Gotta Smile!

Gotta Smile!

Monday, May 18, 2015

One Big Step From Puerto Rico To Turks and Caicos

May 13 - 18, 2015

19 - Fajardo, Puerto Rico,  20 - Dominican Republic, 21 - Turks and Caicos
The redline is our course.  We left Fajardo at 6:00 PM on Wednesday and anchored in a Turks and Caicos' bay at 4:20 PM on Saturday.  Sunday morning we went to The Turtle Cove Marina for two nights.  
Many boaters enjoy long overnight passages.  In fact our friends, David and Jill, are circumnavigating the world and think nothing of two weeks out at sea crossing oceans.  Let me make it clear — we are not a part of that adventurous group!  I will NEVER cross an ocean unless we fly!  Like many new boaters, we thought “Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to cross the Atlantic and spend a couple of years in the Mediterranean?”  Luckily, we came to our senses before we set out on that adventure!  Overnight passages are just plain scary.  None the less, I put on my big girl panties, stepped to the edge of the cliff and jumped.  Traveling from Puerto Rico to the Turks and Caicos was a trip of 527 miles that took 94 hours.  That passage included following the coast of Puerto Rico, crossing the Mona, skirting the coast of the Dominican Republic and crossing a small chunk of the North Atlantic.  

Leaving Fajardo as the sun sets.  the wind has died
down, but the air is still full of Sahara sand.
We left Fajardo, Puerto Rico at 6:00 PM on Wednesday the 13th.  Traveling along the coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic at night to take advantage of the katabatic winds that come off of the land and calm the seas.  I was on my first two hour shift at the helm.  The sun had just set, the moon was a thin crescent and it was pitch black outside.  Brian was napping when the navigation computer quit working.  This was beyond my worse nightmares.  Without the navigation screen I had no idea where we were, which direction we should go, what hazards were in our path.  BRIAN!!!  Out of a dead sleep he came to see what imagined problem I was facing.  No, this was a real problem.  Of course, we have a spare and, of course, he could install it, but not instantaneously.  

At 4:20 AM that same night, I’m at the helm again, when huge million watt spotlights are all over us.  I looked out the pilot house door to see why a stealth power boat that didn’t show up on radar is so close.  A black inflatable pulls up next to the pilot house.  While one spot scans back and forth over the boat the other one is on me.  I can’t see who is on board, but give them a pitiful smile and a weak wave.  With that they do a 180 and take off.  No introductions, no business card, no sorry I scared you and almost made you pee your pants.  I’m just glad it was probably the Puerto Rican border patrol and not pirates as I all but invited them on board.  

The other nightly scares involved small boats that are very difficult to see in the dark because they are using a flashlight for their running lights.  The boats are too small to show up on radar.  Trying to judge distance in the dark is almost impossible.  Is that faint light off in the distance or is it close and just weak?  

The bay where we could finally clean the prop.
About two hours out of Fajardo, we noticed that we were going even slower than our normal slow.  Running at 1600 RPM we usually travel about eight MPH.  Instead, we were going six.  Our first thought was that there was a strong current in the area.  By the time we realized that something must have caught on the propeller it was dark and then too rough to do anything about it.  Finally, Friday morning the seas flattened and we found a deep protected bay.  After three reverse cycles at high RPM’s we were free and back to our normal speed.                    

Sunrise on Saturday and we got our first glimpse of
the Turks and Caicos Islands!

The Mona Passage is the strait that separates Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.  It’s one of the places where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea meet.  Although it is only 80 miles wide it is considered one of the most difficult passages in the Caribbean due to tidal currents created by the two large islands.  Enough said — you get the picture!

Passing through The Turks and Caicos Shallows
the water drops dramatically from 7000 feet in the
Passage to 6.4 feet.  We had to carefully stay on
   course because we need 5.5 feet to float.  This
 ferry carrying a cement mixer miscalculated
 and was grounded.   

Finally, relaxing in our anchorage we were treated
to this fabulous sunset.  It was the perfect
exclamation mark for our crossing!

Sunday morning we moved to Turtle Cove Marina in Providenciales, rented a car and got our feet on solid ground. The last segment of this two year trip starts on Tuesday as we prepare for a 10 day trip through the Bahamas.  BUT, it will be 10 days with our anchor firmly planted in a bay at night!         

Gotta smile -- we're lovin the ride!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A 'Brief' Stop In Fajardo, Puerto Rico

May 1 - 11, 2015

Arriving in Fajardo, Puerto Rico is like coming back to see a good friend.  We have stayed in Sunbay Marina three times.  There’s not much to do in the immediate vicinity, but it is a very safe marina with an excellent staff. A couple of things that make it unique:  none of the employees are allowed to accept a tip and  water and electricity are included in the daily fee.  A small community of shops is a one mile walk away.  The deli has excellent inexpensive sandwiches.  Skipper Marine looks small, but is well stocked.  The manager was chatting with Brian about how difficult it is to get 3M products shipped to him.  Then he found out that Brian was the former 3M expert for 5200 and Spray Adhesive 77.  At the end of that conversation Brian was awarded a ‘nice guy’ discount.  Cute!!!  

Loving our new sun/wind/privacy screen!
Since we are in a marina, I am getting my 13K steps (almost 6 miles) a day.  We have been wanting to have a screen made for the back of the cockpit, but haven’t been anyplace long enough to get it done.  On one of my step outings I met Miguel who was installing a sunshade on a neighboring boat.  It looked really good, so I asked him about making something for us.  Although this is their peak season his wife, Sary, said she could have it done by Saturday (just three days) and she gave us a very reasonable price.  Perfect!!!  We are waiting for 40 knot winds in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos to calm down.  Now at least we would accomplish something while we wait.  
You can't always trust GPS.  We followed
 this road to the top of the hill where the
ruts got so deep we thought we might
break an axel.  We had been told that
road was steep and narrow but this was
ridiculous!  Surprise surprise -- Turns
 out there was another steep narrow road 
to the observatory!  The second one was

The first three days that we were here we rented a car to run a few errands and see more of the island.  West Marine had a new water heater waiting for us.  It had been ordered on our last visit.  And, if you are a regular on this post, you know we went to Costco.  The Arecibo Observatory is the largest radio telescope on earth.  Guess who wanted to see it?  We also made another visit to Old San Juan.   

The Arecibo Observatory
The dish is 1000 feet in diameter.  It was located here
in 1963 because there was a huge sink hole, it was
near the equator, and Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.  

The fort is the focal point of Old San Juan.  There are actually two forts surrounded by a huge public
park.  Every time we have been here the wind has been blowing like crazy so there are lots of kites
in the air.
Time to relax with a snack in the
 museum's courtyard.
Lots of statues throughout the neighborhoods.
We liked these: penguins on a cruise and a
happy world.

The narrow streets of Old San Juan are steep hills.  Shops, restaurants and residences line both sides
of the brick streets that are made of blue glazed tiles.  

Gotta smile -- we're lovin the ride!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Revisiting St John

April 13 - 28, 2015

This is as close as I get to the engine room.
Looking into it from the salon.
  Sure is clean and tidy.  Brian's pride and joy!
Leaving the BVI, we were looking forward to two relaxing weeks circumnavigating St John.  Maho Bay is a favorite stop and the closest to Jost Van Dyke, our last stop in the BVI.  We were there for one day when the decision was made that four of our six house batteries had to be replaced.  We had been trying to keep them functioning, but it was now obvious that they were not going to make the trip back to the U.S. with us.  They wouldn’t even last to Puerto Rico.  Our only option was to head back to Red Hook on St Thomas, bite the bullet and purchase four new ones.  Budget Marine had what we needed and could arrange for two guys to remove the old ones and put the new ones in place.  Brian replaced all of the connecting cables and streamlined the wiring.  One full day in the engine room and we were ready to go again.   Oh no, not so fast….  A test of the water maker before we left the marina found that the pump that was just installed last month was not working.  The local dealer didn’t have one.  It had to be shipped from California.  Monday evening at 6:30 it was delivered and Tuesday morning it was installed and tested.  All systems checked out and we checked out of the marina!  Next stop St John.

I must admit that it felt great to spend a night on a mooring ball and not worry about the batteries being charged for multiple hours several times during the day.  Most of the spring break visitors had gone home so it was a wonderful time to be there.  We had our choice of mooring balls in all of the bays and the beaches weren’t crowded.  

Some of the ruins at Caneel Bay Resort.
Our exploration of St John was centered in Caneel Bay.  Caneel Bay Resort was built on the site of an 18th century sugar plantation.  It dominates this bay.  The resort was the dream of Lawrence Rockefeller.  In December of 1956 (the same year he gave thousands of acres to the Virgin Islands National Park) it opened with a theme of simple splendor in a pristine natural setting.  Looks like his dream has lived on surrounded by national park land and pristine beaches. 

Wild donkeys, deer and mongoose roam freely
eating the landscaping like it's one huge
Approaching Cruz Bay in the dingy.


Caneel Bay is adjacent to Cruz Bay, the ‘downtown’ of St John.  It was an easy dingy ride from our mooring ball to the National Parks Service Visitors Center and the shops and restaurants in Mongoose Junction.  We spent five nights in Caneel Bay while we explored other bays by dingy.   

Shops and restaurants on the waterfront.

The very cute Mongoose Junction: shops and food.

The ranger pointed out a lot of
interesting sights on the way.

One thing we were really looking forward to was a hike with a park ranger to the petroglyphs.  It is a popular hike and we were glad to get the opportunity.  The hike begins with a taxi ride to the trail and ends with a boat ride back to Cruz Bay.  It was a full day excursion. 

The golden orb spider and her web. 

There were over 400 sugar plantations on the island.
We walked past several ruins.

My ruggedly handsom hiker!

The carvings date back to 900-1500 AD.
They were created by the pre-Columbian
Tainos and their ancestors.

The carvings are on rocks surrounding a fresh water
 pool that was a sacred dwelling place.  In spite of
rain the spring-fed pool always stays at the same
level.  It reflects the carved images.

Reef Bay Plantation 

One of the interior rooms with the
boiling pots still in place.

And, lots of bats hanging from the

Arriving in Charlotte Amalie for a walk about before
traveling on to Puerto Rico.



Just one of the three mammoth cruise ships at the dock.  

Then one morning, out of the blue, we were both ready to head over to St Thomas to begin our voyage home.  Originally we had thought we would stay a few more days, but we felt we had seen everything on our list and, truthfully, we were getting excited to get back to the States.  

Gotta smile -- We're lovin the ride!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

One Last Trip Through the BVI

March 30 - April 12, 2015

After a week of ordering parts, waiting for parts and installing parts we were ready to leave Red Hook, St Thomas.  The marina is in need of some updating, but the staff is extremely nice and helpful.  We checked in thinking we would only be with them for a couple of days.  We discovered the repair was going to be more involved than anticipated and we would need a full week.  Even though it was one their busiest weeks, they moved boats around so we could remain in our current slip for the entire week.  There is an excellent new grocery, Moes, across the street from the marina.  The marine store is also well stocked.  Not as well as when we arrived, because Brian made so many trips purchasing multiple items on each visit.  

We were definitely looking forward to getting out of the marina and on with our exploration.  Since hurricane season ended in October we have been on board for 134 days.  Of the 134 days we have had guests with us for 82 days.  We love sharing our travels with family and friends, but now it is time to relax and travel on our own schedule.  

Our first stop was The Bitter End, Virgin Gorda, BVI.  Friends Paulette and John have a 58 foot Krogen and are just beginning their travels south.  We spent time with them in and around St John, but wanted another couple of days while neither of us had company.  So glad we were able to connect.  Two days of hiking with them gave us a chance to see some of the highlights of Virgin Gorda.

Dingy ride from mooring to Bitter End.

If you ever need a taxi or tour guide in Virgin Gorda, 
ask for Stamboo.  Everyone on the island knows him!
He is very knowledgeable about the history, native
 plants, island cooking, restaurants, trails for hiking.
And, he is a very nice person. 


The Baths is a collection of massive granite boulders, (some are as large as 40 feet in diameter) that came out of the earth in lava flows. Pristine white sand beaches and secret rock pools make it a great hike.  The boulders were once embedded in volcanic lava.  Weathering has worn away the softer lava rock and has carved large holes in the granite boulders.  The Devil's Bay Trail winds over under and between the boulders.  

After climbing ladders and boulders, holding on to rope railings and squeezing  through crevices, we made it to Devil's Bay.
Remains of a copper mine built in the 1800's.
The water just below the mine has the greenish glow
of oxidized copper. 

This might be the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen.

Le Grand Bleu is quite the story.  It's 371 feet long and carries a 68 foot 'runabout' and a 73 foot sailboat.  The mast of the sailboat can be seen sticking up beyond the ship and the runabout is being hoisted out of the water by the two davits just above it.  There are two more davits on the other side to lift the sailboat.  The boat belonged to Roman Abramovich, a Russian businessman.  He GAVE it to his friend, Eugene Shvidler, who must be doing OK himself.  Since we last saw it in Puerto Rico, it has been repainted matt navy blue.  Of course, the two boats he carries were painted to match.  
A second day of exploration begins at the remains
of a sugar mill.

Overlooking Maho Bay, an upscale residential area.

Our hike to the top of Gorda Peak begins.
The highest point on the island, 1348 feet. 

The sap of pitch apple was used to seal the hull
of boats.  A predecessor to 3M's 5200!

At the summit, we climbed a tower for a 360
degree view and rested. 
The view was a little hazy but worth the hike! 

Hermit crabs were seen frequently scurrying
across the path.  The large ones will fight
ferociously for the ideal shell.   

The hike took 2 1/4 hours.  When we got to the
bottom, Stamboo had begun hiking up to look for
us.  He thought we might have been injured since
he estimated we'd be done in 1 1/2 hours.  Nice guy!

Lunch at Hog Heaven.  The perfect name for a
barbecue restaurant that is so high on the mountain
it must be close to heaven!

The view from heaven -- Hog Heaven!

Traveling through the islands, every bay looks like it would be the perfect anchorage.  Oh no,  it's not that easy!  First of all, it must be deep enough, but not too deep.  We prefer 12 - 30 feet.  Then the bottom must be something that the anchor can dig into -- usually sand.  We always look for a calm area with little or no wave action and not too much wind.  And, there must be enough room for the surrounding boats to swing without a collision.  
When we left the Bitter End our intention was to stay at Marina Cay.  We arrived to find very rough water, high winds and no protection.  Bail's Bay was just around the island so we gave it a try.  Two attempts at anchoring proved the water was too deep and the bottom was too rocky.  Location number three was the adjacent Lee Bay.  Finally, all of the required conditions were met and we were settled for the night.

Our quiet anchorage in Lee Bay.

Another less than perfect day at Marina Cay gave us
an opportunity to visit an old favorite, Cooper Island.

No, the helicopter isn't landing on Gotta Smile!
He belongs to our big neighbor.  Of course, the
helicopter is painted to match the yacht. 

Would you expect anything less? 

Finally good conditions at Marina Cay gave us a
chance to snorkel the coast of Great Camanoe.  Some
of the best coral we have seen in a long time.

Beef Island is connected to Tortola by a bridge.
According to the guide book Trellis Bay on Beef
Island is a must see.  We took a dingy ride there
after snorkeling in Great Camanoe.  The best
sight was Gli Gli, the largest Carib Indian dugout
sailing canoe in the Caribbean.  You can't always
believe the guide book....

We took one day to do some tasks that had been put off.  Brian isolated our six house batteries and tested each  of them.  Two were still in great shape.  Two were functioning.  And, the last two were all but dead.  The dead ones had been pulling the others down so we had to charge more often and for longer times.  We are going to try running on four and see what happens.  The hope is that we can make it back to the States before we purchase new ones.  They are about half the price back home.

If this doesn't look steep, check out
the traffic sign warning truckers.

Probably the most thrilling roads on our trip were encountered the day we rented a car on Tortola.  I'm telling you... these are steep roads with extreme hairpin turns in rapid succession.  The good thing was--there were very few cars on the roads.  We made one wrong turn and within 10 minutes we were surprised to be on the other side of the island!  Yes, it is a small island.  We had a very good day with stops at two of the top ranked beaches, a tour of Road Town, a great grocery and lots of breathtaking scenery.   

Look at this warning sign for trucks.  A
lot of the trucks can only carry partial 

loads due to the steep grade.  

Cane Garden Bay is postcard perfect, especially
in the early morning.  We had the beach to ourselves
 as we walked from one end to the other.  Later
in the week we came back by boat and stayed
 for one night in the bay.  Vans of cruise ship
visitors swarmed the beach and gave it a totally
different look.    

Another view of Cane Garden Bay.  

This is when we discovered we had
made a wrong turn...overlooking
Road Town, the capital of the BVI.

Brewers Bay is ranked one of the most beautiful
bays in the Virgin Islands.  We walked it in the
afternoon and thought it didn't begin to compare
to Cane Garden.  

A final trip to Norman Island so we could snorkel
The Indians and Privateer Bay.  The Indians was
disappointing.  Rough water made it dangerous
on the Pelican Island side where most of the fish
were.  Privateer Bay was fabulous.  Large numbers
and a great variety of fish.  We snorkeled from our
swim platform in the mooring field.  Perfect!   

Our last two days in the BVI took us to Jost Van Dyke.  We hadn't been there on this trip and it is one of the few islands with a customs office.  Our two week visitor's pass was about to expire.  We would need to check out as we head to the USVI.  

The infamous bubble pool on Jost.
Unfortunately, the day we hiked to it
there were no bubbles.  The surf is
supposed to come roaring in and
make this little pool a natural spa.
At least it was a good hike. 
Jost is named after a Dutch pirate, but the real hero of this island is Foxy Callwood.  He started Foxy's in 1967 with a bar the size of a lemonade stand.  It has evolved into the quintessential beach bar that is known around the world. 

Foxy's classic beach bar.

Grabbing a mooring ball had become a simple procedure for us --- until we got to Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke.  The pennant on the mooring ball snagged on our stabilizer fin.  No matter how we maneuvered we could not get it free.  Brits to our rescue!  Martin and Reese came over in their dingy and tugged from different angles while we kept pulling against them.  Finally, we were free.  We asked if we could buy them drinks after lunch and they suggested the Soggy Dollar.  We were near Foxy's and thought the Soggy Dollar was at the other end of the beach.  When we walked to the other end of the beach, we were told it is in the next bay....about a 30 minute walk.  Well, I'm still wearing my fitbit so I say sure we can do that and off we go!  They didn't say that we had to walk over a mountain to get to the next bay.  OMG, what a walk it was and in the heat of the day!  After lunch and a few drinks, the Brits arrived by dingy.  They were so darn smart.  When it was time to say good-bye, there was no discussion -- we had a lovely taxi ride back to Foxys.  

Nearing the summit of our hike we get a fabulous view of Great Harbour.
Foxy's where we left the dingy is at the far, far, far end of the beach. 
The darkest mountain in the foreground is the
one we walked over.
Beginning the trek downhill.  Do you see how far
it is to sea level?  

The Soggy Dollar...

Gotta smile -- we're lovin the ride!

The Brits:  Julie, Reese and Martin.