Thursday, November 30, 2006

Still at Christmas Cove.

November 30, 2006  Thursday
Still at Christmas Cove.

It has been a few days since we updated our log and we have already forgotten whatever we have done during those few days.  Guess that means we haven’t done much.

We did inflate the kayak and tried kayaking on a calm afternoon here in the anchorage.  That was a joke!  Bill has learned that if he continues to criticize the way Judy does something, then he gets to do it all by himself.  No matter how she paddled the kayak, Bill thought she was doing something wrong.  So she just held the paddle out of the water and let him handle maneuvering the kayak.  He got to do all the work and she got to enjoy just gliding along with no effort.  We haven’t tried the kayak again because the winds have picked up quite a bit.  Winds this strong would surely capsize that kayak, or at least blow it beyond our ability to control or paddle.

Snorkeling is better than we expected.  There are still thousands of black sea urchins in Christmas Cove; that hasn’t changed in 20 years.  There are also lots various kinds of rays.  Judy has seen 2 rays jump out of the water.  That is so strange to see.  Most of the coral is bleached and dead, but there are a few small spots of coral that still has color.  It does not compare with Bonaire.  Of course, we never seem to remember to bring the underwater digital camera with us when we snorkel; and once in the water neither of us is willing to take off the fins and climb back aboard to fetch the camera.  So – still no underwater photos.

Oh!  There are deer on St. James island.  Judy had seen them three times so Bill just assumed she was seeing goats or something.  Then he also saw them – for 3 afternoons in a row; so now he is willing to admit that they really are deer.  There are 3 of them that come down near the beach every afternoon about 4:30 – 5:00 as long as there aren’t a bunch of people around.  We tried to get photos of them, but they are too far away from where we are anchored.  If we took the dinghy closer then they probably would be frightened and wouldn’t come out.  They go to this particular big bush and eat leaves each day.  We cannot imagine how in the world deer got onto this island.  And what are they doing for fresh water?  There is no known source of fresh water on this island.  Really strange.  But they look pretty healthy, so there must be sufficient fresh water and food for them here.

On one of our trips across the channel to Independent Boat Yard we visited Budget Marina and purchased one of those suction-cup handles.  It sticks to the side of the hull so we can clean along the waterline and stay close to the boat.  We could also just hold onto a line cleated to the deck, but then you swing away from the boat and it makes cleaning difficult.  This little suction handle device works well.  We scraped off all the bits of marine growth that always seem to grow just at the waterline.  The bottom of the boat still looks clean, so the bottom paint is working well.  (Micron 66 for those who are considering new bottom paint in warm weather seas)

Someone asked what fishing tackle we use.  We use a Cuban Reel.  No reason to have a lot of fishing tackle taking up space.  It is just a reel of heavy line attached to a bungee cord.  We use a tandem lure where a yellow lure with a big hook chases a brown decoy lure that skips on top of the water.  We trail this about 70 meters behind the boat when we are sailing.  The bungee cord is placed either around a winch or around the throttle knob at the helm.  When a fish strikes, the bungee cord bounces the spool of line all around.  Then we don fishing gloves and pull in the line; gaff the fish; and haul it aboard.  Most of the cruisers we have met use similar arrangements.  Works just fine and doesn’t take up a lost of space.

Today we wanted to go over to Jost Van Dyke to Foxy’s for lunch.  But we just never got around to it.  Maybe tomorrow.  (It is getting easier and easier to have this attitude about almost everything)  Instead, we just sat around and watched the day boats bring snorkelers to this anchorage.  Also watched one charter boat get towed away back to St. Thomas, presumably back to the base for repairs.  Our entertainment for the day.  We call this HBO-W.  Home Boys on the Water.  Better entertainment than watching a television. 

One of the large catamaran day boats is rigged in the strangest manner.  It has 2 masts of even height, like a schooner.  Anyone ever heard of a cat-schooner?  We haven’t.  And it has an inner foresail.  And a weird boom for a furled mainsail; it just swings freely from side to side, like a self-tacking staysail.  And this huge catamaran is powered by a single little outboard engine that is placed beneath the bridge deck.

Of course, Bill’s favorite pastime is to identify the “best of show” on each day boat.  In case you can’t figure that out, it means the prettiest girl in the tiniest bikini on each boat.  Some boats definitely do not have a “best of show” aboard!  Gosh, we Americans are fat.  From the looks of most of these people, they must be from northern climates; as many of them are extremely pale.  But occasionally there is a true best of show who stands out from all the others.

Winds have been gusting to 30-35 for two days.  Supposedly the seas are 7-12 feet, but we haven’t been out of this anchorage to confirm that.  Maybe tomorrow we will actually go over to Foxy’s for lunch.  It would be strong winds on the nose, so we would motor there; but should have a fast sail back down here.  The winds have set up a lot of rolling here in the anchorage, so we are looking for a bit of diversion and a rollicking sail sounds nice.  We are hanging around this anchorage for several reasons.  One reason is that we just like it here; another reason is that we are waiting for several shipments of various things to be delivered to our mailing service on St. JohnCruz Bay is only 2 miles from here, so this is a great anchorage to hang around while waiting on mail/shipments.

Another Texas couple came over for drinks one evening, and we went to their boat for drinks another evening.  It is nice to visit a bit.   We have asked them to join us for the sail to Foxy’s tomorrow.  They haven’t been there.  Someone told them that Foxy’s was a “bad” place to go to, so they have avoided it since they arrived here last March.  We have no idea what anyone could possibly have against Foxy’s.  Foxy’s is known all over the world.  Cannot imagine what this person was warning them about.

Judy has cooked chili; maybe she will even cook cornbread to go with it for dinner.  Chili is not our usual fare in the tropics; but the wind has seemed cooler than usual, so it just seemed like the right thing to cook today.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christmas Cove

November 22, 2006  Wednesday
Christmas Cove, St. James Island, USVI

We went over to Cruz Bay today and officially cleared into the USVI.  We had obtained the required decal by applying online while in Bonaire last Friday, and the decal arrived at Trey’s house (our permanent mailing address) this morning.  We needed that decal number in order to clear in.  Supposedly, we should have been able to obtain this decal number online as soon as it was issued; but for some reason the Customs and Border Protection website will not allow us to log in with our browser.  We are using IE 7 and it is supposed to be supported by the CBP website, but it just doesn’t work for us.  We have confirmed that we enabled java scripting, but it just doesn’t work.  So it was fortunate that it arrived at Trey’s house just in time for us to clear in.  Now we are legal.

We absolutely love being anchored here in Christmas Cove.  Should do wonders for our budget for this month and maybe part of next month.  Free anchorage, free WiFi internet, and this is an uninhabited island so we won’t be spending any money ashore.  But we can take our dinghy across the channel a good little distance and catch a jitney bus to go anywhere on St. Thomas island for only $2 each.  Maybe we will shop for a television next week.  Every day at least a half dozen day charter catamarans visit Christmas Cove to bring tourists to snorkel.  So that provides us with a little entertainment and ever-changing people watching. 

There are also a bunch of little dinghies with steering helm consoles that bring people from the cruise ships in St. Thomas over here.   They remind Judy of “the smokers” in the old movie Waterworld; they way they look zooming out of the bay area around the point of St. Thomas island and then across the channel.  It is so funny to watch them following their leaders across the channel and into the anchorage, all wearing their bright orange lifejackets, two people per dinghy.  The leaders corral them up and tie all the dinghies together and then everyone gets into the water to snorkel for an hour.  Then they all head back across the channel – like little ducks following their mama.  The only sad part of this entrepreneurship is the damage that we are sure is happening to the coral and reefs in this little anchorage.  We haven’t snorkeled here yet but expect to find it nothing like it was back in the 1980s.

There are about ten other cruisers anchored here, but we haven’t met any of them yet.  No one seems to be socializing with one another.  Their dinghies have remained tied to their sterns and there has been no VHF radio traffic.  We aren’t used to this.  Everywhere else we have been the cruisers all talk and visit with one another.  Strange.

While in Cruz Bay this morning we stopped by a supermarket and were astounded by the choices of food.  We were both walking around gaping at the huge selection of name brands that we could actually recognize.  The only thing that kept us from buying too much stuff is that we had to carry our PFDs (like lifejackets) in our canvas bag, so that limited how much other stuff we could carry; thus limiting our shopping capacity.  The Coast Guard checks here very often to see that you are carrying the appropriate number of PFDs in your dinghy.  Can’t leave them in the dinghy or they would be stolen, so we have to carry them around with us.  One way to keep us from shopping too much!

November 23, 2006  Thursday, Thanksgiving Day

We enjoyed our first Thanksgiving Day since moving aboard.  It was just the two of us today.  We had hoped to see our kids pop up online today so we could chat or to talk with the grandkids using GoogleTalk, but we never saw them online.

We were entertained by the day charter boats bringing more tourists over to our anchorage to snorkel.  And a catamaran flying a French flag with six gay guys anchored in front of us and they were also entertaining to people watch.  One of the guys donned a chef hat and apron.  Apparently he was the cook while the other five guys lazed about on the boat all afternoon.

Judy cooked a mini-version Thanksgiving dinner.  We had rotisserie chicken that she had frozen back in Trinidad and a much-doctored Stovetop Stuffing that she baked with the chicken on top.  Served with doctored-up chicken gravy.  We had bought two miniature sweet potatoes when in Cruz Bay yesterday, so she also baked a very small sweet potato pudding.  Earlier we enjoyed a bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon with hardwood smoked salmon and cream cheese on various types crackers.  Great appetizers (lunch).

Just before sunset we took the dinghy around the anchorage to sight-see a bit.  We stopped and talked with two other boats of cruisers; and Bill being Bill, invited both of the couples over to our boat for drinks tomorrow at sunset.  Gotta be social.  It is much nicer when there are a few people around to socialize with.  Someone to talk to other than ourselves.

November 26, 2006  Sunday
Still at Christmas Cove

Haven’t moved; still like it here.  Have met another Texas couple anchored here in Christmas Cove.  Had them over for drinks one evening and they came by again today and visited for hours.  They are younger than us.  They bought their boat in the BVI and moved aboard in March, and have been in the BVI/USVI ever since.  The wife is from Dallas and has had no ocean or sea experience on a boat, so she has a lot of learning to do and is still adjusting to living on a boat.  Nice couple.

Yesterday we took the dinghy across the channel and over to Independent Boat Yard, where we had our haul-out last May.  We visited Budget Marine (so nice to see a real marine store again!!), and then walked across the road to the supermarket for a few fresh veggies.  We nearly ran over two turtles on our way over there.  Judy could see their little faces as they noticed us and then went dive, dive, dive as fast as possible.   It is so nice to see turtles again.  Good to know that some are still surviving.

The dinghy ride back was a little exciting, as the waves were beginning to build a bit in the afternoon winds.  But we didn’t get splashed too much.  Next time we might even try taking the dinghy over to Red Hook.

Bill went up the mast again today and replaced the anchor light (4th replacement since May 1st).  This light bulb is from a different store; hope it lasts longer than one or two days like the last four bulb did.  He also installed new tiny blocks for our new flag halyards (since the radar reflector took down our old ones during our passage here from Bonaire).  He also replaced the blocks on the dinghy davits.  The old ones were bent and made it difficult to pull the lines.  Guess that is all the boat maintenance for this week. 

Oh, Judy tabulated all the passages to date.  Since May 1st we have sailed a total of 1,668 nautical miles – and we are right back where we started!  Who would have guessed that we would be back here in only 7 months to start all over again.

Nothing much to report as we are just sitting here at anchor and enjoying people watching and pretty water and star gazing.  Maybe tomorrow we will get out our sea kayak and try that out.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Beating into 20 kts for 440 NM -- what fun!

November 21, 2006  Tuesday
Christmas Cove, St. James Island, USVI
18.18.629N; 64.49.987W                    Sailed 440NM

First, a few final thoughts about Bonaire.  It is by far the cleanest place we have ever visited.  You do not see even a cigarette butt on the streets.  The local people are nice and friendly.  The water is unbelievably clear and clean.  We would recommend Bonaire to anyone who has thoughts of visiting that area. 

Now, our passage from Bonaire to The Virgins:
Thousands upon thousands of gorgeous boat stars, a tiny sliver of moon, Milky Way so thick that it looked like a cloudy white ribbon draped across the sky – it was a great passage!  We were able to make the trip on one straight tack from the northwest tip of Bonaire to St. Croix on a course of 048, sailing the entire time with double or triple reefed mainsail, genoa and mizzen.  Winds were sustained 20 knots for the entire trip – except for a few 35 knot gales which we managed just fine.  Waves and swell were mostly only 6-8 feet, with the occasional 15-18 footer about every tenth wave.  The seawater splashing over the starboard side of the boat began to get pretty annoying.

The winds were consistent from 106 (ESE) all the way until 7:30 p.m. last night, when they clocked northerly by about 5 to 10 degrees – just enough that we had to motorsail about half of the night.  But we would have had to motorsail during that period regardless of wind direction because we dodged squall after squall.   We were close-hauled as tightly as possible for the entire trip up until that point; the needle nestled firmly in the bottom of the green indicator. 

The radar reflector broke loose and destroyed our flag halyards.  It was banging against the mast and probably chipped the paint, but that was during a gale and we weren’t about to go out on deck just to untangle and remove the radar reflector.  After the winds calmed back down to 20 knots, then Bill went on deck and retrieved the radar reflector without incident. 

The only other “issue” during this passage was that the water sensor in the front bilge went off 4 times.  Bill had installed this water sensor as soon as we moved onto the boat.  This forward bilge is part of a watertight compartment and does not flow to the sump bilge.  We wanted to know if any water intruded into the front part of the boat before it reached the level of the cabin sole.  Well, this little water sensor really works!  It is extremely loud and persistent.  Each time there was only a few tablespoons of water in the forward bilge; Bill solved the problem by packing the area with disposable baby diapers.  Now we need to find out where this tiny amount of water is entering from (two possibilities: the seals around the bow thruster or the through-hull for the depth sensor).   According to our Amel manuals, there is an adjustment for the bow thruster height when it is raised to seal; and we probably need to adjust this a tiny bit higher for a tighter seal.  We replaced the seals last May, so we know the seals are not worn.  BTW, the last two homes that we owned had wooden floors in the kitchen; and we used these same type water sensors under the kitchen sink areas.  Would recommend these sensors to anyone either in a boat or in a home with any type floors that could be damaged by water intrusion.

We reached St. Croix about 7:30 this morning, and we could have forced onward to Tortola.  But Judy was really tired of having her world tilted 25 degrees, so Bill agreed to change to an easier course (beam reach) and tilt the boat only 10-15 degrees; and we anchored here in the USVI at Christmas Cove at 2:30 p.m.  Trip total was 61.5 hours; 440 NM; average boat speed 7.15 knots.  Not bad for sailing against the wind.

We gave the deck and all the stainless steel a quick fresh water rinse with our extra long hose just before we reached St. James Island.  While doing this, we discovered two flying fish that Judy is saving in the freezer to use as bait the next time we trail a fishing line.  That explained the thumps that Judy heard last night during her watch from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.  We did not trail any fishing lines on this passage because neither of us wanted to deal with cleaning a fish.  It is great to have a large capacity desalinator watermaker so we can use water this way.  The boat was not the only thing coated in salt spray.  Our first showers since Saturday night were so, so nice in the air-conditioned comfort of our boat at anchor.  Bill turned on the air-conditioning as soon as the anchor was down.  We want to sleep in comfort tonight!

One thing that we learned from our first multiple day passage is what to do about food next time.  We need to have very small servings of bland foods ready to put into the microwave without any preparation required, no even mixing two things together.  Just put it into the microwave and eat single small serving from the same container.  Neither of us wanted to eat more than about four bites of anything at any one time.  Also, yogurt is a great food for passages.  Definitely need to bring more yogurt.  Also need to bring plain cookies and crackers, in individual serving packets.  Two cookies or crackers would be all that either of us would eat at any one time.  The motion drastically reduces your appetite.

Sailing to windward is not the most pleasant point of sail.  The passage would have been far more enjoyable if we had gone to Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic (beam reach), but we prefer to be in the USVI and the BVI for the next couple of months or so.  So we toughed it out and did the close-haul route. 

We paid a temporary import fee last January 24th or so which allows us to have our boat in BVI waters as much as we want for one year, instead of the normal time restriction.  So we plan to clear into the BVI with an anticipated clearance date of about January 24.  That doesn’t mean we will definitely stay in the BVI that long, but it at least gives us the option to do so if we choose.  We really want to spend months in the French islands before next hurricane season.

We have always liked Christmas Cove.  We think it is possible that this might have been our very first anchorage way back when we first started chartering boats down here in the 1980s.  We definitely remember that we anchored here on our final night of that first charter.  We also remember that we went on the left side of the rocks in the middle of the channel in front of Christmas Cove when headed north, which was the WRONG thing to do.  You should always pass on the right side of the rocks when headed north.  We are including a photo of a boat wrecked on these rocks (we did not take this photo).  Every years several boats are lost on these rocks when people try to pass on the wrong side.  We were very lucky that we did not go aground in that charter boat.

All in all, we are very glad to be back in this area for awhile.  We know this area so well that it is almost like coming home.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Batteries installed and we are sailing north

November 18, 2006  Saturday

Our batteries and both FedEx shipments finally arrived yesterday and were delivered to the marina fuel dock at 4:45 p.m.  We had to clear out with Customs prior to being allowed to receive this delivery in order to get out of paying the duty fees, and were supposed to leave Bonaire by 3:00 a.m. this morning.  We knew that wouldn’t happen.  But we also knew from talking to long term residents that no one would be checking to verify that we had left the country by 3:00 a.m.

We removed 1000 pounds of old batteries and then brought onboard and downstairs the 1078 pounds of new batteries.  Bill would remove an old battery and put it on the companionway step.  Then Judy would get it into the cockpit, up onto the cockpit seat, out of the cockpit onto the deck, and then go over the liferail and pick it up and move it to the spot on the fuel dock where the harbormaster told us to leave them.  People from Venezuela come here and pick up old batteries.  The delivery man handed each new battery over the liferail to Bill and Bill stacked them on the cockpit seat.  Then Judy would remove all the packaging and put them at the top of the companionway steps.  Bill would pick them up from there and man-handle them into the battery compartment in the hallway.  Our backs were both feeling this unusual exercise by the time we finished.

Everything went smoothly except that there was a middle support on the top of the battery compartment (which is the bottom of the passage berth bed).  This middle support would not clear the new batteries in two places.  These batteries were supposed to be the same size as our old batteries, including the terminal posts.  Not true.  The new ones were slightly taller at the terminal posts and this created a problem because the battery compartment top door would not close correctly, which meant that we would not be able to use that passage berth just when we are leaving on a 3-4 day passage.  Bill came up with a solution of simply cutting off part of the two spots of the middle support that was preventing the top to close correctly.  Thank goodness he has that reciprocating saw.  Worked like a charm.

Man!!! Are we glad to be finished with that job!

We aren’t really totally finished, but Bill can do the rest after we are in the Virgin Islands.  He still must disconnect the built-in regulator on the 175-amp alternator, reverse the polarity of the alternator, and install the new Balmar SmartCharger and temperature sensors.  Changing to the AGM batteries is a PITA.

Yesterday we realized that we did not have the decal/sticker that is required by Homeland Security to reenter US waters.  So we applied online.  The decal will be sent to Trey’s house and we will contact him via SSB email (Sailmail) to get that number when we approach the US waters.  We hope to make it to the BVI but the current, waves and winds might push us farther west to the USVI or to Puerto Rico.  So we may or may not need that decal number when we arrive.

This will be our first multiple day passage.   Judy grilled chicken breasts and made sure that we have plenty of easy to prepare and easy to eat meals and snacks.  Laundry is all done; boat is clean and everything picked up.  The dinghy is back in its sea home on the mizzen deck.  Bill has checked the engine and generator and everything else he could think of.  Jacklines are in place.  PFDs are hanging in the cockpit.  Route is entered into the computer and backed up on jump drive in case the main computer fails; then we can quickly have the laptop running the same route.  We will be checking in via SSB at 7:30 a.m. each day with S/V Sealoon and a few other cruisers that we know – sort of our own little cruiser safety net.

Here’s hoping that the weather holds until we reach the Virgins.  Predictions are favorable but there are also two cold fronts already approaching from the north – one near Dominican Republic and one near Bahamas.  And every day the trade winds are picking up a bit.  For those who don’t know the pattern, the trade winds change from E-ESE in the summer to N-ENE in the winter and blow much stronger.  We want the winds from the E-ESE to make this passage.  It will be most unpleasant if the winds switch to N-ENE, which could happen any day now.

So, we are all set to leave at 1:00 a.m. tonight.  Since it is already almost 8:00 p.m., it is time for us to try to get a few hours sleep before heading out of Bonaire.  Have positive thoughts for us to have a pleasant 3-4 day passage. 

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Received new batteries; now a big change in plans

November 12 -16, 2006   Sunday throughThursday

Sunday 12th :  Researched route to Cartagena; looks doable.  Sent email to insurance company about purchasing a rider for Colombian waters.  Dominoes with the fellow cruisers—Judy won with score of only 100. The closest score was 267.  Lowest score wins.  Then we enjoyed lobster tacos for dinner—expensive but delicious.

Monday 13th:  S/V Helen Louise left for Curacao.  They want us to buddy boat with them along the Colombian coast if we can get our batteries installed in time.  They must be in Cartagena by December 1st because their son is visiting and his flight home leaves from Cartagena.

Tuesday 14th:  We checked on our battery shipment from Miami through Am-car.  The shipment left Miami last Friday, supposedly on a ship bound direct to Bonaire.  This is a normal weekly ship route for Am-Car.  The shipment of batteries is not expected to arrive in Bonaire until Thursday.  Sure hope they clear Customs so we can get them Friday, but this is not likely.

Judy started PADI training this morning; she had read the book last week.  She passed first 3 written tests; did one confined water dive and performed about half of the required skills to complete the course.  Then she and the instructor and did one pleasure open water dive to 40 ft.   It was fabulous!   She explored over and around an old sunken wooden sailing ship; looked like something out of a Disney movie. There were lots of colorful fish and one very large emerald green eel with a very large mouth with teeth.   He kept opening his mouth widely toward Judy and the dive instructor, but he did not leave his little nook in the sunken ship.  There was a large patch of what appeared to be brown/black single strand sea plants in a patch of sand.  Each “plant” was about 6-8 inches tall.  Strange thing was that as Judy and the dive instructor would glide near them, these “plants” would retreat quickly back under the sand.  After surfacing the dive instructor told Judy that those were a different kind of small eel.  There is some weird stuff down there! This dive was a very interesting experience and enjoyable.

Then came the afternoon dive. 

First, the dive instructor wanted Judy to sit on the bottom underwater and put on her fins.  Well, that certainly was disastrous!  This was being attempted in ocean surge and fairly shallow water.  She could not stay seated even with the buoyancy vest completely empty; the surge kept moving her all over the place sideways and lifting her upwards.   She eventually did get the fins on her feet but only after becoming very annoyed and upset with the entire process and finding it more and more difficult to breathe through the regulator during this process.  (Try sitting straight-legged on the floor and putting on snorkel fins; and imagine also having on a buoyancy vest and air tank, etc. and fighting ocean surge --- This is not as easy as it sounds!)   The dive instructor next required Judy do a lot of snorkel/regulator exchanges underwater and she hated having the salt water in her mouth; then she began to feel like she couldn’t breathe even though her lungs were full of air (think this would qualify for hyperventilating).   He ignored her signals that she wanted to ascend and started down on the planned next open water dive; so Judy followed.  For about 30 feet down.  By that point Judy was finding it more and more difficult to breathe with the regulator and was getting very panicked.  She finally grabbed the leg of the instructor and signaled to him that she was surfacing.  She surfaced, with the instructor staying with her to force her to go slow enough.  After they exited the water Judy told him she would try it again tomorrow.  This is not what diving is supposed to be.   She also saw a white eel on this afternoon dive before she ended the dive early.  The marine life was pretty and interesting but not so much that it could make up for how panicked she felt about not being able to breathe.

We went to pot luck dinner with the other cruisers and enjoyed a nice evening of conversation.  We grilled two pork tenderloins as our dish to share, but one of them landed overboard because Judy didn’t bring a tray up fast enough when Bill removed the first tenderloin from the grill.  Guess a barracuda ate well tonight.

Also, we have decided that we are not going to attempt South Pacific next year.  We have not been able to obtain all the spares that we would want to have on hand for that long voyage.  Plus, we want to have more experience with this boat before venturing so far with just the two of us aboard.  So we are now thinking of doing the standard “Caribbean Circle” for the next year.  We have until February to make up our minds about this.  Then we must decide whether to head north from the San Blas Islands up to Guatemala and Belize or to head west through the canal.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Wednesday 15th:   Judy reported for her second day of PADI training – and her final day as it turned out.  She knew within minutes of entering the water that she was not going to calm down and enjoy this experience like she did yesterday morning.  That experience yesterday afternoon with trying to put on fins while sitting underwater in ocean surge and then switching back and forth from snorkel tube to regulator and getting mouthfuls of salt water was enough to turn Judy against this entire diving idea.  Today she felt like she could not breathe within a minute of getting underwater.  Just felt like her lungs were full of air and it would not go out.  Felt very panicky – just like when she was put into an MRI machine several years ago; very claustrophobic and couldn’t breathe.  So she ended this dive attempt immediately and told the instructor that this diving thing is just not worth the effort.  He said she “had” to get used to having salt water in her mouth.  She told him that she is old enough now that she doesn’t “have” to do anything.  Diving is supposed to be fun; this is not fun; she isn’t doing it.  She is supposed to go back tomorrow for a refund.  Thus ends Judy’s formal training diving expeditions.

The cruise ship CROWN PRINCESS docked here in Bonaire this morning and off-loaded 3100 passengers for the day.  You can only imagine what 3100 gawking cruise passengers do to a quiet little town like Kralendijk.  We were in town enjoying lunch at City Café when the sidewalks and streets began to fill with poorly dressed tourists.  So we ended our day in town and retreated to the comforts of our boat for the remainder of the day.  The local businesses and dive operators love having these cruise ships because it greatly increases their business, but it sure gets crowded on this island.

Scratch Cartagena and the San Blas Islands for the near future.  If our batteries arrive and clear Customs and get installed before the weather changes, then we are sailing straight to Puerto Rico instead.  Then we can have a leisurely trip down island and see everything that we missed when we had to hurry south so quickly last May.  We should be able to get whatever spares we want shipped to the Amel rep in Guadaloupe.  And this gives us much more time to relax and decide exactly where we want to go after the Caribbean – maybe Pacific, maybe Atlantic, maybe who knows.   Had we made this decision last week then we could have just waited until we were in Puerto Rico to buy batteries instead of being stuck here waiting for the ones that we have already paid for.  The weather is perfect for a passage from Bonaire to Puerto Rico right now.  We hope that the weather will hold longer.  If we continued with our plans to Cartagena and San Blas Islands, then we would be stuck there until April or May because of the winter weather.  The next opportunity to go northward from the extreme SW Caribbean is April or May.  It is either that or go NOW.  November is the last weather window to go north before the winter winds set in and make any northward passage impossible. 

Thursday 16th:  We attempted tracing our two FedEx shipments online this morning and learned that Bill’s prescription medicine is still in Puerto Rico (for several days now) and the Balmar smartcharge regulator is still in Curacao.  Both shipments left the US on the same day and should have been here in Bonaire yesterday.  So this afternoon we walked to Rocargo, the agent here in Bonaire both for Am-Car (the battery shipment) and for FedEx.  They said that all three shipments should arrive here in Bonaire this evening.  The shipments should clear Customs tomorrow morning and be available for us to pick up or have delivered to the marina sometime tomorrow afternoon.  We are supposed to pay 5% duty or post a Customs bond equal to 5% of the value of the shipments.  But if we clear out of Customs first and then have the shipments delivered to the marina and straight to our boat and then leave Bonaire immediately, then we are exempt from the 5% duty or Customs bond which would total several hundred dollars. 

So we are supposed to call Rocargo just before noon tomorrow and confirm that all three shipments have arrived.  If all three shipments are here then we will go to Customs and clear out; move the boat to a dock at the marina; and wait for the delivery.  We still have not found anyone to hire to help carry these heavy batteries down inside the boat and to haul away the old batteries.  Each battery weighs 78 pounds.  This will be quite a workout for both of us.

We have submitted a passage planning request to our weather service guy.  If we can get the batteries installed tomorrow and working correctly, and if the weather is still predicted to remain calm, then we might be sailing out of Bonaire early Saturday or Sunday enroute to Puerto Rico.  So if there aren’t any website updates for the next few days, that is why – we are sailing from the bottom of the Caribbean Sea to the top.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bonaire; ordered new batteries from Miami

November 8, 2006       to Nov 11

Well, let’s see; what did we do all week?  Bill spent a great deal of time ordering batteries which should arrive on Tuesday (we hope).  This was not a simple task.  Our batteries are 4 years old (this boat was built November 2002 and delivered across the Atlantic in January-February 2003), so we knew that the batteries would need to be replaced soon.  We didn’t realize that when they decided to weaken that it would happen so quickly.  We have 13 batteries--1 starting battery and 12 batteries wired into one 24volt house bank.  The old batteries are Delphi Freedom GRP31, which are sealed lead acid.  We very much wanted to replace with identical batteries which we understand are available in the US at Interstate.  But we could not locate any to be shipped down here; so we bought AGM batteries instead.  This caused a lot of headaches.

Bill researched and got very annoyed with dropped phone calls and non-working Skype and people who did not answer emails in a timely manner.  Our 175 amp alternator has a built-in regulator.  Bill now must take it apart and disable/remove that regulator and replace it with another type regulator, which we also had to order and hope will arrive next week.  We really, really hope that there won’t be a delay in Bonaire Customs. 

As everyone knows, batteries are heavy.   This is something that we would happily pay someone else to do.  The old batteries must be removed from beneath the hallway passage berth and brought upstairs and onto the marina dock.  Then the 13 new batteries must be moved from the dock, over the liferail, into the cockpit, down the companionway, around the steps and down the hallway, and then installed beneath the passage berth.  Each battery weighs about 70 pounds; you can do the math.  Our old backs will be hurting if we must do this all by ourselves.  So we truly hope that the marina harbormaster can find someone for us to hire for this job.

On Sunday we played Mexican Train dominoes at the marina restaurant; Judy managed third place this time.  It was a good way to meet many of the cruisers here in Bonaire.  We went out to dinner to a Brazilian restaurant that served what was supposed to be beef fajitas and chicken enchiladas.  One tip to anyone from Texas who visits Bonaire:  don’t try the local fajitas or enchiladas.  Taste okay, but don’t remotely resemble real fajitas or enchiladas.

Monday Judy walked into a dentist office and they agreed to see her that afternoon.  A porcelain filling had started to deteriorate several weeks ago; the tooth didn’t hurt but she didn’t want to chance having it start hurting is a more remote location.  Turns out that there were actually two porcelain fillings which had broken.  The dentist repaired both porcelain fillings, checked all the teeth, and did x-rays; all for only $192 USD.  That is a fraction of what our dentist in Houston would have charged.  Judy also went into a local pharmacy and learned that she could purchase her Premarin and thyroid hormones without having to go to a local doctor for a script.  They just wanted to see the prescription bottles from the US to confirm the dosage.  Judy bought a one-year supply of both drugs for less than what she paid for a 90-day supply back in Houston.  So now she is set on her scripts for another year.

Tuesday was a banner day – we found 4 pieces of yellow squash at the supermarket!  First time we have seen summer squash since St. Thomas.  A taste of home.  Also found plain tortilla chips (like Doritos).  YUMMMM!  Haven’t been able to buy these for many months.  There were 3 large bags on the store shelf, so Judy bought all of them.  Only people who have not been able to buy “normal” foods can understand how happy these 2 simple foods made us that day.  Tuesday night was the cruisers’ pot luck dinner.  Met more nice people.  One couple from Holland are moving to New Zealand with their 2 small children.  They sailed here from The Netherlands and had planned to sail all the way to New Zealand, but their children are extremely active and they have decided that a long Pacific passage would be terrible with the kids.  So now they plan to sell their boat in Curacao and fly to New Zealand.  They do not have jobs in NZ yet; but he is a physician and she is a veterinarian, so that gives them plenty of points for immigration.  Brave young couple to move their family to an unknown country, sight unseen.  They hated the crowded conditions in Europe and want to live in a more sparsely populated area.  New Zealand should be perfect for them.

Wednesday was the day for queen sightings.  Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands visited Bonaire this week.  We were in town to visit the post office, which was closed because the queen was in town.  So we walked over to the area where she was to greet the local people.  She arrived in a bus accompanied by an entourage and another bus load of media.  She was wearing the typical queen hat – bright yellow and big.  The local elementary children sang a few songs for her.  She was shaking hands with the locals when we walked away.  Later that night we went back to town and were sitting on the seawall eating ice cream cones when the bus drove by again – with the queen sitting directly behind the bus driver.  Two queen sightings in one day. 

There were also some warships patrolling around Bonaire; probably because of the queen’s visit.  The locals said that Chavez has made some statements implying that Bonaire really belongs to Venezuela; so maybe this visit and the warships were Netherlands’ way of saying that Chavez might want to shut up.

On Thursday we went to the Immigration office to request that our visa be extended another 2 weeks.  As our luck would have it, the Immigration office was closed on Thursday afternoons.  So we went back to the Police station where we cleared in last Saturday.  The police officer said that he would send Immigration a note that we won’t be leaving until as late as November 25.  We hope that this won’t cause us a problem we try to clear out of Bonaire.  Our paperwork says that we are supposed to leave here on November 14, but now we must wait for delivery and installation of our batteries and regulator.  The sailing guides say that the officials here in Bonaire are very understanding and nice.  Sure hope that holds true when it is time to clear out.

We walked around a lot on Thursday.  Budget Marine didn’t have much in stock, but we did finally find some 5-gallon jerry cans for diesel.  We have been looking for these for several months.  Would never have thought that something so common would be so difficult to find down here.  The cans we bought are supposed to be for kerosene, but they will work fine for diesel and are the right size to fit down in our port side deck locker. 

We snorkeled off our boat this afternoon.  There is a small reef nearby and it was lovely.  There was a large variety of colorful fish and actually living coral.  We forgot to bring the underwater camera. 

On Friday Bill was still working on getting our battery and regulator ordering problems sorted out.  He finally obtained enough information to know what regulator we needed to order, and was able to order it online to be shipped direct to Bonaire via FedEx Priority.  They said they would ship it today, so we hope to receive it one day next week.

Saw a turtle next to our boat this morning!  This is the first turtle that we have seen since moving aboard May 1st.  We used to see turtles frequently up in the BVI, but haven’t seen any in more than 6 months.  The turtle population is reduced greatly throughout the entire Caribbean.

Late Friday afternoon at least a dozen small kids sailed by our boat.  Some of these kids looked to be as young as 5 years old; the oldest appeared to be maybe 9 years old.   They are learning the right way – alone in small boats with no engines.  They all seemed to handle their boats quite well. 

Today Bill helped fix a computer for another cruiser.  We again walked around town and ate KFC for lunch.  We have done a lot of walking since arriving in Bonaire.  Pretty much a quiet day. 

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Los Aves and on to Bonaire

November 1, 2006 Wednesday
Isla Sur, Aves de Barlovento, VZ        Sailed 45 NM, 7.25 hours, average 6.21 kts
11.56.711N, 67.26.393W

Anchor was up at 6:00 this morning so that we could complete the 45 mile passage and arrive here at our first stop in Las Aves about 1:00 p.m.  This area is full of coral heads and the entries to the anchorages are a little tricky, so you want to arrive here with the sun full overhead.  This enables you to see the shallow spots and reef and coral heads. 

Passage here was again uneventful; had to motor most of the way because what little wind there was happened to be directly on our stern.  There were 6-8 foot following seas.  A very pleasant passage considering that there was so little wind.  We thought about putting out double headsails, but decided that it wasn’t worth the effort of dealing with the two poles.  So we just motored.  We certainly aren’t purists when it comes to sailing.  If the wind won’t push us along at least 6 knots, then we turn on the engine.

We saw two freighter ships today; first ones we have seen since we worked our way through 17 freighters when we left Puerto La Cruz.   There is a lot of freighter traffic in that area picking up crude oil, so we have been a little surprised that we haven’t seen any of those freighters since leaving that area.  Guess most of them head back across the Atlantic rather than through the Panama Canal.  If they were going through Panama then we should see them as the places we have been during the past week are on that route.

After it cools down this afternoon we will take the dinghy and explore this area.   There are supposed to be thousands of red-footed boobies living on these tiny islands.  Birds don’t particularly interest either one of us, but it gives us something to look do.

November 2, 2006      Thursday
Isla Palmeras, Aves de Sotavento      Sailed 24 NM
12.01.2378N, 067.41.0207W

This morning we took the dinghy into the mangroves and explored that area of Aves de Barlovento.  There are indeed thousands upon thousands of red-footed boobies living in the mangroves.  They showed absolutely no fear of us and let us approach very closely in our dinghy.  None of them took flight as we neared except when we got too close to what appeared to be baby birds.  These “baby” birds were coated in pure white fuzzy feathers and had a black beak instead of the blue beaks of the adults, but these “babies” were about the same physical size as the adult boobies.  We know nothing about birds, but all this was interesting and we are glad that we ventured into their territory for a short sight-seeing trip.

A fishing boat anchored next to us just as we were pulling anchor to leave our first stop in the Aves.  This area is mostly reefs with only a few tiny islands, and there were only three boats including us.  Each of us anchored well away from the others, so it was like having a bit of paradise all to yourself.

We took the long way to our second stop in the Aves, simply because the sailing was so great.  So we went from the south side of the Aves de Barlovento anchorage and entered from the north side of the Aves de Sortavento.  It was a beautiful sail.

November 3, 2006   Friday
Haven’t moved.

We decided to stay another day and make the passage to Bonaire on Saturday.  It is very peaceful here and we are the only boat present.  This time we truly do have a piece of paradise all to ourselves, at least for the moment.

We took the dinghy and explored around a bit.  Not much to see; there was a tiny shrine on the next island over from where we are anchored.  Then we decided to haul anchor and move an even prettier spot where we could swim off the boat in 15 feet of crystal clear water.  Bill snorkeled over the nearby reef.  Judy had too much sun during our passage yesterday, so she opted not to snorkel today.  Late in the afternoon another boat arrived, one we had seen back at Cayo Herradura.  We don’t know them.

Just before sunset we set up our downwind poles because the passage to Bonaire tomorrow should be entirely downwind.  Henri Amel designed these marvelous articulating poles for downwind sailing.  They are much easier to handle than a regular spinnaker pole, and they fold down and clip to the inside of the liferail when not in use.  We can use one of these poles to hold the genoa out so that we can sail downwind in winds up to 20 knots.  We can also use our forward ballooner on the opposite side and have two headsails, one on either side, if the wind is directly behind us.  If the winds increase to more than 20 knots, then we can furl both sails by the touch of a button within 15 seconds.  This is a really cool design!

Also just before sunset another boat arrived so we no longer have this piece of paradise all to ourselves; knew this wouldn’t last (sigh).  Glad we moved to this different anchorage so we are at least well separated from them.  We last saw this boat in Cayo Herradura, but we don’t know them.

November 4, 2006   Saturday
Kralendijk, Bonaire                  Sailed 43 NM
12.08.903N, 068.16.68W

Bill was awake by 6:00 a.m. and decided that we just had to leave right away; not sure exactly why.  It was a downwind sail for the entire 43 miles, just as predicted.  Got to love these weather faxes and weather predictions that we receive via SSB email daily.  Chris Parker’s predictions were spot-on today for our part of the Caribbean.

We poled out the genoa on the port side and the mizzen on the starboard side.  We did not use the mainsail for most of the trip.  The wind was about 10 degrees off the starboard stern instead of directly behind us, so we didn’t try flying the ballooner too.  Actually, Judy was just being lazy and didn’t want to bother with it.  That sail would probably have worked just fine with the wind at that point, but we were doing 6 knots boat speed in only 8-10 knots of wind; and that was fast enough for this short little 43 mile passage.  Why go to the trouble of digging the ballooner out of the sail locker and unpacking it, flying it for only 3 hours and then having to repack it again.  Like stated, Judy was just being lazy.

Bonaire still exports a lot of salt.  The southern half of the island is totally flat and full of salt.  The wind on the western side of that portion is at least 8 knots stronger than on the eastern side of the island; land breeze is created by the heat of so much salt.  There are huge mounds of this salt piled near a conveyor belt system that extends a short way out from the shore.  The water is so deep right up to the edge of the island that ships can pull right alongside this conveyor and the salt is loaded directly into the ship.  Neat.  They have these tall bright orange obelisks in several places on the southern side of the island.  In the old days they would fly different colored flags on top of these obelisks to let the anchored ships know which one should next approach the conveyor.  Don’t think these obelisks are still in use for this purpose since all ships have radios these days, but these bright orange obelisks are still in place.

Chuck from S/V Helen Louise saw us arrive and jumped into his dinghy and assisted with our mooring lines.  That was a huge help!  You must pick up two mooring balls at the bow here in Bonaire instead of the normal one ball.  So having someone in a dinghy to hand up the mooring ball pennant or to run our bridle lines through the pennant eyes was a huge help.  We are moored next to a woman who has a local reputation of being very difficult.  Her boat looks like it hasn’t moved in years.  She told us when we got on this mooring that she does not have a working engine and will be running a very loud generator that is placed on top of her deck.  She said she will be running this generator for hours tomorrow.  Maybe we will run our generator at the same time and do our laundry and enjoy air conditioning and stay closed up inside rather than have our boat open and listen to her noise.  Chuck said that another boat moored just past S/V Helen Louise will be leaving on Tuesday; we will likely move to that mooring when it becomes vacant.

Bill is certain that our batteries are getting weak.  We hope to purchase new batteries here.  If they are not available here, then Curacao is our last hope.   Our batteries will be four years old next month, so it is time for them to be replaced.  We need thirteen GRP 31 Freedom batteries.  That will be our shopping on Monday morning.  Bill sent an email yesterday to a battery shop here in Bonaire asking if they had these batteries in stock; if they could be delivered to a marina; and if we could pay someone to install them.  The answer we received back via email was, “Bonaire is a very quiet place.”  Now just what that means, we have no idea.  Didn’t answer our questions at all.

We walked around town a bit after checking in with Customs and the Police Dept (Immigration is closed on weekends and the Police Dept handles clearing in).  During our walk we found Watta Burger and just had to stop for a burger.  Those readers from Texas will recognize the name semblance to a Texas burger chain named WhattaBurger.  So, of course, we just had to stop and have a burger.  These were definitely not like the WhattaBurgers back home.  Today’s special was a French style Watta Burger.  It had brie cheese and mushrooms and loads of lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, pickle and fresh sliced cucumber.  Different, but very good.  We also saw a Brazilian restaurant that served enchiladas.  Definitely will be going there while we are here in Bonaire.  Judy is having enchilada withdrawal; haven’t eaten any since we left Houston last April.

 Bonaire looks like a place we will enjoy.  Sailing on the west side of Bonaire is a sailor’s dream; lots of wind and totally calm waters.  Bill hopes to do a bit of diving this week.