Blog posts

80 hours at sea (and the prep it takes to get ready to go)

We had been given authorization to arrive in Grenada between July 1st and 3rd.  Pre Covid, we would’ve planned stops at the many beautiful islands along the way. But due to quarantine restrictions, that option was, for the most part, no longer available to us.  We had requested and were granted approval to stop at Guadeloupe or Martinique if we felt we needed to for any reason but, since we wouldn’t be allowed to get off the boat, our plan was to sail straight to Grenada.  The trip from St Martin would be around 370 nautical miles.  We normally calculate our speed at 5 knots, so we figured 75 to 80 hours total.  This would be our second longest non-stop trip ever, the first being the Gulf of Mexico.

Too bad we can’t visit any of these islands along the way

Weather is one of, if not the most, important components of our preparation for any sail.  We both start checking forecasts, on multiple sites, well before our departure date and as it gets closer to time to leave, Russell is checking it numerous times per day. 

There are a lot of other things that need to be done as well.  We’d been in one spot for months, so the boat was in “house mode” meaning we had items laying around that needed to be stowed away. We also needed to make a couple of runs to the grocery store.  Upon our arrival in Grenada, we would immediately be quarantined to the boat for 14 days, so we needed to be provisioned for both the sail down and our time in quarantine. 

Shopping means packing it from the grocery to the dinghy then to Ddraig

In the days before we left, Russell spent some time going over our engine, checking oils, verifying the amount of diesel in our tanks and generally making sure things in the engine room were ship shape and ready to go.  Before we leave on any passage, he transfers fuel from our large fuel tanks to a smaller day tank.  This process runs the diesel through a couple of filters insuring we have good clean fuel to burn.  Dirty fuel is one of the main causes of issues people have with their engines.  We can run our engine for twelve hours off our day tank and he can transfer more underway when needed.  He also made sure to run the water maker.  In simple terms, a reverse osmosis water maker takes seawater pushes it through a membrane and makes salt free drinkable water.  These systems need to be run every 3 to 4 days to ensure the water left inside doesn’t stagnate. 

Barnacles and other things grow on the bottom of boats, especially in saltwater.  We’d been periodically scraping them off during time in St Martin, but he gave the bottom a good cleaning.  Having a dirty bottom on your boat will greatly affect its performance so this is an important step. Unless you hire someone to clean it on a regular basis it’s something you need to be prepared to jump in the water and do.  We’ve experimented with all kinds of scrapers and brushes, with handles and without, to come up with the best ones for the job.  Ddraig is a wide, full keeled boat so there’s a lot of area.  We can only clean a small portion of it from the surface and then he uses a hookah line attached scuba tank to get the rest.

While he was doing this, I focused on the ‘pink’ jobs. I spent a morning getting our laundry washed and after making sure all our stuff was properly stowed away, I had to think about meals.  For me, cooking under way is pretty much just not going to happen.  I can’t spend a lot time down below.  The heat and motion make me seasick no matter what I do to try to stop it.  I had to make sure we had enough meals pre-prepped that could either be eaten cold or quickly reheated, to last for the 3 to 4 days we would be underway.  I usually make sure we have what we need for sandwiches and wraps but I also feel it’s important to have at least one hot meal per day.  For this trip, I made a chicken and egg noodle dish, fajitas and a pasta carbonara.  I also made a vegetable beef soup that I put in in a thermos so we could have a hot meal the first night without any effort. We make sure to have plenty of snacks and drinks easily available too.

For a short passage, we normally pull Puff up on the dinghy davits.  However, for a passage of this length, we wanted to stow her on deck.  This is a job for the both of us.  First, we have to bring the motor aboard.  Russell gets down into the dinghy and attaches the straps then I use a pulley system to pull it up onto the railing while he guides it.   The dinghy goes up on our front deck.  We use the main sail halyard and Russell wenches it up while I guide it into position.  It sits upright on some chocks he built and then gets tied down.

Finally, before we pull anchor, the sail covers have to be removed, our shade cover has to come down, all of the cabinet doors are locked and the windows and hatches closed.

Our anchor and chain also had a lot of growth from being out so long so Russell had to clean it as he was bringing it on board but finally, at 8:45 am on June 28th, we waved goodbye to our boat neighbors as we motored out of the anchorage and we were Grenada bound.

Happy to be underway

It was an absolutely gorgeous day with near perfect winds and calm seas.  Once we cleared the island, we tacked over for what would pretty much be our point of sail for the next three and a half days.  So long St. Martin, hopefully only until next year!

This should be our view for the next few days

The sky was still a bit hazy with Saharan dust, but we were able to see both Saba and St. Eustatius as we sailed by that afternoon.  Oddly enough, I had better reception on my phone out there than I had for the past three months in Marigot Bay.

Passing Saba on the first day of the trip

We’ve had numerous questions from friends and family about what we do at night.  The short answer is, we keep going.  We have an autopilot so there isn’t a need to hand steer but there has to be someone awake and paying attention at all times.   To make this happen, we take 3-hour watches from 6 pm to 6 am.  Beginning at around 4 pm, I’ll usually take the helm so Russell can try to nap before his watch then I try to rest from when he takes over at 6 until my turn again at 9.  Does this mean we each get 3 full hours of sleep at a time?  Absolutely not!  I’m normally up anytime he makes a sail change. We generally like to reef the sail before nightfall.  Basically, that means making the sail smaller, so we won’t be overpowered if the wind gets high.  To reef the main sail, Russell must go up on deck to the mast and lower the sail some so he can attach it at the reef point and pull in the reef lines.   On some boats this can all be done from the cockpit but not on our boat.  Since he has to leave the cockpit, that means I will be sitting at the helm in case of an emergency – see last years post about him going overboard! Reefing usually takes place during his watch so I lose a bit of sleep.  There’s also plenty of times that I have to wake him up.  If there’s a major wind change, if we seem to be sailing headlong into a squall line or generally any situation that I’m uncomfortable with.  But, having clearly defined watches seems to help us get enough sleep so that we’re fully functional and mostly comfortable while continuously having someone at the helm.  We also swap off during the day, but it’s as needed instead of on a schedule.

Doing his Captain thing

The first day and a half of our sail to Grenada provided good sailing and took us past a number of islands.  Being on the downwind (called the lee) side of an island offers protection but it can also block your wind making for a much slower sail.  After losing speed and having to turn on the motor passing St Kitts and Nevis, we went a little farther offshore so for the rest of the trip we barely got even a glance of the islands we passed.  Hopefully we can visit all of them next year on our passage back up the Caribbean.

A beautiful day at sea

On the afternoon of the second day a squall formed near us and winds increased from 14 knots to 22 knots in just minutes.  We had most of our head sail out which was too much sail for those conditions especially since we weren’t sure if the winds would continue to increase.  Getting that big sail furled, in that much wind, was a real fight and by the time Russell got it in, we noticed some tears along the edge.  It looks as though the actual sail is fine, but the fabric UV protective strip will need to be repaired or replaced.  Either way, that means the sail will come down and the sewing machine will come out during our time in Grenada.

A squall just starting to form

That night we had a little stowaway.  There was a bird that started following us around sunset.  He would buzz just over our heads looking for a place to land.  He eventually landed on our fish cleaning table and stayed the entire night leaving at sunrise the next morning.

Our little stowaway flew off just after I got this picture

On day three we had winds up to 25 knots for a while.  Luckily, we already had both the jib and mainsail reefed.  Even though we would probably have rather had the jib reefed even smaller, Ddraig performed like a champ.  That evening squalls continued to pop up and die out all around us so Russell decided we would just motor overnight.

We tried to fish numerous times along the way but the only thing we caught was Sargassum.  That’s a type of brown seaweed which floats on the top of the water and is very prevalent around here.

There had recently been whale sightings off Guadeloupe and I was hopeful we would see some but sadly we didn’t.  Our last morning at sea, we were visited by a pod of dolphins.  There must have been 18 to 20 of them and they stayed around playing at the bow for about ten minutes before disappearing.

There’s an active under sea volcano just north of Grenada known as Kick-um Jenny.  Our route took us well away from it, but we were close enough for it to show up on our chart plotter.  Hopefully it stays quite for the duration of our stay.

Kick-um Jenny is the circle on the left of the screen

We got into Grenada around 4 pm on July 1st and were directed to go to the dock for a temporary check in.  After answering some questions and having a temperature check, we headed out to the quarantine anchorage to wait with the other hundred or more boats already there.

We were definitely not the only boat coming into Grenada
Waiting our turn
Our official, but temporary, clearance

All and all, this trip was fairly uneventful with mostly calm seas, some clear night skies with thousands of stars, some amazing sunrise and sunset views and a few squalls which, for the most part, stayed away from us.  And for all of that, we are very grateful!!

All of us waiting out quarantine together

100 days of quarantine

The day after we arrived in St Martin, we went ashore to check out the marine store and maybe do a little sightseeing.  Unfortunately, the store was closed but we did notice some friends dinghy tied up at the dock.  We knew Wendy and Sylvester made the crossing from the BVI’s on the same day as we did but we hadn’t yet heard from them, so I messaged them to meet for lunch.

Marigot, St Martin

We had a nice lunch at a small place near the ferry dock but noticed most of the other restaurants were closed.  Our server told us that they too would be closing that afternoon and pretty much everything on the island was being shut down for the next two weeks.  We decided it would probably be a good idea to top off our grocery supplies so after lunch the four of us walked up to the Super U to shop.

As we walked through town, we saw a lot of damaged or destroyed buildings.  On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit St Martin as a cat 5 hurricane with over 180 mile per hour winds.  The island is still struggling to recover.

Hurricane damaged buildings
So many dreams destroyed

Little did we know this outing would be our last social interaction for quite a while.

St Martin (French)/Sint Maarten (Dutch) is, at 37 square miles, the smallest island in the world to be divided by two sovereign powers.  We had checked into the French side of the island and were anchored on the western side of the island.  Normally travel, either by dinghy or over land, between the two sides is not restricted and people go back and forth at will.  Of course, thanks to Rona (that bee-aach), we soon found things were not normal and the border was now closed.  We were also hearing that other islands, one after the other, were closing their borders to boats.  This included Grenada which is where we plan to sit out the fast approaching hurricane season.

We settled in for our two-week quarantine with plenty of provisions, good internet and a few boat chores to either complete or plan for when we get to Grenada.  A bit inconvenient but not really a big deal – or so we thought. 

Most of the islands we’ve been to have Facebook pages and some, including St Martin, have a radio net.  The radio net here is each morning Monday – Saturday and is used to keep cruisers informed of all the relevant happenings in the area.  These two things were key to keeping up to date on the restrictions, changes to the restrictions, changes to the changes to the restrictions, etc., which seemed to be happening daily.  

We were lucky to be on French St Martin.  The restrictions here seemed to be less harsh than we were hearing about on other islands.  As it became obvious this thing was going to last much longer than the original two-week period, the government established guidelines that allowed people out to shop, exercise, walk their dogs, etc.  We were required to always carry ID along with a form for each of us that stated the reason for being out, the date and the time we left.  Some of the other islands would only allow for shopping one day a week which meant very long lines and empty shelves at the grocery.  Here the grocery opened back up after just a few days and while they restricted the number of people in the store at one time, the lines were never very long and it was well stocked.

After ten days we really wanted to get off the boat, so we decided to make a grocery run.  Armed with our forms and some masks we had on board for sanding, we made our first trip to shore since the quarantine began.  There were only a handful of other people out and it felt very strange to walk through the town with everything closed and deserted.  That first trip we were pretty nervous and unsure how things would go.  We heard on the net of people being stopped and fined if they didn’t have correct forms, but no one ever stopped us or even asked for ours.  We were excited to discover that bakeries were considered essential and open, so fresh baguettes or pastries were available any time we wanted them!

closed shops and empty streets

Having lived in close quarters on the boat for the last couple of years probably made it easier for us than for most land-based people but being quarantined is still a boring pain in the butt.  We continued to limit our trips into town, so the days began to run together.  I normally cooked lunch and dinner and we started having a cup of tea each afternoon.  Russell generally took a nap after lunch. For the first few weeks swimming was restricted so we spent our time either on social media, reading and people watching.  We were anchored just off a small beach which, of course was closed.  Several times per day people would come to the beach and shortly after, the police would show up to chase them off.  We kept an eye out for any new boats making their way into the anchorage while trying to ignore our neighbor who seemed to prefer working on his boat without clothes, invariably bent over with his ass to us. We began to look forward to doing bucket laundry or making water just as a distraction.  Russell started feeding the little fish living under the boat – they do seem to like cheese.  We listened to the radio net every morning, so I began to form pictures in my head of faces to match the voices. Pretty sad what can pass for entertainment after a few weeks of quarantine!! 

we did a lot of this
and this
Laundry day

The essential marine vendors here did everything in their power to make sure boaters had what they needed.  There was fuel, water, propane and laundry service available during the entire time and while you couldn’t go into the store, a couple of the marine stores would hand your purchases out the door to you.  Knowing we had access to these services was comforting and made us even more grateful to be here instead of some other area with either less services available or restrictions that limited access to those things.

As time passed and we became more comfortable moving around, we began to dinghy to shore for some exercise in the evenings and once they removed the restriction on swimming, we either walked or swam most every day.

Off the boat!!

After two and a half months, restrictions began to ease.  Shops started to open first then some restaurants allowed sit down service.  We were so excited for our first meal off the boat!  We finally decided to try some French wine so made a stop at a wine shop.  The prices here for wine are amazingly low!  Busses and taxis are starting to run, the food trucks are opening and some of the sidewalk vendors are now setting up.  We’ve noticed, however, there are a lot of shops and restaurants that have not re-opened.  I really feel bad for these people who have had to deal with the loss of income and damage from the hurricane and have now lost their entire tourist season of income due to this virus.  I wonder how many of them will never recover.

First meal off the boat

On the second of June, they finally opened the border, so we were able to go to the Dutch side of the island.  This was great news for us because we needed to drop off our main sail at the sail loft for some work.  The Dutch side appears to have come back from the hurricane a bit better than the French side so there are more businesses there.

the Dutch side is just under that bridge

We made a number of trips between the two sides via dinghy but one day we decided to rent a car to really explore the island.  Being that it’s only 37 square miles, we circled the entire island before lunch.  Since we had the car, we also made a trip to the grocery store on the Dutch side and found many items that we’re used to seeing in the US but are not available on the French side. It was great to be able to stock up without worrying about it being too much to carry in the backpacks!

Unfortunately no planes yet

We both really like this island and plan to come back next year, hopefully with no quarantine.

Marigot Bay from the Fort
morning walk
we have wheels
street isn’t empty now
just one of many beaches

Still, looming above us is hurricane season and with that the need to be south.  Thankfully the authorities in Grenada understand this and have set up a process to allow boats in.  Currently we’re on their schedule to arrive the first week of July.  What we don’t know at this point is if there will be any islands open for us to stop and visit along the way or if we will have to go straight there.  Either way, it looks like we will be in another forced quarantine for two additional weeks once we get there. 

Virgin Islands

On January 5th we left Culebra for St Thomas, our first stop in the USVI.  After about five hours, we dropped anchor in Brewers bay which is a beautiful little bay near the university and airport.  As St Thomas is US territory and we had checked in at Puerto Rico, checking in here was not required for us.

Raising the USVI flag

Unfortunately, Brewers doesn’t have a secure dinghy dock and while we could pull Puff up onto the beach and chain her to a tree, we didn’t feel that was the ideal situation for exploring the island.  So, after only one night we moved anchorages and settled in at Charlotte Amalie.

Charlotte Amalie is the largest city in the USVI, a mecca for charter boats and cruise ships and is the main anchorage on St Thomas.  There is the cruise ship port, the island ferry port, the sea plane port and it is very busy!  The anchorage is a bit rolly, both from the seas and the large number of boats or water taxis constantly going by creating wake, but if you want to be in the thick of things it’s the place to be.

One of the two cruise ship docks

We were able to secure Puff at the Yacht Haven Marina dock and catch a local bus to anywhere on the island. If you’re careful and only get on buses the locals use, you can go halfway across the island for $1 per person or all the way to Red Hook for $2.  The hills, skinny roads and driving on, what is to us, the wrong side of the road can make these bus trips especially exciting!

Dinghy dock

While there, we were also able to reconnect with some friends from home.  Cindy and David, AKA the Lazy Sailors, they lived on their Catalina 47, Verano, on the same dock as us at Watergate Marina in Kemah.  They’d been there to wave us off when we cut our dock lines and left on this journey. They’ve since moved to St Thomas and we were very excited to get to spend some time with them.

We also had a good if unfortunately, short, visit with Mickie and Shane who were anchored on their boat, Virtue and Vice, off Honeymoon beach at Water Island. They are friends from Russell’s workdays and while they still work part of the year, they sail the remainder of the year. I always find it interesting to see how people manage this lifestyle.

Getting around on the cheap

One of the good things about the Virgin Islands is the ability to take ferries between the different islands. We, along with our friends from Kraken, took the twenty-minute ferry ride over to St John for the day.  We spent time at two different beautiful beaches, hiked over what felt like a mountain and listened to some amazingly talented local singers/musicians before catching the evening ferry back.

Ferry to St John

Along with hanging out with friends, our time at Charlotte Amalie was spent exploring the area, doing laundry, shopping, eating, drinking and watching the cruise ships come and go.  After a few weeks in such a busy, touristy area we were ready to move on, so we sailed back over to Brewers Bay to await a window to go to St Croix.

Off the beaten path – St Thomas
Tour of the Synagogue

Brewers Bay is right next to the airport and one day we noticed some boats and a small plane in the water near the end of the runway.  Not sure how this plane ended up there, but no one seemed to be hurt, and all were able to get off the rescue boats under their own power.  The plane was towed to shore and lifted out of the with a crane.

On January 24th, we pulled up the anchor and motored across to St Croix.  We tried fishing on the way, but something hit our lure and ran off all of the string before Russell could get back there to grab it. Oh well, no fish for us.  Once in St Croix we anchored near the Frederiksted pier on the west end.

All of our sails out!
St Croix boardwalk

Russell worked on St Croix in 2009/2010 and had made some good friends there.  We were invited to have dinner that night with Jenny Keith and her family.  Jenny is an amazing dive instructor, photographer (check out her work at https://jennykeithphotos.com/ ) and all around great person.  Her mom, Elizabeth, is a wonderfully accomplished artist and is very active in supporting art on the island.

We knew we wanted to spend several weeks on St Croix and since the bus system there isn’t as available or dependable as it is on other islands, we decided to rent a car.  This was a game changer and allowed us the freedom to spend lots of time exploring the island.  I was a little nervous driving for the first time because it had been over a year since I was behind the wheel and would be driving on the wrong (for me) side of the road!  But in no time at all I was comfortably navigating all over the island.

There are lots of “must sees” on St Croix and while we had seen most of them when Russell worked there, we were excited to not only experience them again but to share it with the Kracken crew.  We spent the next few weeks enjoying this beautiful and diverse island.

St Croix is unique in that it has arid dessert like terrain as well as a rain forest. It is also the eastern most point of the US at Point Udall.

Our first day trip was a drive through the rain forest with a stop off to see the famous beer drinking pigs.  The original pigs were lucky enough to get real beer, but they are now given the non-alcoholic kind.  They seemed to enjoy it anyway.

One happy pig

We also spent quite a bit of time checking out the distilleries on island.  Cruzan Rum and Sion Farms, which makes Mutiny vodka from Breadfruit, were favorites and required many more than one visit to fully appreciate their intricate distilling processes!  Cruzan even has a tasting station set up at the airport which of course we had to visit when we picked up and dropped off our rental car.

Ready to be bottled, I’ll take two please!

Jump up is a street party held (I think) four times a year on St Croix.  We were lucky enough to be able to attend one.  There were tons of vendors and performers lining the streets, but my favorites were the steel drum bands and of course the mocko jumbies.  Mocko jumbies are basically stilt dancers and I still can’t comprehend how they can possibly move like that and not fall off the stilts.  One of the steel drum bands was from a local elementary school. These kids performed for hours and they were amazing! 

Mocko Jumbies
Local elementary school band

It had been 10+ years since I scuba dived so one of my goals was to get recertified.  It isn’t a requirement, but I felt I needed a refresher.  Thanks Jenny (Nep2une Scuba) for an amazing pier dive for my recert!  The Frederiksted pier is a great dive but also just as good for snorkeling.  We spent lots of time in the water there.

Over that month, we were able to get packages shipped in from home, pick up needed items from the hardware store, fully stock up on groceries, make new friends, reconnect with old friends, attended a couple of local festivals, celebrate my 60th birthday and just enjoy some down time.  But, once again it was time to move on. 

On February 22nd, we had a calm sail back over to Charlotte Amalie for one night then on to St James island the next day.  Famous for being owned by Jeffrey Epstein, there are actually two islands, Great St James and Little St James.  Both are private and you aren’t allowed ashore.  More importantly to us though is that Christmas Cove is the home of the equally famous Pizza Pi boat.  We spent four days anchored there spending our time pretty much equally split between snorkeling and eating pizza.

Floating pizza parlor
Drive right up to the dinghy window

On February 27th, we left US territory for the British Virgin Islands.  As we motor sailed toward Jost Van Dyke, Kracken sailed in from St John at the same time.  After both boats were safety anchored in Great Harbor bay, I caught a ride to shore with Don so we could take care of checking into the country.  This process took quite a while as there were many charter boats in line to check in plus we also had to wait on one of the officials to come in on the ferry.  Once all the paperwork was sorted, we all dinghied around the corner to White bay.  Jost is one of the more popular stops in the BVI’s and I can certainly understand why.  The beaches are absolutely beautiful, the bays are very busy with tons of charter boats and the bars are full of people having the time of their lives. It makes for some pretty interesting people watching.  We too had to check out all of the famous hot spots; Soggy Dollar Bar, Ivan’s, Corsair’s and of course Foxy’s! 

Jost Van Dyke, home of the famous Foxy’s

After a while though it all gets to be a bit much and the check liver light comes on.  We decided to take a break from the bar routine and head over to Tortola. We made short, overnight stops in Soper’s Hole and Road Town, neither of which impressed us, then moved on to Norman Island.

We spent a week anchored at The Bight at Norman Island waiting out some strong winds but found we really enjoyed it there.  Norman is home to the world-famous Willie T’s which is a boat bar/restaurant where people jump from the top deck into the water.  Back in the day, women would jump topless but it’s more family friendly now.  Wendy and Sylvester, who we met in Puerto Rico, were also at Norman and we spent some time snorkeling and hiking with them.

Willy T’s

There are some amazing snorkeling spots around Norman.  Just outside of the Bight are the caves.  There are moorings for larger boats or just your dinghy, but no anchoring is allowed.  The caves are shallow, and this is an easy snorkel with lots of fish and coral.  We even saw an octopus out and about one day.  A little farther out but well within dinghy range are the Indians.  This was one of the best snorkels of our trip so far.  When we got back to the dinghy, I told Russell I had found my happy place!

Great snorkeling at the Indians

There are also some good trails crossing from one side of the island to the other with beautiful views of the surrounding islands.  It felt so good to get off the boat, get some exercise and stretch our legs.

what a beautiful hike

After a week we decided to go back over to Tortola to check out Cane Garden Bay. The winds weren’t cooperating, so we changed our plans and ended up having a great downwind sail back to Jost. We dropped anchor very close to where we had anchored before but as Russell was letting out the chain, we felt the keel bump bottom.  That’ll get the old heart pumping!!  I pulled forward and we moved into deeper water to anchor.  Later we checked and luckily since it wasn’t much of a hit, no damage was done.

That afternoon we hiked up the hill between White Bay and Great Harbor.  It was hot and a bit of a challenge for my wonky knees but the views from the top looking out over both bays were amazing and well worth the effort.

White Bay on one side
Great Harbor on the other

The following day found us once again making for Cane Garden Bay.  Determined to sail, since Ddraig is a sailboat, so we tacked back and forth making little progress.  It was a beautiful day and we weren’t in any hurry but after 3 ½ hours we finally gave up and motored the rest of the way.  We had dinner ashore that evening.  The next morning, we did laundry and a bit of grocery shopping before we left for Virgin Gorda and the Baths.

The Baths are located on the southern end of Virgin Gorda and must be one of the prettiest natural sites in the Caribbean.  We anchored at Leverick Bay just a short dinghy ride away.  They are accessible by land but boaters just swim in.  Once on land, there’s a gift shop, snack bar and lockers for rent if you want to leave your swim gear while you hike.  The Baths are a collection of granite boulders that form natural pools along the beach.  The Park Trust has built a series of steps and ladders to help you up and around some of the boulders to get to the pools and beach.  This is one of those places that should be on every bucket list!

Entrance to the Baths
It doesn’t even look real
Stunningly beautiful

We had been seeing on the internet news about the Coronavirus so we did try to distance ourselves from the tourists and cruise ship folks but there were tons of people around the first time we went ashore.  We ended up going back later in the evening after it was technically closed so we could enjoy it by ourselves.

Next up, we had to get ready to cross over the Anegada Passage to St Martin which meant checking out of the BVIs.  This was on March 14th and was the first time we began to see evidence of the changes to come. 

When we got to the immigration office in Virgin Gorda, we were first told we would have to go back to Road Town to check out.  Luckily, there was a charter boat captain there also needing to check out so after he spoke to the officer, they decided they could check us out but we would have to wait there until the cashier arrived to accept our fees.  After waiting about an hour, she showed up and I was able to pay our $5.21 to get the required stamp on our paperwork.

We cleaned the hull and Russell rechecked the forecast.  Our plan was to leave on the 15th but the updated forecast showed winds dropping off earlier previously stated so we decided to hurry our preparations and leave that evening instead.  I wasn’t really feeling that good about it because I hate to be rushed but these decisions must be determined by the weather you just learn to roll with it.

Short lived calm at the beginning of the crossing

We sailed out with the main, mizzen and our baby jib, just after 7 pm and were comfortable for about an hour.  Once we go out of the shelter of the island, the wind and seas picked up.  With 6 to 8-foot seas coming on our port side I, of course, immediately got seasick.  Russell took down the main sail but left up the baby sail and mizzen. 

Just before midnight, Russell yelled for me to take the helm.  We had lost a shackle and Puff was dragging and bucking half in the water.  I loosened the sails to slow us down while he had to actually climb off onto the back of the boat to re-secure her before she completely tore loose and was lost.  It was a very long, rough night with huge waves.  Fortunately, around dawn the winds decreased, and we were able to put the main sail back up. It turned out to be a beautiful morning and we could see the Island of Saba in the distance as we sailed by.

I was very happy once we got in the calm sheltered waters off St Martin.  We anchored on the French side in Marigot Bay. We were able to check in using the computer at one of the marine stores, Isle Marie.  The hardest part of the check in process was using the French keyboard which has a lot of the letters in different places than I’m used to! Within the first few days after our arrival, and as news of islands closing their boarders, we began to realize how very lucky we were to have gotten to this welcoming place when we did.

Safely anchored at Marigot Bay, St Martin

Holidays in Culebra

We anchored in Ensenada Honda which offered good protection and easy access to town.  After making sure the anchor was well set, we headed to town. 

Anchor is set

We had a couple of options for places to leave Puff.  There is a municipal dock and then there’s the Dinghy Dock.

Puff at the Dinghy Dock

The Dinghy Dock is a great little restaurant/bar on the water where you can motor up, tie off and grab a drink(if you go there, order the ribs!) . Villa Veritas had arrived in Culebra before us and we met up with Jazz and Andrew at the bar.  They’d just finished Christmas caroling with some locals and had secured an invite to a potluck Christmas lunch on the beach.  This was exciting news as it was just a few days before Christmas and we hadn’t made any plans.

The Dinghy Dock – a favorite

The next day, another cruising couple came up to Ddraig to introduce themselves.  Patrick and Darnell are both from Louisiana, she’s from Baton Rouge and he’s from Iowa which is just about 10 minutes from where we live.  Talk about a small world!  They began their cruising with a five year plan similar to ours but have been out on their boat, Island Dream, for almost three times that long now and have no plan to stop any time soon.

Christmas morning found us all heading to the ferry dock in search of a bus to take us and our potluck contributions to the beach.  Flamenco Beach has to be one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.  It’s a naturally curved beach with powdery white sand and amazing blue water. 

Flamenco Beach

We had an awesome lunch, complete with turkey and all the fixings, and then just relaxed and enjoyed the view and great company.  Jazz and Andrew built a giant sand man (or woman) and once our food comas had subsided, we took a long walk down the beach.

Impressive Sandman/woman

That evening we went into town for a parade.  We found some seats in front of a pizza place and settled in to wait.  It was a good thing we found seating because as usual, it was a little late getting started. Also, we had chosen spots near the end of the parade route and since there wasn’t enough room for the floats to turn around, they were backing them down the street in front of us!  It was interesting to say the least.  But there were tons of people out and about and it appeared a great time was had by all.

Christmas Parade

During the next week, we welcomed Kracken into the anchorage and said farewell to Villa Veritas, explored the island, went to the beach, checked out numerous bars and restaurants, had some great snorkeling, saw some beautiful sunsets and did our normal shopping/laundry/boat projects.

Snorkel time
This sand is like powder!
Another beautiful sunset

We also got to watch the most important football game of the year so far – LSU and Alabama!  Geaux Tigers!!

We got a little loud

Of course, as New Year’s day came around, we had to plan for our black-eyed peas and cabbage.  We invited everyone over to Ddraig for lunch, including a couple we met who were vacationing here from Austin, Angela and Keith.  After lunch, Cameron, Grace and Patrick entertained us on their ukes and guitar.

Black-eyed peas and Cabbage
the tradition has to continue
Special times with special friends

Culebra is very cruiser friendly with easy access to everything we needed.  Just off the main island is another small island, Cayo Luis Pena, which is a nature reserve.  This provides for some great snorkeling areas with lots of fish.  Our anchorage had good holding and even though there was a lot of charter boat traffic in and out (some with naked people on board) there was still plenty of room and you could swim from the boat. All of the above, along with its amazingly beautiful beaches, made Culebra one of our favorite islands so far and we plan to come back here someday.

Guarding the entrance

All in all, while we very much missed being with our families this holiday season, we feel blessed to have been able to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with wonderful friends in this beautiful place and look forward to seeing what 2020 has to offer.

Yes, we love Culebra

La Parguera to Culebra

The day after Thanksgiving, Kraken, Ddraig and Villa Veritas all left Boquerón for the short hop over to Cabo Rojo.  Winds were light with calm seas and we were able to actually sail instead of motor.  Cabo Rojo has a beautiful lighthouse but unfortunately winds and seas had picked up making the anchorage very rough and rolly.  We decided not to try to dinghy to shore in those conditions and stayed on the boat.  I went down to get dinner together and ended up feeling sick so had to come back up on deck where I stayed until the waves calmed down around 3 am.  Once again leaving on a Friday didn’t have the best outcome for us!

Cabo Rojo lighthouse – this is as close as we got

We, and the crew on Kraken, were ready to find a more protected anchorage so we left early the next morning for La Parguera.

Villa Veritas has a much shallower draft, so they had been able to anchor closer into shore where it was not as rough.  Having enjoyed a calmer night, Andrew and Jazz were determined to explore the lighthouse.  This turned out to be a wonderful blessing for us because they got some great drone shots of Ddraig as we sailed by.  These were the first pictures we had ever been given of us under sail and they are amazing!

Sailing past the lighthouse
Drone pic – Our beautiful Ddraig under sail

La Parguera is great little town with lots of bars and restaurants.  The anchorage is very busy on the weekend but quiet during the week.  There is also a bay with really good bioluminescence but since the moon was too bright while we were there, we missed it.

Unfortunately in La Paguera there aren’t very many places with dinghy access. We did find two spots, one on each end of town that would allow us to leave our dinghies while we went in search of the perfect mojito.  

A lot of businesses are closed Monday thru Wednesday, but on the weekends La Paguera is a happening place with music, dancing in the street, food vendors and awesome mojitos.  There was a Christmas parade one of the nights we were there.  We found a great table in a restaurant overlooking the street and settled in to wait for the 6 pm scheduled start.  A number of drinks later, at around 8:15, the parade finally kicked off.  Based on the size of the town we were expecting a couple of floats and maybe a marching band, but this was a serious parade with large floats, at least three drum lines, a number of marching bands, queens of all ages, elaborate costumes, etc.  It was still going strong an hour and a half later when we decided to head back to the boat.  They really take their celebrations seriously in La Parguera!

Street party
Parade time

All the way through Florida and the Bahamas I was on the lookout for Manatees.  We were even told they came up into the bay at Luperon, but I never saw one.   When we arrived in Puerto Rico, I notice “Manatee area” signs, but I didn’t get my first glimpse of one until La Parguera.  It will always be one of my best memories from there.  We also found some decent snorkeling around the mangroves.

Our next stop was Ponce which is the second largest city in Puerto Rico. We anchored near the yacht club and just off the boardwalk.  The boardwalk is a line of restaurants and bars along the water and seems to be a popular hangout.  It is also where we really started noticing a lot hurricane damage.  The parts of the boardwalk directly over the water were still damaged and access to that area was blocked off.

Sun going down behind Ddraig in Ponce anchorage

Ponce was also the first stop since Key West that had Uber available!  We took full advantage of this and made multiple trips to Walmart and Home Depot.  We were also able to celebrate Russell’s birthday at a Longhorn Steakhouse.

Birthday boy!!

Salinas was great and easily accessible to cruisers.  The people are friendly, Russell and I walked all over town and never felt the least bit uncomfortable.  We were able to fill one of his prescriptions simply by showing the pharmacist a picture of the bottle.  Cost of these pills (without using insurance) would have been around $200 in the states but we only paid $20 for the same pills here.  It’s rather mind boggling!

Puerto Ricans seem to start celebrating the holiday season before Thanksgiving and, we’re told, will continue all the way through Three Kings Day which is January 6th.  Salinas was no exception.  We were there just in time for the Christmas boat parade.  There was an official parade route posted at the marina but as we watched from Ddraig, boats seemed to be going every which way through the anchorage!  After a bit they did sort of get it together with most of them going the same direction. They were making smaller and smaller circles with each boat stopping to make a turn in front of the grandstand to show off their lights and music.  All of them had music which was turned up to maximum volume.  It was crazy and fun to watch. And as far as I could tell, no damage was done.

Boat Parade – a wild time!!

Since we didn’t want to miss out on seeing Old San Juan, we rented a car in Salinas and drove over for the day.  We got the car for $50 per day from a guy named Sidney who provided us with a nice, clean Kia.  No paperwork was involved.  Sidney told us the cost of insurance and tolls were included in the price but, although there was a toll sticker on the car, we did notice the lights never turned green as we drove through the toll stations.  Thankfully we never needed to confirm the insurance viability.

Russell’s phone had decided to take a swim the day before we went to San Juan so a trip to Best Buy was first thing on the agenda.  The rest of the day was spent walking the fort and shops of Old San Juan.  We certainly got our exercise in that day, but it was well worth it and highly recommended!

Fort

Old San Juan
The street going to the Government House

The forecast showed promising conditions for an overnight sail on December 19.  We left at 6 pm expecting to have winds of 12 to 15 knots and fairly calm seas.  What we actually got were 4 to 6-foot swells and winds between 15 and 20 on the nose.  I had not prepared (Bonine, crackers and bucket at the ready) and was seasick. Russell ended up at the helm almost the entire night.  We finally dropped anchor in Sun Bay off Vieques at 11 am.  The anchorage was rolly, but we were just glad to be able to rest for a while.

We had read a lot of negative things about Vieques, seems there is a lot of theft, so even though it looked beautiful, we didn’t go ashore.  The next morning, we sailed over to Culebra.  Yes, we actually sailed!!  Coming around the bottom of Vieques the winds were behind us, so we had a great downwind sail for a short time. 

After we made the turn toward Culebra with the wind on our beam, we were sailing along at 7 ½ knots when the fishing line went off.   We caught the first fish of the day, a smallish barracuda.  We are very careful about eating larger reef fish due to the toxins they can have built up in their systems which will make you sick.   This one looked small enough to be safe so he was filleted.  Later we caught a larger barracuda and two bar jacks which were thrown back.

Dinner!

This is our first holiday season since we cut the dock lines and while we are missing family back home, it’s also going to be exciting to see what a “Cruiser Christmas” in Culebra will look like.  Stay tuned…

Back in US waters and a beach Thanksgiving

As the calendar rolls toward November, cruisers in Luperon start to think about what adventures the upcoming sailing season will bring.  We started to focus on getting Ddraig and ourselves ready to go.  One of the hardest parts about this lifestyle is knowing you have to say goodbye to people you’ve grown close to.  Some of them you will see again in different ports down the line while others are sailing in the complete opposite direction or staying where they are.  We watched a few boats leave before us and before long, the weather looked right for us to go.

new antenna and rig inspection

Fortunately, we weren’t leaving all of our friends behind because we had decided to buddy boat with Don and Lisa who cruise with their kids Cam and Grace, and Honey Badger the cat, on SV Kraken.  They happened to follow us into Luperon on the morning we arrived and almost exactly five months later, on November 12, they would be following us out again.

We had heard conflicting information about the requirements for checking out of the DR so we set up a meeting with Jose, one of the Luperon city council members.  He agreed to walk us through the process and with his help, on the day before we left, all of the paperwork for both the boats and crews was completed in just over an hour with no extra costs above the posted fees.  He didn’t ask for any compensation for his time and effort but we were happy to make a contribution to his annual Christmas basket fund. Early the next morning, a representative from the Commandant showed up with our dispacho and we were officially cleared to leave the country.

I was feeling a little apprehensive about sailing again after being in one place for so long but we dropped the mooring and motored out of the harbor without any issues.  Pretty soon we were out in blue water and man did it feel great! The weather conditions were just as we expected, with some wind and waves right on the nose so it was much more of a motor than a sail along the Dominican coast.  Neither the wind or waves were very high so Russell put the mainsail up to help stabilize us and we weren’t too uncomfortable.  We found ourselves easily falling back into our sailing routine and my nerves quickly settled down.

Leaving Luperon (Thanks Heather for running up the hill to get this pic!)
Our first night back as sea with Kraken’s lights in the background
Our last look at the DR included a rainbow

Getting to Puerto Rico meant we had to cross the Mona Passage.  This crossing is notorious for being difficult due to currents, winds from the wrong direction, waves and storms.  Fortunately for us, we didn’t see too much of either and had a mostly comfortable ride.  At 8:30 am on November 14, we dropped anchor in Puerto Real, PR, forty-seven hours after leaving Luperon.  We were able to use the CBP Roam app on my phone to check in and were quickly, legally, back in US territory.

Squalls forming at sundown in the Mona
Sun rising over Puerto Rico as we arrive

The anchorage at Puerto Real is well protected with good holding. And I can’t say enough about the folks at Marina Pescaderia.  They were super friendly and helpful.  Even though we were anchored out, we were able to use the laundry at no extra charge and rented a car through them.  We topped off our diesel, filled our water tanks and pumped out the holding tanks at their very easily accessed fuel dock.

that’s a really good mojito!

One day we took the dinghy out exploring and went up into a cut in the mangroves.  As we followed the cut in, we started to see things falling out of the trees into the water.  At first, we thought there was something in the trees (monkeys?) throwing things but soon figured out it was iguanas jumping into the water. It was the coolest (and slightly disturbing) thing I had ever seen.  Another day a very large iguana let us get to within three feet of where he was sunning himself on a branch.  He just sat and watched as we took pictures of him.

Holy Crap – jumping iguanas
he’s a big one

A couple of days after we got to Puerto Real, we were joined in the anchorage by Andrew, Jazz and their cat, Captain aboard their boat Villa Veritas.  The next few days were spent on boat chores, shopping and searching out happy hours. We found walking around town was not as easy as it had been in the DR.  There seemed to be a lot of dogs roaming loose that were very aggressive.  We soon figured out not to try to walk anywhere without carrying a stick.  While there were a large number of street dogs in the DR, none of them had ever been threatening.

Our next stop was Boquerón just a short sail away.  Boquerón is a cute little beach town that, we were told, is very busy during the tourist season.  While we were there, most of the shops and restaurants were closed.  We did find a couple of restaurants and, more importantly, a few bars open so life was good.

anchored in Boqueron

Thanksgiving was the next day so we went in search of a turkey.  Thanksgiving isn’t a big holiday in Puerto Rico like it is in America (they were already well into their Christmas celebrations!) so we really weren’t sure how successful we would be.  There were only a couple of mini-markets in town.  The one we walked to didn’t have a turkey so we asked if there was any place in town to get one.  The cashier told us her husband could have one for us in about an hour if we wanted to come back.  I think he happened to be on a buying trip for the store at the time.  So, an hour and a half later we had our turkey!

Thanksgiving morning, we put that baby on the grill and a few hours later it was perfect!  Being a Southern girl, there are certain must haves on the Thanksgiving menu, foremost is cornbread dressing.  That afternoon, we piled the food and ourselves into the dinghy and met up with the crews from Kraken and Veritas for our very first beach Thanksgiving. Thanks to everyone’s contributions we had a full traditional meal in a, for us, very non-traditional setting.  We were able to introduce southern cornbread dressing to some folks who had never tried it and believe there are some converts!

it’s gonna be good
a beach Thanksgiving with great friends
evening swim

Later that day we made phone calls back home to family then toasted the day with a glass of wine.  Our lives now are so very different but we’re thankful every day for Ddraig and to be able to live this lifestyle.

Luperon – Settling in

Luperon Bay – our home for the season

We dropped anchor in the harbor at Luperon on June 9th.   We really didn’t know what to expect other than we had read somewhere you wait on the boat for the officials to show up.  The way it actually works is that either Papo or Handy Andy will come by and offer their services.  They can get you everything from water, laundry, fuel or a mooring ball.  While it is possible to anchor out, we had planned to take a mooring ball since we’ll be here for the next five to six months. Papo showed up first so we agreed to take one of his mooring balls.  The mooring fee for our boat was $60 per month but since we paid for five months up front, we got a discount – 5 months for $250 US.  We pulled our anchor and followed Papo’s boat through the mooring field to what will be our new home.  Attaching to the mooring went smoothly and we were set.  Papo also informed us that we had to go into town to check in.  So, we lowered the dinghy and headed into town.  There are two dinghy docks, Puerto Blanca marina and the government dock.  To check in, you tie up near the government dock then walk toward town.  You have to check in with Customs, Immigration, the Dept of Agriculture and the Comandante.   Customs, Immigration and Agriculture are all together as you get into town with the Comandante up the hill.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you may want to download Google Translate on your phone before starting this process.  Everyone was very kind and helpful, and we were soon legally in the country.

Dinghy dock
The walk to town
Sun setting behind the mountains

My first impression of Luperon is that it is very poor by American standards.  This made me a little nervous.  In the States, the unfortunate truth is that high poverty usually equals high crime.  We’ve discovered this isn’t the case here in Luperon.  Don’t get me wrong, there is crime here, but we haven’t seen it.  We’re still careful and never flash a lot of cash, we lock our dinghy when we leave it at the dock and raise it on the davits at night.

The first house we see

My second impression of Luperon is how hardworking, helpful and friendly the locals are.  We’ve since learned there isn’t a welfare system here, so everyone has to be self-supporting.  Families and neighbors take care of one another, especially their elderly.  When you walk down the street, everyone smiles and says hola (hello).  As Americans, we could learn a lot from these folks.

Local store

My third was this is the craziest bunch of drivers we’ve ever seen!!!  If there is even one stop sign in Luperon, I’ve yet to see it.  There are cars and trucks here, but most people ride motorcycles.  They carry the entire family plus belongings on these bikes.  We’ve seen four people on one bike, people with infants, people with pets, people with boards, propane bottles, milk cans, even a mattress!  There are motorcycle taxis (moto taxi).  We watched a guy with a baby pay the moto taxi driver then hand him the child.  The driver sat the child in front of him and took off.  I guess you can have your kid dropped off somewhere if you want.  We heard there may be a helmet law but around here no one wears them.

Delivering plantains

As we found our way around town and meet people, we discovered an active social life with the cruisers and ex-pats.  There is something scheduled most evenings including movie nights, karaoke, poker and happy hours as well as free yoga three mornings a week.  Some of the folks get together and go out for day sails or group motorcycle rides. 

Ready to yoga?
Independence Day cruiser party

We spend a lot of time walking around town and checking everything out.  There are lots of little local stores that appear to be a room in someone’s house that sell just a few items.  There are also a couple of grocery stores, a butcher, an ice cream shop, clinic and pharmacy, cell phone stores, clothing stores and numerous variety stores.

local store
Our favorite local store
Butcher shop
We found ice cream!

There are nice houses and not so nice houses.  Since most houses don’t have air conditioning, as you walk down the street doors and windows are open and you see directly into people’s homes. 

The people here, for the most part, keep their houses very clean but don’t seem to see a problem with throwing trash on the ground.  Unfortunately, there is plastic everywhere.  They do sweep up in front of their home or business once a week when the trash truck comes by but otherwise it stays there until the wind blows it somewhere else.

Luperon
Luperon
Luperon allyway

The children here are absolutely beautiful.  So friendly and full of life!

Happy kids
Everybody rides

This area has been in a drought so feeding and watering livestock has been a problem.  We’re told people have turned their animals loose to find food so there are cows, sheep and horses that roam the streets.  Russell teases me about all the cow pictures I have.  I’m just now beginning to get used to watching them walk by as I sit drinking my beer.

just a stroll through town
Another cow pic
just go around him

Walking around town isn’t an issue (other than being hot and dodging traffic and animal poo) but in order to see the country you either have to rent a car (with or without a driver) or buy or rent a motorcycle.  We decided to purchase a couple of used bikes.  We bought two Gato 200’s for a total cost of around $1300 US including the transfer paperwork.  Cost for insurance was 600 pesos ($12) per bike per year.  Not sure what this would cover but we were told it was very important to have!

We have wheels

Riding our motorcycles in town or in the outlying areas hasn’t been too bad even with the crazy traffic and the numerous speed bumps.  We’ve taken a few rides to the beach, a resort and the Columbus museum in La Isabella.

Beach
Beach
Columbus settlement site
Fricolandia resort

We decided for trips to the bigger towns we would get a car and driver.  Having a driver means when there’s a car passing on the left and a motorcycle on the right as you come into a curve with oncoming traffic you can just close your eyes and hold on!  Believe me, it happens.

So far, we’ve hired a local guy, Nino, twice to take us into Puerto Plata for things we can’t buy here in Luperon.  Cost is $40 US for the day and you can normally find another cruiser who needs to go so you can split the cost with them. 

Now that we feel more settled in, we’re planning to get out into the countryside more.  There are beaches, waterfalls and a boarder market to explore in our future!

Mayaguana to Luperon – last leg before settling in for hurricane season

The anchorage at Abraham’s Bay was a little choppy but protected from large swells by the reef.  It is also absolutely beautiful and we were the only boat there!  The water is shallow and very clear.  We didn’t see a lot of sea life except for a few rays and some large barracuda which hung out by the boat and followed us around when we went swimming.

After a couple of days, another boat came into the anchorage.  Russell recognized the boat Adrenaline from following their YouTube channel Tula’s Endless Summer.   The next day we stopped by to say hello and met Billy, Sierra and their dog Jetty.

We heard if you were going to Turks and Caicos, it wasn’t necessary to check out of the Bahamas but if going directly to the DR it was.  Even though we planned to stop at Turks and Caicos, we wanted to check out anyway just in case. 

That meant going ashore, which proved to be a bit interesting.  The approach to the dock is very shallow with a line of markers to follow in.  There isn’t anything to indicate which side of these markers you should be on, but it doesn’t really matter because at low tide you’re probably going to bump bottom anyway.

Dock

Abraham’s Settlement is a very small community on the island.  The people were all very friendly but conducting any kind of business there was quite different from what we’re used to.   Our first stop was the Administration building to try to check out.  We were told that unfortunately they wouldn’t be able to help us because they were out of forms and didn’t know when they would have any.  We were instructed to walk down to the police station and they would write us a note. Uhhh, what?? 

So, the next morning we took our cruising permit down to the police station and they very kindly stamped the back and signed off that we were checking out.  We later checked into Turks and Caicos without any issues. 

Police station

There isn’t much available in Abraham’s Settlement but we did find a grocery store.  We were disappointed that the bar next door didn’t really open at 4 pm, even though that’s what the sign said, so no cold beer for us.

Grocery store

There’s a small park near the dinghy dock with lots of palm trees where we had a blast collecting coconuts.

That’s determination!

The next day we saw another boat coming into the anchorage.  From a distance, it appeared to be a motor cat but as it got closer, we could tell it was a sailing catamaran that had been dismasted.  Russell went over and introduced himself to Florence and Philippe, a French couple, on sailing vessel Kermotu.  He found out their mast had come down near Devil’s Point and they had to cut away their rigging using a hacksaw to avoid additional damage to the hull of their boat.  All of their rigging was lost at sea.

They had decided to try to make it back to Saint Martin for repairs and we agreed to stay with them as far as Providenciales (Provo) since they had very limited radio, radar and AIS signal.  We gave them ten gallons of diesel so they would have enough fuel and they repaid us with a bottle of French wine (score for us!).

Enjoying a glass at anchor

It’s best to navigate into Provo in the early morning so our original plan had been to leave Mayaguana around 5 pm and sail overnight.  Since Philippe wanted to allow extra time in case he had any issues, we pulled anchor and headed out around 2 pm.  We spent the next eleven hours following along and behind their starboard (right) side keeping about a ½ mile distance between us.  We made it to the Sandbore Channel Cut around 1 am.  We were approached by an official boat who radioed us asking where we were going, where we had come from, how many aboard, etc.  Since we have a rule not to navigate into any unknown anchorage after dark, we answered all of their questions and let them know we would stay out on the bank until daylight.  Kermotu chose to go on into the anchorage.

Following Kermotu

At daybreak we headed for Sappadillo Bay and anchored near Kermotu.  Later that morning they passed by to thank us again and let us know they were heading out after topping off their fuel.  I’ve since had a few emails from them and at this time all is well and they’re still making their way down the islands to Saint Martin.

Since we needed to check in, we started looking for the dinghy dock that was shown on our map.  It didn’t seem to be there any longer.  Another boat had come into the anchorage, so we decided to see if they were familiar with the area.  That was when we met Dale and his crewmember, Kris, on Sixth Girl.  We had actually heard of Dale since he was one of moderators for the cruiser’s net in George Town but we had never met him.  It was his first time to Provo as well, so we ended up just beaching the dinghies near the government dock and were able to find the correct building.  Once we checked in, Russell and I walked up the beach and had a drink, or maybe two.  Unfortunately, there weren’t any grocery stores or really anything else of interest within walking distance, so we headed back to the boat.  That evening, we had drinks on Sixth Girl with Dale and Kris who were leaving the next day.

We spent one more day at Provo then headed to South Caicos.  Winds were light so we motored the entire way.  Coming into South Caicos is a contrast.  Crystal water with beautiful rocky islands to one side and a resort overlooking the water on the other.  However, once you get around and into the anchorage at Cockburn Harbor you see a sunken boats, dilapidated buildings and poverty. 

South Caicos
also South Caicos

We needed to check out, so we went ashore looking for Customs and Immigration.  They were closed but a helpful gentleman directed us to the grocery store.  Seems they call the officials who bring the forms to you there.  Half of our paperwork was completed on top of the freezer in the store and the other half through a car window. 

After we took care of our paperwork, we stopped at a local restaurant for dinner and then walked around the town.  Seems to be a very poor area but everyone was friendly and helpful, and we felt perfectly safe.

In the category of ‘it’s a small world’, there was another sailor doing his paperwork at the grocery store the same time as us.  Turns out he grew up near where we lived and his father worked for the same company I did.  Who would have thought we’d run into someone from our area of Louisiana on this little island?

Weather windows to get to Luperon were getting fewer and farther between so when it looked as though we had one the next day we had to take it, even though we would have liked to stay longer on South Caicos.

We pulled anchor at 10 am and motored out to very little wind and a flat calm sea.   While I’m always grateful for calm seas, this was actually getting pretty boring after a few hours.  We hadn’t seen any other vessels, fish, turtles or anything else all day. 

Around 2 pm I had just told Russell I wished we would see some dolphins or something when we saw some dark spots in the distance.  As we got closer, we could see dorsal fins.  We think they were some type of whale.  It was a pod of around a dozen and they were just hanging out there motionless until we got closer.  Then they dove and disappeared from sight.  I’m the worlds worst photographer and was so busy looking at them I forgot to try to get any pictures.   By the time they came back to the surface we were too far away to get a shot.

We finally got some wind and were able to raise the sails around 4:30 in the afternoon.  About a half hour later something hit the bait we had been trolling.  Russell grabbed the pole and I let out the sails to slow us down while he fought the fish.  It was a really big, beautiful mahi-mahi.  I didn’t want a repeat of my earlier mistake, so I grabbed my camera.  Luckily I did because after a long fight, and just before he gaffed it, the darn thing got off the line.  At least this time we had pictures!

The fight is on!
The one that got away

Around dusk, the wind and waves picked up so Russell took down all of the sails except the main and started the motor.  We saw a barge being towed a few miles off which we made sure to avoid.  We also saw a sailboat light in the distance in front of us and Russell mentioned that he thought it could be Sixth Girl. 

By 3 am we were near enough to the coast of Hispaniola to notice an earthy smell.  We slowed down and tacked a couple of times to kill time until daybreak.  At daylight Russell took down the main sail, we started going into Luperon and there was Sixth Girl in front of us. They had left South Caicos a day before us but made a stop at Big Sand Cay. 

The entrance into Luperon is clearly marked but there were fish traps in the channel that we had to avoid.  Just one more reason we never try to enter an anchorage in the dark!  Sixth Girl, Ddraig and a third boat, Kraken, who was behind us, all made it in safely. 

Entering Luperon

At 7:15 am, we dropped anchor at what will be our home for the next few months while we wait out hurricane season.

George Town to Mayaguana – The scariest voyage yet

We left George Town early in the morning of May 28th for a day sail to Conception Island.  Conception is uninhabited and protected as part of the Conception Island National Park and is absolutely beautiful.  We dropped anchor in the afternoon with only one other boat in the anchorage.  We went for a snorkel and walk on the beach before sunset.  There wasn’t a lot of coral where we snorkeled but we did see a number of schools of fish.  We only spent one night there before we headed out for the next leg.  We had a few options for our next stop but were really hoping to make it to Mayaguana. 

Beautiful white sand and blue water of Conception

Unfortunately, the winds and waves weren’t cooperating so after tacking back and forth a number of times we decided to overnight at San Salvador.  We anchored off Cockburn Town for the night.  There are numerous dive sites in the area.  We saw a couple of dive boats but we were the only boat in the anchorage for the night.  Unfortunately, for me the most memorable thing about our stop there was the flies that took up residence in our boat.  There were hundreds of them!  It took a few days and much slapping with fly swatters to get rid of them all.

Sailing off the anchor at San Salvador

The next afternoon, we again headed out for Mayaguana.  Since there wasn’t anything around to hit, we decided to practice sailing off the anchor and were able to carry it off without any issues.  The first part of this trip started off with some pretty good sailing and the next morning Russell caught a big wahoo which was definitely a highlight of the trip!!

Wahoo, that’s what’s for dinner

Throughout the day, the winds died and we were motor sailing with the main and stay sail and having to tack back and forth fighting a current to try to make any headway in the Mayaguana Passage.  Around 1 am Russell woke me up because the winds and seas had picked up and he had decided to take down the main sail.

I was at the helm and had slowed our forward speed while he went up on deck to take down the sail.  That’s when IT happened.  I heard a yell and he was gone.  He was overboard.  This has to be one of the top five concerns for any sailor, to either go over or to lose a person overboard especially in the dark and in eight to ten foot seas.

Thankfully, because he was clipped in, he was able to get back onto the boat without injury. 

This was such a big event we wrote about it from each of our perspectives – see “Overboard” below.

After this, we were finally able to motor through the pass, around Devils Point and enter through the reefs to Mayaguana.  We dropped anchor in the protected bay at Abrahams Settlement grateful to be alive, well and together.

Behind the protection of the reef at Mayaguana

Overboard

11:00 PM (5/31/19) My watch was to begin at midnight, but Janice awoke me early as we were approaching the Plana Cays and needed to tack to starboard. I wanted to be on watch for this maneuver and to pilot us through the pass knowing that the wind, waves, and current would be against us and it would be a rough ride. We tacked the boat to starboard and headed on a northeast course which would carry us back out to sea but also give the boat a better angle through the pass. Soon Janice was fast asleep on the aft deck on the bean bag, I didn’t awake her and went on deck and raised the “baby sail” (Staysail) to get a bit more boat speed from the wind. The ride was a bit more comfortable on this heading which put  the wind and seas a bit behind us and about six miles out I tacked back toward the Mayaguana Passage, but as I got closer to the pass the wind picked up beyond 20 kts with very rough sea conditions. The winds and current were pushing us onto the rock shoals east of the island, so I again decide to tack back out to sea to gain even more distance and angle for this now quite challenging pass.

1:00 AM (6/1/19) I decided to pull down the main sail and only leave up the Staysail feeling that the main may be contributing to slowing our speed through the pass and I felt that the Staysail is better at clawing its way to windward. This time I woke Janice up for the sail change, she took the helm and we slowed the boat speed down a bit, and I set the autopilot to hold the boat at an angle slightly off the wind. I felt this would let the sail down and allow me to bundle it up and tie it to the boom. I remember Janice asking me if I needed a light as this was one of the darkest nights that I had seen. No moon and cloudy skies made the sea and sky seem together as one. I told her no light, my eyes had adjusted to the dark and I didn’t want the glare.

I clipped the lanyard to my harness and clipped the other end to one of the jacklines that we have run along the sides of the forward deck. This flat webbing safety line is designed to keep you tied to the boat only, not to prevent a “Man Overboard” situation.

I went up front, climbed up onto the deck box as I have done many times before, however this time it was really rough. I untied the halyard from the cleat and started pulling down on the sail, it wasn’t coming so I used my right hand to pull up on one end of the line and my left hand to pull down the sail. The sail was now slowly coming down, but the wind was whipping the now loose sail in all directions with a deafening loud popping and rustling sound and the boat was bashing into the waves with water now rushing over the foredeck.

Then it happened! The boat went up, I went up higher, the boat jumped sideways, and I was in the water, no longer on the boat. The water was a shock, it happened in an instant, I screamed something like “Help, Shit, Janice” all in one word. I knew that I had to get her attention over all the noise of the wind, loose popping sails, waves, and the engine.

I was still holding the loose end of the halyard when I hit the water however it pulled the sail back up the mast the now approximately ten feet that I fell. I knew that I only had one chance to get back on that boat, one chance to claw, scratch, and climb up that six foot wall of a boat and over the railing to safety or be dragged until I either drowned or the snap shackle holding me attached popped loose and I would be lost at sea over 6,000 ft of water.

 One chance was all that I had in me, if I didn’t make it one the first attempt, I was sure that I would be weaker on the second, third, and eventually my last try.

 I’m not sure how it happened, maybe the boat came down into a trough, or a wave hit us on the side, but I was able to pull myself up just enough to get a foothold on a small ledge (rub rail) on the side of the boat and then I was able to crawl up and over the railing.

 I did it, I knew that I had defied the odds, I sat there for a moment then got up to head back to the cockpit. Janice did hear me and was working towards stopping the boat and getting the boat ladder from the coach roof to assist me.

 When I got it together and rested a bit I returned up on deck and finished getting the sail down and lashed to the boom. We tacked back towards the Mayaguana Passage and this time we made it through. Just as dawn was approaching, we got close enough to Mayaguana Island to hug the coast for a smooth hour or so till we rounded Devil’s Point on the Northeast corner of the Island and headed into our anchorage.

man overboard location circled on chart

From the viewpoint of the person left on board

When Russell woke me up and told me he needed to take down the main I was concerned.  The seas were really kicking up and the boat was pitching badly.  I remember asking him if he could just take down the staysail and loosen the main but he felt it really needed to come down.  I throttled back so our forward speed was only about 3.5 knots and watched him clip in before going forward. 

It was very dark and once the main sail started coming down it was flapping around and blocking what little view I had of him.  I knew he was in trouble when I heard him yell but I wasn’t sure if he had fallen onto the deck or had actually gone over.  I was clipped onto the captain’s seat with our six foot tether which only allowed me to go to the side but not forward.  I remember standing there yelling his name but realizing he was gone. 

I ran back and throttled down completely to try and stop our forward speed.  My mind was running in circles.  Where is the spotlight?  Is he still attached to the boat?  Am I dragging him, drowning him?  How the hell can I get him back aboard.  Can I drop the dinghy so he can climb into it?  I’m just going to start going in bigger and bigger circles until I find him.  I don’t think I ever allowed myself to think I wouldn’t find him.

Because we no longer had any forward speed the auto pilot was beeping and flashing an alarm which just added one more layer to the confusion.  I chose to ignore it.

I went back to the side and was yelling his name again when I saw his body come up over the side.  All he said was “I’m here” then “just give me a minute”.  I can’t explain the helplessness I felt when I couldn’t see him or the relief I felt when I saw he was back aboard.  There are just no words but I still get emotional just trying to write this.

Of course, the seas were still tossing us around and the main was flapping and slapping so neither one of us really had time right then to relax.  I had to get us moving again and back on course and he had to finish dealing with the sails.  When he finally came back to the cockpit we both just sat there side by side in a state of shock for a few minutes.

Later

We sat down and discussed what happened, what we had done correctly and what we could do better. 

The number one main thing that saved him was the fact that he was tethered to the boat.  Secondly, he woke me up before going forward.  Without those two factors, he would have gone into the water and the boat would have kept going, leaving him in its wake without me realizing it until I woke up sometime later, having no idea where he fell off. 

The third thing was the type of life jacket he was wearing.  When we were purchasing our offshore life vests, we debated whether to buy the auto inflating or manual vests.  Auto inflating is just that, it inflates when it hits water.  That’s a lifesaver if you’re unconscious but can restrict movement if you are awake and trying to get back aboard.  The manual ones have a pull cord to activate.   We ultimately decided on getting the manual vests.  If he had been wearing an auto inflating vest, he probably would not have been able to climb back aboard without help.

There were also a few things we felt we could have done better.  Number one was changing his tether point so it is too short for him to go overboard but still allow him to maneuver around the entire deck.  The answer is that now when he goes forward to raise or lower the main sail is to add a second tether that he will clip to a point closer to the center of the boat.  Additionally, we will now keep the spotlight in the cockpit on overnight passages so it’s within reach instead of having to go down into the boat if it’s needed.

For prospective – where he was standing before he flew overboard

The cruising life is not without danger, but neither is driving down the interstate at home.  We try to discuss and plan for situations and when things arise, we try to learn and use what we learned to become better and safer sailors.  The other option would be to go home.  We choose to avoid the interstate and keep sailing!

George Town – A cruisers haven

We dropped anchor just off Monument Beach and spent the afternoon relaxing after our eventful trip over.  There’s a saying that cruising is fixing or repairing your boat in exotic places, so that was the next order of business.  Russell determined that our voltage regulator had gone out so he replaced it with the spare one we had on board.  This solved the problem of our engine not charging the batteries.  He was also able to fix the lifeline.

The next few days were spent exploring the town, supporting the local establishments, doing laundry, grocery shopping, snorkeling (me) and spearfishing (Russell).    We were a little disappointed to find the laundry was only that and not also a bar like we found on Staniel Cay.  Doing our laundry wasn’t quite as much fun.  George Town also has a couple of well stocked grocery stores, a number of liquor stores and a very interesting hardware/general store.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to replace his prescription glasses so he’ll have to rely on cheaters until the Dominican Republic.

It’s what’s for dinner!
Exploring the town

We learned a lot about cruising being a lifestyle option by watching videos put out by people already doing it.  One such couple is Paul and Sheryl Shard on Distant Shores.  They’ve sailed all over the world and documented their travels with a television and video series.  One evening I was up on deck and see their boat, Distant Shores III, sail by and drop anchor.  I was really excited and hoping to meet them but, in the end, decided they probably wouldn’t appreciate me showing up to their boat uninvited.  A couple of days later we ran into Paul in town and introduced ourselves.  I got to let him know they were largely to “blame” for our new life! 

Over the next couple of days the winds changed direction and were forecast to be stronger.  Since we felt we were a little close to the shore which can be a problem if the anchor drags, we decided to move anchorages.  It’s kind of interesting because you start to notice boats moving around based on the weather forecast.

Since we’re always working toward getting to the Dominican Republic for hurricane season Russell started looking at the route options for getting there from George Town.  Fortunately, he was plotting it using our electronic plot charter and not just the paper charts because that’s how he found that the software we had only covered the Bahamas.  Now, I do understand that people have sailed for hundreds of years without electronics but we (mainly me) are much more comfortable using a combination of both electronic and paper charts. 

In the States getting the chip we needed would have been no big deal.  A quick trip to West Marine and it would have been done.  But, as they say, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  We went to the post office and were told that it could be mailed to us but would have to go to Nassau first and the post office there was moving to a new building so no telling how long it would take.  Next, we went to the hardware/general store because they advertise accepting DHL packages.  Those packages also go through Nassau first to clear customs and would take a minimum of two weeks.  I even checked the price of flights back to Miami from George Town thinking I may have fly over to buy it.  We had been told about an import/export broker in town, so we spoke to them.  Their office in Ft Lauderdale has a plane that flies directly to George Town every week.  That sounded like a better option than having it go through Nassau.  I called the West Marine in Ft Lauderdale to see if they had the chip we needed in stock.  They did so I purchased it by phone, got them to UPS it across town to the broker who then flew it to George Town.  We got it in six days but it cost us an additional $270 in customs and broker fees.  I understand that if it’s a boat part it would be duty free, but our chip was not considered a boat part.  At least now we won’t sail off the edge of the world so I guess I shouldn’t complain!

This is some serious business!

Once that was handled, we could relax and enjoy the remaining time here.  Our new friends, Matt and Kristen (make sure you subscribe to their YouTube channel Sailing Good, Bad, and Ugly), had arrived so we spent a few evenings hanging out at the Chat’N’Chill having drinks, playing cornhole (yeah, yeah, I know, get your mind out of the gutter) and meeting folks visiting the Bahamas from all over the world.

Playing Corn Hole
just hanging at the Chat’N’Chill

We’ve really enjoyed our time here and completely understand why it has the reputation for sucking boaters in so they never leave.  The local people are friendly, there’s a tightknit boating community with a daily cruiser’s net, supplies are available (if a bit pricy) and the water is gorgeous.  But as always, we realize hurricane season is fast approaching so it’s about time to move on.