St. Kitts and Nevis (with text!)

February 6th, 2010

Leaving St. Martin, we had a very nice sail down the east side of St. Martin, past St Barth’s on our port side and onto Saba.

Saba is a very rugged island that, like St. Maarten, is part of the Dutch Antilles and it is reputed to have great hiking and diving. Unfortunately, the island also has no protected harbours and no marinas that could house a boat like Bojangles. There is, however, a mooring field on the leeward (west) side of the island where one can moor and avoid the prevailing winds but still remain exposed to anything coming from the North, West, or South.

We picked up a mooring in about 200 feet of water beneath a towering 300 foot cliff and prepared to watch the sun go down and perhaps see the green flash as we had a clear view of the western horizon? (Not familiar with the green flash? Click here) Of course, just as the G&T’s are about to be stirred, the Dutch Coast Guard shows up and boards us for a ‘routine’ inspection. While the guys were very professional and only stayed 10 or so minutes, they caused us to miss the sunset and generally ruined our cocktail hour.

Things got worse after dark. The swell came up from the north. And while we remained protected from the east wind, the swell – which is ocean waves not related to local wind conditions – was able to roll on us directly. So you now have a situation where the bow points into the wind (east) as normal, but then the swell hits us beam on from the north. The resulting effect is that the boat rolls back and forth to the rhythm of the swell. This particular night, it was so bad that cupboard doors would fly open and dishes were falling out. Needless to say, no one slept much and poor Mitchell was even launched out of his upper bunk in the middle of the night.

When dawn broke, we all agreed to cancel our planned hike for the day and forget about Saba until some other time in the future. We slipped our mooring line and pointed the bow eastward to St. Kitts (St. Christopher) where hopefully we’d be able to get a decent night’s sleep.

By early afternoon, after about 5 hours of motoring into the light easterly breeze, we reached St. Kitts. After a brief stop to clear customs and immigration in Basse Terre (St. Kitts) we motored 8 miles down to Cockleshell Bay at the south end of the island where we once again met up with our friends on Safari Tu and Stolen Hour. After a good cocktail hour with them, we had a nice evening there which was free from any rolling – so a good night’s sleep was had by all.

The following day, along with Safari Tu and Stolen Hour, we sailed the short few miles over to Nevis where we would spend the next few days. Already there were our friends from Shining Time (whom we hadn’t seen since October in Hampton, VA) and Chasseur (whom we had seen a few days earlier in St. Maarten).

At Nevis, we had a fun, relaxed time. Over the course of a few days, we played on the beach, went to the local markets, and generally slowed down a little. Nevis is a small, quiet island and there isn’t a ton of things to do, so that’s what we did.

One notable exception though, was the hike up to the rainforest that starts from the Golden Rock Hotel. We hired a driver to deliver us to the hotel and then – after Colin spent 90 minutes on what was supposed to be a 20 minute conference call with a client – we began our hike up the mountain. Along the way, we saw the scenery was great with all kinds of cool plants and such. As we ascended, we also came across a family of young piglets in the wild and one wild monkey. After a couple of hours ascending, we were greeted by an opening with beautiful mountain views as well as the sea below and St. Kitts in the near distance.

While we could have continued along this path, we were getting peckish and knew that a tasty lunch awaited us back at the Golden Rock. We descended fairly quickly, disturbing only a herd of goats on the path, and returned to the hotel restaurant where we had pre-ordered our lunch. Frankly, I can’t remember what the others had, but I had a lobster salad sandwich with a salad and fries, accompanied by a glass of pinot grigio. It was outstanding. And, the setting was superlative. We were sitting on a stone terrace some 1000 feet above sea level looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. It was really neat, and if you ever get a chance to go to Nevis, lunch at Golden Rock is not to be missed.

After lunch, we had a nice chat with the hotel owner and then had a dip in the pool there to cool down. Then, as we prepared to meet our taxi to head back to the boat, Gillian discovered a monkey in the parking lot. Then, as we all got closer, we realized that there were monkeys everywhere – including in the tree above us throwing nuts and stuff down at us. While we’d all seen monkeys in the zoo and at African Lion Safari, this was the first time we’d seen them in the wild and it was pretty cool.

For our last day in St Kitts and Nevis, we went back to Nevis and arranged to have a private tour of the Carib brewery. I’m not sure that everyone appreciated it, but it’s always fun for me to see beer being made, and even if you’re not a beer drinker, watching a bottling line in action is pretty neat.

So, after our ill fated trip to Saba and a successful visit to St. Kitts and Nevis we decided to push on to Guadeloupe. We went to bed early, set our alarms for 0230 and prepared ourselves and Bojangles for the 80 mile run past Montserrat and beyond to Guadeloupe.


Onward to St. Martin

February 6th, 2010

In St. Martin (or Sint Maarten, on the Dutch side), we anchored in the lagoon, cleared customs (a painful affair as a number of mega yachts with large crews had arrived to clear in immediately before us), and then had our first McDonald’s experience since leaving the US.

For a sailor, the lagoon is quite a neat place. It is a couple of miles across with lots of room to anchor; it is totally surrounded and protected by land but for two small channels; it is half Dutch and half French; and, the neatest thing from a boater’s perspective, is that all services or conveniences that you could require are accessible by dinghy. First, there are all the marine servicers: chandleries, marinas, fuel, water, riggers, sailmakers, welders, fabricators, etc. Then, there are also all the conventional services as well: grocery, bakery, bank, FedEx, post office, car rental, etc. And lastly, there is a good selection of sailor bars that you can dinghy to. In short, the lagoon really functions as a city houses are replaced by boats and the family car is replaced by the yacht’s tender (dinghy). It’s no wonder that there are many cruisers who get as far as St. Martin and then never leave.

The only real downside is that you can’t (or probably shouldn’t) swim in the lagoon as the tidal ‘flush’ wouldn’t be sufficient to keep the water clean.

Anyway, we had a busy and fun time in SXM (as the locals and airport folks call it).

In a little over a week we had all our major boat projects completed:

• we had the cutless bearing replaced by the very efficient folks at Bobby’s Marina;
• we had an out of water marine survey done on the boat (she’s still a gem!);
• we had a new stabilizing bar manufactured for our dinghy davits;
• we bought a whole bunch of important boat stuff at the two major chandleries there.
• We stocked the galley with all kinds of good food, cheeses, UHT milk, Heineken (when in Holland..), French wine (when in France…) , and also stocked the freezer with wholesale quantities of nice steak and pork.

We also had 4 dinner parties on Bojangles:

• Alan from Unabated came over one night. We met Alan back in September on Lake Ontario as we entered the Oswego Canal together and traveled through the canal together for a day. We hadn’t seen him since except for a brief wave in Annapolis in October.
• The Smith family (Greg, Lisa, Evan, Grayson) from Chasseur came over another night. We hadn’t seen them since Vieques prior to Christmas and it was nice to spend some time with them again.
• Alan and Carrie Ann and their children from Stealaway, cruisers from South Africa came over along with Kurt and Kate from Myananda after happy hour at the St. Martin YC threatened to go on too long.
• The Freedman family from Toronto (Steven, Jenny, Time, Mathias, Minaelle, and Tayla) also stayed for dinner after we took them for an afternoon sail on Bojangles.

We didn’t spend all of our time on the boat however. We also went to a number of the beaches, toured the island by rental car, and visited a few restaurants.

We also spent some time getting to know the aforementioned Freedman family. I had known Steve a little from our mutual days coaching soccer and hockey back in Swansea (our neighbourhood in Toronto). His family relocated to SXM at the same time as we left Toronto, so I made a mental note to look him up when we got here. They invited us to the beach and their home for dinner and we had a great time. Then, we reciprocated by bringing Bojangles to an anchorage near their house so that we could take them out for a sail. We had a great sail in 15-20 knots of wind followed by dinner on Bojangles. The next day, they invited us to dinner at a very nice restaurant in Orient Bay. It was nice to be so far from home and then to spend time with someone from our own neighbourhood. We all enjoyed visiting with them and look forward to seeing them again when we get back to Toronto.

On our last day in SXM, just before we left on our ill fated trip to Saba, we had a little additional excitement. We were anchored at Ilet Pinel, getting ready to leave for Saba when a 50 foot Sunsail charter boat pull out of the anchorage. At the time, I was working on re-installing my solar panel (after re-installing the new stabilizing bar) when I looked up and saw the charter boat floating abnormally high in the water. A second later, I realized she was hard aground and the surf was pounding her quite violently onto a reef. I jumped in my dinghy, then picked up Reg, a fellow Canadian on a neighbouring boat and we ran over to help.

With Reg in the bow of our dinghy, he grabbed the leeward toerail on the bow of the Sunsail boat whilst I gave full throttle to try to push the bow away from the reef. After a few minutes, we were able to free them and they motored away, no doubt thinking amongst themselves, “Thank goodness, it’s a rental.”


Back in the BVI’s!

February 6th, 2010

After Christmas we began our trek eastward again, with the first stop to be the BVI’s (again). Despite the temporary repairs we effected on the cutless bearing in Vieques, we knew we needed to get to a marina to have the boat hauled and have a new bearing installed. Nanny Cay marina on Tortola seemed as good a place as any to have this work done.

So on Boxing Day, we motorsailed the 40 odd miles from Culebra, past St Thomas, around St. John, and back to a dock at Nanny Cay. Along the way, we hooked a medium sized (say 36”) barracuda, but as we got him close to the boat, he lost his tail and a good chunk of his ‘stern’ to a rather aggressive (and rude) shark. So when I pulled the ‘cuda alongside to unhook him, he insisted on repeatedly flapping his stump against the side of the boat and leaving a trail of blood along Bojangles’ topsides. I thought it made us look tough though, so I haven’t yet cleaned it.

At Nanny Cay, we were reunited with our friends on Discovery and had a nice night visiting with them; however we then learned that the boat lift at Nanny Cay was on Christmas vacation until January 5, so the following day, we left the marina in hopes of finding some favourable weather to sail to St. Martin – where there are lots of options for getting this kind of boat work done.

Before leaving the BVI’s though, we spent a few more days exploring Peter Island and Jost van Dyke. Yes, we’d been to all these places previously, but they are all very nice and have multiple anchorages worth visiting.

On the 30th, we hooked up by radio with the Springs on Safari Tu who thought that that would be a good day to head to St. Martin on an overnight 80 mile passage. We decided to join them and sailed over to Gorda Sound to rendezvous for a 5:00pm departure. Shortly after heading out though, it became clear that the there was not enough north in the 25 knot ENE wind to fetch St. Martin under sail. At the same time, it started pouring rain and we were also getting soaked regularly by 8 foot waves coming over the bow. Discretion being the better part of valour, we radioed Safari Tu to let them know we were turning tail and heading back to Virgin Gorda. By 7:30, we were safely anchored back at Gorda Sound and had a good night’s sleep. Safari Tu, on the other hand, kept on sailing and made St. Martin around 10:00 the following morning after a very long and uncomfortable sail.

“Stranded” in Gorda Sound, we enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve (in bed by 10:00) but then had a great New Year’s Day by taking in the Friday night party at Leverick Bay Resort – an all you can eat buffet, live entertainment, dancing, and the mocko jumbies show. And of course this was all on the beach on a warm night under a full moon. Overall, a pretty good night.

The next day we had better conditions for heading to St. Martin, so we left in the evening and pulled an overnight passage to St. Martin under clear skies, calm seas, and an almost full moon. What a great night! Also on this run, Mitchell began helping out on watch. When I went off watch, Kathleen and Mitchell took over, with Mitchell doing most of the hand steering (because the auto pilot was having a bad hair day – don’t ask me why). This was a good milestone for Mitchell and hopefully we’ll see more of this on future passages.

Around 0530 on January 3, we pulled into Simpson Bay on St. Martin’s Dutch side and dropped anchor so we could catch a couple hours sleep before the 0930 bridge opening which would allow us to get into the Simpson Lagoon – which would serve as our base for getting our cutless bearing and also for exploring St. Martin.

Overall, the various virgins (British, Spanish, American) were great, but now we are moving onto a new chapter in our trip as St. Martin is the first of the Leeward Islands that we are visiting – and we were looking forward to it.


Bojangles’ School

January 17th, 2010

Here’s a short video of a project that the kids’ did on the solar system.

Photos added to Bye Bye BVI post

January 17th, 2010

Hi folks,

Greetings from Nevis. I added a few photos from the USVIs to the “Bye Bye BVI” post. Click here to see them.

I’ve got a good wifi link here so I should be able to add a bunch more photos and words while we’re here.


A Sailor Spends his Christmas in a Harbour on the Hook

January 1st, 2010

Every year for at least the last decade, the Jimmy Buffett Christmas album has been part of our family’s ‘Christmas mix’ (along, of course, with Boney M, Burl Ives, and the A Very Special Christmas anthology). And while most Christmas albums are bad, we tolerate the Buffett one because of the sailing theme to his music. For many years we’ve sat in our living room at home and sung along as Jimmy’s A Sailor’s Christmas reminded us that ‘A sailor spends his Christmas in a harbour on the hook’. Sitting in wintry Toronto, that seemed a bit far fetched. I’m happy to report though, that that is precisely how we spent Christmas 2009.

After arriving in Culebra, we caught up with our friends on Ohana and Chasseur and spent a delightful afternoon boogie boarding and bodysurfing at Flamenco Beach – apparently rated as the second most beautiful beach in the world by Discovery Channel, a distinction that I certainly wouldn’t dispute. It was awesome – great sand, nice surf, and crystal clear water. We followed that up with a nice adult dinner ashore at Mamacita’s whilst the 9 kids fended for themselves on the boats.

From there we moved to a great anchorage at Culebrita, a small uninhabited island just east of Culebra. We beached the dinghies, then hiked about a mile through a just slightly overgrown trail to a deserted beach that was every bit as beautiful as Flamenco. Not as big perhaps, but completely deserted but for our three families. We swam, sunbathed and generally chilled. We also juggled coconuts…

Another great spot on Culebra was Bahia Almodovar, a bay that is largely surrounded by mountains and mangroves but for the southeast quadrant which as a clear reef protected view to the east and south. In an anchorage like this, you get a great view, full breeze to cool down the boat, but no waves. It was perfect.

Unfortunately, our plan for the lay day was to go Christmas shopping on the Puerto Rico mainland. So Kathleen and I got up at 0500, met a taxi at 0530 (at a deserted dock that was almost impossible to find in the moonless night) who drove us across the island to the ferry dock, caught a 0630 ferry to Fajardo on the Puerto Rican mainland, and then took a shared taxi to the local outdoor mall (anchor tenant: WalMart!) While Eliza from Ohana looked after the kids, Kathleen and I spent the day shopping and trying to convince the fraud detection folks at VISA that yes, all this rapid spending in Puerto Rico was indeed our doing. In short, we shopped till the VISA ran dry then reversed the commute – taxi, ferry, taxi, dinghy ride – back to Bojangles, arriving just in time for sundown.

That task completed we sailed the next day to Vieques, the other Spanish Virgin. At Vieques, we arranged a night tour to the Bioluminescent Bay – which is just about the coolest natural phenomenon one could ever see. Many sailors are lucky enough to see bioluminescence in the water as they sail on a moonless night. In the biobay though, the bioluminescence is so concentrated that your kayak paddle leaves bright blue trails with every stroke. When you swim in the bay, each stroke or kick lights up the water around you. In fact, you can even make a ‘snow angel’ in the water from all the bioluminescence. In sum, it’s really cool and my description can’t do it justice. If you ever get a chance to go there, take it.

The next day, we had a Christmas party on Bojangles with our friends from Ohana. This was to be our last night with them after traveling with them all the way from New Jersey. Their plans are taking them west to Central America and ours will take us east to the Leeward and Windward Islands. We had a nice dinner and then played charades with our two families on the foredeck of Bojangles before tearful hugs goodbye.

The following morning we caught the 0630 ferry to Fajardo, rented a car and drove to the El Yunque rain forest which is a US National Park and just a really neat place to explore. The road starts close to sea level and you take a lovely drive up into the mountains. As you climb, the temperature drops and the vegetation changes. At the same time, there are some cool waterfalls to explore and some neat areas to hike through.

One particular highlight was a 40 foot waterfall that ended in a small pool where you could swim. We swam in the cool (mid 70’s), fresh water and then did the obligatory “Bugs Bunny” under the waterfall as the cascade washed away the day’s salt and grime.

Upon our return to Vieques, we planned to head back over to Culebra to make one last trip to Flamenco Beach and then get ready for Christmas. Before we could do that however, I needed to inspect the propeller shaft that had been making too much noise as we motored from Culebra to Vieques several days earlier. A quick dive on the shaft confirmed my worst fear. Our cutless bearing (a rubber ‘sleeve’ encased in bronze that holds our shaft secure while still allowing it to rotate) had slid out from its casing and our shaft was now free to wiggle around at will as it rotated at 2000 rpm. This needed to be rectified before we started the engine again.

I called the local dive shop, where I had stopped in a couple of days earlier and recalled that the proprietor a) spoke English, b) was a former cruiser, and c) was a diver. Three key ingredients when you need a diver to work on your sailboat. She was not optimistic about our chances of fixing the bearing from in the water but was happy to send over a diver so long as I was paying.

So the diver came out and I showed him what needed to be done. Essentially, we needed to shove a flexible rubber tube into a collar that was really really tight. Underwater. While the boat was pitching in waves. Herve (the diver) was a divemaster, but didn’t know much about boats, so I took his octopus (additional air hose) and we worked together underwater for quite some time to try to get the bearing back in place.

In the end, it took two tanks of air, a trip to an autobody shop for additional tools, and several hours before we were able to effect what would be a temporary repair, but would allow us to keep the boat moving and get on our way to Culebra for Christmas. We anchored just off the town of Dewey on Culebra just before nightfall and had a quiet night aboard.

The following day (Christmas Eve) we bought our Christmas groceries in the morning, made a trip to the gas station to fill our jerry cans with some diesel (we hadn’t refuelled since we left the States and we were uncomfortably low) and called our Culebra driver Miguelito to shuttle us over to Flamenco Beach for a couple of hours.

Back at the boat, we weighed anchor and headed toward Culebrita where we hoped to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the swell from the north rendered both of the potential anchorages at Culebrita untenable, and after a somewhat harrowing (and failed) attempt to enter the north bay there, we elected to head back to the highly protected Bahia Almodovar on Culebra for our Christmas Eve. We hoisted our Christmas lights to the masthead and then celebrated all 4 weeks of advent in one evening.

This anchorage turned out to be great decision as we were subject to a wicked storm on Christmas Eve. Sustained winds over 25 knots plus gusts, incredible lightning strikes very close to the boat, and torrential rain like we’ve never seen before. Through all this, Bojangles was rock solid on her anchor and dry down below. If it wasn’t for the lighting and the clatter of the thunder, we wouldn’t have even known there was storm going on when Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap at last settled down for our long winter’s nap.

Christmas morning we awoke to kids jumping on our bed as usual, and we had a fairly traditional experience with present opening followed by brunch and then kids playing with toys while parents try to relax. Our kids got a Wii from Santa, so that filled their day while I chilled in the hammock I received – accompanied by a book and a beer (or two). Kathleen enjoyed the peace and quiet and also prepared a delightful dinner of spare ribs which while non-traditional – were enjoyed by all.

Overall, this was the Christmas on the hook that we had long anticipated. We didn’t have as many presents as in most years, and we didn’t get to visit with family and friends as we normally do.. But we all had a great time in a beautiful secluded anchorage… and and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.


Bye Bye BVI

December 18th, 2009

We spent a few more days in the BVI’s – snorkelling the pirate caves at Norman Island as a family, putting in for a night at Nanny Cay marina to charge the batteries and complete the fabrication and installation of our new anchor roller (which is very sweet, btw), and then off to Trellis Bay on December 2 for the full moon party.

The full moon party on the beach is a neat affair – with a Caribbean buffet dinner, live music, a ‘slack’ rope walker, and just general kicking back on the beach. One of the highlights was the massive fire pits and the blaze that came forth from them. After dark, several iron “cages” filled with fire wood and located on platforms in about 3 feet of water were lit and their heat and light filled the beach for about 30 minutes. My words don’t do it justice, but combined with the full moon, it was really cool.

After the full moon, we headed into to Tortola to check out of the BVI’s and to pick up some outboard parts at the local chandlery. Then it was off to St. John, USVI where, at the customs dock, we enjoyed a full US style interrogation from the good folks representing the USDA. As we stood at the window looking out at Bojangles, our home, the man responsible for keeping mad cow and stickerless fruit out of the US food supply asked me questions like, “So, do you have any food on board?” (Me: “Dude, we live on the boat”) “Did it all originate in the States?” (Me: “Dude, we left the US over a month ago. The milk seems to be getting a bit lumpy, but yeah, it’s all American”) “Any luncheon meat?” (“I dunno. My wife does the shopping”)… and so on. Then I received a “science lesson” (his words) where I learned that Canada and Britain have mad cow disease but that the US is blissfully free of this scourge. (“Really? Beef farmers might beg to differ”) And to top it all off, I then learned that a USDA approved food package that is exported to the BVI’s, is purchased in the BVI’s and then brought into the USVI’s – with sealed packaging intact – is no longer considered USDA approved. (Because who knows what those sneaky BVIslanders may have done to it!) – Anyway, after all this, I changed my story and told him that we actually had no food on board. That seemed to be what he wanted to hear and then I could move on to the immigration process, where the requisite cavity searches from Homeland Security seemed to pale in comparison to the USDA guy’s interrogation.

From there we high tailed it around to Great Lameshur Bay where we picked up a mooring just before sunset and reunited with our friends on Ohana and Chasseur. Stolen Hour joined us the next day so that we had a complement of 4 boats, 8 adults, and 11 kids which made for a fun couple of days.

One lucky moment occurred the first afternoon there. I had hung my swimsuit on the mizzen boom to dry after my morning swim, but when I went to retrieve it for my noon swim, it was gone. This was quite distressing as I had just purchased this suit in Tortola and I quite liked it. Anyway, a few hours later we are hiking on a cliff about ½ mile from the boat, and I see a red piece of cloth washed up on the rocks about 50 feet below. The good news is that was probably my suit. The bad news is that there was no way down there by land, and by water, the approach was very rough and rocky. Undeterred, Mitchell and I fetched our kayak, paddled over to the crashing waves and then quickly tried to retrieve the suit before our inflatable kayak was shredded by the waves and rocks. We had success, but not before we suffered some new cuts and bruises.

We also did a monster 7 mile hike through the mountains at Lameshur. We started at sea level, rose to about 600 feet, descended back to sea level, then back up to 600 feet and then back down. The scenery was great and we also got to see petroglyphs, bats, and wild pineapple (very tasty).

Salt Pond Bay on St. John was our next stop where we anchored about 100 yards off of a very nice beach with great snorkelling and a great (short) hike that offered fabulous views of St. John as well as a good portion of the BVI’s. (St. John is adjacent to the BVI’s. You could swim to Tortola if you had to).

At Salt Pond, we said goodbye to Ohana, but welcomed Safari Tu, a Gulfstar 44 with kids on it. We also discovered a great bay for conch harvesting and pulled in enough conch to make a delightful conch fritter dinner for the 19 folks on our four boats. While the men folk cleaned the conch (stay tuned for a photo essay on this process) and prepared the fritters on Stolen Hour, the ladies were on Bojangles preparing dough for the next day’s baguettes. We had a great dinner and a great baguette and cheese breakfast the next day…. (You can see, we’re really roughing it out here!)

From there we went to Coral Bay, which is a community on the east of St. John which is characterized by a mix of hippies, bums, and wealthy folks who have retired to stately manors up in the mountain (and who can therefore avoid the unwashed folks in town). Think Haight-Ashbury — in the tropics. There is also a large collection of liveaboard and derelict boats in the harbour. On a short dinghy tour of the harbour, Gillian and I spotted no less than half a dozen sunken boats, a couple of which appeared to be still at there mooring while the others had drifted over to the mangroves on shore.

Anyway, the highlight of Coral Bay has to be Skinny Legs restaurant – which serves up cold beer and cheeseburgers in a great beach bar setting. Also, we got up close and personal with our first iguana there and also wandered amongst the local goat herd that roamed freely on the road and soccer pitch.

Finding the water at Coral Bay and its large liveaboard community a little too “cloudy” for our swimming comfort, we zipped around the corner to Round Bay where we anchored for a night, did some snorkelling, caught up on some schooling and I caught up on some work (Yes, I’m still employed). We also tried to hunt for some lobster there but alas, we were unsuccessful.

At Round Bay, I also spent some time – too much time – trying to solve a problem with our raw water cooling system. I replaced the water pump impeller, and despite donating the required amount of blood, sweat, and torn skin to the diesel gods, I could not get good water flow through the engine. In fact, I think I made it worse. Beaten, I decided to take the boat to St. Thomas and get a diesel mechanic to fix it up.

We pulled into a marina around noon on Friday and the local shop assured me that the mechanic would be around that afternoon and would get us sorted. Raw water cooling issues are straightforward to them and they can fix them lickety split. Well, fast forward FOUR days to Tuesday and a new water pump brought in from Tortola and there still ain’t any water coming out the back of the boat. At this point, the mechanic is suggesting that I may need a new muffler ($$), or worse, a new exhaust manifold ($$$). (On a personal level, my head gasket was just about to go at this point).

Finally, we ascertain that the blockage is in the manifold and while the mechanic wants to pull it off the engine to clean it, I’m reluctant. We then decide to get some muriatic acid and pour it into the manifold (do NOT try this at home, kids). Well, we shoot this stuff into the manifold and the thing starts bubbling like Hecate’s cauldron. After a two minute wait (while we reconnected the exhaust hose) we fired the engine and lo and bold water – accompanied by all kinds of rust and scaly bits – came forth by the bucket load. We do it one more time – this time with a diluted solution – and then we’ve got a cooling system working like a charm. (Yeah, I’m sure the acid isn’t great for the inside of the manifold, but given that the alternative was to replace the manifold, I think this works out OK.)

Minutes later – at 1:30pm – we were on our way, (with a new water pump that we really didn’t need! We also spent four days at a marina when the solution we employed only took about 30 minutes and didn’t require ANY new parts. Ouch, is all I can say. Boaters reading this will no doubt empathize. Non-boaters will think I’m nuts.) We motor sailed the 25 miles west to Culebra and managed to get our hook down at about 4:35pm.

We rigged the dinghy in record time and then went in search of Homeland Security so we could check in prior to closing at 5:00pm. The only problem was we didn’t know exactly where to go. We tried one area that looked somewhat official but we learned from the folks in a dinghy near there that Customs was at the other end of the bay, and that there was a dock with a blue boat on it where we could tie up and walk ashore. Well, we zip over to the first dock with a blue boat, walk ashore, and then learn from a man on the street that Customs is at the airport and it’s a 15 minute walk from there (it’s now 4:55 and Customs closes at 5:00).

So we try a different dock with a blue boat – but that is at the wrong end of the runway. We’d gone too far. So, I split the difference and tie up at a private dock that I hope will be near the airport terminal. We pull up to this dock – which is clearly a dock at someone’s house – I trespass across his lawn carrying all our passports and boat papers, run down the street to the terminal, into the terminal, find the distinctive Homeland Security decal (right beside the scooter rental place) and then push the door.

It’s locked. The lights are out. It’s ten past 5. Shoot! We’re quarantined to the boat until morning. Wait. There are guys inside. They let me in. Because I had called earlier on the satphone to check their hours, they knew I was coming and they were waiting for me. Nice. They clear me in without hassle and then we return to the boat, having successfully cleared in from the US Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico.

(At this point, the astute reader will say, “Hey, aren’t the USVI’s and Puerto Rico BOTH IN THE US?” The answer is yes, however for some reason, you need to clear customs when traveling between the two. Probably something to do with terrorism.)

Anyway, as I write, we have just arrived in Culebra – a small island between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico – and it looks beautiful. We’ll spend the next week or so exploring it.


A couple of photos from US Thanksgiving

December 15th, 2009

Yes, I know Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks ago and that we’re due for an update on our adventures.  (One has to take a break from the adventuring in order to write about it!)

Until I get the time to do that, I thought I’d share a couple of photos from our recent Thanksgiving dinner on Virgin Gorda.  It was very traditional with turkey, stuffing, and the like, but what was different was the venue…. for which, of course, we were all incredibly thankful.

Here’s a photo of the kids with their boat friends…

Cruising kids at Thanksgiving

And here are the parents lining up for the buffet….

US Thanksgiving Buffet 2009

Stay tuned… Shortly, I’ll provide an update on our time in the US Virgin Islands – St. John and St. Thomas.

Today (Dec 15) we hope to head to Culebra – one of the Spanish (actually Puerto Rican) Virgin Islands


We finally made it in the Villager!

December 13th, 2009

We’ve lived in our Toronto neighbourhood of Bloor West Village / Swansea for over 15 years and now, after we’ve left, the local community newspaper (& bulk junk mail delivery mechanism) has chosen to write an article about us.

Here it is.


in St. Thomas, 79F

Google Earth Page Updated

December 8th, 2009

Just a short note to say that I updated our Google Earth page of anchorages we’ve visited so far.

Click through (and download the plugin if necessary) and you can get a bird’s eye view of where we’ve been.

Here’s the link