Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where have we been?

Well, we're still in Grenada and been so busy that the blog has really taken a back seat. I am still updating the photo gallery on fairly regularly, but Gregg has just not had time to blog. And now that his hard drive crashed, it may be a while yet.

I'm not much of a writer, so I generally don't blog. The latest news, however, is that we are finished cruising after this season. Within the next couple weeks, we will begin moving north eventually reaching Fort Lauderdale, probably in May (see our updated tentative schedule to the right). We will be selling the boat (hopefully quickly) and making the transition to living on land, i.e., buying cell phones, a car, a house, etc. Busy, busy, busy. While we still have fast wifi here in Grenada, we have begun the process of house hunting and are looking seriously at Virginia.

We have had a lot of fun in Grenada and hope to return some day. Maybe for the 1000th hash?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Web Site Issues

So, Google has fixed whatever issue was going on with the embedded google earth app that I was using for our position pages. So, cleaning that up is now on the back-burner. However, I have recently started using Google Chrome, and duh, the object I was using for our photo gallery only works properly in IE. I'm working on changing it so it will work cross-browser, but it's going to take some time. I found a flash gallery I'd like to use, but it costs like $80, so I think I'd rather just develop something using java, but... like I said... that will take time. Non-IE users, please be patient with me. I'm aware of it and working on it.

UPDATE 5:40 PM: I have found a nice java app to modify for our photo gallery. Check out the latest photos at I finished updating St. Vincent & the Grenadines '11, and both Grenada pages.

UPDATE 0730/Aug 4: I am continuing to work my way backward. St. Lucia '11 is finished. I am very pleased with this new photo gallery and I hope you are, too. It even has a slideshow feature.

UPDATE 2300/Aug 12: Still working on converting all the photo gallery pages. Working backwards, I have finished through Guadeloupe '10. I know there's an open space in the gallery list, I will adjust everything when I have finished.

UPDATE 0500/Aug 27: I'm almost finished migrating all the photo galleries to the new format. I only have 2 left at this point, The Bahamas '09 and Charleston-Norfolk '09. Hopefully I can get those wrapped up in the next week or so. Then I'll begin working on changing the video player I use and getting our clips active again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dominica 2011

Dominica is my favoirite island in the Leeward Islands, and possibly in all of the Lesser Antilles (Bahamas, Leewards and Windwards). I've read that when Christopher Columbus was attempting to describe the island to the King and Queen of Spain he crumpled up a sheet of paper to illustrate the rugged terrain. That is a very good illustration. There are 365 rivers and countless waterfalls winding their way through deep gorges and between steep volcanic pinnacles, all of which are draped in lush rain forest. With the exception of a small cruise ship dock, there is no mass tourism and the locals are happy to meet cruisers.
Once out of town, the roads are mostly unimproved, single lane with enough extra space for the occassional oncomming car to pass you if you both hug the shoulder... really hug it. As for guardrails, generally there are none in spite of the fact that the road may be carved out of the side of nearly vertical mountainside. It's prudent to sound your horn as you approach a blind curve and listen for an answer so you can swing over in time.

The main roads of the island are in the process of being improved to undivided 2 lane highways by the Chinese. The Chinese government pours a lot of resources into Dominica and other Caribbean islands in order to secure political votes in the UN. There are also prominent donations by Chavez of Venezuela in the form of schools and other public facilities.

Rosseau, our destination in Dominica, is the largest town on the island and is located on the southern end of the west coast. There are many mooring balls for hire, which is good as the anchorage is quite deep and holding is rather poor. On arrival we radioed Sea Cat, one of the two prominent boat vendors in Rosseau, to arrange for a mooring. Once tied up to the mooring, I hired a boat vendor to give us a lift in his brightly colored open boat to the customs office. The anchorage had a 2 foot chop so the ride to customs was much more comfortable in a heavy deep-V fiberglass boat than in my little dinghy.

Customs is very easy. You clear in and out at the same time, there is only one short form to fill out, and the fee is only 5 Eastern Carribean Dollars (about $2 US) per person. This is refreshing after the numerous forms and high fees required by The Bahamas, The British Virgin Islands and Antigua.

While in Rosseau, we joined Sea Cat for a land tour. We were introduced to Octavious (Sea Cat) by Randy and Susan Williamson of Windward Passage during our last trip down island and were eager for a repeat. We saw several of the highlights of the last tour - Emerald Falls, Trafalgar Falls, and the Carib Indian villiage (not in a touristy enclave but friends of Octavious who welcomed us into their homes and showed us how they live). While there, we were shown how much of the food they needed could be found in their "back yard". There were coconuts, mangos, breadfruit, papayas, cacao trees, many herbs, and lots of chickens. Fish were brought up into the mountains by the local fishermen. The fish and chicken were smoked over home made charcoal as a preservative as they had no refrigeration.

The villagers offered us samples of the smoked fish. Pulling the meat off of a fish carcass while holding on to the head or tail took a little getting used to, but it was delicious. Quinn loved it and asked for more. Octavious got a huge grin and returned with half a fish all for Quinn, who devoured it, picking the bones. The smoking clearly works as I believe the fish we sampled was smoked days ago and stored in hot, humid rainforest conditions without packaging or refrigeration.

In addition to the familiar stops from last year, Sea Cat took us to a pair of waterfalls that required some serious scrambling. We found ourselves climbing up 40 foot, 70 degree inclines with the help of a rope where tree vines and roots were insufficient. Other times we were walking on paths no more than a foot wide with a nearly sheer drop into the river gorge on one side. These were virtually unimproved paths through the rain forest and it was a phenominal experience. Quinn did fantastic as usual. He listened and moved cautiously (most of the time) and managed without any problems or nervousness. When we return to land I'm going to have my hands full building a tree house or backyard play set that will interest him after having hiked and climbed through Caribbean rain forests and jungles!

Monday, July 4, 2011

We're here

We made it to Grenada almost 3 weeks ago. Gregg is still looking for his muse to catch up on the blog. He keeps saying he's only 4 countries behind. We've been pretty busy since we got here and have been catching up on sleep and chores. I'm not the writer in the family so I'll leave it at that.

The website has been updated with photos and our position in Grenada. I've been working on upgrading the google maps api used on the position and log pages as apparently, google no longer supports the old api that most of our pages use. It's taking some time and the only pages I have finished thus far are the current position and the 2011 Windwards page.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Southern Guadeloupe

From Deshaies, our plans were to sail south along the coast to Basse Terra, located on the southwest coast of Guadeloupe. When we arrived there with Oceana, they were concerned that the swell would be uncomfortable. We understood their concern as we've seen how a swell can cause mono hulls to sway like pendulums. The day was still young, so we decided to continue on to the Saints, which is a scenic group of small but tall islands just south of Guadeloupe.
Oceana off Basse Terra, Guadeloupe

We had been motor-sailing in the lee of Guadeloupe with a slight sea breeze until we reached Basse Terra. As we left the lee of Guadeloupe, everything changed. The wind switched from less than 10 knots out of the west to high 20's from the east in about a minute. This is something that you get used to in the lower Leeward and Windward Islands. As you leave the lee of the island, the trade winds are accelerated as they squeeze around the tall island and hit you full force from the east. If you are not looking at the sea state in front of you, you will have no warning. Depending on the conditions, you might have 10 knots of sea breeze from the west and then an immediate switch to 25 knots from the southeast in as little as a few seconds.

We saw the white caps and lumpy seas ahead and quickly shortened sail. Then Jen commented... um, where did the Saints go? Up ahead the Saints, which were clearly visible only a minute or two ago, were hidden by haze and rain. It was a wet and brisk sail to the Saints. Being a weekend, the anchorage close to town was quite full and we couldn't find a suitable place to drop the hook. Instead, we moved to another location in the Saints that we had anchored before and were happy to drop the hook and let the rain wash off the salt we accumulated crossing the channel from Guadeloupe.

The next morning was a fine day which we spent exploring the town and sampling the local beverages, food and of course, ice cream.

A view of the Saints from the town dock

From the Saints, we sailed back north to Point A Pitre, the largest city in Guadeloupe. Oceana had gone ahead to refit with new house batteries. We joined them a day or so later in the Marina Bas du Fort where we enjoyed a couple of nights on the dock. Laundry, some mechanical maintenance and other chores more easily accomplished on the dock were taken care of. Then it was back to the Saints, which was a good staging point for the jump south to Dominica. On the way back to the Saints, I caught two largish Barracudas which I released since they aren't so good for eating. Note the big pointy teeth!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Deshaies River Scramble

Our second day in Deshaies we returned to the botanical garden about a mile walk up the road. We had visited it the last time we were here, but it's worth a return visit. Quinn's favorite part is the aviary.

On the third day we decided to try a hike up a river that is recommended by our guide book for this area. Kathy and John from Oceana joined us. The guide book describes the hike as "a cool shady scramble", and it certainly was that.

It was a quiet little river, but it was clear that it would grow into a raging torrent when it rained. It was strewn with large boulders that showed recent evidence of bouncing off other rocks. The banks were very steep on both sides, and the forest very thick so the easiest path was to scramble and jump from rock to rock and wade where necessary. It was great fun and the scenery was very lush. There was no sign of habitation or litter anywhere and the river was covered with a thick canopy of trees.

After several hours of scrambling up the river, we were concerned that we had not seen the road that the guide book promised would lead us back to town. We had been working our way up river for considerably longer than suggested by the guide book, and although we were slowed a little by hoisting Quinn up and over the more difficult stretches, it still seemed that we had come a long way.

Eventually we did find a road. Just as we were considering if we should turn back given the late hour and ominous sky, John scouted ahead a little and found the road. This was fortunate, for if we had turned back we would have been forced out of the river due to a heavy rain that started shortly after we gained the road. Our "shady scramble" would have been transformed into a difficult slog through the forest in the rain! Happily, it was just a 20 minute walk down a very steep road in a torrential downpour.

By the time we returned to our boats it was still raining heavily, so we took advantage of all that fresh water and had showers out on the transom. Jen was a bit shy of a near by boat until she noticed its French flag. "What the heck, they're French. They don't care!"

Tropical rain can be something to see. In this case, virtually no wind, but the warm rain coming down as if you were standing right under a strong shower head. Cup your hands and they would fill in 20-30 seconds.

It was a very fun day that ended well (and clean).

Guadeloupe - Arrival in Deshaies

After a fast sail from Antegua accompanied by our friends on Oceana, we arrived in Deshaies in early afternoon. Deshaies is one of my favorite anchorages. It's narrow bay that is well protected from all directions but the west with good holding. The sides of the bay are steep hills and cliffs tapering down to a picturesque town at the head of the bay. I've included a picture, but it doesn't do the anchorage justice as you can't see the high walls on the sides of the bay.
The town is a small strip of small shops and restaraunts along the shore with scattered residences that pepper the hilside as it rises steeply behind the town. One of the shops in town is an internet cafe where we are to clear customs and immigration. The French islands make clearing in and out very simple. You find the cafe hosting the customs computer, fill out a form on that computer and print the form. Someone at the cafe signs and stamps the paper and you're all set. The only down side is you don't get a stamp for your passport.

By the time we set the anchor, let it soak for a while and took the dinghy ashore, most of the shops and restaraunts were closing for the afternoon siesta, the internet cafe hosting the customs PC being one of them. Knowing that at least one restaraunt or cafe is always open during siesta we strolled down the street and found it without any problems.

Soon we were sitting in a cafe and I was drinking chilled Cote du Provence Rose. I got the idea from the Rasta man sitting at the ajacent table chatting with his friends. The French islands are intriguing this way - Rasta mixed with the French cafe - perfect!

After a few beverages in the cafe, a nap semed in order to recover from the daybreak departure from Antigua. We headed back out to the boat and relaxed, watching several other boats arrive and find a place in the anchorage.

Early in the evening, we returned to town to clear in and have dinner. On the way in, we were treated to a bright rainbow stretching from one end of the town to the other. Gorgeous.

After clearing customs we wandered around until we found a restaurant we liked and joined Oceana for dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful sunset overlooking our boats at anchor while we ate. By the time we were returning to our boat it was quite dark with no moon, but the stars were very brilliant and lit our way back to Mirasol.

Blog Catch Up Day

I keep telling myself I need to put aside some time to catch up on the blog, so here goes. We just arrived in Schoelcher, Martinique, which is a couple of islands south of where the blog is. We dropped the hook and have a few hours to burn before we go ashore, so now is a good time.

Quinn's inside watching Star Wars, Jen's sitting in the cockpit reading and I'm up in my hammock with my laptop watching the boats and sailboards from the nearby sailing school putter around the anchorage. If I can hold off a nap, maybe I can come up with a few entries...

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Our original plans were to sail direct for Guadeloupe from the BVI, a passage requiring two nights at sea. However, since we're not in a hurry and the winds were right for it, we decided on stopping in Antigua for a few days. This shortened the trip from BVI to only one overnight, and then a day sail to Guadeloupe.

Antigua is a fun place to stop. We've been here twice before and are pretty familiar with it. On previous visits we visited Jolly Harbor, St John, English Harbor, Falmouth Harbor, and some anchorages on the east side. On this visit, we limited ourselves to Falmouth and English Harbors.

English Harbor was at one time a key port for the
English. It was strategically located to provide for easy harassment of the French islands as well as an excellent anchorage for weathering hurricanes and performing major refits on the ships.

These days it is a haven for sailors of all sorts. There are live-aboard sailors with three anchors down who haven't moved their boat since three or four hurricanes ago, cruisers like us, racing fanatics, and of course the super-yacht and mega-yacht crowd. If you are into sailing, racing sailboats, or just checking out the yachts of the filthy rich, you can find it here.

In between regattas, it's pretty quiet, but still interesting. There is a lot of history here to discover and some pleasant places to kick back and relax. The cruise ship crowd isn't much of a presence here since the ships dock in St Johns, which is on the other side of the island.

So, we arrived, checked in, did some boat maintenance, some relaxing in the shade and some hiking and touring. Quinn won a wager on a crab race at a charity event and came out with 20 dollars. He promptly spent 5 of it on ice cream and socked away the rest in his allowance jar. Good man!

We heard good things about the zip line here and decided to give it a try. You strap yourself up to a pulley on a cable crossing a 300' gorge in the rain forest. Sounds like fun! Quinn and I are admitted adrenaline junkies. Jen is adverse to heights, but a good sport. So, accompanied by Kathy and John from Oceana, we tried it out. I was a little concerned about Quinn freezing when it came time to step into the void, but he was a trooper as usual. Nothing but giant grins from the whole crew.
About six days after arrival, the weather looked good for the run to Guadeloupe. Deshaies, Guadeloupe is about 45 miles due south from Antigua. It was a great sail. We were doing over 7 knots most of the way on a beam reach in 15 or so knots of wind.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good Rum = Bad Spelling

For all of you who read my previous post before I made use of a spell checker (at the gentle encouragement of my dear wife), my apologies for my abuse of the English language. As I wrote it, I was enjoying the delights of the local Rhum Vieux which we had just obtained in Deshaies, Guadeloupe. It is quite good.

Friday, May 20, 2011

British Virgin Islands - Disney Land for Sailors?

We like the BVI. It has a lot to offer. There are a dozen or so islands and cays surrounding the Sir Francis Drake Channel, anchored by Tortola and Virgin Gorda. This layout provides for fairly sheltered sailing, line-of-site navigation and plenty of destination anchorages to keep you interested for a while. Add in the great diving, snorkeling, and rich history typical of the Caribbean islands, it's a fun place to be.

But that's the catch. It's too convenient! The sailboat charter industry has blossomed here like no place in the Caribbean. Folks looking for an ideal sailing vacation can fly in for a week and spend a few hours a day sailing from anchorage to anchorage - each with entertainment ashore and beautiful surroundings. The locals have embraced this bounty and make the most of it. Just about all anchorages have a bar/restaurant close at hand, along with the ubiquitous gift shop. In all but the largest anchorages, the good and even fair anchoring ground has been peppered with mooring balls, leaving only marginally viable anchoring ground if you aren't willing to pay the $25 TO $30 per night to use the moorings (or trust your anchor better than their moorings).

To be fair, the moorings have their place. Given the huge number of charter boats in service here, the moorings allow an anchorage to accommodate many more boats than if everyone were anchored. Also, anchoring safely while avoiding damage to coral or grass beds is an acquired skill which most chatterers have not had the opportunity to develop. In the party party party atmosphere of many of the chartering groups, it's all they can do to safely tie up to the mooring ball and get ashore without a mishap. After all, they aren't aboard their floating home containing all their worldly possessions. They're on a rental boat for a fun vacation. So they party and we try to stay out of their way, lend a hand where needed, retrieve the odd escaped dinghy, and enjoy the show.

Sunday afternoon is always fun in an anchorage with a sundowner in hand watching the newly arrived charterers pick up a mooring ball for the first time of the vacation. We make a point of being on board around that time.

So, the BVI has its place as a sailing destination. For the charterer, it's a great destination for the newbie or the moderately experienced. For a cruiser, it's a good place to rest a bit after the thorny path or a long offshore passage from the US. But for this cruiser, it's a little surreal... like a Disney Land for sailors. Time to head down island!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Off to the British Virgin Islands - April 23rd

After our stay in Ponce, we were eager to get moving. We had a four day window of very light air and flat water ahead of us, so we chose to beat feet for the British Virgin Islands. We spent one more day working our way along the south side of Puerto Rico, anchoring overnight in the lee of a barrier reef and mangrove cays.

The second day we rounded the southeast corner of Puerto Rico and transited the Spanish Virgin Islands. We overnighted on a mooring ball on the west side of Culebra. The Spanish Virgins looked very enticing, but with the calm weather and the holiday weekend crowds from Puerto Rico, we decided to keep moving and spend more time exploring here during our return trip next year. The third morning we continued on through the Spanish Virgins and US Virgin Islands. By early afternoon we were tied up to a mooring ball in Soper's Hole, British Virgin Islands.

We cleared in to the BVI and relaxed on board for the remainder of the afternoon. Soper's Hole is a very protected bay on the west end of Tortola. It was once a haven for privateers and buccaneers (i.e. pirates) of all sorts - English, Dutch and French.

After a relaxing afternoon watching the charter boats careen through the harbor (more on this later) we went ashore for supper. On receiving the $105 bill for two medium pizzas, chicken wings and two drinks each, I realized the pirates had moved ashore and opened a restaurant!

While at dinner, Jen pointed out that we were back in the BVI almost exactly one year after we left. We departed the BVI to return to the United States in early May last year. It hardly seems like a year and a few thousand sea miles have passed by.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quiet Night On Anchor - South Coast of Puerto Rico

Midnight, anchored in a sheltered bay, mangrove cays to seaward. The quiet thrumming of an orange glowing sodium-lit power station on the distant shore does not intrude on the peace of the anchorage or the quiet shush...shush... of ocean swells breaking on the barrier shoals.

The dichotomy of the ancient sea sounds layered intermixed with the the modern power plant's throb sings a melody which transfixed me. From our anchorage, the distant sodium lights of the power plant look fragile. Delicate. The humidity of the evening has dissipated after the heavy showers, but the stars are still obscured by the clouds. The air is fresh and clear, but not crisp like winter mountain air. Good, rich, clean sea air. One day I will miss this.

Ponce, Puerto Rico

Ponce is located in the center of the southern coast of Puerto Rico and is one of the largest cities in Puerto Rico. We had several days to kill while we waited for the engine seals to arrive so we made the best of it and rented a car. The first day with the car we did some serious shopping. Groceries and cloths for Quinn were the order of the day. We also picked up a digital camera for Quinn. We'll be posting his pictures on his own web page soon - so keep an eye out.

The second day with the car we drove north across the island to San Juan. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains and rain forests of Puerto Rico. San Juan is a wonderful city, full of history. We were awed by the enormous fort that makes up most of Old San Juan. That it was built without any modern machinery is amazing. We had a great time wandering around the old streets. By late afternoon we were ready for the trip back to the boat. San Juan was a fun visit.

Back in Ponce, the parts had arrived and Luis, our mechanic was ready to go. The repair went off without a hitch and I was glad I had paid someone to do the work. The repair was simple enough, but it required shifting the engine block forward 6" or so and I didn't have the equipment to do that. Mirasol's boom doesn't reach that far so Luis used a small strap winch to take the load off the engine while they shifted it out of the way. I think I need one of those things!

The repair complete, we left Ponce the next day. We had a forecast for very light winds for the next four days so we put it in gear and headed for the Virgin Islands.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Do You Smell Oil?

On our third day of early morning coasting along Puerto Rico's south coast, we were heading for Cayo Aurora, better known by the locals as Gilligan's Island. Rumor has it that the locals gave it that name because it looks like the island in the TV show and one of the local fishermen looked like Bob Denver. Silly but true?

Anyway, when I told the mechanic I was at Cayo Aurora he responded "where???". So I tried "Gilligan's Island", and he replied"Oh, yeah... you'll have no problem getting to Ponce then". So, regardless of what the chart says, it is called Gilligan's Island. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We were within about a mile or so out of Cayo Aur... er, I mean, Gilligan's Island when I started smelling something I did not want to smell, in fact I tried to convince myself that nah, it can't be THAT. (Can you say "denial" boys and girls?). Gear oil. Synthetic gear oil has a smell that is hard to mistake. It stinks. So, I started wandering around the boat... first forward to see if the smell was coming from somewhere in front of us. Nope. So it's us. Maybe I didn't clean up the motor oil I spilled when topping off the engine... but it doesn't smell like engine oil. It smells like gear lube. Jen noticed my preoccupation as well as the smell and asked if we were burning oil. No, I said, not burning, but something's not right. We throttled down that engine a little, made the anchorage off Gilligan's Island and I started checking things out. The sump under the engine had a small pool of greenish smelly synthetic gear oil. Our upper sail drive gearbox shaft seal was shot.

While Jen and Quinn joined Kathy and John (our friends on Oceana) exploring Gilligan's Island, I poked around the engine a little to confirm the problem, called a mechanic I knew in Ft Lauderdale to get his opinion, and then began the chore of finding a mechanic in Puerto Rico. My first call struck gold. I called the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club and asked them for a recommendation. I received two. The first recommendation was Luis Santos, and I had no need to call the second. After about 15 minutes on the phone I was convinced I'd found a good mechanic. He had a good understanding of Yanmar sail drives as he asked me all the right questions to confirm that I had diagnosed the problem correctly, he was happy to discuss the problem with me, and spoke very good English, which was a big help to me since my Spanish is awful.

So, with a slip reserved in Ponce Yacht Club for the repair and a mechanic lined up for the following week, we motored on over to Ponce to get the shaft seal repaired.

It has been said that the correct definition of Cruising is: "fixing you boat in exotic locations". So it is at times.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Coasting at Dawn

We had a great weather forecast for transiting the south coast of Puerto Rico. The trades were light, 15 knots or so from the east. In addition, we had at our disposal the wisdom of Bruce Van Sant in the form of his "Gentleman's Guide to Passages South". Distilled from decades of experience in these waters, Bruce's advice for transiting the Thorny Path can be very helpful.

As with all advice, written or otherwise, a mariner is best served by weighing it against their own circumstances and heeding it only with caution. In our case, Bruce's advice proved very helpful for the most part. As for transiting the south coast of Puerto Rico, Bruce's advice was spot-on.

The south coast of Puerto Rico is littered with fine anchorages protected by cays and barrier reefs. With time on your hands, the most comfortable way to work eastwards into the Trades is to leave just before dawn and motor for 3 or 4 hours along the coast, no more than a mile or two offshore, being cautious of the reefs. Before the winds pipe up, say by 9AM, tuck in to an anchorage.

The Trades blow continuously, regardless of day or night, but around big islands you get interference from the hot air rising from the islands. In the few hours before and after dawn you can take advantage of the still air and seas provided by this "night lee". If you are interested in how you can parlay this into a comfortable passage straight into the Trades, read his book. If nothing else, the book is an interesting insight into the cruising lifestyle and if you don't take his considerable egotism seriously, quite amusing.

The "Dawn Coasting" plan worked very well for us. We would get up, raise anchor and be on our way as the first glimmer of dawn warmed the eastern sky.
By 9AM we usually had the anchor back down. The rest of the day would be spent exploring the anchorage and nearby town (if there was one.) At least it worked until I was just a little too pleased with myself and how well things were going. But then, a little adversity is good for the spirit, right?

My Discovery of Mofongo

We stayed about a week and a half on the west coast of Puerto Rico. The first three nights were spent in the Marina Pescadaria, Puerto Real, adjusting to the local ambiance and resting from the passage from Turks and Caicos. We felt very welcome and Quinn found someone to play with almost every night.

One evening we ate a local family-run restaurant and had a great meal. I ordered Mofongo, mostly because it was fun to say "Mofongo, por favor" after I'd had a few Medallas. Mofongo is a dense pile of mashed plantains and garlic, stuffed with your choice of seafood, chicken, pork or "meat"(beef). It is usually served smothered in a delicious sauce with rice and beans on the side. I had a shrimp mofongo that night and it was delicious. It turns out that Mofongo is a dish found on most menus in Puerto Rico, and each one is a little different. I had fun sampling Mofongo as we worked our way along the Puerto Rican coastline. It was never a disappointment.

We discovered there would be a big fish festival in town in a few days, which sounded too good to miss, but we didn't want to stay in the marina a full week. We arranged dockage at the marina for the festival and then moved south along the coast to Boquerone. Boqerone is a town that caters to the weekend party crowd, and was pretty quiet the two weekday nights we anchored there. The anchorage is quite large and about a third of the boats seemed to be anchored there on a permanent basis. A few, I'm certain, had marine growth securing them them firmly to the ground, making their anchor superfluous.

After two nights in Boquerone we returned to Puerto Real for the fish festival. It was a lot of fun. Street vendors, music, dancers, etc. I bought Quinn a couple of boxes of party snaps - the little harmless fire crackers that make a snap when you throw them on the ground - which he loved. He was delighted when he could share them with a little girl he met at the marina.
Kathy and John on Oceana caught up with us while we were in Puerto Real for the Fish Festival. Their short visit to the Dominican Republic was a great success, and they convinced us to visit the DR on our way back north in 2012.

We enjoyed the last day of the Fish Festival with Kathy and John, and went to dinner with them that evening. This time I ordered a freshly caught snapper in tomato garlic sauce. Yum. They know how to cook in Puerto Real.

The next day we left Puerto Real at dawn and returned to Boqueron, this time accompanied by Oceana. We spent a night in Boquerone, and then moved a little south to El Combate. The weather was blustery and rainy so we decided to relax on board Mirasol for the remainder of the day instead of heading ashore.

Again at dawn we departed El Combate and headed south to the south western cape of Puerto Rico, Cabo Rojo. There we found a large inviting anchorage... littered with fish trap floats. We spent about a half hour picking around the small bay and neither we nor Oceana were able to find somewhere to drop anchor without being surrounded by the fish traps. Our plans being to leave before dawn, we didn't want to be picking our way through fish traps in the dark. Instead, we elected to return to El Combate for the night.

El Combate was a busy place with lots of families hanging out on the beach. We had lunch on the beach (I had chicken Mofongo - delicious). Quinn had fun playing on the beach for a little while after lunch, and then we headed back to our boats. At dawn we planned to round Cabo Rojo and start our exploration of Puerto Rico's southern shore.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Puerto Rico - Arriving on the West Coast

I'm falling behind in my blogs so in the next few postings I'm going to try to cover a lot of ground, so to speak.

On arriving in Puerto Rico, I found I liked it immediately. The rich green rolling hills climbing towards the volcanic peaks in the eastern half of the island was a great contrast to the flat landscape of Florida, The Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos. The people were also very welcoming, as I worked out how to clear in.

Being a US Territory, clearing in to Puerto Rico for a US Citizen is pretty straight forward. However, if you don't participate in the US Customs Local Boater system, it's less convenient than most Carribbean ports of call. US Customs is located downtown in Mayaguez, about 15 miles north of Puerto Real. We chose not to stop in Mayaquez to clear in because it is a commercial port and not very comfortable for small vessels like Mirasol. Instead, the procedure is to call an 800 number on arrival and provide your information over the phone. I tried to do this with my satellite phone, but the phone system wouldn't accept an international call into the 800 number.

A local saw me trying to call customs and offered his cell phone for my use. He introduced himself as Fernando from Salinas and ran a small convenience shop in the marina complex. He proved to be an excellent source of local info, anchorage recommendations for the western and southern coasts of Puerto Rico, and best of all, $0.93 ice cold beers. I asked him where I could find a good chart for the anchorages he mentioned, and he dug out an old marked-up chart and gave it to me.

Anyway, back to clearing in. Customs took down our passport and vessel information over the phone and then told us we had 24 hours to present ourselves at the Customs office in Mayaguez to complete the process. The president of the marina, Jose, arranged for a car to take us the 15 miles up the coast to the Customs office. We were cleared in without any hassle and also signed up for the Local Boater program to avoid having to present ourselves in person in certain US ports in the future.

On the way back to Puerto Real, the driver stopped at a grocery store and we loaded up on groceries, and a little local rum and beer.

Speaking of the local rum and beer... Don Q is the local rum, and I find it the best silver rum I've tasted, certainly better than Bacardi Silver. The local beer favorite is Medalla, pronounced Mediiya, and it also quickly became a favorite on board. It is served in 10 oz ice cold cans, often so cold ice is frozen to the side of the can. When I first arrived in the Caribbean last year I found that 10oz cans and bottles are commonplace, and as we approached the summer months the reason for this is evident. It can be HOT here, especially if you're sheltered from the trade winds. You will want your beer ICE cold. The smaller 10oz cans are easy to finish off before that last bit gets warm. At $1 a beer, I can live with the smaller can. As I will be reminded later in our voyage, the smaller can doesn't come with a corresponding smaller price tag as you move south down-island. But that's for another blog.

I suppose I didn't cover much ground in this post. I'll do better in the next, or I'll never catch up! (We’re in the BVI as I write this).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Turks and Caicos to Puerto Rico

We left the sheltered water of the TCI banks for deep water around sunset on Wednesday, March 23rd. We had waited two weeks for this window and were eager to go. The weather window was a little shorter than we wanted, but with the winter cold fronts becoming rare, we took what we could get. It turned out to be a challenging but rewarding 462 nautical mile passage

As anticipated, we were motoring into a fairly steep 6-8 foot swell accompanied by 3-4 foot wind waves. The winds had been blowing 20-25 knots on Tuesday, were now 15 knots, and was supposed to continue to diminish. While motoring into these wind and wave conditions is unpleasant, it was necessary to set us up for a few days of light south easterly winds in which we could make our way east to Puerto Rico. Normally, the Trade Winds would be blowing 20 knots out of the east, making this run impossible, or at least extremely miserable.

The wind and wave conditions did not diminish as quickly as we had hoped. About 18 hours into the passage our friends on Oceana decided to divert south to the Dominican Republic. The opposing wind and waves were chewing up their fuel, putting Puerto Rico out of their range. They turned south on a comfortable beam reach sail to Puerto Plata, DR, and arrived safely the next day.

Mirasol was also burning fuel at a high rate, but we were confident we could make it stretch to Puerto Rico by sailing due east rather than heading directly for Puerto Rico. This kept us from heading straight into the southeast winds and seas, and set us up for a fast beam reach sail due south once we reached Puerto Rico's longitude.

By mid day Thursday Jen and Quinn were both dealing with cases of mal de mare and the wind and seas had refused to lay down. When the trades winds were finally stalled by the cold front just north of us, we continued motorsailing due east in more comfort. We were motoring with one engine and a full main to conserve fuel, but we were fighting a 1.5 current so we were only making about 3.5 knots. We gave up on any hope of a Saturday arrival and figured on mid-day Sunday.

On Friday evening we were 200 miles due north of Puerto Rico's west coast. It was finally time to turn south. We put the helm over, rolled out the jib and shut off the engine. We were a sailboat at once again. Friday night and Saturday we enjoyed ideal sailing conditions with gentle seas and the wind on the beam. By midnight on Saturday, we were well into the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

We discussed risking a night time arrival, but in spite of our eagerness to complete the voyage, we fell back on our rule of avoiding unfamiliar landfalls at night. To set up a dawn arrival in Puerto Real, Puerto Rico, we ghosted along on a furled jib and no main through the rest of the night. We entered Puerto Real's picturesque harbor as the sun broke over the hills. It was one of our prettiest landfalls. After the sparse vegetation and arid terrain of the Bahamas and the Turks And Caicos, the lush, mountainous vistas of Puerto Rico were amazing.

This was our most challenging passage to windward, and we were happy to have it behind us! Jen took this picture of Quinn and I as we approached the west coast of Puerto Rico. A tired but happy crew.

Turks and Caicos Islands, March 2011

We spent 14 lazy days in the Turks and Caicos. After spending time in the Exumas and other out islands of the Bahamas we were ready for some access to grocery stores, restaurants, laundry, barber shops and other niceties of civilization. Accordingly, we chose to spend the time in a marina. The anchorages were all quite remote from any towns or facilities.

We made South Side Marina on Providenciales Island our home for those two weeks, and had a very enjoyable time. While on the dock we took several excursions to the touristy side of town. Our first night on Provo, Jen and I had a delightful dinner in a wine bar while Kathy and John Reager from Oceana watched Quinn for us. Another memorable excursion found Jen, Quinn and I on a day-long walk along the Grace Bay Beach, checking out all the beachside resorts. Jen and I were very impressed with the beach, as it was miles long, clean, and protected from the big ocean swells by a barrier reef about a mile out. Snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, tube rides, parasail rides, and catamaran booze cruises were among the many activities available. Anyone looking for a fun beach getaway should consider Provo's Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos!

The diving here is quite good, and I did two dives off of West Caicos island. They were both wall dives and were a lot of fun. The most interesting thing was seeing barrel sponge coral spawning. They were all doing it at once, which is something to see. Imagine large smoke pots as the spores swirled up and out of the huge barrel sponges in reddish-brown clouds. I've never seen anything like it before. We also saw three large sharks cruising the wall, a few barraccuda, plenty of coral and reef fish plus the usual critters. The dropoff was spectacular as it dropped from about 50'to 3000' straight down. Now that is a wall dive!

It was a bit of a walk to town from the marina, but the marina staff were happy to provide a ride when they had time available. The ride was a pickup truck and was in high demand by the other boats in the marina, so we were usually in the back hanging on. Riding in the back of a pickup truck is old hat for Jen and I (thanks for all those rides in high school, Matt) and Quinn loved it.

Every evening at 5:00 the marina organized a happy hour where everyone would gather with sundowners, substancial appetizers and plenty of stories to share with the other cruisers. The Turks and Caicos is a hub for cruisers heading either north or south at this time of year, so we met several cruisers who were also heading for the Windward Islands for the rest of the season and a few working their way back north.

There actually was some work accomplished during our stay. I took care of a lot of mainenance items while we had the convienience of a marina. Propane refills, engine oil changes, fuel filter changes, water maker maintenance, and general upkeep items. Jen did some serious spring cleaning, tons of laundry and knocked off several pages of scrapbooking.

Other cruisers had more serious maintenance issues. Our friends on Oceana have a substancial stainless steel davit assembly on the stern which supports two large solar panels as well as their dinghy. Two key support welds had failed requiring attention from a local welder to put right. A Lagoon 380, Lucy, arrived missing one propeller. Appearantly one of theirs fell off in transit from down island. Go figure. The replacement prop arrived via Fed Ex, but the custom cone nut did not. After several days of trying to track down the missing shipment, Lucy's captain lost patience, stated that Lucy was a sailboat after all, and resumed their voyage to Ft. Lauderdale with one engine missing a prop.

One day I was determined to walk to town. I had an errand to run and needed the exercise after all those happy hour appetizers. I took Quinn with me and we settled into the walk. We had made it only about half way before a local stopped to give us a ride. When dropping us at the store they asked us if we wanted their number to call if we ever needed another ride. Same thing on the way back: we weren't half way home when a car stopped to give us a ride and we were again offered a phone number. Nice folks here.

After about a week in the TCI we were ready to move on, but we needed a good weather window to beat 400 miles southeast against the trades. On the 14th day it arrived (sort of), and we were off to Puerto Rico.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Thorny Path

Travelling by sailboat from Florida to the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean is called the "thorny path" to the Caribbean. It has this name because it entails travelling about 950 miles southeast straight into the trade winds. That is a long, long way to go upwind.

One way to do this is the offshore route. You depart Florida, swing north of the Bahamas and head east until you are due north of the Virgin Islands. Once you have made your easting, you can turn south and enjoy a beam reach into the Virgin Islands. Since you're already quite far south, most of this trip requires beating into the upper edges of the trade winds to make your way east.

If you have the time, a more enjoyable (and marriage-preserving) route is to island hop. You make your way through the Bahamas, take a short passage to the Turks and Caicos, and then a longer one to Puerto Rico, sometimes via the Dominican Republic. Once in Puerto Rico, you have short day sails as you coast along the south side of Puerto Rico and on into the Virgin Islands. It sounds straight forward, but there are a few prickly thorns in that route as well.
The first part of the journey is pretty easy, and only requires one or two overnight passages. We sailed from Miami to Bimini, then on to the Exumas where we spent a fair amount of time. From the Exumas we sailed to Rum Cay, in the out islands of the Bahamas.

Once you get as far south as Rum Cay, you have dipped your toe into the trade winds, which blow with remarkable consistency from the East. At the same time, you are leaving behind the many sheltered anchorages of the Bahamas, and the short daylight passages they provide. Ahead of you lay larger stretches of open ocean.

The solution is to take advantage of cold fronts rolling off of the southeast coast of the US that tend to stall just south east of the Bahamas. These cold fronts tend to shut down the trade winds between the Bahamas and the Virgins, providing a weather window in which you can motor or motor-sail to the next staging anchorage in light easterly winds. If you time it right, you can enjoy gentle rollers, light easterly winds of under 15 knots and wind waves under 3 feet on the nose. Without these windows, you are faced with head winds over 20 knots and steep eight foot or more seas on the nose. A recipe for broken boats and very unhappy crew (meaning, a furious wife).

Our passage from Rum Cay to the Turks and Caicos was our first leg in this difficult portion of the Thorny Path. We left Rum Cay after a whopper of a cold front blew through. There were 8-10 foot rollers on our beam, but they were gentle and spread out. The wind and associated wind waves had laid down and we had a pleasant first half of the passage. By midnight, however, the wind picked up on our nose and we ended up pounding for several hours until we found ourselves in the lee of the Turks and Caicos. We probably would have waited a few days for a longer window, but we were very eager to catch up with our friends on Oceana, who were already in the Turks and Caicos.

The entrance to the Caicos Bank is a 200 foot wide cut called the Sand Bore Channel. It is the only access to the well protected Caicos Bank from the west. Passing through the channel, we left behind the deep blue ocean and found ourselves in 10 feet of beautiful turquoise water as far as the eye could see. It was an astounding change.

The Turks and Caicos are a part of the British Commonwealth and are located south east of the Bahamas and about 80 miles due north of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The Caicos islands and cays surround the Caicos Bank, which is a very flat plateau resting about 3 to 15 feet below the water and is sprinkled very liberally with coral heads and shoals. The Turks lie 50 miles to the east of the Caicos Islands, separated by ocean water over a mile deep.

We were excited to be in the Turks and Caicos. Friends, miles of beaches, and world renowned diving awaited us.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rum Cay, Far Bahamas

The trip to Rum Cay from the Exumas was a pleasant, if moonless overnight passage. We arrived late morning and threaded our way into the harbor. We were expecting a cold front to arrive on our heals so we decided on staying in the marina rather than in the anchorage, which we expected to be rolly and uncomfortable during the frontal passage.

The harbor entrance is exceptionally well marked by Bahamas standards. It is a good thing since it is a twisty route through many coral heads which brush the surface. On arrival we topped off our fuel and found our slip in the marina. It is a very small and quiet marina, which is fitting for such a remote island. Water was unavailable and power was very expensive, so we stayed in "anchorage mode" keeping our power and water use low and did not hook up to shore water or power.

The island itself is small and only has sixty or so inhabitants. It sports two groceries, one the size of a two car garage and one the size of a modest walk-in closet. Provisioning was not much of an option however, as the mail boat did not bring any food so the shelves were mostly bare with the exception of some canned goods and staples.

The day after our arrival the marina filled up with other boats hiding from the cold front and the owners decided on hosting a pizza party. The pizzas were home made and cooked in a wood oven. Very tasty, and it was fun chatting with the other cruisers.

The next morning, we took a long walk to the north east side of the cay for a tour of part of the old salt flats where they used to harvest salt. On the return trip we took the beach route back. Jen found some interesting sea glass and Quinn found several very nice shells. I found an intact plastic garbage bin with a sticker declaring it was the property of a town in Martinique. It had drifted hundreds of miles up the equatorial current to wind up on the beach of Rum Cay. It'll probably stay there until the next storm and continue it's journey north.

Quinn caught his first fish while we were in Rum Cay. It was a 10" Jack, and would have been good eating had we not returned it to the sea. Jen already had dinner in the works when he caught it. He was quite proud. He caught it on a little 24" toy fishing rod that was bent double while he reeled in the fish. We'll have to find him something more suitable now that he's graduated from toy fishies to the real thing!

Rum Cay is a very pleasant and quiet destination, but we have friends waiting in the Turks and Caicos, so we stayed only as long as needed to let the front pass and the winds and waves settle. We left the marina the day before our departure from Rum Cay to stage ourselves in the anchorage. We planned a midnight departure and did not want to thread the coral heads in the dark. This was our first night time departure from an anchorage, and we had no moon or lights from shore so it was a little disorienting in the pitch black night. All went well, and we were off the Turks and Caicos.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Point, Great Guana Cay Exumas

After a three day stay, we left the Big Major's Spot anchorage near Staniel Cay early in the morning and headed to Black Point. Since the wind was not in our favor, it was a 10 mile motor. On arrival we dropped anchor, loaded up the dinghy with three big bags of laundry and headed for Rockside Laundry.

Leaving Jen with the laundry, Quinn and I returned to Mirasol to fetch the five boxes of school books we picked up in Ft Lauderdale. The Seven Seas Cruising Association organized a small fleet of boats to bring school books donated by Florida school districts to various islands of the Exumas. We were happy to volunteer. The organizers did a thorough job putting it all together and must have put in a great deal of effort. Since we were already going to the Exumas, I suspect the delivery was the easy part.

Laundry and book delivery complete we retired to Mirasol for lunch and a short nap. Jen spied the weekly Mail Boat arriving, which means fresh produce at the grocery store. We piled back into the dinghy and headed back in to shore to see what we could find. While Jen vied with the other cruisers for the limited supply of fresh veg, Quinn and I walked up the road to see what was going on at Lorraine's Cafe. It was very much like we left it two years ago. A very friendly place where you can get access to the internet, sip a beverage and catch up with the world a little bit. We found out that there was a BBQ buffet planned for the following night so we signed up and headed back to the grocery to find Jen. Jen had some success at the market so we grabbed the booty and headed back to the dinghy.

Since the Mail Boat was in, so were all the cruisers and the dock was quite crowded with all their dinghies. I had to climb over several to get to ours. As I was about to step onto ours, the dingy I was standing on started to drift backwards. I chose to make a jump for it... and chose poorly. Fortunately, I had nothing much in my pockets as I splashed down chest deep next to our dinghy. Jen, Quinn and the crowd on the dock all found it very amusing. Oh well, after 3 years of clambering around on dinghies it was about time, I suppose!

The following day we hiked to the east side of the island to explore two of the ocean side beaches. Jen found a bunch of sea glass and Quinn found several shells he liked. Once finished with the first beach, the sky looked a little threatening so we skipped the second beach and headed back to the boat. As six o'clock rolled around it was back to shore to Lorrain's Cafe for the BBQ. We met a family of four on the way and they decided to join us for dinner. They were taking a year sabbatical and enjoying the islands and it was fun comparing stories. Quinn had a lot of fun with their two boys, one 3 and one 5. As usual, Lorrain's food was delicious and the beer was cold.

We'll stay one more night here in Black Point, and then we think we'll move a little further south to our favorite anchorage in the area, Hidden Harbor. On our last visit, we spent several days there and had it almost exclusively to ourselves.

It looks like we might have a good weather window to get to Rum Cay next week. Rum Cay is a good spot from which to jump south to the Turks and Cacaos, and it's time to start thinking about that. The longer we stay here in the Exumas, the less favorable the weather becomes for getting to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and it's still a long way to Grenada.

Staniel Cay, Exumas

We had a great sail south from Warderick Wells to Staniel Cay. It was about 25 miles and a broad reach or run most of the way. We had plenty of company heading both north and south as it was a beautiful sailing day.

We arrived at the Big Major's Spot anchorage just north of Staniel Cay in mid afternoon and dropped the hook. The following day we went in to Staniel Cay to pick up some fresh produce from Isle General Store. We were in great luck and found carrots, broccoli and eggs along with some canned juice. While at the store Quinn found some kids playing in a fort just around the corner and joined in with a big grin. Heading back to the boat, the tide had gone out and I had to pull the dinghy through the shallows of the river to get to deep water. I seem to be timing the tide wrong on our land excursions lately!

We skipped the traditional pastimes at Staniel Cay - Thunderball Grotto and Pig Beach. Thunderball Grotto is very cool, a hollow islet that you can swim into via a short submerged tunnel. It was the location for the closing scene from the 007 movie Thunderball. However, the water was pretty choppy during low tide and I decided to give it a pass this year. I'll be sure to snorkel it on the way back north.

Pig Beach is just that. Wild pigs on a beach. Cruisers like to go ashore and feed them, and it sounds fun. We did it last time and I learned my lesson. Pigs aren't nice and are pretty aggressive. We watched from the boat this year.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Warderick Wells

We've spent the last three days at Warderick Wells, one of the jewels of the Exumas. It is in the heart of the Exuma Land and Sea Park and has many things to keep you busy. For us, the most attractive feature of the area are the hiking trails.

On our first day, we repeated a hike we took during our visit in 2009. We visited the blow holes on Boo-Boo peak, which were quiet as we arrived too close to low tide. We searched for and found the board we left two years ago on Boo-Boo peak, where it is customary for cruisers to leave a piece of driftwood marked with the boat's name and date of visit. Then we continued down to the beach on the Exuma Sound and then back across the Cay to some beaches on the Yellow Banks side of the Cay where we were moored. These beaches are among the best I have seen anywhere. Talcum-fine white sand, turquoise waters and live starfish, conch and other sea life in abundance.

That afternoon, we joined about 20 other cruisers for drinks and snacks down on one of the beaches. Quinn was very happy to find Glen, another 5 year old to play with and they spent 2 hours playing on the beach and in the surf. Unfortunately, Glen's family were headed north to the Abacos on a tight schedule so we couldn't spend more time with them. The afternoon was fun and we met several cruisers who we expect to see more of over the next several weeks as we are all working southward.

Our second day we went for a longer hike to the south end of the cay. We saw ruins of the abandoned loyalist settlement founded during the US Revolutionary War, a hideout used by pirates with a fresh water well, as well as several more beautiful beaches and great vistas. The "trails" were very rugged, often requiring stepping from jagged boulder to boulder, skirting 20-foot deep holes in the limestone. Quinn did very well, but was happy when we were finished with the rough trails and could stick to the beaches the rest of the way back to our dinghy.

Speaking of the dinghy, when we beached the dinghy in preparation for our hike I thought it was low tide. This assumption was supported by the fact that I had to row the last 100 yards in to the beach as it was very shallow and flat. Concerned about a rising tide, I dragged the dinghy up to the high water mark on the beach and tied it to a tree. As it turned out, I needn't have bothered. In fact, it was not low tide when we left the dinghy, but WAS when we returned several hours later. When we crested the rise by the beach where our dinghy was secured I was dismayed to find that the water that I had rowed over had disappeared and our dinghy was stranded 100 yards from any water.
We had three options. One was to swim out to Mirasol to wait for the tide. As Mirasol was about a quarter mile away and we were tired from the hike this was a poor option. The second option was to sit on the beach and wait for the tide to come in. Since this would probably be several hours, it was clear that this wasn't Quinn's or Jen's favorite idea. We were all hot, tired and thirsty.

The third option entailed dragging the 250 pound dinghy, motor, and fuel across 100 yards of that wet talcum-fine white sand. I mentioned that we could sit and wait for the tide, but apparently Jen and Quinn felt that I was simply making a poor joke and waited for me to start hauling the dinghy to the water. Oh, and they took pictures of course.

I did manage to float the dinghy without damaging anything important, (the dinghy made it afloat unscathed as well). We arrived back on Mirasol and I quickly availed myself of our stores of gin, tonic and lime.

Our third day was more leisurely. We hiked back up to the blow holes on Boo-Boo peak. This time we arrived near high tide and they were blowing strongly. We also climbed up to the peak and updated our driftwood marker with the year 2011. Boo-Boo peak get's its name from the sound of the blow holes when there is a strong on-shore swell at high tide. The cay is rumored to be haunted by a shipwreck castaway and some attribute the noise to his ghost, others to the blow holes. I'll reserve judgment as I haven't been to the peak at night and I imagine it's pretty spooky on a full moon.

We hope to come back to Warderick Wells one more time in 2012 as we make our was back to the US. It is a fun place to visit.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day at Shroud Cay

As expected, the cold front arrived a day early and we were happy with our decision to shift our Exuma landfall to Shroud Cay. Shroud gave us less protection than we had hoped, but it was better than we expected Highborne to be in N-NE winds. The cold front stalled on top of the Bahamas, giving us lots of rain and 20-25 knot winds for a couple of days. Mirasol was pretty salty from the last couple of passages so the heavy rains were welcome.

After two days of hanging out on the boat we were ready for a trip ashore when the weather broke on Valentine's Day. We climbed on the dinghy and motored around exploring the tiny cays that surround Shroud Cay. Quinn had his first try at driving, and did very well. By the time I had to take over as we approached land he was comfortable enough with it to be screwing around with the throttle, pestering Jen and making me happy I had the kill cord strapped around my wrist.

We beached on Shroud Cay and followed a trail for a short hike. We found a natural fresh water well that really surprised me. It was 12 feet in diameter and full of fresh water - not brackish at all. This was very surprising to me since Shroud Cay is made of porous limestone and is no more than 10 feet above sea level. There were small fish swimming in the well, and Quinn asked how they got there. Good question... how did fresh water fish show up in a well hundreds of miles from any sizable fresh water habitat? I'm stumped.

We found a tidal creek that wound its way through the mangroves across the north end of the cay all the way to Exuma Sound. We followed it in our dinghy, motoring and rowing as required. On reaching the Exuma Sound I had to jump out and pull Jen and Quinn in the dink across the shallows where we beached it and tied off to a very small mangrove tree along the shore.

Crossing the barrier dunes, we found a beautiful deserted beach on the Exuma Sound where we relaxed for a while while Quinn played in the surf. We named it Valentine's Day Beach.

Once back on Mirasol Jen started on a batch of bread while Quinn swam off the transom.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On to the Exumas

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in the Exumas after a wonderful 33 hour sail from Bimini. We left Bimini at dawn and motored south straight into 15 knots of wind. The waves were steep and right on the nose, but fortunately this was just for a few miles as we made our way to Gun Cay where we would turn East onto the shallow waters of the Great Bahamas Bank.

Once on the shallow smooth waters of the Great Bahamas Bank, we had wind on our beam. We shut off the motors and blew across the banks at 7-8.5 knots. It was a fantastic sailing day. With only 3 to 15 feet of water under our keel, I kept a close eye out for coral heads, but never had to change course to avoid them. We were following a route from the Explorer Chart Book and this is well traveled route we found it to be carefully plotted to avoid the hazards. I saw many coral heads on the banks, but all passed safely to either side of us.

I was very pleased with Mirasol’s performance. Even loaded down with every cabinet stuffed to overflowing with provisions and gear, we were able to overtake a monohull with a 10 mile lead and keep ahead of a larger catamaran following behind, although he would have overtaken us if he had a few more hours.

At sunset, we left the 6 to 20 foot water of the banks and entered the Tongue of the Ocean which is the deep water between the Great Bahamas Banks and New Providence. The drop-off is sudden – our depth finder which has a range of more than 350 feet and measures every second, lost the bottom with the last reading being 24 feet. A glance at the chart we were suddenly in 2600 feet of water, and would soon be in water over a mile deep. The topology of the Bahamian waters is simply amazing.

Over night, we sailed most of the way across the Tongue of the Ocean. The sky was clear and the moon was out so it was a bright passage. The wind settled down to about 8 knots, and we were fighting a 1.5 knot current so our progress was a modest 4.5 knots through the water and 3 knots over ground. It worked out just right, though as we arrived off of Paradise Island, New Providence just before dawn and would need daylight to pick our way onto the Yellow Banks just past New Providence.

As we approached New Providence, we could see the lights of the massive Atlantis Resort and other hotels on Paradise Island, and kept an eye out for the many passing cargo and cruise ships. At first light we picked our way through the scattered Cays and coral heads that guard the north east corner of New Providence and turned south onto the Yellow Banks. The Yellow Banks, like the Great Bahamas Bank is a huge expanse of very shallow water, generally less than 20 feet deep that runs the entire western length of the Exumas.

By mid afternoon on Friday we made Highborne Cay in the Exumas, which was where we had planned to anchor for the night. However, as we approached we learned that the cold front we expected to arrive the following evening had sped up and was now expected that night. The anchorage at Highborne Cay didn’t offer much protection from a strong North wind, so we changed plans and headed a couple hours further south to Shroud Cay.

The Shroud Cay anchorage is gorgeous, dotted with tiny cays surrounding Shroud Cay on the East and the turquoise waters of the Yellow Banks on the West. At Quinn’s suggestion, we toasted our arrival in the Exumas and then went about the business of squaring away Mirasol after a passage. By sunset the three of us were lounging on the bow, very happy to be back.

Exploring Bimini

We spent four days and five nights in Bimini at the Blue Water Marina while we waited for weather for our hop to the Exumas. We spent the time exploring Alice Town, building sand forts on the beach, fishing off the boat and a little minor boat maintenance here and there.

We had arrived on the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday and Jen was happy to find that the owners of The Big Game Club marina were big Packers fans and were hosting a Super Bowl BBQ. Late Sunday afternoon we headed for the Big Game Club, both Jen and Quinn sporting their Packer gear. Since the Bears didn’t make it, I settled for cheering for the Packers, but refused to wear any Packers gear. The waitress at the door harassed me a bit for being a Bears fan, but let me in anyway. The BBQ was fantastic. Jen went for the chicken, Quinn for the ribs and I for the jerked pork loin. Delicious! Bahamians know how to throw a BBQ! Since the Packers won the big game, we celebrated with a big slice of chocolate cake, probably the last desert of that type we’ll find for a few months.

Monday Jen went searching for sea glass while Quinn and I built a huge sand fortress, complete with an outer wall, a moat, and a secret escape tunnel in the back. It has been many months since Quinn’s been on a beach like this and he put it to good use!

Alice Town was a pleasant place to visit, with very friendly locals. Quinn made several friends, including Craig, the BBQ master & bartender at the Big Game Club. The town is well kept and painted bright pinks, blues, and yellows. I was sorry to find that the Complete Angler Hotel where Hemmingway spent a lot of time had burnt down in 2007. Maybe I’ll read Old Man and the Sea again soon.

Arrival In Bimini

We’re back in the Bahamas! 


The crossing from Miami to Bimini was bouncy but pretty quick.  We were in a pack of six boats making for various entrance ports of the Bahamas so we had plenty of company.  We worked our way slowly through the pack and were the first of the three boats to arrive at Bimini.    Not that it was a race…


On arrival at the cut between North and South Bimini, we found that the entrance did not resemble our electronic or paper charts.  There were two large brand new channel buoys that were not on our charts and none of the buoys that were on our charts.  The only thing that seemed in agreement was the note about shifting sand bars on the charts and the breakers we were seeing just beyond those fancy new buoys.  We motored very slowly between the entrance buoys and confirmed the water in front of us was full of breakers so we turned around and headed back out to deep water to regroup and visually plan our route in.


We were hailed by another boat that just arrived who wanted to know what we found in the cut.  They had been here before, but said the markers were all new.  They had waypoints plotted from their last visit, so we let them lead the way.  As we headed in, we were hailed by someone with local knowledge who advised us to ignore the new buoys and head straight towards the southern shore and follow the beach in through the cut.  On the bow, Jen said that route looked the best and we headed that way.  The boat we were following didn’t heed these instructions, I assume being more comfortable with their old waypoints, and ran afoul of one of the sandbars.  They were being very cautious so didn’t ground hard and were quickly moving again.  We both then followed the beach in through the cut and were safely in the North Bimini channel off of Alice Town.


We took a slip in Blue Water Marina, cleared Bahamas Customs and Immigration, and settled in for a relaxing evening.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bahamas Bound 2011

Jen's elbow is getting much better and we've decided to continue on with our 2011 cruise. Tomorrow we will head down the New River and out into the Atlantic for the short hop to Dinner Key, Miami. The plan is to stay on a mooring ball at Dinner Key for a couple of nights and then make the jump across the Gulf Stream to Bimini, Bahamas on Saturday.

We'll clear customs in Bimini and then head on to the Exumas as weather permits. Jen is hinting at us staying in Bimini for a week so we can watch the Packers in the Superbowl. We'll see how it works out when we get there (my favorite method of planning).

We made good use of the unexpected extension to our stay in Ft Lauderdale. Quinn is a proud owner of a new bike, we crammed at least another couple hundred pounds of provisions in our bulging lockers and cabinets (hey, beer is expensive in the islands!), visited some museums, and completed numerous chores on the boat that had been postponed until "a better time".

So, off we go on the next stage of our 2011 Cruise. Our long term plans are to spend some weeks in the Exumas and then begin working our way south through the West Indies until we reach Grenada in late June. We'll stay in Grenada through the 2011 hurricane season, and then start working northwards come November. Eventually, we'll make it back to Ft Lauderdale sometime in May or June of 2012.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Holidays on the New River

We've been here for three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Thanksgiving was a treat when we cooked our first full turkey on the grill. We weren't sure it would fit, but it did. In the past we've done Cornish hens. Jen completed the feast with hericot verts (snobby green beans) stuffing, fancy sweet potatos and home made cranberry sauce.

In anticipation of our trip to Disney on the following Sunday, I picked up the rental car the Friday after Thanksgiving. Since I had a car and the weather was nice, I decided to do some quick shopping for Jen's Christmas presents. It says something for my current level of detachment from the normal US society that I didn't realize that I was venturing out into the evil cauldron of "TheDayAfterChristmasShoppingMadness". I made it home alive (and without much to show for my efforts) and told Jen how nuts it was out there. She just laughed and asked me why I would ever go out shopping on Black Friday, given my dislike of crowds. My response was a sheepish "Ooops, I guess I forgot about that.". Ah well. It's a good thing, really.

The Disney trip was a good holiday for the crew of Mirasol. We left the boat for five whole days of hotel living and gratuitous Quinn spoiling. We spent time at the Magic Kingdom (Quinn's favorite, of course), Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios. We did the Micky Christmas Party, which was a lot of fun and Quinn hung in there right up until they kicked us out at midnight. Going the week after Thanksgiving was perfect as the crowds were very light. We were able to avoid waiting in any lines longer than about 20 minutes, most much less than that. The only place where lines were a problem was Hollywood Studios. We always let Quinn decide if we would wait for a ride, and anything over 20 minutes to a half hour he always chose to find something else to do. That's my boy! Lines suck. ;)

Christmas was full of the usual excitement for Quinn and the whole family. Quinn now has great confidence that Santa will find us wherever we are. Jen outdid herself once again with the Christmas Eve Feast. We had a roast beef tenderloin with a delicious port wine reduction, asparagus, taters and a yummy cherry compote over ice cream for desert. Quinn set out the cookies and milk for Santa and went promptly to sleep after admonishing me not to stay up too late. It was good advice. Christmas morning came EARLY.

New Years Eve was a blast. We were joined by our friends Brian, Shannon and Cooper Hermann. The six of us wandered around the festival across the river from Mirasol for a few hours, stopped for some great burgers at Tarpon Bend Restaurant and then retired to the boat for a few games of Mexican Train. Once midnight rolled around we gathered on Mirasol's bow to view the ball drop and fireworks which were shot off directly across the river from us. Brian and Cooper spent the night, it being Cooper's first overnight on a boat. Quinn was very pleased to share his bunk.

We're hoping to be in the islands for the next holiday!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ft Lauderdale stay extended

December was a busy month with boat maintenance, visits with family, holidays, a trip to Disney and lots of provisioning.

As for maintenance, the problem with the fuel line turned out to be a severely cracked fuel pickup tube inside the starboard fuel tank. It is likely it's been cracked since it was installed and has gradually worsened as time went on. It took a lot of looking to find it. Pickup tube cracking wasn't on my short list of causes for a fuel problem. It is now.

Other maintenance chores included repairing and cleaning the grill in preparation for holiday feast grilling (love that Magma Catalina grill, we give it a real workout), some minor but useful enhancements to our navigation light switching, gear oil changes for Mirasol and the outboard, new wire harness for the dinghy, replacement of the cockpit cushion padding (worn out from too much loafing, I suppose), water-maker servicing, etc.

Family visits included a trip to Ft Myers to visit with my parents in their new home as well as a visit with my sister Anita, her husband Todd, and son Riley. Both visits were a lot of fun.

Provisioning the boat for an extended trip to the islands has taken up much of our time... and budget. We recently decided to spend the hurricane season of 2011 in Grenada, which is very exiting for us. This means we'll be out of the country for almost 18 months instead of 8 months, making provisioning more complex. Once we're out of the US, we'll spend 95% or more of our nights at anchor, with months between any stay at a marina.

Jen has stocked the freezer with vacuum-sealed meat, cabinets with canned goods, bow lockers with paper towels ($4 a roll in the islands) and our bilges are stocked with dozens of quarts of UHT Milk, Juice Boxes, and little soda and several cases of beer. At $80 a case for Heineken in the islands, it pays to bring a few with us! No need to stock rum, of course!

In the room remaining, I've stashed spare parts for every major system on board. It's impossible to carry enough spares for all possibilities without breaking the bank and sinking the boat, but we do have most critical systems covered as best we can. We're also loaded up with as much consumables as I think we'll need. Lots of filters... oil and fuel filters for three diesels, belts, gaskets, oil, gear lube, joker valves and rebuild kits for the heads (ick!) water maker filters, blah blah blah. I need a spreadsheet to track them all, and where I've stowed them.

Our current plan is to tour the out-islands of the Bahamas this winter. Come spring we'll work our way south through the Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the West Indies until we reach Grenada in late June. We're not sure which islands we'll stop at on the way down, but we'll be in the neighborhood of the British Virgin Islands, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Bequia, and the Tobago Cays. We plan on staying in Grenada through November, and then begin a leisurely return journey north, ending up in Florida in early summer, 2012. We hope to enroll Quinn in school while we're in Grenada, but we're not yet sure if that can be arranged.

We selected Grenada as our home for the hurricane season as it is generally safe from hurricanes (or not), and is a very beautiful place to spend some time. Trinidad, 90 miles south-west of Grenada, is a better bet for avoiding hurricanes. However, it's not a desirable a cruising destination. It is a very good place to leave your boat on the hard for the summer season, but for live-aboards, it's not so great.

Well, that was our plan. At some point I must have forgot to say "or not". We've had a minor delay.

A little over a week ago, Jen hurt her elbow badly. Had she not hurt herself, it would have been a funny story. As it is, she has considerable pain and bruising and we're not allowed to laugh about it yet ;). It's unclear if there is a fracture involved, but the doc says she has to rest it for a few weeks or she'll end up needing surgery. When told of her plans to head for the islands, he said something along the lines of "you're not going anywhere for several weeks" as the work involved with sailing the boat is just about the worst she could do for her arm. We hope to find out next week if there is a fracture and get a better handle on how long we need to extend our stay here in Ft Lauderdale. It's a bit of a shock as we were all set to leave for the Bahamas this week, but at least we're stuck in a nice place!