Tumultuous Uproar

A cruising boat with a racing problem...


02 January 2018
Dad took off for his final flight yesterday. I would like to tell you a bit about Dad and his 90 years. But first I want to tell what he meant to me. When I was a young boy, I asked Dad why we refer to God as “Father.” Dad said that a father is someone who loves and protects you and God cares for us all and protects us. He smiled with half-closed eyes. From then on I had a clear image of a loving God.

Dad was born in Denver but lived most of his childhood in Tulsa, OK. He enlisted in the Navy during WW2 but served only briefly due to armistice. He then enrolled at University of Cincinnati in Aeronautical Engineering. Coming from a family of doctors and lawyers, that was quite a divergence. But Dad loved airplanes and built many models as a boy.

He was married to Sylvia, Mom, for 67 years. Dad cared for Mom at home, our house in Kettering, Ohio, they built in 1960. Mom has had Alzheimer's for ten years. Even though she has been completely infirm for much of that time, Dad employed some wonderful ladies to care for Mom at home. He often said, “I love her more every day.” He passed in his sleep at her side.

Dad's love of airplanes became a career as founding member of University of Dayton, Research Institute. UDRI started as a small office in the basement of the UD band building but now employs about 500 people. Dad became head of Aerospace Mechanics, performing research projects on a variety of aerospace applications as well as wind and solar energy and bio-engineering. He retired after 42 years at UDRI.

His love of airplanes continued. Our church, added a gym which Dad thought would be perfect for flying small, rubber band powered airplanes. Dad started a model airplane class for middle school aged kids. They met after school on Tuesdays, built balsa wood airplanes and flew them in the gym. After three months of classes, the parents were invited to a presentation where the kids flew the planes they had built. The gym was filled with wonder as these fragile planes circled up to the ceiling. Dad ran this program with the help of other dedicated men and women for 19 years, teaching around 500 students the basics of flight. Some have gone on to careers in aeronautical engineering.

Tulsa, Oklahoma is far from water but Dad loved boats and where they traveled. Brother Bob, Dad and I all learned to sail together in a heavy, wooden boat on a small lake near Ann Arbor, MI. We would spit in the water to see if we were moving on calm days. When the wind blew, we rushed to go out in the “Whitecap.” Dad taught me only one sailing tip which I was reluctant to accept. We were out in a blow with main and jib sheeted in hard. We were burying the lee rail and the tiller was to my chin with weather helm. Dad said, “I hear if you ease the sheets, we will go even faster.” I turned to Dad and said, “Dad, that can't be right.”

As I built and bought a succession of boats, Dad was always eager to sail with me. He would visit in Milwaukee at a time when he was assured to crew in at least a few races. Lisa and I sailed Uproar out the Great Lakes and stopped in Detroit for a family reunion. Bob arranged for us to race in a local race on Lake St. Claire. Dad, nearly blind, was eager to sail with us. The race started out very light but a squall came through that dismasted one boat and turned the sky black. Dad hung on for dear life, smiling the whole time.

When Lisa and I announced our plans to go world cruising in Uproar, Dad never hesitated in his support. We were fortunate to be able to phone often, he wanted all the details of our voyage. Dad bought us a satellite phone for Christmas so we could keep in touch during the long, Pacific passages. Dad, now we won't need a phone to talk when the sky is lit with stars.

I love you and miss you, Dad.

Las Aves, Land of Birds, Venezuela

20 December 2017
Even more remote than Los Roques, Las Aves are uninhabited islands, halfway between Los Roques and Bonaire. Uproar and Skabenga sailed the 50 miles to Las Aves in ideal conditions. These islands are so low that they are not visible until we were within 7 miles or so. But GPS guided us perfectly into the crescent shaped chain to a quiet bay to anchor.

Well it would have been quiet except for the thousands of birds squaking. Las Aves is a rookery for a dozen species of birds, notably the Red-Footed Booby. They were quite bold, flying so close they went inside our rigging. Uproar sustained a few bird bombs but not that many. Yes, we have found another hidden gem of the Caribbean.

Checking out of Los Roques meant we had no legal standing to be in Venezuela. But there was no one to care and guide books said that if the Coasta Guarda were to approach us, they would merely log our boat name and allow us to stay.

But we weren't alone. There was a camp of fishermen in tents on the beach. They numbered about a dozen and had six open boats. These boats are about 25 feet long with high bows and 70 hp Yamaha outboards. With rudimentary language exchange they explained that they travel from mainland Venezuela, about 60 miles away to fish. They have a cheerful disposition and existence. Yes, they would sell us the two giant lobsters they had for $20US. That is about $2.50/pound.

They wanted sugar so Skabenga donated a kilo for their coffee. The fishermen were very pleased and gave us two large Jacks. These Jacks were fresh and ice cold. They must have brought a huge stash of ice from the mainland. There certainly wasn't any power on the island. Strangely these fishermen wear balaclavas to protect their faces from the sun. They look like bandits but were far from it.

Skully (Skabenga's dinghy) took us touring the mangroves, packed with nesting birds. We got so close we could have touched them. They appeared completely unafraid.

Some of the best snorkeling we have seen was nearby. Water was only about 12 feet deep with rich corals and fish. I brought a spear but couldn't muster the desire to kill anything. Guess I just wasn't hungry enough.

Two days here were nothing but relaxing, eating, swimming and sunset green flashes. Then on to Bonaire.

Los Roques, forbidden islands of Venezuela

20 December 2017
I've posted a lot of pictures from Los Roques, Venezuela on Facebook but this blog is more of our permanent record of the voyage of Uproar.

Venezuela is the forbidden country. Our boat insurance does not cover us for Venezuela, Cuba and a few other areas. This unfortunate country is in turmoil politically and economically. We have seen fishing boats from Venezuela at port in Grenada stocking up on staples that are just not available in Venezuela. Internet search yielded a few recent blogs from sailors who visited Los Roques, an island chain about 60 miles north of the mainland. Reports were nothing but positive about this beautiful island chain and its people.

We sailed from Martinique 375 miles to Los Roques along with Chris on Skabenga. It was a delightful sail of 53 hours, often with spinnaker pulling hard. Grand Roque is the main island and only settlement in the island chain. This charming village is about 6 blocks square, sand streets and colorful buildings. It is a tourist town with airport for well heeled clients from mainland Venezuela. We were the only US boat in the entire island chain and the register at customs didn't show any previous US boats in the page I saw.

Customs and immigration was reported to be a bit of a challenge. We were to first go to the pharmacy and exchange some USD for Bolivar. We found the pharmacy and exchanged $20 for a grocery bag of bills that weighed about 15 pounds! That was not even half of what we needed to clear in. The friendly store owner gestured that we should return in the morning and indicated he would have someone help us through the procedures. Next morning he called a man from the parks district to walk us through the 4 step process. He didn't want any money from us, he indicated that it was his job. There were some waits and difficulties with language but always smiles and courtesy. The final step was to pay. The pharmacist gave us his credit card and we paid him in USD. That's about the only way to pay in Venezuela. Almost no one carries Bolivar. But everyone will take USD!

To celebrate our legal status in Venezuela; Chris, Lisa and I stopped at Cafe Baleena for a beer. This is a charming little restaurant just off the beach with Bob Marley music playing and Budist prayer flags flying. I started singing with Bob and was joined by the owner, Nelly. We had few words in common but were joined in song and spirit. Local Polar beer is served in 9 oz cans. We had four each. Nelly kept bringing plates of breaded fish fingers with a savory sauce and Greek-like spinach pastry. Turned out to be quite a relaxed and filling lunch. All for only $11. Lisa and I returned for dinner that very night. Namaste, Nelly!

The draw of Los Roques is that the island chain consists of hundreds of remote, uninhabited islands. These islands are low, scrubby with beautiful beaches. Low islands mean shallow water which means beautiful turquois shades that swimming pool painters fail to capture. Skabenga and Uproar spent the next 10 days in some of the most beautiful anchorages we have encountered. Some islands had fishing camps for temporary shelter while fishermen worked during the week. They returned home to Grand Roque for weekends. We were able to buy huge lobsters for about $3/pound.

Snorkeling was very good, the water could not have been any clearer and sailing between islands was ideal. Sophie loved the beach walks and Lisa collected some shells. There was a lot of time for relaxing, reading, swimming, star gazing and no internet for two weeks. Ahhh!

We returned to Grand Roque to clear out for customs and immigration. We saw people we had met when clearing in and were greeted warmly. The Supermercado was the only grocery store in Grand Roque. Quick math showed that prices were very low. A French cruiser suggested we contact Paul to buy anything on the island. Inquiries brought us to Paul's door. With limited English he explained he would use his credit card to buy whatever we wanted and we could pay him in USD. We first went to the Supermercado. We filled two bags...$15. Next to the liquor store. Polar beer was about $.30/can, we stocked up with 5 cases. Good, aged rum was $5/bottle. I'll have a dozen please! We heard diesel was cheaper than water. One French cruiser said he got gas for his dinghy. The guy filling the tank didn't have change so he just said, “No problem, no charge.” But Paul gestured that it might be illegal for him to fill my three, 5 gallon cans. He charged me $20 for 15 gallons. OK, let's just call that Paul's commission. That is on top of his less-than-favorable exchange rate. We learned the dollar doubled in value since we cleared in 10 days prior! Still, a real bargain from our normal prices for everything.

As we walked through the village with Paul, we noticed all of the kids had new bicycles! Now the streets are only sand. Some of them were quite loose sand but some packed well. This is not a great place to ride a bike. The kids seemed to be enjoying them but I doubt these bikes will last long in the sand. I asked Paul why the new bikes? He said there was an election in two weeks. In spite of these obvious problems in Venezuela, we were delighted with our visit. The cruising ground ranks as one of our favorites. The people could not have been more friendly and welcoming. We felt completely safe, not locking our dinghy or boat. Don't sail by these delightful islands without stopping!

Thanksgiving at sea

25 November 2017
Dear God,

Thank you for the sea.
Thank you for Lisa, who sails with me.
Thank you for family and friends at home,
who never let us feel alone.

200 miles from Los Roques, Venezuela

Dominica, walking around Portsmouth

11 November 2017
Day two we were on our own. We wanted to explore the places we had enjoyed before. It was not to be. There are some beautiful spots within an easy hike from Portsmouth. None were accessible. Trees had fallen over the paths. We started toward the Indian River, where scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean had been filmed. A local guy walked with us but said the bar on the river, owned by his cousin was smashed. “No way can you make it there.” We said we would walk as far as we could. A local farmer also told us “the path is blocked, too many down trees.” He was right, we made it to Leslie's Bar, which was just a shell, not much further. Looking down the river from its mouth, we could see the striking beauty was gone. Everything stripped to the bare trunks.

As we walked around town, we met people we had known from past visits. They were keen to tell us of their stories during Maria. We patiently listened. It is something they needed to share. Still, they all were proud they survived. The attitude was of hope and strength. How can people who didn't have much to begin with be so positive when so much was taken from them. They are Dominica strong and proud.

Smitties Restaurant in town was turned into a small grocery store. We met Smitty and he remembered us with big hugs. We announced his menu on the cruiser's net to help him sell the amazing Trinidad doubles and roti he and his wife cooked. He bought his own VHF radio and we set it up for him. We explained just how he could advertise among the cruisers to get business.

Again, we were the only boat in the anchorage. Last time we were in Portsmouth, there were 200 yachts present. Our hope is that they will return to support these struggling people.

The streets of Portsmouth were still littered with storm damage. Power lines were down and we stepped over them everywhere. The main lines were restored. Some thought they would have power within the week. Crews were working on it. Piles of debris and trash were everywhere. One pile was strictly of damaged fans. There must have been a hundred of them. Why a pile of fans?

We felt like voyeurs, looking at the train wreck. But we weren't treated that way. People were most welcoming. And some we talked with knew we had brought aid. No one else comes to Dominica at this time. Lisa and I had a big bag of children's books and toys we donated to several schools.

Tired and frustrated, we returned to Uproar in the late afternoon. What else could we possibly do to help. Lisa wanted to just dig in and clean up Portsmouth. If only it was that simple.

This is a hard blog for me to write. Ti punch with 55% rum agricole helps. We know we helped with our shipment of aid. Dominicans are proud, they didn't ask for help, they were gracious to us as they have always been. They wanted to talk with us. They wanted to share. We listened.

Dominica, first Look.

10 November 2017
Boudah met us at the fishing dock. “Don't lock your dinghy, the fishermen may have to move it.” We didn't, it was sure to be there when we returned.

They met Kevin on the road to Kalinago and Laura, Nicholas and their cargo were deposited safely. Laura and Nicholas had a place to stay in Kalinago. I mentioned to them if accommodations weren't what they wanted, they were most welcome to stay on Uproar for the rest of the trip. We haven't heard from them, hope things are going well.

It was with apprehension that we toured the north end of Dominica with Boudah. We were shocked by the damage but Boudah's optimism shined through. “Everything will grow back, we are already getting trees to blossom. Ground vegetables are all OK, people will have food.” We first went to Boudah's house where his girlfriend and their daughter lived. We met Melihana when she was a year old. She is now 5 months older and quite shy around strangers. Boudah's only request was that we bring her shoes. We bought several pairs and he said they were perfect. The trees and vegetables he was growing were a shambles. But he was optimistic and working hard to get his crops growing again.

Boudah's was one of many tales of the hurricane that we have listened to. People want to talk about it. They want to share their fears, trauma and most of all survival. Boudah's house is a substantial two story concrete structure. They were upstairs until the roof blew off, they hurried downstairs but water was over the bottom step. The adjacent river Tonton had overflowed and was rushing through the first floor of the house. They huddled on the stairs all night throughout the hurricane! He said he was lucky the house wasn't completely washed away. He had replaced the roof from pieces he found around and some new panels but it still had a small leak. He felt lucky as many of his neighbors lost their houses right down to the foundation. The fact that he had no electricity didn't seem much of a concern.

Part of his roof was so twisted around one of his trees, he said there was no way it could be removed. Apparently there were tornadoes before and around the hurricane. I saw evidence of twisted off trees, something we find after Midwest hurricanes. Wherever we went, damage was the same. No areas were spared. Trees were uniformly stripped of leaves but some were budding again. It looked like the beginning of Spring after a tough Winter. Some houses seemed intact but most lost roofs. Some lost all. Boudah showed us a place where a house was swept away by a river, Five people died.

One touching scene was on a littered beach. Ten boys were cooking a meal over an open fire and sharing it. All had a dish of macaroni and local roots. They came to the van where we gave them packages with candy and small model airplanes. We had only eight but they shared. Boudah said, “They need to learn to cook so they can eat.” All had friendly smiles and were having fun. We later saw them playing basketball.

Everyone we met knew Boudah. All had smiles and optimism. But normalcy was a long way off. Boudah explained that a lot of aid was coming into Dominica. He said the Prime Minister was doing a great job getting the world to help Dominica. Aid was distributed to local ministers. There's where Boudah had disdain for the government. The local ministers were not always fair in distributing aid. Boudah said he was given nothing so far and doesn't expect he will receive any aid. He also said he was fine without.

We started the tour in early afternoon. Lisa and I had a nap in place of lunch. Later in the afternoon, I was hungry. I realized that it wasn't a bad thing to feel some hunger in light of what we were seeing. Boudah returned us to the dock after an eye opening tour. We will meet him in two days to travel to the Kalinago area. Lisa and I spent a quiet evening hardly able to talk about what we witnessed our first day on Dominica.

Vessel Name: Tumultuous Uproar
Vessel Make/Model: Beneteau 42s7
Hailing Port: Milwaukee, WI
Crew: Russ Whitford & Lisa Alberte plus Sophie our Jack Russell Terrier
Tumultuous Uproar's Photos - 1000 Islands
Photos 1 to 53 of 53 | Main
At anchor, next to Bell Island
Heart Castle
Clayton Wooden Boat Museum
Inside Heart Castle