Thursday, April 28, 2011

There Is Always Something ...

Having been back in cold and snowy Michigan for a few weeks made us appreciate the time we have had sailing this winter. Since we are both still working full time, it is necessary to make the trip home periodically. In some ways, it is good to get out of the sun for a while. That makes it even more special when we return!

The Captain worked all night and is now in Miami airport!
Getting out of town again is always challenging. Even though you know you have a departure date well ahead of time, it seems like you can never get things done until the last minute. I was pretty well organized and ready to go. Dennis had his office and docket under control - as much as he can - but as usual things went south. He managed to work in his office all day and night on Good Friday, getting home at 3:30 am on Saturday morning. Our flight was 7 am and the car was picking us up at 5 am!

We have also decided we don't like the trip via Miami, San Juan and Beef Island, Tortola. It takes over 12 hours with layovers in Miami and San Juan. When you fly into St. Thomas, US VI via Miami, the only drawback is getting there in time to catch the last ferry to Tortola. The actual travel time is a little shorter so this will be our preferred route.

We are on board Trillium preparing for the Atlantic Cup Rally to Bermuda. We leave on Sunday and the weather looks great. It should be a nice sail to Bermuda - about 850 miles. After that it is going to be "iffy" depending on the spring storms on the mainland.

A man of many talents.
Even though we have most things in order, there are always adjustments and repairs. This gives Dennis an opportunity to learn new skills! If he signed up to be a marine mechanics "go-fer", he would learn a lot. He is getting pretty good at fixing heads (i.e. toilets) and shower pumps. No matter what task you do, you have to move 30 things and trash the whole boat in the process. It seems like an endless job of pulling things out and restowing them. At least it keeps your mind fresh with your spare parts inventory!

I am busy pre-cooking pasta, rice and meats to reduce the time I have to stand at a 20 degree angle trying to prepare meals in the galley. It makes for a very hot and steamy galley and saloon on an 89 degree day with the sun beating down outside. I was not real comfortable on the way down watching large pots swaying on the stove. Even though it is gimbled and swings with the boat, it was still scary to think about that pot coming at me full of hot food!

It is still a challenge trying to find good meat - and forget about it being cost-effective in any way! I don't recognize most of the cuts and am not sure what is really in the ground "beef." Hopefully we will catch some fish on the way north and have a couple of meals on it. The papyas and mangoes are great, but apples, pears and oranges are very expensive, sold individually. I am trying out a new market tomorrow so maybe I will be pleasantly surprised!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Preparing for the Atlantic Cup: Bermuda to the Chesapeake Bay

The weather will be the governing body on this part of the trip. Once we make it to Bermuda, it is a matter of waiting for the right weather window for the 625 mile crossing to the East Coast. The trip is broken up into three parts: Bermuda to the Gulf Stream, the Gulf Stream crossing, and the final leg to the Chesapeake Bay. With low pressure systems passing from west to east over Bermuda every 3-5 days in May, we will probably meet up with at least one of them! Not looking forward to that experience at all!

The goal will be to leave Bermuda just after a low has passed so we can cross the Gulf Stream before the next low comes along. We will be given a Gulf Stream analysis in Bermuda and it will probably offer several alternatives. If you recall, last fall we took a route different than the rest of the fleet and crossed it higher than most did. In the end, it proved to be to our advantage. However, we should not have gone straight south back to the original rhumb line; we should have created our own new rhumb line and ran parallel to the rest of the fleet. Our decision cost us a couple of nasty jibes and equipment issues! We learned from it.

Sailing into the sunset and the darkness of the night.

This time we will have a better understanding of the information provided and plan our approach and strategy for the crossing. We would like to cross during daylight so we can see the color changes in the water; however, one cannot always time the crossing! You cross when you get there!

There are a couple of alternatives. There may be a choice between catching a ride on an eddy or heading directly for the narrowest part of the stream. The final decision will be made based on the long term forecast and the speed with which the next low pressure system is predicted to reach us. Thank goodness for the daily weather update emails! We have the ability to download weather information from our satellite phone, but we are not real skilled in analyzing what it means. That is our next major learning effort!

We share the waters with the US Navy out of Norfolk, VA
Our general goal will be to exit the Gulf Stream north of Cape Hatteras. I have never heard a single positive story regarding sailing anywhere near Cape Hatteras. And I am sure I don't want to have one to tell - especially after two plus weeks of sailing into the wind. The other challenge at this point of the crossing is in the 100 or so miles between the Gulf Stream and the Chesapeake Bay as there is a lot of military and commercial traffic on the waters. That will make for very interesting night sailing as some of the light patterns on these huge vessels are very confusing. It is hard to tell if they are coming or going or towing something. I do know they are a lot bigger than we are so we will stay out of their way! And there are submarines in the area. I don't want to be surprised by one of those either!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Preparing for the Atlantic Cup: Tortola to Bermuda

As the end of April approaches, it is time to start preparations for the return trip to the East Coast of the USA. We will be sailing with the World Cruising Club Atlantic Cup Rally to Bermuda. It is scheduled to depart on May 1 - weather depending! And we know from last fall, weather is the supreme ruler of the GO/NO GO decision when it comes to leaving shore for a crossing. The Atlantic Cup Rally Awards Celebration is scheduled for May 6th at St. George's Dinghy and Sports Club, Bermuda. That means 5-6 days to make the trip north.

These are the days we dread: wet and really windy.
Once given the window of opportunity, the fleet will leave Bermuda and head toward various ports of call on the East Coast: Florida, the Carolinas, the Chesapeake Bay or New England. A number of the vessels sailed with us in the Caribbean 1500 Rally and are just going back "home." Other boats will be from Europe with plans to sail our waters for the summer season. They would have come across the Atlantic last fall in the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). They gathered in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to sail together to Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia, The ARC is the original and the biggest sailing rally. There are about 30 boats registered for the Atlantic Cup Rally which officially ends in Hampton, VA with the final party scheduled for May 12, 2011.

This time the weather will start out very warm and by the fourth day it is expected that the shorts will be put away in favor of long pants. Then the layering process will begin as we move north and west. The biggest challenge will be with the May storms that come off the mainland and head toward us as we approach the coast of Virginia. And then there is the crossing of the Gulf Stream - always an interesting experience!

And some days are too calm for sailing!
The weather on the route from the BVI to Bermuda is dominated by the position of the Bermuda High. Upon leaving the BVI, the winds will typically be easterly, veering south-easterly. The actual direction depends on the position of the high and if it is ridging toward Florida. We will be watching for cold fronts moving off the coast of the USA crossing our route. As we near Bermuda, we will experience North Atlantic weather system influence as low pressure systems progress through the area, generally passing north of Bermuda.

We have been warned that we will probably experience an area of calms as we sail out of the easterlies and into an area influenced by the ridge of high pressure that may extend to Florida. These are known as the "Horse Latitudes." Apparently apart from patience, the only other way to of getting through this area is to motor. This part of the trip will certainly give us new weather experiences. The tail of a hurricane on the way down and dead seas on the way north. Nothing like extremes to break us in!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Answering Your Questions

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Thanks to all of you who have been following us on this blog. We are glad you are enjoying it and "coming along" with us. It has been fun getting your emails and comments at the end of blog post. I have tried to continuously improve it so now you will see that it is easier to sign up for notice of new entries. Just fill in your email address in the box on the right column.

Many of you have asked interesting questions so I thought I would take the time to respond. So here we go...
  • Where did you anchor overnight on the way to the BVI from Virginia?  Well, there is no anchoring on the way to the BVI! At least we don't carry THAT much anchor rode. We only have 300 feet of stainless steel chain so it doesn't begin to reach the floor of the ocean. You just don't stop! That's right, you sail 24 hours a day and it took us eight days to get there.

    Dennis with Bob and Stuart
  • Was it just the two of you on the boat?  There were four of us as we had two crew members. Bob and Stuart are both experienced sailors and had made the trip before. That was most helpful since we are not nearly as experienced and this was our first trip. Since you have to sail all night long, each person takes a 2-3 hour watch. That is, you sit in the cockpit alone in the dark and keep an eye out for things that might go bump in the night! That would not be a good thing if you hit something or someone 200-300 miles out in the ocean.

  • Will the same crew members be sailing back to Virginia with you in May?  No, we will have two different crew members - maybe even three. Although we would be very happy to have the same ones, but most people don't take that much time off to sail unless they have their own boat. As part of the Caribbean 1500 Rally and the Atlantic Cup Rally, there are sailors who volunteer to be crew on the various vessels. Each crew member provides their own transportation, gear, etc. and the Captain provides the meals and a ride. It has been a great way to meet good sailors and learn a lot from them.

    The sun is setting and it will soon be very dark
  • Did you have any close calls or scary moments during the trip down?  At first, I thought the whole thing was going to be scary; however, I soon learned that it was a wonderful adventure. I was concerned about the big (15-20') waves. They are awesome, but very different than Great Lake waves as they are much further apart so you ride up, over and down the wave. It is not choppy, except in the Gulf Stream where water is moving in different directions. Dennis and I did have one close call in the night: we were enjoying a peaceful sail when I happened to check the chart plotter and saw that we were passing between two markers of some type in the middle of the Atlantic! There were no lights, bells or whistles and fortunately we did not hit anything. The lesson: don't assume that you are in the wide open ocean and only need to watch for other vessels! Since it was dark, we still don't know what we nearly hit!

  • Where will you go for the summer months?  We will leave from Nanny Cay, Tortola, British Virgin Island with the Atlantic Cup Rally on May 1. The Rally sails to Bermuda in 5-7 days depending on the winds and weather. We then wait in Bermuda for the right weather window to cross over to the east coast of the USA. We will enter the Chesapeake Bay at Norfolk, VA and probably rest for a day or two in Hampton, VA (where we started the Caribbean 1500 Rally last fall). From Hampton, we will sail north up the Chesapeake Bay to Herrington Harbor at Tracy's Landing, MD ( about 15 miles south of Annapolis). We will take the boat out of the water for cleaning and any needed repairs and get her ready to sail back down next November! We will do some Chesapeake Bay sailing in the fall prior to the Caribbean 1500 Rally departure on November 7.

    S/V Trillium is lifted out of the water to be stored on land
  • Why don't you sail in the summer?  Unfortunately, the sailing in the Chesapeake Bay isn't that wonderful in the summer: hot, humid and not much wind. We enjoy Michigan summers more! And if your next question is "why don't you take the boat to Michigan?", I will explain: 1) it is a salt water boat, 2) it a long trip from the Atlantic Ocean to Michigan and you have to take the standing rigging (mast, halyards, etc.) down to get under the bridges and 3) you have to motor and it is a very long way at only 7-8 knots per hour! And besides, Trillium will need a rest before we set off again! And so will we!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Visiting the US Virgin Islands: St. Thomas

St. Thomas Harbor: Daily cruise ship arrivals & sailboats
We have decided the sailing is definitely better in the British Virgin Islands as there are many more favorable anchorages and more islands to explore. However, Dennis has always wanted to sail into the St. Thomas harbor, so we did! He spent many vacations on St. Thomas (BS: Before Sherry) and had always been on land looking out. This time we anchored in the harbor for three nights - and looked inward!

Of course, St. Thomas is known for its duty free shopping and hundreds of jewelry stores with shopkeepers urging you to come into their shops. We watched huge cruise ships come and go daily - several each day - as they maneuvered among the sailboats that were anchored in the harbor. Personally, we chose not to anchor too close to them. It is a matter of size: when you are the little guy, don't irritate the big guy! S/V Trillium is one of those sailboats in the photo on the far right side. Certainly no challenge to the big cruise ships!
Magen's Bay, St. Thomas, US VI
We took a tour of the island to see how it has changed over the past twenty plus years. I got to see the other famous bays and beaches: Magen's Bay, Sapphire and Coki Beaches. We have stayed at Red Hook harbor and Secret Harbor resort so I was familiar with that area.

Dennis wants to sail into Magen's Bay next year.
Many of the bays are guarded by coral reefs and make entry very challenging. Magen's Bay in not recommended for overnight anchoring due to northerly surges. But it sure is beautiful! And I am sure we will explore there soon - when the weather is favorable.

Cemetery on St. Thomas
On our land tour, we saw a variety of living areas. The roads are narrow and very steep and winding. And they drive on the other side of the road even though it is a US territory.

Also typical of countries at or below sea level, the cemeteries are above ground. There is a very large one on St. Thomas.

Like many of the resort islands, the local people do not live as well as the tourists and vacation property owners. There are beautiful homes all over the side of the mountain with fabulous views. They may belong to some of the shop owners, but I doubt that the native islanders live in them.

We saw a community where most of them live some distance from the main harbor area. The most profitable business for the local people is driving taxis. They shuttle people from the cruise ships to the downtown and back and they are highly competitive - always trying to get you to ride in their vehicle.

Abandoned house in the harbor area
We have a couple of favorite restaurants in St. Thomas. Hook, Line & Sinker in Frenchtown has always been on the list, although this time the service of not very good. We have decided maybe we like it best when we are on land and want to eat next to the water. When we are on the water everyday, that did not seem as enchanting!

Some of the others are in Palm Passage and beyond the park. We like to browse in the vendor tents near the waterfront. You can't beat the prices on tee shirts if you looking for gifts. But you do have to put up with the vendors pushing their goods at you!
Hook, Line & Sinker in Frenchtown, St. Thomas, US VI

We enjoyed the frozen drinks at The Green House overlooking the water in the downtown area. Bushwacker is my favorite. Also a Mango Pina Colada is high on my list, too. One has to be careful of those frozen island beverages as they can really sneak up on you on a hot, sunny day!