29 November 2014

Final flashback: Habibi's Sailing Adventure 2011-13

It's been more than a year that we pulled into Rock Hall/Maryland to end our sailing adventure of two years and to start a landlubber's life once again. In the meantime Habibi has found new owners and we are certain that they care for her as much as we did.

What remains are thousands of pictures and countless memories, good and bad. This short video is a collection of pictures we think represent our journey best. You're free to just watch it OR you can first read our brief summary below with links to the corresponding blog entries to get an idea of where we've been during those two years.

Either way, we'd like to thank all of you out there who joined and supported us on this ride. And even though we stopped cruising, we're still open for answering questions of all sorts regarding cruising.
Now, kick back and enjoy the show!

Yours truly
Marco & Rahel

The picture below shows us on our maiden voyage right after we had left the dock in Rock Hall/ Maryland back in October 2011.

It was freezing cold - after living 3 years in Dubai definitely not the temperatures we were used to! A bit nervous and with the initial support of our friend Kris we sailed down the Chesapeake Bay.
Following the ICW gave us time to get to know the boat better, finding our roles as a team and discovering a beautiful part of the US in slow motion, always joined by some dolphins or manatees on the way: Maryland, Virginia, North & South Carolina, Georgia. But we couldn't wait to reach warmer waters - What a joy when we saw the first palm trees in Florida!
The day before we arrived in Fort Lauderdale we passed 22 opening bridges, just insane. We pulled into a marina to do some work on the boat (installation of a water maker, checking the rigging, painting the toe rails, changing the zincs) and to do A LOT of shopping (marine stuff, food & drinks, first aid). Before going broke just shortly after we'd started we continued on to Key Biscayne where we waited for a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream.
We reached the Bahamas right on Christmas day and its beautiful clear waters blew us away from the start. Who would have thought that we'd spend 2 months in the Bahamas alone? We met so many friendly cruisers, got introduced to cocktails on the beach, fed swimming pigs, Marco went fishing a lot with his buddies (and his list of weird catch started off with a shark) - we just enjoyed our sailing life to the fullest.
Then it definitely was time to continue on and leave the Bahamas behind. We fulfilled our first longer passage, a three days and nights sail to Ille a vache, Haiti. The most beautiful and at the same time poorest place we encountered.
What followed was a miserable trip to the Dominican Republic and further, which we never wanted to repeat again. It is known to be tricky to get from the US or Bahamas to the Eastern Caribbean because of the trade winds that are blowing from the East - obviously you have wind and waves on the nose!
But we finally made it to St. Martin where we bought a new dinghy and our friends Ines & Andi joined us for three weeks aboard Habibi. We sailed together to St. Barth where we met some lovely people and enjoyed French food. Talking about food - everyday was a culinary highlight as Andi cooked delicious meals aboard even while underway! Another trip led us to St. Kitts and then to Nevis where our friends disembarked and we continued on to Montserrat and Guadeloupe.
Ah, the French islands... We really started to love them, especially the baguette, cheese, wine, Ti punch... Ah, and Rahel learned to snorkel on the beach right off "pain de sucre", a little mountain on Les Saintes, Guadeloupe. On the passage from Martinique to St. Lucia we encountered our first heavy squall with winds up to 35kts and huge seas. Habibi and crew made it safely to Rodney Bay and it was like always: once we were safe at anchor or the dock everything was forgotten quickly - cruisers have a short term memory!
We then kind of hurried up on our way South as the Hurricane season was approaching fast. There was just time for brief stops in Bequia and The Grenadines. In the Tobago Cays we snorkeled and swam with some giant turtles, what an experience. On our last stop in Tyrell Bay/Carriacou before reaching Grenada, it happened: our windlass stopped working! We had once to raise the anchor chain by hand, sailed down to Grenada and docked in the Port Louis Marina for a couple of weeks during Hurricane season. One major task was now to replace the broken windlass. Fortunately we had enough time... We fell in some kind of a routine: I went to the gym and yoga every other day, Marco checked out all the marine and hardware stores and together we ticked off many boat chores. Our friend Silvia flew over all the way from Switzerland and stayed with us for three weeks. And again we met many nice people to hang out with. A special friendship started off with Carol & Alex, a couple from California. Even though we weren't big friends of "buddy boating" it just naturally happened that we did it on our way back North after the end of Hurricane season.
Now we had time to explore The Grenadines, and had for the first time our anchor drifting in Clifton/Union Island - of course it was pitch dark, raining cats and dogs and the anchorage was super crowded - again we were lucky and nothing got damaged and nobody hurt. We then spent quite some time in Bequia, a beautiful place. In Martinique we rented a car with our friends, toured the island and ate more delicious food.
Our next trip led us to Dominica. A place we really loved. It represents the imagination of a Caribbean island, it's almost untouched by tourism, lush and green. The people are very proud of and love their island even though they don't have much. We spent much more time there as initially planned - sounds familiar?
Then we spent some time in Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city of Guadeloupe. From pure nature to a more urban place. We toured the island again with our friends and enjoyed the beautiful vistas. Soon it was time to head towards Antigua, where we welcomed our friend Nigel. He had flown over from Dubai via London, just to visit us for a couple of days! And even though he isn't a boat person he was of course as impressed as we were to see all the big yachts assembled in Falmouth and English Harbour, among them the Maltese Falcon, the third biggest sailing yacht in the world. We then sailed over together to Jolly Harbour where we marveled at the most turquoise water we had seen so far. Too soon it was time to say goodbye and we headed on to Simpson Bay Lagoon/Sint Maarten. As it was very windy we used the time to do some work on the boat, shopping and paying Maho Beach a visit. Through its proximity to the airport it is very popular to watch arriving airliners on their final approach flying over the beach at minimal altitude. We left the lagoon just before the Heineken Regatta started and sailed the short leg to Anguilla. Our friends Diana and Jörn insisted to meet there and we didn't regret it. They showed us around, we tasted delicious crayfish, had a sundowner at Elvis and listened to some live music at the Banks Estate. We could have stayed much longer... But a weather window for the passage to the BVI's just opened up and we took the chance. We spent 30 days in the BVI's, most of that time we cruised together with Rahel's sister Claudia and her boyfriend Gregor aboard Habibi. It is the perfect place to introduce someone to sailing as the distances are short and the sea state isn't usually a problem as you can always sail in the lee of an island. We did a lot of sailing, snorkeling and exploring. And when it was time for our guests to leave, dropping them off  was very convenient: the anchorage of Trellis Bay is right in front of the airport on Beef Island/Tortola. Our next stop was St. John/US Virgin Islands. The Americans really do a great job there in preserving the coral reefs as more than half of the island is a National Park. Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas felt like the opposite with all the cruise ships and tourists in town. In Culebra, which is part of the Spanish Virgin Islands, we welcomed Marco's brother Serge aboard. At the Dinghy Dock Bar & Restaurant we met Bill who was working behind the bar. He was a quite experienced sailor, who knew the area pretty well and could give us many valuable tips. Somehow he was responsible on how we decided to continue the next stretch of our trip. We set over to Puerto Rico, where we dropped off Serge and started our preparations for our longest offshore trip so far: 900nm to Bermuda! It's a trip we'll never forget... It took us six days to get there. Most of the time we sailed in the middle of a LO, which meant high winds and seas and many squalls. But we made it safely to Bermuda, a little paradise in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There we reunited with our lovely German friends Hugo & Sybille. After some explorations of the island together they set off for their crossing of the Atlantic and return to Europe. We left for Newport, another offshore trip of roughly 700nm which took us 5 days. It was a rather pleasant trip, except that we got caught in a warm eddy! On our arrival in June in Newport RI summer wasn't there yet and some cold and foggy weather awaited us. But when Bill sailed into the harbor shortly after with his friend Dave the fun started and we spent our time in good company! We met Bill's friend Durbin and his lovely wife Ludi who showed us around town. After we sailed New England a bit, Bill and Dave convinced us to come to Block Island, where we were received cordially and felt at home immediately!
But one day we had to say goodbye and continued our trip to Long Island Sound. We could have spent much more time in these waters... A highlight of our whole trip was then to sail down the East River, past the skyline of New York City and the Statue of Liberty - which also marked the end of our adventure.
Shortly after we docked Habibi again in Rock Hall/Maryland and prepared her for her next owners who hopefully will spend at least as many pleasant hours on her as we did...

July 2013: back in Rock Hall after almost 2 years of sailing

02 February 2014

Flashback: hot, humid and calm - our last stretch

Habibi entering the C&D Canal

After winning the battle against the stinging flies (and the Coast Guard - but that's another story...) in the Delaware Bay we faced our very last anchoring maneuver behind Reedy Island in the Delaware River.

I was a bit nervous behind the helm as in order to reach the anchorage you have to pass through a gap in a dyke. And if this wasn't enough fun, the gap was quite narrow, the dyke submerged and on top of that the current ran with around 2.5 knots! Thinking of our friends Chris and Steve on Scott-Free who'd successfully done it before I pulled myself together, gave full throttle and steered Habibi through the gap without any problems. But the challenge wasn't over yet... we had to drop anchor in a racing current! Luckily there was no other boat in the anchorage and we had plenty of room to maneuver. Having done that, we had to make sure the anchor was well set as the current would change at some point during the night and turn the boat in the opposite direction. All went well and we spent a quiet last night at anchor.

THE GAP (photo credit by "Cruisin' with John and Deb" blogspot)

The next morning we raised the anchor at the first light, slipped through THE GAP into the Delaware River and headed North for about four miles.

Then we turned West into the C&D (Chesapeake and Delaware) Canal. Once again we had calculated the tide right and were slightly pushed through the 14 miles of water towards the Chesapeake Bay. Where was everybody?! Also here we didn't encounter a single boat. It was so calm - the water was like a mirror.

Being middle of July with the sun rising the temperatures did rise too. We saw many diseased fish floating by and wondered if this had anything to do with the high water temperatures? The water isn't very deep and is therefore able to heat up quickly.

Approaching the end of the C&D Canal and entering the Chesapeake Bay we started to pass a few boats heading the other direction. We guessed it was more the time to head North than South as we did.

It was so dead calm we didn't bother to pull out a sail and motored all the way. And we even opened the hatches what we usually never did while underway. But as there was no wind and no waves there was no chance water would splash over the deck. It was even safe to sit in the cockpit with the laptop on the knees...

We were actually a bit disappointed - this was supposed to be our last sailing trip and there was no "sailing" at all!

28 January 2014

Flashback: Battle of Habibi

We experienced a more or less uneventful sail from New York down South towards the Chesapeake Bay area - well, we managed to escape a few squalls and not to pick up one of the numerous lobster pots on the way. Ah, and a school of dolphins accompanied us for a while...

calm conditions

school of dolphins

When entering the Delaware Bay we encountered a well known phenomena (which, truth be told, had nothing to do with our shower intervals!): all of a sudden sting flies, hundreds of them, circled the boat!

this fly looks innocent, but imagine hundreds of them - stinging!

Marco with the license to kill - a losing game...

we tried everything

And even though the ground forces fought hard and killed dozens of them, relief came finally from the Odonatas (we called them thankfully our little Spitfires). We had up to 10 of them in monster sizes flying in and out of the cockpit to kill as many intruders they could get!

an ordonata attacking and...

...eating our enemy

an oversized dragonfly

beautiful creatures

And all of a sudden the flies disappeared as quickly as they had shown up - and with them our knights in shining armor. Thanks nature for sending us help to win this battle!

12 January 2014

Flashback: biting through the big apple

I guess everyone has some sort of a bucket list. A list with things one wishes to do, see, accomplish during his/her life. Marco already could tick one thing off of his list:
  • buying a boat and going sailing for an extended period of time. 
And now there was something else, it could be combined with:
  • sailing to and through New York City!
After Block Island we had to decide if we either sail directly to the Chesapeake Bay - an offshore passage that would bring us faster to our final destination in Maryland. But we would miss Long Island Sound and more importantly New York City. After some consideration we decided to take the longer route through Long Island Sound. Yes, we actually had to rush because of our ill family member but it looked like we could risk to make a detour to fulfill a long-term dream!

From Block Island (to the right) we sailed through Long Island Sound to NYC (to the left)

And we quickly understood why this waters are so popular among sailors. It reminded us of sailing on our "home lake" Lake of Constance back in Switzerland. There are countless nice spots to point your bow at just within reach of a couple of hours sailing in perfect conditions.

Habibi on anchor in Oyster Bay

calm conditions on Long Island Sound
beautiful wooden boats everywhere we went
first sight of the Big Apple

Due to lack of time we just hopped along the Northern shore of Long Island, NY and unfortunately missed the coast of Connecticut altogether. First place to drop the hook was in Three Miles Harbor, a huge and protected anchorage just a view miles away from the famous Hamptons and Sag Harbor. We stayed there till the day after 4th of July and what usually ends up with lots of boats battling for a nice anchor spot and noise all night long happened to be the most peaceful place on earth!
We quickly made our way West, with short stops in Port Jefferson (much more boats there!), Oyster Bay (also very nice anchorage but very sleepy town) and finally in Port Washington where we took one of the town moorings, that are 48h for free and after that cost USD 25 including complimentary launch service. It's a safe place to leave the boat while exploring NYC (there's a train station a 20min walk into town) AND it's perfect to time the passage through the East River!

From A we sailed first West and then down South on the East River to Battery Park in Lower Manhattan

So, what's the deal with this East River and timing it right? According to our sailing guides the East River isn't a river! It's actually a tidal strait, connecting Upper New York Bay with Long Island Sound. And as we mentioned in a previous post one thing we had to learn in this waters was to check the tides and currents - and the East River has some very strong current flows that can reach up to 7 knots (cruising speed on our sailboat is max 6 knots)! Just imagine you've got that mess against you... So the plan was to have the current WITH us. There is one spot which needs utmost attention in this planning process (and the name says it all): HELL GATE. It marks somehow the middle of the East River with the strongest tidal current, heavy swirls and boils, a channel dog leg in a narrow section of the river and heavy commercial traffic. In other words: we wanted to time our passage just right!

Off we went to dig our noses into our guides and tidal current tables and decided to time our passage as follows:
To have a fair current all the way we checked the time of 1. "Slack Water – Ebb Begins" at Hell Gate (The tidal current floods North & East and Ebbs South & West in the East River) and 2. "High Tide" at the Battery.
On our designated travel day, 14th July 2013, No. 1 was at 14.51, and No. 2 at 12.24. We untied the mooring lines in Port Washington at 12.50 with the intention to shoot for slack water or starting Ebb at Hell Gate.

Throgs Neck Bridge - First of many

It was a very hot day with almost no breeze. As we did this passage the first time we were a bit nervous and motor-sailed the first stretch. When it got more busy and tight we decided to roll in the sails and to just use the engine. I think we were lucky to travel on a Sunday as we didn't see too many commercial vessels passing by.

all in one: tug boat, airplane, crazy motor-yacht captain

Then Hell Gate came into sight and it looked like we'd timed it just right. When we passed the legendary spot we just saw the water bubbling a little bit and the current kicked right in - flowing WITH us. Phew...

approaching Hell Gate

just a few bubbles...
We were relieved and started to enjoy the ride past Upper East Side, Ed Queensboro Bridge with the Roosevelt Island aerial Tramway, the U.N. Headquarter and the Empire State Building.

Captain on the helm while the Admiral was taking pictures

Between Williamsburg and Brookly Bridge we were flying! Our SOG (Speed over Ground) hit 9.4 knots which means the strongest current we had was approximately 3.4 knots.

Around the Battery it got a bit more busy and choppy because of the water taxis, ferries, Cruise Ships and weekend traffic. 

But soon we were past all that and threw a last glimpse at the skyline of New York City.

But one last highlight was still waiting for us - The Statue of Liberty, standing proud on Liberty Island!

Bye bye New York!

The trip through the Narrows down to Sandy Hook where we dropped the anchor for the night was almost a piece of cake - a quiet, uneventful sail on a calm and hot summer day.