Tuesday, December 27, 2016

49-50. Bonaire Makes Everything Better!

    Beautiful sunset as we head out to sea.  Photos taken moments apart.

Why do passages have to be so difficult?!  I’m not a complainer usually and I understand that if I want to see any new place via sailboat that I will have to sail there.  We’ve only done two other long passages, Bahamas to Turks & Caicos and Turks & Caicos to Puerto Rico.  They had their moments of beauty and awe but as a whole i’m just not a fan.  And after 11+ months aboard my opinion has changed little and I knew the passage to Bonaire from St Lucia would be our furthest to date.  I was prepared for this passage to change my mind.  I did all the prep work; we were stocked with quick easy food and plenty of snacks, the boat was clean and secured, we planned our weather window and were super excited to meet back up with our friends on Take Two in Bonaire.  So you can understand the anticipation in the air when we pulled away under a beautiful double rainbow!
Our friends had given us info about their passage, how confused the sea state was when pulling away from the island chain and where to expect some rough seas due to underwater terrain so we knew there would be some rough water but we thought we were ready.  We were not!
The 4 days at sea all blur together due to the monotonous rocking and rolling and ever increasing sleep deprivation :)  Twelve hours into our journey the seas had chosen their state and we weren't about to turn back so we pressed on, every night willing it to be different in the morning.
    The photo doesn't do the waves justice!
Andrew and I could only manage two hour shifts because the waves were too much for our auto pilot and we were hand steering the entire first 36 hours.  Our boat’s max hull speed is 7 knots, which means that is about the fastest she should ever go.  But on my watch on evening two, the wind and seas picked up so much that I wave surfed four waves in a row at 11 knots before calling Andrew up to help slow us down a bit for safety.  So one bright spot of the uncomfortable passage is we were making great time!
    Notice the time stamp!  That is a 7am beer after a long night on duty :)
Up to this point in our sailing life we have never used jack lines (safety straps running the length of the boat that you strap to before leaving the cockpit so if you were to fall while on deck, you wouldn't fall overboard).  But Andrew had enough foresight to get them rigged before we left St Lucia and they were literally life savers.  Luckily there were only a few times we needed to leave the cockpit during the 4 days but it was sketchy to say the least!  We broke the shackle on our boom without even knowing it, we just happen to notice it hanging on by a thread during a sail adjustment before a major catastrophe.  We also lost our boom and, which secures the boom.  It was a rough ride on the rigging as well as the humans aboard.  We all welcomed a bit of a reprieve on our last day when the seas settled a bit, a pod of dolphins followed us all afternoon
and Bonaire came into view.  Even once we spot land, there is still 8+ hours to go which is sometimes the hardest part of the journey; to see your destination so close and still so far away.  Finally at 12:30am, 82 hrs after leaving Rodney Bay, St Lucia, we pull into the mooring field of Bonaire.  Jay and Tanya from Take Two were sweet enough to meet us at the mooring ball and help get us secured and settled for the night.  I was never so happy to squeeze a friend’s neck.  I think it goes without saying that we slept like rocks that night.  When we finally awoke ready to face the day, we got our first glimpse of beautiful Bonaire,
    Abby has the red sail cover and bimini.
the classic Dutch, pastel coloring of the buildings and a cute seafront village right along the moorings.  Take Two had us over for an amazing brunch of sweet and savory pannenkoeken (crepes) and we celebrated having arrived!  
Later that afternoon we ventured to town to check in with customs / immigration and see what there was to see.  The very first person to greet us in Bonaire was Cliff, the immigration officer, and he will always be the face of Bonaire to us.  After getting the official stuff out of the way we began chatting with him and he asked Sky what type of things she liked to do and did she enjoy seeing nature, etc.  Which she very much does.  He said he had noticed her birthday coming up the following week when doing our paperwork and he would like to show her a special part of Bonaire as a gift if she was interested.  He offered up his day off the following week to give us a private tour!  So in our first hour on land our immigration officer fell in love with Sky and offered up a special tour just for her.  Maybe the passage was worth it and Bonaire would be awesome!  Take Two joined us ashore for dinner at Cuba and gelato at Gio’s and Bonaire was off to a great start!  When we checked into the marina the next day, Quinton at the desk said, “ Don't worry if people smile at you or offer to do something for you.  They don't want anything from you, that’s just how we are in Bonaire.”  I thought it funny that we require a disclaimer as an American that friendliness shouldn't cause alarm, they aren't scoping us out to rob us, they are just decent humans who smile and say “good morning”.  Novel idea, right?!

We found ourselves feeling right at home in Bonaire.  Great little restaurants and shops,
    Almost too pretty to eat!
a beautiful grocery store that rivals anything in the states, the prices were great and the people were friendly, not to mention the amazing sea life and crystal clear, turquoise waters.

Days melted away swimming and snorkeling off the back of the boat.
    Nothing like a cruise ship pulling in to interrupt your afternoon swim.

Andrew got straight to work installing the water maker.
And we enjoyed little excursions to town for ice cream at Luciano’s.  
Before we knew it, it was time for our day of fun with Cliff to celebrate my baby turning 11.
He picked us up bright and early and off we headed.
We hiked into the bush maybe 100 yards before we came to a hole in the ground 5’ wide.  A ladder was secured to the wall of the cave for us to climb down into.  It was warm and humid and otherworldly.  Not like caves for tourists in the states; caves that you could fall and injure yourself or knock your head on a rock as you army crawl through to the next opening.  It was beautiful and there is nowhere else in the world as quiet as deep in a cave.
Our second leg of the adventure was into another breathtaking cave where we entered at one end and hiked our way through to a separate exit.
Cliff said this cave connects to another cave system and he had been 4 miles into the cave trying to find the junction when it got so deep with guano and mud that they had to turn back.  He’s a little crazy ;)
Our final cave was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  After hiking down into the hole until it was almost black, we found ourselves at a clear pool.  We took care not to stir the sediment as we floated onto our bellies and swam into the dark.  Some of us were more willing than others to embrace an afternoon swim through a pitch black cave, with bats flying overhead and having your brain play with you on what else might be in the water with us!  But after some heavy coaxing from daddy, Paige joined us inside :) And even she can't deny the awesomeness!  At one point in the swim there was an optional swim through.  You could dive down about 10’ and swim 20’ into a separate room.  We had 3 underwater flashlights with us and every once in awhile they would all disappear to one side or the other and you would experience utter darkness and perfect stillness, until a mean friend would sneak up behind you to scare you to death :)
My Sky said it was the best birthday ever!  She didn't know Cliff was just getting warmed up!  
He then took us to the other side of the island where we saw a flock of wild flamingos, very cool -hadn't seen that before.
And we spent the rest of the afternoon at the windsurfing haven.  We enjoyed lunch at a great beach bar
and everyone tried their hand at windsurfing.
It was a huge hit!  
We all headed home exhausted from our fun, but it wasn't over yet.  Sinterklaas was scheduled to arrive that evening with his helper Black Pete.  And we definitely weren't going to miss that!
After a quick clean up, we met back in town and Cliff had more excitement up his sleeve.
Sinterklaas invited Sky on stage, presented her with a gift (courtesy of Cliff) and he and his entourage sang her “Happy Birthday”.
She is guaranteed to never forget it!  Oh the conversations we had over dinner!
What a day!  Thank you will never be enough.
    Sky & Cliff.
The beauty of Bonaire continued to woo us.  We enjoyed a few date nights out with Jay & Tanya, we celebrated both Thanksgiving and Christmas with our friends who are now very much family!
Everyone loved windsurfing so much that we had to do it again.
We got to sail on Take Two to another side of the island and enjoyed some awesome snorkeling and freediving.  We just couldn't get enough of this amazing piece of paradise!  

The weather was right for us all to move on but it was very hard to say goodbye.
Sky made Cliff a little “thank you” and we did all our last minutes items to get ready for another sail.  But I think all the Abby Singer crew left a piece of their hearts in Bonaire!
Things learned aboard this week:
Bonaire was so worth it!  Bonaire offers the beauty underwater of the Bahamas, fun little restaurants and shops like St Martin, easy shopping similar to (but even better than) Grenada, and amazingly welcoming locals like we’ve met in so many of the wonderful places we’ve traveled.  I wish I could keep this little island a secret but it is just too good not to share:)
I still hate passages though.

Our friends head to Columbia as we check out the rest of the ABC islands.  Come along for the journey.

51 - 52. Aruba puts the "A" in the ABCs!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

47-48. Back to the Boat!

The past two weeks have flown by.  Our last update left us unsure we were ready to be back aboard Abby.  We are pleased to report that we very quickly re-acclimated to our boat home and have had an amazing few weeks we can't wait to share.

    A beautiful view down Grenada's coast.
The day after we got back to Grenada we went on a “Cutty tour”.  Anyone visiting Grenada should do the same.  Our guide’s name is Cutty and he loves his country!  We spent 8 hrs with him showing us all around the island.  You may wonder how, after being here for 2 months there is anything left to see, but Grenada’s natural resources are so vast that it takes an experienced eye to point out all the variety.
Cutty would pull off the side of the road and have us step to the edge of the lush greenery, he would crumple a cluster of leaves he just pulled from the nearest tree and say “do you recognize that smell?”
 We each took turns sniffing and would find ourselves intoxicated by the smell of cinnamon, all spice, clove, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, mint and could even detect the subtle differences between the lemon and lime trees based on the smell of their leaf.  We tasted the bark off the cinnamon tree and learned how it is harvested,
we picked passion fruit,
papaya, cocoa plant, and fresh sweet banana,
and fell more deeply in love with this beautiful country.
    Finding red berries for jewelry making.
We loved our private tour of the Grenada Chocolate Company and, of course, the free samplings at the end :)
Cutty arranged a beautiful meal at Rivers Rum before our tour of their traditional rum distillery.  The Rivers Rum tour was a highlight of our day.  The big water wheel was turning, powered by the flowing water channeled down out of the mountains.
The wheel powered the crushing machine that squeezes all the sugar juice from the cane.  The sugar flowed down a pipe to it’s first holding tank
while the crushed cane moved on a conveyor belt to a large discard pile.
They later use the discarded cane to fuel the fire used to heat the rum in it’s final stage, loved how nothing was wasted.  The entire process hasn't changed much since the 1800s, the sugar moves from vat to vat while fermenting, and finally into large holding tanks where it reacts to the yeast in the air
before moving to the final stage where it is heated.  
They were ingenious in the design of the factory, minimizing the labor needed to move the product.  After learning all about the process of traditionally making Rum, we got to sample some of their product.  Since we all did the tour it seemed right to have everyone sample the goodness.
Notice the disapproving looks of the tourists as the girls cheered their Rum punch :)
The entire day was an amazing lesson in the beauty and diversity of Grenada, the perfect way to say goodbye.

Pulling away from La Phare Bleu Marina was bittersweet.  We were excited to get back on the water and moving again but it was hard to say goodbye to all the staff who had become like family.
Andrew was a ball of nerves being at the helm for the first time in three months.  We headed around the southern tip and up the west side to stop for the night and snorkel the sculpture garden in the morning.

The sculpture garden is a seemingly random selection of statues that have been placed on the ocean floor to help promote coral growth and support the natural reef in the area.
There are multiple circles of people holding hands, various mermaids,
abstract art, and a man on bicycle, playing poker and typing.  It is eerily beautiful but my honest first impression was how creepy it was
to see people with barnacles and coral growing all over their face, like a scene from Pirates of the Carribean.
But we checked it off our list and continued our trek north.
    Boat life: Paige reading as the sun sets, Sky prepping seeds and beads as the sunrises.
It was cool to pull back into Tyrell Bay, Carriacou again; our first time to return to a port we have previously visited.  The familiarity was comforting.  We had a few repairs we needed to tend to before heading west so we were scheduled to be hauled out overnight while in Carriacou.
We were the last hauled at the end of the day, spent the night in the slings being super productive
and were dropped back in the water first thing in the morning.  
After checking out of Grenada and its Grenadines, we sailed into St Vincent & the Grenadines and flew our “Q” flag.  One night in Union Island, a quick snorkel in the Tabago Cays, dinner with our friends aboard Grateful in Bequia, before an amazing sail up the East coast of St Vincent.  
We spent the day outrunning storms.
    Sunshine on the left, dark storms on the right.  That's how quickly your day can change!
It was beautiful until we had thunder and lightning, which is my favorite thing in the world but Andrew says is no good on a boat :) We were very thankful for our new dodger Andrew sewed while in Grenada.  It kept us realitively dry in the cockpit when the skies opened up.
We finally rounded the southern tip of St Lucia as the sun set and were treated to the most spectacular bioluminescence we’ve ever seen!  We were safely on the ball between the Pitons enjoying dinner when the strongest gust front we have ever experienced blew in from behind the mountains, luckily it was short lived.
    Beautiful rainbow as we left the Pitons.
We were so happy to find ourselves back at Marigot Bay and Capella Marina.  And even more overjoyed to meet back up with some La Phare Bleu friends aboard Corpse Pounder and Nightingale Tune.
   Our favorite little Corpse Pounder!
The girls and I relaxed by the pool
while Andrew was busy installing our new solar panels.  It would have been easy to stay indefinitely in the beautiful resort paradise
but we were excited to pick up our new water maker in Rodney Bay.  It was like Christmas morning with Andrew opening our new toy, reading part of the instructions :) and dreaming about where we would install it.
We did one last large provisioning run to prep for our trip west and some last minute wifi for weather, etc.  Then it was time to head out into the deep blue.

Things learned aboard this week:
We were pleasantly surprised by falling comfortably back into life aboard.  I was being very honest last time when I mentioned the apprehension at being back.  We had such a great visit home and life aboard is not always easy but we found our groove fairly easily.  Go Team Abby Singer!

I’m saving the story of our crossing for the next blog but I can tell you it had each of us in tears at different points in the very difficult journey so be sure to catch the next leg of our adventure - Bonaire.
    This beautiful double rainbow appeared as we pulled away from St Lucia.
    I took it as a sign of good things to come 
    but in hindsight I think it was meant to remind me we weren't alone out there :)

49 - 50. Bonaire Makes Everything Better!