Saturday, November 27, 2010

Back on the New River

Gregg can go more into specifics about the "engine" problem. I will nutshell it by saying there was air in the fuel line and the fuel pump was not the problem. He got it working well enough to transit the New River last Tuesday. So, we are finally off the fuel dock and safely tucked away on the New River at Sailboat Bend. It's a nice spot directly across the river from the Museum of Science and Discovery, which Quinn points out to me every day asking when I'm going to take him there.

Our next stop may or may not be Miami, enroute to Bimini. We're in no hurry to leave Ft. Lauderdale as we have friends in town and plenty of tasks to accomplish. Since we've moved to the river, I've mostly been catching up on provisioning, cleaning, and today, laundry. School for Quinn has temporarily been put on hold while we take care of some things, but hopefully we'll get back to it soon.

Thanksgiving on the boat was nice - we roasted a whole (6.5 lb) turkey on our little rail-mounted marine grill. It turned out beautifully. Kathy and John (Oceana) had intended to stop by for some Mexican Train after dinner, but we all needed naps.

Last night we went (with Kathy and John) to the "Get Lit" festival on the Riverwalk where the mayor officially flips the switch on the Christmas lights. The Riverwalk is particularly lovely this time of year. It was a fun night and Quinn even got to put in a couple requests with Santa. There are photos posted on the website.

I have been slowly working on the website as wifi here is terrible. I have added a couple more photos to our St. Augustine page and updated our position, in addition to the Ft. Lauderdale photos.

Well, off to the laundry.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ft Lauderdale... at the Fuel Dock

The passage from St Augustine to Ft Lauderdale went without any drama... almost.

Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were very nice. We had decent wind, if a little light, so we did some motor sailing and also had a chance to use our light air gennaker sail.

Late Wednesday night we passed Cape Canaveral about 3 miles offshore and I was able to make out Space Shuttle Discovery on it's launch pad. Discovery is scheduled to launch early Saturday morning so we slipped through before they closed off the area to marine traffic. It wouldn't do to be sailing along as booster rockets dropped into the sea around us. But what a great view it would have been!

Thursday evening the wind piped up giving us 20-25 knot winds and 5-7 foot seas. This was a bit more than forecast, but it wasn't on the nose so I had no complaints!

By early Friday AM the seas built to about 6-8 ft and became confused. This was due to the Gulf stream being WAY inshore and piling up against the strong North wind. Now I did have something to complain about! From Lake Worth all the way south to Ft Lauderdale we were fighting 3 to 4 knots of current from the Gulf Stream. We tucked in as close as 1 mile from shore, but it didn't help.

With the wind directly on the stern and Mirasol slewing about in confused seas, it took only a few unplanned violent gybes to convince us to drop the main sail. So, with both engines running and a little jib flying we were doing 8.5 knots but only making 4.5 knots headway.

We arrived outside Port Everglades' (Ft Lauderdale) channel entrance just after dawn on Friday and slowed down to wait for a cargo ship to transit the channel. As soon as the engines were idled, the starboard engine died. A few attempts to re-start failed. The engine would start and then die again after a couple seconds. I figured we had clogged fuel filters from gunk in our tanks being stirred up from rough weather. This was disappointing as I am very careful with the fuel we select and take a lot of care to avoid any water in the tank which would lead to algae growth.

We motored through the channel and into the ship turning basin which is just inside the entrance channel. While Jen turned circles in the ship turning basin keeping well clear of any ships, I changed both fuel filters on the starboard engine. The port authority kept coming by to tell us we couldn't be there and Jen kept begging engine problems. In the 15 minutes I took to change both fuel filters, the Port Authority had threatened us with a $50,000 fine and jail time if we didn't move. Nice.

(In the light hearted spirit of this blog, a rant concerning the harassment of my family while we were on a sailboat experiencing engine trouble... has been deleted. However, the words Police State came to mind.)

The filter change didn't solve the problem. Not desiring to be incarcerated, we left the area on one engine, transited the 17th St Causeway Bridge and carefully navigated up the busy ICW to the Bahia Mar marina.

Now a catamaran runs just fine on one engine when your going in a straight line at speed, but at slow speeds you tend to go in a circle. That's not much help with docking or maneuvering in congested areas with lots of current. As there were no available anchorages or viable slips, we talked the marina into letting us camp at their fuel dock. Very nice of them as we are crowding their business a little. Thank you Bahia Mar!
Once on the dock I continued my trouble-shooting with no success. My best guess was a bad fuel pump or some type of blockage so I called in the pros. Multi-Tech Marine, a firm with which I've had good experience in the past, arrived within an hour and a half of my call and determined the problem was with the low pressure fuel pump. They were surprised, and said that "those never fail". An unfortunate result of the "never fail" status was that in all of Ft Lauderdale, there was no replacement part available. Really? In Ft Lauderdale??? So, we're stuck here at the fuel dock until Monday when the part will arrive.

The mechanic said I might be able to bypass the low pressure fuel pump so that we could leave the fuel dock and get into a slip, but the results would be unreliable. Hmmm... "unreliable" is a bad thing for an engine to be when negotiating the New River in Ft Lauderdale where the river is narrow, busy, has a fast current, and throngs with very, VERY expensive yachts. So we're camping on the fuel dock for the weekend. But hey, it's Ft Lauderdale and it's 80 degrees and sunny. We'll manage just fine.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

St. Augustine, FL

Our unexpected stop in St Augustine, Florida turned out to be a great visit. We spent 6 nights here and had a lot of fun. Our only difficulty was deciding where to eat dinner. Many, many tasty options.

We spent the first two nights on Anastasia Island and toured the light house and an alligator farm. The light house was built in 1874 and is still in operation as an official aid to navigation. Jen took Quinn to the Alligator Farm while I took care of some maintenance chores.

After the two days on Anastasia Island we moved over to the St Augustine City Docks. St Augustine has a wonderful waterfront district with a lot of things to see and do. Quinn and my favorite is the Castillo De San Marcos fort. This fort was built by the Spanish to protect St Augustine from the British and French as well as pirates in the late 1600's. It is still in excellent condition and is maintained by the US National Park Service. The best part was watching as one of the original cannons was fired over the bay.

We were lucky to discover it was Pirates Weekend this weekend in St Augustine and we enjoyed that festival quite a lot. Magic shows, pirate skits, a climbing wall and lots of bouncy things to climb on kept Quinn very entertained.

Yesterday I spent the day waxing the starboard hull. I had waxed the port hull in Norfolk. This is NOT my favorite way to spend a day, but since this is the last floating dock we'll be on for a long time, it needed to be taken care of.

Kathy and John of Oceana arrived yesterday afternoon and we joined them for dinner at The Tasting Room. Fantastic tapas and the service was very good. If you like tapas, don't miss this place if you come to St Augustine.

Tomorrow we leave for Ft Lauderdale. The huge system that was creating all the big seas is gone and today's cold front should give us favorable winds.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

St. Augustine, FL - A Convenient Detour

After posting the previous whereabouts blog I downloaded the latest weather via our satellite phone. What popped out at me right away was the updated forecast including 10-12 ft waves for Florida south of Sebastian Inlet... which would have been more or less on the beam until we rounded Jupiter Inlet just north of Ft Lauderdale. Since we will be hugging the coast to avoid the Gulf Stream we'd be in shallow water which means the waves will be steep and stacked up close together. Yuck.

We were just off of St Augustine Florida when I read this. Suddenly we remembered that St Augustine was supposed to be a wonderful port to visit and wasn't it a shame that we would miss it if we went straight to Ft Lauderdale! Back out comes the satellite phone and two minutes later we had reservations at Conch Inn Marina. Jen put the helm over and I hoisted all sail and gunned the engines. Only two and a half hours until sunset and St. Augustine's inlet is a little tricky for a first visit with shifting shoals and breakers on both sides. We needed to make time.

We made the inlet with a little time to spare, are now tied up at the marina are enjoying snacks and beverages. Tomorrow we'll explore St Augustine and start watching for the next weather window that will take us to Ft Lauderdale.

Charleston SC - Ft Lauderdale FL 2010: Day 1

The first day of our passage from Charleston, SC to Ft Lauderdale, FL went very smoothly.  Quite literally smooth sailing (well, motor-sailing anyway).   The light North winds that were predicted were overwhelmed by land and sea breezes generated by the heating and cooling of the east coast landmass so we generally had light wind on the beam mixed with 2-3 foot rollers from the north.  

Today we are a little further out to sea and aren’t affected by the land and sea breezes so we’re getting the 5-10 knot North winds now.  That’s not much to sail with so we’re motor sailing once again.  Tomorrow the winds are supposed to pick up and by tomorrow night we’ll probably be in 20 knot North winds with 7-9 foot following seas building to 8-10 footers as we reach Ft Lauderdale. 

All three of us are doing well and are looking forward to packing away the cold weather clothing.

We were visited several times by dolphin pods.  On the first visit, the pod was especially playful.  Several would jump clear out of the water beside our boat while others were swimming and playing off the bows.  Then we saw something new to us.  One of the dolphins would swim upside down beneath another dolphin and they would “tickle” each other’s belly with their fins.  We’re not sure if they were playing or flirting, but it was fun to watch!

This morning Jen was greeted by a very large pod of dolphins.  She estimates there were at least 30 swimming all around Mirasol.   She grabbed the camera and took a nice video of some of them playing off the port bow.  We’ll post that on the web site when we get in.  Jen also saw a large sea turtle this morning.

One other remarkable bit of sea life we saw were thousands of globular brown and tan jellyfish.  They were floating near the surface just outside of Charleston.   For the first several hours of the voyage, you could look anywhere around the boat and see dozens at any one instant.  I think it is a seasonal thing as I recall seeing something like this the last time we sailed south from Charleston in November.

That’s all for now. 


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Norfolk VA to Charleston SC, 2010

We're now in Charleston at the Charleston Maritime Center. Charleston is a great place to hang out and we're planning on staying here through the end of the month. We're expecting Halloween to be great fun as Charleston is known for it's haunted buildings. We're booked on a ghost tour for Halloween evening.

We stayed in Norfolk a little longer than we wanted to since the weather wasn't cooperating for a passage around Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Since the Cape can be a nasty place to be in bad conditions we are quite particular about the weather forecast when we go.

We skipped one weather window that looked good, but had the potential to leave us offshore in 45 knot winds if the system accelerated, which wouldn't be a pleasant thing. As it turned out, the system slowed down and we could have had a great passage, but it wasn't worth the risk.

A week later, the weather looked pretty good. Not perfect, but pretty good. The weather for the turn around Cape Hatteras looked fine, but once we made the turn the forecast was for us to get south west winds at 10-15 knots for about 6 hours. Southwest winds would be right on the nose, but 10-15 knots doesn't produce much in the way of waves and we could motor straight into it.

Or Not.

We left on Wednesday morning. Wednesday and Wednesday night went as planned with a bumpy ride out of the Chesapeake Bay followed by an easy ride down the Virginia and North Carolina Outer Banks on a broad reach. Cape Hatteras treated us kindly and we passed the Diamond Shoal light sometime around 8 AM on Thursday in moderate winds and seas.

As we rounded the Cape, the wind slowly picked up and backed to the Southwest, right on our nose. This was expected and we hoped that it would clock around to the north soon, as NOAA's forecast predicted. It wasn't to be.

By Thursday afternoon we were pounding into 5-7 foot waves and 20-25 knot winds. Not the best point of sail for Mirasol and Captain and Crew were, um, displeased. We had expected a brief 6-10 hour stint of beating into 10-15 knots of wind around Beaufort, but this was getting very old really fast. In all, it was about 18 hours of 20-25 knot wind on the nose in big steep 5'-7' seas leaving Mirasol and crew very thoroughly crusted with salt and somewhat dissatisfied with NOAA's forecast.

Finally, on Friday morning around 4AM the cold front we were waiting on passed through and blessed us with a welcome 10 knot North wind. We left the motors running for several hours and motor-sailed with the jib only. The big main sail would slat back and forth too heavily in the light winds and confused seas. We used the time to have a nice lunch, wash down the cockpit to get the 1/8th inch of salt crust off everything, and successfully test the water maker after a summer of sitting idle. A pod of about 15 dolphins came to welcome us back into the Atlantic and played about the bows for a half hour or so. They were a welcome site and cheered the crew almost as much and the wind shift!

By 1pm motors are off, seas are abaft the beam and crew was relaxing to the "Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" on the TV.

Friday night continued with moderate north winds and we sailed and motor sailed the rest of the way to Charleston without any more drama. Early in the evening, about 30 miles off the coast a small bird landed on our decks. It was exhausted and very small, so we're not sure where it came from, possibly a passing ship. It was certainly too young to fly all that way as it was not a sea bird and couldn't rest on the water.

While birds and I don't get along very well (due to the mess they make on our decks) I was unwilling to deny passage to the poor little thing. We decided to give it passage to Charleston and not shoo it off the boat. Unfortunately, it did not survive the cold night and exhaustion so we gave it a burial at sea. (Indoor accommodations were out of the question!)

As we arrived in Charleston, another Lagoon 420 was just entering the channel, and we were pleased to see our friends Linda and Rick of MakeItSo, who were also heading for the Charleston Maritime Museum. They were arriving after a passage from Baltimore. Jan and Mark of Seas The Day (yet another Lagoon 420) spent the summer here and we are glad to see them as well. It will be a lot of fun catching up with everyone.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Farewell to the Chesapeake Bay

Fall has arrived and it's time to head south once again. The leaves are changing and the air is chilly. The siren songs of the turquoise waters, beaches and coral heads of the Caribbean are beckoning. It's time to go!

We spent August and September tied up to a dock in our favorite Chesapeake location, North Point Marina in Rock Hall. Rock Hall is a fairly quiet town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. With the decline of the fishing industry they throw some fun festivals to keep the tourists coming in. We were in town for Pirates Weekend and the Fall Fest this year. Both were a lot of fun.

North Point Marina is a great place for us to settle in and catch up with some friends we haven't seen in a while. Aside from the socializing, we took care of routine maintenance items, brought the sails to a sail loft for some minor repairs and went on a couple of road trips. Quinn played in the pool, worked on his bike riding and took a couple of horseback riding lessons. As it was a very hot August, we were happy to be tied to a dock so we could use our air conditioners all we wanted.

This summer we took a few road trips. While in Charleston, we drove to West Virginia to visit family at Lindsey and Seth Tinkler's wedding. While in Rock Hall, we drove to Chicago for a visit with many of our old friends there and stayed with Frank and Jen Krause's family for several days. Quinn had the opportunity to get reacquainted with his friend Abby and Jen was able to play in a real kitchen. We also took a trip to Delaware to visit with Randy and Susan Williamson, who took us on a tour of Philadelphia's Ben Franklin Museum as well as Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. Longwood is an incredible botanical garden and conservatory founded by a member of the DuPont family on one of their estates. Check out Jen's photos on our web site. If we lived in the area, we'd certainly visit often.

Even with all these cross country road trips, I'm happy to report that we logged many more miles on the water than on the road in the past year. We sailed Mirasol over 4,600 nautical miles during our winter of '09-'10 tour of the Caribbean islands.

A big reason for spending the summer in the Chesapeake is the hope of avoiding hurricanes. So far, so good. Over the past three summers we've had a couple of brushes with tropical storms and one hurricane scare: this year's Class 4 Earl, which happily stayed well offshore as it passed by.

Several days ago, the remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole ran right over us in Rock Hall. It was supposed to be just a little breezy and rainy, but it turned out to be a little more than that. There were some peppy gale-force winds for half the day and gusts as high as 52 knots. The winds were out of the South all day and stacked the water up in the north side of the Bay. At low tide Thursday night the docks and parking lot were under water and there was concern of flooding in the marina office come high tide. Luckily, by high tide, the wind had swung around to the North and pushed some water back down the Bay, preventing further flooding. As far as I know, there was no damage to the boats or the marina.

Friday morning, we woke to find the water back down to a reasonable level. As Jen prepared Mirasol for an overnight passage to Norfolk Virginia, I helped clear out some of the cubic yards of debris left behind on the docks and parking lot by the receding tide.

After saying good-bye to our friends, we slipped the lines and left North Point Marina around 11AM. It was a bittersweet departure. While we were itching to start south for another season in the Tropics, this was probably our last summer stay in the Chesapeake. We have found very good friends in North Point Marina and will miss them all.

The trip down the Bay was breezy and a little bouncy. Happily, the wind was on our stern most of the way so the crew was pretty comfortable. The northern half of the Bay was full of debris from the storm and in spite of keeping a close lookout we hit a log with a resounding thump. Fortunately, it caused no damage to Mirasol. She is a sturdy vessel.

We arrived in Norfolk on Saturday morning in time for a children's festival at the waterfront. Quinn had a great time and was pleased that there were no "grown-up things" to do, only "kid stuff". Since then we've been busy visiting the local Naval Museum, Children's Museum and doing some shopping in the downtown mall.

Come Saturday, we'll be ready to head for Charleston as soon as we get a solid 3 day window. The Norfolk Beer Fest on the waterfront is on Friday, so we have plans in the meantime!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Long time... no post...

I know it's been a long time since we've blogged. We've actually been pretty darn busy.

It was a whirlwind trip up the Chesapeake, stopping for just a couple days in Norfolk, then for just a few days in Yorktown (where we were fortunate to see our friends on Simplicity). From there we had an overnight passage up to Rock Hall and have mostly been settling into our spot there ever since. Gregg's parents were in town for a week of that time and we've been busy catching up with everybody at North Point.

As I write this, I am sitting (drinking coffee and recovering from last night's party) at the home of some good friends (the Krause's, for those of you that know them) in Cary, IL, which is a northwest suburb of Chicago. We got to see a lot of our Chicago-area friends last night, most of them for the first time since we left two years ago. They are definitely what I miss the most about Chicago.

Anyway, we actually drove out as it was cheaper to rent a car for a MONTH, than for the three of us to fly and rent a car here for a week. The added and obvious side benefit is we have access to wheels for a month - a huge treat when the nearest well-stocked grocery store is about 20 miles away and the only nearby small grocery is 1.5 miles away.

Our plan is to stay here until probably Tuesday morning then we'll make the drive back to Maryland. It's not a lot of time to spend here, but it's a little unsettling to leave the boat for so long.

Gregg is a better writer than I am, so I'll wrap it up here. I'm sure he'll post as soon as the muse is with him again.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Charleston, SC to Norfolk VA - Day 3, Arrival

We arrived at Waterside Marina in Norfolk this morning a little after 10 after a 425nm passage.  The last day of the trip was the best, as we had beam winds, following seas, no storms, and no need for the engines except for the trip up the Elizabeth River to Waterside Marina.  It was certainly our best passage up or down North Carolina's Outer Banks. 
Waterside is a good stop for us as it is close to groceries, a mall, a park, a children's and maritime museums, and lots of restaurants.  My only beef with it is the 2+ hour motor to get in and out of the place.   It's also a fun place to meet folks doing the Inter-Coastal Waterway thing.
After securing Mirasol at the dock and settling in, Jen took Quinn over to the fountain  by the marina for Quinn to burn off some energy.  I suspect she's enjoying a cool beverage as well.  It's a neat fountain designed for kids to play in during the day and at night is lit with changing colored lights, making it functional art, I guess.  To get the idea of it, think of a 20' by 40' sidewalk with a couple dozen nozzles built in that shoot water up in timed intervals.  The kids love it - running through it and screaming.  When I was a kid my version was running through the sprinkler.  I didn't have fancy lights though.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Charleston, SC to Norfolk, VA - Day 2

Day two continued to be a motor sail with very mild seas well into the afternoon.  Late afternoon found us off Cape Lookout, NC with winds increasing to the low teens and the waves staying moderate at 2 – 4 feet.  As evening arrived, so did the “scattered” thunderstorms.  They were marching one after another, right up the Gulf Stream to our starboard.  We were happy that we elected not to swing further offshore to take better advantage of the lift from the current since that would have placed us in the path of all this rain. 

As darkness fell it became evident that there was quite a lot of lightning activity, with many stunning ground (sea) strikes, making me even happier that we weren’t another 10 miles offshore.  It was quite the light show.

Around 3AM this morning as I came back on shift, our luck dodging the squalls gave out.  We found ourselves wet and nervously watching the lightning strikes all around us.   My laptop, the sat phone, a spare GPS and VHF all went into the oven in the hope they would be protected in the event of a strike.  Jen happily went off shift to catch some sleep while I sat at the helm running over a mental to-do list in the event of a strike on the boat.  The lighting activity was so frequent and brilliant that I found myself using the light of the lightning flashes to look for passing ships since the after-images had ruined my ability to see anything in the dark.

After a tense three hours, the squalls moved off a bit and the lightning became a glorious lightshow again, instead of a threat.

The end of our second full day at sea found us just off the Diamond Shoals Light of Cape Hatteras in a minor thunder shower.  After that the skies cleared up and we’re on a sunny downwind run up the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Tomorrow we should arrive in the Chesapeake Bay.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Charleston, SC to Norfolk, VA - Day 1

Day one was much less eventful than the first day of the passage from Ft Lauderdale to Charleston.  Weather was as forecasted and quite mild.  We motored and motor-sailed the whole time as the wind was consistently  under 10 knots on the stern and we wanted to average a minimum speed of 5.5 knots.  Seas have been extremely mild with a slight swell from the SE and wind waves under 2 feet, and while we had a good lightning show from a storm offshore, we stayed dry and had no concerns with thunderstorms in our vicinity.

I saw several pods of dolphins busy fishing and one small pod came over to swim with us for a little while.  Early this morning Jen spotted a very large sea turtle with a brown shell.  We passed within 15 feet of it and she estimated the shell to be almost 3 feet in diameter with a head about the size of her forearm.  Quinn and I missed out as we were dozing.

As I write this we’re being investigated by a US Navy helicopter based either on a cruiser that is about 3 miles off our port or maybe an aircraft carrier nearby that we can’t see.  We have several very large blobs on our radar that are too far away to identify.  I was seeing a hit very close by behind us on the radar that wasn’t there a minute ago so I grabbed the binoculars to investigate.  No ship, but one big helicopter heading straight for us.  They veered off about a quarter mile away and headed towards one of the unidentified blobs.   Nice diversion from an otherwise quiet day at sea.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Charleston SC to Norfolk VA - Departure

We left Charleston, SC this morning around 9 AM after fueling up. The skies are clearing and we have virtually flat seas with the exception of a very slight swell from the southeast. The forecast is for scattered T-storms today and then fair weather for the next day or so. We might catch some rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Today and tomorrow will be mostly motoring but we should be motor sailing tomorrow and sailing by early Tuesday morning. It looks like it is going to be hot passage, as it was already 80 degrees at 7AM this morning. The rain when it arrives will probably be very welcome... as long as it arrives without too much drama.

The plan is to arrive at Waterside Marina in Norfolk sometime Wednesday. We'll stay there for a couple of days and then head to Yorktown, VA where we plan to celebrate Quinn's 5th birthday at Busch Gardens.

The passage is about 425nm and will be our third time rounding the Diamond Shoals off of Cape Hatteras. When we arrive in Norfolk that will have closed the circle on our Caribbean adventure of 2009-2010.

We spent a whole month in Charleston this time, and enjoyed ourselves quite a lot. While here we made a side trip via a rental car to West Virginia where we attended the wedding of my cousin Lindsey to Seth Tinkler. It was a nice wedding and we were able to visit with a lot of family we haven't seen in a long time so it was great fun.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ft. Lauderdale To Charleston, SC - Arrived!

The rest of the second day was an easy motor sail. With anywhere from 5 to 10 knots on the beam it was a very comfortable ride, but too little wind to just sail when we have perfectly good motors and plenty of fuel. We passed a die-hard who was sticking it out without motoring and he was making about 2 knots. In 85 degree weather, that's not much fun to me.

Mid afternoon we were lucky to be visited by several pods of dolphins. Two pods numbered at least 15 dolphins and we saw others off and on until dusk. It always brings a smile when I see them and Quinn and Jen love them as well.

We were careful to fine tune our arrival time in Charleston by adjusting how much motor assist we used. This was important to us as we would be docking at night without dock hand assistance in a marina that has up to 2 knots of current mid-tide.

As it turns out, we timed it well with only about a half knot current. That timing was fortunate as the slip we were assigned was only 6 feet longer than Mirasol, with a big Cat behind us the dock in front of us and a finger pier one slip over. We slipped in and wiggled Mirasol back and forth about a dozen times and worked her into the slip. Doing that in a 2 knot current would have been a bit touchy. Anyway, I'm sure the Cat behind us will be surprised when they wake up to new neighbors.

Time for some sleep. Later today... RIBS!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ft. Lauderdale To Charleston, SC - Day 2

The trip north to Charleston, SC from Ft Lauderdale has been an interesting one so far.   We left Ft. Lauderdale around 4:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday with the intention of arriving in Charleston in the early afternoon on Saturday.  The weather forecast was pretty good with the exception of 10 – 15 knots of wind just North of East for the first few hours of the trip in the Gulf Stream.  However, it was supposed to die down and shift south Wednesday evening.    The Gulf Stream flows due North by Ft. Lauderdale, so we thought the very small northerly component of the wind would not mean much chop in the Gulf Stream.  We were wrong.    So was the forecast.  What we found was 15-20 knot winds from the North-Northeast with 3-5 foot wind waves plus a steep fast moving ground swell from the Northeast.  After about two hours of uncomfortable bashing and rolling about in the Gulf Stream, both Jen and Quinn were getting green and we decided we’d had enough.  We turned due west to get out of the stream as quickly as possible and within about a half hour things were improving.  Within a mile of shore we turned back north in much more comfortable seas but without the lift of the current. 

By the time we reached Lake Worth, about 20 miles north of Ft Lauderdale, we were no longer able to avoid the stream as it runs right up along coast.  Fortunately, the winds had decreased enough to make the seas tolerable in the 2 knot current.  We didn’t get the predicted shift to the south until much later on Thursday.  Most of the morning Thursday was spent with Jen and Quinn just holding off being seasick as the seas were still very lumpy and confused with a persistent and steep NE swell.  The afternoon was an improvement, but still uncomfortable.  When the wind did shift to the South on Thursday evening, it just about shut off. 

All Thursday night was a motor as we were whisked north by a 3 to 3.5 knot current in glassy water.  After all the washtub action of the previous 24 hours, this was a welcome improvement.  It was also very eerie and beautiful with a clear sky full of stars.

At dawn on Friday the wind picked up from the West and we set sails and shut off the engine.  With the current we were doing better than 8 knots with less than 10 knots of wind on the beam.  Quite nice!  This lasted for about three hours until the Gulf Stream started to set to the Northeast which forced us to beat into the west wind to compensate.

Mid morning on Friday we found ourselves being overtaken by a US Navy Aircraft Carrier going 20 knots and conducting flight activities.   After a jet fly-by at about 200 feet, they called us on the radio and asked us politely to turn to starboard and maintain a minimum of 5 miles CPA (Closest Point of Approach).  Well, we tried our best to get out of the way, but the best we could manage was 3 miles CPA by the time they were passing us.  That earned us another fly-by, this time by a helicopter, but they didn’t call us on the radio to complain.  I doubt we looked too threatening.  We did get a fun show of several jets making training runs: taking off and landing on the carrier as well as a number of touch-and-go passes.  If my Top Gun movie recollection is correct, it’s called a bolster.  Or not.  Anyway, it was fun, and worth the 5 mile detour East.

As I write this we are passing out of the Gulf Stream as it turns Northeast around South Carolina and North Carolina and we are heading due North towards Charleston.   We could see the border of the Gulf Stream as we approached it.  The wave action and color are quite different, and there is a fringe of seaweed and debris right at the border. 

We are well ahead of schedule right now and may end up arriving in Charleston sometime very early tomorrow AM rather than in the afternoon.  We’ve visited Charleston a couple of times already so we’re comfortable with a night time landfall.  If it works out that way, it would be nice as that will give us an extra day in Charleston before we have to head north again.  I’m already looking forward to the tasty rib dinner that has become tradition on landfall in Charleston.

Check our Current Position link on to see where we are.  I think Jen’s uploaded a lot of new photos for the Ft. Lauderdale visit as well.

Ft. Lauderdale, Spring 2010

It was a busy time and lot of fun in Ft Lauderdale once again.  On arrival,  we cruised up the New River enjoying the sights of the fabulous riverfront houses and mansions.  What a fun place to live if you can afford it.  This time around it was a lot less intimidating transiting the New River as we were familiar with the current, bridge protocol and heavy traffic.  We were met by Matt the dock master at our slip along the New River between 3rd Ave and Andrews Ave.  We like this spot a lot.  It is close to the marina office, is two short blocks from a great supermarket and right across the bridge from museums, cinemas, restaurants etc on Los Olas Blvd.  After one day on the New River, we moved up the river to the Lauderdale Marine Center where we were scheduled to haul out the next morning.

LMC is a massive boatyard and marina.  The boatyard services modest yachts on up to mega-yachts.  Since Mirasol's beam is over 24 feet, we had to use the huge (and expensive) 300 Ton travel lift to get hauled out.  It was fun to be surrounded by 100+ ft mega yachts all blocked up on the hard, all getting our bottoms cleaned and painted.  While on the hard we had the bottom and saildrives cleaned and painted as well as the shaft seals on the saildrives replaced.  The seals seemed to be in good shape, but given the cost and inconvenience of a haulout, we decided it was wise to replace them anyway.  While the pros were dealing with the messy work of cleaning and painting the hulls, I took the opportunity to remove, clean and reinstall the transom rub rails which have been slowly working themselves loose.

Jen and I discussed doing the painting ourselves, but it didn't make much sense.  We don't have the vacuums, sanders, ladders, and other materials required to remove the old paint and put on new.  Plus, since boatyards and 4 year olds don't mix, Jen would be watching Quinn and unable to help with the work so it would have taken several days.  Given the cost of renting the equipment we needed and the additional cost of lay days in the boatyard, hotel and rental car expenses, it was only a little more expensive to pay someone else to do it.  Oh, and a lot more fun for someone else to do it too...

While the pros were working on the hull and I was working on the transom, Jen and Quinn went to see Shrek 4, visited a Children's museum and did some shopping.  On the third day my work on Mirasol was finished and I took Quinn to the beach.  Everything went well and we had no rain delays so Mirasol was splashed only three days after being hauled out.  We motored back down the New River to our spot by Andrews Ave where we stayed for about two weeks.

While on the New River we took care of a lot of chores that needed done such as doctor appointments, cleaning, provisioning and maintenance.  We also sampled some of the local restaurants and spent a wonderful day with our friends Brian, Shannon and Connor Hermann in their backyard.  Conner is about a year younger than Quinn and they got along very well.

Maintenance items we accomplished while here include replacing the fresh water pump on the port engine, replacing coolant, thermostats, belts and raw water impellers on both engines, replacing the starboard engine's exhaust mixing elbow, clearing out a clogged head (what fun!), reprogramming a malfunctioning Raymarine ST70 instrument, and replacing the broken Raymarine VHF.  Quinn got to visit another museum, a couple of parks and did a lot of bike riding.  Maybe we'll take off the training wheels in Charleston.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back in the USA

Dock lines are ON!  

We're tied up on the New River where we spent Christmas in 2008.  Matt, the Dock Master here remembered us and came out to greet us as we pulled alongside to tie up. 

We called in to US Customs to clear in and they took our info and that gives us 24 hours to appear in person.  This policy makes arrival in a big port like this much more convenient.  We'll take a taxi tomorrow morning.

It will be a busy week here.  Tomorrow we will move the boat further up New River to the Lauderdale Marine Center where we will get the boat hauled out for new bottom paint and other maintenance.  I have a lot of chores I want to accomplish while the boat is out of the water and getting them done without interfering with the guys sanding and painting the boat will be interesting.  

Once the boat is back in the water we'll move her back down the New River to where we're docked now and spend a few days getting ready for the trip to Charleston, SC.  I enjoy spending time on the New River with all the incredible mega yachts that get towed through here, and easy access to ANYTHING you might need for boat maintenance.  However, we do need to move on soon. We're pushing a little to be sure we make it to Norfolk, VA in time to leave the boat there so that we can attend a wedding in Kentucky late in June.

Our trip ended with a bang, but fortunately the bang was not ours.  As we were waiting for the 17th ST bridge to open so that we could enter New River, a catamaran that had followed us into the channel passed us and headed straight for the bridge.  I was surprised as it was about the same size catamaran as Mirasol and we are 10' taller than the bridge clearance.  Jen exclaimed that they weren't going to make it, but when I looked at it I figured looks are deceiving whenever approaching a bridge and since they were not slowing down at all they must know they can get under it.  Nope.  BANG!  With at least 5 feet of their mast unable to pass under the bridge, the catamaran's bows rose out of the water and the boat tipped back at least 30 degrees before the forestay snapped and the whole rig came down, folding in half as it went.  We were stunned.  No one appeared to have been hurt as the entire mast fell to the port side of the boat.  

I can not imagine what the captain had been thinking.  The bridge is a massive structure that could not be missed, it's clearance is clearly marked on the charts, and there were at least 2 other sailboats ahead of it who had pulled to the side to wait for the bridge to open.  Either he didn't see the bridge for some reason or he felt he could easily clear it as he did not slow down at all and hit the bridge at about 5 or 6 knots.  All I can guess is the captain went below and left a guest at the helm without giving them instructions to stop before the bridge. What a mess!  

With this reminder of how a good day can turn bad fast, Jen and I were very happy to get the dock lines tied on and the ice cold beer opened at last!

BVI to Ft Lauderdale - Day 7

The past 24 hours have been a pleasant motor-sail through the Northeast and Northwest Providence Channels of the Bahamas. The winds clocked from East to Southwest so we went from a dead run to a beat, but winds were mostly under 10 knots, so it was a motor-sail the whole way. We were frequently able to see land during this part of the passage, which is a treat after 5 days of an unremarkable horizon.

We also saw lots of ships while transiting the Bahamas. The New Providence Channel is a busy shipping channel for both cargo and cruise ships. We always had a ship in view or at least on radar. At one point last night around 3AM Jen commented to me that she felt like an air traffic controller as she had 5 ships on radar, all in close proximity to Mirasol.

At about 5:00 AM this morning we rounded the northern tip of the Great Bahamas Banks and entered the Straits of Florida. We set our course for Miami so that as we drift north with the Gulf Stream during our crossing we should end up somewhere around Ft Lauderdale by the time we get to the Florida coast. As I write this, we have a 3.4 knot northerly current and a whopping 4 knots of wind from the east. I am glad our port engine continues to behave itself.

We’ve seen quite a few sport fisherman fishing boats boiling across the Straits on their way to clear in to the Bahamas at Bimini for a long weekend of fishing. I must admit a twinge of envy knowing they will make the crossing in under 2 hours instead of the leisurely 8 hours we will require for the same distance. I do not, however, envy their fuel bill!

Once we arrive in Ft Lauderdale and clear customs, our plan is to find a slip for the night along the New River. Quinn will be excited to see the Jungle Queen – a brightly decorated double-decker river boat full of tourists that cruises up and down the New River. He would seldom let it pass by without running on deck and waving during our last visit in December 2008. All three of us will be excited to step foot on land and spend some time off the boat. Jen has already decided that she wants pizza for dinner tonight. Yummy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

BVI to Ft Lauderdale - Day 6

Welcome to the Bahamas, Mon! Most of yesterday we were working our way up the Atlantic side of the south eastern islands and cays of the Bahamas. Just now we made the turn around Eleuthera Island and into the Northeast Providence Channel. The Providence Channel is a large body of deep water that runs generally East-West and separates the Abacos and Grand Bahama to the North from the rest of the Bahamas to the South. We can see Eleuthera Island to our port and it’s nice to be in sight of land for a little while after 5 days at sea. Jen and I wish we had time to make landfall here and enjoy a few weeks in the Bahamas, but we just don’t have the time. Between the haul-out in Ft Lauderdale for new bottom paint and the need to get north of the hurricane box we need to give it a pass this time around. If we return to the Caribbean next year I expect we’ll be sure to leave enough time in the schedule for several weeks in the Bahamas on the way back north.

We have been motoring for the past 24 hours as the winds have been under 10 knots directly on the stern, giving us only a few knots of useful wind. Normally we motor on only one engine to conserve fuel, but about 14 hours ago fuel became a secondary concern. I downloaded a weather update using our satellite phone and discovered that the winds are expected to pick up from the North mid Friday and continue blowing from the N-NE through Sunday. North winds will make the Gulf Stream crossing lumpy and uncomfortable, so Jen made the call: “light the fires and kick the tires, honey” and since then we’ve been making our best speed towards Ft Lauderdale. We have sufficient fuel to motor the whole way, but I’m hoping that won’t be necessary.

Those of you paying attention might notice that we are motoring on both engines. The problem with the port engine overheating has not reoccurred. We’re keeping our fingers crossed and a close eye on the exhaust water stream and with a little luck we won’t run into that again on this passage. As a precaution we’re running that engine at 2200-2300 RPM instead of our usual 2400-2500 RPM cruising range. Once in Ft Lauderdale I’ll go over the entire cooling system very carefully and if I don’t find anything I’ll replace the coolant temperature sensor. I’ve always wished for engine temperature gauges on Mirasol instead of lights that give you no warning that something is starting to go wrong (my Dad calls these “idiot lights”), so installing gauges might become a summer project.

We currently have about 185 nm to go so we are hoping for a Thursday landfall in Ft Lauderdale. All arrival times subject to change without notice!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BVI to Ft Lauderdale- Day 5

Yesterday and today have been somewhat eventful. Yesterday was our 7th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with a steak dinner of Steak au Poivre with sherry mustard sauce, green beans and basmati rice. Alas, no wine as we maintain a dry boat when on a passage. We’ll revisit the celebrations once we are in Ft Lauderdale.

With light winds, we had the Gennaker up yesterday morning until around 10AM when gusty winds and local squall activity prompted us to roll it in. We managed to get it in a “figure 8” while furling it, which is a bit of a pain. Of course I was quite collected about the whole thing and only shouted when necessary for her to hear me from the bow over the wildly flogging sail. Once we managed to clear up the mess and furl the sail, Jen mentioned that I was shouting at her. My reply that “you couldn’t hear me from the bow unless I shouted” was noted, and then I was reminded that I continued to shout when she was standing right next to me. Apparently I channeled Captain Bligh again. On our anniversary. Oops. Jen was pretty nice about the whole thing, though.

For the rest of the day and evening we made good time with winds in the mid teens and speeds of 6.5 – 7.5 knots. By 1AM this morning the wind died down and we cranked up the port engine to keep our speeds in the low 6’s. Sometime early yesterday we passed our halfway point.

At 7:30 this morning, the engine over-temperature alarm went off and we shut it down. After inspecting the strainer and finding no debris, noting that the coolant overflow was at the normal level and the fan belt is ok, I elected to restart the engine to see if we had raw water flow instead of opening the raw water impeller plate to inspect the impeller, which involves wrapping oneself around a toasty warm engine. The engine started, the over-temp alarm sounded and then shut off, and we noted that plenty of water was ejecting from the exhaust. Hmmm. Maybe it was seaweed or a plastic bag blocking the intake, which subsequently fell off. So we hoped.

About 2 hours later the over-temp alarm went off again. Same drill, only this time I went overside to visually inspect the raw water intake. It looked normal (and the surrounding water was the most amazing deep blue). We restarted the engine and it’s raw water flow is once again just fine. We’ve discussed our options and we decided to continue running on the port engine for a while to see if the alarm goes off again. When it does, we’ll check the exhaust for water flow prior to shutting down the engine. If water flow is not OK, then I believe we have some blockage inside the sail drive that is getting stuck in the seacock upstream of the raw water pump, and then falling back down the sail drive when the engine is shut off, effectively but temporarily unblocking itself. I feel the impeller and heat exchanger are not faulty as we have very good raw water flow when we restart.

If the raw water flow is OK while the alarm’s sounding, we’ll leave the engine off overnight to cool completely down and I’ll check the coolant level in the heat exchanger. The overflow tank is at the proper level but maybe something is preventing it from feeding the coolant back into the engine and we have a low coolant problem. That will be easily corrected. If neither of these are the problem, I’ll poke around the plumbing of the cooling system and coolant pump as best I can to look for a problem. Failing that, we’ll rely on the starboard engine for the rest of the trip, transferring fuel from the port tank if and as required. We’ll leave the port engine off except for when we need it for maneuvering. It’s nice to have two! (except when working on the maintenance list).

So, as I write this Jen’s showering (jealous of my swim, I suspect), Quinn’s napping, and I’m fantasizing about an ice cold beer. Mmmmm.

Monday, May 17, 2010

BVI to Ft Lauderdale - Day 4

Sunday (Day 3) turned out to be a very nice day and night for sailing. The wind moderated enough for the seas to settle down to 6’-7’ easterly swells and we made good time. At dawn we shook out the reef in the main and by 8AM we had the Gennaker up. Around noon we had to drop the Gennaker and switch to the Jib as the winds picked up into the low twenties. At dusk we tucked in a reef to the main and the overnight sail was uneventful with the exception of a few ships passing us on their way to Puerto Rico.

We saw a couple of ocean going tugs pulling cargo ship-sized barges loaded high with shipping containers. It always surprises me to see such a small vessel towing barges so large they dwarf many cargo ships. The towing cable appears to be between a half to a full mile long.

We’re expecting today, our fourth day at sea, to be the slowest sail so far. The winds have dropped down into the mid teens and are now nearly dead astern.

Our satellite phone either has 112 minutes left, or only 12, we’re not sure. So, if you don’t see any more updates, it’s because we’ve run out of minutes! Check our web page for our current position, about 60nm North of the Caicos Islands.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

BVI To Ft Lauderdale, Day 3

Our third day a sea finds the crew in good spirits. Everyone seems to have found their sea legs and no one is now suffering from mal de mare. I am still fighting the last of a chest cold, but Jen and Quinn are over their colds now.

Day two was a bit of a challenge as everyone was still getting used to being at sea and still fighting colds. The winds stayed in the mid 20's until early afternoon when they dropped into the high teens, still in the East. The seas remained in the 7-9 range, gradually abating to 5-7 overnight. We maintained sailing with a reef in the main until dawn as we were making decent time and there was still a risk of squalls.

Just when I came on shift at 2:00AM, the GPS data went a little haywire. Our position suddenly jumped 10 miles to the southwest, which caused François (the autopilot) to go into gyrations to get us back on course. Resetting the GPS and the navigation system did not help. After about five minutes, our position error jumped back to within a half mile southwest of what we thought was our correct position. Then, about 20 minutes later our position slowly drifted northeast, eliminating most, but not all of the remaining "error". This drift once again gave François fits as he tried to correct for what he was treating as a HUGE current pushing us sideways.

During both of these GPS position changes, our GPS showed that it was locked on to a minimum of 8 and sometimes 10 satellites. After considering the behavior of our navigation system, I've decided the error must have been in the data being received by our GPS antenna. Uncle Sam must have been making some adjustments in the GPS system. I've encountered erroneous GPS data on several occasions and have confirmed it using one of our backup GPS handhelds. The last time this happened we were just exiting English Harbor, Antigua and our position jumped a mile inland. Great Fun.

We did not have any more boarding seas yesterday, however last night we did have a boarding flying fish. He flew right over my shoulder while I was at the helm and landed in the cockpit. This was a big one, about 10 inches long with a 6 inch wingspan. I briefly considered frying him up for a late night snack, but it seemed more trouble than it's worth and so back to the sea he went.

This morning at dawn we shook out the last reef on the main and raised the Gennaker as the winds are continuing to abate and clock to the South East. You can see our 8:00AM positions on the Current Position page of our website.

BVI to Ft Lauderdale, Day 2

We did leave as planned on Friday around 8:30. As it was a Friday, we performed the obligatory counter-clockwise circle to ward off the bad juju of leaving on a Friday. I’m not sure where this tradition originated, but that’ll be something to look up when we get to Fort Lauderdale.

So far the passage weather has been as forecasted by NOAA and Commander’s Weather. Winds in the mid to high 20’s out of the East and seas 7-9 feet on the beam, which makes moving about the boat quite challenging. The winds are moderating slightly today and should remain in the low to mid 20’s for the next 24 hours or so. As the week progresses and we move north, the winds and seas are predicted to quiet down gradually.

We ticked off 157 nautical miles in the first day, which is a little slow for these winds, but we were sailing with an extra reef tucked in due to the forecasted fast moving and strong squalls. As we are sailing shorthanded we are being quite conservative with the sail plan. We did encounter a few squalls overnight, but the strong ones missed us.

We did have a few boarding seas , one of which broke well above my knees as I was standing at the helm (5’ above the waterline and 4’ inboard.) This is far and away the most water we’ve taken into the cockpit but the scuppers did their job nicely and no water made it into the salon in spite of the open door between the cockpit and salon . As usual, Quinn took it completely in stride and thought it was funny!

Check the Current Position page on our web site for our 8:00 AM position.

BVI to Ft Lauderdale, Day 1

And we’re off! About 1000 nm, route will take us up the eastern side of the Turks and Cacios and then along the eastern side of the southern Bahamas. We’ll cut through the NE Providence Channel and then NW Providence Channel of the Bahamas and then across the Gulf Stream to Ft. Lauderdale. We’ll keep the blog updated as weather, technology, and the authors disposition dictates!

Our position updates can be seen on the Current Position page of

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dominica Land Tour

We recently spent a few days in Dominica, a beautiful and rugged island. These days were filled with three fascinating tours of different aspects of the island: a guided road tour, two scuba dives, and a guided river tour.

We arrived in Roseau, Dominica along with Randy and Susan on Windward Passage and their guests Ken and Dodi. Randy, a veteran cruiser here in the Caribbean, arranged for a land tour with a local who goes by the name Sea Cat.

Sea Cat's real name is Octavius, which earned him the nickname octopus, or Sea Cat as they call octopuses in Dominica. Anyway, Sea Cat is a local who has built a business around providing services for cruisers including moorings, water, arranging laundry, arranging parts shipments, and also providing guided tours of the island.

Sea Cat grew up on this island and is well known and well respected by others here. At 9:00AM all seven of us piled into Sea Cat's van and he began our whirlwind tour of the island. It was very much an insider's tour as Sea Cat seems to know everyone on the island. He frequently would stop and chat with someone on the street. While this might seem like it would be annoying for a tour guide to stop to chat during our tour, it actually made it more fun as he was so friendly with us as well.

There were several main attractions Sea Cat wanted us to see: two waterfalls, thermal springs, the rain forest and a Carib Indian settlement. While driving across the island to get us to these he would frequently abruptly stop the van, jump out and bring back fruits, spices and other goodies.

As there were three large cruise ships in port, Sea Cat did his best to time our visits at the big attractions so as to avoid the cruise ship crowds. He did an excellent job as we never did run into any of those crowds. Our tour started in Roseau and we headed northwards up the western coast.

The first stop was at his uncle's house, which was a very small shed of corrugated steel with no doors or windows located in the woods right off a side rode. His uncle provided us with some sugar cane, which Sea Cat chopped up with a machete. Quinn and I very much liked chewing on the sugar cane, especially after Sea Cat returned from the brush with some freshly picked limes and squirted lime juice on the cane. It was better than candy. Sea Cat also retrieved a papaya and an unripe coca bean pod for us to sample. The coco bean pod contained the coco beans embedded in a gooey and tart membrane that was very different, but yummy. Sea Cat called them Jungle M&M's. After the snack we all piled back in to the van with our sticky fingers.

From there we visited the Emerald Pool, which is a 50' waterfall in the rain forest, a Carib village where we purchased several hand woven baskets (superb work at very low prices) and Trafalgar Falls. While in the Carib village we stopped at one of their houses to drop off a small shark Sea Cat had picked up from some fishermen the day before. In exchange, the Carib woman shared some roasted breadfruit, smoked chicken and home made chocolate (from the local coco beans). All of this came from trees (and chickens) around her home. Her house was a one room wooden building on stilts. The kitchen was a 6'x8' shack of corrugated steel with no running water or electricity. The stove was a fire on a stone table. The delicious chicken we ate had been smoked as they have no refrigeration. The kitchen had one window and a doorway, but no glass or door.

At Trafalgar Falls we were hot and ready for a swim but had no swim suits. In spite of this technicality, Randy, Quinn and I stripped to our undershorts and climbed over the boulders and into the pool at the bottom of the 200' falls. With a little struggling, we made it to the base of the falls and enjoyed the cold water crashing down around us . Quinn was quite brave about the whole thing. After retiring from the falls, Sea Cat led us to a thermal spring about 50' from the falls. Randy, Quinn and I were still in our shorts so we decided to relax for a few minutes in the natural hot tub formed by the spring.

Refreshed, we hiked back to the van and Sea Cat sped away to the next stop, which was a thermal vent from a volcano. Sea Cat took a 3' stick, jammed it into a soft spot of the ground and pulled it back out in a couple of seconds. It came back out too hot to handle. It is really amazing to see all the active volcanic activity in these islands.

As I mentioned, Sea Cat would frequently slam on the breaks to chat with someone on the road, yell up to a house by the road, or to jump out and clamber through the brush to come back with neat stuff to taste, smell and or eat. As far as we can remember Sea Cat fetched us samples of the following: sage, peppermint, oregano, thyme, cinnamon bark, bay leaf, tarragon, basil, coco, coffee bean, lemon grass, grapefruit, passion fruit, crab apples, love apples, apricot, tamarind, guava, bananas, sour sop, almonds, cashews, nutmeg, mangoes, papaya, sugar cane, lime, green coconut, ripe coconut, and breadfruit. We didn't stop for lunch but no one was hungry with all the snacking we were doing along the way. We returned to Roseau after dark around 7pm. What a tour!

If chance brings you to Dominica, you should spend a day with Sea Cat. He loves his island and this comes through as he shows you what you would never see on a cruise ship tour.

In the next blogs I'll tell you about the scuba dives and the river tour.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The perils of ignoring the Admiral's advice

It was an interesting day the other day. We said goodbye to Saint Vincent and sailed north (sigh, don't like sailing north) to Saint Lucia. As we worked our way up the Saint Vincent coast we ducked into Wallilabou Bay to see part of the set from the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. The dock and scaffold (or hoist?) where Captain Jack Sparrow makes his escape from the English at the beginning of the movie is still there, as is the natural stone arch that Jack passed on his way into port. It was fun seeing these and we look forward to watching the movie again to pick out sites that we've seen on our trip so far. After leaving the lee of St Vincent we had a brisk sail up to St Lucia.

We arrived in Soufriere, which is on the south west coast of Saint Lucia at the Pitons, around 1:30. The Pitons are magnificent. They are inactive volcanoes formed about 40 million years ago. Here's a photo of the Pitons:

We had planned a fairly early arrival with the hope that one of the few mooring balls in the bay would be available. This desire to moor rather than anchor (I generally prefer to anchor) was driven by simple geography. The Pitons are mostly vertical... both above the water and below. In other words, the bottom in Soufriere Bay is mostly rock and coral, and drops to China within a few yards from shore. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found all the moorings occupied.

Soufriere is a customs port and we needed to clear in, so we didn't really want to move on to another anchorage. With no other choice, we tried to anchor on the steep slope next to the moorings with the intention of running a stern line to shore to avoid dragging into deeper water. Unfortunately, as we tried to set our anchor, it would catch but then start dragging. The scraping feel transmitted up the chain told me the bottom was either hard sand, sand on rock or just plain rock. As we were trying to anchor in 60 feet of water we couldn't see the bottom to be sure. It would probably be OK, but I wasn't willing to gamble as you have a very rocky lee shore a few yards away and I was unfamiliar with the weather in this bay. After 4 attempts to set the anchor, we saw a boat leave one of the two large yacht moorings and we grabbed it. The ranger said it was no problem staying there, but we were asked to move the following morning since a 100 foot catamaran was booked in to use it. Fortunately one of the small yacht moorings had opened up as the folks using it moved on to another anchorage.

The seven moorings available for us small yachts are lined up about 150 feet from shore. They are quite close together so you must run a line ashore to avoid bashing into your neighbor as winds and tides shift. It is an easy swim or dinghy ride to shore to tie off the stern line to a palm tree, or you can allow one of the boat boys to do it for you for a small charge. I dropped the dinghy and headed ashore towing our stern line. Once ashore, I left the dinghy outside of the small surf and tied it's bow line around a small rock hoping the dinghy would play nice, stay outside the surf and not wash up on the rocky shore. Unfortunately, the wind had other ideas and kept pushing it in onto the rocks. Keeping one eye on the dinghy and realizing my line wasn't quite long enough to reach the tree-line, I spied a convenient fallen huge palm tree log that seemed well jammed up in the rocks. I tried to shift it and it wouldn't budge. Perfect, I thought. I scrambled back down through the rocks to push the dinghy back off shore and back up to the log to tie off the line. That accomplished, I pushed the dinghy back off the shore again and jumped aboard to find Mirasol pointing the wrong way on the mooring ball.

Jen was standing on the bow yelling something at me that I could not understand over the outboard engine's noise, so I replied a little huffily (never a good idea) that "wasn't she supposed to be turning the boat stern-to the shore instead of yelling things at me?". I used the dinghy to help push the stern around to face shore and then climbed on board to a somewhat chilly look from Jen. I finished tying off the line to shore and then asked Jen what she was shouting at me.

"Well, I was wondering if you thought that tying off to that log was a good idea." After all the work of getting the stern line secured this was the last thing I wanted to hear, so my reply was something along the lines of "Well, if I didn't think it was a good idea I wouldn't have tied it to the log, would I have?". I should have mentioned that I would have preferred to tie off to a tree but I didn't have enough line but I was grumpy and a little put off that she should question my judgement as she was 200' away standing dry on Mirasol at the time.

After that pleasant exchange, Jen retired to the salon and I stood in the cockpit, both stewing a little and both watching the log as wind and wakes pushed Mirasol about. Then the log betrayed me and shifted, but surely it was just settling in. Of course, I said to myself, that is all it is. Then it shifted again and dragged a couple of feet. "Crap", I thought. "Now I have to go tell her she's right. There'll be no living with her after this." With a mouth full of crow I went inside and let her know I needed to lengthen the line and move it to a palm tree. To Jen's credit, she didn't gloat... much... and I haven't heard about it in at least 12 hours.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A day in the life of Tobago Cays

Hi all. We’re still in Tobago Cays and having a grand time. Today we started our day with fresh croissants (Jen’s was plain while I and Quinn indulged in chocolate filled) and a local papaya we brought with us from Bequia. Walter, our boat vendor of choice, stops by every afternoon to get our order and then delivers them around 7AM. He is a very nice guy and we’ll have a photo posted with the next update to the web site.

After breakfast we piled into the dinghy and motored over to the reef that protects the anchorage and snorkeled for almost 2 hours. Quinn is getting quite good with the snorkeling and I seldom need to give him any help at all. He still wears his lifejacket while snorkeling as he’s not comfortable being out in open water without it yet. It won’t be long though. He is experimenting with diving below the water like Daddy does, but doesn’t get far with the lifejacket on, of course. The snorkeling was very good, although the coral shows a lot of damage from being scrubbed and coated with sand by a recent hurricane. We saw lots of fish and on the way back to the boat we saw a couple of large sea turtles. It is no wonder they have been hunted to near extinction. Their shells are incredibly beautiful.

After the swim I lounged in the cockpit finishing up a book while Jen gave Quinn a hair cut on the transom steps. Many of the folks on the boats anchored nearby were quite amused as Quinn stood naked on the steps while being rinsed clean of hair trimmings and singing at the top of his lungs “I’m washing the stink off my BUUUUUTTTT, I’m washing the stink off my BUUUUUUTTTT!”.

After the haircut and lunch, it was naptime for all three of us. Jen and I woke up and played a few games of cribbage while snacking on some yummy French cheese and the baguette which was delivered this morning. Quinn woke up and joined us in the snacks and did his usual puttering about the boat before dinner. Suddenly we heard his panicky “Daaaaady!!!!” cry which always means he’s dropped something overside. This time it was his sweat rag, which he’s become quite fond of. Easily retrieved, and the unplanned swim was refreshing after a hot afternoon on the boat.

As we had snacked quite a bit, we decided against the fancy duck dinner Jen was planning. Instead she whipped up some pork and beans. Tomorrow we’ll have the duck.

After dinner Jen worked on the photos we took while snorkeling today and Quinn and I played a few hands of UNO. To his delight, he beat me 3 out of 4 games. As Quinn was getting ready for bed, Jen noticed that we are now pointing northeast instead of southeast. Not a problem other than there is a boat on a mooring ball close to where we’re anchored and with the change in wind direction we’re way to close to them. I pulled in a little scope as the wind has settled and we don’t need so much chain out, but it’s still too close. Tomorrow first thing we’ll haul up the anchor and move over a little.

Randy and Susan left the anchorage yesterday to return to Bequia where they will pick up a couple of friends who have flown down for a visit. We expect them back here Monday or Tuesday, but no firm plans have been made. All three of us enjoy their company quite a lot so we hope they can make it back down here before it is time for us to move on.

Life is good in the Tobago Cays. We look forward to sharing some of our photos when we get high speed internet access back in Bequia or St Vincent sometime next week.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


We’ve made it to Tobago Cays, which at 12° 37’ North Latitude is as far south as we plan to venture this winter. We arrived yesterday afternoon after a short but fun day-sail from Bequia. The 15 – 20 knots on the beam with moderate seas made for a fun sail at 7.5 to 8.5 knots the whole way. When we arrived at the Cays, it was like being back in the Exumas with the beautiful turquoise waters. We are joined here in the Tobago Cays by Susan and Randy Williamson on Windward Passage who have been down here in the area for over a month now. Quinn is quite excited to have Miss Susan around to play with!

The Tobago Cays are now a designated marine park in the Grenadines, which is a group of islands south of of St. Vincent and Bequia. The anchorage we’re in is sheltered by a huge horseshoe coral reef and has good soft sand perfect for anchoring. The marine life is abundant, as the “no take” policy is strictly enforced. After squaring away the boat after the sail, Jen and Quinn joined me for a swim to cool off and we saw many reef fish, several puffer fish and a couple of large stingrays in the first few minutes of the swim. We also found a Heineken can which I dove down to retrieve and toss in the trash. Happily, we almost never see garbage of any sort during our snorkeling and diving.

I am really enjoying this anchorage. The big horseshoe reef protects the anchorage while leaving the view of the open Atlantic and the cooling trade winds unobstructed. The view out our front windows starts with the turquoise waters of the anchorage, then breakers on the reef, then Petit Tabac and open Atlantic. Petit Tabac is the small Cay which starred in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl” as the tiny island where Captain Jack Sparrow was marooned. Given the many sea turtles we’ve been seeing here, Jack’s tail of escape using sea turtles seems almost plausible.

This morning we breakfasted on plain and chocolate-filled croissants which were delivered by one of the boat boys that do a good business here. After breakfast we picked up Susan and took the dinghy across the anchorage to the beach that is popular with the turtles. Quinn practiced with his new fins, mask and snorkel (is taking to it like a fish), played with his new boogie board, and of course, played in the sand. It is a very nice beach. There are large iguanas hanging out by the beach, and a lot of turtles just out past the surf. I was able to swim right up to them without them being bothered. They put up with it for a minute or so and then swam slowly but deliberately away to munch on some more sea grass. We’ll have some photos posted soon. On the way back to the beach I swam up on a small (3’) reef shark. I didn’t have the opportunity to take pictures as we surprised each other and he made a quick exit.

As this anchorage is quite remote, we have no WIFI. Pictures will have to wait until we can get access to it. I’m posting this update via the satellite phone, which has a built in modem that transfers data almost as fast as I can type it! So updates need to be limited to text and xml files for the web site’s blog and “Current Position” sections. We hope the updates work correctly as Jen has no way to test the updates. If you encounter a problem, we’ll get it fixed when we are next in civilization of some sort. If you wonder what it looks like here and can’t wait for our pictures, watch the Pirates movie and you’ll see for yourself. (The palm trees seem to have recovered nicely from the rum bonfire, by the way.)

We plan to stay here a good while as there are many beaches and lots of coral reef to explore! Time to wrap this up as I need to flag down the boat boy to order tomorrow’s croissants and baguettes. Yum.

Friday, February 12, 2010

When the volcano blow

Quinn noticed it first. Daddy, can I have a paper towel? My firetruck is dirty and I want to clean it. I got him a paper towel, thinking it was odd his new firetruck was so dirty he felt he needed to clean it, but didn't really pay any attention. Then, 10 minutes later, he's asking for another paper towel and so I decided to see what the big deal was. He's usually not very interested in things being kept clean! Sure enough, it was covered in grit. Hmmm. Odd. Then Jen noticed that their was a lot of grit building up on the generator hatch out in cockpit and I saw the dusting of grit on the floor by the open door. Suddenly it clicked, and we groaned. With the light winds, we must be getting ash from either the inactive (but smoking) volcano on Guadeloupe, or from Montserrat.

We buttoned the boat up tight and watched as ash built up all over Mirasol's decks. It was still coming down at bedtime and we retired with the hope that it would stop by morning. Happily, when dawn came we weren't getting much of anything settling on our decks although the air was still hazy with ash.

A quick exploration of the decks showed that we had collected about 1/16th inch of very fine grit ash on every surface of the boat, including the mast, standing rigging and lines. WHAT A MESS!

Since the grit would scratch just about anything it was rubbed against, we kept Quinn inside while I started the long process of removing the ash. While Jen and Quinn had a very good session of school (Quinn learned to add 3 to numbers 1-10), I pulled out the hose, flipped the wash-down pump to seawater and started washing Mirasol down.

I am SO happy we have a wash-down pump on board that we can switch from seawater to fresh water. While most the other boaters in the anchorage were using buckets to wash down the decks I had the advantage of being able to hose the boat down. Sluicing the the boat from top to bottom with seawater made me cringe but it was the only way to get her clean, and we certainly didn't have enough fresh water on board to do the job. It took about 3 hours to do a first pass and then a quick rinse of the stainless fittings and winches with some of our fresh water to get her clean enough to operate. We moved into a marina this afternoon so we'll have plenty of fresh water to finish the job. First stay in a marina since mid December.

Jen will post pics soon.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Deshaies, Guadeloupe

We had a fast, wet, and salty passage south from Antigua to Guadeloupe a couple of days ago. We had 25 - 30 knots of wind and 8' - 10' waves, all on the beam, which made for a fast and exciting ride. With 2 reefs in the main and one in the jib, we were hustling along at 8 to 9.5 knots the whole way.

Weaving our way between fish trap floats hiding in the white breaking wave tops we dropped sails and turned into the bay at Deshaies, on the west side of the island of Guadeloupe. We found a place to drop our anchor in about 35 feet of water after looking for an open spot in shallower water. We had hoped to snug up closer to the town, but the anchorage was a little crowded in there and Jen and I prefer plenty of room between us and other boats when anchoring. This is the first time we've had to let out all 200 feet of our chain rode. With 35' of water plus the height of the the deck at 5' above the water, we needed it all to give us the 5:1 scope I like to have in 20 - 30 knots of wind. Although Deshaies is on the lee side of the island, there is a valley that cuts across the island that funnels the trade winds right down into the Deshaies harbor.

The anchor took hold on the first try and didn't budge while backing down hard with both engines. With the gusting winds we decided to stay on the boat for a little over an hour to ensure the anchor was truly stuck before heading in to clear customs. Clearing customs was very easy at a cyber cafe right in the center of of the small town. Later that evening we were treated to a delightful moon rise over the hills of Guadeloupe (photo).

Another boat had less luck in this exercise yesterday. They arrived, dropped anchor and the captain promptly disembarked to row ashore. While he was away, his catamaran broke free and started drifting through the anchorage, heading towards a few other boats and then open sea. Jen and I were on deck watching and it seemed odd that there were several people on board the wayward cat but their engines were not running and no one was trying to retrieve the anchor. Then the reason became clear as we saw the captain rowing franticly trying to catch up with his drifting vessel. Our guess is that he was in a bit of a hurry to clear customs before they closed and left the boat with the engine keys tucked in his pockets. His crew was helpless to do anything without those keys, or knowledge of where the spares might be.

A helpful cruiser with a vested interest (the drifting cat was heading for his boat) jumped in his dinghy and quickly towed the captain back to his boat. Sure enough, as soon as he was back aboard, the engines fired up and the anchor was retrieved. As far as I could see they avoided any serious damage to their or other's boats, with the possible exception of a significant dent their rum provisions once safely again at anchor.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nonsuch Bay, Antigua

Today is the third day we've been anchored in Nonsuch Bay on the windward (East) side of Antigua. It's a great place to hang out away from the busier anchorages of English and Falmouth Harbors and St Johns.

We're anchored in about 15 feet of water about 300 yards behind a barrier reef that protects the bay from the rollers coming off of the Atlantic. Behind the reef the water is completely calm in spite of the brisk trade winds. It's a beautiful place.

Quinn and I spent this morning on the nearby beach on Green Island while Jen did some laundry on the boat. She couldn't bring herself to pay the $13 (US) per load that the local laundry charges, and so has spent the last few days building up her arm muscles doing our laundry by hand in a big bucket.

Back at the beach, Quinn played in the surf for a while and then picked up all his sand toys, loaded them into his bag and dumped them at the feet of a young English lady sunning herself on a beach blanket about 50 feet away. "Do you want to play with my sand toys?" he asked as I rushed up to apologize for the interruption. Happily, Nina and her sister and father were bored and welcomed the distraction. We chatted while Quinn built Nina a little sand castle and suggested I make several errands to the dingy (to obtain Nina's undivided attention, I suspect).

After the castle was completed Quinn and I took our leave and launched the dingy for the short ride back to Mirasol. On the approach I noticed just how bad the growth on the waterline had become and decided it was time to do something about it. I had planned on snorkeling the reef this afternoon, but that will have to wait.

After a quick inspection it became clear that Mirasol's anti-fouling paint is losing it's effectiveness and I had quite a rash of barnacles to deal with, and not just a quick waterline scrub. Plastic scraper in hand, I started with the propellers and then worked my way to the bow of each hull. It's a long tedious process, but not very hard work. Along with the barnacles and other critters, there was the usual green slime that grows along the waterline to deal with. As all the scraping fell away from the boat, it attracted a big school of bluefish who swarmed around gobbling it all up. It was nice to have company.

While under the hull, I also inspected the zincs and it looks like I'll need to replace the zincs on the saildrive housings soon. I have the replacements on hand so it's time to start looking for a good place to change the zincs. The procedure requires removing the propeller, so I'm hoping to do it in a nice shallow (5' to 8') anchorage with clear water and a sandy bottom. Given that I will be doing this while holding my breath, I want to be able to retrieve anything I drop in the process of diving down, doing something quickly, and then lurching back to the surface to grab a breath. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to locate a dive shop nearby a suitable anchorage so I can rent the scuba gear to make the whole thing a lot easier... Time to dig out the cruising guides and see what I can find. Something tells me another blog will come of all this!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti's Earthquake

Just a quick note to let everyone know we're well away from the earthquake in Haiti and weren't affected by it.

We are in Antigua, which is several hundred miles to the East of Haiti. Tied to a mooring in Falmouth Harbor, we didn't feel anything or notice any change in water level around the time of the quake. We haven't heard anything to suggest the quake caused a tsunami, and it would have been here by now if it had. From what I've read the quake was quite devastating.

The volcano on Montserrat was pretty active the past few days when we sailed around the SW coast of Antigua to get to English and Falmouth Harbor. I don't know if that activity is related or not. We are northeast of that volcano, so if the earthquake in Haiti sets it off, the ash shouldn't be a problem here as we are upwind.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Its a good day when... have sand in your pants!

Quinn and I had a fun time at the beach today. It has been a couple of weeks since he's had a good beach to play at and he made great use of this
one today. He spent half the time building a sand castle and defending it against an incoming tide (which is definitely more fun than with an outgoing tide - more challenge!).

The rest of the time he played in the surf and got plenty of sand in his pants, ears, nose, mouth, etc. Big smiles all around!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jolly Harbor, Antigua

Hello from Antigua! Wednesday afternoon we cleared St Maarten customs and exited the lagoon during the 11 AM bridge opening. The passage to Antigua was expected to take between 16 and 18 hours, so we decided to make it an overnight run. To avoid a pre-dawn arrival in Antigua, we anchored in Simpson Bay for a few hours before leaving St Maarten around 4 PM. Simpson Bay was open to a moderate swell from the south east and was very rolly, but tolerable for the few hours we needed to stay there. As we departed St Maarten, we passed Philipsburg on the south side of the island. We counted 5 huge cruise ships in port, along with one small one. Quite a sight!

Antigua lies about 90 nautical miles ESE from St Maarten, directly into the trade winds. We had planned our departure to catch a window of lighter winds, and it worked out as we had hoped. The trip went very well with winds under 10 knots and a lumpy mix of swell from the southeast and north. We encountered a number of cruise ships along the way, as well a few sailboats on a night passage from Antigua to St Maarten. The cruise ships are very easy to see - they are lit up like Times Square, even in the wee hours of the morning and also show up well on radar. The sailboat lights and radar return are harder to see and with the light winds everyone is right on the rhumb line between the two islands. We kept a sharp lookout and altered course twice to stay well clear oncoming sail boats. I saw a few showers on the radar, but they stayed clear of us. Come to think of it, a shower would have been handy to wash some of the salt spray off the boat.

We arrived in Jolly Harbor, Antigua around 9 AM and tied up to the customs dock. I put on one of my few collared shirts (mostly used for clearing customs) and checked in with customs and immigration without any complications. Jen and I were both tired, so rather than head out of the harbor to find a suitable anchorage, we scooped up a vacant mooring ball. After a brunch of smoked salmon sandwiches and this really yummy juice blend from South Africa, Jen and Quinn settled in for a nap while I took the dinghy to shore to pay for the mooring ball and explore a little. From what we've seen so far, Antigua is going to be a fun place to get to know.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Daddy, LOOK!

To start off, It's important to note that Quinn has been an exceptionally well behaved little boy on Mirasol. Of course we've had all the usual three and four year old antics, but when it comes to being a little sailor, I couldn't ask for more. He's fearless, smart, doesn't complain and always makes me proud when it counts.

But as for the 4 year old antics... well... Yesterday he decided it was time to ignore the DON'T PLAY WITH THE DINGY LINE edict, with unpleasant repercussions for Daddy.

Yesterday afternoon Jen "suggested" that I replenish our water supply. Hauling water wasn't way up there on my list of things to do that afternoon (loafing was a strong contender), but as the water tanks were both reading empty and we all needed a shower, I decided she had a good point. As noted in a previous post, we can't use our watermaker as the water here in the lagoon is a little gross. Or maybe a lot gross...

So, I loaded the four 5-gallon water jugs into the dingy and headed for shore. Mirasol holds 80 gallons of water so I had a few trips ahead of me. It's a fun process. Motor to shore in the dingy, unload the water jugs, walk up to the gas station office, pay for the water (20 cents/gallon) and retrieve the key to the water faucet lock. Fill the jugs and haul them back to the dock. Return the key to the office. Load the jugs into the dingy, cursing the engineer responsible for two of the jugs as he designed the caps to pop off and bounce out of the dingy at the slightest touch. Motor back to the boat. Haul the jugs up on deck and fill the tanks, jug by jug. Repeat, usually with a beer mixed in there somewhere. Tedious, but not too tough. Especially if the beer is cold and the harbor isn't too choppy.

After the second trip, Quinn was in the "help Daddy" mode and wanted to help with the filling of the tanks, the handling of the empty jugs, etc. What I didn't know was that he had also been helping with the dingy line while I was busy filling the tanks. As I was walking back to grab another jug off the dingy, Quinn ran up to me, grabbed my hand, pointed astern and cried DADDY, LOOK!

Much to my dismay, I saw our dingy floating about 100' behind Mirasol, and drifting quickly away in a brisk breeze. "How are we going to get it back?" cried Quinn in a panicky voice. "Were you playing with the dingy line?" I asked. "yes" he whispered, looking ashamed. I sighed, looked warily at the green nasty water we were anchored in (see last post), stripped off my shirt, dove in and chased down the errant dingy to the amusement of the other boats anchored in the vicinity.

Jen supplied me with a few shots of Tequila - one to gargle with and spit out and the other two to pickle whatever might have made it into my stomach during the swim through the choppy water. Feeling fortified, but gross, I used up some of the hard-earned water in the form of a very soapy shower. Grumbling a little, I came back on deck where Quinn gave me a big hug with a sincere "sorry Daddy". All was well.