Saturday, December 16, 2023

Imposter Syndrome

We sailed out of Curacao under a stiff wind, almost exactly on the nose. Somehow, impossibly, just like we came in.

The first rays of sunrise illuminate a wet deck and safety equipment at the ready. Jacklines lead from the cockpit to the bow and tethers keep our life vests connected to the jacklines in such a way that if we do fall, we fall ONTO the boat instead of off of it.

The first night we lost track of our boat buddy Bliss in a squall. Sometime later in the night we noticed the mainsail was shaped weirdly because the foot of the sail was working its way out of the boom track, before we had a chance to fix it the outhaul shredded and snapped loose. The big winds and steep waves made it just too much to attempt to solve any of it safely in the dark and so we decided the best course of action was to take down and secure the mainsail until we could get some sunshine on it and make a plan. The beauty of a ketch is that in high winds she often performs better with just the headsail and mizzen sail, ketch sailors call this "running jib & jigger" and Minerva is quite comfortable this way. I clipped to the jacklines, crab-walked/crawled out to the mainmast, pulled the sail down and secured it while Lance watched from the wheel, calling out warnings for the bigger waves so I could pause long enough to cling to the mast or boom until it was safe to take one hand off again and resume sail wrestling. Sail secured, I crawled back to the safety of the cockpit, unclipped and passed out until time for my watch. The morning light revealed a half dozen problems with the mainsail and boom, all of which would have to wait for a calm day at anchor before being addressed.

The rivets that keep the metal plate on the end of the boom end perished, and the metal plate came off. We found it on the deck before it went overboard, fortunately. Without the plate in place, the lines were able to escape the little troughs they should live in, chafed and shredded.

Then the autopilot died. We tried some basic troubleshooting but in the end resigned ourselves to hand-steering and shorter watches for the duration of the passage. Good thing we meal-planned for one-handed eating on this passage.

On the third day the wind shifted a bit behind us, we flattened out the boat and flew into Christiansted like a rocket, our Curacao flag still flying because it seemed too unimportant to hassle with in the rough conditions, short-handed as we were with the manual steering. It was somewhat shredded from the season and the long ride in. We didn't take it down until Minerva was resting on her anchor alongside our buddy boat. Our American flag at the stern was every bit as shredded.


There were already a couple of other sailboats anchored with Bliss. One of them was a beautiful charter boat named Kai. Shortly after we had settled the bureaucracy, removed our tattered Curacao flag and hoisted the USVI flag, the crew of Kai came over and gifted us with some fish from their freezer. Rather than let it thaw while getting some work done they shared the bounty. This is the cruiser way.

The happiest view - finding your long-lost buddy boat at your destination

They told us they had been scrabbling to figure out our Curacao flag, wondering what far away lands we had sailed in from, and how they were hoping we would anchor our "real sailboat" out by them so Kai and her crew could share the anchorage with the other "real sailors".

When they said those words I looked around and it took me a moment. "Oh... you mean us? Real sailors?

Our hair and skin is salty. Our mainsail is secured tightly, obviously done on the fly but done properly nonetheless (not to mention one-handed while often airborne). The dog is still wearing her life jacket and anxiously eyeing the frozen fish - she recognizes the way they zip-seal her favorite meats in the Caribbean. We are yawning but nonetheless going about our business settling Minerva after a long passage; tidying lines, securing sails, checking the chafe guards on the anchor bridle.

They're talking about us. I scratched my salty eyebrow and blinked the resulting salt from my eye. I suppose we are real sailors.

Huh. Wonder when that happened.

Goin' to shore for the first time after a long passage - this is the face of a very happy sailor dog

Friday, November 3, 2023

Curacao, Desert Island Hurricane Hideout

Curacao has been a lovely place to hide Minerva from hurricanes. It's a desert island of just over 170 square miles, and from our protected latitude under the hurricane belt we've witnessed several gnarly storms pass by harmlessly to the North of us.

The Queen Emma bridge between Punda and Otrabanda swings open on a raft of small boats. The bridgetender gives a very short alert before starting motion and pedestrians are often caught by surprise when it opens or closes while they are in the process of walking across it.

The island is just large and modern enough to offer up most everything we need. There's been a refreshing diversity of snorkeling, restaurants, groceries, and boat supplies. We were quickly welcomed into the cruising community and after we moved into the marina we formed our own sub-community there and freely shared rides to events and markets, tools, and windfalls such as the night we split the giant tuna the local fishermen gave us when they couldn't find a way to stuff it into their cooler. That fish fed several cruisers on A dock that week.

Much of Willemstad is covered in murals and this is one of my favorites.

We imagined we'd be doing lots of scuba diving off the boat when we got here, but the tanks haven't escaped their locker much. Mostly it's a logistical issue. Moving the boat requires permission from the government and a small fee paid each time, getting to the government office is a hassle. The diving is not where the boat is, which means loading the gear into the car or hitching rides with others for long dinghy slogs, and there always seems to be something else to distract us from making all that effort. Someday we'll anchor Minerva where the diving is and fall off the boat and dive there. Wherever that is.

We found respite from the heat in regular snorkeling trips and afternoon cooldown swims at the local beach. Adding this to our routine became something we looked forward to each afternoon.

This is a Chi Chi - proud, strong, Caribbean. There are several around the island and each one is different depending on the artists' interpretation of what these words mean to them. This one is in downtown Punda close to the Queen Emma bridge and is certainly the most colorful one we've discovered. There is a beautiful Chi Chi in delicate Danish blues at the local Sandals resort but the security guards there are quite tenacious about making sure nobody photographs her. Maybe she's camera shy.

We arrived with a long To Do list for Minerva, and tackled it with fervor, making every effort to balance out the laptop work with the boat work and a healthy dose of fun. The ungodly heat definitely threw a wrench in the schedule though, carving out hours in the middle of the day that defy any action at all aside from laying on the floor and just trying to breathe. Although we didn't get everything done, we did get the important things done. A dive boat captain in Monterey once told me "it's not IF something on the boat is broken, it's WHICH of the broken items needs to be most urgently fixed that is the real question." Wise words from an experienced captain I respect; I put the rest of the To Do sticky notes away for another day and will do my best to suppress the shame of not conquering it all before departing.

Typical Dutch architecture in Punda. The locals tell us if the building has a red roof you are wealthy, if the building has a black roof you are ridiculously wealthy. We can only presume because it means you can afford the air conditioning bill that goes with a black roof. Or, in the days before air conditioning, you could afford a posse to follow you around waving giant fans.

Curacao was once inhabited by Native Americans, then Spaniards, then the Dutch and only became a fully independent self-governing nation in 2015. Most locals can trace their family lineage back to sailors or slaves or some combination thereof and the echoes of all these influences are still prevalent in the local architecture, language, clothing, dance and cuisine. I  am fascinated by the colorful hair wraps, and was about to select one to tuck my long hair into on windy days when I was informed there is a whole host of reasons that is inappropriate, not the least of which is that the color of the wraps and they way they are tied is an unspoken language developed over hundreds of years, mostly signaling that I am looking for male companionship and, well... I am far too uninformed to wade into all that miscommunication. So no pretty hair wrap for me.

Another great mural in Willemstad

Just this week the weather has turned from hot and dry to hot and occasionally raining cats and dogs. This is the cue that hurricane season is coming to an end and it's time to plan our escape. The marina and anchorage are becoming emptier as boats left last month for Columbia, Panama, and Venezuela and this month are leaving for destinations North. Our plan is to sail North in mid-November, shooting for St. Martin but remaining flexible to fall back to St. Croix, Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic if the wind and waves are too much to comfortably greet head-on. Since we are under no schedule constraints for this next leg and the destination is less important than the journey we can afford to be picky when selecting our weather window. This time we'll be sailing across the Caribbean Sea with a buddy boat so the 500+ mile ride will be less lonely. Friends await our arrival on the other side.

We intend to see the rest of the Caribbean islands in a clockwise fashion over the winter. We have seen the British and US Virgin Islands, everything East and South of that will be new territory for us. So much exploring to do.

The Winter 2023-24 lineup

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Hurricane Season and the Curacao Cruising Community

"I am going to FINISH one of these projects TODAY" Lance shouted as he slid the boat hatch door closed and marched up the dock. I could only shake my head and commiserate. We've been banging our heads against the wall on this simple dinghy upgrade for way too long; what should have been an afternoon project was now dragging into the 5th day.

The rest of the "to do" sticky notes mock us from the wall, waving in the breeze.

The statue of Curacao's first Prime Minister was taken down for refurbishment. Locals watched nervously until he was safely on the ground.

It's been over a year since her Maine spa treatment and Minerva is demanding some attention. We knew we'd wash up here for hurricane season and postponed much of the work as we were expecting a big air conditioned workspace at the marina resort. As it turns out, there isn't any sort of clubhouse at the resort, air conditioned or otherwise. Fortunately locals have kindly offered to share their personal workspace with us for the larger projects such as the genoa sacrificial cover, which will involve spreading the huge sail out flat. The smaller projects are being tackled on the salon table next to Minerva's air conditioner.

Curacao is an island of the Dutch Antilles and the primary language is Papamiento (a blend of English, Dutch, Spanish and Afrikaan). We find that most folks also speak either English or Spanish. The projects involve lots of small parts which are requiring effort to source. We felt bad about constantly hitching rides with our cruising buddy and knew the more abstract items would require some significant legwork to track down; in the end we leased a car for the remainder of the season so we have some hope of getting it all done before November without monopolizing our neighbor's time and car.

Lance, Ken and Apollo teamed together to scrub bottoms of all three boats

Shopping for obscure parts (like an industrial sewing needle) is one of those things most people just don't do daily any more. If I were in the USA, I'd visit no more than 2 local stores before just ordering them directly from SailRite or Amazon and have them delivered right to my door. Shipments like this in Curacao are a lot more complicated, and either can't be done at all or require third party help from the USA at additional cost and delay. So we've been driving around to all the likely shops asking if they have what we need or will order it for us - it's like a throwback to shopping in the 80's - lots of driving, lots of talking to a lot of people (with a lot of hand signals or Google intervention when we encounter language barriers), and lots of incomplete directions to that "other store, I can't remember it's name".

Franko Maps reveal the hidden gems

Last weekend we took a day off and went exploring with A dock neighbors. All eight of us and Chloe piled into two cars and drove to the other end of the island to an obscure dive/snorkel spot discovered on a FrankoMap, then we finished up the day at an indoor/outdoor Thai restaurant. Ventures like this keep me from screaming out loud when we reach the next project roadblock. It's all about balance.

Cruiser dogs join the party at the hamburger joint

On Tuesday night we were invited to cruisers' night at the local hamburger joint. There was an excellent turnout and Chloe roamed freely through the crowd. Before long she fell in with the pack of boat kids running around the property; their friendship hastened and forever secured by shared French fries.

Upon leaving the USA we discovered that the rest of the world communicates on WhatsApp for texting, phone calls, and video calls. Businesses run on it also and if you make a phone call with your regular phone it isn't likely to be picked up by anyone except through WhatsApp. Here in Curacao we use it to chase parts with businesses and have embraced the group chat function of the app to keep in constant contact with the cruisers on the island.

The SuperMoon Rises over Minerva

Last weekend a dinghy float was organized under the SuperMoon which ended with a dozen boats tied together drifting along under the beautiful night skies and a gentle breeze. We pull together everything from scuba adventures to beach parties, lost and found, shared rides to stores, laundry and propane, requests for tools or help, and share windfalls. I found a hairdresser to give me a haircut on the stern of her boat last week. A cruising sailboat at anchor was struck by a drunken party vessel who then fled the scene, and within 24 hours it was all sorted out. Word got out of a disabled boat approaching the dock, so cruisers were waiting to help catch him as he limped in to the dock. 

We are a tight community.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Crossing the Caribbean Sea to Curacao

We said goodbye to Amy and Larry in St Croix; their parting words to us were "look out for the area around Udall Point (East St. Croix). It has potholes."

Boy they weren't kidding! But we picked our way through them, put up the sails and pointed Minerva Southwest across the open Caribbean Sea.

Amy and Larry, friends we made in St. Croix, built their trimaran from scratch.
It's made of cold-molded cedar and fiberglass and it looks like it deserves a speeding ticket even when tied to the dock.

The wind was coming from just a little East of due South. I suspect this is highly unusual. It is certainly annoying, since the whole point of doing the thorny path was to get all the way out here and have a nice beam reach run across the Caribbean Sea, which means we were looking for an East Wind - a trade wind, which is everyday here, right! Nope! Denied!

It's easy to become paralyzed by the options and waiting for a perfect weather window that may never arrive. There's also the fear that you pick the perfect window but it turns out to be a weatherman's lie. At some point you must simply go anyways and accept the consequences, and hope that you prepared well enough for the inevitable surprises.

I probably haven't mentioned this before, but I don't like leaning. We spent a lot of time choosing this specific boat because she's heavy and resists the lean. Close-haul = lean. But it was only supposed to be for a little while before the East Wind filled in and we would be at a nice comfortable beam reach for the majority of our ride.

One weather report suggested the wind would turn after only a couple hours. That came and went. A different weather report said we could look for the wind to turn at noon. That came and went. A third one said by 4:00, surely, the East Wind would show up then. By 6:00, still nothing. More leaning. And, you know what? It wasn't that bad! Minerva really seems to thrive in it. So we were cooking right along, leaning a little bit, and when a big gust of wind would come she would just sort of dump the excess wind and keep going. At first it freaked me out, and then I learned to trust her. She was really in her element. We've never experienced this before, and she's an old hand at it. It did feel a little bit like she was showing off, this was a side of my boat I've never really relaxed long enough to let her show me before.

Tethers are kept handy in the cockpit and our policy is to clip our lifevests to the safety lines on the boat whenever leaving the cockpit for any reason

There were a couple of incidents where our feet went out from under us on a lean, and some things went flying and broke, we earned some minor bruises here and there. All in all we did pretty well considering the sideways and bumpy state of living for a few days. Really great safety gear and a policy of always wearing it kept us on the deck when we fell topside, and lots of handholds in the cabin kept the below decks falls to a minimum (Merci Monsieur Amel).

We all got soaked by waves that slipped over the side now and then, unfairly attacking us as we were leaned over. Chloe always glared at us so indignantly, as if we were doing it purposefully to annoy her. She was the first to figure out the particular sound they make when they hit the hull and dive for cover before the splash could rain down on her, yes it seems the dog is Minerva's smartest crew member.

Sunrise on the third morning bathed the setting moon in cotton candy skies

The night watches were magical. As the sun went down and the full moon came out to play, the swell would lay down and Minerva would fly. We saw a handful of other boats on the radar, but only a couple of container ships were visible with our eyes, all of them distant. During the day we were kept company by schools of flying fish, who seemed determined to race with us, and the clouds made interesting moonshadows on the water at night. One night a small dolphin jumped all the way out of the water alongside Lance then quickly disappeared. Later that same night, on my watch there was a rather large cloud above Minerva and clear skies on the horizon, the moon caused a million little sparkles right on the horizon - it looked like we were sailing on a dark lake across from a bustling lakeside city. On the third night the wind did finally shift a little more to the East, we paid out some sails, the boat flattened out and we sailed comfortably the rest of the way, catching a free ride on a ripping current over the top of Bonaire and to Curacao.

The sacrificial suncover on the headsail went from gently frayed to completely shredded during our passage, and we pulled into the anchorage with the ravaged cover hanging like a row of sad flags. We arrived just before 5 pm and circled around a bit before settling on the perfect spot to drop the hook. We were on our final approach when we ran aground on a soft sandy shoal that wasn't on the chart, a rather inauspicious ending to an otherwise flawlessly executed passage. Of course it was getting close to sundowner time so everyone was on their boat decks to witness it, surely adding to our new neighbors' impression of us. Oh well. We set the hook and were treated to a front-row seat of the naked ancient French couple diving from their boat to swim upwind of us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023



If you've been sharing our adventure for a while you may remember a time when we were in Portland Maine with a broken engine, September growing old and the nights becoming uncomfortably cold. We were in limbo, waiting for two different shops to give us a quote on the engine swap, anxiously anticipating the arrival of our new engine. Covid was still rearing its ugly head causing manpower and materials delays, and we were getting crushed between the need for mandatory repairs and the inevitable arrival of winter.

A rock and a hard spot. Nothing to do but wait. One of the shops hoped aloud to have us sailing South by Thanksgiving but weren't sure if they could pull it off yet.

We fired up the Mr. Buddy propane heater and rubbed our hands in front of it before tucking in to bed, coaxing the dog onto the blanket to better share our body heat.

With nothing productive to do, my brain did what it does, it spun and spun and spun until I wore myself out, then it continued to spin in my sleep causing bizarre and intense dreams that awakened me in cold sweats, gasping for breath.

It's important to note that the Maine Yacht Center lives right next door to the B&M baked beans factory. Downwind, in fact, and often we would fall asleep to the smell of baked beans being prepared for canning.

One of these nights I was flopping around in bed with my brain doing its pressure-cooker routine when my subconscious must have picked up on the baked bean smell and registered it as toast. Probably then it took the additional leap to associate it somehow with fire and therefore dangerous. But in my semi-conscious and exhausted state, I sat straight up and the shout that escaped my lips was TOAST!!!!!!

Yes, I woke myself up shouting toast. The funnier part was that it woke Lance too, and he leapt out of bed ready to run, both fists closed and swinging at the empty air - fully prepared to fight whatever it was from a dead sleep. He was absolutely gonna destroy... toast. Then we blinked at each other and both of us crinkled our brows at the same time. Toast?

Later that morning, over coffee and - you guessed it, toast - we agreed it might be best to hand the keys over to the shop and let them do the work over the winter. It turned out to be the right decision because the Nor'Easter that came in Thanksgiving weekend was epic, but since Minerva was safe on stands and we were tucked in with family in California, neither ship nor crew were bothered much by the vicious storm.

Why do I bring this story to you now, so long after the fact? Because I now recognize the brain-pressure-cooker pattern. It reemerges whenever we are on the cusp of some brand new adventure. I've concluded it's my body's way of trying to steer me back into the comfort zone. Like an undermining pre-teen frenemy, it whispers these hateful little messages:

you can't do this

it's too scary

you aren't clever enough, prepared enough, strong enough

you aren't a good enough sailor

and on and on and on and on

Last night's dream was about a vicious storm attacking us. It had a face that looked a lot like Animal the Muppet, and it growled at us and tried to swallow Minerva whole while we tacked and tacked to escape the giant red snapping mouth. Ridiculous, right?

Must mean we are stepping up to the starting line of a brand-new adventure. Yep, 500+ miles across the open Caribbean Sea from St. Croix to Curacao. This will be our longest nonstop sail yet by double.


Shut up brain. 

It's gonna be awesome.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Slice of Life -USVI National Parks

The turtle was grazing heartily, waving its front fins now and then to dust the sand off of the grasses before chomping a fresh bite. The remora on its back would occasionally release and take a lap through the dust clouds, snapping its mouth, before reattaching to the turtle shell for its slow ride to the next buffet. Neither of them seemed to care that I was still hovering above them, arms and legs limp and breathing comfortably through my snorkel.

Loud splashing and squealing alerted me that the next horde of snorkelers had been deposited from the local fast boat. They all had matching yellow snorkels and when they flailed noisily right past the peaceful turtle, the remora and me, I let out a sigh of relief for the three of us. A few minutes later I noticed a father and son at the back of the pack, also in yellow snorkels but swimming comfortably and quietly so I invited them to see my turtle and we shared the moment together. I swam back to the boat, rinsed down, and went back to my laptop to finish the rest of the day's work. It was, after all, a Tuesday and this was officially my lunch hour.

Ballast stones from Dutch ships of the 1700s blend with more modern bricks and concrete, documenting the passage of time as the ruins above Waterlemon Cay age and crumble.

Later that same afternoon, Lance was watching a pair of cuttlefish changing colors to match the background as they moved through the reef when he was surprised by a GoPro camera on a selfie stick being shoved in front of his face. The afternoon snorkel tour boat horde had snuck up on him while he was engrossed in fish watching. The spark of annoyance was immediately replaced by a giggle when he realized he could snorkel back anytime for more cephalopod viewing while these people were in a rush to cram all the fun into their short vacations as possible. In fact, we had followed the cuttlefish for quite a while the day before and had been treated to a completely different light show, that one more like flashing neon signs. So he swam back to the boat to get dinner started while I wrapped up my laptop work and downloaded something to watch that night under the stars before shutting down Starlink for the night.

Minerva rests on a mooring in the USVI National Park

We had arrived in the USVI burnt out, cranky and exhausted from the constant thorny path strategizing and night passages, and had agreed to spend a couple of weeks just resting and decompressing before discussing our next big passage, the jog across the Caribbean Sea from the USVI to Curacao, where we should be safe for hurricane season. We were just coming into the second week and finally feeling rested, finding renewed vigor for the next leg of our adventure.

Anchoring is prohibited in the National Park, and mooring balls cost $26/night. An iron ranger floats in each harbor and it's easy to paddle up and shove a check through the slot. This method ensures a healthy reef, since anchors are not randomly dragging across it, and also limits the number of visitors each night. The reefs here are some of the healthiest we've seen so far, and our stays have been blissfully peaceful.

The fresh groceries aboard the boat were dwindling, as was the fresh water and our selection of clean laundry. On Saturday we would need to leave the National Park and head into the nearest town to handle these matters. Undoubtedly as we schlepped our laundry up the hot concrete streets the planes above us would be winging the snorkelers of the week back to their normal lives, tales of turtles and cuttlefish and turquoise waters on their lips.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Puerto Rico and the End of the Thorny Path

After one of my Facebook posts someone asked me what the "thorny path" meant. I probably should have detailed that out at some point, so please accept my apology and let me explain.

Sailing is preferable if the wind is coming from your side or somewhere at your back. Same goes for waves. The more in front of the mast either of these items the bouncier the ride.

The third variable: current, can generally be used to a sailor's advantage if the trends are predictable.

Impromptu Buddy Boats on the Mona Passage with us. We weren't the only folks that spied a weather window and made a run for it. We established a VHF channel to discuss strategy, right about here we'd decided to push further away from shore to find calmer wave action and avoid encountering fishing equipment in the dark.

Going from Florida to the Caribbean means going directly against the trade winds, which almost always blow from the East, stronger in the afternoon. The current and waves in this region also generally come from the East, or slightly North of East. And there's a lot of East to be conquered to get from Florida to the Caribbean. So the wind, waves, and current are generally fighting any progress. There's a lot of motoring - the sails don't get out much. That's the essence of the thorny path. Lots of motoring and regular beatings.

Boqueron Still Life on a Monday morning

Experienced sailors all say the same thing about the thorny path "did it once, won't do it again", and instead sail waaaaaaaaay out of the way in a really big tack out into the open Atlantic Ocean, and sail back into the the BVI on Longitude 65. This method is called "taking the I-65". But we wanted to experience the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and also Chloe still won't pee on the boat making regular landings important, so we decided we'd give it a whirl. After all, others have survived, how bad could it possibly be?

The Fort at Old San Juan

We planned all our hops through the Bahamas trending South and East, and then fought our way along the Dominican Republic coast, where we perched on the East side of the island and looked out over the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. Famed waters, these are. Any sailor who has experienced this passage will take a big breath and pause before telling you their personal horror story.

By the time we reached the Dominican Republic the signs of stress were starting to show on the sailors around us. One couple put their boat up for sale. Another threatened divorce. A single-handed sailor put his boat on the hard for a season to "go home and think about it for a while". Many got sucked into major boat repairs or marina life and stayed longer, then longer, always finding a reason not to leave. That last one tempted us too. The Dominican Republic is affordable to cruisers, the fresh food is plentiful and the people are friendly. But in our case the insurance company won't have it - they want us South of Latitude 12.40 (the hurricane belt) by July 1st. So we had to keep moving.

BBQ at Los Pinos, on the mountaintop Ruta de Lechon (pork route)

In the end the Mona Passage was every bit as awful as we'd heard to expect: the pokiest middle finger at the end of a very long thorny path. We were advised not to try to play the currents as their timing was simply unpredictable. We studied the wind and wave patterns very carefully, integrated advice from the weather and local sailor gurus, and still got our asses handed to us by wind, waves, and most of all the current which slowed us from our usual cruising speed of 6.5knots to 3.5knots, extending our time in the wave beating zone by hours. Fortunately Minerva is a sturdy girl and the only casualty she suffered was some trimwork that had to be reattached after arrival. We received only minor bruises that healed quickly.

Shortly before arriving in Puerto Rico in the middle of the night, the wind and waves finally released us and we motored into the anchorage on a glassy sea, a surreal experience. The smell coming off the island of Puerto Rico from the earlier rainstorm was grass and dirt, agriculture and wet sidewalks. In short, it smelled just like a baseball field. The sweat flop had barely dried on our skin when we set the hook in the protected anchorage at Puerto Real and passed out flat, dreaming of childhood days playing at parks.

Ah! That new outboard smile!

Shortly after sunrise our first morning in Puerto Rico the music started. And didn't end until after we'd gone to bed each night. Everywhere in Puerto Rico there is music; all the time from every jetski, every car, every boat. Happy bouncy music and it's all very LOUD. We ordered a new outboard from the local chandlery and settled in to wait for its arrival while the Spring Break insanity unfolded around us in Boqueron, a popular public beach and party town.

These little pouches of deliciousness are called Gasolina and they are made in Puerto Rico. We coined them "adult Capri Suns", they are booze in a squeeze pouch - the perfect way to end a sweltering day. Very little sugar, small enough to keep a few in our tiny freezer, they store in the bilge with no fuss. Lance is addicted to these things.

Continuing East along Puerto Rico's coast meant doing so at night to avoid fighting the tradewinds, and so that was our pattern. Go to bed early, anchor up in the dark, motor in the dark, arrive in the morning light and set the hook, do it again.

Puerto Rico has plentiful US post offices. Huzzah! Finally we were in a position to catch mail from home including a great big bag of flags. These are the flags we are likely to need between now and Christmas, the rest are stowed away for use in 2024.

Then we reached Salinas and received an unexpected miracle, West Winds at 10am and flat seas! We hoisted the spinnaker and reveled in the free ride as far as it would take us, landing in Culebra and setting the hook alongside our buddy boat at midnight. A few days later we made the short hop to the USVI on calm seas in full daylight. And that's the end of the thorny path. We made it. Boat, relationship, and bodies intact. Whew.

Spinnaker sailing! Yeah baby!

 It was an experience, and now we are sailors who will say "we did it once, won't do it again". The dog will just have to finally give in and pee on the boat. She has a pee pad and she knows what we want, she's just stubborn.

The turquoise waters of the USVI remind us of the Bahamas. There are a couple of turtles that pop up for air, we'll go snorkeling after them tomorrow. But first, a cocktail and a toast buh-bye to the thorny path.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Dominican Republic and the Mona Passage

The Dominican Republic is beautiful. Mountains, jungles, exotic birdcalls. What's not to love?

Mangroves at the entrance to the Line Caves, in Haitises National Park

Well, they do love to burn things. Lance thinks it's trash, I think it's agricultural burns, could be both or neither. The point is that there's always smoke coming from somewhere. Fortunately there's a lot to do, so we just pick our daily activity upwind of the smoke of the day.

The Line Caves in Haitises National Park were once the home to indigenous peoples. They hid their princess there among the caves from the marauding Spaniards in the late 1400s. There remain quite a few pictographs on the walls today, mostly depicting long-legged birds and the occasional whale.

We are still in the trade winds on the thorny path, which means we are picking our weather windows very carefully so as to fight nature as minimally as possible on our route East and South. From Ocean World near Puerto Plata to Marina Bahia Puerto in Samana meant going East, South and then West for a 20-hour slog. The window we picked should have been mostly sailable, and in fact after turning South we should have had a 16knot tailwind to drive us past the shockingly tall mountains of Samana and West into the Bay, although the weather didn't actually work out that way. We timed our arrival to round the corner and pass over the resident whale population at daybreak, and at first light we found ourselves surrounded by little fishing boats wearing no lights whatsoever. Perhaps they don't want to give away their favorite fishing grounds. Anyways, with the skinny moon and overcast skies, we were sailing in near pitch blackness and it was a surprise to blink in the half-light and find so many surrounding us. Hope we didn't disturb any in the dark. Fortunately we did not meet any whales in the dark, either.

Dominican Treehouse Village near Samana

The Marina Puerto Bahia in Samana is a high-end marina and resort with a couple of pools, laundry facilities, an ATM, a few restaurants, lots of wi-fi and lounging space, and customs officials onsite. One night they even threw a party for the cruisers, something I'm told they do a couple of times a month. Everyone was friendly and we felt quite pampered. All of this was surprisingly affordable. I can see how some folks just decide to stay here forever.

The upstairs pool offered some of the best views. Whales regularly spouted as they passed by at sunset.

An ideal place to tackle the Mona Passage plan.

The Mona Passage is the narrow body of water between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean Sea meets the North Atlantic there, the deep trench on the North meets the relatively shallow shoals between the two, both are very mountainous islands. The weather patterns spinning off Puerto Rico regularly cause epic thunderstorms. All of this combines into some potentially hazardous conditions, and the stories the sailors tell around the campfire strike terror into the soul.

You don't have to get far up the hill to find a significantly different way of life; jungles and agriculture replace beaches and bustling villages.

We have been hearing horror stories about this stretch of water for quite some time. Our plan to mitigate the danger is to study carefully the book by the local expert Van Sant, monitor the weather patterns, and to talk with everyone we meet who's done it and lived to tell the tale.

We think we have a strategy mapped out, and it looks like Wednesday afternoon is the weather window to go.

The idea is to sail along the 600' contour to avoid the fishing nets and take advantage of the near-shore night winds, kick away from the land by 8am to avoid the Cape Effect, motor directly into the (hopefully light) winds and seas out past the hourglass shoal, then head South and sail between the little islands into Boca or Puerto Real, arriving anytime outside of afternoon thunderstorm hours.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Great Google Fi Lie

Years ago, while still roaming America in the RV, we switched our phone service to Google Fi. They promised seamless international coverage if we paid for the top tier pricing, Unlimited Plus plan. It's in the name.

Unlimited Plus? Nah, not really. Not for long anyways.

And seamless it was. All the way through the USA, and for brief forays into Canada here and there. Then in late 2020 and 2021 I heard nightmare stories of sailors who were unceremoniously cut off while stranded in places like Grenada as a result of the pandemic.

As if the pandemic wasn't isolating enough already.

As our Caribbean cruising plans started taking shape, I called Google Fi. All those sailors that were cut off - I didn't want to be one of them. I COULDN'T be one of them - I still work for a living after all. I was assured that because we have the Unlimited Plus plan that wouldn't happen to us. Those other poor souls must have had an inferior plan. All we needed to do was continue paying the top tier rate and everything would be fine.

Fast forward. We sailed away from Florida two months ago, all throughout the Bahamas and recently landed in the Dominican Republic. Our coverage has in fact been seamless. On the horizon is Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and ultimately Curacao for hurricane season. Then last night we got the dreaded "your data roaming is being cancelled in 30 days unless you go back to the USA" letter.

I called Google Fi. Surely there must be a mistake. I had taken steps to avoid this scenario after all. Nope. It's their policy to allow you 90 days of international roaming at a time before you must ping a USA cell tower. Regardless of which plan you are on. The rep actually told me "sorry if you misunderstood". !!!???!!

Misunderstood? I WAS LIED TO.

Anyhoo. I already run my workday on Starlink, and as long as Starlink is on we have unlimited high speed data. Google Fi will continue to operate for international text and telephone (at $0.20 a minute for phone calls), but for data I'll need to find wifi elsewhere. Many folks add a second SIM card for data in whatever country they are in so there's that new hassle and expense coming soon. The truth is that I'm addicted to Google Maps and use it to navigate all these places we don't know. Which is everywhere nowadays. Hence the purchase of the international plan.

Google Fi buyer beware. Unlimited is NOT unlimited. And if you misunderstood the meaning of "Unlimited Plus", well... too bad.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Kindness of Strangers

We arrived to Ocean World Marina in the Dominican Republic around 4am. The waves had been building all night and we surfed them right in to the harbor, and lacking further instructions, selected the easy landing spot on the fuel dock. Chloe still won't pee on the boat, so after holding it for almost two full days she was quite happy to jump off the boat for a few minutes. We raised our yellow Quarantine flag, tidied up for a short time and then all three of us passed out flat.

Minerva on the fuel dock at Ocean World

The next morning we were greeted by the Armada, which is the country's Navy and they keep a tight watch on all the goings-on in the harbor. They guided us through the customs process, which involved four different check-ins with different persons in uniform, a small fee paid and a new stamp in our passports. By lunchtime we were refueled and settled into a proper marina slip. The docks are fixed and there's a lot of water motion in the harbor as a result of the unusual North swell that we surfed in. Getting on and off the boat is tricky and requires agility and focus.

We had been warned that the 2-day passages are the hardest, this was our first one. The rumor is that on a longer passage your body settles into a routine by day 3 but the 2-day passages don't allow that to happen yet. We were pretty groggy still, and the late afternoon found us stumbling out in search of food into the open-air bar on the marina the locals lovingly refer to as "the yacht club".

Some rum was consumed.

After a while I could no longer deny the downward pull of my eyelids and Chloe and I checked ourselves into bed. Lance was making friends at the bar and shots were going around.

When I woke up around midnight I found him in the cockpit on the boat, he'd made it back safely. Whew. Without a cell phone, though.

The next morning we began the great cell phone hunt. I checked his phone location on Google Maps and it showed him offshore. Damn Google Maps, probably confused about our location again. When we retraced steps back to the yacht club, we heard the strangest story. The bar owner had been approached by the Armada at the crack of dawn. A fisherman had found a phone/wallet and immediately reported it found to the Armada, but put it in his pocket for safekeeping. The fishing is typically done by noon and he left the Armada to figure out the phone's owner in the meantime.

So Google Maps had it right. The phone was in fact on a fishing expedition offshore.

The Armada came by to check on us twice, the last time it was no less than the Comandante - the big cheese himself - who came out to let us know that "he's got us". Sure enough, when the fisherman came back the Comandante and 3 other Armada staff were standing on the dock to greet him. At least they weren't wearing the big guns this time around - those are going to take a little getting used to seeing.

I'd been following Lance's phone's motion on Google Maps and gave the fisherman a few minutes to settle in before I walked over and introduced myself. In Spanish he told me that on his way in at sunup he had found it on the ground covered by some gravel and was worried about leaving it unattended because his heart is so big. With a grin. He then told me he had caught a marlin, but because it was only 100 lbs he had let it go (with a little quick side eye at the Armada).

I called Lance's phone, so Jose the fisherman could see my face on it, and he said "you are eh Love Taco?". Yes. Yes I am. I blushed. The youngest of the Armada crew allowed a small half-smile. Jose handed over the phone. Everyone stood there for a moment. Another moment. Oh. I opened the wallet side of Lance's phone and took out the biggest bill in Dominican Republic currency there, approximately $20 US. Everyone relaxed. The Armada tipped their hat to me and left, and Jose was instantly smiles and laughs. Tension gone.

So... there are some cultural differences here.

It appears we can trust the guys with the big guns. In the Dominican Republic they check you into and out of each harbor, this way they carefully monitor who is roaming around their country and where. But it's not a bribe thing and it doesn't feel oppressive, it feels very structured in a way to keep us safely having a good time and therefore freely spending money. Despite their official appearance they are very friendly and seem to appreciate the presence of tourists.

The folks at the yacht club tell us phones are left there all the time and this is the first time the Armada has gotten involved. The difference is likely that Lance's phone is also a wallet with all the usual stuff that goes there like credit cards and cash. All of which was still there.

We feel very safe here.

Later in the day, Lance lamented that his wallet had gone marlin fishing without him. We have a new friend in Jose, though, so maybe marlin fishing WITH his wallet is in his future.