Saturday, April 23, 2005

U2 Concert in Denver

Nan and I were lucky enough to get tickets to see U2 perform on Thursday night in Denver. It was one of the best concerts we've ever experienced. The stage set-up and light show were absolutely incredible, and the full house of fans stood and sang through the entire 2.5 hour set of songs. Bono commented on how well-received they always feel when they come to Colorado. Afterall, this is where U2 recorded their live album "Under a Blood Red Sky" back in 1983 at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre just outside of Denver, in Morrison.

Bono used portions of the concert as a platform for his message of world-wide love and compassion, especially for the people of Africa. He asked people to use their cell phones to "text" their names in support of The ONE Campaign. There were also booths out in the lobby where people could sign The ONE Campaign's petition, so Nan and I signed it again even though we had both already signed it online at the ONE website (see my Monday, April 18, 2005 post). To learn more about the concert, including the set list and photos, please click here: U2 Concert in Denver.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The ONE Campaign

This weblog is devoted to sailing, but once in a while, it will address other issues. Last week, I saw a TV commercial for a new non-profit organization called The ONE Campaign, whose message is simply this:

"WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all."

If you believe as I do that the time is right for Americans to voice their concern for the welfare of all the world's people, then please click the ONE image in this post to go to the ONE website and sign the ONE declaration. Together we will make a difference!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 8

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 8 (Saturday, May 8, 2004)

The next morning, we both awoke feeling hungover from the previous night’s wine. The only thing on our immediate agenda was to get the boat back to Conch Charters before noon. All we had to do was negotiate the six miles back across Sir Francis Drake Channel to Road Town, and our trip would be over. Partly because I wasn’t feeling well and partly because it was such a short distance, I didn’t bother to put up the sails. We just motored across the channel and circled around near the Conch Charters dock until someone responded to our call and came out in a dinghy to guide us into our boat’s slip. We worked on packing up our stuff and moving it to the dock until Miles came along to check us out. Miraculously, the only damage was to the boat hook, which was a little crumpled from being bent and straightened, but Miles didn’t notice and we didn’t mention it. He was more concerned with explaining to me the intricacies of our previous day’s impellor problem, which I already understood thoroughly from having experienced it firsthand. He gave us an exit survey to fill out while he poked around the boat. One of the questions was, “Did you circumnavigate Tortola?” I hadn’t really thought about it much before I read the question, but that was exactly what we had done. We didn’t do it very directly, and we certainly didn’t do it very gracefully, but we had managed to make our way around the island and return to our point of origin, safely and on time. We had faced many trials, and we had learned from each of them. I don’t know if Nan would agree, but I felt confident that we could handle almost anything at this point. I was already thinking ahead to our next trip, and ultimately to my dream of sailing around the world.


When people ask about our sailing trip, I tell them that we had quite a bit of trouble, everything from bad weather to mechanical problems. But I also tell them that I never said to Nan, “We’re screwed.” Everything, even the completely unexpected, was manageable in the end. In fact, at one point during the trip, what I said to Nan instead was, “Despite all the problems we’ve been having, I’m having the greatest time of my life.”

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 7

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 7 (Friday, May 7, 2004)

Friday morning we awoke rested despite the previous night’s interruption. We took a quick dip off the stern, then fired up the engine and started motoring out the way we should have come in the day before, through the gap between Prickly Pear Island and Mosquito Island. There was absolutely no wind and the water in Gorda Sound was like glass, a huge difference from previous days. As we approached the west end of Prickly Pear, the engine alarm suddenly sounded. I quickly turned off the engine and then went below to check on it. I had been doing all the morning engine checks that the Conch Charters people had instructed me to do, and everything had been fine. Now as I removed the cover, something was obviously wrong. Heat poured out of the engine compartment. I set the cover aside to let the engine cool and then climbed back out to the helm. I told Nan that the engine was overheating and that we should put up the sails even though there was no wind. In the short time I was below, the boat had drifted closer to Prickly Pear so we were facing an imminent lee shore problem. Just then, the Salty Kat crew, who had spent the night at Saba Rock, passed us at a good clip under engine power. We thought they might notice us floating aimlessly and ask if we needed help, but nobody even glanced our way. I put the mainsail all the way up and unfurled the jib. Both sails started luffing like lazy flags. We weren’t making any noticeable headway and shore was getting closer. I said to hell with it and started the engine. We motored away from shore for about two minutes before the alarm went off again. I turned off the engine again but started to figure that we could go along like this, using the engine for a few minutes at a time until we reached open water and hopefully some sort of breeze. Several starts and stops later, we were floating aimlessly again, in open water with no wind.

It was time to call Conch Charters. I got Miles on the phone and explained our situation. He asked me to start the engine and check to see if water was coming out with the exhaust. Since the exhaust pipe was underwater, I had to go under the boat, for the third time in six days, to check it. Sure enough, there was only stinky diesel exhaust coming out, no water from the cooling system. I called Miles back and he said it was probably a problem with the impellor, the little spinning device that circulated cool sea water through the engine to keep it from overheating. He said he would have to have his mechanic Tom come out and fix it for us. About an hour later, Tom showed up in a big speed boat.

Tom was a laid-back mechanic from Canada, and very different from the intense all-English crew at Conch Charters headquarters. He tossed me a line so I could tie his boat to our stern, then came aboard with his toolbox. He went below, carefully spread a protective cloth, and went to work on the engine. Sure enough, the impellor was the problem. The rubber part with the little fins on it had spun loose from its brass core. Tom replaced it with a new one, put everything back together, and came back up to the cockpit to test the engine. He started it and looked over the stern. It was now pretty obvious that water was coming out with the exhaust. Big smiles all around. Tom was sweating hard from working on the hot engine, so we all sipped Cokes in the cockpit while he chatted about his split existence between the British Virgin Islands and Canada, and also about hockey, of course.

After Tom took off, we decided to keep the engine running for a while to charge up the batteries and keep the refrigerator cool, plus there still wasn’t much wind. The combination of the engine and the sails kept us moving along at about four knots, which was good because we had lost a lot of time already and were hoping to make it the remaining ten miles to Manchioneel Bay, on the west side of Cooper Island, before dark. It would be our last night on the boat, so we were hoping for something special. We were not disappointed. The little bay and its tiny facilities—a beach bar and restaurant, and a few modest rooms—are a magical place. We arrived late in the afternoon, tied up to a mooring, and took Squishy over to the dinghy dock. We toured the area, which took all of five minutes, then headed to the bar for what felt like a well-deserved margarita. On our way out, we made dinner reservations for later, then headed back to the boat for a swim and a shower.

When we returned, it was dusk. The sun was setting over Salt Island to the west and the wait staff were lighting the candles on the small tables overlooking the bay. We ordered a good bottle of red wine and sipped it while we reflected back on the week. Nan asked if I was ready for the trip to be over. I smiled and said I could keep going forever. I could tell by the look on her face that she was ready to be back on dry ground for a while. She started talking about the great week we would have at Round Hill Villa on Tortola’s Cane Garden Bay starting the next day. Dinner arrived and we ate fresh seafood prepared in an Italian style that was so good we bought drinks for the kitchen staff. We ordered a second bottle of wine, then dessert and coffee. By the time we stumbled back to the dinghy dock, it was apparent that we had had enough to drink. The dock was pretty high, so when I turned around and started to climb down to the dinghy, the step was further than I thought it would be. Combined with the night-time squishy condition of Squishy, I lost my balance and tumbled backward into the water. Whatever wine buzz I had was lost immediately as I thrashed my way back into the dinghy. Nan was still on the dock, looking concerned. I’m fine, I said, just very wet. I hadn’t lost anything, but my watch, wallet and shoes were soaked. We motored slowly back to the boat, where I toweled off and spread my stuff out to dry.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 6

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 6 (Thursday, May 6, 2004)

Sailing to The Baths
We wanted to get an early start for the Baths that Thursday morning because we had heard that the day moorings filled up quickly and that anchoring was not allowed. We motored over to the Salty Kat catamaran at about 8:00 to pick up Shannon, who told us that with four gung-ho guys on board her boat, she wasn’t getting any real sailing time. We changed that quickly, having Shannon jump around on top of the cabin and down in the cockpit to rig the mainsail with a single reef while I steered us into the wind. We were well protected from the high wind and swells by the mass of Virgin Gorda to our east, so it was finally time to sail! We bore off to port and watched with delight as the mainsail filled with wind for the first time this trip. We put out the jib as well and soon were flying along at a respectable six knots. With easy teamwork, we smoothly came about and were now on a starboard tack. Shannon snapped a picture of Nan and me sitting together at the helm, and Nan was actually smiling. This was the most fun we had had all week. The Salty Kat soon motored past us mid-tack, on a straight run to the Baths. Those guys don’t know what they’re missing, we commented. Several tacks later we arrived at the Baths ourselves to find that all the day moorings were already filled. We dropped the sails and motored in lazy loops, enjoying the rock formations and waiting for something to open up, but nothing ever did. Shannon decided she should rejoin her group instead of staying with us all the way to the Bitter End Yacht Club, where we planned to spend the night. So as we passed the bow of the moored Salty Kat, Shannon heaved her backpack onto the trampoline and then jumped into the water. We waved good-bye and promised to meet up with her later.

In the shelter of shore, we put the sails back up and headed north in an effortless beam reach past Spanish Town and Collision Point to starboard and then the Dogs islands to port. In almost no time, we passed an inlet where other boats were pulling in. It’s too soon, I thought. The inlet we want is the next one. As we rounded to the east, following the contour of shore, we saw nothing ahead of us but a massive reef, open ocean and big swells. This can’t be right, I thought. I checked the chart and saw that we were north and east of where I had thought we were, in Virgin Sound between Necker Island and Prickly Pear Island. Add “lost” to our list of problems for the week. We dropped the sails and steered for what appeared to be a break between the reef and shore, then watched as the water went from dark blue to the brilliant aquamarine of shallow water. The depth finder indicated that we were in about only six feet of water. Nan thought for sure that we would run aground at any moment. But I suggested that as long as we were in the sheltered water behind the reef and could clearly see the bottom and any obstacles, we might as well go exploring. The water was so beautiful she couldn’t help but agree. We followed a line of small buoys to a tiny bay at the easternmost end of Virgin Gorda. This could have been a private island paradise for the night but there were already a couple of boats anchored there and we really had our hearts set on spending the night at the Bitter End. We turned around and headed toward Saba Rock, which marks the northeastern entrance to Gorda Sound.

We rounded east after entering the sound and there was the Bitter End Yacht Club, perhaps the most famous sailing destination in the Caribbean. It looked like a country club set at water’s edge. We moored about a hundred yards from the dinghy dock and then piloted Squishy over to it. We explored the little theme park-like village and then ducked into the bar to escape the heat and drink a cold beer. Everything was pretty expensive, like the $50 per person prix fixe dinner (wine extra) advertised outside the restaurant, so we decided to buy some steaks at the grocery store and try out the little stern rail barbecue grill that came with the boat. I installed the grill and got the coals going while Nan worked her magic on some salads, vegetables and garlic bread down in the galley. As dusk turned to twilight, we ate like royalty in the cockpit while gazing across the water at the series of pyramid-roofed huts that are the primary land-based accommodation at the Bitter End. I was able to pick out the original three that Robin Graham, of Dove fame, had helped to build when he sailed through the area in the late 1960s, near the end of his epic solo, around-the-world sailing adventure. A couple of glasses of wine later, it was time for bed. Nan roused me just a few hours later. A boatload of drunks from the bar was having difficulty locating their boat. They were in the process of boarding ours when Nan yelled out, “Wrong boat!” Slurred apologies and the sound of an outboard motor disappearing into the distance lulled us back to sleep.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 5

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 5 (Wednesday, May 5, 2004)

The next morning, around 8:00, one of our neighboring boats motored past us while blaring a Sousa march at top volume. They made two loops around the slumbering party catamarans then headed out of the bay. We couldn't resist big smiles and thumbs-ups on their return pass. Payback’s a bitch.

Leaving sheltered Cane Garden Bay for Marina Cay, we discovered that conditions were pretty much the same as the day before: brisk wind and swells directly out of the east, our direction of travel. If we ever get a chance to sail around Tortola again, I think we'll go counter-clockwise just to avoid this situation. Like the day before, I opted not to beat into the wind and motored serenely along instead. Unfortunately, most of the beaches along the north shore of Tortola are fairly exposed and do not feature safe anchorages, otherwise they would be little bits of paradise. Across from Lambert Bay, a secluded paradise all its own, we passed Monkey Point, which looks to be a great day anchorage, with its interesting rock formations and giant cacti. But we wanted to get a mooring at Marina Cay and we had heard that they filled up quickly. As we rounded out of the passage between Little Camanoe and Great Camanoe, we were struck by the beauty of the perfect little island sitting in the sapphire blue water. Small wonder that a young married couple, Robb and Rodie White, had made it their own private utopia back in the 1930s.

We moored successfully about fifty yards from the fuel dock, then dinghied over to the island to explore. We walked from one end to the other in about fifteen minutes, stopping to admire the gardens, the view across to Virgin Gorda, and the little house the couple had built at the highest point on the island, which has since been converted to a visitors' library and bar. We had soft drinks at the separate Pusser's bar and restaurant down by the beach, then went to talk to the fuel dock guys to see what the procedure was. Just bring it on over, “mon,” was about all they had to say. We went back to the boat and tied the dinghy up to the mooring ball to reserve our place, then put out the fenders and dock lines so we'd be ready. A big trawler took almost a half-hour to fuel up, but then it was our turn. We motored over to the fuel dock and swung in sweet as can be. While the boat was being fueled, I took the hose to fill the water tank. Thirty-odd gallons later, it was topped off. I guess we did manage to go through all that water somehow. Surprisingly, with all the motoring we had been doing, we had only used up about eight gallons of fuel, when I had worried we might not reach Marina Cay with what we had. I guess putting along at low knots really does help conserve.

Feeling pretty confident after the easy docking, I motored back to our mooring ball. Maybe because the dinghy's painter was black and hard to see or maybe because I was going a little too fast, Nan missed the mooring pick-up and we went right over the painter. The engine stalled almost immediately. Not good. I didn't want to believe that we had just tangled up our propeller, so I tried to restart the engine. No go. I felt sick to my stomach as I looked over the side at our dinghy nosed tightly against the side of the boat while we slowly turned to face downwind, tethered to the mooring ball by our propeller. "Now what?" Nan asked. I have to go into the water to fix a big problem for the second time in three days, I thought. I was about to change into my swim trunks and grab my snorkel gear when a local gentleman in a dinghy came by and asked if we needed some help. Jimmy, as he later introduced himself, was a captain on a chartered boat nearby and had witnessed our predicament. I nodded and pointed at the bent boat hook floating near his dinghy. Smiling, he fished it out of the water, straightened it out and handed it back to Nan, then asked me for a dock line. We tightly secured the stern of the boat to the mooring ball to take the stress off the painter, then I changed and went under the boat with my snorkel gear and a steak knife. It was worse than I imagined. In addition to the painter, the mooring line and its milk jug float and line were all wrapped tightly around the propeller's driveshaft. I cut the float's line and untangled it from the rest. Doing this involved diving under the boat and holding my breath while bouncing off the sharp barnacles attached to the boat's underside. When I handed the jug, line and knife to Nan, she said, "You're bleeding!" I grimaced and went back under. It took several more trips under the boat to loosen and untangle the painter and mooring line during which I managed to cut a finger pretty badly on a barnacle. When they were free, I let the mooring line dangle since we were still attached to the mooring ball by the dock line, and swam around to the stern to hand Nan the dinghy's painter. I told her to tie it to the boat, then climbed aboard and headed to the bow. Jimmy and I worked a new dock line from the bow to the mooring ball so we could release the stern line. The boat swung back around to face the wind, and things were back to normal. I thanked Jimmy profusely and promised to buy him a drink at the bar later. He smiled, waved and headed back to his own boat. I returned to the stern and was stowing the extra dock line when Nan uttered the most memorable line of the trip, "Where's the dinghy?" Sure enough, it wasn't attached to the boat. In fact, it was already about a hundred yards away, floating free. I uttered something unprintable and shook my head in disbelief. I was already exhausted, and there was no way I was going to be able to dive in and swim fast enough to catch up to the dinghy as it drifted away on the wind. Another nearby neighbor noticed what was happening, got in their dinghy and chased ours down. When they returned it, to our immense gratitude, they mentioned that one of their crew was having trouble with seasickness. As a thank-you, Nan gave them some Anavert, an anti-vertigo drug that she apparently had been taking since we stepped onto the boat. "It really works!" she said. I gave her a quizzical look.

When we finally returned to the island, it was starting to get dark. We wandered up the path to the library/bar, following the sound of amplified guitar music and singing. There was a huge crowd enjoying the onstage musical antics of Captain Mike Bean, including a conch shell horn-blowing contest. We found Captain Jimmy, thanked him profusely again, and bought him his drink of choice, a cranberry and soda. As a hired boat captain, he was still working, after all. Then we spotted some friends from back home whom we had also run into at the Bomba Shack. With Nan's nodding agreement, I mentioned how difficult it had been sailing the boat essentially singlehandedly on the days we had actually had the sails up. Shannon piped up that since we were all sailing to the Baths at Virgin Gorda the next morning, she would be happy to join us and help with the sailing. Good deal!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 4

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 4 (Tuesday, May 4, 2004)

Sunset over Cane Garden Bay
The next morning, the faucets started to gurgle a little. We can't be out of water already, I thought. Maybe the Conch people hadn't filled our little thirty-gallon water tank all the way. We were on our way to Cane Garden Bay that day and wanted to get there early to get a good mooring, so we thought we'd wait and get more water, if indeed we needed it, when we got there. The weather was somewhat better this Tuesday, but I still held my breath as we motored around Steele Point. The swells were not as bad as the day before but they were still sizable, and they were coming from the direction we needed to go, directly east and straight into the wind. The idea of tacking back and forth for hours trying to make headway was not appealing, especially given yesterday's adventure, so we left the sails down and motored into the wind and swells at a very modest two knots.

When we arrived at Cane Garden Bay, we had our pick of moorings and found a nice sheltered one not too close to shore. We ran the dinghy over to the dinghy dock and tied up, then I diligently tossed out the stern anchor, as Emma at Conch Charters had advised, to keep the dinghy's bow from getting beaten up or punctured by the high wooden dock. We had some shopping to do, but first we were eager for an early lunch at Rhymer's, the two-story beach bar, grocery store, hotel and beauty salon. Our waitress Mary remembered us from our previous visits and it was all smiles until we asked her about water and fuel. "Oh, no. There's no fuel and water dock here. You have to either go to Sopers Hole or Marina Cay." Great, we thought. Guess we should have noticed that small detail earlier and planned accordingly. Well, at least we could buy gallon jugs of drinking water at the grocery store. But it remained to be seen if we had enough fuel to get to Marina Cay the next day. Rather than worry about it, we ate our grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, drank our piƱa coladas and enjoyed the view out over the bay.

We bought only what we needed at Rhymer's grocery store because everything was so expensive. The man behind the counter wanted to charge us $18 for a six-pack of Red Stripe! We lugged our ice and water back to the dinghy and motored back to the boat. Of course I forgot about the stern anchor and dragged it all the way there. I wondered why Squishy, as we had christened our dinghy due to its tendency to lose turgidity in the evenings, was straining even more than usual.

Later that afternoon, we were lounging on the boat when two catamarans full of twenty-somethings pulled in and moored about thirty yards away. We thought they might be trouble because they were flying an anatomically correct blow-up doll from one of their masts like some kind of party flag. The party started as soon as they tied up. I don't mind loud music if it's good, but I can't stomach white-boy rap, especially when drunken people in skimpy swimming suits are trying to dance to it. We took the disruption as a sign that we should get ready for our big evening: the full moon party at the Bomba Shack.

We dinghied back to Rhymer's to purchase fresh-water showers since our stern shower was dry, then ditched our stuff back at the boat, locked the dinghy to the dock and went to look for a taxi to take us over to Apple Bay. The first two taxis we saw wanted to charge us $30 for the fifteen-minute ride, so we started walking. A taxi with two people already in it stopped and picked us up to split the fare. They were headed to Bomba's, too, but like us, they planned on dinner first. Wilbert the taxi driver dropped us off at Sebastian's on the Beach, where we reacquainted ourselves with Cynthia, who had been our waitress during our previous two visits. One thing we have learned is that restaurants in the BVI appreciate reservations, so we always call ahead. It guarantees you a table and, we usually find, better service. Cynthia seated us at the window where we could watch the sun set and served us some fabulous shrimp dishes. On our way out, Nan asked her if she was going to the full moon party after work. "Oh, no! That would be trouble," said Cynthia with a big smile.

We walked down the road a couple of hundred yards to the plywood monstrosity that is the Bomba Shack. It sits on pilings above the beach and has collected an eclectic assortment of junk from its thousands of visitors. Dead boomboxes, hubcaps and driftwood are tastefully arranged around dozens of pairs of cast-off panties and bras, like a perverse reverse souvenir shop. Everyone leaves something behind to show the world they were there. Needless to say, the place was rocking. Bomba, the big man himself, was sitting in his throne room holding court with the ladies. One of the big attractions of the full moon party is the "tea" that is served free to anyone who wants it. It's made from mushrooms and is hallucinogenic. Since we had to make the complicated journey back to our boat later that night, we passed on the tea. We still managed to have a very good time.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 3

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 3 (Monday, May 3, 2004)

Early the next morning we received a call over the boat's cell phone, which was our direct lifeline to Conch Charters. Emma said my bag had finally shown up, where were we? When I told her we were at Sopers Hole, she said she would have someone run it right down to us. Three hours and several phone calls later, David arrived at the marina with my bag, sweating and out of breath, almost as if he had literally run the bag down to us. We were familiar with the concept of "island time" but this was bordering on the ridiculous, even for a Monday. We did appreciate the great customer service, but we were now getting a pretty late start for Jost Van Dyke, our final destination for the day.

We rounded Steele Point at the western-most point of Tortola and headed almost due north for Sandy Cay, where we hoped to snorkel and eat a late lunch. As on the two previous days, we were again flying just our jib. Good thing, too, because the wind and seas on the north side of the island were even stronger than on the south. At one point, I clocked us at 5.3 knots, which is pretty honking fast for a thirty-foot sailboat under jib alone. Nan was nervous. The boat was rolling severely each time a swell passed under us, and there was an ominous-looking black cloud out to the east. A little while later, as we approached Sandy Cay, the storm associated with that cloud hit us hard. The wind picked up to close to 40 knots and the rain started to come down in sideways sheets under our bimini. There weren't any day moorings and Nan didn't want me to try to anchor, so we decided to head for a safer mooring in the shelter of one of Jost Van Dyke's southern bays. This would require a jibe, and it was entirely too dangerous to attempt at this moment, so I did a 270-degree "chicken jibe" instead, slipping and sliding around the cockpit to get the jib over while Nan held the wheel through the turn. We were now running down, or more accurately, surfing down huge swells with the wind directly at our backs. Rain was pouring into the open cabin, so I asked Nan to get out the storm boards and put them in place. She pulled out the three trapezoid-shaped pieces of fiberglass but couldn't figure out how they went into their slots--sideways, upside down, largest one first? It would have been almost comical to watch her struggle if we and everything we owned weren't getting soaked. I think it was at this point that she said, "I hate this! I am never doing this again!" Not for the first time. And not for the last.

We whizzed past Little Harbour, Great Harbour and White Bay in quick succession, but every available mooring was taken. The prudent sailors were all waiting out the storm. Still not wanting to trust the anchor, we said the hell with it and headed back to Sopers Hole. We arrived in the late afternoon to find that every mooring was taken there as well. No way around it, we would have to anchor. I had Nan steer as I untied the anchor's securing line and made sure the bitter end was cleated. I had her aim at where we hoped to end up, then put the engine in neutral. I ran forward and, lacking a windlass, dropped the anchor quickly hand over hand. When I felt it hit bottom, I let out what I thought would be sufficient rode and then tied off the line. There wasn't much room and the wind was still blowing, so I thought our backward motion would set the anchor for us. It seemed to work. At least, it didn't appear that we were moving backwards relative to the boats around us.

As luck would have it, about a half-hour after we anchored, a boat near us left its mooring. Nan still didn't trust the anchor because of the weather and wanted us to move, so it was up anchor. I fired up the engine and put it in gear, then ran forward to pull up the anchor while Nan steered. If you've ever tried to pull up a thirty-pound anchor by hand, you know it's not easy. I couldn't pull it up fast enough and the boat was veering to starboard toward an old private mooring. Sure enough, the anchor line wrapped around the mooring and we were left dangling. I went back to the helm and motored counter-clockwise to free us. No go. OK, then twice around clockwise should do the trick. All it did was shorten the line. "Now what?" Nan asked. "I guess I have to go in the water and figure it out," I said. Good thing my snorkel gear had finally arrived that morning. When I swam out to the mooring ball, I couldn't believe the collection of junk that was just below the surface--old fenders, milk jugs and a random collection of algae-covered rope holding it all together. Wrapped tightly in a figure-eight pattern in and out of the mess was our anchor line. With the weight of the boat in the wind, there was no way to untangle the line without taking the tension off it first. I went back to the boat for one of our fenders and a dock line. I tied an end of the dock line to the ring on top of the mooring ball, then went back to the boat to secure the other end to one of the bow cleats after pulling the boat up as close as possible to the mooring ball. I untied the bitter end of the anchor line and threw it overboard. With the tangle, there was no danger of losing the anchor. After going back in the water to untangle the line, I tied the bitter end to the fender so it wouldn't get away, then went back on board to retrieve the anchor. Of course, while all this fun activity was going on, someone else came in and took the available mooring. By this time, it was starting to get dark, so we said the hell with it, private mooring or not, we're staying here for the night. I adjusted the dock line and opened a beer.

It had been a day when only stupid people, or people who thought they could stick to an agenda regardless of the weather, were out. I think we were guilty of both. We found out later that small craft advisories had been in effect on this day--and we definitely qualified as a small craft--but we didn't know it at the time. There isn't a full-time weather channel on the VHF in the BVI, just a couple of local radio stations that announce forecasts between reggae songs. Maybe we should have been listening. That evening at the Jolly Roger, where we treated ourselves to the special, we ran into an old friend who runs a day charter that we had done during both of our previous visits. I asked him if he had been out with paying customers that day. He shrugged and said that it hadn't been so bad. Later I overheard him at the bar animatedly telling someone that he had gotten his catamaran going over ten knots under jib alone. I had to close my eyes and shake my head.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Where's the Dinghy? Day 2

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week

Day 2 (Sunday, May 2, 2004)

The next morning we took a quick dip off the stern to wash away the cobwebs from the previous night, then headed back across Sir Francis Drake Channel toward Tortola's West End. The winds were still blowing at a brisk twenty knots and the seas were still in the four- to five-foot range, but at least the sun was shining. We soon noticed a good-sized flotilla coming up from behind off our port side. In addition to at least twenty flags representing countries, yacht clubs and sailing businesses from around the world, the lead boat was flying just its jib, as were many of its followers. This seemed to confirm that we were doing the right thing, sailing with just our jib. I was starting to wonder how I would ever be able to get the mainsail up, reefed or not, since I wasn't sure if I could get Nan to hold the boat pointed into the wind while I climbed up to the mast to unzip the sail and get it raised without snagging the battens in the lazy jacks. With the weather the way it was, it would be a few more days before I would have a chance to give it a try.

As we rounded the west end of Frenchman's Cay and headed into Sopers Hole, it was like coming home. We had vacationed on Tortola twice before, in 1995 and 2000, and had stayed just up the road at the Fort Recovery Villas both times, so we were very familiar with the quaint little marina and its pastel-colored buildings that seem to symbolize Caribbean architecture. The area around the marina's dock was crowded so we headed for a mooring ball on the opposite side, just past the ferry dock. Yesterday's mooring pick-up must have been beginner's luck because this time Nan had some trouble. Instead of the line being attached to the ring above the waterline, it was attached to the one below. Not seeing the underwater line and not knowing what to do, she hooked the ring and yelled for me to come help her. Before I could get to the bow, the wind pushed the boat awkwardly toward the mooring ball and Nan, not wanting to let go of the boathook, held on as it bent itself around the bow at an obtuse angle. We left the boathook bent for now, thinking it would snap if we tried to straighten it. It was difficult to use but at least it still worked. With a little effort, we were able to fish out the mooring line with it and get ourselves safely situated.

It was still early in the day and we didn't need any fuel, water or ice yet, so we just relaxed. After lunch, I pulled out my guitar, which had fared better in transport than my duffel bag, and was strumming it when a gentleman on a neighboring boat hailed us. I thought he was going to compliment my guitar playing, but he just wanted to let us know that we were tied up to a private mooring. Oops. It had looked just like one of the $25-a-night ones when we arrived, but now that he mentioned it… Maybe that explained the underwater mooring line. We quickly moved to a pay mooring about fifty feet to our right. No harm done. By this time, we were ready to take the dinghy over to the dumpsters near the ferry dock and then on to the Jolly Roger for some pizza and Red Stripe beer.

Monday, April 4, 2005

Where’s the Dinghy?

or, How We Learned Most of Cruising's Lessons in Just One Week


My wife Nan and I chartered our first bareboat together this past May. It was important to me going into the trip that it go as smoothly as possible because I had dreams of buying an ocean-going yacht and sailing away, and of course I wanted Nan to go with me--willingly and happily. If this little shake-out cruise went well, it would help to build her confidence and comfort level, and maybe she would begin to share my dream.

Alas, it was not to be. The trip had the makings of a disaster before we even got on the boat. We had planned to fly into the British Virgin Islands the Friday night before our charter began on Saturday, but we only made it as far as San Juan, Puerto Rico because our flight, the last one of the day, was canceled due to mechanical problems. So instead of staying at the Prospect Reef Resort just west of Road Town, Tortola, in the BVI, we ended up at a seedy hotel that was hosting an all-night hip-hop party.

Day 1 (Saturday, May 1, 2004)

Somewhat sleep-deprived the next day, we landed at the BVI's airport on Beef Island. Unfortunately, my duffel bag didn't make it. "No problem. It will show up," said the airline representative who eventually helped us. When I asked when, she said, "Maybe on the next flight. Maybe tomorrow." Her lack of concern convinced me I would never see my bag again. Visions of wearing the same underwear for days on end began to fill my mind.

Off we went for a wild cab ride, on what we Yankees would consider to be the wrong side of the road. We soon arrived at Conch Charters headquarters at Ft. Burt Marina, on the west side of Road Harbour. Sweaty-looking, barefoot guys in "Staff" t-shirts kept walking past us and our baggage, saying, "Good day." One of them finally realized that we were charter customers and showed us to our home for the next seven days, a 1996 Hunter 295 sloop named "Girls Day Off." That name would come to mean many things to me during our trip. It was a nice little boat that had obviously been well used but also well maintained. Nan quickly decided that the aft berth was too hot, too dark and too claustrophobia-inducing for us to sleep there. So the forward v-berth became our cramped sleeping quarters, and we stowed our stuff aft. After checking the tiny galley, we realized the breakfast and lunch provisions we had ordered were not yet on board. This made us hungry, so we went in search of a late breakfast.

Four hours later, after final payment arrangements and a chart briefing with Emma, a complete boat system orientation with Alex, and the arrival of our provisions--except for any bread products, which required a second delivery--we were ready to set sail. Miles tied a second dinghy to the stern, expertly maneuvered us out of our slip, said the conditions didn't look too good, "maybe just a headsail today," shook my hand, wished us luck and motored away in his dinghy. I had been nervous about this moment for a few months already but now here we were heading into sheltered but open ocean on our way south to the Bight at Norman Island, and the wind out of the east was just howling. I had plotted our course before we left, so I pointed the boat on that compass heading and got a visual idea of where we were going, just six difficult miles away. As soon as we cleared the harbor, the seas picked up considerably. Five-foot swells in a thirty-foot boat are not much fun, like a hungover roller coaster ride.

We had motored along at three knots for fifteen minutes when I started to think about what Miles had said about maybe using just the headsail. Then I thought about how we were going to accomplish getting that sail unfurled safely. Finally, I thought about the one-and-only ground rule we had made for this trip: No yelling! It was time to teach Nan how to steer. When I suggested she come back and take the wheel while I put out the jib, she gave me a horrified look through her spray-covered sunglasses. I smiled and explained that all she had to do was keep the boat pointing in the direction it was going, and that she could use the piece of electrical tape wrapped around the wheel as a guide for when the rudder was pointed straight ahead. She looked uncertain as she grabbed the wheel with white knuckles, so I said I would hurry. In less than a minute, I uncleated the furling line, snapped out the jib and winched in the jib sheet on the starboard side. When I took the wheel again, we were a little off-course but not too bad. Nan gave me a look that clearly said, "Don't make me do that again." She had just learned that steering a boat in bad weather is nothing like steering a car in any kind of weather. The combination of the motor and the jib now had us flying along at better than five knots. Alex had told me in our orientation that our fuel tank held only twenty gallons, so I didn't want to waste any if I could avoid it. It was time to turn off the motor and just sail. That must have been a signal to the weather gods to unleash hell because it immediately started pouring rain. I stood up tall under the bimini to keep my head dry while the rain soaked the rest of me, including my only set of clothes.

When we arrived at the Bight, it was time for Nan's next lesson, how to pick up a mooring. But first we had to get the motor started and the jib furled. Since we were now in the shelter of Norman Island, this went smoothly, and Nan actually looked like she was gaining confidence with the steering. We rounded up to an isolated mooring ball not too far from the William Thornton pirate ship and floating restaurant, known by one and all as the "Willy T.", and Nan snagged the mooring line with the boat hook on her very first try. I ran forward to show her how to secure it to a cleat, and our first day of sailing was complete. Still a little soggy, we putt-putted our four-horsepower dinghy over to the Pirates restaurant for dinner and a well-deserved painkiller, a local concoction of rum, coconut milk, pineapple juice and orange juice, with nutmeg sprinkled on top. Dylan, our bartender, just smiled and added extra rum as we told him of our afternoon's adventure. We stopped at the gift shop on our way out to buy a t-shirt and swim trunks to expand my limited wardrobe. Then it was off to the Willy T. for a nightcap and a chat with Alex from Conch Charters, who moonlighted there as a waiter. He had said if my missing duffel bag showed up during the afternoon, he would run it over when he went to work. No such luck. The Willy T. was hopping though, so we stayed for a few margaritas. Not too smart on top of the painkillers. At one point, I turned to Nan and said, "Is that girl topless?" She just nodded. Time to go. As late arrivals to the mooring area, we were left with one of the most exposed moorings. Nan's first night ever sleeping on a boat was a long one. We tangled toes in the v-berth, opened and closed the hatch above us as it rained and cleared, and swung wildly back and forth at the end of our mooring line as the wind continued its long blow.