Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Night moves... and boobies on the rocks.

Sight matters: one finds it easy to sail into trouble and far easier when one can not see. So, in the past I have been very very reluctant to sail at night. Last trip down here, however, we suffered through days of really light winds and, determined to get out of the BVIs, tried sailing one night. It worked delightfully and we managed to drop anchor in Brown Bay about 2am. We did another similar sail the next night, setting out after midnight so that dawn would give us the gift of vision by the time we needed it. So...

Cynthia arrived in St Thomas on the 12th and, as usual, I sailed over to meet her at the airport. We then walked a quarter mile, paddled a hundred feet, and climbed into our floating home. We did the usual adventures, hunting lionfish in our usual spots... and then got bored...and frustrated at not being able to confidently eat the tasty lionfish since ciguatera toxin is common near the BVIs. I turned to her and said "if we head out now, we could sail all night (a first!) under the full moon and be in Culebra at sunrise."

Her face lit up in a big grin and, ten minutes later, we set out from Leinster Bay.

An hour or so later, nearing sunset, we came across a couple in a dinghy at a dive mooring at Carvel Rock. We swung in close and said hello as we passed. They were apparently planning to watch the full moon rise and share a large bottle of wine...but forgot a corkscrew...and as we passed, asked if we we had one. Well, we heaved-to and they motored over and rafted-up with us and I popped out the cork. They offered us some, but we declined and continued on while they motored back to the mooring.

The sun set in beauty and the moonrise during dinner took our breath away. All night we slept in shifts, near dawn a cruise ship, shining like a city, passed within a few hundred yards (yes, I had been watching it for over an hour and they had probably been watching us), and we enjoyed our sunrise. Around lunch time we dropped anchor at the ferry terminal at Culebra, paddled into town, saw a couple big iguanas,

and got groceries, ice, and our favorite celebratory lunch.....ice cream!

We did the usual lion hunting and ate some delicious lion fillets, sauteed in butter, salt, and pepper. We saw a little blue fishing boat with a fisherman and diver, clearly poaching as much as possible from the south side of Cayo De Luis Pena,
but I had minimal phone signal and the FWS does not have a texting tip line. After a few days we were bored and set out in a home-ish direction.... going up-wind is never fast or direct.

The first tack pointed us straight for the east end of Vieques, a place we had always meant to visit... and we would be arriving a few hours before nightfall....and there were some big rainstorms expected all night, so harbor before dark would be quite welcome. We rounded the east end (spotting several brown boobies on shore... sorry, no pictures came out well),

Sailed slowly for a mile or two over fairly shallow waters (15' and more) where Cynthia put on her mask and  enjoyed a fast scan of the ocean bottom,
pulled into Bahia Salina Del Sur, dropped anchor, and slipped into the water to scout. Incredible stuff!...just not incredibly good.

The first thing we noticed was lots of rocks along the shore and minimal coral. We also found quite a few things that looked like wine bottles and ranged from the 2-liter size to more like 6' long, some with fins:
unexploded bombs from the recent decades of bombing, still not cleaned up. We even found one that had tail fins on it. Clearly there HAD been coral, but all turned to rubble. So much was dead, dead, dead and covered with algae, but we did find spots with some fish and fire coral and found one small spot with ten lobsters, huddled together in the only shelter around, several standing piggy-back on others!

In the morning we departed in rain
and doubt we will return.... except, perhaps, for the dark dark skies: no nearby lights or habitation (due to bombs remaining) mar the night

We sailed in light rain from Vieques toward St John, wind changing and dying and building again, clouds initially covering so much sky that our panels brought in zero power before 10 AM. At sunset, over ten miles from any land, a caribbean cave swallow circled us, tried hanging onto a stay, then a lazy-jack, then a lifeline near the bow, then a nook next to us (but hidden by the blackout curtains),
all the time twittering lightly. Finally, it cautiously crept under the curtain and into the cockpit....

then flew through the open companionway and into the cabin where it quickly settled down (with much twittering) on the clothesline, tucked its head beneath a wing, and slept the night away.
We delighted in our new companion and that it had found a refuge with us rather than falling in exhaustion to its death in the water. Light seemed to disturb the tired bird, so we used a red light when we needed light.

Another beautiful sunset passed as we sailed on, catching a mooring at Flat Rocks (near Saba Island off St Thomas) before midnight. We had moored there earlier in the week, so our chart plotter gave us perfect directions to the mooring we had caught before.

A night of wild rocking and poor sleep. Set sail at 4:30 and were close to the south coast of Water Island when it became light enough and the swallow emerged from its "cave" with a chirp and headed eagerly for land, leaving us with numerous little white piles on floor, bedding, and hanging clothes by which we might remember it.

By late morning we caught a mooring at Buck Island, swam for fifteen minutes, found some of the best patches of staghorn coral we've ever seen, then continued on.

Approaching St James I, the wind became fluky and light and continued this way until near sunset, so we swam and looked at the remora under the boat
and collected debris (gold mylar horse shoe shaped balloon)
and tried to hold onto our sanity. By early evening, the wind picked up and we sailed nicely and Cynthia cooked our first hot dinner on the high-seas: a very tasty veggie/chicken/simmer-sauce dish. Skies cleared gradually and, by the time we glided into Johnson Bay, the sky sparkled with stars.

OK, maybe not glided perfectly....weird wind had me choosing between taking a course through shallower water than usual or taking longer.... and I knew the bottom was softer than Cape Cod sand. We moved silently... then stopped slowly and firmly, grounded. Half-an-hour, two anchors, and the jib sheet winches had us free quietly enough that no neighbors woke. I appreciated Cynthia's calm assistance and felt considerable gratitude for all the experience I've had pulling boats off shoals on Cape Cod.

So many firsts! First all-night sail, first sailing cooked dinner, first bird hitchhiker, first rafting-up, first grounding of Dorado, etc. We took photos of a string of planktonic tunicates (it broke up and the freed individual bits zoomed about the bowl), found and photographed iguanas, and so on. More memories!

And we have decided that we love sailing at night, enjoying the cool breeze and bright stars, getting to good dive sites for our dawn dives/lion hunts (24 Lion fish removed by Cynthia on this trip).

And Cynthia really wants a working motor......more on that later.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fishing in Lubec with two Skippers! Holy mackerel!

OK, I'm anchored here at Vessup Bay (at the east end of St Thomas) to do some shopping and get ready for Cynthia to arrive late today. I hear rain pouring down on the boat, but here in the stuffy warmth of the cabin I stay nice and dry while sipping my morning cup of coffee: I hope my sail to the airport works well, but there is not much wind.

So.... back to captain Skip Harris in Maine. Cynthia and I rented the Lubec cottage in ME this year, just the two of us and her two dogs. She has missed fishing this summer and, given that I was nicknamed “Skipper” at age two for my eagerness to be on the water, could not resist chartering a day of fishing with another “Skip Harris”.

We met the captain and his deck hand early in the morning and set out. All their rods were rigged identically, with four jigs on each one, potentially allowing us to pull up four fish at a time. Skip guaranteed us mackerel and a good chance of other fish. I think we assumed that these local experts would tell us how to fish and what sort of fish we might hook in each area, but not really. We started out catching mackerel...

And not much else..

By the end of the day, I had formed a mental model: picture the fifty to hundred-and-fifty feet of water below the boat. Picture clouds of hungry mackerel everywhere. Picture occasional/rare other fish.... OK, got that picture? Apparently, the way to fish is to drop your line FAST through the mackerel schools and hope that, perhaps on 2% to 5% of your attempts, you pull up something other than a mackerel. But....we didn't know..

So, after several hours, we had caught four sculpin
(including one that grabbed Cynthia's SINKER rather than her hook, but still held on even while she held it aloft), a single herring,
a single cod
(I had never seen a live cod before...and this one was under the legal size limit), and many many mackerel. Once we even caught two mackerel on the same hook!

Downsides? Well, if we had realized the fish were going to be 98% mackerel, we would have made it a half-day rather than a full-one. And I like getting fish on ice right away: for the price of the charter I wish they had brought ice... it probably would have added another few days onto their fridge life.

Upsides? The day was truly beautiful, bright, and nearly windless. The seagulls crowded us in search of small injured mackerel we threw back and the treats we tossed in while cleaning the larger ones. The rugged coast and the cool air were delightful. And we both caught enough fish to go home satisfied.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Moonlight sailing... but no photos

Here I am, sweating in the cabin of Dorado, thinking back on adventures on Cape Cod, and thinking "size matters".

"How so?" I hear you ask, cautiously. Well, a boat this size (34') requires lights to sail at night, while one as short as the Rhodes (19') has a lower threshold....

September 16th: Cynthia working, cousin Heather and I set out on an adventure and picnic. Sailing with the outgoing tide, we made fast progress in the light wind, visited the seals, then anchored in the north cut through the barrier beach. Lucy and Tio eagerly accompanied us on a good long walk, sniffing and running and, occasionally, rolling in some newfound delight they wanted to share. Back at the boat an hour later, we managed to push it back into the receding water and ate cold lobster heads while the sun crept closer to the horizon.

Washing our hands, we (well, certainly I) gave a little prayer that wind would prove stronger than the waning current, that we would be able to get moving before darkness. And we did make progress, slowly, as the sun set and light grew less. We discussed whether there was supposed to be a moon that night, checked my LunaFAQ ap....and then looked behind us to see the full moon sitting on the eastern horizon. Beautiful!

Unfortunately, a full moon behind one does not really help with finding one's way through shoals and we had a choice: stick to the fast, deep channels (with possible boat traffic: I think we heard one go by in an hour) or stick to the slower water in the shoals and actually make some headway...except when we frequently ran aground. Many times I thanked my folks for getting a boat with a centerboard so I could sail or pull in less than a foot of water. And I blessed the days Cynthia and I had spent making our way through these shoals so that I could recall their contours in the dark.

Finally, we set out across the final channel, sails wing-on-wing, moonlight making them bright white. Cynthia, waiting at the shore, said it was really beautiful to see this glowing boat gliding silently and slowly across the glassy water and found the sound of our voices, carrying loudly across the water, quite amusing.

And we have NO PICTURES!

What to do?
Well, a few days later (9/24) Cynthia and I packed the car, load in the dogs, and headed to Lubec. And, yes, we got lots of pictures.... but I'll write more on that later. We did, however, go on a charter fishing trip with captain Skip Harris.... how could we resist?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

walking to the south cut, finding weird critters and bluefish!

Let's see... a couple weeks ago, on Sept 8, cousin Heather, my gal Cynthia, the two dogs, and I walked to the south cut, a couple miles south of the Chatham lighthouse. As we set out along the exposed flats on the inside of the barrier beach, fog kept wetting my glasses to the point that I just gave up and perched them on top of my head.  Tio, true to his chihuahua heritage, tiptoed reluctantly through the puddles and tried to stick to drier ground, but once we moved onto hard, dry sand he and Lucy danced and raced about in delight. Occasionally Cynthia called them away from something that tempted them to sniff and roll....

By the time we reached the tip of the barrier beach the fog had thinned and my glasses cleared. In the shoals we found found what I believe are tunicates, broken loose by the recent storm and tossed about by tide and wave. If anyone can confirm this or, even better, tell me the species, I'd be delighted...

Farther on, we came across a fellow surf fishing, two poles set in holders. As we approached, he grabbed one pole and reeled in a nice bluefish. We admired it and he commented that they were really biting well.... but we didn't see any on shore. Hmmm.... this looked like a case of someone who likes catching the fish, but not keeping them: many folks dislike bluefish as they are a strong-flavored and oily fish.
But not us: fresh bluefish is delicious. "May we have it?"
"Sure! Help yourself. You'll need to clean it asap or it will go bad really quickly."
We stuck around for twenty minutes, Cynthia chatting with the fisherman (a visitor from NY) me bleeding and cleaning the fish, the dogs running about in excitement, and Heather watching with amusement. We departed with four nice bluefish (all we could carry) and walked the endless distance (about 2+ miles) back to the car, Lucy snapping at the dangling fish tails, the gals carrying a fish each for part of the way.

Leaving one of the fish with Heather, Cynthia and I drove home, filleted the fish, and cooked up two with our favorite recipe: broiled with a coating of onion, garlic, mayo, and soy sauce. Very nice.

PS: Just went sailing yesterday and saw a whole school of beautiful blues churning the water surface while birds dove for the terrified bait fish....and we didn't have the fishing rod. Cynthia acted like a dog who couldn't chase a squirrel she really really wanted...
Well, life is full of missed opportunities and that is a bit sad... but what I find amazing & wonderful is that we have so many opportunities and can have such fun with them! Life is brief and sweet: carpe diem, my friends!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Sailing with whales

Here I am, relaxing, listening to the wind shaking the trees, waiting for the first wave of rain from tropical storm Hermine... and contemplating last week's adventure.

Last winter I took met Diane and Steve and took them for a sail on Dorado. (Here is the post). They enjoyed it enough that they bought a Morgan 323 and have based it in Provincetown, MA... and invited us out last Sunday. A new boat to check out: sweet!

The boat has lots more exterior wood than mine and, while mine is gray, their's is beautifully varnished.
The simpler rigging system delights me. Fewer holes in the deck for the shrouds means fewer possible leaks. The main halyard and winch sit on the mast rather than being lead back to the cockpit: some folks prefer to have lines lead to the cockpit so they can handle things there, but I typically drop my mainsail right after I grab the mooring, so it is actually more convenient to have things secured to the mast.... and there is less friction and opportunity for tangles and tripping. Nice.

So we loaded our gear aboard, cast off the lines, and motored out of the harbor. Once clear of the main traffic, we raised sails in the light breeze and headed out.

Pretty soon Steve started calling out "whale", although I certainly couldn't see what his Dolphin Fleet trained eyes had picked out.
But pretty quickly we got close enough that even I could see them: first a fin whale..
then a young humpback splashing with great enthusiasm...
then more fin whales and some minke whales. Very satisfying.

And then the wind began to pick up. We loved it, but after things began to tumble around and it became hard to move about the boat, we decided to sacrifice 10% of our speed for a 75% gain in comfort: we put in a reef (very easy in their rig).

As we sailed back toward the harbor, we noticed a beach with lots of folks wearing flesh-colored bathing suits, although we were to far away to pick out any details other than "flesh-colored". A birthday suit counts as a bathing suit, right?

Back at the harbor, Steve and Diane showed us that some folks had taken salvaged beach cottages ("camps") and put them on barges, making them into delightful houseboats... and then docked their fleet alongside. Pretty darned cool.

By the time we had tied up to the dock and unloaded, the sunset made everything golden.
We drove home, ate a snack, and fell into bed and instantly asleep. Another day seized!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Maine charter!

For years, my folks spent one to three weeks each summer sailing about in Penobscot Bay, Maine. They have, for various reasons, given this up for the last decade-and-a-half, but missed it terribly. So.... this year they chartered a Beneteau 375 and Cynthia and I acted as captain, first mate, and cook(s): after all, they wanted to get out there again and we wanted to see the place they loved. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, first of all, I didn't realize that they always figure, based on prior experience, on two or three decent sailing days per week with the remainder being washouts due to excess wind, rain, or fog. Fortunately, Maine apparently decided to treat this as a first date and displayed her best side, with warm weather and only one day we needlessly sat out for predicted late rain and one morning of serious fog.

We spent the day off (our first full day) on Lynn's mooring (Lynn being a new friend we met after she discovered us on her mooring in a tidal creek). We hiked,

looked at numerous mushrooms,

and three of us even leaped off the boat and went for a brief cold swim!

The next day, before the wind picked up enough to move on, Lynn came by with muffins and coffee and a couple dogs and we chatted and told stories.

So far, so good. We stopped in to Stonington for an hour (and brought a pint of Cherry Garcia to the boat to split four ways), then moved on to a nice anchorage on the north side of McGlathery Island. Ashore we found perhaps an acre of milkweeds upon which Cynthia spotted thousands of monarch larvae.

Most of these seemed to be all of a single age group and so numerous that some plants were in danger of being eaten completely and leaving the larvae upon them to starve. I could not resist plucking one leaf with two or three upon it and moving them to an uninhabited plant.
If we had been there a week later I believe the plants would have been hung with chrysalises like Christmas ornaments! Nice to see a decent breeding spot for these endangered insects.

The next day we sailed for Lunt Harbor. A moment's distraction while wending our way through the incredible endless thickets of lobster buoys on the way left us snagged on a string lobster pots, dragging them in the strong wind and current and unable to steer away from Halibut Rocks, a few hundred yards away...and closing. Cynthia and I managed to free the boat in time, with only a reasonable amount of shouting and bloodshed. Very exciting. We decided that sailing in much of this area is like sailing in a crowded harbor, requiring endless and unbroken attention. Not terribly relaxing, but I found that I could sit on the lee side, steer, and see the buoys pretty well.

Once we reached Lunt, we anchored and I dove under the boat to make sure the propeller was not fouled, then we motored (yes, I used the engine willingly and often on this trip) into the harbor, seeking a mooring or spot to anchor. We took a private mooring and hoped the owner would not return that night. This worked well and in the morning we pulled up to the dock and all went ashore for a bit of exploration and exercise. Very nice... and we found green cranberries, tiny ripe blackberries, and a decent tiny patch of wild blueberries, enough for a bite for each picker.

Next, we moved on to Bass Harbor. I had tried to manage too much myself and had lost track of ice. Stonington had wonderful, inexpensive ice....but, NO, I had to refuse it and not notice the ice in the three coolers was running low. So we made a special side trip to get very expensive ice in Bass Harbor, but at least we had a nice chat with a fellow who gave us a ride to the store and lived in a re-purposed cannery right on the water (waves lapping at the foundation! Very cool!). We continued on to Mackerel Cove, a spacious and peaceful anchorage, and dropped anchor in time to enjoy the sunset.

The next morning we headed out and sailed up Eggemoggin Reach. The buoys diminished to the point that we could often take our eyes off the water for a minute or so. Nice. We ended the day in Buck's Harbor as the fog settled in.

Here we ran into our next problem: our first water tank had run down and, per instructions, we switched to the second one...which was empty. Apparently, in the rush to prep the boat for us after the prior charter, they did not make sure the second tank got filled...an easy error since both are filled from the same fill hole and there is no obvious way to make sure water goes in both tanks. Hugely fortunately, we had paid for a mooring in the harbor...and this came with the right to fill our tanks with the sweet, clean water at the docks. Very nice! They also had inexpensive ice and free showers for mooring folks. Sweet! Then Cynthia pulled out her rod and had a great time fishing for the schools of mackerel around the dock
...although I'm afraid that I damped things a bit by my reluctance to get mackerel on the dinghy, dock, or sailboat. I can be a fretful and annoying curmudgeon...hmm.

The next morning we began our final full day. We started by motoring once the fog lifted (hardly any breeze) and saw a few pairs of porpoises breaking the glassy water. Then we sailed a bit. Then the wind picked up and mom and I sailed on a double reef to Pulpit Harbor.

We set two anchors, to keep the nightly land breeze from pushing us too close to shore...or into the gorgeous huge black sailboat on the mooring fifty yards or so away. Cynthia poached some of the mackerel in a garlic butter sauce and I think those hors de vours plates were licked clean, at least by one of us.

In the middle of the night I awoke, hot, and spent a half hour laying on the deck and watching bright stars (I think I saw a couple nice Perseid meteors) until the chill drove me back to the warm bed.

And, in the morning, we set out for Rockland and the charter folks, wind picking up until the lee rail nearly dipped into the ocean,
and managed to get our butts and gear off the boat with about ten minutes to spare before the official end of our charter.

I would call this trip a success. Yes, there were too many lobster pots, but the place is beautiful, all of us returned still on speaking terms, and the food... well, my gal is rather unstoppable... I think the pic below shows parmesan crusted dijon mustard pork chops (from scratch), blueberry apple sauce (she made from apples we collected last fall), steamed broccoli, and some cranberry sauce. We also all really enjoyed my dad's wine and our G&Ts...

 And I got our deposit back with compliments about how nicely we kept the boat, I've been the official captain of a charter, and we understand Maine waters. This is all good.