What do we do when we’re not on the boat?

For the past two years now, we’ve been “seasonal cruisers.” That means we live on Sanitas full time from approximately November to June, and then we store her in a safe place on land during hurricane season. So far, we really like this approach. It keeps things fresh – we’ve always got something different to look forward to, and it gives Capt. Mike a break from worrying about boat safety, weather, and navigation for a few months. It’s like a vacation from our vacation! But where do we live and what do we do when we’re not on the boat?

To make this cruising lifestyle work, we had to sell our home, our cars, and most of our things (Does it bring me joy? ….. Does it fit on a boat? ….) so we don’t have a home to return to during hurricane season. The good news is – we can go anywhere! The bad news is – we can go anywhere! … which involves a lot of research, planning, and an adventurous attitude. This year, we tucked Sanitas safely into storage in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and flew back to Colorado where we are blessed with generous friends and family who open their homes and their guest bedrooms to us when we visit.

I was lucky to be able to attend a retreat of Skirt Sports brand ambassadors from around the country during our first weekend in Boulder. It was really wonderful to meet such positive and supportive women in person after being “friends” on social media for years. We heard TESS talks from inspiring women, hiked, ran, ate, drank, and had a lot of fun together. The weekend culminated in a half marathon that I was not sufficiently trained for, but was still a lot of fun.

Capt.Mike and I moved to Colorado in 2003, so we have LOTS of friends and family here. By the time we moved onto our boat in 2017 we had mountain biking friends, road biking friends, running friends, work friends, Skirt Sports friends, book club friends, snowboarding friends, and UK friends. We tried to fit in a visit with every one of them in the past month. This involved a lot of driving, and a lot of eating and drinking!

Did I mention eating and drinking? After six months of cooking one-pot meals in my tiny galley, and eating beans and rice, the variety of food available (even gluten free beer!) in Boulder, CO was dizzying. Plus, I couldn’t resist going on taco and margarita tour.

We were extremely happy that it stopped snowing in Boulder days before we arrived – on May 29th!?! You might notice Mike and I are wearing jackets and hats in a lot of these photos, while Coloradans are wearing shorts and t-shirts. Apparently your blood really does thin while living in the tropics for six months. 🤣 Once summer arrived in Colorado, we took every opportunity possible to hike in this beautiful state. We were so lucky to have amazing trails right in the Boulder City limits, or within a 15-minute drive! I even hiked a few new-to-me trails that I somehow missed while we lived here. I love the Colorado blue skies, snow capped mountains, and variety of vegetation; everything from pine trees to cactus.

In between hikes, we fit in a few particularly fun events. Did I mention we consider this time in Colorado a vacation from the stresses and discomforts of boat life? When in Colorado, we always need to see a concert at the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheater concert venue.

And we borrowed cruiser bikes from Brittany and Erik so that we could participate in bike-to-work day.

All of our socializing involved our good friends – playing cards, doing pedicures, cycling around Boulder.

We have a leave-no-trace policy for our guest room stays. Or, as Capt. Mike says, “take only memories, leave only carpet vacuum stripes.” Since we aren’t working, and we have plenty of extra time, sometimes we can help out around the house. Mike has hauled rocks, repaired bikes, and even put together IKEA furniture.

All in all, our visit to Colorado went much too quickly. Tomorrow we head to the airport for the next stage of our land adventures. Tomorrow we fly to France and then to Spain where we plan to hike the Camino de Santiago – approximately 500 miles across Spain!

The Last Hurrah

All good things must come to an end, and we were rapidly approaching the end of Sanitas’ 2019 cruising season. So Capt. Mike and I decided to end the season on a high note. While our buddy boats continued on to Culebra and then to the US Virgin Islands, we decided to spend our last few days quietly at anchor off the coast of Vieques. I’m so glad we did! The public beach at Sun Bay is the prettiest we saw in Puerto Rico – white sand stretching for over a mile, with strategically placed palm trees for shade, calm blue water, and wild horses! And only two boats anchored here!

Each morning, we’d check off a couple of items on the “get Sanitas ready for hurricane season” checklist. Then we’d go ashore and walk the length of the beach (stopping by the cafe, just in case they might actually be open one day and willing to sell us a pina colada) and we’d visit our horse buddies. That cafe never actually was open. Sigh. Since it was spring, it was baby season, and I saw some of the cutest wobbly new-born foals I’d ever seen. Don’t worry! I kept my distance so mama wouldn’t get nervous. One small herd of wild horses staked out a primo spot by the outdoor beach showers, and Capt. Mike would turn the showers on for a few minutes each day to give them fresh drinking water. Watch out for those big teeth and sharp hooves, though!

On our last full night at Sun Bay, we booked a tour with Jak Water Sports to visit the bioluminescent bay at Mosquito Bay. Remember when we visited the bioluminescent bay at La Paguara? Well, everyone told us that the bright and active bioluminescence here on Vieques would make La Paguera look like a dim has-been by comparison. We dinghied ashore around 8:30 and the tour bus picked us up at the end of the dirt road. For $50pp, they set us up with a glass-bottomed kayak, paddles, PFDs, and a super knowledgeable guide. We probably spent an hour and a half gliding across the bay, watching the bioluminescence streak like warp speed beneath the glass bottom of our boat. We were encouraged to dip our hands and feet into the water and to watch the glowing sparkles run down our arms. The only no-no was swimming in it. Apparently, prohibiting swimming and motor boats has protected the bay and its microscopic inhabitants. It really was considerably brighter than La Paguara, although being able to swim in the bioluminescence was a true highlight, so I am very glad that we had the privilege of experiencing both.

One our last day of cruising, we had a lovely short sail around to the west coast of Vieques to anchor at Green Beach. It was wonderful to sail downwind after weeks of sailing straight into the trades. We didn’t even turn on our motor on this last beautiful day! This section of the island used to be controlled by the US Navy who performed armaments testing on Vieques. But today, the few military buildings have been abandoned, and all that remains is a lovely and quiet small beach. If we hadn’t just come from beautiful Sun Bay, I might have even considered it the most beautiful beach on the island. Of course, there’s also the famous Black Beach that we didn’t visit- sounds like another trip to Vieques is in order!

We toasted to our success in traveling all the way from St Petersburg Florida with our last bottle of Prosecco. It’s truly amazing to me that we got ourselves and our boat all this way! Capt. Mike agrees that our second cruising season has been much more relaxing and enjoyable than our first. This last quiet night was a chance review the stories, adventures, and wonderful people we met this season, and to prepare ourselves for the long list of jobs awaiting us in the marina. Cheers to a wonderful cruising season!

Crossing the Dreaded Mona Passage

After a month in the Dominican Republic, our 30 day immigration stamp expired, and it was time to move on to Puerto Rico.

When we first untied the lines in Florida to start cruising, we were stressed out by the thought of crossing the Gulf Stream. But after four crossings under our belts, looking back on it the Gulf Stream doesn’t seem that bad. You always know which direction the current will be flowing, there are apps and websites to tell you how fast the stream is running any given day, the distance is short so you can cover it in daylight, and it’s well understood what makes up a good weather window.

The Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on the other hand, throws in a lot more variables. This is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea, and the currents here can vary widely with no real means to predict their strength and flow. You just figure out the currents when you experience them. Also, there are several shoals, or sandbars, which change the depth of the water from thousands of feet to a couple hundred of feet. You certainly won’t run aground in that, but the change in depth really messes with the water and kicks up confused waves far from shore. Although the passage itself is only 80 miles, the distance from the anchorage in Samana to the first safe port in Puerto Rico is more like 150 miles. We planned for over 30 hours of travel. Cooling land masses often kick up thunderstorms that won’t appear in any weather report. So we were particularly cautious when choosing a weather window to cross. Capt. Mike listened to the offshore weather reports for three distinct regions: north, in the passage, and south of the Mona for about a week, watching for the right conditions before making our Go / No-Go decision.

Finally, we were pretty confident we’d have a window we could safely motor across the Mona Passage, although it was unlikely we’d have enough wind to truly sail. We said our goodbyes to Marcie and Damon the night before, so we were all set to raise anchor and head out at first light. The Bay of Samana is gigantic – hours later, we could still see the finger of land to our north. But eventually, we broke free of the bay, and motor-sailed down the southeastern coast of the DR, encountering one of those crazy currents streaming about 1.5 knots against us along the way. Winds were pretty calm (Capt. Mike had done his research well) so we considered ignoring the hourglass shoal all together and just choosing a heading that lined up straight with our destination in Puerto Rico. Glad we didn’t do that! Even doing everything right, and picking a longer course to the north of the shoal, we still encountered pretty rough seas on the edge of it.

Otherwise, the trip was smooth and uneventful – but long! Out of 33 hours, we were only able to turn the motors off and sail for about 3.5 hours. After about 28 hours, we got just close enough to land that my Google Fi phone picked up a signal and started dinging. So, apparently we were back in US waters for the first time since January 8th! Time to clear back in! Well the US government has finally managed a web site that works. We put my phone up the halyard to get a strong signal, and Capt. Mike called up the CBP Roam app, let ’em know we were back in the US, and twelve minutes later we were successfully cleared in. That even included a quick phone call with Officer Felice. How cool is that? The best part is, we didn’t even need to go ashore in Puerto Real. We could just continue east, taking advantage of the calm winds. Instead, we lowered the Dominican Republic flag and raised the Puerto Rico flag while we were still barely in sight of land.

We had the best of intentions of sailing around the southwest corner of Puerto Rico and making it as far as La Parguara. But as we rounded the cape at Cabo Rojo, the true force of the easterly trade winds and the sea swells they bring hit us. SV Sanitas slowed down to about two knots. And she was getting tossed around like crazy. Maybe it was because we were tired after 33 hours, or maybe it was because we were attempting to travel east too late in the afternoon when the winds had had time to build. But we called an audible and turned sharp to port and found ourselves a safe anchorage underneath the lighthouse.

While we were resting and recovering from our long journey, a fishing boat pulled up. Now, I get kind of defensive when a strange boat pulls up to Sanitas. My first instinct is to say “No gracias! I don’t want it. How much?” But in this case, one of the guys simply handed Mike a live lobster, waved, and zoomed off. Well alrighty then! Welcome to Puerto Rico!

Recovery Mode

After the crazy weather and scary sail into Warderick Wells, it was a wonderful feeling to be safely tied to a mooring ball in the north mooring field for the next few days.

Our first order of business was to assess the damage to our lazy jack system and solar panels. By covering one panel at a time, we figured out that the cracked solar panels still partially functioned. Great news! Because if the flexible panels weren’t functioning at all, we wouldn’t have the capacity to generate enough power to run our instruments and to keep the fridge cold. We’d have to run the generator or the motor every day to keep our house batteries topped up – loud, smelly, and requiring a lot of fuel. However, they were definitely compromised, and a google search informed us that they could catch on fire because of the damage. So we pretty much knew we needed to replace them, but where the heck would we find solar panels in the Bahamas? And exactly how many arms and how many legs would they charge if we found them? So I had a brilliant idea……

Drew and Sharon of SV ZRaye, our friends from St Petersburg, planned to leave Florida for the Bahamas as soon as they got a good weather window. Maybe they’d be kind enough to hand deliver two new solar panels to wherever we happened to be? Before I could reach out to ZRaye to propose our plan, or to start shopping on line for new solar panels, I had to figure out how to get cell coverage and data from within the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Last year, we figured out that if we took a 20 minute hike to the top of Boo Boo Hill, and stood behind and bench, and held my cell phone up in the air, I could usually get signal. This year, this old dog learned a new trick. We put my Google Fi phone in a waterproof bag and raised it up the flag halyard (which will henceforth be known as the “phone halyard”) We used my phone as a WiFi hot spot, and could sit comfortably in the cockpit surfing the interwebs on Mike’s phone and my iPad. Thanks to Elixir for the tip! An hour later, two new solar panels were ordered, shipping to Key West arranged, and ZRaye agreed to don her superhero cape and swoop in to rescue us with an international delivery. I love it when a plan comes together.

Next order of business, repairing the lazy jacks. Jeff from Elixir came by to help me hoist Capt. Mike up the mast. Safety third! It’s always good to have a backup line attached in case the main halyard fails when he’s 50 feet up in the air! Together, we hauled him up, where he was able to knot and repair the lazy jacks, instead of having to order a whole new system. Check one more repair off the list!

Finally, Capt. Mike used spare nuts and bolts and washers to replace the hardware that had broken on our dodger and Bimini. Not pretty, but it worked! Its amazing what a difference 24 hours makes. Yesterday we were wet, tired, and scared with lots of expensive repairs to make. Today we were dry, well-fed, and basking in the sun, with all our problems solved for about $300. Not bad! We celebrated with a hike up Boo Boo Hill to stretch our legs and enjoy the views from this little slice of paradise.

We’re Cruisers Again!

When folks asked about our plans for this cruising season, I glibly answered, “Oh, we’ll spend a couple of months in the yard, but we’ll be cruising by Thanksgiving.” Even as I said it, I didn’t really believe it. Sure enough, Christmas somehow snuck up on us before we finally finished our projects, completed provisioning, and finally felt ready to untie the lines and head south.

This year, we had a flurry of friends seeing us off! Our friend Pat, from Siesta Key, joined us for the trip from St Petersburg to Sarasota. He and his family have been real supporters of our adventure. I think he finally understands what sailboat cruising is really like: it took an hour from him to drive to St Petersburg early on December 22nd, and it took us seven hours to bring him home by boat!

The trip down the ICW was fairly uneventful, until we were circling to wait for the next draw bridge opening. I was at the helm, and Capt. Mike was below decks getting a snack. He called up, “You doing ok?” And I said “Sure!” And then the depth reading went from 9 feet to 8 feet to SHALLOW WATER ALARM!!! And our boat speed went to zero. Darn it! Tried a quick burst of reverse to no avail. Mike had already heard the alarms and leapt into the cockpit. Now he loosened the mainsheet and swung the boom way out over the port side and called out to Pat for help. “Come on Pat! We’ve gotta hang our fat butts off the side!” With that strategic distribution of weight, Sanitas tipped over just enough that I could rev the engine, jam it into forward, and turn us sharply to starboard into deeper water. Hooray! We were moving again, and still had barely enough time to make it to the bridge for the next opening. (Ironically, we had just passed another sailboat aground just a quarter mile back. The drifting sand and shoaling in this part of the ICW is pretty tricky! Apparently you really need to be in the center of the channel!)

It was also a bit tricky timing our passage under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Three cargo ships were passing through at about the same time, and they are gigantic! If it came down to a game of chicken with a cargo ship, Sanitas will lose every time. Discretion is the better part of valor, so we slowed down by tacking upwind and let them go right on ahead.

Lots of traffic at the Cortez bridge on a sunny (but cold!) Saturday morning!

After picking up a ball at Marina Jack’s, we celebrated our first day back on the water with cocktails at Louies Modern.

Thanks for keeping us company, Pat! Come back and sail with us again any time!