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.