Monday, May 12, 2008

Idyll Thoughts #3

Ya Mon,

We’ve been here just over a month and are adapting very well, though more so the secluded beaches and bays than to the ‘in port’ life. I don’t have access right now to Derek’s last message so sorry for any repetitions.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mums! I spoke to Tristan last night, but it is definitely not the same as having him here for a big hug. We had a wonderful time during Tristan’s visit, putting aside all (almost all) the boat prep to hang out in some of the most beautiful bays and lagoons in the Caribbean. Most of our time was spent in the very quaint and lightly populated Spanish Virgin Islands. Culebrita is a bird refuge with fabulous beaches and a curl on the outer reef that T. was dieing to surf. It was also the site of Tristan’s first SCUBA experience 11 years ago and the only dive we did with him this visit. The waters of the Spanish Virgins are quite shallow and sandy and not conducive to great diving. Culebra has a small and delightful town called Dewey with a dinghy channel right through the middle of it where we could sit alongside under the cooling tropical vegetation at Mamacita’s and sip even cooler, icy Margaritas, eat fine fare and be entertained by the iguanas. A short dinghy ride away and we were anchored in quiet solitude in Bahia Linda where the turquoise water is so crystalline that you see the coral heads clearly 40 feet down - wonderful snorkelling and exquisitely beautiful. Sting rays and eagle rays are commonplace and we saw turtles every day (everywhere). Some of our favourite underwater characters are: the triangular trunk fish enclosed in their hard outer layer of fused scales, with only the translucent fins protruding to scurry them along, they are spotted and change colours very quickly to match their background; the many types of parrot fish, of a multitude of turquoise, green, red and yellow colours, comical with their enhanced lips nibbling on the reefs and then scooting away passing a trail of undigested ‘sand’ drifting through the water; the yellow-tail snappers, sleek and silvery with a yellow line down the side widening into the tail; and the long, narrow coronet fish which hide by hanging vertically against any rock or mingled within the gently waving fans and tubes of soft corals and sponges.

We spent about a week cruising Vieques, which was new territory for us but what a spectacular island. We spent lots of time spent strolling the beaches which have few other inhabitants, and swimming and snorkelling, eating and drinking and just being lazy on the boat. Tristan was thrilled to discover an unexploded shell left from the days when the US used the island for bombing practice! It required firm convincing to prevent him from digging it out. I am thrilled by the variety of plant life we see along the dry beaches and in the lusher areas. Many are flowering just now and quite fantastic. I believe that Derek already mentioned the incredible, magical phosphorescent bay we visited one night.

Before dropping off Tristan at the airport, we visited the ‘old town’ in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A hot day but what a fabulous, really old but still very busy place. Much of it dates back to the 1600’s with the narrow cobbled streets, overhanging plant filled balconies and little squares scattered about where one can enjoy freshly blended tropical fruit and rum concoctions to easy the heat. Tristan has moved up a notch or ten sartorially as we found, rather incongruously, a Polo shop with bargin prices – really only picked up a couple of shirts. World Heritage site, El Moro fort, a massive, multilayered stone structure from the 1500 and 1600s is built into the headland of San Juan harbour. It is fascinating to imagine the construction of it and confrontations which took place as the Spaniards repelled the English, French and Dutch during the heyday of looting, pirating and sugar plantations and exporting by the European countries in the Caribbean.

It is a very different life we have now. Up with the sun (and the roosters) and while in port, a busy, and I admit, often frustrating time. Still lots of wild things to see right from the boat. Schools of fish leaping frequently through the day and flocks of laughing gulls and turns diving after them. A pelican trying to sieve its meal with a gull slipping around on its head determined to scarf some of it. Tarpon seem to be tamed by the clients of seaside restaurants feeding them bits and it is still amazing to see these huge brilliantly shiny, stainless steel fish trolling and rolling around the docks snapping up the meaty pieces. They are very discerning about leaving the white bread - no doubt well trained by their mamas. There are always runners and bar jacks ready to visit us when Derek puts the bbq light on at night – beautiful, fast fish. Of course there is much more to see above and below water when at anchor in some gorgeous little bay with a stretch of white sandy beach to wander, and snorkling and swimming at one’s leisure.

We have been back in Tortola at Soper’s Hole, also more romantically called Frenchman’s Cay, for several days. Derek is buried in a manuals and books for the inverter which decided to stop this AM - so for the moment, no microwave or other AC devices. Yesterday he spent in the engine compartments changing oil and filters and soldering the alternator back into place. He has been amazing at understanding and fixing and maintaining the many systems aboard. We finally got the only Canadian approved measurer in the Caribbean here to do what is needed to complete the last form for registering ‘Idyll Island’ as a Canadian vessel. A big and rather expensive hassle but we do want to fly the Canadian flag and show our home port as Victoria. The people at Voyage Yacht Charters have been wonderful in assisting us in so many ways to get prepared for our adventures down the Leeward and Windward Islands and points beyond.

We are anxious now to move on, so we leave at 4 AM tomorrow for an 80 mile (128km) sail. Next stop is Sint Maarten/ St. Martin – an island which is half Dutch and half French. Should be good, some nice beaches and french wines and cheeses – aaand more chandlers. Amazing the number of hard to find, spare parts that are needed for a boat. As we head down the Island chain to Grenada and on to Venezuela, there will be relatively few places to provision.

Must complete preparations for tomorrow, but just wanted to let you know that each day after our last swim, while enjoying our sundowners we think of our family and friends at home.

Cathy and Derek
S/V Idyll Island

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cruisin' in the Virgin Islands

Its been a while but we've been busy! Yes, life in paradise can be hectic at times - but still great. Completed the transaction on the boat. She is now ours and has been renamed Idyll Island, registered in Victoria. Lot's of people went out of their way to help us make this transition to our new cruising life. Thanks to all! Especially, our cousins in Victoria, Christine and Neil; Cathy's brother, John; Joanne at Canada Ships Registry; Lorrie at BC Yacht Insurance; Arjan, Kevin and the crew at BVI Yacht Charters and Robin, Nigel, Kimo and all the crew at Voyage Charters in the BVI.

The boat is a Voyage 440 catamaran, owner's version, built in December 2004. She is very well equipped (we'll do an equipment review at a later date) and we love the way she sails and the comfort and stability at anchor. After getting the boat organized in Tortola, we picked up our son, Tristan (after he had a nightmare 3 day trip flying all over North America and camping in Miami airport), and headed for the USVI. A few days shopping for boat stuff and dive gear, and food etc, then we headed for the Spanish Virgin Islands of Puerto Rico. Culebrita, Culebra, Vieques. Fantastic beaches, friendly, laid-back people, warm/clear water. Saw lots of turtles, rays, bats, birds, unexploded ordnance (probably just a empty casing - on Vieques - an ex-firing range for the US Navy - Tristan thought was very cool and wanted to dig it up). Had an amazing time at Bahia Mosquito on Vieques (not part of the range). One of the most bio-luminescent places on the planet. Amazing going into the lagoon by dinghy and then watching the fiery/glowing fish, jelly-fish and squid lighting up the water off the back of the boat, while an incredible lightening storm lit up the sky (sheet lightening so not much concern about a strike).

We've now dropped Tristan off for his flight back to Victoria and work and school. Sad to say goodbye - we had a great time with him. We're very proud of how he has got his life going at the age of 18. We are now looking at a week or so of getting the boat provisioned and organised before heading down the island chain.