Thursday, December 9, 2010

Photos uploaded

Check out the photos link at the top of the page - I've uploaded all our photos to our webshots album.  There are also some videos; this one might put you in mind to visit de islands.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wrapping it up for 2010

Our final day awaking in St. Thomas to beautiful sunshine, light breezes and warm temperatures.  Saturday, we made our way back to Ottawa closing out another successful two weeks of exploration, relaxation and building our skills.

We pulled out of Brewer's Bay and headed into Crown Bay Marina to fuel up.  Henry did a wonderful job of getting Mowzer alongside the dock with no stress, strain or freaking out on my part - he's getting really good with the twin engines!

Back at CYOA we completed our final checkout.  We were so impressed with the condition of Mowzer.  Of course there is some normal wear and tear from the charter life, but she is clean and well-maintained and completely ready for another busy season.  In fact, a quick turn-around was required as the next paying guests are coming aboard on Sunday to start their own personal adventures aboard our cat.

This is our final track from the GPS (the little green tracks are on-land exploration).  You'll see that we had to zig-zag our way around because of the east / north-east direction of the wind.  Start in St. Thomas in the middle, head west to Culebra, south to Vieques, back north to Culebra, east back to St. Thomas and then east again to St. John before returning once again to St. Thomas.

We arrived home in Ottawa with no delays (spoke to John today and apparently they ended up delayed overnight in Philadelphia, so we consider ourselves very lucky.)

Henry had to work early Sunday and when I finally awoke it was snowing, which it continued to do all day.  By the later afternoon, the accumulation wasn't very much (perhaps 2") but the message was clear!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Where have all the winds gone??

John & Eleanor, is it windy where you are?  Did you take the winds back home with you???

We thought perhaps that Coral Bay was exceptionally sheltered but the fact that we actually needed a blanket last night should have been a hint.  Seems like the next cold front has settled in taking some of the poof out of the winds and as we left Coral Bay this morning for our down-wind sail back to St. Thomas, the most we saw was a 4-knot ruffle on the water but not enough to push the boat along at more than a snail's pace.

We opted to fire up the engines (I know, lazy to you purists) and we traversed the south shores of St. John and St. Thomas under cloudy skies.  Not to sound too miserable 'cause we still feel like we're in paradise, we just felt that the mood echoed our own as we took the final leg of this trip.

Offshore from Charlotte Amalie we decided to explore Buck Island which we have read of in the cruising guides but have never visited.  We found an interesting little island with the wind station that we often get readings from, but the little bays and day-mooring balls were full of local tourist and dive boats.  How many cruise-ship passangers can you fit in one little bay??

We opted instead to head back to our old-faithful anchorage in Brewer's Bay to enjoy the afternoon as the front finally passed over and released the sunshine.

We dinghied up to the Virgin Islands University dock and although not a public dock we were given 30-minutes leeway to visit the campus.  Built across a number of steep hills (what isn't in St. Thomas?) the campus is exceptionally neat and tidy and very pretty. This is a picture of one of the dormitories.

The walk around the university also offered up some wonderful views over the airport and south toward Vieques and St. Croix - conjuring up memories of one explored and another adventure around the corner.

We wandered about until we came across the bookstore where we picked up a few snacks for the evening before returning to retrieve our dinghy from the dock.

Snorkling the bay, we found a small reef on the north side and were rewarded with a turtle-sighting as we hovered over it grazing below.  A spectacular sunset over Sail Rock was accompanied with the comings and goings of a cruise ship and multiple airplanes off our stern as we enjoyed a number of sundowners.

The final reward of the evening was the little wooden-masted sailboat that has greeted us on each return to Brewer's Bay, all decked out in Christmas lights.  A little surreal but I suppose we'll have to adjust our outlook as it is now December.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Slice of the Cruising Community

Lameshure Bay was home to the Tektite Project in 1969/70 and today at the original basecamp there stands a little volunteer-run museum and an open-air camp run as the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station.

Back in '69, a group of four aquanauts lived underwater in a pressurized habitat for longer than anyone had before.  This was a combined project of the U.S. Navy, NASA, the Dept. of the Interior and General Electric (who built the habitat) and was designed in conjunction with studying crews for prolonged space exploration.  It was really interesting to read all the articles that were written at the time, in addition to viewing the actual artifacts such as a rebreather scuba tank that enabled a diver to stay under water for more than four hours at a time.  The most fascinating to me was the National Geographic article written about the four 'girls' who lived in the habitat for two weeks.  The team lead and second where highly qualified marine biologists and the other two were graduate students both of 23 years of age; I couldn't help but think of Caitlin doing this type of ground breaking work and yet being referred to as a 'girl' - how times have changed.  The displays and photos of the scientists and engineers in their shirts, ties and eager smiles in the late 60s took me back to photos of the same time when Dad & Mom went to Sudbury and Dad was doing cardiac research - why is it that so much scientific equipment at that time was coloured that horrible 'hospital-green'?

Once we'd completed our shore-side explorations we had a fabulous day sailing around the corner to Coral Bay.  The winds were light, we shook out the reef in the sail and once we figured out the confusing view of the islands ahead of us, we turned left to the east end of St. John.  The advantage of sailing in the Virgin Islands is that it is easy to do line-of-sight navigation.  The only problem is you have to be sure of which island you are 'sighting' before you sail to it!

Once anchored in Coral Bay we had a look around us and quickly came to the realization that this anchorage is totally off the charter beat.  The variety of boats in the bay and the various ways in which they are kitted out for life aboard (if occupied) was the equivalent of visiting an old established neighbourhood with loads of character compared to a new development where everyone's garages are still painted the same colour.  It was also obvious that many of the boats have not been touched since hurricane season and there were a few sad relics still underwater that may or may not be cleared out soon.

Ashore, Coral Bay is an interesting mix or harbour hang-outs with gift stores, a serious-looking marine mechanic, little grocery stores and bus-stops for those who are making the trek across the island to the main town of Cruz Bay.  We spent some time picking through one of the shops and in the process were offered a mooring ball and a personal tour of St. Croix the next time we are down this way!  Everyone we met is so friendly and has a story to tell of where they left 20-odd years ago before settling on the island.  Many of the local cruisers spend the high-season working on St. John and then head out of the 'box' for hurricane season, but none of them told of how they return to their original home further north.

We finished up the evening with sundowners at Skinny Legs bar and then back to the boat for dinner; we are now personally cruising through the leftovers (and eating very well, I might add.)

A couple of challenges to end this posting... the first is like the 'Where's Waldo' search with a twist:  in this one you must consume at least two rum drinks and then go about finding your dinghy in which to go home (oh, and by the way you have to know where to find your boat too!)  In the second you have to figure out which legs belong to you and which to leave behind... all part of the local atmosphere.

Sad Day - John & Eleanor depart (Wed Dec 1)

The title pretty much says it all, but we did manage to enjoy a wonderful breakfast at the Frenchtown Deli before John and Eleanor had to catch their taxi to the airport.  According to calls home, the weather has been grey and mucky and so we enjoyed the beautiful clear sunshine of the morning in St. Thomas.

Here we are on the dock right in front of Azzurra - two sister ships getting acquainted.

Being in town, we decided to visit ScotiaBank and see if we could set up an account to make the banking with CYOA easier; it is so irksome to have to pay wire transer fees and losses to currency exchange!  However, since 9-11, US banks have had onerous compliance regulations placed upon them and with us not being residents we’re unable to set up an island-side account to simplify the whole process.  Looks like we’ll have to settle for a US$ account at our Canadian bank which will at least help with the Fx rates if the dollar drops either way in the future.

With all that put aside and few groceries in hand, we set off from CYOA (with a little help from our dock-side friends) and headed up to St. John.  Our plan is to spend the next couple of nights on the south-side of St. John, away from the northern swell, exploring an area we haven’t seen before.

Tonight we are on a National Park mooring ball in Greater Lameshure Bay.  Beside the muted lights of the half-dozen boats in the anchorage, there are absolutely no lights ashore since we are surrounded by park-land.  The brightest thing in view is the massive cruise ship hovering on the horizon as it slowly tracks eastward, letting its passengers enjoy dinner before hitting the open waters and crossing over to St. Martin.

The Big Trek (Tues Nov 30)

This morning we awoke with the anticipation of the crossing from Culebra to St. Thomas.  This is the crossing that has been at the back of our minds throughout the trip because  the combination of a northerly swell and winds from the east north-east make sailing to the east more difficult.  The forecast has been for reducing winds throughout the week and while we’ve found that the winds have been less than they were earlier, they certainly haven’t dropped off as much as was anticipated.  We’ve approached this crossing with the idea that if push came to shove we could always motor it, but making it by sail would be an accomplishment.

With all this in mind, we set off from Almodovar taking a northerly track between Culebrita and Cayo Norte to set us on the path for St. Thomas.  As we cleared the shoals off Culebrita we entered the Virgin Passage where we encountered swells of 10-12’ and winds from the east north-east up to 26 knots.  This has been the most challenging open-water passage that we’ve taken on so far and with the sails reefed we made good time past sail rock (yes, it really does look like a giant sail) and then found ourselves in the teeming waters of off-shore St. Thomas.  Having seen virtually no one for over a week, were suddenly on the alert dodging other boats large and small.  In fact, we had a chuckle when the first boat we saw out in open water, we actually had to adjust direction as we were on a collision course.  To make matters more fun, as soon as we’d avoided the little boat, a commercial tanker split the difference and passed right between us.

We cleared into Brewer’s Bay for a late lunch and a snorkel, completing a full figure-8 treck as you’ll be able to see once I post our sailing path for the last week.  What a glorious afternoon and a wonderful sense of accomplishment to have made it.

As an evening treat, we finally picked up a mooring ball in Frenchtown Marina so we could visit ashore for dinner with John and Eleanor.  This was not before we fully realized that we were back in the busy-busy world of life in the USVI; we were buzzed by a 767 as we entered Brewer‘s Bay behind the airport, we passed right under the bows of the Queen Mary 2 (world’s largest ocean liner) as she prepared to leave the dock in St. Thomas and then had to dodge the float plane from St. Croix as it landed down the passage that we needed to take to our mooring.  Whew!

As an added bonus, we met up with Greg and Titsiana (appologies as I am sure I have spelled this wrong) who are the owners of the new Mahe 36 ‘Azzurra’ in the CYOA fleet.  Dinner at Hook, Line & Sinker rounded out the evening and put a nice cap on our Spanish Virgin Island circumnavigation for November 2010.  I’m sure there are many other islands left to explore in the region but what a wonderful introduction this has been and sure to be an area we will cruise in the future.

For all those considering the SVI, of course we won’t encourage you to go since we’d love to keep the anchorages as pristine and lonely as they are!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Culebrita - more exploration

We awoke once again to our deserted anchorage and mile-long white-sand beach laid out before us.  Hard to believe if you look carefully behind Mowzer in this picture that all the mooring balls in the anchorage are empty and we haven't seen another boat since the family in the power launch at the beach left yesterday afternoon.  This has been our experience in the Spanish Virgin Islands; perhaps it is the time of year early in the season, but it has been delightful.

We decided to tackle the hike to the lighthouse on Culebrita this morning before it got too hot.  The first challenge, as it was yesterday, was finding the trailhead.  Once you know where it is on the beach is is very easy to find, but there is no signage and the same path leads off towards the bubble-pools before branching off up the hill to the lighthouse.  I think "path" is a rather charitable way to describe what we followed.  In places it was wide open under trees although you had to watch not to step on hermit crabs who follow the 'stop-drop-&-roll' principle of trouble-avoidance, but in many other places we were tearing our way through thorn trees who's every intent was to leave us battered and scraped so we could truly feel we'd earned the reward at the top of the hill.  Culebrita lighthouse was built by the Spanish in the late 1800's and sits atop the 350' headland at the southeast end of the island.  It is now a (maintained) ruin but one can imagine it's former splendour when you realize that the beautiful black and white floors are hand-hewn marble tiles.

The view from the top of the tower is spectacular; a full 360 panorama spanning from Puerto Rico in the west to St. Thomas in the east, Vieques in the south and the empty Atlantic to the north.  The wind did it's best to get us to release our grip from the rotting iron structure at the top, but I am happy to report we were all victorious in that little spat.  This particular view is of St. Thomas about 20 miles away and gives a preview of the crossing we will be making tomorrow as John and Eleanor need to be back to catch their flight home on Wednesday.

We spent the remainder of the glorious day revisiting the bubbly-pools and snorkling the reefs lying right alongside Mowzer in the anchorage.  We had a wonderful turtle sighting and the reefs were full of wonderfully coloured and colourful characters.

Having read a number of the cruising guides for the area, many of them rave about Bahia de Almodovar back on Culebra.  Before the sun got too low we decided to cross over to the bigger island and check out what makes this anchorage so attractive.  Much like the Ensenada Honda / Dakitty Bay anchorage we stayed in back on our first night on Culebra, Almodovar is located behind a reef that protects it from the wave action outside; just a light chop flows through the anchorage.  However, it is a windy spot so the wind is whistling through the rigging and the halyards are tied back to stop them slapping on the mast.  The bay is backed with mangrove trees and the odd house dots the hillside above, but to be honest I am at a bit of a loss as to what makes this such a 'beautiful' anchorage.  Very practical yes from a weather protection point of view, but not as pretty as many of the others we have stayed in.  Perhaps we are just getting a little picky and will have to come back down to earth with a bump!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

WiFi Access and Culebrita

Before I go any further I feel I should explain a little more about how we've been able to post to our blog while crusing the remoteness of the S.V.I.  For example, tonight we are sitting in an anchorage off uninhabited Culebrita Island with no other boats in sight and only a few lonely houses on the hillside of Culebra more than a mile away across the channel.  We are in no visible reach of any commercial facility yet have been able to 'borrow' some kind person's signal and post to the blog.

Before leaving Ottawa this time, I sourced out a wifi booster system and ended up purchasing from Bob at IslandTime PC (I know, blatant plug but he's set us up very well.)  I had the antenna and other paraphenalia shipped to CYOA and we've installed a temporary setup for whilst we are aboard.  The system consists of an antenna, radio, power over ethernet injector and cabling, and depending on the height we hitch the antenna to, we are able to pick up signals over a mile away.  Currently we only have the antenna attached to the bimini but are picking up many available signals.  Way to go Bob!!

Now, back to Culebrita.  We actually left Dewey on Culebra this morning under sunny skies and lighter winds than we've been having recently.  As a result we decided to circumnavigate the island in a clockwise direction which would take us over the northern end past Cayo Norte to Culebrita.  Up the west shore, we commented that the winds were shifty but similar to the Ottawa River (5-15 knots and flat water).  However, it was a completely different kettle of fish as we approached the north-west point and rounded into the northern swells rolling in from the Atlantic.  The winds clocked up to over 20 knots but most impressive were the swells with waves on them topping out at 10-12 feet.  The north shore of Culebrita is home to one of it's most popular beaches, Cayo Flamenco, but today the only fans were parasailers.  I'd imagine most of the Thanksgiving beachgoers from Puerto Rico had headed to more sheltered spots.

The sailing was fantastic and after about two hours we found ourselves in the passage inside Cayo Norte and our anchorage below the old lighthouse of Culebrita in sight.  Once again, a pristine white-sand beach with only one other boat (which was a daytripper so soon would depart) - how many more of these fantastic anchorages can we endure!!  The waters are incredibly clear and turquoise and the whole area is actually a protected turtle nesting zone, so true to plan, we saw sea turtles in the bay.

Since we have been quite lazy aboard, we are pleased that Culebrita offers a couple of different jaunts; one to the 'bubbly pools' or jacuzzis as they are locally known, and the other up to the 350' elevation of the lighthouse.  This afternoon we headed to the northern end of the island to explore the bubbly pools.  At the extreme northern tip, the molten lava that forms this island chain heaved up out of the ocean to form a massive craggy headland.  The pummice-like stone is tumbled down in massive boulders that the northern swells crash into on an ongoing basis.  Craftily arranged behind the first row of defensive boulders are pools of varying intensity of wash from the crashing waves.  Some surge and threaten to pummle you on the rocks (swedish massage style?) while others offer calm unruffled waters (more of a zen-like experience).

We stayed on until almost sunset and then made our hike back over the island in time to enjoy a hearty lasagna dinner with fresh Culebra bread and salad.

Off to explore the lighthouse in the morning.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Return to Culebra

Today we learned that in the Caribbean when the moon sets the tide runs eastward, and so using this scant piece of knowledge we headed off this morning from Puerto Mosquito to make our eastward track along the south coast of Vieques.  With the winds, swell and current running against us we needed any little help we could get!

About half-way through our track up the south coast we found another Ensenada Honda; this one totally deserted and surrounded by mangroves.  The colours were amazing with milky turquoise of the shallow waters set against the verdant emerald green of the trees.  We took the opportunity of a break from pounding into the seas to prepare lunch before setting off for our last hour of eastward tracking before we could round Punta Este and then head north back to Culebra.

Once we rounded the point we set our sails and it took literally only about two hours on a beam reach to find our way back to Dewey on Culebra.  We anchored on the west side of the town this time (remember last time we settled in behind the reef at the bottom of Ensenada Honda - yes, another one!) and after a civilized lunch on the foredeck watching the other boats come in to the remaining mooring balls we piled into the dinghy and headed down the lagoon to return to Mamacita's.  We left the dinghy tied up outside the bar and split up for a little exploration before meeting back down at the ferry dock.

The evening held a surprise in store for us; we planned to go to Mamacita's for sundowners and perhaps an appetizer.  The bar was busy with restaurant patrons awaiting their tables, so we headed to the Dinghy Dock for our first round.  The Dinghy Dock (is there one in every Caribbean town?) faces onto Ensenada Honda where we watched the fishing boats (Puerto Rican Navy?) hooking up on their stern tied mooring balls and a wonderful little tri-maran who raced up the bay before settling gently up against the dock just along from our table.  Once we'd drained the first round, we decided to head back to Mamacita's where we found room at the bar for the evening.

Appetizers started with coconut shrimp and crab cakes, before moving on to chicken burritos and bean enchiladas - all exceptionally yummy.  The trade-mark drink in Culebra appears to be the Bushwacker so of course we had to sample, but I think the ginger mojitos were better.  Of course, when in doubt a cold Presidente will always hit the spot!

A band of local talent, 'Son de Culebra' played us through the evening and in tribute to Ottawa even tuned up White Christmas.  They were wonderfully inclusive and shared with us some of their stories.  We must be turning into real cruisers though because I think we were pretty much completely bagged by about 8:30 and headed back to Mowzer for the night.

Of course, at this point you've figured out that the wifi in Culebra is a little more accessible and hence the numerous updates to the blog for the last few days.

Next, we are heading to Culebrita (the little sister-island to the east of Culebra) and will most likely spend Sunday and Monday nights there before heading back across the Savannah Straight to St. Thomas.  We'll most likely be back in touch at that point...

Vieques - South Shore & Bio-luminescent Bay (Fri. Nov. 26)

Given that it is now Friday and we have spent the night at the most idyllic beach I’ve ever seen it is probably due for a Friday Beach Pic.  However, knowing that we are heading for Sun Bay, it may be prudent to wait and see which pic will win out as the beach of choice.

Looks like Green Bay won out, but that may only be a matter of which beach was better photographed.

This morning was our chosen ‘big breakfast’ morning and so Henry and John put on a bacon & eggs production, but we were all finished when the Puerto Rican police boat came by to check us out.  They really just did a drive-by but were probably checking up on the registration and occupants of the two boats moored in the bay.  Yesterday, John and Eleanor had been very politely questioned by the authorities patrolling the beach; Eleanor was even presented with a ‘perfecto’ shell for their troubles.  I’m sure they are all business, but very polite and unobtrusive as they ensure that we were not where we shouldn’t be.  When we checked in at Culebra by phone, we were provided with a very long confirmation number, and it seems that just the fact that we knew we had this number was enough for these guys to keep happy.

We set off from Green Beach and decided to motor the 10 miles to Sun Bay, just to the east of Esperenza.  This little settlement of tourist tours to the bio-bay and quaint little restaurants rings one bay, while a white sand beach rings the second bay where we picked up a mooring ball for the day.  We dinghied across and walked into town for lunch at Bananas where we all enjoyed the fare.  Next stop, the Green Store to reprovision - mostly on ‘liquid refreshment’.  The little streets are lined with meticulously kept homes, interspersed with slightly less well-cared for establishments but all-in-all the atmosphere around town was one of industry and enjoyment of life.

We headed back to Mowzer and Henry and John took the dinghy around to scope out Puerto Mosquito.  Following their expedition we decided to take Mowzer around to a mooring ball right at the entrance to the bay ready for an easy dinghy ride rather than  navigating a two-mile open ocean ride in the dark.

How to describe the bio-luminescence of Puerto Mosquito?  Sparkling diamonds engulfed the dinghy in its wash and wake while fish swarmed about us with blue streaks following their path as they leapt in and out of the water around us.  The hilarity of the fist that almost landed in the boat but was saved by a rebound off my knee leant to the joyous mood as we capered about in the dinghy, taking pleasure in lighting up the world around us.  The most wondrous thing of this visit is that we have to capture it in our memory banks to unwrap at future moments since there is no way for our cameras to capture the sparkling intensity of the actual event.

U.S. Thanksgiving - Thurs. Nov. 25

Let’s see, what have we got to be thankful for today?  Bright sun, an incredible sail, home on a wonderful boat - it doesn’t get much better than this!

Typical of days under sail, the passage to Vieques could not be done in a straight line.  We headed out into open water before turning almost directly south which brought us across the Vieques Sound to Isabel Segunda, the main town on the island lying at about the half-way point on the north shore.  Turning right, we headed towards the western end of the island, through the Roosevelt Roads passage, around the Arenas Reef and then headed south to Green Bay.  We were able to sale the entire way, most of it with the wind behind the beam until the last tack when we entered the anchorage on a close reach.  For the most part the winds have been lessening through the week and we didn’t see much over 20 knots through the day,averaging about 18 with seas running confused at 4-6’.

Picture yourself on a deserted Caribbean beach; what do you see?  Miles of white sand overhung with palm trees and sea-grape, coral and shells washed ashore, warm turquoise waters lapping at your feet?  Well, that almost describes the perfection of Green Beach.  We dinghied up to the reef end and wound our way back alternating between the beach and the road which provides access for the occasional day-tripper.  This beach was only cleared of ordinance in the last few years since the U.S. military left in 2006 and stopped using Vieques for target practice.  There are remnants of an old rusted water-tank (not an army tank as I originally thought possible) but otherwise we didn’t really see much evidence of their previous existence.

Puerto Rico loomed to the north and as the sun set, the sparkle of city lights lit it up like a jewel necklace around the highest point at the east end of this huge island.  Green Beach marks the western-most point that we have sailed to and tomorrow we head round the southern coast of Vieques to discover the bio-luminescent bays of Puerto Mosquito Cove or Puerto Ferro.

Luis Pena - an island off the island (Wed. Nov. 24)

Our night in Ensenada Honda was spent safely tucked behind the reef which kept the anchorage flat, but the whistling winds at 4am were a bit unsettling.  However, by sun-up (and crew-up) the winds had settled to a calm 18 knots.

Our plan for the day was to visit the little island of Luis Pena (just off the west coast of Culebra) and then make a decision on whether we would push on to Vieques or spend the day snorkelling and relaxing.  As we came around the north shore of Luis Pena the swell was still running up on the beautiful beach so we carried on to the western shore where we found one mooring ball (with no occupant) and we settled in.  The western shoreline is almost entirely rugged boulders or coral lump beach, but there was one little sand beach that made a great landing place for the kayak.  The offshore coral reef was home to fan, brain and staghorn coral which in turn played host to schools of blue tangs, sergeant majors, wrasses and numerous other life forms we don’t know by name.  It was amazing to think we had the whole bay to ourselves and in fact never did see another boat approach the bay.  Numerous others passed on by but we had the bay to ourselves for the entire day (other than these two birds that sat on this rock for hours!)

Kayaking, exploring ashore, and snorkelling filled in the afternoon and we made the decision it would be much more prudent to head to Vieques in the morning with loads of time to make landfall; destination Green Bay at the far western end of the island.

Looking westwards we watched the sun set over the mainland of Puerto Rico with the haze of Vieques visible to the south.

Return from Vieques - we have wireless access!

We're back in Culebra so I'm now going to post the last few blog entries that I wrote over the last few days but couldn't post because Vieques is absolutely beautiful but totally unconnected - which is a good thing!!

Here goes....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our first visit: The Spanish Virgin Islands

With the winds at a manageable 20 knots and the swells down to 8-10' we decided to make the jump to Culebra.

The Spanish Virgin Islands are made up of the islands of Culebra, Vieques and numerous other small islands, or 'itas' as we've come to call them.  This morning by 10am we headed off from Brewers Bay, raised the sails and headed across the Savannah Passage to the south shore of Culebra.  Ensenada Honda creates a deep bight into the middle of the island that hosts 3,000 inhabiltants, most of whom live in Dewey.

We were able to check in by phone to the border and immigration authorities, reporting the vessel and crew ids which saved us a walk to the airport - rather strange to check in a boat at an airport but that's the way it is done here.  Very efficient and all completed in a matter of about 10 minutes; resulting in a mega-digit confirmation number that should keep the U.S. Coast Guard happy over the next few days.

We picked up a mooring ball behind the reef at the entrance to the bay and then spent the afternoon snorkling around the leeward side of the reef, but all-in-all it ended up rather uninteresting with the seagrass bed and not much else.  Of more interest to us were the results of our excursion into Dewey.  A canal cuts from the bay on the east side to the ocean-side on the west in the middle of town.  The colourful houses and tidy streets create a wonderful ambience, replete with feral cats and chatty locals.  We finally came to roost at Mamasitas for sundowners and my favourite, the banana daquiries.

Thankfully we recorded our GPS track for the mile-long dinghy ride into town and were able to find Mowzer awaiting us on the return in the dark.  Dinner aboard, a few rum punches and a happy crew has been at sea for the day.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Day on St. Thomas

Winds overnight and this morning were in the mid-twenties gusting to thirty knots with seas running 10-12 feet.  A blustery day and with prudence we decided to make use of the car and explore the actual island.

Magens Bay is a deep notch on the north of the island with a fabulous beach ringing the blunt end.  Admission to the beach at $4 each maintains the beach, pays for lifeguards and keeps kiosks and hawkers at bay - money well spent in our view! 

Caitlin - this travel moment is for you!

From Magens Bay we rounded the island stopping in at little bays along the way.  A local dairy offered up an 'udder delight' of tropically flavoured milk-shakes not to be missed.

Driving on the island takes a certain amount of blind faith (especially around corners), navigational skill and the ability to turn around in tight places.  Having the car for the day was an unplanned diversion but just went to prove that with weather you're better to just go with the flow.

We returned to CYOA and the car return by 3pm, arranged a great chart briefing of the Spanish Virgin Islands with Doug and then headed off for the night in Brewer's Bay.  We had a circle about Linberger Bay but the anchorage was a bit tight with other boats and whistling winds so we decided to head on around the runway to Brewers.  Coming into the bay, a squall passed through and with the wind shear off St. Thomas we saw winds gusting to 32 knots but close up to the beach we found a calm anchorage for the night.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Travel Day - Destination: Sunny South

Ottawa to St. Thomas through Philadelphia; this is almost becoming routine!

We picked up Eleanor and John at 4:45am and touched down in St. Thomas at 3:00pm with time to be greeted with Cruzan rum and then pick up a rental car.  That is most likely in the wrong order, but it's how it happened and it made the accommodation of driving a North American car (left hand drive) on the left side of the road much easier to come by.

The car made provisioning a breeze, once we found the store.  Instead of the usual Pueblo we headed to the super-store style Plaza Extra where 3 carts later we loaded up the trunk of the car and headed back to the boat.

Apparently as northerners we are blamed for bringing in a cold front with high winds.  Squalls came through and chased us further back from the curb-side seats at the Greenhouse Restaurant, but they served up a great late dinner for us before calling it a night.

Mowzer greeted us with open arms, it felt like coming home.  A season of chartering has offered up a few little dings and minor repairs but she looks great and ready for the coming charter season.

Happy to be back onboard!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Northern Season Comes to a Close

The fall weather has been so darn lousy that we actually haven't been for a sail since the end of August!  With all the cold & rain we had in September sailing and golf came to an abrupt end and even though we hoped for sunny days we should have hauled out before the end of October.  Each year we make this pact, and each year finds us trying for a low-wind, dry day to get Blew-By-You out of her slip and stored in the yard.  Well, we're finally out and the only focus now is getting south to Mowzer and the sunshine again!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Countdown Begins

The planning is afoot with John and Eleanor for rendezvous November 2010.  We got together just the other night as the cold winds howled and the fire crackled reminding us that we'd much rather be in paradise where the water is almost 80 and the air temperature about the same!  Are the Chrsitmas winds blowing yet??

So, after much thought we have decided to head west to the Spanish Virgin Islands:  Vieques and Culebra beckon, "Venir por aquĆ­."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Boat Show Fun and Surprises

Annapolis Boat Show - the largest in-water sail-boat show in the U.S. and for the last three years, a Thanksgiving (Canadian) tradition for us.  Let’s do a little recap:  2008 we made our first visit and toured boats and tents in awe; 2009 we met up with CYOA and amazingly (to us at least) set up the purchase and adventure with Mowzer; now in 2010 we’ve returned to see what fun the boatshow brings this year.

As we’ve found in the past, the weather gods have smiled and it has been spectacular.  Highs of 29 on Saturday and 25 today brought out the sunscreen and flipflops - what a treat in October.  The boats as always are the stuff of dreams but this time, now that we have our own dreamboat, we enjoyed checking out some of the smaller boats and looking for ideas that we might incorporate into our own setup in the future.  We also managed to get into a few of the seminars, this time a weather briefing with Lee Chesneau, a trip down the ICW reviewing navigation aids and lessons learned and finally a tour round the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas with Pam Wall.

Of great interest was checking out the changes to the Mahe 36 for 2011.  Dubbed The Evolution, these changes include modifications to the layout inside and in particular the change to a hard-top bimini and the traveller lifted up away from the cockpit.  The hull is still identical so this new cat looks exactly like Mowzer in her lines.  The Mahe is doing well in charter and CYOA has another owner joining with an Evolution that is currently in transit across the Atlantic.  Mistina has moved to another location but there will still be two of these great cats available to charter this season.

A highlight of the show was meeting up with the folks at CYOA:  John and Jo Anne, Nancy, Kirsten, Camille and Lonnie.  The booth on dock B looked fabulous and we were pleased as punch to see Mowzer front and centre on one of the display banners.  Earlier in the season, Mowzer and Mistina went out on a photo-shoot and the results are fabulous by way of great shots for advertising for CYOA.  So professional!  She’s even in a photo gracing the 2010/11 line of CYOA lip balm!  The crowds on Saturday were thronging, and on Sunday, while a little quieter, were only so in comparison to Saturday so we’re hoping lots of business will come to CYOA’s doorstep.

Finally, to really put the icing on the cake, we were delighted to see Mowzer featured in a story in the October edition of Sail Magazine. It was a little surreal but we could instantly relate to the fun and appreciation Adam Cort had for Mowzer as he and his young family toured around the USVI.  (Note the shot in the top right of the cover.)

(Pretty amazing, huh?  I’ll set up better links once I  get soft-copy of the article but this gives you the idea - or check out the October issue of Sail.)

We’re really on the count-down now, just six more weeks and we’ll be back aboard!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Brush with Earl

With trepidation we watched the news reports yesterday as Hurricane Earl (category 4-5) battered the north-east Caribbean Islands including St. Martin, Anguilla, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and as far west as Puerto Rico.

Our thoughts were with the folks we've met and who live in the places we're coming to know and love in the islands. Reading about the damage to the dock at the Reef Hotel on Anegada and the government docks being underwater we wondered how any of the restaurants and hotels could survive so close to the ocean. The island only has a maximum elevation of 28' so one can't exactly find safety on higher ground. Reading the news reports today however, it appears the bulk of the damage is to trees.

Reading through Jay and Debbie's blog (Live De Life Living in the USVI's) it looks like St. Thomas experienced heavy winds and rains and then a second bout came through in the evening as the south-west quadrant of the storm came through. Some boats got caught in the complete change of wind direction and were unfortunately lost as they bashed into the shore, but it sounds like no lives were lost. (phew!)

Watching out for Fiona (Tropical Storm) but she appears to be running herself out of steam as she catches up with the tail end of Earl. While I'm sure she'll impact the local weather hopefully she won't have much punch left.

Mowzer is safely battened down in Puerto Rico so we're not expecting at this point to hear of any problems.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Start of Summer in the North

Summer in Canada traditionally starts with Victoria Day.
We’ve had a fabulous early spring with warm dry weather – too dry for the local farmers.  This weekend temperatures have soared to 30C with good winds filling in for the afternoon up to 12 knots.  Needless to say, the sailing on the Ottawa river has been wonderful.  Our little Tanzer 26 (10’ shorter and 10’ narrower than Mowzer) is in the water, fully masted and rigged, and yesterday we enjoyed a lively sail up to Pinhey’s Point with the wind abeam from the south.  It doesn’t get more perfect than that – up here.
The next few months will be spent enjoying the summer weather that we get from May through August but never far from mind is the next vacation on Mowzer.  To that end, we’ve enlisted the company of Eleanor and John to join us on our next trip south.  Let the trip-planning begin … without too much of a schedule!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

GPS Track - North Sound to Anegada and back to St. Thomas

This is the GPS track of the second half of our trip

(First half is posted below)

Total distance tracked on GPS: 172.3 nautical miles

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sailing to Caneel Bay, St. John

Our final day of sailing on Mowzer for this vacation - a beautiful day with about 10 knots of wind (beam to close reach) and very calm seas.

Almost back to reality

A leisurely pace was called for this morning as we lingered in Leinster Bay to enjoy our last full day on Mowzer. This time, being at the other end of the bay we tried the snorkelling around Watermelon Cay and although the coral reef was more damaged than the other end of the bay, the most beautiful Rainbow Parrotfish – by far the showiest guy in the neighbourhood was followed by a Yellowtail Snapper and a number of Foureye Butterfish that really put the whole aquarium picture together.

Next stop – Cruz Bay to make ourselves legal in the U.S. Checking in at Cruz Bay requires that you pick up a mooring ball in Caneel Bay and then dinghy round the point into the harbour. The constant ferry and dinghy traffic along with a pretty solid ocean swell makes anchoring here difficult especially with the prospect of all of us leaving the boat for an hour or two. We spied the last available mooring ball and made a race for it, but conceded to another monohull as they approached ahead of us. Strangely though, they had come from upwind and when they were unable to pick up the float line in the swell, they decided to head further down the bay. As we had already scanned the rest of the bay and knew there weren’t any other balls to be had, we made a perfect approach and were quickly secured and ready to head into customs and immigration.

All checked in, our final destination was back to Charlotte Amalie and CYOA, with one little detour to Crown Bay for fuel. Henry put Mowzer up the dock beautifully – his best one so far. It makes you feel so tense trying to slip gently up to a concrete wharf that can scratch, dent and otherwise mar that perfect hull. Watching Jay at CYOA negotiate Mowzer backwards and sideways into a tight spot between two other boats at the dock is definitely watching a master in action!

This marks the end of this journey and we will be heading back to Ottawa tomorrow. We hope to have a little time after we complete some paperwork with John and Nancy to have a quick walking tour of Charlotte Amalie before heading to the airport.

One exciting final bit of news that has put the crown on this trip: Jim just picked up his email and he has received acceptance at Waterloo for Co-Op Physical Sciences. Woohoo!!! Way to go Jim!!