Monday, July 23, 2018

Season 2.0 in Review

I'm not actually even sure this was season 2.0. Last season we spent three months in the Bahamas, our shakedown cruise, which was something like a season 0.8 Beta. But it also included a couple months of cruising up and down the east coast, with some pretty significant sea miles, so I guess we should count it as a season. This definitely felt like Season 2.0, so I may as well stick to that naming convention.

That said, this year almost felt like two separate seasons. There was the season of Bashing Down The Thorny Path, and then there was a season of Cruising The Islands. Let's review our stately progress down the Thorny Path:

November '17: We crossed directly from Little River, SC to Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas - 478nm, 90 hours. Hung out in Green Turtle, Nunjack Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay, and Marsh Harbour while we had a local alternator shop replace the diodes in our malfunctioning Balmar alternator. Good weather first few days, then stormy, cloudy, windy.

December '17: Down to Lubbers Cay and Little Harbour for a couple days before a rougher-than-forecast overnight crossing to Spanish Wells, Eleuthera (55nm). Uneventful daysail across the reef-strewn Middle Ground to Highborne Cay in the Exumas, where we discovered our alternator had failed again. We visited Shroud Cay, Warderick Wells and Hog Cay before running to Staniel Cay to hide from the season's first good norther. In the middle of that we were joined by my brothers Jon and Steve, and once things calmed down a bit we headed up to Cambridge Cay, then down to Pipe Creek, Black Point, Little Farmer's Cay, and Georgetown. The weather was decidedly mixed in December: lights winds and sunny skies one day, rainy and squally the next. We made do without the big alternator thanks to the help of new friends Ken and Tracy on S/V Makana and their Honda 2000 generator until Jon and Steve arrived with our new alternator. We flew out of Georgetown shortly after Jon and Steve to join our families for Christmas, and for me to fly a three-day trip.

January '18: We flew back to Georgetown in time to celebrate New Years with friends on S/V Makana and Adventure Bound II; around that time we were also joined by S/V Pura Vida, a family of four we had met in Georgetown SC in May '17, and S/V Rondo, another family of four we met in December in Staniel Cay. Due to the holiday we weren't able to get Piper's health certificate in the Bahamas until January 19th; in the meantime we went to Conception Island and Joe's Sound with our friends Dave and Leslie on S/V Texas Two Step. The weather was pretty dreadful during this time, with a lot of high winds, rain, and several bouts of severe thunderstorms including one that put us on a pretty hairy lee shore in Conception for a couple hours. After the delays for Piper's paperwork, we got a perfect weather window to make a 213 nm / 40 hr run all the way down to Mayaguana. We got stuck there waiting out the blow of the season, with gusts to 44 knots, during which we met our great new Canadian friends Dane and Mak and their infant daughter Isla on S/V Sea Otter. After the blow we crossed to Provo, Turks and Caicos (60nm) together along with a third boat, S/V Safara. Safara bugged out out Provo the very next day but we elected to stick around for the next weather window.

February '18: The weather in the Turks and Caicos was frustratingly steady for the first two and a half weeks of February: sunny and clear, but with high winds that would have made for a rough passage to the Dominican Republic (170nm). We and Sea Otter hung out a lot, and Dawn got to know them much better when I left for six days to do a four day trip and two days of training in Atlanta. My friend Brad came back to Provo with me in order to do the passage to Luperon aboard Windbird, so that Dawn could crew on Sea Otter, freeing up Mak to take care of Isla. It was a fairly quick and nice passage, a little bumpy southbound out of Big Sand Cay but wonderfully smooth in the night lee of Hispaniola. The verdant hills of Luperon on arrival were like a technicolor dream. We loved Luperon and enjoyed our 10 days based there, during which we rented motorbikes, did the 27 Waterfalls, and shared a rented 4x4 with Sea Otter to go experience Carnival in La Vega and reprovision in Santiago. The only downer was poorly maintained mooring balls, one of which cast us adrift in the anchorage in the middle of the night. At the end of the month we took advantage of a short window to motorsail 120nm / 24 hours east to Samaná, while Sea Otter stayed in Luperon to wait for another crewmember to arrive and help them make the next passage.

March '18: Shortly after arrival at the beautiful and cheap Puerto Bahia Marina in Samaná our friends Erin and Kara on S/V Vela caught up to us for the first time this season, along with new friend (and experienced Aussie cruiser) Steve on S/V La Mischief and lively young couple David and Joanna on S/V Oceananigans. We did two days of touring the Samaná peninsula with a 12-passenger van packed with cruisers, and then Dawn and I went to Santo Domingo to pick up Windbird's former admiral Judy Handley and tour old town Santo Domingo, which we loved. A day after we returned, we had a nice calm window for a motorsail across the Mona Passage, about 170nm / 30 hours to anchor down in Magaguez. We met Judy's son and daughter-in-law and their kids, and spent some time with them as they sailed with us to Boquerón and then showed us their home in Rincón and the surrounding countryside of western Puerto Rico. Then, a series of early-morning motorsails moved us further east along Puerto Rico's south shore using the nightly lee: Boquerón to La Parguera to Gilligan's Island to Ponce. We spent two nights there and repositioned to Coffin Island in preparation for a 70nm hop to Fajardo.

Season of Cruising the Islands

I think of Ponce as marking the end of the bash, because we had an almost completely calm overnight motor to Fajardo and from that moment on it felt like we'd arrived at our destination, even though we'd been sailing through and visiting many fantastic destinations in their own right. But now the weather was better, the wind steadier, the waves calmer, the distances shorter, the schedule more free and easy...and we sailed everywhere! And did so in considerable company. We visited La Mischief in Fajardo, Sea Otter caught up with us in Culebra, we
met friends Duncan and Katie and fam on their new charter cat, S/V Yo Dawg, in the BVI, and a whole flotilla converged upon Jost van Dyke for my birthday in mid-April: Vela, Sea Otter, Rondo, Pura Vida, Savannah, Carpe Ventum, and our "cruising godparents" Andy & Lance chartering Jada. Later we also met Britican and Be As You Are, which made the core group of 10 boats with which we spent a great deal of time over the last two and a half months of the season. We loved the social aspect of this season, making some likely lifelong friendships and helping to cement others.

Much of the territory was familiar to us, and yet we enjoyed our slow-cruising schedule to poke through the lesser-used anchorages of the BVI. And there was plenty of time to thoroughly explore St. John (*****), St. Thomas (**), Culebra (*****), St. Croix (****) and Vieques (***&1/2). The whole area was heavily impacted and to varying degrees changed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, and it was interesting to see the various reactions and how each island is going about rebuilding. We originally planned to do some volunteering, but by the time we showed up cleanup was essentially complete and the rebuilding effort was being mostly handled by professionals. Asked what they needed, the locals frequently replied: we need the tourists to come back. We did make a conscious effort to spend more at the restaurants, bars and shops of the BVI and USVI than we normally would have. Nobody should mistake our profligacy for charity, but it does seem to be the sort of thing the USVI and BVI needs to get back to normalcy.

After our early alternator troubles, the boat ran exceptionally well. After a little tweaking, our solar improvements are meeting all our energy needs. We had some ongoing issues with the watermaker, the cause of which I discovered at the end of the season; it should be in good working order for next season. The dinghy engine also ran rough for part of the season but it never left us stranded and I eventually tracked down the culprit, becoming much more familiar with outboard engine repair along the way. Boat maintenance and repairs came more naturally to us this season, as did everyday boat life with its associated chores. Dawn absolutely killed it on provisioning, meal-planning and cooking. We did a lot better fishing and lobstering this year. I felt we did a pretty good job of passage planning and picking weather windows, though we had a somewhat rougher than hoped for Gulf Stream crossing at the very beginning of the season when we cut a cold front a little too fine. The couple hours that a severe thunderstorm turned our placid anchorage into a raging froth against a lee shore on Conception Island was likely the most dangerous occurrence of the season, but our trusty ground tackle held firm. We didn't make any dumb mistakes like our predawn exit of Little Farmer's Cut (sans jacklines) last year. With all the maneuvering and hand-steering we did around the Virgin Islands, our boathandling skills got pretty good. If our insurance allowed us to race the house, I'd be fairly comfortable doing so double-handed.

Nevertheless, the season wasn't always easy. The weather in the Bahamas was really pretty shitty from November through January, and the incessant wind of February got old. The weather was better in late Feb and early March, allowing us to make steady eastward progress, but the nearly uninterrupted motorsailing from Luperon all the way to Fajardo got monotonous. Towards the end of April Dawn and I seemed to be grating on each other, the boat getting smaller by the day. A six day work trip and a change of pace when I got back seemed to help that, and we were getting along pretty well again in May. Seven months of nearly uninterrupted cruising can be a long time; and in reality we'd been living on Windbird full-time for 17 months by then. Dawn and even I were ready to get off the boat for a bit by hurricane season. And now that we've been off the boat for over a month, we're super excited to get back on her in November and head downisland to unexplored territory!

There's one aspect I haven't mentioned, cruising with Piper. I'm
going to write a separate post about it because it's a subject of such interest to potential/future cruisers, but suffice it to say he adds a lot of joy to our life afloat. We really enjoyed having him aboard this year and watching him run his little heart out on beaches from Abaco to Anegada. But there are definitely some paperwork challenges to having a medium-to-large dog on board, and they will likely get more burdensome (if not impossible at times) as we move down-island. As with all things cruising, we'll stay flexible.

Did I say we've been off the boat for a month? Strike that, make it six weeks...we have been BUSY! It's not all work, we've been having a ton of fun with land-based adventures, even visiting some of our new cruiser friends. I'll try to get a post up about that before the summer is totally gone!

1 comment:

  1. Any good flying tales worthy of posting on your other blog? Yes, we miss you over there, it is still "on".