Tuesday, April 23, 2013

BVI Revisited

BVI Revisited

Our plans are to wait out the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 1 in and around Panama.   But it gets hot there and the Trade Winds in the BVI keep it cool, so after the family visit, we decided to stay in the BVI for a while before heading south to the "ABC Islands" of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.  

We've spent nearly three weeks here revisiting our favorite spots and some new ones.  At "The Baths" where giant round granite bolders tumble into the sea making caves both above and below the water's surface, we snorkeled with a sea turtle that wasn't in the least concerned with us, allowing us to follow him all around.

From the Baths we returned to the large North Sound of Virgin Gorda.

We found plenty to do at the Bitter End...

...where we watched the Masters Golf Tournament at a bar at the Bitter End Yacht Club...

...and took a SCUBA class.
Moonshadow has four SCUBA tanks, a compressor, and a 50' Hookah rig.  With the boat's bottom getting dirty, we knew we had to start cleaning it and it would be crazy not to make use of all this gear.  But it would also be crazy to attempt SCUBA without some instruction so we took a class at the Bitter End.  

Nearby Saba Rock is a small island that has a small resort, restaurant and bar.  In all our previous visits to Virgin Gorda, we'd never been to Saba Rock, so we made reservations for dinner.  They have a great afternoon attraction, especially for the kids. 

From 5:00 to 6:00 each day they feed the tarpon.  

Dozens of these giant fish have learned the drill and set their body clocks for the 5:00 event.

The kids were spellbound.

It was all so exhausting, we had to revive ourselves with a couple of Pain Killers.

We had chartered in the BVI twice before, then did a quick tour aboard Moonshadow before picking up Ryan, Shelly and the grand kids for their visit here.  So this was our fourth tour of these islands.  We decided to see some places we hadn't seen, like Anegada island.  

Anegada is only about 15 miles from the Bitter End Yacht Club, but you cannot see it until you arrive because, unlike any other island around, it is a low lying coral and limestone island with a maximum elevation of 28 feet.

You know you are getting close when the clouds pick up the turquoise reflection of the shallow coral reef.  About 300 vessels missed this sign so wreck diving is an attraction here.

Two noteworthy events at Anegada made it into the log book.  One was John representing Moonshadow in the spontaneous conch shell horn blowing at sundown featuring at least four other boats.  Oddly, nobody seems to know more than one note.

The second noteworthy event was the breaking of our anchor chain!  This beefy 3/8" galvanized steel chain link parted at the weld as we were preparing to raise the anchor.  We had pulled in about one hundred feet of chain leaving about 25 feet on the bottom.  John was retrieving the anchor buoy, which we had rigged so others would know where our anchor was in the crowded anchorage.  When a gust of wind blew Moonshadow back, taking up the slack in the chain, we hit with a sharp BANG, and began drifting away.  

Fortunately, we had the anchor buoy rigged so we did not lose our beloved 121 lb. Rocna anchor.  It is a great testimony to that anchor that, under the tremendous load it took to break the chain the Rocna did not budge from it's spot, buried in the sand.

Recovering our anchor took some time so we ended up staying a second night at Anegada, then sailed west for Cane Garden Bay on Tortola Island.  On a whim, and since we were looking for places we hadn't already been, we turned into Brewer's Bay which lies just east of Cane Garden Bay.  This place is a gem and we had it all to ourselves.  Thinking back, we cannot remember a place we've been where there wasn't at least one other boat.

We had never anchored here before because the charter companies forbid it.  But we had visited by dinghy from nearby Cane Garden Bay during one of our charters, in a hilarious choppy ride that included a massive rain squall so intense that we all wore our snorkels and masks to see and breath.  We arrived on the shore soaked to the bone with a foot of water in the dinghy and laughed our heads off at the nearby restaurant as we wrung out our clothes. 

But this time the weather was delightful.

Two things we really love are long walks on a deserted beach ...

...and snorkeling over beautiful coral reefs.  

Brewer's Bay has both and so much more.

And the scenery was just beautiful.

One reason the charter companies don't want their boats in Brewer's Bay is the reefs.  This one in the center of the bay is about 2-3 feet deep and will break when a bigger swell finds its way into the bay.

The birds seem to know about the fish here too. 

We watch them working all day soaring, turning and diving.  
Each day, we'd watch the sunset and ask ourselves "should we leave tomorrow or stay another day?"  

Guess what we decided...
Hint:  These are all different sunsets!

We've been here 5 nights.

We took advantage of the protected bay with clear water and a sand bottom 12 feet deep to clean Moonshadow's bottom using the Hookah rig.  We couldn't have done it without the SCUBA gear as we had let it go far too long.  It was tiring work so now we've learned to keep after it more regularly.  And, Moonshadow will be fast again!

We just love the BVI, but it is high season and all the anchorages are crowded, so it was such a joy to find this little oasis.  Best of all we have WiFi, so after a day of soaking up the beauty of this place, we can Skype home, catch up on news and Facebook, and write our blog.

But as the rising moon reminds us, time marches on so we must prepare to continue on to new adventures.  Next stops St. Croix, Bonaire, Curaçao, Aruba and then Panama.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Reflections on our first year of cruising.

After purchasing Moonshadow on March 27, 2012, we cast off the dock lines at St. Georges Marina in Jacksonville, Florida on April 8, 2012.  A lot of cruisers spend months or years preparing their boat for a cruise.  Some never leave.  We decided to leave immediately using our tour of the East Coast as a shakedown cruise.  We figured we'd learn about Moonshadow as she was before making any big changes.  Besides, there are boatyards, parts and supplies, and skilled marine trades scattered all up and down the coast where they speak English and accept credit cards.  

We sailed first South to Key Biscayne, then North to Georgia, the Carolinas and the Chesapeake.  Then we continued on to Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Hyannis.  Another jump took us to Maine where our northern most port was Somes Harbor.  Turning South again, we visited places we'd skipped on the northern journey like Marblehead, Boston, Woods Hole, Newport, RI, and the Long Island Sound.  We passed through Hells Gate on the East River where New York loomed ahead.  From there we sailed to Portsmouth Virginia in one hop.  After riding out hurricane Sandy there, we left December 5th for a nine day passage with Crew Alli Bell and Ed Lazarski to Antigua where we all spent Christmas.  In the Caribbean, we island hopped south to Grenada then reversed again heading to the BVI for a family visit.  

So now, one year later it seems appropriate to share some thoughts on our first year living and cruising aboard Moonshadow. 

  • Distance sailed:             6151 nautical miles
  • Time under way:           833 hours
  • Average speed              7.38 knots
  • Countries visited           10
  • Ports visited                  104
  • Northernmost port of call: Somes Harbor, Maine
    44° 21.4' North
  • Southernmost port of call: Prickly Bay, Grenada
    12° 00.0' North
  • Nights on passage         15
  • Nights on anchor          182
  • Nights on moorings       8
  • Nights on a dock           156
  • Maximum observed true wind 
    • Tied to a marina in Boston                         46 knots 
    • at anchor in Jupiter Bay, North Carolina    38 knots 
    • on passage north of Cape Hatteras             37 knots 
  • Maximum GPS speed observed 15.3 knots 
    • We were surfing in 32 knots true wind on Long Island Sound
  • Best 24 hour run was 215 miles.  
    • Cape Lookout to Hampton Yacht Club 262 miles in 29.25 hours.  During this passage we sustained a speed of 11 knots for 14 hours while in the gulf stream around Cape Hatteras.
Statistically, Moonshadow's 833 hours underway represents only 10 percent of the time, but those are just hours.  When we look just at calendar days when the boat is moved vs. days when she stays put, then ignore days in a boatyard, days off the boat for travel home, and those 35 days stuck in Portsmouth waiting for a Florida Tax deadline, we find we spent nearly an equal number of days sailing and days stopped, averaging about 50 miles per day and less than 7 hours underway per day.  Back out the 15 overnight passages and our typical voyage was about 5 hours.

This is a comfortable schedule for us.  We've learned that Moonshadow can reliably provide about 7.5 knots between anchorages so we look for a trip between 50 and 90 miles, planning to arrive at our destination well before dark.  If we have good sailing conditions and arrive sooner, great, if not, we've already planned a couple of hours more daylight into the day. For the longer hops, we set the alarm early to insure an afternoon arrival.  We're more comfortable leaving a port we know something about in the dark than arriving in the dark somewhere we've never been.  In a year of cruising, we have only arrived in the dark six times and since leaving the US East coast, have never had a nighttime arrival.

Cruising the East Coast with its abundant anchorages and vast inland waterways, it was easy to keep this kind of schedule.  The distances in the Caribbean are a bit longer, but still close enough for Moonshadow to avoid overnight passages.  This will change when we sail to Panama, and again when we sail the Pacific.

Looking at our engine hours vs. logged time on passage you would believe we motor 80% of the time.  This is a little misleading since the engine is run often before and after a trip and for other reasons.  Nevertheless, we find we've motored or motor-sailed much more than we thought we would.  It is probably more like 60 or 65 percent of the time.  We logged several hundred miles in the ICW, Chesapeake, harbors and narrow backwaters where it wouldn't make sense or be fun to sail.

Another factor is the sailing conditions. You would be amazed how often the wind is exactly on the nose or so far aft, that sailing isn't practical, or it's just too light to sail.  Then there is our desire to arrive on these short hops before dark.  In light wind conditions where we might be ghosting along at just a few knots under sail alone, we've found Moonshadow will motor-sail at 9 knots. That's easy math.  So, if it looks like we won't arrive before dark under sail, due to adverse and or light wind, or current, we fire up the iron genoa.    

Lifestyle Changes

So that's the picture by the numbers.  But how about this lifestyle? After 39 years of marriage, raising kids, chasing careers and paying mortgages, we've chosen a new lifestyle that is as different from our previous life as night and day.  We knew there would be big changes but couldn't imagine the dimensions they would take.


We've met cruisers who keep their homes and alternate between lives aboard and ashore.  For us though, cruising meant selling our home, cars, boats and ridding ourselves of a lot of stuff.  No… A LOT OF STUFF.  The process was a big one and it wasn't easy parting with a lifetime of the "treasures" we've collected.  Big surprise…we don't miss any of it.  

OK, we didn't get rid of everything...

Of course it also meant saying goodbye to family and friends who were always just a call or a short drive away.  Bigger surprise…we miss them very, very much.  We are often out of cell or even WiFi range so frequent contact is difficult.  We now plan to travel home more than originally thought.  It was really tough to say goodbye to our Yellow Lab Casey, but she moved in with my brother Steve, his wife Wendy and their Golden Retrievers on a 5 acre ranch. We know she is happier than she would have been aboard Moonshadow.

Switching to life aboard a boat involves a lot of adjustments.  Here are a few:  

Storage Space

You don't have all your stuff with you, and for what stuff you do have, there is precious little space for it on any size boat.  Moonshadow's canoe hull is fast, but a trade-off to a fast boat is a reduction of storage space.  We sometimes have dreams of finding a previously undiscovered empty locker.

George left his tools aboard.  John brought all of his:
Crisis!  Too many tools!

By the way, we get no sympathy from the cruisers we've met on this subject.  But all of this is a good thing.  Space limits require that you evaluate every single item on board for it's utility.  If it doesn't earn it's keep, there's always room in Davy Jones' locker!

Systems and Maintenance

When John sailed to the South Pacific back in '71, some boats had "modern conveniences" but not Fairweather, the schooner he crewed aboard.  Water makers for smaller yachts didn't exist so you watched every drop.  Fresh water was hand pumped to sinks in the galley and head; toilets were hand flush jobs; lighting was kerosene and sails were managed with block and tackle.  No GPS, no RADAR, no AIS, no SSB radio, no Sat Phone, no wind or speed instruments, no electric winches, no TV, no microwave, no WiFi, no cell phones.  None of the things cruisers today wouldn't leave the dock without.  Crude, maybe, but very reliable and easy and cheap to fix and maintain.

Today, things have changed.  On modern yachts, there's a power this and a power that for most everything, making cruising life "convenient".  When it is working.  Aboard Moonshadow, for example there are more than 20 electric or mechanical pumps  supporting mission critical systems, where "mission critical" could mean the fun stops when one of these systems goes down.  

When you move aboard you must say goodbye to those long hot showers.  We take showers and they're often hot, but never long. Even with the relative abundance of fresh water provided by a water maker, we're careful with what we use.  We use and replenish about 25 gallons of water per day.  Compare that to your water bill at home.  This "luxury"  is only possible with a water maker.

Refrigeration is another huge convenience that exists on modern yachts.  We thought nothing of putting hundreds of dollars of steaks and other perishables in Moonshadow's freezer in Virginia, but a worn out electric motor threw us back to the days of sailing with an Ice Box.  We were able to keep food for ten days before getting a replacement motor shipped from the States by using our ice maker.. oh yeah, another system.  

When looking for a cruising boat, we thought all these systems were awesome, and they are, but you're also buying the responsibility of keeping them running.  That becomes a bit more daunting the further from "home" you go.  If you don't have the parts to repair a system you might have to go days or weeks without it, and be prepared to pay for freight, customs brokers, taxis, etc. to obtain just what you need.

Our WiFi booster worked for months in the States but quit when we were in St. Lucia. While we waited three weeks for the parts to be repaired and returned, we only had WiFi on iPads in bars and restaurants.  When we finally got it back it worked for a week and stopped again.  WiFi is so important to us, we finally bought a second system for redundancy.

We don't get any sympathy from our cruiser friends on this one either.  Cockpit conversation over sundowners always includes some discussion over what's broken and how to fix it.  One friend says they expect three things to break a day.  We knew we'd have to fix things, but didn't appreciate how routine it would be.  Now we understand the expression "Cruising is fixing boats in exotic places".  

Between spare parts and tools aboard Moonshadow we can usually handle a breakdown.


Provisioning wasn't entirely new to us since we'd provisioned our previous boats for month-long vacations to Catalina.  The eye opener was what's involved when you don't have a car or know where the store is.  Grocery shopping back home that might have been a 30-40 minute round trip can consume parts of a couple of days.  First you must research grocery store locations.  This might involve sailing Moonshadow to a different anchorage.  Then there's research to find the dinghy dock and how to reach the store from there.  Then of course there's a dinghy ride involved.  Followed by a walk.  Maybe a long one. Once at the store, you're challenged with finding stuff since you've never stepped foot inside before, and then figuring out substitutes for the things they just don't carry.  Is this stuff milk?  Seriously?  It's not even refrigerated. All the while you must be careful not to buy more than you can carry back to the dinghy.  Trust me, you must be very careful about how much weight your purchases involve.  

In the BVI we hijacked the grocery carts to tote our stuff to Moonshadow.
Since you probably weren't careful enough about the weight of your purchases, now there'll be a taxi ride back to where you left the dinghy.  Then there's toting things down a dock; loading the dinghy; riding back to Moonshadow and you're done.  Well, not quite, you still must lift all your packages (did you think about how heavy all this was?) from the dinghy to the deck; move them into the cockpit and down the five step ladder to the galley and finally put them all away.  Oh, have I mentioned the storage problem.  

Wait!!  I think I see a place for these tooth pics!

Laundry is similar to provisioning.  But different. When Deb isn't bent over the edge of the tub, washing clothes, using the wringer on our "washing machine", or hanging laundry to dry, it's because we're using facilities ashore.  For that, there's the dinghy ride, walking, and carrying loads, but you're never going to be surprised by how much laundry you have to tote back to the boat.  If you find a self serve laundromat, you need to plan for the unknown like getting foreign coins and broken machines.  At the laundromat, a quick count of working machine reveals how long the Captain can hang out at the marine hardware store.  Many of the Caribbean stops did not offer self service laundry.  Instead, you must drop off your stuff and pick it up tomorrow.  The best laundry day was in Bequia where they sent a launch to pick up our laundry from Moonshadow and dropped it all off the next day so we didn't have to interrupt our plans other than to be aboard when the delivery was promised.  


Cooking aboard is really just like cooking at home.  In your closet.  Actually we love our galley.   

Not all of our guests enjoy the galley as much as we do.

It is bigger than some; has high fiddles around the counters; and you can wedge yourself in against the heel of either port or starboard tack.  

Another miracle from the galley!

Cooking underway?  Ok, now that's different.  We've cooked offshore before so we knew what to expect.  Still Deb came away from our passage to Antigua with bruises to show for her time in the galley.  Everything must be set down someplace where it'll stay put, like against the leeward combing or in the sink or on the gimbaled stovetop.  Pouring liquid could be a complete miss since gravity bears no resemblance to the once vertical surfaces of the surrounding galley.  John's Tahiti schooner captain, Omer Darr, advised to always pour wine with the bottle aligned fore-and-aft.  Good advice and the reason becomes self-evident.  You cannot fill containers to the top, but must allow some slosh room.  

This pressure cooker is a safe way to cook at sea.

Depending on which tack you're sailing the door to the gimbaled oven may be pointed at the overhead or the deck.  Plates are useless.  It is best to plan several meals ahead that can be prepared in five minutes and served in a large, deep bowl with a spoon.  


When you live and cruise aboard, the weather takes on more significance in your life.  We try to get daily weather information from multiple sources.  Fortunately the weather information today is plentiful and generally very good, so chances are we won't be surprised "out there". 

One weather fact you can rely on:  It is warmer in the tropics.

Moonshadow's previous owner George says he never saw gale conditions offshore on his circumnavigation because they only sailed with a good long range weather window.  We have only had  conditions near gale force once, with gusts to 37 knots on approach to Virginia.  

Still, experiencing the dynamic weather on the East Coast was a sobering reminder that we were no longer in Southern California.  They appreciate this along the Eastern Seaboard where you're likely to see The Weather Channel tuned in at a bar.

Because the Atlantic in December is no joke, we utilized a weather router named Bob Cook for our passage to Antigua.  We maintained daily email contact and received updated weather forecasts and suggested routing every two days.  There were no surprises.  

Managing Affairs

When you live aboard, life goes on.  That means paying bills, ordering things online, correspondence with family, posting blogs... We must manage the business of running Moonshadow and our lives differently than when we lived ashore.  Receiving packages with parts we've ordered in the States required having a marina or a UPS store agree to accept your stuff then give that address to the shipper.  In the Caribbean, we've had to use Brokers who charge a fee.  Receiving postal mail takes planning and it can also be expensive, so we use a mail agent who receivess and scans our mail.  We can review the envelopes on their web portal and choose to have them scan the contents, shred it, or forward it to someplace where we can pick it up.  Most of the time the scanned PDF file is all we need.  

For phone calls, we must use SIM cards for the locality where we find ourselves.  We've retained our San Diego phone numbers but ditched our smart phones.  Instead, we ported those numbers to Google Voice.  There, calls are forwarded to Skype (who will forward internationally, unlike Google Voice).  Skype forwards the call to our cheap phone with the local SIM card.  When the SIM card doesn't work, we can place calls online with Skype or use FaceTime on our iPads.

All this requires a decent WiFi connection.  We get this various ways.  Our WiFi booster gets hoisted 50 feet up in the rigging where we can pick up WiFi signals from a few miles away.  The booster includes an access point router so all our devices aboard share that signal.  Sometimes we pay for a day of service.  Sometimes we use free service from a nearby bar.  Sometimes we shamelessly poach a signal from a poor unsuspecting homeowner who hasn't secured his router.  

Alli Bell was "working" for the US Govt. when we had WiFi aboard.

Sometimes we must pack our iPads into a waterproof sack and dinghy ashore to find an internet cafe or a bar with free WiFi.  "Free WiFi" usually means you buy a glass of beer or a nice Chardonay.  Then, sometimes we do without WiFi.

Getting "work" done over a chardonay.  Life is tough!

At sea or in remote places, we can maintain email using a connection from our computer to either the Iridium Sat Phone or the Single Sideband Radio.  The connection speed is slow so we're limited to brief text only transmissions but it allows us to let friends and family know how we are.  This connection also allows us to download weather information.


What really surprises us are the kind, generous, and friendly people we meet everywhere we go.  In Maine, on our way to the grocery store, we asked the man at the local silk screen t-shirt shop how far it was.  The next thing we knew we were given a ride there by his wife.  She waited while we shopped and gave us a ride back throwing in a tour of the the town along the way.  There was the guy at the fuel dock who we asked for directions to the grocery store.  He gave us the directions and said "take my truck, the keys are in it".  

Adam owns the oyster farm in remote North Haven, Maine.  After walking a mile to his place, Adam sold us three baker's dozen (39) oysters for $30, taught us how to shuck them, gave us a shucking knife, gave us a tour of his oyster farm and a ride back to our dinghy.  

Bob McBride at the Mile Zero Marine store in Portsmouth Virginia generously gave us the use of his upstairs loft where we made our new awning.  It took three days and each day, Bob made us lunch!    

Much better than plan A (sewing on the dock in 40° and 20 knots wind).

Our previous exposure to the Caribbean did not prepare us for how truly polite and friendly these islanders are.  There's always a friendly hello and a smile from strangers, and offers to help with anything you need.

This smile was infectious.

Of course we've met many people who've chosen a cruising life aboard their own boats.  Each has a fascinating story to tell and are genuinely good down to earth people.  Those with children aboard have been especially fun for us to meet as so often the kids are home schooled.  Parents must include schooling in their already busy life.  They'll creatively include trips ashore to museums and historical sites as part of their curriculum.  Without lots of other children about, these kids are captive in a largely adult world.  We've found them to be polite, engaging, and interesting to get to know.  

Cruiser conversation is different.  We exchange how long we've been "out", where we started, where we've been, where we're going.  There's always talk about things that break, and how to fix them.  One couple we met collided with a swamped ocean container and lost their rudder while crossing the Atlantic.  They sailed the rest of the way steering by adjusting the lengths of warps (long ropes) rigged port and starboard.

Cruisers have and share a wealth of information.  When you first drop the hook in a new anchorage, they'll know the things you don't know, like "where's the dinghy dock?", "where's the  customs office?" "where's the store?", "is there laundry?", "how's the WiFi?".  They also can tell you things about places you plan to go or ought to visit.  It's a great community of folks who are always glad to make new friends.

The Moonshadow Routine

We've developed routines for operating the boat that work well for us.  Deb drives while John gets the anchor aboard.  We always arrange ahead to have someone on the dock to take our dock lines when we arrive.  John drives while Deb rigs the fenders and dock lines then hands dock lines to folks on the dock.  Deb drives while John hoists and reefs the mainsail.

So far we don't maintain a watch system since our longest passage without crew was just 33 hours.  When one of us is tired, the other is ready to stand watch until relieved or wants to wake the other.  We use a device called The Watch Commander which is a marine alarm that we set for 12 or 15 minutes.  At the end of this time, it will flash a light reminding you to reset it.  After 30 seconds the light is replaced with an audible beep.  After 30 more seconds if not reset, Watch Commander's second alarm will wake people sleeping ashore 15 miles away.  It is really more like a medieval torture/training device to keep you awake on watch.

Our passages to Aruba and then on to Panama will be our first extended time offshore without crew.  We will work out our watch routine and post an update from Panama.

When the anchor is down and the chain is out, we always wait five minutes before backing down "setting" the anchor.  This allows Deb time to prepare anchor-down cocktails to celebrate.  Launching the dinghy from the bow, Deb eases the halyard while John holds the dinghy off the topsides.  Deb lowers the tackle while John guides outboard motor onto the dinghy.  Routine.

Arriving in a new anchorage is always an adventure from picking out the best place to drop the hook, to watching (and secretly judging) other cruisers do the same.  But once situated in an anchorage, the daily routine is anything but routine aboard Moonshadow.  We are so often engaged in some type of endeavor.  We must research what is available ashore and where.  We attempt WiFi connections and if successful, have lots of "admin" to catch up on.  There are chores and fixit lists.  We must explore ashore.  There is swimming and snorkeling to do.  We'll meet new friends.  There are books to read and naps to take.  We're constantly on the lookout for sea life, rainbows and sunsets.  Nothing routine.

Eventually it's time to move on, but where?  Out come the charts and the guide books.  Internet sources are consulted.  Transit times are calculated. The GPS route is saved on the Garmin Chart Plotter. We check the weather.  Moonshadow is transformed back into sailing form with everything stowed below and rigging reconfigured for sea.  Navigation instruments are turned on and configured for the voyage.  Then John hoists the anchor while Deb takes the helm and we're off to a new destination!

We love this!