Friday, October 31, 2014

A Moving Experience

Remember those quiet couple of days up in the BVI when we really did nothing? So do I, with fondness...

The last couple of days have seen a beehive of activity as we have completed all the paperwork, rented a van and moved all our stuff from the shipping office to aboard Mowzer.

Also remember that I commented that Henry had picked up a tummy bug and was incapacitated on Tuesday evening? Well, the situation persisted through Wednesday, but thankfully by the evening he was starting to look himself. Yesterday still was a little dicey but at least he was able to get vertical and join me on the expedition. We figure it was all due to something he ate, most likely the lunch-time salad at Cruz Bay.

Wednesday began with arranging a van rental and by lunch-time I was off to the Excise Office, the Customs & Border Patrol Office and the CaribTrans shipping office with various officially stamped, and paid for, forms. We had cleared our first shipment of purchased items through Excise last week but we blended both shipments together for the rest of the clearances which made life a little less confusing. I'm not sure if the confusion resulted from there being so many different vendor invoices or the fact that the Customs agent was sipping back a lunch-time beer as he operated his calculator! It turns out that even if you purchase items from the States, if you have them shipped to the Virgin Islands and they were not manufactured in the U.S., you still have to pay duty on them. The good news is that the duty is 6% which is a lot lower then many other places and there is no additional sales tax, but it is still pretty mind-boggling. The Revenue Agency is about $500 richer and the shipping company made off with about $1200, but when we do the math on what we saved over costs in Canada which would have included import duty and 13% sales tax, we're still feeling pretty good about it all.

Along with regular checks on Henry to make sure he was hydrated, and still breathing, I made a couple of trips to the shipping office and back to the boat with all the boxes. It was rather like Christmas on Mowzer that evening as we unpackaged everything, going through carefully to ensure everything was present and undamaged. The resulting pile of cardboard and packaging material warranted a trip to the dumpster by itself. We filled up the spare berth with solar panels, water maker components, sewing materials, a propane BBQ (yay, no more briquettes), a wifi booster and then spilled out into the cockpick with a new Honda generator and our 'stay-put' Rocna anchor.

Thursday morning dawned bright and early seeing Henry feeling up to a visit to Home Depot - they open early with contractor hours. We knew we had lots of tools arriving in the final part of our shipment but had made the decision back home that we would purchase new power tools for the boat so along with those, we picked up some other heavy-duty bits and pieces including a couple of big pieces of corrugated plastic board to use as a backplate to the solar panels on the bimini. Sure glad we weren't trying to walk down the windy street with those suckers, we might have gone airborne!

Tools delivered back to Mowzer, we made our final visit to the shipper to pick up our personal items. This shipment completely filled the back of the van and we were super-pleased to be able to use CYOA's back door to park right at the end of our dock. We 'simply' had to stage the boxes along the dock to begin the process of finding a home for all that stuff.

With a final grocery run completed, Henry worn out and the clock ticking out the final minutes of our one-day rental, I returned the van and we are once again wheel-less.

19 items shipped from Ottawa, ranging from the paddle and paddle-board up to an 80 pound box of books, tools and assorted items, I felt like we were packing everything but the kitchen sink. By evening, everything was aboard and we were starting (just starting) to make sense of the mess. Lots of work ahead as we make Mowzer our home but the transformation from charter boat to live-aboard cruiser is starting to take shape.

Before: our main living area
Our spare berth - it a good thing no one is visiting for a little while.
Phew - that's one corner sorted out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Days Like These

It's funny, the new 41' Lipari in the CYOA fleet is to be called "Days Like These", as a nod to Van Morrison. Now, all I can think of to describe the last couple of days, is this monicker. Days full of sunshine and relaxation, time spent together just the two of us and a quietness that we seem to only have achieved on the water or out in the woods camping.

The only real activity we challenged ourselves with was Monday morning when we popped into Foxy's Boutique to spend our winning gift certificate. I found a nice little sundress and a great book on Caribbean Flowers. Henry claims he is happy with these purchases - what a keeper!

Monday morning, main street of Jost Van Dyke - looking east
... And west
We then untied ourselves from our mooring ball home of three days and headed southeast around the end of Tortola, across the Drake Passage, to Benures Bay on the north shore of Norman Island where we dropped the anchor. There were two catamarans stern tied to the shore with anchors set out in front of them and we quickly learned of the shiftiness of the wind and current in the bay. We seem to have chosen a good spot for the first night but on the second evening when the winds shifted more to the east we adjusted our position out into the bay a bit and by morning we were very happy to have been prudent in moving. I for one did not want my wake-up call in the morning to be the sound of our keels grating across the underwater rocks and coral near shore. Much better to view this underwater landscape on a snorkel!

At this time of year there are still relatively few boats out in the BVI as the various fleets are in their prep phase for the November ramp-up to the holiday season. Looking out on the Drake Passage and only seeing a small handful of boats about is a far cry from when there are hundreds traversing the passage like a highway. We have certainly enjoyed the solitude on this visit.

The trade winds have not yet arrived in the protected waters of the Drake Passage, looking across to Tortola.
Tuesday was planned as haul-out day at Nanny Cay on Tortola. We have engaged a surveyor to comb over Mowzer and give us a full condition report on her both above and below the waterline, hence one reason for the haul-out. Two other reasons included installation of a through-hull (hole) in the bottom of the boat for our new watermaker, and after a summer of sitting in the warm, murky water of the harbour at Charlotte Amalie she is in dire need of a bottom cleaning which can be easily accomplished with a pressure washer.

Late Monday we received word that the lift at Nanny Cay had broken down and we'd be unable to do the lunchtime lift, so we opted to head back to CYOA on Tuesday to start getting our shipments sorted out and get on with our boat job list. Nanny Cay, we'll be back.

For anyone who sails in or out of West End, these houses are a landmark. They look like they're hanging on with Velcro.
We popped into Cruz Bay on St. John to check back into the USA and while sitting in Woody's this fellow came in to pick up his lunch. I guess the rules say he must wear a hard-hat and not have any loose hair - he is certainly following the letter of the law, and in the process may be better protected than most, but I couldn't help but chuckle at the sight...

Finally, we wrapped up our Tuesday return to St. Thomas with a trip around to Crown Bay to pick up our paperwork on our latest shipment. As we bounced across the bay, we stopped to snap a picture of the boat that had brought our personal effects down from Miami: the AHS Hamburg was busy being unloaded and again, somewhere in there are the rest of our worldly possessions.

Unfortunately, this evening Henry has been stricken with something nasty of the tummy variety. No fever so we don't think its Chikungunya, and is most likely food related, but for his sake I hope it passes quickly.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Racers, We Are Not

Best t-shirt design for the event!
Catfight Weekend and a small, but well represented contingent of catamarans (and two monohulls) set out for a series of two races.

  • Race 1: head east around Sandy Spit and back to the finish line at Great Harbour.
  • Race 2: again head east around Sandy Spit and then head south around Great Thatch Island just off the coast of St. John and then back to finish off at Great Harbour.
The day dawned bright and beautiful but despite all protestations, the winds settled into a light 8-10 knots. By the time we reached Sandy Spit we were down to about 5 knots attempting to get past a 3 knot current to stay clear of the reefs and at that point we were so far back, in the nature of sanity we called the race, turned on the engines and made our way back. We either need a bottom cleaning or some sailing lessons but racing is probably not going to feature a lot in our future.

Nothing daunted, the racers carried on, but we who know in our hearts are true cruisers headed for less frustrating activities on the beach at White Bay and watched from a distance. We all had fun in our own way, although as Greg in Azurra (the other Mahe) said, we made a wise choice. We rejoined the party at Foxy's for the awards handout and in spelling out the nature of the importance of fun for the event, we came in third in our class! Really? We didn't even finish the first race! Oh well, who are we to look a gift certificate to Foxy's Boutique in the mouth?

The evening festivities carried on with a Halloween theme. We joined the crew from De Life for dinner at Corsairs and then made our way back to Foxy's for much dancing and merriment.

Some of the costumes were amazing. There was the whole crew from the S.S.Minnow, an army of Greek warriors, a 6' drag queen, satyrs, bats and cats in multitude. Hats off to all who put in so much effort and now we know the level of competition for next year (or next week when it really is Halloween!)

For my friends in Texas we noticed you were well represented on the ceiling of Foxy's. Of course so is every other school, country, ministry of transportation (license plates) and bra manufacturer.

Mini Vacation

Yeah right, you say, they don't need a vacation! And you're probably right but that's pretty much what we're doing this weekend.

The docks at CYOA are super busy as they get ready for their first charter weekend of the season and we're still waiting our shipments to both come in, which they won't do until mid-next week. We need to do a haul-out and survey for insurance which can only be done on Tortola, and to top it off this is Foxy's Catfight weekend! All these factors combined to convince us to take off up to the BVI and the added benefit is that we are out of the U.S. so our count of days doesn't keep increasing which will impact us next year as we transit north.

Thursday afternoon we pulled off the dock and motored along the south shore of St. Thomas direct into the wind. It was only as we passed through the mightily confused waters of Pillsbury Sound and turned north toward Jost Van Dyke that we decided to pull out the genoa with the wind on a close reach. Shortly thereafter the starboard engine decided we should really pull out the main as well as the overheating alarm went off. That's what we love about a catamaran - redundancy of two engines, so we weren't too concerned since we still had the port engine to help us manoever in the anchorage to pick up a mooring. We had a lovely sail up to Jost and made it in time to do half our clearance paperwork, only to return in the morning to complete the other half.

The little village at Great Harbour nestles up against the ocean to catch the cool breezes.
What would a visit to one of these beautiful islands be without a hike to the top? We've been to the top of Jost before from Diamond Cay at the east end, but hadn't found the trail from Great Harbour. At the western end of the main road (read sand track) there is a little sign pointing up for "hiking trail". Sporadic concrete indicates plans to build the equivalent of a super-highway across this tiny island, but most of the trail is steep rubble and grass at angles that quickly have me puffing in the heat. The views from the top are reward enough as we can see the faint shadow of Anegada in the north-east all the way around to St. Thomas to the west. The islands in between are scattered like beads from a broken necklace and to the north is mind-blowing depths of blue that run all the way to Bermuda.

These are not the tree-shaded hikes of St. John!
I need to learn the names of the birds down here. These guys hopped along the fence line to keep pace with us.
This hawk rode the thermals up high above us with not a single flap of his wings.
The afternoon spent hanging out in the anchorage became progressively more social as various boats arrived on which we know some or all of the crew. The competition for Saturday's races are amassing. In all honesty this is totally a fun regatta. By the end of the evening I think we were registered as boat #3, in a class of two boats (the other Mahe from CYOA and us), one monohull and one larger cat. Hopefully more boats come in and register in the morning. An evening at Foxy's is always great fun; the BBQ buffet at $30 is pricey but the mahi and ribs were excellent and the salads much better than expected. We got the lo-down from the other crews, read over the race instructions and we're stoked for what tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Life on the Dock

When we told people that we were coming to live on a boat in the Caribbean, the first comment was often something like, "Wow", or "Cool", followed by a bunch of questions. First question after we explained the plan was usually, "Aren't you afraid of pirates?" And the second question was often, "What will you do all day?"

The answer to the first question usually involves a response about walking down a street in a big city and getting mugged, and not going near Africa. The answer to the second question will unfold as we go forward, but I can say that over the last few days I have fallen into bed every evening with sore feet, an achy back and a good feeling that we have accomplished something. Maybe not much on the scale of what we would get done in a day pre-boat, but nonetheless stuff has been done.
Our new nav-station stool that can double at the dining table.
Yesterday involved two walks to ACE hardware and as a result of those visits we obtained a stool for our navigation station which we then had to cut the legs down to the right height. I installed an extra shelf in the cupboard under the sink (which of course is not a perfect rectangle being a boat), and we replaced the hinges that had gotten rusty in the galley cupboards. This all sounds very easy but when you buy the wrong hinges in the first pass and still haven't gotten the shower diverter figured out, this would explain the two trips to the hardware store. Three our of four tasks accomplished sounds pretty good to me.

New shelf was definitely not a rectangle, and notice the shiny new hinges.
On our walk we also visited the Excise Tax Office and the Customs & Border Patrol Office. It turns out that even if you buy equipment in the States and have it shipped direct to St. Thomas (which last time I checked is a U.S. territory) you still have to declare all the goods, including their country of manufacture. Our first shipment which includes our generator, sewing supplies for a new sun-shade, a new anchor and other assorted boat-bits is now awaiting the final commercial invoices from the suppliers to identify this crucial bit of info. We sure hope there isn't a huge bill attached to all this paperwork since it is not commercial goods, but time will tell once we get the shipment released. Now that we know what has to be done, we can get ready to do it all over again when our shipment from Canada arrives with all our personal stuff next week.

Three cranes busy unloading Asiatic Wind. Our shipment is in one of those containers.
Days on St. Thomas start with what I call the trifecta: 90 degrees and 90% humidity by 9 am. We're not acclimatized yet so most of the day is spent in a sticky, sweaty, sunscreen & bugspray enhanced mess. By the evening we're ready for a cold beer and some free wifi at one of the local establishments. Of course the forecast in Ottawa sounds decidedly fall-like so we're not complaining (and it would fall on deaf ears) but I have been putting off cleaning out the forward storage compartments due to the heat and ensuing melty mess I will turn into.

Today, after a long walk to the K-Mart and Fruit Bowl grocery store (the K-Mart is reported to have good hand tools but that would be the bigger one in the middle of the island), we are doing something we have never done down here before ... Laundry! We were all ready to set off sherpa-style up the road when Jay made the brilliant suggestion of taking the dinghy around to Crown Bay where they have a laundry at the marina. Much more pleasant to head off across the bay rather than up the busy noisy road. I'm not accustomed to laundromats since like most Canadian homeowners, I couldn't live life without a big maximum capacity washer & dryer. For $7.75 I can wash a load and get 30 minutes of dry-time which seems reasonable, but what do I know?

The waterfront walk of Charlotte Amalie - cars everywhere you look on shore.
So that's it folks, that's what has occupied our days so far along with cooking, eating and sleeping.

We're quite excited about the coming weekend. We found out that it is the reknowned Foxy's Catfight Races this weekend. Foxy's, the legendary bar of the BVI holds this race every year for catamarans but has now opened it up to one-legged cats (monohulls) as a separate class. The party on Saturday night has a Halloween costume theme and the races are all for fun. We've been asked in the past if we would ever participate but we've just never managed to be down here at this time of the year. This year there is no excuse. So, we may be offline for the next few days if we head up to Jost Van Dyke. Cheer us on, although our goal will most likely be just to make sure we're not last across the line.

We just picked up online news and heard of the crazy day of shooting in Ottawa, absolutely horrific and hard to believe this has happened.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Errand Days

Not much changes; setting up a new home involves running errands. Only different here is that with the heat and humidity they're done in a sheen of sweat and planning of the next air conditioned stop.

We got our first pass of heavy groceries done with the rental car and then decided we really didn't need to keep it any longer and would do the rest on foot or using local transit. Are we gluttons for punishment or just trying to assimilate as live-aboards?

Our new home, Mowzer, is parked at the dock right behind a brand new Lipari (41') that CYOA is bringing into their fleet. Two very pretty boats! The upside of this is that we have shore power and easy access to the dock.

We seem to have set the standard for getting a working SIM card: at least three visits to the store and one long walk, but the result is that we have a card in the iPad and can at least check email and post the odd blog (although I'll try to do that on free wifi if I can.)

There is a brand new ACE hardware about a 15 minute walk from the boat which is going to prove very useful as we get into boat setup. The chandlery is a bit further away but hopefully (for the wallet) we won't have to make too many visits.

Our first shipment from state-side has arrived so now begins the fun of clearing through excise tax and customs - strange since the shipments are from the U.S. to a U.S. territory. We have to navigate the various agencies tomorrow and hopefully can get the shipment released but if we run into any problems John has offered a contact to his broker. The part I am super jazzed about is my Sailrite order of fabric to make a sunshade for the front of the boat, but I won't be able to make it until my machine gets here sometime next week. Henry is probably more excited about other items such as an inverter and generator. Our pallet from Canada and the remaining items of our U.S. order are on their way through Miami and we expect them on the Sunday boat.

Charlotte Amalie is a noisy, bustling city with way too much traffic and little accommodation for pedestrians so we will either keep busy on the dock or look to get away by the weekend for a little break.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Day 0

Enroute Ottawa to St. Thomas

It's totally surreal but the day is finally here. After all this planning and frantic activity we are now flying south to begin the grand adventure on Mowzer.

Backing up a bit... The last ten days since I left Genband has been full of crazy activity to say the least.

  • After the big house contents sale we still had quite a lot to dispose of. A truck from the Diabetes Association came and picked up boxes of household items and clothing. We did a big drop off for Nelson House and Gerry helped us out with his truck and trailer to do a number of runs to the dump.
  • We obtained a small storage unit where we've placed a few chosen heirloom bits of furniture and paintings, photo albums, a few household items, and some winter clothing. Probably kept more than we should but we'll make that assessment when we look back. Last but not least I put the shoes I was wearing yesterday in there, but I had forgotten to take an extra pair with me to get home, so I arrived back at Peter's place yesterday barefoot ... in Ottawa ... in October.
  • We packed up our shipment for Mowzer. Once we were done we had 19 items ranging from a number of boxes, the inflatable paddle board and it's paddle, and my heavy-duty sewing maching. All told they weighed in at 800 pounds and we carefully arranged and shrink wrapped them on two pallets all ready for pickup by Speedy Courier to transport to Toronto. Well, we waited and waited with assurances that they were coming but on Wednesday afternoon we discovered that they were not willing to ship household goods and we were going to have to figure an alternative plan - thanks a lot "Speedy"!! Henry quickly rented a van from the airport, we unpacked our beautiful pallets and off he went to Toronto. After a few hours of sleep on Caitlin's sofa that night he delivered the load into the hands of CaribTrans who is now in the process of getting it to Miami and then on to St. Thomas. Who knew that the first 400 km would be the most difficult??
  • All cars sold (one transferred to Caitlin) with the last one going on Thursday night - so kind of the buyer to allow us to keep it up to the last day. We helped the new owner of Blue-By-You do the winter haul out - fair winds and happy sailing Jim!
  • The sale of the house closed on Wednesday and with final clean out and such a cordial handover with Myrna & Bernie we handed over the keys and made Peter & Beth's spare room home for the last few days.
  • Last but not least we have said farewell to so many good friends and family. Thanksgiving weekend Caitlin, Jim and Jamie all came up to Ottawa and thanks to Peter & Beth for hosting a wonderful family gathering. And the turkey was pretty amazing too! Teary farewells but we know we'll see Jim at Christmas and hopefully soon for Caitlin & Jamie. Dinner on Tuesday with Linda & Gerry at our new favourite spot, Kungfu Bistro in Stittsville. Daryl and the crew at 3 Brewers joined us for a beer and dinner on Wednesday before Henry headed off to Toronto (light on the beer there Henry). I had a chance for a final chat with Petrena, Tina and MaryBeth at Genband - sorry I didn't make it in once last time! On Thursday evening we were treated to a gathering of wonderful friends at the Richmond Curling Club. Kudos and hat's off to Ron & Evelyn, Diane & Dave, and Robin & Greg for organizing such a great send-off. We sure are going to miss you guys both on the ice and the links! Finally, on Friday with Peter as our chauffeur we finished off some last errands and took Mom out to lunch at the Ashton Pub. Such a nice spot.

Now the boat prep ensues but that's a topic for another posting...

I'm finishing of this missive as we have just flown out of Washington. In a few hours we'll be on Mowzer in the sunshine and tropical showers, and the stress of the last few weeks/months will hopefully melt away.

A very special thanks to Peter who offered (and amply provided) so much help - couldn't have done it without you bro'!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sale for Sailing ... and now that Work is Done

First things first - as of Tuesday I will officially be retired.  Retired - as in I don't plan to work or be employed any longer.  Retired - such a strange word for me to relate to myself.  Retired - a glorious word!

Two weeks from now will be our first night on Mowzer as live-aboard cruisers.  Really?  It's come so quickly now.  Here's what we've been up to:

  • Over a period of three weeks, I spent almost two weeks in Dallas for work.  During one of those weeks we had a fabulous time with the team and as a highlight got to go indoor skydiving - what a hoot!  Another night we did a 'Chopped' event at a restaurant and had a great dinner (didn't have to eat our own cooking.)

  • Said many good-byes to long-time colleagues - shed a tear or two.  I can't believe how generous everyone has been and we are truly blessed to have such great friends.
  • Henry has sold two cars and transferred the third to Caitlin.
  • Who needs a snowblower in October?  Canadians do!!  Our snowblower is sold and awaiting the first white event of the season (hopefully it holds off until after we are gone but we did have a really heavy frost on September 18.)
  • Spent a weekend with Jim in Waterloo to celebrate his birthday - the fall leaves were amazing and the weather perfect.  Caitlin & Jamie made it down to share in a fun dinner and it was great to see them all together!

  • Like human pin-cushions we have been pricked and pumped full of vaccinations: hepatitis A & B, tetanus booster, rabies, typhoid and we have prepped our medicine chest full of various antibiotics and a couple of doses of emergency treatment for malaria.
  • Planned, prepped and commenced the final garage/estate sale this weekend.  Again, blessed with great friends who helped pull it off.  We have greatly reduced the amount of stuff in the house and are planning on donating whatever is left to various charities.

This week brings the final clean out of the house and shipment of our personal effects to Mowzer.  Henry is putting in the final orders for items like the water maker, the generator, the new anchor.  The solar panels have already been ordered and are with the forwarder in Miami where the others will catch up before all are put on the boat bound for St. Thomas.  Now that I'm done work, I can chip in as well and help him with pulling together the final logistics.  The house has to be clean and empty by the 15th and then we fly on the 18th!

As I said to friends today, I feel like I'm just cresting over the top of the huge roller-coaster and now comes the scary near-vertical drop.  I just have to settle in and enjoy the ride!