Monday, November 24, 2014

You can check out but you can never leave

Last week we broke out the champagne. We have been almost 5 months here in La Parguera, Puerto Rico, while our Perkins diesel engine was being rebuilt. It was the rebuild from hell but finally the last parts were here, the last machine shop work was done, and the mechanic got the last bits hooked up in the engine room. He fired it up and it ran like a top!

The next day we did a sea trial with varying rpms and wide open throttle. Over the next few days we ran the engine several times carefully checking oil and coolant levels each time. Everything seemed cool so we set off motoring to an anchorage 5 miles up wind from here. On arrival a check of the engine room showed liquid all over the back of the engine. It was coolant. Running the engine now made a fountain of coolant from around the rear fuel injector.

We sailed back to La Parguera and sent the mechanic an email describing the problem. He showed up that afternoon, then came back this morning to try something else. Turns out our newly refurbished cylinder head had a weak spot in the sleeve the injector fits through into the cylinder. Water coolant circulates around that area and found that weak spot.

The head is not repairable and we are now looking for a new one.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Paying for the privilege of being mugged

When in Boqueron, Puerto Rico, we were approached at the dinghy dock by a character named
Eddie offering transportation for customs, shopping, where ever we needed to go. That sounded great
since the southwest corner of PR has no car rental agencies, no taxis, no public transportation of any kind.

We used Eddie's services to go shopping in Mayaguez ($40 for 1.5 hours) from Boqueron.  We then moved Horizon here to La Paguera (8 miles as the crow flies) where we are having our diesel engine rebuilt.  Cate was flying back to the states so we called Eddie for transport to the airport in San Juan. We paid $220 for him to take us both to San Juan and bring me back to Horizon after dropping Cate at the airport.  Since he had lived in San Juan for 12 years before moving to Boqueron, he gave a great tour that was almost 12 hours in all.

For both those trips we had no problem with Eddie.  He was a bit of an aggressive driver but being from NY we expected that and he was talkative and seemed eager to please.  At that point we were extremely happy with Eddie and tipped appropriately to show our appreciation.

When Cate returned a week later, our arrangement was for him to pick up me on the way to San Juan airport. I verified by phone the day before. Eddie forgot to pick me up.  When I finally called, he showed up about 30 minutes late and seemed unhappy he had to backtrack to get me.  On the 2 hour trip to San Juan he used only one or two word replies. I paid him the $160 for that day's round trip and he dropped me off at the airport to wait.

When Cate arrived she called Eddie to pick us up and he showed up about 5 minutes later.  He had the radio cranked up high and did not open the trunk for us to put in Cate's bags so we started to load us and bags into the back seat. Before Cate was fully in he started driving forward. Cate's foot caught on the curb twisting her body out of the car where her other foot dropped in front of his rear wheel. We were both screaming and he did stop before doing permanent harm.  He jumped out and was bent over Cate sobbing how sorry he was.  I tried to find out if Cate was injured but could not hear her over his radio. I told him to turn the radio down.  He ignored that so I screamed at him to turn the fuc**ng radio down. He ignored that too so I started to reach in to do it myself.  At that, he grabbed me in a chokehold, his fingers squeezing harder and harder shouting "no one touches my radio".  Cate was screaming from the ground and pulling at Eddie and he finally let go of me.  He then wanted us to get in the car... Cate said "you try to kill my husband and you expect us to ride back with you?"  We pulled the bags out of the back seat and hobbled to the taxi stand.  In our hurry to get away we forgot a $120 CO2 tank we had put in his car. We ended up paying another $185 for a licensed taxi to take us home to La Parguera.

We texted Eddie to ask him to leave the CO2 tank at a Boqueron bar where it would be picked up but his response was "After what u posted on Facebook u really think I'm going to bring the tank? LOL u must b nuts". That was obviously in response to a short post Cate had put on Women Who Sail forum. It only gave a broad brush description of what happened and was more in the vein of "be careful out there". No more soda making on board for us it seems :(

Cate has a scuffed left heel, the pivot point that pulled her body out of the back seat. Her left knee has a big bulbous bruise where it hit the curb, and her right foot that was partly under the rear wheel
is hurting. I have a bit of a fingerprint necklace bruise.

All we can figure is that Eddie either had a psychotic break or was off whatever meds may have kept him stable before. We felt lucky to get off with only some bruising that will go away with time.

We can only suggest that if you are in Borqueron and a guy named Eddie driving a white Mitsubishi, wearing a Gilligan hat and missing his 4 bottom front teeth offers a ride, think very carefully about how you will react if he turns on you.  Be prepared.

This is the first time we have had any real safety problems in our time cruising.  Even in Boca Chica
Dominica Republic when the guy swam to our boat and climbed aboard we never felt in real physical danger.  This event has really shaken us up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Dominican Republic---Land of Delight

The Best Mate's perspective:
Il a Vache gave us perspective and contrast for our southern journey along Hispaniola’s coast.
Traveling from the Bay of Ferret, Il a Vache, on the southwest corner of Haiti, our eastward journey took a full 26 hours to get to the Bay of Eagles, Baia of Aguilles. Motorsailing the south coast of Haiti we continued to smell the burning fires used to ward off insects. From Great Inaugua, Bahamas through Hispaniola this is a prevailing smell that begins at sundown and ends at sun-up. As we entered the Bay of Eagles, a pristine safe harbor just inside the coast of Dominica Republic, the smell of fresh earth after a spring rain wafted from the mountains. It was a heady change in aroma that had us inhaling deep gulps and marveling at the fresh slightly spicy scent. The mountains of DR are delightfully rich with vegetation. “Aromatico” the Spanish word for the great scent. Because of changing weather, we only spent one night in the Bay of Eagles. It is a harbor that should not be missed. It truly is pristine beauty, that is rarely visited.
As to perspective on traversing the south coast of Hispaniola . . . Virgintino’s guidebook speaks of the gentle Caribbean as opposed to the North Atlantic on the Northern coast of Hispaniola. Well, it has not felt all that gentle. Each stop involves sail repair, massive re-stowing and recuperation. Having never done the north coast, I cannot compare. But I have a great trepidation when entering the Caribbean from safe harbor. Of course we are always heading straight into the wind, never a great idea. We choose our wind and sea forecasts carefully . . . of course they rarely match the reality.
But what Virgintino does express is how much folks miss when they take the northern route. Now that we have been to several ports, we would not trade our route. To have only Luperon as a taste of the Dominican Republic would be sorely limiting. As we traverse the south coast, we are in awe of the demeanor of the culture, the island’s development from west to east, and the unique features of each port.
The Dominican Republic is a nation of happy people who live in the moment. Music and dancing are every day and night. There is no Monday moratorium, every night is party night. And the music is diverse. Our Barahona guide, Fernando, saw me appreciating one type and clarified that it was “romantica”, ballads. They are soo romantic, even without understanding all the words. Fernando got all dreamy eyed whenever Julio Iglesia came on the radio. There are all types of music: rap, techno, hiphop, even a bit of Bahamian Junkanoo.
Next stop---Barahona. Many blow this port off, feeling it is too industrial. As we anchored I commented that I could be looking at Westernport MD if it were coastal, or York, PA. We thoroughly enjoyed our short time there, mostly because of Fernando, a local man who acts as guide to boaters. He not only showed us the best spots, but he was able to navigate the town’s culture, allowing a feeling of safety when with him. As a Gringo to Latin American culture, the machine guns in the market and the sawed off shotgun at the bank would have been far more intimidating without Fernando’s presence. Barahona was a city without a garbage infrastructure, at least none evidenced. The streets were full of refuse, the dogs continued to be poorly fed, un-neutered. Many improvements to life from Haiti—a Mercado that had a good selection—though no cat food or litter. The chicken breasts I could never find in the Bahamas were all I found in Barahona. Even boneless! The motorbike is the primary form of transportation, and there are many motorbikes. The dogs and cats were equally miserable in the DR as they were in Haiti. Starving, homeless, and nursing.
Then we journeyed to Salinas, another gem of a town with no guns in view! Of course it is a small coastal fishing village sporting about six clubs, two bodegos (very small grocery spots), a long peninsula beach that is heavily frequented on the weekends. Hotel Salinas hosts a hospitable dock, good restaurant and an evolving ambience. Lovely homes were interspersed with small tin sheet shacks. Salinas had a garbage infrastructure replete with large lidded bins. We had not seen such technology since the states. Even the Bahamas relied on barrels. The dogs were better fed and fewer. Motorbikes continue to rule. We left Salinas because of a weather window. It was too short of a stay.
Boca Chico. Now we are talking! Trash, some infrastructure. Guns—so far only at the bank. Beach town. Large Italian influence---who knew? English, most Boca Chicans speak some. And the market---Ole. That’s the name as well as the feeling when you realize that you are able to buy not only cat litter but a rotisserie chicken and sliced cheese from the deli! Ole indeed. Dogs—less hungry, still mostly stray, nursing. Puppies did disappear while we were there . . . In order to appreciate Boca Chico, you must use Marina Zarpar, either moor or dock. We moored. Riggo, Marina Zarpar’s harbormaster, was a great friend and assistant to the whole stay. His welcome assistance with mooring along with his English was manna from heaven after a long grueling haul from Barahona. When we had a swimmer board the boat one afternoon, Riggo added security to the docks and was attentive to our concerns. When we next visit Boca Chico, by plane;), Riggo will be on our list for a visit.
Food in Boca Chico . . . Since the Bahamas, I had been teasing Mike asking for a hot chocolate and a fresh croissant in the morning. Well, sure enough Boca Chico had amazing croissants and bread. The Italian food was over the top good, the Italian bread, amazing. This was our first foray into DR pineapples . . . which are the equivalent to chocolate in desirability.
The walk to town from the marina took us past many family businesses focused on handmade chairs and thatched covers for rent. Each family had someone raking the sand and gathering trash from the day before every morning, no matter the day of the week. The beach itself offered hours of entertainment in people watching. Dominicans have a style all their own. There is no shyness in their presentation.
Overall we spent six weeks on the south coast of Hispaniola. Each port was more “civilized”. Every one of them had happy people embracing life one day at a time.
We have come a long way from Madame Bernard’s at Il a Vache. No flies, no wooden table with a meat cleaver-wielding woman. No live chickens being held upside down. Oh to be born in the DR instead of Haiti.
A day trip with Dan and Rose of Exit Strategy took us high in the mountains. You have already seen the pictures. We enjoyed the same “aromatico” in Limon, high in the Central Mountains. We finished our road trip at Samana, a lovely port on the east coast, not to be missed if you cruise the North coast.
Had we journeyed from Mayaguana, southern Bahamas to Luperon and then to Puerto Rico, we would have missed the developing changes of Hispaniola. Reading about Haiti’s bad luck is not the same as seeing people with so little who remain overall happy.

Now as we sit in Boqueron, Puerto Rico, overall ecstatic to be in a US territory, it is as if we have had a time travel experience through the development of countries. It is early days here. The pineapple costs much more but is equally delightful. The dogs are mostly pets. The check in was so civilized, by phone, no dogs, no guns. But the music is quieter, the parties only on the weekends . . .

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dominica Republic

It was only a two day motor sail from Il a Vache to Bahia de las Aguilas (Bay of Eagles), Dominica Republic, a total of 120 miles. But what a difference that two days made. After the constant trash fire smoke of Haiti, the loamy earth smell of tilled soil was a most welcome change.

There is nothing at Bahia de las Aguilas, no stores or town, but it is well protected from the easterly trade winds and southwesterly swells; a welcomed calm anchorage.

After a night and day recovering we set off around Isla Beata and the point bound for Barahona. We arrived about 10 am and dropped the hook in the protected basin off the tiny marina, Club de Manatee. Within 30 minutes we had cleaned up and launched the dinghy to pick up the four government officials waiting on the dock to clear us into Dominica Republic – immigration, customs, M2 drug enforcement, and marine guard. It was one of the easiest times clearing in we could have. It took about 15 minutes with everyone in our cockpit and drinking Kalik Bahamian beer before the paperwork was completed. Then money changed hands ($83 required but all I had was a $100 US bill so we “donated” the rest) then they were done. As they were disembarking from our dinghy at the marina, the immigration official recommended Fernando as a local English speaking guide since we are obviously Spanglish challenged.

That afternoon we had Fernando walk with us into town to get pesos from the ATM at Banco Popular, a sim card and data plan for the phone from Claro (about $18USD total with a 1GB data plan), lunch ($19USD for 3 people including beer and sodas), and the mercado central (open market) for a huge bag of vegetables including tomatoes, onions, lettuce and potatoes for about $2.40USD.

Along the way we marveled at the waterfront park with skate boarding ramps, newly constructed kiosks and even exercise equipment. There was also a sizable crew doing maintenance and keeping everything clean. This was so different from most of what we had seen in quite a while.

At one point another boat had a diesel truck come in to top up their tanks so we put the 20 gallons of diesel we got at Great Inagua, Bahamas into our tank and refilled our jugs from the truck. In all we spent about a week and a half in Barahona before being rousted. It turns out that the tiny basin we were anchored in also had the quay for freighters collecting gypsum from the plant next door. We weighed anchor and moved outside the basin and waited. A behemoth loomed on the horizon and when I checked the AIS it turned out to be Doris, a 597 foot freighter. We looked at the dog leg turns to get into the basin and said No Way! I was enthralled ... over the next two hours one small tug helped the ship inch through a sea lane and around acute turns that left maybe 10 feet either side. It was truly an impressive feat and I will forever feel inadequate for my inability to back our comparatively tiny 41' Horizon into a slip.

We cleared out of Barahona that day bound for Salinas leaving the next morning. About 6AM we weighed anchor and started off. Around the sea buoy, about 1 mile out, the engine started surging so we headed back to anchor near where we had been to diagnose the problem. The Racor fuel filter was thoroughly clogged with dirt, probably from the Great Inagua fuel. We spent 3 hours flushing and cleaning the filter housing and replacing the filter before we felt comfortable heading off again.

Salinas is a somewhat pretty town, very quiet and low key compared to Barahona. It looks like a beach party town to us. We ate a couple meals at the hotel and wandered around town but didn't really find a good place to just sit and watch the world go by.

We are now in Boca Chica and have been for a couple weeks. We are on a mooring at Marina Zar Par, the marina part owned by Frank Virgintino, the author of the free Haiti and DR cruising guides we have been using. This town is well know for the party atmosphere, I think spring breakers frequent this area, and it has a reputation as a bit of a hook up place. Weekends especially but even during in the week, blasting music from shore bars and boats can make it hard to get to sleep before midnight.

We did find one more interesting thing about Boca Chica.  Remember the movie "My Blue Heaven"? This place reminds us of that movie - most of the downtown restaurants have Italian names and serve Hispanic versions of Italian food, even the deli is Italian!  

Our second day here, Dan and Rose from Exit Strategy who we had met in Il a Vache invited us to join them in a day trip to the waterfalls at El Limon. It turned into quite an interesting trek. We headed off in their rental car in the morning. We were talking too much and ended up in Santo Domingo the capitol city, obviously missing a major turn. An hour later we tried what we thought was the correct exit but soon found ourselves in the middle of small towns and dwindling pavement.

The small scale map we had with us was little help so I suggested we try to let Google Maps navigate us towards our destination. Wrong! The voice would tell us “Turn right in 50 meters” … but there was a concrete wall ... then “Turn right in 50 meters: … still more wall … finally she said turn right and there was a road! We took it and this is what we saw:

We continued to try to follow Google Maps navigation ending up in narrower and more rutted dirt tracks until the voice took us directly into a town dump. We turned around and tried to find our own way out. About 30 minutes later she started giving useful directions but meanwhile we had seen a side of Dominica Republic that few gringos have been likely to see. I think I can mark that one off my bucket list.

Once again on main highways we crossed the country towards the north going over hills tall enough to make ears pop, past towering mesa-like embankments, and through the central valley filled with miles and miles of palm trees.

We did make it to El Limon and stopped at the first place advertising the waterfalls. The owner energetically explained the process of hiring horses with individual guides to get us to the waterfalls. He also said his wife was a very good cook and suggested we opt to have lunch at their establishment after wards. We did.

So Dan, Rose and Cate got horses, Mike got a mule. Okay, I was corrected several times as “mula” since my mule was a she!

I would write about the falls and the trip there and back but I was too terrified of falling off my mula :) Okay, there were trails, a river to ford, mountains with extreme vertical slopes to ride (YIKES!), and finally a water fall. My mule, um, mula grumbled and snorted the entire way. I know she was saying “get this damned gordo gringo off my back!”, “can't he go on a diet?”, or other such whinnies to that effect.

A couple days later Exit Strategy sailed off for Curacao for the summer and we were left to our own devices. The harbor master of the marina, Rico, is really helpful. We wanted to have a day trip to Santo Domingo and were terrified of driving ourselves after watching what Dan had to put up with. Rico hooked us up with a local driver and guide for a day trip to the capitol. It was $150USD but well worth it for us. We went to old town and toured many of the buildings, some of which dated back to the 1500's. We strolled through downtown parks and the mile-long pedestrian market street. Santo Domingo advertises being the oldest city in the Americas, having the oldest street, oldest cathedral, and the oldest university (Santo Tomas de Aquino, 1538). During our tour we saw most every bastion of US influence including Taco Bell, Krispy Kreme, Burger King, and Payless Shoes. Unfortunately I saw no indication of true civilization: White Castle burgers. Sigh.

Our day trip ended with smoked chicken dinner and lots of wine at our guide's house in Boca Chica. He did try to get us interested in a $500/mo 3 bedroom apartment in his house about ½ mile from the beach. That included water, power, cable TV, internet and rooftop access for laundry and parties. As the wine flowed, the $500 came all the way down to $350 per month. He did say that $1000 USD per month lets one live like a king here. Hmmmmm.....

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Il A Vache, An Existential Crisis

The captain was convinced we needed to go beyond the Bahamas, to experience true island cruising. The admiral agreed simply to get it over with, get it out of his system, and see what she might be missing. The process of deciding the north coast of Hispaniola or the south coast took several months of comparing others’ experience, reading Frank Virgintino’s cruising guides, conferring with him via email, and finally buying into the idea that the Caribbean Sea is gentler than the Atlantic. So windward passage, past Cuba, with the only tenable first rest stop being Il A Vache, a small island off the coast of Haiti. Technically not Haiti proper. It was 218 miles from the last Bahamian island to Il A Vache, for us, a 50 hour passage. The weather was supposed to be windless with almost non-existent swell . . . but the weather is a bit like the daily horoscope, rarely resembling reality.
Our first hours were pleasant, sailing at 6 knots in 12-15 knots of wind. But pleasant switched to unpleasant as we turned the corner out of the passage and into the Caribbean. The swell was 3-5 feet from the southeast, meaning Horizon was smacked on her starboard bow repeatedly. Sails were useless, so full motor with all the noise and discomfort that accompanies that. The cats were no longer open to snacks, it was every being for him or herself between watches. I prefer dead of night watch because I am not able to see the size of waves heading my way. The only seat tenable in our cockpit for a three hour stint is starboard, so the action was a bit close for comfort in the light of day.
As we turned into the harbor towards Il A Vache, we felt hopeful even as the waves continued to buffet us and the fishing buoys threatened to tangle our prop. It was quite the juxtaposition, a 41 foot sailboat with all sails down, motor running as the Batiments of Haiti were sailing out for the day’s catch. These wooden boats are sailed with the minimum of crew, no power, steering only by the positioning of crew and boom. I imagined their man overboard protocol, one less mouth to feed. As we turned into Baie de Feret, the anchorage at Ile a Vache, we were greeted by a dugout canoe being rowed by Pepe who sidled up to our hull and presented a letter of recommendation from another cruiser, in a ziplock baggie. We thanked him and told him we had read of him in blogs. Little did we know that Pepe was the first of way too many assistants looking for work and or food . . . depending on age. We had the dubious honor of having no less than 20 canoe-sized boats with villagers hanging off our safety lines while we anchored. Of course it took 5 attempts to anchor successfully. The admiral and captain were hard pressed to attend to the task with so many requests in English, Creole and French. We politely explained we were tired, and we would be available demain, tomorrow. Big mistake!
Post anchoring and feeding the crew, we slept for five hours, awoken by the sound of youthful voices swimming near the stern. Our bed is athwart the stern, with portholes on either side. I came to full consciousness when a brown haunch was tangling from the lowest rung of the not- yet-extended swim ladder. This is when the existential crisis started burbling. I felt violated, yet ridiculous knowing that I was living in a palace, and someone had simply tried to cross my moat . . .
I have never dealt well with people approaching me unawares. I also have never felt comfortable responding to need that seems much larger than my ability to respond. Sounds non-Christian, lame even. Jesus’ admonishment, I was hungry, and you did not feed me, reverberated in my head.
So began seven days of an experience we were unprepared for. We had gotten together school supplies to donate to the local orphanage, as suggested by the guide book. We had small treats to offer children as well. We had read of another boat leaving Il A Vache quickly because of the boat boys. We had even queried Frank Virgintino specifically about the boat visitors. He assured us that no one was hungry in Il A Vache, and confirmed that the children were no problem, would not harm us. They were gentle but persistent. The older the visitor, the less gracious the response was to our negative response. There was no violence, simply a bitter face. The children moved on the easiest, the adults were more persistent, one even hanging on the boat whistling for us for some time.
We were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of visitors to Horizon, any hour from sun up to sundown.
We hired many workers to do work we ourselves would not have otherwise done. Of the 60 visits the first two days, I divvied up labor to those who had been most appealing, kindest, stood out of the crowd. Pepe was our guide for the market; Ashley, who had stuck to the admiral’s side during anchoring, had much English and smelled better than both crew members, (criteria) was given the job of boat cushion washing. McKindree and Beethoven gave a coconut to us the first day, they were given exterior porthole washing. Vildo, who had told the captain he preferred dealing with men . . . was given the deck and topside salt wash. Each was paid well. Each came back many times for more work despite being told we were finished. While aboard, each expressed interest in some item that was needed, Captain, you have two anchors and use only one. I can use this one, etc. Mike clarified the need for a second in hurricane, high winds . . . but language and need complicated the exchange. It was embarrassing to have so much, and yet obligatory to have boundaries for our safety.
The presence of visitors was announced by the sound of the wooden canoe hulls bumping against Horizon’s hull as the villager was saying Hello, my friend, hello. Not Neil Diamond, but certainly an intro. The introduction was humorous when we met another American couple at anchor. They too had given away many treats, and warded off many offers of help. They had not hired any work, but maintained as many visits.
We said no many, many times, feeling guilty, feeling bothered, watching for a fair wind to leave. The second day we had 40 visitors to the boat, most saying “you said yesterday . . . “. As we hired men to scrub the boat, clean the portholes of salt, mend a sail, more came. In seven days we had at least 15 people asking for work or food on all but the last day. Some came three times in one day despite the “no, finish, no more work”.
Children were not in school. When queried, “school costs $25 US dollars a quarter, can you give me work, buy my almonds, my mangoes?”A fellow named Henry gave us two days of security for $5 a day, including free trash disposal. His strength was his receipt book. We jokingly called him the mafia, nice dinghy, several youngsters as collectors. Jean Jean, known for his restaurant, excelled at sail repair, hand sewing the entire foot seam of our mainsail. We gave him a surplus outboard in payment, along with fuel and maintenance supplies. He was back a day later for shoes. We ate at his restaurant, a simple dirt floor porch, an excellent meal of grilled lobster, fried plantain, salad, peas and rice. His youngest, Kathy, took my heart as she flirted and crawled into my lap to braid my hair. Jean Jean placed the outboard in their bedroom, also open air with a simple bed on the ground.
We would try to tend to above deck chores quickly predawn or post sunset, if a head emerged, the dugout canoes paddled as quickly as possible to speak with you. Sadly by day three, we hid below decks unwilling to engage in the hopeless exchange. To no avail, one fellow hung on the safety lines whistling for us to come forth. The youngsters would come, hang on the life lines, and whisper when you did not come up.
The encounters could be enlightening. One boy asked for headphones, using hands to express the need, when I said I had none he offered to bring me a chicken. I told him his mother may not like this trade, one can eat a chicken, not headphones. Another wanted spaghetti, for school lunch. I was surprised at the specificity of his need. Granola bars and chips were accepted.
Pepe was a most excellent guide on a 4+ mile walk to the town of Madame Bernard, for the local market. We were very glad we choose to venture off the boat because we were amazed at the vivid color and culture we witnessed. The trip helped us see why we had visitors so frequently and reinforced our own abundance. This is understatement. There is no politically correct way to divulge just how much we took in on our trip with Pepe. The pride, the colors, the adaptability, the determination, the livestock, the lifestyle.
The supplies we had for the orphanage were consumed by the village when Pepe released them to one of his friends. He said they would be well used here, the orphanage being five or more miles away.
Yasmin came late the second day, after I had divided all the jobs. He was convincing and intense. I could not say no, so instead decided as a student needing money for school books, I would have him write in a journal. He said he could only write in French which I accepted. I gave him five topics to write for my grandchildren, should I have some one day. His journal was short, his dreams specific, he wants to finish school so he can be an asset to his family. Because family is the most important thing. It was a good commentary on the sights we had seen in Madame Bernard’s. Many children, many pregnant women, few resources . . . spread very thin.
Lingering questions: How is it that a fair and just creator has one culture so desperately needing and another so ridiculously wealthy? I can’t see it as karma. I could not respond as I thought I should. As I gave out treats to the children, I felt I was perpetuating a problem. Who would pay to send a child to school when his begging reaps food for his belly?
What kind of government does not provide education? Is this the parable of the talents in the Bible? What faith can respond to this? Mike and I did the mitzvahs we could, but it was not enough. We felt exhausted by the continuous violation of home space, even though they were gentle and friendly.
We left the harbor as soon as the wind was tenable, willing to face nature’s quirks rather than continue to cringe in our home. I am not sure that the impact of the Mona Passage on the north route would have been as profound. I do think we may have been better prepared.
We will research the Canadian non-profit, Friends of Il A Vache, even though a cistern they had put into work at one village lay broken and mis-used.
There are rumors of moorings being put into the harbor. Could the money generated meet the need? No answers.

We entered the Dominican Republic pessimistically hopeful that it was in better shape. My daughter tells me there are only two categories of countries now, Developing and Developed. There are severe gradients in those two categories. Our DR guide tells us that the Haitians try to cross the mountains, many are shot. He speaks disparaging of Haitians. If I lived there, I would cross the mountain with my family for a better life, as would he.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Leaving Bahamas

After lots of discussion back and forth we are going to bite the bullet and leave the Bahamas heading south.

We spent today in Matthew Town, Great Inagua, the southern-most island in the Bahamas chain. We did some provisioning at the general store, then had lunch at Main House, the Morton Salt company town hotel, then went to customs to clear out of the country.

We also jerry jugged 25 gallons of diesel to top up our tank in prep for the next loooooong legs. The first leg will be 280 miles to the island of ile a vache, a French owned island off the southwest coast of Haiti.  We then go 80 miles upwind to the first port in Dominica Republic.

Speaking of wind, we have been extremely unimpressed with the wind forecasts.  The GRIBs (and Chris Parker) said winds down here would be northerly and then easterly. When we came into Great Inagua yesterday morning we bashed ourselves into 10-12 knots out of the southwest for the last 30 miles!  Today we were supposed to have all easterlies but we are now anchored on a lee shore with 12 out of the west! Sigh.

We just hope tomorrow and Friday turn out to be sailing days with the 15-20 knot winds out of the northeast we have been told to expect. We will see.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Glory Days of George Town 2014

Boats coming to George Town are encouraged to leave boat cards or sign a guest book at Chat n Chill. Karen of Popeye used the names of those vessels to construct this little ditty.  There were a couple names that few could even pronounce, much less fit into a story.

Glory Days of George Town

Barefoot and with a Brave Heart he ran Against the Wind to seek his Sol Mate.
“Carpe Diem!” he shouted with his eyes on the Horizon knowing he had a Kindred Spirit out there somewhere. Would it be Audrey Anne? Perhaps Margaret Lee? Or Sam-antha the Skull? Secretly, he hoped it would be Fast Betty. She sounds like a real Spitfire.
With a Silent Faith he Reset his sails trying not to Tilt too much and hoping he was Knot Lost. As the days went by he tried a Pagan Chant hoping to find his Heart’s Desire. At night he’d sip Bristol Crème thinking it was the Cat Sass. Those were Driftin’ Days for this romantic Voyageur.
Final Lee one day with the help of some Local Knowledge he met a Bon Ange – a good angel. She was a fantastic Country Dancer. It was his Dream to Catcher. They met at Rockin’ Ron’s when she rode up on her Borrowed Horse, her Silver Heels flashing in the Fire Light.
“Well, Hello Texas!” he greeted her. “What If we try some Slow Dancing?”
“Why you old Sea Dog!” she cried. “That sounds like a real Good Idea.”
They danced until Tequila Sunrise then he served her a fruit salad with Pineapple, Mango, Tangelo, Cantaloupe and Papaya.
“It’s Just Dessert from yesterday,” he apologized.
“Oh, but it’s Delicia!” she exclaimed.
Calling on his Courage he told her he had one plan: to Live Free or Die.
“I have no Plan B,” he admitted.
“We’re Two of a Kind!” she cried. “Let’s Runaway at High Noon right after I get back from the Five and Dime where I can make a Good Trade – my horse for propane.
Ten Years After they are still in Bliss but Knot Tied. He still has his Charisma and she Ain’t Miss B. Haven too much. They remember the Glory Days of George Town as Kind of Magic and she’s still Raven about his fruit salad.

March 2014
m/v Popeye II

Sunday, March 30, 2014

George Town - Mecca for Two Months

George Town has been our home anchorage for the last two months, dropping the hook on Feb 2.  It is the southern anchorage of the central Bahamas that has the most resources.  It is also a host to 300+ boats over the winter months and a most organized cruising community.  This includes an annual regatta sponsored by the cruisers in early March with numerous competitive and fun events.  Because most of the cruisers are retired, it is a bit like a sand and sea senior center with daily events including dominoes, scrabble, volleyball, Bocce, etc.  There are also weekly events like Texas Hold ‘Em, trips to town for the weekly Rake ‘n Scrape dance night.  There are about 10% who are younger than retirement age that often have homeschooled children.  It has been a Mecca for them as well with a Kids’ Cruising Net and specific activities just for kids.  All that being said, Horizon has been anchored the furthest from the central event beach the entire time.  We have participated in very few events.  Though I am technically an extrovert, I have not felt a call to attend anything but the ladies’ luncheon.  That was great, though I cringe at being called a “lady”.  It was the place I met the most people and found some with common interest.  A rug hooker from PA, a jewelry maker from DE, a painter from FL.  Women who were anxious to return home, who unanimously wished they had more time with the grandchildren and who dread long passages.  Kinship.  But not friendship.

When the regatta ended, the boats started migrating back north.  I call it the march of the Toy Sailboats.  They troop in and out of the harbor looking small and insignificant until they join the group of soldiers anchored already.

So tomorrow is our weather window to leave the harbor and head south I have been reflecting on friendship and cruising overall.

No matter what adventure I take on in life, I am the common denominator.  Today I score about 11% higher on the extrovert/introvert of Myers Briggs Personality Inventory.  I get some of my energy from other people.  Which has made the cruising life do-able but a bit lonely.

Recently I reposted a perfect meme—friends are not made but recognized.  It takes some time to recognize them.  Can friends be made who are ships passing in the night?  Perhaps if we returned year after year, we would develop friendships.  If we had moved the boat; attended some more things; invited folks over for drinks . . .  the list goes on.

So I leave George Town with a non-politically correct sentiment—a bit of disappointment.  The Mecca did not have all that I expected.  I am surprised to have not made more friend connections.  And also aware that the one or two I have made are heading back to homes in CT and KY, Montreal .  .  I suppose I had unrealistic expectations for both George Town and for us.

On the physical resource side, George Town lacked convenience.  Because the island is so large, the pharmacy and auto supplies/home goods stores need a taxi.  Because of the width of the harbor, going to town meant a long wet dinghy ride or moving the boat to the town side for a grocery run.  It was the first place I bought weevilsJ, does not have a bakery.  Any music/bar possibilities are far away, wifi is spotty at best.  The Abacos will always hold my heart for the small islands with grocery, wifi, music.

The Exumas have the bluest waters and best snorkeling.  Hope to return to see all that we missed and revisit all that I loved. Meanwhile I am making more effort to hold onto existing friendships and family relationships. Determined to get Mike further along in the Caribbean, see some new cultures.  God willing there is continued sat phone and internet ahead/ahoy.

Two Horizons in George Town

We have been in George Town Exumas, Bahamas for almost two months now, partly waiting on a replacement radar dome but mostly just having fun being around such a huge cruising community.  At one point there were over 300 boats in Elizabeth Harbor.

Our prior boat Horizon, the one I had for 25 years, came into the harbor about a month ago and we were able to spend a good bit of time with her owners and got to crawl through the old boat to see what she looked like now :)  I was happy to see her so fit!

About a week ago they headed back towards Staniel Cay and as she sailed past, we got these pictures:

Radar Dome

One of the reasons for staying so long was waiting for a replacement radar dome from Navico.  It was a long and expensive wait but we finally got the new one here and installed on the mast.  In all, it was $785 in shipping, customs, and documentation fees to receive the replacement radome, then send the broken old one back. The replacement radome cost $800 so the final cost was almost double.  Wow!  We could have bought an entire new system for that back in the U.S.

Our plans forward

We leave shortly to continue our southbound trek.  While our original summer goal was Luperon on the north coast of Dominica Republic, we have decided instead on exploring the south coast.  That involves winding our way down the Bahamas chain to Great Inagua, then sailing through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti to Ile a Vache, an island off the southwest coast of Haiti, a trip of about 280 NM.  After we catch our breath, we then sail east to the first port in Dominica Republic and spend a leisurely couple months exploring the south coast.  This route is well described in Frank Virgintino's free Cruising Guide to the Dominica Republic as found on the web site.  We found it intriguing since so few cruising boats seem to take that path yet it appears rich in opportunities to explore the culture and heritage of Dominica Republic. 

We expect that by July we will be heading to Puerto Rico where we can work to fix the oozing leak from our 120 gallon port side water tank.  We hear there are all kinds of boat work facilities near Selinas and hope to find what we need.  We intend to stay close to the well documented hurricane holes around that area during the summer.

Beyond Puerto Rico our plans are wide open but at the moment it looks like after October we might slowly work our way down the island chain to Grenada.  We have lots of time and do not want to miss too much along the way:)


As we keep saying, "one island at a time".  We will keep doing this until it is no longer fun.  That may be a month or it might be years.  We will keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Moving Day

As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Moving Day was a bad boy night of pranks on or around Halloween. VW bugs were lifted and placed in new places, trashcans were “trashed”, trees toilet-papered, and windows egged. It was not a favorite among adults but it had a certain mystique for those of us not yet teens. A bit of dread, a bit of will I ever mixed with a fascination. Well . . .as a cruising First Mate at the ripe old age of 55, there is no mystique lingering in the concept of moving.

After two blissful weeks of co-habitating at Allen’s Cay with iguanas and bottom fish, my own personal aquarium and all-around wind protection---the lure of meat, lettuce and yes, the ever-
demanding egg fetish—drew me out of my newest safe zone.

Those who have traveled the Exumas will realize that a move from Allen’s Cay to Highbourne is not one of great distance or strain. Unless of course you are aboard sailing vessel Horizon. The trip itself was not eventful. But the dinghy ride to Highbourne from the anchorage was spiritually uplifting. Translate into rote repetition of the rosary in order to keep from berating the captain or cursing the water dousing or wondering if either of us had the muscle to row back to Horizon. Because the problem with the Mercury outboard’s idle, which had been noted in Nassau, became permanent. As the throttle refused to advance, the current and waves took charge while the captain fumed, fussed and generally invoked my Catholic roots without realizing it.

Five decades of the rosary later, he announced that idle was all there was, and we proceeded slowly to the marina settlement at Highbourne. Or as Mike aptly calls it, Highbrow. My spiritual routine allowed me to reflect that future ventures would include a simple dress in dry bag to slip over the now requisite bathing suit for transport.

It also allowed me to crawl from the dinghy with head in a neutral position despite my soaking shorts, wet tee shirt and sloppy Teva’s. At the marina store, we found we needed to pay $5 a person to be afoot High Brow and that allowed only access to the store and the restaurant.

But it was very worth it. When your freezer has only three portions of meatballs, two portions of shrimp and a pair of pork chops, and you find the only store for thirty miles that has meat, lettuce and eggs . . . Blessed are thou among women.

Very few things were priced. We found the receipt enlightening, $9 for lettuce, $18 for a small frozen chicken among other interesting prices. But when in Rome . . .

We treated ourselves to lunch at the Xuma Restaurant---an excellent solace for the idle situation. We had the best food we had eaten since . . . Vero Beach. Although my daughters would disagree and say Baltimore, and Worcester respectively. We enjoyed a spectacular view of the amazing blue water along with a few Bananaquit scavenging for haute cuisine crumbs.

The quality of the food justified the price. In hindsight we realized that the only truly worth it food we have experienced in the Bahamas has been at marinas. Must be the influence of the High Brows :)

The guidebook said we could dispose of the first two bags of trash for $5. It ends up it was $5 a bag. That’s when the true Spartan emerged. I finagled two bags into one.

We boarded the dinghy a bit dryer, feeling re-provisioned. A returning tide helped us idle our way back to the boat.

I have had a lot of spiritual training in my 55 years. I have spent most of my post-first marriage time skeptical of religion. Cruising has given me many opportunities to express gratitude to the God of my understanding, and returned me to habits that I never realized were ingrained. Thank you Jean Fitzpatrick and the Rosary group. The one that disowned me over nursing Bridget.

I find the best times cruising are at anchor. And yet---wait for my next installment.


The guidebook said “you will either love it or hate it but you want to try it once.” Long-term cruisers said “don’t leave your boat, it was once great; now it’s a ghetto.” Well let’s just say that after a month on the leeward side of Devil’s Cay, Nassau was much anticipated. Eggs, internet, lettuce-----who could ask for more?

Unfortunately, the winds were 15 knots above expected and the waves were 2-3 feet higher than predicted. We entered fast and furious. Twenty-two degrees of heel. That is about 7 degrees into hell from my perspective. Items which had never moved below before were now in the center of the main salon with a very smelly sick cat navigating flying items. The other cat was safely rooted into the hanging locker. His meow is so undeveloped, if he was howling we could not hear him over the engine. Yes, horror of horror to the true sailors----we were using the motor as well as sails. Why prolong the fires of Gehenna if there is an engine to accelerate transition to safety? As we neared the port entrance, Nassau was experiencing a squall. That meant that sails would need to be brought down in 25+ knots of wind with a smattering of rain. I was unable to do the jib alone, Mike had to assist. The guidebooks spoke poorly of the anchorage stability citing high current and a non-reliable bottom. So we were on guard for the first twelve hours or so for dragging.

But once again our CQR anchor held firm. Thus began three weeks of exploring the culture and history of Nassau. Colorful, dramatic, proud Nassau. It was a wonderful experience. Many cruisers do not feel comfortable in Nassau but we found it very pleasant. Yes, a city, and yet an island with proud natives focused on customer service. Such a shift from what we had experienced in the Abacos.

My favorite spots . . . the Museum of Art was the perfect size, had excellent exhibits and did much to fill in the Nassau story and the Bahamian experience. The distillery tour offered us the best view of Nassau and the first sign of a rooster---always a herald of island life. The Bahama Rock cafe, just outside of the Queen’s stairwell, had excellent fare and free internet. The bus was easy and showed us much more of Nassau including a mall—perfect for pre-Christmas
shopping. Auntie Ann’s was a nice reminder of home.

We had a few harbor-mates onboard for sundown one evening and another batch on Christmas day. It took the edge off of not being with family. Cruisers are inevitably unique company and share a wealth of great stories and experiences. We ended our respite in Nassau with a morning trek to town to see the annual Junkanoo celebration. It is the celebration of being Bahamian with a parade that lasts from midnight until almost noon. Ornate costumes, music, floats---all representing some aspect of being a Bahamian. I was lucky enough to have a 10 year old Bahamian commentator beside me on the fence. I agreed with her, “this was first class, not third class---but first class all the way—that’s the Bahamian way.” A city to return to someday.