Monday, March 12, 2012

BVI Sailing Vacation (Part III)

June 28 - There are Sharks out there
Up at 7am. I slept well, but had to get up a couple of times to check on things as it seemed very windy overnight. Fresh pineapple and honeydew melon along with cereal for breakfast and then an early sailing start. (9:30 am).

Let's say I should have "reefed." It was very windy ... 25 knts out of the ENE, so we were "beating" all the way to Cooper Island (our next destination).  We were heeled way too much for efficient sailing.  I did not know how to operate the "reefing" system on this boat and did not want to try to learn on the fly- so to speak- so I just kept going.  Also, at the start, I had a bit of trouble getting the main up as the full battens kept getting caught on the lazy jack lines.  Needless to say, it was a hard sail (with far too many tacks) into the wind up the Sir Francis Drake, but we made it to the Manchioneel Bay anchorage in 4.5 hrs (12 nm) by 2:00 pm.

Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island has a white sandy beach.  Suzi and I had a rum punch at the Cooper Island Beach Club and then I played frisbee with Gray before a walk along the beach.  Gray and I took the dingy back to the boat to pick up snorkeling gear while the girls "sunned." We headed over to Cistern point for quick "swim" around the big rock formation. Snorkeling was really good, but what made it great was seeing three nurse sharks about three feet in length just below us as we hovered over them.   Afterwards, we headed back for the girls.  Suzi and I had out first "painkillers" for happy hour then headed back to Blue Tide to clean up for dinner ashore at the Cooper Island Beach Club - first meal ashore.  It was an amazing fine dining experience and I highly recommend!!

Also, while at the Cooper Island Beach Club, I met a man from Virginia at the bar. He was on a large sailing cat with his wife and three other couples. All retired (or close to it) and seemed to be having fun, but with some issues with their boat ... Radio/ CD didn't work (so no music), bathrooms were not functioning up to par ... Hmmm I will make a mental note of that charter company.

Friday, March 2, 2012

BVI Sailing Vacation (Part II)

June 27 - A "Dark and Stormy" Start
Big thunder and lightning this morning woke Suzi and me up at 4AM.  I rolled back over feeling good as we were still tied to the Moorings' marina dock.  The alarm woke us for good at 7am, but it was still raining.  I made percolated coffee, cut some fresh fruit and toasted raisin bagels to start a rainy day.  The girls showered on the boat to get use to water conservation ... Gray and I ventured to the supermarket to pick up a few more provisions.  More coffee before the last land based "head" visit for a week was in order before I "topped" off the water tanks.  We were ready to go! 

I started the engine and got a bit nervous as the dock was filling with workers and charterers getting other boats ready.  I had a straight shot out of our slip, but a big "cat" was just off my starboard where I needed to make a left. I didn't have much room for error and the growing audience was sure to notice any mishap. I had Suzi forward ready to fend us off with the boat hook if I got too close, but all worked as planned and we motored out of the dock and into to harbor (10:30am).

Once we passed the final green buoy to enter the Sir Francis Drake Channel, I turned into the wind and raised the main.  The previous day I plotted a course of 212M to Norman Island, so I turned the wheel and made our course. I engaged the auto pilot and began to experiment with the sail trim.  We were on a port tack and reaching. All seemed to be working well until the boat began to round up into the wind.  Before I knew it we were heading close hauled on a course of 135M and I could not seem to get the boat to fall off. I disengaged the auto and made a tack, but I still could not get the boat to make my course.  I began to get concerned so I started the engine and was able to get us back on course by motor-sailing.  We unfurled the jib and were making 6.9knts. I cut the engine again and self steered for fifteen or so minutes before engaging the auto once again.  All seemed good as we headed toward the Indians and Pelican Island.  It was a nice sail as I began to get comfortable with the boat after the rounding up incident with the auto pilot (I later learned that sometimes the auto pilot, especially if it is not "tuned" properly, can get overpowered in breezy conditions and following seas as the boat yaws as the auto cannot anticipate wind gusts or waves.  If it does not "correct" the course quickly enough, you round up.)

As we passed the Indians on our port, we could see the Bight anchorage off of Norman Island (our destination) and I instructed Suzi on the plan to furl the jib. As she tensioned the jib sheets, I began to pull in on the roller furling jib line, but Suzi lost her grip on the starboard jib line and it pulled through all of the track pulleys and the entire length of the line was being whipped violently around by the wind. First rookie mistake - I forgot to tie stopper knots on the jib lines (in fact, I did not even look to see if they were ties as I always leave them tied on my boat). Fortunately, I was able to retrieve the wayward line and we furled the jib, and then lowered the main to enter the anchorage under power.  Actually, this was quite a dangerous situation ... Imagine that the jib line is a 50 foot bull whip that is "cracking" uncontrollably in all directions and extremely fast- much faster than humanly possible.  Then imagine trying to catch it by hand.  We were lucky that the stormy start to our day did not end with a serious eye injury by the end of a jib line whipping in the 20+ knts of Caribbean wind.     

A gust blew us off our first attempt at a mooring ball, but we nabbed the second without a hitch AND we are within swimming distance from the (in)famous Willy Ts. (1pm, about 1 hour behind my intended schedule).

On board we enjoyed lunch of tuna salad on whole wheat pita, then off to the Caves for some snorkeling. Great fun, but in less than 3 hours, I was guilty of rookie mistake no. 2 - I moored our dingy to a yacht mooring ball and a very large cat came along and tied to “our” ball and let our dingy float under yacht's canopy.  I swam over and the cat captain was nice and politely showed me the dingy mooring so I crawled in and motored out from underneath his cat and retied to the correct mooring area and reconnected with Suzi and the kids to resume a great snorkel. 

The Caves was also the site of our first casualty - water proof camera crapped out (major disappointment).  Dinner?  Maybe Willy Ts for Suzi and me once the kids are put to bed.  Instead, we dined on board Blue Tide and it was great (Cajun Chicken curry with white rice).

Willy Ts beckoned and Suzi and I arrived (kids in bed) for a couple of "Dark and Stormy's" to "end" with what "started" our day.  The reputation and lore of Wiley Ts did not disappoint ... We saw another charter group, including a woman (who seemed to know her way around the bar and behind it) her husband and friends that were enjoying themselves in a very uninhibited way ... While behind the bar and trying to cue just the right Led Zeppelin song for her liking, she ordered a body shot ... Took off her shirt and crawled up on to the bar and laid on her back.  The bartender (after looking at me and shrugging his shoulders) placed whip cream and cherries on, well use your imagination. Then her husband (I assume) promptly gobbled everything up while she giggled. She was ALL tan, so obviously did not have any concerns about revealing her private areas (footnote - upon arrival back in the USVI, the body shot couple was staying at our resort and recognized Suzi and I ... They seemed very embarrassed and avoided eye contact as I tried to say "Hi, remember us from just a few nights ago?").

Friday, February 24, 2012

BVI Sailing Vacation (Part I)

Well, it has been quite awhile since I last wrote and I have a lot to write about; thus, without further adieu I bring part one of a trip report from our BVI Sailing Vacation – June 2011 (please excuse lack of proper grammar as this is taken verbatim from my journal):

June 25 - An Early and Tired Start
Late to bed and up early for a 6:30am departure from the Tulsa International Airport; a tired start to our vacation, as always ... 12.5 hours later (including 2 connections and 4+ hours in layovers) we were in St. Thomas, USVI at the Morning Star Marriott - 7:30pm and getting dark already (eastern time zone, but no observation of daylight savings).  I was trying hard to decompress and get in vacation mode, but not yet "feeling" it.

The beach at the resort is small, but nice and clean. I note there are very cool tennis courts overlooking the beach and the turquoise Caribbean water. We brought tennis racquets, but this is vacation and the kids (and Suzi and I) need a break from the sport we all love ... Hmmm, not sure we will play on those picturesque courts after all. Dinner at Coco Joes/ resort ... Not again...

June 26 - Boat Briefings and Possession of "Blue Tide"
Up at 7am (early for vacation) and a walk on the beach with coffee, Suzi and Gray (Kiki slept in and she needs it). Breakfast overlooking the beach/ ocean at Coco Joes (I thought I said "not again!").  The company of Suzi and Gray made up for the lack of the culinary experience. We were entertained by an aggressive seagull that "attacked" a diner and stole food off her plate while she was seated with fork and knife in hand. She screamed - LOUD - and eventually the wait staff saved her and the remains of her breakfast from the offending gull. More coffee and another walk along the beach listening to the crashing waves and watching the tiny beach begin to come alive with the early risers trying to find their favorite "spot."  I took some photos of the kids and Suzi to chronicle the affair - I endeavor to take photos this vacation!  We all grabbed a quick shower and a cab to the Road Town Fast Ferry ... destination: Tortola, BVI.

The ferry ride was uneventful, but I was excited to see the islands that I have been studying for the past 4 months. On the way in through "The Narrows" I was able to identify where we were by referencing my iNavX chart on my iPad and using land formations - this gave me a bit of confidence as almost all BVI navigation is by line of sight (but you still must identify the correct island).  Customs was a breeze and I wondered - why even bother?  Bags were not scrutinized, we were not scrutinized - but I'm not complaining as the whole process took less than 15 minutes and we were at the Moorings marina by 1:30pm, a full 2.5 hours ahead of my carefully thought out schedule!  Can you tell I'm not on "Island time" yet? 

We were assigned to "Blue Tide", a 40 foot Beneteau monohull with a dual helm.  This was a bit intimidating as this was my first charter and the biggest boat I had ever been on was my 30 foot Catalina.  Andre performed our boat briefing and then I went to see Michael for the Skipper's meeting. The boat briefing is where the "real" information is exchanged.  It is a time where you learn all important aspects of the boat's systems and where they "feel" you out to make sure that you know your way around the $$$$k boat they are releasing for your unsupervised week long journey. The Skipper's meeting, on the other hand, is worthless ... almost.  You cover information on possible itineraries, different anchorages, where to drop your garbage and possible re-provisioning places - the type of information that should be well studied or known from previous experiences.  If you don't know it by the Skipper's meeting, then you will be overwhelmed with information and not recall a thing.  At that point, Blue Tide was then "officially" released to our possession and I was told we were free to go at first light.

As we settled on Blue Tide and stored our clothes in our respective cabins, I helped Suzi check all our boat provisions and store all food and beverages in various parts of the boat. Hopefully I will remember where we put the wine!  Then, Suzi washed all fruit and chopped the veggies - what a head start for the week (later in the trip, we wished she would have pre-mixed Bloody-Mary's and cut lime wedges ... difficult tasks while underway - heeled and bouncing through waves).  Instead of dining out for dinner, we had smoked Gouda cheese and crackers, a salad and lasagna baked in the on board oven.

Gray to bead early ... Kiki and Suzi are watching a DVD ... I'm on deck finishing a glass of wine ... writing, thinking and feeling like I'm almost on vacation and island time!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Education/ More Experience

We booked our BVI bareboat charter vacation with The Moorings, but I had never been on a sailboat other than on Grand Lake, Oklahoma.  The biggest waves I had encountered were the wakes kicked off by motor boats – 2 to 3 feet, maybe.  Hence, my decision for more sailing education and some ocean/ offshore experience.
My brother, Monty, and I scheduled our ASA Advanced course through South Coast Sailing Adventures.  We were introduced to Cpt. Lucy and Cpt. Mike, our instructor.  The plan was to sail from Kemah, TX out into the Gulf of Mexico approximately 10 miles offshore and south to Freeport, TX.  We would dock in Freeport, spend the night and return through the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW).  It all sounded pretty simple with two big exceptions: 1) it was really windy (20 to 25 sustained) and 2) offshore water conditions were very rough.  
Monty and I provisioned the boat for our first night sleeping aboard Mike’s Ericsson 30.  It was mid-April and the Texas Gulf coast air was pleasant and comfortable.  We went out for a bite to eat with Mike and got to know him a bit over a few drinks.  It was an early night; however, as we planned for an early morning start with some class work and to get familiar with the boat’s systems before we embarked on our 70nm sail to Freeport.
The evening was peaceful and I slept well on the boat– something that I have learned I like.  We rose for an early breakfast and began reviewing materials covered in earlier ASA classes.  We also covered the boat’s systems and prepared to leave the marina which we did by 10:30 AM.  Soon thereafter we were passing the Kemah Boardwalk and were on our way navigating through some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and on into the Gulf of Mexico. 
The 20 knots of sustained wind was more than I had experienced in my lake sailing– when it got that windy I simply did not go out.  We had a double reef in the main and perhaps about one-half of the roller furling jib out.  But, what really got my juices flowing were the waves once we got off-shore.  The waves rolled in just forward off our stern to port and where 7 to 9 feet.  They seemed massive – especially as we would slide down the face of one and looked up at the peak of the next.  This impression was compounded once the sun set and the night sky and water surrounding us were ink black, but for the speckle of stars above.  Also, Mike’s boat did not have an auto-pilot so we took 2 hour shifts at the helm for a total of 14 hours before arriving at the marina in Freeport just before 1 AM.  The sail was exhilarating.  It was also exhausting.  
The next day was an easy motor-sail up the ICW.  Early that afternoon we anchored just behind the Galveston Yacht Club (Monty and I grew up in Galveston and it was interesting to see the island from this perspective) and finished our course work and studied for the test.  It was a great evening.  We grilled steaks and drank wine with our new friend, Mike.  The next morning started with the test which Mike graded on our way back to Kemah.  
I continued my education and gained some valuable sailing experience all leading to more confidence.  I also had a great time with my brother.

Friday, September 16, 2011

We Need A Vacation

My two kids, like many, are involved in extracurricular activities.  Vary rare is the day where they just sit around at home watching television or playing video games.  To say that their schedule keeps my wife and I busy is an understatement.  Since we both work fulltime, we not only have to keep our respective business calendars, but coordinate with the kids’ calendars too. 
One of their main activities is competitive tennis.  For those families not indoctrinated in the nuance of junior tennis it may be hard to fully comprehend, but I know there are other sports where such a competitive endeavor requires not only a serious commitment from the child, but also from the family as a whole.  This is the case for our family.  The sacrifices that we must make for them to compete at a high level is not only our immediate family, but also our extended family who do not see us as often as we would all like, because our weekends and holidays are spent traveling from tournament to tournament in cities across the country near and far. 
Shortly after Christmas 2010 (spent at a national tennis tournament in Tucson, Arizona over 1,000 miles from our home), my wife and I began to look at our calendars for the first six months of 2011.  We tried to identify “open” weekends to go to the lake and see family.  It was frustrating.  As we looked towards late spring and summer, it was even worse as that is heavy tennis season with all the major tournaments scheduled.  By the way, there is no “off” season in tennis.  We saw a brief open window at the end of June and early July.  It would, however, mean that my daughter would miss a major tournament in which she did well during the 2010 event.  Missing it this year would cause her national ranking to drop. 
I was conflicted about telling my daughter she could not play, but I decided it was time for us to take a family vacation.  A vacation separate and apart from the stress of a tennis tournament where every day is scheduled around match times, warm up times, eating and going to bed early to start it all over again the next day.  We needed a “real” vacation - a vacation that we would all remember for the rest of our lives.  Suzi and I slept on it and the next morning, early February, I booked flights to and reserved a bareboat charter in THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS.  My Quest to Sail continues!