Friday, February 29, 2008

St. Thomas - Playing and Working on the Adamo

St. Thomas

We have been anchored in the bay next to Yacht Haven Grande Marina. There are mega yachts galore down here, the likes of which we don’t normally see stateside! We marvel at them especially the mega sailboats, the boys fantasizing that they will have one of them when they grow up. We all know that that would require a serious job! We found a sailmaker to repair the headsail which had also been damaged, with the miles we have put on the Adamo it is not surprising! He came to the boat, picked up the sail and returned it two days later without receiving payment because we were not aboard when he dropped it off. Wow! He stopped by the next day with our bill. It was beyond reasonable. The ease of this process was unbelievable compared to, for example, picking up our new sail from the shipping company. We were told that the sail would be in St. Thomas on Tuesday. So we thought, “Great, we will sail to St. Croix on Wednesday.” We decided to rent a car with plans to provision from Cost U less, (Sam’s Club equivalent), Home Depot, Ace, Marine Store, etc. That was easier said than done. There were no cars available on the island, but if we came back maybe in the afternoon, they may have one. So we made small talk with the girl in the Avis office and gave her our cell number so she could reach us if the car came in. After lunch we checked back in and asked enough questions to finally discover that a jeep was available. It had been there the entire time! So we immediately took the top off and turned up the island music! We found Tropical Shipping and went to the warehouse to pick up the sail. But, we found out the ship would come in later that day and that we had to clear excise and customs first and then we could pick it up on Thursday. So we picked up the papers at the main shipping office, drove to the customs and excise offices and after a few trips from one to the other for stamps and signatures, we were all set for pick up on Thursday , two days later than expected. Meanwhile, we cruised around the island in our rented jeep with the top down, of course! Whenever we rent a car, it is like a race to get all of our errands done. We are always exhausted by the end of the marathon. We never have enough space in the car or dinghy to transport all that we need to buy, and it is always hot!
Yesterday we had to pull anchor and get water at the marina. The wind was howling and the docks are concrete. This adds a little tension when docking. After filling up our small craft with water while staring at the massive mega yacht with the helicopter on the aft deck, the attendant informed us that we took on 270 gallons of water. We told him that it was impossible. We only hold 180 gallons! So the manager adjusted the price. Can you imagine the mega yachts that don’t know their water capacity?

After filling up we went to pick up our sail. This was a feat all on its own. We dinghied to the side of the harbor where the warehouse is located. It was a very wet ride as the wind was about 25 knots and the waves were rolling in. We walked to the marine store, the hardware store, and McDonalds which was a lot further than we thought. So on the way back we took a dollar taxi to the warehouse while the boys continued on to the marina to get the dinghy and meet us on the pier. The sail was damaged in transport so Mike and I took it to the main office a city block away. After negotiating with the shipping company we left with the sail in hand. My big strong man had to schlep our 70 pound sail to the main road so we could get a taxi. After bargaining a fair taxi rate we went to the pier and Phil was waiting for us in the dinghy. Mission accomplished, it was four o’clock! This is a typical day; everything takes longer to do when you do not have transportation. Despite the many inconveniences though, we always have a fun time!

Today, “no cruise ship Friday,” (cruise ships are here mon.-thurs.) we will get the hardware for the sails, run our final errands and hope that we will be able to sail to St. Croix tomorrow or Sunday.

Other happenings - pictures:

Susan watching dolphins give themselves backrubs up and down our anchor rode. Phil swam with them later.

The crew sanding down the rails. It’s not all fun and games!

Sahara Desert sand being carried in a pink cloud.

Our friends on Sierra Hotel.

Phil with his beaded hair, two pieces of eight (which he purchased for his necklace with his own money) and a carved gourd he found floating in the bay.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Vieques and St. Thomas

Captain's View

After the visit from Damon and Andrew, we waited in Puerto Del Ray for our mainsail to be repaired. We were in port for Valentine ’s Day.

Susan and I had a nice dinner out for two in the waterfront restaurant in the marina.

Two days later, we received a call from the sail maker informing us that our mainsail was done. He did a very nice job, he even went back and correctly repaired the small tear we had fixed by the unfriendly Haitian in George Town. With the Adamo ready to go, we departed, after some discussion, to Vieques. Susan felt like we were going backwards since we had already been to that island. The boys and I wanted to head back there to see the bio-luminescent bay, reported to be the brightest in the world. Anchoring up in the bay at Esperanza, we waited for night fall to motor the dinghy three miles east to the opening of the shallow, bio-bay. If you have never seen bio-luminescent water, it is a glow that emits from the water from microscopic organisms that put of light in the dark when they are agitated by movement in the water. It is a fairly common occurrence in this area. In Samana, the bio-luminescence was such that you could see fish swimming in the dark by the glow their tales put off.

We spent the day walking around the little seaside town of Esperanza, waiting for evening to arrive. The island of Vieques was the center of controversy several years back when the locals wanted to put and end to the live munitions training occurring on the island by the US Navy. The protests grew to the point of violence and the Navy abandoned its hold on the island. You could most definitely tell that there was still hostility being harbored by some locals towards Americans. Since the Navy base has been closed down, the island must now rely on tourism as a major source of income. Due to the undercurrent of hostility, a lot will need to change for Vieques to become a sought after vacation spot. For the crew aboard the Adamo, it was an educational lesson. Not everyone is happy to greet American’s, even in US owned territory.

As night fall came, we prepped for our excursion. The boys and I donned our wetsuits. Sue was convinced by us to come along, though she was not interested in swimming at night. She wore her foul weather gear. The wind was blowing and the waves had built to 4 to 5 feet. To shorten the dinghy ride to the bio-bay (two bays down the coast from our anchorage) we decided to cut from bay to bay by carrying the dinghy over the beach separating the bays. This turned out to be a bad choice. Turns out the beach was rocky and the waves on the other side of the beach made launching the dinghy quite daunting.

We managed to get back in the water and proceed to the bio-bay. As we slogged through the waves we began questioning our plan. How hard would it be to get back to the Adamo in the dark in these seas? We decided to press on. We entered the bio-bay and waited for darkness. We were wet and cold. Sue was not happy . . . and if the Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

As night fall came upon us, we splashed in the water to see the bioluminescence. There was virtually non. Quite disappointing. We headed back to the Adamo. Fortunately we were running with the waves which made the ride much smoother, dryer and quicker. Back at the boat the boys and I got to eat a little crow for dinner.

Subsequent to our experiences at Vieques, we decided to head straight to St. Thomas vs. spending more time in the Spanish Virgin Islands. It’s a 50 mile sail to St. Thomas, so we departed at 3:00am to take advantage of the decline in wind that usually occurs at night and to insure a day-time arrival in St. Thomas.

We departed the anchorage on time. As we rounded the corner to deeper open water the wind was blowing at 18knts with 5 foot seas. Not bad. As the night progressed we ran into several squalls with 32knts winds. The seas built to 8 to 10 feet. I felt like we were back in the Dominican Republic! We where hit by a 20 foot rogue wave. Doug was sleeping on the salon floor. The wave splashed against the side window, which was not properly latched. Water shot into the cabin. Doug was shocked. He thought we were going down. Because it was still dark out, heading to an anchorage was out of the question. We were committed.

The slog-fest continued till 8:00am. As we rounded the East point of Vieques, things settled down. The waves declined to 6 to 8 with 20knts wind. By 1:00pm we entered Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas. We had reached our goal! We were tired but excited. After naps we headed to town for a celebratory dinner in old town. We enjoyed the most exquisite meal in a Spanish style restaurant.

Now we are waiting for our new sail to arrive, then it’s off to St. Croix were Susan’s mom and Ed will be meeting us on March 3rd.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Captains View - Damon's and Andrew's Visit

The day of Andrew’s and Damon’s arrival finally came. For the previous several days we prepped the boat for company. We actually managed to get 3 trash bags of stuff off of the boat to de-clutter the closets and storage areas. We picked the two up at San Juan International Airport at 4:00pm and proceeded back to the Del Rey Marina. Along the way we decided to turn off the main road and get lost in the tropical rain forest. We love going off the beaten path to get the feel of a country by going to where the locals hang out.

We were well rewarded on this excursion. We found a tree-house bar on the edge of the rain forest. Very Cool! We parked the Jeep and walked in to find an incredible view, cold Heinekens, a pool table and a great atmosphere. As we reminisced and got caught-up on the latest happenings State-side, an unbelievable rainbow formed between our tree-house bar and the mountain on the other side of the valley. We marveled at the rainbow that seemed close enough to touch.

Back aboard the Adamo, we were just about ready to go to bed, when Doug came out of the head and informed us it would not flush. Always happens when company is in town. Having replaced all the sanitation systems aboard within the last two years I was falsely confident that it was just a small clog. After a wrestling match between me, the plunger and the toilet, it became clear that much darker forces were at work here! By 3:00am we (Doug, Sue, Phil and I) had emptied the cabinets, pulled all the hoses, brought them out side to beat them on the dock to remove the calcification buildup and re-installed them. A test flush revealed great success.

In the morning, the tired crew got up at 7:00am and readied the Adamo for a day sail to Icacos, a small island 7 miles east of Puerto Rico. As we exited the harbor, the boys raised the main sail. A batten slid out of its pocket. As the sail luffed, the batten tore the sail right in half with a terrible ripping sound. Damn. Things were not going as planned. We dropped the main, and sailed to Icacos with the head sail and mizzen only. Despite the sail configuration, we still made 7.2 mph.

We are now waiting on the sail to be repaired and have ordered a second used mainsail to be delivered to St. Thomas as a backup.

Back at Icacos we spent the weekend snorkeling, having a mimosa or two and just hanging out. It was great to have the family back together, and having Damon visit. We did sorely miss Melanie though, and Sue still insisted that she does not like her boss.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Vieques, Spanish Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico is fantastic! We moored off of Green Beach,Vieques where during the week we were the only ones there. It is really unspoiled there and the boys were thrilled to catch two large tuna and a huge Spanish Mackeral. The tuna never made it ot the grill, we ate is sushi style.

We were relieved to have a few days of solitude to regroup after moving relatively quickly from point to point. The boys needed to do some home schooling, and we all needed to reorganize things on the boat! So we are all set now for Andrew and Damon to come visit. Melanie can't come because her boss is a jerk and won't let her, so we will miss her, especially me! We are now at Peurto del Ray Marina on the east coast of Puerto Rico. Today we rented a 4 door Jeep Wrangler like Mike's (yes, we all felt like it was home). We drove through the rain forest called El Yunque and saw La Coco falls. We also visited West Marine and Sears . What a treat! Tomorrow, we will do some grocery shopping and some laundry (I know this sound exciting to all of you, but, after doing laundry on the boat in my miniture but wonderful machine, a laundry center is a huge luxury! In the afternoon, we will pick up Damon and Andrew from the airport in San Juan. This is where the fun will begin. Stay tuned!

Ponce, Puerto Rico

We arrived in Ponce on Phillip’s Birthday, after crossing the Mona Passage and going further than originally planned due to the fantastic weather during the crossing. We made excellent time in maximum comfort. We even saw several whales. Loon (British), Elvina (Swedish), and Moody Blue (Canadian) were also making the crossing. We were creeping ahead according to Moody Blue, so much so, that we lost radio contact with them in the night. We did, however, hear Moody Blue hail the US Coast Guard for the time at 3:15am. They further asked whether it was the same time on the entire island of P.R.! How embarrassing? In the morning we ran into Sierra Hotel. They were also heading to Ponce from a nearby anchorage 18 miles from Ponce. We tied up to the fuel dock with them where we had to clear customs. Two hours later Loon showed up and late in the afternoon Elvina came in.
We each got into a slip at the marina, The Ponce Fishing and Yacht Club.

The next morning we rented a minivan with the other boaters and set out to restock the boat and buy Phillip some presents. Ponce is the second largest city in P.R. so they had Sam’s Club, WalMart, Blockbuster… It is just like home only signs are in Spanish. Civilization at last! We stocked the boat, filled the propane tanks, did laundry, took long showers, and enjoyed a couple of nights of AC. We also went to Carnival which was like Halloween with a dance recital on stage. The vending stands had great food and music, and a fun time was had by all.

We left Ponce around noon heading to Peurto Patillas a small coastal town. The others left in the morning, but we were tired and stayed for another night. We ventured into town and got a ride in a police car into the center of town. It was not so much like America here. We visited the tourist office and they gave us pins with the cities coat of arms on them. We immediately put them on since we blended in so well already! We went to a market and bought some fruits and vegetables that we had never seen before. The locals told us how to cook them. Turns out they were delicious!

Sumana, Dominican Republic - Doug's View

Jan 27
After checking in to Samana, Loon invited us to shore with them and have a few beers. After hours of card tricks, deafening music, a long conversation with a mute, a goat dinner, and I don’t know how many beers, including us kids because there is no drinking age here, we were ready to return to the boat. I was dismayed to see that the dinghy had managed to get stuck under the dock. Not good! Meanwhile everybody needed to pee. So the conundrum of the evening was, “How do you get a dinghy out from under a cement dock when the motor is sitting behind a concrete lip and you are laughing very hard while having to urgently pee?” The locals were all there to "help us" but when we said we could handle it, they cut off the lights. Maybe they wanted a "tip" to help us? Perhaps they pushed the dinghy there in the first place? So, now it is also dark. We composed ourselves and got to work. We deflated the dinghy and tried to wiggle it out. That did not work; next Ian lay in the dinghy while my dad pushed him under. From there the motor was removed and laid in the dinghy next to him. Now the only problem was that Ian was stuck under the dock in the dinghy. Trying not to alarm Ian we managed to get the front part out with out much commotion. Out came the "Angry German", this is what we call Dad when he gets frustrated and uses full force while grunting and screaming indecipherable German to get the job done. Dad jumped on the dinghy and loudly forced it to out from under the concrete lip. Great success! Now, the dinghy needed air, so the Angry German and the Englishman each bent down back to back to blow into the dinghy. Well, jokes were flying when the competition began. In the end the German was full of more hot air than the Brit. Meanwhile we still had to pee and the hysterics did not help. We then went to Loon for another drink, exactly what we needed since only half of us were able to walk in a strait line. We were all laughing and I’m sure we were quiet as not to wake the other boats in the anchorage.

Jan 28
Today was our day of fun and adventure. After last night’s fiasco, however, we had a late start. This was a problem because two cruise ships full of tourists had already begun to come ashore. Our plan for the day was to visit the Limon waterfall, this also included horseback riding and a good hike. First we had to get there. It was forty five minutes away by car. The bargaining with overpriced taxis began. Finally we made it down to fifty dollars both ways in a small Nissan four door pickup. Since we had six people we had to pull the clown trick again. We also made excellent time; this may have been because of the driver’s swerving through traffic, this included: cars, motorcycles, bicycles, goat, sheep, cows, horses, and chickens, at 110 kilometers an hour. Fortunately, for us we beat the tourists. Next, we rented horses and quickly set out. My horse, a sad looking malnourished skeleton of an animal, proved to be quite the horse after all. I temporarily named him Mr. Ed or Eddy depending on how I was using his name. All six of us were rushed away each with our own guides. Mine happened to be a twisted boy about the age of 10 who apparently liked to whip my horse. I was not surprised when Mr. Ed kicked back after the second smack, ten yards from the starting line. My whipping boy backed off and when I got a chance I pulled ahead to prevent Mr. Ed from being beaten. The path while at first seeming easy, a dirt road running through a small town, proved to be a challenge after all, mostly for Eddy. His feet sank into the deep mud as he struggled up and down the very steep hills. I was unable to allow him to slow because the demented boy was following closely behind. Eventually I got a feel for Mr. Ed. I no longer had to excessively tug on the reigns to steer him because he knew the way to go, so even without a guide I could not get lost. At the falls, we were taken up for another fee to actually see them, as if we had not already paid enough, welcome to the DR. The waterfall was cool but the mud was horrible. It was a steep climb down to the base of the falls. Dad and Phil suddenly disappeared down another path then returned sometime later from the woods with only half a sock. (I wonder why? Could it be the water or perhaps the goat dinner?) We mounted our horses once again and a soon as I got on Mr. Ed I was swept away by another boy, he was not as troubled as the first, fortunately for Ed; and he never hit my horse. Instead he made this annoying noise as if it would make Eddy walk faster, so I ditched him, too. I was swept away from the falls so fast that my dad barely had enough time to take my picture on Eddy. My emaciated horse and I were on the difficult trail back to the village. It was easier on me this time though because my horse no longer tried to ram me into the trees and barbed wire fences that lined the trail. When we arrived there was no taxi so we ate lunch: fish, (minnows that were fried whole), rice and beans, and an assortment of tropical fruits. Phil and I also feed some of the hungry horses some coconut and sugar cane. Finally, at 3:30pm, an hour and thirty minutes late, the cab showed up. He also brought some company. There were two passengers in the back. The crazy driver wanted us to sit in the bed of the truck, but with his driving there was no way. He then suggested that he would come back but that would take too long. The group decided that we would not go with him. We would have to find another ride into town. The driver still wanted payment for the whole trip. We had paid 15 dollars for the way there and were supposed to pay the rest when we returned to town. When we refused to pay the 35 dollars he threatened to call the police and quickly left because he was about to lose the customers in the back that were becoming impatient. His “friend” then offered us a ride for 500 pesos a little more than 15 dollars. We looked behind us and our stalker was following us in his tripped out pickup. He was talking on his cell phone and waving his arms. We casually got out of our van and followed the back streets to the police station, not because of the crazy driver but because we needed our despatcho so that we could take advantage of the west wind to cross the Mona Passage to Porto Rico. The funny part was that the stalker showed up at the police staton and was sent away by the officers there. We were safe at the police office. The crazy driver ended up tracking Mike and Ian down with two police officers as they went to retrieve our passports from the boat. After Joe translated for them and explained the situation, we only ended up having to pay ten more dollars accounting for half of the trip. This was a success after the crazy driver had tried to lie and say that we paid him nothing. We were not going to get gypsied today. With our despatcho in hand we quickly returned to the boat to fill her will fuel and water which Joe dinghied out to us in large canisters.

As we were getting ready for bed, we heard whooping and hollering from someone on a dinghy circling around our boat. He was laughing and screaming and apparently very drunk. He proved to be quite belligerent and told us to shut the F... up repeatedly as we shined a spot light in his direction. He also screamed other obscenities at us at the top of his lungs. I think he was also cursing at his boat which he couldn’t seem to get into, something about bovine excrement. He then resumed shouting, “Shut the F... up!” to us. I could see the Angry German billowing up. Since our dinghy was not in the water, my Dad invited him over to us: “Why don’t you come over here so I can open a can of whoop-ass on you, bitch!” The man stumbled around on deck for while, then finally managing to open a hatch where he descended. All was quiet as he must have passed out.

Luperon, Dominican Republic

Immediately after entering the bay in Luperon we were approached by the local “patrol”, Handy Andy and Papo, who informed us that they were the ones to contact if we needed anything at all. My radar went off as soon as he started to talk. This guy saw dollar signs. Anyone the flying the red white and blue are wearing a target in the form of the almighty dollar. So we said thank you and good bye. However, about five minutes later, in the middle of our second attempt at anchoring, Handy Andy appears with officials in his boat who have come to board Adamo. The Comandante, dressed in army green from head to toe, and his assistant sat in the cockpit after introductions from Handy Andy who was our translator. The assistant took our papers and passports and recorded the official numbers, then we were informed that this does not cost anything BUT it is customary to give the Comandante a gift. So having been told by friends earlier, we gave him the necessary five dollars. We were then required to go to the immigration office in town. It took us awhile to get settled and the stress level had mounted so we cracked open a beer and then dropped the dinghy into the water. The immigration office is at the end of a pier with a gate at the end guarded by several men in lawn chairs. The trailer had no air conditioning and it was very hot as we were crammed into a tiny office with the door closed. The Comandante examined our papers and passports like he had never seen them before. Remember he does not speak English. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he stamped our passports after we paid him $53.00. Thinking we were all set we stepped out into the fresh air only to be approached by the Agriculture guy who informed us in English that he and another guy wanted to board the boat to check out our meat and cheese, and our vegetables and fruit. Since the navy in the D.R. has no boat Mike shuttled them to the Adamo where they looked at our food. Mike paid them the required $10 each. Meanwhile, Doug, Phil, and I, waited in another tiny office that had air conditioning. Gladys another agriculture person tried to speak to us in Spanish with Doug trying to translate. Now to give you an idea of what the offices looked like, imagine the oldest trailer from long ago, sparse furnishing, a desk, some plastic chairs and no clutter. That was it. Next we were told to come back the next day to get tourist cards for $10 each. This was eventually accomplished 3 days later, and we also had to show papers again and pay $10 to another official who had missed out the day before. When we went to get the despacho, exiting papers required for the next port, they hit Mike up for another $15. It is all corrupt, if someone works on your boat, you have to pay the Comandante….

The town of Luperon is small and very poor. There is running sewage in the street and goats, lambs, and chickens running around the middle of town. The odor in some areas is pungent, I won’t go into detail where bathrooms are concerned. However, the people are very friendly. In the evening the town comes to life, music is played loud and children are out playing. Everyone is out and about; all doors are open and candles light the houses that don’t have generators because the government turns of the electricity at night. They only get power for a few hours each day and it is random. Gladys from the agriculture office invited us to her restaurant for lunch. We met her husband, Pablo and her five children. Lunch was great, but communication was strained because of the language barrier.

We managed with our Spanish/English dictionary. We also met a local 22 year old, Eddie, who spoke fantastic English. He explained that one in ten people are lucky enough to have a job. They make about $150 a month. His parents own a restaurant/bar with pool tables where the locals gather. There are various businesses owned by foreigners that cater to the cruising community. Many cruisers make this a home base and live here year round. I haven’t figured out why this is so when the bay is full of the runoff from town. Yuk! I was in a hurry to move on.

We got our weather window and left the Luperon Bay at six in the evening. We had nice wind and the ocean was manageable. The moon was bright so visibility was great. We sailed to Samana which normally takes several trips, but we were able to do it in one overnight. It is all about the weather. Meanwhile the PP’s were still in Luperon because their weather guru, CP, had not given the okay for a smooth passage. They missed a beautiful sail. We arrived at sunset in the anchorage and hooked up to a mooring ball. Elvina, Loon, and Moody Blue were also here. Once again, we were approached by the local “patrol”, this time it was Joe who brought the local officials to board our boat. We only had to gift him 100 pesos about $3.

The town of Samana is built on a mountainside. The houses are painted in pastel colors. The bay and beaches here are very beautiful. There are palm trees and evergreens covering the mountains. Tourism is big here and there are several resorts along the coast.