Friday, January 30, 2015

Winter Storm Juno: the 2015 Nor-easter

When I decided to come up to Cape Cod in January, I knew I'd be able to deal with some important stuff, but really hoped to go foraging for oysters... and had a bit of hope of seeing Cape Cod in the snow, perhaps as much as a foot if we had a really good storm.
Important stuff: check.
Oysters: check.

​........... but no snow...

until a big storm came in on Monday night and shut down the Northeast. Before sunset, snow lightly covered everything.

Monday night, snow fell thickly after sunset and gusts roared at over 50mph around the house, rattled the windows and vents, ripped off shingles, and slipped in through all the tiny gaps of the house. Thank goodness the temperature was up near freezing. Power flicked off for several seconds at a time, then came back on.

The next morning the wind continued, scouring the ground clear in places and piling snow several feet deep in others. Even the mahogany I had piled in the sheltered porch in the lee of the house had six inches of snow on it.

 And that night.... it continued. Power quit completely for over an hour and the house temperature plummetedfifteen or twenty degrees, then took hours to recover. We piled more wood on the fire and blankets on top of us.

We woke to find wind and snow continuing, but greatly diminished. Our road still blocked by big drifts (still blocked this evening), we instead walked the mile or so each way to the lighthouse and to the local market to snag a couple of items and take photos.

What a storm! This is by far the biggest blizzard I ever recall. Awesome!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cold, cold, cold (written Jan 17)

Thursday morning I awoke to orange sunrise and lay awake while the sky lightened and the breeze caressed my skin. Breakfast was scrambled eggs (with reconstituted mushrooms, chopped onions, Swiss cheese, and chopped whelks (they look like moon snails: USVI whelks....). An outdoor shower with unheated water felt chilly and wonderful....

Friday morning I woke under heavy, warm blankets in a big, soft bed in a heated house on Cape Cod, crunchy snow on the ground, the mercury headed for single digits in the next day. Ice is building up on the shore of the Mill Pond.

Layer upon layer of clothing definitely makes sense..... a big change from “OK, if I AM going to wear a shirt at least I can soak it in water beforehand.”

I loved the last week on St John, catching my first jacks and foraging for whelks with Cynthia, experimenting with all sorts of food combinations I have not previously tried.... and look forward to her next visit. We even discovered that, while the germ of a coconut is tasty, a coconut sprout is inedible, even if only 1” long.

So, what next? Good question. I'll be spending a couple weeks up here on Cape Cod, then back to the islands with a whole renewed appreciation of the warmth and softness of the air, the delight of sailing comfortably year-round, the laid-back lifestyle. I expect to be up here more often, too, despite the cold... you see, there's this gal...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Getting my sail repaired (written Jan 12)

I've been sailing with a double reef in the sail since it ripped a couple weeks ago while sailing around St John: no worries, but not the way I want to be sailing forever. So I called the only sailmaker that folks recommend, Manfred Dittrich, and he suggested I bring over the sail. So, on January 6th, I climbed the mast to check my roller furler repairs of the night before,

hauled the kayak onto the deck and lashed it down, set sail as the sun rose, and sailed (mostly down wind) until I reached the main harbor in Charlotte Amalie.

​ So many boats about! I could see at least a half dozen within a mile or so.... including a cruise ship coming into the harbor.
Rather than get in the way of that monstrosity (they move deceptively fast and have trouble steering or stopping), I stayed out of the harbor entrance until it entered, then followed close behind. I entered Manfred's harbor in Hassell Island at about 1pm, tied-up to the mooring he had suggested, and relaxed to await his return from a trip to St Thomas.

He took a look at my sail and said he could probably do a good job on it, make it work for me for another couple years. Sweet! I offered to help out in any way I could and, slapping mosquitoes, did so for several hours. Native tortoises wandered into the shop looking for handouts and I tried not to step on the land hermit crabs, ranging in size from thumbnail to fist, that foraged on the grounds and walkways.

The dog lay on whatever was being worked on, apparently enjoying the attention.

​ Manfred patched the rip beautifully, reinforced the leech (trailing edge) of the sail, provided a replacement batten (all three of mine were cracked and this allowed me to cut each shorter to replace the next shorter batten: now I have three wonderful and sound battens!), and showed me a way to deal with the failed batten retainers. I even got to do a bit of the hand work, sewing leather reinforcement where the battens would chafe the sail.

I also got to meet a couple German kids traveling about and staying a bit with Manfred, next stop Costa Rica. I lent a hand to Bruce, Manfred's assistant, for some awkward measurements for a big awning and chatted with Bobby Ray. Manfred and I delivered a massive sail that the two of us strained to pick up and delivered and installed a nice cockpit awning for a UVI visiting professor and his wife. Jacks foraged aggressively around my boat and chased (but refused to bite) my bare hook. Cruise ships jockeyed for the limited port spaces, looking at night like incredible cities-in-boxes.

Finally, on the 8th, I set sail as early as I could see to sail safely and headed homeward.

Out of the harbor on light winds, past shoals (checking my charts often), past the traffic and buoys. Soon the wind increased to the point that the boat cold sail itself if I locked the wheel, so I read and relaxed and contemplated. The wind picked up, so I put in a reef, then sailed further, beating into the wind. by noon I had reached the sound between St John and St Thomas and I let the boat point to the south-east and sail endlessly over the rolling waves, hours passing, until my chart told me I had gone over the cliff and that the bottom now lay 1100 fathoms below me.... that is 6600 feet! 1.25 miles! That is by far the deepest water I've ever sailed.

In the distance to the north I could see St John, even fainter to the south I saw St Croix for the first time. (it is there in the pic, but only as a faint shadow)

​ The chart told me the time had come to tack, so I did, hoping to get home that night.... but the wind shifted ten degrees and took a couple hours of sailing progress and tossed it in the trash can, so I entered Salt Pond Bay at sunset

​​ and caught a mooring there for the night, completing my sail home the next morning a couple hours after sunrise.
And, as I sailed into Coral Bay Harbor I was amazed at how small and tight everything looked, how small the channels and how close the boats.... and I realized that sailing in the incredibly open ocean changes one, even if one has only brushed the edges of that enormous space, a space twice as big as all the land mass of this world.

Friday, January 2, 2015

sunrise showers & sunrise sailing, new friends, fixing the chart table, found an anchor!

Well, things have been busy.... for a change.

I went hunting lionfish again on Christmas morning and saw one.... but did not get it. I did, however, see my first octopus peeking out from under a coral head! Also found three sub-legal lobsters under a ledge. The waves stirred up sediment (one could barely see ten feet), but still wonderful fun. Maybe one more try tomorrow or Sunday morning before heading to St Thomas.

Early does it! Whether heading north across the hills from Coral Bay in the gray dawn, waiting only until I can see buoys to sail into the sunrise, enjoying yoga on the bow as the east turns from black to gray, or just lying on the deck and watching the stars go out while the wind ruffles my hair, this is the time when the air is cool and the sun does not burn. I spend a lot of daylight under water, or indoors, or bundled up in while shirt and hat. Just like now, using some of my excess PV electricity while the sun provides... and I love those sunrise photos, 
either with storm
or while I'm sailing into it..

​​ Rob invited me to his Christmas potluck party on the beach. Four of us (out of the twenty or so on the beach) went snorkeling around the reef at the west side of the bay and spotted a nice lobster crawling through the corals.  Too bad it was deep and none of us had the gloves or snare to catch it. Beautiful coral and wonderful jumble of huge boulders, 10' to 20' in diameter. I invited everyone to snorkel at sunrise to look for lionfish, but few seemed interested and only one showed....
In the morning Stephanie and I snorkeled the reef and, happily, saw no lionfish. Then we sailed to Salt Pond Bay (ten minutes or so) and snorkeled there a bit, then over to Hurricane Hole.... and snorkeled there. There we found a cute little 4' nurse shark or lemon shark resting under some coral and I swam down to touch the tail very gently. Excellent adventure, conversation, and company. Stephanie even treated me to a tasty and welcome dinner in return before she headed back to Rob's guest room. Now she is back in sunny, warm Wisconsin.

A couple days ago I met another stranger, Ted, down here from Boston with his family for a week. They were sleeping in while he enjoyed coffee & breakfast at Pickles.... and he thought that sailing and snorkeling might be a great way to spend most of their last day. At 10am I snagged them in my neighbor Peter's dinghy, "Plan B", and brought them (Ted and Kelley with their sons Teddy and Luke) out to my boat. We set sail and headed to Hurricane Hole, snagged the mooring I favor, pulled out the masks and snorkels I have collected over the last year, and, after tossing out a couple problematic masks, hopped into the water. I pointed out the corals among the roots of the mangroves the tube worms popping their little fans back into their tubes as in Avatar, and retrieved one of the impressively prickly sea stars for everyone to pass around.

What else? Refinished the top of the chart table, but I may need to redo it before too long. Still, a big improvement.

Found an anchor near the Hurricane Hole mooring we were using and Ted helped me pull it up from 25 feet deep or so once I tied a line to it. Not a sign of existing line or chain, but the anchor looks sound and may work well for securing the boat near the mangroves next hurricane season...

Finally, this black Sunbrella cloth curtains the cockpit at night. Now I can sleep in comfort even though the harbor shore glares with sodium vapor lamps. What a relief!
Now we shall see how long my half-baked tailoring lasts.