Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


March 2:


          Emmett and I went in to play Saturday morning baseball with the locals again today.   As usual, the gringos lost.  I think it was about 7-3 this time.  Later, Kathleen and I started talking about moving on.   We are loving it here, but we still have a long way to go to get south of the hurricane belt by this summer.


    But moving on from Luperon is a serious proposition, as we are now going straight up into the trade winds from here to St. Martin.  After living on the boat in a quiet harbor for a month, everything on the boat is sitting about with little thought to what will happen when we're bouncing over 6 foot high waves.  We're nowhere near ready to go to sea.


     So in addition to getting some rest, we're also putting together a list of chores that need to get accomplished before the next weather window comes:   We need to take on fuel, scrub the barnacles off the bottom, re-pack everything carefully, buy food, get laundry done, and so on.   To add to the challenge, the town's only ATM machine wasn't working today...and I doubt someone will be there to repair it tomorrow on a Sunday...and of course nobody takes VISA here.  So Kathleen and I are looking at our dwindling supply of pesos and wondering how we're going to manage that big chore list.  That's the thing about quiet, tropical, backwater places like Luperon.  It's so easy to find a reason to do nothing.



March 6:



   After hearing the weather report Monday morning we realized that we won't be going anywhere on Uliad for the next 5 days.  So we decided to take one more trip inland to visit the capital city of Santo Domingo.  Fortunately the ATM machine was up and running again so we could afford the bus fare.

    In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and only a few years after that he founded the city of Santo Domingo.  In the United States, we are unaccustomed to old things and places.  By the time a hotel is 15 years old, the travel guidebooks describe it as "showing its age" and the Metrodome in Minneapolis or the Kingdome in Seattle are only 30 or 40 years old but are considered obsolete and therefore being torn down.

   But Santo Domingo is old in the same way the cities of Europe are old.  We stayed in a guest house that was built in 1503.  (Yes, only 11 years after Columbus first came to the new world.)  Rather than a door with a key card, our room had a creaky iron gate with a padlock.  Inside that were heavy wooden doors with a little peep door at eye level to make sure that is is not barbarians who are at the gate.  The heavy wooden beams making the ceiling some 15 feet above our heads were obviously shaped by hand with an adze.  I lay in bed trying to imagine the Spanish conquistadors who enslaved the now extinct Taino Indians here and probably made them chop and lay that wooden beam above my head.  We just don't have history like that in the US. 

   Our first stop after dropping off our bags was to visit the home of Christopher Columbus, which is now a museum.  Emmett loved the suits of armor and the display of swords, muskets, and all sorts of other creepy weapons.  I was surprised to learn that Chris' real name was Cristobal Colon and through some colossal mix-up, his name was confused with another well known sailing captain at the time who ended up getting all the undeserved credit.  Anyway, after all his exploring, Cristobal Colon was named vice-King of the new world and built himself a pretty nice palace here on the waterfront.  His son has another nice fortress of a home just a block away. 

hanging out in front of Chris Columbus' housethe streets of old Santo Domingo

   In between lies a big airy plaza ringed by little sidewalk cafes just like in Venice.  Here I found my favorite museum of the trip, the "Museo de Jamon".  In English: The Museum of Ham.  It is actually a cafe in which hanging from the rafters are dozens of legs of Dominican Serrano Hams drying in the air.  The tapas here were absolutely fantastic.  And after a few compliments and inquiries, we were directed as to where we might buy some of this ham in the city.  (No, they wouldn't sell us one of the hams on the ceiling.

   The following day, we went to the "Museo Infantil de Trampolin".  Which I interpreted as the Museum of babies on trampolines, but my Spanish still needs work.  In fact, it was a standard children's museum which Emmett seemed to enjoy.  After letting him run wild for a  while, Kathleen thought she might now be able to shop the art galleries for a while without Emmett getting too bored.  After a few hours of shopping, we found a number of treasures, (including the HAM!) and even more that we had to leave behind.  Whenever I'm back to making a bunch of money and we have a big home again, I think we'll be coming back to Santo Domingo to buy art to fill the walls.  The city is brimming with it.  Yes, much of it is junk being cranked out to sell at the bazaars on shore where the cruise ships dock, but there are also lots of really great artists here trying to eke out a living.

   Em was indeed starting to get restless by now, so Kathleen took him to Baskin Robbins.  I could tell this was still the third world because they only had 16 flavors.   The sign, however still had the big "31" on it.  The law casts a rather lenient eye on false advertising here.  Here's another example.  Will drinking cheap wine really make me look like the guy on the bottle?  And while we're at it, any one care for a "crachi bar"?

strange foods from the DR

   We also saw the oldest cathedral in the new world, and the (ruins of the) first hospital in the new world.  We finished our day at a nice little local restaurant, dining in another old, high ceilinged mansion with lots of beautiful art works covering the walls.  I had the stewed crab with plantains, Kathleen had roasted goat with rice & beans.  Emmett chose the chicken empanada.  Everyone was pleased with their selection.  The streets were quieting down as we strolled home, and soon I found myself once again looking up and pondering those ancient wooden beams above me. 



March 8:


   The weather forecast shows an unusually calm period for the next week so we've decided that tomorrow will be our day to start heading eastward again.  We've been running around lately getting prepared.  Yesterday I went to Puerto Plata for groceries.  This consisted of two gua gua rides to get there, then two taxi rides back.  The taxis here only go as far as the next town before they start charging outrageously high prices, hence the need to go to Imbert in one cab, then unload all the groceries into another cab to take me from Imbert to Luperon. 

   I returned to hear that a fellow cruiser had gone on the waterfall trip and confused the guide's broken English.  When the guide said "it is not safe to jump from here" it was interpreted as "jump here".  Anyway, he jumped off a 15 foot cliff into about 3 feet of water and was now worried he had broken his ankle.  I loaded up my gear and a bag of ice and went over to take a look.  In the end I told him he'd better get an x-ray and I put him in a fiberglass splint until he can get to Puerto Plata on Monday where the closest x-ray machine is.   

   This morning I carried our light-wind sail down to the baseball field and unrolled it in the outfield to make a few repairs.  As I expected, there was soon a crowd of excited boys gathered around and helping to unroll the sail.  I then assumed the role of traffic manager trying to keep them from helping too much.  I got several small tears patched with sticky back tape and by that time most of the boys had moved on to more interesting things.

   The other thing we did this past week was to go to the dentist.  It's been 6 months since we all had had been to Dr. Robinson, our dentist back in Wisconsin for a check up and cleaning.  So after asking some of the other expatriates here, we booked appointments at a local clinic in two days.  After a half hour wait on the breezy sidewalk in front of the building, I was ushered into a room with the same dental chair, light, and drills that I remember from the USA.  A German dentist came in and gave things a looking over then proceeded to personally clean and polish my teeth.  He commented on a few of the same problem areas that Dr. Robinson had been watching back in the states, so I take that as a sign that he knew what he was doing.  Then I had to ask his story.

   Turns out he became a dentist in Germany, sub-specializing in dental implants.  He then worked in Spain for a number of years and travelled the world teaching some new techniques in dental implants.  Tried to go back to Germany but it didn't feel like home anymore.  Had to work too hard...was getting high blood pressure...etc.  So he came to the Dominican Republic and lives in this little back water town.  He goes to a couple cities around the country to do surgeries that are referred to him by other dentists.  And then when not busy with that, he does a little general dentistry on guys like me.  He claims to like the slower pace, lack of worries about the bottom line, and having time to talk to folks here like he never had.  Hmmm, we could sure relate!

   Anyhow, after about 45 minutes of cleaning and chatting, my bill came to $12.  (And a complete dental implant by him down here costs $800, as opposed to about $3000 in the USA.)  But to be perfectly fair to Dr. Robinson, I did not get a free toothbrush with that. 



March 11:

     We left Luperon at first light.  We hosed the mangrove mud off the anchor chain as we slowly brought it aboard and motored out in the same quiet, misty early morning conditions that we had come in on.  Several boats came up to wave their goodbyes, which distracted Kathleen at the helm just enough to drive us into the mud.  The radio cackled to life: "Uliad...are you guys aground over there?"  How embarrassing.  Now every insomniac in the harbor knew.  But we quickly backed off and before our red faces had blanched, we were heading out to sea--greeted by dolphins playing in our bow wake.

    All day we motor sailed upwind.  From offshore we saw the beautiful cliff side hotel in Sosua we had visited, then by afternoon the kite boarders on Cabarete beach.  We had clearly lost our sea legs in the past month.  All day we fought the nausea of seasickness and the side effects of anti-seasickness meds.  We had bought a bunch of ready to eat foods before leaving in preparation for this.  When seasick, the worst thing is to spend time below trying to cook.  So during calmer moments we snacked on cold fried chicken, yogurt, and a big gallon of fresh squeezed orange juice that Kathleen bought for $2 from the Luperon juice stand.  Even with the nausea, the cold fresh squeezed juice tasted just heavenly.

    By evening we decided to pull into anchor behind the protection of a point of land called Rio San Juan.  We arrived just at dark planning to rest a few hours and then round the point of land during the calmer offshore night breezes that prevail here.  There was just enough of a swell here for Kathleen to finally barf when she tried to go below and straighten things up.  But after that we managed to eat and sleep for about 4 hours before leaving around midnight to round the next cape.

    One thing we learned on this trip was to respect the increased winds that blow around each cape.  We'd be rolling along in 12 knots of wind but when we rounded each headland it could pick up to 18-20 knots with much rougher seas.  The last cape of the day was the "twin peaks" of Cabo Cabron and Cabo Samana on the northeast corner of the island.  We crossed these at mid-day when the trade winds were at their strongest and really paid for it.  Kathleen was sprawled out in the cockpit vowing to never do another long crossing.  Emmett lay begging to go to shore.  By late afternoon we finally got around and promptly turned down wind to head for the town of Samana to take another break.  We parked in a little bay called Punta Cacao and with the calm water there, everyone immediately felt better.

    After a nice meal of pasta with a sauce made of fresh herbs, tomatoes, and butter we pondered our next move.  As the sun dropped, we looked out at the calm seas and quickly dropping breeze.  The town of Samana lay in the wrong direction.  We'd have to put the motor back on the dinghy and clear in with the Port Authority again when we got there.  We never cared much for Samana anyway when we visited by land a few weeks ago...

    So we decided once again to get a few hours of sleep and then move on.  By 2 am I sat in the cockpit as we ghosted along about a mile offshore over a gentle swell.  Soft music played on the stereo keeping time with Uliad's slow sway.  Emmett had come up to "help" me on my watch and now held my hand as he lay sleeping next to me.  The stars and crescent moon illuminated the jungles ashore and twinkled across the water. 

    Living on a sailboat is filled with moments of the highest highs and the lowest lows.  I know this, but am still awed by how quickly we can jump from one to the other.  In the afternoon we were physically and emotionally exhausted by rough seas.  Now a few hours later I sat wishing for this moment to last...



March 13:

  In the predawn hours we dropped anchor in the harbor of Ponce, on the south coast of Puerto Rico.  One is supposed to call US Customs immediately upon landing but nobody picked up the phone at that hour so after several tries I gave up and went to bed.  I had hoped we could give them our info over the phone and be done, but America was not to greet us with such open arms.  After asking all their questions we were instructed to tie off to a nearby dock to be inspected.

   "What had we said wrong?" I wondered.  Kathleen was certain that they'd confiscate all the Dominican meat we had just bought.  She wondered out loud if she should hide the Serrano ham we had bought in her drawer.  But in the end, two customs officials ended up sitting in our cockpit for half an hour and never really inspected anything besides our passports and the forms in front of them.  So the ham was saved.

    As long as we were at the fuel dock, we filled up with diesel and went back to anchor.  A couple other cruisers on the dock invited us along to get groceries at a food warehouse nearby.  Good ol' can count on her for the best shopping bargains anywhere.  So I tagged along and stocked up on whatever we could eat enough of to buy in Costco sized quantities.  By the end of the day our food bins were filled to the brim again.  From here on south, most foods are imported to all the islands until you get to places big enough to support some agriculture.  So we thought we'd better stock up here.

   Later Em and I went "Heely-ing" at the park, where we met a few local boys.  I explained that we only spoke a little Spanish and soon the older boy started rattling off new words for me to learn.  Soon we had started a game:  He'd say a word in English and I had to come up with the Spanish equivalent.  Then I'd quiz him with an English word and so on.  The 12 year old soon smoked me in the translating game.  When I asked him how he learned so much English, he replied with all seriousness that he had watched many, many episodes of "Dora the Explorer" on TV.  (For those of you without children, Dora the Explorer is a sort of bi-lingual cartoon)  I made a mental note to start watching it more often myself. 

   We ended our first day back on US soil by strolling down the boardwalk that runs along the waterfront here.  The walk is punctuated by little cafes serving up empanadillas, rum drinks, pizzas, and loud music.  We snacked our way along and enjoyed the scene until by 10pm we had pretty much worn ourselves out. 



March 16:


We moved a few miles down the coast to the sleepy beach town of Salinas yesterday morning.  It was a great sail (although upwind, the water was flat so we made 6-7 knots) over and we arrived by noon or so.  Kathleen planned out an ambitious island touring itinerary for the next few days.

   After renting a car, her first order of business was to go to the Aveda Institute in San Juan where she had made a hair appointment.  Kath has been a loyal customer of Aveda Salons for years, and had been reluctant to settle for a Dominican hair stylist...I guess my experience may have made her a bit gun shy.  So when she found out that the only Aveda Salon in the Caribbean was here in Puerto Rico, that was made the first item on our list.

   Emmett, too, wanted in on the action.  My little fashionista has decided that after getting a trim in the DR, his long hair now looks dangerously close to a mullet.  So he and Mom printed off a few pictures of Harry Potter to see if they could make him look like his current literary idol.  Alas, the earthy, tree-hugging theme of Aveda seems to be slow to catch on down here as the place was empty on a Saturday and both Kath and Emmett got the full attention of a student and instructor for several hours.  And I must say, they both came out looking fab!

Emmett and Kathleen get dolled upThe fort at old San Juan

   We spent the rest of the day admiring the architecture and dining options throughout Old San Juan.  What a beautiful city.  As in Santo Domingo, we felt we were somewhere in Europe...only with a lot more rum being served.  We had a nice dinner at a sidewalk cafe, then as we wandered down the hill toward the cruise ship dock the spell was broken and we were surrounded by cheap souvenir shops.  A drive back over the central mountains finished our day, only to get up and do it all over again.

   This time our destination was supposed to be El Yunque National Forest.  The only rain forest in the United States.  But we got a late start and missed a turn or two and, wouldn't you know it, it was raining at the rain forest.  So after braving all sorts of weather these past months, today we wimped out and ended up going to the mall instead.  What a dizzying scene a busy shopping mall is for three sailors who have been out in the boonies for the past 4 months!  I felt acutely aware of how everyone seemed to be in such a hurry and there were just so many people and who needs to buy all this stuff anyway?!

   Emmett and I retreated to a Borders book store while Kathleen braved a couple stores.  Em promptly found 12 books he wanted to read.  The list was then narrowed down to 8 and Kath & I added a few more.  Hey, there's not much to do sometimes when crossing the ocean!  We then took in "The Spiderwick Chronicles" at the mall theater and drove home with stomach aches from all the popcorn and mall food.  Before falling asleep, Em had nearly finished Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing that we had purchased only hours before.  Wonder if I could return it tomorrow?

   So that was our dose of America and I have to admit that I'm ready to go.  Kathleen has better endurance than I when it comes to shopping and she's willing to brave Costco tomorrow for whatever other foods will fit on the boat.  We might make another attempt at El Yunque Park too.  Gotta go, go, go...after all, isn't that the American way? 



March 19:

    Shortly after my last update, the weather reports turned ominous.  Apparently there was a really vicious winter storm in the North Atlantic with hurricane force winds and all.  That storm was too far away to reach us, but the waves it kicked up were rolling south across the ocean and would be hitting us soon.  We're talking 15 foot high swells.  How tall is that?  Well, go outside and look at the garage.  Up at the pointy top of the roof.  That's probably 15 feet.  Imagine a wall of water that high rolling down on you every 10 seconds.  Not exactly pleasant sailing conditions.

    So we either needed to move on to the island of Vieques, or hunker down here for the next 4 or 5 days.  Kath and I sat down and looked at the forecast.  We had a rental car that needed to get turned in when the office opened at 8 am, so we couldn't leave before then.  It would then take us 10 hours to sail to Vieques at our expected minimum 5 knot speed upwind.  That would get us there to anchor in a new harbor just at dusk, and just around the time the big swells were supposed to hit.  It would be close.  Any delays or problems underway would leave us out on a rough ocean in the dark.

   So perhaps caution would suggest staying put.  Salinas was a very secure harbor.  But we also knew that our friends on the boats "High Five" and "Salt & Light" had just left for there.  And our friends on "Independence" were also in Vieques.  All of them had kids aboard and Emmett was really chomping at the bit for some kids to play with.  To top it all off, the Butkiewicz family from Waupaca had emailed us because they would be vacationing in Vieques this week.  Their daughter Sophie was Emmett's classmate back in school.   Kathleen and Sophie's mom worked together in some community groups.  Sophie's dad was a fellow family physician back in Wisconsin.  We really didn't want to miss everyone. 

   Friendships can be a powerful draw.  Less than a week after Kathleen was muttering about never wanting to do a crossing again, she reluctantly seconded my motion to go for it.   And so, with final errands run, the car returned, and the boat made ready for sea, we found ourselves boldly steaming out of the harbor by 9:30 am yesterday. 

   I had gotten Emmett a new lure at West Marine and he promptly put it to good use, catching a nice tuna about 2 minutes after getting it wet.  I then put the new fish cleaning table from West Marine to good use.  We motored on.  I cleaned the fish and then we put his lure back in the water.  5 minutes later a second strike.  This time he pulled in a barracuda.  All the while the fish remained annoyingly uninterested in MY lure.  (Kathleen, lacking Viking blood in her veins, still refuses to go anywhere near the fishing gear.)  It was shaping up to be a good day!

Emmett's tuna

   Then I went below and heard a splashing sound.  Now in a moving boat, there are constantly splashing sounds going on...but this one was different.  When you travel in a sailboat for long, you grow accustomed to all the normal sounds and any slight change send off alarm bells in the brain.  I looked around and quickly found large amounts of water splashing into Emmett's bunk through the port hole that Em had forgotten to close.  Thank heavens for hearing the bad splash amongst all the good splashes, because after slamming the port shut and assessing the damage, things didn't look too bad.  I think I heard it right away as the seas started to get high enough to get into the port hole--and well before we sank the boat.  

   We motorsailed onward down the coast of Puerto Rico.  At about the half way point of our sail we left the protection of the coast to make a 25 mile run across open water.  This would be our last chance to turn for shelter until Vieques, although the shelter to be found near there would be pretty weak in high seas.  We arrived on schedule, beating into 3-5 foot seas and 18 knot winds.  These conditions prevailed for the rest of the sail, and no other holes in the boat turned up.  Mostly we all sat in the cockpit and read books all day. Emmett's lucky fishing lure finally became silent.

   By 7pm we were motoring into Sun Bay.  The lights on the boats of our friends guided us in.  A dinghy roared over to welcome us here and show us to a mooring ball.  After a long day of sitting and doing nothing, we felt strangely exhausted, but the old friends we knew here made an arrival at a strange harbor feel like coming home.  And the following day, as the island ferries shut down due to the rough seas, we felt like this storm was oceans away--we were safe and snug aboard our little boat in our sunny bay.



March 21:

    Having a bay full of other kids to play with has been great for Em's school motivation.  The general policy of most boats with kids aboard seems to be this:  No playing until school lessons are finished.  So every kid is working all morning so they can be the first to get on the radio to see if his friends on another boat want to go swimming.  And if you're NOT the first...hearing those calls starting to go out over the airwaves is just the kick in the pants you need to get that last page of math problems finished.

   After the regular homeschool events were completed, the kids all took a trip to the museum in town to learn about the island's natural history.  For such a small town, Esperanza has a wonderful little museum and a lively curator who really made it fun for the kids.  Best of all, the guy talks with a Spanish/Puerto Rican accent that makes you feel like your child is learning from Tommy Chong.

  Just down the coast from here is a bay which is unusually rich in bioluminescent plankton.  So rich, in fact, that the water glows around you when swimming in it at night.  Any sort of movement through the water causes a green trail of light to follow.   So that evening, four dinghies full of kids drove over at sunset and we all rafted up in the middle to wait for the sun to go down.  And as soon as it was dark enough, the water started to glow when you stirred it up with a paddle, or your hand, or whatever.  Soon the kids were jumping in and splashing around while the chaperones were content to sit in the boats sipping beer and watching the spectacle.  The glowing water is truly amazing.  Little sparkles coalesce into glowing trails around your arms and legs as you swim.  Climb out and the green sparkles trail off you and you look for a second like Tinkerbelle. 

The kids were instructed by the museum curator to collect a bottle of water from the bay, and the following morning they were all peering through the microscope to identify the tiny planktons that cause this surreal glow.  The older kids wrote papers and the younger kids drew drawings and by the end of the day, it was so much fun that I don't think many of them realized that this was educational.

Trampoline party on IndependenceLooking at plankton in the Museum Lab

   Friday night was the 38th birthday of Jenny on Independence, so her husband Otis hosted a big party for her.  The kids tended to gather on the trampolines of their catamaran while the grown ups chatted around the hors d'ouvre table in the cockpit.  Emmett and I baked a cake which was very well received.  And in usual cruiser fashion, we all got tired and went to bed by 10pm.



March 23:

    The Butkiewicz clan showed up Saturday and we gave them a tour of the boat.  The swell was making the boat rock a bit too much so we cooked dinner and brought it ashore to the beach for consumption.  Easter weekend had brought large crowds of Puerto Ricans out to Sun Bay for family camping celebrations, but despite all the people, the beach scene stayed pretty low key.  Emmett loved having his old friend Sophie to clown around with all day. 

   Easter morning came and fortunately, Emmett didn't stop to consider how an Easter bunny would possibly make it across a hundred yards of open water to deliver a basket.  Somehow it just happened.  And filled with new and interesting candies with Spanish labels, nonetheless.  Best of all, Em got his own "Leatherman" tool.  A few months back I had given him a miniature version of the Leatherman to play with.  (We called it the "Leatherboy").  He carried it with him everywhere down the East coast, whittling sticks into spears at every opportunity.  Somewhere around Florida it got lost and Emmett was thrilled to get a larger replacement.  It's still not quite as big as Dad's real one...maybe a "Leather-teen"?  My son immediately put the tool to work and now he is always asking if I want a beer so he can open it for me.  His mother is so proud.

   The swell continued to build overnight and we once again found ourselves sitting on the beach most of the day to find shelter from the constant rolling.  We probably would have left Vieques, but we had promised the Butkiewicz family a trip over to the bioluminescent bays.  So as darkness fell, I set out with a dinghy full of Butkiewicz girls and towing Kathleen's inflatable kayak.  The seas had gotten rather rough and we had to contend with 4-5 foot swells in our little dinghy.  The girls thought it all a fun roller coaster ride (complete with high pitched screams every time we rode down the face of a larger wave), but I think their father was getting a bit nervous.

   We made it to the calm bay and repeated the swimming-in-glowing-water experience.  The moon was hidden by clouds this night, making the show even more spectacular.  As we drove through the bay, you could look down in the water and see little  glowing trails wherever fish were swimming.  I could visit this bay indefinitely and never grow tired of it.  There is truly nothing like it anywhere. 

   Kathleen's kayak, however, was not enjoying the trip.  One of the tubes started to lose air and as we towed it home through the rough seas, it started to fill with water.  Then the towing handle broke.  So we ended up having to make a high seas rescue and fold it up aboard the dinghy.  It doesn't sound very exciting now.  But at the time--in the dark, tall waves, surf pounding on the rocks downwind, etc.--it seemed like one.  So I guess I can add that to my to-do list now--fix the kayak.


March 25:

   We had finally had enough of the rolling at anchor and left at first light.  And just a few miles down the coast, something wonderful happened.  We crossed over into a place that we had been before.  Not since Ft. Lauderdale were we actually sailing in waters we knew.  Admittedly, we had only been to the Spanish Virgin Islands once about 3 years ago, but that was something.  The past 6 months have been figuring out how to navigate one strange port after another.

   One of the more anxiety provoking things we do when sailing around is come into a new harbor.  Just one previous visit and I start to relax because I have a better sense of where everything is.  Even with good charts and GPS, you're always a bit worried whether you are where you think you are and whether this is really a good place to go, and so on.    Just witness our recent stop in Sun was great when we got there, but as soon as an Easterly sea picked up the rolling swells crept around the corner and made it a miserable place to be.   Anyway, after 6 years of owning a boat in the British Virgins, we've been around these waters before.  And even more so as we go further east.  In that sense, it almost feels like coming home.

   So we sailed over to Dewey, on the island of Culebra and anchored off the town.  We were again in the company of "Salt & Light" and "Migo" from the last anchorage.  All three boats went out for lunch to celebrate a calm anchorage at last.  We got to talking (as sailors often do) about where everyone was going next and when.  It soon became clear that these guys had never been to the Virgin Islands before, while we knew them very well. 

   That evening, we invited everyone over to Uliad for cocktails and snacks.  We pulled out the charts and started talking about our most and least favorite places in the Virgins.  We told them where to go to get away from the crowds, where to anchor so you don't have to pay for a mooring ball, where to find the best snorkeling, and so on.  Migo and Salt & Light were thrilled to get the information, and we were thrilled to actually feel like experts after spending the last thousand miles feeling like absolute newbies!



March 27:

   Right now we sit floating in the beautiful, sky blue waters of Puerto Manglar on the island of Culebra.  We're protected from the ocean waves by a long reef in front of us, but beyond that I can see the whitecaps piping up offshore.  In here it's perfectly calm.  Emmett and Kathleen are working on today's homeschool lesson.  There it's not so calm.

Uliad at Culebra, Spanish VI

   Lately Kath & Em have been butting heads on a regular basis come school time.  Emmett gets easily distracted, which annoys Kathleen when she sees him not paying attention.  Or not really showing any interest in what she's trying to teach.  He's tried the "I like Dad better as a teacher" line which only further annoys Kathleen.  Tempers flare and pretty soon school has become a grueling gauntlet that nobody likes.

   So we're parked here in this tranquil, beautiful spot to get caught up on some lessons and re-establish some routine for Emmett after all the travelling and socializing of the past few weeks.  Routine is good for kids, but sometimes hard on a boat.  Morning school hours are frequently disrupted by the need to move the boat during those rough shopping trips or shore excursions.  I try to imagine how this would all play out in a "normal" life with public school.  Back there, Emmett could have a teacher he didn't like, too.  But I suppose he'd have friends to commiserate with about mean ol' Mrs. Erickson.  And he'd have parents at home to have a fresh start with at 4 o'clock.  Here we have to be everything to each other:  teacher, best friend, parent, playmate. 

   This can be a good thing.  We are so much closer as a family now than ever before.  But the boat can become a pretty intense crucible of emotions when we don't have the option of going off to somewhere else all day.  We don't have the option of not talking until everything settles down on its own.  Sometimes we think it would be so much easier to just ship him off each morning and let the schools deal with all of this.  It would be so nice to just try to be a good father, and let someone else be the teacher, the buddy, the principal.  But we're all together in beautiful places like this, and I think about snorkeling with Emmett all afternoon and exploring the maze of roots at the base of a mangrove island...or gently stroking his head in my lap as we watch the stars...or spending the afternoon with him building a kite.  I'd never have those moments back home with a schedule full of commitments.

   After school Kathleen went for a kayak ride by herself while Emmett and I played a car racing game on his GameBoy.  After each time he beat me, we popped out to see Kathleen paddling around the mangroves, or laying back in the kayak to sunbathe.  I started to wonder, is Kathleen still needing "alone time"?  When is she paddling back?  Will I just annoy her to take the dinghy over and ruin her solitude?     Finally as the sun is approaching the horizon Emmet and I motored over.  "Do you need any help?" I ask.

   "WHAT DO YOU THINK!?  I've been out here for 2 and a half hours!  Why weren't you watching out for me?!!", she started yelling.  Cold, wet, and tired, Kathleen had paddled to the far end of the bay and then been unable to get back to the boat with the strong trade winds blowing.  Apparently what I had interpreted as lounging in the sun through the binoculars was her being exhausted from trying to paddle back.  We helped her into the dinghy and pulled back the kayak to the boat with steam coming out Kathleen's ears the whole way.

   While Kathleen took a hot shower, Emmett decided that hot tea with lemon & honey and a side of pretzels would be just what Mom needed at this point.  I apologized profusely and made home made mac & cheese for everyone.  Comfort food.  I wish I could say that it did the trick and all was forgiven, but it took a few hours beyond supper time.  We all curled up on our bunk and watched a DVD, letting the quiet togetherness pull us back in sync.  By the end of the day, I had come full circle.  I had been both my wife's tormenter, and then her comforter. 

   Out here in this quiet little isolated bay, we need to be there for each other.  Kathleen needs to be able to depend on me that I'll be there to help.  Emmett needs both a playmate and a schoolmaster.  It's a big job,  but it's pretty cool how it brings us all so much closer at the end of the day. 



March 29:


   If you happened to be a passenger aboard one of the many airliners full of tourists flying into St. Thomas this weekend, you might have looked out your window as you descended on final approach.  And if you looked closely, you might have noticed a little white sailboat bouncing in stark contrast to the bright azure waters beneath it.  With a bionic eye, you might have noticed its bold crew:  Kathleen resting comfortably on the starboard cockpit seat, Emmett curled up on port and starting into the seventh and final Harry Potter book, and me, happily reeling in our third fish of the day.

   We almost missed this nice sail today.  Yesterday we hiked up a hill on the north side of Culebrita Island.  From that windswept vantage point, the waters to the East looked pretty uncomfortable.  But this morning's weather report looked slightly better:  5-6 foot seas and 18 knot winds.  Now I've come to learn that 6 feet is about our limit for comfortable sailing, especially upwind.  So in the end I let Kathleen decide.  Given that the open water portion of the passage was short (2 hours) and tomorrow's forecast didn't look much better, she decided we should go.

Culebrita Island

   While making preparations to leave, we talked to Independence who was nearby waiting for a good enough window to sail all the way to St. Martin.  I promised to give them a report on conditions when underway, but I think Ben must have turned the radio off.  I sent a SSB email instead.  The first two hours were as predicted: rough confused seas.  Yet Uliad's seasoned crew handled it well.  We must finally have our sea legs after 2000 miles.

   Emmett's lucky lure struck a dry spell today as all three fish chose my green squiddy thing over his red and blue Tuna Tango lure.  We threw back a small Cero mackerel and a large Barracuda, but kept a larger mackerel which was served baked over white beans with a tangy, spicy sauce from the DR called "Saizon Liquido" which I believe translates to the rather un-original "Liquid Seasoning".  It tastes a lot better than it sounds, trust me. 

Steve With Barracuda

   As the day wore on the boat traffic got heavier.  We sailed past the Rolex regatta which was in full swing off Southeast St. Thomas and finally anchored in a lovely, if crowded bay called Christmas Cove.  As we pulled in, we were greeted by "Chinook" whom we had met in Luperon.  I dove on the anchor and was there greeted by two spotted cowfish, a spotted eagle ray, and a hawksbill turtle.  What a welcoming committee! 

  This appears to be a "pit area" for the race boats.  Crews park charter boats here and pull in at the end of race day to relax in their floating motels.  But the water is clear and everyone must have worn themselves out on the race course because by 8pm or so, the anchorage is quiet.  Well, except for one dimwit who still has a noisy gas generator running at 10pm.  Despite his best efforts, we're all trying to get to bed and sail the rest of the way to the British Virgin Islands in the morning.



March 31: 

   I can always tell when Emmett needs some socialization.  Like Mom & Dad, Em was enjoying some quieter "down time" this past week.  But when we arrived here in Christmas Cove, we saw our friends on "Chinook" and Emmett was immediately pressing us to invite them over.  Chinook doesn't have any kids on board, so I have to assume that he just wanted someone new to talk to. 

   So this morining we made up a batch of banana muffins.  When Chinook's occupants didn't pop their heads up in the cockpit quickly enough for Emmett, he swam over and knocked on the hull to issue the invitation.  We served up cappucinos and muffins and sat around jawing in the cockpit for the rest of the morning.  Pretty soon "Kiva" sailed in to the anchorage and we hailed them on the VHF radio and invited them over as well.

  By the time we had run out of things to talk about, it seemed too late in the day to press on for Tortola, so we decided to stay here one more night.  With time on my hands, I made Osso Buco for dinner with some beef shanks that I had bought back in the DR.  Just as I was serving up my masterpiece, we felt a little bump on the boat that was a bit too forceful to be caused by a wave.  A quick glance around showed that the winds had shifted to a more northerly direction and this was pushing the back of our boat toward a shallow patch.  Now our rudder was tapping the bottom!  So dinner was delayed to pull up anchor and move out to deeper water.  After that, the rest of the evening was uneventful, and the Osso Buco was delicious.



                                                                                         created by Steve Erickson 2007-2012
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