Gringo Escapade ~ Part Dos by Larry Caillouet

Part Dos: Puerto Rico

Since I am calling this travelogue “Gringo Escapade,” it is only right that I begin this section by quoting that great Saturday Night Live philosopher, Roseanne Roseannadanna, who famously said, “It’s always sompting.” We had checked the weather and knew that some rough weather would be rolling into the passage between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. Ocean swells were predicted to be 20-30 feet. It looked scary on the weather charts, so we dropped our plan to sail to one of our favorite islands, Culebra, and on to Puerto Rico the next day. Instead we decided to sail to the island of Vieques and sail along its south shore to use it as a shelter from the nasty northerly weather. With a good early start we could reach the Palmas del Mar marina on the Puerto Rican mainland and would be under the shelter of Puerto Rico.

Then soon after sunrise the Roseannadanna Principle struck–the engine wouldn’t start. The wind would be on our nose so motoring would be essential. Even to get out of Charlotte Amalie harbor the motor would be needed. One day’s delay would trap us in St. Thomas until all the bad weather blew through. I ran through my repertoire of engine starting tricks in a couple of minutes and knew we needed a mechanic. But where are you going to get one on a Saturday who can come to your boat right away? Amazingly I found a great guy whose shop had been ruined by Irma and Wilma and was operating out of his truck. He found and corrected the problem that had been periodically plaguing us and at 1:30 pm we weighed anchor and began our sunrise dash for Puerto Rico.

Under the circumstances we didn’t feel that it was cheating to motor sail all the way. Minutes and miles were precious. We arrived at Bahia de la Chivas (Goat Bay) on Vieques a few minutes before sundown and got settled into a perfect anchorage protected by a small reef. We were the only boat within miles. After supper we were entertained by sparkles of light from tiny fish swimming in the bioluminescent water, a beautiful starry sky, and a big fat pumpkin moon rising over the horizon. I wonder what Roseanne Rosannadanna would say about that.

Palmas del Mar. We were reluctant to leave our private anchorage in the morning, but Puerto Rico wouldn’t come to us, so we set sail. I mean, we really set sail! The wind was blowing 15 knots from 60 degrees to starboard and we were knocking out 8 knots with one reef in the sails and the traveler down. I had almost forgotten what real sailing was like, but this was good. Escapade heeled to leeward and as I tinkered with the sails and found my sea legs again, she sliced through the sea. Three hours later we were entering Palmas del Mar marina.

Palmas is actually more than a marina. It is a community. It is a multimillion dollar marina in an upscale condominium development. When we entered the harbor we found a long concrete dock completely empty, so we tied up alongside it. Soon two dock hands met us in a golf cart to give us a tour and to recommend a slip they thought we would like better. “You’ll be lonely out here. We have a good place for you where you will have neighbors.” We were barely docked when two precocious kids from the boat behind us came up to introduce themselves. Before I could comprehend my new surroundings, the girl, Arden, was whispering something in Diana’s ear about her brother, Carver. We rode in the golf cart to the office to check in, and then walked over to the tiki bar. A big Irish setter trotted over to sniff our crotches and make friends and let us pet him. The four people at the bar welcomed us in Spanish accented English and talked with us as though we were old friends. It was easy to feel like we were part of this friendly community.

Our second day at Palmas we went for a short land excursion. Bernardo, a dock hand, gave us a ride in the golf cart to a small shopping plaza. After we bought a couple of souvenirs, the owner of the shop offered to let us use her golf cart to explore the area. I was completely overwhelmed that this woman who didn’t know us at all would offer to let us use her cart–no strings attached except to bring it back by 6 pm when she closed. We accepted her gracious offer and puttered off to find La Pescaderia, a highly recommended fish restaurant, and a nail salon. The salon was closed on Mondays, but the restaurant lived up to its reputation. We used the cart to haul heavy groceries to the boat and returned it to Sandra full of gas. I will never forget the gentleness and warmth of everyone we met in Palmas.

Bahia de Jobos. Before we cast off to sail west the next morning, our neighbor on the dock, Lindsay, came over to share a pitcher of fruit smoothie and to swap east bound and west bound cruising information with us. An hour or so later the junior welcoming committee, Arden and Carver, joined her along with their dad, Bay. The kids were pumped up to see the boat and found our bowl of candy and cookie snacks particularly interesting.
The downwind sail to Jobos was easy and fast, but the approach through two coral reefs at 4:30 pm with the sun in our face was a sphincter clincher. I had marked the waypoints for the entrance on the chart plotter and as long as the chart and the GPS were accurate, there was nothing to worry about. Right? Fortunately they were accurate so we settled into our anchorage behind the mangroves well ahead of sunset and proceeded to cook steaks on the grill. When night fell we discovered that the shore was decorated with blinking red lights on a row of wind generators and the glow of several factories in an industrial center.

Ponce is the second largest city of Puerto Rico and very old, founded in 1692. The center of the city is a square called Plaza de las Delicias. It is shared by the elegant Cathedral of our Lady of Guadeloupe, a lovely park with a fountain, and the fire station. The fire station? Yes, the gaudiest red and black building you’ve ever seen, built in 1883 and preserved as a landmark in all its splendor. We visited these places and enjoyed walking in the historic district.
Tourism was not our primary mission in Ponce–it was the Great Ponce Scavenger Hunt. We were there to shop in the places near and dear to our hearts at home–Walmart, Sam’s Club, OfficeMax, and Home Depot. Ponce is replete with American franchise stores, including McDonalds, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC. And most of the people are bilingual, so communicating is no problem. We had developed a detailed list of “must have” items in addition to groceries, so with a rented car and the Waze app, we hit the town hard. Prices were comparable to the same items in the US, so we wanted to make every minute count. What a treat it was to shop at USA prices instead of the double price in USVI and the triple price in BVI. Escapade is probably sitting two or three inches lower in the water after we loaded all our new equipment and provisions.
International surveys usually list Puerto Ricans as some of the happiest people in the world. Two days in Ponce showed me why this is. Puerto Ricans are completely relaxed about rules and regulations. Traffic signals are viewed as recommendations. Simple instructions like Walmart’s “Please return shopping carts here” barely rise to the level of a suggestion. If you want to use a cart in the store, just take the one left in the parking space next to your car. And clothing is not a hassle either. The men wear yesterday’s fishing shirt and the women just use spray paint.
The one area besides music where Puerto Ricans really come alive is driving. They are fearless, not a worry in the world. And so are the pedestrians. They cross the street in front of you and don’t even look back over their shoulder. These are very relaxed people.

Cayos de Cana Gorda. After a mad dash to turn the car in and get off the dock of the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club before our daily rentals turned into another day, we sailed west to Cayos de Cana Gorda. This was another anchorage tucked behind a long mangrove reef. The only other boat in the anchorage was a German boat. Gabrielle and Thorsten came over to greet us and give us the scoop on the island known locally as Gilligan’s Island. It’s a mangrove island with a scruffy beach and doesn’t look much like the Gilligan’s Island I remember from 1960’s television.
We felt compelled to set foot on this misnamed island. It turned out that the real attraction was not the island but the Puerto Ricans who came to the island to party. They were equipped for a picnic expedition with rolling coolers, giant picnic baskets, lounge chairs, and loud music. Diana and I were the only twosome in the crowd. There were no couples or nuclear families. No group had less than about 8 people. Puerto Ricans bring everyone!

Boqueron. With a fresh breeze behind us we left the main furled and sailed on the genoa at over 7 knots. When we rounded the southwest corner of Puerto Rico at Caba Rojo, the wind moved to our beam and kicked up into the low 20’s. We had only a short distance to go so we furled the genoa and motored into the bay. A long palm-lined sandy beach looked quite inviting, but we were tired from the day’s sail and took a nap instead. I think this must be the tempo of “senior cruising.”
After my nap, I had a new surge of ambition, plus I was hot, so I jumped into the water to scrub the green slime off the waterline of the boat. A lot of little barnacles were growing on the hull from the long dockage in BVI, so I took a long handled scraping brush from our cleaning supplies and got busy scraping. It was a great activity. I got some exercise, cooled off, and increased my pride of ownership to have a more presentable boat.

Puerto Real is a quaint fishing village squeezed between a meandering highway and the sea on the west coast of Puerto Rico. It is also where the excellent Marina Pescaderia is located. We docked there and rented a car to explore this end of the island. We drove north to Aguadilla, a town which is clearly secondary to its long ocean front. An endless parade of cars, trucks, motorcycles, dune buggies, and jeeps cruised the road beside the impressive malecon where people strolled or congregated at the many cafes and bars. The scene on this warm Sunday afternoon could only be described as “joyous chaos.” Music blared from every café and every vehicle, so whether you strolled the malecon or just stood still, you experienced a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds assaulting the senses. Puerto Ricans love their music and it comes in three styles: loud, louder, and OMG! Even the motorcycles were blasting music above the throaty staccato sputter of their engines. The royalty among the vehicles was the pimped out and jazzed up 4-door Jeep Wranglers. Whole families cruised the strip in these Road Kings. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a Jeep stretch limousine!
There were few signs of the wreckage of Hurricane Maria until we got to the end of the malecon. The park there was still littered with debris from the hurricane and the wooden boardwalk was buckled and twisted beyond use. Still people were strolling and having fun there. The big attraction was an amazingly huge tree house built around an amazingly huge tree. Surely this treehouse had been reconstructed after the storm because it had no damage and it stood in the midst of obvious damage.
Another day in Puerto Real began with a dinghy excursion into the mangrove lagoon next to the larger harbor. This is where 25 boats hid out from Hurricane Maria without a single loss. In addition to providing a premier habitat for fish hatchlings, mangrove roots cling to the earth tenaciously. Even a category 5 hurricane didn’t tear them or the boats tied to them loose.
This exercise in ecology was followed by an exercise in futility. It was time for me to change the oil in the generator. The concept for this is not hard to comprehend, but the logistics of packing a large generator into a cramped engine room raises the difficulty level considerably. To access the dip stick, the oil and fuel filters, and the fill port I had to remove the starboard side sound shield. To remove that shield requires removing 8 other panels, supports, and pieces of the boat. A contortionist would be the ideal candidate to change the oil on this generator, but since none was available, that left the job for me. I’m sure my dad was watching from heaven and chuckling. He was probably poking my mom and saying “He earned a Ph.D. but failed Learn from Dad.”
On our last day in Puerto Real we rented a car again and drove to the lighthouse we had seen on Cabo Rojo as we sailed around the southwest corner of the island. It sits on a breathtaking cliff with waves crashing on its shore 200 feet below. To get to the lighthouse we drove a deeply potholed dirt road through a wilderness refuge that presented a bleached landscape of salt flats and thickets of barkless twisted tree trunks that made me think of a Salvador Dali painting. The drive and the hike were worth it.
On the way back to the boat we drove through the town of Boqueron and experienced the Puerto Rican version of Key West. It was only 6 pm but the bars were already full and Latin music filled the streets. This seems to be a town where the party never ends and all are invited.
2We fueled up at the marina and dropped the hook out in the harbor in preparation for a first light departure to Bahia Samana in Dominican Republic. We
were working on putting away or tying down lines Birds of a feather
fenders, water hose, power cord and anything loose when we started hearing “Splash! Splash!” all around us. We discovered we were in a bombing range. A squadron of 40 or 50 pelicans were dive bombing for fish. They would glide in a circle until they saw a fish and then would tuck their wings to become more streamlined and hurtle beak first into the water like falling out of the sky. Scanning the water around us we saw water explosions on all sides, including some quite close to the boat. The bombardment was a great show to wrap up our days in Puerto Rico.

So what have we learned about Puerto Rican culture? Five things are of utmost importance: Fishing, beer, music, family, and friends–not necessarily in that order, but always with maximum exuberance.

~ Larry


Gringo Escapade by Larry Caillouet

Part One: Back to BVI

After spending several weeks at home enjoying the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and another Crimson Tide national football championship, we returned to the scene of the crime. Not our crime–Irma’s. We had left Escapade at Penn’s Landing Marina in Tortola. There were a couple of good reasons to choose Penn’s Landing. First, it was the only marina left operating in the British Virgin Islands. Soper’s Hole Marina was destroyed by Irma. Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor the same. Sea Cow Marina the same. Nanny Cay Marina almost the same. Half of its docks were literally gone. Storage on the hard was littered with boats on their sides or upside down. The remaining docks were filled with refugees and survivors. HR Penn Marina, which had proved to be too rough to trust due to big wake from ferry boats, had found its calling as a halfway house for damaged boats waiting to be rehabilitated. Village Cay Marina still had two catamarans lying across its docks and other boats peeking out of the water. Wickham’s Cay was for Moorings and Sunsail boats only. All of which pointed to Penn’s Landing Marina as “an excellent choice” as Sean Penn said in “I Am Sam.”

Actually, Penn’s Landing turned out to be a truly excellent choice. It is a small boutique marina hidden in a very ordinary working class community in Fat Hogs Bay on the east end of Tortola. Its excellent management anticipated the impending destruction of Irma and withdrew a substantial amount of cash from the bank before Irma hit. After Irma, cash was king because all the banks were closed and with no telephone lines operating, credit cards were useless. It was a Mad Max economy where might made right and the US dollar was mighty. Penn’s Landing began rebuilding immediately after Irma and was substantially back to full operation when we arrived. Eight of its 12 slips were open for business and we claimed the prime spot on the T-dock. In addition to having an excellent restaurant, the Red Rock Café, Penn’s Landing offered laundry service, boat repairs, and attentive service to its boats. Richard Gere’s pretty woman would have been happy there.

February was a strange month for Caribbean weather. Normally February is the peak season for tourism with the blustery January winds mellowing into the kind of weather that doesn’t require a weather report–highs in the mid 80’s and winds 15-20 knots from the east or southeast. Not this year. High winds ravaged the Caribbean 600 Race which draws seasoned blood-and-guts racers. A third of its 100 entries retired from the race due to equipment failure, injuries, or to-hell-with-it. In BVI the winds were in the upper 20’s with gusts into the 30’s and daily highs were in the low to mid 70’s. What a great time to be in a marina facing into the east wind! We never needed to use our air conditioning, which is usually a necessity in a tropical marina.

For both sentimental and practical reasons we spent our final night in BVI at Soper’s Hole. Soper’s Hole is where we fell in love with BVI many years ago. The brightly colored shops were the stuff of picture postcards. But not this time. Soper’s Hole is one of the worst damaged places in BVI, much worse than Cane Garden Bay where we worked with a church putting a new roof on. If this were a western movie, Soper’s Hole would be called a ghost town. Irma destroyed much of the docks and boardwalks and all of the businesses except one, Pusser’s Landing Bar and Restaurant. Half of Pusser’s is closed and the other half has only half a roof, but in the British tradition of the stiff upper lip it carries on serving food and its trademark drink, the Painkiller. What an appropriate name! It is painful to witness the near-total destruction not just of buildings but of island life as well. Wind blows through the empty window holes of the 2Harbour Market grocery store. Voyager Yacht Charters is boarded up. No signage is left to identify the shells of the Sunny Caribbee spice store or Latitude 18 clothing. Only fresh gravel marks the former location of Blue Water Divers. A collapsed concrete dock is eerily visible from its resting place beneath the water. A Customs and Immigration office is operating again under a pop up tent on the slab where a real building used to stand and a young man in an inflatable dinghy collects mooring fees from the handful of boats in the harbor, but it will take massive investments to make Soper’s whole again.



Caillouets’ Irmageddon Escapade – 3

Part Three: The Project

When Escapade and her crew arrived in St. Thomas, the glamorous part of the trip was over and the down-and-dirty began.  That included doing laundry, cleaning ocean salt off the boat, refilling fuel and water, and reprovisioning for the next phase of the trip, the work at the church.  We departed St. Thomas the next day and sailed 20 miles east to Cane Garden Bay on the west end of Tortola, British Virgin Islands.  We soon began to learn that problems can be solutions if you approach them the right way.  The dinghy that we had hoped to repair in Hampton was too damaged to warrant the cost of repairing, so we had no dinghy to go ashore in.  Fortunately for us, the fuel dock in Cane Garden Bay was not being used under the present circumstances in BVI, so we were able to dock there.  Normally we would go through Customs and Immigration at Soper’s Hole, Tortola or Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke.  Both were only an hour away from Cane Garden Bay, but both had been literally blown away by Hurricane Irma.  The only C & I office left was over 3 hours away in Road Town in an inconvenient temporary location.  Pastor Turnbull met us on the dock with another solution.  He brought a C & I officer with him and we completed all the necessary paperwork on the dock.  It has never been easier!

A tour of the church property revealed significant damage to what had been an architecturally elegant church building.  The palm tree lined walkway to the front door was obstructed with broken trees and debris.  The church’s roof was mostly intact but had a gaping hole in it.  Water had poured into the church sanctuary ruining the electronics, soaking the carpet and upholstery, and brewing the omnipresent stench of mold and mildew.  Behind the church, debris had washed down or flown down from the mountain.  Beside the main building, the church’s day care center was operating with much of its roof missing.  And in front of the church, most symbolically, the church’s sign with an emblem of the world and the cross was hanging upside down.  The church property was no worse than most of the rest of Cane Garden Bay.  The whole community had been ravaged by Irma.

The building we worked on is not the main church building, the roof of which is much too steep for amateur roofers without proper equipment.  We worked on the day care center, a two story building with an apartment on the second floor.  When we arrived the church members had begun the work to put a new roof on the building.  The top of some of the concrete walls had literally been ripped away by the storm, so they had recast the concrete and put new 3x 8 rafters in place.  Some of the original roofing remained, but we had to tear off the bent metal roofing and some of the plywood and 2×4’s under it.  The church had purchased a stack of 4×8 plywood sheets, so we used those to complete the roof over the rafters.

Jeff and John had done this sort of work before and came fully prepared with power tools and carpentry skills.  They were the brains and brawn of the operation.  Larry assisted in moving the plywood to the roof and preparing the roof for the new sheets.  Diana and Elaine cleaned out the rubble from inside the building’s second floor and removed debris from the church grounds. Pastor Turnbull was on the roof working with us from time to time.

After the plywood sheeting was in place, we used seven rolls of Wind and Water Seal roofing to cover it.  This is not a product that we were familiar with.  It is essentially a 3-foot wide roll of rubber with a heat reflective cover on the top side and peel-and-stick on the bottom side, like a giant heavy roll of contact paper.  The challenge was rolling it on smoothly without bubbles, or even worse, getting the roll stuck to itself.  We were getting better with the application technique we had developed when the pastor arrived and showed us the easy way to do it.  So one half of the roof looks more professional than the other, but all of it will work.

Wind and Water Seal will keep rain out, but it is vulnerable to UV degradation, so a metal roof will have to be put over that.  The Galvalume metal had not arrived yet so we couldn’t go any further and it requires special screws which have proven difficult to acquire.  So there is another phase of the roofing project that will need to be done before long.

Availability of tools and materials was sort of hit-or-miss.  In the best of times selection is rather limited in BVI, but after Irma supply was very low and demand was very high.  Diana and I brought a few hundred dollars’ worth of roofing supplies with us on Escapade.  Jeff and John left a few hundred dollars’ worth of tools that they had brought with them.  It was not surprising that the tools the church had available were not very adequate.  Diana and I sailed back to St. Thomas to buy some clean-up tools that are needed.  We went to Home Depot expecting a good array of building supplies and found that Home Depot had lost most of its roof when Irma hit St. Thomas.  It was operating in about a fourth of its usual space with a limited inventory.  We bought push brooms and rat traps there.  We didn’t see any rats at the church, but people told us that they are having to fight rats in their homes.  We went to Ace Hardware and bought flat blade shovels and mops.  On a second trip back to St. Thomas we found ceiling fans that had not been available before.

In spite of the hardships that the islanders have endured, we found the people of Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church to be very resilient and optimistic.  The worship songs were filled with thanksgiving for God’s provision and exuberantly sung.  The preaching was upbeat.  Many people who had lost homes or businesses told us that they were just thankful that they and their family were alive.  Others were grateful that they still had a job.  People we met on the street were cheerful in spite of the difficult living conditions.  At Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church faith endures.  Hope springs eternal.  Love of the Lord is alive.

Caillouets’ Irmageddon Escapade – Part 2

Part Two: The Passage

Escapade was on the hard at New England Boatworks near Newport, Rhode Island.  We recruited two crew to sail with us the 400 miles from Rhode Island to Hampton, Virginia, near the mouth of the Chesapeake.  We like a crew of four for sailing overnight passages so that with 3-hour watches everyone can get adequate sleep.  As the crew helped us complete preparations to sail, we kept a nervous watch on the weather.  Windy, an aptly named weather app, showed a big storm brewing south of us and heading our way.  We left Newport in less than ideal weather and headed south.  Before long, three of the four of us had thrown up, a first time to be sea sick for two of us.  Still, we saw nasty weather rolling up the coast and pressed on.  image003image001

At one point we considered ducking into Delaware Bay and going through the C & D Canal to the north end of the Chesapeake and then down, but that would add a half day’s sail to our passage by the time we reached the south end of the Chesapeake and the wind would be right on our nose coming down the Chesapeake.  A half day might expose us to the fury of the coming storm, and the Chesapeake can be wicked in less wind than we would be seeing, so we kept our puke buckets close at hand and continued down the Atlantic.


By the second day we had gotten our sea legs and just needed to put miles behind us.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief when we rounded Cape Charles and sailed over the tunnel that runs under the mouth of the Chesapeake.  We reached the Bluewater Marina at midnight, nine hours ahead of the storm.  We learned later that the storm hit Rhode Island with such fury that schools were closed for two days.

In Hampton we stayed busy repairing and preparing Escapade for the next leg of the voyage, 1500 miles to the Caribbean.  The new motor on the electric genoa furler had failed after the first day and was essential for an ocean passage.  We had a new motor expedited to us and the crew installed it.  We had discovered tears in the mainsail caused by screws that protruded into the mast.  When the sail was furled into the mast or unfurled, the screws snagged and tore the sail.  So while Doyle Sailmakers was repairing the sail, we bought two dozen 12 mm machine screws to replace the 25 mm screws that had been used to attach the upper and lower spreader brackets to the mast.  I spent a day hanging from the mast in a bosun’s chair removing the old screws and carefully installing the shorter screws, knowing that if I dropped a screw it would bounce overboard.  A $500 sail repair and $16 worth of screws corrected the problem.  Another problem was more odious, or perhaps I should say more odiferous.  The pump on the Vacuflush toilet in the aft head had failed and was oozing effluent into the bilge under the aft cabin.  Nobody wanted to spend 10 days at sea with that problem.  We were fortunate to find a man who could install a new pump and valves.  A resourceful crew who lived near Hampton repaired the Aqua Drive on the drive shaft and fabricated a spacer that we needed on the boom vang.  With a few other minor repairs, and a new round of laundry and provisioning, we were ready to sail.

Our planned departure on November 2 occurred on November 5.  We expected a 9-day or 10-day passage to BVI and had two friends from home flying to USVI on November 15 to rendezvous with us.  They were bringing more tools and supplies to work with us in putting a new roof on the church.  We had planned to have a few days cushion in the schedule, but with the late departure the cushion was gone.  We would just have to arrive in St. Thomas in 10 days without going to BVI first.

Sailboats work best with wind. image007 Unfortunately the Windy app showed a giant hole in the wind stretching from the coast of Florida several hundred miles to the east.  The rhumb line that we had hoped to sail to BVI would take us through several days without wind.  Escapade has an inboard diesel engine and a large fuel tank, but would it be enough to get us through the windless patch?  We calculated Escapade’s cruising range to be about 1000 miles on 220 gallons of fuel, but BVI was 1500 miles away.  And that doesn’t count fuel usage by the generator to run the refrigeration.  So we chose to sail east toward Bermuda after crossing the Gulf Stream near Cape Hatteras.  The sailing was slow, and we motorsailed frequently to keep speed from falling below 5 knots.  Later on, our standards eroded and we were content to sail if we could keep boat speed above 4 knots.

We were not far from Bermuda when the normal easterly wind resumed.  This was perfect for sailing south on a beam reach, which is our fastest point of sail.  We saw the 5 and 6 knot speeds that we had become accustomed to turn into 7’s, 8’s, and 9’s.  Finally we were sailing!  125-mile days became 200-mile days and the hope of reaching St. Thomas by November 15 became more realistic.

As our weather forecast predicted, the east wind began clocking to the south before we reached the Caribbean.  That forced us to choose between speed over ground and following the rhumb line to St. Thomas.  This is the sailor’s constant quandary–speed or direction?  Is it better to sail slower and go in a more direct line to the destination or is it better to sail faster over a longer distance?  We opted for speed as long as we were headed south.

The wind continued to veer to the south, which forced us to gradually bear off toward Puerto Rico.  If we just had a crystal ball to know what the wind was going to do another hundred miles south.  Will it continue to force us farther to the west?  Or will the normal easterly wind resume if we are patient?  Serious discussions of navigation strategy became more frequent as the wind continued to clock to the south.  Should we let it take us west so that we could finally tack on a header and sail east to USVI?

Our decision was made by the autopilot. image009 About 200 nm northwest of St. Thomas it had a psychotic event and started sailing us in sharp circles as shown by the track in this chart.  I was asleep but sensed something weird going on.  I jumped up to help the crew on watch get the helm under control.  The autopilot refused to behave so we had to turn it off and hand steer the boat.  That’s the normal way we sail on a lake in the daytime, so what’s the big deal?  On the ocean there are no easy points of reference to steer by as there are on a lake.  All 360 degrees look exactly the same.  And night time makes it all the more tedious to steer by watching the compass.  So we started the engine, furled the genoa, and left the main up for stability.  Since we were motoring, we changed course and headed directly toward St. Thomas.

We hand steered all night.  And then we hand steered all day.  And then we hand steered all night again.  Finally as day broke on November 15 we could see the top of St. Thomas rising over the horizon.  Seeing the destination come into sight is a happy moment, and watching an island change shape as it rises out of the sea is endlessly fascinating.  And we were going to make it on schedule!  Everyone says that a schedule is a dangerous thing to have aboard a sailboat, and I understand why that is true, but a schedule can also be a great source of satisfaction when you have made prudent decisions along the way and you arrive on schedule.  We docked at Yacht Haven Grande Marina in St. Thomas by noon and the guys arrived at 3:30 pm.  Just as we had planned!image011

Caillouets’ Irmageddon Escapade

Part One: The Problem

Do you remember where you were on the evening of September 6?  We were having dinner with friends from our Bible study group and glued to any news about Hurricane Irma which had already devastated Barbuda and St. Martin and was bludgeoning the British Virgin Islands.  BVI has been our sentimental second home since the late 1990’s and is home to our Beneteau 50, Mary Jewell.  The news was skimpy but all bad.  When we could scrounge a photo or two, the images were shocking.  The most iconic photo to emerge from all the photos of wreckage and devastation was from Tortola’s Paraquita Bay, the “hurricane hole” used by all the BVI charter companies and some individual boat owners.  It was packed with more than 300 monohulls and catamarans ranging from 38 to 58 feet and representing many millions of dollars of OPM–“other people’s money.” bvi1 Charter companies don’t own their boats, they belong to clients around the world and are managed by the charter companies.  When Irma hit Paraquita she tore all the boats off their heavily chained orderly moorings and raked them into one corner of the bay.  Most lost their masts, many were upside down; all were distressed.

It would be shortsighted and selfish to worry about damage to all those water toys when people’s homes, jobs, and lives were being threatened.  Many homes in tropical areas are built of poured concrete, not 2×4 pine veneered with vinyl siding or brick like in Bowling Green.  But roofs and windows are vulnerable and when trees, roofing metal, and even automobiles become projectiles driven by 200 mph winds, nothing is safe.  People huddled all day in the safest corners of their homes or schools or businesses and waited for the merciless wind to abate.  When it finally did, BVI was ruined.bvi2  Concrete walled residences were ripped open.  Landmarks like the Bitter End Yacht Club had been scraped from the hillside.   Irma left BVI residents in the dark and cut off from each other and from the outside world.  The electric grid was demolished.  Roads were impassible, either washed away or clogged with debris.  Telephones were inoperable with land lines and cell phone towers blown away.  The islands that had been green the day before Irma, were now brown with every leaf stripped from the trees and bushes that remained.  An eerie silence prevailed–no birds or frogs or insects dared to make a sound.

Irma’s destruction was more than physical.  When BVI residents ventured outside their hiding places, they found that the social order was gone.  The government was broken and incapable of maintaining order.  Irma had bashed the prison open and the inmates were freed.  Even more threatening, people who were not convicts became criminals as looting swept the islands.  BVI began to resemble a scene from Mad Max.  A friend of ours named it Irmageddon.

Order was restored several days later when the British navy arrived and began patrolling the islands (BVI has 4 major populated islands and a few outposts on smaller islands).  The navy also delivered food, water, and medical aid.  But they were not the first to supply help to BVI.  The Puerto Rican Navy arrived within a day or two of the hurricane.  The Puerto Rican Navy is simply a group of Puerto Ricans who loaded their power boats with all sorts of relief supplies and rushed to help fellow islanders in need.  One man on Jost Van Dyke told us how sad they felt that when Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria two weeks after Irma, BVI could do nothing to help them.

Three months after Irma visited BVI, life has returned in a crippled kind of way.  The capital city of Road Town has electricity and running water, but the rest of BVI would still be in the pre-electric Stone Age without generators.  Land line telephone service may never return.  Debris is piled into mountains of wood, metal, and glass waiting for incineration or recycling.  The masts of many boats point in any direction but upward.  Ferry boats still are beached on various shores.  One 85-foot ferry boat lies upside down on what was once Sydney’s Peace and Love restaurant on Jost Van Dyke.bvi3  Many businesses are open and trying to function, but don’t count on using a credit card–that requires operating infrastructure.  The most invisible part of BVI’s loss is the loss of jobs.  Without a charter fleet, there is no tourism; without tourism, restaurants, grocery stores and dive shops have fewer customers to serve.  Progress is evident, but the Paradise that was lost in 12 hours won’t be found again in 12 weeks or even 12 months.  Restoration of Paradise is a long way off.

So where do we fit into this scene?  We needed to go to BVI to see about Mary Jewell—she had been severely damaged by Irma and communications from BVI were minimal at best. We needed to be there to deal with the insurance company. bvi4 But this seemed more personal than settling an insurance claim on our boat. After enjoying BVI for 20+ years and knowing many people there by their first names, we felt that we should do something to help.  We began by giving some money to rebuild a school.  That’s useful but impersonal.  So we decided to go there and find a place to help restore this broken BVI to the way we had come to know it. And our sailboat Escapade could provide a mobile base to work from.  There wouldn’t be any hotels to stay in, and if there were, local people would need them.  Escapade can sleep 6-8 people comfortably.  There wouldn’t be any electricity to charge phones or power tools, but Escapade has a generator.  There might not be enough clean water to drink, but Escapade has a water maker.  There would be a shortage of building supplies and tools, but Escapade could transport many items from the USA.

We knew we couldn’t just show up at the dock and say “We are here to help,” so we thought about a way to connect with an organization that would continue when we left.  Churches are often at the center of community life so we decided to choose a church to work with.  We went to the internet to find a church that seemed to fit our resources and would be accessible from the sea.  We found Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church and we liked what we read about it and its pastor on the church website.

New hurdle: How to connect with them?  The telephone listed on the website was a land line and was out of service.  No mobile phone was listed.  I found a restaurant in Cane Garden Bay that had a working email address and asked them to deliver my message to the church’s pastor.  When we finally got in touch he was happy to welcome a small relief crew from a faraway state with no ocean front, no salt water, no hurricanes–Kentucky. (to be continued)



Caillouet’s Cruising back from the Caribbean

S.V. Escapade

After spending several months in the Caribbean on their boat Escapade, Larry and Diana Caillouet will be sailing home. We will leave Tortola in the British Virgin Islands on May 15 and sail north to Bermuda. After spending a few days there, we will sail on to Newport, Rhode Island, leave the boat there, and then fly home. To follow our progress, go to to open the OCENS Snap Track website. When it opens, you will see a meaningless close up map of the Seattle area. Enter the word Escapade in the blank for name, and set dates as 5/15/2017 to the present date. This will show you our location on the map. When it first opens it may be extremely close up or far out. Zoom out or in as the case may be to see our position in context of the map. To see all the boats sailing in the Salty Dawg Rally, remove Escapade from the name blank and enter SDR in the group blank. We will report our position twice a day until we reach Bermuda and again when we leave for Newport.

In addition to Diana and me, we will have two crew sailing with us, one from New Hampshire and one from Toronto. We will each stand watch for 3 hours and then be off watch for 9 hours. The onwatch person will be at the helm and will usually be the only person up during the night unless weather requires more hands on deck. During daylight hours several of us or perhaps all of us will be up. People have asked me, “Doesn’t it get boring sailing the ocean since the scenery never changes once you are out of sight of land?” No, because that’s not true. The ocean and the sky and the wind change constantly. All require constant monitoring because changes may be needed in the course heading or the set of the sails, but usually they invite monitoring for their beauty. Our shifts will rotate so that everyone will have the opportunity to see the sun set, the moon rise, the stars shine, the dawn break, and the day evolve.

And what about safety? Well, there are plenty of true stories of lives lost at sea, but each day they are far exceeded by lives lost on highways. Escapade is designed for blue water sailing and is loaded with safety equipment such as a life raft and flares and many forms of emergency communication equipment such as VHF, SSB, satellite phone, InReach, and EPIRB. We are safest once we lose sight of the shore–no rocks or reefs to hit, and very few boats to hit or be hit by.

Well, I may have painted the sea as a bit more benign than it actually is or can be, so pray for fair winds and following seas for us.