Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lavers blog, 15th and last 2008-2009 entry, May 7-20, 2009

May 7, 2009, Cambridge Cay – Highborne Cay, Bahamas

We are a bit nervous leaving Cambridge Cay after last night’s experience, but we have learned our lesson and exit through Bell island Cut without problem. The wind is light so we set the spinnaker to try to get enough speed, but wind velocity decreases and even the spinnaker doesn’t get the job done. We wind up motor sailing most of the way to Highborne Cay and then thread our way through the winding cut and anchor in the lee of the island. We grill pork chops and enjoy dinner in the cockpit watching a large motor catamaran go back and forth through Highborne Cut at least half a dozen times on some kind of training session. The water is incredibly clear here and we enjoy a swim and a shower on the stern ladder before going early to bed.

May 8 – 9, 2009, Highborne Cay – West End, Grand Bahama

The Atlantis Casino from Nassu Harbor as we pass through

We approach Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End

Wind is still very light today, which is just as well as we plan to motor across the shallow Exuma Bank to Nassau. We have chosen a route that takes us between the Yellow and White Banks, but still the water never gets deeper than 30 feet and is often in the 11-12 foot range. We have to stay alert as there are many coral heads and, although they are generally visible, it is difficult to tell if they are deep enough to pass beneath the keel. So in the shallower areas we keep a sharp eye out and zig zag around to make sure we don’t hit one of the heads. In late afternoon we arrive in Nassau, pass carefully under the bridge to Paradise Island and look for a place to anchor. At the first anchorage the depth goes from 30 to 7 feet in only a few yards, and we cannot find a safe place to anchor. We motor around the cruise ship docks past a half dozen cruise ships and anchor just beyond the turning basin, Here the current and the wind are in opposite directions and we are unable to make certain that our anchor is properly set. We remember that we have never liked Nassau and decide to keep going. We retrieve he anchor and leave the harbor by the west entrance. We are pleased that the wind fills in on the beam at about 8 knots just as we exit the harbor. We are able to sail at over 5 knots under a gorgeous full moon towards Grand Bahama. We round Stirrup Cay at about 3 a.m. and fall off to a broad reach. There is constant ship traffic so we are in no danger of falling asleep. When the sun comes up the wind dies, and we motor sail all day. We pass by Freeport and round Settlement Point around 5:00. We are assisted into a slip at the wonderful (and expensive) Old Bahama Bay Marina. We enjoy showers and then a “Mother’s Day Eve” dinner at Bonefishers. We are pretty tired after the passage, ao bedtime comes early, as soon as we return from dinner.

May 10—11, 2009, West End, Grand Bahama – St. Augustine, Florida

Dolphins at play as we approach the coast of Florida

More dolphins. They seem to be having fun and at the same time give a lift to our spirits.

Still more dolphins

Old Bahama Bay marina brings us a Mother’s Day present – Bahamian banana bread. It is delicious. Elisabeth supplements it with ham and scrambled eggs, an uncommonly luxurious onboard breakfast. We do not have charts or a cruising guide for Florida as we originally did not intend to go there. The chandlery here is our last chance to purchase either one, but they only have information about the Bahamas. Elisabeth runs a load of wash in the marina’s laundry and we check out of the marina. We need fuel, so we leave the slip and stand by off the fuel dock. There is a catamaran there that must be preparing for an around-the-world trip – they take at least 30 minutes to load their fuel. We finally get our fuel and leave the marina at 11:45, almost two hours after our intended departure. Once again we are not quite sure where we are going. We have alternative courses to Cape Canaveral and to St. Augustine, Florida. Our final choice depends on the Gulf Stream – whether it is comfortable and how much boost it gives us. The wind is very light and we wind up motor sailing most of the way. The Gulf Stream is a pussy cat – it is no more uncomfortable than any other piece of sea. But it gives us a three knot kick to the north so that for most of the 11 hours we manage to stay in the stream we are going at almost 9.5 knots over the bottom. We opt for St. Augustine, the more northerly port, as our destination. We see no other sailboats and only a couple of freighters along the way, and the moon at night is almost full and completely beautiful. When we leave the stream at about 7:00 a.m. the wind has come up to about 15 knots and we are able to sail at about seven knots for a few hours. We begin to have visions of arriving by 5:00, but the wind dies once again as the day heats up and in addition we encounter some kind of counter current, likely an eddy off of the Gulf Stream, so we frequently can’t even make five knots. We are now worried about arriving after dark and begin to develop strategies for dealing with that. Elisabeth disappears into the galley and after awhile emerges with a delicious salad Nicoise. We are not going to let little problems like perhaps arriving after dark and not having charts of the local anchorages keep us from eating well on Singoalla. To solve the charts problem we try to call a marina in St. Augustine, but we are still 20 miles or so from the coast and we do not have good telephone reception. But oddly enough, reception is good enough on our Blackberry to receive and send emails. We take advantage of this quirk of modern technology to email our daughter, Catharina and ask her to call the marina in St. Augustine to discuss the situation. She finds that there is room at the marina, but also that it is quite possible to anchor just north of the Bridge of Lions, the first bridge south of the St. Augustine inlet on the Intracoastal Waterway. Then, for maybe the first time ever we are pleased to see thunderstorms developing over land. They generate enough wind that we are able to get our speed up over six knots and calculate that we will be able to arrive at the St. Augustine sea buoy just before sunset. A benefit of our new found speed is that a pod of dolphins comes to play in our bow wave and keeps us entertained for about 45 minutes. We speculate that this is their version of a ski trip. As we get closer to land our telephone reception improves enough for Catharina to call us. She has looked at the harbor on Google Earth, and is able to give us a good description of where most boats are anchored, right in front of the old historic part of the city. The wonders of modern technology are really amazing. We turn on the radar to track the squalls and at first are comforted that they are about 20 miles away. As we continue to watch they slowly get closer. We are relieved that when we arrive at the sea buoy they are still about 6 miles away. We find our way through the inlet to the Intracoastal Waterway and head south to the Bridge of Lions to anchor. Here is another place where wind and current are opposed and it takes us two tries to be sure that we are safely attached to the bottom. By the time we are anchored it is completely dark. We are too tired for much dinner, so we have a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers and retire.

May 12, 2009, St. Augustine

The St. Augustine waterfront

After breakfast we launch the dinghy and go into the Municipal marina, which lies just south of the Bridge of Lions. It is an extraordinarily well run facility with friendly and helpful staff as well as the nicest showers we have seen in months. They help us contact the U.S. Customs office in Jacksonville as the local office is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. After a few calls we are able to clear in by telephone, thanks to our Frequent Boater cards that we picked up in Puerto Rico. We go to Price’s Barber Shop, a large old fashioned barber shop just across the street from Flagler College, and Larry gets his first hair cut since February. Elisabeth is pleased to find that they also cut ladies’ hair, so she gets a trim as well. Larry has a craving for a good hamburger and the barber refers us to Cruisers Grill. The hamburgers are not only very good, but also very large. Nevertheless, Elisabeth has her craving for ice cream – satisfied at a small local ice cream parlor. We wander around the narrow streets of old St. Augustine, enjoying the atmosphere of America’s oldest city (and tourist attraction). When we return to Singoalla, cheese and crackers and a little wine prepare us for a very restful slumber.

May 13, 2009, St. Augustine

The Bridge of Lions is being restored to its former grandeur

Castillo de San Marcos from our anchorage

Chris Parker advises against sailing to Charleston for a few days, probably until Friday. A low pressure area off the coast is causing high adverse winds, waves and rain squalls – altogether a miserable picture. We decide to make the best of things and enjoy St. Augustine. Elisabeth does laundry and Larry updates the blog at the marina’s comfortable boater’s lounge. We go to Acapulco, an d attractive Mexican restaurant we noticed yesterday, for an excellent lunch. Acapulco is just across the street from the old Spanish fort, so we spend most of the afternoon exploring the Castillo de San Marcos. Never defeated in war, 5 different flags flew over the fort during its 150 years as an active military base. Sated with history, we now need charts of Charleston harbor, our next port of call. We walk the two miles to the West Marine store only to discover that they don’t have the charts we need. It is very hot and we see a Dunkin Donuts and immediately develop a raging thirst for iced coffee. Larry enjoys his first donut in five months. We make our way back to the boat and once again are satisfied with cheese and crackers for dinner, with a glass of wine as accompaniment. We are beginning to like this pattern of main meal in the middle of the day and a light supper in the evening.

May 14, 2009, St. Augustine

Today is a lazy day. We relax on the boat watching the rain showers go by. We take advantage of a break in the rain to go into town just in time to shower before lunch. We have a better than expected lunch at the Casa Habana across the street from the marina. We spend a couple of hours wandering around the city enjoying the sights, then return to Singoalla in mid afternoon. We prepare the boat for tomorrow’s passage: outboard on the stern rail, dinghy on deck and lashed down, waypoints entered in the chart plotter, etc. Since we don’t have a paper chart of Charleston harbor we will have to rely on the electronic charts in the chart plotter. As long as the electronics stay up this is fine, it just means that we don’t have a back up if something happens to the electronic systems. We don’t like that, but this time we have no choice. We do have two spare gps instruments and we have noted all the waypoints so we can use the other devices if the primary one goes down. Again we have a light supper and go to bed early, as we want to get away as soon as we can tomorrow.

May 15 – 16, 2009, St. Augustine, Florida – Charleston, South Carolina

Chris Parker’s 6:30 forecast is encouraging: light wind in the morning, filling in from the south east in the afternoon. We are out of the harbor by 7:30 and raise the sails at the harbor entrance sea buoy. We quickly realize that the genoa is not contributing – the wind is too light. We furl the genoa and start the engine and poke along at about five knots for a few hours. Another boat that left the harbor just after us is doing the same thing on almost the same course, so we have a companion in sight for several hours. The wind increases a little at about noon so we unfurl the genoa and continue under main, genoa and engine at almost 6 knots. At 2:00 we are visited by a pod of dolphins who play in te bow wave for a while before moving on. At 3:00 the wind veers a little and increases to 12 knots. This enables us to kill the engine and sail at over 6 knots for several hours. The wind slackens a little at sunset, but we don’t have to start the engine again until 2:00 a.m. when the wind dies completely. It is important that we maintain at least five knots in order to reach Charleston harbor during daylight hours. If we are late we will have to sail back and forth off the coast all night, and the forecast for Sunday is for deteriorating weather. We see a couple of freighters and a tug and barge during the night but little else until Elisabeth is startled just before 6:00 a.m. by a motor boat that speeds by our bow unnecessarily close. Chris Parker’s morning forecast tells us to expect continued light wind until the afternoon. In an uncanny demonstration of modern technology, we tell him that we see some nasty looking thunderheads with a lot of rain under them a few miles off to starboard. He is able to see them on satellite imagery and tells us not to worry. They are moving off to the northeast and our course keeps us safely out of harm’s way. As we approach Charleston from the south we sail over an area marke “dangerous area” on the chart. We interpret the notes to mean that there may be “unexploded ordinance” on the bottom left over from wartime mine-laying training exercises. Elisabeth sees three brown objects floating together beneath the surface about 15 feet to port of us as we pass by. Now we are concerned – were they mines, buoys or just turtles? We don’t know but keep a sharp lookout the rest of the way. The wind comes up at about 5:00, a little later than forecast. We are just a few miles from the harbor, but enjoy a quiet sail up to the entrance channel, then jibe to sail up the channel into the harbor. It is a busy channel and we meet a cruise ship and a freighter during the short time we are in it. Larry has entered electronic waypoints to take us up the Cooper River to the location marked on the chart for the Charleston City Boatyard. We drop the sails well inside the harbor and motor under the beautiful Ravenel Bridge. We think we are in luck because we should arrive at the marina just at slack tide, making docking an easy process. We try to contact the boatyard on VHF and on the telephone, but at 7:00 on Saturday evening we are not surprised that no one is there. We get to Daniels Bend on the Cooper River where the chart places the boatyard, but instead we find a navy base. There is no boatyard. Now we feel the absence of the paper chart. It is almost sunset and we are not sure where we can safely anchor. The Cooper River Marina doesn’t answer our calls on either VHF or telephone. We head back down theriver looking for a place where boats are anchored or for another marina. We are able to contact Charleton harbor Marina, just below the Ravenel Bridge, and they have room for us. They guide us in through their breakwater and help us tie up just before it becomes full dark. We feel that we have dodged a bullet. We are too tired for dinner, so we showere in the marina’s nice facility, have a glass of wine and slip quietly into slumber.

May 17, 2009, Charleston Harbor Marina – Charleston City Boatyard

Dirk and Larry mug for the camera. Long pants and foul weather gear for the first time in months.

The dock master at the marina tells us that Charleston City Boatyard is up the Wando River – we should have turned right instead of left after passing under the Ravenel Bridge. Larry finds a cruising guide with an arrow pointing up the river indicating that the boatyard is off the chartlet up river, but it doesn’t say how far. We look around the grounds of the hotel associated with the marina for future reference. When we return to Singoalla and look at the current station on the chart plotter we realize that slack tide is in only an hour. Our friend Wendy has recommended that we try to arrive near slack water, so we cast off immediately. The electronic chart of the river is very good, if you don’t include putting the boatyard on the wrong river. We wind along the Wando River for about 9 miles. In places it is deep from shore to shore, but as we get farther up the channel becomes quite narrow and twisty. Fortunately there are easily visible range markers that enable us to stay in deep water. We pass slack tide and the river begins to flood as we pass bend after bend in the river without seeing the boatyard. We begin to think we have somehow missed it when Elisabeth sees “City Boatyard” on the roof of a building in the distance. The tide is now flooding, but there is space on the outer dock and we are able to turn into the current and come alongside very gently. While we are exploring the boatyard another boat is towed in by SeaTow, one of the commercial rescue services. Lison Life was on its way from Florida to Beaufort, but the stern gland where the propeller shaft exits the boat has begun to leak badly. Dirk and Silvia, a German couple who currently live in Michigan, did not dare to run the engine, so they called the towing service, which recommended City Boatyard for repairs and towed them here. Our sails are a little damp, but the forecast is for rain and more wind, so we spend the afternoon removing and flaking the sales, removing the bimini and dodger, stowing lines and blocks, putting “crew covers” on the cushions to protect them during storage and generally preparing the boat to be on land for several months. We invite Dirk and Silvia aboard for cocktails. We are amused and amazed to discover that they come from Konstanz, a lake on the German-Swiss border where Elisabeth spent several summers as a teenager. We have a marvelous time over pina coladas, and after they leave decide that our hors d’ouevres make a perfectly acceptable dinner. Sleep come soon after.

May 18, 2009, Charleston City Boatyard

Singoalla is ready to be hauled

Singoalla in the slings in preparation for hauling at Charleston City Boatyard

We register with the boatyard and discuss our schedule. The forecast is for several days of bad weather, so we want to haul the boat this afternoon. We are given a ride to the airport where we plan to rent a car by John, who introduces himself as an “externship” employee. We discover that he is a student at the IYRS marine systems course in Bristol that our son Erik has enrolled in for the fall. We are pleased that he speaks so warmly of the course. We find a Home Depot and buy a dehumidifier which we plan to install on the boat while she is stored. We hope this will reduce potential mildew problems. When we return to the boatyard we continue removing movable items from the deck, stowing down below, and packing for or trip home. In early afternoon we move the boat around the corner to the staging area for the haul out basin. The current has begun to flow upstream, so the dock approach is a little tricky, but we manage without problem. It is nice to get a compliment from the foreman at the boatyard for skilful boat handling. The boat is hauled, power washed and blocked in the late afternoon. We are able to see the damage done by the coral in the Bahamas – it is mostly cosmetic and easily repairable. Larry Knapp at the boatyard recommends Queen Anne’s Revenge in Daniels Island for dinner, and Dirk and Silvia join us for a pleasant evening there. We spend our next-to-last night in Singoalla and it is none too pleasant, as there are half-packed bags, sails and other items that have been removed from their cabinets for better ventilation, everywhere. We are glad that we only have one more night on board.

May 19, 2009, Charleston City Boatyard

Larry, Silvia and Dirk in the boatyard.

We drive Dirk and Silvia to the airport to rent a car, eat a monster breakfast at Denny’s and then return to the yard. We remove the boom and lash it to the deck. We lash down the frames for the bimini and the dodger. We finish packing our bags and put them in the car. We remove the cockpit speakers that have ceased to function so we can return them to Bose for repair. We go to Lowe’s, buy a 16 foot 2 x 4 and rig a tent over the cockpit to keep the varnish ot of the summer sun. In general, we spend a very long day working non-stop to get ready for several months “on the hard”. Finally we are done. We shower and drive into Charleston for dinner at the Hominy Grill, a wonderful restaurant specializing in traditional southern food that Larry Knapp has recommended. Once again his recommendation is a great success. When we return we climb under our “tent” to a final night of sleep in only slightly organized chaos.

May 20, 2009, Charleston City Boatyard – Bristol, Rhode Island

The alarm goes off at 5:45. We work frantically for two hours doing last minute packing, closing up the boat and checking out of the boatyard. By 8:00 we are on our way home and our blog is done until we return in December to head south again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lavers blog, 14th 2008-2009 entry, May 1-6, 2009

May 1-3, 2009, Ocean World Marina, Dominican Republic – George Town, Bahamas

The navy clears us out from Ocean World

Calico Paws leaves Ocean World

We expect the navy representative to give us our clearance, collect his 20 dollar fee, and see us off at 6.00 am. The alarm goes off at 5.30 am (unusual for us these days) and we get up in half light and scurry around to be ready when he comes. There are four boats leaving the marina, all at the same time, since we all have been waiting for the stormy weather to subside. The navy representatives (there are two) come late, and we are the last boat they release. We wave good bye to our friends Hans and Ursula, and who leave just before us, and we clear the breakwater at 7.15. We are uncertain of what kind of conditions we will meet, so we have entered four alternative routes into the navigation system.  Each starts with the same first leg, but terminate at a different point along the way. We can go to Provinciales in the Turks and Caicos, or Mayaguana, Calabash Bay on Long Island or  George Town  on Great Exuma, all in the Bahamas. The wind is very light at the start and the exit from the marina very lumpy, but at about 8.00 the wind fills in at about 18 knots on the beam. It is apparent that we are getting a current boost since we are able to average about 8.5 knots over the bottom for 6 hours.  The speed slacks off to the high sevens, and we continue to be quite comfortable. Beginning in the afternoon we trade 3 hour watches for most of the rest of the trip. If we are to go to Turks and Caicos we have to turn right just before West Caicos and go toward Provo over Caicos Bank.  You only do this in daylight with reasonable visibility as there are a large number of coral heads along the way. We arrive at the turnoff at 2.00 a.m., far earlier than expected, so the decision to bypass T&C is easy. We round West Caicos and alter course by a few degrees towards Mayaguana. Around 6.00 a.m. we decide that we are going so well and are so comfortable that we will bypass Mayaguana and keep going.  We fall off to a broad reach until we round Plana Cays at about 2.00 p.m. We get our first sight of the incredible, almost luminescent Bahamas color on the shallow water around the Cays. We harden up to clear North East Point on Acklin’s Island about 12 miles away, then it is a beam reach towards Cape Saint Maria on Long Island. We see no other sailboats on the entire trip, but a couple of motor boats and several freighters -- one every few hours. At the 8.00 pm watch change Larry notices some big dark clouds building up behind us. He turns on the radar, and sure enough they are full of rain. It appears to be one big line of squalls, with clear weather behind. We cannot avoid them, so as they approach, we shorten sail a little and wait -- Larry on deck in foul weather gear (first time this winter) and Elisabeth down below. There are only a few extra knots of wind in the squall, but Singoalla gets a much needed fresh water bath and emerges ¾ of an hour later salt free. The skies clear and we continue at good speed until we jibe around Cape Santa Maria at about 7.30 am. We see half a dozen sailboats leaving Calabash Bay and heading north. We presume that this is part of the giant spring exodus of the George Town live aboards who have spent a last night in the area outside of the reef strewn George Town harbor so they can get an early morning start. We think it is too early to stop. The wind has died down, and we broad reach slowly the last 25 miles to the tricky channels of the south east entrance to George Town. We drop sails before the channels and we motor at about 3 knots on several different legs, following the directions of the cruising guide. We are greeted by a small pod of dolphins who tire of us all too soon -- it is no fun playing with a boat going so slowly. As we prepare to anchor off Gaviota Bay on Stocking island we see and greet David Schramm on Jenny, whom we had last seen in Samana. We agree to get together for cocktails and anchor nearby.  We enjoy a very pleasant hour on Jenny, catching up and are asleep  within minutes of returning to Singoalla.

May 4, 2009, George Town

Houseboats for live-aboards in George Town

Volleyball Beach

Terry and Limon join us for cocktails

The happy hostess

The customs office was closed when we arrived yesterday, Sunday, so we flew the quarantine flag and did not go ashore.  Soon after breakfast today David comes by in his dinghy to say he is going into customs and to load up on water.  We decide to go in  too, so we put the motor on the dinghy and head the two  miles across the harbor, look for and find the narrow dinghy cut into Lakd Victoria, and tie up at the dinghy dock just as David is finishing filling his water jugs.  Here the harbor is too shallow to bring in the “mother ship”, but you can load up your portable containers free.  We walk together to the customs office.  Clearing in is reasonably straightforward, but the fee is $300.  For this you get a one year cruising permit with one exit and reentry permitted if it is within 90 days.  You also get a fishing permit.  The good news is that we will not have to clear out.  We just have to mail a form back to them from our next port of call.   We walk the quarter mile or so to the Immigration office where we fill out some more forms and get our passports stamped.  Finally we go shopping at the Exuma Market, a surprisingly well stocked grocery store, then return to our boats.  After stowing the groceries we take the dinghy to the St. Francis Resort for lunch – pretty good pizza – and to buy tickets good for 80 minutes access to their wifi network.  At lunch we meet Terry and Limon Potts who are from Portland, Oregon and whose boat, Sans Cles, is anchored just in front of us.  We invite them for cocktails at 5:00.  We tour the coves in Gaviota Bay and return to Singoalla.  When David and the Potts join us for cocktails we have a lively discussion about healthcare in the U.S., but more importantly to us, exchange information about routes to follow and places to see.  When our guests leave we decide that our hors d’ouevres make a wonderful dinner and go to bed almost immediately.

May 5, 2009, George Town -- Rudder Cut Cay

George Town

Singoalla Departs George Town

Rudder Cut Cay

Sunset at Rudder Cut Cay

We have a dilemma. The southwest entrance to George Town Harbor is relatively deep, but adds 10 miles to today’s sail, compared to the northeast entrance. Limon Potts from Sans Cles has given us the way points for the optimum route out from the Wavey Line Charts, the best and most current charts for this area. If we leave above ½ tide we should be able to make it out the north west route. The shallowest spot is fairly near our anchorage, so if we leave by about 8.00am we will be past it before the tide falls enough to make the choice of route questionable. So we raise anchor, swing by Sans Cles and Jenny to say good bye and head north west. We make it out without any problem. The depth sounder never shows less than 8 feet of water below the keel. Once outside in the Exuma Sound we roll out the genoa. The wind is very light but far enough north of east that we are on a very close reach and manage to sail around six knots all the way to Rudder Cut, about 30 miles. We drop the sails and follow the guide book’s directions through Rudder Cut to the anchorage behind Rudder Cut Cay. You have to time your entrances so you have the sun behind you-if not you cannot see the shallow spots or coral heads. We anchor when the water begins to get too shallow, and enjoy a quiet evening in incredibly clear water with only three other boats in sight. Elisabeth goes for her daily evening swim and prepares a marvelous shrimp dish, inspired by a dinner on Splendido with Michael and Jeremy in Fort de France. In a new first, made possible by our moving north and the advancing of the season, we have dinner in day light in the cockpit and are treated to a spectacular sunset.

May 6, 2009 Rudder Cut Cay- Cambridge Cay

Tide Rips at Rudder Cut

Spinnaker sailing is hard work

Last night we had good visibility coming in through Rudder Cut, so we were able to avoid potential coral heads easily.  This morning we have to go out the same cut into the morning sun, so visibility is nil. Fortunately the GPS has a track of where we went yesterday, so when we leave at 8.00 am we are able to follow yesterdays “bread crumbs” and emerge into Exuma Sound unscathed. Today the wind is again very light, but coming from about 80 degrees, just aft of the beam. We have trouble maintaining 4 knots with the genoa so we decide to set the spinnaker. The difference is amazing. We over trim the spinnaker slightly so we do not have to tend it constantly and sail at 6-6.5 knots for several hours, Otto (our autopilot) steers and Elisabeth and Larry read. Unbelievable comfort. The wind dies off some and the last 8 miles are made at about 5 knots. We drop sails at Bell Cut and get ready to go through the narrow cut to anchor behind Cambridge Cay. The tide is flooding and there is a very strong current through the cut.  It is across our path into the anchorage, and Larry makes probably the biggest mistake of his sailing life. He sails the prescribed compass course but fails to realize that he is being swept sideways at a great rate by the very strong current.  Suddenly the water is turbulent all around us and it is apparent that we are in among a mass of coal heads. Larry becomes disoriented because we are not where he expects to be and then - BANG - we strike coral.  Singoalla shudders, stops, then bounces over the head. But – which way to go? Coral heads all around us!  How do we get out of here? We finally figure out where we need to be, but in the process of getting there we strike 3 more times. Fortunately we are going slowly and though noisy none of the bumps are serious. We are much relieved when we regain deeper water, find the route we should have been on, and pick up the first available mooring.  This is the Bahamas Sea and Land Park and moorings are provided to protect the coral. We are incredibly shaken and thankful that we escaped what could have been a major disaster.  Elisabeth dives down to inspect the keel, and reports that the damage is minor - a few dents in the keel that can easily be repaired. But we are shaken and thankful that we made it without more serious damage.  A dinner of grilled pork chops and copious amount of wine make us feel better.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lavers blog, 13th 2008-2009 entry, April 16-30, 2009

April 16, 2009, La Parguera – Boqueron, Puerto Rico

With these small unlighted cays all about you do not want to sail here in the dark.

Cabo Rojo lighthouse,  PR

Larry wakes up at about 5.00 am and goes up on deck to confirm that everything is OK. He looks up and sees a triangle of blinking red lights high overhead and somewhat to the west. They are not moving. He gets out the binoculars and make out a faint round white shape that looks like a blimp. He goes back to sleep and in the morning sees that indeed it is a  large blimp-shaped white balloon that appears to be more than 1000 feet up and tethered to the earth by a thin cord. We wonder what its function might be, and think it might be some kind of weather balloon.  We leave the harbor in the light gradient wind before the sea breeze kicks in.  By the time we have made it out through the reefs and the sails are up, it is blowing around 17 knots and we have a good ride down wind, round Cabo Rojo and reach up to the barrier reef at Boqueron.  We drop the sails outside and motor across the bay to join about 15 other boats at anchor near the beach.  We have not found a cruising guide for the Dominican Republic, so we go ashore to look for one. The concierge at Club Nautico tells us that there is no such thing. The closest book is Bruce van Sant’s Passage South, and it by-passes Santa Barbara de Samana, our next port of call. The concierge suggests we go down to Galloway’s bar where all the gringos hang out and learn from them the old fashioned way, by word of mouth.  Sure enough, we are able to strike up a conversation with a couple of live aboards, but we come away feeling that our new knowledge is at best unreliable.   They do tell us that the white balloon, which we can also see from Boqueron, is US Homeland Security’s “spy in the sky” with cameras that can see as far as Venezuela on a clear day.  We return to the boat to relax over some decent wine and enjoy one of Elisabeth’s standard on board dinners -- grilled chicken, rice and salad. The best information we have is a general purpose email from Sam and Wendy, who were there a few weeks ago.

April 17, 2009-April 18, 2009 Puerto Rico --Santa Barbara de Samana, Dominican Republic

Our loyal crewmember Otto deserves a tee shirt, too

Taxi Samana style

It is about 140 miles from Boqueron to Santa Barbara de Samana over the Mona Passage, a crossing that is feared by many because of the high winds (due to the venturi effect between 2 high islands) and big currents and waves, especially at Hourglass Shoal (the sea goes from thousands of feet to 50 feet in a few miles, creating both big, unpredictable currents and steep waves). The forecast for today and tomorrow is NO WIND AT ALL!  We do not like to motor for long distances, but the long term forecast is for a couple of weeks of high winds. We decide that the best course is to go ahead and motor.  We leave about 8:00 and put up the sails to try to get some help from them, but mostly we motor and average about 5 knots. The crossing is pretty uneventful -- we cross paths with a couple of freighters in the afternoon and play with the radar to see how good the MARPA tracking is.  It seems to determine the direction and speed of these objects pretty well.  It was much less effective this morning in tracking the giant rain squall that parked on top of us for an hour or so.  Elisabeth wakes up Larry a few times during the midnight watch – once to help her jibe due to a wind shift and once when an unidentified boat turns its spot/search light on us. The latter turns out to be a sailboat going the other way. We arrive at about 9:00 a.m., thread our way past a five foot spot in the entrance to the harbor, and begin to look for a good anchoring spot.  We are hailed by an American on a Nordhavn 46 who recommends that we anchor just behind him as it is well protected from the prevailing winds and out of most of the local traffic patterns.  We anchor there and within 15 minutes we are greeted by an official “welcoming committee” (our term, not theirs) consisting of an interpreter, a navy representative and a port authority representative.  They board Singoalla, fill out a bunch of papers that they don’t seem to be too familiar with.  The interpreter tells them what goes in which blank.  They then charge us $15 for port authority authorization to stay plus a $5 “tip” to be split between the two officials.  We agree to meet Joe, the interpreter, ashore in an hour after we have had time to launch the dinghy because we have to go to the immigration office.  When we get to the dock Joe calls the immigration officer who agrees to meet us at his office, and sure enough in about 15 minutes he shows up on his moped.  We go up to the second floor of a concrete government building.  The officer opens the door to his office but makes no attempt to turn on the lights.  We don’t know whether there is no electricity or he is just avoiding he heat caused by light bulbs.  We now go through an incredibly laborious process of filling out mysterious forms in duplicate, which requires that much used pieces of carbon paper (remember that stuff?) be carefully torn up to fit the size of each form.  It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that a uniform size of both form and carbon paper would be a good idea.  Finally we are charged $43 for the boat and $20 for the crew.  We give him $70, but he doesn’t have any change in either dollars or pesos, and the idea of a credit card is a non-starter.  Joe suggests that we take a tour of the town on a “motor concho”, a sort of DR version of a rickshaw. A 2 wheeled trailer with 4 seats and a top is attached to and pulled by a small motorcycle.  Just as we are ready to leave our change arrives and we leave it with Joe as part of his compensation.  Jorge, the driver, is very nice and shows us the hospital, pharmacies, the police station, banks, some restaurants, and finally the farmers’ market..  Elisabeth loves farmers’ markets, and goes crazy buying fruits and vegetables.  When we finally get back to Singoalla David from Ginny, the Nordhavn in front of us, comes over and suggests that we join him ashore for pizza.  We readily agree.  He picks us up at 6:00 and takes us to a little restaurant in a back courtyard that we would not have found by ourselves.  David has been here several weeks and is a fountain of information about what to do and where to go.  He also tells us that there is a good cruising guide available on the Internet at Noonsite, a web site that specializes in cruising sailors.  The food is excellent and the early hour suits us well as we are tired from the overnight sail.

April 19, 2009, Santa Barbara de Samana

A freqvent sight in the towns in DR -- garbage everywhere

Larry on the bridge to nowhere in Samana

Santa Barbara de Samana DR, a most welcoming town

Singoalla and Ginny in Santa Barbara harbor

Today we sleep later than usual.  After breakfast we go ashore and visit a number of shops, most of them selling things we have absolutely no interest in.  We go to the bank to get some local currency.  We went yesterday, but Elisabeth is not used to exchange rate numbers of 35 to the dollar, so she got the decimal in the wrong place and only took out about $20.  Today we withdraw a more sensible amount and go in search of a restaurant for lunch.  We select Tony on the roundabout and go upstairs to the dining porch to find a table.  There we meet John and Sandi Moore, Americans cruising on Hanco, a Hatteras 61 moored near us in the harbor.  We join them for a long lunch.  We enjoy each other’s company so much that they invite us to Hanco for cocktails at 5:00.  After lunch we walk out on the “bridge to nowhere”, a large foot bridge that goes a quarter mile or so out to the island that forms one side of the mouth of the harbor.  We get great photos of Singoalla in the harbor, but we are dismayed by the incredible amounts of garbage strewn about everywhere.  It doesn’t seem to bother the locals who make no effort to dispose of thins in a sanitary fashion.  When we return to Singoalla we download the cruising guide and find it to be quite helpful.  We go to Hanco as agreed and David from Ginny joins us.  We exchange stories and information for several hours before returning to Singoalla for a very light supper followed immediately by lights out.

April 20, 2009, Santa Barbara de Samana

We planned to go to Los Haitises National Park today, but it is not to be.  Raf, one of the young men who hang around the docks trying to provide services to the boaters, has promised that his mother will do laundry for us.  Unemployment is so high here and on the other islands that we always try to use the local “entrepreneurs” whenever we can.  We find him about 9:00 and off he goes with the laundry, promising to return by 12:00.  We go to the navy office to get our permit to go to Los Haitises.  A friendly young lady types out our permit on an ancient manual typewriter with the now customary ragged carbon paper.  She says we can stay there up to 3 days and must check in again when we return.  She charges us $20 for the permit.  Elisabeth has written several post cards, so now we have to go to the post office to buy stamps.  After a couple of false steps we finally find the post office, where two more friendly young ladies provide us with stamps and some more post cards.  When we are ready to pay they do not have any change.  This seems to be the standard government condition.  They offer us a couple of chairs while one of the girls goes out to look for change.  She returns in twenty minutes or so with almost the correct change.  It is now almost noon so we go to look for Raf.  He is there but the laundry s not.  Because of the rain shower earlier this morning the laundry is not dry, but will be ready by 1:00.  Somewhat belatedly perhaps we conclude that mama does not have a dryer, but there is nothing to do but wait.  We go out to Singoalla for lunch and return at 1:00.  Raf is there with the laundry, which is neatly folded but definitely not dry.  He wants the equivalent of $24 for his services, which we conclude is outrageous, particularly since the laundry will have to be rehung on Singoalla.  We have no leverage, so we pay and leave somewhat disgruntled.  Larry returns to Singoalla and strings lines through the cabin to hang the laundry on.  Elisabeth goes to the phone store to buy a sim card for our unlocked telephone.  We have learned to save quite a lot of money by using local chips even if we are only going to be on an island a few days.  When Elisabeth gets back we find that the phone store clerk has sold Elisabeth a refill card, but not a sim chip, so we can’t use the phone.  It is now clear that we are not going to be able to go to the park and we are very pleased when David invites us to Ginny for drinks at 7:30.  We spend the afternoon folding laundry and doing other exciting chores.  John calls us on the VHF from Hanco to ask us if we want to go ashore for dinner before going over to Ginny.  We readily agree and go in with them to Bambu where we enjoy excellent omelets.  Aboard Ginny we are very impressed by both the luxury and seaworthiness of the Nordhavn.  We make a good dent in David’s alcohol supply and sleep very well immediately after returning to Singoalla.

April 21, 2009, Santa Barbara de Samana – Los Haitises National Park

A typical small island in Los Haitises

Sandi and John on Hanco

Sandi and John join us for cocktails

We leave the harbor at 8:30 for the 13 mile broad reach to Bahia San Lorenzo in Los Haitises National Park.  It is blowing close to 20 knots when we anchor at the designated anchorage near the ranger station.  There is a long fetch across the bay, so there is quite a lot of wave action and the bay is not very comfortable.  Hanco comes into the bay shortly after we do.  They decide to anchor in a cove on the south side of the bay and John reports on the VHF that it is comfortable there.  We raise the anchor and reposition to a spot near them.  We are the only two boats in sight.  After lunch we join John and Sandi on Hanco’s tender to reconnoiter the bay.  We are supposed to pay a small fee to the ranger, but the surf is too rough to land at the dock without help.  A man sitting at the ranger’s cabin, whom we presume to be the ranger, makes no move to help us or communicate with us. We leave, explore a few incredibly beautiful coves and return to the boats when it threatens to rain.  We are invited to Hanco for cocktails after which we return to Singoalla for a light supper of soup and a sandwich.

April 22, 2009, Los Haitises National Park

American, Green and Gold Crowned Egrets fishing in the mangroves

Unfortunately, the flash didn't work when we were in the Line Cave

Mangroves line the creeks at Los Haitises National Park

John and Sandi pick us up in their dinghy (smaller than their tender, but still substantially larger than our dinghy) to explore the park.  Yesterday when we first arrived we saw a couple of tour boats go into the cove where we are now anchored so we go into the corner of the cove to see what is interesting.  We see and follow a small creak that disappears into the mangroves between two cliffs.  The topography here is just incredible.  It reminds us of pictures we have seen of Southeast Asia.  There are very steep islands and cliffs points of land that appear to be made of limestone that are covered with vegetation that grows where no self respecting plant should be able to stand. Orchids and other flowers are everywhere, as is a profusion of bird life.  These steep cliffs are separated by flat areas in which small but relatively deep creeks flow through mangrove forests.  We go up the creek for about a third of a mile and see a dock with signs pointing towards the “Line Cave”.  We go ashore and are rewarded by finding a large cavern deep into one of the limestone hills, with several entrances.  The walls are covered with prehistoric pictographs.  Fortunately Larry has brought a flashlight and we spend an hour exploring the cave and marveling at the drawings of birds, animals, fish, sharks, babies, shamans (or is it shamen?), whales and more.  We then return past our boats and go into another mangrove lined creek at the southeast end of the bay.  Here the land is totally flat and the creek winds for ¾ of a mile through the mangroves with an incredible number and variety of bird life: white herons, blue herons, yellow crowned herons, egrets, buzzards, and many more.  We then explore the west branch of the creek until we come to the Paraiso Eco Lodge, a wonderful, completely unexpected lodge where we eat lunch.  After lunch we explore the coves to the west of our anchorage and find yet another mangrove lined creek that we follow for at least a half mile to a dock with a trail leading off into the forest.  We do not go ashore here, but return most of the way to the cove and then explore another branch of the same creek.  Soon we come to another, more substantial dock and we go ashore and find that the two docks are only about 100 yards apart.  A marked trail leads from here back to the eco lodge, but we do not have time to follow it.  We explore a little more coastline and then return to the boats.  There is no way to describe the beauty here.  At every turn there is a chorus of “wows”.  Do not miss this park!  Dinner is served on Singoalla.  Larry gets so interested in the conversation that he forgets about the grill.  As a result, we serve a new Singoalla dish “chicken briquettes”.  We recommend that you avoid this dish in the future.  Oh, well, at least the wine was good.

April 23-24, 2009, Los Haitises – Santa Barbara de Samana – Ocean World Marina, Puerto Plata

Happy retirees enjoying life

Ursula and Hans visit us on Singoalla

We leave the bay early, in light air, but just after we raise the sails the wind jumps up to 16 knots from the east.  We have an enjoyable beat back to Santa Barbara and anchor near where we were before.  It is going to be a long day, so we immediately go ashore to get our permit to go to Puerto Plata.  These “despachos” are necessary every time we want to move the boat.  I think they are concerned about being taken over by a horde of crazed sailors.  Although we try to hurry, by the time we get back to Singoalla, get the motor on the stern rail and the dinghy lashed down to the foredeck it is already 2:00.  The sailing is pleasant as we beat out past a cruise ship visiting Samana, pass north of Cayo Levantado and continue out towards Punta La Palometa.  At the speed we are making against the wind and current we are worried that we will not make it to Puerto Plata during daylight hours tomorrow.  But when we finally round Cabo Samana suddenly everything is working for us and we are going between seven and eight knots over the bottom.  Now we are worried about getting there before dawn.  Sure enough, about 4:00 a.m. we furl the jib and continue under main alone, still going at about six knots.  We arrive at Ocean World, a large marina and entertainment complex, at about 8:00 a.m.  We are told to come alongside the fuel dock whee we are greeted and boarded by the usual team of officials.  Here there is a port tax of $50 amd an agricultural fee of $25, but no immigration fees as they accept the ones we have paid in Samana.  While we are at the dock we top up our fuel tanks, then move the boat into the far east corner of the marina to stay out of the surge.  We nap for a while and take it easy.  We are visited in the afternoon by Hans and Ursula, a German couple who live near Boulder, Colorado and who arrived on their catamaran, Calico Paws, just ahead of us this morning.  We invite them for cocktails at 5:00.  We enjoy trading stories for a couple of hours and break up early as noe of us got much sleep last night.

April 25, 2009, Ocean World Marina – Puerto Plata and return by car

We are interested in going to the new La Sirena grocery store in Puerto Plata to re-provision.  Hans and Ursula suggest that we combine that with a tour of the city and we think that is an excellent idea. At the gate to the marina we pick up a taxi and a (sort of) English speaking guide.  He takes up to the heights above the city to the affluent section for a photo opportunity, then shows us expensive homes, slums, the amber museum, the central city square with its old cathedral, the harbor and the old Spanish fort.  Finally we go through a time warp to la Sirena, a new, large, modern grocery store like something you would expect to find in California and totally out of keeping with the definitely third world character of the DR.  We take advantage of the opportunity to stock up and return to the marina with so much stuff that we almost can’t get it all on the golf cart the dock boy uses to ferry us to our boat.  When everything id finally stowed we just hang out on Singoalla for the rest of the day reading and planning the next leg of the trip.

April 26, 2009, Ocean World Marina

Our plans are to leave here for the Turks and Caicos as soon as possible, but today is definitely not the day.  It rains off and on all day, and the winds are over 20 knots in the marina most of the time.  The forecast is for squalls and high winds until at least Thursday, so we resign ourselves to staying here for the foreseeable future.  Today becomes pretty much a non-day, with updating the blog being about the only accomplishment.  We do get a chance to admire the comfort of Hans and Ursula’s catamaran.  Calico Paws is a manta 40, about the same length as our boat, but as always with catamarans we are struck by the enormous amount of living and storage space compared with our monohull.  We exchange tips about where to go and what to avoid over a glass of wine.  This is something we always try to do when we meet cruisers going in the opposite direction.

April 27, 2009, Ocean World Marina – Luperon – Santiago and return by car

Barns DR style

Colorful fence DR

Laundry day in Luperon

Laundry equipment outdoors


Farmers' market Santiago

Typical sight in Luperon

Shopping alley in Santiago

Mural in Santiago

Multipassenger moped

Luperon  traffic

The forecast remains about the same as yesterday, although perhaps with a little less rain, so we are still stuck here for a few days.  Hans rents a car to explore the island and invites us to come along.  When the car arrives Hans carefully checks the spare because he has been warned that if we get off the major roads we are very likely to get a flat tire.  We drive first to Luperon, a small community that has a large, mangrove lined  harbor that is popular with cruisers.  The water in the bay s pretty dirty and the town is like something out of Hemingway – busy but dirty and poor-appearing.  Chickens and goats wander through streets that were probably once paved but are now mostly a network of potholes.  We eat a surprisingly good lunch at Captain Steve’s, although the pace of the service by our French-Canadian waitress is definitely consistent with island time.  After lunch we drive to Santiago.  It takes us a while and a number of wrong turns to get oriented on the small map we have, but eventually we fine the historic part of the city.  As we are looking for a place to park a young man who speaks pretty good English shows us an empty space next to the cathedral.  He tells us he works for the church teaching orphan kids, and begins to show us around the area.  As we walk, Hans and Jose have a continuing question and answer dialog, and Jose seems quite knowledgeable about the area, unlike our guide in Puerto Plata who was unable to give a straight answer to any question.  We see the central square, Christopher Columbus park, a couple of churches, an open air street market staffed mainly bu Haitians, and an impressive Moorish-inspired building where the dictator Trujillo used offices on the first floor and danced he meringue on the second floor when he visited Santiago.  The meringue hall is now a bingo parlor.  Sic transit Gloria.  We return to the car and prepare to leave Jose, but he protests that his tour isn’t over yet.  We are a little surprised, but José gets in the car with us and shows us the noisy, busy fruit market.  Elisabeth and Ursula each buy bags of fruit.  We now head out of downtown and up a long steep hill to Camp David, a sort of museum/restaurant/hotel with a magnificent view of the city.  It is high enough to be definitely cooler than the city, and the old cars that were used by Trujillo are interesting.  We finally return to the city and prepare to drop Jose off near the church where we picked him up.  We offer him what we think is a nice tip for what we view as informal guide services, but he informs us that the fee for the tour is $10 each.  This is a lot of money in this country where a school teacher, for example, earns about $150 per week.  We object that we were never told that we were on a tariffed tour, and in fact he told us that he worked for the church.  Eventually we agree on a compromise but return to Puerto Plata with a sour taste in our mouths.  It is an unfortunate end to an otherwise nice excursion.  Since we had a very large lunch, Elisabeth serves soup for dinner.

April 28, 2009, Ocean World Marina

The forecast is still not good, but we decide that at least we should prepare everything for departure.  Larry checks the engine fluids and belt tension.  The fluids are fine, but both belts should be tighter.  The alternator belt is as tight as it will go.  It must have stretched some, so we replace it with our last good, heavy-duty spare.  We will get more spares as soon as we can.  He tightens the shrouds all around, since the leeward shrouds have looked pretty loose in recent days.  We enter waypoints into the navigation system and prepare alternate routes to Turks and Caicos, Mayaguena and Long island.  They all start the same direction and we will select the destination depending on the speed we are able to go and the time of day of our planned arrival. When we rewired Singoalla Erik installed the a circuit to the water heater which is supposed to heat water either through a heat exchanger using cooling water from the engine or through a 120 volt shore power connection. We do not use shore power very often, but Larry turns on the switch here to see if the system actually works. The rest of the day we pretty much do nothing -- read, work on the blog and relax. Dinner is fruit salad, all Elisabeth feels up to after the exhausting day.

 April 29, 2009, Ocean World Marina

Last night it rained hard all night, a bucket left in the cockpit had almost 4 inches of water in it this morning. Any place in the boat that could leak does. Fortunately that number is now pretty small. We have now seen enough of this place and more. But Chris Parker continues to warn of 30 knots plus squalls today and tomorrow, and the GRIB files and NOAA forecasts agree.  We decide not to leave today.  Hopefully tomorrow will be OK, but Friday is more likely. After breakfast Elisabeth starts to wash the dishes and is startled to find that the water is hot.  She doesn’t know about the new circuit, and this is a pleasant surprise.   Hans comes over and helps Larry up the mast to fix the steaming light.  It is simple -- the ground wire has come out of the connector. Elisabeth searches the internet for fares for our summer trip to Sweden.  We work on the blog, do crossword puzzles, listen to the rain squalls and twiddle our thumbs.  Hans and Ursula join us for dinner on Singoalla for Elisabeth’s special spaghetti. As usual it is excellent. We are really glad that we have had their company here otherwise the week would have seemed interminable.

Thursday, April 30, 2009, Ocean World Marina

OK, this is it. Our last day here. The forecast for today is not too bad, but tomorrow is supposed to be a wonderful sailing day. Larry goes to talk to the customs officer and finds that three other boats including Calico Paws will also be leaving tomorrow. That is almost half of the boats in here, and we are all equally happy to get away. We have a late lunch together with Hans and Ursula in a local restaurant, not gourmet but OK local fare.  We go for a walk checking out the resort next door to the marina and return to the boat to check out of the marina. This time we do not have to meet with the same armada of bureaucrats, only customs today. The navy will check us out the very moment we leave (for a modest fee of $20, of course).  The bureaucracy and fees charged visiting boats in the DR unfortunately turn cruisers off from spending time in this beautiful country. The idea of free movement in a country is totally foreign to them