Island sightings

We have long since closed the cabin on Lake Vermilion leaving the mighty Norway pines to watch over the lake as the sun sets further in the southern hemisphere and the temperatures drop to below freezing. Some of our lake neighbors will return during the deep snows and cold, but we have decided to relinquish that opportunity for warmer climes. We made our way saying temporary “good-byes” to friends and family in Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, and North Carolina, finally arriving back to Lost Loon on St Thomas on December 14.

Our task is now to navigate the Caribbean making as many of our usual stops along the island chain. With so many places locked down or closed we have no idea where we will be. You know how they say you don’t appreciate something until its taken away or gone? That’s  how we feel. One thing is for sure, we are not going to be able to just pull into any anchorage in the Easter Caribbean, drop the hook, dinghy into shore, complete the forms and move about freely on the island. Time will only tell. We yearn for French baguettes, pain au  chocolat, French wines, hikes on Dominica, beaches of Martinique, the roti on Bequia, and snorkeling in the Tobago Cays. For now we are happy in the Virgin Islands. We will move on with hopes of sailing to Grenada once again for hurricane season, jumping through whatever circus hoops it takes to get there.

Touchdown..the launch

So in the last couple of weeks we have:  painted the bottom, washed the boat, waxed the hull, took out and replace 3 140# boat batteries, mounted the solar panels, put on and set up lines for all 3 sails, re-sewed a grill cover, replaced a new wash down hose, fixed the roller-furler (that wasn’t really broken, just misaligned), reorganized 3 closet spaces, repaired our Old Glory, replaced the carburetor on the dinghy motor, cleaned the food lockers, lubricated the through hulls, filled the water tanks, celebrated Christmas and New Years ( with quite a party, I might add) .

We continue to organize and manage systems on the boat on a nearly daily basis, shop for groceries, spare parts, and make lists of new ideas and gadgets we ‘need’.

We made one nice downwind shakedown sail from Francis Bay , St John to Brewers Bay, St Thomas one afternoon last week and all went well. So we are ready to make a few more miles and head for new waters… St Croix. Its described as the most beautiful of th Virgins, and somewhat less crowded and more laid back. With our friends on SV Joli, Polly and Bryan, we set out this morning on the 40 mile voyage.

The sun was just making its way above the horizon as we hauled up the anchor and mainsail at 0648. Light air took us 3 miles offshore where we found 13 knots of NE wind  with 2-3 ft waves and an ESE swell.

Just as we said it was a good sail, we caught a glimpse of clouds forming ahead. ” oh, they’ll pass before we arrive there…” We watched as the skies darkened and swells became larger over the next 2 hours. With this the wind filled in at 17, 18, 22 knots. The island sighting of St Croix was now obliterated by clouds that resembled a smoke field. The cool down draft from the approaching squall was our signal to Don jackets and brace for some rain. What we didn’t count on was the onslaught of big waves and high winds. We quickly let out the main sheet, and jib sheet, falling off the 25 -28 knot breeze, removing some of the weather helmet from the steering quadrant. Lost Loon did well, up and over the waves, in and out of the stiff wind. By the time the rain, hit it had settled as it usually does. And we were left with 4 knots of wind and big waves tossing us starboard and to port.

Barely wet, and 2 hours from our intended anchorage we started the engine, rolled in the flapping Genoa, and tried to maintain forward progress.

We encountered another squall in under 30 minutes. Wetter this time, but less stressed. we were patient and allowed the wind to fill back in at a strong 15 knots before we unfurled the genoa. Sailing to the Western anchorage of Fredricksted , St Croix was beautiful. Now in protected beautiful blue water we could see the beautiful lush island that is so well talked about.

A challenging sail, but nonetheless always great to be moving on the water. We plan to stay here several days and explore the island.

So, as we all feel the stress and weight of the crazy events of 2020 melt away, we look forward to the renewal and hope of a better new year.

Last Days…

 

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Our last night at anchor in Grenada, (May 2) there is a calm in the warm air. Of course it’s still 84 degrees at 7 pm. We are leaving for the marina tomorrow near Clarkes Court where we take out the boat to get some serious decommissioning done before haul out.DSC01639.JPG

We had mostly cloudy skies with no sunset today….a rarity. We can hear the dogs barking ashore, the water lapping up against the stern and the dinghy that’s floating off there. There is a surf against the beach due to a bit of a swell coming in today. The boat rocks gently and then quite rolls at times putting us on guard to maintain balance as we attend to our chores.

We spent the day organizing the boat, random maintenance, and cleaning the cupboards and stove. We will be in a marina tomorrow to start the final process of closing the boat for summer.

We have been on the boat for nearly 150+ days, and feel so comfortable here. People tell us that we were lucky to have such great weather and weather windows for our first year traversing the Caribbean.

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We have covered about 2400 nautical miles in the boat since our launch in St Mary’s Georgia on November 24.

As I go about the day, I think back on how we anticipated this year of sailing, and all the preparation that went on to get us here. Our home was sold as well as 90% of our belongings. I see many gadgets ‘ from home’ that have now made their place here on the boat, and think of how much ‘stuff ‘ ( for lack of a 4 letter slang word) we have been able to do without. There are simple kitchen utensils ( seriously….we have 4 forks, knives and spoons…3 chopping and cooking knives, a set of 4 dinner plates and snack plates, a small teapot, indispensable coffee press, a set of stainless cookware and a blender used twice! I shudder to think of the stuff in boxes in Wisconsin…..that I can now do without most likely. I have lived in basically 4 pair of shorts an assortment of tanks , t-shirts and 1 of 3 swim suits. However, since we are leaving the boat in the tropics for next season, we are bringing back many of the cold weather clothes we loaded aboard in November when we left the cool temperatures in Georgia. This will fill nearly 3 suitcases!! What were we thinking? …that would take a wrong turn and find ourselves at the North or South Pole! There are hats and gloves, wool socks ( for heaven sakes!) and …..get this….long underwear!!!! In our defense, we did hear that the winter of 2015-2016 in the Bahamas was very cool and we wanted to be prepared. Moral of the story is don’t load up your Suburban with everything you own and drive it to the boat…pretend you have to bring it all back in the luggage. The good news….we now have an enormous amount of locker and closet space for other things….like spare parts.

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A sailboat takes quite a beating on the ocean, unless you sit in a marina all the time. Even at anchor this thing is in motion. So things move and settle and twist and break. And it is always the screw or washer we need but don’t have. So….the spare parts list is growing. We need replacement screws, toilet parts, special glues, and propane tank parts. There are door locks and diesel parts we must have on hand as well. There are a few marine stores located in the chain of islands, but many parts are less expensive in the US despite the import tax we will pay bringing them in compared to a lot of the local prices.

That brings me to the regular maintenance that we must do , like a home on land, to keep us afloat. ( no grass to mow, leaves to be raked or painting to be done, relief!) Much of what we will do in the next week will be regular ‘upkeep’ and ‘preventive medicine’. There is the care of the exterior hull for barnacles and such growth, fiberglass and stainless polishing. The diesel needs an oil change, the sails need washing, folding and storage out of the elements, the through-hulls ( the intentional holes in the boat we can close off) need greasing, and the list goes on. We have our lists and hope to get it all done. And one more thing…..The LEAK needs fixing.

 

Yes…we have sprung a “small “leak. Isn’t that a boaters worst nightmare?? Ours come true. ( No, Mom, there was no danger of sinking, that’s why we never said anything!) We first started noticing that the bilge pump was running intermittently about 2 months ago. It is a suction device in the sole of the boat that automatically goes on when water collects here. We initially assumed we had water from the mast collecting after some time during spring rains in Guadeloupe. The pump would go off 3-4 times daily. But it was when the thing would suddenly work every 12-17 minutes we became concerned. ( yes we timed it. If there is no other reason to wear a watch on the boat than to time the discharge of the bilge it is worth it!) oh, and it is amazing how that little slurpy motor will wake us out of a peaceful sleep, and at which time Mike would ask me the time ( it’s good to have a lighted watch as well for night sailing and bilge-timing) and then wait, wait, wait until it went off again and I would give him the interval. Anyway, as soon as the frequency increased we would open the floor boars to check the collection container….we would see less than an inch of clear water sloshing to and fro, and when enough collected it would set off our Slurpy! We were not sure the quantity and so Mike even positioned himself in the dinghy and waited for the discharge to go off and measured the quantity. We used this to determine our 24 hour output. Not worrisome, unless the bilge motor burned out !

Now the scientific part….we had to determine if this was fresh or salt water…essentially was our leak from within ( a leaky water tank) or from the millions of gallons of sea water surrounding us on a daily basis? Of course, the first option was to taste it, but being the medical mind and far from any good healthcare, I made the decision this would. It be a good first step. We poured 3 glasses; two we knew were fresh and salt water and compared these to the bilge sample….no difference. The smell was the same. And it dawned on me to spread the 3 samples on a surface in the sun. I had noticed in the last 4 months that dried salt water leaves ….SALT crystals! BINGO! The bilge was salt. We were relieved we didn’t have a breach in the fresh water system, but we now had to find the point of entry of sea water. Well, the most obvious place would be a leak through hull joint. These were all checked (numerous times) and found dry. The next place where water can enter is the point at which the propeller shaft enters the boat. Mike crawled as far back as he could to see if there was water and he didn’t see any. Now this was an issue for a couple of weeks, until we noticed that Ole Slurpy would go off at more frequent intervals after we made a transit sailing or motor-sailing. Another look at the shaft and it seemed dry. One day we pulled all kinds of equipment from storage to check for water or leaks: behind the engine, deep in the rear storage, under the pile of equipment in the extra berth to check the hot water heater. We even snorkeled under the boat to look for holes….nothing. Very Frustrating!!!! It was about 4 weeks into this waxing an waning problem that we happened to recheck the propeller shaft and something called the dripless (quite an oxymoron) or stuffing box. ( ok there indeed a mechanism in place to keep water from coming in where the shaft enters the boat and it is quite common to have to replace these every few years….our was done in 2012) Mike put his hand under it again and felt an actual drip, and as he moved this around a bit…. there it was…and dripping faster.

The good news: it was about a cup an hour and the bilge was working fine. The bad news: Mike was unable to remove this corroded thing while we were on the water,(after several hours lying flat on the good old Yanmar…it would give) it would have to wait until haul-out. It was quite funny that EVERY ONE of the cruisers we happened to mention the problem to said ‘stuffing box’ but it wasn’t for weeks we could actually prove it.

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It’s getting darker earlier as the earths trajectory changes and the longer days appear in the North. We celebrate an awesome voyage, that started as a little winter dream. We discuss what islands and anchorages we missed this year and where we want to go back and spend more time. We think of all the cruisers we were fortunate to meet, some already out of the water and back in Canada or the US. The discussion leads to ideas for different or change in equipment when we return in the Fall. Finally, we briefly consider what to do with ourselves in this new life back in the US. This means finding a place to live, besides the summer cabin in Minnesota.

The stars present themselves finally on a dark night. We hear roosters still active ashore, and reggae music in the background. We get out the iPad and the SkyView app and work on our astronomy, identifying Cancer, Gemini, Orion’s, always on the lookout again for the Southern Cross. We savor the experience.

Our work for the day finally brings fatigue and sleepy eyes. We retire to the comfortable berth with a gentle breeze still present through the overhead hatch window. We are thankful.

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Stay tuned! We have more summertime blogs to come….just belated in getting them posted!