This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of seven posts, each one about one of the islands we’re visiting in French Polynesia.

After Galapagos, we spent a few days in Quito, Ecuador, which was unexpected. (Because we thought we’d be leaving Galapagos on a sailboat bound for French Polynesia – which we did not do.) Quito is a city of over 3 million people, and is at an elevation of about 9,000 feet, both of which came as a big surprise to us. 9,000 feet – even at the equator – can get pretty chilly! Fortunately for us, it was in the 60’s during both days we were there, because we had packed for French Polynesia – short pants and t-shirts! We enjoyed Quito, in large part because we spent the first of our two days there exploring it with Beth and Pat, who faithful readers will remember from the Galapagos post. But I’m not going to write any more about it. If you want to know more about Quito, GTS! (That’s what Fran’s sister Ingrid says to her teenagers when they ask her almost anything – “GTS! Google That Sh**!”.)

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From Quito, we flew to Ft. Lauderdale, FL, spent a few hours in the airport, then flew to San Francisco, spent the better part of a day, then flew the 8+ hours to Pape’ete, Tahiti, French Polynesia, and from there, we took the half-hour ferry ride to the island of Mo’orea – which is the topic of this post. I’m going to try to make a post about each of the islands we visit in French Polynesia, and each of them will be fairly short, and not very funny – sorry. I’m trying to be more timely, and it comes at the expense of humor.

Mo’orea is just west of Tahiti, in the Society Islands

Before I dive into Mo’orea, let me give a brief geography lesson. I was totally ignorant of the geography of French Polynesia, and you may be, too, so here goes. French Polynesia is a country – sort of. It’s part of France – sort of. But it refers to a bunch of islands and atolls (121, officially) in five main groups: the Society Islands archipelago, comprising the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands; the Tuamotu Archipelago; the Gambier Islands; the Marquesas Islands; and the Austral Islands. The Society Islands includes the most famous of the islands, Tahiti, which is home to the capital city, Pape’ete. It also includes the second most famous island, Bora Bora, and Mo’orea, the topic of this post. There is a group of islands between the Marquesas and the Tuamotus, called the Disappointment Islands. Not sure why they’re not listed anywhere – I’m sure that’s disappointing to the residents there. (What the Fakahina?!?!) During this trip, we will visit seven islands in three of the groups, and if I don’t run out of steam, you’ll get to learn a little about each of them over the course of the next few months. If you want to know a lot more about them, GTS!

Mo’orea, like most (all?) of the islands and atolls of French Polynesia, is what’s left from a very old volcano. The peaks in the middle are dramatic – lots of sheer cliffs, mostly completely covered in green. When the sun is just right, or the clouds are covering just the tops of them, they are quite striking. The reef completely surrounds the island, and the only road of any significance runs the entire 61 kilometer (38 mile) circumference. You can’t get lost – everything is on this road, either “ocean side” or “mountain side”. We couldn’t rent a car (none were available for rent during our stay), so we rented a scooter, and drove the entire way around the island at least four times during our week there.

There isn’t a whole lot to do on Mo’orea. There are some touristy things to do, but not many, and we tend to shy away from those things anyway. You can get in the water at the three public beaches, but only two of them had water we could snorkel in – the third had such a current ripping across the beach that we could barely keep from being swept away. And there are some hikes you can do up those gorgeous green peaks. So we did a little of each.

First, the snorkeling. Almost immediately upon getting in the water, we started seeing fish we had never seen before, except in the fish ID books. The most immediately obvious were the butterfly fish, four species of which we’re familiar with in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Well, French Polynesia doesn’t have any of those four, but it has what seems like a newly created species of butterfly fish approximately every additional 10 minutes that we’re undewater here! They are absolutely everywhere, and absolutely beautiful! Most seem to be some combination of black, white, and yellow, but the combinations seem endless, as are the shapes and sizes. Some are kind enough to allow a decent photo now and then, but some are so shy that it may take the rest of our trip before we happen to snap even a good speciment shot. This happens frequently: see a fish you want to photograph, start moving towards that fish to set up the shot, and another equally or even more beautiful fish swims in front of you, distracting you from the first fish, and now you’re about out of breath so you can’t chase the second fish. Oh, well – we love seeing them, and chasing them, and are so happy when we do manage to fire off a good shot of one.

Snowflake Moray – we’ve never seen this guy before!

Most of the above can be said about the angel fish, the surgeon fish, the trigger fish, the unicorn fish, and several more groups of fish that we see all over: there are a lot of different ones, all are beautiful or strange or worthy of shooting for one reason or another, we’ve never seen them before, and they are challenging to shoot. I’ll include some of of our better shots from Mo’orea in this post, and will provide a link to all of our pix from there. Also, if you keep up with my posts about each island as we go (assuming I keep up!), you’ll see more and more pictures, and will start to recognize the usual suspects, because I know we won’t stop shooting them!

Longnose Butteryfly Fish, or Forceps Butterfly Fish – I can’t tell them apart

We did only one touristy thing: we took a boat tour of the two big bays on the north end of the island, with some dolphin watching, snorkeling, and lunch. The dolphins here are of two different species – at least the ones we’ve seen so far. On the boat tour, we had a couple small pods of what they call locally “spinner dolphins”, because when they jump out of the water while underway, they sometimes spin in the air. We’ve had spinners swim with us in the Caribbean, and they left no doubt that they were spinners with their aerial displays. The ones we saw here didn’t spin, but they were just swimming around in a bay, looking for lunch, so I wouldn’t have expected to see them spinning. Still, they didn’t look like the same species we saw in the Caribbean, so I guess I’ll have to GTS one day.

The snorkeling we did on the boat tour was in very shallow water, after the boat was parked so they could prepare lunch. There were some fish, but the main attraction was the sharks and rays. Everywhere you looked there were white tipped reef sharks in the 3 – 5 foot size range. We were in an area where lunch is often prepared for tourists, and the sharks get the scraps, so of course they hang out. It was not at all a shark feeding type of thing, however (we think those should be abolished – bad for the sharks, and occasionally very bad for divers) – the sharks are just hanging out, hoping for a scrap of fish now and then, which makes for some fun snorkeling. The rays are doing the same thing – very similar to the rays we have in the Atlantic and Caribbean, but a different species. (Reminds me of that old Steve Martin bit, which he concludes by saying “Those French have a different word for everything!” French Polynesia seems to have a different species of everything.)

Our entertainment while lunch was prepared – lots of black tip reef sharks

Finally, it was time for lunch. I didn’t expect lunch to be the highlight of the excursion, but it most certainly was! They set up the table and chairs in the water, about knee-depth. On the table they set bowls of tuna in coconut milk, tuna carpaccio, grilled chicken, grilled fish (not tuna), pasta salad, a cabbage salad similar to coleslaw, but not quite, and fresh pineapple, dragonfruit, and ripe papaya. All of it was delicious, as freshly made as it could be, and came with the added benefit of rays and little fish tickling our ankles and feet as we ate! (Side benefit of our excursion that day – we met Francesca and Luis, a couple from Puerto Rico now living and working in, of all places, Chattanooga, Tennessee! They were great – we had dinner with them a few nights later. They’re the couple on the left in the picture.)

Lunch not “on the water”, but “IN the water!”

The last activity we did was a hike up one of the peaks. Not the tallest – that would involve some actual mountain climbing. But one in the middle that, from the top, supposedly has a panoramic view of most of the island. I say “supposedly” because, when we were no more than five minutes from the peak, we encountered a landslide that had occurred just the night before, the result of some crazy wind immediately following a really thorough drenching. We managed to clamber over the first fallen tree in our path, but after that, what was left in our path was a bit too precarious, and we didn’t want to become the most talked-about event on the island for the next week: “Stupid American Tourists Killed Trying to Traverse a Fresh Landslide on the Three Coconuts Peak.” Sub-headline: “What The Hell Were They Thinking?”

The best view we could get from our truncated hike

We chose not to scuba dive on Mo’orea, because it’s not known for it, and the next two islands (Rangiroa and Fakarava) are, so we decided to save our dive budget for later.

Lodging on Mo’orea was interesting. There are a few very nice places – one of them has the little bungalows over the water, which look fantastic, but they’re also $850 per night, so no, we didn’t stay there. But mostly, there are small, quite modest places mostly with the name “Fare Something-or-other”. Fare means “house” or “home” in Tahitian, but it implies “guest house”. We didn’t stay in one, though, so I don’t even know why I’m telling you that. We did stay in an airbnb that was listed as a “Private room in a home”. Shared bathroom, shared kitchen, shared everything except the bedroom. OK – we had to book on short notice, let’s give it a try. What we didn’t find out until we arrived was that we would also be sharing the mold and fungus in the bathroom, the dog hair from the five dogs, the clutter from the woman’s grandchildren, and the grease, dirt, and food waste in the kitchen. Needless to say, we spent just one night there.

The second floor sleeping quarters of our bungalow at Mark’s Place

Fortunately, we then found Mark’s Place! Mark is an American who moved to French Polynesia in 1981 when he was 28 (he’s now 70), and to Mo’orea in 2000. He bought a piece of property with nothing on it, and started building things. (He’s a carpenter / furniture maker by trade.) First, a workshop, then a very tiny place for him to live. He just keeps building things, and now has five or six bungalows of varying sizes, and one of them, big enough to sleep eight, became available unexpectedly, so when we called about needing a place right now, they said sure, come on over, and we’ll charge you only the rate for our smallest bungalow. So we had the beautiful two story bungalow that sleeps eight upstairs, and downstairs has a full kitchen and dining room, and a bathroom with two sinks, two showers, and two toilets. And it came with two kittens! Not tiny kittens, but kittens in the 5 – 7 month range, who both loved to be petted, and one of whom would sit on a lap for the duration of our morning “long coffee” sessions. Boy, did we make a move up in the world when we came to Mark’s! And Mark is a super nice guy who is a much better talker than listener, but fortunately, he had a lot more interesting things to say than we did, so it worked out just fine.

Alright, that’s all I have for Mo’orea. So much for making a short, sweet post with some pictures. Better luck next time! (That’ll be Rangiroa.)

Here’s the link to our Google Photos library for Mo’orea – enjoy!

P.S. – Although we live in a place where coconuts are common (we have 13 coconut trees in our yard), it wasn’t until we visited Mo’orea that we started to learn all the really great ways to use the coconut and the fronds. You can bet we’ll be stepping up our coconut game when we get back to Southermost Smartini!

Freshly shredded coconut, banana, and lime juice – so good!


Our transpacificus interruptus left us in the Galapagos Islands, but before Sail Fail, we had already planned to be there a while, and had booked a weeklong cruise on the Aida Maria to see the wonders of the archipelego.

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The Aida Maria is a 16 passenger “cruise ship” that travels around the islands of the Galapagos, stopping at all the cool places to see all the cool things. We were amazingly fortunate that dear friends Beth and Pat were able to fly in and join us for the adventure, and a good time was had by all. In fact, this was one of those rare occasions when an event actually exceeds expectations. Lemme tell ya’ about it!

A marine iguana and a penguin – buddies, or just neighbors?

The above picture kind of summarizes the trip – animals everywhere, all the time, and they were animals we don’t ever see in Florida, or anywhere in the US, or even the Caribbean. The marine iguana lives only in the Galapagos Islands, as does the Galapagos penguin. In fact, it’s the only penguin that lives north of the equator. (Although just barely north of the equator – the farthest north part of Galapagos is not even 1 full degree north of the equator.) And as you may have heard, there are about 14,000,000 other species that live only in the Galapagos, and we got to see every single one of them! (OK, I’m lying… but it seemed that way!)

Jairo, our excellent Galapagos National Park guide

The Aida Maria and its crew were excellent. Jairo was our National Park-certified guide, and he told us all about everything, every day. Angel was the steward, and he simply could not have taken any better care of us. Walter was the chef, and his stated goal was to make every one of us gain 10 pounds in our week onboard (I think he succeeded!). And the rest of the crew, mostly silently and mostly in the background, made sure we got way more than our money’s worth. If the cabins had been a bit larger, it would have been damned near perfect. As it was, it was only fantastic.

On one of our many snorkels, we swam with a manta ray, penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas, and more sea turtles than we could count. (I actually tried and failed to keep count of them.) We also saw, above the waterline, blue footed boobies, which are some of the most impressive boobies I’ve ever seen, anywhere. (Sorry about that – it’s a federal law that anything written about the Galapagos must include at least one “boobies” joke.)

Three penguins in this shot!

We saw giant Galapagos tortoises, and Galapagos terrestrial iguanas, and lava lizards, and Darwin’s finches, and Darwin’s Galapagos Lava Finches. (Not really – but about 90% of the critters we saw had one of those three modifiers in their name, so we just started calling everything “Darwin’s Galapagos Lava <fill in the blank>”.) We saw Galapagos tortoises mating. We saw flamingoes mating. We saw lava lizards mating. We saw Nazca boobies, and blue footed boobies, and great frigate birds all mating, or in the process of getting ready to mate (think of all the primping you used to do before going out on a Saturday night, and all the preening you used to do in the disco – that was everywhere around Galapagos!).

Yes, that’s exactly what you think it is

We had marine iguanas swim at us so close we thought they’d crash into us. We had sea lions biting our snorkel fins and gloves. We had penguins darting around us like kids at a carnival after two full helpings of cotton candy and a Coke. We saw albatross and boobies and frigate birds on their nests.

Fran, me, Beth, and Pat celebrating our equator crossing on Aida Maria

With one or two exceptions, every fish we saw was new to us, so we’ll have at least 30 new species to try to identify from the pictures we took. I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll just post a few photos, and then give you a link to all the pictures and videos we took on the trip. To paraphrase The Dead – what a very cool trip it was!

One of my favorite pix of the trip – Godzilla! (Photo credit: Pat Winkler)
Hey, baby – you ever see such blue feet? Let’s get it on!
Thassalotta iguanas! And a flightless cormorant just for fun.

Here’s a link to all the pictures and videos – enjoy!

Sail Fail

I’ll cut to the chase: Smartini (a.k.a. Fran and Butch/Brian) are not cut out to be sailors, and after 7 days and nights sailing from Panama to the Galapagos Islands, we have opted out of the sail from Galapagos to French Polynesia. We’re still going to FP, but we’ll be flying, not sailing. If you want to know why, read on!

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Before going any further, my sincere apologies to anyone who ever visited us on Smartini (the boat, not Fran and me) and found life aboard just a little (or maybe a lot) less comfortable than you had anticipated. We found it to be very comfortable, except for the occasional bad weather day underway or really rolly anchorage, but it’s what we were accustomed to. If you found yourself counting the minutes until you could get back to dry land and air conditioning, (to use the probably now outdated vernacular of the cool kids), “I feel you, dog!”

Liz, Paul, and Oneiro in Puerto Rico, March 2019

I don’t want to imply that our very good friends and gracious hosts, Liz and Paul, didn’t warn us; didn’t, in fact, make it a point that life on Oneiro (their 46′ Hallberg-Rassy sailboat) would be considerably different than life on Smartini. When we asked them about bringing a tiny projector with us so that maybe we could watch a movie in the cockpit on our long journey, the response was something like “Well, when sailing, the boat is always moving, sometimes quite a lot, so it’s not likely that we’ll ever want to just sit and try to watch a movie. In fact, a lot of the time, you really won’t feel like doing anything at all.” Now, if that’s not a warning, I don’t know what is – but Fran and I must have been thinking “Yeah, we lived on a boat – we know there’s always some movement – we’re used to that. How bad can it be?”

[Humor Alert: at this point, I will attempt to use humor to convey my feelings about being on a sailboat. If you are a sailor, and particularly if you are Liz or Paul, do not take offense – it’s humor, or at least my best attempt at it, hoping it will help me avoid some serious PTSD.]

Happier times, before I had any idea what we were in for

“How bad can it be?”, we thought. “Like riding on a bucking bronco, inside a washing machine that’s tumbling down the side of a mountain”, is the answer. The first two days and nights, when we had a 5-6 foot swell coming from behind, in 18-24 knot winds, there wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t thinking that I would rather be almost anywhere, doing almost anything, other than what I was doing at the time. Getting a root canal? Easy. Prepping for a colonoscopy? Child’s play. Having my fingernails extracted with pliers, while getting a root canal and prepping for a colonoscopy? Sign me up! Just GET ME OFF OF THIS BOAT!

Fortunately for me – and for Fran, Liz, and Paul, who were no doubt also wishing I were off the boat, so they didn’t have to endure the waves of miserableness (I know, “misery” is the correct word here, but somehow it doesn’t quite convey what I was actually feeling) emanating from my every pore – it got better. The big swell became much smaller, and eventually disappeared. The wind dropped to 10 – 12 knots, and then to practically nothing as we neared, then crossed, the Equator, so the seas calmed considerably. And while that reduced my physical discomfort to merely “annoyed”, it freed up my brain to think about the prospect of the wind and swell kicking up again, and of me being stuck on the boat for another 94 hours, 36 minutes, and 14 seconds.

And I began to wonder what kind of person actually chooses to travel long distances via sailboat. An adventurer? An explorer? A lover of the open ocean? Nope. A masochist, plain and simple. Let’s examine the facts: here is a person who, ON PURPOSE, locks themself in a contraption in which everything is smaller, tighter, hotter, wetter, louder, and smellier than, for example, a Dodge Grand Caravan with broken shock absorbers and no air conditioning, transporting a half dozen sumo wrestlers across Alabama during a thunderstorm in August, after feeding them all Burrito Supremes from Taco Bell. A person who, ON PURPOSE, spends days and even weeks on end (it’s about 24 days from Galapagos to French Polynesia) without a decent shower, fresh food, a good night’s sleep, Netflix, or a full day without banging one’s head on something hard at least once. (Hmm… does the frequent head banging factor into the decision to be a sailor? Worth investigating.)

Even changing lightbulbs is difficult on a sailboat – this is my view from the top of the 66′ mast, where I ventured to inspect the special sailboat lights (among other chores)

Everything you do on a sailboat at sea is difficult. Food preparation involves wedging yourself into the tiny galley with your knees and hips, and trying to maintain some upper body stability while cutting only the food, and not a finger. Cutting up a fresh pineapple can take an hour (not making this up). Pouring anything from one vessel into another is almost sure to result in some spillage – water into your water bottle, hot coffee into a mug, rum into a shot glass, tequila into a shot glass, pure grain alcohol into a shot glass (anything to numb the pain!).

Sleeping is difficult. Getting from any part of the boat to any other part of the boat, no matter the distance, is difficult. Going to the bathroom is difficult. Getting dressed and undressed. Brushing your teeth. Washing dishes. Reading. Writing. Finding a place to sit comfortably. All difficult, and when the conditions are bad, practically impossible. (Nothing particularly funny about this paragraph, especially since it’s all true.)

Paul in the cockpit of Oneiro – this is where we spent most of our time when the seas were rough

But Sailor Man* doesn’t seem to mind, or barely notice for that matter. Because Sailor Man is too busy being Sailor Man, doing Sailor Man stuff: checking the sails, checking the wind, calculating how fast the boat is going relative to the wind speed, and dreaming of what it could be doing with just two more knots of wind, or ten more degrees of favorable wind direction. Then adjusting the sails (which often means making a particular rope looser or tighter by six inches, as if that’s really going to change anything). Occasionally doing something called a “jive”, performed when Sailor Man determines there might be another 0.05 knots of speed to be had if he moves the sail from one side of the boat to the other – never mind the fact that the boat is now heading farther away from the destination than before the “jive”.

By the way, I may have the terminology wrong, but I hope I will be forgiven, because everything on a boat – not just a sailboat, to be fair – has a made-up word that is, I think, intended to allow Sailor Man to easily identify another Sailor Man, so that they can immediately begin to talk Sailor Man talk to each other. Every one of these words is, as far as I can tell, a made-up word for boats: clew, vang, jib, spinnaker, genoa, luff, leech, tack, mast, batten, halyard, sheet, brail, tricing line, warp, whip, jackstay. Then you get to combine them for even more confusion: jib topsail sheet, peak halyard, bunt line, boom vang. You would think a “sheet” would be the sail, but you’d be an idiot (in the eyes of Sailor Man), because a “sheet” is the rope (oops – “line”) that you pull on to make the sail loose or tight, or tall or short, or something. There’s something called a “clutch” that is really more of a brake, but why use a word the way everyone else uses it? That would make it too easy to understand! (I was going to try to make up some words to pump up the humor volume here, but as it turns out, it wasn’t necessary, as every word or phrase I’ve listed is absolutely legit.)

One topic I have avoided so far, because it’s so sensitive to Sailor Man, is running the engine. Sailor Man hates, with a passion that burns white hot, to run the engine. It means that the normal sounds of pure sailing – the wind filling the sails, the sleek hull of the boat slipping through the sea, the smashing of waves into the bow, crashing and clanging of dishes, glassware, cookware, water bottles and everything else that isn’t glued into place, the loud “Dammit!” of the crew as they bang heads, shoulders, knees and toes into hard parts of the boat (collectively known as the “clee yardlings”) – all of those sounds are drowned out by the gentle droning of the engine, burning the precious diesel, thereby eating away at the financial reserves and possibly preventing the planned purchase of the new wartsail. A sound which, to Sailor Man, is the sound of failure – failure to capture the wind and travel freely across the Seven Seas. Never mind the fact that, when pinned down, every Sailor Man I’ve ever met admits to running the engine about 50% of the time, something they call “motor sailing” to make it sound a bit less like failure.

In the end, I have reached the conclusion that there is something in the genetic makeup of Sailor Man that makes him yearn for the sea, that makes him eschew comfort for the feel of the clew and the cleat, yawing along the mainsail, with the boom vang and the topping lift in perfect harmony. And I just don’t have it, nor do I understand it. Literally – who can make sense of all the jibberish?! Put me on a 737 with a gin and tonic, and wake me up when we’re on final descent.

[Serious Alert: now that I have made you laugh yourself silly, let me be serious for a moment.]

All joking aside – and all anti-sailing bias aside (as far to the side as I can park mine) – I have great respect for people who live on their sailboats and sail them incredibly long distances to see amazing places. What they do is not at all easy, and they do it because of some inner drive to accomplish something that a tiny fraction of humans will ever do. They really do endure long, boring passages knowing that the boring parts can be interrupted at any moment by a terrible squall that could break their boat, or by a collision with a whale that could break their boat (not kidding – a sailboat similar to Oneiro was sunk by a whale collision just a week before we flew to Panama), or by equipment problems that could endanger their lives. It’s not much different from people who climb the world’s highest mountains.

Paul and his 20 lb. blackfin tuna…

Paul has wanted to sail his boat around the world for far longer than the four years we’ve known them, and he’s finally doing it. Fran and I are honored that they (Paul and Liz) thought enough of us to include us on this important leg, and I feel bad that I let them down. (Fran, being Fran, would have made it all the way to French Polynesia with a smile, regardless of the circumstances.)

… and the resulting feast (1 of 3)

Because they allowed us to tag along, we got to see a bit of Panama, and will see a lot of the Galapagos Islands over the next 10 days. And then we’ll spend a couple of months in French Polynesia, which we think we never would have visited otherwise. (Reminder – we’re flying there, not sailing.) On the Panama – Galalagos leg, we saw dolphins jumping on several occasions, and the Southern Cross in all its glory (although, to be truthful, it’s not a very impressive constellation – the Big Dipper kicks its butt in that department), and had a red-footed booby ride on our bow rail for more than a day. We witnessed Paul fight and land a 20 pound blackfin tuna on tackle more suitable for catching small river trout, and then had delicious sushi (twice!) and tuna tacos as a result. We crossed the Equator and celebrated with a bottle of Veuve du Vernay champagne.

Champagne at the Equator

And most of all, we were reminded that good friends don’t have to love all the same things to be good friends. Fair winds and following seas, Oneiro – we’ll see you in Tahiti!

* Thanks to another sailing couple we met while on Smartini, who we have become good friends with, Jim and Kathy Booth. They introduced us to the concept of Sailor Man, which is not a real person, but rather, a concept, an ideal, a persona taken on by anyone, man or woman, who takes the helm of a sailboat on the open ocean. When speaking, the term is said with a certain emphasis, similar to the way one might say “Superman!”. Or, more appropriately, “Underdog!” Some of Sailor Man’s character flaws endearing traits include attempting dangerous tasks, such as going up the mast in high winds, when there is no reason not to wait until later; always, in every instance, viewing other sailboats as opponents in a race; the belief that their boat’s brand, model, size, and sail plan is really the only one that makes sense, and why in the hell would anyone have anything else? Oh, Sailor Man, you amuse us so!

“It’s Underdog! (Or is it Sailor Man?)”

Smartini Goes Sailing

You know that the boat we lived on for five years (called Smartini – what else?) was NOT a sailboat. It was a trawler, a slow, comfortable, motor boat. Neither of us had any sailing knowledge when we decided to buy a boat, so we went the easy route – buy a motor boat. But the majority of people we met and became friends with during our crusing years were on sailboats, and frankly, our conversations with them about sailing reinforced our choice of a motor vs. sails. (Here’s the gist of it: a sailboat big enough to live on comfortably has every system that a motor boat has – including a motor – and it also has all of the sailing stuff: mast, rigging, and sails, all of which need to be maintained and periodically replaced. So in our minds, the ONLY benefit of a sailboat is that, sometimes, you get to go somewhere without burning fuel. I say “sometimes” because every sailor we’ve met admits that they run the motor – either in conjunction with using the sails, or instead of using the sails – about half the time.)

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Bonaire Dive Trip

Fran and I just returned from a 10 day dive trip to Bonaire. My long-time friend and business parter, Joel, joined us for 8 of those days. We had a good time, with plenty of great diving, although Fran got strep throat about halfway through the week, and didn’t dive after that.

One aspect of this trip that’s interesting is that we did it using, a website I highly recommend you look into. We exchanged our house with a house in Bonaire, so Anke and John stayed here while we stayed there. (We also exchanged vehicles and boats, but that’s not normally part of a Home Exchange.) We’ve done several exchanges since June of last year, and will keep doing it – it’s a great way to visit some amazing places and not have to spend anything for you lodging.

Unlike most of my previous posts, this one is going to be more pictures, and fewer words – since I know that’s what you all really want anyway! So here you go: Smartini Goes to Bonaire!

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The Key(s) to Happiness

I’ll save the suspense: yesterday (January 2, 2022), Fran and I moved to the Florida Keys! We’re renting a place in Key Largo for all of January (thanks, Jim and Kathy!!!), and we’re scheduled to close on a house on Big Pine Key on the 28th of this month. We’re so excited!

Part of the backyard of the new house
Continue reading “The Key(s) to Happiness”

Smartini’s First Land Adventure: New York City

Loyal Readers will recall that we recently sold the boat formerly known as Smartini (renamed “Vahevala” just last Saturday) and that we’re now hoping to do a lot of extended-stay land adventures. As to the title of this post, “Smartini” has always referred to Butch and Fran (Smith and Martini = Smartini) since long before there was a boat with that name, and will continue to refer to us. One day, we may buy a house and name it Smartini, but we are Smartini, and Smartini is us. Got it?

Anyway… with us being on the boat for five years, and my son (Fran’s step-son) Bennett being in college for those same five years, we haven’t been able to spend very much time with him for far too long. So we fixed that: we spent a month in New York City, where he recently graduated from college and now lives, so that we could get some quality time with him.

Continue reading “Smartini’s First Land Adventure: New York City”

Smartini Runs Aground

Not the boat named Smartini, but rather “Team Smartini” – Fran and Butch. See, two weeks ago today, we stepped off the boat named Smartini for the last time, leaving her in the very capable hands of her new owners, Linda and Brian Werder. They’ll be continuing The Big Adventure that we started five years ago; already they’ve gone way farther up the East Coast than the boat has ever been before, all the way to Urbana, VA, a little town on the Chesapeake Bay. They’ll stay there until the end of hurricane season, then head back to FL, then the Bahamas, and then wherever their adventuresome souls guide them. We wish them luck, and hope they enjoy living on Smartini as much as we did. They’ll be renaming the boat “Vahevala”, from the 1971 Loggins and Messina tune of the same name.

“But wait! Back up! Does this mean you’ve sold Smartini?!?!”, you might be thinking to yourself. “Yes!”, I would say to yourself.

In February, we left Florida for the Bahamas, to spend a few weeks with good friends Beth and Pat on their Nordhavn 60, “Olaf”. A few weeks turned into 3 1/2 months, and somewhere in that time span, we decided it was time to wrap up the “living on a boat” phase of our lives. We had a great time with Olaf, and also Ingrid, then Curt and Sondra, and finally Bennett and Emilie, but we found ourselves more and more aware of the fact that weather rules your life when you live on a boat, and less and less willing to keep living with that limitation. Also, our plans to explore the Western Caribbean were on indefinite COVID hold, since no country is yet anywhere near back to normal, and who wants to visit an amazing place, only to have so much of its charms unavailable? Not us.

With Beth and Pat, somewhere in the Bahamas

So we decided to enjoy the hell out of our last voyage, return to Florida, and get the old girl ready to sell. (She’s almost 20 years old now!) And that’s what we did, spending countless hours over the next many weeks getting the boat into the best shape possible before showing her, and then turning her over to the next owners. I won’t even recap all the things we did, but suffice it to say that by the time Linda and Brian took the helm, the boat was in the best shape it had been in during our entire time with her, if you consider not only the general condition of things, but especially all the upgrades we did during that time.

The first time Linda and Brian came onboard, we spent five hours with them, showing them the whole boat, top to bottom, stem to stern. We knew they were a great fit for the boat, and they must have, too, because very shortly we had an offer, then a deal, then a survey and sea trial, and finally, a closing. Then, Fran and I spent the next 7 1/2 days with them, helping to get their northward journey underway, and teaching them as much as we could about the boat along the way. Two weeks ago, we left them in a marina in Daytona Beach. We’ve had only a few questions from them since then (they’re obviously quick studies), and we’ve watched their daily progress with great pleasure as they’ve made their way to the Chesapeake.

Last visit to Hope Town Harbour, Elbow Cay, Abacos, Bahamas

I know what you’re thinking, and for Fran, you’re right: it’s bittersweet. For me, not so much – once we decided to sell, I was already mentally ready for the next phase of life. Of course, we’ll both miss being in the beautiful water of the Bahamas, the Virgins, and all up and down the Eastern Caribbean, but all of those places are accessible by airplane. We met some absolutely fantastic people on our journey (Beth and Pat, Liz and Paul, and of course Whitey and Max, among many, many others) – but it’s not like that’s ever going to stop. Not as long as Fran is part of Team Smartini!

What IS the next phase of life? We’re going to continue being vagabonds for the foreseeable future, just land-based rather than water-based. We still have the Big Sexy Beast (our trusty 2018 Dodge minivan that we bought a year ago), and we have a long list of places we want to visit, and spend weeks or even months. Many are in the US, many are not – those will be dependent on the state of COVID, of course. We’ve started with New York City – arrived here last Thursday, and will be here for a whole month. My son Bennett lives here, just graduated from Pratt Institute here (with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with honors – yes, I’m proud!), and just started his dream job as a Gallery Assistant at Essex Street / Maxwell Graham, his absolute favorite art gallery in all of New York. Because of him being in school and us being on the boat, we’ve not spent much time with him over the past five years, so we’re remedying that situation this month.

With Bennett (right) and “the other Bennett” (center) on our first day as New Yorkers

After NY, it’ll be Indianapolis for a bit, then Fort Collins for a bit, then back to Indy for Thanksgiving, and by then, it will be way too cold for us that for north, so it’ll be back to Florida for a bit, and then, who knows? The Keys? Mexico? Belize? Egypt? (Fran’s biggest bucket list destination, and her 50th is in January.) Hard to say. We have no plans to buy a permanent residence any time soon – have you seen what the housing market is doing?!?! So if you get a call one day, and we ask you if you’ve got a spare bedroom… don’t be surprised!

Thanks for following along through the blog, and again, my apologies for being such an infrequent author. I’ll continue to write a post now and then, but I doubt it will be any more frequent than before – sorry – I’m getting lazy in my old age.

May the Boat Cat

May was with us for more than 5 years. This is a celebration of that time.

Me: “Bennett, what’s this black cat doing in the house?”

Bennett: “Oh, that’s May. You know, from Mom’s house. Since Mom sold the house, she can’t keep May anymore. She’ll only be here until we can find another home for her.”

Me: “Yeah, I know who May is. Well, I guess she can stay here until we find her a good home.”

And so began our five year relationship with the best kitty ever. (You may think you have, or have had, a good kitty, and I won’t argue. But May was the BEST kitty ever.) We never found another home for her, because, to be blunt, she HATED other animals, and everyone we knew who would love to have her already had at least one other pet. After a few months of trying – and a few months of her sitting on my lap for what seemed like hours every day – one day I said to Fran “Well, I don’t suppose it would be horrible to have her on the boat.”

Feb 2016, a couple months after she moved in to the Indy house. Looking at this picture now, it should have been obvious that we were going to be her forever family.

So she came on the boat, and became “May the Boat Cat”. (Also known as MayMay, Maybelline, Sweet May, Maybelle, “our sweet little old lady cat”, The Princess, sometimes The Queen, and my personal favorite, Honey Bunny.) The first time she set foot on the boat, it took her all of about 6 seconds to settle in. We brought her in during a driving rainstorm, set her on the floor, ran back to the car for another load of stuff, and when we returned, there she was, stretched out on the carpet with a “yeah, this will do” air about her that never changed over five years.

Well, she didn’t love EVERY minute of boat life. There was that first time she made a long crossing – about 8 hours, from Florida to the Bahamas, March 1, 2018. It was a bit rough, and before too long, this pretty little black kitty looked positively green. By the end of the rough part of the day, she was stretched out on the cool clay in her litter box, with her tongue slightly hanging out, and drooling a little. Think of your worst New Year’s Day hangover.

But the next day, off we went for another 10 hours (on totally flat seas, thankfully), and she behaved as if the day before had never happened. And that’s pretty much how she was for most of the 4,000+ miles she was with us on Smartini: over a year in Florida, 8 months in the Bahamas, 4 months in Turks and Caicos, many months in the Virgin Islands, and all the way to Grenada and back, with a stop or two in every island nation along the way. Oh, sure, once in a while, when it was a little rough, she’d give us her famous stink-eye as if to say “You couldn’t have waited for a little nicer weather?”, but most of the time, she was just sleeping in one of her comfy spots, whether the boat was moving or not.

Perfectly at home on the water. With our almost-niece Abby, in Grenada.

She began life as Maddie and Bennett’s cat, at their mom’s house in Indianapolis, when Maddie was 7 and Bennet was 4. She was an indoor / outdoor cat there, and we would see her outside sometimes when we would pick up or drop off the kids, but for all those years, she was just a cat at someone else’s house. That changed in December 2015 when the exchange between Bennett and me, above, occurred. The change started slowly, but it wasn’t long before Fran and I grew very fond of this little old lady cat.

I am pleased to say that she loved me more than anyone else. I don’t know why, though. Fran did EVERYTHING for her – fed her, kept her litter box clean, cleaned up after her when she horked up a hairball, bought her toys, bought her favorite hangout (the “Treat Perch” – more on that later), and in the last year, would make tiny bites of whatever she was eating to satisfy May’s very-late-in-life interest in human food. But although May clearly loved Fran, she would get up from Fran’s lap and the petting she was receiving to come sit on me, as soon as I sat down, nine times out of ten. Fran was “the help”, and I was her human. I am so very lucky.

May made a lot of friends in her five years with us, but I don’t think anyone was a bigger fan than Benjy Ellis, who we met while cruising the Eastern Caribbean. He lives with his parents Jason and Kim on their sailing catamaran, Mimzy. Benjy would come onto Smartini for the express purpose of spending time with May, and she loved it!

Benjy and May. She loved her time with you, Benjy!

However, in a very, very close second place comes Zoe Fisher, who came all the way from Australia with her parents, Claire and Anthony, to spend a week with “May the Cat”. (Zoe thought that was her name, and called her that all week.)

This picture is from a 30 second video of Zoe playing with May with the “feather on a string”. May played, but she never moved from her spot, and really never did more than lift her head and forepaws. She was, shall we say, an “efficient” player.

We said, many times during her stay with us, that she had virtually none of the bad habits that many cats have, and that she did exactly what we both wanted from a cat – sit on our laps when we wanted her to, and let us pet her. She never insisted on that (although she would often suggest it!). She never knocked things over just because she could. She was fully clawed, but rarely scratched anything other than the carpet (which we hate anyway). Until a few months ago, she rarely made a sound – if she said “meow!”, you better see what was going on, because it was unusual. She didn’t have the loudest motor in the world, but she purred almost all the time when she was on your lap and/or being petted.

May “suggesting” that I should put the computer away and pet her.

She had a particular dislike of dogs, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, but she did grow up with a dog (Maddie’s “Skip”). Just after we arrived in the Bahamas in March 2018, we met some people on another boat and invited them for dinner and dominoes one evening. They brought their little dog Bailey, who was very well behaved – didn’t even eat May’s food. We put May in our room while they were there, and all was well. The following morning, May was in our room meowing up a storm, which was VERY unusual for her. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong – she had food, she had water, what could it be? But Fran dumped out her water bowl and washed it, then refilled it and set it down. May drank like she had been in the desert for a month! Bailey must have drank some of her water, and May did NOT want to drink from the same bowl that a slobbery dog drank from! From that point on, we never talked to her about a dog without saying “slobbery dog”.

One minor flaw: she did have Bitchy Resting Face, or as we liked to call it, Stink Eye. As you can see in the picture below – a picture taken when she was perfectly happy, I can assure you – she could make you feel as if you had done something so horrible, so loathsome, that you didn’t deserve to be breathing the same air as her.

Stink eye!

During the five years that she was with us, she wasn’t with us all the time. She lived with Susan and Rami in Indianapolis for a few months in 2016. Susan was the one who discovered that May hated to sit on bare skin! She would put a thick towel on her lap in the middle of summer so The Princess could sit on her, and not be grossed out by Susan’s bare legs. May lived with Robin for several weeks when we lost Maddie. Robin learned first-hand how temperature-driven May was, in her very air conditioned apartment, when May would sleep right on her chest, staring into her face with a “does it have to be SO COLD in here?” posture.

With Susan. No bare skin in Indy in November!

We weren’t always on the boat, either. Paul and Denise flew all the way to George Town, Bahamas from Minnesota in May 2018 to spend a month on the boat with May, while we went to Italy. Brian The Pet Sitter cat-sat with her in Key West for a few weeks in November 2017. A woman (whose name escapes me – maybe because she let May escape the boat!) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in the US Virgin Islands in 2019. Peter the Turtle Man (manager of Nassau Harbour Club Marina) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in Nassau, Bahamas. (We paid one of the dock hands to do it, but Peter liked May so much, he came onboard twice a day to sit with her and give her treats.) In Grenada, Lamar cat-sat with her for a month in November 2019. In all these cases, it went like this: the sitter came onboard the first time and sat down, May hopped in their lap for petting and treates, and they were buddies. She was like that.

With Lamar, who came onboard twice every day for a month to look after Sweet May.

After she had lived on the boat for a bit, Fran noticed that there was nowhere May could sit and see outside. She searched online and found a window perch for a cat, and put it in one of the side windows, but May wasn’t interested. Fran was determined, and by then, May had already become quite a big fan of Friskies Party Mix and Temptations, so Fran used these treats to lure May into the perch. May quickly learned to love the perch, in part because it was a soft place to sleep in the sun, but also very much because she had a good chance of someone giving her a few treats if she sat there long enough and looked cute.

“Well, what are you waiting for? The treats are right there!”

Speaking of cute… if you aren’t a cat person, skip this paragraph, OK? You’ll want to vomit a little, probably. But when May would curl up in the Treat Perch, or in one of the chairs, or on the floor, or especially in your lap, in a perfect circle, with one paw over her nose, and her tail covering most of her face… she was SO DAMNED CUTE! But she never let us get a picture of that perfect moment – she would wake up and move just before we could snap the shot.

Could she be any cuter? And all she’s doing is sleeping. We never tired of seeing it.

You might wonder what it was like doing all the paperwork and jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a pet into all of those countries (18 in all). Well, you’d have to ask someone else, because we did it only once, and it was such a nightmare that we decided to simply not declare her again. And we didn’t. She never left the boat*, so it didn’t matter anyway. Many countries wouldn’t even ask on their forms. Some did, but didn’t follow-up with a question asked by an agent. Some did, and I would just lie. Sorry. Throw me in jail for cat smuggling.

(* She did hop off the boat several times in the marina in Turks and Caicos, but that was the one country into which we legally checked her in. She also escaped from the boat in the US Virgin Islands for a few days while we were gone, but there’s no special requirement for a US citizen to bring a pet into the US Virgin Islands. And yes, she did hop off the boat in San Salvador, Bahamas for just a few minutes, but our story in the Bahamas, if asked, was always going to be “We picked her on the dock in Freeport – she’s a Bahamian cat.”)

I mentioned that May was already 14 years old when she came to live with us, in December 2015. (Coincidentally, the same month we bought the boat.) Yes, she was an old lady: 19 in cat years is the equivalent of 94 in human years. But until literally yesterday, no one would have guessed her to be of such an advanced age. She didn’t look old. She didn’t act old. She had her sight and her hearing, and she was a good jumper (almost always in the case of jumping onto a lap sitting in a tall chair).

She had no trouble jumping into my lap on the tall captain’s chair. I bet she did it a hundred times.

Almost a year ago, right after the COVID situation started heating up, we were in the Virgin Islands, and May had pretty much stopped eating. We took her to the vet on St. Thomas, who did some blood work and determined that her kidneys were failing – a common malady among geriatric cats. But the vet showed us how to administer fluids “subcutaneously” (with a needle under her skin), and told us that some cats can live for many extra years with this treatment, to make up for what the kidneys have stopped doing. May, being the best kitty ever, took that needle under the skin and 200 ml of saline solution every four days since then, and almost never complained about it. Her appetite returned – and then some! For the first time ever, she started to act interested in what Fran and I were eating. Eager to get her to eat anything, we started giving her small bites of our chicken, beef, pork, fish – all of which she eagerly devoured – except the fish. That developed into her only bad habit – begging for food at the table. (Sorry, Chris – you saw her at her worst in this respect.) But hey, she was an old lady – let her have what she wants! (As Fran has said many times, “When I’m 94, I hope someone lets ME eat cake for dinner!”)

Cuddling with “the help” in one of the dozens of different beds we slept in this summer.

This summer, back in the US, and with the boat “hauled out” for hurricane season, we bought a used minivan and started touring the country. With our limited experience of having May in the car (she didn’t like it!), we would have liked to have left her with someone, but we couldn’t ask anyone to take on the “stick her with a needle and administer 200 ml of fluids every four days” routine. So Fran made a rolling version of the Treat Perch in the van, between the front seats, and off we all went! 15,000 miles, 34 states, at least 20 friends’ homes visited, and May was with us the whole time. Florida to Maine and back to Florida. Then off to Texas and Colorado and Nevada and California and Oregon and Idaho and Indiana and all the states in between. May would typically be restless and mouthy for the first hour or two each day on the road, but would eventually settle in and sleep like the dead for most of the last several hours. The only bad stretch was our one overnight, from Houston, TX to Fort Collins, CO. She never settled in, and was still unhappy and restless and mouthy when we finally pulled into a rest stop for a nap at 5:00 a.m. One of the longest nights of my life. But it was worth it to have her with us all summer.

Helping with the driving of the 15,000 miles to 34 states this summer.

Because of her hatred of other animals, and because many of the friends and family we visited have other animals, she was often relegated to the bedroom we were using. Which wasn’t bad – being an old lady cat, she slept all day anyway. But when our hosts had no pets, and she could have free reign of a house, she seemed to truly enjoy it. Her favorite place was Beth and Pat’s place in Maine – a large, two-story-plus-attic home built in the 1890’s. She would come down from the attic covered with cobwebs, and looking totally pleased with herself.

“Beth and Pat, your attic is now free of cobwebs!”

At Susan and Rami’s house in Indy, she really wanted to go outside, so we tried a little harness and leash. Yeah… that didn’t work out so well.

“I’ll just sit here until you take this ridiculous thing off of me.”

In early November, while visiting friends Dean and Kim in Idaho, Fran noticed that May was suddenly acting a little strange. Almost as if she couldn’t see everything that was going on around her, surprised when we would walk up to her to pet her. The next night, in a hotel room in Wyoming on our way to Fort Collins, CO, it got worse, and by the time we arrived in Fort Collins the following day, it was obvious – May had become totally blind! We were at Fran’s sister Ingrid’s house, and Ingrid has a house full of pets, so she has a great and long-term relationship with a local vet. She called, and we were able to get May in that same day. Yep, she was blind, alright. One of the problems with feline kidney failure is high blood pressure, which we didn’t know, but which May had. And one of the problems with high blood pressure in cats is “hypertensive retinopathy” – detached retinas caused by high blood pressure. They gave her some BP meds and sent us home, with at least the hope that the retinas would reattach and the vision return. Those were some sad hours, sitting with her, knowing that she must be totally confused about why her world was suddenly completely dark, and not knowing if it would ever be any better for her. There were tears shed, I don’t mind telling you. But the blood pressure DID come down, and the retinas DID reattach, and within 36 hours, she was seeing almost normally again! To say that we were happy would be the understatement of the year. We were overjoyed, knowing that our little old lady May was back to normal, and no longer suffering. Although through it all, she never made a sound, never reacted badly when we would pick her up – she just stared around the room, with eyes that wouldn’t see. It was one of the saddest things either of us have ever seen.

We arrived back in Florida after Thanksgiving, and still had to put the boat back together after the summer’s haulout. Our friend Chris offered his spare bedroom to us, and all three of us were happy to take him up on it. We ended up spending seven weeks there, enjoying Chris’s amazing cooking and hospitality, most of the time with May having the run of the house, which she enjoyed immensely. But she had picked up another slightly annoying habit of waking us up about 6:30 every morning to be fed. See, it’s really hard to give a cat a pill, but May needed a tiny little pill of BP medicine once per day. With advice from dear friends Curt and Sondra, we started giving May the cheap Publix canned food, and putting her little pill, all crushed up, into the food. (They have a 20+ year old cat who wouldn’t eat ANYTHING until they tried the Publx food, and now she eats 3 cans a day!) Well, May LOVED IT! So every morning, when her little kitty brain told her it was time for breakfast, she was on the bed, walking over both of us and letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that one of us needed to get up and fix her breakfast NOW! (Which we did, because, you know, she’s a little old lady.)

We were very comfortable at Chris’s house for the last seven weeks.

A week ago today, we finally got the boat back in the water, and two days later, we all moved back onboard. It took May a day to settle in, but she did, and for about three days, all was good. She was back in the Treat Perch a dozen times a day, sitting on our laps for petting in the evenings, and yelling for us to get her breakfast ready at 6:30 a.m.

And then yesterday, Fran noticed that May was acting a little weird, and in fact, saw her having what looked like a mini seizure, a couple of different times. Last evening, we saw it again, so this morning, we took her to the vet. (The aforementioned Curt is a vet in Melbourne, FL, about an hour up the road from where we are in Ft. Pierce.) After an exam and some blood work, Curt called with the bad news. Her kidneys were on the verge of total shutdown, and there was nothing we could do that would restore her to normal. She could have a blood transfusion, and hormone therapy, but even that would only prolong her life, not restore the quality of it. So an hour later, after a last long bit of cuddling and petting and telling her how much we loved her, we said our final “Bye, May”. And she went to sleep on my lap, where she had spent so many countless hours over the past 5 years, and we cried.

February 5, 2021

If you want to look at a couple hundred pictures of May, we’ve shared this Google Photos Album, May the Boat Cat. None of them are spectacular images, but we sure are enjoying looking at them today.

Dominica Doesn’t Disappoint!

We’ve been wanting to visit Dominica for a long time – ever since we started planning this Big Adventure severeal years ago, and looking at the islands individually. Fran, in particular, has wanted to see it. A few weeks ago, we did, and we were not disappointed! I think it’s the most beautiful island we’ve visited – it’s so green and lush, the word “jungle” is always on your mind as you travel around. But the waterfalls – WOW WOW WOW!!! We walked / hiked / swam to seven, and every one was just gorgeous – and one was, for me, maybe the most beautiful natural feature I’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world. (Eric McKinley, I know you like hiking to waterfalls – you NEED to go to Dominica!)

Trafalgar Falls – this is Papa. Look close to see the person, to give an idea of the size.
Continue reading “Dominica Doesn’t Disappoint!”


Look at the attached map of the Eastern Caribbean, and you’ll see that Grenada (not Granada – that’s in Spain!) is almost as far south as you can go without hitting South America. Trinidad and Tobago are the very last islands before Venezuela, but because of security concerns, we decided to skip them. That means Grenada is likely the farthest south we’ll get on this Big Adventure, even if we finally make it down the coast in the Western Caribbean. For you map nerds, we saw 11 degrees, 59 minutes North as we came around the southern part of the island, and at that point, we were 1,443 nautical miles (1,659 “normal” miles) from Satellite Beach, our Florida home for the twelve years before departing. According to Smartini’s electronic charting system, we traveled about 3,920 miles to get there, so there has been a lot of side-tripping and revisiting favorite places along the way, but that was the whole point of the trip, after all.

We spent all of October in Grenada, then went to the US for 32 days to visit friends and family all over the country. We returned to Grenada for a little more than two weeks, before leaving there on Christmas Eve, beginning our long, slow trek back north. (We spent over a week in Bequia – it’s a favorite spot! – then a few days on St. Vincent, and now we’re exploring St. Lucia.)

We liked Grenada – Fran liked it A LOT! It’s the first island we’ve been to so far that’s green and lush and beautiful for its peaks (the tallest is 2,756 feet), rainforest, and waterfalls, and it’s covered with hundreds, maybe thousands, of species of tropical plants. Everywhere you look you see bamboo, bananas, papayas, coconuts, nutmeg, sugar cane, cocoa, mangos, and flowers of every color, shape and size. The people are mostly friendly to tourists, although tourism is only their fourth largest source of revenue. They make delicious chocolate on antique equipment, and rum (that tastes like paint thinner!) on ancient equipment. We did our first Hash while we were there (see “Hash House Harriers” – it’s a drinking club with a running problem) – they do one almost every Saturday, and have been doing it for over 30 years! We got to meet and hang out with a bunch of cool boat people (virtually all of them sailors, but we’ve grown fond of them). We got to spend time with two couples we’ve met along the way who we dearly love – Max and Whitey on Nutmeg, and Paul and Liz on Oneiro. And we finally got to have a visit from my almost-niece Abby, who dealt with all the vagaries that boat life could throw at her, from a dead main engine to missing a flight home, like the world-class traveler that she is.

So here’s Grenada, in pictures!

Our very first stop after Customs and Immigration! It’s not Intra nor Deviate, but at least they had something other than island lager!
With Liz and Paul from Oneiro, at the Container Park. So many shipping containers come to the islands with nothing to put in them for the trip back, that they end up getting left on the islands and used for all kinds of things – like an entire food court made of them!
L to R: Butch, Max (Nutmeg), Fran, Paul (Oneiro), Whitey (Nutmeg), and Liz (Oneiro). We’ve met some great people on this Big Adventure, but none finer than these four!
At the completion of the Hash (a 30 – 40 minute run through the bush, across streams, gardens, etc.). This was the 1,109th Hash since the Grenada Hash House Harriers started well over 20 years ago.
Some of the local fare they served after the Hash. Green bananas (or maybe it’s breadfruit?), manicu (possum), and iguana.
Fran’s been saying for years she wants to see monkeys. While we did see one in the wild, this guy was caged up, and it’s a good thing – he stole Fran’s phone right after she took this picture! Good thing it wouldn’t fit through the fencing, or we’d have been out one phone.
Concorde Falls – you can drive right to it!
This is a cocoa pod, full of the seeds (beans?) that are processed into chocolate. There are at least two chocolate makers on Grenada, and they also export a lot of the dried cocoa seeds to other countries who make their own chocolate with it.
Just one of the many types of chocolate that Jouvay makes.
Grenada has an interesting recent history (1970’s and 1980’s), during which they overthrew a virtual dictator and installed a new government, which then failed 5 years later when the Prime Minister was killed after a major split in the government. During those 5 years, Cuba was sending them aid, and of course, the Soviet Union was supporting Cuba. This Soviet plane, and another from the same era, are all that are left at the original airport, which is now used as an informal dragstrip and livestock pasture.
They dress fairly conservatively on most of the Caribbean islands.
A dinghy full of trick-or-treaters on Halloween. We had at least 20 dinghies full, with at least 75 kids in costume. Paul and Liz (Oneiro) joined forces with us to handle them all.
Jamar came onboard twice every day and took care of May while we were in the US for 32 days in November. He sent us pictures of May every few days, but she didn’t seem too interested in the photo shoots.
Fran carries a small bag of cat treats (the ones May doesn’t like!) with her whenever we’re out and about, so she can win the affection (or at least the attention) of all the island kitties. A few minutes before this photo, this cat was happily eating Cheetos that our driver had tossed to her.
This 178 year old water wheel turns the machinery that crushes sugar cane. The cane is fed into the crusher by hand, and as you can see in the background, the husks are hauled off by hand, too. The cane juice is fermented, then distilled into rum, then immediately bottled and sold – not one day of aging! They make – and sell – about 500 bottles every day. At 142 proof, t’s the definition of “firewater”.
The cane crusher that’s turned by the water wheel.
Moving the crushed cane husks out of the way for drying. After they’re dry enough, they’re burned to provide the heat for the distilling process.
The cane juice is fermented in open air vats, and then distilled. This is the last vat before distilling.
Butch, Elon (our distillery guide), Fran, Abby, and Curtis (our driver and island tour guide).
Roasted cocoa beans are sorted by hand – these ladies are looking for any bad ones, which go into the triangular hole in the corner of their “desk”.
One of two or three presses that are used to squeeze the chocolate nibs until every bit of oil (cocoa butter) is separated from the dry powder. Later in the process, they add some of the butter back to make the chocolate more creamy.
Nutmeg, fresh off the tree. The outer husk is used like mulch. The red lacy “wrapper” is called mace and is also used as a spice. The actual nutmeg spice is the seed in the center. It’s a very important export for Grenada, and the main reason it’s called The Spice Island.
Buying a squash (which they call “pumpkin”) that we later made into a delicious soup. Notice the two signs in front of the truck: “No Parking” and “No Vending”. Ha!
Abby, my almost-niece, on the aft deck with May.
Walking up to the fort that guards the entrance to the harbour. The town of St. George (aka St. George’s) is in the background. It’s Grenada’s largest town by far.
At Annandale Falls.
A giant tree on the marina property. See me in the picture? It must be a thousand years old.
On the north end of Grenada is an “exclusion zone” for boaters – where an underwater volcano is. If the volcano were to start emitting gas, the water would get very bubbly, and any boat in that water would sink like a stone! Smartini is the red arrow, as we skirted past, just outside the danger zone.

So that’s Grenada! We liked it – I hope you did, too!

DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 3 – The Software

This is my third and final post about using inexpensive microcontrollers to gather boat data and send it to Signal K. The first one was an overview, the second one detailed the hardware involved, and this one will detail the software.

There are two main bits of software involved – the Signal K Server, and what I’ll refer to as the Sensor Software. This post deals only with the Sensor Software – the software that is installed on the microcontroller to gather data from the sensors and then send it, over wifi, to the Signal K Server software. The Signal K Server software is most likely running on a Raspberry Pi, and you can read all about it on the Signal K website. For purposes of this post, I will simply assume you have the Signal K Server up and running, and that you did a standard installation of it.

Continue reading “DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 3 – The Software”

DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 2 – The Hardware

(This post was originally published on the Signal K Blog site in August 2019. It was written as part of a 3-article series. I decided to post all three of them on the Smartini Life blog. If you’re not a bit of a nerd, this may not be your cup of tea.)

In a previous blog post, I wrote in general terms about using small, inexpensive microcontrollers to gather all kinds of data around your boat and make it available on your boat’s network through Signal K. In this post, I’m going to describe, in detail, the device I built and deployed on my boat to gather and report four temperatures from my main engine. I hope it’s detailed enough so that you could duplicate the project yourself. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of doing this yourself – this was only my second ever real microcontroller project – it’s not complicated.

In this post, I’ll detail the hardware aspect of the device, and will address the software details in the next post.

Continue reading “DIY Sensors with Signal K Part 2 – The Hardware”

DIY Sensors with Signal K

(This post was originally published on the Signal K Blog site in August 2019. It was written as part of a 3-article series. The next one in the series is here: I decided to post all three of them on the Smartini Life blog. If you’re not a bit of a nerd, this may not be your cup of tea.)

When we bought our 14 year old trawler in 2016, I knew I wanted to improve the instrumentation. Not only the obvious things (chart plotter, radar, sonar, etc.), but also data about the engine that would alert me to a problem long before the engine started coming apart. At the Miami Boat Show, I stumbled across the Digital Yacht booth, where they were showing some equipment that used a new marine data standard called Signal K. It would let you see all the data from your boat’s data network (NMEA 0183 and 2000) on any smartphone, tablet, or computer screen, via wifi. “COOL!”, I thought!

Continue reading “DIY Sensors with Signal K”