Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cinderella sailing

In the Caribbean the wind almost always blows from an easterly direction. This happens to be the direction that we want to sail in, go figure. Luckily a sailboat can actually zig-zag into the wind. If you think licking your way to the center of a Tootsie Pop took patience, you have no idea what patience is. Imagine our excitement to learn that we would be having a few solid days of wind from the northwest at about 10 knots with seas 2 to 4 feet. This is a rarity to say the least. We made our final arrangements to leave Puerto Rico, truly the "Island of Enchantment".
As part of my to-do list, I actually had to change out the axles on our car before turning it over to its new owners. I had mail-ordered the parts only to find that one of the axles arrived damaged. Car mechanics are a love-hate thing for me, I love that I can do the work, I find it rewarding. I hate the physical strain of a less than ideal work environment. I was lucky enough to have a covered roof to work under, still I am not in the best shape to be dragging my butt under a car. Oh, back to the car parts, we ran out to try to find an axle for a 2000 Puerto Rico it would take a small miracle, but lo-and-behold we found one at the third auto parts store that we visited. After an anxious 12 hour day, I was able to scratch "fix car" off of my list.
As you know from my previous post (you did read it, right), I'm receiving parts by mail from the States to build a wind generator. We were still waiting for the last part to arrive on the day that we were scheduled to leave. A 9 am departure turned into a 5 pm departure, but then we are always late for everything, why should this be any different?
We checked out of Palma del Mar marina, it's like leaving family, and began our voyage. The ocean was calm, and there was only a slight breeze. Just like we like it, we're not racers. In fact, there is not a racing bone in us, we like it slow. I set "Otto" the autopilot, and he steered the whole way through. We moved along at 4 to 5 knots. The moon was full, and it was so bright that you would cast a shadow as if it was sunlight. The light would dance on the tips of the waves, and it was serene, almost spiritual. I took a deep breath, and appreciated being alive.
At about 2 am Marie came up, and took the helm, or that is sat by Otto while I went down for a little sleep. When I awoke at dawn, we were approaching St. Thomas. Marie quickly ferreted through a couple of cruising guides for a place to anchor, as the marina that we had made reservations with was closed on Sundays. She found a beautiful place called Christmas Cove where the mooring are free. A lot of places in the Virgin Islands do not allow you to drop an anchor because it damages the sea floor. As we got near to our cove we dropped the sails, and continued with the motor. It was so calm that we were able to pick up the mooring with little effort, not always the case.
It was a gorgeous early morning, and we were in St. Thomas! I could hardly believe it, as I looked around at the paradise that lay before me. This is a milestone on our adventure.
Approaching St. Thomas.

Eva wasted no time.

The view from Christmas Cove.

Hadrian is really helpful on the bow.

The cruise ship traffic is almost a part of the landscape.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

More Juice

It's hard keeping up with our power needs...electrical that is. There is a little bug in my system, for some reason my battery charger won't charge at full speed while we are away from the dock, using the generator. What this means is that I have to run my generator somewhere between 3 and 4 hours a day to charge the batteries. In a classic domino effect my refrigerators don't cool down all the way...because of the batteries being low.
So, how to solve this problem? I have 4 solar panels, and no room for any more, so I turn to the wind. Perhaps a wind generator can pick up the slack. A quick look-see on the internet had me gasping for breath. What! 2500 dollars!
Okay, let me let you in on one of my biggest vices, I think I can do "anything". Oh, it's a vice alright. In my defense, I inherited this genetic glitch. Awareness is half the battle, I try to fight it, but when I get hit with something like $2500 for $300 worth of parts, well, I lose control. My vice is at the wheel, yet better than younger days when other parts of me ruled over my common sense!
I started searching the internet for the parts it would take to assemble a wind generator of my own. I'm looking at about $400 bucks for a nice size unit, 600 watts in 25 knots of wind, and 100 amps in 12 my estimates. This should give me about 100 amps on a typical Caribbean day, which my refrigerators would just love to eat up.
The tricky part is balancing all the parts, the size of the motor with the size of the blades, and the size of the tail, and a half dozen other components. Oh, and making it not look homemade is important to me. Getting materials here in Puerto Rico has proved a challenge. After a tank of gas, and a day of running around with no luck, I just gave in to the convenience of Amazon.
Here are the blades, the motor, and nose cone.

This is the mount which I'm in the middle of fabricating.
I'll keep you up-to-date on the progress, but right now I've got to take advantage of a great weather window to sail to St. Thomas. See you soon!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fly in the ointment

Sunrise in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Caja de Muerto Island in the distance.
Our invitation to sail the Virgin Islands was answered by our friend Francisco. He flew in to San Juan on a Thursday, and I drove over to get him. I had asked him to bring a Costco card, if possible. We did a little shopping before returning home. Nothing can spoil a good sail like bad food, but "I got this"!
We have been tucked into Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club for 4 months, all of hurricane season, I can't wait to get back out there. I feel like a caterpillar, but I want to be a butterfly.
An early morning Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.

Dusk at the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.

A tranquil dawn in Ponce.

The crew of the Mirador.

A quick look at the weather report, and it looked like Monday was our day. It would be a nice "close reach" towards the Virgin Islands to the east. I calculated anywhere from 15 to 20 hours to Culebra, a cake-walk.
It was regatta weekend at the yacht club. We had hardly met a soul in 4 months, and all of a sudden we're all making friends. Dinner invitations had us booked all weekend long, which leads me to believe that I must be personable!
The darnedest thing happened to the weather, they kept moving the forecasts forward, and our sailing window went along with it. First it was Tuesday, then Wednesday, and on, and on! Francisco only had a week to spare. In the end it looked like Friday would be our day.
Finally on our way!

Marie taking the helm for a few hours.

Caja de Muertos in the distance.

Eva and Hadrian entertaining themselves on the passage.

Some people need more attention than others.

We used the extra time to tune the boat up. We cleaned the bottom. I was shocked by the amount of growth on the hull in less than 3 weeks. We secured things on deck, and fueled up. Every night was a dinner party. Ah, life in the tropics!
We squared up with the marina, painful, and pulled out at about 9 am on Friday morning. We had to have Francisco back to San Juan by the following Tuesday, so we canceled a stopover at Coffin Island, and went straight for the Virgins. At first progress was great. We were clipping along at 4 knots, and I thought, "Yeah man, it's going to be an easy one". We worked out 4 hour shifts between Marie, Francisco, and myself. That would give us each 8 hours off between shifts, a big difference to only Marie and me. Alas, the weather demons showed their face, and the wind picked up...on the nose. Between the wind, current, and waves, we managed about 1 mile per hour. There were some windmills on land that we seemed to never pass, grim ,and constant reminder of our speed. The hours passed, and I began to smell sweet anti-freeze. I inspected the engine room to find that our water pump was slowly dripping.
A long 30 hours had gone by, and we were less than half way to Culebra. With the new coolant leak in mind, we decided to pull into the closest marina for repairs.
Luckily, we had rounded the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, and now had the wind on our beam, and making good progress. The closest marina was Palmas del Mar. We looked their phone number up in a cruising guide, and gave them a call. We still had phone reception. I asked them for a slip for a couple of days, and they said they had the room. I felt better with the arrangements made. It would be easier to take care of things in Puerto Rico than anywhere else.
Palmas del Mar Marina is a very nice place. The docks are new, and everything is tidy. They have a clubhouse, a pool, a store, and a restaurant. All the boats are truly yachts. The service is excellent, there were 4 guys on the dock to help us pull-in. They won't even let me carry my own ice! I think they would cut my steak for me if would let them. I'm not so used to a lot of service, not like some of the customers around here, and our boat isn't teaming with deck hands cleaning it everyday. I can't help, but to feel a little out of place, like a fly in the ointment.
A few beers in paradise.

Mirador at the docks in Palmas del Mar.

Palmas del Mar Marina.

Roast pig at Guavate.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Coffin Island

I knew the weather conditions were just "wrong". Marie and I had talked about setting "our rules", when to sail, and when not to.  However, here we are breaking our rules again, but we are faced with extenuating circumstances. We had promised our friends a trip over to Coffin Island. A husband, wife, two kids, and a mother-in-law. They have lived in Puerto Rico 10 years, but have never been able to visit this beautiful natural resource. Now, due to a horrible turn of events we will only have one day in which to come through. Our friends have just suffered the loss of a family member, and need to fly back to the States. So here we are, beating into the wind, the current, and the waves. It's only a seven mile trip. You can see Coffin Island in the distance, a hop, skip, and a jump away. Our progress is dog slow, we had 20 knots of wind on our nose, and the waves are brutal. Everyone's face has a green hue. If I get boarded by the Coast Guard they're going to think I'm smuggling Martians. Marie wants me to just quit, turn around, and declare "we tried". I just can't do it, I can't just quit on them unless they agree to it. As sick as they all are, the husband is optimistic. Oh boy, here comes the vomit! Marie was frantic about turning back, I kept insisting, it's up to them. I apologized to the mother-in law as she sat there in the cockpit with her back turned to me, so as to hide the stomach content that now lay all over her hands and lap. I tried not to look, less I be compelled to join her.
The boat was moving at a painful 1 mph, and sometimes 0, when a wave would stop us in our tracks. Seven miles, that's 7 hours at that rate! Sorry about the obvious math. Marie was beyond insisting, and move up to a full blown nag. The day was slipping out from under us, and I started to worry. We needed daylight to approach and anchor at Coffin Island. Our friends little girl had thrown-up, and was doing some weird screaming as she sat in the cockpit. I could tell that our friend was starting to question his determination to reach the island. I knew that once we were close enough, the island itself would block the wind and waves, and things would be easier. The blocking affect was taking longer than I anticipated, however it did finally come. We sped up to 2 and a half mph, and it felt like a blessing. We were a mile away, it was 6 pm, and we were racing the sun. As we got closer we could finally see the mooring balls that were our target. It was a comfort to have our friend on deck, he had the strength to hold on to a mooring ball once we hooked it, something Marie and Hadrian didn't have. We missed the mooring balls twice, but hooked one on the third try. The water was comfortably flat with only little wavelets to break the surface. After catching our breath, I prepared dinner, and made myself a stiff drink. All that anyone could talk about was how rough the trip had been. After dinner, each found a nook to sleep in.
The morning brought with it gorgeous day. Soon after breakfast, everyone was in the crystal blue water, frolicking around the boat. I put out a few inflatable toys on lines tied back to the boat so that everyone could just grab on, and not wander too far off. I gave the Mirador a much needed hull scraping. It was a weekday, and we had the Island to ourselves. I enjoyed seeing our guests experience this wonderful place. We had the kind of day that softens all the memory of any hardships that were endured to get us here. We were having such a nice time that we decided to stay another night.
Coffin Island ferry terminal.

Swim'n in the Caribbean.

Li'l Jacob was a real sport.

A mooring ball in the distance.

We travel with our own jester!

Hadrian hanging on to the mooring line.

I set up a hammock for extra room. 

Now that's a happy crew.

When it's good, it's great!

Li'l Jacob has it made.

The morning brought with it another gorgeous day, flat seas, and the wind on our back! We made our way back to the marina in the lap of luxury. "This is how it is supposed to be." I told our guests. I was relieved that, at least, they were able to see both sides of the coin, a rough day and a calm one. "Now I know what you mean by, not a good day", my friend told me as they all walked away.
Marie parents were coming to visit us. We tried to encourage them to enjoy some time on the boat, but they pointed out that they had more luggage than would fit on-board. They have planned a 2 week stay, and wanted everyone to stay with them. Marie gets so nervous about everything being perfect for her parents that you would think she was auditioning for "American Idol" in front of Simon Cowell himself. Not wanting to be on the receiving end of any of her swelling stress, I just make myself scarce, and blend into background like a chameleon.
The first week we would be staying a 3 bedroom condo at Luquillo Beach, a beautiful area on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. Ah, life is always good around my in-laws, soft beds, good food, and loving family. The kids are the center of attention, and they are masterful at milking their grandparents. Sometimes I can hardly bare the shame of being their parent.
In the days that followed we visited mountainous El Yunque rain forest, and hiked down a lush trail to a waterfall. The water was surprisingly cold. We also went horseback riding through the countryside. The horses were well cared for, and our guides insisted that we be gentle with them, no yanking the reins or using a twill like a crop. We kayaked to a bio-luminescent bay at night, and visited Old San Juan, all in the first week.
Vanilla dog won't be left behind.

Roland and Mary at El Yunque.

A view towards the ocean from atop El Yunque.

Windmills in the distance.

A lush trail in El Yunque.

A waterfall punctuated the end of the trail.

This is a view inside of one of the forts in Old San Juan.

Here's a view from the fort, towards the city.

My father prayed at this little chapel back in 1963.

Eva and Aunt Sara tried feeding the pigeons.

This is the beach at Rincon, at the northwest of the island.

It's Hadrian's birthday. No, he's not 73, they messed up buying the numbers.

We had a nice horse ride through El Yunque.

The Rough Riders!

Now that's a fish!

This is a restored plantation house.

These are the ruins of an old lighthouse.

Another picture perfect view, it's hard to keep track.

A seafood restaurant, and below...

The seafood!

For the second week we moved over to Rincon on the other side of the island. From there we visited local caves, an old plantation house, a lighthouse, and some great surfing beaches.