Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful All Day Long

Being U.S. Thanksgiving it is a slow day on St. Thomas and feels more like a Sunday than most Sundays and this year we get to celebrate twice which is rather fitting since we feel rather thankful. This morning, after almost a week of incessant 25-knot winds and squalls we awoke to a beautiful red sky and a gentle breeze. It was like someone had flipped the off-switch overnight. In addition, CYOA has all but two boats out on charter at the moment, which is great for them but I have to say it feels like a ghost-town with the docks so empty!

All quiet on the docks this morning.
I haven't posted in a few days as we have been busy, busy with boat jobs and a goal to leave the CYOA dock early next week. Paul has been working with us almost non-stop all week and has checked pretty well everything off the list, along with helping Henry with the solar panel wiring.

One of the nastier jobs he got to do was to replace one of our electric heads (toilets) with a manual model. The new head arrived in it's box on our deck one morning as one had been removed from a new charter boat to be swapped out for electric. Ironically, the hand-written label on the box proclaimed our head to be "manuel" so from here-on-in he shall be called "Manuel". I won't go into the gruesome detail of the work involved with pulling out a 5-year old head and all its associated plumbing, but let's just say that Paul was happy to take a shower afterward.

Manuel all ready to be pumped
The water maker has now all been installed and high pressure tests have been run, although we're not keen to make water from the harbour water. Henry just has to chase down a few final leaks and then we'll be all set to create our own H20.

Filters, membranes and pumps all installed and ready to start production.
The back of our boat is feeling rather naked at the moment since we have the fabric bimini (shade cover) removed so I can sew the attachments for the solar panels to it; they are thin flexible panels that can be attached with velcro so although not difficult it is a large quantity of fabric to fit through my machine and there are three large panels to be set up. The fourth panel will be attached directly to our cabin top and at max sun exposure we have potential for 345 watts of power. We know that typically one panel or another may be shaded since we have them mounted on both sides of the boat, but with this wattage we should be able to cover our daily battery requirements for the refrigerator, fans, computer charging, etc. On cloudy days we have our backup generator or if we have to motor anywhere that also tops up the batteries, but it will be so nice to sit in an anchorage and be able to quietly (and freely) generate power! I will post later on the details of the installation of both the solar and water projects.

Bimini off and wiring threaded through the bulkhead - it's definitely a work-zone!
These Solbian panels are so thin and flexible.
Still need to clean up what looks like a rat's nest of wiring.
In prep for changing our dinghy and adjusting the layout at the back of the boat, we have also moved our life raft. Once we removed a support post from under our helm seat, which was non-functional anyway, it was like the life raft was made to fit there out of the way but immediately accessible should it be needed. In this picture you can also see the Port Visor that we added to the aft berth port. Given that this port is directly above my head at night and is the only ventilation in our berth, this little addition will allow us to leave the port open at anchor in all but the most heavy rainfall, which is a great alternative to being woken up with rain in the face followed by a stiffling berth until the rain is past.

Life raft strapped under the seat and port visor already doing it's job against the rain.
And last but definitely not least, Bob replaced two of our leaky windows. We took very careful notes on this installation given that three of five have now been replaced which makes it a fair likelihood that we will need to look after the other two in the not too distant future. In actual fact, these hull windows have a nasty habit of bleeding black streaks down the hulls, giving what some call a wet-mascara effect, but the product used on the replacement windows should not have this nasty side-effect, so we may want to replace the other two very soon.

Bob getting the last window reinstalled.
Today, we're taking it pretty easy and then have been very kindly invited to join John & Joanne and some of the other crew from CYOA for a Thanksgiving feast. This weekend will provide time to finish up the final testing and installation on the water and solar projects and then we should be ready to kick off the dock heading eastward towards St. Martin as weather permits. The last few weeks we have definitely been live-aboard boat workers, but shortly we'll be able to truly begin life as cruisers. There is no doubt there will be many more days of boat work in our lives, but it is time to move on and spend more time on the hook.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

He Shoots, He Scores ... Some Great Tickets

One of the joys of living on the dock are the friendships we have made with folks who live and work here.

There's Erica who has a busy little hairdressing business with her living area in the back that she shares with her two dogs, Max and Champagne. We greet each other each morning and the dogs make sure to check out our comings and goings.

There's the day-excursion catamaran at the end of the dock with various staff who come and go but always have a nod and hello as they pass by. Sea Tow has an interesting array of working boats at the dock and whether responding to a call for a 'tow' or taking school excursions out on the water they are often bustling around.

Us on the left, Castaway Girl at the end of the dock and the dive boat on the right.
And there's Dwayne and Gerry who run a small dive boat from the dock directly opposite us for Dwayne's business at Admiralty Dive Center. We enjoy our early morning chats and it was Dwayne and his wife Laura whom we joined when we went out to Buck Island for the memorial service a couple of weeks ago. I'm now eagerly anticipating the fresh avocados that Gerry has promised me from one of his 13 avocado trees. He reminds me of when Mom grew zucchini in the past and wanted to give them away to anyone who would take them - 13 trees is a lot!

Well, last night Dwayne asked if we'd like to join him, Laura and Molly (who works for them) at the Paradise Jam tournament opening night. Dwayne had taken one of the CBS staff our diving earlier in the week who had given him a couple of tickets and then he was able to pick up a few more at local prices, so off we went for an evening of great college ball. Each year, eight teams are invited to the tournament and the event has grown that now many of the top teams vie for a return. First weekend is the men's tournament and the second weekend is the women's.

Centre court, front row - can't get much closer to the action.
Dwayne and Laura totally knew the scoop and timed it perfectly. They picked us up at 4pm and we were seated centre court with front row seats by 4:30. The tournament is held at the University of the Virgin Islands and the gymnasium is probably equivalent to a large high-school gym, which was just perfect - not often you get to see such great basketball in such an intimate setting.

Nevada making a shot, but they were outgunned by Seton Hall.
Did I mention that for the cost of keeping Dwayne supplied in beer for the night, we got to see not one but two games! We did joke later that we were taking a risk in that the tickets might have been cheaper than the beer, but at $4 we were all drinking cheap whether we chose Coors or Heineken.

Half-time show was a demonstration - you certainly don't want to mess with this woman, she was strong!
First game was Seton Hall vs. Nevada. Unfortunately for Nevada they just couldn't keep up with the speed and pressure offered up by Seton Hall and the game fell apart for them in the second half.

End of game one, time for another cold beer!
Second game was a nail-biter all the way to the last buzzer: Old Dominion vs. Louisiana State. ODU started slow and spent the first half playing catch-up. However, in the second half they were able to maintain their lead of just 2 to 6 points and ended up holding on right to the end with a beautiful final 3-pointer.

A totally fun evening completely away from anything boat related.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Third Time's the Charm

In actual fact each of our visits to the CYOA dock in St. Thomas has been a charm but this is our third and most likely final visit for the year. We will pass through again in January to pick up our new batteries but this visit should see the end of most of the items on our current boat job list.

Before we get to that, here's a brief recap of the last few days and the whole reason we went back up to the BVI (other than a sweet celebration of my birthday.) We were able to get our survey and haul-out completed and are now just filing the paperwork to have our insurance set up. The final report of the survey found a few repair items, a few more maintenance items and stated that the boat was in above average condition given age and ex-charter status. None of the identified items were a surprise so we were very happy with the results and the ensuing valuation.

Henry backed up in carefully to the travel lift slip, negotiating around all the big boats at Nanny Cay.
Getting Mowzer into position for her lift. She needs to be nice and centrally settled on the lift straps.
She's out and showing off a very dirty bottom.
All checked and cleaned off, ready to get back into the water.
Now, back to the dock for the next couple of weeks to finish off that list.

Here's what's up, and yes, I know that looking at a job list is not all that exciting but it's our lives at the moment and there's nothing like the sense of accomplishment as items get ticked off:

  • Repair two windows that are leaking.
  • Service the sliding door which has become stiff to move.
  • Repair dings in the gel-coat.
  • Reconnect the windlass remote control.
  • Replace the electric head (toilet) with a manual one which will allow us to remove the boost pump from the cabinet where we're installing the water maker - and this in turn provides us with a backup manual head if (when) our other electric one fails.
  • Complete the water maker installation - we made good progress and have everything now mounted in position, just need to do the final plumbing and electrical hookups.
  • Install four solar panels, route the wiring and hook into the batteries.
  • Complete the forward sunshade, to give shade over the trampoline and front of the boat.
  • Remove the old sailbag and replace with a new one - the old one is ripped but will go on in life by providing matching fabric to use for the solar panel installation on top of our bimini.
  • Install our new EPIRB in the cockpit (this is the emergency beacon that will go off in a catastrophic incident and is one of those things we hope never to have to use.)
These are the main items and of course there's lots of little things to do like replacing our davit lines, replacing expired flares and general cleaning and upkeep. Lots of items have already been checked off the list over the last two visits to the dock so we have every confidence that this list can be accomplished in the next couple of weeks.

One thing I won't be doing is bucket laundry while on the dock - there's a laundromat at Crown Bay.
Then... we begin watching for a weather window to cross to St. Martin.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Thanks for a Special Day

Mom says it always snows on my birthday, but if I'm not there I can't really take credit, can I? Sorry for everyone back home who had snow today, but the 10cm of white sand under my feet felt glorious!

You may think we're a little odd, but before we went off for my birthday treat, we really wanted to get a few things done on the boat. You can't have too much fun, can you?? Of course not, but it felt really good to make progress on a few of the items on our boat project list. First order of the day was to get some laundry done, those sheets were getting really funky again after only a few days.

Bucket laundry was done and dry by 9am.
Next order of business was a bit more work on the water maker, we now have the main components mounted and the wood cut and varnished to hold the control panel. 11:00am rolled around pretty quickly which was our personal time-limit on work for the day and then the fun began.

We'd checked out Google Maps of Norman Island and it appeared that there was a road/trail leading from Benures Bay on the north shore over to The Bight on the west. The Bight is home to not one but two of the best known bars in the BVI: Pirates and The Willie T. Going without a dinghy put the party barge (Willie T) out of reach but we were super curious to see what the new Pirates was like after a fire burned them down a couple of years ago.

Firstly though, the hike. We knew that there was a trail we could pick up and from the map is appeared to be at the north end of the bay. We preferred the more southerly area for beaching the dinghy and weren't we completely surprised when we picked up a path which immediately turned into the main trail up the hill. Score one for the day! I was expecting a prickly, rubbly hike but this stroll over Norman turned into one of the most pleasant we have ever done down here. Moderate grassy slopes, cooling breezes and fabulous views before the final descent to arrive at the back of Pirates.

Mowzer sitting happily below in Benures Bay with Peter Island in the background.
There's a helipad on top of Normans?? Who knew?
With direct line of sight to St. John, trying to pick up 3G on the iPad (with no luck).
... but the views are still stunning!
Lunch at the new Pirates sitting at the edge of the beach was delicious. I have to say though that the new restaurant has lost the character of the old and now looks much like other resort restaurants in the area such as Cooper Island and Marina Cay. Sorry, guess they lost more than just the building in the fire. Nothing daunted though we enjoyed our lunch with a supreme 'people-watching' view and what's better than watching people on a beach, the coming and going of dinghies and the general activity around the bar.

Lunch-time view.
The shade and beach-chairs await.
By mid afternoon we shifted our locale slightly to settle on a beach chair in the shade of a palm tree. You see it, just a few steps to the right of our table?

By 4pm it was happy hour and the painkillers had dropped to half-price (which at a regular ding of $9 was definitely the act of a Pirate) so it was time for final libations before heading home back over the hill.

Sure I'm ready to hike, just as soon as I finish this painkiller - oh hey, can I get another?
Thanks Henry for making this a super-special day and thanks to everyone who sent wishes! We definitely wished everyone could have shared with us.

New Experiences

I should preface this post by saying that each and every day brings new experiences, we just seem to have had a flurry of them in the last couple of days.

We had planned to leave CYOA on Tuesday but the guys got super busy with running electrical wiring for the water maker and some other engine room repairs so that we stayed through to Thursday morning. Its not often I can claim to be the smallest one around and fit into tight spaces, but Wednesday morning found me doing yoga moves in the corner of the anchor lock with a power drill all set to drill a hole in the boat - yikes?! No worries, all above the water line. In their infinite wisdom when Fountaine-Pajot built this boat they put the water level sender in the starboard water tank that can only be removed/replaced if you care to drill a 3" hole in the wooden shelf behind the fridge. I'm not talking about a hidden shelf out of sight, but the one holding our books. "Not to worry," says Jay, we'll just give you an extra fan there. And voila, Mowzer now has a working water guage and a new fan in the saloon.

For the afternoon I think Jay decided that idle hands needed a job, so he set to work to teach me how to service our winches. This is actually a job I wanted to know how to do and while I'd taken apart our winches on Blue-By-You and 'cleaned' them, I definitely hadn't done it to Jay's level of achievement. We took the winch completely apart, soaked all the parts in mineral spirits and for the badly corroded and dirty bit moved them into a bath of muriatic acit - very nasty stuff. Making sure I had the same numnber of parts for both winches (19 - thats a note for me for later) and that everything went back where and how it should, this dirty job was one. With the lovely new winch handle that Henry bought and the newly serviced winches, trimming the sails is so much smoother now.

Soaking up the spirits - all the old grease is melting away.
Trying to keep the cabin top reasonably clean around the main assembly.
One done and the second going back together.
Meanwhile, amid a little blue air from down below, Henry and Paul managed to get cables run from circuit breakers to water maker, and replacement batteries installed in the engine room. Nothing is straight (or straight-forward) on a boat so the cable run was through nooks and crannies below the cockpit and through another new hole in the boat - this one thankfully hidden.

Thursday morning saw us finally off the dock and in the calm, amost non-existent winds we motored up to Tortola where we checked through customs, did a few groceries and then made our way to Nanny Cay where we stayed in the marina for the night. After Henry did a great job of backing us up against the dock (no sarcasm - he did a great job) we realized that other than CYOA this is the first time we have ever stayed in a marina - not bad after 5 years of cruising around these islands. The reason for the marina stay was so that we could be on the dock nice and early for our marine surveyor but at $100 for the night not an experience we will be repeating anytime soon.

Loaded up with groceries - nice to wheel the buggy with heavy items right to your dinghy.
On the dock at Nanny Cay - Mowzer's the little one at the end of the dock.
Geoff Williams from West Indies Marine Surveyors arrived promptly at 9am and went through Mowzer from bow to stern and right up to the tip of the mast. As Henry commented, we've had both houses and now both our boats surveyed in the last year and a half, it all felt rather familiar. This survey is to provide us with a valuation for insurance and a double-check that as we leave CYOA there are no nasty surprises awaiting us. Geoff was the consummate professional and had us out for the sea trial just after lunch and then back to Nanny Cay for a quick drop-off at the dock. We'll see him again next week when we return for the haul-out and he can go over the hulls below the water-line. So far so good but we look forward to reading his report next week.

Checking out the rigging on the mast.
Free agents at last - or at least until next Wednesday. The boat job list awaits ... but will be quite pleasant sitting in a quiet bay on Norman Island.

If you look carefully there's a double rainbow greeting us on Thursday morning.
Canadian colours.
As a final note, as we were sailing over to Road Town today this pretty little boat passed in front of us with it's bigger than life proclamation of being Canadian - did my heart proud and made such a pretty picture with the south shore of Tortola in the background.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Back to the BVI

When the haul-out for our survey fell through a couple of weeks ago we decided to return to the dock and get on with some other work. One of the discoveries we made though while we were out was that we had no capacity in our batteries and upon testing found that only one of the four had any life left. Damn - this is another reason we've been tied to the dock: the shore power cable is almost more tenacious than our dock lines.

Two of our dud batteries, man these suckers are heavy.
This morning, with work completed to install new batteries, and renewed bookings for our survey and haul-out we are going to head up to the BVI once more. Our intention being to go through a full survey on Friday and then when the lift is available on Wednesday next week, we will complete the below water-line inspection.

So, off we go today once we finish off a couple of little jobs.

Here's another little teaser - we are thinking of adding a new graphic to the front of the boat. Right now we only have our name at the stern and we still look a little too much like a charter boat so we'd like to put something unique up there. Here's the first concept, we'll see how it turns out.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Sunday of Contrasts

Hassell Island sits on the western side of St. Thomas harbour and was at one time joined to Frenchtown as a peninsula. It has an incredibly storied history and is part of the National Park that includes St. John which we love so much. With all that, you would think that we would have been there before but with our usual habit of getting on the boat and heading off toute suite, we had woefully missed this little gem.

Here's a really brief history (apologies to the local historical society):

  • The original settlers were native Arawak and then Taino who left only a few artifacts behind.
  • With Chris Columbus the natives were wiped out and the Spanish occupied the area.
  • The Danes came along in the 1600s and settled where Charlotte Amalie is today.
  • Based on the various wars in Europe, the factions, be they Spanish, French or English were either at war or trading with each other. The Danes for the most part were neutral, just interested in creating a massive trade zone and thrown into the mix were a good number of pirates and privateers who just wanted to mess it all up.
  • The Brits, afraid of French control with Napolean's interests took control twice in the early 1800s and fortified Hassell Island with battlements that still stand today.
  • The Danes retained ownership however, until 1917 when the United States (like the Brits) were worried about war in Europe, the possibility of Germany invading Denmark and then having a foothold in the Caribbean, so they bought the Virgin Islands for $25 million.
As a result of all this activity, Hassell Island has been fortified, used as a boat repair facility, had a corner carved off for the local leper colony, and became the home (and final resting place) for the Hazzell family.

Oh, as I mentioned above, the island used to be a penninsula rather than separated from the mainland. Back in the 17-1800s, sanitation was not what it is today (and today it seems to be sometimes lacking as well), and St. Thomas suffered a number of outbreaks of malaria and cholera. To try to aleviate the pollution in the harbour, the Danes made a cut through the narrow spit of land that joined the penninsula to the mainland. I doubt this helped a great deal, but it did provide a shortcut to the western approaches to the harbour so it was probably seen as a pretty stand-up idea. Over the years the cut was widened and deepend right up until the 1960s when the U.S. Army Engineers opened it up to its current state. Nowadays ferrys, all sorts of pleasure-craft and tugs heading to the cargo ships that come into Crown Bay pass through the cut all day long.

You can clearly see where the island used to be joined to the mainland.
Ok, enough of the history//geography lesson. We packed all this info into our heads and took our dinghy over the short distance to the remains of the old shipyard right across from the docks at CYOA. The first area we explored is the only remaining steam railway dry-dock where they would put boats on a cradle in the water and then pull them up the railway using a steam engine in the building at the top of the incline.

Creque (rhymes with creaky) Marine Railway in its heyday.
The marine railway today.
This little anole had found a warm bit of cog-wheel to warm himself on.
We then headed off up the hill to the first battery built by the British. Now I know where they go to get all the great photos that grace the local calendars (short of renting a helicopter). Just one cruise ship in the harbour today, but sometimes there are up to three lined up on the dock at Yacht Haven Grande down below. One can definitely see what a great spot they picked to defend the harbour.

The remains of the guardhouse overlooking Charlotte Amalie.
Henry checking out the information plaque.
Overlooking the Danish-built Fort Fredrick in Charlotte Amalie.
Yacht Haven Grande where the cruise ships dock.
Back down the hill, we passed the remains of the Leprosarium, the officer's quarters, the barracks and then back up the hill at the southern end of the island to the second battlement and a signal house.

The Hazzell family cemetary.
A ship that evokes the style of ships past, leaving St. Thomas harbour.
Danish built and then British occupied Prince Frederik's Battery guard the eastern approaches.
The Garrison House and ordinance store. If you look in the background you can see Buck Island where we went in the afternoon.
By the time we made it to the end of the island it was getting pretty hot and what we had failed to realize when we set out nice and early is that there is basically one path to the end of the island. This means that where we had gone up and down, and then up and down again to get to the end, we would have have to turn around and do it all over again. So, although the highest point on the island is only 267', we had to climb it not once or twice, but basically four times. The cold shower back at the marina was most welcome, and necessary!

Our plan for the remainder of the day was happily lacking any content so we puttered away getting lunch and doing a small amount of 'bucket laundry'. Across the dock from us (not sure if I've mentioned this before) there is a small dive excursion boat that goes out most mornings. We have come to know Dwayne and Jerry as pretty good guys and have fun chats with them as they get ready for their dive groups. Well, Dwayne and his wife Laura were taking a friend out to Buck Island for a memorial service for a local diver and instructor who had died a few months ago (not a diving accident - brain cancer). They asked if we would like to join them, and although we did not know Andre Webber, it was a very nice offer and we decided to go for the excursion and see how a memorial at sea was performed. We headed off to Buck Island which is just a mile or so offshore where a couple of large excursion catamarans and some dive boats had rafted up in one of the bays. There must have been 40-50 people aboard the various boats and all poured a pain-killer and then sat around and listened firstly to a minister and then to each other as they honoured Andre's life and his contribution to the diving community of St. Thomas. He sounds like he was quite a man who had a broad influence judging by the number of people who indicated he had instructed or mentored them at some point over the years. Flowers were spread on the waves, a plaque had been mounted down at one of the dive locations, songs were sung and then we were on our way back to the dock.

All in all a very interesting day of new experiences.