Into the Dark

I think I just saw an old colonial woman out there,” Sarah said to Jimmy and me as she rejoined us at the helm. Having not seen the movie Bridesmaids, I didn’t immediately get the joke, but quickly realized that I didn’t need to worry about a sea rescue. “Wow, is it dark out here . . .

Up until now, Sarah, Jimmy and I have been able to do our island hopping during daylight hours. It’s been pretty easy—you point your boat at the next island after breakfast and usually arrive in time for lunch. But the Anegada gap, a stretch of open ocean about 90 nautical miles wide between Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, forces a change in that routine. Assuming a safe average of 5 knots/hour, the trip across from Anguilla takes around 18 hours. Yep, we need to do this one in the dark.

Night passage. In the sailors’ learning curve, this is a biggie. We spent the day bumming around Road Town, Anguilla, all of us a bit anxious for our 6pm departure. Batteries in headlamps? Check. BVI waypoint entered in GPS? Check. Harness out and jacklines rigged in case we need to leave the helm? Check. Lifejackets out? Check.

Bumming Around Anguillla

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At 5pm, Jimmy and I grabbed take out pizza from town and Sarah got the boat ready and set up our sleeping arrangements in the salon for the night. I planned to stay up most of the night, but Sarah and Jimmy each wanted to do their own shift at the helm too. We decided that the other two would sleep in the main salon, within earshot of the helm in case something came up.

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We pulled up anchor around 6pm and started to make our way off shore. For a rookie, coastal sailor, pulling anchor at sunset is a strange and exciting feeling. Here we go. Into the dark. We quickly got our sails set on a broad reach and made some distance from the shoreline and its myriad fish nets, lobster pots, and other obstacles. We watched the sun set, and the stars slowly emerge. And then it got dark. And because there was no moon, it got really dark.

Getting Underway

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It takes a long time for your eyes to adjust to darkness, and all of that hard-earned night vision can be ruined with one flash from a bright light. Because of this, we kept all of the lights off in the boat with the exception of our running lights at the top of the mast. The result was a feeling of charging headlong into the darkness, waves and unknown.

Eyes Closed for Night Vision

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Night changes everything. It is sort of like walking in the woods. Take a walk down your favorite path in the daylight and everything is relaxing and beautiful. But do that same walk in the pitch black of night and it’s a whole different ballgame. Every sound, every rolling wave, every big puff of wind felt a bit ominous at the start.   Thus, the old colonial woman. But as the hours went by, we started to get more comfortable and trust in the boat and each other.

The conditions didn’t hurt our growing confidence either. We picked a great night, with winds in the 10 to 15 knot range right behind us. It was a gentle ride down the waves, for which we were very thankful. Other than having to dodge a big tanker and a few other boats, the night was blissfully uneventful. And amazingly beautiful. We watched our boat wake light up with bioluminescence as we disturbed thousands of tiny organisms that fired off light in the water. It felt like we had giant sparklers attached to both hulls. Or like a whole new universe of stars had taken up residence below the water to mirror the Milky Way above us. Mesmerizing.

The three of us sat there at the helm together, on and off for most of the night. Our own little self-sufficient world. The stars whirled overhead, the waves rolled, the earth spun, and we tumbled forward into the unknown together. It was a microcosm of this trip.

The sunrise saw Jimmy and me at the helm, still offshore and out of sight of land. I was taking over for him after his 4am shift and he wanted to watch the sun come up with me. I was so proud of him. When I left him at the helm at 4 and went to bed, it struck me that this was the very first time in my life that I fully, 100% trusted him to take on a very adult responsibility. Jimmy’s got this, I thought to myself as I fell asleep. And he did. It’s amazing what young people can accomplish when given the responsibility. It’s something I’ve learned on this trip and want to take back with me.

Blue Grey Sunrise

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Back to Sleep

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Sarah got up a bit after Jimmy went back to sleep and we made coffee and fired up the engines to gain a little speed as we were still several hours from dropping anchor (yep, it was that calm). What can I say about Sarah? This is a woman who was terrified of the open ocean just a few short years ago. And now here she was, sitting next to me completely at ease and loving the moment. Sure, she had her bear spray ready last night in case we had “marauders” by the boat, but she was enjoying this moment and the feeling accomplishment. I felt so thankful that she trusted me to do this trip. There are many ways to be rich in this world, but I think that being in love with your spouse has to rank up there as the most important kind of wealth. That the light in her smile, the way she smells, and her warm hug makes me feel much the same way it did when I met her over 25 years ago. What a blessing.

Coffee at Sea

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We (finally) grabbed a mooring ball in the Bight on Norman Island around 1pm. A very slow and very amazing 19 hours at sea. We had passed our test and had taken a big step on our way to becoming sailors. And we now get to enjoy the calm waters of the Virgin Islands. I’ve flown here from the U.S. many times, but this arrival felt much different. It was earned together with my family. Is there a better way to travel?

Our Path Across the Anegada Gap

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We Made It!  

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Cheers!

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Up Island

Traveling the Caribbean by sailboat is something that I’ve dreamed about for years.  And I can now confirm that the actual experience is even better than I expected.  After saying goodbye to our college girls, Sarah, Jimmy and I departed Antigua and started heading “up island,” as they say around here.  We hit Montserrat, Nevis, St. Barths and Anguilla.  And we made our first overnight passage together from Anguilla to the U.S. Virgin Islands, a distance of about 90 nautical miles.  It hasn’t sucked.

Making Landfall

Arriving in a new country by sail is pure awesomeness.  You leave one country and the next one comes slowly into view over your bow.  Details start to emerge.  Roof tops come into focus, individual trees stand out, and before you know it you are dropping anchor with a sense of anticipation to explore a completely new place.  This kind of travel–slow, peaceful (most of the time), and completely on your own schedule–is really unique.  Each time we leave an island, I think about my last step as I push off from shore in the dingy and realize that my next footfall will be on a new beach in a new country later that day.  No airports, no lines, no TSA, no luggage.  Just the three of us in our temporary floating home.  It’s an amazing way to travel, even if you do have to shower outside and manually flush your toilet.

Hello Statia, It’s Nice to Meet You

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Customs, Immigration and Port Authority

And o.k., I have to admit that our travel isn’t completely without some bureaucratic hassle.  I do have to clear in and out of each country we visit.  This involves a visit to 3 separate government offices, which are usually located right next to each other and are overstaffed and chock full of procedures that will make the DMV feel like Amazon.com.  Checking out of Antigua was representative.  I first went to Customs, but they told me to go first to Immigration, then back to them, then to Port Authority and then finally back to Customs one final time.  The offices were all in the same building the size of a large garden shed.  Yep, I’m not making that up.  You just have to smile.  And so far (knock on wood) the process has been quick and painless.  If you wear a shirt with a collar, shower occasionally, and show the officials respect, things seem to go quite well.

I Miss the DMV

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Daily Adventures

My cousin Jennifer McGuire commented on a picture I posted online that she loved following our daily adventures.  That phrase has really stuck with me.  It captures perfectly what this trip feels like.  Each day has involved a new adventure (or three).  These adventures have been possible because we have put ourselves outside of our comfort zone.  We aren’t on a tour, or following the directions of a hotel concierge, or tour guide, or cruise ship.*  We are completely “winging it” as they say.  But getting outside of our comfort zone has opened up some amazing experiences. Some are uncomfortable and a bit scary (I’m not the best sailor in the world), some are funny, and some have brought a complete sense of wonder.  But all of them have been authentic, real experiences that make me feel like I’ve lived 4 regular years of my life in the past 4 months.  I wish I could always feel this way.

The following are a few highlights.

The Montserrat Volcano

Montserrat is a beautiful little island that reminded us of Dominica.  It’s people are friendly and the island is lush and green.  Lots of famous musicians have recorded music here, including Paul McCartney, The Police and The Rolling Stones.  But unfortunately, in 1997, the Soufriere Hills volcano decided to wake up.  It destroyed the main town of Plymouth and several outlying towns in a series of eruptions that have spanned several years, the most recent of which was in 2010.  The residents that remained, about 5,000, had to relocate to the unsettled northern part of the island.  They literally had to pick up one weekend and move everything–government offices, the prison, the bank, churches, you name it.  It’s pretty incredible to think about.  We did a 4-hour volcano tour with a guy named Joe Phillips who lost his home (and home town) in the eruptions.  He was full of knowledge and pictures showing us first hand the before and after as he drove us into the wasteland.  Other than Joe reminding us about 4,000 times how great his tour was and how hard he worked on it, it was an incredible experience.  We got to feel geologic time in real time, and see how most of these islands were formed.  Surreal, awesome, sad, up lifting.  It confirmed that what we build is not permanent.

A House that was a Home

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No Time to Even Grab Clothes

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Yes, That Was a Swimming Pool

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Monkeys on a Morning Hike

We all loved the island of Nevis.  It has a sort of proper old English feel to it, it’s clean and mostly uninhabited, and the huge cone volcano made us feel like we were in Hawaii or the South Pacific somewhere.  We stayed two full days here, visiting museums (Jimmy’s favorite, not), the town market, and a bunch of ruins and historical sites.  My favorite experience though, was on the morning of our departure.  Sarah and I got up at dawn and did a hike up the mountain to the ruins of the Pinney Estate.  We saw the remains of an old Caribbean cook house, the largest baobab tree I’ve encountered, and a troop of monkeys.   I’d love to spend more time here someday.

A Much Friendlier Volcano

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The Cook House

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Waz Sup Monkey?

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Quill Volcano

Our next stop was the Dutch island of Statia.  We had an “interesting” sail from Nevis, meeting winds that went from 2 knots to +35 knot winds in the blink of an eye as we rounded St. Kitts.  It was the first time that Jimmy and I really worked as a team to get the boat under control.  I wanted him to have a few scary moments like this on the trip to grow his confidence and he handled it better than I did.  13 year olds are invincible.

Statia is a land of commerce.  It was a free port for 100’s of years, providing sailing ships a tax free way to move goods around the Caribbean and to the U.S. and Europe.  It was the place that many enslaved Africans first stepped foot in the Caribbean.  And it is still a bustling, busy port, only now they distribute oil through here rather than enslaved people and sugar.  Even though we had a giant tugboat for our backdoor neighbor and we rolled around the anchorage at night like a carnival ride, we loved this place.  The old town and fort have been remarkably restored, the slave road into town is impressive to say the least, and the hike up into the huge Quill volcano crater made me feel like I had been dropped into the t.v. show Lost.

Hello Neighbor

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The Quill Volcano Crater-Our Goal for the Day

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Mission Accomplished

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Sharks Under the Boat

Jimmy has discovered that if he floats our blow up solar light off the back of the boat at night, creatures emerge from the depths.  It has become our nightly entertainment.  And it’s way better than television.  The best show so far was on St. Barts.  Huge tarpon, amber jacks and nurse sharks kept us company every night for hours.  Where do they come from and why don’t we see them when we snorkel during the day?  Jimmy’s love of fish and ocean creatures is infectious.  And each night that I sit and listen to him yell out species that we need to come and see up close, I try to grab the words and hold them in my memory bank.  It’s sort of like listening to your third grader get excited on Christmas morning that Santa made a visit.  Adolescence will soon steal some of that wonder.  But right now, I get to enjoy it every night.  I hope every parent gets similar opportunities.  You certainly don’t need to be on a sailboat to find these moments.

This Picture Was Not Staged

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Next up, our overnight sail from Anguilla to St. John, a.k.a., Sarah sees an “old colonial woman” out there in the waves . . . .

*I’m not begrudging anyone for taking vacations like these.  If you enjoy them, more power to you!  My point is that doing something outside of your comfort zone is also a really good thing to do once and awhile.  

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College Girls

Our college girls, Maddie and Caitlin, came for a visit last week.  We don’t get to see them as much now that they are away at school and starting their own lives.  And this makes the times we get to spend together even more special.  It was so great to see their smiling faces, listen to their stories, and sneak of peek of them laying in their beds each night knowing that they were safe and sound.  You miss that feeling when your kids no longer live under your roof.  A lot.  It is a week I will cherish and that will bring a smile to my face on some dark and distant January night in Wisconsin.

Because of travel logistics, Maddie and Caitlin flew into Antigua.  This meant that Sarah, Jimmy and I got to play Charter boat Captain and Crew for the week, visiting many of the same places that we enjoyed with our friends the Pellinos the week before.  Another clockwise trip around Antigua and Barbuda.  Another series of daily adventures.  We loved every minute of it, especially that part where our UW Badger Basketball team beat Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.

We Missed These Faces!

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First Sunset

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Sleeping Outside Under the Moon in a Windstorm (notice the parents were not joining!)

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Walking to Uncle Roddy’s for Dinner

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Fun with the GoPro

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I’m a Lucky Dad

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Barbuda Caves

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Biking 

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Go Badgers!

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Hiking to Shirley Heights

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Blue and White

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I Love This Crew

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Adventure

Adventure travel is a fantastic way to bond your family.  We started adventure travel with our kids at a very young age and I think it is one of the reasons the five of us are so close (you can see another example here).  You face daily adventures and challenges.  You come together as a team and learn each others’ strengths and weaknesses.  You trust each other.  And you don’t watch T.V. or complain about being bored.  You learn that working hard and delaying instant gratification amounts to real accomplishment and lasting rewards.  You embrace life head on, especially when it gets hard or messy, which often happens on our trips, especially those involving boats.  I’d highly recommend it to any family out there.

Thanks Maddie and Caitlin.  I’m so proud of you and so happy to be your Dad!

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Clockwise Around Antigua

Another week of our adventure is in the books.  Last week found us on a clockwise loop of Antigua and Barbuda with our good friends the Pellinos.  Added bonus: the charter company I’m working with gave us a complimentary upgrade to a brand spanking new Lagoon 450 cat that just crossed the Atlantic.  The boat has a water maker, generator, two refrigerators and an ice machine.  It is basically a big party barge with sails.  Not a bad way to travel.

Giddy Up

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Antigua is a great cruising ground.  There are a half dozen cool anchorages and English Harbor has some of the best history in the Caribbean.  And as an added bonus, Barbuda is a beam reach 30 miles to the north, which makes for a great (and easy) passage up and back.  We couldn’t have picked a better spot (besides the BVI) to have the Pellinos fly in for a week of sun, salt and McGuire death marches.

It was so fun to see our good friends.  It made us realize how much we miss everyone back home.  Sarah told me that she feels like the world up north simply stopped when we left, but having friends visit confirmed that life is still happening, seasons are changing, and we are missing things.  I even had a craving for Culvers Frozen Custard yesterday.  Maybe it’s time to come home?

I picked up the Pellinos at the airport and we hit the ground running.   Sailing is sort of glorified camping, and Bill, Heather, Ellyse and Brennan fit right into boat life.  Jimmy in particular was absolutely thrilled to actually talk to someone other than his parents.  And we gave him a “spring break” from homeschool, which made the time with friends even more special.

Seven nights out.  1 bottle of rum, 23 naps, 2 blow holes, 1 turtle nest, 85 thousand sand flea bites, 2 big fish landed, 1 pig, 2 Badger victories, 1 drug dealer, 4 waterproof band aides and 1 hat lost to Davey Jones’s locker.  Thanks for coming Pellino Family.  We miss you already.

How Long is this Hike Again Mark?

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A (rare) Picture of the Three Amigos

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Dingy Trolling with My Boy-Great Bird Island

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Biking Barbuda Before the Beehive Incident

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Spelunking Barbuda

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Limin’ Barbuda

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Bye Barbuda

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Go Badgers!

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The Wise Old Grasshopper Wins Again!

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Safe Travels Pellino Family.  We Miss You 

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Thankfully our Sad Airport Trip to Drop Off the Pellinos Had a Happy Ending!

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Landfall Without a TSA Agent in Sight

There are different ways to travel.  By car, by plane, by foot, by bus.  You get the picture.  But one thing that I’ve discovered on this trip is that there is nothing quite like arriving in a new country on a sailboat.

Before I go any further here, let me start with a caveat: there are parts of traveling by boat that suck.  We get frustrated, feel stupid, and wish we were anywhere else besides sitting there alone and in charge of our own transport on the Ocean.  My friend Brittany over at Windtraveler captured this perfectly in her recent post about failing to get an anchor to set properly.  We’ve been there on this trip too more than once, although not with screaming toddlers in tow.  It can be very humbling.

But then you have moments like we did arriving in Bequia for the first time and it all seems worth it . . . .

Making Landfall-Bequia, Admiralty Bay

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Bequia is a really cool place.  The best term I can come up with to describe it is idyllic.  The island is only around 7 miles long.  It’s safe, sparsely developed, and you can walk everywhere.  It feels unspoiled.  In an age of giant cruise ships and all inclusive mega resorts with big fences, this place is different.  And what makes Bequia even better is its people.  Some islands we visit don’t seem to pay much attention to the Ocean that surrounds them.  It is almost an afterthought to local people, or a thing to fear during hurricane season.  But not Bequians.  These are Ocean people.  Boat people.  Many of them are descendants of the whalers that came to the Caribbean from Europe and America hundreds of years ago.  They still ride the Ocean and get their livelihoods from it.  It’s in their blood.

We traveled up to Bequia from the Tobago Keys, a distance of around 25 nautical miles.   We left around 8:00AM, motored out behind the keys after breakfast, hoisted sail and pointed our way north, on a close haul that would allow us to sail the entire way–even with the west setting current–without a single tack.  Jimmy fished, Sarah did laundry in our cooler (this was by choice mind you) and I sat at the helm and watched Bequia come into view on the horizon.  We hit some gusty wind on the way that ripped open our our main sail and caused a minor fire drill, but otherwise the sail was fantastic.  We set our own timetable for the day.  We could stop where we liked; point our boat any direction we wanted.  We were riding the ocean.

Sarah’s Laundromat

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Four hours later, we rounded the southwest point of Bequia, dropped our remaining sail and motored into Admiralty Bay.  Should we anchor off the big beach to the west of town, or right in close by the marina?  We dropped off the beach.  Jimmy dove the anchor and confirmed we were set.

Anchor Set and Boat Shipshape, Dad

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We ate a quick lunch bobbing there a few hundred yards off the beach and poured over our guidebook to decide what we wanted to do over the next three days.  Turtle sanctuary.  Whaling museum.  Hike to Industry Bay.  Pizza at Macs.  Callie’s Fruit & Veggie Stand.  Agenda set, we took the dingy into Jacks bar for our number one priority-Internet and reconnection with our family after four days sans the Interwebs.

As we stepped foot on shore, it struck me how cool it felt that my last footfall was on Baradal Island yesterday in the Tobago Keys.  And here I was stepping onto a new rock, full of exciting new things to do and see.

Getting Internet at Jacks

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Perspective in life is everything.  Bequia has a new airport.  We could travel here directly from our house in Waunakee.  It would be a long, crappy day.  Maybe two days.  We’d have multiple flights.  We’d be hot, thirsty and tired.  We’d be worried about what we forgot and sick of lugging our bags from taxis and through airports and custom lines.  We’d be impatient and anxious.  The day would feel like a necessary evil.

But instead, we got to step foot here in a completely different way.  On our own and using the power of the wind (at least most of the way).  It felt truly magical and set the tone for three wonderful days on Bequia, until we decided to pull up our anchor and point the boat north again to St. Vincent.  Another adventure awaiting us.   It makes all of the bad anchoring, boat problems, rip off artists, etc., all worth it.

I could get used to this . . . .

Landfall without the TSA

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Our First Walk into Admiralty Bay

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Bequia Bus Stop

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Turtle “Sanctuary”  I’m not sure whether this is a sanctuary or a zoo . . .

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We Liked the Goats Outside Better than the Turtles in Enclosures

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This Guy is a Whaleboat Captain-Yes, They Still Hunt Whales Unfortunately

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We Left Jimmy on the Boat One Afternoon to do Homework

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Sundowners with Dominos

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Goodnight Bequia

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Until We Meet Again

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Back in the Saddle

We are sailing again!  We departed Grenada on a Leopard 43 catamaran last week and made our way through the Grenadines and up to St. Vincent.  Grenada has been good to us, but boy did it feel good to put the island in our rear view mirror and start our long, slow trip northward.

Our stops thus far have included Carriacou, Union Island, the Tobago Keys and Bequia

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The British Virgin Islands This is Not

Sarah and I have done several “bareboat” sailing trips in the Virgin Islands previously.  The waters are relatively protected in the BVI, the seas generally calm, and the hops between islands can be made in an hour or two.  I feel like we have taken the training wheels off on this trip in the Windwards.  The passages here are much longer (4 to 6 hours is common), and you are much more exposed to wind and current here, which makes for a sometimes wet and wild ride.  We’ve encountered some really large and confused seas, especially as you enter or leave the wind shadow of an island.  The tide, equatorial current and wind effects can stir up and confuse the seas big time.  And to make things more interesting, we have had consistently strong winds, day and night during the trip (25 to 30 knot gusts are the norm).  One gust ripped our mainsail in half on the passage to Bequia, even with two reefs in it (for non-sailors this means we shortened the sail), although I think that episode had to do more with the age of the sail than with the squall winds we hit.  It’s hard to capture this experience, but Sarah tried to in this short video.

I’m really proud of Sarah, as she gets seasick.  She found that the best thing to do was either to take the helm or to stand behind the wind/water screen looking forward.  It’s always harder to take rough conditions in an unfamiliar boat.  Once you start to trust the boat, you can relax and enjoy the ride.  Overall, we loved the Grenadines and wouldn’t hesitate to sail here again, although the trip the other way from St Vincent to Grenada would have been at a much more favorable point of sail and wave angle.

Dad, Can I Fish Now?

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Union Island

We stayed in Chatham Bay on Union Island, and loved it.  We even convinced one of the local beach bar owners (Seckie) to drive us across to the other side of the Island to take in the full moon party and midnight kite board show our first night.  It was a classic trip for us.  Seckie and his wife were wonderful people, but we had to drive on a goat path in the dark with 6 people in a four seater Suzuki.  The road was so bad that we told Seckie on the return trip to drop us off at the top of the mountain road and we walked back down the goat path in the moonlight.  A nice man that lived in Chatham stayed by our dingy while we were gone to make sure it was safe (there was no place to lock it).  A night to remember.

View of Chatham Bay from my “Library”

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Kiteboarder Show (In a Light Suit Jumping a Bonfire)

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We read terrible things about the crime and so called “bad element” on Union Island before this trip.  Our experience couldn’t have been more positive.  Friendly people, amazing views, public transport and great hiking trails everywhere.  The island was fantastic.

Not a Bad School Yard View

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Hiking is Always Better with Friends

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The Tobago Keys

I’m not sure how to articulate how beautiful the water is in the Tobago Keys.  Every shade of blue is a good start.  The wind was howling again as we arrived here, so we grabbed one of the Park Service mooring balls (Jimmy still dove the mooring to ensure it was secure).  The small islands of the keys are sheltered by a huge reef that protects them from the open Atlantic.  It is a pretty cool feeling to sit out on the front of your boat and realize that there is nothing between you and Africa as you look out eastward at the rising moon.  The outer reef is called Worlds End, and it does feel like the edge (one of the keys is the island where Johnny Depp was stranded in the first Pirates movie).  The Ocean is clearly in charge in this place.  I told Sarah that I felt like a visitor here, only able to stay for a short time with the tacit approval of Calypso.

Overlook to Worlds End.  Our Boat is Just in Front of the Big Black Sail 

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Snorkeling from the Dingy

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Lunch Break

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Blue

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Amazingly, this place was owned by a U.S. corporation until quite recently.  Major kudos to the St Vincent government for buying it back and protecting it as the national treasure that it is.

In my next post, Bequia and beyond . . . .

Dad, Can I Fish Now?

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A Sunday Night with the Southern Cross

Well, the boat is not sinking,” my friend Chris Rundlett yelled to me over the noise and hiss of the wind and waves. It was 11:30pm and we were a few miles off the west coast of St. Vincent. We were delivering “the boat” in question—a Catana 47 sailing catamaran—from Port Louis, Grenada to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. Chris was the paid Captain; I was the volunteer crew. And things were getting interesting.

Leaving the Dock

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Boat deliveries are very common in the sailing world. Charter companies and boat owners often reposition boats for numerous reasons. In my case, a charter company in Grenada booked a one-way charter for a group on this Catana from St. Lucia to Grenada. Thus, our boat had to get from its base in Grenada to St. Lucia for the start of the trip. The customers were set to arrive on Monday, February 21st. Chris and I left Port Louis on Saturday evening, the 19th. The plan was to sail to Carriacou that first evening and anchor until daylight, at which point we could clear out of Grenada at the Customs Office in Tyrell Bay. After that, the plan got a bit fuzzy. Sail the rest of the way straight through? Anchor off the Pitons in St Lucia to grab a few hours of sleep the next night? We’d see how things went.

We motor sailed up the west coast of Grenada in the dark Saturday night and bashed our way across the Carriacou passage. Two hours on—sailing the boat—two hours off—trying to rest, eat, etc. Every boat is a compromise, and I learned quickly that this Catana was built with sailing performance in mind rather than comfort or convenience. For example, the boat has twin helms that sit way out on the far back edges of the boat. The helms are a fantastic place from which to see the sail trim in the daylight, but not so comfortable or secure in the middle of the night. They also make it a bitch to maneuver the boat in close quarters, as there is a HUGE blind spot from your position at the wheel and the Chartplotter (GPS) is located inside the boat at the nav station.

This was my first experience sailing at night. It was amazingly different. Everything felt more mysterious and strange, especially without having a Chartplotter from which to verify that I wasn’t about to sail directly into a huge cliff or jagged shore. The distances were disorienting. The sounds of waves breaking and the crashing of boat into the waves as we pushed upwind in the passage were really impressive. It was pretty awesome to sit out there on the back edge and watch the boat violently take on whatever came up and around her. Always leaping ahead, I felt like I was on an amusement park ride. And it was a bit scary to look behind you into the churning water and realize that if you go over the side, you are likely never going to be seen again. It gets your full attention.

We pulled into Tyrell Bay, Carriacou, around 2:30am. Chris drove and I tried to spot boats, buoys, fish traps and other obstacles in our path. The lights on shore made it really tough to see what was in front of us in the water, but I got the feeling Chris had done this before and we dropped the hook at his favorite spot right along the shore without incident.

Dawn Breaks–Carriacou

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After a few hours sleep, we made coffee, checked the boat over, cleared Grenada Customs, and headed back out. Two hours on and two hours off for the next 22 hours. We sailed without incident all day through the Grenadines and into the night. The boat sailed really fast, reaching +10 knots a few times in the wind between islands. I went off my shift at 10:00pm Sunday evening, excited to see the Pitons of St Lucia on my next shift. Then things got more interesting.

Through the Grenadines

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Night Approaches

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Chris woke me up a bit before midnight, yelling for me to come out and take the wheel. The batteries were not charging for some reason, the auto-pilot had just shut down, and he needed me to hand steer the boat while he investigated. I jumped up, crab walked out to the back, and grabbed the wheel. Off he went into the darkness. The moon was almost down and it was extremely difficult to see the sails. I quickly found that the best way for me to keep the boat on course was to steer just a bit off the big dipper hanging in there in front of me and to focus on keeping the wind directly on my cheek. I sat thinking how cool it was to be navigating by this famous constellation that I use to find the North Star when I’m at home.

Chris came back about 10 minutes later to tell me that although the boat wasn’t currently sinking, we had taken on “a lot” of water in the port engine compartment. That engine wouldn’t start and the other engine wasn’t charging the batteries. We decided that the best course of action was to tack back towards St Vincent and the Pitons, but once in the calm lee of the island, we would carry on slowly motor sailing all the way up the West coast overnight until we reached Rodney Bay in the north of the island at dawn. Going into a strange harbor at night isn’t a great idea, especially with only one engine on a catamaran that is difficult to maneuver with two. The Pitons would have to wait for another day.

Chris verified our position and a bit later we tacked the boat across the wind on a new heading that took us South East towards the St Vincent shore. Chris went off to grab some sleep with instructions to wake him when we got close to land. I began dutifully hand steering on our new course, searching for a point of reference by which to steer and then I saw it—the Southern Cross, the equally famous constellation of the Southern Hemisphere. It was right out there in front of me. I had never seen it before, and to do so right after leaving the Big Dipper behind was amazing. To make the experience even more spectacular, as I looked down into the water off the side of the boat, I could see bioluminescence streaking by in our wake. It looked like stars drifting by—another universe down there in the depths reflecting the one above us. I was mesmerized.

A Sunday Night to Remember

When I was younger, I would get very anxious and depressed on Sunday nights. I vividly remember going to bed feeling so boringly normal in Wisconsin and thinking about all of the amazing places and adventures that were out there, somewhere, in the world. As I sat there by myself that Sunday night, I couldn’t help but smile and think back to those nights. This was a different Sunday night. This was a reason I wanted so badly to come on a trip like this one. It was an experience I will remember for a long, long time.

Mission Accomplished

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