Saturday, November 26, 2011

Solstice Ashore

We're back in San Francisco, not still in Houston. Actually, we've been back since the end of June, but we've been incredibly busy with no time for a last blog entry.

I started work at a new job on July 5th (technical writer at SilkRoad technology working on the HeartBeat product), and we immediately started looking for a place in the city. We had thought we would rent first, but rent is so high that it made sense to buy after all, and we closed on our loft in San Francisco's Mission District on my birthday at the end of August. With the art that our friends in Berkeley stored for us and the bits of furniture that family in Oregon stored, supplemented by contributions of more furniture and shopping at Ikea, Craigslist, Urban Ore, etc., we now have a very comfortable home. John gets the credit for it since he's been in charge of the home front while I've worked on deadline. We've already had two visits from friends we met while we were out cruising, and we hope more will find time to see us in San Francisco.

View from the top of the stairs

Living room


John's office (behind the bookcase wall)

Loft bedroom & Shirlee's office

View from balcony to street

Solstice arrived safely at Berkeley Marine Center in June too, thanks to our trucker, Wayne Harris of Riverside Marine Transport Inc. Solstice was his third Sceptre, so he knew exactly what was needed. We enjoyed the drive cross country in our new-to-us Hyundai Elantra and didn't worry about the boat at all. The highlight of that trip was driving through Yosemite. Oddly, we'd never been before, and it was every bit as spectacular as everyone says (though John did remind me that Tracy Arm in Alaska was pretty awesome too).

Solstice having the mast pulled

Loading her on the truck

Ready to ride

Solstice spent all summer on the hard at Berkeley Marine Center getting new bottom paint, a new boot stripe, refurnished propeller, and all new rod rigging. Much of the time was just waiting for the rods to arrive from Denmark. If you've been following along, you may remember that after we reached Barbados we received an alert from the builder that we were in danger of dismasting if we met certain conditions. It was likely that we met those conditions, but it was impossible to tell without taking the rig apart. The riggers in Houston and Berkeley both said we'd been sailing on borrowed time, and we could see the problem for ourselves too, once it was exposed. Anyway, that's now sorted, and Solstice is back in the water, at home again at Emery Cove Yacht Harbor. We still have a bit to do before we take her sailing, even around the bay, but we'll get it done soon, I hope.

We finally finished counting the miles (nautical miles) and came up with 26,100. That's port-to-port miles in a straight line and doesn't include necessary detours around capes and islands and the fact that sailboats don't go in a straight line. Just think if we'd actually sailed around the world! (The circumference is 21,600 nautical miles — I looked it up — but you can't do that in a straight line either.)

We had been saying that we visited 23 countries, not counting the U.S. Recounting this morning, it turns out it was actually 30. (I have no idea what ones we forgot to count before.) Here's the list:





Costa Rica



Cayman Islands








United Kingdom






Cape Verde Islands



St. Vincent & the Grenadines

St. Lucia


Antigua & Barbuda

Sint Maarten


It was a grand adventure, and we're both very glad that we did it when we did. We're keeping Solstice and plan to go cruising again someday. I say that this time we'll keep our land home, but among the many things we learned sailing is the fact that plans change. I'm already looking forward to traveling again, even if we have to fly to do it.

Our website is still a work in progress. We haven't finished posting photos of places and friends yet. But this puts an end to this blog, at least for now. Thanks for following along.

Shirlee Smith & John Forbes

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wrapping up

We've been in the Houston area (Seabrook) for 2½ weeks now. We arrived the day after the previous blog post. I came up for my 6-9 a.m. watch that morning to find that the lovely blue water of the gulf had turned brown and our speed had dropped below 3 knots. We went from thinking that we'd be early to hoping that we'd make it before dark. Most of the day was spent in the Houston Ship Channel, which is long and not very wide with shallow water on both sides. It definitely isn't the most scenic area we've visited, but we knew it wouldn't be. At first the flatness was kind of interesting. As far as we could see the highest spots were man-made: buildings or jetties or bridges and overpasses. The traffic was mostly tankers and barges with a few pleasure craft in the mix. We could have seen for miles, but visibility was very poor. The air looked like a thinner version of the water, and we heard on the radio that Houston had an air quality advisory in effect. Oh, and it was really hot: 103° F and not a dry heat.

As we approached Galveston, I tried to use my cell phone to call Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to find out about checking in, but I couldn't connect. When we could see the buildings from town, I tried again, but still no luck. Fortunately, I'd downloaded the full user guide for the global calling service, and from that I learned that I probably just needed to select a network, but that I'd have to check my phone's user guide to find out how to do that. I knew where that was too, but by the time I'd gotten out the computer and started it up to read the first guide and then found what I needed in the second one, we were past the turning for Galveston and in no mood to turn around. The last time we had cleared into the U.S. mainland (at Key West), they had simply had us come to the office and hadn't looked at the boat at all, so we didn't expect a problem, but we called CBP right away when we were docked. After trying several numbers and being given other numbers to try (it was after 5 o'clock and office hours had ended), I reached an officer in Galveston who told me that I had been supposed to call and then come into Galveston with the boat because they definitely wanted to see it. After I explained, the officer said he would come to us, and he did. His inspection was cursory, and he didn't even ask very many questions as he filled out his paperwork, so in the end, it was painless, and we were officially back in the U.S.

The first week we didn't do much except go to movies in the afternoon to try to escape the heat for awhile. We were at Seabrook Shipyard Marina on the repair yard dock, so we were able to meet the riggers from Stix-n-Rig'n who would pull our mast, and we scheduled that for last Monday (the 13th) thinking that the truck would be here on the 15th. We soon learned, though, that the truck would be delayed, so we rescheduled the haul-out for Monday, the 20th. That meant that we could delay taking the boat apart until after the mast was pulled.

Once the rigging was off, we moved to a motel because without a boom to support our sunshade, it was totally unbearable on the boat. We've spent the past week working on the boat in the mornings and hanging out in air-conditioned comfort in the motel in the afternoon. The exception was an afternoon spent at Space Center Houston. Now we're ready unless the trucker says there's something more we need to remove. He called yesterday and said he'd be here today, so we're waiting for his call.

The people here have been exceptionally nice to us, and we're favorably impressed with that aspect of Houston. There's also a good classical radio station and decent restaurants. We've had some excellent Mexican food and Indian food too. The weather, however, continues to be miserable with record-setting heat, and we're looking forward to leaving tomorrow.

This is pretty much the end of the voyage and blog. The mast, boom, and bow pulpit are literally wrapped up. Solstice continues from here on a truck. When we're back in San Francisco, we plan to live on land and use the boat for recreation, at least for a few years. Then we'll see. We'd like to go cruising again someday, and that's why we're keeping the boat. I'll put together a post soon with the statistics of our voyage. We've never kept track of the miles we've sailed, so I'll have to figure that out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dodging ships and drilling platforms

So far, we've had a lot of variety on this leg of our voyage: from Isla Mujeres to Galveston. We started out sailing along nicely and averaging 5.5 knots. One night the wind and waves kicked up, and we had to put in a couple of reefs in the dark, very dark. The next day the wind dropped off, and we found ourselves motor-sailing at faster than 8 knots for several hours thanks to a strong current in our favor. Until yesterday evening we saw few ships. About the time we saw our first off-shore oil platform, the shipping traffic increased dramatically. I had four on my 6 to 9 p.m. watch. John had eight from 9 to midnight, and I had four again from midnight to 3 a.m. Thanks to AIS, we can tell how close they're going to get, and when they're close enough, we can see their names. I sometimes call them; John doesn't. Last night I called when I had one coming from in front and one from behind. I just tell them that we're a sailing yacht under sail, that I intend to hold our course, and confirm that they see us. They take care of the rest. Last night the two ships worked it out between themselves in Spanish. Muchas gracias, senors!

We're using both electronic and paper charts (thanks to Cindy and Dick Metler), and we need the combination. Neither is exactly right as far as where there are platforms, so the radar is always on too. For weather forecasts we're using National Weather Service forecasts and grib files. Neither of these is exactly right either, but we had to give up on Herb because we couldn't hear him any longer. Once you're out here, the weather is what it is, but it's nice to have something to look forward to. As it turned out, we had a good window, and we've had the engine off most of the time. It's on again now because it looks like we'll make it to Seabrook tomorrow (Thursday) if we keep our speed up.

We've seen lots of dolphins and seaweed, but no oil spills (in case you were wondering about that).

All is well aboard Solstice.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Back in Isla Mujeres

We made it! It took nearly as long as our Atlantic crossing from Cape Verde to Barbados, but we finally arrived at El Milagro Marina on Isla Mujeres, Mexico, yesterday morning. Whew! We made another fuel stop at Grand Cayman, just to be sure we could make it across the channel to Isla Mujeres. It's a good thing we did because we had to run the engine the whole time. It was that or go so slowly that we would lose another day. It was our most expensive fuel stop ever at $7.19 USD/US gallon. The wind that Herb told us would develop closer to Mexico never really did, and then we lost Herb to poor propagation.

We're staying here until Friday, fixing things and resting, before continuing on to Galveston. I'm researching as much as I can about our stop in Texas since it's pretty much another foreign land to us. We've also had a lot of advice from fellow SSCA Commodore Gus Wilson, who we met in Horta in 2008. He's got us all hooked up with other cruisers in the Kemah area. And thanks to Cindy Metler, we even have paper charts again. Woohoo!

Here's a link to our blog post from our previous visit here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Adventures in re-fueling

Our chart said this place (Port Morant/Bowden Harbour) had fuel. Of course, it also said that there was a resort/marina here. Our free cruising guide said that the coast guard had taken over the facilities of the now-defunct marina, but that we could tie to the dock for free. It didn't say anything about fuel, but it only mentioned fuel once in the whole document anyway.

So we came into the Coast Guard Station at Port Morant/Bowden very early yesterday morning. To us it was 6:40. In Jamaica time it was actually 5:40. The cruising guide said this is a port of entry, but that the officials have to be called. That is true. The Coast Guard also let us stay here for free, but they don't recommend it. The station is at the end of a dirt road at least a half hour by car from the town of Morant Bay, which is where the gas stations are. It does have good wireless Internet at a very inexpensive rate if you can get to town to get the pre-paid card. (One of the two places listed as a source for the cards has had a fire and is no longer open.)

The Coast Guard guys have been awesome in helping us. They called Immigration, Customs, and Quarantine for us and organized our re-fueling via pick-up truck taxi with a 200-liter barrel borrowed from the Coast Guard plus a couple of our jerry cans. And four or five guys to help. Before dark we had re-fueled and could enjoy our Internet.

Re-fueling crew. This station had a fuel hose filter clog while they were serving us, so our crew had to find other station to finish filling our containers.

Then this morning we discovered that the Quarantine officer had apparently walked off with our entry and exit document from Customs. We need that exit document to get into any other country except the U.S. So after a couple of phone calls, we're now waiting for the Quarantine guy to come back with our exit document. In his defense, I suspect we're the only sailboat he's ever had to deal with here, and the form probably wasn't familiar to him. He also kept our official boat document, but I noticed that one before he left the premises and traded him for a copy. I wish I'd noticed that we were also missing the exit document. Oh, well, it's all part of the adventure, and we still don't have much wind, so we aren't going anywhere quickly anyway.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sailing to a schedule

We avoided it as long as we could, but that's what we're doing now. More accurately, we're motoring to try to keep our schedule. Since we broke the jib halyard and tore the jib, we've been behind. One or two weeks in Antigua would have been plenty, but with waiting for repairs, it was closer to three. We skipped the islands in between in order to say good-bye to Liat and Assaf at Sint Maarten and then hurried on to St. John to see the Parkers and the Peoples. The need for electrical repairs then sent us hurrying off to Puerto Rico.

PR was fun, but it was mostly getting stuff fixed. We had our high-output alternator rebuilt in San Juan, so that meant two trips from Fajardo to San Juan, which turned into three when it wasn't ready when it was supposed to be. We also got a new regulator for our generator there. Then John installed everything, changed the oil, and we made time for a couple of other side trips in addition to provisioning. We made a special trip to go to Old San Juan and another to follow Anthony Bourdain's path into the mountains for whole spitted pig at Lechonera Los Pinos. The trip to the mountains also let us see some of the south coast of the island since we missed the unmarked turn-off for the scenic route through the mountains and ended up going around. It was all scenic, and PR is on our list of places to revisit. In fact, I don't know why more people don't make it a destination in itself.

We left PR a day earlier than planned because there was no good wind in the forecast, which means that we have to motor and go slow. We do have a need to be in Texas to get the boat on a truck to the West Coast, hopefully by June 15th, and that's what's driving the schedule. It's a surprisingly long way from Fajardo, PR, to Isla Mujeres, Mexico (1,270 nm), and we can't motor the whole way without stopping for fuel. So we'll stop briefly in Jamaica just to refuel. So far we've been out almost four whole days, and we've only been able to turn the motor off for 8 hours. We were very pleased to get those 8 hours of sailing because they weren't forecast either. We're talking with Herb of South Bound II again daily and getting other weather sources over the SSB radio. Maybe later in the week we'll get some favorable winds and be able to sail again.

Right now we're south of Haiti about 30 hours out from our refueling stop at Bowden Harbour on the east end of Jamaica. All is well aboard Solstice.


radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Visiting friends on St. John

When we first set out on our voyage, we promised our friends Blake and Terri Parker that we would visit them at their new home on St. John when we were in the Caribbean. We made it just in time this week since they're planning a move back to Iowa. They have a new granddaughter there, and Terri has a new job, so we were lucky to catch them. We got to see their house, which they're keeping, and they gave us a tour of the island.

Other friends were also visiting St. John when we were there. We met Dave and Helen on Jammin (from Oregon) on the way to the 2007 Baja Ha-Ha. They've been in Mexico and the western Caribbean while we were in Europe, and now they're headed to Trinidad for the hurricane season. They waited for us at St. John (our only “for sure” stop), and we anchored next to them in Round Bay. It's a really nice anchorage, and we had it all to ourselves.

This morning we said good-bye to everyone as Jammin headed for Virgin Gorda and the Parkers continued with their regular lives. We only went a few miles today, to Water Island near St. Thomas, but tomorrow we'll get up early and go to Puerto Rico.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sint Maarten & St. Croix

Based on the recommendation of a couple of charter captains, we decided to go to Philipsburg in Dutch Sint Maarten rather than Simpson Bay. The primary motivation was to avoid the anchorage fees, but I also wanted to stop in at a Dutch-speaking island. There are Dutch-speaking people in Philipsburg, but the lingua franca is English with French a close second, followed by Spanish. And we spent more in bus and taxi fares getting to the chandleries and visiting friends in Simpson Bay than we saved, so it was a false economy. I can see why charter captains would go there, though: it's one big cruise ship stop. There are stores, bars, and restaurants everywhere along the waterfront and two streets deep in Philipsburg. The water in the bay was clear and nice, so we could do our swim off the boat. Now that we couldn't have done in Simpson Bay, at least not in the lagoon.

The main reason to stop at Sint Maarten was to see our friends Liat and Assaf on Jinja one last time before our tracks diverge, and we had a nice evening with them. I hope they will be able to visit us in San Francisco, or maybe we'll meet again cruising somewhere someday.

We did another night passage to get to St. Croix to clear into the U.S. The seas weren't smooth, but it wasn't too bad, and we had good wind so that we averaged 5 knots on the jib alone. It was pretty much straight downwind. When we arrived, there was a police boat telling us we couldn't anchor in the anchorage and directing us to a mooring buoy. The wind was blowing over 20 knots, and I didn't see how we could get the dinghy back on deck if we got her into the water in that, so I asked the police if there was a water taxi. They said they could give us a ride and pick us up later. Great!

The customs office was friendly and efficient, and we cleared into the U.S. with no problems or fees and headed to town where the police boat said they would meet us. We found the brew pub right by the dinghy landing, where we were supposed to meet the police, and had a nice lunch. The police, however, were no shows. They had suggested that we could hitch a ride with someone else with a dinghy, but most of the dinghies were pretty small. One couple I chatted with barely made it in going downwind with two people. There was no way they could take us back with them. I'd been watching people along the pier and spotted a man who seemed to know everyone and had a good-sized dinghy. The problem was that his boat was in the opposite direction. I finally approached him. His name is Matt, and he and his wife were very, very nice. They needed to take some stuff to their boat, but would be right back to ferry us to ours. So Matt kindly took us on a wet dinghy ride to our boat and wouldn't accept a beer or anything.

Overall, our impression of St. Croix is extremely positive. We only wish we'd been able to go back into town and explore more. There has been no charge for the mooring, but we learned that you can normally anchor here. The restriction on anchoring is only because of a triathlon with a swim through the anchorage this weekend. We don't know if there is normally a charge for the mooring buoys, but we would expect so.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Good-bye, Antigua

And good-bye, Chris. Last night we said farewell to our friend Chris of Avocette of Portsmouth. We've been traveling the same direction with occasional meet-ups since we first met in Gibraltar in October, and it seems strange to think we won't be looking forward to seeing him again at the next port. We've really enjoyed our time with him, and of course, we've exchanged invitations to our respective home ports. We hope to see him in San Francisco sooner than we'll be able to get to England.

We've been in Antigua for nearly three weeks now. Long enough to grow quite a crop of green, stringy stuff on the bottom of the dinghy, the removal of which delayed our departure by a day. We spent yesterday afternoon with the dinghy beached and us scrubbing hard. That gave us the evening free for another tot, and for the first time since his introduction, John wasn't required to drink a full measure. Our friend Moira also showed up to say hello to Chris (she was crewing for Chris when we first met her, also in Gibraltar), and then Chris took us to dinner. Thanks, Chris! Today we'll look for Chris aboard the yacht Sunshine since the Antigua Sailing Week races are going on and our route takes us along the course.

We've met so many people here! The Tot Club is responsible for most of that, of course, but people are really friendly here. We've also fixed or replaced lots of things, so we've met people that way too. The jib halyard and John's glasses needed to be replaced and the jib repaired. But while we were here, my glasses and a tooth broke, so we got those fixed too. I got a haircut, and we had to replace the kill switch on the dinghy.

Chris and John at a Tot Club meeting (one glass holds water)

John and Peter shared their Mismuster, the final step in becoming a member of the Royal Navy Tot Club of Antigua and Barbuda

We've seen a bit of the island since dentists, optometrists, pharmacies, and the like are all in St. John's, about 40 minutes away by bus. The big supermarket there, Epicurean, is amazing. We went with another American couple, and all four of us got pretty excited about the items and brands we found there. (If you haven't spent a length of time away from the U.S. and shopping for food, it must seem strange to be excited about a grocery store.) We also joined the Tot Club on the “rum run,” an expedition to resupply the club with cheap but quite drinkable rum. The source is the village post office at Bolans Corner, nearly an hour away on small roads.

Our next stop is Sint Maarten, where we hope to see our friends Liat and Assaf of Jinja. They're the Israeli couple whom we also met in Gibraltar. We won't linger because we've promised to get to St. John by the end of the month to see our land-based friends Blake and Terri before they fly back to Iowa for the christening of their first grandchild. We hope for another meet-up with Moira while we're there. From St. John to Puerto Rico for a week before a week-long passage to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. At Isla Mujeres we'll satisfy our cravings for Mexican food and look for a weather window to Galveston.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More photos posted

I'm all caught up with John on posting photo pages. Check under Latest Additions on our Photos page.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Enjoying the Classics Races

We've been enjoying seeing all of the classic yachts here in Antigua. And in our spare time, we've been working on photo pages for the web site. For the latest, look under Latest Additions on our Photos page.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Life in Antigua, so far

We came into the anchorage with a long list of things to accomplish here: jib repair, halyard replacement, new glasses for John, laundry, water tank fill, Tot Club, and so on. So far, we've managed most of these, or at least gotten them started, but we haven't explored very much, at least not scenic places. There are lots of yacht services where we are in the English Harbour/Falmouth Harbour area of Antigua, as you might expect since it's something of a sailing center. For example, it's easy to find a way to get your laundry done by someone else for only a little more than it costs to do it yourself in a machine. (We were low on water, so that was my excuse for not doing the wash by hand on the boat. I'll be back to that next time.) And there are lots of bars and restaurants. What isn't easy here is provisioning. There are several mini-markets, but they're very mini and fairly expensive. We'll be going to St. John's on Monday, after the rigger comes to the boat, for a major shopping expedition. We found the big supermarket there while we were looking for an optician last week.

Meanwhile, we had our first Tot Club introduction on Friday night. It was at the Copper & Lumber, a hotel and restaurant in the old Nelson's Dockyards complex, which is now a national park. The location no doubt partially accounts for the huge turn-out since the historic building is really lovely. We now fully understand what happens at Tot Club gatherings, which are daily at 1800 but at different locations throughout the week. First, you sign in. Members are allowed two guests, but our friend Chris had three on Friday (I opted out of the official gathering since I prefer punch with my rum). The others were a couple from Finland whom Chris met in La Gomera in the Canary Islands. Each participant gets a glass of water and a tot of rum. (That's a full measure of straight rum, no ice, for men and a half measure for women.) Then they form a circle and guests are introduced. After that are announcements followed by readings from this day in British naval history and a cleansing of the palate (that's what the water was for). Finally, there's the toast, a different one for each day of the week, and bless the Queen, then slam that rum.

Our group during the introductions. Next to John is Chris.

Membership in the Tot Club requires four things: an introduction, a minimum 1,000 non-stop miles under the keel, and attendance at seven meetings. If you want to join after the seventh meeting, you have to buy the tots for all in attendance that night. The huge turn-out Friday night isn't, Chris assures us, usual. I think the trick to joining without taking out a bank loan is to pick a night with a small circle, but I don't know if you have to say in advance that you're going to join that night. Probably. Members can buy a burgee and logo shirt. John wants the burgee and can always use another shirt.

Chris was busy last night, so we didn't go to the tot. I think we're on again for tonight, though. On Saturdays and Sundays it's at Life on the Corner, which is right next to the Mad Mongoose, where we've been going for happy hour and free Wi-Fi.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On to Antigua

Although we anchored at Bourg des Saintes overnight, we found it rough in the anchorage with marginal holding, so we decided to leave without going ashore and try our luck with Deshaies on Guadeloupe proper. We had a great sail across the passage, punctuated by a downpour, and were doing 7 knots easily with only the jib. It was really fun.

The fast sailing continued most of the way along the leeward side of Guadeloupe, much to my surprise. I thought the mountains would block all the wind, but instead they seemed to channel it. We did finally hit a wind shadow and were forced to turn on the engine for awhile, but the wind came back soon. And when it returned, there was even more of it. At one point we reached 9 knots speed over ground. We assume there was favorable current, as well, because that's faster than our maximum hull speed. When the wind started gusting over 30 knots, we decided it was time to bring the sail in (although John was having fun and would have left it longer). So we fell off in order to furl the sail.

That's when the not-fun part started. In windy conditions John goes forward to pull the retrieval line because it's easier. But even then, he was having trouble getting it started, so he told me to ease the sheet more. That made it flap around, and it knocked his glasses off despite the keeper on them. Things were happening very quickly and noisily at this point. I could see a gap at the foot of the sail, and then John yelled that the halyard had broken. At that point, the thing to do was to drop the sail, but the bolt line jammed at the bottom of the feed, and John couldn't free it. We furled it as well as possible, which wasn't very well, and raised the staysail to help us against the wind.

We were trying for the anchorage at Deshaies, Guadeloupe, but the entrance was straight into the wind, and we simply couldn't make it in there. So we decided to head for Antigua even though it meant entering and anchoring in the dark. I picked Falmouth Harbour over English Harbour because it looked like a simpler entry and is larger, so it would likely be less crowded. Night entry isn't recommended for either bay because navigation lights are often out, but with GPS and chart plotter, we don't have to depend on the lights. The choice was a good one, and we anchored fairly easily about 10:30 p.m. just past the reef at the entrance to the bay. John took the furler feed apart, so we were finally able to bring the jib down before we went to bed.

In the morning we discovered that we had anchored next to Robert on Silver Harmony, a young Scot whom we met briefly at La Palma in the Canaries. He told us where we could tie the dinghy ashore, and in the evening we had him over for sun-downers to get caught up on stories.

The Maltese Falcon is straight ahead of us at the Antigua Yacht Club.

We've found an optician and a sail maker. New glasses are being made, and the sail is being repaired. The sail maker, Franklyn at A & F Sails, also gave us the name of a rigger. We'll need professional help replacing the jib halyard. The rigger will come to the boat on Monday.

Our friend Chris on Avocette is in English Harbour, as is most of the cruising community, we're told. We haven't actually seen him yet, but we'll be meeting him this evening for our introduction to the Tot Club. We'll probably stay in Falmouth Harbour ourselves. The water out here where we are is nice, and we can easily walk to English Harbour from the dinghy dock at the Antigua Yacht Club.

This cute little place reminded us of our friends Andrew and Caroline Roth. Andrew does a great rendition of “Lime in the Coconut.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Indian River and Island Tours

Our Cobra water taxi driver, Jack, picked us up a little after 7 o'clock yesterday morning for our Indian River tour. On the way to the river we picked up another American couple, David and Rorie from Aurora, and two French Canadian couples joined us too. Cobra himself was our guide, and he was very impressive. While rowing us up the river (no motors allowed), he told us stories about the history of the river and island and about the flora and fauna, all in both French and English and including the Latin genus and species for all of the plants and animals. Although I'm sure some of it was standard spiel, we peppered him with enough questions to know that he truly is fluent in both French and English and definitely knows what he's talking about. At $20 US/person, the standard rate, this was money well spent. Because we were on a Cobra tour, we also got discounts at the jungle bar up the river.

Mouth of the river protected by freighter that grounded in a hurricane

Cobra rowing. No motors past the bridge.

Some of Pirates of the Caribbean (the second one) was filmed here

Two kinds of crab. The big one is edible.

National flower

Tree lizard

Wild ginger

Then we negotiated for an island tour by taxi. It ended up being $125 US/couple, not including our no-host lunch at a restaurant on the other side of the island. That seems a little expensive, but we haven't done an island tour since Grenada, so we splurged. It's always nice to see more than you can from the boat, and our guide, Robert, was good. Plus, we got a little exercise when we hiked to a waterfall. With its rugged mountains, Dominica really is very beautiful. And we really lucked out with the weather! There was no rain at all for our tours, but it's been raining off and on all day today.




View from the restaurant where we had lunch

The rugged windward side of the island

Rainbow in the anchorage

We'd like to spend more time here in Dominica, but it's still rolly in the anchorage, so we'll be going on to the Saints tomorrow morning. We decided against attending the PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) barbecue this evening. It's for a good cause, but we've spent enough here for this trip. Maybe next time.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Martinique to Dominica

It rained every day we were in Martinique, really rained, and not just a little. Oddly, we liked it there anyway, and it's on our list of islands to explore more next time. On our way north to St. Pierre, we passed a lot of little beaches where you could anchor a boat provided the swell was from the east, which it was at the time. And by next time, one of us will have learned more French. That would be useful.

Our last day in Le Marin we visited the vet. Märzen's ear problem was due to mites, and we're treating her now. The vet, Dr. Fonder, speaks English, and was recommended by cruisers we met in Rodney Bay. She's also listed in Ti' Ponton, the free “Sailor's Guide to Martinique,” which is available everywhere, including in the Custom's office.

Photographic evidence of a reluctant little dog's first trip ashore since Las Palmas in the Canary Islands:

Sort of fun to start out

Are we almost there?

I'm tired, Mom.

Oh, all right. I'll carry you.

Just let me get this on you so we can go back to the boat.

All done and ready to go home.

Clearance into and out of Martinique is simple. The office in Le Marin is open every morning, including Sundays, just like says. (Noonsite is a great online resource, but frequently inaccurate in the details, we've found.) You do the form online and print it out right there for the officer to stamp. They don't stamp your passport. The office is by the dinghy dock where the marina office used to be. That's in the middle of the dock complex to the left as you approach. There's a whole big expansion area to the right that didn't really show up in our cruising guide. The buildings in the expansion are mostly empty, but there are a few shops, and the marina office and, more importantly, their free and open showers are there too.

Dinghy dock

Yole, a traditional sailboat

Internet access was a challenge in Le Marin. In the anchorage I found one pay site, CaptMarin, but I couldn't figure out where to pay for it or how much it cost. Maybe it's from the marina. Mango Bay, which invites you to come in for free Wi-Fi, mostly wasn't working properly. We met the nice family from Windarra while trying to connect to the Internet there, and the next day we met some nice Polish Canadians, but we never did get connected for longer than two minutes there.

We checked out at Le Marin and motor-sailed north to St. Pierre, also on Martinique. There we anchored for the night but didn't go ashore. It looked like a pretty town, very Mediterranean, but we were really fascinated by its history. It was totally destroyed in the 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée, and everyone died except one prisoner in the jail. The bay is still littered with wrecks. Mont Pelée dominates the background, and it's pretty eerie.

On the way to St. Pierre

Once we got clear of the island of Martinique, we turned off the engine and sailed to Dominica (pronounced Domineeka, accent on the third syllable, like the old song). It was a fast sail, and we averaged 5 knots for the whole trip even though we dropped below 3 knots for the first part while we were sheltered by the island north of St. Pierre. It's always fun to be able to sail without the engine.

On the way to Roseau

At Roseau, the capital of Dominica, we took a mooring buoy because we'd read that the steep-to bay doesn't have very good holding. It's only $10 USD/night and worth it not to worry about the anchor holding. The boat boys noted how much we were rolling in the swell right away, but we didn't really notice until later. It was bad enough that we decided to leave for Portsmouth in the morning instead of doing our clearance in Roseau. Too bad because it looked like a nice town.

Now we're anchored in Prince Rupert Bay just north of Portsmouth. As we came into the bay we saw how much all the boats were rolling, and we picked a spot near the one mono-hull that wasn't moving so much. We have some swell, but it isn't as bad as last night. We had planned to use Alexis as our guide here because he was recommended by Chris on Avocette, but he didn't answer our hail on Channel 16 when we wanted a taxi to go clear in (it was blowing too much to get the dinghy in the water). So now we're using Cobra, we think. The boss was supposed to come and give us a price for an Indian River tour tomorrow, but didn't. So we'll see. We're planning to stay a few days, so if it doesn't happen tomorrow, we'll try Alexis again.

Later update: The swell has really increased, and we tried a tactic to point us into it so that it wouldn't feel so bad (front to back rather than side to side). It worked, but, unfortunately, it caused us to drag anchor. So after a little frenzy in the dark during which the boat behind us, who we were trying to avoid drifting into, yelled at us that we were going to be on their anchor. Duh. Well, we're re-anchored, but we'll see in the morning if we can put up with this in order to see some of the island. We've really been looking forward to Dominica, but so far it isn't a comfortable place to be.

Later again (tomorrow actually): Cobra came through on the Indian River tour, plus a tour of the island, so we were gone all day and had a great time. That's for another post later.

Friday, April 1, 2011

“You should write a book.”

When friends tell me this, I say that there are already enough books about sailing. Here's a link to a new one that was written by Larry Jacobson. He's the guy we bought our great dinghy from. We really enjoyed our visits with him, and he has become a friend. (When you're out cruising, you make friends quickly.) Larry has something to add to the cruising genre, and I look forward to reading his book when I get back to land and land a job. Meanwhile, if you're reading this blog for the cruising stories and not just because you're related to us, I bet you'd like this book.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sailing to Martinique

We had a fun, fast sail Saturday from Rodney Bay to Cul-de-Sac du Marin. Once we cleared the point at Pigeon Island, we killed the engine and sailed for the next three hours until we reached our turn into Le Marin, which was directly into the wind, of course. Somehow the squalls along the way passed in front of us or behind us, and we threaded our way through the maze of anchored boats into the mouth of the Baie des Cyclones in sunshine, set the anchor, got the sail cover on, and were comfortably settled before the first deluge hit. It's been a series of downpours ever since. We took advantage of one of the biggest to take freshwater showers. That was a treat after weeks of saltwater baths followed by freshwater rinses. Yes, we have a separate shower on board, but like many cruisers in tropical climes, we use it for storage.

We've made a veterinarian's appointment for Märzen for Tuesday morning. Her ears have been bothering her ever since Grenada. We've done what we could for her, but now that she can get off the boat legally (it's France, you know), we're going to get her checked out. The vet speaks English.

Free wireless Internet here in Le Marin is courtesy of Mango Bay Bistro. It wasn't working on Sunday, but today it's OK.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rodney Bay, St. Lucia

Upon our arrival here we were pleasantly surprised to find free wireless Internet that reached us in the anchorage. The disadvantage is that we spend less time exploring. Still, we have a pleasant view from the boat, and the breeze is nice here. (I took the following pictures this morning between squalls.)

The closest shore with Sandals Resort in the background and Aquarelle in the foreground

The far shore with the mountains of the island in the background

The second surprise came the next morning at 8:30 when I suddenly heard a man's voice giving the weather on VHF Channel 68. Who knew? Rodney Bay now has a cruisers' net like Grenada. We monitor Channel 68 when we're in harbor anyway since Indigo told us it's the one people use here in the West Indies, so we just stumbled across the net.

One of the announcements after the weather was for the weekly cruising women's luncheon the next day (Wednesday). I've never attended anything like that before, but figured it couldn't hurt. We haven't caught up with the friends we crossed with yet, and we left our other friends further south, so it was time to make some new friends. While we were in the marina doing our check-in, we also saw John and Mo (Pauline) from Fiesta. We'd first met them on Grenada when we went to the Friday Fish Fry, and we saw them again in Bequia. We're obviously going the same direction, so we're starting to get acquainted.

The cruising women's luncheon was well worth attending. There were about 30 of us there, and the food was good. It was quite a mix of women. Many, if not most, come to Rodney Bay every year. Most, but not all, are on boats. Some have houses here. All are interesting and talented. The most amazing thing was that one of the women, Evelyn Drew, is an artist from Santa Cruz, CA. I'd met her and her husband, Terry, when I first moved to the Bay Area and went sailing with Mom on her friend Lou's boat, Red Hawk. It is indeed a small world. Their boat Aquarelle is anchored just toward shore from us, so we went over yesterday afternoon after we checked out to introduce John and catch up a bit.

My end of the table. Marcia from Crusader (in white) organizes this gathering.

The whole group

Yes, we've already checked out, and we're heading for Le Marin on Martinique in a little while. There we'll stock up on French wine and cheese before we move on.

(Posting delayed until next Internet connection due to rain that made us bring our antennas in.)

Well, we'll be here one more night, but we won't be going ashore. By the time the downpour stopped this morning and we got the dinghy on board so that we could go to the fuel dock to top up with duty-free fuel, it was 10:30. By the time we got everything taken care of at the fuel dock, it was past 11:30. There are reefs and lobster pots in the approach to our next anchorage, so we have to get there in daylight. We probably could have made it before sunset (about 6:15), but we didn't want to risk failure

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wallilabou Bay, St. Vincent

This bay is where some of the scenes of Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed, and it's one of the anchorages on the west of the island where you can stop over on the way to St. Lucia. We were met here, as warned, by a welcoming committee of boat boys (some men, but all call themselves boat boys) to help us tie to shore and sell us things. We'd heard of the Caribbean boat boys, who can be something of a nuisance, but this was our first experience with them.

On the way here, I discovered that it would take longer to get to St. Lucia than I had thought, so we decided to spend the day here at Wallilabou and go ashore with our boat boy in the morning to see the waterfall. Except our boat boy didn't show up. We didn't mind not going ashore because we were a little nervous about how close we were to the beach.

At sunset we dropped the line to shore and sailed slowly overnight to Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. When we arrived around noon, we discovered that the anchorage in the bay was filled with mooring buoys. After one attempt at anchoring across the channel, without getting the anchor to set, we decided to go on to Rodney Bay. That's where we are now.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Bequia is the little island just south of St. Vincent. Its charm is legendary among cruisers, and we certainly weren't disappointed. It was a bit of a slog against the wind to get to Port Elizabeth and Admiralty Bay on Bequia, so it was almost sunset when we arrived. We spotted Salt Dragon immediately and anchored nearby, but no one answered our hail on the radio, so we had a quiet evening and sent Moira an e-mail to let her know we were there. That was March 10th. I'm not sure where the days went after that, but we stayed until the 19th.

The next morning we had coffee with Moira and Shane aboard Salt Dragon and learned that Moira had quit her job as a constable in North Ireland in favor of cruising the Caribbean. Wow! She already has a delivery gig lined up for a bit later in the season, and I'm sure she'll be able to do as much of that kind of thing as she wants. Her kids are grown, so why not? Besides the big news, we also got the scoop on where to drop trash, where to provision, where to leave the dinghy, and so on.

The town of Port Elizabeth looks like a colorful Caribbean postcard with gingerbread trim. Many of the wooden buildings have fancy woodwork trim, and one small resort is even called the Gingerbread Inn. There are flowers everywhere, the buildings are generally well-maintained, and the streets are clean. You can get most provisions in town, and what isn't available in Port Elizabeth can be found in Kingstown on the island of St. Vincent, just a one-hour ferry ride away.

A view of Bequia

Moira found this fresh chicken place, but they weren't open.

We took the ferry one day with Moira and Shane to have a look around and visit the botanical gardens, the oldest in the Caribbean. Shane and Moira hadn't been to the gardens before, and we all thought it was worth the look. Our guide, Sinclair, was quite knowledgeable and entertaining. He even got us into the enclosure where they are breeding and raising St. Vincent parrots. The idea is that they will be able to repopulate the wild parrots in case their numbers drop too low. We also took the opportunity to shop for things we hadn't been able to find on Bequia.

Ferries at the dock in Bequia

Sinclair, our garden guide

Water lily

Shane with a parrot

Shopping expedition

Mostly our days were lazy, punctuated by trips ashore to drop off trash or buy provisions. We wouldn't even have needed to do that because the water taxi guys are eager to take care of the people on the boats. Daffodil delivers fuel (both diesel and gas), water, ice, and laundry, but we got our fuel, water and last ice at the big orange boat, Kingfisher, and used Miranda's Laundry once for our sheets and towels. You can also call on Channel 68 for the bread man to have baguettes, croissants and banana bread delivered.

I went snorkeling several times with Moira, and John joined us the last day there. We saw lots of fish, but I'll have to see if I can find them on the Internet because I don't know what most of them were. Moira knew lots of the names, but I forget most of them. I know we saw a snake eel several times, as well as a scorpion fish once, along with the prettier ones.

Returning from snorkeling

We also went out to eat relatively frequently. First, John was craving pizza, so we went to Mack's, which was really good. It's on the Belmont Walkway, a paved path along the beach. Tommy's Cantina has decent Mexican food and free Wi-Fi, which we used before we bought our month pass for HotHotHotSpot. (This service is available on several islands, including Guadeloupe, Dominica and Antigua, so it was worth getting a full month.) On Sunday we went with Shane and Moira to Coco's Place for the all-you-can-eat buffet, which was good but we probably wouldn't repeat it. Tuesday night was drinks at Jack's Bar for the live music. That was an easy trip for us because we were anchored not too far off shore from there. And Friday night we went with everyone to Sabrina's place near the airport for shark. Everyone is the usual quartet plus Al from Bombay Sapphire, who was just back from Scotland.

It was easy to tell that most of the same people would be there next year. The more often you return, the more you become part of the local scene. I think the same is true with Grenada. Both are easy places to be. Why hurry off?