Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Circumnavigation Routes, Part 6

While Nan and I were sailing with John Kretschmer in the Spanish Virgin Islands this past April, the subject of circumnavigation routes came up frequently. John and his wife, Tadji, are planning a circumnavigation that would begin after their kids are out of high school, seven or eight years from now. Nan and I are hoping to set sail much sooner, but there are still some major hurdles for us to overcome, like buying an appropriate boat. In the meantime, it's fun and educational to share ideas about where to go and what to see.

John and I agreed that a west-about route would be easiest, but then he threw out the idea of crossing the Atlantic to Europe early in the trip rather than waiting until after a transit of the Suez Canal. Since many of the places we hope to visit are in Europe, this made perfect sense.

What about the Caribbean, though? John had an idea for that as well: circumnavigate the Caribbean first in a counter-clockwise direction to take advantage of the easterly Trade Winds, which is much easier than trying to catch occasional northeasterly winds to go the other way around. The Caribbean loop could also serve as a shakedown cruise before the big leap across the Atlantic.

What about the return leg from Europe? John knew that I wanted to see the islands off the west coast of Chile--Robinson Crusoe Island, Easter Island, and Pitcairn Island--so he suggested skipping the Panama Canal in favor of sailing south along the east coast of South America, through the Straits of Magellan and then up the west coast to Valparaiso. At this point, the route would closely follow the one I laid out several years ago (Circumnavigation Route 2001) until we reached the Seychelles. With all the piracy off the coast of Somalia, it would be safer to go south instead of north at this point, round the Cape of Good Hope and then sail on to South America by way of St. Helena. A second tour of the Windward and Leeward Islands, the Bahamas and the Florida coast would put us back at our starting point in Savannah, Georgia.

The only dream places missing from this route are Cuba and the Galapagos Islands. The future possibility of legal travel to Cuba by sailboat from the United States is still uncertain. And who knows, if the "boat quest" boat is finally found on the west coast, then it might be possible to take a detour to the Galapagos Islands before transitting the Panama Canal and sailing north to Savannah.

I figured the 2001 route to be a little over 50,000 miles. This more ambitious 2009 route would be almost 65,000 miles. If you would like to see a Google Maps version of it, click here: Circumnavigation Route 2009.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bryan Savage at Two Rivers Winery

Bryan Savage playing saxophone at the Two Rivers Winery's Jazz among the Grapevines eventIt is not well known outside of our immediate area, but western Colorado produces good wine. There are numerous vineyards and wineries in the Grand Junction area, and Colorado's annual Winefest (http://www.coloradowinefest.com/) is held every September just east of Grand Junction in Palisade.

Right up Broadway, about four miles west of us, is the Two Rivers Winery. Nan and I have attended their Winemakers Tasting Dinners, as part of the Colorado Winefest, the past two years. On Tuesday evening, we were there for a Jazz among the Grapevines outdoor event featuring Bryan Savage, the jazz flute and saxophone player. We were Bryan's guests, compliments of my friend Phil Linville, who runs the Ambiance smooth jazz station on iTunes radio as "Aaron Phillips" and had interviewed Bryan to promote his upcoming performance.

Bryan Savage with Aaron Phillips at the Two Rivers Winery's Jazz among the Grapevines eventNan and I knew Bryan and his wife Michele from our many years living in Aspen. We used to see Bryan perform around town with Bobby Mason's band, and I used to help Michele with Bryan's Macintosh problems when I owned my computer business.

Posing with Bryan and Michele Savage at the Two Rivers Winery's Jazz among the Grapevines eventIt was a beautiful evening to sit outside on the lawn, sipping Two Rivers Chardonnay and listening to Bryan's fantastic playing on selections from his long history of recordings, as well as jazz interpretations of popular songs like "Georgia on my Mind", "I Only Have Eyes for You" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow". His one-man act was offset by a MacBook running a customized version of iTunes that tied into his sound system to provide musical accompaniment. At the set break, we went up to chat with Bryan and Michele, take some photos and buy a copy of Bryan's CD, Soul Temptation. It was good to see Bryan and Michele again and to know that they are doing well. Jazz lives!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sailing the Spanish Virgin Islands, Part 6

Rain clouds and sun beams over Playita, Puerto RicoAs we set out on the last sailing day of our Spanish Virgin Islands trip, we expected rain but it never materialized. There wasn't much wind either. We motored out past the small islands that hemmed our overnight anchorage at Playita and then motor sailed west-southwest toward Isla Caja de Muerto in a lazy broad reach.

With the wind picking up slightly, we decided to turn off the engine. A little while later, John's keen ear picked up a noise. There was a light thumping on the hull that only he could distinguish from the gurgling sound of our wake. We rounded up into the wind and John went overboard with his mask and snorkel to see where the noise was coming from. He came back up sputtering and asking for a knife. There was a crab trap float and its line tangled around the propeller shaft. It wasn't tightly wrapped so he guessed that we had run over it after turning off the engine. He cut it loose and then came back onboard.

As he was toweling off, John told us that this situation provided a valuable lesson: "Never wait to investigate or fix a problem. It will only get worse." I could see his point. If we had ignored the thumping and tried to start the engine, we could have damaged the propeller or shaft. Or if the engine stalled because of the tangle when we needed it to get into port, we could have had a serious problem on our hands. I had been at the helm when we ran over the crab trap float so I felt most to blame. I pledged to pay better attention to obstacles in the water.

The southern coast of Puerto Rico between Playita and PonceAfter lunch, we noticed two catamarans heading in the same direction we were, and they were gaining on us. Someone muttered, "Damn catamarans," and there was immediate assent. We decided to conduct an unofficial race. John kept his expert eye on the wind and sails and called out commands to Dallas at the sails and me at the helm. We turned the boat into a downwind run and put out Quetzal's nifty Forespar carbon-fiber whisker pole so we could sail wing-and-wing. We kept our heading just off the north point of Isla Caja de Muerto, far enough from the southern shore of Puerto Rico to get clean wind from the east. The other boats jibed toward shore too soon, and we pulled away. We made a smart jibe ourselves just past the island and aimed for the port at Ponce, arriving ahead of our competition and claiming the last temporary dock spot at the Ponce Yacht Club.

After moving Quetzal to a more permanent slip, we went searching for the yacht club's bar for a victory drink. We had won our race against the catamarans, and we had arrived safely at our final destination.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sailing the Spanish Virgin Islands, Part 5

Our lumpy mooring at the mouth of Bahia Mosquito on ViequesOur previous evening's weird experience with the phosphorescent phytoplankton in Bahia Mosquito more than compensated for our "lumpy" mooring, but we were happy to leave it behind early the next morning. Our next destination, the small port of Esperanza, was a mere six miles to the west along Vieques' southern shore.

The embarcadero in Esperanza on Vieques, with Quetzal anchored in the distanceWe anchored behind small, protective islands and dinghied in to the sandy beach. Things were very quiet in Esperanza but we couldn't tell if this was because it was still early in the day, it was off-season, or maybe it was always like this. The profusion of bars and restaurants lining the embarcadero led us to think that we were just a little too early, either in the day or in the season.

Closed bars and restaurants line the embarcadero in Esperanza on ViequesWe followed our noses down the road to what smelled like breakfast and found Belly Button's, the only open restaurant in the area. As we experienced at Mamacita's on Culebra, the restaurant was staffed by American expatriates. We each ordered the breakfast special--two eggs any style, home fries, toast and fruit--and were pleasantly surprised at how good it all was. Homemade bread, ripe fruit, fresh-squeezed juice and excellent coffee with real cream put us all in a festive mood. John commented, "This sure beats my galley breakfasts." Yes, I thought, this is even better than turkey bacon.

Breakfast at Belly Button's in Esperanza on Vieques: Nan, John, Genie and DallasWe settled up with our kind waitress, who gave us directions to the local supermercado, and we took off again down the road and then inland a few blocks. The refrigeration aboard Quetzal was not working, so we needed to buy bags of ice as well as beer, wine and other supplies. We lugged it all back to the dinghy and took a low, wet ride back to the boat.

Our anchorage near Playita on the southern coast of Puerto RicoWe pulled up the anchor and headed west in a smooth broad reach, leaving behind the Spanish Virgin Islands for Puerto Rico. I manned the helm while John and Dallas pored over the charts, trying to figure out where we should anchor that night. They also consulted A Cruising Guide to Puerto Rico, including the Spanish Virgin Islands by Stephen J. Pavlidis, which didn't have much of anything positive to say about any of the ports we would encounter before we reached Ponce, our trip's final destination. In the end, we sailed close enough to shore to see where there might be a cluster of "sticks," as Dallas called masts, and settled for Playita just before sunset.

Sun setting behind Quetzal at our anchorage near Playita on the southern coast of Puerto RicoNan and I would have opted for a dinghy ride to shore to check out the town and maybe find some fresh seafood, but that was not in the plans. It was "Mayan spaghetti" night, an opportunity to finally taste the dish that John is famous for. I am not at liberty to reveal the secret ingredients except to say that it was a little salty but not too bad. I ate two big helpings, but Nan fed half of hers to the fish.