31 January 2015

Virgin Islands: We Are Sailors!! Our First Bareboat Charter

Caribbean Report - Out on our Own!



It's Superbowl Sunday. 
Somewhere in the distance, I can hear the cheering of massive televised crowds. 
But here, the palm trees are rustling, the moon is almost full. 
It reflects on the ocean about 30 feet in front of us. 

A late pelican dives. We're back on an island. 
This past week, we never touched land. 
During the days, we sailed. (All by ourselves!) snorkeled from the boat. 
Cooked on board.



At night, we anchored in the quietest bays we could find.
Watched the stars and slept well. 
We even drank port, since one of the kids said that’s what pirates drink. Arrrgh, Matey!

 I got up at night to watch the sky, and saw shooting stars. 
I fed moldy bagels to hovering yellow jacks, and the fish loved it. 
Turtles watched. 
Our boat, “Taking it Easy”, a 36’ monohull, had some issues:



The seal on the fridge was broken.
 (yes, these boats have fridges!) and it drained the battery low the first night. 

So we turned the fridge off. 
Bought blocks of ice. Much better.
The chart plotter and navigation instruments didn’t work, so we turned them off, too. 
The corkscrew was rusty - this was potentially serious! 
Luckily, I had my Swiss Army knife. 
The gas grill was missing a part, (indeed! a grill on the back of the boat!), so off that went. 

In fact, we just turned everything off (except the light on the top of the mast.
Didn't want anyone bumping into us at night-). 

We went “analog” sailing. 
At the end of the week, we refueled - and had used a total of 3.5 gallons of fuel. 
This, apparently, is rare.
You know, WE DID IT! All by ourselves!

It wasn’t all that hard, either. Things worked out. 
Just BEING on the boat in the beginning took some getting used to. 
The rocking motion, the strange sounds at night.
The creaking of the boat, the plashing of the dinghy behind us,.

(were we sinking? Better check!) 
Remembering always to have “one hand on the boat” as we moved around.
Cooking and pouring things, I kept myself propped against something. 
Putting things away so they wouldn’t spill when a wave suddenly moved us. 

Even jumping in and out of the dinghy. It was all new.




After sharing a boat with others, it was good to have one to ourselves. 
Trying things out while sailing, making mistakes, finding solutions. 

After a short week, I can say that we now feel comfortable taking a boat out and sailing it.
Not perfect, not fast, not even efficiently. 
But - we are capable.  A total success. 

That’s what we set out to learn. Yay!


23 January 2015

Caribbean: Living on a Boat and Learning to Sail

Caribbean Report - Part III

Back on land after a week learning to sail on board a 39’ Lagoon catamaran. 

Even taking our exams on board. 
Four or five of them. Ouch. 



The difference between “lee helm” and “weather helm”, and what to do about it?

Magnetic deviation on the compass. Do we add or subtract to get our true course?


Practical stuff, too, like - the mainsail wouldn’t come down. 
Now what? Climb up and yank it down?

The generator has no coolant water. 
Doesn’t that mean it’s going to burn out? What to do? Turn it off! 


Some beeping “low voltage” alarm goes off every night. 
How to stop it? 
Was that excessive water in the bilge? 
Were we going to sink? 
Why was there so much smoke on the dinghy outboard? 

It’s raining on me and the hatch leaks! My cabin is soaked! 

Why won’t the anchor come up? It’s stuck! 
We’re drifting towards that big boat and I can’t release the anchor! 

Somehow, it all worked out.

 
We plotted courses, did navigation, read charts.
Learned the parts of a diesel engine, dinghy maintenance, marine batteries, cooling systems.

 VHF radio use, reefing sails, docking. 
Passed all tests with flying colors.

We now have little stickers in our logbooks for 3 more courses: 
Coastal Cruising, Bareboat Charter, and Catamaran Cruising. 

Next: International Yacht Charter and Passage Making. 
But not yet.

There were only four of us, on a large and comfortable catamaran. 
Do I dare mention that our instructor put down a respectable amount of rum during the week?


Stan brings down the mainsail.

These charter boats are pretty incredible: 
Multiple bathrooms (ok, “heads”), all manner of appliances, and gear. 
Microwave, blender, toaster, oven, TV, air conditioning. 

It was like a huge RV on water.
But this comfort comes at a cost: 
The motor, or the generator, needs to run for several hours a day! 

To me, this entirely defeats the point of “sailing”.



But catamarans are large, wide, and comfortable. 
They don’t “heel”, or lean over as much. 
There’s plenty of room for everyone. 

And it's hard to get lost in the British Virgin Islands.


Tomorrow, Stan and I get our “own” boat and take it out. 

No instructor to ask questions. It’ll all be up to us. 



Trish & Stan alone.


16 January 2015

Caribbean: Sailing Lessons - Day 1: Bruised and Sore and Tired!

Caribbean Report - Part II


We are bruised, and sore, and tired, but - we actually did it!



I think both of us were pretty nervous about the whole thing - and justifiably so.

It was physically demanding, out there on the “high seas”.
Winds 20-25 knots, waves, and us in a simple little 24’ boat, heeling like crazy.
Water nearly reaching the precarious edge of the boat. 
No idea what we are supposed to be doing. 

Our instructor was a young Swede named Tim.
He usually races big professional carbon-fiber boats.
He was perfectly at home in a sideways boat.
I was in a fair panic about holding the rudder, bouncing up and down and all around.



Stan and I hoisted the sails, climbing up on the cabin trunk. 
We manned the sheets, the tiller, tacked and jibed and tacked again.
Each time scrambling from one side of the boat to the other, ducking under the boom.

We did 180’s and PIW (person in water) rescues. 
We actually retrieved the fender (the fake man overboard) each time! 
I didn’t think it could be done. 

We rounded buoys, aimed for islands.
We would figure out how to get there, and what we needed to do. 
It was up to us to set the course and take the necessary actions.


We docked at the fuel dock, on sail only. 
We left the pier backwards, sailed (without an engine- this boat was sail power only) carefully between the mega catamarans.
 - without incident.

Navigated the narrow harbor entrance coming and going several times.
Avoided several high-speed ferries and a tanker, and a number of motoring yachts. 

We even brought the sailboat back and moored it beside another one, coming up perfectly parallel before we tied ours to it. All by sail power only.
We attached and raised the sails, took them down, and did all the necessary knots in the sails.


And now - we are physically and mentally beat. 
What a workout!
 I mean, even just climbing in and out of these small boats takes some thinking for us. 

I was a bit worried before we started - we both were. 
Were we up to this? 
There were NO other small sailboats out between the islands.
Much less one with a 60 and 65 year old learning to sail. 

Even this morning, we discussed it - we were both pretty apprehensive. 
So last night, we were pretty beat.

We met the instructor on the 36’ monohull boat this morning.
We needed to learn about all the winches and sails.
It's the one we’re going to charter ourselves next week.

I thought: Yikes! How can Stan and I EVER hope to control this massive piece of equipment? 
All by ourselves? And not kill ourselves and others in the process? 

But the day went well, and we did a LOT
Tim gave us a pretty thorough workout. 
Of course, he’s 28, fit, and he’s been sailing since he was 7. 
He has no idea how clueless we are. 
And how hard it is for us. 

He just stands up in the steeply heeling boat, at what seems to us to be a death-defying 45 degree angle, calmly talking, while we are desperately trying to hold onto something and not fall out of the boat. Wow.


We tacked back and forth inside the marina, too - on sail alone.
Our small motor-less comparatively tiny boat -
 - thru all these mega yachts and mega catamarans.
There's incredible wealth on display. 

We didn't want to ruin anyone's paint job. 
Or worse.

We were able to find our way thru them, as crowded as they were, without hitting anything. 
That part was really easier than I expected.




It was the heavy wind and waves and heeling that made me uncomfortable at first. 
But soon I realized that the waves mean little - it is all more a question of wind. 
I didn’t know that. 

And knowing who has the right of way and how to avoid other boats.
What you’re supposed to do when 2 vessels come close to each other. 

We met situations - and Tim would let us figure out how to get out of them on our own. 
How to de-tangle a twisted jib, how to recover from a missed tack and an uncontrolled jibe. 
We did a LOT

When we said good-bye to Tim, we were sweaty and salty and exhausted.



And so now we’re “home”, after negotiating the Tortola traffic, driving on the narrow roads, left-hand side, with the wheel on the American side, with crazies passing us on hairpin turns, up and down mountains, and having to maneuver, only an inch to spare, mirrors pulled in, thru the steep jungle road past another car, just to get to our place. *whew*


Stan is icing down his bruises.
They ARE rather stellar, blue-violet and red-violet, and huge.

I’m off to a hot shower. 
Then a glass (probably we’ll finish the bottle) of rosé from Provence (a find in the chandlery) and we’ll be in bed by 9, as usual.

Tomorrow we take our first sailing exam.


Here’s the weird part:
The exam is only required for people who want to charter boats. 
(We hope to get our International License, which gives us the option to charter in other countries.)


However:
If you BUY a boat - even a huge, 72’ mega-yacht with all the fancy instruments, gadgets and trimmings - there is no licensing requirement to drive the thing. 
You can get out there and just - GO.  


This is a rather scary thought.
There are a LOT of boats here.







10 January 2015

Caribbean Report - Part I - Sailing the British Virgin Islands



This is island life.

I’m sitting under a couple of coconut palms, in a rattan chair. 
view of the ocean in the distance. 
There are black and yellow butterflies on the red hibiscus flowers, and a lizard is watching me. 

In the tree beyond the terrace, I hear small yellow birds arguing noisily.

 I’m drinking a Carib beer and it’s barely 1 pm.




A few hours ago, we got off of a 44’ catamaran which we
shared for a week (a WEEK!) with 6 people we’d never met before:

Everyone was roughly half our age. A good group.

We sailed from island to island, snorkeled often. Went scuba
diving hiked up mountains.
Told stories over rum drinks in
thatched restaurants, hoisted sails, picked up moorings, dropped
anchor, and did most of the cooking ourselves on board.

We visited Trellis Bay, Beef Island, Norman Island, Peter Island,
even stayed overnight off Marina Cay - many of the same names I
remember from the trip in 1960. 

The winds were strong at times,
and we were glad someone else was ultimately in charge of the boat.

But it gave us a good start on our sailing adventure. We all
helped reef sails, drop anchor, pick up moorings and ran around in dinghies.




I was amazed at how many other boats are in the marinas.
It’s like a National Park on Memorial Weekend.
Every popular marina is full.
But in bays where you have to anchor, or where there’s no bar, it’s pretty empty.


Out in the water, too, there is little traffic.
In harbors, most people want a “good” spot for the best restaurants and bars. 
There’s some serious partying going on out there, although our group was pretty
relaxed and low-key.

BBQ on board with our intrepid gang
By the end of the week, our clothes were salty and used.
The trash was full and the water tanks empty.
Towels refused to dry anymore.

We had bruises from bumping into boat parts as we hurtled along in high winds.
We managed to eat all the food and drink all the rum.
Everyone else has to head home to work today and back to “real life”.
We get to stay.









Going back to the beginning:
The first 2-3 days, we stayed in St.Thomas.

I lived there as a kid, going to school until 6th grade.
Now, it’s a hopping place. 
Crowded and busy and up to 4 cruise ships dock on a day.
Some of those cruise ships carry as many as 7500 passengers. (!) Yikes.

Took the ferry over to Road Town, Tortola.
More relaxed but still busy.

Did I mention I found a scorpion in the bathroom sink?




The West End is more chic, but our area is pretty local.
Goats and chickens running around.
Potholes and small roadside tire repair shops, no glitz.

So we’ll spend a couple days here.
Catch up on emails, do laundry, recharge camera batteries.
Begin to actually study our sailing books.

But still - island life.


Next chapter: Learning to Sail.