28 July 2013

Meeting Marlin


Natalie, Michael, Maya, and Lena are a German family we met while in Bequia, their boat is a 60 ft long monohull with a bright red paint-job named Marlin.


This picture was taken from our dinghy as it was going by.
The girl on the ladder is Lena the youngest of the family.

This is all of us in Bequia outside of the ice cream parlor at the docks.

27 July 2013

Chilling in the Tobago Cays

Bennett family sailing in the Grenadines
The Tobago Cays lay about halfway down (or up) the Grenadine island chain, and conveniently mark (more or less) the southern boundary of the hurricane belt, as far as U.S. insurance underwriters are concerned. If Dafne gets damaged in a "named" storm anywhere north of 12 degrees 40 minutes north we will not be covered. This line runs more or less right through this little group of islands. So, since June 1, the official start of the hurricane season, I keep waking up at night thinking, "Jesus, we have to get to the Tobago Cays."

The other big draw that pulls up to 200 boats into this labyrinth of uninhabited islets ringed by a horseshoe reef, is that this is one of the more beautiful, nature-filled anchorages in this part of the Caribbean and has been set aside as a marine nature reserve. Lucky for us July is the low season; so when we arrived the other day there were only 20 other boats, mostly huddled around the central island—Baradel—which has been marked out as a sea turtle sanctuary.

Paul Bennett and family sailing in the Caribbean
Since Dafne only draws 3'9" (1.15m) we are able to pull into shallow areas, such as this 6-foot-deep section of sand behind the reef.

After a ho-hum experience in Bequia, which I'd extolled endlessly as the perfect anchorage to the rest of the crew, I've learned my lesson about talking a place up. Beyond a few words about seeing turtles I didn't make a lot of promises to the girls. As a result, they were overjoyed when we anchored in six feet of water over pure sand, just behind the reef, and nearly bumped nose-to-nose with a turtle when we jumped over to check the anchor. And two large rays.

Pulling Laurel, our dinghy, up on Baradel Cay. A moment later a baby reef shark came swimming along just a foot from the beach. The girls were thrilled.

There's no internet signal in the Cays, so Lani and I purposefully unplugged for a short vacation to focus on more important things like snorkeling.

After a little experimentation in Bequia I've learned that we can generate about 10% more electricity if we push the boom to one side or another. As well after several promises, I finally made good on my commitment to rig up a swing. As a result, just hanging on Dafne proved plenty of fun for most of a day. 

Cleo, tentative at first, got into the swing of things quickly.

Stella, ecstatic, now asks me to rig this daily.
Ok, I loved it too.

We connected again with Natalie and Michael, a German couple aboard Marlin, and their kids Lena and Maya, who were both born on the boat. They were in a more serious school routine than us, but also took off three days to simply relax and enjoy the surroundings.

We picnicked one afternoon on picture-perfect Jamesby Island. Best nap ever under this palm.

Our kids get along marvelously with Lena and Maya. They spent three hours creating a whole world (incomprehensible to me) on the beach, with complex rules and roles—half drama, half game. Completely inspiring.

Petit Bateau nearby hosts a large population of iguanas (and no French children's clothes).

Starfruit—called Five Fingers in these islands—proves a tasty lunch for my friend.

We spent one afternoon snorkeling around Baradel, the turtle sanctuary, which was within swimming distance of Dafne. Within minutes we encountered three large hawksbill turtles in about ten feet of water. They were totally preoccupied with munching the sea bed and let us swim with them for over 40 minutes. Our underwater video camera has kicked the bucket after just a month of use; so, we didn't get any footage. But take my word, it was completely magical, especially when a turtle turns around to check you out and meet eye-to-eye. Encounters with wild animals like this leave me completely stunned.

A few days later Jade worked on a series of turtle sketches, which I hope she'll post here soon.

Queen of the Tobago Cays. Stand back.
Stella fell into a great rhythm.
We lucked into a full moon during our visit. Well, "luck" should perhaps be qualified. The moon raised the high tides more substantially over the reef, which made the evenings—in particular one night when it blew 22-knots constantly—rolly and rocky in the anchorage. But it made for beautiful cocktail hours when we could hang out on the trampoline and watch the moon rise.

A short dance performance on the bow. The reef is just perceptible in the background (breaking waves to the left), while moon is up on the right.

21 July 2013


We're here in Bequia every thing I've seen so far is beautiful (with the exception of the town witch is kind of dirty).  The first day we got here we pulled in, anchored, sat on the anchor and went into town. Apparently every Sunday night basically the whole town comes to a grassy spot and plays music and has a party.  We didn't want to be part of the party so we chose a secluded little restaurant by the water. It was a Mexican restaurant and really good although pretty expensive, everything was expensive on the island, we soon found out, the reason was because Bequia was so small it had to get everything imported from bigger islands and the importing was expensive.

 Bequia anchorage.

My dad, Cleo and I went swimming in the clear water. 

 A man came by in a dinghy right before dinner and sold this tuna to us, he had just caught it.

We just got ice cream at the ice cream shop by the water

 10 ft. of water


14 July 2013

Guest Post: Ode to Uncle David

Master Blaster

Who rules barter town? Masterblaster

The kids and I loaded no more than (but almost exactly) 500 lbs. of suitcases onto an airport trolley in Saint Martin and rolled it out to the short term parking lot to meet Paul. Paul, amazingly, even a shade or two tanner than the week before, pulled up in a white micro-mini car that is not even available in the US, has no trunk, and weighs barely 500 lbs. itself. The pile of luggage next to us is comically larger than the car. As the kids—not I—start to berate Paul's judgement, up strolls my brother, David, from a berm on the other side of the parking lot. He hugs us all, asks who wants to go for a ride in the new dinghy and relieves us of at least 350 lbs. worth of our belongings. Paul beams at me and slaps David on the back.

"Kids, if you hide up on the bow and read, your parents are less likely to find you."

After making the passage from Tortola with Paul, David agreed to spend the first three weeks of our trip with us on the boat. If he never gives me anther birthday gift for the rest of my life and saddles me with all our parents' eldercare, I still owe him. I do love having house guests and most of my favorite people live very far from me, so I have them frequently. That being the case, I think everyone will agree that there is generally a point in any visit, when it gets pretty easy to say goodbye. Whether that point is after 3 days or three weeks, it is inevitable and does not reflect on the enjoyment of the visit. My brother, is the only person in my life who belies that rule. At various times, he has 'visited me' for upwards of 3 months—and I loved it.


These three weeks were far too short. I can't imagine having to survive this transition without him. He is arguably the handiest person I know. Equally adept at engine repair and plumbing creativities as he is nimble with kids' games and cooking. In addition, he is a social lubricant. Those cruising friends I talked about? Did you think I made them? Found them? Charmed them? Wrong. It was David. I arrived and they were all warmed up and waiting for us.

Here's a shot of David putting Jade down for a nap. Oops.

David has a great rapport with all my kids. He revels in each of their idiosyncrasies and quirks. On this adventure, he took a special interest in Jade, the one he knows the least. He included her in a bunch of his tasks, showed her how to clean her berth, and shared her cabin. He also attempted to even the playing field among the sisters. He became her lifter, her reacher, her reader. In games of Marco Polo he tucker her under an arm. During school-work hour, he gave her assignments of drawing and writing. In return, she supplied him with copious amounts of cold beer. Every evening you'd see her checking the weight of his beer can and offering up another round at the appropriate moment. She also took his skin care on as a challenge. Sun screen was applied vigorously and frequently.

Sun screen application.


David (to Paul and I): I have a secret. Kids love to line up. Shortest to tallest, then backwards, then about face. Especially when there's an inspection. Just a tip. (This has become very useful)

David: Jade have you seen Mad Max? You should; together we're master blaster. 

The bunkmates had a rough night. I'm not sure who fared worse.
Cleo: mommy mommy mommy mommy mommy
David: You kids need a diagram of facial expressions for your mother. It's clear to me that she is one degree away from exploding, but you don't seem to recognize that particular expression. I'll draw it for you so you can memorize it for when I'm gone. 

David: who wants to learn how to clean the bilge? Hello? Stella you're still here, come let me teach you something.
Stella: huh? Uh ok.

David: You kids need to stop wrestling at the table. You're knocking dishes over and someone always gets hurt. If you need to wrestle, go to your cabins and wrestle quietly to yourselves. 
Jade wrestling quietly to herself

David: All these other boats are just jealous of my little girl crew. They never get as good a coating of sunscreen on their backs.

Cleo: The deck is clean. Those are just stains.
David (whistling and looking away)

09 July 2013

Passage Making

In sailing parlance a "passage" is any time when you move from one place to another across open water. When you're hugging the coast and cruising from port to port you're not really passage-making. But, when you hop from one island to the next in the Leeward and Windward Islands of the Caribbean, you're crossing open water. The waves rolling your boat from one side to another, and the powerful squalls that come up periodically, are all gifts from Africa sent with love 4000 nautical miles across the open Atlantic to passage makers.

It's easy to screw up on a passage. So, sailors spend a good amount of time passage planning. The main focus is finding the right weather window when the big picture—that is, the predictable path of large weather systems—looks good. There's no predicting small, localized, but potentially powerful squalls. They just happen. Get used to it.

I've been using two main websites to do our passage planning since we left St. Martin. The first is Ralph's Tropical Weather, run by an amateur weather buff in Florida who's been tracking hurricanes for the last 30 years. The second is Passage Weather, which pulls together data from a wide range of sources to compile relatively real time reports and accurate forecasts of wind speeds and wave heights—the two big concerns for sailing. Passage Weather's wind info is mostly from the GFS (Global Forecast Service).

Ralph gives the big picture. Here is it before our run from Antigua to Deshaies, Guadeloupe.

Ralph basically takes a satellite image from Intellicast and overlays his own analysis. His focus is mostly on the tropical waves from which tropical storms and hurricanes hatch that roll off the African shore and spin across the Atlantic.

The image above, from July 4, shows a tropical wave that's just passed us (3) and two more heading our way (1 & 2). The one that passed had brought slightly higher than normal winds and some rain. So, we look at this, partly, in order to time our passages between the waves.

But, also, we're looking out for hurricanes as Dafne is still within the hurricane zone and, technically speaking, this is hurricane season. As it ended up, two days later, when we arrived in Deshaies, number 2 had evolved into a numbered "invest," which is the next step from wave to storm. And, by the 8th, it had become Tropical Storm Chantal. But more on that later.

Here is a snapshot from Passage Weather of the winds predicted for our sail to Guadeloupe.

The arrows point in the direction of the wind (mostly east, or slightly north of east), while the tails on them describe wind speed. A long tail stands for 10 knots of wind, a short for 5. Guadeloupe is the butterfly-looking island just to the lower right of center of the chart. Antigua is the round blob north-northwest of it. As you can see, for the whole trip we would be sailing in 15 knots of wind.

The colors represent trending. The darker blue that covers most of the chart represent trends between 15-20 knots. So while the wind might be mostly 15 knots, there would be times of 20 knots on the trip. For us, we LOVE 15 knots. Dafne moves nicely, and it's a comfortable ride. 20 is ok. But, we prefer 15 or so. The lighter blue patch that we would sail into halfway along represents a trending toward lighter winds, 10-15 knots. We liked that. It might take a little longer to get to our destination, but we'll stay dry and free of seasickness, and have more fun.

This chart also shows us that the winds would be coming from 60 degrees off our bow all they way, which is a bit close. 90 degrees off the bow—called a "reach"—is ideal.

In the chart below, we see wave heights, which is our second concern. Big waves = uncomfortable sailing, especially when we're sailing closer into the waves. Here's it's all about color. The darker the blue, the higher the waves. We were expecting 1-2 meter waves (3-6 feet) all the way to Guadeloupe, and mostly from the side (or, "beam"). Not bad.

And, lastly, Passage Weather also shows us precipitation, which isn't a big deal in terms of safety, though a lot of rain can reduce visibility. Precipitation often means squalls, which are very localized areas of intense wind. On this passage, in fact, we rain into two squalls, each of which packed about 25-30 knots of wind. The first only lasted 15 minutes, but the second lasted 45 minutes and brought our visibility down to less than a quarter mile. It was somewhat similar to sailing in fog in New England, and a little freaky.

Everything in sailing weather is pegged to UTC, or universal, time. UTC, also sometimes called Z or "zulu," is equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time with no daylight savings calculated. You'll see in each of these Passage Weather charts the time is 09 UTC. In the Lesser Antilles in the summer we're four hours behind UTC. We were planning a morning departure from Antigua so I looked mostly at the 5 am, or 0900 UTC, chart.

In the precipitation chart above we can see a cell of significant rain moving into Guadeloupe at our departure. I wrongly assumed that this would move quickly and clear out before we got that far—about 7 hours into our trip. But, instead we hit it and entered Deshaies in the rain.

Regardless, we had one of our best sails yet, as evidenced by the girls getting more relaxed and at home. Here they are tethered in on the trampoline between the two hulls, riding the waves as we bounce along in 18 knots of wind at nearly 8 knots of boat speed. Gotta love catamarans.

08 July 2013

Lizards and Other Memories of Oyster Pond

I got a new camera. I took pictures in Oyster Pond.

I love lizards.

Lizards are special because you don't see them in cities.

Cactus is pointy. It can poke you. Cleo got poked by a cactus.

Donkeys are fast.

And they kiss your hand.

Turk Cactus is pointier than a regular cactus.

04 July 2013

Story Telling

So for today's blog I'm going to tell a story about three kids that have some experience with boating.

Once upon a time there were three kids.Their names were Stella Cleo Jade. They loved boats  so they desided to go on a little boat trip in fact it was there first boat trip on a catamaran  they were going with there parents. Right now there geting reaty for the trip. The next morning they set out for oister pond
there destination. It was very wavy so they were going up down up down. The middle one was not that fortunate because she kept throwing up over the side but the youngest named jade was just asleep and when they got to oister pond she woke up how lucky is she that she skipped the terrible trip and got to wake up at the exiting part.

                          the end

So is that a good story well i think it is a good story.  We had something happen to us to  sense i am the middle one that through up a lot i wasn't that fortunate   but know i'm better.

01 July 2013

Tropical Birthday

Stella turned eleven Saturday. That and the fact that it was the weekend, we decided to take a break from boat chores and staying up on work. She decided we should all go visit the Coralita littoral preserve, part of the St. Martin Nature Reserve, just a mile up the coast from Oyster Pond.

Coralita is a shallow shelf wedged between two rocks where the Atlantic surf spreads out in long, flat waves across a bed of sea urchins. Calvin, the self-proclaimed "Sea Urchin Man," presides over the beach, where he's gathered a small collection of live animals (conchs, sea urchins, sea stars) and set up a series of cairn-like mounds of shells and coral. Presumably this is art.

We waded out to Seashell Island, which is a hunk of raised reef a stone's throw from the beach.

Jade, a bit tentative at first, gathered dozens of shells. I'm not sure where we'll store these on Dafne and won't be surprised if I find them in my closet, or worse.

The shallows in this bay are a favorite of kite surfers. They love to jump the spit of sand where we tried to snorkel. 

Stella was in heaven. She loves stuff like this: exploring new places, challenging herself. She ran ahead and tried wading out to a further rock, but retreated when a small shark crossed her path. 

Lunch happened at a roadside BBQ joint serving "rice and peas" and various grilled meats. The girls had never had "rice and peas" before, and were, of course, amusingly surprised when rice and beans arrive. The ribs were great (no surprise), but Jade's chicken ruled (surprise). Afterwards they let Stella take a turn in the "kitchen."

After a quick stop at Le Grand Marche in Philipsburg—ok, not quick; nothing ever is on Sint Maarten—we arrived at Buccaneer Beach, a thin strip of clean sand wrapping Simpson Bay, so called by the beach bar that serves $2 beers to all the cruisers and hosts movie night on the beach on Fridays. This was Stella's choice; and our first cruising friends, Jane and Erwin and their daughters Sofia and Isabelle, joined us. After a few hours of snorkeling, epic turns of Marco Polo, and jumping off the pier—most of which I napped through (life is tough)—we retreated to burgers and salads at the Buccaneer Bar.

And, of course, our double chocolate cake from Le Grand Marche. A perfect end to a perfect day in the islands. Happy birthday Stella.