Thursday, December 31, 2015

It's New Year's Eve in St. Martin

We have had quite a go of it in 2015...hopefully the weather will calm down just a bit so that our journeys to the next islands are not so boisterous.

While we were in Virgin Gorda, we met up with three other Outbound yachts, the broker from Barrington RI and the owner of the Outbound company.  It was the first time we have seen another Outbound in the same harbor since 2010.  Quite a nice reunion...

We left Virgin Gorda on Monday the 28th at noon in a tiny weather window with slightly reduced winds and waves.  The way from the British Virgin Islands to St. Martin is pretty much directly into the wind, so in order to sail we have to tack back and forth, or else crash and bang at a slower speed with the engine.  We sailed 130 miles to cover a 75 mile distance, at just about 24 hours at sea.  Luckily we did not encounter any squalls during the night hours, but boy at 5 am did the wind start howling and the rain start slashing...the only advantage to the hard rain is that the salt we accumulated got washed off nicely...

Anyway, we are now in Marigot Bay on the French side of St. Martin, using the internet in Shrimpy's laundry, a well-known boater hang-out.  We had a lovely lunch yesterday in Marigot, full-service midday meal for 12 euro each, including the wine and beer.  

Today we are grocery shopping and then planning on a quiet evening on the boat, until the fireworks from shore wake us up.  We should have an excellent view of any displays in both Marigot and Simpson Bay.

Our next stop will be St. Barths, and again our departure is completely weather dependent...

Best wishes to all for 2016.  


Tuesday, December 22, 2015


This post is short and sweet

We have had a great time in both the US and British Virgin Islands.  At the moment we are in the North Sound on Virgin Gorda, waiting for cooperative winds and waves to make our way overnight to St. Martin.  We have spent a lot of time away from the interweb...and also out of cell phone range.  Hiking, snorkeling and of course, going through the boat chore list.

In the meantime, we hope that you enjoy time with friends and family, with a farewell to 2015 and best wishes for 2016.

love to all
David and Gretchen

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

More Vieques on to Culebra

08 December 2015

Puerto Rico continued….

The Ponce Fishing and Yacht Club hosted a sailboat regatta the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Our fellow crew member, Bill is an avid racing sailor and inquired about entering the races.  The yacht club scrambled and came up with a Sunfish, put together with borrowed pieces from various boats in the club—showing once again the generosity and friendliness of Ponce.  Bill’s borrowed sail was not a racing sail, and was red and white striped.  Almost all of the other sails were mostly white, so we were able to see how Bill was doing from Callisto, about a mile away from the race course.  Close to us were the youngest sailors, on Optimist Prams.  They were very competitive, yelling out the rights of way and taking their penalty turns without complaint.  What was very impressive to me were the adults on the race committee, I am sure they were hoarse for days afterwards..they encouraged each sailor throughout every race.  I was also pleased that there were both boys and girls in the class.

If any of you are familiar with Sunfish, you may think they are a “kid’s boat”.  They are well suited for young, agile sailors, but people well into their 60’s and 70’s can compete at the world level.  Bill did fairly well, learning a lot in two afternoons from his fellow racers. Sunfish photo

Now for the food…Ponce has built a public park along the waterfront near the working harbor.  There are 18!  little food kiosks along the boardwalk.  One of them, Tango, is known to the cruisers as the place for internet and very cold local beer.  We discovered Raul’s, where Raul and his wife (both well into their 70’s) cook and serve…A lot of the kiosks just have microwaves heating up things put together elsewhere and frozen.  Raul’s the real deal, his own hot sauce, and very generous portions.  I had a shellfish mofongo (mashed fried plaintain with spices) mixed with conch, king crab, lobster and shrimp…so much I had enough for two more meals back on the boat.  The guys had carne asada and for an appetizer we had a Puerto Rican version of nachos.  I had no idea so much garlic was part of PR cuisine.  The space in the grocery store for garlic, both fresh and in jars is about the same as that devoted to potatoes.

After six days in Ponce we moved east a short distance to Patias, Esperanza and then to Ensenada Honda, still on Vieques.  Both Patias and Esperanza were very “rolly”, meaning large swells curling around the protective reefs in the bays rocked the boat, just enough to say let’s not stay here more than two nights.  Esperanza is noted for its gorgeous beach and the bioluminescence in the small bays nearby.

Next time..Ensenada Honda Viequez and then Ensenada Honda Culebra

Gretchen, s/v Callisto, Ensenada Honda Culebra

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ponce, Puerto Rico

We are fully recovered from our passage, and so is Callisto.  The wind generator,  heads (toilets) functional, reefing line and chafe point fixed and caught up on sleep and Internet!

We walked to the local chandlery to get bolts and look for the new reefing line.  The store called another shop and directed us to another location ----and got a bit lost on the way.  David was checking his app when an old VW Beetle with an even older driver drove by.  Bill and I both expressed our admiration for the car and its perfect condition.  The driver offered to help us find our way, and ended up driving slowly along to make sure we were on track.  After a few blocks he stopped in front of a bar, and gestured for us to join him.  It was his "local" and he bought us a beer, told us his life story-47 years with GE around the world installing big generators.  

We then proceeded to our destination and turned around to get back to the boat.  It started pouring!  A woman offered us shelter on her porch, but we said no thanks, thinking that the squall would let up soon-Wrong!  After about five more minutes, the woman from the porch drove alongside and told us to get in her car.  Her name was Dahlia, she was going to have 30 to 40 people for Thanksgiving, had worked in Jacksonville Florida...another five minute life story.

Subsequently, we have learned that the people of Ponce take a lot of pride in being known as friendly and fun.

Next post...Bill joins a local regatta and food news.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Passage from Bonaire to Ponce, Puerto Rico

A long first post of the 2015-2016 sailing season.

After an entire season and a half on the island of Bonaire, it was past time for us to find another cruising ground.  We aren’t finished with the Eastern Caribbean, and decided to return there.  That isn’t easy, though.  The winds are from the East 100% of the time during the cruising season, which means that the journey is directly into the wind the whole way.  Short of loading Callisto on a cargo ship, the only feasible solution is to head north, and then work our way slowly east.  Sometimes you have to go all the way to the Dominican Republic, but by leaving early in the season we were hopeful we could make it to the next island East, Puerto Rico.

Bill Cullen, an extremely experienced sailor, joined us for this trip.  We met him through the Seven Seas Cruising Association, and had exchanged numerous e-mails over the summer.  This was our first chance to meet face-to-face.  It was really terrific having him along, it would have been a drastically more difficult voyage without him, his experience, and his skills.

We had a difficult passage, with several problems, from serious to minor, along the way.  We had carefully checked weather forecasts from numerous sources before we left, but found the actual conditions much less favorable than had been predicted.  Instead of winds in the high teens, we encountered winds of 25 knots and more.  And instead of winds from due East or ESE, we found winds ENE.  That meant that much of the trip we were hard on the wind.  This is uncomfortable sailing.  The boat is heeling over at 15⁰, and is bouncing through the waves.  This makes it difficult to walk.  From time to time (sometimes quite often), the boat crashes directly into a wave, making a huge bang against the hull.  The noise makes it difficult to sleep.  Luckily, conditions improved late in the second day of our 2 ½ day passage.

We started out with two reefs in the mainsail, and a full solent (smaller foresai), then reefed the solent, and by late afternoon had put a third reef in the mainsail.  This is very unusual with us.  We don’t even rig the third reef unless going offshore.  We sailed with a triple-reefed mainsail the rest of the trip.

Our most serious problem was the result of a serious error that we made before departing.  Callisto has a large locker on her foredeck, where we store things like our kayak, fenders, and other bulky items.  This locker is closed by a deck hatch, which has two latches.  We left our mooring without closing the latches.

Because of the rough weather and our point of sail, there were numerous waves breaking across our bow.  With each wave, water entered the forward locker.  Our first hint of this problem was the indicator on our bilge pump coming on.  It is usual for this to happen for a few seconds periodically, but this time it came on and stayed on.  Inspecting the bilge, we found it nearly full of water.  We could tell it was coming from forward in the boat, and that led us to check the hatch.  The forward locker was at least half full of water!  We immediately dogged the latches on the hatch to stop more water from coming in.

Gretchen started pumping with the manual bilge pump that is located in the cockpit, while Bill investigated further. 

The forward locker is supposed to be a water-tight compartment, separated by a sturdy bulkhead from the rest of the boat.  There is a pipe that leads toward the bilge, with a valve at the end, that is used to drain small amounts of water that might end up in the locker.  This pipe had a sizable rupture in it, so that there was no way to control water flowing from the locker into the bilge.  We do not know how or when this rupture occurred.  It is in a part of the boat that is very difficult to inspect.

With the flow of new water stopped and the help of the manual pump, we were able to empty the locker and the bilge and sail on.

Our second problem was with the furling line for our smaller foresail, the solent.  In the evening of the first day, it chafed through and broke completely.  We had been sailing with quite a bit of sail furled, due to the high winds, but without this line the whole sail unrolled.  Fortunately, we were in a relatively calmer period, and could manage the larger sail while we figured out a fix.  There are several block (pulleys) that lead the furling lines aft from the bow to the winches in the cockpit.  A knot couldn’t fit through these blocks.  We tied the broken ends together, and led the line back directly to the stern.  This wasn’t ideal, because the line rubbed against our rigging, but at least we could furl the sail.  When we finally arrived in Puerto Rico we learned that the cage on our furler had shifted, causing the original chafe.  We also found a new chafe point where the line rubbed on the rigging, nearly chafed through.

The third problem was with our heads (toilets).  Each has a china bowl that is attached to a metal base with a gasket and four bolts.  Our aft head (the one we use when making a passage) started to leak badly, putting sewage on the floor.  Bill discovered that the heads of two of the four bolts had broken off, and there was no longer a good seal to the base.  No problem, we’ll just borrow a couple from the forward head.  We don’t use that anyway on passage.  But guess what—three of the bolts on that toilet had broken heads.

Fortunately, we had a couple of just-barely-long-enough bolts in our spares that we were able to make work until we got into port.  Otherwise, we’d have been using a bucket.  And that wouldn’t have been fun while crashing through waves.

Our fourth problem was seasickness.  We have gone years without being seasick, but the very rough conditions changed that.  David got hit the worst, feeling very nauseous after his first watch, vomiting once that afternoon and again the next morning.  Most of the time he could manage OK by staying on deck or by lying down with his eyes closed.  But only a minute or two with eyes open when below caused instant nausea.  Gretchen also suffered a bout, vomiting on her late watch on the second day.  She was alright after that.  Bill has a cast iron stomach, able to do close work in all kinds of conditions, and even read in bouncy seas.

Our final problem was discovered just before we departed.  Our electrical use is quite high when on passage, with autopilot, chartplotter, and radio all chewing amperes.  We can more or less keep up with a combination of wind power and solar power.  The wind especially gives us lots of energy when its blowing strongly.  But we discovered shortly before leaving that our wind generator wasn’t producing any power.  We were able to fix it after we arrived in Puerto Rico, but were without it during the trip.  This was a minor problem, it simply meant that we needed to generate electricity with our main engine for several hours.

Late in the second day, the winds swung further south and we were able to bear off several degrees.  This decreased the heel, and the new wave angle meant much less pounding.  The seasickness subsided. We sailed that way well into the night before the wind shifted back north and we were back on a beat.

On the third day the winds and waves moderated quite a bit, and we had a very pleasant sail.

We arrived in the harbor outside the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club about 8:30 pm.  It was very dark—the moon was up but it was behind thick clouds.  There was just enough light from shore to cruise cautiously through the anchorage.  We found many boats on moorings.  Since moored and anchored boats swing differently in the winds, you can’t anchor too close to a moored boat.  We finally found a spot, dropped the anchor, and were relieved when it set on the first try.  Time for a beer!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Home to Switzerland

We had a more-than 24 hour journey, from Curaçao to Miami to London to Zürich by plane, and then to Lucerne by train.  It seems as though this kind of trek only gets harder as we get older.  The ever-shrinking seats on the planes don't help, that's for sure.  But everything went very smoothly, each and every flight arrived a bit early.

We definitely have suffered some climate shock.  Curaçao was 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) everyday, but we have yet to see temperatures above 10 C (50 F) here.  We even "enjoyed" some sleet one morning (with more predicted later in the week).

But the scenery outside our balcony is still out of this world.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Laying Up

We are currently in Curaçao, in a slip at the marina, working through our chores list for putting Callisto away for the summer.  We make a to-do list each year, using the prior year's list as a starting point and modifying as appropriate.

We divide the chores into two groups:  Those that can or must be done while we are in the water, and those that must be done after we haul out and move off the boat.  Some chores are necessary to maintain the boat's systems in good order while we are gone, for instance putting preservative in our watermaker.  Some are just routine maintenance, and we use this time each year to perform them.  And finally, many chores are simply getting everything clean and (more or less) tidy for our return. 

We don't overdo the latter.  The boat is always pretty cluttered while we are gone, since so many things that normally  live outside are brought inside for storage (e.g. sails).  Plus, boatyards are dusty places, and that dust will accumulate inside and out while we are gone.

This year we had 46 items on the to-do list, 33 of which are pre-haul, and the rest post-haul.  This isn't quite complete, since we always remember important things to do that never made it onto the list.  We have allotted five days in the water, and two days in the yard to complete all this.  We will move off the boat as soon as we haul, so that means two nights in a hotel.

Our cruising friends think this is packing way too much into a too limited time.  We certainly don't have any time for sightseeing, etc., while we're working.  But we prefer to get it over with.  The transition between boat life and land life is pretty disruptive, and we are eager to get it behind us.

Anyway, here's our list for 2015:

Clean & Stow Dinghy 17-Mar
Fill Diesel 17-Mar
Add Additive to Diesel 17-Mar
Check water in starter battery 17-Mar
Stow MOM-8 and Lifesling 18-Mar
Stow flags 18-Mar
Reset Solar Charge Controller 18-Mar
Pull Solar Panel fuse 18-Mar
Tie off D400 18-Mar
Oil Screen Hinges 19-Mar
Clean Bilge 19-Mar
Final Rinse of Wetsuits & BCs 19-Mar
Launder towels & Rugs 19-Mar
Final Polish Stainless 19-Mar
Unbend Sails 19-Mar
Meet with yard manager 19-Mar
Fog outboard, drain gas lines & carb 20-Mar
Store Running Rigging 20-Mar
Copies of Boat Papers 20-Mar
Papers, Credit Card Info to Office 20-Mar
Flush heads with fresh water 20-Mar
Remove Davis lift on outboard 20-Mar
Pickle Watermakers 20-Mar
Stow Liferaft 21-Mar
Install Hatch Covers 21-Mar
Remove & clean BBQ grid 21-Mar
Vacuum Lockers 22-Mar
Replace roach tablets 22-Mar
Clean Heads 22-Mar
Change oil in Honda 22-Mar
Drain Honda gas lines & carb, oil cylinder 22-Mar
Food Storage 22-Mar
Pack Suitcases 22-Mar

Close LPG valve 23-Mar
Oil cockpit table and stow 23-Mar
Drain seawater inlets & strainers 23-Mar
Clean shower strainers 23-Mar
Disconnect starter battery 23-Mar
Remove Canvas 23-Mar
Keys to office 24-Mar
Clean Galley 24-Mar
Vacuum 24-Mar
Stow clothing 24-Mar
Lower Dining Table 24-Mar
Empty water tanks 24-Mar
Stand up cushions 24-Mar

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chile, Part 2

This is the second of two blog posts describing our visit to Chile.  This post will cover our time fly fishing in Patagonia.

We first heard about the Patagonian Basecamp from our old friend, John Landis, in the summer of 2013.  John is an avid fly fisherman, and has fished in many remote places around the world.  When he heard that David had given Gretchen a fly rod for her birthday, he told us about the Basecamp, and  suggested that we join him for the trip he had already scheduled in early 2015.

We found the Basecamp website at, and were enthralled by the pictures and descriptions of the program.  This is a very pricey vacation for our retirement budget, but we were approaching our 30th wedding anniversary, and decided to give the trip to each other as part of the celebration.  The Basecamp is run by Marcel Sijnsesael, who is passionate about trout, fishing, and keeping his guests happy.

That was all very good, but neither of us knew how to fly-fish, and David had no equipment at all.  To the rescue came Jon Toft, a British man who at the time ran a small business in Switzerland, “Have-a-go-Flyfishing,” which specialized in fishing lessons.  During 2014, we spent two full days with Jon,  and found him to be an excellent instructor.

We left Santiago, flying south toward Patagonia.  Our first leg was to the town of Puerto Montt.  This small city (about 350,000 inhabitants) is at the center of the main agricultural region of Chile, and supports a very large and growing fish farming industry.  From Puerto Montt we traveled by taxi to the tourist resort Puerto Varas, where we spent two nights.

We liked Puerto Varas a lot.  It is on a large lake, Lago Llanquihue. On a clear day, you can see the peak of the volcano Mont Osarno across the water. 

The town is almost exclusively dependent on tourism, and treats its visitors very well.  The tourist office gave us a map that showed a walking tour that highlighted the oldest 10 or 12 buildings (mostly homes) in the city.  We had a good time walking through some of the less-commercial neighborhoods, and seeing the old buildings.  They were constructed mostly from 1890 to 1910.  Each house had a placard that explained the original owners, and the kinds of wood that were used.

This region had many immigrants from Germany, starting around 1850, and their influence is easily seen in the architecture.  Almost all buildings are made from wood, and the style very reminiscent of German villages.  A couple of times, when our Spanish was too poor to get by, we were able to communicate using German.

From Puerto Varas, we took a charter flight to the village of Chaitén, which is the doorway to Chilean Patagonia.  Chaitén had been the provincial capital, but the town was almost completely destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 2008.  It is being reconstructed, but is much smaller now.

From Chaitén, we rode in pickup trucks about two hours to the Basecamp.  At the moment, the main road is mostly gravel, but there is a big project to pave it, supposedly to be completed this year.  That will make the trip to the Basecamp much quicker and easier on the guests.

Each day, we traveled to a different fishing spot.  There were always two guests and one professional guide.  Usually we had a boat to fish from, as well.  Here is a brief description of the places we visited.

Lago Rosselot
Our first fishing day, the lodge wanted us to focus on improving our casting, so we fished on a large lake where we didn’t have to worry about catching our lines in trees.  The scenery was exquisite.  We could see trout approaching our flies, but they always refused them.  We fished hard all day, in many different parts of the lake and using many different flies, but never did land a fish.  Our guide that day was also named David.

Rio Rosselot
The second day, we drifted down the river that exist Lago Rosselot.  Our guide was Craig.  This is a spectacular stretch of river, and we were thrilled to catch our first fish of the week.  Gretchen caught a nice rainbow trout first, and David followed up with a (very) small rainbow a few minutes later.  We both caught several additional fish through the day.  This river features some serious rapids, and we were impressed with Craig’s skill at maneuvering through them.  We were a bit surprised to find that we had to don life preservers and helmets before we went through the white water.

Rio Claro Solar
The lodge uses this name for the stretch of river after the Claro Solar joins the Rio Quinto.    Our guide was Zack.  We each caught several rainbows and a couple of brown trout.  Again, quite a bit of whitewater.  The river level was lower than it had been earlier in the season, and it was interesting to see Zack mentally picturing a way through the rocks before we attempted the pass.  Another truly beautiful stretch of water, and we had it all to ourselves.

Rio Quinto
We had asked for a bit of a break from the “all fishing, all the time” routine, and this was the compromise that Marcel offered.  We would fish, but instead of driving and boating to the site, we would hike.  Our guide was the very young but very enthusiastic Donovan. We walked along the edge of the river for about two hours, and then came to some very good fishing spots, where we each caught a couple of rainbows.  A quick lunch, a few more minutes of fishing, and then 2 hours hiking back.  A very nice change of pace.

Upper Figueroa
The Basecamp offers a couple of much-more-rustic secondary camps, and we were fortunate to be able to spend a night at their Temple camp.  We drove quite a distance to the camp, dropped off our gear, and drove a bit further with a boat to the river entrance.  That left plenty of time for a drift down the river, fishing as we went.  Zack was our guide again.  The river here flows through an amazing rocky canyon, not too high but very rugged and extremely beautiful.  Again, we had significant rapids to traverse, and had to get out the helmets again.  Several fish found their way onto our lines in the spaces between the rapids.  Again, we were impressed with Zack’s technical expertise and physical skill in managing the whitewater.

Rio Pico
We spent the night in Temple Camp, which is about as luxurious a camping experience as you will ever find.  The guides call it “Glamping,” glamour camping. Each tent had a propane heater, hot-water shower, and a flush toilet.

The final fishing day of our trip was on the Rio Pico with Donovan.  We decided to put on our waders and walk the river, fishing whenever we got to a suitable spot.  We had to cross the river twice, and found the first crossing very difficult, trying to keep our balance on big rolling boulders in a fairly strong current.  Donovan scouted out an easier spot to cross back, fortunately.  We had a great day.  On the last cast of the last day, David caught this:

Home Again, Home Again
On Friday, we drove by truck and Subaru back to Chaitén, caught the charter flight to Puerto Montt, and flew back to Santiago.  By the time we arrived, it was after 9:00 pm.  We had booked a night in the airport hotel, which allowed us a good rest before flying back through Bogota and Curaçao.

We are really glad we took this trip, it was definitely something to check off on the bucket list.