Thursday, December 24, 2009

White Christmas

Ashford Carbonell, Shropshire, UK

Happy Christmas everyone!!!

Last year sunshine in Antigua, this year a white Christmas with all the cold weather trimmings.

Love to all and good luck for 2010

Tim and Linda
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Motor Bikes & Plan Changes

Where Are We: Ashford Carbonell, Shropshire

First the good news, our late summer/early autumn hobby was to learn to ride motor bikes and we were blessed with a superb Indian Summer in which to do it, sunshine, warm weather, superb autumn colours and dry roads made for a great few months. Linda needed a way to get to the train station so she bought a scooter and it was so much fun I bought a 125cc motor bike so we could head off and explore together.

In between commuting to work we had some fun weekends exploring the never ending sights of the area, following up Stonehenge with a trip to the huge stone circle in Avebury. The whole village is surrounded by a ring of monoliths that form a sort of amphitheatre, nobody has any idea why this was done 5,000 years ago and I guess no one ever will, but while not as photogenic as Stonehenge it is in many ways more impressive, as well as benefitting from many less visitors.

The bad news is that we have decided to postpone our return to Matsu and skip this winters cruising. As many of you know my father is very ill, fighting a valiant battle with cancer, and towards the end of October his health deteriorated considerably and we have decided that the best place for us to be at present is here in the UK supporting my family while Dad is nursed at home. He remains in good spirits and is thankfully not in any pain and the good wishes and love that many of you have sent to him and us are much appreciated.

So we are now living in a small village just outside Ludlow in Shropshire where my parents live, and dividing our days between gym and caring for Dad, if his smile and our waistlines are anything to go by we are doing better at the latter!

Safe sailing to all those of you out on the water, we can't wait to see you all again in the Caribbean in 2010.

Happy Christmas

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer In The English Countryside

Where Are We: Bradford On Avon, Wiltshire

After a long hurricane season of no updates, we thought to avert rumours of Somali Pirates we had better let you all know what's been happening.

We got back to the UK in early June, after celebrating Linda's Birthday with Dave & Donna in Annapolis, Kate & Roger in Philadelphia, Craig & Barbera in NYC, assorted friends in Montreal, Linda's parents and finally the crew of Bofix in Quebec City over the course of a week!
Linda had her new visa for the UK and we set about some serious job hunting. After a few phone calls the first task was to buy some smart clothes, so that we would look the part for interviews.  Despite the economic doom and gloom that greeted us we got a few leads and Tim was offered a 3 month contract on the outskirts of Bristol, starting the first week in July.
This was great as we could now get somewhere permanent to live and the bills would be paid for summer. Linda soon got work in Bristol too and we were back to the old life of work and commuting.

The summer weather was truly awful, wet, cold and grey but thankfully the few days of sunshine we got all seemed to fall on the weekends, so we were able to make the most of it to do as much site seeing as we could.
We had rented a converted barn just outside Bath and within 90 minutes drive there was enough to see and do to keep us amused for years, never mind one summer. As well as site seeing we spent a lot of time with Tim's parents as this was our main reason for coming "home", Dad's health stood up well during summer, they even managed a trip down to see us in their caravan. We also managed to see a few of our long lost friends but not as many or as frequently as we wanted.

The highlights of our many wonderful tourist weekends were walking on the coastal paths of Devon on the perfect summers day, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral and another superb walk to give us stunning views over the ruins of Tintern Abbey.

The other fun part of summer was catching up with cruising friends from the Caribbean, Linda literally bumped into Loon in the toilets at Bristol shopping centre, and we saw Peter & Wendy from Keesje II on a couple of occasions, as well as meeting the famous Fred the labrador.

As summer comes to a close our thoughts turn to heading back to Matsu and the Bahamas for the winter. Our contracts have been extended until the end of October, and so all things being equal we will fly back to the USA the first week in November.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Back To Reality

Beaufort, NC
34 48.2 N 71 41.0W

Well back to reality for us as Matsu sits on the hard stand here in Beaufort, NC.

We left Rose Island in the Bahamas and had another marathon sail, 4 days and 3 nights again, this time covering the 538 miles to Charleston. We had originally planned to stop after 24 hours in Palm Beach but when we checked the weather forecast it was time to "get out of Dodge" so we had the difficult choice of turning right and following the Gulf Stream on north, postponing a good nights sleep for another 3 days!

The trip was uneventful, sailing in the gulf stream in light winds at 10 knots thanks to the current. The wind held until the last day when it was on with the motor and out with the hydraulic oil to keep topping up our steering which has now developed a leak - while sailing it isn't a problem as we can use the wind vane, but motoring it drips constantly.

We arrived i Charleston on 16 May exactly 2 years since we arrived heading north, that time we were there for 10 days waiting for a strong cold front to pass through, and exactly the same this time around! What a shock to the system, 4 days after swimming in clear water in the sunny Bahamas we were anchored in the brown river at Charleston wearing wooly hats and gloves as temperatures dropped to around 5°C!!

We left Charleston bound for Matsu's summer home on Chesapeake Bay, on what proved to be the worst leg of our trip back, at first the wind wasn't right, and then on day two lots of rain showers followed by the wind dieing. We turned on the motor and tried to motor sail north the remaining 270 miles, but the oil leak was getting worse and we began to worry we would run out of top up oil before arriving in Chesapeake. While we debated this the main sail flogged and a batten broke, then while trying to gt the batten out the leach of the sail tore and we decided it was time to head for a rest.

We changed course, then decided to persevere, then changed our minds again, and then again before finally the dolphins gave us the right advice - we were joined by a big pod and then they all turned left and headed for Beaufort, 20 minutes later when we changed course again heading that way too, they reappeared with 2 of them jumping completely clear of the water right alongside as if celebrating our wise decision.

We made it into Cape Lookout at 1am, very tired and very annoyed at this delay to our plans, but a whisky and a well earned sleep helped a lot. Everything seemed better in the morning sun and we headed into Beaufort to assess the repair - on our way we realised that the only reason we couldn't leave the boat in Beaufort was our insurance policy, we would be 12 miles south of their hurricane zone. After a few phone calls and emails all was decided and w got the green light to leave Matsu here. This makes a huge difference to the trip south in Autumn as we will not be faced with rounding Cape Hatteras on a cold front, and are already 250 miles nearer the Bahamas.

So that's it for a while as far as sailing goes. Our plan now is to head back to the UK for summer and try to find some work - so suits and commutes rather than sun and rum. We promise to blog a day in the office provided we find a job!
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bahamas Again

Sand Cay, Exumas
24 20.4N 76 35.6W

The West Indies are stunning, huge mountainous islands, volcanoes, rain forests, great people, culture, history and don't get us wrong some fabulous beaches and snorkeling. But the whole time we were there we felt that the water, sand and coral elements didn't compare well to our memories of the Bahamas - so we were fascinated to see if it was just grass is always greener syndrome or if our memory was accurate.

Well, the memory isn't going yet, simply stunning. "The water is clear" just doesn't do justice to it, we've all seen lovely clear water, Bahamian water is totally transparent. For example on a calm day you motor along in 30' of water looking at conch and shells on the bottom, when you drop the anchor you see it dig into the sand as you back down on the chain even though you are above the surface and 30m away. Snorkeling you see fish on the next bommy while looking at this one, the underwater photos are incredible because of the light. Take a look at this one of a conch taken 5m below the surface!

The sand is white, not a bit white, white white, and tiny powdery grains that don't stick to you. Small coral cays everywhere, hundreds of calm anchorages and of course in season (which sadly we are not) lobster to hunt.

So we have passed a fabulous week cruising up the Exumas, revisiting old haunts and getting excited a bout a full season here next winter. Georgetown had 280 boats in it last time we were here, this time it was about 20 as the snow birds have migrated north.

We played in the shallows of the mangroves with turtles, did some incredible snorkeling with sharks, rays and huge Jack, climbed to 50' peaks (no volcanoes here) for stunning views, back to Thunderball Cave, back to the Exuma Park, back to the iguanas at Allens Cay and now finally on to Rose Island.

The Bahamas charge $300 to clear in, we have had 10 days here and it was worth every cent!

Tomorrow we are off north, back across the gulf stream to the USA and points north, we hope to be back in Chesapeake bay by the end of May, and then off to the UK for summer in June, we have already sailed 900 miles this month and have about the same again to do, but at least we are well rested after our "holiday" in the Bahamas!
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Sunday, May 3, 2009

We Are Sailing, We Are Sailing, Are We There Yet, Not Even Close

Conception Island, Bahamas
23 50.7N 75 07.3W

We have just arrived in Conception Island after our longest ever passage - 584 miles, taking "only" 80 hours at an average speed of 7.3 knots. For sailors that's really fast, for joggers it's pretty normal!

This will be a long blog entry as we wanted to put in, both Linda and my views on the passage, which proved to be remarkably similar - which is a good thing I guess!

Tim's Notes:

So the big day finally dawns, we have a leisurely breakfast and then are the second boat to leave which is unlike us. Panache a motor yacht lead the way, then us and just behind Sol Y Mar and Perseverance. We motor for an hour or so and then the wind fills in nicely once we are clear of the shallows. It's more northerly than we had expected so we are beam reaching rather than poling out the jib, but we are roaring along at 7-8 knots so who cares!

The first casualty is the auto pilot which starts drinking oil, so we rapidly switch to the wind vane which does sterling service, no current draw, silent and reliable. The first day takes us in grey but non squally conditions on a very fast beam reach up around the hourglass shoals, as we near the shoals it's quite rough with seas over 2.5m we know the forecast is for less later but that doesn't make it comfortable now - thankfully because of our speed we are round the shoals and calmer before sunset covering the first 75 miles in 10 hours! Our speed means we have left the two other yachts for dead, Panache have turned around following a mechanical problem so it's just us out here now.

We carry on this sort of average into the night, Linda goes off watch and struggles to sleep because of the waves, but we fly along, by midnight we have already knocked off 114 miles so "only" another 465 miles to go!

Our second day at sea dawns clear and sunny, we are well past Cabo Samana and are heading offshore round Cabo Frances Viejo, the Dominican Republic is visible on the horizon off to port. The seas are calming a little now, down to around 1.9m, the wind is still on our beam and we are having a fast and comfortable sail. Our first 24 hour run is 183m at 7.5 knots so quite a start for us!

The big event during the day is the fishing, we get a big bite early morning not long after putting the lines out, and whatever it is takes all the gear, so a new lure takes it's place and we settle back to sailing.

Mid morning, off goes the reel again and this time I manage to stop it running eventually and begin the long process of winding in what feels like a big fish. The fight lasts about 20 minutes and we realise with our first view that it is a nice big Mahi Mahi, we get it alongside, I gaff it and lift and it just keeps coming out of the water! It's huge, 48" long, but fat and heavy somewhere towards 18kg I would think - WOW!!

We decide that is enough fishing for the voyage, it should feed us for a few weeks! So with no fishing and Matsu bowling along at 7-8 knots on a reach in the sunshine there is little else to report. The miles tick by, 200m, 250m and the miles to go reduce 400m, 300m and all the while we read, sleep and listen to pod casts.

We have superb fresh Mahi Mahi for dinner, then it's my watch as we pass under the banks and the seas start to calm further, Linda comes back on at 1am as we round the bottom of the Turks & Caicos banks, this calms less than we had thought, but with the wind vane steering we are giving more room to them than we would normally so I think that's the reason.

Just before midnight and the watch change we pass half way, I head off to bed and then wake well rested the next morning to find us closing on West Caicos, another 175m in our 2nd day's run and the average for the whole voyage staying near that 7.5 knots. We are tired today, but in the rhythm of the passage, so it passes slowly but we keep the boat tidy, eat our meals and navigate - the odd adjustment of the wind vane and the odd ship are all that stimulate.

Strangely today drags, I think because we are near land, we wake "near" West Caicos, then it goes dark just as we see Mayaguana. It feels like we haven't gone anywhere despite the evidence from the log and the charts. We are sailing all day at around 6-7 knots and we cross into Bahamian waters which is all very exciting.

Around sun set we get more wind and we climb back into the 8 knot range and fly along while Linda tries to sleep, another watch hand over as we pass the Acklins, and on we go. I get the first evidence of fatigue on this 3rd night, struggling to identify the lights on a tug and tow, I know what it is but my tired brain can't work out which direction it's going despite it being bleeding obvious, luckily I am still sensible enough to get a 2nd opinion from Linda and all is well.

Linda's watch has a few ships as they pass down the channel between the Acklins and Long Island bound for Panama. Our final day dawns with more sun and a bit less wind, it's finally gone more east so we may need a pole we may not, rather than the reaching we have been doing so far. Another 174m run (Matsu is so good!) and we should now comfortably make Conception before it goes dark.

We both independently decided yesterday that we have no desire to cross oceans, we don't fear it, we just can't be bothered, there is way too much to see round here with short passages and day sails - the Bahamas, West Indies, Virgins, Colombia, Panama, Belize etc etc plus the USA. Why cross a bloody ocean to see things when you can't even see all the stunning things where you are! The thought of 20 days of this is too much, when we could be spending 20 days playing and having fun!

We have our first pfaffing of the trip on the last day, with some squalls sucking all the wind away for a short while, we motor round them and then sail from Rum Cay to the gorgeous Conception arriving at 1630 and finding the anchorage crawling with boats. Georgetown of course has emptied post regatta, they are all heading south. That said despite the "crowd" we find a lovely spot at the south end, in crystal clear water and white sand - it's so lovely here.

We head ashore for a walk and a beer which leaves me barely awake, then after enjoying a gorgeous sun set we have more Mahi Mahi and an early night.

And Now For Linda:

If you are a sailor and have already done a long passage, don’t waste your time on the notes below. They are trivial, usual, ordinary, common and frankly boring. If you’re not a sailor or never experienced more than one night at sea, it can be of some interest for you.

Towards the end of this uneventful passage, I shared with Tim that I had no interest in doing a Pacific/Atlantic crossing involving 20-30 days and more at sea. I love sailing, especially on a sunny day in a good breeze and if it lasts for less than 6 hours. Otherwise I find it quite boring really and will do it if we need to but do not find great pleasure into it. I was not really that surprised when Tim said he was feeling the same way and we started planning our next 10 years or more of coastal/island hopping cruising round here.

On the list are the Bahamas, Caribbean, Central America, East and West coast of America. Tim would like to include Alaska to this list whilst I experienced too many years in freezing cold Canada to think about visiting Alaska in anything smaller and less luxurious (and warm!) than a massive commercial cruise ship. So we’ll have a small point to resolve when we will have done the San Blas islands, the sea of Cortez, Belize, the ABC’s, Cuba, Jamaica, The Bahamas, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, California, British Colombia, the rest of the Caribbean, Maine, Nova Scotia and returning to the places we’ve already been and really liked without thinking of all the other coastal destinations we’ll hear about and want to explore.

Until then we’ll argue about more important things!

Thursday 30th May – 580 miles to go

8.45 We’re leaving Boqueron in Puerto Rico with 3 other vessels. Panache, a 53 foot motor cruiser, Perseverance, a 42 foot Manta catamaran and Sol y Mar, a 46 foot Beneteau. The anchor chain needs brushing before stowing, obviously spent too long in Boqueron ! And the salt water pump isn’t working; bad start of a long journey. Fortunately, Tim finds the problem straight away. He had disconnected a wire while stocking (lots of!) beer in the adjacent locker. It’s working again, the chain is now cleaned and we’re off. It’s a pond out there, not a breath of wind. We motor out of the anchorage.

9.45 Someone just turned on the switch. We’ve got 15 knots wind and are now happily sailing.

10.00 Let’s have a little nap!

11.00 The hydraulic steering is still a worry and we do a casual check to make sure everything is OK. Unfortunately, it’s very low and needs urgent attention. First attempt at refilling it is a miss. Oil goes everywhere, cushion, floor, clothes, everywhere …. Should have used the funnel. Clean up every thing and try again more successfully. This recurrent problem is driven us mad, we can’t find a leak in the system but it’s drinking a litre of fluid every 100 miles or so. Alcoholic? We set up the wind vane and are soon sailing well with it. We can try to ignore the problem until we arrive somewhere where we need steering ….

11.35 zzzzzzzzzzzz. We’ve got a fish on the line. A big one! Suddenly SNAP, no more fish and no more lure. Tim rigs it again and puts it back in the water.

12.30 Lunch. Oh dear, bread is all mouldy. Even American bread does not last for ever! Provisioning superstar also bought tortillas so no drama, ham lettuce and tomatoes tortilla it is. Check on Charlie, he’s fast asleep on our bed.

17.00 We had planned to go a week earlier and I had, as usual, made a few meals in advance. I find it easy on passages to reheat an already made meal. My stomach is never very strong when spending lots of time down below the first day or when it’s a bit rough out there. Unfortunately, we left a week later and as a result, the yummy looking “pasta au gratin” is now made with blue cheese and we feed the fish with it. Luckily the chili con carne has survived the delay.

18.00 We eat dinner together, discuss the night watch plan and decide to stick to our usual 6 on, 6 off so I’m off to bed. Panache calls, they are turning around and heading for a marina in Dominican Republic. They have an oil leek and, being a motor boat, have no alternative way to carry on. The though of a peaceful nights sleep in a marina isn’t all bad. We however carry on sailing!

22.00 Awake. Had a good 3 hour sleep. Check on Tim to make sure he is OK to carry on. The fist night at sea is always the worst one. Staying awake until midnight while having a drink and a chat is easy but while watching for lights on the horizon and being by yourself tend to be a little more difficult! He’s OK, so I’m back to bed.

Friday 1st May – 450 miles to go

01.00 I woke up before, looked at the clock and decided to get dressed and ready for my watch. I had quite a bit of sleep and ready to do the rest of the night knowing that I will be allowed to go back to bed until I need it in the morning. It’s warm outside, a few clouds around but mostly a starry night. Matsu leaves a wake of phosphorescence as she goes along. There are no ships around, all is good. Charlie is now asleep on the rug in the saloon and meows every time I’m down below at the chart table. I refuse to feed him, imagine if he was to get into this habit!

03.00 I’ve been monitoring a “light” coming toward us for a while. The configuration takes a while to take form. Finally, there’s 2 whites and a red. I’ve been following “the light” on the radar for 12 miles and it’s coming straight at us. I’m sure it will be OK but at the same time, it’s the first time we’re sailing at night with the wind vane and I know I can’t adjust the course and take evasive action easily and quickly if needs be. I wake Tim up. He quickly assess the situation and no course change is required so he goes back to bed leaving me feeling a bit guilty for waking him up but reassured none the less. We crossed port to port less than 1 mile apart which seems like a close call at night, believe me!

06.00 Divine apparition from the cockpit. He’s awake, I’m off to bed. Tired!

08.30 I’m back, well rested.

10.30 zzzzzzzzzzzz. Another bite. This time we land it. A magnificient Mahi Mahi of 4 feet and around 40lbs. It should feed us for a while. We just provisioned in Puerto Rico, the freezer is full and we decide that no more fishing is necessary , it would be a waste. Charlie reluctantly leaves his sleeping spot (our bed) to have a look at the latest catch. He’s quite surprise by the size of it and “helps” Tim gutting and filleting it, cleaning out all the little bits and pieces. Good kitty.

11.15 There’s something “wild” about having a shower outside and if you combine that with being in the middle of the ocean, it really is a special feeling. We both have a long shower in the back cockpit, suddenly feeling refreshed and happy. Love it!

12.00 Nap time for Tim. Seas and wind are calming down. We just took a reef in the main sail. All’s fine but it’s still a bit bumpy. I can’t read when it’s like this, I get sea sick. I’m the kind that gets “motion sick” reading in a car so no hope really! I could listen to music or listen to a book or a pod cast but I’m quite happy sitting there looking at the world go by. It’s amazing how I have become very good at doing absolutely nothing. I seriously think it’s an underestimated skill, wouldn’t you like your 3 year old child to be good at sitting still?

16.00 We change sail configuration, poling the jib out just to see if we could sail that way which would make it a lot more comfortable for the night. Until now, we have been sailing on a beam reach with a beam sea which means we are tossed around right and left and right and left and right again, non stop.

17.00 It is a lot more comfortable but unfortunately, we are not going in the general direction we need to go so we’re back to sail plan A. It’s rolly, it’s bumpy, it’s fast and it’s where we need to go. It will have to do. Charlie doesn’t seem to mind, he’s fast asleep, this time on the saloon sofa.

18.00 Dinner time. Fresh caught Mahi Mahi, yum yum!

18.30 Night watch starts, I’m off to bed, not slightly tired!

21.00 The wind vane needs a course adjustment. Tim wakes me up while he does it, a safety precaution as he needs to lean over the back of the boat while making it. Course change made, Captain still alive and on board, I’m back to sleep!

Saturday 2nd May – 280 miles to go

01.00 I’m on watch. We’ve made some adjustment to the course and are now sailing a little bit more down wind.

03.00 Tim’s awake, just checking on me. I take advantage and suggest another course adjustment in order to stay well clear of the reef off the bottom end of the Turks and Caicos. This course adjustment should also make the boat more stable enabling Tim to get some restful sleep.

06.00 It’s light. It’s been a very quiet night. Not a single ship on the horizon, the VHF radio remained silent, no rain, no squalls, just a long, long night but a good one. I’m tired, I can’t wait for Tim to wake up, I just want to go back to sleep.

07.00 zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This time it’s me snoring!

09.45 Awake and refreshed

10.00 Just had a visitor. A plane flew very, very close above us. White and red plane. Maybe coast guard checking on us?

10.15 Tim’s off for a nap. It’s a beautiful sunny day and we’re making good progress. If it’s stays like this, we’ll should be in Conception Island before dark tomorrow. We are now in the Turks and Caicos and many anchorages are available to us. It’s very tempting to stop and have a good rest but we both want to go as far as possible on this weather window and we resist the pillow’s call and decide to carry on. We still have over a thousand miles to travel before we arrive in Maryland and both decided that our resting and playing ground will be the Exuma chain in the Bahamas.

14.30 First squall of the passage. A bit of rain, just enough to rinse the very salty boat. Some wind with it but not much.

15.00 The squall has passed taking the rain and the wind with her. We turn on the engine just to get out of this, so we have to de rig the wind vane and go back to the hydraulic steering. Checked on the hydraulic fluid, it’s low again. More is added.

15.45 The squall and its effect is now gone and we are sailing. Charlie came on deck for a little while after we started the engine maybe thinking we were just about to arrive somewhere. He’s now back to sleep. Lucky pussy.

18.00 Dinner is made of pork chops and mashed potatoes. I’m off watch soon after.

Sunday 3rd May – 102 miles to go

12.30 Tim wakes me up. He can’t make up a set of lights out there. It’s a tug and tow, I get it quite easily and realize he needs a rest. It’s not like him to get confused about light configuration, even a confusing one like this. I send him to bed and stay on watch.

01.15 I wake Tim up. A ship has been coming straight on us for the last 8 miles and will not move, it’s now only 3 miles away. Just as Tim comes to see, the ship finally takes evasive action and passes in front of us. Sorry Timmy!

02.00 There’s always a ship light in the horizon. It really keeps me awake and alert. Nothing comes close but nevertheless, it needs constant monitoring. I’m wide awake. Not sure if I’m just getting use to the rhythm of night watches or if it’s the more busy sea keeping me alert. The seas have calmed down a lot, I’m able to read my book between look out.

06.30 Tim wakes up with only two chapters to read … bad timing! But happy to go and get some more rest.

09.00 Back on deck, feeling great.

13.00 The wind just died. We are only 30 miles from Conception Island but still need to make an average of 5.3 knots of we want to get there before dark. We start the engine but after 90 minutes, the wind is back and we’re making good time under sail.

16.40 We’re now safely anchored in Conception Island. We thought we would have the anchorage to ourselves being so late in the season but to our surprise there are about 10 other boats there. Most of them are bound south and have left George Town on the first available weather window after the famous George Town regatta and are now waiting there for a calm day to go to the Turks and Caicos and beyond. Conception Island is as magical as I remembered. White powdery sand, crystal clear water, beautiful reef all around us and even a dolphin jumping around to welcome us. - we’re in paradise.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Falling For Puerto Rico

Boqueron, Puerto Rico
18 01.3N 67 10.6W

It’s amazing how your state of mind or experiences can colour your opinion of a place. The only place we didn’t have 100% great memories of from our trip was Puerto Rico, on our first visit a year ago, despite great company and visitors, we experienced two robberies, traveled against the wind and had very ordinary weather. Well, this time around, we sailed downwind, had no robberies and perfect weather. We loved it!

From Culebrita we had three great day sails to Ponce, we even used our spinnaker for the first time in 17 months. It has been sitting in the locker under threat of sale as it takes up way too much space and is too hard to use in anything other than perfect conditions.
Having perfect conditions we put it up and sailed along under it, overtaking a fellow cruiser who was motoring because there was too little wind and complaining to his buddy boat about how miserable everything was. By the time we got to the anchorage we had decided to keep it after all, "it’s such a great and useful sail".
15 minutes later when we finally got it down, my (Tim) hands were burnt and blistered, the radar reflector bracket was bent and I had run out of swear words. It immediately went back on the must sell list – permanently! Luckily we got some great photos while it was up!

In Ponce we took advantage of the US style shopping to re-provision at the largest and cheapest supermarkets you can imagine - jumbo boxes of chocolate chip cookies for the night watches ahead, steaks for the first time in a year and all the essentials at rock bottom prices. The only down side was the beer, Puerto Rican men despite the macho car driving, swaggering, posturing and phallic speed boat owning only like 2 beers, Coors Lite or the local version Medalla Light and if that’s not bad enough they can’t drink a whole one so sell it in 290ml cans, which are frustratingly 1-2 mouthfuls short of a proper beer (that said Gareth, maybe this is the answer to your prayers!).

From Ponce we had a great sail to Boqueron averaging 8.6 knots going dead downwind on a sunny day – heaven. Boqueron is the jumping off point for boats heading back NW and the arrival point for those coming the other way down the “Thorny Path”. Our good friends Roy & Doon on Bold Endeavour who are heading south had arrived the day before so we had a great week catching up with them, while waiting on a weather window to head off.

We hired a car for a few days for a trip to San Juan, touring the heritage listed old city, looking at the forts and generally just marvelling at the architecture. The whole area has been lovingly preserved and renovated and is well worth a visit.

The next day Roy & Doon needed to do their food shopping, so we drove to Ponce with them and Linda and I did something we had long forgotten - “fun” shopping! We bought ourselves a few items of clothing to replace the rags we’ve been proudly wearing for 2 years, and not all of them from Wal Mart either.

I (Linda) realised how detached I have become from the consumer lifestyle we used to leadwhen, while choosing a few (very trendy) tops from the $5 rack (or 3 for $10) I came across a REALLY nice one. Tried it, loved it, it was simply perfect. Then I looked at the price tag and saw it must have been misplaced because it was priced at $14. Oh no, what a shame, it’s soooo nice I thought and was about to put it back when it suddenly hit me! $14 would have been the deal of the century only a few years back and now I’m thinking twice about getting it. I felt good I must say. (PS; In the photo I’m wearing one of the 3 for $10 tops, it will take a very special occasion for me to wear the other one!)

Then on 29 April it was time to wave good bye, Roy & Doon heading for the Caribbean and all the excitement that holds and us contemplating the 1,800 mile trip back to Chesapeake Bay to slip Matsu for our trip to the UK. It was sad to wave them off but such is the cruising life. We’re getting use to it slowly but always painfully.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Day Out In Puerto Rico

Culebrita, Spanish Virgin Islands
18 19.2N 65 13.7W

The nice shiny new computer that we use for navigation died on us for the second time in 12 months and while Captain Cook traveled the world without one, we’re not quite there yet and are feeling very exposed to navigation hazards without it.

Fortunately it’s still under warranty, unfortunately the warranty is only valid in US territory (!?) so we headed to Puerto Rico to send it off to be fixed.

From the BVIs, we had a great sail stopping for a night in the US Virgin Islands before arriving in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, where for the first time since September 2008, we stayed in a marina. A day of luxury one could think but not for us!

At 7 AM Linda was enjoying (!) the launderette facilities, Tim was running around hiring a car and getting the propane tanks refilled. By 9.30 AM we were delivering the computer and hitting the shops. By 2 PM we were back at the marina offloading all the goodies found in the land of plenty, by 3 PM it was all stowed away, the water tanks were refilled and we were very, very happy to untie Matsu from the dock and leave for the Spanish Virgin Islands.

We rendezvoused with our friends Dave and Donna of Magic in Culebra and spent a few wonderful lazy days with them. Once again, we are parting from dear cruising friends but, as seems to be the rule, we will meet up again very soon, this time in Annapolis, their adopted home town and where we’re planning to leave Matsu during our “working holiday” in England.

After Magic set off for the USA, we passed some very relaxing days in Culebrita, a simply perfect little island rating high on our top ten beach destinations. A picture perfect island complete with palm trees, rock pools, white sand and crystal clear water. Not a bad place to wait for the computer to be repaired!

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Holidays In The BVIs

Guana Island, BVIs
18 27.9N 64 34.3W

One casualty of our change of plans, was the chance to catch up with Duncan, Pippa and the kids in Antigua over Easter, but as a compromise Duncan managed to fly out to join us in the BVIs on his way to Antigua.

We had a great week sailing round the BVIs, the weather was kind with blue skies and gentle winds, and the islands as gorgeous as ever - short sails in sheltered waters from great anchorage to great anchorage, the only possible complaint being the number of charter boats sharing the water with us, but even then there are still plenty of relatively quiet anchorages.

The days passed with rum cocktails, snorkeling and beach life, and the evenings with the devious dice game Perudo. Linda proved to be the champion, psychologically destroying Duncan and I over the week with her bluffing and strategy.

From here we are off to Puerto Rico to drop off the computer for repair and then on to the Bahamas and the USA for the end of June.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Turning around, waving good-bye and losing control

Road Town, British Virgin Islands
18 25.4N 64 36.8W

Dominica was our southern most destinations in the Caribbean for the season. We have made the decision to take Matsu back to the United States where she will be hauled out while we’re going to England for hurricane season and beyond. Thanks to the economic downfall, we need to replenish the cruising kitty. The UK was selected as it will give us the opportunity to spend more time with Tim’s relatives, it’s much closer than Australia, it will give Linda a new “living abroad” experience and, as a bonus we’ll earn money in a stronger currency. So it is time to turn around and head north.

The first leg of the return trip was short and easy. It took us to lovely Les Saintes in the south of Guadeloupe. We spent a few days there saying tearful good-byes to Wendy and Peter of Keesje II and also to Tracy and Ian of Loon but, as they are also returning to England during that period, it was simply an “au revoir” and promises were made to see each other again soon.

The second leg was to take us from Les Saintes to Deshaies, a little bay on the north-west coast of Guadeloupe. The trip started beautifully as we crossed the “Canal des Saintes”. The sea conditions and wind gusts are renowned to be quite fierce in this passage but, despite 25 knots of wind it was all relatively settled on that day. Just as we were rounding the southern most part of Guadeloupe the autopilot started beeping and stopped functioning. We had noticed a tiny leak coming out of the helm and thought the autopilot might just be in need of some more fluid. Taking the helm we quickly realised that we had no control over the steering of the boat and the boat was now aiming straight for the rocky shore. Ahhhhh! A series of action happened in the following 5 minutes which might not be exactly in this order … The engine was started, the Genoa furled, the emergency tiller dug out and installed, the main sheet dropped and with great difficulty the boat was put back on course. While the Captain was fighting with the emergency tiller trying to maintain a course parallel to shore, the crew was tempting to refill oil in the hydraulic steering system spilling it everywhere. Somehow it worked and once we were safely in the lee of the island we were able to motor up the coast using the helm and made it safely to Deshaies.

In Deshaies, the Captain now turned Hydraulic Technician changed the faulty seal for a spare one we had on board (thanks again Jeff & Ann!). Hydraulic fluid was added and the lines were bled of air. As we proved by the 70 nautical miles passage from Deshaies to Antigua, the steering and the autopilot were back working and the story was over … so we thought.

In Antigua, we sadly again, said good-bye to our cruising friends Michèle and Jean-Pierre of Bleu Marie. This time it’s in Canada (au Lac Noir) this summer that we will rendezvous!

The fourth leg was of only 10 miles in calm water behind a reef in Antigua. Mid way, the autopilot started beeping again. We looked at each other slightly panicked but, luckily the helm was still working and, according to the Captain alias Hydraulic Technician, the autopilot probably needed more bleeding of air. Easy enough and we did so when we arrived at destination.

The fifth leg took us to St-Barts about 75 nautical miles from Antigua. A bit unsure about the steering reliability, we put the dinghy on deck and rigged the wind vane at the back of the boat. A Sayes rig wind vane was part of the boat inventory when we bought Matsu 2 years ago. We had tried it once and had decided that it was a very good way to steer the boat on long sea passages, but cumbersome to rig for more coastal work. It doesn’t require any electrical power and keeps a good average course responding to the subtle wind variation.

Furthermore, when the dinghy is raised on the newly installed davits we can’t use the wind vane. We designed the davits making sure we would still be able to use the wind vane (putting the dinghy on the foredeck) but we actually hadn’t yet tried it. Predictably, it wasn’t quite working freely and some adjustments (involving an angle grinder!) were necessary. We were quite glad we had taken the time to make these adjustments when, 20 miles into the journey to St-Barth, the autopilot stopped working again. We made the next 50 miles under wind vane and arrived in St-Barts safely. Again, the blame was put on air in the system and, once again more fluid was added and more bleeding of air was done.

We made the sixth leg to Sint-Maarten without steering problems. Sint-Maarten being a major boat repair hub, it was easy to get professional advices. We were told the problem was most likely air in system indeed. So we started fresh, drained all the existing oil and refilled and bled the system.

Once again it was time to say some good-byes to L’Aventura, Voyageur C and Daniell Story, three boats we happily bodied with over the last 2 sailing seasons. We’ll missed them dearly and promised to stay in touch … we never know, we might cross paths again somewhere in the 7 oceans.

From Sint-Maarten, we sailed some 80 nautical miles towards the Virgin Islands. It was a gentle broad reach in calm seas under blue sky. Everything was working beautifully up to the last 5 miles when we were just about to get to a cut through a reef. The skies then opened, the wind blew a gale, the sea became rough and … the autopilot stopped working.

We are now in Road Town, Tortola, BVI. We again sought professional advice being a bit lost for words (and ideas!) - apparently the hydraulic steering system needs more bleeding of air…

Somewhere in all this we caught a tuna, saw hump backed whales and had some fun, but the steering fiasco rather overshadowed it!
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Back To Nature

Portsmouth, Dominica
15 34.9N 61 28.1W

Wow! Dominica is in the fortunate position of being so mountainous that there is only one place flat enough for an airport and that has a very short run way. As a consequence, no resorts, no development and lots of nature.

Visitors fall into 3 groups, Cruise ships tie up at the capital for 24 hours of shopping and touring a couple of the more accessible water falls, yachties and finally the eco tourists who brave the small planes.

We spent a superb week in Portsmouth, visiting a few of the sights and chatting to every Dominican we met, everyone is friendly and they all want us to tell our friends to come, but don't spoil the environment!

The first day of touring we hired a car with Jean Pierre and Michelle from Bleu Marie and drove a circuit of the north end of the island, the roads are steep, twisty and pot holed and keeping your eyes on them hard as you pass through stunning mountain scenery, lush rainforest and people going about their day.

Our first major stop was the village of Bense and a walk through the forest to a superb set of pools in the river.
The main pool is an outdoor spa, the water from the small falls tumbles into the pool and swirls around, causing bubbles and currents and making for an incredible swim. We had the whole place to ourselves for over an hour, parrots in the trees, and sunlight falling through the canopy - amazing!

We drove on from there through more wild forest and then miles of cultivated land, banana trees, oranges, grapefruit, avocados the smell wafting through the windows.
The drive took us to the only Carib Indian reserve in the world, where the remaining descendants of the original inhabitants live.
Not much to see really and the one place tourism seems to have had an effect as there was a lot of begging despite them being richer than the rest of the islanders!

Our next outing was trip up the Indian River. Portsmouth is home to a collection of locals with boats, the Boat Boys, that cater to your every need in the anchorage, they can arrange laundry, fresh bread, fruit etc all at prices much higher than if you just go ashore yourself! That said they also offer great security in the anchorage, lots of fun and tours of the Indian River.

Charlie our selected boat boy was fabulous, he picked us up and then rowed us slowly up river as we watched the birds and wildlife along the banks.
It's a narrow mangrove river and was used in Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 apparently (we're collecting set locations) the tree roots are astonishing, gnarled and clinging to the ever eroding banks. The trees themselves covered in parasitic plants like orchids and ferns - a very relaxing start to the day.
Sunday night is party night, as apparently are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, so the anchorage is bathed in very very loud music, so rather than not sleep we headed ashore for the BBQ and rum punch festival, a great night out and a chance to catch up with the locals on their day off.

Monday, a bit the worse for wear, we set off again in the car, first stop Emerald Pools, a more developed tourist spot, thankfully we were there when the cruise ships weren't, so we got a relatively unspoilt walk through the stunning forest to the pools.
Green sums up the forest - everything is green, and then the green things have other green things growing on them like moss, or lichens.
From here we went to Victoria Falls and another wow moment. The walk goes up a river bed and crosses the river 5 times, so it's bare feet and wading for a kilometre or two. The valley is great, but the end pont being the 78 foot high water fall is even better.
The day we saw it there had been relatively little rain, but still the force of the water put us off bathing there, settling instead for a more sedate rock pool. In the rainy season apparently you can't get within 200m of the foot of the falls!

The final leg of the grand tour came with a day out in the Cabrits national park that overlooks the anchorage at Portsmouth. It is basically 2 hills that were once home to a huge British Garrison and fort. Dominica is half way between Martinique (French) and Guadeloupe (French) so obviously the British were a bit concerned it may get invaded!

Today there is a restored fort, and perhaps more interestingly as you walk the trails you stumble of the parts that are unrestored, cannons, walls with trees entwined in them and all sorts of remains of days gone by.

Fascinating fact of the day, it is the British invention of the brass cannon that means we won the battles out here, plus Trafalgar, apparently. French could only get 2 shots off with their iron ones while we blasted merry hell out of them with our fancy new fangled brass ones. No doubt there was a huge argument over military funding in the budget and awarding the contract to Lord so and so's nephew but it all worked out in the end!

Dominica sadly marks the turn around point for us. We are heading back to the USA for summer, then a spell of w*rking in the UK to pay for more travels. So from here we will start the long journey north, but with plenty of time and the wind behind us it should be more pleasant than the original bash down the the Thorny Path.
We will upload more photo albums very soon, so check the link.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Iles Des Saintes

Iles Des Saintes, Guadeloupe
15 52.1N 61 35.1W

Don’t they all look the same after a while? a friend asked one day, when talking about the Caribbean Islands - without a doubt the answer is no. Not only they look different but they also feel different.

Les Saintes, a little group of islands just south of the main island of Guadeloupe is one of our favorite places in the whole Caribbean. The picturesque setting of Bourg Des Saintes, the beautiful snorkeling around the islands, the best baguettes and pain chocolats in the Caribbean and the relaxed attitude of the people makes this place very special. Try to imagine a place where children can run free, where you never lock your doors, where the beaches are spectacular, where the weather is almost perfect and where you can get the best food and wine France has to offer.

We had a lazy and enjoyable week or so with our good friends Wendy and Peter of Keesje II. We walked all over the islands, eating, drinking, liming well … cruising. What a great time, what a great life.

We had originally planned to visit Guadeloupe and Martinique but both islands were completely shut down by a general strike. Islanders are requesting equal salaries and living standards (price of food, petrol, etc) as on main land France. Also, they are making the point that people living on the islands don’t have equal opportunities as most businesses are being run by the “Békés” , the first French immigrants to the islands, and that their control and attitude towards the other islanders is overpowering. Slavery has ended but the descendants of the same white families that owned the plantations now own the tools of capitalism, while the descendants of the slaves work minimum wage jobs in the area with the highest cost of living in France.

Luckily most of this feeling is not present in Les Saintes and it manages to both look like and be a paradise!
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Festival Of Cricket

English Harbour, Antigua
17 00.2N 61 45.7W

The main reason for coming back to Antigua so soon was the 2nd Test Match, the cancellation of it and a few events to coincide with it meant for a marathon of cricket over about 10 days that tested even my infinite love of the game!

First leg of the marathon was for me to play in a tennis ball cricket competition for a local side, Curtly Ambrose & Richie Richardson umpired and I got to meet the enormous man himself, and no I am not standing in a hole!

Roger Wilson flew in to join me for the 5 days of the test, and we set off with high hopes on Friday 13th for day 1. We sat in the allocated seats that were to be our home for the next 5 days and got the first round in ready for the 10am start. Lets face it we should have guessed given the date, but as you all now know the pitch was a sand pit and after 10 balls the match was abandoned.

Luckily for us we had shared a taxi to the ground with some people who had tickest to the "party stand" (free beer and food) so we blagged our way past the overweight security guard, promising to be back soon, and settled in for a mammoth free drinking festival.

To while away the time between beers, we chatted with Freddy Flintoff, Curtly came by again, we walked onto the field with 500 other disgruntled fans and surveyed the damage before being removed by security guards, and then had a beer to cool down.
The party stand even has a pool so Rog could freshen up after his flight!
Day 2 dawned with uncertainty and hang overs, would the game go on, in fact could we go on. Luckily the RFU had laid on some 6 Nations for us to watch, and the internet told us we would have a match on Sunday. It even rained all day so we didn't feel like we missed any cricket!
So Day 3 off we head to the Antigua Recreation Ground for the now renamed 3rd Test. It is a much better venue, loads of atmosphere, right in the centre of town, the scene of many a record breaking match/innings and to my knowledge the only test ground in the world where you can have BBQ lobster for lunch under the main stand!

Sadly Rog had to fly home at lunch on day 3 of the new test, but I got to stay on for the full 5 days, soaking up the atmosphere and fulfilling a life long dream of watching a test in the West Indies.

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