Monthly Archives: April 2013

Old friends, new friends

I love Facebook and I’m always confused by people who dismiss it out of hand, or think it’s dangerous or beneath them. Facebook keeps my entire diverse and far-flung extended family in touch with each other and keeps us up-to-date with ex-neighbors and friends from the ‘hood. It also helps us reconnect with people we knew back when, you know the ones, when you think to yourself, “I wonder what ever happened to — ?”

I reconnected with an old friend Ron Dicola, whom I met forty years ago. He was part of a crowd my girlfriend hung out with in the neighborhood where she went to nursing school. Ron introduced me to the books of Carlos Castaneda and was one of the first people to take me sailing, both of which had a big influence on my life. I only knew him for a short time when I heard he and his wife had moved to St. Thomas. When I saw him on Facebook I sent a note and we caught each other up on the intervening decades. It turns out Ron did a single-handed circumnavigation in the late 80s and with that, he moved right into the pantheon of heroes for both Jack and me. We couldn’t wait to see him and Sunday was the day.

Once again we took the ferry over to St. Thomas and Ron picked us up for a driving tour of the island. It’s great to find that someone you met as a kid forty years ago is still the kind of person you want to be friends with today. We both think we look exactly the same.



Ron drove us all over as we got to know each other again and appreciated the view of St. Thomas from well above sea level.



Then we were treated to the very best kind of experience of cruising, being invited home. We met Ron’s wife Jane, a yoga teacher and vegetarian, so you know we hit it off right away. We spent the afternoon in their beautiful home enjoying the incredible view of the path we sailed to get here, and Jane helped me get the kinks out of my back from two weeks of uncomfortable passage sleeping. Jack and I felt an instant kinship with Ron and Jane and we’re so happy to convert a Facebook connection into a real life friendship.




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Two dollar taxi bus

Securite, securite, securite, barked the VHF radio, Charlotte Amalie Harbor will be closed to traffic Saturday evening due to carnival fireworks…Fireworks! I love fireworks. For years in Pittsburgh I shoehorned Mischievous into the Allegheny River with a thousand other boats or floating objects, cheek to jowl, to watch Fourth of July fireworks. Kind of a chancy proposition with too many overly lubricated skippers with too many boats, but also too beautiful to miss.

There was no way we were going to pass on carnival fireworks in St. Thomas but jamming Escape Velocity into a strange harbor filled to the eyeballs with yachts wasn’t making me feel warm and fuzzy so we took a ferry over from St John. 20130430-222514.jpg

No…I really can’t say that I recognize anything but the vibe, but then carnival is just crazy, crazy crowds, crazy costumes, wild music. 20130430-220401.jpg20130430-220558.jpg20130430-220706.jpg20130430-220742.jpg20130430-220825.jpg

We zig zagged through the old town which has uptown shops carved into very old stone Danish warehouses with arched doors and windows.20130430-214327.jpg20130430-213942.jpg20130430-214017.jpg

After having our senses bombarded for a few hours we were looking for some food at a quiet outdoor corner cafe and maybe some painkillers! We found just the spot overlooking the harbor with good painkillers, nice combination. 20130430-214044.jpg

We had a few hours to kill so we walked through the music and food venue and I had to try this concoction which consists of fried potato hash in the shape of a bowl, jerk pork, onion, lettuce, and tomato on top. Mighty fine.20130430-214447.jpg20130430-214522.jpg20130430-214830.jpg20130430-214924.jpg20130430-215058.jpg

We took up position on the quay along the harbor and struck up a conversation with Sinclair who was born in Tortola, grew up in St. Thomas, works in New Jersey and has family up and down the Eastern seaboard. Talking with him made the time pass easily. 20130430-215358.jpg20130430-224419.jpg

The fireworks were great and we saw some new types we hadn’t seen before, I’d say more of the sky painting, thoughtful variety as opposed to Pittsburgh style where subtlety doesn’t impress…more like a forty-five minute continuous grand finale. Subtle it ain’t, but lots of fun.


One last adventure awaited us because the last ferry leaves from Redhook Bay not Charlotte Amalie, which means we’d need to get a ride on the two dollar taxi bus. Maybe it was because, for us, anything over six mph is dicing with death or the driver was just a madwoman but the trip hurtling over the mountain in the two dollar doorless taxi bus will not be forgotten soon.

Back in St John the north wind had piled-up enough water in Cruz Bay that the dinghy dock was all but under water and apparently it had rained quite a bit, because the dink had a lot of water in it. Where are you going to get plastic bags for your feet in St John at midnight? We got a little wet but we got back home, tired and happy.


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What a year!

One year ago today we signed the papers and made Escape Velocity our home. And today we completed our first significant ocean passage aboard. It’s been quite a year for us, full of adventure, frustrations, a health scare, many successes, a few spectacular failings while navigating a steep learning curve and it’s all been so much fun and more than we ever hoped it would be. We want to thank everyone who’s come along on this journey with us by reading the blog and sending us comments and well-wishes. Your support means so much to us.



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When approaching virgins

The incomparable beauty of it. Approaching from the sea it seems like one second everything looks normal, you look down, scan the instruments, you look up and suddenly there they are in the gathering early morning light. Magic, plus a color we haven’t seen in a while. Green…lots of green. Green covered hills. Green covered mountains ever more pale misty blue as one island overlaps and recedes into the distance as far as the eye can see. Heady stuff after seeing nothing but lumpy seas and clouds for eleven days.




Suddenly even the VHF radio perked-up after days and days of silence, the coastguard was broadcasting a securite warning about closing the Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Didn’t catch the reason but they’ll run the warning again.

After such a long hard fought passage it seemed like we were suddenly at the mooring field so quickly that we weren’t sure if it was the Caneel Bay anchorage. We still had a full days chores to do plus it was a haircut, shave, and a cockpit shower for the skipper.

After gathering up ships papers and launching the dink we were off to see the wizard…in this case customs officials of St John USVI. At Spanish Wells, Bahamas I had seven pages of forms to fill out. This time I brought along my secret weapon who loves to fill out forms. As Marce and I walked out of the customs office we looked at each other and we both started to laugh, we actually pulled it off. We sailed to The Virgin Islands, but then we’ve always believed in special dispensation for spunky fools.

This is my kind of place, laid back with a heavy dose of island funk. Small shops, cute little plaza, restaurants. All very tidy.


We were on a mission. Food. Specifically pizza. Don’t know why. Several locals pointed us towards a beautiful little multi-level beehive collection of artsy shops called Mongoose Junction. The Sun Dog Cafe turned out to be a Vender caravan with a couple of shady tables backed up by a very interesting menu. Nice dark & stormy with bitters.

Back aboard Escape Velocity we had our celebratory dinner of champagne and Fritos Flavor Twists Honey BBQ, impervious to damp salty air. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.


As we sat in the cockpit sipping the last of the champagne in the gathering twilight when it happened again. I looked up and St Thomas had disappeared and had morphed into a thousand twinkling points of light across Pillsbury Sound.

All you have to do is get here.


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Shore leave

We follow other sailing blogs and often laugh that whenever cruisers come to the end of a long passage they race off the boat to get checked in and hunt for their favorite thing, whether it’s ice cream or a tropical drink or even just some fresh fruits and vegetables. We always said we’d just want to sleep!

Haha. We have joined the race crowd. At least I have. We picked up the mooring at Caneel Bay, St. John, and while Jack futzed with the boat and checked out the neighbors and the incredible view I changed my clothes, washed my face and gathered the ship’s papers we need for check in. All the while I’m saying, “Come on! Come on!”


Jack finally took his cockpit shower and we launched the dinghy for the first time in two weeks. We dinghied around the point to Cruz Bay and completely missed the channel leading to the Customs Dock and tied up instead near the ferry dock. That meant we came ashore disoriented and not knowing which way to go to check in, but dazzled by the little hub of colorful activity. We eventually found our way to Customs and got checked in, then stopped in the National Park Service office to get our Senior Pass which will give us 50% off the mooring fee and free entry to all a National Parks. Unfortunately the volunteer at the desk couldn’t help us and suggested we come back later when a ranger was there. In the meantime we asked where to get a good lunch. She looked at us funny.

“It’s 10:30,” she said. I looked at my phone in surprise. Sure enough. We’d been up for hours and it felt like late afternoon to us.

“Sun Dog Cafe,” she said, and pointed down the street to a collection of shops called Mongoose Junction. We’d heard about it on the online cruising guide.

Generally speaking we prefer to patronize local and independent businesses and eschew any kind of developer-created shopping district, but we fell in love with Mongoose Junction because of the design and architecture.




Sun Dog wasn’t open yet but the waiter invited us to sit down and use the wifi. We logged on and quickly sent our arrival announcement and downloaded our two weeks’ worth of email. The waiter brought us up to date on the news highlights and when the cafe opened we both ordered pizza and a Dark and Stormy.

Sun Dog’s wifi is limited to one hour so after lunch we wandered around town looking for ice cream and wifi. We found the ice cream at an open air cafe/bar. As the proprietor scooped our ice cream I asked if she were a native of St. John.

“No,” she said. “I’m from St. Lucia.” I asked her what brought her here and she gave a big heavy sigh and rolled her eyes.

“I was in love.” We laughed and I told her “Me too! That’s how I ended up where I did.” And she looked from me to Jack and back again.

“You’re lucky,” she said. We agreed and waved goodbye.

We wandered back to the National Park Service Office and found the ranger now on duty. She explained the Senior Pass and how to pay for the moorings, then I asked if she was born and raised here. She said no, but she’s been here for a very long time. And what brought her here? She sighed and I knew the look.

“A man.” she said. “He left. I stayed.” And she laughed, “I got the better end of the deal.” We agreed with that.

As we headed back toward the main road I told Jack I wanted to go back to the ice cream cafe and when the lady saw me climb the steps she raised an eyebrow to see us return so soon.

“I just had to tell you,” I said, and I told her she had a soul sister at the Park Office. She threw back her head and laughed, then told us she’d been married for 20 years and had five kids when her husband left her.

“He’s a dog!” I said.

“He’s more than a dog,” she said and just then her phone rang and we left her to it.


For the rest of the afternoon we ambled from park to cafe to park again, taking in the charming little town and logging online whenever we could to get reconnected with the world.



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Call off the hounds!

We arrived in the US Virgin Islands today after 11 days and 22 hours at sea and 1150 miles. It was a frustratingly slow windward passage but we are well and happy to be here. There was no blood or vomit spilled, and no lawyers were involved. We’ll be uploading the blog posts we wrote underway when we get a good wifi connection. Everything will be posted in date order so you’ll have to scroll down to check for new posts until we get caught up.



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What’s that there?

Jack woke me at 4am for my second shift. I came out to the cockpit and he gave me a rundown on course and speed. Yeah, yeah, I said, go get some sleep.

I climbed into the helmsman’s seat to look at the chart and scan the horizon. I saw a lot of lights on the right and searched for the binoculars for a better look but couldn’t find them. I got down and crawled past the cockpit table to peer over the side deck past the enclosure. That, I said to myself, is an island!

I went back to the chart to confirm that it was St. Thomas, off our starboard bow. I leaned down the companionway and called, “Land ho!” and in a flash Jack was back up and looking too, positively giddy.

We’re still about 15 miles from St. John where we will clear in. There’s a full moon beside us, islands ahead of us, and behind us twenty years of dreams.

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Fire the retrorockets

Escape Velocity is coming out of orbit. This is our last night at sea before we arrive in St. John. It’s been a frustrating day.

Our wind, which the Ocean Prediction Center unfailingly told us would be from the east, went south on us. Our only option was to motor and we did some calculations and determined how fast we should go so we wouldn’t arrive in port before dawn Thursday. Everything was working perfectly so Jack went to his off-watch nest for a nap and I decided to take a bath.

If you remember, the watermaker packed it in a few days out so showers have been off limits. We’ve kept ourselves reasonably clean with a combination of sponge baths and baby wipes but I really needed to scrub up. I used a technique I perfected on Stan’s boat, which had no shower. I filled a 2-quart jug with water, took it and a bowl and my soap and washcloth out to the cockpit. The seas are still too choppy to make standing up safe so I took my clothes off and sat down at the cockpit well where there are drain scuppers. First I washed my hair with my head hanging over the well, then I poured a little water into the bowl and used it to scrub myself with soap and washcloth. Finally I rinsed by pouring the rest of the bottle of water over the soapy bits. I know some people wash in salt water and do a fresh water rinse but I’ve never felt like I got all the salt off so this works better for me.

Anyway, I was just finished when an alarm went off. We get alarms all the time — system alarms, GPS fix lost, AIS data lost — but this was the dreaded autopilot trip alarm. Sheesh, after 11 days it decides to stop working? I wrapped a towel around me and jumped into the helm seat which is where I sat hand-steering the boat until Jack woke up an hour and a half later and took over so I could get dressed.

We tried everything to get the pilot back, turned it off for a while to let it cool down, changed a few settings. Sometimes it would hold for a while then trip again, other times it just wouldn’t go back on course. We tried to remember when it had happened before and it’s been a while. We wondered if it’s because the engine was running and producing current at the same time that our solar panels are also charging and the battery monitor is already flashing FULL FULL FULL FULL. Well sure, we’d love to be sailing instead but the wind won’t let us. Aw, what the heck, we’ll sail for a while in whatever direction we can and see if that’s the problem.

Sure enough, we switched the engine off, turned temporarily toward Puerto Rico and Mr. Autopilot steered beautifully. Hmmm.

We decided to just enjoy the sail for a while, even though we weren’t heading towards our goal. After a few hours we reluctantly turned back into the wind and — so far, so good — the autopilot held.

By 5:00 we knew there would be no more sailing this trip so we furled the main in Jack’s Rube Goldberg complicated line set up because as you remember the electric winch is kaput and there’s something blocking us from using a manual winch handle in it. Jack led the furling line under the port panel of the cockpit enclosure, across the side deck, through a turning block, back across the side deck behind the back rest to the spinnaker winch where he hand-cranked the big heavy main down while I tensioned the halyard. We were both a little tensioned by the end of that ordeal, but the main is safely furled and just don’t expect it to get raised again until we fix the electric winch. It’s on the list.

We celebrated our last passage night by actually cooking: black bean burgers and cole slaw. It’s the best we can do in unsettled seas.

It’s now 11:45pm. We decided on shorter watches in case the autopilot stops working again. It’s very tiring to hand-steer a compass course at night and neither of us can do it for five hours so it’s three on, three off, times two.

For the first time this trip I can see multiple ships out there. One of them the AIS tells me is Oasis of the Seas and it’s huge and lit up like a mall at Christmas.

Jack just came up for his second shift so I’m off to nap for three hours.


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Shoes off

Like most women I love shoes. But I don’t love most women’s shoes. I love my Chuck Taylor All-Stars in pumpkin and lime and black leather and the plaid ones for the holidays with the jingle bells on the tongues. I love my cowboy boots. I love my Timberland hiking boots and my Keens and my running shoes and my three pairs of Crocs and my espadrilles. I love my flipflops. I love all my shoes but the one thing I don’t love is wearing them.

I’ve been kicking my shoes off at every possible opportunity for as long as I can remember. Wherever I live, the last thing I have to do before I go out is look for my shoes, which could be anyplace I happened to have finally had enough confinement and stepped out of them.

My mom had odd ideas about shoes. She had it set in her mind that a child must be shod in heavy protective boots before he or she was ready to take those first steps. So here you are at about a year old pulling yourself up to a standing position and reaching out to Daddy and you’ve got to lift the half-pounders tied onto your tiny little feet, leaving you no flexibility to work on balance.

Sometime after I learned to walk, which I managed to do despite the “walkers,” my mother was convinced by someone that I needed to wear “corrective” shoes because my left foot toed in. I spent the next five years of my life wearing a kind of proto-Doc Marten model of ankle boot that would have looked a little punk if it weren’t for the plaid dresses and bad home perms.

Eventually I must have protested enough that I was allowed to wear normal shoes, if what you call normal is Buster Browns. It was many years before my sister and I were permitted to wear sneakers because Mom was sure our feet would “spread.” I thought this was an odd concept and took to pointing out that people had run barefoot through the forests and fields of the world long before shoes were invented but she was not swayed. So I just kept kicking off my shoes whenever I could. And my left foot still toes in.

Jack, on the other hand, loved to wear his shoes. Tightly tied. At all times. His shoes came off only when he was sitting on the edge of the bed ready to retire. Even his boat shoes are the three-grommet style because he likes to feel his feet securely bound. My mom loved him, by the way, but I can’t say for sure if it’s because of a shared philosophy of shoes.

We were married on the bow of a boat under sail and even then he was rubber-soled and sure-footed. I of course was barefoot. Then we moved aboard EV. I watched as Jack occasionally made it all the way through breakfast without putting his shoes on. Then he made a deliberate decision to try and be on the boat without shoes, especially since most boat owners ask you to leave your shoes on the dock or on deck before boarding. He says that first week was brutal and the bottoms of his feet felt clubbed. But he stuck with it and now he kicks his shoes off in the cockpit as soon as we get back onboard. Plus, the arthritis in his big toe he used to complain about seems to have up and left.

Yesterday morning we were sharing our night watch experiences and observations and he said, “It’s so funny. There I was on watch with a t-shirt, a sweater, long pants and a foul weather jacket bundled up under a blanket — and bare feet!”


Yep. That’s life on a boat. And I, a shoe-shunner, have found my proper home. Nearly two weeks straight without shoes — or a bra. It’s a kind of heaven.


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Not so fast



It’s Tuesday afternoon. We’ve been at sea for 11 days and we’re still 160 miles from the islands. After a perfect night of east wind and the same for most of the morning we’re suddenly experiencing wind shifts that take away our speed and our direct course. We have to constantly adjust the sails to keep moving against the wind and seas that are now on our nose, now on our port bow, then back on the nose again. For a while we ran one engine trying to keep the speed up but slamming bow first into these waves is tiring. Eventually we shut it down and accepted the fact that we will not make port on Wednesday as we hoped. But that’s ok. Once we stopped futzing with the boat we’re enjoying another beautiful day at sea in good, but chilly, weather, doing our usual afternoon samba of following the shade around the cockpit and dozing on and off.


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