It’s all about being on the water…

 

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Ready for haul-out!
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Out of the water for the summer!
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Sunday cruisers playday!

So the pics you see here in the beginning of this blog show us closing Lost Loon in May at Clarkes Court in Grenada. We were fortunate to have an uneventful process. The “carefree” sailing days are replaced with a few tolerable hot, dusty days in the yard. Bittersweet, we need to return to land life and see family as well as manage other parts of our life. As of this writing, we are now about 4 weeks from returning to spend another Winter in the Caribbean! The count down has begun!

We continue to live as vagabonds from one short term habitation to the next (or as gypsies..so well put by a close dentist friend of ours!) For the summer, we spent most of the time at our 3- season place on Lake Vermilion. We have completed the renovation we started last year transforming a 1950s cabin to a nice comfortable lake cottage. We also traveled to Illinois and North Carolina and spent valuable time with family in those locations. And of course passed several weekends with our Minnesota family and precious growing granddaughter! ( permission granted by the parents  allows me to share one of my favorite pics!!)

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They have been gracious to provide us with a warm bed and sustenance throughout the last few months, as well as priceless moments with “nos petite fille”!

The summer passed quickly. We spent time fishing, hiking, harvesting wild blueberries, and putting a new steel roof on the cottage.

 

Our life on the lake is challenging because we are on the north part of the lake further than the road extends. We have to boat everything in we use. This includes ..yes even the new steel roofing supplies. Thanks to Mike and Chris…their ingenuity made this possible.

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In making our new cottage unique, my friend Cynthia and I decided to paint a door. this was a very enjoyable weekend project..and priceless piece of art!

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There were a few days we did get out fishing…a passion of Mike’s and caught some beauties, northern Minnesota walleye! We also received our scout firefighter’s badge one day. There was a slight breeze that afternoon as we headed out to Big Bay on the lake for musky fishing (truth be told Mike fishes and I make sure I have a good book). As the breeze picked up and the afternoon progressed, we noticed a plume of smoke coming from a small island. It became darker, and in seconds we could see flames from about 1 mile away. We quickly proceeded to the location, where we expected to find someone burning a huge fire. To our surprise, there was no one around and a large part of the island was covered in fire. I tried calling 911, but with variable cell service cut out. Mike drove to a close spot where we thought it would be better and 911 was calling me back! I spent some precious 5 minutes telling the dispatch person the locations of the fire, knowing he needed to communicate this with the fire boat. I was assured they were on their way asap and told not to put myself in danger. We ran across the bay and procured two 5 gallon buckets with the intent of saving the island.  We returned and inched the boat as close to the rocks without damaging the boat so we could get off. We were soon running a 2 person bucket brigade. We did have one other boat show up and with their 2 gallon bucket they had aboard, assist in putting out some of the “small stuff”, but there was a huge tree on fire that would take the professionals. Soon we saw them coming. as the fire boat approached we got off the island, noticing a small area where there may have been a campsite in the recent past….. Most of the fire was doused by the sole volunteer fireman.

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During the months in Minnesota, I was able to work part-time at a local clinic. ( a shout-out to my new colleagues in Virginia , MN!! thanks for a great summer!) I worked in the family practice and urgent care areas 2-3 days per week.  This afforded me the opportunity to maintain my license and continue to do something I truely enjoy. It was a mere 30 minute drive, but that was after the 20 minute boat ride acrosss the lake to get to the vehicle. This was not unlike our travels to get anywhere on Lost Loon. It was a great plan, most of the summer. I had only one late afternoon storm to wait out before getting Mike across the lake to pick me up. It wasnt until late September…my last days of work…and late days getting off work at 7 PM when arriving at the boat landing some days at 7:45 were getting chilly. By the first of October the days were chilly. We were having some night to 30 degrees and daytime highs of 40.

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Morning ride to work!

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Yes, this is a picture of a 3 inch snowfall. Quite unusual and unexpected for this time of year. Mike actually had to snovel snow out of the boat for the first time since we have been coming to the cabin We are usually lucky to have until the middle of October to close things down, but by October 9th, we woke to temps in the very low 30s overnight and one partially frozen pipe. After Mike returned from thawing this with a hairdryer, we made the obvious decision to pack-it-up and head out. We had spent the last few nights, waking to check the water in the faucets and were not in the mood to wake to more pipes to thaw or worse broken ones! The job is fairly straighforward: pack clothes, clean everything out of the refrigerator, turn the water off and drain off the pipes, take apart the dock and lift it out of the water, cover the single pane windows with shutters. We have done this in an afternoon and were able to complete everything in about 3 and 1/2 hours. The sun provided us some warmth, but for this time of year, unexpectedly cold!

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Remote pond, Boundary Waters, Minnesota

So the next question…..where to go?  We decided to remain “off the grid” and head for a shared cabin in Superior Wisconsin …intended for deer hunting. It sits on 100 acres of woods in the most northwestern part of Wisconsin, along the Minnesota border. We had a few hours to prepare ourselves for the primative  living…no plumbing, no running water, heated by wood burning stove. It happens to be just 8 miles south of the city of Superior, so not so far off the grid as it sounds. We stayed here 4 nights before moving on. We enjoyed a few nice Fall days of hiking and  bird hunting (the guys…not me).

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After a couple of days with our family, we have traversed south for a few weeks with friends in Florida, boating and diving, where we will escape the onslaught of cool temps in the Midwest and dream of sailing days to come!

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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!

C’est St. Barthelemy!

After a wonderful night in Governors Harbor on the south side of St Barthelemy, the following morning we woke to a crystal sunrise and the now common sound of distant roosters making themselves known to the world… it was just as gorgeous. With calm clear waters we both took time to have coffee and took turns on the paddleboard, exploring the shoreline. The wave crashed gently on the beautiful white sand beach, and we could hear the bray of goats on the mountainside. We spent a couple of early morning hours here before heading out to the city and port of Gustavia to check into Customs and Immigration.

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St Barths has been fought over by the British, French and Spanish through the years. It was even held by the Swedes in exchange for port rights in the 1800’s. They sold the land back to the French in 1878 , and it has remained in their hold since.

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The entrance showed us the headlands of the bay which were dotted with multitudes of red roofed homes and buildings. ( we joked the entire time here about whether this was code or if it was just the trend) . The bougainvillea was draped from every overhang in a multitude of hues…..reds, violets and whites. The Yacht mooring and anchorage was full of sailboats and mega-yachts from all over the world, lined up along the docks in Med-mooring fashion. (this is different to the traditional bow-in mooring, the sterns are moored to the dock and there is usually an anchor or mooring ball from the bow forward ). We made our way to check in with customs and immigration and found that the French have THE best system for this. (however they dont use a QWERTY keyboard and the M and A are severly displaced for us used to an English keyboard, this makes for a few typos in the process) It is a sort of do-it –yourself check –in. With our cruising papers, boat documentation and passport numbers we enter all our information then print it out for the immigration staff to review. Viola! We’re in!

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Gustavia

We made our way through this very chic town with its Cartier, Dior, Ralph Lauren, etc high-end retailers to a few smaller shops and grocery. It was here we found fresh, hot and crunchy French baguettes, delicious croissants, cheap French wines of excellent quality, pate, and the best Brie cheese! (it became our staple for the weeks we were in these French islands)

Back on Scooters!

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On the road again..

We had not ventured out on the many rental offerings for scooters at several islands since the crazy ride in Luperon, but St Barthelemy looked like the perfect location. We had made plans with our sailing friends on Desderata to tour the island the day before. With numerous beaches, few trucks and cars, and excellent highway system we decided to make a day of it.

We left Gustavia on a 125 cc scooter after the early morning rain showers had moved off to the west. It was now sunny and hot. We had plans to see each of the beautiful beaches of the island. Our first stop would be the lovely Baie de St Jean (not “saint jeen” but “sah jah”)and the little town of l’Orient (loree-ahn)  with its quaint shops in severe contrast to those in Gustavia. This was on the north part of the island and from a perch we could walk to about 100 ft overlooking the beach we could see the light blue waters and coral structure below. It was 10 AM and the beach goers were on the move. There is a very expensive resort here, where we watched assistants preparing beach beds (seriously a full size mattress with an adjustable back!) for their patrons, serving champagne and water in ice buckets! We moved on further heading south with beautiful seaside stops along the way. We made our lunch stop at a small beach place where the burgers were great and the “mahi” tartare awesome. Accompanied by a great glass of white wine and a cool walk in the sand and we were in heaven.

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beachwalk to lunch

 

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perfect lunch spot

We still had a few miles to put on before sunset and were off for the South side of the island. Here we got to see Governors Harbor from a different perspective…it was just as amazing. More from the perspective of sailing down the winding road to the beach with spectacular overlooks to the waters below. We did swim to cool off and enjoy a walk on the soft sand beach.

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St Barth’s beach in L’Orient

We had a few more beaches to “run “ by and continued back to Gustavia and then to the north to Colombier, a small secluded inlet on the North side. We watched some experienced pilots make a landing at one of the shortest runways in mountainous areas we had seen. It was a great day of seeing some spectacular landscape.

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We returned the scooters and made a hike to one of the overlooks in Gustavia that was once an ancient military instillation. We watched the sunset from here, above the city and imagined many hundreds of years ago, the government (French, British….whoever was in charge at the time) taking watch for pirates or other invaders, ready to fire the cannons at will.

We had to continue making headway sailing south, as we had friends arriving in Guadeloupe within the next week. Our plans were to head off past St Kitts and Nevis to Guadeloupe the next day. We woke to clear skies and a light breeze that promised to fill in by later in the day. Our next leg would now be over 50 miles which would require another overnight passage. Since we were quite used to this by now, we actually looked forward to open ocean sailing. It is generally easier than sailing between islands amongst the fishing pots, fishermen, and charter yachts.

We said our “goodbyes” for the last time to friends on Desderata (who were headed north back to the Virgins to meet with family) realizing that we had spent the most part of the last 2 months with them “on the go”. We would hope to see them back in the states when they returned in the summer at some point. With our exit papers in hand, most of the water tanks filled, and plenty of brie, sausassion, and baguette, Lost Loon headed out by mid afternoon for Guadeloupe.

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The evening was gorgeous as we watched the island of St Barthelemy fade into the sunset and the shadow of St Kitts and Nevis take form in the foreground. We took our typical 3-4 hours passage shifts and watched the ships passing in the night (literally). To keep awake this night I was able to listen to local Monserrat radio where they were having the Lesser Antilles high school debate finals. They debated the importance of continued tourism and international commerce (as we sail right by), as well as the importance of maintaining literacy amongst the population. The night passed quickly as we did make a few sail plan changes due to weather along the islands. By morning light, as usual, we were comforted to see the distant shores of Guadeloupe. A contrast from the arid island of St Barts and the flatlands of St Maarten , this was green, lush and mountainous.

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Next up we are a month in Guadeloupe and loving this French island and all that it has to offer!

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Sea Critters and Sleepless Nights

 

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We had moved Lost Loon from Brunswick GA to Stuart FL  on our trip in April, in anticipation of our trip to the Bahamas. We had only spent a night in calm marina waters after spending 3 days at the fuel dock due to winds so out of control that we couldn’t move off the dock.

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We had truly exhausted every possible option for springing off the stern, springing off the bow, etc..we just had too much at stake from the bow sprit to the dinghy davits at the stern. We woke up early the first morning, winds were very light so we decided to quickly shower and as we returned to the boat in a matter of 15 minutes the winds were approaching 17 knots!  We were welcomed again that morning by the Steve and Jim, dockmasters at Loggerhead Marina. We did take a ribbing for not getting her off the dock before the winds picked up, but we were assured that we were welcome to stay and weren’t in the way ….too much. We took the opportunity to meet some wonderful folks in the same dock area who gave us lots of great advice on the immediate plan to get off the dock, as well as our longterm plans for sailing the Caribbean. So it was not all a loss, being fuel dock residents for a few days. We finally were able to move Lost Loon at 6 am on day 3. We awoke to rain showers, but no wind!  We were up immediately as we realized this was our chance. Mike had the engine started and dock lines loosed before I was out of my PJs! We were able to motor across the fuel area temporarily dock, run around collect our fenders, and meander our way to our assigned slip on J-dock.

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Four weeks later, upon our return to take our trip to the Bahamas, we spent 4 days getting all systems ready and 4 noisy nights trying to rest. I believe the first night that weekend we were so exhausted (endless days in Wisconsin packing and a full day of travel to the airport at 0500, transfers at the various airports and the delayed process getting a rental car for 24 hours, and a few stops at Winn Dixie and West Marine) we didn’t notice the commotion. The second night we enjoyed a calm evening at the dock, by the time lights were out and we began to drift off with visions of sugar sand beaches and bright turquoise anchorages, a new crackling, chewing noise had materialized. It sounded like bugs of some kind hitting the deck or rain pelting the boat. But it was clear, full of stars….. I pushed my hand out the port window, (because you can check the weather that easy on a sailboat) no water. We had not noticed ANY bugs as we returned from dinner that evening. I decided to leave the comforts of our new memory foam mattress to inspect the deck. No bugs?? No critters?? In fact a beautiful night, stars are visible, a light breeze, and stillness on the dock. Returning to bed, the noise continued. What the heck was this? As I began to fall asleep I thought of termites eating the hull or some other creature within the deep compartments of the structure…But its fiberglass, and that’s ridiculous!

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Third night, lights out …the odd noise resumed. Did we just hear it because we were quiet? And was it going on all day? It was the same snapping and crackling commotion. I was determined to solve this. Lights on and looked in the bilge, it was clean…opened the closets, silent… I put my ear to the mast, nothing, and finally to the sole of the boat. Definitely coming from here. What kind of critter causes this constant noise? We mused all sorts of marine life as we edged into sleep.

The following morning, eyes open and I was on an internet search for (literally) “snapping noise coming from a boat hull”.  I immediately found that there is a particular shrimp that causes the noise. Mystery solved!  Thank goodness the hull wasn’t breaking apart. This was most interesting. The Pistol shrimp is a very small crustacean (not one for consumption). Its manner of attacking its prey is to shoot a small stream of water at 62 mph, stunning and killing its food. The water that is release at such a high pressure it can reach several thousand degrees instantly.

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We watched the internet videos of the shrimp in action, quite impressive.( We mused that it is certainly unfortunate that they cannot naturally keep the hull cleaned of barnacles. ) What to do?..nothing. Live and let live…live and let the commotion continue…

Night four, with the continuous snapping and crackling going on, but we rest well. We are smarter now of marine critters on the hull. We are lulled to sleep listening to, by what we presume,(because we haven’t seen) are several hundred hunting , snapping, and feeding pistol shrimp (confident that nothing is “eating the boat”).