11 December 2019

And We're Finally Sailing: Grenadines

After a month in Grenada getting Argon back in the water, completing major and minor projects, and a couple of false starts, we were finally able to begin the sailing part of this journey. And just in the nick of time to host Christian and Brittany!

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Captain Linda Perry Riera


Carriacou

Although geographically part of the Grenadines, politically Carriacou is part of the country of Grenada. Only 12 square miles and with a population of 8,000, the size and simplicity of this island is a stark contrast to Grenada. Carriacou is a favorite of ours and we were ecstatic to finally be able to depart Grenada and sail to Carriacou on the last day of November.

Easy 18nm close reach sail on calm waters from Grenada mainland to Carriacou where we met up with Christian and Brittany.

Christian and Brittany joined us in Carriacou!


Argon is the lone sailboat anchored in Sparrow Bay on the west side of Carriacou

Outside Bogles Round House overlooking Sparrow Bay. Bogles is a charming set of stone cottages and restaurant. This is one of the several unique places Christian and Brittany stayed on land as they opted for boat lodging on Argon just a handful of nights. They both enjoyed the experience of sleeping of board, but prefer land accommodations. :-)


My favorite harbor in all of the Caribbean is Anse la Roche. We enjoyed a private bbq with lobster hosted by Tim Roy and friends.


After the bbq, Christian popped the question on the beach!


Engagement celebration hosted by Tim Roy with a beach bbq on Anse la Roche. Congratulations to Christian and Brittany!

Argon anchored in Anse la Roche.


Exploring Carriacou on foot.

Overlooking Tyrrel Bay where Argon is anchored for the last day/night on Carriacou.

Grenadines

Sprinkled over a 40nm swath of ocean between Grenada and Saint Vincent, the Grenadines is a group of more than a dozen islands with a population of about 10,000. Union and Bequia are the most populated; several islands are non-inhabited such as the group of Tobago Cays. The Grenadines is one of my favorite cruising grounds due to the clear turquoise waters and relatively rustic Caribbean vibe.

Union Island

After several heavenly and celebratory days in Carriacou, it was time to check out of customs and immigration, weigh anchor, and set off for the country of St. Vincent and The Grenadines (SVG). We were high to the wind for the short 10nm sail but were able to coast in to Clifton Harbor at Union Island on a single tack.

Carriacou in the background as we sail to Union Island.


Christian and Brittany assuming the honor of hoisting the courtesy flag for the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines after checking in to customs and immigration.


We met up with Tim Roy's mom, Jenny for some fresh produce and fantastic mango-papaya-banana smoothies.


Dinghy parking lot in Clifton Harbor, Union Island.

Brittany passes a beer to the impressive kite surfer, Butter, as we watch his acrobatics from Happy Island.



Linda with Butter (after hitching a ride). His kite boarding show was spectacular.


Mayreau

Mayreau is a precious little island with less than 300 residents. Salt Whistle Bay is a magical anchorage (potentially my second favorite) overlooking a thin spit of sand allowing the constant easterlies through to cool whilst providing a barrier to the choppy seas.

Heavenly Salt Whistle Bay.


Many boat boys are eager to help cruisers anchor, moor, as well as offer fish, bread and their beach bbq services.



Local grapefruit, papaya, and passion fruit are breakfast favorites.



An easy swim or short dinghy to the pristine beach of Salt Whistle Bay.


Nadika was a lovely host to a delicious dinner of grilled snapper and chicken with plantains, salad and fried rice. She also provides laundry services.


Tobago Cays

A protected marine park consisting of five small islands surrounded by reefs, Tobago Cays is popular with cruisers and charter boats in this area and a truly unique destination. Although restrictions have been present for 25 years, the area remains threatened from the extensive usage. Several local boat boys regularly hold beach bbq's and sell fish but there is frustration among many locals that they are not able to benefit enough from this resource.

Five uninhabited islands of the Tobago Cays surrounded by reefs to the east providing some protection from the open ocean.

Small spit of beach a short swim away from where we are moored between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau busy with sea turtles and rays.


Much current runs between these two islands. We hung on to the dinghy painter when swimming off the boat to keep from getting swept away in the current.


View from Petit Rameau overlooking the eastern reef and turtle sanctuary.


Peak of Petit Rameau, Tobago Cays.


Bequia

Pronounced bek-wee, the second largest island of the Grenadines is most definitely one of our overall favorite of the entire Caribbean. Admiralty Bay, the main anchorage, is a large western-facing bay with a ferry terminal, Port Elizabeth town center, water front stone walk, and stretches of gorgeous beaches. We were fortunate to set the hook here for 10 days last February as well as another week in December.

The sail from Tobago Cays to Bequia was robust (and some of our stomachs protested a bit). Winds were up in the high teens and low twenties and from slightly north of east (as usual). In this part of the Caribbean, sailing north means sailing to Windward (hence "Windward Islands"). Therefore, not only are you sailing quite high, but in the open water between islands, you are plowing into pretty good ocean swell. This was the most we have pushed Argon since the major gooseneck rework and new main sail and track were added. With reefed main and 90% Jib, she performed beautifully often soaring at 7.5 kts. Our confidence in the boat is returning and this was a great passage to push that forward.


The 25nm sail from Tobago Cays to Bequia was a bit challenging in 20+ kt easterly winds and 6 foot seas. We were close haul the entire way but able to reach the southwestern tip of of the island in less than 4 hours and in one tack.

 

Christian and Brittany on the sea walk from the town center to Prince Margaret Beach.

 

View overlooking the eastern coast during a walk across the island.



Koko (a waiter at Jack's Beach Bar) jumped in the water and collected West Indian Sea Eggs (aka White Sea Urchins) from the shallows to toss them out to deeper water so beach goers would not inadvertently step on them. Koko also broke a few open for some urchin sashimi. It was pretty yummy.


Although spiny, white urchins can be held carefully.



Island dogs abound in Bequia, like on most Caribbean islands. Bob made friends with several.

Mundane Boat Projects

After the many weeks in Grenada heavily occupied with major boat projects, Bob was relieved to find himself occupied with relatively basic boat chores. A dock line needed splicing and a couple of soft shackles weaved; we scrubbed Argon's waterline and the bottom of the dinghy. Water was delivered to us in the anchorage to top off the tanks and a bit of provisioning was accomplished. Another adjustment was made to the sail cover by a local canvas shop. The most major project all week was replacing a windlass switch.


Water delivery while at anchor.


Farewell to Christian &Brittany and the Grenadines

As our time in the Grenadines comes to a close, so does our time with the kids. After checking Christian and Brittany off our crew manifesto with customs and immigration, they will hop a ferry to Saint Vincent and fly back to the states. Bob and I can enjoy Bequia for a couple of more days before setting sail for Saint Vincent and beyond.


So happy to share our time exploring the Grenadines with Christian and Brittany!
And congratulations to the newly engaged couple!



28 November 2019

Working Day Jobs While Cruising

Unlike most long distance cruisers, we have retained day jobs while sailing. The cadence of our days is a bit different from many of the other sailors around us as we plan our boat projects/maintenance, land excursions, and sailing schedule very much around work commitments and the ability to secure reliable internet.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

What Do We Do?

Linda:  Clinical Operations and Clinical Research Scientist

When on land manages studies for investigational drugs for rare and neurological diseases in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. When cruising cannot (and does not want to) be available to the extent needed to do this work well. Therefore shifts to document writing (e.g., standard operating procedures) and document review (e.g., study protocols) related to clinical research when cruising (about 10 hours/week).

Bob: Software Engineer

Primarily hands on coding in support of the internal business processes for a corporate travel and technology management company based in Massachusetts, USA. Able to do the same type of work when living on land or a nomadic aquatic lifestyle (but decreases to 25-30 hours/week when cruising).

Typical Daily / Weekly Schedule

The pattern of our lives maintains a Monday through Friday cadence centered around day jobs, as when living on land, followed by a change of pace on the weekend. However, we enjoy more flexibility than when we are working full time on land. A typical midweek schedule is:

5:15 Alarm goes off, perhaps a snooze or two.
5:45 Bob is working. Linda makes coffee and takes in the sunrise from the cockpit; reads.
7:30 Linda goes for a long exercise swim (if anchorage is safe). Bob continues working. Both bathe off transom followed by a quick cockpit freshwater rinse.
9:00 Linda begins working. Bob continues working.
11:00 Bob does some boat projects.
Linda jumps in the dinghy and goes ashore; walks to a bus stop, finds a couple of markets, buys only what can be comfortably carried back.
14:00 Both jump in the water to cool off, scrub the bottom of the dinghy or water line of Argon while in the water.
15:00 Dinghy back ashore to work somewhere that laptops can be powered (so we do not drain Argon's batteries too much) and with free WiFi (to ease off on our usage of paid data).
While access to free WiFi may update apps, download podcasts, books, videos, do life logistics on line (personal emails, studying weather and where to sail to next, reading articles).
17:00 Dinghy back to Argon. Do some boat tinkering. Cook dinner.
19:00 Final swim off transom to cool off. Relax in the cockpit.
20:00 Last check back in to work. In bed reading, listening to a podcast, or watching a downloaded video. 
21:00 Usually asleep.

Of course the above is just an example. There are all sorts of permutations including sometimes getting on to land for part of a day to hike or explore, but that is normally reserved for the weekend. Or a significant boat issue may need attention. And, when we are actually sailing, there is time to prep the boat to weigh anchor, then perhaps several hours or most of a day or more actually sailing to the next harbor or island which is sometimes done midweek depending on work commitments. If the new island is in a different country there is quite a bit of added time to check out of customs & immigration of the departing country, and then check in to the new country.

Once re-anchored, there is a myriad of small items to attend to that have become quite routine including organizing lines, covering the main sail, deploying the dinghy from the davits, snorkeling on the anchor to check the hold, setting up the forward hatch awning, monitoring the swing on the anchor (and re-setting if needed). And, critical for our day jobs, confirming data / reception and connecting to WiFi (see below) so we can get back to work.

Ultimate in Open Office Design and Flexible Workspace

Argon is mostly at anchor while we are cruising and we spend much of our workday on board. However, we regularly get to shore seeking free WiFi and to couple working with some land errands, or just for a change of scenery.

Below are photos of some of the places we set up shop for our day jobs while cruising.

Linda's favorite workspace:  Argon's cockpit in a breezy, beautiful harbor while at anchor.


Most common workspace: On board Argon in the salon.
Although working at home (on board Argon) is often easiest, it can be difficult to stay comfortable. Temperatures in the salon are often in the high 80's or low 90's.


This on shore workspace has everything: Breezy restaurant with access to power, free WiFi, cool beverages and feathery company (perhaps he's someone's dinner).


Finding shelter from a downpour. (Bob is on a teleconference.)

Modern coffee shop with not only power, WiFi and great lattes, but also the rare air conditioning!


Tiki Bar restaurant Prickly Bay, Grenada. Lots of power outlets but non-ideal due to music playing and/or TV on.


Bermuda. Another great find: comfort, power outlets, WiFi, air conditioning and quiet!


In the cockpit of Argon early in the morning, Grenada.


Porch in St. Lucia with a lovely vista.


Corner office on the Dutch island of Saba.

At anchor somewhere in the US Virgin Islands.


Turks and Caicos.


Turks and Caicos. Overcast to allow Bob to barely see his screen.

Dominica. Another beautiful view.


Satiating a Voracious Appetite for Data

 

Our appetite for data is huge compared to any other cruiser we have encountered. We chow down 1-1.5G/day mostly due to our day jobs. Needing this generous amount of data, as well as reliable connectivity daily, have been major challenges. Many people will offer advice related various methods but we usually find out that the thresholds for data usage are way too low for our needs. During our first extended cruise (2016-2017) we learned that WiFi options in anchorages (as well as on shore) are massively unreliable causing tremendous stress as we needed connectivity regularly to deliver on work commitments. We made many data-related mistakes and spent an average of nearly $500/month! A prior blog post outlines our approach and many learnings.

Shroud Cay Exumas, Bahamas back in 2017 during our first cruise. To my dismay, we stayed only a few hours because we had no data and Bob needed to get back on line for work. There were too many times that we skipped over an interesting place or minimized our stay because of data issues.


Our second extended journey 2018-2019 brought improvements all around including decreasing our spend to about $300/month. Our main strategy was an unlocked cell phone (separate from our two regular personal phones) with stripped down apps (to avoid any inadvertent data usage). Then securing local data SIM cards from the current country. Some key challenges included:
  • Sometimes having much difficulty finding or getting to where local SIMs could be purchased (would require a long and expensive cab ride and/or the store had scant business hours, especially on smaller islands)
  • Figuring out how (or remembering to) top off balances before the data ran out (especially difficult in some of the French islands where all info/apps were only in the local language)

Some of our collection of local SIM cards: Chippy (St. Martin and Saba), Orange (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Marie Gallante), French Digicel (Guadeloupe but crazy expensive; Orange is better) and Dominican Digicel. We also have SIMs for Flow (Antigua) and BTC (Bahamas).


Now at the front end of our third extended cruise, we think we've got things figured out. Fingers crossed anyway. Our approach is to combine the local data SIM card method with Google Fi leveraging 4 cell phones now:
  • Bob's personal and Linda's personal (roaming off of course, and settings set to no automatic updates when connected to WiFi... as our WiFi is usually metered)
  • Unlocked stripped down with GoogleFi
  • Unlocked stripped down with local data SIM card - for both data and local phone calls
Having two cell phones to use as hot spots (local SIM and GoogleFi) also allows me to take one with me when I venture to shore while Bob remains aboard. This affords the luxury of connectivity as I do errands or go on land excursions. 

Four unlocked Androids: 2 are our personal phones, the other 2 are for local SIM cards and GoogleFi to serve as hot spots.


GoogleFi is a great option but only up to 15G in a month, then it's less attractive due to the cost:
  • $10/G up to 6G, then free up to 15G. Once 15G is reached, the data speed is slowed waaayyyyy down (unusable for our needs) and it is back to $10/G. 
With our voracious data appetite (35-40G/month), GoogleFi would be well over $300/month. Therefore we aim to keep the GoogleFi data usage to 15G/month with the remaining data from SIM cards and on-shore free WiFi. And GoogleFi has worked well so far but we have only been in Grenada... let's see if it is as reliable as we make our way up the Caribbean chain. A back-up option (or two) is prudent and will surely be needed at some point.

The cost of data through the local SIM cards varies widely from country to country anywhere from $3-$15/G but will often be less expensive than the cost post 15G through GoogleFi, and will provide a back-up method.

Here is one of our cheap Androids with a Digicel and a Flow card.


Thus our monthly data usage and spend is likely to play out as follows:
  • 15G through GoogleFi at $90 (includes direct data cost plus fees)
  • 10G through local data SIM card at $30-$150
  • remaining 10-20G onshore free WiFi
We very much hope to decrease our average data spend to $150/month!! Status report in six months.


Flexibility and Supportive Employers are Paramount

 

Linda: I converted to an independent consultant in my field of clinical trials and clinical research mid 2017 with the objective of flexing up my work when in land-life mode, and throttling back when we are cruising. It is working out wonderfully thus far. When cruising I work about 10 hours/week on document writing that, while less interesting perhaps, affords much flexibility requiring minimal scheduled meetings/telecons and I can mostly make my own schedule. The more interesting assignments will resume (along with heavier hours) when back on land. 

Bob: Before our first trip to the Caribbean back in 2016, Bob told his boss over dinner one night: "Linda wants to sail to the Caribbean. I can either go with her, or I have to move in with you". That settled it. Bob switched from full-time salaried, to full-time hourly to allow flexing down of hours while traveling (a bit), gave up health insurance and paid time off and has remained in this status with his employer ever since. Bob works 25-30 hours/week while cruising, and full time when on land. Note: We both must buy health insurance privately which is an important financial consideration.

Both:  We take our work very seriously and do our best to not leave our work colleagues waiting on us for anything. We are able to be very productive, and yes, it does cut into the fun part of cruising a bit, but it also makes this wonderful cruising lifestyle possible.

The perfect combination of work, adventure and pleasure.