Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Travelling East.

Those of you who follow our movements in details for the last few days may wonder what we do exactly. The little boats on our web page are pretty close on the south shore of Puerto Rico and even if we have new standing rigging and a main sail all repaired, we are still moving only by motor. I think we need to give some explanations but to follow properly you need a map of the region.

Since the village of Luperon in Dominican Republic up to the St-Marteen Island on the East side the path we need to follow to stay close to the islands takes us on course dead East. Also, the winds in the region are a bit peculiar. In the northern latitudes, where most of you are, the winds continuously shift their direction in function of the high and low pressure systems that move all the time. If you want to sail in one particular direction you need to wait for the wind to blow in that direction and leave then. But under the tropics there are no complicated stories of moving systems. Here it is fair and hot every day. The main winds here are the Trades Winds, which are relatively strong winds blowing all the time from East. Outside the hurricane season the Trades are very stable and seldom change direction. At best, they calm down a bit. People here like it simple and no they don’t talk about weather down here. In the news, the weather forecast would be the same tape every day! But if the wind comes from the East and this is precisely the direction we want to go, how do we do that? If we had a monohull sailboat we could sail at angle with the wind and make some progress but with a catamaran, forget that. The only thing left are the engines. But there is another problem. The wind creates waves thus both are in the same direction. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Caribbean Sea or any other ocean but sailing against the wind and the waves is like sailing on a bottle cork in a washing machine. The Tide soap here is the salt in the water! After four hours of washing in the ‘Tropic cycle’ we look like two slices of salted bacon straight out of the frying pan! It is simply not possible. Here comes another phenomenon. During the night, a wind called land breeze falls from the mountains of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico islands and partially cancels the Trades Winds. This is our chance to move forward without suffering the Maytag syndrome. Then we put the alarm clock at 3 or 4 in the morning and we start the engines to make progress while the wind is calmer. We look like two teenagers getting out of the house while the parents sleep and we almost whisper in case the wind would wake up if we make too much noise! But then we are in the middle of the night and it is pitching dark and we see nothing. Along the coast, local fishermen put crab pots, which are attached to floats, usually empty cans, at the end of a long line. If one of these lines gets caught in the propellers the damages would be in the four figures. Leaving in the dark we move with our eyes glued to the GPS indicating our position and play Russian roulette with the crab pots.

It is then possible for us to travel 12 to 20 nautical miles each day like this, which represent a ride of 3 to 5 hours at least for the South coast of Puerto Rico. Longer than that and we get caught by the Trades Winds building up around 8:00am. After Puerto Rico, we enter the Virgin Islands with a similar scenario but only during the day and when the wind is mild since we don’t have big islands anymore to cancel the Trades Winds. We may move all the time and change places every day, we still have a pay back when every morning the sun rises and reflects on the mountains of Puerto Rico. The magic beauty of this scenery is worth the pain of getting up in the middle of the night and to fight the waves for many hours.The pictures we show you here are a few examples of the things we could see during our journey along the south coast of Puerto Rico. In order you can see the crowded anchorage of Salina where we were granted a splendid sunset. A bit further, in the village of Hucares we could see those strange flowers opening a few flowers at a time and sheltered in the Palominos Island this little crab paid us a visit by staying solidly attached to the line of the mooring balls we attached to. Let’s say this is not the Horseshoe Crab we had on our anchor chain in Fernandina in Florida and we return it in the water as it would have made a very small hors d’oeuvre!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Visits and Repairs in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a lot to show to the visitors coming to see the island. We couldn’t see everything so we chose a few sites we were more attracted to. The first one we went to see is the fort of San Felipe del Morro in the capital city of San Juan. The fort built during the 16th century is a massive structure intended to protect the entrance of the port of San Juan and possibly the city itself. The fort was in function until after World War II so its condition is still quite good. Visiting the fort means necessarily visiting the Old San Juan. This city is one of the oldest European founded cities in North America and the streets offer an architectural style pretty unique in the region. Since we left Florida, all cities we saw were underdeveloped cities with habitations receiving the minimum amount of maintenance and in many cases were barely standing. Old San Juan definitively contrasts with this as it is a well maintained city with very colorful buildings and beautiful gardens.

Two of the main repairs we had to do in Ponce were changing the standing riggings and getting the reserve fuel tank welded. The standing riggings are five stainless steel cables holding the mast in place. On the picture you can see the rigger on top of the mast detaching the old cables and attaching the new ones. The reserve fuel tank had a small hole in the bottom and we got a welder to plug it. However, for that I had to cut the supports on top of the tank, then unplug the different hoses connected to it and pull it out. Of course before we could weld the tank I had to clean it thoroughly and fill it up with water up to 3 inches to the hole. The tank being too big to go through the hatches and the door, all this had to be done inside the boat. Once the tank was welded I put it back in place and rebuilt the supports on top to hold the tank in place and to support all the stock we put on top of it.With all the troubles we had with our HF Radio we decided to go shopping for a new antenna as you can see on the picture! More seriously we took a day to go visit the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. This is a giant radio antenna meant to observe the atmosphere and the radio signals emitted by the stars and galaxies. Its “dish” is 1000 ft in diameter, which makes it the largest radio antenna in the world. It was featured in the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster as well as the James Bond movie “Golden Eye”. But the thrill of this visit was not just the sight of the antenna but really to drive for four hours in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Most of the roads from Ponce to Arecibo were barely large enough to fit two cars with their mirrors almost touching and the landscape made the paths to be so twisted that at one point I started to be seasick! No I am not kidding, Danielle was driving and I got pushed left and right for four hours as she was maneuvering through the endless curves on the ledge of the cliffs a few feet from the road.

Our latest visit was in the National Forest of El Yunque, which is a protected rainforest in the North West of Puerto Rico. The place is just unbelievably beautiful and no picture or text description will render its magnificence. The luxuriant vegetation shows an incredible biodiversity that we’ve never see elsewhere. Walking in the dense vegetation is almost impossible and a set of paths was built to help visitors to walk about in the forest. Everywhere we could hear numerous birds calling each other. But as much we could hear them, we just couldn’t see them even when we knew they were just a few feet from us. Their camouflage was too efficient for us to find them in the middle of the thousands of trees or amongst the giant ferns growing between the multiple water streams we would find everywhere. As we were walking the trail our cloths stuck to our skin as the warm air around us reached close to 100% humidity. But again, the forest cannot be described. To understand what it looks like you have to come down here yourself and let it wrap you by all its colors, noises and smells.

Ponce, Puerto Rico

We stopped in Ponce a small city on the south side of the large island of Puerto Rico. The city is not a tourist destination and doesn’t have much to offer to visitors. However, sailors can find everything they need to fix their boat. Puerto Rico being under the jurisdiction of the USA its development followed strictly the North American rule number 1; if you want to do anything you need a car! Thus we rented a car and a marina and this made our life way much easier to get the boat fixed and to go to the city to replenish our food reserves. Of course we use the car to visit Puerto Rico at the same time. Danielle got quickly connected on the Internet and started reactivating the world economy by ordering tons of boat parts and other stuff we needed. UPS and Fedex are going to be busy the next couple of weeks!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Arrived in Puerto Rico

Arrived in Puerto Rico after a 265 nautical miles trek, motoring all the way through the Mona passage. We stopped twice, once to sleep 6 hours and the other, in Samana for refueling.

Toward Puerto Rico; the Mona Passage

We left Luperon in Dominican Republic Monday at 6:00 PM and arrived to Puerto Rico Wednesday at 03:00 PM. We had to motor all the way as the wind and waves for that stretch are ALWAYS from east. They call them the prevailing wind. Because of that, the only way you can make it is to wait until you get less than 15 knots of wind and small waves for at least 3 days. Preferably 4 days. The first night, we could open the sails for the last 20 miles. Roger was sleeping and I changed the angle allowing the wind to fill our sails. I went to bed and Roger took over the watch. He was sitting in the cockpit when he looked at the piece of metal holding the shroud. He had a closer look and noticed the most horrible thing that can happen on a sail boat. It was half broken. AHHHH! Can’t sail anymore we are risking to lose the mast. He then hurried to close all sails. Well, we are now stuck to motor until we reach Puerto Rico. We found a boatyard that can change riggings so we are going as fast as we can to Ponce to have them change.

Since we left Miami, there is a list of things to repair that is growing. For instance, when we left Rum Cay, Bahamas, we filled up for the first time the 50 gallons tank reserve of diesel. Well, it didn’t take long before we had the diesel in our bilge. The tank is leaking and needs to be repaired. We will have to cut the support of the “v-berth” to get it out, repair it and re-install it. Then do some fiberglass on the supports supporting the v-berth.
When we raised the anchor in Luperon Dominican Republic, the windlass stopped working. Roger raises the anchor manually since then. 55 pounds anchor attached to a 1/2” chain is not easy at all, not talking about all the mud on you when you are done. Oh! I forgot to tell you that the electric winch stopped working at Rum Cay, Bahamas. We set our sails manually since then. It doesn’t matter really because we CAN’T raise the sails anyway!
We also have a list of small things to do so basically, we will stay in Puerto Rico for a little while to fix the boat. Hey! Don’t be sorry for us, we are visiting very nice countries. Beside, all those things happen when we are able to fix it and not in the middle of the ocean, isn’t it?

The fun continues in Dominican Republic.


We decided to pay ourselves a guided tour, with a group of other sailors in Luperon, to a local set of waterfalls that is quite unique. This is a set of 24 waterfalls each cascading into a large pool feeding the next one. Helped with three guides we swam into the first pool than climbed the falls to end up in the next pool and so on. We climbed only 7 falls but it was quite a workout I tell you. Once at the top of the seventh fall we just went the other way around but this time by sliding the falls. The fact is that these falls have been running in that mountain for quite some times and the stream of water dug a sort of canyon through the polished rock creating literally a set of natural water slides. This was a blast! And the scenery was just breath taking. The canopy of trees above the stream blocked most of the sun light creating the sensation to be in the middle of the jungle and swimming into a virgin stream. This was by far the pinnacle of our visit to the Dominican Republic.

Another activity we decided to do is to go horseback riding in the hills surrounding Luperon. But when we arrived to get our horses they were all very thin and seriously needed to be fed a bit more but maybe the one I got. Danielle decided to pass and I went with Michael, another sailor we’ve met at Rum Cay, and his 11 year old daughter Sheena who desperately wanted to go. On that picture I just miss a cigarette and I could almost make an ad for Marlboro don’t you think?

Clean up of the diesel tank

With time, the diesel tank is gathering dirt, algae, and water. Peter, a friend from Halifax, told us a few tricks to clean it so we followed his suggestions, which was to put a tube in the bottom of the tank and pump the diesel out and pass it through a filter that removes dirt and separates water. You then put the filtered diesel back in the tank. So, there we are, me holding the pipe to the bottom of the tank and Roger holding the filter. Diesel is lighter than water so if you have water in your tank, by pumping from the bottom, you remove the water first.
We started pumping and all that came out was pure water. It was so pure that it seems we could almost drink it. After about 3 gallons of pure water removed from the bottom of the tank, Roger stopped dramatically and ordered me to stop the drill we use to power the pump. He exclaimed “WHAT A MORON! I AM A MORON!” I then asked what was going on. I thought that 3 gallons of water was good no? So he answered; WE ARE PUMPING FROM THE WATER TANK NOT THE DIESEL TANK!”
It’s a good thing that the filter retains the water…LOL!
Ok Stop laughing, the water and diesel tanks are side by side. You could have done the same no?