Monday, July 4, 2011

Hunting in Florida for an Endangered Species

We've just spent the past two days hunting through the Florida Everglades (and turnpikes and back lots and front lots and curb sides) for that elusive class C motor home that is in good condition, low miles and less than $10,000. This is indeed a very rare beast and nearly extinct in these parts due to over hunting and very high demand. Driving around we also saw lots of strange (to us Northerners) road kill. There was something that looked like a flattened snake (a big one) and we saw more than a few armadillos legs pointed skyward.

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

We are no longer a sailboat. The boys at Cracker Boys yard made quick work of bringing the rig down with their crane. Now she's just a slow motor boat with a draft far too deep for her. She's so deep we've been using the keel to seek out the edges of the channels in the ICW. Yup, we made some new discoveries. Bump, quick reverse, scratch heads as this is *supposed* to be the deep part. Let's try over here ... looks like we made it ... bump. Nope. Hmmm. There were a couple places where we resorted to Carla and Austin going ahead in the dinghy with a weighted line to find the "deep" water (more than 6 feet minimum, 8 is OK, 10 is nice and 12 or more is bliss). After a while it clicked that we should be thinking of this like a river (it's narrow with a current, duh) and use river water signs that we learned paddling to give us hints as to where the deep water really is. For exanple, take this stretch of water. Don't go over on that side. See where the bank eases gently into the
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

Today's arrival in Florida marks the end of our final passage at sea. We left Staniel Cay 2.5 days ago in the early morning. We needed to leave as early as we could as the tide was falling and we were at risk of hitting bottom in our attempt to cross the bank. However, we had to wait until the light was good too so that we could read the water depth. Turned out that 8am was the magic time and we managed to slip out of Staniel Cay without even a bump (though it was close in spots). The rest of the day was spent trying not too get too much sun as we followed wayponts along the old DECCA channel to the Tongue of the Ocean. It was definately a great experience travelling all day with no morn than 15 feet of water under our hull and often less than 8 feet.

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

Austin and I made a quick trip into town yesterday to replenish some of our fresh provisions, get some water and top up our fuel so that we can make a mad, long dash to Florida once we've finished our short sight seeing in the Exumas. The wind has been blowing 12 - 15 knots so the harbour was a bit choppy but made for fun surfing the dinghy on the way in. On the way back I think that we should have brought our snorkels and masks! We were loaded down with 20 gallons of water, 24 gallons of fuel, two people and about 25 pounds of food. In other words, we were riding low and going slow right into the waves across the mile wide harbour. Now those waves that we were surfing on the way in were crashing over the sides soaking us through in seconds. About every 15 seconds we'd hit a large one and the air would go white and liquid so we had to hold our breath until it passed. I think Austin said something about looking forward to grocery shopping when we get home where the worst wet w
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!

Date/Time: 2011-06-22 0700
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

Date/Time: 2011-06-21 0700
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

Date/Time: 2011-06-20 0700
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

Date/Time: 2011-06-19 0720
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

Date/Time: 2011-06-18 0700
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

Date/Time: 2011-06-17 0700
Position: 19 31.468 N 66 12.055 W (see our SPOT page to see where this is)
Distance: 119nm

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

And no, I'm not talking about the up and down, on and off hockey that the Vancouver Canucks are playing in the final. Yesterday was a real roller coaster of a day for us.

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


The sun has returned and holy hot seven sweating sisters it's sweltering today. Even the locals are finding every scrap of shade and any store with air conditioning has a lot more customers (though sales aren't up that much). We've tried to cool off by rigging the sun awnings and it helps but we're still dripping. I can't imagine what summer in Grenada or Trinidad would be like.

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

We decided to rent a satellite phone for this next leg of our trip so that we can continue to receive important weather forecasts and notices even when we can't get wifi. And not just for the obvious cases like when we're 100's of miles from shore but we have only spotty reports of reliable wifi all through the Bahamas. We're right on the edge of the hurricane season so we want as much notice as we can get as there aren't a lot of places to hide until we get to FL.

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

Yesterday morning, in White Bay, Peter Island, BVI, Aidan enthusiastically woke me up around 6:15am to show me all the action and new creatures he's been watching off our bow. He told me about a fish he saw, with eyes "this big!" indicating a circle with his hand, about 5cm in diameter. Once I dragged myself out of my berth to join him, I was amused at his ongoing monologue about what he was witnessing. "Oh, oh, here comes some action!" he would call out as he pointed to some approaching ripples in the water. He'd follow them from stern to bow, "It's like there's a life circle around our boat! Maybe we still have some tiny shrimp on our hull, tiny fish are eating those shrimp, small fish are eating the tiny fish, medium fish are eating the small fish, and that big fish is eating them all."

And we were treated to another display of a local ecosystem in the Caneel Bay anchorage last night. Austin had stepped out to the swim platform to rinse out the pasta pot, then rushed below to invite everyone to come out to see the large tarpon at the stern. Skye got a flashlight and shone it at the fish ... many fish (we counted about 9 of them) ... and boy, were they big! Each one was about 1-1.5m long, their scales shone silver in the night, their mouths turned up in the distinctive way tarpons' mouths do, and their eyes looked like yellow glowing golfballs floating in the black water. We could see little splashes all around the boat, caused by smaller and smaller fish which the tarpon appeared to be eating.

Then we were surprised to see a new participant in the feeding frenzy -- a night creature in flight. Could it be ... a bat? A fruit bat*, as Austin surmised. Its wingspan was about 50cm, and its body seemed bigger than my fist. Eventually, there were about 7 bats feeding on insects at the water's surface. We wondered if some of the smaller fish may have been catching the same insects as the bats, or were the bats eating small fish? The bats' wings would occasionally splash in the water, and Austin saw long claws on their feet, so we were curious to know what they would be eating. But they were probably responsible for keeping the mosquito population down on the boat last night, so "Thank you, bats!"

This spectacle reminded me of a summer evening at Diefenbaker Lake when I was a teenager, visiting with family at their summer cottage. About 10 of us were sitting on lawn chairs on the porch. Mosquitoes started to pester us a bit, then a swarm of dragonflies came to eat the mosquitoes. One dragonfly lit on the shoulder of my cousin, Brent, who responded with a wide-open-mouthed call of surprise. All of us burst into fits of laughter, and within minutes, several birds swooped around the porch to pick off the dragonflies.

*I found this information on the fauna of the Virgin Islands:

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.

According to another web source, fruit bats only eat fruit - not insects. However, as one often experiences on the world wide web, there are conflicting reports. This article on the bats of the Virgin Islands states that fruit bats control the insect population on fruit farms. The article also describes the "fisherman" bat as the gender-neutral name, "fish-eating" bat. It's cool to think we could have been so close to an endangered species, that seems to be thriving in this environment.

See this National Geographic video on the fishing bat.

I'm eager to go to the National Park Service headquarters today, to see about the interpretive centres and hikes offered here. Other cruisers have told us about this, and knowing they are part of the Unites States Park Service, we expect loads of interesting information, equalling what we are accustomed to in our great Canadian National Parks.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

We're Cruising Again

Leaving friends in St. Martin was hard and we miss them already but boy does it feel great to be cruising again. 2 months (less 10 days in Antigua) was more than enough. After a calm 20 hour passage (motoring all the way) we're in the legendary Virgin Islands. I don't think we've seen the seas this calm since we sailed in the protected Georgia Strait and this was our longest passage without seeing land (100 nm).

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

Bottom Cleaning

There's not much effective anti-fouling paint left on our bottom so "stuff" tends to grow rather quickly. We've just spent a little under 4 weeks in the Lagoon which is ... very conductive to growth. We have quite the ecosystem growing down there. Just the other day I discovered a couple small crabs had walked up onto our swim platform. We have completed all our major projects that needed to be done before leaving St. Martin so all that is left is to move out into cleaner water and spend a day scraping all the c__p off the bottom. Yuck!! Keep the vinegar handy as I'm going to need a serious cleanse after this.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Lost in Paradise

I've been back in St. Martin for a few days now, and Skye recounted this funny story, which I think is well worth sharing. Here's an excerpt from a VHF radio interchange between a cruising couple (L)ost and a locally anchored vessel (O)perator:

Lost female voice...
L: "Hello?"
L:"Hello? We called you yesterday. Is our slip ready?"
O: "What party are you calling?"
L: "You."
O: "I don't think so. Are you trying to reach a marina?"
L: "Yes. We called you yesterday to reserve a slip."
O: "Well, you didn't call me. You're on a VHF radio, broadcasting to all radios monitoring channel 14 in this area. Normally, when you use a radio, you first announce the party you are calling, then you state the name of your vessel and once you've connected, you switch to another channel."
L: "I don't understand."
O: "Where are you?"
L: "We're right out front."
O: "Can you describe where you are?"
Lost switches to a male voice...
L: "We're by the fuel dock." (there are about a dozen fuel docks within radio range)
O: "Which fuel dock is it?"
L: "I don't know. The sign just says, 'Fuel Dock.'"
O: "Ok. I'm going to help you. You're probably looking for a marina in the area. Do you know the name of the marina?"
L: "No."
O: "Let's figure out where you are now. Where have you come from?"
L: "Guadeloupe." (by this time, many listeners must be astonished that these folks got this far!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stuck in St. Martin

Now that Carla and Aaron are back (yeah!) we should be making tracks ASAP. Except we have a problem. I discovered a crack in one of our new shrouds the other day that needs looking into. This is a bit of a big deal as this is what keeps our mast up. Yup, big, big problem if this comes down. What's especially strange is that the rigging was replaced only 6 months ago. It should last around 10 years. A rigger is coming by tomorrow morning to make an assessment and advise on ways we can fix it.

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

We decided to get a SPOT GPS tracking and emergency device for the remainder of our trip. While I'm not convinced that their emergency services are all that great (401EPIRB's are much better) it's a great backup to our EPIRB and a fun toy to help keep family and friends informed of where we are. We don't have a sat phone or SSB radio so this will be especially helpful on our next few extra long passages.

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

We have really enjoyed our visit to the island of Antigua. The weather has been great (a little more wind to cool us off would be nice), the beach in Falmouth is one of the best we've been to and the locals have been absolutely amazing. They are some of the friendliest in the Caribbean. More than the Grenadians? That's pretty hard to beat so I'd have to say that they are tied for now and that's really saying something because the people of Grenada are legendary. Every day we encounter friendly helping people. Sure, most of these people are in service industries and since tourism counts for more than 60% of the country's GDP they really know how to make sure foreigners have a great time. But today, we met a large, local family that tops them all.

Today, being Good Friday, is the beginning of a four day holiday in Antigua. We start the day celebrating the 10th birthday of one of our cruising friends. A small party on the beach under the warm morning sun, surrounded by lots of kids and families, very nice. The day moves on but we don't. While some of the families have to leave, a small group of us remain at the beach into the late afternoon. The kids are having a blast in the water, the grown ups are getting quality socializing time, the sun is warm, the trees are shady. It's a perfect day.

The afternoon passes and the beach is filling up. As I think I mentioned, it's Good Friday and it seems every other family on Antigua decided to spend the day on the beach with us. It's getting crowded but so far everyone's just having a great time. The kids are having so much fun they play right through lunch!

Dinner time arrives and we manage to squeeze a few morsels into them. Then, a local woman from the very large family next to us comes over with a paper plate heaped with pieces of a dark, rich cake dripping white icing.

"Here, have some cake for da kids," she says and leaves the plate at our table. We're stunned. Not only was it very thoughtful of her but the cake is delicious! Not too sweet, not too heavy, not too moist and not too dry. It's perfect. We later learn that the guy who baked it is a well known island chef. As the kids (and adults) are still licking their fingers another woman from the other family comes over and asks if we want some food. She takes our stunned silence as an affirmative and leads us, kids first, over to their table to serve us up some of their local grub. We each get a heaping plate full of food. I'm not sure of everything we got but there was "chop-chop" (a steamed spinach dish), fish, yam, and fungie (pronounced "foon-jee"). Fantastic! The boys even found things that they would eat.

After the meal we sat around and visited with the family who had been so generous. The group was an extended family from all over the island. Some of them were visiting from their homes in the US. Apparently they usually spend Good Friday eating local cuisine with family at someone's home but decided to go to the beach instead this year. Lucky us!

Austin said that the experience was one of the tops for the whole trip. I'd certainly have to agree. Go Antigua!

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

Time Together

Yesterday afternoon we dropped off Carla and Aaron at then airport in St. Maarten. Carla needs to be back "home" for a few weeks to help out some of her clients with their year ends. It's a trip that we planned for her to make from the beginning but even with all the forewarning it was a very sad occasion. I think that there's a saying that goes something like distance makes the heart grow fonder. I think it's the other way around. Spending the past 5 months sharing all these amazing experiences, both the good and the bad, has only brought us closer. And now we're looking at spending 3-4 weeks apart.

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

A crazy thing happened the other day. A boat came up behind ours and started to anchor. Everything looked OK so we got back to doing what we were doing. A few minutes later a dinghy drove up to our boat with an animated gentleman trying to tell us in French then broken English that he thinks that the guy on the boat behind us that just anchored has collapsed and died! Can you say that again? Yes, Dead. Mort. My dad zips over in our dinghy to help reset the anchor (the boat was dragging) and sure enough, out on the foredeck, hunched over the anchor windlass was the body of a recently deceased man.

The Coast Guard were called in and the body was hauled away. Two days later, they came to take the boat away. A large rescue boat towed the 49-foot Hunter sailboat into a marina.

Sad, but strange. Then yesterday it got even stranger. It turns out that the guy who just died was the victim of a brutal attack and robbery here in St. Martin just this past summer.

The original attack:

The recent death:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Welcoming An-Tiki

We were so fortunate to be in St. Maarten when the An-Tiki raft arrived after 66 days at sea, crossing the Atlantic Ocean. An-Tiki's intended destination was the Bahamas, so this was extra-special for all of us. A warm and friendly crowd of sailors and reporters greeted the crew of An-Tiki at the St. Maarten Yacht Club as they passed through the Dutch bridge at 5:30pm on April 6, 2011.

The An-Tiki expedition has a goal of raising £50,000 for the charity, Water Aid. They're a long way off their goal, so would surely welcome any tax-deductible contribution from near or afar.

Our friend, Maureen, and I interviewed John Russell and I was excited to meet Dr. Andrew Bainbridge, after learning he is from Canada. Dr. Bainbridge and his wife, Beryl, live in Edson, Alberta. John explained to us that for 5 days, they actually sailed backwards! They put out the sea anchor and just settled down to wait for wind.

Various delays caused a slow passage (they averaged 2 knots and their maximum speed was 4 knots), so they had to make landfall in St. Maarten instead.

The boys were amazed that a raft could cross the Atlantic Ocean. They know the swells are bigger in the Atlantic, bigger than the biggest swells (4 metres) we've experienced in the Caribbean Sea. They were also impressed by the small living space that was shared by the 4 crew on board. They learned that you can cross an ocean in almost anything. And what inspiring individuals are those four men!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Map Update

Updated the map to include our trip from Guadeloupe to St. Maarten and Anguilla.

View CARIB 2010 in a larger map

Getting Lost in Anguilla

Anguilla, a Brittish Overseas Territory, is a fantastic island. It has a reputation among the cruising world as being expensive, and while that can be true, there are ways to limit the expense and it is certainly worth it. We'd sure like to come back and visit a lot more.

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?"
Us: "Nope"
Guys in jeep: "An SUV?"
Us: "Nope"
Guys in jeep: "A minivan?"
Us: "Yup"
Guys in jeep: "Is it a rental?"
Us: "Yup"
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

DSC_8703 by skyec
DSC_8703, a photo by skyec on Flickr.

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

It can be quite astonishing to use the head in the darkness of night, and watch neon purple glow-worms flush down the toilet. In anchorages where the water doesn't circulate well, this has been our experience.

Last week, in Simpson Bay Lagoon, I even noticed a purple glow passing through our white sanitation hoses.

We all enjoy driving our dinghy at night in these waters, because our propwash glows purple-blue, making us look like we've installed one of those fancy lights that we see gracing the hulls of some megayachts.

It also creeps us out enough that we NEVER swim at anchor in lagoons ;)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fixing the carb on the outboard

I've had a couple detailed questions about our troubles with the dinghy outboard so I'll provide a summary of what we experienced and how it was fixed in case it can help someone else who has a similar problem. This might save them some time/money as I certainly missed some clues along the way that could have had this resolved a lot quicker. But I learned a lot more this way! :)

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 made it to St. Maarten OK. It took about 30 hours to skip over 1/2 of the leeward islands (must come back some day) and sail straight from Guadeloupe to St. Maarten. We had a lot of wind so had to really, really reduce sail overnight to avoid arriving before the sun came up. Highlight of the trip was probably seeing Montserrat (Monster Rat as the kids called it) venting on 2 sides. The island is on heightened alert so we didn't go ashore and decided to pass it on the safe windward side.

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

We've noticed the nights getting slowly colder as we move north.  A few islands farther south we switched to covering up with a sheet every night, not just the nights when the trade winds were blowing down our hatches. The other morning we even woke to find dew on the deck. Then last night it dropped below 20C and in the morning all of us woke up complaining of the cold. Sheets for covering were certainly not enough! We're going to have to go shopping for some light blankets if this keeps up. And this is starting to put a real chill on my evening cockpit showers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Disappointment in Les Saints

I think we messed up. We certainly must have done something wrong because we didn't have much fun in Iles des Saintes (Les Saintes). I'm certain it was us, it must have been. So many people have reported that it is a "must see" and that it was one of their best stops and that they could spend weeks there. Or did we get our navigation totally wrong and the islands we went to were not Les Saintes at all (discovered on All Saints day) but some other archipelago with crowded, rolly anchorages, dragging boats, and insane ferry drivers who roar through said crowded anchorage at 10 knots? The islands themselves looked amazing. Steep sided, dry volcanic islands with bright narrow beaches and many colorful looking houses. The guide books all rave about visiting the forts and the windward beaches.

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!

Austin joined me for a stroll to seek some creme glacee on Sunday evening after spending the afternoon as spectators at the opening parade for Carnival in downtown Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

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. 

Austin openly wondered how we were all going to manage when we get to Puerto Rico and have to speak Spanish. He suggested we should just start getting into the habit of greeting people with, "Bonsoir, good night, buenas noches," to cover all the bases.

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!

Actually it's our own fault. We've been so spoiled by the great wifi on all the other islands we were kind of shocked at how little good wifi there's been on the French islands. However, all we needed to do was add some time at the many internet cafes to our shore excursions and we'd be in business. Now we know and should be able to do better.

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 :)
Singing Slugs!

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

Just a short post as I stumble through a French keyboard in a comfortably air-conditioned cyber base in beautiful Diamant.

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.

Bonne journee!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Good-Bye St. Lucia

Good-Bye St. Lucia. You've been a very generous host. We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and would definitely want to spend more time here again some day. Some of our highlights have been:
St. Lucia from Pigeon I to the Pitons
  • 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

But now it's time to move on. We tried to leave today but too many things came up and had to be dealt with to get away at a reasonable hour but now everything is done. All our bits and pieces are put away. Our tanks are full and we are cleared out of the country. All that's left is to weigh anchor and set sail. The weather is still looking OK for the crossing to Martinique so we'll be up with first light and will slip out of here before even the Rastas are up. And as a final farewell, St. Lucia gave us a clear sky and a spectacular sunset this evening (green flash and all).

Au revoir St. Lucia, bonjour Martinique.

Sunset in Rodney Bay

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Developing Conversation Skills

Aaron and I met a very nice woman named Lise, at the marina showers yesterday. While we were at the sink together, Lise engaged Aaron in a brief conversation, in English (Lise is French). Firstly, Aaron asked Lise, "What's your name?" Lise responded, then followed up with asking Aaron for his name, his age, where he lives ("on a boat"), and what is the name of his boat. With a "Singing" prompt from mom, Aaron proudly answered, "Singing Frog!" Lise remarked, "Oh, that's you! You're on Singing Frog."

Until recently, Aaron's response to every question directed at him, has been, "I'm Aaron." What's your name? "I'm Aaron." "How old are you?" "I'm Aaron." ...

Well, similarly to the way I've noticed he is putting it all together to figure out verb tenses (he corrected himself a couple weeks ago, to say, "I saw it," instead of "I see it."), he seems to be paying attention to the pleasantries of conversation with people we are meeting for the first time.

So this is how the conversation went at the poolside bar yesterday evening. Austin, Aaron and I were seated at the bar and Aaron began the conversation:

A3: "Austin, what's your name?"

A1 (looking a bit perplexed): "My name's Austin."

A3 (questioningly): "No. What's your name ... Three?"

C (aha!): "Oh, THAT question is (whispered into Aaron's ear) 'How old are you?'"

A3 (to Austin): "Are hold who you?" then, he immediately seemed embarrassed.

C (whispering in A3's ear, and more slowly this time): "How old are you?"

A3 (looking down with a scowl on his face): "I can't say that."

A1 (smiling): "I'm 11."