Posted by: svdemeter | March 16, 2014

It’s Been A While…..

There you have it.  It’s mid March and already I’m pretty sure we win the Understatement Of The Year Award!

OK, we admit it, we’ve been lousy at keeping up this blog for the last few months.  No excuses. No looking back.  We’ll just bring you up to date with some highlights since our last post and do our darnest to get better at this.  (You have our friends on s/v Saralane to thank for this – the nudges to  update our blog have been starting to get painful LOL!)

August 2013

When we last updated, Ted had just got his captains license and we were hanging out in St. John awaiting approval of Ted’s work permit.  We did some jumping around, but mostly stayed in Coral Bay, where we’ve all made some good friends.

The work permit process was…….shall we say, tedious.  trips to and from St. Thomas for medical exams (including stool samples, TB tests and syphilis tests <- of all crazy things!).  Ted got the call that the paperwork was ready and went to Tortola solo to get everything approved and finalized, which turned into a 4 day stay (he got to Immigration on a Thursday, they took his paperwork and said “great, come back on Tuesday” because their Carnival was starting).  Luckily he had anticipated at least an overnight and had brought a clean pair of underwear!  The whole process from start to finish was agonizingly slow, often confusing, many times ridiculous (syphilis but not HIV? really?), expensive (everyone needed to get paid, including BVI doctors – $100 to “approve” the medical paperwork we submitted x 4 of us!) and almost surreal, but finally we were all legal residents – Ted with a work permit and Claudia & the kids as dependents (which basically prohibits Claudia from seeking work for 1 year, lest she take a job from a “belonger” <- term for those born here).

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August also brought Anya’s 8th birthday, celebrated on the beach with friends from Coral Bay and Tortola

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The downtime gave us opportunity to get some boat work done

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and get caught up on some sewing too.

September 2013

We started homeschooling back up, much to the chagrin of Max and Anya.  We’ve managed to keep the routine of Max working with Ted (going with him into the office at 7am-ish) and Anya and Claudia working together on Demeter.  5th and 3rd grades this year!

Once again, school books arrived in big boxes and were delivered via dock cart! These are a few of Anya's 3rd grade books.

Once again, school books arrived in big boxes and were delivered via dock cart! These are a few of Anya’s 3rd grade books.

October 2013

The highlight this month was a visit from Ted’s parents!  They are going strong and we had a great visit with them, highlighted by a fabulous sail over to Peter Island and then out past Norman Island that got Ted’s dad whispering to the waves just like he always did.

Swimming in Little Harbor - Peter Island

Swimming in Little Harbor – Peter Island

Ted's  Dad enjoyed sailing for the first time in about 10 years!

Ted’s Dad enjoyed sailing for the first time in about 10 years!

November 2013

Another set of visitors blessed us this month! This time it was our wonderful friends, the Parramore Family (sans corgi Joey & the mare Finley).  Once again, one week was not long enough, but we were able to enjoy a few nights out with them (they chartered a boat and we tagged along behind for the weekend), swimming, snorkeling, diving & general hilarity.

BFF!

BFF!

Happy Happy Happy!

Happy Happy Happy!

A shore excursion at Peter Island

A shore excursion at Peter Island

Thanksgiving was spent with our friends Brian, Shakti, and Paul & Monica aboard s/v Moonshadow (who we’d met while cruising last year and reconnected with again when they sailed down with the Caribbean 1500).  It was a fun evening with a delicious home cooked meal which included turkey & pumpkin pie!

Shakti & Brian - our Thanksgiving dinner hosts.

Shakti & Brian – our Thanksgiving dinner hosts.

Also in November, Claudia picked up a few days work as the aforementioned Caribbean 1500 boats started to arrive in Nanny Cay from Portsmouth VA.  It was great fun working with friends Andy Schell & Mia Kaarlson and even more fun being the one to hand salty sailors rum punches as they ended their epic journeys.  We were able to make many new friends among them who we continue to stay in touch with!

December 2013

The visitors keep on rolling! This month it was Claudia’s parents in for a week, then joined by her brother Eric & nephew Alex for the week of Christmas.  The kids all had a blast together.  We got all of them out sailing too – taking them to our favorite anchorage – Little Harbor, Peter Island to enjoy the next to nothingness that is there.

We did a hike at Sage Mountain (high point, Tortola) that was exceptionally muddy.

We did a hike at Sage Mountain (high point, Tortola) that was exceptionally muddy.

This years Christmas tree was am upgrade from last years.  100% homemade with ornament contributions from the kids & Oma & Grandpa!

This years Christmas tree was am upgrade from last years. 100% homemade with ornament contributions from the kids & Oma & Grandpa!

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The boys also had a blast riding the waves as they crashed in between the boulders at The Baths on Virgin Gorda.

Max and Alex with their catch - Little Harbor, Peter Island

Max and Alex with their catch – Little Harbor, Peter Island

And right before they arrived, we got access to a vehicle! It belongs to CYM, but thus far we’ve had access to it on weekends and for whatever errands we need, so that’s given us a bit of a new lease on life :)

January 2014 

We spent a relatively quiet New Years Eve here at Nanny Cay and have settled into 2014.  Ted continues to work hard, and unfortunately it’s taking its toll on his back/siatic nerve again.  The last few weeks he’s been hobbling around, trying to work through the pain and rest when he can (which is not nearly as much as he should).  He’s been getting medical help and we’re hoping that things start healing soon.

One weekend we went to St. Thomas with Brian, Shakti and Rayne for a regatta at the St. Thomas Yacht Club.  We rode over in style (its all relative, right?) on a catamaran that Brian has use of this season and stayed aboard at the yacht club dock.  While Rayne and Max went out and kicked buttowski in their respective fleets (2nd places for both of them!!), the rest of us did what BVI people normally do in STT – shop!  Home Depot, KMart (THE place the shop for us down here) and PriceMart (akin to Sam’s Club or Costco) benefited from our excursion.  We also were able to have a too brief get together with Claudia’s cousin Roy & his fiance, Theresa who happened to be in St. Thomas for vacation.

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Sunrise on the way to St. Thomas (yes, we got an early start that morning so we could make it to the yacht club in time for the skippers meeting – plus we had to stop in St. John to clear customs on the way!)

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While waiting to clear customs on the way home, the kids had a huge waterfight off the back to the two team catamarans – hilarious!

We spent a day as support crew for Brian as he and a team of 2 others did a paddle board relay race from Trellis Bay (Tortola) to White Bay (Jost van Dyke) – a total of  14 miles.  We ran the support boat, kept track of time and helped with getting paddlers in/out of the water.  The event ended at the famous Soggy Dollar bar and the highlight (for Ted and Max) was meeting Jimmy Spithill who was there participating in the event with his Oracle teammate Shannon Falconne.

February 2014

February included a lot of work for Ted as owners came and went and came back again, but we managed a weekend to Coral Bay in St. John, which is always a wonderful escape for us.

With my friends Reina and Colleen - mid way through my favorite hike - St. John

With my friends Reina and Colleen – mid way through my favorite hike – St. John

Mail pickup in Coral Bay!

Mail pickup in Coral Bay!

Christmas in Feb!

Christmas in Feb!

Another highlight this month was a surprise (for Anya) visit to Ft. Lauderdale to visit with her BFF, Julia.  It was a great 4 day weekend just playing and enjoying time with her friends that she’s missed so much since we left.  And Bonus: I got to spend time with her awesome mom, Lisa, who I love to bits!!

We also did some boat chores (they never end) this month.

Starting the wiring for the planned A/C.

Starting the wiring for the planned A/C.

Boat chore: Cleaning all the floorboards.

Boat chore: Cleaning all the floorboards.

March 2014

Yup – More weekends in paradise.  This time we discovered a new favorite anchorage, South Sound in Virgin Gorda.  The entrance is a narrow cut between a long reef that opens into a huge anchorage that we had completely to ourselves.  The kids (including Ted) all played with a borrowed Zup board and we all enjoyed the solitude.

Demeter enjoying South Sound, Virgin Gorda

Demeter enjoying South Sound, Virgin Gorda

Conch shells galore - both on the shore and in the water.

Conch shells galore – both on the shore and in the water.

Grandpa Pelican oversees his domain

Grandpa Pelican oversees his domain

Ted  on Zup.

Ted on Zup.

Local.  South Sound Virgin Gorda

Local. South Sound Virgin Gorda

Max zupping

Max zupping

Just now we are in Great Harbor Peter Island, for a quick night out of the marina.  We had a gorgeous sail last night with a nearly full moon.  It’s funny – we used to sail so much at night in Annapolis and down here we haven’t done it in a long time.  Last night it was perfect breeze and NO other boat out.

local fisherman casting a hand net.  Great Harbor, Peter Island

local fisherman casting a hand net. Great Harbor, Peter Island

Anya tries to check out the cabins in a cruise ship passing us by

Anya tries to check out the cabins in a cruise ship passing us by

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Nearly full moon during out sail last night.

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Gorgeous sunset.

In other big news this month, we’ve booked tickets to visit Annapolis for 2 weeks in May.  The occasion is a friends wedding, but we are super excited to see everyone,  but know that the visit will go by far to quickly…

In any event – this is our update – we will do are darndest to post more frequently from here in the BVI!

Posted by: svdemeter | August 6, 2013

Coral Bay, St. John

We spent a rolly week anchored in Red Hook St Thomas as the harbor was convenient to Ted getting to Captains School each morning at 8am, but as soon as the exam was finished we weighed anchor and headed west in search of peaceful harbors. Red Hook is a busy ferry dock with service to St John and other locations in the Virgins, so ferries come and all day and most of the night leaving their wake to anchorage.  We were keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Chantal who was scheduled to pass to the south of us with uncertain impact so we first took a look at the lagoon on St Thomas.  This area is extremely well protected but unfortunately, like many anchorages in the USVI, it is choked with boats in various stages of disrepair. Allow me to digress on my observations of harbors in the USVI.

As I mentioned in earlier posts we consistently meet new people all over down here and, as anywhere else I suppose, folks run the spectrum of humanity. On one end you have families like ours who have sailed from all over the world to find a better place to raise their children and are either settled in to the Virgin Islands or are working for a spell to refill their cruising kitty. We have met wonderful families from all over Europe and the Americas all with really cool stories and many have become close friends. On the other end of the spectrum you have folks who washed ashore here 20 years ago on some small boat with wild dreams of sailing the world only to find they weren’t able to escape the lure of the bottle. They  are continuing a subsistence lifestyle living on social security on their now dismasted and entirely rotten carcass of a boat. These folks, while diehard drunks, are largely benign and don’t bother anyone although they do serve as a reminder of what life can become down here. People have been coming to the USVI for decades in search of paradise and unfortunately for many, it has not worked out. The problem for the rest of us however is many of their boats are left behind. Beautiful harbors all over the USVI are clogged with abandoned derelict boats making some of them dangerous to anchor in due to the underwater hazards awaiting ones ground tackle. The struggle for the local community is how to get rid of the boats. It’s very costly to remove them and, this being US territory, there is a host of “regulations” to deal with so, like many things in mainland America, nothing ever gets done.  Down here there is however a “natural” solution, commonly referred to as a hurricane!

As we poked around the lagoon on St Thomas looking for a spot to hide out and weather Chantal we discovered that it was dead low tide and even though the tidal range down here is very slight it meant the further reaches of the lagoon were not going to be accessible.  The latest guidance on Chantal didn’t have us terribly alarmed as they weren’t calling for winds much over 40kts and the storm was moving very quickly but, it being our first brush with tropical weather, we were apprehensive.  Looking at the weather models and the direction of forecast winds we decided to head to Water Island and Honeymoon Bay as it was well protected from all but the west and southwest.  We hunkered down there and stripped the boat of all excess windage. This involves taking the sails off mizzen, main, and genoa. Removing the bimini and lowering the solar panels. Adding chafe gear to our anchor rode and preparing additional anchors. It was a full day of work and a silly mistake had us lose our genoa halyard from the mast but, at the end of the day we were pretty well battened down. As it turned out we never got a single drop of rain and the winds never blew over 10kts! We were thankful nonetheless and it was a good exercise for us all. The following day I went to the top of the mast and reinstalled the genoa halyard and we put the boat back together.

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Extra chafe protection around our lines.

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Sails stowed on the port side in preparation for what turned out to be a quiet night…better than the alternative!

Having finished the course for my captains’ license I discovered that passing the exam was the easy part in getting the license. Like most things US, there is a mountain of bureaucracy in between demonstrating one’s ability to responsibly execute an action and being “duly permitted” to execute said action.  I’m still working on completing the little details before I can actually file my application for the license. At this stage I am waiting on the TSA to complete their “threat assessment” on me so they can issue a Transportation Workers Identity Card, or TWIC. With any luck in a few more weeks I’ll have all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted and be ready to file, oh and pay the $150 application fee. Did I mention that each T to be crossed typically involves giving someone $100 or more.  At any rate at least with the license we can fall back on using Demeter for charters down here if like.  [Update: TWIC card has been issued and is in handJ]

After Chantal passed we decided to head east to our favorite island in the USVI; St John. Most of St. John is designated as park land and there are dozens of great hiking trails. We also use a mail spot in St John to receive packages and forwarded mail. Our wifi antenna had suffered from water intrusion so we ordered a replacement. We have used an outfit in Florida called Islandtime PC. Bob Stewart the owner is a cruiser himself and he designs and builds custom computers for boats that run on 12 volts and have very efficient hardware and monitors. He sells these custom computers at a really low cost too. Bob not only has given us great deals on his wifi equipment he has also been our personal tech support guy willing to take calls from all over the Caribbean at just about any time. He’s helped us out of many IT jams and when its time, I fully intend to buy a new boat computer from him. So with our wifi antenna back up we are once again able to pick up free internet just about anywhere we anchor. This makes Skype and our new friend FaceTime the easy way to stay in touch with family and friends.

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One of many treasures the kids find along the way.

St. John has many gorgeous anchorages and many of them have moorings provided by the park service so you don’t have to anchor. The use of moorings prevents damage to the sea floor and allows the grasses which the sea turtles are so fond of to flourish on the bottom.  St John is also steeped in history having been operated by the Dutch for sugar production for many years. Except for the scattered ruins here and there, little evidence remains of the once immense plantations that existed on the island. Hiking through shaded forests one often encounters large stone walls in the middle of nowhere, remnants of old slave quarters and ruins of estate houses that the jungle has since reclaimed. Life aboard does not often allow the regular opportunity for exercise, so Claudia and I have been trying to make an effort at getting ashore and hiking regularly.  It being summertime in the tropics we try to hike in the mornings when possible. Our last hike was the Reef Bay trail which is about 3 miles in either direction and has just over 900 feet of elevation change.   Claudia has gotten out more frequently (2-3 times a week) for 4 mile hikes with a new friend and occasionally the kids tag along.  Here is a link to the St. John Trail Map – The trail we regularly do from Coral Bay is the Johnny Horn Trail to the Brown Bay Trail.

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Along the Reef Bay trail – can you see the petroglyphs in the picture?

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Ruins of a village along the Reef Bay Trail

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More ruins – Reef Bay Trail

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The kids are awesome hikers – this is on the Brown Bay trail

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On the Brown Bay trail we often take a short break at , well, Brown Bay. On this trip there were a few dozen conch in the tidal pools.

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Huge century plant on the Brown Bay trail

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You know it’s a small world when you run into a guy on the Reef Bay trail who turns out to live about 2 blocks from your old house and went to HS with Ted’s brother. And then see him again at the local watering hole and find out that his son was taught by your sister in law!

One thing I was not expecting was the difference in summer weather here versus summer in Annapolis. The temperature climbs to the high 80’s most days with lows in the high 70’s most nights. What is absent however is the oppressive humidity that plagues the East Coast. I was expecting high heat and tropical humidity but instead we often experience large dry air masses which come across the Atlantic from Africa. Many of these dry air masses are filled with dust from the Sahara which sometimes causes me to sneeze and have allergy like symptoms. Most nights we sleep with a sheet and most days the heat even ashore is tolerable. All in all I am still very much in love with the climate here!

So we’ve been hanging out here in Coral Bay on St John for the last few weeks while getting through hopefully the last bit of paperwork and forms related to immigration and work permit for the BVI. We’ve made some new friends, the kids have had sleep overs with local kids, and we’ve really been enjoying the community here. We went out a few times sailing heading out to the deep water that lies between St John and St Croix with the hopes of catching some good fish but haven’t had much luck yet. We are hoping that next week Ted will complete his BVI immigration and work permitting process and we will make plans to head back to Tortola. We are waiting on approval by the BVI Ministry of Education to home-school our kids for next year. Once we have that, Claudia and the kids immigration clearances should be complete allowing them to take the medical exams and tests remaining for their applications. With any luck our next post will be from Tortola with us settled in and working once again.

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The kids have made great friends in Coral Bay – they have a ton of fun together!

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The very well used, often crowded, dinghy dock in Coral Bay.

Posted by: svdemeter | July 26, 2013

A Long Lost Update from the USVI

[Note: this blog post is more than a tad overdue but we finally have a connection that we can post pics through..... more soon!]

First of all, we really need to apologize for not doing a better job at keeping you all updated is a t actively writing on the blog. The pace of cruising life for us has changed in some regards over the past 2 months in that we have not been actively island hopping through the Caribbean chain quite like we were over the winter.

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Some of the day to day things we’ve done include Claudia giving Ted a haircut for the first time with some borrowed clippers. I won’t quit my day job (ha!) but it was good enough that he went out in public!

However while our traveling pace may have slowed some, the days are still full of activity and we have not yet achieved the slow pace of life we thought this lifestyle would bring. For starters the kids are still both working on school lessons most days of the week. They are closing in on the end of the school year and the countdown to the last lesson has them pushing for double lesson days. A double lesson day typically has us doing school from 9am till about 4pm.  As of this posting, Max has 11 lessons left and Anya has 8.  Summer vacation has never been so anticipated by all of us! [Update: They are D.O.N.E.!]

Max has just finished competing in his biggest Optimist regatta to date, the International Optimist Regatta at St. Thomas Yacht Club. Formerly  the Scotiabank Regatta, this year it drew 115 kids from all over the Eastern Caribbean, Cayman Islands, Nicaragua, and of course the continental US, with many kids from California. Max was proud to carry the SSA (Severn Sailing Association – our old racing club in Annapolis) flag during the Parade of Nations at the regatta opening event.  Leading up to the event we had been doing some practicing, but Max has reached a point in his sailing where Dad is no longer the coach he needs. Unfortunately, we have realized that for Max there are only so many hats that Dad can wear and we have decided to limit them to teacher and father.

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Max proudly displays his green fleet medal with a new friend.

It's always fun to go into yacht clubs and see the Severn Sailing Association burgee hanging up!

It’s always fun to go into yacht clubs and see the Severn Sailing Association burgee hanging up!

Our near term plans have us returning to the BVI sometime around the end of July. We have decided to remain in the Caribbean through hurricane season as Ted has accepted a position with a yacht management company in Tortola. Presently we are in the US Virgin Islands while we wait for the work permit process to run its course. In order to legally work in the British Virgin Islands one has to have a work permit. The permitting process is rather arduous and while we have ours filed and are hopeful it will be processed there are no guarantees. If we are not successful with the permit we will likely be looking for a window to sail back to Annapolis, but that’s our last ditch plan. We have found the climate, culture, people, and sailing here to be nothing short of amazing. At nearly every turn we are meeting exceptional people who embrace life and have diverse backgrounds. Nearly everyone has an amazing story to tell. The cruise we took this winter down the chain to Grenada was far too rushed and we left so many islands unexplored. On the trip back north we made the decision to pursue work in the BVI if we could find it to allow us to remain in this island paradise indefinitely. The BVI offers so much for us as a family with many other kids Max and Anya have quickly made lasting friendships. Being based in Tortola means access to one of the best Optimist sailing programs in the world and first rate coaching for Max. A private school on the island following the IB curriculum offers a host of resources to our kids without being actively enrolled. There are sports teams and a number of extracurricular clubs the kids can participate in. The position I have accepted, assuming the permitting process works out, will allow us to keep Demeter in a convenient location. This location is also an ideal place for family and friends to come visit us. The separation from family has been a big challenge for all of us, but Claudia and I feel strongly that the BVI and the Caribbean in general is a much better place to raise children than the US.  We have all adjusted to a life that does not include TV, malls, traffic, or winter. The children we do meet here are very well mannered and seem to have a much better grasp on life than those we left in the States. We breathe much easier down here not having to listen to constant barrage of bad news, tabloid politics, and eroding culture that seems all to rampant in the US.

So just what have we been up to lately? Well, we left the BVI at the end of May when our tourist visas expired and we sailed west to St. John in the USVI. After a few lovely days in the Cruz Bay area we sailed a bit further west to Christmas Cove in St. Thomas. Ted is going to take an accelerated course to obtain his US Coast Guard Captain’s License during the first week of July in Red Hook so we were scoping out places to stay on the boat for that week. The course runs from 8am till 5pm for 8 straight days.  Christmas Cove is also adjacent to the St. Thomas Yacht Club where Max would be sailing so we wanted to become familiar with the place before it was overrun with regatta kids and their parents. When registering for the regatta Ted was looking into ways to lower the entry fee and discovered they were looking for a Race Officer to run the Green fleet sailors. Green fleet is the group Max sails in and with Ted being a US Sailing Certified Race Officer it made a perfect fit. Both of us ran the 33 boat Green fleet and had a great time over the 3 days of racing, running a total of 18 races. The club was well organized and had us missing our home club Severn Sailing Association although we found the SSA burgee proudly pinned in the clubs collection.  In addition, Claudia discovered that the Regatta organizer when to the same (very) small high school that she attended and they knew people in common – love that small world stuff!

After a few days in Christmas Cove we headed further west to Water Island which is just off the main town on St. Thomas, Charlotte Amalie. Water Island has an anchorage called Honeymoon Bay which is super convenient to all Charlotte Amalie, but without the noise and traffic. It was a great anchorage with a beach on which the kids made new friends once again!  We also discovered easy access to grocery, marine supplies, and laundry all via the $1 busses that run through town. While in St Thomas we picked up a USVI SIMcard for the cell phone to make calling the US cheaper. After a few days in Honeymoon Bay we decided to sail further west to the Spanish Virgin Islands. We had been meaning to cruise there and figure now we would have some time. There is a lot to see with the main islands of Vieques, Culebra, and Culebrita and we also were interested in Puerto Rico, but given our limited amount of time we decided to focus on Culebra. We had a great downwind sail to Ensenada Honda on Culebra and after a few days there we decided to take a ferry to Puerto Rico instead of sailing the 20ish miles downwind followed by another 20 upwind back. There is a ferry to the town of Fajardo on the east coast of Puerto Rico that only costs $2.00 each way. It was a no brainer. In Fajardo we rented a car and drove an hour and a half to Old San Juan. The trip was a real culture shock for all of us. After 7 months of cruising we were suddenly in a car barreling down a 4 lane freeway at 70 mph! Large billboards screamed out on both sides of the highway, fast food restaurants, shopping malls, it was sensory overload for all of us. We found Old San Juan to be an amazing town filled with history, culture, great food and beautiful architecture. Many of the buildings date to the 1500’s and the city is filled with historic sites like Casa Blanca; the family home of Juan Ponce De Leon. We spent a full day exploring the sites, old forts, and wandering the beautiful cobbled streets. In the evening we stayed in a hotel on the 9th floor and the kids got to watch a few of their old favorite TV shows. We were all excited to take a bath in the hotel tub, a luxury with limitless water we don’t have on the boat.  Alas, there was no drain plug for the tub so it would have to be showers, but at least we could let the hot water run as long as we wanted! Anya is so accustomed to life on Demeter though that she promptly turned the water off once she had gotten wet and began to wash up just like aboard. Claudia reminded her she could let the water run as long as she wanted though. After a nice dinner we all hit the beds for our first night sleep ashore as a family since July 3rd 2012.

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There are amazing statues everywhere in Old San Juan. This one is outside of the Children’s Museum.

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Also outside of the Children’s Museum, but I also spotted it’s twin elsewhere in the city.

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Old buildings everywhere, with heavy Spanish influence.

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The buildings are often painted beautiful bright colors. It makes you feel happy just looking at them.

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Another cool statue. Lots of religious influence here too.

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Along a portion of the wall that used to fully surround Old San Juan.

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At the City Gate – the only one still existing in the wall.

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The approach to El Morro, one of two large forts in Old San Juan

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Sentries out of uniform.

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Muscles Anya on the fort wall.

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In the garden at the Ponce de Leon family house, Casa Blanca.

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The kitchen at Casa Blanca

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Unlike in US tourist attractions, we were allowed to wander at will. We found this room, unlit on the second floor. It had no furniture in it, just these amazing wall murals. Crazy deLeon family ancestral art?

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In between the beautifully painted buildings in Old San Juan you come across near ruins like this one….but note the paintings on the bottom of the wall…

The following day we headed east out of San Juan to the El Yunque National Rainforest. This is the only US National Forest that is a rainforest and the US Park Service has done an amazing job with the park. We explored a fascinating visitor’s center before heading deep into the parks interior. There are many great hikes to do and numerous waterfalls to explore. We spent the day hiking and swimming in the many falls. In the afternoon we drove back to Fajardo to catch the 7pm ferry. With some time to kill we discovered a very “local” restaurant for dinner. One of the nice things we had found in Puerto Rico is that while everyone speaks Spanish and most signs are in Spanish, English is also everywhere. We were able to live like the gringos we are with no trouble. This particular restaurant however was different. It was a bit off the beaten path and in what looked to be an old house that was converted to a restaurant. The host made us very welcome and advised they were having a Father’s Day Special that included life music! We had a great meal of roast pork (well, not Claudia) and were treated to a uniquely local experience.  The ferry took us back to Culebra where Demeter was safely waiting for us.

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A cute little anole (which you see EVERYWHERE) who was nice enough to pose for me.

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An amazing view in El Yunque

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One of many gorgeous waterfalls

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This waterfall is just off the side of the road….no need to hike.

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Ted & Max playing in one of the smaller falls along the trail.

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Nice, eh?

The following day we sailed to Culebrita – a smaller island near Culebrita –  with some hopes of exploring but the weather had begun to deteriorate with the approach of a tropical wave. We opted to sail back to St. Tomas the following day to avoid the worst of the weather and leave time for some errands we needed to run prior to Max’s regatta. Max did a great job racing in tough conditions with winds 15-20kts every day. Green fleet sailed a total of 18 races over 3 days and after the regatta was over we were all ready for some relaxation. We have since been sitting in Christmas Cove waiting out another tropical wave and focusing on schoolwork. We have a few more days before Teds course starts and we hope to spend the weekend in St. John picking up some mail and exploring a few anchorages.

We will try to be more diligent about blog posts as well!

Posted by: svdemeter | July 4, 2013

Anniversary!

We have a much longer update to post but the wifi is temporarily kaput aboard and I can’t get it to post right now, so standby on that.
But meanwhile, from my phone ashore, we just wanted to wish everyone a happy Fourth of July! This holiday marks an anniversary for us – it was a year ago that we found ourselves aboard and decided it was time to go back to the house and grab the cutlery – we had officially moved onto the Good Ship Demeter!!
It’s been and amazing and incredible year and we haven’t suffered from the close quarters (not much, anyway!). Demeter has been a wonderfully comfortable and safe home – more adventure aboard her no doubt awaits us.
So enjoy your holiday and Thank You for the support you have all given us this past year!
More soon, when we get the wifi back up!

Posted by: svdemeter | May 9, 2013

Murphy’s Law is Alive and Well

Just in case you thought that it was nothing but sunshine, cool breezes and stunning sunsets down here, I want to let you know that…well it’s mostly like that, but recently we’ve had some rain! Several big downpours in fact. Last night it poured buckets and it lasted through the morning.
Of course, Ted was helping with a boat delivery to St. Thomas today so we had to get dressed in foulies and take him ashore in the dinghy during the rainstorm.
But the real kicker: this week we finally decided to drop our rain catcher off at the sail loft for a reinforcement patch that it needs. So for all the times we set up the rain catcher and caught nothing but sunshine, this week we listen to the downpours and think about the water just running through the scuppers instead of into our water tanks. Thanks, Murphy!

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Posted by: svdemeter | May 2, 2013

Still in the BVI!

It’s been a bit since we’ve updated this and really, there’s not much of an excuse, but this is just a quick post to give you an idea of what we’ve been up to (sorry, no pics right now because I just want to get this out to ya).

So, we got back to the BVI with Greg & Kathy.  Enjoyed a couple of quiet nights in our favorite anchorage on Peter Island and then said goodbye to them in Tortola.

Back in mid-February, I (Claudia) twisted my knee on one of our amazing hikes on Dominica and since then it’d been swelling after walking around a lot or sometimes even after just a day of up and down the companionway a bunch of times.  Enough was enough and I went and saw a doctor here on Tortola and the good news is that I can report today that I feel like it’s nearly 100% back to normal.

On the other hand, Ted had the misfortune of a bad sneeze about a week ago which threw his back out and then started causing intense leg pain.  He spent the weekend pretty much laying down as anything else was uncomfortable (even sitting to eat a meal was torturous).  Two doctors visits later, a herniated disc diagnosis, some pain meds and he seems to be on the mend finally and is walking around at least (albeit with a bit of a limp still).  Getting old stinks.  But at least that happened while we were in Tortola, where there is decent medical care, friends, etc., and not someplace where we would have battled with a language barrier to try and get him some help, or on a passage (yikes!).

Before the Big Sneeze, Ted took Demeter with Max, our friend Brian and his son Rayne (who was on our trip south from Annapolis) over to St. Croix for the weekend for an Opti regatta.  It was SUPER windy (30-40kts) with rough seas on their trip over and for the first time, they had a wave crash over the aft quarter and FILL the cockpit with water.  Max says the tackle box was floating!  It was a 2 day regatta and the kids sailed in Big Breeze.  Max sailed Green Fleet on the inside (more protected) course, but was still battling more wind than we normally see on the Chesapeake.  He took a few breaks from the action when it was too much, but kudos to him, he kept getting back out there and sailing.  And they made up for it on the way back with a nice mahi mahi catch that fed 7 of us for dinner!

Anya and I stayed behind for the weekend and stayed at Nanny Cay (a marina/resort in Tortola: www.nannycay.com)  on Brian’s boat, Happy Times.  We just relaxed, went to the pool, caught up on “checkpoints” for school (on line questions after each lesson to review) and went to the movies.  Not quite as exciting, but definitely not stressful.

In other news, it appears that Ted has a job here in the BVI and will start tentatively August 1st (it takes a while for work permits, immigration paperwork, etc).  Don’t want to jinx anything so I’ll refrain from details, but it will put us in a place that’s super for the kids and safe for the boat in hurricane season.

That give us a few more months to bum around, as it where, and I think that after Ted’s herniated disc is healed some more we want to see some more of the USVI (we did love St. John and a week there wasn’t enough) and then head a bit further north to the Spanish Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.  I promise posts about all that will come with photos.

In the meantime, we are laying low, working on school with the kids (they have both now passed the Lesson 100 hurdle), getting in some Opti sailing for Max (he’s got a regatta this weekend at Nanny Cay), making some new friends, saying goodbye to those headed back to the US for the summer or further down island, and catching up on some reading.

Love to you all!

 

Posted by: svdemeter | April 15, 2013

Antigua to the BVI

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Earlier shot of landfall off Guadeloupe

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The Admiral keeps everyone in line.

We spent a few days in Falmouth Harbor Antigua catching up on school and laundry then headed around to the northwestern corner of the island to Jolly Harbor to prep for the passage to St Barts. There is a great supermarket in Jolly Harbor but unfortunately the prices are not so super. With a good forecast for downwind sailing we left just before dawn at 0530. The trip ended up in a fabulous sail wing on wing with preventers on the main and mizzen and the spinnaker pole holding out the jib. Along the way we caught our second largest Mahi Mahi using the lure I made myself following the advice of a Dominican fisherman. We rounded the southern tip of St Barts and had to motor in the windless lee of Gustavia harbor. The harbor was packed with super yachts all staged for the famous Bucket Regatta. Huge graceful J yachts Velsheda, Rainbow, and Hanuan anchored off the shore with other giants such as the Maltese Falcon. We kept the island of Ile Forchue as an alternative anchorage but were fortunate to find an open mooring in Anse de Columbier. Just as we rounded the point to enter the bay our friends on the cat Cascadura hailed us on the radio. They were headed to the same anchorage so after we tied up the kids met on the beach for some fun. We made the 78 mile sail in 13.5hrs at an average speed of just under 6kts which is great for Demeter sailing dead downwind in only about 15kts of true wind. From Anse de Columbier we headed over to St. Martin with plans to catch the 1430 bridge on the French side of the lagoon. The pleasant morning quickly deteriorated into a cool cloudy day. As we began the short 15 mile trip rain started to fall and the visibility quickly was reduced to about 500 yards. The breeze was favorable so we were able to sail but the poor visibility meant a constant lookout was required. With only a few days left before the start of the Bucket there was a lot of boat traffic coming from St Martin to St Barts. Max held vigil over the navigation computer watching the AIS from a dry sea below decks. He relayed to me target info such as CPA (closest point of approach) and time to CPA. We find AIS very helpful in these waters for spotting commercial and large private yachts. Its popularity is gaining use with more boats our size as well. Of course at the peak of a particularly cold deluge of driving rain the drag on our fishing rod sprang to life and the resounding call of “FISH ON!!” was heard. I reeled in what was to be our first Jack. I believe it was a Horse Eyed Jack, a reef fish, so we threw him back as we try to avoid eating reef fish for fear of ciguatera poisoning. Jacks may be okay to eat I just don’t know enough about them to risk it. The rest of the trip was spent dodging mega yachts and other pleasure craft and once in the lee of St Martin the wind died and the sun made its way out. We caught the bridge and settled into the calm familiarity of the Simpson Bay Lagoon. After clearing customs we got some school work done and cleaned up the boat a bit to prepare for our guests. Cascadura arrived a few days later and a rather wild evening was spent ashore involving fish bowls of margaritas. I will not attempt any further description of that evening but rest assured the participants felt the impact the following day.

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Beach at end of runway in St. Martin

Max’s 10th birthday was celebrated in St Martin and much fun was had. We found a barge anchored in Simpson Bay called the Playstation that was covered with slides and swings and all sorts of water park activities. A few hours of fun spent there followed by an evening ashore with kid’s movies. Family guests arrived the next day and after a few days of errand running and Easter weekend we left the lagoon for a wild bash to windward to Ile Forchue. The sea was up with a nasty 5-7 foot short period swell and 25-30kts headwinds. We short tacked our way up and finally into the lee of Ile Forchue for a nice swim and a quiet night. After a morning of school we headed ashore for some hiking and exploring. After lunch we set sail back to St Martin to anchor in Marigot Bay in preparation of the passage to the BVI. We left the following morning at 0500 and exactly 12 hours later we were anchored off Prickly Pear Island near Virgin Gorda. No luck fishing but a great 80 mile passage with an average speed of 6.5kts. The following morning we cleared customs into the BVI at the new facility at Gun Creek in North Sound Virgin Gorda. A very easy process and much cheaper than our prior entry at Sopers Hole. We spent another day in North Sound catching up on school and enjoying a few pain killers at the Saba Rock Resort. We also caught up with cruiser friends Skip and Madeline onboard Saralane. At night we dinghied over to Leverick Bay for the Friday night Moko Jumbie dancers.

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Cows Wreck Beach Anegada

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Cows Wreck Beach Anegada

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Uncle Greg and Aunt Kathy on Cows Wreck Beach Anegada

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Max catching some sunset rays

The following day we had a great short sail over to Anegada where unfortunately the sea took our trolling rod, see prior post. Two wonderful days spent in Anegada beach combing and snorkeling. Some excellent sunset photos we will try and get up soon. After Anegada we sailed to Salt Island with a lunch stopover at Great Dog. Brother Greg and I had a great but short dive at Great Dog. With the new housing and lens filter for the Go Pro camera my underwater photography is starting to improve. After dark we headed ashore to have a fire and hermit crab races. A great evening ashore with the whole island to ourselves. The following morning we headed over to Road Town for provisions and scuba fills then back across to Peter Island to our BVI favorite Little Harbor. Anchored in the blissfully calm Little Harbor we got school work caught up and attended to some boat maintenance cleaning the bottom and polishing stainless steel. We also caught up with our friends Dave and Margaret onboard Highland Fling. While fishing in Little Harbor my brother was able to land two tasty Mutton Snappers. Also miraculously when reeling in his line for the last time a beautiful brand new trolling rod and reel were somehow tied to his line! Hikers call this sort of thing “trail magic” and we were thankful that with a little help from Uncle Greg the sea giveth! After two days in Peter Island we headed to the Indians for a lunch stop and dive.

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This was an awesome 1hr dive in 30-60 feet of water with great viz. Photos coming soon. After lunch and our dive we motored the short way into the Bight on Norman Island. With the dinghy in the water we headed around to the famous caves of Norman Island and a great snorkel. When back aboard I noticed a familiar boat entering the harbor and it turned out to be our friends Jim and Connie onboard Plane to Sea. Happy hour ashore with friends catching up made for a really nice evening. Leaving Norman Island it was time to head to Trellis Bay as our family guests Greg and Kathy needed to catch their flight home from Beef Island. Anchored now in Trellis Bay we have managed to clean up the boat a bit and most importantly file our 2012 Federal and State Income Taxes. We’re expecting a nice refund this year which given our unemployed status will be most welcome. Our plans forward are uncertain. I am going to make a push to find a good job in the BVI or USVI. If I am successful we will change the insurance on the boat and look to put down roots here in the Virgin Islands. We really don’t want to make the long trip back north for the summer but we do need to start putting some money back in the cruising kitty. If I’m not able to land a good job here then we will likely pick up some additional crew and make the passage back north to Annapolis to look for summer work. Stay Tuned!

Posted by: svdemeter | April 14, 2013

Heading Back North

Our sail from Grenada to Bequia was to be a long run and nearly dead upwind so we prepped for a rough passage – on starboard tack for the first time! We motor sailed the distance and arrived just after dark in Admiralty Bay, Bequia. The anchorage here is large and there was a good moon so arriving at night was not difficult except that we were all pretty tired from the 13 hour trip.

This is salt on the stern rail the next morning after the passage left from the spray!

This is salt on the stern rail the next morning after the passage left from the spray!

We did school the following morning then headed ashore to clear customs and trade our most recently caught tuna. The fishermen ashore weighed the tuna and gave me an equal 2 lbs of fresh Mahi Mahi in steaks cut with a machete. We cleaned and marinated the steaks for the rest of the day and had a fabulous dinner with coconut flavored rice. Well-fed and well rested we left the following morning at dawn bound for St Lucia. We were hoping to make it all the way to Rodney Bay at the north end but had Marigot or the Pitons as a backup plan. The trip behind the lee of St. Vincent was deceptively calm. We motored just off the coast in water as smooth as glass in the cool early morning light. Upon rounding the top of St. Vincent we were greeted with the expected 30kt headwinds. This time the wind had just enough east in it to make it possible to sail close hauled on starboard tack. We needed to hold a course nearly 25 degrees higher (to the right) of our intended destination to counter the effects of a strong westerly running current. We set the main with a reef and the staysail on the inner forestay, adding the full mizzen and we were able to make 6kts through the water. About halfway across the passage the current became more northwest and boosted our speed over the bottom to 8kts. As we rounded the bottom of St. Lucia the wind bent aft and allowed us to FINALLY ease the sheets. Here we had a glorious sail up the leeward coast of St Lucia with favorable current we were making nearly 9knots over the bottom. The wind shut down off of Marigot and we motored the rest of the way to Rodney Bay. Our next island north was to be Martinique.

We have learned that the French islands have very lax customs and immigration policies and do not require you to present outbound clearance papers from your prior port. With this in mind we opted to save some money and not check into St. Lucia. Because of this we did not go ashore and left the following morning bound for Fort de France Bay. Most of the bigger French islands such as Guadeloupe have direct flights from France daily and they do not require passports for folks arriving. I salute the French for this as it makes customs clearance much simpler and cheaper. Most French islands you clear at internet cafes by typing up a form on the computer, printing it and paying a few Euros. Rarely is the form verified against passports or other documents. It wouldn’t be French if it weren’t for the little twist of learning to type on French keyboards. To be unique, the French have moved a few letters on the keyboard from the standard QWERTY format. It makes for some slow typing….

We had a wonderful sail with sheets eased across to Martinique but then had to harden up for the last 5 miles up into Fort de France Bay. I was enjoying the sail so much so that I opted to short tack our way up to the anchorage instead of simply motoring the last bit. (Note from Claudia:  this, amazingly, is the first time we have tacked during a passage since we left BVI, I think!!) Tacking to weather is something many cruisers choose to forgo when possible ourselves included. I was however pleased with the windward performance using the staysail as with some tweaking we were able to tack through 100 degrees which in 25kts of wind is very good for a heavy old boat such as Demeter. We had been to Fort de France before and I recalled clearing customs in a marine supply store where there was no charge for clearance so I opted to clear in and out simultaneously. We would be next headed to Dominica where they are much stricter with customs policies and would require outbound clearance forms from our prior port. There is a downside to the loose policies of the French islands, much more smuggling of illegal drugs and human trafficking. We had an interesting meal out in Fort de France at the only place open on a Sunday, the same Mexican restaurant we had been to on our way south. Trying to interpret a Mexican menu written in French was again a challenge and at the end of the meal I asked for our bill. Instead of the bill I was given a shot of Jack Daniels? I thought maybe this was some custom and the bill would come after the shot? Not so, (must have been our sketchy French language skills) we ended up paying at the counter including an additional 8 euros for the shot. The next day was Monday so stores would be open the usual French hours of 9-noon then 2-5. We found some internet access and did a little shopping, but when we returned to the dinghy dock we found our dinghy in a disheveled state and the stern anchor I had set was severed and lost. Someone had been messing with the dinghy and the kill switch lanyard was gone too. Max and I motored out to the boat put away groceries and get snorkel gear in hope so retrieving the lost anchor. On the way a fellow yachtsman signaled us to come closer. He told us in broken English that the group of teenage boys on the shore was the ones responsible. That they had attempted to steal the dinghy but were not successful. We thanked him and I turned around and proceeded to shore. I confronted the youths and gave them a piece of my mind. I found one still had the kill switch lanyard so I knew I had the right bunch. Once I mentioned calling the police they instantly forgot all of their English and tried to claim they could not understand me and only spoke French. They started gathering their things with plans to leave. I told them I would be following them home to discuss their actions with their parents or the police, whomever I found first. At this they got pretty nervous and I could see the fear in their faces, my job was done, they took off running in different directions looking very scared. We were able to find the anchor and no permanent damage was done so we left it at boys being boys and advised the other cruisers in the area of our experience.

The following morning we left early for our passage to Dominica. So far this island has captivated us more than any other. The lush jungle, steep mountains, hot springs, waterfalls and abundance of fruit make this island unlike any other in the Eastern Caribbean. The sail over was delightful with sheets eased and full sail in 18-20kts. Demeter flew along at 8-9kts with favorable current and we made the anchorage at Portsmouth by 4pm. Several miles off we were as usual approached by boat boys offering their services. We had such a good experience with Eddison the last time that we told the others that was who we worked with here and our wishes were instantly respected by the others. The boat boys in Dominica were all very respectful and helpful and we try to use their services whenever possible buying fruit daily. Just as we were about to anchor a rain squall threatened so we opted to idle in the anchorage and let the rain pass instead of getting blasted with wind and rain while trying to get the hook down. This was the first rain we had seen in nearly a month! Once it passed and we anchored our friend Titus came by welcoming us back and warmly greeting the kids. We told Titus we wanted to take another tour with the guide we used previously, Ken. Within an hour Ken and Titus were aboard in our cockpit with maps as we planned our next adventure on Dominica. The last time we were here we had seen the northern part of the island and hiked to Sari Sari Falls. This time we wanted to see the southern part of the island and other inland sights.

We began the trip the following morning at 9am with a 2 hour drive down the coast and inland to the mountainous interior. Here we visited a freshwater lake much like the one on Grenada but much higher. Here the air was cold and we were in the clouds. The plants growing were all very small due to the elevation and temperature. The lake and surrounding hills were spectacular. After a bit we decided to press on to other destinations. It was at this point that our trusty guide Ken discovered he had lost the key to our truck! There was no one else at this remote spot and there was no phone service this far up in the mountains. We tried searching in vain for an hour and did our best to stay warm. Ken felt terrible for his mistake and was thoroughly embarrassed. We weren’t very concerned and just chalked it up to part of the adventure but this did little ease Ken’s feelings. We chose to keep looking while Ken hiked down the mountain a ways in search of a cell signal to call for another set of keys. A while later Ken returned with a truck and another guy with an enormous smile named Elvis. Elvis took us to a friend’s house where we could wait for a spare key to be brought down. Here we were treated to the most amazing experience with a local family. There were 2 other children for Max and Anya to play with and while this family lived in a dirt floored hut perched on the side of the mountain the kids took instantly to one another. They were just making lunch and upon our arrival simply threw another potato and more pumpkin into the pot. The adults welcomed us into their home with such generosity both Claudia and I were overcome with emotions. The conversation was fascinating as we learned how they lived off the land here with fruit and vegetables growing all over and chickens, goats, and rabbits being raised nearby. They offered me a rum drink and upon my acceptance proceeded to pour rum into a glass. Next our host reached up to the tree above my head and pulled down a grapefruit which he cut in two with a machete and I squeezed fresh juice into my glass. That might just have been the best rum drink ever! We spent the next several hours in the company of this delightful rasta family and had an amazing discussion of the geo thermal energy exploitation that was taking place on the island. A delicious vegetable soup was served that even the kids enjoyed. We told Ken our guide that his losing the keys made for the best part of our day. When the new key arrived we thanked our hosts and attempted to give them something in appreciation but were sternly refused. Amazingly after learning that this family just got electricity last year we found they are on Facebook…

Our next stop was Titou Gorge a spot where part of Pirates of the Caribbean II was filmed. Here there is a slot canyon about 5 feet wide with 20 foot high walls that leads to a waterfall. You have to swim in 15 foot deep water to reach the falls which is a grueling but rewarding swim. At the entrance to the canyon is a hot spring where you can warm back up after the cool swim to the falls. I tried to get photos with the go pro while swimming but water drops on the lens ruined most of the photos. After Titou Gorge we headed down to the southernmost point of the island and had a delightful meal of locally prepared salt fish, boiled green bananas, and a mixed green salad. After the meal we headed to hot springs where we swam in a naturally hot pool. We relaxed in the hot pool in the jungle as the sun set and gazing upwards we watched bats flitter about the tree tops. Just before dark we drove back up the coast to Portsmouth and had a few beers before calling it a night. What an amazing day! We slept until 8am, late for us, and then headed north for Guadeloupe. Yet another fabulous sail reaching with 20kts of breeze and full sail. We hooked, but failed to land another tuna. I got lazy and attempted to bring him aboard without the gaff and in the process he spit the hook. We made the anchorage of Deshaies at 3pm and anchored in about 50 feet of clear clear water. After a short swim and dinner we went ashore for a treat of ice cream. The following day Claudia had client calls to make so after a morning of school we sent her ashore to internet cafes to work. The kids and I finished school and headed off to snorkel the reef next to the anchorage. That afternoon our friends Skip and Madeline arrived on their sloop Saralane. We had a great evening of catching up with them over sundowners. The kids quickly made friends with the 5 other kids on a catamaran anchored close by even though they spoke no French and the others next to zero English. I never cease to be amazed and proud of how well our kids adjust to new surroundings. That evening I took the kids and two of the French kids ashore for ice cream. We hope to see them again in St Martin.

The following morning we up anchored and headed for Antigua. The wind had just enough east in it to allow us to sail close hauled under full sail and fetch Falmouth Harbor. We arrived at 2pm and after clearing customs and dropping off some laundry we opted for a happy hour ashore and some cold Red Stripes. Most of the mega yachts have left Falmouth harbor so the wifi works much better and the docks are less crowded. We had a fabulous gourmet pizza dinner ashore and capped the night off with ice cream at the Antigua Yacht club. The following morning Max had his mid-year exam and we are pleased to report he scored a 92%! We have a few errands to run while here in Antigua before we make the trip up to St. Martin. There we will meet my brother and his wife who will sail with us for two weeks before they fly home from the BVI. Will try and get some photos loaded here soon.

Posted by: svdemeter | April 7, 2013

The Sea Giveth…..

…and the sea taketh away.
In the 5 months that we have been here we have managed to lose only 2 things to King Neptune, but yesterday he claimed a third, more valuable item.
In Ile Fourchue Claudia donated a bowl. In Antigua, Max handed over a bucket. But yesterday, on the sail from Virgin Gorda, while sheeting in the mizzen, the sheet snagged the fishing pole and a well timed wave assisted Neptune in claiming his treasure. I saw it as it popped out of the rod holder and got up, but it was too late. Our fishing pole has been sacrificed.
The sea has given us much though, so we are not going to complain. We’ve had many tuna, a few mahi and other catches. We found a coveted hat from this years St Bart’s Bucket Regatta and have countless fabulous snorkeling and diving experiences. And certainly the sea has been kind in giving us so many safe passages.
Losing the fishing pole stinks, but in light of all the sea has given us, it’s OK.

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The empty rod holder…
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Posted by: svdemeter | March 24, 2013

Adventures in Grenada

Prickly Bay where we initially anchored in Grenada should be called Sickly Bay because it is so rolly you can get seasick at anchor! After day of very hot walking all over southern Grenada between the US Consulate and a passport photo shop we were able to move the boat around to a place called Hogg Island. We had heard it was a good anchorage but had no idea just how great a place it really was. There were reefs all over the place surrounding the entrance but once inside it was blissfully calm and there seemed to be a flag of every nation on the boats anchored there. The place is like a floating UN with boats from all over Europe, South Africa, Argentina, Canada and the US. The cruiser community here is the strongest we have ever seen with a huge network that covers anchorages for miles in each direction. There are also dinghy passages inside the reefs that allow you to get all over the place to other anchorages and small marinas each boasting the best of one thing or another. Secret Harbor was the place to catch the cruisers’ bus for grocery store runs on Tuesdays and Fridays. Whisper Cove for the best filtered water and a great butcher. La Phaer Blue marina for two-for-one pizza night. Clarks Court Bay for yoga and tai chi classes on the beach and a weekly book swap. The daily cruisers net kept you up to speed on all the happenings and daily specials.

There is also a wonderful little rum shack on the beach of Hogg Island run by Roger. Each day many of the cruisers would gather here for cocktails and to swap stories. The community here welcomed us on Day One and treated us like family. There were many couples and families who had put down roots in this special place and it’s easy to see how folks could spend 15 or more years there.  Being south of the hurricane belt, many cruisers base themselves here and then travel up and down the island chain. Others use Trinidad as a base, further south unfortunately than we will make it this year.

Hog Island Beach - our evening hangout for a little more than a week in Grenada.

Hog Island Beach – our evening hangout for a little more than a week in Grenada.

Rogers Beach Bar.

Rogers Beach Bar.

While in Grenada with time on our hands we decided to rent a car for 2 days to try and explore the island on our own. A nice lady came with a small Mitsubishi car and met me at a marina close by. I gave her some cash and a ride back into town, but should have asked for a good road map of the island. None of the roads are labeled in Grenada and they drive on the left. We had an old map (we happened to pick it up when at the embassy) that showed where major roads should be, but many had been added since the map was printed. Also Hurricane Ivan did a tremendous amount of damage to the island and much of it has still not been repaired. This was my first time driving a right hand drive car, fortunately it was an automatic! The first day with the car we traveled up the windward side of the island getting lost a few times but eventually managing to find the Belmont Estate which is home to the Grenada Chocolate Company. Here they grow organic cocoa on a plantation that has been in operation since the late 1600’s and it’s processes are virtually unchanged. We toured the plantation and watched first hand as the cocoa was taken from harvest to chocolate bar. We bought a few bars even though we are not huge chocolate fans, well except the kids that is… They produce chocolate here in concentrations from 60% cocoa to 100%, we found the 60% bars to be the most tasty. The 100% bars are strictly for cooking or true chocolate fanatics.

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Max took his turn “walking the chocolate” as the beans dry in large trays in the sun. This gets done by human feet every 30 min during the 4-5 days they are drying. The trays are pushed in under the building you see when it rains and at night.

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Chocolate feet!

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The bell is over 200 years old and engraved with the plantation name on it. The same family has owned and run it for several generations.

view of a portion of the estate.

view of a portion of the estate.

Anya enjoyed her chocolate sampling!

Anya enjoyed her chocolate sampling!

After exploring the plantation and lunch we made our way to the top of the island to place known as the Caribs Leap. It was here that the Carib Indians made their last stand against the Europeans. A dramatic cliff towers above the ocean here and waves crash on rocks below. The Caribs upon the realization of their defeat chose to leap off the cliffs to their death instead of being captured.

The monument marking the spot,

The monument marking the spot,

The view next to the plaque....

The view next to the plaque….

We continued along the North Coast of Grenada looking for a hot spring we saw on the map but were unable to locate. From here we drove down the west or leeward coast of the island to small town known as Concord. Here at the end of a steep windy road is a beautiful waterfall and a trail that leads to an upper set of falls. We found a local guide and his 4 year old son to take us there. Upon reaching the upper falls we swam in the cool pool at the base. A few pictures came out but unfortunately the battery in the camera died. We finished the day by driving down the rest of the leeward or west coast of the island and back to Hogg Island.

The next day we took the car up to the Grand Etang National Forest and hiked a trail that surrounds the crater lake. The freshwater lake is about 3,000 above sea level here and the trail was spectacular with lush rainforest.

No need to caption this, methinks.

No need to caption this, methinks.

Max unfortunately slipped on the trail and ended up knee deep in mud. He was pretty upset at this so we used the majority of our water bottle to clean him up. Luckily it was a short hike and at elevation it was cool.

Taken right as Max slipped on the log and went knee deep into the mud.

Taken right as Max slipped on the log and went knee deep into the mud.

On the trail around crater lake,

On the trail around crater lake.

Leaving the crater lake we headed north in search of lunch. We found that by using the google maps feature on my iPhone in conjunction with the paper map we were able to mostly figure out where we were on the map and navigate accordingly. The phone had no signal but the gps component was able to place us on the map.  Asking locals for directions was pointless as none we met had ever studied basic geography and could not read a map or give advice using cardinal directions. The two times we tried asking for directions we got completely wrong advice and discovered we were better off trying to find our own way.

Here is the (not so) detailed map we were working with.

Here is the (not so) detailed map we were working with.

Heading north through the interior of the island we attempted to take a main road out to the west coast. We found the turn and proceeded up into the hills. After a while the road began to progressively deteriorate and we began to question our directions. According to the map we should have been on a major road, (major means paved in Grenada). We pushed on slowly as the road got worse and worse and we began to fear we were going to get stuck as the little Mitsubishi car had very little ground clearance and the road was washed out in many places. Steep cliffs dropped off in other areas and eventually we stopped as the road ahead looked impassable. I got out and looked around. There was no way to turn around and the prospect of driving in reverse for that distance was not a good option. We were way out in the countryside at this point with next to no water and zero food. I walked a bit ahead and decided we might be able to make it and would press on in hopes of the road improving. We had found the day before that there were sections of the main roads that had been washed away or destroyed by Ivan and simply not replaced so we hoped that this section would pass and we would get back on pavement. Eventually the road got a little better and we started entering banana farms and other signs of civilization.

Here's what the "major" road looked like - in a good spot....

Here’s what the “major” road looked like – in a good spot….

Gradually the road improved until we were back on pavement and headed in what we thought was the right direction. A comforting sign was seeing other cars in driveways and not simply 4×4 vehicles! Our newfound enthusiasm was quickly dashed as we rounded a turn and found the road ahead completely gone where a raging river had washed out a bridge. Local rastas at a roadside bar simply chanted “gotta go back the way you come, mon…” None of us relished the thought of a return trip on the same tattered road so we decided to try one of the turns we had recently passed. Here we were able to wind through more farmland and eventually up some steep mountains and out to the coast! Everyone was happy to be able to see the sea again. Down into the small town of Victoria and onto the coast road. Local advice was sought on a good spot for lunch and the next town south Gouyave was the suggestion. At this point a cold beer was in order followed by a tasty lunch and time to reflect on the aforementioned adventure. Getting lost and nearly perishing in the wilderness of Grenada we decided was just part of the journey, but next time we would rent a jeep! Back down the coast and into St. Georges for a grocery run before dropping off the rental car. Ok, so the Grenada version of dropping off the rental car?  Leaving it in a parking lot with the keys under the floor mat, making sure to leave the tank as empty as when you found it. No credit card swiped for a deposit, no forms to fill out. Just cash up front and smile.

Another view of the beach at Hog Island, looking out into the anchorage.

Another view of the beach at Hog Island, looking out into the anchorage.

We spent a few more days in Hogg Island and after 7 days the Consulate emailed us with news that Max’s passport had arrived. They advised it was faster than if we had been in the US and I believe it. To celebrate we took the dinghy over to La Phaer Blue for two-for-one pizza night. The 2 mile trip involves avoiding some reefs but the cruisers have put out small solar powered lights to mark the dinghy channel through the reef. We cleared out with Customs and Immigration and made a plan to sail to Bequia at dawn.

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