Friday, December 12, 2008

BVI Day Seven: Great Harbor, Peter Island to Grand Rapids

(photos above and below) A few views of the islands out the plane window as we took off from St. Thomas.

Waiting in the lobby for the Ferry back to St. Thomas, and we have about an hour to kill, and with internet access, I'm finishing up our travelogue.

We awoke at dawn today around 6am, and finished our packing and cleaning up. Washed our neglected hair and ate up the last of our food (and what we couldn't finish got tossed in the garbage, or packed in the backpack for the ride home. We untied the mooring around 7 and motored across the channel towards Road Town Harbor to turn in the boat. We may have probably been able to sail on a beam reach, but for the short distance, I thought I'd give Terri a break on line handling, and we really haven't used the engine much (I don't think we even used a quarter of a tank of diesel the whole trip). Pulled up to the dock without a hitch, tied up, unloaded, went through boat check out and we were done in about 15 minutes from the time we arrived. Our taxi was supposed to arrive at 9:30, but he got there early, and so far so good we are ahead of schedule.

Ferry ride to St. Thomas, taxi ride to the airport, then US Customs, then a flight to NY Kennedy, then on to Chicago, pick up our car from my brother's place, go get the boy, then a three hour drive home through the snow and we are home.

A wonderful time, will have to see how we can swing this again real soon.

UPDATE: As with all things, you plan the best you can, but ultimately, you just raise the sails, trim the sheets and hope the weather cooperates. Our flight from St. Thomas to Kennedy in NY had technical issues on take off, and technical issues upon arrival (they couldn't get the door open), so we ended up missing the only connection to Chicago from Kennedy. The airline put us in a cab for LaGuardia, and we ended up catching a 7:20 flight (delayed to nearly 10:15 by the time it eventually took off), and we arrived in Chicago around 10:30 local time, then after seeing what cab fare was going to run to get into town, we opted for the CTI train, taking the blue line, then the brown line over to my brother's place, where he picked us up in our trusty ole' VW. After a brief visit, we headed towards Keenan and picked him up and drove for home, eventually pulling into our place at 5:30 in the morning local time. Our one piece of checked luggage (mostly soggy summer clothing and some leftover foodstuffs) is still somewhere between NY and Chicago. Damn it's cold here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BVI Day Six: Cane Garden Bay, Tortola to Great Harbor, Peter Island

(map above) The map of our route on our last full day at the BVI. Not many photos taken on this last day. The camera was losing power, and we were spending more time dealing with the sails and with trying to work our way toward our destination against choppy seas and a strong channel current. Most of the afternoon was spent snorkeling around the bay on Peter Island, so not many photos got taken there either.

Arose early this morning and took a quick walk on the beach, hoping to find the restrooms open, but they didn't open until the 'cruise ship folks' showed up later in the day, so we untied and left the bay early today at 8 pm so we could do our morning constitutionals 'on the run' (our boat does not have a holding tank, and we have to dispose of materials 1/2 mile from shore). Our plan today was to sail around the west end of Tortola, then east again for Peter Island for our last night (across the bay from Road Town, where we have to deliver the boat on Friday morning).

The trip west to the point of Tortola was mostly motoring, since it was a following wind, similar to the day before, with large swells (although not quite as large as yesterday), and then once we turned the corner at the point, I had hoped to raise sail and make a nice easy beam reach to Peter (again, famous last words). Once we turned the corner, the wind grew in intensity, and the waves grew as well, mixing with the tight channel and the prevailing current to make forward motion very difficult. We ended up motor sailing for a good portion of the morning, working against the current, fighting 7-8 foot waves (of the 'Lake Michigan variety', very close together and choppy). Eventually, as we moved further into Sir Francis Drake Channel, the waves and wind chilled out a bit, and we were able to lose the engine, and sailed on a zig zag course towards our destination, of Great Harbor, on Peter Island.

(image above) not sure exactly when this photo was taken. I don't see sails up, so we must've been motoring, and I don't quite recognize the shorline, it may have been heading towards Peter Island after we doused the sails, or it may have been the last morning, heading towards Tortola.

Originally, we had hoped to snorkel over at Pelican Island and 'the Indians' where we had our first stop last Saturday, but the waves and wind were a bit too much for an easy landing there, so we decided to try some snorkelling in Great Harbor instead once we made our final stop around lunchtime.

We reached Peter Island around 1pm, and after lunch, we headed ashore to the beach for a beer and a little snorkelling around the ferry dock. Pretty impressive fish right there near shore, after we've been visiting all these 'unique locations' in search of good snorkelling grounds. Our first try was 'without flippers' thinking that it would be easier near shore, but after that proved difficult, we headed back to the boat and picked up the rest of the gear, and tried a few more beachfront areas nearby, and had probably the best snorkeling of the trip, at a nonedescript beach not 30 feet from our dinghy parked on shore. At our second stop, I saw a small shark, so made us curtail snorkeling for the rest of the evening (getting to be around 4ish). Not a big one, maybe about 3-4 ft long, but I didn't wait around to get exact measurements.

Our last sunset, as we sit around drinking our 'sundowners' and await the 'mooring ball guy' for our evening rent. Thinking of maybe going into shore for some key lime pie tonight. Tomorrow morning we return the boat at Road Town at 8am, and shortly thereafter catch the ferry and then the flight home. A great vacation. I don't want to go home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

BVI Day Five: Marina Cay to Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

(image above) View of our boat and anchorage at Marina Cay while we were wandering about the island in the morning, mailing our postcards.

(map above) Today's route, mostly on a 'Run' today with just the headsail, dealing with large 11 ft rolling swells.

Woke up to clear skies, but blustery conditions this morning. After listening to the weather reports, which called for rough seas and gusting winds from the east, to skip the 'Dogs' and head over instead to Guano Island on the north side of Tortola, where we had heard from a local that there was very good snorkeling, where you had to 'part the fish with your hands, they were so thick'. The passage to this island from our present location was a bit tricky. We had two options, either go north around Camano Island, which we thought might be a little hairy, or go west through a narrow passage, between Little Camano and Large Camano Island. The latter seemed to be more prudent considering the wind direction and the heavy seas predicted, but when we got there, the passage looked awful tight and shallow, but since this was the recommended passage by our charter company (a larger more inviting channel was on the other side of Little Camano, but we weren't insured for that channel). We kept a close watch on the depth sounder, and kept a safe distance from the rocks on either side, and it ended up being a safe and painless shortcut to Guano Island. However, once we reached the area north of Little Camano, the sea was running south unimpeded from the open Caribbean to the north, and we started experiencing the first of the 'ten to twelve foot waves' that were predicted for the area. Not quite as bad as six footers on Lake Michigan, as they are spaced out a bit more and take you longer to climb into and out of them, but awe inspiring nontheless for us 'lake sailors'.

(image above) Moored behind the rock at 'Monkey Point', and the swim we would make to get to shore, hoping for 'good snorkeling on the way, but were disappointed and physically wore out by time we got back to the boat.

We got to Guano Island, and the mooring at Monkey Point around 11, and the seas were still quite choppy and the wind still gusting, but we decided to brave it and tie up to a mooring ball and try snorkeling from the back of the sailboat, instead of using the dinghy (which has proven quite difficult and challenging to get back into). The swim to shore was a bit more than we expected, and we arrived at the beach quite winded and wore out and not looking forward to the swim back to the boat. Also, the water was very choppy and visibility below was minimal at best. No fishies today, although Terri claims to have seen a large school of tiny fish.

(image above) This picture does not do justice to how big these waves were today. The weather service on the vhf called them 10-11 ft waves, Biggest seas we've yet encountered, but overall, it wasn't nearly as frightening as we anticipated. To give you an idea of how large these swells were; we would occasionally pass another boat on today's sail, and the boat would often disappear into the troughs between the waves, leaving only the mast visible.

We sailed on a run, making several jibes on the way towards Cane Garden Bay on the north side of Tortola. The waves here were still of the ten to twelve feet variety, and made for a very interesting sail. We made pretty good time with only the headsail, passing Brewers Bay on the way (the beach we took a taxi to about a week ago) and arrived at our evening anchorage well before the usual time. A beautiful long beach, with several bars, restaurants and beach shops, and pounding surf. We got to enjoy the beach for about an hour, before a rain squall drove us back to the boat, and we spent the rest of the evening resting on deck, watching the sunset, and then, after dinner, took a moonlight stroll on the beach.

(image above) The sunset from Cane Garden Bay.

Tomorrow we hope to make it the rest of the way around Tortola to the west, and then stop at Peter Island for our last night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

BVI Day Four: Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda to Marina Cay

(map, right) A view of the convoluted route we took today, dealing with a sailing mishap. Not many photos of today's events, the long enjoyable time spent at the 'Baths' in the morning/afternoon were all without the camera, and we were too panicked in the afternoon during the 'mishap' to take many photos, and then, by the end of the day, we just wanted to get to an anchorage and enjoy what was left of our 25th anniversary. Not really sure how accurate the 'sailing' route is on the map, I think we were probably a lot further out in the channel than I have indicated, but we had other things on our minds at the moment.

Another rolling night at the mooring ball outside Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, and the morning dawned with cloudy, overcast, with sporatic rain and gusting breezes. We found the weather report on the VHF, and a high pressure system seems to have moved into the area for the rest of the week, promising heavier than usual winds, high seas, and intermittent rain squalls. We took our time getting up this morning, and eventually took the dinghy into the nearby marina to try and find some ice and pay for the previous evening's mooring ball charge. We picked up a few more provisions at the grocery store, along with the ice for our freezer, and just as we were loading everything into our dinghy, the skies opened up with a strong rain that continued until we reached the sailboat.

We decided to brave the 'iffy' conditions and motor down to either Fallen Jerusalem or the Baths to try our luck down there, maybe do some exploring ashore, or some more snorkeling. No one was at Fallen Jerusalem today, and no wonder, because the pass between the south end of Virgin Gorda and the out island was open to the ocean, and some incredible swells were rolling in, which made the passage quite exciting, but when we eventually got the mooring ball, the conditions looked too shaky to attempt tying up there for any length of time, so we aborted and headed back north for the Baths (which had several boats tied up there already at 10 in the morning). The weather seemed to be improving a little bit, the clouds breaking up and the sun starting to come out, but by the time we arrived at the Baths mooring area, the sky opened up yet again, and Terri had to climb to the bow to tie on in a drenching rain squall. We scurried below for some tea and a game of cribbage. After the game, we peeked outdoors, and saw that the sun had once again come out, and we prepared the dinghy to go ashore, along with our snorkeling gear (decided to travel light this time, and just do the trails in our bare feet - a smart decision).

The Baths were beautiful - a couple of beaches surrounded by piles of ginormous boulders with trails winding through, between and over them onto the next beach, and then out in the water, swarms of interesting and colorful reef fish swimming around the submerged rocks. We also found ourselves in the middle of a huge swarm of Germans on the trails through the boulder field, not sure where they all came from, perhaps from a cruise ship excursion, but several of the males of the species wore some interesting bathing attire (little 'penis pouches' on a sling some of them looked like - Tim dubbed them 'nut sacks').

After spending a couple hours hiking and snorkeling, and laying on the beach, we successfully re-entered our dinghy and set sail for Marina Cay on the opposite side of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, to our northeast, and what we hoped would be a nice easy beam reach sail, as the winds seemed to be favorable. Not to be however, as we hadn't yet had our daily 'excitement'.

The winds proved to be a bit more than I had anticipated, and grew stronger, along with stronger waves the further we got from shore. I was tooling along at a pretty good pace with just the headsail out, but got greedy and asked Terri to also set out the jib to perhaps give us just a little more speed. The jib proved to be a bit too much in the growing breezes, and when we were in the act of aborting our sail choices, we lost track of one of the jib sheets while furling the genoa, and it ended up in the water. Tim started the engine to try and gain some control over the situation, but should have gotten the sheet out of the water before hand, because it wasn't long before the engine conked out, and we found the port jib sheet wrapped around the propeller, the engine dead, the transmission stuck in forward, and us stuck out in heavy growing seas and difficult winds. At first, I had forgotten that we still had the main sail up, and was making plans for us to drift with the prevailing winds and try and phone for help (actually my first response, was 'maybe I could put on the snorkeling gear and try to free it myself?' which Terri smartly vetoed right out of the box). I eventually smartened up, and took stock of the actual situation and realized that I could still maneuver fairly well (if conditions didn't change drastically) with just the main sail, until help arrived (and when Terri called, they weren't sure how soon help COULD arrive). We were advised to avoid collisions, and try and circle around the same general area until a diver could come help us free the jib sheet from the propeller.

(image above) "Gun" prepares to go diving under our boat to cut loose our headsail sheet which had gotten wrapped around the propeller. After 2 hours of sailing back and forth without a motor, we found ourselves right back at the 'Baths' for our rescue.

After about an hour and forty five minutes later, and two or three passes back and forth in front of the Virgin Gorda sailing grounds we have been hovering around the past 24 hours, help arrived in the form of a young man with size 16 feet named "Gun", who helped bulldoze us towards shore and moor up at one of the 'Baths' mooring balls, and he went below with one of our kitchen knives and freed up the propellor. Very nice young man, and did a good job of corralling a pair of panicky sailing tourists. Brought us a new jib sheet (since he had to cut away a portion of the one we fouled), and also took our trash, which was very nice. We were back on our way to Marina Cay by around 4pm, and this time we played it safe and motored across (the seas were still quite high and rolly, but it wasn't too bad once we got in the lee of 'The Dogs' (a quintet of islands west of the northern half of Virgin Gorda).

(image above) Tied up to a mooring ball at the Marina Cay anchorage. The fuel dock and gift shop are visible on shore.

Marina Cay is a very cute little anchorage, featuring a tiny little islet, sourrounded by a large coral reef (which we hope to snorkel tomorrow). We found a nice restaurant ashore to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (surprised we made it this long). The restaurant was very nice, Terri had Red Snapper, and I had some Blackened Mahi Mahi, and we also each tried a rum shooter featured at the bar, and at the end of the meal, the restaurant was nice enough to give us a bottle of Zinfandel, in a baggie of ice for our celebration back on the boat. Unfortunately either our corkscrew is screwed up, or the bottle is, because we can't get it open.

(image above) motoring around in the dinghy at Marina Cay - time to go back to the boat and 'dress up for dinner'.

Tomorrow -- well, not sure. Perhaps the weather will dictate. Would like to go over and check out the 'Dogs', but they are an iffy anchorage.

Monday, December 8, 2008

BVI Day Three: Cooper, Salt Island to The Baths and Virgin Gorda

(image above) On the beach on Cooper Island in the morning, the 'queen of the beach' resting nearby.

A rolly night at the Cooper Island bay, once the sun went down and the nightly breezes began to blow, they switched around from the east to the northeast, and we were rockin' and rollin' all night long. Not all bad, though, because when you awaken at 3 am to check the boat your breath is taken away by the sheer number of stars up in the sky.

We woke bright and early, and headed up to the dock to see when the gift shop opened, because I broke my pair of sunglasses the previous afternoon, and the salt spray really bugs my eyes when we are underway. We took a quick dip in the bay, and played catch with the resident beach dog until we happened upon the proprieter of the dive shop, who sold me a pair of sunglasses and shot the breeze with us for a spell.

(map left) Our sailing route for the third day, motoring back to Salt Island, then tacking back and forth on the way to the Baths and Virgin Gorda.

Our first destination of the day, after breakfast, was to backtrack over to Salt Island, and try snorkeling again over that shipwreck. The seas were a bit more choppy than the day before due to the wind change, and when we got there, it took three passes at the mooring ball to successfully pick it up. (Terri got it each time, but had to drop it due to the wave action driving the boat out of range).

All the while we are making our passes, I was being careful to avoid a pair of scuba divers who were quite a distance out away from the usual 'diving area', verging on getting out into the channel between Salt Isl. and Dead Chest Isl. By the time we had successfully tied up to the mooring ball, I noticed that a dinghy had joined the pair of scuba divers and that there seemed to be some sort of commotion out there.

(image above) The rescue vessel eventually arrives to take one of the divers to the hospital.

I jumped into our dinghy to go out and see if I could lend a hand, as it was getting clearer that something was not quite right with the situation. I noticed as I approached the group, that one of the divers was getting frantic, and the person in the dinghy hadn't shut off his outboard engine (very dangerous with two divers in the water clinging to your boat), and he was having a hard time getting them into the boat. By the time I arrived by his side, he had the 'frantic guy' in the boat, and he was blue. Scary blue. Zombie blue. Foaming at the mouth and obviously in shock. I quick motored halfway back to Terri and shouted for her to call 911, then returned to the boat to help out. The guy in the dinghy left the remaining diver with me, and returned to the sailboat to try and get the guy some help, and I tried to get the remaining diver into my dinghy, and when that failed (he was a rather hefty fellow), we tried towing him back to his sailboat, but that wasn't working either, because I was worried about drowning him behind me, or chopping him up with my propeller. Thankfully, a couple of guys from another sailboat came by, one of them announcing he was a 'dive master', and helped get the guy out of the water (he wasn't as bad as his friend, but he was starting to look a little shaky). By the time we got back to their sailboat, them with the diver and me with the tank and gear (it didn't occur to me to try and take it off in order to get him into the boat - and man, that shit is heavy), the 'blue guy' had his color back, and was breathing, but still didn't look 100%. More helped showed up from a nearby commercial dive charter, with a gal who had some medical training and oxygen, and eventually the rescue boats arrived and the guy was whisked off to the hospital. Meanwhile, Terri was worried about me, because I jumped into the boat so fast I neglected to bring my life vest, and the current was so strong out there in the channel that we were starting to drift off during my half assed rescue attempt. We kind of hung around and waited until the rescue boats left, and it was clear the guy was going to be alright, and then afterward, we decided to go ahead and try and snorkel (but Terri wasn't 100% gung ho about it after the emergency incident - and Tim was still pretty shaky and full of adrenaline as well) We still don't know exactly what happened to start off the whole thing, either they got a bad mixture, or just panicked when they couldn't get back in the dinghy with all their gear on - who knows. I think he's going to make it though.

The snorkeling was absolutely beautiful. Below us in the water about 20-30 feet deep was the wreck of an old wooden hulled ship, covered with fish and coral (and to make it even more tempting to jump in the water, a couple of other snorkelers warned us that a 3 foot barracuda had just swam our way - we never did see the barracuda). Not quite as many interesting fish as the other site, but the wreck was spectacular. But the fun was just beginning, as we had to get back in the dinghy. Yesterday, it wasn't easy, but we eventually managed it, but for some reason today, whether it was the choppy waves, or being tired and strung out from the rescue, but we just couldn't seem to get back in the boat. At one point we thought of either swimming for the sailboat (but the swim ladder wasn't down), or swimming over to one of the other boats and asking for help), but eventually Terri managed to get in using the outboard as an additional 'handhold', and then she was able to help me aboard (as she said, it was like 'boating a marlin'. Enough excitement for one day, we thought, lets head for our next destination (after a quick lunch, that is).

(image above) Ashore at 'The Baths' for our brief visit on the evening of the third day. We would spend a lot more time here the following day, but didn't bring the camera ashore.

Next stop was 'The Baths', an area of huge boulders and beaches on the southern end of Virgin Gorda. The wind wasn't cooperating again today, so we had to do several tacks in order to reach it by sail. We were beating into the wind again today, but we seemed to do it a little more efficiently this time, and only had to make 3 zigzags, past Cooper Island, then Ginger Island, then Round Rock and Fallen Jerusalem (we almost stopped at this island, which looked very similar to the baths, but there was only one mooring ball, and it was taken).

We got to the 'Baths' around 4, and decided we'd try and take a quick peek at it before heading north to our night destination. More snorkeling, and one more time we had to try and climb into the dinghy from the water, so I rigged up a rope across the dinghy to aid in climbing aboard, and it seemed to help a little bit (still took me two attempts to get in though when it was time to go). We'll be heading back to the Baths again tomorrow. This place looks way too cool to try and fit into a rushed 45 minute time period.

(image above) another parting photo of the beach at 'The Baths' before we swam out to the dinghy for yet another attempt at 'boarding from the water'.

We hit the anchorage around 5, just in time to tie up, straighten up the living quarters and sit down to watch the sunset. This area is less scenic than the last two anchorages we had. Nearer to a large town, and there are two freighters moored out in the channel nearby, and a marina just around the channel. Not many mooring balls to choose from either, I think we got the last one. I'm wondering if this is going to be another bumpy night. Every time a boat comes out of the nearby harbor, we get a nice big wake.

(image above) the colorful sunset from our rather dull anchorage outside Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

BVI Day Two: Norman to Cooper Island

(photo above): The view of the Norman Island Anchorange at 'The Bight' on the way down from our 'trail hike' in the morning.

As usual, Tim awoke with the dawn, and took a quick shower in the head, and sat out on deck to read his cheesy paperback (Dennis Lehane, "Shutter Island", actually pretty good book). Terri woke pretty early too, and so did the mooring ball collection people, who were alongside with their dinghy around 7:45.

(photo above) A view of the southern side of Norman Island on our 'trail hike' in the morning.

After breakfast of instant oatmeal and jelly toast cooked over the gas burner, we took the dinghy ashore to check out the 'mountain trail' we had read about. Not as brambly and overgrown as we were led to expect (at least the main drag to the helipad), but further ashore it got a bit more rustic and we got our legs dinged up a bit, but it was worth it for the beautiful island vistas. Didn't see and wild goats or cattle (predicted by the guidebook), but saw a few lizards and a hermit crab, and a mystery snake.

Back at the dock, we took a quick refreshing swim at the beach, then headed back to the boat to pick up our snorkeling gear. Our destination was the 'west end caves', a popular snorkeling spot. Rather than take the sailboat, we just dinghy'd around the point and tied up to the 'dinghy floats'. First time we'd been snorkeling since our last trip to Mexico (however many years ago that was), and Terri was a little bit nervous to jump out of the boat in water over our heads, wearing this strange gear. Once in the water though, we didn't want to come out. Lots of cool fishies galore, including this one school of black and white and yellow stripedy guys who weren't shy at all around the snorkelers. Some very big colorful fish near the coral walls and lots of different color coral fans and brain formations and such (we've got a book here on the boat for identifying local fish, so we'll have to check out the photos and try to identify the suspects). Getting back into the dinghy was another challenge altogether, for a while there, I didn't think I was going to be able to get Terri back in.

(map above) Our sailing/motoring route (including the short jaunt around the point for snorkeling) for day two. The wind was from the east today (as we would learn it almost always is), so we were doing a lot of tacking to get to our destination. If we were smarter, we might have let the wind dictate our course a bit more, but the sailing was a lot of fun, nonetheless.

(image above) Sailing toward Peter Island for the umpteenth time of the day as we tacked back and forth across the Francis Drake Channel on a close reach.

(image left) The beach at Cooper Island as we went ashore to pay our 'mooring fee'. A nice little beach, but the only part of this large island we were allowed to explore, since the rest of it was privately owned.

We ended up leaving Norman Island around Noon, and started sailing northeast towards our afternoon/evening destinations of Salt Island and Cooper Island. The wind was steady most of the way, but in an inconvenient direction for where we wanted to go, but we made the most of it, tacking back and forth across Francis Drake Channel, past Peter Island, Dead Chest Island (avoiding Blonde Rock, a nautical hazard not visible above the water), mostly close hauled and heeled over all the way. We ended up sailing most of the afternoon, only pulling up to Salt Island around 4. We had hoped to snorkel again over a shipwreck (the 'Rhone'), but since it was getting late, we figured we better get into a harbor and get settled for the night (sun sets rather quickly here around 6pm, with a very short dusk). We pulled into the harbor at Cooper Island and picked up a mooring ball, like we'd been doing it all our lives. Good job Terri. Starting to get the hang of this. We paid our fee at the bar, then sat for a while on the beach, then headed back to the boat for sundowners and supper.

Tomorrow hoping to get to 'the baths', and backtrack to our 'shipwreck' that we missed this afternoon. Beautiful day today, the best weatherwise of the whole trip, with steady breezes, manageable waves, and blue sky with puffy white clouds.

(image above) Our 'home away from home' for the week, Thermofossicle (a name we would have to spell for every mooring ball collector during the week). As we approach with the dinghy after our evening walk on the beach.

(image above) Our first nice sunset looking west from the harbor at Cooper Island as we enjoyed our evening beers in the cockpit.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

British Virgin Islands - first day of charter

(above): This is a map of our sailing grounds over the coming week, I'll be using this map to highlight our routes as the week progresses. I'll be using blue to indicate 'sailing' and red to indicate 'motoring' and purple to indicate 'motor sailing'.

We rose bright and early with the alarm clock at 7 am (along with every other poor fool at this marina), to be ready for our boat orientation, which we mistakenly thought would be at 8 (he got there at 9, Winston again). We went through all the systems, and I got to ask my questions about things I didn't quite understand.

We mentioned the anchor light, and deck light which we discovered weren't working the night before, but forgot to do anything about it when he left. So at around 10 am, we went into the office and asked about the faulty lights, and they sent a crew down to take a look.

It was very entertaining watching the young fellow in the bosun's chair being hauled up to the top of the mast to change a few lightbulbs, something I'm sure lies in our future, but not anything we are in a hurry to do (sort of like colonoscopies). We didn't want a repeat of our first charter in Traverse City, with trying to haul a emergency light to the top of the mast. We didn't expect it, but they also sent someone down to fix the nav station bench, which was missing a hinge. We went back to the trusty Rite Way supermarket and got a few more sandwiches for lunch, and sat and listened to the interesting barely understandable local dialog (something about the antichrist and implanted microchips).

(map right): Our route on our first day, Road Town Harbor on Tortola to Pelican Island, then on to Norman Island for the night.

Finally left the dock around noon, and managed to only slightly scrape across the piling on our way out. Motoring out of Roade Harbor in Tortola went without incident, and once we passed the designated bouys we raised both sails and headed south for Peter Island on a beam reach. Beautiful but cloudy weather and a steady breeze took us across Sir Francis Drake Channel in about an hour, hour and a half, and we found ourselves at an Island group called Pelican Island (and the Indians), which is a small rocky island, plus a quartet of large jagged rocks off the west. Supposedly good snorkeling here. Our first challenge: pick up a mooring ball. There were about 5 or 6 boats already tied up at this area (day mooring only, part of the National Park System), and we saw a few that we might give a try capturing.

(photo above): Approaching 'The Indians' to the west of Pelican Island for our ill fated 'first mooring ball'.

We picked the hardest one for our first mooring ball attempt. The float was no longer floating, and instead was a de facto anchor wrapped around the lower part of the mooring cable. We tried about 4 times with Tim at the wheel and Terri at the hook, and on our first pass, the hook broke in two and started floating away. Terri actually grabbed the ball the first time, but couldn't hold on to it for the weight, so we tried sending Terri out on a dinghy expedition, where she toured the rest of the anchorage, unable to either start the engine or put oars in their slots (they were broken and not workable). I eventually came around and picked her up before she floated off to Africa, and flagged down a helpful group of Brits to rescue our floating hook remnant. We tried a few more times with Terri trying to lasso the ball western style, but Tim couldn't seem to get close enough to the ball to make this work, so we switched positions and tried a number of other passes with Tim as the wrangler (where Tim admitted that yep, this isn't easy). You can imagine how tempers were doing at this point. We still hadn't gotten our hook back yet from the snorkeling dudes, when Tim finally managed to snag the ball with his makeshift sliding knot. At this point we got some mixed signals with the boat direction, and Terri ended up reversing us full thrust as Tim frantically tried to not lose the ball he so hard fought to win (which ended up tightening the knot to a point where I couldn't untie it from beneath the ball). The British came to rescue, with a knot loosening tool, and returned our hook, and we took another mooring line and secured the ball in the correct manner. We had no intention of snorkeling now. I think we used up our alloted 90 minutes of time at the ball just in tying up to the ball. Tim eventually got the engine on the dinghy going (very much like trying to start the chainsaw), and we took a short impromptu jaunt to Pelican Island to beachcomb, forgetting the camera in our haste. We found lots of cool shells, including a fair to middling Queen Conch shell (not storeroom quality, but damnit, it was hard fought for). Getting dark and rainy at this point, around 4, so we decided to head over to Norman Island to find an anchorage.

Our original plan was to try and anchor, but with the gusting winds, I'm glad we chickened out and picked up another mooring ball. First try this time with Terri at the hook. Beautiful spot, but kind of crowded and a little noisy. We may try snorkeling for real tomorrow (supposed to be some caves around the point).

Snug as a bug in the rug here in the harbor, and actually have internet (we aren't even all that close to shore).

(photo above) The anchorage at Norman Island, taken the next morning on our 'wilderness hike'.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chartering in the BVI - Part 1: Getting There

Drove down to Chicago Tuesday night and spent the evening at my brother's place. Keenan came up for the send off, and we dropped him off around midnight at the Red Line. An early morning call, with the cab picking us up at 5:50 for the ride down to O'Hare. Our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico took off at 8:30, and we arrived around 3, local time. We then had a three hour layover before our flight to St. Thomas in the US Virgins.

We had heard about some good food in Puerto Rico from Geri, but we didn't want to go through the rigamarole of going through security again to get to it, so we opted for a quiet looking bar near our boarding gate. $6.50 beers (Madalla or something like that, a local brew, presumably) and the worst meal for the money than we've had in a long time. Terri got Nachos (which we originally thought of splitting, since they had a $10 price tag), and were basically ball park nachos with velveeta and tomatoes and sour cream, and I got a cuban sandwich, which basically ended up being a slightly cuban-ish 'Slim Jim' like you'd get at Big Boy. It was nearing dark when we got on the little puddle jumper for St. Thomas, and it was a short hop over to the island, and then a 12 dollar cab ride to the building right next door to the airport. Starting to feel like we've started to work our way through our budget before we've even gotten to our destination.

Anyhow, settled into our hotel room now. Nice view (from what we can see at night), and we took a hike down the road to stretch our legs, and build up an appetite, and ended up eating dinner here at the hotel. A couple of beers and vegetarian burritos, the best meal of the day, and then a quiet stroll down on the hotel beach, before the storm clouds rolled over the hills and it started lightly raining on us. We have the whole day in St. Thomas tomorrow, so we plan on doing a little sightseeing and exploring in the morning.

(photo above): St. Thomas as seen from one of the roads leading up to Mountain Top.

We had a day to spend in the USV island of St. Thomas, with no specific plans as to what we were going to do with our time. We rose fairly early (as usual, I was up with the dawn, and Terri slept in a bit later), and caught the shuttle downtown to try and hunt up some breakfast, and maybe do a little shopping in the business district. We found a nice little hole in the wall deli/bar near Fort Christian and the Vendor's Square and had a very nice meal and had a nice talk with the waitress, who is also a sailor and gave us some good tips on places to go.
After breakfast, we wandered a bit through the vendor's market, and then wandered a bit through downtown, eventually heading uphill to try and find the '99 steps', which we assumed were something like the slave built quarry steps we saw in Nassau. At the top of the steps we came across Blackbeard's Castle (not sure what this was, but seems to be geared towards the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' crowd, like so many cheesy gift shops around here), at which point, we started noticing how nice the scenery was from the growing altitude, so we thought we'd try and climb up to 'Mountain Top' which is purportedly a great scenic outlook, where you can see all the surrounding islands. The island doesn't seem to be 'pedestrian friendly', and walking up the tight little switchback roads with traffic driving on the opposite side of the road, with little or no shoulder beyond the pavement was a bit hairy at times. We didn't see any other 'walkers', but plenty of tourbuses passed us with encouraging shouts from the passengers. The view was spectacular when we finally made it to the top, and we celebrated with a couple beers and a very refreshing banana daquiri (and several bottles of water to make up for the two that we drained on the way up).

(photo above): Magen's Bay as seen from Mountain Top, we will eventually hike down to it thanks to directions from the bartender.

While up on the mountain we got a glimpse of Magen's Bay Beach on the north side of the island, and we asked directions from one of the bartenders on how to best get there. Mostly downhill, which was a nice change of pace, but with more hairpin blind curves and little shoulder to walk on. The beach was beautiful and not too crowded and I had thought ahead and wore my swimsuit under my clothes (Terri didn't and regretted it), so I had a nice refreshing swim out in the lukewarm calm water. After a walk to the far extreme end of the beach and a couple more beers, we decided that we didn't have enough gas left in our engines to try and walk back to town (which would entail crossing the island ridge once again), so we grabbed a taxi back to the city center and got a recommendation from the driver for a place to eat.

(photo above): Magen's Bay from the western end looking east.

We walked around a bit, did a little shopping, and eventually found the restaurant ('Cuzzins' I think it was called) and had a very enjoyable supper around 4ish. I had Conch Creole with Funji (whatever that is), local stuffing and rice and peas (and a very spicy hot sauce... yumm), and Terri had one of the fish specials (catch of the day, we though she said it was 'king fish'), which had a similar topping of onions and peppers, with fried plantains, sweet potato and vegetables.
I then talked the poor girl into walking from there back to our hotel. I have no idea how many miles we put on our poor feet today, but it feels like one of those 10 mile hikes from our backpacking days (I'll google map it later and figure it out when I get home).
Back at the hotel now, about 6pm local time and feels like 10. We are whipped. A very fun day however and looking forward to our ferry boat ride to Tortola tomorrow morning.


We rose bright and early to catch the taxi down to the Tortola Ferry Dock, and we were on the water by 8:50. The weather was an interesting mix of sunshine clouds, rain and a beautiful rainbow over St. Thomas (or it could have been over St. John's, hard to tell). The sun was back out and shining by the time we arrived around 9:30. Customs was quick and easy, but getting our prepaid taxi ride to the Charter docks was a bit of a problem. Somebody didn't pick up our paperwork and there was confusion regarding whether or not we had paid for the ride. We got to the docks around 10, and found out our chart briefing time would be at 4 and check in to the boat would be at 6, so we had about six hours to kill, so we stashed our bags in the office and headed out on foot to check out the local grocery and downtown area.

(photo above): The view from the road to Brewer Bay, looking down on Road Town on Tortola (skies looking a bit overcast), you can see Peter Island and Dead Chest Island off on the horizon.

Shopped a bit in the downtown local vendor booths and then hired a taxi to take us to the other side of the island where we had read were some nice beaches. Terri did NOT want to climb these mountains today and I have to say I was in her corner. Glad we didn't, because once the taxi left the town proper, it started heading STRAIGHT UP the sides of the mountains, and the ride back down on the other side was just as harrowing (but with worse roads). Our driver, a fellow named "Lonely" with incredibly long fingernails and lots of gold bling kept up a running commentary on the way, instructing us on local history (some of it going back to the 1700s, and not all of it we could decipher due to his accent). Some beautiful scenics on the way however, and he did a fine job of getting us there in one piece (he informed us that he is 65 years old and has been driving cabs here since he was 17).

(photo above): Looking down the beach from the north side of Brewer Bay, near where we were dropped off by 'Lonely'.

The beach was very nice. Secluded, quiet and with a scenic view of the Jost Van Dyke Islands off the north. The waves were quite a bit bigger than the ones at the St. Thomas beach the day before, and Terri remembered to bring her bathing suit this time and got to enjoy the sight of the waves nearly peeling my swim trunks off. Keenan would have gotten a big kick out of these waves. 'Lonely' kept up a vigil for us at the local watering hole while we hung out on the beach most of the afternoon (he said things were kind of slow in town).

(photo above): View looking straight up from our beach towel on Brewer Bay Beach, on the north side of Tortola Island

Back at our chart orientation at 4, we got a rapid fire verbal tour of the islands and how to avoid sinking or running aground in all the bays from Winston the 'chart orientation dude'. A bit overwhelming, but we think we have a sort of plan for tomorrow. Norman Island, the setting and/or inspiration for the 'Treasure Island' book. We sat around for an hour or so after our chart tutorial, and signed our paperwork and were led aboard our 36 ft Benneteau "Thermos Popsicle" (not the real name, but pretty close, and what I have rechristened her). Beautiful inside, lots of room, and actual galley with gimbaled stove, a shower stall, two roomy staterooms, fridge, nav station, and a roomy little living room/salon where I am writing this now. We get woken up for a boat orientation at 8 tomorrow morning, and then we are on... our... way.

Unfortunately, we have no internet access right now, so I'll have to save it and post later. (update: here I am at Norman Island in the middle of a bay at a mooring ball, connected to the internet.. what at amazing world)

Wildlife Tally so far: 3 Iguanas (jumbo sized at the top of some trees), numerous Chameleons, One mystery lizard (medium sized), several jumbo sized spiders with colorful patterns, many free range chickens, 1 mongoose, a couple pelicans.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pulled Out and Winterized

The boat was pulled out about a week after our last sail of the season, and we drove out this weekend to put on the canvas cover for the winter. We had paid the marina to winterize the systems, but we suspect that the bilge and the head weren't touched this year (although we were billed for the services), so we are going to have to contact them next week and find out what's going on.

A few new dings in the topside paint job from haulout this year - a couple dime sized nicks on the stern lip, and a few roughed up patches along the side. Beginning to wonder if maybe we ought to find a new place to haul out and winter in the future. There was a mass exodus of neighboring boats from the previous year, and thinking we maybe should have listened to the 'winds of discontent'.

Not much of a year as far as sailing goes. We did manage to make it down to Douglas for the first time, and sailed down the channel a few times. Got my sister Margo out on the water. Should have taken advantage of Jim's offer to go out a lot more often than I did, but it just seemed like we were so busy with graduation, open houses and college prep that it just wasn't easy to get out there much. Gas prices didn't help either, as I was frequently weighing in my head whether it was worth the $20 bucks in gas to drive out there.

Next year, I will definitely be doing a lot of work on the wood, it really got neglected this year, and it shows. Perhaps we might paint the interior and spruce up inside a bit next year as well.

Not done sailing for the year, however, as we have chartered a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands for our 25th anniversary, and will be spending a week experiencing ocean sailing and all that comes with it (tides, coral, sharks, islands, etc). A bit nervous to tell the truth, but it should be an interesting adventure.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Last Sail of the Season

Terri and I drove out to Muskegon around noon today. Very little wind, but the flags were slightly fluttering, and there were a lot of sailboats out on the lake with full sails up (looked like a regatta either about to start, or just finishing up), so we decided to give it the old college try.

We managed to get some movement out of our sails today, but rarely got over 2 knots in speed all day, mostly hovering around 1 knot, at a dead crawl. After slowly puttering around Lake Muskegon for an hour or so, we turned on the engine and headed out to the big lake to see if it was any better out there. It was, but only marginally. We sailed in a northwesterly direction for a while at our top speed of the day (maybe 2 knots, maybe 2 and a half), but then turned around for the slow ride back when the wind died once again. Once in the channel, we motored the rest of the way back to the marina, tied up, then proceeded to take down and put away the sails for the year. The rest of the month is looking pretty busy with other activities, and we are scheduled for haul out at the end of October.

After the last sail was folded up and put away, I looked around for Terri, but she was nowhere to be seen. Eventually found her laying down in the grass down by the parking lot. She had another of her mysterious 'vertigo' attacks, and after a bout of vomiting and a shaky walk back to the car, some light nourishment at McDonalds on the way home, more vomiting in the parking lot, we headed home. She's been on the couch the rest of the day, afraid to move, afraid to eat. Not sure what triggered it. Hopefully it passes overnight, because I'm going to need her help as we try to chop up a fallen tree in the backyard on Sunday afternoon.

Photos to come later, once I get them from Terri's camera (of the sail, not the aftermath).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dead Calm

After a round of disc golf at McGraft Park, we took Megan down to the marina for a sunset cruise. Unfortunately, there was little to no wind, which died down to absolutely no wind by the time we puttered out to the big lake. We put up all the sails anyway and tried to muster up a breeze by sculling the tiller and blowing on the sails, but mostly just floated around on the smooth Lake Michigan water waiting for the sun to go down. On our way back in the channel we were treated to a 'mooning' by a bikini clad woman on a nearby powerboat (not purposefully directed at us, but we got caught in the crossfire), which is a 'first' full moon we've seen on the boat despite two overnight crossings. Pulled into the slip just about the time the sun was going down, then had dinner at a nearby eatery on the way home. (pictures to come later when I get them off of Terri's camera). Next time hopefully, we can take them both out on the lake, and actually get some wind.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Visiting the Grandparents - Summer Trip 08

(photo above) Sunrise over the Douglas marina on our last morning - (photo inset left below) Terri at the helm on the way to Grand Haven on the first day

Thursday afternoon we got to the boat around noonish, and after a few trips to the store to pick up a few things we forgot (but turns out we didn't need after all) and a quick lunch at McDonalds, we eventually hit the water around 1 or 2ish. The wind and waves were beautiful on Lake Michigan, and we were able to sail most of the way down to Grand Haven on a reach averaging around 5 & 1/2 knots. The wind died about a half a mile north of the GH channel, and we had to resort to the engine the rest of the way. Tied up around 5ish, took a long walk down to the pier, had a ice cream and started our weekend long cribbage tournament.

(photo right) Lady perched in her bunk on our first evening in the Grand Haven marina

The next morning we gave my mom a call, and her and Al met us down at the marina, where we explored the sidewalk sales downtown, and then gave up on taking them for a boat ride, because the weather had turned cool and gusty. We instead went back to their house to try out their new 'fire pit', burning brush and drinking beers all afternoon. We got back to the boat around sunset and sat in the cockpit with them as the sun went down. Then back to the cribbage match for the rest of the evening.

Saturday morning the plan was to get up early and head for Douglas, where we had reserved a slip at Tower Marine and meet Dad for dinner (driving up from South Haven). We hit the water around 11, and the wind was pretty light for the first hour, we only got around 2 to 2 & 1/2 knots, with Terri hinting that we should turn on the engine every 15 minutes or so. I was determined to sail down there if at all possible, so I stuck with it, and eventually, around noon, the breeze picked up, and we made some good speeds down to Port Sheldon, where the wind kind of died all of a sudden (around 2).

(photo above) Some of the impressive dunes south of Holland (or north of Holland, I forget)

At this point, we were quite far from shore, and the water motion was quite rolly, so I turned on the diesel and headed toward shore on a more comfortable tack (leaving the sails up for better maneuverability), and eventually I found some better breeze just north of Holland, and we made a nice healthy sail most of the way past Holland, and nearly to Saugatuck channel. At this point, the waves were starting to get rather large and uncomfortable, probably in the 3-4 ft range with the occasional 5 footer, so when we got in sight of the Saugatuck breakwater, we put the sails down and motored down the river to our marina slip. It was after 6 when we finally got into Douglas (it is a long slow trip down the river into the harbor here), and we were surprised to see that the marina was already closed for the night, and our promised slip had a dinghy parked in it, and a mooring line tied across the entrance by the neighboring boat. We drove up to the haul out slips and temporarily tied up for Keenan and Terri to try and find someone to help us find a slip (in hindsight, we probably could have put Keenan on the dock and had him untie those lines and move the dinghy, but we weren't sure of the etiquette at the time). We eventually ended up in slip 33 instead of 53, next to another Chris Craft sailboat. Our most expensive marina so far, at 57 bucks a night, but had a nice heated pool, laundry facilities, and free coffee and donuts in the morning.

(photo inset left) Sunset at Douglas beach on our last evening - Terri got lots of cool photos here which I may feature in their own entry when we get home.

Dinner with Dad at a local greasy spoon on Saturday night, with some really good pie, but Dad couldn't come aboard due to the high dock and the long step onto our decks, and he also wanted to get back home before dark. We had a quick dip in the pool and then our usual late night cribbage match before bed. Poor Terri still hasn't won a single hand.

Turns out the fellow next to us in the Chris Craft is another freelance artist, and the wife is an author and we had a good long talk over breakfast. We've got a small craft advisory on the lake for Sunday and are debating on whether or not to head home today, or wait it out and go home tomorrow. Supposed to be big waves today (3-5 ft) and 10-20 winds. More later when we make some decisions. (and photos when we get them off the camera)

We decided to stay in Douglas for the day Sunday, and head back to Muskegon on Monday instead due to the weather reports. Since Keenan had pressing engagements in GR on Monday, we gave our friend Candy a call and asked her down to Douglas for the afternoon, so she could take Keenan (and the dog) home, and we would continue on north alone on Monday. The day was quite hot and sunny, but with a nice steady breeze in the shade. We mostly hung around the marina taking it easy, nursing our sunburns and playing some more cribbage. I took a long walk out to the Douglas beach in the morning with Lady, and after we took care of our paperwork in the marina office for our extended stay, we headed into downtown to explore the shopping (not much to speak of, a lot of art galleries and a few eating establishments, not quite as highbrow as what we've seen in Saugatuck). There's a nice little baseball field downtown right in the city square, and from what we learned from the informational signs nearby, there has been baseball teams in this town since around 1900, and there still is an 'old timey' baseball club that plays there quite frequently.

Candy got over around 4, and we had a few games of cribbage with her, and we ordered a pizza and had it delivered to our boat slip (first time doing that since we've had her), and then Keenan, Lady and Candy headed home around 7:30. Me and Terri had a nice quiet evening swim in the pool, then hiked down to the beach for the sunset. I have a job due on Monday, and since I probably won't be able to hang around for the sketch approvals (I usually provide 3 concepts for this client), I decided to just finish up all three concepts and send it over to NY in the morning and hope for the best, because we want to hit the lake running around 10 tomorrow morning. Hopefully we shall be home Monday night. Been a fun weekend, and probably is the last time we'll be able to do this sort of thing with Keenan.

The Trip Home

(monday) Me and Terri packed up and left Douglas around 10 in the morning. Took us a half an hour to traverse the Kalamazoo River waterway to Lake Michigan, and we hoisted the sails outside the channel around 10:30. The weather was predicted to be 2-4 ft waves, with 10-20 mph winds, but by that morning, the wind prediction was being modified to 'variable', with 8 knots reported at South Haven and 2 knots reported at Muskegon. We figured that the wind would pick up during the day, like it usually does. It started out rather flukey, especially with the big waves, and the boom slamming around in the troughs, but we managed to do about 3-4 knots most of the way to Holland, moving from a Reach, to a full 'Wing and Wing' sail set up at one point. Once we reached Holland, I tried beating into the wind offshore as a way of getting a bit more reliable wind, and hoping that further offshore I might find different conditions. About 3 miles out (this would be the furthest we've ventured from shore yet) I managed to find a nice steady westerly breeze and headed north on a reach, where we did our best speeds of the day, hitting 6 knots at times. The waves were a little less bouncy out there as well, and this stayed with us for a couple of hours, until we got well north of Port Sheldon. Just south of Grand Haven, the wind suddenly died to nearly nothing, and the waves started growing in size. The rollers which were about 4 foot at the max when we left in the morning turned into 5 and 6 foot swells that got increasingly uncomfortable. The boat speed dropped to about 1.5 and with the waves swinging us back and forth, we decided to douse the sails and turn on the engine for the rest of the trip (unless conditions improved - they never did). From south of Grand Haven to Muskegon we just puttered along on the engine, letting 'robo sailor' do most of the work, while Terri took extended naps, and I busied myself slaughtering flies. Pulled into our slip a bit after 6 pm, making pretty good time all things considered.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Halfway to Grand Haven

(battery 2 - whoops, didn't check the blog first, and used the same battery twice in a row)

Went out for an afternoon sail on Saturday with Terri, Keenan and Candy around 4. First time Keenan's been to the boat this year, and this was the first time we've taken it out on a weekend in '08. Very crowded on the little lake today, lots of traffic to look out for. We basically hoisted the sails right away and headed for the channel on a beam reach. Once we reached the channel, we noticed the car ferry coming in, so we went past the channel, then tacked and came at it from the north to give the ferry a chance to clear before we entered. The wind was coming straight out of the channel, as usual, so we had to use the motor to get out to Lake Michigan.

Once out on the big lake, we headed south towards Grand Haven. Big swells out on Lake Michigan today, but with a fairly light breeze (maybe 10 mph out of the northwest), so we didn't make much speed (about 4.5 at the top end). The trip was pretty rolly on a beam reach because of the swells, so I headed up to a close reach for a while which was slightly more comfortable for the passengers. We opened up some of our snacks, spitting cherry pits overboard and drinking sodas as we headed south/southwest. We got far enough from shore that we passed the 'fishing floats' that we found last year, and not much past those, we decided to come about and head back for the channel (maybe about halfway to Grand Haven, maybe not quite halfway, as I never did spot the lighthouse). We managed to sail the channel on the way back with mostly the headsail (not quite at a dead crawl this time, but kept our speed up to around 2 knots, even though it didn't feel like it)

Got back to the marina around 7:30ish, in time to watch our neighbor and his bikini clad daughters doing their 'return to the slip maneuvers', and then we had a picnic lunch down at the beach, then ice creams at the 'Frosty Oasis' and then home. Beginning to wish we lived closer to the boat, with gas prices the way they are. These long drives out to Muskegon are getting kind of pricey. Maybe we can start looking into moving to Ludington in a few years. Ideally, I'd like to moor the boat a bit further north, so that trips up to the islands are a bit more feasable.

We've also been tossing around the idea, for our 25th anniversary in December, of chartering a boat down in the British Virgin Islands for a week. This would be our first time sailing in the ocean, dealing with currents and tides (although both are very mild there, we are assured). We'll see if we can afford it.

(still falling way behind in posting photos, need to get them from Terri's camera).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Two Days in a Row: Bliss

(photo above) Andie at the tiller while Uncle Tim blathers on about something or other

(battery 2) My sister Margo and her daughter Andie came out with us this afternoon for another cruise today. The wind wasn't nearly as gusty as it was the day before, but we still managed to put up some impressive numbers on the knotmeter. We had a fairly decent exit from the slip, promptly put up the mainsail and I put Andie on the tiller for a trip around Lake Muskegon. We then put up the headsail and proceeded over towards the channel to check out the big lake, getting up to 6 knots on a beam reach. The wind was a bit flukey down the channel, as it frequently is, so we weren't able to sail all the way down, but had to use a little motorized assistance to get past the coast guard station, where we then picked up some better wind. The big lake was a little more bouncey, but we sailed around out there for about a half an hour before heading back towards the channel with a storm cloud on our heels. Once in the channel, we noticed the Lake Express Ferry coming in behind us, and they passed us mid-channel, while we managed to sail all the way down the channel this time, with me at the tiller, and Margo working the headsail, coaxing what little wind we could find to keep us moving forward. Once back in the little lake, we found a freshening breeze, and headed west on a close reach, getting the speed back up to nearly 6 knots again, but then at the first sound of thunder, we folded up the sails, turned on the motor and headed back for the marina.

A fun afternoon, topped off by the opening night of Keenan's show, Heritage Theater's production of "the Drunkard". A fun show, full of audience participation (you can buy popcorn to throw at the actors), which runs Thursday Friday and Saturday this week and next.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Afternoon Getaway

(battery 1) The wife and I played hookey from work this afternoon for an afternoon sailing getaway. Arrived in Muskegon around 1:30ish, and while we were prepping the boat, a sailboat was attempting to enter its slip nearby, and it looked as if they were having problems with steering or something, so I quick hustled down to give a hand. It appeared to be a dad and his three daughters out for a sail, and they seemed to be having a lot of trouble maneuvering. I offered a hand, but the dad backed up and left the marina for what looked like another pass. Well a few more passes later, and I wasn't entirely sure what they were doing. Every time I would hustle down to lend a hand, they would abort and head back out into the mooring area. Eventually I gave up and tried to time our exit in such a way that we could avoid one of their frequent 'fly bys'.

The wind was a bit gusty when we headed out, so we started out with just the headsail, and rode around on the western side of Lake Muskegon. We did fairly well with just the one sail, frequently getting up to 5 knots. Hard to tell if we were being way too cautious, or just sensible. Other boats had full sail up, and others seemed to have less up than we. Decided not to bother with the big lake today, since sailing down the channel would be problematic considering the wind direction, and instead stayed in Lake Muskegon, since there was minimal traffic this afternoon, and the wind was fairly steady and predictable.

There was a coast guard warning on the VHF when we arrived, that I overheard from another boat's radio, about an abandoned pontoon boat out on Lake Muskegon. While we were sailing about, a coast guard helicopter was circling the lake overhead, and we thought perhaps it was looking for the pontoon boat. Later in the afternoon, we spotted the sherrif's boat towing an empty pontoon boat from somewhere on the southwestern corner of the lake.

Later in the afternoon, when the winds subsided a bit, we opened up full sail for one trip across the lake (getting up around 6 knots at one point), but when we tried to put the headsail away again, the gusting winds interfered with the furler, and we ended up being unable to put the whole sail away, so on our next trip across the lake, we stopped and drifted awhile and took care of a few technical issues (the furler, and a reefing line that got away from us). The rest of the way back to the marina, we used just the headsail, and had a pleasant set of tacks back and forth before calling it a day around 4:30. Dinner at the beachside restaurant to watch volleyball on the beach and have a few beers to end the day.

Just what the doctor ordered. I don't even remember the job I was working on this morning that was causing me so much stress.

(photos) (top) Lady and Terri at the helm on Lake Muskegon (bottom) the coast guard helicopter makes another pass, perhaps looking for that wayward abandoned pontoon boat?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

BFU rules in effect

(battery 2) Went out for a sunset cruise with Terri and Candy on a beautiful Monday evening. Originally was going to include Candy's coworker Fred on this outing, but he had hurt his back the previous weekend and had to bow out.

We got to the marina around 7, and the conditions on Lake Muskegon looked a little bumpy. Choppy waves with occasional tiny whitecaps, gusting winds from the north, and very few boats out on the lake. I decided we would do some practice reefing to start out with, starting with the smallest sail area on the main, and then moving up as we felt we needed it. I was also not quite sure we had the reefing lines set up correctly, and we hadn't had an opportunity to practice our reefing skills in several years, so it was a good opportunity. We put in the first reef (just finding all the reefing lines was an adventure in itself), and puttered along at a very slow rate of speed, but as I continued to look at the reefing set-up, I became more and more convinced that I had done something wrong. The sail shape wasn't effective, the gathered sail on the mast looked lumpy and mishapen, and we just couldn't seem to make any speed. It took me until the end of the evening to figure out that I had installed the reefing lines (and probably had done the same thing the previous year) not in their proper spots on the outer edge of the sail, but in the first set of reefing holes in the middle of the sail. No wonder we kept having trouble with sail shape on the main for the past year or so.

Eventually, I put out some headsail to help with the speed as we approached the channel entrance, and then as we started traversing the channel, and the wind started dying down a bit, I took out the reef, opened up the main and let out the rest of the headsail. It was a slow process, but we managed to sail the channel for the second time already this year. Amazing the difference in wind and waves from the little lake to the big lake this evening. Gusting winds and choppy waves on Lake Muskegon, and once out on Lake Michigan, it was a light but steady breeze with barely any waves that allowed us to slowly but comfortably sail quite a ways out before turning back around 9 pm.

As we were heading back towards the channel, we heard a 'securite' announcement on the VHF which we interpreted as a tanker preparing to leave Lake Muskegon, and kept our eyes peeled, and our binoculars trained on the channel. After a long time of looking and sailing towards the lighthouse, we started to think we had misinterpreted the message, but as we got about halfway through the opening channel, we finally saw what was coming, and boy, was it a big one. I debated on whether or not to try sailing next to it (we've shared the channel with the Ferry and other freighters before), but as it got closer, I realized that this was bigger than anything we've run into before, and pulled away into the anchorage area to get out of the way at the last minute. We did a big circle in the anchorage as the ship passed (along with a few other powerboats who also got out of the way), Terri handling lines while simultaneously snapping photos.

We probably could have sailed back down the channel again on the way home, but it was getting dark, and with the sun down, considerably chillier, so we rolled up the headsail and put on the engine for the ride home. On the way back, we did a few necessary adjustments, fixing the port bow light, which wouldn't come on. Terri had the magic touch, and after taking one of the screws out and jiggling it, it popped back on. We also finally figured out the reefing lines and strung them in their proper configuration before flaking the sail, with Candy at the tiller heading us back toward the marina. It was after ten when we pulled into the slip, getting pretty dark, but did a pretty good job of tucking Fanny away for the night.

A beautiful night, worth the wait.

(photos) (1) A beautiful sunset tonight, with a fellow sailor motoring out the channel (2) Tim at the helm trying to coax a little more speed out of the improperly reefed main (3) Terri and Candy on the lookout for the freighter (4-8) the "BFU Rule" is in effect here: Despite the normal 'rules of right of way', you should always yield to anything Bigger, Faster or Uglier than you.

The freighter, the 1000 foot 'American Integrity' (see more information here at Wikipedia and this news item from last year when this ship became stuck in the Muskegon Channel)