Caribbean Crossing

A bit late getting this post up, a few happy distractions at home including the birth of our baby girl and a big move into the mountains.  Updates next post!

The “Mahina” Expedition

In December, I had the wonderful opportunity to serve as crew sailing across the Caribbean Sea under the guidance of John and Amanda Neal. We sailed from Antigua to Panama over the course of two weeks. We made landfalls in Montserrat, Columbia, throughout the San Blas archipelago, and Portobelo before entering Colon, the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal.

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John and Amanda Neal

John and Amanda Neal

John and Amanda have sailed around the world many times over.  They have explored most cursing grounds from Australia to Africa, Antarctica to Svalbard and the Mediterranean. They have been featured on countless covers of sailing magazines, written books, and are recognized as a few of the best sailors in the world. They invite sailors (for a fee of course) to learn passage-making skills on their own Hallberg Rassy 46 as they sail around the world.  What a life- right!

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Just after making the turn off the coast of Montserrat. Now heading towards the Columbian coast!  All open ocean from here as the sun sets.

Expedition Goals

The ocean crossing is designed as a learning expedition to help novices (like me) gain offshore passage making skills, including mastering seamanship, navigation, and heavy weather tactics.  John also helps with boat purchasing decisions which will be very helpful when the time comes.  Additionally, the course also provides a certificate documenting training which will also help qualify when we purchase offshore boat insurance.  The sail also logs a few more weeks of sea time which will credit towards my coast guard captain application. But above all else, I just want to keep my family and friends safe on the water.  It was important for me to learn from the best rather than going out and volunteering on an ocean crossing with a questionably experienced captain.

The Boat “Mahina Tiare”

The Marina Tiare is a 46 foot Hallberg Rassy.  Built on the Swedish island of Orust,  Hallberg Rassys are well-known for their stablity and safety at sea.  Lauren and I visited Orust last summer and toured the Hallberg Rassy factory.

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Lauren and I, last year on our dream boat HR 40, on the island of Orust.

During our visit, I learned that John and Amanda are well-known to the boat builders on the island.   Mahina Tiare had also been featured on the Hallberg Rassy website and pictures of her sailing in open ocean are highlighted on two months of this years Hallberg Rassy calendar.

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The Mahina Tiare “Ship Shape” and secure in Colon, Panama after completing the crossing.

The Crew

I had the pleasure of sailing with…

Brian and Tammi– They have plans to purchase a boat and sail 3-6 months a year, island hopping throughout the Caribbean.  Brian is an ear, nose and throat surgeon.  Tammi an accomplished accountant.  Before Brian pursued a career in medicine he piloted fighter jets for the US Air-force.  Lots of amazing stories!

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Brian and Tammi enjoying some down time, Tammi was the best navigator on the ship and we all asked her where we where from time to time!

Karen and Linwood– Retired engineers and both ex-Navy.  Lin served on a submarine during his navy days.  Needless to say, Lin never had a problem with sea sickness during our crossing like the rest of us.    Karen and Lin are boat owners who are looking to sail up and down the east coast in retirement.  They have a dog named Moose!

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Lin and Karen, Lin knew everything there is to know about sailing and boats, they sent me a wonderful book on sail boat design after the trip.

Ken, an orthopedic trauma surgeon from Alaska.  A great sailor and humanitarian.  He just completed a crossing from the US east coast to the Caribbean with another crew.

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Ken and Brian, enjoying some nice easy downwind sailing.  Looks like a boat speed of 7.9 knots from the instrument panel, not bad!

Education at Sea

All our sailing was done without the use of autopilot, John thought it was particularly important to gain endurance on the helm and learn to anticipate the ship movements under heavy seas. We took turns on watch and on the helm throughout day and night. I was on the helm 10-12am, 4-6pm 12-2am, 4-6am.

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Selfie on the helm!

Life at sea was exciting but this was defiantly not a pleasure cruise! Teaching was nearly continuous. Absolutely no alcohol underway, not even coffee as dehydration at sea could get very serious quickly.  We were required to drink and document at least 3-4 L water daily.  In addition to sailing (trimming sails, reefing sails, plotting navigation, cleaning, watch duties, helm duties, and trying to occasionally sleep)  John had written an expedition companion for his students to read.  He and Amanda held practical lecturers at least 4 hours a day and we were tested on the content.

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Lectures included a range of topics including -Safety Systems, Boat Systems, On Deck Procedures, Storm Sailing Techniques, Meteorology, Navigation, Communication at Sea, and Anchoring Techniques.  It was all pretty incredible and very organized.

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Amanda did most of the cooking and ran the galley, the meal underway were fabulous.  Amanda wrote a book on the subject “The Essential Galley Companion”

While underway, we also learned all kinds practical skills such as sail repair, marine diesel maintenance, safety techniques, provisioning for long distance passage-making, even how to tow a generator under sail.  Every day we worked on learning a new knots.  We plotted our own course across the Caribbean and kept detailed hourly position logs and notable weather changes.

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Every hour, 24 hours a day we plotted essential information into the ships log. With all the data readily accessible, even small changes in weather pattern become obvious when trended.

John and Amanda had their students handle all operations and boat handeling while underway.

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Brian and John pulling in our fishing lines at dusk

Sailing, then learning about sailing, then learning about boat systems, day in day out as we crossed the Caribbean is just about as good as it gets. I loved watching the sun rise up over the water every morning on while on the helm.

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Another Sunrise!

Sailing Conditions

Typically, swells are significant and winds brisk when sailing the Christmas trades across the Caribbean.  We had average conditions.  Healthy 20 knot winds with swells occasionally 10-12 feet.  The crossing required constant sail reefing but we never faced conditions that required sea anchors or advanced heavy weather tactics.   The swells were large enough that we all suffered a good amount of time dealing with sea sickness.  All part of the experience!

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Screen shot from the weather app “Windy”  Columbia is partially composed of the northern terminus of the Andes mountain range.  The topography of the range contributes to the rough seas.

Land HO! Not all ocean sailing!

The crossing was very eventful.  As we sailed west out of Antigua, we enjoyed landfalls off the island of Montserrat, the city of Santa Marta-Columbia, multiple anchorages throughout the San Blas Island, the city of Porobelo- Panama, and the city of Colon-the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal.  The variety presented unique and exciting sailing challenges all of which contributed to learning.

Antigua —> The Island of Montserrat

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Beautiful Antigua

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Jolly Harbor, Antigua

After a day sail west off the island of Antigua, we arrived at the island of Montserrat were we anchored overnight.

The island of Montserrat is gorgeous, but half of the island is decimated from a fairly recent volcanic eruption and is still off-limits to visitors.  John and Amanda were able to get in contact with a guide service who took us around the island to explore the ruins.

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Montserrat, you can see the lava flow that extends out into the ocean that completely devastated the island.  Still off limits as experts expect the volcanic activity to continue.

Montserrat –> Santa Marta, Columbia

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Approaching Santa Marta

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Columbia or Bust!

Colombian law allows visiting vessels to stop for up to 72 hours without clearing customs.  Great news for us, but unfortunately this resulted in no official stamp on my passport. We secured our boat in the new beautiful new IGY Marina for the night.

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Santa Marta is the oldest city in Latin America, very few tourist and most visitors were Columbian.  This provided a fantastic cultural experience.  We all enjoyed a dinner at Donde Chucho, a nearby fish restaurant.  I took an early AM run through the city giving my legs a good stretch after a week on the water.

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We also visited a sailing family in the marina.  Jon, Mia and their six year old son Teo (From Norway). Our captain John helped them select their boat a years ago and they are now sailing around the world as a family.  They just returned from an eco-lodge out in the Amazon.  I had the privilege of reading Teo’s travel journal.  I loved his illustrations and descriptions of all the exciting animals he came across during their side trip to the Amazon.  He was so excited to tell his story.  What a worldly education!

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I really appreciated the boat Christmas tree

John and Amanda seemed to have friends at every Anchorage!

Santa Marta –> San Blas Islands (Swimming Pool Anchorage near Caliber Island, East Hollades Cays)

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290 miles and 3 days later, we made landfall in the San Blas.  The San Blas consists of approximately 400 beautiful islands,  home to the Kuta Indians.  An epic sailing paradise!

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Its advantageous to have good sunlight above when navigating around coral reefs.  You can clearly see the color changes of the water as depths change.  We always had a watch on deck.   Many boats have been lost in this area.

Coral reefs at every turn, most charts are unreliable in the San Blas so all navigation required a keen lookout at all times.

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San Blas Mast

Having a bit of fun at anchor!

Caliber Island–> Mormake Tupe

Mormake Tupe is also known as Isla Maquina.  When we visited the island John paid regards to the village chief  by offering a small bag or rice.  We then toured the village and purchased “molas” (hand made fabric art) from the Kuna seamstresses.  John and Amanda provided donated reading glasses to the villagers.

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Anchored off Mormake Tupe

Access to the village is extremely restricted,  it is only because of John and Amanda’s special relationships with the locals we were allowed the privilege to visit the small island village.

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Local kids looked pretty excited to see me!

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Beautiful molas, out for display and for sale.  I picked up a few and we have them framed under glass at home.

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The real sailors on the water

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Mormake Tupe–>Gaigar Anchorage

We Anchored overnight at Gaigar Anchorage, which was well protected from wind by mangrove trees.

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John and Amanda motored the dingy to the lone shelter at the base of the bay, asked for permission to anchor in the bay and gave the family a gift of rice and fresh produce.

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Practice going aloft! Fantastic views!

Gaigar Anchorage–> Bread Man Anchorage

A short day stop at a semi-exposed anchorage, off and island with no name that is occupied by a “bread man”.  We of course enjoyed fresh kuna bread before heading towards Yansandar Island as we made our way west.

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Bread Man Anchorage–> Yansadar Island in Cayos Chichime

We anchored overnight off the shore of Yansadar Island,  a tiny one hut island.  The family living on the island paddled out to greet us.  John and Amanda gave them rice, onions and apples.

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We were invited ashore for a visit where we explored the island.

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Our boat Mahina Tiare anchored off in the distance

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Yansadar Island –> Portobelo, Panama

After a full day of 20+ knot downwind sailing off the coast of the beautiful Panamanian isthmus, we arrived in Portobelo, Panama.

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Passing another cruising boat heading west towards Portobelo

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Sailing under a reefed jib and main

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Potobelo, Panama

Portobelo is a deep natural harbor.  Legend has it that Christopher Columbus originally named the port meaning “Beautiful Port” It was established during the Spanish colonial period and the ruins of the Spanish colonial fortifications are one of the first things we noticed when entering the bay.  The other thing we noticed was the twenty or so shipwrecks thought the harbor.  I could not believe it, the whole place had a creepy wasteland, end of the road feel to it.  It turns out the a hurricane swept through the area and most of the boats moored in the harbor were destroyed. Nevertheless, very beautiful and we enjoyed a charming visit.

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Can you see the shipwreck?

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Portobelo –> Colon, the Atlantic Entrance to the Panama Canal

After exploring Portobelo, we sailed to Colon, the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal.  Lots of ships on the water!

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AIS displaying lots of traffic outside Colon

 

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Our main with a preventer line attached for safety as we entered Colon.

We completed our crossing in Colon.  Brian and Tammy attempted to join another boat as crew to pass though the canal.  The rest of us said our goodbyes and headed back to celebrate Christmas.  John and Amanda took a week off in Panama before a new group of students joined up with the Mahina Tiare.  John and Amanda are continuing their expedition west where they plan to sail to Hawaii, then down to French Polynesia for a few years.  We all plan to keep in touch and hopefully cross each other on the water sometime soon.

It was an honor to be part of the Mahina Tiare crew and to meet so many wonderful people. I look forward to more sailing adventures with my family and friends in the near future.

 

Fair Winds-

Rich

 

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Boat children leaving their mark on the marina wall.  Panama is the end of the road for some, but for many just a start as they head west into the South Pacific.

Bon Voyage Richard!

Just a few short hours ago, Rich embarked on his journey to sail across the Caribbean Sea. This two-week passage will take him from the island of Antigua, along the Colombian coast, and through the San Blas Islands to the start of the Panama Canal covering approximately 1,200 nautical miles.

Projected route based on John and Amanda’s last Caribbean crossing in 2008.

Alongside sailing experts John Neal and his wife, Amanda (who together have sailed more than 600,000 nautical miles), on a 46 foot Hallberg Rassy, Rich and five other individuals will learn how to navigate by the stars at night, get through heavy winds and large swells, as well as deal with every other challenge (big or small) that comes with
extended oceanic crossings. All hands are on deck, as this boat lacks autopilot which calls for a two-man watch and chart plotting at all hours of the day.

John and Amanda Neal of Mahina Expeditions

It’s not all work though! Rich and his sailing mates will be able to swim, fish, weather and government permitting- stop in Colombia for some dinner, and they will explore the San Blas islands inhabited by the indigenous Kuna people- who are very selective as to who can come ashore (John and Amanda, having done many circumnavigations, have built a relationship with the people over the years bringing them supplies such as reading glasses, so they are welcomed with open arms).

I am so proud of Rich for taking this step so we can do our own adventurous sailing and long crossings as a family. I am excited to hear about all the fun he had and all that he learned upon his return just before the holidays.

Check back in a few weeks to read about his experience!

 

-Lauren

Sweden West Coast Adventure

Well we’re off to a great first half of our Swedish charter. To get excited and get the juices flowing we went to Orust on Friday. We enjoyed a quick fika with the Kratz family and Lisa’s wonderful parents at their amazing waterfront summer house. Then the boys and I headed off to the boat show just a few miles away. Rich was bright eyed and bushy tailed as we were able to board and tour our dream boat as well as check out a few other new models. It was good times!

Saturday morning we checked onto our nameless, but brand-spanking-new 2017 Bavaria 37 foot sailboat. It’s bad luck to have a boat without a name. We’d “never named a boat before, but there was only one I could think of” Jenny. We worked on provisioning, organizing, and getting familiar with the new systems.

Bright and early Sunday morning the Kratz family joined us ready as ever for the adventure- Daniel, Lisa, two year old Maya, and 2 month old Noah had high spirits. We departed Gothenburg and headed north towards Åstol. We had some great wind to start the trip and made decent time, about 7 hours… After covering 33 nautical miles, tacking around both visible and hidden rocks we made it to the charming island of Åstol. This small island was so beautiful and gave us perfect weather to explore the island, take a walk, Maya found a waterslide and got to swim, and the boys grilled us all a delicious dinner. All of us were in awe of this islands beauty. It looked like a postcard.

Fun fact: Rich bungee jumped off that crane in the late 90’s

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We had an early start to the day on Monday as we had a long journey to make it up the coats to Gullholmen. We had two nights planned on this beautiful island since there are strong winds forecasted for Tuesday. We had a 20+ mile cruise up the coast were we all had our turn to drive. As we entered the open sea we were greeted by a small pod of dolphins! We are still debating weather it was actually the rare sighting of dolphins or more common harbor porpoise- regardless it was exciting to watch them try to catch up and swim with the boat. The sun came out just in time as we arrived to Gullholmen. What a great island! Maya loved that there was a great playground, while the adults enjoyed the great trails and lack of cars that provided for some optimal running. We all spent some time exploring the island, enjoying some fun happy hours on the boat, many fikas (Swedish coffee breaks- many each day), and delicious grilled dinners. Spending two nights allowed for us all to relax and unwind- just what we all needed. I called this the island of the jellyfish since I was amazed at how many of them I saw along the coast and in the harbor! Overall this island was breath-taking, it’d definitely be a nice place to have a summer house! If only… 🙂
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Lucky for us we had a shorter journey on Wednesday so we slept in a bit and Maya and Dan were able to get some play time in before our sail. The seas were fairly calm so we ventured out to sail to the island of Käringön, rather than motoring through the tight channels. It is rare to sail out there as this section of the west coast does not have protection from Denmark nor Norway so the swells can get rough- we were lucky! Once again, we were greeted by a picturesque seaside town when we arrived to Käringön, they have all been so beautiful! The Kratz family found a park, while Rich found a good place to fly his drone, and I enjoyed a delicious ice cream then found a friendly cat- of course. The clouds broke at sunset and provided for the most beautiful evening. Lisa and I enjoyed a yummy charcuterie board in the boat while the boys enjoyed some scotch and grill chips while they bbq’ed our dinner. We had a great evening together and toasted Rich closing a decade since tomorrow is his birthday!


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A very happy 40th birthday to Richard! We had a little bit of weather move through Wednesday, but the worst of it had passed through over night. We had about a 20 mile cruise through the channels to the exciting island of Marstrand. We passed between the mainland and islands and had fun checking out the beautiful homes and towns along the coast. Snacking on some hot dogs, then taking a few fika breaks, we had much to laugh at, and a lot to take pictures of. We arrived to Marstrand, greeted by the fortress atop the island. We had our first bit of rain just as we docked so while the boys were up top getting the boat tied up, Lisa and I prepped for Rich’s mini birthday celebration down below. We devoured a charcuterie, toasted Rich, and opened presents. After dinner the weather cleared so we had time to get on land and stretch our legs. We were gifted with a stunning sunset peaking out along the horizon just beneath the blanket of passing clouds. We returned to the boat to enjoy some birthday cake and tea before calling it a night.

 

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With some strong winds forecasted, and a long sail ahead of us- Lisa and the kids checked off the boat in the morning- we’d meet again when we returned to Gothenburg. We made incredible time on our 26 mile sail home. Making 9+ knots at times it was like the boys had a smile glued to their faces. They clearly we’re having a great time! It seemed over all too quickly as in just under 3 hours hours we approached the mouth of the busy Gothenburg port- not before enjoying one last fika with some chocolate. With Jenny tucked away safely in her home harbor we were sad the week had come to a close. We said our goodbyes to the Kratz family then settled in for one last cozy slumber in our V-berth.

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Reflecting on the great times, this week was wonderful. Rich and I were blown away with Sweden’s West Coast geography- it was absolutly stunning. Navigating around the many rocks, created a new challenge and growth opportunity for our sailing. Leading up to the trip the weather forecasts had not looked in our favor but minus a few hours of clouds or rain, we were blessed with a lot of sunshine (which seemed to be timed as we arrived to each harbor) and the perfect amount of wind for fun, yet safe sailing. Major props to Rich for being, as always, a great captain keeping everyone safe and happy. Snaps to Dan and Lisa for being a wonderful help on the boat- it’s so nice to have extra hands and great company aboard! Noah gets the award for most relaxed crew member, Maya gets an award for behaving so well and being so positive the whole trip (she’s definitely a future sailor)! We truly had such a great time living with Dan, Lisa, and their kids for a week. What great memories we created this week and we can’t wait for our next adventure with their family. Best of all, we learned sailing with kids is not only extremely doable, it is a ton of fun as they bring so much excitement to the sails and adventure. With a little bit of planning, and a lot of reefing of the sails we successfully sailed with a baby and toddler aboard and enjoyed it.

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This couldn’t have been more perfect and reassuring as Rich and I are expecting to add a new baby Ahroon crew member in February! 

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Cheers!

-Lauren

Fun Times on Catalina Island

We recently returned from a wonderful four day sail to Catalina Island. Joined by my parents, but unfortunately not by the wind, we motored to Avalon Harbor for our first evening aboard Ellis Island II. My parents hadn’t been to Avalon in many years so we headed ashore, walked the town then had a lovely dinner along the water at Blue Water Grill. The next morning we woke up to sunshine and the noises of a lively harbor; we launched off our mooring and motored up to Two Harbors.


Typically we stay in Cherry Cove however when we arrived it was already full! We think people were slow to leave but we decided Isthmus Cove would work instead. This way we were closer to shore and we could pick up our third guest, my sister Jamie! Jamie had taken the ferry that morning and passed us as we approached the harbor…(thanks for the wake!) and she booked a campsite for the night. 

The day was warm, but the wind picked up a few hours after we got settled in making it a little cold if you were wet. The water was a bit chilly but we had plenty of toys to use without having to fully submerge. My Mom took to snorkeling, Rich to his floating chair, my Dad to the hammock, and Jamie and I enjoyed the now open space in the cockpit. Everyone had delicious snacks and beverages while we relaxed in the sun. Before the sun set we grilled off the back of the boat then sang an early happy birthday song to my Dad. He’s turning 60 next month but we won’t be around so we enjoyed (more than we needed) cupcakes and fun times.

We took to shore in the morning to stretch our legs and clean up in the showers. On the boat my Mom treated us to a fantastic brunch of chorizo and eggs, coffee, and mimosas. She really outdid herself. To the point I definitely think Rich is considering switching up the galley girl in the future, I usually spoil him with cereal in the AM… needless to say, he was impressed by the meal. The day was again filled with relaxation, good music, food, drinks, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and floating. We enjoyed one final dinner prepared on the grill, then road Jamie ashore so she could catch the last night ferry back to the mainland.

The harbor master stopped by in the morning asking us if we wanted to stay another night since they had many moorings available. We would have loved to, but we had to get the boat back to its rightful owner. Luckily since the harbor wasn’t full, we were able to enjoy a breakfast and take our time getting the boat ready for our journey back to Redondo Beach. The wind that had picked up the other day was nowhere to be found so we motor sailed home.

We had a great trip with the Melton’s and can’t wait for our next adventure with them. It was so nice having my Dad there to help with lines and the dinghy, and having my Mom there to help with food and all things down below. I think it might of spoiled us a little have the extra help! We’re looking forward to the next opportunity we have to get back to California. Until then we get to look forward to our sailing trip for Rich’s birthday this month in Sweden with the Kratz family!

 

Cheers!

-Lauren

Trogir, Agana, and Dubrovnik 

It was a slow sail from Brac to Trogir, the winds were variable but we eventually made it into the lively harbor and were greeted by the fortress guarding the small town. Trogir is an UNSECO world heritage site. This small island off of mainland Croatia is connected by two walking bridges and one bridge for cars, it only has approximately 1 mile circumference. We docked across from the fortress which provided for beautiful evening views. 
Right away we headed to town and got lost in its small cobblestone streets. I of course enjoyed a delicious ice cream! As we were headed back to the boat we ran into Michael and Claire who were on their way to dinner, so we decided to turn around and join them. We found a lovely restaurant with amazing food! Rich enjoyed the sea bass, while I had a fresh home made pasta with truffle and prosciutto, Claire was sweet enough to let me taste her ocotopus. We all walked back to the harbor and got one more ice cream on the way. Michael and Claire had just purchased their own boat and were sailing that on for the conference; they would not be returning to Agana the next day so we said our goodbyes. We hope to run into them again soon!



In the morning we enjoyed a nice run through the town before the tour busses arrived and Rich headed to his final meeting. Packed up the boat and started cleaning a bit so we would have less to do when we got back to the base.


The light winds of yesterday had disappeared and the winds were quite strong as we prepared to leave Trogir. We had some time so with hopes the winds would either shift to the west or die down we went to get one last cup of coffee. 


When we returned to our boat, to our disapointment the winds had not died down. Actually, they picked up to gusts of 40 knots. To add to the challenge, two boats docked providing us with only about 16 feet to get out; all while worrying about the lines and avoiding being blown into the bows of the docked boats by the crosswinds (with that wind speed would cause a lot of damage)! We got some help off the dock and we’re safely on our way to the home base. 


In no time we moored Nina one last time stern too and she was checked in. We ran to the market one last time to get some cheese and I made our finally boat spread using any provisions we had left. 


I dropped off our laundry and we had time to relax one final night aboard Nina. We met this lovely couple next to us in the 80s from the U.K. They own a boat and keep it in France, every summer they fly down and cruise the Mediterranean, now with their grown children and grandchildren. Then Karen and Doug came to visit. They are super fun and interesting and ironically enough eloped in January on a boat as well! Doug is a US Fighter Pilot and kept us engaged with his heroic stories. Unfortunately we had such a great time with them we had lost track of the hour and I forgot to pick up our laundry… our taxi was scheduled for 6am so it would be left behind. I was determined to figure something out in order to get it back, which of course we did.

We stepped off Nina the next morning and headed via taxi to Split to catch the ferry to Dubrovnik. Our journey on land officially began. 


Since we had stayed up late finishing or packing we slept most of the ferry ride to Dubrovnik. Well rested when we arrived we were eager to conquer the town. The walk to old town was only 1.5 miles away so we decided to walk; little did we know it was 1.2 miles uphill then .3 miles downhill, with our packs in the heat it wasn’t the best idea but we made it. 


We checked into the apartment and walked for hours exploring this amazingly beautiful fortified city. We found a lovely restaurant and sat to soak in all the views; three hours later we decided to give up our table which was prime real estate, people wait for hours for a table at Lady PiPi! For good reason too, the terrace provided panoramic views of the entire town.



The next morning we woke up early enough to explore the city walls. The walk around the city on its fortified walls took nearly three hours with all our photo stops, we probably could’ve taken longer it was a highlight. Especially since we were early enough to beat the crowds! 


We picked up some goodies for a picnic and walked to the nearest beach which was stunning! Rich took a dip then a snooze to dry off. My swimsuit was back in Split with all the laundry to I relaxed and read my book.  


In time we visited the hotel to freshen up before checking out the fort on the other side of the cove just outside the city. After climbing nearly 12 stories worth of stairs we made it to the top and as expected we’re rewarded. 


With already 20,000 steps for the day, (probably 10,000 of those being stairs!) we entered old town and went to Buza a cliff side bar built clinging to the outside of the walls. Buza in Dubrovnik means hole, which is exactly what we had to walk through to find it, amazing!


We woke to take one final Croatian run, I was destructed by cats the entire time as they lay there looking for pets every few hundred yards! We freshens up and checked out of the hotel. In true European fashion we found a restaurant and managed to sip on a single cup of coffee undisturbed for two hours while we read and blogged. Likely we will order some of our favorite local dishes, like octopus salad, before heading to the port to catch the ferry. Then we catch the night train to Lake Bled, Slovenia. We are very excited to see what is in store for us there! 
…that was supposed to be the ending of this story until suddenly my entire blog got deleted and I felt totally defeated. I gave up and decided to order some food. I would write this on the ferry which I am doing… I ordered salad and gazpacho knowing we’re venturing to the land of heavy meats, gravy, and potatoes. Rich ordered the ocotopis salad but was sad to find out they were out of ocotopus. They suggested the Adriatic tuna plate and he went ahead with it. He offered me some but for some reason it just didn’t seem appetizing so I passed. We finished paid and headed to the ferry when Rich turned red as a tomato, got itchy, a horrible headache and stomachache. Turns out the tuna was bad and had he not just learned these symptoms at the marine medicine conference we’d be more worried! A couple of Benedryl and hes feeling human again. We’ll be on the train in three hours! After we find Ante the 40ish year old bald taxi driver that is delivering our laundry to the station… 
Cheers!
Lauren 

Vis, Hvar, and Brac

If we didn’t know better, we would’ve thought we were sailing to Catalina island- but instead we were headed to Vis. Twenty nautical miles from Solta, the sail to Vis seemed very familiar. It was a warm sunny day with Consistant 20 knot winds, we made great time. Entering the harbor brought about some anxiety as the crosswinds were blowing strongly and it would make Mediterranean mooring a bit more difficult, but Rich had no problems sliding Nina right into place- beautifully done (important due to all the spectators on shore)! 

Vis was beautiful, the island is so preserved and has so much history- churches, castles, forts, and even ancient roman theaters all left for you to explore. We hopped on a motor bike and zipped over to the west side of the island to the town of Komiza. This too was stunning as the whole town center was built into the fortress walls. Racing at speeds of 14km in a 60km zone, we successfully made it back up the hill and over to Vis Town where our boat was. We explored the town steeets some more and found a charming hidden restaurant. We weren’t sure if we were walking into someone’s backyard or not but were quickly welcomed and shown to some seats. The owner’s family was so sweet and friendly, we promised we’d one day soon return!

The next morning we woke up for an early morning run. I ran out to the point of the harbor and along the way saw many fishermen starting their day, including a one-armed man bringing his speared octopus aboard then jamming a knife in its head- good morning, fresh octopus salad anyone? 

Rich went the opposite direction into town and of course had nothing but amazing things to say about his route. While Rich was off at the conference I walked the streets some more, then stoped by the market to get some fresh produce and the bakery for the day’s fresh bread; I got the boat ready and we were off to Hvar by midday.

After a delightful lunch anchor, we docked at a nearby smaller island that is a natural botanical garden, absolutely stunning and full of beautiful plants and birds- including multiple peacocks. Our boat somehow got placed inbetween a German regatta. They rolled up with music, empty bottles of whiskey and shot glasses in the cockpick, and tried to use the dinghy oar to pick up the mooring line… It was quite a show. We were pretty tired so we called it a early night. 

Waking up early for our run I opened up our hatches and was greeted with snores from all directions. All the men had gone out late partying and quite a few only made it to the boat deck before falling asleep. They woke up shortly after and in no time our boat was engulfed by a cloud of cigarette smoke.

The conference was in Hvar town so we headed over on a short boat taxi. Hvar is a very cool island. A bit more upbeat and touristy than Solta and Vis but absolutely beautiful! I joined some of the other wives as the men went to their meeting. It was early in the day so we enjoyed some coffee in the town square before our adventures. We got lost along the streets and eventually we hiked to the fort atop the hill overlooking Hvar Town. By the time we got back to town, the men were done with their meeting so Rich and I had some time to explore together. We walked the coast for some amazing photo opportunities then headed into the nooks of the town. It was getting close to time to leave but we stopped by the market to get our days bread, some cheese, and the freshest  prosciutto I’ve ever had! The sales man was a character,  full of stories and clearly loved his cheese and meat. As he measured out our portion it was one for us and of course, two for him…

We departed Hvar and it wasn’t long before we spotted questionable weather in the exact location we were headed. As we lost visual of our destination the the sky began to light up with lightening, we geared up for rain and put on our life jackets. The storm was nothing like the squalls we’ve been in in the BVI but it was pretty cold! The winds got near 30 knots but there wasn’t a swell, so once the lightening passed we were fine- a little rain and wind never killed us. We approached the harbor of Milna on Brac island and the weather system seemed to pass, the rain subsided and winds had died off, perfect timing yet once again. 

I whipped up a fruit plate, veggie plate, and our meats and cheese for dinner and Rich pour some drinks and put on some music. It seemed to send out signals to our friends at the harbor as we were soon joined by Michael, Claire, Ana, and Rob. After a few drinks and lots of laughs our friends headed out for their dinner reservation and Rich and I took a walk into town. 

Milna, Brac is a quiet town some ocean-front buildings still untouched and crumbling from who knows what conflict. It was charming, however with more rain in the forecast we headed back to the warmth and security of our boat and called it a night.

We’re entering the final leg of our sail trip today, off to Trogir in a few hours then back to Agana to turn in the boat after that. We’d probably be more upset if we didn’t still have three weeks of adventure on land to look forward to!

Still having problems uploading pictures but they will come! 

Cheers!

Lauren 

Our Journey Begins 

After a reasonably quick flight to Frankfurt, we arrived into Croatia greeted by beautiful sunshine and a few Croatian shrugs. We checked into our hotel in Poljica. Turns out we were the first guests of the season to stay here, as it is only open in the summer. The hotel manager was so sweet, she gave us the top floor room with a breathtaking view, a delicious cold local beer, and fresh dried figs from her garden. Rich took his first of many dips in the Adriatic, then we ventured into Agana for dinner. Turns out it was a festive night as local elections are approaching. One of the candidates never made it past primary school, but he knows how to earn votes and support. He threw a party for the town’s people offering free food, alcohol, and great entertainment. We heard the festivities late into the night, and it seemed to be the talk of the town everywhere we went, our bets are on his victory in the coming election. Due to the jet lag we called it an early night as we were eager to get some rest and prepare to board our vessel in the morning.
We woke up and took a nice run along Poljica’s coast then stopped in a cafe for some coffee. Rich ordered a “Coffee with milk-Big” only to be brought an espresso sized cup, of course I thought this was hilarious. A few cups later we packed up our stuff and headed for Marina Agana. Within no time we were told our boat was ready and we boarded Nina, a 36 foot Jeanneau. The market was close so we walked over and loaded up on a few essentials including, of course, cheese, fresh bread, salami, and beer. We had a few hours to get settled in then headed to the conference welcome reception. There were surprisingly many familiar faces, including Michael and Claire of Brisbane; we met them in BVI in 2015 so we were very excited to catch up!
The sunrise provided for a natural alarm and once again searched for some amazing coastal views during our morning run. After Rich’s first meeting with the conference we took off for Maslinica on the island of Solta. We lucked out as the morning rain subsided and some strong northerly winds picked up which provided for some fun fast sailing as we got used to the rigging of our new home for the week. Just as the sun came out, we arrived to the quaint small harbor and were very excited to explore. We enjoyed some meats and cheeses for lunch then walked the town trying to soak it all up. We had a lovely dinner with some new and old friends we’ve met at the conference and headed to bed. We have a long journey today to the island of Vis. 
We have had an amazing first few days in Croatia and can’t wait to see what’s next; it just seems to get better with every day!

Cheers!

Lauren 

( having trouble uploading pictures, more to come later!)

Eastern European Escapade

We are about a month out from our next adventure so I thought I would give a brief update of all our plans! Next month we are off to Croatia. We are beyond excited as this is a whole new sailing experience for us.

Rich will be attending a Marine Medicine Conference on a different island each morning, then we depart for a new destination each afternoon. He is working hard to be one of the first to receive a Diploma in Dive and Marine Medicine and he is moving right along with the program. Recently qualifying for his Coast Guard Captain’s License, he plans to take this further by applying for his Masters Coast Guard License later this year.

Anyhow, we will have 7 blissful nights aboard our 37 foot sail in the Adriatic Sea. From what we’ve been told of the sailing conditions, we both have a feeling this will be the first of many trips to Croatia. Due to changes in Rich’s work schedule, we were able to extend out trip! Sadly all the boats were reserved so we will be forced to venture ashore for the remainder of the trip rather than having more time on the boat.

Since our sail trip doesn’t take us far enough south to visit Dubrovnik, that will be our first stop after departing our boat in Split. We then purchased our Eurail Pass and will be exploring Eastern Europe for the remaining three weeks. Next on the list is Lake Bled- Slovenia, Vienna- Austria, Bratislava-Slovakia, Budapest- Hungary, Krakow- Poland, and Prague- Czech Republic. We can’t wait to get lost in these city streets, enjoy some live music, delicious food and drinks, and of course take some awesome photos.   

All in all we will be gone about one month and are thrilled to take on this Eastern European Escapade! We will do our best to blog along the way! Of course Rich will add to his photography collection. The best part of this all is that we return mid-June and will have the rest of the summer for more adventures and yes, we have many more already planned!  

-Lauren

Goodbye Lady Vina

We got to Cooper Island fairly early which is good because this harbor tends to fill up fast. We were rewarded on this last day with absolutely perfect weather. We brought out the floats and floated off the boat while the sea turtles popped up around us. There was also a big tarpon lurking under Rich as he floated around, yikes!! We snorkeled, swam, and rinsed off on the back of the boat. All while watching boaters panic over the last moorings.

If you want to learn how not to drive a boat in a mooring field, I suggest visiting Cooper Island’s harbor anytime after 2pm. It was crazy, which meant it was also time to get out of the water so we weren’t run over.

 

We went to shore for lunch and some exploring. I made friends with a chicken that I fed some veggies to then found a precious baby goat and helped it find its momma. We met more cool people here- as we did on every island. We met a couple sailing with their two month old, which was reassuring that this hobby will not have to end when we start our family. We also met another couple whom we shared our sailing dreams with. They are cruisers and have said across the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and throughout the Caribbean. They sail a Catamaran though, and love it. They invited us aboard and gave us a tour of their spacious and luxurious cruising vessel while offering words of advice and support for us to follow our dreams. 

We watched a beautiful sunset from Lady Vina, enjoyed our last boat meal, and reflected on the amazing 14 days we had aboard her. What a trip this has been…

Tomorrow we return the boat back into the Moorings base, say our goodbyes to the BVI and take the ferry back to St. Thomas. We have a buffer day to get cleaned up and get our land legs back before we trek back home to the snow.

Cheers!

-Lauren

2/3/17