“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


5 Comments

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.

Collage for blog.jpg

mermaids chair

Magens Bay


15 Comments

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!

boqueron-001

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.

gilligans-1-001

gilligans-2-001

gilligans-3-001

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.

ponce-girls-day-001

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.

firehouse-001

firehouse-description-001

fire-truks-001

lion-fountains-001

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

lions-001

uss-ponce-001

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.

coffin-island-001

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.

san-juan-arch-001

san-juan-1-001

san-juan-2-001

san-juan-stairs-001

san-juan-fort-001

san-juan-cemetary-001

san-juan-wall-001

san-juan-fort-2-001

san-juan-3-001

san-juan-greengos-001

san-juan-iguana-001

seahorse

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.


2 Comments

Dominican Republic

DR1

As the sun was rising, we began to see the breathtaking views of the Dominican Republic (DR or DomRep).  Our first stop was Luperon.  The bay here is stunning – picture the mountains of New England with a line of mangroves at the foothills that roll right into the water.  Everything here is so lush and green.  The bay is an ideal hurricane hole for boats of all sizes and the food and beverages are shockingly cheap.  I can see why so many people end up moving here permanently.  If it wasn’t for the poor water-quality (definitely no swimming!), we would have spent much longer here.

DR2

Luperon – Puerto Plata

I cannot say that it is easy to check in at this port of call.  First of all, my Spanish es no bueno, or shall I say my Spanglish, so dealing with several different officials (whom speak/understand very little or no english) was a bit of a challenge. 

Step one:  The Marina Guerra (Coast Guard) will board your boat as soon as you are anchored or moored. No $ is required to give to them but be ready with copies of passports, vessel documentation, departure form from last port of call, and ice cold beers (yes, they absolutely will ask for beer!)

Step two:  The Captain goes to shore with all of the same documents and tries to figure out which of the three rooms in a very hot, not air-conditioned trailer to go to first and what fees are actually due.  The fees that are required to be paid are not clearly documented, so when you go to check-in by boat be sure to bring lots of pesos or USD.  The cost for our 31-foot vessel with two adults and one dog was as follows (amounts in USD):    Cruising Permit/Other Fee $60,  Tourist Card- $10 per person,  Harbor Charge $25 (for a 10-day stay)

Step Three: When you are ready to leave, you play a similar game in order to get your despacho (exit permit).  However, no fees are required to leave.

DR3

We decided to make a day-trip to Damajaqua Cascades (27 waterfalls) with the crews of sv Sea Frog and sv Party of Five.  So, trying to figure out how to get nine people there was a bit of a challenge.  Travel choices in the DR are as follows:  car rental, guagua*, donkey/horse, or motoconchos**.

*Guagua is a small car or van that is overstuffed with people (you will literally see people overflowing from the vehicle), far exceeding their recommended (safe) capacity.

**Motoconcho is a motorbike that is used for public transportation.  You will see as many as four adults + children on one bike.  You will also see furniture and other large items being moved on these bikes.

DR TRAVEL

As we had a former local resident in our mix (thank you Darren!), he hooked us up with a rental….which turned out to be someone’s personal SUV (not the van that we were expecting)…thank god we were traveling with three skinny kids!

DR WATERALLS

We spent another day touring Puerto Plata.  We took in the sites,  made & smoked cigars at the Cigar Factory, drank rum on the Brugal Rum Factory tour, ate chocolate on the tour at the Del Oro Chocolate Factory, and of course had beers on the beach.

DR PUERTO PLATA

DR RUM

DR FORT

DR CIGARS

After leaving Luperon, we stayed a couple nights in Samana in order to wait out weather before making our way across the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico.

SAMANA

DSC SUNSET


Leave a comment

Cost to Cruise – May 2016

May marks the month we finally left the Bahamas;  so our costs for this month includes entry fees for Turks & Caicos and Dominican Republic.  We also got a bit overzealous when we went to a ‘real’ grocery store – we definitely bought some pricey items and treated ourselves.

May 2016  TOTAL $ 2,413.27

$  245.00     CUSTOMS – ENTRY FEES

$  340.80     MARINA

$  861.55     GROCERIES

$  491.24     ENTERTAINMENT (eating out, alcohol, and excursions)

$    42.00     BOAT PARTS & OTHER

$  219.68     FUEL (Diesel & Gasoline)

$  170.00     COMMUNICATION

$    30.00     LAUNDRY

$    13.00     PROPANE

         Summary of previous months’ Totals*:

April 2016         $ 1,956.78

March 2016      $ 3,149.20

February 2016  $ 1,851.99

*previous month’s are detailed in prior posts


5 Comments

Turks & Caicos

 

DSC_5098

Turtle Rock

DSC_5094

Water color changes:  darker blue (close) is the deep water; the beautiful turquoise is the more shallow water

DSC_5096

After a 36-hour passage from Long Island, Bahamas, we arrived in Providenciales (Provo) in the country Turks & Caicos.  Our plan was to have a 7-day or less stopover here in order to provision, take on water and fuel and wait for a weather window to head to the Dominican Republic.  Staying any later then 7-days in this country would mean that we would have to pay an additional hefty fee – No Thanks! 

This island was full of resorts and a fee is required by each resort in order to enter and go to their beaches and restaurants.  All of the nice beaches are privately owned (residences or resorts) and nothing is within walking distance.  The marina owner was nice enough to drive the cruisers to the grocery store each day; other than that, we did not spend any time outside of the marina.

DSC_5101

Several boats that are headed to the Caribbean had come into this marina in Provo within a day or so of each other.  We quickly made friends with Kendra (Owner/Captain) & Darren (Crew) on sv Sea Frog; you can follow her travels on Where is Kendra – My Adventures on Sea Frog. And, thanks to Barbara Hart on sv La Luna (published author and blogger – check out Harts at Sea)  for the introductions, we met up with Rhonda & Travis and their three kids (Quincy, Jonah, Daphnie) on sv Party of Five. This family is on a plan to sail the world! You can follow them at Party of Five.

Turks & Caicos-001

sv Sea Frog                                                                        sv Party of Five

DSC_5127

Left to Right adults:  Darren, Kendra, Rhonda, Travis, Fabio (sv Odoya), Stacey                                                                                                                                      Kids of sv Party of Five:  Jonah, Quincy, and Daphnie

DSC_5128

In order to stage to jump to Luperon, Dominican Republic, we headed to South Caicos.  We anchored in Cockburn Harbor.  We were surprised that this sleepy little town was having a huge party – their Annual Regatta.  This regatta included sail and power boat races, junkanoo, face painting, games, bands, food & beverages.  A few of the more daring guys in our group ate turtle and did not feel so well later that night!

Collages

Turks & Caicos

DSC_5143

Great name for a boat:  RUM DRINKER 1

DSC_5268

Junkanoo performers

Finally, we paid an extra fee to the government official in order to check-out over the weekend, and we were off to Luperon the next day.


13 Comments

Boat Thoughts 10 Months Into Cruising

A blog follower recently asked us to give some updated thoughts on our boat and outfitting choices.  We have also been asked similar things by friends on Facebook and others who are thinking about sailing on a smaller than average boat.

In ten months of full time cruising we have put over 3,000 nautical miles under our keel.  For full time cruisers this puts us on the lower end but we have been enjoying ourselves on this slow pace that has allowed us to enjoy places like the Bahamas much more than other cruisers who pass through these places in a month or two. 

Our confidence in our boat and our abilities has grown exponentially in these ten months. We have been through good and bad and come out the other side more competent sailors who know where to push our boat and where not too.  Recently we left South Caicos for a 110 mile passage to Luperon, Dominican Republic in conditions that typically would have kept us at the dock back in Hingham. The experience has been more than I can put into words and we have no thoughts on turning back.  We just need to figure out how to make some money to keep it going.

Also, I firmly sit in the camp of it’s the sailor, not the boat.  Almost any boat out there is capable of putting up with more seas and winds then her crew.

The Boat: Size, Make, etc.

“It’s a production boat with a fin keel and spade rudder, you’re going to die if you take that off shore!”

“Your boat is too small and will go too slow for any buddy boating.”

“You won’t be able to carry enough provisions.”

These are some of the things we heard from internet forums, Facebook groups, and drunken sailors at bars and beaches during sundowners. The reality is that the majority of boats we see out cruising are production boats: Catalinas, Hunters, Jenneaus, Beneteaus, etc. In terms of numbers we see more Beneteaus than anything, with Catalinas coming in second and Hunters and Jenneaus about the same in number. The further south we go it seems like the more we see. 

It funny, the people in these lower end production boats seem to have gone further and cruised longer than many of the people in expensive semi-custom boats.  Every time we run into someone in a nice Cabo Rico or Caliber their idea of cruising is going from Florida to George Town, Bahamas and back every year. But that’s what makes this lifestyle great; everyone can do it their own way on their own boat.

The bottom line for us on boat make is you sail what you like.  If the interior layout and function of a Beneteau is what speaks to you then go with it.  If you like the feel of a big full keel boat under sail then that is the boat for you.  But don’t be dogmatic about it.  Don’t try to force your opinion on other sailors. Most of all, don’t suffer from confirmation bias by only listening to those who think and act the same as you.

I spent a lot of time reading and researching boat design, construction techniques, construction materials and hull shapes to come to my opinions.  I understand the advantages and disadvantages of a modern broad beam hull versus a traditional, narrow beam heavy displacement hull.  I also understand the differences in how you handle these boats under sail and how you weather a storm in them. You can’t substitute this research and you can’t outsource it.  If you plan to make a life at sea you need to put in the time. 

The age we live in is the best time in human history to do this research.  Take Robert Perry for instance.  He is one of the most prolific boat designers of any age of pleasure yacht building.  He has brought us beauties like the Valiant 40, Tayana 37, several Pacific Seacrafts and many others.  He writes books, he blogs and he posts on Facebook about his newest design, the carbon fiber cutter project. The access to information is so great.  Yet I will often hear or read people bragging about a feature on their boat as a safety design while a quick search will have you read in Bob’s own words that it was for marketing and ascetics. But people like to repeat their “old salt” opinion even when it has no basis in fact.  There are stickers in the local bar here in Luperon that read “barstool sailor”.  That best describes many of these opinions to me.  They like to brag about their knowledge or experience when most of it has little basis in fact.

On the size, this one is a little more complicated.  We have been on boats from 22 feet to 60 feet and they all have a different feel.  While we love cruising our Catalina 310, we could never fathom cruising a Catalina 320 despite it have over a foot of waterline on us.  The layout, the feel, even things like the displacement to sail area or the length to beam are completely different even though they came out of the same factory at the same time.  One example of this is that on many of the Catalina 320 wing keels the rudder extends to the bottom of the keel or just below.  With the Catalina 310 the rudder is about six inches shorter than the keel.  I consider this an important safety feature.  If/when you run aground its the keel that takes the blow not the rudder.  But I digress since this has more to do with design then size. My point being that it is very difficult to compare sizes of different makes and manufacturers.

We have never once felt that our boat was too small for the sea conditions.  We have been pooped several times now and find that our open transom is great. The water drains right out and I can never get more than ankle deep water in the cockpit.  We have friends on traditional “blue water” boats with small cockpits that fill up when pooped and they are often standing, or even sitting, in water.

Catalinas do have large cockpits.  We love this at anchor, which is where you spend most of your time.  In heavy seas this is seen as a liability.  We have owned our boat for over 5 years now and know how to move around the cockpit in seas.  I suspect this is the same for every boat, including catamarans.  At the end of passages its not uncommon to compare “boat bites”; those injuries you get from being tossed around in seas or slipping while trying to handle the boat.

The same can be said for the open layout of the salon.  It lakes handholds, places to brace yourself, etc. While this is true to some extent, it can be mitigated. We added a set of drawers for provisions with a table top.  This also expanded our hand holds.  We could even do more to improve on hand holds around the cabin.

Comfort motion is something we also heard would be unbearable in a production boat.  The reality is that when you have a short period and significant height waves combined, it’s not going to be comfortable.  You are going to limit your time below deck and stay immobile in the cockpit as much as possible.  And this holds for all boat types. There will be times that the seas will be uncomfortable.  You mitigate this by picking your weather window as best you can and preparing by having things like drinks and snacks in the cockpit before you set out.

Bottom line is we have discussed if want to get a bigger or different boat several times.  We have looked and can’t seem to find anything else we like better for the cost to purchase, outfit and maintain.  We are very satisfied with Catalina 310 as our cruising/living platform and don’t think we will be changing anytime soon.

Provisioning

For our size we can hold several months of food without trying too hard. We can probably hold less than say a Bristol Channel Cutter 22 despite having several feet of waterline on that boat.  This does come with some sacrifices. Many of the cruisers we met in the Bahamas left the US with 20, 30 even 50 cases of beer on board.  We only had 3 cases of beer.  That meant we bought more beer in the Bahamas where the average price for a case of local beer was $45 a case.  A case of Guinness would cost you $75. You couldn’t even find a good IPA or other craft beer. 

We also ate a lot of canned chicken and pork in the Bahamas.  Our freezer isn’t that big and carrying lots of frozen meat is not possible.  Buying chicken breast (boneless, skinless) in the Bahamas can cost as much as $30 a pound.  You can get a whole chicken at a good cost in some areas but we can’t fit that in our freezer.

If you look at our costs to cruise we spent more on food then a lot of other cruisers we know.  A big part of that is because our boat was smaller so we started with less to begin with when we left the US.  Another big part of it is we provisioned wrong.  We didn’t carry any flour when we left the states.  We hadn’t been eating much bread when we left and thought things like flour tortillas would be easy to find and inexpensive in the Bahamas.  They weren’t.  When you did find them they cost around $5 for 8 tortillas.  So we purchased some flour and started to make our own.  We also make our own bread and rolls too. 

Of course, the easiest way to offset this is to get your protein for free. We hit a good stride in Lee Stocking Island where we could get a protein for a meal pretty much at will.  Mostly that was conch but some snapper and grouper could be had as well.  And fishing offshore is the best.  Even a small mahi-mahi will give you four meals.

In the Bahamas we were price aware but still bought things at a much higher cost then we did in the states.  Our thoughts were we could buy a lot of food for the cost of getting a bigger boat.  We definitely could have been better and have now started to make a bigger effort and are being more frugal with provisioning.  But this is budget driven not space driven.  We could easily hold 6 months of supplies on our boat if we were so inclined.  Cruising the islands it’s very rare that you will go more than a week without being in a harbor with at least a small store to get some provisions.

Our friends on Wright Away have a small Engel fridge/freezer.  It’s not a large system but would triple or better our freezer space.  It will use more energy but ultimately allow us to store more fish and conch or bulk buy meat when we find good deals.  So it would likely pay for itself in a short period of time. We are considering something like this for an upgrade in the near future.

Water

The Catalina 310 holds 35 gallons in the tank under the forward berth and 20 gallons in the water heater.  I know, such a large amount in the water heater, why? As near as I can tell it was in response to cruising couples that said they both wanted to be able to shower and have hot water left to do dishes.  This works and we will typically have hot water for 3-4 days after a few hours of motoring.  However, you can’t get the 20 gallons out of the water heater without water in the primary tank.  So this means that the usable volume of water is only 35 gallons.

In addition to the water in the tank and the water heater, we carry two 5 gallon gerry cans on deck for water.  We also have a 5 gallon solar shower that we will often fill and keep as more water supply. 

One thing we should have done was add some additional tankage.  We are in the process of looking into this upgrade and will hopefully accomplish it in Puerto Rico.  The options are to 1) add a bladder or hard tank under the forward berth, 2) get rid of the 20 gallon water heater and install a smaller water heater and an additional tank, 3) find a way to plumb the water heater to allow access to that water without water in the primary tank or 4) some combination of these choices.  We are working this out and will hopefully be making this improvement soon. 

On the subject of water, our small TDS meter is invaluable.  Its a pen like device that lets you read total dissolved solids.  We use it to test any water before we put in our tank.  Around 350 PPM is considered decent drinking water.  We have seen supposed RO (reverse osmosis) water test as high as 1,000 PPM.  That is brackish water and not safe to drink despite what the marina or yacht club tries to tell you. It means their RO system isn’t working right.

Watermaker Debate

We debated long and hard about adding a watermaker.  We could buy a commercially available 12 volt system for $4-6K, a 110 volt system for $3-5K plus the cost of a Honda generator or build our own 12 volt system for around $3K. We couldn’t justify the cost of these units based on the cost of buying water.  You just can’t.  You can buy a lot of water at even $1/gallon before you come close to the cost of a watermaker.

The issue we kept having was unoperational or poor performing watermakers at several of the key ports where we wanted to take on water.  In addition, we had to leave some areas sooner than we would like to get water because we were running out.

So this debate is back at it again. 

Here in Luperon, DR, its a no brainer.  The water in the harbor is too dirty to run a watermaker and good, clean water is readily available and cheap. Yesterday we took on 35 gallons of water that tested out at 24 PPM on our TDS meter.  That’s actually too clean and we might not be getting some minerals we need to be healthy.  Time to up our vitamin intake while we are drinking this water. This water cost us 50 DR pesos for each 5-gallon jug.  That’s about $1 per 5 gallons.  And that cost is delivered to our boat and poured into our tank. 

Supposedly we will have similar experiences in the rest of the Caribbean. 

Right now we think we might try to get a small 12-volt watermaker used.  Our friends on Wright Away just went through the process of evaluating their watermaker.  They have decided to ditch their 12-volt watermaker in favor of a 110-volt system.  So maybe we can buy their used 12-volt.  But read their write on their decision to get a bigger watermaker.  We have discussed this with them a lot and are still on the fence about what we are going to do.  It’s a great post and anyone considering adding a watermaker should read it.

Electricity

I won’t go into our decision to go with Renogy solar panels.  I have posted on that before and let’s just say we are disappointed in how Renogy is handling the quality issue.  But the panels we have are currently performing as expected when we installed them. Weather they stay on the boat or not is a different conversation.

As far as solar goes, we under-planned.  We left with 200 watts of solar.  Back in Hingham this would get us close to 100% state of charge by 2-3PM every day.  On the ICW we did so much motoring it didn’t really matter what the solar was doing.  However, once we were in the Bahamas we were chronically underchargine our batteries.  We found that we were using 25-50 amp hours per day more then we were getting from our solar. 

We think there are a couple of reasons for our undersized solar.  First is the fridge.  We had about a 30% run time on our fridge back in Hingham.  Now we seem to be more like 60% run time.  We believe the prime reason for this is the water temperature.  In Hingham harbor the water temp was typically around 68 degrees F.  In the Bahamas and south we are seeing temperatures around 82 degrees F.  Our fridge is located on the exterior of the hull and we think this is causing the fridge to run more. 

Other energy hogs that we didn’t plan correctly for were the laptop, iPad, and iPhones.  Many of these devices were charged on shore, typically at work, when were in Hingham.  And while we didn’t use the battery charger for most of our last 6 months in Mass because of the solar panels, we did have the shore power plugged in and on for charging stuff like the electronic devices. 

This resulted in us running our engine a lot to try and make up the difference in charge.  We were growing frustrated with this approach because it meant someone had to stay on the boat for several hours while it ran.  Sometimes this wasn’t too big of a deal and one of us would stay while the other ran some errands.  But we were using more diesel than we had planned.  We did end up buying a used Honda eu1000 generator off of our friends on Wright Away.  It can run our 40 amp charger and we have to run it for less time than we do the engine to top off the batteries. 

Based on what we have experienced we are a 100-watt panel short of covering our daily use.  On top of that we are considering adding a couple of power hungry devices to the boat (see watermaker and provisioning discussions above).  So we are planning to expand our solar system to 500-watts.  Finding places to put that many panels is tough on a small boat but doable if you think creatively. 

Dingy Management

I left with a dislike for davits.  I felt you couldn’t get them high enough to be safe in seas. They compromised the performance of the boat.  They were difficult to use compared to towing.  So we left with intent to manage the dingy by a combination of towing, storing the dingy on deck and using the Dinghy Sling.

Admittedly, I was wrong.

Towing works fine but can be inconvenient at times.  On the ICW, we would tow with the engine on.  Nothing could be easier.  It took little time to prep or to get in the dingy once anchored.  But when we start to head out into the sounds in the Bahamas or the Atlantic Ocean it took more prep.  Removing the engine and much of the other things stored in the dinghy could take considerable time.  We also had some situations where we would have the dinghy thrown at the stern in following seas.  Towing is doable but it does take more time and effort.  We now tow with two bridles when we head offshore.  It holds the boat behind us better and prevents some of the issues with following seas. 

Our deck is just too small to fit a dingy of any size comfortably.  If we had a little 6 or 7 foot dingy, maybe. But for us that is not a usable dingy.  We like our aluminum RIB Heighfields.  It tows well.  It can handle big seas for a dinghy.  And we are even starting to get up on plan when loaded down.  But putting it on deck involves deflating it and we still have limited access to the bow area with it up there.  This just isn’t an option on a 31 foot boat. 

The Dinghy Sling works great but has two draw backs.  Under the right wind conditions it can funnel the diesel exhaust into the cockpit.  We first experienced this during our gulf stream crossing and it made me get sick.  Second, its a little too complicated to use daily to get the dingy out of the water.  Getting the dingy out of the water for security is a major consideration the further south you go.  It’s a great product and cost effective easy solution for many boaters.  If we weren’t traveling with a dog, which requires us to be in the dinghy far more often than other cruisers, this may have stayed as our solution.

So we are now currently evaluating options to add dinghy davits to our boat.  This has taken a lot of planning and the cost will be considerable.  Most likely in the $2,500 neighborhood.  Of course some of that will be more expensive since we are doing the work in the islands instead of back in the states.

Anchoring System

In the 10 months we have been out, a little over a month combined of that time has been at a dock.  And this includes the 3 weeks we spent at Lady’s Island Marina in a free slip thanks to our friends Tom and Nancy.  We have been at anchor through gales, in rough conditions and in calm.  We have dragged anchor 3 times.  All due to short scope in calm conditions when we anchored in rivers with a deeper bottom and not enough swing room to put out even 5 to 1 scope.  But we knew the risk in these locations and took it anyways to enjoy an area that was otherwise inaccessible. 

We are and continue to be strong believers in new anchoring technology.  I will never consider having anything but a new generation anchor as my primary until science makes something better.  I am admittedly an anchor snob.  When I see a boat start to anchor near me using a bruce, plow, or CQR I get nervous and uptight.  I stare at them, give them angry glares and hope they will feel uncomfortable enough to move far away from Smitty.  In my opinion the science on this is solid and anyone using an old style anchor doesn’t below on the water.  The cost is so little that it should never justify sticking with the old anchors when it is the primary thing holding you safe at night.

We use a Manson Supreme 35 pounder as our primary.  This is oversized by two from what Manson recommends for our boat.  We love it.  We would also love a quality Rocna or Mantus.  I don’t think you could go wrong with any of these.   

We left to go cruising with only 20 feet of 5/16-inch chain.  We knew this wasn’t enough but were hoping we could find some more chain at a cheap price as we worked our way down the coast.  We picked up another 40 feet in Annapolis and then 90 feet from our friend Andrew on Solace (another Catalina 310 out cruising) in Miami.  We now have 130 feet of chain on our primary anchor.  Ideally I would want 150 feet of continuous chain on my primary (which is what Andrew did and why he had the 90 feet available).  But I will take what I have because I have not paid over $2 a foot for any of it.  Behind that I have 200 feet of 3 strand line. 

We have two Mantus chain hooks on board and love them.  We have the primary one setup on a bridle that I spliced.  We use this every night we anchor.  If heavy winds are predicted we will also put out the second Mantus hook on a chain snubber.  If the bridle were to let go, the snubber would take up before the chain would be pulling hard against the windless/cleat.

Our windless does not have a chain gypsy.  We wish it did, but at over $2K for a new windless it wasn’t in the budget.  So I raise the anchor by hand-hauling with the assistance of the rotating capstan that is our windless.  When I used to just hand-haul the anchor, the chain would smack agains the roller furler.  I didn’t like the damage this was doing and found that using the windless helps keep the chain below the roller furler.

We have several backup anchors too, including a 30-pound danforth, fortress anchor and 50-pound fisherman’s anchor.  If I would find a good deal on a larger fortress anchor or Mantus anchor I would replace the fisherman’s anchor with one of those. 

Navigation

We have been using an iPad as our primary chart plotter for 5 years now.  I wouldn’t change this at all.  The iPad is plenty accurate for a good skipper to use for navigating.  I would say I am no more than 20 feet off the location shown on the iPad.  In that type of space visual piloting is favored over any electronic form of navigation.

We use the Navionics app on the iPad for navigating.  For the most part I love this software.  The one exception is the Bahamas.  The map data was garbage there.  We started out supplementing Navionics with hard explorer charts.  But this involved a lot of putting in waypoints, something that the Navionics app is not strong on.  We ended up downloading the Garmin Bluecharts.  The map data for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos was much better, but the app itself is lacking. For instance, there is no ETA function. 

So we will run both apps on the iPad.  We always have paper charts up in the cockpit with us too.  In addition, we keep a log of GPS coordinates, heading,  and speed every hour while offshore.  When we can see the coast we generally don’t keep the log. 

AIS

We looked into adding AIS but had a couple of reservations.  The units with remote mics were expensive and it would have required running wires up through the steering pedestal.  I tried to do this once before and found that our pedestal is maxed out with wires.  So this would have been a significant undertaking.  So we opted not to get AIS.

After traveling with several boats with AIS we wish we had it.  At night when we see a cruise ship or large cargo ship we have to try and estimate their location and try to hail them call for “the cruise ship at approximate GPS coordinates XXX”.  Most of the time they don’t answer.  But with AIS you have the name of the ship and they always answer when called by name.  It also helps keep tabs on buddy boats during night crossings.

In hindsight the smart thing would have been to add a second VHF with AIS and a second antenna mounted on the stern rail.  This would have given redundancy and made the installation much easier. 

Spares

This is a tough one because you never know what you might need and when.  We probably have too many spare impellers (12 on the boat) for our raw water pump.  But I didn’t have a rebuild kit and had to have Frank bring in two rebuild kits when he came for a visit.  They are short money ($45 each) and I should have had them on board.   We didn’t have a spare alternator and spent twice the cost of the alternator to have it shipped into the Bahamas when we thought we needed it. 

But we didn’t even think of things like spare 12-volt chargers for the laptop or cords for the iPad. Also, since we use the iPad as our primary chart plotter, I would really feel more comfortable with a spare iPad on board. 

You try to think about what you need for spares the best you can but the bottom line is you will always need something you don’t have.  Be prepared to improvise and have the knowledge to fix anything on your boat within reason.

Conclusion

This list of things we want to improve on our boat above represent a substantial cost.  This has made us ask each other many times if we are happy with this boat or if we should get a bigger boat.  The bottom line for us is this boat suites us well.  To get a boat that we like as much we would spend twice as much money on the boat and would probably still have to do all of the things we are thinking about doing to Smitty.  We like our pocket cruiser.  She is nimble, sea worthy, and comfortable for us.  Don’t expect to see Smitty on Yacht World anytime soon.


4 Comments

Chapter 7: Lee Stocking Island

Lee Stocking Island may be our favorite stop that we made in the Bahamas.  There is enough to do that we could stay for weeks, which we did! But, we had to pile Smitty up with 30 gallons of extra water in a bladder and as much extra gas as we could, because there are no stores or other means of getting water or fuel on this island.

Garbage-002

The island marker and the cut (entry/exit) for Lee Stocking

The Abandoned Institute

Garbage-001

In order to pursue his interest in marine research and renewable energy, the 600-acre Lee Stocking Island was purchased for $70,000 by John Perry in 1957. He developed the island as a scientific field station and tried to make it self-supporting by incorporating working models of new technologies.

Garbage-009

Wind Turbine – the cables were used to pull the blades to the top of the post (which looks like a mast of a boat on land)

The Perry Institute for Marine Science included laboratories, housing, an airstrip, a dock, boats, and dive support facilities.  Up until SCUBA technology became more advanced, the field station featured shallow-depth submersibles.

From the institute’s website: 

The Perry Institute for Marine Science is dedicated to making a difference by protecting our oceans. We do this through ocean research and education that informs the public and encourages action. We operate a tropical marine laboratory on Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas. Scientists, students and educational groups visit our facility from around the world to conduct ocean research in this remote, pristine stretch of the Caribbean. In the areas on and around our island, we study things like coral reefs, fisheries, ecosystems and the biodiversity of undersea life.”

After the death of Perry in 2006, research funding dried up and the institute was closed. However, the Institute was not cleaned up; tons of garbage (including hazardous materials), buildings and equipment remain on the island. 

DSC_4401

A couple of the many abandoned buildings and a pick-up truck

Lee Stocking Island-001

Live-wells used for research

DSC_4382

Airstrip

Garbage-010

Hazardous chemicals and the remnants of a decompression chamber

Garbage-011

Garbage-008

The tanker trucks were used to hold fuel for the generators that supported the island

Hunting

DCIM100GOPRO

Where the conch live

Garbage-004

Garbage-005

Conch:  Before                                      Conch:  After

Beautiful Beaches and clear water in every shade of blue

DCIM100GOPRO

Garbage-007

Hiking

Garbage-006

Lee Stocking Island-002

Summer leads the way on the trail hike

Lee Stocking Island

Snorkeling

Garbage-013

Garbage-012

GOPR0775

Anchorage with spectacular sunset

Garbage-014

Farewell & Following Seas

One of the saddest days of of our trip so far was parting ways with Deborah & Keith and their pup, Kai on sv Wrightaway.  Thank you so much for the pleasure of your company, sharing the hunting and snorkeling spots with us, showing Jesse how to clean conch, and especially for sharing all of the super yummy fish & conch meals. 🙂

IMG_3325

As I suspect that this island (or at least a portion) will be sold and developed into some sort of luxury resort over the next couple of years,  I am glad that we had the opportunity to explore this island now, especially in its current state (which, we found to be quite interesting and fun).