BVI – June 2010

BVI – June 2010

One day a few months ago we decided to gather together a crew and go to the British Virgin Islands.  I explained to the prospective crew members that I’d need to plant money right away on the trip to reserve the boat.  The time we chose was outside of the normal time frame of peak season and just before hurricane season.

My youngest son, Nick and his friend Benny wouldn’t go sailing with us because they were both afraid of the water, then one day called and said, “Why not?”So, we took them out on the boat for a day sail. They loved it and wanted to go again.  Nick suggested he could go to BVI with us, but unfortunately, the team had been chosen.

Unfortunately our first picks didn’t work out, and one couple couldn’t come up with money right off, so I canceled the trip right away before we even started the planning.  Then I rethought it and called Nick up.“You still want to go to BVI?”

“YES! How much money do you need?” he asked. I wasn’t sure and told him so.

“Let me know. The other couple couldn’t come up with money right away. I’ll make calls and figure this out,” I told him.

A day later, the trip was back on, this time with a slightly different crew.  Myself, JoAnne, Nick, Benny and my friend Jim whom I’ve known for about thirty years from my White House Communications Agency days.  Jim was game the first time I brought it up, and he’s a world traveler like JoAnne and myself anyway.  Nick and Benny are new to this stuff.

Over the course of the last few months we’ve made quite a production out of this whole vacation thing.  I’ve been studying every book I can get my hands on about everything from handling a boat in a storm, to anchoring the right way.  I’ve read several guides on the area, bought some charts and have been practicing plotting courses.

JoAnne has taken over the job of provisioning for this crew.  She’s made quite a production out of that as well.  She’s made up lists, deleted them, started over, contacted the company we’re working through for the arrangements, and made contacts with local stores to see the best way, cheapest way, how to get the food to the boat and so forth.  We even finally, made our galley/cook schedule.

Sitting in Rock Bottom the other evening we completed the list of food.  Then we put together the galley schedule.  As it turned out, she stopped me when I included myself in the list as cook.

“No, erase yourself off there,” she said.

“What? Is my cooking that bad? I’m only making sandwiches or something anyway,” I protested.

“No, you’re not working in the galley,” she insisted.  I was crestfallen. I’ve been working diligently for the past year learning to cook simple things.  I’m not a cook, never have been, though I make a mean chili, my idea of cooking is peanut butter sandwiches, soup and Irish Coffee.

“But…” I again protested.

“No. Look, you’re the skipper,” she said.

“Well you can take the helm even at anchor and make sure things are good. We’re not going to be cooking underway anyhow,” I insisted one last, valiant try.

“Sure, I can and when there is trouble, I’m calling you, not the boys or Jim. You’re the skipper,” she stated flatly. I thought it over and sipped my Tank Buster Brown beer and nodded finally in agreement.

“Can’t have me tied up cooking soup, certainly, I’ll bow out of cooking duties,” I smiled.  I don’t want to cook anyway.

“You can do dishes…. that’s something you can drop right away…” she grinned.

“Thanks. Dishes. I’d rather dive the anchor in thirty feet of shark infested waters,” I drank the rest of my beer and ordered another one.

Basically, we are working hard at being organized for this trip.  We have others besides ourselves counting on having some fun, and a nice, relaxing vacation.  So, we’ve gone way over board on planning and making sure things are just right.  Of course we both realize we need to remain flexible and bendable on most situations.

Our itinerary has is planned around going towards some particular location, and eventually anchoring out somewhere.  Stops along the way aren’t perfectly planned, only suggestions and if we get somewhere we want to stay instead, we will.  We’ve asked for input from the boys but have little more than “we’ll go with the flow”.  This should be a good trip.

By way of an explanation of two things, let me point out that the “boys” are 24, 25 and 40-something so, they are just “the boys” to us.  My travels in the past have involved the planning and execution of trips for the President and Vice President of the United States.  I would plan the trip, make sure we got there alive, all our equipment got there, the trip sites set up, communications handled and then when it was all over, everything collected, piece by piece, put back on the plane and we went home.

I never lost anyone, equipment or did we spend a lot of time planning all of this stuff ahead of time. It just “happened” with the minimalist amount of planning.  A vacation, however, is nothing like working.

While we never “made mistakes” with the White House, there are BOUND to be mistakes that will occur with people, especially those who’ve never made a trip out of the country before, while on vacation.  Therefore JoAnne and I have tried to consider every little detail to make the trip fun, as well as keep ourselves and the crew safe.

Apparently, as Skipper, it’s my job to bring them back alive, or deposit them safely on Gilligan’s Island.  At this point, I’m not sure who will play the part of Gilligan, but I know who gets to play Mary Ann and the Skipper – but I digress.

I’ll try to post here while on the trip if I have time to give a good idea of our location, what we’re doing and a few tid bits to keep everyone informed.

As a last note… I plan on being overly safe at anchorage. I’ll most likely dive my anchors every time for a few reasons.  I want to see if it set properly, and NOT in the coral. I want to understand the forces involved so I need to see things.  I want to observe, first hand how things work.  I mentioned before I’m a “hands on” kind of guy when it comes to learning.  I know the science, the theories now, have read a half dozen books on anchoring, anchoring techniques, types of anchors, stresses on the rode, chain, anchor flukes, but, by golly, I haven’t dived an anchor yet.

With that in mind, I went over yesterday to the local dive shop and we purchased new masks for ourselves and had them order prescription lenses – because frankly, I’m blind without my glasses and I can’t see anything but large, blurry objects.  So, I won’t know if I’m looking at the keel of a distant boat or the fin of a shark until it’s too late.  So… new diving mask.  I’ll keep that for a few years, for sure!  Guess I’ll order myself a snorkel before I forget it as well.

So… BVI, here we come, in about 100 days or so.  The counter is up on the main page if you want to keep track too!

BVI – 2010 – Wrap up

posted Jun 16, 2010, 9:40 AM by Rick Donaldson

I have been rather short on information because for the most part we were very busy while in BVI sailing and just having fun. I did try to do a few updates, but it required we be running the engine and the AC power on the boat to power up the wireless connection aboard the “Wombat”.So – I’ll do a wrap up here and now.

The trip was… to put it in the words of my son Nick who accompanied us as part of the crew, AMAZING.

With the noted exception of long on-ground times in airports, for the most part the entire adventure went smoothly.  There was on day of danger though that I must point out.

We were moored at Jost Van Dyke near the shore and I went below to hit the head after we had moored and relaxed a few minutes. When I returned, everyone on the boat had vacated in their snorkeling gear and were near the shoreline.  At one point the mooring fee collectors, a young man of about 14 driving a small skiff, and an older man who was doing the money collection came by.  As I’d already made a trip in to Foxy’s to pay the fee, I merely showed him the receipt for the mooring ball.

Twenty minutes later they were hauling ass up the shoreline in their skiff and by pure and plain luck didn’t kill two of my crew.  Nick was wearing a PFD, one of the big orange, you-can’t-miss-seeing-type and neither of the two people in the boat were looking where they were going.

Benny, seeing the on-coming boat grabbed and yanked Nick out of the path of the boat, Nick taking the side of the boat on his face.  As physics provides however, there is an equal and opposite reaction and the power used to pull Nick from under the on-coming skiff (and propeller blades) threw Benny bodily into the side of the boat injuring his shoulder and Nick’s head.

None of the injuries were serious.  And, as things go, the Coconut Telegraph had the story up and down the beach (and eventually to the next few islands inside of twenty four hours).  Of course of the people to whom I spoke it obviously Nick’s fault for “being there in the first place” even though they were on the shoreline.

“It’s a busy channel” said one shop owner I won’t name.

I don’t personally care how “busy” the channel was. It was still an area where not only Nick and Benny and some of my crew were swimming (in shallow water by the way) there were more than a dozen other swimmers out there by my count at the same time.

There is NO excuse for not looking where your boat is going, there is NO excuse for running over a swimmer who was wearing a highly visible life vest, and NO excuse for excessive speed in and around moored vessels. Period.

It brings to mind that those of us who chose to sail in the ocean, or even in the lakes in Colorado are taking our own lives into our hands, and that regardless of how well everyone else sails or drives their boats each of us must assume that the other people are clueless, not watching out and we must take it upon ourselves, regardless of any rules of the road, to avoid accidents at all costs.

With the exception of that incident however, everything else went well.

The rest of the trip was awesome. We visited Norman island, Cooper island, Virgin Gorda at the Baths and at the North Sound at Leverick Bay.  We sailed across the open sea to Anegada for a fantastic lobster dinner, had booby birds use the bow of the boat as a night-roost and we sailed across to Jost Van Dyke from Anegada.  We visited Sopher’s Hole and moored out near the Willie T on our next to last night.

We visited several places ashore, shopped (I didn’t buy anything other than ice, water, pop and some beer, oh, and a baseball cap from Tortola) and we tried different kinds of food, Pain Killers and conch fritters.  We practiced picking up moorings, anchoring and sailing under chart alone, but used GPS and a chart plotter to check our course, speed and distances as well.

We tried all the systems on the boat, made sure each crew member had a good education on trimming sails and setting the anchor.

All in all, the vacation part was great.  The sailing was fantastic in the Virgin Islands and we had a great time.

On a sad note… when I returned to work on Monday the 14th of June, I was notified that a friend whom I had worked with for many years died of a massive heart attack after he left work feeling poorly.  He apparently went through a tiny spot between a guard rail and a hill side into a deep ravine.  His truck and body were not found for several days, and he was missing for the whole time.  He was only 60 years old.

It drives home the “Dream” of setting sail and visiting foreign shores, new places and living life to it’s fullest.  I had a conversation with Kim on Thursday or Friday just prior to my departure… he said, “I’m looking forward to hearing about your trip. I’ve thought about doing something like that myself….”

I had wished him well and told him I’d see him in a couple of weeks.

Life is very, very short and death can come to all of us suddenly even when we think things are “ok” (see the snorkeling-boating accident above for instance).

Kim waited until he was 60 to consider “doing something like a trip to the Islands”.  He never made it.  I feel glad and honored to have known him, always smiling, always happy and I’m glad I am not waiting until I’m 60 do do things.

With that, this was indeed our “Practice Retirement”.

My wife and I are pushing forward with our plans to retire early, see as much of the world as we can before our time comes.  Unlike Kim, I’m in pretty good shape, somewhat athletic and have even lost weight and put on muscle over the past two years.  I’m not back to running 6 miles a day and I do have to take blood pressure meds to control my BP…. but, I certainly think that it’s time to give up on this stressful, sometimes hateful way we beat ourselves to death keeping up with the neighbors, wasting water on lawns we can’t keep green, spending massive monies on gasoline, JUST to GO TO WORK for someone else.

After over thirty years working for or with the US Government… I’m tired of it.  Staying in such a position as I hold will get me no where in life other than maintaining the systems I care for.  At least taking a lesser paying job and moving to a boat in a quiet harbor and sailing when we wish can and will help to get away from that sort of stress.

I guess it comes down to retire now, or die trying to get there….

Update BVI 2010

posted Jun 4, 2010, 3:06 PM by Rick Donaldson

We left Norman Island from Kelly’s Cove and headed north east to Cooper’s Island to Manchioneel Bay.  Spent a quiet evening there and the following morning we sailed to the Baths and spent a few hours.  Some of the crew snorkeled and some visited the island, caves and just explored.That afternoon we set sail for the North Sound at Virgin Gorda and found ourselves on a mooring in Leverick Bay in front of of the hotel and marina.  More snorkeling for some while Jim and I visited the beach bar and had a beer.

Early this morning we got up0 early, topped off water, grabbed some ice for the cooler and fridge then headed for Anagada about 14 nm north of us.  We arrived with little incident.  In fact, it was a very easy sail in, and some tense moments looking for reefs on either side of the boat as we moved through the narrow area.  We picked up a mooring here in Anegada and will likely remain here all of tomorrow and sail out on Sunday for Jost Van Dyke.

If I have time tomorrow to update, I will.

Thinking of you all and getting dressed for our lobster dinner.  Ok, I’m really just thinking of the Lobster at the moment!

We’re here…

posted Jun 2, 2010, 5:47 AM by Rick Donaldson

After a year of planning and coordination we finally made it here to the BVI.  We picked up our boat yesterday from TMM in Roadtown, S/V Wombat.  We had rough seas yesterday getting from Roadtown at Tortola.  We partially motored and partially sailed to Norman Island and the Bight.  We’re currently Moored off Kelly’s Cove on the west end of the island.We visited the Willie T last evening, and some of the crew spent a couple hours snorkeling the caves near by.

Today we’re supposed to head out for Virgin Gorda, looking for the Baths, after everyone is “better” from the rum last night. haha

Will do updates as time permits.

Seventy Days and counting down

posted Mar 22, 2010, 12:11 PM by Rick Donaldson

Today is 70 days before our departure for the BVI.Friday our new dive masks came.  JoAnne and I ordered them as I mentioned before, along with dry snorkels.  Everything arrived, brand new, in nice containers, along with our new, already-installed corrective lenses.  I tried my mask on and it fits fine, after some adjustment to the strap.  Amazingly, I can actually see out of the lenses.  Impressive.

JoAnne tried hers and could see fine.  Now we just need to try them out in the water before we go.

The Boat is all paid up.  We lack only paying for our provisioning – which the First Mate is handling over the next couple of weeks.  We have one more “go over” for the food list and hopefully the guys can take a few minutes to help us with that.

I still need to book a hotel for one night as well.  We’re thinking of Maria’s by the Sea – it’s kind of “downtown” from what I can see, near the strip, bars, etc, so we might go there.

Been boning up on my navigation and doing practice plots on the charts.  I think this will be a “piece of cake” even though the trip to Anegada has everyone concerned.  The way I see this, Anegada’s West End is about 12 nm from Virgin Gorda’s North South entrance.  All I have to do is guide the boat north, taking into account a small current (thus some drift) and keep my eyes open for the trees, the white roof and all those coral heads.

No problem.

Cheaper is better sometimes…

posted Mar 16, 2010, 8:41 AM by Rick Donaldson

We picked out some masks for snorkeling more than a month ago and asked for lenses for our prescriptions.  They keep moving the date back and telling us the stuff is on back order.  I tried to pay ahead of time but the place wouldn’t take our money.  I’m glad now.  We decided to go online and look.  Found the same masks and some extra equipment for half the cost.I’m sure someone will say, “Oh, you don’t know what you’re getting!” or “You shouldn’t trust those online places!” or even “Why wouldn’t you give money to a Scuba Shop instead of those online outfits who don’t care about you?”

Truth is, I’m tired of folks telling me I should spend MORE money on something just because it’s a brand name, or it’s a “well known shop”.  Give me a break.  I’ll take my chances on getting the same gear cheaper.  If it isn’t any good, then it cost me less than half the cost of two masks only, for masks, snorkels and some charts.  I’d say that’s a good deal.  If the masks work, then I win.  If they don’t, I’ll have a back up on the boat anyway.  So what?

Checking Charts and GPS reliance

posted Mar 16, 2010, 8:21 AM by Rick Donaldson

I’ve been studying the charts for BVI for the past few days. Everything is mostly in Line-of-Sight so doing course plots is kind of an exercise rather than a real job in knowing where one is at all times.We will be working out our course, speed and distances before we leave each morning (or afternoon)  and keep a running dead reckoning plot as best we can for practice though.  I’ll have the GPS just to back me up and to help out on our trip to Anegada.  The charts we have are marked with some GPS way points to make sure that we hit certain places and NOT hit certain objects.  Of course, one shouldn’t count on electronics exclusively and therefore I’ll be teaching our lookouts how to watch the water, the coloration and such for depths and coral heads.

Back to counting on equipment.  GPS. I’ve mentioned this before, but today I read an article about GPS in the Air Force Times.  Not precisely the worst magazine to read, and they have a lot of informative articles.

The link is at:

Schwartz said: “We must … proceed to build more resilient systems, including next-generation protected space communications and air-breathing or terrestrial alternatives and complements for a variety of space-based capabilities.”

Why? Because if an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) takes out satellites we have NO GPS capabilities. While our own (the United States) reliance on information technology is well known to our enemies, it is taken for granted by our own people.  Many countries aren’t as up there in technology as we are – and we have an advantage, at least militarily by using such technology. But can a mere sailor, such as myself be reliant on such technology and not place myself in danger? I think not.

It’s very interesting to have someone as well placed as Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz tell us not to trust GPS, not to count on it.  If the Air Force isn’t going to count on it, why should I listen to other sailors out there tell me that “Sextants are a waste of time”?

If the Navy still teaches the use of the sextant to their midshipman, why should I listen to other sailors out there tell me “I have a GPS, why do you want to learn something so archaic as a sextant?”

Well, golly. Perhaps as an electronics technician and engineer for over 40 years I know better. Electronics FAILS.  Your eyes might fail too.  Your sextant might fail. But the skills won’t fail you, and when the battery on the boat is gone, and you’re in a bad situation or stranded, or lost at sea, at least you can pick a direction and figure out where you are and perhaps raise enough cloth to push you in the general direction of a safe harbor.

Chances are good you won’t need any of that stuff if you just have an EPIRB. If it works, if the batteries aren’t dead.

I guess the point is, have a back up method to find out where you are, not just a backup GPS. Alternate methods for verifying your location is more important than your reliance on a particular way to do something.

Log Book, Float Plan

posted Feb 25, 2010, 11:02 AM by Rick Donaldson

Today I assembled my “log book” for the trip to BVI.  Having been a military guy for a long time and having to organize and coordinate trips for my troops and myself over the years in both Combat Communications and at the White House Communications Agency I figured out that keeping track of things hasn’t changed a bit.In the old days I had to know who the team was. Today, it’s the crew.
In the old days I was either the boss or number two. Today, I’m number one.
In the old days I kept a large, military note book with dividers. Today, I do the same thing.So I put together some boat information, a couple pages for contacts, radio log, a few general log pages to write things down (like where we are, what we’re doing, things like that), a visitor log for anyone that might come aboard to sign, a pre-departure checklist for the boat (safety gear and other necessities like checking the oil, through hulls, etc) and a set of pages for navigation.

Not sure that I’ll use most of this, but we are going to practice our coastal navigation, charting courses, and writing down waypoints or landmarks to get it in our heads better.  Reading a book and doing charts on the table at home are one thing, doing things on a boat are wholly another.

As for the float plan… I reckon from what I read on the internet (and you know how accurate that place is!) almost no one files any sort of a float plan, or emergency contact information anywhere. I find that amazing, since I have always done that even in the military.  Someone knew which plane I was getting on, where I was going, what time I ought to arrive and when I should be back home.  Someone, including the military always had emergency contact information.

Once I left for Ireland a few years ago with my wife on a vacation. I left contact data with my work.  They looked at me like I had three heads.

“What’s this for?”

“In case I don’t return so you know my flight information and when to expect me back,” I explained.

“Huh?” they looked at me blankly.

Apparently few people care to let others know or care enough about their relatives to give some indication when you don’t return perhaps someone ought to look for you.  Anyway, I created my own “Float Plan” and wrote the pages in a Word document so I can fill it in each time for each trip.  Obviously for this trip, which is a biggy for JoAnne and I and the crew, we want people to be aware of where we are, when we should return and that we’re going to be in a little boat in a big ocean.

Of course, everyone says, “It’ll be easy. Never out of sight of land.  The winds are always from one direction.”

We hope all that stuff we read on the internet isn’t wrong!

Airlines, again…

posted Feb 24, 2010, 11:02 AM by Rick Donaldson

The Airlines have again changed their scheduling and we’re now arriving “earlier” than before, but still later than originally planned.It’s a real pain in the rump counting on airlines to keep their schedules, but it’s ridiculous that several months out changes are being effected on airline tickets, flights or locations.

One thing after another….

posted Feb 8, 2010, 8:20 AM by Rick Donaldson

Over the course of the past few months we’ve set up our bare boat trip to the British Virgin Islands, chosen specifically from the advice of others.  It’s “easy sailing”, mostly visual navigation and very good for beginners.  We’re beginners.  My wife and I are less beginners now than we are “Novices”.  We can make the boat go where we want, we’re good at sailing up and dropping anchor at home in rocky, scary waters and we’re good at keeping the boat where we want it now.

We’re ready, we’re sure for a larger challenge.

What we weren’t ready for was the airlines making changes.  Our flights out of here were to take us out EARLY in the morning and put us, eventually, on Beef Island, BVI at about 6:30 PM local time.

A couple of days ago she received an email stating that our flights had “changed”.  Figures. Now they are putting us in late, like 9:30 PM or perhaps later.  The flight we were originally scheduled on was full.  It beats me how they simply canceled the flight, moved it back by three hours and it’s still full, and everyone is still getting to Beef Island.

I don’t understand airlines any more. I used to, but not any more.  I’m going to be completely exhausted and when we arrive I won’t have any energy left to go over the boat and get familiar with it.  Guess that will wait now until the following morning.

Well, I will be fine.  I suspect, however, my younger companions, not used to traveling, will be in much worse shape than myself.

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