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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SVI Journal: Day 5, Vieques to Culebra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meanwhile Cade was getting lessons in knot tying from Andy.

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

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

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

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

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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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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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.

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!