Life’s Short, Wear Sunscreen

It all started about a two years ago.  I had a weird bump on my face.  It looked sort of like a pimple, but a very persistent one.  It lasted a couple months, and then went away into what looked like a raised, slightly-discolored scar.  Fred had been nagging me to go get it checked since he first saw it, but I sort of shrugged it off.

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This one just last year

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This one is from our honeymoon in 2014

Well three weeks ago I finally made a visit to the dermatologist.  Despite me not saying anything about that spot, the doctor saw it right away and wanted to do a biopsy.  He took a razor to my face right then and there and shaved a big chunk off.  Then he sent me home with a bandaid on my cheek.

A week later I got a call that the sample had tested positive as a Basal Cell Carcinoma, and they would have to do Mohs surgery on my face.  Basically they remove one layer of skin, about 2mm thick all around the spot, and then put it under a microscope.  They keep doing layer after layer until there is no more sign of cancer cells.

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I was super lucky that they only had to remove one layer.  It is bad enough as is!  I can’t imagine doing more.  After I was all clear they had a plastic surgeon come in and stitch me up.  They had to stitch quite a ways on either side of the circle in order to keep the skin from puckering.

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I’m currently on the mend.  Just like when I had a broken foot, dealing with the repetitive questions is the worst part.  I like that a lot of people have looked worried though, and asked me, “What did it look like?” or, “How do I know?”.  My answer is, if you’re worried, get it checked out.  I had no idea anything looked funny.

Currently in search of the perfect hat if anyone has suggestions.

And most of all, my message to you is ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN!

The Gimme Shelter guide to chartering in the Spanish Virgin Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SVI Journal: Day 9, the Voyage Home

Sunday morning arrived too soon. We were up early, moored on the west side of Isla Palominos, cleaning and packing. There were just a few local boats left rafted near the beach.IslaPalominos

Batubara was still moored near us, but Chateau du Mer had to move again due to the Jenneau’s proclivity for excessive swinging.

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Breakfast was a menagerie of all the leftover food. Mary’s meal planning method had turned out to be pretty accurate. As we finished up everything from fruit to bacon, she garnered another round of compliments on her cooking from all the teens.

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We had planned to be the first boat back to Puerto Del Rey, but we actually ended up being the last to leave Isla Palominos.

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It could have been that we made a bigger breakfast or we took more time cleaning, but I think we were actually just dragging our feet about casting off because none of our crew really wanted to go home. However, all good things must end, so we let our pirate flag fly one last time as we raised sails and headed for Puerto Rico.

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It was a short trip between Isla Palominos and Puerto del Rey. It seemed like we had only been sailing for a few minutes when it came into view.

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We had to reduce speed and motor very slowly through the marina while we waited for Batubara and Chateu du Mer to finish refueling and pick up their charter representatives.

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Then, it was finally our turn to pull into the fuel dock — the first time Caicu had been docked anywhere in a week.

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The Sail Caribe charter reps filled the tanks with diesel. Our grand total after a week of frivolous motoring and running the generator every night — $148.

One of the charter crew jumped on the boat with us and directed us to a slip. We finished packing our bags and emptied all the trash, but they had us just leave all unfinished food and beverages out for the cleaning crew. (I’m pretty sure free booze is the biggest perk of being on the cleaning crew.) After shore showers and a debriefing, Sail Caribe gave our captain his deposit back, and we all walked up to the restaurant to kill some time until our shuttles arrived to take us to the airport.

The restaurant was pretty empty, but just one round of beers for our table proved to take almost 30 minutes, so ordering food was out of the question. It seemed the staff didn’t move any faster on Sunday mornings than they did on Saturday nights.

By the time we got to the San Juan airport we were quite hungry, so we stopped into the Casa Avila restaurant, which turned out to be very disappointing and much too pricey.

Our flight home connected through Ft. Lauderdale, and it was packed with a bunch of rowdy tourists that had just gotten off a cruise ship. There was a lot of cutting in the boarding line and arguing over seats going on. Within minutes of boarding the woman on our row had some sort of altercation with the flight attendant who threatened to throw her off the plane. I then had to listen to her huff under her breath things like, “I’ll say what I want, she can’t throw me off!” for the next ten minutes.

Then a new situation arose when someone’s carry-on bag wouldn’t fit into the overhead compartment. The frustrated flight attendants finally called for attention and asked the owner of the bag to come take something out of it. The owner unzipped the bag and removed a large, dirty toaster oven, which the attendants then set into the overhead bin beside his bag. I guess sometimes you really need toast?

We finally left San Juan and made it to Ft. Lauderdale only to find storms on the east coast had delayed our flight back to Houston by more than an hour. Thankfully our flight did finally arrive, and we headed for Houston just as the sun was setting.

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As we made the late night drive home across Houston in the dark, we were already planning our next adventure.

SVI Journal: Day 8, Punta Tamarindo Grande back to Isla Palominos

Saturday morning I attempted to sleep in, but I only made it until 7:30. When I stepped up into the salon I found three teens sitting hungrily, wanting to know which food they were allowed to eat for breakfast. I tried to figure out which meal was planned, but Mary and Jayne had switched so many meals around that I had no clue. I just told them to eat cereal.

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After breakfast the teens headed back across the island to spend some more time exploring Flamenco Beach. Meanwhile I splashed back into the water to spend more time snorkeling the reef.

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The parrot fish, the trumpet fish, the blue tangs, the wrasse — they were all amazing. However, the real highlight of the morning was when a remora grande, also known as a shark sucker, cruised by under the boat.

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I’d never seen anything like it. I was half hoping we’d also see a big shark, so I could get a photo, but I was also relieved that we didn’t.

After snorkeling with me for a bit Mary tried to make her way to the beach to meet up with the others. Unfortunately her shoe blew out as soon as she hit the trail, and that put an end to her expedition.

We hung out as long as we could, but we saw a storm rolling in, so we decided to head west back to Isla Palominos.

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We didn’t completely miss the storm, but the rain gave me a chance to scrub all the mud off the foredeck that we’d picked up anchored in Dewey.

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Once the rain passed I grabbed a beer and laid out on the tramps — which was very relaxing until I fell asleep and poured cold beer all over my stomach.

We passed a little island identified on the charts as Cayo Lobo, which had two inviting mooring balls just off the beach. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop and explore it.

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It was late afternoon when we reached Isla Palominos, and it was PACKED. I think every boater in Puerto Rico had rafted up there to party.

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Every motor boater had their stereo cranked up, and they were all competing to be the loudest. People were grilling and swimming back and forth between boats.

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We somehow managed to find an empty mooring ball. Then another boat left just as Batubara arrived.

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Chateau du Mer had to take an unprotected outside ball, but it was the only option at the time.

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As the sun dropped lower in the sky, some of the motor boaters started disappearing back to Puerto Rico, but a few remained rafted up near the beach where they partied all night. The El Conquistador resort ferry took the last load of people back to PR at 6:30. After that the noise in the anchorage settled down.

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Chateau du Mer was finally able to move to a more protected spot beside Batubara.

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Just before dinner we got together to take a crew photo — or at least all of the crew except for me since I was taking the photo.

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Then we fired up the grill and had a delicious dinner of pork chops, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and salad, jamming out to Jack Johnson, John Mayer and Tom Petty while enjoying the sunset.

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I personally did my best to drink all of the beer, so that none would be wasted on return to the marina Sunday, but I couldn’t quite pull it off. We went to bed feeling accomplished but sad that the trip was about to be over.

SVI Journal: Day 7, Punta Tamarindo Grande and Flamenco Beach, Culebra

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Just after sunrise, the airport opened in Dewey, Culebra. Loud little Cessnas and other small planes were taking off right over the Ensenada Honda anchorage all morning long.

I had filled the 4GB SD card in my old camera the night before, so Mary went into town to explore the grocery store situation and look for SD cards while I helped gather fresh water jugs from the other two boats to re-fill our tank.

Chateau du Mer donated their two 5.5 gallon jugs as they still had plenty of water. We took those back to Caicu and emptied them out before making another run to the Dinghy Dock Restaurant with both their jugs and our jugs. The bartender turned on the water hose for us, and we paid 25 cents per gallon to fill up — we didn’t even have to lift the tanks out of the dinghy.

Even though the bar wasn’t officially open yet, the bartender from El Paso overheard that we were from Texas, so she still sold us a round of Coronas. She started telling us about the deer that swam from island to island. We had seen something that looked like deer droppings on Culebrita, but we took the story of swimming deer with a grain of salt.

Mary and Jayne appeared across the way on the municipal dinghy dock with grocery bags, so we downed our beers and went to pick them up. While we had hoped to grill steaks that night, the best non-fish proteins Mary found were some mediocre looking pork chops. However, they only went to the small market close to the bay, they didn’t venture all the way up the hill to the Ralph’s. More importantly, the dive shop, which Mary described as “more of a dive tent” had SD cards.

Once we got the water in the tanks, we pulled up anchor — along with a huge amount of sea grass and mud. I did my best to pull it off the chain as it was coming up, but I couldn’t get it all, and the windlass was basically flinging crap all over the foredeck.

We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Dewey, and we were a little disappointed that we couldn’t stay longer to explore more of the the town. That’s someplace I could see us hanging out for a while and playing music in the bars at night.

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We headed west around Culebra towards Punta Tamarindo Grande, and yes, we did notice that Batubara went in the wrong channel and took the scenic route towards Culebrita before finally turning wide and sailing back.

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We snagged a mooring ball in the nature preserve and just when we thought Culebra couldn’t possibly get any better, we took a snorkel and got absolutely blown away by the reef. It was the biggest one I’d ever seen.

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I spent the entire afternoon snorkeling and came across another green sea turtle.

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Later in the afternoon we dinked over to the beach and took the trail across the island to Flamenco Beach.

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On the way, what should we run into, but a deer. It wasn’t swimming, but we decided maybe there was more to the swimming deer story than we had thought. We also encountered several chickens as well as a quite smelly dead cat.

When we finally crossed through the chained but loose gate, which led into the parking lot of Flamenco Beach, we saw this sign. Glad I didn’t go wandering off the path to catch a photograph of those chickens.

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Flamenco Beach was picturesque with blue water and white sand ringed by hills.

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At the very north end of the beach some of the crew discovered abandoned army tanks covered in graffiti. I was really sorry I missed getting a photo of them.

We stopped by the drink huts for a pina colada before making the hike back across the reserve to our mooring field.

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The sun was dropping fast, but I took one more snorkel before dinner. Mary made stir fry with peanut sauce — another big hit with our crew.

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The crew of Chateau du Mer brought a special whiskey, so after dinner we all met on Batubara for a “wee dram.” I regret it now, but I passed on the whiskey that night because my stomach was feeling a bit rough, and I was already nodding off, even with Batubara’s bilge alarm going off every ten minutes. I went to foredeck to check out the stars and nap a bit while Mary enjoyed a game of charades with the rest of the crew.

When we finally dinked back to Caicu, I was out before my head even hit the pillow.

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.

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What’s an ambitious amphibian to do when it’s July in Illinois, but the thermometer is barely breaking 70 degrees?

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We ran into this guy contentedly catching a few rays from the porch light this morning.

Meanwhile both Mary and I are enjoying the cooler temperatures here along the Mississippi River as we prepare for a small town 4th of July bonfire.

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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.

SVI Journal: Day 2, Checkout and Chart Briefings

I was awake by 5 a.m. Even though we hadn’t yet left the marina, being on a catamaran sitting in blue water in a tropical location made it harder to stay in bed than Christmas morning. I grabbed the camera and took a walk through Puerto del Rey enjoying the silence and solitude.

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Eventually, one by one, the members of our various crews began appearing from their vessels. It was quite comical to watch each person attempt to quietly disembark from an unfamiliar boat with hidden magnets on the backs of doors and hatches that caused them to bang open loudly. Stealthy they were not.

When I got back to Caicu, our Lagoon 400, there was a waterfall starting in the salon and running down the stairs into the port ama. A quick investigation revealed the salon air-conditioner was the culprit. The pump that was supposed to be draining the condensation out of the boat was not functioning, and the water had developed into quite a pool under the seat.

It had obviously be doing this for some time as the wood at the corner of the couch was discolored and starting to rot. The commotion of pulling apart the couches and sopping up the water, we woke up the rest of the boat. They were not as excited to be up at the crack of dawn.

We wandered up to the small café near the Sail Caribe office for breakfast. Service was quick and the food was very reasonably priced. Then after breakfast we wandered by the ship store, which wasn’t yet open, and stopped into the small convenience store to see what they carried. They had a nice variety of cereals and canned goods, but after realizing we had plenty of space in the freezer on our Lagoon 400, Caicu, we were hoping to score a couple frozen pizzas. Sadly, that was not something they carried.

Once back at the boats each crew began a boat briefing with a representative from Sail Caribe. Our rep was Pedro. He walked us through every system on the boat, showed us where to find all the battery switches and breakers, and helped us do an inspection of all the systems.

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We started the engines. We started the generator. We lowered and started the dinghy. Everything except for that air conditioner condensation pump seemed to be in good working order.

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A couple guys bailed the water out of the couch and then sopped it dry with towels. The official response was, we know it’s broken, but we don’t have a pump for it, so you’ll just have to watch it. (I’m not sure why they couldn’t pop a bilge pump with a float in there as there didn’t seem to be any shortage of those in Puerto Rico, but I don’t run Sail Caribe.)

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Once we finished the boat briefings we all congregated on Batubara, the Lagoon 450, for a chart briefing with Graham. He set a few ground rules and walked us through our planned itinerary. The north side of Vieques was off limits, which wasn’t a problem, and the north side of Culebra where we had planned to anchor one afternoon to visit Flamenco Beach was off limits. However, he showed us where we could moor on the west side of Culebra to then be able to walk across to Flamenco beach. He also familiarized us with the local rules and regulations. For instance, you can’t pull your dinghy up on the beach anywhere in the Spanish Virgin Islands because it might damage a turtle nest. That was an important thing to know, both for us and the turtles.

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We met Pedro back at Caicu for our last test before embarking on our week-long adventure. He had Andy, who was our captain for the week, drive us off the dock and out to the end of the marina where he had to hold the boat into the wind while we raised the mainsail. It didn’t take him long to get the hand of the twin screws, something neither of us have on our boats at home. We got the sail up and down and then headed back to the fuel dock to drop off Pedro.

It was on the way out of the marina that perhaps the most adrenaline-generating incidence occurred. We were puttering along while “someone” was playing with the charter plotter. When he pressed “Go To Track” the autopilot kicked in and promptly turned us straight onto a crash course for the breakwater. There were two or three seconds of sheer panic as we fumbled to find the off switch to regain control of the boat. Thankfully we did not crash the boat into the breakwater and made it out into the open ocean – my first time in the Caribbean.

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