Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Virgins in Paradise - sans boom

We officially made it to the Virgin Islands! Nice!

Vieques, just off the southeastern tip of Puerto Rico is a Spanish Virgin Island. Less developed for touristies than the US or British virgin ilsands it is replete with pristine beaches, wild horses (sing U2 here) and that spicy latin vibe.

The overnight sail form Salinas took quite long as the wind was dead on the nose, forcing us to make long tacks back and forth. Taiga, a big 44ft catamaran with us in Salinas, left many hours after us yet arrived several hours earlier than us. Team Taiga America's cup challenge! The silver lining was upon our arrival that they invited us over for a full spread breakfast!

In first light as we were approaching the anchorage we noticed that were dragging something. About thirty feet behind us looked to be some blue & orange markers, probably fishing nets or float cords. It was very concerning because if the line gets caught in the propeller it will foul and we'll have big problems. It didn't seem to be an issue yet, who knows how long we'd been dragging it through the night without getting caught. We could have stopped (turn of the engine, lower sails, etc.) in open water and gone swimming with a tether but this also carries significant risk. Ultimately we entered and anchored without incident. I immediately went for a swim to both dive on the anchor and free whatever we were dragging. To our amazement it was a weather balloon!! The National Weather Service (NWS) sends up these weather balloons to record atmospheric data, then they fall back to earth. This one had fallen into the ocean and snagged itself about a foot up our rudder (behind and below our prop, phew). Included on the data collection box is an addressed postage paid envelope to return the balloon to the NWS.

Unfortunately critical boat projects were creeping up and I had to spend a significant amount of time in paradise with my head in the bilge or wrestling a generator. Jack on Taiga was a huge help fixing our generator. It was definitely a two-man job (more likely three or four!). Worst designed generator ever!Hell we literally had to hacksaw it apart. We really appreciated the help. To celebrate and to thank Taiga we treated them to dinner on the malecon. One of the best dinners of the entire trip we agree; food, drink and company. Sherri and Jack on Taiga are certainly remarkable people. Living in the Alaska back country, running dog sled teams, building & running a lodge, flying light / float planes. Oh the stories!

Two bays over form our anchorage was a bio-luminescent bay. Our last night we dinghied over to explore. I was concerned about dinghying across the ocean in darkness and we did surf down some waves but ultimately all went well. In the bay there were a few tour groups going around in kayaks. The bio-luminescence was not obvious so we would row close to a tour group in the pitch black and overhear what the guides were saying. Bio-luminescence is quite variable and I could tell the guides were bullshitting the tourists “Oh yeah, it's only about 50% luminescent tonight, but look at Orion's belt” A light was flashed around and one of the kayakers noticed us.
“Are they with our group?” she asked to the guide
“No they're just trying to listen in on the tour”
“You mean anyone can come here?
“Yeah, sure. If they make it here & back alive”

This cracked us up! You mean you can actually immerse yourself in nature's awesomeness without paying? What a concept!

The spaceship Taiga

Who's going to ride...

Never go behind a horse!

Face off

Tag team wrestling

From on high - weather ballon or NSA surveillance ???

Return postage paid... ugh now I have to find a mailbox... why did I ever join Columbia House?!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

St-Paddy's in Salinas

I came into my thirty fifth sixth year today (March 17th). 
Time and tide wait for no man. 
And so it is.

We celebrated with a dinner in Salinas joined by Little Wing, Taiga and Reve d'Ocean. After dinner we had everybody back on board for delicious cake courtesy of Cassy. Icing and baked coconut sprinkles, yes please! We had a great time.

My phone and email were awash with birthday wishes from those near & dear to me so I know I have not been forgotten.

Thank you for making this birthday so special.

Harnessing wind power too

Head of the table... finally

Red wine and white shirts... living on the edge

I was as good as it looks

I didn't actually eat the whole flaming cake in one bite as it may appear in this photo

How can a folding bike in a bag be this comfortable?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Nail in the Coffin

As we were preparing to leave the Ponce anchorage for Caja de Muertos we noticed that the swiss catamaran who anchored in front of us the previous day looked to be a little closer and closer and closer. Definitely dragging. Strange because there was only very light wind. Their dinghy wasn't on the boat so they likely were not on board. Radio hailing, yelling and knocking on the hull confirmed that no crew was left on board. They were over our anchor so we couldn't move but we were ready to fend off any collision. Defend Topanga! Ultimately the passed just beside us, within about four feet. Nonetheless we didn't want to let the boat drag into the concrete dock bordering the anchorage so into the dingy I went to evaluate the situation. Push it with the dinghy? Go aboard and see if a second anchor could be dropped? Raise their anchor and pull in the boat with the dinghy and drop the anchor again? I have never done this before. Luckily soon enough a dinghy came racing up with the crew just in time. They boarded and re-anchored securely. Later they dropped off big squares of swiss chocolate as thanks. It lasted two days

Caja de Muertos or Coffin Island is supposed to resemble a corpse lying on it's back with it's hands folded over its midsection. I don't see it. We stopped for just a night here en route to Salinas and instead of climbing to the old lighthouse at the summit we just enjoyed the beach.

Hmm.. seems a little closer than yesterday

and closer

and closer

close call

Think I could push her with the dinghy?


I just marked my territory on a cactus, wait till the guys at home hear about this!

Well hello there. Why don't you come make yourself comfortable right next to me. (on this Harry Potter towel)

Topanga's on the left. Just kidding, she's on the right, you should have known that!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hippocratic Oath

I am not super handy. It's true. I can make due and I am getting better (out of necessity since moving aboard) and better equipped, but I'm no Mr. Fix It. Especially in comparison to others like my father, JP from Bin de Folie or many other yacht captains.

When I tackle a boat project on our (infinite) list I try to invest a lot of time up front studying the problem and potential solutions. Because I am not super handy, I am always conscious that by proceeding with a fix I risk actually make things worse. Do no harm.

One of our two water tanks has some sand in it. Not a lot, and usually it's settled on the bottom of the tank, but after a rough day at sea it gets stirred up and water out of the taps becomes somewhat cloudy. How did it end up there? I imagine that over the years, including before my ownership of Topanga contamination entered via the deck fill hole. As we only use this water for dishes, hand washing and showering, but do not drink it, there are no big health or safety risks.

Fresh water tanks are under the settees (couches) on each side. They have water level gauges (neither works) and access panels. The access panels are very poorly designed in that only half of the ten screws are actually accessible from the panel. The other half are stuck under the the settee support board leaving only an inch of space to work in. By just removing the few screws holding the level gauges I was able to peer into the tanks with a light and see the sand. Additionally I was able to see why the gauges were not working: because the floats had come off and were lose in the tank.

I proceeded to remove the thirteen panel screws, starting with the hardest ones to access. Using just the bit of a screwdriver and clamp pliers I was able to slowly remove them halfway. This is when I called the project off though. Removing them was hard enough but replacing them after would have been very difficult. Further more, even after if I got the access panel off, getting to the sand at the other end of the tank would be very difficult.
The risk benefit analysis just wasn't worth it.

I replaced and tightened all the screws and announced to the crew that we would be living with occasionally cloudy water.

A few days later I was filling up the water tanks at the dock. Sitting on the deck with the hose in the fill hole it seemed to be taking longer than usual to fill. Maybe this was normal though because I had drained the tank quite completely before attempting the work. Then I heard the bilge pump come on and start continually pumping water out of the back of the boat. While that in itself is normal the coincidence of it happening while I was filling the tanks begged investigation. I stopped filling and went below. Indeed there was some water leaking from the tank access panel. It seems I didn't re-tighten all the screws enough to make a water tight seal. Luckily only some water escaped and disaster was averted, but just goes to show that even minor meddling can have unintended consequences.

Access panel and broken level indicator

Can hardly see four of the screws let alone access them! Who designed this?!

Little but of sand... our daily dose of the silica food group

And there's the waterlogged and loose float (cork looking thing at the bottom)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Crossing Mona

We crossed the Mona Passage! Another milestone and record for our longest single navigation. 150 nautical miles. 27 hours. We had a great weather window of very light winds and we motor sailed in almost perfect calm most of the way. Our departure from the Dominican Republic (DR) was delayed for two hours by problems getting our “despacho”, the document required by the Dominican navy anytime you leave a Dominican port, even if bound to another Dominican port. Of course each despacho costs $20 plus “tip”.

When finally under way we ran the engine at higher than normal power to keep up with our buddy boat Reve D'Ocean. They have a bigger boat and more powerful engine giving them a faster cruising speed. We didn't want to fall too far behind, staying in visual and radio contact. We generally don't like pushing the engine too hard, greater than 80%, for long periods of time but in this case we found it necessary and sustained 90% for most of the trip at about 5.5 knots. The last three hours the wind picked up near the Puerto Rican coast and we were flying under sail around 6.5-7 knots.

Apparently this coast of the DR is where 80% of all Atlantic Humpback whales are born so it was not surprising that we saw more whales. Oh heck, it's always surprising when we see whales!!
  • Topanga Topanga, Reve D'Ocean over”
  • “Go ahead, over”
  • “Do you see the two whales coming directly towards you?”
  • “Ummm... Oh my God! Cassy whales!! Get the camera”
  • “Oooo whales!!! OMG their so close!!”

Upon arriving in Mayaguez Puerto Rico, you are supposed to call by telephone into Customs & Border Patrol (CPB) and then have an agent review your documents and vessel in person. This presented a problem for us as we did not have a cell phone with service on board (I think it's pretty ridiculous to expect boats arriving from anywhere in the world to have a cell phone with service to make an immediate call). A boat that arrived before us had already called in and the agents were on their way. We decided that if Dominique, the skipper of Reve D'Ocean and I dinghied ashore with all the crews' and boats' documentation we could catch the agents in person and try to clear in. We made it in to see them but even they said we had to call into the central telephone number first. When we explained that we had no phone to make that call they graciously invited us into the CPB offices to use theirs. It was weird being in their open plan offices and using the phone in someone's cubicle. When the agent on the phone asked where we were calling from and we said from the border office he was surprised and confused. Ultimately we were cleared in smoothly and the agents were very helpful, even giving us a lift into town.

On the return trip across the Mona I think we'd benefit from a bit more prevailing wind, i.e. from behind us this time, so we could make more use of sail power.

The next morning we motor sailed the 15nm south to Boqureon. Boqueron harbour is very nice. Going ashore it is obvious that Boqueron is party town, but only on the weekends. The Tuesday we were there it was like a ghost town, almost everything closed and hardly a soul to be seen. We departed for Ponce the following morning with a promise return on a weekend. We had a great sail 50nm to Ponce. Ponce is Puerto Rico's second city. The harbour is deep, with poor scenery and many boats vying for swing space. Ponce has Walmart, Big K, Sam's Club, Home Depot and a fast food place on every corner. Welcome back to the USA. It will be a good place to provision, pick up some spares and complete some boat projects.

We've hit another major milestone here in Purto Rico: 3000 nautical miles under our keel since we left Montreal! To celebrate tonight we dine on snapper, today's catch straight from the fishermen on the dock.

Fruity drinks

Having my Titanic moment on the bow... somebody's driving right?

Whales ahoy

On watch

Pirates of the Caribbean


Mowing the lawn

Boxing Day line up

J24 in Puerto Rico

Don't anchor here...

Don't swim here...

See Topanga in the back?