First, I have no photos of the actual events, and will instead link to better and more fortunate photographers and videographers than I. You’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that I witnessed something spectacular and feel incredibly blessed.
Here is a spotted leopard ray. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them while snorkeling. This photo is from Wikipedia.
Did you know they could jump? Most of you probably do; some of you may have seen it.
Over the past three years, I’ve heard the loud splash, I’ve caught a glimpse at the end of a leap, but I’d never witnessed a full leap until this week.
On days when EW works and I don’t I can opt to stay on the boat all day, or take EW to work, use the dinghy and pick him up. Late last week I took him to work and returned home on what we call the “outside” route between Hassel and Water Islands. It was a calm, sunny day, and I was enjoying the views and watching out for other boats.
About twenty feet off my starboard quarter – that’s on the right side, a bit ahead of the boat – a leopard ray leaped out of the water, flew for a second and belly flopped back into the ocean. I gasp and laughed and gasped again when he came back out of the water just seconds later, flopping back into the sea.
It was fantastic, and I described it to many others over the next few days.
This morning, I elected to stay aboard, and was reading in the cockpit while EW got ready for work when I heard a splash and saw lots of spraying water – too much for a pelican – not ten feet from the starboard side of the La Luna. I jumped up in time to see a ray leap one more time, splashing back with a resounding SMACK, and sending up a ray-sized tsunami.
“Wow! Oh Wow!”
“What happened?” asked EW.
“A ray! A ray just jumped twice!”
He smiled and was pleased for me. But it wasn’t nice. It was fantastic. It was amazing. It was a gift.
I am thankful.
Here’s a great video of a leaping ray – but I can’t believe those two snorkelers missed it!
Traditionally it’s celebrated in St. Thomas on the Third Monday of October. Even though “hurricane season” lasts from June 1 to November 30, most hurricanes that have hit St. Thomas have done so in August, September, or October. So, according to the report on “Hurricane Thanksgiving”, if a large storm hasn’t hit St. Thomas by the middle of October, the residents here feel safe.
Humph. Celebrating in October seems a little early to me. The only storm to hit in these islands in 1999 was Hurricane Lenny, which pounded St. Croix with wind gusts of 112 mph. Lenny caused over 330 million dollars of damage to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.
Hurricane Lenny formed on November 13, which is about three weeks after Hurricane Thanksgiving, so you’ll pardon me if I’m not celebrating just yet.
We have had a wonderful hurricane season, and I am deeply thankful. This was a big stressor for me, yet we only took our sails down for one storm, which served as a fine drill for storms that went to the north of us. We had no reason to move to one of our two self-designated safe harbors in Puerto Rico.
We have been very, very lucky.
I’ve been on a serious knocking wood campaign – and I do mean serious. Our friend and fellow cruiser Kevin Boothby, who single handedly sails to Maine and back every year to avoid hurricane season, stopped by the other day and made a comment about what a great season we’d had.
“Knock wood,” I said.
Kevin smiled and went on with his conversation.
“No,” I interrupted, “I mean it. Knock on wood.”
He chuckled and tapped the cockpit coaming. The fiberglass cockpit coaming.
I was feeling a bit OCD – “Kevin, that’s not wood. Here, knock on this teak. Please. Knock. On. Wood.”
He gave me a look, you know that “are you OK?” look and knocked on the damn wood.
Another deep breath.
We’ll be celebrating Thanksgivukkah with Barb and Jeff and their friends – especially with Mina who is going to teach me to make latkes.
I think I also will celebrate Hurricane Thanksgiving. Just as soon as November is over.
I’m not kidding.
Knock on wood.
To show I’m not totally paranoid I offer the 11/19/2013 activity showing Hurricane Melissa – well technically she’s Sub-Tropical Storm Melissa.
And, to be clear, she started well north of us and she’s heading northeast.
Bob, one of my friends in Maine, ended a Twitter message recently with “Hope all is well in Paradise”.
It reminded me that even though EW and I aren’t exactly living the cruising life we desire this year – this really is our paradise – for now.
We are on our sailboat in the Caribbean. If we want, we could drop this mooring any time and sail off into the sunset -- or the sunrise. But by the time we actually choose to leave St. Thomas we’ll have been here for 18 months or so, and we’ll have had J.O.B.s for most of that time. This wasn’t what we dreamed about when we left Maine – but it’s what we have to do to be comfortable and safe on the next part of our journey.
Looking at things that way, right now my “paradise” is perhaps more like purgatory -- living aboard in St. Thomas, getting up to an alarm from EW’s iPad, seeing him only on evenings and occasional days off together, building up the cruising kitty and getting the boat ready for our next trip.
I laughed at myself after looking up “purgatory”. What elitist hyperbole. I am not suffering here. Although … if heaven is cruising and hell is living in a house in Maine … than living on the boat in the Caribbean is certainly between my two worlds.
CLARIFICATION: I loved our house in Maine and loved living aboard in Maine, but I have no desire to spend more winters on the dock under shrink wrap. It wasn’t hell then, but it would be hell now.
It’s helpful to remember that this life that we have right now – it’s someone’s paradise. Every day EW and I talk with tourists and cruise ship passengers who express delight and envy about our lifestyle. Most of them don’t mean it – really. For them it’s a dream, but it’s not their dream.
One person who did mean it had read my blog and book before taking a Caribbean Cruise Ship vacation. Here in St. Thomas they went on a day sailing adventure that included lunch on Honeymoon Beach where we were anchored. As they motored through the anchorage, Lynn recognized La Luna, and messaged me on Facebook from her phone.
We developed an on-line friendship, and I wrote three ridiculously long blog posts to provide her with answers to questions she didn’t even have – and some answers to those questions she did have. When Lynn and Keith said they envied our lifestyle – they meant it. They’ve bought a boat, moved aboard, and started a blog. They’re working out a few bugs, learning new skills, helping to get their young adult children settled, and adding safety and practical gear to the boat. Here’s a recent Facebook post from Keith:
Sitting on the "back porch" (our cockpit facing the Georgia Saw Grass swampland) and...Damn it's cold! You really notice the weather sitting on a boat. At least the 30kt/hr winds stopped. Last night we were rocking and rolling moaning and squeaking. We know exactly what time the wind began yesterday evening, and exactly what time the temperature dropped. No getting away from Mother Nature on a small craft sitting in 15 feet of salt water. Just 30 feet of small boat attached by a total of 120 feet of 1/2" three strand nylon in a world of wind and water. You watch for line chafe (wear due rubbing) I can tell you that! I can't describe what that is like. No hiding behind brick and insulation and drywall coated with paint. I love it!
He’s in paradise.
Though I may consider this time in St. Thomas to be purgatory, it’s helpful for me to remember that getting here was once our dream. Keith and Lynn will love it here. How fortunate we are – to sail to paradise.
I knew it had the potential of being one of those days before it even started. The dinghy has a hole in it that is partially fixed, which is like being a little pregnant. It has a hole. Until EW has two days off at the end of the week we inflate her up before every trip.
Since the dinghy will be hauled and under repair for a day and a half, I had to get 60 gallons of water on board myself. I also had to take EW’s laptop in for repair and purchase 4 ten-foot poles for the awning project, and get a few groceries. I had it all planned. First, I got 20 gallons of water after delivering EW to work. Then I cleaned up a bit, packed the laptop and headed ashore. All the while, writing in my head about this glimpse into a Caribbean live-aboard’s day. It wasn’t all that interesting, but I had plans to juice it up a bit. Fellow cruisers would go “oh-hum” and land-lubbers could once again be in awe of what we do to make it work. No big.
Here’s the much shortened version of the original post:
Tied up at dinghy dock; walked to computer store and was told technician was out for a week; walked back to marina office and asked them to keep the laptop for me; walked to pharmacy and grocery store, filling the backpack; walked from there to ACE and purchased 4 ten foot EMT steel poles, which they kindly taped together so I could carry them; gave cruise ship couple directions to three beaches ( Seriously, would you ask a sweaty blond with a backpack and four ten-foot poles for directions?); took the poles to the watering place; bought two more water jugs (more on that another time); filled up 6 five-gallon water jugs and carefully loaded it all aboard the somewhat deflated dinghy. (Should have pumped it up before filling the jugs.); headed back to the boat.
For future reference, the partially inflated dinghy does not plane when it carries 240 pounds of water, 4 ten-foot poles, me and a few groceries, so it was a slow, wet trip to the boat. There, I stowed the laptop and groceries in the cockpit, and then I removed the tape from the poles and carefully placed each one safely on board. Whew. See – I could have made that more interesting, but there’s already been two posts about getting water on board, and all cruisers/moored live-aboards have days like this.
Now, it gets interesting. My first priority of business was to get the poles in the awning, as we’ve had a bit of wind and the awning without poles causes the boat to “sail” on the mooring. So there I was on deck working this out when I heard our neighbor Stephanie from s/v Eagle, “Barb! Come help me!”
At sea or on the mooring, when a neighbor asks for help, you just go. Remember, I’m going in a slow, partially inflated dinghy with 240 pounds of water. I get aboard and start her up to head for Eagle when I see Steph in her dinghy heading past La Luna’s bow, so I follow. And there was Kookaburra, Jaime and Keith’s Island Spirit Catamaran, adrift heading down the mooring field. That is not a good thing.
Steph jumped on board but couldn’t get her started. Most of us leave the keys in the ignition for just such events, but Steph is on a monohull like I am. She tried to start the port engine and thought that they had left it unhooked to the battery. Actually, Kookaburra’s port engine is in the shop. They have a starboard engine only and while IO knew that I wasn’t all that confident that we’d be able to maneuver her on one engine – especially in the wind. Steph wanted me to call Keith and Jaime, but I didn’t have my phone on me and by now Kookaburra’s bow is heading for La Luna’s starboard side. We fend with dinghies and I suggest we simply tie her to our boat. I scramble back to La Luna for a dock line while Steph – the clear hero here – takes a line from her dinghy and ties it to Kookaburra’s port bow cleat.
In the meantime, I rig a line from our stern cleat, and we trade lines; I cleat Steph’s to La Luna, but my dock line is too short and Steph can’t attach it to the starboard cleat on Kookaburra. No worries. She’s a cat, with no heavy keel to weight her down, I found that I could – barely – pull the cleated line in so that both would attach.
Done. Safe. Whew. Steph says, “I have to go to work, you OK?” “Sure. I’ll give them a call.” So I get out my phone and text Keith. “This is the view off my stern. Everything is fine. No damage, but you need to call me.”
Then I called him and he came home.
He got his snorkel gear out and found the problem with his mooring. The shackle had broken – the pin was still wired to it, but the screw side of the equation had failed. In fact, it was hard to feel the screw ridges on the shackle (I know there’s a word for that. EDIT: EW has since told me that word is "Threads"). It was a bad shackle.
While Keith worked on his mooring, I worked to get the water aboard and the dinghy pumped up so that I could help with the next step – moving Kookaburra home. Keith didn’t think he’d be able to steer her well with one engine, so first we tried to tow her using the two lines we’d tied on the bows. I said to Keith, “Remember, I’m physics challenged. You will have to be clear with directions.” He agreed, and said, we’re going to move her towards shore so there are no boats between us and to try to keep the lines taut and pull in the same direction.
I failed big-time. And since Keith was way over on the port side, he couldn’t see what was happening. I tried to go forward and my boat was pulled so that I was hauling to starboard, straight out for Kookaburra’s hull. I figured I was doing something wrong, but found out that Keith was having the same experience. Note to self: tow catamarans from one position, preferably from the center -- however, as Stephanie and I discovered, it’s possible to tow from port or starboard bow in an emergency.
Keith got on board and started the working engine and I chugged along beside him ready for tugging duty. He was masterful at the controls and managed to attach to the mooring on the first try. I was no help at all.
All is well. Everyone is where they belong, and boy are my arms tired.
This was taken from the deck of La Luna. Of course conditions, wind and current change. At the time Kook escaped, she missed Sanctuary, passing her starboard side. P/V Macgregor is moored to our starboard and would have been hit by Kookaburra, but they had taken her in to Crown Bay for fuel. This was a good day.
There are more than 181 photos of pelicans on my camera. Pelicans are funny birds, very photogenic, and currently we are living cheek by fowl with them.
Small adult fish have been massing near shore and in the marinas, and they’ve been followed by larger fish, who’ve enticed still larger fish, and by pelicans. EW and I love watching the pelicans. These are brown pelicans, the smallest variety of pelican, and one of only two varieties who fish by diving. It’s the dive, and resulting “boosh!” -- something we describe as a boof/splash – that tickle us.
As Peter and LeeAnn on s/v Two Much Fun pointed out, the pelican will dive into the water, pop up, swallow the collected fish, and finally shake his or her tail feathers three times. So it’s
They eat 4 pounds of fish each day, leaving some time for resting and grooming. Fortunately, they rarely rest, groom, or void on La Luna and then only on the bow pulpit. They can accept that. We’ll clean the anchor the next time we throw it over.
While observing the pelicans in the marina, I was joined on the docks by a Great Egret who had probably been fishing along the shore in the next harbor. It seemed that he took a break from his sedate wading and fishing to watch the oafish, yet effective booshing method of the pelicans.
One day when we were on the mooring, I heard splashing and “booshing”, and went on deck to find a flock of pelicans were feeding off the starboard side. They had been joined by one brown booby who made short flights from pelican to pelican to grab any orts* available. Lazy bahs-sted.
* Ort is one of my favorite words, frequently found in crossword puzzles.