Sunday, March 30, 2008

Georgetown -- March 2008
Pictures: Dinghy raft up for concert on Free Bird, dolphins doing Seaworld routine beside RAFT

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Back to Georgetown - March 2008, originally uploaded by S/V Raft.

Picture: One of Bev's dreams - a ride in the back of a pickup!!

Spent a few days waiting in Boqueron for weather. Boqueron hadn't changed much in the past two years, although the weekend we were there, the Harleys didn't show. A new marina store had opened, opposite where the vegetable/meat man was last time, whom did not open while we were there. The Peas and Rice restaurant is still there, offering cheap breakfasts and lunches, the bakery is still up by the highway, as is the only ATM. Rodrigues offers very limited groceries, but we did luck into a farm truck selling great fruits and vegs on the street by the bakery, so we were able to restock those items. Marina looked the same, but we didn't need water or fuel, so did not confirm availability. Gallaways, has free internet, if you are enjoying their food or beverages. Ross sat there all morning, slowly enjoying a couple of beers and no one hassled him.
We knew we had been having long distance problems with our VHF radio, and Paul from Vixon had determined we were having power output problems. The new marina store had one in stock, so that one has made a new home in RAFT. We didn't want to make the next passages without full VHF coverage.
Waiting for weather, created another problem. We had decided to sign up for Chris Parker's personal SSB verbal weather service last fall, so that we could get his weather expertise for our longer passages. Wouldn't you know it, the week we were planning to jump to the Turks, he was in Georgetown giving a weather seminar so not on the air. So based on our own expertise, we decided to head out expecting lighter SE winds than we would like, dead down wind, and we would be racing a cold front which might meet us there. We hauled up the anchor about noon, Sunday, sailing with Vixon. The trip went quite well, mostly sailing, some motoring until we approached the Turk's passage. In the middle of the night, the winds were up to 20+ still dead astern, and we were doing over 7 knots. Ross decided to take the longer course, around Big Sand Cay, to kill some time and arrive in Cockburn at dawn. We were very pleased that the depth sounder, which had been giving us problems since St. Croix,
decided to work as we entered the anchorage. The passage had taken us 68 hours, our longest ever, but we could have done it in 62-64 hours if we hadn't slowed down to arrive in light.
After a brief rest, Denise and Bev went to check in, having to ask several of the local people for directions. As we had experienced the last time we were there, the people as so friendly, but none of the buildings have signs indicating whether it is a business or private home. We needed to find both immigration and customs, customs had a new office since we were there last. Cost $15.00 to check in. One new thing, free wifi internet available to all the boats in the harbour.
While the women were doing the legal thing, the guys were checking out the damage to Vixon's davits and determining that a welder would be required. The locals indicated that out at the new hotel development at High Point, the job could be done. Unfortunately the only way to get there was by taxi, $50 return trip. We all went, and received a tour of the island at the same time. Saw the airport, the salt flats, the flamingos, plus spent a lot of time out at the work camp waiting for the welder to show up and do the job. The US hotel project is massive, overlooking the beautiful sand beaches and gorgeous blue water on both sides. Most of all the workers are imported from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and live on site. The morning we were there, immigration was on site extending all the workers' visas, and that was the main reason for our wait. Even the airport is being upgraded to take larger planes, in anticipation of this project bringing huge numbers of tourists to the island. We are glad we had the opportunity to see South Caicos before the world discovers it.

Picture: Flamingos in front of unfinished resorts

No matter how we planned the trip, it seemed impossible to get to Mayaguana without doing an overnight trip. Neither Vixon or us were excited about heading across the banks, especially with our lack of confidence in our depth sounder. So we decided to leave Cockburn Harbour and sail the north coast of T&C directly to Mayaguana. During the night, we had to deal with lots of current in the Caicos Channel. We experienced a north setting current on both east and west coasts of the Caicos, and a west setting current on the north coast. The combination resulted in confused seas, and the light east winds required motor sailing, preventors to hold out the main sail, and we furled in the foresail to just a small triangle.
In the morning, the seas had settled down, and the wind had completely died, so we motored the last four hours, and anchored after lunch in Abrahams Bay. We had never been here before, and were surprised how large the protected bay is and quite easy to enter. We anchored with Vixon and Excaliber who had come from Provo, too far from the reef to snorkel, and too far from the town to go visit. But Excaliber had caught a 4' Mahi Mahi on the way over, and was sharing!! What an excellent meal that was.
That night the wind did catch up with us, and blew and blew and the rain fell, so we did laundry and filled all our water tanks. Next day, we had a meeting on RAFT to discuss weather and harbours available between here and Georgetown. Neither Vixon or Excaliber wanted to do any more long trips, so wanted to stay put until the next week, when more settled weather was supposed to come. We still had 2 weeks to get to Georgetown for Brenda and Dan's arrival, but were feeling some pressure. We knew we could go now, and sail directly to GT, or hang around for the next few days, and hope that the weather would cooperate and allow the day sails. Probably the unreliability of our depth sounder, which was still working, pushed us to the decision to make our move.
We left at first light, expecting moderate winds from the stern. Timing the trip to GT was difficult. The distance to travel was about 185 miles, which at 5 knots would mean 37 hours. However, we rarely average 5 knots, especially lately, even downwind and with currents. But maybe we would be lucky and arrive into the harbour at sunset the next day, and we knew the harbour well from our previous visits.
We were doing alright for the first nine hours, averaging just under 5 knots and then as we approached Plana Cays the winds died and the sea went smooth. We had to start the engine until midnight, we had finally found wind off of Long Island. We did 106 miles in our first 24 hours, not bad for us.
Day 2, we had lots of wind, averaging over 5 knots but it was evident that we couldn't avoid another night at sea, so we spilt wind, slowing RAFT down to try to arrive at dawn. But once we rounded the north end of Long Island, we were on a beam reach, and RAFT just wanted to run. At 0400 we dropped the main, and did a 180 turn, killing time sailing with a small jib. It was a beautiful night, stars shiningÂ…didn't mind being out on the water at all. 0800 we dropped anchor in Kidd Cove, ready to assault GT.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Picture: What the shark left!!

By careful coordination, Bev and Kathy and Pete flew into San Juan the same day. Ross, with Denise and Paul from Vixon, did the well practiced Fajardo - San Juan routine, and were waiting at the airport with the rental car. We even had enough time to stop at West Marine and still make the 7pm ferry back to Dewey.
We were looking forward to showing our favourite Virgin island spots to Pete and Kathy, who had been with us last year in Martinique, Dominica and Guadaloupe. They had been in training at their Canadian gym for this trip, so we started off with a hike to one of our top ten beaches, Flaminco. As expected. K&P we impressed by its beautiful crescent uncrowded beach, affordable campgrounds and tank art.
We wanted to go to Culebrita, but decided to head for St Thomas for two reasons. First, northerly winds and swells would make the anchorage uncomfortable and we had one empty propane tank. Ross had been unsucessful finding propane man on Culebra while Bev was away, and we knew it was easy to obtain in Crown Bay.
Once underway, fishing lines were out. Immediately we caught a 48" barracuda, which we released. Our next strike, would have been a very large yellowfin tuna, had we not had to share. The guys did forensics on the teethmarks, and determined our thief was probably a shark. Even our share was sufficient for a good meal once we anchored in Charlotte Amalie.
We hadn'd told P&K about all the seaplanes that fly in and out of the main harbour. We passed the two large cruiseships at Crown Bay Marina, and just as we motored through Haulover Channel a seaplane was landing on our starboard side. A surprise for them, but Bev was more concerned about the failed depth sounder, as she negotiated the narrow waterway. We had been in and out of Charlotte Amalie so often that anchoring without a depth sounder wasn't a problem.
The next couple of days were spent exploring the town including all electronic and marine stores to see if replacement electronic parts for the depth sounder could be found, or a fishfinder could be purchased as a backup plan. Pete and Ross had the depth sounder apart, all contacts cleaned, soldering points checked, and for no reason at all, the depth sounder resumed working, but not consistantly.
We motored to Moho Bay, St. John to show K&P another of our favourite islands. We did our usual hikes, and snorkeling and relaxed, until unexpectedly the second propane tank ran out. Now we are in St. John, with company and no propane for the stove. Bev was not impressed, since she had suggested we stop in Crown Bay on our way through and we hadn't. We don't know why we ran out, as the guys could not find any leaks, so maybe it hadn't been filled properly wherever we had had it filled wecan't remember. Fortunately we had one small can of propane (off a torch), which fit on the BBQ. The girls tried to sweet talk the guy at the Moho Resort to sell us some gas, but he was afraid he wouldn't have enough for his glass melting kiln. Imagine valuing a melted beer bottle paperweight more than our meals. He suggested we eat in their restaurant!! We were able to buy another small canister in Cruz Bay, so we won't have to eat raw meat, but the meals will be interesting. After a couple of very enjoyable days snorkeling in Christmas Cove, we headed back to Crown Bay and refilled both of our propane tanks. Let the cooking begin.
The weather had settled down, and we had a lovely downwind sail to Culebrita. Here we did a lot of beach walking, hiking, turtle and deer watching, and playing in the Jacuzzi's. Alas K&P"s trip was coming to an end. Back on the early ferry to Fajardo, rent the car, and off to San Juan..all without a problem. On the way back we once again stopped at West Marine, and bought a fish finder. We haven't shut our depth sounder off, and it was been working for over a week, but we still know it will quit sometime in the future. We have asked Pete to check out a replacement for ours on Ebay.
It is now time to continue our trek north, but the weather gods want us to delay a few more days, before sending us lighter winds to head to Vieques. We overnighted at Green Beach, and made an early start the next morning for Salinas. We hadn't even got the sails up, when Ross sighted a dinghy floating offshore, no motor, or painter. The party boats in Green Beach weren't answering our radio hail, so we contacted US Coast Guard and told them we would tow it to Salinas.
We also had a whale surface very close to RAFT and show off with a few blows before waving with his dorsal fin goodbye. Sorry no pictures, but vivid memories.
Next day, after turning the dinghy over to the Park Police, we were off to Gilligan's Island. This was one of the anchorages we had missed on the trip down (you don't stop when you have west winds). While we were here, we heard Valeda IV on the radio. What are they doing here?? Aubrey and Judy were on their way back to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic. We were so excited to see them, we had parted company last fall in Venezuela. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together and the next morning we had to part again but such is the boating life. Who knows when we meet again.

Picture: Baby turtle on beach at Gilligan's