Thursday, April 22, 2010

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

We had a great sail from Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands west, at first we thought, to the Bahamas. It was overcast in the beginning with light showers and limited visability. As a result we changed our plans to exit through the reefs and waited to take the well marked channel off the tip of Puerto Rico. We had enough wind to shut off the motor and sail. There was however some wind chop and the swell direction caused the boat to rock and roll some. Still later when the skies cleared and the full moon came out, it felt good to be underway again.
Not for long! First our back up computer stopped working. Our main computer had been on the fritz for weeks now. We use our computer for navigation. We have a chart plotter but with no charts on it (other than big land masses) and we have paper charts. So of course we could navigate the old fashioned way, on paper, and then transfer the coordinates to the chart plotter. We also have GPS coordinates from both the charts and our guide books, so we weren't in any danger.
But this would be a lot of work and concern going through the Bahamas. Our computer is also necessary for accessing email, especially our weather information. We decided we wanted to buy another computer. At this point we could either back track to Fajardo, go out of our way quite a bit to Boqueron (both in the PR), or less out of our way to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. We decided on the latter and entered the new GPS coordinate to our route.
Now two more problems emerged. Scott had been concerned about our alternator for some time. This charges the battery when the engine is running and the charge appeared low. Then it wasn't working at all. The auto pilot uses a lot of power when underway so he turned on the generator to charge the batteries. During the night it went off by itself twice. Then stopped.
We haven't done much hand steering other than in the Intercoastal or in tight situations, certainly not on long passages. I went to the wheel and Scott went in the engine room to see if he could figure out what was happening with the alternator. The upshot was that the batteries were registering too hot and the alternator was shutting down in response. They weren't too hot. So Scott disconnected the temperature sensor and we had power again. I was glad to turn AUTO.
So we had three repairs/purchases on our check list;alternator, generator and new computer. We decided to go into the Ocean World Marina just past Puerto Plata. Scott was visited at this point by a rare bout of depression. It started over the problems with Customs and Immigration and then the boat repairs. Recently it seems the boat has been falling apart. It is 20 years old now. And of course my recent health problems haven't helped. We're all getting old!
The weather helped. It was a beautiful day and second night underway. We did have to turn the engine on as the wind decreased but were still able to keep the sails up. We averaged 7.5 knots the whole way! So that helped our mood. And I was feeling better after a week of the medication. We approached the marina around 9 AM in bright sunshine with good instructions from the dockmaster. It's a tight entrance with crashing waves on either side. I'd be very nervous in bad weather here!
This is a very elaborate facility and expensive for this island - $1.64 a foot, but the personnel were very friendly and helpful. Roberto the dockmaster quickly helped Scott check into the country and marina, set up repairmen for right after lunch, and gave Scott pointers on buying a computer. The two repairmen were very friendly and efficient. We had blown the impeller on the generator by using it the same time as the engine (they share a sea water intake). That repair took a lot longer than expected as they blew the new one by turning on the generator while the sea cock was closed (we should have caught that but at this point weren't thinking too quickly due to lack of sleep), but they had a new one in quickly.
They decided to come back the next morning to look at the alternator. Then suddenly one of us noticed the bees. There were a lot of them flying outside the boat. Roberto was inside with us and cautioned us not to leave. He called an exterminator after looking at our stern - the whole swarm was there. Wow - that's a new one! It took only 15 minutes (and a few beers and cokes) for our hero to arrive. We were all able to leave the boat while he worked. The bees had completely covered our stern lights in a huge black pulsating ball.
The marina includes a casino, hotel, Dolphin Swim, Aquarium type Sea World show and of course, huge lovely pool. So we weren't suffering while we waited in the pool. Still it was a shock when we returned to see the huge mound of dead bees on and off our stern. We barely saw the sun set that night before we were in bed and asleep.
The next morning was lovely. We took a long walk and had a big breakfast. Our now workmen friends fixed the alternator with many aside jokes on terminator bees.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

St. John, St. Thomas, USVI and Culebra

After Sean and Courtney left I did a lot of laundry. In fact this was my second day at the Simpson Bay Marina doing laundry and both times it took all day. There are drop off laundries around but only one do it yourself location. It had two washers working and ONE dryer. The laundry opened at 8:30 and by that time a number of people were already lined up - with several loads of laundry each. The first time I went the power was off on the entire island and didn't go back on till 12 Noon. I needed clean sheets for our visitors so I just hunkered down and waited (and waited and waited...). The only consolation was a really nice woman from Australia who waited with me. The second time I brought my computer and caught up on email and blog entries.
We had been going over to the Turtle Pier for our internet service. There isn't any internet service available in the lagoon or out in the bay that you can sign up for online. This place has an unusual collection of parrots. They are beautiful but can make quite a racket. There are several photos here. Scott had his sewing machine out (he's the one who does the sewing as you can see from the photo here) to make a cover for our steering pedestal.
We had much more fun over on the French side one morning walking around Marigot and eating amazing croissants and drinking french coffee. Mmmm.... But soon the weather report looked great and we were off for an overnight passage to St. John, USVI. It was a text book trip; nice reach off the beam and 2-3 foot waves.
We had some really good friends waiting for us there, Hilary and Tony on "Miss Charlotte". We've had wonderful times with them in the past in Bonaire, Curacao and the Aves and we've missed them recently.
My mind was a bit on trying to schedule doctor visits and then coming medical procedures so I'm horrified now to discover I took almost no pictures during our time with them. Just one shot remains of the two of them waving good-bye from the stern of their beautiful Halbery Rassey so I've aslo included a photo from a year ago in Bonaire of them with Scott above left.
We had in fact, as always, a super time being with them. We had dinner on each other's boats and on shore at the Wahoo Bay Campground. We played a lot of great bridge, changing partners around. We spent one night anchored outside Cruz Bay and then moved to a much nicer mooring in St. Francis Bay. Hilary, Scott and I went diving twice and snorkeling once, all out at a small island off St. Francis Bay. Unfortunately for me the first time I wasn't able to submerge! My new wet suit Scott gave me for my birthday was much more buoyant than my last one. We didn't have extra weights with us, so I just waited in the dinghy. The second time all was well and it was a really beautiful dive, through and around some great rocks with nice coral and fish. The visability was great.
We also had a chance to visit our old friends Bill and Suzanne Osborn who have lived on St. John for many years and also have a home on Cape Cod. They invited us to their home for dinner and we stayed the night. Their good friends Laurie, Alex and daughter Maya joined us and it was an amazingly delicious meal. That's left to right Alex, Maya, Scott, Suzanne, Bill and Laurie. The other shot shows the view from their pool. It was my 65th birthday and a lovely celebration! It was really nice the next morning to sit and talk with them over a leisurely pancake breakfast.
Scott and I then sailed over to St. Thomas were we spent several days while I had some medical procedures (a separate blog entry) and it was a surprisingly comfortable anchorage in Charlotte Amalie off the Yacht Haven Marina. Every type of shopping is available here and there is public transportation by small vans. After everything was complete we filled up with diesel and water at the Yacht Haven and took off for Culebra on April 24.
Unexpectedly we found two boats we knew. We saw "Toujours" as we arrived and went over to their boat for drinks and then the next morning heard "Kayana" on the SSB with Chris Parker. Paul and Lynn (the last photo above) raced over in their dinghy and we were able to visit for awhile that morning. Paul is working on his American citizenship so they are staying in U.S. territory for the necessary time period.
On our first afternoon Scott and I dinghied ashore and tried to see Customs and Immigration to check out but they had closed up early. The next morning they came in late. Luckily Scott got a telephone number to call and so didn't go there until they arrived. So if you are in Culebra don't expect the officials to be there during office hours. Call first!
We finally pulled our anchor up after lunch and headed off for the long passage ahead. We had a good weather window and were hoping to go straight to the Bahamas - four nights off shore. More on what happened in the next blog entry!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Isles Forche and St. Bart's

We were up early as all of us were anxious to see new territory. As you can see from the picture on the top, Sean is always one of the first ones awake (even though Scott and I really try to be quiet making our coffee) as he slept in the salon. Courtney however, being in the v-berth with a door, was able to sleep in a bit. There was plenty of wind to sail and it was a lovely trip down the coast of St. Martin, across the open water passage and into the beautiful harbor of Iles Forchue. This is part of a Marine Park and although the island is privately owned, our guide book assured us we could explore it. The only sign of development was a very small wooden shack near the beach. Only a few stunted trees were scattered over the main island. It was mostly rock, low buses and plants, and small wild flowers. There are about ten moorings for free here but the occasional super yacht is allowed to anchor in the center. You can see the terrain behind this comparatively small one shown here above right. Until recently, again according to our guide, this island was overrun by goats. So many in fact that they'd eaten everything in sight. Well since that time someone has removed the goats and the plants are making a great comeback.
The snorkeling was really nice along the rocky ends of the bay and the hiking great all over the island. This was also a good place to explore by kyack as you can see from the shot of Sean and Courtney here above.
We spent two nights relaxing in this remote spot before continuing on to the totally different sophisticated island of St. Bart's. Les Voiles de Saint-Barth regatta was ongoing while we were there so the harbor was jambed with big yachts of all kinds. We could see several of the off shore races while we moored in Isles Forchue - big boats with lots of crew (see the photo of one below). The inner harbor was of course full so after a tour around we anchored just outside off one of the picturesque craggy rocky islets that are scattered around (see the photo of Scott Free anchored between two of them above right)
As soon as we could get the dinghy launched we were all carefully packed together trying to avoid the salt spray (Sean got the worst of it) as we slowly motored into town. This is a great place to walk around and gawk - beautiful boats, houses, restaurants, shops and people. We had read about "The Select" as the place to see and be seen on the island but were rather surprised to find it a very unassuming place. It had a small inside bar and mostly outside tables & chairs. The menu too was very simple; mostly various forms of hamburgers, fish (sticks!),fries, salads etc. The price wasn't too bad but nothing fancy here. Still it was busy and some people looked vaguely like models (or former models). Others were busy playing backgammon or chess. You ordered at the counter and picked up your food when called. Two photos are shown of it above here on the left and right.
After lunch we walked all around the harbor. Courtney and Sean were taking us out to dinner that night so they checked out all the possibilities as we went. Sean had a long talk with the bar tender in one place and made arrangements for later. Then we did some provisioning in the very elegant grocery (that's some of the boxes with our food in the dinghy with Sean and Courtney) and headed back.
Dinner that night was very special. We got all spiffied up and carefully motored into the harbor around 7 PM. We were able to tie up our dinghy right at the restaurant and our table, per Sean's arrangements, was specially set up right at the water for us. It was a magical spot and a fantastic dinner! The owner came over to talk to us and we lingered over dessert and coffee.
The next day we had planned to spend a night at the north end of the island but it looked crowded so we all opted to return to the Isle Forchue. Sean and Scott went diving off the north end of the island. Sean and I did our PADI Open Water Course in Bonaire several years before and he hadn't had an opportunity to dive since. Luckily my wet suit and equipment fit him! He really enjoyed trying this again.
There were only two of us in the harbor that night under a sky packed with stars. The only surface lights were their anchor light and ours. Breakfast too was lovely watching the sun rise over the craggy hills.
We've of course been dining really well on board as well as those few meals on shore. Sean and Courtney made us some memorable meals as well. Scott made a lot of fresh bread and Sean became a master at concocting Rum Punches! But our idyllic vacation was coming to a close all too soon. We had one more night in the Lagoon at St. Martin before they had to fly home. It was a sad to say farewell but we hope they are back again soon!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Up and Into the Volcano

We requested taxi driver Eddie from our previous visit to Saba - he's from one of the old families on the island. He was waiting for us on the dock early the next morning. We were all blurry eyed a bit due to the increasingly rough seas during the night. After the morning's weather report we knew conditions were deteriorating and we would have to leave by 1 PM. This unhappily would cut short our plans for the day. We would still climb the volcano but couldn't do more sightseeing and have lunch there.
The drive was beautiful and rather hair raising. Hair pin turns, a very narrow road that drops off a thousand feet straight down, all contributed to a carnival ride experience at times.
Eddie left us at the start of the trail and we were quickly off. Unlike the more barren hills near the sea we were now in the rain forest and jungle. Vegetation crowded up to the edge of the mostly concrete path or in most cases steps straight up. Up and back should take us three hours we were told, so we'd have a little time afterwards for seeing Windwardside, the small village near there. Eddie would pick us up at noon for the trip back.
The kids were off like a shot but I'm going to admit that I was comparitively slow. In fact I had a hard time. I've been having health problems and haven't been eating much. More on this in a separate blog later. The scenery however both distant and close up was spectacular. We didn't see the kids until the top of the mountain by which time they'd already explored the three different paths that lead to view points from the edge of the old crater.
Two covered benches allow for a civilized rest on the way up but there are lots of boulders for a quick stop. At the top the views are outstanding. You can judge this yourself in some of the photos here but take my word for it, the reality is much better. And, everything is so green and sparkling. Last time we did this hike it was more mysterious as there was fog which parted now and then to reveal the views but this time the air was crystal clear. Shadows from the few clouds created darker patches of soft blue on the ocean. We hated to leave the top but our chariot awaited below!
After a quick walk around the picturesque village (oh we wish we could have spent more time!) it was back to the boat. The wind and waves had increased considerably and our little dinghy managed to get us back (but not keep us dry). Now our problem was where to go. Or rather where we could go in any degree of comfort. We all wanted to head for St. Bart's or at least Iles Forchue and we started out pointed in that direction, but the wind, waves and current didn't agree. It was clear we'd be bashing up against all three and unable to use our sails if we went that direction. So we changed our heading reluctantly to port and went back to St. Martin. After one night there we were able to sail with a better angle up to the Isles Forchue - more to come in the next blog entry!