Thursday, February 23, 2017

End of an era

Horizon has sold. . . and before she was even listed for sale!  Cashiers check received and USCG document and Bill of Sale sent.  Her new owner and family is getting a great vessel and we wish them all the best.  This is the end of a 30-year era starting in 1987 when I bought the Rafiki 35, then took 5 years sailing her from San Francisco through Panama to Florida. We sold that boat in 2011 and swapped her for the Morgan which we then sailed around Florida and the northern part of the Caribbean until July 2016.  The life will be sorely missed.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Where do you go when it rains?

... or something we were asked just last week: "you stay on the boat all night?"  You kind of expect these questions from non-sailors, they only know fishing boats or maybe cruise liners. Because they have not thought about it, they really have no idea what life on a sailboat might be like.

We expect more from fellow cruisers though. We recently realized that the only fossil fuels we have personally used over the last seven months have been about 25 lbs of propane for the stove and maybe one gallon of diesel maneuvering with the ship's engine.

So we announced that to fellow cruisers at a beach pot luck. When they heard we had not run the engine or generator for so long their response was "We have read about people like you with no refrigeration and only a few lights. We could never live that simply".

But we do not live simply. We have used our Torqeedo 3 HP electric outboard daily getting back and forth to beach, we have a built-in fridge with Adler Barbour large vertical freezer, we have ice in our drinks and usually watch 3-4 hours of TV every evening, we make all our own fresh water with a 12V VMT NF-200 water maker, and we leave our LED anchor light on continuously. Oh, and we usually have warm if not hot water for washing dishes and showers and we also keep the phones and laptops charged up.

Some people would say we have taken our shore home life with us . . . and they would be at least partly correct. It is nice that the solar panels and wind generator are set-and-forget methods of maintaining our life style but it did take some thought on systems and implementation and no small initial monetary outlay. For example our 480 watts of solar panels ($500) are controlled by an MPPT control box ($550) that diverts excess afternoon solar power to a 12V/120V dual element water heater element ($100). When we have excess power, why waste it? We use a 1500 watt Prosine inverter ($1100) to supply clean AC power to all but cell phone chargers.

We know people can live extremely well with little or no electrical power. We are not in that group tho.  It did take us a while to realize we could live without ice cream in the drawer freezer or keeping 12 bottles of drinks in the upright refrigerator. By simplifying only a little though, we gained hugely from not having to listen to the generator every evening and especially not having to make frequent trips to the gas station.

Most of the cruisers we were around could not fathom our ability to live without a generator or running the main engine an hour in the morning and evening. I think now they are rethinking their systems.

Our no-interaction-required lifestyle changed this week though. Our Torqeedo outboard started acting strangely. I think fishing line that wrapped around the prop compromised the integrity of the seal around the motor shaft, letting seawater in. We had to mount the old 15 hp Mercury outboard on the dinghy so we will be back to gas station runs for a while.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pressing Pause

We have just passed the three year mark for cruising. What we have seen and experienced has been fantastic and never to be forgotten, but we are now ready for a bit of change - like trying land-based living for a while.

For me (Mike) cruising at the not yet ripe age of 65 seems to have turned into endless body aches and problems that just were not an issue in my 40's.  The 5-year cruise in my 40's included scampers up hills with full provisioning backpack, and sitting on the sea bottom for 2 minutes at a time waiting for lunch to swim past.  Now I have maybe 20 seconds underwater time before having to broach and blow like a whale.  And hills? We are currently anchored in Brewer's Bay St. Thomas, USVI.  Between the beach where we land the dinghy and the parking lot where we get picked up by a bus to town is a hill that cruisers have named Mount Everest.  It is a mere 85 feet tall but leaves me huffing and puffing. And that is before we add cat litter, gin, and diet Coke.  Actually, now that I think about it, that would be the same as lugging all our groceries up stairs to an eighth floor apartment...
The 85 foot Mount Everest

Cate misses her peeps (friends and family) and especially the feeling of fulfillment she gets from teaching.  She has been going back one week a month since the first of the year to get her consulting business on track and coordinate a place for us to migrate.  She just rented us a cute cottage in Gulfport, Fl.  It is not big (ad says 2 bedroom NO king beds!) but after a boat, it should work great for us.

Two trips back Cate bought a sweet 2013 Prius Plug-In with less than 20,000 miles.  I know gas prices are lower than they have been in decades, but fossil fuels are still a limited resource and you know prices will only go back up from here.  Anyway, low gas prices means that economical hybrids like the Prius are selling very cheaply.  And oddly enough, used Plug-In models generally sell for less than the non-Plug-In variety.  Go figure!  It has exactly the same 50 mpg gas engine fuel economy, many options for the non-Plug-In are standard (backup camera, nav system, etc.) and the Plug-In has a 4kw battery that gives it 12 miles on an electric charge.  What's not to like?  And the cottage we are moving to has off street parking where we can plug it in!
Cate's new ride - 2013 Prius Plug-In

We intend to leave Horizon with a caretaker in Puerto Rico for this coming hurricane season.  She will be close to the biggest hurricane hole in the Caribbean and so should be safe from just about anything.

Our decision to leave her in the water and in Puerto Rico is that we wanted the option to flee back to her quickly if we need the respite from civilian life.  And when we come back, the fantastic cruising grounds of the Virgin Islands are only 60 miles away.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nexus 5X and Google Fi Project: not ready for prime time

As those of you who read our Google+ posts (svhorizon) know, we were excited to pre-order two spanking new Nexus 5X phones using Google Project Fi phone plan. We are currently in the Caribbean and expect to continue to explore islands and do other world travel so the idea of a cell phone plan that gives unlimited talk and flat rate data access virtually world-wide for only a little more than we were paying for Straight Talk sounded great.

We got the phones, initiated the Google Fi plan and it worked fine in Saint Thomas USVI, Puerto Rico and the US. Then we traveled to Europe. The Fi plan documentation said we would have full coverage in Spain, where we were spending 10 days, and also Italy and France for our flight connections.

So Cate and I headed off on our adventure with two companions, one of which had a one year old Nexus 6, also on the Google Fi plan.

The first problems showed up in Rome when Cate's phone refused to get data even tho we all had 5 bars of signal. My identical phone worked fine and so did Frank's Nexus 6.

For the next 10 days through Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid, neither Cate's phone nor mine got data more than a couple hours a day. We almost always had 4 or 5 signal bars though. Of course Frank with his Nexus 6 had full LTE data access the entire trip. I got by using the excellent android mapping app that does not require data access.

On the third day we called Google Fi technical support. It was a rather humorous call since we were on WiFi which makes for difficult conversations at the best of times. We finally got our problem across and Google opened a problem ticket. A couple days later we got email asking us to try specific things to help them diagnose the problem. With reliable data only on WiFi tho, it was really difficult to respond in a timely basis. Especially when they ask things like "please list an exact street address". Our answer would be "all of Barcelona and Seville".

Anyway, we were moving from city to city faster than Google support could keep up and there was no resolution before we returned to the US.

I have no idea (and neither does Google) why a year old Nexus 6 would have perfect data access while our brand new Nexus 5X phones had so much trouble. If the Google Fi Project gets the bugs worked out, it will be an excellent plan for those of us who spend more time outside the US than inside.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Leaving the Salinas safety zone

Over a month ago, with a new and improved engine, we left the safety and friendship of Salinas harbor. It was a welcome though thoughtful transition. We had a new dinghy with VI registration, and a good weather window. The last evening before the biggest passage we had made in many, many moons was our hurricane go-to spot, Bahia Jobos. It was an uneventful night until I was awakened from a deep sleep with Mike saying, Cate I need you to listen for Ollie in case he falls in the water. Those of you who know us, know that our cats live solely down below. I woke with a great adrenalin surge. Apparently the screen we had used in the companionway for the last three years was mighty enticing the night before our big jump. Both cats had pushed through the bottom and were huddled on the starboard deck close to the lifelines. Rose immediately came in for the treats, Oliver . . . well his feral switch was triggered. So as I called his name I could hear the pitter patter of his large cloven hooves . . . fortunately Ollie is a momma’s boy. So he came to my voice. How had they gotten the memo on our next destination? Or was the tranquil still water and Coqui, which we had experienced many times, enough to call them out on this night? What made this night different from any other night . . . not even Passover time . . . A bit too much of a coincidence in my book.

Then we caught our breath, put in the Plexiglas divider and proceeded to Green Beach, Vieques. It took about 8 hours. After a night there we had a four hour trip to Culebra, which was every bit as beautiful as we had been promised. To sweeten the transition, our good friends Diane and John came and spent several days exploring with us. Though several restaurants were on fall break, we had a delightful time seeing a crown jewel of Puerto Rico. Snorkeling as good as the Bahamas, mountains to rival Western Maryland, friendly people, a great library, blue waters . . . a must see. We met up with Richard and Sue Klumb as well as our Thanksgiving partners of last year, Brian and Jennifer, on Moon. Cruising in the Caribbean allows an ebb and flow of people that is like a well-orchestrated Virginia reel.

Three or so days after arriving at Culebra, we headed to St Thomas, a mere 14 miles, 4 hours of motor-sailing. The weather was perfect for the intrepid . . . low swell, low wind. We could see it from Culebra. Our first port of call was Honeymoon bay. The amount of moorings throughout Crown Bay and Druif Bay, or Honeymoon was a bit off-putting. We anchored at the back of the pack and spent a very rolly night before pulling anchor and heading to Christmas Cove off of St James. It was pristine blue, an easy mooring, and equally rolly. I now think I had been spoiled from being on the Southern side of first Hispaniola and then Puerto Rico. Rolling seems to be inevitable in the Virgins. Suppose it is logical with two confluences, the Atlantic and the Carribean, joining. Only small scraps of land to anchor/moor around. So we skipped from Christmas into Charlotte Amalie harbor. It too was mostly rolly, but the availability of the town, the safari buses, and the magic of the island charmed us. Free Zumba at the yacht haven marina, local night on the tram, first Bushwhacker, Lobster at Green House, and the magic of sitting in the harbor with the twinkling lights of Charlotte Amalie all around. Magic.

After a business trip to FL, we took the opportunity to move to Brewer’s Bay, far less roll, a lot of natural beauty. To port of the airport, aft of the University of the Virgin Islands. An easy hike from the beach to Safari bus, lovely. Pelicans as entertainment for the cats. Every move harbor to harbor is 2 hours of less of trauma for them. Between the accessibility, the academic breeze, the natural beauty . . . I think I could spend considerable time in Brewer’s Bay.

We are now on a mooring near several old friends met through Facebook. Followed for several years, waiting to finally share a harbor. Bar has nightly events. The beach is beautiful and a stone’s throw away. The folks are an instant community of care. Life is good in yet another paradise.

As cruisers stop into St Thomas for provisions on the way to somewhere else, I wonder at their hurry. But I, like others we have met, value our best kept secrets.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

She was a trusty old steed. . .

Our venerable Avon R3.1 Roll-Away has found a new home.  We got her new way back in 2001 and she has served us well but then we saw a nice used AB VL10 for a reasonable price. So out with the old:
2000 Avon R3.1 Roll-Away

... and in with the new:
2010 AB VL10

Friday, July 3, 2015

What a difference a few months make

We have now been in Puerto Rico for over a year.  While the island is beautiful and there is a lot to do and see here, we never intended to stay this long before continuing down the island chain.  Our earlier posts have detailed problems we were having with our diesel engine and the rebuild.  Our last problem was a new engine head that Perkins was making for us with "delivery 110 days from date of order".  Our payment was processed on December 17th last year.  Early April was the 110 days and it came . . . and went.  We finally were told that Perkins was having casting problems for our order, and several others.  This week we got the following note from the Perkins parts house in Tortola: "Our logistics department just informed us that the Factory confirmed your head would be ready in mid August."  Woo Hoo !!!!!!!  With any luck at all this will be the last hurricane season we will spend in Puerto Rico for a while.  It is nice to know that the best hurricane hole in the entire Caribbean, Bahia de Jobos, is right next door to our current port of Salinas on the South coast of P.R.

We recently spent a couple weeks at an anchorage about 5 miles East of here (an eastern lobe of Bahia de Jobos), mostly to spend some quality time away from the demanding social schedules for shopping, matinee movies, restaurant food, Mexican Train Dominos, etc.  We were actually hoping to make it to Isla Calebra but the weather window we were looking for never opened.  We did get to spend most every day in the water snorkeling around the mangrove creeks.  The water was not nearly as clear as the Bahamas but at least we found a few interesting things to use our Ion Air Pro camera.

Lion fish and Sea Urchin

Tiny lobster feelers sticking out

Lots of starfish

Yet more starfish

Artificial reef?

When we left the U.S. I figured our smart phones would just gather dust in a bin until they rusted away.  Boy, was I ever wrong.  My phone has the Navionics Caribbean charts app, Pocket GRIB, DGS Tides,, and a logbook database app.  For entertainment I have Mahjongg, picture puzzles, Soduku, Shortyz crosswords, card games and the Kindle reader.  Turns out it is a good thing I didn't throw away the old Samsung Galaxy Nexus :)

We keep getting sim cards for one of the phones, Straight Talk w/ATT for here in P.R. and the U.S. with 5GB data and unlimited talk for $45/mo.  Tethering works great to maximize the data usage for both our phones and computers.  We only have to go to the bars for the more heavy downloading. 

While in the U.S. for the birth of our granddaughter, I decided to get the newest Raspberry Pi 2 Model B.  When we got back to the boat I started playing around with it and realized that OpenELEC the little credit card sized computer and our WD My Passport 2TB WiFi drive would replace our home theater PC.  The Pi uses virtually no power and takes no space tucked up as it is behind the TV.  To the basic Pi box I added a case, WiFi USB bud, keyboard bud, the Media Center wireless remote bud, and a USB extender to make easy thumb drive access.  The unit is powered by a USB port on the back of our not-smart-enough TV.  So far everything works perfectly!

Raspberry Pi wrapped in Saran to be tucked behind TV

We have a friend from Saint Petersburg coming in next month and we expect to do some more touring of this beautiful island with her.  So far we have seen the Aricebo radio telescope, San Juan, Ponce, both West Marine stores, and various assorted other places around the island. We have yet to visit the caves, rain forest and the German restaurant in the middle of the island everybody raves about.  Lots to do before end of hurricane season.

Road hog!
Easter with Salinas cruisers
A view of Arecibo radio telescope
Fuerte San Felipe del Morro castle, San Juan
Pasa Fina in Salinas
Lighthouse at Rincon

Food court statue at Ponce Mall

Fire station, Ponce

Thursday, March 5, 2015


We are grandparents! Baby Quinn Nora Falvella was born 3/3/2015 after 21 hours of labor. I (Mike) have never had kids so the birth was the most amazing and awesome event I have ever had the honor of witnessing. Wow!

I had originally intended to post the "chest-burst" clip from the movie Alien but after seeing Quinn's perfect features, I just couldn't :)

Cheryl of Varua noted that Quinn's 18th birthday will be on 3/3/33.  Pretty cool, huh?

Worried I will break it

Cate with Quinn

Monday, January 5, 2015

Breaking Free From Parguera

Though our engine rebuild was not totally successful, we owe our continued journey from Parguera to JBWeld.  This product may take us far and for years, or may give up at any port.  So we have ordered a new head from the Perkins’ folk in Tortola.  Meanwhile we cautiously edge further along as we wait for the 110 working days predicted for delivery.  Working days, a concept that causes concern when applied to island work.

Our first stop from Parguera was to Gilligan’s Island, more officially named Cayes de Cana Gorda. What a perfect first stop after a long stay.  Finally we were back with other cruisers, a concept we had not missed until we dinghied to Two Tickets to say “Hola”.  We were acquainted last March in Georgetown when we were scheming an approach to the Dominican Republic. Wow, people who get it.  People who recently navigated water, who understood why we live on a boat, whose approach to the next stop is all about the weather. Finally true birds of a feather!  Add to that scenario, a beautiful placid harbor with a lovely island to explore.  Gilligan’s is uninhabited and empty of people during the week.  We were able to enjoy not only the quiet of a weekday swim but the weekend camaraderie of the mangrove swimming channel as it filled in with ferry load after ferry load of local Puerto Ricans.  The channel is bordered by mangroves with a low current, 3 foot deep area for soaking, kayaking, snorkeling, simply communing with nature.  We soaked for hours, reviewing our adventures, projecting our future plans.

We were finally back to quiet days with nature, relying on our provisions, remembering what makes this a great lifestyle.  From Gilligan's we traversed to Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico.  We found the harbor excellent for anchoring.  The weekend noise from the malecon (like a boardwalk) was insignificant compared to docking at Parguera.  Best yet, more cruisers.  All of us back on the salt circuit after waiting out hurricane season, most at Luperon.  We were in mecca, with Tiger Direct, a full sized mall, a cinema, marine shop and a complete grocery store within walking distance.  The serious, over-the-top delight of Ponce-- my vision of attending dance classes while cruising was fulfilled with $3 Zumba at the malecon amphitheater, Mon-Thurs.  Zumba uses hand signals to designate number of repetitions, so my minimal Spanish was not a holdback.  Zumba to Latin beat, SO MUCH FUN.   Though I did have trouble walking on the weekend:).  Taxis, people willing and able to meet us partway with some English. A welcoming demeanor, priceless.  Our six months in southwestern Puerto Rico were the rural experience.  We were now experiencing a more open and generous population.  In hindsight I remember moving to a rural area of MD as an adolescence.  The difference between Parguera folk and Ponce folk was the difference between rural MD and suburban MD.  Our saving grace in Parguera was the gringo population.  Those who were originally from the states, but now residing in Parguera.  They took us under their wing, transported us when we needed supplies, befriended us.  We will always be grateful to them.

A day pass to the Ponce Yacht Club was delightful.  A pool to die for, excellent internet, affordable prices if dockage was needed.  A trip to historic Ponce was accommodated via taxi and trolley, transportation. . . so valuable.  We enjoyed art—finally seeing Flaming June, a favorite from a childhood game called Masterpiece.  Housed at the Ponce Museum of Art.  The celebration of Three Kings, a recurring artistic presence in Puerto Rico, was explained in a current exhibit. Epiphany, the day the kings arrived with gifts for the baby Jesus, was once the day that gifts were exchanged rather than the earlier gift exchange at Christmas.  We enjoyed a chocolate milkshake at Burger King, a treat we had not had since St Petersburg, 2.5 years ago.  We were awed by the beautiful Christmas decorations at the Ponce mall, a mall to rival Westfield in the states.  Bilingual taxi drivers were icing on the cake.

When the weather opened for movement, we left Ponce for the beauty of Coffin Island, Cayo de Muertes.  This harbor’s beauty, a mere 2 hour motor from Ponce, is pristine.  Swimming, hiking to the active lighthouse, visiting with the DRNA caretaker were all pleasures we relished.  I could totally imagine living on the hook in the Ponce harbor, retreating to weekday solitude on Cayo de Muerte.  Or going highbrow at the Ponce Yacht club.  

Next stop is where we currently embed our anchor . . . Salinas.  This was our original hurricane hang-out plan before we stopped for the engine rebuild.  It is a pleasant, protected harbor bordered by mangrove cays, and beautiful mountains whose demeanor remind me of a calendar back-drop. I have to remind myself as we dinghy to the marina that they are real.  Always remembering a young ministerial date of yore who said that mountains are God’s thumbprint.  Bill, I say they may well be God or Goddess’  thumbprint :).  Whomever is credited, they are magnificent.  What the Caribbean has lacked in white sand beaches, to date, it has made up for with the amazing mountains.

As we walked the paths and roads to the grocery, in Puerto Rico, I often reflect that this could be a highway, a road in PA; in western MD, in North Carolina.  The mountains on the horizon. Only the temperature, fauna and flora, and time of year distinguish the scene.  That thought gives me comfort and intrigues me at the same time.  It is a unifying concept.

Salinas continues to nurture our spirit with a friendly welcome from cruisers who frequent Facebook, introduced us to Mexican Train dominoes, new project ideas and routes through town.  A shared ride to the movies, a Christmas Eve potluck, a Seven Seas Cruising host, Jonso, and a Mexican restaurant, Pancho’s. . . the Salinas charm continues while the yearly Christmas wind howls.

Dock to hook

After almost five months at dock in La Parguera, we were able to motor with our re-built engine to anchor out.  For non-cruising boaters, that may seem as interesting a blog topic as one about moving your car from your driveway to the street.  But keep in mind, we live on our boat, it is our only home.

So after months of motorsailing the southern shores of Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, we found a mechanic to rebuild our diesel engine in the town of La Parguera.  With the help of good friends, we found an available dock.  Docking space in Parguera are at a premium regardless of season.  Little did we know that our entire hurricane season would be spent at this conveniently placed dock just outside the town plaza.

What we have come to love about dock life is the amazing shore access.  We simply stepped off the boat, and walked less than a block to a basically fully stocked grocery.  This rather than prepping the dinghy, and schlepping our water jugs, gas jugs, shopping bags for a sometimes wet ride to town. We put our watermaker on hold and used dock water, a welcome excess for the hot days of summer and fall.  When the summer heat became most brutal, we hooked into the dock electricity and used the window AC for night comfort.

We developed a semi-regular pattern of walking with good neighbors, traversing the hills and valleys of Parguera, catching up on the history and local knowledge.  We were intrigued with the friendly faces of local men working in the plaza.  All were very polite, working with our awkward Spanish.  Vincent, Ray, Eric each living life on their own terms, happy to share space, always ready to assist.  We were a stone’s throw from Carmen’s Shell shop, a delightful collection of boat wear, shells, souvenirs, cold cerveza (beer) and the best Capriccio Sangria ever---produced exclusively in Puerto Rico, we think by Coca Cola.  We quickly learned to buy the 8% alcohol liter over the 14% alcohol cans . . . I cannot hold my liquor well enough for 14%.

We breakfasted with NBC Today, enjoying Savannah’s baby, Roker’s marathon, Jenna’s promotion, .  . . we became more attuned to world news, as well as NY news.  We no longer could access our VHF radio weatherman or Coconut Telegraph net.  But we spent hours in NY every morning. We lunched daily on the fresh, warm Cuban bread available at the grocery.  We added hielo (ice) to our daily purchase as the days got warmer, a great treat having iced beverages.  And we deviated from our soda-free existence by adding Diet Coke and Sprite Free to the shopping list.

So we have enjoyed a different side of Parguera this last week.  The one we had a few days prior to engine work.  One we had almost forgotten.  At hook we have gotten our boat legs back, we rock with the current and the wind.  We have a level of silence we had forgotten as night falls.  The music of the plaza is distant but we are close enough to hear the roosters crow.  It’s so peaceful.  We have stars to see at night instead of the dock lights.  The town looks magical from our perspective.

I start each day with snorkel, flippers and sometimes a scraper, doing laps around Horizon, enjoying the silence, the occasional fish, the pelicans.  Getting in touch with my inner mermaid, the one that likes to peel mayonnaise jars and algae.  Our weather man comes on at 7, the marine SSB net at 8. Otherwise, peace and quiet as the tradewinds settle in around 9.

Now a week later at anchor, we are still buying ice and sodas, now schlepping it by dinghy.  As we plan to depart soon, I have purchased extra bread, sodas. We slowly say goodbye to friends and good acquaintances.  We look forward to meeting more cruising boaters further down the coast, yet unknown.