So how’s that music thing working out?

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You might remember that we had devised a plan to play music as a means to make money while cruising. The idea of sailing town to town and rocking the tiki bars to pay our way around the Caribbean was romantic and enticing.

So will it work?!!!

We’d been taking part in marina jams and playing songs with our friends at open mics on a weekly basis for a while, but the question remained, could we actually book a “gig.”

We got started in March with a St. Patrick’s Day show playing as a 4-piece band.

Then a small wedding followed soon after, which was an eye opener to how rough it is to play in 90+ degree heat and extremely high humidity. We played that one as a three-piece.

I managed to book a few solo acoustic shows, which isn’t really what I was looking for since Mary and I wanted to play together, but it was a good test to see how things went over when we stripped out the guitar solos and vocal harmonies provided by our friends.

Then we got invited to play a police fund raiser as a four-piece band, which was a fun experience.

Then we actually grew to a five-piece band for another show at our favorite bar before finishing off the year as a four-piece at a corporate Christmas party.

The gross income from our seven paying shows  in 2016 was $2050 (not counting about $200 in tips and $200 in bar tabs.) However, we had to pay out $750 to our other players. That puts us at about $1300 for the year.

So what did we learn?

Four hours is a long time: If you want to get paid in the Houston market, you have to play four-hour cover shows. When you’re playing by yourself with no instrumental solos or jamming, that is a lot of songs. I ran through more than 60 songs per night, and by the end of several shows I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel for any song left to play. As we add more and more songs to the repertoire that won’t be as much of a problem, but working full time there is only so much time in the day to rehearse old songs and memorize new ones.

Equipment does make a difference: We started the year trying to mic the cajon with a Shure SM57. While it worked ok at the house when rehearsing, we could never get it loud enough at the bar without feedback. After a long debate, we finally spent the $239 to get a Shure Beta 91A that fits inside the cajon, and it solved all of our drum volume issues. This was a tough decision because the drum itself was only $175. It seemed absurb to invest more than the drum on a microphone for the drum, but in the end, it made a huge difference. I also retired my 20-year-old Shure SM58 vocal mic and replaced it with a $200 Sennheiser e945.

Good performances require rest: I currently have a wrist brace on my left arm. Practice makes perfect, but it turns out that too much practice makes for a pretty intense case of tendonitis. 12 hours a week seems to be my limit on guitar. Mary’s hands get quite swollen by the end of a show after slapping the cajon for hours. My voice also needs rest. Back in September I played four-hour shows two nights in a row, and my voice was already rough at the beginning of night two. By the end, it was really rough, which brings up the next thing I learned.

Not every performance is going to be good: Some nights nothing goes right. We’ve only had one show where things got really bad. It started ok. We had a nice group of friends come out to support us. The crowd was singing along. Unfortunately, I started losing my voice, and I ran out of songs. I thought I had a thick skin from my years in news and public relations, but getting a bad review and not being asked back to play a venue again really crushes the ego. There’s nothing to do except treat it as a learning experience and double down on the rehearsals, so that it doesn’t happen again.

We’re not going to make a living doing this: Yes, the dream is still to play live music as we cruise the Caribbean, but I have a hunch those bars pay even less than Houston bars. I think we were counting on competing against a smaller available talent pool in the islands, but that assumption may be wrong.

I’m not sure what our focus for 2017 will be. When we purchased our PA system we wanted something portable enough to fit in a dinghy to accomodate vocals, guitar and drums playing a restaurant or small bar. We’ve now got it maxed out with multiple vocalists, guitars, violin, bass, etc. While it’s a great portable rig, it’s not the right set up for a full band in large sports bars.

Hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door at some bars in Kemah closer to all of our marina friends.

Last but not least, we’ll be working on some new original music. Songwriting got put on the back burner while we crammed to learn enough cover songs to be able to fulfill our 2016 bookings. With that backlog of music under our belts, we’re ready to move forward with new songs in 2017.

If you have any song requests, please post them in the comments!

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Wandering Paris

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Léa Seydoux, Midnight in Paris (2011)


I dashed across Avenue de la Grande Armée and ducked under the awning of Café de la Terrasse just as the rain re-commenced Friday evening. If Paris really is most beautiful in the rain, I’d already experienced a full week of beauty.

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The waiter presented me with a menu featuring specials for “happy beers” and “happy wines.” Perhaps it was just a poor translation by the copywriter, but I liked the idea that the drinks were as happy as the hour.

We’d spent the past three days exploring strategies and innovations meant to cut costs and streamline workflow in a declining industry, and we weren’t just happy to be having a drink, we needed one. Despite the intensive brainstorming sessions and extended dialogue, one important question had remained unanswered — was I or was I not supposed to eat the flower?

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Cigarette smoke wafted over the sidewalk tables as my colleagues from France, Scotland, Italy, India and Malaysia took turns asking me questions about Donald Trump and whether or not I owned a gun. Yes, Trump and guns, this is the cultural impact the US has upon the rest of the world.

As we all said goodnight and headed back to our respective hotels, I was left alone in Paris. I had no big plans this time, just a day to kill. I usually travel the city via Metro, but as the rain had finally stopped, I decided to walk. I passed the Peugeot headquarters and this curvy, winged car called out to me, but unfortunately the museum wasn’t open.

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I made my way to Trocadero where a quartet of troubadors were strolling café to café around the circle hoping for tips. They were mostly just having their pictures taken by tourists (myself included).

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For the first time all week the sky cleared, and the Eiffel Tower came into view in sync with the golden hour. I stopped to snap a photo since my previous attempts at a nice tower photo came with brown smoggy skies.

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I made my way down to the bridge watching both the tourists and the dozens of peddlers with their wares spread out on blankets. They still had models of the Eiffel Tower in many different sizes, but this year they were also hawking small robotic dogs that bark and walk, which I haven’t seen in the US since the 1990s, and of course, selfie sticks.

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The smell of crepes fills the air around the tower. I’ve never actually tried one, but I do enjoy the aroma and plenty of people were lining up for both crepes and ice cream.

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Since I had no plans, I decided to stick around and do some people watching. I guess I looked trustworthy enough that I wouldn’t run away with a camera as three different couples asked me to snap their photo in front of the tower.

I’d already done the Seine tour dinner cruise on a previous trip, but I always enjoy checking out the various boats — big, small and stationary.

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At 9:30 p.m. the tower finally lit up, which was the photo I really wanted to capture. I snapped a few shots and then walked through the night back to my hotel.

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Never underestimate how lost you can get even when there should be a large river to block you from going too far in the wrong direction.

Saturday morning was gray and dreary. I set out down the same road towards the Catacombs, but I must have taken the wrong exit at one of the roundabouts.

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However, as I wandered through the streets I got a nice insight into a Parisian Saturday. I passed soccer fields full of kids running and laughing while parents looked miserable on the sidelines. I watched people walking their dogs, trying to keep them from peeing on the motorcycles parked along the street. I saw young people carrying home bags of groceries while older people pushed their groceries home in strollers. I even discovered how new refrigerators are lifted into those tiny apartments.

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When I finally made it to the Seine I was two bridges down from where I was supposed to be, but I did get a nice view of the Statue of Liberty. The French version is a bit smaller than the one they sent to America.

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the catacombs — aside from a long line. Only 200 people are allowed in the tunnels at a time, so there gets to be quite a queue. My plan to get there early had been self-sabotaged by wandering the streets for an extra two hours.

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I think I was hoping for a spooky experience, but I didn’t feel that at all. The first section is an exhibit regarding the geological history of Paris and the formation of the limestone with a few fossil casts. Then several boards detailed the excavation and history of the catacombs. Then you finally reach the bones.

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I don’t even know how to explain how many bones are in these tunnels. If every man, woman and child I’ve ever known were entombed together, it wouldn’t come close to matching this number of bones. In some places the stacks are 10′ high and go 20′ back. And those were just in the tunnels open to visitors. There were more tunnels shut off to the public. There’s an estimated six million skeletons in the catacombs.

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In case you’re wondering, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, is the man who can be thanked for the creative stacking of femurs and skulls. I thought this skull heart was a nice touch.

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Once I finally returned to the surface, I started the walk back to the hotel and stumbled across this interesting army surplus store.

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But just as I was about to go in, I got distracted by this table of people cycling by while drinking beer. I’m not sure what kind of tour that is, but I think that’s the one I want to take next time I visit.

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2016 Icicle #3: A little bit rainy

The forecast said the thunderstorms wouldn’t start until 3 p.m., but the rain came early Saturday.

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The first leg of Icicle #3 had us close-hauled in 13 knots of wind, so we tried reefing in the jib to drop it from a 130 to a 100 to see if we could point a little higher this week. We made good speed and had a more neutral helm, but we still couldn’t point as high as most of the fleet.

It probably didn’t help that just before we started the race the slug on the back of the mainsail jumped out of the track on the boom, and we had to do some quick rigging with an extra line to tie it back down. I guess we’re going to have to put a larger slug on there.

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The wind then shifted to right off the mark during the second leg, which sent everyone tacking. I saw a couple boats choose to make about 10 short tacks instead of 3 or 4 long ones, and we caught up to a few of them.

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The last leg shifted back and forth between a broad reach and a run and got quite rainy. I wish I had a photo of all four crew members and the dog huddling under a leaky dodger.

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Judging by the time between lightning flashes and the thunder, it was never THAT close to us, but it was still a little unnerving when it would light up the sky.

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Based on performance in the first two races, our PHRF got shifted from 180 to 186, which moved out start time from 11:56 to 11:55. However, due to the mainsail issue we didn’t get started until 11:59. We finished at 2:16 with three boats behind us, which might be the best finish we’ve had so far. More importantly, we didn’t break anything, but we will have to work on the main. I’m also going to have to replace the halyards soon as they’re stretching and chalky, but my budget says we’re going to have to wait a few months on that.

Thank you to Brian, Matt, Shari and Tony for crewing, and special thanks to Shari for bringing kolaches and pulling her phone out in the rain to take a few photos for the blog this week.

Rain Rain Go Away

Rain has been ruining all of our weekend plans for the past couple weeks. I’ll admit, there is nothing as enjoyable as laying around doing nothing while the rain pitter-patters on the top of the boat, but after a few weeks one does start to go crazy.

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On Halloween a combination of high tides and large amounts of rainfall led to the waters of Clear Lake climbing up over the bulkheads and clawing their way towards the pools and parking lots.

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The fixed piers were totally underwater, and the floating piers were above the bulkheads.

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We took a walk all the way around the marina during a lull, more to satisfy my curiosity than for the dogs.

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Most of the streets were full of water.

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But the boats in the shipyard still need a few more feet of water to float again.

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Overall we did get a few things done on the boat, but it was a damp lazy weekend.  Our boat is facing some serious leak issues that will need to be addressed immediately. Our mast is still leaking a little bit, although much improved. Multiple windows are leaking now, and our overhead hatch has started dripping, not from the lens Fred replaced last year, but from the actual bedding around the hatch itself. Unfortunately we can’t rip things out to start re-bedding them until we get some sun, and the forecast is predicting even more rain.

Going Offshore for the First Time

Well to be perfectly honest this wasn’t our first time offshore, but it was our first time by ourselves, and in our own boat which counts for a lot.

We left Laguna Harbor at 7:15 a.m. It took us a couple hours to navigate past Galveston Island and past the jetties out into the Gulf of Mexico. By the time you get past the jetties in Galveston you are already about three miles out, and a decent distance from land. We stayed on this line pretty much the whole way.

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This is me happily steering before I got a taste of the real ocean.

I was helming the boat, and I was terrified.  My eyes were just going from the charts, to the wind direction, to the other boats, to the waves cycling quickly and continuously, taking it all in.  As I made the turn out of the ship channel and around the jetties Fred is second guessing everything.  “Are you sure it’s deep enough?  We are very close to the shore.”  I don’t blame him for one second, but I was so intensely calculating every possible variable that his thinking I would run us aground was infuriating.

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Turning onto our course the wind direction was not the broad reach we had been promised but instead a 45-50 degree close haul with winds at about 10 knots.  We were tipping a bit, and the waves seemed so big on our sides.  Ever so gradually I got better and better. For the first 15 minutes I could not let go of the wheel, not even to take a drink. After 30 minutes or so I was comfortable with both sails and the engine off. It wasn’t until about an hour after we set sail though that I was comfortable enough for Fred to stop steering and turn on the autopilot. I just don’t trust that thing.

This Hypokampus speeding off as Fred tries to coax me into putting the jib up.

This is Hippokampos speeding off as Fred tries to coax me into putting the jib up.

Even though we were only about 3 miles offshore I put on my PFD and kept it on the entire time. I also made the dogs wear their life jackets for the first couple hours, but when the winds started to die, and the dogs were more likely to die of heat stroke than drowning, I let them take them off.

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A few hours into the trip we got hit by a small squall.  We weren’t sure what to expect, so we were at ready to reef the sails.  Not knowing how much wind might be coming, we decided to go ahead and reef. Fred went up to the fore deck, and knowing I was already scared, decided to go ahead and put a double reef in. That’s when we found out that our second reefing point doesn’t actually reach our boom, and therefore does nothing. So we just decided to take down the main sail all together. Good to know! The wind didn’t end up getting any faster than 12 knots, the rain only lasted a few minutes, and before we knew it we were putting the sails back up.

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Taking sails up and down turned out to be a real trend for the trip.  As the winds continued to diminish, we slowly saw our projected arrival time on the chart plotter creep to midnight, and then 1 a.m. We knew we had to switch on the motor. Thanks to our wind direction indicator we know that with wind at least 30 degrees off the nose, we can motor sail no problem, but anything closer than that and our jib is flapping wildly. With winds shifting off our nose we were furling and unfurling the jib frequently trying to maximize our speed.

Tex had zero issues with our slow rolling speed.

Tex had zero issues with our slow rolling speed.

We ended up at the Freeport jetties around 6:30, making our time offshore a little over 8 hours. We went right past the Freeport LNG terminal where Fred made one of his first corporate documentary videos and where he hosted Magnum Photographer Jean Guamy back in 2007. (Confession, I’ve never seen the video or the photos.)

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We had reserved slips at Bridge Harbor Yacht Club, and it was only a short trip down the ICW, and under the bridge to get there.

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After some vague directions, and no slip or pier number we were very happy to see BHYC’s team waiting for us in bright shirts to help us dock right out front.

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We were tied up on the finger pier at 7:15 p.m. making it exactly a 12-hour trip. After a few drinks and some delicious food some of us were falling asleep at the dinner table. It had been a long day full of firsts. Longest sail, first time offshore, Andy and Jayne’s first time making a long trip just the two of them on this boat, first time in Freeport, and first time being checked in by a parrot.

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Padded lifelines for a fraction of the corporate price

A few months ago Fred had it in his mind that we needed padded lifelines to spruce up the cockpit and lean back against while sailing.

Well we headed out to West Marine and found a package of lifeline pads for 62.99.

We got these “premium” lifeline cushions home to discover that the construction was so very basic we should have just made them ourselves. They were literally a piece of PVC wrapped in plumbing insulation — the stuff you put on your pipes, so they don’t freeze — with a sleeve of sunbrella.

We paid $65 for that?!!!

This month I got a bee in my bonnet to do some sewing, so I decided to make my own lifeline covers and see just how easy it was.

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After sewing the sleeves we just needed to get some PVC pipe, and some padding, and it all slid right together.

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Here’s a shot of the pads on Gimme Shelter. The top line has the West Marine pad, and the bottom line is showcasing the one I sewed myself.  The West Marine version comes only in the 57″ length and only in blue.

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For those of you without any sewing skills, you’re in luck. This week I’ve decided to launch the Gimme Shelter Etsy Store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SVgimmeshelter.

I would be happy to sew and assemble a custom pair of lifeline pads for you in whatever length you order and in your choice of sunbrella colors for half the price of what West Marine charges.

So if anyone would like to get some lifeline covers made for their boat, feel free to order!

I’ll slowly be adding more useful and interesting nautical products to the store as I conduct this Etsy experiment in entrepreneurship, so bookmark my new site and stop by often!

Running from the storm aboard a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 41 DS

Last weekend it was supposed to be another scorcher and Mary was suffering from a fever and sore throat. We were planning to skip the marina altogether and spend Saturday on the couch watching Netflix — but then the phone rang.

Texas Coast Yachts was having a demo event and wanted to know if we’d like to go sailing on a brand new Jeanneau 41. Suddenly Mary perked up, downed some ibuprofen, and we were headed for Kemah.

Texas Coast Yachts is the Jeanneau, NEEL Trimarans, and most importantly to Mary, the Fountaine Pajot Catamaran dealership in our area.

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While they didn’t have any new FPs to demo, Captain Michael Clark was kind enough to invite us to try out this gorgeous 2015 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey DS 41.

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The DS stands for Deck Salon, and the big difference between the DS models and the regular Jeanneau Sun Odysseys is this fantastic aft cabin.

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In the 41 you have a nice big bed that you can get in and out of without climbing over your spouse, as well as a sitting area and plenty of storage. There’s a pass-through on each side of the companionway with a master bathroom to port.

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Thanks to the big windows the boat is very bright inside. It’s very nicely laid out.

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All those windows might keep the air-conditioner running full-time in the Houston summer, but if you can afford a brand new Jeanneau, you probably don’t fuss over the electric bill.

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The V-berth has a nice bed and head as well, so the layout is great for two couples — or maybe just one couple that can’t stand being around each other.

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The breakers are located in a panel above the nav station. There’s no key required to start up the Yanmar, you just switch on the circuit, and the diesel starts with a push of a button at the helm.

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The 360 Docking bow thruster made getting in and out of the slip a piece of cake, and the 40hp Yanmar sail drive pushed her up to hull speed with no problem.

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Captain Mike brought us out of the marina and then handed me the wheel while he showed us how to unfurl the main and the jib.

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The main sheet system has no traveler. Instead it’s set up, so that the main can be adjusted from either side of the cockpit to enable you to control it from both helms.

A line of dark clouds was visible on the horizon just as we set the sail, and it was only minutes before Captain Mike was explaining that the blue dots on the sails were suggested reefing points as we furled some sail back in.

Mary, although excited to be sailing on a new boat, still wasn’t feeling well. Add to that the fact that our GPS was reading 7.5 knots SOG as the boat was heeling more and more with every gust, and she was not happy. Yes, we had reefed, but it wasn’t doing much to slow us down when the wind was gusting past 30 knots.

As the lightning flashes started getting closer and water starting spraying over the cockpit, Mary snapped one photo of me (and her finger) before a gust heeled us over far enough to knock everyone’s phones and sunglasses off the cockpit table.

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We’d been out for less than 20 minutes, but it was time to get the sails down and get back to the marina before things got really bad. I kicked the engine back on, we furled the sails and headed in. Motoring downwind we were surfing waves in the channel and still had an apparent wind of 21 knots behind us.

I was sure that sailing a nice big monohull would convince Mary we didn’t need a catamaran, but I think the weather sabotaged me. I never even got her to take the wheel.

Personally, I was impressed with the way the boat handled. The dual rudders made it very responsive and easier to control than our smaller O’day 34. It also did a much better job of pushing through the waves. I’m still not completely sold on the idea of a roller-furling main, but it was easy to use, and we still had plenty of power and control with it reefed.

We made it back to marina and backed into the slip just as the dark clouds swallowed the sky over us.

Special thanks to Texas Coast Yachts and Captain Michael Clark for the chance to sail on such a nice boat.

Old Ships and New Friendships

Sunday morning we woke up to a slow start thanks to some excessive after-race partying.  We had planned to take some new friends out on our boat around 10, and woke up around 9:30 to a very messy, and totally unprepared boat.  After making Fred and the dogs get out of bed, rushing around throwing things into drawers/closets/the V-berth, and a quick trip to the store for supplies we were ready not a second too early.

We met Kayla and TJ when they courageously decided to buy the 25ft Oday that had been for sale next to ours. We were excited to meet some new friends with whom we could share our sailing knowledge. While it’s a real pleasure to sail with experienced sailors, its also nice once in awhile to be the expert. Plus, we were greeted by a pod of dolphins as soon as we passed the Kemah Boardwalk, so we knew it would be a great day.

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Kayla and TJ also invited their friends Ashley and Chase along for the sail. They had been staying with them on their boat all weekend, and were excited to get a chance to get out on the water.  Tex was also there…grumpy and hot.

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The day started out slow with 0-2 knots of wind.  We kind of bobbed around with both sails flapping. We were joined by this lovely home built catamaran loaded up with bikini clad girls. They did not seem to be minding the lack of wind either.

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We all decided to jump in the water for a quick swim as it was over 100 degrees out with no breeze. Right as we started to get comfortable the wind suddenly jumped to 7 knots and we were all being towed behind the boat.  As fun as that was, thinking we might look like shark bait, we all climbed aboard and decided to do some real sailing.

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We tried to give TJ and Kayla a chance to helm and to work the winches. They did an amazing job!

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Everyone on the crew did a great job helping out.  Even in this Texas heat, we managed to have an amazing day on the water.

A brief photo itinerary of our trip through the SVIs

We landed in Houston Sunday night after an absolutely gorgeous week in the Spanish Virgin Islands. As I continue to dig out from under the giant pile of work at the office and sift through the almost 100GB of photos, I thought I’d put together this quick photo recap of our trip. Hopefully I’ll be able to start transcribing and posting my daily journals tomorrow.

Day 1 – Puerto Del Rey, Fajardo, Puerto Rico (We took early boarding and spent the first night at the marina. At left is Caicu, a Lagoon 400, our home for the week.)

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Day 2 lunch – Cay Icacos (Apparently this is the only above-water photo I took the entire time we were at Icacos. #oops #superexcitedtobeunderwater)

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Day 2 overnight – Isla Palomino (Pretty calm and quiet on a Sunday evening.)

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Day 3 – Punta Arenas, Vieques (Pictured are our friends aboard Chateau de Mer, a Jenneau 469, and Batubara, a Lagoon 450)

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Day 4 – Esperanza, Vieques

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Day 5 lunch – La Chiva, Vieques

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Day 5 overnight – Bahia de Almodovar, Culebra

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Day 6 lunch – Tortuga Bay, Culebrita

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Day 6 overnight – Dewey, Culebra

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Day 7 – Punta Tamarindo Grande, Culebra

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Day 8 – Back to Isla Palomino (Crowded and loud on a Saturday night.)

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The “Scrubba Wash Bag” Review

Last year we got the Scrubba Wash Bag from Fred’s brother for Christmas.

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It’s basically just a dry bag with bumps on one side and an air vent, but on the Scrubba website it brags that it will produce a “machine quality wash.”  We have been wanting to try it out, but until last week we’d never been on a boat long enough that we remembered to use it.

So here’s how it works:

1. Fill the bag with clothes, enough water to get them all wet, and a tiny bit of detergent. (We used fresh water for the washing, but I suppose it could be salt water.)

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2. Then you let out all the air and just swoosh it around. This can be harder than it looks, as a lot of the clothes tend to get knotted up.

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3. The bag then calls for two rinses. I think the first rinse could be salt water, and then the second rinse with fresh water, but we used fresh for both.

The Verdict

Pros

  • It did indeed wash the clothes, and several big stains came out.
  • It packs up into a tiny space. This would be a big deal if you were backpacking.
  • It can doubles as a dry bag, and you may also be able to use it in place of a bucket for some things.

Cons

  • If you’re only using fresh water, I feel like it uses just as much or more water than a sink or a bucket.
  • Even after the second rinse, the clothes were still a little soapy.
  • The actual washing is a bit awkward and difficult. It would be easier to stir and rub the clothes in a bucket than it was to try and rub them around in the bag.
  • It’s more likely to get a hole than a bucket.

In closing, If you are backpacking or camping I think this is a major advantage. It could roll up in your pack and serve several purposes. If you’re on a boat and you already have a bucket or sink with a good plug, save your cash.

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