It’s been awhile since we have put anything up on our blog. Between the poor internet, being busy with work and a number of other excuses we could list, it’s been too long since our last post.
We have been busy spending our full-time wages on repairs and upgrades to Smitty. It will probably take several posts to get these caught up to where we are at the present.
The upgrades and repairs in this post are the result of Irma and Maria. We have found that a number of electronics have ended up toast as a result of salt spray or just increased salt in the air. Some, like the controls for our refer, went almost right away while others, like our Rogue solar controller, took months to manifest. But when you pull these items apart you can see salt and corrosion on the circuit boards and sometimes even find the area that shorted out. Our friends on land have had similar issues. If we ever end up going through another hurricane (let’s hope not!) the first thing I will do is wash down anything with a circuit board with fresh water followed by rubbing alcohol.
So lets talk about some repairs we have done. The first thing we lost after the storms was our refrigeration. We had failed to block our vent cowlings on the stern and water poured into them getting salt water all over the refrigeration compressor. The compressor its self was fine but the control module and the circuit board were toast.
Luckily I was able to salvage a control module from another boat. But that boat didn’t have the circuit boar. So I reproduced most of the function of that circuit board using wires and a terminal strip. It worked and we had refrigeration again but it wasn’t as efficient and didn’t have the diagnostic ability of the original.
When our friends Jamie and Keith on s/v Kookaburra arrived in November they brought a spare control module and circuit board with them. Jamie is a former marine refrigeration technician and an invaluable source for help in these maters. They arrived just in time as our refrigeration began acting up again just after they had settled in on their mooring in Elephant Bay.
With the spare parts in hand I began trying to get our refrigeration in proper working order. However after replacing the salvaged module and putting the new circuit board in the refer was still drawing more power then before and not staying as cold as it should. Jamie and I went through the system but couldn’t find the cause. Out came the trusty multi-meter and we started looking for issues. Sure enough we found a massive voltage drop at the compressor. With our batteries reading 12.55 volts (solar disconnected to help with the diagnostics) we were only seeing 12.35 volts at the compressor. Worse yet it would drop to under 10 volts when the compressor would kick on. This was likely trigger a voltage sensor on the compressor that is there to protect our batteries. Keeping with the multi-meter and using some 20 foot lengths of wire we eventually determined the issue was with the ground somewhere between the engine and the battery bank. We used the wire to jump the positive and negative connections to several locations around the boat to find were the voltage drop would be present and absent. For instance the voltage drop was still present when we put the wire in to feed the compressor from the battery selector switch and negative buss bar behind the electric panel but it was gone when we connected the compressor directly to the batteries. By this process of elimination we were able to determine where the voltage drop was occurring. So off I went to clean and check all of my ground connections in that run.
Several years ago I had installed a negative buss bar on the port engine bed to allow Smitty’s grounds to go to a buss bar connected to both the engine and the battery bank thus eliminating the potentially problematic “stacked” connections that come from corrosion that builds up on the block and causes more resistance in the connections. Well as it turns our I missed one connection that was on a different bolt on the block. This one was to ground the refer compressor and several other items. Once I removed this connection, cleaned up the connector with a wire brush and moved it to the negative buss bar everything was working perfect again.
Chalk one up for the multi-meter. And add a spare refrigeration module to the list of necessary spares for us to carry.
Our next area of corrosion issues was our engine instrument pod. Some of our alarm buzzers and gauges started acting funny. There were too many of them in one spot for it to be anything but the instrument pod for the engine. I took that apart and sure enough found some corrosion in the “European style connection strip” that Catalina used in the pod.
I removed the strip, cut back a few inches on the wires to eliminate any corrosion and terminated them with marine adhesive heat shrink ring terminals. I then used two 65 amp terminal strips to make the connections. The system is much more secure and resistant to corrosion.
The starting circuit was separated from the gauges on different terminal strips to allow for better spacing and easier diagnostics in the future.
Then we had a big dollar item succumb to the residual effects of Irmaria. This time it was our Rogue solar controller. This was a $400 piece of hardware that literally is irreplaceable as the company has stopped making these and is no longer in the business of making small solar controllers.
Again more corrosion then we would expect to see on an item only a few years old.
The one good thing that came out of this was that solar controller technology has come a long way since we did our research. After talking to a few cruising friends and doing some research we purchased two Victron BlueSolar MPPT 100/15 controllers (Should have bought the MPPT 75/15 but not a major difference) with the Bluetooth Dongles for programming and monitoring. (Note: Victron now makes the SmartSolar MPPT Controllers with the Bluetooth built in) We opted to go with two smaller controllers instead of the one large controller. Our array is a mix of panels; 500 watts coming from two 100 watt semiflexible panels, two 50 watt semiflexible panels and two 100 watt hard panels (more on these later). My research suggested that separating these onto different controllers would yield better results. Sure enough, these new controllers have about 15% better production than the single Rogue controller. Plus being able to monitor my panels through an app on my phone is really convenient.
The last (hopefully) item we are choking up to Irmaria is our Raritan Macerator Pump with Waste Valve. We purchased this as a Defender First sale item from Active Captain when they used to do weekly emails before the Garmin acquisition. Its more expensive but the idea of a macerator pump designed for a “clean” swap out or fix appealed to me.
Now while I am upset this failed, I am so glad I put this in. It worked exactly like advertised. I changed out to the new pump in 2 minutes with zero mess. I didn’t even have to use paper towels to cleanup the area after. And the pump failed with the holding tank 3/4 full. So this could have been ugly. But thanks to this well engineered pump it wasn’t.
So hopefully that ends the Irmaria related upgrades. We have also made a number of upgrades to the boat that where more geared towards making life on Smitty better. Oh, I lied. We also lost our windex and the directional portion of our Raymarine wind transducer from the mast head. In addition our RAM Mic for our VHF would no longer transmit. So these are some other items that got upgraded that we will discuss later as part of the electronics upgrade we did.
It’s November. And too easy to get caught up in the day to day aspects of earning a living and forget that we spent three hours in the water in just bathing suits. It’s 25 degrees in Boston today as Frank reminded us. We do prefer to live in paradise.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We attended our first Full-Moon Party at Trellis Bay, BVI
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!). 🙂
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.
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
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
We celebrated our first Christmas in the Caribbean; complete with a boat parade and steel drum bands.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
Just a stones throw from Culebra, Culebrita has beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, hiking, a lighthouse, and a bubbly pool.
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.
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.
Culebrita has wild goats. I thought this was a myth but Summer quickly proved us wrong.
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.