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!

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 4, Esperanza, Vieques

Around 2:30 a.m. I couldn’t take the banging any longer.

We’d moved the kayaks around to the starboard side of the boat to give the visiting dinghies access to our transom, but we hadn’t moved them back. Now they were repeatedly banging against the side of the boat right beside our berth.

I got up and re-tied the kayaks to the stern pulpit and went back to bed until the sun was shining into our open hatches.

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It was dead calm but a rough morning. The salon looked like a fraternity house with empty cups, cans and bottles everywhere. We slowly started cleaning up the mess while Andy phoned the captain on call to find out where the air-conditioner breakers were located.

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We reset the main air-conditioner breaker, but then flipped off the breaker for the salon unit. We decided we didn’t need air-conditioning in the salon enough to deal with the mess or electrical problems it was creating.

Being a very calm morning I tried stand-up paddle boarding for the first time. It was much harder than I expected. I’m pretty sure I just looked like a wobbly clown.

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We pulled up anchor and headed southeast along Vieques. We’d been warned several times by the charter company that we were basically going the wrong way, and that it would be a rough sail, but we wanted to visit Bio Bay during the new moon.

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As we rounded Monte Pirata we saw a salty looking boat headed west, but that was the only traffic we came across until we arrived in Esperanza.

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Esperanza, Vieques came with special instructions from the charter company. The first was to call Christine to pay for the mooring ball, which would be $25 per night. Again, when we actually picked up the mooring ball, it also had Christine’s name and number, same as in our charter books, written on fenders in marker attached to the mooring balls. I have no idea of Christine’s last name. Apparently in Vieques you don’t need a last name.

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We called Christine, but we didn’t get to meet her. Instead, a woman named September dinked out to take our cash. We assumed she was working for Christine, but who knows? Either way, she said she lived with her husband on the big catamaran at the edge of the harbor, so if we needed anything, just come find her.

I put on a mask to check the mooring and found that someone had run giant chains across the bottom of the bay and all the mooring balls were connected to those chains, which I assume were secured at each end. It seemed to work.

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Of course, there were three wrecked sailboats clearly visible around the bay. Maybe that’s what happens to people who don’t pay Christine?

Our second instruction from the charter company regarding Esperanza was to lock our dinghies, lock our boats and to make sure that nothing was left on deck to go missing in the night. This admonition made Esperanza feel a bit suspicious from the get-go whether justified or not.

While the girls went to shore to do some shopping, Cade and I went to explore the sunken sailboat. We tied our dinghy off to the spreaders and snorkeled around it for a while. It was fascinating how many species of fish had taken up residence in and around the hull.

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Mary had an interesting time grocery shopping. Thankfully she did not add canned escargot to our meal plan. She and Jayne ran into some of the Vieques wild horses on their way back to the dinghy dock (but didn’t take a photo).

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We did our best to lock up the boat before heading to shore for dinner only to find that the big sliding door on the back of Caicu didn’t actually latch. Sure, you could lock it, but not being latched to anything the door would still slide right open. We did our best to make it LOOK locked and crossed our fingers.

After thoroughly locking up our dinghy we took a stroll up and down El Malecon, or “The Strip”, to check out the junk shops and survey our restaurant options.  Despite having discussed splitting up for dinner, so that we didn’t overwhelm any one restaurant, most of the crew still ended up at Duffy’s for dinner.

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Locals were cruising the strip in beat up cars with loud stereos hoping to be noticed while island dogs happily trotted back and forth between restaurant patios hoping for a handout.

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After dinner some of the group grabbed drinks at Bananas while we waited for the sun to go down then we headed back to the dinghy dock to meet the bus that would take us to Bioluminescent Bay.

While waiting near the street in the dinghy dock parking lot we noticed a guy that sent a young kid, maybe five or six years old, down the dock with a flashlight to check the locks on all the dinghies. Then a few minutes later a car came in, pulled right down to the dock and angled it’s headlights for a view of the dinghies. It saw there a minute or two, then pulled back out and drove off.

Perhaps people were benevolently making sure all the dinghies were secure. And maybe those guys in the car were just looking to see if their friend was ashore. However, it felt pretty suspicious from where we were standing.

A few minutes later an old yellow school bus arrived to pick us up and take us to the Island Adventures Bio Bay headquarters, so we could all pay for our scheduled tours. We had just enough time to grab one drink in the Bio Bar before getting back on the bus and heading to Mosquito Bay.

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There was a time when you could swim in the bay, but these days your only option is to take a guided tour by kayak or aboard an electric pontoon boat. Since we had a crew of 17, and I hoped to get some good photos of the phenomenon, we opted for a private pontoon tour.

We were greeted by a very enthusiastic, pony-tailed docent on a sidewalk covered in phosphorescent spots. He immediately explained the difference between phosphorescence, reflecting light, and bioluminescence, generating light.

Our guide gave us the rundown on the single-celled organisms Pyrodimium Bahamense, the dinoflagellates that give off a blue glow when the water is disturbed. Then we cast off and there was a lot of banging and kicking the boat in an effort to make fish jump, which would resulting in glowing water, but obviously the most intense glow was coming off our propellers on the back of the boat.

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Then the guide went into a long explanation of the lifecycle of mangrove trees, which was kind of interesting, but everyone just wanted a photo of the glowing water. However, the flash photography and lights from the phones was irritating the guide, and he insisted everyone turn off their electronic devices.

I had all my camera equipment aboard, but even with an f1.4 aperture at ISO 3200, I still couldn’t get any sign of the bioluminescence to appear without resorting to long exposures.

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Even when captured in photos, the glow just looks like underwater LED lights, so you lose the magic of the moment. It is really cool when the guides let you put your legs in the water and kick and suddenly it starts glowing around them like magic fairy water. They also did the “bucket challenge” where a volunteer got a bucket of water poured on their head, which glowed as it doused them. That was pretty neat as well.

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Everyone agreed that Bio Bay was worth the experience … once.

We saw more scruffy horses on our way back to the dinghy dock. Our dinks seemed fine, and our boats had not been bothered while we were gone.

Everyone was too tired to party. As soon as they were aboard the boat they headed for bed.

The wind picked up quite a bit during the night, and the cat was rolling enough that I kept having dreams that we were underway.

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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Exploring the reefs of the Spanish Virgin Islands

I shot just a little bit of video during our week in the SVIs — most of it by accident when my thumb hit the video button while gripping the camera case. I do apologize for my underwater video skills. There’s not really anywhere to practice here in Galveston Bay, and I can’t actually see where the camera is pointed underwater. However, I hope this is still watchable.

Planning the Spanish Virgin Islands

In June we’ll be making our first big trip of the year, flying from Houston to Puerto Rico, then spending a week on a Lagoon Catamaran exploring the Spanish Virgin Islands.

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We were invited on the trip by friends we made crewing in the Icicle Series Regatta — yet another reason why it pays to spend some time crewing on different boats and meeting new people in the sailing community.

While it’s too early to know what the weather will be doing in June, we have started mapping out our planned destinations and creating an ambitious but tentative itinerary. I wasn’t familiar with the SVIs, so I spent today mapping it out to better understand the trip.

Now to do some research on all of the things to see and do in these locations!

Lonely islands, black rats, and giant bugs

NPR had a very interesting story this morning about the tree lobster, a 12 cm long flightless insect from Australia. Thought to be extinct since the 1920s due to the accidental introduction of black rats to Lord Howe Island, biologist found one small group of them living on one plant way up a mountain on a tiny island off the coast. It’s a very interesting story about invasive species and conservation.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/02/24/147367644/six-legged-giant-finds-secret-hideaway-hides-for-80-years?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150310

Australia definitely isn’t the only place with huge insects. Check out this beetle we ran into in Hopkins, Belize last summer.

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Giant bugs are part of the adventure, right?

What’s the craziest insect or animal you’ve ever run into?