Saturday, December 22, 2007

Something Fishy

As planned, we departed San Juan for Culebra on Tuesday evening around 6:00 p.m. In a straight line, the trip is only about 45 miles, but knowing we'd need to do some tacking, we planned to travel a distance of about 90 miles, which meant about 14 hours underway. Recalling the bumpy experience the last time we'd attempted to make this trip, I doubled up on my trusty sea sickness medication, and off we went, out of San Juan Harbor and into the Atlantic Ocean. By the time we cleared the last channel markers in San Juan, it was already very dark, and I was beginning to get pretty sleepy, even though it was only just after 7:00. "I'll just close my eyes for a minute"....or for two hours. Next thing I knew it was after 9:00 and Kevin was on the radio with the Coast Guard. Not for anything related to Cielo, thankfully--but rather because the Coast Guard had announced on the VHF that they'd received an "uncorrelated distress signal" in the area, which means they'd received a call for help, but then were unable to reconnect with the troubled vessel to get either their position or the nature of their problem. Kevin had called them because while scanning the horizon, he was sure he'd seen a strobe light, which may have been the vessel that had called in distress. I managed to discern that the Coast Guard was attempting to verify the position of the strobe (which was later identified as a one-second flashing marker by a passing tanker) before falling back asleep until 10:00.

When I woke up for the second time, Kevin suggested that I go below to try and get some (more) sleep, before getting up to stand watch. In the days before I starting taking sea sickness meds on passages, I tended to sleep quite a bit while we were underway, but I haven't done that in months. Regardless, I was pretty out of it through the following morning, and only able to stand watch for a grand total of two hours over night. When daylight arrived around 6:30 a.m., we were hoping to have made more progress, but for some reason our speed was pretty low (less than 5 knots for most of the trip) and Cielo was having one heck of a time pointing into the wind. The third problem that was causing a slower passage than expected is that our engine wouldn’t rev above about 2400 rpm's (when motor sailing, we generally keep it around 2800 rpm's).

Despite my catatonic state and our various problems, we continued to make slow but steady progress towards Culebra and Kevin even managed to get the trolling lines out, determined to catch a fish before we made landfall. As morning turned into afternoon, I was starting to feel more human. Then, right around noon, Kevin noticed that one of our fishing lines was pulling taut. He began to pull in the line, and at the end of it was an unidentified 8-10 lb fish, still very much alive. "Grab the vodka" he shouted--not for a celebratory drink, but rather to pour over the fish to stun him before pithing him. I scrambled down to grab the vodka and Kevin gave him a good dousing. The fish still squirmed around and we both felt badly about killing him. I am completely aware that I eat animals every day that someone else has had to kill, but never having done it myself, it was a little bit of an unsettling experience.

Following the directions out of the book that's become our fishing bible; we ended his life as quickly as possible and then proceeded to bleed him, which is supposed to prevent the lactic acid in his body from turning his flesh to mush before he could be eaten. We don't have a separate fish cleaning area, so our cockpit turned into the bleeding and gutting station. It was more than a little gross, but something I'm sure I'll get used to over time--and as we were catching the fish for food, rather than sport, I felt better...though I'm sure it didn't console the fish any.

With our first (edible) catch of the trip packed in the freezer, we tacked towards the main harbor in Culebra and entered a Caribbean paradise. San Juan was pretty, but the view of Culebra and the surrounding islands from our boat just about defies description. The green of the islands and blue of the water are absolutely spectacular. We motor sailed all the way into the anchorage and dropped the hook in about 35 feet of water.

By the next morning, the remaining mysteries of our trip were solved. I was running a low-grade fever, confirming that I wasn't just being lazy during the trip. Kevin, after much research, determined that our dinner from the night before was a Blackfin Tuna, the first of many we hope to catch in the months to come. And as for the slow travel time and engine problems? Both were due to the 1/2" of barnacles that had grown along Cielo's underside and over her propeller while the boat sat in San Juan for three weeks.

As always, more pictures can be found here, under the Photos section of our site.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Moving on...

After just over three weeks in San Juan, tonight we head out for Culebra. We're definitely ready to move on. In fact, we tried to do just that last week. Hopefully this time will go a bit better.

Montezuma Goes for a Sail

Lizz's Mom and Jeffrey flew in December 7th for a week long visit. So nice of them to come and visit. And to lug the 1200 lbs of crap that we had shipped to them. They got off the plane with about 42 bags, maybe one of which contained the entirety of their belongings. Fortunately neither Customs nor the FAA decided to detain them to explain what sort of perverted BDSM vacation they were headed to with Pepper spray, Bikini wax strips, clothespins, and 100 feet of rope. After a lovely couple days touring Old San Juan (and Costco), we were off to Culebra. Or so we thought. We headed out the inlet into something approximating liquid Hell. Steep 8' seas welcomed us, accompanied by 25-30 knots of wind. We were pounding our brains out. With Culebra 55 miles to windward, we had 100 miles of this to look forward to. Things really took a turn, though, when Jeffrey - ever the stalwart stoic - turned his head and calmly blew chunks over the side. Moments later, Lizz Sr had to make a mad dash below, where she would spend the rest of the trip incapacitated on the head. We decided that discretion was the better part of valor, turned tail and ran back in. Of course, we would have done that sooner except we had a little engine trouble on the way out and I wasn't thrilled about heading back in between the breakers under sail alone. We did though, and without further incident. Next time I'll make changing the fuel filter a higher priority on my to-do list.

Look at That! (Not you Jeffrey!!)

Since Culebra was out, we opted instead for a rental car and headed west and south to the mountainous central part of the island. The entire center of the island is rain forest, and beautiful. Jeffrey piloted us through some interesting driving on roads most mountain goats wouldn't have dared tread. Unfortunately he couldn't enjoy all the scenery what with having to keep his eyes glued to the road and all. We spent a lovely night at a nice little spot in the rain forest, toured the radio telescope at Aricebo, and spent another night right on the beach in Rincon on the western coast.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A needle pulling thread

Sometimes, even the experiences of a cruiser in the Caribbean devolve from porpoises and flying fish into the mundane tasks of everyday life....well, maybe not the sort of tasks that would be required while say living in an apartment in NYC, but the mundane tasks that life on a sailboat necessitate. Example: laundry. Now, I know what you're thinking....most of you reading this post do indeed have to contend with doing your own laundry, but most of you also have washers and dryers, or at least access to a Laundromat, whereas I merely have a bucket, some detergent (bio-degradable of course) and clothes pins. I know, I know, the view as I attempt laundry al fresco is scenic, but I'm sure that my sloshing soapy water all over the cockpit as I attempt to squish away dirt from the clothes, wring out the water and then transfer articles from said bucket to our lifelines to dry can't be too pretty. And did I mention that the bucket holds about five items at a time? I've done a "load" just about every day since we've arrived, and we still have two full bags of dirty clothes.

Another task that requires tending to is the repair to the UV cover on our genoa that we managed to shred on our trip down from NC. Yesterday was the day earmarked for this project, and things actually started off rather auspiciously. In less than an hour, we managed to wrestle the genoa off of the forestay and onto to deck and from there into a sail bag and into our dinghy. Keep in mind that this thing is about 600 square feet and weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 75lbs. Once we got the sail into the dinghy, we lugged out our sewing machine from 1950 (more on that in a bit) an extension cord and a variety of sewing supplies and off we went in search of a place to make the repair.

When we arrived at the marina, we carried the sail and related accoutrement to an area nearby which offered an overhead light, a small tin roof and more importantly, a picnic table to sit at and an outlet for plugging in the sewing machine. We then got to work getting the sail out of the bag and the machine set up. Suddenly, I heard Kevin let out a little yelp..."the machine is giving off a shock", he says, "There must be an exposed wire conducting current." Now, I admit, I'm not the handiest gal in the world. I have no idea what would cause a sewing machine to emit live current, but as Kevin fiddles around with the machine, I'm caught up in the thought of what I'll do when he electrocutes himself. Do I jump on him to knock him down and try to separate him from the current? No, I think that would just cause me to get shocked too....maybe I could use something to knock him to the there a 2x4 around?

I'm shaken from my reverie by the arrival of La Rhumba, which is the party barge that cruises our anchorage, transporting drunken tourists and blasting the least desirable mix of cheesy Spanish and American music I've ever heard. The night before, La Rhumba had buzzed by Cielo at one in the morning blasting "Who Let The Dogs Out", waking both me and Kevin and causing me to marvel that recordings of that song still exist. At the current moment though, La Rhumba is playing the much more tasteful Donna Summers’ “Last Dance" a favorite of DJ'd weddings and party boats everywhere. By the time I've finished watching the afternoon crowd stumble off the boat, Kevin has located the bare wire that was causing the problem and attended to it with electrical tape.

Perhaps now is the time that I should explain a bit about our sewing machine. When we first decided to buy our boat, Kevin started researching sewing machines, promising that we'd be happy we had one on board to make sail and canvas repairs (turns out he was right). I'd never used a sewing machine before (maybe in Home Ec in Middle School, but if so, I've blocked it out), so I didn't really care to much about what we bought. Kevin, on the other hand, spent hours on-line looking for the best machine. What he found (on E-bay, no surprise) was a Pfaff 130, dating from a time prior to the division of Germany post World War II. (we know this because the machine is stamped with a "made in Germany" stamp, whereas newer models that we've seen clearly state "Made in Western Germany"). So, it's an OLD machine...and perhaps I should also mention that it cost us a whopping $75 when a new machine capable of making sail repair would cost over 10 times that much. I suppose then it's not surprising then that there are some exposed wires hanging about.

In the end, the machine actually worked just fine...and it only took us 6 hours to get the repair finished. During that time of course it poured down rain--and since we didn't get started until after 2:00, it was pitch dark by the time we finished. Add that to the fact that neither of us has ever repaired a sail, and you can imagine that there were a few explicative let go. At one point, I thought perhaps Kevin mistook me for Jesus Christ as as he spent about 20 minutes muttering His name over and over again. When we finally finished however, though cold, tired and a bit wet, we were quite proud of our efforts and of the money we'd saved by making the repair ourselves. Money that will be well spent on the many drinks we'll most likely consume any time we need to do additional sewing.