Keli crossing the finish line

Keli finishing the North Shore Sprint triathlon

Keli finishing the North Shore Sprint triathlon

We’re a bit short on photos of Keli at the race, not least because her official photographer (me) was also racing. But here’s one captured by Lauren as she powers to the finish line. For a girl who wasn’t a runner this time last year, a 5km time of 29:02 isn’t bad at all – she finished 11th out of 19 in the run, and 7th overall. Official race chants included: “I love you!”, “You’re a runner!”, and “Damn, you look fine!”

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Vancouver make the Stanley Cup Final!

The Canucks (killer whale) prepare to devour San Jose (sharks)

Hockey. It’s a big one this month! We’ve been watching the Vancouver Canucks all season – actually me for about 8 seasons and Keli 33 – and this year they’ve made it into the Stanley Cup Finals. Hockey (of the ice variety) is a gruelling sport. The Canucks played 82 games during the regular season, in just over 6 months. The games are extremely physical, players crashing into each other at speed, a real war of attrition. The Canucks were founded in 1970, and have only once made it to the Finals, in 1994. This year we topped the 32 team league in points overall, securing home ice advantage for the 4 round finals. Each series is best of 7, and since April 13th we’ve beaten Chicago in 7, Nashville in 6 and Tampa Bay in 5. Next it’s the Boston Bruins.

So Wednesday starts our series with Boston, and twitter is already alive with our pro-Vancouver #ruinthebruin hashtag. We’re on a scheduled-break between our triathlon coaching clinics with NSA, which allows us to watch every game guilt-free! Go Canucks Go.

 

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Post race nutrition

keli and stu posing on Lonsdale Avenue after their first triathlon

En route to brunch after our first race

I’ve obviously been raving about my love of triathlon for weeks, and I’m sure it’s wearing thin. Which I totally understand. But allow me to summarise our first race in as close to 140 characters as possible – which is the new way to blog anyway..except the cool kids argue it’s not really blogging, which itself is too primitive.

So…

We spent all day Sunday thinking about the race. Setting out our clothes, energy gels, cycling shoes, running shoes, gps watch, number belts, etc.. on our towel and practicing changing quickly from swim to cycle to run. We went to the pool at 3.30pm to join our North Shore Athletics friends to practice. It was frantic. I got panicked, was hyperventilating during the cycle and felt terrible on the run. I cooked chicken broccoli bake for dinner and we went to be with jitters.

In the morning I woke up feeling really calm. We eat breakfast – Pat’s homemade granola recipe which I’ll share later – loaded the bikes onto the car and drove to the pool. The race was 750m in a pool, 20km on the bike and a 5km run. Everything was smooth, we got the bikes into transition, our numbers painted, our gear set out in transition – as we’d practiced on Sunday afternoon; and then lined up for our swim start time.

Keli massively underestimated her swimming prowess and was frustrated by the plebs who had massively overestimated their own. We were swimming 14 to a double-wide lane, and if you’re not swimming at a similar pace you end up cutting each other up. I punched people with my flailing arms, Keli preferring to pause and swear at them when she turned at the shallow end of the pool.

The cycle was four loops of a 5km circuit on the dual carriageway. Traffic was diverted onto the other side and we had a lane in each direction on our side. Corners were tight, nervous for those lacking cycle confidence, but we both did well.

The run was less than pleasant, 5km running down into cul-de-sacs only to turn around and run straight back up. But it was the last leg, and crossing the finish line to some cheering friends, Nicole and Lauren coming all the way in from Vancouver with a handmade sign and a bunch of flowers was fantastic.

And as for the results: we both exceeded our expectations! Keli took over 21 minutes off her time from last year’s Stanley Park triathlon, finishing 7th out of 19 in her age group. My times online aren’t right, but unless I took over 20 minutes for my swim, which I know I didn’t, I finished the race 10th in my age group and in a total time of about 1hr 10mins. My swim time was corrected a week after the race and I did the whole thing in 1hr 9 mins 53 secs (getting below 1:10 was my goal) and finished 9th in my age group. We’re both over the moon!

And then brunch with Nicole and Lauren.

One week later we’re both keen to get signed up for our next race, the Iron Mountain Triathlon on June 19th. We took Tuesday and Wednesday off last week to recover and I was so depressed by Wednesday evening, my brain has obviously become accustomed to the daily endorphine hit.

So, more than 140 characters, but as concise as I could manage.

 

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Triathlon: our latest passion.

Keli on the start line for the Stanley Park triathlon

Keli on the start line for the Stanley Park triathlon

Keli competed in her first triathlon in September 2010 in the beautiful setting of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Stanley Park is Vancouver’s first park, and is over 1000 acres of cedar, hemlock and fir trees; a walking and cycling path around the seawall and lots of lawn space. In a lap of the seawall you pass the rowing club, marina, aquarium, cricket field, two kids play parks and panoramic views of downtown, English Bay and the north shore. Kel’s race was on a wet, foggy day where none of those views could be appreciated, the two buoys marking the corners of her 750m ocean swim were almost invisible in the fog.

Swimmers returning from the 2nd buoy in the Stanley Park Triathlon

Swimmers returning from the 2nd buoy in the Stanley Park Triathlon

Triathlon was a ‘before I’m 40′ goal for Keli that she’d talked about for ages. Coming back from the boat was a tough transition for both of us, and being under-employed in Vancouver and living in your parents house in your 30s (grateful as we are to have a bed in both our parents’ homes), felt a bit demoralizing at times. Triathlon gave Keli amazing focus which I really wanted to get in on this year.

As we entered 2011 we both felt strongly that we wanted to lay down some new patterns in our life. Some are financial, some career or vocational, and one was about fitness and competition. Our old tired bodies are definitely not as responsive as they used to be, and watching Keli’s parents’ fitness group where a bunch of 50-80 year olds meet up three times a week to work out and then drink coffee really has made us think hard about where we want to be physically in 30 years.

We’re both competitive people, and I really enjoy the experience of pushing myself physically – Keli really likes the achievement of finishing but doesn’t have the same character defect that enjoys the pain like I do. And Kel’s positive experience of her first triathlon made the decision for us in terms of what challenge to pick up. I’ll let her tell you about her race:

Training for the Sprint distance last summer was a somewhat strange and very solitary time for me. I only knew that I would definitely compete when I paid my entry fee about three weeks before the race. At that point I couldn’t run for more than 6 minutes without a walking break and I had never cycled on a road bike. After a breakthrough with my breathing while running about 10 days before the race I knew that I would at least be able to finish, which was my goal.

Keli entering the water at the 2010 sprint distance triathlon in Stanley Park

Keli entering the water at the 2010 sprint distance triathlon in Stanley Park

Keli running out of 1st transition to begin her 20km cycle leg.

Keli running out of 1st transition to begin her 20km cycle leg.

I swam in my Dad’s windsurfing wetsuit from the 60s that was sleeveless with a front zip; I ran with my Mom’s second hand cross trainers and I cycled on a rented road bike. However, despite the miserable day, the eternity I spent in transitions trying not to forget anything and helping other competitors out, and the mishmash of second hand equipment, I had a wonderful time. I felt great and finished 23rd in my age category out of 37 competitors! Now after finding coaching and friends the training is so fun. It has been such a relief, in the face of under-employment and homelessness, to work hard towards something and watch as speed and distances increase and the times come down.

The cost and ease of training in North Vancouver is a real plus point. At the minute we’re doing between 7 and 9 coached training sessions per week for less than $13. Our first discovery was North Shore Athletics, a running shop on Lonsdale about 10 minutes walk from our new apartment. They run a range of training clinics for sprint, olympic and half-ironman triathlon distances, as well as general running clinics from novice to marathon. We joined their running clinic because we couldn’t afford the full triathlon clinic, and run with the group on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. We’ve both found the training to be both very challenging and really motivating, I think we’ve only missed one session each in over 10 weeks.

Find #2 was coached swimming. Keli is an amazing swimmer, in her September race she entered the water last, paranoid about getting taken out by the flailing mass of limbs at the front of the pack; and came out in the top third of her age category. This was despite bumping headfirst into a large bloke floating by the first buoy taking in air and resting in star-float formation and swimming around the outside of the other competitors in her group. I on the other hand sink like a stone. On the boat we would play games where from the surface with one arm stroke we would see how deep we could get – I can hit the bottom in 30ft, whereas Keli’s arms barely get below the surface before she is propelled upwards like a cork. We do 3-4 coached swimming sessions a week at our local Rec Centre with John, who whips us into shape…more on that below.

Spin class in North Van - before, not after!

Spin class in North Van - before, not after!

And find #3 was spin class. Up to now neither of us have had road bikes, and we’ve been using spin class 2 or 3 times a week to develop some bike technique, endurance and overall fitness. We have a few amazing spin teachers, mostly ladies, who push us through 45 minutes or an hour per session. I sweat pints during each class, and we’ve been improving our bike setup as well as getting further each class. Now that the weather has started to turn into spring, and the clocks changed, we’re really excited about getting out onto the road with the North Shore Tri Club, and North Shore Athletics.

Improvement has been steady so far, and we’re working towards our first race the North Shore Spring Sprint Triathlon on May 23rd. I’ve been geeking it up by looking at last year’s results and trying to work out my desired race times. Sprint triathlons are 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km runs; which aren’t really my optimum distance not being a sprinter, so finishing in the top half of my age group (30-34) will be an achievement. My best swim time is about 1:45/100m – that’s only doing 100m flat out and then resting – so I’m a long way off the top finisher last year who averaged 1:39 over the full 750m. But when I started in January I could only manage about 2:13/100m, so I’ve made some good progress. Keli on the other hand is a dolphin. She regularly knocks out 100m in 1:35 without even trying, so her focus in improving her run and cycle legs. Of course even if I could bring my swim time down in the next 6 weeks I’ll have to get out of the water and average 38 km/h on the bike, and then knock out 5km in less than 15 minutes -which isn’t going to happen. But I like these little challenges.

The only practical challenge for us is for this season is the cost of competition entries. It’s between $65 and $110 each per event, and ideally we’d like to each do four races, about one per month for May, June, August and September, as well as a relay Half Ironman in the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon on July 3rd. We’re doing the half-iron with our friend Nicole, Kel’s swimming 1.9km, I’m cycling 93km, and Nicole is running a half-marathon, 20km in Canadian.

It feels like a strange request, but if anyone feels like to sponsoring us for part of a race, or even a whole one, then just give us a shout. I’m sure we could come up with creative bartering for many of Keli and my skills! And I’ll even promise to compete in every race that’s paid for – like every race on this year’s calendar. Here’s the goal:

May 23rd – North Shore Spring Sprint Tri
June 19th – Iron Mountain Olympic Tri
July 3rd – Subaru Vancouver Half Ironman (relay)
August 21st – Kelowna Olympic Tri
September 5th – Vancouver Stanley Park Olympic Tri

We’ll keep you posted as we improve. Training has given us a really amazing focus this year, and we’re excited to show off when we get the chance!

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Nesting in North Van

We made it!

On Thursday we borrowed Kel’s uncle Howie’s truck and spent the morning moving furniture, mostly begged, borrowed and stolen, from Dennis and Pat’s into the apartment. Three hours and only two trips was sufficient to transfer almost all our worldly goods currently in Canada into our new home. Dad would be keen to point out that many more of our precious possessions are stored in his roofspace in Holywood! It was very straightforward, and we both high-fived and toasted simplicity, in this case enforced through financial constraints rather than higher consciousness.

We spent one last night in the house-sit with Nancy, Kel’s 2nd mum, and then moved our clothes and cat down in the afternoon. Just a few hours of unpacking and tidying and we were basically set. I nipped out for a few groceries, a shower curtain, a cheese grater and can opener, and we popped a bottle of wine with nachos for dinner. We were both so bushed from the transition that we hit the sack at about 8.30pm, each starting a new book to mark a new chapter.

Saturday we walked around the neighbourhood, picked up this bargain of a lamp for the bedroom from the Salvation Army, and got some groceries to make pizza for dinner. And today we met Arly and Matt for breakfast in our local greasy spoon cafe – smoked salmon eggs benny for me, and french toast, bacon and eggs for Kel. Arly and Kel run together in the North Shore Athletics running clinic that we are part of, and her and Matt are our nearest neighbours that we know.

We’re both sleeping like champs at the minute, which I think is just sleeping off the stress of not having our own space since we arrived in Canada. We’ve experienced incredible generosity from Dennis and Pat, their friends from fitness, who we count as friends; and from Nancy, our most recent house-sit. But there’s something psychologically comforting about having a space that’s ours, and the cost of rent is more than reasonable price to pay for the deep rest that we get from sitting on our own 60s vinyl sofa infront of our thermostatically controlled gas fire!

Anzuelo has been dealing with his own little bit of trauma this month. We noticed he had a slight limp about a month ago but assumed it was self-inflicted and that he would recover in a few days. After two weeks he was still hobbling around, and had started meowing in pain when he got up or lay down. Despite a trip to the vet and some anti-inflammatory pills he couldn’t shake it off, and so he went for an xray about 10 days ago. The result from the xray showed that he unfortunately has a broken hip, and that his bone-density seems low, indicating that he may be prone to more breaks in future. Sadly animal-medicine isn’t socialised, and so we’re keeping him doped on morphine while the vet and radiographer come up with some options for him. We would be gutted to have to put him down, he’s so young and full of life, and by far the most interactive and sociable cat either of us have ever had (sorry Kai). But we’ll wait and see, at the minute his painkillers keep him bouyant and playful, and he’s developed some new indoor play techniques in the apartment, of particular note are: 1. tipping over the vase and pouring water on the table and carpet (4 times since Friday), 2. climbing into the toilet to splash and drink the water, and 3. emptying the contents of his cat litter box (clean thankfully) over the bathroom floor.

The week starts tomorrow. We’re both excited to get into a groove again, and enjoy the benefits of walking to and from public transport and our various social hookups, starting with spin class tomorrow at 6.30am! Life in Vancouver starts early, if you get up at 8 you’ve missed half the morning!

The breakfast of champions

After effectively a year off, we’re kick-starting the blog with a new focus that suits our new life.
De Dutch pancake house athelete's special
In May 2010 we moved back to Vancouver having emptied the coffers aboard Beannacht. It was a difficult decision for both of us, and whilst I was excited about moving to a new city, Kel wasn’t particularly inspired about returning to life on land having failed to get our ship across the Pacific. Energy for writing was low, as energy was low in general.

Vancouver has been a time to refocus and recommit. Beannacht is still in the boat yard in Trinidad, where she will lie for at least the next 12 months, but probably a little longer. In the meantime I’m in the process of getting residency in Canada, which is really exciting, if a little tedious, and Kel and I are finding new ways to chase dreams and push ourselves.

Sunday afternoon cycle with Nancy

This year we’ve committed to triathlons. Keli did her first triathlon last year and did really well, finishing the Vancouver Stanley Park sprint distance in the top half of her age category, despite taking about 30 minutes in her transitions. I, along with another competitive friend, were scratching our heads and muttering ‘what the hell is she doing?’, while Keli chewed some energy sweets and helped other competitors untangle their bikes from the racks. Keli’s goal was simply to finish, and she exceeded that by quite a margin.

Not wishing to be outdone I decided to get in on the action, and so this year we’re training together, and I’m learning how to swim for the first time. Despite spending a lot of time getting destroyed by the waves in Portballintrae with @colinhewitt in my youth, and spending two years living on a boat, my abilities in the pool are a bit limited. I have no fear of the water and really enjoy surfing, but I had never fully mastered the art of swimming front crawl continuously without getting so out of breath that I was swallowing water in the hope of extracting oxygen. Not only are my strength and technique far below what I need to be competitive in a triathlon, but I probably wouldn’t have made it through a 750m swim before I started training in January.

Keli is an amazing swimmer, a true water baby, but she hates running and worked very hard to get up to 5 km for her sprint race in September. Her challenge is to get to 10 km, and not just 10k, but 10k having already swam 1500m and cycled 40km.

And so back to breakfast. 10 days ago I went to the pool on Saturday morning to see if my swim training had given me any sort of a platform on which to build towards our first race on May 23rd. I completed 750m, the sprint triathlon swim distance, in 16 minutes 15 seconds. Not likely to challenge to many of my competitors, but a really good marker for me both to celebrate a little success, and also give myself a target to beat.

So with new energy for blogging, and excitement about tri training, we’ll put a little more effort into keliandstu.com.

Free diving on RHS Rhone

Blue Tang's at the Baths

While we’re on land in Vancouver making some cash I thought I’d recap on some things we love about sailing. Number 1, top of the list for both of us, is free diving. Not that we’re competitive or anything, but since we left D.R. in January we’ve been trying to test ourselves with depth challenges. It actually started with Alicia and Brian in St Thomas. We were out on a tour with Brian’s pirate ship and they took us to a wreck that lay in 50 feet of water. J, one of Brian’s colleagues, dove on the wreck and then Keli followed him. Not to be outdone I of course gave it a shot too – and we passed! We were both amazed that we could do it and suddenly curious about how much further we could dive…the challenge began.

The next challenge was in Little Harbour, where our depth sounder showed our anchor lying in 50 ft. We both dove on it a few times over a couple of days. As we travelled south we dove on the RMS_Rhone at Salt Island, and at Jacques Cousteau’s Underwater Reserve in Guadeloupe.

Here are a couple of videos of us diving on RHS Rhone. There would have been more, but sadly we forgot that our waterproof camera was only waterproof to 30 ft. Water got to the battery while Keli was filming the second video at about 70 ft and it ground to a hault. Thankfully the video up to that point was fine!

Stu diving on the RHS Rhone
Keli diving on RHS Rhone

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Pen to paper

Trail walking in Little Harbour

So we’re back on dry land, and I’ve finally got my thoughts together. It became difficult to keep blogging for a while aboard Beannacht, mostly as life got busy in St Martin, but also because we’d ran out of money and were having tough conversations about what to do next. I’m sure if I’d been on it there would be fertile blog posts in there, but at the time I wasn’t.

St Martin was fun, but our expectations of well paid work for the two of us proved to be unfounded. I think in another year we both would have found great jobs, but this year and the previous have been lean due to the wider economic delights. I did find work in a great little bar called Lagoonies in Cole Bay, and enjoyed about 2 months of bar tending and kitchen duties – fish and chips was my domain. Keli did some massage work in the anchorage also, but after a few weeks it became very clear that whilst we could make our expenses, it wasn’t possible to save money. This prompted us to reflect on what we were accomplishing and what our goals are.

‘Our goals’ is difficult to pin down, not least because we have different ones, but ‘a goal’ that we’re both agreed upon is a Pacific crossing from Panama via the islands to New Zealand. That one was not being served by minimum-wage work in St Martin, some intervention was required. We spent two weeks considering our options in Ireland and Canada, as well as an option in Haiti which didn’t transpire. In this time it became very obvious that Ireland, and Europe in general were in worse financial condition than Canada, and that if earning was the priority then Vancouver was the smartest move.

So on the 11th May we boarded the first of three planes, Anzuelo at our feet in his carrier, and journeyed back to YVR, surely the most beautiful airport in the world. Vancouver had the winter olympics earlier in the year, and Canadian banks are much more conservative than their UK or USA counterparts, and by all accounts the job market in Vancouver is quite buoyant.

Dennis and Pat met us at the airport, very pleased to see us, and not so much Anzuelo! This is mostly because Kel has exhibited a tendency to bring cats home that never leave, although she usually does. We settled into Kel’s old room (another problem with Belfast is that Tom and Hazel got rid of my room about a month after I left home in 1997), and got down to fitness group and coffee the next day, established routines that we very much enjoy.

Since I last put pen to paper Beannacht has taken us from Little Harbour to St Martin/St Maarten, back to Tortola, on to guadeloupe, Grenada, and finally to Trinidad. We decided to store the boat on the hard (out of the water) in Trinidad because it is south of the hurricane belt, and less expensive. $320 storage per month is about half of what we would pay in the BVIs or St Martin, and a third of storage costs in Seattle, where we are today.

Last night we celebrated Bob Liston’s birthday with the wider family in Seattle, before heading to Michelle Ford’s wedding today on the Bainbridge Island ferry. It’s a treat to be able to drop down across the border to see Michelle again and be present as Jon and her get hitched. We’ve missed out on a few friend events since we’ve been away, and today Kellie Turtle and Stu also get married in Ireland… if we were omnipotent we would be there also, as well as in Steve Jobs’ office, or someone’s kitchen wall or something.

We skimped on the Windward Islands. Three nights in Guadeloupe, skipped past Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines before landing in Grenada. Before Guadeloupe we’d also missed Saba, St Kits, Antigua and Barbuda. In Deshaies we received pain au chocolate and fresh pain each morning for a couple of euro. In Grenada we enjoyed amazing cooking in Joan’s restaurant overlooking Clarkes Court in Woburn Bay. Both places gave us a real taste for the Caribbean islands, a flavour that isn’t present in the more touristed Leeward islands.

Prior to making this rapid descent to Trinidad we returned to Tortola to attend a small ceremony in the British Embassy at which Keli was presented with her certificate of naturalisation in the UK. We had completed a rigorous anti-swearing ceremony (not the four letter kind) on the boat that morning to undo any royal allegiances required to attain said certificate, the normal procedure includes loyalty to Madge and all of her descendants – I mean Harry, come on – but no such oath was demanded on this occasion. Keli estimates the whole process cost somewhere in the region of £3000+, and 6 years, so to have the piece of paper is a huge relief. Of course we promptly lost it, and then found.

Now that we’re in Vancouver I have an appointment with an immigration lawyer to explore applying for residency in Canada. I have a feeling the Canadians will be nicer about the whole thing than the Brits, but immigration is a hot topic in both places at the minute. I had a small altercation at the US border a few days after we arrived as we were travelling with Kel’s uncle John down to his boat in Point Roberts, just south of the border. Apparently the standard visa waiver programme requires that you exit the US, Canada and Mexico before you can get another, and that because I haven’t been ‘home’ (wherever that is right now) since my last waiver I was flirting with the law. In the end it was fine and yesterday at the border was easy because I have a current waiver, but both Kel and I feel its becoming increasing difficult to travel when you don’t look ‘conventional’. I guess my answers to where to you live, what is your employment status, and when are you leaving Canada (on a boat, haven’t worked in years, don’t know when I’m leaving) don’t give them warm fuzzy feelings.

But we’re in nonetheless, and in a hour we see Michelle again, before driving back to Vancouver tonight. Job hunting for Keli continues, and through an amazing connection with Ruaidhri and Ursula, a beautiful Irish/Chilean couple from Connemara I’ve started working selling products online. I’ll cover that another time, but essentially I spend my day playing on the computer while Keli goes out to work – what’s not to love!

Enough for now. Good to be back.

A reminder of the things we love about cruising.

Trellis Bay full moon party

Trellis Bay full moon party

The full moon returned to us last night, and we returned to Trellis Bay in the BVIs to dance the night away with Mark on Opal, Walter and Ilanka on Sheherazade and as a last minute surprise Mike and his friend Nick on Gaia. I’ll save you the trouble of listening to me complain further about the seemingly endless capacity of charter boats to create chaos in tight anchorages, if you want a revision look back to July 09′s writings.

Two boats did manage to cut so closely to an anchored boat near us to pick up its anchor line on their keel, take it for a ride and then flee the scene without checking if they’d set it free to roam the bay without a pilot. But aside from that we’ve no complaints. We’re actually feeling very pleased with ourselves having masterminded a two anchor off the bow setup to slot into a little space between some boats on moorings and save ourselves the $25 per night tariff on the mooring balls liberally dotted all over the place – again further ranting can be found in the archives.

A shark-sucker bonded with our boat in Little Harbour. Our guide books say they are not harmful, but may try to attach to us in which case a swift pull forwards releases them.

A shark-sucker bonded with our boat in Little Harbour. Our guide books say they are not harmful, but may try to attach to us in which case a swift pull forwards releases them.

We’ve had a blast in the BVIs this time round, and found an amazing bay, one of many I’m sure, that is absolutely devoid of mooring balls, and hence charter boats. Little Harbour is on Peter Island 5 miles south of Roadtown, Tortola. Opal and Sheherazade were planning to be there for a couple of nights and invited us to join them. We headed across not expecting to be surprised, and were just amazed by the beauty and protection of the spot. Boats stern-tie in the bay because it can be quite tight and you can fit more in, so I rowed to shore with our secondary anchor, complete with chain and rode and tied up to a tree on shore, Kel winching us in nice and snug.

Anchored in Little Harbour.

Anchored in Little Harbour.

Snorkelling in Little Harbour was fantastic. Schools of young fish, some as small as a few cells hanging together in a clear gel, and some up to about 4 inches swarm around the shallows trying to avoid predators. We swam for hours through the schools causing them to explode away from us in synchronised silver balls, immediately filling the space just vacated once we moved through them. Small troops of jacks and tuna would dart in and out of the balls scooping off the unlucky, and then the big fellas, 3-5 foot Tarpons collect the rest.

Tarpon swimming in the bait ball in Little Harbour

Tarpon swimming in the bait ball in Little Harbour

Our work schedule got back on track in Little Harbour too. Kel cleaned the bottom from front to back, getting down to what must be our last two millimetres of antifouling paint. We fitted a new zinc on our propeller, a sacrificial anode for the salty electrolyte we sail in, and I completed the mother of all upgrades on the boat, adding a new 160 amp secondary alternator to charge our batteries. The alternator project has been a bit of a drag. It was a complicated installation and I had to fabricate two brackets, source a pulley in a country that doesn’t speak the Queen’s English as its first language and find a belt that fitted my apparently odd sizing. I left Luperon with all the components ready to go, but didn’t want to risk an install there when we were just about to leave on bad terms with the local hoods, I mean navy.

My first attempt was a little bit of a failure as the pulley on the alternator wasn’t tight enough and so started slipping once it heated up and expanded. But after a trip to Roadtown on Monday I picked up an extra washer and it’s working perfectly. Our little alternator which now charges our starter battery could muster 54 amps at full throttle for the first 5 minutes before it heated up and its efficiency tailed off to about 45 amps at a fast idle of 1300 rpm. The first numbers I saw from my new friend was 136 amps! After a few minutes we dropped to 1000 rpm and were making 110 amps. Of course I understand if all these numbers are irrelevant or uninteresting, but to give you some perspective this is the difference of running our diesel engine for 2-3 hrs per day to keep up with our energy needs, to running it for 1. On windy days our renewable friend drops it even lower.

Our new whopper 160amp alternator. Stu fabricated the brackets with the help at Moreno at Luc's factory in Luperon. Dave kindly donated the bottle screw for tensioning. The pulley is from an old Ford and does a fine job!

Our new whopper 160amp alternator. Stu fabricated the brackets with the help at Moreno at Luc's factory in Luperon. Dave kindly donated the bottle screw for tensioning. The pulley is from an old Ford and does a fine job!

Our amp meter showing an amazing 116 amps going in from our new alternator - not a small thing!

Our amp meter showing an amazing 116 amps going in from our new alternator - not a small thing!

At the top of the hill overlooking Little Harbour is an abandoned house that George Orwell apparently owned or stayed in. The house has an enormous main room with mosaic on the wall, outbuildings, servants quarters and a large deck that took in the view towards Tortola. Kel and I hiked up the hill and walked around the buildings imagining our reconstruction project. We also found some amazing caterpillars all over the place, black with neon green stripes and an antenna on their tails. Locals call them Frangipanni worms and the give birth to the most enormous moths in the second stage of life. The bay was also covered in beautiful yellow butterflies, some small lizards and snakes.

One of the crazy caterpillars on land.

One of the crazy caterpillars on land.

The British government surpassed themselves on Monday, telling Kel that they couldn’t possibly hold a citizenship ceremony just for her and that she would have to wait until the next one ‘later in the year’. This is after they failed to collect their email in September and Kel missed one that she could have attended. We were then assured that they would be in touch about the next one that would take place in the new year. We went to their office last week and discovered that there was actually one the week before that noone had contacted us about. ‘You’re very hard to contact’ seems to mean ‘we’re just not too sure how to use email’. We’re not sure yet what the consequence of this incompetence is, but it may well have effected Kel’s ability to work legally in St Martin, and if they can’t get themselves together by the summer Kel will have to fly home to the UK to keep her current visa status. All of this really begs the question to we actually want to carry UK passports anyway, perhaps the Irish might be more cooperative?

This week we hope to make the 80 mile passage to St Martin just in time to catch the beginning of the 6 nations.. I mean just in time to find some work and begin saving for the Pacific trip. We think that the work prospects this year are likely to be below the normal so what work we can find is an unknown. What we do know is that there’s normally casual work on the mega yachts that come in to the marina on the Dutch side of the island, polishing stainless and varnishing. If we’re stuck and there’s an opportunity we could also crew on a larger boat and put our boat in storage for a while. Of course the question of Anzuelo would factor there, not sure he’s cut out for life on a multi-million dollar vessel, he’s making a right balls of our 50k one as it is!

One of the good things about spending 4-6 months in St Martin is that we’re in a place where friends can come visit! St Martin is a hub for international flights in and out of the Caribbean, and there are regular scheduled flights from both Paris and Amsterdam, with regular connections through London. So put your pennies in the bank people and get your butts out here. You can even check out parking at Heathrow airport here if you need it: parking heathrow.

Finally, we noticed that 10 Irwin Avenue has just gone back on the market for about 50k less that we listed it for two years ago. We loved that house and were reluctant to sell it, despite it funding this little adventure. If any of our good friends would like to make an offer on it we would happily come visit them frequently, particularly on winter nights when the fire is lit! Check it out here.

Escape.

People may deny it, but in my view a little piracy goes a long way! We left Luperon under the cover of darkness on Saturday 9th January having given the local Comandancia enough of our hard earned dollars in our three previous bureaucratic encounters and set sail, or rather fired up the motor, with Puerto Rico in our sights. Judgement abounds from the long termers in the harbour, but contrary to their belief that paying the bills keeps greases the wheels for everyone else, in my view it only serves to encourage more corruption. The DR is a developing country with limited services, and being asked to pay more than the fee for an entire year in the Bahamas, more than anywhere we’ve been infact, doesn’t wash. The other problem with paying is that it convinces the officials that poeple on boats are loaded, which we clearly aren’t, and they just come up with more ways to screw you. The other irony is that the long termers in the anchorage (cruisers doesn’t seem to describe the stationary folks who spend more on Bohemia  than they do on their boats) are all buying residence cards in order to get out of the harbour fees anyway.

So, suffice to say Luperon had got very old, and we were both relieved to finally pick up our anchor. In the end my work there dragged on for a full month more than we anticipated, and friends left the anchorage ahead of us themselves on eastern courses. We did of course maintain the normal Christmas customs, pancakes in the morning, big feed in the evening. Gifts tended towards the creative, rather than the valuable! I bought Kel a 2000 piece jigsaw for her 32nd birthday (right old bird), not knowing anything about puzzles, and we spend the best part of two weeks trying to get it done without success. In the end we packed it up in chunks and will restart it when we’ve stopped moving.

In record time we made it to Puerto Rico, where we pulled in to pick up an extra 20 gallons of diesel, before rounding the south western tip of the island and motoring though the night to the Spanish Virgin Island of Los Palominos off the eastern coast. The next day we motored the final 20 miles to the US Virgins, and pulled into the port of Charlotte Amalie, dropping our anchor just beside Alicia and Brian on Sarabande. We had an amazing time with the guys and also caught up with Mike on Gaia, and Sussura.

This week we arrived in the BVIs, and became legitimate citizens again. We’re currently anchored by Village Cay Marina in Roadtown. We were here in July with mum and dad, and it’s been nice to get some familiar drinks, and chinese food – what a luxury! We’ve got online and touched base with the families, and generally relaxed knowing that we’ve done the hard part already in getting this far.

Our next plan is to move to St Martin, the next island down the chain, to look for some more work. Sadly our work in Luperon didn’t turn out as planned, both of us earning less than we agreed at the beginning of our contracts, and we don’t have enough in the kitty for our planned trip to New Zealand. So we’ve re prioritised and plan to work for the next 4-6 months in St Martin in preparation for an 18 month cruise to New Zealand. Our boat needs a few extra pieces of equipment before we cross the Pacific, so our budget includes a mix of those things along with our living expenses – we’re currently managing to live off about $700 a month.

Kel and I remain astounded by the incompetence of the British Government’s naturalisation department. Kel applied to have her citizenship ceremony in the BVIs last summer and was given a date at the end of September. She was due to be in Panama at the time and was unavailable for the ceremony, but was told swhe would be contacted in the new year when a new one was scheduled. She went to the office this morning to discover that they had one last week and didn’t contact her! Hopefully they are going to provide her with one on her own next week to get it finished. We’ll believe it when it happens.

So we’re planning a weekend of snorkelling and reading, followed by a citizenship ceremony and then a trip to St Martin. Beats Luperon anyday.