Sunday, April 29, 2012

Of Fishing
In my younger days I had a love/hate relationship with fishing. I had the patience to sit there and tease something along and was infrequently rewarded with catching something alive that I had no desire to kill or eat.  I had no mentor and subsequently the fishing desire soon lost its allure.  Then came the Florida Keys. Warm water fish.  Within a millisecond of my first taste of US 1 road side smoked tuna, any thought of ever eating a Betty Crocker shake it but don’t break it overcooked flounder (sorry Mom) or a Mrs. Paul’s Fish Stick, were forever obliterated.  I ate Islamorada specialties of truly "caught that day” fish with some conch fritters or a bowl of fish chowder with sherry for every meal while there. I was transformed into a fish lover. Killing the catch was now, well, going to be part of the deal and, forgive me, I was hooked. 
Early on I had a friend who I grew up with on the New Jersey shore, John Duxbury, who eventually became a Captain of a professional charter fishing boat out of NJ and FL. So fishing was efficiently limited to waiting till a boat showed up at  the dock towards the end of the day at the Whale Harbor Inn (a few beverages in hand always made fishing easier). The times I spent on board fishing were limited, but I understood the process, although I also understand the process of brain surgery and probably would have equal success at both. My other mentor was Jack Curtis, an avid, very experienced angler,  who I watched hook-up and wrestle Marlin and Mahi off the back of Thai Hot on returns from Bermuda. Net-net, my personal fishing time was limited. Better at steering the boat, I seldom took a rod. Also the chances of landing and subsequently eating a fish were much higher with experts, and, after all, that is the ultimate goal.
At the beginning of this trip I was well supplied and coached from Capt. John & Jack about fishing. I also had purchased a “how to” book titled ”The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing” by Scott & Wendy Bannerot, and with that we went to sea.  A lot of the time sailing and getting a fish to bite and get boated at the same time is tough. One has to have conditions that a couple can dowse sails and control the boat while dealing with a potentially large, very unhappy fish that doesn’t want to be dinner. Much easier for a crew of four to five guys then a cruising couple.  And, the fish that I was looking for had brand names like Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo, Tuna and the like. Those fish liked deeper waters. They also liked areas that had small tasty things swimming about. Most waters of the southern Caribbean don’t have one or the other or both. Locals tend to eat everything, including the bait fish and the reef fish. But I tried. Dragging lures behind Thai Hot wherever we went.  And then it happened. Laura & I were motorsailing westward along the southern side of Puerto Rico when a small Barracuda took the lure.  It was a quick fight as the gear I was using was the “you’re dinner” heavy stuff not the ‘Oh Skippy, let’s go fly fishing for Marlin’ weight. Barracuda was not on the menu for a lot of reasons so it ended up being a catch and release.  The next hit was on our way to Turks & Cacos from Puerto Rico. I was surprised by the skyrocketing Bull Mahi-Mahi that was at the end of the line.  My first thought was DINNER, actually, lots of dinners. Throughout the Caribbean I was surprised at the lack of variety of fish and/or the price. Lobster dinners burned on 1/2 55 gal drums using garbage for fuel at only $54!, Wahoo steaks and a thimble of rice and frozen veggies for $36! Most places south of Guadeloupe there just wasn’t any offered. Shrimp that had been frozen and thawed more times than Newt has X’s or “fresh fish” / fish of the day, that came out of the freezer and was further tortured by the cooking staff. Red Snappers were common and we enjoyed them often. But I needed the real thing…

It was an ugly fight and gaff but, it is, after all, about results.

I'm not sure who's more surprised !

The evolution of fish, Swimming, Sashimi, Ceviche,  Blackened,  Happy Bride

I think we need a bigger cutting board..
(He measured 42 Inches)

Thanks to Jack and Capt. John.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Thai Hot Itinerary Update

Sunset in Tobago Cays, Jamesby Cay(left), Union(center) and Mayreau (right) islands in the back 

After speaking with lots of cruisers coming North we have switched strategies and are not staying South for the Summer. We will be sailing North back up the East Coast of the US as far as Laura’s resilience to the cold will let us (I’m thinking Maine, Laura’s thinking Boston). We should be in Antigua around mid March, hope to check out the Bucket Race in St. Barts  on the 22nd & 23rd  We have already seen some of these boats in the Islands but would LOVE to see these guys racing.  Working our way quickly West through the BVI’s & USVI to Spanish VI, Puerto Rico early April, Turks & Caicos, Bahamas, Hitting Florida and West Palm by early May. Should be in the NY area by mid June. We will be working South in October and November and plan to spend next winter primarily in the Bahamas and Southern Florida. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Beast From 10 Fathoms
The old grill came with the boat. A round, relatively small, Magma, maybe 14 inches across. Serviced by 1 lb. bottles of highly priced propane, actually, the propane was cheap but you had to buy the steel container it was packaged in (I can’t believe that no one is out making fiberglass ones).  My dream was to buy a big enough grill and a 10lb aluminum tank, connect the two and live out the rest of my days grilling shrimp the size of my fist. After a few seasons of living with my old grill with its little lava rocks and quirky hot and not so hot spots, I came to enjoy its simplicity, To the delight of the local fish an Italian sausage would occasionally roll off and over the low side accompanied by a twirl and a splash. These losses were rare and taken as part and parcel of grilling on a non-stationary platform.  The only serious lost was when I was lighting the grill with a long lighter, I created a fire ball that sent me backward in an effort to save my eyebrows. I inadvertently picked up the grates with the lighter and sent it flying into the deep. The fish and I were not amused. This was the first night of a two week vacation and we were loaded with little goodies patiently waiting in the fridge for their turn to be on the fire. Fortunately, we managed to find a ridiculously priced replacement at our next stop and were once again in BBQ heaven. The day arrived at last, the long researched square “Newport” Magma of my dreams was being heavily discounted at West Marine, shipping in the contiguous US free! Now was the time. I pounced on the web site and within a few seconds had one on its way to the house. Who cares if it’s February? Thoughts of grilled steak fragrances wafting downwind…
We used the standard rail mount clamp that worked so well with our old round grill, but felt that the grill was not quite outboard enough, and we were going through one pounders like candy on Halloween. I tried moving the base around but was not truly satisfied with its location. To cut down on the propane cylinders, we purchased a little brass contraption that allowed me to refill used one pounders from a larger propane tank. For a while, things were good. But alas, my anal tendencies goaded me, can you say OCD? I purchased an aluminum tank, a match to the two we already had on board. Always good to have redundancy I told myself. Also a 6 ft. hose, set up for a propane tank to a heater with all the right ends, and started my dream project. The set up worked perfectly out of the box on a few pieces of chicken and I thought we were on our way. All I had to do is mount the tank somewhere, wire-tie a few things, and we could get down to some serious grilling.  As Bugs would say “What a maroon”. The almost full propane tank stopped delivering. Odd. I changed tanks and it worked again. Bad or frozen tank valve on a brand new tank I thought. We were still in the Chesapeake heading south and after a couple of stops and some phone calls I located a propane distributor who could do the job. Great guys, even refilled the propane tank when done. So I happily brought my newly refitted tank back to the boat and, you guessed it…same problem. I started looking more closely at the hose then went back to the Internet. Sure enough, this wasn’t any old hose. Being a hose for a heater it had some built in “safety” features, and like the new tanks, had to have enough pressure on the fittings to open, it also had some spring loaded internal valves the size of 14 gauge wires inside the fittings. At this point I’m going to launch the hose into low atmosphere. I might as well see what makes it tick and set about carving off the ends and taking apart the fittings. I finally found a screw driver small enough to unscrew the internal restrictors and wire clamped the hose ends back on. Well I got flow; I got so much flow that I could cook a 4 lb roaster in 20 minutes. Flames were jumping out the back of the grill and I could not get any control of the heat. Turns out the little grill regulators are no match for that much propane under pressure. It took a while but I managed to just crack the valve on the tank enough to “leak” gas to the grill without a flame out. All this for a lousy hot dog, I should have just gone down to the local greasy spoon. With the gas issue under control I tackled the issue of location. I know that Magma sells these arms that sit in a fishing rod holder and are highly maneuverable.  Great, I’ll just buy one and a clamp on a rod holder then I can put the grill anywhere at whatever angle. I first started with an old rod holder we had on board, which, just as advertised could be mounted anywhere and all you need to do is drop in the grill. Unfortunately the new grill base was not tapered, the old holder was, and after a night of grilling, heating and cooling the two became stuck together. So stuck that one had to unscrew the holder and the now attached grill, from the rail, find a nice area to lay this out and beat the holder off with a winch handle. On an early attempt in Great Harbor, Peter Is, BVIs I hit it so hard that the drip pan jumped out and, of course, went immediately overboard. The fish were fine with this as it had not been cleaned yet. I was about to mark the spot with the rest of the grill & holder assembly but thought better about littering the sea floor.  So with that knowledge I mounted a new holder purchased from West Marine and tried again. It went in and out easily but never held the base firmly. The grill would rock back and forth like a bobble head and sometimes rotate off to one side. I had to make a point of mounting it straight up. It worked but always was on my mind when it was on the rail. At this point we had made it down to Guadeloupe and the “Saints” a small cluster of Islands belonging to Guadeloupe just South of the main Island. I was working on my next plan to mount and had placed the grill over the transom. We had a grilled lunch and even made some extra chicken for future lunches. All seemed well, until that evening…. Laura and I had just finished dinner and were running the engine to top off the batteries when a crash was heard on deck. We both jumped up to the cockpit looking for the cause.  The grill was gone. The mounting clamp was still attached, but the tube and its burden were gone, shaken apart with a combination of load shifting and engine vibration. We looked over the transom hoping the swim platform had caught it, but no luck. 60 ft to the bottom.  I could hear the fish screaming with delight, food and housing, maybe this was part of the long awaited artificial reef. I started to laugh, not the ”I saw the Three Stooges do this before” kind of laugh, but as Laura would subsequently describe it, a more institutional type of laughter, closer to a wail or a scream. I was torn. I could leave the evil thing at the bottom and learn to grill with a garbage tin lid, some old palm fronds and some gasoline siphoned from the outboard or perhaps start wrapping things in foil and heating them on the exhaust manifold. Tough choice.  I was not about to let a piece of equipment get me, and for the rest of the evening I planned my next move.  We had purchased a used dive tank in St Martin. This would mean taking my first dive in 16 years in equipment not used or serviced in 16 years and go on a salvage dive to 60+ ft. Brilliant. Next morning I pulled out the old gear and tank. The BC (Buoyancy Control) had a leak in its rubber bladder, a very bad thing, the master valve was releasing pressure via a safety valve due to the tank pressure being over the 3500 lbs. not expected but not a bad thing. All the regulators worked, the dive computer came up but it had a low battery warning. I guesstimated the weight on the belt I should wear.  Not to worry, we temporarily fixed the BC with the dingy repair kit. We dropped a weighted line from the stern to pull up the grill if I found it, and in I went.  Things came back pretty quickly, I guess your brain realizes the importance of such things and goes into overdrive. Breath normally, clear your ears, slow descent. I was happy the visibility was so good that I could see the bottom clearly from just below the surface. It was grass about 4 to 6 inches over sand on a sloping hill.  I hit bottom at 63 ft. and started to where I thought the grill should have hit. I was worried that as it fell through the water the grill tumbled and opened up spilling out the grates. They would be almost impossible to find in the water or at local boat stores. It would be easier to buy a whole new grill. I started in the direction of where I thought the grill should have landed and within a few minutes found it. It had stayed together but a top corner of the lid was mashed up and some tack welds had broken. I locked the cover and tried to pick it up. Not a chance. I held on to it and inflated my BC to its max. The grill finally came off the sea floor and we made our way to underneath the boat. After securing the grill to the lift line, I went back to find the mounting tube. It had to be close to the impact area of the grill. After a few sweeps up and down the hill I found that also. A home run! Time to get back to grilling. I ascended to the boat and handed over the tube to a jubilant Wife. We just needed to hoist the bugger up. I stayed in the water to watch the process and Laura put the haul line on a winch and cranked away. At the surface we switched to the dingy engine hoist and brought her home. Can't wait to see what new trick of fate awaits. 
There will be unhappy fish.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Final  on the BVI’s:  Pros: great sailing, easy navigation, lots of places  that are still worthwhile.  I’d still come back for Peter, Cooper, Virgin Gorda, the Dove and Anagada.  Cons: Very tough to anchor at Jost van Dyke, Norman, West End, due to the excessive mooring balls.  Most of the “cool” places have become merchandisers with pricy food of dubious quality. Vendors preying on charter boaters and cruise ships.

On to St. Martin.  The Wind Machine Director (WMD) in the nose of the boat was working overtime on our way to St. Barts to catch the New Year’s Celebration. We were hoping we could find a spot under the bow of some Sheik’s moving island to catch the fireworks and toast 2012 with fine Italian Prosecco. Alas, it was not to be. We fought a stiff current and breeze that only got stronger as we approached and decided to cut our losses and make Marigot Bay, St. Martin.  We found great little Creole restaurants, bakeries, cheese and wine shops, and kicked back. At least we won’t starve or go thirsty.  Broke perhaps. We immediately formed a habit consisting of croissants and espressos.
The Dingy Dock at Marigot, St. Martin 
We set out on New Year’s Eve with great expectations, foreign port, no Dick Clark mumbling into the mike. Turns out Marigot does not have a night life. We found two places doing a US style dinner-buffet all included gig which were already in motion.  We then happened upon an open air bar with a very short but highly enthusiastic Karaoke wrangler, cajoling patrons to pick songs and sing. It’s good to know that most French can’t carry a tune either. The crowd   and restaurant owner appeared to have been celebrating for most of the day and we had a blast watching the show.  The owner turned out to be from Sicily and was not shy about his feelings for the French or showing me his semi-automatic hand gun or describing his indiscretions in detail.  Luckily, he spoke with his hands.  The juice pretty much ran out about 10 and we drifted to one of the all-inclusive places that had a trumpet and piano accompanied by a sound machine. Most of the patrons had left and we were met with empty tables brimming with New Year’s Eve “equipment”: Pointy hats, sounding devices and adult size spit ball cannons.  Hopefully they will find an age appropriate place to go, perhaps kindergarten class. The music was quite good but the whole affair ended at 11:45 PM. I checked my ZULU offset 3 times.  We closed the year out at our floating home with our own bottle of bubbly.
While coming in from the BVIs we were plagued once again by leaking water from the cap rail even after re-epoxying some of the seams and made the decision to varnish. Also took some time to correct some issues with the reefing system. Nice work done at FKG on the Dutch side. Delivering the boom on the dink:
No job too big for  "Lil Peppa"

After 19 days it was well past the time to move on and we made our way to St. Barts. There was a great nature walk at our first anchorage from St. Anse de Columbier to Anse des Flamandes .  Good place to off gas, swim, clean the bottom and regroup. The main town of St Barts is Gustavia, filled with a flotilla of Saudi Sheiks love palaces and over upscale clothing boutiques.  There were some local joints filled with foul smelling, chain smoking, unkempt Frenchmen drinking absinthe and hoping they looked like a cross between Marlon Brando and Gerard-Depardieu but they generally kept to themselves and urinated in private.

 Anse des Flamandes, St Barts.

We made our way to Statia or St. Eustatius depending on which chart you are using. Nice place, mediocre Chinese food, with a very rolly harbor which ended up shorting our stay. Then Nevis, where the first person we met was an Ossie Davis look alike winner. Charming guy, followed by the not so charming rasta man who tried to sell us everything from homemade reggae sounds to Island tours. The guy was everywhere on the Island and relentless, perhaps there was more than one. We also got introduced to the EC, a currency that no one out of the Caribbean has heard about, including your bank. Pegged at 2.67 per US dollar, it is how business gets done. It is colorful with lots of pictures of English monarchy, but any currency with a 1 and a 2 cent coin can’t be taken seriously. Once out of the main city of Charlestown the Island was strewn with old plantations converted into hotels and resorts and the shoreline was dotted with upscale homes and restaurants. Very nice.

We tried to sail to Guadeloupe but the WMD was working and we took shelter for the night in Montserrat, sleeping next to an active volcano. Notice we are upwind…

Steamy at Montserrat

Next Guadeloupe and why I should have studied French instead of Ebonics. (Damn those Liberals)