Sunday, August 30, 2015


4 days, and 2 Hurricanes later,  and we are still not home.

The day after we rushed to  get the last ferry,  and rushed to the airport, ahead of the storm, we awoke to a beautiful clear sky, and a message that our hard earned flight had been cancelled due to Hurricane Erika.

The airport was closed. All flights were cancelled- or so we were told.

We spent the day checking hourly updates of Erika.  Tracking her every move.  Where is she now? How strong are her winds? Where is she headed? In anticipation of the winds and the rains we decided to head downtown to the grocery store to get food supplies so that we did not have to face the myriad of non - vegetarian choices at the hotel restaurant.  The weather was so nice that we walked the two miles back to the hotel. Approaching the hotel, we noticed a jet taking off. Soon another jet landed and took off a bit later.

"But we thought the airport was closed" we said to a taxi driver

Thursday, August 27, 2015

But wait, there's more

After 2 days of calling boatyards and asking people where to go and what to do, and 4 days getting the boat ready and sitting and sweltering on the hard, Danny did not show up for the party. Hurricane Danny was supposed to be headed directly at  the BVI.  All of the predictions were in agreement. All of the old salts at the bar said "wait and see". The appointed time came and went. Danny went south of us and the disappeared.

"See-" said the old salts, "we were right"

Then there was Erika.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Life on the hard

When a boat is "on the hard" it is on land, out of the water. Rhapsody lives on the hard when we are not sailing on her, and she is on the hard now, both in anticipation of Hurricane/Tropical Storm/Tropical Depression Danny and of our departure back home to cooler climes.

While we are waiting, we are living on Rhapsody, in an altered capacity.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Running before the storm

The first notification was a text from my sister Priscilla, 7 days ago telling us there was a low pressure area off of the coast of Africa that could develop into a tropical depression mid week. Thus began the watch. Invest 96L. (An Invest is the weather equivalent of person of  interest ) Tropical storm Danny. Hurricane Danny. Cat 1. Cat  2. Cat 3. Cat 2. The watch continues.

We have been learning a lot about storm predictions and preparations. Spaghetti models, tracking models. The Cone of Doom.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Vieques? Maybe not

The day after the tale of two anchors we again arose early and headed out from Culebra to Vieques, the larger of the two islands off of Puerto Rico. Many people in Culebra warned us about Vieques, saying things like "make sure to lock everything up" and "Vieques isn't like Culebra you know".

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The best laid plans

Oft go awry.
Up at the dawn's early light, ready to sail to Vieques. Engine oil checked, anchor light off, engine warming up, instruments on and working, charts in the cockpit, some of our usual checklist before moving. I go forward to raise the anchor. As we have been having some trouble with our windlass (the winch at the bow of the boat that raises and lowers the anchor )which we thought we had solved, I begin raising with a little trepidation. It begins to rise with no difficulty, so I breath a small sigh of relief, however, after raising about half the chain it stalls slightly. I let the chain out just a small amount,  and then begin to bring it in again. I have to repeat this two or three times, but each time I am able to get it going again. Then it stops. It won't go up, it won't go down. I try again. Nothing. Bob comes forward and tries, with the same result.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Our Schedule

Our schedule falls under one of 4 categories,
1) Do it Now- not really, just pretty soon,
2) In a while - somewhere within 1 -3 hours if we haven't forgotten or been distracted or become hungry
3) Some time today - maybe, maybe not today
4) Later- the catch bin of everything we know we should be doing, but find a way to put off.  Do I actually need to do that today?

Somewhere intertwined are the have to dos, like eating, reading after eating, and napping after reading. And don't forget swimming.
We are thriving nicely on this schedule and the boat chores, shopping, communication needs, navigation somehow seem to find a place and time, just not before another quick swim and lazy nap.

Finding new excuses for things we aren't yet doing is a constant challenge, yet somehow we manage.

Another day wasted in Paradise.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Our own discovery

Last night,  Sarah and I,  after a later than usual dinner decided to take a quick dip. As is our usual choice we gathered towels and such aft near the transom steps, our regular  swim platform, and as it was already fully dark on a yet moonless night we were drawn to gaze for a few minutes at the overwhelming number of stars. Because we are moored just offshore at Playa Tortuga on the uninhabited Nature Preserve that is Culibrita we had near best conditions for stargazing, a day we were rewarded with the full show of constellations, a planet -Jupiter has been easily recognizable transiting with Venus this summer, and the vast band of the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon.

After a few moments of astral revery we decided  that we would go forward following a quick dip and lie down on the foredeck. This is where it is roomy and flat enough to lie down while looking aloft.

Swimming after dark is actually not such a good idea, and we only indulge occasionally on a strict dive in, swim directly back, and get out basis. Predators are most active at night and can react erroneously to sudden movement or bright flashes from jewelry, clothing... who knows what.  Rather than find out what might be under the boat using our keel as cover while lurking we keep it short.  We were the only boat in the harbor and the darkness provided further reason to strip and skinny dip. I'm usually ready first, and just before taking the plunge I thought I saw small reflections on the water typical of moonlight glimpsed on wavetops; but somehow weirdly different. Anyway - in I went... Dive in, hold the fully stretched pose, feel the cool cleansing burst, glide to the surface, hustle back.

Even before I could get back to our swim ladder built into the stern, Sarah was imploring me "Look, look!".
I said, catching my breath, and now a little worried, "What? Where?"
"All around you" she exclaimed.
One's first impulse in this moment isn't of wonderment and awe, but more so about what might be ready to take an experimental chunk out of you. Yet her voice held no concern, only real surprise and amazement in the tone of - Look quick and see something special.

I stopped my back to safety crawl and began to tread water.  All  around me, and more so because of me - I saw it. Bioluminescence. The movement of my arms on the surface was creating a sparkling light show. I was stirring up and exciting a chemical reaction from tiny organisms that live in some of the more remote, not yet trashed, sewered or plasticed bays hereabouts. The concentration of these organisms can vary from  5 to 95 % - so we have learned. Ours was probably a lower percentage, yet the results were still very apparent. Each swing of my arm or even a wiggle of my hand would release a trail of bright sparkles causing a pattern through the water describing that movement - but for only a few seconds. The effect was like aquatic fireflies that only lit up if you waved you hand through the air and then darkness if you didn't.After treading water for a few minutes,  amid my own micro fireworks, it occurred to me that something else also living in these waters might take an unwanted interest in my movements, and reluctantly I headed for the swim ladder.

Now it was Sarah's turn and we shared our discovery in "wows", and "amazings " and "look at thats " while she created patterns for me to watch. Back on the transom step I could see even better than in the water the effects of her movements- the lights like sudden small but intense electrical charges, not just illuminating, but following the flow of the surface disturbance. Tiny spots came so quickly alit, a faded away in a second or two, but the total effect was of a trail through the water, lighting, lingering briefly, and gone; staying only at the spot where the surface disturbance was ongoing. So rewarding was this game of  Create-a-Sparking-Pattern that after Sarah's treading water light show I fetched an oar from our dinghy and we took turns using it as a tool to make better and longer lasting patterns for one another while finally mastering the technique of quick circles needed to create near complete figure 8 trails of now-I-am-here, now-I'm-not light.

We reflected that the moonless night, and distance away from city lights had combined to show us what we might have otherwise missed in other conditions,  or just by going to bed without the swim.

While reading about Vieques , one of our upcoming stops, we had noted the highly  recommended Bioluminescent Bay  tours offered there. For $40 US you can join a guided tour, by kayak only, into one of two bays, that are now quite protected, that have a consistent
bioluminescent presence. Some other cruisers we have spoken to, or reviews that we have read, have said this was an amazing "don't miss it" experience.  Quite often when we hear these superlatives we are disappointed.  Someone else's "Amazing" can be your "Very nice", or "Pretty interesting ". There can be a pattern of let down if expectations are too high. But the surprise, the unexpected discovery by chance of this phenomenon was ours alone in that moment. We smiled knowingly to each other at the shared satisfaction of serendipity and Nature's wonder.

Sarah quipped "That will be $40 please", and yet it was, most especially for us, totally free.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Amazing is in the eye of the beholder.

When we were told about Isla Culebrita, a small island to the east of Culebra, it was described with many superlatives, amazing, jaw - droppingly beautiful, stunning.... Hearing these descriptions we were slightly predisposed to be disappointed given our experiences in the past. Amazing is in the eye of the beholder, and often the amazing spots have been discovered and are full of other people enjoying the spots in a variety of ways, often at odds with the natural beauty surrounding them.

 We motored around the southern coast of Culebra, carefully avoiding any reefs and coral heads, we entered the protected harbor at the north end of Culebrita. We were greeted by 5 or 6 power boats, members of the self described "Puerto Rican Navy". This is not a military group, nor even an organized group, but a description for the Puerto Rican love for fast, powerful boats, rushing to "relax", often accompanied by loud music either while moving or at anchor. Seeing these boats already at the mooring balls we were not surprised, although slightly disappointed.

 We grabbed a mooring ball, and set about preparing dinner. One by one the members of the PR Navy departed until we were the only boat in the harbor. Then we started to appreciate the beauty of Culebrita.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Predawn Impressions

As I first become hazily aware that sleep is over and the layers of fog are peeling back to consciousness, I   am also noticing my early morning routine starting to gel. My eyes grow accustomed easily to our darkened forward cabin, but there is a subtle, barely sensed feeling in the predawn darkness. It begins to ease into the space with a hint; not defined, more suggested. And each time I feel more ready and almost cued by what seems to be a suggestion or premonition of morning coming.
The fans are creating a gentle and surprisingly quiet breeze on our upper torsos aided by the 2 half open hatches above our feet. This "little" wind is how we relieve the end of day heat as we read ourselves to sleep. The dark hours of cooling that bring the trade winds more softly though the night are creating what's quickly becoming my favorite time of day...or is it still night? With anticipation of a pleasant temperature and a welcome lack of glare I ease from our berth and leave Sarah's soft steady breathing, slip on some shorts, and grab a bit of water as I poke my head above the companionway and come on deck to meet the vast darkness of the sky. It feels instantly as if I'm greeting the day before it's actually daytime.
Calmness pervades everywhere. The wind is mild whispers, easing, and free of variation. The water is rippling and quiet with more sounds to discover as my senses adjust. I breathe in the fragrance of salt and sea and land all pushed across the reef 100 yards to windward. The atmosphere is still rich with the night's influence, yet darkness has already begun to give way to the first indications of a slightly lighter shade of dark grey in the east. The brightest stars of constellations still suspended on above the hills of the island to our west are shining; not twinkling, just the last steady glow of reflection from yesterday's sun.
Because the bow always rotates to face the wind at anchor or on a mooring I step on deck and make my way forward  soaking in the relative stillness and the small suffused changes in the sky turning a slow 360 while balancing to the gentle rhythms in the movement of the hull in the water. The shapes of our neighboring boats are shadows in the bay before there is light enough for details. In this arena of calm and cool and quiet I spend some minutes looking for any others drawn on deck for this predawn vibe, these before the brightness moments. There are none.
I sit in the cockpit watching the last stars extinguished as the wind begins to quicken accelerating the hum of our wind generator blades. Ripples and small gurgles evolve into the beginnings of small but regular waves and with the ever increasing light birds appear. First the flapping and skimming of black and white terns after a breakfast, and then soon after, the Frigate birds soaring over the hills of the island to our west now more detailed and highlighted. In minutes, and far too soon, the spell is broken. Salmon pink hues begin and irrevocable light imposes a new  brighter urge of activity. My reflections and the special sense of calm are stowed away again until I ease from the groggy haze tomorrow...almost totally dark and yet so inviting.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Not all in Paradise is paradise

Circumnavigating Culebra we approached a mooring field on the eastern side of the island. As we were approaching we got a very strong sewage smell. The bay was beautiful, turquoise with white sand beaches, but the smell, while not overpowering, was certainly unpleasant enough that we did not want to spend the night sniffing it. We went around the next headland and thought the smell would be better, but after we had secured a mooring ball the odors began wafting our way again. It took a third bay, and a third mooring ball before the air was clear. We turned around and realized that we were quite close to the town dump. The island residents have to put their garbage somewhere, I just don't really want to moor next to it.
The white line on the hill, above the beautiful water is the island dump.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Art in Culebra

Walking around Culebra there are many murals and sculptures. I thought I would share some of them today.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Water water everywhere

And nary a drop to drink.

We are pretty self sufficient on the boat, energy wise. We have two solar panels and a wind generator that are currently providing all of the energy we need. Lots of sun every day, and the constant trade winds keep our batteries topped off. One thing that we don't have is a watermaker. We have to fill our tanks to keep ourselves supplied with fresh water. We have 3 tanks, and so far we seem to be needing to switch to a new tank every 5-6 days. In the BVI it is easy to get water, there are quite a few places to drive the boat up to the dock and get fuel and water.

We assumed that it would be similar in Puerto Rico, and we were half way through our second tank when we arrived in Culebra.  Well, you know that to assume makes an ass out of u and me..., it turns out that the only place in Culebra to get water is a place that is too shallow for our deep draft boat (7' 2"). You need to have some method for getting the water into your dinghy and then over to your boat. This boat came equipped with many things. Water "jerry cans" were not among those things.

The information we got from the local cruisers was that we should go to Fajardo on the main island of Puerto Rico, and the best way to get there is by ferry. So this morning we got up at 5 AM to get into our dinghy by 5:30 to take the 30 min dinghy ride to the dinghy dock so we could walk to the ferry terminal to get tickets for the 6:30 ferry, that left promptly at 7:45. Apparently the ferry was an hour late arriving because on the 5 AM ferry from Fajardo there was a group of 20 people that got into a fight that caused the captain to turn the ferry around and kick them off the boat.

We made it to Fajardo and were picked up by Al, a retired taxi driver referred to us by friends. Al was great, taxiing us to the store, picking us up, taking us to another store and then back to the ferry. He runs his taxi service on referrals, and only takes trips he wants because he is retired. He was a great find for us.

Our main objective for the trip was to get 3 or 4 jerry cans for water. Unfortunately Puerto Rico is in a major drought and  parts of the island is rationing water. There are some places that you can only have water every other day, or in some cases every third day. Because of this the water cans are in short supply. The first store we went to showed us a rack of about 6 containers. I went to find Bob to see if they were the types of containers that we wanted. By the time I got back with him, they were ALL gone!

Second stop, we found 2 cans of the type we wanted, but they only had two. We bought those and searched two more stores with no luck. So, we are back in Culebra,  with  two new jerry cans ready to begin the process of carrying water to the boat. I will let you know later how that worked out.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

My local swimming pool

I love to swim. Being able to dive off my front porch into a warm pool is a dream come true for me. We are swimming 2 to 3 times a day. A refreshing wake - up dip, a mid day cool down dip and an evening wash off the day dip. Occasionally there are optional additional dips thrown in.

Swimming in the clear turquoise water, watching the schools of fish below me, the pelicans above. It just makes me smile. But carefully so I don't get a mouthful of salt water!

In envisioning being on the boat I was wondering how I would get my swimming in, the way I like to swim. I thought about being visible to other boats, and other safety concerns. What I have discovered is that one lap about the boat is about 50 feet plus 25 feet for the dinghy and mooring line X 2 = 150 feet per lap. A mere 36 laps gives me a mile. I haven't yet done that - but give me some time...

Interestingly when the boat is anchored or moored, it turns so that the nose of the boat is always into the wind and/or current (not always the same direction ) so swimming up one side of the boat feels like I am swimming slightly uphill,  and when I round the mooring ball it and head to the stern of the boat it feels slightly downhill. 

Last night there was quite a strong breeze, and quite a chop in the water. It was a struggle to get to the bow. When I turned the corner and headed back to the stern it was completely different. I thought perhaps one side of the boat was shielded from the wind and that was the side that I came back on. I wanted to test my theory, so I turned and swam the opposite direction. I was completely wrong, it was just an illusion. Swimming on the "downhill" side you are swimming in the direction of the waves and the wind, and they all but disappear.  However, in order to experience that you have to work your way uphill first!