Monday, July 4, 2011
Hunting in Florida for an Endangered Species
None of the dealers have anything that works for us, so the next step is to start calling the 30 or so matching craigslist ads for private sales. And we're considering doing the trip by tenting it (with a few motel stops I'm sure) in a mini-van or something cheaper/more available. But that's all going to have to wait until after the 4th of July celebrations!
After a bit of a cleanup, we're going to head out and join the crowds in Stuart and share in the fun. Forecast is calling for 20% chance of rain or thunder showers but the radar is clear for now, so we're keeping our fingers crossed for the big fireworks show tonight.
Need to run. Aidan just rescued a wayward fish from the head.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Big Day on our Transformer/Sailboat
water and it ripples, those are shoals ... better on the other side which is the far bank in a curve; more current on the far, steep bank which usually means deeper water. This worked quite well with only one more grounding in 3 hours. We've been following the ICW creed of "go slow!" so none of the groundings have been bad or ones that we couldn't just reverse off. And I'm sure we've left, on the ICW bottom, more than a bit of the St. Martin/BVI/Bahama reef that's been growing on that hard-to-reach bottom side of our keel.
All in all it was an amazing day for getting things done. We cleared in (amazingly short and painless - a surprise when arriving in the US). We unstepped the mast. Carla managed to blast off a couple critical work-related emails (who knows when we'll find available wifi again) and we made it more than halfway to our next destination (Stuart) when we were expecting to not start this part until tomorrow. And we lost - and - found our Olympus underwater camera. We were more upset about the photos we would have lost, than the camera - after all, the opportunities to take underwater photos are mostly behind us now. Fortunately, the good people at the Marina office, where we had distractedly set it down, kept it safe for us. Lucily, as we passed the marina after getting our mast stepped, Carla hopped into the dinghy and tracked it down while the boys and I carried on up the channel as slowly as we could.
Oh, and how could I forget. Not more than 5 minutes after we went by in our dinghy on our way to clearing in, a boat in the anchorage blew up. Boom. We looked over and there was a huge plume of smoke and flames leaping out of the cockpit. For a few heart stopping moments we couldn't tell if it was our boat or not. Finally we overheard on a nearby radio that there were two victims just being pulled from the water with very bad burns. Very scary. The fire boat arrived too late to really do anything other than chase down the fuel tank when it finally broke free, caught fire and threatened other boats. By the time we got back, there wasn't much more than a smoldering hulk in the water. We hope the two injured people manage to survive.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Final Passage
While crossing the bank we took a little time for Austin and I to jump into the dinghy (we were towing it at this point) and zip around the boat getting some nice shots in the lime great water and bright blue skies. There was just enough wind to get the boat really sailing but not so much that the seas were too rough. Other than that our crossing of the DECCA channel was uneventful. We could see however, that you really needed fairly benign conditions to try this crossing. The wind was 10 - 12 knots out of the SE and we were traveling W. I doubt that it would have been as much fun if the wind was out of the NW and it seems like it would get really nasty out there if a strong front passed through. In short, if you need a quick way to get from the Exumas to Florida, the Abecos, or Nassau and don't mind an overnight sail and, most importantly, the weather is in your favor then by all means, this is a great route to take.
After a pleasant yet a bit rolly night sail up the Tongue we crossed back onto the western part of the Great Bahama Bank. This we used as a shortcut to the western end of New Providance Channel (between the Great Bahama Bank and Grand Bahama Island) which would take us west to the Florida Strait and then the Gulf Stream. Nothing really out of the ordinary happened in all of this. We're getting quite comfortable with multi-day passages though for some reason we weren't sleeping as well on this one. In the end we made all our wayponts, out speed was just about right (could have been a touch faster) and we had a calm crossing of the Stream and made it to the Florida coast before 5pm.
Once inside the inlet to Lake Worth things weren't so easy. We like big open spaces (like ocean sailing) and in this crowded harbor there are numerous channels - few of them deep enough for our boat. So of course we picked the wrong one and drove up onto a sand bar. Luckily it was muddy sand and we were able to easily back our selves off. We did eventually find the right channel and anchored easily in 12ft of water. Flordia welcomed us with a major thunderstorm, which thankfully waited until were all settled to arrive.
We're all glad to have this portion of the trip behind us. The past month or so has been hard to really enjoy with all the travel and not much play and relaxation time. Everyone is now looking forward to our big road trip home and visiting friends and family along the way. It will be a bit of a whirlwind tour but keep posted to discover what adventures we get up to in-land.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Wet in G-Town
e have to worry about is the rain! When we got back to the boat, Austin just slipped over the side and went for a swim and I had to wash salt out of my beard.
Later in the afternoon we put up the rain catcher just in time for a massive downpour. Between the water we got from shore and all the rain, we were able to nearly fill our water tanks and do a load of laundry in the water that the dinghy collected. All of us had nice refreshing deck showers from the pelting rain. The flying rain stung a bit but deck showers always feel great! It's still a novel concept to be comfortably warm in the pouring rain.
Today we slipped away from the anchorage early and were treated to a fleeting farewell from a couple small dolphins in about 10 feet of water. We first mistook them for turtles, speculating if they might be leatherbacks - we were surprised to find dolphins in the shallows. We threaded our way past the sand banks and coral heads and are now back in Exuma Sound trying to get as far north up the island chain that we can in one day. We'd really like to snorkel Thunderball Grotto and see Warderik Wells before we have to leave these islands in a couple days. After that, we're looking at various routes to get us to FL as quickly as possible. Taking the offshore route around Eleuthera Island and through Providence Channel is tempting as it gets us far enough away from the islands that we can sail through the nights and make more miles per day but the seas are bigger now (6 - 7 feet) so it won't be all that comfortable.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
But I thought he was with you ...
We arrived at Stocking Island yesterday evening around 5:15 - the wrong time of day to be sailing westward through a field of coral heads in a tropical paradise. To put it mildly, there were a few tense moments as we sought ranges, frantically did some dead reckoning, retraced our path twice, second-guessed our assessment of the dark patches (were they deeper water, or coral heads?). Several times, I thought of our friends on Jaru who think dead reckoning is something for the history books, and I wished we were equipped with a chart plotter to take some of the guessing work out of navigating the tricky shallows and reefs.
After 7 days and nights at sea, we were all exhausted and so grateful for the boat's motion to settle and to sleep at anchor again. Skye and I marvelled at being able to be asleep at the same time as each other for the first time in a week! Admittedly, there are some nice benefits to nighttime watches, particularly under a full moon. The views can be beautiful, I was able to read my page-turning novel, Rain of Gold (thanks, Compass Rose!), I have beaten a few records in Sudoku, and I'm becoming a Catan champion. As long as we don't have rain, I can have the iPad or iPhone in the cockpit, so I can play games, do puzzles and read e-books to my heart's content, while playing my favourite iTunes without disturbing slumbering crew.
Excited to have internet connectivity again, we spent this morning catching up with fb and gmail, doing a few google searches for those pressing questions that inevitably came up during the passage, and enjoying our friend's blog about their trip to Europe. Skye is pining after Italy (he spent 4 days in Italy last summer and fell in love with Cinque Terre and is determined to take us there as a family someday). We finally got cleaned up, dressed in our "customs" outfits (no Bob Marley t-shirts for Austin, cotton button shirts for the rest of us), bailed the dinghy (lots of rain-filled thunder storms last night), climbed aboard and set off on the 15-minute wet ride to Georgetown.
Thankfully, Skye had studied the charts and the "Need-to-know" section of Victoria Lake before we left, so he was prepared to go to the end of the Georgetown harbour, drive under a bridge where only our dinghy would fit, and tie up at the huge (comparatively, in our experience) dinghy dock alongside Exuma Market.
Around 1:00, we all hopped out of the dinghy, hungry for lunch, but accepting that clearing in would be our first priority. We were greeted by a familiar Scotiabank logo on a large building across the street, so I stopped to use the ATM to withdraw the $300 USD we would need for clearing in to the Bahamas. This is a 12-month permit, but we’ll only use it for 3-4 days (so they’d better be good!). We proceeded to the Post Office (which is advertised to house both Customs and Immigration), but before reaching it, noticed a sign reading, “Bahamas Customs” on a non-descript boxy building. Skye glanced back at me, raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and decided to check it out. It was the right place, he’d need about 15 minutes, then the rest of us would have to join him. I bought the boys some cold drinks while we waited and A1 & A2 got their first Bahamian quarters. The clerk assured me that Bahamian money would be worth nothing anywhere else in the world, so I promised him I’d spend it while we’re here.
Skye finished up at Customs around 2:00 and was directed to Immigration, in a business complex about 3 blocks away. I stopped in at the Tourism office in the same complex while Skye filled out 5 detailed forms at Immigration. Today, we learned, was a local government election, so many establishments (particularly most restaurants and bars) were closed for business. Lunch just wasn’t in the cards, though the information officer at the Tourism Bureau recommended we go to the hotel across the street from Customs, and adjacent to a small park.
This hotel was conveniently located across the street from a shop that sells courtesy flags, so we needed to go back in that direction, anyway, and by 3:00 we all really needed something to eat and drink. The boys were getting antsy and I just wanted to stick to our plan - that’s one thing I’m not sure I ever fully adjusted to, on this Caribbean adventure - plans change ... expect the unexpected ... don’t expect businesses to be open in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the week ... and don’t expect stores to carry the merchandise you’re seeking. When we reached the hotel, we were told that the restaurant was closed for the election and would open again at 6:30pm.
On to Plan B, with a side trip to the playground, as promised to A3. Skye looked up at the clouds and said we had weather coming, so we’d better just go to the grocery store to pick up enough food for dinner, then hurry back to the boat. I lobbied for 5 minutes at the park, then he suggested that he and A1 go ahead and start shopping - we could all meet up at the store later. And just at that moment, A3 announced he had to go pee, and it was imminent - he was dancing around holding his shorts and we knew we had to act fast. Skye and Austin left while I took A3 to find a tree. A2 was with us, but when A3 finished, the park was empty except for a sweet 7-year-old girl who had introduced herself to us as Looney Larsden. I said goodbye to Looney, explaining that we had to hurry back to our boat because of the weather, and she asked me if I like to read books. I said, “Yes,” and asked her what books she likes to read, and she said, “Junie B.” I responded, “Junie B. Jones? Those are great books.” I was pleased to be able to connect with this beautiful local girl, and she was obviously impressed that I knew what she was talking about.
I carried a very upset and disappointed A3 away from the park and briskly walked to the supermarket where we spotted Skye right away. Austin was wandering the aisles with the shopping cart, and I never once wondered where Aidan was. He must have been somewhere in the crowded store, browsing the merchandise.
After about 30 minutes, we finished at the checkout and left the store. Austin asked me, “Do you know where Aidan is?” and I responded unconcernedly, “No.” A1 shrieked, “What?!?” and it finally hit me. Where was Aidan? Had I left him at the park? Skye took A1, A3 and the groceries back to the dinghy and I raced to the park. I found Looney still there and asked her if she had seen Aidan, then she said, “No.” My heart was in my throat. Tears were forming in my eyes. I was haunted by my best friend’s only concern for us on this journey, “I’d worry about losing one of my children.” I had flashes of my handsome, photogenic, friendly, smart son and how desirable he could be to someone bent on kidnapping a child. Then Looney called out to me that Aidan had gone, “over there,” as she pointed to the harbour dock. I followed where her arm was pointing, and oh, mercy of mercies, Aidan appeared in a full grin beside Looney, walking alongside the Customs office.
I was so relieved to see him in such good shape. I had half expected to find him reduced to tears in a huddle in the park, but he was smiling, laughing, and walking confidently toward me. I said, “Goodbye,” again to Looney and asked Aidan what had happened. I’d thought he must have gone to the store with Skye and Austin, but Aidan explained he had met a boy in a Lego shirt and was talking with him while I was helping A3 behind the tree. We held hands and laughed about everything. Aidan had been waiting for us at the dinghy, and I praised him for how he handled being separated from us. He did all the right things. He joked that he figured, even if we had forgotten about him, at least we couldn’t go back to the boat without him, if he were already in the dinghy!!
Phew! I’m glad that turned out as well as it did! Actually, the people in Georgetown have all been friendly and we feel very safe here - didn’t even lock up the dinghy today.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Position Update Day 7 - Land Ho!
Lat/Long: 23 37.886N/75 06.847W
Distance (24hrs): 101nm
Distance (total): 694nm
The light on Rum Cay was first spotted at 2250 last night. This morning we awoke to see Long Island to port and we are now only a few miles from Cape Santa Maria and making our turn south west on the final leg to Georgetown.
The wind has settled into a rather irritating pattern. The wind dies around 0700 so we turn on the motor. Around midday it picks up again just enough to turn the motor off and make about 3 knots but it's not quite enough wind to keep the sails filled in this swell. We get sick of the rolling after a few hours and motor again. Then around 2000 - 2100 the thunder storms have fully developed and we pick up the new breeze on the edge of one of these then coast along at 5 knots all night with enough wind to stabilize the boat (mostly). At least this is our last day and we know for sure now that we have enough fuel to motor the rest of the way if needed (though it would be much nicer to sail).
Aaron is missing his boat friends. Yesterday he says with a sad face, "Can we go to Ouma? I miss Miles and Grace." Sweet kid. We sure hope that we see them again some day, somehow. We're going to miss so many of our great cruising friends.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Position Update Day 6
Lat/Long: 23 27.471N/73 18.921W
Distance (24hrs): 120nm
Distance (total): 593nm
If all goes well today should be our last full day on this passage. We have moved onto the Bahamas charts and are less than 50 nm from Samana Cay and other desirable destinations. If our schedule allowed for it we'd love to divert for a few days and explore these out islands as they are usually difficult to get to and are nearly deserted and unspoiled (our favorite kind). However, we need to keep moving onwards and restrict our visiting to places directly along the way.
Yesterday I mentioned that the days were so similar that they were blending into each other. Well, last night created some much desired variation to keep us entertained. Most of the day there was so little wind that we had the motor on almost from sunrise to sunset. The batteries got a good charge and we kept our velocity up. The weather was very hot so everyone had a quiet day doing slow things like napping or reading in the cockpit - except for Carla who decided to do laundry that refused to dry in the humid heat and no wind. It was flat and calm enough that you almost felt that we were at anchor. This all changed around midnight. A thunder storm emerged in the east and slowly advanced on us. By 1:30am it was directly north of us, brushing us with its windy shoulders. We had the engine off coasting along at a comfortable 5-6 knots over the quicksilver seas lit by the waning moon. It was a spectacular 2 hours of sailing, one of the best night sails this whole season.
I think there is some proverb that says, "good things never last" which is what I was thinking last night as by 3am a new thunder storm had advanced from the south east. This time we were directly in its path and the moon slowly disappeared behind the black on dark gray ominous clouds. We reefed both sails at the watch change as the wind picked up to over 15 knots with occasional gusts to 20. The seas built and the rain came. It was nice to get some variation in our passage diet of calm, moon filed nights but by 4:30am the sea and wind were no longer in agreement, the wind was fading and we were wet and rolling around quite uncomfortably. The engine came back on to smooth out the rolls and we hid below.
There is a little festive atmosphere on board this morning as we start getting ready for tomorrow's arrival. Aidan exclaimed that the fresh smell after the rain reminded him of Christmas in Vancouver and Carla has cooked up a nice pot of hot cereal for breakfast. New charts and guide books are out on the navigation station and our next way point is nearly due west of us. We're almost there!
Monday, June 20, 2011
Position Update Day 5
Lat/Long: 23 04.285N/71 11.107W
Distance (24hrs): 103nm
Distance (total): 473nm
Our wind is slowly fading as we move farther north and get closer to the high pressure ridge that is dominating the area N and E of the Bahamas. We ended up motoring for about 7 hours yesterday and still only just made our 100nm minimum goal for the day (120nm is our target). The motion of the boat has become uncomfortable with slightly confused seas and not enough wind to keep our sails full. We're back to motor sailing again this morning and may need to keep this up for most of the day. At least we can set a more direct course now and have to worry less about where the wind is coming from.
The days are starting to blend together. I had to look back over our log to see how many days we had been out. The weather has been so constant and the ocean looks the same each morning and all day that if it weren't for our GPS position updates it would feel like we're not moving at all. Everyone is reading lots to pass the time. I'm now reading the Hobbit to the boys and they seem to be enjoying that.
I managed to get our fishing line tangled around our ruder while trying to clear it of sea weed last night. The lure was on it's last legs after having been attacked by diving birds earlier so I didn't feel to bad about cutting it away. And I didn't really want to have to go for a mid-ocean swim if I didn't really have to.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Position Update Day 4
Lat/Long: 22 10.588N/69 37.820W
Distance (24hrs): 121nm
Distance (total): 370nm
We passed what I estimate to be the 1/2 way point a couple hours ago. We'll have some banana loaf and drinks to celebrate once everyone is awake. The skies are still mostly clear though there was more moisture in the air at sunrise adding to the color. There are occasional squalls around us and a couple hit us last night but there was little energy in them, just rain. The wind has been low for the past few hours but is picking up a little again. We seem to be on the edge of two major weather patterns, the Caribbean trades to the south and the mid latitude westerlies to the north. Lucky for us the trades still dominate at this latitude even if only just. Seas are still rather flat, even the occasional swell rarely exceeds 4 feet. We seem to have sailed out of the main current stream as there is very little weed and garbage in the water now (it was constant yesterday).
We have at least another day on this NW heading before we need to make a serious effort to head W. The forecasts for that time put the wind well into the south which will be a great help. Uneventful and as forecast is how I'd describe this passage so far. And that's a good thing.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Position Update Day 3
Lat/Long: 21 03.846N/67 49.582W
Distance (24hrs): 128nm
Distance (total): 244nm
Day two was fast with mostly clear skies and just enough wind to keep us moving at a good speed (avg 5.5 knots). The wind started to drop off and go below 10 knots early this morning otherwise we might have come close to a 140nm day. Today looks much the same as yesterday, scattered clouds and wind 10-12 knots out of the SE. There is a bit of a cross swell coming in from the NNE which tosses us around every 3 minutes or so as it strikes our beam. This has made eating our meals a little more challenging. After 1/2 my hot dinner launched off the table fiddle and dummped onto Carla's lap we've decided to rig up some method to keep dishes in their place when we roll.
If the wind comes back (and it's forecast to) then we should be reaching the 1/2 way point some time late tonight or early tomorrow morning. I've not had to touch the sails since we set them 4 hours into the trip. This is pretty relaxing so far.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Day 2 Position Report
Position: 19 31.468 N 66 12.055 W (see our SPOT page to see where this is)
This has been a fantastic beginning to our passage. We left at 0700 yesterday morning. The winds have been just about perfect and the seas are very manageable. We started with wind out of the SE between 5 and 8 knots. That was pretty slow going. However, both the wind and seas have increased overnight with us now up to 7.5 to 8 knots and have backed to the ESE which allows us to move more to the W than N and that brings us closer to our destination.
With the kind of forecasts we've been getting for this area (light winds) we have been using 4 knots as our planning speed (and will continue to do so for now) but yesterday we managed just about 5 knots average in 24 hours which certainly beats the forecast. With any luck we will stay in this band of trade winds the whole way. The GRIB forecasts suggest that the wind should strengthen and back all the way to the E later today. That would put us on a nice fast broad reach all the way to the Bahamas and will arrive a day or two early. Fingers crossed.
The nearly full moon was glorious last night. It couldn't have been a better night passage. Standing watch was a pleasure. We managed to catch some kind of fish though it was scrawny, bony and the ugliest specimen I've ever seen. Aidan is researching what it might be. We didn't keep it as there wasn't enough flesh on its bones to make a meal.
We are passing by Puerto Rico today though we are too far off shore (60nm) to see it. We are also passing over the, Puerto Rico Trench, the second deepest underwater trench in the world. We can't really tell a difference from here but it's pretty cool that we're sailing over enough water to cover over Mt. Baker, nearly twice!
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Emotional Roller Coaster
We started the day by saying good-by to our new friends on Jaru. We only had a short time with them but we sure enjoyed their company and hope to see them again some day (good luck with the bears this summer Cedar). These thoughts of parting brought on thoughts of how close we were to the end of this part of our adventure. We should be off the boat and on the road in 3 weeks. Yikes! We pulled away from our mooring with heavy hearts and even contemplated just leaving to the Bahamas right away. Reason prevailed and we turned east and into the British Virgin Islands (we just couldn't come this close and not see them).
The Virgins really are beautiful islands and we had a fantastic morning sail beating up Drake Passage to Road Harbor Tortola. The sea was flat, current was in our favor, there was enough wind to get us really moving at times and there were dozens of other boats out. Sailing doesn't get much better than this. We got to Road Harbor around 2pm but, as we feared from looking at the guide book, it's not the kind of place that we like to spend any time. The harbour is choked with marinas, dodgy mooring balls, cruise ship docks and ferries with no good place to anchor. We've had our fill of marinas (and have exhausted our marina budget for a while) so we turned around and motored as fast as we could to Virgin Gorda to get there before dark.
Virgin Gorda is *the* island of the BVIs that we really didn't want to miss. With the Baths, Gorda Sound and several other sweet spots we've learned about there are just so many nice anchorages and beaches and pretty shorelines. There are certainly more charter boats here than the USVIs. I don't think we'd really like being here in peak season, but things are still slow and the people pleasant. If we were to ever charter a boat here for a vacation I'd seriously consider coming at this time of year to avoid the crowds, get better rates and get some of the best sailing conditions all year (no north swell and the trades are tame and not howling).
Then, the last curve of the coaster ride. Once we anchored just off Spanish Town, we managed to make the most tenuous of wifi connection to shore and found out that our friends on s/v Bliss had departed St. Martin that day and were headed to the VIs and were hoping we were still there! We sure hope that we can meet up with them before we leave.
The weather window that opened on Saturday still looks good for our Bahamas trip. The wind is picking up and still going in the right direction. The hurricane forecasters are predicting that this spell of unfavourable (for hurricane development - IOW, favourable for us) conditions will last at least a week. Seas will be building all week but shouldn't get more than 6 - 8 feet on average (which means we can expect individual waves to be double that from time to time) which is manageable. Most of the trip is over very deep water and wind and current are both going the same way so the waves shouldn't get too steep until we get close to the Bahamas. There we'll have to pay attention and pick our way in with care.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Tomorrow we return to Caneel Bay on St. John to see another cruising family that we've only "met" via blogger then after that move on to see some of the BVIs for a couple days. There isn't much wind and we only have enough fuel for about 1/2 the trip to the Bahamas so we're waiting until a little later in the week when the trade winds return before departing. Now that we're all provisioned and equipped I can't wait to set off.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Now Satellite Phone Enabled
The other benefit of this is that we can send short email messages when we connect to download the latest weather forecasts. The data speed of this phone is not very fast at all (2400bps) so we'll have to keep it short. In fact, this message is going out over the sat phone as a test so I better stop now.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Circle of Life
Bats are said to be the only animal that is native to the Virgin Islands. Bats can be found in caves in less populated areas of the islands and are sometimes spotted flying at night. It is not uncommon for several dozen bats to roost together in a cave. They are primarily insect eaters and nectar drinkers however there is a fisherman!
The fisherman bat is a threatened species in the Virgin Islands. The bat roosts in caves near the sea, woodlands and in roofs of old houses. Through the use of echolocation or sonar, the bat detects ripples caused by fish swimming close to the water’s surface and uses it’s long, curved claws to catch them, thus the name fisherman bat. They are good swimmers and they use their wings as oars. The species' numbers have greatly declined because of coastal development.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
We're Cruising Again
Just as we were preparing to leave St. Martin a new cruising family (Happy Times) pulled into Marigot Bay. We just had to say hi and ended up spending much of the day showing them a few key spots. We had so much fun with them that we put off our departure for one last St. Martin sundowner. We had a great time and wished we could have spent more time with them.
We finally got away around 9:30pm local time. The trip was rather uneventful. The seas were calm, the wind was light (too light) and we motored all night. By early afternoon we could see the hills of Virgin Gorda then the islands Ginger, Cooper, Salt, Peter and Norman all came into view. Due to our delayed departure and no help from the wind we calculated that we wouldn't make it all the way to Cruz Bay St. John before dark. The entrance to Cruz Bay has some hazards that are best left to daylight so we decided to "Q-flag" our way through Peter and Norman Islands.
Peter Island is shaped like a tipped over "L" with the top pointing south. The inside shores are sparsely populated and the anchorages largely deserted. The cruising guides say little about them but they looked perfect for us in this settled weather (they don't offer much protection if the wind is up from the south). Best of all, we were the only boat there! In no time we got the anchor down and set and turned off the engine. Oh bliss! The silence was just what the Dr. ordered ... except it wasn't silent. There was this strange, unfamiliar sound soothing our poor ears. What could it be? No, not bird song? Could it be? We couldn't believe it but sure enough, it sounded just like song birds from back home!
To understand what an incredible feeling it is to hear these birds, those of you reading this from Canada or the northern US need to think of the feeling you get in early spring as the song birds return. This is just what it was like. Only, unlike back home where different birds arrive at different times, this was like having all of them show up in your back yard overnight! What a sound. There are so few birds in the Caribbean, we haven't heard song birds since we left Vancouver last fall.
The sun rose the next morning to crisp clear blue skies. The tropical heat was already starting to shimmer off the glassy water by the time breakfast was done so we decided to put "school" on hold for a bit and go for a swim. I spied a skate on the bottom as we got ready, being shadowed by some large-ish fish. It almost looked like the fish was teasing it. As we swam closer we could see that it appeared that the skate would scare up some creature from the turtle grass and the fish would eat anything that the skate missed. Strange but there you go.
Austin and I went swimming first. And didn't bring the camera. Silly me, the reef we found near the rocky shore was one of the healthiest we've seen all trip. Lots of tube sponges, elk horn coral, gigantic violet fan corals and plenty of curious fish. There were even a couple yellow jacks that decided to follow a few meters behind as we explored. Kind of like a lost dog hoping someone would take him home. Aidan said they waved back when he went swimming with Carla later.
By noon we needed to get moving or we'd not make St. John before dark (again). The wind was a little stronger so we made decent time but still needed to motor the whole way. Entering Cruz Bay was a breeze in the daylight but we were glad we didn't consider it at night. While the rocks and cays are marked, it was a risk not worth taking.
The harbour in Cruz Bay is busy with a ferry dock and charter boats zipping in and out. We managed to find a temporary spot between the marked channel, a yawl and the beach in only 7 feet of water (we need about 5' 4"). All that practise in crowded and shallow anchorages the past few months sure paid off as the customs office was closing soon. We got the anchor down and set in record time before all piling into the dinghy. Just as we were about to pull away, a spotted ray leaped from the water not 10 feet from us. It would have jumped right over the dinghy if it were heading in our direction!
After one of the least intense experiences with US Customs and Immigration (perhaps it had something to do with the boat name, Singing Frog, that effortlessly evokes smirks from officials) that I've ever had, we zipped back to our boat, raised anchor and motored around the corner to Caneel Bay where we picked up a mooring from the US Park Service and free WiFi from the Caneel resort. Lucky us.
Tomorrow we head to shore to explore and see if the music festival we heard playing today has anything interesting to take in.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Lost in Paradise
Friday, May 20, 2011
Stuck in St. Martin
This crack is hard to see in this picture but is the best I could get. To see it you need to look down to the end of the terminal to where the eye wraps around the pin. The crack radiates out from the pin on the face of the eye at about 12:30 or about 15-20 degrees.
Now SPOT on
To check out our map you can go to the spot tracker website. This link is also on our blog for future reference.
Friday, April 22, 2011
The People of Antigua are Simply the Best
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Antigua Classic Yachts Regatta
We weren't supposed to be here. We passed by Antigua a little over a month ago in our rush to meet up with family in St. Maarten. We came to terms with the disappointment that we'd miss this great sounding island country and given our desire to be farther north and east by this time of year we figured we wouldn't make it back for the regatta either. But that's cruising plans for you and here we are. Nearly on the spur of the moment we decided to reverse course and zip back to Antigua for a few days to take in the festivities and keep up with many of our family kid boat friends. And what a great choice it was. Despite the fact that it took us 4 days to get here when it should take less than one (it should take about 20 hours). But that's food for a different post.
The eye candy here has been amazing with a surprise (to us) visit from the famous Maltese Falcon (aka the Death Start according to the kids). Yesterday they got a guided tour of the cruising tall ship the Picton Castle. Our friend Charlie from Kamaloha was crew on one of the Rebecca's (the smaller one) and they came in 3rd in their division. There has been a disturbance developing north of us for the past week so it's been playing havoc with the wind so there was lots for the racers to complain about :)
Now it looks like the thing to do is to sail around the corner to Nonsuch Bay and relax in the quiet picturesque waters before everyone scatters in their various directions. And we need to decide which way to go. Do we stick to our plans to visit the Bahamas and put the boat up on the hard in the US or do we sail back south, visit with friends more, say hi to our friends in St. Vincent and up the boat in Grenada. Both are very attractive. And the hurricane season is starting to warm up. It looks like it's going to be a busy one too. Hmmm. Choices.
Friday, April 8, 2011
The boat felt quite empty when we returned last night. The sounds were different, the routine was different and we were all a little out of sorts this morning too. I just hope that the time passes quickly and we can get back to spending time together.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Sad end to an Adventure
The original attack: http://www.noonsite.com/Members/val/R2010-07-06-4
The recent death: https://www.thedailyherald.com/islands/1-islands-news/15628-adventurer-mike-harker-passes-away-on-his-yacht.html
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
View CARIB 2010 in a larger map
Getting Lost in Anguilla
After spending a day exploring one of the outer Cays (Prickly Pear Cay) we decided to rent a car and tour the island. Anguilla is a popular spot for the more wealthy so it has more than its fare share of resorts. They are all fairly small and private and expensive so we decided to try and find a more low key, remote pace to go for the day. Looking at the road map the north east end of the island looked promising as it only had one small resort, a beach bar and several remote beaches.
Off we went, stopping at grocery stores for lunch snacks along the way. The seven seater van we rented claimed to have AC but it only "worked" if we had the windows down. And it was a hot day. Hmmm.
We wind our way to the end of the island's paved roads then shift to a partially paved road about the width of a car but still two directions of traffic. Then the road starts getting really rough. We bounce and twist our way over this coral/lime road until it ends overlooking a point of rocks and desert brush. Oops, wrong turn.
A few more turns after our back-tracking, we come to another junction but are unsure what way to go. My Dad and I decide to walk over the next ridge to see what the road over there looks like (we've already been pushing the limits of this rental van). On the other side we meet up with a couple guys in a jeep coming the other way (a jeep is a much more suitable vehicle for this road). We ask them for directions and the conversation went something like this:
Us: "Hi there. We're looking for Savannah Bay."
Guys in jeep: "OK. Great spot. Do you have a Jeep?"
Guys in jeep: "An SUV?"
Guys in jeep: "A minivan?"
Guys in jeep: "Is it a rental?"
Guys in jeep: "OK, no problem then. Just follow the road that has the telephone poles, about a mile past the broken down bulldozer until you come to a rubble barricade then turn down the the little path to the right then go about another 1/4 mile until you come to the water. Easy."
It turns out those were the directions to the wrong beach. Luckily for us we figured that out fairly quickly and found the correct road which happened to be much smoother and less of a 4x4 trail!
And at the end of the road we found a very nice, nearly private beach. Definitely a spot to come back to some day.
New pictures from St. Martin and Anguilla
Iain and my Dad after their trip on the Extreme Zip Line on St. Martin. This is the day after we all went Kite Surfing and that was after spending 3 days snorkelling Anguilla and that was after ... you get the picture. It's been very busy here and we're really sad to see Iain leave today.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Bioluminescence in the Biffy
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Fixing the carb on the outboard
A bit of background info. We have a Tohatsu M8B two-stroke outboard on our 10-foot RIB dingy. The engine is about 4 years old and has seen a fair amount of use in the charter business before we acquired it (along with the mother ship) in August 2010. It has run well for us until this latest episode.
The problems probably first began when we were in Pte-a-Pitre Guadeloupe. Austin and I had made a run to shore for something when all of a sudden the engine stopped. We had had a leaking fuel hose a couple days earlier so we were familiar with the kind of quick but not sudden stopping that happens when the engine isn't getting enough fuel. The first thing I checked was that the air vent on the gas tank was open and it wasn't!! That's an easy solution, open the vent and off we go. However, only a few meters farther the engine died again! We were close enough to the dinghy dock at this point that we broke out the paddles, got to shore and tied off so we could take a more thorough look under the hood.
With the engine cover off, we discover that the fuel line has ruptured upstream of the fuel filter. I'm guessing that the pressure built up when the tank valve was closed and ruptured the old, and slightly decayed, fuel line. Again, not much of a problem. There just happened to be a chandlery a few steps away and they were happy to give us the required 5cm length of fuel hose. No problem and off we go.
A few days later, but only a few minutes of engine run time as we were travelling up the island and not using the dinghy much, we were heading into town (Deshaies Guadeloupe - 10 points for the correct pronunciation) when, at medium RPMs, we stalled again. Uh-Oh. It still sounded like a fuel starvation issue. Keeping the revs really high allowed us to get to the dock and back to the boat again. However, each time the revs dropped the engine stalled.
Lucky for me Deshaies has a great bay-wide wifi connection (HotHotHotSpot) so I was able to research the symptoms on some forums and download a Tohatsu parts manual with an exploded diagram of the carb. It really seemed like my problem was a clogged low speed jet so I set about dismantling the carb and spraying everything down with carb cleaner. My first "attempt" was a bit pathetic. All I did was remove the air inlet and spray cleaner into the carb. That didn't work. For my second attempt I took the carb right off the engine, separated the bowl from the main carb body, pulled the jets out and soaked the whole thing in some 3M spray-on carb cleaner for about 5 hours. Testing this would have to wait as we left Guadeloupe for St. Maarten at about 3am.
Once we arrived in St. Maarten I put everything back together and gave it a try. The engine still stalled at high RPMs. One other thing I noticed along the way was that I needed to have the choke fully out to start even when the engine was warmed up. This plus the stalling at low speeds really suggested a carb problem and likely something to do with the low speed jet (as mentioned in some forum archive). That said, because I had cleaned everything I also suspected that the diaphragms in the fuel pump may have been deformed and were not pulling fuel through very well unless the engine was really working hard (this was not the case as I later found out).
I bummed a ride from a cruising friend (thanks, Julian, from Oumâ) to the local chandlery who are also agents for Tohatsu to see if replacing the fuel filter, hose, pump diaphragms and jets would solve the problem. While there I spoke to the Tohatsu tech and he confirmed that it's most likely a carb problem and gave me another diagnostic check to try. This is what he suggested:
Let the engine RPMs drop but just before it dies, pull the choke out. If the engine comes back for a few seconds it's a carb issue. If not, it's something else. The theory is that pulling out the choke causes more fuel to be pulled in. Kind of like "forcing" the fuel through clogged jets or passages.
And that's exactly what happened when I tried it. Cool!
So, back to the boat with a bag full of parts and some new ideas. Since I had time on my hands I decided to replace one thing at a time, test and see what the real problem was. By mid-afternoon, after a couple breaks for lunch and beer - I'm in the Caribbean after all - I had replaced the fuel filter, fuel lines and the diaphragms for the fuel pump and still, the engine stalled at high RPMs. The only thing left was to replace the jets. However, before doing that I had one last look at them, in the daylight this time, and what do I see? A small bit of something in the middle of the low speed jet! I broke out the can of carb cleaner and a can of compressed air and whoosh! it was gone. I'm pretty quick at putting my carb back on now but I think I set a record this time.
One pull, choke all the way out, and the engine started. Running it high, OK, running it low and .... it still worked! Turning it off and starting it with the choke back in and ... it still worked! Problem solved. I ended up not needing to replace the jets. I probably didn't need to replace any of the other parts either but now they are new and the engine does sound better as a result. And I have a pile of spares, which means now I'll never need them.
My theory as to the cause is this: First, we had been having some slight difficulty starting the engine for a little while. Nothing huge but to start on a first pull we needed to have the choke out every time. This suggests that there was a slight blockage to begin with. Then, when I left the tank air vent closed and starved the fuel and created a vacuum in the fuel supply system I think that the little bit causing the blockage got sucked farther in and nearly completely blocked the low-speed jet. I'm not an expert so maybe it was just something that happens from time to time but this is my theory.
I hope this helps someone someday and feel free to post suggestions or questions.
Arriving in St. Maarten
We arrived in the lagoon to a welcoming committee of fellow family/kid boats that we had met earlier as well as family! The kids had a great time at the crab races and movie night on the beach last night and I caught up on sleep after the long sail and the 2 days tearing apart our dinghy engine's carburetor (a small pice of something was clogging the low-speed jet - a squirt of carb cleaner and compressed air cleared it in seconds once I found the problem).
Now we settle in to a little cruising life, connecting with the "local" boats and getting to know the area better before Iain arrives next week. Oh, and, um it's *hot* here! The beaches are very white here so several of us got a bit of a burn yesterday. Oops.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Brrr it's getting cold around here
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Disappointment in Les Saints
The problem is, all of the activities require that you leave your boat and go ashore. This doesn't seem to be a problem for most (all?) of the cruisers and bare boat charters visiting the islands but it stumped us. I'll be honest, we didn't exhaust all our options but after spending a nerve wracking windy, swinging, sleepless night squashed between a dragging charter cat, several fishing boats, a couple bare boats and a rocky lee shore less than 3 boat lengths away we were looking for a bit of peace and quiet. We did try three other spots but failed to find the peace of mind kind of spot we were hoping for.
The islands of Les Saintes are in the path of the powerful trade winds which rush around the relatively short but steep peaks hurtling down the other sides into the anchorages from multiple angles. The current wind conditions were such that the daily oscillation of wind direction was over 60 degrees. And all the anchorages were very deep and small. You put all this together and you have a lot of boats with not enough chain out (us included as we don't really have enough for a place like this), packed into a few shallow areas swinging in different directions and several of the boats dragging each day. Oh, and did I mention the rolls? The anchorages look well protected but between the ocean swell that somehow manages to creep in there and the frequent ferries zipping past it felt like trying to sleep in a washing machine.
At 0400 this morning we'd had enough. Carla and I got up, cleaned and readied the boat while it bounced around about as bad as we'd seen on this trip (yeah, as bad as Mustique). By 0530 we were underway to check out Pigeon Island on the west coast of Guadeloupe without having set foot on Les Saintes.
We're disappointed for sure. After all the buildup and anticipation we were really looking forward to this stop. And I'm sure we would have had a great time if we could have relaxed a bit more and adopted more of the laissez faire anchoring attitudes of the locals and the French cruisers but that's not where our minds were at this weekend. Oh, and an extra 150 feet of chain would have created a lot more options to anchor the way we wanted. Maybe we'll get it right next time. For now we'll just enjoy the rest of our time on Guadeloupe. We're already looking forward to getting to St. Maarten to see Iain and my dad (we may even get there in time to see Linda before she leaves).
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Carnival in Guadeloupe
And the bands were still playing when I woke at 6:30 this morning.
Here's the full set so far. We're in the middle of it so there'll be more photos coming soon.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Bonsoir, Good Night and Buenas Noches!
On our walk home, we had greeted most people we met along the way with a friendly, "Bonsoir." In most cases, we received friendly responses in kind. Emboldened by this experience, we greeted a cruiser leaving the showers, and he seemed to fumble back with a "Hello." Oops! I remarked to Austin that it's challenging to know what language is spoken by the people we meet in a French-only country during tourist season.
So the next individual we met on the path was greeted in this way. To my great surprise, the greeting was received with unbridled enthusiasm by a warm and friendly gentleman, clearly pleased to hear his native language spoken in francophone-land. He spun around, grinning from ear to ear, and emphatically (with appropriately accompanying hand gestures) wished both Austin and I "Buenas Noches" in return.
We all chuckled as I rushed to clarify that our Spanish repertoire is limited, but it was a lovely, spirit-lifting encounter, nonetheless.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Way behind in blogging thanks to the French!
We're now in Guadeloupe. We have several posts form Martinique that are in draft form somewhere on this computer that we'll be polishing off and posting over the next few days. Here's a copy of an email to another cruising family that we've made friends with to give you an update on where we're at and what the last few days have been like.
Hi there. Just got hooked up with wifi now. We arrived in Guadeloupe about 30 hours ago. The anchorage at Pt-a-Pitre didn't look very nice so we elected to stay in the marina. It's not as nice as Rodney Bay (it's no IGY) but for fun we're squeezed in between a couple mega yachts (on the smaller side though). We walked into town tonight to watch the parades. Very cool!!
This place has a different feel but we're starting to get in the groove. Spending today in town in all the fun and celebrations helped a lot. So did walking home in the dark through the seediest part of town getting nothing but "bonsoir" and smiles from the ladies of the night (the kids had no clue) :)
Our crossing on the windward side of Dominica was a breeze (though I wasn't feeling well from about 1am until sunrise). We rounded the N end of Martinique at sundown in light wind. By 2000 it was up to about 8-10 knots and still enough E that we were able to make the windward side of Dominica. The wind backed and strengthened throughout the night. We sailed a close reach the whole way through the night and ended up a little SE of Marie-Galante by sunrise so we finished on a nice reach. We were even (slightly) broad reaching for a little while. We decided to skip Grand Bourg as we passed around 10am and anchored for the afternoon at Anse Ballet. *Very* nice and we were the only boat there (can you say skinny dipping snorkelling?) We spent the night in St. Louis. Again, *very* nice, calm and quiet. We left in the AM and had a beauty of a sail to Pt-a-P. We even had dolphins surfing off our bow for a little while! That was pretty much one of our best sailing days ever. Sunny, dodged all the squalls, beam reaching all the way, seas around 4 ft most of the way and dolphins! We loved what little we saw of MG and would love to go back there some time (we're saying that too much ... it's sad, 1 yr is not enough time down here for sure).
Not sure how long we'll stay in Pt-a-P. The party today was great. We'll see if the aquarium is open tomorrow. And if the chandlery is open I need to replace our starter battery (it died in St. Louis so we're starting off the house batteries right now ... yuck). But if they are closed then we'll probably head to Les Saints in a day or two as they look just amazing! Or we'll see what's on the menu for more carnival stuff and stick around if it's different from today. Typical cruiser's plan :)
Saturday, March 5, 2011
A Day of Firsts
March 4-5, 2011
- First successful anchoring under sail: We anchored in beautiful Anse Ballet on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe). We were in 11 feet of water, 250 metres from shore. I was at the helm, sailing close-hauled and heading up into irons to slow down whenever the boat went too fast. After about five times of repeating this process, I felt more confident knowing how quickly I could slow down the Frog if I needed to avoid putting her keel onto a shoal. However, once I saw the depth drop to 11 feet, I was anxious to drop the hook, so we anchored quite a distance from shore, forcing a long dinghy ride to the beach.
- First beach visit all to ourselves: Anse Ballet was so quiet that the beach wasn’t even being used by residents. We were the only people playing in the sand, hunting for rock specimens and napping in the sun.
- First skinny-dipping snorkelling: Well, there were no other boats for miles and the only shore activity was cars driving behind a row of trees with heavy foliage. So, who wouldn’t? We set up the boys with a movie in the saloon, and Skye and I had the bay to ourselves. No salt to rinse out of swimsuits. And we were careful to apply extra sunscreen ;)
- First dinner while underway: Skye was still napping at 3:30, so I decided to prepare dinner before weighing anchor to make our way to Saint Louis. We expected this trip to take about an hour and wanted to arrive before nightfall, so I knew we’d have to leave Anse Ballet by around 5:00. When I awoke Skye at 4:45, he suggested we start up the engine, pull up the anchor and motor sail on auto pilot while we eat dinner in the cockpit. Mmmmmm ... turkey breast baked in white wine with onion and thyme, mashed potatoes and green beans with sliced cucumber. What a lovely way to top off a beautiful day! Until now, we had always endeavoured to anchor in time to allow me to cook dinner before dark. It was really nice to enjoy a meal while underway (in calm seas, of course).
- First time we couldn’t start the engine: I turned the key in the ignition at around 8:00am. Click ... Silence. Hmmmm... starter battery, I suspected? After some tests and trials, Skye confirmed that we do indeed have a dead starter battery. He rigged a bypass causing the house batteries to run in parallel with the starter battery (do I have that description right, Skye?) so we’re starting the engine with the house batteries. Until we get a new starter battery. This isn’t good for our brand new house batteries, so hopefully we’ll be able to replace the starter battery quickly.
- First time dolphins have approached the boat: On our sail from Marie Galante to Guadeloupe, we were met by dolphins about 2/3 of the way across. What a treat! Austin was the first to spot them. We figure there were 8-10 dolphins swimming near our boat, but one in particular was swimming in our bow wake and took a good peek at Skye as he stood at the centreline ready with the camera. This dolphin gave us a farewell leap and twirl out of the water before we didn’t see them anymore.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Internet-challenged in Martinique
We have rented a minivan for today and tomorrow and plan to see La Pagerie, the birth place of Empress Josephine, and play on the zip lines at Mangofil.
We took a few wrong turns after we missed the exit to D7 at Riviere-Salee. A3 felt car sick, and we were forced to pull over near a beautiful beach and playground, with an internet base and info centre. So, we are all comfortable now and preparing to enjoy the rest of our day.
Internet is difficult to find, unreliable, slow, and often unavailable even in the places that advertise they offer it. So, we will be a bit incognito until the next stop that has reliable internet.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Good-Bye St. Lucia
- Getting to tour around the sulphur springs and hanging out close to volcanic activity
- Swimming in volcanic mud
- Touring around the old fort and lookouts on Pigeon Island
- The clear, clear water at the snorkelling spots we stopped at
- We met so many cool people here, Rodney Bay really is starting to become a mid-season cruiser's mecca
- Having a pool-side bar right *at* the dinghy dock making happy-hours with our new friends and all the kids a no-brainer (where happy-hour is less than $1 CDN for a bottle of beer and $3 CDN for cocktails ... yum!)
- Another fantastic full moon in a pretty anchorage
- Shopping was easy and affordable (can almost dinghy right to the shopping mall)
- Getting to go along for a day-sail on a classic yacht
- Taking a break at a large marina where we got to meet lots of people and have showers several times a day