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Palomino Island

Mooring Off Palomino Island

Today we are anchored off Palomino Island, which is off the northeastern shore of the main island of Puerto Rico. We left our slip in Palmas yesterday morning intending to sail (motor really) all the way to Culebra Island, about thirty nautical miles away. Over the day we were making such slow progress beating against the waves and easterly wind that we wouldn’t get to the anchorage by nightfall, so we opted instead to make an overnight stop here at Palomino.

As is the norm on a weekend where the local boaters party, the music from shore was phenomenally loud until around 10 on Sunday night. Seriously, I don’t see how anyone could have communicated with anyone else there on shore under such intense sound. And this is typical of Puerto Rico. Today it is quiet, parties are done until Thursday (or maybe Wednesday).

Anyway, this morning I lobbied for us to return to the marina due to the threatening potential tropical weather systems east of us. The map below is the current 5-day outlook. You can see TS Gert north of

of us off the southern east coast. The system I am worried about is shown in the lower part of the pic with the 5-day path headed straight toward our area. But why cut short our trip when it is at least 5 days out? Because this is weather and like all weather predictions, 5 days out is an eternity. It could move and develop faster and since we are entering the height of tropical cyclone season, I figure it is better to be prudent, at least for our first season here. Even though they appear to move slowly, it is pretty much impossible to outrun a tropical cyclone in a sailboat.

In the meantime, we had yet another system fail on our boat, one of the sump pumps that drains the shower. It isn’t critical and we discovered it before we left the marina actually, but we need to fix it. Also, it was exceedingly difficult to start our generator today, it hasn’t run for over six weeks. Like the engine, we need to exercise it to keep it happy (apparently).

Meanwhile, back in Palmas the iguanas were out in force the other day. Saw at least 6 of them:

We hadn’t seen them for a while and were wondering where they were hiding. Must’ve been an iguana party somewhere..

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A Colorado Cowgirl in San Juan

I noticed it’s been about a month since my last post so I thought an update was due. We haven’t taken the boat out since the end of June due to maintenance of both our boat and my knee. We are still attempting to get our anchor light and navigation lights up and running before heading out again. Hopefully they will be working early next week.

After suffering for 4 months with some extraordinary knee pain, I scheduled an appointment with a knee doc during our visit to Colorado. Got an MRI and am getting it scoped in September, hopefully that will clear up the current problems. In the meantime they gave me a cortisone shot and that helped immensely. My knees have held up extremely well over 40 years of intense pounding from running, mountaineering, skiing and biking. I’m not surprised that I’m starting to have a bit of trouble with them and expected it to start many years ago.

While in Colorado we visited friends and went to my family reunion. We also visited Steamboat where Shelly found the cowgirl hat she’d been looking for (pictured above). It was just as hot in Colorado as it is here in Puerto Rico, but at least the humidity is reasonable in CO. It’s been over 90 degrees with close to 90 percent humidity since we’ve returned.

Other than that we’ve been working on our SSB radio app for IOS devices. One of Shelly’s IOS apps is going to be demo’ed at a conference next week, and soon I am about to be issued one of the coolest patents ever. More to come!

Below is the cemetery on the coast in old San Juan between the two forts:

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Tropical Cyclone Prep

Full Moon Rises Over Good Karma

We spent the last couple of days prepping Good Karma for tropical cyclone. There is no imminent threat, but we are getting ready to leave for the mainland tomorrow for a while and these weather systems can develop quite fast. A hurricane could form and move through here in the time we are away, so we want to be prepared.

We took down the jib and stored it below. We’ve arranged for a double set of dock lines to be installed and also have the dock master look after our boat. We took the canvass off. Fenders on both sides. The chances of even a low level tropical storm hitting here are not that great, but you never know.

And as a matter of fact the remains of tropical depression #4 are currently passing just north of us, which ironically are causing extremely calm and clear weather. I took the pic below this morning, one of the few times I’ve seen the inland mountains without cloud cover.


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More Never-ending Maintenance

Bluetooth Hack for my Radio Mail Service

Been a while since I’ve posted anything due to the long holiday weekend as well as trying to get some maintenance done. Plus a cool hack of my shortwave radio email system.

I mentioned that while we were anchored at Vieques, we found a few things that were not working. One was the anchor light and another was the navigation lights. It was strange that they both stopped working at about the same time so I looked around and found the terminal block below had corroded:

 The block is at the top of the photo above the wires. This terminal block was put into place so that the mast could be removed without ripping out all the wiring. All the wires connected to this block go up the mast, this includes the deck lights, a steaming light that you turn on while under power at night, and of course, the anchor light that is located at the top of the mast. The connectors were pretty much corroded from the seawater and salt air.

I had to find another terminal block somewhere and so we rented a car for a couple of days. This part can be found in the most out-of-the-way hardware store in the states, but the only store that had it here was a marine supply store. After I finally acquired the part I removed the old one, shown below:

I then cleaned or replaced all the wire endpoints and installed the new block shown below. When compared to the one removed you can see how much corrosion is evident:

After replacing this block, the mast mounted deck lights worked again! They haven’t worked since we bought Good Karma. Unfortunately, the anchor light still didn’t work so something else is wrong. This did not fix the navigation lights either, which makes sense because they aren’t on the mast. Oh well, this needed to get done either way. So I still need to fix the anchor light and the navigation lights.

On another subject, the photo at the top of the posting is a serial-to-bluetooth adapter that allows me to send email from my Mac computer to my radio without being wired to the radio. The previous system used a  wired USB port, this is wireless as it should be in the modern day. Why do this?

Well Shelly and I are working on a secret project that, if successful, will revolutionize radio email! Well, perhaps “revolutionize” is a bit strong, but at least it will bring radio email into the modern world. More on that as we progress.

Until next time, continuing to hang out in the marina and watching for tropical cyclones…

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Anchored at Vieques

We spent the last three nights anchored off Green Beach on Vieques. Very calm and isolated. Yesterday we had a rainstorm move through in the morning and it cooled things down to a very comfortable temperature.

We took the dinghy into the beach and snorkeled a bit. Saw a sea turtle hanging out in the underwater rocks. At night we saw some bioluminescent critters, some way below the surface of the water.

it was great to get out on the ocean again but we had a few minor electrical problems and another issue that made us try out our other anchor. I traced the electrical problems down to a corroding junction terminal. Can’t fix it here so we’ll head back to the marina. The second anchor worked great. We were a little cautious with it because it is on a rode (rope) rather than a chain, but we had no problems.

should be a great sail back to Palmas, going west!

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Boat Fire!

Explosion and then Fire!

About 2:30 this afternoon Shelly heard an explosion and we saw this boat fire in the boatyard across the harbor. This is the second one we’ve seen.

It isn’t one from the regatta. Day 2 was similar to day 1, they do several 30 minute races over the course of a day. Each boat has a racing crew that practice and race together. Trophys were awarded on day two.

And that is that.

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Regatta Day 1

Prepping to Sail Out Of Slip

Today there was an invitation-only sailboat race starting at the marina. Six identical boats were lined up in the slip next to ours and sailed out (no motors on these guys) into 20 knot winds to the east.

At the Starting Line!

They all gathered in the starting area in semi-rough conditions. I was impressed they were able to gather so close together under sail power only. They took off around a preset course

Racing Downwind with Genoas Out

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The Tropical Atlantic

Get the Party Rolling!

The National Weather Service or some agency in the weather prediction end of the federal government designates hurricane season as running from June 1 to November 30 for the tropical Atlantic. It’s called “hurricane season,” though hurricanes are only the most powerful storms. There are also many smaller storm systems from tropical waves to tropical depressions to tropical storms. The better term to use is tropical cyclone.

The peak of the season is usually late August through the end of September. However, this season is looking a bit ominous: There are two systems they are watching for tropical formation and it is only mid-June. The tropical cyclone prediction map from NOAA above show the probability of two systems forming in the Caribbean next week. The leftmost red area has a 90% chance of forming and the storm on the lower right has a 60% chance. Neither are predicted to “hit” Puerto Rico at this time but the storm off Mexico is already causing the winds here to increase a bit.

Interestingly, if these systems get big enough to become named storms, they won’t even be the first of the year, tropical storm Arlene formed in mid-April, only the second time this has ever been observed. But wait! Even more ominously, a big stationary tropical low formed in mid-March when we were in the Turks and Caicos, I posted a pic of the storms at the time (below):

Big Storms in the TCIs Last March

This storm almost got big enough to be named and that would have been a first ever. It generated huge waves in the TCIs, and that’s the thing about these tropical systems. Even if they don’t form named storms, they are usually associated with lots of rain and wind.

So our first tropical cyclone season in the Caribbean may be a busy one. But hey, you can’t say you’re a salt encrusted sailor until you’ve spent at least one hurricane season in the “belt.” We’ve ordered new, doubled dock lines…

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Tax Avoision

Going For My Morning Soak in the Seaside Pool at the Yacht Club Marina

Palmas del Mar is a gated community here on the east shore of Puerto Rico. Actually, it’s double gated. You have to go through a staffed main gate to get into the development. The development consists of many separate houses, villages, condos, and hotels, plus the marina, with a golf course meandering around them. Each community or hotel has it’s own staffed gate, including the marina. The landscaping is well maintained, there are no stray dogs and no trashed out buildings or streets. And there are sidewalks and walkways, the true expression of a luxury community in the Caribbean, apparently.

So this is a high end community for the island. The Yacht Club here has a tiki bar that serves what the locals call the best burger on the island. And it is pretty damn good. But the locals complain that if you don’t have a boat parked here you can’t get in, they hardly ever open it up to the public. Now here is the kicker, the seasonal rate (which we are in) is amazingly reasonable. So we get quite a bit of luxury living without having to pay the steep prices.

Many of the “locals” we’ve met here are expats from the states. Well, “expat” isn’t a proper description since we are in U.S. territory, but nevertheless, it is a bit different here. All PR citizens are U.S. citizens though they cannot vote in national elections and do not have voting representatives in congress. So their law is a mix of U.S. federal law and some Puerto Rican law.

Apparently there is a huge tax advantage for businesses here: There is no capital gains tax. Zero. For personal income tax it is pretty low, like 5% or something. Many of the people we’ve met here moved their business here to avoid paying these taxes, which is a huge advantage. Thus the title of this post, tax avoision. It is a real word. I learned it from watching The Simpsons.

Walking Path Through the Beachside Trees

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Realities of Sailboats

Docked at One of the Larger Slips at The Yacht Club Marina

I haven’t posted a sailing blog in a while because we have been waiting here in Palmas to get some boat maintenance done. The maintenance is finally complete and it took a while. I’ll describe below what we had to do and the events leading up to our extended stay here. BTW, we are not suffering!

So what happened: A few weeks ago we had gotten some routine maintenance done on the engine and generator, an oil change basically. We had been waiting to get the service done (nothing happens quickly here, island time you know) so that we could head out for a couple of weeks around Vieques and Culebra islands. We exited the marina and were about 3 miles out when the engine started sounding funny, like it was going to quit. We needed the engine to go east into the wind and waves. After the third engine hiccup, Shelly declared we were turning back. We got pointed back toward the marina and the engine quit. No matter what we did it would not start. I noticed the Racor filter bulb was not full indicating that there was no fuel coming in from the tank.

I could not think of a way to get the fuel flowing again so we put the sails up. We had an excellent east wind that let us sail straight back to the marina entrance. But we still had a problem, we had no way to maneuver in the tight spaces of the marina, or stop, once we got there. And the entrance was tricky, it was somewhat narrow with rocks on both sides, and some decent waves to push you around as you came in.

Shelly called for a tow. This is quite simple back in the states and all up and down the east coast there are boat towing companies. Here, not so much. They do exist, but it turns out they were all working at the site of a plane crash that had happened not too far away the day before. What are the chances?

Shelly called the marina. They said they could help us get in but we’d have to get through the breakwater entrance first. As we approached, we dropped our main and reefed the jib way, way back so that we would slow down but maintain steering. We passed the rocks outside the entrance, they were alarmingly close. The boat, however, handled excellently and we sailed right up to the long outside dock of the marina, and we were going slowly enough that they could stop us with our dock lines. They did come out to help in their small boat but I think events happened so quickly that they really couldn’t tie on and do much.

When telling the story to others, they comment that the difficult part was sailing through the breakwater. We tacked once. Otherwise sailing in was not so stressful as losing the engine. Over the next few days they towed us to a couple other locations using what is actually a large dinghy. The guys here are quite the experts.

What happened to the engine? Diesel tends to get gunk in it from bacteria and fungus that can live in the fuel as long as there is some water. There is always a bit of water in the tanks due to condensation. Over time, usually years, a kind of black, gummy gunk accumulates. Our tanks had a lot, we don’t know when they were cleaned last.

Usually it takes years to get that bad. As we look back, we are lucky our fuel line “chose” to clog when it did. It would have been pretty terrible in the Mona Passage or just about anywhere else after we left Florida up until we got here.

So. Good Karma!


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