Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Two Nights at Sea: Puerto Rico to the Turks & Caicos

We spent our last night putting into our new dinghy replacement items for those things that had been stolen, such as life jackets, anchor, etc.  I double checked the contents of our ever present Ditch Bag.  For you non-boaters, this brightly colored bag is full of life saving items and can be grabbed in a second if one is forced to abandon ship....a frightful thought. 

Our stuffed Ditch Bat
I spent some time exchanging out water bottles, checking all batteries in the various things that take batteries, such as our hand held GPS, the strobe lights on our life jackets to be certain all are in working order and that spares have not expired.  In the ditch bag is our  EPIRB, the personal locator beacon that when activated, sends up a signal to the satellites in the sky, providing our ID# and our position - new invention that has saved thousands of lives at sea.  Also included is a first aid kit, spare glasses  & RX sunglasses for me (I am legally blind without glasses!) 50 block sunscreen; space heating blankets; rain ponchos, knife, all kinds of USCG flares that hopefully would attract a LOT of attention, copies of our boat information, insurance info, passports, medical info and contact info...a horrific thought.  Other stuff is in there, such as some cash.  This time, given 2 nights at sea (Sunday thru Tuesday afternoon), I’ve pulled our dive suits out (hypothermia is an issue no matter where one is) placing them next to the ditch bag.   Everything has been placed on the flybridge, ready to be grabbed -
I feel like a Girl Scout....Be Prepared.  Our SPOT is set to signal our position every six hours.  The kids have our float plan and instructions to contact South Side Marina and the Authorities if they have not heard from us by Tuesday afternoon.  Andy keeps shaking his head....too much of a reminder that he Does Not Like Large Open Bodies of Ocean.

Pulling out at 6:22 AM, we topped off our tanks (1,100 gallons in total via the 4 tanks on board) for the 400+ mile trip to the Turks & Caicos from Puerto Rico.  Note to Boaters:  This marina has good fuel prices $4.19 a gallon - when others are over $5 and is a high volume marina. (News flash:   Fuel in Turks & Caicos is $6.36 a gallon due to their high taxation!)
Ugh, a rainy day, with following seas surfing us along all day after we left Puerto del Ray Marina in Farjado til we dropped the hook off Isla Caja de Muertos, known as Coffin Island in English.  This island, resembling a coffin (duh!) from the air, was once home to a small rum manufacturing plant, producing only a case or two a month - but, legend has it that the rum was fabulous - better than DonQ, Puerto Rico’s national drink.  An uneventful night & an early to bed (no problem after a long long day at sea) in preparation for another early start in the morning.
Puerto Rico on the right up to Turks & Caicos, top left
Pulling anchor at barely first light, we headed off for what would become a 54 hour, non-stop cruise to Provinciales, Turks & Caicos.  Do the math - that is two nights underway at sea, another first for us!   Andy is a bit apprehensive as he needs more sleep than I and he’s worried he’ll be ‘fuzzy’ at the wrong moment.  We are, however, in agreement that we’ll save potentially a couple of weeks of cruising by drawing a line straight form Puerto Rico to the Turks & Caicos, bypassing the Dominica Republic and missing the most treacherous part of the dreaded Mona Passage.  
A welcome sunrise
For you non-boaters, it is not the distance that creates the longer passage of time, but weather.  One seems to always get a few days of good weather -- a “weather window” followed by another long batch of days where the winds and seas are far higher than one wants to travel in safely or comfortably.  Therefore, to cruise around the coast of the DR is to have to hop from marina to marina or anchorage to anchorage (No good anchorages around the DR that are safe from wind, waves.) and thereby get ‘stuck’ for a few days due to weather not conducive to safe cruising.  Couple that with the fact that we’d still have to do one overnight passage anyway, and the decision became easy...Go For It...One Shot Across the North Atlantic Ocean from Puerto Rico to Turks & Caicos.  
Squalls followed us
Hum, what happened to our good weather forecast?!  We rocked, we rolled, we tried to dodge rain squalls to no avail.  Every time we’d watch our boat position via the radar - in the middle of the squall -- and CHANGE position in an attempt to get out of the squall, the dang squall would just follow us as though stuck to our antennas.   As the night darkened the sky, with the tiny sliver of moon disappearing, we rocked & rolled in the dark. 
A bit nervous, as we could not see the waves coming at us, we held on....every so often in a pattern of one, two, three, four, five, SIX -- Bang The Big One, would hit us.  Disconcerting not to see it coming.   I do have one long, black bruise on my leg for missing the count, getting out of my helm chair at the wrong moment, being thrown into the table and then falling onto the port seating area.  Ouch.  Without the fancy expensive stabilizers we added just for our cruise through the Caribbean and the long ocean passages, I can’t image how bad this night might have been!      
Andy napping
In spite of our fancy, expensive stabilizers, Andy again turned Puke Green.  (Remember my earlier blog in 2010 regarding our ‘discussions’ as to whether or not to purchase these at $50,000....My argument was “Do you KNOW how many sea sick pills you could purchase for $50,000!!)  He finally agreed to put on a seasick patch - “It’s too late to put it on.”  “No, it is not - we have another 46 hours at sea.” 

He slept much of the night (thanks Patch) while I, the Night Owl, kept watch.   I did, however, clip my little tiny kitchen timer to my shirt - setting it every 20 minutes.  It would “beep beep beep beep” on schedule, waking me up should I inadvertently doze off.  

Former photo - not this trip
Photo taken prior to our crossing - not our headings
Huh... On Watch.   That means Watch the Instruments - making certain our autopilot holds the course we set, making certain no engine overheats or some other part decides to malfunction.  

It also means keeping your eye on the radar and on the seas, meaning Watch the Ocean for Something Coming Your Way.  Other boats, tankers & the like are running with lights on, as are we.    It's those Things That Go Bump In The Night with NO lights that worry us.  We could be sunk - literally and figuratively - if we hit a container off a ship or some other such object bobbing around in the ocean waters!  With two nights at sea, we saw only ONE tanker and did alter course, getting out of his path....Saw and Heard Nothing the entire 54 hours!  Amazing.  A sober reminder of how small the world is....we were certainly a dot in the vast blue ocean.
Caught a fish & ate him for dinner as we cruised
Life aboard over this 54 hour passage settled into a routine - much like any other passage.  With no hint of seasickness, I’m able to go below, piddle around, cook a meal, clean up, take a shower, read, whatever.  I did, however, prepare meals in advance. Homemade beef stew, hot and hearty was easily served in bowls.  The  meal planned for Night #2 was left in the refrig when we hauled in some kind of fish, having finally hooked one as we cruised.  Why is it that the fish I catch are NEVER in my fish ID book?  I whacked it up in the cockpit of Finally Fun, again chumming the water behind us as I cleaned it.  Whatever it was, it was good, with tender white flesh.  

I finally got to see bioluminescence,  watching the tiny bits of microscopic plankton (called dinoflagellates) , disturbed by our hull cutting through the water, light up & sparkle as it flipped and flopped over our bow and stern waves during the dark of night.  Beautiful.  The sight kept me occupied for hours.  
We listened to a book on tape -- would you believe this book, "11/22/63"  by Stephen King has 30 discs!  This is a long long story about time travel and the Kennedy assassination and is all tangled up with numerous side stories.   In our two days (we didn’t listen at night as one would be napping), we only made it to Tape #14!  I told Andy we needed some more long long passages so we could finish ‘the book’.   He’d didn’t even crack a smile.  Sometimes I think he'd like to hammer me!  grin.
Bob's dog standing watch on the roof as we pulled in
Pulling into SouthSide Marina, we were warmly greeted by Bob, the owner, who remembered us from last year.  We stayed awake til the 5:00 PM Happy Hour in his gazabo, meeting the other boaters and sharing food and stories.  Ah, a great group of folks, as always.  Asleep by 9:00 PM, we snored til 8:30 AM the next day, awakening refreshed.  

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