Monthly Archives: January 2014

Coo coo ca choo

After seeing and hearing about various rigging failures we decided to completely replace our standing rigging — that’s the system of guy wires that hold up the mast, and our running rigging — that’s the collection of ropes that control the sails. In the grand scheme of things, it’s small potatoes but we got estimates from riggers and they wanted a lot of dough to both fabricate the parts and install. Through our online Manta tech list we were lucky to have a very generous offer from Dan of Sunny Ray, who said he would install the rig if we sourced the parts. I went into shopping zombie mode, not easy when you’re doing business via Skype on marginal wifi connections. Eventually we got the standing rigging and most of the running rigging ordered and after being driven nuts trying to figure out where to send it I came to my senses and contacted the nice shipper in Miami that we’d used to get things to Grenada. Could she help me? Why yes! The vendor, Rigging Only, could ship to Miami for free, then Miami Mimi would overnight it to us when we gave her the high sign. That meant I had a few days of not having to research, source, order or coordinate shipping on any boat parts. For now. That means tourist time.

We drove to Ponce and took the one dollar tram tour around the old city. We were told the tour would be in English but as it turned out, the only thing the driver did was point to various buildings and yell out “1845!” Or “1920s!” Still, it was fun and Ponce is beautiful.




Ponce is where one branch of my family is from, and I wanted desperately to visit the local archives and do some research. The women at the tourist office directed us to the right building and as soon as we pushed open the door my heart sank. We saw nothing but stacks and stacks of archive boxes. This didn’t look good.


I told the receptionist why I was there and she made a call. In a few minutes a friendly, English-speaking older woman asked if she could help. She was the archivist and when I explained what I was looking for she sighed. She told me they had all kinds of records that would help me but they were all packed up to move to another building and wouldn’t reopen until mid-February. I wrote down my name and contact info and a description of what I was researching and she promised to dig around once they get unpacked and organized. I was glad to have a contact at the archives, but disappointed the I couldn’t poke around in the records myself.



We still have tons to do while we wait for the rigging to arrive so we moved down the list to “get travel vaccinations.” Jack found a vaccination clinic in Ponce and we located it without too many wrong turns. The place was deserted when we arrived. We told the desk clerk we needed travel shots and gave him a list of countries we planned to visit and a couple of minutes later he ushered us into the doctor’s office. We had a nice chat about our trip, decided on what shots we needed to get, choked on the cost, got a scary rundown on possible side-effects, and finally submitted to a course of increasingly painful shots.



As we were leaving I happened to mention that I had family in Ponce I haven’t met yet. I asked the doctor if he knew the Oliver Funeral Home.

“Jackie Oliver? He’s my patient! You have to meet him.” Jack and I looked at each other and cracked up. What are the odds that the random doctor we pull out of a list to give us travel vaccinations ends up being my cousin’s doctor? The doctor told us where to find the funeral home and it was nearby. I was just going to take a photo but when we saw that the parking lot was empty something came over me and I leapt out of the car and up the steps, Jack struggling to keep up with me. I asked for Jackie Oliver at the reception desk and a few seconds later a dapper man came out of an office door.

“Are you Jackie Oliver?” He looked slightly suspicious when I announced that I’m his cousin, and I recited the begats back to our common great-great-great grandmother, Cecilia Purdie Echevarne. His eyes lit up. “Echevarne. I know that name.” And he ushered us into a small room where we sat at a granite table and I showed him the family tree on my iPad. Jackie’s son Jose joined us and with each ancestor I pointed out, Jackie shared a story.


We mentioned we planned a drive to San Juan to pick up our rigging at the airport and Jackie suggested we visit a couple of cousins who live there. He called Betty Oliver and put me on the phone.


I wrote to Betty and several others in Puerto Rico nearly 20 years ago but lost touch and didn’t know how to find them. I was thrilled to hear her voice and we made plans for later in the week. “I love you!” she said when we signed off.

Jackie is a character, and a wealth of information on Ponce and the family. His funeral home also doubles as a museum of all things Ponce and he gave Jack and me a quick tour. Every photo, every piece of equipment or memorabilia prompted a story and we could have listened to him for days.


We had a long drive back to Salinas, though, and the sun was going down and we cruisers turn into pumpkins after dark. We said a reluctant goodbye and posed for a family portrait.

Every time I make another family connection –no matter how distant — I see a more complete picture of the people and events that led to this day and this place and to the person I am. And I’m reminded of how connected we all are to one another. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.


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Send in the lefty

The coach is on the mound and is already signaling for the lefty. So I get the call. Yes, I get the connection…coffee…me, but this is more Marce’s kind of story, after all it’s her family that had a sugar plantation in the early 1800’s called Hacienda Bagatela nestled in the flatlands of coastal Ponce, probably with a few slaves thrown in to do the work. My family, by contrast, was probably making pea gravel out of large rocks in the mountains of Romania.

I may have already mentioned that we had a Sidney car rental here in Salinas so when we heard there was a restored functioning coffee plantation called Hacienda Buena Vista high up in the misty mountains above Ponce, we gassed up the Fiesta.

Driving in Puerto Rico is like taking an advanced master course in collision avoidance. You’ll round a corner only to stare into the grill of some kind of Toyota blithely driving in your lane. Yikes! Oh, it’ll be a bump in the road or some such irritant that they want to avoid. Bumps in the road take precedence over all other rules-of-the-road in Puerto Rico, so one can often meet an on coming car with nothing more than bump avoidance instead of head on avoidance foremost on their mind. No one drives in the right hand lane on the highway…it’s less bumpy in the left lane and it’s normal to find an old car tiptoeing across a bump in the left hand lane of a sixty five mile per hour highway. The closing rate is a pucker inducing eye opener of the first rate. They aren’t looking out for you so you’d better be watching out for them.



As I say we corkscrewed up and around the most awesome mountain vistas, in and out of cloudy mists and more than a few bumps in the road until, while negotiating a tight righthand switchback we came upon a formal guarded entry gate. This is unusual for PR but we queued up behind the ubiquitous Toyota and as ordered, we waited. Soon school was out and the class ahead of us filed out and the Toyota and I filed in, all very orderly. Nice grounds, unusual touch to enter and exit through the gift shop where Marce succumbed to their temptations with a few needed purchases.

I was immediately impressed with the amount of work and expense building the tremendous infrastructure required to house and feed slaves, animals, and family on the side of a mountain, and then to divert a mountain stream through a long series of aqueducts and culverts to run all the necessary machinery to produce coffee and mill corn. All the machines are in working order and are demonstrated for your edification but the best was a waterjet-powered turbine corn mill which uses the force of a 75 foot vertical drop of water to squirt out of two opposite-facing high pressure nozzles. We were very clever back in the 1800’s. The machine was manufactured at the West Point Foundry and shipped to Ponce at incredible expense. If you want to see a Barker Hydraulic Turbine working you’ll have to go to Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce, Puerto Rico, because it’s the only one there is.

The next class was waiting and orderly at the gate as we finished the tour and started winding our way down through the beautiful mountains. It takes a while to unscrew yourself from the twists and turns, what with dodging all those bump-adverse Toyotas in the wrong lane so it was dark when we arrived at the marina dinghy dock for another nighttime burger at the snack bar and a 200 foot dinghy ride back to Escape Velocity, motionless in the stillness of Salinas Bay. As my grandfather used to say, “there and back in the same day.” I was never sure what that meant but it’s always good to get back to our home.20140129-200310.jpg20140129-200339.jpg20140129-200356.jpg20140129-200324.jpg20140129-200412.jpg20140129-200511.jpg20140129-200528.jpg20140129-200543.jpg20140129-200620.jpg20140129-200709.jpg20140129-200631.jpg20140129-200646.jpg20140129-200449.jpg20140129-200727.jpg20140129-200852.jpg20140129-200834.jpg20140129-201008.jpg20140129-200935.jpg20140129-200902.jpg20140129-200818.jpg20140129-201156.jpg20140129-201210.jpg


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The view from the back porch


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Time slips away

We made the decision a few months back to sail to Puerto Rico to do our final preparations for the passage to Panama and for the coming year in the Pacific. We expected to be here during most of December, sail to Panama in January, transit the canal in early February and be on our way. Ha, say the forces of the nature. We hadn’t factored in the Christmas winds, those relentless higher-than-normal tradewinds. Add to that a seriously large ocean swell and an unfavorable wind direction. We were pinned down in Bequia for too long and finally made an uncomfortable run to Martinique where we spent Christmas with Flying Cloud.

Other boats stuck to their schedules doing shorter but just as uncomfortable hops and most got to where they wanted to be in a reasonable amount of time. Not us. As the days ticked by I got more and more frustrated and stressed that we wouldn’t be able to transit the canal in early February and our whole schedule would be thrown off. The words “schedule” and “stress” are not supposed to be in a cruisers vocabulary. Part of my stress was that my sister and brother-in-law are meeting us in Panama to do the canal transit and I can’t even tell them when to come. It’s a well-known rule in the cruising world that you don’t make a schedule with guests because you’re at the mercy of weather and other factors and you have to be able to wing it. But everyone has some kind of schedule , especially land-based people. I was also stressed because I had hoped to spend a glorious month in Puerto Rico chasing down cousins I haven’t met yet and researching family history. None of that was looking possible. The final stress nail in the coffin was that we’d decided to completely replace our rigging for the Pacific passage and ordering it, deciding where to ship it and finding someone to help install it was nearly impossible as we hopped north. I was getting cranky.

On January 5th we got an email from Jack’s sister. She would be in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, the week of January 12th for her annual company sales meeting and could we be there? We’d made it as far as St. Croix but were once more pinned down by unfavorable winds and high seas. We’d made the decision weeks ago to skip Fajardo and sail to Puerto Rico’s south coast because while Fajardo has most of the yacht services, it has no comfortable anchorages and the marinas are ridiculously expensive. We figured it made more sense to anchor in a safer place and rent a car for provisioning and touring. But Deb would be in Farjardo in a week. What should we do?

We should go for it. We left the rolly but fun anchorage at St. Croix for a long and lumpy day motorsailing to Culebra where we dropped anchor in a quiet place for a change and checked into Puerto Rico. Then we spent a frantic day and a half Skyping and emailing the resort where Deb would be staying to see if they had a slip we could use. It would be a budget buster to stay at a marina but easier to visit with Deb. The dockmaster said he didn’t have any room, but when he heard we hadn’t seen Deb for over a year he told us he’d figure something out.

We left Culebra in the same lumpy conditions we’d arrived in and motor sailed the nasty 20 miles to the La Conquistador resort hotel. We called the dockmaster on the VHF radio and he told us to come straight in then make a hard right to a starboard tie-up. I rigged the fenders and docklines, a little rusty because it’s been a long, long time since we tied up to a dock. Jack continued to pilot EV toward the shore, but we couldn’t see the entrance to the marina. I stood on deck with binoculars as Jack followed the chartplotter and inched forward toward what looked like solid rocks ashore. Finally we saw the tiny break between the rocks and Jack eased EV through the breakers then made a hard right to squeeze between a ferry and the concrete pier. The dockmaster, Andres, was waiting for us and I tossed our docklines and just like that we were tied up to something solid for the first time since we-can’t-remember-when. It went so smoothly we impressed ourselves.


Andres welcomed us as we thanked him profusely for squeezing us in because this way we could avoid a long wet dinghy ride ashore to visit Deb. He pointed toward the hotel and said, “is that who you’re visiting?” It was Deb, making her way toward the dock.

Suddenly my stress and worry were gone and I was so happy to see someone I love. It’s been over a year since we saw Deb and almost that long since we saw any family member at all, longer for most of our close friends. Despite email and Facebook and Skype and FaceTime nothing beats a hug. We couldn’t believe we had actually met up with her, that for once something worked out well. We all talked at once trying to squeeze a year into a day but within minutes the time slipped away and we were just hanging out together, enjoying our usual comfortable relationship.

Deb wanted us to meet all her friends, co-workers she’s known for twenty years and longer. And she wanted them to meet us.


We took the funicular up to the resort and were introduced to friend after friend after friend. They all knew about us living on a boat and they were all agog at our lifestyle. I felt like I’d been ripped from our new world — the world of other cruisers where conversation centers on what boat system you’re fixing at the moment and where you’re cruising to next and which anchorage is better and how to navigate a local bus system — to our old world, where people wear shoes and go to meetings and have cars. It was serious culture shock and I realized how much we’d changed in the past two years.

We went to Starbucks, our first since Florida, and took a cab to West Marine and Walmart and felt very much like the American consumers that we are just below the slightly unkempt cruiser surface. Then we just hung out in the hotel with Deb and entertained a steady stream of people who wanted to know about our boat and our travels. Answering the usual questions — what do you do at night? What about storms? Aren’t you afraid? Are there pirates? Do you have a bathroom? — made us look objectively at the life that had become, truth be told, a stressful grind the last few months. I could feel my enthusiasm rekindle and we remembered how starry-eyed we were at the beginning of this journey. Visiting Deb and gaining perspective on our chosen life from people outside our small community was a shot in the arm and we’re so happy for it.

Sadly, the time was too short. The ferry dock wasn’t the most comfortable tie-up and EV was getting big black marks on her hull that had been so lovingly polished in Trinidad. Deb had meetings to go to and we needed to get someplace safer and set up the rerigging. After a last Starbucks with Deb, an onboard visit from a future cruiser and more profuse thanks to Andres for allowing us some family time from the convenience of a dock, Jack edged us away from the pier, pirouetted EV in the tiny marina and bounced us out to the lumpy sea again, heading south.


It was clear we wouldn’t make it to Salinas that day so we diverted to Vieques and dropped the hook off quiet Green Beach. Off schedule? Whatever. My stress was gone.


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Slow dancing


Escape Velocity is gently slow dancing to the rhythm of the Caribbean just off Vieques; yes it’s another plan B pit-stop. We have seventy feet of Italy’s finest galvanized down in twelve feet of clear water and sitting here in EV’s cockpit bathed in warm lazy sunshine it’s hard to believe that we just had to beat a hasty retreat off that beautiful but flea-bitten seemingly deserted beach. Maybe that’s why it’s deserted.


It’s remarkable how restorative something less than twenty-four hours could be. First it was the kindness and consideration shown us by Andres the dockmaster who found room for us at the tiny marina in the shadow of the huge Waldorf-Astoria El Conquistador resort hotel at Fajardo, Puerto Rico which takes the prize for the narrowest marina entrance with an immediate ninety degree turn into our temporary slip, which we handled with great alacrity even though we hadn’t tied up to a dock in over a year.




Next it was Debbie, my sister, who was attending a business conference there just as we were passing through. Many of her coworkers wanted to hear our story and visit EV. We always try to accommodate anyone who shows an interest in cruising because we once were one if them…probably worse. By the time the last of the visitors left we were pretty sure we weren’t going to make it to Salinas, so eagle-eye Marce found us this beautiful stopover on the way.

Once again the sad business of cruising life is saying so many goodbyes and it’s even worse when it’s family but it was great to see my sister after more than a year. I didn’t have a sister until I was in my twenties so every visit is special.


Early tomorrow it’ll be anchor up and on to Salinas. Honest.


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On the importance of being open to plan B

The last few landfalls haven’t exactly been our actual destinations, although they’ve been delightful stop-overs. I think you could chalk it up to the fierce Christmas winds and more importantly a particularly nasty sea state caused by those winds. Over and over we’re hearing passage stories, on the Coconut Net and email, of tough going and truncated cruises, while some of our friends seem to find weather windows that somehow work for them, and are making good progress.

BTW Marce has managed to coax meaningful sounds from our enigma box, better known as our SSB/ham radio and this morning we heard on the Coconut Net four friends’ boats, one of which we probably passed on our way over to Culebra from St Croix.


Our last day in St Croix was spent provisioning at a Costco-like box store called Cost U Less which meant a bit of waiting under the tamarind tree for the bus that doesn’t have a schedule but only costs $1.00US and you just tell the driver where you want to go. Charming Island, St. Croix.


This new plan B pit stop was a place that everyone said not to miss, but due to an early morning rain squall, which we waited out, we found ourselves near Culebra at about 1530hrs and decided to duck in out of the gale that was blowing.

We found a comfortable picturesque harbor with good holding and no bouncing inside Culebra’s Dewey Harbor. We dropped Catnip and after searching the harbor with binoculars I found The Dinghy Dock Restaurant and it appeared to be open on a Sunday so what’s a sailor to do? Marce thought we could do better in town but a quick reconnoiter found the town asleep so it was back to the Dinghy Dock for dinner which turned out great. That’s rare for a waterside bar.


We had a tip from What If that Zaco’s Tacos was a must so it was time for another plan B. Tomorrow at noon Zaco’s would open so Monday morning it would be a one mile forced march to the aeropuerto to officially check in and Zaco’s for lunch. From the look on Marces’ face it was well worth it and those eagle eyed Escapees will notice an official Steelers Terrible Towel behind the bar! Try the pork belly taco or Marces favorite, blackened tofu.



In the meantime we have to hustle over to Puerto Rico proper to finish the rigging which should be winging its way toward these parts and my sister is there for work right now so I gotta go!

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The view from the back porch


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People! People! Line up!

We woke up to wind and a dreary drizzle and stayed in bed longer than normal. I was trying to decide whether to go back to sleep for another hour when I heard a man’s voice, very close. “Hey!” I grabbed my shorts and ran up to the bridge deck and looked out the back door. I could see a man right off our starboard stern and he was in the cockpit of a sailboat.

“Jack! There’s a boat!” Just then the guy blew an air horn and Jack was up and out of the boat in a flash while I struggled to put my pants on.

“Fender!” the guy yelled, but Jack was already running to the bow locker for Big Bertha, our largest fender. By the time he got back to the stern and tied it on, the sailboat was drifting away from us again. With the immediate danger over we looked around. The anchorage was a mess. We hadn’t dragged but there was some kind of weird wind/current thing happening and every boat was pointing in a different direction and most were swinging this way and that. The rain had started in earnest and we both walked around the deck trying to assess what was happening. The boat that almost hit us was on a mooring but instead of swinging backwards on it he had overrun it and it was underneath his boat. We knew where we had dropped our anchor and it was stuck but EV had been pushed by the current so we were also over our anchor instead of behind it. We looked at all the other boats. Instead of being neatly lined up they were scattered all different ways.

Jack was in favor of reanchoring immediately. I thought we should stand by and wait until this weird tidal change and squall were over because it’s my job to choose the spot to drop anchor and with these conditions I couldn’t predict how the boats would line up.

Anchoring is a tricky business. You have to select a spot based on the depth of the water, the condition of the bottom, the wind and tides and the behavior of the neighboring boats. It’s a delight for a math nerd like me to mentally calculate those spatial factors and know that if you drop the anchor here in X feet of water the boat will lie there and knowing the wind direction now and the predicted wind later, it will swing in an arc from here to there.

Watching this slow-motion potential demolition derby in the crowded Christiansted Harbor I wanted to wait until I could better predict the behavior of the boats around us. That wouldn’t happen until the squall blew through and the boats settled into a pattern. As we deliberated the wind pushed Mr. Airhorn toward us again and we cranked up the engines and raised the chain.

“We’re off!” Jack yelled, as he always does from the bow as soon as we’re free. I put some way on but we didn’t seem to be moving. Jack came back to the cockpit to take the helm. This is our method. I go out on the bow to choose our spot while he drives, following my hand signals. Once I’m happy with where I want to drop the anchor we trade places; I keep the boat steady while he drops the anchor and pays out the chain. It works for us.

This time Jack came back to take the helm and said we’d picked up something on the anchor and it would have to come off before we dropped it again. I grabbed the boat hook and went forward. The anchor was dangling about four feet below the deck level and I could see there was some sea life wrapped around it. I lay down on the trampoline to have a closer look and saw that it was a steel cable crusted with shells. I reached down with the boat hook and after a few tries managed to hook the cable. But the pull of the wind and sea against the boat from behind threatened to take the boat hook right out of my hands. I was determined not to lose it and gave a good hard yank and got the cable off the anchor, but the boat hook was still hooked on the cable. The boat was moving forward away from the cable, and I was hooked onto the cable. I felt like my arm was being jerked by a gorilla. It was either let go of the boat hook or be pulled overboard. Nope. Not gonna give in. One final lurch and I got the hook off the cable, half of me dangling over the bow. I got both me and the boat hook back onboard and went back to report to Jack.

Meanwhile he’d been looking for a new spot to drop anchor. We decided on a good place based on the wind and position of the nearby boats, but as we dropped the hook the current pushed us sideways and we ended up in the channel. We took a breather and raised anchor again and did the only prudent thing in these bizarre conditions. We motored over to the other side of the channel and anchored in line with two other boats far away from everyone else where we’re in no danger of hitting or being hit by anyone. It’ll be a longer dinghy ride into town but at least we won’t find a stranger in our cockpit.

By the time things were buttoned up it was nearly ten o’clock. So much for that extra hour of sleep.

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Party in St. Croix

We arrived in St. Croix on New Year’s Eve exhausted by the two-day bouncy ride from Martinique. We didn’t quite make it to midnight but as luck would have it a few days later St. Croix celebrated carnival and we weren’t going to miss that.

We found a taxi bus that would take us across the island to Frederiksted for $2.50 per person and met up with a group of Danes on holiday. Turns out lots of Danes come here and to the other US Virgins because Denmark owned them until 1917 and the islands have very much retained their Danish character, architecture and place names. When Jack and I talked to locals in shops, on the street or in buses they always asked if we were Danish.


The town of Frederiksted is beautiful and well cared for. We wandered around along with the thousands of cruise ship passengers until it was time to stake out a good spot to view the parade.





It was a much smaller parade than we saw in St. Thomas or Grenada but the participants were no less enthusiastic and we even found a Steeler’s fan among the friendly crowd.






As much as we love St. Croix we’re anxious to get going because Jack’s sister Deb is going to be in Fajardo, Puerto Rico in mid January and we’re also trying to order new rigging and coordinate shipping and a rigger somewhere down the line. But the weather is not cooperating. The seas are too high, the wind is too strong. At least we’re not going against the wind now, so there’s that.

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Just hear those sleigh bells jingling

I guess it’s the thing to do. Tis the season after all. Leaving Martinique would mean leaving friends and a lovely barely explored Island behind only to take the sleigh ride to Puerto Rico.






The Christmas Winds are supposed to have subsided slightly but the sea state is still kind of hilly out there with some gusts thrown in just to keep us on our toes.


So it was anchor up at 9am and enjoy the ride. Clearing Le Marin harbor we turned into the wind to raise the sails and headed out towards Diamond Rock in a confused chop with mid twenties from behind. I confess we’re not used to sailing downwind but it seemed Escape Velocity wanted to go wing and wing so whatever the lady wants she gets.


After about an hour of this we cleared the rock so we could fashion a course to PR that kept the wind on the beam for a nice reach.


When we touched 10.2kts. on the speedo with everything vibrating, I was reminded of our new rig inspection which we passed but with a few caveats. It seems some preventative maintenance is in order due to some anomalies up there in the hinter regions of our rig which is one of the reasons for going to PR. But first you’ve got to get there so we have a good reef rolled in the main but now we’re booming along in the Dominica passage which is known for boisterous wind and waves and it rarely disappoints. Today is no exception, but it’s 25 to 32kts and just an exuberance of washer machine heavy chop. Predicted…10 to 15 with 5 foot swell. That’s the biggest 5 footers I’ve ever seen but as my good friend Mark always says it’s a sod and a bugger but there it is! He’s stuck in Carriacou knee deep in a bottom job that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy but It’s how we get to Puerto Rico or anywhere else for that matter.


There’s no moon tonight. I like a nice moon on a passage, I find it comforting, as you Escapees know, but what we’ve got here is more like a virtual sensory deprivation tank with an unabating 30 knot wind howling through the rigging, green water thundering down onto the dodger windows as the salt deposits make them less than transparent, the dim red glow of our instruments are lurching about before our eyes having absolutely no visual clue as to why my eyes can’t seem to catch up to the displays or why I can’t even keep my body upright in the captains chair. Uncle Ray, the new autopilot did an amazing job in horrendous conditions, getting slued around but compensating for all the zig-zags holding a true course. They should have put seatbelts in this thing. We’ve been in these conditions before, we call it a storm. This is not a storm. It is constant. It is unrelenting. It is the Christmas Winds.

The good news is that this is a wicked fast passage for us and that is fun never falling below seven kts. but as we neared St. Croix USVI, which was on our route, we had a pop-up route planning meeting and remembered that we’d missed St. Croix on the way down and doesn’t New Years in St Croix sound nice, besides our ETA in PR due to our unprecedented speed would be 3am. Four hours of jogging around a busy harbor entrance waiting for dawn requires more patience than I’m known to display.

New Years in Christiansted, St Croix’s crowded harbor, does have a ring to it. Let’s hope for some fireworks!


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