Tortola to Bonaire
March 24, 2015
Just six years ago we sailed S/V DoodleBug into Fort Pierce, Florida completing a six year circumnavigation. Today we signed a deal to buy another boat! This time around it is a Leopard 47PC “Power Cat”. We are buying “Seconde Chance” from the Moorings Charter Company when she comes off her charter contract at the end of June. We intend to have a suitable re-naming ceremony to assuage the sea god Neptune (probably involving a black rooster, multiple virgins – Tortola is in the Virgin Islands after all - and several beers) and rename her M/Y DoodleBug, in order to match our existing key fob. There are several items that need to be repaired and upgraded but we hope that she will be ready to head out to sea in early August. That time of year is hurricane season in the Caribbean seas and the insurance companies have defined a “box” that lies between latitudes N12 40.0’ and N23 30.0’ and longitudes W55 and W85. Inside this box you have either no coverage or limited coverage for a “named” storm. We will need to head south to avoid weather related catastrophes and are considering the “ABC” Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) off the coast of Venezuela.
July 31, 2015
The alarm went off at 2 a.m. and it began. Our six “to-check” bags and four “carry-ons” were already loaded in the rental car and we just had to groggily sip coffee and tea before heading to the Albuquerque airport. When we had left Corpus Christi in 2003 to take possession of S/V DoodleBug, the 6 bags we were schlepping were carried by Southwest Airlines at no charge. How times have changed! United Airlines collected a “baggage charge” of $430, a sum I did not dispute, since the cardboard box containing our new radar antenna was “oversized” and subject to an additional charge of $200 if they had bothered to measure it.
My carry-on was crammed with satellite and navigation electronics and the TSA agent spent 20 minutes testing it for explosives while quizzing me, “Was the “Captain Phillips” movie realistic? I assured him that it was, except that the container cranes were on the wrong side of the channel for Salalah, Oman. Sailors can be so nit-picky.
A cramped four hours later and we landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico where our next ride was in a 10 seater, twin engined Cessna. We were the only passengers - just as well as otherwise our luggage would have dribbled into Tortola over the next half dozen flights. As it was, the radar antenna in its cardboard box sat across the rear seats of the aircraft. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat for the 45 minute flight, Annette somewhere behind me and as the sun set, the ghostly orb of the full moon rose out of the haze and mist of the Caribbean sea, ahead to the east. I had forgotten how fast dusk falls at this latitude and the dark shapes of islets soon faded into the blackness of the sea, identified only by the sparse twinkle of residence lights, whilst we plunged onwards through silver moonlit clouds.
I checked the engine oil pressures and fuel levels, just in case the pilot had forgotten to do this and was slightly disconcerted to note that he was flying well south of the GPS track and significantly offset from the runway, now clearly visible by its landing lights and just 4 miles ahead. The GPS flashed a “proximity alert” and a mountain ridge loomed suddenly off our port wingtip. Maybe this pilot has done this before after all!
We were the only passengers at customs and immigration and as soon as I had identified the contents of the large cardboard box as containing a radar antenna, our bona fides as sailors was thereby established and we were waved through the barrier. We are here! Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
August 1, 2015
This morning our taxi rescued us from the swarms of mosquitos lurking at the hotel lobby and after dropping us at the Moorings reception, we carted our luggage across the marina to the boat. The final lift!
We managed to unpack our suitcases and stash at least some of the contents before heading over to the grocery store to fill a brimming kart with groceries and beer. On our first day of ownership, predictably we were faced with a host of mysterious boat events, power breakers popping, bilge pump warnings - indicating that we were taking on water, fresh water tanks that mysteriously drained themselves. Amazingly, these were unrelated events! By nightfall we had air-conditioning, hot and cold fresh-water in the showers and cold beer in the fridge. A busy and satisfying day.
August 2, 2015
The Islands are celebrating a five day National Holiday in commemoration of the emancipation of slavery in the BVIs. (There is a museum on the island of Curacao, dedicated to the issue of slavery. Their web page estimates that some 12 million Africans were transported from their homeland with about 2 million dying in transit – a percentage similar to the “wastage” of transported prisoners to the Australian colonies. About 5 million slaves went to Brazil, just under a million to the United States and the balance spread across the Caribbean, including the island we are now on.) For us this means that there is nothing open until Thursday and no convenient way to access the internet.
This morning we continued to inspect the boat and test the various pieces of machinery. The mystery of the missing fresh water was solved when we discovered that the boat has four water tanks, not just the two as described in the owners manual and sales brochure. We hadn’t “lost” any, it had just siphoned off to the extra tanks! We decided that we would head out to cruise some of the smaller islands tomorrow, a sort of “shake down” cruise, returning on Wednesday evening so that the final repairs could be made when workmen return on Thursday. We don’t have a dinghy yet and we rented one from the Moorings. The restaurant choice at this marina is almost non-existent, due to the holiday but we used our dinghy to cross the bay to a hotel on the opposite shore, where we enjoyed pretty fair Mahi-Mahi “fish and chips”. I love arriving at a restaurant by dinghy – puts you in the cruising mood.
August 3, 2015
This morning we had completed our departure check-list and were ready to cast off lines but Annette was not feeling well and the wind was blowing strongly, promising a rough first ride. We decided to delay our departure until conditions improved and Annette was feeling more chipper. She has been suffering from a low grade fever that comes and goes and tomorrow will be day “8”. If her health does not improve, we will seek an Urgent Care Clinic tomorrow.
We spent the day going through boat systems, finding manuals on equipment and refining our boat-packing storage.
August 4, 2015
There are two private clinics on the island plus a public hospital, “the Peebles” but only one of the two clinics would answer the phone this morning. We found a taxi and headed over there and after a short wait, Annette had her blood pressure, weight and temperature checked. All normal. Then we saw the doctor, who spoke so quietly we were both leaning in to hear what he had to say. A urine sample was tested at the lab and Annette was given a prescription for pain medication, some antibiotics and an anti-septic cream for a scratch / insect bite on her shoulder. Basically nothing.
Back at the boat we stowed the power umbilicals tying us to the land, started the engines and cast of the lines. Our departure was uneventful, that is we didn’t hit anything and we were soon heading out on our maiden voyage to Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island. We were motoring almost directly into the wind and waves and bouncing in the short chop. 1300 RPM on the engines provided about 5.5 knots of boat speed and anything faster just got more uncomfortable. I had begun by hand steering the boat but soon confirmed that the autopilot was working but not net-worked to the chart plotter. That is you can’t hit the “track” button and have the boat automatically follow a pre-programmed route. Lots of electronic stuff to work out.
These issues were not fatal to our trip however since by using our eyes we could see our destination some five or six miles ahead. We found an empty mooring ball, Annette lassoed the ball with a line (her boat-hook is too short for her to reach the pigtail) and we tied up at 18 23.1N 064 30.9W . Our first voyage was over and we dinghied ashore to the Cooper’s Beach Club to pay our mooring fee and make dinner reservations for the evening. I snorkeled the hull to check on the condition of the propeller, anodes, rudders etc. noting that the rudders are slightly misaligned.
The meal that evening was fine food with a sunset view over the Caribbean whilst all the little boats bobbed at their moorings. At our feet their was a chicken, three or four starlings and scores of large hermit crabs, all fighting over the pieces of bread that Annette was feeding them. What a floor-show! Back at the boat, we chased the pelicans off their roosts around the rail and then swabbed the decks with buckets of sea water to remove the huge quantities of pelican poop that now decorated their perches. Never a dull moment!
August 5, 2015
Our first night at sea – well OK, we were on a mooring and we overslept. We staggered out of bed at 8:00 a.m. to discover the balance of the anchorage was still asleep – obviously a “party hearty” crowd. We hoisted the dinghy onto its davits and then checked a few boat systems before heading back to the Mooring’s base in Road Town, Tortola. We might have extended our shake down cruise but the power system on the boat has exhibited some charging problems and we will see if these can be resolved tomorrow by the Mooring’s “Phase Out” repair crew. The return passage was uneventful, light winds and a following sea. By noon we were back in our slip with the power umbilicals re-connected and the air-conditioning up and running. By now we have our list of repair items up to a page and a half, about fifty percent consisting of minor items like missing fasteners.
This afternoon we visited with Charles and Susan who are chartering a large catamaran in order to entertain their extended family. Charles spent six years as a POW in Vietnam and now works as a motivational speaker. For the survivors of such wartime experiences (like Senator John McCain) this must have been truly life altering and nothing you want to experience. Charles invited us to join their merry crew for pizza, calzones and beer that evening but Annette was fading and we bowed out with regrets and apologies.
August 6, 2015
We arrived at the repair dock around 9:00 a.m. and within minutes there were workmen swarming all over Seconde Chance. One man was ripping up a damaged section of flooring, another was troubleshooting electrical problems and another changing out a macerator pump on a toilet. By 5:00 p.m. almost all of my list had been checked off. The new floor will need to be installed on the morrow and three salon seat cushions are being re-upholstered but in the main, it was done. The workman departed and we were left with the man we had hired to replace the boat name. As he worked, I “borrowed” an American flag from a stored vessel nearby and Annette whistled the “Marsellaise” as I lowered the French flag, followed by a jaunty rendition of the “Stars and Stripes” as the American flag was raised in its place. The name “DoodleBug”, hailing from the famous maritime port of Santa Fe, New Mexico is now emblazoned across the stern and Seconde Chance is no more. We toasted the newly named vessel and poured some of our beer into the sea to assuage the possible anger of the sea gods.
August 7, 2015
The repair crew were back at work this morning although fewer than before. The house batteries were tested, declared dead and replaced with new. The new flooring was glued into place, cordoned off with “crime scene” tape - to keep the unwary off until the sealants dried and one by one, the reupholstered cushions found themselves aboard, matching perfectly with the others. Whilst this was progressing, Annette and I paid a visit to the Customs and Immigration at the nearby ferry port and were granted exit documents for our departure tomorrow. We have checked the weather forecast, entered the route in the navigation computer and are ready to go! This has been a busy 8 days since leaving Santa Fe but the Mooring’s team really came through for us (liberally bribed with candy bars and cookies) and we are now ready for sea.
August 8, 2015
We had “doubled” our mooring lines last night and at 0530 hours we eased off the repair dock and headed out to the east. Our route took us through a pass just north of Cooper Island, our destination of last Tuesday, and out into the Anegada Passage of the Caribbean Sea. The sky was perhaps 50% overcast and we motored near directly into a 15 knot headwind that was producing about six foot waves. This is not a comfortable “point of sail” and DoodleBug was pitching sharply into the short, steep waves with spray hitting me in the face at my helm position on the fly bridge, some 20 feet above the waterline. The First Mate, who shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassment, had refused my advice to take anti-seasick medication and was now clutching a bucket. Not a good start to the adventure. She assured me that she might not die and we decided to proceed for another hour and then make the call as to whether to continue or run for shelter back to Cooper’s Island. We motored at around 1500 RPM on the engines, producing a boat speed of just over 5 knots but when we cleared the chain of islets forming the southern edge of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, I experimented by altering course 10 degrees or so, such that we were not bashing so squarely into the waves. I also increased the throttle to 1,900 RPM and pushed the speed up to 7 knots. The total distance to our anchorage was 90 nm and at at this rate we might arrive around 1830 hours, just about sunset.
The last 30 miles was a little easier as the islands of Anguilla and St. Martin were blocking the waves that now dropped to the 4 foot range. We increased speed again to 8 knots and beside the scattering of flying fish, were accompanied by a pod of dolphins, surfing off our bow waves. 3 or 4 Boobies cruised lazily alongside and hung magically at roof level off the fly bridge and about 8 feet ahead. They were watching for us to disturb small fish with our passage and every now and then, one would plunge into the water ahead of us and then take off again into flight, just before they were run over. I thought this was really cute until we were anchored that evening. The entire front of the boat was splattered with Booby shit. Pelagic birds as you know, are birds that can fly and shit at the same time (most land birds poop whilst perched) and these Boobies had really proven the point.
We motored into Marigot Bay, St. Martin and dropped our anchor at 1815 hours at 18 04.0N 063 05.5W
All survived on board.
August 9, 2015
I slept hard last night but when I awoke, we were still bobbing peacefully at anchor. Last night we had taken down the British Virgin Islands “courtesy” flag and replaced it with the yellow “Q” for quarantine flag. As I sipped my early morning coffee, a large official looking “Zodiac” stopped off our stern and one of the three uniformed occupants carefully noted our boat name and port of registration. Since it takes 30 days or thereabouts to de-register the boat from France and another 60 days for our fine bureaucrats of “Homeland Security” to produce a USA registration, I thought that we might expect company. Sure enough, about five minutes later, the Zodiac returned and the men indicated that they wished to board us. I produced copies of the various documents and while I chatted to the youngest officer about the benefits of owning an Amel Super Maramu, (our last boat was French built in La Rochelle – his home town), the other two officers examined our various documents in excruciating detail. I was not the least concerned because I hear that the food in French prisons is much improved since Steve McQueen had to eat squashed bugs on Isle du Diable (see movie Papillon). One of the officers made a series of cell phone calls and eventually they announced that they needed to search the boat for contraband. The officer in question was impressed with our water maker, sitting wrapped in plastic on the cabin sole floor. He said that his was broken and he needs one. After quizzing us on what we paid for the boat and remarking on how much space it has, they gave us a nice form and left. We still have to check in though but we got to put up our French courtesy flag.
Ten minutes later a dinghy cruised by and with us waving frantically, we able to bum a ride ashore. (We have no dinghy yet) We located the Customs office and determined that it is not open until tomorrow. Although the posted hours say 8:00 a.m. we were advised not to show up before 9:00 a.m. We also determined that Budget Marine, the purveyor of dinghies is also closed today. We found a bar that was open to celebrate being on dry land and then a French bakery for breakfast. Next we hung on the dinghy dock until someone looked like leaving and bummed another ride back to DoodleBug from Raynel of San Diego and Silva of St. Martin.
Another slow day. I dived the hull to check the props and rudder alignment and checked the engines and generator for oil and coolant levels. Everything looks OK. The action will begin tomorrow when the Island reopens for business. I just noted that we have been in the Caribbean for nine days and the various establishments such as customs, grocery stores etc. have been closed for all but two of these.
August 10, 2015
Yesterday our starboard air conditioner had died with a “high head pressure” warning message. We were up bright and early this morning and I decided to test a theory that the problem might be caused by a blockage in the sea water input that cools the condenser on marine systems (your land system is air-cooled). The filter was hard to get to but sure enough, when we got it out, it was thoroughly clogged with mud, grass and barnacles. I sacrificed a worn tooth-brush to the cause and Annette cleaned it out in a bucket of sea-water while sitting daintily on the stern of DoodleBug and watching the dawn. We reinstalled the filter, primed it and fired the A/C up. It now worked perfectly and we were so thrilled we thought we had better check the other filters. Next was the main salon air conditioner and its filter was in even worse condition, if that were possible. There are two more major filters to check for the port air-conditioner and the generator but these will have to wait until we return from our day’s errands.
We were ready to go ashore and not a dinghy was stirring across the bay. I tried the VHF radio and immediately received a response from the local marina. Within a few minutes the marina guy motored over and ferried us ashore. We arrived promptly at the customs office but after a telephone call were told that the officer doesn’t work today and to return at the same time tomorrow. We did get the immigration lady next door to stamp our passports though.
Next was a taxi ride over to the marine supplier where we had purchased a dinghy and motor way back in April. Our order was staged ready for us with the exception of the solar panels and controllers that we had ordered months ago. The controllers were somewhere in the Sint Maarten warehouse on a pallet but the solar panels had not left the UK. Bummer! After discussing various options we agreed to hang until the end of the week and the dealer would have the panels air-freighted via Amsterdam. It was two hours before we had our goodies rounded up and loaded into our new dinghy. I was pleased to note that it floated and we motored very gently to a nearby marina where we purchased 5 gallons of gasoline and mixed in two-stroke oil into a near paste in order to “break in” the new engine. A thirty minute ride at barely above idle speed and we passed from Dutch Sint Maarten back into French St. Martin and then out into Marigot Bay in search of DoodleBug. What a relief to have a working tender and to have successfully hauled all our goodies safely on board!
Next chore was to find a data SIM for our Australian WiFi cellular hot spot. At the store we discovered that we had been lied to and that it was “locked” and we don’t have the “unlock” code. We will just have to use the purchased SIM for our iPad. Back again to the port area now hauling groceries and we stopped at a waterfront bar for supper and to use their internet connection. I noted online that 7 of the 10 news headlines were about Donald Trump, a big time saver as I was thus able to skip all the current news stories.
August 11, 2015
This morning we made our third attempt at checking in with Customs and were told to, “come back at 09:30”. Back to the phone company to borrow their tool for opening the iPad and then we managed to convince the local waterfront bar to cook us a pair of ham, cheese and mushroom crepes for breakfast. Very good they were too and perfect with fresh orange juice and cold beer.
Back to the Customs office and the “Officer” was present! He moaned at great length that we should not have changed the name of our boat until we have received the USA registration – scheduled for around 90 days hence. We overtly commiserated with both pathos and sincerity while we secretly cursed him and all lard-arsed parasites of his ilk. He finally ran down his whining and asked us for a 35 euro fee, refusing payment in dollars - the first to do so on this island. Back to the ATM, back to his office and we are finally checked in with just 5 visits. We have to see him again when we leave.
Our now trusty dinghy was again fired up and we gently cruised back to the Ace Hardware / Budget Marine complex on the duty free, tax free “Dutch Side” of the island, a forty minute ride on a beautiful day. (We are still at the “break in” stage on our new outboard engine and must stay below half throttle – no water skiing). By mid-afternoon we had agreed to take 6 smaller output, in-stock solar panels instead of the 4 we had ordered, thus we don’t need to hang around the anchorage this week and can perhaps leave on Thursday for Puerto Rico.
August 12, 2015
The final “work” day in St. Martin dawned. We visited our favorite bureaucrat for exit documents and he was almost cheerful today – perhaps because he might see the back of us. The immigration people did not want to put exit stamps in our passports – “You come back tomorrow”. “But we are leaving at 5 a.m.”; “Yes, you come back tomorrow”. We have done this dance before and the solution is simply to leave without the exit stamps and act dumb thereafter.
Next was our third and last run to Budget Marine supplies on the “Dutch” side of the island and because we have now passed the two hour mark on the new outboard motor, we were able to goose the throttle to three quarters and made the trip in 10 minutes instead of the 40 minutes at “engine break-in” speed. I think I am going to love this dinghy! “She” popped up on a plane almost instantly. While Annette hit the grocery store, I found a locksmith to make us duplicate keys to the door on DoodleBug. A great feeling of relief to have more than a single key and to further have this on a floating key fob.
We had purchased an extra “house” battery for the boat and that puppy weighs in at around 140 lbs. Somehow we have managed to move it from the store to the dinghy, from the dinghy onto DoodleBug and now from the stern, where we had dumped it, we moved it into the forward compartment where it will eventually be mounted. The dinghy is stowed and lashed we are ready for sea. We will leave for Puerto Rico in the morning and this afternoon we made a test run to check for engine vibration (there wasn’t any), check battery charging from the engines (all good) and finally an autopilot / compass calibration run. The latter involved motoring slowly in large circles while the autopilot computer did its thing. There was a mono-hull sailboat that approached us at the time and was obviously puzzled at our behavior as it tried to guess our course and pass us by. We waved in a friendly manner.
August 13, 2015
We raised anchor at 0630 hours and pointed DoodleBug at Puerto Rico. The sky was about 3/8 ths cloud and we had a scattering of rain as we departed but this soon cleared up and we enjoyed a sunny day with perhaps 15 knots of wind from astern and seas in the 4 to 6 foot range. We ran both engines at 1,700 RPM (Full speed is around 3,250 RPM) and this produced a little over 8 knots boat speed.
By early afternoon, the seas had moderated slightly to the 3 to 5 foot range but we were plagued with a steering / autopilot issue as DoodleBug carved a continuous zig-zag through the waters. For several hours we experimented with changing the response setting on the auto-pilot and lowering the rudder gain setting and these efforts did indeed reduce much of the zig-zag but not entirely eliminate it. Unfortunately the gain setting needs to de adjusted on “calm or flat waters” and a five foot stern roller does not qualify as such. Late afternoon brought us a visit from a large pod of dolphins whom we saw charging enthusiastically at us from afar before settling down in formation just off our bows. After ten minutes or so, they tired of this game and in an instant they had disappeared. We did not see them leave but appreciated their visit.
Thus we headed into our first night at sea since March of 2009. The shadowy islands we could barely see on the horizon, sprang into being with street lights and navigation lights, proving the existence of human habitation. Since we departed this morning, we have seen but a single distant sail, no shipping or fishing boats. Until this night I had never really appreciated the comfort of having radar for searching around us in the blackness. We depended instead on our eyeballs and there was nothing to be seen as we strained and peered ahead. The moonless sky had become more overcast and the scattering of bright stars between the gaps in the clouds did not provide sufficient illumination to see the waves. These could only be seen by the glow of our stern-light as they rolled in and occasionally splashed over the lower step of our sterns. The seas rose as the night wore on and the ride became more bouncy.
August 14, 2015
After midnight we were off the coast of Puerto Rico and the lights of the ports and towns lay off our starboard side. There were long strings of red lights that flashed simultaneously at us and Annette said they looked like Chinese lanterns. It took the light of dawn to identify these mysterious objects as offshore windmills.
In the darkest part of the night, the bilge pump warning light came on, meaning that we were taking on water. The light only stayed on for a few seconds, indicating that there was not much water being pumped out of the boat but the frequency of these warnings began to increase. I checked the engine compartments to see if I could identify the source of the warning and also checked the main bilge pumps under the hulls. (there are 5 such pumps on the vessel). All of the pump locations had a little water slopping around but nothing overt to indicate where it was coming from. I thought the port water a little “cleaner” and speculated that a flow, if any, was on this side. I then checked the stern lockers that house the rudder posts. The port compartment had a horizontal pipe in its base and this was exuding a trickle of water that might be coming from a watertight compartment. The pipe was capped with a kind of plug and I twisted this thinking that it might be loose. Instantly the trickle of water became a gush. Bugger! I miraculously found my roll of self-vulcanizing electrical tape and wrapped a generous portion around the pipe and its end cap. The gush of water stopped and the bilge pump warning decreased in frequency. Whew! Sort this out after we make port!
A very tired couple arrived at the fuel dock and were surprised to have the fueling operator on duty to take our bow line. We are docked in Puerto Rico at the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.
The next requirement was to telephone our arrival details to US Customs and CBP (One of those Homeland Security departments). At 8:00 a.m. I got to speak to an officer who was very friendly, told us we must dispose of our trash only in the marina dumpster and not outside of the marina. He told we could keep our fruits and vegetables for consumption aboard and said that we should call Customs for permission to go to the marina office. This I did.
The Customs officer called me back to say that they were very busy and because our passport information had checked out, we had permission to leave DoodleBug to visit the marina office and further we could move onto a slip in the marina. They would telephone when they were ready to inspect our boat.
Arrived Ponce, Puerto Rico at 0750 hours, position 17 57.9 N 066 37.0 W
The Customs Officer arrived just as we were about to move off the fuelling dock but he told us to go ahead and move. He was a very pleasant man who said we were all good. I asked if we needed a “cruising permit” and he said that he would have one of his fellow officers visit us later today to deal with such. Overall a very laid back experience from our Federal employees.
We were both more than ready for bed and when I attempted to hook up the dock power, I realized that we had the wrong kind of electrical connector. I called the marina office and they confirmed that they could rent me a convertor, so I grabbed wallet, hat and sunglasses and headed down the dock towards the office. Half way along the dock I met two uniformed officers heading towards me. I said “Good morning” and asked if they were to visit Seconde Chance / DoodleBug. The older man confirmed this and began to lecture me that I was subjecting myself to a possible $5,000 fine by leaving DoodleBug. I began to explain that we had already been cleared, been inspected by a Customs officer and had received permission to leave the vessel but he cut me off with a sharp, “Sir, do not interrupt me......”. I apologized and shut up as we turned and walked back to the boat.
A small digression here. Several months ago we were making plans on where to go after we left Tortola and I spent several hours, plus perhaps a dozen phone calls to determine whether we would be considered “importing DoodleBug to the United States” if we made a brief stop in Puerto Rico to pick up supplies. I spoke to the US Customs in Washington. I spoke to the Treasury department. I was referred to the San Juan Customs office in Puerto Rico and was passed from office to office. Nobody had ever heard of the 1 and 1/2 percent Federal tax when importing a vessel. The documentation lady in Florida told me that it was very unlikely that I would ever be asked about this. Now back to the dock in Ponce:
The officer asked me where I was taking the boat and I told him I was going to Bonaire. He asked me several times why I was not going to the mainland USA. When I told him that we were applying for USA registration but the boat would likely never go to the USA, he stated immediately that it was subject to a 1 and 1/2 percent import tax. He hadn’t even stepped on board. He further stated that he was “taking” our boat papers and “taking” our passports to his office. He calculated the tax at $5,550 dollars, a sum I had already reached in March and had believed was only payable if we came to the mainland USA. He demanded to know how I intended to pay this and I said I would pay by personal check on a Wells Fargo account. He called his “boss” who said that that was acceptable. At this point he seemed to relax a little and decided that we could keep our passports after all. However our trash must stay aboard the vessel, subject to a $250,000 fine and firing squad.
Then followed a taxi ride to the CBP office and the writing of a check for the import duty. Nobody cared less about the boat name, nationality of registration or whether we had a $27 Customs sticker. They had their five and half grand and they clicked their jackboot heels together in glee. We went to bed.
August 15, 2015
Saturday in Puerto Rico and when I called the car rental companies in Ponce, I either got an answering machine asking me to leave a message, or a pre-recorded blurb telling me they were closed for the week-end. What’s with this week-end thing? When did that start?
I checked the stern compartment that had been leaking water and found it filled to the brim of the inspection hatch. I had queried the Moorings yesterday and received a prompt e-mail this morning confirming that there are only a couple of spots where we might have a minor leak; I plan to empty and dry the compartment and then test for water ingress with a dock hose. The mystery “pipe” is just a drain for the compartment in question.
Our big adventure of the day was a taxi ride that dropped Annette off at Wal-Mart and me at Home Depot (adjacent buildings – this is America!). We returned to DoodleBug with a mountain of supplies including a commercial grade “wet and dry” vacuum cleaner.
This evening the fresh-water pump quit pumping - a not uncommon occurrence on cruising boats but we have no spare. This will be a “tomorrow” project.
DoodleBug is tied up to half of a “T-head” dock (for you non-sailors, the dock looks like a capital “T” with the base of the “T” attached to the land). This means that a swarm of week-end boaters have been passing by, just feet away. There are paddle-boarders, kayakers, “Sunfish” sailors and every size imaginable of offshore fishing boat with towering fly-bridges. Puerto Rican’s certainly enjoy boating as a pastime and it is fun and refreshing to see the various craft, loaded with people, salsa music booming and people aboard dancing.
August 16, 2015
I removed the freshwater pump this morning and confirmed that although the motor turns, the pump has no “suck”. West Marine in the capital of San Juan has a replacement and daughter Helen confirmed that the six boxes of boat stuff we left with her in Houston, have been shipped by Southwest Airlines to arrive in San Juan tomorrow. I called the main reservation number for Avis auto rental and they confirmed that Ponce has no rental cars available for tomorrow, thus we decided to just take a cab to San Juan airport on Monday morning and sort everything out from there.
We have prepared lists in excruciating detail so that when we descend upon West Marine, we will collect all of the necessary components to install our Radar, AIS, Auto-pilot repeater, Fresh water pump and solar panels. To add momentum to our tasks, a depression has begun to form off the Azores and looks to become a tropical storm.
August 17, 2015
Our broken Spanish was sufficient to get us a taxi to Avis in San Juan and with the wonderful aid of phone GPS, we managed to find West Marine. Two hours later the trunk of the car was filled and we found a “Cheesecake Factory” to fill ourselves. By early afternoon we finally located Southwest Airlines freight office where they attempted to deny all knowledge of our shipment. I was first told to call my “shipper” – “Why? She works as a kindergarten teacher in Houston, what is she going to tell me?”. Next I was told to call “Southwest Airlines”. “Aren’t you Southwest Airlines?”, I demanded. My grumpiness and sarcasm seemed to have an effect however and suddenly the correct paperwork appeared and we had our boxes loaded into the trunk and backseat of the rental car. The boxes were pretty easy to spot since the two grandboys in Houston had “decorated” the boxes with day-glo orange decal tape. By late afternoon we were back in Ponce and with a suitable amount of swearing, the new water pump was installed and we were able to bathe.
The depression off the Azores now has an 80% chance of becoming a hurricane and Puerto Rico lies in its sights.
August 18, 2015
The first task of the day was to discuss Hurricane preparedness strategies at the marina office. La Tormenta? Donde? The ladies in the office were unaware of the threat and rambled about the marina having no liability for any possible damage to us. I quizzed a couple of club members for advice and got varying responses. The good news is that the storm is still about six days away.
I have prepared a detailed list of jobs to do on the boat and have prioritized each step. Unfortunately I had forgotten just how much time you waste chasing trivial parts and running all over town buying tools and hardware. Nevertheless, I have removed the navigation lights from the roof of the fly-bridge and have mounted / glued solar chargers and power distribution boxes in place.
This evening I drew up a detailed departure plan for getting out of here should the hurricane continue on its present course.
August 19, 2015
Big construction day today and the last before we switch direction from construction to running from the storm. I spoke to the director of the marina and he promised to send over a local port pilot to talk to me about hurricane holes but the guy never showed.
Annette took the rental car and armed only with several credit cards, set off on her major shopping expeditions. I attacked the mounting of the radar antenna on the sky-bridge roof. By noon it was in place and I had restored the navigation lights to a perch above the new antenna. The “steaming” light works but the anchor light refused to function. My meter says there is power to the bulb fitting, so the new wiring is OK; I will sort this out later.
I believed that it would take twenty minutes or so to run the radar cable but three hours later, it was finally within striking distance of its destination and I was exhausted. I had planned further installations of equipment today but tropical storm Danny is still aimed directly at Ponce and I am in departure mode.
Annette has purchased mountains of bedding, sheets, pillows, coverlets, floor mats and we ferried her goodies from the dock to the boat without dropping any into the sea. Her subsequent grocery runs required multiple shuttles by dock cart and now the boat sits lower in the water and she has to find a place to put it all.
August 20, 2015
For me, the number one job of the day was to change the oil and filters in both engines. We have babied the “new” engines by running them at less than half throttle and they have each accumulated just under 50 hours of running. The manufacturer, Cummins, requires a first oil change at 50 hours but we will likely be out a sea then, thus my task for the morning. As it happened, it took three hours to service both engines, clean up and dispose of the dirty oil but next time will be much faster. Because you cannot just unscrew a drain plug underneath a marine diesel engine, these particular engines have an oil drain line permanently fitted and a hand pump installed so that “all” you have to do is warm the engines to make the oil runny and then pump the oil out into a suitable container. The oil pumps had obviously never been used for this purpose since they were bolted to the engine compartment firewall in such a position that it was impossible to work the handles. This will change.
We have filled our water tanks, checked the steering oil, assembled our third anchor and re-stowed the mountain of goodies we have purchased over the past week. Annette has washed the boat down, scrubbed stains off the upholstery and laundered seemingly every piece of fabric on the boat - unless it actively squeaked at the time. Tomorrow is decision day and we will pick a departure time. Danny is estimated to be overhead on Tuesday morning packing winds of 100 mph.
August 21, 2015
Our first task of the day was to motor gently off the dock (would have been smoother if I hadn’t forgotten the extra bow line still attached to the dock!) and moved over to the fuelling dock. Here we purchased diesel at $2.41 / gallon - versus the $8 / gallon we had paid at the marina in Turkey about eight years ago. We have motored some 325 miles since we took possession of DoodleBug and it required 145 gallons of diesel to top up the tanks. We ran both engines throughout and at 2.24 mpg (your actual mileage might vary) with a tank capacity of 300 gallons, our range would be about 670 nautical miles without any reserve. These are the first “hard” numbers we have had on fuel consumption and so we are paying close attention!
Our take off from the fuel dock was not embarrassing and we used the opportunity of relatively calm seas to test further adjustments to the autopilot. After a couple of calibration runs, we have managed to get close to the “correct” setting and returned to our original dock where we again made a graceful landing. We might be getting the hang of the simple docking approaches!
Our visit to the US Customs to get departure documents went smoothly and the office informed us that the Puerto Rico Customs had just received notification from Washington to expect a “major event” when Danny arrives on Tuesday. The Puerto Rico ports have been closed to shipping and what few vessels remain are expected to depart shortly. Back at the marina, a flurry of activity as boat after boat left the dock to either be hauled onto the hard or to run for shelter somewhere. We were told that the club doesn’t have enough space for all of its members and uses a lottery system to decide which vessels get hauled.
We are nearly ready for sea and although I had sworn to myself that I was not going to install any more equipment, I relented and installed a remote controller for the autopilot, enabling us to steer the boat from the salon navigation station, instead of just up on the fly-bridge. The only critical equipment failure has been Annette’s iPod that has basically succumbed to old age.
We will return our rental car tomorrow and plan on leaving for Bonaire at around 4:00 p.m. for a 48 hour passage.
August 22, 2015
We left Puerto Rico today to escape Danny’s wrath but before we took off, there was the inevitable list of chores. We made a quick run to Sears to pick up a “Dustbuster” that did something other than make a whirring noise. The one we purchased is guaranteed to suck up kittens and small grand-children – perfect for a boat!
Next we returned the rental car to the Ponce airport and returned the borrowed power adapter to the marina. It was now easy to find DoodleBug at the dock, since most of our “neighbors” had already left, some to be hauled to be stored on to the hard and others to their favorite hurricane hole, somewhere down the coast. We next had to stow away our ladder, buckets and other odd shaped stuff we have managed to acquire in the past week. Finally it was all hidden away below decks and we were ready for sea. We dropped our lines and slipped away at 1500 hours, local time.
All day long, the clouds had hung around us threatening rain and adding to the gathering gloom of an emptying marina. A few miles from Puerto Rico’s rain shadow and the sky began to show patches of blue and the occasional promise of sunshine. We both noticed large splashes and spotted big fins breaking the surface. Not shark fins and dolphins hunt and play in packs. We assume that we were seeing a Marlin hunting and the sprays of flying fish must not have been generated entirely by our passage.
By nightfall the stars were peeking out from a few gaps in the clouds. A half moon rode high amongst the clouds and the line from the poem, “the Highwayman”, popped almost instantly into my thoughts - “The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed on a cloudy sea”. As before, we struggled hard to stay awake on the first night at the beginning of a passage. The unseen waters were moody and choppy and as we neared dawn, the waves were in the 8 foot range. All night we had kept watch and seen but a single freighter, headed east and passing perhaps 10 miles behind us.
August 23, 2015
A beautiful dawn at sea, blue skies, scattered clouds, sunshine and the waves back down to the 6 foot range. We had heard loud thumps in the night and after discarding the idea that we had hit something substantial, came to believe that this was simply a catamaran phenomenon. Large waves will sometimes hit the bottom of the vessel, under the large flat section that connects the hulls. We former mono-hull sailors were not familiar with this noise which caused disquiet in the darkness.
We noticed that our “course over the ground” was some 15 degrees from the direction we were pointing and since our GPS is not networked to our auto-pilot (yet!) had to make manual course adjustments to keep our track. I roughly calculated a vector as an eastbound current of around two knots. In the distance we could see flashes of color and the binoculars revealed these as large rafts of floating weed. We have been seeing long streamers of yellowish weed and its prevalence across the Caribbean Sea indicates that this is not just some submarine weed bank that has been torn loose by a storm. This stuff must have the ability to grab onto its companions, like some kind of slimy velcro, when chance washes one piece against another.
The day wore on and regular waves were passing under our beam producing a side to side rocking motion. We are now well out of the range of a hurricane that followed Danny’s forecasted track. We headed into our second night at sea with scattered squalls providing a brief lashing of rain before passing on. There was a strong increase of gusting wind associated with these squalls and on our first vessel, the onrushing “cats paws” on the surface of the water would have us scurrying to drop sails before it hit. The power cat in turn had us scurrying to zip up the windows around the fly-bridge in order to stay dry.
August 24, 2015
Annette spotted a single freighter on her night watch and I spotted another on mine. Very little shipping at these latitudes. Dawn brought clear skies above but cloud and haze on the horizon. After the passage transiting the ocean current yesterday our course “heading” and “course over ground” had both matched, indicating no current but some 30 miles from the unseen islands, a current reasserted itself. We were within 20 miles of Bonaire before we could see the distant hills and shoreline. The coast we approached was devoid of habitation, surrounded by forbidding cliffs and with little sign of human artifacts. We passed down the west coast of the island, a mile or so offshore and then spotted a couple of vehicles and a tiny settlement. We did not see large scale development until we turned east again to transit the southern coast. We arrived at the town of Kralendijk and picked up a mooring just off the beach at 1220 hours and position 12 09.3N 068 16.8W. We are here!
A brief ride over to the Customs and Immigration in the dinghy and we left the latter on the beach while we sat in their air-conditioned office nearby. Very polite folks and there was no charge for entrance formalities. There was a charge for the mooring however and our next trip was to the Harbour Village Marina in order to register our presence and pay for the mooring rental. We had already noted that the use of the mooring is mandatory and anchoring not permitted. Now we were checked in and legal, our final chore was a visit to the local telephone store to pick up SIMS for our cell-phone and iPad. We can communicate with the outside world again! Despite this new ability, our only desire was a shower and bed.
August 25, 2015
We groggily awoke to a boat that lay quiescent and a new day. Last night we had run the generator and air-conditioners but the coolant water supply pumps on both the main salon unit and the port hull unit had failed, causing us to shut down the delightful cooling. Not a good start. Reviewing our needs over the next few days, we decided that it would be simpler to move into a marina as this would solve our power, water and internet issues, giving us a chance to tackle some of the other items. I discovered that the failed anchor light had somehow repaired itself and was working fine. You don’t question such gifts.
We headed back over to the marina to enquire as to availability of a slip and were first told the none were available. Then it appeared that there might be one left but that it would only carry 8 feet depth (I measured 4 feet with a portable sounder) and further, there was no power available. I noted that the depth was not an issue, we draw a claimed depth of one meter (just over 3 feet) but the power was a problem. It turned out that the slip in question did have power but no meter. I suggested a fixed rate per day for electricity and we agreed on $2 per day. Done. We will move here this afternoon when help will be available to take lines.
The next task of the day was therefore to locate a replacement pump and rebuild kits for the air conditioner supply pumps. This vessel is six years old and we have always assumed we would need to service the multitude of pumps aboard. Impellers wear out and filters need cleaning and changing. Bonaire has a “Budget Marine” supply store and we headed over there to see if they could supply parts. The pump had to be ordered however with a delivery time of “one or two weeks”.
I retackled the issue of the A/C supply pump and sat next to it with a meter so that I could hear when it stopped running. I could then check to see if there was still power to the unit and when I began the test, the salon temperature was a balmy 94F. About twenty minutes after running perfectly, the temperature had dropped to 87F and the pump failed. No power! This was unexpected as this is a pump that runs as long as the A/C is on. No sophisticated controls required, just “on” or “off”. I tracked the power to a control board and searched for a relay. So far I haven’t identified this but I am prepared to wire the pump directly into a household extension cord and bypass the control panel completely until I get the proper parts.
August 26, 2015
DoodleBug is backed up to a dock a few feet from Bonaire’s coast road and on the opposite side of the street is a salt marsh where Annette spotted flamingoes dipping their beaks. Bonaire also has yellow shouldered Amazon parrots (we saw two fly overhead yesterday), donkeys and a donkey “sanctuary” facility. The donkeys were wandering the streets rather than flying, as we observed when we walked to the hardware store to buy a sacrificial extension cord and a roll of “red” electrical insulation tape – a commodity surprisingly hard to find, with white and black predominating. This walking exercise, heat and oppressive humidity had exhausted us, so we stopped for lunch at a beachfront bar / café for the three corners of the basic food pyramid - fish, chips and beer.
Back at DB, I wired the extension cord into the air conditioner pump and fired it off. Forty minutes later, the pump froze and we turned the unit off. OK, we now definitely know the pump is shot. The control board may be innocent and we must wait patiently for the replacement pump, promised for next week.
Next was the solar panel installation and after washing the accumulated birdshit off the fly-bridge roof, Annette took my advice, changed her summer frock for shorts and blouse and joined me on the roof to lay out the position of the 2 foot by 4 foot panels. We have six to install and with Annette’s help, we soon had the first prototype fastened and sealed into place. Now the wiring. I drilled a hole for the cable and could touch a screwdriver inserted into the hole using a wiring “snake” but have yet to work out how to capture the end of the wire. After a few failed experiments, our current plan is to try a magnet to capture a metal “something” we dangle through the 1/4 inch cable hole. Before this experiment we headed back into “town” to hit “happy hour”at a local bar we had been assured was the cruiser hangout. We found the bar and we found the beer but no cruisers. Another early night in the tropics.
August 27, 2015
The great magnet experiment worked! It was hard to find something magnetic aboard a marine vessel but a small drill-bit attached to a thread was swiftly captured by Annette’s “pick-up” magnet. The thread was used to gently pull a string and the string used to pull the solar panel wiring into place. Tedious but by mid-afternoon, all six panels had been installed on DoodleBug’s fly-bridge roof. By early evening, they had been wired into a fuse / bus-bar and were churning out 38 volts of power. This is not yet connected to the batteries but the heavy lifting has been accomplished.
August 28, 2015
This morning we cracked the mystery of how to get the radar and solar power cables to the instrument console and the house batteries respectively. Now it is just a matter of connecting all the wires! We are simultaneously doing three jobs and since really thick electrical cables are involved, we don’t want to mess up. The cables for the fourth house 210 ampere hour battery (this means big AND heavy) needed to be run and the solar panel controller connected to the same battery bank. To do this safely we needed to disconnect the three existing batteries (thereby shutting down the fridge and freezer) and then hook everything up at once. Before we made the big move, there followed a three hour walk to the hardware store, purchase of a two foot piece of green wire as a ground wire, lunch and a walk back to the dock. The simplest tasks take so much time! By late afternoon everything was wired together except for the three house batteries that Mooring’s had replaced the day before we left. We had purchased another identical battery in Sint Maarten and it alone was wired in and being charged up. The solar array was showing “Night” and no output. A busy but successful day.
August 29, 2015
At the butt-crack of dawn, I re-connected the three batteries into the “house bank” bringing the total to four. Nothing sparked or exploded. I then inserted three fuses into the solar panel array closing the circuit. Immediately the monitor was showing that it was charging at 10 amperes and outside it was barely light. By ten o’clock, the solar array was pumping out 30 amperes and by this time, we had tidied away all of the loose wires, panel covers etc. What a feeling of relief that at least one major job was completed! This enhancement to our capabilities means that we can produce all of the power we need for daily operation, without using the generator or being hooked to the dock power. We will still need to run the generator to run the air-conditioning, microwave or washing machine – assuming that we find one that will fit through the doorways but all other power needs should be met by the solar array during the day and by the enhanced battery bank at night.
We have more electronics yet to install and one device is an AIS unit. Basically it functions like an aircraft transponder. It transmits our position, vessel speed and course over a dedicated VHF radio channel every five minutes or so and listens for the data chirps from other vessels. The latter are displayed as vectors on the chartplotter / radar display. All large commercial vessels are required to have one of these systems and many private cruising boats also choose to participate. When a vessel is on a collision course, there are systems that post a warning and the approaching vessel can be identified and called by name over the regular VHF radio hailing channel. We needed a couple of bolts and connectors to install our AIS antennas and set off again towards the marine supply store.
On the route to the marine supply, we came upon a scooter rental store. Scooters are so much fun and we rented one for the next three days. We zipped around town hitting the marine supply, restaurant, supermarket, hardware supply and appliance store in minutes. Tomorrow we will take off on an island exploration expedition. Our quest will be flamingoes, the donkey sanctuary and the elusive brown scorpion.
Back aboard DoodleBug, I attempted to strip and service one of the only two winches aboard that are used to lift the dinghy on its davits. With lots of WD-40, cursing, hammers and large screwdrivers, I finally dismantled the starboard winch whose interior had likely not seen daylight since it was assembled at the factory. Several of the springs that operate interior pawls were broken and I must wait until Monday morning to buy replacements. I expect a night and day difference in its winch-like performance once it has been lubricated and re-assembled.
It has been four weeks since we moved aboard DoodleBug and we finally feel that the boat is “coming together”. Today I received confirmation that the French Registration “Seconde Chance” is no more and that we can expect a preliminary USA registration in another two to three weeks.
August 30, 2015
I had intended to install the AIS (Automatic Identification System) VHF radio antenna and its associated GPS this morning but after climbing on the roof of the fly-bridge, decided that the regular VHF radio antenna was now sitting too close to the radar dome and would have to be moved, or rather replaced. This would become a Monday job. However, my dance card was not entirely clear, I still needed to do the power wiring runs, so that the early morning hours were spent investigating a “spare” i.e. unused breaker in the 12 volt distribution panel. It was connected to a labeled wire and after an hour of digging, removing panels and pieces of boat, I finally found the end of the wire! I now need another length of wire to connect to this and reach the fly-bridge console. Monday! Enough of work, we were off to see the donkeys.
As you might have guessed, the donkeys were introduced to Bonaire by the Spanish in the 17th century for a beast of burden. As technology changed, such as the 20th century introduction of motor scooters, the donkeys were no longer needed for their original purpose and were turned loose. The feral donkeys reproduced and without predators, died of dehydration, starvation and vehicular traffic accidents. Dutch nationals formed the Bonaire Donkey sanctuary in 1993 and when we visited, the facility had 600 donkeys resident. Hardly a blade of vegetation was left. The stallions are all castrated and there are an estimated 50 to 75 left in the wild that have not been so treated. I asked the guide if the long term goal was the humane eradication of a non-native species but received an “I don’t know”.
We first visited the “special needs” paddock and inside this enclosure was an eight week old donkey foal and its mother. The size of the “baby” was unexpected – I would have guessed six months. We continued our tour of the acreage by our rented motor-scooter, a vehicle not particularly suited to off-road endeavors. A pick-up truck had preceded us on the track around the park perimeter and the donkeys were feeding on the piles of hay that had been dropped off. There were a few fights in the form of a sort of a growling, coughing noise followed by kicking of the hind legs. This was all very entertaining, except they were huddled together, blocking the rocky, sandy track and it was hard enough as it was to stay upright on our two wheeled beast. Just like Moses parting the Red Sea, with Annette on the pillion scattered carrots to each side of the track and me snarling, “shift you buggers!”, the grey furry masses parted and we continued on our way. Overall donkeys are innocuous creatures and we wish them well.
We continued our tour of the island and stopped for Annette to take a picture of a solitary flamingo but it decided that a motor scooter stopping at 50 yards was too much of a threat and I watched it perform a spectacular take off, an experience marred only by the cursing emanating from the photographer behind me. OK then, donkeys and flamingoes. We saw no brown scorpions but confirmed that they are nocturnal.
August 31, 2015
We suffered a disappointing trip to the marine supply this morning. For almost every item I sought, the response was, “You will have to order that”. I decided that we will simply “make do” until we arrive at a bigger island. Back at DoodleBug, I installed the AIS antennas and hardware while Annette attempted to wash some of the grime from the boat. Hers is a hopeless task as a continuous stream of brown dust blows over the marina wall behind us and settles all over the boat. Add a little moisture in the form of dew and we have brown mud from stem to stern. We are more than ready to move on to cleaner climes.
By mid-afternoon, all of the equipment and wiring was in place except for the wiring run for the power supply. This I plan to tackle tomorrow. This morning I had managed to buy a 30 ampere breaker for the “spare” circuit in the main panel and will similarly swap this for the existing smaller breaker tomorrow. Supposedly the marine supply has no winch parts thus we will just have to reassemble our davit winch with an inoperable pawl. It should still be useable and easy to repair once we find a supplier of springs.
The final installation of the day was to hook the TV up to my laptop and confirm that it would play one of the 630 movies I have archived on an external hard drive. I am pleased to report that this at least was successful and we watched part 1 of “Amadeus” – an excellent flick.