Quick haul and zinc check

At our old marina, we would burn through zincs on our prop shaft in a matter of weeks. In fact, we lost a propeller before we realized we had to change them every three months.

It’s been almost a year since we put new bottom paint on Gimme Shelter. I was feeling very guilty and neglectful that I hadn’t bothered to check her zincs the entire time, so we had her quick-hauled at South Texas Yacht Services for a cleaning.

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I was sure the sacrificial zinc anodes would be completely gone, and I was just praying that our shaft and prop would be ok.

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But lo and behold, both zincs were still there and in great shape! We had a bit of green slime all over the hull and some barnacle growth on the prop, but that was about it. The yard workers did a light pressure washing to clean everything up, and we were good to go.

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I was pleasantly surprised with our findings although a bit annoyed that I spent the money on the quick haul when we didn’t really need it. However, I’ll take a good surprise over a bad surprise any day.

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SVI Journal: Day 9, the Voyage Home

Sunday morning arrived too soon. We were up early, moored on the west side of Isla Palominos, cleaning and packing. There were just a few local boats left rafted near the beach.IslaPalominos

Batubara was still moored near us, but Chateau du Mer had to move again due to the Jenneau’s proclivity for excessive swinging.

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Breakfast was a menagerie of all the leftover food. Mary’s meal planning method had turned out to be pretty accurate. As we finished up everything from fruit to bacon, she garnered another round of compliments on her cooking from all the teens.

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We had planned to be the first boat back to Puerto Del Rey, but we actually ended up being the last to leave Isla Palominos.

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It could have been that we made a bigger breakfast or we took more time cleaning, but I think we were actually just dragging our feet about casting off because none of our crew really wanted to go home. However, all good things must end, so we let our pirate flag fly one last time as we raised sails and headed for Puerto Rico.

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It was a short trip between Isla Palominos and Puerto del Rey. It seemed like we had only been sailing for a few minutes when it came into view.

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We had to reduce speed and motor very slowly through the marina while we waited for Batubara and Chateu du Mer to finish refueling and pick up their charter representatives.

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Then, it was finally our turn to pull into the fuel dock — the first time Caicu had been docked anywhere in a week.

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The Sail Caribe charter reps filled the tanks with diesel. Our grand total after a week of frivolous motoring and running the generator every night — $148.

One of the charter crew jumped on the boat with us and directed us to a slip. We finished packing our bags and emptied all the trash, but they had us just leave all unfinished food and beverages out for the cleaning crew. (I’m pretty sure free booze is the biggest perk of being on the cleaning crew.) After shore showers and a debriefing, Sail Caribe gave our captain his deposit back, and we all walked up to the restaurant to kill some time until our shuttles arrived to take us to the airport.

The restaurant was pretty empty, but just one round of beers for our table proved to take almost 30 minutes, so ordering food was out of the question. It seemed the staff didn’t move any faster on Sunday mornings than they did on Saturday nights.

By the time we got to the San Juan airport we were quite hungry, so we stopped into the Casa Avila restaurant, which turned out to be very disappointing and much too pricey.

Our flight home connected through Ft. Lauderdale, and it was packed with a bunch of rowdy tourists that had just gotten off a cruise ship. There was a lot of cutting in the boarding line and arguing over seats going on. Within minutes of boarding the woman on our row had some sort of altercation with the flight attendant who threatened to throw her off the plane. I then had to listen to her huff under her breath things like, “I’ll say what I want, she can’t throw me off!” for the next ten minutes.

Then a new situation arose when someone’s carry-on bag wouldn’t fit into the overhead compartment. The frustrated flight attendants finally called for attention and asked the owner of the bag to come take something out of it. The owner unzipped the bag and removed a large, dirty toaster oven, which the attendants then set into the overhead bin beside his bag. I guess sometimes you really need toast?

We finally left San Juan and made it to Ft. Lauderdale only to find storms on the east coast had delayed our flight back to Houston by more than an hour. Thankfully our flight did finally arrive, and we headed for Houston just as the sun was setting.

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As we made the late night drive home across Houston in the dark, we were already planning our next adventure.

SVI Journal: Day 8, Punta Tamarindo Grande back to Isla Palominos

Saturday morning I attempted to sleep in, but I only made it until 7:30. When I stepped up into the salon I found three teens sitting hungrily, wanting to know which food they were allowed to eat for breakfast. I tried to figure out which meal was planned, but Mary and Jayne had switched so many meals around that I had no clue. I just told them to eat cereal.

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After breakfast the teens headed back across the island to spend some more time exploring Flamenco Beach. Meanwhile I splashed back into the water to spend more time snorkeling the reef.

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The parrot fish, the trumpet fish, the blue tangs, the wrasse — they were all amazing. However, the real highlight of the morning was when a remora grande, also known as a shark sucker, cruised by under the boat.

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I’d never seen anything like it. I was half hoping we’d also see a big shark, so I could get a photo, but I was also relieved that we didn’t.

After snorkeling with me for a bit Mary tried to make her way to the beach to meet up with the others. Unfortunately her shoe blew out as soon as she hit the trail, and that put an end to her expedition.

We hung out as long as we could, but we saw a storm rolling in, so we decided to head west back to Isla Palominos.

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We didn’t completely miss the storm, but the rain gave me a chance to scrub all the mud off the foredeck that we’d picked up anchored in Dewey.

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Once the rain passed I grabbed a beer and laid out on the tramps — which was very relaxing until I fell asleep and poured cold beer all over my stomach.

We passed a little island identified on the charts as Cayo Lobo, which had two inviting mooring balls just off the beach. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop and explore it.

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It was late afternoon when we reached Isla Palominos, and it was PACKED. I think every boater in Puerto Rico had rafted up there to party.

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Every motor boater had their stereo cranked up, and they were all competing to be the loudest. People were grilling and swimming back and forth between boats.

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We somehow managed to find an empty mooring ball. Then another boat left just as Batubara arrived.

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Chateau du Mer had to take an unprotected outside ball, but it was the only option at the time.

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As the sun dropped lower in the sky, some of the motor boaters started disappearing back to Puerto Rico, but a few remained rafted up near the beach where they partied all night. The El Conquistador resort ferry took the last load of people back to PR at 6:30. After that the noise in the anchorage settled down.

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Chateau du Mer was finally able to move to a more protected spot beside Batubara.

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Just before dinner we got together to take a crew photo — or at least all of the crew except for me since I was taking the photo.

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Then we fired up the grill and had a delicious dinner of pork chops, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and salad, jamming out to Jack Johnson, John Mayer and Tom Petty while enjoying the sunset.

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I personally did my best to drink all of the beer, so that none would be wasted on return to the marina Sunday, but I couldn’t quite pull it off. We went to bed feeling accomplished but sad that the trip was about to be over.

SVI Journal: Day 7, Punta Tamarindo Grande and Flamenco Beach, Culebra

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Just after sunrise, the airport opened in Dewey, Culebra. Loud little Cessnas and other small planes were taking off right over the Ensenada Honda anchorage all morning long.

I had filled the 4GB SD card in my old camera the night before, so Mary went into town to explore the grocery store situation and look for SD cards while I helped gather fresh water jugs from the other two boats to re-fill our tank.

Chateau du Mer donated their two 5.5 gallon jugs as they still had plenty of water. We took those back to Caicu and emptied them out before making another run to the Dinghy Dock Restaurant with both their jugs and our jugs. The bartender turned on the water hose for us, and we paid 25 cents per gallon to fill up — we didn’t even have to lift the tanks out of the dinghy.

Even though the bar wasn’t officially open yet, the bartender from El Paso overheard that we were from Texas, so she still sold us a round of Coronas. She started telling us about the deer that swam from island to island. We had seen something that looked like deer droppings on Culebrita, but we took the story of swimming deer with a grain of salt.

Mary and Jayne appeared across the way on the municipal dinghy dock with grocery bags, so we downed our beers and went to pick them up. While we had hoped to grill steaks that night, the best non-fish proteins Mary found were some mediocre looking pork chops. However, they only went to the small market close to the bay, they didn’t venture all the way up the hill to the Ralph’s. More importantly, the dive shop, which Mary described as “more of a dive tent” had SD cards.

Once we got the water in the tanks, we pulled up anchor — along with a huge amount of sea grass and mud. I did my best to pull it off the chain as it was coming up, but I couldn’t get it all, and the windlass was basically flinging crap all over the foredeck.

We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Dewey, and we were a little disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer to explore more of the the town. That’s someplace I could see us hanging out for a while and playing music in the bars at night.

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We headed west around Culebra towards Punta Tamarindo Grande, and yes, we did notice that Batubara went in the wrong channel and took the scenic route towards Culebrita before finally turning wide and sailing back.

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We snagged a mooring ball in the nature preserve and just when we thought Culebra couldn’t possibly get any better, we took a snorkel and got absolutely blown away by the reef. It was the biggest one I’d ever seen.

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I spent the entire afternoon snorkeling and came across another green sea turtle.

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Later in the afternoon we dinked over to the beach and took the trail across the island to Flamenco Beach.

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On the way, what should we run into, but a deer. It wasn’t swimming, but we decided maybe there was more to the swimming deer story than we had thought. We also encountered several chickens as well as a quite smelly dead cat.

When we finally crossed through the chained but loose gate, which led into the parking lot of Flamenco Beach, we saw this sign. Glad I didn’t go wandering off the path to catch a photograph of those chickens.

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Flamenco Beach was picturesque with blue water and white sand ringed by hills.

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At the very north end of the beach some of the crew discovered abandoned army tanks covered in graffiti. I was really sorry I missed getting a photo of them.

We stopped by the drink huts for a pina colada before making the hike back across the reserve to our mooring field.

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The sun was dropping fast, but I took one more snorkel before dinner. Mary made stir fry with peanut sauce — another big hit with our crew.

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The crew of Chateau du Mer brought a special whiskey, so after dinner we all met on Batubara for a “wee dram.” I regret it now, but I passed on the whiskey that night because my stomach was feeling a bit rough, and I was already nodding off, even with Batubara’s bilge alarm going off every ten minutes. I went to foredeck to check out the stars and nap a bit while Mary enjoyed a game of charades with the rest of the crew.

When we finally dinked back to Caicu, I was out before my head even hit the pillow.

Facing anxiety and fear on a sailboat

When you see videos of sailors on YouTube or TV and the boat is heeling way over, it is easy to think of them as fearless. I want everyone out there like me to know, we aren’t all fearless – some of us are scared to death! I’m hoping that by sharing my own struggle with anxiety, other people can be helped. My sister, Julie, is going to join me today as a subject matter expert.

I don’t know about expert, but I am currently a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology. I’ve only been a therapist a few years, but luckily you don’t have to rely on my experience – there are decades of research on anxiety to help me out. I’m going to try and comment on Mary’s experiences to help her, and anyone else reading this, to better understand how anxiety works and how to overcome it.

There are so many great aspects of sailing. I love cooking on the boat … and swimming …. and pulling lines.  I especially love when I first step on the boat after a week on the hard at work. It’s very relaxing to feel the gentle sway of the boat. However, since I first started sailing with my husband, anxiety has been a huge problem for me.

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At first it was docking. Every time we would go to take the boat out or come back in, I would be so wracked with anxiety that I almost could not function. This can be extremely dangerous as sometimes he really needs my help. Gradually, as we got better at docking, that anxiety almost completely went away. That’s not to say that a windy day or an unusual docking situation can’t bring it back, but I’ve been on other people’s boats who have just full-on slammed into the piers, poles, or other boats. I realized that nothing too bad really happens, and we were much better at docking than I had thought.

Anxiety is a horrible feeling – there is no denying that. By definition it is fear, an emotion that evolved to keep us safe from danger. It’s no surprise then that being on a big, unsteady floating object might create some natural anxiety at first. Just like the first time riding a bike, jumping into the deep end of the pool, or riding a rollercoaster, anxiety is there to alert you to the potential danger. Of course, as most people have experienced, these initially frightening activities get easier the more you expose yourself to them. So, because Mary faced her fears and kept sailing, it got easier too. Think of it this way – if Mary went sailing once and decided it was too terrifying and avoided it from then on, it confirms her fear that sailing is dangerous, and it also increases her anxiety if she ever has to go sailing again. However, notice that she said “almost” gone. So why isn’t she over it if it’s something she does every weekend? I’ll explain that next.  

The second thing that is a huge trigger for me is heeling and rolling. This includes big waves on the side of the boat or the normal heeling you get with a close hauled point of sail. After almost four years I at least know exactly what is going to happen. There is a sudden rush of anxiety when it first happens, and after that I am basically unable to move for a minute or two. If the boat continues to tip more and nothing is done to make me feel comfortable, I will most likely end up in a full-on panic attack with tears and all. My friends like to joke that I have no fight reflex, only the flight, and when things get bad, I shut down.

There are things many people do to help them feel safe when they are anxious. Sometimes these things are as subtle as thoughts, and sometimes they’re as obvious as holding tightly to the railing and a life vest. These are ways to avoid being on the boat, even when you are already there… and over time, they only serve to maintain your anxiety by convincing your brain to be on alert for danger.

Over the years I have learned a couple tricks to help keep my anxiety in check and allow myself to even do a bit of sailboat racing, as well as ocean voyaging. First thing is to keep my PFD close if I start to get scared. Not only do I know it will save me if I hit my head — one of my big anxieties — but my husband also gave it to me, so it helps me to think of him. In reality we’ve never been in a situation where I’ve even come close to falling overboard and needing that PFD, but it has become a security blanket that keeps me functional.

The second thing I do is to look over at the other people on the boat. Are they scared? If they’re not, then I tell myself everything is normal and that there is nothing of which to be scared.

Mary has inadvertently been maintaining her anxiety over the years with her “tricks.” Keeping her PFD and looking around checking other people’s reactions are both little things with lasting consequences. Both of these behaviors keep her brain firmly believing that there is imminent danger.  Sure, they help her feel a little better in the short-term, but in the long-term she will stay anxious and always feel like she needs these things to be safe. The reality is that the boat isn’t going to tip whether she’s doing these things or not.

The third thing I do is to repeat something simple and calming in my head. Something like, “Everything is ok, this is all normal, you’re beating your fears, good job!”

Ok, this one might be more helpful – but it can sometimes take more than putting on rose-colored glasses to overcome anxious thoughts. Instead of just saying “everything is ok,” say why it will be ok with facts. She could consider the low probability of the boat actually tipping or remind herself that even if the worst case scenario happens and she falls off – she knows how to swim, so Fred would just stop and pick her up.

A lot of other people have also made suggestions. I’ve heard that it helps many nervous people to helm the boat, so that they feel in control. This doesn’t help me whatsoever because then I’m just anxious about not being able to control the boat, but I can understand the idea. Another is to learn the actual physics of the sailboat. For some people, understanding how much weight is in the keel really helps them to feel safer.

Two years ago when Fred got invited to crew on Antares for the Icicle Series, I didn’t even want to be on the boat. Last Saturday I was working the main sheet while the boat was heeled 35 degrees. Yes, I still had a small panic attack when we first started heeling. Yes, I was still worn out from anxiety by the end of the race. However, I did it.

Now I just have to work up to an ocean crossing!

In sum, if anxiety is really getting in the way, there are ways to overcome it! 1. Get rid of the subtle and obvious safety aids. 2. Challenge those negative thoughts with realistic facts. 3. And lastly, stay in the situation until your anxiety begins to go down.  I think it is important to note that if anxiety is a serious problem that you are having trouble overcoming on your own – find a psychologist who uses exposures as treatment, and they will lead you through all the confusing or difficult parts of overcoming your anxiety.

Stick with it, face your fears, and cross that ocean!

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Photos courtesy of John, Scott and Becky Lacy.

SVI Journal: Day 6, Tortuga Bay, Culebrita and Ensenada Honda, Culebra

One of my goals this trip was to catch the perfect tropical sunrise — except I snored right through it Friday morning in Bahia de Almodovar. However, when I finally got up and made some coffee, the view still wasn’t bad.

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My first task of the morning was to shake out my camera bag to see if I had any other spare SD cards on hand. I lucked out and found an old 4GB card in one of the pockets, so I had both cameras back in use for at least a day.

The next task on my list was to pull up the cabin sole in the starboard ama to find the air-conditioner raw water strainer. After a few minutes of searching I located it under the floor of the front cabin and opened it up. I’d never seen a basket that full of seaweed.

I dumped it all overboard and gave the basket a rinse, then put it back together. The HI PS code cleared, and we had air-conditioning on the starboard side again.

We’d been getting low on fresh water and had considered buying some in Esperanza, but it was decided to just conserve until we stopped in Dewey. That meant no more showers, so Mary set the standard for cleanliness with her patented floating noodle hair washing method.

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I noticed while snorkeling that morning that the starfish, which had been scattered all over the sandy bottom of the bay the night before, had disappeared. No idea where they went. I had no idea starfish moved around that much. Someone suggested that maybe they buried themselves in the sand, but I didn’t know they did that either.

Mid-morning we finally fired up the diesels and made the short motor across to Culebrita. Both catamarans had no trouble negotiating the mouth of Tortuga Bay, but the crew on the Jenneau didn’t like the way the cross current was pushing them around, so they turned back and picked up a mooring ball on the west side of the island.

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Tortuga Bay was beautiful. The turquoise water lapped up against a white sand beach while a mix of charter vessels, cruising sailboats, and local motorboats bobbed around on moorings or at anchor beneath the ancient lighthouse up on the hill.

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It was only a matter of minutes before the first green sea turtle was spotted swimming past Caicu, so we all hopped in the water to say, hello.

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We encountered at least four different green sea turtles (it’s kind of hard to tell them apart) while in Tortuga Bay, as well as two different sting rays shuffling about on the sandy bottom.

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I probably snorkeled with the sting rays a bit too long because when I got back to the boat I saw that everyone had already gone to shore to make the hike up to the lighthouse. At first I thought, no big deal, I was planning to swim in anyway. Then I realized that they had also taken my dry bag to get their shoes ashore for the hike. And yes, I offered the use of my dry bag — but my shoes, my camera, my shirt, and my water bottle that I had been planning to take in the dry bag were all still sitting in my cabin.

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I sucked it up and swam to shore doing the sidestroke with my dive camera dangling from my wrist while holding my shoes up out of the water. That was a much longer swim than I had expected, but I did make it to shore with dry shoes. Plus, I got to guilt trip Mary about taking my bag and leaving me stranded for the rest of the trip, so it was worth it.

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Culebrita has several trails and beaches to explore, but you definitely need shoes to hike them. The brush is prickly and there’s no shortage of cacti.

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Small lizards were running everywhere through the brush and we stumbled across a family of goats on our way to the lighthouse. We also saw what looked like deer droppings, but we never saw any actual deer.

The path up to the Culebrita lighthouse presents a couple nice views of the harbors on the north and west sides of the island. We could see where Chateau du Mer finally picked up a mooring ball as well as our own boats back in Tortuga Bay.

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Construction of the lighthouse began in 1882 and it was first lit in 1886. It was one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the US until it was closed in 1975. Currently, the lighthouse is in need of some serious restoration.

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Many of the walls have collapsed, as have the spiral stairs leading up the tower. The area around the lighthouse is also littered with junk. It was definitely worth the hike up the hill to see it, but don’t get your hopes up for some sort of restored historic building that you can tour. However, the view from the ridge is amazing. (My apologies for looking so haggard, shirtless and squinty. Someone took my dry bag without packing my shirt or sunglasses or sunscreen or water!)

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We heard more goats along the trail while we hiked back down to Tortuga Bay, and some members of our group who had lingered back a bit by themselves actually ran across a free goat sex show. Can’t say I was sorry to have missed that because after the hike, stepping back into the cool water felt amazing.

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Mary and I put both our shoes back in the dry bag and left it with crewmates to come back on the dinghy, then we swam back to Caicu.

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After the snorkeling, the swims, and the hike, we were all starving, so Mary cooked up some tacos for lunch, which were immediately devoured.

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Then we did some more snorkeling around the boat with turtles. I also came across a little trunkfish.

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We’d heard one of the best places to find spiny lobster was the reef just around the corner from Tortuga Bay, so several of us loaded up in a dink to head there while another group decided to go hike a few more trails and to check out The Baths.

The reef on the northwest corner of Culebrita was truly fantastic.

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Up to that point it was the best one I’d ever seen. There was also some old ship wreckage mixed in that had become part of the reef.

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I was very curious as to whether or not there was still wine in that bottle.

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As we were oooohhing and awwwing at all the fish, a huge, gray C-130 flew low over Culebrita and circled three times before heading out into the Atlantic. We later learned that the Puerto Rican Air National Guard maintains an entire fleet of C-130s to patrol the area and rescue sinking ships.

After a bit more snorkeling, I finally stumbled across a spiny lobster.

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It doesn’t really translate in the photo, but this lobster was huge. I would estimate the antennae to be three feet long (each, not combined), and it would have taken both of my hands to go around the lobster’s body.

Not a single one of us had ever actually grabbed a lobster before, so there was a lot of floating and staring at it before someone actually gave it a try. Nobody actually managed to grab it, which was probably good since it was as tall or taller than the bucket we had brought to put it in.

Defeated by the monster lobster and still needing to head back to Culebra before sunset, we decided to call it a day.

Meanwhile, Mary and Jayne were soaking in The Baths, which turned out to be pristine tidal pools on the other side of the island.

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We all rendezvoused at the catamarans and headed out to find a mooring in Ensenada Honda, Culebra — billed as the best hurricane hole in the Caribbean.

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As we neared the town of Dewey and civilization, we found the type of boats changed. We actually came across these two flamboyant houseboats in one mooring field.

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We also saw a homebuilt Piver trimaran, a small Gemini cat, and one 25′ sailboat that didn’t even have a mast moored right along all the hard core cruiser sailboats. It seemed living on the water was the cheap alternative in Culebra.

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The mooring fields were full in Ensenada Honda, so motored inward towards the municipal building.

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I’d like to say we were pros at anchoring by now, but as I was lowering the anchor using the remote control, it stuck. It just kept letting out chain. I vigorously tapped the remote with no result and finally pressed the “up” button, which promptly popped the breaker of the windlass.

Now we were stuck with the anchor half out and possibly dragging. I grabbed a winch handle and started trying to psych myself up for the job of having to crank in all that chain by hand while Andy went searching for the breaker box.

Thankfully Andy was able to reset the breaker, I let out some more chain, and we stopped dragging. Andy tried to dive the anchor to make sure it was ok, but the water was so dark we couldn’t see anything.

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Meanwhile Batubara and Chateau du Mer had arrived and dropped anchor as well. The first wave of crew headed to town to buy more booze and to scout the restaurants. The wind had picked up and our crappy dinghy motor made getting out of the shallows and away from the dinghy dock a real fiasco, so there was quite a delay working that situation out and getting the stupid outboard running again before we could go pick up the rest of the crew. (When chartering, never settle for a crappy outboard.)

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Once we were finally all ashore we took a nice walk through the streets of Dewey. While Esperanza had island dogs wandering the streets, Dewey had friendly cats that followed us for a bit before going back to lounging.

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The outstanding night spot seemed to be the Dinghy Dock Restaurant.

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They had tables dockside with lights under the water, illuminating the huge tarpon circling the area, waiting for someone to throw dinner scraps into the water. There was also a fishing bat that would occasionally swoop through and grab things out of the water. The food was great, and it was a really cool atmosphere.

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By the time we finished dinner, I could barely hold my head up. It had been an incredibly fun, but an incredibly long day. We walked back to the dinghy, climbed aboard Caicu, and went straight to bed.

But here’s one more sea turtle picture from our afternoon at Culebrita just because sea turtles are awesome.

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SVI Journal: Day 5, Vieques to Culebra

An early morning rain shower shook me awake. I got up to make sure we were still on our mooring in Esperanza, and I found three of the teens sleeping on the couch in the salon. Apparently they’d all been sleeping outside until it started raining.

I started the coffee pot and went back to bed until the rain let up. Then Mary helped me round up the ingredients, and I started flipping pancakes. That was the only breakfast I made all week. I put frying pans on two different burners, so I could make two pancakes at a time instead of just one. It’s still a slow meal to churn out for eight people when you don’t have a big griddle available.

After breakfast we decided to leave Batubara and Chateau du Mer behind to get an early start down the coast of Vieques because we wanted to make a stop at La Chiva to check out the beach.

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We motored east past an old deserted lighthouse sitting atop the bluff and within the hour we were anchored at La Chiva. The sandy beach area was a marked contrast to Esperanza, and the first thing we noticed were the hazard markers around the small island denoting unexploded ordinance. Of course, we didn’t know what they meant at the time, but later we found a sign explaining it.

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We donned our masks and fins and swam to shore, seeing nothing in the water except sand and sea grass.

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Then we set our flippers in a pile and took a stroll down the sand.

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We found cactus, coconuts, and a strange bumpy fruit, which we later identified as noni, growing along the beach. After enjoying getting our fill of beach time, I put a noni in my pocket for research purposes, and we swam back to the boat.

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Still finding no sign of life in the water I made one more circle before giving up, and I finally ran across a big cushion sea star.

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I dove down to snap a picture, and then I pointed it out to the rest of our crew and the crew of Batubara who had just arrived. Afterwards I felt a bit guilty about it because that poor cusion sea star was molested six ways to Sunday as it was picked up and carried around to be show to everyone. However, aside from losing a sucker on somebody’s hand, it was finally released more or less unharmed.

The charter company had warned us about the heavy bloom of sargassum, so while we were swimming, Andy took some time to check the starboard engine strainer and found quite a bit. However, he wanted to make sure the Starboard raw water system would prime back up before he changed the port. Meanwhile Doug tried to check the strainers on Batubara and found they weren’t very accessible and impossible to open. We all just agreed that both boats seemed to have enough water flow and decided not to mess with them anymore.

We pulled up anchor and began the longest leg of the week, the trip around the east end of vieques and north to Culebra. With gorgeous blue water ahead of us we decided to sail instead of motor and make a long tack out past the island and back. Unfortunately, as soon as we released the rolling furler, we fouled it.

Jayne and Mary had to man the helm and the lines while Andy and I bounced around on the tramps trying to get things untangled. After a tense ten minutes and some good teamwork, we finally got the fouled loop off the underside of the roller and back on the drum.

We re-grouped then set sail again, successfully this time, and wandered out into the deep waters of the Caribbean. At 40 feet, I could still see shapes on the bottom through the water. The depth finder quit at 310 feet.

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I sat and marveled at the blueness of the water, and I saw my first flying fish. As we neared the end of Vieques we could see the dark outline of St. Thomas on the horizon.

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The Sail Caribe catamarans are allowed to go to St. Thomas, but the monohulls need special permission. I’m not sure exactly why, but that was the rule. However, this trip we weren’t stopping in St. Thomas. Instead we turned north towards Culebra.

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Since we were the only boat that took the long route by actually sailing, we were the last of our group to arrive. Of course, there was still time for a quick snorkel. I ran into several starfish, a giant hermit crab, and a bearded fire worm.

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Bahia de Almodovar is an amazing anchorage. It’s protected by a reef and sandbar, so you can look directly out from your calm, protected mooring into the ocean.

It was truly a beautiful spot and aside from the two sportfishers rafted on a mooring ball at the entrance, we had the entire place to ourselves.

Logan, one of the teens on the boat was enjoying looking at all the homes up on the bluff around the bay — at least until she saw a homeowner staring back at her from his window.

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I manned the grill and we cooked Mary’s curry chicken kebabs, which got high acclaim from the entire crew.

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Meanwhile Cade was getting lessons in knot tying from Andy.

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That evening felt a bit like an article out of LIFE magazine.

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It was also at dinner that I filled the 32GB SD card in one of my cameras. I thought to myself, good thing I’m always prepared and bought this spare 64GB SD card. Too bad I didn’t check to see if 64GB cards worked in my older camera. Turns out, they don’t. My precision piece of German engineering was “dead in the water” so to speak.

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After dark we dinghied over to Batubara to watch the small sharks circling under their boat in the blue light. Those were the only sharks I saw the entire trip.

When we got back to Caicu I found the air-conditioning on our side of the boat had quit, and the thermostats were giving a HI PS error. However, I was too tired to deal with it, so we opened the hatches and were thankful that there was a cool breeze coming through the bay.

Fireworks Fridays at Kemah Boardwalk

People definitely have mixed opinions regarding Tilman Fertitta and his restaurant empire, which includes both the Kemah Boardwalk and the Pleasure Pier in Galveston. However, I can say this, he sure know how to put on a fireworks show.

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Every Friday night in June and July at 9:30 p.m. a barge anchors on the south side of the Kemah channel and sets off a 15-20 minute fireworks display while the boardwalk plays music.

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Of course, you don’t have to be at the boardwalk to enjoy the fireworks. The most spectacular way to view them is to anchor just on the north side of the channel across from the barge. There’s nothing like floating there, sitting on the bow, with huge fireworks exploding in the sky over you while also reflecting up from the water.

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The only problem with watching fireworks from a boat is that you can’t get good photos. Luckily, we still have a great view of the fireworks from our marina. This week we took it easy, cracked open a cold one and watched with friends from the dock.

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There’s three days left this year to see the fireworks, July 17, July 24 and July 31. Hopefully we’ll be watching from the water.

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Cave Exploration, and a Taste of Real Hiking

There is a “cave” hidden down in the woods behind my Grandmother’s property.  To my knowledge it has been well over 5 years since anyone in our family has been able to find it.  Me and my cousins tried a couple years back, but with only vague memories of the path, and with everything overgrown we ended up wandering in the woods until sunset.

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This year I was determined to find it.  I started with a map of the general area from google earth, and then took this map around to some family members to see if there was anything they recognized. Everyone has their own path they prefer to take down to it complete with all the best landmarks: “big rock in creek,” “three small creeks and then a big one,” “the big hill,” etc.  I took some notes of where these landmarks kinda were on the map, which by the way on google it’s all just treetops anyway.  From this information we blocked out a square on the map where we thought the cave might be and devised our route.

For any family members reading this…From Grandma’s field…Down the big hill (there’s no tractor path anymore), stay north of the creek, you cross over two small creeks, and then through a big patch of stinging nettles.  I’m smiling in this picture, but they are horrible, best to have a machete or large stick.

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When you get to the nettles you may want to give up and go down to the big creek. Don’t, you will be going in the wrong direction.

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Instead you need to find the medium-sized creek somewhere in the sea of horrible stinging nettles.

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Then you will follow this creek roughly north west up the hill.  Along the path there will be many, many fallen trees and spiders in the way.  It will comfort you to know your only other option is nettles, so just suck it up.

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You’ll know its time to cut up the hill when you see these three large rocks up on the hill.  From your direction they will be on the left.

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Once you get to the top of the hill…It will all be worth it.  :).

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All of our family names are still there 🙂

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If you’re worried about the hike back…don’t..  When you get to the cave, you will discover you can see rows of corn from the top, and that there was a clear path there from the neighbor’s pasture all along!

Don’t worry you can still take it back.

P.S. iPhone compasses are not reliable.