SVI Journal: Day 3, Punta Arenas, Vieques

I did manage to sleep past sunrise Monday morning, but the sun wasn’t very high before everyone on the boat started moving around looking for breakfast. I took a quick snorkel and found that a school of jacks was under the boat. Cade threw his line in the water and within minutes had reeled one in on his makeshift fishing pole, crafted from an old boat pole, two discarded battens, several hose clamps, and a lot of tape.

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The Sail Caribe captain on duty called us back about the dinghy and suggested we empty the water trap on the fuel filter. We did, and it started right up, so we told them all was good. Big mistake. Although it started after dumping the filter, it wouldn’t hold idle, and it made getting from the boat to shore for the rest of the week a giant headache. We’d have to rev it up to start it, then throttle down, pop it into gear, and then immediately rev it back up again. It was a process that required perfect timing or the engine would die and take ten minutes to start again. In retrospect, we really wish we’d insisted they fix or replace it that morning before we left the area.

The rest of the morning was pretty relaxing.

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Just after the first ferry showed up with El Conquistador visitors we realized we were on a mooring ball that said DIVE USE ONLY instead of DAY USE ONLY, which explained why there was a cattleboat full of people waiting to snorkel sitting and staring at us. We quickly moved balls and finalized our plans with Batubara and Chateau du Mer to head south to Vieques.

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We had a nice day of sailing between islands, and Mary while still anxious, seemed to be getting more used to the swells. She had no trouble prepping lunch while we were underway.

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Although we all left at different times, at one point we all ended up sailing together.

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Not that the teens remembered any of it. Once we hit the open water, they were passed out.

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We dropped anchor at Punta Arenas, and I put on a snorkel to “dive my anchor” for the first time. It’s a pointless activity in Galveston Bay since there’s zero visibility in our water.

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When I made it to the anchor, I found a small fish had already decided the dugout area under the plow would make a great new home. I hope he enjoyed it for the one night we were there.

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Mary and I kayaked to the beach, and while pretty, the sand was grainy and hard to walk on. There were also lots of spiny anemones along the water line, so we had to be very careful where we stepped.

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We ended up being the only three boats anchored in the area.

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When we got back we cleaned up and set out snack trays for the pirate party as our guests came dinking over with their eyepatches on.

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Andy and Jayne graciously donated a bottle of Ron Zacapa XO Solera Gran Reserva Especial for the party. I’m not much of a liquor drinker, but I don’t think I’ve ever had rum quite so good.

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It was a bit crowded to have 17 people aboard Caicu, but everyone had a great time. Then, as the sun went down the crews of Batubara and Chateau du Mer departed, so that we could cook dinner.

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The teens whipped up some spaghetti, and we all laid on the tramps looking up at the milky way. We saw two shooting stars that night before heading in to bed.

That’s when we discovered the air-conditioner had quit. The generator was running fine, but the air-conditioner was completely dead. We opened the salon settee to find that AC unit was half submerged in water.

Thankfully it was a cool, breezy night, so we opened the hatches and went to bed.

SVI Journal: Day 2, Icacos and Isla Palominos

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The chop was rough leaving Puerto del Rey, and we were beating right into it. However, the teens on our crew had been asking to go swimming since we landed in San Juan, so they congregated on the bow of the Lagoon 400, squealing with delight as the surging waves splashed them through the tramps.

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Mary, on the other hand, was sitting in the back of the boat with white knuckles hoping the pounding stopped soon.

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Once the teens were sufficiently soaked we turned into the wind and raised the sails, then set our course for Icacos.

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Andy, our captain, had brought his own pirate flag, so we hoisted it on starboard.

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The small, uninhabited island of Cayo Icacos is only a 15-minute water taxi ride from Fajardo, though it took us almost an hour sailing from Puerto del Rey Marina.  We had no trouble finding a mooring ball when we arrived, but it was a very popular spot with lots of people fishing and snorkeling on a Sunday afternoon.

It was my first time to pick-up a mooring ball, but Sail Caribe had nice harnesses with shackles on the front of both catamarans that made it quite easy. The second we were securely moored, I was in the water. I was greeted by a school of blue tang nibbling on the algae growing on our hull.

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I was so excited to be in clear water and to be playing with my dive camera, I completely forgot to take a single photo of the island or the anchorage itself, but I did run into these two interesting characters while snorkeling.

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It was a fantastic feeling to be bobbing around on a pool noodle with a beer, soaking up the sun.

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Mary and Jayne prepped lunch while I grilled burgers. It was a nice first meal aboard.

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As the afternoon slipped into evening, we headed for our overnight anchorage, Isla Palominas. One of the provisions of our charter was that we couldn’t sail after sunset, so we all quickly motored to the other island to pick up a mooring ball.

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Palominas, which is just a short hop from both Puerto Rico and Icacos is owned by the the Fuertes family. There is what looks like a private residence and dock on the west end of the island, but most of the island is leased to El Conquistador Hotel & Casino, which runs a ferry back and forth to Puerto Rico all day.

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Boaters can walk on the beach and drink at the resort bars, but they only take credit cards. Andy loaded the teens into the dinghy and dropped them off at the beach to explore.

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Then as soon as he made it back to Caicu, the dinghy motor refused to start again.

Meanwhile, the girls found out the resort had already closed, so they were stuck waiting on the beach until the crew on the Lagoon 450, Batubara, dropped their dink and went to pick them up for us.

We called and left a message with Sail Caribe detailing our dinghy issue. We hoped they’d offer to just run a replacement out to us since we weren’t that far from the marina. (They didn’t.)

While the adult members of our crew were shuttled to the “big boat” for drinks, the teens used a kayak to slip aboard and steal the Texas flag from Batubara and deliver invitations for the pirate party we’d be hosting the next night.

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I did my best to party late into the night, but I’d fallen asleep with a drink in my hand by 10 p.m. Becoming a pirate of the Caribbean is exhausting.

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.

The Majestic Brown Waters of Galveston Bay

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Galveston Bay is fed by both the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers as well as many other small creeks and estuaries. The record rainfall and flooding across Texas has sent tons of sediment and debris right into Galveston Bay.

Being only 9′ deep (except for the Houston Ship Channel), our water is always a sort of greenish brown, but this weekend it was just outright disgusting. Everyone wanted to be on the water to enjoy the break in the rain, but it was like sailing in a mud puddle.

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I’ve never seen the water this brown. It was pretty depressing.

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I definitely did not see anybody swimming.

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I really hope that as the flood waters subside the bay clears up … at least back to its normal level of brown.

How to avoid boating tickets this holiday weekend

The first warm-weather long holiday weekend of the year is upon us. The lakes and bays are going to be absolutely packed with people who have not operated their boats since the fall.

“You know what, Cousin Grandpa … we should take the boat out!”

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This influx of boating activity also brings heightened activity by the US Coast Guard, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, the Seabrook Police Department, and any other government body in the area with boats and ticket writing authority.

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Expect to see up to six boats from various departments patrolling the no-wake zone of the Kemah channel initiating stops for the following:

  • Boaters exceeding the 5 mph no-wake zone speed limit
  • Boat drivers with a visible open container
  • Drunk drivers
  • Expired registration tags
  • Incorrect bow light placement (Red goes to port!)

Usually if you have remedied the above bullets, you can avoid being stopped, but I’m no stranger to boardings. During my ASA 101 Basic Keelboat class we were stopped, boarded and the instructor was ticketed by Texas Parks and Wildlife for having an expired registration sticker. Then, the next July 4th when I finally had the Seahorse running, I was boarded by the Coast Guard because my bow light lens was on upside down. (Oops!) Thankfully they just let me switch the lens around and sent me on my way.

However, once you’ve been boarded you will definitely get a complete Vessel Safety Check. Expect the officers to go through your boat from top to bottom to make sure you are meeting the minimum safety requirements.

Here is the checklist they use to perform vessel safety inspections.

If the checklist is too hard to understand, you can try this online Virtual Vessel Examiner to see if you meet the standards.

In the Kemah area it seems like the checks focus on lifejackets, a throwable PFD, a horn, a first aid kit, making sure flares and fire extinguishers have not expired, the pollution/no discharge placards, and making sure your holding tank through hull is locked or wired shut.

Give your vessel a check before you hit the water this weekend and save yourself the hassle of being boarded and hopefully save yourself the cost of a ticket if you are.

And remember, getting a ticket sucks, but the guys out on patrol are not the enemy. They are the ones coming to save your ass when something like this occurs.

Port St. Joe: St Joseph Peninsula State Park

We had one Saturday scheduled in Florida, so we decided to spend it exploring St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which is consistently rated one of the best beaches in not only Florida, but the nation. Much more sunscreen was applied.

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The park is at the end of the St. Joe peninsula and has the larger gulf waves lapping on the west side, and the calm clear waters of St Joseph Bay on the east. The drive from St Joe was around 35 minutes. According to their site, the state park boasts 9.5 miles of “snow-white” sand beaches and “aqua-blue” waters.

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Entry to the park was a mere $6 per vehicle, but there are no dogs allowed, so our new friend Turtle had to stay home and catch up on his reading.

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The park also has 119 campsites for those that want to hang out longer for some serious fishing, kayaking or SUP.

The gulf had more beach, bigger waves and got deep quickly, which made swimming much more fun that it was at Salinas Park. Everyone spent lots of time in the water, which was also more clear than the water at Salinas Park, but still not quite clear enough to get a good underwater selfie.

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As we sat and stared out into the blue, I kept seeing something move out of the corner of my eye. I finally grabbed the camera and stared at a couple of holes in the sand for the better part of 5 minutes. Then I finally saw this little guy flicking sand around cleaning out his burrow.

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These things are called ghost crabs, and once I saw the first crab, I started noticing them all over the beach. They’re pretty shy, but if you sit quietly for a few minutes, they’ll pop up to say, hello.

After several hours of playing in the surf, we began digging around and playing in the sand. There is something about pointless, mindless physical labor that is so relaxing. So naturally after digging what was a pretty impressive sand hole, we decided to bury two people in it, and make them into mermaids.

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After quite a bit more goofing off we decided to wander over and check out the bay. The water on this side was shallow for hundreds of feet out and totally clear. However, if you plan to venture into it, I highly recommend wearing shoes of some sort because it was teaming with crabs and spiky anemones.

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After exploring the area, we grabbed an empty shell and walked back to our chairs. As we packed up the car, we got a surprise when a crab made an appearance from the “empty” shell, demanding we put him (or her) back into the bay. We set the crab free and headed back to Port St. Joe.

We had guests!

We invite lots of people to go sailing with us, but schedules are complicated, lives are busy, and the weather hasn’t been too cooperative lately. However, we did finally have a break in the rain long enough Saturday afternoon to take our friends Andy and Jayne out to Redfish Island and back. They were the first guests we’ve had on Gimme Shelter since Thanksgiving.

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The wind was shifting around a bit, but we made it from the Kemah bridge to Redfish with only two tacks, and we had no trouble setting the anchor. Mary had chicken legs marinating in a honey mustard sauce, so we got a chance to use the new grill again.

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It was perfect weather for an outdoor dinner in the cockpit. We’ll be on the same catamaran as Andy and Jayne in the Spanish Virgin Islands, and I’m definitely looking forward to more of these dinners overlooking beautiful blue water.

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After dinner we followed the sun home and watched it disappear over the horizon.

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Thank you to Andy and Jayne for sailing with us. It’s already raining again, but hopefully we’ll be back on the water next weekend.

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!

Mary’s thoughts on Sperrys

One of my friends the other day asked me if it’s true that boaters wear special shoes. Well we do, and for us at least in the past our choice has been Sperrys. These below are the current members of our collection. (I might have a few more pairs of shoes than Fred … )

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When choosing boat shoes I look for four things: non-marking soles, good grip on deck, comfort and style.

While I love my Sperrys for their style, I have trouble with blisters. They’re fine for short stints on deck, but if I walk around the marina in them my feet are killing me.

Fred, while finding his shoes to be very comfortable and wearing them all the time, has only had them for 14 months, and they are no longer gripping the deck. When this happens the shoes are actually dangerous, so he’s not allowed to wear them on the boat anymore.

We have fallen into the pattern of using the shoes for the first year on the boat, and then after that they become casual city shoes.

Recently Sperry came out with these new shoes, which for me anyway may be a solution.  Supposedly breathable, pack-able and flexible. I will have to give them a try to let you know what I think — except they’re $75. Maybe if I buy them I’ll be able to do yoga on a surf board like the girl in the picture.

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Lately I’ve just been giving up on looking fashionable and have been wearing some regular old Nike sneakers with white soles. I have to say, they look pretty awful, but man they are comfortable. They also dry fast and grip really well. I can walk for miles in them with no blister issues.

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Then there is always the option of going barefoot. I feel like there is some sort of rift on this subject with experienced sailors on either side of the issue. On one side going barefoot is comfortable, free, quick drying, and generally in the spirit of the vagabond lifestyle. On the other hand, if you are out on the ocean and you break a toe, it could be a problem. Although even on land most people will just let a broken toe heal on its own, so unless you manage to break your whole foot, it’s probably not going to be life or death. So far Fred has already broken two toes since we purchased Gimme Shelter. He kicked a dock cleat while not even on the boat, and then he broke the other toe on a pulley for the jib mounted on the deck. Since then he has been consistently wearing shoes, but with summer fast approaching and his shoes having hardened dangerous soles we will be back to barefoot before you know it. I can’t see myself dropping $150+ on another pair of Sperrys for both of us this year.

Does anyone have any suggestions for comfortable, long lasting boat shoes that don’t make me look like a soccer mom?