Leaving Antigua, W. I.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Joy of a Calm Anchorage

Simpson Bay Lagoon
As we work our way through our winter project list here in St. Martin, we give daily thanks for our calm anchorage.  Flat water to float your boat is a rare thing in the Eastern Caribbean.  Most of the popular anchorages are on the leeward side of the islands, offering some protection from the prevailing wind and wind-driven waves.  They are open to the west, though, so that considerable ocean swells are often present.   Long period swells, with a period of ten or more seconds between waves and wave heights of 3 to 5 feet are not unusual.  A heavy boat like ours with a slow roll period is reasonably comfortable at anchor in those conditions, as long as the direction is not off the beam, or side of the boat.

Even though the motion is gentle and we're accustomed to it, it is always there.  Our dining table and the galley counters have raised edges, called fiddles, to keep dishes from sliding off, and we've unconsciously learned to time our pouring of beverages so that they don't go astray.  When the swell comes off the beam and grows large, perhaps as a result of a storm hundreds of miles away, the adjustments that we make are less automatic, and life becomes more challenging.  Leslie has often joked about the fact that we don't have to do any special exercises for our abdominal muscles -- routine activities like sitting, standing, and walking around our constantly moving boat keep us well-toned.

There are a couple of places where we spend time that offer all-around protection.  One of these is Port Egmont, on the south coast of Grenada.  It is a relatively small bay, completely surrounded by tall hills, with a winding, fjord-like entrance.  We've ridden out hurricanes there in safety and reasonable comfort, so in normal weather, the water is as flat as a mill pond.  Port Egmont also offers solitude, as there isn't much there to attract cruising boats.  There are houses, and people living there, but not too many, and there are no businesses.  Shore access requires getting your feet wet.  We like it, but it's not for everyone.

Our other favorite spot for all-around protection and flat water is Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Martin.  It's quite a contrast to Port Egmont.  It's larger, and there are hundreds of boats sharing it with us.  They range from small cruising boats like Play Actor to huge megayachts sporting helicopters on deck.  One had a 40 foot sloop, as big as our boat, hanging from davits, ready in case their charter guests wanted to go for an afternoon sail.  They're generally available for charter, if you're interested in spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars for a brief respite from winter weather.

Simpson Bay Lagoon also features two large marine supply stores and innumerable specialty shops to cater to a boater's every need.  The island is completely duty-free, and prices on most marine supplies are lower than in the U.S.  We normally spend our time away from St. Martin compiling a project list, to be undertaken on our next visit.  This year was no exception, and we're steadily working our way through the list as we enjoy the calm water and ready access to all sorts of shore-side attractions, including several gourmet grocery stores.

We are also able to get high speed Internet access in the anchorage.  We subscribe to a service that uses fixed cellular technology to provide access all over the island -- even on an anchored boat.  What a luxury, and we get a good night's sleep every night in the bargain, because of the wonderful protection afforded by the high ground all around us.

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas, and the crew of Play Actor wishes you all a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

We're here!

Sunset in Jolly Harbour, Antigua, the night before we left
We're in our favorite winter anchorage on the French side of Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Martin.  The 90-odd mile sail from Antigua on Wednesday was delightful.  We averaged a little over six knots in winds of about 10 knots, with calm seas.  It just doesn't get much better.  We spent a night anchored outside the lagoon, waiting for the 9:30 a.m. drawbridge on the Dutch side, and made our way to our usual spot, just over the French border.  The anchor's down, the awning is up, and our high-speed Internet service is reactivated.  We're here! 

We spent a hectic day Thursday, clearing in with customs, getting the Internet service turned back on, and buying and installing a new shower in the head.  Our old one has been leaking and making a mess for several months, but we replaced it with a new showerhead and faucet.  Typically, we had to do a little modification to the fixture.  Nothing is easy on a 30-year-old boat.  Friday has been a rainy day, and we postponed all of our planned shore-side activities.  Rest seemed more attractive than a wet trip to drop off our laundry and go shopping, so we've had time to catch up on email and update the blog. 

We have had fine sailing all the way up from Grenada this year, in spite of the strange weather.  We didn’t have any pressing schedule commitments, so we were able to pick our sailing days.  That does make a difference.  For the past few years, we have always had some compelling need to get to St. Martin quickly.  Last year, it was to order and install the new engine.  This year, we don't have any major projects, so our plan is to catch up on routine maintenance, and Bud will get busy writing Bluewater Vengeance soon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Resting in Antigua

Deshaises, Guadeloupe, F.W.I.
We're in Antigua, resting from four days of great sailing on the way up from St. Lucia.  There was good wind for the trip, with one or two small storms each day to keep us on our toes and give us a little practice at dropping our big Yankee jib in a hurry.  We blew out a panel in it a couple of years ago in a squall, and we couldn't remember to get it fixed.  Most of the time, we fly our smaller Yankee in conjunction with our staysail.  With one reef in the mainsail, that's the right combination for the normal 15 to 20 knot winds that we have in the islands.  While we were in St. Lucia, we saw a forecast for lighter winds and remembered to take the sail in to the loft  for repairs.  It was nice to have it back in the 12 knot winds we had for most of the trip.

The last day, from Deshaises, Guadeloupe to Jolly Harbour, Antigua, we had a forecast for 20 knots on the beam, so we changed down to the smaller Yankee, surprised again at how much easier it is to handle.  The wind came as forecast, and the seas were sloppy, but we had a 7 hour trip over the 52 nautical miles.  We averaged over 7 knots, pushing the boat at hull speed the whole time.  Glad we weren't trying to fly  the big sail.

There's a trough affecting our weather at the moment, with winds out of the southeast.  That would certainly push us to St. Martin, but we would be dead downwind the whole time -- not our favorite point of sail, especially in sloppy seas.  Besides, our friends Kim and Sandi on Kewaydin are stranded here with engine trouble, so we're enjoying their company while they wait for parts.  We'll probably leave for St. Martin sometime next week.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

You know you've been in one place too long when the excursion boats add you to their itinerary.  I looked out the port the other day and saw the folks along the rail of this schooner with their cameras, making pictures of the little boat.  That would be Play Actor, I think.  We have been here in St. Lucia for a little over two weeks, and we are still enjoying it.  We always do -- Rodney Bay is a favorite spot of ours.  It's a good anchorage with attractive scenery and clean water in which to swim.  There's a lot of water-toy activity with people from the resorts capsizing their Hobie cats and paddling their kayaks, so we can drink our coffee in the shady cockpit and watch the tourists change color from pasty white to hot pink, right before our eyes.  At just 12 degrees above the equator, the attenuation of UV by the atmosphere is much less than at higher latitudes, because the rays have a much shorter trip through the air.  It doesn't seem any brighter or hotter, -- in fact, it's in the low 80's here -- but exposed skin will burn in minutes.  We're planning on leaving later this week.

We've been watching the weather, waiting for a few days of good breeze to take us to Antigua, and then on to St. Martin.  The low pressure system that's east of Bermuda has been blocking the trade winds for the last few days, otherwise we would have left already.  We went grocery shopping several days ago to provision for the trip,  and now we've eaten our stock.  It's time to go shopping again.  We tried it yesterday, but discovered that it was really time to rebuild the carburetor on the outboard instead.  That done, we're off to the grocery store this morning, with an eye toward a Thursday morning departure.

We'll probably spend Thanksgiving Day at sea.  Think of us when you're eating your turkey -- we'll probably be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, unless the fish happen to be running.  If we get lucky with a tuna or mahi-mahi, we'll steam some rice and have sashimi in the cockpit.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Changes in Latitude

Port Egmont, Grenada

It's that time of year again.  Fall is in the air, even in the tropics.  It's cool enough at night so that we're often sleeping under a sheet.  Hurricane season has fizzled out, and we're actually sailing again.  We've moved from 12 degrees north all the way up to 14 degrees -- about 120 miles.

The beach at Pigeon Island, St. Lucia

We've been in St. Lucia for about a week now, enjoying the change of scenery.  We're anchored right off the beach, near a couple of big resorts.  We enjoy sitting in the cockpit in the shade, watching the folks from Sandals sail by on the Hobie cats, or paddle by in their Kayaks.  We manage to ignore the occasional jet ski -- they're like mosquitoes, only bigger.  We already miss the peace and quiet of Grenada, but we're excited at the prospect of sailing again.  We'll be here a few more days, and then we'll move on.

We have about five days of sailing time between here and St. Martin, where we'll settle for a couple of months and stock up on the things that we can't get in the islands farther south.  We'll do a few minor repairs -- no new engine this winter -- where it's easy to get parts.  St. Martin is also one of the few places we've found in this part of the world where we can get fresh pecans, that staple in a southern boy's diet.  We always leave there with a few pounds stashed away to mix in our breakfast cereal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Take a Winter Vacation for Free. Go to the Dentist.

We're starting to think about heading north for the winter.  How's that sound to you folks who don't live in the tropics?  Hurricane season is almost behind us.  If it will just stop raining long enough, we'll stock the larder, fill up with diesel, shake out the sails, and head north, up to where it's cooler, like St. Martin, maybe?  That's far enough.  We don't want to find cold weather.

Part of our pre-departure routine is a visit to the dentist, which we did yesterday, in the pouring rain.  We've found dental care to be a real bargain down here.  After trying it out in several places, we've found a lady we like, here in Grenada.  She studied in England, and her partner in the practice studied in the U. S.  They both grew up in Grenada, and when they finished school, they decided to come back and open a practice with all of the latest equipment.  They've been at it for a couple of years, now, and they're thriving.

Yesterday, we both had a check-up and cleaning, with x-rays.  Bud had a minor filling done, as well.  The total charge, for both of us combined?  About $90, U. S.  Who needs dental insurance?  Back when we had it, our share of the cost for similar services was more than that, and that was over 10 years ago.

We've had similar experiences with medical care.   Want a vacation in a tropical paradise this winter?  Come down for your dental work.  You'll save enough over what it costs in the States to pay for the trip.

Monday, October 17, 2011

iPhones, iPods, and Yacht Provisioning

Grocery shopping takes a lot more time in this cruising life than it did when we lived ashore.  When non-cruisers ask us what we do all day to stay busy, provisioning is high on the list, and only partly for the reasons mentioned in our last post.  It is harder for us to get to the grocery store than it was when we lived on dirt, but there are other differences.
Dungda de Islan', where we live, we usually have to visit several stores, and perhaps an open air market or two, to find what we need for the week (or month, depending on our plans.)  Store stocks aren't replenished as often, and what's available is largely dependent on what was on the last ship.  It's quite different from getting in the car, going to the nearest supermarket, and buying everything on your list.  Oh, sure, you might want to shop price, but that's an option, not a necessity.  Here, one grocery store may have cornered the market on peanut butter.  Invariably, a competitor has all of the jelly in town.  Or maybe this week, everybody has peanut butter, but all of the jelly went to the next island to the north.  We've developed a maxim that we call "the rule of the islands."  It's simple:  If you see it and you think you might want it, buy it, right now.  If you go back later, it will be "finished," as they say down here, or sold out as we used to say.  And there may well never be a next shipment.
Besides availability, there's the problem of where to put everything when we get home to the boat. We have a lot of storage space, but it's spread over the entire vessel; a little locker here, space under the floorboards there, the cabinet concealed behind the settee cushions. You get the idea. When we were cruising out of the way places, we stored several months worth of food aboard. The last time we did that was several years ago, and we still find some of that stuff, every so often, in a forgotten corner. To avoid turning our provisions into science experiments, we've tried using lists, card files, spread sheets, you name it. We couldn't find a workable solution until recently.

We're now using a database management app on our iPod Touches.It’s called HanDBase, and it costs just a few dollars.It runs on all the magic iOS devices.It's straight forward to use, and we've developed databases for groceries, other consumables, and spare parts, all of which present the same acquisition and storage problems.
The screen shots are mostly self explanatory. The first one is the "default view," which is just a list of the items in our grocery database, with quantities on hand, quantity in each of several storage locations, target stock level, and a "Buy" quantity. The next screen is the "Need to Buy" view, which lists the only the items with a buy quantity of 1 or greater. That is the essence of our shopping list. We have 279 items in our grocery database, and 111 discrete storage locations; hence the need for an organized approach.

The last two shots show the details for an item record. This one happens to be coffee.

Because our iPod Touches go everywhere with us, the database is easily kept up to date. In fact, we keep recipes in another app called GoodReader, so when we're cooking, it's a matter of seconds to update the database as we use things. We always have the database available when we are shopping, so we know exactly what we need. There's space in each record for notes and favored brands, as well as typical prices, so if we find something that we aren't expecting, we can make an on the spot decision to buy or wait, knowing whether it would likely be cheaper in a different country. And, now that we've looked in all of those 111 storage locations, we aren't finding moldy surprises.

Just one more thing that we didn't think about when we were dirt dwellers

Monday, October 10, 2011

Grocery Shopping in Paradise

We've been trapped on our boat in a secluded anchorage for the last couple of weeks.  We've had tropical downpours virtually everyday, so going to town for groceries wasn't appealing.  We like the anchorage, because most of the time, there aren't any other boats around -- a rare thing in Grenada during hurricane season.  The downside is that shore access is limited.  There are a few private docks, but we think that being a good neighbor to the land-based folks means not intruding on their privacy, so we don't ask to use their docks.  We use our rowing dinghy to go ashore, instead of our rigid inflatable, because the rowing dinghy is more rugged, and we tie it off to the mangroves on a bit of bridge right of way.  Then we take off our shoes and wade ashore through the swamp, climbing up the bridge abutment to the road.  Once there, we have a short hike to a bus stop, where we can catch a bus into St. Georges, the capital city of Grenada.

The buses are actually small passenger vans, not as big as the SUV's that people in the States drive solo, and they are configured to seat 12 to 15 people.  When the bus stops, the conductor (Yes, there's a conductor on the bus!) slides the side door open and hops out to help you clamber aboard and find a seat.  Everyone scrunches up to make room, after exchanging polite, "Good mornings," or "Good afternoons," and you wedge yourself into any available space.  It's a chance to make personal contact, literally, with local inhabitants.  Personal space is an unknown concept -- everybody shares happily.  It's actually a pleasant experience that will restore your faith in your fellow man.  Once everybody is greeted and seated, the conductor climbs back aboard and the bus departs for the next stop -- often a few hundred yards away.  When the bus approaches your stop, you either call out, "Next stop, please," or, if the din of the radio is too loud, you rap on the ceiling.  The bus stops, the conductor hops out, and everybody willingly makes whatever accommodation in required to allow egress for the departing passengers.  When you get off, you pay the conductor, typically about the equivalent of a dollar.  It may not sound like it, but it's a surprisingly efficient way to get around.

Once we find what we need in the way of groceries at the various local markets in town, we head for the main bus terminal where we repeat the process.  Once back aboard Play Actor, we strip the packaging -- who wants to store all that cardboard -- and Leslie puts things away while I update our grocery database.  The database is important, given how involved shopping can be.  We have a lot of storage space aboard, but not all of it is readily visible, so it's important to know where the extra peanut butter was stashed.  It's equally important to know what we have and what we need, every time we go shopping.  More on the database next time…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tuna Trouble: The Smallest One We Ever Caught

Rainy days are hard on our energy conservation program, especially the kind of windless, rainy days we've had lately.  The solar panels and the wind generator can't keep up with our electrical consumption in this kind of weather, so yesterday, we had to run the diesel to charge our house battery bank.  What does that have to do with catching fish?  Well, read on. 

The last few times we've run the engine, we noticed the exhaust sounded a little throatier than usual.  For any non-boaters, the exhaust on most sailboats is cooled by injecting the seawater, which has already passed through the engine cooling system into the exhaust hose before it reaches the muffler.  Normal exhaust noise is a soft spluttering, splashing sound, as opposed to the throaty rumble we were hearing.  Our thoughts were that the cooling water flow was restricted, somehow, but we had cleaned the intake filter and checked for obvious obstructions.  Everything was as it should be.  Maybe the engine's voice is changing, now that it's broken in? 

At the end of the charging cycle yesterday, the exhaust discharge was clearly much drier than it had been at the start.  Something had changed, and the problem was getting progressively more serious.  I cleaned the filter again, washing the strainer basket in the galley sink.  It had a little crud in it, but wasn't dirty enough, to my thinking, to have caused our problem.  I replaced it in the strainer, and as I was about to start the engine to test everything, Leslie exclaimed, "There's a fish eye in the sink!" 

"What?  Are you sure?"  I asked. 

"You know how I like fish eyes.  I know a fish eye when I see one!"  She quipped, referring to all of the times she had been a guest at one of my business dinners in the days when I traveled in Asia.  She was often the only woman around, and so was treated as the guest of honor, which meant she was served with the choicest morsels.  She did acquire some odd tastes, and she does know her fish eyes better than most. 

"Wonder how that got there?"  I muttered, as I started the engine.  There was no change in the exhaust discharge, so I shut it down.  I took the top off the strainer and opened the inlet valve, cautiously, expecting a flood of seawater, as this is below the waterline.  Nothing happened, indicating an obstruction between the intake and the strainer.  I began methodically removing the hose connections between the seawater intake and the strainer, finding no obstructions until I reached the inlet valve at the sea strainer.  When I took the hose off the valve, I found about four inches of the back end of a little yellow fin tuna, hanging down out of the valve body.  Should have made a picture, but I was in too big a hurry.  I grasped the tail and gently tugged the fish out.  It was about six inches long, and the head would not quite fit into the valve, which is slightly narrower than the hose.  The suction had mangled the head end of the fish where it stuck in the valve entrance, and, yes, Leslie, it was missing an eye, but was otherwise in good shape.  Given that we weren't hungry, we tossed the fish over the side and put everything back together. 

The engine sounds normal, but we do wonder how long the little rascal was in there.  There is a good-sized chamber just where the hose attaches to the through-hull intake seacock.  The fish could have been living there for a while, and only occasionally causing an intermittent problem in our cooling water flow, until it finally got sucked into a narrower part of the system,  Hope it wasn't a claustrophobic tuna.

Friday, August 26, 2011

EBooks and Life Aboard a Sailboat, or Sail Faster, Read eBooks

We got interested in eBooks early on, because they take up no space and they are available anywhere there is internet service.  Both of those features are important to us.  Leslie was the early adopter; she started reading eBooks on a Windows CE handheld computer using Microsoft Reader, years ago.  Her choices were somewhat limited in the early days.  Most of the books available were out-of-copyright classics, which had some appeal.  She also found a few reference books, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica for the pocket PC.  Her breakthrough occurred about three years ago, when she discovered that she could find a recently published novel that she wanted in eBook format for immediate download.  It required downloading different reader software, but that was a trivial problem.  Given that we were down in the southeastern Caribbean, where bookstores are scarce, she was pretty excited.  It was possible to order a paper copy of the book in question from any of a number of online retailers, but shipping would have been expensive, plus there would have been the aggravation of clearing the package through customs and paying duty, as well.  The eBook price was slightly less expensive than a paper copy, but the total cost was a fraction of what the paper book would have cost us, and she had the book and was reading it within a few minutes. 

We now have a library of around a thousand eBooks, growing daily, stored on a notebook computer and managed with a great program called Calibre.  These days, we read eBooks on our iPod Touches.  Leslie was the pioneer again.  Her handheld PC died two years ago, and we replaced it with an iPod Touch.  It's an amazing device.  Although reading eBooks on the older device was convenient, switching to reading on an iPod Touch meant that she could read a book using one hand.  Once she got the iPod, she quit reading paper books.  I couldn’t understand it. 

When I got involved in planning to replace Play Actor's engine, I borrowed the iPod and downloaded a project-planning application, which really opened my eyes.  At the first chance, I got my own iPod Touch, and I’ve never looked back.  I have an entire reference library on it.  It now holds everything from novels to dictionaries of several languages to the entire Wikipedia database, offline, plus the workshop and parts manuals for everything on the boat, including our new diesel engine.  It also handles spreadsheet files for our budget, and stores all of our recipes and shopping information, as well as serving such mundane functions as a clock and calendar.  But, I digress.  I was writing about eBooks and their impact on our life under sail.  Perhaps I'll do another post about how computers and related technology have affected us in recent years. 

Reading eBooks on such a versatile platform has changed the way we read.  If we happen upon an unfamiliar reference, it's become intuitive to shift from the book in question to one of the many reference works that reside on the iPod, satisfy our curiosity, and go back to the book, all seamlessly.  While it is possible to do that with paper books, it is enough more cumbersome, especially on the boat, where books must be stored in every available cranny, that we didn't often do it.  Thoughts and ideas that are stimulated by whatever we are reading are easily captured in a similar manner.  We can copy from the text and paste to a notepad or to-do list, or make a note in our handwriting on the screen.  Annotation of what we're reading, and the sharing of the annotations, is equally easy.  That significantly increases our reading pleasure, as we interrupt one another much less often to share our observations.  In a paper book world, contemporaneous observations were usually not recorded, and so were often forgotten before they were discussed. 

The contribution of the iPod to my efficiency as a writer is tremendous.  Some of my best ideas pop into my mind while I'm reading, often when I'm reading something unrelated to my current writing project.  It's easy to capture those thoughts on the fly, without completely losing track of what I'm reading, but that's a topic for my writer's blog. 

The other major impact of eBooks on our life afloat has been in the area of boat speed.  We've taken a few hundred pounds of reference books off the boat in the past year, not to mention drastically reducing the number of paperback novels aboard.  We've come up a bit on our waterline.  We used to plan our cruising to some extent based on stopping in places where we knew we could find good book swaps.  That's no longer an issue.  We have internet service available almost everywhere, so we can add to our library anywhere we wish, without worrying about where we'll put the books. 

There are other benefits, as well, such as the freedom to read anywhere we're comfortable, without worrying about lighting.  Reading in bed is possible without disturbing your bedmate.  Some of the benefits are specific to the platform we've chosen, but a dedicated eBook reader, such as a Kindle or a Nook, would offer the freedom from bookstores and the space savings, at a minimum.  Some of our cruising acquaintances like the screens of the dedicated readers better, too. 

What's your experience with eBooks aboard?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Waiting on a Gal Named Emily

We've been watching an area of disturbed weather out in the Atlantic to the east of us for the last few days.  The weather gurus have been predicting that it would spin up into a tropical cyclone, and if so, it would be named Emily.  We already sat through one hurricane named Emily here in Grenada several years ago.  We figure that since the last Emily rolled right over us, this one was bound to miss us, kind of like lightening not striking twice in the same place.

Emily-to-be (or maybe not to be) had a mind of her own, though.  She's not going to get in a hurry just because the forecasters say she will.  She's just dawdling along out there, and, for now, will pass well to the north of us.  She hasn't even decided if she's going to be a storm.  We're thankful that she wasn't listening to the same weather predictions that we heard.

We did actually move the boat from our normal summertime anchorage around to a spot on the south shore of Grenada, just in case the winds came out of the west with the passing of this weather system.  It was also time to run the engine to charge the batteries, since we haven't had enough solar and wind energy to keep them up for the last couple of weeks, and we noticed on our last swim that we were growing a little slime on Play Actor's underwater surfaces.  The move took care of all of those problems, and afforded a change of scenery for the crew, as well.

We're enjoying a relaxing summer, reading, swimming, and doing enough minor boat maintenance to keep occupied.  Bud just published a short story, The Lost Tourist Franchise, available in eBook format on Smashwords, The Lost Tourist Franchise on Smashwords.  It should be available on the Kindle Store on August 2. Check his writer's blog at http://www.clrdougherty.com.

We'd love to hear from you.  We hope your summer is a good one.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Home on the Boat

We flew back to Grenada on June 29th to rejoin Play Actor.  During our time in the States, we gave some serious attention to the idea that we might move ashore in the next few years.  We have always thought that we would someday move back to a shore-based life, and as we approach normal retirement age, we worry that we have no idea where we would live if we gave up the sailing life.

It has been 3 years since our last visit to the States, and, after 12 years afloat, life in a close-in suburb or an urban area seemed appealing.  We spent time in California's central valley with Leslie's folks, as well as visiting relatives in the Colorado Rockies and our children in Fort Worth and Houston.  We made a side trip to Austin, thinking that the Texas hill country might be an attractive spot to which we could  retire from retirement. 

The prospect of life ashore after 12 years of cruising is daunting.  We've been back to the States a number of times, but always with the perspective of visitors.  This time our viewpoint was different.  We were overwhelmed by all of the people, cars, and stores.  Even while driving out in the country, we saw people giving vent to frustration, blowing their horns and gesturing angrily.  We rarely encounter such behavior in the islands.  We went into a grocery store in Austin which could have housed all of the grocery stores in any of the Caribbean countries where we spend most of our time, and it was only one of many of like size. 

It was a relief to return to the small, friendly island nation of Grenada, where the immigration and customs officials know us by sight, if not by name.  As we settle back into our life afloat, we worry a bit that we may not be able to find a place in the States to call home when we're ready to give up our wandering way of life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

High and Dry (and Cold)

We've spent the month of May ashore, visiting relatives in California and Colorado, and trying to stay warm.  We nearly froze in the Rockies last week -- first time we've seen winter weather in years, and there was some kind of white stuff on the ground.  We have vague memories of living like that, but we're missing that warm Caribbean sun.  Reports from friends advise that Play Actor is faring well in her berth in Grenada, and that the weather there is wonderful, as usual. 

I've published Dungda de Islan', a story of our cruising  life in the Caribbean, this week, and it's making its way into distribution.  Links to the eBook version are on my writer's blog at www.clrdougherty.com .  The paperback version will be there soon.  If you're interested in the eBook version, check out the promotional offers.  I'll be raising the price soon, once it gets into general distribution, so don't dally. 

We're starting to think about the projects awaiting our return to Play Actor next month.  None are of the magnitude of the engine replacement, but there's always something to work on, on a boat.  I've kept my hand in by doing homeowner repairs at Leslie's folks' house, just to keep from getting rusty.  It's easy to forget that houses require as much attention as boats.  I guess the grass is always greener somewhere else. 

We're looking forward to visiting children and grandchildren in Texas during June.  At least we should be able to thaw our aching joints, there.  Who knew it would be cold in central California this time of year?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Moving on...

Well, the engine replacement is truly behind us, now.  We've had an 80-hour shakedown during our southerly migration.  The first half of the trip, we were running the engine mostly by choice, as we wanted to get it through the break-in period.  To remind us of the perversity of inanimate objects, once we hit 50 hours and got ready for some peaceful sailing, we found three small tears in the mainsail.  It's only 32 years old -- things just don't last the way they should.  We elected to motor-sail to St. Lucia with staysail and engine.  That put a few more hours on the clock.  The sail-maker that we like in St. Lucia patched the main -- he figures there's life in it yet, and he's amazed at how well it's served us.  So are we.  When the time comes, we'll order another just like it from Lee Sails in Hong Kong.

We did the 50-hour service on the engine, enjoyed the beautiful weather and water in Rodney Bay, and whiled away two weeks.  Now we've gotten ourselves into that basic cruiser's trap, the schedule problem.  We have to get to Grenada by the end of April because we have plane tickets from there to the States, leaving May 2.  It's not far to Grenada; only about 140 miles, but there's no wind, so we fire up the diesel again.  Now that it's broken in, we can run it the way we choose, as opposed to following the break-in regimen.  That means that we don't have to run it as hard, and we're able to get a better feel for how it's going to serve us in normal use.  We've begun to gather some fuel consumption data. 

At 2000 rpm, the engine moves us along at around 5.8 to 6 knots, and uses 2/3 U.S. gallons per hour.  That's a little faster, and a little lower fuel consumption, than we were accustomed to with the old Volvo.  It's also much quieter and smoother than the old engine, and much quieter and smoother than running this one at higher speeds.  Interestingly, although this engine runs at a somewhat higher temperature than the Volvo, it radiates much less heat into the boat.  The cooling system is apparently significantly more efficient.  That's an unexpected bonus in the tropics.  At 2300 rpm we move along about a quarter of a knot faster, and burn about 0.9 gallons per hour.  To us, that bit of speed is not worth the extra fuel under normal circumstances.  If we push the throttle up to 2700 rpm, we're moving around 6.7 knots and using 1.35 gallons per hour.  An extra knot above our usual cruising speed doubles the fuel consumption.  At full throttle, we making about 7 knots, but we didn't keep it there long enough to gather any fuel consumption data.  The observed behavior tracks very well with Yanmar's published fuel consumption curve for this engine, which predicts that at full throttle, we would use a little more than two gallons per hour.  Talk about diminishing returns!  At least we have the option of using that extra power to drive into head winds and seas to run an inlet or get out of trouble on a lee shore, if we need it.  We didn't know how much better this would be than the old engine.

Enough about the engine.  We're happy to be back in Grenada, even if briefly.  The Customs agent at the Grenada Yacht Club welcomed us back, as did the Immigration agent.  We'll spend the next few days preparing the boat for our absence, removing and storing the sails, canvas, and so forth.  We're looking forward to seeing folks back in the States, but we'll miss Grenada while we're gone.  We keep reminding ourselves that we'll still have 4 months to enjoy this wonderful island when we return.

With boat work behind us for a while, I'm ready to shift my focus and energy to my writing again.  I'm still planning to publish "Dunga de Islan'" this summer, maybe before we get back to the boat, and I have a couple of novels on the drawing board.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

It's Downhill from Here!

We stayed in Antigua from March 23 until March 29, visiting with our friends and enjoying the fried chicken from the grocery store at Jolly Harbour.  It's the best fried chicken we've found down this way.  We were eager to get on our way before the tradewinds began their annual shift from northeast to southeast, as southeast winds would make for difficult sailing until we reach St. Lucia, the eastern most point on our way south.  We stayed in Antigua a little too long.

The weather forecast for the 29th showed a little south in the easterly wind, shifting back to east on the 30th.  We had solid southeasterly wind on the 29th, all the way to our stop in Deshaies, Guadeloupe.  We motor-sailed the whole way, with main, staysail, and the diesel.  We needed an excuse to break in the new engine, anyway.  On the 30th, we had more of the same, and discovered a rip in the mainsail, so we took it down and motored along with just the staysail up.  This made no difference to our speed, but without the stabilizing influence of the main, the ride was a lot less pleasant.

Just as we were getting into the heavy seas at the south end of Guadeloupe, the engine dropped from about 2800 RPM to about 2000, and began to vibrate.  We lost speed rapidly.  We quickly figured out that our propeller had fouled on some floating debris.  Without the mainsail, and without the engine, our options diminished.  We turned around and set a course for the town of Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, a few miles away.  We were able to raise a bit of mainsail, up to the third reef, which would normally be used for sailing in near hurricane strength winds.  We only had about twenty knots of wind, now on our starboard bow, but we were able to make our way slowly to a semi-protected anchorage off the town, where we dropped the anchor under sail.  Bud donned snorkel gear and dove on the prop.  As we suspected, a piece of floating fish net had wrapped neatly around the prop.  Bud quickly cut the net away with a couple of desperate strokes of his dive knife.  All was well, again.  Because our prop runs in a small aperture between the aft end of the full keel and the rudder, it is well protected, and we have never, in twenty-two years of sailing Play Actor, fouled the prop before, not even among all of the crab pots on the Chesapeake.  Of course, it had to happen when we were more dependent on the engine than usual. 

The weather forecasts have given up any pretense at northeasterly trades, showing southeasterly winds of 15 to 20 knots for the next few days.  Our course until we reach St. Lucia is a little east of south, so we are very glad for the performance of our new engine.  The engine gives us an option for going to windward now that we haven't had before.  The old engine would only push us along at less than 5 knots with the wind in our faces.  Although our hull speed is around 7 knots, the old engine and prop combo didn't have enough power to overcome the windage.  That's not a problem with our new engine.  We can motor merrily into the wind at 7 knots, as long as we can pay for diesel fuel.  While it's nice to be able to do that, the ride is not great, and, with the wind close on our port bow and the seas up, we're wearing foul weather gear to stay dry.

We spent the night of the 30th anchored in Portsmouth, Dominica, and left early the next morning for St. Pierre, Martinique.  This is normally Leslie's least favorite hop, as the 25-mile channel from Dominica to Martinique is usually rough.  She was pleasantly surprised, this time, as the wind abated somewhat, as well as going a little farther east, making for a quite comfortable trip.  We anchored for the evening under the visage of the statue of Our Lady of Safe Harbor, up on the hillside above town, and thanked her for the smooth ride.  Tomorrow, we'll go to St. Lucia, where we will rest a few days and take our main to the sail maker who patched it for us a couple of years ago.

Our April Fool's Day trip to Martinique was the roughest we've experienced in all of our years in the islands.  The wind is back with a vengeance, and without the main, the waves really slap us around.  About 12 miles out from our destination, we hit a patch of breaking waves, some of which were sizable.  Several broke over the windward quarter and filled the cockpit.  This is not dangerous to a boat like Play Actor, as the cockpit has good drainage, but it's certainly not leisurely sailing.  In all our years aboard, we've only had green water in the cockpit a few times -- three or four, maybe, and those in stormy conditions.  Today, we had green water in the cockpit half a dozen times in an hour.  The waves diminished as we came into the lee of St. Lucia, and we anchored and dried ourselves out before taking the dinghy ashore to clear in with Customs.

We'll be here a week or so, waiting to get the mainsail fixed, and we'll use the time to catch up on some minor maintenance.  Our engine is fully broken in, so we'll do the 50-hour service checklist, as well as replacing weather stripping around a hatch and several portholes that were leaking while in the rough water.  It's nice to be cruising again, instead of installing an engine, and it's nice to be here in St. Lucia.  One of the fruit vendors, named Gregory, came by in his dinghy to welcome us back with a bunch of local bananas -- he knows Leslie as "Banana Lady," because that's all she ever buys from him.  He comes by every day that we are here, tooting on his conch shell to announce his arrival, and makes a close pass alongside, holding out a big bunch of bananas.  Leslie leans far out over the lifelines with a $5 E.C. bill in her fingers, and they do a flying transfer, accompanied by good-natured yells, laughter, and occasional applause from a neighboring boat.

It's downhill from here to Grenada, where we'll leave the boat for a few weeks to fly back to the States and visit family.  All of our courses from here to there have west in them, AND we'll have a mainsail again.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sailing South

March 21, 2011

Well, our engine replacement project is really finished, now.  We made a few last minute purchases -- things best bought in Saint Martin -- and cleared out with the French officials this morning, with our next port of call Jolly Harbour, Antigua.  We spent the afternoon stowing things and double-checking lists, and went to bed early.

March 22, 2011

We left St. Martin through the drawbridge, and, once out of Simpson Bay, raised our sails to check the recent tuning of the mast.  We had to slack the rigging wires when we had the boat hauled out, in order to accommodate the slings of the crane, and realized that it had been several years since we tuned the rig.  It made quite a difference in the way Play Actor sails, and we had a nice jaunt over to St. Barths, where we picked up a mooring for the night in the marine park at Anse Columbier.  We set an alarm for the next morning, and went to bed early, planning an early departure so we would arrive in Antigua before dark.

March 23, 2011

We woke up to the sunrise coming through the portholes, and realized that the alarm didn't go off.  A quick check showed that Bud had set it for   Engineers don't always have such a great grasp of technology.  We got under way by about , somewhat later than planned, and, as we rounded the southeastern corner of St. Barth's, discovered that the wind had more east in it than the forecast had indicated.  This was a disappointment, as we had expected a close reach for the 75 nautical miles to Antigua, and we were hard on the wind.  Given the sloppy seas, which we had expected, that would make for a slow trip.  We decided to exercise our new engine, and motor sail for a while. 

The engine is still in the 50 hour prescribed break-in period, and so  we must  run it harder than we normally would.  We discovered that even hard on the wind with main and staysail, smashing into seas that sent green water rolling back from the bow to the cockpit occasionally, we were still able to make hull speed at about 60 to 70% of full power.  We made it to our chosen anchorage off Jolly Harbour, Antigua, in a little over 11 hours, amazed because we didn’t know Play Actor would go so fast under conditions like these.

We'll be here for a few days, visiting with our friends on Kewaydin, who are getting ready to leave their boat here for the summer.  We will leave early in the week to resume our journey to Grenada.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sea Trial

We moved Play Actor back to our favorite winter anchorage in the Simpson Bay Lagoon on March 7, and got a chance to evaluate our new propulsion system.  Everything works as it should, with the new engine and propeller combination appearing to be perfectly matched.  The engine reaches it's full rated RPM at just about hull speed, and at cruising RPM range, we're making about 6 knots, which is a little faster than we used to go.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

All Finished

New versus old

We hauled Play Actor out on February 24.  Once she was blocked up on the hardstand, we pulled the old propeller and drew the shaft.  There was enough growth on the shaft inside the stern tube to make it challenging to get the shaft out past the cutless bearing, but persistence and penetrating oil will overcome calcium deposits every time.  We took the old shaft and the new one, along with the new  coupling, down the street to the machine shop, and had them cut and key the new shaft, and check the shaft and coupling for trueness.

While we waited on the shaft, we had the yard sand and paint the bottom with fresh antifouling, which we had not done in 3 years.  We  also installed a new cutless bearing, since we had the shaft out,
Note blade cross section

although the old one was still in good shape.  The yard finished the paint on March 1, the same day that the machine shop completed the shaft work.  We installed the shaft and did a rough engine alignment, and installed the new propeller.  We launched Play Actor on March 2, and completed the alignment of the engine and shaft in the water.

We started the engine and put it through its paces while tied to the working dock, although we could not check the engine RPM at full throttle for fear of literally ripping out the dock.  We got up to 2800 RPM before the dock began to give way, and we had not quite reached full throttle, so the prop, a Campbell Sailer (sic) 3 bladed one, appears to be at least reasonably close to the right pitch.  The old

Note old blade cross section
engine / prop combination didn't have that kind of power.  The new prop certainly delivers plenty of thrust, in spite of looking very small compared to the old, standard three bladed prop it replaced.

It's good to be back in the water.  We plan to spend a few days at the dock with plenty of fresh water and electricity to finish our clean up.

To those who have followed our progress, thanks for your interest.  We will happily answer any questions you may have.  Just drop us an email.

In place

Monday, February 28, 2011

Close to the Finish LIne

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fitting the hose to the exhasut
With the engine in place, we were able to find the right spot for the new seawater strainer and mount it.  We finished plumbing the seawater intake, and connected the shift and throttle cables.  We installed and plumbed the new vented loop in the seawater line to the exhaust elbow.  We pulled the battery cables back into place and connected them, as well as finishing the plumbing of the exhaust system.  We added oil to the crankcase and the transmission, and coolant to the cooling system.  We turned the key, and the engine purred to life instantly.  It is amazingly quiet compared to its predecessor, even allowing for the new sound insulation.  We checked that everything was working properly, and shut it down to 
3" hose into the muffler
wait for our turn to haul the boat out and draw the propeller shaft. 

Meanwhile, we can put our living space back in order.  We've been camping out among all sorts of cartons, lumber, and hardware for the past two weeks. 

The end is in sight.  Once we get the shaft and prop in, and the yard gets the bottom painted,, we should be happily back at anchor in Simpson Bay lagoon,

And out of the muffler

Hoses to water heater (Top), and
 modified throttle linkage

Seawater strainer, with
 shut off valve, in engine compartment

Oops!  The shaft won't reach.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In with the New

While we were waiting for epoxy to cure during the work on the engine beds, we did a few smaller jobs, such as installing the new exhaust through-hull, and routing the exhaust hose, which at 3 inches in diameter and 10 feet long, reminded Bud of his experiences wrestling with alligators in his youth.  We also mounted the new muffler and assembled the new seawater intake system.  We installed the new instrument panel, and ran the cabling for it.  We finished these things on Sunday afternoon of our first week.

On Monday, we finished painting the engine space and installed new sound insulation material, and booked some time on the crane for Tuesday.  On Tuesday, while we waited for the engine to be delivered from the distributor's shop 100 yards away, we re-mounted the fuel filters and tidied the boat a bit.  Late in the afternoon, the engine was delivered.  After uncrating the engine, we warped Play Actor around to the crane, lifted the engine off the shipping pallet, and set it on the beds.  Everything fit as expected, so we warped Play Actor back to the working dock and did a preliminary alignment.  We marked the rails for the holes to bolt down the new engine mounts, and used a hoist from the boom to shift the engine forward, giving us room to drill and tap the rails for the 12 mm mounting bolts.  Once we finished drilling and tapping the rails, we set the engine back in place and bolted it down, pending a final alignment when we get the new propeller shaft in place.

Out of the crate

Hooking it up

Down the hatch
On the beds

Just right

A little that way

Marking the mounting holes

Moving the engine out of the way

Drilling and tapping the mounting holes