March, 17, 2015, 18 20.04'N
In 48 hour hindsight, it's a miracle we made the plane, but not because we were late to Logan. In fact, we arrived at the airport over two hours before our flight to St. Thomas took off. No, as usual, it was me leaving things to the last minute. You'd think with six or seven of these extended vacations under my belt I would have it down to a system but I don't. Losing all the data on my computer the day before we left only further complicated things, so I'll have to survive the next four weeks with my iPad, praying that two and half years of photos and data are retrievable off the backup drive I sent to Seagate Technologies. Between that frustration and doing all that is required to put one's life on hold for a month, I was a wreck. Staying up until 4 in the morning trying to get ready didn't help either, although I have to admit, that too is not unusual for me. Last Minute should be my middle names....
Luckily for us and given the unbelievable winter we've had, the trip went smoothly, and although a bit weary, we were grateful for the 80ᵒ temperatures that greeted us in Charlotte Amalie. Crown Bay Marina is just a five minute cab ride from the airport, and we were soon slinging bags over the lines onto Capella's deck. I declined David's offer of a nightcap at Tickles, the bar at the head of the marina, and we were soon sound asleep in our cozy forward cabin.
After a leisurely breakfast at Tickles, we did boat chores. Although the boat had been sitting (unfortunately) largely unloved and unused for two months in the marina, Cap'n. Benji, the boat minder we'd engaged to keep an eye on things, had scrubbed her topsides and had the bottom cleaned so we had little prep work other than a few minor tasks to attend to before heading over to the Pueblo for groceries. Between shopping and stocking, most of the afternoon was gone before we knew it.
Benji had given us the name of a restaurant over in Frenchman's Bay - Alexander's Blu Bella - and, much to both our and the management's surprise - we were one of only three tables booked that evening. The food, though not fancy, was delicious and both of the waitresses hailed from our neck of the woods; one from Winchester, MA, and one from Scarborough, Maine. Can't get away even if we try!
With nothing to keep us in St. Thomas, we dropped the lines and turned Capella towards Culebra, one of the two large Spanish Virgin Islands 21 miles and 26 miles to the west. The wind was dead behind us and we motored over with just the jib and dropped anchor in a bay inside Great Harbor in time for a late lunch. We'd been to Culebra once before, ten or so years earlier and the change in that time is remarkable. There is still no place to tie up to to get fuel or water, but now that Capella has been outfitted with a watermaker, David is no longer in a panic about running out. The hillsides, once dotted with the occasional wooden shanty, have attracted a substantial amount of real estate development, and vacation condos and villas abound. We found a quiet bay inside Great Harbor and dropped anchor in pristine green waters.
The weather was fairly cloudy and windy so I didn't take my usual dip, but we enjoyed cocktails and grilled pork chops looking out over the quiet harbor before the bugs drove us below.
Sunny skies the next morning gave way to clouds and an occasional passing shower, but we were happy to just do nothing (how long has THAT been) and read books. Around 3 p.m., we hauled up the anchor (thank you, windlass) and puttered around the corner to Dewey in the main part of the harbor. We lowered the inflatable, motored in and tied up to the float in front of aptly named Dinghy Bar and joined what looked like to a combination of regulars and a few spring breakers at the crowded bar. David ordered his chardonnay (with a side of ice) and I splurged on a piña colada - sweet and cold.
From up close, both the clientele and the town looked strikingly similar: down at the heels, bleached by the sun, and very colorful. The buildings may not be in the best shape, but they are colorful, and the same could be said about their inhabitants. Who makes Culebra their home? Aging hippies, non-conformists and those who don't care for the societal norms of the mainland, I'd guess. To a person, however, they seemed content, so maybe they know something we don't. I wonder how they feel about the influx of touristas making Culebra their second home...
We left as the bar was about to feed the tarpon circling in front of the dinghies; apparently, it has become a prime attraction of the bar. I certainly wouldn't want to mess with them; some were nearly four feet long! Back on board we harbor cruised but didn't find a place that appealed to us more than the one we'd left that earlier that day so we returned and found ourselves a secluded spot, which was great for skinny-dipping the next morning.
Tuesday (St. Patty's Day!) dawned bright and sunny and we decided to go up to the western end of the island for snorkeling in Tamarind Bay. The water is crystal clear, and along with the usual reef fish, I saw a ray and some of the most varied corals I'd seen anywhere. In particular, I noticed fan corals in every color of green, brown and purple. Too often we look at the fish and fail to notice the anemones, corals and other less colorful wildlife below the surface.
After a lunch of chicken Caesar salad, we turned back to St. Thomas through blissfully calm seas and anchored in Flamingo Cove on Water Island, just off Charlotte Amalie. After several failed attempts to anchor (and I know, because I had to dive on the anchor to check it out!), we tied up to a mooring that said "Free" until we realized that the full name was "Born Free". Hoping that its owner wouldn't return tonight we hung fast; so far so good.
September, 13, 2014, Mallorca, Spain
Even though the marina doesn't really "wake up" until 9 a.m. in these parts of the world, we were up and moving by 7:30 to take advantage of whatever coolness we would have. The jib was taken down and furled on the dock and lines coiled and stowed, all before breakfast. I am glad we did because it didn't take long for it to warm up.
David had lined up a string of mechanics and other boat "tenders" to come over the course of the day and scope out the work that had to be done, so Dan, Holly and I taxied over to the old part of town to see the sights. The famous Catedral la Seu was closed until 11, so we wandered the narrow backstreets taking in the flagstone pavements, huge wooden doors and delicate ironwork of the balconies. Out of the shade, the stone buildings kept those of us at street level quite cool; it was only when we ventured into full sunlight that we felt the blast of the sun.
We visited Santa Eulalia, Palma's oldest church, and the Mallorca Museum which is undergoing massive renovations, and finally wended our way back to the cathedral. Begun in 1230, the gothic cathedral dominates the eastern part of the city; in fact, it is taller than all others in Europe except the Milan Cathedral. I have written about it before on a previous trip to Palma, but it is still a magnificent sight both from the sea coming in to port and from the lagoon below it and well worth a second visit.
After a break under a shady tree for lemonades, Dan and Holly went to see the Almudaina Palace, the Gothic palace built using the walls of a Moorish fortress, while I browsed the shops along the Passeig des Born, the lovely tree-lined boulevard which is Palma's main promenade. We met up to stroll through the gardens to the waterfront where we caught a taxi back to the boat. Two hours of walking had about done us in, so we ate lunch on board and retired to our bunks to pass the heat of the afternoon reading and napping. A walk over to the gelateria and a couple of ice creams helped too.
After cleaning ourselves up, we took a taxi up the hill to Casa Jacinta, a Mallorcan restaurant recommended by someone in the marina office. Clearly, it is a local favorite; we saw few tourists but several family groups and big parties. Dan was intrigued by the haunch of ham standing by the grill, and watched as the chef carved off unbelievably thin slices of jamón Ibericó for his patrons. After dinner, we were served small glasses of a local liqueur that tasted like a combination of limoncello and anise--I guess it's an acquired taste....
It had finally cooled off by the time by we returned to the boat and we tucked in for our final night on Capella. None of us slept that well but I think leaving or returning to what awaits us back home kept us from sleeping soundly. Two weeks has gone by way too fast, and we hate to leave, but that's a good thing. It won't be all that long before the boat is loaded onto a ship and sent back to St. Thomas where we will enjoy several weeks in the islands this winter. See you in the Caribbean!
September, 12, 2014, Mallorca, Spain
It had to end sometime, and about 20 miles short of Palma, our final destination, it did. Our herewith perfect vacation all of sudden and with a very loud bang, came to a screeching halt. At one moment we are puttering along, contemplating putting up the sail because, for once, there actually was enough wind to drive it, and the next minute, we hear the bang, and the boat takes a very sharp turn to the right. Dan, who was at the helm, has a wheel turning uselessly in his hands, and Capella is heading straight for a cliff. David quickly determines that the steering cable has snapped leaving us with no control over the rudder, so immediately engages the autopilot which has a separate mechanism to control the steering and, using the tracking buttons, directs us towards Palma. We pulled out the emergency tiller (little more than two steel bars) to help us navigate the final yards into a berth, but guiding the boat by pushing buttons was pretty hairy, especially in a cross wind which caused the boat to rock and roll more than it would have had we been able to put up a steadying sail.
Once in the harbor, two marina guys came out to help us (one clearly more competent than the other), and using a combination of dinghy power, emergency tiller and the throttle we made it safely into our berth. The stress combined with the 90+ temperatures made for a very sweaty crew. Holly and I were very glad we'd taken a swim that morning, not knowing it would be our last, but at least there was a breeze topsides. Down below wasn't quite so cool, and after dripping through a salad lunch and siestas, we were grateful for the Marina di Porto Mallorca's topnotch showers - air conditioned, no less! Holly and I took a walk around this area of Palma (not particularly impressive) but gelatos helped a bit.
Around 8:45 -- early by Spanish standards, we walked over to one of the waterfront tapas restaurants, Tapas Negro, and ordered a series of "small plates", which is what tapas means, of local Mallorcan fare washed down with a bottle (okay, two..) of local white wine - all delicious. Strolling back to the boat, we admired the huge yachts of all types and nationalities which took up most of the marina; we are clearly one of the smallest boats here. The boys had to stifle their "mast envy".....