18 April 2013

Anguilla with "Ze Germans"

With "Ze Germans" in "On da Rocks" Seafood Grill & Bar

How do we decide where we're traveling to and where not? Firstly we check our guide books. Secondly we talk to other cruisers and their experiences or recommendations. And thirdly we take into account the weather situation - means direction of wind and swell to decide if we'd be safe on anchor.

Anguilla was always on our "not sure if we should go"-list. Not many cruisers we've met went there - there was this rumor that it was very expensive and you'd have to pay high fees for anchoring. The guide book on the other hand recommended it highly. When we stayed in St. Maarten the plan was to cross the Anegada passage to the BVI's. As we had a variable time frame we considered going to Anguilla first to shorten the trip. The last push to go came from our German cruising friends Diana & Joern, who just had arrived in St. Martin after having spent some time in Anguilla - they praised this little island over the skies and their sparkling eyes convinced us to give it a try. Without further ado they joined us two days later to spend some time together before we'd part company for good as they planned on going South. And what should we say - we didn't regret it!

The first day in Road Bay/Sandy Ground was plagued by a little North swell but later the anchorage was just gorgeous. Even though we just spent a few days on Anguilla we can say its charm captivated us. It started already with the staff from customs and immigration - so friendly and helpful. And as long you're just staying in the main anchorage you have to pay NOTHING. Most of Anguillan waters are protected as a national park and if one wanted to anchor there yes, then you had to pay for a cruising permit and the amount depends on the yacht's tonnage. We didn't feel the need to go somewhere else by boat though.

Road Bay at sunset

Instead we did what we usually NEVER do - we hitch-hiked the island. We got lucky in the same instance we'd raised our thumb. And met just lovely people! There was a Dutch lawyer from St. Maarten who visited Anguilla just for a day with his dad or the sweet retired couple from the US who visits the island on a regular basis since years and who seemed to know everyone! This way we got to see the most beautiful beach in Anguilla, Shoal Bay Beach, FOR FREE.

Shoal Bay Beach

When our friends arrived we rented a car for a day to visit the places they wanted to show us. It started with a crayfish feast in the charming waterside restaurant "On da Rocks Seafood Grill & Bar" where they feature a crayfish special for US 5.- every Saturday and Sunday. I usually don't like shellfish but have to say it was delicious! And the view breathtaking...

Crayfish feast
view from "On da Rocks" Seafood Grill & Bar

Then we had to meet Bankie Banx in "The Dune Preserve" on Rendezvous Bay. At the entrance to this mix of a restaurant, night club and beach bar was a black guy with a broad smile standing, dressed all in white - I shook hands with him and continued on. Diana whispered in my ear: "You just shook hands with Bankie Banx!!" Bankie who? I hadn't heard from him. He's obviously kind of a star in Anguilla or maybe in the whole Caribbean and known as the "Anguillan Bob Dylan", a singer-songwriter and musician who had spent quite some time of his life touring Europe, North America and the Caribbean. And we even got lucky and saw him performing live together with another artist. We spent an amazingly chilled-out Sunday afternoon in the "Banks Estate" listening to live music, sipping on cold beers while enjoying a nice breeze and the view over the sea with St. Martin in the background.

Bankie Banx on the left

St. Martin on the horizon
But soon it was time to say Goodbye to our friends and charming Anguilla as a weather window opened up and the arrival of our guests in the BVI's was approaching fast. Find more pictures on facebook.
We once again learned that it's best to go and check for yourself to make up your mind about a place. But it can't hurt to take into consideration other people's opinion. Thanks again Diana & Joern for the fun time we had! We just say ELVIS...

From paradise with love

09 April 2013

BVI's in 30 days

Deep Bay @ Virgin Gorda

After arrival by boat on a foreign island first thing we (usually just the captain) have to do is clear customs and immigration at one of the official ports of entry. We usually don't need a visa as Swiss citizens cruising in the Caribbean (besides the islands that are US territory but that's another story). In the British Virgin Islands (short BVI's) private boats are automatically given 30 days to cruise around. As mentioned before we had guests for three weeks and except a few days before their arrival and after their departure we cruised the islands together. Therefore we used up the time to the last day!

Bitter End Yacht Club @ Virgin Gorda
Together with a selection of (1'500!) pictures taken during this time that you can find on our facebook page we'd like to share some of our impressions of the BVI's.
First of all: the local people are really friendly and helpful contrary to some rumors we'd heard. However it's true that there are A LOT of charter boats and that many anchorages are dotted with mooring balls to exaggerated prices. Talking about prices - grocery shopping and eating out ranks amongst the most expensive we've seen so far in the Caribbean. We learned that the best and cheapest spot for a full provisioning is Road Town. Even though it's hard to find any local produce you might get lucky in Rite Way and get some bananas, tomatoes, peppers and such. Just ask one of the staff in the vegetable section they really know what's in stock and can point it out for you. Cash'n Carry next door is really good for shopping in bulk. And close to the Mooring charter base is a very nice French bakery with the best bread in the Caribbean. If you need to do some laundry we found a good one in East End/Fat Hog Bay behind James Town Marina. They have brand new machines and it's a very friendly atmosphere (a laundry lady showed me her way to fold fitted sheet neatly on your own).
The sailing in the BVI's is very relaxed as the distances are short. You really have time to get from A to B. The sea state usually isn't a problem as you can sail in the lee of an island. We were a bit unlucky as there was a very persistent North swell prevailing the whole time we've been in the BVI's. Therefore we skipped Anegada (it's a flat island surrounded by a huge reef, known for good snorkeling and its delicious lobster) and any other islands or anchorages that are open to the North - we hate rolly anchorages!

The Baths @ Virgin Gorda

The BVI's are really divided: on one hand it's very commercialized for all the Charter boats and Cruise ship tourists. On the other hand you can find anchorages on uninhabited islands with crystal clear water with tons of fish where you're just a handful of boats. For example when you have enough from the crowds in the Baths or from the partying in Willy T you can just move around the corner to find your peace and quiet.
We've to admit that is wasn't our favorite from all the places we've been to so far. Mostly because of its lack of a certain Caribbeaness, a local touch. But it was the perfect place to introduce our guests, who never stayed on a boat before, to sailing and a cruising life.

A special Thanks goes to Diana & Joern on s/y Scooby II for all their useful tips and recommendations to the BVI's. You should write a cruiser's guide as we've grown to dislike the one we use (by Nancy & Simon Scott) for its lack of detail!

From paradise with love

02 April 2013

Data storage for Cruisers

OK, that's something from my "old" profession, but nevertheless I think it may be worth sharing. 

On a boat, a safe backup of your data is for sure more important than everywhere else. The salty environment can be a hassle for every computer, it may fail sooner or later. Or worse, you get some salt water spray through an open hatch or so and your precious Mac or PC dies suddenly. On the other hand, boats left alone are prone to petty theft. And your fine electronic is for sure among the highest appreciated stuff for any of this sneaking kind of bastards... Therefore storing your data on an external hard disk for safety is not really working on a boat. It may get stolen at the same time as your PC and in a worst case scenario, when you get flooded or lose your boat, all of your data will be gone at the same time. So what can you do?

It's easy these days, it's called cloud storage (or in older words "internet storage"). Which means you sign up and pay (depending on the amount of data) for a service which safely stores your data somewhere in a protected data center. Most services are free up to a small amount like 5 GB's or so. The benefit is, as long you remember the password you can access your data from anywhere where you have internet. So whatever happens to your PC or your hard disk you will always be able to access all your valuable data. 

Which service to choose? There are currently countless providers on the market, all with different options and tools. I did a brief research among the biggest names and had the following on the shortlist: Google Drive (among the cheapest - 60 USD pa/100GB), iCloud (great for Mac but not perfect for some other data) and Dropbox which has a pretty nice interface. There are different solutions for data storage. You can store data (you choose what to store manually with no automatic update) and some offer data sync (which means as soon you're online the data gets synchronized - this ensures there's always the same data on your PC as in storage). I like the latter, but that's not too cool on a boat. As you know some of this beautiful islands have a very weak internet. The last thing you'd like to have is a heavy upload process in the background as soon you can connect again after a few days being offline. As nice it sounds, it's very impractical while off the grid - I tried it and it slows down the whole internet. And my priority was anyway a different one. I was looking for a very safe and secure storage only. No need for any fancy online tools from the cubicle world. So in the end, what did I choose? Surprise, after digging into terms and details I decided for none of the big names... for a very personal reason:

Most of the US based companies have signed up for CISPA. CISPA stands for Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protecting Act and it's highly disputed. It basically gives the US Government the right to check/access your data. I do not like that! And to be clear, the only conspiracy I'm guilty of is how to cruise for longer. And I do not store any unlawful data. But still, even with nothing to hide, I believe no government or any other institution should have the blank right to spy on personal data. No, I'm not paranoid, I just think that's not right. I simply do not like SOMEONE having access to all my personal files, particular since the whole purpose of backing files up externally is to do it with important things like Banking Data, Insurance and numerous scans of other important papers. Who controls the controller???

So I choose a "Data Bank Fault in Switzerland" for closer examination - SecureSafe.com is a 100% Swiss Company (No CISPA or similar) - being Swiss, was not even a main consideration. It's the fact that Switzerland, together with a few other European countries, takes data privacy real serious. In the end, SecureSafe.com could satisfy my high level request for data security. Particular since they store the data encrypted. Means, not even they can read my data (unlike Google or so) and even in a very unlikely case that they would get hacked: Since my data is strongly encrypted no one could read it anyway. I like that. The downside? Yes, it's a bit more pricy - 100GB ~150USD pa. But I think it's well worth the money! Therefore I signed up and I'm testing it now for PC and Mac. Will let you know if anything unexpected should happen...

In summary: who or whatever you choose for data security, if you live on a boat there is just one way to ensure a safe backup of your data. And that's off the boat. So if you're not flying home every few weeks to put a hard disk in your safe, the cloud is the way to go. And that's even true with sometimes random and poor internet access, storing valuable data in the cloud could be the difference between having it or not! 

Happy Sailing!