Curacao to Virgin Islands
November / December 2015
November 5, 2015
A long day but crisis free. We awoke to the alarm at 3:00 a.m. and left the house in blackness, with just a sprinkling of snow and an outside of temperature of 32F (0 C) at our elevation of 7,000 feet. The rental car was 2 wheel drive and liberally caked with mud from climbing the hill up to the house yesterday. We blessed the fact that it was mostly downhill to the black-top and we slid our way to Albuquerque and the first leg of our flight. Albuquerque to Dallas, then to Miami and finally landing in Curacao at 10:00 p.m. The Customs man stared at our cardboard box emblazoned with the words “ice-maker” and asked if we were “on holiday”. This is a trick question to which I answered that we were on a boat at Seru Boca Marina. He waved us on. You can bring in a nuclear reactor as long as you say “boat”.
I had “Skyped” the taxi company and our driver was waiting outside of the security zone and whisked us across the island to the darkened marina. Our driver regaled us with the tale of a couple who had forgotten their security cards and spent four hours negotiating with the security people at Seru Boca, to finally gain access to their boat in the pre-dawn. Not us! We found DoodleBug still safely at her mooring and were aboard with all of our luggage at 11:20 p.m. We are here! Temperature about 82F.
November 6, 2015
There was a bright light glaring into my eyes from the hatch above as I awoke at 0900 hours Curacao time. This isn’t fair! My body whinged that It is supposed to be still dark at this time. We have travelled three time zones to the east and are now about 12 degrees above the equator. Bummer! Time to get up and find the coffee cups. It is always weird returning to a house / boat after an absence of a month or so. Age or senility dictates that it is hard to remember where stuff is. The best technique I have found is not to think about it but to just open the the cupboard / drawer. My hand remembers better than my brain.
Last night the boat smelt like a boat, rather than a sewer - thanks to Annette’s precaution of using the hand-held shower to fill all of the toilets with fresh water and then seal the toilet-stools with seran wrap. You just have to remember to remove it before you sit down. Daylight also showed the boat was covered with a thick layer of dust and Annette hosed this off while I connected the umbilicals of power, cellular access and internet. We unpacked our suitcases and stashed the contents but anything requiring actual brain power will have to wait for the morrow and the abatement of jet-lag. Fortunately we have enough beer on-board to make it through the week-end.
November 7, 2015
This morning the sky had a forbidding look as though rain were imminent. One of my projects was to link an iPad to the built in chartplotter via WiFi and see if the charts, radar and controls could be operated from the iPad. If we could achieve this, the vessel could be navigated and steered from just about anywhere on the boat, using the wireless remote for the auto-pilot. In real terms, if it was bucketing with rain outside, we could keep watch from the sheltered inside navigation station. After a few minutes, the various pieces of electronics connected and I tried the radar. The radar showed a huge rain pod rapidly approaching. I replaced covers on the instruments, grabbed everything I could and retreated inside the main cabin as rain lashed the marina and removed the balance of fine dust from the nearby quarry that had settled over DoodleBug at her dock.
OK then, inside jobs this morning as the rain continued to hammer down. There is a tropical disturbance heading for Puerto Rico that has a 50% chance of becoming a “named” tropical storm and we are catching the southern edge of this.
At 3:25 p.m. , the statutory 25 minutes late, our rental car ride showed up at the marina. The marina security had lost the note authorizing the driver Terrance to enter the “Santa Barbara Plantation” property but let him anyway. Now we were instructed to exit in the opposite direction because the community was running a bicycle race and so instead of us navigating past the two or three bicycles between us and the gate about a mile and half away, we had to go counterflow to perhaps a hundred cyclists on the eight or ten miles to the other exit to the property. Stupid and hazardous for the cyclists but fun for us.
This rental car had a better interior than the previous rental but the exterior was amazing. Every body panel had been dented, including the roof but inside there is headliner and the seats aren’t torn. Tires are a little bald and the speedometer is not functional - you sorta’ guess how fast you are going. All part of the great adventure!
November 8, 2015
This morning there were no rain showers to be seen, blue skies with sunshine and noticeably lower humidity in the air. A beautiful day for boat chores!
My major task was to check the engines and after doing all of the usual things like checking fluids and cleaning the raw water intake filter, I checked the anodes that live inside the heat exchanger. Land based engines remove the surplus heat by passing the coolant through a “radiator” which has air passing through its fins. Water is a much more efficient conductor of heat than air, so marine engines typically use a much smaller “radiator”, in the form of a double jacket without the fins. The engine coolant passes through the inner jacket and sea water is passed through the outer jacket. To prevent stray electrical current from eating away the soft metals, the heat exchanger has a chunk of zinc based “sacrificial” metal that will be eroded first and Cummins recommends checking this every 90 days. It has now been 90 days since the engines were installed but I was still shocked to see that the anodes on both engines were near completely eroded.
I added an extra line to prevent DoodleBug from hitting the dock and ran each engine slowly in forward and reverse. The port engine “screamed” when first put into drive and I have to assume that it is something to do with the transmission. It quieted down after it had run for twenty seconds or so and after switching between forwards and reverse a few times, the noise disappeared entirely. Since this is not “normal” behavior, it will bear further investigation but I will need to find a transmission specialist.
I had been shocked by the condition of the engine anodes and decided it would be prudent to check the generator anode(s) and removed what looked like an anode from its heat exchanger. Fluorescent green fluid spurted everywhere! Apparently I had opened up the wrong “jacket” and spent the next five minutes cleaning up the mess. The twin facts that I did not find an an anode and the spare parts kit did not contain any spares, leads me to the conclusion that maybe there aren’t any.
The heavy rain yesterday had produced two hatch leaks so Annette spent time cleaning all of the hatch rims and lubricating the rubber gaskets with silicone grease. After cleaning the boat and tidying away her household items, she decided to test the ice-maker we had brought in our checked airline luggage. It is a so called “portable” unit and runs from an inverter, producing ice cubes in about ten minutes with a usable quantity of ice in a half hours operation. All afternoon long we were entertained with the sound of ice cubes rattling into the collection tray. This put Annette in a party mood so she installed various kites flying from the flybridge, consisting of a pig, a man wearing a bathing suit plus “rubber ducky swim ring”, a fish and a red, rotating sea serpent. Sunday afternoon is the time when the locals climb into their boats and cruise around Spanish Water, checking out the marinas and back yards. We were well photographed today by several boats and will probably be featured in the upcoming issue of the magazine, “What’s wrong with Curacao?”. One of the boats that swept around us sported a full scale TV crew as well as a drone operated camera that hovered and zoomed all around the marina. It appeared that they were perhaps interviewing someone aboard the boat and we watched the show with interest trying to fathom what was occurring.
We had discovered another live-aboard catamaran at this marina and after the departure of the TV crews, we shared sundowners with Bob and Jerry from North Carolina. Annette served Jerry’s drink with freshly made ice-cubes. No paparazzi's please!
November 9, 2015
The Expedia dance began last week before we had even departed Santa Fe. Our son Matt had cancelled his visit with us over the Christmas holidays and we had already purchased the airline tickets. Southwest Airlines took about 12 minutes to recast the flights with the name of daughter Helen’s co-worker and I needed Expedia to do the same with the leg from Puerto Rico to Tortola. I phoned Expedia and I couldn’t tell if the lady I spoke with was from Calcutta or Budapest but I knew I was in trouble, ‘cos it sure as hell wasn’t Dallas! She said she would telephone the airline office at Seaborne Airlines and then put me on hold for perhaps 25 minutes. When she came back on line, she said that she couldn’t reach the airline but that the tickets were non cancellable and non-refundable. The fact that she did not offer to contact the airlines later and then call me back, told me that I had been scammed, she had simply put me on hold to deal with another customer and then bullshit me.
The following morning I called the airline myself. The Seaborne folks were pleasant enough to talk to. The outbound ticket was fully refundable, the return leg not. They couldn’t help me because the tickets had been booked via Expedia and only the latter could access the computer files to change the booking.
Back to Expedia. This time the (different) lady told me that when there is a return ticket, Expedia treats them as a single entity using the most restrictive rules. They could and would do nothing to help me. I was to forfeit the $560 fare and needed to buy another ticket. I complained that this was patently unfair since they had nearly two months to re-sell the seat, hardly a problem near Christmas and .the Expedia lady from Khartoum insisted that it was not their fault, it was the “airlines policy”. I corrected her saying that she had just told me that it was Expedia’s policy to ignore the refundable ticket and treat it as non-refundable, Seaborne was perfectly willing to make an accommodation. To this she could only keep repeating that it wasn’t their fault and I was stuffed. No, I couldn’t speak to a manager.
I next “escalated” my complaint which had to be done by e-mail. I would hear from their team in about 24 hours. Three days later I sent another e-mail providing our local cell number and indicating I had heard nothing. Which brings us to around 9:00 a.m. this morning.
I stood outside the marina office to use their internet and “Skyped” the International access number for Expedia. This time I got to speak to a guy whose primary language might have been English. He sounded fair and reasonable and after spending 45 minutes in brief conversations punctuated by long periods on hold, counting the iguanas in the marina parking lot while Annette weeded the marina flower beds, the Skype connection terminated. The parking lot iguanas bobbed their heads vigorously as though they would laugh if they could. Bugger! Five minutes later he called me back on the cell phone. Wow, I thought he was in the bar with his buddies by now. He passed us over to his supervisor and they had both assured me that they would cancel the non-refundable return ticket and re-book the fully refundable outbound leg. After 20 minutes, the cell phone broke connection and the “supervisor” did not call back.
It was now well past beer time and Annette went back to the boat to get a couple of bottles - just to maintain life support. I Skyped back to Expedia and after negotiating with Khartoum’s sister I got back to Budapest’s sister. She began telling me the Expedia policy and I cut her off saying, “We did this part last week. We are now up to the part where you fix the reservation for half of the ticket”. I don’t know what nationality or culture spells the name “Mary” with the letter “J” but I was talking to her. After 40 minutes of this, the Skype connection broke contact. Annette returned with sandwiches.
When I called back, the next Expedia agent ignored the case number I had been given and asked me what State “San Juan” was in. Mercifully the Skype connection broke again. The final attempt was even worse in that the agent explained that since I was buying a new ticket, she didn’t need the case number. How was my name spelled for the ticket? At 2:30 p.m., on day 5 with just five and a half hours invested today, the Skype connection broke again.
Two hours later I booked a new ticket for the same flights using Priceline. It was $40 cheaper than the price quoted by Expedia. I also learned from Seaborne that the forfeited $560 is retained by Expedia.
That evening we hosted a BBQ for the two “live-aboard” boats on our dock. Bob and Jerry brought a fine salad and the two French lads crewing a fast catamaran, brought healthy appetites and inhaled their burgers in anticipation of their leaving for Martinique tomorrow. All in all a fun evening, some small compensation for today’s torture.
November 10, 2015
Sheltering the marina is “Table Mountain” that provided mostly shelter from the trade winds, unpredictable gusts occasionally and dust from the blasting and quarrying operations that we hear. On the week-end we had chatted with a fellow boater, “Dave” who has his Boston Whaler moored just feet from DoodleBug. I had commented that I have an identical Boston Whaler under my deck on Padre Island but that his is cleaner. Annette had asked Dave if he knew anyone who worked at quarry because she wanted to ask for a tour. In turn Dave has said that he did indeed know someone and that he would see if it could be arranged.
Yesterday, Dave had phoned to say that “Peter” would give us a tour and we would meet Peter at the Sales office next to the Santa Barbara Plantation security gate. This we did and discovered that Peter is the engineer in charge of the property management of the Santa Barbara Estate and we had been talking to Dave, the General Manager.
Peter explained that mining operations began at the turn of the last century, around 1905. The landowners of the Santa Barbara plantation believed that Table Mountain contained commercial pockets of mineable phosphate, derived from bird guano but had been unable to locate it. They sold the mining rights to an English mining expert who began to produce and export the phosphate. Eventually the deposits were played out and the quality of the remaining phosphate had declined to the point where the operation was only marginally commercial, when a Dutch company purchased the mining rights to produce building materials from the underlying limestone. Some of the limestone was mined, cut and polished for building blocks, and other rock was crushed for use in making concrete. The crushed rock is very pure and is exported for making glass bottles for “Carib” beer, the balance has to be mixed with imported sand from Surinam to create a mixture with the necessary physical properties for construction concrete.
We toured the old crushing mill and dock facilities and the cottages of the early miners. The latter still retain occupation rights to their respective homes throughout their lifetime but the homes are demolished upon their death or abandonment and revert back to the Plantation owners. During our tour it had bucketed with rain and it was not possible to enter the quarry itself. The current mining operations are being performed by hollowing out the interior of “Table Mountain”, leaving the familiar landscape seemingly intact. As you can imagine, the cost of importing building materials to a remote island like Curacao is huge and thus this operation has a marked impact on the island economy.
We visited an abandoned operation where limestone had been quarried, cut into thin slices, polished and sorted by color. This stone had been used in the construction of the hotels and the tailings were now available to Annette as she pored through the rocks seeking the best souvenirs. I shall have to check the waterline level on DoodleBug before we leave.
Later that evening we had been invited to supper with Hannah the sculptress / painter and her husband Jan. Annette had brought Hannah a stack of magazines and art brochures that Annette had collected from the art galleries on Canyon Road, Santa Fe. Hannah was besides herself with excitement as she and Annette pored over the brochures at the top of the pile, whilst Jan and I sorted out the problems of humanity, the European immigration crisis and the energy economy.
Jan has been completing the pyramid house that he began constructing over a decade ago and since we were here a month ago, the pyramid has been sheathed in roofing material, tar papered and lathed ready for the shakes to be installed. Jan maintained that the construction was begun on a whimsy - because he liked the idea of living inside a pyramid. He maintained that it is not a particularly practical shape because of the lost space at the perimeter, but since they have no children living with them, they don’t really care. Jan said that Hannah had recently asked when the house would be ready to move into and he had said “Christmas”. He told me that he never specified which Christmas, as he is retired and once it is finished, he has nothing to do.
November 11, 2015
Our boat has no chain-counter and by this I mean, there is no mechanism to measure the amount of chain that has been released when you drop the anchor. This is important because too much chain used in close confines and you might swing on a wind change and collide with another anchored vessel; too little and a gust of wind might cause the anchor to lift from the sea bed and “drag”, i.e. cease to an “anchor”. The usual formula is to use five times the water depth when anchoring for the night. If you are in 20 feet of water, you would have 20 times 5 equals 100 feet of chain laying on the sea bed, with the anchor hopefully dug into the sea bed on the end of the chain.
I had purchased a chain counter display that is built into the controller for the anchor windlass. The latter is a “Quick” brand, an Italian made device and the brochure claims that all Quick brand windlasses feature a built in chain counter “sensor”. OK then but where was the wiring for the sensor? A couple of days ago I had dismantled the windlass and discovered a mystery pair of wires exiting downwards alongside the power cables. Further searching and I tracked the wires to a bundle jammed behind the battery compartment. The wiring had been cut and had obviously been actively used at one time. This morning I sat down to translate the seven color coded wires of the new controller I had purchased in the USA with the “built in” chain counter display and match these to the three wires currently in use, plus the two discarded wires from the unused sensor – total five. After scouring the wiring diagrams (Italians don’t seem to be big on wiring diagrams) I realized that two of my five wires need to be paralleled for power and I need an extra ground wire for the controller.
By this time Annette was in the water cleaning the hull, so in the spirit of solidarity, I abandoned my wiring project and joined her in the water with me cleaning the propellers. In the past I have used scuba gear to do this but now I lack the necessary breathing apparatus and had to rely on a snorkel and holding my breath. About an hour later, Annette had cleaned the hulls and I had most of the gunk cleaned off the props. Not exactly to “scuba” standards but enough to get by.
We have been checking the weather daily and now that tropical storm / hurricane “Kate” has passed by and gone out into the Atlantic, we see that next week, we might have two days of very light winds. Unlike the first DoodleBug who would not lift up her skirts until you had at least 15 knots of wind, this DoodleBug likes either a dead calm or a following wind. Of course the weather forecast this far out is hardly reliable so we will have to see what transpires with the forecast this coming week-end.
After the physical effort of cleaning the hull (By the way, we had been quoted $500 to have this done by a commercial operator) we were sufficiently exercised to cover the balance of the day and we went out on an expedition to buy a clothes washing machine. Our dock neighbors had lauded theirs, a design targeted at “third world” countries, that can be filled with water from a bucket if necessary and boasts bullet-proof construction. Instead of the marinized “built in” marvel of stainless steel that costs about $2,000.00, these machines are mainly plastic and cost upwards of $200. The one we purchased is by Samsung, a sturdy, reliable brand and the dealer delivered it to our boat. Of course the delivery lads had never been on a vessel like this before and we gave them a tour, whilst they took dozens of pictures of themselves, posed at the engine controls or languidly slouching at the rail. They were going to e-mail pictures to family in India in celebration of tomorrow’s Hindu New Year and you have to wonder how they will title these.
November 12, 2015
One of the really cool features of our new washing machine is that the power draw is low enough that it can run from our solar panel powered inverter. The local power at the marina is 130 volts at a frequency of 50 Hertz, as compared to the household power in the USA of 110 volts and 60 Hertz. Although the dealer had assured us that our washer would run fine on the local power, we didn’t have to risk burning out electric motors or timers with the wrong power, we could just run it from our ship’s power. This we did. Annette had a small load of clothes, water and soap all loaded and we turned it on. When dock neighbor Bob came by, we were gazing in wonder at the clothes sploshing back and forth, just as they do in certain parts of Arkansas.
We had a short shopping list of last minute parts and while the clothes were drying on the line (we didn’t stay to watch) we headed out to find sealant and spare anodes. The forecast for next week still shows light winds on Wednesday and Thursday and if this holds, we plan to leave for the Spanish Virgin Islands at that time.
November 13, 2015
This morning we spent on an extended treasure hunt for a WiFi amplifier / extender. Bob and Jerry or S/V Freestyle had loaned us theirs and it worked well. In addition they had explained where they had purchased it and although we had visited that very store yesterday, we were now armed with a photo of the device and written specifications. The store clerk was just as useless today as yesterday but eventually it was determined that they normally carried the devices but were out of stock at both of their Curacao stores. We bounced all over the the island trying other electronics stores but to no avail. We bought a different gadget as more of an act of desperation at a downtown store in the heart of the old city and paused for a pizza lunch so that the effort was not entirely wasted.
Back at Doodlebug I spent an hour or so removing extra drivers and adding new drivers, trying to get the new Wi-Fi extender to work. It did see slightly more signal than the built in receiver but not enough to make any real difference. We will need to continue our search elsewhere and discard todays purchase in an environmentally responsible fashion.
We finally got around to painting our Federal registration numbers with “clear resin”. The US Coast Guard / Homeland Security or whatever they call themselves, require that the vessel’s registration number be painted on an internal hold bulkhead, just forward of the largest hatch. I don’t remember if we are carrying bales of cotton, barrels of rum or slaves but nevertheless we seem to be lacking internal bulkheads and cargo holds. We had affixed our numbers in our stern locker since it is the closest thing we have to a “cargo hold”. The marking instructions further required that we coat the numbers with multiple layers of “clear resin” in order to make them “permanent”. We had shopped around for “clear resin” and had finally settled on a two part epoxy that is supposed to be used for table tops, since none were sure as to what “clear resin” is. This afternoon I had liberally slopped several coats of this stuff over the numbers and blessed the fact that it was now dripping all over the discarded cardboard box that the washing machine had been shipped in. You really don’t want to slop epoxy around more than you have to.
I did get around to running an extra ground wire for the new anchor windlass controller but couldn’t find a connector for one end of the wire. Another item for tomorrow. Annette did another load of laundry – almost as much fun as yesterday!
November 14, 2015
Not a terribly productive day. We made the pilgrimage to the car rental company in order to extend our rental through next Tuesday. Our next destination was the marine supply where we bought the needed wiring terminator for the chain counter electronics, a couple of cases of beer and then back to the boat. This is when the productivity began to decline, although not due to the beer. We have a side by side freezer refrigerator that have separate compressors and separate controls. Their cooling behavior had been unfathomable until we supplied a pair of wireless remote thermometers and now they are still unfathomable but at we least we have proof that they are messed up! These units are of typical of marine construction in that they have insulated cabinets. Inside are cold plates that are screwed to the walls of the cabinets and outside the units, buried behind wall panels are the thermostats. The compressors themselves are four or five feet away under a food storage bin. We had been trying to set the fridge / freezer thermostats so that the freezer stayed frozen and the beer in the fridge didn’t go solid. This was not working well and my log of settings and temperatures was not making any sense.
To add to the technical misery, I failed to find my cutter to make hole for new windlass control wiring. I had hoped that it would be all “plug and play” since it was all made by the same manufacturer and I had believed that I was simply adding an optional component. This was not to be, so in disgust we read paperback books while the beer was still cold.
November 15, 2015
The fridge / freezer seemed heavily frosted so perhaps this was the problem and we began the day by defrosting the units. During this process we were at least able to identify which of the unlabeled thermostats allegedly belongs to the freezer. It now has a label. The weather forecast still shows lighter winds for next Wednesday and we needed to tidy the boat anyway. The missing cutter still stayed missing however but the fridge / freezer was restarted and began cooling again.
Sunday is the day that native Curacao folk take their various boats, families, wives, girlfriends and mistresses out for a drive around Spanish Water. The wind was blowing fiercely so none stayed out too long but we watched a steady parade from the deck of DoodleBug as we enjoyed a slow afternoon. We ate dinner at the main resort which is pleasantly located on the entrance channel to Spanish Water, with a great sunset view and you get to watch the hardy few who ventured beyond the sheltered confines of the inland lake, struggling through the waves to make it back inside. The experience was only slightly marred by our bread rolls blowing off the table.
November 16, 2015
This morning we discovered that the freezer was not working! Most of our frozen food was defrosted and had to be either eaten or discarded and to make matters worse, the individual cooling units seem to be working fine. What is going on here? We will need to have the compressor units checked for freon charge and then get the thermostats tested. This won’t be done here, we will attempt this at our next port of call.
The good news was that I finally found the missing cutter and completed the installation of the anchor chain counter. It hasn’t been “calibrated” yet but looks close enough. We have gathered and updated all of our boat documents and the weather still seems reasonable for a Wednesday departure.
November 17, 2015
The final day before our departure. We drove downtown and made our first stop at the central Post Office in order that Annette could mail her post-cards from a box within the facility – she doesn’t trust “street” boxes and certainly no longer trusts a hotel / business to drop them in the mail for her. Next was the Customs office where the official exclaimed that our inbound documents were all “hand written”. This was followed by an, “Oh yes, and I did it” (the result of computer problems on the day of our arrival). A very pleasant grandfather type who meticulously completed the various forms and wished us a safe trip. Next we perambulated the famous Willemstad floating bridge – the bridge decking is supported by multiple barges and it rocks and heaves slightly with the ocean swells. Believe it or not, Annette was without her camera. On the far side of the channel we found the commercial docks and deep within these, the Immigration department. More forms, including one we needed to exit the port facility and we were stopped on our return by a film crew security man. We then had to detour around the warehouses so as not to appear in a Dutch movie being shot there. I am sure the Dutch taxpayers will be appreciative.
We returned our rental car and became pedestrians again but decided that we would have supper at the resort marina some two or three miles away. When we told the marina office lady that we planned to walk, she became very concerned about whether people our age should attempt to walk so far. She locked up the office and drove us over to the restaurant in her own car. We did not demur. The restaurant is set on the banks of the entrance channel to Spanish Water, thus we got to watch the various sundry vessels entering the channel and tomorrow, we will pass that way and get a reciprocal view of the restaurant.
On our return journey we faced an uphill walk for the first mile or so, thus we bummed a ride on a luggage-bearing “valet” golf cart back to the main resort where we got a second ride from a security man, uphill to the main road on his golf cart. Once his back was turned, we shortcut across the golf course in the darkness. The great thing about golf courses at night is that the grass has been cut and the sand-traps and water obstacles are easy to spot by moonlight. Navigating to marinas is also an easy task, you just look for the masts. We are now ready to sail at first light tomorrow morning.
November 18, 2015
The early morning wind was characteristically light and we dropped our lines and motored gently out of the marina at 0645 hours, bound for Vieques, some 435 nautical miles to the northeast. The wind forecast was for lighter winds from the east, becoming lighter by evening and we expected the waves to be just ahead of the starboard beam, again dropping in height by evening. This part of the forecast held true but the sky was three quarters overcast and the waves larger than expected, in the range of 6 to 8 feet producing an uncomfortable “twisting” motion. By 1040 hours we passed the eastern tip of Curacao and made a 60 degree turn that made the ride more tolerable. By 1400 hours the sky was gloomy and totally cloud covered, the wind had dropped, the whitecaps were mostly gone but we still experienced a lumpy confused sea that put water over the bows, sweeping the decks. Just before sunset we were overflown by a low flying turboprop, however by the time I found the binoculars, I couldn’t tell if the paint job was US Coastguard. The waves still very choppy and a strong west setting current was pushing us off course and forcing us to turn our bows into the wind and waves in order to maintain our course.
2200 hours, it was still completely overcast but a ghostly half moon could occasionally be glimpsed, casting a glow on the clouds above. Rain pods began to crop up on the radar, growing in size and intensity as the night wore on and the flicker of lightning between the clouds drove me from my steering position on the fly-bridge to our alternate watch position below in the saloon. This provides physical protection from rain and wind, plus important psychological protection from lightning strikes.
Position N 13 30.3' W 068 03.5' at 2200 hours local time.
November 19, 2015
Position N 13 55.1' W 067 50.0' at 0155 hours local time.
We had seen several freighters off the coast of the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and our new electronic toy, the “AIS”, announced these as oil tankers heading for the refinery at Curacao or ports in Columbia. We have an iPad at the “navigation station” in the main saloon and this device both repeats the screen display of the radar / chart-plotter at the helm above and also enables us to switch scales, apply rain filters to the radar and monitor the AIS reports. The latter not only identifies the various ships but also provides their speed, heading and how close they will get to us. This takes a lot of stress out of marine encounters because instead of having to interpret the “range lights” of the large ships and then estimate whether they will hit you or not based upon relative motion (imagine driving a car and approaching a railroad crossing with an express train similarly approaching – who gets there first?). The AIS computer tells you how close, when and whether the approaching ship has changed speed and direction as an immediate read-out. Of course you have to be awake for this to happen. The other electronic gadget we added was a remote for the auto-pilot so that we can change course from the womb of our saloon navigation station. Our visibility is much better from the fly-bridge above but then you really can’t see much on a dark and stormy night and certainly not as well as radar.
Position N 14 25.0' W 067 32.4' at 0645 hours local time.
All night long the lightning had flickered across the sky and rain pods had danced around us, occasionally lashing us with rain but morning found us, still cloud covered, having distanced 172 miles in the 24 hours since we left Curacao. Not as far as I had anticipated, since we were driving the boat with both engines at 1750 RPM, however as the wind dropped, our average speed should increase. The contrary current was also having an effect. We had to assume that we were cutting this at an angle and by now our leeway was decreasing, indicating that we were possibly clear of the current for the moment. Sure enough the wind dropped as forecast and by 1100 hours we were enjoying a slight chop on maybe 3 foot swells and even the sun was trying to peek through the clouds.
For a couple of hours we picked up speed to 8.5 knots or so and the glimpses of blue skies made watching the flying fish scatter away from us a fascinating pleasure. I never get tired of watching them, they seem such unlikely creatures. This morning I spotted a dorsal fin in pursuit and assumed it was a shark in the eight foot range. I found one unlucky hitchhiker on the floor of the fly-bridge and as he was about ten inches long and had landed some 12 feet or so above sea-level, I was thankful he hadn’t collided with me, as both of us would have been suffering.
After sunset, the wind shifted so that it was now directly on the bow and increased in strength. This was not as originally forecast but unfortunately matched an updated report I had downloaded from the internet an hour or so earlier using the satellite phone. We had expected and planned for very light winds and smooth water for the balance of the passage.
Position N 16 18.9' W 066 40.0' at 2305 hours local time.
November 20, 2015
And featuring the remake of "The Boys from
Brazil Puerto Rico"
We watched the dramatic moonset around midnight. The moon ducked in and out of towering storm clouds, illuminating them as though with flood lights. Unfortunately it was hard to hold on as DoodleBug was bucking violently into a head sea with six foot waves. This motion is foreign to sailing vessels since they can’t sail directly into the wind as we were now doing. Our speed had also dropped, such that it was impossible to make our destination before sunset today. Around 0100 hours we made the call and switched our course by 30 degrees, heading for the closer port of Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Dawn showed a sky again heavily overcast with rain cells all around and six to eight foot waves, frequently sweeping the foredeck. I was amazed that Annette’s job of cleaning the deck hatch covers and lubricating the rubber seals with silicone grease had really paid off. The only hatches that were leaking were the small ventilators in the main cabin that we had overlooked in the servicing. The ride was still very uncomfortable and DoodleBug crashed, banged, twisted and groaned through the waves. The waves were also hitting below the bridgedeck and sounded like someone was hammering below the saloon with a really big hammer. Surprisingly the boat was much noisier than our previous mono-hull which would have shrugged off such conditions as we were experiencing.
Finally we were within 30 miles of the south coast of Puerto Rico and the wave action died away. We motored in to Ponce and tied up at the Ponce Club Nautico fuel dock at 1325 hours. In our final approach hours we had seen no other shipping and even the Ponce harbor was empty of commercial vessels.
Within five minutes of our docking, I telephoned the Customs / Border Patrol people to report our arrival. While I was on the phone with the officer, a police boat tied up behind us and two officers came on board. They began to ask the same questions that I was already in the process of responding to the officer at the other end of the phone connection and finally Annette ran interference and talked to them. Once I had completed the usual litany of registration numbers, ports of call, passport information, the telephone officer said he would call me back with the status of my clearance but that I had “reported in” as required. I now turned my attention to the two officers already on board and realized that these were harbor police and not customs. They were very polite and were shown the boat registration when they wanted to see our “license”. They seemed shocked to learn that a 47 foot catamaran can be bought and driven by Americans, without the possession of any kind of operating license and were totally underwhelmed by the Federal registration certificate I gave them. “Is this it?” they asked; “That’s all you get” I responded, “impressive isn’t it?” I gave them a copy of an auxiliary list of equipment I have compiled and it has always been a big hit with officials across the planet. It lists in excruciating detail (including model numbers and serial numbers!) all of the safety, communications and like equipment we carry, plus details of physical dimensions, engine types, horsepower, emergency contact numbers and they seemed perfectly happy to copy this stuff down into their notebooks.
By this time their sergeant had arrived and while we were introducing ourselves to him, the first two customs officers arrived. We now had five people on board, the latest pair being basically agriculture and drugs (although the latter didn’t identify himself as such). Up to this point the conversations had been cordial but now the “drug thug” began to throw his weight around. It went downhill after he asked me if we had been to Venezuela. I said “No”. He then repeated his question and I said, “No, it is dangerous to go there”. He responded tersely that he hadn’t asked my opinion and I retorted that that didn’t alter the fact that it was a dangerous place to go. He then turned up the heat with a lecture to me that lying to Federal officers was a prison offence. This really pissed me off. The S.O.B. has just called me a liar and was now trying to bully. What a cretin! Obviously raised on too much day-time television! I muttered to the effect that his statement was, “Hardly a big surprise”. By now two more officers had arrived and I recognized Officer Colon, the guy who had stuck us with $5,500 worth of “import duty” the last time we were here. They began to pepper me with questions, interrupting me while I was still answering and asking the same questions, over and over. “Had we had major work done on the boat? Had we made any repairs?” I said, “It’s a boat. You are always repairing it”. “What was the last thing you repaired?”. “Well I just fixed the chain counter on the windlass”. “That’s nothing”. “No, the chain counter is something. It’s pretty bloody important when you want to anchor”. And so on.
Meanwhile, the agriculture people were pissing off Annette. They found a can of pineapple slices and shook it at Annette exclaiming, “This is a product of Israel, where did you get it?” Annette was already thoroughly riled by the uninvited invasion of her home by hostiles, who were covering her floors with heavy black boot marks and said, “I got it from the grocery store in Curacao, where did you think I got it?” “It’s a product of Israel, how did you buy it?” Annette tartly responded that she doesn’t read the labels to see where stuff comes from. “If I need pineapple, I buy pineapple”. The lady then gave Annette the usual droning statement that all of our waste was a “bio-hazard” and had to be taken out of Puerto Rico with us when we leave and had Annette sign a form to that effect (couple of empty beer bottles and some plastic wrappings). Annette slashed her signature on the form and cast it down on the table. “Is that your signature?” the lady exclaimed. “Yeah, I developed that so my kids couldn’t forge my signature on their school reports”. After they had all left, Annette noticed that her can of Israeli pineapples had gone. They didn’t mention they were taking same, so Annette considers it outright theft (and since when was Israeli pineapple a prohibited item along with blood diamonds and Cuban cigars?. I thought Israel was one of the few allies we had left!)
Meanwhile Officer Colon had wound up his spiel and informed me “again” that the laws on clearance have recently changed and that “again” I was subject to a $5,500 import fee on the boat. When I reminded him that he had already raped us for such an amount during our last visit, he asked if I had a receipt. I assured him that indeed I had and that the amount in question was engraved on my heart. He then remembered us and began to lose interest in the proceedings. This still left the other nine officers who now asked if I had a GPS aboard (No way! We just guessed Puerto Rico might be north – oh wait a minute, we have at least six....), if it was accurate and if it ever gave false readings. (Ed thinks – “Oh my God! They are setting a trap for me!!!”) When I offered to show them the main GPS, they assured me that they could handle it themselves. These guys had watched too many NCIS reruns and where is Abby when you need her anyway? We are using a Raymarine model that is old and the only reason I am using it, is that it came with the boat. It really is a POS and lacks many features of the older design. I had to update it from software revision 7 to revision 14 and one of the chip readers is bad. There is probably a “bread crumb” feature that stores your track (shows where you have been) but I haven’t got around to digging it out yet and if it exists, it is well hidden in a deep and dark place amongst a plethora of poorly laid out sub-menus. Needless to say, about a half hour later I was asked to show them the track info, which I stated we hadn’t been using. I had however handed over our “Ship’s Log”, a hand written log we update every couple of hours, which details our position the old fashioned way. The crack technical team initially declined this log, even though, as I reminded them, this has been a legal document for at least the past couple of centuries. Needless to say our paper log was all they were able to “ferret out”.
These guys were either totally bored, on a victim crusade, or had to be some of the dumbest cops on the planet. Could you imagine “real” drug dealers calling Customs within minutes of their arrival at the main port on the south side of Puerto Rico and leaving packages of dope scattered about in various cabins? So far Annette hadn’t killed anyone with her bare hands and the import duty guys had become bored and left. This just left the crack (excuse the pun) Keystone team. They never checked the engine rooms. They never even “found” the starboard crew cabin although they unscrewed and looked behind one bathroom shower. They next informed us that we would have to sit outside the boat on our back deck and wait twenty minutes for the drug dog team. After thirty minutes or so, Annette asked loudly if the dog had stopped by the groomers to get its nails clipped. “Goebbels” (we will name him such, since he hadn’t bothered to identify himself) turned on Annette that this was a serious matter and he required Annette to respond in a serious manner. This was a mistake. Daughter Marian says you can always tell - those brown eyes go totally black, with bright red centers and red flames start coming out. He never received the “full Vivian” (Annette is the nice one - Vivian is her evil twin) because Annette had been sea-sick and was exhausted after a rough three day passage but nevertheless Vivian Annette lectured Goebbels that she in turn required him to act and treat her politely and pointed out that he was the one who had come on board with the edgy attitude. She again asked her question, even more forcefully, as to how long we had to wait for the dog? This time Goebbels’ response was noticeably more muted and he provided a formal statement that it could take up to two hours if the dog team had to come from San Juan. If Vivian had gone to Munich instead of Chamberlain, history would have been different.
I begged “Agriculture” to let me hit the fridge for a couple of beers, as a “matter of life and death” and she agreed (possible feeling guilty over the stolen pineapple). Over an hour later the dog and his handler showed up, the only true professionals in the bunch and their presence markedly increased the average IQ of the inspection team. The officer was courteous, the dog a very large and friendly Labrador, which badly needed a bath and after it left, Annette found enough dog hair on board to knit a new dog. As he left, the K-9 officer mentioned what a nice boat we had and to enjoy our visit in Puerto Rico. Finally they all departed and Goebbels dictated our clearance number to me, which I pointedly wrote in the Ship’s Log. As Agriculture stepped off the boat, she had asked Annette what the large object was that was wrapped in a blue tarpaulin and lashed to the deck - they had been stepping around this for the past four hours. “It’s my washing machine”, said Annette. “Wow, this has everything, just like a house!” exclaimed the officer. “This is my home” said Annette emphatically.
We are here! Puerto Rico!
Arrived 1325 hours: tied up at position N 17 57.890' W 066 36.986'
November 21, 2015
After four hours of taxpayer funded entertainment yesterday we were finally “cleared” by CBP into Puerto Rico but by the time the time the goon squad had formed formations and marched in unison off the boat, the marina office was closing and the dock employees had left. This meant that we had to power ourselves off the inspection dock and re-moor ourselves to our designated slip without assistance. This wasn’t particularly difficult since we already had the fenders and lines rigged and Annette’s prowess as a Texas cowgirl (she has the boots and hat!) enabled her to lasso the dock cleats as we edged slowly in. The problem we have been experiencing, which adds spice and unwanted excitement to close maneuvering of an 18 ton vessel, is that the electronic engine controls keep going into a shutdown mode. The throttles and gear shift for forward and reverse are connected to the respective engines by a long electrical cable that has controllers at each end to manage the mechanical bits, like actually moving the shifter on the gearbox. Just at the critical moment you shift to reverse and touch the throttle and nothing happens - except all of the error lights begin to flash at the steering position. If you then shift to neutral, wait a little and try again, it might work the second time or maybe the third time. Disconcerting, especially since by now you have hit a 4 million dollar custom built Swan (BTW that’s a boat) or maybe just the power pole on the dock as happened in Bonaire. The control unit has a built in diagnostic display but this is conveniently mounted behind a large panel held by 16 stainless screws and then the display is visible if you can reach to remove a dust cover and use a mirror. We are still working on this but it has meant that we are super cautious when docking and definitely prefer to anchor. Today the docking was successful and although the controller did go into failure mode more than once, we were ready for it and just let the wind blow us gently against the pier.
We were tired. We shut down all of the instruments, hooked the power cables up to the dock and headed over to the marina restaurant that had been under renovation the last time we were here. We were the only customers as Puerto Ricans are late diners but we were waited on by a really, really pretty waitress that is waiting for the results of her bar examination and I don’t mean for a liquor license. Annette wouldn’t let me keep her and besides which, lawyers can be very expensive to feed and clothe.
This morning we had arisen with multiple tasks. Annette spent the morning vacuuming up a drug dog, washing jack-boot scuff marks and paw prints from our floors and decks (I’m really going to milk this one! Wha, ha, haaa!) before washing the salt from the decks. Meantime, Ed spent the morning catching up on communications and writing up our blog. As we had sat around yesterday waiting for the security apparatus of the United States to grind its way through the clearance process, I was already thinking, this is great material for my writing. The officers had begun their task by asking if we had security or surveillance equipment aboard, so this morning I fired off a note to the ACLU in Houston, Texas asking for their guidelines and advice. I also arranged for a rental car and we headed over to the mall to pick it up. Now I have been married to the same lady for near 45 years and I knew perfectly well what the combination of “wheels” and “shopping mall” meant. It was too early for lunch at the various restaurants and the movie theatre wasn’t open either, thus our first stop was at the sporting goods store. Here we bought two six foot long “youth kayaks”, plus some quantity of water pistols in anticipation of the upcoming grandkid’s visit. Somehow the kayaks were jammed into the rental car with just a foot or so peeking through the open window.
Back at the marina it was obvious that the kayaks needed to be tested to see if they floated and as they were labeled “maximum weight 130 pounds”, it wasn’t gong to fall to me to test same. Annette paddled all around the marina and pronounced them as “lots of fun!”. Back to the mall, only this time we stopped in at the movie theatre to watch the Hunger Games Mockingjay part 2. About five minutes into the flick I realized that I haven’t seen part 1 yet but nevertheless the movie was slow, the ending entirely predictable – a disappointment.
November 22, 2015
Another day of shopping for water toys and the like, only this time we ended up with an adult sized kayak that is rated at 230 pounds. This will support even my weighty thoughts but unfortunately the task of loading this into the back of the rental car distracted us from the fact that we had forgotten to load the paddle and it was left at check-out. The necessary sea-trial will have to be postponed until tomorrow when we can retrieve it.
This afternoon I was hearing what I thought was some fool trying to start an outboard motor without priming the fuel supply when I realized that the sound was actually that of Annette, catching up on laundry with the use of her amazing washing machine and helped along by the sound of “Te Vaka” a New Zealand group that specialize in “South Pacific Fusion”, played at shall we say, “moderate” volume over the boat sound system. The marina manager stopped by and at first I thought we had an issue with our sound level but in fact he had heard about our clearance experience and wanted us to write a letter detailing our experience. This we were pleased to do and we popped this out in an hour or so, aided by the fact that notorious international drug smugglers always carry printer / scanners and lots of paper and printer cartridges aboard.
November 23, 2015
After retrieving the kayak paddle and adding two water balloon catapults to the inventory of weapons we carry aboard (we also have a six “shot” rubber band gun that is still justly feared by house-flies around the planet) we continued our journey north to the capital city of San Juan, a drive of maybe an hour and a half.
I need to preface my next comments. We have loved being in Puerto Rico. The people here (Feds excluded of course) have been overwhelmingly friendly. The girls are gorgeous. Annette says the guys are too but I don’t check out the guys thus as far as my blog is concerned, this remains hearsay. The food is fabulous and when we meet new people, their third sentence is invariably, “Do you like our food? Have you tried Maduros?”. Yes to both questions and Annette purchased her own plaintain smasher during our first sailing trip here in 2009. The second sentence has been, “How do you like Puerto Rico?” and our answer is that we truly love it.
OK, I have set you up for my comments on the driving experience. The scenery across the island is stunning, verdant hillsides with the brilliant glimpses of the Caribbean sea in the distance. Stands of towering bamboo along the roadside, flame trees (maybe not - we will have to look it up) palms and all of the tropical flowers we love that have been nurtured by the moisture bearing trade winds. Then you arrive in San Juan. What chaos! Cars and trucks double parked, seemingly at random. The Mall parking lots are jammed and people circle, waiting for someone to pull out. The roadways may be built three lane and “one way” but this is effectively single lane, since vehicles will be parked on both sides, utterly ignoring the yellow paint on the curb sides and signs proclaiming “No Estacione” posted every few feet. The impression is of total mayhem, with many traffic rules seemingly regarded as mere “guidelines”, however......nobody seems to get upset! When you are waiting to pull into traffic, or change lanes (most drivers were totally confused by the little blinking lights on the corners of our rental car that we mainlanders refer to as “turn signals”) they let you in!
Annette wants to continue painting but the logistics of flying with tubes of acrylic paint and canvases are overwhelming. Real art supply stores are a rare commodity east of perhaps Miami or west of Paris but we had used the internet to locate “Ofi-Arte” in San Juan. We actually found the place, it was open and had a great selection of paints, canvases, sketch pads, easels and the like, the result being that both the trunk of the car and my credit card were groaning when we left. Our next destination was “Bed Bath and Beyond”, which presented a more challenging navigation exercise, however fortified by an intermediate stop for lunch and body function restoring beverages, we did find the place.
The store had a familiar layout and I rapidly located the men’s room followed by the “demonstration” massage chairs, while Annette did all of the heavy lifting such as buying pillowcase covers and the like. All too soon, the time was approaching a quarter before the hour of four and although we haven’t really experienced “rush hour” traffic, on-line descriptions were sufficient to make us want to split. Amazingly, we found a highway heading south within minutes of leaving the mall parking and were soon zipping along back to Ponce. During our drive, Annette began to have misgivings on the selected size of a couple of her canvases and felt she might have been perhaps a little ambitious. I consoled her with the reminder that she had purchased these well before the luncheon beers, so that they would probably fit through the saloon doorway.
November 24, 2015
We know that the Thanksgiving celebration Thursday coupled with our departure plans for Friday, allow but two days for the balance of our holiday shopping. Simply put, the next Sam’s Club or derivative that is east of here would be the Asda Superstore in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While Annette was loading up on groceries, I stayed aboard working on boat chores.
We hadn’t used the dinghy in months and it took a while to find the drain plug that transforms the hull from a leaf strainer to a boat. Next the outboard wouldn’t start and since it is still on “double strength” two-stroke oil during its run-in period, I assumed the plugs were oiled and swapped them for new plugs. That did the trick and after I checked the Coast Guard web-site to determine what safety equipment would be required to satisfy the mandarins in Washington, I donned a life-jacket and buzzed off in the dinghy to stretch its watery legs. Strictly following the speed limit on my return to the harbor, I noticed a couple of uniformed officers waving at me from a nearby dock and being a law-abiding and notorious international smuggler, I wandered over to see what they wanted. “Sir, have you checked in yet?” It was the same pair that had begun the torture process on Friday and they hadn’t recognized me, despite our four hour proximity. Perhaps the cutlass and eye-patch distracted them.
I had a couple of minor technical issues to resolve and as I was multi-tasking, I was simultaneously picking a place to mount a remote monitor for the fridge / freezer wireless thermometers and find the electronic compass that supplies the boat heading in digital format to the autopilot. Somehow it had wandered off about 20 degrees since I had calibrated it the last time we were in Ponce. Notwithstanding the big words used like “electronic” and “digital”, it is still based on the technique discovered by Chinese navigators during the Han Dynasty. That is, it has a magnet in it. The unit was not located where the boat manual indicated, so I began pulling panels off and following the wiring until I located it, behind the kitchen sink splash panel. This is precisely where I planned to mount the refrigerator display (see how I tie this stuff together!) and the latter display unit allowed me either to fasten with screws (as planned) or simply utilize the four giant magnets built into the casing. Oops! Just for entertainment’s sake, I tested the autopilot display by moving Annette’s battery powered, touch-less soap dispenser off the shelf at the same location. It changed the auto-pilot heading by one degree.
The fridge problem has sort of resolved itself. I had been logging the temperatures of both freezer and fridge, coupled with thermostat settings and could find no sensible correlation. The pattern suddenly emerged that the issue was the supply voltage. The manual says that the units shut down if the voltage drops below 10.5 volts and this may be true. What is not written is that if the compressors stop, they won’t restart unless they get a full 12 volts. The port air-conditioner’s problems had also resolved themselves. By running the units on 110 Volts / 60 cycle “American” power here at the marina, instead of Curacao marina power of 127 volts / 50 cycles, the terrible noise and motor shutdowns simply went away. It’s an older unit and the other two air-conditioners had been more tolerant.
Annette arrived back at the boat with a huge dock kart loaded with groceries, made a second trip to the car to unload the balance of her purchases, ate lunch and took off again to continue her shopping marathon. Meanwhile, I had spoken to the marina manager regarding the formal letter of complaint I had written concerning our treatment by the Customs inspectors upon our arrival. I had been holding off posting my blog entry for that day (I wrote it the same evening) and I was trying to decide if I should perhaps tone it down a little. Daughter Helen, who is a kindergarten teacher in Houston, said I should go ahead and post it anyway because, “People who do bad things must face the consequences”. Kindergarten wisdom indeed!
November 25, 2015
We made a trip to the old Ponce downtown at the center of which stands the historic Firehouse - El Parque de Bombas. The building was originally built for the 1882 Ponce World Fair and was used as the headquarters of their fire department in 1885. This is a striking building, designed by the architect / soldier Colonel Maximo de Meana y Guridi. The square it fronts is surrounded by gifts shops and Annette shopped these thoroughly, seeking a plantain banana “squisher”, used in the creation of “tostones rellenos”. My capacity for this endeavor is strained beyond a certain point, a condition only curable with a beer break. At the café where we stopped by to revive ourselves, I noticed a faded photograph on the wall with a title of “The Ponce Massacre of 1937. I had to go to Wikipedia to find about this event, which was the largest massacre in the post Spanish history of Puerto Rico. Some 21 people died, including two policemen and over 200 wounded. The subsequent investigation placed the blame for the event squarely on the authorities and none of these were ever prosecuted or reprimanded. “La plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”
Next was a treasure hunt for a store selling marine loudspeakers. I wanted to replace the speakers in the saloon cabin that rattled badly with any bass. At first we had a problem with this, even when I pointed out that everybody in Ponce seems to own a boat and everyone of these is playing loud music. The problem turned out to be the size I was seeking. Puerto Ricans like to party - which means their music is generally loud and my speakers were considered suitable for headphones only. We were sent across town to Rafy’s Auto Alarm and the proprietor there had a selection of appropriately sized units. He couldn’t help me with an amplifier though, the smallest he had was twice the size of the unit we want to replace.
Tomorrow is “Thanksgiving” and Annette is preparing to roast turkey breast and has lots of goodies lined up. This promises to be a pleasant change from other parts of the world where we have celebrated and given Thanks. This time last year we were in Port Hedland in the Northern Territory of Australia, looking with concern at a sign warning us to beware of venomous snakes.
November 26, 2015
The marina was just about dead today. The docks empty, no black shirts goose-stepping up and down the Custom’s dock, no music even. Everyone must be at home roasting turkey.
When we were here last August it was also this quiet but that was the week-end before hurricane “Danny” was to scheduled to hit and at that time the marina had emptied of boats and we were very lonely at the dock. We celebrated our Thanksgiving with turkey, cranberry, pilaf rice as well as a cake Annette had baked in the oven, probably the first time in five years it has ever been used. We toasted each other and gave thanks for the wonderful life we have shared and for so many blessings.
November 27, 2015
We had lots to do today and right after 8:00 a.m., I was at the marina office to return the borrowed power adaptor and give them the readings on our utilities so they could compute our final bill. The office door was tightly locked and the paper sign on the door stated they would reopen tomorrow. OK, we will drop off the hardware at the fuel dock and do the rest by e-mail. Annette wanted a last run at Wal-Mart and we set off for the Super Center on the west side of town. When we arrived the parking lot was totally jammed with few empty spots available in the far reaches of the parking lot. Yesterday Annette had asked if the malls were open today and was told “at 12:00” – a little odd I thought, as we needed to return the rental car by 10:00. In fact the stores opened at 12 midnight, not 12 noon!
We dropped grocery items off at boat and I raced over to an entirely different mall to drop off the rental car. This was a vast mall with sprawling parking lots but again every slot was taken. I found a gap in the cars parked illegally on the yellow curb on the entrance road, rushed inside and upon enquiry determined I had picked the wrong entrance – they had three. Again I circled the mall to the far side, viewing in dismay the jammed cars parked on yellow curbs, every slot filled, all of the access roads and even recycling drop off area. Miraculously I found the only empty space in the entire mall, two cars down from entrance doors. I parked on the yellow line. The Avis guy was even in his office and dropped me off back at marina.
Next we called the fuel dock on the VHF radio to see if the dock was clear. No response. We walked over to the dock and unlike last week, the fuel guy was now surly and could no longer speak English (missing out on “Black Friday” shopping perhaps?}. He indicated to me that 12 – 1 was his lunch break. I asked him the time and after determining it was now 1105 a.m., we shot out of there saying “Cinco minutos!”. Sure enough, we slid onto the dock at 1110 and a fellow boater took our lines. Then we waited for the fuel guy to sell us some diesel. He was sitting in a little park about 50 yards away, thus forty minutes later, I went over and asked him if he was closed for lunch and he again indicated 1:00 p.m. He returned to his office on the dock, just feet from us and sat there for the next hour. At precisely 1:00 p.m., he walked over to see if we were ready for fuel. Of course we had been waiting “patiently” on his dock for nearly two hours but we were just happy to refill out tanks and hit the highway.
At 1325 hours we eased off the fuel dock and set sail for Cayo Puerco (Pig Key) about 25 miles east of Ponce. The sky had a high band of cirrus forming a partial overcast and we headed east just skirting the coastal reefs. The water was shallow in the 20 to 30 foot range, with a stiff breeze blowing and surprisingly choppy. Maybe we are not used to the “density” of a catamaran, i.e. weight divided by volume. A mono-hull has more weight condensed into a smaller volume and doesn’t seem to “bounce” as readily as the cat does in these conditions. DoodleBug was hobby-horsing over two to three foot waves that wouldn’t have been noticeable aboard our former vessel.
At 1635 hours, we dropped anchor in a near totally enclosed mangrove harbor. I had assumed that the recently installed chain counter would default to sensible settings since it was installed on a windlass of the same brand but this was not to be. We ran out of chain at 10 meters displayed meaning we had deployed all 50 meters. OK, now we know, the conversion factor needs to be times 5. As dusk approached, we saw a disturbance in the water as if a large predator was systematically hunting or perhaps Manatees. We were delighted to discover that we were seeing a pair of dolphins, mother plus baby, swimming in tandem as they swam up to Doodlebug and dived under us. What a treat! Although we are a hundred yards or so from shore, Annette felt we were being targeted by mosquitos, thus we decamped into the boat interior and fired up the generator and A/C, the first time we have used this combo in months.
Position N 17 55.917 W 066 14.422 at 1635 hours local time.
November 28, 2015
We had seen no other vessels during the three hour transit from Ponce yesterday, except a small fishing dinghy and a pair of jet-skis and last night had the Cayo Puerco anchorage entirely to ourselves, spending a quiet night with virtually no boat motion. Our destination this morning was Esperanza on the south side of the island of Vieques. This had been our original destination when we departed Curacao but we had been diverted by uncooperative winds. To take advantage of light headwinds, it was dark as we raised the anchor and we set off at 0630 hours with the exit pass from the anchorage barely visible. By 0700 hours we had just turned off our navigation lights when we were passed at close range by a security patrol boat. I waved languidly.
The sky had a light overcast and we could see rain pods scattered around but waves were in the 1 to 2 foot range and rolling rather than choppy. Our course lay just outside the reefs that protect south Puerto Rico and it was necessary to zig-zag between lines of buoys marking some kind of fishing or crabbing devices. A darker floating object was identified as a coconut one of the exciting events of the day. Behind the reefs lay the brilliant green hills of the Sierra de Cayey mountains and even though the sky was 7/8 ths covered with heavy overcast and large rain pods all around and upwind of us, it was a pleasant trip. We took up a mooring at position 18 05.554’ N 065 28.459 W, just off the dock of the village of Esperanza and were just tidying up lines when the first of the heavy rain hit us.
A line of restaurants and waterfront bars behind the beach beckoned to us and we dinghied ashore to check out the action. We were ordered away from the dock by a man claiming to represent the local fishermen but he seemed unclear as to where it was permitted to tie up. Next “Glenn” arrived to collect our fee for the moorings and who confirmed that we were indeed at the dinghy dock as we had already surmised. Glenn was charming, knowledgeable and gave us a ride in his pickup to the grocery store to use the ATM machine (maximum withdrawal of $80 with a $2 fee!) We next hit the local museum, it seemed a little shy of exhibits and more of a community center but it did have information about the ancient inhabitants of the island. These were likely hunter gatherers around 2,000 to 3,000 BC and successive waves of Native Americans have touched here, likely slaughtered the locals and then in turn disappeared. The interesting fact I gleaned was from a National Geographic sponsored DNA analysis of the Puerto Rican people. They were found with 12% Native American, 65% West Eurasian and 20% sub-Saharan African genes, again reminding me that Spanish conquistadores and likely the invading warriors of 5,000 years ago, did not travel with women.
November 29, 2015
Still rainy and we spent the morning doing boat chores. We programmed the windlass chain counter so that it displays the chain deployed in feet and in the correct amount and then tackled the port bilge pump. I had noticed that it did not operate in “automatic” mode but that the manual override switch worked. The float switch was metered as working, so digging into this was a perfect project for a slow Sunday morning. We had a wiring diagram but for example, wire “274” didn’t indicate where it went. For safety reasons, bilge pumps on boats usually adopt a “KISS” convention, that is they are wired directly to the battery so you can’t inadvertently turn them off and they are protected by a robust fuse and nothing else. The wiring diagram indicated that this set-up utilizes four diodes and two relays, hardly a “simple and reliable” design and I worked my way through the mess, checking the components for continuity and swapping the relays, as one seemed a little burnt. Finally the problem was solved by the old standby of using “jumper” wires and I discovered a tiny burned out fuse, cleverly secreted, deep within the wiring panel. It isn’t shown on the wiring diagram and naturally we have no spare.
We wanted to play with our kayaks today but a chop had set up in the anchorage which would have looked like tsunamis from kayak level, thus we took the dinghy over to explore the nearby islets and beaches. Annette gathered shells, just in case there aren’t any in the BVI’s. That evening we ate at “The Blok” restaurant www.elblok.com where we both had the grilled swordfish special. Annette is a total foodie and groaned embarrassingly, in gourmet ecstasy over this dish. Mesquite grilled swordfish, eggplant in a light batter with a lemon glaze, arugula and grapefruit salad. Wonderful!
November 30, 2015
Last night was uncomfortable with wave trains wrapping around the islet we lay behind and DoodleBug bouncing all night. We usually use two lines to attach ourselves to the mooring pennant and had been lazy in utilizing but a single line. This was our punishment. Our destination today was the island of Culebra and and the rippled horizon warned of wave action, thus we lashed the dinghy tightly and checked everywhere on board for loose items.
Our departure point lay on the south side of Vieques and the direct route would have been to head east before making the turn northwards to Culebra. Instead, we dropped our mooring at 0725 hours and headed west, with the waves and wind on our stern, before heading north in the lee of the island. When we did make the turn back to the east, we passed over a shallow spit extending some 3 and 1/2 miles from Punta Arenas on the northwest tip of Vieques. We didn’t go around this but picked a spot on the chart that indicated 9 feet of water and edged carefully across it. The depth below our keel dropped to 3 feet and stayed there for heart stopping minutes. Finally the depth numbers started to edge up but disconcertingly showed 10 feet of water when the chart showed 30 feet. This of course meant that the chart was out of date. The last hour into Culebra was bumpy with short choppy waves in the 3 to 5 feet range but we were hitting these about 30 degrees off the bow and at 1125 hours, we anchored at N 18 18.434’ W 065 17.927’ in Ensenada Honda on the Island of Culebra.
The “Dinghy Dock” restaurant seemed the place to leave our dinghy and we set out on what we expected to be a fruitless quest for a replacement bilge pump fuse. In this we were not disappointed, gave up and rented a golf cart to check out the sights. Culebra is a pretty little island boasting a small community of friendly, “laid-back” people. Unlike mainland Puerto Rico, we didn’t see roaming stray dogs, although there were lots of abandoned looking properties as well as many posted “for sale”. Lots of good beaches and if you seek the quiet life, here it is.
December 1, 2015
We completed our tour of the island and stopped off to snorkel off Melones beach, plenty of fish but not much pretty coral. Then it began to rain and set in solidly for the balance of the day, wrapping up with a spectacular thunderstorm in late evening. Our computers, phones and the like went into the oven for protection (acts as a Faraday cage) after a very close strike. We are grateful for all of the tall-masted sailing vessels anchored nearby.
Tomorrow may be a “light wind” day and we will head east again to the island of St. Thomas.
December 2, 2015
We raised anchor at 0640 hours and set off for the harbor of Charlotte Amelie on the island of St. Thomas. Our route wound between a series of reefs that were all well marked, provided of course you remember that this part of the world uses the US convention of “red, right, returning” for its color system. Once clear of the reefs, we turned east, into the wind and waves and could see in the distance some 8 miles ahead, “Sail Rock”, a shark fin of granite rising from the sea bed, a hundred feet below. We were to pass close by. The forecast was for winds in the 10 to 15 knot range, with seas of 3 to 5 feet plus occasional 6 footers. Pretty much spot on and we bulled our way “uphill” into these short, steep, serried waves. The AIS showed three targets nearby, a yacht about 4 miles behind us on an identical course, motoring at half our speed and two island sized cruise ships. They were travelling slowly, presumably in order that their arrival in St. Thomas matched the opening hours of the gift shops.
We dropped anchored at 0950 hours at N 18 20.056’ W 064 55.650’, just about where we had anchored in February, 2009, the last time we were here.
There was a cruise ship moored just off our starboard side and we had passed another moored in the next bay. We gazed in awe as three more arrived and edged slowly down the dock and tied up, missing us each time. I had forgotten where the dinghy dock lies and when reminded, we had to dinghy through the slot canyon between the cliff like hulls of two of these monsters, to reach the dock at the yacht club. On the AIS display, they don’t report their ship length in feet but in nautical miles.
We next rode our dinghy over to the adjacent bay to the Marine Supply store and purchased a replacement fuse for our bilge pump, then made a pilgrimage to the local K-Mart, just to show our respect. This wasn’t as exciting as when we came here in 2009 but at that time, we had been deprived of the fruits of American culture for five months or so. Annette noted that unlike the other places we have visited since we purchased DoodleBug, here there was no security personnel checking your purchases at the store exit to ensure you have paid for them. Either there is less shoplifting here, or they just don’t care as much.
Annette has been conducting practice drills for the anticipated arrival of the grandkids and today it was pineapple / coconut “right-side up” cake (She doesn’t do “upside down” cake because she lacks a suitable receptacle to flip it into). Why is it that store bought cake never even comes close to home baked cake?
December 3, 2015
Last night we had watched all three of the nearby cruise ships, fire up their sound systems and head out into the Caribbean seas, driven solely by hammering techno-rock music. The West India Dock where they had laid was empty and ready for the next cruise ship already approaching in the distance. For us the novelty of watching them maneuver (like elephants mating) had evaporated like morning dew and we jumped into our chores. Annette began to clear out her laundry backlog and I had determined to solve my starboard water flow problem.
I had been calling Parts and Power in Tortola since Monday, to try to make an appointment to get their mechanic to check our engines and had finally given up and decided to diagnose the problem myself. I dismantled the raw water pump on the starboard engine and found that the impeller had destroyed itself, with eleven of the twelve rubber vanes missing. I had suspected that this would be case and although we had four spares on board, you don’t expect to have to replace such a component on a “new” engine. Fellow sailor Sean had suggested that you can retrieve the missing rubber vanes using a wet / dry vacuum and we fired up the generator and connected the hose of the vacuum up to the heat exchanger hose. It almost worked! That is we found eight of the missing vanes leaving only three pieces unaccounted for. According to the manual, you are supposed to remove the heat exchanger, drain the coolant and flush the raw water side with a hose to clear the debris. This is a dock-side job and can be postponed until we do an annual service.
A second task was to confirm that this engine had never been wired up to the ship’s grounding system and after accidently dropping a wrench into the soup below the engine, I found the loose and disconnected wires as I groped around. Just then there was a knocking on the stern of DoodleBug and it was Jeff of S/V Selah, last seen in Spanish Harbor, Curacao a couple of months ago. Jeff was heading into town but Annette was ready for BBQ and we invited him to join us this evening for steak and chicken, plus pineapple coconut right side up cake for dessert. Jeff regaled us with tales of his nine day, single-handed passage here from Curacao, with the bilge pump alarm going off every twenty minutes. We commiserated.
December 4, 2015
Another shopping day. Annette is down to her endless list of small items to acquire. Although my list of boat repairs also seems endless, I am really down to just the stereo system. The radio / cd player feeds a four channel amplifier and when we were in Curacao, we noticed that one of the channels was out. A phone survey had convinced me there is but one store in St. Thomas that carries auto / marine electronics and we made our way over there. When your trip begins with a dinghy ride to shore, then a taxi to the shopping center plus the reverse procedure to get home, a simple purchase seems to take the entire morning. “Wale” sold me a display model amplifier that lacked any kind of documentation but seemed to have an adequate supply of plugs and terminals. Back at DoodleBug I swapped the amplifiers and since the navigation station panel had to be removed to accomplish this, took advantage of the fact to install a remote on / off switch for our inverter. The latter device is wired into the main battery bank and produces a kilowatt of “American standard” AC power to run our ice maker, washing machine or bread maker. Now we don’t have to remove the saloon seat cushions to access it - woohoo!!
The replacement amplifier channel did not automatically repair a dead speaker on the fly-bridge as hoped, so this became a “tomorrow” project
December 5, 2015
First task of the day required a taxi to Home Depot. Our driver began the journey by lecturing us that in the US Virgin Islands, there is no prejudice between blacks and whites but that when he visited New York recently, the restaurant where he attempted to dine refused him service because he is black. He said his bother who lives in New York claims that it is a common problem there. Do you suppose the New York Times or the DOJ is aware of this issue?
Our next stop was the K-mart and my phone indicated that it was less than a mile away. Not willing to repress any more taxi drivers, we decided to walk. After a few hundred yards, a Jeep stopped and local radio DJ, Henrik Lockart gave us a ride to the mall. This was both timely and welcome as the sidewalk we had been using faded into non-existence and the heavens opened. We would have been dodging heavy traffic while getting thoroughly soaked.
When we left K-Mart, a tour bus stopped and asked if we needed a taxi. We climbed aboard, the lady driver circled to the far side of the parking lot and stopped. She said needed to take care of some kind of permit. It wasn’t exactly kidnapping because the back of the bus was open and we could have easily escaped but after ten minutes or so, she returned and we set off and in the correct direction. She began to give us a commentary on her bus address system but it kept cutting out so we only heard every second word.
Later that afternoon, the effects of our fish and chip lunch at the only dockside bar open in the absence of a cruise ship, began to wear off and I finally got around to repairing the ground wires to the starboard engine. I even checked the engine anode and it was eroded but still viable in the absence of grounding. We also chased down the dead audio speaker issue in fly-bridge. The speaker was bad i.e showed an open circuit. When we called “the only electronics supplier on the island”, the proprietor assured me that although he couldn’t replace our dead speaker with the same brand, he had several that would fit.
December 6, 2015
It rained last night and the sky also looked threatening today. The audio store didn’t open until noon thus we re-commissioned our water-maker by flushing the biocide out of it and setting it to work. We last took on water in Ponce two weeks ago and need to refill our tanks. The weather did not cooperate and stayed overcast all day and just like the fridge / freezer, the water-maker likes higher supply voltages than we were getting from the solar panels.
Finally we grabbed rain jackets and back-packs and set off in the dinghy for the dock. In the absence of cruise ships there were no hovering taxis but we discovered that if you cross the street to a run down looking grocery store, there are numerous individuals who will offer to drive you where you want to go, although the pricing seems to depend upon how thirsty they feel. The USA purchased St. Thomas from the King of Denmark in 1917 for $25 million in gold, a deal that included St. John and St. Croix. Despite the century that has passed since this time and considering the fairly reasonable assumption that there wasn’t exactly an over-abundance of vehicles here in 1917, it was astonishing to us that they drive on the left. To add to the entertainment, most vehicles have their steering wheels on the left as in the USA. This did not affect today’s “taxi” driver since he drove down the right side of the road, bypassing all of those cluttering vehicles in line on the left side of the road.
Annette hit K-Mart and I hit the audio store. What a bust! “Wale” the proprietor wasn’t evident, the “speaker guy had called in sick and the “phone repair guy” waved at a stack of speakers, none of which was the correct size. Annette wrapped up her K-mart shopping and our return taxi trip was less exciting in that we rode in a Suzuki jeep that was probably older than me and the driver eased it carefully over every pot-hole.
We stopped in at the grocery store across from the dock and after loading up on groceries, found a deluge outside. We covered all with plastic trash bags and scurried quickly through the deepening puddles back to our dinghy. We would have waited for a better weather break at the yesterday’s dockside bar but we had left the water-maker running and didn’t want to push our luck with an overflowing tank. Our precautions paid off and the potato chips were still dry when they made it to DoodleBug.
December 7, 2015
We are burned out on the so called taxis so today’s adventure was to take the “Safari Bus”. These are large pick-up trucks with a roof cover over the pick-up bed and four or five rows of seats. They usually have a sticker claiming that they are licensed to carry up to 25 people. Like everything else here, the system seems a little casual, thus we asked an elegantly dressed black lady we met on the sidewalk for information. She said, “I know it sounds racist but you want the ones full of black folks, the ones with white people in them are tourist buses”. She was exactly correct of course and we boarded our bus and headed over to the Home Depot in search of a mechanism to move our water-maker created water between the onboard tanks. We had purchased a transfer pump in Santa Fe but it was now apparent this was not going to work as intended. At Home Depot we purchased a $5 garden faucet that connected the shower hose in the “crew cabin” to a garden hose. A high-tech solution that worked!
We successfully caught the downhill bus back to the grocery store adjacent to the dock and again it was raining heavily. However, we had brought our folding dolly to transport our cases of beer across the street to the dinghy dock and we had also serviced the zippers on our rain-jackets with WD-40 (fixes everything!), meaning we were now reasonably waterproof as we waded the deeper puddles.
The pilgrimage to the Customs and Border patrol was also successful in that we obtained clearance documents without being water-boarded. It is still raining and this place is beginning to remind me of Pago-Pago with its constant downpours. We are more than ready to sail on outa here!
December 8, 2015
We raised anchor at 0755 hours and set sail for Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, an Island in the British Virgin Islands. Our departure was delayed for about fifteen minutes while a large cruise ship entered the harbor and we “hovered” on the west side of the channel, to be out of its way as it made the turn into the West India company dock. As soon as we had a clear shot, we hit the throttles to pass the cruise ship’s stern and near simultaneously I heard the roar of engines. I glanced round to see a seaplane roar just feet overhead (perhaps we had been blocking his takeoff path while waited on the cruise ship – see closing scenes of “Six Days Seven Nights” to get the appropriate image).
Once outside the confines of Charlotte Amelie harbor, we had to deal with the headwind and trade wind generated waves as we headed east and to escape these, we had selected a narrow passage bisected by “Current Rock” between St. Thomas and Great St. James Islands. The passage looked navigable on the chart but I could find nothing to confirm either the presence or absence of hazards. A high speed ferry shot past us, travelling at more than double our speed and his AIS signature was near exactly following our plotted course. I watched carefully to see where he went and sure enough chose the “short cut” we had planned on using, except that he took the western limb around the rock, rather than the one I had selected. OK then, we now knew which way to go.
We passed between jagged rocks in very close proximity but otherwise the trip was uneventful, a sunny day surrounded by emerald green islands on a blue sea and we picked up a mooring at 1020 hours at Great Harbour, the “Port of Entry” to Jost Van Dyke and the British Virgin Islands.
Sure enough, the small building with the antenna on top was the government facility, accommodating the police station as well as Customs and Immigration. The check in procedure here was a delight, no threats or bullying and within minutes we were legal to stay for the next thirty days.
We walked the waterfront / beach, checking out the Boobies and Pelicans fishing, with Frigates circling above, a delightful and peaceful scene unless you’re a fish. We also checked out the bars and restaurants until we came to one advertising “Eggs and Bacon” with a drink special of “Bloody Mary”. Now you’re talkin’. I don’t partake of Bloody Mary’s when I eat eggs and bacon but “Carib” beer is a perfect complement.
Position N 18 26.601' W 064 45.107'
December 9, 2015
Today was a pretty passage from our port of entry to the BVI’s at Jost Van Dyke, to a mooring just off the end of the Tortola airport runway, which technically is “Beef Island”. The runway has been partially extended into Trellis Bay but we assume it is still too short for jet aircraft. The bay here is jammed with boats on moorings as it is the closest to the airport, literally a short walk to the terminal and perfect for picking up and dropping off guests. We sat aboard DoodleBug and watched clouds of white butterflies crossing the open water and streaming past us. They are obviously migrating somewhere, since they are all headed the same direction and it is wondrous to think of these tiny creatures crossing hundreds of miles of open water, fluttering just inches above the waves.
We are here in Trellis Bay on a reconnaissance but took the opportunity of a taxi ride to Road Town, Tortola to buy a data SIM card for our iPad. Today’s experience wasn’t too bad but the fun will begin when we try to add more “gigabytes”. We were told to, “just bring in the iPad” and when we said we would be in the outer islands, “You can send someone with it”.
On our way to the liquor store (just window shopping of course) we passed a stationery store alleged to sell artist’s paint. Here Annette found acrylic medium flow improver, a commodity she has been searching for since we left Curacao.
Our position today was N 18 26.790’ W 064 31.892’
December 10, 2015
Expedia springs to life! We received an e-mail from Expedia this morning regarding my problem of 3rd. of November. Only five weeks to get an e-mail asking me to call the main number and sit on hold until income tax has been abolished and hell has frozen over, before being tortured by the “young girl from Madras” in the Calcutta call center! I e-mailed them back saying I have no phone capability here and received in turn an auto-reply saying they don’t respond to e-mails. Of course the note I received this morning was in response to an e-mailed “Share Your Experience” that promised a reply “within 24 hours”.
We dropped our mooring at 0830 hours and set off towards the Northern Sound, Tortola. We passed “behind” Marina Cay just NNE of last night’s anchorage and then set course for the “Dogs”, leaving “West Dog” Island to starboard and then turning east to pass between “Great Dog” and “George Dog”. These islets are surrounded by rocky cliffs and the seas were crashing furiously upon these, despite the relatively light conditions. We entered Gorda Sound from the north, passing between Colquhoun Reef and Prickly Pear Island and marveled at the quantity of vessels, both large and small that were buzzing around within the sound. We tied up at Saba Rock and dinghied ashore. The restaurant, hotel and gift shop were surely impressive but not targeted towards grand-children, so we dropped our mooring and departed for a tour of the sound. Two hours later we we moored off the Bitter End Resort adjacent to Saba Rock at N 18 29.898’ W 064 21.570’. This sprawling resort has everything, including a sand beach with roped off swimming area.
Back aboard DoodleBug, Annette had noticed what looked like a piece of rope around our starboard propeller. Sure enough there was about twenty feet of rope wrapped around the shaft and between the blades. This took over a half hour to cut loose and the prop shaft is now very clean and shiny at that location. In six years of circumnavigation we only had this problem on one occasion but then our first DoodleBug boasted a line cutter installed on the shaft. I had wanted to install same on this vessel until I saw the price at one to two thousand dollars per shaft depending upon the unit chosen.
December 11, 2015
We made a leisurely departure and dropped our moorings at 0910 hours, bound for the “sunken island” of Anegada. Unlike the other islands in the Virgins group, this island is not volcanic in origin and is formed of a huge reef, some 18 miles in length and lying in a banana shape to the north northeast of Virgin Gorda. The eastern half of the “banana” is called “Horseshoe Reef” and there are over 300 known shipwrecks on this reef. To the west, the coral and limestone have become uplifted, with the highest point about 28 feet above sea-level. Our course lay around 005 degrees magnetic across the Necker Passage. The trade-winds blowing from the east put the short period waves on the beam and at 3 to 5 feet height, provided an uncomfortable side to side rocking that made us glad we had everything lashed down. Our relatively late departure was to ensure that we would not arrive at our destination until after 11:00 a.m. so that we could get good light to see the reefs barring the entrance to our desired anchorage. The weather cooperated with just a few fair weather cumulus and we motored on through clouds of white butterflies with Annette fretting over the safety of each one. A large and solitary dolphin passed close to our bow but did not stop to play.
The island is disconcerting to the uninitiated in that you cannot see it until you are close to. You first see trees along the horizon and then perhaps a few roofs, if you are on course. We edged carefully through the entrance markers, watching our depth. The displayed depth did go to zero at one point but I had used a hand-held device to determine that the instrument datum is set to 7 feet. We picked up a mooring off Setting’s Point at N 18 43.4’ W 064 23.1’ at 1115 hours.
We walked the beach down to the ferry dock and there rented a car for a tour of the island. The map we had been given marked a section of road as “DO NOT DRIVE” but in the absence of either landmarks or road signs, we belatedly found we had already driven the forbidden section. We drove to the north side of the island to Loblolly Beach, and determined to return on the morrow to check out the snorkeling. We passed several low lying salt ponds and saw pink objects in the distance, confidently identified as “flamingoes” but the only other signs of life were occasional cattle wandering around and small herds of goats. We had declined the optional $20 daily insurance on the vehicle and just before we completed our island circumnavigation and arrived back at the dinghy dock, we safely passed the only other vehicle we had seen in the past couple of hours.
The dinghy dock itself was exciting in that the owner of the nearby restaurant had tethered several cages of live lobsters to the dock. The lobsters were huge and we had made a reservation to devour at least one of these that very evening.
December 12, 2015
Annette began her marathon laundry operation and I reluctantly changed the fuel filters on the generator. It had died without warning after running a couple of hours and the culprits had to be either low oil pressure or fuel starvation. The second option was the cheapest to fix and the first to be tested. I was reluctant to do this job because the work space is limited and it is always messy when you spill diesel fuel. I changed both inline filters and attempted to start the generator. Nothing. This unit uses a mechanical fuel pump and the process of bleeding air out of the lines was tedious. Finally, the air bubbles were gone and I fired it up again. This time it ran but the “several hours” oil pressure test will have to wait.
In early afternoon we needed to returned our rental car and the only gas station on the island had a paper sign taped to the pump declaring that they were out of fuel. Back at the rental shop the owner demanded $10 for the refueling charge and I maintained that I could drive the car to Alaska for that. We settled on $8.
Annette has been lusting for conch shells and was told there was a fisherman’s discard dump off the village, some seven miles from the anchorage. We set out in the dinghy, heading directly into the steep waves that covered rocks, reefs and sand in a depth of two or three feet. After a very bumpy ride, we saw nothing that resembled a conch above or below water, decided that we had enough adventure and reversed our course, planing easily on the backs of the now following waves.
The beach here is fabulous, in the main deserted and stretching for miles. We walked it with Annette combing through each pile of flotsam and me just looking for jettisoned bundles of drug money until we discovered a partially deflated soccer ball. This treasure we then dribbled along the beach as we walked. Eventually we turned back and reversed our course as the afternoon waned and we sat on the bow of DoodleBug, criticizing the choice of very loud music being played on the next boat. This music really sucked, a combination of elevator music and really bad rap – but I repeat myself. The party next door continued past sunset and then we observed our slightly inebriated neighbors as they attempted to load themselves into their dinghy, a process that took perhaps twenty minutes to get all six settled. They headed off into the darkness and promptly ran aground about sixty yards off shore of their destination restaurant. Sometimes you watch the show, sometimes you are the show.
December 13, 2015
This morning we dropped our mooring at 0825 hours and set sail for Norman lsland. Once we had cleared the reefs guarding the anchorage and after perhaps twenty minutes enduring five foot waves hitting us exactly on the beam, we changed course by some 30 degrees and headed for our alternate destination of Jost Van Dyke. If we had been sailing, this would have been a beam reach with poled Genoa, main, mizzen and mizzen staysail. As it was, we breezed along on both engines at around 10 knots.
We arrived back in Great Harbour at 1145 hours and headed ashore to find lunch, using the reliable “greatest number of dinghies tied up” method of restaurant selection. We ate at “Foxy’s” and Annette decided that she really likes the gift shop there (Online reviews claim “reasonable” prices. What exactly does that mean at a gift shop?). We were going to walk off our lunch along the beach but ominous black clouds upwind dissuaded us and we made it back aboard with just seconds to spare.
Since we can see the US Virgin island of St. John’s about five miles to the south, we are back in range of US cell phone towers.
December 14, 2015
It is only 10 miles or so between our anchorage in Jost Van Dyke and our desired destination of “The Bight”, Norman Island but as a seamanlike precaution, we lashed everything down for a rough passage, “just in case”. We dropped our mooring at 0915 hours and passed through the Thatch Island Cut towards the US Virgin Island of St. John. Our route lay southeast along the coast of St. John and directly into the wind.
We tried motoring at 2,000 RPM but the hobby-horsing motion became more pronounced and violent, thus we slowed back to 1,700 RPM achieving a little over 7 knots - the joys of “going uphill”. We overhauled a couple of chartered boats, similarly motoring into the waves as we were and one lone sloop, gamely tacking back and forth, close hauled and at twenty to thirty degrees from vertical. Fortunately this leg of our route was a little over six miles. If we had been transiting the Red Sea, we would have been looking at 1,000 miles of much stronger head winds and bigger waves.
The Norman Island Bight promised us such excitement as “Wille T’s” floating restaurant, sea caves and snorkeling. Around Happy Hour, we swung by Willie T but the hammering rap and the sight of couples aboard the vessel “dirty dancing” / “twerking” / ”bump and grind” or whatever is the current nom du jour, promised neither a quiet beer nor good food. We kept going.
We did reconnoiter the sea caves and snorkeling options but declined to get wet, since the light was poor for snorkeling and it was approaching predator feeding time. As “top of the food chain” predators ourselves, we fed ashore at the resort restaurant and Annette gave the gift shop a failing grade.
December 15, 2015
Annette spent the morning washing her new sheets in anticipation of our guests (why do people do that? If they are “new” they are obviously clean......) and I tackled a couple of minor but messy jobs. OK, I wasn’t going to write about this but here goes – Our boat has a French built steering system by Lecombe & Schmitt and uses hydraulic oil to drive steering rams. To top up the oil there is a small fitting at the console on the fly-bridge. The hydraulic steering oil is sold in the same quart containers that you see in all gas stations for various fluids and oils and you can buy a plastic adaptor that screws on top of the oil container with a flexible tube that screws into the top-up fitting. Except that the Lecombe and Schmitt fitting is metric and nobody but nobody, sells metric oil. This morning I used a 12 mm die with a 1.75 mm pitch thread, to recut the threads on my Budget Marine plastic fitting and it worked! I think I will bequeath my thread cutter to NASA.
We also took advantage of the access to US cell phone service to sign Annette up for Medicare, a process that required long telephone calls with little information exchanged. Finally it was done and two hours of our lives had passed, almost like being in a doctor’s waiting room.
By noon we were more than ready for a break and we dinghied over to the sea caves just outside of “The Bight” and snorkeled these. The corals weren’t packed but they were in good condition and the water crystal clear. We had tied off our dinghy to a park service mooring and were able to swim into the caves and explore the drop off with its myriad fish. We also explored the area adjacent to our mooring and although the visibility was a little reduced inside the anchorage, it was a fun place to snorkel with boulders and nearby cliffs, plus large corals.
December 16, 2015
Today we moved back to the airport anchorage in Trellis Bay on Beef Island mooring at N 18 26.8’ W 064 32.0’, a convenient place to pick up and drop off a rental car from the terminal. Annette needs to load up on groceries for the holidays and we headed into Road Town to accomplish this. Major purchasing finds included a single can of cranberry sauce (probably a refugee from Thanksgiving) and a pack of Christmas Crackers (a kind of party favor) – Tom Smith brand – “By appointment to Queen Elizabeth”. The Queen pulls hers right before she tucks into her cranberries.
I called the hotel where we had stayed in August to see if their fabulous Italian restaurant was open tonight but alas, it and “Edy”, the beautiful Italian proprietress have moved on. Thomas Wolfe probably never ate there but if he had, he would have sadly agreed, “You Can’t Go Home Again”.
December 17, 2015
Today we made our second pass at the grocery store. Annette had defrosted the fridge and freezer last night thus today she was shopping for the perishable items that needed refrigeration. The interior of the boat was looking like we were provisioning for a five month passage and ocean crossing. We first drove into downtown for a few non-grocery items but parking here is near impossible. We finally managed to squeeze into a spot and attempted to eat lunch at the “world famous” Pussers, probably the most disgusting fish and chips we have endured anywhere.
Loaded with groceries again. we arrived back at the dinghy dock at Trellis Bay to find DoodleBug was gone. Disconcerting. We spotted her several hundred yards away from where we had left her, now on side of channel near the airport runway. As we approached in the dinghy we could see that the anchor was down, not normally a problem except that we had left her on a commercial mooring. The mooring pennant was still attached to the boat with its pin missing from the shackle, mute evidence yet telling a compelling tale. We yelled at a nearby boat, “What happened” and finally a man shouted back that she had been towed into position by the “Marina Cay Ferry”. There was no obvious evidence of damage other than a small scrape near the starboard bow next to a foreign footprint. We started our engines, raised the anchor (only about 30 feet of chain was down) and motored over to the east side of the Bay where we again picked up a mooring – this time a “red” one.
Later that afternoon we heard the toot of a horn and the Marina Cay Ferry was “hovering” off our stern. The boat driver said he was checking in with us to see if everything was alright. I quizzed him and he confirmed that we had indeed been aground but “not long enough to do any damage”. He had towed us off with his boat and then dropped our anchor. I gave him the cash that was in my wallet, a hundred bucks and thanked him profusely.
That evening the “red mooring” guy came by to collect his fee and when we told him what had happened, he said, “That was your boat?”. These islands are like a small village. Everybody knows everything that goes on. The red mooring guy, “Dan” said he knew the owner of the mooring that had failed (a “white” float) and would contact him. The philosophy of moorings is as follows; You don’t have to use them, you can anchor for free but since the moorings are already there, they have “right of first anchorage”, thus if you swing on your anchor chain and hit a boat on a mooring, it is your fault and liability. When anchoring you must leave a big enough space between your boat and the moorings so that you can’t hit them. On the subject of liability, if the mooring breaks due to poor maintenance, such as ours did, you have zero chance of collecting damages from the moorings operator. So why use them? My take is that you put some cash into the local economy and in turn they have skin in the game as to your safety. For example, they have a vested interest in making sure that your dinghy isn’t stolen in the dark of night. Similarly if word gets out that the moorings are unreliable, boaters will stop using them and this means an immediate loss of income to the locals. It’s a little like paying protection money.
December 18, 2015
First task this morning was to dive the hull and check for underwater damage from yesterday’s reported grounding. It was overcast and blowing and although I knew the water temperature was the same as yesterday, it “looked” colder. The port bow and portions of the keel showed signs of slight recent scrapes but nothing of any consequence, however.....the starboard hull showed a deep impact as though the boat had hit a vertical pipe. The hull was pushed in over an inch and the fiberglass cut through. Wow! I was in the water and I swam over to check the port hull at the same location – smooth and unblemished. Most of the through hulls are on the port hull rather than the starboard hull. I swam back to the stern and climbed out of the water thinking, the bilge pump isn’t running; that hole should have compromised the hull. I next took a shower to get the salt off and thought that if I got the boat hauled today, I still wouldn’t get a hole like that repaired before our guests arrive on Monday. OK, I could apply an epoxy patch underwater and make a proper repair after everyone leaves. I dried myself off, dressed and then pulled up floorboards to examine the hull where the impact hole lay. Immediately I exposed the depth sounder transponder. Panic over guys! Break out the rum!
On our third shopping expedition, we purchased an ice chest for about double the US price and then managed to find some LED Christmas lights. The rental car was turned in at the airport terminal and we walked our ice-chest back to the dinghy dock where we could see that DoodleBug was still where we left her. Good omen.
Back aboard it was blowing 20 knots or so and we could see whitecaps just outside of the anchorage. We had planned to go walk-about over the next few days but these options were shelved and we spent the balance of the day chasing boat chores. The forecast is for very strong winds over the next week, making upwind passages and sleigh landings problematic.
December 19, 2015
It feels like the first time we have been slowed down since we bought DoodleBug. Annette has been cleaning, repacking and discovering all of the extra stuff we have accumulated and don’t really need. I too have been tidying and found my favorite power screwdriver bit that has been missing since Curacao. A welcome distraction was when we met Todd Duff on an Amel Super Maramu (1990 hull #45) moored next to us. We had owned hull #331. Todd had been the Amel broker in Annapolis around the time we purchased ours in Fort Lauderdale and had heard about “the boat that was hit by lightning, five hours after it had been purchased”. Of course that was us in March of 2003. Although Todd has been in the BVI’s for some time, he and his wife sailed the Pacific and knows many of the anchorages we visited on our circumnavigation. (We have never met anyone before who has been to Penrhyn!) We discussed the logistics of moving our current “DoodleBug” to Fijian waters, ocean routing and the like and he echoed some of my concerns about the shorter southern route. Todd’s son owns the nearby restaurant, “The Island Last Resort” and we dinghied over there this evening to enjoy the best restaurant meal we have experienced on this visit to the BVI’s.
December 20, 2015
We finally made it off the mooring and motored a whole three quarters of a mile across the channel to the Marina Cay resort. Here we occupied the fuel dock and took on diesel, drinking water and dinghy gasoline before making the return trip to the same mooring ball. Although the Marina Cay moorings are in a pretty location, we are noticeably better sheltered here in Trellis Bay and we get to watch the airplanes take off.
We purchased Christmas Lights at a sort of “Warehouse” store in Road Town and there was little else related to Christmas on the shelves. The lights are LED, solar powered and came in a box containing no instructions whatsoever, with the country of origin as “China”. At $13 each we were not expecting much but nevertheless charged up the batteries in the sunshine and installed them in the evening. The box also claims “waterproof”, which was fortunate as it was raining on and off as they were mounted on the rails. We were amazed at how long the strings were – the two strings circled the upper deck and we were further amazed that they worked. As I told the salesman at the store, we only need them for about an hour tonight when the grandkids arrive.
December 21, 2015
The day began with a call from daughter Helen at Hobby Airport, Houston to confirm that everyone was safely standing in line to board the initial flight from Houston to Orlando. The first challenge overcome! All day long we would look at the clock and track their virtual progress based upon the flight schedules and intermittent phone calls. The last flight leg was on a twenty-seater, propeller job from San Juan, landing in Tortola just after sunset. By this time we had walked over to the empty and echoing terminal and were waiting eagerly. Another boater showed up to meet a family of five flying in on a private charter from Anguilla. The security lady ordered us to stand on the sidewalk outside the terminal so that we didn’t create “congestion”. We debated amongst ourselves which of the three of us was creating the congestion but never reached a satisfactory conclusion.
Finally they were here! The wind had begun to blow strongly a few hours ago and we walked in the darkness to the dock to load the dinghy, now bouncing actively with the chop, with a towering pile of luggage for transportation to DoodleBug. Meanwhile the crew headed for the “Loose Mongoose” beach bar in search of food and drinks. The grandkids loudly explored the possibilities of strung hammocks, sand and water and the ladies explored the local Caribbean beer.
There was less wave chop at the “Loose Goose” dock but it was still a wet ride to DoodleBug through the darkness for the weary travellers. An exciting climax to an exciting day.
December 22, 2015
The weather forecast has turned and the feared “Christmas Winds” are upon us, extra strong trade winds blowing at up to thirty knots and forecast to continue for the next week. Not exactly what we needed. Our guests are on Houston time, two hours time difference from the BVI’s and not all are “sailors”, thus we decided to drop our mooring at 0730 hours while everyone was still asleep and headed out towards the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. There were a couple of inter-island ferries in the distance, otherwise we had the seas to ourselves as we headed up to the northeast, passing through the “Dog” islands. We tried adjusting engine speed to minimize the motion and had chosen a course to seek maximum shelter from the waves but there is only so much you can do.
Of course by mid-passage, all had noticed their bedrooms tossing around and were on deck, looking around in stages of amazement at the waves crashing on nearby rocks, the islands and the mountains. On the run up the coast of Virgin Gorda we had little shelter and were beginning to pound, when I turned abruptly towards the approach for the Anguilla Point passage into the North Sound. The chart showed a 5 foot water depth but the chart is old and at three foot six inches draft, there would not be much margin. As we crept between the entrance reefs I watched the depth sounder like a hawk and slowed to four knots in the hope that if we went aground, it would not be a “hard” grounding. The depth crept down to 0.1 feet and stayed there. Does it go negative? I had tested the depth sounder “datum”and knew there was maybe another three feet below the zero reading. After holding my breath for a couple of minutes, the depth began to creep up again, we were through! We tied up at 0908 hours at N 18 29.8’ W 064 21.6’05 at the Bitter End Resort, North Sound.
While paying our mooring fee, I chatted with a captain that had similarly piloted his party from Cooper Island and they had experienced gusts of 45 knots while in transit. The Bitter End Resort saw none of this and the ladies sat under shady seashore trees while a bartender plied them with exotic tropical drinks and the kids splashed around in the shallow waters off the beach or dug tiger traps in the sand. A good first day.
December 23, 2015
At the crack of the business day I had telephoned to reserve a rental van for pick up at Gun Creek, the closest island road access to the Bitter End Resort. We next breakfasted, sorted snorkel gear and gathered up our party of eight to ride the Resort shuttle boat to the Gun Creek dock. Our destination was “The Baths”, an unusual formation of large boulders on the west coast of the southern tip of Virgin Gorda. Annette and I had visited these formations in 2009 but at that time we had anchored DoodleBug off the cape at Spanish Town and dinghied down the coast to “The Baths”, where we had tied up to an offshore mooring and swum ashore. That night back in 2009, we had raised anchor and departed in darkness as our anchorage had become too uncomfortable with swell. Today we did not even consider this option with the current wind strength forecast.
We had hauled our snorkel gear to explore around the sunken boulders at the shoreline but when we arrived, there was noticeable wave action and undertow. I swam a loop around some of the formations but the visibility was poor from the wave disturbed sediment. The kids were not disappointed at the lack of snorkeling since they were able to play in the waves near the shore. When all had been beach sated, we explored the trail south through the “caves”. The caves had been formed by the same huge boulders and a tortuous trail with multiple side passages led through, over and under the boulders. The kids had a ball and it was hard to drag everyone away as the sun began to head back to the horizon.
December 24, 2015
Christmas Eve and an early departure to Jost Van Dyke, thirty miles to the southeast. We dropped our mooring at 0730 hours and the wind was already gusting strongly as we left the shelter of Bitter End. Our route lay north out of the Virgin Gorda Sound, putting the waves on our beam as we crept between the exit reefs. Fortunately this was not for long and we turned west with the wind and waves now behind us, passing north of the “Dog” Islands and continuing west along the north coast of Tortola. The day was sunny with perhaps 2/8 ths cloud and waves in the three to five foot range. We arrived in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke at 1005 hours and picked up a mooring at N 18 26.6’ W 064 45.1’.
We had picked this location to spend Christmas because the harbor is well sheltered, the beach is clean and uncrowded and there are restaurants and gift shops! By the time we had unlashed and launched the kayaks, found all of the paddles, lowered the swim platform and hauled up the Jolly Roger at the flagpole, everyone was ready to swim. It was quite a group that set off in the direction of the beach, some swimming and some kayaking. By evening we had everyone back aboard, Annette had fed us all BBQ, we had recovered all of the swim items, most of the grandchildren and our guest Mary was teaching everyone how to play Mexican Train Dominoes. Another successful day afloat!
December 25, 2015
The kayakers and swimmers headed back to the beach whilst Annette and I shuttled back and forth between rain showers, delivering lunches and picking up surplus items purchased from the supposedly closed gift shop that were deemed water sensitive.
A quiet day topped off with dinner at Foxy’s restaurant in the evening. Somehow we got everyone back on board in the darkness without a dunking. Merry Christmas!
December 26, 2015
We were nearly out of water and Annette was already talking “laundry” needs, hence the first task of the day was to refill our tanks. I had scouted the nearby fuel dock while it was closed on Christmas Day and checked for water depth, hazards and approach and began the process of lashing everything down for the two hundred yard passage to the dock. Despite its proximity, we didn’t need lines wrapped around props, food spills or broken dishes. By time we had refilled all of the tanks, re-acquired our mooring, re-launched the dinghy and kayaks, it was near lunch time and the clothes washing machine was in full action.
In the afternoon, while Annette monitored the grandkids who were now kayaking around and beneath DoodleBug, I ferried the balance of the crew ashore with shovels and a concealed chest of pirate treasure, dropped them off and returned to DoodleBug, remembering of course that Flint had similarly gone ashore with eight men to bury treasure and came back alone........
About an hour later, the kids had either kayaked or swam to the beach and on the way, Annette had snorkeled for such treasures as a dropped coffee cup (Grecian or Minoan?) and a large, slimy beche-de-mer or sea-slug that grossed out the more sensitive souls. Kari walked from between some beach front buildings and calling the kids together, explained that she had bought a “map” from an “old sailor”. She didn’t know what the map said or anything but that it had something to do with treasure. The “map” was a ragged strip of cloth, about the size of half of a dish towel (could have been torn from a sail, or maybe a shroud) on which was drawn a map in blood and rust (although it might have been “magic marker” ink). The map showed the sea and shore with certain landmarks clearly indicated, brightly colored buildings, docks, the name of a boat drawn up on the shore and the like. Avey immediately recognized some of the buildings and took off clutching the map, trailing her cousins in her wake. They streaked down the beach until they came to a pile of coconuts and the map showed that 50 steps from the latter was a large “X” indicating the treasure. The kids began to step off the distance down the beach, oblivious the the coincidence that every 10th. step seemed already marked by a line in the sand. Finally they were at fifty steps and Lincoln began to dig furiously in the sand. Maddox found a nearby cardboard box conveniently holding 3 shovels and they all set to. The nearby pirate crew who were either watching or filming these events, were in paroxysms of laughter since about ten feet away from the already deepening hole and slightly inland, laying clear on the surface, was a three foot sized “X” constructed of black duct tape (although it might have been tarred strips of human flesh). Just as Flint had used a human skeleton as a pointer, a skeleton (of a really short pirate) sat in the middle of the “X”. Eventually one of the kids noticed this and the excavation switched to that point.
The reader will be astonished to note that about a foot below the surface, the top of a wooden sea chest was struck and the pace of excavation increased until the treasure hunters were able to draw it forth. The lid was opened and behold! It was stuffed with jewelry and valuable coins. There were loose jewels, coins from Curacao, Australia and the Hershey or Cadbury Islands, plus necklaces that had obviously come from a New Orleans shipwreck, perhaps from the SS Mardi Gras? All were unceremoniously dumped onto the sand as the plunderers dug deeper into the treasure chest. Finally the chest was empty and the treasure seekers had loaded their booty into their sacks and hauled the now empty sea chest plus “Slim” the skeleton, back down the beach to where their kayaks were drawn up on the sand. A successful expedition that was celebrated with BBQ back aboard the DoodleBug, still flying the Jolly Roger as a warning to all.
December 27, 2015
We were extra careful to lash everything down this morning before we dropped our mooring at 0825 hours and set off for “The Bight“ on Norman Island. Although the wind was on the beam, we still experienced a sharp side to side motion as we crossed southeast, in the lee of Tortola, through the Thatch Island Cut and into the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Once we had maneuvered past the super-yachts anchored near Soper’s hole, we motored directly into the wind and waves for the next hour, passing the northeast coast of St. John’s Island, across the Flanagan Passage and into The Bight at Norman Island, where we took up a mooring at 1008 hours, just off the resort at N 18 19.1’ W 064 36.9’
The first trip was to the beach and three tiny figures were already ashore with their kayaks drawn up on the sand, before the balance of the crew had even untied the dinghy from DoodleBug’s stern. The resort restaurant provided us lunch and it was nearing two o’clock before we had “played enough” and set off for the “Pirate’s Caves”, located at Treasure Point on the south entrance to The Bight. Helen, Annette and Mary took kayaks whilst Kari and I had the dinghy loaded down with snorkel gear and three kids. We had barely motored a third of a mile when a squall hit us bringing wind, stinging rain and a wind driven wave chop of perhaps 18 inches. I was beginning to be concerned that the children were getting cold with the wind on their already damp bodies from swimming off the beach this morning, when Helen pleaded to be rescued from the kayak. While she was deftly slipping aboard the dinghy and we were tethering same to our stern, I looked around to see that Mary had just capsized one of the smaller kayaks. Annette shot over in her kayak to help and Mary soon reboarded her unsinkable craft. OK, everybody was still alive! The squall passed, the sun came out and the expedition continued north and passing Treasure Point, we entered the calm waters off the caves.
The dinghy and kayaks were soon tied up to a mooring off the cave entrance and we sorted, adjusted and fitted snorkel gear to DoodleBug’s crew, who then slipped over the side and drifted off in congealing groups towards the sea cliffs and cave entrance. The water depth here is between six and sixty feet deep, the water crystal clear and there are plenty of large, brightly colored fish feeding on the corals below. The squeals of delight and wonder were music to my ears as we swam over and explored inside the caves.
An hour of this and the skinniest crew members were shaking with cold and needed to be either warmed or buried. Somehow we got everyone aboard the dinghy except Mary and Annette who had determined to kayak back to DoodleBug. Of course the latter decision was made in the shelter of the cliffs and after “turning the corner” back into the Bight, the kayakers were facing a stiff headwind. I delivered the dinghy travellers and gear back to DoodleBug then returned to the kayakers who were now about halfway along their course. Annette decided that she had exercised enough for the day and I took her in tow but Mary determined to continue and within minutes we were all back aboard. A spectacular wrap up to a great week!
December 28, 2015
The final leg of the grandkid’s voyage began with the sailor’s traditional breakfast of Jolly Roger candies, Worther’s toffees and Tootsie rolls, balanced out with Ruffle’s potato chips to add appropriate roughage. We dropped our mooring at 0820 hours and headed out into the Francis Drake Channel, butting into the headwinds and wave chop. The waves built as we approached the eastern end of Tortola but we rounded the bluffs without either capsizing or sinking and moored in Trellis Bay at 1008 hours at N 18 26.8’ W 064 31.8’. Before anyone calls CPS, we then fed them “brunch” with omelet, beans and fried Spam as a bacon substitute.
The suitcases were retrieved from the forward crew cabin, the trash taken ashore and this captain’s task was done. The bags were pretty much packed by mid-afternoon and there was time for a last “play” on the nearby beach, with shell collecting and a close examination of a couple of live conchs who really didn’t want to be examined. The ladies then played a final round of “Mexican Train Dominoes” assisted by several Pina Colada’s and DoodleBug’s crew settled down for the night. This has been a superb vacation visit and a Christmas to remember.
December 29, 2015
This morning we transported luggage to the dock plus Mary to help me unload and then guard it. Back to DoodleBug and the balance of the crew was loaded and transshipped. Once ashore, it started to sprinkle with rain as we scurried towards the terminal but the grumblers were silenced by the frog strangling deluge that they watched from inside the shelter of the terminal. We missed it by seconds. By the time everyone had been checked in, baggage fees paid, the ladies educated on airport departure tax and the latter paid, there was but fifteen minutes to spare. Just time for goodbye hugs before they were swallowed up through the maw of the security checkpoint. Annette and I returned to DoodleBug, broke out a couple of beers to drown our sorrows, photographed the plane taking off and headed back to bed.
We didn’t spend the entire day in the predicted zombie like state, in fact we did much of the cleaning and re-packing. A feature of travelling by boat is that you cannot let everything get too much out of hand as it all has to be stowed safely between offshore passages.
We will check out of the BVI’s at Jost Van Dyke tomorrow and then head over to the island of St. Johns. We haven’t been there before and look forwards to the experience.
December 30, 2015
We dropped our mooring this morning at 0810 hours and set sail to the east to Jost Van Dyke, passing along the north coast of Tortola before jogging around Sandy Cay and entering Great Harbour. The weather had been threatening a downpour throughout the passage but so far our luck was holding and we remained relatively dry. The wind however was blowing strongly and we were grateful that we were headed downwind, even within the sheltered haven of the lee of Tortola. When we made the turn into the anchorage, we were mildly surprised at how many vessels were already there and noted that more than a dozen mooring balls were already “taken” by having an inflatable dinghy moored to them. This didn’t make much sense in that there is no alongside dock space for that many boats, so why would anyone leave their dinghy on a mooring to “hold” the possession thereof? The answer came after we had edged carefully through the crowded anchorage and observed there were no “vacant” mooring balls available and the local mafia representative came alongside and offered us one of the moorings, currently occupied by a dinghy, for $150 per night instead of the posted price of $30. We demurred and dropped our anchor around 0945 hours, just beyond the mooring field in 50 feet of water, letting out most of our chain at N 18 26.4’ W 064 45.0’.
This incident reminded us of the last time we were here and had our dinghy tied up to the main dinghy dock. The local lads were climbing on the various boats, including ours and using them for a dive platform. This is relatively harmless but the lads are careless as to what they tread on and items such as oars, lifejackets, dinghy inflation pumps, get broken or go missing (we had a rope storage bag ripped from where it had been tied on). Annette walked over and politely asked them not to use our dinghy and for ten minutes or so, they complied with this request. Annette then made a second trip from the beach nearby, where the grandkids were playing and lectured the lads on their use of our private property. About ten minutes later, I noticed that a group of a dozen or so of these “youths” were sitting in a circle around our dinghy, as though they were an audience and another lad had got into the water and was wading around and behind our boat. Annette started overtly taking pictures of the group and they froze as she did this. I walked over to the boat, untied it and motored it over to a nearby, closer buoy where I tied it off and waded ashore. An hour later I was back on the dinghy dock and and found a long thin screwdriver laying where we had been tied up, leaving us to conclude that the lad in the water intended to puncture the air tubes on our dinghy as retaliation, while his buddies watched.
Our anchor was now uncomfortably set at less than a three to one scope, thus Annette stayed on board while I headed over to the dinghy dock next to the customs house to check out. Fortunately this was a relatively painless process but on returning to the dock, one of the same little creeps who “may” have been intending to vandalize our dinghy, approached me bearing a fuel tank and asked me for a ride over to one of the moored dinghies. I did in fact give him a ride but should have charged him $150.
With the wave action at anchor, our leisurely lunch was cancelled and we grabbed a quick bite before raising our hook at 1045 hours and setting course to the southwest for Cruz Bay, St. John. The waves grew in size as we moved further from the shelter cast by Tortola and were steep and in the five to six foot range as we passed through the narrow passage between Rata Cay and Henley Cay. Almost instantly the waves were gone although the wind was still blowing strongly from the port stern quarter as we made the turn south and then east into Cruz Bay. Magically the wind and waves were gone and we motored gently through a buoyed passage towards the village nestled in the hills. We anchored just north of the channel, close to the shore and clear of a green navigation buoy at N 18 20.0’ W 064 47.7 and telephoned the Customs and Border Patrol office where we received a curt order to “check in”. The Customs office was just yards away on the opposite side of the channel and surprisingly, the reception was polite and we were soon legally back in an “Unincorporated Territory of the USA”, whatever that means. Back across the channel was the National Park office and here we learned that 60% of the island is protected as a National Park. There are few places where you can legally anchor (we were actually “legally” anchored in our current location – by accident!!) and the park service provides scores of maintained moorings where you can spend the night. We also learned that the mooring fees are half price if you have a Senior Park Card (which I do!). The non-discounted fees are currently $15 per night but increase to $26 per night in the New Year in order to pay for Obama’s Hawaiian vacation.
We raised anchor at 1335 hours and set off for Hawksnest Bay, described in the cruising guide as “lovely and peaceful”. That it was, a beautiful lonely place of clear water surrounded by cliffs. Unfortunately there was also an annoying swell that hit us exactly on the beam and after forty minutes of this torture, we dropped the mooring at N 18 21.0’ W 064 46.8’ and headed further east, scouting Francis Bay and finally picking up a mooring at 1503 hours at N 18.21,5’ W 064 44.8’ in Maho Bay, St. Johns!
December 31, 2015
This is a beautiful quiet anchorage, surrounded by low hills on three sides and protected to the northwest by a series of Cays (small island; would perhaps be called a Motu in Pacific) and reefs. There are a dozen or so other vessels scattered around the bay, most using “Park Service” moorings and a casual observation indicates that they are all “owned” vessels rather than chartered boats. We presume this is a result of the 1920 protectionist “Jones Act”, that prohibits foreign made vessels from operating on a commercial basis in the USA. When the Bush administration imposed a “luxury tax” on yacht construction in 1991, the US yacht construction industry was effectively destroyed and thus the majority of yacht manufacturers are today based outside of the USA. The result of this government meddling (which raised almost no revenue) is that three and a half miles away from our current anchorage, there is a thriving, yacht based tourist industry in the British Virgin Islands, while here in America, there is none.
Our day began with a heavy shower that lashed us fore and aft and made us check that all of the hatches and windows were indeed secured. Once the squall had passed, the beach that edges the shore began to fill with families and the shallow waters were dotted with bobbing heads of snorkelers and the brightly colored hulls of kayakers and paddle-boarders. We lowered our dinghy and made the journey to the beach, pulling the dinghy up onto the sand. This is only the second time we have done this and although this dinghy has an aluminum hull which affords proof against damage, it is also noticeably heavier than the more vulnerable inflatable floored dinghy of the first DoodleBug. Either we are getting older (no way!) or this dinghy is MUCH heavier. One of the sun-bathers ran over to help Annette pull the dinghy and had to be cautioned not to pull the dinghy too far up the beach unless he also committed to waiting for our return to help us get it back in the water.
Just behind the beach was a paved road and after ten minutes or so, we were able to flag down a “Safari Bus” for a ride to the metropolis of Cruz Bay. I have described these before but a Safari Bus is a 20 passenger vehicle based upon a large pick-up truck, open sided with a roof for rain and sun protection and perhaps five rows of bench seats. They don’t run on any schedule but at the whim of the driver. As we motored along the narrow, twisting two lane coast road, we passed other beaches and noticed that every feasible parking space was occupied. Jeeps predominated and they were jammed into the jungle and parked in all sorts of improbable places. The entire island seems to be on the beach today.
Our driver dropped us off next to a grocery store but we determined to buy our groceries just prior to our return trip. Instead we browsed the gift shops and ate a fine lunch at a restaurant that produced our meal in twenty minutes, rather than the hour plus that is the norm for the BVI’s and their “non-tipping” society. The return bus to Maho Bay was interesting only in that the hills and hairpin bends are so steep, the rear tires of the truck kept slipping and we were followed by the aroma of burnt rubber. Our dinghy was still where we left it on the beach, always a good sign and aluminum hulls are much easier to launch with a gravity assist down the sand. We made it back aboard just as the first of a series of squalls hit the anchorage and were relieved that we had double tied our dinghy to the stern as we watched a nearby paddle board become airborne.
2015 is nearly done and this has been an intense year for us. This time last year we were in Adelaide, South Australia, heading for Tasmania. Now we are on a boat in the Caribbean Sea, cruising the islands. What adventures will 2016 bring?
We wish everyone a Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year.