The difference a dink makes

The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting over 30, blowing straight off the shore of the small island behind which we were anchored. Both of our dogs, whom refuse to to soil our boat (at least while we’re there) hadn’t relieved themselves in more than 24 hours and looked absolutely miserable.

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I held tight to the standing rigging as I stood on the cabin top and looked over my small kayak trying to decide if I could even make any headway towards the island or if I’d be blown back past the boat and out into the middle of the bay if I attempted the trip to shore.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about what would happen to me and two dogs in life jackets on a kayak — we’d just be carried ashore somewhere in San Leon. The problem was that if I couldn’t get back to the sailboat, Mary would be stranded there, unable to lift the anchor and leave.

That was the weekend we really began dinghy shopping.

But what type and size of a dinghy did we need and how would we power it?

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Luckily we had many boating friends also looking for dinghies, so we waited and learned from their experiences.

Our friends on the Tina Marie Too had a big double floor West Marine inflatable with a 20hp 4-stroke engine. It was comfortable. It planed up. It held a lot of people. It was way too big for our boat. We ruled out a fiberglass floor inflatable.

Our friends on Escondida had an 8′ slat floor inflatable with a 5 hp. It was small, light and could easily be lifted on and off the foredeck. It could also be rolled up and stowed in the cabin. It didn’t hold much, and it was very slow.

Our friends on Folie a Deux bought a Port-a-bote. It wasn’t too heavy, and it folded flat to tie against the lifelines. However, it was only rated for a 2.5 hp motor, and they got caught with a strong headwind in Matagorda Bay and couldn’t make any forward progress.

What we really thought we wanted was a Takacat. However, actual Takacat inflatables are quite expensive, so we started looking at the generic Saturn inflatable catamarans available. Our friends on Hippokampos got curious about them as well and bought one.

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Not tapering together at the bow makes for a very wide dinghy. In fact, we referred to it as the barge. It was sort of a strange ride because you could feel the flex in the middle when a wave raised one pontoon and then the other. They’ve been cruising with it for over a year now, and you can actually read their entire review of it here. While they had no major complaints, we realized there was no way we could put a boat that wide on our foredeck, and we weren’t sure we’d even have the space to inflate and deflate it anywhere on Gimme Shelter.

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We went back to thinking we would go with an 8′ slat floor roll-up with a 5hp Lehr propane engine. While small and slow, that seemed to be the best option for our 34′ sailboat. We also wouldn’t have to carry gasoline along with the diesel and propane we were already carrying. We started saving and kept waiting for the big sale at West Marine.

However, sometimes the right dinghy finds you.

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Our friends over at SVMimzy.com asked if we were interested in a 10′ AB rigid floor inflatable with a Mercury 9.9 hp 2-stroke. While it was about ten years old, it was in really nice shape. I just didn’t think we could lift it or that we’d have space for it on the boat. I was incredibly surprised when the boat only weighed around 100 pounds, and I could pick it up and move it around myself — and it just barely fit on our foredeck. I have to lift it up and bit to open and close the anchor locker, but it works.

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We’ve anchored out more times this year than in almost all of our past years of sailing combined thanks to being able to easily get the dogs back and forth to shore.

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Of course, it’s been useful for more than just carting dogs around. Mary and I have made runs up and down the ICW from Bolivar to Stingarees.

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We can finally explore islands and anchorages together instead of taking turns on the kayak.

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It’s also been great for carrying my photography equipment to shore. I’d never risk it on the kayak, but now I can get the camera, lenses and tripod all safely to shore to set up for great shots like this.

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While we’re getting by with raising and lowering the dinghy and motor using our halyards, the next question is to davit or not to davit.

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The Gimme Shelter guide to chartering in the Spanish Virgin Islands

While they may sound foreign, US citizens won’t need a passport to charter in the Spanish Virgin Islands. Considered part of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the islands became a United States province after the Spanish-American war in 1898. However, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your Spanish before the trip.

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San Juan Luis Muñoz International Airport is more than an hour away from Marina Puerto Del Rey, but the charter companies can arrange ground transport by van for $15 per person. The vans even gave us time to provision at a grocery store before continuing on to Fajardo.

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Puerto del Rey is a sight in itself as the largest full-service marina in the Caribbean with more than 1,000 wet slips and 14 acres of dry storage. Enjoy the ship store, deli and laundry facilities, but watch out for the golf carts moving at breakneck speeds up and down the piers and give yourself plenty of time if you’re going to eat at the waterfront restaurant.

Cayo Icacos is just a short hop from Puerto Rico where you can pick up a mooring ball for a day of snorkeling or a trip to the beach. Then head to Isla Palomino for a more protected mooring to spend the night.

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Palomino is owned and operated by El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, and they ferry guests back and forth to the beach on large catamarans from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Boaters can walk the beach and buy drinks at the resort bars, but they only accept credit cards. Many Puerto Ricans bring their own boats to Palomino for the weekend, so expect the mooring field and anchorage to be crowded and loud Friday and Saturday nights.

Vieques, populated by around 14,000 people and several hundred wild horses, provides great harbors along the west and south sides of the island. In Esperanza you’ll have to pay $25 per night for a mooring ball, but when you spot the wreckage of several other sailboats, you’ll be glad you did. The shipwrecks and constant admonitions to lock up our dinghies gave the town a strong pirate vibe. There are plenty of restaurants and gift shops within walking distance of the dinghy dock and fresh water is available although you’ll have to lug it down the road.

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The days of swimming in “Bio Bay” are over, but you can still tour Mosquito Bay by electric pontoon boat or kayak to witness the bioluminescence of single-celled organisms called Pyrodimium bahamense. These dinoflagellates give off a bluish glow when the water is disturbed, something best witnessed during a new moon or an overcast night. Don’t count on getting any photos of this phenomenon as it would take a photo-flash followed by a long exposure, and the guides discourage the use of any devices that light up during the tour. However, you will get an intriguing look into the life of a mangrove tree and the ecosystem it supports.

La Chiva, towards the east end of Vieques, provides another protected beach for an afternoon of snorkeling. Look for the noni fruit growing along the beach among the cactus and coconut trees. Said to be a cure for everything from menstrual cramps to senility, I would not recommend eating it as it tastes like crap.

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Culebra and Culebrita are the true gems of the commonwealth with white sandy beaches and gorgeous reefs perfect for snorkeling or diving. Keep an eye on the charts and navigate through Puerto del Manglar to pick up a mooring ball in Bahia de Almodovar. The reef creates a protected bay with an unobstructed view into the Canal Del Sur.

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From there it’s just a short trip to Culebrita where you can moor in Tortuga Bay. The bay lived up to its name as we saw four green sea turtles during our afternoon there. There’s also great hiking on the island, but bring shoes as the trails are rocky and the foliage is prickly. Take a dip in the tidal pools known as The Baths or walk up to the remains of the lighthouse. Originally completed in 1886, it was the oldest operating lighthouse in the Caribbean until 1975 when the US Coast Guard finally closed the facility. Keep an eye out for goats, deer and iguanas along the trail.

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The reef on the northwest corner of Culebrita is rumored to be the best place to catch spiny lobster. We certainly observed some there while snorkeling but never attempted to grab one.

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If you’re in need of groceries, water or just a night on the town, cross back to Culebra and into Esenada Honda for a night or two. However, the bottom of the bay is covered in sea grass, so make sure you’re not dragging before you head into Dewey.

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There is a public dinghy dock near the Municipal Building, but the Dinghy Dock Restaurant also allows the docking of inflatables, has great food, and sells fresh water for 25 cents per gallon. If you stop by after dark they turn on underwater lights to reveal large tarpon cruising the edge of the restaurant waiting to finish your leftovers. Mamcita’s also received rave reviews from members of our party, there’s a grocery store up the hill, and the dive shop carries SD cards. There is anchoring available on the west side of the island, but it’s not as protected and you’ll get rolled by the ferry that runs between Culebra and Fajardo several times a day.

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If you head north to Punta Tamarindo Grande you can pick up a mooring ball at the edge of the Culebra Nature Reserve where we found the largest reef and best snorkeling of the week. Dink ashore, and it’s a 15-minute walk across the reserve to Flamenco Beach, rated one of the top ten beaches in the world. Drinks, food, ice cream and bathrooms are available. Make sure to walk up the north end of the beach to see the abandoned military tanks that are now covered in graffiti and rusting in the sand.

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It’s important to remember that both Vieques and Culebra were used as military bombing ranges and still have some areas off limits due to unexploded ordinance. Always pay attention to warning signs before dropping anchor, poking strange objects on the seabed, or hiking through brush.

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The Puerto Rican Air National Guard maintains a C-130 fleet, so don’t be caught off guard if a giant grey airplane comes thundering across the sky, circles your vessel and then dips its wings towards you before barreling on into the horizon. We actually got buzzed twice in one week.

It’s illegal throughout all of the SVIs to pull your dinghy or kayaks up on the beach as this could damage turtle nests. Make sure you have enough line to tie your dink to something on shore and another line to set an anchor to keep it from washing up.

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Catamarans are allowed to cross to St. Thomas if you want to add it to your itinerary, but monohulls require special permission from the charter company.

The Spanish Virgin Islands don’t have the same tourism infrastructure you’d find in the US or British Virgin Islands, which is what makes them special. During our seven-day charter we only had meals ashore two times. It’s easy to escape the crowds, see the stars, and enjoy the solitude of nature.

SVI Journal: Day 1, Houston, TX to Fajardo, PR

The sound of rain woke us before the alarm had a chance to go off, so we laid in the V-berth listening to the patter for a few minutes before getting dressed and re-packing our bags. We’d spent the night aboard Gimme Shelter as we had an early flight, and the marina was much closer to Houston Hobby than the house.

The rain made it a slow drive to the airport even on an early Saturday morning, but it made us even more excited to be escaping for a week.

Mary jumped online and reserved us a spot at WallyPark, the cheapest long-term airport parking we could find. However, when we arrived the attendant said we had to have a print-out of our reservation if we wanted credit for the deposit we had just paid online.  That was incredibly irritating. I wonder how many times they’ve made an extra $6.95 per car when drivers don’t have the printout. (We never did get our money back on that.)

The shuttle dropped us at Hobby Airport where we found lines running out the doors. I’d never seen it that backed up before. Thankfully we weren’t checking a bag, so with Southwest’s online check-in we managed to bypass all of those lines and go straight to security.

We procured what turned out to be a very mediocre pastry and some downright disappointing coffees at Peet’s, the only option in our terminal. The pan du chocolat was filled with some kind of strange chocolate pudding like a hostess snack cake. I do not recommend it.

By 10 a.m. our fellow sailors had joined us, and we grabbed some Subway sandwiches to take with us for lunch before boarding our four-hour flight.

As we took off from Houston in the pouring rain our pilot described the weather in San Juan as pleasant but gusty – a point that was accentuated by the triple-hop landing of the 737 that left several passengers clutching their arm rests all the way to the terminal.

Upon arrival we rallied at baggage claim with the rest of the crew of our boat, a Lagoon 400, as well as the crews of both the Lagoon 450 and Jenneau 469, which we chartered through Sail Caribe. One crewmate on the US Airways flight had a lost bag. (Thankfully the bag was found about an hour later and sent to the marina that night.)

The seventeen of us piled into two vans contracted through the charter company to take us from San Juan to Fajardo. However, we also needed to provision for the week, so we made a stop at Ralph’s Grocery Store where those in charge of buying groceries for each boat took to the aisles while those heading to the marina made a quick beer run.
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Then the vans dropped us at the marina before returning to go pick up the grocery shoppers.

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My first glimpse of Puerto Del Rey was overwhelming. It was the biggest marina I’d ever seen. In fact, it’s allegedly the largest working marina in the Caribbean.  We were greeted by marina staff and provided with cart service to take us and the bags to our boats – Caicu, Batubara, and Chateau de Mer.

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The cart service is great if you’re riding in the cart, but it’s a little scary when you’re just walking the docks because they drive quite fast.

Graham, the representative for Sail Caribe met us on the pier and showed us to our boats. We then got busy exploring every nook, cranny, feature and system of the vessels while we cracked open a few beers to celebrate the beginning of vacation.

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Meanwhile, Mary was still at the grocery store getting an introduction to “island time.” Finding everything on the shopping list took forever, and from what I understand, checking out took even longer. However, she finally arrived to the marina, and we helped unload groceries into the refrigerator and dry storage.

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Once the food had been stowed and everyone was settled, we walked up to the marina restaurant for a late dinner. We quickly found that there was nothing quick about the restaurant. Wait service was slow. The kitchen was even slower. Dinner turned into a two-and-a-half hour ordeal. However, everyone remained gracious and spirits were high because the real adventure was just about to begin.

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Provisioning for a 7 day charter

Ok, so my method of provisioning has three steps.

1. Create a menu and get it approved by everyone onboard

2. Create a spreadsheet with every ingredient and everything you will need to make each dish, and then sort by ingredient

3. Add up how much you will need of each item, and make a shopping list

Step One.  On my menu I included our activities for that day so that everyone could see and relate it to the meals.  For instance if we were going to be sailing all day I would include a cold lunch like Turkey sandwiches.  Here is an example:

Tuesday – Make our way around the southern end of Vieques and pick-up a
mooring at Esperanza.  For those wanting to do Biobay, this is the night
as it is the new moon.  We should be able to get dinner on shore this
night.

B- Bagel halves with butter and jam, Hard boiled eggs, Bananas

L- Turkey Sandwhiches, Pasta Salad

D- Restaurant

I also added a group snack for each day as I assumed with all the physical activity we would be needing it.  We also hae 4 teenagers aboard who require extra food. At the end I also included a very open list of possible drinks.  Without knowing exactly what everyone likes to drink though, its a hard thing to add.  I will be leaving that largely up to them at the store, with only the beer counted out at 5 beers per person per day.

Step two.  After everyone had made their changes to the menu I went through and put them on my spreadsheet.  My sheet has three columns, Dish, ingredient, and quantity.  I went through and looked up recipes for all of the meals.  On Allrecipes.com you can change the quantity of servings to avoid a lot of in your head math.  I did 2 servings per person, and for lighter dishes I did 2.5 servings. If seeing helps here it is  Provisioning List  After that I just sort by ingredient and add up all of the amounts.  I wouldn’t stress to much on what unit you’re using ie pound vs package vs can.  You are the one adding it up anyway.

Step three.  I just type it all up into an easy to read list for whomever will be doing the buying.  Here is mine Shopping List

As  side note I think it would be helpful to use your original spreadsheet (before sorting) and your menu to portion off foods on the boat for each day.  That way for example if you have rationed pasta salad for two meals, it won’t all get served at the first meal.  I would expect that whatever is served will be gone.  Also for each meal you could mark what extra food you had left over.  That way you know the difference between your leftovers and your provisions for future meals.  So if people are hungry you can offer them food without ruining your meal plan.