Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Leaving the Spanish Virgin Islands

We are getting really to leave the Spanish Virgin Islands and head over to the US Virgin Islands.  I really don't know what the difference is.  We left Fajerdo on Wednesday, the 14th around 1:00 and motored about five miles to Isle Palamino and picked up a mooring.  We could have waited another day but we're getting eager to get out of the marina.  It is too easy to get used to the comfort of a marina, it was time to move.  We had stayed more days then we had planned but it took longer to get everything ready then we had thought.  The repair shop that was working on the generator was having problems.  Honda does not make a marine version of their generator and corrosion is evidently a problem.  It took them a day to just get the screws to release so they could disassemble it.  Several times when I talked to them they were thinking they were not going to get it disassembled.  They promised it on Monday but when I called them they said it was apart and they had the parts but it would take longer.  On Tuesday morning our new friend Cato gave me a ride in and they promised it by late afternoon.  In the afternoon we made another trip in and they had it running and powering a fan to test it.  They had it running for three hours without a problem.  Evidently the problem was that some of the wiring got corroded and lost it's ground and thought it was low on oil.  They gave me the invoice and I ended up paying them a whopping $76.10.  I didn't have any change so I got away with only paying them $76.00.  I had expected it to cost me a lot more.  We brought it back to the boat and continued to get ready to go.  The winds were supposed to moderate a little on Thursday but we left early and staged at a near by island to make the run to Culebra.  We spent the evening relaxing in the cockpit watching the full moon rise over the island.

Thursday morning we dropped the mooring and motored against the wind.  The winds had dropped a little and was only blowing in the 15-20 knot range.  It had been blowing in the 20's all week.  We worked our way around the island and pulled into the harbor and dropped anchor.  We launched the dinghy, it had been riding on the bow since we left NC and mounted the 3.3 outboard and went exploring.  We tied up on the dinghy dock and walked into town.  We must have looked lost and a lady stopped to enquire if we were looking for anything in particular.  It turned out she was from Steamboat Springs Colorado and theyspend their winters in Culebra.  She pointed out several places to check out and told us of a school musical performance that evening.  After dinner on the boat we made our way to the school for the concert.  They were also selling deserts.  The students had a project where they studied a different country and reported on a desert specific to that country.  They, with their parents, made deserts and were selling them before and after the performance.  We expected to not be able to understand the songs since we do not know Spanish but it turned out they performed in several languages dependent on where the song was from.  They did a real good version of Silent Night in three languages.  This was our introduction to Culebra.

On Friday we swapped out the 3.3 outboard for the 15 horse and went exploring.  We had been told that the snorkeling near Tamarindo Beach was supposed to be good and we headed over there.  We tied the dinghy to a mooring and I dropped into the water to swim over to the reef.  I turned around for some reason and returned to the dinghy and Cori told me that the workers on the beach said we needed to leave.  We are not sure why but we moved further up the shore and dropped the anchor and I went snorkeling again while Cori swam to shore to look for shells and glass.  I had my new underwater camera but when I switched it to the underwater setting it gave a message I couldn't understand so I left it on the boat and continued.  The reef was great with a large variety of fish and coral.  At one time I had a ray swim under me and I followed it around for a while.  I wish I had the camera.  Finally we called it quits and headed back to the boat.  Instead of stopping at the boat we continued on and took a tour of the harbor.

On Saturday we were making a run into town when we stopped at a boat with a home port of St. Paul MN.  It turned out they were from Minnetonka and Maple Grove, true Minnesotans.  It rained off and on all day but we headed back to the west side of the island and I snorkels on the reef while Cori walked the beach looking for more shells and glass.  This time I brought the camera and shot over two hundred pictures and videos.  I will get them sorted and uploaded when I have good wifi signal.  When the camera battery died we made our way back to the boat.  We also did a good deed when we went by a group of kayakers and towed the last kayak to shore.  They were tired and one of them was not feeling well due to the motion of the ocean.

Sunday we woke up hearing some disturbance outside.  We looked out to see one of our neighbors had dragged down on another boat and they were trying to get their anchors untangled.  Once they were free the boat went to anther part of the harbor to reanchor.  The winds were blowing over 20 knots again so we spent the day on board until evening when we thought the winds had died a little and we made a run into town.  We were planning to move on Monday and needed to get rid of our garbage. We dropped it off at the collection bins at the dinghy dock and then when to a nearby restaurant for dinner.  When we were through we found that my wallet had been left on the boat.  By now the wind had picked up again and by the time I made the run to the boat, back to the restaurant and back to the boat we were wet from the splashing waves.  The very thing we wanted to avoid by staying on the boat all day.

Monday we left the harbor to check out one of the small islands nearby.  We motored out into 20+ knot winds and worked our way to Isla Cullebrita.  There is a very pretty harbor on the northwest side of the island but to get there we had to go around and out into the big seas.  The waves were running about six foot when we went around the island and worked our way into the anchorage.  We picked up a mooring and went to shore.  On shore we met another cruiser who pointed out the different things to find on the island  The first thing we wanted to see was the area called the "jacuzzi".  It is an opening in the rocks that let the waves come in and flood a shallow area.  This day the sea was running too high and the water flooding in was a bit too violent.  We opted to just take pictures and head back to the boat.  There was a swell from the waves working it's way into the harbor and was causing a lot of uncomfortable rolling.  We decided to leave.  While getting back into the dinghy after pushing off from shore the lanyard on Cori's inflatable life jacket caught and all of a sudden her jacket inflated.  A big surprise and it didn't help getting into the dinghy any easier.  At least we know it works but now we need to get another re-arm kit for it.  We had more waves breaking and splashing into the cockpit until we got around the island and then moved to a protected anchorage for the night.  it was interesting to feel the wind blowing 20 knots and watch the waves break on the reef but we were sitting in perfectly calm water.  Once again we had rain showers overnight to wash the salt off the boat.

Tuesday morning we went back to the island, this time staying on the calm side and went ashore.  There is an old lighthouse on the top of the hill and we wanted to check it out.  There are trails leading to other beaches and up to the lighthouse.  We climbed up the hill checking out the plant life, lots of flowering plants, the little and not so little lizards that hurried out of our way, the hermit crabs slowly climbing along and finally got to see some of the goats that live on the island.  They are shy of people so we only got momentary sightings as we climbed.  We heard them in the brush more then saw them.  Once to the top of the hill we were not disappointed in the lighthouse.  We shot a lot of pictures and will post them in our album when we get a better connection.  Once to the lighthouse we found the rest of the goat herd.  I walked around a corner and came face to face with two goats.  I am not sure who was more surprised.  As we checked out the facility we saw the rest of the herd hanging out at the old helicopter pad.  More then a dozen were there and they were not to happy to see us.  As long as we kept our distance they put up with us and then decided to leave.  As we were looking out at the surrounding area we could see small groups of goats on the hillsides.  On our way back down we came across several more with their young.  They would stare at us for a bit then decide to make a run for it into the brush.  Once back to the boat we headed back to the harbor at Culebra for the night and to get ready to make the jump to St. John.  We are going to bypass St. Thomas for now and will visit there when we need supplies.  The winds are supposed to moderate a bit and since it is an upwind motor trip we will try to take advantage of it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ready to move on.

We have been here at Puerto Del Ray Marina for over a week.  We planned to stay for a week but we are waiting for our generator.  The week started out with cleaning and repairs.  After our time offshore we had salt everywhere.  Just moving from the cockpit to below deck spreads the salt, not to mention the salt water that found it's way in.  Cori spent two days doing thirteen loads of laundry.  Everything got washed: bedding, cushion covers, towels, clothes and more.  By "everything" we mean everything.  Ben and Bruiser even got a ride in the washer.  They were not impressed and do not want to go on that amusement ride again.

Everything below also had to be wiped down.  The zippers on the dodger were replaced after a wind gust ripped one out so the sewing machine came out, there were a couple of repairs to the sails and all round boat stuff to be taken care of.  I got replacement bolts to fix the auto pilot mechanism properly so that should not be an issue again.  For some reason the fresh water pressure pump decided to stop working.  We carry a spare, actually two spares, but that is another story.  While replacing the pump I redid the plumbing under the galley sink to make it a bit more user friendly but it took all day.  We found that my mp3 player is truly dead and we were not able to get our SeriusXM radio to work.  After talking to customer service we found that they do not transmit into the Caribbean.  Since we are going to be here for a while we canceled the service and packaged it all up and put it into storage.  We are going to miss it.  We listened to it most evenings not having television and it supplied a soundtrack during the day.  We will really miss it when Nascar starts up again.

Water got into one of the navigation lights and shorted it out and after spending a lot of time trying to get it working again we decided it needed to be replaced.  We met a couple on the dock and they offered us a ride to West Marine.  West did not have the one we needed but the store in San Juan had one.  Due to it being inventory time they could not ship it to the local store.  We told them to put it on hold and we would come and pick it up.  We decided we had done enough work and needed a day off.  We reserved a rental car for Friday and made the run to San Juan.  After we picked up the part we headed over to the old town to act like tourists.  We spent the afternoon at Castillo San Cristobal, a fort built by the Spanish to protect the city.  Over a 150 year period the fort grew and a wall was built around the city.  The fort and it's companion Castillo San Felipe del Morrow are now a part of our National Park system.  I love going to a national park and showing them my senior pass and getting in free.  If you are over 62 you need to get one of these.

On the way back we stopped in Luquillo at the kiosks.  Think of a strip mall with small open air bars, restaurants and shops with the beach behind.  It was late so most of the shops were closed but we were looking for dinner.  We decided on kiosk 22 with a name I cannot pronounce or spell.  We were seated on the roof with a view of the beach until it got dark and had our dinner.  I ordered the skin-on pork chop and Cori ordered the fish with mofongo as her side. Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish made with mashed plantains and takes the place of potatoes with many dishes.  The pork chop was one of the biggest I had ever had.  The outer skin of the pig is left on and is scored before frying.  What they do not mention is the half inch of fat between the skin and meat is also left on.  It is cooked so that the skin is crispy.  I never did figure out how to cut a piece with a combination of all three, I mostly had a bite of skin and fat and then a bite of meat.  I have to admit it was good.

We have just about everything done but are waiting on the generator.  We carry a portable Honda 2000i generator to help with keeping the batteries charged.  It will not run so we needed to find a repair shop.  One of the workers at the marina knew of a repair shop but not the name of it.  He was able to give us directions so we stopped to check if they could work on it when we made the run to West Marine.  We made a quick run back to the boat to get it and dropped it off on Wednesday.  They/we misunderstood the urgency and they did not get started on it until Friday.  We notified the marina we will be staying a couple more days.  What we know is that the low oil sensor is reporting low oil and this prevents it from starting or running.  We are waiting to hear back from them, they said they would be able to have it back to us around mid-day Monday.  They even offered to deliver it to the marina.

Once the generator is back we will be ready to head out.  We won't be going far, we will be checking out some of the islands close by before moving on to the Virgin Islands and beyond.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

We are now officially in Caribbean waters.

We are now officially in Caribbean waters.

On Monday, 11/21/2016, after checking with our weather guy we made the decision to go.  We left the marina.  We made our way to the ICW and motored down to Morehead City to top off the fuel at the Yacht Basin.  We were debating whether to continue on or wait for morning.  We opted to go on and since it was now 5:00 pm it was time to talk to Chris Parker again.  He has a set schedule on the single side band radio that we monitor.  We asked his opinion on leaving or waiting until morning and he said it wouldn’t make much difference.  As we were going out the inlet we met a Coast Guard cutter and they called us to tell us to turn on our navigation lights, it was just at sunset.  Once out of the inlet we raised the sails and started to our first way-point.  We expected to reach the Gulf Stream by morning and cross it in the daylight when the winds had dropped a bit.  We were doing 8-9 knots and reached it much sooner.  As we crossed the stream we saw speeds of 10-11 knots, about top speed for us.  There is an old rule that you stay out of the stream whenever there is wind from anywhere north.  The combination of the wind blowing against the stream builds some high and rough seas.  We had a northwest wind blowing 20-30 knots.  We ended up crossing the stream during the night with a very fast but rough ride.  In the morning when we checked in with Chris Parker for weather updates he reported that we were out of the stream and ready to continue on to our next way-point.  He helps with navigation by directing you to favorable winds and currents.  During the morning the winds dropped as he had forecast and we ended up sailing at about 4-5 knots for the rest of the day.  Had we waited we would have had a little better ride through the stream but it would have taken longer.  We were now out in the Atlantic Ocean and starting to make some distance east.  We needed to go east before going south to avoid beating into the east trade winds at the end of the trip.  We were on our way!

By evening on Tuesday the wind had died almost completely and the sail was just flogging.  We had taken down the mainsail and polled out the headsail to keep sailing, but after nightfall we were barely moving.  We knew that the forecast was for some wind to catch up with us on Wednesday but for now we were going almost nowhere.  We decided during the night to just roll in the sail, turn off the autopilot and just drift until morning.  Since we had not seen a ship since leaving the stream we just went to bed and got some sleep.  In the morning our chart plotter showed that we had drifted about 2 miles.  The forecast wind shift came during the night and we now had winds form the SW and as the day went on they grew to about 10 knots, perfect for sailing our southeast course.  Since it was Thanksgiving we celebrated with a batch of caramel rolls for breakfast and chicken and dressing for dinner.  The oven is too small for a turkey.  The winds held for the rest of the day and Friday but there was a wind shift coming.

By Saturday morning the winds shifted around from the west and climbed to 20-25 knots.  This gave us waves hitting us on the side and made for a rolling and pounding ride.  We had stuff rearranging itself down below, with most of it landing on the floor.  Overnight the winds dropped but it stayed rough.  The front north of us was getting closer and the winds shifted to the northwest then moving north with some rain squalls moving in.  Fortunately the squalls only gave us some rain to wash the salt off of everything and no burst of wind.  Now it was a rough and wet ride.  The waves had shifted from the southwest to hitting us from the northeast, still hitting on the beam and occasionally breaking over the deck.  These conditions continued through Wednesday with the wind shifting slightly from the east, causing us to occasionally change course more to the south to try to smooth out the ride.  To say it was uncomfortable is putting it mildly but we were making good time running 7 knots for days but not getting far enough east.

Thursday, 12/2/2016, the winds started to drop a little but the waves did not let up.  By this time we were traveling southwest instead of south east and were actually getting further from our destination of St. Thomas.  It was time to fire up the motor and turn into the wind.  Once under power the angle of the waves changed and it made the ride a lot smoother, calming down the tendency to roll.

By this time we had encountered a serious problem, on Tuesday, the 29th, the refrigeration quit.  We needed to make a decision of where to find a repairman.  We could continue on to St. Thomas or divert to Puerto Rico and make repairs.  We opted for Puerto Rico since it was a little closer and we only needed to divert a little to the south.

Friday evening we could see the lights on shore and continued on until we reached the east end of the island taking the passage between the main island and a smaller island coming into Rada Fajardo Bay.  I have always been a strong advocated of never entering a strange harbor in the dark but our other option was to stand off the shore for the night.  The chart plotter and the charts on the iPad all agreed with what we were seeing as far as lights and buoys and it is a very wide passage so we continued in.  Once in, we moved alongside one of the small islands and dropped anchor in about 15 feet of water.  We had finally stopped moving.  It was only about 9:00 pm but we were beat.  After showers, the water was hot since we had been running the engine, we dropped off to sleep.

In the morning we woke up to a tropical paradise.  There was land in almost all directions with palm trees, beaches, hills high enough that the tops were in the clouds and the sun was shining.  After breakfast we pulled the anchor and continued on to the marina we had chosen, about an hour away.  On the way a cloud bank moved in and we got a light rain that helped to wash off some of the salt.  By the time we reached the marina the sun was shining again and with the help of a couple of dockhands we were tied up.  Once were checked in we started the process of cleaning.  Everything was covered with a coating of salt and needed to be rinsed and scrubbed off.  Makes me wonder why we worked so hard to get everything clean before we left.  We had to take a break from cleaning and get ourselves cleaned us and ready for a cocktail party the marina was hosting.  We met a number of new people with a number of surprise connections.  One had just sold his Pearson 424 formerly known as “Mikey Likes It”.  We knew Mike from Oriental.  When we were on Lake Superior our cruising bible was “The Superior Way” by Bonnie and Ron Dahl.  When I mentioned having sailed on Lake Superior one of the couples stated that they had been sailing out of Bayfield back before the marina was even built and had sold their boat to the Dahl’s.  It is truly a small world.

Trip completed…almost!  We had traveled 1360 nautical miles, or 1565 statute miles, almost half way from New York to London.  From here we will head out for the US and British Virgin Island in about a week.

What went right?  1) It was not as cold as we expected.  The coldest part was the ride from Matthews Point to Morehead City on the ICW.  2) We changed shift schedules and seemed to not be as tired all of the time like in the past.  3) We were not out there by ourselves.  We had twice a day communications with Chris Parker for weather updates.  In the morning we would check-in with the Cruiseheimers Radio Net and in the evening with the Doo-Dah Radio Net.  The Doo-Dah Net overlapped with our evening weather update and if we were late Dick would stay online waiting for us.  As he said one evening “one of our boats is out there and I need to make sure they check-in and are all right.”  At one point Valkyrie was relaying tips on troubleshooting the refrigerator from Rick on Sea Language.  We were not out there alone.  4) We saw only a few ships, most just showed up on our AIS and were too far off to see.  5) My biggest worry was the amount of fuel it may take for the trip.  We can motor for just short of four days if needed but would be out much longer.  Fortunately we had good winds most of the trip.  When the winds were light we were warned that there was no wind ahead of us and if we tried motoring we would run into the calms and end up with calm winds for even longer.  We just needed to be patient and let the winds catch up to us.  In the end we motored for about 34 hours using about a quarter of our fuel.

What went wrong? 1) The biggest is that the compressor for the refrigeration quit.  2) All of the podcasts that Cori was listening to somehow got deleted.  3) My mp3 player got wet and quit working.  4) One of the bolts connecting the auto pilot to the steering worked loose and after tightening it once it came loose again and dropped out to disappear into the bilge.  We rigged it with another bolt but not the right size or type.  5) We found that a wave coming across the deck sideways will get under the forward companionway hatch and cascade in.  This happened several times for several days.  6) We found leaks in a variety of places that had not shown up before.  7) First we were between two weather ridges with little wind then the front moved down and shifted our wind from the NE before we were able to get as east as we needed before turning south.  Eventually we had to motor against the east wind to make our destination.

All in all it was a good trip.  When you take into consideration what could go wrong very little actually happened.  We were hoping for a boring and quiet trip and we came close to that.