An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — March 2008

Good and Better: Part II

Welcome back to this week’s episode of “Good and Better”. Whereas last episode began with bad, Part II focuses entirely on best. Now, we’ve definitely had some good fortune in our time, from timely gas donations, to a two-room apartment moments after discovering we were homeless. But never have we eaten like kings, or cruised with dignitaries… until now.

One of the first items on the to-do list upon reaching St. Thomas was locating a dinghy that kept air from leaving and water from entering (or at least one of the two). Judging solely by the name, Budget Marine sounded like the right place to start. That’s where this episode begins.

“Do you sell inflatable dinghies,” we asked. “No, we don’t have any.” Then from down the counter, “Are you looking to sell your dinghy?” asked a lovely young lady. Enter Sybille, one of the most generous ladies in all the Virgin Islands. Within a few dinghy jokes and a short conversation, we had made friends with the owner of Virgin Islands Ecotours (

Over lunch, Sybille explained her business of kayak, snorkeling tours through protected mangroves. It just so happens she was looking for a couple of hands to help out with kayak tours, and various other projects. It also just so happens, Dan and I were looking for a little side income and a new adventure. And with that our fate was sealed.

We arrived St. Thomas, Monday. By Thursday we had relocated from Charlotte Amalie, where massive cruise ships come and go like the tide, to a private dock in a protected mangrove where we were already leading kayak/snorkeling trips. You can’t help but smile as you lead 20 kayaks through cool mangrove waters… or as you are cheer your shelled soldier in a hermit crab race… or as you snorkel with a four-foot barracuda, and octopus. Good had gotten better. But better was on its way to best.

In Thailand, everyone knows the place to be for the full moon party is Koh Phanang. In the Virgin Islands, it’s the Bomba Shack on Tortolla. Well not only was Friday the full moon, but the stars had aligned. Sybille, you see was from Totolla, which means not only was she game for going, she also knew the ins and out. Friday afternoon we were on a ferry, full moon bound.

It’s hard to explain everything that made the next three days so amazing, but I’ll try to summarize. The house we were staying at was quite possibly the most beautiful house I’ve seen. A glassy pool sat among Romanesque pillars and flowed off the edge of the hill that overlooked 40 miles of Virgin Islands. Over three seating areas with cloud-like cushions donned with Moroccan fabrics. Large outdoor but covered dining table accommodating 10 comfortable guests. And the best part, the kitchen where swung an entire copper collection of pots and pans over a roomy island. No, actually I lied. The best part was not the kitchen, it was the person running it.

The owner and mastermind of this beautiful estate had spent her life pleasing buds of particular tastes and served with the likes of Wolfgang Puck (you may have heard of him…). So this is how we began our little adventure: French cheeses, seasoned tuna, fluffy halibut, sparkling champagne and charming conversations with fascinating business men and women about life and dreams.

We eventually made it to the full moon party. Yes, it was fun. Yes, we carried Sybille to the stage for a dance competition among determined Caribbean women. And yes, I was anxious to get back to our palace, where that night I slept like a king.

The next day was no less fantastic where I began with a personalized omelet lesson. We proceeded to a picturesque beach where we body surfed the day away. Then finished the evening having drinks with more friends, including the Tortollan Financial Marketing Head and former commissioner’s wife. Safe to say the evening went well because by the time we returned to the castle, the next day’s events were planned: Sail the Tortollan FMH and family aboard a catamaran to a nearby island for a day of snorkeling.

Now while there are hundreds of details to enhance this best-of edition of Good and Better, I’m afraid I haven’t the time nor you the patience. But there is one thing I do have… a recipe for the world’s finest omelet.

March 31, 2008   4 Comments

Good and Better: Part I

This episode of “Good and Better” begins with bad. Dan and I learned life without ipod was just not as good. When something valuable gets stolen, the first thing you want to do is wrap up in that comfort blanket of familiar music. Cozy up with sentiment and forget all that pain inside. However, when the thing stolen is that blanket you are left solely with the sour notes of your sadness. So we decided, despite our desire to keep moving and a looming weather report threatening the largest swells (non-hurricane) in the Caribbean history, we would ferry back to Puerto Rico and buy an ipod.


We got the pod, found a good deal on a kayak (which we also justified as necessity considering our decaying dinghy state) and headed back to catch the evening ferry back to Culebra. This is where the “bad” begins. As we got off the ferry we noticed we were on unfamiliar ground. After a short round of questioning, the detective duo confirmed they had in fact gotten on the wrong ferry to the wrong island.


The island of Vieques is supposed to be lovely. I’m sure it is. Unfortunately, it’s hard to fully appreciate it when you’re not supposed to be there, it’s 10:00 at night and you’ve no place to lay your head. But within 30 minutes bad became good. Dan and I started walking towards the town. We passed a couple restaurants, then a couple of ladies. “Is this a hotel?” I ask. “Are you looking for a place to stay… because I have an apartment you can use for the night.” Uhm, ok.


Ok indeed! Not only did we have a 2-room apartment fitted with fresh sheets and towels, the generous woman and sister also brought us down four cold cans of beer, a jug of orange juice and some fruit for the morning. It was getting late and we did have a 5:00 am ferry for Puerto Rico to catch, but we did take a few moments to stretch out. Move from couch to couch in a house five times the square footage of the boat we were supposed to be on that very moment.


After a warm shower (a true sailor’s delight) and little cuddle time with my new iblanky, I moved from the living room to MY bedroom. I sunk like a rock into the soft bed and swam in pleasant dreams all night. The next day after our fresh fruit and OJ, we walked back to the ferry, checked in with the supervisor, who granted us the sympathy and tickets to return to Puerto Rico.


By late afternoon we were back in Culebra, preparing the boat for tomorrow’s sail to St. Thomas. The weather report gave us plenty of time to sail and stop before the seas were scheduled to swell. They were right. The seas were smooth and shortly after the winds rose, our sails lowered and we anchored in St. Thomas.


Our fortunes were good again. But this is when good gets better…


March 28, 2008   No Comments

Esta Bien

After a fairly depressing day (and blog entry) I want you to know we are doing much better. We were in Salinas, picking our heads up when we heard of the Culebra Regatta. That probably means nothing to you so I’ll explain. Culebra is an island on the Eastern side of Puerto Rico and while still part of PR it is considered one of the Spanish Virgin Islands. It is also notorious for one of the finest beaches in the Caribbean. “Regatta” is a sporting event consisting of a series of boat or yacht races. Ok, all caught up?

Needless to say a weekend of boat racing around one of the finest beaches in Puerto Rico sounded more appealing than moping around feeling sorry for ourselves. We got our things together- which didn’t take long at all since half of it had been stolen- and left at 6:00 pm for Culebra. Our luck was changing because the next 16 hours of sailing were great. With minimal swells and a light breeze luffing off the island, I took first watch. By the light of the stars (and my head lamp), I regurged weeks of thoughts, frustrations and emotions onto the pages of my journal. By 2 am the burdens of life began to lift.

The way things have been going, I feel like my next sentence should begin with “However… “. However, the trip continued as peaceful as it started. We even managed to break the “catch and release” curse that had haunted us up to now, by actually pulling a nice mackerel into the boat! By the time we were arrived Culebra, sailboats were leaving the harbor. Sails rose like white jagged teeth from the ocean’s mouth. Ships of various size joined their class and filed out to the open water.

We set anchor in a calm bay among familiar faces, friends we’d met from as far back as the Bahamas and Dominican Republic. Then after resting briefly we joined those friends for drinks and dance. In small square, on a small island, hundreds of Puerto Ricans and several sailors gathered listening to music, dancing to the Latin beats of local bands. The bands played late into the evening and the people played even later.

My first introduction to the Spanish culture was in Thailand when I met a guy from Bacelona with no shoes. We were both on our way to Thailand’s full moon party, and became instant friends after I gave him my pair of shower flops. We later joined several other Spaniards who referred to me as “the American” and had the night of our lives-doing just that, living.

This night was similar. Strangers danced with strangers. “The American” sang like he knew the songs the Spanish sang. Mullet-topped malattos laughed, loved, lived. “Esta bien” is a common phrase out here. It means “it’s good”. And quite frankly, it is. Life is good.

March 20, 2008   1 Comment

Changing of Tide

Yesterday sucked. The day before was nearly perfect. Today, I’m regaining composure. I’ll begin with the good.

Puerto Rico started wonderfully. After spotting whales and swinging like a crazed pirate from the boom, we continued our day hopping until we arrived Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico. We picked up a couple new friends, Tony and Laura, and rented a car to visit surfing hot spot Rincon. We spent the next three days surfing on locally loaned boards and camping on grassy a ledge overlooking the ocean in the backyard of generous couple who ran one of the coolest bars in the city.

A few days later, we returned to our boat and the next day hopped down the coast to Salinas. Our friend, Christian ( who we met in Luperon introduced us to a fellow coastguarder stationed in San Juan, who in turn offered a place to stay and a convertible to cruise the country. Enough said. Dan and I packed a bag, held out our thumbs and hitchhiked across Puerto Rico. We fell in love. Walking the streets of Old San Juan. Following the majestic walls of an old Spanish fort. Having a cool night-cap to sound of dark waves brushing the shores. Life was good and getting better.

The next day, Kim had to work so Dan and I grabbed our bags. Top down. Ocean breeze blowing. I-pod randomly selecting the soundtrack to our day. First stop-outlet malls. Yes, I know, it’s funny how sailing separation fuels consumerism. Board shorts-check. Running shoes-check. Flip flops-check. On to the marine store. GPS charts and nautical maps-check, check. Next up: El Yunque-Puerto Rico’s tallest peak and rainforest.

We hiked, took pictures, swam in waterfalls, and as the sun set rolled top-down back to Old San Juan. Flagstaff friends can attest I love a good night of dancing. But if you can believe three months and four countries after leaving the states, I had yet to get my swerve on. So we drove right in to the heart of downtown. Parked the car and walked the narrow alleys until we happened upon a Brazilian bar.

Fi Fi was the motherly figure who greeted us at the door and personally prepared a proud Brazilian meal for her two American boys. Meanwhile dancers and drummers introduced the world to South America. Hungry as I was to eat, I was even hungrier to dance. Fi Fi resurfaced on stage and called me up. Now I don’t know all the cultural do’s and don’ts, but I’m pretty sure you don’t deny the woman who made you dinner. So I took to the stage and bouncing to Brazilian beats. A perfect end to a wonderful day.

However, when we walked back to the car we discovered all was not perfect. The convertible top had been slashed and everything stolen. Two i-pods (Dan’s-one week old), shoes, money, $500 in nautical maps, and my baby… the Nikon camera purchased specifically for this trip with lenses, sd chips, carrying case… everything.

That’s where it begins to suck. Money is tight when none is coming in. Now we’re out a few thousand dollars in stolen items and whatever it will cost us to fix the damaged roof and interior.  Nevertheless, money is money, and things are just things. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The next day, I learned of more troubles back home. For the obvious respect and confidences of those involved I can’t share much, suffice to say things are not well on a couple of fronts. That’s the hard part. I can deal with no camera, but it’s harder to deal with relational distances in difficult times.

Still there are lessons. I’m becoming more and more aware of the burden of love. Often those close will apologize for their problems and “bringing me down” on this adventure. Maybe for some that’s the case. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Everything is peachy. But life is not always peachy. There are burdens. And in love the burdens are great. If we weren’t close to each other, our problems would be our own. However, the more me care for each other, the more we share each other’s burdens. Caring really is sharing. Good and bad alike. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

That’s life. The tides will rise and fall. Sometimes rocks will surface. And in those times you turn to your crew. You lean on the people you care for and trust the most. You might get beat up, but you keep floating. The tide will rise again.

March 13, 2008   2 Comments

Duck N Jibe

It sounds like a dance move and the way I was moving I could have been dancing with the stars. It all started the first couple weeks of sailing. I was still learning the ropes (as I am 3 months later). Hoist this. Reef that. I had no idea what was going on. One of the first things I learned though was “accidental jibe”.

A jibe occurs when sailing downwind, the main sail catches the wind on opposite side and swings the boom (sail) across the boat. An accidental jibe is very similar except when you’re not expecting it. My introduction to the accidental jibe happened in the Bahamas. I was guiding the boat downwind. Still unfamiliar, I pointed the boat a little too far. The wind changed, sails luffed, then caught on the opposite side. The sail came swooping across the cockpit just missing Dan and my heads as we ducked out of the way.

Heart pounding, Dan explained the jibe. By all appearances, he was calm, but I suspect now he was just bottling his angst. Problem is that stuff has to come out! If it doesn’t, it just builds and builds until it forces its way out. It can take days, weeks, or it can take about two months and come out as you are pulling into a handsome bay with people watching from shore.

Having arrived to Puerto Rico, Dan, myself and our new friend Tony who we picked up in Mayaguez were day hopping down the coast. It was early afternoon, warm sun and light breeze blowing when we arrived to La Par guera-a small Puerto Rican town known for snorkeling and kite surfing. Yes, we were in shallow water and no, there wasn’t much room to work in the canal we were looking to anchor in, but I can’t help but think there was something deeper.

I was standing on deck preparing the main sail to drop, when suddenly the wind shifted…sails luffed and caught. Dan yells, “Boom!” Hatred and revenge bubbling through his chords. The boom swung around but I was too high to duck. With no time to spare, I thought to myself… “What would Jack Sparrow do?” So like a well trained pirate I jumped and grabbed hold of the mast as it swung across the boat and over the water. Moments later the boom ran out of line, bounced and swung back to the boat. My feet grabbed hold, I steadied the sail and proceeded to lower it.

Dan would probably deny malice. And we’ve never actually talked about it, but I have my suspicions. The way he squinted those devious eyes in the sun like he was looking for coral. Well in the end, he got his revenge… but it was I- D. Preston-who stood on deck. Shirtless, shimmering, staring into the distance like I had just been nominated for the well deserved Pirate of the Year Award.

And aye.. I accept the nomination!

March 8, 2008   No Comments

Whales on the Way

My apologies for not posting sooner. Right now, I’m sitting in a little bakery in the small surf town of Rincon, Puerto Rico. After a 5-day pass from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, I have finally found a café with Internet and enough time to post. So here we go.

The Pass.

They say you can see the lights of Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic. That may be true, but you definitely cannot see them from Luperon. Luperon is on the North side of the DR, relatively close to Haiti. Which means when sailing at a smoking 4 knots you’re looking at a minimal two-day sail just to get to the Mona Passage.

The Mona is the ocean passage that runs between the DR and PR, and in the cruising world it is dreaded. It’s the second deepest trench in the world and one of the most notorious passes. With currents relentless and trade winds strong, anyone hoping to sail across the Mona Passage waits for the right window. After a month in the Dominican Republic the window came.

Luperon was buzzing like a senior center on meatloaf Sunday with the cruisers who had collected over the past month, waiting for the window. Finally, after a week of talk and sailor support meetings the window arrived. One by one boats, pulled anchor and paraded to the mouth of the bay, where they would wait for the night breeze to flow from the Dominican mountains to the sea. Dan and I were the last of 15 sailing vessels to leave the bay, but with a higher tolerance to uncomfortable seas, we decided to cut to the chase.

It was about 10 pm when we left. We snugged everything down, storing any loose items away and storing all dry clothes in garbage bags. Once we had a secure 30-minute head start we radioed back to announce our departure and within moments, the ships started to leave. By morning the seas had smoothed and the winds were starting to slow. It was the onset of the window we were all anticipating. Time to motor-sail.

When sailing you don’t imagine boaters waiting for the winds to die so they can motor, but when you are crossing the Mona it seems to be the norm. Our tanks were full and our 20 horsepower engine was purring nicely until it sucked up some debris. Within moments we started to overheat. So much for our 30-minute cushion. Two hours and one fuel filter later we managed to keep the engine from overheating by running at lower RPMs… but we still had a long way to go.

There’s a certain monotony to sailing and while fighting 1.5 knot currents at 3 knots boat speed might make for an exciting entry, I’m going to pass on all that and get to the good stuff: the whales.

Our timing was perfect. From January through March, humpback whales migrate 2,000 to 4,000 miles from North of Main to the warm waters of Samana to meet and mate. It just so happens we would be passing right by Samana. Dan had just finished working on the engine and we were putting along, when as I was talking to Dan I spotted my first whale. Just off his shoulder and 60 yards out an enormous ridge emerged from the water. It cut slowly through the surface, then concluded with its tail fanning through the air. Of coarse I freak out and run down to grab my camera, but by the time I returned the show was over. Over the next several hours, the titanic creatures would remind you they were near as mysterious spouts would fire mist 40 feet in the air.

I wish I could say I saw one jump entirely out of the water, but I’m afraid only Dan can say that… twice. I am happy, however, to say at least I saw the explosion of water that followed one of those moments Dan dubbed “the most amazing natural occurrence” he’s ever seen. Still I can’t complain, just seeing a whale in its natural habitat is pretty special.

Eventually, we arrived Puerto Rico. 5 days later and 200 hundred yards in front of one other boat at 4 am. We weren’t first…but we did beat our buddy Snark, even if it was just by 200 yards. Now for Puerto Rico…

March 6, 2008   No Comments