Slow Sailing

12 March 2018 | Grand Turk
28 February 2018 | Culebra, Spanish Virgins
21 February 2018 | St John
01 February 2018 | St Pierre, Martinique
17 January 2018 | Marin Marina, Martinique
08 January 2018 | Fort de France, Martinique
01 January 2018 | Atlantic - Still!
26 December 2017 | Atlantic Ocean
19 December 2017 | Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde
17 December 2017 | Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde
07 December 2017 | San Sebastian, La Gomera
28 November 2017 | Garachico, Tenerife
18 November 2017 | La Palma, Canaries
07 November 2017 | Puerto Santa Cruz, Tenerife
16 October 2017 | Graciosa, Canary Islands
09 October 2017 | Rabat, Morocco
30 September 2017 | Ait Bennadou, Morocco
11 September 2017 | Cadiz, Spain
27 August 2017 | Faro, Portugal
11 August 2017 | Guadiana River, Portugal

Five Miles Deep

12 March 2018 | Grand Turk
Written March 10

We are underway motorsailing to Grand Turk as I write this, a 2 1/2 day passage. It is a light air forecast for part of it, but we're anxious to get there and it seems like there are few breaks between weather systems these days. We were in San Juan for six days which was enough time to explore there. On the day we came over from Culebra, it was calm and we saw two humpbacks playing around at the surface. One was lying on his back flopping his fins back and forth over over his white belly, just seemingly enjoying the sunny day. They hang out in this area as well as the DR and banks south of the Turks to nurse their young. We've seen them breaching this trip and also had a pair of pilot whales hanging out with us today and I could hear their high pitched squeak at the bow. They swim the same as a dolphin except in slower motion and their faces are shaped different. They snug right up close to the bow like they're touching it as if somehow that is fun. I'm actually glad to be motoring overnight since we are easier to hear and they will hopefully move out of our path.
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San Juan was one of those places that felt really good to arrive to and pretty good to leave. Jon especially was blown away at first thinking about how we'd been anchored in that very spot in San Antonio Channel (the only anchorage in the area there) 14 years ago. We feel like old people saying "where did the time go?" So much has happened since then. This boat has a heck of a lot more equipment on it now then it did back then! More stuff to break.
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Old San Juan 039
It had been awhile since we'd been anchored in a city and this place, although busy with planes, trucks and pilot boats, not to mention cruise ships, offered really calm water and protection and the anchorage was nicer than the marina which was good because they had no space. We have fond memories of San Juan and were excited to see the El Morro Fort again with the big lawn and the pretty pastel Spanish style buildings. Of course now that we've spent so much time in Spain it isn't quite the same. El Morro is still a favorite though and the park service had it all spiffed up, a standout in the city. Although still very much recovering from the hurricanes, San Juan reminds us of Kathmandu in Nepal where it was difficult to tell what was hurricane damage and what was just rubble from years past. There is as much of one as the other. But we did some nice things like tour the forts, walk the paths, including the Princesa Path which goes around the base of the fort on the outside and is filled with many obese, feral cats. Their food stations look like all you can eat buffets and they are definitely digging in! The day after we walked the path the heavy swells from the Nor'easter set in and began pounding the fort and the whole Puerto Rican Coast for days. Lots of damage to the waterfront areas that we just walked on which is sad. Our boat was safe way up in the channel but every time we walked over to the ocean side there were huge crashing waves and the port was closed for 2 days because of them. The entrance channel was breaking badly. Its a little nerve wracking even on a good day- this is what it was doing as we were coming out.
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We toured the Governor's mansion, had a guide all to ourselves for a tour of the capitol, walked the old blue cobblestone streets, had a so-so lunch of Puerto Rican food, went to a concert one afternoon at the San Juan music conservatory and spared some time for some waxing & varnishing of the boat. The concert was an unlikely duo of the piano and trombone but nonetheless, well played. We decided to work on developing our own concert from the instruments we have on the boat- the kazoo and birthday whistle! We made several attempts to visit other points of interest but they were closed for renovations (but not before we shelpped over to them) and we decided against renting a car because the places we most wanted to visit were in the mountains and those areas are the ones hit heaviest by the hurricane and still without power. We could see a huge parking lot filled with US state registered electrical trucks, generators, portable diesel tanks, worker camp setups, etc but nothing was happening. Apparently, contracts have been fulfilled, no money is coming in or what is appropriated hasn't arrived, and so things are at a standstill. We learned a lot from Jerry, the man who gave us the capitol tour about the Puerto Rican system as well as psyche, and from our own observations. He told us that there are basically two parties, one who is pro-statehood and the other for continued Commonwealth status. Another insignificant party wishes to gain total independence. The majority would like to become the 51st state. Complicated. We did chat with a few really friendly locals too and found out that several years ago, Spain extended an invitation to all Puerto Ricans who had family ties up to a grandfather level to become eligible for automatic Spanish citizenship. Many people took that opportunity.
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So we waited for the swells to come down and the harbor to re-open before leaving and here we are, fully stocked with corn tortillas and refried beans. Excited to see clear water and hopefully do a bunch of diving on Grand Turk which we love to do. Along the way, we passed over the Puerto Rico Trench. The deepest sounding on our chart is 27,000 feet. So that's pretty 5 miles of water down there! Our mast is 58 feet tall, so by 59 feet we'd be gone from sight. Huh. After last night's electrical storm show, I couldn't help wondering how long it would take to sink to the bottom!
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Our fire truck is almost ready to be loaded onto the ship and start its journey to us. It can't possibly go smoother than it did for the boat but we're hoping for few snags. You might wonder why we're going this route when there are so many other ways to do it. The answer is that after exhaustive research on Jon's part & us both thinking about what we wanted to do, we arrived at the following: In order to have a true home that is ready to travel to lots of places, some of which may not have ultra low sulfur diesel at the pumps, to keep expenses reasonable for the build and have the camper be able to take rough roads and off the beaten path places and still hold up, plus have room for the gear we want to carry like bikes and backpacking stuff, there aren't a lot of options left to choose from! We wanted a truck that was commonplace in many parts of the world so easier to fix, with a tried & true engine and also with a good weight carrying capacity so we wouldn't be at the edges of what it could take before we load on our belongings. We wanted 4WD. In order to import a vehicle into the US, it has to be one the US sells. Otherwise, it has to be over 25 years old. So that is very limiting in itself. These fire trucks have been so well cared for and stored inside the fire station for obvious reasons, that they have aged well, so to speak. So we've heard from other fools who have bought them. The options for well cared for trucks like this already within the US are few & far between. Plus the US doesn't use these style of trucks and we think this would work better for us than say a Ford F550 where you have a whole lot of truck and not much room left for living space. And of course Jon is excited about the challenge of the project and what it will become as much as I am about helping to get it there. But don't get us wrong, if money were no object, we'd be ordering one up in a heartbeat to save on all the work. We both like the feeling of freedom that comes from having your home with you wherever you go. The buzz words we hear lately like "tiny home" and "off-grid" are pretty much the nature of cruising boats so adjustment should be easy. We aren't planning to get back only to leave again right away but doing a build like this takes a lot of forward thinking because we don't want to have to do it again! And S. America is a popular place with a lot of good info from people traveling around in expedition campers like this. Could be a good starting point.

I was reading a book on this passage that reminded me that in the Declaration of Independence, there is the intention to preserve the right of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Well there's a good right to pursue! Hopefully this RV will offer as good of an opportunity to be independent, live well and be happy as the boat has.
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Chance Encounter

28 February 2018 | Culebra, Spanish Virgins
One of the things I like most about cruising around on a sailboat is the way that it often provides the kinds of experiences that you can't order up or buy anywhere. We had one the other day. We'd finished all we wanted to do in St John and sailed over to Great St James, an island just off the coast of St Thomas. Since it was late in the afternoon, I went out on deck to polish some stainless (an endless task) and enjoy our new anchorage and noticed there were two dolphin messing around the boat. They kept diving down and surfacing together. Their close proximity was unusual but I figured if I decided to get in with them, they'd split like they usually do just as soon as I got all wet. But after a few more breaths right alongside the boat I could see that it was a mom & her juvenile baby and they were joined at the hip as usual.
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So I got in and went over to them. They didn't leave. In fact, the baby came closer such that we were eye to eye. It kept diving down, rubbing its nose on the bottom and then coming back up again and looking at me in a playful way. Then it went down and gently picked up a trunkfish which of all the fishes, looks the most like a ball. It started playing with it like a beach ball of sorts, but gently. It would let it go, then pick it up again and then it would put it back down on the bottom. The fish would pick up toodling around like they do and then the dolphin would go back down and pick it up again. I wasn't sure how I felt about this but the fish seemed OK. At one point I had to back up since we were practically touching at the surface. I did some dives down to play with it- whatever you did the baby would try to imitate you and the mom was just standing by in the distance. By then a couple more people in the anchorage jumped in the water too. Then I got Jon and he got in and we went back to taking turns diving down and doing twists and turns underwater with the dolphin playing along, wishing we didn't need to come up for a breath. By this time there were half a dozen of us in the water, following the dolphins around and playing with the juvenile. Sometimes when a pod of dolphin are swimming alongside the boat I can hear the clicking through the hull. But this time you could hear mom & baby clicking away at point blank range. What a riot. As the light got dimmer, the mom finally put the kabosh on any further playing and the two of them swam off into the distance. I spent all that night thinking about how great that was and hoped like you do for the tooth fairy to come that they would return the next morning.
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But they didn't. We took a morning snorkel through the whole anchorage, listening for clicking, looking for the rolling of gray backs but they were off doing something else. So we reluctantly headed in to town on St Thomas to do our chores. I took a bunch of pics of the beach ball scene but none of them came out because the camera was in underwater mode and anything shallow gets bleached out. But Jon got a few once I switched it over to normal. Hard to capture it though. Too bad, as this was truly a chance encounter and it will never happen again. But there will be other things...... I do know now that dolphin are lovely to watch under water and the pair of them sandwiched together swimming along was really beautiful. They have such a graceful posture.

We hiked most of the trails on St John, visited a bunch of anchorages, moving from one free mooring to the next in pretty scenery. There are a few cruising boats around and a few charter boats too but everything has a quiet feel which is nice. We talked with some guys that were working on the trails and they were brought over from other national parks in the US like Colorado to help out with getting things back in order after the storms. The coral at St John is not great but we enjoyed seeing eagle rays & turtles, conch and all the things we haven't seen for a few years now. We pulled in to Cruz Bay to try to check in with customs but the roof blew off the building in the hurricanes so that wasn't open. The town is picking up the pieces and seems to have faired better than Coral Bay. Apparently ferry boats sank in their slips and in St Thomas we saw tugs that had been refloated too. A lot of damage in those few hours!
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We didn't stay long in St Thomas because we were chomping at the bit to get to Culebra, where we are now. We mainly just re-stocked. We're in the mood to be in the water and were actually prepared to head to the Turks this week but there is now a big red blob of weather north of here that is going to push down and mess up our wind direction. But it is also stealing the wind making it very calm here which is nice for a change. So we've been exploring Culebra in the Spanish Virgins the past few days and will move on to San Juan, Puerto Rico by the end of the week. We've been there before on another trip and loved it and so it isn't a bad thing to revisit again.
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Culebra is a quiet island with clear, colorful water too and lots of pretty beaches. There are free courtesy moorings to protect the reefs in most of the coves so just like St John, we move around at will checking out the different spots, often 2 in a day. We're at a nice one tonight although we have noted that we have a lot of flies around. Then we realized that we're about a mile downwind from the garbage tip! There are Puerto Ricans living here among some ex-pats and its nice to hear Spanish again although the "th" is missing. We really miss Spain a lot! We hiked to a spectacular beach- Flamenco Beach- a couple of days ago after clearing in with customs over a week late (no problem!). From 1936 until about 1975, Culebra and neighboring Vieques were used for bomb testing by the US Navy and when they walked away, they left their wreckage behind. When we went to Flamenco Beach, half of it was closed off because apparently, the hurricane uncovered some unexploded ordinance and they are trying to dismantle it and scan for more. Then today, we heard an explosion so I guess they were successful or maybe not! This is a really pretty island but at the same time, it feels like its full of leftover junk, half of it from the military and the other half from I don't know what. Every hilltop is littered with the remains of something, in an overgrown pile. The lighthouse, no longer used, is in ruins. I think we've had our fill of manmade wreckage at this point. And while we've never seen so many turtles, it still seems like the world's reefs are in danger. The ones here have a lot of long term damage- not from recent storms, and unlike the beautiful reef structure we were seeing in parts of Martinique & Guadeloupe, there is nothing comparable here. We remarked at how Indonesia has some incredible reef still but then again they were dynamiting it right as we were diving there so who knows how long that will last. Oh well, we're banking on the Turks & Bahamas being OK, if we can ever get there. When I checked the weather tonight it looks like there are back to back systems out there now. We still can't believe what a great Atlantic crossing we had. Lucky I think!
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Our fire truck is not on the ship yet but arrangements have been made. Unfortunately for our parents, the packages are rolling in as Jon researches one piece of equipment at a time and orders it up when we have enough internet to do so. We now have things like the heater, hot water heater, inverter/charger, electrical outlets and tools. Its really very similar to what the boat has. I had to register it in order to have the plates to drive it away from the port, which means I had to pay the tax on it- sure hope it arrives OK! We are really excited to have it done of course. It will be quite a bit of work to get it there though. We think we're going to call it Pole Dancer because we hope to get to both poles with it - and a bunch of places in between!
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Caribbean Showers

21 February 2018 | St John
A little behind again but we've been on the go a lot with frequent, shaky or non-existent internet. I am really surprised at how in the remotest of island chains in other parts there has been better internet coverage than here in the Caribbean. Our Vermont visit in mid January was great and it was so nice to be together for a change. Not only did we celebrate my mom's birthday, but we did an early one for me too! There was a break in the super cold weather while we were there and no major snowstorms either. It worked out really well using Norwegian Air- cheap flights- and we arrived back at the boat empty of cash from the taxi fare but with everything as we left it.

We spent a few more days in St Anne on the south end of Martinique getting ourselves organized and then started moving up the coast northward, stopping at our favorite dive site for one last time. We were pretty excited to use our newly replaced under warranty camera case to make sure it worked. Of course this time there was a ton of current and we had to cut the dive short because of it. We got back to the dinghy gasping and remarked at how ungainly we are with tanks on. The camera case is a go though. So we snorkeled in a couple of spots, then put our tanks back on to clean the bottom of the hull and then when we surfaced, all wrinkly, there was Michael & Robin off Sea Biscuit who we cruised with in Guatemala back in 2008. So nice to see their faces again and reminisce a little bit but it wasn't long enough!
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We positioned ourselves in the lovely little town of St Pierre for one last night and then left really early the next morning for Les Saintes in Guadeloupe. This little group of islands has really clear water, dramatic although dry scenery and some nice dive spots. We spent a couple days there hiking around and doing a dive on the base of Pain de Sucre right from the boat. They have moorings there to protect the bottom for the turtles and it is really working. Underneath the moorings is full of grass and there are lots of turtles popping up to get a breath. I love being able to dive right from the boat.

Next was BasseTerre, Guadeloupe's second largest town. We intended to rent a car or scooter here and get up to the Soufriere volcano. But upon walking around ashore on a Sunday when no car rental places were open, we decided it was a dump and we didn't feel like staying even the night so we hauled anchor again and moved up to Pigeon Island, home of the Cousteau Underwater Park. Its too bad because we have such fond memories of seeing that volcano and the waterfalls nearby. It was the one where we peered into a bright yellow roaring vent and thought the fumes were toxic only to find the "warning poisonous gas" sign on the opposite side of the vent! We survived anyway...
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We'd come to Pigeon Island years ago and it was here that we decided that if we were going to enjoy anything in the water we would have to learn scuba because there really isn't much of any snorkeling down here, in our opinion. But this time we could dive and it was really great! You could totally tell it was a park because we finally saw some nice big fish, lots of big lobsters, busy octopus and really curious rather than petrified fish. We always had a few hanging out right near us. We had a nice anchorage and could just zip over in the dinghy to a dive mooring and go down. Perfect.

We dragged ourselves away from Pigeon Island to head to the northernmost town of Deshaies because you could see on the GRIB file that there was big wind & waves coming and we wanted to get to Antigua before it arrived. So we had a couple days to hike around and explore, although it was still really windy even then and it was getting a little fatiguing. This is a quintessential French island town with a little church, bright green backdrop of hills and a defined, heavy duty pier to put your dinghy at. Everyone has a baguette tucked under their arm. We have fond memories of this town too and it was good to visit again. The locals could tell we were off for a hike and they would wish us a "bonne marche!"

The sail to Antigua was terrible. We had walls of water coming onto the boat and haven't had this since the passage to New Zealand and we were beating in to big seas and a lot of wind. Our Dutchman mast track that holds the sail cars has deteriorated on this cruise and it is basically unzipping itself from the mast. Especially at the 2nd reef point which we were using that day. Jon already had to reinforce the track in Cape Verde at the first reef point. How many holes do you really want to drill in your mast?? You don't. We counted the hours till the 43 miles was done and arrived with enough sea salt on deck to bottle up a few cases and sell. It took us absolutely FOREVER to get the anchor set and not be on top of another boat. Many tries and many back spasms later, we were hooked and ready for the onslaught of wind.
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Antigua has the kind of street food I've been dying for- good ol southern style comfort food! BBQ chicken, ribs, mac & cheese, potato salad, salad, plantains, peas & rice. The kind of grub that puts meat on your bones or elsewhere. We really enjoyed it, a bunch of times! We explored Nelson's Dockyard, which is now a UNESCO site and the area is really lovely. Funny, we were just in Tenerife in the Canary Islands where Lord Nelson lost his arm in battle (they had the cannon there too) and then there we were seeing his name again. This is also the arrival point of the Atlantic Challenge rowing race so all of the race stuff was set up for the last of the fleet that was left to come in. Our friend Oliver whom we met in La Gomera, Canaria had already arrived, celebrated and gone, now the youngest person (age 19) to row across the Atlantic. A national park has preserved old buildings that are in current use as yachtie shops like sailmakers, laundry, customs, a bakery etc and the hillsides have trails to ruins and viewpoints that are really beautiful. And the salt was washed off the boat in the first 25 rain showers. Darn, we never got around to bottling it. It rains numerous times a day and has done this ever since we arrived in the Caribbean.

You would never know there had been a hurricane near Antigua. A local told me they mainly got rain. And the people who live on Barbuda are returning now and rebuilding. Everything was spic & span and the local people were so friendly and conversational. All the ladies had their food stands and were hustling to get the food onto plates or in to takeaway containers. I liked all the pastel colors of the houses and the easy to read English signs but when a local talked to us we could still barely understand a word they said until they turn off the Caribbean accent. One sign we passed on the bus said "Jakes Auto Care and Beauty Supplies"- well, whatever it takes to earn a buck! And when you're riding the bus and want it to stop you just call out "Bus Stop!" We both really enjoyed our time there and are so glad we stopped.
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After a week in Antigua, the wind finally settled and we did an overnight to St Martin. The main purpose was to catch up with Mike & Karen off Chapter Two, whom we last saw in Malaysia. We had a so-so overnight with frequent rain showers and wind squalls. It seems the weather is so unsettled this season. We pulled into the inner lagoon by going through the bridge and anchored right next to Mike & Karen in calm waters so there was no trouble getting sleep that night after some happy hour beers. The amount of devastation to St Martin is more than I have ever seen. There are sunken or landbound boats everywhere and workers were doing all they could to patch up, refloat and then tie up the boats to make progress toward clearing the harbor. Ashore, nearly every building and every car is damaged and there are junked cars on many of the streets. There is a lot of bustle for reconstruction but it feels so overwhelming. There are lots of cruisers there though and it seems like you could get any boat article you need in their many chandleries. The hillsides are greening up but it was actually a bit disturbing seeing all the wreckage.

There was yet another period of high winds brewing (really getting sick of these!) and despite the fact that we had planned to stay in St Martin for more than one night, we felt like we had to leave or else we'd be there for over a week like we were in Antigua. So we got together with Mike & Karen again for lunch and then set out that evening for another overnight and had a lovely sail to St John. Its so nice that mentally we're pretty much ready at a moments notice to set off and we can just leave and make some miles overnight. We've gotten pretty good at going around on little sleep!

More than half of St John is US National Park and the park staff worked super hard at getting all the trails open, beaches cleaned up, the harbors swept for debris and the moorings checked and repaired. It is up & running and we're really glad to be here- no crowds! They aren't charging for moorings and we can move around from one beautiful bay to another with only a few boats.

When we got here we hiked over to Coral Bay where friends Dave, Kim & Zac live so that we could say hello. We last saw them in Malaysia too. Kim just opened up a new restaurant named Pickles and we had a great lunch and a catch-up. Its always nice to see familiar faces in a new place.

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We've been really enjoying the park. The snorkeling so far is just OK but the water colors are really beautiful and there is a lot of life around. We did a scuba dive today of Booby Rock and saw some nice stands of pillar coral and lots of soft gorgonians swaying in the swell which we haven't seen for a few years now. You've got to feel for all living things after all that has happened. It seems like everything has been through so much. Coral Bay really took a beating but apparently it is much better than it first was. They are rebuilding and cleaning up and have gotten loads of support from private individuals like Kenny Chesney and more from corporations and the federal government. You can see in the picture how beautiful the area is but upon closer inspection all the white dots on the shoreline are wrecked boats... You can tell St John is very loved. The trees have funny shapes as they lost most of their branches and are now putting out leaves all over their trunks and whatever is left. Many were knocked over and the bright green understory is taking off. The birds seem happy and things are blooming. We've seen lots of deer munching on things in the woods too, so they made it. Man-made things didn't fare as well and there are some amazing angles of houses left standing but many more blown to bits and all that remains is a bunch of garbage. We walked over to the northern part of the island yesterday to Cinnamon Bay and the campground there is gone, along with most of the palms. But new ones are replanted from coconuts and taking hold. The water is clear and beautiful and there are a few people on the beach. The park has interesting, signed paths among old sugarcane factory ruins and over the tops of the tallest peaks on the island. Its hard to believe that in 1733, the whole island was covered in sugarcane & cotton. Turns out this land was purchased by Rockefeller interests in 1956 and given to the Federal government for designation as a park. We plan to spend a few more days here enjoying this place.
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We've spent a fair amount of time deliberating and researching our next magic carpet- the overland RV plan! We've just purchased a 1988 Mercedes 1120 fire truck from Norway and are having it shipped to the USA for import and conversion to an expedition RV. To keep it affordable we will be doing most of it ourselves and it will be pretty time consuming I think as we don't want to drag out the build. Jon is absorbed with organizing the conversion and lining up the equipment. It feels like the next logical step as we want to keep exploring and this world ready vehicle with a home on the back will give us a whole new vantage point. A lot of the onboard systems are the same as the boat but there are also a lot of new things so we'll still have some learning to do and we're really excited about that aspect. We will chronicle the build in case anyone wants to follow in our footsteps!

For now, we are going to work our way to the Bahamas, probably via St Thomas, Culebra and the Turks if we can swing it. Both of us are really looking forward to that crystal clear water and the wildness of the Bahamas. Then on to Florida, and then NC where we plan to let Evergreen rest & dry out for the summer. We need to pull the mast and basically do a mini-refit after all the miles. We plan to be in Vermont for the summer. Then we'll be back aboard in the Fall and probably headed south like snowbirds, looking for warm weather to finish out the RV build. There are so many logistics to moving both boat and truck back & forth up the coast that it hurts our heads but it will all fall into place, it always does. In the meantime, we are looking forward to seeing our loved ones this year while working toward our next adventure.
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Vessel Name: EVERGREEN
Vessel Make/Model: Tashiba 40 Hull #158
Hailing Port: E. Thetford Vermont
Crew: Heather and Jon Turgeon
Over the years, we've explored much of the Caribbean Sea & Atlantic East coast on 3 different long term trips. In January 2012, we left the USA and headed for the Pacific. We visited the Galapagos, French Polynesia, Samoa, Cook Islands & Tonga before heading to New Zealand. We've enjoyed thousands [...]
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