Sunday, November 26, 2017

Where to Begin?

  Ok.  So, I know it's been waaay too long since I've touched this blog but, there have been so many changes thrown at us recently I'm surprised we're not suffering from some sort of mental and emotional whiplash.  I will TRY to be concise in my explanations and do my best to convey the craziness that has been our life over the last few months.

  As you know, this year's hurricane season has been one of the worst on record.  It seemed no one was safe.  We had many friends that sailed to supposedly "safe" areas (so called because they are below a latitude where hurricanes occur), only to find that they were right in the path of not just one but multiple disturbances, tropical storms and hurricanes.  We, of course, were not immune to this either.

  As stated in our last post, we were still in Salinas, Puerto Rico when Hurricanes Irma and Maria decided to cut paths of havoc and destruction through the Caribbean and the lower United States.  Irma, for us, wan't too much of a problem. We did take precautions with the boat but, stayed on board and everything was fine.  The worst thing we had to deal with was internet issues for a few days which slightly affected my online teaching schedule.

  Maria, on the other hand, brought pure devastation.  Before she hit, not only did we remove and store all of the canvas and sails but, anything on deck that could be blown away and become a projectile.  We moved the boat into the mangroves nearby, tied off in the best manner that we could, set three anchors and moved ourselves and the cats into the hotel at the local marina.  We made it through ok but, we were some of the very few who did (see previous post).

   Many boats were not only damaged but, deemed irreparable or sunk.  The marina we were staying with, had all of their docks wiped out by a single boat, lost the roof of their restaurant, and had the first floor of the hotel flooded out (we were on the second floor).  Elsewhere, buildings and houses were stripped of their roofs.  Power lines and trees were strewn across roads making many of them impassable.  All communication was down.  Even the blades on the giant wind turbines were snapped off.  People were washing in the rain because they had no other means of bathing.

Yes, that's a giant propane bottle, formerly
supplying the restaurant

View from what used to me the marina bar

I was about 21 weeks along here

  In the midst of all of this, we found out that we were expecting our first child!  Yes, you read that correctly.  I am currently about 24 weeks along with a baby girl.  Since Puerto Rico's hospitals were only running at half capacity at best, we decided the best thing to do was to prepare as much as we could and head back to the States.

  We rented cars and borrowed rides (driving for hours) to find internet that was barely enough to send an email.  This allowed us to take care of many of the issues that occurred due to the internet being down; everything from online banking to explaining a massive amount of missed classes with my job.  Once we started moving back along the coast toward the south west corner of the island, we managed to acquire cash from a working ATM, fuel and what had to pass for provisions (bottled juice, peanut butter crackers, fruit cups, and the like).  There was no other suitable food available. 

Cued up in line for one of the few working ATMs on the island
All told we covered 1,130 nautical miles (more than 1,300 miles) in about 3 weeks before sailing back into Florida waters.  We stopped when necessary, checking in and re-provisioning in the Turks and Caicos (much better food selection there), and sailing through the Bahamas with the Q flag flying.

   We are now tucked in at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, Florida.  We have managed to find a local OBGYN.  The baby and I are doing fine (especially now that we have access to healthy food).  I have been able to resume a full schedule teaching and even though its exhausting to get up at 3:30 in the morning (consider that I teach in China - big time difference), I am glad for the tiny bit of stability it offers.  We we even managed to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner on the boat, homemade pumpkin pie, turkey, the works!  We are still not sure if this is were we'll be for a while.  There, believe it or not, are a few more possible big changes in the works that need to progress a bit more before we make any decisions.
Our homemade feast


   For now, we are here and in a much more stable environment.  We are still trying to acclimate to a new, and ever changing, "normal" (whatever that illusive word really means) and, of course, do what's best for our coming addition to the family.     


   Please let us know what you think. Feel free to ask questions and leave nice comments. (If no one has commented yet, there will be a "No Comments" link near the bottom of the post. If someone has already commented, there will be a number and the word "comments" beside it. Just click whichever of these is there, click, "add comment" when the window opens, and type away.)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Two Hurricanes in One Month!

    This is Bill writing . . . Just a quick note to let everyone know that we're safe, and what we are doing right now. In short, it's been a horrendous month! We started the month still anchored out in Salinas, Puerto Rico. Katie was teaching online most nights and we were just enjoying the location. Then we got word that Hurricane Irma was coming. . . We stripped the boat of all canvas and removable objects topside, moved it to a more secure location on a mooring in the harbor, and dropped additional anchors out to supplement the mooring. although a major hurricane, the storm center was supposed to pass about 80 miles north of us, so we chose to remain on the boat. We registered peak wind gusts of about 80mph, and everything was fine. We did have to relocate to the hotel for a couple of days because the cell phone internet coverage was spotty after the storm, so Katie couldn't teach.

     I spent the next week putting the boat back together and pulling up the storm anchors. Unfortunately, about the time I finished, we got word that another storm was coming . . . hurricane Maria. As it got closer, it became apparent that Maria's eye was going to pass within a few miles of us, and it was going to be a category 5 hurricane . . . very bad!!!  We decided to move the boat to a mangrove inlet, and move ourselves and the cats into the shelter of a second floor room in a concrete hotel. We tied the boat off in the mangroves, also setting 3 anchors, and left her . . . wondering if it was the last time we'd see her afloat. We hunkered down in the hotel and waited. Soon enough, we had the full fury of the storm! We saw all directions of wind with gust to 200mph, over 15 inches of rain, and a storm surge of about 6 feet that wiped out the marina and the bottom floor of the hotel. After the storm, we had no power, no water, no phones, and where the harbor had been filled with 200+ boats, there we only 2 or 3 left. We got word the next day from a friend who went to the mangroves that Second Chances had survived the storm well. We brought her back to the harbor and have been back on her since.

     Salinas still has no electricity except for personal generators, no water except those with wells, no phone service, no stores open except one grocery store on a generator with 2 hour lines and not much food. The hopes for a quick recovery are not good at all. Katie has been unable to work since the storm and we cannot continue without her income. So . . . yesterday we pulled up anchor and set sail for Florida. It will take a couple of weeks, since we first have to stop in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and hopefully find enough food and fuel to make the crossing. We're planning on sailing from there to the Bahamas, then up through the Bahamas to Florida. With any luck, in a couple of weeks we'll be on a ball in Marathon, restocking the boat. After that . . . who knows? We're taking it one step at a time right now. We'll be out of touch for the crossing, but you can follow us on my Facebook page, or on Garmin's Mapshare site where we'll be updating our location, thanks to my wonderful sister Lynn who sent us an InReach to allow us to communicate during our crossing! Otherwise, stay tuned and I'm sure Katie will update this once we get back to Florida.

Thanks for all the thoughts and prayers and I hope to hear from y'all soon!

Please let us know what you think. Feel free to ask questions and leave nice comments. (If no one has commented yet, there will be a "No Comments" link near the bottom of the post. If someone has already commented, there will be a number and the word "comments" beside it. Just click whichever of these is there, click, "add comment" when the window opens, and type away.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Casa, Sweet Casa

Sunset in Salinas

There are many things that Bill and I have enjoyed experiencing during our travels in the Caribbean.  Trying new foods in the grocery stores and restaurants, exploring white and black sand beaches, collecting interesting shells (Ok, that's just me), meeting new people and learning about their lives, and, of course, seeing the sights and experiencing new ways to get there (check out my posts on Haiti to see how we got around with several unique modes of transportation) have all been things that we really enjoyed.

   We are continuing to do all these things in Puerto Rico but, since Puerto Rice is a U.S. territory, we have the added bonus of a few "comforts of home".  Now, don't get me wrong.  We aren't the sort of people to demand or "need" a particular band of product or service and we certainly don't think that the only place to live is in the States.  It is simply icing on the cake, if you will, that we are still able to experience all that a new country has to offer while simultaneously being able to take an Uber to the local Wal-Mart and pick up fresh milk (Say what you will but, powdered or UHT milk does NOT taste the same).    

Monument to fishermen in Salinas
   For the past couple of weeks, we have been making short hops around the south side of Puerto Rico.  I must say that this has been a very welcome change to the numerous over-nighters or multi-nighters that we were pulling before we reached U.S. waters again.  Because Puerto Rico is a relatively small island with lots of little "hidey holes", we can simply sail/motor for a few hours or so, drop anchor, and move on once we've seen the sights and the weather is good.

   Currently, we are in Salinas, less than seventy miles from Culebra (where we plan on hanging out for the remainder of hurricane season). Salinas is relatively small town that has a little more than the basics; a grocery store, Wallgreens, hardware store and a few restaurants are all within walking distance.  One of the marinas here, known for its friendliness to cruisers, allows those of us that are anchored out to use their facilities free of charge and is run with a definite level of trust.  After filling up our diesel cans today, we payed and mentioned that we would need more later.  The gentleman that ran the card said that we should have told him before we paid.  "Next time", he said, "we'll just keep a tab running for you".  

So, how did we get here?  What did we do along the way? Allow me to show you . . .
The Massa Cafe
Our first meal out in Puerto Rico - a traditional beef stew,
beans and rice, and veggies

   Our first stop was in Mayaguez.  This was a nice place to recoup after the crossing from the Dominican Republic. A well-stocked grocery store and a Wal-mart allowed us to re-provision.  Friendly locals offered advice and directions.  The local children even added to our experience.  Upon returning from Wal-Mart, we found a bunch of children playing in our dinghy.  Once we, with the help of a rather talkative English-speaking boy, explained that they were sort of playing in our "car", they not only got our but, after asking a few questions about us living on our boat (the only one in the harbor), helped us safely get the dinghy away from the dock.


   Boqueron was next. This was a pretty cool place to just roam around.  It was a touristy area but, not uncomfortably so (albeit the music was a bit loud on the weekends). We got a few laughs out of watching the locals ride the "double banana" squealing and, at times, toppling into the waters. Colorful buildings decorate a beautiful stretch of beach. There are plenty of restaurants and shops to explore. We couldn't stay for too long, however, because the only place for groceries was a convenience store.  

The "double banana" is on the left

Prosciutto Pizza?  Yes, please! 


   After Boqueron, we anchored out overnight at La Parguera; not much here, just a place to rest.  Then it was on to Ponce.  So far, this has been my favorite stop in Puerto Rico.  If you can't find something that piques your interest here, you might need to make sure that your travel bug didn't fly out of it's cage.  This place has something for everyone.  What to just roam and check out the view?  No problem; There's plenty to see.  Craving some cheap, delicious eats? Take your pick.  What to learn something new? How about a museum?  What to see something truly unique? Check out the fire station (I'll explain).

  On a day trip through Ponce we did our best to soak up some local color.  There are two main squares here and all of the sights seem to be woven into the streets surrounding these squares.  The area is quite appropriately known as "Las Delicias".

Hmmm . . . colorful, knitted, tree sweaters?

   First on the list was the fountain. This Fountain of Lions is one of the many odes to Ponce de Leon (the city's namesake).  the leon (lion) is EVERYWHERE.  The fountain happens to be one of the oldest and, in my opinion, more tasteful tributes.  It was actually purchased at the 1939 New York World's Fair, shipped to Ponce, and reassembled in the square.

   Just off of the fountain, is that fire station I mentioned in the Parque de Bombas (Park of Pumps).  The station built in 1883 (spurred on by the Governor after a series of devastating local fires) was built of wood and painted in red and black stripes to match the cities flag.There are even lions inside the building; they were painted by local artists, each representing a different aspect of Ponce's culture.

Grand staircase in the station 

Portraits of some of the men that served here

Colorfully painted lions

Notice the stained glass

The original door
   One of the things that I definitely wanted to see was a museum.  Unfortunately, the art museum and the music museum were closed on the day we were there.  So after grabbing some tasty tacos at a place called Jalapenos and some ice cream at King's Creamery (a local legend). We headed to the Ponce History Museum.  The museum is housed in the former residence of a local government official from the turn of the century.  The house was a wedding present to his wife and, as a loving tribute from the community, when the home was altered/restored as a museum, the original door and surrounding stained glass was preserved.  
Original blue print for the house
An old Linotype - used to set type
and print news articles

These boys were the sons of the owners of the house -
there are small tributes to the family throughout the house

We've seen these little Sunfish all over Puerto Rico -
The kids love to practice
   After Ponce we pulled into Salinas. We have been here for about a week and are enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

  In case you're concerned about the fact that it's almost July and there could potentially be a hurricane or two trying to brew up . . . I thought I'd put your minds at ease; we have a plan.  As I mentioned earlier, we plan on staying in Culebra for the summer.  This is a great hurricane hole (should one arrise) just off of the east coast of Puerto Rico. There is supposed to be plenty to see and do there but, there is also another motive for staying close to the island.

  I have decided to start teaching English part-time.  Now don't get worried that we're going to stop traveling because we're not.  The job is online teaching children one-on-one in China.  So, I will be teaching in another country but, my commute will consist of walking from stern to midships. There are plenty of little islands and spits to visit on day sails. I simply, for a little while anyway, need to be close to a strong internet connection. Besides we'd have to stop somewhere for hurricane season.

Simeon says, "Thank you", too
Thanks to everyone who keeps checking in on us.  So long for now . . . BTW, if you're interested in an online education job and are a certified teacher you can check out VIPKID and if you're interested in applying, please click here for a referral. That way we both win! :)


   Please let us know what you think. Feel free to ask questions and leave nice comments. (If no one has commented yet, there will be a "No Comments" link near the bottom of the post. If someone has already commented, there will be a number and the word "comments" beside it. Just click whichever of these is there, click, "add comment" when the window opens, and type away.)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Saying "Adios" to the DR

   So, we spent nearly a month in the Dominican Republic. Overall, we enjoyed our time.  Walking through many streets, markets, and stores, talking to locals, and visiting a few towns gave us a pretty well-rounded, interesting experience.  Here's our tour of the south coast of the DR in a nutshell . . .

This was the "only eat local" restaurant
   Restaurants can be pricey but, not typically.  On the whole, we found very reasonably-priced meals and often the food was good.  We sampled everything from seafood to chicken, tacos to pork chops.  One particular spot appeared to be rather high-end but, when the bill came, including the tip, our total was $20 U.S.  We also discovered delicious tacos in, of all places, a cafe attached to a gas station.  On the other hand, we were taken to a restaurant by a guide associated with the customs office that he claimed, had "very good food, especially pizza" . . . hmm, I know, pizza in the Dominican Republic . . . We tried it on his advice and my advice is, don't try the pizza.  We did feel that, given that the place seemed to be a popular local hangout, if we ordered something less "foreign" the result would be better.  So, the next time around, we ordered two local dishes and really enjoyed our food.

Fresh Pineapple!  Yum!
   Now, as you know, we cook quite a bit on the boat.  This, of course, requires groceries.  Groceries in the Dominican Republic are amazingly priced.  Whether in a large grocery store or an outdoor market, prices can't be beat.  We became partial to one vendor at the market in Barahona; he helped us pick out what we needed (at times, even picking from other vendors for things he didn't have) and gave us advice on how to prepare everything.  Both times that we visited him, we walked away with a large bag of produce for less that $2 U.S. Even in an Ole (their version of a Walmart), we found really tasty potatoes for the equivalent of 20 cents per pound.  Was it all good?  No.  If you ever go shopping in the DR, the one thing I'd recommend shying away from is the beef and prepackaged meats (i.e. sausages, bacon, etc.) There is nothing spoiled or unhealthy about these products; they're just not good quality and the beef always gave the impression (no matter how long I cooked it or how I prepared it) that the animal to which it was formerly a part of was fond of chewing on rubber plants. The chicken, on the other hand, was always quite good.
The Pineapple Stand

One of the many stalls at the market - Our guide, Fernando,
is on the right (he wanted lots of propinas, too

Beaches and Water:

An exception to the dirtiness
   I have one word for the beaches in the DR: DIRTY.   There were a couple of rare exceptions to this but, typically we stayed away from the water.  We only swam in water that was well away from big cities and that we could see through (the same rules applied when running the water maker).  Even when we stopped in a marina for a few days, we were warned by the locals not to use or drink the free water offered.  Efforts to clean up litter are only slightly better here that what we found in Haiti.  Although, we were able to find actual trash cans (no such thing in Haiti).  Trash is often scattered along the sand; it even floats by your boat as you sail a few miles off shore.

Cool Tree

Typical Dominican Street

Nicer, slightly cleaner part of town

The People:
Art anyone?
   The average Dominican seems to be easy-going and helpful.  They love their food, culture, and icy-cold Presidente beer (the local brew).  Art abounds in the DR. This is especially obvious in their homes and businesses.  Blue, pink, green, and yellow are all typical colors for exteriors.  Even brighter displays are found on may shops; the more obvious the building is, the more likely you are to stop in.  For security reasons, gates are often a fixture at the entrance to driveways.  These are certainly utilitarian but, their owners have also taken it upon themselves to make these works of iron eye-catching.

One of the more unique homes
One of the many gates

This looks like it belongs in the
Secret Garden
This was at one of the Restaurants

   We did, unfortunately. find that many of those employed by or associated with the government are prone to take liberties with their given roles.  "Propinas" is a word often seen and used.  It means "tips".  It is typical for propinas to be given if someone has be especially helpful or done a service for you.  However, we found that many customs officals try to mandate propinas on top of already paid fees.  Some ask but, drop the idea if refused (and are actually happy to except a beer instead). Others are a bit more insistent but, not pushy.  We did come in contact with one official, that when refused (he insisted on $20 U.S.), became angry and threatened to take back the paperwork he had issued us if we didn't leave immediately. . . Yes, the Dominican Republic is still a third-world country and therefore, there really isn't anyone to enforce rules about such matters.  

Most Unusual Experience:

   We had an unusual experience with the officials in Palmar de Ocoa. Instead of coming to our boat in a dinghy or having us go to them in our dinghy to check our papers (as is typical), they sent a man, who we can only assume was the most junior, to retrieve our current papers and deliver our new ones by swimming out to our boat in his underwear. I handed him the papers in a plastic zippered bag to keep them dry; he carried the bag in his teeth so as not to impede his swimming.  We voluntarily gave that guy a well-deserved beer. . . and no, I didn't take a picture of the official in his underwear . . . I didn't want to embarrass him further . . .

   Overall, our impression of the Dominican Republic was positive.  We enjoyed being able to soak up some local color and experience the south side of the country.  Our only real problem with our time in the DR was the officials and their questionable habits. We met a lot of these guys and, unfortunately, the many of them were a bit crooked (Barahona was a pleasant exception).  Would we go back?  I think so, simply because there was quite a bit that we didn't get to see and do. Hopefully, in the meantime, the government will crack down on these "necessary" propinas.

Please let us know what you think. Feel free to ask questions and leave nice comments. (If no one has commented yet, there will be a "No Comments" link near the bottom of the post. If someone has already commented, there will be a number and the word "comments" beside it. Just click whichever of these is there, click, "add comment" when the window opens, and type away.)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Tipping the Scales

   Waiting on the weather is a fact of life when cruising. It's not just a simple matter of having wind or not; conditions on the water can make or break a cruise.  If the winds are too light, you could end up having to use your engine more than you'd like or possibly deal with a lot of motion on the boat because the wind isn't there to stabilize you. Too much wind or winds from the wrong direction, and you could end up with a fight on your hands; you and your boat vs. the elements. There are are also things like squalls, wave height, swells, and other issues to consider . . .
looks like a completely useless gate until you realize that
it's supposed to keep motorcycles out

   So, why get out there? . . . Why risk it? . . . Because, the weather, for the most part, can be accounted for.  More than any other factor,  it weighs heavily on our plans.  However, we do our homework, we check multiple sources several times a day, and we try to be patient.  We don't always like cooling our heels for long periods of time but, it keeps us safe. Does this mean that we never see bad weather? . . . Of course not.  We are talking about the weather and weather is always subject to change.  We've certainly seen our share of less than perfect sailing conditions but, the precautions we take tip the scales in our favor.
Not sure what these are but,
they smell like honeysuckle
Catholic Church in Town


   This is why we just made it into the Dominican Republic; we were, and still are, tipping the scales.  The weather hasn't been very cooperative lately so we've been traveling in small jaunts, concluding our time in Haiti on a slightly sweeter note, and hearing a nicer tune in the Dominican Republic.
Walking around Les Cayes
chicken dinner in Isle a Vache
   While still in Haiti, we trekked around the larger city of Les Cayes and found some interesting sights.  Although, just getting there was interesting enough. After getting picked up by the water taxi at our boat (anchored off of an island near Les Cayes), we rode for about a half an hour towards Les Cayes.  Once the taxi got close to shore, we moved from the larger taxi to a smaller wooden boat.  That boat got us close enough for the last step, a piggy-back ride . . . seriously.  We, took our turn walking to the bow of the boat where we were carried either piggy-back style or over-the- threshold style to shore. . . Try doing that for a daily commute . . . Once in town, we picked up some provisions, officially checked out of the country, and ate a delicious lunch at a local spot for about $5 (U.S.) for the both of us.

   We also enjoyed a few unique meals on the island of Isle a Vache (where we were anchored). One night, for a small fee, one of the locals cooked us and several friends a large grilled chicken dinner at a common area in the village.  During another night, we walked quite a distance, climbing hills and slipping in mud, to get to Joe's. Joe is a transplant from Europe. When he first came to isle a Vache, he lived in a tent; he now lives with his girlfriend and two-year old son in their home/start-up restaurant. Getting to their home was less than ideal but, it added to the adventure and the company and food were certainly worth the effort.
View from Joe's

Fresh Herbs at Joe's, too

Our, the only, table 

beaches along the route . . .
   About a week ago, we met another couple in Isle a Vache planning to go the same way we were. So, we traveled the next 195 miles together, stopping here and there to rest up and wait on the weather. Last night, after navigating our way through the channel markers in the rain, we dropped anchor in Barahona, DR.  A few minutes to set the boat to rights, a quick dinner, and couple of showers later, we were curled up in bed ready for a good night's sleep.

   This morning, we were greeted by 4 officials. They arrived at the boat to stamp our passports, collect paperwork and fees, check out the boat, and drink beer . .   At 8:30 . . . Oh well, they were very nice and helpful, answering any questions we had and sharing a few jokes, in Spanish of course. . . I eeked out enough rusty Spanish for their visit but, I found that I really need to keep brushing up on the local language  . . .

   Tomorrow we plan on provisioning at the local outdoor market. This market is supposed to really be something to experience and is something I've been looking forward to for some time. After the slim pickings we've had lately, fresh produce will be a real treat.

Please let us know what you think. Feel free to ask questions and leave nice comments. (If no one has commented yet, there will be a "No Comments" link near the bottom of the post. If someone has already commented, there will be a number and the word "comments" beside it. Just click whichever of these is there, click, "add comment" when the window opens, and type away.)