Friday, April 11, 2014

April fool

We watched the weather reports for a week before. There was a perfect weather window approaching. Perfect for what you ask? Well to sail over to the Dominican Republic, our next destination. We have been in Provo long enough for our budget. That is to say we have done all that can be done for free...legally. The hop to the DR is 86 miles from Sand Cay, our last island before crossing the Hispaniola Plain, and over 200 miles from Turtle Cove Marina, where we are currently staying. We met another boat that was also making the crossing and decided that we would cross together for safety's sake. The wind was going to blow from the northeast which would allow us to sail right to Ocean World, our destination in the DR.  This isn't always possible.
It would be a 4 day sail. In preparation, I cooked a huge batch of 13-bean chicken chili. This would last us the entire trip. When you're on a multiple day crossing such as this one, it becomes very difficult to cook or even heat up anything, variety is not as important as getting a hearty meal quickly. 
A big pot of Bob's Red Mill, 13 bean Chicken Chili would be our sustenance for the passage.

Even the weather Guru on the radio was saying it was the perfect weather window...that is until the day after we left the dock.
The weather was gorgeous as we departed on this passage.
Sunset off of Sapodilla Bay,

Eva always blows the conch horn at sunset.
Shortly after disconnecting ourselves from shore power, and communication, something happened. Things changed, it was no longer the perfect window; it was now the highest, roughest waves of the year, and we didn't even know it. The first and second day did not offer a clue as to the pummeling we would have to endure on the back end of the crossing. On the 3rd day it was another matter.
The weather turned on us. That's the Dominican Republic in the distance.

Almost there!

We couldn't wait to step off!

It's fun defy gravity.
We had a stiff current working against us and the waves were on the nose, just stopping us in our tracks. The GPS would go from 2 miles per hour to 0.0 miles per hour, and then back to 2, over and over. Oh, this is going to be a long one, been there before. Water would wash over the deck like Abuela was hosing down the front porch. It would drizzle in from the hatch on top of our bed, and drip in from all the windows. Every few hours Poseidon would wallop me with 5 gallons of water at the helm, just in case I was falling asleep. My eyes would burn from the salt. It felt horrible as the water made it's way down the inside of my jacket, as my warm clothes turned wet. I know it's almost summer but I was freezing cold. Inside, everything was on the floor. Going to the bathroom was quite the challenge. Ever try pulling your pants down while using both hands to hold yourself in place? Not easy. Then I would open the lid and it would shut itself before I could sit. I had to figure out how accomplish all of these tasks simultaneously. I was really angry after a few attempts, but this was not something I could just accept to fail at, success was crucial.
Eva went goofy from the hard crossing!

The kids are really savvy and just try to sleep through it all, but 90 hours is a lot of sleep. Marie and I take turns at the wheel, but you can't really get any rest, even when you're not driving. It was just too rough. I try not to think about it and just let the hours melt off the clock. It will all come to pass, I tell myself, and occasionally Marie, as to give her strength to hold on. Yeah, the lows are lower.
It was a dark night. I could see a halo of light coming from Puerto Plata on the horizon. We must be within 30 miles of reaching land. The wind had built up. So loudly the wind baffled past my head that I couldn't hear all but the loudest of noise. The boat was now flying through the water at 7 to 8 knots. If a squall came up I would not be able to see it until it was too late. Another hour went by, and I decided to take in the sail and continue by motor, hoping this would be easier. As it turned out the sails had been helping to steady the boat. We now rolled from one extreme to the other. The sky was now slowly turning from night to day. In the distance, I could now see the actual lights from Puerto Plata. We were now closing in, maybe 12 miles from land. I could feel the weight lifting off my shoulders. Not too much longer now, 3 or 4 hours more. We had not seen our buddy boat in twelve hours. They were somewhere behind us. Mirador is fast under sail.
It was hard to distinguish the approach to Ocean World Marina. It wasn't until we were very close that we could discern the buoys that mark the entrance. The numerous attempts to hail the Marina on the radio had gone unanswered. Finally, the dock master instructed us over to the fuel dock to await immigration.
There was a 3 meter ocean swell that carried us down the rows of buoys. At the end of the channel was a jagged rocky shore, to the left, a few yards before the rocks, was the entrance to the Marina. At the right moment, you have to make a sharp left turn into the safety of marina. Hopefully the swell doesn't broach you or carry you onto the rocky shore.
Finally, we were inside the marina and tied to the fuel dock. As if the sea gods had one final joke in store for me, the dock was as high as my shoulders. How am I supposed climb onto this slick concrete dock? The dock jockey was a strong, fit, middle aged man with a voice like Shirley Temple. I kept looking around for a ventriloquist.  With a lot help from my new friend and a priceless Baby Huey moment, I was standing on dry land.
Here we are, all cleared in, and in our slip.

Eva, Hadrian and Arias enjoying the pool at Ocean World.
And so it was that the first April fools joke of the month was played on us by Poseidon. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Amazing Provo

As I began to study the geography of Turks and Caicos, I thought that it was a somewhat hostile coastline with not many places to seek shelter. The few areas that there were required navigating around treacherous reefs to gain access. The whole southern coast of the islands is way too shallow to even risk going there with Mirador, I would literally be feeling my way around. I have had my fill of that.
Eva posing with the conch farm in the background. Yeah, not much there.

We are staying at a marina called Turtle Cove. As you may should have read in an earlier post, we needed a guide to get us in here. Once inside the marina you're totally protected from most weather short of a hurricane. The amenities abound on this island. I do not know how this island nation has been able to out-compete the other places around the Caribbean for tourism. Although surrounded by beautiful waters, the islands themselves are not very large. How they manage to attract a disproportionate amount of business is a mystery to me. Most of the northern shore of Provo is lined with resort hotels, one after the other. The grocery store is very similar to our "Fresh Market" chain only better manicured. All is available here, for a price, a high price. Yet, the store is full, a detail such as price is no matter. High-end shops frame the Boulevard, and the streets just bustle with tourists. In the souvenir shops it is standing room only.
On the waters side of all this mad peddling is a similar commercial phenomena. All manner of water activities are offered. They will push you, pull you, dunk you, and even fly you, all for a price. Everyone is trying to make the best of their 5 to 7 day vacation. They have waited all year for this. They are money rich, but time poor, and so a sense of urgency fuels this frenzy.
Then there is the culinary side of this race of indulgence. All of the "What-to-do in Provo" magazines that are handed out for free (the only thing that is) at every establishment are cluttered with ads for restaurants that feature some renown chef, and his creations. The images are so beautiful that one is torn between eat it or hanging it on the wall, reservations required.
On Thursday there is an emulation of a vernacular event called a "fish fry". On many of the islands, the natives have a recurring event, one day a week, or even one day a month, where several vendors sell local foods and the local bands get to demonstrate their talents, all in an open field or on the side of the road. The food vendors line up on either side of an open area, in kiosks, and display hand painted signs or banners of their offerings. Tables are scattered about where one can sit after the hard decision of what to eat has been made. In an effort to give credit where credit is due, all things being relative, they do pour a good drink. 
The kids enjoyed the playgrounds, they were quite nice.

The Junkanoo band at the Fish Fry.

The kids were able to gain access to one of the resort pools.

Provo, as do most of these islands, does have amazingly beautiful nature resources. The commercial side of this paradise exists only because we support it, and we support it because it's what some of us want. Different strokes for different folks. Life is beautiful.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A little care goes a long way

It's no secret that "I like to cook", and I've had a good deal of practice. It's like therapy for me. I just lose myself in the kitchen, and all my troubles seem far away. When I am done, I usually bring smiles to people's faces, my own included. It sure beats the heck out of driving to Micky D's, and shooting a few patrons, don't you think? When you cook, a little care goes a long way. For all the effort that I can put into a meal, the base ingredients that I use can mean the difference between great results or just good results. Over the years I have found myself favoring a line of products from a small, attention-oriented company by the name of "Bob's Red Mill".
Products from Bob's Red Mill.

About 2 months ago I was writing in my blog, sharing a recipe that uses a meat substitute called TVP. When I stepped back from my computer and looked at my article, and I thought, "I should write to this company and see if they would contribute in some small way to our cruising adventure." I mean, I am writing the article anyway, and I do use their products, anyway. Maybe we could both benefit from this relationship. No, what are the chances that they would even respond? They have bigger fish to fry, right (pardon the pun)? Aw, what the heck let me write them. And so, I looked up their web page, and shot them an email. Almost a week went by when I received a response from the folks at Bob's Red Mill saying they would love to send me some products to try. What a stand-up group they are!
Now don't get me wrong, it's not so much the value of the products that they sent me that matters. I could just go to the store and stock up as I wish, but it is just the fact that they show genuine care for what they do. This company has a "soul" if you will. They have shown interest in our travels, and would like to contribute a little. It is going to be my pleasure to go through the goody bag that they sent me, and share the results with you. And, if should just mess a recipe up, well then you won't hear about that one.
It is the morning after a long 48 hour sail, and the kids are hungry, I'm a little beat so let's start with an easy breakfast, "buttermilk pancakes".
The buttermilk pancake mix comes much like the national brands that we grew up using. You just need to add an egg, milk, shortening. The proportions are on the bag. One little tip, do not over mix the batter. Mix until all of the ingredients are well blended, and no more. The batter will be slightly lumpy, not a problem. It's kinda funny that my clothes may not have a brand name on them, but I will only use maple syrup, sorry Gucci. This reminds me of a friend I used to have, we would drive to the movie theater, we were teenagers. All the way there he would point out each article of clothing that he was wearing, and state the designer, and the price, "tie by Salvatore Such & Such, one hundred twenty bucks, shirt by Feliciano Ricci", and so on, all the way to theater, and later, at the theater he asked me for a little money! I told him to sell the tie. Yeah, we couldn't stay friends.
Hadrian and Eva enjoying pancakes and maple syrup, their idea of roughing it?

Oh yes, everybody loved the buttermilk pancakes!