Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted on January 18, 2020 | 2 comments

Earthquake at Sea

Earthquake at Sea

The third earthquake struck at sunrise shutting down all power to the island and foiling our plans to fuel before leaving on an offshore passage. Do we have enough fuel to make it? What happens when we’re at sea if another quake hits? We study weather every day, but hadn’t yet considered the possibility of an earthquake. Immediately, we reflected on how friends onboard Suzy Too, miraculously surfed the huge incoming wave while anchoring in Thailand, narrowly escaping the fate of so many who lost their lives in the 2004 tsunami.

Puerto Rico was not originally on our itinerary—we had planned to make only a few quick stops to break up our journey from the Virgin Islands to Turks and Caicos. Rounding the corner to Tortuga Bay of the northeastern Isla de Culebrita in the Spanish Virgin Islands, however, we knew instantly we would want to stay longer.

On this New Year’s Day, the mood was festive—pleasure boats from mainland Puerto Rico rafted together and filled the bay with laughter. We joined locals in The Jacuzzis, where the ocean surf surges suddenly through large rocks forming natural pools with foaming water. We battled mosquitos and dodged hermit crabs for an easy climb to a lighthouse, red brick and marble floors still impressive from its 1880 construction.

Underwater, our hearts sang as we discovered healthy clumps of staghorn, a coral that seems to be disappearing from our planet. We paddle boarded through dense mangroves and explored town, slowly drifting in our dinghy through canals as though we were Venetian gondolas. We scampered for days and hours to squeeze in all the sights of this unplanned stop.

The Walled City of Old San Juan was a must-see—clean and quaint and touted as what you might imagine Havana, Cuba to be. We walked the iconic blue cobblestone streets, taking in the sights of Ponce de Leon’s tomb at the San Juan Bautista Cathedral and the beautiful yellow Spanish architecture of Hotel El Convento, once a 17th-century convent. Parque de las Palomas and its billion pigeon residents provided respite and entertainment as birds landed on the shoulders of unsuspecting passersby.

At long last, our feet gave out and we collapsed at a table in Sanse 152, where the waitress/cook/owner brought us tapas until we rolled out the door. We wandered the secret rooms of La Factoria and sat at one of its many bars as waiters delighted us in their creative mixology. Sadly, we couldn’t fit in anymore and hailed an uber to return us to the Puerto del Rey marina.

Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony to die on an island named Caja de Muertos or Coffin Island? Little did we know that in a few hours after anchoring, we would be less than 10 miles away from an earthquake epicenter. Focused on a different disaster, we went ashore this small island and wandered the old pier and dilapidated buildings devastated by Hurricane Maria. Two caretakers oversee the property, protected by a natural reserve because of its native turtle traffic. Mosquitos, not imminent darkness, deterred us from making the 2-hour roundtrip walk to the 1887 lighthouse so instead, we stood on the beach and watched a brilliant sun set behind our boat in the bay.

A number of curious tales claim this island’s namesake—several 16th century greedy explorers were all killed trying to secure a treasure; from the air, the island looks like a coffin. Personally, I like the story of a romantic who embalmed his murdered wife and left treasures at her glass casket each time he visited her. In any case, today’s treasure was having a beautiful anchorage all to ourselves and seeing, for the first time, teeny baby turtles swimming at the back of our boat. You’ll be pleased to hear that I used extraordinary restraint and did not bring any of them onboard.

At 6:30am the following morning, a 5.8 earthquake struck in the water near the town of Ponce on the southwest side Puerto Rico. Our phones began buzzing with text messages from family and friends —did you know there was an earthquake near you? Did you feel it? Are you okay? We we were cozy in our coffins and didn’t feel a thing.

Photo Source: UPRM Meteorological Lab

We got underway for a full-day sail west to our next destination of Boquerón, piecing together scant details of the tremor from various news sources. The quake had caused an iconic natural rock arch in Ponte Ventana to collapse, but not much else was reported. Today was Epiphany, or Dios de los Rios, a holiday more popular than Christmas in this Catholic country, and that’s what occupied the minds of the Puerto Ricans.

We dropped anchor mid-afternoon off the expansive Seashell Beach in Bahia de Boquerón. We made a decision to enjoy today’s festive atmosphere ashore and delay fueling for our upcoming passage until tomorrow—a decision that we would later regret. All the shops were open on this holiday and it seemed the entire town was wandering the streets feasting on fresh conch from food trucks and drinking in Boquerón’s many bars. If I had stayed a little longer I would have neutered a few cats that appeared in every alley.

We picked up some groceries at a local convenience store, where the owner insisted we sample the pork belly that he was grilling at the front door. Nighttime fell amidst rainstorms as our heads hit the pillow for a final night of solid rest. Tomorrow, we would wake early, get fuel as soon as the dock opened, and set off quickly while the weather gods were in our favor.

At 4:30am, a bump on the boat woke Allen—like someone shaking the boat, he would later say. This California man knew immediately it was an earthquake. He poked around the boat, not finding anything out of the ordinary except car alarms ringing from the nearby shore. Within an hour, the New York Times, his online morning newspaper, confirmed that a second earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 did indeed strike near the first epicenter at 4:30 this morning.Together with our buddy boat, Exodus, we pulled up the anchors just before sunrise and began motoring in about 20 feet of water around the corner to the fuel dock. At the very moment we were on the phone with the fuel attendant to confirm they were open following the two tremors, we all felt another bump—a third quake struck. The main power plant went into a precautionary automatic shutdown, cutting off power to most of the island. There would be no fuel today. We discussed briefly the possibility of staying in Puerto Rico until fuel was available again. But who knew if that would be tomorrow or next month? Would there be a fourth earthquake? And then what would happen? We had a very small window to cross the Mona Passage and reach Turks and Caicos before high winds and swell would make the passage rough and uncomfortable. We quickly calculated if the two boats had enough fuel to make the passage. With a 124 gallon capacity, we had 80 gallons in the tank and 20 more stowed. We decided to press on.

Three days later, we reached Grand Turk just as the winds shrieked to 45 knots. We turned on our cell phones and details of the Puerto Rico quakes trickled in. Four people had lost their lives, 8000 homes destroyed, schools were closed, and ¼ million people were without power and water. It could take a year to complete repairs to the power plant. A country who was still recovering from extensive damage left by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, now faced havoc from the most destructive earthquake in more than a century.

After all the kindness that this country showed us, it’s disheartening to see it crushed by Mother Nature. We loved Puerto Rico. We can’t wait to return and we hope you’ll put it on your list of places to visit. And remember, it’s part of the United States—please support aid as they rebuild their lives.

Enjoyed this post?
Sign up at the bottom of this page
to receive email notifications of future posts!

Read More

Posted on January 1, 2020 | 3 comments

The Virgins–Or Are They?

The Virgins–Or Are They?

I admit I wasn’t that excited to sail through the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. We were there on a bareboat charter many years ago and it seemed still today to be a mecca for charters. Now that we are snobby live-aboards, we didn’t want to share our precious sea with a bunch of tourists and certainly we would never find any solitude. Wouldn’t you know—the first place we stopped we had all to ourselves.

The 24-mile long U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix came into view just after 8am following a night passage. It was a perk to clear customs by an app on our phone (because we’re US citizens) and we immediately made our way to Buck Island, protected since 1948 to preserve one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean. Day tours and party boats motored to the white sand beach all day long. By sunset, they all disappeared and giant hawksbill turtles returned to share their home with us. Anxious to explore coastal waters safeguarded by a National Park, we set out by dinghy with high hopes. Sadly, we discovered the underwater snorkeling trail was in disrepair and the corals were suffering. How could this be? This is a U.S. National Park!

Growing up in places like Yosemite and Grand Canyon, I took for granted that these natural resources would be well protected for the enjoyment and education of future generations. Allen dove down amidst fields of bleached elkhorn coral and wiped a thick layer of algae from large concrete plaques that once provided marine descriptions, but now are cracked and crumbling. I quietly contemplated the state of our planet—so much devastation below the ocean surface so humankind can enjoy life above. Warming climates, hurricanes, trash, apathy—we see it firsthand everywhere in our travels…and today, even in a National Park.

What’s the upside of how humankind has impacted these islands? In the nearby town of Frederiksted stands a 1500-foot long commercial pier. At the surface, it hosts cruise ships, but underwater, a vibrant marine ecosystem glums to its 25-foot concrete pilings that sink well into the ocean floor. It is a magnificent collection of brilliantly-colored soft corals and sponges that attract anemones, fish…and the elusive seahorse. I haven’t yet seen these miniature marvels so this stop was top of the list. With mask and snorkel on, I instantly discovered that this manmade structure also was a hotbed for comb and larger moon jellyfish. No stinkin’ jellies were gonna interfere with my seahorse search so I looked past the underwater galaxy of jellies and ignored them when they brushed against my face. I never did see a seahorse but I did love discovering that red-lipped blennies do indeed have red lips…and eyelashes! And, I guess I’m a tiny bit more comfortable swimming with jellies.

Charter catamarans began filling the landscape as we headed to the British island of Virgin Gorda to clear customs. (That process took 2 hours since we’re not UK citizens and we arrived during lunchtime). We reluctantly skipped The Baths, a natural maze of granite boulders and caves, but also a snarl of humankind, and headed north. Homes and resorts dotted the lush, green hillsides of the island and it wasn’t until we peered through binoculars that we realized dozens of  buildings stood empty without windows or roofs. Both the US and BVI were hit hard by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Many repairs stand unfinished and one can only imagine the number of residents who lost their homes and livelihoods in the disaster. One exception to this status quo of disrepair was on Mosquito Island, privately-owned by Richard Branson. Say what you will about millionaires owning islands and you know how I feel about preserving our natural world, but the island is crawling with construction equipment and employing local island workers to rebuild its resort. I give one point to humankind.

At the very north end of this archipelago lies Anegada, the Drowned Island—a flat, low-lying desert-like island famous for its local lobster and often too far a reach for the charters. We learned a lot from wandering and meeting some of the island’s 300 humans. The only ice cream are frozen Snickers bars sold in a gift shop freezer next to bags of squid. Everyone serves Pain Killer rum cocktails, but only Simone makes them with the secret ingredient… ❤️Four bodies and a bunch of snorkeling gear can all fit in a Moke—don’t forget to drive on the left side! Fish traps and a little ingenuity makes the perfect Christmas tree. You must make your reservation and dinner selection by 4pm so the restaurant knows how many lobster to catch. Shoes are not required on the beach or at the dinner table and you may remain in your swimwear to share a bottle of chilled wine after snorkeling! Flamingos, goats, and cows live simbiatically with humankind and the surrounding waters are rich with sea life. And as one of our waiters said—Any day above ground is a good day!

Sometimes you just need to embrace civilization. On the island of Jost Van Dyke, we secured Gémeaux’s anchor in White Bay—just 200 feet from the Soggy Dollar Bar, home of the original Pain Killer. We were a group of six by that time–our guests, Doug and Marie, visiting from California and our buddy boat partners in crime, Mike and Ronna. Our group swam to shore (no shoes required) and quickly coalesced into a lively beach scene. Enthusiastic bartenders taught us that in addition to the secret ingredient of love, freshly-grated nutmeg is required to make the perfect Pain Killers. A heavy dose of rum doesn’t hurt either. We ate yummy fish and chips, played beach games, walked on the beach, drank a few more Pain Killers, and even frolicked with those charter catamaran guests. We ended a quintessential day of civilization at the island’s other claim to fame—Foxy’s calypso bar, freshly restored from Irma and home to a sweet black cat who exchanged snuggles for bites of fish.

Nature beckoned and our livers needed respite so we headed to what would end up as one of our favorite stops—Norman Island. Moored close to shore, we snorkeled straight off the back of Gémeaux and discovered a red-spotted octopus cleverly hidden in the rocks but with a collection of freshly-discarded shells that advertised his front door.  Around the corner from our little paradise was a gaggle of tour boats and charters. We realized instantly when we jumped into the water from our dinghy that the the hullabaloo of activity on the surface was unparalleled by the Atlantis marine mecca below. The Caves present a perfect science lesson on the circle of life. Millions of silverside fish swim in schools thick as blizzards of snow, leaving voids of clear water around them only when 4-6 foot tarpon casually swim by with their characteristic jutted lower jaw. Pelicans plunge continuously, scooping up pouchfuls of  silversides, while tarpon race below to seize any free meal that doesn’t quite make the pouch. I know this because I hovered with snorkel and mask right in the middle of this remarkable mayhem and loved every minute!

When at last I had my fill of this spectacle I drifted quietly along the ledge, discovering more red-lipped blennies and feather duster fan worms who flaunted their tentacles until I got too close and they retracted into their tube for safety. As other humankind left, our group finally investigated the allure of The Caves. With flashlights in hand, we swam into the dark waters and discovered a rainbow of pastel colors from different corals one typically would see only on a night dive. What a place!

One of our greatest fears of sailing in this populated world is a collision. In anchorages, we often witness boats entering at high speed, jockeying for position before another boat takes their parking place. Or, anchors aren’t properly set and in the middle of the night, a boat drifts through the anchorage while its occupants sleep. We are diligent about safety and Allen practices great patience and courtesy to steer clear of collisions. And remember…he sleeps with one eye open. Even with that one eye open, all four of us onboard heard the crash just before midnight. The cleat on the bow of a nearby boat broke and the vessel detached from the mooring ball, quickly drifting into Gémeaux. We made sure everyone was safe (they were) and the next morning at light, we discovered the major damage had been to the pulpit on our bow. The pulpit not only provides a premier sitting spot but also secures our life lines, which help to prevent people from falling overboard. The pulpit was bent, which now created slack in the lifelines. Several months later, we would still find parts of Gémeaux that were damaged by the incident 😢One demerit for humankind.

Before leaving the Virgin Islands, we made one final stop at Francis Bay on St John, where more than half of the island is part of the US Virgin Islands National Park. Having paid my share of camping and entrance fees at the little brown kiosks denoting a National Park boundary, I delighted in how collections were made in this bay of water.

The process was much like every other park campsite I’ve paid—$26/night, place the cash in a little envelope and mark your campsite #…er mooring ball, and drop it in the slot of the brown box. Instead of a kiosk, however, fees were collected on a 10×10-foot floating dock anchored in the middle of the bay. Snorkeling in the shallow waters was fabulous! Finally, one big point to humankind for maintaining a healthy ecosystem and making this area accessible to visitors. May it remain preserved for the education and enjoyment of future generations!

Now you have all the best places to visit when you charter your catamaran in the Virgin Islands. It’s a treat to have these beautiful Caribbean islands as part of the United States. Enjoy them, but please don’t feed the bears…er, fish; drive carefully;  and pick up any evil plastic you find on the beach or in the sea. By the way,  you aren’t still drinking from single-use plastic water bottles…are you? Happy New Year–may 2020 bring peace on the planet!

Enjoyed this post?
Sign up at the bottom of this page
to receive email notifications of future posts!

Read More

Posted on November 30, 2019 | 4 comments

Passage to St Martin

Passage to St Martin

I’m afraid of the dark. When I was little I’d take a flying leap into my bed so the boogey monster under my mattress couldn’t drag me into his lair. Fast forward 50 years and I’m forced to face my fear on a boat in the middle of an ocean during an offshore passage—sailing about 12 days straight through the night without stopping. That’s a lot of nights. That’s a lot of boogey monsters.

Okay, I don’t really think the boogey monster has followed me to the big, blue ocean. And frankly, sailing at night is beautiful—dark skies illuminate constellations, moon rises are breathtaking, and the solitude of being out here on our own is paradise. When it’s dark, however, you can’t see the container ship that might run into you or know how big that approaching squall is. You have only radar to assess if that Rorschach weather blob is orange, reddish orange, or full on RED—wake the Captain, there’s a serious squall approaching! 

You have to figure out how close is too close for the Carnival Cruise Ship to pass. And what if he’s not paying attention to our little 44-foot radar blob? These gigantic ships have become the boogey monster.

We’re preparing for the 2019 Salty Dawg Rally in Hampton, Virginia, where our first Caribbean adventure began two years ago when we sailed with the rally to Antigua. (Read Destination: Antigua). It’s a delight shopping at Costco and Trader Joe’s and buying all our US favorite treats, as this might be the last time we’re in the US for the foreseeable future.

Our friends, David and Barbara Thomas, are crewing with us to make night watches less sleepless and to keep the boogey monster at bay. We attend safety lectures, meet fellow cruisers, and prepare freezer foods for our passage. We steal the show on Halloween when we dress as the musical group Kiss—complete with wigs and face paint, tossing chocolate kisses to the crowd.

At last, our famed weather router, Chris Parker, gives a tentative go-ahead for our passage—tentative because there’s an offshore cold front headed our direction but the next weather window is at least a week out and nobody really wants that much of a delay. On November 2nd just after 6pm, we join a parade of boats and head into the Chesapeake shipping channel, passing lines of destroyers and aircraft carriers as darkness sets in. Oh goody…darkness. Nearly 2,000 miles away is our destination—the island of St. Martin, the very place we met Gémeaux in November 2016.

I lie in bed at 8pm on this first night, trying to convince my body it’s bedtime so I can rest before my watch begins at 4am. We’re all taking 4-hour watches at the helm—David is on 8pm to midnight, Allen takes over until 4am, and then Barbara and I share a watch until 8am.  Despite the early hour, I like our watch because half of it will be in the light when all boogey monsters sleep. During the day, we alternate who’s at the helm, giving each other a break to sleep or read or prepare food. I’m restless and wide-eyed. The boat pitches and rolls through the open sea, waves pound against the hulls, and the helm is just above my bed so I hear all the sail adjustments. Somehow I must have dozed off because my 3:45am alarm jars me from sleep. I put on my life jacket and adjust my eyes to the surrounding darkness—interior lights are off to improve our night vision. Barbara and I make cocoa and take over watch from Allen, who gives us a quick debrief of our current course, weather, and any nearby traffic. At this early stage in our passage, there are a few rally boats nearby. Soon, we will all disperse and find our own path on this marine highway to the Caribbean. We’re instructed to wake the captain if vessels get within three miles of us, a squall approaches, or if the wind increases, decreases, or shifts. Gee, what are the odds of none of that happening during the next four hours? Nevertheless, we want the captain to get his rest so we keep our fingers crossed for an uneventful watch and constantly second guess our decisions before waking him. We’re a ¼ mile off course—is that enough to wake the captain? Should we wait until it becomes ½ mile? ¾ of a mile? It doesn’t really matter—Allen wakes at the slightest shift in wind and sleeps with one eye closed and the other on his iPhone, which has remote access to the chart plotter. He always knows what we’re doing and sometimes I think he just lies down there testing us to see when we’ll wake him. Tonight…er this morning, after motoring since we left the marina, Allen pops up from bed with a big grin and announces The wind is up—raise the sails and turn off the engines! There is nothing that makes the captain happier.

My eyelids are heavy and I watch the clock slowly tick to 8am when David will take over. This is the other problem I have with passages—I just can’t stay awake. The constant motion of the boat puts me immediately to sleep and, unlike my partner,  I do need sleep…lots of it. It helps having a second person to share the watch—Barbara and I swap tales of motherhood, share our different adventures around the planet, review books, discuss how to adjust passage meals for both hungry and sick tummies, and solve the problems of the world. We study the chart plotter and quiz each other on all its features, becoming experts on the difference between apparent and true wind speed and how to trim the sails. I make stovetop popcorn, a food my friend, Courtney, introduced as the perfect passage treat. We perk up at the first glimpse of daybreak and celebrate each sunrise.

Both Barbara and I love the natural world and enjoy being quiet witnesses to the details of how a day begins. Free of noise and distractions, we realize the complete sunrise takes nearly 45 minutes. With our panoramic view of the sky, we watch the moon set and the sun rise and are tickled when they happen simultaneously. We notice how colors evolve from black to purple to fiery reds and oranges. And when at long last, the sun rises, we break the silence and declare the dawn of a new day…and nearly the end of our watch. David greets us with a big smile and coffee in hand. We pass the baton and I immediately return to bed. My body ignores the boat din and sleep comes easily.

By 2pm the following day, we reach the Gulf Stream where the water temperature jumps from the low 60s to a balmy 75 degrees. We’re anxious to shed our jackets and layers of warm clothing. Before long, the rain flaps that create our protective cocoon at the helm won’t be necessary. We’ll stow the down comforters from our beds and open the hatches. We’ll start complaining of hot, sweaty nights and long for that cool sleeping weather we had just days ago. Still, I love this gradual transition to the Caribbean climate.

I have a long list of what I plan to accomplish during our offshore passage. Nearly two weeks when the world stops and I can catch up on writing and various boat projects. Immediately, however, as we bounce through a boisterous (as our British friends would say) Gulf Stream with 8-10 foot waves, I realize none of it will be done. Instead, my days will consist of two activities—1) a 4-8am watch and 2) sleep. I hadn’t planned on being sea sick. Yup, an occupational hazard.

Allen never gets sea sick and David and Barbara both are wearing Scopolamine patches that appear to be working well from them. I’ve tried several different medications over the years and the sleepiness and other side effects are almost worse than the sea sickness itself. I choose to just grin and bear it and hope I get my sea legs soon. That strategy sounded good until I ended up hanging my head over the back of the boat. Finally on day five, I break down and become a patcher. I’m sleepy and feel jittery like I’m going through some type of detox. My mouth is full of cotton that no drink can cure. But…I’m not nauseous.

Today after my watch, I sleep until 11am. I feel almost normal when I wake, except these 24-hour days leave my stomach confused. I’m not sure if I should prepare breakfast or lunch. Pringles and Top Ramen are my favorite sea sickness menu items. There is no food shaming here. I fix Allen his typical breakfast of pineapple and peanut butter toast, knowing his fresh pineapple days are numbered.

I notice the fishing lines are out. David wants to fish and he really wants to eat fresh mahi mahi. I’m conflicted. I like fish dinners too but right now I’m sure the smell of fish would put my head right back over the stern. Plus, I love the sea and I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to kill its lovely inhabitants. For now, it’s catch and release.

I listen to my Audible book since I can’t read without getting nauseous. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind gives me a lot to contemplate on these long days with only three other sapiens. I decide on chicken enchiladas for dinner and chips and guacamole before the avocados rot. Fresh vegetables are so precious and I hate the thought of letting any of them go bad. People come and go between sleep, a shower, reading, and eating some kind of meal that can’t be defined. Allen and I take down the main sail and roll up the jib admitting defeat from lack of wind. My novice sailing opinion is there’s never the right amount wind—too little or gale force, never just right for Goldilocks. David offers to prep dinner and I’m relieved to just sit and have someone else be the galley slave.

Allen cheerfully pours cocktails—club soda over 2 ice cubes per person (another precious commodity) and a splash of tonic with lime that we’ve dubbed and tonics. We’re always a dry boat on passages so gin won’t return to our and tonics until we reach land. We enjoy dinner together around the cockpit table now that’s it’s warm enough to once again eat outside. An overcast day presents a lovely sunset with clouds all around. Allen joins a 6:30pm radio broadcast on weather while David cleans up and Barbara and I manage the helm. We are falling into roles and intuitively prepare for another round of night watches. Navigation lights come on, screens and gauges are turned to dark mode, and I find my headlamp and wool hat—the night wind is still cool on my head. We all remark how much we love when the sails are up and we’re going fast and bouncing around…while it’s light. The minute we’re engulfed in darkness, the mood becomes somber, things are scary. What’s that light on the horizon? How far away is the lightening? Is the wind too much for the sails? The boogey monster returns.

Since our departure, we’ve been chased by a strong cold front that now stretches from Bermuda to the Bahamas, just as our weather router predicted. We’ve been able to stay ahead of the front but even 100 miles behind us we can feel its effects—bands of fierce squalls with intense downpours, usually escorted by high winds. After several years in the Caribbean we’ve seen our share of squalls. Most pass pretty quickly except for that one in the Bahamas when nearly 50 knot winds ripped our main sail from the mast. (Read Squall!) That squall has always been unique until now. Today we’ve had three! squalls with extended winds above 40 knots accompanied with a deluge of rain. Sitting at the helm is like being sprayed with a fire hose. Unlike the Bahamas squall; however, we’re prepared and Gémeaux stays in tact.

After dinner, I prepare for bed while Allen and David battle weather, taking down sails and altering course to avoid squalls and lightening. I take a quick shower wiping away days that have run together and it feels good. At 9:30, I fall into bed where the air is hot but I’m desperate to find sleep before another passage day begins. Minutes after my head hits the pillow, Allen wakes me. Every instrument on the boat is dead. The chart plotter that holds all our data, maps, route, weather, radar, EVERYTHING has crashed. The auto pilot that steers the boat is not functioning. All gauges are black. Of course it’s night and pitch black outside…when all disasters occur. And, it’s raining. Our first thought is that we’ve been struck by lightning. But while lightning is visible, no strikes are close to us. We are basically blind—no sight and no radar—and we’re chained to the helm hand steering to a compass.

The upside? We expect failures like this and carry a million spare parts. We have the right part to get the boat’s electronic network functional, but first we have to determine the source of the problem. Our captain brilliantly identifies the issue in the first place he looks. The fuse for the network has blown. No problem—just replace it. Then, the replacement fuse blows as well. Seems we have only a few spare fuses—not a million:( so we’re careful not to waste them. We track the problem down to the helm station—the deluge of rain appears to have shorted the instruments inside bringing down the entire network. The captain jury-rigs a spare autopilot controller into the system, which allows us to use the autopilot through the night. Tomorrow, when daylight arrives and the boogey monster sleeps, we’ll research further. I can hardly wait until my watch begins in a few hours!

When morning arrives, the captain works his magic and gauges, electronics, and autopilot continue working for the final few days as we close in on our destination. Now less than 400 miles away, it’s exciting to see land appear on the chart plotter and we eagerly await that first glimpse of dirt on the horizon. Winds again are light and our fuel capacity even lighter. We’ve been waiting for the trade winds to give us a swift sail the remaining distance but they seem just out of grasp. We pass the mark on the chart plotter where two years ago our underwater escape hatch failed and we drifted during the night while our adhesive repair set. Even though this passage has delivered continuous lines of squalls each night, I’m relieved we’re not dealing with a failing hatch. Confident as I am in Allen’s hatch repair, though, I still can’t help checking it each time I pass by it. Damn hatch. (Read Escape Hatches-Recipe for Disaster.)

The pineapple is gone. Books have been read. We miss the Internet…sort of. We just want to be there. And just like that…that trade winds arrive. Warm and strong boosting our speed to 7-8 knots. The captain is very happy. Barbara and I take our final watch together.The next waypoint on the chart plotter is LAND! Our eta for the island of Tintemarre off St. Martin is 5am the following day. The skies present a celebratory sunrise that paints the entire eastern horizon orange. A school of 10 dolphins playfully weave between our hulls, completing the festive spirit. A bird flies overhead. Time to chill the champagne.

1896 miles

12 days

0 boogey monsters

Enjoyed this post?
Sign up at the bottom of this page
to receive email notifications of future posts!

Read More

Posted on October 15, 2019 | 1 comment

New York New York!

New York New York!

I’m not sure any urban mecca could be at the top of my sailing list, but taking Gémeaux down the East River certainly was a thrill and an absolute spectacular way to enter New York City. 

On that late September day, skies were perfectly clear—that is to say weatherwise, they were sunny and blue. New York’s congested airspace was a jolt to the senses. Commercial airplanes flew in and out of the area’s three busy airports. Helicopters gave hourly tours and transferred company executives whose time was too precious to sit in standstill car traffic. On the water, police boats, water taxis, advertisers, ferries, and pleasure boats raced busily from one port to the next.

I sat on the pulpit at the front edge of our bow and took in all the sights and sounds and, yes Greta Thunberg, smells of the Red Apple. Every few hundred yards we would pass under yet another historic bridge with the subway, bikes, and cars clattering above. What a wonderful perspective from the water noticing, for example, that there is a docked prison barge on the other side of the river from the famed Rikers Island prison.

We passed the United Nations that was just warming up to host the 74th session of the General Assembly, with none other than Greta herself. The new Freedom Tower and Empire State Building towered above hundreds of other skyscrapers and large blocks of apartment complexes. Clearly, our view was better than any car, airplane, or helicopter!

We finally landed at the Brooklyn Marina on the shore of Brooklyn Heights with a jaw-dropping view of Manhattan in the background. We slipped out of boat clothes and put on those horrible things called shoes to wander the upscale neighborhood of historic brownstone townhouses. We provisioned with yummy wines and deli treats and I even got a cat fix at the Brooklyn cat café. I still can’t believe they all escaped becoming boat cats.

The following day, we boarded New York’s subway, the largest in the world with more than 450 stations. The 911 Memorial took our breath away with its creative design and exhibits of artifacts, which immediately transported us back to the heartache of the 2011 attacks.

On a brighter note, Allen’s sister, Anne, joined us the next day where we crammed in a 2pm Broadway matinee of Hamilton and an 8pm performance of The Great Society–LBJ’s presidency facing Vietnam and the civil rights movement. Our family friend, David Garrison, played all the bad guys—Nixon, George Wallace and Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark. We joined more friends and delighted in the chance to go back stage and hug the cast. In typical New York fashion, we sat down for dinner at 11pm. Somehow, in our sleep-deprived stupor, we found our way back to the marina via subway and our heads finally hit the pillows just after 2am. Whew—this pace is hard on us cruisers:)

The next day brought some wind so we sailed up the Hudson River and down by Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, dodging busy waterways on this gorgeous sunny Sunday. The entire weekend was surreal, playing city tourist on land and returning at night to… a sailboat of all things.

Click here to view more New York photos in our photo book of Maine.

Enjoyed this post?
Sign up at the bottom of this page
to receive email notifications of future posts!

Read More

Posted on October 1, 2019 | 0 comments

Millions and Billions of Lobster Pots

Millions and Billions of Lobster Pots

Daylight emerges ever so quietly in a heavy bank of fog. After hours of uninterrupted seas during our overnight passage from Cape Cod, lobster pots make their debut. Suddenly, a loud CLUNK! against the hull draws us all to attention. With only ¼-mile of visibility it’s nearly impossible to see what’s out there, but we’re certain we’ve run into our first lobster pot. Instead, we see a black shark-like fin surface from behind our boat. Our first sun fish with its huge black circular body, bobs away, unfazed by the newcomer in this northern state, and apparently unfazed by a hard, fiberglass hull to the head. Occasionally in this obscured visibility, we stop conversation and say, “Did you hear that?” and then the three of us listen intently to determine if it was a horn or an engine and, more importantly, are we going to collide with it?!

Welcome to Maine.

Dense fog and limited visibility continue all the way to Bar Harbor where we tie up temporarily to a fisherman’s mooring ball for a quick dinghy trip into town to rent sea kayaks. It’s so disorienting to not have any sense of direction or our surroundings in this white landscape, but we manage to get the kayaks onboard and set off to anchor in nearby Northeast Harbor. Barbara and I take turns standing on our little carpet that warms the helm’s chilly floor, being spotters while the captain expertly navigates through never-ending fields of colored buoys.

Over the next week, Barbara and I take our sea kayaks and explore the Maine coastline. Sprawling cabins with four chimneys sit majestically on acres of lush green lawns amidst thick forests of pines. Each homestead is tethered to the water with a long wooden dock that rises and falls with this huge 10-foot Northeastern tide. The variety of boats complete the landscape—noisy lobster boats, weekend motor boats, and beautifully hand-crafted wooden sailboats of all sizes. Rarely do we spot another catamaran.

Even in the beautiful Somes Sound fjard with its thickly-wooded sloping shores that pour into the blue sea, lobster pots litter the water like an urban hillside of Easter eggs. Each day we paddle a little farther, spotting loons, mergansers, and bald eagles. We search for little creeks, take in the detail of seaweed, paddle through dark skies and rain storms, and talk to locals and lobster fishermen. Did you know that 90% of the pots belong to commercial fishermen who hoist up nearly 100 pots a day?

And then we eat lobster…again and again. And it is spectacular. We order it at Abel’s waterfront restaurant, from small docks and diners, and ultimately from the lobster fishermen themselves when they pull up their pots just off our stern. After all, we spend each day navigating around all these lobster pots so of course we should participate in the benefits of the whole industry, right?

Barbara returns home and we continue sailing in Maine with our buddy boat, Exodus, who plays tour guide to their many favorite islands and anchorages. This small state of Maine with more than 4,500 islands has more coastline than California. Every inch of it is stunning. We discover Bucks Harbor, home to Robert McCloskey’s famous children’s book Blueberries for Sal. In this authentic rural fishing village, mom runs the dock, while her daughter studies in the back office for AP exams and her two sons play nonstop with cars on their chalk-drawn driveway city. A 10-year old girl in pigtails and glasses brings in her daily catch. Her lobsters weigh in at 8 pounds on the store sale and the little girl happily runs off with her $32 profit.

Almost a year ago, on the Suzie Too Rally, we met Al and Maggie aboard Sweet Dreams. Today, we visit their home near Pulpit Harbor, a cozy harbor of nearly 100 boats flanked  by a huge osprey nest. We spend an amazing evening at the Turner Farm, where staff greets us with gin and tonics as we wander the farm taking in rows and rows of flowers and vegetables, which later appear on our plates for a delicious 6-course dinner.

Maggie takes us to their local farmer’s market in Vinylhaven, which is the epitome of small-town fun—one produce stand, one guy selling homemade bread wrapped in tea towels, another gal selling lamb grown locally on the island, and about 8 kids marketing lemonade, cupcakes, and rice krispie treats. Everybody knows Maggie and we delight in getting a glimpse of her life in rural Maine. Continuing to be the ultimate hosts, Al and Maggie lead a hike around their island, followed by a yummy lobster dinner at their cottage. If you ever have the pleasure of Maggie cooking for you, be sure to request her cornbread with a secret ingredient.

As we approach the end of August, we join a 3-day rally sponsored by our Ocean Cruising Club’s local port captain, who escorts about 20 boats on a fabulous itinerary to Sea Island, Hurricane Island, and Maple Juice Cove, where American artist Andrew Wyeth created his famous painting of Cristina’s World.

Before this short sailing season ends, however, we want to reach the furthest northern point of Maine so we leave the rally and head down east to Roque Island, which sits just this side of the Canadian border at 44 degrees North. I love the rugged landscape and the secluded bay of Bunker Cove, which we share with about 15 seals who swim so close we can hear their breath. Mid-morning on the following day, we deem the tide ideal for mussel foraging. My neoprene glacier gloves are the perfect solution for picking off clusters of sharp, barnacle-covered mussels from rocks just below the surface of the water while Allen guides the dinghy around the shoreline.

Back onboard, the two captains sit on the stern of their boats, searing off barnacles until the mussels looked restaurant worthy. Ronna and I cook a delicious wine and garlic broth for our fresh mussels and the meal is spectacular! …and nobody died:)

All in all, the weather this Maine season is gorgeous. The lack of wind often forces us to motor instead of sail, but we’re grateful for many many sun-filled, albeit cold days. It’s hard to imagine that in a few months we’ll be dripping in Caribbean sweat. For now, however, we enjoy lazy mornings snuggling under down comforters until someone works up the courage to make coffee. When we do sail, the Captain has mastered a unique method for spotting lobster pots:)

The water temperature is about 50 degrees. The captain has made two very fast dives to dislodge lobster buoys that have become one with our props while tied to mooring balls…brrrr. Although there’s no snorkeling and we paddle board very carefully to stay dry, we explore ashore at nearly every anchorage. We pick wild raspberries and blueberries on Mistake Island; hike to Jordan Pond from Northeast Harbor to enjoy hot popovers; visit more sailing friends in Sorrento, warm our bodies on large granite slabs scattered throughout Merchant Island; hike to the 556-foot! summit on Isle au Haut in Acadia National Park; and learn that in fact before Plymoth AND Provincetown, those busy pilgrims arrived on the little Maine island of Damariscove. We need to update our history books!

Monhegan Island is love at first sight, albeit its long list of rules. The island is 1.4 miles long and nearly a mile across, but stands majestically alone 10 miles from the mainland. We raft together with Exodus for two days of communal living on one of the few available mooring balls near a small rock outcropping, which is flush with nesting gulls and cormorants and seals basking in the sun. Protected woodlands offer several trails on the island that wander through dense forests of spruce and fir and then open up high above a rocky coastline below. For once we can see more than just heads of seals, the clear water exposing their entire bodies drifting vertically in the surf below.

Local crafted beer (and tater tots!) at the Monhegan Brewing Company is the perfect reward for a long hike, followed by a lobster dinner from the Fish House Fish Market that we enjoy back on Gémeaux. Equally as beautiful as the forest is the town of Monhegan—home to many local artists, inns, shops, the world’s first solar-powered post office, a farmer’s market, and a general store that carries all of life’s necessities, including fresh-baked baguettes. Smoking is strictly prohibited anywhere outside the village to avoid destroying the entire wooded island in a nano second. Through rain sprinkles the following day, we explore trail #11 in Cathedral Woods that leads us through dozens of  fairy homes, creative miniature constructions using bits and pieces of surrounding nature. We seek shelter from the rain and tour the Monhegan Museum, fascinated once again by the array of historical artifacts that these rural islands manage to collect. On this day after Labor Day, lobster pots begin appearing as Monhegan’s fishermen return to being lobstermen after a busy season of playing deep fishing guides to visitors. It’s time for us to go.

Even though we are far north of the hurricane line, Dorian threatens the Eastern seaboard, having just devastated the Bahamas. We alter plans, as weather often dictates in this sailing life, and head to DiMillo’s Marina in Portland where a slip costs us $200/night…ouch! Hurricane Dorian ends up bypassing Maine so we simply enjoy the sights of this lovely town built on cobblestone roads—martinis at Blythe and Burrows, lobster mac and cheese at 555, and the best…provisioning at Whole Foods.

In only four weeks, we’ve covered about 500 miles of Maine, just scratching the surface. We bid a sad farewell to this remarkable state and begin our southbound journey, props in tact and no lobster pots dragging behind.

Click here to view our photo book of Maine.

Enjoyed this post?
Sign up at the bottom of this page
to receive email notifications of future posts!

Read More

Posted on August 1, 2019 | 2 comments

Hey Gémeaux–Where Did You Go?

Hey Gémeaux–Where Did You Go?

New Year…near year’s resolutions—I’ll write more! I actually do write an entry every day in our log book but all the sailing talk would bore you. You know I love to write and really I want to keep you up-to-date on all our adventures. Did you also know I get sea sick? Yes, an occupational hazard. So when we’re sailing I can’t write, or read for that matter. I do all my reading through Audible books now. When seas are calm at our anchorages, I swim or snorkel or hike or explore town. Sometimes I do laundry, sometimes I provision the boat, i.e., walk or take the dinghy to a market and schlep groceries back to the boat. (Stay tuned for an article on provisioning.) When we have company onboard, forget about writing. And of course, there’s always a long list of projects and stainless steel that needs to be polished. You don’t really think I sit around and watch sunsets all day, do you?

Okay, let’s bring you up to date because we’ve covered a lot of ground and we’re going to be covering more. One more excuse—it’s hard to keep up!

Most insurance companies define hurricane season between July 15th and November 1st. During that time, your boat must be either north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina or south of Grenada to maintain regular coverage. In 2018, we pulled Gémeaux out of the water and she sat on the hard in a Grenada boatyard for hurricane season. For the 2019 summer, we decided to keep her in the water and sail to Maine. The Suzie Too Rally to the Western Caribbean (See Rally Reflections) finished at the end of April in Belize. We needed to put on some miles to get all the way north to Maine for the summer. One month after the rally ended, we were sitting in a marina in Annapolis, Maryland. We sailed nearly 5,000 miles during that season, 2,000 of which we covered in the final 2-3 weeks making our way up from the Caribbean, past Florida, and into the Chesapeake Bay. I didn’t write much at that time:(

While we ran around the country in June, visiting family and making sure the California house was still standing, Gémeaux remained in Annapolis for a little facelift—galvanized anchor chain, carbon fiber sails, and new 1200 watt solar panels were the most exciting. And you thought only seeing an octopus tickled my fancy. Finally, after nearly six weeks, we snuck out of the marina one pre-dawn morning, pointed Gémeaux north, and headed for Maine.

Since it’s about 600 miles between Annapolis and Maine, the Captain graciously allowed a few stops along the way. We stuffed our faces with Maryland Blue Crabs in Cape May, NJ; rented bikes and ate hot donuts from Payne’s Killer Donuts on Block Island, RI; and watched 12-meter sailboat races with Jim Moore off the coast of Newport, RI—the sailing capital of the U.S. Up and down the east coast, we sailed with dark-hulled monohulls and weekend sailors. We were definitely the black sheep in our double-wide.

July was family month—first my dad and then my niece and nephew. New England proved to be the ideal destination for these visits—short day sails, lovely beaches and anchorages where we could paddle board and swim, lots of seafood, and ice cream everywhere. I’ve spent little time on the East Coast so I thoroughly enjoyed finally seeing Martha’s Vineyard, Chappaquiddick Island, and my new favorites—Cuttyhunk and Hadley Harbor. We even witnessed history as a water spout and record storm with 65 knots of wind struck the area. I loved having the kids onboard—teaching them to paddle board, playing for hours in the sand, watching Kyle fish for hours, and watching Sydney’s horror when Allen first showed her how to shuck oysters and then ate the critter.

The revolving door continued into August as our dear friend, Barbara Thomas, came onboard in Plymouth, MA and sailed with us to Maine. First stop, however, was Provincetown on the northern tip of Cape Cod. And what an absolute delight. We explored great shops and galleries, met up with long-time Park Service friends, climbed the Pilgrim Monument, kayaked and paddle boarded up and down the bay, and hiked the Dune Shacks Trail and gorgeous shoreline. I even had a spa day—haircut, massage, and chiropractor. Most importantly, we learned the REAL story of where the pilgrims landed—in Provincetown of course.

Next stop…Maine.

Enjoyed this post?
Sign up at the bottom of this page
to receive email notifications of future posts!

Read More