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Hurricane Irma

So, Hurricane Irma has been barreling across the Atlantic during the last few days and she’s headed right for us. Though the forecast doesn’t show her as a direct hit, all bets are off with a major (Cat3 and above) hurricane. The most reliable model is the Euro and that has it coming straight for us. The less reliable GFS model shows it going further North of us. The two models still don’t agree and we are anywhere from 4-5 days out. The direction and strength can change so fast despite what the forecast models show so we pretty much have to prepare for the worst.

It’s really difficult to wrap my brain around this, especially after the recent flooding we had here on Tortola and all the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. I mean, I know it’s peak hurricane season here in the Caribbean but you just never think it’s gonna happen to you. I’m really good at being in denial about stuff like this. It’s our fourth hurricane season and really the first time we’ve ever had to “expect” a named storm on our doorstep.

I’m actually pretty emotional about the whole thing. Granted, I have all these postpartum hormones making it worse, but Peter and I made a decision to have me fly off island with Brig. It’s just not worth risking our safety with something this big and this strong coming so close.

It wasn’t until just two days ago that this was even an option. Technically, he cannot enter the U.S. without a passport. Since he was born in BVI and does not qualify for a BVI passport, we technically have to wait until the US Consulate in Barbados comes to visit here in BVI to apply for his US passport.  Well, given our circumstances with an impending life threatening storm headed for us, the US Customs and Boarder Protection agency at the St Thomas airport has granted me special permission to let us travel with just a birth certificate for him instead of a passport.  The moment they told me that, I of course started to cry with relief. I don’t want to have to go anywhere but it really is the best thing.

Peter is going to stay here and continue to secure our boat for as long as it’s safe before taking shelter somewhere nearby. He’ll have Betsy to care for but at least he won’t have the added stress of making sure Brig and I are safe too. I’m going to take a ferry from Tortola to St Thomas and catch a flight out on Monday. I will be going up to stay with my family in Washington State far away from the Caribbean and the East Coast.

Its a decision we wouldn’t have made if we didn’t have Brig. I would’ve just stayed here and helped Peter with the safeguarding of our home. Everyone knows that when you have kids, your life changes. Your priorities change. You make different decisions. You do what’s best for your children no matter what.

A round trip ticket cost me $1400 two days ago with one three hour layover via American Airlines. Now there are no more American flights, and tickets are $1500 only available with Jet Blue with two layovers including one for 10 hours. ($2200 with United). I pretty much got one of the last decent flights available to fly out Monday. Let’s hope they didn’t overbook it.

Our boat is in the best possible location it could be in. Literally, the best spot inside this hurricane hole. The boat really shouldn’t see any waves at all and should feel reduced wind. Peter will do everything he can to make sure our home is safe.

I’m just sick about leaving my husband, my dog and my home in the path of a hurricane. Everything could be totally fine and then again it could be really bad. I pray they will be safe and that I will have a home to come back to. Everything we own is on that boat. It’s insured of course and it’s just stuff, but I can’t imagine losing everything I own in a natural disaster.

It happens all over the world. The west coast gets earthquakes and is due for “the big one”. The midwest gets tornadoes. We get hurricanes. I suppose we should be grateful we have so much warning.

I’m sure the cell towers will be down for quite some time so I may not be able to hear from Peter. I’m going to be worried sick. Power will be off island wide and he’ll be relying on the water and food supply we have stocked up. If the boat fares well, he’ll be able to stay aboard after the storm. If not, one person has offered their home to us so atleast Peter and Betsy will have a place to go either after the storm or before if things get too crazy.  Before I made my flight reservation we really didn’t have anywhere on land to go, so it wasn’t even a question of whether or not I should leave.

If you pray, please pray for us and for everyone in Irma’s path. We need all the positive vibes we can get…

I may not get a chance to post an update to our website as the storm approaches, but I will definitely be updating our Facebook page as I have more info. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account you can still see updates by clicking HERE

To all my friends and family in WA… now’s your chance to meet Brig! Send me a message <3

A New View

It’s Hurricane Season here in the Caribbean and we’ve got a new backyard view! We’ve actually been here since just days after Brig was born but it’s been hard to find time to keep up on the blog during these first newborn weeks ;)

It’s a time of year where anxiety can make you sick to your stomach. When your home is floating in the path of a potential named storm, all kinds of thoughts start racing through your head.

We spent our first two hurricane seasons down in Grenada, which is statistically in a zone that gets less hurricanes, luckily without any action.  Last year we hauled out in BVI and this year we are staying aboard in BVI. So far we have not experienced any named storms (knock on wood!) but we are always making sure we’re prepared.

This year has already been fairly active and there were a few systems that looked like they were coming our way but either dissipated or redirected before reaching the Virgins. Peter and I have spent countless hours discussing what we would do in the event of a named storm.

While we trust our mooring ball (that we’ve spent the last two years on) in heavy weather, we don’t necessarily trust it in a named storm especially because now we have Brig. For the duration of Hurricane Season this year we decided to move our boat into a marina that is tucked way inside a designated hurricane hole here on Tortola just so we don’t have to worry about moving it if something comes up. Also, since we have to wait until the end of September to get Brig a passport, we can’t just haul our boat out of the water and fly back to the states to wait out the rest of the season there like we did last year. Not to mention, it’s incredibly expensive for us to do that. Aside from sitting on a mooring, hauling out, or moving to a dock, the fourth option would be to anchor out and hope for the best. We know a few people that have literally been the last boat floating while being anchored in a major storm.

Unfortunately, there are very few spots in BVI to anchor your boat – let alone considering if they would be safe. There are so many mooring balls installed for the charter boats that it leaves very few places left to drop the hook. Given our options here in BVI, we are pretty happy with our current situation from a safety standpoint. We will make every effort to secure our boat the best we can in a named storm, but when it really comes down to it, we’re insured. In fact, I’ve been finalizing our renewal this week. It’s definitely a relief to know we are completely covered for crazy things like hurricanes.

While I ABSOLUTELY despise being tied to the dock, it does have a few perks. For one, the Virgin Islands are H-O-T this time of year so being plugged into shore power allows us to use the air conditioning 24/7. Well, it actually requires us to run the A/C 24/7 because if we didn’t we would roast. Its even hotter tucked away inside this hurricane hole than it would be back on our mooring in West End. There are also a ton of mosquitoes when you’re close to shore so that’s another reason we have to keep the boat all closed up. Even though I’m not pregnant anymore, I’m still concerned about Zika. I must admit it’s also nice to have air conditioning when I’ve got a fussy baby though. Secondly, it makes it much easier to take Betsy for a walk. She can practically take herself potty – something she can’t do from our mooring.

Then of course there’s the fact that we can park our car right next to the boat, there is laundry, a gym, our favorite restaurant, and a little grocery market all within a very short walk. Sure it’s convenient, but it’s just not the same as floating out on the water away from everyone else. I look at dock life like being in an apartment complex and our mooring as more like a neighborhood with big spacious lots :)

I cannot wait to get back to our beautiful home in West End!! Yes, I’ll probably miss the air conditioning, but I sure do love when the fresh Caribbean breeze blows through our hatches to cool us down.

A Necessary Galley Upgrade

A very LONG overdue galley project finally got completed this week! Though it cost us nearly $2000 it was a necessary purchase. Our stove/oven had slowly become unusable over the last several years and we finally bit the bullet and replaced it!

Our old stove was a Seward Princess – a brand that is not manufactured anymore. While I liked the setup, it was just plain dangerous to use anymore.  For starters, the oven door busted on one side so it would not close all the way. It never really got very hot to begin with but when a good portion of the heat began to escape right out the front it was hardly helpful and took forever to bake anything.

Next, the front right burner was completely seized up. I guess the valves on these units eventually get all gummed up inside and its nearly impossible to clean or service them. The knob just wouldn’t turn at all.

The middle burner in the back would not stay lit unless I stood there and held in the knob for a minimum of 10 minutes after lighting it. At which time, the temperature could not be reduced to low heat, meaning I had to carefully decide what I was going to cook on that burner knowing it could only be done at high heat and I might not have an extra hand to stir anything else. Most likely, the thermo-coupler was shot, preventing it from getting hot enough to stay lit on its own. Total pain in the a$$ so I just didn’t use that burner anymore either.

The right front burner was the only one I had been able to use but it was most definitely on it’s way out too. The flame would ALWAYS blow out the first two times, requiring me to stand there and light it a total of three times. It wasn’t bad propane or a lack of oxygen, it just wouldn’t stay lit unless I did it three times. Weird. But that’s not all.  If I was using the oven at the same time, the knobs on the front of the stove would get so warm that they would stick (just like the first burner). This was particularly scary when cooking if I couldn’t shut off the frickin flame. It’s a small space to begin with and if I’m cooking up a storm then there is definitely not room to have an open flame just burning away! Shut off then required me to be done using the oven because I’d have to turn off the propane solenoid on the wall, which stopped the flow of propane, but then I had to wait for the whole unit to cool off before I could turn the stove knob back to “off” position. Yep total P.I.T.A.  And so very unsafe.

R.I.P. old girl…

It was probably meant to be… I had Peter verify my measurements of the space allowance we had compared to the new stoves available in the Budget Marine catalog.  We decided on the American version of the 3-burner Force 10 – a very popular brand and model. It was a product that the chandlery here on Tortola at Nanny Cay either carried or could order in with their regular shipments.  On our next trip past Nanny Cay we stopped in to replace our leaking BBQ propane tank (yep, more money spent on necessary upgrades). While locating the new tank we inquired about the specific part number we wanted to order since we didn’t see any three-burners on the floor.  Turns out, the very model number we wanted WAS right there in the store, on the display floor, packed nicely in it’original box!! I was sold. It was right there all along, concealed from everyone else, we just had to ask and their system told us it was right there. Perfect.

We were disappointed that the pricing had gone up since the chandlery there was no longer operating as Budget Marine but it didn’t matter. It was not economically feasible for us to try to sail our boat all the way to St. Thomas on the off chance that Peter may get a consecutive three days in a row off work. Maybe if I wasn’t 8 months pregnant, but we agreed it was just better to spend a little extra and get one that was already imported into BVI. All we had to do was load it in the car, into the dinghy and into our boat.

Luckily, our friend Mike from Three Sheets was available to help Peter with the awkward lifting. It was only about 85 lbs but still rather large and definitely a two-man job for getting it into our boat. Even our friend Branson came to help lift the new one up and through our companionway.  Such sweet guys to help a pregnant lady out ;) The old one was much easier to get it out.

It took quite a bit of cleaning once the old unit was out. Messes are nearly impossible to avoid once these suckers are installed.

While the guys hauled the old one out, I started unpacking the new one :) It’s so SHINY!! Probably the shiniest thing we have on our boat now!

Now what do I want to bake first? :)

 

How We Almost Lost The Boat In St.Kitts

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As the sun was setting, we pulled in to the anchorage at Basseterre. It was a commercial and unprotected bay, yet the regulations in St. Kitts left us no choice but to anchor here for the night and check in to Customs the next morning. Other cruisers had warned of skipping this stop where, if caught anchored in the more desirable locations to the South without checking in first, the fine are astronomical.

The entrance to Port Zante Marina was right in front of us, but daylight was quickly fading. We had tried hailing the marina on the radio from 4:45 pm all the way up until our arrival at 6pm with no reply. (We later found out the marina staff had decided to leave work at 3pm that day. How convenient.) Without being able to see the approach and availability of slips, we decided to not enter the narrow channel and instead anchor just outside in 20′ of water. Only one other boat was in the harbor; a 226 passenger ferry named Caribe Surf, anchored maybe 200′ away. We dropped the hook, made sure our anchor was set, and went to sleep after a rough passage from Statia.

Monday Morning 6.30.14, 6:15 AM

Peter had been awake all night worried about our anchor holding. He had finally fallen asleep around 5am. I awoke a little after 6:00 to the sound of Windy (our wind generator) cranking faster than we’ve ever heard before. With a quick peek outside, it was apparent that we were smack in the middle of a squall. Winds were gusting at 45+ knots and we were surrounded by a wall of white.

I woke Peter up immediately and within seconds he flew up the companionway ladder into the cockpit. Still in bed I called out, “is everything okay?”

“NO!” he shouted back.

“Are we dragging??”

“NO!”

I was a nervous wreck as I climbed outside as fast as I could. Rain started pouring in from every direction. I looked around. We had left the mizzen sail up overnight for stability so we were a bit concerned that the sail might blow out in the squall, but I quickly saw we had bigger problems.

Big is an understatement. The 90′ ferry was coming right for us, backwards.

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It just didn’t make sense. Why was it getting closer and closer? Just then we realized, “there’s nobody on that boat and it’s dragging!” The crew had left it anchored overnight with no one on watch. Surely no one was expecting a squall to blow through.

The big blue power-cat was swinging like a pendulum in the wind as it grew closer and closer to our bow. Back and forth it swung on an arch, with each gust getting dangerously closer to us.

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We knew we needed to get the sail down, but didn’t have enough time. From where I was standing it looked as if the ferry had already bumped us, though I hadn’t felt the massive aluminum hull bump us yet.

Our Delta style anchor was holding perfectly but Caribe Surf was about to either hit us like a freight train, or catch our chain and drag us to shore. Luckily it was a catamaran and swung just above our rode, avoiding a nasty tangle.

Peter was on the bow trying to hold on to the lifelines as we bounced up and down from the waves. He let go of the snubber after wrapping the main rode around the cleat. His original plan was to let out 50% more rode but just as the last of the rode burned his hands as it slid through his fingers, the ferry was within four feet of our bow. It wasn’t helping.

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My whole body was shaking at this point. Both fear and the chill of the piercing rain and wicked wind set me into an unstoppable tremble. Within a matter of seconds I turned the engine on and I yelled out, “Cut the anchor loose!!!!! HURRY!!

It seemed like the wrong thing to do at the time, but Peter knew we had no choice but to let the anchor go.

I scrambled to get the chartplotter, radar and instruments turned on. As soon as he confirmed we were free from the anchor, I hit reverse as hard as it would go. Everything was happening in slow motion. Rain had soaked our entire cockpit but that was the least of our concerns. Suddenly, we started pulling away from the ferry and just as it swung left, I gunned it forward right at 2,000 rpms. At that moment, I was more grateful than I had ever been for our 34 year old 80-horsepower tractor engine.

Still trembling, I motored out to sea away from that horrid ferry.

Peter quickly ran from the bow to the stern to drop the sail after we were out of immediate danger. The squall was still blowing 30+ with zero visibility. He singlehandedly dropped the sail as fast as he could, tying it to the boom in a big heap. Next, he pulled the brake on the wind generator, locking it down. We both looked back to see that the ferry had already run aground on the rocky shore. Whew! That was a close one.

We’re so grateful it happened in daylight. Even though the wall of rain reduced our visibility dramatically, we were still able to see the cruise ship pilings which matched up perfectly with the charts.

Entering a new anchorage, it’s always difficult to know which way gusts will come from and which way a boat might drag. As was the case in St. Kitts, this ferry was on top of us within seconds even though we thought we had picked a good spot to anchor.

After we were motoring out to sea I dug out the lifejackets. We were headed into larger seas and there was no telling when the storm would blow over. Eventually the winds subsided to a manageable 15 knots.

While we were motoring back and forth across the harbor, we saw a small orange tender arrive at Caribe Surf an hour later where they were grounded near shore. We motored closer to them as they prepared to reset a second anchor and we yelled off the bow for the Captain to turn the radio on.

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Peter tried a few channels before finding one without traffic and spoke to the Captain.

“Good Morning, this is Caribe Surf. How can I help you today Sir?” He had such a cheery voice, despite the unfortunate chain of events that had just taken place.

Peter wearily explained how their boat had just drug into us during the squall and that we had lost our anchor, leaving no way to secure our vessel. He calmly and kindly told us to pull up to his stern and toss them a line while we wait for his diver. “He can retrieve your anchor.” It was like de-ja-vu pulling up to their stern in the wind. Peter was on the bow while I was at the helm. The damn thing nearly hit us, and here we were getting back into the very position we tried so hard to get away from! A little PTSD ya think?

It turns out that Caribe Surf busted a fluke on their anchor during the squall, causing them to drag with half an anchor still buried. The crew laughed, “That was a nasty squall, wasn’t it?”

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After what seemed like an eternity in the early morning hours, the diver finally arrived. Peter went with him bringing our iPhone to show him where our anchor was on the Garmin app. The crew on Caribe Surf had gone back to shore and I was on Mary Christine alone with the dogs watching intently as the two men searched for the anchor.

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As luck would have it, the light winds turned fluky and Mary Christine gained slack on the line connecting us to Caribe Surf. I was drifting too close for comfort and even began to face opposite ways. I shouted across the harbor as loud as I could to signal Peter that I was in trouble. I quickly turned the engine on and began to reverse away from a second possible collision with this ghost ship. Of course our full keel and undersized rudder makes it near impossible to reverse in the direction I want to go, but I managed to get far enough away until Peter and the diver could release us from the ferry.

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We hailed the marina again letting them know we were coming in to tie up and the diver promised to deliver the anchor to us at the marina.

After a few attempts to tie stern-to with our boat that doesn’t like to reverse, we eventually got the boat secured. Shortly after, the diver brought our anchor over as promised and helped Peter feed the chain back into our anchor locker. He didn’t locate the snubber but at least we got the anchor back free of charge!

We got a great deal at the marina and spent about a week recovering mentally from that ordeal.

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“My worst fear was having to cut the anchor loose in a squall,” Peter admitted. Back in the Bahamas we met some young guys on Humdinger that had to cut their anchor loose in an squall and their engine couldn’t overpower the current and wind. They ended up on the rocks totaling their boat and crushing their cruising dreams that had only just begun. Ever since we heard their story, it became Peter’s biggest fear. I still can’t believe it actually came true.

If only the marina staff had not gone home early… If we had just gone into the marina and found a place to tie up… But we’re safe now.

What’s your scariest moment at sea??

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Conquering A Fear Of Heights: Going Up The Mast

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Peter has been up the mast many times. He has changed out bulbs, serviced our wind generator and retrieved runaway halyards. He is also a big strong guy. Knowing it’s difficult for me to even raise our 12′ dinghy up onto the bow by myself, we have always had assistance from another guy to crank him up the mast while I tail the line (hold tension and guide the halyard away from our manual winches).

After we were safely anchored in Salinas, we decided it was the perfect time to go back up the mast and take a look at our faulty wind vane. At some point during our travels in the Bahamas, our wind vane stopped giving an accurate reading of wind direction. The anemometer still accurately displays the wind speed, thank goodness, but for the last several months we’ve been sailing around guestimating the exact direction of the wind. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, teaching us the hard way to listen to our instincts and sail by feeling rather than by digital displays. We’re still relatively new to sailing but with over 2500 nautical miles logged already, I’d say we’re doing just fine!

Whenever one of us goes up the mast, we clip in to the boson’s chair and attach a halyard to its strongest point. For a secondary safety line, we wear our inflatable lifejackets which have a built-in harnesses, and we clip a second halyard to the lifejacket harness. In the event that the primary halyard were to break, the harness and secondary halyard will hopefully be enough to prevent us from crashing down onto the deck. Whoever winches up the main halyard, will also tail the safety line, maintaining enough tension to serve a purpose.

We decided this was the perfect time for me to conquer my fear of heights and go up the mast for the first time. It’s probably more of a fear of falling, than it is the fear of heights. If I know I can’t fall, it doesn’t scare me. The sensation of falling, however, is something I just can’t seem to feel okay about.

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I began my ascent as Peter effortlessly winched me up our main mast. Our clearance from the waterline is 49′, significantly shorter than most sloops or cutters, but it was still way up there! With each crank of the winch, I slowly went higher and higher. I got to the spreader bars and yelled down to Peter, “I can’t do this… LET ME DOWN! LET ME DOWN NOW!!!!!” We debated for what seemed like an eternity. He tried to tell me it was okay, that I was doing just fine. He did his best to convince me to keep going.

Peter heard the fear in my voice and eventually let me down. I just needed a couple of minutes to regroup. Then, I tried it again. The second time wasn’t as scary, oddly enough. I approached the spreader bars for the second time and carefully climbed around, easing up on the death grip I had on the mast.

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Peter let me take my time. Once I reached the top, I looked around and felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. For me, it was so much more than just going up the mast. I conquered something I had gravely feared, and I was safe!! I spent a few minutes taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. I saw the world from a view I had only seen in pictures. It was magical!! I was 49′ in the air, hanging from a rope at the top of a pole mounted on a rocking boat in the middle of the water. Spectacular.

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After soaking in a few moments of new-found serenity, I did what I had gone up there to do in the first place. The wind vane was just out of my reach. My arms just weren’t long enough to bend the wind vane back into place. It was obvious it had been bent, and needed to be bent back, then recalibrated. I snapped a couple of pictures and asked Peter to bring me down.

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In the meantime, some neighbors stopped by to see if we needed any help. Peter had to go up the main mast after me to bend the wind vane back into place so we gladly accepted help winching him up. It took just a few minutes and he came right back down. Unfortunately, it will require another trip back up to finish the calibration at another time. We sent him up the mizzen mast after that to do a quick repair on our wind generator. He added some bolts to quiet down all the vibration we were getting, and did a brief inspection on the rest of the unit.

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Its times like these where teamwork is crucial. You have to trust that you’ll keep each other safe. With each obstacle we conquer, our confidence grows exponentially, preparing us for the next adventure!!!

Please stay tuned! We have many more adventures to share with you from our travels over the last few months! We are currently in St. Lucia waiting for the next weather window to move south to Grenada where we will spend the remainder of Hurricane Season.  We may not be able to get back to you right away, but we love hearing from you. Please leave us a comment :)