Detomo's Abroad

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Viet Nam – Ha Noi

January 27, 2015 5:30 pm

January 2015

Ha Noi, Vietnam

70Hanoi_IMG_1611
Having been in military service during the early 1970’s, but never deployed, there was this desire to actually get to Indochina, a place that none of us had ever visited. Vantage travel offered us the opportunity, and we, along with Pam & A.J., Julie’s sister and brother-in-law, began our travel with a series of air flights from Orlando to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Ha Noi, Vietnam. Ha Noi’s airport was new and modern, having just opened to the public. From there, we traveled by charter bus to the Hanoi Sofitel Hotel as we learned a bit about the country’s long history and current circumstances. One of the tidbits of information was that, in Vietnamese, all words are actually 1 syllable, thus the city spellings that you observe in this log. Also, as one would expect in this region and in a city of ~6 million people, (Vietnam is a country of ~95 million), the streets were dominated by motorbikes carrying passengers, furniture and whole families.

 

Enjoying "Welcome" Drinks - Julie, AJ, Roc & Pam

Enjoying “Welcome” Drinks – Julie, AJ, Roc & Pam

After arriving and settling in a beautiful hotel room overlooking two lakes in downtown Ha Noi, we went for a walk along the road between the two lakes, visiting a Buddhist Temple, engaging the local vendors, dodging motorbikes and looking for The Season’s Restaurant. Upon returning, we were hosted with a great “Welcome” dinner, and finished the night with nightcaps on the Hotel’s roof bar.

Sofitel Plaza Ha Noi

Sofitel Plaza Ha Noi

 

Tran Quoc Pagoda  - a Buddhist Temple

Tran Quoc Pagoda – a Buddhist Temple

In the morning, after a huge buffet breakfast at the Hotel, we took a bus to the Ho Chi Minh memorial, where we observed his mummified remains under fairly tight security. It turns out that although Ho Chi Minh wanted to be cremated, his body was preserved by the Russians against his wishes. Ho Chi Minh was born in 1890, and was educated and lived many years in France until he was arrested for Communist agitation. After release and fleeing to Hong Kong, he was arrested again and held until his release was negotiated. As a founder of The Communist Party, Ho Chi Minh travelled extensively to Europe, Russia and the United States, spoke 17 languages and wrote in 7, and fought for Vietnam’s independence from France. After World War 2, Vietnam was granted independence on September 2nd, 1945, where at the Geneva Accord, it was decided that the country would be split into North, under the direction of Ho Chi Minh, and the South, under the presidency of Dang, (supported by the French), with a reunification election (which never happened), scheduled in 3 years. The issue of reunification escalated into the familiar Vietnam War with Ho Chi Minh seeking help from communist Soviet Union and China, and the South being supported by France and the United States. Ho Chi Minh dies in Hanoi on September 2nd, 1969 and the war with the USA ends in 1975. He never married and had no surviving family or children. In addition to visiting the Ho Chi Minh Memorial, we went to the site of his residence, the city’s former Zoo and Gardens where he met foreign dignitaries and lived simply.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

 

Ho Chi Minh's Vestige at the Presidential Palace Area - the Gardens

Ho Chi Minh’s Vestige at the Presidential Palace Area – the Gardens

After this tour, we took the time to walk through the old town Ha Noi markets, where every sort of animal, (cooked or raw), and every sort of fresh fruit and vegetable was readily available.

 

Market - fruits and veggies- can you find the dragon fruit?

Market – fruits and veggies- can you find the dragon fruit?

 

Market  - eggs and seafood

Market – eggs and seafood

From there, we traveled to a local Buddhist temple for lunch, where the Temple’s nun was running an orphanage for 50 children.

Bo De Buddhist Monastery

Bo De Buddhist Monastery

After lunch, we returned to the Hotel where we had drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the roof before traveling via cab to The Season’s Restaurant for a wonderful 7 course meal for only $17 each!

Bridge tween 2 lakes with Temple on the right.

View from the Roof – Bridge tween 2 lakes with Temple on the right.

In the morning, we had breakfast, and used our short amount of free time to travel to Starbucks, where we enjoyed a coffee and watched the local power line workers, before returning to the hotel to pack and travel to the airport, for our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, with our time in Ha
Noi now at an end.

Banana's or Pineapple's?

Banana’s or Pineapple’s?

 

How many boxes can one motorcycle carry?

How many boxes can one motorcycle carry?

The Great Caribbean Sailing Adventure (GCSA) of 2014 – Part 5

December 24, 2014 3:54 pm

It is now Friday morning, October 10th, and our great Caribbean adventure has the remaining four of us, Peter, Nikki, Julie and Rocky, in Phillipsburg, St. Martins with no schedule to keep and only our whims to drive us. After collecting groceries and boat fuel, and checking in and out of the country, we reorganized and cleaned the boat and began a leisurely “sail” to Anguilla. Unfortunately, the wind was still from the west, requiring us to motor-sail part of the day, but this allowed Rocky to catch a 3’ barracuda, which we filleted on the back of the boat in preparation for an upcoming dinner. After arriving in Road Bay, Anguilla, we took the dingy ashore to a restaurant named Roy’s, where we ate dinner and met Roy and his daughter, our waitress, Clara – a British family that had been running their business there for years. That night, after returning to the boat, we prepared for the long crossing back to the BVIs by wrestling the motor off the dingy onto the back of our sailboat, and settling in for an early, quiet night.
We rose early, before dawn, the next morning, pulled anchor and set off for Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, arriving 11 hours later at Gun Creek Bay to seek out Customs to check-in. However, the Bay looked deserted, and so we moved the boat to nearby Leverick Bay to anchor for the night. Since Pusser’s restaurant ashore wasn’t open, we ate a dinner of barracuda and chicken on board, and called it a night.

Rocky caught a Baracuda

Rocky caught a Baracuda

The next morning, we went ashore to shop for a few groceries and check on the weather forecast, as a storm named Gonzalo had formed to the East and was heading into the Caribbean. After breakfast, we sailed to Spanish Town to check into the BVI – our final country and the home of the Grande Plaisance III. Then, we sailed around the corner and picked up a mooring ball at The Baths – a series of large granite boulders scattered along the shore – that form a series of trails and tunnels that eventually lead to the top of the bluff. After tying up our dingy on a swim area buoy-line, (no beach access for vessels), and swimming to shore, we took the trail and visited our historical favorite spots along the way, (Dave’s Living Room, Swim Model Boulder, The Window), and proceeded to The Top of the Baths where we enjoyed drinks and appetizers and the wonderful view.

In Dave's Living Room at the Baths - Julie, Rocky and Nikki

In Dave’s Living Room at the Baths – Julie, Rocky and Nikki

After returning to the boat, we sailed to The Bight at Norman Island – an historic site where the inspiration for Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” came from, and the home of Willy-T’s – a floating ship that doubles as a night Club and bar. We anchored a short distance from Willy-T’s. That night, we put on our best party clothes at went to Willy-T’s for drinks and burgers and were met by a huge growing crowd of visitors and locals who speed-boated over from Tortola. As usual, the crowd was drinking and dancing, jumping off the second-story dance floor and partying like there was no tomorrow late into the night. After contributing our fair share to the party, we dragged ourselves back to the boat for a few hours of sleep in what was left of the night.
We awoke the next morning, Monday, October 13th, to the bad news that the storm, Gonzalo, was now a hurricane and it was headed our way. After checking in with the Charter Company at the Marina, we were instructed to bring the boat into the slip to sit out the storm. We sailed that morning to the boat’s home port – Hodges Creek – where we boat the boat into a secure position at the dock, and prepared it for the impending storm. Meanwhile, we checked into a room at the Marina’s hotel where chaos was breaking out as frantic sailors came in search of rooms that were in very short supply. After battening down the boat (tying down the boom and sail, removing the bimini’s and cushions, removing perishables from the refrigerator, setting the anchor, etc.) we headed off to Pusser’s restaurant for dinner and drinks, before returning for an uncertain night at the hotel.
That night the rains came and the winds blew, but we were lucky and the hurricane passed a good bit to the north of us, leaving us with a beautiful morning sunrise. Peter and Rocky started putting the boat back together while Nikki and Julie headed to town for our last big supply run. After getting ice, water and fuel, we were back on the water before lunch and heading to Peter Island where we picked up a mooring ball, preparing to hook-up with the first night of the Interline Regatta people at the Ocean Beach Club. However, we soon realized that the hurricane closed the Club, and that the party was moved to Willy-T’s back at Norman Island. We quickly moved to the new location, picked up a mooring ball, and soon found ourselves surrounded by vessels already in the area for the upcoming Regatta – an annual sailing race between airlines that bring a large number of pilot’s, stewardesses and partyers to the islands. That night, we were back in our familiar places aboard the floating club, where the party took a more sedate and relaxed attitude in spite of the fact that it was Toga theme night. We met people, danced a bit, and closed the party up before returning to our boat for the night.
The next morning, we had a big breakfast on board, and then left to sail to Sandy Island – a small, isolated but beautiful island in the middle of Drake Channel. Once there, we struggled to get a mooring ball or to get our anchor to hold, so after a good swim to the island, a bit of floating on rafts off the stern and lunch, we left to head to Cane Garden Bay, the next stop on the Interline Regatta’s nightly ports. We arrived early, but not so early that there weren’t already a considerable number of vessels already there, and we hurried to pick up one of the few remaining mooring balls in a good location. While there, we observed a couple alone on a 34’ sailboat struggling to pick up a mooring ball, ending up in the water to rescue their boat hook. It then became apparent that their dingy motor would not start, and so we went over to offer assistance. The couple, Mickey and Denise, were a fun pair who joined us when we went ashore to attend the Interline Regatta’s nightly themed party (80’s night) at Quitos Gazebo Beach Bar & Club. The night was filled with meeting new people, dancing and exploring the local club. Mickey was a Fedex pilot, and Denise worked at UPS. This was their first sailing adventure, and they only just got onto their charter boat because of the hurricane delays. We made a modest night of it, and returned our new friends to their boat before retiring ourselves. In the morning, we finally got a day of good wind, and spent the day sailing before heading for Marina Cay for the night. During the day, a few wind gust came up, and we encountered a bit of adventure when the port genoa line snapped leaving us scramble to get the jib back under control. After substituting an extra dock line for the broken line, we reefed the sails and went into the port where Rocky broke the boat hook while trying to hook onto a mooring ball. After finally getting settled in port, we were surprised to see our new friends, Mickey and Denise, come into port, still without a working dingy. We enjoyed drinks and snacks with them before all of us heading to shore for dinner at another Pusser’s Restaurant. On this night, The Interline Regatta is having its Race Kickoff back in Road Town, Tortola, and a place we would rather avoid. And so, instead we spend an excellent evening in a quiet harbor, among friends – new and old!

Peter & Rocky

Peter & Rocky

The next morning is a beautiful day, but a sad one, as it will be our last full day on the boat. Today, we set sail for Savanah Bay, a tricky isolated bay that only has a narrow entry between the reefs. After negotiating our way in, we set anchor and enjoy the time swimming, snorkeling and eating lunch, before pulling anchor and heading off to The Bitter End, the last port to the furthest east of the BVI. On the way there, we gauge our sailing as we can see the Regatta racers maneuvering in the distance, as they are heading to the same port. WE beat them there and take up a prime location on a mooring ball near the Bitter End Yacht Club. After dinner at the restaurant on Saba Rock, a tiny island in the middle of the narrow channel, we dress up and head to the Yacht Club for the nightly Regatta party, and who do we meet, but our friends Mickey and Denise – fully dressed for “Viking” night. That night, the party is in full swing, and it is late when we say goodbye to our new friends and call the night over.

Mickey & Denise

Mickey & Denise

The morning is Saturday, October 18th, and after we release from the mooring ball, we begin our last sail back to Hodge’s Creek to turn the boat back in. The check-in goes quickly, and we are packed and in the taxi to the Ferry Dock before noon. After checking in at the Ferry Dock for the 2:30pm Ferry, we walk across the street for a last local meal at the Road Town, Tortola Pusser’s restaurant. We toast a final BVI toast before boarding the Ferry for our 1 hour trip back to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In St. Thomas, we taxi to our hotel on the beach near the airport, where we swim in the pool and share dinner in the restaurant with a wedding party celebrating their “big day”. The next morning, it is up and out at 5:30am for an 8:00am flight to Miami which arrives back in the U.S. mainland at 11:00am. It is then a 90 minute train ride back to Palm Bay to Peter & Nikki’s Condo, where we say our sad goodbyes and finish our nearly-6-week Great Caribbean Sailing Adventure. What everyone agrees on – What a Great Trip!!

DCIM100GOPRO

The Great Caribbean Sailing Adventure (GCSA) of 2014 – Part 4

3:40 pm

It is Friday morning, October 3rd, and our new group of 8 set off under good skies and 7-10 knot wind conditions. Unfortunately, these conditions were not as appreciated by some of our “crew” and a few bouts of seasickness needed to be fought-off. We left Marin, Martinique behind at 9:00am intending to sail all day to Guadeloupe, but decided to sail more “gently” and call the day short by coming into port in Dominica for the evening. We arrived too late to check into the country, but grilled shrimp and chicken on-board and enjoyed a quiet night. The next morning, we left Dominica before 8:00am and decided to head for Isle de Saintes, off the southern coast on Guadeloupe. We had missed this stop on the way south due to having to make port for mechanical repairs, and the good weather now dictated we take advantage of this stop on the way north. After setting anchor in early afternoon, we jumped off the boat, swan in the bay, and enjoyed a lunch on board before setting off to visit the local town. We took the occasion to check into the country of Guadeloupe, and shopped along the beautiful, quaint French town. Back on board, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset, good company and friends.

Jeff at the Wheel

Jeff at the Wheel

 

The next morning, we left at sun-up and headed for Montserrat. Along the way, we stopped at the port of Deshaises along the west coast of Guadeloupe for lunch. Later in the day, the sail past the southern coast of Monserrat with the sun over our left shoulders, gave a clear view of the volcanic eruptions from 2 decades ago. Giant ash and lava flows from the mountain top all the way to the sea and burying the former capital town were as clear as the smell of sulfur in the air.

Montserrat

Montserrat

We arrived at Little Bay just before dark, but were disappointed to find that our “friend” Pont was not available to open his restaurant. Instead, we negotiated with a local vendor for beers and fish and chips, which she cooked one at a time in a skillet, while we avoided the blasting music and voracious mosquitoes. All in all, the meal was quite a bargain, despite the wait, and we regretfully made our way back to the boat only to endure a very rolly night in port. Whether it was the rolling seas or just an untimely accident, that night Julie and Rocky were surprisingly awakened by the fiberglass roof of their cabin coming unfastened and falling down on them. After a bit of ruckus and a refastening of the cabin roof, the rest of the night went quietly and quickly. However, the morning brought us a wind shift out of the north, forcing us to motor all day into the wind through rough seas, on our way to Antigua. Along the way, Rick brought us a bit of excitement as he hooked up a beautiful 30” blue & green Dorado, which he cleaned on the back of the boat and delivered into our freezer.

English Harbour, Antigua

English Harbour, Antigua

Upon reaching English Harbour in Antigua, we initially dropped anchor in the bay, where we snagged on an old rope from the bay’s bottom. After cutting ourselves loose, we took the boat up to a docking at the wharf where we had easy access to shore, power and water. English Harbour was a wonderfully, historically restored port that served as the headquarters of the British Navy for over a century. We marveled at the many displays and buildings, and after purchasing much needed supplies, arranged for dinner at a local pub. That evening, in the quiet of the falling darkness, local fisherman came to the wharf to try their hand at catching local fare. One young, inexperienced couple were learning their way, when disaster struck, and they dropped their rod and reel over the side of the wharf. Rocky reacted quickly, and fished the gear from the water before it sank returning it to the grateful couple.
Come morning, we were awakened by the bleating of a group of wild goats that came down from the hillsides looking for low-hanging tree branches. After a breakfast from our now-favorite pub, we continued our sail north to the island of Barbuda. Along the way, fisherman Rick caught a 4’ barracuda which we cut loose in respect for the size of his teeth and our personal safety. Arriving at Barbuda, we negotiated a long, extended network of reefs to come up to the beach bar shore on the west side of the island. The island is large and low, with a huge lagoon immediately across from the sand bar where we stopped, and with the capital town of Codrington along the mainland on the other side. Since it was late, we admired the deserted pink sand beaches from the boat, anchored in a sandy area, and settled in for a dinner of our caught fish, chicken and rice.

Debby and Julie relaxing in the calm blue waters of Barbuda.

Debby and Julie relaxing in the calm blue waters of Barbuda.

The next morning awoke us to absolutely no wind, and so we decided to stay the day before continuing our journey. We took the morning to explore the pink beaches, check-in and gather supplies in Codrington, and talk with the locals about setting up a catered dinner onshore. After repositioning our boat closer to the middle of Barbuda’s famous 16-mile long continuous beach, we watched as a barge brought heavy digging equipment to the beach to cut a channel to the lagoon, and found our attention caught by a local lagoon fisherman frantically waving to us from onshore. After taking the dingy over to see what he wanted, we learned that he wanted to sell us live, fresh lobsters for $5 per lb. We all agreed on two 1 ½ lb. lobsters each which we parlayed into 17 lobsters for $110. Peter then negotiated with the local vendor who was cooking us a catered dinner ashore (fish, rice, potatoes, plantains, fruit, vegetables, bread and tea for $25 each) to add in and prepare the lobsters, and we settled into a local hut ashore for our huge feast. Although the food was wonderful, once dusk hit, the mosquitoes attacked in-mass, causing us to collect our huge quantities of leftovers and retreat back to our boat for nightcaps and the sunset.

Happy Hour (Circling left to right: Rocky, Nikki, Debby, Mary Jane, Jeff, Peter & Rick)

Happy Hour (Circling left to right: Rocky, Nikki, Debby, Mary Jane, Jeff, Peter & Rick)

Unfortunately, the next morning, (Thursday, October 9th), bought wind out of the west – directly from the direction we needed to travel, but we were now out of time, and we needed to get to St. Martins by the end of the day. We left early (5:30am) and spent the first half of the day motoring west, and tried to motor sail the rest of the way, arriving in Phillipsburg, St Martins after dark. We carefully slipped into the bay between the many dark anchored boats, and found a place to settle. Once anchored, we said our sad goodbyes, and Rocky ferried Rick, Mary Jane, Jeff and Debbie, and their gear, ashore. Not to be boring, Rocky got into a verbal confrontation with the local Marina Patrol, and after apologizing and avoiding any serious consequences, returned safety to the boat which would now continue with only the four of us. That night, we had a spectacular meal of leftover lobster stir-fry, and settled back for the final leg of our Great Caribbean Adventure.

The Great Caribbean Sailing Adventure (GCSA) of 2014 – Part 3

November 28, 2014 8:31 pm

After updating our supplies, the six of us set sail on the 26th of September, heading north for Tyrell Bay in Carriacou where we would be able to check out of the Grenadines. Along the way, we celebrated Alyson’s birthday, and Walt demonstrated his gallantry by rescuing her party-hat from an unfortunate gust of wind that carried it into the ocean. That night we grilled on the boat and spent time talking teaching Alyson and Walt the card game of Hearts. The next morning we arose early, and set sail for Clifton Bay in Union to check into St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We were met by two enterprising young men, (“Brooklyn” and Romeo), who ferried us ashore to Customs and Immigration, and with who we arranged an ashore catered lobster dinner in the Tobago Cays that night. After completing our business ashore, we left Union, made the short sail to the Tobago Cays where we spent the afternoon swimming with turtles and exploring the local islands until evening arrived.

walt&alyson

Then, we dressed in our best beach-ware and dingy-ed ashore where we were met by “Brooklyn” and Romeo who prepared us a huge grilled lobster feast with all of the trimmings and side-dishes. After returning to the boat, we enjoyed nightcaps and watched the stars and meteor showers before retiring for the night.

 

Lobsters

Lobsters

Girls in Sunday Best:  Allyson, Walt & Julie

Girls in Sunday Best: Allyson, Walt & Julie

The next morning, Sunday, the girls made us a huge breakfast and we spent the whole day exploring the local area – checking out the sting rays, turtles and sharks, taking the dingy across the reef to explore a deserted island, shopping at a local beach vendor’s display, and catching three large conchs that we cleaned and the girls used that evening to make fantastic homemade conch fritters and conch ceviche! After dinner, we followed the New Orleans Saints game online and finished with an hilarious game of cards before calling it a night.

Nikki & Allyson

Nikki & Allyson

On Monday, September 29th, we reluctantly left the Tobago Cays in late morning, but not before picking up another 3 conchs on the way, and cleaning them as we sailed. Walt took the wheel for most of the trip to the island of Bequia, St. Vincent where we dropped anchor in Admiralty Bay and went ashore in Port Elizabeth for drinks at Maria’s, while we waited for Customs and Immigration to reopen to check out of the country. After handling these requirements, we returned to the boat for the highly anticipated “round two” of homemade conch fritters and conch ceviche, which we complemented with a fresh salad for dinner. Another relaxing evening of music, conversation, nightcaps and cards rounded out our day.
The next morning, the boys got the boat underway at 6:30am in preparation for a very long day’s sail from Bequia to beautiful Marigot Bay in St. Lucia – a 75 mile trip! Luckily, the winds were good to us, and with the boat healed and traveling at over 9 knots, we made our destination by 4:00pm, while introducing Walt and Alyson to a whole new level of sailing, which they very much enjoyed. The favorable timing allowed us to check in and out of the country of St. Lucia and to engage a local “dingy service” (“Liquid Sunshine’s”) to take us ashore for a sunset dinner at Doolittles, where we were serenaded by singing waitresses, and we enjoyed excellent meals of local delicacies, including swordfish and mussels.
The next morning, we left Marigot Bay about 9:00am, and headed for Martinique. Again, the winds were great, and we made the 30+ mile journey in about 5 hours, arriving in the port of Marin at about 2:00pm. Along the way, we were accompanied for a while by another pod of dolphins that played about the waves on our bow. When we arrived, we anchored in the bay off Marin, jumped in and swam in the local waters. Walt grilled hot dogs and sausages for lunch, and the afternoon degenerated in a discussion of sexual prowess and demonstrations of “winky” dances.

Peter, Walt & Rocky

Peter, Walt & Rocky

That evening, we went ashore for cocktails, (beers and wine), before returning to the boat for a dinner of grilled shrimp and chicken. That night, after days of playing “possum” at cards, Walt clobbered everyone with an overwhelming victory. The next morning (Thursday, October 2nd) we went to the fuel dock to top-off, and checked into our familiar boat slip for the night. This allowed us to check into the country, to say our sad “goodbyes” to Walt and Alyson, and to pick-up two new couples, Jeff and Debbie, and Rick and Mary Jane, who arrived later that afternoon. That night, our new group of eight all returned to our previously-visited onshore restaurant where we enjoyed great food and talked of our anticipated adventures. As usual with new arrivals, the drinking and partying lasted well into the night onboard our boat.

The Great Caribbean Sailing Adventure (GCSA) of 2014 – Part 2

8:23 pm

On Sunday, September 21st, we set off at 8:30am to begin our 47 mile journey to St. Lucia. The weather was overcast and rainy, and the seas were choppy, which did not make for a pleasant ride for first-timer, Elaine. Along the way, we were again blessed with a school of porpoises riding along our bow, and this cheered everyone up. Since the day was rough, and the day was long, we decided to cut our planned trip short of going all the way to Soufriere in St. Lucia, and instead stopped at The Pitons at 5:00pm, where we met by the Park Ranger, Jean Claude, who allowed us to pay for a mooring ball, and gave us “a pass” on Customs and Immigration. A local boat-boy arranged for us to purchase a two -foot tuna which we cleaned and prepared half for cooking. That night, we grilled the tuna and some store-purchased tilapia on the back of the boat, and sat and talked and listened to music until bedtime claimed us.

theguys-1

Bob, Rocky, Terry & Peter

 

Elaine at the wheel

Elaine at the wheel

Terry on the Wheel

Terry on the Wheel

We arose early, and set off at 9:00am for the island of Bequia in St. Vincent. Making a stop at this port would allow us to check into the country that includes our next destination, the Tobago Cays, and would give us a chance to get supplies. The trip was long and the weather overcast, but we arrived in Admiralty Bay in Port Elizabeth before dark at ~5:00pm which gave us enough time to check into the country. While onshore, we decided to eat at Maria’s Café, where we met two interesting English gentlemen who had just crossed the Atlantic with their ~40 ft. sailboat. We sampled the local beer and food, talked with the locals and visitors, and headed back to our boat in the dark for a final nightcap an good night’s sleep. The Tobago Cays are a short distance from here, and so we rose, had breakfast and lifted anchor at ~9:00am, getting to our stop in The Cays by 2:00pm. After picking up a mooring ball, we swam with turtles and stingrays in the sanctuary, explored the local islands, met with the local supply boat-men (“Mandy Man” and “The Today” boat – our former contact, Mr. Quality, was “on holiday”), and grilled our remaining tuna for dinner. The next morning we spent leisurely enjoys the Tobago Cays, as we snorkeled until lunch before we let loose our mooring ball at ~11:00am and headed for Union, the largest southern-most island of St. Vincent, where we could check out of the country. The local boat-boys were very helpful shuttling us to shore and aiding some of us in getting ice, wine and charcoal while others checked out at Immigration.

Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays

Turtles

Turtles

We made it out of Union by 1:00pm and sailed the rest of the day to the Port Louis, Grenada, arriving in the dark at ~7:00pm. We carefully entered the bay, nervously maneuvering around anchored boats, until we found a suitable place to set our own anchor. We then grilled chicken and shrimp on the BBQ, complemented with veggies, salad and wine, and took the dingy to shore at ~9:00pm to pick up our next guests – Walt and Alyson. After confusion over which dock to meet on, we met up, loaded their gear and them into the dingy and took them on a journey into a sea of darkness, until we arrived at our boat, where they were welcomed with drinks, conversations and music into the wee hours of the night. The next morning, after checking into immigration, we sailed a short distance to Dragon Bay where we swam along the coral reef and explored the underwater art statue exhibits of Jason Taylor at Moilinere Bay (www.underwatersculpture.com/projects/grenada). We then ate lunch at the local Dragon Bay beach restaurant, watched Alyson play dominoes with the locals, and then went into the Dream Yacht’s Port Louis Marina, where we docked for the night. That night, the 4 of us (Rocky, Julie, Terry and Elaine) checked into a beach resort down the coast for a little “R&R”, and met everyone a walk-away down the beach that night at a restaurant called Umbrella’s – a place we had been before on a previous trip that we knew we would all enjoy. After dinner and a good night’s sleep, we bid adieu to Terry and Elaine and rejoined our boat and friends on Friday morning back in the Marina.

Guys on the Wheel

Guys on the Wheel:  Bob, Rocky, Terry & Peter

 

The Great Caribbean Sailing Adventure (GCSA) of 2014 – Part 1

8:10 pm

Our great adventure started with rising early (4:00am) in the morning of September 11th, driving 2 hours to Nikki & Peter’s in West Palm Beach and meeting them there to catch the Tri-Rail train to Miami Airport (a 2-hour train trip). From Miami, we flew to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands where we took a taxi to our hotel for the night near the Ferry Terminal. The day was long and travel was wearing on us as we prepared to travel to the British Virgin (BVI) the next day. On September 12th, we took the Ferry to Tortola, BVI, a 1-hour passenger ferry ride which prepared us for some of the rough weather we might see over the next 6 weeks. In Tortola, we met Bob who had flown in the night before and was staying at the motel associated with the marina where our rental bareboat was located. After lunch at Pusser’s, we climbed aboard our boat, “The Grande Plaisance III”, for the first time – a 53’ Jenneau from Dream Charters located in Hodge’s Creek, Maya Cove in the east end of the island. The boat was an upgrade from what we expected with power winches, power heads (toilets) and a bow-thruster. Our day was then consumed with preparation by the 5 of us (stocking food and drink, checking out of the country at Immigration & Customs) and “moving-in” and we spent that night meeting “neighbors”, swimming in the marina pool and getting excited for tomorrow’s departure.

boatA

Grande Plaisance III

On Saturday, September 13th, (Rocky’s birthday), at 9:00am, we left Hodge’s Creek and the BVI, and set a heading for the overnight 140 nautical mile trip across open waters to the port of Charlestown on the island of Nevis. The winds were good from the east, and the boat performed well traveling at ~8 knots. That night, the skies were clear and the half-moon-plus rose in the night sky at about 10:15pm. Bob, Rocky and Peter took overlapping 4-hour shifts throughout the night with two people on the helm at all times. Everyone on deck wore harnesses and stayed “clipped-on” to our boat-long “jack-lines” which we rigged for safety during night sailing. That night, we passed 3-4 squalls beating us with winds and drenching anyone on deck. Nikki slept below, but Julie was feeling a little queasy and stayed with the boys up-top trying to stay dry and to catch a little sleep. In the night, we passed the lights of the islands of Saba, St. Eustace and St. Kitts – places we would consider stopping upon our return trip.
We arrived at Charlestown, Nevis on a beautiful Sunday morning of September 14th at about 9:00am – earlier than we had planned. After checking in and out at Immigration & Customs (which required calling their staff into the office and allowing us the opportunity to have a few drinks while we waited for them to arrive), we took note of some issues that we encountered during the night. It seems that a couple of the “cars” that guide the main-sail up and down the mast were damaged, and we were having problems with the engine electrical system where the battery would drain unless we ran the engine to charge it every 4 hours. We decided to try to work through these for the next few days. For lunch, we went ashore to eat at Mr. Sunshine’s – a little beach bar & restaurant that we had heard of. We had a wonderful lunch, celebrated Rocky’s belated birthday, took a look at the local “pet” monkeys there, and headed back to the boat where we had dinner, (birthday) partied on-board and prepared for our trip’s next leg.

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Mr. Sunshine’s Restaurant

At 8:00am the next morning, we left Charlestown and set course for Little Bay, Monserrat, a “short” 33 mile journey. The island of Monserrat had never been visited by any of us before, as t had been off-limits in the past due to a 1997 serious volcanic eruption of Mount Soufriere that caused the island’s evacuation. At the time, 11,000 residents inhabited the island (under British control) that saw it being evacuated and its Capitol being buried in volcanic ash. Today, that end of the island is still a wasteland, and only 5,000 residents returned. We arrived at Little Bay, Montserrat at 3:00pm, and after checking in and out of the country, ran across a gentleman who ran a little bar and restaurant at the head-rocks to the Bay – John Pont. John had built his restaurant – his dream – by hand and had been evacuated to England for 10 years, but now he was back and he offered to open-up for the night just for us five. We came back that evening for drinks and snacks and he even drove Peter to town to get ice for our boat’s refrigerator. His establishment is in a spectacular garden setting with a deck built out over the rocks of the water’s edge. John proved to be one our favorite new acquaintances that we made along this trip.

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Pont’s Bar

The next day, Tuesday, September 16th, we left Monserrat at 7:00am and sailed the 60 nautical miles to the city of Basse Terre in Guadeloupe at a brisk pace. We arrived at 4:00pm, and this was our first encounter with a French island, where Peter’s “pigeon” French contributed greatly to our success. Immigration & Customs at The Barracuda Restaurant was closed but that only allowed us the opportunity to have drinks and eat dinner there. It was also here that we encountered our first serious problem with the boat, as the engine battery died and the engine could not be started. After consulting via phone with Dream Charters, we jumped the engine to the domestic batteries and started the engine, but we decided to divert the next part of our trip to get these problems resolved. Therefore, the next day, instead of sailing to Isle de Saintes, as planned, we motor-sailed around the island of Guadeloupe, to the southern major port of the island at Pointe de Pitre, where we took the boat into a temporary marina slip near the major cruise-line dock, so that they could replace the main-sail “cars” and the engine battery. This was completed in a very timely manner, and so we then left Pointe de Pitre that afternoon and sailed to Petit Havre, Guadeloupe, arriving at ~5:00pm. Tired and drained, we took swims, showers and ate at a restaurant onshore.
The next morning we rose early and set sail for Roseau, Dominica. Because we had not spent the night further south in Isle de Saintes, we had a long trip to make of about 60 miles to get back on schedule. Luckily, the winds we again favorable, and sailing along this leg at ~8.5 knots, we were joined by our first pod of porpoises, riding along our bow-wave for a number of minutes. We anchored just offshore near the cruise-line dock, went ashore for Immigration & Customs check in and out, picked up supplies, and headed back to the boat. Here, as in most of the islands, the town’s markets and stores were not really geared to be open for tourists, yet, as their “high” season doesn’t start until November 1st. Therefore, we cooked and ate on-board, and we left the next morning at 7:00am to head to Martinique.
Fort de France in Martinique was a 50-mile sail which we did in 9 hours, arriving at ~4:00pm. Here, we found a vibrant little town with a beautiful park and little shops. We checked in, explored town and found a nice bar/restaurant where we sampled local snacks and drinks into the evening.

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Nikki & Peter

The next morning was Saturday, September 20th, and so we made a short sail down the coast of Martinique to the city of Marin, where we had a marina slip waiting for us, allowing us to fill up on fuel and water, and pick up our first guests, Terry and Elaine. We arrived at the Marina at 9:00am, and it was a large, well run facility with eateries, laundry and showers, which we used extensively. The grocery stores were accessible with a marina free shuttle, and we were refreshed to welcome our guests who arrived that afternoon. After settling them in, we all went to dinner at a nice restaurant on-shore, and then partied and talked on the boat until the wee-hours of the night. Tomorrow would start the second part of our journey, now with 7 people on-board.

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Moscow, Russia

July 20, 2014 7:20 pm

Moscow, Russia – July 2014

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In Moscow, we started off by visiting the Kremlin.  Since the fall of communism in Russia, the Kremlin has been opened to the public giving access to what was unseen for over 70 years.  The Russian word “Kremlin” indicates “walled fortress” and many Russian cities have Kremlins.  The ancient walled Kremlin of Moscow has been the traditional seat of Russian Power since the capital was moved there hundreds of years ago, and it houses the State Armory (actually the country’s oldest museum of royal gifts and items of value and historical significance) and Assumption Cathedral, as well as State Parliament and Government buildings.

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We also toured Moscow at night, including our first visit to Red Square (Red meaning Beautiful), which we could not visit in the day due to a Formula 1 race taking place there.  The Square is lined by the Kremlin to one side backing the Tomb of Lenin, and the huge Gum Shopping Center/store on the other, with St. Basils Cathedral at one end and the Historical Museum at the other.  We also toured the a Nunery, Tretyakov Art Gallery and took the Metro to Arbat Street to explore the local shops.  Our final day there left us free to explore the details of the city at our leisure.

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Overall, Russia was as amazing as we had always thought it would be, and we found the people friendly and hard working.  We did note that, although support for the Russian Leaders and Putin was uniformly strong across generations, the acceptance of free-market economics and adaptation to the rapid changes in their culture and economy is much more strongly supported by young people than the older generation who had always had a “safety net” under the Soviet leadership.  The only thing that was clear is that Russia is in for many more changes over its near future.  For our part, we wish them “the best” and very much appreciate what we saw and learned during those two weeks.

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MS Leo Tolstoy River Cruise Russia

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MS Leo Tolstoy river Cruise, Russia – July 2014

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After 5 days we boarded our ship, the Leo Tolstoy!  This Riverboat was originally designed for the Soviet Leadership, but after the fall of communism, was privatized and owned as part of a fleet by Vodohad Company, although this particular boat was recently retrofitted and modernized and was being leased to Vantage.  The ship was very comfortable with reasonable cabins and plenty of common space, including the Restaurant, a Library, Theater/Meeting Room, Lounge with Bar, and even an indoor Swimming Pool with Bar.  Meals were excellent and the ship was clean and friendly.

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We began our 7-day trip up a series of rivers, canals and lakes, including the River Svyr, Lake Ladoga and to the craft village of Mandrogi.  We then proceeded through Lake Onega to Kizhi Island which has preserved the historic wooden structures from the area that were constructed 100-200 years ago.  We eventually entered the Volga River to finish our journey to Moscow, but not before visiting the towns of Goritsy, Yaroslavl, Roston and Uglich.  These towns allowed to to see Russian life outside of the city, and gave us a chance to visit some historic sites, (Church of Elijah the Prophet, Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker, Yaraslovl Governor’s Mansion, St. Jacob Monasery), as well as visit local school children, local families, and even have tea with a local school teacher.

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The ship’s cruise ended when we arrived at the port terminal outside of Moscow.  There, we transferred to the Grand Marriott Hotel on Tverskaya street.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

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St. Petersburg, Russia –  July 2013

With only 38 days’ notice, we decided to take advantage of an excellent offer from Vantage to visit Russia, a place that has long been our list to explore.  This trip started with flights from the USA to Frankfurt, Germany, and on to St. Petersburg for 5 days in the city and surrounding area.  We stayed at the St. Petersburg Radisson, which was excellently located on Nevsky Prospect in the heart of the city.  Our exploration of the city started with tours of Peter and Paul Fortress where many of the Romanov Family are interred, and where Peter The Great first founded the city in 1703 in response to Finland’s expansionistic hopes.  When the Bolsheviks took over the country in 1917, the city was renamed first Petrograd, and then Leningrad, but its original name was returned at the end of the 20th Century.  We went to the Palace Square and toured the gilded halls, and visited the Church on the Spilled Blood, built on exactly where Tsar Alexander II was murdered by extremist for attempting to abolish serfdom.  Our evening concluded with a ballet presentation of Swan Lake.

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The next days were spent with city and other nearby excursions, and personal exploration of the city by walking.  Key highlights included touring the Hermitage (museum) where fantastic collections began by Catherine The Great include art and historical mementos from the ruling families from over 3 centuries.  We also toured the city via riverboat, as the city might be considered very similar to Amsterdam or Venice as it is situated on a series of islands divided by canals and waterways.  We took in evening shows that included heritage and folk performances and dancing.

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We also took excursions out of the city to Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin and toured its halls and extensive gardens, and to Peterhof Grand Palace and Gardens on the shores of the Baltic Sea.  Both were magnificently restored from the devastation of World War II, and are now all available as National Heritage Museums.

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Rafting the Grand Canyon

July 19, 2014 8:28 pm

Grand Canyon Rafting      June 2014

We met in the Desert Rose Lobby at 5:00am to begin our journey to the Canyons shores.  It started with a bus trip to the local airport and a flight (two planes) back to Lee’s Ferry where we picked up supplies (beer and wine), loaded our gear onto the rafts and were introduced to our guides.  Our group (now at 14 people plus our two guides) took one raft, and we were teamed-up with a second raft to travel the week together, for safety purposes.

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It soon became obvious that the trip was going to be characterized by “hot” weather (90 – 100 deg. F) and cold water (47 at the beginning to 53 at the end – deg. F)!  Our first half-day on the water was minor rapids (Level 1’s) and “riffles”, and we all began to get comfortable with riding the raft and camping on shore.  The next morning we rode our first real rapids (Levels 5-6) and everyone did well and was having a great time, alternating freezing (while wet) and roasting (while dry).

 

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Our guides were R.D. and Grace, experienced Canyon Runners with a wide range of skills, training and college education.  The provided us with safe maneuvering down the river, detailed information on the history and geology of the Canyon, gourmet meals, and anything else that we could possibly need.  In short – they were amazing. Days were typically breakfast early and rafting all day, with shore stops for lunch and side-excursions.  The side excursions were sometimes strenuous, but always exciting, and included exploring old caves and mines, hiking to ancient civilization’s granaries, swimming in side canyon’s rivers, streams and waterfalls, and a ½ day on the Little Colorado River.  Evenings we put ashore, set up cots and sleeping bags for a comfortable night’s sleep and enjoyed typically amazing meals provided by our guides.

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The Little Colorado is much warmer than the Colorado, and carries dissolved minerals that make it a turquoise blue.  We hiked upstream to an area where we could swim and “slide” down the natural “sluice” created by the river – truly an amazing day.

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The last couple of days of the week long trip saw the most adventurous of the rapids (Level 10’s).  They shook and threw people around, but by this time, everyone was an old-hand at riding what the River could throw at them.  The trip ended with a helicopter ride out of the Canyon (5-at-a-time) to the Bar-10 Ranch for a shower, lunch, and an air flight back to Las Vegas.

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That night while cruising down the Vegas Strip, the excitement around us there seemed no match for the past 10 days that we had all experienced.  Adventures with friends are always so much better, and this one delivered a highlight that rivals any of our others.

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