Friday, April 13, 2012

"...Three Days on a Boat...

...looking for some peace and quiet, maybe keep her dreams afloat." - Jimmy Buffett, Fins

WELL...in reality, we sailed back from Antigua, and it took us more than three days, as you know. But this very last passage, well, it was indeed three days! With another nice weather window beginning to open, we decided to keep moving. While it would have been nice to relax a little and enjoy revisiting old haunts here on Provo, when a weather opportunity beckons, you don't ignore it. The best cruising is when it's gorgeous out! After heartfelt goodbyes to all in South Side Marina, we cleared out and headed west from the Turks & Caicos. Starting out, we had the northeast winds pushing against our starboard quarter, with seas slightly abeam, so enjoyed rather nice conditions. With the winds forecast to clock around behind us, it promised to become even better, so we kept to the course as we plotted it and simply enjoyed being out there! 

Our chart plotter, showing our progress from the Turks and Caicos
as we headed south below the Bahamas. 
Another gorgeous sunset at sea 
Our course was basically due west and then south through the Old Bahama Channel between Cuba and the Bahamas; we wanted to ride the weather window as far as we could without stopping. Equinox was in her stride as we ambled along, and after passing the elusive Hogsty Reef during a magnificent night watch, Wednesday morning arrived with gorgeous conditions as well. This IS what cruising is all about: blue skies, calm blue seas, aboard a well-found boat! Glorious!

All shades of blue ahead!
Our course, as we made our way north in the Santaren Channel
between Cuba and the Bahamas
We took turns at the helm as usual, trailed some fishing lines and feasted on the good weather. We were well settled in by then, familiar with the rhythms found during passage: the movement of the boat on the seas, the faint rumble of the engines moving you along, the turns at the helm on watch, the turns in the galley, the time spent enjoying the view and the seas. We did encounter some current against us as the tide moved off the Bahamas Bank, along with the resulting snappish waves that came from current opposing the wind, but seas were so quiet overall that it was merely an annoyance. It soon passed.

I find passages allow time for reflection, introspection, and time to simply be. I appreciate being in the now: the sheer joy of being there, in that sliver of space at that specific moment in time. A moment that will never come again, and yet one that seems to last as it is savored. There is no intrusion of the land-based life, there's just the sky and the sea, the vivid cobalt color of the water, the salty white foam against Equinox's hull as she surges forward through the seas. So I soak it in, a moment alone, or perhaps shared by a seagull or cormorant sailing the skies as we push through the water. 

And so it continued, three days in a boat! Ron had a magical evening in the Gulf Stream during his night watch, when it was so preternaturally calm that the seas reflected the stars above, in water clear as a mirror. He very nearly woke me up to see it, it was just so spectacular....he'd never seen anything like it in the Gulf Stream before! (I admit, I probably wouldn't have appreciated being woken up either, but I'm sorry to have missed it nonetheless!) 

My watch was a bit more exciting, as the wee hours brought us to passing Port Everglades and the many ships coming and going from that busy port. The AIS was lit up like a Christmas tree, with all the signatures from the shipping containers, tugs and ships moving about. Vigilance is key, and I sure was grateful to have both the AIS and the radars helping me ident the lights of different vessels outside! 

Grand Central Station at sea
By mid-day on the third day, we were coming in through the St. Lucie Inlet and officially back in local waters. Landfall at Outrigger Harbour was shortly thereafter....and as always, a passage ended well is a cause for celebration! But this time, though.... our home-coming was a bittersweet moment. There was gratitude for the incredible journey, and sadness as well, knowing it was the end of our last passage aboard, and our last landfall. Our hearts are full.

Ron at the helm station starboard, me at the stern rail
ready with the lines as we backed into our slip.
Last landfall...there are no words.



Monday, April 9, 2012

Turks & Caicos: Old Home Week


Well, it wasn't really a week, as we only stayed in the T&C a couple of days, but it was delightful to revisit this lovely island archipelago. After our magical passage, we arrived at Grand Turk bright and early on Sunday morning, and called on the VHF to inquire about clearing Customs. We had a very nice fellow on the radio who assisted in finding out if Customs was open, but he was extremely doubtful anyone could help us. We thought this quite strange...why wouldn't anyone be around to help us? True, it was Sunday and we knew we'd probably have to pay an overtime charge to clear in, but what was the big deal? Well...up popped an unexpected wrinkle in time, shall we say? A true peril of living aboard is that one forgets what day it is -- hence, the reason we have a "day clock" aboard which notes no time, just the days of the week. So while yes, we knew it was Sunday, we totally were ignorant of the fact that it was EASTER. Yep, a major holiday, and thus no matter what, we found that there would be NO customs clearance at Grand Turk! We were told that we might find a Customs officer available at Providenciales, if we were lucky....but no exploration of Grand Turk for us!   

While that threw us off a bit, we decided that we may as well head to Provo since the weather was so lovely. It was already too late to make it in concert with the high tide needed to get into South Side Marina, so as we headed back south we paused to take a dive mooring off Salt Cay for an hour or so, where we indulged in a great wall dive before heading off across the Columbus Passage towards the Caicos Bank. Again, a big part of living aboard is the ability to improvise! Plus, it was too pretty a day and we simply couldn't resist!

After a fairly comfortable passage across the Columbus Passage, winds picked up from the west and made crossing the Caicos Bank a bit choppy. Short, sassy waves were slapping the bow, and we had to endure that annoyance until just after dusk. Fortunately, having spent so much time here last year, we were very familiar with that area of the Bank, but it didn't ease our vigilance as the light waned. We moved in towards Cooper Jack Bay just after darkness fell, and anchored in the lee of the small islets lying offshore.

The next day we revisited South Side Marina, happy to be back. We had contacted Bob prior to our arrival, so he knew to expect us, and was there on the docks as we pulled in. As usual, we were warmly welcomed by the marina dogs, Effie and Gemma once we were tucked into the slip! It's always a good feeling to revisit one's favorite ports, and SSM was our home for several months last year. A few things had changed in the months since our stay, one of which was the new Customs fees for entry. It used to be that a stay of 7 days was allowed before a cruising permit was needed; those who wished to stay longer purchased the 3-month cruising permit that was the norm. Now, though...it costs $50 dollars just to clear in, and another $50 to clear out, regardless of length of stay. Coming in on the Monday after Easter? Still a holiday, so an additional $10 was needed. Ouch!

Nevertheless, we had a great stay. We did some provisioning at the IGA, and after tidying up the boat, chatted with the other folks currently in the marina. Later in the day, Ron brushed off the Caicos conch horn and announced the sunset gathering of folks under the marina cabana, where we relaxed with Bob and as well as enjoyed the camaraderie and company of other cruisers. Nice that some things DO stay the same! 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

DR to T&C: Magical Mystery Tour!

We awoke to our lovely environs here at the Puerto Bahia Samana marina at the Bannister, and were happy to be secure in our slip. It's always nice to wake up knowing the boat is tucked in safely when the weather is kicking up; the cabin is warm and the morning coffee is hot! With the winds piping along under overcast skies and in between intermittent rain showers, we used the blustery weather to our advantage for maintenance: main engine oil changes, scheduled Racor filter changes, water-maker filter changes and the like. We even changed out the holding tank vent filter (not a pleasant task to be sure, but a necessary one!). So, lots of work, but it was a day of tasks accomplished so we felt productive and happy!

We also had the pleasure of meeting another (Wisconsin!) cruising family off One World, Wes and Kim and their four kids. We enjoyed comparing hometown notes and getting acquainted -- they are just starting out on their sailing adventures, en route to destinations south. As is always the case, we had a good time! Later in the afternoon, we were happy to give them a tour of Equinox, and passed on a few tidbits of hopefully useful information regarding their road ahead. Oh, the places they'll go! We envy them -- knowing how fun it is to be heading out, with unknown adventures ahead! It makes it all the harder for us, since we are heading back. It's bittersweet when paths cross in the opposite directions.

But...back to Florida is where we are headed and where we will go. After our productive day in port, we were pleasantly surprised to awake the next morning to find the good weather forecast moving in ahead of schedule. After verification of the weather and some discussion of possible ports of arrival, we jumped on the opportunity to move on, so called customs to clear out and receive our despacho to leave the DR. 


Again, a much easier time of it than the last time! Everyone was pleasant and timely, there were no delays nor time wasted. It was a glorious day, and the cruise along the coast of the Dominican Republic en route to the Turks and Caicos was filled with sunshine and stunning coastal views. 
Puerto Bahia Marina behind us, with smooth seas ahead
The stunning Dominican Republic coastline captured our attention;
neither this photo above nor the one below do it justice.
Then started the Magical Mystery Passage! It was truly an amazingly lovely passage on a stretch of water that can be rough and treacherous; waters are wide open to the Atlantic to the north, with no real outs within easy range. When conditions are rough, you simply resign yourself to getting through it!  But Mother Nature was sweet that day, for we enjoyed glorious conditions!! Literally, 2' -3' seas with the wind slightly abaft, so we trailed fishing lines and reveled in the nice conditions. Not that the fish were impressed, for they ignored our lures entirely! But we still had our reward, for after enjoying the brilliant sunny skies and light winds, we were treated to a dramatic cloud-filled sunset that illuminated the horizon...I was glued to the views, as the changing colors were spectacular. 

The mystery aspect only applied in that you start to get very philosophical during the late-night watch,  looking out and marveling at the mysteries of the universe around you! My watch was simply serene as we passed the Mouchoir Bank and across the Mouchoir passage, with Equinox rocking atop a silver-glittered sea in the moonlight...lots of time to reflect and appreciate. Each moment when I thought one  particular beauty of clouds, water and moonlight unsurpassed, the next would arrive and leave me awed anew. The sea is a most magical place! And then the most gentle, pastel-colored dawn arrived....take a look for yourselves, from dusk until dawn:  
Just before sunset
The colors only deepened and became more vibrant:


The moon rise was just as beautiful, mysterious in black and white:
(Not bad for a little point & shoot camera!)
And then, just before the new dawn, came the moonset!  I didn't know which window to look out of from the pilothouse, as each view was so breath-taking! But what a moment: out on the gentle Atlantic, the only vessel there, seeing both views at once....priceless.
The setting moon, still  glittering on the water to the west
Dawn colors blazing in from the east
Like I said, a Magical Mystery Passage! 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dominican Republic Take II

Land Ho! The Dominican Republc on the horizon
Wow, what a difference a year makes. Usually there are many small differences, but for us, arriving in the DR this year was a 180ยบ turnabout from last year. We had an interesting time then....of course, the fact that the Samana, DR authorities were focused on stripping down a drug-laden boat at the public dock may have made the difference....just a guess!   Let's just say that last year, it was a rough, rather third-world introduction to how things are handled there. Every procedure from clearing in, to anchoring out was a bit of a hassle.

Thus...this year, a total, welcome change! We had it all in our favor: the weather, the location, the facilities, and timing! After last year, we had much debate on even going back to the DR, but we decided we would give Puerto Bahia Samana Marina at try. We had gorgeous conditions coming it, and it was a very welcome respite after 36 hours at sea, when we finally cleared the breakwater for the marina. Located about a mile past the harbor of Samana itself, the resort is quite new and has a spectacular setting, nestled in  beneath the jungle green hillside above. The marina channel is clearly marked with buoys and day-marks; an easy entry with a convenient fuel dock to starboard as you enter. We arrived mid-day, took on a bit of fuel, and were tucked into a slip before we knew it! From being met by gracious dockhands, to having Customs & Immigration aboard in no time, we were cleared in to the DR easily, without fuss or confusion, without dubious docking fees or demands -- er --"requests" for tips. What a treat!! 

In the main lobby of the Bannister Hotel
Puerto Bahia Samana is actually part of The Bannister Hotel, and it's truly first class. They have very attentive, welcoming staff, with a wide array of amenities from three different restaurants (casual and fine dining), two infinity pools, full-service marina amenities, tennis courts, and a fun playground for the younger ones. After clearing in, we happily explored the waterfront and ended up having a leisurely lunch outside on the long verandah overlooking the marina. Ron was quick to explore the other parts of the resort and before I knew it, he had scheduled us for an hour-long couples massage at the Spa at the resort in the late afternoon. (Told you it was a totally different experience than last year, now didn't I?) Precisely what the doctor ordered!! Yes --- I heartily  recommend it to anyone after making a long passage, even after an easy cruise as such as we had! After restoring vertical function to my body, I was able to wobble back to the boat quite happily, where we did nothing for a couple of hours before succumbing to sleep --- which I did for the next 12 hours. Bliss!

So yes....quite a welcome to the Dominican Republic!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Magical Mona

Looking back at Culebrita as we departed our mooring at dawn
The weather gods are smiling!! We had a comfortable weather window of following seas and light winds for the passage from Antigua to Culebra, Puerto Rico as you know....and the good weather just continues! While we wanted to stay and play in the sunshine -- talk about being torn --- we also wanted to keep moving, because such weather is also the absolute best time to be cruising!! (Our motto: Never cruise when the weather is marginal -- or, why be uncomfortable when you don't have to be?) SO ... having enjoyed our time diving at Culebrita, when we were gifted such phenomenal weather, we opted to move on!

Ron and I were up early and off at sun-up the next day, and we reveled in the incredible weather. It was a magical morning of barely any wind with the early dawn pastel colors breaking into blazing gold at daybreak, reflecting off the calm seas horizon to horizon.  Nature's beauty so brilliant and glorious --- it was everywhere at once, yet it felt like it was ours alone, being the solitary boat there, at that moment, at that instant of time. Truly breath-taking, and as I tried to soak it all in, I was so thankful to be out there, seeing it and experiencing it! 

And so the day continued in fine fashion. It's not often you can cruise the entire length of the north shore of Puerto Rico in such conditions!! It was splendid indeed!! And...as our speed and distance would have it, we crossed the Mona Passage in the the wee hours of the next morning on our approach to the Dominican Republic. Ah, yes, that infamous "thorny path"...!! The Mona is known for its strong, shifting currents and unpredictable waves. Why? The currents and waves are there, as the US Geological Survey office noted in a 2007 survey of the area, "because the Mona Passage is an area of shallow banks over which a vigorous exchange of waters takes place between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea". A scientific way of saying it's nature's washing machine, for the fickle piece of water often has waves that churn, punch and pummel vessels attempting to cross the area. Crossing the Mona is a rite of passage! We've done it four times now, every which way, with different conditions each time. But our caution and vigilance regarding the area never changed, I can tell you that!  

Our first time crossing the Mona was the roughest, with seas lumpy and seemingly from all directions as we went. It wasn't treacherous, just mostly uncomfortable, as we headed east along the north coasts of the Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico. The second time, we were headed back north, and cruised along the south side of Puerto Rico and north up through the Mona itself enroute to the northeastern part of DR -- a much easier time of it, but the waves again had no rhyme or rhythm. The third time was when we were heading south this past October, and cruised along the the north coast of DR and south down through the Mona to follow the south coast of PR  and the Mona was actually not bad at all. (It was the seas along the south coast of PR that were ugly.)  Finally, this last time of crossing the Mona, was a simple reverse course  from Puerto Rico west to DR. And the conditions? The crossing was on the calmest seas we've ever experienced there, with moonlight providing a twinkling, silver path. Definitely magical!!

Yes, every time crossing the Mona was different, and every time held its own challenges --- which is where the lure of cruising lies! Being able to meet those challenges, knowing that you and your spouse (or crew) can do it together by handling your boat well, charting a safe course through waters that are well known for its challenges -- priceless! Thus, it was deeply appreciated that this last time crossing the Mona was so enchanting. It felt as if it was a "thank you" from the sea, for simply being out there. For that, we are thankful, too.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Adios Antigua

As always, we've found departure bittersweet after the months spent in one place. Antigua was no different, but the happy anticipation of making a passage made up for it. And for once, all our departure preparations weren't in vain! Usually, the weather gods chuckle and delay your weather window or good weather arrives before you are ready. But, in this case, we timed things well. Saturday morning we cast off the mooring lines and headed out, happy to be moving on again. Equinox seemed just as happy to be underway again, enjoying the comfortable seas and great conditions!
Our last view of Antigua as we moved west
Weather was to our advantage, and we had a lovely ride, wih beamy, somewhat quartering/following seas that the stabilizers handled easily. We fished as we went, and simply enjoyed being out on the waters again in brilliant sunshine! We cruised past Nevis, St. Kitt's, Statia and Saba, and onward through the night and weather conditions improved as we went.
Nevis wearing her usual cloud hat
Coming up on Statia, also covered in clouds
Saba in the dusk, looking like Santa in his sleigh with his
cloud hat flying out behind him. Wrong time of year, I realize.
We cruised through the night with Karyn taking the first 6 hour watch 7-1am, and Ron taking the wee hours. It was a gorgeous smooth and easy night passage, skies studded with ghostly clouds and the seas around us reflecting the silver glitter of a waxing moon. As the moon rose, its reflection lit our path as we sliced through the seas....the epitome of peaceful and serene.  I reveled in it; the magic of a quiet night passage is profound, a time when you really feel at home, at one with on the sea. I so appreciated being able to enjoy it!


The day arrived bright and sunny, and soon we arrived in Culebra, Puerto Rico about 11:30am. We cleared in by phone, having a current CBP decal and our Local boater numbers (such a nice option!) but since we were coming in from another country, we still had to present ourselves to Customs/Homeland Security at the local airport. We tied up to the somewhat decrepit dinghy dock across the street from the El Batey restaurant, and followed the road about 10 minutes to the aeropuerto, where Customs is located. The sloping runway and surrounding steep hillsides make for some exciting landings and take-offs! Apparently, they call the incoming landing approach over the mountain "the slide"! We could see why; you wouldn't want to overshoot that runway!




CBP officer Gonzales was very nice and helpful, and cleared us in efficiently, before a cheerful warning about the impending masses of humanity that would soon be descending on the island with the upcoming Easter spring break. Masses of humanity? Er....not what we wanted to experience, so the info was welcome and we made a mental note to find a quieter anchorage before then! Back en route to Equinox, we made a well-deserved lunch stop at the Dinghy Dock, where Steven, the bartender, made us “welcome to Puerto Rico”. The tasty chicken and black bean burritos were even more welcome!

We’d dropped anchor amidst a plethora of sailboats anchored off Cayo Pirata in Ensenada Honda, knowing it was close to Customs in Dewey/Culebra. It’s a noisy anchorage though; between the barking dogs, crowing roosters and the planes taking off just overhead, you can’t get a moment’s peace! We did spend the night there, but weighed anchor by 0800 and were soon snug on a mooring by the smaller nature preserve island of Culebrita. The mooring was one put in by their Department of Natural Resouces – marked MC with a stripe -- but it was a hefty mooring and well-anchored with fairly new shackles and line. There was reef scattered about everywhere, and the waters delightfully clear. After snorkeling and swimming to the beach briefly, we made two dives there, exploring the deeper edges of the reef.


While we encountered no lobster, nor any large fish whatsoever, we did enjoy the sight of a squadron of 5 eagle rays that soared past, feeding, and encountered a couple of solitary turtles. Culebrita is a nature preserve, a nesting site for giant sea turtles and colonies of sea birds (terns, red-billed tropicbirds and boobies), and boasts the oldest lighthouse in the Caribbean, built in 1886. The reefs around it are numerous; during our dives, I noted a juvenile queen angelfish, many parrot fish, a scrawled filefish, a sharp-nose pufferfish, a few trumpet fish, a few peppermint crabs (one quite large), yellow grunts, blue tangs, damselfish, wrasses, and blennies. Juveniles aplenty hid among the many purple and green sea fans that adorned the coral, along with the largest flamingo tongue I’ve ever seen! 


The coral itself looked a bit stressed and hurricane damage is noticeable in spots; the eye of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 passed right over the eastern end of Puerto Rico with devastating force and ravaged Vieques, Culebra, and their reefs. In fact, more than 80 % of Culebra's structures were destroyed, and of the 300 boats that used Ensenada Honda as a "hurricane hole", 100 were totally destroyed. According to an in-depth survey by the US Geological Survey, the onshore environment of Culebrita and other nearby islands has totally recovered, and the reefs are showing signs of healthy regrowth as well. The study even suggested that "high-energy storms may be necessary for healthy growth of coral reef complexes in the same way fire is necessary for healthy forest growth". While the reefs may have been more spectacular in the past, it's still enjoyable and heartwarming to dive there, watching the eagle rays soar past!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Back to the Island!


Yes, we're back in Antigua, the land of the singing frogs, iridescent blue green-throated hummingbirds, and whispering palm trees fringing white beaches. And also ...the land of tropical downpours, which is currently what we're experiencing! The weather has been gray and overcast, definitely a bit unsettled, with gusty squalls sweeping through periodically. Some rains, like this one, are torrential white-outs but usuallly short-lived and often pass in just a few minutes. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the cool breeze on the aft deck, sheltered from the rains by the sunshade screens enclosing the cockpit. 

Ron and I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and as always, it was nice to be back aboard!! Equinox is looking good and we've spent the past couple of days getting some necessary  things done in between dodging the raindrops. We timed things right at The Epicurean,  stopping in when they had just re-stocked the fresh vegetables, so provisioning was a delight. We're making a concerted effort to use what we already have aboard, so with the fresh veggies, we'll be having some delicious gourmet meals in the next few weeks! We've also enjoyed reuniting with cruising friends here at the dock in Jolly Harbour; seeing familiar faces is always welcome!

And so it goes: we've been checking boat systems, water levels, fuel levels and such, inventorying supplies, stowing items and prepping for departure. A big treat this morning was having a diver come clean the hull right here in the slip; usually we do it ourselves when we're out on anchor. We're pretty meticulous about it, so the hull wasn't in bad shape, but having it done now not only saves us several hours of (disgusting) work, it will  allow us to time our departure better, so we can use the good weather to cruise rather than clean! 

Amid watching the weather and checking various marine forecasts for the Leewards, Caribbean sea and points north, we've been debating different return routes. We both would like to visit different ports and places we didn't have the chance to see previously...and there are still so many places to see! It's the usual struggle: the lure of the unknown versus the pleasure of seeing favorite spots....how to decide? Always hard to choose, but either way, we'll enjoy it! 


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Changing Course

Once more, my apologies for being incommunicado and off the grid, so to speak! My recent lack of blogging is not indicative of anything wrong, but rather, it's due to the fact that we're not aboard at the moment. Ron and I have been in the States the past few weeks, visiting with family and catching up with necessary doctor and dentist check-ups, some long-overdue appointments, dealing with various and sundry paperwork interspersed with visits to friends. And how we've enjoyed being with family! From time in Michigan with Karyn's sister Jennifer, brother-in-law Mark and new nephew Jack, to being with parents, to fun family time in Florida with Ally during her spring break, we've covered some ground! It was great seeing everyone -- we found it was just easier to get together stateside than try to coordinate flights across several time zones to Antigua, especially since time was so limited. Ron and I will return to Equinox in just a couple of days; happily, she's being looked after and cared for while we've been ashore.

To be honest, though, it's been a very eventful time while we've been here. We've gone through much deliberation, angst, discussion and uncertainty, but finally, have agreed on some major decisions. While there is never a right time to do a difficult thing, we are doing just that and, literally, changing our course. Rather than doing more cruising south and around the Caribbean as we originally envisioned, we will be heading north and west in the coming weeks, returning to Florida. And ... as hard and as heartbreaking as it was to decide, upon our return, we will be putting Equinox up for sale with Kadey-Krogen.

Startling, I realize... and obviously, it wasn't an easy choice. While we adore Equinox and have thoroughly enjoyed the amazing adventures we've shared while cruising, it's now time to stay closer to home, family and friends. Indeed, the only thing constant in life is change, and our lives are no exception; we just won't be moving at 8 knots any more! I'll continue to chronicle our journey as we make our way north, and hope you'll check in from time to time to see what adventures unfold. They always do!

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves" 

                                                            ~Anatole France


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sunrise, Sunset


No, I'm not going to start singing that nostalgic song from Fiddler On The Roof, never fear! Yet it's an apt post title since we've been enjoying some amazing sunsets here in Antigua! The interplay of the sunlight and clouds on the horizon make each sunset unique, so we make a point of pausing every day to watch and reflect. No matter where we are, they take my breath away. I thought I'd share some of the more spectacular moments.
If you look closely, you'll see the island of Redonda silhouetted by the clouds on the right. 
As seen from the far side of Falmouth Harbour, all cloud, shadow and light
Incredible layering of color and clouds
Fire raining out of the sky behind the boats

Friday, February 24, 2012

Psammophobia


I need to set the record straight. Why? Because upon hearing about our live-aboard lifestyle, some folks seem to immediately envision us as inveterate beach bums, soaking up the Caribbean sunshine without a care in the world. Of course, if you read our blog, you know that this isn’t true…we have many cares and concerns about Equinox, from the weather to maintenance to safety, from the trivial to the fun to the important. Indeed, there are many, many things we are vigilant about, but one thing probably has never entered your mind as something that we could possibly care about, something that is a constant evil with which we do battle. I refer to …. sand!

You see, sand is insidious. It is evil. It creeps aboard on tiny cat’s feet – er, our feet, actually -- and anyone else’s if they have been anywhere even remotely close to a beach! Truly, it's beautiful to behold: along a shoreline against turquoise waters, sand is lovely to admire indeed. But it needs to behave and should stay on the beach where it belongs!  While some sand is simple to brush off, we’ve discovered that Antiguan sand is, well, clingy. It refuses to be brushed off lightly, refuses to be ignored, and in some cases, it sticks like it’s glued on, becoming a sort of sand glitter decorating your legs. Not that I'm against beauty, but this kind of gilding and ornamentation I can do without.

While gorgeous adorning a seashore, sand is never pretty aboard a boat. Sand hides inside towels, in the tread of your boat shoes, between your toes, on the back of your calves, in the lining of your swimsuit, in your hair --- generally, sand hitches a ride from the beach wherever it can, in order to infiltrate, infest and attack elsewhere. Beware its destructive traits!! It clogs drains, and on floors, is gritty and abrasive  -- when underfoot, it tries to scar and ruin the beauty of our wood parquet sole aboard Equinox. Sand also has a penchant for getting in one's bedding, delighting in the ability to ruin a good night's sleep. It also has the amazing ability to multiply like rabbits, because no matter that you have just vacuumed and thought you were rid of sand, there is always more. Always!

Incredibly, there are websites devoted to sand. Why? People actually collect sand!! (Yes, on purpose -- who knew??) I found websites that catalogue all sorts of information about sand and sand collecting. One site had a list of sands from all over the world, although much to my amazement, the Caribbean was not mentioned, where there is sand aplenty! Want to know some "sand fun facts", like size? You can use the "Wentworth Article Size Classification for Sand" to determine whether your sand is very coarse or very fine, and there are distinctions as to color, composition, texture and morphology. If you're so interested, you can also find out whether your sand is mineral, biogenic or precipitated! Although, there is no classification on how annoying sand can be, which is a huge oversight, in my book. 

I learned that people who collect sand are known as psammophiles. Content to admire a gorgeous beach from aboard the boat, I'm certainly not one of them. And probably never will be, unless sand learns to behave and stay on the beach where it belongs. Psammophobes of the world, unite! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Harbour Hopping, Take II

The ruins of an old sugar mill on the Antiguan coast
Sorry for the delay in posting; we have been on the move, with another set of friends aboard for more cruising this week. Unfortunately, when moving about internet is always an unknown as to how reliable or fast it might be at the location where we end up anchoring! (But...a far cry from just a few years ago when wireless internet was practically non-existent when anchored out.) Still, without a ton of patience no blogging would ever get accomplished, since island internet isn't that great to start with: bandwidths quickly get clogged and speeds decrease exponentially. Yes, patience is a virtue! 

We have our friends Paul and Muriel aboard this week, so we've gone harbor hopping yet again. We went from Jolly Harbour to Five Islands Harbour to Carlisle Bay to Falmouth Harbour, indulging in all sorts of activities. We spent one day ashore, visiting to the public markets in St. John's: the fish market, the meat market, the many stands with mouth-watering vegetables. 
No chewing of gum, no indecent language...no feet on the walls? Didn't
think that really was an issue, but okay...
Buying fresh produce from Sharlene at the market
We provisioned with fresh vegetables for the week before we headed out cruising; later days we spent snorkeling, swimming, enjoying dinghy cruises, diving, and enjoying simply being in the sunshine. From dinners aboard over candlelight on the back cockpit to raucous fun ashore, we've had a great week! Plus, in Falmouth, we met up with our friends George and Kelly off s/v Earthling, where we enjoyed their company up on Shirley Heights for the Sunday evening sunset and steel band, before dinner at Cloggy’s. It’s been a social whirl the past few days! 
Sunset over the Caribbean from Five Islands Harbour
Muriel and Paul enjoying a dinghy cruise at sunset!
Today though, we finally made our way around the east side of Antigua, as winds were moderate in the morning and seas just 3'-5’ along the coast. Under a beautiful sunny sky, Equinox enjoyed an easy 2-hour cruise from Falmouth. Easing our way into the anchorage on the northwest side of Green Island, we found a large area of moorings available for use. We chose a nearly-new, all-chain mooring close to the island which we were happy to use for our stay. Talk about lovely: the anchorage is extremely protected, yet with a vista of Nonsuch Bay and the Atlantic that can’t be matched by many other places! How lucky we are to be here!
Eclipse to the left, Equinox in the middle, anchored in Nonsuch Bay
Looking east at the Atlantic. No land until Africa!
Green Island is situated at Antigua’s easternmost point, and serves as the southern gateway to stunning Nonsuch Bay. The first vessel to make its way into the bay was the Nonsuch in 1647, and consequently, gave the bay its name. Green Island is a very pretty place as well, being home to tropicbirds and finches to ospreys and pelicans. Its hillsides are covered with foliage from cacti, assorted palms, yuccas, acacia trees to century plants waving their tall blooms, the greenery blankets the island, swooping down to the sand at the water’s edge. A barrier reef protects the north side of the island, providing our very comfortable anchorage from which to gaze out over the turquoise waters of Nonsuch Bay and the cobalt waters of the Atlantic beyond the reef. We spent a good two hours walking about the island before snorkeling and swimming along the coastline reefs, which we followed up with a lovely dinner on the afterdeck and a starlight show of amazing proportions. The open bay and ocean vistas surrounded us!
Young century plants emerging amidst the foliage on Green Island
So I have to say...another great week aboard sharing a new island, experiencing a different culture with dear friends. This is why we cruise!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Perfect Rum Punch

Rum punch in the Caribbean is a given. Yet ... so many varieties!! The best that we have found so far, however, is what Antiguans call an ”old fashioned rum punch”. Trust me when I say we are not talking about the utterly bland and overly sweet pre-made mix concoction they throw at you aboard cruise ships or at schlocky tiki-themed places. I am talking about true, authentic rum punch!
Rum is a staple down here in the Caribbean; most islands have their own distillery, harking back to the days when sugar cane was king, and rum was made in simple pot stills on individual estates. Nowadays, in Antigua there is Cavalier Rum, and English Harbour Rum, both made by Antigua Distillery Limited. Antiguan rum is known for its lightness and rather elegant flavor, possibly due to the more arid climate here which is said to enhance the aging process. There is a lot of history and many more aspects to rum than you ever dreamed!! (For a full treatise on Caribbean rum and its many variations, check out the Ministry of Rum: www.ministryofrum.com! It's a great website!)
So, after sampling "old fashioned" rum punches at several different establishments, we had to ask...what is the Antiguan secret? Turns out it's no secret at all, and folks here were quick to give us the recipe. Supposedly it's said to be from the 1700s, and basically it's all about proportions:
  • One of Sour (lime juice)
  • Two of Sweet (simple syrup -- half water + half sugar, boiled & cooled)
  • Three of Strong (A fine aged Caribbean rum)
  • Four of Weak (Fresh spring water or a glassful of ice)
Then, while doing some research on different variations on a theme (looking for a sampling of rum punch recipes across the islands) I came across a poem that was printed in the NY Times in 1908, which verifies the above "recipe"! It describes the construction of a properly made “Planter’s Punch” from Jamaica, and is one of the more well-known original recipes of a good rum punch:
          PLANTER’S PUNCH
 (from the 1908 New York Times)

          This recipe I give to thee,
          Dear brother in the heat.

          Take two of sour (lime let it be)

          To one and a half of sweet,
          Of Old Jamaica pour three strong,
          And add four parts of weak.
          Then mix and drink.  I do no wrong —

          I know whereof I speak.

While this refers to Jamaican rum, the recipe is consistent as we heard it. Be sure to find a good aged rum, like the Antiguan-made English Harbor Rum, (rumored to be one of the finest blends of dark and light rum distilled in the Caribbean today) for a deeper rum flavor. Ron likes a light or white rum, and, definitely avoid any flavored version. Our version is as follows: 
  •  1 oz. simple syrup or crushed cane sugar (sweet)
  •  2 oz. FRESH squeezed lime juice (sour)
  •  3 oz. aged or white Rum (strong)
  •   4 oz. water or a glass full of ice (weak)
  •  Add Angostura Bitters & Grenadine for color and flavor.
Most important: top it off by dusting the drink with freshly grated nutmeg on top. Not only is this for taste, but some say it adds a bit of “punch” to the punch. But it's a lovely local touch!

We always use freshly-squeezed lime juice; happily, local lemons and limes are readily available in any of the many tiny superettes to the large public market in St. John’s. (We also make a light and frothy lemonade by mixing the freshly squeezed juice, and a bit of sugar with plain seltzer -- utterly delicious!) As far as the rum  punch goes, some folks here also mix in a dash of cranberry juice with the lemon juice to tweak the tartness a bit, and you can also add water as well, to weaken the punch, so to speak! Try your own version and pretend you’re in the Caribbean. Before long, you'll know how it goes: “A pirate walks into a bar…"
                  


Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Entertainment Committee Award!


Also known as adventures in anchoring! We’ve had our Florida friends, Vic and Jim, aboard this week so we’ve been on the move. From Mamora Bay we went coastal cruising back to Jolly Harbour, north to Five Islands Harbour, and then back south to Falmouth. We’ve shown them the sights from Nelson’s Dockyard to Shirley Heights to the public market in St. John’s, and sent them on the helicopter tour of Montserrat. We’ve indulged in our share of fabulous dining, from veggie omelets for breakfast to rack of lamb for dinner aboard Equinox, to the unbelievable ambience and great food at Sheer Rocks, to the incredible Italian fusion food at Sun Ra down in Falmouth. We’ve covered a lot of ground and had a great time!
One thing we’ve covered is a lot of anchoring, as well. After a noisy, surgy night on anchor in Falmouth, we decided to move in a bit closer towards the eastern shore to escape the swell that was creeping into the harbor. As we pulled anchor, a large 147’ sailing yacht, the Salperton, was leaving, so we thought we’d tuck into its place after it left. As it pulled anchor, it hauled up a massive rock, wedged tightly between its flukes and the shank. Despite much prying and pushing, it was not to be removed! The vessel moved out of the channel at the entrance to the harbour and spent a good half hour with crew clambering over the anchor pulpit and even down onto the anchor itself before the boulder was finally set free. Anchoring, even on a large yacht with crew, has its moments!!
The beautiful Salperton at anchor
We in turn, won the Entertainment Committee Award ourselves for attempts to anchor where Salperton had been. The boulder they pulled up should have been a clue (don’t you think??) because try as we might – and we did try mightily—we couldn’t get our anchor to set at all! We dropped it down several times – at least 5 different tries – but the anchor and chain merely rumbled and bounced through a rocky minefield without nary a bite, much less a set. How the Salperton managed to anchor there was a mystery, although perhaps they were really only fouled on that boulder, rather than truly set? In any event, we provided plenty of entertainment as we traipsed back and forth in vain attempts to anchor.
I was waiting for Captain Ron to run aground in frustration, but instead, we opted for a mooring. Falmouth has several large moorings for vessels up to 70’ and happily, one was open, so we snagged it. Per the info on the mooring, we called John Bentley, off MV Sea Pony (VHF 68) to see about mooring for the night. John said he’d come by the following morning to collect the fee, and in confirming our location, he asked, “Are you the little motorboat?” (Ouch!!) But, well…yes. Compared to the many mega-yachts in abundance here and the plethora of sailboats, we are indeed, the “little motorboat”! An award winning one, no less…!
Enjoy your travels! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Class Crustacea Cirripedia, Or What the Hell is Growing On Our Hull?!?


We cleaned our hull yesterday. We’ve done this before, and it’s usually a very easy job to swish and swipe along the waterline to remove any grime or hint of a mustache. Sometimes we’ll even snorkel or dive on the deeper parts of the hull to swab off the funny discoloration/ marine peach fuzz that can start to appear after a long while. We’re pretty good about doing it, and as we just had the bottom freshly painted this past September, the hull has stayed quite clean. It’s actually an easy job, and in clear Caribbean waters, one of the more fun chores.
However, while we were stateside in January for a couple of weeks, Equinox was safely berthed in a slip at Jolly Harbor. Unfortunately, the water clarity there is slim to non-existent due to its marshy, mangrove origins, and Equinox was sedentary enough that we noticed a weird grassy beard on the waterline, along with a scattering of tiny barnacles and white wormy things beginning to grow on our bottom, aft transom and underwater lights. We chose not to clean the hull there, so we waited until we were in slightly cleaner and clearer water, farther south in Falmouth and Mamora Bay. When we dove on the hull, we couldn’t believe how the barnacles had proliferated!!
On closer inspection…what the hell else was growing on our hull??? There were the typical whitish barnacles, some tiny little pips, others about the size of a dime, all over the place (for some reason, the port side was much worse that the starboard), and there were some other ones that were darker and larger, some with these large, feathery protrusions. Ugh!! The wormy encrustations were the hardest to remove, although a bit of vinegar along the water line and a lot of elbow grease did the trick there. Below the waterline, they had to be scraped off or brushed off with a very stiff bristle.
We used our scuba gear to dive on the bottom to thoroughly scrape off the barnacles. The little tiny ones were no issue, popping off easily like bits of chaff, but the larger ones that had feathery blooms coming off them were another story. When they were scraped off, they left some sort of “barnacle cement” that would eventually come off cleanly with a second tap or two with the scraper or more scrubbing…it made the job much more time consuming, but I didn’t want to leave anything behind in case it would give creatures easy purchase to re-attach themselves.
But….the worst part?? All sorts of bizarre and other-worldly creatures came out of them. Tiny little shrimp-like things, about the size of a grain of rice, would rain down as I scraped. ICK!! They grossed me out, I have to admit! Even though I was wearing a hood, I didn’t want these ugly little critters in my hair, my ears, my wet suit or elsewhere. Ick ick ick!! Even worse: when I came up after a good hour of scrubbing and scraping, I had these little barnacle shrimpy maggots all over my wet suit, and in the creases and flaps of my BC. GROSS!!!! Need I say that major rinsing and de-contaminating followed on the aft transom?!?
I can now see why divers are paid so much to clean hulls!! This time was disgusting! We never had this much sea-life on our hull before, but then, we were in colder, clearer waters farther north, where the creatures apparently exert less effort to hitch a ride, or at least take longer to do so. But you can bet we will be much more vigilant in the future to keep these warm water critters off Equinox! Whatever they are and wherever they came from, we are NOT having them on our hull if we can help it!
Gosh…the beauty of a clean hull. Who knew cruising would have such unexpected pleasures? Oh, the adventures we have!