Sailing South

S/V Mariah with Trish & John Billings

15 January 2017 | Tropical Mexico
27 November 2016 | Mazatlan
25 May 2014 | Mission Bay, San Diego
04 May 2014 | Isla Mujeres, Mexico
05 April 2014 | St. Maarten
17 February 2014 | Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, DR
31 December 2013 | Thompsons Bay, Bahamas
20 December 2013 | Long Island, Bahamas
01 December 2013 | Exumas, Bahamas
01 December 2013 | Exumas, Bahamas
11 November 2013 | Marsh Harbor, Abaco
31 October 2013 | Grand Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
21 October 2013 | Folly Beach, SC
15 August 2013 | Folly Beach, SC
17 July 2013 | Charleston, SC
14 June 2013 | Hilton Head, SC
14 May 2013 | Key West
18 April 2013 | Key West
25 March 2013 | Venice, FL
06 March 2013 | Orange Beach, AL

Tropical Mexico

15 January 2017 | Tropical Mexico
Trish Billings
January 10, 2017

Well, we ended up not hauling out in Mazatlan. As it turned out, the haul-out operator was sick that day and we were anxious to get moving, so we left Mazatlan bound for Isla Isabella, home of the “blue-footed boobie.”

It was an overnight trip and we arrived too early the next morning as it was still dark. So we did “donuts” for about an hour and when the sun came up, we entered the small bay…which was filled with other boats and too rolly for us to stay. We did see a few “boobies” flying around, but still disappointed that we couldn’t stay on this Jurassic Park type of island. Maybe next time…

We continued our journey to San Blas where we stayed one night in Matanchen Bay and then came into the marina. San Blas is both good news and bad news…it is a lovely, quaint, untouched town of very few tourists (just us and other inhabitants of the marina). It has the charm of the Mazatlan Mercado that we liked so much. We just love the local shops, each about the size of half of a one-car-garage, selling all variety of items at very inexpensive prices and the small restaurants or “tacos on the street” vendors making everything you could want in the way of Mexican cuisine. Even churros cooked right there on the street. Greasy and yummy!

As we were walking down the cobbled street, I happened to look inside one of these so-called garages and saw a mirror and a chair. I gestured to the man sitting outside if he cuts hair. He nodded. I asked “quanto es? (how much?). He said 30 pesos ($1.50). I sent John in for his monthly haircut! He got a charming haircut suitable for a 10 year old boy, so adorable.

The bad news about San Blas is that is a haven for mosquitoes and no-see-ums. This is why there are no tourists here. They are brutal. I had to keep myself covered in Deet bug spray, especially at dawn and dusk. When the marina decided to re-fill their swimming pool, we decided to stay here to get our boat bottom painted. Due to the bugs, prices are very low for everything in San Blas, including pulling the boat out to paint. We did the painting ourselves, but hired the security guard to sand it for us. It took him about 8 hours and he charged us $35. It turns out that as a security guard, he makes 80 pesos a day ($4.00), so $35 was a bonanza for him.

While in San Blas, we met some wonderful people who have their boats in the yard and are working on them while living on them (on the hard). This is the best part of cruising…meeting fun people along the way that you just “click” with and become life-long friends. Larry and Mel are a fun couple who have spent years here in Mexico. Their next adventure is to buy a canal boat to cruise the French canals. Wow!

After leaving San Blas and the no-see-ums behind, we anchored in a lovely town called Chacala. The main town is made up of about 2 streets deep and 4 blocks long. There are “palappas” along the beach that serve great food and drinks. The dinghy landing beach is a short walk from the town along some rocks at the end of the beach. We met a fun couple at the anchorage here, Dan & Debbie on S/V Caper. While in Chacala, I got a bladder infection and, because there is no doctor or pharmacy in the town, I had to take a taxi to the closest town, Las Varas. This involved about a 30 minute taxi ride in a van for 30 pesos ($1.50). On the way to Las Varas, we were the only passengers, but on the way back, the van was FULL. A 9-seater van carried 16 people, including 2 children sitting on the floor. Seat belt rules just don’t apply in this situation.

From Chacala, we went to La Cruz, a marina just north of Puerto Vallarta. This is a happening place. All the cruisers were there for the Christmas holidays with many going home for some part of December and leaving their boats in the marina. We met up with many of our HaHa friends and even met more.

For some people, these marinas are the GOAL. They get there and just stay all season, enjoying the group activities organized by the “cruiser-mayor.” Many do go further south to Barra Navidad and Tenacatita, but many just stay put and enjoy the warm weather and social life in the marina.

In every place we’ve been, we have found the Mexican people to be amazingly generous. One afternoon, we had an appointment with the local doctor in La Cruz, Dr. Hector Pimienta (Dr. Pepper) at 4pm. We arrived 15 minutes early and the doctor wasn’t in yet (siesta time). So, we went to a small restaurant on the adjascent corner and ordered a couple of cokes. Of course, it’s Mexico time and it took almost 15 minutes to get the cokes, by which time, the doctor had arrived. So John called for the check, we took a couple of quick sips of the cokes and left to go to the doctor. We were gone about 25 minutes and when we came outside, found that our cokes were sitting right where we had left them. So, with a smile and a wave to the waiter, we sat down and finished them.

Another time, we needed to go to the hardware store. We didn’t know where one was and we needed a specific plumbing part. So we got a taxi driver who asked his supervisor where he thought we could find the part. The driver took us to a “hole in the wall” store where the proprietor immediately offered us each a shot of Tequila before doing business. Then, he looked at what we needed, found it and charged us 15 pesos (seventy five cents US). Meanwhile, the taxi driver had waited to see if we got what we needed and took us to another hardware store in the next town for another part. He parked, walked us to the store and waited for us to complete our business (no Tequila this time) before bringing us back to the marina. The whole thing cost us $10US. And we found this kind of treatment everywhere we have gone. The people are seriously LOVELY.

It is now January and we have decided that we really need to see the Sea of Cortez. We have been told that many people go there and never return. We are hoping to find clear water, non-rolly anchorages and Bahamas-type conditions. We are really looking forward to that as we haven’t even gone snorkeling so far on our trip. We just haven’t found clear water on the tropical side of Mexico…too many river mouths fouling up the water. We have been warned by our cruiser friends that it’s really cold up in “the Sea” right now. I asked, “What’s cold to you?” They respond, “72 degree water. Very cold. Why would you want to go there?” Then I asked, “When does it warm up?” They answer, “Around May.” Well, we have to be returning home in May for a June arrival, so off we go to see the freezing cold Sea of Cortez. Fortunately, we have the most amazing “Weather Window” and full moon to get us there (flat seas, 4 knots of wind and moonlight to see us through the nights).

See ya there!

Just Add Water - San Diego to Mazatlan

27 November 2016 | Mazatlan
Trish Billings
Just Add Water - San Diego to Mazatlan Oct 31- Nov.27, 2016

We left San Diego Harbor on Halloween morning amidst much fanfare with 150 other boats on the Baha Ha Ha bound for Cabo San Lucas via Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria. The horns were blaring, the Coast Guard was spraying water from their hoses, it was great fun. However, there was no wind, so we all motored for several hours. By the time we got some distance away from the other boats, the wind came up along with the swell and we corkscrewed our way down the coast. The weather was beautiful and the sailing/motoring would have been wonderful if not for that aforementioned "corkscrewing" down the face of the waves.

Our wonderful crew, Janet & Don Boursier, were excited to try this monohull stuff (they have a Tri-maran). Don found out that he was really glad he bought a tri-maran as he got horribly seasick for 2 straight days. Not much help for doing watches, but we couldn't begrudge him since he felt so awful. His humor was restored by the time we got to Turtle Bay and was able to catch up to us in copious amounts of alcohol consumed. Our conversations at sea were heavily tilted towards drinking and seasickness, the result being that Don re-named our boat, The SS Betty Ford Colonic. We also renamed Don. He is now referred to as Ralph Chumley.

From the Technical quarter...explained by John:

Lessons learned from Don (our crew), the shade tree VW mechanic.

We set out from Turtle bay, ready to do the next leg (about 200 nm), switched on the auto pilot and got an audible alarm and warning from the "infallible" B&G autopilot that the hydraulic pump was not working. That is bad. We never hand steer least I don't. Trish is always doing the hand steering and the rest of the time Mariah is pointed at some lat/long GSP point to goto.

So, when the alarm went was shocking. The steering is all hydraulic, in that there are no cables or racks, just pistons and such. The pump is just a DC motor that turns one way to steer starboard or reverses to steer port. It stopped working! In anticipation of this passage, I had replaced all the hydraulics with new hose and pipe, had the helm rebuilt but did not pay any attention to the hydraulic steering pump!

We figured it was a brushed DC motor & Don suggested tapping it with a hammer to (free the carbon off the brushes & advance it just a bit) just like an old VW starter motor, which can do the same thing. So, we hand -steered to an nearby anchorage, anchored and had a look. After opening up the access panels Don tapped the motor on the brush end & I applied power...and it worked!!!

We were not the only cruiser to experience autopilot problems. Breakages and damage affected a number of boats after a night of 25 - 28 knots steady wind with 7-10 foot (on occasion 12 foot) following seas). The B&G unit is touted as the best system available (5000 hour MTBF) and we are at about 1500 hours...but this leg had been a real workout. The Fonzi tap did the trick!

End of technical discussion...back to Trish's blog...

Don also taught us to fish. I know, I know, but really, it's like rocket science, you just gotta know stuff. For 3 nights running, we put the fishing pole out at 4 pm and caught a fish for dinner. We thought we were the most fabulous fisher folk. But, of course, we haven't caught one since. On the second fishing night, we had our pole out and immediately found ourselves in the midst of a "tuna boil." Wow! Hundreds of dolphin swimming behind our boat pushing hordes of tuna in front of them. The tuna and the dolphin were all jumping out of the waves behind us. It was amazing and terrifying as we were afraid we would catch a dolphin with our hook. Unfortunately, we were so excited that we didn't even get a good picture of it. There is a picture included in the link below of open sea. If you open the picture and zoom in close, along the horizon you can see a frenzy of activity in the waves. Pretty amazing.

The Ha Ha was fun and we met a lot of fun cruisers, but I think if we did it again, we would take our time coming down the coast and, instead of doing overnights at sea, we would stop in at ports along the way. We feel that we missed a lot and suffered with the overnights. Turtle Bay is a wonderful huge protected bay with a quaint town and lovely people. Bahia Santa Maria is also a wonderful huge protected bay, but uninhabited except for some fishing shacks. In both places, we swam in crystal clear water, visited other boats and drank a lot. Great fun!

We arrived in Cabo San Lucas on schedule and decided to anchor outside the harbor. Bad idea! Boy, did we roll! The southerly swells rolled under us on their way to the beach while the wind kept our bow broadside to the waves. Terrible! We left there as soon as we could and went to San Jose del Cabo...and stayed in the marina. We met up with a boat named 'M' and a dinghy named 'Q'. We went about town with them riding the buses, going to the MEGA grocery store and enjoying a bottle of wine on each others' boats. When they decided to head to Mazatlan across the Sea of Cortez, we went with them along with 6 other boats (it was a good weather window). This required an overnight sail and we were able to talk to the other boats all night long so it didn't seem so lonely. We and M decided to go the city anchorage on the south side of Mazatlan while the other boats all went to the marina. We had a mostly lovely 2 days at anchor near the commercial entry of the port, watching cruise ships come and go. We took the bus into Old Mazatlan and found this fabulous market (see pictures) where only locals shop. It's like a farmers market with individually run for meat, one for chicken, one for cheese, etc. And the fruit stand, oh my, heaven!! We had breakfast at one of the stalls, 2 plates of huevos rancheros, 2 coffees and 2 bottles of water for $5 US. The groceries that we bought excluding the meat and the bucket cost $7 US. And the bus ride to get there...50 cents.

While in the anchorage, we climbed to the top of the highest lighthouse in the world and yes, my knees got me there...eventually. Man, it was hot! The only problem with the anchorage was that when the wind was just right (only a couple of hours per day), we were downwind from the city sewage treatment plant. We only stayed 2 days and are now in the marina with other group. El Cid Marina, the "cruise ship of marinas" complete with an activities director for bingo, darts and water volleyball, has been a good place to park while John went to visit his mom in Carlsbad. There are 2 beautiful swimming pools with "Disneyland-esque" waterfalls and slides. I have managed to always find some child to befriend so I can follow them down the water slides. Hee hee! It is very hot and humid here and whenever I get cranky, John takes me to the pool to "just add water.'' Then, I'm happy again.

On Monday, we will have the boat hauled out for a bottom paint job. That will keep us here until Wednesday or Thursday. After that we plan to head to Puerta Vallarta and more adventures.

Until then, Mariah out and standing by on channel 69.

Click here to view the photos for this blog.

Home Again

25 May 2014 | Mission Bay, San Diego
It is Mariah’s second birthday (at least since we have owned her). It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two years since we purchased our sailboat and took her off to “parts unknown.” And now, we’re back.

But first, I’ll finish out the rest of the trip from Isla Mujeres, Mexico to Rockport, Texas.

We left Isla Mujeres on a perfect day, blue skies, wind from the NE and had some wonderful sailing for two days. We chatted with a couple of ships that we saw on AIS also heading for Texas through the Yucatan Channel. We were interested to see what six days of passage would be like as the most we’ve done so far was three days. We hoped that we’d get into a rhythm, settle into the movement of the boat, get some polishing done, maybe a few light repairs, etc. So, on day four, we were looking for our “aha moment.” In reality, the only change we got on day 4 was a need for more sleep. As the days wore on, we just got more and more tired…to the point where we were merely doing “tag-team” sleeping. Ah well, so much for that experiment. I don’t think you’ll be hearing that we have gone on any long passages in the near future.

On our last night at sea, motoring through calm seas, about 100 miles off the coast of Texas, I decided to see if we were close enough to get the weather reports that are broadcast 24/7 on VHF by the US Coast Guard. This is an amazing service that we had dearly missed while outside of US waters. When I turned the radio to the weather channel, this is what I heard…”Small craft are advised to seek shelter immediately. Any craft in the area from Rockport, Texas going west to Corpus Christi must seek shelter. Rain, thunder & lightning will occur from 7pm through 10pm, with winds around 40 mph, gusting to 60 mph. If tornadoes or funnel clouds are seen, please report them immediately. The storm is moving in a SE direction.” Of course, we were moving in a NW direction, right into it. Yikes! We battened down the hatches, secured anything that might fly around, put on our safety harnesses and headed into it. It hit us in the dark which is a bit of a blessing as I couldn’t see if there were any funnel clouds. But it hit hard with pelting rain and only a little thunder and lightning. We could see the more severe part of the storm off to our left and were lucky that we only got side-swiped by it. Whew!

We arrived safely in San Diego last week, after driving straight through from Rockport, Texas, with Buck Smith (of Sandy & Buck fame) in his “Big Buck Truck (see picture). When Buck heard we had to take the boat apart to ready her for trucking back to SD, he offered to drive all the way out to Rockport (1500 miles) to help us. He did so, spent almost a week with us (missed all the fire excitement back home) and cut our workload in half. As a result, we are back in San Diego 10 days earlier than expected. Whoo hoo! We did it!

When we left St. Marten in mid-April, we were never sure if we would get back here by June 1st. Unfortunately, the truck company had to push their arrival date to June 13th, so Mariah is still sitting in Rockport all by herself getting all prettied up for her San Diego launch.

That left us with another problem…where to stay while we await her arrival. Johnny’s friend, Ryan, came through for us and we are nicely ensconced in a beautiful studio apartment in Mission Beach right on the bay side. After Mariah, a studio is HUGE!! And Shaylor has given us the use of her car, the Hetheringtons have given us the use of a couple of bikes and we have been able to reserve a 45’ slip at Driscolls Marina for the boat. Almost all our ducks are lined up now thanks to so many of you who have pulled through for us. Thanks so very much.

So, until we decide to venture forth on another adventure, this is goodbye from the blog. Thanks for following us and commenting on our crazy adventures.

With love, Trish, John & Mariah

Heading Home

04 May 2014 | Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Isla Mujeres, Mexico (near Cancun)

Just because we are now in Mexico does not necessarily mean that we are nearly home even though it seems like we should be. We are so familiar with Mexico, being so close to the San Diego area, we feel right at home here even though we are more than 1000 miles away.

Our trip from St Maarten to Isla Mujeres was very quick with only a few stops. We only had a month to go the 2000 miles back to Texas, so off we went in a big hurry. At least this time, we would be going downwind and I was promised a “sleigh ride.” I think NOT. It has been more of a “mogul” ride as we rock and roll over the swells that pass under the boat. We did have one wonderful day when the wind and waves were just right and we finally came to understand “what this sailing stuff is all about.” For the first time in quite awhile, we were moving in complete silence under a beautiful blue sky with not a care in the world. Magical.

We stopped on the South shore of the Dominican Republic for 2 nights. We pulled into a beautiful anchorage around mid-day and were thrilled because it looked completely open with lots of room to anchor. As we got closer, we saw many small buoys (made from plastic bottles) that blocked us from setting an anchor nearby. Too bad, we had to anchor outside with lots of rocking and rolling and wondered who had saved all those places. At around 3:00pm, we saw about 20 sailboats coming toward us. We thought it might be a regatta, but as they got closer, we enjoyed quite a spectacle of “day tripper” catamarans bringing tourists back to our anchorage from Isla Saona, about 10 miles away. The cats each carried about 60 people returning completely “soused” and dancing and singing on the foredeck. There was quite a commotion as “dory” motor boats came to each catamaran to transport all those tourists back to shore. Boy, did we rock and roll then!

Next day, we moved off to the west end of the DR to Las Salinas, a lovely quaint town full of friendly vibrant people congregating in the streets. One particular man showed off his trained goose who followed commands of “stay, heel, go.” We were all quite enamored. There were also numerous open-air shops that we thought were “tiki bars”, but when we got close, we saw that they certainly did sell drinks as well as bottles of alcohol. But in addition, one wall was covered in canned food, another in plumbing supplies and another in car parts. Mini-Walmarts all.

When we tried to leave Las Salinas to go to Barrahona to do our immigration check out, we found that the wind and waves were just too darn uncomfortable (rocking and rolling again) to continue in that direction. So, we made an executive decision to just leave the DR without checking out. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended up costing us an extra $60 to “convince” the Jamaican immigration officer that it was no concern of his…

Jamaica turned out to be one of our best stops so far, contrary to warnings we received that we really shouldn’t bother going there. Instead of going to Kingston, which can be dangerous, we went to the north shore to Port Antonio. There we found a lovely enclosed lagoon (no rocking and rolling) and dropped our anchor under tropical, rain forest mountains. Beautiful! It wasn’t long before the lagoon Rastafarian, came for a visit (see picture). And this is Rastafarian, Wee John, given name Clive, who lives in the Mangroves nearby, watches our boat whether we need it or not, tells us he did a fine job of it and what would we like to pay for that fine bit of service. This picture cost us the paddle, an extra that we had on board. He promised to catch us a Red Snapper fish if we would give him a dollar to buy some fuel for his lamp (to attract the fish). So far, no fish J. We gave him all our loose change before we left.

We went on an 8 mile river raft trip with our newest friends from “Exit Strategy”. We expected the rafts to be rubber, Avon-like devices and they turned out to be bamboo poles with a driver. As we were driving up the road to the start, we heard someone yell, “They’re COMING.” We thought that someone was having a religious experience, but it turned out that they were letting all the vendors know that there were some lily-white suckers with lots of money coming down the river. Sure enough, as we poled our way down, the “bar” raft came up. Of course, we had to buy our ‘driver’ a couple of beers for the road. Then we bought a coconut and sipped the juice, then it was time for a swim and, finally, we stopped for an entire lunch that they had brought down the mountain cliff in pots. Our driver was Neville who we nicknamed Pimstone after the doctor that John worked with in Cape Town and the name stuck. The other 2 drivers starting calling him Pimstone. At the end of the ride…and he poled us the entire 8 miles, he asked us to look for a job for him in the States.

Reach Falls – we drove along the coast road that we were told would take about 45 minutes. Turns out that only if you know the road and every pothole and prefer to live a very short life, then it may take 45 minutes. It took us nearly 2 hours to get to the falls, arriving at 3:45 for a closing time of 4:30 (unknown to us). It costs $10 to play in the water there and includes a tour guide to take you up the river. Even though we were pushed for time, we asked the guide if he would take us. And he did. He had us climbing up those falls and falling into a gorgeous “infinity” pool at the top. Then we climbed and splashed some more until we eventually went into about 4 or 5 more pools and falls. It was quite magical.

After Jamaica, was the Cayman Islands. We only stayed one day to provision and fuel up. We anchored next to 2 giant cruise ships that had to shuttle all their passengers to shore for their day of fun and shopping.

And now, Isla Mujeres, Mexico with Cancun across the bay. I have been to Cancun before, but I haven’t seen it from this vantage point. Wow! What a lot of huge hotels! This island itself is very small and quaint and the snorkeling is really nice. There are many sidewalk vendors here and it begins to remind us of Ensenada. But no children selling Chicklets, thank goodness.

Tomorrow we leave for our longest passage yet…6-7 days across the Gulf of Mexico to Rockport, TX where we will put Mariah back on a truck and send her back to San Diego. And the end of this adventure…sigh. And what an amazing adventure it has been. Thanks for following along, responding in a way that has kept us connected to “home” and for making me write it all down.

All the way East

05 April 2014 | St. Maarten
How time flies when you’re having fun…sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve written our blog, but as you will see, we have been very busy.
At last contact, we had just entered Puerto Rico, at Boqueron on the south west side. There, we met up with “Grace” the boat for whom we were to deliver part of their bimini that they had left behind in the Caicos. This turned out to be a good meeting as we have been “buddy-boating” with them ever since. We hopped along the southern coast of PR enjoying Gilligan’s Island (very much like the TV show scenes), Ponce, Coffin Island (fabulous hike to the lighthouse at the top) and Salinas. In Ponce, we rented a car and drove north through the mountains to San Juan where we biked around the town and around the walls of the city. These walls encircle the whole of “Old San Juan”, took 250 years to build, and are quite magnificent. The town itself reminds me of quaint towns in Europe with sidewalk cafes, cobbled streets (all one way, they are so narrow) and a view of the harbor that is nothing short of spectacular.

While in San Juan, we found a Best Buy and bought ourselves an underwater camera that turned out to be very timely as we moved into “snorkel” waters. From PR, we went to an island called Las Vieques. The only thing we did there, besides rock and roll, was to go to Mosquito Pond to see the Phosphorescence. While it was interesting that it happens all year long, we didn’t find it any better than what occurs in Mission Beach when there’s a red tide running.

From there, we went to Culebra and Culebrita, the last stop before the Virgin Islands. These two little islands turned out to be amazingly beautiful with great snorkeling (great underwater pictures with the new camera) and a “Jacuzzi” rock pool with waves breaking over one end. Absolutely fabulous – see picture.

One of the best things about Culebra was that we could actually see the Virgin Islands, our reason for all that “Easting”, 20 miles in the distance. So, off we went, East again, to the point of our trip…the Caribbean! Whoo hoo!!

We spent a few days in St. Thomas where we found the lovely Honeymoon Bay. Clear water, a lovely swimming beach and, of course, a beach bar with a yummy drink called a “Bushwacker.” Some kind of icy concoction involving chocolate, peanut butter and several varieties of alcohol. Yes, there is a serious chance that we will be full alcoholics by the time we get home.

But, Shaylor & Johnny would be arriving soon, so we had to hurry on off to the BVI to scout the place for them. A tough job, but someone had to do it…
The BVI is an amazing place. Many islands all within sight of each other with amazing scenery and fun places to play. We took Shaylor & Johnny to these great places:
1. The Indians – 3 rocks jutting out of the water that supposedly look like teepees where the snorkeling and diving were the best we saw anywhere in the BVI. Also, the biggest parking lot as far as charter boats are concerned.
2. Treasure Cay where we snorkeled into 3 caves
3. The Baths – a stupendous collection of rocks leaning against each other with ocean water rolling in between them. Great climbing and jumping off into the water.
4. The Bitter End – a huge bay on the north side of Virgin Gorda where the Bitter End Yacht Club has everything under the sun to make your visit perfect. We snorkeled on a reef here and John found, in about 5 feet of water, a 200 year old canon, about 6-8 feet long, capable of throwing an eight pound shot. I am sure there’s a whole ship underneath the canon, but I was alone with that bit of imagination. The channel through here is called the Sir Francis Drake Channel, so perhaps…perhaps…
5. Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke Island – on our way here, we ended up right in the middle of a race of “Super Yachts”, each one over 150 feet with at least 20 “rail monkey” hanging off the side. As we approached Dog Island, we realized that it was their rounding mark and we became an obstacle in their path to make the rounding. John & Johnny decided to pinch up as close to the island as they could (all within our rights) and so forced all these “goliaths” to pass to leeward. There was much yelling (and laughing & waving) from the boats and a few passed within several feet of our hull. I spent these moments alternately going below to hide and yelling at the guys and calling them crazy, insane fools. Of course, the guys were laughing and high-fiving each other for their good tactical mark rounding. Jeez!
6. Car tour – on the last day, we rented a car and drove around Tortola where Johnny had his fair share of driving on the “wrong” side of the road on horrid, rocky roads often requiring the 4 wheel drive capability of the car. The hills are very steep with amazingly beautiful vistas on all sides. While on the north side, we found La Bomba or the Mushroom House where surfers often come if the northerly swells are running. Johnny rented a surfboard and John and I went bodysurfing. Who knew there was surfing in the BVI?
We saw the “kids” off onto the ferry back to St. Thomas where they commenced their travels on planes, trains & automobiles (and ferries).

We are now in St. Maarten visiting with our friends from our South African Hobie Cat days (circa 1975-77), the Frye’s. They set off from Cape Town with their 3 daughters in the mid-80’s on “Fiddler” , a sailboat that they built themselves. They ended up here in St. Maarten and have made a wonderful life for themselves. They have been entertaining us and showing us all of their favorite haunts. Great fun to be shown around by “locals.”

Our time here in the Eastern Caribbean is coming to an end and we plan to begin our homeward journey on Saturday. We are aiming to truck Mariah back to San Diego from Rockport, TX around June 1st, so we need to get moving. It seems too soon to be leaving the Caribbean, but we must do so given our commitment to be back by June 1st. So, off we will go via St. Croix, the southern Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Belize. Not much to complain about there, eh?

Some Fun, Some Problems

17 February 2014 | Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, DR
As predicted in the last blog, this blog is coming to you from the Caribbean. Whoo hoo! We’ve had some adventures, some good and some bad, but have finally made it to Puerto Rico. We are in a small town called Boqueron on the West side of PR. It is the first stop after crossing the Mona Passage which is the gap between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It can be a very exciting place to sail as the depths in this whole area vary considerably. The Atlantic Ocean on the north is about 25,000 feet deep. The island chain that makes up all the Caribbean Islands (see picture)intersects the two seas bringing the depth of the water to about 300-600 feet. Then the tide moves from the Atlantic south through the passage to the Caribbean and vice versa twice each day. So, if your timing is off and you pass over the more shallow areas when the tide is running fast and if the wind blows and if…and if…Anyway, there is a great possibility that your passage could be eventful. Fortunately, we were able to get through at the right time, with soft winds and most of the trip was easy. Ten miles outside of Boqueron though, our fuel line plugged up and we had to hoist all sails while John went below (at 4am) to change all fuel filters. He was able to do a good enough job to get us into Boqueron, but once again, we have some repairs to do before we can move on.

Yes, but what have you been doing for the last 6 weeks, you ask?

We stayed on Long Island for another week with Carefree. Since they had the use of Linda and Neil’s car, we went to the bottom of the island to Dean’s Blue Hole. This is a 663 foot deep hole at the bottom of which is an exit out to the Atlantic Ocean. It is famous for “Free Diving” competitions (diving without the use of scuba gear) and attracts divers from all over the world. It was quite eerie to step off the edge of the sand and know that the water went down over 600 feet. But beautiful too!

We left Long Island with another boat from Quebec, Grand Pas 1, with Franciose & Michel. The goal was to follow Bruce Van Sandt’s course from “The Gentleman’s Guide to Sailing South.” This describes the pattern for constantly trying to get the boat EAST when the prevailing trade winds come from the east. Trying to get to the Caribbean from the Bahamas is a test of wills as it requires moving your boat in a south easterly direction, usually directly into the prevailing wind. Yes, you can motor there, but the winds generally blow 20 knots and they create huge waves that are not kind to the boat or its inhabitants. So, it is a process of waiting for weather windows, moving, and then waiting again. This process has taken us 6 weeks (with a few mishaps in between to slow us down).

We got to Rum Cay, our first stop after Long Island, and anchored in the bay on the south side of the island where we rocked and rolled in surge for 3 days while waiting for our weather window. We then decided that we were tired of rolling and made a move to the north side of the island. We found 5 other boats there and some great snorkeling. There were coral heads but we were able to avoid them and anchored in sand. However, at about 5am, when we were expecting 4-5 knot winds from the west, a gale came howling in at 44 knots from the north. We were totally exposed, our anchor dragged, caught under a coral head and smashed our rudder and keel onto the coral. In the process of getting the anchor uncaught (with 8-10 foot waves breaking over the bow), the anchor chain became airborne and sheared off most of the metal work on the bow of the boat. John worked like mad to get the forestay re-secured and to get the anchor up while I drove the boat. John got the anchor un-stuck and I drove us out of the anchorage, dodging coral heads that were now uncovering due to the 10 foot waves. We returned to the south side of the island to lick our wounds and assess the damage. We found that the stern rudder post, as a result of hitting the coral, had slammed up into the stern of the boat and cracked the fiberglass. We were leaking! John was able to use our “Hookah” gear (scuba) to get under the boat and apply an underwater epoxy to most of the cracks. That slowed our leaking down to an amount that the bilge pump could handle. We had a meeting of all the other skippers and decided that we could continue on (not that there was any choice as we were on a remote island with no repair facilities). The choice was made to continue on to the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), the closest place with a shipyard. Grand Pas 1 would accompany us to be there for us if we needed them. We made a nice uneventful 2 day trip down to the TCI and were able to get Mariah hauled out right away. The shipyard was very efficient and had the repairs all done in one week. We even had Mariah’s bottom painted. She is all nice and fixed up, no leaks and good to go.

The TCI was very pretty, beautiful clear water and quite upscale from the Bahamas. They are a possession of Great Britain and as a result, have a large population of Europeans who have created an appealing beachfront that attracts many visitors. Unlike the “Outer Islands” of the Bahamas, the economy is getting better with tourism as the main event.

On our way to the Dominican Republic, we stopped at South Caicos and anchored there for 2 days in the most beautiful waters. We were 200 feet from an “Underwater Aquarium”, a sanctuary of coral heads with thousands of fish swimming in and out. It was quite lovely and really resembled an aquarium with the sun backlit from the other side. Magical!

In the DR, we rented a car and driver who took us from the marina halfway across the island to Santiago. We stopped at a fruit stand and bought mangoes (yum), bananas and a couple of fruits I’ve never seen. I don’t even remember the names, but they were yummy. I do love fruit! The countryside is lovely, reminded us a lot of Kauai. And the city of Santiago was bustling, cramped and very exciting…small cobbled streets, small cars and trucks everywhere…small shops of all kinds (John got his watch fixed and I was able to get some prescriptions filled). It was a great day and a great idea to get a driver as the streets are filled with motorcycles that cut in and out of traffic.

But, we are finally in the Caribbean. We have been trying to get here since we first put Mariah in the water in Texas a year and a half ago. And we are both exhilarated and exhausted. We have a few more repairs to do here in Boqueron, then off we go around the south side of PR and over to the Virgin Islands. Can’t wait!!
Vessel Name: Mariah
Vessel Make/Model: Morgan 41
Hailing Port: San Diego
Crew: John & Trish Billings
About: John & Trish hail from Mission Beach in San Diego, are avid body surfers and dinghy sailors. They are in their first year of full time cruising.
Extra: We are cruising the East Coast of the US until November when we will head South again.
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