Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Good Time

Are you tired of reading about our troubles?  An old friend once told me, "All times are good.  You either have a good time, or a good story."  That's the truth.  Good stories are more fun to write about, and we're generating plenty of those.  OMG.  I could tell you...sigh...

However, in the interest of balance, and just so you have an idea of why we're bothering with this "holiday", let me share some of the good times.

We've been able to snorkel about every two out of three days.   The boys have all become more comfortable and confident in the water.  Yesterday, Bit Boy, who previously told me that he didn't like water, especially deep water, raced me to a bouy, any stroke we wanted.  (I beat him by a hair, although I might admit to a bit of shenanigans to attain the win). Lego Kid is a natural underwater, swimming down to check out conch shells and interesting fish.  Even little Hot Dog, previously afraid to put his face in the water,  now confidently treads water off the back of the boat, over any depth.

Just a couple of days ago, during one of our "good stories", we needed all hands on deck to help sail the boat after the engine died.  (Again in a crowded harbour.  What's up with that?)  Both the older kids stepped up to the plate and helped manage the lines and steering, without (get this) complaint.  Wow.  I know, right?

And then there's this:

Sunset in Paradise
One big grouper (Graysby?) and a lot of grunts hiding under a coral
 We are getting to see so many things we couldn't see otherwise, other cultures, other wildlife, other geography, and getting to do it on our time table.  We're able to take our time to linger over the things we like, and brush by the things we don't.  Add to that the family game nights we're enjoying, and for the kids the extra time on electronics (kindle fire and nook) that they wouldn't normally get, and all are relatively happy.

And so there you go.  A good time isn't as much fun to read as a good story, but I wanted you to know that we're having them too. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Busman's Holiday for a Control Freak

I don't really consider myself much of a control freak, although April rolls her eyes somewhat at this proposition. Being on this boat has made any latent control tendencies on my part come to the forefront.

The first week aboard I did not sleep well even though normally the gentle rocking of the boat is very soothing.  I woke up frequently and rose early with a knot in my gut.  Wait a second, this is vacation.  This is supposed to be fun. Well, it is fun.  It's just not relaxing at all times.  The first week, we were still learning the idiosyncrasies of the boat.  Things like how quickly the engine consumed diesel fuel.  This is critical since we discovered that the fuel gauge is busted and always reads "full".  We can tolerate a lot of technical issues with the boat, but running out of fuel is a show-stopper.  No fuel means no engine.  No engine means no recharging the batteries.  Dead batteries means no refrigeration, no lights, no radio, no fans and no electronics.  Most importantly, no engine means extreme difficulty getting into a fuel dock so we can get more fuel.  This is a sail boat, which means we don't absolutely need an engine to get around, but in close quarters an engine is nearly essential.  Uncertainty around fuel consumption was greatly relieved the first time we topped up the fuel tanks (in Roadtown).  Ever since we've been on boats, April and I have always kept an engine log - recording exactly how long we've run the engine every day.  This showed that our engine was only consuming about a third of a gallon an hour. Since our tank holds 200 liters of fuel (about 52 gallons), this means we can run our engine 75 hours (even with a 1/2 gallon per hour of consumption) before refueling becomes a priority - it's bad to run a tank to nearly empty due to all the crud that sits at the bottom of it.  We have to run the engine 4 hours a day to keep the food cold, so that gives us over two weeks between having to visit the fuel dock.  OK, one worry down.

The next worry is the water tanks.  The boat holds 300 liters (79 gallons) of fresh water.  This isn't water that is safe to drink, but it allows us to wash dishes and rinse off hair after swimming or snorkeling. As it turns out, the gauge that reads the water level is worse than broken.  It's a random number generator.  Fortunately, running out of fresh water isn't the crisis that running out of fuel is.  Very fortunately, since we actually ran out last weekend.  We survived by washing dishes with seawater and rinsing with our precious drinking water.  Currently we have 40-some gallons of drinking water stowed beneath the settee.  Using drinking water to rinse isn't ideal, so we only spent one day like this before we came into port to re-provision and re-water.  It looks like we can can go 7 to 8 days between filling our water tank, depending on how stingy we are with it's use.  The last tankful included washing some clothes, which uses a lot of water, based on our misplaced trust in a water gauge that read 3/4 full.  So, all in all, not a huge worry anymore.

Except at port, a boat runs it's electrical system exclusively off of 12 volts, like the cigarette lighter on a car. When the engine isn't running, all the power comes from a 12 volt marine battery.  There are actually two batteries on this boat, one for starting the engine, the other, called the "house" battery, for running the refrigerator, cabin lights, fans, water pressure pumps, mooring lights, and other doodads.  Completely discharging the starting battery will leave the engine as dead as if it was out of fuel.  Running the house battery down is an inconvenience whereas running the starting batter down is Very Bad.  The systems are separated for this reason - it's impossible to run the starting battery down by using too many lights, for instance.  However, the batteries only charge when the engine is running. With boats we've been on in the past, we were required to actively manage which battery was being charged by the engine - only one could be charged at a time. Forgetting to charge the starting battery is Very Bad. It turns out that this boat has a battery isolator, which means that both batteries will charge automatically and simultaneously as long as the engine is running.  Yea for us.  We still have to manage electrical load on the house battery, since running out of power for the fridge will lead to spoiled food and an unhappy crew.  When we picked up the boat, we were told to run the engine two hours in the morning and two in the evening.  This seems to keep the house battery maintained enough to run the fridge all day long.  When the engine isn't running however, some of our electronics aren't happy with the voltage their car adapters are seeing and refuse to charge.  The laptop I'm typing on now is one of the those, although I'm pretty sure it's due to the el cheapo generic car adapter I bought for it.  After a few nights, I became convinced that the house battery wasn't shot and would actually last without running the engine constantly.

My next worry was our propane tanks.  Not that the propane would cause the boat to blow up, although in theory that's possible albeit extremely unlikely given the safety systems in place, but merely that we would run out.  The propane runs our two burner stove and oven in the galley.  The propane cylinders used on boats are midget aluminum one that don't look like they'd hold enough gas to make one grilled cheese sandwich.  The boat came stocked with two.  We begged for an extra two from the charter base before we left and they begrudgingly gave us one.  My worry was that we'd run out and would have to find someone to refill them - not something most fuel docks could do.  This worry, too, was needless since we've been out over two weeks now and haven't used up the first cylinder.  It looks like the three we have aboard will be more than sufficient.

Everyone knows that the Virgin Islands have constant trade winds and that as long as you're out of hurricane season, you are in sailing heaven. Well, not exactly.  The trade winds blow pretty constantly from the east at 15 to 18 knots from April to November.  Starting in the winter, however, low pressure systems roll through from the east, causing north east winds that can be 20 to 25 knots and bringing unsettled weather.  This tapers off by April.  Unfortunately, this isn't April.  It's February and the north east winds come and go.  When they are here, the sailing is exciting, especially when trying to sail upwind.  We've discovered that the boat handles much better with one or two reefs in the sails.  A "reef" is a way of reducing sail area.  I felt much better about the winds once we'd sailed with the sails reefed.  During these north east winds, the waves build up and swing around to the north.  When this happens, many anchorages become uncomfortable if they have much exposure to the north.  So we've been keeping a pretty close eye on the weather.  Here in the US Virgin Islands, getting accurate weather forecasts is pretty easy given the Internet. It's more difficult in the BVIs.  In theory there is radio broadcasts of weather forecasts, but we haven't had much luck picking them up in the BVIs.  Part of the BVIs actually see cell phone signals from the USVIs, however.  I'm still getting comfortable with the winds, waves and the weather in general. 

When we are away from the noisy and busy docks, our only choices to spend a night out with the boat is to anchor or to moor.  Many bays in the islands here have moorings.  This is a buoy attached to a large concrete block in the sea floor, with a line leading off of it ending with a eye and another small float.  To moor you motor downwind from the mooring, stop the boat, pick up the eye with a boat hook, and run a line from your boat through the eye and back again to your boat.  Our first night out was on a mooring.  We actually ran two lines through the eye to be safe.  Later, on a different mooring on a very winding an rolly night, I could hear our mooring lines beginning to chafe on the mooring eye.  I didn't sleep well.  The next morning I looked around and realized that when the other boats tied up to mooring with two lines, they lead each line back to the same side of the boat.  One line was looped on the port and the other on the starboard.  The next night I slept much better. Usually anchoring is the best way to lose sleep, but I've been managing to lose sleep on a mooring.

I'm still nervous about anchoring.  We've only spent two nights at anchor so far, but it looks like we will be doing more in the Spanish Virgins.  We know how to anchor, but there are times the anchor will drag.  The type of bottom can affect how well the anchor digs in.  A wind shift can cause the anchor to pop out of the bottom.  All this means setting an anchor watch - someone has to wake up in the middle of the night to check the position of the boat.  Usually me because I'm so very good about worrying about these things.

I'm probably leaving the impression that I'm not enjoying our trip.  I actually am.  It's just that I have an incredible ability to worry about just about anything.  As April points out, this is a pretty reasonable survival trait.  I just happen to be very good at it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Technical Difficulties

Please excuse us, we are experiencing technical difficulties.

What difficulties?  Glad you asked.

The micro-filament that held Bit boy's lens in his glasses broke shortly after we got on the boat.  A gal from Footloose said she'd had glasses like that and had to go to St. Thomas (USVI) to get them fixed.  He's been managing with mom's duct tape fix.  (Did I mention that you should never, never ever, travel without duct tape?)  A more permanent fix will have to wait until we get to St. Thomas.

 On the subject of Bit Boy's eye sight, he has found his contacts more uncomfortable than he expected and was snorkeling without them.  He was having a hard time figuring out what we were all so excited about while snorkeling.  We found a dive shop (in Leverick Bay) that had a mask that fit him and could put some corrective lenses in it.   Unfortunately the lenses were elsewhere, so we ordered them at Leverick Bay and picked them up at the dive shop at Scrub Island Resort, while we were moored at Marina Cay.  (Got that?)

Also, Hot Dog has been having problems with his mask leaking, so we bought a different mask.  It's better, but still leaks.  He gets cold pretty fast while snorkeling, even wearing a shorty wet suit, so all we need is a mask that will last as long as he can.

Charging the electronics has proven challenging.  Despite Firelord's best efforts, not everything likes the 12volt adaptors.   Also, I didn't realize that there was a right way and a not-quite-right-way to shut down his LINUX computer, and accidentally only shut it down part way.  It discharged completely before we realized my mistake.  Also, it is one of the electronic bits that doesn't like charging on a 12V, and we haven't had shore power since Spanish Town, a week ago.  (See my good excuse for not posting?)

Wi-Fi is at some establishments, but the connection is iffy and slow.   Firelord had the brilliant idea of using his smart phone as a hot spot, but that only works if he can pick up a US signal, rather than a BVI signal.  (U.S. has 4G, BVI doesn't)  Still it's a good and functional idea. ....  Assuming his phone worked.  Which it didn't, being one of the devices having trouble getting charged.  And THEN, in the process of trying to clean the (presumed) sand out of it, Firelord accidentally damaged the connectors.  Damaged beyond fixing with the equipment at hand.  Sigh... could it get worse?  Why, yes, yes it could.

All fixes would have to wait for the USVI, since the BVI didn't have the necessary supplies on hand.  Anywhere.  Remember, it's an island territory, everything is shipped in.  Speciality items are ordered and waited for.  It's just as quick for us to get it ourselves in the USVI.

Which brings me to last Thur. (2/7/13) when we checked into the USVI at Cruz Bay.  That is a post unto itself, which I will let Firelord do.  I will share that we had more technical difficulties which involved multiple anchor attempts, and the need to sail out of a crowded harbor without a functional engine.  Why?  Because of yet more technical difficulties - the button which was supposed to pop in and out to engage and disengage then engine got stuck.  Oh, and someone accidentally bumped the switch and turned off the anchor winch, which was, at the time, terribly problematic.

BUT, all is well.  We finally found a safe place to moor, got checked in through customs, got Firelord a shiny new phone, and soothed our nerves with ice cold smoothies and baguettes.

I have left out some technical difficulties, dropping a family radio into the drink, the smell of the boat when I bought too much meat at one time, the challenges of docking and mooring...  we are figuring it all out as we go.

At the moment we are moored in Trunk Bay, St. John.  It's part of Virgin Islands National Park.  We will go snorkeling and go play at the beach, and leave all worries of technical difficulties on the boat.  (I hope!)
Sunset at Hawksnest Bay 2/8/13

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bound to Please

"Bound to Please", that's the name of our boat.  So far she's living up to her name and taking good care of us.

Someone tell my mom I haven't drowned her grandsons yet.  (She doesn't read anything I write, so one of you needs to step up to the plate here.)

It's not, apparently, for lack of trying.  First there's the "Christmas winds" which start around Christmas, and supposedly stop mid January, but they didn't get the note this year.  The first day we really sailed upwind, (last Tue, into Little Harbor on Peter Island) we were close hauled and laying her flat.  Steve and I smiled those fake smiles parents get as we pretended to think this was the height of fun.

"Wow!"  "Ride 'em cowboy!  Eh, boys?"  "Boys?"  The boys had gone below deck where they threatened to try walking on the walls of the boat, she was heeled so far over.  After we spent a couple of relaxed days in Little Harbor we sailed back to Road Town.  This time with a double reefed main and only half unfurled head sail.  What a nice difference!  

The night before Little Harbor we were on a mooring bouy at Kelly Cove at Norman Island.  We motored early Tue morning to get a temporary bouy at The Indians where there is some excellent snorkeling.  Again, the Christmas winds made themselves known.  It was beautiful, but brisk (being still morning) and the wind and chop made the swim ... interesting...  Robert decided he needed a PFD "island" while he snorkeled.

We've since had a gorgeous day with sunshine and trade winds.  We spent the day at the Baths on Virgin Gorda.  There's a place we're coming back to!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Raising my glass

We're having a wonderful time, but it's not the same as we remember.  It's still beautiful.  The weather has been almost perfect.  (Because perfection is boring, there have been occasional squalls.)  But it's not the same.

I'm sitting here, at the Cooper Island Beach Club, where Steve remembers having his first Painkiller, and says I first ate parsnips. (Really? Yes, I loved them.  Crazy to travel so far to find something so common, eh?)  This is where we sat with friends, where we sat with Captain Bill, who always had a story to tell. 

There, there it is.   Capt. Bill.  This is the first time we've been to the BVI without him.  And, it's not the same. 

It's friends that we remember most.  So many times on this trip we've turned to each other and said "Wouldn't ____  love this?"  or "I wish we could show this to the _____ family."  I am loving the time with Steve and the boys.  We're so grateful to have this opportunity.  But it's not the same.  We are missing our friends, ones we will see again, and ones we won't.

Today is Friday, and I raise my glass to "A willing soul and sea room", but I shall also pretend it's Sunday, and have a drink for Bill, and to you, "Here's to absent friends."

Traditional Royal Navy Toasts:

Monday: Our ships at sea.
Tuesday: Our men.
Wednesday: Ourselves.
Thursday: A bloody war and quick promotion.
Friday: A willing soul and sea room.
Saturday: Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet.
Sunday: Absent friends and those at sea.