Saturday, January 29, 2011

Luperon it is!

Time: 01:23EST
Position: 20.44.60N/071.34.693W
Heading: 144 degrees
SOG: 5.5 knots
Trip: 311nm
DTG: 63nm
Sky: clear sky, lots of stars, no moon
Cabin temperature: 27.6C
Wind: light and variable 3-4 knots
Sea state: calm

Day 2 started with the 0630 weather update from weather guru Chris Parker on SSB. We have never been Chris Parker users before but most of the extensive American and Canadian yachting communities swear by him.. We have been sailing close to S/Y Livin' the Dream, also headed for Samana, and have been exchanging notes with them along the way. Livin' the Dream is a sponsor of Chris Parker and they get personalized weather and routing information which they kindly share with us. We are also traveling with another vessel, Cindy a Lee. Cindy A Lee is the home of a very nice dog named Marly and his owners have decided to make a brief stopover in Mayaguana so Marly can have a run. They will then continue on to Luperon so will not be far from us. Our progress is adequate but unfortunately entails much motoring due to light, variable winds.

Day 3. After a night of horribly slow slogging into the equatorial current and light winds at an average speed of 3,5 knots we welcomed the morning with some frustration. Once again we listened to the 0630 weather update from Chris Parker and he still gave a positive go ahead to passages from the Turks and Caicos to DR. Despite this, our sailing companions Livin' the Dream decided to trade in their slow progress for a stop over in the Turks and Caicos. We have decided to cash in our Luperon option, rather than continuing on to Samana, and will head south from Bush Cay in the Turks and Caicos. Things are speeding up a little (4,5-5 knots) and we expect to arrive sometime tomorrow afternoon. By all reports the officials in DR are particularly officious so it make take some time before we can go ashore and explore.

For our most up to date position check

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Headed to DR

Time: 1600 EST
Position: 23.37.60N/075.27.680W
Heading: 062 degrees
Trip: 20nm
Distance to go (DTG): 465nm
Sky: sunny with some clouds
Cabin temperature: 31C
Wind: light south 9-11 knots
Sea state: calm with light (4ft) long swell from NE
Sails: genoa, cutter and main

After a great time in the Bahamas we left Georgetown at exactly noon today. We are currently underway to the Dominican Republic aiming for Samana. The option to stop a day earlier in Luperon remains open in case the weather deteriorates. It looks like we will be rounding Long Island around dinner time tonight. We will then head to the NE tip of Acklins Island. We caught the first fish two minutes after casting the line! However, we thew it back to its friends as we have had our fill of tuna recently. What a luxury. Tomorrow we will try another lure to see if we can catch a different type of fish. The monkeys are having their nap at the moment. Pasta is on the menu for dinner tonight. Check under position to see our most up to date location.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Allan’s Cay

From Nassua we embarked on an overnight trip to Allan’s Cay in the Exuma Cays.  The Exuma Cays are an almost unbroken chain of approximately 365 cays that span about 100 nautical miles. They are sparsely populated and a significant portion of the cays are included in the Exuma Cays Land and Seas Park, a area set aside 60 years ago for replenishment and nursery.  

Arrived in the later afternoon in Allan’s Cay, dropped our anchor, and immediately pumped up the Spikkle and headed in to shore.  As soon as we arrived on the beach creatures slowly started appearing out of the undergrowth and heading towards us. They were large and lizard-like and moved their chainmail legs with amazing grace giving their bodies a low swaying motion. The Allan’s Cay group has one of the  remaining habitats of rock iguanas in the Bahamas. Although there are several signs that instruct visitors not to feed the iguanas most people seem to ignore the signs and therefore the iguanas are not afraid of people and come very close.  On our best visit we were surrounded by 15 of them.  Each one of them with a unique and interesting face reflecting a great deal (we thought) of their personality. 

A dinghy safari (rowing) the next day took us to Flat Rock Reef where Seb and I had a great snorkel.  Neither Emma of Macsen were interested in swimming or snorkelling at the reef but the water was clear enough to allow them to see some of the coral and fish from the dinghy.  We rowed (2 nautical miles) around the cay and settled for a nice lunch on our own private beach. Macsen, Emma and I wandered back across the cay amongst the iguanas while Seb rowed around alone.  I decided to swim back to the boat in the company of a huge ray with Seb and the monkeys paddling along beside in the dinghy.  Emma and Macsen finally decided to enter the water as we approached the boat and the three of us swam the final lap to the Pjotter together.  It was great to be back in warm weather and exploring nature again. So far the Exumas is a great success!


In Nassau we met up with Andrya and Chris Shulte, friends of my parents (and now of ours) who have a summer house in St. Andrew’s.  We spent a lovely day with them learning about the island, enjoying their view, swimming in the pool (Emma and Macsen) and lazing about on the beach at their club, chatting and generally having a very nice time.  It was a lovely day and they took very good care of us.

Our outboard motor also needed a little attention in Nassau. The rubber bushing in the propeller was worn and needed to be replaced.  There is, however, no Suzuki dealer in Nassau so none of the ‘mainstreet’  marine stores was willing to take on the job.  Ideally we would have replaced the prop but that would have meant waiting 10 days for one to be delivered from Florida.  So Seb took our broken prop up a dark back alley where there promised to be a shop that could fix it.  About seven guys were sitting around a rather dingy lot smoking illicit substances.  Seb approach one of them and through his missing teeth and red eyes he promised to fix it by the later afternoon.  Unfortunately he fixed it in such a way that it was impossible to install.   Seb took it back to him a couple of times but to no avail.  The propeller was ruined.  They did, very kindly, give us our money back for the job but we were without a dingy propeller and about to head for the Exumas, dingy exploration paradise. Bother!

Our final adventure in Nassau was to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis.  This is a sort of enormous glitzy hotel combined with Disneyesque park with a water theme. Tickets are sold in the casino area where people were already in position to start gambling at 0900 when we arrived.  The aquarium on site was quite beautiful  and there were hundreds of rays of every size belly-dancing through the tanks.  All in all a rather interesting day out with the family.

Christmas in The Abacos

Sailing into the azure blue Bahamian waters after the freezing cold Florida temperatures was a treat indeed.  We manoeuvred carefully through the waters leading up to Treasure Cay in the Abacos as the depths were little over (and occasionally ever so slightly under) our 1,90m draft.  

My parents rented a house called the Pink Paradise in Treasure Cay for two weeks from December 21st.  My brother and his family arrived on the 22nd and the 10 of us settled in for a wonderful holiday.  The house, of course, had ‘unlimited’ warm water, air conditioning, big beds and all of the other luxuries of home so we spoiled ourselves royally.  I tried to take at least one bath a day. 

For Christmas, we decorated the two palm trees in the living room.  Hanging stockings on a palm tree is a little complicated but we managed well.  On Christmas morning the kids eyes nearly popped out of their heads when they saw the full stockings and a huge pile of presents under the tree.  They spent the day ripping presents open and giggling and shrieking with glee. And we enjoyed every minute of it.  
Treasure Cay has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world according to the National Geographic. We managed to go to the beach every day to swim, collect shells and analyse the various sea creatures that we came across in the clear waters.  The temperature was in the mid-20s most of the time so pleasant but a little chilly.  On Booh’s birthday we rented a skiff and tootled at great speeds over to Great Guana Cay.  Just off the beach we saw two huge rays that stayed and shimmered close to us for a while.  The four kids all stripped off their clothes and splashed around in the water being adorable.  

Booh, Jenn, Seren and Rhys flew out on the 31st much to all of our dismay.  Very sad after such a good time together.  The rest of us spent New Year’s eve drinking champagne on the balcony and watching the fireworks.  The Treasure Cay community seems to be geared towards early-to-bedders as the fireworks were held at 8pm rather than at midnight.  This was great for us as the kids could enjoy them as well.  Seb and I and my parents brought in the New Year at midnight with a jolly toast. 

On January 1st we boarded the ferry for a short ride over to Green Turtle Cay.  Green Turtle Cay was holding its New Years day Junkanoo and the island was full of activity.  The streets were full of stands selling rib sticking Bahamian fare.  After a hearty lunch washed down with rum punch (juice for Emma and Macsen) we chose a spot along the road and waited for the parade.  Junkanoo is said to have started in the 18th century when West African chief, John Canoe, gave his slaves New Year’s day off to celebrate.  The slaves apparently went out into the streets to make music and dance.  The Junkanoo in Turtle Cay was a short but hugely vivid parade with big bright costumes and scraping, drumming, whistling music that wouldn’t let you sit still.  

My parents left on the 3rd and Emma sobbed on an off all morning. Very sad.  Seb and I were also feeling really down as we closed up the big empty house that had been filled with so much fun activity.  As we steered the Pjotter carefully out of Treasure Cay anchorage Emma and Macsen waved sadly and called “Goodbye Treasure Cay! Goodbye Pink Paradise! We love you!” 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gulf Stream and Tainted Tuna

From Cape Canaveral we crossed over the gulf stream for a 231 nautical mile trip to Treasure Cay in the Bahamas.  We waited for a day of light winds as the gulf stream can be a mighty dangerous force particularly if northerly winds are fighting the northbound current.  We sailed down the coast to Fort Pierce and then tacked out into the gulf stream from there to ensure that we were hitting it at 90 degrees and minimizing our time in it.  This was indeed wise.  Even in the light 9-10 knot northerly winds caused an incredible chop and the 3-4 knot currents slowed us considerably. 

The fishing rod came out again for the first time in a while and it was not long before we heard the welcome zzzzzzing of a bite.  After a short fight Seb landed a beautiful 3,5 kilo tuna. Unfortunately it was within the first 24 hours of our passage and we were both still feeling pretty queasy.  But a 3,5 kilo tuna requires a lot of eating so we felt obliged to begin immediately...with sushi.  Silly idea but it seemed a crime not to eat sushi from such a lovely fresh tuna.  Seb and I sat smiling bravely at each other as we choked down bite after bite of raw fish, what normally would have been an incredible treat.  Ugh.  And the tuna steaks and tuna salad of the next day were a little tainted by this experience. 

Cape Canaveral Revisited

It took a few days to order parts and have the autopilot fixed in Cape Canaveral.  We found a great help in Zach, owner of Duys Marine Electronics, who is Raymarine certified and managed to take the whole thing apart and put it back together as good as new.  

There was little to see around the marina so we decided to rent a car and take a tour inland.  I did a little internet search and found a place call Kissimet and booked a house with a pool just next to the old town.  The house was fine and the pool warm but the old town was actually Ye Ol’ Towne and was not exactly the historically authentic place that we had in mind.  It was a completely newly built carnival type town with small rides (including a merry-go-round) and little shops and restaurants.  It was Friday night and every Friday night Ye Ol’ Towne hosts the largest weekly old automobile cruise in North America.  Well, this was quite a sight to see.  More than 200 gleaming old cars all restored to perfection promenaded slowly through the narrow streets while the audience watched in awe.  It was quite hilarious and rather impressive really.  The kids loved waving at the drivers and Seb and I had a great time trying to pick which driver most resembled his car.  Several of the seemed to share charachteristics, kind of like dogs and their owners. 

The hotel was full of flyers for various swamp boat companies, all of whom guaranteed beautiful nature and alligator sightings.  Finding little to differentiate we picked the closest one.  The weather was looking very gloomy and the wind was picking up as we arrived.  Unfortunately, we were determined at all cost to go out in a swamp boat so we picked the only one foolish enough to be offereing tours in this weather and huddled into the front row.  Macsen started screaming about ¼ second after the (extremely loud) propeller started and we started careening through the choppy swamp waters.  A kind fellow passenger handed me some earphones to help him drown out the sound, after which he huddled miserably against me.  The tour consisted of a 10 minute super fast ride to get to the swamp, a 5 minute super fast ride through the swamp (during which time I think we killed at least one poor innocent duck and terrorized about 500 other swamp birds).  The driver seemed to be trying to hunt them down.  After this we stopped and huddled in the rain for 15 minutes while the driver collected the exorbitant rates they required us to pay for this torture.  We were then driven into a dingy creek next to a highway where we remained for ½ hour while the driver explained that we wouldn’t be seeing any alligators.  Freezing (and swearing a little) we were once again raced across the wavy bay, drenched and miserable and delivered back to our car.  And the guaranteed alligator sighting? The driver’s accomplice pulled a baby alligator out of the back of his pickup and anyone stupid enough to agree could hold it and have their picture taken. The poor creatures mouth was taped closed with electrical tape and it looked more miserable that the alligator that Seb and Macsen had eaten for dinner the night before.  Horrible. Cruel. Awful. 

Cape Canaveral, we had a problem.

Fort Pierce promised a great deal.  Located about 320 nautical miles from Beaufort, SC its weather forecast showed steady temperatures in the mid 20s, a Manatee research centre and a location on the coast from which we could head straight across the gulf stream to the Bahamas at one of skinniest points of this turbulent current.  But Fort Pierce remained elusive for the Pjotter crew.  

At midnight on the 10th of December, in steady 25-30 knot winds, with 90 nautical miles to go, Otto Autopilot gave up on us.  Fair enough, we were pushing him much too hard in the heavy winds and waves on a wobbly downwind course.   Normally we would long have switched over to the wind pilot but a small piston was bent and our trusty Willy Windpilot was also out of service.  So, we changed our plans and started in towards Cape Canaveral spending the next 8 hours sharing the hand steering in freezing temperatures. Cold and tiring.  

Emma and Macsen woke when they realised that Seb and I were both awake and the following conversation ensued: 

Emma: What is happening?
Me: The autopilot is broken and Papa and Mama are taking turns hand-steering the boat.
Emma: Why don’t you fix it?
Macsen: Yeah, with duct tape (as though it was the most obvious thing in the world).

Charleston and Beaufort Number Two

Leaving Beaufort, North Carolina we passed the Shackleford Banks and caught a glimpse of the feral horses that inhabit the island.  These horses are thought to be descendants of those brought over and abandoned by the Spaniards over 500 years ago and thus from the earliest horses ever documented in North America.  

Our second visit to Charleston was as positive as the first.  This is a lovely city with a nice community feel.  The children’s museum is fabulous and Emma and Macsen spent hours moving between the waterworks/ meteorology room to the medieval castle and back making stops in between at the other only slightly less intriguing exhibits.  In the evening we joined a crowd of Charlestonians watching local talent performing a Christmas pageant in Marion Square, culminating in the mayor (with the support of Santa Claus) lighting a giant Christmas tree.  The whole thing served us up a warm and cosy Christmasy feel.

A short trip along the ICW brought us to the historical town of Beaufort, South Carolina.  This Beaufort is (oddly I think) pronounced BYOO-fert.  This town was used as the headquarters of the union army during the civil war and thus still has many pre-1860s buildings.  

We holed up at the Lady's Island  Marina and planned to settle in for two days to install the solar mast that had arrived in Deltaville and Charleston.  Ted, the harbourmaster, has been living on his boat for 20 years and has a deep understanding of how to keep his fellow sailors happy.  Not only has he equipped the marina with a great workshop but he spent at least three hours of his time working with Seb in the freezing cold getting the mast ready.  And I mean really freezing cold with ice on the docks. When we tried to pay him he refused with a gentle “We cruiser’s need to help each other out when we can.”    

Sinterklaas also found us in Beaufort.  Emma and Macsen had been setting their shoes every evening filled with carrots, apples, oranges or whatever was available, often adding a picture or painting and singing a song.  Throughout this period one or other Piet often stopped in and dropped off a small treat or treasure.  On the day itself we were just tidying up after dinner when we heard a loud clopping on the deck, a hand hurled a spray of pepernoten into the cabin (thanks again to Ted) and we all rushed outside to find a great bag.  The rest of the evening was spent drinking chocomel, eating pepernoten (I baked 150 of them!!!), singing sinterklaasliedjes and opening cadeautjes

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Back on the ICW

From Norfolk to Beaufort, NC (pronounced Bo-fort) is approximately 150 nautical miles and due to weather conditions we took the inside route along the ICW, stopping to anchor twice along the way.  We kept a close watch on our chart book, the ICW handbook and Bob’s anchorages but still managed to run aground lightly on two occasions.  We made loooooong days along the ICW from 0400 to 1700 (dark) and the going was rather intense and tiring as the route is narrow and shallow and one of us remained behind the wheel the entire time.  The air was cold and our morning departures in <0 degrees before sunrise were tough to pull off.  Arrival in Beaufort, NC was a welcome relief.  

The marina in Beaufort was located in the centre of the town and had its own bar that offered a free drink on arrival.  Very nice.  In Beaufort, we started to meet up again with boats headed towards the South.  Shared some drinks and stories until rather late in the evening with J.W and Virginia (Jinny) from a lovely S&S boat called Over Budget.  And the days started to get a little warmer.  Whew.


Our first pelican sighting was on the 25 nautical mile sail from Tangier to Deltaville.  Deltaville is a small place with a great marina.  It’s friendly, the facilities are great, they offer a courtesy car and lounge and they are the first marina that we have visited that has an herb garden.  “Don’t pay supermarket prices, have some free spices.” They also have the hugest swing set I have ever seen which, needless to say,  was also very popular with the monkeys.  As a final plus, there are two West Marine stores close by. 

In Deltaville we waited (rather impatiently) for the new pole for our solar panel to arrive from Rhode Island.  After over a month of waiting we were anxious to have it installed and be able to move on.  Two of the three pieces did arrive with the UPS van as scheduled but the third (critical) piece was delayed.  To add to our frustration, a slight error had been made in the design and we couldn’t install it without some heavy tool-intensive modifications. Grrrrrr.  Rather than wait out the entire American Thanksgiving weekend, we asked UPS to forward the final piece to Charleston, North Carolina.

Following a sadly mediocre Thanksgiving dinner in a local restaurant, we bid goodbye to Deltaville and headed on to Norfolk.


Having run aground three times in the narrow entry channel we were feeling a little apprehensive as we approached the dock on the island of Tangier in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.  An elderly man surrounded by two dogs and several cats instructed us into a berth.  Thruuuugoooosh.  And we went aground again still at least 10 meters from the berth.  “I haven’t seen the waters this low in over 30 years”  he yelled out at us “Try pulling up on the main dock.”  We did try this and ended up running pretty solidly aground about two meters from the dock.  Milton, as the dockmaster proved to be, instructed us to tie up as is and tighten up our lines.  “I’ll just take you over to the restaurant now”  said Milton and we could hardly refuse.  Turned out that Milton is over 80 and has been living on Tangier, working as a waterman and running the dock all his life.  The restaurant was closed for an hour to allow the staff to attend the Christmas bazaar at the school.  Milton piled us back into his golf cart, the primary mode of transport on the small island, and took us over to the school.  Here we found a community gym filled with Christmas stalls selling various Christmas supplies.  An hour later, Milton picked us up again and took us back to the restaurant.  “I’ll pick you up tomorrow and take you for a tour of the island,” were his parting words, “no charge, it’s included in the docking fees.”

So Milton picked us up and took us on a tour of Tangier.  This tiny island in the middle of the Chesapeake houses 500 people.  The streets are narrow and lined with small wooden houses built close together.  It has that special small island feel coupled with a really precious thing that I find difficult to capture in words.  Perhaps a tone of times gone by when people relied on each other and their community and natural resources that they gathered themselves.  Sadly, once again the decline of the fishing industry has taken its toll and there is no longer much of a livelihood on the island for the next generation.  

On Tangier we also met Melvin and Deb. This father and daughter pair were travelling down to Norfolk, where she would disembark to head back to New York and where he would be joined by his girlfriend and continue down to the south of Florida. Melvin’s boat, the Fa-Cha-Dit is full of fascinating items collected over the years.  A highlight for Emma and Macsen was his puppet collection.  As soon as we walked in the door Melvin had roped Seb into putting on a show with a jumble of characters including an Octopus (great puppet) and Captain Mel.  After a cup of coffee and cosy chat we parted with wishes on both sides to meet again on the journey south.  

There is no bank machine on Tangier and Seb and I did not have enough cash on hand for our docking fees.  The restaurant offered to give us cash from our credit card but on the day that we left they didn’t have enough money in their till.   Milton saw absolutely no problem with this and provided us with a self addressed envelope and sent us off on our way with a big kiss and a smile.  Great that there are still people in this world that trust others.  Needless to say we ran to the first bank machine we could find when we arrived in Deltaville and sent the cash off to him with a grateful note.  

The Nation’s Capital

Washington, D.C. is only a 45 minute drive from Annapolis so we left the Pjotter in the Annapolis harbour and set out to spend the weekend in the Nation’s capital.  Our hotel was located about one block from the Whitehouse and had been chosen for its location and its promise of a full sized indoor swimming pool for the monkeys. 
Anyone who has been to Washington knows that there is really a lot to see in this city.  The incredible Smithsonian institute, the largest museum and research institute in the world, alone offers 20 museums that can all be visited for free.  Then there are all of the government buildings, capitol hill,  monuments and memorials, archives, and all of the other trappings of being the nation’s capital.  And, of course,  we had a swimming pool in our hotel so we were really bound to be quite busy.  

On our first day we sampled a little of the Smithsonian with a visit to the Museum of Natural History.  The dinosaurs were a huge favourite here and despite our efforts we were unable to convince Macsen that they no longer exist.  He still looks for them behind large trees.    
On our second day, we let our Dutch roots show and took a tour of the city by bicycle.  Our guide was knowledgeable and she took us around to see the highlights of the government buildings, monuments and memorials.  It gave us a good high level overview of that section of the city.  I was particularly moved by both the Korean and Vietnam war memorials.  Surprisingly, as I am certainly very far from being a memorial or a war buff.  They both had an extremely sad, eery, finality about them that had quite an impact on me.  
I have to admit though, that my favourite thing in Washington is the Albert Einstein memorial.  This is a mischievous statue with an incredible echo effect in the middle that fits with my impression of Einstein’s cheekiness.  And they say that if you rub his nose then some of his talent will rub off on you.  Seb was the only one of the family who neglected to rub his nose and only time will tell the result of that little inaction...
Our last stop in Washington was the city zoo, home of the Giant Panda.  I think that this is the best zoo that I have ever been to.  What makes it so great however is a bit contrary to the interests of the average zoo visitor.  The cages and pens are so large and contain such dense foliage and cover that it is rare (in our experience and those of the people around us) to see an animal there.  I was impressed but Seb grumbled a bit that he wanted his money back even though the Washington Zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institute and therefore free to enter.  


There I was innocently putting my clothes in the washing machine in the (completely empty) men’s room in Annapolis City Docks marina when I was startled by a very angry dockmaster:
Him: “You shouldn’t be in here ma’am”
Me: “I’m sorry but the washing machine in the ladies room is not working. And there is no one in here.”
Him: “Doesn’t matter, you should get your husband to do the laundry rather than come in here.”
Me: “And what if I don’t have a husband”
Him: “Then you’ll have to go and have your washing done in town”

Well I never! I’ve never been made to feel like a dirty criminal simply for venturing innocently into the men’s room.  The City Docks Marina was generally unfriendly to boaters and this tainted our first impression of Annapolis, the sailing capital of America.    

Things started to look up with our frequent visits with friendly people in the local playground and an amazing seafood extravaganza (oysters, blue crab, snow crab and king crab, clams, mussels, crawfish...yum!) topped off with an incredibly yummy ice-cream from the local homemade ice-creameria.  Annapolis is a rather pretty historical town to wander about in, houses a nice farmer’s market on Saturday’s just next to the dock and is the home of the US Naval Academy.  We found the tour of the academy as a whole a little too forceful but it did bring us to an amazing collection of model boats, incredibly intricate mini replicas of early naval vessels used as designs for the real things.   

But ‘sailing capital of America’...hmmm.  There seems to be some good club racing as the bay is full almost every evening and the local 532 dinghy racers used our mooring buoy as a race marker, much to the delight of Emma and Macsen as the little boats whizzed around us with their booms tacking and crew scrambling.  Unfortunately, November is an unfair month to judge a sailing community in this part of the world.  We’ll have to come back for the Annapolis boat show to see what all of the fuss is about.