“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


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Newly Salted

We were recently asked to share our experiences and a bit of our background for the blog Newly Salted.  Our interview is  below, but please also check out the experiences that many other cruisers have shared on their site: http://newlysalted.blogspot.com/


About Us

Stacey was born & raised in Milford, CT and grew up power-boating on Long Island Sound and the Housatonic River.

Jesse was born & raised on the South Shore of Massachusetts and grew up sailing on Buzzards Bay and fishing the Cape Cod Canal.

Summer, our dog, is an Australian Cattle dog-mix.  She is now about 10 years old.  We adopted her as a pup and she has been sailing with us since we got her.

Being typical “Type A” personalities, we spent most of our adult life dedicated to our careers.  Jesse was a geologist and worked in the consulting industry cleaning up petroleum and chemical spills.  Stacey was an accountant and worked in public accounting firms and private investment companies.  The two of us had become disenfranchised with the idea of defining ourselves by our jobs and didn’t want to wait until retirement to live life. So, we sold everything (house, cars, etc), quit the jobs, and, in September 2015, a couple days before Stacey’s 40th birthday, we sailed away.  Now we are trying to fill our lives with experiences and fun.

Our sailing vessel is Smitty, our Catalina 310.  We have owned her for almost seven years now, mostly cruising the coast of New England and living aboard her prior to our departure (yes – we lived aboard in Boston during the snowiest winter on record! See Blizzard of 2015 as a Liveabord ).  In September 2015, we untied the lines and set sail south from Hingham, MA (Smitty’s home port – just south of Boston). We sailed all down the US East Coast (primarily via the ICW), Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spanish Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, and British Virgin Islands.


Q & A

As you started cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?

Both of our jobs required us to manage various projects at the same time and still meet all deadlines. For us, the most difficult transition was to learn to slow down and enjoy life.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?

When we bought our boat our initial intent wasn’t to cruise on her full-time; we bought a boat that worked for what we wanted at that time. That being said, the Catalina 310 was produced to be a coastal cruiser and does not have capacity to hold a lot of water. We were ok with this fact and set sail anyway, we assumed we could get water in most locations we were going.  This was correct, until we wanted to cruise in more remote areas in other countries.  We have since installed a water maker. 

What pieces of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?

Our Catalina 310 came with a microwave.  We would often have microwave popcorn or heat up leftovers.  Once we left our homeport dock, we very rarely stayed at marinas, therefore, we very rarely used our microwave.  We learned how to make popcorn the “old-school” way (stove top) and gave away the microwave while in Puerto Rico.

What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?

I’m not sure if it was necessarily a mistake, but we spent way more money then we anticipated.  We were in “vacation mode” and did not stick to a budget. Our thought was that we would likely only see some of these places only once. I am glad we enjoyed them to their fullest, but I do wish we had more of a spending plan or budget in place.

What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?

To describe it in one word:  Beauty

The locations, the people, the sailing (well, except all the “Easting” of the Mona Passage),  the wild life (we still get excited when we see dolphins – especially swimming off our bow while under sail!), the color changes of the waters we have sailed, and of course the sunsets! It’s been an amazingly beautiful experience.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

I have been very surprised to see some cruisers (both US & foreign flagged vessels) having a complete disregard for the environment and ecosystems. We have seen them anchor on reefs, fishing and taking conch and lobster out of season or from no-take zones, and keeping undersized fish, conch and lobster. Even when we have gone over to let them know the rules they did not care!

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn’t find to be true?

We were told that when you slipped away from the dock you were leaving behind so many of the hassles of land life.  Often we heard the term “Stuff being left to dirt dwellers”.  Unfortunately, we often found that we would be on a beautiful beach, sitting around a fire with other cruisers and there would be talks of politics.; too much talk of politics. We thought that would be left on land but there seems to be lots of talk of politics at sundowners and pot lucks. 

What is something that you read or head about cruising, that you found to be particularly accurate?

“Just Go – Don’t Wait!”  We read and heard this often.  I can tell you from experience, this is a very true statement. If you don’t set a date and just go then you won’t do it.  The boat is never going to be 100% ready, there will always be more projects to complete or things that break that need to be fixed. If you wait until retirement or until the boat is done then who knows what your health or life circumstances will be in the future.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

I wish someone had told us that it is ok to live “outside the box of normal society”;  that it is ok to live life and you don’t have to do things that are “expected of you” .  We regret investing our hard-earned money into things like a house and cars – we wish we had invested those funds into cruising at an earlier age (like in our 20’s).

What are your plans now?  If they do not include cruising, tell us why?

Prior to leaving to cruise, both of us got our Captains license, with the expectation that we would need to pick up some work at some point, doing something, so why not do something we love!  We are currently anchored in Elephant Bay next to Water Island and St.Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, where we live on our boat and go out sailing as much as possible.  Jesse is a Captain – taking guests out sailing and snorkeling daily.  Stacey has been both Crew and Captain on various vessels but has most recently transitioned to an accounting-financial management position.  Our current plan is to continue to enjoy this beautiful paradise, build up the cruising kitty, complete more projects, and contemplate getting a bigger boat.  We are not done cruising, just on a break for a bit.


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Life on a Rock

I often get asked how I like living here in the Caribbean.  I guess the best way to describe it is some days I feel like I am living a Kenny Chesney song:

Drivin’ on the left side gotta be learned. Happy hours from 3 to 6 but it never really stops. …We got Rasta religions, and parrots and pigeons, Mango and salt on a stick.  Life is a lime and from time to time, I gotta go get my fix, yea. We roll with the flow, friends come and go. Usually by the edge of the dock. That’s just livin’ life on a rock.

Other days, I feel like we are just back to the same daily grind as everyone else…with the exception that we commute via our dinghy (our 10′ motor boat that gets us to and from Smitty & shore) and most of the time the weather is beautiful and warm.

When we were cruising (sailing from place to place and not formally working) every day was that fun summer song.  We sailed, we strolled the beaches, we swam/snorkeled, fished, and watched the sunset while having a cold drink from the cockpit of our boat. We rolled with the flow, friends came and went.

Now, we are back to scheduled days off, working on boat projects, and trying to save money. Our time with visiting friends is more like vacation – trying to show them all the “tourist” stuff and eating/drinking out.  We really are back to being liveaboards and not cruisers.  We very seldom take Smitty out anymore, as it is our home and a complete pain to prepare her to be “sail ready”. Sail ready to anyone that has never sailed on a monohull means that anything that can fall over will once under sail (when the boat heels or leans over); everything must be stowed away unless you want a mess to clean up or items to be broken.

At this point, we are transitioning into summer & slow-season in the islands.  There will be very little tourism which means it’s the ideal time to sail and visit all those anchorages that are normally packed. However, we do have to keep an eye out because hurricane season is acomin‘!

We are currently contemplating the future:  Perhaps sail south and stretch the limited funds that we have? Stay here and continue to work the same jobs? Find somewhere else to live & work – maybe back to the states (doubtful!), Puerto Rico, St. Croix, or St. Maarten? While we consider our options, Jesse is going to go sailing for a couple of weeks – delivering a boat from St.Thomas to Florida (details to come in a separate post). So  many things to think about, but on the plus side, we do live in paradise and now we have a water maker. 🙂


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St.Thomas living -First three months of 2017

Wow – we are now three months into 2017 and I haven’t written a blog post yet this year! Well, let’s fix that…

I feel like we have been on a bit of a roller coaster over the past couple months. In January, we were supposed to go to St. Maarten to see family, but the winds were honkin’ with sporadic gusts that churned up the seas during the exact time we had arranged to take off from our work obligations. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the trip. We were really bummed since we were looking forward to seeing our family for so long. I know it’s pretty far out, but we are already planning to make the trip next January when they are in St. Maarten again. Since we were already off from work, we decided to play tourist on St.Thomas. We rented a car and hit the popular tourist spots and went to all the beaches that you cannot get to by public transportation, including Magen’s Bay (where we got married 15 years ago).

Also in January, the pilot for Flying Fish Seaplane Tour quit and the company could not find a replacement. Unfortunately, since there were no more seaplane tours happening, there was no longer a need for a captain to bring guests to the seaplane, so Stacey no longer has a Captain job. And, now that it is high-season, all of the Captain-Crew jobs are filled; Stacey is currently working at a jewelry store. Jesse, on the other hand, has been busy sailing the 42-foot trimaran, Tribal, just about everyday.

We haven’t been out sailing much, my dad is in the hospital, and we have been busy working, in other words, we really needed a change. We did manage to sneak in a short trip to Christmas Cove to have pizza from the pizza boat, Pizza Pi. While there, we bumped into Lauren & Brian from Nightengale Tune – we had not seen them since the Bahamas. The next day, when we got back to our mooring after the night at Christmas Cove, I thought I heard a hail on the VHF calling Smitty. Odd, since we never have our VHF on when we are home (aka on our mooring), so who would try to hail us? ”Smitty, Smitty, Smitty, this is sailing vessel Wrightaway”. I was so excited to hear Deb’s voice! We had missed Deb, Keith, & Kai since we last saw them in the Bahamas. We knew they were making their way south but we didn’t expect them to be here so soon. Their timing was the real pick-me-up that we needed!

Over the past three months we have made new friends, but we have also watched as friends sailed away. We have recently learned that Jamie & Keith on Kookaburra are leaving St.Thomas to head to Long Island Sound. We wish them all the best but we will surely miss them! And lastly, Stacey said goodbye to her phone as it dove into the deep blue sea (a new one is on it’s way). 😦

And so, the boat projects continue on (we just completed the installation of a water maker!-WooHoo!) and we try to fit in sailing and fun. We are looking forward to a fun next couple of weeks: our friend Tim will be visiting, the St.Thomas Sailing Regatta, Carnival (think Mardi Gras) and Stacey’s family visiting in May.

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Magens Bay


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2016 in Review

I write this to you as I sit in the cockpit of Smitty, enjoying my morning coffee and wearing shorts and a t-shirt (aka my pajamas).  Smitty is anchored at our new Home Port in Elephant Bay just off of Water Island and St.Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. It’s warm and breezy and, for my second winter in a row, I am thoroughly enjoying not suffering through the cold and snow.

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Smitty at her home anchorage in the Virgin Islands.  She’s the one centered behind the reef.

January

Completed our traverse of the entire Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW). We entered at the Dismal Swamp in Virginia and ended when we crossed to No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Our first boat break-up:  Yes, Skelton Crew of sv Hullabaloo, I’m talking about you!  We miss you guys! For those that do not recall, they called it quits and took their boat back home. 😦

Lived on the boat on the hard (aka on dry land) in Indiantown, FL for a week. But at least we finally got to meet up with some sailors whose blogs we have followed for several years that inspired us to get out here now. Thanks MJ Sailing and the Cynical Sailor and His Salty Sidekick!  

Our first overnight passage in open water:  Florida to Bahamas Crossing. 

Raised the yellow quarantine flag and sailed into our first foreign port:  Bimini, Bahamas.

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Our first overnight anchoring on a large body of water with no land in site on the Bahamas Bank.

February – April:  Bahamas

The best sailing day ever happened as we traveled off the coast of Eleuthera; lovingly referred to as “The Day”, which included dolphins (of course).  This write-up is published in the most recent issue of Cruising Outpost (our first paid article!).

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We traveled extensively through the Bahamas for a several months:  Swam with the pigs at Staniel Cay, left our mark on BooBoo Hill in the Exumas Land & Sea Park, harvested our first conch at Lee Stocking Island, had our first overnight visitor on sv Smitty in Georgetown, checked out the Bahamas Family Regatta, swam with turtles at Conception, swam with a wild dolphin at Red Shanks, swam Dean’s Blue Hole in Long Island, had our first beach fire on Cat Island, snorkeled, hiked, fished, and best of all, met so many great people.

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 May – first part of June:  Turks & Caicos and Dominican Republic

We visited Turks & Caicos – where we met sv Sea Frog and sv Party of Five (thanks Barbara Hart!) and met back up with sv Last Tango and sv Odoya. All of which (except sv Odoya) we traveled with for the next few months.

We learned to play Mexican Train.  I still really suck at it, but thank you to Quincy on sv Party of Five for teaching me how to play.

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Responded to our first “May Day” call from another vessel: The Three Passages: Part 1 – Turks & Caicos to the Dominican Republic

After a rough passage with thunderstorms and confused seas, we arrived in Luperon, Dominican Republic on May 30.  We visited Puerto Plata, where we jumped and slid off the 27 Waterfalls, and sailed to Samana, a luxurious resort where we only paid $1/ft per night. 

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Second part of June – July:  Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgin Islands

We made it through the Mona Passage and arrived safely in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. The Three Passages: Part 3 – The Mona Passage

We sailed and toured southern Puerto Rico and took a car trip to San Juan. img_3734

We got to see first hand what happens to a boat that got struck by lightening. Puerto Rico

We visited the Spanish Virgin Islands:  Culebra & Culebrita 

August – December:  British & US Virgin Islands

We have been sailing around and checking out various islands (and bars!) in the Virgin Islands since August.  We were so happy to have been able to share this experience with our “L Dock” buddies (Captain Ken and sv Sunshine are officially L Dock buddies now!) that came down and chartered two boats in December.

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We attended our first Full-Moon Party at Trellis Bay, BVI

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We set up our new home base (recovered a mooring system that was abandoned), thanks to Jamie & Keith on sv Kookaburra. We can’t thank these two enough for all the help and guidance they have given us (and they are super fun to hang out with!). 🙂

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Stacey with Keith & Jamie of sv Kookaburra

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View of Magen’s Bay  – where we got married almost 15 years ago

We have officially registered Smitty Ditty (the dinghy) and Smitty in the US Virgin Islands. We officially removed Smitty from the Hingham, MA tax assessors list…I think we are now considered sea gypsies.

We have decided that St.John in the USVI is still our favorite island and we are trying to figure out a way to live and work there.

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Maho Beach, St.John

This is the first year since we have been old enough to work that we did not earn enough income to meet the requirement to file tax returns.

Jobs in paradise:  trying to offset our spending and build our savings back up:

Stacey has been crew on a sailing catamaran (up to 80 guests at a time) and a power catamaran (up to 130 guests at a time). Currently, Stacey is Captain of the motor vessel that takes guests from the shore to the Sea Plane in the harbor. Bonus: Stacey got to go on a Sea Plan ride – landing on the water…this has been on her life “bucket list” since the first time that she was in St.Thomas over 20 years ago. Flying Fish Seaplane Tours

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Flying Fish Seaplane Tours

Jesse is Captain of the sailing trimaran Tribal.  He takes up to 10 guests at a time sailing, snorkeling, and fishing. This boat is what racing sailors would call a “rocket ship” – it’s super fast! Jesse has gotten it up to 28 knots under sail. Tribal Day Sails

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We celebrated our first Christmas in the Caribbean; complete with a boat parade and steel drum bands.

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In summary, we have been to so many beautiful places and have met so many wonderful people that are now friends for life. We have had to endure storms, inconsiderate cruisers, and other challenges. We have had good days and bad days. But, in the end, it’s been an amazing journey that we absolutely do not regret.  We plan to spend 2017 in the Virgin Islands, as we work to build the cruising kitty back up, however, we will sneak in some fun trips as well (like St.Marteen in January – get ready Frank we are coming for you!)

Big Hugs to our family & friends – we miss you all so much!

Happy & Health New Year to All!

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It’s a Long Story that Involves a Goat, a Bottle of Tequila, and a Pitching Wedge

Even before we left our homeport of Massachusetts, some of our boating friends were already talking about renting a boat and sailing around with us in the British Virgin Islands.  At that point I was skeptical if we would make it to the Caribbean, never mind make plans with others.  But a couple of months after we left, those same friends started to ask when we thought we might be in the Caribbean because they wanted to book a boat.  It was so exciting to know that I would see them again but at the same time it is so hard to commit to being somewhere by a certain date when one is traveling by sailboat. But, it did all come together and on December 9th and 10th two groups of friends flew down to St.Thomas then ferried over to Tortola, BVI to get on two catamarans and sail around the British Virgin Islands with us!

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Jesse and I dinghied over to the Indians to meet up with the crew of sv Bear Necessities:  Pam aka Pamalama, Chris aka Big C, Chris aka Cooley, Liz, Dan aka Pants, Kerrie aka Kerrie Time, Steve, and Meaghan.  It was so unreal to see our friends sailing up, it just didn’t feel real, I felt like we were watching a video of them or something.  Then, watching them do a piss poor job of picking up a mooring was just comical.  To be fair, although most of the crew owns boats, none have ever operated a catamaran.  Before they were even all tied up I was on the boat crying and hugging everyone, still it did not seem real!

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We snorkeled the Indians and then had a very short motor passage over to The Bight, where sv Smitty was already anchored.  Bear Necessities picked up a mooring with 100% improvement vs the first attempt earlier that day, and we were right back into step like we were at Worlds End in Hingham, MA – floats off the back in the water, tied with dock lines so we wouldn’t lose anyone and drinks all around.

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We all decided to get rinsed off and changed to head over to the 100’ Schooner, The William E. Thornton aka The Willy T, for drinks and dinner.  After a while, we noticed that one of the dinghies (Bear Necessities had two dinghies for their group of eight) was still missing.  They had decided to go on a trip around the anchorage when we went back to Smitty but they were now MIA.  Jesse and I figured that maybe they already had gone over to the Willy T so we headed over to the Willy T, but upon arrival, their dinghy wasn’t there either.  Hmmm, they must be down at the other restaurant, let’s go check.  As we pull up to the dock Liz and Kerrie come running over to us and all I hear is them say “It’s Bad!”  Uh Oh – what are they talking about?….

As Liz, Kerrie, Pam, Cooley, and Chris were walking the beach they saw some guys playing Jenga.  This isn’t the normal table size Jenga, but the super-sized version that consists of large pieces of wood (think 2 x 4 size pieces).  After they watched one of the participants use two hands, someone jokingly said “hey that’s cheating you can’t use two hands”, from here I am not exactly sure of the story, I don’t know if the guy was drunk or angry or just joking but next thing I know for sure is that a our friend got knocked in the face with this piece of wood that the Jenga player threw at the group for whatever stupid reason!  The blow was hard enough to shatter the lens of his sunglasses and bring him to his knees. Due to concern that he may have a fractured skull or damage to his eye (which was already extremely swollen and black & blue and bleeding) and he likely has a concussion, the restaurant called VISAR (Virgin Island Search and Rescue) to come and pick up our friend in order to bring him to the nearest hospital, back on Tortola!

Keep in mind, this is day one, these guys have paid literally thousands of dollars to take this vacation and now it may be over, and, this particular friend is the qualified captain of sv Bear Necessities, I really can’t believe this is happening!

So, off our friend and his girlfriend went to go back to Tortola in a large RIB boat that goes something like 65 mph. Jesse dropped me off at the Willy T to tell the other half of the crew what was going on and he went to drop off the other three so they can change.  At this point, no one feels like having fun, we all have that awful feeling like we just found out a friend died – everyone was just in a state of shock.  Then just as I finished telling everyone what’s happening, the second group of friends gets to the Willy T and they, of course are all excited and ready to party with everyone. So, I repeat the story to the crew of sv Sunshine:  Deb, Whitey, Sarah, Amanda, and Ken. Then, I’m not sure how the turn of events happened, but we all decided that our friend would be more pissed if he knew that we were sitting around not having fun because of what happened…so, we decided to do what we all do best together – DRINK! 

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Willy T

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sv Sunshine  – Whitey, Amanda, Deb, Sarah, and Captain Ken

And from that point the shenanigans ensued, there were naked jumpers from the top deck, naked body shots, board shots, dancing, tattoos (fake), and so much ass slapping!  Oh, and let’s not forget about how one drunken person fell into the water three times while trying to get into the dinghy to go back to his boat (Cooley!), and not on purpose.

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Meanwhile, two of friends were on Tortola.  Our friend had his head x-rayed and underwent other tests and further examination is required by an eye specialist once he gets back to the states.  I cannot speak highly enough about VISAR and Moorings.  VISAR very quickly responded and professionally handled the situation.  Moorings arranged for our friends to spend the night on a boat that was at their home base and kept the restaurant open late so they can eat and brought them back to Norman’s Island the next day.

It took a lot of convincing, and pain meds, but our friend did decide to stay in the BVI.  By the end of the week he was feeling better enough to joke about his incident a little.  I tried to get him to wear a Pirate eye patch but he said he wouldn’t wear one unless we found and caught a live parrot for his shoulder (epic fail). He also was joking that the VISAR crew all wore helmets but did not give “the guy with the head injury” a helmet to wear.  We joked about how no one is ever going to believe this story so we might as well spin it to something that sounds just as preposterous…like telling people “It’s a Long Story that Involves a Goat, a Bottle of Tequila, and a Pitching Wedge”.

  Again, this was day one of their visit, more stories to come…


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Culebra & Culebrita

After leaving Salinas, along with of sv Party of Five, sv Sea Frog, and sv Last Tango we headed east on an overnight passage to Culebra. Although there was no wind and we were, once again, making our way under power, we had flat seas and a beautiful night, that is until the motor stalled!  She started right back up and we continued on our merry way, when, a few minutes later she stalled again! It is not like Smitty to act up like this, obviously something is wrong- better let the armada know we may have an issue. Again, she started right back up and again about 15 minutes later she stalled – this time we were dead in the water.  Captain Jesse went down below looked over a few things and decided that a fuel filter change would do the trick to resolve our issue.  We started her back up and she ran great from that point on.:)  We safely arrived in Ensenada Honda, Culebra the next day.

Culebra, part of Puerto Rico but is often referred to as one of the Spanish Virgin Islands, is located 17-miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland and about 12-miles west of St.Thomas. For such a small island she packs a ton of beauty.  There are several beautiful beaches, most of which have incredible snorkeling.  There is only one tiny little town and the only way to get there is via boat.

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Hector el protector – made out of wood pallets from the junk yard by Thomas Dambos. The sculpture protects the island from visitors with bad intentions towards the nature of the island.

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Flamenco Beach – voted one of the world’s most beautiful beaches

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Tanks on Flamenco Beach

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Just a stones throw from Culebra, Culebrita has beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, hiking, a lighthouse, and a bubbly pool.

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Smitty at anchor in a Culebrita bay

After a short little sail over from Culebra, we hiked to the top of Culebrita to see the Culebrita Lighthouse and, of course, to take in the breathtaking views.

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Once the oldest operating lighthouse in the Caribbean, Culebrita Lighthouse was closed by the US Navy in 1975. This lighthouse served as an aid to navigation through the Virgin Passage and the Vieques Sound connecting in the Puerto Rico Light System with the Cape San Juan Light. The United States Coast Guard has replaced the lighthouse with a solar powered light beacon. Over the years, several hurricanes have damaged this structure and, currently, the lighthouse is in danger of collapsing.

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Culebrita Lighthouse 2016

Fun Fact:  

Culebrita has wild goats.  I thought this was a myth but Summer quickly proved us wrong.

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Summer found some wild goats on Culebrita

After we went to just about every spot to snorkel and ate at Zacos Tacos at least twice (so awesome!), it was time for us to once again get a move on.  It was already August and we needed to prepare for the heart of hurricane season. Next up:  the Virgin Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Puerto Rico

Arriving in Puerto Rico marked our first time clearing into an American controlled area. Since we left for the Bahamas in January we have been outside of the US.  Prior to leaving for the Bahamas, I researched what would be needed for our entry into Puerto Rico. The prime thing that is needed is a US Customs Decal.

To get the US Customs Decal you visit the website for US Customs and Border Protection [https://dtops.cbp.dhs.gov/main/#].  Its a relatively simple process to register as a user and then apply for a decal online.  Within 5 days our decal number was issued and it could be viewed online. The actual physical decal showed up at my farther’s house several weeks later. But all you really need is the decal number. The fee is $27.50 for a year for a private vessel and there was an online user fee of $5 as well.

When we arrived in Puerto Rico we flew the yellow Q flag, as you do when ever you enter a new country. But since this was an American controlled area and we already had our US Customs Decal the process got considerably easier for us.  We simply called into the local US Customs and Immigration office (the number was on Active Captain and in information the marina gave us when we arrived). We were able to check in over the phone following a 10 minute conversation that mostly covered spots not to miss while in Puerto Rico. Sea Frog and Last Tango didn’t have a US Customs Decal and had to rent a car the next day to go to the US Customs and Immigration office to get their decal. Party of Five are Canadians so all five of them had to go to the office to present and show valid passports.

The marina we choose to make our initial base for clearing in and provision was Marina Pescaderia in Port Real (Mayaguez) .  It was a medium sized marina with decent facilities. The best part of the marina was the little restaurant at the end of the dock. The people that worked there were great! Nelly, the young women who is the chef is great and creative. She even played dominos with us one night. The bar was cool and had great fresh cocktails. They introduced me to one of my favorite new island drinks: Scotch with coconut water and coconut water ice cubes.

The marina also offered reasonable car rentals.  You could get a compact car for around $30 a day right there. Which was great because within a short drive there were all kinds of great options for provisions and supplies.  We hit a Home Depot, Walmart, Sam’s Club and a decent grocery store. The prices were really close to what we had in the States and that was a great break for the budget from the expensive Bahamas. We had a car with Travis and Daph from Party of Five.  We filled it to capacity twice!

Totally restocked and having our fill of marinas over the past week, it was time to head out on the hook again. We thought a short jump down to Boqueron would be a good way to get acclimated to being on the hook again. It was only 6 nm from the marina. One at a time we took turns moving from our slips to the fuel dock and then off towards the anchorage.  Party of Five was first, followed by Sea Frog and then us. Last Tango and Sea Squirrel would go last.

About halfway to the anchorage we started seeing some really dark clouds and hearing thunder. We called ahead to Party of Five. They were just about to anchor and thought the clouds would push south of the anchorage from their vantage point. We decided to speedup and try to anchor before any potential storm hit. We also called back to the other boats that they may want to wait at the marina for this storm to pass. We anchored just as it started to down pour, however, our anchor set didn’t feel right. We decided to set the anchor alarm and watch the GPS. We could reset after the storm passed if we still didn’t like our set.

Party of Five’s thoughts that the storm would pass south of us were wrong. We got a full brunt of the storm. We had winds around 35 knots with driving rain and lots of thunder and lightening.  The other two boats made it into the harbor and anchored before the storm really picked up.

We started to drag from high winds. I sat in the cockpit with the engine running ready to take action if we dragged too close to any other boats.  We were only slowly dragging, so our thoughts were to wait it out if possible and re-anchor after the storm passed.  While I was sitting in the cockpit, I was watching lightening strike all around us on land and out near the mouth of the harbor. The storm really resembled the “charging like bulls” description from the Thornless Path.

After about 30 minutes, the storm was starting to slow and it looked like the end was coming. Just then there was the loudest crack of thunder & lightening I have ever heard. The hair on my arms stood up from the electricity being so close. I immediately picked up the VHF and asked if everyone was ok.  Party of Five responded, “we were hit!” and then nothing…..

It took a few seconds for that to register and about a minute later they came back on their handheld VHF. Everyone was ok. Most of their electronics appeared to have been fried by the hit, including their primary VHF. They were beginning the analysis of what was damaged and what still worked.

With the storm subsiding we re-anchored. When we brought up the anchor we had a 10 foot piece of pipe and some old anchor chain caught under our anchor that prevented us from setting well.  We moved over to a better sand patch and set the anchor again.  Feeling more confident in our holding, I packed up all my electrical tools and supplies and headed over to Party of Five. Travis and I worked for several hours to figure out what was still operational.  Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of the electronics to still be working. After a few hours we called it for the night and planned to resume the next morning.

The next morning Stacey, Summer and I went over to Party of Five to resume working on the boat. Sea Frog offered to come over but they were both sick and didn’t want to expose us to their illness. Last Tango had offered to come over for moral support but didn’t have much in the way of technical skills to help.  Sea Squirrel had left at first light to maintain their schedule. Travis, Rhonda and I spent the day going through the boat while Stacey and Summer kept the kids entertained. Rhonda went up the mast to do an inspection for damage and to diagnose what was damaged by the strike. We also setup some backup navigation options (lap top running Open CPN, Navionics on a phone, etc.). Using Stacey’s cellphone as a hot spot, Travis was able to order new items to replace the damaged ones. We picked a marina on the southern coast of PR as base to stay at while repairs would be made and the parts were shipped there from Defender. (Side note on Defender, when they found out what happened Defender upgraded the shipping at no charge so that the parts would get to Party of Five sooner. Great people at Defender!)

You can read all about Party of Five’s experience with the lightening strike on their blog post, Shocking!

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We left at dawn to head to the next anchorage.  To get on the southern coast of PR, we first had to round a cape. The Thornless Path recommends a technique for attacking the southern coast.  You leave at dawn, sail as far as your can before noon and then tuck into a harbor before the afternoon breeze kicks up.  The trades are still going from east to west so heading east means heading into the wind. You can sail a little more here though.  You would sail southeast until around 10 am and then tack and head back towards land. 

Once we rounded Cape Rojo we were official in the Caribbean Sea! Our little 31 foot sailboat has now traveled as far north as Maine and as far south as the Caribbean. 🙂

With a pieced together Party of Five, we decided to motor sail due east and stay as close to the coast as we could rather than sail following the directions in the Thornless Path.  This let us stay within the protection of some of the points of land and islands along the coast.  Using this coverage we were able to make good progress well into the early afternoon.  We made it to our chosen anchorage by Gunica, also known as Gilligan’s Island by the locals.

Gilligan’s Island had a great lagoon in the middle of the island.  It was where two channels through the mostly mangrove island cut through the islands and form a wide, shallow lagoon.  The current runs from the ocean side to the lagoon.  Using the mangroves to assist, you make your way against the current to the southern end of the island to where the two channels join on that side of the islands.  Then you can float back down either channel like a lazy river. You can also climb up the mangroves and jump off into the channels. We stayed a couple of nights until we had confirmation that Party of Five’s new electronics had been delivered to Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.

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We made our way to Ponce.  The Yacht and Fishing Club was expensive for a night but had a great weekly rate. At first Party of Five took a slip while the rest of us anchored. But after a couple of nights in the rolly anchorage, we moved into a slip as well.  We all took advantage of being at the club. There were a couple of pools, showers, a grill, tables for socializing, and an address where we could have packages shipped from Amazon. We played dominos and Cards Against Humanity and had a pot luck dinner with some other cruisers that were staying at the club.

The marina proved to be a great location to get Party of Five repaired. Once the packages were in we were able to get almost all of the broken electronics replaced within the first couple of days of repairs. Unfortunately, one of the things we discovered about lightening strikes is that more things will break after time.  Alternators caught fire, computers were found to be broken, plastic bushings were melted from the heat, ignition switches broke. There was little rhyme or reason to what had broke and what didn’t.

A happy coincidence of our little armada was that three of us had birthdays within a week of each other.  Not just a birthday but we were all born within days of each other. Kendra, Rhonda and myself were all the exact same age.  So for a week we were celebrating a birthday every other day. I just wanted a beer and some steak. Kendra wanted sushi. Rhonda wanted a girls day at the mall. We had a lot of fun.

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We also took a cab ride into Ponce and hung out in the city for the day. We toured the old fire station. We also did a walking tour of the historic parts of the city. Ponce was a great place with lots of history. Unfortunately, we timed it wrong and the art museum wasn’t open. We still got to see a lot of great things in Ponce.

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Ponce is actually named after Ponce de Leon and his family crest, the Lion, can be seen everywhere.

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We kept hearing that the must do attraction for the area was Coffin Island. It was only about 5 nautical miles off the coast of Ponce. We thought this would make a perfect shakedown trip for Party of Five. So all of us, including Summer, piled onto Party of Five and headed out to the island. The wind was about 20 knots on the nose with some steep chop.  It was a good test for the repaired boat. It was also our first time being on a cruising catamaran. I have to say we were shocked by how loud the banging on the hulls was from the waves as we powered into it. Travis said this wasn’t bad and they had far worse on some of the crossings we had recently. I can tell you Summer didn’t like it and has been a little shy on visiting catamarans since.

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After a few weeks in Ponce Party of Five was mostly repaired and it was time to start heading east again. We intended to leave at first light.  At 6 AM, I was up and walking Summer when the rising sun illuminated large, dark gray thunderheads. A quick check of the radar confirmed the ominous clouds had some squalls heading our way. After a quick conversation on the VHF we all decided not to leave. By 9 AM, the squalls seemed to have passed us by and we were off for Salinas. It was a short, uneventful motor sail into the wind. Shortly after lunch time we had our anchor down in an anchorage surrounded by mangroves.

Salinas was chock full of manatees. We haven’t seen so many of these sea cows in one spot since we left Florida. We had lots of fun watching them surface for air while feeding on the marine vegetation. True to form these guys were not spooked by engines or boats and we could get pretty close to them in dinghies or kayaks. Of course we never got any good photos or videos of them.

salinas-001Salinas has a great cruisers bar named Sal Pa’Dentro run by Janus and his wife. In November 2015, they had suffered a fire that destroyed their bar. However, you would never know it by their great attitude and the current condition of the bar. They have worked hard to reopen the bar as quick as possible.  The one thing they lost that they couldn’t replace were all the gifts from passing cruisers. We helped add to the rebuilding by leaving a burgee from our home port marina.

Sea Frog rented a car for the day and we tagged along on a trip to Old San Juan. We walked all around the island and checked out the historic fortifications and buildings. The architecture in this area is truly unique. Old world with some Caribbean flare.

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After several days exploring Salinas we were anxious to get to the Spanish Virgin Islands. Going on advice from Janus and other locals, we chose to skip Vieques. Unfortunately, they are having an issue with crime right now with stolen dinghies and anchored boats being broken into.  Instead we chose to follow some local knowledge from Janus and head out at midnight with the intent of making it all the way to Culebra.