Tag Archive: kids cruising


Picking up our friends Evan and Olivia Bartlett from the airstrip brings smiles that can

Sammy and I – my hero

only come from seeing someone that you have been friends with half your life.  Our stay in Nargana is punctuated by visits to Sammy and Mina’s home.  On one visit his son gets a neighbors foot long land turtle for Chase.  He is happy just to look, but when he gets to hold it, he’s ecstatic.  Another visit Leroy, his son, climbs a coconut tree so that we can have some fresh juice.  Chase finds a suitable tree a week later, but gets stuck six inches up; I don’t even try.  Leroy is a hunter and gives Chase and I wild boar teeth for a necklace.  The three-inch tooth is more imposing than the shark tooth necklace that chase has, but I’d rather go against the boar.  Taking another dinghy trip up the Devil River brings less wildlife than our last visit with more talking and less scouting but is equally fun.

All three fuel tanks have been topped off from some suspicious 55-gallon drums but filtered through an amazingly dirty towel (so all should be good?)and we are ready to head out to some more picturesque islands.  Cocos Banderos is our destination along the tranquil seas.  The islands are small, spectacular palm-filled, translucent turquoise water surrounded havens.  My best part of the day is when I realize there are seven islands I could swim to today.  I make it to three.

The Cocos Banderos

My father has helped us to concoct a story of buried treasure at the hands of Captain Hook.  Finding an old, although oddly smelling freshly burnt, treasure map in a bottle floating by, we decipher the islands and realize the treasure is on the island next to us.  Mounting a SUP and swimming expedition the six of us head out to find treasure.  Chase finds the old hut first, takes the right number of steps and when they find the “X” in the sand start digging like mad.  Ella finds a necklace of her Gram’s with jade and gold frogs.  Swooning and smiling she holds it to her chest like she is hugging Gram.  Chase finds a Snoopy doll, which sends him into beaming smiles and giggles.  “Snoopy’s back” is a constant refrain for several weeks.

Hanging out

Treasure found, we play a game of baseball on the island that’s the size of a baseball field’s

infield.  Home plate consists of two coconuts and the other bases are in foot deep water marked with starfish.  Giggles, splashes and cheers fill the air as we play.   Ella finds the smallest anchor ever weighing less than a pound and begs to keep it.  She knows that weight is such an issue, but really wants it.  It’s only a pound so we now have a 6th anchor aboard (2 for the dinghy, 1 plow that we use constantly and 2 danforth anchors).

With more exploring to do we take the dinghy to an island with two palms and a large sandy area.  Making life size sea turtle models fills the kids time while three adults snorkel the reefs surrounding our jewel in the sea.  The kids are learning more about sea turtles daily so when Chase points at the full moon in the sky and says that it’s time to lay eggs and starts making sand eggs, I am hardly surprised.

Moving on to the Holandes Islands brings us to an anchorage called the swimming pool because of the nine-foot depth and resulting green glow.  We jump ship immediately after anchoring, enjoying the cool waters of this giant pool.  The kids will swim anywhere, but they do prefer to swim in water where they can see the bottom – it’s understandable.  When the water is forty or fifty feet deep and the bottom can’t be seen it can send the mind into the what was that movement over there hysteria.

The kids jump from the deck into the turquoise waters below screaming in delight.  They have swordfights on deck, and then zoom down the slide as they chase after an imaginary Captain Hook.  Once in the water we catch starfish and silver dollars.  Mounting a SUP expedition, we head to a nearby reef for some snorkeling.  Using Ella’s new anchor we moor the boards diving into the warm water.  The shallow reef brings all the colors up brightly and we see a Spotted Eagle Ray and then an octopus – another successful expedition.

On the way over from Cocos Banderos I caught a Skipjack Tuna.  Lindsey shows Olivia how to

Sashimi appetizers

fillet it for sashimi and then we all enjoy a couple platefuls of the melt-in-your-mouth meat.  But, before the sashimi arrives they start throwing the scraps into the water.  A nice two-foot Snapper fish seems to be liking the dinner.  So do a couple of nurse sharks.  Armed with my Hawaiian sling I slide into the water.  The fish is squirrelly and doesn’t let me get too close.  Telling Olivia to “chum the water again”, she throws another handful of fish parts over the side.  I can get the fish closer but not close enough.  I grab my underwater camera to take some pictures of the sharks under Rivers2Seas.  One is four feet long and the other about six.  Swimming down the nine feet to the ocean floor is easy even though I have a camera in one hand and my Hawaiian sling in the other.  Feet away from the sharks, I start to video their circuitous path picking up the skipjack parts.  My first indication that something was wrong, although unheeded, is when I notice that the shark has spots all along it’s back.  Actually, I believe at the time I thought it was cool looking.

The shark does two loops looking at me from the same spot each time as I float on the surface.  On the third loop, it lunges straight at me fast.  My sling is six feet long and I’m holding it in the middle giving me a three-foot range.  As my foot pushes to keep me on the surface it comes close to the lunging shark.  I strike its nose hard with the sling twice.  The first strike feels like I have hit a piece of coral, hard and unmovable.  Except this time the hard unmovable coral is moving towards me pushing back my hand.  The second strike is softer and only hits the rubbery skin.  Lasting less than a second our battle is over and my opponent swims away.  Making a speed record back to the boat, I pull up the ladder as everyone wants to know what all the shrieking is about.  No grown man wants to hear that he was shrieking for sure.  But, sad to say it was true.  I’m just happy to be onboard.  A quick look into our aquatic oceans book reveals the Tiger Shark, juveniles having spots that grow together in adult years.  Looks like mine was a teenager.  Reading on it says that they are some of the most aggressive sharks in the waters.  Needless to say, but I doubt I shall utter the words, “chum the water again” while swimming with any shark.

The next day we resume our swimming regime, but the kids keep a weary eye out for sharks.  They have played a game since birth called Hey mister shark what time is it, asking if they want to play, they steadfastly refuse.  With the two SUP boards tied in a line of the back they run down them trying to stay on until the end.  Giggles galore.

During all the play the man on the boat behind us continually comes on deck to glare at us, shake his head then head below.  As we are heading out to do some more snorkeling from the SUP boards he asks to speak with the captain.  Having been standing on a SUP already it takes less than fifteen seconds to arrive, yet he has demanded twice more to speak to the captain, even though I said I would be right over.  When I arrive, he says, “You’re the captain?” with utter disdain.

“Yes, how are you today?”

Ella diving into the “Swimming Pool”

“Are you going to move?”

“No, we’re going snorkeling.”

“You must move.  You are too close.”

“We aren’t that close to you, the anchor is dug deep and we have lots of scope out in this nine foot deep water.”

“Well, since you’re the new kid on the block I’ll tell you.  The wind blows hard here and will drag a poorly anchored boat.”

“Yes, I know.”  We have already had some 60-knot storms come through and know of other boats dragging and hitting reefs.  That’s why I dive on the anchor each time and let out more scope than most boats.

“If you don’t move I’m going to ram my bowsprit up your ass of your boat.”  By the way he says boat I can tell he doesn’t like catamarans.  By the glares at the kids all day I can tell he doesn’t like kids.  By the glares and mutterings at our happiness I can tell he doesn’t like much.  Our conversation goes nowhere, but I don’t like the fluky way the boats here try to push opposite ways and I don’t want to hit another nearby catamaran.

“I’ll move.”

“You should read a book on how to anchor.”  He then throws some more obscenities at me, turns around and walks to hide in his cabin again.

The fight gets the best of me and I tell him “there’s no need to be an asshole.”  The singlehander with nobody else to talk to loses his marbles at this point and becomes raving mad.  Luckily, I can’t understand a word he is saying.  He is Swiss and has reverted back to that.   Unluckily, his antics make me laugh which sends him into hysterics.

I head back to Rivers2Seas and we decide to not just move, but to move to a different anchorage a half-mile away near a different island.  The kids don the name of Captain Grumpypants to the man who we would see a few times over the next two weeks.

There are several types of sailors out here: singlehander men (I’ve yet to meet a singlehander woman), couples, couple with kids, pairs of men (I’ve only seen one pair of women) and then large groups usually charterers only out for a week.  Most of the groups get along fine, except the singlehanders.  These men have ditched it all and shunned society.  Or they just don’t get along with anyone.  Or they just couldn’t find someone to go with and left before their dream never happened.  Some of the latter are the ones who crave companionship and can latch onto anyone who can speak.  The others degrade into this mental instability where they talk to themselves muttering constantly.  There is nobody to share any of the good or bad moments, nobody to talk about experiences or confusing situations that are constant in a travelers’ world.  The longer these guys are out here, the more unstable they seem to become.  I have travelled alone before and I don’t mean the going to a fancy hotel and eating at nice restaurants type of travel that can be fun.  Expedition travel is different with tough challenges hardships and glorious triumphs.  That type of travel for me is unpleasant and not nearly as rewarding when I’m alone.  While misery loves company, so does happiness.  I like the fact that for years to come Evan will see me and say, “Chum the waters.”  Life is more interesting with people in it.

Our new anchor from the days of pirates

Reanchoring by a nearby island, we drag through the sand then catch on something that holds us well.  I’m worried that we have hooked a piece of coral and as soon as the wind shifts we’ll no longer be hooked and drag to the next island.  Visibility isn’t great in the 35-foot deep water, but I can tell there isn’t a large coral head holding the anchor.  Diving down I can see the outline of something straight.  A couple more dives tells me that it’s an anchor covered in coral about three feet by five feet.  With some serious work over the next couple days, I winch up the 150-pound anchor attached to a 3-inch chain twenty feet long.  It’s seriously rusted, old as anything and undoubtedly cool.  Figuring it must be a pirates’ anchor from at least 200 years ago, I manage to hammer off the rust and coral before getting another crazy memento from our trip.  (Research now puts the date between 1785-1825.)  I’m doubly glad that I let Ella keep her one-pound anchor.

A local Kuna family comes by in their dugout and leaves later after we buy some Christmas

presents for family back home.  Having invited us to their home on another nearby island we show up the next day in our dinghy.  Cries of “Tortuga” greet us before landing.  Once again Chase is the hero in these parts with a name everyone

New friends

loves; Turtle in English, Tortuga in Spanish, Yauk for small turtle in Kuna, Morro for large turtle in Kuna.  We constantly hear cries of “Tortuga” from passing dugouts.  Today it is the beginning of a friendship with these locals.  We have some fun with them and when I bring out my camera the fun really starts.  Families are posing together and with Ella and hanging out in their canoes as a living room set.  A woman who a week later I discover is Sammy Morris’ niece introduces her 11-month-old son as “tortugito” – little turtle.  Chase is ecstatic – kinfolk.

Ah! The anchor. Evan and I had a great time paddling this dugout.

As we are leaving I tell Eric who speaks the best Spanish of the bunch that we should trade

paddles.  Immediately, he comes out with his best paddle and we are both happy for getting the better deal.  He tells me to try his paddle out with his dugout.  It’s fun.  Getting Evan, my

paddling buddy for years in with me, we make an erratic circle with laughter all around.  These boats are tippy and responsive.  Eric keeps telling me to look out for the rock below.  Not too worried, we continue on.  I’m more worried about the crab attached to the back that keeps grabbing my paddle.  When we stop Evan gets out and proceeds to dump us both in to the great hilarity of all present.  That’s when we find out about the anchor, a rock, that we have been dragging around.  Once again, the joke is on us.

As we are leaving, a fishing boat has entered the bay and it’s time for work.  Heading back to Rivers2Seas we tow their dugout behind us.  Later, I call them over and present them with fish hooks and Rivers2Seas hats.  In a great gesture later that night they return with five small lobsters as gifts.  It’s actually rare for the Kuna to trade or give gifts back so we are deeply grateful.  They teach us how to devein them by using the antennae which works wonderfully.  Later a large lobster dinner becomes our birthday celebration for Olivia.

We have had a great visit from our friends, but after nine days it’s time for them to go.  They are travelling in Panama for three weeks and obviously wanted to stay longer and we wanted them to stay too, but food, propane and diesel are all in short supply or impossible to get here.  Every day they spend here is a day earlier we would have to leave the San Blas Islands.   They find a ride to Carti on a 75-foot megayacht, which I bet takes only an hour.  It would have taken us 2-3 days there and the same back.

More storms and more lightning

The storms took a break while Evan and Olivia were here but come back for four days straight.  Several hours each morning are filled with lightning strikes to close to count the distance, tingly feelings in our hair and thunderous roaring that reverberates through the boat and our bones.  I get some cool video of a couple strikes but am a bit scared to get too much.    Another boat sees a strike forty yards from us that strikes a coconut tree.  Our Kuna friends had a strike hit six feet from their hut that he said almost made him go deaf.  I kept part of the tree that exploded from the impact.  We get dozens of strikes within a half-mile of Rivers2Seas.  It has been a bad season for storms and many sailors are reporting that 10% of boats have been hit resulting in $4,000-45,000US in damages.  One friend half-jokingly wanted to wrap herself in aluminum foil to protect her.  She settles for earplugs and closing the curtains to form a cave and hides under the covers.  If you’re not scared of the lightning out here, you’re not paying attention.

Once the storms subside there is enough light for us to travel again.  Our goal is the Eastern

Many reefs around here are marked nicely with wrecked boats. Not exactly comforting.

Lemons, but light is fading as we enter the large bay.  Our horrible charts and less than adequate books are not much help as we negotiate a 8 foot sand bar while skirting several reefs.  As with many of the reefs here a smashed up sailboat rests on one of the reefs from a sailor with not enough light, time or experience.  Our charts show a shoal that we can find and several rocks that we cant.  The water is deep inside the bay at 60 feet but most all of the boats are moored and won’t swing.  With a minimum of 240 feet of line out we will swing almost 500 feet in a circle.  Not knowing where the rocks are or the bottom composition we try to anchor once, drag and bring it up to head for a different anchorage.  The kids were ready to swim and are unhappy; so are we the light is fading fast.

The Chichime Islands are only a couple miles away so we skirt around a sailboat wreck 70 feet off port and head through a reef cut.  At Chichime two wrecked boats mark two separate reefs, but another six are unmarked.  The confusing guidebook points the wrong way.  Lindsey’s keen eye from high above sees the reef and points the way.  Inside we anchor with another 20 boats in soft sand.

Teaching local kids to SUP in Chichime

Grabbing a beer for Lindsey and I and lemonade for the kids I relate my stories of these three islands in my past.  My first sailing experience was to travel through the Panama Canal for five separate boats, then to work aboard Chantyman and sail to Portobello and then this anchorage with two other sailboats.  It was my introduction into paradise.  The smallest island with two palms on it became my campsite while there.  We didn’t stay long before heading out to Providencia and the USA.  I came back here a couple years later with Bobby and Chad when we bought the dugout canoe.  The island to our starboard is where machine gun toting policeman arrested us then dragged us on to into Nargana.

Ella practices getting high for reef spotting.

One set of three huts lined the shore of one island; the other was only used to get water out of a well in the middle.  The islands are all the same size; a football field, a half football field and a volleyball court size.  Now though, there are five settlements of huts, a bar on each of the larger islands, a backpacker hostel with cabanas, tents, showers, volleyball and dining area, 20 boats in the anchorage and a helicopter even landed on one island.  Paradise was found in my absense.   Disheartening for sure, but not unexpected.

All but a couple of the boats are the singlehander men that seem so strange.  The vibe is weird here, the Kuna come begging for goods and the scenery is marred – we stay two nights before getting out.  Long enough for someone to board us in the middle of the night and steal all the money out of my wallet lying in the entrance.  The $100 is not of significance, but the violation is without a doubt.  Other cruisers are adamant it was not the Kuna but one of the other cruisers.  We agree, but it is sad.

As one boatload of cruisers is talking to us from their dinghy (to ask if we had a dive compressor they could use, which we don’t) they were astounded that we had been in the San Blas for six weeks and they hadn’t seen us.

“We started in the Eastern San Blas and have been working this way slowly,” I said.

Just one of the beautiful islands surrounding us

“Oh, the Holandes.  I don’t like it there.  There are too many Americans.”

“No, the Eastern San Blas.”

“Huh?”  He’s confused.

“We started in Puerto Obaldia, then Puerto Escoses, Isla Pinos, Mamitupu, Ratones Cays, Isla Tigre then we hit the Western San Blas in Nargana.”  It’s defeating for all of them in the dinghy.  We have been travelling the uncharted waters of a very difficult area with kids.  He had tried to insult me with his crack about Americans in the Holandes, yet it proved we have done so much more than all of them.  It feels good.

Leaving the Chichime Islands behind we motor two miles away to Yansaldup Island.  It takes an hour and a half winding through tight channels between reefs.   A wide bay surrounded by reef has one other trimaran ¾ a mile away and us.  Our type of home.

A great beach for the kids

We rest doing boat chores for several hours and then SUP trips to nearby islands a couple miles away and redneck snorkeling (using the dinghy over reefs to check out the animals below) each day.   A week later it’s time for us to head over to Porvenir to check out of the San Blas Islands.

Porvenir is an island with only an airstrip on it and the customs house.  Nowadays it is twice as long as it used to be.  With my buddies after our dugout canoe trip we waited here in our hammocks for a boat to take us to Puerto Obaldia on the Colombia/Panama border.  Each time a plane would land, twice a day, the local Kunas would come out to watch.  I thought they were amazed with flight and all it’s possibilities.  Actually, they were just watching NASCAR – Kuna style.  So many planes have crashed on the short runway plunging into the sea that all want to see it happen.  Made me glad we were waiting for a boat and not a plane.

Wichi Walla is the island forty meters from Porvenir.  With one last effort to find a sail for our dugout canoe I ask a local, Ernesto, for help.  Soon this wiry man with passable English is bringing us home to home in our efforts.  The first sail is nice but lacks a jib.  The second home we must parade through fifteen kids watching a movie on a big screen TV.  It seems so oddly out of place with the sand floor, bamboo framed thatched hut.   Up above in the rafters are large bags full of clothes and other things; it appears that some Kuna are packrats and hoarders.  We continue the search and settle on one for $30 Balboas (actually they use US dollars and don’t even print their own money except for a handful of coins).  A crowd of ten men has watched the episode and thinks it is hilarious that an American would want one of their sails.  I have only two twenties and nobody has change, absolutely typical.  I buy the man’s well-used wooden ironwood paddle that he has used for dozens of years for the extra ten.  We both made a great deal.

Walking back through town that is very accustomed to tourists with a sail, mast, boom,

I’m going to miss sights like this

spinnaker pole and paddle, we are seen as suckers in the house.  We get accosted for more purchases with women and kids streaming out of their homes selling their goods.  Finally boarding the dinghy we have the sail set up, five paddles, a new bracelet for Lindsey, a mariachi gourd, a calabash bowl and a shiny jib.

It is with great sadness that the anchor is brought up at 6am.  The San Blas islands have treated us so well.  This is the place I most wanted to visit on our round the world voyage.  I love the Kuna people and their affinity for traveling in canoes either by sail or paddle.  The exquisite white sand islands surrounded by deep blue water and sparkling emerald water are what people view paradise as – and they are right.  This is paradise here.  We worked hard to get here over the last year and the last seven weeks has been everything I had hoped.

Sailing over tranquil seas riddled with tree trunks and coconuts brings us into Puerto Lindo.  The anchorage is a surprise with 75 boats in the protected bay.  Monkeys howl from shore and then are answered by the troop on the far shore.  Parrots squawk in that crazy call that cannot be mistaken.  A cacophony of other bird sounds rise deep within the jungle walls.

Lindsey has taken a lot of grief over the comment about the log looking like a crocodile.  Sitting on the trampoline listening to the jungle, she says, “Is that a camel?”  We all laugh at her before even looking.  Ella is adamant that camels only live in the desert.  Oddly, it is a camel.  I feel as though we took a wrong turn somewhere and now are living in the Madagascar movie.  A few days ago we saw the same four engine propellered plane as in the movie come low out of some dark clouds with one engine out, flames and smoke spilling out.  We guessed that a lightning strike took it out.  We couldn’t see if four penguins were the pilots, but it’s possible.

Puerto Lindo has some cool areas to explore by dinghy, but is filled with old cruisers ready to die and boats that already have.  Meeting a boat with two boys four and five keeps us there a couple extra days as they play and laugh together.

inside the fort, soldiers wait for the likes of Henry Morgan

Heading to Portobello just a few miles away, brings us into one of the most famous ports

keeping Spanish gold (mostly) away from pirates like Henry Morgan and Vernon.  The place had been ransacked and burned many times and the forts just kept getting better.  Making some hikes to four of the forts takes up most our day as we pretend that the cannons are aimed at captain hook and his cronies and our Ninja Turtle and Fairy Princess are there to help.

Hauling up the sails is refreshing as we haven’t been able to sail in the Kuna Yala.  The sail is cut short as we weave in and out of freighters waiting to cross the Panama Canal.  Literally there are over 50 all around, some moving, mostly anchored.  It’s intimidating.  Smoke billows over Colon filling the air with an acrid smell.  Later, we find out that people are rioting and protesting the sale of land burning cars and shooting policemen.  Our planned restocking will have to wait, it looks like we may be having spaghetti again tonight.

We are in the marina at Shelter Bay now waiting for weather to head north.  Having only spent 3 nights previously in a marina (except leaving it in Santa Marta to head to Colorado) it’s a weird world of cruisers coming together.  Normally we would be anchored out, but all but one person we meet insisted on the safety of the marina.  Many had stories of scary incidents.   Colon is one of the most dangerous cities around, so spending $500US on lodging seems like cheap insurance.   We have, however, told the kids it was just so they could swim in the pool, enjoy the library, have cheap juices in the bar and go on jungle hikes during the day – all for them.

Happy still!!!

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The Kuna Yala (San Blas) are my favorite place on earth – a true tropical paradise.  Reefs and lightning keep most sane people out.  Luckily, we aren’t sane.

Ella Modesitt

By Ella Modesitt

In Bonaire, I went SCUBA diving with my dad.  It was fun.  We went under two boats – the dinghy and

I’m a Mermaid!

Rivers2Seas.  I saw so many fish, there must have been 100 of them.  I liked it because we could be under the water together.  My dad and I shared the same tank.  I felt totally like a mermaid.  I moved my legs like a mermaid too.

We saw a parade.  There were people with really pretty dresses.  One little girl gave me and my brother a piece of candy.  They were dancing in their fancy dresses.  The music was really loud so that everyone could hear.  I think a little too loud.

I liked the colorful buildings

We sailed to Curacao.  Daddy went to customs all day long.  I played with a little French girl on our boat.  We played hide and seek with Chase.  I did not understand a single word she said.  She didn’t want to go home.  Chase and I played on the best park yet.  It wasn’t broken or torn or rusted.  Chase and I got ice cream.  We went to customs and looked at all the houses.  They were all sorts of colors.

On the passage to Santa Marta, Colombia in the night there was lots and lots and lots of lightning.  We all had to go down into one room so if the mast was hit by lightning we wouldn’t be killed or injured.  We put on wetsuits that were really hot and read some books.  Chase was throwing up.  There was lots of rain.  I did not see any cats and dogs.   I didn’t really sleep – it was too hard.

We were close to land but before we got there lightning came again.  We read some more of my Mermaid book.

Rivers2Seas is now tied up at a dock in Santa Marta Colombia.  I have sailed a super duper long way.  I have been to 21 countries so far.  My favorite country was Bonaire or maybe Saba or…all of them.

St. Lucia to Bonaire

Right now I am exhausted.  Bone tired.  I haven’t done much during this passage from St. Lucia to Bonaire.  Not much except worry.  The sailing is great, easy even.  A large following sea gives us a nice push in the exact direction we want to go.  The wind is directly behind us pushing on the jib and genaker giving us an average of over 6 knots towards our goal that was originally 450 miles away.  We now have about 150 to go after sailing for the last 48 hours.  Yep, the sailing is going great.

The crew is doing well.  Our newest member, Worm (or Gunner or Damian depending on which ski patrol you know him from), has been a real asset.  Lindsey Worm and I take 3-hour watches, which gives us six hours off.  Well, it could.  An hour before my shift started last night Worm woke me up about a ship that was close and not moving.  We couldn’t tell if it was a tanker or two separate fishing ships.  An hour after it was first sighted, all of a sudden it took off fast and did a semicircle around the boat at 12 miles perfectly.  I wouldn’t know this if I couldn’t track him on radar.   It is a weird track, but he’s probably just fishing.  Later, after my shift was over Lindsey woke me from a deep sleep to say another ship was coming right at us.  It was coming fast, but the worry made it seem to take forever.  It was just another fishing boat.  All sleep had to be abandoned for the day.  Time to wrestle with the kids and read books together.Leaving our home in St. Lucia

Why am I so worried?  Pirates.  Not the ones my kids are pretending to be right now.  I can handle the foam swords just fine, even when I get that full smack across the face.  It’s the AK-47 wielding pirates that would board, kill me, rape my wife and sell my kids that has me worried.  I would gladly take the killing if the other two wouldn’t happen.  But really, I’d rather none of this to take place.

The Venezuelan coast has become so notorious that our insurance company won’t allow us to travel to the country.  Too bad, when I was there to bicycle south to Chile in 1994 it was a fantastic country with some really friendly and giving people.  Drug runners now control the coasts and hijackings and murders are a real possibility.  The AIS (automatic information system) is turned off.  We don’t want the pirates to see a 41-foot by 24-foot private sailing vessel out here, unprotected and easy picking.  There is certainly no need to give them a road map to where we are.  Our navigation lights are still on at night, so if they get close, they could find us.  This is why I worry.

I worry at watch.  I worry while I’m “sleeping”.  I worry constantly.  I don’t talk about it to anyone.  Why would I?  If they aren’t worried, then I should let them enjoy this really nice passage.  And anyway, the captain is always the first to be tossed overboard.

 

As I was checking out of St. Lucia the immigration officer questioned me about Ella.  “She’s crew?” she asked dubiously.  “Well, yes she is,” I replied.  I had almost written that she was more than crew and actually first mate.  That would have caused some trouble so I’m glad I just put crew.  She is actually crew, with responsibilities.  She helps run this ship.  “Yes maam, she’s six and does a great job aboard Rivers2Seas.”  When the woman next looked at Chase’s passport with “crew” marked, she just looked up at me with these eyes of disbelief.  I was ready to list his responsibilities like the anchor light, navigation lights, steaming light, repairman’s assistant and monitor of the fishing lines.  She didn’t ask.  Bummer.  I wanted to impress her with what a 4-year-old can do if given the opportunity.  It seems most kids these days have absolutely no responsibilities.  Ours do and it has made them far better people.

We had some people aboard who left the transom shower on all night.  It has one main on/off handle and another one

on top the mast again

on the showerhead to use so that water is conserved while moving the head around.  The head doesn’t really shut off.  Well, I told these adults about it and explained how to use it and they left it on.  We lost 70 gallons of water.  Some of the water went into the hull, but most just overboard.  I had to use the wet vac in all three bilges down the port hull to get it all out.  I was very nice when I mentioned that it was really important to turn things off.  The reply is what will stay with me forever.  “If it’s that important to you Brad, then maybe you should have checked it yourself.”  My 4-year-old can handle it, but not these 40-year-olds.  I just replied that I agreed.  Mistakes happen. Some people are sailors, some aren’t.  Are Chase and Ella crew on Rivers2Seas – you bet?  Certainly better behaved and more fun than people who on paper appear that they could be sailors.

The spare halyard just broke and sent the genakker flying into the sea.  The three adults managed to wrestle it back onboard without much issue.  I always wondered what would happen if one of the halyards broke.  Now I know.  I’m just glad it happened in light winds and during the day after my coffee.  The hard part will be winding a spare line through the mast when we hit port.

We make the 470-mile passage (a little more than the direct path from tacking) in 77 ½ hours.  Not bad, considering the wind was directly behind us, which is a poor point of sail and only at 15 knots.  A Mahi Mahi made for a nice fresh dinner en route.  A school of 400-pound tuna got us excited, but we didn’t catch any.  Watching the hundreds of fish leap out of the water covering a several hundred-yard space was truly amazing.

Rivers2Seas above with dinghy and fish below

Bonaire is described on all their literature as a diving paradise.  It is.  After tying up to a mooring ball, because you can’t anchor and damage reefs that way, we do a dive right off the back of Rivers2Seas.  Down 40 feet to the bottom and the reef cliff then plunges down to 114 feet.  I know the depth because I just had to go to see the bottom.  Two dives a day for two tanks adds up pretty fast, so we opted to get a package fill of our tanks – 21 fills for $107US.  Compared to the $100 per dive price, we have congratulated ourselves on the nice gear we purchased.  Nice, as in it works.  Most of it is falling apart, but the essential components work if just a little leaky.

SCUBA diving brings us to another world.  Every creature is simply weird.  Hundreds of fish from tiny yellow angelfish no bigger than the end of my pinky to large 6-foot tarpon patrol the water.  Odd shaped fish like flutes and puffer fish and boxfish swarm all around the tube coral.  Sharp-tongued eels slither around the bottom poking their heads into holes looking for food.  Shrimp and other spider looking guys run around the coral heads.  It’s simply amazing to witness.

The MAN – Turtle at his best

The kids have been having fun snorkeling but wanted to try the

A SCUBA diving family!

SCUBA.  Ella is now hooked and asks to go every day.  Thankfully, I can appease her and take her diving for a few minutes after my dive.  Hey, if I have to go diving to make my kids happy, that is what I will do.  Chase enjoys it too but would rather do cannonballs off the boat.

We arrived in Bonaire during the Queen’s day celebration and saw a brightly colored if super short parade.  The kids loved the dancing and colorful costumes.  The town has a slow pace and clean atmosphere.  The Dutch islands are the best taken care of in the Caribbean.  We will return to dive here and to Saba for sure.

Heaven?

The weather forecast for the difficult run to Cartagena, Columbia is looking really good.  Low winds mean small seas in this notorious spot.  Tomorrow we will leave for Curacao and then head off to the South American mainland the next day.  Woo Hoo.

Guadaloupe

Guadaloupe

by Lindsey Modesitt

We arrived in Deshaises (pronounced Day-Hay) right before sunset after a rollicking ride.  After touring around the anchorage we settled on the back side in a secluded little spot.  After dropping the anchor, the kids ran up to the front trampoline to play “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” it is a kid show from a perfect end to the dayback home about some kids that live on a boat, and fight bad pirates, usually specifically, Captain Hook.  While having our sundowner wine, the kids enjoyed swinging gently from the anchor (as opposed to bucking wildly on the seas).

Guadaloupe is a fascinating country.  Steeped in history, it is now a French country (and has been mostly….throughout history) and they do everything French.  All the way down to the perfect, I mean PERFECT, du Pain (bread).  Brad and I have been reading Caribbean by James Michener and he has a lot to say about this island in the shape of a butterfly.  To start, the island really is in the shape of a butterfly, dissected in the middle by a river that is so narrow, according to Michener, you could jump across it (or motor sail your sailboat up according to recent guidebooks).  The western wing is called Basse Terre and the eastern is called Grand Terre which is interesting as “Basse Terre” means small island and this part of the island is anything but.  With big towering volcanic mountains, this is the bigger of the two sides (and newer volcanically) as opposed to “Grand Terre” meaning big island and it is more of a salt and sand flat, beautiful, but older and therefore more run down by centuries of nearly constant trade winds.

The economy is based entirely upon French society with everything being imported from or exported to, France.  The people of France still buy sugar made from sugar cane, at a higher price than other easily made sugars, just to ensure a thriving economy of this and other French islands in the Caribbean.  Not to mention the funding that comes from France.  It is an interesting thing to witness as almost every single island in the Caribbean has a thriving history of sugar production (thus Rum and molasses production but more importantly RUM!) but these French islands are the only ones to still use the sugar from these islands as their main source of the white powder goodness.

the familyThe language is entirely French with very little “bleeding” of other languages.  My high-school French got a workout to say the least.  After lots of gesturing and apologizing we generally got our point across with one minor mishap with the taxi driver from the Botanical Gardens taking us way out of our way (and his) all because I couldn’t get him to stop the car at our anchorage, instead we travelled to the popular (and packed) beach.  After much gesturing and apologizing again (and perhaps a few goats offered to his grandmother while I walk around in France) we turned around and after yelling arretez-vous s’il vous plais!!  I think he understood I was not trying to arrest him but wanted him to stop the car.  Thankfully he was very easy-going and full of laughter so we said our good-byes.

We saw another kid boat “Twilight Rodeo” that we had met in St. Kitt’s.  Their kids are 6 (boy) and 8 (girl).  All of the kids got along incredibly well and the parents got some much needed adult time.  Then  the next day we thought it was time for some beach time with other kids so together with Twilight Rodeo, we went to find a beach.  We found one that was empty and spent the afternoon SUPing, eating, drinking and just plain relaxing.  The kids loved it and we loved it.  It was time for us to continue on down the western coast sohome we up-anchor (after a SUP/snorkel) early the next morning and caught a breath of wind for a sparkly sail to Pigeon Island and the Cousteau National Marine Park.  Before we had left Deshaises Brad had happened by another American cruising couple that were selling their boat, Brad inquired about their scuba equipment, and we found ourselves the proud new owners of some scuba gear complete with BCD’s, tanks, weights, and computers, for a song.  Just in time too as we were headed to Cousteaus’s marine park which is said to be one of his favorite places on earth.  With Twilight Rodeo behind us, we anchored and set out across the sound for the snorkel area with the kids.  It was like jumping into an aquarium.  After a little prodding (and a borrowed floaty from Twilight Rodeo) Chase and I set off at a pace a bit slower than Brad and Ella but the two families had a great time and we all crawled back into the dingy.  After dropping the kids back at the boat, we had an enlightened moment and thought we would all swap kids and have a “date dive.” So that is exactly what we did.  Elizabeth and David watched our kids while we took off with our new scuba gear (although mine was malfunctioning a little so I borrowed Elizabeth’s BCD) and Brad and I headed to depths I haven’t seen since diving in Thailand 9 years ago.  It was brilliant.  We came up with ear-to-ear grins.  Twilight Rodeo had some problems with one scuba tank not filled so we took the kids back to our boat so they could play together in the depths too.  They loved it, we loved it, the kids loved it.  We set a date to do it again the next day before taking off to the city of Basse Terre (on the southwestern coast of Guadaloupe).

Basse Terre is also the name of the capitol of Guadaloupe as well (not just that side of the archipelago).  We anchored there (after SEVERAL annoying attemps at anchoring) and got ready to check out of the country and say goodbye to Twilight Rodeo as they were picking up some family and exploring the island for a couple more weeks.  Before checking out, we had heard that there were some spectacular waterfalls that “you must not miss” called Chutes de Carbet.  Always ones to see and do anything that has to do with rivers, we happily set off on this adventure.  We wanted to get a little more of the culture and people of the island so instead of renting a car, we chose to jump on the local bus (and with lots of gesturing and apologizing) we found the one that was definitely going there so we hopped on and high-fived at what great travelers we were.  The bus dumped us on at the junction of two roads and the bus driver pointed to the sign that said “Chutes De Carbet” that way……We started up the road and after about 20 meters there was a little tiny side-of-the-road eatery.  Brad suggested we eat there and I protested as it was only 10:15, the waterfall is right there (we were told it was a 20 minute walk to them) and we will be back in time after working up an appetite.  After realizing that our snack situation was a little dismal, we decided we could eat before and after.  We sat down for the most amazing chicken sandwich I’ve had since we’ve been travelling.  It was incredible.  We gobbled it up, asked the Madam about how far to the waterfall and if there were taxis going often just in case we got tired of the walk.  We were assured there were definitely taxis.  Just stand there and one will be by.  After standing for about 20 minutes in the stifling sun (no wind since we are inland), I walked back down to the restaurant as it was in the middle of a banana plantation, and inquired about buying a stalk of bananas.  She laughed and told me I could have as many as I wanted.  I pointed to Chase and said he eats a lot!  She shrugged and pulled about 30 from behind the counter….free.  I said great, we will be back to get them after our walk.  She sun umbrella - islands stylesmiled and said no problem (I think as this whole thing was in French).  I went back to my spot and waited for some taxis.  Another sweltering 20 minutes and a man came by in a beat-up Toyota-type truck (French version whatever that is) and we climbed in back (including the kids!! Sorry mom;) and rode for what felt like forever.  We got to a little village where the man kept apologizing and saying he was going a different way from the waterfall at that point and couldn’t take us any farther.  We thanked him for his generosity and thought that they MUST be just around the corner.  Brad and I have always found, throughout all of our travels, that people exaggerate and most places that “there is no way you can walk there” is right around the corner and we barely, if at all, break a sweat getting to whatever place it is.  That includes being with the kids.  We set off up the road.  After 30 seconds of walking a women came to a screeching halt in front of us and implored us to stop and turn around.  “It is very far, no way can you make it, with kids too!! No Way Turn around GO BACK!!”  We smiled graciously, and knowingly, and continued on our path.  What insued was the biggest slog fest, parents-apologizing-and-promising-kids-whatever-they-want painful, cry-provoking (of both kids and adults).  Several cars went flying past us (no taxis mind you) most were full of people and therefore could not take a pooped family of four.  We kept going, and going and going.  It was brutal (and straight up).  Chase and Ella were near mutiny and if we weren’t being their mules, they probably would have caught whatever car was going the other way but since they were riding on our shoulders, they couldn’t flag anyone down.   5.5 km later we got to the top of a hill and a couple with an old landcruiser came up over the top and saw Chase laying across the road in determined protest.  They stopped and said our car is a mess in the back, no room.  We said we didn’t care and climbed in.  They asked where we had come from and we told them where we had left the bus.  With looks flying between the two of them, they got really quiet.  After another half of a mile, they turned around a round-a-bout and said there you go.. WHA????? Here is the entrance to the START of the walk to the waterfall…..I looked at Brad with a “let’s catch the first car leaving NOW!!) and he said we made it this far…we are seeing the waterfall.  Chase and Ella seemed doomed to their fate and with nary a complaint, they followed us down the trail to the falls.  It was very Rocky Mountain National Park-esque with lots of signs and perfectly built stairs until we arrived at the falls.  They were beautiful.  We took one more look and headed back down.

 

As we left the ranger station (the round-about where the other car let us go) we walked about .5 km and found a little vendor.  We asked about taxis back down and as her laughter bellowed down the lonely pavement behind us, we begin our 6 km walk (at approaching dusk) back down the mountain.  With kids on our shoulders we flung our thumbs in the air.  The first car couldn’t get by us fast enough, we had seen them walking to the falls (the ranger walk to the falls) and they weren’t very happy with us then so we were pretty sure they weren’t stopping.  The next car slowed down as they passed us and looked at both kids on the shoulders, mom and dad shot, I didn’t even turn around to check if they would stop.  They passed me and around the corner was Brad with an almost asleep Chase on his shoulders and they slowed to a stop on this 40 degree road.  They got out of the car and offered a ride, we poured ourselves into the car and Chase fell asleep on my lap before Giselle closed the door.   We met Cristor and Giselle (I think that was their names, I apologize if I remember wrong but I wanted to crawl into the back and fall asleep too).  They asked where we were going and I said the bus stop at the end.  Through Cristors amazing English and my tentative grasp on French we had a brilliant conversation with them.  The kids were snoring as were told them our tale and again, looks were exchanged in the front seat.  As we neared the main road (where the bus stop was, although we came out at a different spot so I couldn’t get my loot of bananas) I started, tiredly, to get up and wake up a drooling Chase.  Cristor looked at us and said you must put on your seatbelt for this part….WHA???  He explained that they were staying in Basse Terre (the last day of vacation before heading back to France) so they could take us all the way to the boat.  Brilliant, I wanted to cry, but I held it together and the fantastic conversation continued until we crawled out (poured ourselves out really) right in front of our dinghy and with several “Merci, Beaucoup” (thank you very much!!) and a Bonne Journe (good journey)…we said goodbye and they will forever remain in our hearts as the angels that rescued us from certain death.  If you two are reading this…Thank you again.  We arrived just before five on Rivers2Seas and toasted to good people, you don’t even know, that change your life.  The next morning, we pulled anchor and headed toward Les Isles Des Saintes (All Saintes Island).

on the way to All Saints island

 

 

 

 

One of those great things for us happened as we turned Rivers2Seas south, we started sailing – fast. The trade winds are rather constant winds coming out of the East going directly West. A sailboat can sail best when on a beam reach, the wind coming at it from 90 degrees. The windward and Leeward islands that make up the Eastern Caribbean form a nice curve mostly to the south all the way to South America. A nice beam reach, perfect. The islands are all close enough together that all sailing can be done during daylight hours and since we could go faster with such favorable winds, doing 75 miles in a day can be easy. Because we were no longer heading straight into the wind, Rivers2Seas settled down slowly bobbing through the waves. It almost felt like cheating. Almost. While sailing we could read books, the kids could play their imaginary games, and most importantly Turtle wouldn’t be seasick.
St. Kitts welcomed us with brightly painted homes and a giant cloud over the single mountain. A strong stone fort built in 1690 dominated our landing in the capital, Basse Terre. The history of wars, pirates and great battles is everywhere. The fact that most of these countries are run by different countries shows that nobody actually won. The poorness of the inhabitants shows that they probably all lost.
Checking into customs and immigration at the large port that is more used to the arrivals of cruise ships gave us a view into the city. Nice shops lined the cobbled streets with well-dressed shopkeepers inside. Turtle and I stumbled upon a young school class all in blue uniform talking about an old ships rusted helm wheel sticking out of the water. They stood on shore, we drove up close in the dinghy. We went back to the boat and picked up our girls for a day in town.
The stores are cool with the tourist things you find in these spots and more pirate mannequins than I have ever seen. A cold local beer in a sports bar informed us that Peyton Manning would be coming to the Broncos football team back in Colorado. Cool! Having our news satiated we headed for town. A cool sounding museum to Admiral Nelson beckoned us. Its’ displays, artwork and writing would have done any 6th grader proud. A great subject, cool artifacts and yet they still made it a poor museum. Trudging through some stone gates to the back of the museum brought us into the real city.
The first city was apparently built for the cruise lines and had guards along the stone walls keeping locals out and most of the cruise passengers inside. The difference couldn’t be more drastic. Tiny shops had smaller “shops” on the sidewalk no bigger than a small card table selling fruits, scissors and shavers – you name it. The streets were packed, people going everywhere, horns honking and the typical island people just sitting. We were on one of our usual hunts for a park to play in which we never found. A giant stone church gobbled up most the free land and had a pair of teenagers throwing a ball, but that was about all the “play” we could find. At the supermarket we passed on the packaged chicken feet and settled for some more mundane food like spaghetti.
Sailing for Nevis doing 8.4 knots for the 10-mile passage was as easy as picking up the free mooring ball when we arrived. On the other side of the wide miles long white beach was the Four Seasons Hotel. We invited some new friends on Twilight Rodeo to use our slide and play while the adults talked. Many of the people we have met on this trip mirror our thoughts. They started their own company twelve years ago, sold it and now wanted to travel with their kids while they could. We had a great evening, drank too much wine and stayed up too late. Fun.
The next day was spent at the beach seeing how high and far I could throw the kids. I call it my shotput workout. With one 40-pound kid in my palm I launch them high overhead as far and high as possible. They swim out and then beg for more. After 50 tosses each, I’m spent. A half hour later, the workout resumes.

Sailing at 8 knots for the 40-mile passage to Montserrat brought us to a marvelous little island. Instead of the usual cloud obscuring the peak of this volcano, it was being obscured by smoke, ash, and steam. The plume stretched far out to sea. It would turn out to be a great science lesson. This volcano is one of the most active in the world and has scientists monitoring its actions closely.
Hiring a taxi for the day to do a tour gave us some great history of the island. Our biggest desire was to see the volcano and shortly after our arrival at the volcano observatory, sirens started going off. It was ERUPTING! Rocks and ash flew skyward miles above the cone, ash drifted off to sea with the winds, boulders much bigger than homes tumbled down the sides, white steam escaped new vents and we gasped. “This is cool,” Chase exclaimed. It certainly is cool. The sirens were alerting residents that half the island was now off-limits as a large eruption was a distinct possibility. Heading inside the volcano observatory, a video informed us on some of the really big eruptions that changed this island so recently. The biggest was in 1995 and today’s was the biggest in the last few years. A great addition to our science class today was the kids feeling the volcano, smelling the sulfur gasses and seeing those rocks flying. A little hard for them to comprehend that the earth was exploding; a little hard to explain that we were safe, mostly.

Eruption!!!
For lunch we stopped at Apple Studios, where the Beatles taped the White Album. What a great place to record an album and why not? Secluded in paradise to let the creative juices flow. The kids didn’t understand about the Beatles and were more excited to see the gold record by Cheap Trick that was recorded there. Hmmm?
The rest of the tour showed us some of the housing now that the inhabitants moved from the lush volcano side to the arid windward side. The British government has spent a lot of money to help them relocate but the transition hasn’t been good for all of them. Money doesn’t make a garden grow where it shouldn’t.
Ella and I spent the early morning talking to fisherman, learning about fish traps, fishing and most importantly oars. An old local, Hap, taught us how to build an oar out of local woods, securing the blade to the shaft with stout wire. After his fishing outing, we towed him to shore with the dinghy and bought his oars for the collection.
Another quick sail brought us to Guadaloupe.

The Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands

Swan Dive into the Virgin Island waters

Spanish, United States & British

            All the Virgin Islands are spectacular.  Close easy sails in protected waters are the hallmark of these islands, making them the charter capital of the world.  We had never heard of the Spanish Virgins and this was our first visit.  Puerto Rico recently renamed them the Spanish Virgins to get some of the great publicity associated with the other two.  It’s worked.  Tourism is thriving.  The islands are generally unspoiled, beautiful from the lush forests to the undamaged coral beds in the sea.

In Salinas, Puerto Rico we rented a car to pick up some friends from San Juan airport on the other side of the county.  They have 2 kids that are Ella and Chases ages, but the boy is older and the girl younger.  For the next 10 days they would use the kids rooms while we all packed into Rivers2Seas.  Our first stop, Cayo Santiago, brought us to what we called Monkey Island.  Monkeys had full reign on this island and humans are not to go ashore.  With all the games of tag and loud screeching we could have fit in well with the animals.  Ella has grown a distaste for chickens and in particular roosters as they often keep her up at night with the constant cock-a-doodle-doos.  The monkeys gave them a run with the loud chatter, but it was so different that we enjoyed the bantering.

Sailing East from the mainland to the large island of Culebra brought us to Tamarindo Beach.  This is home to a US National Marine Park.  To protect the fragile corals, mooring buoys have been placed all over so that sailors do not mar this spectacular area.  (A giant bonus for those sailors with broken windlasses that must lift the anchor by hand.)  The white beach is soft and inviting; the sea fans below are more inviting with every color imaginable waving back and forth from the gentle tide.  Chase (our Turtle) and I snorkeled next to a large Leatherback turtle for a couple minutes before he swam off.  He doesn’t like to use a snorkel so he holds his breath and watches.  He’s practicing for something, because he can hold his breath for a really long time, take one big breath and go back under.

Hiking fifteen minutes across the island brought us to Flamenco Beach, rated as one of the top 10 beaches in the world.  Whoever rates these things hasn’t asked me for my opinion.  Yes, it is beautiful with a long shallow bay and wide beach.  But, all the pink tourists are there.  Trash fills the bushes and seabed.  The seabed is dead from all the poor practices of snorkelers grabbing the coral and fans.  To me, none of the top 100 beaches could ever have a parking lot next to it.

The town of Dewey is a jewel in these parts of the tourist path.  Small locally owned shops and restaurants are the only ones here.    We found a great place for lunch along a canal and then headed off to do some laundry for our friends.  Laundry is one of those things that takes forever to do and just really has no fun to it at all.  Their 6-year-old had made a nightime mess of Ella’s bed, so we really didn’t have a choice.

Alone in the anchorage sits Rivers2Seas - the waves and sea rages to the west, the calm anchorage to the East

A short motor up to Culebrita brought us into a large bay with crashing waves all around.  Conditions were not ideal with a north swell running, so we were the only boat here.  Perfect conditions!  A mooring ball was washing up on shore, lapping in the waves, so we didn’t have total faith in the buoys here.  We tied up anyway and kept a close look out.  The rest of the day was spent playing in the waves and sun on a great beach.  There was no parking lot here.  There wasn’t a single car on the island – my kind of beach.

I swam out to the boat to fetch a few beers and the boogie board for the kids.  We hadn’t been able to use it yet and these waves were perfect.  I gave Ella a quick lesson and she surfed in like a champ.  The preceding five surfs didn’t go so well.  Ella learned a new term.  Being maytaged.  As you are being rolled by a wave it can feel like you are in a washing machine.  She got thumped – repeatedly.  Lots of tears by the end.  Chase upon seeing that she was done and crying far up the sand, wanted his turn.  Really?  Did you see Ella?  Do you hear her still recovering from the thrashing?  Ok, let’s go.  I figured a way to hold on to the back of the boogie board and body surf behind while giving stability to the board.  Chase was giggly ecstatic and couldn’t get enough.  He even wanted to stand and really surf.  Finally, I had to say no to my adventurous 3-year-old.

into the surf

Maytaged!

Our Surfer

A short hop over to St. Thomas and the US Virgin Islands brought us into the other side of tourism.  Hundreds of sailboats, four cruise ships a day all pack into Charlotte Amalie to make this the most visited Caribbean island.  A duty free port makes this a fantastic place to save a lot of money.  To do so though, we would have to buy a $20,000 watch.  We didn’t save any money.

At 5am, we dropped our friends off to catch a taxi home.  They would be carrying two bags home for us to lighten our load.  Forty pounds of maps left us – we have come a long way in six months.  The next day we had to do chores ashore.  Buy a $1000US of groceries to replace some of what we had eaten from our provisions.  Do laundry and wash our sons’ comforter.  All in all one of those hassles that eat up a whole day in paradise.

We now had three days to make it to the British Virgin Islands to pick up my dad from Beef Island.  Checking into the country in Jost Van Dyke made us toast and cheer.  This is the first place Lindsey and I chartered a bareboat and came sailing together.  We toasted our friends that were with us on that first charter and laughed about how much we have learned since then.

Dinghying right up to the airport we waited for my dad.  He appeared looking great and gave both kids a huge hug.  A porter followed closely behind with a large box.  This was the new anchor windlass that I had ordered and sent to his house.  At 55 pounds it wasn’t the easiest thing for him to drag around, but to me it was pure gold.

This would be an emotional visit; my mom’s passing almost a year ago and we haven’t been able to see each other much.  Partially because my dad found it brought back too many memories.  True.  But, they are all great memories of my mom.  We would shed many tears during our visit and have some great talks about mom, life, depression (of which I know too much) and his great passion – birds.  For now, we had to load his small duffel, my large box and ourselves into the dinghy so we could show off our home.

the Birders

It’s difficult for people to realize how big and how small a boat can be.  Every available space is utilized for specialized purposes.  There are no “dead spaces” on a boat, but if they are found, bags of Cherrios fill the void well.  My dad would occupy the workshop room that has a single berth in it as well.  He marveled at all the gadgets and systems on Rivers2Seas.  A modern offshore cruising boat is far different than the wooden ships of centuries past.  Comforts like refrigeration and the ability to make water have changed the whole adventure.

The first night we didn’t want to stay in the crowded lagoon near the airport so we motored over to Virgin Gorda and the Baths.  Lindsey and I had been here previously and thought the hike through the boulders with turquoise water at your feet is one of the worlds best.  Up there with

Downwind sailing

some famous hikes like Matcap on the Grand Canyon.  A north swell appeared during the night, surfing Rivers2Seas towards the shore.  We

were on a required mooring ball but the balls were too close together and a 2ndball became entangled in the rudder at about midnight.  For an hour we tried to unhook it, then to make sure it didn’t happen again.  It did.  Waves were crashing into the nearby boulders and it seemed

we would be next the way they tried to pull us into shore.  It would be a tough, uneasy nights sleep and when Ella woke up in the morning she summed it up perfectly.  “Dad, when I looked out my porthole, it looked like we are out to sea.  Are we out to sea?”  My dad thought it was all normal and had a good sleep.

Sailing west back towards the US Virgins where dad would be flying out of enabled us to have some great downwind sailing.  Because we have been going straight into the wind for whole time, wind and waves the would rock the boat rather drastically.  Now we were with the elements, gliding gently west.  The kids wanted to know if we were really moving because it didn’t feel like sailing.  They wanted more of this peaceful sailing and so did we.

Unfurling the genaker to catch the wind from behind us was spectacular.  It was the first time Lindsey or the kids had seen our blue and white billowing sail.  Rivers2Seas looked strikingly beautiful sailing that day.  This is why gentleman don’t sail to windward.  This is easy and fun.

We celebrated Chase’s 4th birthday with a boarding of pirates who raised a flag up our mast in the middle of the night and left behind a treasure map.  Following the map, Chase found a small wooden treasure chest full of precious stones and doubloons.   He also was given a dagger, bandanna, and pirate tattoos.  His first move was to run after me and toss me from the ship.  Hmmmm?The captain has been thrown overboard

studying 1001 things pirate

rest before the attack

Some beach time and some snorkel time brought us back to St. Thomas where we would bid farewell to dad and then pick up more friends later that day.   I left dad with a pile of wooden paddles on his shoulder as he headed for the plane.

Jill, Dave and their son Kai, who is Ella’s great buddy, appeared from Colorado full of awe and wonder.  They are not water people at all, but wanted to experience life at sea.  We loved showing them around on a very mellow short distance sail back to the British Virgin Islands and then back to the US Virgins.

appetizers

Jill has an old friend that lives on St. John so she wanted to spend most of our time there.  Usually, we only spend a night or two in an anchorage so it was sort of relaxing to spend four nights in the same spot.  A nice beach, with a parking lot, had a mellow lapping of waves that was perfect for the kids and our non-water friends.  A six-foot Manta Ray patrolled the beach much to our delight.  Swimming out frantically to get a look at the behemoth brought me in close.  When he finally came into view, I jumped; he was really big.  I grew accustomed to him and got some great video of his seemingly effortless gliding.

Jill and Dave gave us the best gift possible.  On Lindsey’s birthday

Kai learning to drive the dinghy, Chase giving instruction

(and Kai’s too) they let us have a date night.  Just the two of us.  We joke about reading a scientific report that said it was best for your kids if you could eat one meal a week together and talk; no TV it said.  We have had three meals a day for the last six months together and 24 hours a day of togherness.   A date at the nearby campground had some OK food, but it was all special and spectacular.  A movie came on after dinner, but we couldn’t stop talking and had to leave.  Finding a hobie cat catamaran let us lounge on its’ trampoline, talk and sip wine.  One of our best dates ever, even when the skies started dumping rain sending us for shelter in a kayak shed.  We each pulled up a kayak and laughed.  Even on land, we are still water people.

We gave our friends some more bags to take home full of useless stuff and treasures we have acquired, bidding them farewell.  After three weeks of guests, we had some great times and conversations, but it was good to have Rivers2Seas back to ourselves.

Against the wind and waves we headed back to Virgin Gorda and the Bitter End in Drakes Bay.  It would be ten days of waiting for the weather to improve so that we could make the last leg of the Thorny Path to Sint Maarten.   Several hikes, some SUP rides and as always swimming off the boat and playing on the beach occupied our days.  Talking to some friends in their dinghy beside our boat, Lindsey dropped her wedding ring in the water accidentally.  This isn’t her expensive diamond, we left that in Colorado; it is her sentimental ring.  To a woman, it doesn’t really matter.  It was her wedding ring.  I donned the SCUBA gear and went searching in the 25-foot deep water.  I couldn’t find a thing.  I had the kids drop pennies off the deck and followed them down.  One landed eight inches from the ring.  I returned to the surface a hero.

drying off after a refreshing swim

Finally, the weather cooperated and we could make a 4am sail to Sint Maarten 80 miles away.  Testing the navigation lights the night before proved they had gone out.  Three hours later, a corroded wire was found to be the culprit and we were back in working order.

I was so excited for another passage that I could barely sleep.  We left with another boat, Another Road to…, leaving the British Virgin Islands in our wake.  Within half an hour the autopilot stopped working.  Heaving to for twenty minutes so that I could work more comfortably in the dark recesses of the boat and figure out the issue helped but I still couldn’t get it working.  Raising sails we sped off towards our destination.  Sailing, Sailing, Sailing.  It was fantastic, except we had to hand steer, which is really tiring.  Once the sun came up I tried to fix the autopilot again.

Working on a boat in good conditions is difficult.  Doing repairs at sea is really tough.  Imagine laying on your back halfway though a dog door to your house, the thin metal piercing your back.  As you hang halfway through fumbling in the complete darkness your head is so far below as to be almost completely upside-down.  Brace yourself with one foot on the ceiling so that you don’t spill into the hold and then start working on the wiring trying to clean terminals and check the wiring with a voltmeter.  Add in some smells from strange things in the bilge coupled with the smell from Chases toilet which he has trouble flushing.  No airflow in here because while sailing we would probably get water as well, so its stifling hot.  Now, imagine that every five seconds you are raised six to eight feet and are dropped.  Repeat for half and hour.  Difficult to say the least.  I still couldn’t get it to work but needed a break before I got really seasick.

Chase was seasick and I cuddled with him in the cockpit on our beanbag.  We closed our eyes, wishing for calmer days.  Twenty minutes later, Chase looks at me with that look and barfs all over the two of us.  We look at each other and say “yuck” simultaneously.  We laugh for a second then clean up the mess.  Fun on boats.  Somehow, I didn’t follow in the barffest.

I went below to find the problem wire, twenty minutes later found it, tested the system and we were good to go.  It worked for five minutes.  I

celebration music -
The Thorny Path is complete

worked some more doing an upside-down game of Operation trying to put an itty-bitty wire into a hole that seemed smaller.  By the fourth wire, I was barely holding on.  This time it worked.  Autopilot back to working order we could relax more and sail.  The winds increased throughout the day so that by the end of the 14-hour passage we were making nine knots through the sea.

St. Martin and Sint Marteen make up the smallest island in the world divided by two countries.  We made the bridge opening just in time to follow a procession of boats to the inside harbor.  The bridge was on the Sint Marteen side and is a Netherlands island; we motored off to the French side of St. Martin and anchored, opened a bottle of champagne from Spain and toasted the end of the Thorny Path.  From here we would make a 90-degree turn to the south and have more favorable winds.

The bay is filled with cruisers and derelict boats that barely float.  On the morning net we found a sea anchor for sale for only $100.  Normally, more than a thousand, so I jumped at it and filled some of the space that we made giving our friends useless gear with a possibly vital piece of equipment.  As the couple gave it to me, they said, “Enjoy, I hope you never use it.”  Me too.  A sea anchor is deployed when the seas are so violent that the possibility of losing your boat is a large possibility.

St. Martin is home to some great marine chandralries and some cheap food.  We finally were able to finish some provisioning, buy some marine spares and gear needed to do some more boat projects.  I try to buy local beer when possible and asked in a French restaurant if they had any local beer.  “We are French, we do not make beeeeer,” she said with a sneer.  If she would have spit after saying it I would not have been surprised.  The whole island is a thriving tourist depot full of cruise ship tourists and jet lagged whiteys from the north (soon to be pink or red).  As soon as possible we up-anchored and headed for Saba.

The guidebooks warned of difficult anchoring and tough dinghy access to the small but 3000-foot high extinct volcano island.  We are now tied to a free mooring ball off a giant 300-foot tall sheer cliff with luscious rainforest above it.  A cloud hangs over the tallest summit like a sombrero.  Dinghying to shore led us to a road that must be at least a 25% incline that after about a 1000 foot ascent brings you to a town called the Bottom.  The roads here have inclines from 20% to 45%.  Lots of fit people, but no bicycles.  It felt like we were in the Netherlands with the quaint architecture, clean countryside and friendly people.  Only 2 other sailboats are here.  Yep, this is my kind of country.  Beautiful, striking, not as easy, but not a tourist trap.  This is our kind of place.

the happy family aboard Rivers2Seas

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico
We made it to Puerto Rico but checking in proved to be rather difficult. When I called to check in, the officer first asked if I had a decal.
“Decal?”
“The decal enabling you to check in easier.”
“No, I don’t have a decal.”
“But, you are a US flagged vessel. You MUST have a decal.” (what happened to easier?)
“I don’t and I have never heard of THE decal.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Then you will have to come to Mayaguez to check in. The offices are closed until Monday so you’ll have to wait.”
“That’s fine, but can we go ashore?” (Normally, only the captain can go ashore until everyone has been cleared.)
“If you are all Americans that would be fine.”
Having cleared halfway in we took the dinghy into town, which was hopping. It was more of a carnival atmosphere than anything else. Puerto Rican tourists strolled the narrow streets with Medallia beers in hand. A bar named Los Remos (the paddles) beckoned us for dinner and drinks. Chase and Ella danced to the band while we sat there and smiled, proud of our voyage so far.

Onboard Rivers2Seas we have about 35 flags for different courtesy

Rivers2Seas

flags. These flags are hoisted on the starboard spreader to signify that you have checked into a county and show respect for the place you are cruising. Flying the yellow flag signifies that you and the crew are under quarantine until being officially cleared into the country. Having thought that we were going to miss Puerto Rico, we didn’t have the needed flag. We didn’t have the Dominican Republic either, but the marina had one for $15. In all of Boquerón I could only find two flags: a 3 foot by 5 foot cheap flag or a well made 4 by 7 foot flag. Normally the courtesy flags are one foot by eighteen inches. For $10 we had the largest flag out there. Our boat stuck out in every anchorage with the red, white and blue of Puerto Rico flapping high above.
Pulling into the fuel dock to fill up the almost empty diesel tanks, two gentlemen working on their boat nearby grabbed our lines. Sailing is easy; it’s the coming into contact with land that is difficult. Anytime we can get help it’s welcome. Awhile later after filling up with the cheapest fuel yet – the bill was “only” $400US, a group of men stood on the dock admiring our large flag. Our new friend came over and promptly burst my pride bubble. “Nice Puerto Rican flag – but it’s upside down.” Knowing that this is the signal for a declaration of war, embarrassment doesn’t quite fit. The single star in the middle should have the point pointing to the skies. He was quite nice about it and then proceeded to point out that more than half the boats in the marina had upside down flags.

Taking a taxi to Mayaguez to officially check in let the kids see that we were in America – sort of. American stores of every variety make up most of the businesses, all with a Spanish flair. It’s pretty cool. The first question at immigration was “do you have a decal?” I could have yelled at the guy, but held my tongue. We now have our own, official, spectacular DECAL.

The happy family aboard Rivers2Seas

Heading south around the corner of Puerto Rico and then East along the coastline enabled us to see the arid landscapes and picturesque lighthouses. Winds were light and seas relatively calm. We weren’t sailing Rivers2Seas, but we weren’t getting beat up either. Overnighting near a phosphorescent bay we made a nighttime tour in the dinghy with new friends from Wildest Dream. The bay had some bioluminescence that would glow when disturbed. Just another real life lesson for the kids on ecology and organisms. The coolest part was when the organisms were sucked into the cooling system of the outboard. Large fireballs of light would shoot out. David from Wildest Dream, myself and Chase thought the fireballs were fantastically cool – it must be a guy thing.
Next we headed to Caja de Muertos (coffin island). Trying to catch some wind offshore, I managed to make some good time but it was like being on a broken rollercoaster for hours with no break. As a US National Park, the island has some good trails and information. There are also five mooring balls so that anchors don’t mess up the underwater ecosystem. Having had to raise the anchor by hand since the Bahamas, a mooring ball represents a day off for my back. A mooring ball is a permanently placed anchor, generally a heavy concrete block with a line and a ball floating that we can tie a line to and be done. We tied up and headed to shore.
Hiking along the path with towering thirty-foot tall Organ Pipe cacti all around and

The three amigos on a hike

lizards scurrying about, fit in well with Ella’s habitat lesson. From the top we toured the lighthouse, gave a lesson on navigation, windward and leeward shores while watching Rivers2Seas floating tranquilly far below. Most hikes we rarely get glimpses of our home, the foliage being too thick to see much of a vista. Lighthouses by their very nature of signaling to mariners where a headland or island is located have become desired hikes for all of us because of these great viewing areas.
The draw of the mooring ball or the great National Park, I’m not sure which, enticed us to stay another night. The next day we swam at the beach, collected seashells, watched the kids body surf the waves and then toured the museum. Relaxation and education – what could be better? Our best lessons with the kids are the ones where they don’t realize that it’s a lesson. Boat kids learn quickly that lessons and education and learning aren’t just a school thing; it’s a life thing. They see Lindsey and I gleaming information from other cruisers, locals, guidebooks and the internet. We are in constant learning mode. To be safe, to find the fun spots, to miss the bad sections, to find the exhilarating hikes, we must constantly be learning. The kids see this and emulate what we are doing. It is one of the great benefits of having our kids with us 24 hours a day.

Turtle

Ella

Laundry day

Leaving our mooring ball at 3:45AM was so easy, just untie one cleat and pull the line in. Lindsey went back to bed, while I navigated by radar and GPS. No moon, just Rivers2Seas floating below a sea of stars with bioluminescence filling the black sea. More than ever I felt like a space traveler going Mach speed though the galaxies. Sure we were only going 6mph, but that must have been the space-time continuum confusing me.
Outer Space has always fascinated me and looking at stars has made me feel so small. One of my favorite trips ever was skiing into Holy Cross Mountain with my buddy Bryce and his friend Dale. Dale was one of those great teachers that loved to teach anyone who cared to learn. He taught me names of distant galaxies and the fables and legends that went along with them. As I froze my butt off in a snowbank, he went on and on giving me my greatest space lesson. Sadly, he died the same day as my mother in an Alaskan avalanche sliding down a peak on a sled. Obviously, his joy of life never diminished. He must be orchestrating spectacular light shows with my mom now. Cheers, you two, the shows have been wonderful. This morning’s sunrise is just another spectacular ball of fire changing colors before me and all around. Peace.

Heading into Salinas harbor around 7AM, a military speedboat came up on our stern really fast. Moments before hitting us, the boat veered off and reconnoitered with another vessel. A few minutes later, we were flanked on either side by an impressive fast hypalon gunship and a local police boat. Luckily, no guns were drawn, but the presence was frightening. The police boat was trying to hail us on the radio. We could hear nothing. Close enough for talking; I let them know in Spanish that I couldn’t hear. They fiddled with the controls and still nothing. I asked if they were on channel 16, the universal emergency and hailing channel. More fiddling with controls. Finally, we were talking. One of the police officers gave the other the universal look of “you fool.” Nevertheless, they were going to follow us into the anchorage and board Rivers2Seas. We had to anchor twice which meant pulling the chain by hand, all the while with two gunboats at our side. We had hoped because of the early hour that the other boats in the anchorage hadn’t seen the parade. During the week we spent in Salinas we were constantly bombarded with “what happened with the police?” They were on the wrong channel and had to save face and check all our papers. Fun, military style.

Salinas is known for a good marine chandralry, good restaurants and cheap supermarkets. A cruisers paradise. In reality, the marine store had moved out of town, the restaurants were mediocre and the supermarkets far away. A cruisers reality. Often cruising feels like fixing a boat in paradise, looking for parts in a confusing city and being shocked by food prices.
Our watermaker had not been working right since we started in September. My friend

Bromiliads in bloom

John on Bikini helped me trick the computer and fill our tanks anyway. We ordered membranes while in Georgetown, Bahamas to fix it correctly. After a couple days of emails and working out the issues of our now extinct manufacturer the dealer informed me that he couldn’t sell us the membranes because of dealership exclusivity areas. I would have to order them from a guy in New Jersey. That guy didn’t have the parts either and didn’t want to order them from the manufacturer. I called the original guy back in Florida and pleaded for help. He thankfully did and so the saga of our well travelled parts begun. He had them air shipped from California to Florida, then shipped them ground to North Carolina to a guy who was sailing to the Bahamas, that guy gave them to a wonderful guy Mick in Georgetown, who gave them to our friends on Bikini who air shipped them to Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We rented a car and headed 100 miles to Fajardo to pick them up two months after the initial order. The kicker was that as we headed across the Mona Passage, the watermaker decided to work and now the parts are just another $1200 spare part aboard.
Renting the car and getting to a large West Marine store enabled us to fix all sorts of things on the boat. My list was long and the kids ran all over the store adding to the two carts of supplies. Day’s worth of projects now awaited me, but first we had some more touring to do with the car.

El Yunque National Forest

El Yunque is the only US National Park that is a rainforest. We had some spectacular hikes looking for flowering bromeliads, critters, and waterfalls. More education from the tourist sites and maps and the lessons on habitat continued. The lushness of the foliage, cascading waterfalls and intermittent rain was like moisturizer on our skin. The kids ran down the spongy muddy paths screaming, “look at this” every 100 feet.
Heading into Old San Juan, we toured the large

Just another famous fort

forts with thousands of other cruise boat tourists. Cool forts but the people all seemed fat and pink. We wondered what all the locals thought of the pink tourists. The Puerto Ricans were all dressed to impress with the shoes being a focal point. Our water sandals did not pass muster. A fantastic sushi dinner on the main walkway while sipping a Medalla beer let us people watch.

The kids couldn't get enough and pointed everywhere

The next day we restocked the boat with $1400 worth of provisions from a Sams Club, Wal-Mart & local vegetable store. We had already stocked up in Boquerón a week ago with $800 in groceries but cheap food is hard to find in the islands. The fridge and freezer were stocked full. Some American brands like GoGurt (freezable yogurt) excited the kids. When you have a three-week search for Cherrios, finding a favorite specialty food is really exciting. Finding NutterButters in the store sent Chase screaming through the aisles until he found mom. Our kids have certainly learned how to be thrifty with their treasured foods. We eat less than we ever did in our land-based life, but spend three times as much on food of generally lesser quality. It’s one of the great frustrations for all cruisers.

In Salinas bay we drank coffee each morning looking for the elusive Manatees that frequent the area. Often we would see ripples but not much more. Once a huge 1000-pound lumbering blob came right up to Rivers2Seas. It was spectacular. Seeing animals this rare and so close is one of the great fortunes for all cruisers.

The crew