within spitting distance.
"Bumpers!" Nina and I grabbed the bumpers while Lisa turned on her rarely heard but impossible to ignore soccer mom voice while rushing forward with boat hook poised like a Roman Centurion's javelin,
"You're dragging your anchor and are about to run into us. Hello! Anybody home?!" A lady with Hollywood sunglasses and a drink in one hand slowly turned to see what all the ruckus was about. A hatch popped open and a beluga white tourista with 60lbs of integral flotation peered sleepily out, "Hey how'd they get so close to us?!"
As we fended off with bumpers and scraped up their bow with the pointy end of the boat hooks an older guy with frizzy hair stumbled upstairs, took a few looks around and finally got the message. An engine fired, and they backed away from us. Need we say more about clueless charterers and how most view the world? Nothing like starting the new year off with a bang, or at least almost.
With clear skies overhead, we were going to take the opportunity to snorkel the coral bed again in the sun, but decided to just move on to Savannah Bay and try the coral out there. We started the new year with a sailboat race to Savannah Bay. Head sail against head sail, Jaru won. The girls, Nina leading the pack, were distraught. Losing gracefully is an art one best learns early, as you're sure to learn it often, like it or not.