Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mona Island. Yes, Mona Island……
  I apologize; it has been a while since my last post. We have had a lot of visitors and the new grand babies take up valuable time. So here goes the latest adventure.   We were sitting in the marina bar on a Sunday night talking about crazy sailing adventures with several other sailors. Some of the stories were harder to believe than others. Sailors always try to make the stories more interesting so others will actually listen with envy. This is why sailors are so interesting, right?   Then someone brought up the beautiful island called Mona in one of the most dangerous passages in the world. The Mona Passage is feared by many because of the crazy current, high seas and rogue waves. Mona Island has some incredibly unique animals, birds, turtles and is sometimes called the Galapagos Island of the Caribbean. Very few people actually get to go there because of the required permits and difficult location in the Mona Passage. This was one of those father son bucket list moments that I knew just had to happen. Before we knew it we had a crew of five ready to leave that Thursday night. They all had the same enthusiasm as Liam and I. It started as a joke and snow balled into reality and in four days we were going, for real. The crew consisted of a DEA agent, retired CT SWAT Team Officer, an EMT, my amazing son Liam and me. I am leaving their names out.
  Remember this is a sailor’s story. So as most of this is true some things are not. I will let you guess.
  We all met at the marina Thursday evening to set sail that night. Of course nothing is ever simple. The bolt for the alternator pivot point snapped off on the engine pre check that afternoon. That was not an easy part to find as Friday was Three Kings Day and every store closes early the night before a holiday. I was able to find the bolt in Mayaguez and replaced the alternator pivot bolt. I did another thorough check of the entire boat and concluded we were ready for crossing the Mona Passage. I will admit I was a little nervous. We set sail at 11:30 PM under a full moon. It was a beautiful night. The wind was coming from the west at 10-15 knots and waves were only 3-5 feet high. Every hour of this ten hour journey the engine, batteries, gauges and bilges were checked. Like I stated, I was nervous. Besides I was responsible for four other lives. During the first four hours of the trip the seas were calm. By 4:00 AM the moon had set on the horizon, the seas and wind picked up and my crew was fast asleep with the exception of my boy, Liam. It was pitch black. But in the far off distance I could see the occasional light from the northern Mona Island lighthouse.   I actually loved the sound of the ocean crashing against the hull and the wind whistling by. Plus, the conversations you have with your son at “O” dark thirty while everyone else is asleep is priceless. The lack of sleep didn’t seem to bother either of us. We were too excited to care. He and I spent hours just talking. I don’t actually remember what we talked about but I am sure it was earth changing stuff.  At 06:00 the sun started to rise and the cliff face of Mona Island was lit up like the Cliffs of Dover. It was an amazing sight. The crew woke up and before we knew it, we had caught two five foot Barracudas. As we sailed past the northern shore/cliffs another island became visible. It is a much smaller island just north of Mona called Little Mona, Original name, huh? That island is all cliffs all the way around and impossible to anchor next to and explore. I hear the fishing around that island is fantastic.   On the west side of Mona Island, the wind and waves had died down. The sailing became comfortable and calm again. The visibility below us was over 75 feet. Yes, we could see the ocean floor 75 feet below us. This made navigating a little difficult as you could not believe the depth meter or your eyes. It appeared to be much shallower than it actually was. We then spotted a buoy about a mile away and sailed towards that. That buoy is the guide marker to make it into the mooring area. Once we rounded that buoy we could see the two markers on the beach. We lined them up with the buoy behind us and sailed right in. The passage into the protected anchorage was about 50 feet wide. In high surf I don’t think our boat could make it in or out.   We tied up to the mooring buoy just north of the old loading dock in about 10-13 feet of water. The water was crystal clear with turtles swimming around everywhere. The beach sand was a bright white. We all sat there looking at the cliffs and the little beach for several minutes. We just could not believe what we were seeing.   After we absorbed as much as we could we all dove into the water and swam to shore. We walked down the beach to the Mona Island Departamento De Recursos Naturales Y Ambientales or DNRA office. The Island has 4-5 armed rangers stationed there every week. They rotate out every other week. The DNRA employees do not have a working boat. They have several ATV’s and trucks but no water craft. We thought that was a little odd. After introducing ourselves to the DNRA officials they asked us to help save 18 Cuban refugees that were stranded on a cliff about a ½ mile away. They told us that the refugees had been there for three days without food and water. Liam and one of our crew members jumped into the inflatable and made nine trips back and forth. They retrieved them all including a man with a broken leg and a four year old girl.
  It is really sad to see what people endure to leave their countries for the American dream. Most of these refugees will pay $1500-2500 to have someone deliver them by boat to Puerto Rico. The worst part is most of these refugees get dropped off on a deserted island 46 miles away from Puerto Rico. They climb the sheer cliffs to find stores, cars, people and they find nothing. It is an expensive trip for people that only make around $5.00/day. The majority of them get sent back to their country after landing on Mona Island. The DNRA processes the refugees. They Photograph, fingerprint and confirm actual point of origin. Then they get picked up by police boat and returned to their country by air from Puerto Rico.    Later that day we decided to walk the beach and stopped to talk to one of the DNRA officials. He told us they find at least three dead refugees a week on the island. He also told us that they find abandoned boats at sea are without people on them. He was visibly shaken up as he told us this. He also stated that he fears 100’s of refugees lose their lives every month crossing the Mona Passage and they are never found. They simply run out of supplies, get affected by the high seas, lose direction and/or die from dehydration. The bodies just disappear in the Mona Passage.   So back to our first day on Mona Island, We rescued 18 Cubans, we explored the deserted beaches, did some scuba, snorkeling, floating and some much needed relaxation. It was a full day plus Liam and I had not slept. I decided to take a walk and sleep under a palm tree. After about twenty minutes I realized I would not be able to sleep on the beach. The hermit crabs and huge iguanas were just too curious to let me sleep. They don’t see many people so they are not afraid of us like they would be in more populated areas. I did not enjoy the curious visitors next to my face. So I headed back to the boat where Liam and the other crew members were out having fun chasing sharks and turtles.
  That afternoon Liam caught a several lobsters for dinner. He even found a shark hiding in a cave which really freaked out one of the other crew members who was diving with him. We cooked the lobsters and some steaks on the grill that night. The sunset after dinner was one of the prettiest I have ever seen. After sunset the almost full moon came out and lit up the water. The glistening of the moon on the surface of the water made a dramatic reflection on the ocean floor below the boat. I wish I could describe this better. Then a huge shark swam under the boat. The moonlight shimmering through the water onto the back of the shark created a menacing black silhouette on the ocean floor. He swam back and forth under the boat for several hours.
  I think this is what kept me out of the water the next day.   That evening I think I fell asleep around 8:00pm. I decided to lie down on the couch in the living room area of the sailboat. The next thing I knew it was 6:00 AM. I think the lack of sleep finally caught up to me. Liam and crew decided to watch a movie with surround sound. They also turned on the generator, turned on the air conditioner and closed all the windows. Then a huge thunderstorm hit with heavy rains and high winds. Somehow, I slept through it all and heard nothing………………   The next day I woke up early and made breakfast tacos and coffee. Everything tastes better on a boat. Cleaned up and away we all went again. We ended up doing much of the same as the day before.
  I had to repair the Jabsco toilet. This is one of my favorite things to do. If anyone knows what a Jabsco toilet is I am sure they have repaired one. It’s a real $h!**y job. I also had to remove the bolt I replaced the day before and install a shorter one. I have to make a side note here: Use anti seize lubricant!!! This makes working on a boat so much easier in the waves. I finished the departure pre check for the return journey and decided to kick back and relax.    The Coast Guard arrived around 10:00 AM to drop off more Cubans that were stranded on Little Mona Island. I believe they rescued 14. This seems to be an everyday thing out there. Liam and I did some exploring on the trails above the beach. We also found a few caves but we did not have the right clothes to go into them. The other crew members spent the day snorkeling, taking pictures with a drone and exploring.   Around 6:00 PM we decided to set sail back to Puerto Rico. The weather forecast showed a big swell headed our way. Our timing was perfect. If we would have waited any longer the waves could have prevented us from leaving safely out of the mooring area. The next day we found out the waves were over 18 feet breaking into that mooring area. We made it through the reef without any trouble and headed south. Liam stood on the foredeck pointing out which direction to go to avoid hitting the reefs. As we got further from the island the waves on the south side of Mona were far too big to sail safely back to PR. We turned back north and watched the last sunset as we sailed past our anchorage. Of course we caught another Barracuda. Then the sun faded away. On the north side of the Island the almost full moon came up over Mona. It lit up the sky so bright and just then we hooked a Mahi-Mahi. This was a beautiful fish. We would have loved to keep this one but due to the high waves it broke free. Liam still feels bad about losing that fish. We yelled at him and almost threw him overboard. It wasn’t really his fault but we needed someone to blame. Plus, he was the youngest on the boat and it’s always the youngest ones fault.   At about 11:00pm the entire crew was fast asleep except for Liam and I. He and I stayed up for the return voyage east. I was really nervous because the waves were increasing beyond my comfort level. The waves did not have any real pattern to follow either. Sometimes you can ride a wave like a surfboard but these waves were coming from all directions. It made for a very long night. Thank god for Auto Pilot and Liam for providing good conversation and back up confidence. Around 2:30 AM a large power boat appeared about three miles behind us. We were going around 4-5 knots. The power boat was traveling around 20+ knots. We immediately woke the rest of the crew and got them all on deck. As soon as the Power boat got close enough to see the full crew standing tall on deck they broke off and went south. Not sure what that was about. But it was a little intimidating. We wonder if it was just a friendly visitor or pirates. I guess we will never know. That is probably a good thing.   At 3:00 AM I could start to see the lights of Puerto Rico. Then the almost full moon disappeared around 4:00 AM and it was pitch black again. The GPS was my only way home. The noticeable landmarks of Mayaguez and Cabo Rojo just were not noticeable. We sailed into Puerto Real with blind folds on. I swear I have never been that blind. We sailed into port without a hitch. The sun finally came up as we were loading the vehicles for the road trip home.   We all were extremely excited to be able to say we sailed to one of the most unique places on earth. We did something very few people ever get to do and we did it without any real issues. And most importantly, I got to do this bucket list item with my son. The older he gets I realize I will have very few of these moments left. He has turned into a very fine young man and be will starting his own life soon. I am so impressed by him. He has courage, knowledge, common sense, resilience and he is definitely his father’s son. He will never fully understand how proud I am of him. I hope he knows that these brief moments in time that we spend together mean more to me than anything else in my life.   It was an outstanding father/son bucket list adventure.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Random pics

The Islandwide Blackout, Zombies and Babies. Wait, Babies? Seriously, it was a crazy week. The power station in Salinas, Puerto Rico caught on fire and left the entire island without power. Shortly after that the water service, internet, cellphones and cable television all went out as well. We were completely in the dark in all aspects. Only a few radio stations were broadcasting. The Puerto Rico governor called for a state of emergency as the power was not projected to return for several days. All gas stations ran out of fuel the first day and ATM and credit card machines did not work. It was a mini zombie apocalypse, without zombies. I will admit the night sky was as bright as the Alaskan sky for those three nights. Another interesting observation during the blackout was everyone actually talked. No one buried their faces in their cellphone (like zombies, lol). In the waiting room at the hospital people actually talked to each other. In the elevators people actually talked. And so on and on and on. It was refreshing to see the interaction between strangers and friends. Some of us saw the power outage as actually a good thing. Ok, back to the most important thing, the babies. My oldest daughter Berkley has never made things easy. During the first day of the power outage is when she and her babies decided to join us. The hospital was running on generators and they also had a backup water supply. It was a normal day inside the hospital except for the lack of internet and cable television. At around 9:45 the twins joined the us in the world of the living. We did not get to see or hold them until around 5:00 pm. Berkley returned to the room around noon and went to sleep right away. The day was very different from a normal day as outside the thunder, lighting lasted for most of the day. We watched the storm from the hospital windows while talking to total strangers. Yes, talking. It’s a form of communication that occurred before cellphones took over the world and made zombies out of all of us. These little incredible bundles of joy came into the world during what most called one of the biggest disasters in many years. The major energy blackout, water shortage, cellphone outage, internet outage, cable television outage and incredible tropical storm. I guess you could say they came in with a bang, so to speak. As the days went on we noticed that no one really was upset about the lack of services. It was kind of like being on vacation for a week in a far off paradise. We all rather enjoyed it. The power was restored on Friday morning at 1:00 am. And the water, internet, cable all started working shortly after that. You could hear the neighbors cheering down the street. I guess before we knew it we were all back to the land of zombies? Almost immediately my cellphone started to get text messages, emails and voice mail notifications. Chirp, beep, chirp, chirp, beep, beep and on and on and on. I could feel my anxiety level start right away. Three days without being connected. You should all try it. You might find you like it. I realized some very important things from the recent blackout and seeing the new bundles of joy. Maybe it’s time to let the zombies stay on TV and start living in the real world. Let’s turn these devices off. Let’s change how we communicate. Let’s play games, have dinner together, celebrate life and enjoy the land of the living. The recent mini disaster was a blessing just like my daughter’s little bundles of joy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Superstition or just an excuse for a party? As we get older it is funny how we let superstitions find their way into our lives. I am sure we all have a few things we do daily that are just plain weird. I know I do. I won’t go into much detail about that though or you might think I am weirder than I actually am. The most popular superstition in Puerto Rico is related to the Moon. They say all the crazy things that happen seem to happen when it’s a full moon (lunacy). The biggest thing I have noticed about the full moon in PR, are the drivers. It seems that the friendliest people to into the most unfriendly people behind the wheel during a full moon. Unfortunately, this seems to last for several days before and after the full moon. I am not excluding myself. I also turn into a lunatic driver during that time. So let me get back on track. Superstitions, we all have them. We just may not realize how important they are until something happens. We recently purchased a small boat in San Juan and sailed it to the west side of the island. On the way we had a few challenging things happen. So now we take superstitions a little more seriously. The boat we purchased came with a name that we did not like and it was very difficult to say, “Senses Pleasures”. Can you say that ten times fast? Or can you imagine how that name sounds on a scratchy VHF radio? Plus as my son says, “it sounds like a strip club!” So we decided on a new name and started moving forward with changing the registration and USCG documentation. You would think this is an easy task. Nope, I am convinced that things that should be easy never are. After several months we were granted approval to officially change the name and update registration and USCG Documentation. We then removed the name from the boat. We did not put the new name on the boat until we completed a ceremony to the gods. It is a very bad omen to change the name of a vessel. But it can be done if some certain steps are followed. The process of changing the name of a boat is more involved than removing the old name and slapping on the new. Basically it’s an excuse to have a party, drink champagne, and have some very good spirits. The first step is to congratulate and celebrate the new owners. I thought this part was funny. You must convince the boat, yes the boat that the new owners are worthy and generous. The boat has to believe this. I am pretty sure our boat believes this now. Then and only then can you precede with the ceremony. First you must thank the previous owners and gods for their previous stewardship of the vessel. Then the old name must be written on a small metal plaque and thrown into the sea. Of course, it is important to remove all traces of that old name from everything on the boat before the ceremony. The previous name will now be retired and stricken from Poseidon’s list. A final toast with good champagne is made to all who are present, then to the previous owners, and finally to the gods of the wind and the seas. It was a wonderful day. We invited all the important members of the maiden voyage to this ceremony. We had guests travel from Maryland, Isabela, Rincon and Hormigueros. Keep in mind that it is very important to honor the gods as they grant safe passage over their seas. Plus, it is excellent excuse to have a party, have a few drinks and reminisce. I am not a superstitious person but after the first voyage I am not willing to tempt fate. And watch out for the next full moon as this lunatic will now be driving a boat. ARRRRRRRRRHHHHHHHHHH, that's pirate for lets have a party....

Monday, August 1, 2016

Three years in paradise, let’s catch up…
Berkley, Liam, Bill (dad), Madison, Jenn (mom)
My lovely bride has become a horse lover. She volunteers helping at a local horse stable. This keeps her pretty busy. She has also rescued several abandoned dogs and puppies. She, along with ARF of Rincon ( www.arfrincon.org ), have found homes for some of them as far away as Texas, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The stories behind the rescue of two of those puppies would break your heart. So I will not share that. I know it was hard for her to say goodbye to some of these little dumplings but they are so blessed to have the loving homes they have now. I will admit I also became very attached to one of them too. We named her Bella. She was an adorable little blue nose.
Saying good bye never gets easier, does it?
Our oldest child Berkley moved back home and is expecting twins. She has a huge heart and will make a good mother. She has had a few difficult years trying to find her way. I am hoping this will make her a strong parent. I guess it is true, Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans? So it looks like we will have little ones running around this October. I can only hope that we will be half the grandparents our parents have been.
Our middle child graduated from a high school in Mayaguez and left for Alaska in June. She just missed the snow covered mountains and fresh salmon far too much. Wait, she traded sun and grouper for rain and salmon. What? This can’t be right… She is an amazing young lady and is trying to find her own path in life. I will admit I had a little trouble with letting her go. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
I received a care package today from Madison reminding me how much I miss my baby girl. She knows exactly what to write to bring instant tears to my eyes and the canned salmon didn’t help…. Parenting is so much harder than I expected it to be. I miss her terribly. Saying goodbye never gets easy.
Our youngest, Liam has turned 16 and is driving in Puerto Rico. He has a few bad driving habits including refusing to use his turn signal. I know, it’s no different than anyone else in PR. Liam says, the turn signal just gives the driver behind him the unfair advantage. I wonder where he got that one? Be careful what you say to a teenage boy even if you are joking. He remembers everything. Gosh darn these kids. I am convinced they are trying to give us heart attacks. He also has become an impressive sailor and placed second in his first real yacht race. He has two more years of high school and has adapted to Puerto Rican life quicker than the rest of us. He is a straight A student at a private all Spanish speaking school. He has a heart of gold and is one of the most caring souls I have ever known.
Above is a photo of our sailboat race crew from April of 2016. It was a great family event. We placed second under the helpful hands of my father Kurt, mother Jeannette, nephew Mark, nephew Adam, lovely bride Jenn, daughter Berkley, daughter Madison, my son Liam and good friend Julio.
And now for me. I am first and foremost a father. This job has been more challenging than I had ever expected. Raising two beautiful girls and a high energy son in the Caribbean has not been an easy task. I have had some great highs and some tremendous lows. I will admit, I remember the highs more than the lows. If you need advice with raising your teenage daughters or son? I have no answers. Just pray……. And to finish I have to bring up one more thing. Saying goodbye, never gets easy. Just make sure you use the turn signal so my son has the unfair advantage.
The spring speed bump

It’s been a very busy spring. The kids have kept us super busy with school functions and graduations. Everyone in Puerto Rico takes the graduation ceremony very serious. I remember going to my High School graduation soaking wet and only having only one shoe on. That is a long story that had something to do with a sailing.

The school graduations in Puerto Rico are completely different from what I am used to. The clothes, hair, makeup and shoes are all perfect. It honestly felt like I was going to multiple celebrity weddings. I have never witnessed such a thing. The outfits everyone wore were straight from Madison Ave.

Another amazing thing here is the parents are actually encouraged to participate in everything including the Prom and Senior Class trip. What makes this so different from the states is the kids actually want their parents to attend. In the states the kids want their parents as far away as possible. It was unbelievably refreshing and I love how important family is to Puerto Ricans. I will admit this is one of my favorite things about Puerto Rico.  

We also bought a house. Yes, we are real Puerto Ricans now. That process was less complicated than we have been told. Everyone has said that experience would break us. They told us horrible stories about the banks, realtors and the sellers in Puerto Rico. In fact, the banking process was very simple and was a little faster than we liked. I can’t believe I actually wrote that. But yes, the mortgage process was as simple as pie. We even got very lucky with the sellers as they wanted to move as quickly as we did. So we will start painting, landscaping, and making it ours this week.

At dinner the other night the kids told me moving here was the best decision we have ever made. I will admit this made me feel really good. The decision to move somewhere completely different has been a very difficult one. As a parent I worry every day. Did I make the right choice? Did I complicate my child’s life? Did I make this move for the wrong selfish reasons? And so on. But overall the move from the amazing state of Alaska to a territory in the Caribbean really has been a wonderful experience. We have had our fair share of hardships during this first year. But overall the speed bumps have made us a closer and stronger family. Puerto Rico is an incredible place. I am proud to call it my home.






Side note:
I remember going to a house for sale that that had over twenty speed bumps on the way to it. It was a beautiful home. I just could not get past the speed bumps. It was all I thought about. Can you imagine going over forty speed bumps every day. I have had enough speed bumps in my life. I can’t even remember what the house looked like. I was so fixated on those ridiculous speed bumps.
I often tell my kids that life is full of hardships or speed bumps. Some days those speed bumps are really difficult to get over. Some days you don’t notice them at all. But the trick is to minimize them in everything you do.
Yep, we passed on that house.