Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ice Out on Cape Cod

Since I was young I have read stories of the frozen north, of rivers and bays covered in a creaking, cracking, groaning shell of ice. One bit that really caught my imagination was the spring breakup, when the ice suddenly broke up and drifted away. I even saw such a thing caught in a satellite snapshot of a bit of Alaska on Google Maps.... but never saw it in person until this week in Cape Cod.
For the last few weeks, at least, some of the bays up here have been more or less locked in ice.... more than I've ever seen on salt water. Fishing boats locked in, floating docks damaged and partially sunken, bubblers at Pease Boat Works keeping a clear area around the docked boats to protect them, ice shoved up onto shore by the pressure and tides.

​A few days ago, as I passed Ryder's Cove, open water showed, so I pulled into the marina and saw great ice floes drifting with the outgoing current, collecting in the nook to one side of the parking area and bumping their way past and out into the open. It gave me a taste of the far more exciting breakup of the arctic rivers.

And now there is just open water everywhere... and I watched as the marina workers began assembling the docks for the summer hordes. Such a change, so fast! Here is the Mill Pond a couple days ago:

Not only that, but the ground, white since the blizzard (see my earlier post), has lost its blanket in the last few days. Spring really comes in suddenly here. "March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb" really applies. Of course, even before that, the long forgotten crocuses at my grandparents' place on Sedge Lane came up in the sunny lee of the breezeway..

The giant soiled piles of snow still remain: here are some at Nauset Beach in Orleans.

​How long will they take to melt? I saw one at Home Depot that must have been 20' tall!

And, finally, where the snow is gone it leaves the sand that was spread on roads and the wild winds fling it into the air in swirling clouds. March is definitely still roaring today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Makiko and Anna visit

Written March 11...

On Wednesday March 4th, my niece Makiko arrived. After seeing Cynthia off on the 3rd, I had sailed to Buck Island and caught a mooring. I snacked for dinner (simple food and staying out of the kitchen seemed wise at this mooring where a side-striking swell made the boat rock chaotically), slept indoors to avoid the searchlight moon, then left in the wee hours to ensure enough time to handle chores in Cruz Bay and meet Maki on time.

Sailing to Cruz Bay took about five hours, during much of which I read, occasionally dealing with storms or snapping pictures of rainbows.

​ The errands worked fine: laundry, groceries, ice, and water.... and I arrived in Maho Bay with enough time (despite excessive wind and a wave that split my dodger)....
but all the moorings near the beach were full... and Peter did not bring his dinghy with him. So, as I sailed about looking at moorings, I reviewed the possibilities:
      >walk with her a long way along the beach or road, then paddle out to the boat.
      >Paddle a looong distance... with luggage
      >bum a ride from someone with dinghy.

Then I saw a powerboat motoring off, probably leaving a mooring I'd like... and came back to snag the best possible mooring in the bay. YES! A half hour later Makiko was aboard, carrying a nice coconut she picked up on the the roadside, a few feet from the taxi. She worked on opening it and we enjoyed the sunset over Angels' Rest.

​The next day we snorkeled along the shore near our mooring and out at Whistling Cay, the island to our north (you can see it beyond Angels' Rest above) , seeing quite a few fish and a nice large (legal!) lobster despite seriously strong wind. Too bad we did not have the lobster snare with us.

Friday we sailed to Cruz Bay, did more shopping, visited the chiropractor, bought more ice and water, and picked up Maki's friend Anna when she arrived on the ferry. We ran into Jason, a friend from Coral Bay, taking folks out for a charter and he kindly brought Makiko out to the boat while I paddled the kayak with Anna and her bags.... then we set sail for Maho,

​ but only got as far as Caneel Bay before catching a mooring for the night, hooking into local wifi (for Anna's graduate class) and inviting Peter to come by for coffee and breakfast. The gals paddled ashore in the sunset, perhaps to crash a rather loud wedding reception.

Makiko and Anna slept so deeply and well in the V-berth it made me envious. Peter and I enjoyed the last of my coffee, chatting quietly, enjoying the morning, and waiting for them to wake. Once they woke, after the sun had risen well above Caneel, after omelets (Peter made them for us with our ingredients (eggs, mushrooms, sharp cheddar, onions) and his arugula),
after the gals tired of relaxing on Peter's second-story deck, after spending Saturday afternoon sailing through whistling wind and foaming whitecaps to Maho, we moored just inside the bay and snorkeled before the sun got too low.

On our way back to the boat my eye caught a familiar pattern and the lionfish alarm went off. It took a couple minutes for the gals to see the fish relaxing beside a coral head, but then they pointed out that there were two, not just the one I could see! Shivering with mild hypothermia, I managed to retrieve one, but the other escaped. These were a couple of the smallest ones I've seen.

Sunday morning we went swimming early and spotted no more lionfish, but lots of parrotfish, angelfish, and a school of six 30” tarpon that hung around near us for minutes before lazily swimming off into the blue distance.

After breakfast, our several-hour sail to Coral Bay involved sunshine, rain, loads of wind, and being briefly becalmed.... but we finally made it to the mooring I had left two weeks before and settled securely into place. The gals hit the shore and explored Coral Bay for the last few hours of daylight while I cleaned up and went online.

​Our final couple days included sailing to Haulover and snorkeling in Haulover Bay in some of the best coral on the island, the gals' night out in Cruz Bay, and a sail to Salt Pond Bay, where we hiked to the top of Ram's Head and swam with mellow grazing turtles, little dirigible trunkfish, long needlefish, and the local large barracuda... although the latter was a bit intimidated by our excessive enthusiasm.

The sail home included MORE excessive wind (every single day of the gals' visit!) and a loud “BANG” that left the jib hanging loose.... so I ended Tuesday with climbing the mast twice, working to repair the jib halyard (the prior owner had run it through the weak spinnaker block rather than the far stronger sheaves built into the masthead). It should work now... but I may install a spare halyard just in case... The jib also needs to be re-stitched. Endless!

This morning we went ashore to catch the bus to the ferry, but hitched a ride before the bus arrived. At 12:40 I left the gals to board my flight, a half hour before their flight back home to California. I have really enjoyed having them aboard and look forward to their next visit... although I definitely could use more electrical power with the extra laptops aboard (we had enough, but barely)... and there are a few other ways my home needs improvement.

I'll order stuff while in Cape Cod and work on it when I get back. Stove, head, reefing car repairs, sail repairs... Such a list!!! Adventure!

Monday, March 9, 2015


Well, this wonderful 10-day interlude is done. We float here in the main harbor in St Thomas, Cynthia heads back to Cape Cod in a few hours (as I am writing this near noon on Tuesday), and I set sail for St John to meet my niece Makiko. Cynthia arrived on a non-stop JetBlue flight (traveling since 3am). The ferries and taxis brought her to Coral Bay at about 3pm, then we set sail for Johnson Bay and Peter motored up in Angel's Rest to join us for a wonderful sunset dinner she cooked up.

I, on the other hand, had spent the prior several days attempting to fix my back, but it simply got worse and worse, despite the best effort of some chiropractors. Finally, on the morning of her arrival, I went to Dr Bern in Cruz Bay and really got worked over... and could feel the shift. By the time Cynthia arrived I could move better and, with ice and ibuprofen, I felt I could sail again, especially with her competent assistance.

We slept in Johnson Bay, spent the day snorkeling and swimming, then set sail for the CORE lionfish responder/hunting class scheduled in Hawks Nest Bay the next day, but only got as far as Flanagan Island before we decided we should drop anchor. Terrible night, AGAIN, much like last time! Wind, rain, rolling.... when morning came we lifted anchor eagerly and turned our tail to the sunrise
​arriving at Hawks Nest Bay in plenty of time for the class.

Good class. Frank gave us excellent information (like the fact that simply patrolling a reef every six months to keep the lionfish population minimized works nearly as well as far more vigorous efforts) and that St John lionfish ARE poisonous (ciguaterra) as well as being venemous. Then we went on to the practical bit, stalking and shooting tiny targets, corks held a few feet off the bottom of the bay (This turned out to really be helpful later). We expect to get our certificates allowing us to shoot lionfish in the park in a month or so.

Once the class finished, we headed back to the boat and found it rolling miserably in a cross swell, so headed west on our journey toward Isla De Culebra, making it as far as Great Cruz Bay before wind and light died and we found an open mooring (although the neighbor pointed out that these were private moorings...). The next day, after a far better rest, we headed out for Culebra
and, after stopping at Buck Island for some snorkeling with large numbers of turtles,
 continued past Charlotte Amalie and into unfamiliar waters.

Gradually, Culebra appeared and then gained clarity and definition and, by 4pm, we had to watch buoys and charts to avoid the many reefs. Too tired to want to face Ensenada Honda, the main harbor, we snagged a mooring in a nearby cove, dropped sail, and swam.

Refreshed, we paddled over to say hello to the neighboring boat and Paul invited us aboard. We spent an hour or so chatting with delightful folks, six friends from MN, enjoying a week sailing together on a chartered boat before heading off in various directions for a further week or so in the region. We slept well, and went our separate ways in the morning.

We first stopped at Ensenada Dakity (just inside the barrier reef a few hundred yards south of the entrance to Ensenada Honda), mooring near houseboats with, I'm sure, an unrivaled sunrise view...

​ but found nearly all of the coral dead and the fish scarce and moved on to the east, to Cayo de Luis Peña (hmm.... how DO I insert that tilda over the “n”? Ah, here we go...). We considered the tiny bay on the south-east tip, but decided it might have too much wind and too many mosquitoes, so rounded the headland and found moorings in a bay right across the isthmus.

The first mooring had only a frayed line and we gave up on it, the second a rather tight eye splice unsuited for quick mooring (...perhaps I will get a clip for quick and easy connection), but Cynthia managed to get the dock line attached and we settled in, dropping sail and snagging masks to explore our new home... and the coral WAS pretty darned nice as we swam out toward the headland: some of the best staghorn I've seen and some nice elkhorn coral, as well as some others. Nice fish, too... and an octopus, quite unhappy to have us peering at him packed tightly into his little hideaway crack under a rock. Dinner at deserved a photo, but none did either visual justice and, as to the flavor of the wonderful food Cynthia prepared?.... well, one will simply need to imagine!

Next day we walked across the isthmus and snorkeled in the little bay... and the coral near shore was dead, dead, dead. Once we got farther from shore things improved and outside the barrier reef must have once been most impressive with incredible amounts of elkhorn and other corals.... and some do survive. On the beach she found the bones of a pelican.

​We returned to our bay to find our MN friends had dropped anchor near us and were snorkeling and enjoying the bay.
​After lunch they headed out for the Bahia Tamarindo area and we set sail for the main town to restock with ice and food.
There are two ways into town: into Ensenada Honda (but that would mean hours of tacking, half in a crowded harbor), or drop the anchor at the ferry terminal bay and walk through town or paddle the kayak through the canal. We chose the latter. After the trash so evident in the US Virgin Islands we found the cleanliness and neatness refreshing. The gal at the store spoke "un pocito" English, but we managed. And, as we paddled back Cynthia noticed a couple coconuts on the shore, so we reached out with a paddle and coaxed one into joining us aboard and brought it back to Dorado.

Well, by this time sunset was imminent and I wanted to go elsewhere, far away from the loud night parties and shore lights I feared would disturb the night. We headed north-west along the shore, looking for good moorings, rounding Punta Tamarindo Grande and finding our friends and good moorings as the sun kissed the horizon.
After first breakfast we waited for the sunrise, then paddled to the point and I slipped into the water first, emerging moments later spluttering and saying "Lionfish! Lionfish! Lionfish! Snag the spear and come on in!". The sea floor looked like parts of the south-west, with gullies and stones and brush.... and a nice lionfish hung over it and hunted. A few minutes later, however, it hung on the spear: number eight for me! We scouted (lionfish tend to congregate) and shortly had found and removed three more. What fun!... at least for us.​

We headed along the shore toward the distant boat and the coral changed from scatted heads in a landscape to a complete dense reef of heads of various species, some green, some mustard yellow. The reef stretched out of sight toward the shore to our right to a sudden drop on our left where it plunged to the sandy bottom 40' below. Breathtaking! A wonderful place to see a lot of the denser, head-type corals. And so many fish! I especially liked the schools of long little blue ones that I had only seen one at a time previously. Very nice! Yes, as we got farther from the point the corals tended to be more dead, but definitely one of the best reefs we saw.
We carefully filleted two of the larger fish and ate them, not wanting to eat too much in case of ciguaterra, but we felt fine and they are almost certainly wholesome, unlike those around here. The stomach contents were revealing: some fish, some shrimp. I kind of expected far more, given their reputation. Perhaps they had not yet eaten their breakfast: after all, I try to hunt them early thinking that they are likely to be hungry and hunting and easy to find.

​ Our MN friends headed toward Puerto Rico and we explored the west end of Cayo de Luis Peña, then spent the night at our first spot on the island. We sailed early back to our lionfish spot, found three more, and turned them into lobster food.

We sailed for Bahia Flamenco, a place my neighbor Peter recommended and, after a very rough sail, found the coral dead and nearly fishless. There is wifi available on shore, but mosquitoes attacked in force at sunset (but we had enough breeze to keep them from the boat) and the flies invaded our boat in droves: it took us a day to get rid of them once we left. The wind and rollers came from different directions so we set two anchors to try to keep our nose turned to the waves rather than rolling horribly.
I've said there were no fish.... but we saw a grouper under our boat. From the surface it looked to be somewhere between 4' and 5' long and, we estimated, about 75 lbs. We snagged scrapers and spent a half hour cleaning the boat bottom while the grouper, initially shy, came within ten feet or so. Marks showed where folks had tried to spear it, but it seemed healthy enough. VERY exciting! It even hung out beside the keel and I sneaked up on the other side until I could have touched it... until it saw me and startled away to a safer distance.
We sailed to Culebrita, double reef in the main and the jib partly furled, the occasional squall making the landmarks and shoals hard to see. We even had to delay our final approach to the bay until one had cleared enough to see the reefs well. We caught a mooring and, using a couple lines, turned the boat sideways to the wind, facing the swells, and spent a delightfully comfortable night after some good snorkeling exploration.
Now the time had come to face our return trip: 14 miles up-wind. We have about 12 hours of light.... and, according to my charts, we travel about 1mph to 1.5 mph upwind. So.... we headed out at gray dawn, determined to gain every bit of time and every bit of advantage of the small tidal currents before they changed in mid-morning.

​ The breakers on the reefs showed white as we passed them heading out of the bay, the clouds and blue sky all appeared as shades of gray. We split our attentions between chart, GPS, and reality until, after nearly an hour, we had won free of the reefs, rocks, islands and other hazards and we faced only hours of open ocean... and the sun rose ahead.
​Lots of wind & waves most of the time,

​ squalls came through the day... except one period where the sail slammed back and forth when the wind disappeared and left us to the mercy of the waves. As we reached the shelter of St Thomas the waves diminished to near nothing, but a really strong squall struck us, blinding me with rain (a diving mask works well in these circumstances) and heeling us over until the edge of the lee deck dipped into the water. I could do nothing but hold on and steer, harnessed to the boat, while Cynthia stayed ready to help and, in the meantime, shot pictures.

And, after ten minutes, the storm passed and we sailed on, mooring a few hours later on the main harbor of St Thomas where we got my sail repaired, shopped, and looked out at the night lights of the harbor.

We should definitely go back to Culebra.

There are some issues to deal with on the boat:
    I need to get engine working.
    My pump for the head (toilet) quit...(again!)... and yes, I know I should have gone for the composter.... and this time I will.
    And a nicer stove would be wonderful: what to get?
    And so many other items.... I'll work on a bit today.

Friday, March 6, 2015

First family arrives: Deb and Peter visit!

First family visitors! My cousin Deb and her husband Peter came to visit about two weeks ago (Friday 13) and left on the 17th, exchanging the cold of Rochester for the gray cloudiness of St John. You heard that right, they got to experience two of the ten cloudiest days I've seen here... along with some of the lowest winds... and my worst injury!

They drove from their rented place in Cruz Bay on the day after they arrived, giving me a call from the dock. I borrowed my neighbor Peter's dinghy and brought them out. That first day we sailed to Haulover, anchored, walked across the narrow isthmus to Haulover Bay, and snorkeled there for the first time. HUGE coral heads, mostly dead. Saw a sleeping nurse shark resting beside one. Came face to face with an octopus hiding under another. I bet that going a decent distance one might find better coral heads.

The next day we snorkeled in Hurricane Hole, snorkeling the secret reef. I found lobsters for them to observe and showed them where I found my first lionfish. I dove down to see if there were any nice lobsters hiding under the ledge and.... found the same lionfish! Despite reporting it to the authorities, it remained! Grumbling, I assembled the spear carried on the kayak I pulled behind me and pinned it to the sand, then hurled it ashore. Too bad I had not done it months before: all the schools of little reef fish were gone.

We then snorkeled at Water Creek, looking at all the corals among the mangrove roots. We headed home and, as we came closer, the wind grew weaker. Finally, I started pulling Dorado with the kayak until my neighbor Peter came out and towed us in with the dinghy.

The next morning I could hardly move: clearly I had seriously screwed up my lower back in towing the sailboat, having done the equivalent of 45 minutes of lower back stretches. I iced it and took ibuprofen and read while it rained. Peter and Deb came over for a picnic on the dock during a lull, then headed home to pack for their flight the next day. They left me with lots of tasty goodies (Peter and I groaned happily as we enjoyed the red wine and runny brie), good memories, and a REALLY unhappy back. It is still unhappy now, but the second chiropractor I found seems to have done the trick. I'm crossing fingers, although the daily improvement is undeniable.

I can't wait for the next visitors: first my gal (and our trip to Culebra!) and then my niece Maki and her good friend Anna. I've also decided I need much better mattresses/seats and a working engine. These are very high on the list!