Happy 2018

Happy New Year and all the best wishes for 2018.

We rung in the new year anchored in Carlisle Bay on the south side of Antigua. There is a resort on the beach here that has had bands playing both during the day today, January 1st and yesterday as well as last evening. We sat out on the bow of the boat, under an almost full moon taking it in.

Fireworks above us

At midnight fireworks were set off from the beach. Our boat was just far enough away to be safe. Every one set so high in the sky just above us. Then we noticed some more fireworks in the next bay over off our stern as well. We were surrounded. It was magical and well worth staying up for.

So for today’s blog post, I thought we’d add some photos from 2017 that never managed to get posted to the blog.

The year started with a big problem when one of the four struts holding the roof over our cockpit broke at the weld.  But a quick stop at Nanny Cay, some great welding by Nanny Cay, and a lot of Paul labour made us good as new.  Not the ideal way to spend the last couple days with Gwyn who had arrived for Christmas, but we found ways to make it good.

Next was the visit of our son Keith and his wife Taryl. They enjoyed a week with Paul in BVI in January 2017.

Between January and March, Paul single handed the boat from BVI to Antigua.  Love the passage sunsets


Spectacular sunset

Next I came for a break from work in March and was joined on the boat by my second cousin from England, David Wilce (our grandfathers were brothers). He spent 10 days on the boat, while I left after 6 days.  First stop was some relaxing at Green Island and a visit to Harmony Hall.

Then came Paul’s birthday with a fun toy.

After much fun and relaxation at Green Island, Gwyn had to head back to Vancouver so Paul and David met some friends in Falmouth and discovered some great hikes.

And lastly Paul had some great crew, Matt and Chris, from St Croix, who helped him sail the boat from BVI to Hampton, Virginia in May. They had a quick and easy sail to the US. Here’s some of the dolphins they enjoyed along the way. They also caught some fish.

Hopefully we’ll do better at keeping the blog up to date from this point forward. Meanwhile Happy 2018 everyone.

Creepy Crawlies

I surprised myself when I discovered I don’t scream when a cockroach crawls over my foot. Yes, this happened on one of my night shifts about half way through the trip. I was in the head (aka bathroom) when it happened. Anyway, I finished what I was doing proceeded to track down the thing and smashed it with a hammer. It wasn’t moving as fast as it normally would have so I assumed it had eaten some of my poison. I don’t really like to admit that I became quite so evil in the killing of this cockroach, but I did. Who knows what that karma will look like.

I was naive to think there was only one. A few days after arrival to the island another cockroach tickled my leg while I was reading late one night. I was sitting under the red lights on the boat with only the light of my computer glowing. Cockroaches like the dark. Well, I woke up Paul. I had cornered the thing near our door. We had no raid on board so we sprayed it with Clorox kitchen cleaner. It got away from us so I didn’t sit in the dark for a few nights after that. This one did die, we found it under the carpet near our entry way a few days later.

We of course went to the store the next day for Raid. I’d also insisted that we order some cockroach bait before we departed Hampton, so I put this out in the cupboards and around the boat where the pets couldn’t get into it.

Number 3, yes there was a third one. This one tickled my leg. Once I realized it wasn’t the cat, I grabbed the Raid and a flashlight and sprayed the thing. I went for the trusty hammer and when I came back with it I couldn’t find the cockroach. Arghhh. As I was wandering around looking for it, there it was practically at my feet. I split it in half with the hammer. This hammer is no ordinary hammer (see pic), it’s one that is meant to smash through the windows in the hull of the boat if it ever ends up upside down and we need to get escape.

On yet another relaxing evening I went to grab a can of tonic water from the cupboard and there to greet me was cockroach number 4. I quickly closed the cupboard door, grabbed the raid and opened the door and sprayed. This one got away. I had to go back into the cupboard the next day in the daylight and wash everything inside since it was all coated with Raid, yes I sprayed with a vengeance. It’s the price you pay for trying to free the boat from these critters.

Number 5 showed up for Paul. It’s about time he dealt with one. This one was nearly dead and found in the cupboard where the dog food is kept. The same place the first one came out from. Paul threw it overboard and announced it to me when I awoke.

Number 6, which may have been number 4, showed up dead under the printer. Paul found this one, showed it to me. I insisted he squish it real good before throwing it overboard, just in case it could do the backstroke.

We are now over 1 week without any sightings. I’ve kept the poison topped up just in case. I’ve cleaned out several bilges and have had no evidence of more. Well I wrote that line yesterday. Last night I woke in the night and decided to make myself some tea. Low and behold, there was a big cockroach on the kitchen counter. Out came the raid and the flashlight. I sprayed it but it moved quickly, clearly not taken in by the poison. Down to the floor and Where??? I turned on all the lights, and Sierra kitty made a dash toward her water dish. There it was. Move the cat, spray, spray, spray some more, gotcha. Then I picked up the trusty hammer and smashed the thing. Oh, my karma. Wash out the water bowl and relocate it while the raid dries and dissipates into the pets food mat. Meanwhile wash up the kitchen counter and cupboard doors from the raid. I leave the dead thing on the pets mat for Paul to deal with in the morning. Time for my tea and back to bed.

To add to the bugs on board saga, I had to throw out a bag of seeds meant for sprouting. Luckily it was only one bag, but some sort of little black flying bug had hatched inside the bag. There were probably around 30-50 of these things inside the bag. The good news was they were contained. I emptied the bugs and seeds overboard. I figure the fish would get a nice little treat of protein in those bugs. The seeds sunk so may be a nibble for a crab or shrimp.

Yes, it’s not all fun and games at sea. Sometimes you have to deal with creepy things. But good heavens I think I’ve had enough for awhile. I’ll keep you posted should there be any more bug stories to share.

2017 Passage South

Many boats left as planned on November 2nd and made a planned stop in Bermuda for fuel due to low winds in the forecast. We opted to wait for wind along with several other boats in the Salty Dawg Rally. We departed at 1508 EST from Hampton on November 6th four days later than originally planned. As we neared Cape Henry we were greeted by dolphins. I take them as a good omen that the passage will go well.

And our passage to Antigua was relatively easy this year. We started with little wind but enough to motor sail down the coast towards Hatteras. We crossed the gulf stream without big seas or swell relatively speaking.

We had an odd influx of moths join us as we crossed the Gulf Stream this year. They appeared out of no where and left in the same manner. I counted at least 7 on board and they stayed for about 24 hours.

We also saw birds 200 miles off shore – the most unusual being 2 herons that looked like they wanted to land on our boat but we were in the process of putting up the Code Zero (big sail for light winds) so they circled once and realized people were on board and continued flying south. Amazing.

The cat was sick a few times but didn’t give up eating because of it. We were surprised how well she did for her first passage. As time went on she came to understand the routine and often joined whoever was at the helm at night.

One night while she was at the helm with me she perked up and got my attention to notice a flying fish had landed in the cockpit. She was curious so I put the flashlight on it for her. I don’t touch fish, so the thing had to suffer it out until P came on shift to throw it overboard. It entertained Sierra for a short while. She sniffed it once it stopped moving and just walked on by back to the inside of the boat.

We had a few squalls on our last few days of passage but none with winds of more than 25 knots so even these were easy to pass through as they were also fairly small in size. I appreciate a good squall for getting the salt off the boat.

A typical squall at sea (relatively mild <30 knot winds)

We had to manage fuel as we knew we’d have little or no wind on our final days of passage. We did this fairly easily as we carried an additional 49 gallons of fuel, giving us 207 gallons of fuel for the trip. We had more than enough as we motored the last 2 days of the trip against mild winds from the south.

Our trip took just under 11 days. We arrived in Jolly Harbour, Antigua at 9:30am on November 17th. We used the wind as much as possible to sail us until the wind went south. There was a point when we were easily headed to Puerto Rico at which we had to tack and turn on the motors again.

We didn’t have crew, just P and I doing our usual 3 hour sifts. My shifts 8-11 and 2-5, his 11-2 and 5-8.

Highlights were falling stars at night. The Leonid Meteor Shower was scheduled to peak on November 17th, the day of our arrival. The night before, Nov 16, they were clearly starting as I watched many falling stars on my last night shift before arrival.

Destination and Departure

All summer we’ve watched storms. Hurricanes bigger than ever had us checking every weather network daily. And as you all know, the British Virgin Islands (aka BVI) and the US Virgin islands were devastated by a category 5 hurricane named Irma. The BVI is the usual passage south destination for us every year, but after Irma, followed closely by hurricane Maria, many islands would not be ready for a large fleet of boats coming in.

Fall sunset on calm waters

We join the Salty Dawg Rally each year for many reasons, but mostly for safety. Going with a fleet of more than 50 other boats means you are not out there alone out there if anything goes wrong, not to mention the fact that they also provide a great deal of support and education for the open ocean passage.

When the rally board of directors realized the devastation of the BVI’s they knew that they would need to determine if the rally would run this year at all and if it did where it would go. Two weeks after Irma a decision was made to take the rally to Antigua.

We had no issue with this as we had already made the same decision for ourselves. Antigua is our favourite island in the chain (at least from those we’ve been to). We go there every year and we knew it would only be an additional day of sailing to get there. We were thrilled when the rally chose it as the 2017 Fall Rally destination.

Part of getting ready for our trip south is getting our dog Charlie’s vet paperwork complete. Part of that paperwork includes a Rabies titer test. This is the test that tells you that the rabies vaccine took and majority of the islands in the Caribbean require this test as the islands are all rabies free.

Charlie checking out the new helm seat back

Charlie’s last rabies shot prior to the titer test was July 2015 and it was a 3 years rabies shot. We took him for his titer test in September and waited the 3 weeks for the results. The results came in on October 2nd and Charlie didn’t pass which was a shock to us as he’s never failed this test in the past. This means his 3 year vaccine didn’t last the 3 years or it could also mean Charlie’s immunity isn’t as good as it should be, although he seems healthy enough.

We quickly booked him in for another rabies shot that same day and waited a minimum of 3 weeks to get the blood pulled for another test. We had that done on Friday, October 27th. The blood drawn then gets sent to Kansas city. We paid an extra $150 to have the test expedited, which means we should have a result back within 2 weeks. Meanwhile we’ll be on route to the Caribbean (the vet has committed to email us the result as soon as he gets it and the original result will be sent to Antigua).

Charlie in his sweater on a cool day in Hampton

This really affected us because we couldn’t get the USDA to stamp our dog’s international health certificate without the result. Or so we thought. The vet that came to the Salty Dawg event in Hampton suggested we send along proof that we had given Charlie another rabies vaccine along with proof that we had sent off another titer test to Kansas city.

It worked! We got the USDA stamp so that means that we are heading for Antigua with the rest of the Salty Dawgs.

If we hadn’t got the stamp, we had planned to sail direct to Guadeloupe where they only need proof of the rabies vaccine and proof that your dog is free of parasites. We can still sail to Guadeloupe if something goes wrong with this next titer result, but we are staying positive and heading to Antigua.

Meanwhile we are down to the last few days of preparation.

Gaston up the mast to install a new sheave

Weather wise it is looking positive for a November 2nd departure if you carry enough fuel to get you there with approximately 9 days of motoring. This didn’t seem appealing to many of the boats so an alternative date of November 4th was determined which would potentially give us more wind. This is the option we’ve opted for. Besides we still have a few things to get done.

We attended the Salty Dawg Halloween dinner on October 31st. There was a good number of people that dressed up in costume. We buy raffle tickets and I won an Easy Sprout kit. I look forward to sprouting and adding sprouts to smoothies, salads and sandwiches.

Bob Marley’s brother Bill
P with Vladimir drinking a Dark and Stormy
Stripes on sailors
Gathering for the Halloween event

We received our sails back from the sail loft late Tuesday and Paul spent the day yesterday putting them back up. I had restitched our sail bag but when we put it up Paul realized that I’d missed a couple of spots where the batons go. Rather than take the bag down again, we took the sewing machine to the sail bag and I stitched it up there.

Trusty sewing machine

We have also received our new dinghy, and need to mount our new dinghy motor and take it for a test drive. Paul also needs to sort out how it mounts on the davits off the back of the boat. I’ll make a cover for the new motor as well. We also have several other key tasks still left to do so we’ll be super busy right up to departure.

This will be our last post until we arrive. You can follow our journey through the Ocens tracking system: click here and put in SDR in the “group” area to see all boats on passage or enter “Blue Sky” in the name area to see just us. We generally send an update twice a day, but I believe they only post one entry per day to their site.

We’ll post again as soon as possible after our arrival. Thanks for following us on our journey.

BVI beckons as Hampton gets chilly

Tis that time of year again when the seasons encourage one to do like almost all smart birds – head south that is. But this year it is with a twist. Gwyn has temporarily swallowed the anchor for a challenging project stint at a hospital so I find myself without my wife, constant companion, best friend, and co-captain. That’s a big loss/change! And mother nature threw a knuckle ball by speeding a lightning bolt toward Blue Sky in September effectively destroying all electronics on the boat. So the last couple of month’s have been a mad scramble getting the boat ready for a passage while constantly discovering layers of damage. But that will be covered in another post.

So throwing out the challenge of how to get south without an arduous singlehander (plus Charlie) trip, Paul went looking for crew, found 3 but one dropped out at the last second. Never fear, the committed two proved to be great crew and we (Paul, Charlie, Elisabeth, Dennis plus Paul’s grandson, Titan) proved up to the challenge, scrambling at the last minute to get the boat seaworthy and stores aboard for what is usually a challenging trip. But Neptune was kind this year and the trip was the fastest and easiest of the last four years, by far!! So between favorable winds and having 3 instead of two crew (meaning 5 1/2 hours of sleep at a time instead of 2 1/2), the trip was wonderful. But you have to understand that is relative to the “normal” trip. A new passagemaker might describe our easy trip as horrible, rough, biiiig waves, thought the boat was coming apart, never got any sleep, how can you talk on the SSB, catch your coffee taking an unplanned trip to starboard, while typing on the computer, and pretending this is fun! But that IS the joy of a passage, its always different and the more you do, the more interesting it becomes. If it isn’t your thing, a cruise ship is definitely a better idea.

But it is my thing, and Charlie, and my crew, and eventually Titan (you gotta let your body figure it out for a bit). We left on Nov 5 with a favorable wind but not quite enough speed to get across the gulf stream before a bad wind shift to the north was due to arrive. So we augmented the sail with a loping motor which got us across on time. It was lovely to shut it down and have some quiet on day 2. The promised north wind showed up creating 12 foot steep waves with the odd one to 20 feet. But they were coming from the aft quarter (behind us) which I find relatively comfortable in our catamaran, not so much in a monohull. So we had a rough fast ride for a day or so until the waves got further apart making the ups and downs more gentle. All our brand new electronics performed wonderfully and we had a good ride.

Once Titan got his sea legs after a few days and the seas relaxed a bit, it was time for fishing. Armed with a measly $48 worth of fishing gear (Cuban Yoyo, no rod and reel) our expectations weren’t high but we were hopeful.

Titan maintaining a cool fish watch 400 miles from land
Titan maintaining a cool fish watch 400 miles from land

Of course the first thing we caught was ourselves! Whoa, how is that? Well, just forget to pull in your fishing line at night, add an autopilot disengaging somehow, a sprinkle of boat turning 360 degrees before the Watch sorted out something was amiss and you have the fishing line wrapped around the rudder/sail drive. The good news since we were motorsailing at the time is that it wrapped around the rudder/saildrive of the engine that was off. And even better, when the captain started his 5 am shift, he noticed the line was out but very taut and crossing behind the boat – so wisely did not switch to the port motor. So as the crew awoke from their slumbers we all did a little brainstorming and sorted out how to unwind the line without losing the lure, making things worse, or jumping in the water which was still a bit bumpy for doing work under the boat.

But it was all worth it as a couple days later – “Fish on”.

And all that led to over 30 pounds of 3 types of fish in the freezer.

Fantastic Wahoo steaks!  Whoopee!  Yum.
Fantastic Wahoo steaks! Whoopee! Yum.

As we got south, all were able to get somewhat more relaxed until we spotted Tortola before dark on the 13th and had a fantastic fast beam reach sail all the way in to North Sound arriving at 9 pm with an almost full moon (impossible to photograph on a moving boat but was stunning and beautiful).

The next day, after checking in with customs and immigration, it was relaxing time for all until our crew had to leave early Wednesday morning.

A hearty thanks to my fine crew Dennis and Elisabeth who with Titan blended into a wonderful temporary family for the trip. You two are awesome! And thanks to our great provider, Titan, for the awesome variety of fish to eat and add to ship stores. Certainly made a great return on the $48 fishing tools investment! And for a final thrill, Titan hooked into a marlin just before we hit BVI waters. As we were trying to figure out how to let it go, it made a short hop then quick turn, and it was gone. Beautiful fish back into the sea to grow much bigger.