We’re writing this tonight from the harbor at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Yes, we’re finally off on our 2013 adventures. It might seem excessive to take a full three weeks in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, getting ready to leave the dock, but it took all of that again this year.
So … what’s really involved in readying a boat for the season? When Bill arrived in Fajardo late on January 15th, our contractor had already completed bottom painting and waxing the top sides (hull sides). By Friday the 17th, Bill had picked up from there and had generally readied everything needed for launch. On Friday afternoon Jubilee was splashed and in her transient slip. We were making good progress.
We’re often asked about pirates down this way, and always respond that those concerns are way overblown. Maybe we’ll reassess that answer after seeing this boat in Puerto del Rey (see photo at left). Yes, it’s definitely the Black Pearl of Pirates of the Caribbean fame. Turns out she was in Puerto del Rey in prep for another sequel, rumored to begin shooting sometime this February (the last films were shot nearby too). We’ll have to get a figurehead on our bow like that!
But back to the Jubilee. By the time Judy arrived on Wednesday the 23rd two of our three sails had been bent on the boat, our water systems were flushed and running, the refrigerator/freezer and stove were operating, and numerous other miscellaneous projects were completed. Then, on the way to pick up Judy at the San Juan airport, Bill dropped off our life raft in for its long-overdue service, a project that turned out to be this year’s “long pole”.
Bill was present when the canister was opened, and things didn’t look good. Salt water had gotten into the canister since the last repack, and tropical heat did the rest. A fungus was growing on some of the fabric, seriously weakening it, plus some of raft's seams were loosening. In the end, repairs to our 26-year-old raft couldn’t be cost-justified. It was time to look for other options. We also certainly couldn’t argue with the value we had gotten out of our old raft. 26 years on a life raft is almost unheard of. Its time had come.
It was also a good thing we had taken the raft in for repack, otherwise we wouldn’t have known we were relying on a dangerously degraded raft had we needed it in an emergency.
Ultimately we purchased a used but never emergency-inflated 6-person Avon with a used but re-painted fiberglass canister and stainless steel mounting cradle, all for well less than half of the cost of new. For those of you familiar with life rafts, also remember that these things are sized for “survival conditions” with little thought to comfort. Our 4-person was adequate for the two of us, but would have been very minimal for four. The six-person raft is a much better raft for our purposes. And considering that we now wouldn’t have to be paying a re-pack fee for our old 4-person raft, the actual out of pocket cost to us for the new raft was less than 1/3 of new. It was definitely money well spent.
In parallel with the raft exercise we focused on provisioning with countless trips to local grocery stores, plus completing other boat projects (bending on the main, some brightwork, stainless cleaning, the dingy and outboard, rebuilding the head, etc.). We were also working with the local canvas shop on our other “long pole” … new side curtains for our bimini for additional sun and rain protection while at anchor, and a new awning over the foredeck to allow the foredeck hatch over our bunk to be left open through tropical squalls when at anchor.
In time everything did come together, plus we were able to work in a little enjoyment while in Puerto Rico too. We went out to dinner several times with boating friends Jim and Ellie Watson from Breckinridge, CO -- s/v Last Tango. One particularly special restaurant find with them was La Parrilla in neighboring Luquillo, where Bill will argue he had his best-ever meal down this way ... shrimp-stuffed grouper.
Puerto del Rey is the largest marina and boat yard in the eastern Caribbean, attracting some pretty interesting boats. The accompanying photos are of the stunning and highly successful 1954 offshore racing yacht Bolero, recently fully restored in 2010. The boat virtually revolutionized yacht design back in the 50’s, while also marking the high point as well as the waning days of wooden yacht construction, as fiberglass began to quickly take its place. They definitely don’t make them like Bolero anymore … either construction or lines. What a beauty! And what a thrill it was to see a working yacht like that in such pristine condition at almost 60 years of age.
Finally, by Thursday, February 7th, we were ready to cast off the lines and head east for the Virgins into the teeth of the trades. Thursday found us at anchor just inside the entrance to Ensenada Honda on Culebra, Spanish Virgins. We thought about a longer stay in Culebra, but decided to continue east while the trades remained relatively subdued. By Friday night we were safely anchored in St. Thomas, secure for an expected blow to come Sunday evening through Tuesday. And on Sunday we were welcomed by several bands and other youth marching units parading down the main harbor-side drive ... pretty kewl. It was finally time to kick back a bit and enjoy our first sundowners of the season in Jubilee's cockpit with friends Jim and Ellie while at anchor on Saturday night (they arrived on Last Tango from Culebra Sunday afternoon, anchoring near Jubilee). After a few days of chilling out here on St. Thomas while attending to a few remaining boat projects, we should be ready for our first guests for the season, college friends Ted and Jane Bispala, who arrive later this week.
So with that we’ll leave you for now. Do join us again to check out our upcoming week in the BVI's with Ted and Jane. Watch for that blog post in about two weeks or so ... or ... better yet ... register for our web site’s RSS feed, which will send you an email whenever we put up a new posting. ‘Til then, keep warm if you’re still up in the Northland, or keep kewl if like us you’re enjoying yourself in the southern sun.