This is our friend Christian from the SV Christa. He is a retired coast Guradsman who is now really enjoying life. We look forward to meeting up with him in the near future. Checkout his sailblog as well.
One of the big challenges cruisers face these days is aging parents. Our parent's health is a major concern to all of us, especially those of us living abroad. For many would be cruisers the decision to leave older parents behind can be a real deal breaker in pursuing their sailing dreams. For my wife Jean, our three kids and I to stay home and pursue a shore side life would have been a mistake. I can say this now with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight having sailed the Caribbean aboard the "Omarsea" our 51 Beneteau. I suppose many of us might never leave the dock for fear something might happen to our parents while we are at sea.
The guilt of such a passage might be more than one can deal with. It is a very real fear we all face when contemplating an extended cruise. While planning our own voyage, Jean and I voiced our personal concerns about my parents who were in their 60s and about Jean's who were in their 80's.
One very pivotal evening more than a year before we left I remember having a difficult conversation about this very topic with my father in law Omar. At the time his health was slowly failing. Being very good friends for many years I asked him how he felt about us going sailing around the world. For several weeks I had the impression he was troubled about our trip and was to his credit keeping it to himself. Omar told me that he would miss us very much. Jean was always dropping in to help her mom and having great conversations with her Dad. He told me of the hole in their lives there would be once we left. How this hole was to develop none of us could have imagined.
I have read that when one makes the decision to move toward a large life goal that events conspire to achieve that goal if only you persevere. A great example is the boat you are looking for just happens to come on the market at a good price. What the author of this maxim does not tell us is that there are challenges to overcome along the path to cruising. Within weeks of my conversation with Omar I found out that my Stepfather Bob had an aggressive form of cancer. Bob and I talked early one morning about what he wanted for himself and how important it was to pursue dreams. It was an unusual conversation for us to have and I remember it well. After describing a boat I was looking at he offered to do whatever it took to help Jean and I buy the boat we needed. He insisted we make sure we go cruising and live life to its fullest. Being from New England he was one of those people who never let on exactly how bad he was feeling. He had just undergone Whipple surgery and was in chemotherapy for the cancer. Less than three months later our family gathered to pay our respects to Bob Murray and lay him to rest after a short 64 years. His words of encouragement, always with me, would later push Jean and I to sell our home, purchase a boat, and go cruising the following year. But challenges often come in threes they say. A scant three months after we lost Bob, Omar was taken ill. Like Bob he kept most of his suffering to himself. After a series of trips to the hospital he passed away surrounded by his wife and children. The pain of his passing put our plans on hold for a while as we tried to sort out what was best for Jean's Mom. There was indeed a large hole in our lives and we all felt his loss greatly. It was Clara (Jean's Mom) that really made all the difference. Though she was to miss us dearly she was able to put aside her own needs and become our # 1 fan. Some people are blessed to have a great mother in law or a great father in law. I was blessed to have both. During the two years we pursued our goal. Buying a boat out of charter in the Caribbean and outfitting it in the islands. We continued to have challenges daily but they served to make us more capable in facing the next ones.
If one cruises long enough you come to that place in life where you understand that things happen for no particular reason. There is no blame to be passed out and that you can't change some things. I being of the more stubborn variety have taken the long road to arrive here. Cruising plans are the first thing that you throw out the window. This past month I came to learn that my Mother has a cancer that has begun to accelerate in its growth. Being an experienced nurse she shows tremendous courage facing each day with a determined smile. After learning her condition I flew back and spent a week with her. It was a great trip. We laughed and cried together. Talked of the future in uncertain terms and in between these talks I took her to the emergency room and the Dr's office. She is a person liked by all who know her, and it is an honor to be her son. It was on the flight back to Puerto Rico that it occurred to me our parents never stop teaching us. It is in their passing that we perhaps learn to live without fear and to go forward with our dreams with grace and dignity.
While we may put our cruising in a temporary holding pattern for now we continue to make future plans for out passage to the Pacific and beyond. The memories we have of the past year will be treasured for our lifetimes. Many thanks to you Bob Murray for those words of encouragement at a time when we really needed them.
09/07/2008, Puerto Rico
When we arrived here in Salinas we met a man at the dock who told us the story of the Martians who kept the hurricanes away from Puerto Rico. This friendly fellow who moonlights as a security guard here at the Marina is a veteran of the USCG. Being on the island of Puerto Rico is a little like starring down the barrel of gun. During Hurricane season the storms lineup one after the other gathering strength and speed like bullets streaking across the seas. Last week the cruisers here watched as Hurricane Gustov plowed its way north as three storms moved across Africa. These later developed into Tropical Storm/Hurricane Hanah, Catagory 4 hurricane Ike and Tropical Depression Jose. Hanah being a lady decided to pay us a little vist even though the center of the storm was some 200 miles away. Trailers from her center were appraoching Puerto Rico. This past Tuesday we awoke to find the wind coming from the south and very strange clouds moving past quickly. They were dark and foreboding. We had heard the forecast and knowing that there was no threat of a direct hit by Hannah we went about our morning quietly. Suddenly the winds picked up and looking to the south we could see a wall of white approaching . The temperature dropped some 20 degrees and hail fell heavily all about us. Lightning arched across the sky and thunder echoed of the nearby mountains. Just moments before we had decided to take down the awning lest it be damaged. Our neighbors were not so lucky and their awnings were shreaded moments later as the winds reached their full fury. Our wind generator which shuts down at 45 knots immediately feathered to a stop. The wires began to whistle and the boat was whipped back and forth on the anchor chain. The bay which had been glassy calm only minutes before now had whitecaps and four foot waves rolling past the boat. Our dingy fuel tank broke loose and sliding to the rear of the dingy threatened to capsise the small boat as the wind and seas tossed it into the air. Jumping into the dingy I was pounded by hail and drenched by the waves while lashing the fuel tank down again. Stevie jumping up and down excited asked " Is the hurricane going to get us?" At that point the visibility became nill. Other boats melted into the rain and the winds ripped the sea tossing spray for hundreds of feet. We let the Dingy astern to keep it from bashing itself against the Omarsea. There it rode well on 50' of line in the windshadow of the bigger boat. Now and then our wind generator would start to spin only to come to a sudden shuddering stop. I switched it off to prevent any damage. As the rain cleared a little we could see people in dingies moving between boats. Several boats had begun to drag through the anchorage pulling their 500 lb mooring anchors with them. Some of our neighbors struggled to clear their decks before the storm did it for them. Plastic chairs flung off porches floated by. Dingies that were not secured properly floated away while their owners watched helplessly. Some 30 minutes after the microburst had happened things began to settle down again and we were able to go on deck and see the extent of the damage. Wondering Dolphin had moved into Liberties spot. Liberty had dragged its mooring some 600 yards away and Don's boat Sunshine had crept its way across half a mile of bay to the North. We found we had dragged our anchor 50 feet and were now close enough to CatsPaws we elected to reset it in case another squall appeared. Then the Radio crackled with a report from USCG that a water spout had been sighted some eight miles to the East of us. That further squalls should be expected and possible water spout activity could occur. As the winds decreased and the skys cleared I jumped in the dingy to check on our neighbors aboard Wondering Dolphin and Christa. Christian of the SV Christa had been aboard Wondering Dolphin eating breakfast when the storm struck. After finding him safe and sound back aboard Christa he told me his tale of being in his dingy in 4 foot seas approaching Christa with no safe way to get aboard. He had jumped to the bowsprit and in that chaos had somehow held onto the dingy.
It was while I was onboard talking with Christian the story of the Martians and the Hurricanes came up. You see though the storms come reaching west at us, on their way to the Eastern Seaboard, they pass us by. After Hugo in 1989 they have left Puerto Rico relatively alone. Our security guard here in Salinas maintains that soon after Hugo Aliens from Mars landed in the sacred mountainous region of El Yunque. There they erected a device that directs storms around the island. Since they were "never seen again" and the storms have passed around the island it seems another urban Myth is born.
On Returning to the Omarsea three more squalls lashed the boat driving us indoors to watch movies and eat popcorn. I was able to enjoy our cosy afternoon knowing that we were safely hooked in well away from other boats. There is nothing like the wind and rain slashing the outside of the boat to add to the ambiance of a scary movie.
08/22/2008, Off Puerto Rico
During our trip North the sails were put under considerable stress as we had to reef them in the strong winds. The aging Genoa tore at the seams several times forcing us to motor sail under the main alone. We were able to pull down the genoa. Then stitch the errant seam and put it back up while offshore. I don't recommend this unless you have to make headway windward as we did. The bow is a difficult place to be in 8-10 seas and there is the ever present danger that the sail will blow overboard and fill with water. Fortunately we were able to make workable repairs to the sail enough to get us North.
Jean is the chief when it comes to these repairs. We have a 110v inverter aboard to power our sewing machine. She directs the operations while I man handle the bulk of the sail. With small repairs this can be done in as little as 30 minutes in calm seas. This photo shows Jean working in the protection of a small bay in the DR soon after making landfall.
We have since learned that even sails that look sound can easily blow out seams in heavy weather. That it is important to cary 50 feet of 2"sticky back sail tape and at least a sail needle, thread and palm guard. The Sewing machine we selected was the Sailrite LZ model with ZigZag feature. The zigzag feature is used on sail seams. Even though we have taken our genoa in to a loft we feel that we have gotten our money back as we have been able to repair sails three times now underway.
08/22/2008, Puerto Rico
We traveled from Mayagues to Boqueron and then on to La Parguera a wonderful small fishing town. We had visited here 13 years ago with Clara and Omaron a wirlwind tour of the island. We stayed in a small Paradore hotel. Today the hotel has grown to the point where we hardly recognised it. This photo shows the hotel as seen from the dingy.
Well after a couple days here at the incomperable Ponce Yacht & Fishing club we are heading East to Salinas and our temporary home for the next few weeks as we watch storms roll by. We are in the midst of an active storm season here in the Caribbean with a tropical low moving our way.
We have had great luck in finding Efrane of the Quantum sail loft here. His team are patching up our torn genoa. And he has the necessary materials for Jean and I to make our new bimini top for the cockpit. Anyone visiting Ponce will find him a very friendly and helpfull sail maker.
We will be busy over the next few weeks with serveral projects on the boat. One being the completion of our mechanical refrigeration. We have 12 volt refrigeration and eutectic holding plates aboard. This time of year ice has been the exception rather than the rule in the freezer. As those boaters out there can attest having ice onboard during a hot afternoon is akin to heaven on earth.
We made an important discovery this past week. The water we had filled our tanks with in the DR had been slightly brackish. Over the past 3 weeks as we drank this water we became increasingly dehydrated. On arriving in Ponce and refilling our tanks the difference was noticed immediately by all.
Anyone cruising in the DR will want to run the ZarPar Marina water through their water maker before drinking it to avoid dehydration.
08/08/2008, Dominican Republic
There has been a tremendous amount of excitement in our little floating world as of late. We decided to bypass Colombia knowing it added 1200 miles to our journey North this fall. We will be sad to miss seeing all our new friends now in Cartegena or soon to be arriving there from Bonaire. The 'ole Omarsea is in need of some serious work and we have decided to brave the hurricanes and seek shelter in Puerto Rico untill the storm season ends in November so that we can make necessary repairs. As she is a 14 year old charter boat there have been many things to repair and replace. As many of you already know we installed a diesel generator and water maker last fall. However there is still quite a lot of work to do in getting these systems fully up and running. We also must replace most of the lifelines and stantions as they have proven to be very unsafe. Additionally the genoa has seen its last sailing days and will need to be replaced. So we are shifting our focus from cruising to working for a short time to get the boat in top condition. Puerto Rico promisses to be a good place for these repairs.
Our trip North from the ABC's was a tribute to human endurance. We started out of Bonaire headed for Spanish Waters and a quiet anchorage. When we arrived at Spanish Waters we found hundreds of drinking power boaters zooming through the closely anchored sailboats in an inland bay packed beyond capacity. If we had stayed I would not have let the kids swim around the boat for fear they would be run down.
We started North for Puerto Rico that afternoon but 20 miles into the trip the Jib blew apart on us and we headed West for Aruba instead. The next morning we arrived in Oranjistad, after checking into the country and getting some much needed rest we made repairs to the jib and cleaned out the debris in the stb fuel tank. Over the next few days we were able to explore some of the down town areas, buy groceries and take in a movie with the kids. Once we felt the boat was in condition to sail we checked out of Aruba and headed North East into 20kt winds and 8 ' seas. The first 50 miles were a bear. The seas and winds set us 30 degrees off course to the west and we found ourselves headed for the DR instead of Puerto Rico. Try as we may we were unable to gain enough easting to even make the west coast of PR. Originally intended to be a 80 hour passage we made the decision to go to the DR late in the 4th day of sailing. Conditions improved daily the farther North we went. Seas were 4-6' by the time the Omarsea passed the 16th parallel. Still 200 miles south of the DR we entered a belt of amazing thunderstorms. Squall after squall hammered us every 5 hours. Huge bolts of lightning striking on the horizon lighting up the night with blinding flashes. Winds dropping to null the rising the 50 mph in minutes. One squall forced Jean and I to take down the Bimini top for fear it would be torn to shreds. We took pictures of the leaden clouds and curtains of rain approaching. 100 miles South of the DR the Squalls became less frequent and tempestuous in nature. We were able to skirt around many of them and on the final approach to Boca Chica we piggy backed on particularly nasty squall almost the entire day never receiving winds over 20 kts and staying reasonably dry in the process.
We began to see more and more shore birds. Some rested on the ships boom in complete exhaustion. We had flying fish leap out of the waves and land on deck. One particularly athletic flyer struck the dodger and fell down the companionway onto the cabin sole flapping around the boat just outside Ben's cabin. We were able to catch and get it overboard mostly alive. Several others were not so lucky as we discovered them dead on deck the next morning. I have heard of people eating flying fish for breakfast after finding them on deck. It is said they are delicious. However these were too small to make much out of so back they went into the sea. As we neared land we began to see objects we could recognize. Flipflops, cups, styrofoam and plastic bags to name a few. Signs of civilization were all about us now. There were mats of sugarcane everywhere. Sugar is the #1 export from the DR. Cane fields dominate most of the level areas and you will find huge sugar refineries at every major port. We noticed fish beneath the mats of cane as we went by. But we were to tired to deal with cleaning fish at that point.
The D.R. turned out to be a very interesting place. The people are extremely poor. Yet they are also very creative and industrious in their business dealings. One needs to be fluent in Spanish to truly enjoy all that the D.R. has to offer but if you are like me and only speak a smattering of Spanish, there are a great many adventures in store for you. The country still has loads to learn about how to attract and keep cruisers here. The check-in process is long and complicated. You are expected to work with Customs, Immigration, the navy and the Marine Guard or Coast Guard. Each officer will be expecting different information from you and the Navy will make a cursory examination of your vessel both on arrival and on departure. Their main goal is keeping foreign nationals out of the country. They will be looking for stowaways that do not have a passport more than drugs onboard. We chose to come into Boca Chica on the South Coast. It is the riviera of the D.R. and is a very busy port. As you enter there is a container ship terminal to port. The channel is well marked and will bring you past the two marinas available here. The first is the Club Nautico. Here they have fuel, water and slips. Just beyond staying to the North edge of the channel in 16 feet of water you will find the Var Par marina. This facility is brand new and very modern. It has a restaurant, internet access, free water with the slip, 110v power, and if you prefer moorings just to the south. Raoul is the dock master and is a very well connected person. We recommend spending a few minutes with him to arrange your needs while you stay. Greg the taxi driver is a fountain of information and can help you get anything you need as well. Propane can be filled here. The tanks are taken by motorcycle to a place toward the west end of the country, filled and returned the same day. $19 for a 10lb tank taxi fee included. The people here are very nice to deal with. Their food is fabulous, particularly the local chicken and potatoes. We found that the average meal which consisted of 5 courses cost about $10 pp. The restaurant at the Var Par marina is run by Rubio who will cater to your every whim. He invited us into his kitchen and showed us the special of the day he and Teresa were preparing. When the food arrived at the table despite telling Rubio that we were only moderately hungry there was far too much to eat and we spent a wonderful 2 hours lingering over delicious food, cold beers and great service. On our departure we were told we needed to get a "Dispatcho" from the Marine Guard. It was a formality that caused us a small problem. Having stored the dingy on deck we would have to walk the 2 miles there and then back or take the local motorcycle taxi service as Greg and his auto taxi were busy. Jean and I decided to take the adventure and hopped on the back of the motor bike. We had seen three people on bikes before here and now I realized why. This is how most of the islands 9,000,000 inhabitants get around. The driver was excellent and though he tried to squeeze past a couple of cars with us onboard causing our pulses to race we arrived at the Marine Guard building cool and refreshed with the nice ride. When we entered I was sure this was the correct place but there were 20 some people walking around without uniforms. We were invited into an office and given seats by an officer who handed our passports and papers to another man who left the office. Beer was being served all around and we were told that the present Captain was being replaced and this was his last day at the post. It should be noted that we were not offered beer ourselves and the officer we were working with did not drink. After about 10 minutes of polite conversation our papers were returned to us with the Dispatcho and we were back on the motorbike headed to the marina. While getting on the bike Greg the auto taxi driver met us and Jean said she felt like it was getting to more like home now that she was running into people she knew. The Omarsea and her crew spent the day at the dock waiting for the winds to die down. By 9PM we were able to pry her off the dock and begin heading out for Perto Rico. We settled into our passage mode and jean put the kids to bed. It was with a bit of sadness we were leaving. Perhaps we will find our way back some day.
So often in life we get busy with jobs, kids and living that we find ourselves drifting away from our friends. It was a tremendous pleasure to find that though separated by 3000 miles for many years our friendship with Steve & Kelly has lasted the test of time.
Within minutes of their arrival it seemed we had just seen each other last week. Talk centered on our respective children and families.
We are a really neat pair of couples when we get together. Jean and Steve are so much alike as are Kelly and myself. It lead to many moments of laughter through the week as we saw the similarities in both our strengths and weaknesses.
As the days passed we spent many hours swimming in the clear azure waters off Bonaire learning the names of many colorful and attractive reef fish. Our evenings filled with sitting in the boat's cockpit sipping drinks watching amazing Caribbean sunsets.
We spent a couple days touring the island. Here we saw pink flamingos and large iguana. There was land sailing and visiting the site of ancient Arawak Indian rock paintings. We liked to stop frequently and see the arid landscape. Bonaire is a desert surrounded by the sea. Tall cactus grows all over and every plant seems covered in long sharp thorns. There are fantastic rock formations left by the receding ocean over the millennia. Many of these have caves and overhangs that shelter wild honeybee hives. To our surprise we ran across heard of wild donkey. One of which walked up to the car a few weeks before when Jean and the kids were on the north shore. The animal helped itself to a large bag of potato chips. Despite a very mild scolding the donkey displayed no signs of guilt for his thievery.
As a treat Kelly and Steve took us out for pizza one evening. We arrived early but there was a tremendous wait to be seated. As is the case with most parents we opted to do take out and eat on the beach with the sun going down. But as so often happens in the islands we were still waiting for pizza when the sunset and had to take our wonderful dinner back to the boat and watch the stars come out. Only last night three planets had been in direct alignment over the western sky. We joked of the illuminate and the joining of the magical pieces of asteroid in the Movie Tomb Raider.
One of the highlights of their visit was the instant attraction between our kids and Steve and Kelly. They began calling them Aunt Kelly and Uncle Steve. Stevie was glued to Steve's side pretty much all the time and Kelly and Juli did some wonderful female bonding while brushing each other's hair sitting on the stern.
Our week with Kelly and Steve seemed to evaporate before our eyes. We have great memories of them having such fun with the crew of the Omarsea. It was one of those special times together when you really hate to see it end.
We are looking forward to getting together with Steve, Kelly and their children in the near future
07/02/2008, Klien Bonaire
We have had a number of requests for updates these past few weeks. In responce we spent a great deal of time in the water photographing some of the amazing sealife to be found here so we could share these with you.
The Angel in this picture was shot in 10' of water early in the morning over on little Bonaire. This stretch of reef was amazing in it's diversity of life.
The kids can now identify 35 species on sight and we are adding new ones daily.
It is really exciting to see an new fish and discover it's name. Julianna is absolutely fearless when it comes to getting up close and personal with these denizens of the deep.
On arriving here in Bonaire we looked at many water sports that the kids might be able to do. After ruling out scuba and kite boarding, Ben suggested he was really interested in learning how to windsurf. For those who have never been to Bonaire it is one of the finest places in the world to Windsurf.
Three world champions are from Bonaire. One of these was here the day the kids first took lessons. On the Eastern shore about mid island is a large cove called Lock bay. It is perfect for learning to windsurf. About ¾ of a mile across it averages 2' deep and is lined with beautiful beaches. Jean and the kids joined a new friend of ours Ingo from Germany for a day of lessons and surfing. They rented boards and Ben received a private lesson from Raymond at "Windsurfing Place". Ben was quick to pickup the basics and was sailing on his own an hour later.
After the days sailing I interviewed Ben about his experience.
Ben said. "It is fun and really challenging. The hardest part is steering the board. I found standing up and going forward easy to do.
Dad: What words of advice do you have for people who have never tried windsurfing? Ben: "Yes do it! Definitely get some instruction. Remember that you will fall off a million times but you will learn to be the master of the board.
Dad: If you had the choice between playing game boy and going windsurfing which would you choose?
Ben: " Windsurfing!"
Dad: Good answer Son!