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Arctic Tern
Blue Water and Red Moons
04/16/2014, Conception Island

We made the overnight passage from Mayaguana to Conception without any problems, but had to motor about 2/3rds of the way when the wind died. We were greeted to Conception Island by five white-tailed tropicbirds-always a good omen. Conception Island is only about 2.4 x 3.75 miles of land with a mangrove lined lagoon in in the interior and a halo of reefs that more than double the size of the island. There is no development or facilities and the park is a protected marina area

The Bahamas have incredibly clear water because there are no rivers flowing soil into the water. In the remote islands there is no industrial pollution and the water is clear and blue. After so many years in the Leeward and Windward Islands it is a pleasant change. The colors of the water are striking blues and greens that defy my color vocabulary. In the full moon the boats cast a shadow on the fine white sand below. There is a magical quality to this island and I think this is what it must have looked like when Columbus passed this way.

Last night we had a cruiser get together on the beach. The folks on the boat Nighthawk caught a mahi mahi on the passage and wanted to share their wealth, so they grilled the fish on the beach and invited the 10 other boats in the anchorage to bring some food to share. We were treated to a lovely sunset and watched the full moon rise over the island. It was a moment to savor and file in the memory bank. Someone mentioned there would be a lunar eclipse, but did not know what time. I checked the moon every time I woke and at 02:50 I saw the moon being eclipsed by the earth's shadow. I sat up on deck for a while and watched the moon turn smoky red. There is zero light pollution here and the sky was full of stars with a smoky red moon and 10 mast lights gently moving in the breeze. It seemed that our mast lights made a discreet constellation.

We have spent the last three weeks traveling with Kim and Scott on the boat Bella Blue. We have basically the same destination and similar timing and most amazingly we both have homes in the Asheville area of North Carolina. We have had the benefit of very good company and friends in our new community. We have spent the days snorkeling and exploring and the evenings playing bridge.

The days left of our cruising career are few in number and we are savoring each moment.

My bathroom Smells like Onions
04/03/2014, Luperon

Yesterday we went to a mega supermercado in Puerto Plato to provision for a few weeks in the Bahamas. We hired a driver and a van for the six of us and we managed to return packed in our food. Fresh food is expensive and hard to find in the remote islands in the Bahamas and in some places there is only fresh food on the days the mail boat arrives.

From years of experience I know that will keep and how to store the fresh fruits and vegetables. The longevity of many foods (tomatoes and cucumbers, for example) is greater when they have not been refrigerated. Lettuce, cucumbers, soft squash, peppers have a relatively short life in the fridge and I will have too keep a sharp eye on these vegetables. I bought some unripe bananas and separated them and wrapped each banana in newspaper and put them in a little hammock suspended in the cabin. I bought a bag of the wonderful red onions grown in the Dominican Republic. The onions are a cross between a shallot and a yellow onion.
I sorted through the onions and cooked them up with kale and froze that for future use in soups. They are in a bin in our bathroom. The cabbage and squash (Caribbean pumpkin) are wrapped newspaper. I made a batch of pickles with the some of the cucumbers. I have a bag of about 10 pounds of green mangoes waiting to be turned into mango chutney. The mangoes are hanging in the shower over the laundry basket. I will have to keep a really close eye on that situation. I have a green papaya in the tub in the guest berth not far from the pumpkin. We do have dried and canned beans, some meat in the freezer and kippered herring (the quick answer to lunch). We are not going to starve.

We are sorry to leave Luperon. I am enjoying speaking Spanish and soaking up the local culture. We have a good weather window to the Bahamas and the next one might be a week or two away.

Los Haitises National Park
03/29/2014, Samana, Dominica Republic

After one day in the luxurious marina and doing many chores we motored a few miles to the southwest corner of Samana Bay. We knew there would be little wind for the next few days and a big north swell, so we were not in a hurry to move northwest to Luperon, on the northern side of the Dominica Republic. We are traveling with two boats; Kim and Scott are on Bella Blue and Pam and Nick are on Knot Yet. We have been thinking of names for our little pod of boats. We could be the Knot Blue Terns, or the Blue Arctic Knots.... Anyway it is good fun to play with our names over a drink as the sun sets.

Adventurous cruising friends highly recommended visiting Los Haitises National Park. The park protects an area of karst (limestone) topography, caves and pictographs. Follow the blogs below for a few details about our visit.

03/30/2014 | Bob Masterson
see you guys joined the cruisers net here in St Augustine. Are you on your way back after the DR? If you get to St Augustine let us know, We live here and can see the mooring field. Hunter, do you remembered a park service guy from Alaska Ed Clarke? Love your blog. like to hear from you. Bob & Linda Masterson
Anything can ride on a motorcycle
03/28/2014, Los Haitises national Park

Hunter and I were up early for a few mile hike to the lodge from the sw corner of San Lorenzo Bay. The trail was in very good condition and we were rewarded by some really good looks at Broad Billed Todys. In Scott's words they look like the cross breeding of a lovebird and a hummingbird. They are not shy and very busy catching insects. A group of three hopped around the branches above our heads. We did have our second breakfast at the lodge and on the way back to the boat we saw a young man and woman loading a small calf onto the woman's lap on the back of a motorcycle.

Caves in Los Haitises
03/27/2014, Haitises National Park

Today we explored the caves with the pictographs, had a picnic lunch at a lovely beach.

Birding in the Canos
03/26/2014, Los Haitises National Park, DR

Hunter and I left the boat at sunrise to do some birding and exploring up the mangrove creeks, arriving at the lodge just in time for breakfast. The breakfast was good and the coffee was excellent. Hunter does know how to put a smile on my face. I really enjoy going out for breakfast now and again. My bird book and binoculars attracted the attention of a lodge guide named Misael. He wanted to show us a pair of nesting Ridgeway hawks. We did see these very endangered hawks that nest high in palm trees, and walked around the property with Misael pointing out birds. Misael invited us to look for Ashy Faced Owls in the evening and really seemed disappointed when we tried to decline, so we returned to the boat for dinner and back to the lodge at sunset with Kim and Scott for our owl date. We heard the owls, but never saw one, but we all had a nice night walk.

Caves and swimming pools
03/25/2014, Samana, Dominican Republic

The first day of our stay in the area we visited the more touristy cave site and just explored the coast of the bay. Mid morning we motored our dinghies up a mangrove creek and followed it to a cul de sac in the mangroves that had been turned into a small dock for boats to carry tourists from a nearby lodge to the caves and local attractions. The drama of this jungle exploration was enhanced by a group of white-necked crows calling as we approached the dock. I had no idea what bird was making the jungle bird commotion. We tied our dinghies and I consulted with a man tending to some of the boats. We had been told that there was an eco lodge somewhere up the creek, but had no idea what to expect. He told us there were a hotel, restaurant and swimming pools about a kilometer down the road. An image of a cold Presidente (local beer) lodged itself in my mind as we walked down a sunny road boarded by rice and other cultivated fields. We were delighted to see a beautiful lodge with seven fresh water pools. CaƱo Hondo (deep creek) lodge welcomed us into the dining room where Hunter and I had fish soup for lunch, and did I mention the desire for a cold beer? It was perfect. The day was full of surprises. A helicopter landed and a few well-dressed Dominicans walked to the restaurant as they distractedly check their phones and returned texts. We swam in the pools and lounged for several hours before heading back down the road. It was not lost on us that the lodge had wifi.

Hello from the Dominican Republic
03/24/2014, Samana, Dominica Republic

We left Boqueron, Puerto Rico at 08:00 on Saturday and arrived here about 09:30 on Sunday. We started out with a tail wind and sailed wing on wing for four hours. The wind died and we had to motor the rest of the trip. During the day we saw a school of fish boiling on the water and diverted with our fishing line out back, but did not get lucky. During the largely uneventful night Hunter heard a crack like noise and a flying fish landed in the boat and fell out of an open drain in the cockpit floor. I had no such drama on my watch. It was a calm night with a gibbous moon. We entered Samana Bay at sunrise with two cruise ships bound for the town of Samana. Here is a photo of Hunter rigging the whisker pole so we could run wing on wing.

We are spending a night in Marina Puerto Bahia, which offers luxury at a reasonable price. It is a hotel and condo complex with a marina. There are three infinity pools, several restaurants and bars other amenities that we are not likely to use. We did enjoy a swim in a pool yesterday afternoon and retired early.

Friends on a similar schedule and destination are here in the marina and we are all planning to go to the town of Samana today to pick up fresh food for a few days at anchor in Los Haities National Park. More about friends and parks in the next post.

Anchored next to Asseance
03/06/2014, Bahia Almodovar

Yesterday we sailed from St. Thomas to Culebra and met up with our old dear friends, Heather and Don on the sailboat Asseance. We go way back with Heather and Don. I first met them in 2016 in Annapolis when I was working for the Annapolis Landing Marina. I was immediately impressed with their boat handling skills and we were both planning to do the Caribbean 1500, a sailing rally from VA to the BVI. That was the start of our friendship.

We spent much time with Heather and Don in 2006-2007. We had so many firsts as we explored the Eastern Caribbean for the first time. We would meet up at an island do things and explore together and part ways for a short period of time and meet up again for more hikes and adventures.

It seems so fitting to meet up with Heather and Don at a lovely anchorage, catch up on each other's lives and future plans, share food and expertise.
This was the view out of our window for much of our first year in the Caribbean.

03/06/2014 | Jean Service
Four Fantastic Cruisers......fair winds!
Looking back and looking Forward
03/06/2014, St. Thomas, USVI

This has been a week for saying hello and goodbye. On Monday Shera, one of my best friends from high school, and her husband Brad joined us for a day sail out of St. Thomas. Shera and Brad having been planning their vacation for a while, and it looked like we would not be able to meet up, but we slowed day a day or two and took them out on a day sail and swim. The last time I saw Shera was in 1976. It was great to catch up a bit and reconnect with an old friend.St. Thomas

Jerry the Laundry Folder
03/04/2014, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI

On the list of things I will miss in the Caribbean is Jerry the Folder. He hangs out the laundromat across from the Pueblo grocery store near Yacht Haven Grande Marina. I think the laundromat is called the Washboard. I have been to this laundromat many times in the past three years and Jerry is always there folding laundry. He seems to be employed to fold sheets for an institution. He always has a pile of single bed sheets that he folds. Jerry is a meticulous sheet folder. You know how hard it is to fold bottom sheets with the fitted corners? Well, Jerry has them folded in a tight square package and if you let him, the pillow cases and top sheet are all bundled into the neat package.

I am not a meticulous sheet folder. The sheets are going back on the bed when I return to the boat, so it seems a waste of my energy to meet Jerry's standards, but Jerry cannot abide by my messing folding. With a little smile and hand motion that clearly says "push that pile over to my side of the table and I will do the folding as it should be done", I hand over my laundry to Jerry. I do the small stuff, like my underwear and hand towels. I am not sure if Jerry folds my laundry out of compulsiveness or as a living, but I do tip and thank him. I will miss Jerry.

The Brothers FitzGerald
02/26/2014, US Virgin Islands

We just spent 3 wonderful days (way too short) with FitzGerald. We have known Brion and Kevin for years as our park service careers overlapped or we followed each in parks. For example, we have all worked in Everglades National park. Brion lives in St. John and Kevin will be moving within biking distance to our house in North Carolina.

I have always said that one of the best parts of our lives as cruisers (living aboard a sailboat) has been sharing this lifestyle with our friends and family. Since Brion has seen much of this park (Virgin Islands National Park) he wanted to visit the British Virgin Islands. We went to Jost Van Dyke to check in and cruised the town and made a significant bakery visit. Apparently these guys don't like to pass up a bakery. We anchored at little Jost Van Dyke and had a great afternoon swim. The next day we sailed to the Indians and snorkeled there and took a mooring ball in the Bight at Norman Island. We took a hike and enjoyed a few delicious drinks (painkillers and pina colas). This morning we got up early and picked up a mooring ball at the Caves and had a very nice snorkel. Our downwind sail back to St. John was lovely.
The last three days were filled with old stories and updates about our lives.

Lessons learned from guests
02/03/2014, Virgin Islands

Hunter's sister, Brooke, and her husband Woody just spent a week with us. They have visited us before and know what to expect in regards to life aboard our boat. Brooke spent almost three weeks with us on a trip up the Macareo River a few years ago. It is so much fun to share our life our life with friends and family.

Brooke and Woody went beyond just being guests; they gave us learning opportunities. On the first day we picked up a mooring ball in Francis Bay and took a swim. I went for my usual lap around the "pool" which is 20- 30 minutes out and the same back to the boat. Woody came "limp swimming" up and Hunter announced he was injured. Woody had stepped on a sea urchin and his foot was dotted with urchin spines. I remembered that the thing to do was to apply vinegar. We did a quick computer search and found out that the treatment was to soak the affected part in hot vinegar for hours. We had a foot sized tub and lots of vinegar. We reheated the vinegar as it chilled and Woody enjoyed a cold Piton beer with his foot in vinegar. This works because the spines are made of calcium carbonate (an alkaline substance) that dissolves in the acidic vinegar. There were still little black spots on Woody's foot, but he had no pain and took a short hike the next day.

Lesson two was a "man overboard" practice drill. We rescued Brooke's hat while underway, once from the big boat and once from the dinghy. We had already given them the "man overboard" instructions so Brooke knew it was her job to keep an eye on the hat and keep pointing at it. The rescues were successful.

Project Day on Arctic Tern
01/08/2014, Francis Bay, St. John, USVI

We are anchored in Francis Bay, in the US Virgin Islands. This is a great place to hang out during a windy period because the bay is sheltered from the swells and even if the wind is howling we are not uncomfortable. The problem of discomfort comes when the boat is not lined up with the wind or the swells (waves) and the boat rock side to side. I have digressed.

Several of our friends are also here in Francis Bay and between bouts of socializing we are all doing projects. We stand by on a little used radio frequency and communicate as needed. This morning Bill from Dulce Vita was talking to Lee on Allegro about an alternator belt and asked Lee if he had a 20 mm socket, later there was talk between Far Haven and Allegro about trading movies and later still about going snorkeling. Chuck from Tusen Takk II just called and asked for coax cable ends- Hunter had them. I really had to laugh because between the five boats we serve as a small chandlery shop for each other. It is a pleasant reminder of the value of community in the cruising world. Between all of us we have a huge collection of tools, supplies and experience.

Today Hunter is replacing the starboard strips (Starboard is a heavy plastic that is UV resistant and very strong) that protect the bowsprit from anchor chain. He has to custom make each strip, which involves using a jig saw and making millions of little black curly specks of plastic in the cockpit. Of course I am called upon to hold the board while Hunter makes the cuts. By the end of the day the project will be completed and the black curls of plastic will be vacuumed up and the boat will be ready for a new project tomorrow.

Last Lap
12/31/2013, North South of Virgin Gorda, BVI

It is a bit odd to be visiting the islands of the Eastern Caribbean for the last time, or at least the last time from our boat. For the past seven years as we left an island I thought there was a good chance we would return and I felt that if I did not see something now I could see it later. That is a luxury most of us do not have in our lives and we enjoyed getting to know each island and then returning to friends and familiar places.

I am pretty good at saying goodbye to places and people. Hunter and I moved to five different parks in 23 years, leaving our special places and dear friends. During the first move a friend explained that I was not loosing a park and friends, they would all still be there or somewhere and that I would be gaining a new park with new friends.. And so I learned to say goodbye to the most beautiful places in America and move onto the next beautiful place filled with possibility.

You might be wondering how I say goodbye to a place? I pay special attention to the sights, sounds and smells. I can still remember the Everglades waking up, as I drove into the sunrise each morning. Great blue herons grocking (not sure how to describe the sound), flocks of ibis and the sweet swampy smell of the wetlands. I have been know to whisper words of farewell.

Each island has its distinctive sounds, smells and sights. Of course I will remember the loud music, the smell of curry, people dancing with an internal rhythm that I will never possess. I will remember the church bells in the French islands and the smell and taste of fresh baguette. I can remember, but may not need to feel again, the island busses, especially in Grenada that have no official limit to the number of bodies that can be crammed into the bus (picture an 12 person van with 21 people crammed in the seats careening around hilly roads). I will always remember the feeling of success when I could make a joke on the bus and have people laugh (not at me, but at the joke). I can bring back curry and spices and Caribbean music that makes me dance, but I have to leave most of my island friends where they live.

People often ask me which is my favorite island, or which park I liked best. That is very hard to answer because I have always made a point of being in the present and liking where I am. I would like to credit my mother in law (Marion Sharp) for teaching me that important lesson.

In this photo Brooke and I are trying to talk with the Warao Indians on the Macareo River, trying to figure out what they want to trade. I think Steve Manley took this photo.

Chaudriere Pool
12/18/2013, Bense, Dominica

When we stepped out of the bus in Bense the air was infused the sweet smell of warm cinnamon. A man was sitting in a shed taking the bark off of logs of cinnamon tree. Each log was about two feet long and about 18 inches in diameter. He used a hatchet to peel big curls of bark that are big enough to curl around my arm.

Bense is a small town in the northeast corner of Dominica and the start of the hike to the Chaudiere Pool on the Hampstead River. The hike starts on a dirt road that is lined with fields of citrus, bananas, cocoanut, dasheen, and yams. After about 20 minutes a side trail on the right drops into the valley of the river and into lush tropical forest with tree ferns and huge elephant ear plants. We have been here twice before, but this was a new hike for Barb and Chuck and we enjoyed this lovely corner of Dominica with them.

The pool is usually crystal clear, so clear that we brought our swim goggles to watch fish, but today the water was turbid. We found out that the community water supply is above the pool and the waterworks folks are working on the catchment dam and that caused the water to be a bit muddy. Hunter and I swam in the pool, swimming hard to get to the falls and climb the rocks to jump into the deep pool.

Lionfish in the Caribbean
12/14/2013, Portsmouth, Domincia

It is Saturday and that means it is market day in Portsmouth, Dominica. Barb and I went to the market and our first stop was the fish market. There was the usual West Indian shouting about the price of a piece of fish, or for that matter about anything. Most West Indians don't have an "indoor voice" and at first northerners think they are mad at each other. We laughed at the shouting, but what caught our interest was the tub of lionfish for sale. In the past few days we have chatted with fisherman and we were assured that there is a very active market for lionfish and that one of the fancy restaurants serves only lionfish.

Lionfish are invasive, non-native fish that are native to the Indian and western
Pacific Oceans. They have been invading the Caribbean since the early 1990 and have been spreading fast. Yesterday we snorkeled for one hour and I saw 8 lionfish. When we snorkeled the same spot about a year ago I saw no lionfish. The reason for concern about lionfish is that they are great predators and eat all sorts of little reef fish. Of course this upsets the balance of the coral reef and the little fish are not there to graze on the algae that grow on corals and are not there to feed larger native fish.

Our Grenadian fisherman friends were very reluctant to try eating the lionfish because it is not part of the culture, but we did convince them to catch one and prepare it for the skillet. Preparing lionfish for cooking is not an easy task as they have really nasty long spines with venom that by all reports will make you sick and hurt a lot. The lionfish was very tasty and we commented that it is too bad there is not a market for lionfish in Grenada. In Dominica there is a booming market for lionfish. The market for lionfish will probably not solve the problem of lionfish invading the coral reefs, but it might help locally and will serve as a source of food.

A hike with Martin in Dominica

I took a really nice hike on section 11 of the Waitukubuli trail with Martin. It was a magical day in the rain forest. We saw red necked parrots (locally called Jackos) and a blue headed hummingbird. The hummer was new for me. We ate mandarins, bananas, grapefruits and coconuts from the trees and had a great time. Our guide, Martin, picked up a golden land crab and showed us that it was a male and looked for a female. He shortly found the female and picked her up and she was giving birth to tiny crablets that would fit two on your pinky nail. We were all thrilled and Martin announced that he was a midwife. He set the crab down and she walked the the nearby water to release her hundreds of tiny crabs. We ended the day with a swim.
PS Hunter stayed behind to work on boat chores

Our visit with Connie and Pat
12/02/2013, St. Lucia

On the first night of Connie and Pats visit I knew they were going to adapt to life on the boat and have a good time. We were anchored in Hog Island and it was a Sunday and that means music. We had our dinner and were unwinding. We had showed them the ritual of the marine toilet and that can be a bit intimidating and now the shower ritual. We take our showers using an agricultural plant sprayer. We heat up water and fill and pump the sprayer. We have a privacy shield that covers the companionway so the showerer is alone in the cockpit and can enjoy a hot shower. It is night so no one can see you and during the day we drop the cockpit sunscreens which gives you about 98% privacy.

Connie was up first for her shower and we always take it as a good sign when there are no questions or exclamations shouted from the cockpit. Connie emerged for the cockpit clean and smiling. She said she enjoyed dancing to the reggae music while showering.

The next day we employed my favorite taxi driver in Grenada and took a custom designed island tour. I think the tour of the cocoa (chocolate drying) and fermentation tour at the Belmont Estate was the group favorite and something that we had never been able to in past tours. Okay, the chocolate samples might have swayed our judgment. The next day we hiked to Concord Falls and admired the vegetable gardens, nutmeg, mango and many other fruit trees on the trail to the falls. The photo was taken at Concord Falls and the drops of water are from the spray of the falls. On the way home in the public van Connie and Pat learned that in Grenada the vans are never took full to try to squeeze one more person aboard.

In Carriacou we took the bus to Windward and chatted with boat builders and walked the beach and looked at the stunning view. In a day or two we checked into St. Vincent and the Grenadines and spent some time at Union Island and sailed to the Tobago Cays where we swan with green turtles as they fed on sea grass and we snorkeled the little reefs and explored the islands. Unfortunately the bridled terns were not nesting on Jamesby Island at this time of year.

Connie and Pat are avid and crackerjack birders and were always on the look out for birds and we did see a few new birds on the sail to Bequia. We hiked up to Peggy's Rock, the high point of Bequia and although it was very hot I think everyone was glad to have the view and done the hike. The ten days went by way too fast and we sailed Pat and Connie to St. Vincent and they flew to St. Lucia for a few days of serious birding looking for the endemic and rare bird species.

The morning after they left Hunter commented that the "sweeping elves" had left. We missed our friends.

Enjoying our life with Friends
11/15/2013, Carriacou

We are enjoying Carriacou with our friends Connie and Pat Toops.

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