Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Busman's Holiday...

This post is going to be totally off topic as far as this blog goes. I'm hoping you won't mind some tropical photos from a different part of the tropics. I don't have any 'fresh' photos from the TCI because we have not been in the TCI lately. Ah, but we do have some new photos. Oh, yes sir, indeed we do.

And the subject of this post could also be..'Where do people who live on tropical islands go for vacation?" Well, normal people probably go play in the snow. Not us. We had quite enough of that in our previous lives. When we leave our tropical island we like to go to.... other tropical islands. I don't know what it is. Maybe La Gringa and I were born with just a fraction of a percent more salt water in our systems than is specified. But we are definitely water people.

And I want to warn you up front that this is probably going to be one of our longer posts. This because there are a lot of photos associated with it. And some Google Earth drawings. And the good news is that there is hardly any DIY stuff in this one.

Now, for the 'traditional' 2 Gringos blog post sunrise, how about a misty morning anchored at Christmas Cove near St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands? This is where we were last Thursday night and Friday morning:



La Gringa and I just spent this week in the US and the British Virgin Islands pulling on ropes and cranking on winches every day until we were exhausted. I know it might seem strange to a lot of people that this is our idea of a vacation. But it is. We went from this group of islands to another group of islands only about 500 miles southeast of here. If you'll bear with me for a minute, I will explain.

We have both long been interested in learning to sail. Oh we each could "sail" of course. I owned a 16 ft. daysailor on Cape Cod for many years, and we have each sailed Sunfish and Hobie Cat kind of things. She has been on a sloop in the Pacific Northwest and I once had a boss who took me out in the North Atlantic on a classic Cal 40. Our little rubber kayak 'Low Cay' has a sail. So we both know the basics, and have for a long time. But we wanted to learn to sail.. As in really sail. As in serious sailing. Well maybe not that serious. Not like four masted schooners or tall ships with hundreds of crewmen.

We are interested in being able to 'bareboat charter' sailboats big enough to live on for a week. Or longer. 'Bareboat' means you rent the boat, load it up with groceries and fuel, and take off. On your own, no other crew involved. It's like it's your boat for the length of the charter. Or forever if you break it.

The people who rent these boats out like to think that the people renting them can be trusted with a half million bucks worth of boat. Or their insurance companies do, anyhow. And sailing boats with a number of staterooms is a lot different than sailing a little Sunfish. The ropes are bigger, for one thing. And there are more of them. And these boats have their own language. We wanted to learn the difference between a second reefing line, a cunningham, and a boom vang. Doesn't everyone?

Anyhow, we just had another of our mutual birthdays and we well understand that we are not getting any younger. And this year we decided to finally go for it. We lined up a week's instruction with the Fair Winds Sailing School out of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. They offer courses sanctioned by the American Sailing Association. And we decided not to make it too easy on ourselves. Normally, the sailing schools will fill a boat with student sailors. The boat we were on has berths for up to ten people. We booked it for just the two of us plus the captain/instructor.

Our thinking on this is that since it will be just the two of us sailing the boats, we should learn what it's like to sail a boat that big with just two people. With a bunch of other students aboard, there would always be a spare pair of hands to grab a line, trim a jib, dance a hornpipe, pick up a mooring, ration grog, splice a mainbrace, swab a deck, organize a mutiny, make a sandwich, or perform some other obscure sailing tradition. If we learned how to sail with a crew of six, and then took off in a rented boat someday with just two of us aboard... well, you see what I mean. We would not be prepared. We would look around and start shouting orders like 'Hoist the Main" and "Shiver the Timbers!", only to sheepishly realize that we were the only crew and were talking to ourselves. We figured we better be able to do it all, just the two of us.

This is called sailing shorthanded. It has nothing to do with sleeve length or playing poker.

We dropped Dooley the Disgusted off at the kennel, hardened ourselves against his beseeching looks of astonished abandonment (I swear he practices those looks) and flew North to Miami.

Upon arriving in Miami, we then turned around and flew back south OVER the TCI and landed on St. Thomas, USVI. Yep. We flew 1700 miles to end up 500 miles from where we started. Not a lot of options from a place like this. We spent the first night at a nice hotel called Secret Harbour. Waking up the next morning, we pretty much knew we were not in the Turks and Caicos Islands anymore. It's all different.

This is the view from the hotel :



And from a slightly different angle:



These islands are volcanic. The TCI islands are sedimentary. This makes for a huge difference in geology. Without going into all that here, let's just say it's a nice change of scenery.

We checked out Saturday morning and made our way down to the the American Yacht Basin in Red Hook. "Our boat" was not in yet, so we wandered around the dock taking photos. La Gringa finally got a chance to really start learning all the doodads on her new Pentax. Good thing she had it, too. You'll know why a little later in the post.



Man, there are all kinds of boats in this place. Being unrepentant boat people, we were like kids in a candy shop with momma's Master Card. I wanted one of each. Of course.

There were big boats that intimidated us:



(We gotta learn to sail through these guys?? In a plastic boat with sheets?)

And there were little boats that made us feel not so guilty about our own tangled dock lines and cluttered bilges..



And there were strange boats like these water taxi's with wave piercing bows:



And power boats. Lots of power boats. We saw a number of pangas which made us a little nostalgic for Cay Lime.



This one is used by a Department of Natural Resources research group who obviously gather a lot of water samples:



Yep, that's a Yamaha outboard. In fact we noticed that Yamaha is very strong in these islands as well as in the TCI. There are nine of them in this photo alone:



Almost made me wanna whip out some metric tools and get to work removing a fuel pump or blowing out an injector or something. I said 'almost'...

We wandered around the little town there a bit. Bought some t-shirts. Some flip flops with bottle openers in the bottoms. La Gringa got a new hat. We played Touron for a while and Looked at the Sights.



Did anyone else notice that the two signs for "tourist info " and "Puerto Rico" are both pointing to the same direction across 40 miles of ocean? Hmm....I guess that's a subtle way of telling people where to go...

Here's A collection of flotsam or is it jetsam?



We had lunch at a place on the dock called "Molly Malone's", where there are live iguanas wandering around between the other lounge lizards:



And we met some other sailing students there also waiting for their ships to come in. We could spot them easily as they were desperately studying ASA sailing books while swilling Margaritas. Turns out that these are both very valuable characteristics of sailors everywhere.

We went back down to the docks and hung out waiting for our assigned boat to arrive. She was due at 1400 hrs. local. Which is an hour ahead of US East Coast time. See, we are picking up some sailor lingo by osmosis already. And of course we did our best not to look like tourists...



All I needed were black knee socks and a camera hanging around my neck. Thank Poseidon I have a wife with taste who stops me just shy of that kind of stuff.

Finally, we spotted "La Bella Vita" coming down the channel headed for the dock. This was to be our home and classroom for the next week:



The guy on the bow was only along to help Captain Tim with the boat until his new crew (two Gringos, reportedly) was aboard. He did not go along with us.

Of course we were looking forward to meeting Captain Tim, the guy who would be instructing us on the fine parts of sailing for the next week. Right off the bat we found out we had a lot in common. We have discovered this about people who love the ocean and boats and the tropics in general. To our astonishment, we found out that Tim and La Gringa grew up about five miles apart near Pittsburgh, and actually swam on the same swimming team at the same time back in the day. Go figure.

We spent the rest of Saturday getting our stuff stowed in our spacious stateroom suite...



An escape hatch above the bed. Why didn't I think of that?

We formed a bucket brigade and La Gringa took charge of stowing provisions in the galley:



And we spent the rest of the first evening getting acquainted with the safety equipment and the boat in general. We really like this boat. We first heard of this model about seven or eight years ago when it won "Multihull of the Year" or something similar.



That orange thing is a Type IV throwable PFD. The boat has two of those, two inflatable life rafts, a number of BI and BII fire extinguishers... flares, all the stuff required on a boat this size. And we had to learn about all of it. USCG regulations. We are still in the USA here, after all.

We spent Saturday night aboard but tied up at the slip in Red Hook. It was a hot, noisy, sleepless kind of a night. Slips are not that great for sleeping on a boat, as it turns out. Too confining. Constricting. The breeze is blocked. Things are constantly bumping the hull, except when the hull is constantly bumping things. Fenders squeak. (By fenders I mean rubber boat bumpers, not guitars or Country Western singers) Other boats pump water overboard off and on all night which makes you want to do the same. We were happy to get underway on Sunday morning.

Captain Tim wasted no time getting into sailing mode. We practiced getting the main sail and jib up and were tacking ourselves away from the harbor shortly after breakfast. Man, this was instant hands-on. Sailing while the coffee was still hot. La Gringa at the helm:



I wish I had kept better notes of some of the places we went. In fact, I wish I had kept any notes at all. Being a navigator by nature this is all still very fresh in my mind, however, and I can come pretty close to approximating our daily travels.

Our path that first day out of Red Hook looked something like this, only not so neat:



Sunday morning we worked our way from St. Thomas up to Francis Bay on the Northwest coast of St. Johns. We were sailing into strong Northeast winds and Capt. Tim told us Sunday evening that we tacked something like 35 times. I believe it. I know we felt like we were under a tack for most of the day. The places where the tacks (that's sailor talk for zig zags) get short are where we were trying to sail between big serious looking rocks. A sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind. So you turn back and forth across the wind to get where you are going. It takes a long time. A sailboat is not the best idea for someone on a schedule. But we are okay with that. Gives you plenty of time and the scenery is absolutely beautiful, and very different from the islands where we live:



Working our way up the Windward Passage:



We experienced what are called the "Christmas Winds" all week. This means we had breezes varying between 15 to 30 knots just about every day. It made for some pretty exciting sailing. This is the wake the boat makes while choogling along:



Making 9.8 knots speed over the ground while seeing almost 24 knots of apparent wind:



These are exactly the kind of conditions that would normally keep us off the water with our power boat. But for a big sailboat, they are ideal for putting a good stiff boogie on it. Since we have the trade winds for about 300 days a year where we live.... well you can see where we are going with this.

On our first day we experienced engine troubles. Gosh... did I annoy the boat motor god in a previous life or something?. For a while there I thought I was going to get to use my new fuel injector expertise but it wasn't the engine, it was the starter solenoid. We couldn't start the port engine from the cockpit. Capt. Tim already knew how to hotwire past the solenoid, all we needed was a piece of wire:




Working on the engine under the aft port berth, Tim touched a wrench to the positive terminal of the battery and the engine block and we were momentarily startled by a little shower of sparks. And right after that, La Gringa decided to snap these photos, and her camera flash going off behind us after the sparks incident sort of startled us...



Blurred images mean subject motion in this case...

(But this is the end of the DIY in this post! I promise!)

For the rest of the trip, every time we needed to start the port engine one of us had to go below and touch two of these wires together to turn the starter over.



And the starboard engine was leaking coolant, so we couldn't use that very much. This is what you call your basic realistic conditions at sea, I suppose. Oh well, we're here for training.

We 'picked up a mooring' in Francis Bay and secured the boat for the night. And were we ever ready to be done sailing for the day at that point. We cranked winches, hauled jib sheets, slacked the mainsail and tacked. And tacked. And tacked. And Capt. Tim showed us a zillion different navigation buoys and dayshapes and hazards. We had to learn them all. And we had to use a chart and not rely on the GPS. And every time we approached another boat or one approached us, he would quiz us on who had the right of way and why. In sailing parlance, this is the difference between being the 'stand on' vessel and the 'give way' vessel. And there are rules covering every situation. And there are a lot of situations.

Headed into Francis/Maho Bay under power, La Gringa was on the wheel to pick up her first mooring. Capt. Tim was there to give her directions on the throttles while I was up forward to grab the mooring:



Sunday night we cooked our first dinner aboard while moored in Maho Bay, which is part of Francis Bay. Fresh fish grilled over an open flame. It tasted delicious of course. Nevermind that we would have happily chewed palm leaves or eaten raw land crabs and bugs by that point, it was good we didn't have to. We were very well-stocked for provisions.

This part of St. Johns is a National Park as is most of the entire island. Heading into Maho Bay, we could see there were no stores or restaurants in this part of the Park:



I don't know what this building is but it sure looked tropical. So we took some photos. La Gringa's photos came out a lot better than mine did so most of the images in this post are her work. Not all of them, but most.



This is another of the Fair Winds Sailing School boats, leased for this week to accomodate other sailing students since La Gringa and I selfishly hired "La Bella Vita" for ourselves. This one is called "Cat Can Do" and there were six aboard. I think.



It is very peaceful sleeping on a catamaran on a mooring. With the hatches open the breeze keeps the inside of the boat cool and comfortable. Bugs were not a problem, once we got out of Red Hook. Every now and then a rain shower blows by and rain comes blowing in the open emergency hatch over the bed at about fifteen knots into your face, but it's a simple matter to wake up in panic and then reach up and shut it. The upside is that you wake up every morning with a clean face. Nature's own power washer.

There are some ruins around Maho Bay, and we took some photos of them. I don't know what this was but it looked pretty cool - all overgrown with plants sneaking through the windows:



Capt. Tim told us that this building was the old customs house in years gone by. Not much of it left these days.



I guess some customs die harder than others.

Every day we had breakfast and lunch on board the boat. For dinners we sometimes took the inflatable dinghy into a seaside restaurant if we were anchored near one. Some nights we cooked our own dinner using a neat little stainless steel propane grill on "La Bella Vita".

After breakfast we raised the sails and away we went. These were some sail-intensive days, for sure. Near as I can recall, this is about what our general track would have looked like on Monday:



Again, we worked our way up into the prevailing winds. In sailing terms, this is called 'beating to weather'. And that's a pretty accurate way to describe it. Except it's not the weather that's getting beaten. Of course after a while you get into the rhythm and logic of it, and it all starts to make sense and feel natural. Like regular beatings anywhere, I suppose.

We saw a number of nice anchorages during the week in addition to the ones where we stayed for the nights. This looks like a good safe place for a sailboat to park:



We took our first break on Monday by sailing into a little town called Soper's Hole on the west end of the island of Tortola. Oh boy. My first opportunity to drive this boat in traffic! We dropped the sails and motored into the mooring field, Gringo on the helm:



This is the British Virgin Islands and as such a completely different country than the US Virgin Islands. We had to visit Her Majesty's Customs and Immigration building, where we got stamps in our passports and a cruising permit that allows us to sail the BVI for several days.



So, once again we find ourselves in a British Overseas Territory. We just left one of those on Friday. Gosh, that didn't take long.

Actually this is part of the sailing education, how to clear a boat and crew into foreign ports. The passport stamps are different than the ones you get in airports. They are like temporary visas, and list the boat name.

Until you receive customs clearance, the boat is considered to be 'in quarantine' and you fly a yellow quarantine flag to display your compliance with the regulations. La Gringa practicing some knots:



Leaving Soper's Hole we continued to work our way to windward, and toward our intended destination for the night in the lee of Norman Island.

Where you see little squiggle circles and figure 8's on my drawings, these are places where we stopped tacking to learn other maneuvers. The Figure 8's are where we practiced various 'Man Overboard' or MOB drills. These are specific sailing maneuvers you do to recover someone who falls off the boat. There are set sequences of sailing maneuvers that put the boat back next to where the idiot fell off the boat without using the motors to get there. We did a lot of those. I am making a mental note to get Dooley the easily Detached another life jacket.

At some point during the day the old Gringo learned the hard way how much force a sail exerts on a sheet. I released a jib sheet while still holding it lightly in my hands. That's all it takes on a boat this size.

A 'sheet', by the way, is a sailing term for 'rope that burns fingers very quickly'. And I think I must have realized my error right as my fingerprints burned away because I immediately called out "Oh, sheet!.



My thumbs and one pinky survived unscathed. The other seven fingers were blistered quicker than you can say Alexander Selkirk. Or Robinson Crusoe. Or even Willy Bligh...

Speaking of Willy's, after dinner at the Pirate's Bight Restaurant on Norman Island we boated over to the infamous "Willy T's" restaurant a few hundred yards away. The actual name of the boat is the William Thornton, which of course got shortened to Willy T.



This is a boat converted to a restaurant/bar, with the emphasis on bar. Those of you who have sailed these waters will know of the "Willy T". Those who haven't might want to Google it. It was pretty tame while we were there, but then we only stayed long enough for one drink and to buy a couple t-shirts. And La Gringa finally replaced the favorite hat she lost during one of Preacher's wild maneuvers back in the T.C.I.

We did a lot of swimming on this trip. We were in the water every day without fail. While at this anchorage we snorkelled over to a spot called The Caves on Norman Island. I took the little 'waterproof' Olympus along, naturally, to get some underwater shots. I managed to get this one:



And then took this one to illustrate the steepness of the slopes here:



Then I took a deep breath and dove down to get a photo of a barrel coral about 15-20 feet down, and the camera went completely blank. No display. The little LED lights acted like it was still taking photos, but the LCD was history. Dang. My second Olympus Stylus SW waterproof camera in two years. I have simply GOT to find a reliable, waterproof, pocket digital camera. There MUST be one out there somewhere.

Even though the camera display was now totally blank I did try to take some photos as we snorkelled up into one of the caves here. The underwater photos did not come out worth diddly, but this is a flash photo at the far end of the inside of the cave. It was too dark to even see in there without the flash.



It was kinda creepy going from the clear, sunny tropical seas into a dark cave. There were some other caves to explore, but we didn't even bother. Once was enough for us, basically. We'd rather look at colorful stuff, and sunlight. I was reading the history of Norman Island later, and found out that there actually has been a fair bit of treasure found here, with more supposedly still unfound. And it's a privately owned island. Hmmm.

Back on board "La Bella Vita" La Gringa managed to get a shot of me explaining my continuously worsening opinion of Olympus cameras while I dried off the memory chip and battery.. For those of you contemplating a Stylus SW camera, this one leaked around both waterproof hatches.



Good thing there's no audio with this. And this was the end of the underwater shots on this trip. The camera failed on the first dive, despite the waterproof to 33 feet spec. Horsefeathers. Drat. And I am going to pull out all the stops and throw in a Dagnabbit here. I am pretty sure there won't be any more Olympus products in my future. Did you know the Olympus Stylus SW cameras are actually made in China, by the way? I didn't. I do... now. Figures.

At first I thought maybe it was just the display that pooped out on me, since the camera was still flashing and making picture taking noises. Of course it's real hard to be sure when you can't see the menus or review the photos. I had hoped to get some video, and I did try a few. Sadly, I found out later after we got home and uploaded the images that the display was not the only thing to drown. It also has other problems. But as bad as it is, we did manage to get this much video of La Gringa running the boat. Not great video quality, but enough for you to see about what the boat was like while moving:

video

This is the "Mighty Oak", which is also from Fair Winds Sailing School. We generally saw these guys every evening as we coordinated with them on where we would be dropping the hook for the night.



They had 8 people on that boat, with the Captain sleeping in the salon. While we had two empty staterooms on our boat.... we tended to change the subject at dinner when they started talking about our 'private yacht'......

But while those students got to take turns at the various sailing duties, they got a break to observe others between turns. We didn't have that. We had our hands full all day, all the time, every day. For example, we found out that the students on the "Mighty Oak" had not spent much time on learning how to 'heave-to'. (No, this is not a motion sickness term, it's a way to stabilize the boat on a slow, comfortable point of sail) We, on the other hand, HAD to know how to heave-to the boat in order to free us up to even eat lunch. We also plan to use the heaving-to maneuver as a man-overboard reaction when it is just the two of us sailing. This is very, very practical knowledge that La Gringa and I practiced repeatedly and that we probably would not have even seen much of had we been on a boat full of willing sailors.

The 'Delivery Boat' comes out with beer, ice, hot dogs, etc. to sell the same to anchored boaters that have run out of the aforementioned goodies. Ice, $6 a bag.



(those prices sound a lot like the TCI, don't they?)

Tuesday morning we started out the day by heading over to a group of rocks called the Indians. Once again La Gringa ran the boat while I readied a mooring bridle:



You have to be able to work the throttles just right to bring the boat gently up to the mooring ball from downwind. It's actually trickier than you might think. Good thing we have a whole lot of experience running boats under power. I suspect this part of the whole learning curve thing was easier for us than it was for people totally new to boating.

This is what a mooring ball looks like as La Gringa turned the bows toward it so I could snag it. There is about a ten or fifteen foot tether floating from under the buoy, which you grab to tie your boat to, using a bridle when the boat is a catamaran. The tether was under the surface in this photo. Not all moorings are equal. Some are missing bridles, some are encrusted in barnacle communities that react to being disturbed by making your hands bleed. Some moorings are frazzled and unsafe. In the more popular stopping spots you need to be early to get the good ones. We were always early. That's one of those practical things an experienced Captain can teach ya.



By now she was getting to be quite good at judging just how to work the throttles to ease the boat up so that I could snag the mooring ball with a boat-hook:



The snorkelling at the Indians was fantastic even this early in the morning before the sun really lit up the coral. A real shame I couldn't get any more underwater photos. If you ever get a chance to take a look at the bottom here, do it.

After our morning swim and breakfast, we again hoisted the sails and spent the day learning more of all that salty sounding sailing stuff. And this is basically our journey for Tuesday:



As you can see we spent a lot of the day learning to sail downwind. We practiced reaches, jibing, and heaving to for lunch (my personal favorite). There is a lot of sailboat traffic in the BVIs since it is just about a perfect place to sail. Learning the rules of the road is not just an academic exercise here as one frequently finds oneself in a situation where one is on a collison course with another boat. Both captains have to understand who goes where and why. This is no place for indecision or murky intentions. This guy had to pass behind us, for example, because while we were on a broad reach and he was beating to windward, he was on a port tack and we were on a starboard. If we had both been on port tacks, we would have been the 'stand-down' vessel because we were to his windward. See, that's the kind of thing we didn't know a week ago. And you gotta know it. You can't start fumbling for the book or wait to boot up Google when headed toward each other.



Besides, that's a monohull. We multihull sailors know those guys are seldom on an even keel to begin with.

After a nice long series of easy reaches, we once more had to beat our way up into the wind planning to anchor for the night at Diamond Cay. Oh boy, more tacking. We 'fell off' to a beam reach just leeward of Sandy Cay on our way into Diamond Cay. We planned to come out and anchor here the next day when we left Diamond Cay.



Unfortunately, we had some issues with the anchor windlass and chain and ended up sailing back down to Great Harbour on Jost Van Dyke where we could tie up to a mooring to work out the windlass issues. I got some good practice in holding the boat into the wind over a spot on the bottom while Capt. Tim and La Gringa tried to get the anchor down. Good training for a young seaman...

A now familiar view from the port side self tailing winch looking up at the jib and main. We saw a lot of this:



Okay, another day's sailing down, another written test, and another dinghy ride ashore for dinner and another soaking getting back on board. Starting to feel normal by now.

Now, on Wednesday...... we sailed some more. Surprise surprise. We left Great Harbor and went messing around in the ocean between Jost Van Dyke and Tortola:



This time we managed to anchor near Diamond Cay at the east end of Jost Van Dyke. We met up with the crew from the Mighty Oak for dinner at Foxy's Taboo restaurant. La Gringa managed to get her cell phone working, finally. She was getting notices that she had voice mail, but couldn't retrieve them.



Of course I gave her a hard time about having the laptop and cell phone out there on deck.. told her she was having withdrawal symptoms... she didn't appreciate my attempts at humor.



All week we continued to learn things about the boat. For example, there was this little hole in the sole (deck) on the bridge deck in the galley...



And if you stick your finger in it and lift it up, you find a hatch that opens to the sea when the boat is in the upright position..



Catamarans are stable because of the two hulls. They rarely get blown over when they are this big but if they DO get blown over, they are stable upside down, too. This hatch lets you get out of the boat when it's upside down. It also lets you get back into the boat to retrieve supplies if it is upside down and you are sitting on the bottom of it. Probably a good idea.

Thursday morning we left Diamond Cay and made a short trip over and anchored in the lee of Sandy Cay for breakfast, and to take yet another of our four written tests for the week. Yeah, we had to take written tests in addition to proving to Capt. Tim that we could do the actual sailing parts.

Just when you think you have finally done enough time on Earth to see the last of the old No. 2 pencil...



And Capt. Tim spent a lot of time teaching us the things we needed to know about rules and regulations and procedures during the times when we were not out sailing or ashore drinking rum. He is very good at imparting the course material:



And the little booger delights in tripping you up when he can, as well...



Actually, I think that time he was happy I finally got it right on when you can use a tricolor mast light, a steaming light and a 360 degree anchor light. We color-blind guys have to memorize some of these things.

We did very well on the written tests, by the way. Fair Winds sent us the course study material weeks before and we had read it through before we even got to the boat..Our lowest scores on any of the four written tests were still in the 90s on the hardest test. Straight A students, both of us. Pat pat pat pat pat pat. ouch. My arm hurts.

There was a small shore break at one end of the little island:



We hadn't been there long when a series of squalls blew through. We were glad to be in a nice calm spot.



It was a good time to have breakfast while waiting out the weather. Coffee and toasted bagels...



And when the squalls blew themselves out, we had yet another nice rainbow:



Those guys seemed in a hurry to leave, maybe they know something we don't. You can also see the boats gas grill in that photo, along with a rod bracket for fishing. There was a fishing rod on board but we didn't even try it. We were kinda busy most days. But we did stick around a little longer and La Gringa got a better rainbow photo:



After leaving Sandy Cay we did some more tacking and circling practice and then we all decided to take off for one of the more exciting sails of the week when we decided to circumnavigate Jost Van Dyke. It was a lot of downwind run and a broad reach after we cleared the tip of Little Jost van Dyke. This put us out of the Caribbean Sea and out into the North Atlantic. There were no other sailboats in sight on that side of the islands, we had the open ocean all to ourselves for as far as the eye could see. I have to admit, this felt like our idea of blue water sailing even though we had Jost Van Dyke in sight the whole time. We chortled and grinned and told ourselves none of the other student sailors were out in the open ocean on a day like this... and none of the others were sailing a boat this size short handed out in the open ocean on a day like this.... In fact none of the experienced sailors were out there, either. Just the three of us.



Guess it was just one of those days. You had to be there.

This is a view from the top of the boat, looking down at the trampolines forward. Each of the four staterooms has a hatch above the berth so that you can escape if you need to.



You could sleep four on those tramps in a sheltered anchorage, with blankets and pillows. They are also absolutely perfect for relaxing and watching the stars at night. I know for a fact that SOME people tend to doze off under those conditions...

Here I am sailing away on one of my turns at the helm.



That window above the helm station lets you look up and see what the main sail is doing. Pretty handy.

After sailing all the way around Jost Van Dyke we ran down to Cruz Bay on St. John and cleared back into the USA. After that it was a short sail down to a neat place called Christmas Cove where we anchored for the night. That is where La Gringa took the neat sunrise photo that I started this post with.

Ah...dropping the main at the end of another day of hard sailing..



By this time we were both pretty comfortable with sailing a boat this size. We learned a lot and picked up four ASA certifications each. We had to be back at the dock in Red Hook on St. Thomas by shortly after noon so we left Christmas Cove for our last sail of the trip on Friday morning. The winds were blowing hard again, up above 24 knots. We made several tacks out into the open water, and then did some more man overboard drills just to demonstrate to Captain Tim that we could handle it.



We tacked back and forth out of Red Hook waiting for boat traffic to clear and for the fuel dock to be available and then we dropped the sails for the last time before I took it in under power and practiced driving the boat through crowded mooring fields and up to two different docks. At last, the sailing part of the week was over.



La Gringa managed to catch our last sunset on La Belle Vita the night we spent anchored at Christmas Cay:



This was both the hardest, and the most fun vacation we have ever had. Not too shabby for a couple of old Gringos.

29 comments:

jschieff said...

What a wonderful vacation. Does your sailing education portend a major new acquisition in the TCI?

I wonder how Dooley the uberpooch will take to sailing?

vanmartin said...

This was an awesome post. Hope to see you sailing your own boat one day!

Gringo said...

Dooley likes boats. The bigger the better but he'll take whatever is available.

We are of course shopping around for a suitable weekender type multihull for these waters. So far, the Corsair trailerable trimarans are getting our attention.

We are toying with the idea of buying one in Florida and sailing it here through the Bahamas.

Rosi said...

Awesome report, really detailed thank you.
St. John is my home and that picture you took was from Little Maho with the place all boarded up. I always tell people that will be my home one day.

MMR said...

Wonderful post! We've bareboat charted in BVI 5+ times and loved every minute. While every boat handles differently, we feel our confidence growing by leaps and bounds every time we charter.

Our "at home" boat is a Gemini 105MC catamaran, which gives us a vacation feel every time we sail her. Lots of Gemini's in Florida and Bahamas; might be worth a look!

Bill said...

Great post!

I know you said you are looking for a multi-hull, but have you seen the Seaward 26RK? Its monohulled but has a retractable keel and can sail in something like 10" of water. Might be good for the TCI. But I guess cats and tri's don't draw much either...

Anyway, I really enjoyed this one, my wife and I have been wanting to take one of the live aboard classes. Can't wait till we can!

Anonymous said...

This is too funny....like de-ja-vu. My husband and I did this exact same bareboat the previous week. Your blog reads like mine would have, had I actually done one. We were on the exact same boat but we did not take an instructor out with us for the week. We met up with Tim throughout the week, as he was on the other Fairwinds boat (Mifhty Oak) with 4 students. (We actually took the course two years prior.) BTW, we had those same engine problems; hot wire one and add coolant to the other. We did miss the Christmas winds this trip but had the pleasure of them 2 years ago, along with some hurrican effects from a different path. Agreed, one of the best vacations ever!!!

Gringo said...

That is pretty funny. The Mighty Oak was full up last week, with Capt. Gary sleeping in the salon.

Meanwhile, we had tons of room on La Bella Vita. But we wanted it that way.

MMR, we have long been looking at the Gemini 105s as an ideal 'at home' boat for us. The problem here in the TCI is that there are very few places to keep a boat that size unless you live on a canal or know somone who does and has space.

That's why lately we have been researching the Corsairs. We like the F24 and F27 trimarans. We do have room to keep one on a trailer at the house.

boat survey said...

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Deb and Jay said...

I wish I had known you all were coming way down here, I would have come out to Red Hook at bought you both a drink. Glad you had a good time. Cat Can Do is one of the boats from the company that I work for CYOA Yacht Charters. Fairwinds rents extra boats from us when they need them. Now that you have you ASA come on back and get a bare boat for a week. Good luck with the boat search.
Jay

Jay said...

Great read once again Gringo. I cannot believe that I saw more than the back of LaGringa's head and your toes. I enjoyed looking at the pics since my son just spent a week in August in the BVI so several things looked similar to his pics. I really like the custom house one.

Jay

Gringo said...

We took LOTS of photos, between La Gringa with her new Pentax and me still snapping away with my semi-dead Olympus. It's hard to choose which ones to post sometimes. If I posted half of what we took this installment would be twice as long.

Its kind of a comedown to be back here still troubleshooting the Land Rover window squirter. I finally pried the little motor apart today and found a little impeller melted. Called Land Rover dealer here...none in stock.

All in all, we'd rather be sailing.

Anonymous said...

I suspect trailering a yacht back and forth will grow tiresome very quickly. In the meantime scout out the routes home for low lying powerlines. There a ton of empty canal lots on the market which aren't going anywhere in a hurry. Cuta deal for a nominal fee to park the boat there.

I got the 10 footer Olympus, used numerous times. As with all waterproofing, you need to keep an eye on the gaskets. The trick I find is to hold the sliding latch open when closing the battery compartment door, seat the door with pressure, then release the latch to lock it. The usual way of simply pressing the door closed, latch released and all, can allow for a less than watertight fit. That and a piece of duct tape or even waterproof non-breathable bandaid for a few pennies, over both compartments, can save 200 dollars at the end of the day :-)

Team Giddyup said...

What gorgeous photos! We won't get to that side of the world with our boat for years. Saw your blog linked from sailnet. Enjoy your journey!

Gringo said...

We're okay on the trailering. I've been told the F-27 is 11.5 ft. high on the trailer. The anchor light,GPS and VHF antennas are higher on the Contender and it clears. The sailboats in that range are about half the weight of the Contender we have been trailering. There's nothing on them to equal that 600 lb motor.

We would love to have a place on a canal to keep a boat. But even in this economy, they ain't cheap.

As for the two Olympus Stylus SWs, I dunno. I followed the fresh water washdown after immersion routine every time. The first thing that seems to go is the latch for the battery dept. It stops springing back and has to be slid into place to latch the hatch. But that doesn't leak first. The one that leaks first is the little one with the USB port in it. The latch spring, surprisingly enough, works on those. In my case, loss of the USB connection was the first thing to go. The 770SW still works, just can't get it near water. The 1030SW really got babied, after the 770 started leaking. It's had a silicon 'Skin' on it since new. Not a scratch on it. It seems to be trying to take photos, but the auto exposure seems flakey. There's no display at all on the LCD.

I think that following the manual rinse procedure faithfully should be enough to keep them waterproof. Water pressure presses the hatches closed even tighter. If they are leaking, it's a crummy design. They should put all the connectors behind ONE hatch, and do a good job sealing that one. Screwed down onto an o-ring. There are a lot of other places that can leak on that camera, though. Screws, microphone, controls, speaker.. As far as taping them shut...that might work. You can also buy an underwater housing for them, costs about as much as the camera, though.

I wish someone would just make a good, simple auto exposure waterproof point and shoot digital
You don't need all those bells and whistles. Zoom is useless anyhow, why have it? Let it choose when to flash. I think people who want to experiment with shutter and aperture priorities, etc. would tend to go for a different price point camera, anyhow.

I think I will just try another brand for my next one. Pentax, Nikon, Casio, Canon all make them, for starters. The Canon is not really cargo shorts pocket friendly, though.

Team Giddyup, where are you guys sailing?

Anonymous said...

Silly me :-) I was thinking about the mast, just see now it's lowered by the winch on the trailer.

For the canal lot I mean rent for like 10 dollars a month, you can make the case to the real estate agent that you parking your boat there, even better if it has a built mooring, is a benefit to them when trying to sell the lot. Kind of like how they fill empty nice houses with rented high end furniture when they have open houses. Your yacht parked at the or a lot, will allow a potential buyer to visualize his boat sitting there :-) worth 10 bucks a month I think.

The leakig Olympus has been the single complaint since its inception. You'd think they would have got it right by now. My complaint is the battery that you have to take it out to charge plus the charger is like 1/4 the size of the camera. Massive piece of useless electronics. Travelling with that camera a laptop, an mp3 player, a phone today is a mass of wires in your computer bag. Like a walking wire shop.

How about a 35 dollar aquapac. You can take pictures through it and you're assured it's locked tight forever:

http://www.aquapac.net/usstore/mini-camera-case-br-404-1097-0.html

Don't let it stop you guys taking those awesome photos. If and when you're in the Taylor Bay area can you take snaps of the entire beach from ocean side (walking out too shallow for the boat).

Anonymous said...

I forgot to ask and see on the map you guys missed White Bay on Jost. Any particular reason? The beach and water give Grace Bay a run for its money e.g.

http://image38.webshots.com/38/8/3/72/309380372LaDghJ_fs.jpg

MrPat said...

Wonderful post! If you take another holiday sailing, try the Grenadines. A bit more blue water sailing, but pretty easy.

hunkate said...

Hope you enjoyed your time down here in the VI! I've been reading your posts since before our arrival on St. Thomas in Sept. and was so tickled to see you guys were down our way! You've already explored more than we have though - was there a website for the sailing school you did?

Anonymous said...

I have been following your posts/blog since sportfisherman and I tell you, you are living my dream. I don't know if I can ask this, but this stuff costs lots of money, how can you afford it?

Gringo said...

We really didn't spend any time on beaches that week. We sailed, sailed, sailed, sailed, and then we sailed. Capt. Tim had us tacking and jibing and reaching and running til our heads were spinning. Or reviewing rules and regs and reading texts and taking tests. We were in the rack every night by about 9:30 or 10:00.

We hope to go back to the VI's and charter a boat with the goal being to explore more. But this trip was all about learning to sail, and taking four of the ASA courses in one week makes it pretty intense. No leisure time.

Wakey said...

What an AWESOME surprise!

I hope yall get a boat suitable to sail the open waters. :)

Here is Giddyup's blog http://thegiddyupplan.blogspot.com/

Team Giddyup said...

This is Livia (of TeamGiddyup/Estrellita) and we are cutting the docklines in June of 2010 (6 months!) and will be spending our first year continuing to cruise around Vancouver Island/Queen Charlottes/Puget Sound. We'll probably head South the next summer. Spending a lot of time surfing blogs and feeding the dream although we get out sailing regularly through the winter and we live aboard.

bathmate said...

I liked it.
Bathmate

Seraphimz said...

Merry Christmas! and a happy new year!!

keep up the blog posts and we will keep on smiling as we read them, thanks for a wonderful year of thoroughly enjoyable reading

Anonymous said...

You guys were in my neck of the woods/home away from home! I sure got a little DIF reading the post and seeing the photos. Next time you're down, sail out to Anegada. It is always a great long (in BVI terms) sail from Leverick Bay. How was Dooley when you got home?

Heather

Anonymous said...

Something happened to you? It's been a month with no posts from you guys. I've been checking every single day and nothing... Come on, we can't wait any longer for your great photos and DIY stuff...

MountainM said...

If you want to look at another waterproof point and shoot maybe try Intova sport 8

http://travelsportsequipment.com/catalog/intova-sport-housing-p-136.html

Only one opening on them for battery usb ect.

Cheers,
Doug

Greg Chant said...

Cheers to a solid sailing adventure in St. John and the BVIs. More pls.