The Carib 1500 Rally – preparing Mira & crew for the tropical migration

The Caribbean 1500 Rally is orchestrated by the World Cruising Club. For this November’s rally from Portsmouth, VA, to Tortola, BVI – 21 boats participated. Mira elected to join the rally – despite our ultimate goal to sail past the BVI to Antigua. The WCC offers a wide range of benefits when you join their rallies. They provide a superbly prepared Rally Handbook with a wide range of safety and sailing system checklists, off-shore seminars in the week prior, and last but not least, camaraderie with other sailors through happy hours and local events.

Contemplating another winter in the Caribbean with limited marine resources and summer 2019 in the Mediterranean, this fall seemed the perfect time to join a rally and complete some additional safety and comfort features on Mira. So, the Captain detailed a long list of projects to be completed and items to be purchased. Annapolis without wind seemed like the perfect spot to accomplish this list.  So …. during the months of August and September …. we added the following,

  • replaced our nearly new two Volvo diesel engines due to an emissions recall by Volvo,
  • new refrigerator handle & stainless kick plate,
  • European power battery charger,
  • 5 zone bilge dry out system
  • Exhaust system in galley over the stovetop
  • New mirror in master head,
  • Fixed freezer refrigerant pressure,
  • New Seagull water filtration system,
  • New life raft & stainless steel mount cage,
  • Mount on our arch for dinghy motor,
  • Newly configured arch davits for dinghy,
  • New outhaul line for mainsail,
  • Protective covers for hatches,
  • New stainless pedestals for cockpit table
  • New salon carpet & mat,
  • Stern anchor,
  • New jumbo ‘super yacht’ fenders & fender covers,
  • 4 inflatable life vests and personal locator beacons,
  • Wide variety of aerial, smoke daytime and night flares,
  • and we completed extensive offshore safety requirements for Carib 1500 including authoring our first official Mira Ships Operations & Procedures manual.

Yes.. it was a very busy (and expensive few months).  As the leaves were starting to drop, Mira sailed down from her fall home in Annapolis and arrived at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA, on October 25. The next week was reserved for additional preparation before the official start of the Carib 1500 Rally on Sunday, November 4th. Pam and Glenn were happy to be joined by Karen and Jason Trautz, who had recently completed a ten year circumnavigation on their own Antares catamaran, YOLO. We were thrilled to have sailors with their incredible sailing experience aboard Mira for the offshore passage to Antigua.  Our week was filled with boat work, seminars, meetings, tours, provisioning, cooking and happy hours.

Mira’s interior was well protected during her engine swap out.

New life raft and stainless steel cradle.
Check in for the Caribbean 1500 at the Ocean Yacht Marina in Portsmouth, VA.
Glenn and Jason hard at work installing new pedestals.
Glenn installing a thru-hull cap amid provisioning stores.
Chafe gear – always a necessity!
Just a fraction of the provisions necessary for 4 people for a 12 day passage.
The view from above!  A trip up the mast is always required before a long passage.
Mira festively decked out in her dress flags for the Rally.
Mira passing the rigorous safety inspection.
Safety demonstrations included PFDs, life rafts, and flares.

Glenn, Karen and Jason at Happy Hour in historic Portsmouth, VA.
Mira’s crew decked out in their Halloween best.
Pam and Karen off to provision!
Glenn studied weather information for the passage.
Departure Day! Sunday, November 4th!

 

 

 

Bahamas Bound!

After enjoying several weeks hopping around the British Virgin Islands, it was time to move on. We really wanted to spend some time exploring the Bahamas and see the gatorade blue shades of water and white sugar sand beaches.

After talking to other cruisers about the current state of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic post-hurricanes, we decided to skip that traditional sailing path to the Bahamas. Most cruisers sail from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico to Dominican Republic to the Turks and Caicos to the Bahamas. Hopping from country to country –  with just a few overnight sails – fairly easy to do with a crew of two.  But, we decided to sail straight from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in a single passage – skipping PR, DR and T&C in between. Since we would be sailing without stopping for 5 days (impossible to anchor in 3 miles of ocean 🙂 – we wanted an additional crew member to help keep watch. Thanks to Neil and Shawn’s introduction  – we met their cruising captain buddy, Jim. It was a perfect match!

Jim had many years of sailing experience that he was willing to share with us – as well as endless mechanical “MacGuvyer” problem-solving skills.

Mira, with her expanded crew, left the BVI mid-April and sailed for 5 days and 4 nights. Every day was different. Winds 25-30 knots from behind us with 10 foot waves and intermittent squalls greeted us for our first two days out. Winds and waves decreased by the third day – and, we motor sailed with our big screecher headsail out. The 4th day dawned bright and sunny and flat calm – motoring that day. And, the 5th day had fairly strong winds on our beam – a bit of a rambunctious and bouncy sailing day. We all agreed that this is the best and worst part about offshore sailing.

It’s always a good day when you catch dinner!

Our route took us from St. Thomas west across the top of the northern coast of Puerto Rico to northwest along the top end of Dominican Republic and then south of the Turks & Caicos and north of Acklins Island (one of the Out Islands of the Bahamas) to north around the top end of Long Island in the Bahamas.

Our route above in blue

Glenn on watch with Jim. Clear skies and following seas!
Thoroughly enjoying napping while they are helming.

As we rounded the top end of Long Island, we got our first glimpse of the crystal blue waters of the Bahamas. Our first anchorage in four nights, we were literally in shock. No need to dive on the anchor – you could see it from the bow! So very beautiful!

The next day, we docked Mira at Emerald Bay Marina on the island of Great Exuma – just north of George Town. We usually plan a short marina stay after a long passage – giving us time to rest, take advantage of endless water, and thoroughly clean Mira – inside and out.

Glenn and I enjoyed several relaxing days on Great Exuma. We visited George Town – some say the Mecca for cruisers in the Bahamas. Hundreds of sailboats spend the winter in the huge Elizabeth Harbour – enjoying social and athletic activities of all sorts – many marine facilities – as well as an international airport close by.

Elizabeth Harbour – George Town, Great Exuma

The Grand Isle Resort – adjacent to the Emerald Bay Marina – offers day passes to marina guests. We were able to experience the beautiful blue waters and white sand beaches up close and personal – just as gorgeous as advertised!

Dinner on the beach at the Shoreline Beach Club.

Our time on Great Exuma Island was brief as were were eager to explore the long Exuma island chain to the north.

 

British Virgin Islands – snorkeling, sailing, & relaxing – always beautiful!

Since January, Glenn and I have mostly puddle-jumped our way north up the Caribbean chain of islands from Grenada. Our sails have ranged from 4 to 10 hours during daylight only.  The sail from Saint Martin to Tortola in the BVI was 92 nautical miles and took us about 14 hours. Glenn and I did it alone – alternating sleeping and taking watch at the helm. I was nervous, but Glenn was excited. He spent a lot of time analyzing the weather and winds, and felt good about our travel window.  In addition, our good sailing friend, Glen, who is single-handing his Privilege 49, Sirenitie, was going to buddy-boat with us.

Sirenitie – our buddy boat for the passage

We raised anchor at 1:30 am on March 20 from Marigot Bay in Saint Martin. I am not yet comfortable being alone at the helm during the night – so, Glenn took the helm to start, and I went back to bed.  I relieved him at sunrise, so he could get some sleep.  It was a beautiful motor sail – the winds were light, but that was fine with us for our first long sail alone! We arrived in Soper’s Hole, Tortola, around 3:00 pm, exhausted but happy.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over 50 other smaller islands and cays. The islands have a population of about 28,000 with approximately 23,500 living on Tortola. The islanders are British citizens as of 2002.  These islands are well known for their delightful sailing opportunities. The islands are close together providing line of sight navigation and usually, fairly consistent trade winds. There are beautiful, serene anchorages and snorkeling opportunities around every corner.

Over the past years, we have chartered sailboats many times in the BVI.  Our family has wonderful memories of sailing, snorkeling, swimming and exploring almost every one of these islands. Special memories for the kids include learning to sail Hobie cats at the Bitter End Yacht Club and climbing the boulders at the Baths.

Sadly, our first look at the BVI post-Hurricane Irma was distressing.

 

A shout-out to my children for my delightful Mother’s Day present – a donation to the post-hurricane BVI relief fund! I can’t think of a better present – thank you all SO much!!!

But, during our two weeks in the BVI, we discovered that the waters are still just as blue and the sand is still blinding white, and the islands will recover from this latest tragedy. There are many signs of progress – lots of building and activity going on – on every island. Especially on Tortola and in the capital of Road Town, the streets and surrounding areas are clear of debris, but lots and lots of buildings are still heavily damaged. It will take time.

Meanwhile, we loved every minute of our time in the BVI.  It was a special treat for us to sail our own boat to all of our familiar anchorages – where we had only taken charter boats previously.

Mira and Sirenitie in the marina at Oil Nut Bay.

We jumped from island to island – sailing alongside Sirenitie with Glen and Marilyn. And later on in our visit, my sister Cathy and brother-in-law Sam came to sail on Mira with us.

One of our first BVI stops is always The Baths on Virgin Gorda. The Baths are an unusual formation of large granite boulders. The sea washes in between the huge rocks, and pools have been created where shafts of light play on the water for a dramatic effect. A path weaves through the boulders – climbing and winding up and around – for a fun adventure. The beaches on either side of the boulders are beautiful with crashing waves and powdery white sand.

View of the Baths and the anchorage from the Top of the Baths resort.

Cathy and Sam enjoying the ride.

 

Our anchorage at the Bight on Norman Island. Sadly the iconic Willie T was destroyed in Hurricane Irma.
Lounging on Pirate’s Beach with Glen and Marilyn – a fun alternative to the Willie T on Norman.

 

Magnificent snorkeling at the Indians – just off Norman Island.

 

 

There’s always time for a rum punch after a long snorkeling trip!

We got a treat at anchor late one afternoon – mama and baby dolphins swimming right next to Mira.

 

We were “lucky” enough to find ourselves right in the middle of the one of the races in the BVI Spring Regatta. It was the offshore multihull class which includes Gunboats and catamarans over 60 ft. – they passed us like we were standing still!

Acting on a tip from a fellow cruiser, we discovered that Oil Nut Bay – an exclusive private resort that is normally off-limits to visitors – was allowing marina and day guests to use their amenities! Mira and Sirenitie flew over to take their spot in the lovely marina and Glenn, Pam, Glen and Marilyn spent some luxurious days – by the pool and beach and enjoying some pampering time!

Oil Nut Bay Resort

Beautiful end to our time in the BVI

St. Martin – boat work and staging for the BVI sail!

Mira next sailed to St. Martin from Saba – a short 4 hour sail, but a beautiful beam reach flying 9-10 knots the whole way – in late March.

We have sailed around St. Martin/St Maarten and St. Barts before, but we headed this way again for two reasons. One, Glenn needed a quiet anchorage to figure out why our generator wasn’t working, and two, it was the perfect spot to prepare for our first long overnight passage to Tortola in the BVI’s. We needed to check all of the boat systems and provision for the trip. St. Martin has wonderful grocery stores with delicious French products. I couldn’t wait to stock up!

We were unprepared for the devastation that still remained in French St. Martin from the massive hurricanes in September. We were speechless.

Luckily, the sunsets were still beautiful and the people were still French and the grocery stores were still stocked!
We anchored in Marigot Bay for a few nights until the lingering north swell prevented Glenn from working below decks – then, we retreated to Marigot Bay Marina – which is still recovering from hurricane damage, but served our needs well.
After replacing the generator boost pump, Glenn climbed the mast for the first time to inspect the rigging.
Thank goodness our friend, Glen, was there to man the winch!

 

Dinner the night before our overnight crossing to the BVI!

Saba – Island kingdom in the Clouds

Mira sailed next from Nevis to island of Saba – about 44 nm or a 7 hour sail to the north, around the middle of March.

Saba is a magnificent volcanic island that rises straight up from the sea floor with very deep water on all sides and appears to extend straight up into the clouds. Only 5 square miles, it reaches 3084 feet.

As you sail past Saba, the ruggedness of the island strikes you. Huge jagged brown mountains litter the island. Saba sits isolated and unprotected from the swells and wind of the Atlantic Ocean, which creates this stark topography.  Despite the forbidding perimeter of the island, we discovered that the interior of Saba is a hidden paradise, a Caribbean Shangri-la.

Like all good hidden kingdoms, Saba doesn’t come easily to visitors.  Saba only has one harbor for entry of all boats and people. Many sailors have been known to sail by this harbor and just keep going. It can have wild waves crashing against the concrete piers – making it very difficult to land a dinghy or small boat.  Glenn studied the weather and felt that the swells from the previous week should have diminished, since the winds had been lessening for days. When we sailed up to Fort Bay – the only anchorage on the island – we were met with huge waves crashing against the rocks surrounding the harbor and no discernible dinghy dock or place for us to tie up to clear customs. By VHF radio the harbormaster informed us that we should pick up a mooring in Ladder Bay about 2 miles away and dinghy in! As we motored around the west side of Saba, the winds miraculously dropped, and we were secure in a beautifully calm, picturesque anchorage. But, we still needed to dinghy around to customs. We steeled ourselves for the rambunctious ride – donned foul weather gear and PFD’s – and proceeded through the waves to Fort Bay. The ride was indeed a wild one, and all of our subsequent trips to the island were by larger tenders owned by Saba. 😦  Once ashore, we arranged an island tour for the next day, and also planned to do some hiking on our own.

Saba’s history is fascinating. Until the 1940’s the island was almost completely inaccessible. Some 800 steps up a sheer cliff in Ladder Bay was the only way for people and goods to come onto Saba. You can see the original steps if you look closely in the photo above – just beyond where we were anchored.

The 2000 full-time residents of Saba are descendants of hardy Dutch, Scottish and English settlers. The original settlers fought hard in the 1950s to hand-build a series of winding roads throughout the island – after being repeatedly told that it was impossible. Today the island is a wonder – beautiful white houses trimmed in green with red roofs, clean roads, happy and helpful Sabans welcome all visitors with open arms. We were charmed by both the people and the island of Saba.

 

Fascinated by the lush interior of Saba, we were anxious to hike up into the mountains and explore. We hiked a very steep, windy trail for several hours into the mountains of Saba.

The trail started out very lush but rugged.

The trail wound its way up into the mountains – for some startling views of the coastline below.

Even got a glimpse of Mira far, far below.
Exhausted by our long day of exploration, we were treated to another beautiful sunset to end the day.  We would have loved to spend more time on Saba, but it was time to press North to our next island.  Saba, we’ll be back for sure!

Nevis – on Mira? or at the Four Seasons?

Our travels took us next from Antigua to Nevis – a 50 nm – or about an 8 hour sail in early March. Beautiful weather.

When Glenn and I were sailing in Antigua about 4 years ago, we were having a few problems with our charter boat, and things got a bit tense. I remember distinctly saying – I just want to go to the Four Seasons on Nevis and lay on the beach!! 😔 Needless to say, I didn’t get to go, and here we are on Mira today – on Nevis!  And, I am so happy for that!

We spent 3 nights in a beautiful quiet anchorage off Pinney’s beach, just down from the Four Seasons, with a view of Nevis Peak – over 3,000 feet high – off our bow.
Nevis has a quiet and peaceful population of about 12,000 with lovely views, picturesque houses and delightful people. Nevisians have been careful to preserve their architectural heritage, and we enjoyed the history and their traditional Caribbean buildings.

The Nevisians are proud to call Alexander Hamilton a native son. We visited his modest home which has been restored and is a now a museum.

Abba, our well-versed and stoic guide for the day, toured us around his island for more than 5 hours. “Gingerland” is the area of Nevis just south of the Mountain. Many large, old plantations have been converted to small, luxurious hotels with magnificent grounds and views.

The Hermitage and The Montepelier are some of the most famous.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis – six acres of plants from all over the world, and include orchids, cactuses and over 100 species of palms, flowering trees, as well as rivers and fountains.

The Golden Rock Inn’s gardens close to the rainforest  are vast, lush and spectacular.

We chose to return to the Golden Rock Inn the next day for a 4 hour round trip hike into the rainforest to the “Source” or the water source for the island.  An amazing trail wound its way up into the mountains – finally culminating in a narrow path with hundred foot drop off. We were rewarded by amazing views down to the ocean.

Monkeys were darting in and out of the forest.

Thank You Antigua!

Thank you Antigua Yacht Club! Once again, Mother Nature reared her ugly head to fool with our sailing plans. Huge northerly swells swamped many Caribbean islands as a result of a tremendous weather storm system in the Northeast US in early March. Yachts were advised to hole up in southern harbors around the Caribbean for several days. We were lucky enough to get a tremendous slip right in the middle of the super yacht dock in the Antigua Yacht Club! Mira was a little overwhelmed, but Pam and Glenn were not!! 😉

Small world! Our friends, Walton and Paige, from Atlanta were guests on the super yacht right next to us on the dock.
Enjoying a very fun evening and amazing sunset at the Shirley Heights traditional Sunday night Jump-Up – with our good friends from Sirenitie, Glen and Marilyn.

Spent one day on the beachfront at Catherine’s Cafe – yummy rose and brie.

We had our choice of delicious freshly-caught fish on the dock in Falmouth Harbor.

 

Iles des Saintes and Guadeloupe

A temporary break in the weather appeared, so we dropped our mooring in Dominica and headed off to the Saintes, a quick 3 1/2 hour sail north. We picked up a mooring ball in the quaint anchorage just off the only town on Terre de Haut… Bourg des Saintes. We were in France once again! Dinner out every night and lots of wine shopping on the agenda! The Saintes are another one of our favorite island groups of the Eastern Caribbean and are considered part of France. Bourg des Saintes is an adorable seaside town, sparkling clean and picturesque with red roofs, balconies, gingerbread and colorful fishing boats.

We rented bikes and spent one day exploring all of the beaches and attractions of the Saintes. Thank goodness the bikes had electric boost, or we wouldn’t have made it!

The view from on top of Fort Napoleon. Mira is a tiny speck in the anchorage.
The prettiest beach was Plage de Pompierre.
The locals go everywhere on their scooters – this was one of the more unusual passengers that we saw 🙂

Happy Hour on Mira!

Sadly, more unfavorable weather and strong northerly swells were headed in – so we were forced to cut our Saintes visit short. Our goal was to take shelter in a safe southern facing harbor within the next two days. Off we headed on a 7 hour sail to the northwest corner of Guadeloupe to Deshaies, a town that was a perfect stopping off point for our next long sail.  It would be 42 nm to Falmouth Harbour which is on the southern coast of Antigua and well protected – a perfect spot to wait out the next predicted bit of bad weather.

Dominica – devastated but, still strong and proud!

Excited and a little anxious about our return to Dominica after 4 years, we were up at 5:30 am in Saint Pierre, Martinique, for the 8 hour (53 nm) sail. Dominica has one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the Caribbean, and we couldn’t wait for the opportunity to sail there again. Towering, rugged mountains, 7 potentially active volcanoes, a boiling lake, hot springs, waterfalls, crater lakes and lush, green vegetation are just a few of its natural wonders. But, in September everything changed – Dominica took a direct hit from Category 5 Hurricane Maria. We read and saw so many stories of the devastation – not only to the homes and villages, but to the lush green rainforest that is Dominica’s trademark.  But, we couldn’t stay away. We also wanted to bring boxes of much-needed roofing screws with us to help with their home reconstruction.

We sailed our way up the western coastline marveling at the change in topography. Glenn said it looked like someone had take a giant weed-wacker to the mountains. In many spots, there were trunks of trees without any leaves or tops. There were blue tarps covering lots of homes, and debris littering the sides of the roads. But, as we explored the towns and island – we were continually amazed at the industriousness of the Dominican people. The roads were filled with people and trucks – working, hauling building supplies and materials. Everyone was welcoming and happy to see us. They had made incredible progress since the Hurricane, and it showed. As we hiked the mountains and waterfalls, fresh green growth was evident everywhere. Dominica will soon be back – better than ever!

The Indian River is famous for its boat tours that snake up the river underneath the huge canopy of swamp bloodwood trees from both sides. This is the mouth of the river – the canopy is entirely missing.
Towns still littered with blue tarps, but many have been repaired.
This home rests precariously on the rocks beside the river bed.
Electrical lines draped everywhere.

The lush green of the forests is starting to grow back. Trafalgar Falls is still as awesome as pre-hurricane.

Mira had a drop dead gorgeous sunset off her stern in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica.