Ship's Log

April 18th, 2011 - St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands:

Happy Spring, folks!  Sources tell us that it's finally starting to thaw out up there in the States, after the craziest winter ever.  It got pretty cold down where we are, too.  At times, we even needed to cover up with a sheet at night!  Spring has its own subtle signs around here:  the water's warmed up to a delightful 80 degrees, the laughing gulls have returned from their winter in South America to breed and whoop it up, and humpback whales have been spotted around the island making their yearly trip northwards. 

On SARABANDE, things are at last a little less chaotic.  The baby now has semi-predictable naptimes and a bedtime, and Alicia has scheduled out all the boat chores and household tasks into a weekly cycle.  We've never been so regimented, but it's the only way we can manage to keep all our bases covered.  Without The Schedule, we'd plunge into darkness and anarchy in short order.  It'd be like living in a futuristic Australian dystopia, starring Mel Gibson before he went nuts.

"It's that rat circus out there....."

Sadly, Steve did not make the transition back to life on the water very gracefully.  After almost five full months of roaming and hunting the jungly grounds of our former apartment, living within the confines of our boat really chafed him, and his mental state began to deteriorate rapidly.  He wouldn't stop yowling, all day and all night, gazing longingly at the shore.  He took to running up and down the side decks at a breakneck speed, and not in a happy, playful way.  This was more in a claustrophobic, borderline-homicidal way.  As the weeks wore on, to further demonstrate his displeasure he brought out the ultimate weapon in a cat’s arsenal of spite tactics: peeing on stuff.  Though the litter box was kept scrupulously clean, Steve tellingly peed on our personal items, upping the ante with each episode.  First, our bags, then our dirty clothes, then our pillows, and finally, all over the baby’s bunk!  This was no urinary tract infection; this was Steve telling us that he hated living here.  It was also a laundry nightmare.

Unhappy Steve plots his escape.

So be it.  After trying everything we could think of to help Steve adjust - extra playing, catnip, extra love, kitty valium- we arranged a home for him on nearby Water Island.  There’s a peach of a “crazy cat lady” there, and he can sow his wild (neutered) oats to his little heart’s content.  Water Island is a great place to be a cat.  Aside from the gauranteed food and love from said cat lady, there are lizards, crabs and chickens galore, only a handful of dogs, and no dangerous traffic (the 100 residents or so cruise around on old golf carts that top out at about 15 mph).  Plus, we’re moored right next door, so it’s easy to visit.

We miss him and feel sad that Steve didn’t want to be a sailor cat anymore, but we want him to be happy and get the most out of his life.  It just goes to show you never really “own” a cat.  Cats write their own ticket.  Adios, little buddy.  Water Island shall forever be known in our hearts as "Isla de Esteban".

This is what a superstar looks like.

In other, happier crew news, in early March Louie somehow scored himself a spot in a NY Post article!  No, he isn’t invovled in some sordid scandal; they happened to be putting together a little piece on New Yorker boat dogs, and gleaned from our website that Louie is a former Brooklynite.  Here’s a link to the article.  It’s a testament to Louie’s formidable charisma that he can still get exposure in a New York City newspaper without even being within the continental US.

Here's the print version that appeared in the paper.
In the online version, Louie's picture was replaced with an ad.  Boo!

Little James is doing quite well.  Ever since he figured out how to work his hands, he’s become our own grabby little two-armed octopus!  He's eating mashed up fruits and vegetables now, and loves everything so far.  His preferred “toys” are the rear port side winch with the jib’s reefing line wrapped around it, Louis, and the oh-so-mashable buttons on our GPS unit.  Also, James laughs now, which has to be the best sound in the world.  He’ll usually chuckle and squeal when we make fart noises or eat his toes, but Louie doing any sort of trick is comedic gold to him.  That dog cracks James up!  It's pretty adorable.   

Cold chillin' in the bouncy swing, hung from the boom.

As for the boat, February was the month of breakdowns on SARABANDE.  Pretty much all the life-sustaining systems decided to crap out in unison.  Within a forehead-smacking two week period, we saw our wind generator, battery charger, the commode, the shower sump pump, and the dinghy’s engine all gang up into one big, angry mob of broken equipment.  Then, for the finale, the hot water heater sprung a serious leak, draining all our precious warm shower water into the bilge almost as fast as we could make it.  Heating up a kettle on the stove to warm the baby’s bath was quaint the first few times, and completely lame after that.

Fixing everything was not so simple.  First, we hopped on a seaplane flight to St. Croix to purchase a replacement battery charger from a jackass we found on Craigslist.  When we installed it on our boat, it was clear that it’d been broken when he sold it to us.  Caveat emptor, but also, what goes around comes around, Schuyster Craigslist Seller Guy!  


Puddle Jumper!

At least the plane ride was cool, and we had a picturesque, relaxing day checking out historic downtown Christiansted in St. Croix.  It was our first little trip as a family, and now we can finally say that we’ve seen all three US Virgin Islands.

Here's our view into the cockpit.  It was more like riding in a passenger van!

Flying over St. Croix.

Cannons at the fort preparing to fire on a pirate schooner in the distance.

Christianstead Harbor.  Across the water is Government Island,
which looks like it was designed by Jim Henson. 

Returning home, Brian worked hard doing damage control on our mess of broken boat systems, and life was a series of work-arounds for a while.  Brian dug out and installed a smaller battery charger that SARABANDE’s previous owner (blessedly) had tucked away for just such an occasion.  Now we could at least charge our batteries, but with the smaller capacity charger and the wind generator out of comission, we had to run our generator about twice as long to keep the lights on and the fridge running, about 3-4 hours daily.  Drag city.

Over the din of the generator, we could hear our automatic bilge pump going off more and more frequently, indicating that our freshwater leak was getting worse.  To counter our dwindling water supply until we could fix the leak, we had to run our desalinator more frequently, which meant even more hours running the generator (and likewise, more deisel runs).  It was a vicious cycle. 

Things were turning seriously declasse in the head, with all the hygeinic devices either broken or compromised.  With the shower sump broken, bailing out the shower stall became our post-bathing ritual, collecting the soapy water into a bucket to dump overboard.  Across from this, the commode was in dire need of rebuilding, so we burned scented oil, opened the hatch, and held our noses when flushing the toilet filled the place with a death-like stench.  Stop-gap solutions such as these are a slippery slope; if you keep them in place for too long, they become “normal” to you, and by then you’re well on your way to being considered insane by the rest of society. 

Fixing the troublemaker.

One by one, night by night, Brian tackled each problem until all that was left was the freshwater leak, aka our sieve-like water heater.  We’d wasted a ton of deisel and fresh water delaying this fix because it was much more involved than the other fixes, since it meant removing the whole hot water tank from the bilge.  We had to wait until Brian had a day off to spend on it.  At last the day came, and Brian tore out the heater, found the sizeable corroded hole in the tank, patched it up with some epoxy, and reinstalled it.  We felt a weight lifted off our shoulders:  our month of work-arounds, stop-gaps, death-stank, and excessive watermaking was over!  The sound of a running bilge pump puts fear into the heart of every boat owner, and even though we knew the source of the leak, it still made us uneasy to hear it all the time. 

We settled the kid down for nighty-night and fixed ourselves a nice dinner to celebrate.  After hot showers (with no bailer in sight to drain out the water- hurrah!), we climbed into bed, settled in, and.....heard the bilge pump switch on!  Wha?!  Groaning, we tossed and turned, wondering if perhaps Brian’s repair had failed, or there was another hidden leak somewhere in our system.  It was not a restful night of sleep.  Something, somewhere was still trickling away our precious water.

Over the next few days, Brian had another day off, and he spent it tracing through all of SARABANDE’s plumbing.  He spotted a tiny trickle coming from way up forward in the bilge, up near our V-berth.  A small taste revealed that this leak was salt water, not from our tanks.  Yikes!  The ocean was coming into our boat!  Following the trickle, Brian found a cracked hose in the watermaker’s intake, and quickly replaced it.  Problem solved!  At last, that night the bilge pump finally had nothing to say, and we re-learned several important lessons in boat ownership:  a single problem can have multiple sources, relying on assumptions can be dangerous, and the ocean is relentless in its desire to claim your boat.!

Amidst all these repairs, we were lucky enough to be visited by our most charming and thoughtful friends,Tom and Karmen of ELLIDA.  Having sailed all the way down to Trinidad, they were on their way back north, bearing gifts of unbelievably good Grenadian chocolate and fragrant spices fresh from the source.  We plied them with food and picked their brains, and they filled us in on all their favorite spots down the island chain.  They even went so far as giving us their old Fodor’s guide, updated with handy Post-It notes chock full of funny tips and warnings!  We can't wait to use it.  Tom and Karmen are on their way back to the States via the Bahamas, and ELLIDA is now for sale.  Here's her listing.  We tip our hats to those two sweethearts, and hope to sail together again when they’ve found their catamaran.  If anyone out there is interested in buying a classy Halberg Rassy 31’ sloop, check out ELLIDA - you won’t be sorry!

A sad sight:  Tom and Karmen sailing away from us.

Off to Puerto Rico!

At last the tourist season has begun to slow down around here, and Brian has a little more free time.  Last week, he had two whole days off in a row, and we decided to be a little madcap and sail somewhere for the weekend!  Great St. James is one of a few small islands sprinkled between St. Thomas and St. John, and we set our sights on Christmas Cove, it’s tiny little western bay.  We dropped our mooring penant and motored out into the main harbor, spotting a big hawksbill turtle popping up for air on our way - a good omen.  Motorsailing bouncily to windward along the south coast, we pointed out to James some of the more notable features of his native island, but he was unimpressed.  The baby mostly slept through his first foray into the open ocean, waking up only for a snack.  Another good omen!  Maybe he’s inherited his father’s legendary iron stomach.

Baldy goes to windward.

What a world of good the change of scenery did us!  Snuggled peacefully in Christmas Cove, we felt a million miles away from our usual mooring, although we could still easily make out Crown Mountain in the distance.  No matter; we were cruising again, and for the first time as a family!  We took turns playing with baby and snorkeling off the boat, instinctively obeying an unspoken rule that there would be no chores done while we were here.

SARABANDE at rest off of James' very own island.

That night we grilled burgers (two big ones, plus a small one for Louis), searched out constellations, and talked about our plan for this summer.  The next day, we piled into the dinghy to go gunkholing, and James took his first dip while we cheered him on.  We found a bunch of cool underwater scenery using a technique we call "face blasting":  one person drives the dinghy slowly along, while the other person leans over the side wearing a snorkel and mask, looking over the underwater landscape and directing the driver with hand signals to stuff that might warrant a closer look.

A pretty tableau of corals, with a butterfly fish.

A cool reef squid!  These can change colors really quickly, and can even flash patterns and stripes.

James' first "swim" with Mom.

He liked it!

After a beautiful downwind sail home the next afternoon (no engine!  Windpower only!  Oh, happy day!), we arrived back at our mooring relaxed, refreshed, and more excited than ever about exploring down island.  We’ve had our shoulders to the wheel ever since we’ve been here, working hard towards the goal of continuing further south to see what we can see.  It was a breath of fresh air to have a little taste of our goal to help urge us forward.  It turns out that traveling to beautiful places in your own private yacht is pretty unbeatable.  We can’t wait to do it some more!

Congratulations to our friends Jenny and Justin on MADRIGAL, brand new parents to baby Ivy, and Happy Birthday to our best friend Louis Quincy Tannenbaum, who turned 11 on April 16th.  We love you, Louie!

Alicia & Brian


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