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Her Vital Statistics
May 2015 -- Website Update: We have bid Australia a sad farewell for a while and our Toyota Coaster RV is on the market to be sold (see www.koolahkampers.com.au). Meanwhile, I have re-ordered the daily entries into time order, moved the trip-logs to a new page and ADDED PICTURES!!. You will find the link to the right (click on the white bus picture).
The logs of our sailing circumnavigation were moved down a level and you will find the link to the right (click on the S/V DoodleBug picture to get to the "old" web-site).
We have also "cleaned up" the sailing logs and reformatted them into .epub files, so that they may be downloaded and read at your convenience on an iPad or Kindle reader as "e-books". Because there are about 6,000 embedded photos in the original website, I needed to split the log of the cruise into 18 "volumes". To date, I have tested these eBook files on both a "Kindle Fire" and an "iPad3". Click right on the "books" icon to access the files for download.
September 23, 2015
Every time we have dinghied from DoodleBug over to the dock we have passed an interesting beach house with an easel set up on the balcony and occasionally a lady painting. Annette was determined to track her down to ask questions about media and how she deals with the humidity and today we took the rental car on a search through neighborhoods until we arrived at the home of Curacao artist Hannah Uyterwijk. We called out from the yard below the house and introduced ourselves. Hannah is a sculptress as well as a gifted painter in acrylics. She shows her art at various restaurants as well as her home gallery. A charming and talented lady.
Our destination was the Digicel office across from the mythical floating bridge. The latter is a famed tourist attraction and is supposedly being repaired someplace - very inconvenient when people insist on giving directions as "across from the floating bridge". Meanwhile I needed Digicel to add some more internet capability to my iPad. We found the office, it was open, I had remembered to bring the iPad with me but unfortunately forgot to bring the card with the SIM information on it. Try again tomorrow!
At least we were near the post office and Annette wanted to buy some stamps for collection purposes. The lady behind the armored window got up, walked half the length of the building, came out from behind the armored door, locked it and walked Annette out of the building and around the corner to point out their philatelic office. The last time that would have happened in the USA was before the Constitutional Convention. Annette pored over stamp catalogues and finally selected the ones she wanted. What a racket! They charge stamp collectors for a service they know perfectly well that they won’t have to perform.
Our next goal was the coin museum and we zig-zagged all over the downtown looking for it. We finally learned that it had closed at the indicated map location and moved elsewhere and across town. By now we were at the Jewish museum but it was closed for Yom Kippur. Lunch then.
Lunch brought us to the Academy Hotel, Curacao, a restaurant training organization for young cooks and waiters. Lunch was a four course “tasting” menu with the first course of island goat meat served sate style and marinated in honey, garlic and sweet soya. The next course was a trio of fried yucca stuffed with cheese, plantain stuffed with spiced beef and sweet potato stuffed with chicken. Each course was elegantly presented in “Nouveau Cuisine” fashion. The third course was pan seared red snapper with polenta and banana chip. The dessert was an ice cream made with cactus, basil and cream cheese. Unlikely but delicious!
We now had an alleged location for the relocated coin museum but the one way street system simply defeated us and we gave up for the day.
Back at DoodleBug, Annette made banana bread from daughter Marian’s recipe using her bread-maker powered from the inverter I installed yesterday. The bread smells wonderful but she says I have to wait for breakfast (sigh).
September 22, 2015
In the mornings there is a VHF radio “Cruiser’s Net” for those vessels who wish to participate. The formula is usually the same around the world, they begin with a call for any boats having medical or like emergencies and then move on to weather, social events, help needed with services etc. This morning we were shocked out of our usual caffeine deprived torpor by the report of the murder of a fellow cruiser near the town of Cartagena, Columbia. We may even have met this Dutch couple when we attended a “Happy Hour plus meal” event at the local restaurant about ten days ago. The initial report was that the vessel was boarded by six masked men who clubbed the wife to death whilst her husband was blissfully taking a shower. This could have been a CNN report in that the only thing they got correct was that the wife was dead. As the news has “firmed” and morphed over the next couple of days, it looks more and more suspicious that this was actually a domestic incident.
I used yesterday’s plumbing purchases to run a fresh water flush line to the water-maker. I had finally identified that the plumbing system this South African built vessel employs was produced by the “Whale” pump manufacturer. Although the marine supply store stocked the required tubing and connectors, nobody had the slightest idea as to what you do with them. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I found a vendor that described the assembly method but none of the several U-Tube videos on the various websites would play on this internet connection and the downloaded instructions maintained the importance of using only the “Whale” brand of special pipe cutter. Of course I don’t have such a gadget and the local store doesn’t sell them, so I “gently” used a pipe cutter designed for cutting galvanized steel pipe on the soft polyethylene tubing until there was a significant groove, then finished cutting it with a sharp razor blade. Unbelievably it all went together and so far it hasn’t leaked. We can now flush our water-maker with the recommended fresh water whenever we have finished making our “product”.
Mike had loaned me his giant cable “crimper” and I used these to make up the connector cables for our inverter, wiring it into the battery bank. We have now installed the very last of the equipment we purchased six weeks ago in Sint Maarten!
September 21, 2015
Monday dawned and while Mike went off to town to visit the dentist, Annette and I took Jean over to a huge supermarket, called “Mangusa” in the suburb of Santa Rosa. Here was a store that had lactose free milk for Annette and Six Grapes port for Ed. I always get hungry wandering around grocery stores and was grateful when we returned to DoodleBug for lunch on store roasted chicken. However, I still had not achieved any of my shopping goals so I scooped up Mike and headed out again looking for boat parts. I needed to add a fresh-water flush line to my water-maker and this needed specialized plumbing parts. It was at the fourth store, after I had really given up, that I found the needed parts. What was amazing was that this store carried all of the pieces I required, not just a few tantalizing connectors. Tomorrow I will cut into the pressurized fresh water system on the boat and see if we still have a water system by the day’s end.
September 20, 2015
Today was tourism day and we invited our neighbors Mike and Jean along for a road-trip in our rental car, warning them in advance of its foibles and eccentricities. Of course our first stop was at a giant “hypermarket” store where Mike bought a coffee-maker. Annette loves shopping and I can see that she will need to return here for an extended visit, maybe camping overnight. Moving along we arrived at the “Cave of Hato” that lies just opposite the east end of the Curacao airport runway. This cave is visited via guided tours but the the tour in question was much better than I had expected. The guide was animated, giving his spiel in both Dutch and English, although you would probably have guessed what he was saying even if you had been stone deaf. The cave is also active, fed by rain water and had several chambers with interesting “live” formations as well as a small bat colony. The bats were “long tongued bats”, tiny insect eaters and although we walked beneath them and could smell the coffee-like smell of guano, there was no evidence of it below our feet. Good idea to keep your mouth closed in any event. It wasn’t “Carlsbad Caverns” but a fun visit nonetheless.
We passed the sprawling and modern looking airport and headed northwest along the coast road, cutting west to Santa Cruz just as we passed a clutch of windmills. This is one location that can boast high and continuous winds and is perfect for wind generated electricity. Once the electricity storage problem is solved, they will be a viable source of power.
At Santa Cruz there was a “Padi” dive hotel, bar and restaurant where Mike and Jean had eaten previously. The hotel perches on a cliff top with sea cliffs forming a notch with a sand beach at the bend in the notch. The sea is crystal clear and obviously a great spot both for diving and snorkeling. Iguanas strolled casually between the tables, displaying that arrogance that only million year-old reptiles exhibit. We also watched multiple people pass by, laden with scuba gear and looking physically tired rather than arrogant as we ate an excellent lunch.
September 19, 2015
The water-maker was fired up in earnest and we ran it all day long manufacturing about 60 gallons of fresh water from seawater and sunshine. Annette was doing laundry and every time she turned on a faucet, I chided her for using up my precious water. We did not want to leave the water-maker unattended on its first day on the job and kept checking it for leaks thus this was a slow day just catching up on small boat chores. Annette re-arranged the food storage lockers for the twentieth time – I think she she does this so I can’t find the cookies. Actually we have suffered from a mysterious water leak into her food storage. Was this a rain-water leak? Fresh water from the plumbing? Salt-water from the air-conditioning coolant lines? We had scoured the areas under the salon couches after a couple of heavy rains and had run the air-conditioner just to see if we could find a leak. I believe that today I finally found the culprit and repaired it – a loose fitting in the air-conditioning condensate drain line. In the past seven weeks we have moved the boat about 800 miles out of the hurricane risk area, upgraded the instrumentation with the addition of radar, AIS, auto-pilot remotes and made ourselves independent of the dock with the addition of solar power and water-maker. It is near impossible to fix everything on a boat but by now we believe that we have completed the major repairs and modifications.
I asked for information concerning the location of a Digicel (the cellular phone company) office on the cruiser’s radio net this morning and was discouraged to find that it is some distance from our anchorage. I tried one more time to call for technical support. I still have no clue as to why we lost internet service but the lady I spoke to said she could fix it this “one time”. She asked for my cell phone number and about an hour later actually called me back. The internet is working again!.
Yesterday, fellow cruisers Mike and Jean of S/V Tomorrow’s Dream had anchored next to us. We had gone out to supper together and they directed us to a third dinghy accessible restaurant. This one serves real food! We will delegate the other two establishments for the times when we just need beer and french-fries whilst perched on a bar-stool.
September 18, 2015
Today at 0945 hours, history was made. We made water!! We have yet to connect properly to the water tank and instead output the product to a pair of gallon jugs but we filled both of them. A whole two gallons of water test run before we shut it down. We even drank the water – tasted just like water. The flow rate meter showed that the unit was producing about six and a half gallons per hour and should fill our 60 gallon tank in nine or so hours. This will be tomorrow’s test run after the sun is up and the solar panels are doing their thing. What a relief that this project is about wrapped up.
Of course we lost internet connectivity immediately afterwards. Here is the history of island dealing with the main cellular company Digicel. We had found the store on Bonaire and it looked like a regular cell-phone company - you know, example phones on the wall, little pedestals displaying phone covers and gadgets etc. After I arrived at the front of the line, I had explained that I wanted a pre-paid cell card SIM for my phone plus another data SIM for my iPad. The girl added up $14 each for the SIMs, $10 pre-pay on the phone, $30 pre-pay for 2 Gigabytes of data for the iPad, total $68. I handed her my credit card and complained when the receipt to sign was for $96. She added the numbers three more times, apologized and handed me back a bill for $20. OK, I was still short $8 but I didn’t want to hurt her brain so we left. No receipt. When the 2Gbytes expired, I had been promised that I could buy additional Gigabytes online. Not so. Back to the Digicel store. This time there was a different girl who demanded, “How much did you pay last time?” I pretended to not recollect and she announced that it would be $30. So far this was working and I paid her cash so as not to trigger any arithmetic problems. She grabbed my iPad plus the $30 cash and disappeared into the rear of the store, re-appearing minutes later and announcing it was done. And it was. Again, no receipt.
My third attempt was to preempt the trip to the store by downloading the Digicel “App” to the iPad and buying a $30 upgrade on-line and before the current one expired. Which brings us to today. I called their support “team” and spoke to a lady who insisted that their was no record of my transaction. I responded that fortunately, I had a complete record of the transaction, including an electronic receipt bearing the transaction tracking number. She demanded that I email this to her and was unsympathetic to the fact that I would no longer have e-mail capability. To beat this one, I said I would e-mail the receipt using my satellite server and did so. That was the last we heard from the customer care team and we will probably need to seek a Digicel store on Curacao.
September 17, 2015
Our daily expedition to the parts stores turned up no “Tee” plumbing fittings in the correct size. This is one of the problems of living on an island. Yesterday we had found two of liter cartons on the grocery store shelf labeled in Dutch, “lactose vrij”. I asked the store manager if this meant “lactose free milk” and if they had any more. Yes to the first question and “maybe” next week they will get some more. We bought a fitting at an irrigation supply store that might work in a pinch for our water-maker, at least until we can find the correct part.
Last night I had decided to properly address our several electrical issues. Our 100 ampere windlass breaker has a cracked body, our anchor light is dim and we are afraid of getting hit by night-time traffic such that we have been leaving extra lights on and finally, we really need an electrical sub-panel with 6 more breakers for radar, water-maker, fly-bridge refrigerator, wash-down pump, inverter etc. I had been short-cutting the component installations by slaving power off other devices but now needed to do the job properly. Fortunately we were able to find a sub-panel as well as the needed windlass breaker.
Back at DoodleBug I installed the windlass breaker as a first priority. We can again raise the anchor and move the boat if needed! The sub-panel was installed, the radar rewired to use one of the new breakers and I put in a terminal bus-bar for the ground wires. The positive lead for the water-maker pump was installed but the cable for the negative was too short. Another trip to the parts store!
We had also purchased an LED (light emitting diode) replacement bulb for our anchor light but not only would it not illuminate, it was too tall for the enclosure. We had swapped this for a halogen bulb but when tested, neither it nor the original bulb would work. This was getting frustrating! We had power to the socket and the original bulb tested good – the problem must be salt corrosion. There was now a high wind and late afternoon found me perched on the fly-bridge roof with my ladder tied to a support to stop it blowing away. The socket had to be carefully dismantled, the tiny brass parts filed to remove corrosion and then reassembled without the lighter pieces wafting away in the stiff breeze. The original anchor light bulb is now working again; the new halogen bulb was bad.
September 16, 2015
This morning we made the regular run to to the parts store to buy more hose clamps and this was followed by a hard day’s plumbing, running hoses and connecting the puzzle together. By the end of the afternoon we were down to three items; a plumbing issue – I had bought the wrong sized “Tee” connector for the waste drain, a “design” issue in that there doesn’t seem to be a way to run our product line to the fresh water tanks without major engineering modifications and finally the electrical wiring needs to be run to the water-maker supply pump. We solved these issues by setting off in our dinghy for “Happy Hour” at the Pirate’s Nest bar, where we found fellow boater Jeff trying to connect to the internet. Supper was a balanced meal of beer and french fries. The balancing was done on bar stools.
September 15, 2015
Annette had made me a template in order to cut a hole for water maker’s feed pressure and flow rate gauges, so this morning found me struggling to get the template lined up properly and cut through the paneling. The material I was cutting was a type of formica layer on top of plywood and thicker than I expected. It was definitely full of holes by 9 o’clock but more like Swiss cheese than the desired shape; however it was time to see the ostriches and the construction project was temporarily shelved.
The ostrich farm lies some distance from our anchorage at Spanish Water and with signage that must have been more consistent in years past. Nonetheless we did find the place, a far more elaborate facility than I expected. While we waited for the tour to begin, we were entertained by watching the peafowl, chickens, iguanas, ducks, pot-bellied pigs and their litters wandering at large. Our tour was from the bed of a converted Ford truck and we drove in a circuit around the facility where we could see the ostriches and emus in their different pens. The huge birds were separated by age as it is not possible to sex them until the male ostriches display black plumage at around a year old. The two year old male ostriches become “dangerous” and would not allow our guide into its pen. It showed an elaborate aggressive display by “kneeling” (except “those” joints are ankles not knees!) with wings extended. We have never seen this display before and it was definitely the highlight of the trip.
The ostriches in this facility are raised for both eggs and meat and we supported the operation by having lunch in the restaurant. The unused parts of the ostrich carcass were supposedly fed to three Nile crocodiles in a pond near the gate. We saw a snout poking out of the water but compared to the Australian “salties”, these looked pretty tame.
Our next destination was the Kura Hulanda Museum of Slavery (Kura Hulanda is “Dutch Courtyard” in the Papiamentu language). Unfortunately we chose to hire a museum guide and he grossly exaggerated the history and description of the exhibits, long past the point of foolishness. This was a shame because there was an element of truth buried in his statements and this is an interesting museum, covering an important part of the history of the Americas. The horror of what occurred needs no exaggeration. For example, at one point he asked if anyone knew how many slaves had been transported from Africa and I responded that according to the museum’s website, it was estimated that some 12 million Africans had been so captured and transported. He responded that the museum’s website (his own employer’s museum) had been written by “white people” and the true number was 200 million. This would be around four times the entire estimated population of the continent of Africa in 1500. The balance of his spiel seemed to rest upon slavery in the USA, Martin Luther King and the 1921 Tulsa race riots, a tiny fraction of the story.
Later that afternoon we returned to DoodleBug and the construction project continued. I have run out of suitably sized hose clamps but all of the water-maker components have now been installed and and most of the plumbing completed. The race is on to see if will we be making our own water or will we have to purchase water to refill our on-board tanks!
September 14, 2015
Monday morning and we had a shopping list. We hit the marine supply for the needed fasteners and plumbing parts and then set off on a treasure hunt to locate the gas station on the island that refills propane tanks. DoodleBug has two tanks to provide propane for cooking and they are constructed of aluminum rather than the steel which would swiftly rust in a marine environment. This means that you don’t swap the empty tank for a full one ($350 apiece internet pricing), you must find a place that will fill yours. Finding the gas station was a little like a treasure hunt since most roads seem to lack signage as to their name and to further complicate the search, this particular station lay beyond an area of extensive road works with multiple diversions through a housing area. We did find the place, the filling process was relatively painless and we were charged 20 guilders, a little less than US$12, to fill a 10 pound tank.
Annette needed art supplies and the internet provided the only listed source as a store called “Diamond”. We found the place eventually plus a hand-written sign on the door to say they were closed until 12:30. Lunch then. We found a small Chinese restaurant and although the parking lot was perhaps half filled, we seemed to be the only customers. Nevertheless, the meal was good and we returned to “Diamond” to discover that the hand written sign now read, “Closed until 1:30”. Fifteen minutes later, we were gratefully admitted to the air conditioned interior and Annette found her supplies.
Back at DoodleBug I installed the remaining water maker components while Annette crafted a template so that I can cut the necessary hole for the final piece. We are getting close to completing this project but we have an appointment tomorrow to visit the Ostrich farm that will likely cut into our construction timetable.
September 13, 2015
The glue had set on my mounting board thus my excuses for inaction had expired so this morning I mounted the feed pump for the water maker. I now have three of the six components in place and can begin plumbing it all together. I still need some more fasteners for the last few items, plus a couple of plumbing connectors and this wasn’t going to happen on a Sunday. We jumped into our rental car to go touring.
Curacao has an entirely different economy from its neighbors. The Spanish and Dutch had originally tried agriculture but the lack of fresh water had foiled that idea. The salt pans in the east end of the island had provided some income but in 1529, Holland was a Spanish territory and King Charles V of Spain, granted a license to a Dutchman to operate the slave trade from Africa to the New World. However, by the 1492 Treaty of Tordesillas, the Pope had assigned the territory eastward of a line through Brazil, to Portugal and so the big slave trading centers in the Pernambuco region of Brazil were now off limits to the Dutch. Their solution was to use the nearby Island of Curacao which became the main trading center for the slave business in the region. In the 1920’s, oil had been discovered in nearby Venezuela and Royal Dutch Shell oil company built a refinery here at Willemstad which was once the largest in the world. Today the refinery is operated by PDVSA, the Venezuelan national oil company and it is one of the few in the world that can process the “heavy” Venezuelan oil. During the 1940’s the Dutch headquartered their multi-national companies here during the Nazi occupation of Holland and even today this is a regional center of trading, insurance and like financial organizations.
Our auto tour took us on a wide loop around the city of Willemstad and its population of around 150,000. Although there are plenty of shuttered businesses and buildings for rent, there is still an aura of prosperity and vibrancy here that is missing from the other islands we have visited and whose economies depend almost entirely upon tourism. As we crossed the 185 feet tall Queen Juliana Bridge that crosses St. Anna Bay, the Willemstad refinery lay before us amongst the clear skies and blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
September 12, 2015
We had invited Jeff over for the premier performance of Annette’s BBQ this evening and while I began the install process on the water-maker, Annette began to defrost the refrigerator and freezer. I am not sure which one of us made the most mess. I began my task by using a hacksaw to shape a piece of plywood donated yesterday by “S/V True Blue”. The irregular shaped piece was then epoxied to the side of the bilge to provide an anchor point for the feed pump. The glue would take 8 hours or so to set and I moved on to the main high pressure pump that will live under the forward “Vee” berth next to an auxiliary water tank. A hot cramped exercise but it was temporarily installed until I can find some more appropriately sized bolts.
Marine refrigerators are comprised of distributed components. The insulated box we are familiar with but the “cold plate” is a separate item, as is the compressor. In some vessels, the compressor is driven from the engine and by running the engine daily, the fridge gets enough of a boost to keep the beer cold for a few hours. However, our fridge / freezer combo is electrically powered from the 12 volt house battery bank, operating day and night but unlike “land” refrigerators, the energy required for a circulation fan to make the unit “frostless”, is considered a frivolous waste. Thus the units already had acquired a two to three inch thick coating of ice over the “cold plates” thereby drastically reducing their efficiency. While I had tools, wood and glue everywhere, Annette had food, drinks, coolers and melting ice spread liberally around. We decided that it was time to tidy up our respective messes and make a pilgrimage to the grocery store for the raw materials of this evening’s promised repast. By the time we returned to DoodleBug, the fridge was about three inches deep in melting ice slush and the contents could be dumped overboard to scare the fish.
The evening’s meal, our first hosted aboard, was a resounding success. The pistachios we nibbled were easily recognizable but the unfamiliar pate’s labeled in Dutch were a gamble. As it was they were delicious and segued into the main meal of BBQ’d pork chops, grilled green beans, pilaf rice and Romaine salad topped with cranberries and orange with a port / vinaigrette dressing. The “bakery bought“ supposed apple cake for dessert did not seem to contain any apple but was tasty and well received nonetheless.
We discovered that our guest Jeff had begun his career as a J.O. (Junior Observer) for geophysical contractor Teledyne in Houston, Texas thus he knows all about doodlebugging, jug hustling and the like. Jeff was a casualty of the Enron collapse (we met several others during our circumnavigation) and he has been sailing the world in his immaculate, cutter rigged, Pacific Seacraft since those times.
September 11, 2015
Yesterday afternoon was spent in determining just how the water maker was to be installed. It is a “distributed” system which means that there are some five components scattered wherever they can be fit. Some have to be near the water-line and others need clearance to change filters. By day’s end we had a plan and the next step was to locate the appropriate fasteners. This is an easier process when you have wheels and we had received a recommendation of a local car rental company from another crew. I called “Sergio” and spoke to a sleepy, slurred sounding voice who agreed to pick us up at 11:00 a.m. at the dinghy dock. The man who met us was only about fifteen minutes late and spoke non-stop in “Papiamento”, on a hands free cell-phone during the fifteen minute drive to his “office”. (Papiamento is a melange of African, Dutch and Spanish words that became the lingua franca of the African slaves brought here). Sergio’s “office” looked like a suburban family home with a dozen or so cars jammed into the area behind the house. Here we completed paperwork with “Terrance” the younger brother. The car itself was a Ford Escort of indeterminate age although it had been freshly painted with red paint. The head-liner was absent, the seats had led a hard life, the air-conditioner was not working, the odometer was on 100001 miles but never moved beyond this accomplishment during our journeys. The radio worked though. The rental cost was $23 per day - the adventure continues!
We headed back down the highway but were immediately diverted into a housing addition due to road-works. Hopelessly disoriented, we used the “force” to guide us back towards the coastal highway when we spotted a hardware store and backed into their lot through the exit. Inside the store we found every item on our list – an amazing experience. We hit the grocery store again since we now had the luxury of “on-demand” transportation. We also made a visit to the local sailing club and bought a temporary month long membership for 30 guilders (US$17). This allows us the right to park both our dinghy and our rental car in an area with some security. Our final stop was to visit S/V Selah out of Houston, Texas and home of Jeff Heck, a long time cruiser and circumnavigator. Jeff’s family lives in Albuquerque – small world!
September 10, 2015
Today I serviced both davit winches which took up the morning. The first just needed the two missing pawl springs and the second thankfully was in better condition that the first had been but still required considerable effort and liberal application of WD-40 to dismantle.
The anchorage here in “Spanish Water” is like an inland lake with fjord-like arms edged with mangroves. There are four designated anchorage zones and in excess of a hundred anchored yachts scattered amongst these. This is a favored spot for cruisers “waiting out” the hurricane season with the dual advantages of both being outside of the storm track hazard zone and free. Many cruisers simply leave their boat for friends to keep an eye on, or use a local marina for storage while they fly home. Others just live aboard and we met a group of these at a Happy Hour and dinner special at a nearby bar / restaurant “Pirates Cove”. The group was a mixture of German, Swiss, Belgian, English, Australian, Dutch etc. and it was fun to chat about their experiences and travel plans. Some crews had been in Venezuela, some in Columbia and some bound for Haiti. Our insurance policy specifically excludes those destinations from coverage and I have to assume that there remains a good reason for this.
It was dark when we returned to DoodleBug and although we had remembered to turn the anchor light on, we had no form of lighting for the dinghy. We are not quite in the groove yet!
September 9, 2015
It was pretty clear that Customs knows we are here following yesterday’s boat visit, thus our priority today was to formally clear in with Customs, Immigration and the Harbour Master for an anchoring permit. We dinghied over to land where we had been told that we could catch the city bus to downtown for the princely sum of $1. Curacao also has lots of mini-buses that run an informal service and we instead grabbed one of these for the added expense of $2 each. Our destination was Punda, suburb of the capital Willemstad. The downtown area reminded us immediately of Amsterdam with its roadside canals, low bridges, barges and solid, blocky looking buildings.
When we left Bonaire, our documents showed that we were a French registered boat named “Seconde Chance” with a home port of “Nice”. Last night we had finally received provisional documents by e-mail showing that we have magically become a USA registered vessel named “DoodleBug” with home port of “Santa Fe, New Mexico”. The Customs folks were very friendly but carefully examined our documents showing the alleged change of Nationality. Only a problem the first time this is presented, thereafter we will have consistent documentation that even matches the name on the stern. The Immigration person was a surly and unresponsive individual who curtly demanded papers. Nevertheless we passed this barrier too and our final stop was at the Harbour Master’s office where we met another customer, Tariq, who is associated with one of the marine supply stores, Caribbean Nautical. The Harbour master granted us an impressive looking permit to anchor in Spanish Water and we were done!
After Tariq had completed his business, he gave us a ride in his SUV to his store, helpfully on the opposite side of the road to Budget Marine. There they had the long awaited air conditioning pump in stock, boxed and dusty, sitting upon the shelf. They also had the needed winch pawls although I had to find them myself. The recommended grocery store was half a block away and after providing a few groceries we rode their “complimentary” bus service to Caracasbaii, the name used for the terminus of the coast road where we had left our dinghy.
Back aboard DoodleBug we installed the pump and celebrated with a couple of hours of generator powered air-conditioning. A busy day.
September 8, 2015
Around 7:30 this morning we dropped our lines and motored carefully over to the fuelling dock, towing our dinghy alongside. There were no marina employees around and so we enjoyed an unassisted “landing” which went smoothly despite the absence of witnesses. We even had time to tidy away the lines and lift the dinghy on its davits, remembering of course that the starboard winch has but a single working pawl. Nevertheless it too performed smoothly and flawlessly, its gratitude at a few drops of lubrication, tangible in every sense. The marina guys showed up to work and sold diesel to refill the tanks plus 241 gallons of water (at ten cents per gallon). We were just about sucking dust when we escaped from the marina and even Annette had resorted to using the marina’s cold showers on the last night. The fuel guy asked me if Annette was always this, “angelic”, so the shower must have worked. 0900 hours had us bursting at the seams with fuel and water and pointed west towards Curacao. I am surprised that I didn’t hit anything, so absorbed was I playing with all of the tweaks, knobs and whistles on our newly working AIS display and radar.
I didn’t see the big military helicopter on the radar, I was doing something else and as it came by, I wondered if it was Dutch or Venezuelan. Annette waved like crazy and the big Huey did a double circle around us. The rest of the trip was less exciting. We motored with the wind from astern, three to four foot waves, about 5/8 ths cloud cover and rain pods all around. It was really cool seeing all of the commercial shipping as colored triangles on the chart plotter but when the proximity warning kept going off, I failed to discover the menu item to turn the bloody thing off.
Our radar showed a huge rain pod fast approaching from astern and in the distance we could see lightning. Ignoring the electronics for a moment, the eyeballs confirmed a fast approaching squall line and we just had time to grab all of the water sensitive items on the fly-bridge, hustle them below and close the big double door on the Saloon deck. Rain lashed us fore and aft whilst Annette danced with glee as the accumulated muck from the marina was washed overboard. She even began scrubbing the worst spots with a sponge to help things along. I in turn was pleased that I had allowed Annette into talking me into removing the drain plug from the dinghy.
With the passage of the squall, the winds picked up and so too did the seas. We were fast approaching the hidden entrance to Spaanse Water, our chosen anchorage and as yet there was no sign. It was not until we were about a quarter mile away were we able to see the narrow entrance channel with rocks to port and a sand bank to starboard. The DoodleBug has a lot of windage and lacks a keel, thus makes a lot of leeway in a crosswind. We shot into the winding channel at near 8 knots and were flying by moored vessels before I remembered to slow down.
We dropped anchor at 1410 hours at 12 04.8 N 068 51.8 W – we are in Curacao!
Later that afternoon, a RIB passed with four uniformed Customs officers and I waved at them to query whether we had anchored in a designated area. The officer asked me what time we had arrived and whether I had checked in with Immigration. I told him that we would do that in the morning to which he expressed displeasure. “Hey man, it was pissing with rain”, I said. “OK then”, his response.
September 7, 2015
Just like Lucy and Charlie Brown, another day dawned for the delivery of the air conditioning coolant supply pump we ordered two weeks ago for “two day” delivery. Annette took the rental car over to the laundry to get caught up on her chores, while I began the checkout dance. I drove the dinghy the mile or so into town and hit Customs and Immigration. The Customs clearance was pretty straightforward but the Immigration guy wasn’t there and I was told to return at 5:00 p.m. that afternoon for his blessing. Back at DoodleBug I tidied up the the few items that were laying about loose, so that we would be ready to sail tomorrow. Annette unloaded her clean laundry and then left to run a few last minute errands and return the rental car. Next I called Budget Marine to ask the status of my pump. “Not arrived”. What a surprise! I ignored the usual apology and asked for a refund on my deposit which was agreed to. At least that slow drip torture is finally over and I have re-learned a cruising fundamental. “If they’re not holding in their hands, don’t expect to get your hands on it either”.
September 6, 2015
Sunday morning in Bonaire and I awoke determined to wire up the radar system that I had installed two weeks ago in Puerto Rico. With Annette’s help, we ran the power cable in just over an hour and fired the unit up. It works! We finally have both radar and AIS – two devices we could well have used on our recent night passages.
Annette has been carefully monitoring the social activities in town and several people had told her of the special celebrations in the town of Rincon. We set out towards Rincon along the scenic coast road and arrived in the town for the promised food, drink and dancing at around 11:00 a.m. The town was just as dead as when we visited on Friday. I almost expected to see “The Man with No Name” slowly riding his mule down the main street with the stub of a cigarillo in the corner of his mouth. We did see a couple of stray dogs wandering through town however, the first we have noted on the island.
Blowing this pop-stand off we headed back down the coast to the petroglyphs at Onima. These are more accurately described as rock paintings and they seemed in amazing condition since they are alleged more than 500 years old, situated below a cave ceiling overhang on an exposed coast. The artist used a red dye. I looked around and saw nothing that might provide such a color amongst the blinding whiteness of a former coral reef. Perhaps they used dyes from sea urchins and the like from the nearby sea. The information sign at the site did not clarify this, although it went into great detail as to the meaning of the symbols. This was patently crap. The authors are alleged to have been Caiquieto Indians, a race the Spanish pretty much exterminated over 500 years ago. The Caiquieto had used the caves for shelter, although what they used for fresh water remains a mystery. Who could possibly know the meaning of their artwork? I immediately identified one pictogram as the wiring diagram for the stern windlass on a flying saucer. This is a lonely and fascinating place on a lee-shore with near constant wave action crashing on the reef. The only life was an abundance of lizards. These were up to 18 long, with bright green and blue polka dots, patches or socks on their feet. They were everywhere although what they lived upon was again, not obvious.
The town of Kralendijk was dead we we drove through, no closed off streets, no dancers, no BBQ’s sending clouds of blue smoke in the air with the wonderful scents promising near certain cardiac arrest. Seeking lunch, we headed over to the hotel paired with our marina and after clearing two levels of security, arrived at their restaurant. Our meal was good and we thought to short-cut around the security since we could see our boat across the marina. We soon arrived at a barrier that was spiked wrought iron topped with razor-wire - the only part missing were the guard towers and search-lights. Needless to say, we walked the long way around.
Annette needed some donkey paraphernalia and we next headed over to the donkey sanctuary to buy a sign that proclaimed “ Overstekende Ezels”. This means something like, “Caution Donkeys” and such signs are plastered all over Bonaire. Clutching our “Ezel” sign and avoiding any possible donkey collision we gave up on the phantom celebrations and headed home, via the ice cream parlor.
Back at DoodleBug, the afternoon quiet was shattered by the passage of a hundred plus motorcycles – mainly Harley Davidsons. The parade passed our marina, looped the traffic circle and returned. How can an island with this size of population have so many Harley’s? The internet reported that the promised “Rincon Day” was actually celebrated last Easter. What the island was celebrating today was their Flag Day. Still no BBQ.
September 5, 2015
I decided that I would make another stab at the radar power supply and looked at putting in a secondary power panel at the navigation station. Here I was distracted by the windlass controls. The windlass is electric and because this was a rental boat, the Moorings had modified the wiring with the addition of an interlock to prevent raising or lowering the anchor unless an engine was running. This may have made sense for renters but occasionally we want to let out more chain or just check the windlass operation without the necessity of starting the engine. I downloaded various manuals from the internet but could not decipher the wiring method for the interlock. Then I realized that they had put the cut-off on the ground or return wire. This means that they were using a relay (somewhere) and it further meant that the windlass controls were essentially un-fused since the installed fuse was on the supply line to the unseen relay. The windlass uses a lot of power and there was also a large on / off switch but upon examination, only one terminal was being used. In other words it was inoperable. I metered the switch and it seemed to work fine but both power cables were wired to the one terminal. I decided to move the second cable back to where it was supposed to be located when all became clear to me. The nut was missing from the unused terminal. It had obviously been dropped so instead of finding another, the electrician chose to simply by-pass the switch.
Now we had a quest and we climbed into the rental car to find someone to sell us a single metric nut on a Saturday afternoon. We found a NAPA car parts store open and bought a replacement nut plus a few other connectors. Now we have a windlass with a working on / off switch and without an engine interlock. The radar power supply can wait until tomorrow.
Annette had been looking forwards to barbequing but the boat is moored stern into the wind. This is the opposite of what we would experience at a mooring or on an anchor. She couldn’t find a spot where the wind wouldn’t blow out the flame on the gas BBQ. Poor baby! We ate a healthy mixture of fruits, pickles, smoked meats etc. instead of the fat, salt and nitrites we really wanted.
September 4, 2015
At last! The day we receive our air conditioning supply pump has arrived! Annette disappeared with the rental car to run errands while I began to prepare DoodleBug for departure. I soldered the the AIS / Chart-plotter connections I had made yesterday and tidied the wires up before hauling our accumulated trash from the boat, into the dinghy, across the marina and from thence to a dumpster. Two marina dock workers watched me carefully as I separated the recyclables (I should have done this at night without witnesses!) into the various bins. When I was just about finished, one stepped out of his air-conditioned truck and indicated that I should just throw the recyclables into the main dumpster.
The dinghy outboard motor is still “running in” and enjoying double strength oil to gasoline mixture – it’s a two stroke – thus I needed to ensure that all of the gasoline stored on board was suitably mixed with oil. It’s a really bad thing to forget to do this, particularly with a new engine. I checked both of the main diesel engines for their oil level, transmission oil level, the fuel water separators, the fan-belt tightness, bilge pump operation, raw water intake free of debris etc. when Annette returned to say that the marine supplier had not received the promised air-conditioner supply pump. Gosh Darn!
We climbed into the car and set off on a tour of the northern half of the island, following the leeward coast road. This is one of two surfaced roads on this end of the island and follows the beach along a step, perhaps 10 feet higher than water level. The drop-off from the step is undercut by the waves and the beach is rounded coral shards. The sea is crystal clear, cleaner than most swimming pools and you can see the shallow sea bed for 20 to 50 yards until it drops off abruptly into the dark blue of the deep. The landward side of the single lane road was edged with tall spindly cactus, skinnier than the Arizona organ pipe cactus and bearing a small reddish fruit. We met but a single oncoming vehicle on the entire drive along the northwest coast of the island. Just as the southern half of the island is virtually uninhabited, so too is the northern half of the island.
Our road terminated at the oil storage facility we had noted upon our arrival last week and then headed inland to the tiny town of Rincon. The latter was the site of the first Spanish settlement as its central location in a sort of bowl was safer from predation by pirates (English and Dutch). The road that returns from Rincon on the northeast coast was two-lane and within minutes, it seemed, we were back in Kralendijk, beloved of Scrabble players. We now know that almost all of Bonaire’s seventeen and a half thousand inhabitants live here and we have driven every paved road on the island at least once. Annette had found an Italian restaurant, “Sonia Home” and we enjoyed the best meal of the trip here. Their business card has the address as 12 degrees, 10 minutes and 4.454 seconds north, 68 degrees, 17 minutes and 8.429 seconds west. Sounds about right.
September 3, 2015
The Roman Shades we bought yesterday had metal fittings that are unused by our application. We were concerned that they might both rust and scratch the windshield so this morning we drilled out the rivets and replaced all with nylon electrical ties. The modified blinds fit even better than they did before!
Next I updated the chart-plotter from version 8 to version 14 with the 1 gigabyte file I successfully downloaded last night. The unit is now completely up to date but still doesn’t recognize the AIS unit. I tried turning off the transmit option which removed the “fail” warning light but it still would not communicate with the plotter. This was becoming tiresome so we set out on a tour of the southern part of the island to see the “slave huts”.
Bonaire was “discovered” by the Spanish in 1499 and they named it the island of Brazilwood. Since we have only seen about three of these trees since touring the island, we can assume that the rest were logged about 500 years ago. (Wikipedia says that Brazilwood is commonly used to make violin bows). The Spanish decided that the island was worthless and shipped all of the natives off to work as slaves in Hispaniola. The Dutch conquered the island in 1636 and built a fort. Nearby Curacao was the center of the slave trading industry and Bonaire was used as a plantation with a limited number of slaves. In 1862 the Dutch government declared emancipation of the slaves and freed 607 government owned slaves and 151 privately owned slaves. (for perspective, slave ownership was banned in 1802 in the British Isles, 1848 the French and Danish colonies, 1865 the United States, 1962 Saudi Arabia)
One of the most valuable products produced in Bonaire was and is sea salt and slaves were used to surface mine the salt and transport the salt to waiting wooden sailing ships. The heat while working on corrosive salt pans without a stick of shade must have been incredible. One of the few remaining artifacts from this period are the “slave huts” - stone built shelters along the coast at the locations where the waiting ships would load salt. The four different pans would produce different grades of salt and so the loading areas were marked with colored obelisks to guide the ships to anchor. The slaves would set out what today would be interpreted as saw horses over the shallow portion of the reef and two lines of planks were laid over these. A line of African slave women would walk one plank carrying a basket of salt on their heads to be dumped into a waiting lighter and then return to land on the second plank.
The slave huts were used for overnighting and also for storing what few possessions they had during the heat of the day.
We continued our tour of the shallow salt pans and came across one that was crammed with flamingoes. Some watched Annette warily as she approached with her camera but the bulk thought they could take her on if push came to shove and continued to feed. Picture sated we headed around the coast road but had to slam the brakes on for a dead flamingo by the side of the road. It looked a fresh kill and I demurred as Annette tried loading it into the back of the rental car we are supposed to return tomorrow. She grumbled a little and then began pulling handfuls of feathers from the corpse while I watched for helicopters and SWAT teams. Finally she had what she felt she needed for her project and we escaped.
In late afternoon Annette went shopping in anticipation of our departure to Curacao while I researched the chart-plotter communications problem. At one place in the manual, it claimed that the “new generation” bus needed a separate power supply (obviously a vast improvement over the previous generation which operates perfectly well without the separate power supply). A second part of the manual claimed that this was not necessary if the device to be connected was a low power draw. Since my device was low power draw and not working, I decided that statement one was true and statement two was bull. My fallback plan was to go back four generations of technology and connect using an older method, equivalent to “COM” ports on a 1970’s PC. I researched the wire color combos and twisted the pairs together, fired this up and immediately the chart-plotter began to recognize the AIS data and to display nearby ships. Progress! The remaining problem is when we transmit our position and this is perhaps a bad antenna. I will need to “borrow” a reflected wave meter or another antenna. This must wait until we get to Curacao.
September 2, 2015
Annette has been music deprived since her iPod died of extreme old age (it had been a gift in 2002 and had circumnavigated both planet earth and planet Australia) so we drove over to the Bonaire “Super Store” to look for an MP3 player. The store owner offered me an iPod Touch and when I complained about the cost and the fact that Apple don’t make iPods anymore, he knocked $25 off the price. Slightly mollified we set off again on a tour of hardware stores looking for something to shade the big sloping saloon windows on DoodleBug. These windows have “eyelids” that is, a they have three horizontal steps that provide shade from overhead sunlight and also give the boat a look that identify it distinctively as a “Leopard”. I had searched the owner’s website to see what others had used but had come up empty. At the hardware store, we bought a pair of “Roman Shades” made from thin strips of bamboo. These are roll up blinds and by deploying them at 90 degrees to their intended use, they fit perfectly underneath the Leopard “eyelids” as though they were made for the job.
Annette drove off to the laundry and I settled down to bring her “new” iPod to life. Of course the version of iTunes I have, refused to recognize the iPod and I reasoned that it needed to be registered over the internet. The laptop only connects to the marina internet in the very early hours of the morning, when all sensible people are asleep but the iPad we have has a cellular connection. I linked the two Apple devices and presto, the iPod was registered. Back to the laptop where the music backup resided. When I connected the iPod to the laptop, not only did the iTunes connect and load her music but the laptop connected to the iPad’s cellular internet, a task it had steadfastly refused to perform. This is called “tethering” and although is common amongst Apple devices, it is usually blocked when you try it with a Microsoft device into the connection.
Triple success! We have music, internet access on demand and a good looking solution to our “at anchor” window shading.
I used the opportunity to catch up on a stack of paperwork that had been awaiting communication with the rest of the planet and I also downloaded a firmware update for the AIS. When I installed this, the unit now passes all diagnostics. It sees and registers other vessels, it finds its position from its own GPS and it transmits our position. At least that is what the diagnostic claims. The red “failure” light stayed lit however. I now need the firmware update for the chart-plotter. This is near 1 gigabyte in size and I had purchased the 2 gigabyte data option for the iPad cellular connection. Now I am well prepared to pay to increase this but I would certainly “run out” of data in the middle of the download. This will be a wee hours of the morning download from the marina’s wifi.
September 1, 2015
A frustrating day. I had assumed that I could swap the breaker in the main power control panel in 10 minutes or so. When I dove into it, I discovered that all 12 breakers are mechanically fastened to a single terminal bar and wired onto a single harness. This job would take a couple of hours and the new breaker wouldn’t fit the existing terminal bar anyway since it is not exactly the same brand. OK then, move on.
We finished taping and sealing all of the holes we had made in the fly-bridge roof for solar panels, antennas and the like, cleaned as much of the the surplus silicone sealant off hands and clothing, returned the motor-scooter to the rental store and rented a small car in its place. Not as much fun but more practical for hauling groceries, laundry etc. While Annette disappeared off to the super-market, I decided to wire the AIS equipment by slaving the power from the chart-plotter. An hour later it was done and I threw the switch. Nothing. The new fuse I had used was bad. Another fuse was substituted and this time the red power light came on. The manual says that the red light was supposed to change color to orange and then go green. An hour later, it was programmed and my laptop showed that the unit is receiving information from nearby shipping, the internal GPS is working and it knows where we are but there is something wrong with the VHF antenna for transmitting. Logically a bad VHF antenna would mean that it could neither send nor receive and yet this antenna is receiving. I looked online and discovered that this is most likely a “firmware” problem and that I need to update the software in the unit. To do this, I need a memory card and internet access to download the firmware. I have neither.
Well at least I should be able to see the other vessels on my chart-plotter display, right? The chart-plotter display steadfastly refused to acknowledge the existence of an AIS unit. It needs a firmware update and that again requires a memory card and internet access to download the firmware. I still have neither.
OK, I can at least reassemble the davit winch that has been sitting in pieces in a plastic bin, awaiting a tiny pawl spring that does not exist on the island. An hour or so later, it had been cleaned, greased and reassembled. Unfortunately I dropped another of the pawl springs into the sea below our stern as I mounted the winch drum back onto its spindle. It has been assembled and feel really smooth but only has a single operable pawl instead of the three it is supposed to use. Another success story!
Having done enough damage for the day, we settled down to watch the second half of the movie Amadeus.
August 31, 2015
We suffered a disappointing trip to the marine supply this morning. For almost every item I sought, the response was, “You will have to order that”. I decided that we will simply “make do” until we arrive at a bigger island. Back at DoodleBug, I installed the AIS antennas and hardware while Annette attempted to wash some of the grime from the boat. Hers is a hopeless task as a continuous stream of brown dust blows over the marina wall behind us and settles all over the boat. Add a little moisture in the form of dew and we have brown mud from stem to stern. We are more than ready to move on to cleaner climes.
By mid-afternoon, all of the equipment and wiring was in place except for the wiring run for the power supply. This I plan to tackle tomorrow. This morning I had managed to buy a 30 ampere breaker for the “spare” circuit in the main panel and will similarly swap this for the existing smaller breaker tomorrow. Supposedly the marine supply has no winch parts thus we will just have to reassemble our davit winch with an inoperable pawl. It should still be useable and easy to repair once we find a supplier of springs.
The final installation of the day was to hook the TV up to my laptop and confirm that it would play one of the 630 movies I have archived on an external hard drive. I am pleased to report that this at least was successful and we watched part 1 of “Amadeus” – an excellent flick.
August 30, 2015
I had intended to install the AIS (Automatic Identification System) VHF radio antenna and its associated GPS this morning but after climbing on the roof of the fly-bridge, decided that the regular VHF radio antenna was now sitting too close to the radar dome and would have to be moved, or rather replaced. This would become a Monday job. However, my dance card was not entirely clear, I still needed to do the power wiring runs, so that the early morning hours were spent investigating a “spare” i.e. unused breaker in the 12 volt distribution panel. It was connected to a labeled wire and after an hour of digging, removing panels and pieces of boat, I finally found the end of the wire! I now need another length of wire to connect to this and reach the fly-bridge console. Monday! Enough of work, we were off to see the donkeys.
As you might have guessed, the donkeys were introduced to Bonaire by the Spanish in the 17th century for a beast of burden. As technology changed, such as the 20th century introduction of motor scooters, the donkeys were no longer needed for their original purpose and were turned loose. The feral donkeys reproduced and without predators, died of dehydration, starvation and vehicular traffic accidents. Dutch nationals formed the Bonaire Donkey sanctuary in 1993 and when we visited, the facility had 600 donkeys resident. Hardly a blade of vegetation was left. The stallions are all castrated and there are an estimated 50 to 75 left in the wild that have not been so treated. I asked the guide if the long term goal was the humane eradication of a non-native species but received an “I don’t know”.
We first visited the “special needs” paddock and inside this enclosure was an eight week old donkey foal and its mother. The size of the “baby” was unexpected – I would have guessed six months. We continued our tour of the acreage by our rented motor-scooter, a vehicle not particularly suited to off-road endeavors. A pick-up truck had preceded us on the track around the park perimeter and the donkeys were feeding on the piles of hay that had been dropped off. There were a few fights in the form of a sort of a growling, coughing noise followed by kicking of the hind legs. This was all very entertaining, except they were huddled together, blocking the rocky, sandy track and it was hard enough as it was to stay upright on our two wheeled beast. Just like Moses parting the Red Sea, with Annette on the pillion scattered carrots to each side of the track and me snarling, “shift you buggers!”, the grey furry masses parted and we continued on our way. Overall donkeys are innocuous creatures and we wish them well.
We continued our tour of the island and stopped for Annette to take a picture of a solitary flamingo but it decided that a motor scooter stopping at 50 yards was too much of a threat and I watched it perform a spectacular take off, an experience marred only by the cursing emanating from the photographer behind me. OK then, donkeys and flamingoes. We saw no brown scorpions but confirmed that they are nocturnal.
August 29, 2015
At the butt-crack of dawn, I re-connected the three batteries into the “house bank” bringing the total to four. Nothing sparked or exploded. I then inserted three fuses into the solar panel array closing the circuit. Immediately the monitor was showing that it was charging at 10 amperes and outside it was barely light. By ten o’clock, the solar array was pumping out 30 amperes and by this time, we had tidied away all of the loose wires, panel covers etc. What a feeling of relief that at least one major job was completed! This enhancement to our capabilities means that we can produce all of the power we need for daily operation, without using the generator or being hooked to the dock power. We will still need to run the generator to run the air-conditioning, microwave or washing machine – assuming that we find one that will fit through the doorways but all other power needs should be met by the solar array during the day and by the enhanced battery bank at night.
We have more electronics yet to install and one device is an AIS unit. Basically it functions like an aircraft transponder. It transmits our position, vessel speed and course over a dedicated VHF radio channel every five minutes or so and listens for the data chirps from other vessels. The latter are displayed as vectors on the chartplotter / radar display. All large commercial vessels are required to have one of these systems and many private cruising boats also choose to participate. When a vessel is on a collision course, there are systems that post a warning and the approaching vessel can be identified and called by name over the regular VHF radio hailing channel. We needed a couple of bolts and connectors to install our AIS antennas and set off again towards the marine supply store.
On the route to the marine supply, we came upon a scooter rental store. Scooters are so much fun and we rented one for the next three days. We zipped around town hitting the marine supply, restaurant, supermarket, hardware supply and appliance store in minutes. Tomorrow we will take off on an island exploration expedition. Our quest will be flamingoes, the donkey sanctuary and the elusive brown scorpion.
Back aboard DoodleBug, I attempted to strip and service one of the only two winches aboard that are used to lift the dinghy on its davits. With lots of WD-40, cursing, hammers and large screwdrivers, I finally dismantled the starboard winch whose interior had likely not seen daylight since it was assembled at the factory. Several of the springs that operate interior pawls were broken and I must wait until Monday morning to buy replacements. I expect a night and day difference in its winch-like performance once it has been lubricated and re-assembled.
It has been four weeks since we moved aboard DoodleBug and we finally feel that the boat is “coming together”. Today I received confirmation that the French Registration “Seconde Chance” is no more and that we can expect a preliminary USA registration in another two to three weeks.
August 28, 2015
This morning we cracked the mystery of how to get the radar and solar power cables to the instrument console and the house batteries respectively. Now it is just a matter of connecting all the wires! We are simultaneously doing three jobs and since really thick electrical cables are involved, we don’t want to mess up. The cables for the fourth house 210 ampere hour battery (this means big AND heavy) needed to be run and the solar panel controller connected to the same battery bank. To do this safely we needed to disconnect the three existing batteries (thereby shutting down the fridge and freezer) and then hook everything up at once. Before we made the big move, there followed a three hour walk to the hardware store, purchase of a two foot piece of green wire as a ground wire, lunch and a walk back to the dock. The simplest tasks take so much time! By late afternoon everything was wired together except for the three house batteries that Mooring’s had replaced the day before we left. We had purchased another identical battery in Sint Maarten and it alone was wired in and being charged up. The solar array was showing “Night” and no output. A busy but successful day.
August 27, 2015
The great magnet experiment worked! It was hard to find something magnetic aboard a marine vessel but a small drill-bit attached to a thread was swiftly captured by Annette’s “pick-up” magnet. The thread was used to gently pull a string and the string used to pull the solar panel wiring into place. Tedious but by mid-afternoon, all six panels had been installed on DoodleBug’s fly-bridge roof. By early evening, they had been wired into a fuse / bus-bar and were churning out 38 volts of power. This is not yet connected to the batteries but the heavy lifting has been accomplished.
August 26, 2015
DoodleBug is backed up to a dock a few feet from Bonaire’s coast road and on the opposite side of the street is a salt marsh where Annette spotted flamingoes dipping their beaks. Bonaire also has yellow shouldered Amazon parrots (we saw two fly overhead yesterday), donkeys and a donkey “sanctuary” facility. The donkeys were wandering the streets rather than flying, as we observed when we walked to the hardware store to buy a sacrificial extension cord and a roll of “red” electrical insulation tape – a commodity surprisingly hard to find, with white and black predominating. This walking exercise, heat and oppressive humidity had exhausted us, so we stopped for lunch at a beachfront bar / café for the three corners of the basic food pyramid - fish, chips and beer.
Back at DB, I wired the extension cord into the air conditioner pump and fired it off. Forty minutes later, the pump froze and we turned the unit off. OK, we now definitely know the pump is shot. The control board may be innocent and we must wait patiently for the replacement pump, promised for next week.
Next was the solar panel installation and after washing the accumulated birdshit off the fly-bridge roof, Annette took my advice, changed her summer frock for shorts and blouse and joined me on the roof to lay out the position of the 2 foot by 4 foot panels. We have six to install and with Annette’s help, we soon had the first prototype fastened and sealed into place. Now the wiring. I drilled a hole for the cable and could touch a screwdriver inserted into the hole using a wiring “snake” but have yet to work out how to capture the end of the wire. After a few failed experiments, our current plan is to try a magnet to capture a metal “something” we dangle through the 1/4 inch cable hole. Before this experiment we headed back into “town” to hit “happy hour”at a local bar we had been assured was the cruiser hangout. We found the bar and we found the beer but no cruisers. Another early night in the tropics.
August 25, 2015
We groggily awoke to a boat that lay quiescent and a new day. Last night we had run the generator and air-conditioners but the coolant water supply pumps on both the main salon unit and the port hull unit had failed, causing us to shut down the delightful cooling. Not a good start. Reviewing our needs over the next few days, we decided that it would be simpler to move into a marina as this would solve our power, water and internet issues, giving us a chance to tackle some of the other items. I discovered that the failed anchor light had somehow repaired itself and was working fine. You don’t question such gifts.
We headed back over to the marina to enquire as to availability of a slip and were first told the none were available. Then it appeared that there might be one left but that it would only carry 8 feet depth (I measured 4 feet with a portable sounder) and further, there was no power available. I noted that the depth was not an issue, we draw a claimed depth of one meter (just over 3 feet) but the power was a problem. It turned out that the slip in question did have power but no meter. I suggested a fixed rate per day for electricity and we agreed on $2 per day. Done. We will move here this afternoon when help will be available to take lines.
The next task of the day was therefore to locate a replacement pump and rebuild kits for the air conditioner supply pumps. This vessel is six years old and we have always assumed we would need to service the multitude of pumps aboard. Impellers wear out and filters need cleaning and changing. Bonaire has a “Budget Marine” supply store and we headed over there to see if they could supply parts. The pump had to be ordered however with a delivery time of “one or two weeks”.
I retackled the issue of the A/C supply pump and sat next to it with a meter so that I could hear when it stopped running. I could then check to see if there was still power to the unit and when I began the test, the salon temperature was a balmy 94F. About twenty minutes after running perfectly, the temperature had dropped to 87F and the pump failed. No power! This was unexpected as this is a pump that runs as long as the A/C is on. No sophisticated controls required, just “on” or “off”. I tracked the power to a control board and searched for a relay. So far I haven’t identified this but I am prepared to wire the pump directly into a household extension cord and bypass the control panel completely until I get the proper parts.
August 24, 2015
Annette spotted a single freighter on her night watch and I spotted another on mine. Very little shipping at these latitudes. Dawn brought clear skies above but cloud and haze on the horizon. After the passage transiting the ocean current yesterday our course “heading” and “course over ground” had both matched, indicating no current but some 30 miles from the unseen islands, a current reasserted itself. We were within 20 miles of Bonaire before we could see the distant hills and shoreline. The coast we approached was devoid of habitation, surrounded by forbidding cliffs and with little sign of human artifacts. We passed down the west coast of the island, a mile or so offshore and then spotted a couple of vehicles and a tiny settlement. We did not see large scale development until we turned east again to transit the southern coast. We arrived at the town of Kralendijk and picked up a mooring just off the beach at 1220 hours and position 12 09.3N 068 16.8W. We are here!
A brief ride over to the Customs and Immigration in the dinghy and we left the latter on the beach while we sat in their air-conditioned office nearby. Very polite folks and there was no charge for entrance formalities. There was a charge for the mooring however and our next trip was to the Harbour Village Marina in order to register our presence and pay for the mooring rental. We had already noted that the use of the mooring is mandatory and anchoring not permitted. Now we were checked in and legal, our final chore was a visit to the local telephone store to pick up SIMS for our cell-phone and iPad. We can communicate with the outside world again! Despite this new ability, our only desire was a shower and bed.
August 23, 2015
A beautiful dawn at sea, blue skies, scattered clouds, sunshine and the waves back down to the 6 foot range. We had heard loud thumps in the night and after discarding the idea that we had hit something substantial, came to believe that this was simply a catamaran phenomenon. Large waves will sometimes hit the bottom of the vessel, under the large flat section that connects the hulls. We former mono-hull sailors were not familiar with this noise which caused disquiet in the darkness.
We noticed that our “course over the ground” was some 15 degrees from the direction we were pointing and since our GPS is not networked to our auto-pilot (yet!) had to make manual course adjustments to keep our track. I roughly calculated a vector as an eastbound current of around two knots. In the distance we could see flashes of color and the binoculars revealed these as large rafts of floating weed. We have been seeing long streamers of yellowish weed and its prevalence across the Caribbean Sea indicates that this is not just some submarine weed bank that has been torn loose by a storm. This stuff must have the ability to grab onto its companions, like some kind of slimy velcro, when chance washes one piece against another.
The day wore on and regular waves were passing under our beam producing a side to side rocking motion. We are now well out of the range of a hurricane that followed Danny’s forecasted track. We headed into our second night at sea with scattered squalls providing a brief lashing of rain before passing on. There was a strong increase of gusting wind associated with these squalls and on our first vessel, the onrushing “cats paws” on the surface of the water would have us scurrying to drop sails before it hit. The power cat in turn had us scurrying to zip up the windows around the fly-bridge in order to stay dry.
August 22, 2015
We left Puerto Rico today to escape Danny’s wrath but before we took off, there was the inevitable list of chores. We made a quick run to Sears to pick up a “Dustbuster” that did something other than make a whirring noise. The one we purchased is guaranteed to suck up kittens and small grand-children – perfect for a boat!
Next we returned the rental car to the Ponce airport and returned the borrowed power adapter to the marina. It was now easy to find DoodleBug at the dock, since most of our “neighbors” had already left, some to be hauled to be stored on to the hard and others to their favorite hurricane hole, somewhere down the coast. We next had to stow away our ladder, buckets and other odd shaped stuff we have managed to acquire in the past week. Finally it was all hidden away below decks and we were ready for sea. We dropped our lines and slipped away at 1500 hours, local time.
All day long, the clouds had hung around us threatening rain and adding to the gathering gloom of an emptying marina. A few miles from Puerto Rico’s rain shadow and the sky began to show patches of blue and the occasional promise of sunshine. We both noticed large splashes and spotted big fins breaking the surface. Not shark fins and dolphins hunt and play in packs. We assume that we were seeing a Marlin hunting and the sprays of flying fish must not have been generated entirely by our passage.
By nightfall the stars were peeking out from a few gaps in the clouds. A half moon rode high amongst the clouds and the line from the poem, “the Highwayman”, popped almost instantly into my thoughts - “The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed on a cloudy sea”. As before, we struggled hard to stay awake on the first night at the beginning of a passage. The unseen waters were moody and choppy and as we neared dawn, the waves were in the 8 foot range. All night we had kept watch and seen but a single freighter, headed east and passing perhaps 10 miles behind us.
August 21, 2015
Our first task of the day was to motor gently off the dock (would have been smoother if I hadn’t forgotten the extra bow line still attached to the dock!) and moved over to the fuelling dock. Here we purchased diesel at $2.41 / gallon - versus the $8 / gallon we had paid at the marina in Turkey about eight years ago. We have motored some 325 miles since we took possession of DoodleBug and it required 145 gallons of diesel to top up the tanks. We ran both engines throughout and at 2.24 mpg (your actual mileage might vary) with a tank capacity of 300 gallons, our range would be about 670 nautical miles without any reserve. These are the first “hard” numbers we have had on fuel consumption and so we are paying close attention!
Our take off from the fuel dock was not embarrassing and we used the opportunity of relatively calm seas to test further adjustments to the autopilot. After a couple of calibration runs, we have managed to get close to the “correct” setting and returned to our original dock where we again made a graceful landing. We might be getting the hang of the simple docking approaches!
Our visit to the US Customs to get departure documents went smoothly and the office informed us that the Puerto Rico Customs had just received notification from Washington to expect a “major event” when Danny arrives on Tuesday. The Puerto Rico ports have been closed to shipping and what few vessels remain are expected to depart shortly. Back at the marina, a flurry of activity as boat after boat left the dock to either be hauled onto the hard or to run for shelter somewhere. We were told that the club doesn’t have enough space for all of its members and uses a lottery system to decide which vessels get hauled.
We are nearly ready for sea and although I had sworn to myself that I was not going to install any more equipment, I relented and installed a remote controller for the autopilot, enabling us to steer the boat from the salon navigation station, instead of just up on the fly-bridge. The only critical equipment failure has been Annette’s iPod that has basically succumbed to old age.
We will return our rental car tomorrow and plan on leaving for Bonaire at around 4:00 p.m. for a 48 hour passage.
August 20, 2015
For me, the number one job of the day was to change the oil and filters in both engines. We have babied the “new” engines by running them at less than half throttle and they have each accumulated just under 50 hours of running. The manufacturer, Cummins, requires a first oil change at 50 hours but we will likely be out a sea then, thus my task for the morning. As it happened, it took three hours to service both engines, clean up and dispose of the dirty oil but next time will be much faster. Because you cannot just unscrew a drain plug underneath a marine diesel engine, these particular engines have an oil drain line permanently fitted and a hand pump installed so that “all” you have to do is warm the engines to make the oil runny and then pump the oil out into a suitable container. The oil pumps had obviously never been used for this purpose since they were bolted to the engine compartment firewall in such a position that it was impossible to work the handles. This will change.
We have filled our water tanks, checked the steering oil, assembled our third anchor and re-stowed the mountain of goodies we have purchased over the past week. Annette has washed the boat down, scrubbed stains off the upholstery and laundered seemingly every piece of fabric on the boat - unless it actively squeaked at the time. Tomorrow is decision day and we will pick a departure time. Danny is estimated to be overhead on Tuesday morning packing winds of 100 mph.
August 19, 2015
Big construction day today and the last before we switch direction from construction to running from the storm. I spoke to the director of the marina and he promised to send over a local port pilot to talk to me about hurricane holes but the guy never showed.
Annette took the rental car and armed only with several credit cards, set off on her major shopping expeditions. I attacked the mounting of the radar antenna on the sky-bridge roof. By noon it was in place and I had restored the navigation lights to a perch above the new antenna. The “steaming” light works but the anchor light refused to function. My meter says there is power to the bulb fitting, so the new wiring is OK; I will sort this out later.
I believed that it would take twenty minutes or so to run the radar cable but three hours later, it was finally within striking distance of its destination and I was exhausted. I had planned further installations of equipment today but tropical storm Danny is still aimed directly at Ponce and I am in departure mode.
Annette has purchased mountains of bedding, sheets, pillows, coverlets, floor mats and we ferried her goodies from the dock to the boat without dropping any into the sea. Her subsequent grocery runs required multiple shuttles by dock cart and now the boat sits lower in the water and she has to find a place to put it all.
August 18, 2015
The first task of the day was to discuss Hurricane preparedness strategies at the marina office. La Tormenta? Donde? The ladies in the office were unaware of the threat and rambled about the marina having no liability for any possible damage to us. I quizzed a couple of club members for advice and got varying responses. The good news is that the storm is still about six days away.
I have prepared a detailed list of jobs to do on the boat and have prioritized each step. Unfortunately I had forgotten just how much time you waste chasing trivial parts and running all over town buying tools and hardware. Nevertheless, I have removed the navigation lights from the roof of the fly-bridge and have mounted / glued solar chargers and power distribution boxes in place.
This evening I drew up a detailed departure plan for getting out of here should the hurricane continue on its present course.
August 17, 2015
Our broken Spanish was sufficient to get us a taxi to Avis in San Juan and with the wonderful aid of phone GPS, we managed to find West Marine. Two hours later the trunk of the car was filled and we found a “Cheesecake Factory” to fill ourselves. By early afternoon we finally located Southwest Airlines freight office where they attempted to deny all knowledge of our shipment. I was first told to call my “shipper” – “Why? She works as a kindergarten teacher in Houston, what is she going to tell me?”. Next I was told to call “Southwest Airlines”. “Aren’t you Southwest Airlines?”, I demanded. My grumpiness and sarcasm seemed to have an effect however and suddenly the correct paperwork appeared and we had our boxes loaded into the trunk and backseat of the rental car. The boxes were pretty easy to spot since the two grandboys in Houston had “decorated” the boxes with day-glo orange decal tape. By late afternoon we were back in Ponce and with a suitable amount of swearing, the new water pump was installed and we were able to bathe.
The depression off the Azores now has an 80% chance of becoming a hurricane and Puerto Rico lies in its sights.
August 16, 2015
I removed the freshwater pump this morning and confirmed that although the motor turns, the pump has no “suck”. West Marine in the capital of San Juan has a replacement and daughter Helen confirmed that the six boxes of boat stuff we left with her in Houston, have been shipped by Southwest Airlines to arrive in San Juan tomorrow. I called the main reservation number for Avis auto rental and they confirmed that Ponce has no rental cars available for tomorrow, thus we decided to just take a cab to San Juan airport on Monday morning and sort everything out from there.
We have prepared lists in excruciating detail so that when we descend upon West Marine, we will collect all of the necessary components to install our Radar, AIS, Auto-pilot repeater, Fresh water pump and solar panels. To add momentum to our tasks, a depression has begun to form off the Azores and looks to become a tropical storm.
August 15, 2015
Saturday in Puerto Rico and when I called the car rental companies in Ponce, I either got an answering machine asking me to leave a message, or a pre-recorded blurb telling me they were closed for the week-end. What’s with this week-end thing? When did that start?
I checked the stern compartment that had been leaking water and found it filled to the brim of the inspection hatch. I had queried the Moorings yesterday and received a prompt e-mail this morning confirming that there are only a couple of spots where we might have a minor leak; I plan to empty and dry the compartment and then test for water ingress with a dock hose. The mystery “pipe” is just a drain for the compartment in question.
Our big adventure of the day was a taxi ride that dropped Annette off at Wal-Mart and me at Home Depot (adjacent buildings – this is America!). We returned to DoodleBug with a mountain of supplies including a commercial grade “wet and dry” vacuum cleaner.
This evening the fresh-water pump quit pumping - a not uncommon occurrence on cruising boats but we have no spare. This will be a “tomorrow” project.
DoodleBug is tied up to half of a “T-head” dock (for you non-sailors, the dock looks like a capital “T” with the base of the “T” attached to the land). This means that a swarm of week-end boaters have been passing by, just feet away. There are paddle-boarders, kayakers, “Sunfish” sailors and every size imaginable of offshore fishing boat with towering fly-bridges. Puerto Rican’s certainly enjoy boating as a pastime and it is fun and refreshing to see the various craft, loaded with people, salsa music booming and people aboard dancing.
August 14, 2015
Arrived Ponce, Puerto Rico at 0750 hours, position 17 57.9 N 066 37.0 W
After midnight we were off the coast of Puerto Rico and the lights of the ports and towns lay off our starboard side. There were long strings of red lights that flashed simultaneously at us and Annette said they looked like Chinese lanterns. It took the light of dawn to identify these mysterious objects as offshore windmills.
In the darkest part of the night, the bilge pump warning light came on, meaning that we were taking on water. The light only stayed on for a few seconds, indicating that there was not much water being pumped out of the boat but the frequency of these warnings began to increase. I checked the engine compartments to see if I could identify the source of the warning and also checked the main bilge pumps under the hulls. (there are 5 such pumps on the vessel). All of the pump locations had a little water slopping around but nothing overt to indicate where it was coming from. I thought the port water a little “cleaner” and speculated that a flow, if any, was on this side. I then checked the stern lockers that house the rudder posts. The port compartment had a horizontal pipe in its base and this was exuding a trickle of water that might be coming from a watertight compartment. The pipe was capped with a kind of plug and I twisted this thinking that it might be loose. Instantly the trickle of water became a gush. Bugger! I miraculously found my roll of self-vulcanizing electrical tape and wrapped a generous portion around the pipe and its end cap. The gush of water stopped and the bilge pump warning decreased in frequency. Whew! Sort this out after we make port!
A very tired couple arrived at the fuel dock and were surprised to have the fueling operator on duty to take our bow line. We are docked in Puerto Rico at the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club.
The next requirement was to telephone our arrival details to US Customs and CBP (One of those Homeland Security departments). At 8:00 a.m. I got to speak to an officer who was very friendly, told us we must dispose of our trash only in the marina dumpster and not outside of the marina. He told we could keep our fruits and vegetables for consumption aboard and said that we should call Customs for permission to go to the marina office. This I did.
The Customs officer called me back to say that they were very busy and because our passport information had checked out, we had permission to leave DoodleBug to visit the marina office and further we could move onto a slip in the marina. They would telephone when they were ready to inspect our boat.
The Customs Officer arrived just as we were about to move off the fuelling dock but he told us to go ahead and move. He was a very pleasant man who said we were all good. I asked if we needed a “cruising permit” and he said that he would have one of his fellow officers visit us later today to deal with such. Overall a very laid back experience from our Federal employees.
We were both more than ready for bed and when I attempted to hook up the dock power, I realized that we had the wrong kind of electrical connector. I called the marina office and they confirmed that they could rent me a convertor, so I grabbed wallet, hat and sunglasses and headed down the dock towards the office. Half way along the dock I met two uniformed officers heading towards me. I said “Good morning” and asked if they were to visit Seconde Chance / DoodleBug. The older man confirmed this and began to lecture me that I was subjecting myself to a possible $5,000 fine by leaving DoodleBug. I began to explain that we had already been cleared, been inspected by a Customs officer and had received permission to leave the vessel but he cut me off with a sharp, “Sir, do not interrupt me......”. I apologized and shut up as we turned and walked back to the boat.
A small digression here. Several months ago we were making plans on where to go after we left Tortola and I spent several hours, plus perhaps a dozen phone calls to determine whether we would be considered “importing DoodleBug to the United States” if we made a brief stop in Puerto Rico to pick up supplies. I spoke to the US Customs in Washington. I spoke to the Treasury department. I was referred to the San Juan Customs office in Puerto Rico and was passed from office to office. Nobody had ever heard of the 1 and 1/2 percent Federal tax when importing a vessel. The documentation lady in Florida told me that it was very unlikely that I would ever be asked about this. Now back to the dock in Ponce:
The officer asked me where I was taking the boat and I told him I was going to Bonaire. He asked me several times why I was not going to the mainland USA. When I told him that we were applying for USA registration but the boat would likely never go to the USA, he stated immediately that it was subject to a 1 and 1/2 percent import tax. He hadn’t even stepped on board. He further stated that he was “taking” our boat papers and “taking” our passports to his office. He calculated the tax at $5,550 dollars, a sum I had already reached in March and had believed was only payable if we came to the mainland USA. He demanded to know how I intended to pay this and I said I would pay by personal check on a Wells Fargo account. He called his “boss” who said that that was acceptable. At this point he seemed to relax a little and decided that we could keep our passports after all. However our trash must stay aboard the vessel, subject to a $250,000 fine and firing squad.
Then followed a taxi ride to the CBP office and the writing of a check for the import duty. Nobody cared less about the boat name, nationality of registration or whether we had a $27 Customs sticker. They had their five and half grand and they clicked their jackboot heels together in glee. We went to bed.
August 13, 2015
We raised anchor at 0630 hours and pointed DoodleBug at Puerto Rico. The sky was about 3/8 ths cloud and we had a scattering of rain as we departed but this soon cleared up and we enjoyed a sunny day with perhaps 15 knots of wind from astern and seas in the 4 to 6 foot range. We ran both engines at 1,700 RPM (Full speed is around 3,250 RPM) and this produced a little over 8 knots boat speed.
By early afternoon, the seas had moderated slightly to the 3 to 5 foot range but we were plagued with a steering / autopilot issue as DoodleBug carved a continuous zig-zag through the waters. For several hours we experimented with changing the response setting on the auto-pilot and lowering the rudder gain setting and these efforts did indeed reduce much of the zig-zag but not entirely eliminate it. Unfortunately the gain setting needs to de adjusted on “calm or flat waters” and a five foot stern roller does not qualify as such. Late afternoon brought us a visit from a large pod of dolphins whom we saw charging enthusiastically at us from afar before settling down in formation just off our bows. After ten minutes or so, they tired of this game and in an instant they had disappeared. We did not see them leave but appreciated their visit.
Thus we headed into our first night at sea since March of 2009. The shadowy islands we could barely see on the horizon, sprang into being with street lights and navigation lights, proving the existence of human habitation. Since we departed this morning, we have seen but a single distant sail, no shipping or fishing boats. Until this night I had never really appreciated the comfort of having radar for searching around us in the blackness. We depended instead on our eyeballs and there was nothing to be seen as we strained and peered ahead. The moonless sky had become more overcast and the scattering of bright stars between the gaps in the clouds did not provide sufficient illumination to see the waves. These could only be seen by the glow of our stern-light as they rolled in and occasionally splashed over the lower step of our sterns. The seas rose as the night wore on and the ride became more bouncy.
August 12, 2015
The final “work” day in St. Martin dawned. We visited our favorite bureaucrat for exit documents and he was almost cheerful today – perhaps because he might see the back of us. The immigration people did not want to put exit stamps in our passports – “You come back tomorrow”. “But we are leaving at 5 a.m.”; “Yes, you come back tomorrow”. We have done this dance before and the solution is simply to leave without the exit stamps and act dumb thereafter.
Next was our third and last run to Budget Marine supplies on the “Dutch” side of the island and because we have now passed the two hour mark on the new outboard motor, we were able to goose the throttle to three quarters and made the trip in 10 minutes instead of the 40 minutes at “engine break-in” speed. I think I am going to love this dinghy! “She” popped up on a plane almost instantly. While Annette hit the grocery store, I found a locksmith to make us duplicate keys to the door on DoodleBug. A great feeling of relief to have more than a single key and to further have this on a floating key fob.
We had purchased an extra “house” battery for the boat and that puppy weighs in at around 140 lbs. Somehow we have managed to move it from the store to the dinghy, from the dinghy onto DoodleBug and now from the stern, where we had dumped it, we moved it into the forward compartment where it will eventually be mounted. The dinghy is stowed and lashed we are ready for sea. We will leave for Puerto Rico in the morning and this afternoon we made a test run to check for engine vibration (there wasn’t any), check battery charging from the engines (all good) and finally an autopilot / compass calibration run. The latter involved motoring slowly in large circles while the autopilot computer did its thing. There was a mono-hull sailboat that approached us at the time and was obviously puzzled at our behavior as it tried to guess our course and pass us by. We waved in a friendly manner.
August 11, 2015
This morning we made our third attempt at checking in with Customs and were told to, “come back at 09:30”. Back to the phone company to borrow their tool for opening the iPad and then we managed to convince the local waterfront bar to cook us a pair of ham, cheese and mushroom crepes for breakfast. Very good they were too and perfect with fresh orange juice and cold beer.
Back to the Customs office and the “Officer” was present! He moaned at great length that we should not have changed the name of our boat until we have received the USA registration – scheduled for around 90 days hence. We overtly commiserated with both pathos and sincerity while we secretly cursed him and all lard-arsed parasites of his ilk. He finally ran down his whining and asked us for a 35 euro fee, refusing payment in dollars - the first to do so on this island. Back to the ATM, back to his office and we are finally checked in with just 5 visits. We have to see him again when we leave.
Our now trusty dinghy was again fired up and we gently cruised back to the Ace Hardware / Budget Marine complex on the duty free, tax free “Dutch Side” of the island, a forty minute ride on a beautiful day. (We are still at the “break in” stage on our new outboard engine and must stay below half throttle – no water skiing). By mid-afternoon we had agreed to take 6 smaller output, in-stock solar panels instead of the 4 we had ordered, thus we don’t need to hang around the anchorage this week and can perhaps leave on Thursday for Puerto Rico.
August 10, 2015
Yesterday our starboard air conditioner had died with a “high head pressure” warning message. We were up bright and early this morning and I decided to test a theory that the problem might be caused by a blockage in the sea water input that cools the condenser on marine systems (your land system is air-cooled). The filter was hard to get to but sure enough, when we got it out, it was thoroughly clogged with mud, grass and barnacles. I sacrificed a worn tooth-brush to the cause and Annette cleaned it out in a bucket of sea-water while sitting daintily on the stern of DoodleBug and watching the dawn. We reinstalled the filter, primed it and fired the A/C up. It now worked perfectly and we were so thrilled we thought we had better check the other filters. Next was the main salon air conditioner and its filter was in even worse condition, if that were possible. There are two more major filters to check for the port air-conditioner and the generator but these will have to wait until we return from our day’s errands.
We were ready to go ashore and not a dinghy was stirring across the bay. I tried the VHF radio and immediately received a response from the local marina. Within a few minutes the marina guy motored over and ferried us ashore. We arrived promptly at the customs office but after a telephone call were told that the officer doesn’t work today and to return at the same time tomorrow. We did get the immigration lady next door to stamp our passports though.
Next was a taxi ride over to the marine supplier where we had purchased a dinghy and motor way back in April. Our order was staged ready for us with the exception of the solar panels and controllers that we had ordered months ago. The controllers were somewhere in the Sint Maarten warehouse on a pallet but the solar panels had not left the UK. Bummer! After discussing various options we agreed to hang until the end of the week and the dealer would have the panels air-freighted via Amsterdam. It was two hours before we had our goodies rounded up and loaded into our new dinghy. I was pleased to note that it floated and we motored very gently to a nearby marina where we purchased 5 gallons of gasoline and mixed in two-stroke oil into a near paste in order to “break in” the new engine. A thirty minute ride at barely above idle speed and we passed from Dutch Sint Maarten back into French St. Martin and then out into Marigot Bay in search of DoodleBug. What a relief to have a working tender and to have successfully hauled all our goodies safely on board!
Next chore was to find a data SIM for our Australian WiFi cellular hot spot. At the store we discovered that we had been lied to and that it was “locked” and we don’t have the “unlock” code. We will just have to use the purchased SIM for our iPad. Back again to the port area now hauling groceries and we stopped at a waterfront bar for supper and to use their internet connection. I noted online that 7 of the 10 news headlines were about Donald Trump, a big time saver as I was thus able to skip all the current news stories.
August 9, 2015
I slept hard last night but when I awoke, we were still bobbing peacefully at anchor. Last night we had taken down the British Virgin Islands “courtesy” flag and replaced it with the yellow “Q” for quarantine flag. As I sipped my early morning coffee, a large official looking “Zodiac” stopped off our stern and one of the three uniformed occupants carefully noted our boat name and port of registration. Since it takes 30 days or thereabouts to de-register the boat from France and another 60 days for our fine bureaucrats of “Homeland Security” to produce a USA registration, I thought that we might expect company. Sure enough, about five minutes later, the Zodiac returned and the men indicated that they wished to board us. I produced copies of the various documents and while I chatted to the youngest officer about the benefits of owning an Amel Super Maramu, (our last boat was French built in La Rochelle – his home town), the other two officers examined our various documents in excruciating detail. I was not the least concerned because I hear that the food in French prisons is much improved since Steve McQueen had to eat squashed bugs on Isle du Diable (see movie Papillon). One of the officers made a series of cell phone calls and eventually they announced that they needed to search the boat for contraband. The officer in question was impressed with our water maker, sitting wrapped in plastic on the cabin sole floor. He said that his was broken and he needs one. After quizzing us on what we paid for the boat and remarking on how much space it has, they gave us a nice form and left. We still have to check in though but we got to put up our French courtesy flag.
Ten minutes later a dinghy cruised by and with us waving frantically, we able to bum a ride ashore. (We have no dinghy yet) We located the Customs office and determined that it is not open until tomorrow. Although the posted hours say 8:00 a.m. we were advised not to show up before 9:00 a.m. We also determined that Budget Marine, the purveyor of dinghies is also closed today. We found a bar that was open to celebrate being on dry land and then a French bakery for breakfast. Next we hung on the dinghy dock until someone looked like leaving and bummed another ride back to DoodleBug from Raynel of San Diego and Silva of St. Martin.
Another slow day. I dived the hull to check the props and rudder alignment and checked the engines and generator for oil and coolant levels. Everything looks OK. The action will begin tomorrow when the Island reopens for business. I just noted that we have been in the Caribbean for nine days and the various establishments such as customs, grocery stores etc. have been closed for all but two of these.
August 8, 2015
We had “doubled” our mooring lines last night and at 0530 hours we eased off the repair dock and headed out to the east. Our route took us through a pass just north of Cooper Island, our destination of last Tuesday, and out into the Anegada Passage of the Caribbean Sea. The sky was perhaps 50% overcast and we motored near directly into a 15 knot headwind that was producing about six foot waves. This is not a comfortable “point of sail” and DoodleBug was pitching sharply into the short, steep waves with spray hitting me in the face at my helm position on the fly bridge, some 20 feet above the waterline. The First Mate, who shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassment, had refused my advice to take anti-seasick medication and was now clutching a bucket. Not a good start to the adventure. She assured me that she might not die and we decided to proceed for another hour and then make the call as to whether to continue or run for shelter back to Cooper’s Island. We motored at around 1500 RPM on the engines, producing a boat speed of just over 5 knots but when we cleared the chain of islets forming the southern edge of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, I experimented by altering course 10 degrees or so, such that we were not bashing so squarely into the waves. I also increased the throttle to 1,900 RPM and pushed the speed up to 7 knots. The total distance to our anchorage was 90 nm and at at this rate we might arrive around 1830 hours, just about sunset.
The last 30 miles was a little easier as the islands of Anguilla and St. Martin were blocking the waves that now dropped to the 4 foot range. We increased speed again to 8 knots and beside the scattering of flying fish, were accompanied by a pod of dolphins, surfing off our bow waves. 3 or 4 Boobies cruised lazily alongside and hung magically at roof level off the fly bridge and about 8 feet ahead. They were watching for us to disturb small fish with our passage and every now and then, one would plunge into the water ahead of us and then take off again into flight, just before they were run over. I thought this was really cute until we were anchored that evening. The entire front of the boat was splattered with Booby shit. Pelagic birds as you know, are birds that can fly and shit at the same time (most land birds poop whilst perched) and these Boobies had really proven the point.
We motored into Marigot Bay, St. Martin and dropped our anchor at 1815 hours at 18 04.0N 063 05.5W
All survived on board.
August 7, 2015
The repair crew were back at work this morning although fewer than before. The house batteries were tested, declared dead and replaced with new. The new flooring was glued into place, cordoned off with “crime scene” tape - to keep the unwary off until the sealants dried and one by one, the reupholstered cushions found themselves aboard, matching perfectly with the others. Whilst this was progressing, Annette and I paid a visit to the Customs and Immigration at the nearby ferry port and were granted exit documents for our departure tomorrow. We have checked the weather forecast, entered the route in the navigation computer and are ready to go! This has been a busy 8 days since leaving Santa Fe but the Mooring’s team really came through for us (liberally bribed with candy bars and cookies) and we are now ready for sea.
August 6, 2015
We arrived at the repair dock around 9:00 a.m. and within minutes there were workmen swarming all over Seconde Chance. One man was ripping up a damaged section of flooring, another was troubleshooting electrical problems and another changing out a macerator pump on a toilet. By 5:00 p.m. almost all of my list had been checked off. The new floor will need to be installed on the morrow and three salon seat cushions are being re-upholstered but in the main, it was done. The workman departed and we were left with the man we had hired to replace the boat name. As he worked, I “borrowed” an American flag from a stored vessel nearby and Annette whistled the “Marsellaise” as I lowered the French flag, followed by a jaunty rendition of the “Stars and Stripes” as the American flag was raised in its place. The name “DoodleBug”, hailing from the famous maritime port of Santa Fe, New Mexico is now emblazoned across the stern and Seconde Chance is no more. We toasted the newly named vessel and poured some of our beer into the sea to assuage the possible anger of the sea gods.
August 5, 2015
Our first night at sea – well OK, we were on a mooring and we overslept. We staggered out of bed at 8:00 a.m. to discover the balance of the anchorage was still asleep – obviously a “party hearty” crowd. We hoisted the dinghy onto its davits and then checked a few boat systems before heading back to the Mooring’s base in Road Town, Tortola. We might have extended our shake down cruise but the power system on the boat has exhibited some charging problems and we will see if these can be resolved tomorrow by the Mooring’s “Phase Out” repair crew. The return passage was uneventful, light winds and a following sea. By noon we were back in our slip with the power umbilicals re-connected and the air-conditioning up and running. By now we have our list of repair items up to a page and a half, about fifty percent consisting of minor items like missing fasteners.
This afternoon we visited with Charles and Susan who are chartering a large catamaran in order to entertain their extended family. Charles spent six years as a POW in Vietnam and now works as a motivational speaker. For the survivors of such wartime experiences (like Senator John McCain) this must have been truly life altering and nothing you want to experience. Charles invited us to join their merry crew for pizza, calzones and beer that evening but Annette was fading and we bowed out with regrets and apologies.
August 4, 2015
There are two private clinics on the island plus a public hospital, “the Peebles” but only one of the two clinics would answer the phone this morning. We found a taxi and headed over there and after a short wait, Annette had her blood pressure, weight and temperature checked. All normal. Then we saw the doctor, who spoke so quietly we were both leaning in to hear what he had to say. A urine sample was tested at the lab and Annette was given a prescription for pain medication, some antibiotics and an anti-septic cream for a scratch / insect bite on her shoulder. Basically nothing.
Back at the boat we stowed the power umbilicals tying us to the land, started the engines and cast of the lines. Our departure was uneventful, that is we didn’t hit anything and we were soon heading out on our maiden voyage to Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island. We were motoring almost directly into the wind and waves and bouncing in the short chop. 1300 RPM on the engines provided about 5.5 knots of boat speed and anything faster just got more uncomfortable. I had begun by hand steering the boat but soon confirmed that the autopilot was working but not net-worked to the chart plotter. That is you can’t hit the “track” button and have the boat automatically follow a pre-programmed route. Lots of electronic stuff to work out.
These issues were not fatal to our trip however since by using our eyes we could see our destination some five or six miles ahead. We found an empty mooring ball, Annette lassoed the ball with a line (her boat-hook is too short for her to reach the pigtail) and we tied up at 18 23.1N 064 30.9W . Our first voyage was over and we dinghied ashore to the Cooper’s Beach Club to pay our mooring fee and make dinner reservations for the evening. I snorkeled the hull to check on the condition of the propeller, anodes, rudders etc. noting that the rudders are slightly misaligned.
The meal that evening was fine food with a sunset view over the Caribbean whilst all the little boats bobbed at their moorings. At our feet their was a chicken, three or four starlings and scores of large hermit crabs, all fighting over the pieces of bread that Annette was feeding them. What a floor-show! Back at the boat, we chased the pelicans off their roosts around the rail and then swabbed the decks with buckets of sea water to remove the huge quantities of pelican poop that now decorated their perches. Never a dull moment!
August 3, 2015
This morning we had completed our departure check-list and were ready to cast off lines but Annette was not feeling well and the wind was blowing strongly, promising a rough first ride. We decided to delay our departure until conditions improved and Annette was feeling more chipper. She has been suffering from a low grade fever that comes and goes and tomorrow will be day “8”. If her health does not improve, we will seek an Urgent Care Clinic tomorrow.
We spent the day going through boat systems, finding manuals on equipment and refining our boat-packing storage.
August 2, 2015
The Islands are celebrating a five day National Holiday in commemoration of the emancipation of slavery in the BVIs. (There is a museum on the island of Curacao, dedicated to the issue of slavery. Their web page estimates that some 12 million Africans were transported from their homeland with about 2 million dying in transit – a percentage similar to the “wastage” of transported prisoners to the Australian colonies. About 5 million slaves went to Brazil, just under a million to the United States and the balance spread across the Caribbean, including the island we are now on.) For us this means that there is nothing open until Thursday and no convenient way to access the internet.
This morning we continued to inspect the boat and test the various pieces of machinery. The mystery of the missing fresh water was solved when we discovered that the boat has four water tanks, not just the two as described in the owners manual and sales brochure. We hadn’t “lost” any, it had just siphoned off to the extra tanks! We decided that we would head out to cruise some of the smaller islands tomorrow, a sort of “shake down” cruise, returning on Wednesday evening so that the final repairs could be made when workmen return on Thursday. We don’t have a dinghy yet and we rented one from the Moorings. The restaurant choice at this marina is almost non-existent, due to the holiday but we used our dinghy to cross the bay to a hotel on the opposite shore, where we enjoyed pretty fair Mahi-Mahi “fish and chips”. I love arriving at a restaurant by dinghy – puts you in the cruising mood.
August 1, 2015
This morning our taxi rescued us from the swarms of mosquitos lurking at the hotel lobby and after dropping us at the Moorings reception, we carted our luggage across the marina to the boat. The final lift!
We managed to unpack our suitcases and stash at least some of the contents before heading over to the grocery store to fill a brimming kart with groceries and beer. On our first day of ownership, predictably we were faced with a host of mysterious boat events, power breakers popping, bilge pump warnings - indicating that we were taking on water, fresh water tanks that mysteriously drained themselves. Amazingly, these were unrelated events! By nightfall we had air-conditioning, hot and cold fresh-water in the showers and cold beer in the fridge. A busy and satisfying day.
July 31, 2015
The alarm went off at 2 a.m. and it began. Our six “to-check” bags and four “carry-ons” were already loaded in the rental car and we just had to groggily sip coffee and tea before heading to the Albuquerque airport. When we had left Corpus Christi in 2003 to take possession of S/V DoodleBug, the 6 bags we were schlepping were carried by Southwest Airlines at no charge. How times have changed! United Airlines collected a “baggage charge” of $430, a sum I did not dispute, since the cardboard box containing our new radar antenna was “oversized” and subject to an additional charge of $200 if they had bothered to measure it.
My carry-on was crammed with satellite and navigation electronics and the TSA agent spent 20 minutes testing it for explosives while quizzing me, “Was the “Captain Phillips” movie realistic? I assured him that it was, except that the container cranes were on the wrong side of the channel for Salalah, Oman. Sailors can be so nit-picky.
A cramped four hours later and we landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico where our next ride was in a 10 seater, twin engined Cessna. We were the only passengers - just as well as otherwise our luggage would have dribbled into Tortola over the next half dozen flights. As it was, the radar antenna in its cardboard box sat across the rear seats of the aircraft. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat for the 45 minute flight, Annette somewhere behind me and as the sun set, the ghostly orb of the full moon rose out of the haze and mist of the Caribbean sea, ahead to the east. I had forgotten how fast dusk falls at this latitude and the dark shapes of islets soon faded into the blackness of the sea, identified only by the sparse twinkle of residence lights, whilst we plunged onwards through silver moonlit clouds.
I checked the engine oil pressures and fuel levels, just in case the pilot had forgotten to do this and was slightly disconcerted to note that he was flying well south of the GPS track and significantly offset from the runway, now clearly visible by its landing lights and just 4 miles ahead. The GPS flashed a “proximity alert” and a mountain ridge loomed suddenly off our port wingtip. Maybe this pilot has done this before after all!
We were the only passengers at customs and immigration and as soon as I had identified the contents of the large cardboard box as containing a radar antenna, our bona fides as sailors was thereby established and we were waved through the barrier. We are here! Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
March 24, 2015
Just six years ago we sailed S/V DoodleBug into Fort Pierce, Florida completing a six year circumnavigation. Today we signed a deal to buy another boat! This time around it is a Leopard 47PC “Power Cat”. We are buying “Seconde Chance” from the Moorings Charter Company when she comes off her charter contract at the end of June. We intend to have a suitable re-naming ceremony to assuage the sea god Neptune (probably involving a black rooster, multiple virgins – Tortola is in the Virgin Islands after all - and several beers) and rename her M/Y DoodleBug, in order to match our existing key fob. There are several items that need to be repaired and upgraded but we hope that she will be ready to head out to sea in early August. That time of year is hurricane season in the Caribbean seas and the insurance companies have defined a “box” that lies between latitudes N12 40.0’ and N23 30.0’ and longitudes W55 and W85. Inside this box you have either no coverage or limited coverage for a “named” storm. We will need to head south to avoid weather related catastrophes and are considering the “ABC” Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) off the coast of Venezuela.