28 November 2013

Flashback: How we ended up on Block Island

shape of Block Island: locals call it a "pork chop"

It was mid-April in Culebra/Puerto Rico when we met Bill (an American cruising bartender with Irish roots, we mentioned him already in this former post) on the "Dinghy Dock Bar & Restaurant" where he was working on the weekends. His opinion, besides that of others, was an important factor in our decision making process on how to proceed with our sailing route after the Caribbean. To make a long story short: he is a little bit to "blame" that we ended up in Bermuda, New England and especially on Block Island, RI.

We all have a certain picture in mind when we hear "Bermuda" - sup-tropical climate, turquoise water, offshore companies, Bermuda triangle etc. But what's the picture when you hear "Block Island"? To be honest I'd never heard of it before. Bill already had raved about Bermuda's beauty and it turned out that he was right.
So we simply decided to trust him and his friend Dave as they highly praised "their" Block Island... and got a very warm welcome!

Before we even caught a glimpse of Block Island we had to fight our way through hundreds of sailing vessels that were participating in a race - very common during the season as we learnt later. The famous "Block Island Race Week" would have their 25th Anniversary just a week after our arrival.

According to our friends' advice we called them once entering Great Salt Pond, a big anchorage and perfect refuge for any boater, and they guided us to a mooring ball where we could tie up to (the picture below shows our view).

that was before Race Week, during and after boats were tied to every mooring ball you can see

withing minutes it could also look like this - FOG!

You have to know that in comparison to the Caribbean the docking and mooring prices in the US, especially in the New England and New York area, are ridiculously expensive.
No, the opposite happened. When the anchorage filled up with boats for the Race Week we had to leave our mooring. Immediately a plan was concocted and we could move over to Dave's private mooring (which he easily could have rented out for big money). And if this was not enough we got invited wherever we went. Our first stop was - of course - "Payne's Dock" the bar Bill worked in since many years.

A gathering point during Happy Hour we met old and made new friends. The fact that we were one of the only two foreign flagged boats on the whole island and had sailed there from Bermuda served to fuel discussions. I remember one story very clearly: We got introduced to Jim. Our friends suggested to us to go on an island tour with him. You must know - on our journey through the Caribbean we got countless offers for an island tour and the prices could be very variable. So our reaction was a bit reluctant... But our friends kept pushing us until we gave in. So we walked with Jim to his car. We expected there would be a minivan waiting for us. But then slowly we started to realize that it was Jim's private car and that he wasn't actually a tour guide. Jim was just a very friendly and open-minded guy! During the next hour he drove us over the tiny island, showed us hidden spots and explained what celebrities used to or still live there. It was overwhelming, really.
Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of Jim. But he showed us a very special memory he was carrying around in his wallet since many years: it shows him as a little boy with his dog, a German shepherd.

We spent some very relaxed days, explored the island, bought some fruits and veggies on a farmers market, met friends, Marco went sailing with Bill on his little "Sailfish", a sailing dinghy.

Block Island actually attracts thousands of tourists during the summer months. The temperatures are lower than on the mainland and they also call it "Bermuda of the North". It's a summer oasis just 150 Miles from New York City. A perfect getaway with great beaches, bars, restaurants, biking, hiking, diving, swimming, surfing and some of the best fishing. And even if it attracts a crowd the island still feels unspoiled. What we found very interesting was the fact that many students from Europe and beyond worked in groceries, restaurants or hotels. They came from Albania, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and so on.

During the time we stayed there it was still shortly before high season, quite chilly and we didn't even dip our toes into the sea. Every year our friend Durbin and his lovely wife Ludi spend 1 - 2 weeks of their holidays on Block Island and Marco got some first hand fishing advice from the expert.

Durbin explaining the fish to catch in the area

Marco is usually not a morning person, but in this case he got up one morning at 2 or 3am (I was still sleeping, so I don't know exactly...) and went to the spot Durbin had advised him to. And he came back at sunrise with a nice catch: Stripped Bass, a very delicious fish!

And last but not least I want to mention one person especially. Dave, who was joining Bill on his sailing trip from Bermuda to Newport. He calls Block Island his home, has lived there for many years. He really grew on us the more time we spent together. Marco and Dave could talk politics for hours as they never agreed on the others opinion. He brought us gifts and paid countless rounds on Happy Hour. Simply - he was there for us when needed.
This of course applies for so many people we've met on Block Island. So there goes a big THANK YOU out to the lovely folks we had the privilege of meeting while we stayed there!

Rahel & Dave
And Bill, this counts for you as well even though not fully deserved... He sent me the picture above with the title "Fetti" - making fun of my English pronunciation of "Fatty" ;-))

When we finally "untied the mooring lines" we did it with a feeling like leaving our home and family. Block Island will always have a special place in our hearts and we hope to go back there one day...

29 August 2013


Habibi's last trip started early in the morning

Dear blog follower

We went silent - on our blog and facebook. Of course there's a reason and we are finally able to share it with you. Here you go:

We stopped cruising and just put our beloved IP 380 "Habibi" up for sale!
(Find the link here and please feel free to share it and spread the word)

It wasn't a decision we've made from one day to the next and we can assure you it wasn't an easy one.
We are so very grateful that we had the chance to fulfill our dream of sailing - well, it was Marcos dream in the first place until I came to value it. Those almost two years of cruising taught us invaluable lessons for life.

While underway we met colorful people and made wonderful friendships, got to know different cultures, their food and way of living, experienced countless breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, learned to respect mother nature and its power. More than once we faced difficult situations, struggled with our abilities, reached our limits - and thanks God always managed to get by.

We learned a lot about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses and how to complement one another. We both had our tasks and therefore shared responsibility. Marco developed unbelievably advanced technical and sailing skills while I lost my fear of the sea (but not the respect), took over the helm and was responsible for the route planning and weather forecasting.

Rahel is enjoying the perfect weather on Long Island Sound

In other words: we might look the same but this journey had a considerable impact on us - we think in a positive way.

And now we are on the way to start a landlubber life again. Marco awaits a new challenge: he's gotten the opportunity to go back to Dubai and resume work for his former employer in a very interesting position.

Marco already in working mode...

There are still stories and pictures we'd like to share but didn't have time for. We will be posting them soon. Stay tuned - the adventure isn't over yet!

Marco & Rahel

19 July 2013

Dear Friends,

You may have wondered why we didn't update our blog and Facebook as usual. We learned a few weeks ago that one of our beloved family members fell seriously ill. In the meantime the situation worsened dramatically. Therefore we shortened our trip and Rahel is flying back home to Switzerland within the next few days. Once the situation is clearer we will update you on our next plans.

Rahel & Marco

19 June 2013

Sailing New England

The light and fog horn at the entrance to Newport

Just a brief update. We're still cruising New England (currently in Block Island) and we're in love with it, even if it comes with a few sailing challenges that we have to get used to.  

First of all, this coast has much more tide than we ever experienced before. The changing water level is not a problem, what makes it new to us is the current. All the time the tide changes, the water flows in or out into the Atlantic. Therfore you may have current with or against you. Some spots are known to have almost as much current as we can run using our engine. Just imagine, you go full throttle just to realize that you're standing still. So additionally to watching wind and sea state we have to time departure and arrival according to the tide as well. 

our "bible" while sailing this area

As you may also know lobster is the catch over here - everywhere! Which means the very infamous buoys for the lobster pots are waiting all over the place to catch your propeller. And did I mention it can as well get foggy - within minutes?

on this buoy a lobster pot is attached
fog can appear quickly in New England!

But there are other very significant new things as well. Instead of telling now some cruiser tales I just quote 1:1 from our guide books and charts - have fun:
- "Torpedo testing area"
- "Submarines operate throughout the area, appearing when least expected (especially interesting in the fog)"
- "an infamous section of the passage where 7 knots and shifting currents are not unusual"

10 June 2013

Newport sucks, really!

Coffee Stop at Castle Hill with Durbin

We stayed now for more than one week in Newport. And as the title says, it really sucks. 

First of all it's very expensive for boaters. I mean - really freaking expensive. A berth in a marina is 200 USD and up for a boat of 40 feet PER NIGHT. A mooring is 45 USD per night. No weekly or monthly rates available of course, even Rahel's charm didn't help (just seems to work in the Caribbean...). And like planned, the designated anchor field is cluttered with moorings and there is literally no space for some nice carefree nights on the hook. 

And if you think it cannot get worse, there are those people! Take Bill for example. We met him back in Culebra, Puerto Rico, where he was working in the "Dinghy Dock Bar & Restaurant" on the weekends. He actually owns a well known Irish pub back in Charleston himself ("Dunleavy's Pub" on Sullivan's Island). But since he rather likes to cruise than to work in his own bar his nephew is taking care of it now and Bill bartenders all over the US instead. Since twenty plus years or so. Which means he of course used to work in the best bar/restaurant in Newport and our favorite hangout - the "Black Pearl" - as well. No surprise he knows everybody, or better everybody who owns a bar or works or used to work behind a counter at one time. And that's now a real big disaster for our cruising kitty!

The "gang": Denise, Wolfgang (s/v Moony), Rahel, Dave, Marco (pic by Bill)

After one week most of the local bartenders in the hippest locations do greet us by name already ;-) They're not even asking anymore if we'd like to open a tap - it's taken for granted.  Not particular something you get for free!
And it got even worse: Instead of curing our hangover on the boat we had to meet up with Durbin at 10am ashore! He insisted to show us around Newport in his car. As you can imagine it was no fun at all... I mean, who wants to hang around with a local guy who knows all the details of each of the amazing mansions, or knows every secret sightseeing jewel no tourist will ever get to see? Who really needs to know that you can eat delicious sandwiches right besides the amazing super yachts in a working marina? To top the bad news, he gave me the best fishing advices since years. I caught one fantastic 20 inch fluke just within 20 minutes after using his advice and his lures. That really sucks as my wife now expects that I get the same kind of fish every night to make up for the too much needed $$ in the bars. And as you know, I really hate pressure!

Durbin & his lovely wife Ludi with Marco in front of Claiborne Pell Newport bridge

To make the whole story worse there is Dave, a sailing buddy of Bill's. We met back in Bermuda for the first time. He calls Block Island his home, which by pure accident will be our next destination. I can already foresee whole nights of discussions about things we do not agree on at all (besides the common understanding that one last beer may clear the other persons view...) And knowing me and my old sales habits, I will not stop until Dave understands...

Did I mention that Bill will start working in a bar on Block Island in a few days and Durbin and his lovely wife Ludi are going to spend some time there too? For some racing, fishing and bocce on the beach?

Folks, please get me out of here...!

PS: Here you can see Bill being interviewed back in 2012 about the "Polar Plunge" at his pub, an event to raise money to benefit Special Olympics SC athletes ;-) 

06 June 2013

Caught in a warm eddy!!!

the circles are "eddies" (from www.oc.nps.navy.mil)

Ever heard of a warm eddy? We neither! And before you now think in the wrong direction - Yes, it has something to do with sailing! But let us explain:

When we sailed over from Bermuda to New England we had once more to cross the Gulf Stream. That’s this river of warm water flowing with a high current up the East Coast of the US. But this flow is not between two narrow coasts, it lays somewhere between Bermuda and New England, both landmasses are roughly 700nm apart. Means, you will enter this sometimes vicious current after three days of sailing in the middle of nowhere. And just that you can picture it: the stream of water moves around 30 – 150 million cubic meter water per second depending on its location. As a comparison, all the rivers combined which drain water into the Atlantic are estimated with just 0.6 million cubic meter per second. Guess it's fair to say there is a good amount of energy out there in the nowhere. 

Therefore planning is important: we wanted to enter the stream where the flow was easy and, more important, narrow. In our case, the forecasters named a spot where we would have just a 30nm wide “window” of current to cross and then could sail out of it again. So far so good. But it gets better, there may be a warm eddy on our way. In simple words, that’s a circular movement of warm (or cold) water which could push us even a bit more in the direction we needed to go. Current from behind sounds cool on a sailboat as we all long for some extra speed. We were excited!

Gulf Stream is Red (from http://www.opc.ncep.noaa.gov)

As a matter of fact, the Gulf Stream crossing was easy. Like the whole trip we had almost no waves and the wind was a bit on the light side. Around midnight we supposedly had all behind us and Rahel went to bed leaving me on the “after Gulf Stream Nightshift”. It was a blast: Wind picked up, I put even a bit more sails out and Habibi screamed with seven plus knots into the dark. Until I noticed a sudden course change – we steered off course! That’s when you start to check things: Wind shift? Current? Autopilot? Everything seemed normal but the course change went worse. I hand steered and ended up almost 180 degrees off course – no way I could hold direction!! The sails were now flapping and everything seemed out of control. I needed help - fast! I got Rahel out of her well deserved sleep to help me steering while I dealt with the sails. That’s when it got really strange…

We finally had all the sails down and the engine was running. So we tried to go back on course. But there was no way to steer the boat – it went all over the place. We assumed that the rudder was broken (an almost impossible thing on an Island Packet) – of course, it was not. Sooner or later we realized that we must have been caught in a circular current (or eddy). A quick look on the thermometer proofed the theory; The water temperature in the Atlantic over here is around 13 degrees Celsius. It showed almost 26C! That damn eddy wasn't moving us forward - it was spinning us all over the place!

It was really scary! The engine was running at full throttle, we were doing eight knots in one direction and then boom, the boat turned 180 degrees without any rudder movement and we were doing 0 knots! Whatever we tried, the boat turned with the current and it seemed there was no way out. Of course it was pitch dark, there was nothing to get our bearings – just the compass and the GPS. We tried for sure 10 times – no chance to get out of this mess. The circular current had a firm grip on us and it seemed it would never let us go. Would this really be the end of our trip? Will Habibi and its crew end as a ghost ship like the "Flying Dutchman" and circle the world forever??

Well, not this time. At one point (when the now blank panic on board finally settled) we decided that we had to move with the current and act as soon it would weaken. After drifting for some time with this damn eddy we realized we could now steer again in a certain direction (and believe us, we did not even care if it would bring us to the North Pole at this time). One hour later (which felt like an eternity) Habibi left this eddy behind and was on course again. The crew on the other hand was still pretty shaken. And we still are if we think back…

May this force never be with you!

innocent sunrise after "eddy"

25 May 2013

Bermuda, a little paradise

St.George's street view

As you may know we stay already more than a week in paradise, eh Bermuda. It's true, Bermuda is simply gorgeous. 

It's basically a mix of the Bahamas and the Caribbean with an English high-end touch. Another reason why it looks so picturesque is for sure that this is a very rich island. Did you know that they have the highest GDP per capita in the world?  No reason to elaborate why, but you can see and feel the money and it's for sure well spent.

First of all, all the houses have a similar white roof; mix that with all the different colors of the houses, the green landscape and you get the perfect postcard picture. New to us is as well the fact that every house here has a chimney which proofs that we are much more up North already. The famous Bermuda roofs are stone made and designed to collect 80% of every raindrop that touches it. And they need to withstand at least wind speed up to 100 miles an hour. That’s the law and it looks just perfect.  

roof with rainwater collection drain
Besides the architecture, the landscape and gardens are well maintained, the people are unbelievably friendly and the island offers an amazing variety of restaurants, shops and sightseeing options, easy accessible by bus. Even though Bermuda doesn't come cheap - a pint of beer sets you back seven dollars and the liter of diesel is currently 1.88 USD (compared to 85 cents in Puerto Rico) - it has a touch of “perfect ville” out in the nowhere of the Atlantic Ocean. Together with our German friends Sybille & Hugo on s/v Brigo we started to point out houses we could imagine ourselves to live in ;-)

when can we move in?
Worth mentioning as well is the national business dress code for men. Try to wear this somewhere else in the world: It consists of a pair of Bermuda Shorts which need to end exactly six inches above the knee, preferably in a fancy color like salmon pink, yellow or so. Combine that with a pair of so called “Bermuda Hose” which are basically socks up to the knee, mostly in navy blue. Then you wear a traditional shirt with tie and a jacket, again preferably in navy blue. Together with business shoes you're perfectly dressed. And you see this all over here. It's not a tourist thing, stand in front of an international bank or office building and just wait and see….

official Bermudian dress code
Since the weather is once more a bit confused and our next trip will be again 600nm or so we may spend some more time here to hopefully find the perfect weather window. We'll keep you posted.

view of St.George's from our anchorage
PS: Cruiser Information:
There is a lot of writing about checking into Bermuda. We think it’s a fairly easy and painless process: Due to the reefs all around the island "Bermuda Radio" has a 24/7 Radar and Radio Watch. As soon you're 30nm out, call them on channel 16 or they will contact you to guide you into the channel. They like to know a lot of information about your boat. You can do this over the Radio, it will take at least 15min, or you send them before your departure to Bermuda the “pre arrival” documentation by email (download it here). If you have done this, the call only takes 2 minutes and you can proceed fast forward to customs dock in St. Georges after Radio Clearance. Customs and Immigration is quick and easy done with a lot of friendly chat and smiles.

18 May 2013

Bermuda - Trip Update

imagine this view for 6 1/2 days

Sorry for the delay – but as we have no internet on board everything takes more time. As promised here is the update on our longer crossing from Puerto Rico to Bermuda. In simple words, it was surreal!

We left Palmas del Mar Marina in Puerto Rico early on Wednesday morning 8th of May at 06:00. We knew we had to hurry as there was a ColdFRONT/LO predicted which would hit Bermuda around Monday night and bring strong northerly winds – right on our nose. We did know as well that we would be hit by some squalls during our trip, but staying another week or two in Puerto Rico was even less promising.

The first couple of hours we mostly had to use the engine as we headed into the wind to pass the reefs on the northeast side of Puerto Rico. Once in the open Atlantic waters the wind picked up to 20 knots and we made good speed. For a few hours, at least. Then the first squall hit us with 30+ knots. And that squall never left us! For three days in a row we saw sustained winds of 30 – 40 knots and seas as big as houses! Even with the cockpit enclosed we got so much rain and green water over that after three days everything was soaked. The front of squalls (TROF) had turned into an unpredicted LO itself with us right in the middle (as we learned later, of course). The wind never dropped below 30 knots at all. Habibi did great, the crew however was more at their limit. I tell you, nothing beats a heavy full keel boat with a staysail in conditions like that! Yes, it sucked but we were never scared or so, it was simply like living in a washing machine for three days in a row. In such bad weather the biggest fear is actually that something could break and you won’t be able to fix it as there is simply no chance to get some quiet five minutes. “Our loss” wasn’t that bad though: The only thing that didn’t survive was our glass oven door: We once tried to cook a warm meal. Bad idea! The boat was surfing such high seas that the oven, which is gimbaled, flipped in one big wave so heavily that the glass front shattered in million of pieces! Can you imagine, a heeled and moving boat and you then have to clean up glass pieces which of course are sliding in every hidden corner of the cabin? The rest of the stormy days we stayed on a strict diet: tons of clementine, snack bars, nuts, chocolate and everything you can grab and eat with your bare hands.

we'd made sure that we didn't have to starve while underway
Nevertheless, after three days the wind calmed finally down to 20 knots, the seas decreased some and we had a few days of beautiful sailing. But as the “washing machine sailing” before had slowed us down too much, we wouldn’t be able to reach Bermuda before the ColdFRONT arrived! So we started planning to divert to the East Coast of the US, adding another 600nm to the tap.

But sometimes even we get lucky. On Sunday Chris our forecaster mentioned that the ColdFRONT over Bermuda was delaying. All of a sudden we had time until sunset on Tuesday to avoid bad weather. Speed was now everything. For two days we sailed 160nm a day! That’s an average of 6.8 knots and higher for more than 24 hours! I know Island Packets are no race boats but calling them slow is simply stupid! 

calm again after some stormy days
Of course the wind died as soon Bermuda was in sight on Tuesday morning 14th of May. Some last squalls with tons of rain had washed down the whole salt (prefrontalTROF) and we happily motored towards the entry channel which we were going to reach in 4 hours or so. But Neptune was not out of surprises yet. The northern wind picked up a bit too early as predicted. For the last 20 miles we again had 25 knots of wind and high seas but for a change well on the nose (ColdFront)! Which of course soaked Habibi once again in saltwater… but that lasted just a few hours until we finally reached the town cut and the well protected anchorage in St. George’s/Bermuda after exact 904nm of very mixed sailing. We tied up on the customs dock and the first steps on land after 6 ½ days out at sea felt both weird and great together!

Habibi at the Customs dock in St.George's
The passage was pure solitude - for one week the only things we saw were three birds and three big ships far away. Otherwise nothing else than water. The only visitors we had were the occasional suicidal flying fish that jumped into our dinghy or on deck to die there.

As you may know most sailors are diagnosed with a very bad short-term memory. Which means if you asked us now a couple of days later we wouldn’t think it was too bad anymore. Let’s be honest, the first three days of our trip haven’t been too much fun but gorgeous Bermuda simply helped us to forget the nasty stuff quickly. Overall we’re happy we did it and Yes, we would do a longer trip anytime again (which we have to!) – off course if there was better weather ;-)

anchorage in St.George's/Bermuda