Friday, January 26, 2024

Diving in Culebra, Puerto Rico

Quick catch-up: Idril arrived in the Caribbean in mid-October, 2023, with the Salty Dawg rally from Newport, RI.

 We spend most of a week on a dock in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua, getting the boat cleaned after her passage south and prepared to be left alone for a month.

Idril surrounded by super yachts in Falmouth, Antigua

We then flew to Boston to help Katy's father, Bob, during his recovery from knee surgery. We spent a lovely Thanksgiving in Vermont at Alison's parents home, then got to join Dan and Sue in Acton for their annual veggie Thanksgiving party. 

After that, we stayed at Bob's apartment in Canton. Aside from an outing to the Revels dress rehearsal, we didn't get to see very many friends while there; we were pretty consumed with Bob. But we did get to spend Christmas at the Cape with much of the Petersen clan.

Christmas eve

Christmas dawn

We flew back to Antigua after Christmas and were relieved to find that the Idril was fine after her longer-than-expected abandonment. She had grown a serious beard of barnacles and green slime; we had divers clean her up before we got underway again.

To get back in the groove, we sailed clockwise about halfway around Antigua, with a stop at St. Johns for reprovisioning, then hopped north to Barbuda. 


There we got in a bit of snorkeling, a visit to the frigate bird nesting ground, and a hot, dusty walk to the amazing Darby sinkhole. 


We also stripped and lubricated our main winches, a long-overdue piece of maintenance.

Katy cleaning winch parts

Next stop: St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. We passed a pleasant week snorkeling in the familiar reefs around the island. From there we headed south to Frederiksted, on the west coast of St. Croix, for a week of diving with Nep2une Divers. Then: on to Culebra, in the so-called "Spanish Virgin Islands" (actually part of Puerto Rico).

Now that we're caught up, I'll get to the heart of this posting.

We did three dives with Culebra Divers, a small, family-run dive shop on Culebra.The first dive was nice, but due to the high winds we've been having, suffered from limited visibility. But the next two dives were fantastic! The reef on the west side of Culebra is one of the healthiest, prettiest reefs I've ever seen. And the dive leaders, Trevor and Meg, took some wonderful pictures. We don't have an underwater camera, so I've never been able to share just why we are so enthusiastic about diving and snorkeling.

Here we go.

Queen Triggerfish

Southern stingray

Green sea turtle


a very large French angelfish

Giant anemone with two squat anemone shrimp

Spotted Moray eel

Sennett (I think...)

There are some more pictures in this album.

Besides doing some great diving, we both did the online and practical training to become certified to use "Nitrox", an air mixture that enables divers to stay longer at depths that would otherwise risk decompression illness ("the bends"). We don't know when we'll use that, but it's now in our quiver if we need it.

-- Jerry

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Using CBP ROAM to enter the U.S. by boat

Katy and I just re-entered the U.S (well, Puerto Rico, which has an unusual status, but basically counts...), and in doing so learned a few things about the process.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has an app to simplify arrival of pleasure boats into the U.S (and territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands): CBP ROAM. It requires:

  • a cell phone or tablet running Android or iOS
  • an account at
  • for vessels over 30 feet in length, a current DTOPS decal

You will also want some means of setting up 2 factor authentication: a text message to your phone, an authentication app, etc.

Start by getting a DTOPS decal (if your boat is big enough to need one). These have to be delivered to a physical mail address, but you can use the receipt number generated by the DTOPS web site temporarily until the decal arrives. In theory, you need to carry the decal on your boat; in fact, just having the decal number lets you register with CBP ROAM.

Next, set up the account at If you are a member of a "trusted traveler" program (such as Global Entry or TSA Pre) you probably already have one.

Once you have done that, download the CBP ROAM app for your device and create an account. This entails setting up profiles for each vessel (including the name, registration, year, make and model, length, DTOPS decal number, flag) and each crew member (name, birth date, passport details, etc.).

Having all this set up, you are now prepared for a streamlined arrival process into the U.S.

  • Open the CBP ROAM app, log in, and click the "Report Arrival" button.
  • Select your "Mode of Travel" (put a check next to the boat you're on, and click continue).
  • Wait while the app uses your devices location services to figure out where you are (more on this later).
  • Enter the "Arrival Details" (where you're arriving, where you're coming from, and various declarations) and click continue.
  • Select a boat "Master" from the people whose details you have set up, and click continue.
  • Select crew in the same manner, and click continue.
  • Review the information, and click submit.

You'll get an "arrival number", and after an indeterminate interval, your arrival will either be rejected (you'll get email telling you this) or you'll get a phone call from a pleasant CBP official. You'll be asked to confirm the information you provided via the app, and, assuming all is well, be told that -- you're in! It's great - there's no need to actually show up with passports at the CBP office.

HOWEVER - important detail. You must not submit an arrival request until you are "close" to your port of entry. I don't know how "close" is defined, but I do know that when I submitted a request for Culebra (in Puerto Rico) from just west of St. Thomas (about 15NM from Culebra), we were "too far" away. I tried again when we were entering the channel into Ensenada Honda (about 2.5NM from Culebra) and was successful.

This is way better than taking your boat papers, passports, and crew to an actual CBP office. Thank you, CBP!

UPDATE, September 2023

The app has recently stopped working on Android; there are many complaints on the Google Play store about this. For our most recent entry into the U.S., I had to download the app onto my iPad and us it from there. This meant re-entering all the vessel and passenger data, as it's stored on the device, not the CBP servers. Once I did that, I could create an arrival as before. 

 On the plus side - we were able to enter (from Canada) at Chatham, Massachusetts, which is NOT an official port of entry. Your mileage may vary...

Monday, July 25, 2022

Hmm - are the tabloids turning on Trump?!?

 Seen today in the checkout line:

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Welcome to the western hemisphere

Katy, Idril and I arrived in Guadeloupe on January 2, 2022. We're currently (as of January 6th) in Marina Bas-Du-Fort on Guadeloupe. More once we have gotten a bit more settled. 

 And here's the promised update (January 16, 2022). 

 We left Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands on Saturday, December 11, 2021, around 11AM. The boat was loaded with fresh fruits and veggies, lots of UHT milk and gobs of other dry goods. The sturdier perishables were stowed in mesh nets under the arch at the stern.

We began by sailing southwest along the coast of Tenerife, giving us one last view of the mountainous interior.

El Teide

Our track out of Santa Cruz

 We had fairly light winds for most of the trip, allowing us to use our Oxley Levante spinnaker for days at a time. We had tried to use this sail a few times before this crossing, with less than wonderful results; we were having a bit of buyer's regret about it. But it proved its worth on this passage! We could keep sailing essentially dead downwind in as little as 7 knots of wind, and we felt comfortable keeping it flying in up to about 18 knots. It took us a while to get it dialed in, but it was certainly worth the effort.

Notice our courtesy flags dangling limply on the starboard spreader...

The other sails we used a lot on the crossing were our main (prevented out, at angles between perhaps 135 and 165 degrees off the wind) and our trusty gennaker.

Sunset and gennaker

We didn't see as much sea life as we had hoped to on the crossing. In the first week, near the Canary Islands and Capo Verde, we had a few dolphin escorts. But our ever present companions were the flying fish -- the centerpiece of the burgee of the Ocean Cruising Club. They would burst from the surface, alone or in schools (flocks?), day and night. Some inevitably, and sadly wound up on our decks, especially at night, and we would find them in the morning, well and truly dead. :-(

Our constant reward for the passage was the skies - gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and day after day of puffy white clouds surrounded by deep blue. The nights brought stars, moonlight on the water, and the Geminid meteor shower.

It was a long trip: 22 days, and, according to our chart plotter's log, close to 3000 nautical miles (over 5550 kilometers, or about 3450 statute miles). 


By the time we made landfall in Guadeloupe, we were both ready for it.


Land ho! La Desirade in the early morning light.

Unfortunately, Guadeloupe wasn't quite ready for us. We had made a reservation at the marina in St. Francois, on the eastern end of Grande-Terre, for "early January." Well, we arrived on Sunday, January 2 -- and the marina staff were all out on vacation. We had no idea where to park the boat, and as we approached the marina, our gearbox went wonky on us, as it has been doing for a few months -- always at inopportune moments. "Wonky" here means "sometimes doesn't go into forward gear on the first, or second, or perhaps third try." This is, er, a complication when attempting to maneuver in a tight marina in high winds. After several rather anxiety-filled minutes, we wound up squatting in a slip that belonged to a "day party" boat which we hoped would not return until the late afternoon.

SO - we spent a few hours cleaning the boat (it was thoroughly salt-encrusted after 3 weeks at sea), then cast off our lines and headed for the anchorage just outside the marina.

The anchorage was incredibly crowded, and we just could not get our anchor to set. On our fifth try, it held -- but we settled squarely into the entrance channel to the marina. When Katy attempted to raise the anchor, the windlass jammed. So here we were, stuck smack in the middle of a narrow, active channel, with an inoperative windlass.

I went below to the chain locker, and discovered that the chain had piled up into a pyramid sometime prior to the crossing, and then collapsed sometime during the passage, trapping the chain. I was able to just pull the chain out of the locker and pile it on the floor of the forward head until the chain was clear. Katy then got the chain back into the windlass's gypsy, and we were able to move again.

By this time, it was late afternoon, and we were just not in the mood to try this anchorage again, so we sailed about 8 nautical miles further west to Anse de Sainte Anne, a blessedly almost-empty anchorage, where our anchor held on the first try. We set the anchor, shut down the engine -- and then sat on the swim platform, dangling our tootsies in the warm Caribbean waters for the first time (at least aboard Idril). Relief!

The view from the swim platform

We stayed on anchor for 2 nights, getting a lot of sleep and enjoying sharing a bed again; while on passage, someone has to be on watch at all times, so we sleep alone.

On Tuesday morning (January 4th) we set off west again, bound for Marina Bas-Du-Fort in the middle of the butterfly that is Guadeloupe. 

Katy, with the southern coast of Grand-Terre behind her.

And here we are. 

Our course across the Atlantic


There's more to report, but this will do for now. Happy 2022 to all!

(More pictures, mostly of skies, here.)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Madeira, and on to the Canaries

Greetings from Lanzarote, the easternmost of the major Canary Islands. We arrived about a week ago, after about 10 magnificent days on Madeira.

Madeira is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, with knife-edged mountains covered by rich, green forests. The interior of the island is veined with levadas, which are channels built to move water from the high, wet parts of the island to the drier lowlands. There are walking trails along side most of these, and they provide access to some eye-popping scenery. We rented a car for 4 days, and we got out early each morning to view the sunrise from some new and exciting spot.

Our first glorious sunrise was from the summit of Pico do Arieiro, Madeira's third highest peak (1,818m). Our poor little car struggled to get to the near-summit parking lot, from which we had an easy stroll to a lovely vantage point.


After sunrise, we walked along the knife edge to the northwest...

 ...and then drove down to the northeast for our first levada walk.

  The next morning we started near the eastern tip of the island...

 ... then drove around to the north side of the island, and wound up looking back at that same knife edge near Pico do Arieiro, but from the west, across a sea of clouds.

Our last morning with the car found us traveling west along the southern coast, then north again for the 25 Fontes (25 fountains) walk. It began with a long descent, followed by a long, gradual climb over the course of 4 hours back to the parking lot, with multiple waterfalls along the way.

We might have stayed longer in Madeira, but the Funchal marina is not the best base from which to explore. It's well-located, but there are bars and clubs all around, which play loud dance music (thump thump thump) until the wee hours (4AM). Not very restful. But we can imagine going back to Madeira, getting a quiet room on the north side, and then hiking our legs off for a few weeks.

From Madeira we sailed to Lanzarote, a 3 night trip. We had originally planned on stopping for a night at Islas Desertas, a small clump of islands southeast of Madeira, but we left Funchal too late in the day to get in before dark, and the anchorage we were targeting is entirely without navigation lights, and full of rocks, so we decided to skip it. 


Leaving Funchal

We made landfall just before dawn outside of Puerto Calero, a marina on the southeast coast. We anchored for a few hours to get some sleep, then popped in to the marina.

Puerto Calero is a long way from anything else on Lanzarote, and we were (frustratingly) unable to rent a car at all. I rode my bike 20km north into Arrecife to do some shopping, but otherwise we didn't leave the marina. We spent the time doing boat projects; Katy installed bug screens on our windows (we've been increasingly found by mosquitos at night), and we FINALLY ran the necessary cable from our nav desk to the SSB tranceiver in the aft cabin so we can get our long range radio working. Once those were done, we moved on to our current anchorage at the southeastern corner of Lanzarote.

This schooner arrived just before sunset and anchored off our stern.

This morning we went ashore by dinghy to explore.

Tomorrow we plan to move closer to town (Castillo del Aguila) to shop; we're actually running low on fresh food. After that, we will work our way west across the Canaries. We hope to take dive classes on Tenerife and finally get our scuba certification; it's become increasingly clear that we need to be able to dive to perform some of the routine bits of boat inspection and maintenance. Besides, it's fun!

We're still expecting to cross the Atlantic, starting in December, and landing in the Caribbean in January. We'll keep you posted...

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Hose fittings for cruising in France (and Europe?)

This note is about a seemingly trivial, yet surprisingly important, topic - what hoses and hose fittings should be aboard a boat cruising in Europe? 

When Katy and I started cruising aboard Idril, we had a two collapsible hoses and a slightly-broken spray nozzle, all brought from the U.S. in the pallets of boat stuff we shipped before Idril was complete. We immediately discovered that the U.S. hose connectors are not QUITE the same as the (metric) hose connectors in France and England, and so they leaked when we tried to use them. 

To remedy this, we visited Jardiland, "up the hill" in Cherbourg.There we discovered the Gardena hose fitting system.This system allows hoses and accessories to be easily connected and disconnected with a simple push-pull action.  There's a huge variety of fittings available, and we soon had:

  • A replacement for the collapsible hose that we brought from the U.S. and a shiny new multi-setting spray nozzle.

  • A more substantial hose that we reserve primarily for filling our water tanks; we only use it with water supplies we consider fairly clean.
  • A two-stage water filter gizmo that we use to filter all of the water that goes into our fresh water tanks, regardless of source.

  • Various connectors and spares.

I also purchased a short length of good quality hose that I can use to construct a "U.S. to Gardena" adapter, once we get to the U.S. and have access to U.S. hose fittings.

These fittings got us through most of the summer 2021 cruising season.Most marinas provide conventional screw-type faucets (for which we had the fitting); some provide a permanently-attached hose with a bare end, into which I could insert a "bare hose to Gardena" fitting.

Upon arrival in Roscoff, in mid August 2021, we encountered yet another variation -- the "Gardena only" tap. This has a female Gardena fitting, and the flow of water starts (ready or not...) as soon as you insert a male Gardena fitting into the tap.

Luckily, we had just the fitting, and a valve fitting for the business end of the hose. Hooray!

Here's the crucial subset.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Salcombe to Fishguard

After a month in St. Helier Marina on Jersey, we got up bright and early on May Day morning and finished preparing the boat for an overnight sail across the English Channel to Salcombe. We would be "buddy sailing" with another Garcia Exploration 45, "Snow Gum", crewed by an Australian couple, Carolyn and Rick. We crossed the sill at St. Helier just before 9AM and headed out into the Channel, with Snow Gum close behind.

If you look at a chart, it seems as if you could just take a straight line from the western edge of Jersey (off La Corbière) to Salcombe and sail right across. The reality is quite different. There are strong tidal currents to contend with, as well as (obviously) the ever-changing winds (or, often, lack thereof...), rocks to be avoided, and shipping lanes (technically "traffic separation schemes") to be crossed (by law) at right angles. So our path to Salcombe is pretty wonky.

We were both on deck for most of the day, and around sunset I went below for a nap, leaving Katy on watch. We swapped places at midnight, just as we were about to pass the southwestern end of the traffic separation scheme. 

There was a lot of traffic, almost all of it much bigger than Idril - tankers, container ships, ferries, and fishing vessels. Our AIS provides us with excellent information on the ships around us, but we still have to keep a careful watch visually and via RADAR. Some ships (notably military vessels) do not broadcast their locations via AIS, and fishing boats have been known to turn off AIS if they have found a particularly fruitful spot. Nonetheless, AIS is a huge help. We've found that giant ships will happily alter course a degree or so to avoid us - as long as we give them enough advance warning. A typical VHF radio exchange might go something like this:

"Big Ship, Big Ship, Big Ship [using their name, of course], this is sailing vessel Idril, sailing vessel Idril, on channel one six, good evening, over."
"Idril, this is Big Ship. Over."
"Big Ship, Idril. It looks like we will be close to you in about a half hour. What is your intention? Over."
"Idril, Big Ship, we see you on AIS and will alter course 2 degrees to [port/starboard] to pass [in front of/behind] you. Over"
"Big Ship, Idril, thank you very much, have a pleasant watch. Idril out."

I got Katy up around daybreak (early at this latitude...) and we shared the cockpit for the rest of the trip, with me dozing a bit. We arrived at the entrance to the Salcombe estuary around 9AM, and were tied up on the visitor pontoon by 11. Snow Gum arrived shortly thereafter.

The next 3 days were filled with very satisfying walks around the Salcombe coastline: to the north, the south, and inland to the sheep meadows above the visitor pontoon.


We also had fun walking around town.

 On Thursday, May 6th we left Salcombe at first light (5:30am) and sailed to Mylor Yacht Harbor in Falmouth -- a place we know very well from the month we spent there last summer, having our electrical system tweaked. This gave us a chance to do laundry, re-provision and finally get our bikes shipped off to Gocycle for service. Once we had a decent weather window, we took a short hop on Tuesday, May 11th from Mylor to a mooring in the Helford River -- also familiar from last summer -- before taking off two days later, on the 13th, for the Isles of Scilly.

We had some excitement on the way to the Scillys -- our gennaker halyard failed. The halyard is the line that we use to hoist the top end of the gennaker, our primary light-air sail, to the top of the mast. The line has two parts -- a very strong inner core, and an abrasion-resistant outer braided sheath. The sheath failed, apparently at the point where it was gripped by the clutch on the mast, and the inner core slipped down inside the sheath.  This allowed the top of the sail to drop about 3 meters or so, bringing the bottom edge of the sail dangerously close to the water. We were zipping along at a good clip past Lizard Point, the southernmost spot in "mainland" England, with somewhat rough seas. Had the sail really dug in to the water, we would have damaged at least the sail.

Luckily, Katy reacted immediately, unfurling the solent (another of our foresails), stealing the wind from the gennaker and easing the pressure on the line. We were then able to safely lower the gennaker and lash it to the lifelines on the port side of the boat. In the rough seas and stress, I (Jerry) got increasingly nauseous, and eventually blew my breakfast all over the port side deck. Yech.

 We later discovered that a photographer on Lizard Point had captured the boat  moments after the failure, just as we had gotten the solent unfurled.

The beginning of the recovery operation

The gennaker lashed to the port lifeline

 We arrived at The Cove, a quiet (and familiar) anchorage off St. Agnes in the Isles of Scilly in the late afternoon. We got the gennaker properly stowed, cleaned up the side deck, and turned in early. 


Arriving at The Cove

The next morning we got up early and went for a walk on St. Agnes, including a stop at Troytown Farm for a breakfast of ice cream, and a visit from a very insistent bird.

Then -- back to the boat, and a shift to New Grimsby Harbour, between the islands of Tresco and Bryher. 

Passing "the cow", north of St. Agnes

We were waiting for good winds for the next leg, to Milford Haven in Wales. We spent the days walking mostly-familiar coastal paths on Bryher, re-visiting Tresco Abbey Garden, and resting up for the 118 nautical miles to Milford Haven.

We left New Grimsby in the late afternoon on May 19th, in stronger-than-expected winds and chop. Katy took the first night watch at 11pm, while I snoozed until 3am and we swapped roles. Around 5:30, shortly after sunrise, I realized that the boat was surrounded by dolphins. Magical! Click for video.

The wind was unfortunately fading as the sun rose, and we wound up motoring much of the rest of the way to Milford Haven, arriving midday.


A friend has called Milford Haven "the Detroit of Wales"; it is a pretty industrial port, with a major LNG terminal and plenty of commercial shipping traffic. But we did get in one nice walk.

But once we got another weather window, we were eager to press on, and on May 22nd we left Milford Haven at the 9am lock opening and headed for Fishguard, through the first two of a series of somewhat tricky passages -- Jack Sound and Ramsey Sound.

The blue line is our track

As we move north into the Irish Sea we will increasingly encounter very strong tidal currents, as water is shoved north and south between Ireland and Wales. Katy is now putting significant time and energy into making sure that we arrive at key choke points near slack tide and with favorable winds. Jerry, on the other hand, is a slacker.

Hard at work in the cockpit

 We anchored in Fishguard for 2 nights, with one brief trip into the town. It was a lovely place to be anchored, well protected and surrounded by modest cliffs.

Most signage is now in Welsh, with English second

We left Fishguard just before sunrise on Monday, May 24th, and sailed to a Marina in Pwllheli, our next staging point. I'll write about that, and our further progress to Porth Dinllaen and Caernarfon, in another post.