Ad Astra Sailing Adventures

Ad Astra Sailing Adventures

July 14th 10am — Offshore of Tortola’s North Coast

On the way to Bubbles

On the way to Bubbles

We are currently speeding from Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke to Trellis Bay, Beef Island running both engines at maximum cruise of 2800 RPMs, delivering 8.0 kts against 15 kts of headwind a 1.5 kt counter current. We were delayed leaving JVD by a series of morning rain showers, but now it is time to hustle and get Truman Clark to his flight. As his final exam, Truman is running the boat today as acting captain. He planned the route, commanded the foredeck crew on releasing the mooring lines, and headed North East.

We have been exploring the British Virgin Islands archipelago 18°30′ N 64°30′ W as a shakedown cruise for the crew to start off our circumnavigation of our home world.

Ready for Saba Rock

Ready for Saba Rock

Joining us for these first two weeks Truman Clark (16) and the Kindig family (Mike, Michael, Annie and Emerson), these friends will explore sailing and cruising with us, and in turn our boys will have a soft landing from a highly social Austin lifestyle to the cruising lifestyle.

We came to Ad Astra in three waves of crew: Sue-quei, Kyle, Max and I came first with 10 pieces of checked luggage and sized good sized carry-ons. We landed at St. Thomas, and beginning to be a more wise captain, after getting up at 4am in Austin (after a night out of debauchery with Channing Corn until 3am) and flying to Atlanta or Orlando (cannot remember) and landing at Charlotte Amalia airport at 3 in the afternoon I called it a day and we checked in at the Emerald Bay resort. This is a great little resort on a pretty beach just under the flight path. We needed just a 5 minute taxi ride and generous usage of a luggage cart. Had some rum punches at the first Caribbean tiki bar I ever drank (with Houston Law). The next morning we grabbed the ferry to Tortola BVI, no issues with customs at all.

June 29th and June 30th TMM Base Burt Point

At TMM base we spent the day unpacking the owner’s locker and found so many lost treasures: the awesome fancy throw pillows from La Rochelle, charts and guide books from France, all kinds of country and signal flags, tools, snorkel gear and wet suits, and more! Getting everything correctly stored for everyone in the family is going to be a major piece of work over the next few months. Did $1000 worth of provisioning. I look forward to building dividers for the lockers, shelves in various unused spaces, and figuring out how to use the bow lockers correctly. The big mystery is where are we going to put Kyle’s bass drum case!

June 30th through July 3rd Cooper Island

Spades was On at Cooper

Spades was On at Cooper

We spent our time decompressing at Cooper Island. There I was happy to see that their Microbrewery was online with a fine pale ale offered for $2.50 a pint on happy hour. We unpacked, swam, had a meal ashore and otherwise let some time go by and our bodies adjust to the radical pace of work getting our house ready to sell and moving the family down to Ad Astra. Got into a great political and religious discussion with a white guy from South Africa and a black guy from Bequia. Made friends with both, and helped the South African Evangelical bodybuilder see the light when it comes to romance. JJ from Bequia gave me his number & email, and I will look him up when I am down island and looking for some shelves.

Su-Kuei ready for Cooper’s offerings

Su-Kuei ready for Cooper’s offerings

While here we did some systems checks and discovered that the cockpit anchor windlass head unit was not reading the anchor chain correctly. This is old persistent problem and we went back to TMM base for service and after inspecting the magnets and the transducer relay that the head unit is probably bad. Decided against replacing for now as there is a manual control up in the forward deck locker anyways. Took Sue-quei and the boys out for a dinghy ride with the spherical camera lens and took a few fun shots.

July 3rd through July 6th Trellis Bay, Beef Island

Here we waited for the rest of the crew to arrive: Kaiwen and the Kindigs were on a morning flight and Truman ended up coming in at 9pm. Had a great time at the Loose Mongoose chatting with the waitress who is the daughter of a local police chief. She complained about it being so local it was hard for her to get laid. I offered Kyle and she looked him up and down frank enough to make him blush. She is planning on studying Finance in the states, and is looking not to go to Florida or Texas as that is where all islanders go to school, she wanted to meet some fresh people. It was a great conversation, she told me about the drug dealers on the island, the dead beat woman that owes her $140 and so on.

Musical Bingo > Product Idea

We had so much fun, I decide to host all of our crew there on July 5th, on the day that they landed. We had such a great time, there was a fun game of musical bingo that Kaiwen was crazy happy into. The rules were simple, it was a tic-tac-toe grid of songs/artists and they gave you the full-size ink daubers to smash with glee when your song hits. As a family we ended up sweeping prizes 1st through 3rd in the second game of the night. This would be a great simple app, given a set of songs on your playlist, randomize 9 squares and broadcast on bluetooth to your friends and play the game.

There is a NSFW story here

There is a NSFW story here

July 6th to July 7th — The Bight, Norman Island

From Trellis Bay we motored down to TMM base to replace the fluxgate compass on the faulty autopilot. Tim pointed the way, and Kyle and I replaced the fluxgate compass on our own — pretty straight forward, just had to use the mousing line and deal with the hot tropical sun with no breeze. While we were there, why not check out why the wind instrument was showing windspeed, but not wind angle? Tim from TMM proposed that the transducer at the masthead needed replacing. So he jumped into their sturdy bosun’s chair and ascended the mast on the main’s halyard. When he got to the top with a constrained voice he called for the topping lift to be sent to him. Myself and the new dutchman got it up to him right away. Turned out that the topping lift was also bad. Tim returned to the deck with an elevated heart rate and explained that the main had almost chaffed all the way through. [pix] The covering was gone, and it was going through the core. This is a great example of never taking shortcuts. Someone at TMM had been skipping the masthead inspections, and second, Tim knows that ascending with two ropes is the right way to go, now I know. I do have a solo ascending tool, but I will get a proper bosun’s chair and use two lines to go up in the future myself. In fact there is a bird’s next in the radar dome’s bracket that needs to be cleared. We replaced both of those key pieces of the running rigging, and now Ad Astra has had a full turn around on all of her running rigging. TMM also replaced the strops on the dinghy with a neat network of spliced spectra lines and stainless steel rings. While Tim was at the top of the mast we tested the new wind instrument and it turned out not to fix the problem. The AWA fault lies elsewhere. But hey, if you want to know the wind angle just look and feel right?

Tim is going to discover that the Halyard he is riding is about to fail

Tim is going to discover that the Halyard he is riding is about to fail

After the repairs we made quick work of the puddle between Tortola and Norman Island and had a great time at sunset jumping off of the flybridge into The Bight, Truman, Kyle, Mike, and me all made the jumps. Annie owes us the jumps on her next trip out to Ad Astra. We had a nice dinner on the boat. In the morning we motored the boat just over to the Sea Caves and did our first bit of snorkeling. All were blown away. Max followed a barracuda in front and around a big puerto rican powerboat on his own. I had my eye on him, but he really had no plan. The sea life was vibrant and seemed still healthy. I tried equalizing on my dives but I still have a ways to go. Next was another quick motor over to the Indians. The kids turned out to be pooped by 10am! There was a great dive boat operated by two women in their late 20s that were just on it — the captain directed her first mate to dive over with one flipper and attach the mooring line on the ball closest to the rocks. We took the inner ball with just a boat length to the reef, but directly under the boat the sea-life was teeming. Mike and I did a full circumnavigation of the Indians after I did my own. The wall was amazing as usual.

Women at Work

Women at Work

July 7th — July 8th — Cooper Island

The crew was tired after the rapid travel, the snorkeling and the repair work in the heat at TMM base. Cooper’s is The Place to relax. We took over a cabana on the beach, and slowly worked our way through an epic Spades game. Meanwhile their pale ales were consumed and Michelle got happily buzzed on some rum punches. We ate a meal at their restaurant, and the RICE with the Tuna was the most epic rice I had ever eaten and I drunkenly made sure everyone else knew how passionate I was about the rice.

The view from the bar at Cooper’s

The view from the bar at Cooper’s

July 8th — July 10th — Baths, Saba Rock

The Baths with Ad Astra in the background (right first cat)

The Baths with Ad Astra in the background (right first cat)

The morning of July 8th, we got up early and made it to the baths by about 7:30am, securing a close ball. Being a good sized crew it took a while to breakfast and to gear up. The baths were amazing as usual, but they were overrun with tourists. Next time, I think it would be great to get their at 4pm and enjoy them privately and simply take a ball at Fallen Jerusalem for the night — or even anchor off of Spanish Town.

Max exploring the Baths

Max exploring the Baths

After a quick run into Spanish Town to get some ice, great sponges and an ATM grab, we were off for Saba Rock in the Gorda Sound. Arrived in the late afternoon to see a couple of kite surfers performing their aerobatics on Saba Rock. The beautiful Hobbie cats were calling to me, so Mike, Emerson and I took off to rent a cat for 30 minutes. It was sublimely fun. SCUBA was calling me, so we stopped into the Sunchaser Dive shop and asked a ton of questions. Of course I got excited and an hour later we (Mike, Annie, Emerson, Truman, Kyle, Max and me) were signed up for a resort course. Ben and Katy were great teachers and after a great simple lesson in the pool, we were off to dive Mountain Point on the northwest corner of Virgin Gorda. I immediately loved SCUBA, it is far simpler than I had even suspected, and it was great having all the time in the world to equalize. It was also great to be able to take my time to clear my mask, swim upside down — and of course the best — to just cruise the reef.

Annie and Emerson did the best alongside of me, Kyle and Mike took some time to sort our their equalization and Max had some initial success but had to back-off diving as he couldn’t quite master equalization. But we all had a great time, and were able to see a garden eel and plenty of fish up close.

July 10th — July 11th Saba Rock — Leverick Bay to Anegeda

Kyle got some pressure with docking line practice at Saba Rock, and then we followed up at Leverick Bay. We made some solid progress and I think next time it will go a lot more smoothly.

Potter’s-by-the-Sea at Anegeda

Potter’s-by-the-Sea at Anegeda

The sail to Anegeda was perfect. We put a single reef into the main and had 20 kts of wind on our starboard beam for a perfect hour-long reach to the 3rd largest barrier coral reef in the world

Loblolly Bay

Loblolly Bay

After mooring the boat, we took a nicely air-conditioned van to Loblolly Bay. It was another perfect day. Bright puffy clouds, and the classic Caribbean beach and private bar/restaurant. Opened a tab, and drank some great Dominican Republic Rum. After relaxing a bit, Truman and I headed out for a great snorkeling trip through Loblolly Bay. At first it was a bit of a desolate area right in front of Big Bamboo, but once we got about 500 feet offshore the reefs really opened up. Lots of sponges, brain coral and a maze-like environment to explore. Made me feel like making a detailed map of Loblolly. I discovered the largest Spiny Lobster I had ever seen in just 4 feet of water in a crevice facing windward. We made it out to the surf line and it was great clean fun. On the return we headed east as we came back to shore and we came across stunningly large Elk Coral, huge spikes between 12 and 20 feet long, seemed like spars from an ancient ship-wreck, or alien structures on another world.

Back on shore I met Buck and Melissa from Austin (not a shocker everyonehere in BVI is from Texas). Who had the Phantom 3 drone that later I ended up buying a few days later at JVD.

On the way back to The Settlement, I asked my taxi drive Sasa, what about dinner? Should I eat on board? I have been coming here for 4 years, always had a great time, but the prices are past the point of making sense. He listened carefully and when we got back to The Settlement he talked with Mr Potter. Nothing happened. Puzzled, I took everyone back to the boat and came back to see Mr Potter myself. We discussed dinner for about 10 solid minutes. Him asking him what I want to eat, me being clear I am flexible, kids could eat whatever, yes adults half a lobster each would be great. I said I wanted to eat for the least dollars practical where he would still want to see me again. At the end he nodded, and said “Okay, good. Go, now. You will not be disappointed.”

We came back later for dinner and had a truly epic feast of BBQ chicken and pork ribs, and 5 half lobsters, lots of drinks and plenty of leftovers. When it came time to tally the bill the wife of Mr. Potter tabulated the check in slow motion for me and it went north of $400 for 10 people and I was feeling resigned. Then she punched a couple more buttons and spun around the final tab: $183! I cannot tell you how awesome this felt. I was local, or a captain, or at least a respected guy trying to show two families a great time on this far off low island. This is a major victory as most dining in the BVI is both expensive and not very good. Sometimes you can find very good — like Cooper’s and Corsair’s but neither are cheap. For $18 a head for a feast and drinks, this would be a deal anywhere. Achievement unlocked!

After dinner, the owner’s seven-year-old son Justin challenged Max to mortal combat on the beach. This Justin was the most solid chunk of meat I have ever seen on anyone younger than 13. He claimed he was a red belt in karate. His mother admonished him that he was only a white belt. While betrayed by his mom, that did not slow him down. He punched for effect no matter how many times I told him to go light. Max dodged and weaved but certainly got tagged at least a couple of times. Later Kyle joined the fray with Max and Justin both on the attack. Kyle admirably spun and dodged, and very cutely would tap Justin on the head and say bonk. Every once in a while Justin would do a cartwheel that would end in a fierce kick that all would avoid. This turned out to be more fun than the limbo contest that previously would finish the nights at Potters-by-the-Sea

July 11th to July 12th — Anegeda to JVD — Diamond Cay

Another Beach, Another Castle

Another Beach, Another Castle

The kids did the whole 20 nm crossing from Anegeda to Diamond Cay off of JVD. It was a nice downwind sail with the wind on the port-side. They negotiated the reef, raised the main, then the jib and zero tacks and 3 hours later we were at that sandy paradise.

Exceptional Bonding Time

Exceptional Bonding Time

Lazy afternoon on the Cay, Max builds another sandcastle with some help from Truman, and Mike and I enjoy some simple Coronas while wading on the beach. Diamond Cay is one of my favorite spots ion the world. It is probably no larger than one acre and takes only minutes to circumnavigate. But it does have a dense forest center that I still have not explored, and a shallow reef to west that connects to JVD and apparently a dive worthy reef to the east as two different SCUBA groups (from Texas) came to dive .

Truman Improving Max’s Castle

Truman Improving Max’s Castle

July 12th — July 14th JVD Great Harbor

The next morning we explored the Bubbles as I think they are called just north of Foxy’s Taboo. We stayed there for a long time, I settled into a still float next to a small rock ledge and was astounded how many baby reef fish would reveal themselves the longer I waited.

The Bubbles

The Bubbles

We made quick work with just the jib under kid power down to Great Bay, JVD and spent a very lazy afternoon on shore. I believe we accomplished nothing. Wait, that is not true, I met Vinny the owner of Corsair’s and got reacquainted with Pizza Dave and had more Voodoo punches. They let me know that they close from Aug 24 through the Hurricane season, and that there is access to the dining area all the time, and that there is a ladder out back…

Vinny the owner of Corsair’s

Vinny the owner of Corsair’s

Later that night, I contacted Buck from Austin and negotiated him down from $1500 to $1000 for his Phantom 3 loaded with 4 batteries and lots of accessories. It was an interesting quick little run with the Dinghy offshore and under the brilliant stars to the next bay. I did have to be careful as despite checking the charts and knowing that there are reef rocks, I still came close to running into them on my return trip to Great Harbor.

Our Base Camp on JVD

Our Base Camp on JVD

The next morning I had the New Toy all charged up and went into our base at Corsair’s. It felt like an RPG quest chain to download the DJI Go software onto my iPad. First, I was out of data. And the top-off UX failed to take my CC as it had in the past. So I went ashore to find some wifi. All of the wifi in Great Harbor was down. So I needed to top off my card. Vinny suggested two possible merchants that would take cash for data. I walked down the road to a bar, found the lady, gave her $100 and moments later she sent my phone $100 of credit. Then I purchased 5 GB of data for $75! Then, I tried to setup a hotspot to download the software and there was no Digicel signal. So then I packed up my laptop, phone and ipad back into the dinghy and went back to Ad Astra who was moored fairly far out of the bay and success — I had signal. Downloaded the software, then got back into the dinghy with the electronics and got back to the drone. After all that work, I was impatient, flew the drone up 4 feet, got astonished, and then wanted to land it, but didn’t know how to turn off the motors yet. So I set it on the sand where it then promptly flipped over and snapped two of its carbon fiber blades on a picnic bench. Calmly and more slowly, I replaced the blades with the back-up plastic set and then RTFM.

After that we had some epic flights all across the Great Harbor, and I have some amazing 4k video to edit and to share.

July 14th — July 15th Lee Bay

Lee Bay is an absolutely beautiful and secluded bay just 30 minutes away from Trellis Bay. It is a bay that shallows towards the east with a very low saddle point on the land that allows the full benefits of the trade winds, with zero fetch to rock the boat. It is strictly an anchorage with room for probably 8 or so boats, but I have never seen more than 4 boats.

Anchored in Lee Bay was the same Canadian flagged monohull with the same name Adastra (no space) as I saw last year in Lee Bay. The boat looks somewhere between in order and abandoned. I am really curious what is going on, I am going to ask TMM if they know what the Other Adastra is doing.

As the sun was setting, Mike and I took off in the dinghy to snorkel the southern part of the bay where the large rock formations are located. The visibility was pretty poor when we got there ~ 15–20 feet. Saw the usual parrotfish, blue tangs, sergeant majors, and tons of small fry. But the ones that stole the show where the Caribbean Reef Squids. They were feeding in the afternoon light on the small fry, but always orientated in perfect formation to keep their eyes on us. The younger and smaller squids were more daring (or less experienced) and allowed me to drift to under 3 feet and then they would dart towards me to grab a prey and then instantly return to the place in formation.

Dinner was an excellent setting of pan salmon, taco beef, and exquisite basil, mozzarella and tomato. The basil was delivered by Aragon himself! He sold us super fresh lettuce, arugula, basil, limes, lemons and mangos. Looking forward to seeing his farm, supposed to be a 5 minute taxi ride away from the studio.

After diner we sat around the cockpit table and tore through all of the charts that I have on the boat. I clearly need some pacific charts. No charts for the Indian ocean, Thailand, Madagascar, South Africa, Mexico, or British Columbia. We made firm plans to have the two families meet in Amsterdam in a couple of years. The Kindigs have been a most awesome family, and I am very proud of the friendship between Kyle and Annie.

Kyle and Annie Mooring Ad Astra

Kyle and Annie Mooring Ad Astra

We broke out the green underwater lights that I bought from Buck the drone guy, and it was a stunning display of violence and sex. After reviewing my options on where to run the lights I settled on using the generator’s starter battery and lowering the lights through the trampoline. Tons of fish were zooming by at rocket speeds leaving behind clouds of sperm and eggs, and other fish were there to hunt including the Caribbean Reef Squids. After about 15 minutes the sinister silhouettes of the Tarpons showed up. At first the crew was convinced they were looking at sharks, but after a few minutes they could see clearly that they are giant carp-like Tarpons.

July 15th — Trellis Bay

The next morning, I couldn’t wait to use the drone again in this beautiful secluded bay. I had one nerve wracking crash when the drone failed to keep position against the wind and hit the port stay and flipped over again, but it did NOT go into the water. It did slice up my arm a good bit though until we were able to get the motors to shutdown. But other than that, we got some fantastic video of this amazing bay… time to edit it!

For the rest of the day it was a leisurely motor back to Trellis Bay with Emerson at the helm with Mike guiding him. People were more quiet than normal with some sort of mutual introspection of the two families pulling apart. Kyle and Annie were able to spend some time together alone under the guise of getting the laundry done.

At the airport hugs were shared, tears were shed and it was a hard good bye.

Annie sipping a Virgin Pina Colada at the Loose Mongoose in Trellis Bay

Annie sipping a Virgin Pina Colada at the Loose Mongoose in Trellis Bay

Animals Encountered (no order)

  • Hermit Crabs
  • Sea Urchins
  • Green Sea Turtles
  • Parrot Fish (Queen, Blue, Rainbow)
  • Remorrahs
  • Atlantic Tarpon
  • Atlantic Mackeral
  • Pelicans
  • Yellow Drunk Finch
  • Small Gulls
  • Frigates
  • Corals (Brain, Elk)
  • Sponges
  • Wrasse
  • Sergeant Majors
  • Blue Tang
  • Garden Eel
  • Yellowtail Snapper
  • Trumpetfish
  • Spanish Hogfish
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Chickens
  • Ducks
  • Goats
  • Caribbean Reef Squids
  • Christmas Tube Worms

Skills Acquired by the Kids

  • Mooring
  • Anchoring
  • Docking
  • Main Sail — tacking, reefing
  • Jib — tacking and gybing
  • Knots — cleat, bowline, dinghy
  • Navigation — routes, follow, planning ETA
  • Dinghy — drive, raise, lower, drain, fueling
  • Engines — driving, checking oil, checking transmission
  • Living — dishes, toilet, water, electricity
  • Fishing — trolling line
  • Provisioning — fuel, ice, water, food
  • Cleaning — cockpit, toilets, showers, cabins