Friday, May 31, 2013

The Virgin Islands III


May 26th 2013  

Position 18° 29.839’ N
                64° 21.603’ W


St. John, USVI and the British Virgin Islands.


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On May 14th we crossed the few miles from Christmas Cove St. Thomas to Cruz Bay St. John. We continued to cruise around the spectacular coast of St. John until we came to Maho Bay. There were plenty of mooring balls available and the weather was settled so this was the spot we decided to spend some time. St. John is very unspoiled and is predominantly a national park. It really is beautiful
the water was crystal clear and where we were moored the depth was 10’ which is shallow for the Virgins; these islands rise straight up from the depths and it is not uncommon to be anchored or moored in 40’ to 60’ of water. We could see the bottom and we swam from the back of the boat. We were only accompanied by one other boat as the photo indicates and really felt isolated and privileged. We spent an idyllic day on the beach swimming and walk, in fact walking the length of the beach with a small lemon shark that was swimming along with us the whole way only 6 – 10 feet away. Our night was calm and peaceful. In the morning, however, when I started the generator to replenish our batteries the inverter/charged quickly showed an overheat warning light! After a quick diagnosis we sadly had to make the decision to leave Maho and seek help from a marine electrician so we sailed from St. John to Soper’s Hole in Tortola, BVI which was the nearest civilization on our continuing route.


Our short trip was uneventful and we were safely tied up in the marina by 10:00. The first thing we had to do is check in with customs and immigration which was on the opposite side of the bay from Frenchmans Cay in West End. Butch, our very helpful dock boy, took me across in the marinas dinghy. The check-in procedure was easy and cost $22.50 which included a one year BVI cruising permit. I could have checked us out at the same time for a small extra cost if I had known when we would be leaving but could not due to us needing the repair, I had no idea how long it would take. Butch picked me up from the Customs and Immigration dock and took me back to Soper’s Hole Marina where I checked in to the marina office to complete their formalities. By this time it was lunch time so we sat on our back deck surveying the area and enjoying the activity. Butch told us that the
marina had a general technician who could look at our problem later in the day, as it turned out he was held up with another job and couldn’t make it. I re thought the situation and called around; it appeared the company to employ was Cay Electronics (pronounced Key) who were in Road Town, the capital of Tortola. I spoke to Butch and thanked him for the help he had offered with their technician; he endorsed the credentials of ‘Cay’. The problem was when they could come! Peter, the gentleman I talked to, could not schedule the inverter guy until Friday 17th May, so here we were stuck in this great place for at least two days.
 

Soper’s Hole is a complex and contains a great grocery store, various boutiques’ and several restaurants. There is also a full service boatyard with travel lift. At night the place was just plain picturesque; the centre piece of the marina is ‘Pussers’, famous in the BVI’s for their stores and, of course, their rum! Nearly every day a new super yacht would stop in at the marina; their outer dock, right next to us, could accommodate up to at least 161’ as that was the length of ‘Te Manu’, a beautiful Codecasa built yacht. The approach channel is deep and it is very easy for these large yachts to come in and leave, not to mention that the grocery store is at the head of the walkway from the docks to the marina, no more than 100 ft away which makes provisioning easy and quick. I think also that they pick up and disembark charter guests here too. The most memorable part of her visit was her underwater lights which attracted many fish, mainly tarpon and small sharks. ‘Te Manu’ stayed two days and over the next three consecutive days there was a different super yacht in the outside slip next to us!
 

During the two days waiting for Friday to come and the technician to fix our inverter/ charger was difficult as the only way we could keep our batteries charged was to run our main engine ‘Stonewall Jackson’. After two days of running 12 hours per day an old problem reared its ugly head, air in our fuel system! Yes, ‘Stonewall Jackson’ quit, he just died! I had a feeling that the small ‘O’ rings that seal the main engine mounted fuel filters was the problem. The last time I had changed them the ‘O’ ring, on one of the two filters, looked a little warn but the Fram filters that I stock have all the replacement gaskets in the box with the exception of the main bolt ‘O’ ring. I ordered a dozen of them from American Marine, the Lehman dealer, which had been sent to our mail service in Florida, but because of the uncertainty of how long we would be spending in any port, have not been scheduled for a delivery to us at this point. We were expecting to ‘order’ our mail when we arrived in Sint Maarten as we knew we would be there a week. Now, because of our problem, we will have to cut that stay short to keep us on track to be in Trinidad by July 1st so I don’t know when we will get a mail drop, perhaps Trinidad! We can ‘see’ our mail on line though as our service St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, FL will scan it which enables us to read it and decide whether we need it sent, shredded or just downloaded in the form of a PDF file, pretty cool actually.
 

Friday 17th Compton, inverter guy, from Cay Electronics arrived on time, something unusual in the Islands, we have found, and immediately went to work. HT and I had already removed the floorboards in the salon to provide access to the engine room so we were ready! Quickly Compton diagnosed that the inverter needed a new fan and a new circuit board. In two hours we were all set and everything was working as it should. We celebrated with an early ‘Happy Hour’!
 

Saturday 18th Back to the air in the fuel and ‘O’ ring problem, HT and I decided to go to Road Town and specifically a store there called ‘Parts and Power’. Apparently this store has everything for boats; we walked round from Frenchmans Cay to West End, about a mile or so, where we knew we could get a taxi, a bus or a ferry which would get us to Road Town, well, the buses don’t run on weekends we found out, and the ferry goes to Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas where we would then have to catch another one back to Road Town so that was out as it could take all day. The only other option was a taxi. We saw a taxi bus that had a couple of available seats so asked if we could join the crowd. The fare is a little less if there are other passengers on board so instead of having to pay the published fare of $27 we paid $24. Once in Road Town and after a visit to an ATM to be able to pay the cab driver, we had to find ‘Parts and Power’. It turned out we needed a bus, they do run in town at the weekends, as ‘Parts and Power’ was at the far eastern end of town, some two more miles. We arrived and Tony who was the store manager could not have been more helpful and in no time we had the ‘O’ ring and compression washers we needed. Tony showed us around the store and his stock rooms, I don’t think that I have been more impressed the shelves and storage racks went on forever. Apparently the store is one of the main suppliers throughout the Caribbean.
 

We have visited Road Town before having stopped here while on an Oceania cruise aboard ‘Regatta’ our favourite ship. We hopped on board another taxi back into town and began a walk around. Very soon we started to recognise places and areas that we had visited before. A small cafe we passed which we had stopped at on our last visit had a chalkboard menu outside advertising a curried chicken sandwich, I love them, so in we went, and lunch was great. The cafe sold reproductions of old maps and charts and last time we had bought some. One is on the bulkhead in our guest/den/office cabin. We walked to the waterfront and found a taxi stand, singled out a driver and negotiated a fare for the return to Soper’s Hole, off we went. You can see that being a cruiser is time consuming and the convenience of a car being parked outside and always being available and taken for granted, I might add, is quickly forgotten. A trip to a grocery store in some places is an all day affair. Our journey into Road Town was only 7 miles, admittedly the road was windy and bumpy, but would have taken only 20 minutes in one’s own car and the whole outing probably would be over in a couple of hours. What with the waiting for taxi’s buses and the walking in between our trip took 6 hours! We have adjusted and find that this pace is just fine; we do ‘smell the roses’ and the walking, there’s lots of it, is good for us. We see much more and it amazes us what one misses while driving, both in the rural areas as well as in town.
Marina Cay - notice the UK style red phone box!

I quickly reassembled the engine filters and we set sail from Soper’ Hole on Sunday 19th. I had planned a cruise around the north coast of Tortola so we could see all the super bays and sights. We passed by Trellis Bay, Marina Cay and Scrub Island, again I must say that the cruising around these spectacular islands provides scenery and jaw dropping views continuously. Travelling at 6 knots all the time means that we don’t have to pay attention to driving all the time we can walk out to the bow or aft deck to absorb the sights, snap some pictures and generally be aghast at where we are and what we are seeing. The boat was performing perfectly by the way! Soon we were clear of Scrub Island and on our way to the ‘Dogs’, literally! There are seven islands, the three Seal Dogs, West Dog, George Dog and Great Dog and also don’t let us forget Cockroach Island, they are in St. Francis Drake Channel and are mid way from Tortola to Virgin Gorda. We cruised straight through the middle of the island cluster and continued on toward Necker Island in the distance, owned by Sir Richard Branson, towards the entrance to North Sound, Virgin Gorda. The whole cruise from Soper’s Hole to Bitter End Yacht Club in North Sound is approximately 25 nm. The close proximity of all the islands and bays is what make the Virgins such a popular and perfect cruising area. Yes, there are a lot of boats and many are charters; cruising is a little different when you are mixed in with charters as, with no disrespect, they are on vacation and are not on the same ‘mission’ as we are. Cruisers are a breed and want to make friends and expect to mingle and congregate with other cruisers, we feel lonely here as we are ‘late’. What I mean is that most other cruisers are now way south of us on their way to Grenada or Trinidad for the hurricane season; we have some catching up to do; there is still time but we will need good weather windows and no more mechanical problems! Don’t get me wrong the charter companies do a great job of providing the opportunity for so many ‘wannabe’ cruisers to get their feet wet. We have talked to so many cruisers who have at some point ‘tried it out’ with a charter. We just miss the crowd and in particular ‘Ann Louise’ with our friends Bill & Ann on board. They will be in Dominica today some 250 nm miles ahead of use. In reality that distance is no more than 48 hours cruising. I am jumping the gun a little here so let me catch up: We stayed on a mooring ball at Bitter End Yacht Club waiting for a weather window to cross to St. Martin for about a week. Bitter End and Saba Rock are the two most popular and comprehensive destinations in North Sound the others are YCCS (Yacht Club Costa Smeralda) the very grand super yacht marina which is just magnificent and Leverick Bay. There is no doubt that this is a great spot to be waiting for a weather window! We have lots to do to pass the time, there are movies, bars, restaurants and hiking trails, photo opportunities and constant movement of boats in and out; just sitting on our aft deck gazing is interesting! Chris Parker our weather guru was sadly forecasting that the recent streak of high winds and sea would continue with no end in sight. He explained that any vessels wanting to move and head east and south would have to pick the best day out of a bunch of bad ones. Well, we picked yesterday the 25th May. A good day or at least it started that way, we had checked out from the BVI’s the previous day at the Customs and Immigration office in Gun Creek, VG we were all set to cross the Anagada Passage with 8’ seas and a 6’ wind chop on top! Remember this is the best day for the foreseeable future, ugh! Off we went, we didn’t get more than 3 nm and ‘Stonewall Jackson’ quit! Oh no, not again the air in the fuel problem returned. I managed to bleed the system enough, several times, to enable us to limp back to the mooring field at BEYC. In the process of bleeding the engine filters so often I also managed to strip the filter housing threads for one of the bleed screws! HT and I lowered our dinghy again and set off towards the registration at BEYC. We made a phone call to our parts supplier American Diesel in Virginia, US but they were closed, it was Saturday, and as it is Memorial Day on Monday will not re-open until Tuesday so we are here for at least another 7 – 10 days I figure as it will take a week to ship in some parts. Problems always seem to come at weekends!
 

Having an engine that is unreliable is consuming, preoccupying and a nagging thought in one’s mind that won’t go away. It is not fun going to sea wondering if the engine will remain running or not...depressed about our lot HT was doing her best to lift my spirits and reminded me of the beauty of our local and that in spite of the engine problems we were fortunate people...she succeeded ‘snapping me out of it’ and did manage to lift my spirits; we pledged to each other that we would enjoy our extended stay in North Sound. One big event that takes place here every year is the annual Leverick Bay Poker Run, an event which is big with 180 boats participating. Early on Sunday morning we boarded the dinghy and set off for Leverick Bay and the festivities. Here are some pictures of the event...lots of fun!







 

We will be remaining in North Sound to repair our fuel delivery system and do some extensive sea trials before setting off once more to head down the island chain towards our destination of Crews Inn, Chaguaramas, and Trinidad.

There are a couple of lighter subjects to share, Lavinia loves to walk, me not so much but we are 'Partners' right? One day we walked, mostly uphill or so it seemed, as we were walking we passed a tree with very long seed pods that, to me anyway, looked like tongue...a photo op was born.

The other is that my last haircut, not that I have much on top, was back in January before we left Sarasota. For some reason a chance to visit a barber just didn't present itself then I became superstitious about cutting it thinking it might be bad luck, in other words I kept finding excuses not to cut my hair. Eventually we decided that HT could do it and I didn't much care if the result was not 'Vidal Sassoon' like. Soooo, the day arrived see the before and after pictures below! Not bad don't you think?



Here are some more bonus pictures that we took along the way...

Bitter End Yacht Club

Saba Rock





Approaching Necker Island


Stunning!
Our anchorage view North Sound, VG

The view from our slip at BEYC

This will be the last entry for the Virgins my next entry will be from somewhere south of here, I hope! I just don’t know where yet!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Virgin Islands II


May 9th 2013

Position 18° 19.123’ N
               64° 52.036’ W

 Benner Bay, St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.


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An interesting little titbit for all of you reading this and contemplating a cruise to and around the Caribbean (or anywhere else for that matter), the position above, according to Nobeltec’s chart of the area, puts us on dry land! The motto here is Radar is invaluable and so are your own eyes! The paper chart and the electronic Raster chart, by the way, are spot on!

May 2
nd Tracy, owner of the local Westerbeke Dealership, came on board and quickly diagnosed that the generators electrical generating coils were burned and needed to be rewound! Expensive, of course! Our boating adventure has mixed emotions, the happy times seem to be extreme but so are the disappointments. This swing really takes some getting used to. I was finding myself so happy after an idyllic day and then so severely depressed when the idyllic life suddenly came to an abrupt (sometimes grinding) halt. I am trying to talk myself through the tougher times by telling myself that these (the tough times) will be over and that the elation of the great experiences during the good days is just around the corner again. This Cruising life is real and on our little white ship the ups and downs cannot be hidden from, you can’t get away from them, they are around us, under our feet and really in our faces! No burying your head in the sand here! There is a blatant reality to every day and some despair but in spite of this neither one of us would exchange our lives aboard now; it is all absolutely worth it.


After disassembling ‘Faraday’(see Glossary) the diagnosis, as I thought, was bad and the generating part has‘fried’ and needs replacing. The cause was a leaking hose, the one bringing the sea water to the raw water pump. A lesson to learn here, at least for me, the hose clamp was tight but with continual checks and further routine tightening had caused the back of the hose (where I couldn't see) to be perforated. Water from the leaking hose collected in the none drained pan area and the rotating generator had picked it up and spun it everywhere inside the electrical coils and windings, 'poof' no more electricity! It is Saturday May 4th and on Monday we will be exploring the alternatives of rewinding our existing part or buying a rebuilt unit from Westerbeke and having it flown in from the distributor in Ft. Lauderdale. Tracy, our technician here in St. Thomas, has his business and workshop ‘All Points Marine’ at Compass Point Marina, so with his help getting us a slip, we decided to leave Yacht Haven Grande and move a little east around the south coast to Benner Bay and Compass Point. Benner Bay is a very well protected hurricane hole and receives no surge, which will be a welcome change as Yacht Haven Grande does and we have become tired of it. Compass Point is also a lot less expensive. YHG, at the time of writing, is $2.75 per foot per day and CP is $1.00, the difference is it is not convenient to Charlotte Amalie and will require a taxi or Safari (bus) ride to town. We cast off and in 90 minutes were at CP, safely through the protecting reef and shallow 6’–7’ deep channel. CP is not fancy but has solid docks, good power and water; they have their own RO plant. The big advantage here is all the services that are nearby, almost all ones boating needs are covered. We need canvas work done too, a new bag for the additional hoist we had fitted to our boom back in PR, we are in need of a new membrane for our Watermaker, and it is all right here on our doorstep. Budget Marine, the equivalent to West Marine, is also located in the bay. So you can see that everything is a trade off, instead of, as we were in YHG, being surrounded by the Louis Vuitton’s, Coach’s and all the high end stores in the world we are now surrounded with what we really need! We are finding that every bay has its own infrastructure of grocery stores, bars and small shops.






Our new friend (the dog)
Pork tenderloin sandwich



Pork Brisket

These pictures are of the small bar and restuarant 'MooMoos' which was on premises at Compass Point...a really good time! There was also 'Patsy's, a breakfast place, coffee shop and book exchange, also a beauty salon, and many other services.






We spent our first night in CP on board and had an al fresco dinner followed by some fresh strawberries, coffee and liquors plus I smoked the one Cuban cigar I bought in Georgetown! We are glad that Faraday is on the way to a new life…

May 5th today is our wedding anniversary so I am up early with the intention of cooking a special English breakfast (see glossary) for the newly demoted First Mate. After that we will be washing the boat and lowering our dinghy ready for some exploration of the area this afternoon. According to Tracy everything is much easier to reach and access by dinghy rather than walking around the bay. (Later) Well, the day more or less went according to plan and we did do some exploring in the dinghy, Benner Bay is an interesting place, it is obviously one of the places the locals keep their boats and what a mixture there is! The sad part is it is also the dumping ground for all the derelict boats on St. Thomas. The whole bay is lined with mangroves and makes a perfect hurricane hole, as we drove around in our dinghy exploring we saw not one but lots of abandoned boats that were secured in the mangroves for various storms past but have been forgotten and never retrieved.


 
So, as our trip continued along the labyrinth of mangrove lined creeks we saw dozens of these sad ‘replicas of their former selves’ just gradually ‘dying’ and being consumed by the mangroves. Part of our dinghy ride of exploration took us out toward the sea and back through the Benner Bay entrance channel. We saw to the east a small beach that looked approachable and we motored over to check it out. The water was clear and the water temperature was 87°F, I think that this could be our swimming beach while we are staying here waiting to complete our generator repair.




With time passing and our date with Trinidad creeping ever closer I am already thinking of having to modify our itinerary/route down islands to make up some time. I am hoping that as summer approaches that the more settled trade winds will give us more frequent weather windows to make passages. A good weather window of say two days enables us to travel 260 – 290 miles so you can see we can make some distance given good opportunities. We have approximately 700 NM to go before arriving at Chaguaramas Bay in Trinidad, our home for the hurricane season.

                                                                                                                 

Next, let me tell you about our excursion into Charlotte Amalie from Benner Bay. We decided to walk to the main road which was a mile up a steep hill! Phew, definitely got rid of the cobwebs! We were nearly at the top when a kind young lady, driving a Jeep, stopped and offered us a lift. She was going to Budget Marine so we hopped aboard and took the opportunity to browse the store. It is very similar to West Marine, probably a little better stocked than the average West Marine though. We saw several items we needed and planned to return to the dinghy beach which we found out is adjacent. After our visit here we walked the 50 yards back to highway 32 and found the safari stop. Within minutes the safari arrived, we hopped aboard and off we went towards Tutu farther inland, known for its Mall and traffic jams. It didn’t take long and we were entering Charlotte Amalie and began to see familiar stores and the marina we had stayed in. We got off at the marina and went to our favourite coffee shop ‘Bad Ass Coffee’ for a morning cup of real Kona java. After using the free internet there and walking to the marina office to return our two security gate keys, (we forgot to do this when we left; they carry a $50 deposit each!) we struck out for a walk into the middle of town. It is a 1¼ mile walk to the centre which takes one all along the waterfront with views of the boats anchored in the harbour and Water Island as the backdrop; it is a worthwhile pleasant walk. When in town it seemed nearly every store was a jewellery store; I guess St. Thomas, being a duty free port, enables the shops here to sell items at a very attractive price. We were not in need of any trinkets today so simply browsed and then sought out Coconuts Bar and Grill
which was located in a very narrow street, not wide enough for vehicular transport. It was dark and atmospheric; we found a table and were greeted warmly; this was our kinda place. A long very well stocked bar and just a few tables for eating sandwiches. The speciality was a steak sandwich with grilled onions and cheese on French bread so we ordered two. A beer and the sandwich later we were well satisfied, it was fun too, and we would definitely recommend the establishment to anyone. Our return to ‘Partners’ was interesting, as we walked from the centre of town back to the waterfront, where we could catch a Safari out to the East End and Benner Bay, it began to rain, just a few drops. We were standing near a collection of tents where the merchants were selling souvenirs, a cruise ship was in town, and the elderly lady very kindly offered us shelter under her tarpaulin. By time the Safari came the rain had picked up a bit more. We got on and I noticed that the ‘locals‘who were on board were all sitting in the middle of the bench seats that went the whole width of the Safari, the whole bus is open, before too long we found out why. The rain started to fall in buckets the streets flooded quickly and the rain, of course, started to blow inside on the seats; yes you got it, we quickly shuffled our butts towards the middle of the bench seat trying to stay dry. The bus ride took about 45 minutes and I thought at one point we had passed our stop. So when the next stop came I got off and walked to the cab to ask the driver if we had, in fact, gone by where we should have disembarked, he said no and that he had taken a different route than the one we had taken going to town; apparently this is common? The fare for our adventure on the Safari, a very reasonable $2 a head! Oh! The rain had stopped by time we had arrived at our destination so we were lucky as neither of us had brought any rain gear. We walked back to the boat, a good mile, fortunately downhill, and that was our day, plenty of walking a little refreshment and a tour around the countryside.


May 8th Bill called to say his two children were flying into Culebra on Friday and that they would be cruising ‘Ann Louise’ over to St. Thomas on Saturday. They thought that they would anchor off Honeymoon Beach on Water Island (the 3rd largest of the USVI’s). We are hoping to have our generator fixed by then so we can cruise over to join them and explore what we understand to be a beautiful spot.

Boat jobs…We find that the sea strainer supplying the sea water to our A/C system, because of the constant flow of water for hours on end, needs cleaning fairly frequently. Barnacles and other marine ‘things’ seem to collect and flourish here, especially while we are in marinas where the cooling breeze is less and we tend to run the A/C more. When we are anchored we have that wonderful natural A/C known as the Trade Winds and we sit for days comfortably without needing any A/C. The procedure we now have ‘down pat’, I go down to the engine room and disassemble the strainer, pass the basket and clear retaining bowl up to HT and she does the cleaning in the galley sink. Once cleaned back down it comes and I reassemble, open the sea cock again and check for leaks...the whole job is done in 30 minutes. I always inspect the larger main and generator strainers too but they only seem to require a clean every couple of hundred running hours.
                                                                                                                                                             






Our generator project has reached the reassembly stage now and we are hoping that ‘Faraday’ will be operational again by tomorrow (Saturday May 11
th) evening. While it is literally in pieces I asked that all the hoses be replaced together with the motor mounts and all hose clamps. We also have had the exhaust manifold cleaned out and the heat exchanger bathed in muriatic acid to give it a fresh start. We are anxious to leave Compass Point and Benner Bay as the marina owners have started an expansion project extending the main dock another 150’. The only problem we anticipate here is that the expansion will force us, and all other boats, to use a newly marked and shallower channel. We watched as a sailing boat, with a draft of 4’ 6”, attempted to leave. She ran aground four times and bumped several more as they tried to transit the newly marked channel. Lavinia and I have a portable depth finder and we took to the dinghy to do our own survey. We followed the same route as the sailing boat some 30 minutes before and concurred with the depth at 4’ 6”. We knew that the sailing boat had a 4’6” draught because a charter captain on board his boat had called out to him to ask what their draught was while he was trying to help guide them out. The same charter captain who was on board his boat gave us a few pointers too and we were able to find water between 5’ and 6’, the problem for us will be navigating around the shallow spots; our draft is 5’ 3”! HT and I have travelled approximately 1,440 miles since leaving Sarasota on February 8thand have, thus far, avoided the grounding embarrassment so we would like to avoid it here where we would definitely be a spectacle as there are so many boats lining the route!

Saturday 11
th Last night we were eating our supper in the pilothouse, due to the salon floor being up for the generator repair, and suddenly we heard the wind rise from total calm to 36 mph! A thunderstorm had quickly formed and for the next half an hour heavy rain, violent thunder and lightning had our attention. This morning it is still raining! Our only concern with this amount of water is the dinghy which we leave in the water tied alongside ‘Partners’. We don’t have a bilge pump in the dinghy so bailing is the way we remove the water and it takes forever! We saw another dinghy that had a solar powered bilge pump installed and we are looking into various solutions to eliminate the concern and the bailing!


We are finding out that having work done on our boat is a ‘put your life on hold’ situation. It is not like taking your car to the shop being given a loaner and off you go to get on with your day. On a boat, that is your only home, while the work is being done one cannot leave it or move it you just have to find a spot on board, in our case the pilothouse, where you can read, get on a computer or in other words kill time! We have now been immobilized due to our generator repair for 9 days and counting, I can tell you that it’s long enough to be holed up in this small space. Fortunately HT and I are coping well with each other but are just frustrated with being in a marina this long. We prefer to be anchored out in a scenic spot enjoying nature, swimming in crystal clear water, hiking or walking on a pristine beach, ‘Partners’ is set up to be independent and is at home away from the dock! Being stationary in a mangrove lined bay is a recipe for marine growth on the bottom and sure enough only 10 days after we had a diver clean‘Partners’ bottom we have a good layer of slim collecting around the waterline already. If we can leave the marina soon before the growth really gets a hold, some of it, if not all, will wash off due to the motion of the boat passing through the water. We’re hoping to leave here soon...

Monday 13th today is the day we leave Compass Point and Benner Bay...at long last we are ‘fixed’.Faraday is churning out lotsa power and we are happy! Tracy and two friends Garry and James are going to help us leave the marina. Tracy and Garry, who has a nice dinghy with a depth finder, drove along the channel and reported back that if we slowly followed them out we would be okay. It was 18:00, we were on a rising tide this was the moment. Lines off, fenders in, we backed out slowly from our slip and manoeuvred ‘Partner’ so she pointed in the direction of the channel. Garry was leading us and guiding the route. We waved goodbye to the All Points Marine crew who were by now on the dock drinking beer and waving back. They were all probably nervous that they would not be seeing the back of us! Garry did a great job, and although we ‘ploughed’ the soft mud a bit in a few spots, guided us to the deep entrance channel successfully. As he came alongside he asked where we were going, I replied that we would just anchor in the bay and leave for St. John’s in the morning. He suggested Christmas Cove adjacent to Current Cut where there were free mooring balls and good protection. Garry was going that way as his boat was moored there so he said he would lead us over the two miles and would be standing by a ball for us, how kind. Sure enough we followed Garry to the ball he selected for us and he passed up the painter and a few minutes later we were secure. We wanted to ask Garry aboard for a drink or some supper, he had been so kind and helpful and we wanted to get to know him more, after all we had only met for the first time 30 minutes earlier, but he declined and motored off toward his big sailing catamaran anchored in the distance. This is another example of boaters helping other boaters; there is so much camaraderie out here that's all I can say...

St. John here we come! We can’t wait.



Friday, May 10, 2013

The Virgin Islands I

April 29th 2013

Position 18° 17.444’ N
                65° 16.848’ W

Culebra, Spanish Virgin Islands


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Leaving Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico
Culebra on the horizon
Approaching Ensenada Honda
Moose & Mofungo my sailing companions!
After arriving in Culebra we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, enjoyed happy hour, ate dinner and had a good night’s sleep. Bill & Ann on ‘Ann Louise’ had planned to travel overnight from Salinas to Culebra, I had speculated about the timing of their arrival thinking that they would cruise in around 11:00. At 08:00 Bill called us on the cell phone to ask “Where are you anchored?”, after talking for a few minutes HT and I went outside to look for them and sure enough there they were entering the main channel. It was good to see them again as it had been two weeks since we were in Salinas. They were able to pick up the mooring ball next to us and once again we were companions. We made Bloody Marys on board ‘Partners’ for all. Bill & Ann needed some sleep and returned to ‘Ann Louise’ we went into town to buy some groceries at Milka the local store and also try to find a diver to take care of the barnacles on ‘Partners’ bottom and running gear.   

The tranquility of Dakity
We ate dinner while watching this...
Culebra is part of Puerto Rico and is small with only a population of 2,000 people, it is relatively unspoiled and it is known for its diving sites and Flamenco Beach, the worlds #5 best beach. The population, as described in the cruising guide, is made up of dropouts, eccentrics’ and tourist entrepreneurs’. Being only an hour away from Puerto Rico, by fast ferry, Culebra is a ‘get away’ destination for many so the economy revolves around catering to the many visitors that come. The weekends are big, Latin’s love their weekends; weekends mean party, loud music, food and are generally lived to the full. We have found out that on Culebra things are, however, much tamer than on the mainland of Puerto Rico and the weekends, unlike the mainland, are actually much quieter with the exception of Flamenco Beach where it is party central. In Ensenada Honda and Dakity where we are moored, yes there are a few more fast runabouts which come for the weekend but generally life actually slows down and most of the shops are closed too.  

Downtown Culebra
Downtown Culebra
Culebra is a sleepy place where most of the population doesn’t seem to want to work or for one reason or another doesn’t have to! We need our bottom and running gear cleaned; the rudder actually has seaweed growing on it that waives at us as the current flows past it! I have stopped at three places now to employ a diver and no one wants the job, it isn’t because of the money as a price was not even discussed with any of the three, they just didn’t need or want the work! The town of Dewey has all the staples, three grocery stores and a fresh fruit and vegetable market, two hardware stores and an abundance of restaurants and bars, oh, and a baseball stadium, quite a big one. Before the following comment I must say that we have met some great people here mostly young energetic ones who often have two jobs and are doing well for themselves enjoying this beautiful island and its lifestyle. Alternatively, it is easy to see why the lifestyle here appeals to those with a bent on being lazy and aspiring to having even less accomplishment in their lives. Life here requires very little, the climate means one needs few clothes, housing seems basic and affordable; those people who live on their boats, as we do, don’t even have to pay for the Department of Natural Resources mooring balls, they are provided free as is the parking in town for ones dinghy!  

A dinghy ride in the Luis Pena channel
We have done plenty of exploring in our dinghy we have crossed to Luis Pena Island on Culebra’s west side, the largest of the many surrounding smaller islands, have explored some of the beaches around the island, most though have live coral reefs guarding them which make it difficult to land although at many of them moorings are provided so it is possible to snorkel the reefs and swim ashore. As we approach the reef protected shorelines we could see the many different coloured fan corals waiving above the surface of the water as the waves gently pass over them, we get to see so much and something new almost every day. A large part of the NE side of Culebra is a nature reserve giving total protection to the native flora and fauna.
 

The ‘Dinghy Dock’ is the Cruisers waterfront bar and restaurant also providing free dinghy dockage as an alternative to the town dock. All four of us soon adopted this venue as ‘home base’!  

Moon explosion!
May 1st The next ‘episode’ in our lives as cruisers was not good…our generator had been sounding strained and as I was making my morning cup of tea and charging our batteries, my morning routine, the electrical panel went ‘dark’ and everything shut down. I could smell an electrical burning smell, definitely not a good sign and immediately knew something had suffered a severe problem. Initially I thought that it was the inverter/charger but before too long diagnosed that it was more serious and it was the electrical side of the generator. The generator was running fine but was not transferring any volts! I immediately made the decision to set sail for St. Thomas; we needed a marina and some skilled help. With the generator problem we had to have our 110v power cords ‘plugged in’ as we had no alternative, other than running the main engine, of charging the batteries. We were cruising in some pretty heavy seas toward St. Thomas but ‘Partners’ was behaving well, I called Yacht Haven Grande Marina to reserve a berth and asked them for a suggestion of a marine electrician to fix our problem. Gradually as we approached St. Thomas the seas relented and the lee protection from the land to our east was welcomed. We entered Yacht Haven Grande Marina at Midday. As we had arrived from Culebra, another US protectorate, we did not have to clear in at Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas. YHG is one of, if not, the premier marina facility in the Caribbean and is adjacent to the cruise ship docks and right by the upscale shopping centre in Charlotte Amalie, very posh! You may think that I am joking, I’m not, but we are the smallest boat here, most are mega yachts of between 100’-200’ with smartly dress crews who are constantly cleaning and polishing.
'Ann Louise'
 

Together in Dakity, Culebra
More from St. Thomas and the USVI’s in the next issue...

Friday, May 3, 2013

The 51st State?

April 27th 2013

Position 18° 04.718’ N
                65° 47.797’ W

Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico


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Lavinia, Bill & Ann
We agreed to share the cost of a rental car for a few days with our friends and traveling companions Bill and Ann from ‘Ann Louise’ their 48’ Kadey Krogen. Our first outing was to Old San Juan, we had decided to see the Spanish built forts that surround the old city as well as to take in the town and sample some of the local cuisine. From Salinas to Old San Juan, highway 52 would take us straight there. Immediately we were outside the small township of Salinas it became apparent that we were in the United States, all the familiar franchises and stores are present here. The ‘Mall’ concept is also here, and as in the US, every few miles there is another shopping mall! The main difference in PR is that the first language is Spanish although most people we encountered spoke very good English and the lifestyle here is definitely Latin; the culture predominates through the music and traditions. The wealth of the United States is not here, from the roads and basic infrastructure which are in need of repair to the more modest homes it is evident that life is different. As we drove north one could see people sitting in the front of their homes talking and just congregating, not a sight seen in the US, there is obviously poverty here. To contradict the last sentence every shopping mall we stopped at was full! We had the utmost difficulty finding an empty parking space, so there is obviously enough of the population with disposable incomes to be able to support the malls. Even so it certainly didn’t look like there was from what we were seeing along the route. When we arrived in Old San Juan our route took us past the cruise ship docking area and low and behold ‘Regatta’ the cruise ship that Lavinia and I had cruised on twice was in port. We both loved the ship and the cruise line Oceania and would recommend it to anyone. Once in the city we easily found a central parking area which put us within walking distance of everything.

 
The oldest parts of the district of Old San Juan remain partly enclosed by massive walls. Several defensive structures and notable forts, such as the emblematic Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Cristóbal, and El Palacio de Santa Catalina, also known as La Fortaleza, acted as the primary defenses of the settlement which over time was subjected to numerous attacks. La Fortaleza continues to serve also as the executive mansion for the Governor of Puerto Rico. Many of the historic fortifications are part of San Juan National Historic Site. The construction, considering the lack of heavy motorized equipment is literally awesome. It is hard to imagine the engineering feat of moving the large stones and building materials the Spaniards used to build these fortifications and the city walls. Old San Juan is an Island and was completely surrounded by walls and forts. Much of the fortification has survived and in part has been renovated. Of particular note to me was that the Spanish realized the importance of a good and clean water supply so in the bowels of the forts cisterns were constructed and the whole structure was built in such a way that rain water was collected and directed to the cisterns. No animals were allowed in the forts thus ensuring that the water did not become contaminated. The view from the battlements was incredible and as we all stood there overlooking the harbour and the Atlantic Ocean one couldn’t help but imagine the days when a sentry on duty called out that the enemy fleet was sighted approaching the harbor! The old city itself is abound with cobbled streets and oozes history, some of the architecture is modern but most of the fascias and facades have been preserved although behind many of them modernization has taken place. The city is bustling, alive with restaurants and shops, street vendors are plentiful and pleasantly were not ‘pushy’. All the local people we asked directions and advice from were warm, friendly and just plain helpful. We enjoyed our visit and would recommend Old San Juan as a must see…

 
In Lavinia and my opinion the Puerto Rican food leaves a little to be desired. We found the taste a little ‘samey’ and bland. One of the much spoken about dishes ‘Mofungo’, plantains and garlic, we thought was overrated. We did try it twice in two different places, our opinion unfortunately didn’t change. We loved the word however. During conversations the subject of dog ownership had come up, I would love to have a dog although on board, for us, we think it would be restrictive. I think, prompted by these conversations, Bill and Ann bought me a small stuffed dog with a collar they made naming him, yes; you guessed it, ‘Mofungo’. He now sits next to ‘Moose’ (presented to me by my three Norwegian grandchildren) in my pilothouse.


The next day we used the car to drive to Ponce on the South coast and visited the art museum there, we also walked the central city square to sample the ‘life’ of Ponce. This was another full and interesting day. When we returned to Salinas we all agreed that a visit to John Batista’s waterfront cruiser bar, which is the local hangout, was in order. A round of Medalla’s, the local brew, were quickly downed followed by an encore. We slept well that night…

 
Salinas is a well protected anchorage with no surge and very little wind; the water is typical of a mangrove area and is cloudy although clean. A word of warning to boaters who follow us here, the barnacles do grow and a layer of green slim will appear around your waterline! We left our dinghy in the water for a week and had to scrape the bottom and polish it to get rid of the tiny barnacles which had adhered themselves to both to the fiberglass and the Hypalon® of our RIB. We had a diver clean ‘Partners’ while we were at our next stop of Palmas del Mar.

 
While we were in Salinas ‘Hobo’ another 42’ Kadey Krogen came into the anchorage. Larry and Lena had been in the Caribbean for several years and were on their way back to the US. They had crossed from Culebra; we cruised over in our dinghy to say hi and were invited on board for cocktail hour later. We had a Kadey Krogen convention on ‘Hobo’ that evening. It was very informative to listen to Larry and Lena’s experiences. They had spent six months in Trinidad where they had ‘Hobo’s’ hull painted and her superstructure re-gel coated plus other jobs. Larry was kind enough to share the names of all his contractors so that if we decided to have some work done on 'Partners' we would know who we could trust. Isn’t the Krogen family great!

 

During our stay in Salinas we had the opportunity to met up with some friends of friends of ours back in Sarasota who had lived in Puerto Rico some years ago. Bonny and Roberto who live in Humacao, where great and were kind enough to introduce us to the 'real' Puerto Rico. We travelled all over the eastern end of the island and sampled the local cuisine and saw some 'out of the way' places that we would otherwise have never encountered. One of these places was the mountain top bar which could only be reached using 4 wheel drive. As you can see from the pictures the army where there too teaching there new recruites how to drive up a steep rocky road!








Salinas was where we parted company with ‘Ann Louise’, they were going to stay in Salinas longer and we needed to get to a marina where we could get some work done. On the evening of April 14th we staged ourselves just outside the harbor area so that we could leave easily at 01:00 the next day for our 35 nm trip to Palmas del Mar. All started well until Stonewall Jackson quite again…more air in the engine fuel filters. Where is it coming from, both of us are really getting fed up with this problem, the engine runs perfectly in between the periodic stops so we know the problem is only the ingress of air into the fuel system, but where is the leak? We made it, in less than ideal conditions, to Palmas and were safely tied up in slip B37 by 09:00.

 
Our stay in Palmas del Mar was great the staff and facility were wonderful the only drawback is the remoteness; one does need a car to go anywhere. We did rent a small car for two days so we could do some essential shopping and sightseeing. HT lost another pair of glasses to ‘Davey Jones’s locker’ so we had to find an optician where we could get a new pair made in a day. So, the first day was a shopping day and the second a fun day which took in a trip to Fajardo which is on the northeast coast of PR and is a ‘big’ boating area. We stopped at West Marine there to buy one or two items that we needed and then visited Marina Del Rey which is the biggest marina in the Caribbean with a 1,000 slips. While we were there the marina office recommended a ‘rigger’ to me that would be able to install the additional hoist we had bought to solve the difficulties of lowering and raising our dinghy. From here we drove to El Yunque which is the only natural rain forest in the whole of the United States. We drove to the welcome centre and collected all the information for our visit. We then drove and walked to waterfalls and lookouts plus climbed the observation tower to experience some of the most fabulous unspoiled views imaginable, all in all a great and fruitful day.
 

Keno the ‘rigger’ came and did the job of installing the additional hoist to work our boom up and down. We have found that in Puerto Rico time is not how we tend to view it, an appointment at 13:00 is not an appointment at 13:00 it is ‘code’ for an appointment for 15:00! Anyway we got used to being told one thing and experiencing another. All was well in the end and the job was finished, one day late nevertheless which caused us an extra day in the marina and the charges that go with it! We also had two other workers on board to replace the piece of rubbing strake that we lost on our starboard side in Marina Puerto Bahia, in the DR. I supplied all materials and the labour cost for two men for two hours was $60!
 

The Admiral and I brought two very nice, expensive bicycles with us on board. We have had them tied to the railing on our boat deck since we left Sarasota on February 8th, they haven’t moved! Roberto the fabulous dock master at Palmas del Mar was Eddy’s (from Ocean World) equal, he helped us no end so we felt he was a worthy recipient of our gift to him of our two bikes. The last that we saw of them was Roberto and one of his dock hands riding them off the dock to his awaiting truck and the only reminder of them is the small rust stain on the boat deck which they left behind. The motto here is experience the lifestyle before buying everything that you think you might need in order to experience the life style!
 

Talking of the Admiral (aka HT), she has requested a demotion and will from now on be known as the First Mate, (FM). She feels that her lack of practical and academic qualification requires the demotion from her lofty position of Admiral, (a sinecure position anyway) she is a humble gal and learning fast!
 

After listening to Chris Parker for the last week the weather window he has been talking about has arrived. Our next passage is to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands, to me this is a significant change as we will be leaving the ‘big’ islands now and starting to experience the smaller Caribbean islands that we all see pictures of in glossy travel brochures; we’re excited! We set off from Palmas del Mar at 09:00 on Thursday 25th, apprehensively I might add, as we were not sure if all the work I had done in the engine room had fixed the ‘air in the fuel’ problem. I asked Roberto to accompany us in the marinas large dinghy as we left the marina just in case we had a problem and needed assistance, we didn’t! As each hour passed I gained more faith in Stonewall Jackson not stopping. He didn’t, the whole trip was great, the weather was as Chris had predicted and the day could not have been more perfect. We cruised into Ensenada Honda, the large bay on Culebra, at 15:00 and proceeded to the mooring field just behind the reef at Dakity. Due to the coral reef the Department of Natural Resources has placed mooring balls in this area so boats can moor and don’t have to anchor which could cause damage to the coral. In fact most of the anchorages around Culebra have mooring balls which is very nice. We boaters love mooring balls as they eliminate the worry of dragging ones anchor and allow us to sleep a little easier. We were in 12’ of water and could swim off the back of the boat in the beautiful turquoise water. This place is tranquil, beautiful, unspoiled and very calm. The reef obviously stops all the waves from penetrating the area and the water had barely a ripple, our kinda place! Almost like an atoll in the Pacific.
 

Talking of Tranquility, it is something that most of you back home don’t experience very often. The ‘normal’ lives that we all, for most of our lives anyway, experience is one of some noise, a lot of noise sometimes, hustle and bustle, time restraints and schedules. Mine and Lavinia’s life now, since we have become cruisers, starts with the calm still serenity which greets the first light of day, progressing to taking in the beauty that abounds and surrounds us every day and ends with vivid views of the stars under which we usually eat our dinner. (The lack of light pollution at night gives the stars an extra brightness). These Caribbean islands are special and remind me, in many cases, of days gone by. The little shops open five days a week, the hard part is for us to remember what day of the week it is! Weekends are sacrosanct and people seem to have a good time, a family time. It is not difficult to adjust back to these times and begin, once again, to savour life and the beauty that nature has placed on our doorstep. These thoughts came to me this morning as I made my first cup of tea of the day and took it to the aft deck where I sat and admired the unspoiled scenery and the absolute tranquility that prevailed, special…please strive, sometime in your lives before it is too late, to



Our tranquil anchorage
experience something like this, be it on the water in some beautiful remote anchorage or on a mountain side overlooking nature without a single blemish provided by man. We are lucky and I know there are sacrifices and a balance to achieve. The island people we observe and meet do not have the material ‘wealth’ we westerners have and seem to treasure so much, they also don’t need to have the daily stress which is required in order to perpetuate the supply of money to uphold the materialistic lifestyle either. I am not suggesting chickens in the back yard and growing one’s own vegetables, I am just suggesting a balance over a lifetime which will allow one to experience some of both extremes. Both Lavinia and I agree that we truly had forgotten what ‘life’ could be like. We are more active than we have ever been, we are in as good shape physically as we were ten to fifteen years ago, and we talk to each other more and laugh a lot. Everything that we do seems to have a purpose. I know some of this is a little ‘deep’ but I just want to dangle the carrot, we are really having the time of our lives, hard yes, fulfilling you bet…what are you going to do today? Suggestion…why don’t you set a goal of when you will retire and start living life under your own terms? Oh, and write it down!