Thursday, April 30, 2009

Culebra to Culebrita to Coral Bay

Astarte is on the move again. After an enjoyable stay in Culebra, Puerto Rico where we decided it was time to start putting more miles under the keel. We're in a new country.

But before we left, we decided to enjoy Culebra's underwater a bit more. On Tuesday afternoon, we (together with Blake from Slow Mocean) went snorkeling. We went further down the reef from where we had previously snorkeled and found some great patch reefs. There was a magnificent elk horn coral stand as well as lots of stag horn and a few brain corals. Lots and lots of tropicals, a peacock flounder that was well camouflaged until "disturbed," and some larger edibles - but we were in a park - so no fishing! When we returned, a lot of boats had anchored in the harbor and it was getting cozy. In fact, an Australian boat anchored mighty close to us making it a bit too tight for our liking - especially in the windy weather we had been experiencing.

On Wednesday, Yoshi acted up a bit. But Michael cleaned the carburetor and all was good. We're keeping the new carb as an emergency back-up. Yoshi performed well the day before on the long dinghy ride to the snorkeling reef. (We were glad though that Blake and his dinghy were along - just in case!)

After the outboard repair and a quick run to shore, we loaded the dinghy on board and left Culebra for Culebrita. It was a cloudy, squally day - but we thought we'd be protected in the Culebrita harbor. We got there and tied to a mooring ball (again first try!!) and had lunch. There was a pretty good swell coming into the harbor causing a roll, so we decided to go back to the southwestern shore of Culebrita where there are some lovely beaches and moor there. Unfortunately - the swell and roll was also coming around the island and hitting this moorage. But we stayed. Our goal was to get up at first light and head east. We did some snorkeling off the big boat and there were some nice reefs nearby. Saw a cool little puffer fish hidden amongst the stag horns. There were lots of bright colored tropical fish. Instead of a cute little orange fish adopting us - Michael was adopted by a barracuda. On returning to the boat, Michael tried to put a bridle on the boat to put us into the swells (so we would pitch rather than roll). It worked a bit - it was really pulling on the mooring ball - so we untied it before we called it a night.

At 0530 we awoke today (Thursday) to head to a new country. We would get to the US Virgins, just 20 miles away. We hadn't decided if we'd stop at St. Thomas or keep going east to St. John's. It was a very mild day - and the early start got us out before the trades really picked up. The seas were relatively flat and the winds 15-18. We motor sailed. Then sailed. Then motor sailed. We were making great time so we kept going and ended up on the eastern edge of the US Virgins in a place called Coral Bay - and snuck back into what are known as the "hurricane holes." We are in our own tiny bay surrounded by hills. It is soooooooo quiet here - you can actually hear birds chirping, fish splashing and the goats neighing. Yup, we spotted three goats in the hills. (Nina: pictures to follow).

We're planning on a midday start tomorrow to make it to St. Maartens. It's just over 90 nautical miles, so we'll leave midday and hopefully arrive in the morning. We might actually get to sail this leg entirely. And we'll now be heading south! But it is the dreaded Anegada Passage (lovingly called the "oh-my-god-a" passage). Hope it's calm.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Yes, it really is here!

After a month of outboard “adventures,” rowing the dinghy and missed islands because of the little motor “Yoshi” – it is hopefully OVER! We walked to meet the Flamenco Air flight arriving at Culebra’s Noriega (not the Panamanian one) Aeropuerto on Monday night at 5:33 pm from San Juan. The part was supposed to be on that airplane. After a few moments of “concern” not seeing it – it was in the pilot’s flight bag. Whoo hoo – we have the part in hand. (Whether it’s the right part is yet to be determined but we choose to be overly optimistic!)

So now, with much relief, we can continue our trek down island. Now, we wait for the weather to settle a bit. It’s been blowing straight out of the east (our direction for the next few hundred miles) over 20 knots (and often higher than 28!). So today, we do more boat projects and some baking.

Yesterday (Monday), we walked. And walked. And walked some more. It started early (before Michael had to make his phone calls regarding “the part.”) We headed into the little town to the post office, the Panaderia (bakery) for bread, and a grocery store for some eggs. Ran into some friends along the way. After the call – we decided to take another walk and hiked a long way along the water – past Bahia Fulladoza and towards Dakity. It rained. A lot! We got wet but it made for a cool walk in the heat of the day. After we returned to the boat, another phone call to find out the part was indeed on the way and we went back to shore for a walk in the opposite direction to the airport. We made it before the flight arrived and got the part and walked back.

It was raining alot!

A little slice of Dakity Harbour.

The entrance to Dakity.

The harbour close to town.

We met some friends and new acquaintances at a local hang-out called the “Dinghy Dock” for a few brews. It was a great day of the Astarte Work-Out program. And a great day for getting Yamaha part 6NO-14301-20.

Thanks for all the positive vibes for the outboard.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Buoys of Culebra

We decided to move Astarte around the island and anchor away from downtown and closer to some snorkeling sites. We raised anchor on Saturday morning and by 1030 we were on the first mooring bouyof the trip. We caught it on the first try!!! It is a Department of Natural Resources mooring ball and looks brand new. Michael dove it to make sure all was good. It was.

Brand New Mooring Bouy

Mooring Tied to Astarte - A Nice Bridle!

We tied up near Playa Melona and unbelievably, we were the only boat out there – though there are plenty of mooring bouys in the area. Our guess is that the weather isn’t that great so Puerto Ricans who come to the island for weekends – probably didn’t make the trip this week.

After getting tied up – Michael started to make water (another reason to move – didn’t want to make water in the town harbor). Then we jumped in and did a little bottom cleaning. Michael finished while Barbara went snorkeling around. We were each adopted by a tiny orange fish that stayed with us throughout our time in the water. Barbara’s followed her on the entire swim to the beach and back to the boat. They were fearless little guys – about two inches long…and would swim in front of your mask and stay very close to you.

After getting out of the water – the rain started. It gave us a bit of a rinse – but soon got too cold. The rain continued all afternoon – some light showers followed by heavy downpours. This was the first real day of rain we’ve had since we left. We’ve experienced a few showers but nothing this consistent and this long. So it was time to collect some rainwater, do a little laundry, rinse off wet suits and dive gear and wash down the boat.
Waiting for the Rinse Cycle (aka: A Downpour)
Michael put up the rain gutters he made prior to leaving. They are sunbrella and zip to the bimini (sunshade) top. It has a nozzle at one end to which he attaches a hose. A bucket under the hose and voila – a rain collector. The bucket got filled numerous times this way – enough to do a small load of wash, rinse out shoes, cook pasta, wash dishes and we still have lots left. Cool.
Rain Gutter in Action
Bucket Collecting Lots 'o Fresh Rainwater
We spent the night here. No internet here – so no skyping, phone calls or web surfing. It was a night of reading after a nice shrimp pasta dinner.

Friday, April 24, 2009

More Pics on the Photo Page

Michael just added several more pictures to photo page. Hope you enjoy. We were supposed to get a part shipped here to Culebra today – but it’s the islands. Probably now won’t see it until Tuesday. Oh well, we could be in worse places. We’ll do some more snorkeling, hiking around, visiting other boaters and probably be here when our friends from Bristol Rose and Slow Mocean arrive over the next few days. Oh, and we’ll probably get a few more boat projects done…the list is pretty long. Maybe even start the Spanish Rosetta Stone lessons!

Today we hiked to see how far to the airport to pick up the part. We found a nice little fruit and veggie stand and picked up some fresh stuff. There is also a school here that is an “ecological” school – brand new and looks like it’s powered almost entirely by alternative energy – particularly solar panels. There are at least 60 panels on the roof.

Banana breads are in the oven…and fish on the grill tonight. Happy Friday all.

Snake Island

From Monkey Island we headed to Culebra (means snake in Spanish) on Wednesday – getting an early start (0530). I don’t think Michael(Hawk) has seen this many sunrises since he stopped shooting golf! We mentally prepared for a rough trip with winds on the nose and big seas. So we weren’t surprised that it took us almost eight hours to claw through the 30 miles. We tacked a few times to take the waves at a better angle and keep the reefed main at least semi-full and give us a little push. We anchored off the town of Dewey (though locals just call it Culebra) in Ensenada Honda. Our friends Jack (and his wife Liz visiting him) on Anthem were in the harbour. We connected with them later in the day for sundowners and dinner at Mamasitas.

Today, Thursday we did some cleaning up – the forward head got a lot of water in it from the passage so everything was quite wet and salty. The bilges had water in them as well. Michael dropped off the propane bottle after many attempts to connect with Senor Perez – the propane guy via phone (three numbers later we got him). Our bad Spanish and his non-English proved interesting (along with the tropical downpour). The fact that there is a restaurant named the ‘Dinghy Dock” as well as municipal dock where you can tie your dinghies (aka the dinghy dock) created some interesting confusion for the propane tank delivery.

Together with Liz and Jack, we went snorkeling Thursday afternoon. Yoshi did a good job getting us there (having Liz and Jack in their dinghy gave us some reassurance in case Yoshi misbehaved again.) The coral reefs were very healthy and very diverse. Stag horn, elkhorn, brain as well as lots of soft corals – barrel sponges, sea fans and many, many beautiful tropical fish made for a terrific snorkel. Michael spotted a good sized grouper and a lobster – but no fishing allowed. We also saw several “flamingo tongue snails” – a small, brightly colored marine gastropod. They were feeding on the bright purple sea fans. We hadn’t seen any until now so were happy to spot them.

A little background on this area: The Culebra archipelago consists of the main island of Culebra and 23 smaller surrounding islands. All the islands are arid – having no rivers or streams. Fresh water is a valuable commodity on the islands and it is actually piped in from the main island of Puerto Rico via Vieques. The area (along with Vieques) is known as the “Spanish Virgin Islands” and this is a place with which we’re a bit familiar. We were here on Mariah in the 2001 adventure and also vacationed here a few times.

The islands have beautiful beaches – often ranked in the top ten of the world, and mangrove forests. The tallest point is Mount Resaca – all of 650 feet tall.

Most of the islands are classified as nature reserves. In fact, one of the oldest bird sanctuaries in the United States territory was established in Culebra in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt. As well as bird sanctuaries (which host more than 50,000 birds migrating through or making this home), the islands are also turtle nesting areas for many varieties of large sea turtles.

The island has an interesting history. Columbus was the first European to discover the island in 1493. Prior to that it was home to the Taino Indians and like many islands it was home to pirates of the Caribbean for more than 3 centuries. Settled in 1880, the island was originally called Isla Pasaje and Isla de San Ildefonso (after a Bishop San Ildefonso de la Culebra). In 1882, construction started on a lighthouse on the nearby island of Culebrita. It was completed in 1886 and was the oldest operating lighthouse in the Caribbean until 1975 when the US shut it down. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Culebra Naval Reservation. In 1939, prior to the US involvement in WW II, the US Navy began to use the Culebra island group as gunnery and bombing practice site. After protests by the people of Puerto Rico and Culebra, in 1975 the use of Culebra by the Navy for military practice ended.

The island is also called Isla Chiquita (Little Island – it is after all only about 11 square miles and has a population of under 2000) and Ultima Virgen (Last Virgen – can’t explain this one!). The name Culebra (snake/serpent) is thought to come from the serpent which is part of the coat of arms of the island and the Bishop for whom the island was originally named. This is a popular weekend destination for Puerto Ricans from the main island and Vieques because of the beaches, snorkeling and diving. We’ll see how crazy it gets this weekend.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Monkey Island

We are anchored off Cayo Santiago, also known as "Monkey Island." It is inhabited by 1000 monkeys (don't know who actually counts them). . They are "free range" monkeys and part of the Caribbean Primate Research Center. Aren't quite sure what type they are - and there may be a variety. The island is private and signs on it tell visitors not to feed the monkeys. Word is they tend to bite touristas! We can see them from where we are anchored and though they were quiet most of the day - in late afternoon, they got quite loud and active. We could see them swinging in the trees, running on the beach and heard them chattering away. We're pretty sure they don't swim - so we don't expect any nighttime visits from the primates. A boat with scientists and workers went back and forth to the island a few times today. The island itself is very pretty with lots of trees - mangroves, palm trees and some others. It's a bit hilly with a pretty beach. Nice digs for the monkeys.

This morning, we left Puerto Patillas at 0500 and had a lumpy ride with lots of "eek" waves. Those are the waves you see coming at you and you say "eek" thinking they will crash over the deck. But alas, Astarte usually rides over them quite nicely - though a few of the big ones will get you wet in the cockpit. You do get tired from holding on! We had to also avoid a lot of fish traps today - kind of like crab or lobster pots - something under water with a line holding a marker (usually a Clorox or old motor oil bottle). Glad we did this run in daytime to see them all.

We turned north at Punta Tuna (the southeastern tip of PR) and picked up some speed thanks to the easterlies (and we were heading north). We've gone north to get south - go figure. We're now sitting on the eastern shore of Puerto Rico.

We had some rain today as we anchored and it was a grey and mostly cloudy day. The anchorage has gotten very roll-ey so it won't be that pleasant a night unless it settles. We'll look at weather in the morning but are planning on leaving bright and early again to make the 30 mile run to Culebra. Unfortunately, seas look a bit big (5-6 feet) and the wind is east 15 to 20 (and we're heading northeast). But unfortunately it doesn't look like that will change for several days. So we'll make the run. We know there is a great anchorage there and will look forward to a good night's sleep.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Salinas to Boca de Infierno to Puerto Patillas

We're on the move again and enjoying the south coast of Puerto Rico. We left the Salinas harbor on Sunday late afternoon following some strange weather. There was a "microburst" of heavy wind through the anchorage. Michael saw it coming after watching a tree on shore get stripped of all it's leaves in the heavy circulating wind. It caused a large catamaran anchored near us to drag anchor and every boat in the anchorage was facing a different direction after it passed. It was strange. After the weather settled it was still very overcast but calmer and we made our way through the mangroves and reefs to anchor off Boca de Infierno. Sounds like a scary kind of place(direct translation: Mouth of Hell) - but we snuggled up near a mangrove island and it was a very pleasant night - though warm after the wind totally died.

The south coast of Puerto Rico can be rough due to the heavy trades (easterly winds) and swells. The secret is to take advantage of the islands topography The mountains push the trades away from shore as the sun goes down - so night sailing or beating the morning warm-up is the way to go. We only had about 18 miles to go from Boca de Infierno to Puerto Patillas so we decided an early morning start would help is beat the easterlies. We couldn't leave in the dark because of the reefs near Infierno. We had the anchor up at 0615 and a very pleasant trip.

As we arrived in this old fishing village with pretty palm lined beaches, Michael spotted a large manatee. We were anchored before 0930 for breakfast. The wind started just as we anchored and has been steadily growing. We'll enjoy a day here and if the weather cooperates we'll take off again tomorrow before daybreak to again take advantage of the lull in the winds and head to "monkey island." It's another 20 plus miles as we'll turn the corner and be on the east side of Puerto Rico.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

San Juan Road Trip

Sorry about the lack of entries the last few days. We've been working on a few boat projects and not much to report. Thursday night Michael got a rental car and we did a trip to an auto parts store and Walmart to pick up some items. Trish and Robert aboard Bristol Rose joined us for that adventure which did include going the wrong way up a one way and getting a tad lost. But we got back safely.

On Friday, it was road trip day and Yoshi (the misbehaving Yamaha outboard) had an appointment with a mechanic. Trish and Robert joined us on that adventure as well as they had things they wanted to get done in San Juan as well. So we left the marina in Salinas at 0720 (we aimed for a 0700 departure) and we actually found the Yamaha shop pretty easily. The mechanic was there as promised and he gave Michael his full attention for most of the day. Of course Yoshi had been running for a few days - but our confidence was still shaken. The mechanic spent a lot of time and found lots of little problems. Some he could fix, others he didn't have the parts. He got it running and we are getting a new carburetor shipped to Culebra. We'll pick it up there and that should solve everything. Yoshi is running okay now - but we'll be grateful to have the new carburetor just in case. To Yamaha's credit - they did right by us - though the process ended up still costing us a lot of dollars including marina fees, car rentals, multiple mechanics etc. Not to say anything about lost snorkeling opportunities with our guests.

During the mechanics lunch hour we made a trip to the West Marine store in San Juan (finding that and getting back was another adventure!) But we picked up some supplies (a new accumulator tank - exciting eh?) and a "wahoo catching lure." Hope it lives up to its marketing promise!

We got back to Salinas just after 1700 but luckily the Hertz guy was still there and was very helpful in letting us run to fill up the vehicle and then take the four of us and all our stuff back to the marina. On a Friday night no less! We dined out at a real local place called Tamarindo - and it was Karaoke night at the bar and restaurant. Not being big Karaoke fans, we didn't last too long - but the empanadas were tasty!

Saturday (today) we did a few loads of laundry - the last of the guest towels - and because of a dryer shortage in the laundry - we hung it all out on the boat. It dried great and saved us some boat dollars! We then walked into Salinas. We heard there was a festival in downtown and the streets were closed off. We thought it would be a fun time so we decided to try to find it. It was pretty hot and we walked for several hours. We did find the festival - but unfortunately it was a nighttime event and nothing was going on yet other than set-up. We headed back and it was pretty tiring in the heat of the day.

We are planning to leave Salinas tomorrow and start making our way towards Culebra to get the part being shipped there. We'll do it in several stops - sailing in the late night or early morning hours before the trades kick in. The hops are short - only 20-30 miles each - so it should be comfortable and relatively easy.

One note, we have added some more pics to the picture page. Finding reliable and cheap internet access has been a bit of a challenge.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taxes Filed?

Okay, we know you don't read this log to be reminded of the realities of life! Sorry about that. But ours are all files thanks to our terrific accountant John Houser.thanks John.

First of all, welcome to fellow Moody owners. We heard we were mentioned in a correspondence and the web address shared. We're proud Moody owners and the boat is serving us well. She is an amazing sailor.

We're still in Salinas - enjoying this town. It is amazing that you can set your clock to the trade winds. Starting about 0800 they start to build. By afternoon they are really hooting to about 20 knots. At 1800 they start to die and by nighttime they are a mere light breeze. Everyday so far the same schedule. The holding is good - which is important as the boats are packed in pretty closely. Lots of boats on private mornings and many left for the season.

Michael's been making lots of phone calls to the Yamaha dealer in San Juan - talking to the parts people and the mechanics. Of course - it's the islands - so getting through to someone often takes many calls. But we have a Friday appointment with the mechanic in San Juan -so we'll have to rent a car to get there. And we won't leave there until we have a working outboard - once and for all - so you won't have to hear about it anymore!

Last night we dined out in order to get use of the internet. You have to buy a meal in order to use it - and we had to get those IRS forms in! So we had a terrific meal for a bargain price. For $8.95 - salad bar, soup, meatloaf dinner (huge amount of food - enough that BS brought half hers home); and dessert - pie with ice cream! What a deal - plus internet!

Today we walked several miles today to a nice grocery store for some fresh veggies and supplies. It was a nice hike. Tonight - we're hosting sundowners on Astarte with friends from Bristol Rose and Slow Mocean. It's a good excuse to clean the boat up a bit!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Overnight to Salinas

We left Boqueron as planned and set an anchor for several hours near some mangroves on the southwestern tip of the island of Puerto Rico. A little after 1900, after a nice Easter dinner, we departed. With the favorable weather, we decided to try to make it all the way to Salinas rather than stopping at Ponce. Salinas was the destination harbor where we planned to get the outboard issue settled. So instead of the fuel stopover in Ponce, we took advantage of light trade winds (actually almost non-existent); relatively calm seas and headed an additional 23 miles.

We arrived around 0745 on Monday morning. The anchorage is packed. It took some hunting for a space. We tried one place - but couldn't get the anchor to hold (perhaps that's why there's so many mooring balls and double anchored boats).

We moved to a new location and it set on the first try. Now Michael has rowed to the marina, phone cards in hand, to start the outboard battle.

It's a pretty harbor, surrounded by mangroves. Services in Salinas are supposed to be quite good from groceries to laundry.and even a bakery. Perhaps ice cream as well!!! We'll take advantage of them all as we settle in for as long as it takes to get mobile again with an outboard.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Packed Beaches. Crazy Boaters. Loud Music.

Happy Easter. We wish everyone a very Happy Easter. Barbara's sorry to miss the annual egg hunt at Meg's & Kevin's.

Instead of ham - our choices are camarones, carrucho, almaja (shrimp/conch/clams) being sold roadside in little kiosks. The kiosks all smell so great with cooked skewers of fish or chicken and other booths with piles and piles of clams and mussels that people buy individually and eat right there (raw) with some hot sauce or key limes.

On Saturday morning, we moved Astarte a little closer to shore so the row in woudn't be quite as torturous. Michael was a bit sore from all the rowing lately - but he's willing to take on anyone in an arm wrestling competition. After moving the big boat, Michael rowed us in and we roamed around downtown Boqueron amongst thousands of "spandexed", swimsuited, sunburnt folks here for the holiday weekend(lots of fashion don'ts). We walked around and across the Marina Boqueron bridge which is a footbridge
that is mechanically pulled up when boats need to get out. We crossed the bridge and on our way back - got stopped for an opening. But it took forever and in the hot sun, the crowd started to get a bit feisty. Though all in good fun, they started yelling at the bridge tenders and getting some loud whistling and shouting going. It took a good 15 minutes before the boats went through and just when they started to close the bridge to the cheers of the growing crowd waiting to cross, another couple
of boats decided to leave. It was a very humorous scene.

We found a bar with free internet so decided to stop there for lunch. Michael had the special of the day which was a steal - baked chicken (large piece/mashed potatoes/vegetables) for $4.95. Plus beer was only 25 cents more than a diet coke. You gotta love this place! We got on line and called our parents and Derek (Happy Birthday again) and checked e-mails. Then we got three more jerry jugs of diesel and hiked them back to the dinghy. Again, Michael got us back under rowing power and under
the careful eye of the "policia" boat. It was good to have them handy as it slowed the speeding jet skis, banana boat rides and small power boats that were everywhere buzzing about the anchorage.

Back on board we decided to move Astarte away from shore a little bit and away from the jet ski traffic. We thought it also might help with the noise from shore tonight. But it seems that neither is happening - three venues have bands playing on outside stages and they are competing for loudest. The boats continue after dark - going really fast through the anchorage. It's always amazing there aren't more collisions.

But it is a holiday weekend and we're actually enjoying the festivities both onshore and from the anchorage. The sights, sounds, smells make us realize we are in a foreign country (though a US territory). We just wished we studied our Spanish it would be even more fun to be able to understand and speak with the locals more easily.

On Sunday, we'll leave and head out in the afternoon to stage for an overnight trip to Ponce. It is best to travel the south coast of Puerto Rico at night to avoid the heavy trade winds that occur during the day. The trades move around 10 pm and the light winds last through daybreak. (For Ms. Giffords class: look up katabatic wind effect.) The cool mountain air rolls down the southern shore of the island and pushes the trades farther out to sea. So if we stay close to shore and travel at night,
we aren't supposed to be bashing into the head winds and seas. Ponce is about 50 miles away and we'll stage from the Cabo Rojo light where we'll head in the afternoon.

Happy Easter and don't eat the bunny ears first!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Buenas Dias from Puerto Rico

Whew! The last few days have been quite hectic for the cruising life. Let's go back a bit to catch up. On Monday, we said farewell to Dave and Lorna, our first boat guests on this adventure. They were great guests - having a camper helped them understand electric and water conservation as well as living in a small space. Dave gave Barbara bread baking lessons. He did the first batch - and then on Sunday, with the teacher watching, Barbara did her batch. They actually rose this time and it was a successful bread baking experience. We had thought it might be a way to pay for a new outboard - renting Dave out as a bread baking teacher!! Let's hope she can do it without the baker on board!!

We didn't get to snorkel as much with our guests because of weather and the outboard issues. It would have been great to get to shore in South Caicos and snorkel some of the outer reefs off Ambergris. But we did have fun - especially the snorkeling on the way to French Cay and around Grand Turk and, of course, the domino tournaments (who won again???)

After they left, we quickly headed out to clear out and lift anchor. As the previous entry mentioned we learned a lot more about Astarte. She is still a new boat to us and the lessons keep coming. It was easier on Mariah for our last cruise as we had that boat for 20 plus years and Michael re-did every system on board. We're still learning, fixing and understanding this boat.

We thought we would have been anchored in Boqueron by Thursday morning. But, it took much longer. It was a very frustrating Thursday. On one hand, the dreaded Mona Passage was calm (quite unusual), on the bad side - the dreaded Mona Passage was calm - meaning absolutely NO WIND. We couldn't even keep the boat on course - the current and swells had total control. The sails were noisy staying limp and slating about (not keeping full). As an earlier entry mentioned - we had to conserve fuel because of bad fuel management (and math) on our part. That won't happen again (we hope). So we were destined to just bob out in the Mona Passage. It took us nine hours to go ten miles (and not on course!) To add to the frustrations, we had a fishing line almost the whole time during daylight hours and no joy!

Finally, a wish answered, the wind picked up about noon and it built to 12-14 knots in the right direction - sending us on course into Boqueron. It died as we were about ten miles away - the land effect. We motored - holding our breath that we have at least three gallons left. We came in on one of the most magnificent and dramatic sunsets we've ever seen (unfortunately we couldn't find the camera) the boat was a bit jumbled from the three day, lumpy, heeled over at times passage.

We dropped the anchor close to shore and ate for the first time that day. Then we crashed - even though the partying on shore was loud, fun sounding and very musical (bar bands playing from different venues all vying for attention). It rained - so we did get the decks, solar panels and wind vane a really good wash down. It was the first "real rain" we had since we left. The boat was becoming a salt mine. But all is clean today.

We already met a nice couple from a boat named Kyeta - they came over to lend us their cell phone to call the guy we need to take us to Mayaguez to clear into customs. We have to row in and then walk up to the main road because the town is literally shutting down the roads at noon today. This town is a resort for the local PR folks - especially college students. It should be party town tonight (you'd think on Good Friday in a religious country it would be more solemn).

It's a pretty town and a really nice anchorage. Even though there are lots of boats at anchor - it's roomy. Unfortunately lots of little speed boats and jet skis (kinda like mosquitos buzzing about) - but we'll get into the party mode and just relax and enjoy.

The gas station a few blocks in town will hopefully be open and we can jerry jug about 15 gallons to the boat today. Maybe another 15 tomorrow.

Anchored in Boqueron

Anchored right after sunset on Thursday, April 9. Just made it in! Both before we lost light and before we ran out of fuel(more on the fuel issue later). Flat calm til about 1300 yesterday, then we finally got a break and the wind built to 12-15 out of the NE, perfect. We sailed like crazy. Just wanted to post that we safely made it in to anchor. Have a real busy day today, clearing into Puerto Rico, contacting Yamaha, getting fuel, and making some phone calls. Clearing in is a project in itself. We have to go to Mayaguez. We need to contact Raul, who helps the cruisers, he speaks English and is familiar with this process. We hope he is available, today. No internet connection so far.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Slow, Slow, Slow

On Monday, April 6, we dropped Dave and Lorna at the airport and went directly to customs to clear out of The Turks and Caicos. Piece of cake. Very nice folks at customs. We will miss our guests. They were the best, especially putting up with Michaels angry outbursts at the outboard and weather that didn't cooperate till the end of their stay. More on their excellent adventure and visit later, when we will not have to type on a rolling boat.

Sorry about not updating. Been a strange passage so far. Left Grand Turk around 1145, Monday and motorsailed out. We had to avoid some banks(to avoid big seas) so took a rather circuitous route. This added time and slowed us down. The wind has been erratic, so that also slowed us. At noon on Wednesday we are motoring in calm winds with no sails.

The big news is we are still learning lots about Astarte! We now know that she doesn't like to motor with the windvane paddle in the water. We couldn't figure out why we couldn't maintain at least 5k motor sailing and as soon as we took off the paddle(this morning), we gained speed. Go figure. May be an issue with alignment, we will try and figure that out. We now have to be careful with our fuel supply. We don't want to sail to anchor but do want to get into Boqueron. We are motoing at close to 6k now and making good time. We will see how the arrival time works out. We would like to be in by tomorrow night but will not enter a strange harbor after dark. All is well, fishing line in the water, the sun is out, the temperature is great and the water is blue! Up next: THE MONA PASSAGE!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Astarte Exercise Program

Saturday was an all-out active day for the crew and guests aboard Astarte. It started in the morning with Michael filling the diesel tanks with the on-deck 15-gallons. Then he and Dave rowed to shore to fill the tanks. They had to row because of the broken outboard, then, they lucked out and got a lift to the gas station to fill the jugs. They rowed back with the additional weight of 15 gallons of diesel. Then they filled the tank and went back for 10 more gallons. Again, this required a row to shore. Luck didn’t smile on them and they had to walk to the gas station. They went to one but the fuel was a dollar per gallon more – so they hiked the extra distance to get the cheaper fuel…and unfortunately also had to walk back carrying the jugs…and rowed back to the boat. Then it was everyone in the water to snorkel around the boat. It was mostly grass patches and a few soft corals, some small tropical fish and a barracuda that befriended Dave.

After a warm-up on the boat, we decided to row out to the edge of the big reef near the really deep wall and see what the wall was like. It was a long row. We tied to a mooring buoy and all snorkeled over a magnificent, albeit deep, reef. It was a healthy reef with lots and lots of fish, healthy coral, big groupers, schools of fish, beautiful sea fans and more. We stayed in the water a long time amazed at how deep it got right off the edge.

The row back to the boat was a group effort. Lorna and Barbara went back in for another around the boat snorkel and discovered a pretty little coral patch a little way from the boat. Barbara also saw some interesting squid (or cuttlefish?). Then it was salt water baths for everyone with freshwater rinses.

But that wasn’t enough exercise – so the group decided to row to shore and see what kind of excitement was in Grand Turk on Saturday evening. We roamed around town in search of a place that supposedly had great ribs - but determined it might be a bit far to walk – Dave had already put in a pretty active day and his legs may not be up to more walking. So we stopped at a local beer stand for a cold brew. Rowed back to the boat for dinner and yet another green flash sunset.

Talk of another domino tournament was just that – talk. The group activities of the day had everyone pretty tuckered and after a hearty meal – sleep was the only tournament to be played.

Activities started ashore about 10 pm with some music that played until 3 am. And as Jimmy Buffett said, “There’s a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning,” the music on shore began again at 6:30 am – only this time it was a group baptism on shore near the boat and a choir singing (the same song over and over and over again – probably until everyone got dunked).

Look closely, Baptism in progress.

More snorkeling on the agenda today as well as organizing, packing, voyage planning, GPS point inputting etc. Dave and Lorna preparing to leave and Michael and Barbara ready to take advantage of what looks to be a good weather window to get to Puerto Rico and get the outboard situation solved. We’ll skip the DR as it would be tough to be there without an outboard.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Turks Islands and Grand Turk - A Lesson

Yesterday we crossed the Turks Island Passage (sometimes called the Columbus Passage). This is a 25 mile wide, 7,000 foot deep trench connecting the Caribbean and the southwest north Atlantic and separating the Turks Islands from the Caicos Islands. Between January and March, an estimated 3,000 humpback whales traverse the Turks Island Passage to their winter breeding grounds. (I guess the one we saw yesterday (in April) was a slowpoke or curious one.)

The Turks Islands were once called the “Salt Islands.” There are two opinions as to the “Turks” name of this island group. The first comes from Sir William Phipps, who, in 1687, possibly named them after the native turk’s cap or turk’s head cactus (Melocactus intortus). Phipps and his men were in the area recovering 26 tons of gold and silver from a wrecked Spanish galleon when he noticed the cactus that reminded him of a Turkish fez. The second opinion as to the name origination is thought to come from a time when the islands were used as hideouts for pirates, some of whom were said to be of Turkish descent, It is suggested that in the 16th and 17th centuries, under the leadership of the two Barbarosa brothers, a band of Barbary pirates operated out of this area.

Grand Turk is the capital of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It is the largest of the Turks Islands and only one of two inhabited islands in this group Approximately six miles long and three miles wide, Grand Turk is often argued as Columbus’ first stop in the New World. There is a long running argument of where he really landed – and this is one of the possibilities.

Grand Turk first gained prominence in the 1600’s for its salt-making stations. In 1962, John Glenn, after his famous space flight, first set foot back on planet earth at Grand Turk. Over the years, five Gemini and one Apollo craft splashed down in the waters around Grand Turk.

For our sailor friends – the first great American Merchantman sailing vessel to trade with the Orient was “Grand Turk.” This 300-ton, three-masted vessel boasted 22 guns and was originally designed as a privateer. The “Grand Turk” is best known however, as the ship seen on the bottles of “Old Spice” aftershave and cologne.

Last year it was hit hard by the hurricane and the damage is still quite visible on land. A blue tarp covers the roof of St. Mary’s and many of the buildings on the side of the island we’re anchored are damaged. Some quite badly. From the boat we see the parliament building which is lovely. There are a few churches, banks and of course a beach bar (that played music until 3 am this morning!).

The Parliament building late in the day.

Today, we’ll row to shore (against some pretty good wind) and roam around the island. More on our discoveries in the next post.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rays, Dolphins, Whales and Turtles

The whirlwind cruise through the Turks and Caicos continues. We last left you at Ambergris Cays where we spent a night with the full intention of spending a second day there snorkeling the reefs. We had a mediocre night at anchor – with the wind and waves picking up and rocking and rolling the boat throughout the night. At daybreak, Michael and Lorna went on a reconnaissance mission to seek out good reefs while Dave was giving Barbara a bread baking lesson on board. But Yoshi, our unfaithful dinghy motor puttered out making the reefs that were further from the boat (and downwind) a risky proposition. Our confidence in this outboard is totally gone. As Dan Stiles said, hell is a room filled with weed eaters and chainsaws that don’t work.” To that we add outboard engines (especially when you’re cruising – and have company on board). We had hoped it was a bad April fool’s joke – but it wasn’t funny.

So after some discussion we decided to take off in good light and head to South Caicos to make the trip to Grand Turk easier. We made it to South Caicos in about four hours and anchored behind Long Island. Michael and Dave rowed us all to shore and we walked around the island for a bit – with Lorna collecting more shells. We couldn’t make it to the main island which is too bad as we had e-mail connected with a colleague of Barbara’s niece who is studying conch on South Caicos. It would have been nice to meet her and hear some South Caicos tales. But it was windy and way too long a row.

We did see an incredible site at anchor near Long Island. As we got back to the boat and the sun was setting, we saw a parade of rays – some huge – coming into the anchorage. It seemed they were all coming from offshore – perhaps to rest for the night. It was fun to watch these massive dark, graceful creatures move past the boat.

The next morning (today-Thursday) we pulled anchor to get to Grand Turk. It’s only about 21 nautical miles from way point to way point. The seas started out quite high – perhaps even some good 8 footers. It settled some as the morning went by. The winds were on the nose – but we put the main up to steady the boat. It’s a deep water trip(across Turks Island Passage), so fishing lines went in pretty quickly. We saw some flying fish – so were optimistic about catching something. We had a large pod of small sized dolphins playing with is for some time. It was fun to watch them leap out of the water at the bow – often times three or four at a time in unison. Then Michael spotted a whale spout. We got pretty close to the humpback – which stayed close to the surface and watched it for sometime as we got close to the island.

Fishermen were skunked. Chicken pulled out of the freezer, It took several tries to anchor amidst the reefs at the Front Street anchorage off Grand Turk. There are four sail boats at anchor here as well as one very large motor yacht. Michael dove to check that the anchor was set as it’s getting windier.

There is a small turtle that we keep spotting working around the anchorage. Perhaps if the wind dies a bit we’ll get into the water and do some exploring. We are close enough to shore to row in – but will have to wait until the wind dies a bit.

In Puerto Rico we’ll deal with this motor one way or another. Perhaps a new anchor???