Day 77, Year 6 All Set for Vieques Reunion
Date: Sunday, January 9, 2011
Weather: Overcast and Rainy, No Wind
Location: Simon’s Town, Western Cape, South Africa

I just asked Mark what he thought we accomplished today and he said, “We got up.” Well, that we did, but for a day that we had declared a day of rest, we sure got a lot done. The most important thing was that Jon Schmidt, the owner of the Beach House in Vieques that we want for our reunion with the kids, had emailed with a total price for the eight days that are available and we were able to get back in touch with him to let him know that we definitely want the house. We have filled out the rental agreement and paid the down payment, so we think we are all set with that. We will arrive on Saturday, April 23 and the next day is Easter Sunday, so I figure the Easter bunny is delivering our kids and grandkids to us. And I know we will have a grand time hunting for eggs in the sand.

The diver came and cleaned the bottom of the boat and propeller today, so that big job is done. Tomorrow I will go on a shopping expedition with the ‘girls’ and try to get most of the rest of our provisioning done. There will still be some fresh food items that we will want to get at the last minute, but tomorrow’s trip should fill the freezer with meat and complete filling all of the food lockers with canned food and staples like rice, flour, and the ingredients for making granola. Step by step, day by day, we are getting ready for the Atlantic crossing.

Mark spent a great deal of his morning tracking down a leak in the water system. We have had the slow leak for a couple of weeks now and he has worked daily to trace down the source of the leak to no avail, but today he found it. Unfortunately it is not a loose connection or something that can be fixed easily. It is a leak in our stainless steel hot water tank. Removing the tank is a huge job so we decided to just leave it until we get home this summer. In the meantime, Mark will buy a valve and install it so he can shut off water to the tank. After he does this, we will have to turn on the valve and the hot water heater at the same time, use it, and then turn it off. Otherwise the water pump runs from time to time, using precious water that is just pumped overboard. That is not a problem while at a marina with ‘instant’ drinking water, but when we are at sea making water, we try to be as conservative as possible. Cold showers are the only problem and they won’t be a problem in the Caribbean. But while in the southern Atlantic, I think we’ll be turning that hot water tank on and off for every shower. Pieter and Carla of Odulphus have a similar problem, except their leak is in one of their two main water tanks. They would have to remove a lot of built-in furniture to get their tank out, so they are going to buy containers of drinking water and wait until they get back to the Netherlands to take out the tank and get it welded. Mark also made four new fender covers to replace the ones that have been ripped to shreds by the constant rubbing on the dock here when the winds are blowing hard. I don’t think we’ll put the new ones on until we are far away from this dock and these wicked South African winds.

So Mark, with a bad cold, worked all day and did not rest. I spent most of my day writing a long over-due letter to family and friends. I started the letter in October and only finished it late this afternoon. So the January Letter to Family and Friends is copied below. Now I have to get back to getting our South African photos edited, labeled, and uploaded to the website before we leave here. That’s the goal, but we’ll just have to wait and see if I really get that done. Mark has uploaded all of Chagos and Madagascar, but the South African photos are coming along slowly. We just keep doing too many things!

We just had a wonderful Skype conversation with our friends Alan and Helaine Kanegsberg in Concord, New Hampshire. We saw snow on the ground and almost froze at the sight. They are headed to Florida soon and are hoping things will be a bit warmer there.


January Letter to Family and Friends

Dear Family and Friends,

We’ve deemed 2010 the ‘Year of Good Decisions’ for Windbird. In the first letter we sent on December 1, 2009, we announced our decision to go around South Africa instead of through the Red Sea. And that was a very good decision for us. Our voyage through the Indian Ocean to the tip of South Africa has been just phenomenal.

The second ‘good decision’ was heading north to India before heading back south to the Maldives and to Chagos. While in southern India we experienced everything from beautifully green high mountain tea plantations to fabulous Hindu festivals with all the spangles and bobbles and colors that you can imagine. We loved it but after six weeks we headed south. We made two quick stops in the Maldives as we could not afford the very expensive cruising permit. But the powers that be there have finally rescinded the ridiculously expensive permit, so that is very good news for future cruisers. And I must mention that our decision to go snorkeling just one more time while off the northern island of Uligan provided us with one of the most spectacular underwater photo opportunities we have ever had. We got to watch sea cucumbers spawning. Seeing these normally lifeless looking creatures attach themselves to a rock and then stand upright and dance about in the water was just truly awesome.

The fourth Letter to Family and Friends was sent on June 1 just before we left Chagos. The isles of the Chagos archipelago are truly a slice of paradise. Our decision to stay there for only two months, instead of three, was another ‘good’ one because that gave us more time in Madagascar, but evidently future cruisers are not going to have that choice. Chagos became the largest marine reserve in the world while we were there and the new rules allow cruisers to spend only one month. We are so glad we got to spend two wonderful months there.

The fifth and last Letter to Family and Friends came to you from Madagascar in August. At that time we reported loving our experiences in Madagascar, but things got even better. On our first visit to a magical place called Moramba Bay, we spent day after day communing with the feisty and beautiful Coquerel’s Sifaka lemurs under the gigantic and elegant looking ancient baobab trees. The Coquerel’s Sifakas are all white with maroon patches on their chests and inner thighs and arms and we fell in love with them. And even more special was the fact that all the mothers had babies hitching rides on their backs and tummies. In addition to our lemur experiences, we enjoyed the warm, friendly people of Madagascar, got to see baby sea turtles hatch and go out to sea, had some absolutely fantastic snorkeling experiences, met some very good friends, enjoyed beautiful little islands surrounded by white sand beaches, and got to know some of the ex-pat community by getting involved in making pirogue sails for the locals from a spinnaker donated to the Nosy Be Rotary Club. All of these things together made our time in Madagascar the experience of a lifetime. And we have to thank John Sheppard of Sakatia Towers for making our Madagascar experience one we will never forget. He welcomed us and introduced us to Madagascar in a personal way. After many discussions with John about sailing strategies for getting to South Africa safely, we made the next ‘good decision’ to head further down the Madagascar coast than most cruisers before crossing to Richards Bay. Our trip was challenging at times, but we arrived in Richard’s Bay safe and sound without experiencing a ‘buster’-a storm coming from the south that can make sailing on the South African coast most unpleasant. Whew!

This Letter to Family and Friends was started on October 14 while we were still in Madagascar. Then I continued in December from Richard’s Bay on the northeastern coast of South Africa. Now we are down at the southern tip of South Africa in a place called Simon’s Town and are preparing for our Atlantic crossing. Somehow I am just now getting to finish the letter. We have been in South Africa for almost two-and-a-half months and I’m just not sure where the time has gone. We did spend a bit of time ‘hunting’ (with our cameras) the BIG 5 plus so many more beautiful animals in some of South Africa’s beautiful national parks and game and nature reserves. The BIG 5 are buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino and we have seen them all. But we would add a ‘1’ to the ‘5’ making it the BIG 15 by adding zebra, giraffe, cheetah, hippos, wildebeest, antelope of all sorts, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, and a whole flock of magnificent birds. We made the decision to do our game park touring as soon as we could after arriving in Richard’s Bay and we can add that decision to the ‘good’ list. It was just the beginning of spring and there were so many baby animals which made the experience all the more special. We then did as much provisioning as we could before we had to return the rental car we had for a month and then took the first weather opportunity to leave Richard’s Bay. Again that was a ‘good decision’ for us as it was about the only good weather window for another month. We are planning to leave South Africa next week and getting here over a month ago has given us an opportunity to see some of the spectacular sights here at the Southern Cape. We have a colony of African penguins that we can visit just a short walk from the False Bay Yacht Club where we are staying. We have been to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope and to Cape Town to see the magnificent Table Mountain. We have visited the oldest winery in South Africa, walked through Cape Town’s beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and have been on a boat ride out to see a colony of Cape fur seals up-close. Good friends that we met in Madagascar and the first world cruising friends we met back in the Caribbean (who are now back home in Cape Town) have made sure that we have experienced the best there is here and we are so appreciative. Thanks Bruce, Nadine, and Tristin, Nola and Giovanni (Nadine’s father and step-mother), and Piet Hein and Tory of Double Dutch. You have made our South African visit so very special.

In our last Letter to Family and Friends written in August our daughter was moving from being a full-time mom to being a full-time mom with a full-time job. And we are happy to report that she loves the job and both Sam and Jonah have adjusted very nicely. Sam will be four years-old on January 21, is full of energy, but still looks like the same little boy we left when we returned to Windbird in October of 2009. Jonah, however, was a baby with dark brown hair. He is now walking and talking and has blonde curls. Jo was stuck in England when I wrote the last letter as she wasn’t allowed to return to the US as her Visa had expired while out of the country. She was finally allowed to return in September and we are so happy to announce that just last week she got word that her 10-year green card application has been approved and that her card in the mail. Ziggy is just as cute as he can be. He’s also a blondie but without the curls, and he is walking and talking. Justin and Jo moved to a new house just before Christmas but they are still in Madrid in New Mexico. I never seem to mention Justin or Jed, but they are doing fine, just working, working, working. In the last letter I was dreaming of meeting our children in Brazil in February. But that has been changed to Viequs Island, part of Puerto Rico, in April. The Easter bunny is going to deliver our kids and grandkids to us there. And we just can’t wait. But we do have to sail more than 6,000 miles to get there!

We leave Simon’s Town next week when the weather allows and sail down around Cape Point, around the Cape of Good Hope, and then head the 1,700 miles to St. Helena, an island that is in our path as we head northeast across the southern Atlantic Ocean. We will stop there for about five days and then travel another 700 miles to Ascension Island. After another five day stop we will go straight through to the Caribbean. We are hoping to make landfall in Trinidad and/or Tobago to pick up Mary Ellen and Lee, Mark’s sister and brother-in-law, and his brother Steve who might sail with us to St. Martin. Mark’s other sister Jeanie is also considering joining us. I know we will have a great time if they all come, but some of the Caribbean islands might not ever be the same again after we visit. If they come, we will sail north through the islands for two or three weeks and then drop them off in St. Martin’s and make a bee-line for Puerto Rico to pick up our kids. And before we know it, we will be in southern Florida to see more of Mark’s family in late May, on to the Carolinas for a reunion with Judy’s family in mid-June, possibly make a stop in the Chesapeake Bay to see friends, and back to Cape Cod by July 1st. At least that’s the plan. Since we have many miles at sea in the upcoming months, I hope to be able to write shorter letters more often. If you have made it this far through this long epistle, we congratulate you. We’d love to hear from you, but just make sure you don’t hit reply and send a copy of this email along with your return. Our onboard email system just can’t handle the extra traffic. But do write. Whether you are family, friend, or fellow cruiser, we miss you.


Mark and Judy
S/V Windbird